JDC Emigration Service Cards of 1960s Czech Refugees Added to Names Index

JDC Vienna Office provided assistance after 1968 Prague Spring Uprising

The JDC Archives has added records to its Names Index of Jews who fled Czechoslovakia during and immediately following the Prague Spring of 1968 and were assisted by JDC. The data is from a set of 1,400 Emigration Service index cards from the AJDC office in Vienna, where the émigré families had registered for assistance. When accompanying family members are included, the total number of names indexed amounts to 3,100 individuals.

Czech Jewish refugees waiting at the JDC Vienna office (left) and having their paperwork processed (right). Vienna, Austria, 1968. JDC Archives Photos: Jean Mohr.

The Prague Spring began at the beginning of 1968 when the reformist Alexander Dubček rose to power in Czechoslovakia and initiated a program of liberalization that included increased freedom to travel. Some Czechs left the country legally during this period and did not return. When Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded the country to suppress the Dubček government’s activities in August 1968, many more, realizing that the reforms would be put to an end, fled while it was still possible. According to the American Jewish Yearbook, the Jewish population of Czechoslovakia numbered about 18,000 in 1967; by 1970, after this period of emigration, it had declined to an estimated 14,000.

The JDC index cards therefore represent most of those who emigrated. Those who did not register with JDC may have sought emigration assistance through other international organizations or may have had family members elsewhere who could provide assistance. Some of the cards include a notation that the person or family had “disappeared,” suggesting that they had found other relocation opportunities to pursue without JDC assistance.

Czech Jewish refugees waiting to leave Vienna for flights to the United States. Vienna, Austria, 1968. JDC Archives Photos: Jean Mohr.

As with other Emigration Service cards included in the Names Index, details include the client’s name, date and place of birth, nationality, occupation, dates of arrival and departure, country of destination, and accompanying family members. As was the case for other transmigrants who received JDC assistance in Vienna, data on the cards show that some spent only a brief time—a week or two, but as little as a few days—before departing for more permanent destinations, while others remained in Vienna for a month or even several months. JDC provided care and maintenance to these families, including housing, food, and medical assistance, as well as educational, cultural, and religious activities. In some cases, the cards indicate that individual family members went to different countries, which is unusual in JDC Emigration Service records.

Emigration Service index card for Erich Kulka and family, showing that two family members went to Israel (indicated by “X”) and two went to Germany (indicated by “+”).

Earlier records of Czech Jewish emigration, from the immediate post-World War II period, were previously indexed. See “Index of AJDC Prague Office Emigration Case Files Now Available” (July 2020). The JDC Archives also has case files for many of the Czech émigrés from the late 1960s. These files are being indexed as part of the transmigrant case files indexing project, which should be available by the end of 2021.