Panel on JDC’s Work in Italy at Association for Jewish Studies Conference

Scholars discussed JDC’s assistance to Jewish DPs and Transmigrants in Italy

The JDC Archives was delighted to present a panel discussion on “Displacement, Transmigration and the JDC: the Italian Case” at the conference of the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), that took place in San Diego from December 15th to December 17th, 2019.

While JDC’s assistance to Jewish DPs in Germany and Austria has attracted scholarly attention, less is known about the organization’s work in DP camps in Italy after the Holocaust, nor more generally about Italy as a major transit site for waves of Jewish refugees in the postwar decades. In the 1940s, Italy became a major processing center for Jewish DPs and refugees as it was on the route for illegal and later legal immigration to Palestine/Israel. JDC supplemented the basic rations that the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) provided to the DPS and implemented welfare, social, medical services and vocational training.

Jewish DPs learning how to manufacture toothpaste and shoe polish. Brivio, Italy, c.1948-1949.

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Libyan Jews sought refuge from the resulting difficulties for Jews there and came to Italy hoping to resettle in Israel. Hundreds were sheltered on arrival in camps and required JDC aid while awaiting Aliyah.

Libyan Jewish mother preparing dinner for her family at a JDC reception center, Italy, 1949.

In the 1970s and 1980s, JDC assisted tens of thousands of Jewish emigrants from the Soviet Union in Italy while they awaited papers to immigrate to the US, Canada and Australia. JDC assistance for Soviet transmigrants included care and maintenance, housing, medical care, social services, as well as religious and educational programs aimed at fostering a Jewish identity and easing the transition to life in the West.

Russian Jewish children light up their Chanukkah menorah, Rome, Italy, c.1976.

The papers on the AJS panel are part of a new stream of research that has begun to examine the multi-faceted work of JDC with DPs and transmigrants in Italy. Danielle Willard-Kyle, recipient of the 2018 Ruth and David Musher/JDC Archives Regional Fellowship, looked at three specific moments and places in Italian DP camp history between 1946 and 1949 to examine the intertwined relationship between refugees and JDC aid workers around issues of material goods, advocacy, and agency.

Denis Kozlov, recipient of the 2017 Ruth and David Musher/JDC Archives Fellowship, analyzed the experiences of thousands of ex-Soviet migrants in the Roman Metropolitan Area during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the role of JDC and other international humanitarian organizations in managing that passage. Kozlov’s paper focused on the variety of European trajectories that Soviet Jewish migrations to the West followed during those years.

Atina Grossmann of The Cooper Union served as the panel’s respondent; Avinoam Patt of the University of Connecticut chaired the session.

(From left to right) Avinoam Patt, Atina Grossmann, Danielle Willard-Kyle, and Denis Kozlov.