The United States of America were neutral during the two first years of the Second World War. They were brought into the conflict by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour of 7 December 1941 and became one of the decisive belligerent nations, defeating Japan in the Pacific and heavily contributing to the war effort against the Axis powers, e.g. during the Allied landings in North Africa, Italy and France. American forces invaded German territory early in 1945.
On the eve of the Second World War, the United States had a total population of about 132,165,000 inhabitants. About 4.8 million were Jewish, with approximately a quarter of them in New York City. Even though the United States had imposed serious restrictons on immigration during the economic crisis of the interwar period, more than 200,000 Jews found refuge there between 1933 and 1945. Most of them reached America before the end of 1941. In January 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board, which was committed to enforcing US policy regarding rescue and relief of victims of persecution. This included the establishment of safe havens, evacuation of endangered people from Nazi-occupied territories, and delivery of relief supplies into concentration camps. The War Refugee Board worked with Jewish organisations, diplomats from neutral countries, and resistance groups in Europe to rescue Jews from occupied territories and provide relief to inmates of Nazi concentration camps. US forces liberated many camps, among them Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Flossenbürg, Dachau, and Mauthausen.
The basic archival structure of the United States is provided by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which were created in 1934 and became an independent government agency in 1985. In addition to the national archives, there are many private archive initiatives in the United States.
EHRI Research (Summary)
While EHRI focused its data integration efforts first and foremost on countries that were Axis- and Nazi-occupied during the Second World War, vast amounts of Holocaust-relevant materials were also identified in the United States. Merging information from existing overviews, EHRI provides information on 81 repositories located throughout the United States.
At the National Archives level, NARA hosts several Holocaust-related collections and has launched one of the largest online Interactive Holocaust Collection databases in 2009.
As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C., is a key institution in the field of Holocaust research and archives which has made a tremendous effort to collect sources from individuals and holds, like Yad Vashem, unique private collections now, it was crucial for EHRI to integrate information on the USHMM’s collection descriptions. USHMM provided an export of its collection, document, object, oral history and publication descriptions which have been integrated in the EHRI portal. In the process, EHRI identified an important research tool, i.e. the “Archival Guide to the Collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum”, edited by Brewster S. Chamberlin and Carl Modig, 2nd edition, Washington 2003.
Many, but by no means all, Holocaust-relevant institutions are clustered around New York City, such as the archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC), which also has an archive in Jerusalem, and the Center for Jewish History, which holds important collections on Jewish life in Europe before, during and after the Second World War, and the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives which include the “Jewish Labor Committee Records”.
Other Holocaust-relevant institutions include the Simon Wiesenthal Center Library and Archives in Los Angeles as well as various universities and colleges which hold important collections and house oral History projects, e.g. the Spielberg University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute, also located in Los Angeles, or the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University in New Haven/Connecticut or the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, which holds materials on its “Voices of the Holocaust” interview project, which was initiated in 1946.
In Cincinnati/Ohio, the American Jewish Archives hold relevant materials, especially among the World Jewish Congress records, which are stored at the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.
EHRI Research (Extensive)
A. EHRI approach to the United States of America: Pre-existing research, available archival guides, expert support
Due to EHRI’s core mission to focus on European countries first and foremost, archives in the United States were not covered in an extensive fashion. Because of its crucial importance for Holocaust archives and research, EHRI made an exception for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The holdings of the USHMM are to some extent reflected in the EHRI portal. Equally, some other archives which could be integrated via case studies on other countries, are partially integrated.
Of key importance to EHRI’s identification work were the Directory of Holocaust-Related Archives and the overview of restitution and compensation institution, both compiled and provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
B. Characteristics of the United States of America’s archival system and specific challenges
During the Clinton administration it was decided to open and catalogue all Nazi-related administrative files in US agencies. The Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group locates, identifies, inventories, and recommends for declassification, currently classified U.S. records relating to Nazi and Japanese Imperial Government war crimes. Once declassified, these records are released to the American public. The group, consisting of high-level representatives from federal agencies and public members, was established by the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act and the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act.
Since 1999, the IWG has declassified and opened to the public an estimated 8 million pages of documents, including 1.2 million pages of OSS records; 74,000 pages of CIA name and subject files; more than 350,000 pages of FBI subject files; and nearly 300,000 pages of Army intelligence files. The once secret records are helping to shape our understanding of the Holocaust, war crimes, World War II and postwar activities of U.S. and Allied intelligence agencies.
The Holocaust-Era Assets web pages provide a better understanding of the record holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) relating to the looting, locating, recovering, and reinstituting Holocaust-Era assets. Substantive research interest in Holocaust-Era Assets began in 1996 with various issues related to Swiss dormant bank accounts and gold looted by Nazi Germany. Within several years, interests expanded to include, among other things, looted cultural property (including books, archives, manuscripts, and Jewish communal property), looted art works, unpaid and unclaimed insurance policies and issues surrounding slave and forced labor. Furthermore, the website includes a link to the online publication of Holocaust-Era Assets. A Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland which provides researchers with a extensive overview of all NARA records related to the topic.
C. EHRI identification and description results on the United States of America
C.I. In the United States of America
EHRI focused its data integration first and foremost on the Axis and Nazi-occupied countries in Europe (including the North-African colonies). However, a vast amount of materials are being stored elsewhere, among which one of the most – if not most – important countries is the United States.
For repository identification, EHRI merged the information from existing overviews: ten repositories were listed in the Guide européen des sources d’archives sur la Shoah, 73 in the directory of the Claims Conference, and some extra in an overview of compensation and restitution repositories, equally put together by Claims Conference. As such, EHRI provides information on 81 repositories in the US.
Considering its position in the field of Holocaust research and archives, it was of key importance for EHRI to integrate information on the collection descriptions from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum provided EHRI with an export of its collection, document, object, oral history and publication descriptions. All these descriptions have been integrated in the EHRI portal. As the descriptions very often include references to the original places from where copies were made, and as the EHRI portal allows for linking original and copy-collections, this is a very important step, not only to make the originals and copies better traceable, but also to allow for making a sustainable connection between original and copy. Another reason for the importance of integrating USHMM collection descriptions is that the museum has done a tremendous effort in collecting sources from individuals. Like Yad Vashem, their holdings include unique private collections.
Furthermore, EHRI provided the researcher with a description of the World Jewish Congress records, stored at the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. The World Jewish Congress, an international Jewish representative organisation, was formed in 1936. In July 1940 the headquarters of the World Jewish Congress was moved from Geneva to New York City due to the Second World War. This collection holds important sources on the Holocaust for all countries affected by the persecution and annihilation of Jews during the Second World War. Records include cables, correspondence, memos, minutes, photographs, press releases, publications, reports and research files. Its online finding aid gives an extensive overview of the materials.
Collection descriptions were also added for The Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. They include the "Jewish Labor Committee Records” (Part I and II: Holocaust Era Files” and the Part III: Post-war Administrative Files and Anti-Discrimination Department Files). The Jewish Labor Committee, an umbrella group of Jewish trade unions and fraternal organisations, was founded in 1934 for the purpose of organising opposition to Fascism, providing assistance to its victims, and fighting all forms of bigotry. After the Second World War, the Committee continued its relief programme for Holocaust victims, providing shipments of food, clothing, and medical supplies. It also provided immigration assistance, and offered help with employment and housing for refugees who came to the United States.
Furthermore, the Center for Jewish History in New York City is a cultural institution, independent research facility and destination for the exploration of Jewish history and heritage. It is home to five partner organisations: American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute Archives, Yeshiva University Museum and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. They hold important collections on Jewish life in Europe before, during and after the Second World War. Other archives, which have to be explicitly mentioned here, are the archives of Claims Conference and the JDC (the latter two have archives both at their offices in New York and in Jerusalem). For early documentation on the Holocaust, the “Voices of the Holocaust” (Illinois Institute of Technology) provides a permanent digital archive of digitised, restored, transcribed, and translated interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted by Dr David P. Boder in 1946, available online in audio, transcription and translation into English. Furthermore, oral histories and testimonies can be found (but not exclusively) at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive and the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University Library.
The National Archives in the US (NARA) also hold important materials, including records of the War Refugee Board, the State Department records, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which, for example, holds the war-time German embassy in Bucharest files. The Roosevelt Presidential Library holds files on the Roosevelt administration which may contain Holocaust-related materials. The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution And Peace is focusing on the history of wars in the twentieth century and includes very important collections on Eastern Europe during the Second World War (for example, on the Polish Government-in-exile) and personal papers (such as the personal diary of the SS-chief in Poland Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger). Furthermore, there are private collections and other holdings on the Holocaust spread throughout the country, some of which have been copied by USHMM as well.
C.II. In other countries
The most important sources on the Holocaust and its aftermath that were created in the United States, but are being stored outside of the country, are the archives of the JDC and Claims Conference. The former organisation holds sources from before, during and after the Second World War, the latter, despite being founded in the 1950s, holds many reports documenting the pre-war Jewish life in Europe and documents the lives of the Holocaust survivors.