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Records of HIAS-HICEM Main Office in Europe

Identifier: RG 245.5 (France I-IV)

Scope and Content Note

This collection, a sub-group of RG 245 HIAS, includes all existing records of the main HICEM offices in Europe prior to and during World War II. There are also some records of the post-World War II period relating to the merger of HICEM with HIAS in 1945 and HIAS’s work with displaced persons. Records of the Lisbon office of HICEM are in the sub-group HICEM and HIAS Office in Lisbon, RG 245.6. The bulk of the European HIAS records of the post-war period can be found in the sub-group European Offices of the HIAS, RG 245.7.

Correspondents include HICEM and HIAS affiliates from all over the world, HIAS headquarters in New York, various government and consular offices, and private individuals. Types of documents include inter-office memoranda/circular letters, that disseminate standard operating procedures, letters among the management discussing policy and personnel matters, field trip reports mainly concerning Jewish refugee conditions and public or official opinion towards local Jewish communities and immigration prospects, statistical and accounting reports, case files of refugees applying to HICEM for visas, exit permits and for transportation, and periodic activity reports from various HICEM/HIAS offices. The materials are arranged chronologically, rather than by document type or topic. The researcher must therefore read each item to get the flavor of events and the decision-making processes of managers. Sometimes copies of outgoing letters are together with the responses, while at other times the two are in separate folders, creating some difficulty in following the sequence of events. As a rule, the original order of the records as seen on receipt was retained in the final arrangement.

Throughout this collection, there is an obvious corporate tenet that HICEM/HIAS always be an impeccable organization. They maintained very detailed dossiers on their refugees, with filled-out forms, insisting that any correspondence have references to the clients’ complete name, with the family name capitalized, and the clients’ case number. Lists of persons waiting for visas or booked on ship transport had to have explicit, detailed identification, with copies sent to the organization in the destination city, to HIAS in New York and to the main HICEM office in Paris. Affiliates could send very little correspondence to other affiliates directly or to other organizations without routing the information via Paris. There are several instances of reprimanding, and occasionally firing, employees for sloppy record-keeping or for not following standard procedures. HICEM also maintained absolutely correct relations with government and consular officials. It was with great pride that HICEM could claim that they were the accepted trustworthy intermediary between government and immigration departments and arriving refugees.

The one exception to this professionalism that can be found in these papers is from when the UGIF officially took over HICEM along with all other Jewish organizations in France. UGIF’s insistence that HICEM turn over its funds was apparently circumvented by playing off the fact that HICEM’s funds were from a foreign source. Documents on hand show that UGIF’s continuing requests for reports were often answered late and then only with the minimum of information.

Another source of contention throughout HICEM’s existence was their constant wariness of the operations of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, also known as the JDC or the Joint. HICEM and the JDC often worked in parallel among the same population and HICEM officials often referred to the Joint’s “kidnapping” of HICEM clients or “stealing” reserved ship accommodations. There was often competition for publicity at ship departures and arrivals. This was especially true after the war, when immigration to Palestine/Israel was growing. The Jewish Agency had control of social service organizations in the new state and the JDC was very close to them. HICEM was not initially allowed entry.

The flavor of the operation of HICEM can be found in the correspondence among managers of various national offices and the HIAS directors in New York. Their personalities come out in their letters. Some were polite, diplomatic, slow-moving negotiators and others, often the American transplants, were direct-moving movers and shakers. Some of the HICEM/HIAS personalities found in these papers include Leon Alter, Isaac Asofsky, Israel and James Bernstein, Ilya DiJour, Max Gottschalk, Benjamin Mellibovsky, Lewis Neikrug, Louis and Edward Oungre, Theodore Pontzen, Wladimir Schah, Raphael Spanien, Morris Troper, and Lazaro Zelwer.

The collection was microfilmed in the 1970s and the microfilm has been designated as MKM 16-19. The official language of the Paris office was French, but some English was used when corresponding with the HIAS office in New York. There are also some letters in German, Yiddish, Spanish, and Italian. The collection is approximately 50 linear feet in over 1850 folders in 103 manuscript boxes and one oversize box and the materials date from 1924-1953, the bulk of which dates 1935-1953.


  • 1924-1953
  • Majority of material found within 1935-1953

Language of Materials

The collection is in French with some English, and a small amount of German, Yiddish, Spanish, and Italian.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Historical Note

HICEM was organized in 1926 in Paris as a combined office of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), based in New York, the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA or ICA), based in London, and EmigDirect, an organization in Germany dealing with the transportation of emigrants to European ports of embarkation. Its mission was to centralize the Eastern European emigration operations of the three groups, including the assembling of information on potential emigrants, the legalization of status and visa formalities and the transportation arrangements and coordination with HICEM affiliates in the countries of destination. EmigDirect withdrew from the venture in 1934. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC), based in New York, was the principal source of funds as wartime regulations prohibited the JCA from sending money out of the United Kingdom, and HIAS supplied most of the operational personnel.

On the eve of World War II, the main HICEM office was located in Paris. The Nazi invasion of Paris in June 1940 led to the closure of the office on June 19, 1940. The office reopened in October 1940, first in Bordeaux, for a week, and finally in Marseilles. In 1940 an office in Lisbon was activated to handle war-time immigration overseas. The Marseilles office continued to be active even after the Nazis established the Union Generale des Israelites de France (UGIF) and officially incorporated HICEM, as well as all other Jewish organizations, in 1943. The continuing attempts by UGIF to control HICEM’s operations and finances forced HICEM to lower the Marseilles office’s status to a provisional office under Wladimir Schah and to use the then-neutral Lisbon as its headquarters and main emigration point out of Europe, under James Bernstein.

After the liberation of France at the end of World War II, HICEM moved back to Paris in January 1945, where it continued to provide emigration and repatriation assistance to survivors of the war as well as assisting in family searches. HICEM was dissolved in November 1945 and replaced by HIAS-only organizations, HIAS-Europe and HIAS-France.


50 Linear Feet


This collection, which is a sub-group of RG 245 HIAS, includes the records of the main HICEM office in Europe prior to and during World War II. There are also some records from the post-war period relating to the dissolution of HICEM, HIAS’s taking over of HICEM’s operations and HIAS’s work with displaced persons.


The collection was originally arranged by Zosa Szajkowski in 1957-1958 and a Yiddish inventory was prepared. The descriptions in the original inventory were very terse and this style was maintained when a later English translation was made. In 1996, a complete review of the documents was made by Gunnar M. Berg and a more descriptive catalog was prepared with the assistance of a grant from the HIAS organization. There is a paper finding aid with an index in the reading room.

When Szajkowski originally arranged the collection, the overriding categorization was geographical by the office in correspondence with headquarters. Listings often followed the Yiddish alphabet and this order was maintained in the original English translation. Within folders, documents were arranged generally in reverse chronological order, with the most recent item on top. Some folders, mainly dealing with named-refugee case files, were arranged alphabetically, again in reverse order. Other folders are listed in forward alphabetical order. The later catalog maintained the existing order so as to agree with the microfilms of the collection. The folder titles in the container list were created based upon the folder contents but are not written on the folders themselves. The folders are labeled only with a series and folder number. For example, the first folder is France I-1, the second is France I-2, and so on. Sequential folder numbering begins again at number one for each series. Thus, there is a folder France II-1, France III-1 and France IV-1. The microfilm reel numbers also begin again at number one for each series, starting with reel 16.1 for series I, folder 1, 17.1 for series II, folder 1, 18.1 for series III, folder 1, and 19.1 for series IV, folder 1.

Series III: France III, Refugee Dossiers, is in long-term, off-site storage and the box numbers for Series II and Series IV go right through, rather than there being a gap for the Series III boxes. The microfilm for Series III does run sequentially between the Series II and Series IV microfilm. The last reel of microfilm, 19.61, also contains the beginning of the Lisbon I material, although the actual folders have been moved to sub-group 245.6. The records are divided into the following series and subseries:

  1. Series I: France I, Pre-Occupation Records, 1933-1940
  2. Subseries 1: HICEM Paris Office, 1933-1945
  3. Subsubseries A: General Administrative Records, 1933-1941
  4. Subsubseries B: Correspondence with HIAS and HICEM offices outside of France, 1933-1945
  5. Subsubseries C: Correspondence with Transport (Shipping) Companies and Travel Bureaus, 1935-1940
  6. Subsubseries D: Budgets, Finances, Accounts, 1937-1940
  7. Subseries 2: BELHICEM and Other Organizations in Belgium, 1938-1940
  8. Series II: France II, Occupation Records of HICEM French Offices, 1924-1948
  9. Subseries 1: HICEM Paris Office, 1939-1940
  10. Subseries 2: HICEM Marseilles Office, 1939-1946
  11. Subsubseries A: General Correspondence, 1939-1945
  12. Subsubseries B: Local Correspondence – Correspondence with the Vichy Regime / UGIF, 1940-1944
  13. Subsubseries C: Correspondence with HICEM in Lisbon, 1940-1944
  14. Subsubseries D: Correspondence with HICEM in Other Countries, 1939-1943
  15. Subsubseries E: Emigration, 1940-1943
  16. Subsubseries F: HICEM Administration, Finances and Other Matters, 1940-1946
  17. Subseries 3: Additions to France II, 1924-1948
  18. Series III: France III, Refugee Case Files, 1940-1943
  19. Series IV: France IV, Post-War Records of HICEM/HIAS, 1939-1953
  20. Subseries 1: Central Office Operations, 1940-1953
  21. Subseries 2: French Provincial Offices, 1944-1952
  22. Subseries 3: Documentation Files of Other European Affiliates, 1944-1953
  23. Subseries 4: DP Emigration Reports and Lists, 1945-1953
  24. Subseries 5: HIAS Administration in Paris and New York, 1945-1950
  25. Subseries 6: Palestine/Israel Operations, 1946-1952
  26. Subseries 7: Survivor Emigration, 1939-1953

Acquisition Information

YIVO received the materials in this collection directly from the United HIAS Service’s European Office in Paris in 1955 as part of the second shipment of the HIAS collection. It was given the designation "Series 2" as a shipping label and is not related to the archival Series designations France I-IV, described in this document.


This collection is on 175 reels of microfilm (MKM 16-19).

Related Material

This collection is a sub-group of RG 245 HIAS Records. HICEM and HIAS Office in Lisbon, RG 245.6 was originally part of this sub-group but was made into its own sub-group.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Processing information

The collection was originally arranged by Zosa Szajkowski in 1957-1958 and a Yiddish inventory was prepared. In 1996, a complete review of the documents was made by Gunnar M. Berg and a more descriptive catalog was prepared with the assistance of a grant from the HIAS organization. Further processing was completed in 2011.

Guide to the Records of the HIAS-HICEM Offices in Europe 1924-1953 (bulk 1935-1953) RG 245.5
Processed by Zosa Szajkowski and by Gunnar M. Berg with the assistance of a grant from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States