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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 1. A Time of Crisis: 1929-1932

[1.1. The Joint's structures and leading persons]

[JDC structure: 4 or 5 leading persons - ratification of decisions in every committee]

JDC has always prided itself on being a philanthropic organization run on business lines. Actual power in this organization rested not so much in its formal structure, its national council, its board of directors, or its Executive Committee, but rather in a small group of four or five individuals who actually made the necessary decisions and then had them ratified in the various committees, thus observing the rules of a kind of formal democracy and appeasing the traditional representatives of the religious as well as labor circles who had helped found the organization.

[JDC structure: Chairman Felix M. Warburg - married with daughter of Jacob H. Schiff]

The chairman, a founder and outstanding figure in JDC during these early years, was Felix M. Warburg. A member of a family of German Jewish banking aristocrats, he had come from Hamburg as a young man and had married the daughter of Jacob H. Schiff, who had taken him into the firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Co.

[Warburg respects all Jews as Jews]

Felix Warburg was a man of great sincerity and conviction, a fine, warm human being who was moved by a genuine feeling of compassion toward his fellowman, particularly toward his "coreligionists". Despite his parochial German Jewish background, he found no difficulty in dealing with and being sympathetic to the East European Jewish masses. As one of his associates put it many years later, to Warburg, "even Jews in Romania were human beings, a proposition which was not always accepted by everyone here." He had a very real concern for simply helping people, a (p.19)

concern that obviously was not based on any desire for status or social standing. His main motivation was an aristocratic yet somehow humble sense of noblesse oblige.

JDC was for Warburg "his" organization, and his rule was patriarchal and at times somewhat high-handed. As he and a few others tended to be responsible for the majority of funds raised for this organization, they saw no reason to be shy about implementing their own ideas without much parliamentary attention to the democratic structure.

[Warburg: Bank - Jewish affairs - and non-Jewish organizations]

He had many compartments to his life. One was the bank, which was an obligation but neither a dominant interest nor a great satisfaction. He once described this aspect of his life as having taught him how to "draw the honey from even the sour flowers".

His world of philanthropy was dominated by Jewish affairs, but did not prevent him from being a key figure in the nonsectarian settlement house programs, the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, and so on, as well as one of the founders of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and the American Jewish Committee.

He was deeply involved with cultural activities in New York, particularly in music and the various museums which he helped generously. Above all, he was a joyous, warm man who was constantly stimulated by his friends and associates, in return for which he supported them in their manifold activities.

He was not a good public speaker, but his warmth and intimacy, his straightforwardness, and his obvious lack of guile were refreshing. He was politically naive, and was very much astounded that he could not win over the Jewish political leaders to his way of thinking as simply as he had won over his colleagues on the domestic scene.

[JDC structure: Paul Baerwald, a conservative, shy man]

Paul Baerwald, also a banker, worked in JDC with Warburg and was a faithful supporter and friend of Warburg's. Baerwald was a far cry from Warburg, with his warm and engaging personality. A serious, rather shy man, Baerwald tended to be cautious and conservative where Warburg was innovative. Baerwald always desired to do what the powers that be considered "right"; he certainly had the courage of his convictions - but his convictions usually happened (p.20)

to coincide with the most conservative interpretation of any given situation. Baerwald was most convincing in person-to-person contact, where his overwhelming desire to do good and his great sincerity would stand out. As a chairman of JDC in the 1930s and after Warburg's death, he was a rather pale reflection of his predecessor.

[JDC structure: James N. Rosenberg, a conservative lawyer with enthusiasm and drive - anti-Zionist]

Another individual of great importance in JDC was James N. Rosenberg, a lawyer whom Warburg had drawn into JDC. Rosenberg tended to be on the conservative side as well, but he was extreme and brash where Baerwald was cautious and shy. Rosenberg left an indelible mark on JDC. We shall have occasion to discuss his distaste of Zionism and its proponents; although he supported Warburg's attempts to come to terms with Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader, in the 1920s and the 1930s, he was in fact much more reserved and even hostile to Zionism than Warburg. On the other hand, Rosenberg's enthusiasm and tremendous drive were important factors in getting JDC involved with the great attempt to help with the economic and social problems of Russian Jews, which will be discussed later.

[JDC structure: Secretary Joseph C. Hyman, executive head]

Joseph C. Hyman, the secretary, occupied a definitely inferior role, but he was very important as the actual executive head of the organization.

[JDC structure: Plans in New York - real work in Europe - plans by Kahn and Rosen]

Plans for fund raising and the overall budget were decided on in New York, but the real work of JDC was done in Europe. There, almost all decisions were placed in the hands of two individuals of great intellectual stature, Dr. Bernhard Kahn, head of the European office of JDC in Berlin, and Dr. Joseph A. Rosen, head of JDC's Russian work.

[JDC structure: Dr. Bernhard Kahn, "Mr. Joint"]

We shall deal with Rosen in the discussion of the work done in Russia, but for the rest of Europe, Dr. Kahn was "Mr. Joint". The group of Jewish German-Americans, financiers and lawyers, who in fact ran JDC needed a man they could trust and who would interpret their ideas in the actual operations of JDC. Kahn was a German-educated Jew, a man Warburg could rely on.

Born in Sweden of Lithuanian Jewish parents, he was a brilliant man, well-versed in Jewish law and lore, with a good knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish. He spoke all the (p.21)

great European languages, was deeply steeped in German culture, and was an expert in economics, with a long record of work not only with JDC, but prior to the JDC with the Hilfsverein, the great German Jewish philanthropic organization. An early adherent of the Zionist movement, Kahn had been a delegate to the 1903 Zionist Congress that had rejected the proposal to direct Zionist endeavors temporarily to Uganda.

He was a reserved man, outwardly rather cold and pedantic but deeply desirous of helping fellow Jews. He was the kind of man the JDC leadership was looking for. Utterly and absolutely reliable and responsible, extremely competent, he was sufficiently conservative and rigid to recommend him to the New York office of JDC, and at the same time a man of complete independence of mind, capable of a great deal of imaginative thinking, who happened to agree with the JDC group as to how the agency should be run.

There was never the slightest trace of subservience about Kahn, never a suspicion that he was not at all times honest with himself and his office in New York.

[JDC structure: "USA" group - Kahn group - Rosen group]

In fact, it even looked as though JDC was divided into three separate parts - the money-raising agency in America and two independent disbursing corporations: one under Kahn and the other under Rosen.

[JDC structure: Inner circle Warburg, Baerwald, Kahn, Rosen, Rosenberg, Hyman]

Warburg, Baerwald, Kahn, Rosen, Rosenberg, and Hyman - these men constituted the inner circle that determined JDC policy. Except for Hyman and Rosen, most of Warburg's lay associates in JDC work, members of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors, were of the German Jewish aristocracy in American Jewish life.

[JDC structure: Louis Marshall]

Up to his death in 1929, the towering personality of Louis Marshall provided a rallying point for these circles.

[JDC contacts to other organizations]

There were close personal ties between the lay leaders of all the major American Jewish philanthropic and social organizations and the American Jewish Committee, disagreements on Zionism notwithstanding.

[Warburg's position in the middle group around Marshall - without Zionism, without nationalism]

Warburg and his friends belonged to that middle group in the argument on Zionism that centered around Marshall. Warburg never subscribed to Julius Rosenwald's anti-Zionism, though Rosenwald was the most important financial supporter of JDC. (p.22)

Together with Marshall, Warburg lent his hand in the agreement with Weizmann that set up the Jewish Agency for Palestine in 1929. Warburg always remained basically faithful to this alliance with Weizmann, despite his non-Zionism and his very serious disagreements with the great Zionist leader. Palestine was not a matter of "only" to him, as it was with Weizmann, but of "also", and he and his circle did not adopt the Zionist attitude of "the judges" - Brandeis, Mack, Frankfurter - and their circle. Warburg never quite accepted the idea of Jewish nationalism, and he looked upon its representatives with a great deal of suspicion.

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