As the commemorations continue for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival and the 175th anniversary of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), I also want to acknowledge and celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) in 2020.
Formerly known as the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archive, the JHC and NEHGS launched a collaboration in 2010 to enhance Jewish historical and genealogical research and the continued collection and preservation of Jewish history. Five years later, the collaboration was further strengthened when JHC’s archives became permanently deposited at NEHGS. In 2018, the center was named for Justin and Genevieve Wyner in recognition of their longstanding support and advocacy. Continue reading Ten years of JHC→
The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society (JHC) offers researchers a destination to explore families and institutions from the New England Jewish community. Through our archival collections, library catalog, and digital collections, researchers have access to over 250 collections, 2 million records, 400 books, and over 600,000 searchable digitized documents.
Two weeks after an explosion leveled parts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in December 1917, a survivor named Walter Hoganson wrote a letter to a friend in Stoughton, Massachusetts. In the letter, Hoganson provides a harrowing first-person narrative of the events that occurred the morning of December 6, from the initial blast to the arrival of the Massachusetts Relief Expedition. At the end of his letter, he extols the virtues of the Expedition’s Commissioner-in-Charge, Abraham Ratshesky; Hoganson’s letter was placed with care in Ratshesky’s scrapbook, part of his papers in the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS.
First-person narratives are archives’ most enduring materials – they provide those of us in the present with a keener understanding and empathy for those in the past. Continue reading For the future→
After working directly with physical collections in the library for more than twenty years, when we began telecommuting due to COVID-19 I could not even imagine how to do it from home or what work would be best to do. My position is with the Library Collection Services team, and some of my at-home work is indeed related to library collections, but my knowledge of Russian and Ukrainian has allowed me to be helpful to other areas of NEHGS as well. Occasionally over the years I have translated some records for genealogists, but now I do translation daily and work on several documents at once, such as Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society documents for the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC), guides and brochures for the Education team and JHC, and descriptions of the art objects on display in our building – and more documents are on the way. Continue reading Translating from home→
Some of you may know of Herbert Brutus Ehrmann. A Harvard-educated attorney born in Louisville, Kentucky, he is most known for serving on the defense team for Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants convicted of (and later executed for) murdering a paymaster at a shoe company during an armed robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1930. The JHC has a collection of his materials.
His wife Sara Rosenfeld Ehrmann was equally well-known in the Boston community. Also born in Kentucky, she was raised in Rochester, New York, and married her husband in 1917. Partially in response to the injustice she saw in the case against Sacco and Vanzetti, she devoted her life to fight against capital punishment. Continue reading Lost in the mountains→
On the train from Washington D.C. to Boston this past summer, I sat next to an immigration lawyer by chance. Thanks to reading immigration case files all the time, I was proud that I could at least identify a few documents and steps in the immigration process he mentioned. I remember remarking how difficult it must be to understand the immigration process and navigate it successfully. Thinking about the encounter in hindsight, and after interning at the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center for a year, I realized that the immigration process being difficult, tedious, and full of unexpected challenges isn’t exactly new.
During the Second World War, the U.S. State Department was notorious for its role in impeding the immigration of refugees, particularly Jews. Reflecting fears about German spies, the Department issued a so-called “relatives rule,” which instructed U.S. consuls abroad to deny visas to any applicant with close relatives in Nazi-occupied territory. Continue reading An immigration obstacle course→
When Isaac Gordon and his two younger brothers – Aron and one whose name is unknown – left their village in Poland and fled from the Nazis into the woods, it must have felt like stepping into another world. Polish resistance to the Nazis was fierce during World War II, and the dense Polish forests would be the training grounds, staging areas, and headquarters for all types of partisan groups and underground fighters. Isaac, a cattle-dealer in his early thirties from Vilna (Vilnius), could hardly have felt prepared for the type of life that he and his brothers would be embarking upon when they joined the resistance movement. Continue reading Notes from the underground→
Few things can split apart families like war, and for Jewish families World War II was akin to a tornado: a whirling vortex that broke apart structures and families, generations or centuries old, and scattered any remaining pieces across the countryside. Of those that survived, many could not rebuild the families that had been lost. The family of Leo and Bertha Portnoj, and their three children, was one of those directly in the path of the storm. Continue reading A chance family reunion→
Immigration to the United States has often been a difficult and time-consuming process, and never more so than during the first half of the twentieth century. The immigration laws of the 1920s established a quota system whereby only 2% of the national population of each country could immigrate annually; in effect, this meant that if there were 2 million Germans in the United States, then only 40,000 Germans could come to the United States each year. Continue reading Tired of waiting→
Immigration case records from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) often involve siblings, parents, spouses, children, or other relatives, but in some circumstances people reach out to whomever they can, asking for assistance from anyone they know. Anetta Ottolenghi Cavalieri was from the Piedmonte region of Italy, and had deep family roots there; she had no family or even close friends in the United States. But when Fascism began to make inroads in Italy, she reached out for help to pen pal Bessie Buxton of Peabody, Massachusetts, with whom she had discussed horticulture on and off for several years. Continue reading ‘An iron will’→