Guide to the Papers of Ernest W. Michel
1698, 1938-1996

*P-901

Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160

Fax: (212) 294-6161

Email: reference@ajhs.org

URL: http://www.ajhs.org

© 2014, American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Machine-readable finding aid was created by Rachel S. Harrison as MS Word and Excel 2000 documents in August 2010. Electronic finding aid was converted to EAD 2002 by Rachel S. Harrison in August 2010. Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Michel, Ernest W.
Title: Ernest W. Michel, papers
Dates: 1698, 1938-1996 (bulk 1946-1987)
Abstract: This collection contains the papers of Ernest W. Michel, Holocaust Survivor Journalist and public speaker, including clippings of newspaper articles written by and about Michel, correspondence between Michel and many important Jewish and political figures and autograph files, which Michel collected. Many of these files concern Michel’s Holocaust experiences, speaking engagements, the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and Michel’s work with the United Jewish Appeal.
Languages: The collection is in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, French, Polish, Romanian, and Danish.
Quantity: 2 manuscript boxes, 1 OS1 box and 1 OS2 box
Quantity:4.7 linear feet
Accession number: P-901
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
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Biographical Note

Ernest W. Michel was born to a Jewish family in Mannheim, Germany in 1923. In November of 1938, Michel’s father was arrested during the deadly Kristallnacht pogrom. Michel’s family tried to get him out of Germany and into America, but without relatives in the United States, he couldn’t get the required affidavit of care needed to obtain a visa. In 1939 Michel was sent to the first in a series of 11 concentration and Nazi labor camps, among them Buchenwald, Birkenau, Dachau, and Auschwitz in which he spent the following six years. While in the camps, Michel met and became close friends with two other prisoners. Together, they managed to survive the selection process at the different camps to which they were sent. After almost six years as a slave laborer, Michel and his two friends were able to escape a forced march when the Berga camp in Germany was evacuated in advance of the Allied forces in 1945. Soon after the war ended, he learned that none of his family had survived.

After working briefly for the United States Military Government, he became a special correspondent for the German News Agency DANA at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. From less than 20 feet away, Michel watched as the heads of the Third Reich, including Herman Goering, were tried for war crimes. The byline on his articles, which were published in all the German newspapers, was Ernest Michel, Auschwitz Survivor # 104995 and he became known as the Holocaust Survivor Journalist.

In 1946 Michel arrived in the United States as a displaced person, brought over with help from the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) under the Truman Refugee Relief Act. He went to Chicago and then to Michigan, where he spent a short time as a reporter and columnist for a small-town newspaper. A local college in Michigan invited him to speak about his experiences in Nazi Germany. He began speaking at various local organizations and was given a news column where he could discuss his thoughts about being a new immigrant. The UJA hired him as a speaker and, starting in 1947, as a member of staff. In 1967 Baron Elie de Rothschild invited Michel to France in order to help organize the French UJA, which he continued to do until 1970. He was the executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York from 1970 to 1989 and later the CEO of UJA-Federation-New York, the largest citywide fundraising organization in the country. After his retirement, he maintained his connection with UJA, serving as a consultant and speaker, mainly about Nuremberg and what he learned from that experience.

Michel was the initiator and chairman of the highly publicized World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Israel in 1981, which brought together, for the first and only time, 6,000 survivors and their families from 23 countries and four continents. In 1995, he successfully negotiated with the Mormon Church for the withdrawal of almost 400,000 names of Jewish Holocaust victims from the church records who were posthumously baptized by the Mormon Church. As a direct result of his initiative, U.S. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, U.S. Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman and Tom Lantos introduced a resolution in both Houses of Congress which “deplores the persistent and malicious efforts by persons in this country and abroad who deny the historic reality of the Holocaust.”

His critically acclaimed autobiography Promises to Keep, was published in 1993.

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Scope and Content Note

The Papers of Ernest Michel consist of correspondence, newspaper clippings by and about Michel, autograph files, photographs of various events, and two mounted photographs. Many of these files relate to the conference that Michel helped organize in Israel in 1981, the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, as well as Michel’s work with the United Jewish Appeal, with which he has been involved since UJA helped to bring him to the United States in 1946. The newspaper clippings come from periodicals from different countries, mainly the United States, Germany, Israel, France, and Denmark. Many of these articles were written by Michel and there are also newspaper announcements of American talks and appearances which relate to his experiences during the war as well as his coverage of the Nuremberg Trials for the German news agency DANA.

There are also materials relating to the Auschwitz-Buna Scholarship Fund and Memorial Dinner that Michel helped organize. The collection also contains autograph files that consist of signed correspondence from various important individuals, mainly politicians and academics, copies of lectures that Michel gave, an expense report from the World Gathering, clippings relating to the Israel-Egyptian Peace Treaty of 1979, some official documents from World War II, and some research files, including information about Josef Mengele, Soviet Refuseniks, the Holocaust Memorial in Battery Park, antisemitism, UJA fundraising, and President Reagan’s visit to Bitburg Cemetery, among other topics. The mounted photos may have been from an exhibit.

The materials in this collection date from 1938-1996, as well as a single letter from 1698, with the bulk dating from 1946-1987. The majority of the collection is in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and German, with various documents in French, Polish, Romanian, and Danish. The collection consists of 2 manuscript boxes, 1 OS1 box and 1 OS2 box comprising 4.7 linear feet.

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Arrangement

When the materials came to the AJHS Archives, they were in binders that had been organized into series and labeled as such. This series order has been retained as Michel devised it, so that there are several series that consist of only one folder. Similarly, the original order had a Series II and a Series II-A, which perhaps reflects Michel going back at a later date to insert new materials into his arrangement scheme. Series V, Subseries 3 was originally labeled as Official Event Files 1974-1980, although the materials date until 1987. The subseries name has been changed to reflect the correct date range. Many of these binders had contents lists in the front giving bibliographic information and page organization for the clippings and correspondence. Materials that were loose within the plastic sleeves have been removed and are loose in the folder. Materials that were glued to paper backing have been left on that backing, some of which has been cut down to fit into the folders. Every attempt has been made to keep the materials in their original order, although this does not always correspond to the contents lists as some materials are not listed and some of the listed materials appear to be missing. In addition, not every binder had a contents list. The materials are arranged in rough chronological order, except for the autograph files, which are in basic alphabetical order. The collection is arranged into ten series, some of which have been further divided into subseries.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:

American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

E-mail: reference@ajhs.org

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Related Material

The AJHS and YIVO Libraries have copies of Michel’s autobiography Promises to Keep. Michel is represented in the UJA Federation of New York Oral History Collection, I-433, in the AJHS Archives. The Leo Baeck Institute Archives have an Ernest Michel collection, AR 6620, which consists of a 1993 article by Timothy W. Ryback from The New Yorker on the preservation of Auschwitz. Michel is also mentioned in the Joseph A. Bamberger Collection, AR 6906. The LBI Library has a manuscript by Michel, “The First Year of My Second Life 1946-1947,” which is available on microfilm, as well as a copy of his autobiography.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Ernest W. Michel, papers; P-901; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.

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Acquisition Information

Donated by Ernest W. Michel in August 2006.

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

 

Series I: From Holocaust to Redemption, 1980-1988

10 folders
Scope and Content:

This series contains correspondence, clippings, a companion guide in English and Hebrew, speeches, and photographs related to the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. This conference was held in Israel in 1981 and Michel was one of the key organizers. Box 1, folder 3 contains several photographs from the Gathering. Box 1, folder 9 contains some speeches and articles in addition to the companion guide.

Subseries 1: Pre-Gathering News Clippings, 1980-1981

2 folders
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 1 Pre-Gathering News Clippings 1980-1981
1 2 Pre-Gathering News Clippings 1981

Subseries 2: News Clippings Pertaining to the Gathering, 1981

2 folders
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 3 News Clippings Pertaining to the Gathering 1981
1 4 News Clippings Pertaining to the Gathering 1981

Subseries 3: Post-Gathering News Clippings, 1981

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 5 Post-Gathering News Clippings 1981

Subseries 4: Materials Pertaining to the Second Generation, 1981-1988

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 6 Materials Pertaining to the Second Generation 1981-1988

Subseries 5: Correspondence of Importance about the Gathering, 1980-1981

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 7 Correspondence of Importance about the Gathering 1980-1981

Subseries 6: Correspondence from National and International Organizations and Federations, 1980-1981

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 8 Correspondence from National and International Organizations and Federations 1980-1981

Subseries 7: Gathering Companion Guide, 1980-1981

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 9 Gathering Companion Guide 1980-1981

Subseries 8: Congratulatory Notes, 1981

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
1 10 Congratulatory Notes 1981
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Series II: News Releases by the World Gathering Committee Prior to the Gathering and Pre-Gathering Ideas, 1980-1981

1 folder
Scope and Content:

This series consists of correspondence and press releases by the World Gathering Committee that were created and distributed prior to the Gathering as well as some tentative schedules for the Gathering.

BoxFolderTitleDate
1 11 News Releases by the World Gathering Committee Prior to the Gathering and Pre-Gathering Ideas 1980-1981
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Series II-A: Auschwitz-Buna Files, 1959-1960

2 folders
Scope and Content:

This series is made up of correspondence, photographs and newspaper clippings relating to the Auschwitz-Buna Scholarship Fund and the Auschwitz-Buna Memorial Dinner, which was held March 20, 1960, at which the Scholarship Fund was inaugurated.

BoxFolderTitleDate
1 12 Auschwitz-Buna Files 1959-1960
1 13 Auschwitz-Buna Files 1960
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Series III: Autograph Files, 1698, 1946-1996

4 folders
Scope and Content:

This series contains signed letters and some autograph cards, mainly from important Jewish and political figures. Michel seems to have sought out some of these autographs, while others are signed letters from his regular correspondents. Box 2, folder 3 contains a 1698 letter from William Wotton, an English scholar whose 1718 work, Miscellaneous Discourses relating to the Traditions and Usages of the Scribes and Pharisees, contains a translation of part of the Mishnah. There is also a photocopy of a letter from Arthur James Balfour and several letters from Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter, Joseph Biden, and Mario Cuomo, among others.

BoxFolderTitleDate
1 14 Autograph Files, A-C 1946-1995
BoxFolderTitleDate
2 1 Autograph Files, C-H 1955-1996
2 2 Autograph Files, H-M 1955-1996
2 3 Autograph Files, R-W 1698, 1955-1996
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Series IV: Journalistic Files, 1946

1 folder
Scope and Content:

This series consists of clippings of newspaper articles written by Michel in his column “My New Home.” These articles are arranged alphabetically by subject. The articles themselves are undated but were published in 1946, according to the contents.

BoxFolderTitleDate
2 4 Journalistic Files 1946
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Series V: Official Event Files, 1948-1987

3 folders
Scope and Content:

This is a series of newspaper clippings, announcements, speeches, photographs, and correspondence related to events at which Michel was present, many of them through the United Jewish Appeal. Subseries 3 was originally labeled as containing materials from 1974-1980, but there are materials going up through 1987 as well as an expense report for the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The subseries name has been changed to reflect the proper dates.

Subseries 1: Official Event Files, 1948-1962

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
2 5 Official Event Files 1948-1962

Subseries 2: Official Event Files, 1962-1972

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
2 6 Official Event Files 1962-1972

Subseries 3: Official Event Files, 1974-1987

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
2 7 Official Event Files 1974-1987
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Series VI: Peace Treaty Files, Reactions to Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, 1977-1987

1 folder
Scope and Content:

This series contains correspondence concerning the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, as well as a 1977 copy of the Jerusalem Post anticipating Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel.

BoxFolderTitleDate
2 8 Peace Treaty Files, Reactions to Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty 1977-1987
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Series VII: Personal Event Files, 1938-1980

2 folders
Scope and Content:

This series is made up of clippings, photographs, correspondence, event announcements, and other materials relating to events at which Michel spoke or took part in, as well as several essay contests and other honors that he won and some writings by him. These events generally do not appear to be connected to the United Jewish Appeal or Michel’s involvement with UJA. There are also personal documents about Michel’s life in Germany, including a 1938 High Holidays ticket, photographs of the main synagogue in Mannheim before and after Kristallnacht, uninventoried concentration camp forms, and a photocopy of his press pass for the Nuremberg War Trials.

Subseries 1: Personal Event Files, 1938-1960

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
2 9 Personal Event Files 1938-1960

Subseries 2: Personal Event Files, 1960-1980

1 folder
BoxFolderTitleDate
2 10 Personal Event Files 1960-1980
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Series VIII: General Files, 1946-1991

1 folder and oversized shared folder
Scope and Content:

This series comprises newspaper clippings relating to various topics that Michel was interested in, including President Reagan’s visit to Bitburg Cemetery, Josef Mengele and other Nazi war criminals, the situation of post-war Germany, Soviet Refuseniks, the Holocaust Memorial in Battery Park, antisemitism, Jesse Jackson, Michel’s election to the Leo Baeck Institute’s Executive Committee, and UJA fundraising, among others. There are also additional articles written by and about Michel and his wartime experiences as well as lectures and events from after the war, including duplicates of many articles found elsewhere in the collection. The materials in box 3 were originally in an oversized binder and could not be fit into a manuscript box.

BoxFolderTitleDate
OSF1 Shared 1 General Files 1946-1949
OSF1 Shared 2 General Files 1949-1966
BoxFolderTitleDate
2 11 General Files 1973-1991
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Series IX: Mounted Photographs, undated

1 OS2 box
Scope and Content:

This is a series of two undated mounted photos that appear to have come from some sort of exhibit. One is of Michel sitting on the train tracks to Auschwitz and the other appears to be a school photo from the late 1920s or early 1930s.

BoxFolderTitleDate
4 (OS2) Mounted photo of Michel at Auschwitz undated
4 (OS2) Mounted class photograph undated
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