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American Friends Service Committee Refugee Assistance Case Files

Document | Not Digitized | Accession Number: 2002.296

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    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. Some case files also include 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 German refugee Herta Kraus, a 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.

    A separate series of cards indexes 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 appear in the case files, as the index file includes names of some whose applications were not pursued 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.

    The collection also includes a series of case files marked "Casablanca" 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.
    inclusive:  1933-1963
    bulk:  1938-1958
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum collection, gift of American Friends Service Committee
    Collection Creator
    American Friends Service Committee
    The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is an organization associated with the Society of Friends (Quakers) that works to encourage peace and social justice matters around the world.

    The AFSC was founded in 1917 in response to the major humanitarian crises related to World War I. Throughout the 1920s the AFSC sought to relieve suffering by operating child feeding programs across Europe, most notably in Germany. Quaker International centers, run jointly by American and British Friends, were established in Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Moscow, and elsewhere to continue relief efforts after the start of the Great Depression in 1929. In the 1930s, these Centers focused on relief efforts, but after the Kristallnacht pogroms in November 1938 the AFSC established a Refugee Division (also referred to as the Refugee Section) tasked with assisting individuals and families in need. Quaker relief efforts continued, but the AFSC also began helping people flee Nazi Europe, communicate with loved ones, and adjust to life in the United States.

    Since the mid-1930s, the AFSC had been supporting the work of Hertha Kraus. Kraus was a refugee professor at Bryn Mawr College, who found teaching positions and provided assistance to other refugees, some she knew personally and others who had been referred to her. When the Refugee Division formally began work in February 1939, they took over the 780 case files from Kraus's office, and Kraus became an important consultant in their work.

    Within a year, the Division opened more than 3,000 new cases and met with thousands of people seeking help in the Vienna and Berlin Quaker offices. The Division had a mostly female staff of about 25 workers in the AFSC's main Philadelphia office, plus a few workers in a New York office that shared a building with several other refugee aid groups.

    Many relief organizations specialized in certain types of refugees—Jewish groups helped Jews, Catholic groups helped Catholics—but the AFSC's Refugee Division assisted those who were not already being helped. In practice, the AFSC primarily worked with “non-Aryan Christians” (those considered “racially Jewish” by the Nuremberg Laws but who did not consider themselves Jewish by religion) and those in mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews. The Quakers aided people seeking affidavits to come to the United States—a critical step in the immigration process—by locating American citizens willing to sponsor them. In many cases, the refugee was unknown to the person writing the affidavit. The Quakers coordinated with numerous other agencies such as the National Refugee Service, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) to ensure that as many refugees could be helped as possible.

    In addition to assisting those still in Europe, the Quakers helped newly arrived refugees adjust to life in the United States. The AFSC established a series of workshops and hostels to help refugees learn English and prepare for their new lives, including Sky Island Hostel in Nyack, New York; the Haverford Cooperative Workshop in Haverford, Pennsylvania; and the Quaker Hill Hostel in Richmond, Indiana. The largest and longest-running hostel was Scattergood, in West Branch, Iowa, where more than 185 refugees lived between 1940 and 1943. Working with the Joint, Hertha Kraus traveled to Havana, Cuba, in 1939 to found the Finca Paso Seco hostel, where refugees could learn agricultural trades.

    The Quakers also combated anti-refugee sentiment. The AFSC joined with the American Jewish Committee to publish a booklet, "Refugee Facts: A Study of the German Refugee in America," intended to show that refugees were neither swarming the United States, nor would they worsen unemployment in a country still deep in the Depression. More than 250,000 copies of the booklet were distributed across the country. The AFSC also advocated on behalf of Japanese and Japanese-Americans interned in the United States after the outbreak of war.

    British involvement with the Quaker International centers in Nazi territory ended when England declared war on Germany in September 1939. Since the United States remained neutral from September 1939 to December 1941, American Quakers were able to continue working in Berlin and Vienna until 1941. When Americans were finally forced to flee Nazi territory, the centers were turned over to German Quakers who continued working with Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution throughout the war, despite threats of arrest and internment.

    The most important wartime Quaker relief operations in Europe were in southern France, in the unoccupied area controlled by the collaborationist Vichy government. Since 1939, a multinational group of Quakers had operated in Marseille, Toulouse, and other French cities, aiding Spanish Republicans and their families escaping over the Pyrenees after the Spanish Civil War. When thousands of Jewish refugees fled into southern France after the German invasion and occupation of the north in summer 1940, these Quaker offices expanded to assist them. They established soup kitchens in French concentration camps like Les Milles and Gurs, operated homes hiding Jewish children, and helped smuggle children out of camps to safety.

    In addition to assisting refugees in France with affidavits and other immigration issues, the AFSC's Refugee Division helped thousands of people in the United States transfer small amounts of money to loved ones in French concentration camps. The AFSC also played a key role in helping hundreds of children, including Jewish refugees and the children of Spanish Republicans, come to the United States under the care of the US Committee for the Care of European Children in 1941–42. The AFSC opened refugee assistance offices in Lisbon, which had become one of the last available destinations for Jews fleeing Europe, and in North Africa, where they helped negotiate the release of hundreds of people held in internment camps.

    By the time the Refugee Division ceased operations in the early 1950s, AFSC staff had opened more than 22,000 case files for individuals and families, responding with immigration and settlement assistance, financial help, or just a sympathetic ear. For their relief efforts, their work with refugees, and for their overall promotion of peace, the American Friends Service Committee and their British counterparts, the Friends Service Council, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.
    "Register of the American Friends Service Committee Refugee Case Files ca. 1933 - 1958," by the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Philadelphia, PA.

    Holocaust Encyclopedia article, "Quakers": [accessed 21 June 2021]

    AFSC Archives, Philadelphia, PA: [accessed 27 June 2021]

    Physical Details

    565 boxes
    56 oversize boxes
    System of Arrangement
    The American Friends Service Committee Refugee Assistance Case Files are arranged as four series.

    Series 1: Case Files, 1933-1963; 553 boxes, approximately 20,000 extant case files, out of approximately 22,000 originally created by the AFSC. Files are numbered sequentially, in roughly chronological order as files were created and maintained by Refugee Division staff and volunteers.
    Series 2: Names Index Cards, 1933-1958; 56 oversize boxes.
    Series 3: Casablanca Series, 1942-1945; 10 boxes, filed alphabetically by name. Note that these cases are not referenced in the Names Index cards.
    Series 4: Lisbon AF (Alphabetical Files), 1941-1945; two boxes, filed alphabetically by name. Note that these cases are not referenced in the Names Index cards.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The American Friends Service Committee donated the American Friends Service Committee Refugee Assistance Case Files to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002. The AFSC had physically entrusted the collection to the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia in the early 1970s. When the Balch Institute was planning to merge with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the AFSC contacted the Museum regarding possible deposit of the collection.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-23 15:34:48
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