The War Years

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought the largest influx of Jews from Eastern Europe yet; 138,051 in that year alone. But soon after, restrictions on immigration hampered HIAS' efforts. A literacy test was legislated in 1917 and quota legislation was passed in 1921 and 1924. The National Origins Quota restricted the number of immigrants allowed into America to no more than two percent of the number of each nationality residing in the U.S. in 1890. This severely restricted the entry of Jews from Eastern Europe.

In 1921, HIAS bought the former Astor Library on Lafayette Street in Manhattan to serve as a shelter and provide all the same care and maintenance for those settling in New York that had formerly been provided at Ellis Island. Offices on the first two floors gave way to housing on the third and fourth floors. Kosher kitchens, a small synagogue, classrooms for job training and civics education, a playground for immigrant children, and a weekly bazaar all provided for the needs of the thousands of immigrants who passed through the shelter's doors each year. (The north wall of the building, since 1965 the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, still bears faded paint reading "HIAS." You can see it looking south from Astor Place.)

Among the Society's proudest operations are those that were conducted through the shelter. Though precious few refugees were rescued during World War II, due to the restrictive National Origins Quota of 1924, HIAS provided immigration and refugee services to those who were. After the war, HIAS was instrumental in evacuating the displaced persons camps and aiding in the resettlement of some 150,000 people in 330 U.S. communities, as well as Canada, Australia and South America.