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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 5. Prelude of the Holocaust
[B. Destruction of the Jewish existence in Romania 1929-1939]

[5.14. Joint Distribution Committee supports children in Romania - famine in Bessarabia 1935]

Help to children was especially important in the Máramarossziget area [in the North] and in northern Transylvania generally, where just about the only hope for the future seemed to be to save the children from the effects of starvation. 1,300 children were fed in that area in 1933; this grew to 5,000 by 1935. As for the summer camps, about 30% of their budgets were covered by JDC, the principle being - as in Poland - that the larger proportion of the funds had to be found locally.

[JDC work in Cluj (Klausenburg) - support for children]

In Cluj (Klausenburg), the capital of Transylvania, there was a very effective Jewish child care society, which expanded its work in the 1930s and became a source of pride for JDC. By 1937 it not only ran eighteen recreation and health centers for children, but it also went into vocational training and convinced the ultra-Orthodox groups to open training centers where part of the time was devoted to traditional yeshivah studies and part to carpentry and other pursuits. It also ran four homes for apprentices and permanently supplemented the feeding of over 1,000 children. The Cluj group received about one-sixth of its budget from JDC and managed to find the rest locally.

(End note 71: R62; the budget for 1937 was 3,767,565 lei; JDC participation in this came to 638,382 lei)

The importance of this work stood out against the general backwardness of the country: in 1940, infant mortality in Romania was 188 per 1000, higher than that in India in the same year.

(End note 72: The Era of Violence; In: The New Cambridge Modern History, 12:49)

Among Jews it was considerably lower.

The summer camp program was also concentrated largely in (p.211)

Table 15: JDC Allocations in Romania (in $)
Total amount allocated
Amount allocated for children
Percentage of total


Transylvania. The numbers were fairly  constant - about 3-4,000 children (3,700 in 1937) were given the opportunity to spend their summers in about 30 camps, to whose budget JDC contributed a third.

[JDC work in Bessarabia: Coping of a famine 1935 - medical care]

An especially serious situation developed in Bessarabia, which had a large Jewish peasant population. There was a crop failure in 1935. In December of that year a JDC press release reported "serious famine conditions" which "threaten half of the Jewish population of Bessarabia and part of the population of Moldavia". About 30,000 Jews were reported to be on the verge of starvation. Kahn authorized the expenditure of $ 5,000 to start a feeding program. This sum was soon spent, and additional sums had to be sent to Bessarabia throughout the spring of 1936.

Medical aid also became necessary because of the spread of skin diseases, and clothes were collected because children had only rags to wear.

(End note 73:
-- Executive Committee, 12/20/35 [20 December 1935];
-- R15, Report and Bulletin, January and April 1936;
-- Jewish Chronicle, 1/3/36 [3 January 1936])

[Bessarabia: Help for famine affected Jews provokes anti-Semitism in the German population]

Paradoxically, the plight of the Jews increased rather than diminished the spread of anti-Semitism, because a "large part of the hunger-stricken area (was) inhabited by German colonists who (were) all under Nazi influence."

(End note 74: Kahn to Hyman, 1/15/36 [15 January 1936], Gen. & Emerg. Romania, 1933-37)

Peasant unrest became one of the major influences that brought about the rise of the Right under Goga.