Rescue, Relief, and Renewal: 100 Years of "the Joint" in Poland Part I

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archives

Experience Jewish life in Poland in black and white through the lens of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ("the Joint").

JDC, commonly known overseas as “the Joint,” is a global humanitarian organization established in 1914, at the outset of World War I, in response to Jewish suffering in Eastern Europe and Palestine. In the face of war, pogroms, poverty, and other constraints including expulsions over the last 102 years, the Joint has worked extensively in Poland.

Even after the outbreak of World War II, the Joint continued to provide assistance to needy Jews. When the United States entered the war in December 1941, the Joint was compelled to cease its operations in Poland, but local staff members continued their efforts to aid starving Jews, including in the Warsaw ghetto.

At the end of 1949, the Joint was forced by the Communist authorities in Poland to terminate its activities. Less than 10 years later, in 1957, the Polish government reached out to the Joint to renew its work in the country.

In 1967, following the Six Day War in the Middle East, the Joint’s work once again was abruptly interrupted. After being accused of espionage, the Joint was forced to terminate its activities in Poland. At that time, more than 11,000 Jews were receiving Joint assistance. It became a major challenge to continue to provide aid, particularly for impoverished and ill Holocaust survivors. But the Joint always managed to find pathways to reach those in need.

More than 12 years later, another opportunity emerged for the Joint to resume working in Poland. Negotiations with government officials began in 1981, during the visit of a delegation headed by the Joint’s President, Henry Taub, and Ralph I. Goldman, its Executive Vice President. On December 14, 1981, the Polish government, represented by Jerzy Kuberski (head of the Office of Religious Affairs), and Ralph Goldman signed an agreement allowing the Joint to return once more to Poland.

Health Care and Feeding Programs 
From its earliest involvement in Poland, the Joint focused on health care and feeding programs. 

In 1921, the Joint initiated the Society for Safeguarding Health (known as Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia [TOZ]), and it went on to support the establishment of Jewish hospitals, child care institutions, and food distribution stations throughout the country in cooperation with local Jewish institutions. Over 60 such institutions were supported by the Joint in 1929.

Feeding programs were a major aspect of the Joint’s work, with children and adults alike benefiting from such assistance during the interwar years.

In the decades following the Holocaust, school food programs developed by the Joint encouraged Jewish parents to register their children in Jewish schools, where they could receive a daily hot meal.

Vocational Training and "Productivization"
In the face of desperate poverty, the Joint’s approach to social welfare work entailed helping Polish Jews devise new solutions to economic needs.

In the interwar period, the Joint transitioned to social reconstruction work by supporting existing community organizations and establishing communal entities; it funded programs to train social workers and established nursing schools.

The Joint worked with ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation through Training) to develop vocational training programs that included workshops for Jewish craftsmen, and it established loan kassas (interest-free loan banks) to help clients establish small businesses.

A post-World War II model of “productivization” aimed to help Jews adapt to the economic realities of Communist-era Poland.

The Joint and ORT developed cooperatives for different trades in order to provide livelihoods for Jewish repatriates and survivors. These programs enabled families to achieve self-sufficiency.

In 1947, Jewish cooperatives comprised 95% of all cooperatives in the Wrocław district and 81% in the Szczecin district.

Child care was a Joint focus from its earliest days of operation, from helping Jewish orphans who had lost their parents in pogroms to educating and feeding Jewish children in Joint-supported children’s homes during the interwar period. 

Joint-supported Jewish schools were operated by a variety of groups, including the Central Committee of the Jews in Poland, Zionist groups, and religious organizations.

The death toll among children during the Holocaust was staggering. Out of a prewar population of approximately 1,000,000, not more than 5,000 Jewish children, many of them orphans, survived the war on Polish soil. The majority needed immediate medical assistance. Their numbers increased to 25,000 following repatriation from the USSR.

With the Joint’s support, Jewish institutions once again began operating throughout Poland within several months of liberation. Orphanages and sanatoria for children, Jewish schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, vocational training programs, and other community services were soon in place to serve the Jewish community.

For all of these children, the Joint soon became a foster family.

Assistance for the Elderly
From its beginnings in Poland, the Joint provided life-saving services for elderly members of the Jewish community. 

After World War II, services included the provision of food packages and medical assistance, aid made necessary by the fact that the majority of aging Holocaust survivors did not have living family members to look after them. Over time, this aging generation came to need constant care. As a result of negotiations with the Polish government, JDC undertook to build a modern Jewish home for the aged in Warsaw, which opened in 1963. At that time, no one could predict that the organization would be expelled from Poland in 1967.

Following the Joint’s return to Poland in 1981, JDC helped support the Central Jewish Welfare Commission, which provided direct aid to needy elderly.

Today, JDC is working to renew Jewish life in Poland.

The story continues in our exhibit Rescue, Relief, and Renewal: 100 Years of "the Joint" in Poland Part II ...

Credits: Story

This is an abridged version of an original exhibition presented at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow in 2014, curated by Anna Sommer Schneider. The exhibition was a collaboration among the Galicia Jewish Museum, the JDC Archives, and JDC’s Poland Office. The traveling exhibit was presented at two venues in the U.S. in 2016. Institutions interested in hosting the exhibit should contact the Galicia Jewish Museum at

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.
Translate with Google