Men Load a Joint Distribution Committee Vehicle onto a Bridge during a Field Trip in Poland


The Russian Civil War (1918−20) made travel through disputed territories difficult and dangerous. Even if cities and towns were reachable by train (where they were still operating), humanitarian relief workers had to travel to hundreds of isolated villages and to move quickly between them. Roads and bridges could not be counted on. Most motor vehicles of the day were open to the elements, required hand-cranking to start the engine, and reached top speeds of 65−70 kilometers per hour. 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 JDC) was formed in 1914 to send aid, including food, clothing, medicine, funds, and emergency supplies, to the stricken Jews of Europe during the war. The war left in its wake many additional catastrophes—pogroms, epidemics, famine, revolution, and economic ruin—and after the war the JDC continued to play a major role in rebuilding the devastated Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and in sustaining the Jews in Palestine. This photograph of a JDC automobile shows how many hands were needed to get the vehicle across a river on a crude, damaged wooden bridge during a field trip to Rovno, Dubno, and Polonnoye (in present-day Ukraine, at that time part of Poland). The JDC sent relief workers as soon as entry to the war zone was possible. This photograph, from a relief worker's field trip in 1920, is in 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