Israeli Researcher Explores Post-World War II Jewish Community in Poland, as Assisted by JDC
Following the Soviet liberation of Poland from July 1944-January 1945, the remnants of Polish Jewry began to reconstruct their lives in Poland after the shattering effects of the Holocaust. About 275,000 survivors, a mere fraction of the pre-war community of 3.5 million, returned to a country ravaged by war and torn by an internal political struggle between local communists and nationalists. In her M.A. thesis titled “The Role of the Joint Distribution Committee in Rehabilitation and Characterization of Jewish Community in Poland from 1945-1949,” researcher Batya Langer from Haifa University explores three main groups and ideologies within the Jewish community in Poland after the war, and the different forms of assistance offered to them by JDC .
The secular socialist Bund party sought to re-integrate the Jews into Polish society by helping people rehabilitate themselves and become productive citizens. Efforts were focused on the revitalization of Jewish economic life through the establishment of industrial and financial cooperatives. JDC provided consultation and funding for this project and assisted with the importing of raw materials and equipment that could not be obtained within the country.
Langer identifies the Orthodox community, who were concerned mainly with the resurrection of religious life in Poland, as the second group. JDC reconstructed synagogues, renewed destroyed cemeteries, and rehabilitated yeshivas to ensure that a new generation of rabbis would replace those who were lost in the Shoah.
To help the Zionist movement, the third ideological group of the postwar community in Poland, JDC financed a framework of kibbutzim established by the movement, where the young members were taught agricultural techniques and underwent para-military training. Most importantly, JDC supported the exodus of approximately 120,000 Jews from Poland, many via the illegal Bricha movement, which clandestinely brought Jews from Eastern Europe across the occupied zones and into Palestine.
Through the course of her research, Langer found that the contributions of the Joint to the three groups created a dynamic that benefited the entire Jewish population. With this, JDC ensured that the Jewish community retained its independence in Poland to rehabilitate itself as it saw fit.
JDC was expelled in 1949, when all Jewish life was banned by the Polish Communist party, and returned in 1981 when they were invited back by the Polish authorities.