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.
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….”
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.