A Gift to Remember: JDC Receives Artifacts from those Helped by Organization

Letter urging attendance at important 1939 meeting sent on behalf of JDC and other organizations.  Click to enlarge.
Letter urging attendance at important 1939 meeting sent on behalf of JDC and other organizations.

“Nearly every artifact has a story connected to it, whether it be a hole in a helmet or a belt that a medic carried around with him as he treated the wounded on the beach.”

-Stephen Ambrose, American Historian 1936-2002

If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the expression goes, how many words is an object worth? An ordinary item can be elevated to historical heights by where it has been and what it has seen. When curating JDC’s centennial exhibit at the New York Historical Society in 2014, it became evident that the presence of artifacts and ephemera in the exhibition could illustrate the efforts and impact of the JDC throughout the years. In recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the organization, the JDC Archives initiated an effort to collect objects from its storied past. With the passage of time, items of distribution and aid have morphed into relics imprinted with the JDC legacy. In recent months, the archives has been gifted with two exciting artifacts from its past.

For the devout, a tallit or Jewish prayer shawl is a daily object used historically by Jewish men while praying. However, the tallit that Steven Friedman of Plainview, NY gifted to the JDC Archives embodied much more than the item’s ritual meaning. The tallit says “Gift from Joint,” referring to the nickname of the organization. It had been distributed by JDC to Steven’s father Josef Friedman, a Holocaust survivor, while he was living in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp near Kassel, Germany. JDC brought in tens of thousands of prayers books and shawls to see to the religious needs of the survivors.

“There were over 250,000 Jewish DPs at the time,” explains JDC archivist Abra Cohen.  “An item like this tallit-threadbare, stained, and showing sign of heavy usage-helps tell the individual story of Josef Friedman.  It also tells the story of an organization that cared for its clients, both body and soul.” Josef treasured this tallit for the rest of his life.

A piece of ephemera, an historic letter, was recently donated by sisters Laura Gail (Vainstein) Kirk and Ellen Deen (Vainstein) Shapiro. After Ellen contacted the JDC Archives with a genealogy request about a relative in Slovakia helped by the Joint in 1941, they donated to the JDC Archives this special letter, that had been saved by their grandfather, Rabbi Nathan Vainstein of Bellaire, Ohio and by the family for over 70 years.  The purpose of the letter was to encourage attendance at a meeting of "representative Jews of the Tri-State area" to be held on March 19, 1939, in Pittsburgh. The second paragraph of the letter discusses the "gravity of the problem (s) facing 6,000,000 Jews in Central and Eastern Europe..." including the crucial needs for relief and reconstructive help, and the need for emigration assistance.  Signed by notable Jewish leaders Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and Rabbi Jonah B. Wise and written on behalf of the United Jewish Appeal, JDC and other institutions, the 1939 letter is a haunting harbinger of what was to come and tells the story of not only JDC but that of the larger Jewish people. 

Do you have books, religious items, posters, publication, brochures, ID cards or other items distributed by JDC? Your artifacts can help bring the Archives to life for the next generation. If you think you may have an item of interest, please email

Exhibit 100 Years of “the Joint“ in Poland Opens in California

Rescue, Relief, and Renewal: 100 Years of “the Joint” in Poland, an exhibit of rare archival photographs originally presented at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakόw in 2014, will open at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, California on March 6th. The exhibit features almost 100 images from the JDC Archives image collection which portray JDC’s extensive social welfare and humanitarian activities in Poland through the decades to the present day.

The exhibit highlights early relief shipments of food, medicine, and supplies during World War I; extensive work in the interwar years, the Holocaust era and its aftermath; and JDC’s return to Poland to sustain Holocaust survivors.  More recent efforts to nourish a growing Jewish renewal in the post-Communist years to the present are also featured. “Rescue, Relief, and Renewal: 100 Years of ‘the Joint’ in Poland” testifies to JDC’s ongoing commitment to Polish Jewry. 

An opening reception will take place on Sunday, March 6, 2016, from 2-4pm featuring live music and a discussion of the impact that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has had on Jewish life and culture in Poland over the last century. The Osher Marin JCC is the first U.S. venue for this traveling exhibition. Institutions interested in hosting the exhibit should contact the Galicia Jewish Museum at   

Interview with Linda Cantor, JDC Archives Volunteer and Jewish Genealogist

Linda Cantor indexing a list of names to the JDC Names Database. Photo Credit: AP Click to enlarge.
Linda Cantor indexing a list of names to the JDC Names Database. Photo Credit: AP

Q: How long have you been doing genealogy research and what got you started?

A: I have been researching my family’s history for over 40 years. I became interested by finding photos in my parent’s house and figuring out who the subjects were. It became like a puzzle, an obsession.

Q: Do you have any tips for people just getting started on their family trees?

A: You should always start your research in the country you live in, and then seek to go backwards. In the United States you would look at census records, passenger arrival records and vital records, which include birth, marriage and death certificates. Then you would go back to the immigrant generation. If you can determine the countries of birth of the immigrant generation, you can start to look for records of that country. After that, you would looks at records of an organization like JDC. You don’t go into the JDC Names Database knowing what you’re looking for; it’s like a treasure hunt. You should search by both surname and given name, and then by ancestral towns.

Q: How is JDC Archives different from other genealogical sources?

A: JDC has records that are just so unique. They’re the business records of JDC, but also include information that can be interesting for a genealogist. They have remittance lists from 1915 to the early 1920s of payments that were sent to people in Eastern Europe by family members or friends in the Western world via JDC. The benefit of a list like this is that it contains names and addresses of both sets of people, allowing you to make a connection. To my knowledge, this information doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Governments have standard kinds of record-land, legal-but no one else has this particular thing.

Q: If I have no relatives connected to the Holocaust, is it still worthwhile for me to check JDC Archives?
The JDC Archives Names Index includes documents from 1914-1977, from places you might not necessarily think of like Morocco and Brazil. They have much more than Holocaust-era records.

Q: How do you connect to genealogy on a personal level?
All of these records are somehow Jewish. JDC’s records make you aware of all the troubled times in Jewish history, because it’s a relief agency that by its very nature helps people in crisis. Genealogy allows you to look at the names and lives of individuals and bring it to a personal level.

Q:  What kinds of records can be found in the JDC Names Database?
The JDC Names Database has information on remittance lists (names and addresses of people in the West sending money to their families in Europe, with their names and addresses), lists of Jewish prisoners of war held by the Russians in World War I, lists of people in Europe applying for assistance from JDC or seeking JDC’s help in contacting their American relatives, lists of refugees and survivors in the aftermath of the two world wars, Egyptian Jewish refugees in France and Brazil and more. Included are index cards of people assisted by JDC’s emigration service after World War II and of Hungarian Jewish refugees in 1956-57 as well as over 100 long lists of people helped by JDC over the last 100 years.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve found that the nicest part of using JDC records is that if you find something in the database, the document is actually there and you don’t need to do further research. This is unusual. Most genealogical information online is just indexes, and then you’re required to go out and find it. Some organizations like JRI Poland [Jewish Records-Indexing Poland] are starting to do this now, but it is rare amongst Jewish indexes and indexes in general. Usually you have to send money for a copy of a document-I’ve paid up to $50 for one-and you may have to wait months for it to be processed! For example, on the Ellis Island database, you can’t save or print a document. They want you to buy it. With JDC records, there is no wait and you don’t have to pay. The records are at your fingertips.

Linda Cantor has been researching her family history for over thirty years and has done considerable research on her Lithuanian, Galician and Volhynian roots. She was the registration chair of the 1999 Annual Conference on Jewish Genealogy and was the president of The Jewish Genealogical Society of NY from 2007 to 2010. She has been volunteering with the JDC Archives since January 2010.

Young Scholar Researches Postwar Aid to Belgium

Veerle Vanden Daalen Click to enlarge.

Veerle Vanden Daelen’s interest in the post-Holocaust reconstruction of Antwerp Jewry was piqued in 2001. She was working in Brussels at the Commission of Spoliation of Jewish Assets. The sharp contrast between the almost-total destruction of Antwerp’s Jewish community and the “vibrant Jewish life” of the city today sparked many questions.

In 2002, Vanden Daelen submitted a dissertation proposal to the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Antwerp to study post-WWII reconstruction of Antwerp’s Jewish life. Upon learning that local archives on welfare activities in Belgium were closed or had been destroyed, Vanden Daelen identified various archival repositories abroad to visit. At the top of her list were the records of the organization that played a central role in reconstruction of postwar European Jewish life: the JDC Archives.

“The JDC Archives,” Vanden Daelen says, “filled a huge gap.” She traveled to Israel and the United States in 2003-2004, visiting numerous archives, including both branches of the JDC Archives. The latter records in particular gave her research “a lot of oxygen”. The scope of JDC’s holdings helped Vanden Daelen “locate things [she] would have difficulty finding locally.”

In 2008, Vanden Daelen’s dissertation was published in Dutch: "Let us continue to sing their song. The reconstruction of the Jewish community in Antwerp after the Second World War (1944-1960)."

Her research investigated JDC’s records from 1944 to 1960 and describes the challenges JDC encountered in its postwar work with the Jewish communities in Antwerp and Brussels. The Antwerp community had developed a social welfare infrastructure in the interwar period; it sought “funds, not advice” from JDC. Brussels, in contrast, where JDC’s Belgian aid was centralized, did not have its own welfare resources and thus “was more in need of JDC’s expertise.” Despite JDC’s efforts to facilitate cooperation between Antwerp and Brussels, each of these communities remained insular and primarily concerned with its own communal needs.

Gradually, JDC’s Belgium office shifted its focus to addressing each community’s particular needs—children’s homes, education, refugee resettlement, support for elderly survivors, and vocational training—and rebuilding a sustainable communal infrastructure. As Vanden Daelen notes, these primary sources afford a fascinating case study of how a global organization like JDC adjusts its relief policies to the realities of communal needs. See images of JDC's Children's Homes in Belgium.

Vanden Daelen’s experience at the JDC Archives was formative. In addition to encountering invaluable primary sources, her interactions with JDC Archives staff provided her with extremely valuable input; moreover, they helped her appreciate archivists as important resources and underscores the need for scholars to “actively engage with archivists.” Vanden Daelen research trips showed her the necessity of “a virtual research community,” especially for scholars with few local colleagues studying Jewish history.

The significance of this community is pre-eminent in Vanden Daelen’s current position with the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI), a portal for dispersed Holocaust-era sources that also facilitates collaborations between researchers and archivists. Nine JDC collections are included in the EHRI portal.

Uta Larkey Lectures on Post-Holocaust Interviews and Testimonies

JDC-NY staff attend a lunchtime lecture by Dr. Uta Larkey
JDC-NY staff attend a lunchtime lecture by Dr. Uta Larkey

There is much to learn from eyewitness testimonies from Jewish survivors of World War II, explained Dr. Uta Larkey of Goucher College at a recent “Lunch and Learn” session for staff at JDC’s headquarters in NY.  The Central Historical Commission in Munich (Tsentrale Historishe Komisye) collected thousands of testimonies from Jewish survivors immediately after the Holocaust.The testimonies were recorded for historical purposes, yet subjects often felt psychologically rewarded by having had the opportunity to share their stories and those of their murdered relatives.

While there is much to gain from authenticity of a first-hand account, the territory of oral history is not without its hazards. For example, Dr. Larkey scrutinized the 1946 interview of Shmuel Lewin by Martin Rosenfeld in Pocking, the largest Displaced Persons camp in the U.S. Zone, and corroborated facts from their recorded conversation with other sources. She then compared this early interview to a video interview of the same survivor produced by the Shoah Foundation half a century later. While the general recollection was similar, certain key episodes from the early interview were not recounted in the later one, and the perspective of the subject had changed. One can surmise that memory is not always reliable and/or that the interviewee omitted some episodes and reflections for personal or political reasons.

Dr. Larkey presented other obstacles in gathering testimonies in the early post-war period. Having interviewers who had themselves been victims of significant trauma conduct the interviews took objectivity away from the process. Although interviewers and interviewees came from multilingual Eastern European families and could converse in at least one common language, they often did not come from the same geographical and cultural background. Despite the challenges faced in the interview process, the recording of first-hand testimonies recorded in 1946-1948 was groundbreaking. They vividly described the harshness of life as a Nazi victim through individual, personal stories. JDC staff was fascinated by Dr. Larkey’s research and these topics. Dr. Larkey is authoring a book about post-war German-language interviews and testimonies and the interactions between interviewer and interviewees. 

JDC DORSA Collection Now Available Via Digital Library of the Caribbean

Nurses holding newborns at the DORSA settlement medical clinic Click to enlarge.
A group of nurses holding newborns outside the medical clinic at the refugee settlement at Sosua, Dominican Republic.

The JDC Archives is pleased to announce that as part of ongoing efforts to expand our digital reach through collaborative projects, we have shared the Records of the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA), 1939-1977 collection with the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), a cooperative digital library for primary source records about the Caribbean and its neighboring territories.

The DORSA collection documents JDC’s establishment in 1938 of the Dominican Republic Settlement Association, an agricultural settlement for over 700 Austrian and German Jewish refugees in Sosúa in the north of the Dominican Republic. The collection records in dLOC link back to the JDC Archives database, where users can download pdfs of the documents.

dLOC provides users with electronic access to 2 million pages of content from forty partner institutions; it is administered by Florida International University in partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands and the University of Florida. The JDC-dLOC partnership is also a new collaboration with the Jewish Diaspora Collection, which preserves and provides access to Jewish heritage materials from Florida, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

New Book Offers Insight on Early Aid to Russian Jews

Orphaned children in the Malakhovka Colony show off the new winter garments they've received from JDC. Russia, 1923
Orphaned children in the Malakhovka Colony show off the new winter garments they've received from JDC. Russia, 1923

Michael Beizer, Relief in Time of Need: Russian Jews and the Joint, 1914-1924. Slavica Publishers, Indiana University, 2015.

This recently published book, written by Professor Michael Beizer, a historian and Property Reclamation Researcher in JDC’s Former Soviet Union Department, depicts the activity of JDC in Russia during the time of World War I, revolution, civil war, pogroms the famine of 1921-1923,  and reconstruction work.  In his broad historical survey, Beizer highlights the main stages in the development of the organization’s activity and the location of its programs.  Structurally, the book’s eight chapters  reflect the basic phases in the early history of JDC in Russia; among them: “The Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Committee for the Relief of War Victims”, “In Siberia under the Whites”, “In the Former Pale of Settlement”, “Under the Auspices of the ARA” and “Last Years of Relief Work – 1923”.  Within this chronological framework, the author deals with various aspects of relief aid. 

Beizer provides readers with a painful account of cruelty and inhumane treatment which the Jews of Soviet Russia experienced during the long years of calamity from 1914-1924.  The sufferers were especially grateful to American Jewish philanthropists for their concern and the humanity they expressed by providing assistance to them in their time of need.  Many of the aid recipients viewed the philanthropists as emissaries representing their family members in the United States.  

Immediately after the end of the Russian Civil War in 1921, the focus of “the Joint,” as JDC is often called, shifted from distribution of emergency money and food to famine relief, healthcare, the organization of children’s homes and shelters for orphans, and care for the elderly.  At that critical moment, the Joint collected and distributed clothing and other articles of prime necessity and equipment for Russia’s starving and needy.  It rescued many from famine and supported tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike.      

In his book, Beizer explains how, in a situation when there were no official diplomatic relations between the USSR and the United States, and amid deep mistrust and ideological incompatibility between the two countries, JDC had to maneuver between the Soviet Government and the U.S. State Department.  This included fighting off attacks by the American Yiddish press and the Jewish section of the Bolshevik Party, showing extreme flexibility during negotiations, and adapting to the peculiarities of the Soviet regime, while at the same time implementing JDC’s policies. 

Published soon after JDC’s centennial year, Beizer’s book is a respectful tribute to the memories of the Joint's employees, who often worked at great risk to their lives.They include Dr. Frank Rosenblatt, who participated in a mission supporting the Jews of Siberia, the Urals, and Far East in 1919, and Dr. Boris Bogen, who headed JDC’s Overseas Unit.  Other heroes mentioned include Harry Fisher, Max Pine, and Joseph Rosen. There are pages describing the Joint’s first human losses – Israel Friedlaender and Bernard Cantor.  The author proudly admits that “this organization owes its achievements to its remarkable staff.”  The late Ralph Goldman, Honorary Executive Vice-President of the JDC, highly recommended this book to all people involved with or interested in Jewish community work in the Former Soviet Union.  

Research for the book was conducted in many archival repositories of the United States, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.  JDC Archives records and photographs are a primary source for the publication. 

Second Generation Holocaust Survivor Discovers Father’s DP Camp Soccer League Was Sponsored by JDC

Alvin Lewis, a Second Generation Holocaust survivor living in Manhattan, visited JDC’s centennial exhibit, “I Live. Send Help.” at the New-York Historical Society in July 2014. The exhibit included a timeline illustrating some of the many ways that JDC assisted Jews in need around the world from 1914 to the present.

“Part of the reason I went to the exhibit was that I remembered hearing the words ‘American Joint Distribution Committee’ as a child in our home in Queens, New York,” Al said. “I had a sense that AJDC was involved in helping my parents after World War II in some positive way, but I couldn’t remember exactly how.”

Al scrutinized photos at the exhibit that focused on Displaced Persons (DP) camps. Even though there was no mention of soccer, he had a hunch JDC was involved in his father’s DP camp soccer team.

After visiting the exhibit, Al inspected a “First Prize” medal that his father, Wiktor Lezerkiewicz (Victor Lewis), earned in 1947 as Co-Captain of the Maccabi soccer team at the Bad Ischl DP camp in Austria. He was pleased to discover the letters “A J D C” inscribed on the back of the medal.

Two medals won by Wiktor Lezerkiewicz (Victor Lewis) at AJDC-sponsored DP camp soccer sports festivals in Austria on June 4th and August 16th, 1947.

The family’s photo album had over 30 soccer images from various DP camp competitions in Austria. Notations on the backs of several photos recorded game scores and indicated whether the matches were played in DP camps in Bad Ischl, Salzburg, Ebensee, or Linz. An inscription on the upper right-hand corner of one photograph read, “Sponsored by AJDC's Cultural Dept., Linz, Austria, 1946.” Without a doubt, these objects proved the link between AJDC and the Lewis family.

The Return to Life in the Displaced Persons Camps (1945-1956), a Yad Vashem publication, notes that “Sporting events were of great significance to the Jewish survivors. They emphasized (survivor) independence and willpower…and signified a return to normality.” Indeed, even the names of the clubs in Victor Lewis’ soccer league symbolized Jewish strength and heroism: Maccabi (named after Judah Maccabee, leader of the 164-160 BCE Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire); Bar Kochba (named after the leader of the 132 CE Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire); and Hakoah (meaning “strength” in Hebrew).

Soccer was a very popular sport in Jewish communities before WWII. Re-emerging with great enthusiasm after liberation, the sport became a very important therapeutic recreational activity in DP communities. “Soccer enabled players to put their minds, bodies and skills to good use while enabling hundreds of spectators to once again enjoy rooting for their home teams – just like many of us enjoy doing today,” Al said. “My father was very proud of his involvement in Bad Ischl’s soccer team.”

AJDC invariably played other important roles in the Lewis family’s renewal before their immigration to the U.S.  AJDC’s post-WWII archival holdings reveal JDC’s involvement in providing cultural and religious resources, education, vocational training, medical treatment, food, clothing, cash, restitution, and immigration services at the Bad Ischl DP Camp. “The extent of AJDC services provided to my parents’ DP camp was quite impressive,” Al said. “It’s amazing how the organization touched so many Jewish lives that were in serious need of help.”

Al’s parents, Victor and Regina Lewis, had dated each other before WWII. They miraculously survived the Krakow Ghetto and concentration camps at Plaschov, Auschwitz, Brünnlitz, and Theresienstadt. They married shortly after liberation and headed, along with Victor’s brother, Leon, to the American Zone. They ended their journey at Hotel Kreuz, a resort hotel in the Austrian Alps that was converted into a DP camp by the US military. Their daughter Ida, Al’s sister, was born in Bad Ischl a few years later. “It was a wonderful place to make very good friends and a beautiful environment to help us return to a normal life after all we went through,” said Regina, now 96. “We felt so secure in Bad Ischl. It was a wonderful time.”

This story has been shared with Al Lewis' permission.

The Gertner Family Visits the Archives

Dr. Haim Gertner, Yeshayahu Gertner, and Reference Historian Ori Kraushar examine documents at JDC Jerusalem Archives. Jerusalem, Israel, 2015. Click to enlarge.
Dr. Haim Gertner, Yeshayahu Gertner, and Reference Historian Ori Kraushar examine documents at JDC Jerusalem Archives. Jerusalem, Israel, 2015.

This spring the JDC Archives in Jerusalem helped the Gertner family uncover its past. The Gertner family was living in Brussels when Germany occupied Belgium in 1940. Yehiel, the rebbe of a Hassidic community, his wife Sarah, and their two children Yeshayahu and Hava escaped through Vichy France, and in December 1942, walked across the snow-capped Pyrenees into fascist Spain. The Gertners were then arrested by the local police for crossing the border illegally without papers.

Yehiel was sent to Miranda del Ebro, the largest detention camp in Spain, which had about 300 Jewish internees. Sarah was imprisoned in Figueres, while Yeshayahu and Hava were sent to an orphanage in Girona, where they were the only Jewish children. The Gertner family was part of a group of about 7000 Jewish refugees in Spain at that time, including close to 1000 children, who were in danger of being deported back to Nazi-occupied territories.

Aid was provided to these Jewish refugees in Spain by JDC. By the end of 1944, “the Joint,” as JDC is often called, spent more than $2,500,000 on the Jewish refugees in Spain, providing assistance with housing, food, education and emigration. Yehiel and Sarah were eventually released from the detention camp and the Figueres prison respectively, and the whole family was reunited in Madrid. There, Yeshayahu worked as a courier for Dr. Samuel Sequerra who represented JDC and distributed aid on behalf of JDC to Jewish refugees and prisoners in Spain. In 1944, the Gertner family immigrated to Canada with the assistance of JDC.  Today, Yehiel’s grandson, Dr. Haim Gertner, is the director of the Yad Vashem Archives.

Yeshayahu and Haim Gertner visited the JDC Archives in Jerusalem, where they examined seven documents related to their family including a detailed report on conditions at Miranda del Ebro sent from JDC to the U.S. State Department, which included a quote from Rabbi Gertner. They perused a list of families, including theirs, who received visas to Canada with JDC’s assistance. Yeshayahu identified a photograph of Joel Sequerra, the brother of his former employer Samuel, and was delighted to see photos taken on board the SS Serpa Pinto and a document listing their family on the Serpa Pinto headed to Canada via Philadelphia.

As an accomplished historian and senior archivist, Dr. Haim Gertner was impressed with the diversity and wealth of the original sources on his family in the JDC Archives, which were in addition to the family documents that were found at the the Yad Vashem Archives, while Yeshayahu was touched by the reminders of his past. The JDC Archives staff was reminded, not for the first time, that its files and boxes contain countless stories of people that JDC helped in their hour of need.   

Dr. Haim Gertner is the Director of the Yad Vashem Archives Division and the Fred Hillman Chair for Holocaust Documentation. This story has been shared with his permission.

Rare JDC Archives Treasures Digitized

Polish Orphanage Craft Click to enlarge.
A craft made by a Jewish orphan in a JDC-supported orphanage in Krzemieniec, Poland. c.1920s.

On May 26th, the JDC Archives was privileged to welcome Ardon Bar-Hama to its climate-controlled facility in Long Island City, New York, to digitally photograph some of the more unique items in its collection. Bar-Hama, a world-renowned photographer, is known for digitally photographing treasured objects in major libraries, museums, archives, and private collections across the globe.

Besides the traditional text and photograph holdings already available through the Archives’ online database, the JDC Archives also holds many oversized materials such as posters, rare newspaper clippings, and three-dimensional artifacts that are difficult to capture via traditional scanning methods. Bar-Hama’s digital photographs of these rare materials will support the Archives’ mission to further open up its collections to researchers worldwide.

Ardon Bar-Hama’s other endeavors includes the photography and digitization of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a project of The Israel Museum. He has also photographed the New York Philharmonic’s records; the Aleppo Codex, a medieval manuscript of the Hebrew Bible dated 920 C.E.; an autographed final copy of Maimonides’ Mishne Torah and the 25,000 fragments from the Cairo Genizah, both housed at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library; and the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Among the select objects that Bar-Hama photographed from JDC’s archival holdings are:

  • Crafts made by Polish Jewish orphans in JDC-supported orphanages in Krzemieniec, Poland in the 1920s.
  • A commemorative album from the Hungarian Jewish community celebrating JDC’s 25th anniversary in 1939.
  • Maps from Poland that mark the locations of services supported by JDC loan kassas, schools, welfare programs, c. 1930.
  • Booklet about JDC recovery work in pogrom-affected areas of Poland, 1936.
  • An engraved metal tribute plaque presented to the beloved Dr. Rudolph Kohn, director of JDC’s Medical Department, from local doctors of Lvov, Poland, c.1920s.
  • An appeal in Yiddish to Jews in Mexico by the United Committee for Rehabilitation of the Jews in Europe, 1945.
  • A handwritten list of Austro-Hungarian POWs in Siberia, including photographs of the prisoners, 1920.

This project was made possible thanks to the support of George Blumenthal.

JDC Archives Staff Present at Conferences across the Globe

JDC Archives,Collection 1919-1921, file # 94, “Der Lemberger Judenpogrom, November 1918-Janner 1919” by Josef Bendow Click to enlarge.
JDC Archives,Collection 1919-1921, file # 94, “Der Lemberger Judenpogrom, November 1918-Janner 1919” by Josef Bendow

While the JDC Archives is located in two centers, at its NY headquarters and in Jerusalem, its reach is truly global. The Archives has begun 2015 with a whirlwind season of exchange at academic and professional forums, with a presence at conferences in Europe, Israel and the United States. Sharing scholarship and information about its holdings, liaising with partners, and publicizing new projects enable the JDC Archives to be a vibrant contributing member of the scholarly and archives communities.

Highlights include:
- Jeff Edelstein, Digitization Project Manager, presented at a workshop in Berlin in March entitled The Stuff of Jews: Political Economics and Jewish Material Culture, 1945-Present. Edelstein described the efforts to reconnect with JDC’s Warsaw Office records from 1945-1949, which had been confiscated by the Communist authorities.

- Misha Mitsel, Senior Archivist, presented at the academic conference Pogroms of Jews in Polish Lands in Warsaw in June. His paper focused on JDC’s response which included introducing reconstruction programs in addition to emergency relief assistance. 

- Rebecca Weintraub, Processing Archivist, exhibited at the annual conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries in Silver Spring, Maryland in June. Here she served as an ambassador and an archival resource to university and synagogue librarians, as well as to those based in secondary and primary schools.         

- Linda Levi, Director of Global Archives, and Naomi Barth, Archives Project Specialist, presented in July at the conference of The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies in Jerusalem which focused on World War II records. They delivered two lectures, including one featuring the JDC Archives Names Database, and moderated a special film program featuring little-before seen footage from the archives film collection from the WWII era.

This activity is in the context of JDC Archives efforts to seek out opportunities to expose the public to the repository’s holdings, allowing scholars, family researchers, filmmakers and others to engage with its diverse collections.

JDC and the War Refugee Board

WRB report
Excerpt from the Final Summary Report of the Executive Director, War Refugee Board, September 15, 1945.

Rebecca Erbelding, an archivist and curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), recently defended her doctoral dissertation, “About Time: The History of the War Refugee Board.” 

The War Refugee Board (WRB), established by an Executive Order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 22, 1944, represented the U.S. official response to the issue of providing relief and rescue to Nazi victims during World War II (WWII). Erbelding researched sources from repositories in Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; Hyde Park, NY—and at JDC.

What is the JDC connection? JDC served as the WRB's primary funder, providing almost $15 million towards its relief and rescue work until the Board’s dissolution on September 15, 1945.

Erbelding notes that her research seeks to contests a “dominant narrative of American indifference” and “convey[s] how prospects for rescue change as the war progresses.” 

In 1943, a year and a half after the U.S. entered WWII, Roosevelt was under pressure from the public, governmental officials, and Jewish organizations such as JDC and the World Jewish Congress to save European Jews. In November 1943, Congress debated the “Rescue Resolution,” a non-binding resolution enjoining Roosevelt to create a government agency to rescue Nazi victims.

The Roosevelt administration was split over the refugee issue. The Treasury Department had approved licenses for some relief organizations to transfer funds from the United States to send aid to Nazi victims in neutral countries. However, the State Department blocked these efforts to facilitate the work of relief agencies. Additionally, Treasury staff learned that State officials had suppressed information about Nazi crimes.

By the end of 1943, Treasury staff brought these findings to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr.—whose father, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. sent “JDC’s founding telegram” in August 1914 to Jacob Schiff. Morgenthau presented these allegations to the President on January 16, 1944. 

Six days later, Roosevelt issued an Executive Order creating the War Refugee Board and charging it “to take all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death.”

In January 1944, JDC Secretary Moses Leavitt traveled to Washington to apprise WRB staff about the dire situation. Leavitt directed JDC aid from the U.S. to German-occupied Europe.

The WRB worked to rescue Nazi victims, deliver supplies, and transport refugees to havens in North Africa, Palestine, and Switzerland, among other locations.  Its work was carried out by staff in Washington, representatives in U.S. embassies in neutral and Allied countries, and contacts in the International Red Cross Committee, the United Nations, and other organizations.

In the War Refugee Board’s work, which also included representatives of the Quakers, labor unions, the World Jewish Congress, and the Va’ad Hatzala, JDC stood out as the “trusted relief agency,” Erbelding says, as it conducted “wholesale rescue” and was "easy to work with, discreet, had lots of contacts and a great reputation."

In spring 1946, several months after the War Refugee Board was closed by Executive Order, it produced a 300-page report of its activities. Thirty-seven copies of this report were disseminated to Treasury, State, and former WRB staff. Moses Leavitt, who went on to serve as JDC's Executive Vice-Chairman from 1947-1965, was the only private individual to receive a copy of this report.  

Explore the War Refugee Board materials.

Archives staff attend "Archives in the Electronic Age" symposium

Cardozo symposium Click to enlarge.
Archives staff with incoming Archivists Round Table President Janet Bunde (in green). New York, June 24, 2015.

Last week, several JDC Archives staff attended a symposium on “Archives in the Electronic Age” at Cardozo Law School in the West Village. Director of Global Archives Linda Levi, Digitization Project Manager Jeff Edelstein, Digitization Project Specialist Hannah Silverman, and Senior Processing Archivist Tamar Zeffren joined over 60 attendees—archivists, curators, lawyers, records managers, academics, and other information management professionals from across the New York metropolitan area—to discuss skills, technologies, and strategies required to address preservation and access challenges posed by born-digital records.

The symposium, co-sponsored by the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (A.R.T.), the Cardozo Data Law Initiative, and The Sedona Conference®, featured an array of experts who analyzed four case studies about archival materials, ranging from a warehouse that burns down, resulting in the destruction of all of the rare archival material housed inside it, to uncovering hundreds of VHS tapes which have lost their labels.  The symposium was a very helpful resource for the Archives as staff begin to focus on JDC’s born-digital assets.

Expanding Our Digital Reach through Collaboration

Jewish soldiers in Polish Army posing with matzoth in Poland. 1916-1918. Click to enlarge.
Jewish soldiers in Polish Army with matzoth received from JDC. Suwalki, Poland. 1916-1918.

To raise further awareness of JDC’s archival resources among diverse research communities, the JDC Archives is entering into exciting partnerships with other institutions and digital projects around the world to increase the discoverability of its holdings and to encourage ongoing scholarship using JDC Archives records. These projects will continue to increase the accessibility of JDC’s rich archival collections.

These projects include:

Europeana: Judaica Europeana, a project that gathers digital content to the Europeana portal, coordinates with cultural institutions “to provide integrated access to digital collections which document the Jewish presence and heritage in Europe.” As the culmination of a two-year effort to prepare our collections for the portal, the JDC Archives provided Judaica Europeana with file-level data from its earliest records, the historically rich 1914-1918 collection.  When users searching the Europeana portal find a JDC Archives file of interest, the link leads back to the file on the JDC Archives website and to the documents within it. Not only does this bring traffic to our site, but it also connects users to JDC archival resources beyond the 1914-1918 collection. Search Europeana.

EHRI: The European Holocaust Research Initiative is dedicated to making Holocaust-era sources available in one place through its online portal. The EHRI portal includes key information about all JDC Archives Holocaust-era collections, among them the Cyprus, Geneva, Istanbul, New York, Stockholm, and Warsaw collections. The JDC Archives is one of EHRI’s cooperating institutions, joining other repositories such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the State Archives of Belgium, the Hungarian Jewish Archives, and Yad Vashem. The EHRI portal officially launched on March 26 in Berlin at an event attended by JDC Archives’ Digitization Project Manager, Jeffrey Edelstein. Search EHRI.

Detainees in Cyprus awaiting entry into Palestine. Caraolos, Cyprus. c.1947.
Detainees in Cyprus awaiting entry into Palestine. Caraolos, Cyprus. c.1947.

The JDC Archives is currently pursuing additional collaborations with:

CENDARI: CENDARI (the Collaborative European Digital Archival Infrastructure), a collaborative initiative that brings together digital resources on the medieval and World War I eras, has requested to include our WWI-era collections (1914-1918 and 1919-1921) in its portal.

Beit Hatfutsot: Beit Hatfutsot, the “Museum of the Jewish People” based in Tel-Aviv, is interested in incorporating results from the JDC Archives Names Index into a new online search feature it is creating based on its genealogical database of family trees. 

DLoC: DLoC, the Digital Library of the Caribbean, is a cooperative digital library for primary source records about the Caribbean and its neighboring territories.  The project is administered by Florida International University in partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands and the University of Florida. The JDC Archives plans to share its DORSA collection, which documents JDC’s establishment in 1938 of the Dominican Republic Settlement Association, an agricultural settlement for over 700 Austrian and German Jewish refugees in Sosúa in the north of the Dominican Republic.

JDC Archives Fellow Lectures on Holocaust Survivors and "the Right to Health"

JDC doctor examines young survivor at the Kloster Indersdorf Children’s Center                                     in Prien, Germany. Al Taylor, c. 1947-1948
JDC doctor examines young survivor at the Kloster Indersdorf Children’s
Center in Prien, Germany. Al Taylor, c. 1947-1948
Sara Silverstein Click to enlarge.
Sara Silverstein

On Wednesday, March 4, Sara Silverstein delivered an engaging lecture at the Center for Jewish History entitled, “Jewish Rehabilitation, European Reconstruction: Holocaust Survivors and the Right to Health.” An awardee of the Fred and Ellen Lewis/JDC Archives Fellowship, Silverstein used the JDC Archives to research the way Jewish Eastern European doctors in the mid-twentieth century shaped national and international health services, as well as the understanding of social and human rights in the post-Holocaust period.  Silverstein is completing her doctoral dissertation at Yale University.

Jewish doctors from Eastern Europe, many of whom were refugees themselves, played a prominent role in providing health for survivors in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps after World War II. Chief among them were Zalman Grinberg, Samson Gottlieb, and Boris Pliskin.These practitioners recognized the need for long-term rehabilitative care for the chronically ill.

When medical personnel arrived at the DP camps, they first provided emergency care for those in need. Afterwards they set up a health services system, replete with medical facilities. Finally, they provided rehabilitation for the chronically ill. In providing care for survivors with tuberculosis and other long term illnesses, they realized that everyone should have the right to proper healthcare. By advocating for these patients with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the International Refugee Organization, Grinberg, Gottlieb and Pliskin helped expand the concept of “human rights” and allowed even the ailing to take their place in society.

JDC Participates in OSE Centennial Conference

Children enjoying a meal in a JDC-supported OSE children's home in France, 1947.

A long-time JDC partner in delivering medical and public health assistance, Oevure de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), marked its centenary in 2012. Scholars from France, Germany, Israel, Russia, and the United States, including JDC’s Senior Archivist Mikhail Mitsel, attended a conference in Paris on the international history of OSE.

Founded in St. Petersburg in 1912 as Obshchestvo Zdravookhraneniia Evreev (OZE), OSE began providing public health, medical, and feeding services to Jewish communities in the Russian Empire. It later established a vast health care network in Poland in the 1920s with JDC assistance. During World War II in France, OSE staff joined the underground Resistance movement. Its staff set up a network of orphanages to assist refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe, working in close collaboration with JDC. OSE placed Jewish children with foster families and smuggled others out of France to neutral Switzerland. In the aftermath of World War II, OSE provided assistance to more than 85,000 children and adults in Europe, Israel, Latin America, and North Africa. 

Children waiting on milk distribution lines. Bialystock, c. 1920
Children waiting on milk distribution lines. Bialystock, c. 1920

Conference proceedings were recently published in L'Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants et les populations juives au XXe siècle: Prévenir et guérir dans un siècle de violences (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants and Jewish Populations in the 20th Century: Prevention and Healing in a Century of Violence). The book is organized into three sections:

1. The Creation of OSE in the context of the Hygienist Movement

2. OSE as it crossed borders (i.e. Transnationalism)

3. OSE and the populations it served

Many of the presentations were based upon research conducted in the JDC Archives, reflecting the long-time partnership between JDC and OSE in delivering medical aid to vulnerable Jewish communities, especially during the reconstruction of European Jewish life in the aftermath of the Holocaust and to vulnerable Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa. JDC was a primary funder of OSE activities in Russia and Poland since its earliest days, funded OSE children’s homes in France, and continues to support OSE programs in Morocco to this day.

See stunning images of JDC’s extensive relief work with OSE in Europe and North Africa!

Biographer Praises Role of JDC's Dr. Joseph Schwartz in Wartime Europe

Dr. Joseph J. Schwartz Click to enlarge.
Dr. Joseph J. Schwartz

Professor Tuvia Friling of the Ben-Gurion University in Israel spoke with members of the JDC staff and American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at a joint presentation in New York on February 11th. The professor is completing a biography of Joseph J. Schwartz (1899-1975), the Joint’s Director of European Operations from 1940 to 1949. The biography is expected to be published in late 2016.

In analyzing the impact of Dr. Schwartz and his organization, Professor Friling pointed to two key elements:  his personality and the circumstances under which he operated. As to the personality, he characterized Schwartz as an ordained rabbi who possessed bold leadership skills and someone who was able to convince others of the steps needed to implement the Joint’s program for rescuing Jews in Europe and other troubled areas of the world during the late 1930s and 1940s.

The circumstances facing the JDC, according to Prof. Friling, included (1) Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, (2) the publication of a British White Paper in 1939 which proposed limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine to 75,000 over the following five years, (3) the scarcity of transportation for transporting refugees caused by the demands of the U.S. Army for moving troops during World War II, (4) U.S. government restrictions on transferring money to occupied countries, and (5) Congressional impediments to mass immigration into the United States. Despite the daunting challenges of these restrictions, Dr. Schwartz and his JDC colleagues were able to assist many thousands with financial aid and logistical support in emigrating from dangerous areas.

The longtime secretary to Joseph Schwartz, Lolita Goldstein, who worked for him and the organization during the years of the 1940s in Lisbon, Portugal, also made some brief remarks about the man and the period.  She recalled the wonderful qualities of Dr. Schwartz as well as the challenges of keeping in touch with other leaders at a time when international calls required one to two days of advance planning before they could be made. Mrs. Goldstein’s late husband was part of Joe Schwartz’s inner circle at JDC and a key member of the organization’s administration.

All JDC Records from Post-World War II Period Digitized

The JDC Archives is pleased to announce the completion of a major effort to catalogue, microfilm and digitize all of its post-Holocaust era collections, 1945-1954. The culmination of a six-year effort, this project is part of an ongoing plan to make historically significant documents available to scholars, genealogists and the general public. This material is searchable on the JDC Archives website. Online finding aids provide information on the contents of these collections and enable users to identify materials of interest to their research.

Highlights from this remarkable trove include:

  • JDC’s far-reaching global rescue and relief efforts to resettle Holocaust survivors around the world
  • Emigration and social services assistance to the remnant Jewish community in Poland from 1945 until JDC’s expulsion by the Communist government in 1949
  • Aid to deportees to Cyprus from 1946 to 1949, against the backdrop of the birth of the State of Israel 
  • Its lifesaving work in neutral Turkey, a country strategically located at the crossroads of war-torn Europe and the nascent Jewish State in Palestine
  • JDC’s provision of essential supplemental aid to the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in displaced persons camps after the war
  • Efforts to rescue and provide relief to Holocaust survivors in Stockholm
  • Oral histories of JDC veteran staff and lay leaders who were active during this period

This major effort was made possible through the generosity of a number of loyal donors. A lead gift was provided by Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky, CBE. Other contributors include the Swiss Banks Settlement-Victims List Fund, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Memorial de la Shoah (Paris), the Kronhill Pletka Foundation, the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, the Wilf Family Foundations, and several JDC Board Members including Donald Robinson, Marshall Weinberg, and Jane Weitzman.

 An immigrant family arrives in Haifa’s port, circa 1950s
An immigrant family arrives in Haifa’s port, circa 1950s

Scholar Researches Soviet Jewish Transmigrant Experience

Inga Veksler Click to enlarge.

Inga Veksler recently defended her dissertation at Rutgers University on the Soviet Jewish transmigrant experience: “'We Left Forever and Into the Unknown': Soviet Jewish Experiences of Transit Migration."

For Veksler, her dissertation topic is particularly resonant: her family was assisted by JDC in their emigration from the Soviet Union to the United States. 

In the late 1980s, under glasnost, the number of Soviet Jews emigrating to the West soared. Thousands of Soviet Jews were essentially stranded in transit—“transmigrants”— in Rome and Vienna as they waited for the processing of their applications by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. In response, JDC provided basic care and maintenance services, including medical care, social services, housing assistance, and an array of educational, religious and cultural resources to thousands of transmigrants. 

Veksler and 9 family members left Odessa in 1989. They spent six months in Italy, waiting for their immigration applications to the United States to be processed. Her family travelled by boat from Odessa to Vienna, and then embarked on an 18-hour train ride to Orte, a town outside of Rome. Individuals she interviewed in her research remember disembarking in Orte as “the worst time in the entire emigration process”- a stressful and chaotic scene. After leaving a note on a bulletin board in a refugee center, Veksler's family found housing in a town near Ladispoli. She recalls her Italian neighbors as “laced with benevolence, [and] empathetic and kind.”

According to Veksler, most scholarship in migration highlights “displacement and the way it rearranges social worlds in a different way—tears worlds apart.” Her research, which focuses on individuals who immigrated to the United States, analyzes the indelible experience of transit migration and how these encounters left a lasting impact on people's lives.  She conducted interviews with over 50 individuals, primarily family and extended friends, in the New York metropolitan area and in Boston.

The primary interviewees were "heads of households": adults who were between the ages of 25 and 50 during their emigration experiences.  Veksler describes this generation as “defined by the fact of emigration.” To older individuals in their late 70s and 80s, their formative emigration experiences were evacuations that occurred during World War II, whereas younger generations' experiences were dominated by the adjustment to a new country.

In her research, Veksler builds upon an insight of the cultural anthropologist Fran Markowitz regarding the relative lack of broad fraternal organizations among Soviet transmigrants. Veksler attributes this lack to the emphasis among Soviet Jews on personal networks rather than organized communal activities. Personally, she has "a familial, intimate recollection" of her own family gathering to commemorate their departure from Odessa. 

Veksler notes that transmigrants had very little sense of the organizational and governmental roles in the processing of their applications and the services they received while in transit. They were also unaware of the rapidly evolving response on the part of relief organizations like JDC to meet the needs of these refugees. Veksler learned in her research in the JDC Archives that in 1989 alone, when Veksler and her family were in transit, JDC served over 66,000 Soviet transmigrants.

Thus, her research in the JDC Archives was “absolutely crucial" to learning about the Jewish communal organizations, such as JDC and HIAS, which provided services to this population in transit. Veksler notes, "The coordination required for this undertaking was immense.”

JDC Announces New Archives Fellowship

Ruth and David Musher on a JDC trip to Ulan Ude in Siberia, February 2014 Click to enlarge.
Ruth and David Musher on a JDC trip to Ulan Ude in Siberia, February 2014

JDC is delighted to announce the establishment of the Ruth and David Musher/JDC Archives Fellowship. This fellowship was made possible by a generous gift from Ruth and David Musher of New York City, supporters of JDC with a long-time commitment to Jewish education and academic research and scholarship.

Ruth and David are affiliated with JDC’s Ambassadors group which is dedicated to creating a visionary and caring Jewish community.  They have both traveled internationally to places where the JDC operates including Russia, Siberia, the Russian Far East, and Israel.

After attending the public lecture “Lost Souls: Retrieving Jewish War Orphans after the Holocaust” in March 2013, delivered by Fred and Ellen Lewis/JDC Archives Fellowship awardee Dr. Pamela Joy Shatzkes, David Musher found himself quite inspired. He and Ruth committed themselves to creating more opportunities for scholars to conduct research in the JDC Archives and to share their work with the public.

“As JDC Ambassadors, it is thrilling to see the work of the JDC on the ground in real time. The JDC Archive is a treasure trove of documents, videos and photographs of a century of JDC projects and programs. By supporting scholars who use this archive of modern Jewish history and humanitarian assistance to the Jewish People, we hope to encourage its use and value not only for the people and communities it benefits directly, but also the broader world of academics, policy makers and humanitarians. As Albert Einstein said, ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.’”

One (1) fellowship will be awarded each year to a deserving scholar engaged in graduate level, post-doctoral, or independent study to conduct research in the JDC Archives facility in New York or Jerusalem. The amount granted will be $2,500 per fellow per year. The deadline for next year's applications is January, 2016.

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