JDC Archives Series Highlights JDC’s Programs for Children

Diverse group of speakers featured

JDC Archives recently completed a virtual series of public programs around the theme Lives in Turmoil and Transformation: JDC’s Work with Children in the Twentieth Century, highlighting JDC’s programs for children since World War I. The series, which featured a diverse group of speakers, including scholars, JDC staff, a filmmaker, and a Holocaust survivor, attracted audience members from around the world.

The first program in the series was the film screening of The Children of Chabannes, in collaboration with the Boston Jewish Film Festival. The Emmy® Award-winning The Children of Chabannes is the story of how the people in the tiny French village of Chabannes chose action over indifference, and risked their lives and livelihoods, to save more than 400 Jewish refugee children during World War Il. Integral to the Chabannes story are the extraordinary measures taken by the local teachers and townspeople who—in concert with the JDC-supported l’Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, a Jewish child welfare agency—sheltered, nurtured, and educated the children and integrated them into the local school and community. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the film’s director Lisa Gossels and her uncle Werner Gossels, who found safe haven in Chabannes.

The second program was a lecture by Dr. Danielle Willard-Kyle (University of Glasgow) on Selvino, a children’s home which became the rehabilitation center for hundreds of Jewish children, primarily foreign orphans, in Northern Italy from 1945 to 1948. Dr. Willard-Kyle examined the role of JDC as a major funder backing the children’s center and its work in conjunction with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) the Jewish Agency, and the Youth Aliyah to provide for and eventually resettle the children. View recording.

Young boy trained as a shoemaker in a JDC-supported vocational training program, 1940’s. Selvino, Italy. JDC Archives.

The third program was a webinar on the JDC Lauder Summer Camp in Szarvas, located in the South of Hungary, which opened its gate to Jewish youth in 1990. Zsuzsa Fritz, JDC Hungary Education Consultant, and Sasha Friedman, the Director of the Szarvas Camp, reflected on this extraordinary project, its beginnings and aspirations, and its accomplishments and current relevance. View recording.

The fourth program was a lecture by Ethell Gershengorin, recipient of the 2022 Max and Cecil (Steuer) Chesin/JDC Archives Fellowship, who discussed JDC’s activities on behalf of Eastern European Jewish children, 1919-1929. Drawing on JDC archival records, the lecture considered such questions as: What was the JDC’s view of the needs and abilities of this population? How did they seek to address them? What dynamics and intellectual currents affected the way these JDC workers perceived local Jews and their attempts to aid them? How did the JDC understand and express their role as the “protectors” and “benefactors” of Eastern European Jewry? View recording.

The last program was a lecture by Dr. Anna Sommer Schneider (Georgetown University) who discussed JDC’s support for Jewish Education in Communist Poland. In this lecture, Anna Sommer Schneider discussed how, over decades of Communist rule in Poland, JDC launched numerous educational programs which not only fostered Jewish education but also reinforced a sense of Jewishness among younger generations of Polish Jews. View recording.

Classroom in JDC supported Jewish school, Wroclaw, Poland, 1950s. JDC Archives.

This is the second virtual series of public programming organized by the JDC Archives. In 2021-2022, JDC Archives presented Jewish Women in Turbulent Times: Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities to raise awareness about Jewish women’s leadership and resilience in communities throughout the world during the twentieth century.