The Adler Archives

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Archives of the Jewish Community of Buffalo and Erie County:  A Brief History


   In 1975, my colleague Dr. Joseph Bunzel died suddenly of a heart attack. Professor Bunzel had joined the department of sociology at the State University College ten years earlier. He was a Holocaust survivor, born in Austria, who had lost his only son there. He came to Buffalo principally because his wife was quite ill and needed the medical assistance this city could provide.

    Upon his death I undertook to collect his papers, i.e. his publications and some of the pictures he had painted, and took these to the archives of the University of Buffalo, with a view of having them archived there inasmuch as the State University College had no archives at that time.

    Shawney Finnegan was then the archivist at the university. She refused these papers on the grounds that Dr. Bunzel had never been a faculty member of the university.

     About one week after the death of Joseph Bunzel, the then president of the State University College, Elbert K. Fretwell, asked me what the college might do for the widow of Dr. Bunzel.

     Although generally ill disposed towards Jews, Fretwell was willing to give the college a good front by showing some regard for the widow. I therefore suggested that the college develop archives, not only for Joseph Bunzel, but for everyone who had ever worked there or would work there in the future.

     Dr. Fretwell promptly called the then librarian of the college and asked if someone on the library staff would be interested in becoming an archivist. Sister Martin Joseph (Jones), a librarian and Catholic nun, was willing to learn archiving and was therefore sent to Western Reserve University in Cleveland to learn archiving techniques.

     On her return she archived the papers of Dr. Bunzel and of others willing to give her their materials.

      Now it so happened that in 1980 Dr. Selig Adler, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Buffalo, retired. Author of a number of books, the professor had written a history of the Jewish community of Buffalo called From Ararat to Suburbia. Therefore, on his retirement he was asked by the Jewish community to archive the papers of the community, a task never undertaken before.

      Dr. Adler was assigned a room on the second floor of the downtown Jewish Center and worked there diligently each day. I visited him there repeatedly because Dr. Adler was my “Doktorvater”, a German word for father of my doctor's degree. In other words, I had written my dissertation under his supervision.

      Dr. Adler complained to me at each visit that the then director of the Jewish Center, William Grossman, had no use for the archives and stored each box, painstakingly collected, in a closet which leaked water all over the boxes and their contents.

     In view of this situation, Dr. Ursula Falk asked Sr. Martin Joseph whether she would be willing to allow Dr. Adler to bring the Jewish archives to the State University College library to continue the work there. She readily agreed and subsequently she and Professor Adler worked on these archives each day. As a result the Hadassah organization gave Sr. Martin Joseph an award.

     In 1979, the famous scholar Rabbi Isaac Klein had died. Since Sr. Martin Joseph had been a friend of the Kleins, the Rabbi's widow, Henrietta Klein, gave his papers to Sr. Martin Joseph to be archived along with the archives of the Jewish community. Subsequently, the Jewish Theological Seminary photocopied the papers of Rabbi Klein to become a part of the JTS archives in New York.

     After the death of Professor Adler in 1984, Sister Martin Joseph continued to develop the archives of the Jewish community until her retirement in 1995. Then the Jewish archives were stored in the basement of the State College library, where they remained until 2006, when the college transferred them to the University of Buffalo.

    In the course of the years during the presence of the Klein papers at SUCB the daughter of Rabbi Klein visited the college to read some of her father’s papers. In addition I collected a number of recollections and documents from Buffalo Jews which, however, were never deposited there.

    It may well be that now a newly arrived historian can bring the history of the Jewish community up to date by using these papers. Undoubtedly many Buffalo Jews have in their possessions documents which could be of use in this enterprise. Others have memories of the last fifty years which may also serve that purpose.

    It is to be hoped that all Jews living here may be asked to participate instead of continuing the exclusion of those not always politically acceptable to the current oligarchy. 

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Fraud (2007).

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