2nd Generation Holocaust Survivor Discovers Father’s DP Camp Soccer League Was Sponsored by AJDC

Alvin Lewis, a Second Generation Holocaust survivor living in Manhattan, visited AJDC’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 AJDC 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 AJDC 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.
Medals (front and back) 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.
From left to right: Makkabi & Polonia DP Camp soccer teams; Photo of Victor Lewis; Back of a photo noting the teams and score; Action on the soccer field. (Suggestion: Add the back of the photo with the inscription: “Sponsored by the AJDC Cultural Affairs Department, Linz, Austria, 1946.” I don’t have a scan of this.)

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 160-164 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 for 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.”

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.

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.”

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

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.

Galicia Jewish Museum in Poland Showcases JDC Archival Photos in Upcoming Exhibit

Poland today Click to enlarge.
Piotr Kulisiewicz, Havdalah service at the summer camp, Poland, 2013.

Rescue, Relief, and Renewal: 100 Years of ’the Joint’ in Poland” will open on October 30 at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow. 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.

 A collaboration of the Galicia Jewish Museum, the JDC Archives, and JDC Poland, the exhibit is co-curated by Tomasz Strug, Chief Curator of the Galicia Jewish Museum and Dr. Anna Sommer Schneider, a Polish scholar and historian who recently published a book about JDC’s relief work in Poland in the postwar period.  Dr. Sommer Schneider conducted research in the JDC Archives over the last 8 years.

“Rescue, Relief and Renewal” showcases images of JDC’s vital activities in eight broad areas: Health Care and Feeding Programs: Vocational Training and “Productivization;” Children; Assistance to the Elderly; Education and Yiddishkeit—Jewish Heritage and Tradition; Refugees, Emigration and Victims of Persecutions; Jewish Community Life: and The Joint Today.

The accompanying catalogue, rich in photos, provides historical context for JDC’s century of activity in Poland. It 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. 

The exhibit will extend until August 2015, after which it will be available for traveling exhibits. Institutions interested in hosting the exhibit should contact the Galicia Jewish Museum at  

For additional images evoking JDC’s work in Poland, visit our Collection Highlight of Post-World War I Poland Photos. Please view a brief promotional video below about the exhibit!

Rescue-Relief-Renewal from Jakub on Vimeo.

Research Uncovers Insights into Historic Photo Collection

Micha Click to enlarge.
A student receives instruction at a Micha clinic for hearing-impaired children. Israel, c. 1964.

The JDC Archives photo collection constitutes one of the most valuable sources in the world for a pictorial study of Jewish life in the 20th century. Over JDC’s first 100 years, from the outbreak of World War I to the present, JDC commissioned professional photographers to inform the public about its relief initiatives for vulnerable individuals and communities around the world.

Its significance has been noted by photographic experts and by researchers. JDC’s centennial activities, including the I Live. Send Help. book and museum exhibit, required extensive photographer research for legal as well as credit purposes.

Crisis conditions, the passage of time, various moves, and at times the confiscation of records often obscured the trail of authorship. At different times, the Archives received large groups of photographs from JDC offices around the world. Often, these groups contained uncredited copy prints or negatives; just as often, there were no photographer credits on them. JDC Archives staff does its best to fill in the information gaps whenever possible.

The photographs of Fred Csasznik (1913-1985) are a prime example of this process. Csasznik immigrated to Israel from Germany in 1933.  In the course of researching photo credits for the centennial projects, Archives staff reviewed images already cataloged into the Archives’ database, as well as prints, negatives, contact sheets, and, where present, historical captions. This investigation also included delving into unprocessed holdings where original prints with Csasznik’s name stamp, were clearly taken at the exact time and location as one of the uncredited prints being researched.

Close study of Csasznik’s images revealed a strong stylistic consistency in much of his work.  His method of making contact sheets (showing a roll of negatives shot at one time) with identifiable hand-written numbers below the images enabled staff to correctly identify more of his photographs. Research in the JDC Archives text collections revealed additional clues. For example, a February 1949 letter between JDC offices in Paris and New York uncovered that Csasznik was sent to cover the historic liquidation of British internment camps in Cyprus and the release of detainees. That shed light on some of the important photographs being researched for the exhibit.

To clarify copyrights for Csasznik’s work, Archives staff reached out to his son who explained that his family donated his work to the Israel Defense Forces archive after his death.  JDC requested permission from this repository to use Csasznik photos in the centennial projects.

Based on this research into Csasznik’s work, Archives staff is now able to identify over 800 Csasznik images in the JDC Archives photo collections, which span 37 years.

Please visit our new Fred Csasznik gallery which highlights his work for JDC and includes a few of the newly credited photographs!

Scholars’ Conference in New York Marks JDC’s Centennial

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Audience members at the "JDC at 100" conference at the Center for Jewish History, September 8, 2014.

Thirty scholars from across the globe gathered in New York on September 7-8, 2014 for a two-day conference, “The Joint Distribution Committee: 100 Years of Jewish History.”  The event, organized by a Steering Committee including Atina Grossman of The Cooper Union, Linda Levi, Director of JDC’s Global Archives, Maud Mandel of Brown University, Avinoam Patt of the University of Hartford, and Judy Seigel of the Center for Jewish History, was a forum for scholars from a variety of disciplines to share their research on JDC’s legacy from its first 100 years.

Reflecting on the conference’s objectives, Professor Patt said: “As one of the most important American Jewish organizations ever created, the JDC's humanitarian reach has been unparalleled. As a group of scholars who have conducted research on various aspects of the global reach of the JDC, we thought it fitting to mark its 100th anniversary with new scholarship highlighting its work since 1914.”

The scope of the presentations highlighted JDC’s global reach. Organized thematically, the conference showcased research on JDC relief work in the interwar period; its postwar reconstruction of Jewish communities; its assistance to refugees; JDC in the Soviet Union, and the organization’s work in Israel. Presentations highlighted JDC’s activity in a broad range of countries and time periods including humanitarian activities in interwar and postwar Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union; its comprehensive assistance to refugees and Holocaust survivors across Europe and in Australia, Belgium, China, France, Greece, Germany Hungary, Iran, Israel, and elsewhere in the aftermath of World War II; its extensive support for hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish émigrés during glasnost; and more.

Participating scholars came from the U.S., Israel, Australia, Belgium, France, Hungary, and Switzerland.

The conference concluded with a public screening, “Rare Archival Footage from a Century of JDC,” attended by over 200 guests, which featured rare film footage and audio elements from the JDC Archives.

To view one of the clips screened at the public event—an excerpt from “Fighting for Health,” a 1938 film about JDC’s relief work in Poland, produced in cooperation with TOZ (Society for Safeguarding Health)—click here!

New Book Published on the American Jewish Presence in Post-World War II France

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Laura Hobson Faure’s new book describes the American Jewish presence in post-World War II France.

Laura Hobson Faure’s new book, Un “Plan Marshall Juif”: La présence juive américaine en France après la Shoah, 1944-1954 (A “Jewish Marshall Plan”: The American Jewish Presence in Postwar France, 1944-1945) sheds light on a “largely neglected” chapter of research into French Jewish reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of World War II. Her book, which was published in French last year by Armand Colin, focuses on the encounters between representatives of American Jewish relief organizations and French Jewry in postwar France.

Hobson Faure began researching Un “Plan Marshall Juif,” in 2003, for her doctoral dissertation in Modern history at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris), including three weeks at the JDC Archives.  She conducted over 60 interviews, both with French Jews and with American Jewish aid workers who had been present in France after WWII. Her book situates the post-WWII encounters between American Jewish relief institutions and French Jewry in what she terms “a transnational context,” to demonstrate that these communities exercised a reciprocal and lasting influence on one another in many spheres, including initiatives relating to reconstruction, religious pluralism, and the professionalization of social welfare institutions. 

Through its extensive support of a wide range of diverse educational initiatives and Jewish welfare organizations in France, JDC “participated in French Jewish organizations in an organizational capacity.” As the most prominent American Jewish relief organization in France at this juncture and the first to re-establish its France office after the war, JDC was directly engaged in these cross-cultural encounters. In December 1944, Arthur Greenleigh was sent to France to oversee JDC’s refugee operations.

A distinct example of these encounters which Hobson Faure explores in her book is the 1949 founding of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work, named after one of JDC’s founders, in Versailles.  Hobson Faure explores how JDC’s establishment of the Paul Baerwald School, launched to train Jewish social workers from abroad to work in French Jewish social welfare institutions, stands as one of many initiatives modeled on practices and standards imported from the American Jewish community which significantly impacted the relationships between French Jews and American Jewish welfare organizations in postwar France. 

Hobson Faure also has a version of her book in English and is actively looking for an academic publisher for the English-language edition.

A Symbol for the Continuity of Jewish Life

JDC Chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) produced for DP camps Click to enlarge.
One of many JDC Chuppot(Jewish wedding canopy) produced for Displaced Persons camps after World War II.

In the aftermath of World War II (WWII) and the Holocaust, JDC’s far-reaching efforts to rebuild and sustain European Jewry touched upon every aspect of Jewish religious, communal, and cultural life. This commitment to revitalizing Jewish life included the production and dispatch of over 100 chuppot (Jewish wedding canopies), along with numerous other religious and ritual materials such as matzot, haggadot, and tallitot (prayer shawls), to Displaced Persons camps in the U.S. Zone. These canopies remained in production from the end of WWII in 1945 through late 1949.

This chuppah is blue and white with gold fringe and features a large Star of David surrounded by the Hebrew word “Zion” at the center. Excerpts from Jewish wedding blessings enclose the Star of David, and the words “Joint – Product of the Land of Israel” in Hebrew and “AJJDC” in English appear in the lower left-hand corner.

One of these chuppot was discovered at a country auction in New York State by Jane Weitzman, a JDC Board Member, who purchased it as a gift for JDC. The chuppah is now on loan to the Yad Vashem Museum in Israel, where it stands as a testament to JDC’s extensive commitment to reestablishing Jewish life across Europe and to enabling Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives with dignity. 

BBC Publishes Two Major Features on the Survivors of the St. Louis

A number of refugees aboard the S.S. St Louis, arriving in Belgium after being refused an entry into Cuba and the US. Belgium, 1939 Click to enlarge.
A number of refugees aboard the S.S. St Louis, arriving in Belgium after being refused an entry into Cuba and the US. Belgium, 1939

The BBC published two major features on survivors of the S.S. St. Louis, the ship carrying German Jewish refugees that was turned away from Cuba and the U.S. in 1939. The print and audio features highlight JDC's role in aiding the refugees to find safe haven. The 75th anniversary of the beginning of the voyage was on May 15, 2014. 

When the 907 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany were denied permission to land in Havana, Cuba in May 1939 despite having accredited landing documents, JDC became involved in negotiations with the Cuban government. These discussions unfortunately failed, as did efforts by JDC to find a haven for the desperate refugees elsewhere in the Americas. After 12 days of waiting in the harbor, the St. Louis sadly headed back to Hamburg with all of its passengers.

While the St. Louis was on the high seas, JDC, in close cooperation with other groups, negotiated with the governments of Holland, Belgium, England, and France to accept the refugees until homes in other countries could be found. JDC posted a cash guarantee of $500,000, or $8 million in today’s money, in order to make the arrangement feasible and to cover upkeep costs wherever necessary.

The audio recording incorporates footage from the 1939 JDC- produced film, Bound for Nowhere: The St. Louis Episode, ending poignantly with the line, “…goodbye St. Louis. Welcome to the beginning of a new and better life.“ This sentiment is bittersweet, as just over half of those who returned to Europe on this fateful ship were ultimately murdered in the Holocaust. 

Learn more about the voyage of the St. Louis through documents and photographs in our special S.S. St. Louis topic guide.  

Records from JDC 1955-1964 Collection Now Available Online

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Eleanor Roosevelt visits patients at a Malben clinic. Israel, 1952

The JDC Archives’ New York 1955-1964 Collection, documenting JDC’s global relief work in this period in Israel, North Africa, Latin America, and across Europe, is now available online.

This collection, comprising over 120,000 pages, describes, among other relief initiatives. the far-reaching assistance JDC provided to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, including support to Jewish schools and medical care for over 90,000 children; and its ongoing support and technical assistance to the State of Israel in the development of MALBEN, an extensive network of institutions to help absorb elderly and disabled immigrants. 

These records testify to JDC’s continuing assistance to Jewish communities in Europe and to survivors still residing in Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Europe.  

The files reflect JDC’s significant involvement in helping to rebuild Jewish life in Western Europe through its partnership with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the agency that negotiated with the West German Government for compensation for victims of Nazi persecution and for funds to rebuild European Jewish communal institutions.

Other highlights of this collection include:  

JDC’s efforts to maintain a presence in the Eastern bloc, with its officially-sanctioned welfare activities limited in the cold-war period to Yugoslavia and to Poland, from 1958 until JDC's expulsion from the country in 1967 by the Communist government after the Six-Day War; 

Significant correspondence on conditions in Foehrenwald, the last and largest of the Jewish DP camps, which remained open in Germany until 1957;

JDC’s social service operations in Iran, which included a substantial network of kindergartens and day care services, and educational and social development programs, particularly for children from needy families;

Documentation of Eleanor Roosevelt’s address to a plenary session at JDC’s December 1955 Annual Meeting on her visit to Israel.

Visit here to see images of JDC’s MALBEN work through the 1950s and 1960s!

JDC Marks 100th Anniversary with Commemorative Volume Showcasing Archival Treasures

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To celebrate the 100th anniversary of its 1914 founding, JDC has produced a richly illustrated, full-color, hardcover volume which uses documents, images, and artifacts from the Archives to depict the interconnected history of JDC and the Jewish people through pivotal moments in Jewish and world history throughout the past century. Order here!

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