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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 http://archives.jdc.org/archives-search.

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

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

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 archives@jdc.org.
 

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 info@galiciajewishmuseum.org.   

Interview with Linda Cantor, JDC Archives Volunteer and Jewish Genealogist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Scholar Researches Postwar Aid to Belgium

Veerle Vanden Daalen Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uta Larkey Lectures on Post-Holocaust Interviews and Testimonies

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

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

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

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

JDC DORSA Collection Now Available Via Digital Library of the Caribbean

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

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

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

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

New Book Offers Insight on Early Aid to Russian Jews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

This story has been shared with Al Lewis' permission.

The Gertner Family Visits the Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare JDC Archives Treasures Digitized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JDC Archives Staff Present at Conferences across the Globe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JDC and the War Refugee Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explore the War Refugee Board materials.

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