The Unforgettable Calamity – 40th Anniversary of the Teton Dam Failure

Today’s post was written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives at Denver

“As I sit here and watch I can see it caving in. It is just coming apart, completely coming apart… my advice to people downstream that are living along the Teton River, get your belongings, get your belongings. Don’t push your luck. Look, look, there goes the whole side, there goes whole complete side of the north edge of the Teton Dam and the water is monumental – holy – great – what can I say? People downstream better get out…”

From this transcript of a live broadcast aired on Rexburg Idaho’s KRXK radio station one is jolted back 40 years to June 5, 1976, when correspondent Don Ellis watched as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s nearly 75 year run of successful dam building crumbled before his very eyes. Years of panels, inquiries, investigations, and on-site excavations all worked to pinpoint the exact cause of the Teton Dam failure, to no definite end, but the hundreds of millions of dollars of property damage and 11 deaths attributed to the disaster remain undisputed. The story, from beginning to the tragic ending, can be found in the National Archives at Denver’s Record Group 115 Records of the Bureau of Reclamation holdings.

Construction of the dam had been authorized by Congress 12 years earlier on September 7, 1964. Planned on the Teton River, a tributary of Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in southeastern Idaho, the earth-filled embankment dam and reservoir were to be the main features of the Teton Basin Project, designed for flood control, power generation, and supplemental irrigation for nearby farmland in the upper Snake River Valley. The contract for construction was awarded December 13, 1971, and despite pending environmental lawsuits (which were eventually dismissed) work commenced in February of the following year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All phases of the dam specifications were scheduled to be completed in May 1977 but by October 1975 the embankment was essentially finished. Workers then began the slow process of filling the reservoir.

teton_may_1976_001

Aerial photograph looking downstream taken 16 days before the disaster, showing the nearly full resovoir (NAID 28894692)

water level chart

Bureau of Reclamation memoranda book compuling the Teton Dam Resovoir level and capacity, the last entry being the day of the failure (NAID 2199668)

In the early morning of June 5, 1976, workers discovered two leaks in quick succession within the wall of rock that served as the dam abutment on the right side. Noted as no cause for concern, it wasn’t until a wet spot on the dam wall itself was discovered around 9:00 a.m. that serious alarms were raised. Quickly turning into a mud stream, by 10:30 a.m. it was flowing to the point that witnesses reported the leak sounding like a waterfall. Jerry Dursteller, an employee of the Gibbons and Reed Company which had been contracted to build the dam’s feeder pipeline and pump canal, arrived on scene at 10:00 a.m. and immediately began taking photographs. His collection of images, seen in whole within our collection, show the worsening of the leak.

Dursteller ran out of film at 11:50 a.m. and his last picture shows the gaping hole reaching the crest of the dam. On the reservoir side witnesses reported a small two foot diameter whirlpool had grown quickly to 20 feet in diameter, indicating an increasing volume of water leaking through the dam. A warning from project officials to local sheriff’s offices was soon elevated from ‘Prepare for Flooding’ to ‘Evacuate Everyone Downstream’ as there was nothing left to do, the dam was going to fail. At 11:57 over 250,000 acre feet of reservoir water, equivalent to 81.5 billion gallons, broke through the Teton Dam and rushed downstream.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wilford, Idaho was the first town hit, followed thereafter by Sugar City which reported a 15 foot high wave of water at 1:00 p.m. The rushing, debris laden water was making its way to the area’s largest town, Rexburg, where it would continue the destruction.

While talk of rebuilding the dam has arisen over the decades, no serious push has been made as the scars are still borne by the land and people of the area. Today the Teton River flows lazily through the earthen and cement ruins of the dam, which while stabilized after the disaster were never completely removed. In nearby Rexburg, a local museum still displays exhibits that chronicle what they call “the unforgettable calamity.”

Newspaper headline

Salt Lake Tribune, June 6, 1976, featuring front page photographs of a couple posing in their flood ravaged home and another of a man pulled to safety via a backhoe (NAID 2199668)


Facts and statistics used come from “Teton Dam (A Preliminary Report for the Independent Panel for Review of Teton Dam Failure) Revised August 5, 1976”, Teton Dam Records Related to Dam Failure (NAID 2199668), in RG 115 Records of the Bureau of Reclamation series; with additional information coming from the Bureau of Reclamation’s website on the Teton Basin Project

For further reading on the Teton Dam disaster within the National Archives, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum has documents online relating to the administration’s response to the disaster

If you find yourself in the southeastern area of Idaho, the Teton Flood Museum has since been renamed the Museum of Rexburg.

Posted in Civil Records, History, NARA beyond DC/MD | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drafting a Guide: American Jewish History Resources

Today’s post is written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

In 1957, archivist Nathan Reingold distributed a memo to each custodial unit at the National Archives asking for their staffs’ help in tracking down records relating to American Jewish history.

Nathan Reingold at NYU, 1947 - from Ancestry.com

Nathan Reingold at New York University, 1947 (from Ancestry.com)

RG 64, P 71 - Reingold Memo to All Branches, July 1957

Memorandum from N. Reingold to all Branches, July 19, 1957, Regarding Resources for American Jewish History in the National Archives.

Now, such a request isn’t made (or granted) lightly in view of the tremendous reference burden felt by every custodial unit on a daily basis. But over the next year, reference reports from all of these units found their way to Reingold; archivists sent long and detailed listings of relevant records relating to Jewish involvement in many aspects of America’s story. Below is a sample of the responses.

From the textual records holdings:

RG 64, P 71 - Leo Pascal Reference Report, page 1

First page of Reference Service Report, September 30, 1957, regarding American Jewish history records in NLT record groups.

From the motion picture holdings:

RG 64, P 71 - Robert Wells Reference Report on Motion Pictures

Memorandum from NMP to Mr. Reingold, September 25, 1957, Regarding resources for American Jewish history in the National Archives.

. . . and from the photographic holdings:

RG 64, P 71 - Josephine Cobb Reference Report, page 1

First page of Reference Service Report, September 18, 1957, regarding photographs pertinent to a study of the Jewish peoples.

Reingold made good use of his colleagues’ work and produced a short article about Jewish American history resources at the National Archives, which was published in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society in 1958.

Pages from Article re Am. Jewish History in the National Archives, 1958

“Resources on American Jewish History in the National Archives” By Nathan Reingold. (A copy of the article is attached below)

But he didn’t stop there. Reingold began compiling all of this material into what he hoped would become a Reference Information Paper, several of which the Archives had already published. He created two drafts, based on comments from his colleagues. At that point, other priorities intervened, and Reingold’s project went no further. However, he saved all of his material, including the drafts (the final draft is attached below).

RG 64, P 71 - Memo re Final Draft of RIP, April 1958

Memorandum from NBE to NIR, April 28, 1958, regarding Reingold’s draft of the Reference Information Paper (RIP) on American-Jewish History in the National Archives.

Even though the intended Reference Information Paper on American Jewish history resources at the National Archives was not published, Nathan Reingold could take pride in knowing he created a comprehensive and still useful guide! One which has been preserved among the holdings of the National Archives in Record Group 64. To see for yourself, click on the links below:

“Materials in the National Archives Relating to American-Jewish History,” Final Draft

“Resources on American Jewish History in the National Archives” by Nathan Reingold, 1958

These, and related material, can be found in the series Records Compiled by Nathan Reingold Relating to American Jewish History Resources, 1957 – 1958 (NAID 7595464) RG 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1789 – ca. 2007.

 

Posted in Archives II, Civil Records, History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Danny Thomas Goes to Lebanon, 1962

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, Reference Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

Danny Thomas was a major mid-20th Century entertainment star of radio, screen, and television.  He is most known for his television show that ran for 13 years (1953-65) under the names Make Room for Daddy and The Danny Thomas Show.  After that, he starred in a number of short-running television shows.  In addition to being a performer, he also successfully produced a number of other TV shows, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Mod Squad.  To some, Danny Thomas is best known as the father of Marlo Thomas, star of the TV series That Girl.

 Thomas’s most lasting contribution, however, is the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Before he found success as an entertainer, Thomas vowed that if he became successful that he would open a shrine to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes.  After becoming a star, with the help of Dr. Lemuel Diggs and close friend Anthony Abraham, he established St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1962.

Thomas’s parents were immigrants from Lebanon.  He was born in Deerfield, Michigan, and grew up in Toledo, Ohio.  In 1962, at the invitation of the Lebanese government, Thomas and his wife Rosemarie visited that country.  They received an enthusiastic, bordering on riotous, welcome.  The U.S. embassy in Beirut sent the following report on the visit.

[During his brief visit to Lebanon from April 26 through May 3, television star Danny Thomas by his warmth, cheerfulness and patience throughout an exhausting round of activities won the hearts of the Lebanese, who in turn captured his…

…The Embassy believes it would be appropriate for the Secretary to send a letter to Mr. Thomas commending him for his outstanding contribution to our foreign relations…]

The records contain no evidence that Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent the recommended letter to Mr. Thomas.

In February 2012, the U.S. Postal Service honored Danny Thomas with a first-class stamp.  St. Jude’s Hospital is in the background.

thomas.stamp


Source: U.S. Embassy Beirut to Department of State, Despatch 592, May 8, 1962, file 032 Thomas, Danny and Rosemarie/5-862, 1960-63 Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National

Posted in Archives II, Civil Records, History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Aiding the Jews of Europe, 1946

Today’s post is written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Although the war was over, the agony of its survivors continued unabated. The United Jewish Appeal, established in 1939, now in the aftermath called upon the federal government to solicit support for its efforts overseas to help Jewish victims of the carnage.

In response, Archivist Solon J. Buck issued this circular to employees of the National Archives:

RG 64, A1 9C - Letter to All Employees, May 17, 1946 - United Jewish Appeal, Lewinson and Kahn

Letter From Solon J. Buck to All Employees, Issuances Entitled “Letter to All Employees,” 1938-1958 (NAID 3951627) RG 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration

Philip M. Klutznick with Nicola Guili, 1945

Public Housing Authority (PHA) Commissioner Philip M. Klutznick (Left) with Nicola Giulii, Chairman of the PHA of Los Angeles, 1945, from the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research.

 

Images of staff are from Identification Cards for Employees, 1941-1942 (NAID 7563237) RG 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.

And the staff rose to the occasion, donating the equivalent of $3,300 in 2016 dollars. Here is the mention of it, in the employee newsletter Archiviews, in July 1946:

Success of UJA Drive - Archiviews, July 1946, p. 2

From Records Relating to Staff Organizations, 1935-1966 (NAID 7839999), RG 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration

Posted in Archives II, Civil Records | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

IRELAND: THE EASTER RISING, 1916: FOLLOW-UP ON EAMON DE VALERA

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Ambassador (ret.) Peter Bridges was good enough to post a link to an interesting article by Robert Schmuhl in a comment on the earlier post about the Easter Rising in Ireland. In his article, Professor Schmuhl describes how Eamon de Valera changed his story about the reason behind receiving a reprieve from a death sentence for participation in the Easter Rising. Schmuhl recounts that in 1963, de Valera told a visiting President John F. Kennedy that he credited his American citizenship for saving him. In 1969, however, de Valera wrote that his U.S. citizenship did not save him, adding that “I know of nothing in international law which could be cited in my defence or made an excuse for American intervention, except, perhaps, to see that I got a fair trial.”

Intrigued by the changed story, I went back to the files to see what the contemporary documents say. This is what I found.

THE U.S. CONSULATE IN DUBLIN[1]

The files of the U.S. consulate in Dublin include a few documents relating to de Valera. In a May 5, 1916, memorandum, Consul Edward Adams reported the visit of a Maura Dixon on behalf of Mrs. De Valera. She brought with her a copy of a certificate of baptism for “Edward De Valera” (as he was then known) signed by Rev. T.J. Donlon, Assistant Rector of the Church of St. Agnes in New York City that stated that he was born on October 14, 1882, and baptized in that church. Adams concluded, “no evidence to the contrary obtainable at this time,” that de Valera was a U.S. citizen and I respectfully request that action in his case be delayed until definite knowledge thereof may be secured.”

On June 12, Adams wrote to General Sir John Maxwell, commander of British forces in Ireland after the Rising, and requested a written report on the disposition of the case of “Edward De Valera, American Citizen . . . arrested in connection with the recent rebellion.” He noted that he was making the request under instruction from the Department of State. On the following day, Adams received the following letter from Major I.H. Price of the General Staff:

. . . . I am directed by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief to inform you that this man was “Adjutant” of the Dublin Brigade of Rebel forces, and was in command of a body of rebels which held the premises of Messrs. Boland’s, Ringsend, Dublin.

He was tried by Courtmartial and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to Penal Servitude for life.

Adams reported the exchange verbatim to the Department.[2]

On October 2, Adams received an August 31 letter of gratitude from the Rev. Thomas Wheelwright, de Valera’s half-brother. It read, in part:

. . . . After the surrender he was sentenced to be shot, but this sentence was, I am told, at your intervention commuted to life-imprisonment.

Permit to express my gratitude to you for this favor, as well as for the great kindness you have shown his afflicted wife on various occasions. . . . .

Adams responded on February 2, 1917. His letter read, in part:

         As to the part taken by me in your brother’s case, I can only say that, beyond telephone messages, report on Mrs. De Valera’s statements, a request for information, etc., in his case, there is nothing for which you owe me any special gratitude. I simply did all I could in the trying conditions, under restrictions of Martial Law, -just as I did for others. Mrs. De Valera appeared grateful and came here to thank us for our interventions. . . .

In the meantime, in his November report, in the only positive statement of American intervention and its outcome, Consul Adams wrote:

In another instance, by intervention on the plea of Citizenship, made at the request of the wife of Edward DeValera who had been an officer in the revolutionary movement, a sentence of death was commuted to imprisonment for life. Mrs. DeValera afterward called at the Consulate to express her gratitude.[3]

THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE

The story reflected in the central files of the Department of State is somewhat different. There is no documentation to indicate that American officials in Washington made any approach or representations to British officials there. Nor are there any reports indicating that the U.S. consulate in Dublin or the embassy in London did the same. Those offices did make efforts to gather information, though, and that is reflected in the files.

The records show a considerable amount of Congressional and public interest in 1916. For the most part, the Department’s responses to those letters included language along the lines of:

It seems proper to add that the fact that Mr. De Valera may be an American citizen constitutes no reason for clemency in his case, or for a request by this Government for clemency on the part of the British Government. There appears to be nothing to indicate that his trial was not fair or that he was in any way discriminated against, and there would, therefore, appear to be no reason for action by this Department on behalf of Mr. De Valera.[4]

In 1923/1924, when de Valera was once again in prison and facing a death sentence, his mother, Catherine Wheelwright wrote to President Coolidge asking him to save her son as President Wilson had.[5] The records do not contain a response to Mrs. Wheelwright. When members of congress and other public officials wrote, the Department generally responded as follows:

. . . I beg to inform you that no evidence has been submitted to the Department which would substantiate the statement made that Mr. de Valera is entitled to the protection of this Government. The Department has no record of his ever having applied for an American passport. . . .[6]

A background memorandum from the Office of the Solicitor states:

. . . . If it is true, as alleged, that he was born in the State of New York, and if he has never obtained naturalization in a foreign state or taken a foreign oath of allegiance, he may still be regarded as a citizen of the United States, although by his political agitation in Ireland, he has undoubtedly placed himself in a position where he is not entitled to the protection of this government.[7]

CONCLUSION

Neither the files of the consulate in Dublin nor the Department of State include documentation that definitively demonstrate U.S. intervention based on de Valera’s U.S. citizenship. Clearly, however, people at the time believed that to be the case: Consul Adams, his half-brother, his mother, and perhaps others. Enough that it became accepted wisdom.


Footnotes:

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all documents discussing the work of the consulate come from the files of Consulate in Dublin, 1916 General Correspondence, Volume V, RG 84: Records of Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State.

[2] Consulate Dublin to Department of State, Unnumbered Despatch, June 14, 1916, file 341D.1121 Valera, Eamon De/5, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[3] Consulate Dublin to Department of State, Despatch 182, November 29, 1916, file 841.00/33, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[4] Assistant Secretary of State Frank L. Polk to Rep. George Holden Tinkham, Letter, July 20, 1916, file 341D.1121 Valera, Eamon De/5A, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[5] Catherine Wheelwright to President Calvin Coolidge, Letter, September 22, 1923, file 341D.1121 Valera, Eamon De/45, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[6] Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes to Senator David I. Walsh, March 10, 1924, file 341D.1121 Valera, Eamon De/55, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[7] Office of the Solicitor Memorandum to Division of Western European Affairs, March 4, 1924, file 341D.1121 Valera, Eamon De/55, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

 

Posted in Archives II, Civil Records | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

50 Years of the Pull Slip

Today’s post was written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Can you believe it? April of 1966 saw the introduction of NAR Form 1, the “Reference Service Slip.” This paper (commonly referred to as a “pull slip”) is used to request records and is just as important to researchers and Archives staff as the records themselves.

The only change to it over the years came when the National Archives became an independent agency in 1985, and it became NA Form 14001.

Each pull slip will have four copies that are used in the course of pulling the record from a shelf, serving it to a researcher, identifying the record, and logging that records were pulled. That created a need for easily identifiable color-coded copies. They even come in carboned and carbonless versions:

Carbonless Pull Slip, from Marene Baker

But NAR Form 1 didn’t appear out of nowhere.

64-NA-340 Edith Houbert Retrieves Request from Pneumatic Tube, 1940 - cropped

Edith L. Houbert retrieves a reference request from a pneumatic tube, 1940 (NAID 12168920)

From the beginning the Archives has used some sort of a pull slip for its reference operations. The very first one we used, Form K-3, dates from May 1936. In January 1939, the form was revised, now given the title “Records Requisition.” Both are found in the series Official Forms, 1935-1968 (NAID 4486913), in RG 64 – Records of the National Archives.

By this time, researchers were requesting records not only in the Central Search Room, but in the search rooms of the various records divisions that had been set up starting in 1937.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 1943, and again in 1947, the form was modified. This is the 1947 version of NA Form 1, along with its instructions, known as a “handling scheme”:

By 1950, under the aegis of the General Services Administration, we rolled out a new form to more clearly indicate the desired information in its own separate text blocks, a layout that endures in our current pull slip.

Here is a view of pull slips being logged at the desk in the research room, from the film Your National Archives from 1953:

archive vid

The pull slip figured prominently a decade later, when the repeated thefts of archival records by Samuel Matz (AKA Robert Murphy)  and his wife were discovered.

RG 64, P 67, file 1962 - Matz Theft Case from NA, Nov.

Sunday Star, Nov 10, 1963 (NAID 26879151)

The Murphys stole hundreds of documents from the Archives, and in the investigation that followed, every aspect of reference procedures was put under the microscope.

Below is a sample of the pull slips found on records that were in the search room at the time of the Murphy’s visits. The reverse side of form NAR 1, from another sample in the Murphy case file, shows the incorporation of a “record of chargeouts”, which endures in the present version of the pull slip (from the series Planning and Control Case Files, 1943-1976 (NAID 7518524)).

Edwin C. Fishel proved an important witness in the case; he had photographed several of the missing documents before the Murphys stole them from his cart of requested records.

It’s quite probable that the difficulty faced by the Archives staff in identifying those missing records is what led to one of the last major changes to the pull slip as we know of it today: the addition of a specific stack and shelf location.

image of current NA Form 14001

NA Form 14001, 1985

Currently an update to this form is in the works, which will merge elements of the Form 14066 used by the presidential libraries with the Form 14001. Our quest for the best possible holdings security continues.

Posted in Archives II, Civil Records, History, Policy and Procedures, Reference | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ireland: The Easter Rising, 1916

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

The Easter Rising of April 24-29, 1916 is one of the most momentous events in modern Ireland’s history. The Rising, which took place in Dublin, was an effort by the Irish to throw off the yoke of British rule and establish an independent Ireland. It was timed to take place while Great Britain was preoccupied with the ongoing World War I fighting on the Continent. The rebellion was crushed after only a few days, but an independent Ireland emerged in 1922.

At the time of the Rising Ireland was not independent so the official United States presence consisted only of three consulates. One of those offices was in Dublin and thus had a front-row view of events. While consular officers dealt primarily with consular matters (trade promotion; issuing passports and visas; handling matters involving births, marriages, and deaths of Americans abroad; and the like), when something on an order of magnitude such as the Rising took place they were expected to report to both the Department of State and the nearest U.S. embassy.

The consulate in Dublin, however, sent no reports on the Easter events. The two other consulates in Ireland, located in Belfast and in Cork, sent no reports bearing directly on the Rising and related events either. As a result, on August 22, 1916, 115 days after the end of the Rising, the Department of State sent the following instruction (and admonition) to the consulate in Dublin with similarly worded communications to the consulates in Belfast and Cork:

An inspection of the Department’s files fails to reveal any reports from your office in regard to the political disturbances and general conditions in Ireland during the past few months and it is learned from an inquiry of the Embassy in London that practically no information on the subject has been supplied by your office to the Ambassador. Inasmuch as the interest of the Embassy and of the Department in an accurate account from time to time of the occurrences in your district is so obvious, the Department is at a loss to understand its failure and that of the Embassy to receive detailed reports from you. It is, therefore, desired that you will report at once the date such reports were made and, if not, the reason therefore.

841.00[26a

Department of State to Consulate Dublin #140, August 22, 1916, File 841.00/26a, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State

Ironically, this instruction to Dublin crossed paths with that consulate’s Despatch #160, dated August 21, 1916, which forwarded the “Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook.” That 244-page publication, compiled by the “Weekly Irish Times”, had gone on sale beginning August 19.

Ultimately, the three consulates responded to their instructions as follows:

  • Belfast, Despatch #207, September 22, 1916: A 6-page report “Political Conditions in Ireland”
  • Cork, Despatch #230, October 14, 1916: An 84-page report “Political Disturbances and General Conditions in Ireland”
  • Dublin, Despatch #182, November 29, 1916: A 34-page report “The Sinn Fein Rebellion in Ireland, Easter Week, 1916”

These documents are filed in the 1910-29 segment of the Department of State Central Decimal File under the following file numbers: 841.00/31, 841.00/32, and 841.00/33 respectively. They are reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication M580, roll 6.

 

Posted in Archives II | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Miriam and Me: The Beginnings of an Archival Adventure and Friendship in 1996

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

For the past twelve years most people who have had dealings with Miriam Kleiman at the National Archives know that she is a public affairs specialist. It is probable that they do not know that her association with the National Archives began twenty years ago, in March 1996 as a researcher. Her early involvement helped to launch a quest for justice regarding Holocaust-Era Assets and would impact many institutions and lives, including the National Archives and Records Administration and mine.

GB and MK for WP 1998

The author and Miriam Kleiman (Washington Post, 1998)

The story begins in early 1996 when:

WJC [World Jewish Congress] President Edgar Bronfman asked [Senate Banking Committee Chairman Senator] D’Amato to apply pressure on Switzerland to open its banking files. Bronfman…was trying to jump-start talks that collapsed in 1995 after Swiss bankers told Jewish leaders that a new search of bank records netted only 774 missing accounts. The bankers offered $32 million to settle all old claims, but Bronfman spurned the offer, convinced that there were more accounts.

D’Amato asked the CIA, the State Department and the Treasury Department for all files pertinent to Jewish holdings in Switzerland. The agencies said the files were in the National Archives. (The Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition, November 25, 1996) in a Stephen Braun piece entitled “Bitter Secrets and a Cache of Gold.”)

Let’s continue by letting Miriam tell the story of what happened next in her own words, written in remarks prepared for the annual Society of American Archivists meeting in 1999:

Frustrated by unproductive talks with Swiss banking officials, the World Jewish Congress turned to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D’Amato for assistance. On February 23, 1996 Senator D’Amato wrote US Archivist John Carlin, requesting archival information on dormant assets from the Holocaust in Swiss banks.

Assistant Archivist Dr. Michael Kurtz responded three weeks later, writing: “We regret that we cannot undertake the extensive research necessary to identify the exact documents which interest you. We will be pleased to assist your representatives in using our finding aids and to make pertinent records available in our College Park research room.” The Senator’s office suggested that the World Jewish Congress pursue this lead. Not having a Washington office, the WJC needed a local researcher.

This is where my role comes in… I was called and asked if I had time to do a short research project at the National Archives — expected to last two days to one week. I accepted, and was sent to meet with Gregg Rickman on March 21. Gregg gave me the letter from Dr. Kurtz, and offered the tip: “Safehaven, explore Safehaven…”

[Bradsher: The Safehaven Program, begun in 1944, was a United States-led effort to investigate German assets that had found a “safehaven” in the neutral countries and Latin America]

Miriam, at the time she met with Gregg Rickman in Senator D’Amato’s office, had been in Washington, D.C., since June 1989. She had just earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan and had found employment in the office of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. Later she worked at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and then joined the American Jewish Committee. In February 1996 she left her job with the latter organization and was now unemployed.

Jane Schapiro in her book Inside a Class Action: The Holocaust and the Swiss Banks (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003) continues Miriam’s story at this point:

Kleiman was twenty-eight and single. Originally from Cleveland, she had been drawn to Washington. She believed in the power of politics and the ‘rightness’ of certain causes. Washington was the political vortex, and she had wanted to be swept into it.

When she first arrived in Washington, she had gotten a job with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as a research analyst. The idea of combining Jewish issues and politics had excited her. After six years of working with that combination she had become disillusioned with the politics, and she promised herself that her next job would involve ‘nothing Jewish’ and ‘nothing with Capitol Hill.’ Other than those two conditions she was open to anything.

Although she had told herself that she was done with Capitol Hill she couldn’t rid herself of it in her personal life. She had been dating a legislative aide for several months, and the relationship was becoming more serious. While she wanted to stay in Washington, she was confused as to what she would do.

Extremely friendly, she was an attractive brunette with a sarcastic wit. Packed with nervous energy, she talked incessantly, flitting from one story to another in rapid succession. People were entertained by her humor and enthusiasm, as well as by her idealism. Unlike many young arrivals to Washington, she had not yet lost her sense of mission. She just didn’t know what her next one would be.

In March, just one month after leaving her job, she received a call from Doug Bloomfield, another former Clevelander. Bloomfield was a Washington consultant to the WJC. He had heard that she was looking for a job and thought that he might be able to offer her something very temporary. Was she aware of the Swiss banks and the Holocaust dormant accounts? Senator D’Amato wanted to try to find more documentation on the topic and had written to the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The WJC was also interested in researching the topic. The organization could hire her as a researcher for two days. He suggested that she meet with D’Amato’s legislative director, Gregg Rickman. He was the one in charge of D’Amato’s bank inquiry.

Although she was skeptical about reentering the world of Capitol Hill, she went to Rickman’s office. She immediately felt at home with the senator’s young assistant. Not only was he Jewish, he was a former Clevelander.

During the past few months, Rickman had been listening to survivors’ stories. His own father-in-law was a survivor. He had come to believe that the Swiss bankers were criminals who must be brought to justice. D’Amato and the WJC could make that happen. All they needed were the proper weapons.

He showed her a letter that he had received from Dr. Michael Kurtz, assistant archivist at the U.S. National Archives. Kurtz was responding to Richman’s inquiry as to whether the archives might have information about Swiss Holocaust dormant accounts….Kurtz wasn’t sure what there was exactly, but he offered one suggestion: Rickman should begin by researching Operation Safehaven.

….Kurtz told Rickman that researching Operation Safehaven would take only a few days. To Rickman, a few days seemed a small price to pay for a smoking gun.

Kleiman could not resist Rickman’s idealistic enthusiasm. This wasn’t a job but an historic opportunity. Two days later, they entered the…National Archives facility at College Park. Although Rickman was researching for Senator D’Amato, and Kleiman for the WJC, they both believed that they were working toward the same objective: to find evidence of Holocaust-era dormant accounts held by Swiss banks.

Miriam continues with her 1999 version of events:

My first day of work at the National Archives II was on March 23, 1996. Although I had research experience, I had never set foot in an archive. I met with a few archivists and started with a cart of 13 boxes from the Office of the Judge Advocate General, War Crimes Branch. On my second day of research, I found a 1945 US intelligence report from Switzerland, on the Societe General de Surveillance, which served in a banking capacity during the war. Noting that the main depositors were Jews, the report listed accounts of 182 depositors from 9 countries, people with names such as Leopold Lustig, Arion Samuel, Isaac Feldstein, Solomon Shapiro, and Maurice Moishe Rothman.

Fold3_Page_81_Safehaven_Reports_of_the_War_Crimes_Branch_19441945 cropped

Savehaven Report, July 12, 1945 (https://www.fold3.com/image/312769657

A Cleveland newspaper (Tom Brazaitis, “Digging for Gold,” The Plain Dealer, June 1, 1997) reported what happened next:

Kleiman couldn’t afford a car on her researcher salary, so she boarded a shuttle bus to the main archives in downtown Washington. After a 45-minute ride, she took a cab to Rickmann’s office. All the while she was thinking about the documents she had found that day. Could they be important?

Almost an hour after leaving the archives complex in Maryland, Kleiman rushed into Rickmann’s office to show him the documents [Bradsher: needless to say, copies she had made at College Park].

‘Oh my God,’ Rickman said as he leafed through a half-dozen pages of names, listing accounts in various currencies.

To determine the worth of the various currencies listed in today’s dollars, he sent the document to the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. Experts there estimated the Jewish accounts in this single document would be worth $20 million. Up to that point the Swiss were insisting they could find no more than $32 million dormant accounts, and not all belonged to Holocaust victims or survivors. Yet here was $20 million in a single document. There had to be more, Rickmann suspected.

‘We had no idea we’d find something so significant in the first week,’ he says. D’Amato’s office leaked the news of the document to the media and called for congressional hearings on April 23, just one month after the search had begun.

Excited by Kleiman’s discovery, Rickman rushed to assign an intern to work full time with her at the archives complex. Rickman, too, began to drive out to the complex to help go through the documents.

‘We realized we were on to something and it became very, very exciting,’ Kleiman says. ‘It was like a spy novel unfolding before us.’

Miriam continues with her 1999 story:

I immediately rushed to Capitol Hill to share this information with Gregg Rickman. Added and adjusted for interest and inflation, the amount totaled over $25 million dollars — and these accounts were as yet unclaimed, the report stated. This was at a time when the Swiss Bank Association said that only $32 million dollars existed in ALL dormant accounts from the war. This report showed that such information — historical proof of unclaimed assets in Switzerland — could be found in US archival records.

Our search continued. One month later, in April, 1996, the Senate Banking Committee held its first hearing on this issue. Research teams from law firms representing the Swiss banks showed up at Archives, and the press followed. To insure equal access and information to all, Greg Bradsher issued a Safehaven “finding aid” — under 10 pages long. Now, this finding aid is a collector’s item, as the latest version is 1,166 pages!

Now that my name is mentioned, it might be worthwhile to explain how I met Miriam and how I became involved. In early April, when I was an assistant chief of the Reference Branch at the National Archives at College Park (Archives II), a colleague came into my office and asked whether I knew anything about the records of the Foreign Funds Control, as a researcher was asking about their availability. I answered that I did, as a decade earlier I had appraised them when they were located in the Washington National Records Center. We went to our finding aids and found that the records had been recently accessioned and they, as I remembered, contained a wealth about the Swiss banks and the Safehaven Program. After this I went back to work, little thinking about who the researcher was and why the records were wanted. But I became curious and decided to talk to the researcher about the records.

Schapiro, in her Inside a Class Action, continues the story:

Bradsher, a fast talker himself met his match with Kleiman. She explained what she was doing and how this was going to be a big issue because she had found a document that she had let D’Amato know about and that he was going to have hearings and the press was very interested and Bradsher had better get prepared for an onslaught of researchers.

What she had told me I really did not want to hear, particularly if she was correct about an onslaught of researchers. At the time I had more than enough to do in my regular job, as well as being a member of The Archivist’s Strategic Directions Team, a member of the Information Products Working Group, chair of the Archives II Reference Study Group, and the Contractor’s Officer Technical Representative for Reproduction Orders, to have to deal with the press and researchers involved in complex archival, historical, legal, and moral issues.

My first inkling that Miriam was correct about public interest in the issue of Jewish-owned dormant accounts in Swiss banks came with the April 15, 1996 issue of U.S. News & World Report in an article entitled “D’Amato: Awash in secret documents.” An abstract of this article reads: “A secret cache of US intelligence documents may hold the answers to the location of what could be billions of dollars deposited in Swiss banks by victims of the Holocaust or stolen from them by the Nazis.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To be pro-active to the possibility of increased researcher interest in the issues Miriam was explaining to me, I produced a 10-page finding aid to relevant records, including those involving the Safehaven Program. I figured if I had most everything listed, that every time someone asked us about the subject, we could just give them a copy of the finding aid, and be done with it. As it turns out, I greatly miscalculated the quantity of pertinent records, the scope of the inquiries into Holocaust-Era assets issues, and the number of researchers and the media asking for information and records.

The researchers, and the media after them, began, as Miriam predicted, coming to Archives II.  As the Cleveland newspaper mentioned above observed:

After the first Senate hearing revealed the existence of numerous unexamined documents, the archives hummed with activity. The [Rickman-Kleiman] team of researchers expanded to include an expert on the German archives and a dozen interns from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.

The Swiss government, embarrassed by the publicity the documents were receiving, sent its own researchers to examine the archive trail. So did Swiss bankers and researchers from Sweden and other countries named in the documents.

‘Banking is the mainstay of Switzerland’s economy and their reputation was on the line,’ Kleiman says. ‘They wanted to see firsthand what people were finding.’

In 1997, in writing about the researcher interest, I observed:

The trickle of researchers that began in March became a small stream after the Senate Banking Committee held hearings on Nazi looted assets and the Swiss bank accounts of the victims of the Holocaust in April 1996. It was not too long afterwards that researchers representing Senator D’Amato, the World Jewish Congress, and the Swiss Bankers Association had found a home at College Park. And others followed, so that by mid-summer the small stream had become a river. On any given day during the summer of 1996 the College Park research room had between 15 and 25 researchers doing research in, what the staff termed: the “Nazi Gold” records. And what had actually begun as a quest for information on Jewish Assets in Swiss banks quickly broadened to include Nazi looted gold in Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and Turkey. (from Searching for Records Relating to Nazi Gold Part I)

During the summer I constantly went into the research room to see Miriam and the other researchers. I was interested in what records they were using and what information they were uncovering. Then, every week or two, I would produce a new finding aid, go to the bulk copier and make six sets, and then pass them out to the researchers. Month by month the size of the finding aid increased. Miriam and I would constantly discuss our latest discoveries. In a way for both of us, it was a treasure hunt. But, we also knew the story of the Swiss banks was one that involved victims of the Holocaust; so it was more than a treasure hunt; it was a case of turning history into justice, and the holdings of the National Archives were paramount to justice being achieved.

Kleiman continues:

Using this finding aid as a guide, we explored the records of OMGUS, OSS, Treasury, State Department, and Foreign Funds Control. As we tackled box after box, it was fascinating to read more about Safehaven, and to see the myth of Swiss neutrality unravel. We learned that Switzerland supplied the Nazi regime with foreign exchange and war materials, and continued this trade long after any real threat of invasion. In the words of a 1945 Treasury Department memo, “as late as April 1945, the Swiss were in cahoots with the Germans.”

In the summer of 1996, the German magazine Der Spiegel noted the importance of our discoveries and our College Park research efforts: “The avalanche of slime from the archives is threatening to bring the entire Swiss banking center, today number one in the world, into lasting disrepute.”

At the National Archives, we learned about West Virginia Senator Harley Kilgore, who chaired the Senate Military Affairs Committee in 1945. We found that his Committee, the so-called “Kilgore Committee” discovered that Swiss banks had purchased looted gold from Germany, and concluded that “These moves were made possible by the willingness of the Swiss government and banking officials… to make a secret deal with the Nazis.” While it may sound cliche to cite this phrase to a group of archivists, “What is past is prologue.” 50 years later, there were similar hearings, investigations, and even similar Swiss press reports.

The Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition, November 25, 1996) in a Stephen Braun piece entitled “Bitter Secrets and a Cache of Gold,” noted:

Every morning researchers troop into the sun-puddled reading rooms of Washington’s National Archives [College Park]. They trudge out hours later briefcases clogged with gray photocopies of old letters, position papers, internal memorandums from so long ago,

The researchers wage a quiet war for information, a competition that shapes legal maneuvers and publicity battles in New York and Washington. Brussels and Bern. Germany.

World Jewish Congress volunteers and aides to Senate Banking…Chairman Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.) spread out over several carrels [Bradsher: now the consultation rooms]. Swiss bank researchers sit at another table. Nearby State Department historians, lawyers and [Professor Richard] Brietman’s students plumb the files

‘Almost everything we’ve learned comes from the documents,’ said Gregg J. Rickman, a D’Amato aide.

….The files, depicted as bombshells each time they are made public by D’Amato and WJC officials have had a devastating impact. Swiss bankers have hired a public relations team to counter each broadside. And the files are energizing Holocaust survivors and relatives. More than 1,000 have written the Swiss, claiming missing accounts.

‘Even if all we’re left with is questions,’ said Kleiman, ‘at least they’re finally being asked.’

Jane Schapiro, in Inside a Class Action, describes Miriam as the summer of 1996 was ending:

By September 1996 Kleiman was a nervous wreck. She was working day and night and was still getting paid only hourly. She loved what she was doing, but she wanted more stability. What she thought would be a day or two of research had turned into six months’ work. With little money and no job security, she found herself in the same position she had been in six months earlier.

Miriam finally told Rickman that she could not keep going and would have to leave. Rickman offered a lead that would have Miriam going to work as a researcher with a Washington, D.C. law firm that was bringing a class action lawsuit against the Swiss bankers.

In October 1996, President Bill Clinton appointed Stuart E. Eizenstat, then Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, to head an eleven-member Interagency Group on Nazi Assets. The group, which I joined on October 31, was tasked with writing a report about what the United States government knew and did during and after the war about Nazi looted assets. I was asked by Dr. William Z. Slany, the Department of State’s Chief Historian, who was to draft the group’s report, to compile an exhaustive finding aid.

Despite both Miriam and I having new roles to play, I knew that for at least the foreseeable future our fates were linked. I could not help but to think of the last scene of the movie Casablanca where Rick says to Louis “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

P.S. In August 1998, a historic, unprecedented $1.25 billion settlement was reached in the Swiss Banks case.


Resources:

Holocaust-Era Assets Main Page at the National Archives with link to the Holocaust-Era Assets Finding Aid.

Safehaven Reports, 1944-1945 (NAID 595386) War Department. Office of the Judge Advocate General. War Crimes Office. Record Group 153.

 

 

Posted in Archives II, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Misadventures of a Soldier and His Bounty-Land Warrant

Heather Jager was a 2015 summer intern in the Archives 1 Reference Section in Washington, DC.

During my summer internship, I came across an orphan document – a document that has been separated from its file. It was made of parchment that was dry and slightly rigid; its bottom half had been torn off at some point before it was transferred to the National Archives, and the remaining piece had lines indicating that it had once been folded. The print on the document was in decent condition despite being covered in inkblots, but the handwriting was illegible. Any identifiable personal information, such as a name, was barely discernible. I noticed that President James Monroe’s name was clearly visible, but his signature was nowhere to be found. What sparked my interest, however, was what appeared to be a file number, #12336, on the document. Could this file number give me a clue about the identity of the document? With only that number to go on, I decided to try to find out more about the document.

Parchment orphan records

Orphan record from RG 49

I discovered that the document in question was a land patent (a document akin to a property title) that was issued to James Oneal, who enlisted in the United States Army during the War of 1812. A Congressional Act of 1812 gave men the incentive to serve in the U.S. Army in exchange for land. After one year of service as a Private in the 23rd U.S. Infantry, Oneal applied to the Army for a tract of land (“bounty” land) and was granted 160 acres of land in the Illinois Territory. Once approved, he was then issued a warrant that he presented to a regional branch of the General Land Office (GLO). After he surrendered said warrant, he was assigned land; however, he would not have received the land patent document at that time. The actual land patent was created by the GLO in Washington, DC. As soon as the patent was generated, it was then sent back to the local GLO office. At this point, Oneal was required to present himself at this office in person in order to obtain the patent, which he did.

While the original patent was given to the applicant, the information contained within said patent was transcribed into a ledger at the GLO headquarters in Washington, DC. The pages in the ledger were essentially a facsimile of the patent given to the land owner. If this was the normal procedure the GLO followed, what was an original land patent – or a portion of one – doing in James Oneal’s file?

After consulting with one of the archivists on staff who specializes in land records, I used the patent number on the document (12336) to track down Oneal’s file. In it was a letter, dated 29 December 1824, that helps to explain the condition of the warrant. In this letter, Oneal writes that while traveling to Illinois, his saddle bags, which contained the patent and vials of ink, were “knocked over board,” and the ink and water almost obliterated the writing from the parchment. Oneal’s letter also provides insight into the missing bottom half of the patent, and alludes not only to James Madison’s signature, but that of Josiah Meigs, who was the Commissioner of the United States General Land Office at the time this patent was recorded.

I then went a bit further and used Oneal’s patent number to search the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) website. (Please note that when the GLO merged with the Bureau of Reclamation, it was hence known as the Bureau of Land Management.) There I found a government copy of Oneal’s land warrant, and a map indicating the precise piece of land that was allotted to him. Upon further investigation, it appeared that Oneal’s land was located within Sangamon County, the location from which his letter to the Bureau of Land Management was sent. So, it appears that Oneal made it safely to his 160 acres, even though his land patent was a little worse for wear.

For researchers interested in bounty land warrant applications files before 1855—including those for the War of 1812 era—please consult Record Group 15 (Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs). For information about land entry files, researchers may want to check Reference Information Paper 114, Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office .

Documents relating to the transaction of land from the government to an applicant should look at the series, “Land Entry Case Files” (NAID 7541372), which is in Record Group 49 (Records of the Bureau of Land Management). Surrendered bounty land patent files can be found in a subset of the above referenced series, specifically “Military Bounty-Land Warrants Under the Act of 1812, #1-28085” (NAID 4923870), which is also part of Record Group 49.

As for the orphaned document itself, it will be safely returned to its original file in the series, “Military Bounty-Land Warrants Under the Act of 1812, #1-28085” (NAID 4923870) mentioned above.

Posted in Archives I, Civil Records, The Process | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The President Goes to Cuba: 1928

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

President Obama will visit Cuba later this month.  It will be only the second time an incumbent President visits that island nation.  The first presidential visitor was Calvin Coolidge in 1928, when he attended the Sixth International Conference of American States in Havana during January 1928.

A major difference between the two visits is that President Coolidge traveled to Cuba to attend an inter-American conference that just happened to take place in that country.  If the conference had been elsewhere, Cuba would not have received his visit.  President Obama, on the other hand, is going to Cuba to parley with Cuban leaders.  Another difference is that the trip to Cuba was President Coolidge’s only foreign trip as President.  By contrast, President Obama has traveled all over the World.

The Sixth International Conference of American States came at a time when U.S. relations with the countries in Central and South America were in a parlous state.  The United States had every expectation of facing brutal criticism at the meeting.  As American planning for the meeting, Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg sent the following letter to President Coolidge suggesting that his presence would help the American cause:

It is not clear when the President agreed to go to Cuba.   The only document located in the files is the following note from the President:

short letter thanking the Secretary of State for information about the Pan American conference

Letter from President Calvin Coolidge to Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg, Aug 29, 1927

Despite the heavy criticism received during the conference, American officials concluded that the outcome, and the President’s visit, was a success.


Source: Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg to President Calvin Coolidge, August 19, 1927, file 710.F/42a, and President Calvin Coolidge to the Secretary of State, August 29, 1927, file 710.F/43, both in 1910-29 Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

Posted in Archives II, Civil Records, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment