The HIAS Collection is one of AJHS-NEA’s most popular, both for its wealth of genealogical information and its historical importance. However, the collection is fragile; some of its papers are literally crumbling. This makes the collection difficult for researchers to use, and it’s why AJHS is currently seeking funding specifically to help us digitize the HIAS collection and make it available online, free of charge. What does that mean in real terms? Here is an example, in the story of Frances Kastrovitsky.
Frances was born in Romania and sent to Auschwitz at the age of 22. After being liberated from the concentration camp in 1945, Frances feared further persecution in Europe and wanted to immigrate to America. But she knew that the quota for Romanian refugees could mean a ten year wait. So she managed to obtain the birth certificate of a deceased German woman and applied to enter the United States within the German quota. She entered the US on November 29, 1947, under her assumed name, Ilse Franziska Nassauer.
In 1950, Frances (as Ilse) married a U.S. citizen, David Kastrovitzky. In 1955, after the birth of her second daughter, her communication with HIAS began. Frances wanted to become a US citizen using her real name, but the way she had entered the country complicated the matter. Her case caught the attention of HIAS officials in the Boston and National offices, who were concerned that Frances’s use of a false identity could lead to a deportation hearing.
When AJHS first processed Frances’s file, one piece of information was missing: there was no documentation of how her quest for citizenship ended. Did she become a US citizen, or had she been deported to Europe? The answer came when a search of ancestry.com turned up a copy of Frances Kastrovitzky’s naturalization record, dated May 12, 1958.
That would have been a happy enough ending, but as it turns out there was even more to come. When AJHS wrote about Frances on our website, relatives and friends found the post and commented on it. Because we shared Frances’s story with the public, her loved ones were able to share more information and memories with us.
If you’re interested in helping us make this vast genealogical resource available to others, visit our website at http://www.ajhsboston.org and make a secure donation online through PayPal (please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to ensure your online donation is credited accordingly to the HIAS digitization project.)
About the HIAS Collection: The Boston office of HIAS, a branch of the New York office, was chartered in 1904. HIAS ensured that Jewish immigrants had access to holiday and religious services and kosher food; provided shelter and social services; and assisted immigrants with finding employment and schools, often on short notice. After World War I, HIAS worked with individuals to locate displaced families, replace legal documents, and develop an educational program to help immigrants become naturalized citizens. During World War II, immigration was at the forefront of the HIAS mission as Jews attempted to leave Europe for the United States or Palestine. HIAS arranged for sponsors and worked continuously to help the many Jews who wrote to them for help, even when HIAS procured affidavits of sponsorship from relatives.
This collection contains individual case files and arrival cards for immigrants that passed through the Port of Boston and required assistance from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS); correspondence; ship manifests; tracer correspondence; and passenger lists.