We received a donation of a few documents recently, from Carla Schein, the granddaughter of a very early donor to UJA’s New York office. Carla and I e-mailed a few times, revealing an unusual immigrant story with some unexpected role reversals.
United Jewish Appeal (UJA) was created in 1939 by United Palestine Appeal (later, United Israel Appeal) and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) (and later, the National Refugee Service) to address the worsening situation for European Jews by coordinating fund-raising campaigns in the United States on their behalf. A mere 2 years after the formation of UJA, as we learned from the donated correspondence, Jacob Bonnist pledged $100.
Below is a letter dated June 27th, 1941 from Samuel Leidesdorf, treasurer of UJA in New York City and the Metropolitan Area, acknowledging the pledge. On unusually wide letterhead, this document was scanned in 2 parts in order to capture all of the names in both the left and right margins:
Most of the posts to this blog over the last year and a half have dealt with Federation, not UJA, material. This is because so few records survived as part of the UJA-Federation of New York archives collection. That is why we were immediately interested in this donation of a few documents. Just the long list of names on the letterhead in 1941 are of great interest – many of the names are familiar to us from Federation’s archives, and many may be familiar to you because of their involvement in many other aspects of New York City Jewish communal life in the middle of the 20th century. Mr. Bonnist’s story has only enhanced the research value of these papers.
In Carla’s words:
“Jacob Bonnist was my grandfather … my mother’s father. His wife (Carla) died before the war and he and my mother [Else] arrived in America on May 28, 1940. They were born in and lived in Amsterdam where he had a warehouse for jute bags (what people used before plastic), and for many years had been making deposits to an account in First National City Bank (now Citibank) in Paris. So when they got here they did have money waiting for them … ”
Jacob and Else lived at the Salisbury Hotel on 57th Street, the address in the letter, when they came to New York. Jacob died in February 1943, and Else was married in June 1944. “I guess it was what was called a ‘residential hotel’. When one of my daughters was in high school she ‘interviewed’ my mother about her arrival. Obviously this was not the typical Holocaust immigrant story … This cannot be compared to what most people went through, but the thought of picking up and leaving everything you have (the warehouse, a home, an almost-finished law degree) behind, not because you want a change, but to flee for your life, is still not easy. It’s why so many Jews in countries like Germany and Holland, where they felt accepted, did not leave. Sometimes it’s easier to flee if you know you are not a part of your country’s every-day life and you are leaving nothing behind!”
A year later, Jacob appears to have made at least one additional donation to UJA, this time to the War Emergency Campaign:
Thanks very much to Carla Schein and her family for this donation to the archives.