JDC Archives Launches a Documentary Film Grant

When Linda Levi, Director of JDC Global Archives, invited a documentary filmmaker to screen a clip from her upcoming film at the JDC Archives Committee meeting in September 2016, Levi’s aim was to demonstrate to Committee members some of the creative ways in which researchers utilize our historical records. The lively discussion that ensued, and the enthusiastic response from the audience, led JDC Board and Archives Committee member Jane Swergold to spearhead an effort to create a funding opportunity for such filmmakers. This is how the JDC Archives Documentary Film Grant came to fruition. The grant has garnered the interest of respected filmmakers and film scholars, who have worked with the Archives team to structure the grant program, and who serve on the Advisory Committee that will select the awarded filmmaker and film.

In 2017, one film grant in the amount of $10,000 will be awarded to cover post-production and/or distribution costs of a documentary film, which draws on the JDC archival collections. Eligible films will focus on twentieth century Jewish history, humanitarian assistance, and related topics. Topics can include issues, events, and personalities related to overseas Jewish communities during the last century. We seek applicants with a proven track record as filmmakers. Online applications are due by February 15, 2017, and should consist of a description of a film project, a proposal for use of grant funds, a link to prior film sample(s), and a link to a sample clip from the proposed film.

The rich holdings of the JDC Archives cover more than 90 countries in which JDC has worked since its founding in 1914. These include over 3 miles of text documents; 100,000 photographs; 1100 audio recordings, including oral histories, historic speeches, and broadcasts; and 1300 video recordings. JDC’s historical films comprise another invaluable resource, ranging from the late 1920’s to 1979. Sources found in the JDC archival collections provide a compelling audiovisual, text, and photographic representation of JDC’s global rescue, relief, and rehabilitation activities. More broadly, they provide insight into the events that affected Jewish life and culture worldwide, and provide a glimpse into the way that American Jews have addressed the situation of vulnerable people around the world.

JDC Historical Annual Reports Now Online

Map of Emigration of Jews from Germany through agencies subventioned by JDC (1935). Report on the Activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for the Year 1935, p. 2. Click to enlarge.
Map of Emigration of Jews from Germany through agencies subventioned by JDC (1935). Report on the Activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for the Year 1935, p. 2.

“Truly, if we are worthy of the communion of Jewish fellowship, we shall with resolute heart and hand take upon ourselves at least a small portion of that heavy burden which is grinding down our fellow Jews to desperation and despair, and give again to these men and women of our faith and common blood and heritage the warm clasp of sympathy and understanding and helpfulness, symbolized and made articulate by the work of this Joint Distribution Committee.”

Thus ends the Summary of the JDC Annual Report for 1932, penned by Joseph C. Hyman, the organization’s Secretary. Hyman’s emotional appeal came at a critical time for Jews in East and Central Europe. This was a time of devastation, economic crisis, poverty, suffering, and uncertainty, as well as changes of national borders, and population transfers. Jews faced an added hardship: antisemitism. JDC strove to address these needs and challenges. It drew upon the assistance of American Jews, who, despite their own struggles, continued their donations for the relief of their European brethren.

What started as the joint organizational effort of American Jews to aid European Jewry in the wake of World War I became a lifeline for Europe’s Jews especially during and after the Holocaust. But as crises facing Jewish communities continued, JDC was also a source of help for Jews dispersed in Asia, North Africa, and Latin America. Its reach extended wherever there were needy Jews. One way to learn about JDC’s global activities during the past century is to peruse the organization’s historical Annual Reports, from 1927 onwards. Digitizing these documents and making them available online serves an important purpose: to narrate modern Jewish history through the lens of a Jewish institution created specifically to improve the well-being of Jews and to foster durable connections to Jewish life. Annual Reports were meant for JDC’s internal use and for dissemination to cooperating organizations. They presented a yearly overview of JDC’s work. They served, too, to convey to American Jewish leaders and, by extension, to American Jews, the key role that their support played. To us today, these reports illuminate the ways in which Jews responded to crises worldwide over time. They render lessons about envisioning, launching, developing, and promoting innovative programs that have earned JDC the reputation that it has today as a pioneering humanitarian organization.

If child welfare, medical care, financial assistance, cultural and religious aid, and help for Jews in then-Palestine were high on JDC’s agenda, other issues darted to the forefront in response to political and economic turns. By 1933, JDC worked tirelessly to address the situation of German Jews, the question of Jewish emigration, and the associated issue of Jewish refugees in such far-flung places as the Caribbean. But JDC also directed its attention to Eastern Europe, where Jews’ lives had changed drastically beginning in 1939, and many became reliant on JDC. By December 1941, official JDC help was cut off for Jews trapped in countries occupied by Germany or otherwise aligned with it. Still: the limited information that trickled in allowed JDC to assess the extent of need and to seek ways to offer help. In the meantime, JDC conducted rescue operations in Spain and Portugal, where it assisted escapees from German-occupied parts of Europe and facilitated their emigration.

JDC’s historical Annual Reports continue into the postwar period to document the struggles to help survivors, many of whom lived in Displaced Persons camps. In many places, such as Romania, Hungary, and western European countries, JDC was often the sole source of aid. It focused on providing essentials, supporting Jewish religious and cultural expression, and vocational training. But JDC also broadened its scope to assist Jews in the newly created State of Israel, where it founded MALBEN, an organization which established institutions and programs for aged, ill, and handicapped newcomers. Then too, Jews in North Africa were in need of help, especially of food and health care. And civil unrest made Jewish existence in different parts of the world difficult, if not dangerous. In 1957, JDC contributed funds for about 5,000 Egyptian Jewish emigres in France, for example. If assisting refugees and stateless Jews was an important part of JDC’s mandate, revitalizing and supporting Jewish life in their countries of origin comprised another significant part of JDC’s mission. It was often thanks to JDC that Jewish life thrived. While we can learn about JDC’s past from the historical Annual Reports, we can also study how that history has shaped JDC in the twenty-first century by looking at its more recent Annual Reports.
JDC’s historical Annual Reports contain information for scholars, history buffs, and for anyone interested in Jewish life. Some reports present the Jewish experience by country or region.  JDC’s responses to vulnerable Jewish populations benefitted from best practices that were adapted across the globe. Thus some reports are organized thematically. Many include maps, photographs, graphs, tables, and lists that provide a powerful visual representation of JDC’s activities. And several historical Annual Reports are composed of individual narratives written by JDC leaders and staff to render their unique perspectives.

In the introduction to the Annual Report for 1927, Felix Warburg, JDC’s Honorary Chairman, wrote, “[This report] leads the reader from the first cry of help, through the states of war and destitution to the first breath of hope.” Indeed, reports such as this one document world and Jewish history, and humanitarian assistance across time and place. They also grant another way to look at institutional history in general, and at JDC history in particular.  

Making Connections: Linking Finding Aids and Digitized Records

Researchers Click to enlarge.

The JDC Archives provides detailed finding aids for all of our digitized collections. These resources provide detailed descriptive and contextual information for our full-text digitized historic records, dating from JDC’s founding in 1914. The finding aids are vital for researchers across disciplines searching among JDC’s 2.8 million digitized original records for primary source material pertinent to their topic.

When the finding aids were originally developed, for various technical reasons they did not include direct links to the digitized materials. We included specific language on our website to help users understand how to locate the title of the the folders they wanted and then search for those original records in the Archives database.

However, Archives staff continued to receive numerous queries from users who arrived at our finding aids, but could not identify how to access the original digitized material.  Since one of the JDC Archives’ primary purposes is to promote the accessibility of the organization’s history and impact over the past century, the department needed to quickly develop a solution to this user confusion.

Our Digitization Project Manager, Jeff Edelstein, developed a straightforward workflow in which Archives staff would manually update each file-level record in the finding aid to include the link to the corresponding digitized materials. While the initial expectations were that this update would take several months, the process proceeded much more rapidly than expected. It was achieved thanks to collaboration between the New York and Jerusalem archives branches. All of the finding aids were updated in less than two months. 

Now, scholars have easier access to our extraordinary original records. For example, a researcher studying conditions for infants in the refugee camps in Cyprus for Jewish refugees can now click on a relevant  folder title--such as "Cyprus: Infants in Cyprus (Hygiene/Sanitation). 1948"--and immediately access the digitized original records. 

Happy searching!

JDC Archival Film and Video Collections as Historical and Genealogical Resources

Historical films and videos from the JDC archival collections provide a compelling visual representation of JDC’s global, rescue, relief and rehabilitation activities. Our film collection includes over 150 titles, primarily by and about JDC, produced from the late 1920s through the 1970s. These films are kept in climate-controlled storage via the National Center for Jewish Film. In addition, our JDC-related video collection, covering the 1980s through the 2000s, includes an estimated 2,200 original recordings, among them edited productions and raw footage, which are accessible at the JDC Archives. These films and videos hold significance for filmmakers, curators, scholars, researchers, educators, genealogists, and family historians. In an effort to publicize this invaluable resource and discuss issues surrounding their preservation, digitization and use, JDC Archives staff recently presented at two conferences. 

Linda Levi, Director of JDC Global Archives, speaking at the 36th International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) Conference in Seattle, WA, in August 2016, screened clips from JDC’s rare archival footage from the 1940s, 1960s, and 1990s of Jewish communities in North Africa, the Middle East, Aden, and Sarajevo. Levi’s presentation was an important effort to highlight the Sephardic experience through the lens of films produced by JDC. It alerted genealogists to the potential of using archival films for their research, and introduced them to the wealth of information in the JDC Archives about Sephardi Jews.

A considerable amount of JDC archival footage concerns the Holocaust period. Films record JDC’s efforts to help European Jews during and after the Holocaust. They show critical ground conditions in the regions and communities directly affected by the rise of Nazism, illustrate some of the specific survival needs of Jews in the line of fire, and document JDC operations to address these life-threatening problems, including efforts to help European Jews to seek refuge in places across the globe. The JDC film collection also showcases JDC’s assistance to Jews in the postwar period: in Displaced Persons camps, in Jews’ countries of origin, and in their places of refuge.

Linda Levi and Minda Novek, JDC Film and Photo Archivist, presented at the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) Workshop, “Holocaust Archival Film Footage as a Historical Source: Methodology and Ethics in the Digital Era” at Yad Vashem, Israel, in September 2016. They discussed the background of JDC’s film collection from this period; efforts to make these films accessible for a number of purposes and audiences, including integrating them into the JDC Archives searchable database; and the challenges in identifying JDC Holocaust-era films from the collection for preservation, digitization, accessibility, and utilization. These are key issues that 30 experts from 9 countries addressed in this three-day workshop.

JDC’s historical film and video collection is a rich resource for educators. The JDC Archives has prepared topic guides that introduce various teaching resources. Four topic guides are currently online, and more are planned. These educational aids provide concise summaries of subjects that relate to JDC, Jewish, and world history. They include a sampling of primary documents, photographs, film suggestions, and further readings. The “JDC in the Displaced Persons Camps (1945-1957)” topic guide includes three digitized film clips that tell about JDC’s assistance to needy survivors, illustrate the exodus of Jewish survivors who fled from persecution in their home countries, and document the departure of survivors to the newly created State of Israel. 

Lolita Goldstein (1917-2016): A Woman of Valor

Lolita Goldstein with her husband, Melvin Goldstein. Courtesy of Laura Hobson Faure. Click to enlarge.
Lolita Goldstein with her husband, Melvin Goldstein. Courtesy of Laura Hobson Faure.

American historian, Laura Hobson Faure, pens the story of a wartime JDC staff member who recently passed away.

Born in Spain in a German-Jewish family in 1917, Lolita Eschborn Goldstein moved to Germany as a young child. After Hilter’s rise to power, at age sixteen, she encouraged her family to flee. They sought refuge in Lisbon, where Lolita helped support her family by tutoring in English, French and German. In 1940, Lolita was encouraged to apply for a position with the newly-opened JDC office. During her interview with Dr. Joseph Schwartz, soon to be head of JDC’s European Operations, Lolita admitted that she didn’t really know why she had come, claiming she didn’t really have any skills. Annoyed, Schwartz asked her current profession, and began to smile when he realized her fluency in the languages that the JDC needed in order to operate. Schwartz offered Lolita a job, and she worked as secretary, interpreter, and “jack-of-all trades.” In 1941, she married Melvin Goldstein, an American citizen who had come to Lisbon to work with the JDC, and who later became the assistant secretary of the JDC’s European Executive Council. In summer 1945, she boarded the train for Paris, where the JDC European Headquarters was relocating. Soon after arriving in Paris, however, Lolita stepped down from her position due to her husband’s increasing role in the organization. For the next four years, Lolita attended French civilization classes at the Sorbonne. Her evenings were spent among JDC employees, who ate together in Parisian cafés and discussed postwar reconstruction over whiskey.

I first met Lolita in Geneva in 2006, where I went to interview her for my doctoral research on the role of American Jewish organizations in French Jewish life after the Holocaust. Lolita’s observations on the JDC’s wartime head of European Operations Joseph Schwartz, on the atmosphere of the JDC offices in Lisbon and Paris, on the position of women at the JDC allowed me to imagine (and later reconstruct) the complicated place that JDC aid workers occupied in the aftermath of the Holocaust, as both witnesses to the destruction and actors of reconstruction.

Knowing Lolita, and observing her daily interactions, was to contemplate her tremendous verve and grace. Lolita approached each encounter as an opportunity for joy and friendship, creating a web of positive intentions that accompanied her wherever she went. As a historian, I could only wonder whether Lolita’s exceptional people skills were honed as a survival mechanism. One can imagine the mix of confidence and courage it took for Lolita to smuggle herself onto a ship to the United States in the middle of World War II, when her U.S. visa did not arrive in time for her departure. She finagled her way onto the ship impersonating a Portuguese nurse and then obtained her American visa on one of the ship’s stops in Cuba, after tracking down the U.S. Consular officer…. on a golf-course.

Lolita and I spent a great deal of time discussing her experiences in the Holocaust and her evolving attitude toward her past. Over time and with some outside encouragement, Lolita turned her anger into a positive force in her life. After over seventy years of absence, she returned to Berlin in 2006, and found deep meaning in her exchanges with the teachers and students of her former high school.

Lolita’s story is one of joy and resilience. When her beloved husband passed away in 2002, Lolita had a choice. She could have retreated from the world in mourning. However, she decided instead to embrace life. She took his favorite blazer to a tailor, who adapted it to her size. Wearing her husband’s Magen David and his favorite blazer, she embarked on the next chapter of her life.
Laura Hobson Faure, Associate Professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University and author of “‘Un Plan Marshall juif:’ la presence juive américaine en France après la Shoah, 1944-1954” (Paris, Armand Colin, 2013; forthcoming in English).

New Issue of Dorot Highlights JDC Names Indexing Projects

Groups of passengers in deck chairs on the Serpa Pinto Click to enlarge.
Passengers on the deck of the SS Serpa Pinto, c.1943

The Summer 2016 issue of Dorot, the journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society, includes three articles about recent lists added to the JDC Archives online Names Index. The first, a news item submitted by Digitization Project Manager Jeff Edelstein, announces the completion of the indexing of names that appear on passenger lists of the SS Serpa Pinto, a ship that sailed numerous times from Lisbon and Casablanca to North and South America during World War II, carrying thousands of refugees to safety. JDC Archives photographs accompanying the piece portray children arriving in Lisbon from Marseilles prior to their ocean voyage and passengers on the ship during one of its sailings, including the one shown here at right.

The second article, written by longtime indexing volunteer Linda Cantor, is an in-depth case study of four names from the Serpa Pinto lists, chosen at random. Cantor shows how genealogical researchers can use an array of online resources, including the JDC Archives Names Index, to build a life story of a person or family. Read the Serpa Pinto articles.

In the third article, JDC Jerusalem Archives cataloger Ayala Levin-Kruss describes the passenger lists from the airlift of Yemenite Jews to Israel in 1948-1959, known as Operation Magic Carpet (or Operation on Wings of Eagles). These lists, which are currently being indexed, are from the records of the Aden Office of the JDC, now contained within the JDC Archives Jerusalem Collection, 1944-1952. Levin-Kruss provides the historical background of the airlift, which occurred in three phases. Read the Yemenite airlift article.

TIME Magazine features JDC Archives Warsaw Collection

Group of mourners with JDC banner and floral wreath Click to enlarge.
Staff of the Joint attended the funeral after the 1946 pogrom; the Joint provided aid to the victims' families and the arranged the evacuation of the remaining community.

70 years after the tragic Kielce pogrom, TIME features JDC's postwar Poland archive, highlighting its efforts to aid survivors of the massacre and rebuild Jewish life directly after the Holocaust. Confiscated in 1949, the archival trove is now online and searchable.

Read the article here:

Genealogical Resource for Soviet Jewish Families Assisted by JDC in Vienna and Rome

Portion of a search result displaying data indexed from the Transmigrant files.Sample search for transmigrants assisted by JDC. Click to enlarge.
Portion of a search result displaying data indexed from the Transmigrant files.

The JDC Archives is pleased to announce that information regarding over 3,000 Polish and Soviet Jewish families assisted by JDC in Vienna and Rome in the years 1969-1975 has been added to the JDC Archives Names Index. This genealogical resource is now available online. Polish and Soviet Jewish refugees who were assisted by JDC in 1969-1975 and their descendants can search the Names Index at

During these years, Jews leaving Poland and the Soviet Union were assisted by JDC in Vienna and Rome where they awaited processing for immigration to the United States and other countries including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. As the agency that historically provided care and maintenance for Jews in transit, JDC developed programs to assist the transmigrants – Jewish refugees in transit to other countries – who faced a waiting period of months for their papers to be processed and were not eligible for work permits. These programs included medical care and social counseling; English classes; ORT-organized children's classes; youth centers; religious activities, which for some of the transmigrants was their first experience of Jewish life; and provision of housing, food, and clothing. JDC’s caseload fluctuated in response to political developments in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

The Jerusalem Archives of JDC holds tens of thousands of transmigrant case files, which constitute a rich genealogical resource for thousands of families.  Over the last five years, volunteers working in JDC’s Jerusalem Archives have reviewed the first batch of 3,000 case files and drawn information to add to JDC’s names databank. Additional records will be added periodically.  Generally, each record documents the family unit – a typical file contains details of four family members. The data from the files that has been indexed includes names of family members, location and date of birth, marital status, occupation, destination, and the dates of arrival and departure from Vienna and/or Rome.

Among those documented in the records are several well-known artists and musicians. Noted artist Igor Galanin arrived in Rome from the Soviet Union in 1972 with an exit visa to Israel. He was accompanied by his wife, two children, and his mother. While in Rome, he exhibited his work, as evidenced by a program from the exhibit opening found in his case file. He left for the United States within a few weeks of the exhibit’s closing.

   Pages from the program for an exhibition in Rome of work by Igor Galanin.

Igor Galanin painting exhibited in Rome.

Another case file is of renowned conductor Semyon Bychkov. He left Leningrad with his wife, traveled to Vienna and then to Rome in March 1975, and left for the United States five months later. Among the many symphony orchestras and opera companies Bychkov has conducted are the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera New York, and La Scala Milan.

Family members can submit requests to the JDC to see their full case files.

JDC Archives Awarded Preservation Funds for One of Its Rare Film Treasures

JDC Archives was one of the 2016 federal grant recipients from the National Film Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage. JDC was one of 39 institutions receiving grant awards for preservation by the Foundation.

The funds will go towards the preservation and digitization of a silent reel of footage from the post-World War II years (1946-1949) created at the Rothschild Hospital in Vienna. Many thousands of Polish and Romanian Jewish refugees escaping continued anti-Semitism in their countries of origin in the immediate post-World War II years fled to Vienna in hope of final resettlement in one of the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. In the U.S. Zone of Occupation, U.S. Military and UNRRA officials initially attempted to block entry to these "infiltrees," as the existing DP Camps were already overcrowded with Holocaust survivors. While JDC lobbied on behalf of the newcomers, the Rothschild Hospital in Vienna was turned into a temporary center to house these refugees. JDC’s rare footage shows the refugees in crowds, in lines and close up, and the “living” quarters of the Rothschild Hospital during this period.

JDC continues to seek additional funding to preserve, digitize and make accessible hundreds of films from the 1930s through the 1970s which document the scope of the organization’s critical humanitarian work in Europe, Africa, Israel and Latin America.

From a JDC Volunteer in Romania to a Historian of JDC Work in Poland

Rachel Rothstein Click to enlarge.
Rachel Rothstein

Interview with Dr. Rachel Rothstein.

Q: What is your connection to JDC?

A: My connection to JDC dates back to my study abroad term in Prague in 2002. I was curious about Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe after the Holocaust. JDC was, of course, instrumental in supporting Jewish life in the region. And in August 2004 I was off to Timișoara in Romania for a one-year stint as a JDC/Jewish Service Corps volunteer to do Jewish outreach work with youth.

Q: What did you do as a JDC/Jewish Service Corps volunteer? And what did that experience mean to you?

A: I was based in Timișoara, but, as the only JDC/Jewish Service Corps volunteer in Romania at the time, I also travelled to work with Jewish communities in Arad, Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, and Oradea. Doing so allowed me to experience the richness of Jewish life and Jewish identity throughout the country. My service focused on youth programming, but I also served as a resource for anyone in the Romanian Jewish community. For example, I introduced an Adopt a Grandparent program, planned holidays and events around them, ran a Rosh Chodesh group for women, and engaged local Jews in International Mitzvah Week. Working with the Romanian Jewish community was fascinating to me. These were people who had lived through communism, held on to their Jewish identity, and strove to create a viable future for themselves and their children.

Q: How has your JDC/Jewish Service Corps service influenced your scholarship?

A: I started my service in Hungary, actually, at Szarvas, the JDC and Ronald S. Lauder Foundation flagship summer camp for young Jews from countries throughout the region. One of the most interesting conversations I heard was between a Romanian and a Polish camper. They were comparing their – very different – Jewish communities. That exchange sparked my scholarly interest. I wanted to know how communism influenced Jewish life. Later, my experiences in Romania kept me interested in this topic, gave me ideas to start a project that I could pursue in graduate school, and built the foundations for me to learn more about that history. My initial plan was to write a comparative study of post-war Jewish communities in Poland and Romania. However, I ultimately chose to focus my dissertation on one country. But I hope to return to the sources I collected about Romania and to continue the original project.

Q: How did you become interested in the post-World War II history of Polish Jews?

A: I had been to Poland during high school, and was under the impression that there was no Jewish community left. So imagine my surprise when I returned just a few years later in 2002, this time with the Prague study abroad program, and I met young Jews, and heard about contemporary Jewish life there. But I didn’t find much written about Jewish life during the communist era. Most studies claimed there was no remaining Jewish life, but I was skeptical. That skepticism led me to my dissertation topic.

Q: You defended your dissertation, titled “Small Numbers, Big Presence: Poland, the U.S., and the Power of Jewishness after 1968” at the University of Florida in 2015. What did your project investigate?

A: My project begins in 1968 when the Polish Communist government responded to Israel’s victory in the Six Day War by unleashing an antisemitic campaign that resulted in the forced emigration of 30,000 Polish Jews and prompted those who stayed in Poland to keep a low profile. I challenge the narrative that 1968 was the final chapter of Polish Jewish life. My study is, above all, a story about the interrelated nature of the modern Jewish experience. Polish Jewry was highly dependent upon outside Jewish communities. Helping fellow Jews in Poland mirrored the Talmudic ideal of “Kol Yisrael Areivim Ze Ba Ze” (all of Israel is responsible for one another). Whether it was ensuring kosher food, helping the next generation learn what it meant to be Jewish in the 1970s and 80s, or speaking out in Congress during periods of antisemitism, world Jewry was determined to preserve Polish Jewishness. While Jews in Poland were few in number, the post-1968 period demonstrates that they held a strong presence in the minds of governments, organizations, and individuals in Poland and abroad.

Although the vibrancy of Jewish life decreased compared to the pre-1968 period, Polish Jews continued to belong to regional branches of the Jewish religious community, and to chapters of the secular Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland. Older people in particular, observed Jewish holidays communally. Younger ones tended to explore their Jewishness and celebrate Jewish holidays in their own age groups. And the State Jewish Theater in Warsaw provided a cultural outlet for some Polish Jews. These were all activities that could stigmatize Jews who lived under communism. But Jews’ involvement in “things Jewish” only testified to the resilience of that community. Most Polish Jews at the time were not religious, but JDC, for example, offered all of them the opportunity to engage in Judaism and in Jewish life. JDC showed Polish Jews that Jewish continuity was possible.

Q: What did your research at the JDC Archives reveal about the role and activities of JDC in Poland?

A: JDC was crucial for Polish Jews, though, interestingly enough, it didn’t operate officially for most of the period I study, as it was expelled after the Six Day War in 1967. Instead, JDC funded the Geneva-based Société de Secours et d’Entraide, which supported the religious community in Poland. The Polish Communist government allowed this in order to garner some good publicity for itself. JDC gave financial assistance to the Jewish religious community, provided Jewish ritual items, and supported the elderly and the needy. JDC made sure that even in the darkest period of post-Holocaust Polish Jewish history, Jews in Poland had access to kosher food, matzah for Passover, lulavim and etrogim for Sukkot, and to visiting rabbis or cantors during High Holy Days. It was thanks to JDC that the Polish Jewish religious community continued to function. On the other hand, the government financed the secular Jewish community, and did not allow it to accept JDC support. This was the case until late 1981, when JDC officially returned to Poland. But JDC was never truly absent. It found ways to sustain Jews in Poland even when it was incredibly difficult and had to be done in secret.

Jews assembled for a Passover meal in Poland, 1971. Photographer: Jean Mohr

Jews assembled for a Passover meal in Poland, 1971. Photographer: Jean Mohr.

Q: Your recent article, “Am I Jewish?” and “What Does it Mean?”: The Jewish Flying University and the Creation of a Polish-Jewish Counterculture in Late 1970s Warsaw” (Journal of Jewish Identities 8:2 (July 2015): 85-111) tackles the myth of the absence of Jews in Poland in the 1970s. How did JDC contribute to sustaining and reinvigorating Jewish life there?

A: The Jewish Flying University, which was a group of young Jews in Warsaw who explored their Jewish roots in the late 1970s, is probably one of the more well-known examples of Jewish life in Poland in the period I study. Ralph Goldman, a JDC leader, knew about the group, but he could do little for it. Most of the group’s participants were involved in the opposition to the Polish Communist government, and any association with the group could have politically endangered JDC activities. So there were limits to what JDC could do, and this was one example. But, of course, these were the last years of communism, and JDC was there supporting Jewish life behind the scenes. After January 1982, it was working openly and supporting initiatives both to sustain and reinvigorate Jewish life. JDC has turned its attention also to young people. Workshops, camps, and activities designed for young Jews instilled an awareness of Jewish identity for those who were just discovering their roots, and empowered youth to explore their heritage and become the leaders they are today.

The post-1989 Jewish revival that has amazed Jewish visitors to Poland would not have been as robust without JDC’s continued commitment to supporting Polish Jewishness. Today, being Jewish in Poland is something to be proud of. Poland boasts the largest Jewish Culture Festival (held in Krakow). Hundreds of Jews flock to the annual Limud Poland conference to explore Jewish topics. The two major JDC-supported Jewish Community Centers, in Warsaw and Krakow, introduce innovative and inclusive programming for Jews of all ages and backgrounds. The Lauder-Morasha Jewish day school in Warsaw now offers online education for students throughout Poland. And the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw shines a bright light onto the 1,000-year-old Polish Jewish history. The educational, cultural, and religious projects that JDC has been pursuing in Poland over the years paved the way to creating foundations for a thriving Jewish community in Poland.

Rachel Rothstein served as JDC/Jewish Service Corps volunteer in Romania in 2004/2005. She received her PhD from the University of Florida in 2015. Dr. Rothstein specializes in American Jewish and Polish Jewish history. She currently teaches Social Studies at the Felicia Penzell Weber Jewish Community High School in Atlanta, Georgia.

Milestones for the JDC Archives Photo Collection

Children and teachers in a JDC-supported kindergarten at an orphanage on Pushkinskaya Street in Brest-Litovsk (then Poland), 1921. Photographer: Zaklad Fotograficzny Click to enlarge.
Children and teachers in a JDC-supported kindergarten at an orphanage on Pushkinskaya Street in Brest-Litovsk (then Poland), 1921. Photographer: Zaklad Fotograficzny "Modern," Brzesc, n/B ul. Bialostocka.

The JDC Archives has partnered with two burgeoning and compelling digital history initiatives, the World Digital Library (WDL) and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Each project endeavors to make documents and images of key historic value available to a broad range of audiences worldwide. JDC photographs shared on the two platforms highlight the Jewish experience in JDC’s first decade on the international arena.

A collaborative undertaking of the U.S. Library of Congress and the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), the WDL promotes intercultural understanding across the globe. Each prospective contributing institution undergoes a rigorous approval process. The JDC Archives is proud to have received the WDL Executive Council’s recognition. The 34 photographs, an index card, and one poster provided by the JDC introduce WDL viewers to the JDC Archives. Translated into six languages, the descriptions of JDC images enable WDL visitors to learn, in their own languages, about JDC’s rich history.

If cross-cultural awareness on the global level define the WDL, the second online library portal with whom the JDC Archives has proudly partnered, the DPLA, focuses on providing access to American digitized cultural heritage. The 35 photographs that the JDC Archives contributed tell a compelling history of an American-based Jewish organization’s role in assisting those in need around the world.

Nine photographic treasures from the JDC Archives have recently enriched a temporary exhibit, titled “Marking 100 Years of Jewish-American Involvement in the Yishuv and the State of Israel,” at the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). The Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa curated the exhibit, which opened on May 25, 2016, and was on display for three weeks. The exhibit was created to honor Jewish American Heritage Month. Photographs from the JDC archival collection highlighted the American-Jewish organization’s input and accomplishments in supporting Jews in the land of Israel (prior to the creation of the state), and after the establishment of the State of Israel.

Two JDC Archives Fellowships Inaugurated and Fellowship Awards Announced

Sorrell and Lorraine Chesin Click to enlarge.
Sorrell and Lorraine Chesin

The JDC Archives is delighted to announce the establishment of two new fellowships to assist scholars interested in conducting research in the JDC Archives. Each of two new Fellowships will award one fellowship each year to a deserving scholar engaged in graduate level, post-doctoral, or independent study to conduct research in the JDC Archives.

The Sorrell and Lorraine Chesin/JDC Archives Fellowship was established in late 2015 and made possible by a generous gift from Dr. Sorrell and Lorraine Chesin, supporters of JDC who have deep roots in the field of higher education, as well as a long time commitment to academic research and scholarship.

Dr. Sorrell Chesin has dedicated his career to the advancement of higher education. His long tenure at the State University of New York at Albany (1965-2013) included serving as Executive Director of the University of Albany Foundation. Dr. Chesin continues his involvement with the University as the President of the Board of Directors of the UAlbany Emeritus Center, an association of over 700 retired faculty, administrators, and professionals who were granted emeritus status.

Lorraine Chesin began her career in arts education before transitioning to the field of social work. She served in administrative positions at the Rensselaer County Department of Mental Health in Troy, NY for many years, retiring as Commissioner. Since her retirement in 2002, Lorraine Chesin has pursued her longtime interest in art and has presented her work in many exhibitions.

“Because we both have had a good education, meaningful careers, and a satisfying life together, we want to share our good fortune to further your education. We have valued hard work, perseverance, and exploration and are committed to encourage and reward the continuation of these values.”

-Sorrell and Lorraine Chesin

The recipient of the Sorrell and Lorraine Chesin/JDC Archives Fellowship for 2016 is Dr. Michal Frankl, a distinguished scholar and museum curator from Prague, Czech Republic whose research focuses on Citizens of the No Man’s Land: transformations of citizenship in East-Central Europe and the roles and policies of Jewish aid organizations.

A second new fellowship, The Martin and Rhoda Safer/JDC Archives Fellowship, established in early 2016, was made possible by a generous gift from the family of Brian and Fae Safer in loving memory of his parents, to recognize the importance of the educational efforts of the JDC. We are pleased to announce that the 2016 recipient of the Martin and Rhoda Safer/ JDC Archives Fellowship is Luca Fenoglio, a young scholar from Italy who recently submitted his PhD dissertation at the University of Edinburgh. The topic of his research is “The Jewish Comité d’Aide Aux Refugiés in Nice and Jewish self-help in Axis-occupied France.”

Other fellowships recently awarded by the JDC Archives are the Fred and Ellen Lewis/ JDC Archives Fellowship to Dr. Mary Cox of Oxford University and Dr. Glen Dynner of Sarah Lawrence College. Cox will research the JDC’s role in feeding civilians living in Vienna after the First World War, and Dynner will conduct research on Jewish traditionalism in Poland during the interwar and Holocaust periods, including the support and rescue of Orthodox Jews by the JDC.  The 2016 recipient of the Ruth and David Musher/JDC Archives Fellowship is Dr. Natan Meir of Portland State University for his research on the Jewish destitute, disabled, and dispossessed of Eastern Europe.

Learn more about the JDC Archives Fellowships.

JDC Mourns Rose Klepfisz, Founding Director of the JDC Archives

The JDC Archives is sad to announce the passing last month of Rose Klepfisz, JDC’s first Director of Archives and Central Files.  Born in 1914, Rose Klepfisz lived to the age of 101.

Rose Klepfisz, a Holocaust survivor from Warsaw whose husband was a hero of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, emigrated to the U.S. in 1949. In New York, she first worked on the Guide to Jewish History under Nazi Impact, a project of the Joint Documentary Projects of Yad Vashem and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

In 1962, Klepfisz was recruited by JDC to begin organizing its archives. This was a Herculean effort. In her own words, Rose Klepfisz took “the jungle of disorganized dusty papers lying on shelves and in boxes since 1914 in two huge rooms in the warehouse” and turned it into the JDC Archives, one of the leading repositories in the world for the study of modern Jewish history.  

One outstanding achievement of her tenure—which spanned 23 years until her retirement in 1985—is the detailed cataloguing of JDC’s earliest archival collections, which cover JDC’s founding and its critical relief efforts during the two world wars and in the interwar period. She oversaw reference and outreach activities and trained many Archives staff, who continued to catalogue and describe historic material under her careful oversight.

Rose Klepfisz was dedicated to JDC and to the preservation of Jewish history. She stands as a towering figure in JDC’s history.

“Rose’s legacy—the (JDC) archives—constitute a major contribution to Jewish scholarship for which we and future generations will be eternally grateful.”

                                                ---Ralph Goldman, October 3, 1984

May her memory be for a blessing. 

JDC Partners with Israel Genealogy Research Association

Transporting of supplies labeled Click to enlarge.
Transporting of supplies labeled "Joint" to JDC warehouse. Warsaw, Poland, c. 1946-1947.

Exciting news for Israeli genealogists and family historians! The JDC Archives has recently initiated a collaboration with the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) to share two sets of information:

  1. Jews in Poland who received parcels as per orders via JDC’s Jerusalem office from 1946-1947. Immediately following World War II, JDC created a program through which families and friends could get life-sustaining CARE packages to Holocaust survivors in Poland. Included on this list are names and addresses of beneficiaries in Poland and donors in Mandatory Palestine. (View sample page)
  2. The Operation Magic Carpet lists. Following Israel’s independence, JDC organized and financed Operation Magic Carpet, bringing Yemenite Jews to Israel. The first portion of the lists to be shared covers the initial phase of the operation, the airlift of orphans, unaccompanied women and children, and elderly men from December 1948 – February 1949 to the newly established State of Israel from the British Protectorate of Aden. The list includes names, sex, birth year, weight, and family status. (View sample page)

The JDC Archives is providing IGRA with the primary names from each index record, which IGRA will translate from English to Hebrew. IGRA will add these names to its database with a direct link to the complete record and document in the JDC Names Index. IGRA is first working on the Poland parcels list; those records will be uploaded in the coming month. The Hebrew translations will be especially valuable for the Operation Magic Carpet lists, as many Yemenite Jewish names were spelled inconsistently in the original English-language lists.

This collaboration will help raise further awareness of JDC’s archival resources in Israel and throughout the world, increasing both their discoverability and their accessibility to diverse research communities.

Explore your family history in the JDC Names Index.

Operation Magic Carpet. Yemenite Jews who have come to a transit camp in Aden for a long and sometimes dangerous flight to Israel.

Operation Magic Carpet. Yemenite Jews who have come to a transit camp in Aden prepare for a long and sometimes dangerous flight to Israel.

Reaching Out through Worldwide Presentations

JDC Jerusalem Archives staff perform searches in the Names Index for conference attendees, December 2015. Click to enlarge.
JDC Jerusalem Archives staff perform searches in the Names Index for conference attendees, December 2015.

As part of JDC Archives' outreach initiatives, JDC Archives staff will present to a variety of audiences in the coming months about what the Archives has to offer both academic researchers and genealogists alike. The Archives’ presence at various academic and professional forums across the globe helps draw attention to its vast holdings and encourage ongoing scholarship using its records.

As part of efforts to increase outreach efforts in Israel, in December 2015 Shachar Beer, Director of JDC’s Jerusalem Archives, presented in Tel Aviv at the first conference and official gathering of children born to the Jewish population of the DP camps in the years after World War II. More than 1,000 people attended the conference. Mr. Beer participated in a panel about the activities of JDC in the DP camps. The JDC Archives exhibit demonstrated searches in the JDC Archives Names Index on a large screen. There was great excitement when several attendees found information about their families.

In June, Linda Levi, Director of JDC’s Global Archives, has been invited to present at the Association of Jewish Libraries’ (AJL) Annual Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, on the digital resources available on the JDC Archives website. This is part of the Archives’ outreach efforts to Jewish, Judaica, and academic libraries around the world. The purpose is to increase awareness of the JDC Archives’ searchable collections as a significant historical resource for research by faculty and students.

In August, two JDC presentations will be given at the International Association for Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington. The Archives’ online searchable Names Index is a valuable resource for family history research and is the most heavily used feature of the website. These presentations will expand upon the treasures of the JDC Archives, its diverse holdings of documents, photographs, audio, and film items, and what it has to offer Jewish genealogists.

If you will be at either of the upcoming conferences, we hope you’ll join us.

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. 

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