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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 2. Agro-Joint [work in Russia 1919-1938]

[2.1. Agro-Joint fights Jewish famine in Russia 1920-1922]

[Russia's entry into the American Relief Administration - demolished Russia with 2,750,000 Russian Jews]

Operations of JDC in Soviet Russia began with the entry into Russia of the American Relief Administration (ARA) in 1920/1. After war, revolution, and bloody civil strife, Russia had emerged as a starving country, battered into economic destitution, her trained labor force scattered, her railways torn up, and her bridges demolished. In the Ukraine, where a sizable proportion of the 2,750,000 Russian Jews lived, the terrible pogroms already mentioned caused a wave of horror to spread among American Jews and a corresponding desire to help. JDC, as an American philanthropic organization, rushed to the aid of Russian Jewry.

[1920-1922: JDC spends 4 mio. $ for relief for Jews]

By an agreement with ARA, $ 4 million was spent on Jewish relief up to 1922. This entailed soup kitchens, care for orphans, and other palliative measures taken under the direction of Boris D. Bogen, the JDC representative in Eastern Europe.

[Since 1921: JDC representative Dr. Joseph A. Rosen working in Russia]

After intervention by James N. Rosenberg in August 1921, Col. William N. Haskell, who cooperated with Herbert Hoover on the ARA program, invited Dr. Joseph A. Rosen to join ARA as JDC representative in Russia.

Rosen had a checkered history: He had fled from Siberia, where he had been exiled as a revolutionary with Menshevik leanings, and had come to the United States in 1903. By profession he was an agronomist, and he completed his training in the U.S. He developed a new variety of winter rye and had become an agricultural (p.57)

expert of international renown by the time he went to Russia. Rosen was a man of tremendous willpower and seems to have had a very impressive personality. While personally very modest, he possessed at the same time an overriding ambition to do whatever he could to save the Jews in Russia from starvation and degradation. In Russia he met Dr. Lubarsky, an agronomist friend with whom he had worked prior to the war, and engaged his services for JDC.

[1917: The Russian peasants get the soil - the Russian peasants don't produce enough - hunger and depth]

The problem facing the Soviet regime in Russia after the confiscation of the nobility's lands immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution was both grim and simple. Russia's main export prior to the war had been grain. This export surplus had come from large farms owned by the landowners or the state. After the revolution these lands had been divided up into small parcels and given to the vast masses of Russian peasants, to buy their support for the Bolshevik regime. These peasants, who previously had gone hungry within sight of the aristocratic palaces, produced very little more now than they had before. The grain surpluses now went to increase slightly the food rations of the Russian peasantry. Who would now provide food for the Russian cities and grain for export to pay for essential industrial goods?

The result of the agrarian revolution was that the Soviet regime was faced with the necessity of either forgoing any industrial expansion, which would run counter to the very base of its ideology, or else create large agricultural holdings to produce the necessary surpluses.

[Since 1919: Transportation system defect - no grain transports - famines - starvation for Jews especially]

In the early 1920s this situation caused a serious imbalance in the food production of the country; drought in certain areas could create a serious shortage of bread for the whole country. This was exacerbated by the destruction of the country's transportation system. In 1921 and 1922 situations such as these had created food shortages and mass starvation. This affected everyone, but the situation of the Jewish population, concentrated in the Ukraine with White Russia in small townships and large villages, was especially precarious.

[Rosen imports seed corn from the "USA" - respect at the Soviet leadership]

Rosen thought of a way to increase food production without actually increasing the acreage sown. This could not be achieved (p.58)

by the traditional methods of sowing wheat or barley, especially since the seed was lacking owing to the droughts. With full Soviet support, therefore, Rosen began the importation of seed corn from the United States, and 2.7 million acres in the Ukraine were sown with that crop. It is hard to gauge the importance of this intervention, but it is a fact that after that, Rosen enjoyed the confidence and respect of the Soviet leadership.

[1923/4: Rosen imports 86 tractors - more respect at the Soviet leadership]

His second very significant action was taken in 1923/4, when JDC started its reconstruction activities in Russia. In order to help the Jewish colonies then existing and the new colonies he was about to establish, Rosen imported 86 tractors, complete with spare parts and mechanics to work them. These were the first modern tractors that Russia had seen since the war, and Rosen's stock with the Soviet leadership rose accordingly.

[Dec 1922: ARA stops operations in Russia]
In the meantime ARA had ceased its operations, and since December 1922 JDC had been working in the Soviet Union by special agreement with the government.

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