March 30, 2012


Filed under: found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 3:23 pm

A favorite folder title, from the Pomrenze box in the UJA-Federation collection


Colonel Seymour J. Pomrenze, records manager for UJA-Federation of New York

Filed under: early history, interesting or noteworthy archival material — susanwoodland @ 3:20 pm

In the late 1970s, before UJA in New York City merged with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in New York (FJP),  Colonel Seymour J. Pomrenze retired from the army and began work as a consultant for various organizations, including FJP.

The American Jewish Historical Society recently received the papers of Colonel Pomrenze; the finding aid to that collection has been posted online and can be found here:

The Colonel, as he was called within the various Jewish organizations where he left his mark as a records manager, shows up all through the archives boxes we have received so far.  I’m quite sure it is because of the Colonel’s work through the 1980s at FJP and later at UJA-Federation of New York that so much of Federation’s earliest records have survived.

There is one box within the UJA-Federation collection that is the subject of this blog, which contains primarily his records management files and some biographical materials from the early 1990s.

As the finding aid to the Pomrenze collection makes clear, however, his most important contribution to the field of records management and archives was his work at the end of WWII in Offenbach, Germany to return looted books and religious items to their owners.  More information can be found in the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC:

Colonel Pomrenze, center, at Offenbach

March 23, 2012


Filed under: interesting or noteworthy archival material, the process of archival processing — Tags: — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 10:45 am

Jewish-sponsored camping is considered to be one of the oldest in the U.S., having developed right after emergence of the first camps of the YMCA and Girl Scouts. The first Jewish residential camp, Lake Success Camp, was opened in 1901. From the very beginning, Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (FJP) took a most active part in the sponsoring and support of camping for the children of the overcrowded communities of the Lower East Side and other places in New York populated by Jewish immigrants. In many instances the camps became the first experience of being outdoors in the fresh air and coming into contact with nature for thousands of poor Jewish kids. From the beginning of the camping program, the Jewish communal leaders realized the importance and potential of camping for the younger generation, and also for senior adults and the handicapped. Many agencies of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (later UJA-Federation of New York) took part in quite a herculean effort to bring Jewish children and youths closer to nature and a healthy environment, provide adequate rest, good company, balanced nutrition, physical exercise and interesting activities, and to introduce to these children a wide range of cultural and educational programs. The fees were mostly kept at a minimal level, and often the expense of the camp stay was absorbed by the Federation, which paid particular attention to attracting to the camps children from underprivileged families. This can be seen, for example, in a paper by Asher Melzer, Surprise Lake Camp director and later camping consultant, titled: “Whom We Serve and the Philosophy and Practice of Fee Setting” (1961).


Among the agencies whose camping-related materials can be found  in the UJA collection are the Jewish Vacation Association (later Association of Jewish Sponsored Camps), the  Jewish Welfare Board, the Jewish Community Centers and the YM & YWHAs.  Other files include those of the Camping Services Department of the Federation and the Subcommittee on Camps of Federation’s Distribution Committee. The materials reflect a complex picture of various structures cooperating in the organized Jewish camping sphere, interacting in a huge number of projects and keeping active dozens of residential and day camps, camps for the aged, handicapped and mentally ill, camps for the artistically gifted and for the Orthodox. Among the persons active in the camping activities of FJP-UJA were Graenum Berger, Herman Sainer, Asher Melzer, Jerome Mark, who will all be written about as this blog continues.

Covering the time span from 1950s through 1990s, the documents mostly represent the files of the Camping department counselors and directors, the minutes of various committees and records of budget hearings, correspondence with individual camps, cultural programming materials, maps and blueprints, photographs and audio recordings, as well as many booklets and publications on Jewish camping. The materials will be of interest to today’s professional in the area of camping and recreation, as well as for historians and, perhaps, former campers, who might find something long forgotten but heart-warming in the files of the UJA camping services.


March 16, 2012

A few minutes about minutes

Filed under: the process of archival processing — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 2:32 pm

The first logical step in inventorying the minutes collection was to create an Excel spreadsheet of the meeting minutes, to track which minutes exist or have been found in the collection. Minutes are a record of notes and actions taken at a meeting. The collection chiefly consists of minutes from the meetings of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (FJP) and the merged UJA-Federation of New York (UJF). The minutes are crucial to understanding how these two organizations operated from 1916 to 2000 and will be a tremendous resource to researchers seeking factual information about these organizations.  The minutes contain valuable information such as who attended the meeting, what was discussed, progress reports, future directions, financial information, etc.  The minutes are vital because they uniquely document the history of a thriving organization.  The minutes of both the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee span from 1916 to 2000, but mysteriously, so far in our processing, the minutes of the latter contain a large gap from 1938 to 1965.  Once the finding aid to the collection is online, the Board of Trustees minutes will be found in the FJP Executive series (1916 to June 1986, 24 bankers boxes) as well as in the UJF Executive series (October 1986-2000, 2 bankers boxes).  A duplicate set of minutes also exists in the FJP annual bound volumes of minutes, which are more inclusive and for the most part contain the entire run of Board of Trustees minutes from 1916 to 1985. The Executive Committee minutes ranging from 1916 to 2000 will also be split between the FJP Executive series and UJF Executive series and constitute 4 bankers boxes.  Four bound volumes contain Executive Committee minutes ranging from 1973 to 1986.

An effort was made to determine the overlap between the minutes in the volumes and with the Board of Trustees’ minutes and the Executive Committee minutes found within the archive.   In addition to minutes, the FJP bound volumes contain correspondence, financial records, treasurer’s reports, statements, agreements, brochures, pamphlets, and memoranda, which were distributed as back-up material with the minutes to the board members.  This set of minutes now constitutes the copy of record and are a permanent and vital record of the UJA-Federation of New York collection.

Other minutes of important committees found so far within the collection include minutes of the Distribution Committee, the Organizational Committee and the Planning Committee.

We expect these minutes to be available to researchers within the next few months.  We’ll announce on the blog the posting of this part of the catalog as soon as it is available.

March 13, 2012

Packing up the oral history materials

Filed under: audio-visual material — susanwoodland @ 10:26 am

This is us, Vital, Eric and Susan, packing up the transcripts.

March 12, 2012

Digitization of UJA-Federation oral histories

Filed under: audio-visual material — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 11:17 am

UJA-Federation of New York’s Oral History Project was established in 1981 by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.  Upon the merger in 1986 of Federation with United Jewish Appeal, the project was continued under the auspices of UJA-Federation of New York.  The purpose of the project was to record the history of the organization through taped memoirs of volunteer and professional leaders whose lives influenced and were influenced by UJA-Federation of New York. 

The oral histories encompass the Federation’s early history beginning in 1917 through its merger with the United Jewish Appeal in 1986 to 2004. Memoirs concern interviewee’s biographical background and organizational involvements, providing insight into personal motivations, attitudes, Jewish history in New York, and American and Jewish social organizations. Occupations of interviewees include accountants, attorneys, artists, civic leaders, congressmen, editors, executives, fundraising professionals, historians, physicians, rabbis, radio/TV producers, realtors, social workers, and volunteers.

Last November, we began to digitize the audiocassettes and transcripts associated with the United Jewish Appeal-Federation Oral History Project. As the digitized material is ingested into a trusted digital repository at the Center for Jewish History, the oral histories and transcripts will be made available in alphabetical order on and will be linked to the online finding aid for the oral history project, which will also soon be available online.

Right now, A through C (Nathan S. Ancell to Susan L. Cullman) are now available online. So oral histories, like that of Seymour R. Askin, Graenum Berger, Lawrence B. Buttenweiser, or Cynthia Green Colin, can be found by clicking the embedded links and many more oral histories are soon to follow. We are tremendously pleased with the progress of the digitization project and expect to have the project completed, including hyperlinks to each interview as part of the online finding aid, by the end of the summer 2012.

March 8, 2012

First boxes arrive

Filed under: the process of archival processing — susanwoodland @ 3:47 pm

This blog is about a collection of over 3000 boxes.  Scheduled to be processed within 4 years, we plan to bring in 250 boxes approximately every 3 months.  The first boxes arrived at the end of December 2011.

While it may appear that this first aisle of boxes, at right, are in good condition, in fact many of the boxes were crushed, had survived a flood or use as a mouse nest at some point in the past, or were simply very, very dirty.

This was not unexpected, as we brought in boxes holding some of the oldest materials in the collection.  Below are some examples of the worst of the boxes.

Fortunately, the mouse ate mostly the cardboard, and very few of the documents.

A box held together with tape and sheer force of will.

March 5, 2012

Welcome to our first blog entry!

Filed under: Uncategorized — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 3:16 pm

Over the last few months, we have discussed methods for sharing our discoveries, interesting pieces of early history, and the identification of noteworthy archival documents as part of the on-going American Jewish Historical Society project to process the organizational papers of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, United Jewish Appeal of New York, and, after 1986, the merged organization United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York.

Collectively, we had decided that blogging about the project would be an exquisitely wonderful method for sharing our discoveries within the collection with researchers, with the historically minded, with fellow archivists, the curious, the tenacious, as well as the staff and volunteers of United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York. We are especially excited to be cooperating with a vibrant, living philanthropic organization, since in many instances, archivists process, arrange, and describe archival material from organizations that are no longer operational.

a Post-it note that Susan found while processing merger material

Ink on yellow sticky note, circa 1986

The name for the blog comes from a Post-it note that Susan discovered attached to a folder found within the UJA-Federation merger material that she was processing. As far as naming goes, “This can go back to the archives” seems suitably appropriate and sufficiently self-referential. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to sharing, discussing, and publicizing portions of the collection as we process the archival material.


Susan, Vital, Marvin, and Eric
UJA-Federation of New York archival processing project team

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: