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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]

[2.3. Agro-Joint help work in Russia with kassas, health and children 1923-1930]

[Loan kassas]

From the beginning of its reconstructive activities in 1923, JDC had also been engaged in establishing loan kassas, medical aid, (p.75)

child care, and trade schools. This activity was called "non-Agro work" in JDC parlance. Between 1924 and 1933, $ 1,760,000 was spent on this kind of effort. In the 1920s, with Russian industry barely creeping up to its prewar standards, there was, and could be, no hope of industrializing the Jewish masses. Help would have to take the form of loan kassas and child and medical aid - the traditional standbys of JDC work in Eastern Europe. Indeed, very little else could be done - the means placed at Rosen's disposal were too small. Palliative help, such as soup kitchens, would demand much more money, degrade the recipients, and accomplish nothing in terms of the long-term improvement. Rosen did the best he could with the means at his disposal.

At first, up to July 1929, the Agro-Joint supported the loan kassas. These traditional institutions provided credit on easy terms to various elements; but from 1927 on, in accordance with a new Soviet law, they concentrated on loans to artisans. In 1927 there were 370 such kassas, and they aided some 80 % of all Jewish artisans in White Russia and the Ukraine. In 1929 these credit kassas were taken over by the government, after having been helped by the state in up to 80 % of the credits received by them in 1928. In their short existence they had tided a large number of artisans' cooperatives over difficult periods, and they were also instrumental in aiding a number of lishentsy to become full citizens by joining officially recognized artels (government producers' cooperatives). They did not disappear altogether. They were not all absorbed by the state, and in 1930 some sixty-seven of them, with 60,000 members, still existed, together with 21 producer cooperatives not as yet recognized by the government.

However, the overall situation of the Jewish artisan was not materially eased, and new methods of working for the lishentsy and the artisans had to be found. This was done by means of mutual aid societies (the dopomogs), which were recognized by the government as legal institutions and were allowed to look after the lishentsy as well. Their development was very rapid. There were only (p.76)

55 of them in 1927, but by 1931 there were 240 with 250,000 members. 54 of these mutual aid societies were being supported by the Agro-Joint. One of their main characteristics was their gradual unification with the medical societies founded by JDC during its initial help to Russian Jewry in the early 1920s. Its clinics, hospitals, and other institutions were not aided by the government because they were serving mostly lishentsy. JDC supported them, and as the mutual aid societies grew these medical institutions became part of their setup, which included also productive cooperative enterprises. This meant that there was now a source of money for the medical institutions through the productive cooperatives of the aid societies. JDC, mindful of its mandate to help people to help themselves, welcomed this development.

[1931: Agro-Joint's Homes, public kitchens, welfare cases - aid for lishentsy]

By 1931 there were 50 homes for the aged with 1,400 inmates; 40 children's homes; 100 lunchrooms, where 8,000 people were fed at nominal prices; and 4,510 welfare cases that were being handled. Most important, these mutual aid societies established cooperatives composed to a large extent of lishentsy, who were engaged in various kinds of artisanship and thus were working their way back into full citizens' rights.

The marketing of their products was no problem. After 1927 the Russian market absorbed anything that industry could produce, even goods of very shoddy quality. The bottleneck was the provision of raw materials, of which Russia at the time had a limited supply. That supply went to the artels, and only the leftovers, if any, were given to the cooperatives of lishentsy. JDC, through Agro-Joint, tried to supply the aid societies with credits, machinery, and imported raw materials, thus enabling them to establish themselves on a reasonably stable footing.

By 1929 there were 12 producer cooperatives not connected with any society and 63 societies, whose members operated some 300 shops of kustar (artisan) production. In 1929 Agro-Joint advanced about 764,000 rubles in loans to these societies - this included medical work as well - and a great deal was done with these rather small sums. In 1930, 936,000 rubles were spent on (p.77)

these activities, and in 1931 the aid societies operated 345 shops employing 18,680 persons, while 3,000 more persons found a living in the 37 independent producer's cooperatives. The medical societies attached to the aid societies treated 1.5 mio. people that year.

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