Updates: Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project

Exploring the Archives

Dr. Abby Gondek is the Roosevelt Institute’s 2019-2020 Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence. Here she blogs her research and work in support of the Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project – a digital history and pathfinding initiative to raise awareness of the FDR Library’s unique but under-explored resources for Holocaust Studies.

Henry Morgenthau Jr.

Henry Morgenthau Jr. was the Secretary of the Treasury during both the Roosevelt and Truman administrations from 1934 to 1945. Morgenthau and FDR were close friends and neighbors. In 1943, Morgenthau became involved in the debate over Jewish refugees; he was foundational in the development of the War Refugee Board, which led to the rescue of at least 200,000 Jews from Nazi-occupied countries. Interestingly, he was also a secular, assimilated Jew who had never even attended a Passover seder. Influenced by his father’s emphasis on being “American” and not Jewish, he was not a Zionist, and avoided “Jewish matters.” Henry Morgenthau Sr. was a US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Turkey during the Armenian genocide. He dedicated himself to raising awareness and funds to stop the “race extermination” of the Armenian people. This impacted Henry Morgenthau Jr.’s decision to take action on the part of Jews impacted by Nazism.

The purpose of the Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project is to bring awareness to under-explored Holocaust-related collections at the FDR Library, beginning with the Diaries and Papers of Henry Morgenthau. The Diaries are composed of more than 860 volumes, organized and thoroughly indexed by Mrs. Henrietta Stein Klotz, who worked for Morgenthau for 37 years. They are a daily record of Morgenthau’s official activities, transcripts of meetings, phone calls, and both copies and originals of the most important correspondence and memos that passed through his office.

Morgenthau Diary

Utilizing a database of over 500 “Refugee”-related documents in the Morgenthau Diaries identified by the Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence from 2018-2019, Dr. Dottie Stone, I am identifying pathways to chart for further research. This process involves distinguishing themes or patterns within these documents which connect to other items within the FDR Library collections as well as with other libraries, archives and museums with Holocaust-related materials. I see my position as tracking the networks between historical individuals, organizations and actions, as well as creating networks between contemporary cultural institutions with Holocaust-related holdings.

One of the major themes I am currently exploring, as the new Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence for the 2019-2020 year, is the “hidden figures” who served as the “moral voice” behind Morgenthau’s and FDR’s decisions regarding Jewish refugees. This is part of the effort to spotlight under-utilized or less well-known items within the Holocaust-related collections at the FDR Library. As part of this theme, I will be writing about specific figures and networks of historical actors who played an important role in influencing the actions of Morgenthau and FDR in regard to the rescue and relief effort. As part of this goal, I will be articulating the way that American governmental responses to the Holocaust were intersectional, influenced by various factors including ethnic and racial identity, religiosity, political affiliation, class background, and gender.

In future posts I will be describing my archival research process. These blogs will explain how I identify documents to analyze, the inquiry process, and how I chart the networks between historical actors, institutions and belief systems. This blog series will explore the digital humanities tools that I use on a daily basis to navigate the pathways between documents and collections at the FDR Library and between the FDR Library and other cultural institutions. This can serve as a resource for researchers, educators, and digital humanists, providing specific instruments to conduct research with Holocaust-related collections and other archival collections.

In addition to the Morgenthau Diaries, I will be highlighting my archival research process and specific “finds” in the Morgenthau Papers, the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, and many other collections from across the Library’s growing digital archives.