I’m honored to be featured on the JDC Archives Blog today. I have explored the depths of their collection for many years and am thrilled that they invested so heavily in digitizing the whole of their archival materials. It’s a public assertion of the need for thoughtful engagement with digital objects and I’m thrilled that they see my work as a model for employing digital archives in the classroom and in research.
It’s rewarding for me to think about the many strings of my work – including historical research, Digital Humanities projects, and the daily work of building a DH community and Digital Scholarship center at UCSC – as interconnected. I feel very lucky to build space for Digital Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz – work that is made possible because Jewish communal groups and archives have recognized the value of digitization. Engaging students and the Jewish community at large in the practice of working with primary sources invites them into the process of writing history.
But, mostly, I’m excited to hear the Eddie Cantor ad for SOS from 1948 linked in the article. I vividly remember the day I found a set of ad scripts for SOS in the JDC archive. Before the collection was digitized, I sat for days with a pile of microfilm reels reading reports, memos, and newsletters from the SOS project. Supplies for Overseas Survivors (SOS) collected canned food, clothing, and other goods for three years and sent them directly to Jews in Displaced Persons camps across Europe. The project activated Jews and non-Jews around the country in direct support for the surviving Jews of Europe and the extensive public campaign supported my argument that American Jews learned about the Holocaust through their participation in American Jewish philanthropy. The scripts written for Eddie Cantor, Dick Powell, and Henry Fonda were a particularly rich find as they revealed how JDC transformed the needs of survivors in Europe into appeal narratives for American donors.
Hearing Eddie Cantor, as we can do now, is a thrill. Cantor was a passionate advocate for survivors after the war. He led campaigns for JDC, Hadassah, and UJA. He lent his name and his voice to numerous radio broadcasts and brought his famous friends along.
As I listen to this appeal, I wonder where I can send cans of milk today and how the history of refugee aid – so strongly documented in the JDC archive – should inform our response to today’s refugee crisis.
Looking for more historical precedents to contextualize the current refugee crisis? Check out the special issue of Holocaust and Genocide Studies on refugees – made available free from Oxford University Press.
These essays help “narrow the gap between historical facts and rhetoric” and in a year of so much fear mongering, a little history can go a long way.
“People frequently ask whether the study of history can help in managing humanitarian crises. This question is particularly timely given the massive outflow of refugees from Syria and the problems of admitting large numbers of refugees to other countries, including the United States…. Those who speak confidently of a single lesson of the past often mislead their audiences.” – Historian Richard Breitman, in his introduction to this collection of articles
Originally posted on memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com
HIAS has organized a campaign asking people to Stand up for Refugee Resettlement. You can (and should) TAKE ACTION NOW >
In the wake of the Holocaust, when thousands of Jewish survivors and other refugees remained in camps, the United States and other countries around the world delayed action on immigration. Between 1945 and 1948, US policy denied access to most Displaced Persons based on the country of their birth. The 1948 Displaced Persons Act and the 1950 corrective of that act finally allowed Jewish DPs access to legal immigration to the United States, where they settled and found new lives. The U.S. Refugee Resettlement program that grew as a result of this initial legislation has allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees the same opportunity.
Around the world, there are now more refugees and displaced persons in the world than at any time since World War II. We should all be aware of this crisis and ask our government to take a lead in providing refuge for those fleeing from violence and oppression. As President Truman said in 1952 about the ongoing Refugee Crisis in Europe:
This problem is of great practical importance to us because it affects the peace and security of the free world. It is also of great concern to us, because of our long-established humanitarian traditions.
Today, congress seeks to end the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program, it is even more important than ever to remember this history and demand that our leaders act according to our best past.
Stand with HIAS in support of refugees.
Image via HIAS
Originally posted on memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com >
World Refugee Day is tomorrow (June 20). In recognition, HIAS has released this video that calls on Jews to remember their history as refugees and to help those still displaced. The video is powerful and compelling.
In particular, I am struck by two connected through lines that position HIAS within a history of Jewish displacement and the contemporary refugee crisis:
(1) The connection between Jewish values and the work of rescuing and resettling refugees around the world today. Their mission is no longer to save Jews, but they are still informed by their roots as a Jewish organization. As they define their goals:
Guided by Jewish values and experience, HIAS is working to address the global refugee crisis.
(2) That the organization chose to tell the history of Jewish displacement as part of a long history of displacement is inspiring. They empower Jews to act today not because Jews are in danger, but because we were once refugees and HIAS was there. In telling this connected history, the video jumps from Nazi concentration camps to the Jewish exile in North Africa to Darfur and Refugee Camps across the world. In each case, HIAS was there:
We were the ones at the docks…and we are still at the docks, in the deserts, and in the cities and camps and lands where people no longer have a home in their homeland.
The argument that Jews should care because it is a Jewish mandate is powerful and speaks beyond World Refugee Day – it speaks to how Jewish values can be part of political concerns that are not just about Israel or just about antisemitism.
This history is at the heart of the Memories/Motifs project and I am proud to be a supporter of HIAS today.
Reposted from Memories/Motifs in honor of World Refugee Day