This centennial celebration highlights the organization’s profound impact on the lives of Jews and non-Jews alike in over 90 countries from its founding in 1914 through the rise of Nazism.

"On the anvil of history, the simple philanthropic organization known as the Joint was hammered into a complex and powerful instrument of survival and rebirth for the Jewish people.” Dr. Joseph J. Schwartz, 1964

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was founded in New York City in 1914 in response to the plight of destitute Jews in Palestine and Eastern Europe whose traditional sources of support were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. The original appeal was made from one New Yorker to another when Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, wrote to Jewish philanthropist Jacob Schiff in New York about “Jews facing terrible crisis….”

After Morgenthau, United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, appealed to Schiff for assistance for the Jews in Palestine, within days Schiff, with the assistance of New Yorkers Felix M. Warburg and Louis Marshall, had raised $50,000 for the cause.

Over the next one hundred years, JDC would become the premier global Jewish humanitarian organization by playing a pivotal role in rescuing and sustaining individuals and entire communities.

This 1929 painting is based on a photograph taken of the Executive Committee in a meeting on July 10, 1918.

JDC’s Early Years 
“Think of it, and do not forget what you owe to those in whose places you might have been!” Jacob Schiff, “A Message to America” Jewish War Relief Committee appeal, 1921

Responding to pleas for help from Jews at the outbreak of World War I, the Joint Distribution Committee was formed by Jewish relief groups representing the spectrum of Jews in America-the American Jewish Relief Committee (mostly German Jews), the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews (orthodox), and the People's Relief Committee (labor groups). Contributions to JDC came from American Jews and non-Jews of all backgrounds, from well-established philanthropists to new immigrants.

By 1915, wartime conditions in Europe had made it impossible for American Jews to help loved ones overseas, so JDC opened a Transmission Bureau in New York City with branches across the country. Relatives were able to deposit funds that could be sent directly to family in Europe and Palestine. Before the war’s end, over $600,000 was transferred, typically in small deposits of $5 or $10.

Silberman, of Des Moines, Iowa, inquired about sending a remittance to his brother in Sumy, Ukraine. Albert Lucas was the Secretary of JDC.

Relief, Reconstruction & Community
“… thousands of villages have been ravaged and great cities laid waste.  Mourning, they lift up their eye, when shall come their help!” Central Relief Committee appeal, October 1914

Over the course of World War I, JDC raised over $16 million, channeling funds, food, and medicines to Jews in need. Despite the Ottoman Empire’s blockades of Palestine ports during the war, enough aid reached the area to sustain a desperate population. The British capture of Jerusalem in 1917, and all of Palestine the following year, enabled JDC to initiate a broader array of programs and services.

Peace brought new crises throughout Europe and Russia as hundreds of thousands of Jews fell victim to disease, famine, pogroms, displacement, and new hostilities in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s collapse.
As a representative of JDC, Boris Bogen was sent to Poland in 1920 to assess and assist.

Working with the American Relief Administration, JDC sent supplies to devastated communities and dispatched doctors and social workers to establish relief programs and rebuild religious, cultural, and educational institutions.

Rockefeller praised Agro-Joint, a JDC program, and donated $100,000 to the program. Agro-Joint resettled over 70,000 Jews in agricultural colonies in Ukraine and Crimea.

Orphaned boys, mainly refugees from pogroms in the Ukraine, found shelter and respite at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)-funded children's colony in Malakhovka.

There, they had the opportunity to study at the feet of the prominent Jewish artists and intellectuals who gathered in this Moscow suburb, among them, the gladiator sandal clad Marc Chagall.

The Rise of Nazism
"the 907 passengers of St. Louis dangling for last thirteen days between hope and despair received today your liberating message of the 13 June that final arrangements for all passengers have at last been reached…” Committee of Passengers to Morris Troper, June 15, 1939  

Following Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor in January 1933, JDC began subsidizing education and welfare services for German (and later Austrian and Czech) Jews pauperized by the Nazi government edicts. It was not long before emigration aid became the priority and JDC scoured the world to find havens for European Jews. To unify fundraising in light of the emergency situation in Europe, JDC was a founding partner in the establishment of the national United Jewish Appeal in 1939.

By 1940, JDC was helping Jews in more than forty countries and funding chartered ships for immigration to the United States, Palestine, Shanghai, Japan, South America, the Caribbean, Tangier, as well as other destinations across the globe. Before the United States entered the war in December 1941, JDC relief programs helped to sustain over 600,000 Polish Jews.
In the document at left, Rabbi Kalmanowitz thanked JDC for his role in the escape of 300 scholars from the Mirrer Yeshiva in Vilna.

Even after 1941, JDC found ways to funnel aid to desperate Jews behind enemy lines—parachuting supplies into Yugoslavia, getting funds to the Jewish underground, supporting children in hiding in France, and shipping relief packages to concentration camps wherever possible.

This card was issued by the International Committee for the Organization of European Immigrants in China, Shanghai. Claus Hirsch arrived in the United States in 1947 and became a United States citizen in 1953; he currently lives in New York City.

Rabbi Baeck acknowledged the receipt of JDC food packages in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

The story continues in our exhibit I Live. Send Help. Part II ...

Credits: Story

This online exhibit is an abridged version of a larger exhibit entitled “I Live. Send Help.: 100 Years of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee," which was presented at the New-York Historical Society from June 13, 2014 – September 21, 2014. A full traveling exhibit is available for loan. For further information, contact

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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