Refugees in a Food Line in Bucharest, Romania


Elderly refugees, such as this 75-year-old woman newly arrived in Bucharest, had the hardest time surviving the rigorous journey to safety during World War I. Romania joined the Allied war effort in late August 1916. Sections of the country became enemy-occupied territory. As in large swaths of Europe, Jewish homes in Romania and the civic institutions supporting community life were destroyed. Civilian populations, treated as enemies, were forced or frightened into flight to places not yet caught up in the turmoil. Initial relief efforts for Romanian Jews impoverished by the war included soup kitchens, the distribution of clothing and shoes for children, and family subsidies for those whose breadwinners had been conscripted into the armed forces or interned as prisoners of war. These efforts were organized by the Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers (later the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, both names abbreviated as the JDC), created in New York City soon after the start of World War I. As long as the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires controlled vast territories and the United States remained neutral, JDC relief work was done through the U.S. State Department and established European philanthropic organizations such as the Jewish Colonization Association in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and the Israelitische Allianz in Vienna. Once America entered the war, getting funds and supplies to those living in the regions occupied by the Central powers became much more difficult. Postwar conditions were further exacerbated by the territorial war between Romania and Hungary that followed the armistice of November 1918. The photograph is from the archives of the JDC, which contain documents, photographs, film, video, oral histories, and artifacts recording the work of the organization from World War I to the present.

Last updated: March 4, 2016