December 29, 2015

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.

Outdoor Market in Burned-Out Neighborhood, Poland

The caption for this news photograph reads: “Poles distributing vegetables amid the ruins of town destroyed by shell-fire in one of the battles between Germans and Russians. Thousands of towns and villages in Poland are still in ruins and must be rebuilt. This work will be one of the first tasks of the new Poland. And American steel and other materials will be needed in the work of reconstruction, as well as our financial aid. Owing to the rather remote position of Poland as regards France, England and the United States and to the difficulties in getting materials from German manufacturers until Germany has recovered from the war, the rebuilding of Poland will be less speedy than the reconstruction of the devastated areas in France and Belgium and Italy. 11/19/18” 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, was a significant contributor to reconstruction efforts, particularly in affected Jewish communities. The image is from photographic agency Underwood and Underwood, a major producer of stereopticon (a kind of magic lantern) slides, which entered the news photography field in 1910. 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.

Relief Ship Sails for Near East

The caption for this wire-service photograph states: “The USS Pensacola, now used as a relief ship carrying food and clothing to the destitute countries in the Near East, sailed from New York with a cargo valued at more than two million dollars. The Pensacola is not the first ship to sail for the Near East, two others having preceded it. The relief ships are under the auspices of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East. Photo shows the Pensacola pulling out of the pier at Hoboken to start on the long trip to Constantinople, which is the first stop.” 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 formed at the outset of World War I to address the needs of Jews in British Mandate Palestine and Europe, participated in this nonsectarian relief effort, providing $300,000 toward the cost of the Pensacola’s cargo. 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.

First Shipment of Kosher Meat Sent to Danzig, Poland

In 1919, when hundreds of thousands of Jews were trapped between the warring forces of Poland and Russia, American Jews shipped desperately needed food to these refugees. In this photo, barrels of kosher salted beef are loaded aboard the SS Ashburn in New York harbor to be sent to Danzig (present-day Gdansk, Poland). 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. The image, distributed by the photographic agency Underwood and Underwood, 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 founding, the JDC has provided aid and social care in more than 90 countries.

World War I Prisoner of War Card

This card was issued in 1920 to a Hungarian prisoner of war, Kiksa Biro, by the Vladivostok branch of the Joint Distribution Committee of the American Funds for Jewish War Sufferers (later the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, both names abbreviated as the JDC). The card includes a rare photograph and contains such biographical information as the prisoner’s name, birthplace and date of birth, nationality, home address, family status, and occupation. Through its Vladivostok branch, the JDC aided Jewish prisoners of war in Siberian camps during and after World War I—transmitting mail to their families, seeing to their welfare, and arranging hospital care for the very ill. Some 10,000 Jews were among the 160,000 prisoners of war in Siberia who had served in the German and Austro-Hungarian armies. The nonsectarian Siberian War Prisoners Repatriation Fund, supported chiefly by the JDC and the American Red Cross, was created in April 1920 with the goal of repatriating all prisoners of war from Siberia to their homelands. Ships were chartered for this effort. Almost all prisoners of war who desired to return to their homes were able to do so. This card is one of 1,000 World War I prisoner-of-war cards 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.