Book Review—More Than Parcels: Wartime Aid for Jews in Nazi-Era Camps and Ghettos

Essays shed light on JDC’s role in relief projects during World War II

More Than Parcels: Wartime Aid for Jews in Nazi-Era Camps and Ghettos, is an engaging and wide-ranging collection of essays co-edited by Jan Lambertz, an applied researcher at the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Jan Láníček, an associate professor in modern European and Jewish history at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

The 11 essays contained in the volume examine different programs through which thousands of parcels were sent to starving Jewish civilians during World War II. Many parties were involved in the programs including the Western Allies, governments-in-exile, neutral countries, Jewish organizations, the International Red Cross, and the War Refugee Board. The Allied economic blockade of Europe was one of the key obstacles in the sending of parcels containing food and medicine. Allied officials worried that shipments would be hijacked and serve the Germans. However, the Allies became more receptive as the war continued and reports about the fate of the Jews under Nazi occupation surfaced. But bureaucracy stood in the way as both the British and American governments stipulated long lists of conditions when giving permits for parcel schemes. Ultimately, while only a small percentage of the parcels reached their intended recipients, most of whom had already been murdered, several of the book’s contributors mention the psychological and emotional role that the packages played for those who did receive them.

Several of the contributors have conducted extensive research in JDC Archives Collections and JDC’s role in financing and organizing relief projects is highlighted in their essays. The Joint cooperated with both governmental and non-governmental organizations to send relief aid to Europe and the Soviet Union. In “Ties That Bind: Transnational Support and Solidarity for Polish Jews in the USSR during World War II,” Eliyana Adler notes that given the obstacles in helping the Jews living in German-occupied territories, JDC was eager to help Polish Jews who had fled to the Soviet Union. JDC cooperated with the Polish government-in-exile, the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and the Soviet Red Cross to send bulk aid to Polish Jews in the USSR. In addition to this bulk aid, JDC also sent aid packages to individual Polish Jews and their families.

Packages of clothing from Palestine readied for shipment via Iran and Iraq to refugees in Soviet Union. Palestine, 1943. Photograph: “Rex” Tel Aviv. JDC Archives

In “Help for the Ghettos and Concentration Camps: Exiled Governments, Jewish Agencies and Humanitarian Aid for Deported Jews during the War,” Jan Láníček examines the relief parcel schemes organized by JDC in conjunction with the Polish and Czechoslovak governments- in-exile and other Jewish organizations. The programs led to the shipping of thousands of parcels from Portugal, Turkey, and Switzerland to ghettos and concentration camps in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Pontus Rudberg’s contribution, “An Undeniable Duty: Swedish Jewish Humanitarian Aid to Jews in Nazi-Occupied Europe during World War II,” discusses JDC’s involvement in the relief packages that were sent from Sweden, while Gerald Steinacher’s chapter, “’Weapon of Last Resort:’ the International Red Cross and Relief Efforts for Jews during the Holocaust, 1942-1945,” gives an overview of the close collaboration between the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Joint. This partnership resulted in some of the most significant food relief operations organized in the final stages of the war.

Last, in “Jewish Aid in Vichy’s Internment Camps, June 1940-November 1942,” Laurie A. Drake investigates the food aid JDC provided to Jewish families and individuals trapped in internment camps in southern unoccupied France.

More Than Parcels: Wartime Aid for Jews in Nazi-Era Camps and Ghettos offers much material about relief projects in Europe and the Soviet Union, covering many perspectives. It provides an important foundation for future research.