Fleeing the Coming Storm

The official papers of Representative Michael J. Kirwan (D-19th Ohio), which are currently being processed by Archives & Special Collections, contain a substantial volume of correspondence between the congressman and his constituents. Among these letters are those from local residents pleading with Kirwan for assistance in obtaining asylum for friends and relatives desperate to flee Europe. Most of the people in question were Jewish and in urgent need of sanctuary from the Nazis. Sadly, the congressman’s official correspondence reflects what little power he had in these matters.

American immigration laws at the time were based upon a quota system, whereby entry into the U.S. was limited by an annual number assigned to each country of origin. Once the limit was reached for a particular group, the gate was closed for that year. For the Jews of Europe, however, the situation was complicated further by the promulgation anti-Semitic legislation in Germany that codified the Nazi definition of “Jewishness.”

The Nuremberg Laws, so-called because they were first made public in 1935 at the annual Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, declared that only persons of German blood could be citizens of the Third Reich. Accordingly, German Jews were stripped of their citizenship and other rights because they were viewed by Hitler and the Nazis as a foreign ethnic group. The Party’s definition, however, did not match that followed by United States immigration authorities, who saw Jews as practitioners of a religion, not as an ethnic group. Thus, German Jews seeking immigrant visas to the U.S. were seen as Germans by American officials and were placed in the same quota group for Germany as non-Jewish applicants. Later, Jewish residents of other countries would experience this same bureaucratic dilemma.

The appointment of Breckinridge Long to the post of Assistant Secretary of State made things worse. Smug, bigoted, and ambitious, Long did nothing to alleviate the plight of those endangered by the Nazis as he supervised 23 of the 42 divisions in the State Department, including the visa section. Citing “the interest of national security,” Long denied visas to a multitude of potential immigrants because he feared the infiltration of fascist spies and saboteurs into the United States. Thus, Long and his associates (with the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt) abandoned thousands to the tender mercies of Hitler’s SS while never coming close to filling established quotas. Working within such an environment—and hamstrung by the law, prejudicial policies, and Long’s supposed phobia of Nazi espionage—it is small wonder that Congressman Kirwan could do little in this regard to serve his constituents as the clouds of war gathered.

Selections from the Kirwan files relating to immigration between 1937 and 1940 can be read online through the following links:

Correspondence involving Augusta Berkowitz

Correspondence involving Bernard Altman

Correspondence involving Mr. & Mrs. Solomon Hirschhorn

Correspondence involving I.E. Philo

Correspondence involving Mrs. Zysla Goldszak

Correspondence involving Jacob Bierman

Correspondence involving Krueger Family

Correspondence involving Nicholas and Joseph Banko

Correspondence involving Joan Wheeler and Nancy Wheeler

Interested in learning more about the Holocaust, view the Alfred Hitchcock Documentary.

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Sources:

Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Friedman, Saul S. A History of the Holocaust. Portland, Ore.: Valentine-Mitchell, 2004.

Kirwan, Michael J. Michael J. Kirwan Archives. Youngstown, Oh.: Youngstown State University, Maag Library, Archives & Special Collections, 1937-1970

Israel, Fred L., ed. The War Diary of Breckinridge Long: Selections from the Years 1939-1944. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

Turning Points in YSU History, by Brian Brennan

See also: YSU History Timeline

Historical Video Selections of the Month

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History and Future of Archival Thought and Practice

When I’m asked what I do for a living and respond that I am an archivist, the usual response is, “so you’re a librarian,” (if I don’t get the deer in the headlights look first). This prompts me to delve into my ever-expanding lecture on, “what is an archivist.” This lecture has evolved and metamorphosed over the years into an explanation of the epistemological difference between archives and libraries, and the underlying historical premises and philosophical precepts of archives. I recently came across an excellent article that summarizes both the historical and philosophical aspects of an archives, and delves into not only what we as archivists do, but more importantly how, why, and what the future holds for archival science. For those not willing to slog through all forty-eight pages, I offer a brief synopsis.

The article titled, “What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas Since 1898, and the Future Paradigm Shift,” by Terry Cook and originally published in Archivaria (The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists), analyzes the history and philosophy of archival thought from the Dutch Manual to the present day electronic age. Through his time travel of the last one hundred years, we are treated to an anthropology of archival thought; and how that thought continually effects us to this day, even with the rise of new forms of communication. Nowhere is this felt to a greater degree than in the basic tenets of archival theory.

Throughout the article two basic archival principles are explored (and shown how they have changed through time): the theories of Provenance and Original Order. Both principles are “dogma-like” to archivists. Provenance is defined as the separation of record groups based upon their creators, not upon chronological, geographical, or subject heading. Original Order is generally considered the practice of organizing collections based upon the original organization of the archival collection, which should correspond to the administrative body or person that created the records. For the latter part of 100 years these principles have been axiomatic for the archival profession. However, the last 10-20 years has seen archivists question the continued validity of these premises with the rapid rise of new forms of technology.

Cook discusses the difficulties that archivists are facing under the new technological paradigm and how they can overcome them. Rather than simply jettison provenance and original order because they seem to be anachronistic, we need to reevaluate and redefine core archival theory. Cook states that “Provenance must change from being linked directly to a single creator, to becoming a concept focused on functions and processes that gave rise to the causality of records creation.” Original Order should change “from being viewed as a single physical place of records creation to one that reflects several authors and therefore belonging to several series and original orders.”

All these changes espoused by Cook, reflect a move away from the actual record content and towards a new paradigm based upon intent, functionality, context and topologies. The greatest change, according to Cook, will be felt in what is considered a record: “a record should change from being perceived as a single piece of recording medium that integrates the structure, content, and context of information in one place, to becoming a virtual composite of many scattered parts linked together (databases, mainframe systems, audio visual and text files) to perform, or bear evidence of, a transaction or idea.” This new understanding of a record brings up another problem, which is how and when to preserve such a medium? Especially when such a medium is difficult to contend with, because of the ever-changing nature of the digital form.

Consequently, the ephemeral nature of electronic records behooves archivists and systems developers to address the issue of capturing “archival records” when they’re born. This will undoubtedly put greater emphasis on building archival components at the beginning stages of information systems development and not wait until it is time to transfer records (when those records could be obsolescent because of technological change). Time is no longer a luxury for archivists. The last hundred years allowed archivists the benefit of paper, and its corresponding permanence as the central medium of communication and preservation, the next hundred years will unfortunately not.

Jamboozled by the Jambar

Spring is in the air and how wonderful is it to see not just nature coming back to life but also some old traditions that, fortunately, have not been forgotten. Tuesday morning, for my usually routine, I grab three Jambars, one for me and two for the Archives; however on this Tuesday morning, being April 1, the Jambar was different. It overjoyed me to see the resurrection of the April Fools edition in the university paper. The history of the Jambar April Fool’s edition began on March 31, 1967 as a

“humorous addition to its regular issue. Both university administrators and student notables were the usual targets of humorous jibes. Campus events, traditions, and institutions were also satirized by the editors. Even the title of the newspaper itself was spoofed: The Dambar (1970), The Shambar (1974), The Slambar (1975), the Slumbar (1976) and The Scumbar (1981) are examples.” Somewhat inconsistently published, usually because of budgetary restrictions, the last April Fools edition (The Fubar) appeared on March 31, 1998.” – Brian Brennan, Archival Assistant.

To have such a long hiatus and to come back ten years later surprised me. It really brings me hope to believe the students are looking back upon past traditions and taking interest in them. It is especially wonderful now because there is growing concern about student apathy toward the college experience. With any luck, perhaps there will be more traditions coming out in the near future (flyers for the Spring Fling are circulating around campus for example). If anyone missed the chance to glance at the Jamboozler, it can be viewed online.

Website Review: National Security Archive

One of the great things of the Internet (among many others) is the availability of primary source material. For the aspiring historian or the investigative reporter, there is no replacement for hard cold facts. Many of the great stories of the last century would have been brushed off for lack of evidence and as a consequence, would have ended up in the great dustbin of “conspiracy theories” (or the X Files). It is the job of the historian, reporter, and archivist (really it is the job of everyone in society) not to allow for this to transpire. As archivists we have a responsibility to document our society’s history and its current existence. A website that is showing us the way (and causing some consternation at the White House), is the National Security Archive.

The National Security Archive has been called “a state-of-the-art index to history,” by the The Washington Journalism Review. The National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University, the Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The Archive also serves as a repository of government records on a wide range of topics pertaining to the national security, foreign, intelligence, and economic policies of the United States. The Archive won the 1999 George Polk Award, one of U.S. journalism’s most prestigious prizes, for-in the words of the citation-“piercing the self-serving veils of government secrecy, guiding journalists in the search for the truth and informing us all.”

As described on its website the National Security Archive “obtains its materials through a variety of methods, including the Freedom of Information act, Mandatory Declassification Review, presidential paper collections, congressional records, and court testimony.” Many of these materials pertain to never before seen documents on Iran-Contra, Cuban Missile Crisis, Operation Condor (state sponsored assassination teams by South American governments) and Operation Northwoods {the chilling Pentagon operation, which (called for but never implemented) included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, and even in Washington,” it also included “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage}.

I highly recommend visiting this site, not only to inform one self about the hidden history we sometimes miss (and incorrectly label as conspiratorial); but to get a better understanding of what an archives does and can accomplish for a society.

National Security Archive

Congressman Kirwan’s own story


From 1937 to his death in 1970, Michael J. Kirwan represented the 19th Congressional District of Ohio in the United States House of Representatives. Several years after his death, Rep. Kirwan’s papers were deposited with Youngstown State University’s William F. Maag Library. Unfortunately, as YSU had no archival facility at the time, the congressman’s papers sat in storage for nearly thirty years, largely ignored. Today, with Archives & Special Collections having been firmly established on campus, the Kirwan Collection has begun to see the light of day.

Among these papers, catalogued by Maag Library but forgotten and stored with the rest of the Kirwan Collection, is an unpublished manuscript entitled The Kirwan Story: From Breaker Boy to Congress Leader. Styled as “An autobiography (sic) of Congressman Michael J. Kirwan of Ohio, composed and written by Robert G. Nixon on the basis of extensive personal interviews,” this typewritten narrative provides a surprisingly candid chronicle of the late congressman’s life. Included in the account are Kirwan’s recollections about:

  • His humble origins in the coal fields of Pennsylvania;
  • His sometimes-tempestuous relationships with U.S. Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson (In one stormy encounter, Kirwan told Harry S Truman to “go to Hell” when the president failed to consult the congressman on a matter of a political appointment);
  • His work within the United States Congress on behalf of the Democratic Party;
  • His battles for the conservation of natural resources, through the construction of dams and reservoirs; and
  • Noted Capitol Hill personalities, including Jim Farley, Sam Rayburn, and John McCormack.

An entire chapter is also devoted to Kirwan’s favorite project: The Lake Erie-Ohio River Inter-Connecting Waterway. Kirwan envisioned the cheap waterborne transportation of goods into the American heartland, as well as the creation of a connecting link between the Atlantic Ocean (via the St. Lawrence Seaway) with the Gulf of Mexico (by way of the Mississippi River). Kirwan fought a thirty-year struggle for the Waterway’s construction, but failed in the end when the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Raymond P. Shafer, killed the Waterway by refusing to grant a right-of-way passage through his state. Would the canal have provided the economic benefits that its supporters promised? Long after the project’s demise, the question remains academic, but Mike Kirwan never doubted for a moment the wisdom of the plan. It was through such conviction, combined with a high regard for his constituents, that Kirwan became a legislative and political Olympian amongst his peers in Washington, D.C.

YSU Archives & Special Collections is proud to make Congressman Kirwan’s records available to the public. Interested persons may download and read The Kirwan Story online at Autobiography.