Tag Archives: Jewish Studies

Before E-Mail, There Was V-Mail

The Rubenstein Library recently acquired a collection of letters and diaries from Harry Bernard Glazer, an American soldier who served in the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in France, Germany, and Austria in the closing months of World War II. Glazer was an excellent writer and tended towards introspection, so his letters and diaries are full of description and analysis of the war, his efforts to enlist, his training, and his off-duty excursions with his friends and dates. The archive is especially interesting because Glazer writes openly and poignantly about his experiences as a Jewish soldier and the role of his faith in motivating his effort to enlist and fight the Nazis.

One component of the archive is a lot of V-Mail, which Harry began to use when he was stationed overseas in 1944. V-Mail, short for Victory Mail, was developed by the postal service as a way to reduce weight and speed up mail delivery between the United States and soldiers overseas. Letters were required to fit onto a single sheet of paper, like so:vmailopen

and were folded up and mailed, like so:Collage

They would be routed through the wartime censors and then forward to a V-Mail processing center, which would essentially microfilm the letter and discard the original. The microfilmed negative would be transported to the U.S., and then blown up to a miniature photocopy and forwarded on to its intended addressee. The instructions on the back of the V-Mail form clarify the process:IMG_20160802_120547

The photocopied mini-letter would arrive in a tiny envelope, like this:Collage2

And it would be up to the reader to have some good reading glasses! The letters from Harry Glazer to his mother document how quickly V-Mail shifted from being a novelty to being an annoyance for him. He would number his V-Mails lest they arrive out of order, so his family would be able to reassemble them.

Excerpt of a V-Mail from Harry: “Dearest Mother, These V-Mail forms tend to cramp my style. Before this letter is done I will have signed my name a dozen times.”

The Harry Bernard Glazer Papers are now available for research.

Preserving a Cork-Covered Scrapbook

I’ll soon be meeting with Conservation staff to discuss the preservation issues surrounding a few collections I’ve cataloged recently, including this one, a scrapbook I felt I had to catalog before it absolutely fell to pieces.

rothholz cover
It is likely that Marianne “Nan” Rothholz created this unique cork cover for her scrapbook that contains 69 letters, 22 V-mails, 6 postcards, and 37 black-and-white photographs.

Nan Rothholz began this scrapbook during World War II, when she served as a member of the National Jewish Welfare Board and the Baltimore United Service Organizations (USO). She and her family hosted servicemen, generally medical professionals stationed at Fort Meade, in their Baltimore home. She became especially close to and followed 5 of the men during the final years of the war in Europe, and to me this scrapbook represents her “filing cabinet” for their V-mail, letters, photographs, postcards, and clippings, rather than a traditional scrapbook.

rothholz page
Rothholz recorded personal details about each serviceman in ink, then pasted in their related material around it. The paper in the scrapbook is of astoundingly poor quality, and breaks into pieces as the pages are turned.

Our challenge here will be how to keep related material together yet preserve the individual items, all before these brittle pages crumble to bits. Conservation staff will advise me on this, and perhaps digitization will be considered to help preserve the relationships in material that Rothholz initiated. Both the National Jewish Welfare Board and the USO commended her on her work, and our work will honor her as well.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Original Cataloger.

Heschel Highlights, Part 1

Welcome to the first post in a series documenting the processing of the Abraham Joshua Heschel Papers.

Photographs and documents from the Abraham Joshua Heschel Papers.

In 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, accepted as position as the Harry Emerson Fosdick Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary (UTS). Newspapers reported this occasion with headlines that proclaimed “Rabbi to Teach Christians” and “Seminary Gives Post to Heschel.” The prestigious visiting position speaks to Heschel’s influence in Christian-Jewish relations at the time. As we begin processing the Abraham Joshua Heschel Papers, there is evidence that Heschel’s dedication to interfaith work also made him a controversial figure in some Jewish circles. I recently processed a large folder of materials that Heschel collected during his tenure at UTS and discovered that Heschel preserved the views of his dissenters, tucked in alongside his lecture notes and grade records.

In a folder that contains programs from events honoring Heschel at UTS and Eden Theological Seminary and an excerpt from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Pious and Secular America, I found a fascinating newspaper clipping. The article, “Scholar Delimits Interfaith Talks,” discusses another rabbi’s view on interfaith relations. The article explains that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, argued that Jews should avoid discussing theological issues in their relations with Christians. This article provides an intriguing counterpoint to the documents promoting Heschel’s theological lectures at Christian Seminaries.

In another folder, which Heschel labeled “Interfaith,” he included an excerpt from a letter written by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. In the letter, Schneerson writes, “there is no need for us whatever to have any religious dialogues with non-Jews, nor any interfaith activities in the form of religious discussions, interchange of pulpits, and the like” (2). Schneerson concludes, “religious dialogue with non-Jews has no place in Jewish life, least of all here and now” (4). This letter rests alongside an article written by UTS President John C. Bennett and Heschel’s itinerary for the Spring Semester of 1966 which included lectures at the Indiana Pastors’ Conference and eleven different Christian seminaries.

Adrienne and the Heschel Papers.
Adrienne and the Heschel Papers.

These dissenting opinions preserved by Heschel and included in folders that highlight his interfaith work provide an intriguing glimpse into Heschel’s world. We will leave it up to future researchers to discover the meaning behind Heschel’s inclusion of these opposition opinions in these particular folders!

Post contributed by Adrienne Krone, Heschel Project Assistant in Rubenstein Technical Services.