December 29, 2015

Children Wearing Makeshift Coats from Flour Sacks outside an Orphanage in Grodno, Poland

These children in Grodno, Poland (present-day Hrodna, Belarus) were among tens of thousands of Jewish war orphans who between 1914 and 1920 had lost one or both parents on the battlefield, in military hospitals, or from epidemics, starvation, and other war-related causes. 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. When the war ended, the JDC launched a general plan to care for Jewish war orphans, providing room and board, clothing, education, medical attention, and social welfare. At first, limited supplies of clothing led to the use of improvised outfits, made from the sacks used to transport American flour. This wire-service 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.

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.

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.