Seeking Aunt Liz

A JDC kid gets a surprise from the JDC Archives

By Ayala Levin-Kruss, Senior Processing Archivist

Michael Rice was born in Paris in 1947. His father Jim worked for JDC from 1945 to 1955, effectively permeating his childhood with JDC culture and stories. By chance, at a San Francisco book signing, he met another JDC child, Irene Levin Berman. The two discovered that their fathers, Jim Rice and Marcus Levin, had worked together at JDC, which stirred up memories within Michael, including the recollection of staying with the Levins in Oslo, Norway. Michael likens this 2011 meeting with Irene to having found a lost family member. The two arranged a trip to the JDC Archives in New York and went through their fathers’ extensive files.

Twelve years later, after viewing a JDC webinar, Michael exchanged emails with the lecturer, Laura Hobson Faure, about Jim’s work. Faure asked Rice about someone else she had found in her research.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that, in addition to the thousands of documents on my father, his big sister, my dear Aunt Liz, might also have been mentioned in the files.”

Thus began the second part of Michael’s search for a family member in the JDC Archives.

The Rices were an old Reform Jewish Cleveland family, going back to pre-Civil War days. During the Depression, Liz went to secretarial school, sacrificing her college savings for Jim’s education. Jim chose a degree in social work because fieldwork training came with a stipend.

James, known as Jim to friends and family, arrived in France in May 1945. During this year away from home, he sent a series of letters to his five-year-old son Billy, who was back in Cleveland with Jim’s wife Paula. Rice included captioned sketches:

Left: Jim’s illustrated journey to Metz and Marseille. Right: the Eiffel Tower and “Daddy’s” mode of transportation, a weapons carrier. (Courtesy Michael Rice)

Later in 1945, JDC assigned Jim to care for orphaned DP children in Austria. He managed to negotiate for Jewish DPs to live in New Palestine, a camp in the picturesque village of Bad Gastein, where the families of top Nazi officials had lived during the war. The camp’s children gave Rice an album as a farewell gift, which Michael Rice shared with the JDC Archives.

James Rice with Hungarian children, Salzburg, Austria, ca. 1945. JDC Archives

Children in the New Palestine DP Camp, Austria, 1946. JDC Archives

Michael speculates that, back on home leave in 1946, Jim recruited his only sister to work for the JDC. However, Liz’s JDC personnel records tells a richer story: JDC representative Laura Margolis had also grown up in Cleveland. She and Liz had worked together at Jewish Social Services there in the 1930s.

From office visits when he was six or seven, Bill Rice remembers Laura Margolis (center) as “sort of the mother hen.” Jim Rice at right, Paris, France, ca.1946 (Courtesy Michael Rice)

Margolis became the JDC country director for France in 1946. By this time, Liz Rice had ten years’ experience in academic and Jewish communal settings, along with stellar recommendations. Owing to her background and skills, Margolis offered Liz a job, concluding: CAN PROMISE INTERESTING WORK LOVE — LAURA. A year’s contract was approved, and again, Margolis wrote to Liz: “You are definitely hired, and you cannot get here fast enough.”

Liz was flown over at considerable expense, to save time. JDC Archives

Jim and family also arrived in Paris in Fall 1946. This time, Jim was Chief Emigration Officer and his work for JDC had become a family affair; Paula’s conditions for joining Jim had been a refrigerator and another baby. Michael relates: “The family story is that in March 1947, my mother went into labor early. I was born in the hospital elevator, and Liz was there.”

Paula, Billy, and Elizabeth Rice, Paris, France, ca.1947. (Courtesy Michael Rice)

Liz Rice holding Michael Rice; Paula Rice is at left. Paris, France, 1947. (Courtesy Michael Rice)

Liz returned to the United States in August 1947. In Liz’s evaluation, Margolis wrote,

“Miss Rice came to the JDC at my request since I had known of her ability and work performance both in Cleveland and in Pittsburgh for the past 12 years. . . . There is no job which I can possibly conceive my undertaking personally in which I would not be happy to have Miss Rice’s service.”

She was Margolis’ personal secretary and office manager, overseeing hiring and firing, supervision of support staff, and keeping work “moving smoothly even in the face of continuous turnover and absenteeism.” Liz was well respected by her colleagues and helpful to the many JDC-sponsored organizations, and took initiative.

An example of Liz’s work in Paris (Letter from Elizabeth Rice to Mr. William Bein. JDC Archives item 2317635), shared with Michael.

In 1948, James was reassigned to Geneva, as liaison to the International Refugee Organization and other international organizations headquartered in the city. Michael’s first memories are from there.

Billy, Paula, Jim, and Michael Rice, ca.1948. (Courtesy Michael Rice)

Liz went on to become the executive secretary of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, as evidenced by correspondence in the JDC Archives from 1953.

James Rice, Judge Maurice Bernon, Laura Margolis-Jarblum, Louis Horwitz, Cleveland connections all, at the JDC annual conference, Paris, France, 1953. JDC Archives

Jim’s final foreign post was in Germany, 1954-1955. Michael relates a discomfort, “knowing what everyone’s past was.” The family returned to the United States, where Jim was then executive director of HIAS, 1956-1966, and then director of the Chicago Jewish Federation from 1966 to his retirement in 1979.

Liz later married, and worked as executive secretary to the president of Boston University, and then to the dean of Harvard Medical School.

Michael has always felt deeply connected to the Jewish community, “in large part because of Dad’s work and his ethical and social commitments, and our circle of family and friends.” He and his wife Jane’s work with HIAS through their synagogue, Havurah Shalom in Portland, Oregon, is part of his father’s legacy.

Combine the Rice Family archives with materials from the JDC Archives and a picture emerges of Liz and Jim Rice: talented and valued colleagues, each contributing in their own way at a crucial time in Jewish history.

This story was shared with the permission of Michael Rice, a retired urban planner living near his grandchildren in Portland, Oregon.