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American Friends Service Committee Refugee Assistance Case Files

Document | Accession Number: 2002.296

Consists of more than 20,000 case files created and maintained by staff and volunteers with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker relief and rescue organization. The files are concerned primarily with the sponsorship of individuals for immigration to the United States and the process of their adjustment to America, including job-hunting and the placement of young adults in colleges and training programs. The collection contains a wealth of detail on individual refugees, the bulk of whom were fleeing Nazism, including their experiences before or during the war and the efforts of AFSC workers on their behalf. Later case files include correspondence from people in the United States trying to locate loved ones in Europe after the war.

With few exceptions, each file concerns an individual or family the AFSC's Refugee Division (also known as the Refugee Section) took on as cases, primarily between early 1939 and the early 1950s. The files vary considerably in content and in amount of information they contain, but often include correspondence between case workers and potential employers, as well as between AFSC workers and various government and other relief agencies. Also included in some case files is correspondence between the AFSC workers and other Quakers in communities where those immigrants settled; correspondence with affiants who agreed to prepare affidavits of support for potential immigrants; and letters of recommendation to the AFSC and other agencies on behalf of the person being assisted. Most files contain between 10 and 20 pages of letters, memoranda, and photographs, though some cases contain hundreds or even thousands of pages of materials documenting the AFSC's work with a person or family over many years and locations. Most files created before and during World War II contain receipts showing that the case had been reviewed by the National Coordinating Committee or its successor organization, the National Refugee Service, to ensure no other agencies were assisting that person or family.

The files were maintained by staff and volunteers at the AFSC's headquarters in Philadelphia, PA. The first 769 case files (some of which were later destroyed) primarily document the work of Herta Kraus, a German refugee and professor at Bryn Mawr College who had been working with individual refugees since 1934, with support from the AFSC. When the Refugee Division (or Refugee Section) began operating in early 1939, these files were transferred to the AFSC's headquarters, and new files were numbered sequentially as they were created, starting with 770. The AFSC maintained a small refugee assistance office in New York City, and files in that office were later incorporated into the main series in Philadelphia. AFSC staff maintained a separate series of files documenting assistance, primarily money transfers, for people in France, and in July 1942 started assigning those files their own case numbers (F-1 through F-2642); in March 1944 these were interfiled with the master case file collection and were assigned case numbers beginning with 9800. Quaker centers in Europe generally maintained their own files for people they assisted locally. After World War II files from the Geneva, Lisbon, and Madrid offices were sent to Philadelphia and interfiled with the primary series of case files, so that all documentation about an individual or family is kept together. Some files from the Madrid office that did not already have corresponding files in the primary series are still kept by the AFSC Archives in Philadelphia. The AFSC Archives also holds the original register books that AFSC staff and volunteers used to record names associated with each case file.

There is separate series of cards that index the names associated with each file. These cards, along with the original register books kept by the AFSC, have been adapted into a searchable register of names associated with each file. Not all names in the card index are in the files, as the index file includes names of some who applied to, but were not helped by the AFSC. In addition, the index identifies not only the applicants themselves, but also correspondence by those who wrote letters in support of or offering sponsorship of refugees' immigration. Cards are generally color-coded: pink or red cards indicate a case file had been created; blue cards indicate cases for individuals in France; and white cards usually indicate correspondence received from or about an individual not referenced in a case file. A small number of white cards do reference case numbers.

A parallel series of numerically-arranged photographs pulled from case files is also included, as well as a series of case files marked "Casablanca," which were kept by AFSC staff in North Africa starting in 1942. There is also a small series of "Lisbon AF" (Alphabetical Files) case files for individuals that did not have separate numbered files in the primary series.

According to information on the index cards, approximately 1,900 cases were destroyed when AFSC workers deemed the cases to be inactive, though some cases marked as "destroyed" may contain later correspondence. The bulk of the destroyed cases were from before February 1940, which is apparently when they ceased the practice, although a handful of later files were also destroyed for various reasons. In the 1950s and 60s, AFSC volunteers destroyed some personal documents, such as affiant tax returns, at the instructions of the people named in the documents. Eleven case files were destroyed in 1960, for unknown reasons. A small number of other files appear to be missing.

creation:  1933-1963
bulk:  1938-1958
571 boxes
56 oversize boxes
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum collection, gift of American Friends Service Committee
Record last modified: 2021-11-10 11:17:08
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