Crowded Living Conditions for Jewish Refugees

This photograph shows a group of refugees, including young children and elderly people, sharing one room in a building in Friedrichstadt (present-day Jaunjelgava), Latvia. Friedrichstadt had been a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement. Prior to World War I, the Jewish population of the town was 3,200 out of a total population of 6,500; by the war’s end it had dropped to 800 out of a total population of 2,000. 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), a humanitarian relief organization, sent one of its inspectors to investigate conditions in Friedrichstadt in December 1920. His report noted that 90‒95 percent of private homes had been destroyed. Residents who had fled during the war had begun to return home; these refugees had nowhere to live. The report describes “32 people huddled together with their baggage and all in a room, 15 feet long and 10 feet wide [4.57 meters by 3.05 meters]… the air was suffocating and heavy. . . . Two of the [children] were sick with scarlet fever, and one died on the very day when this investigation was made.” The JDC was founded by American Jews in New York City to help destitute Jews in Europe and Palestine affected by World War I. 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. The JDC has operated as a global humanitarian organization in more than 90 countries since 1914.

Orphaned Refugees in a Children's Home in Kiev

This orphanage in Kiev, Ukraine, took in children, mostly from small towns, who had survived the pogroms (anti-Jewish riots) of May 1920. In the years immediately following the Russian Revolution and continuing until the end of the Russian Civil War, disputed territories of the former Russian Empire suffered repeated invasions from Ukrainian, Bolshevik, and Polish forces. During this period of political upheaval, there were many pogroms, and disease and starvation were also rampant. In Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of children were left without parents or homes. In the wake of such violence, the first efforts to provide aid were handled by regional organizations such as the Jewish Committee to Aid War Victims (EKOPO), through funding from 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). The JDC, a humanitarian organization, was created in the United States at the start of World War I to provide relief from privation and suffering for Jews abroad. The JDC supported homes for orphans, both institutional and private, in Ukraine, Russia, and other war-torn countries. 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.

Female Shopkeepers Given Aid by the Joint Distribution Committee to Begin Their Businesses

Peddlers’ shops in the war-torn small towns in large swaths of Eastern Europe were ruined by World War I and the Russo-Polish War that followed in 1919‒20. Interest-free small business loans enabled small businesses, such as those of the female merchants in this wire-service photograph, to start over, selling wares along the streets of Brest-Litovsk, Poland (Yiddish, Brisk; present-day Brest, Belarus). The loans were made 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), a humanitarian organization that provided relief during the war and reconstruction support in its aftermath. The 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. 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. Since its beginnings, the JDC has provided aid and social care in more than 90 countries.

Ruined Buildings in Siret, Romania

This photograph shows Jewish residents of Siret, a town in northeastern Romania close to the border with Ukraine, standing in front of a ruined building slated for reconstruction. Siret was located in the region of Bukovina, which was annexed to Romania following World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the first decades of the 20th century, Siret had a relatively large Jewish population that supported a number of communal philanthropic associations. During this period, outside support was also provided 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), a humanitarian organization formed to provide wartime relief to the stricken Jewish communities. This photograph is from an album documenting the JDC’s work in Bukovina, which included a loan for the rebuilding of this structure. Encouraging reconstruction, rather than merely providing relief, was a focus of the JDC’s activity in Romania in the period after World War I. The JDC has operated as a global humanitarian organization, providing food, clothing, medicine, child care, job training, and refugee assistance in more than 90 countries since it was established in 1914. The archives of the JDC contain documents, photographs, documents, film, video, oral histories, and artifacts recording the work of the organization from World War I to the present.

Ruined Home, Suceava, Romania

This photograph shows a man posing in front of a home in Suceava (present-day northeastern Romania, until 1918 in southern Bukovina, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) that was destroyed during World War I. After the war, the population of Suceava was about one-third Jewish. The Jewish community supported a number of communal philanthropic associations and was the seat of several regional organizations. During this period, outside support was provided 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). This photograph is from an album documenting the JDC’s work in Bukovina, including a loan for the rebuilding of this home. Encouraging reconstruction, rather than merely providing relief, was a focus of the JDC’s activity in Romania in this period. The 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. 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.

Children outside a Public Soup Kitchen in Rowne, Poland

This photograph shows a group of poor Jewish children, barefoot and holding their pots, waiting to receive food at a soup kitchen in Rowne, Poland (present-day Rovno or Rivne, Ukraine). Even after the destruction and dislocation of World War I came to an end, the situation for Jews in Eastern Europe remained bleak. Civil war in Russia and the Russo-Polish War of 1919‒20 caused further hardship; for Jews, there was additional danger from numerous pogroms. Famine and disease were widespread and the economy was in ruins. Children were especially vulnerable, with several hundred thousand orphaned. 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), a humanitarian relief organization, leveraged its resources by working with local and regional groups to help provide food, clothing, medical care, and education to the needy. The photograph is by Max J. Colton, a physician who was part of the first JDC medical team. Colton took this photograph and others to document the work of the medical unit and the communities in which it worked. The JDC was founded by American Jews in New York City to help destitute Jews in Europe and Palestine affected by World War I. It has operated as a global humanitarian organization in more than 90 countries since 1914. 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.

Justice Calls Your Attention to the Tragedy of the Jew

In a nationwide publicity campaign initiated while World War I was raging, American Jewish leaders brought home to the American public the extent of the suffering abroad and the need for relief efforts of unprecedented scope. The message resonated, resulting in the raising of large sums of money and in garnering support from American Jews and others for wartime relief. 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. Posters played a vital role in informing the American Jewish public about the depth of the crisis. The poster shown here was produced by the American Jewish War Relief Committee, one of the JDC's constituent organizations, and was directed at the residents of New York City. It 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.

People in a Joint Distribution Committee Transmission Bureau to Send Money to Relatives Overseas

During World War I, Americans who had relatives living in the war zones sought ways to send help to their families. 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. 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. In September 1915 the JDC created a special Transmission Bureau as a vehicle through which families in America could transfer funds to their relatives trapped in the war-torn countries. This project was the work of Harriet Lowenstein, the JDC’s first comptroller, who single-handedly ran the bureau until the scale of the demand required her to hire assistants. The JDC soon opened branch bureaus nationwide to meet the growing needs of people wanting to transfer funds. This branch office for the transmission of individual remittances was located at 98 Second Avenue, New York City, a neighborhood populated by immigrants. 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.

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.

Children Eating at Mendele's Kindergarten in Bialystok, Poland

Schools and nurseries were an effective conduit to provide nourishment to children in Poland throughout World War I and the immediate postwar years, a period of rampant hunger. Mendele’s Kindergarten and Community School at the Białystok Jewish Youth Union was most likely part of the Mendele Mokher Seforim Children’s Home and Orphanage, named in honor of the beloved Yiddish-language author. During the interwar period, Białystok had an extensive Jewish primary education system. Many of these schools were funded by overseas Jewish philanthropy. 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), a humanitarian organization, supported schools and provided meals, clothing, and shoes to the students. The JDC was created at the start of World War I by American Jewish groups uniting to provide coordinated relief from privation and suffering for Jews abroad. From the time the United States entered the war until its end, funding was sent to community and regional aid organizations in Poland, Lithuania, and other affected countries through a JDC branch in the neutral country of Holland. 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.