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JDC New York Office Records, 1933 – 1944

Archives of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.
Email: archives@jdc.org

Descriptive Summary
ID Code: NY AR193344
Creator: American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Title: Records of the New York Office of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1933 - 1944
Bulk Dates: 1933 - 1944
Extent: 112 linear feet
Link: Selected Documents from the 1933-1944 Collection
Location: American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York Archives
Alternative Form of Materials
This collection has been digitized. Microfilm copies of the entire collection are also available on 226 reels labeled according to folder range.
Conditions Governing Access
Selected records from the collection are available online at the JDC Archives database. This collection is searchable by appointment through the textual collections portal of the JDC Archives. Researchers interested in visiting the JDC Archives to examine the collection in its entirety may complete an online research application.
Scope and Content Note
This collection comprises 1,141 numbered files of JDC New York Headquarters records that chronicle the period between Hitler’s rise to power and the end of the Second World War. For the sake of narrative coherence, some records from the postwar period and beyond are also included in this collection.

For the most part, these records describe the valiant efforts to support individuals and communities struggling for survival in Europe and in refugee havens across the globe. JDC funded local welfare committees and communal organizations and worked with government agencies and other international organizations to set up programs and conduct operations in over 70 countries.

In 1933, JDC moved its European headquarters from Berlin to Paris. When Nazi troops approached Paris in June 1940, the office was evacuated, and Lisbon ultimately became the site of JDC headquarters for the duration of the war.

The 1933-1944 collection includes correspondence, cables, memoranda, and bulletins; minutes of JDC meetings and conferences and transcripts of proceedings; narrative, statistical, and financial reports; eye-witness accounts and diary entries; passenger lists, ship manifests, and inventories; and speeches, press clippings, news dispatches, and publicity materials.
Highlights of this collection include:
  • the struggle of Jews in Germany and the mounting emigration following enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland;
  • the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany and the plight of the homeless in “no-man’s-land” along the Czech frontier and in Zbaszyn on the Polish border;
  • the role of loan kassas in economic life;
  • the saga of the St. Louis and other sailings from Portuguese, North African, and Japanese ports;
  • relief efforts for Jewish refugees in Shanghai;
  • emigration from Vilna via the Trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok and then Japan;
  • the situation in French internment camps and the deportations of Jews from occupied and unoccupied France;
  • the work of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee;
  • the shipment of food packages to Theresienstadt and other concentration camps; and
  • the Teheran parcel service for refugees in Asiatic Russia.
Records in this collection are arranged in four subcollections: Administration, Organizations, Subject Matter, and Countries and Regions.
Related Materials
Saly Mayer Collection, 1939-1950
The Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA), 1939-1977
Related material on the War Refugee Board: Records of the New York office of the American Joint Distribution Committee, 1945-1954, Organizations subcollection
Copyright Conditions
Copyright held by The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc. Other intellectual property rights may apply. The publication of JDC records in any format requires the written permission of the JDC Archives. Users must apply in writing for permission to reproduce or publish manuscript materials found in this collection. Please see our Access and Restrictions Policy for further details.

For information contact: archives@jdc.org

Preferred Citation
Repository, Title of Collection, Folder number, Title of item, Date of item.

Example: JDC Archives, Records of the New York Office of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1933 - 1944, Folder #433, Incoming Cable from Jewish Board Deputies to Johannesburg, 10/09/1942.

The main categories of arrangement are:
This subcollection comprises records regarding JDC structure, organization and governance, activities, leadership, and personnel that illuminate JDC policy and decision-making; fundraising and financial materials; and general reports prepared by or submitted to JDC.
JDC Administration is divided into two record groups:
This record group highlights the activities of JDC’s governing bodies and committees. The Executive Committee remained the principal decision-making body, while the Board of Directors and the gradually expanding National Council were assigned mostly formal duties. New committees were created in response to the needs of the period; the Administration Committee (later called the Emergency Administration Committee), established in October 1939 to handle wartime crises, was the most active committee in JDC history.
Special meetings and two national conferences were held to consider emergency needs and refugee aid. At the same time, a plan of regional organization led to a series of local, state-wide, and regional conferences for purposes of fundraising, education, and information. This record group also documents JDC’s independent fundraising campaigns and joint campaigns with other organizations, leading to the establishment of the United Jewish Appeal.
This record group describes the activities of the European Executive Council (EUREXCO), JDC’s overseas administrative body. EUREXCO headquarters moved from Berlin to Paris in 1933 following Hitler’s rise to power; when the Nazis advanced on Paris in June 1940, the European office moved briefly to Bordeaux and then to Lisbon.
Included are summaries of telephone conversations primarily between New York and Lisbon, with much discussion of emigration and refugee matters. Also detailed is the “clearance arrangement” devised by JDC to finance its operations without sending dollars into Nazi-occupied countries.
This subcollection focuses on JDC's relationships and initiatives with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the course of its rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts. These files include materials relating to JDC’s relationships with the United States Government and its associated departments and agencies; consular and diplomatic officials; foreign governments and their embassies and consuls; and with private Jewish and non-sectarian humanitarian organizations worldwide.
This subcollection is divided into two record groups:
This record group documents JDC’s cooperation with U.S. government departments and agencies, including the State Department, the Treasury Department, and the War Refugee Board. It includes material on humanitarian issues, JDC’s work overseas, and compliance with federal wartime regulations.
Records include material on relations, partnerships, and collaboration with Jewish and non-sectarian NGOs, primarily relief and welfare agencies; humanitarian organizations; and philanthropic and investment funds.
Major organizations appearing in these files and with whom JDC worked include:
  • the American Friends Service Committee and the American Red Cross, both long-standing JDC partners;
  • the Hebrew Sheltering & Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA) which both joined JDC in creating HICEM for emigration aid and resettlement;
  • the High Commission for Refugees Coming from Germany, established by the League of Nations, the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees, initiated by President Roosevelt, and the United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA);
  • German-Jewish (later European-Jewish) Children’s Aid and the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children;
  • the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the American Palestine Campaign, which later merged with the United Palestine Appeal (UPA);
  • ORT and OSE, funded by JDC to implement vocational, medical, and childcare programs.
Records of JDC’s work with additional organizations are also found in this record group.
This subcollection details nine different categories relating to JDC’s work and testifies to JDC’s evolving activities in each area, especially as the rise of the Nazi government in Germany and the onset of World War II rendered worldwide needs acute.

Records that pertain to large-scale JDC programs or operations covering a number of countries are arranged in seven record groups: childcare, cultural and religious institutions and programs, emigration, reconstruction, refugees, relief supplies, and vocational training.

Records of JDC’s Landsmannschaften Division, which relate to various localities, and statistics on Jewish populations in a range of European countries are also found in this subcollection.

The Subject Matter subcollection is divided into the following nine record groups:
This record group contains summary information on JDC childcare programs and activities in various countries; description of international organizations working with refugee children; series of letters of inquiry and copies of records regarding children brought to the U.S. under the auspices of JDC’s War Orphan Bureau after World War I.
Records regarding funding for religious, cultural, and educational purposes, distributed in coordination with the Cultural-Religious Committee by the original three constituent committees of JDC—the Central Relief Committee, the American Jewish Relief Committee, and the People’s Relief Committee—each with a different orientation and outlook. This funding supported religious schools, yeshivot, and rabbis; secular schools (both Tarbuth and Yiddischist); teachers’ colleges, libraries, and institutions of higher learning.
Also included are records pertaining to the Ezras Torah Fund, which aided needy orthodox rabbis and scholars in Eastern Europe and Palestine, and the Vaad Hahatzala (Emergency Committee for War-Torn Yeshivot).
This record group is the largest in this subcollection, reflecting a shift in JDC’s traditional policy of relief and reconstruction and a new focus on rescue and emigration aid in the Nazi period. There is considerable overlap between these files and materials in the Refugees record group.
Included are records on the collaboration with other Jewish organizations to provide emigration services and the JDC/HICEM emigration conference in Paris, 1939; the establishment of JDC’s Transmigration Bureau in June, 1940, to serve prospective emigrants from Europe and their family and friends; JDC emigration expenditures, including the purchase of blocks of passenger space on transatlantic vessels; sailings from Portugal, Spain, and other ports to the Americas, Palestine, and other countries, with passenger lists for some voyages; accounts of maritime disasters, such as the sinking of the Struma and the Mefkure; the saga of the St. Louis and JDC’s round-the-clock negotiations that opened European doors to the passengers, saving many.
This record group contains statistical data on the effects of political upheaval and territorial changes on the distribution of Jewish population in European countries in the Nazi period.
This record group covers the establishment of JDC’s Landsmannschaften Fraternal & Congregational Division in 1937 to stimulate fundraising. This division was superseded by the Landsmannschaften Department in 1939. In 1940, landsmannschaften operations were transferred to the United Jewish Appeal. The material includes lists of landsmannschaften and records of contributions.
This record group describes the activities of the American Joint Reconstruction Foundation, a British corporation created and funded by JDC and the ICA (Jewish Colonization Association) in 1924. Documents detail the opening and support of loan kassas in Germany, Vienna, and Eastern Europe during the 1930’s; the organization of kassas to aid German Jews who found refuge in Europe, Palestine, and Latin America; and changes in structure and governance to comply with wartime restrictions.
This record group documents international meetings and conferences on refugee aid and rescue initiatives; allocations for refugee lawyers, musicians, rabbis, physicians, and other refugee groups; the case of nineteen Jewish refugees incarcerated in Florida, 1942-43; an account of the mostly Jewish refugee group from Italy housed in the U.S. Transit Center in Oswego, NY; and general reports and statistical data on refugees.
There is considerable overlap between these files and materials in the Emigration record group. Researchers should also refer to material in the Administration subcollection related to the work of JDC’s refugee committees.
This record group documents shipments of food, clothing, medical, and other types of relief supplies to vulnerable Jewish communities around the world.
From 1933-1939, JDC’s program was limited to small shipments of Passover supplies to Poland and the USSR. With the outbreak of World War II, JDC responded to critical shortages of basic necessities in Nazi-occupied countries and the Soviet Union.
Records document JDC allocations for food packages to Central and Eastern European countries, and to Theresienstadt, Bergen-Belsen, and Birkenau; the non-sectarian distribution of supplies to Polish refugees in Asiatic Russia and to non-Polish refugees in heavily Jewish regions; and the parcel service organized by JDC from Teheran for Polish-Jewish refugees in Asiatic Russia (1942-1946).
Included are records about the allocation of JDC funds and landsmannschaft contributions for the shipment of Passover supplies to war-stricken communities in Central and Eastern Europe in 1940; the delivery of matzot from Teheran to Polish-Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union; and the shipment of Passover products from the U.S. to refugees in Latin America and Portugal.
This record group details JDC’s support for apprentice opportunities and trade schools, which became especially necessary as the Nazi government’s restrictive laws barred German Jews from attending school and prohibited them from entering numerous professions.
Material includes JDC-funded vocational training, primarily for prospective emigrants from Germany and Austria to Palestine and other countries. Smaller allocations for training went to other countries, such as Poland, and to ORT.

Subcollection 4. Countries and Regions

Abyssinia – Philippines
Poland – Venezuela

This subcollection includes 708 files on countries and regions, organized alphabetically in record groups by country and/or region, and forms the bulk of the 1933-44 collection. It documents JDC activities and operations in Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Australia during the Nazi period, World War II, and beyond. Records in this subcollection depict political, economic, and social conditions and the efforts of local committees, organizations, and institutions to respond to the needs of struggling communities and displaced individuals in this tumultuous era.

Judging by the number of files for each country in this subcollection, Poland is treated most extensively, followed by Switzerland, Germany, China, England, Palestine, France, and Cuba, and then Bolivia, Rumania, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Austria, and Holland. Note, however, that most of the documentation in the China and Switzerland record groups is from the postwar period.

During the war era, borders shifted, and the names used for localities in this subcollection reflect recognized political and indigenous regions at that time.

Processing Information
Arrangement and description of the 1933 – 1944 collection were originally prepared by Emil Lang in 1985; collection-level description was added to the finding aid in 2012.