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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
[D. 5.19.] The Baltic States [Lithuania and Latvia 1929-1938]

[Conditions in Lithuania and Latvia]

The Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia were an area of long-standing JDC interest - especially Lithuania. There, some 153,000 Jews fared better than in Poland. The reasons for this were, briefly, (p.220)

the smaller percentage (7.5 %) of Jews - Poland had about 10 %; their declared identification with Lithuanian national aspirations; the more rational economic structure of the country; and a spirit of local Jewish initiative. There was, however, a strong desire on the part of urban middle-class Lithuanians to take over Jewish positions in business, industry, and the professions. This movement received additional impetus from the events in neighboring [?] Germany.

[Jewish schools]
Jewish education was generally in Zionist hands and embraced some 190 elementary schools, in 180 of which Hebrew was taught. A number of Hebrew and Yiddish high schools taught the Jewish national languages as well as Lithuanian. These were considered private schools but received some financial assistance from the state treasury.

[Since 1919: Lithuania: Cooperative movement and JDC working]

The world economic crisis made itself felt in Lithuania as well, however, and JDC recognized the need for action there. The local cooperative movement was quite vigorous, and in 1936 there were 88 cooperatives with close to 17,000 members,

(End note 90: 41-Gen. & Emerg. Lithuania 1937-41-report, 10/1/37 [1 October 1937])

partially supported by JDC.

(End note 91: In 1937 JDC spent $ 24,824 in Lithuania)

[Reconstruction Foundation in Lithuania - kassas]

In addition, there were nineteen Reconstruction Foundation kassas in 1937, which gave out 56,000 loans averaging $ 107 per loan (thus indicating a much higher level of economic operation than in Poland).

[Lithuania: JDC health work - vocational schools - emigration to Palestine and South Africa]

Standards of health tended downward, pressure for emigration began to increase, and the JDC allocation to vocational schools went up because of the large demand for training that would prepare Jews for emigration.

(End note 92: See: Farn Folks-Gesundt; Kovno 1937; published by OSE. OSE's income decreased by 27 % between 1932 and 1935, with corresponding decreases in expenditure; but a JDC report in 1935 reported 40.5 % anemic and undernourished children, as against 33.5 % in 1932 (R16, May 1935).

Emigrants went largely to Palestine and South Africa and caused a slow decline in the Jewish population in Lithuania. While there were no overtly anti-Semitic laws or regulations, local disturbances on the Polish model did occur, though to a lesser degree than in Poland. Kahn summarized the Lithuanian situation by saying that it was "not quite so bad (as in Poland and Latvia), but nevertheless worse than previously."

(End note 93: R16, Kahn, on 11/19/35 [19 November 1935]; There were a ritual murder accusation and a pogrom in 1935 (at Telsiai); See: Jewish Chronicle, 4/19/35 [19 April 1935], 10/18/35 [18 October 1935])

[So, there were pogroms and some robbery, but perhaps no deaths. This has to be investigated].

[Latvia: Regime of Karlis Ulmanis destroys Jewry]

Latvia was a different case altogether. The 93,000 Jews in that country were being systematically deprived of their means of livelihood by the Karlis Ulmanis dictatorship, which had (p.221)

come to power in 1934 [since 15 May 1934]. As in other countries, the Jewish population was declining: 6,000 had emigrated since 1925 and the birthrate was going down. Jewish factories were being taken over by the state;

[Latvia: Discriminations in professions]

since 1930 no Jewish doctor had been allowed to practice, and government monopolies based on the Polish model (for the sale of agricultural products, among other things - a  major Jewish trade) almost automatically meant not only the pauperization of former Jewish owners, but the sudden unemployment of many Jewish workers as well. With the ruin of the intellectuals and the traders, Jews tended to move into manual work, but the transition was difficult because of the opposition of Lettish workers.

The Jewish educational system was run by the Agudah, the only Jewish body that cooperated with the government. JDC gave very little help, and what it did give was mainly channeled through its credit institutions. As in other countries, by the end of the 1930s, everyone realized that emigration was the only feasible solution - but there was nowhere to go. European Jewry remained trapped.

[There was no Haavarah agreement for Baltic Jews... and emigration was going on on a low level]