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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 [Whole chapter]
[A. Destruction of the Jewish existence in Poland 1929-1939]

5.1. Poland [Military regimes and anti-Semitic parties since 1926]

After the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s there was a tendency for the attention of well-meaning Jews and non-Jews to concentrate on the plight of the half million German Jews. Poland and East European countries generally seemed, by comparison, to be havens of safety and prosperity.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Politically, the Jews of Poland were caught between the Polish government and the opposition, and they became a totally helpless minority.

[1926: Military coup and Pilsudski regime - no adequate Jewish representation in the parliament]
In 1926 a military coup brought down parliamentary government, and a military dictatorship was set up under Marshal Józef Pilsudski. Originally, the left wing - composed of the United Peasant party and the socialists (the Polish initials were PPS) - maintained a benevolent neutrality toward the new regime. Soon, however, they turned against it.

The right-wing National Democrats (or Endeks, as they were called), representative of the Polish middle classes, had been the party in power before 1926; now they were in bitter opposition.

In the rigged parliamentary election in 1930, government-sponsored deputies had gained a majority.

With the destruction of democratic parliamentarism, the minorities - and the Jews among them - could no longer hope for adequate and free representation in the Sejm (Polish parliament). (p.180)

The government tried to gain popularity with the opposition by leaning to the right.

[The National Democrats (Endek party) - split of right extreme ONR]
In the Endek party itself, a younger, semi-Fascist, and virulently anti-Semitic clique gained ascendancy. Even that was not enough, however, and an extreme pro-Fascist and anti-Semitic group split off from the Endeks to found a party called ONR.

[April 1935: Dictator law - adoption of right extreme proposals - anti-Semitic measures]
The government did not wish to relinquish power, and it institutionalized its dictatorship by a new constitution, which the Sejm passed in April 1935, a few weeks before Pilsudski's death. In order to maintain power, however, the government adopted many of the policies advocated by its right-wing critics, including the anti-Semitic measures.

[Since May 1935: Marshal Smigly-Rydz]
After May 1935 the leadership of the government was in the hands of a clique of army officers and aristocratic politicians concentrated around the weak and vain Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz. Pilsudski himself had been opposed to active anti-Semitism, and the feeling among the Jews was that he had protected them against the right-wing tendencies of the regime. After his death these tendencies had a much freer reign.

[Early 1937: Foundation of semi-Fascist OZN]
In early 1937 government supporters themselves founded a new party, known as OZN, which represented the views of semi-Fascist elements in the army, the bureaucracy, and the middle classes. OZN was intended to catch the votes of the government's right-wing opponents, and it engaged in anti-Semitic propaganda.

The Jews could not support the rightist opposition; and the government, originally considered a protector, had become an enemy.

[Since early 1937: The left opposition with peasants and PPS]
There remained the left-wing opposition. The peasants, under their radical leader, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, tended to the left after early 1937. Together with PPS, they probably represented well over half the population. The peasants, despite anti-Semitic tendencies, saw through the government policies and refused to let Jew-baiting sidetrack them from their basic demand for the division of land.

Nor was PPS free from anti-Semitism; its Jewish ally, the Bund, was never able to conclude an open political alliance with PPS. Nevertheless, on a local plane and on a number of issues there was cooperation between these two socialist parties. (p.181)

[Nov 1938: Terror elections bring OZN group an absolute majority]
The actual strength of the political parties in Poland can be gleaned from the events of late 1938. In November of that year the government's OZN group received an absolute majority in general elections held under conditions of virtual terror.

[Dec 1938: Communal elections with big left parts]
Yet in the communal elections of December 1938 PPS and the Bund, working in unison, received 43 % of the votes in Warsaw, 35 % in Cracow, and 55 % in Lodz. Undoubtedly, this victory of the Left eased the Jewish position somewhat in the late 1930s.

[Jewish policy in anti-Semitic Poland]

The international political structure of the Jewish community was characterized by the large number of political organizations. Their relative strengths have never been satisfactorily established, for all elections in the 1930s were rigged and could not mirror the true state of affairs. In 1930 there were ten Jewish representatives in the parliament, of whom three were elected as a result of government pressure. Of the rest, six were Zionist; the Bund had not participated in the elections. In 1935 Jewish representation dwindled to four, of whom three were Zionists and one a government supporter, an Agudist.

In 1938 there were three Zionists and two Agudists.

In late 1938 and early 1939, on the other hand, it was obvious that a large majority of Jewish voters in the cities had voted for the Bund in the municipal elections. This meant that the Jewish population had become more radical and preferred the Bund, but it did not mean that Jews had weakened in their interest in Zionism and Palestine.

(End note 1: A Tartakower: Yiddishe Politik und Yiddshe Kultur in Polen; In: Allgemeine Encyclopedie, article: Yiden; See also: Jewish Chronicle 9/28/36 [28 September 1936], p.24, where figures for the 1936 communal elections show that the Bund obtained 15 out of 46 seats, various Zionist parties got 18, and the Agudah, 10).

One could vote for the Bund in municipal elections and support Zionism at the same time. The vote for the Bund was really the expression of despair. The overall picture, then, was one of political decline, of a government pandering to anti-Semitic prejudices, and of progressive radicalization among the Jewish population.

[1927-1938: Perpetual economic crisis in Poland and high unemployment]

Back of this situation lay, of course, the economic crisis, which persisted in Poland until late 1938. Official unemployment statistics in Poland were traditionally suspect, but even these showed that while in 1927 there were 165,300 unemployed, by 1935 this number had increased to 402,000. One historian put the real number of unemployed in Poland in the second half of the decade (p.182)

at 1.5 million.

(End note 2: R14, Kahn material, November 1936; and Hans Roos: Geschichte der Polnischen Nation 1916-1960 [English: History of the Polish Nation]; Stuttgart 1961, p. 144. Poland's economic policy had not changed since the late 1920s; it was still wedded to the idea of a state capitalism, and it continued to utilize government monopolies to evict Jews from their occupations).

Government bureaucracy was omnipresent, large and costly.


[5.2. Discrimination and murderous pogroms in anti-Semitic Poland 1935-1939]

[Discrimination of Jews Poland is harsher than in the Third Reich]
The economic problems, which will be discussed below, were accompanied by a growing crescendo of physical attacks by anti-Semitic elements on the Jewish population. At times these attacks tended to overshadow the dismal poverty into which the Jewish masses were sinking. The physical attacks were accompanied by acts of deliberate discrimination that equaled, and often exceeded, the steps taken by Germany's Nazis at that time.

[March 1935: Lodz: Subsidies for Jewish institutions abolished]

In early March 1935 the Endeks [National Democrats] ruling in the municipality of Lodz (a town with a Jewish population of 200,000) abolished all subsidies to Jewish institutions.

(End note 3: Jewish Chronicle, 3/22/35 [22 March 1935], p.22)

[Late 1935-1937: Discrimination of Jewish students from universities enforced]
Late in 1935 the long-standing Endek demand to separate Jewish university students from their non-Jewish colleagues was put into operation in Lwów; the Warsaw Polytechnic followed suit in October 1937, as did the universities of Vilna, Cracow, and Poznan.

(End note 4: Ibid. [Jewish Chronicle], 12/20/35, 1/17/36. R61-report on Poland, February 1939, 46-report 1938; special bulletin of AJC [American Jewish Committee], 2/1/38 [1 Feb 1938])

[Since early 1935: Boycotts and pogroms against Jews with stones, fire and many murders]
Starting in early 1935, boycotts of Jews spread all through the Polish countryside. These were followed by pogroms: window-smashing, the overturning of Jewish market stalls, beatings, arson, and finally murder. The details of these brutalities are repetitive and terrible.

In 1935 pogroms took place at Radomsko in April, at Radosc (near Warsaw) and Grochow in May, at Grodno in May. In December [1935] these isolated occurrences began to harden into a campaign: disturbances in Klwow, Lodz, Katowice, Kielce, and Hrubieszow were followed in January 1936 by attacks on Jews in Cracow and Warsaw, among other places.

On March 9, 1936, a terrible pogrom occurred at Przytyk, where two Jews were killed and many houses burned: Bombs were thrown in those same months in 13 more towns, including Minsk Mazowiecki; there a second pogrom occurred in early June and, after four Jews had been killed, most of the Jewish population left for Warsaw.

During 1936 and early 1937 the pogroms became a daily occurrence in Poland, and clearly indicated increasingly better oganization. In Czestochowa riots started in June 1937 (p.183)

with a fight between two porters; a well-organized boycott movement against the Jews prolonged the unrest there for months.

Kahn discerned "carefully planned activities of anti-Semitic elements, in which high government officials participated." In the course of the Czestochowa pogrom, the Endek paper Ganiec Czestochowski gave lists of streets on which Jews had not as yet been robbed.

(End note 5: Large amounts of material on the pogroms are available at the JDC archives, files R13, R52, R60, 8-21, 14-5, 46-reports 1936, 1937, 1938; See also: WAC, Boxes 345 and 366. The quotation is taken from Kahn's report, 6/7/37, in R52; See also: Jewish Chronicle 4/19, 5/3, 5/10, 6/14, 9/6, 11/2, 12/6, 12/13/35; 3/13, 3/27/36; et seq.)

75 Jews were wounded in this particular outbreak.

In May 1937 another outbreak occurred at Brest Litovsk, where a number of Jews were killed and some 200 wounded.

(End note 6: R13_Hyman's report to the Budget and Scope Committee, 6/27/37; see also WAC, Box 366 (a)

Between May 1935 and January 1937, 118 Jews were killed and 1,350 wounded; 137 Jewish stores were destroyed. A total of 348 separate violent mass assaults on Jews were counted during the period, and the compilation was termed both "unofficial" and "incomplete". Another compilation showed that between the end of 1935 and March 1939, 350 Jews had been killed and 500 wounded.

(End note 7:
-- New York Times, 2/7/37 [7 Feb 1937];
-- R10-American Jewish Committee review of the European situation, 3/30/39 [30 March 1939] (by Moses Moskowitz)

The wave of pogroms did not abate throughout 1937 and 1938. In August 1937 five severe outbreaks occurred in central Poland, and anti-Jewish demonstrations occurred in seven towns, including the capital.

(End note 8: WAC, Box 366 (f)

One result of these events was an increased movement of the Jews from smaller places, where they felt themselves exposed, to the larger towns, where  they thought they would be safer.

But in early 1938 the riots spread to Warsaw, and from then on attacks on Jews in the larger cities became a normal occurrence.

[Jews on strike and self-defense units against riots - police supports the pogroms]
Several times the Jews reacted by demonstrations and general strikes (March 1936, May and June 1937). In Warsaw and Lodz the Bund tried to create Jewish self-defense units. These were supported by PPS as well, but police intervention in favor of the pogromists

(End note 9: "Jews have been deserting many villages en masse and going to the cities, their property burned down and their very lives endangered" - JDC Executive Committee (ECO), 9/23/37 [23 September 1937])

neutralized Jewish opposition.

(End note 10: 44-3, cable 3/20/38 [20 March 1938]; ibid., 8-21

[1938-1939: Poland: Boycott movements in anti-Semitic Poland ruin Jewish communities]

In 1938 and 1939 the anti-Jewish boycott movement became more and more effective. Again, it was mainly the small Jewish communities that were hit, and in this a parallel to the experience in Germany can clearly be discerned. These boycott actions were usually organized by the Endeks, but by early 1939 the government OZN group also supported them.

In February 1939 an OZN- (p.184)

inspired boycott in the Lublin area caused Jewish economic life to be "practically ruined".

(End note 11: R61, February 1939)

The number of Jewish stores in town after town decreased, while the Polish stores grew in number, despite the continued economic crisis.

(End note 12:
-- JDC, 45-publicity, Warszawski Dziennik Narodowy, 4/14/38;
-- R28-Fortnightly Digest, no. 14 (5/1/38 [1 May 1938], et seq.)

[Early 1939: Poland: Deportations of Jews from the frontier towns]

In early 1939 Jews were forced to leave certain frontier towns because they were considered to be unreliable elements - as though Jews were less interested in resistance to the Germans than were the Poles. In this connection "almost one-quarter of the Jewish population of Gdynia was deported".  At Katowice it was "feared that half the local Jewish population may be forced to emigrate elsewhere."

(End note 13: See note 11 [R61, February 1939])

[1939: Anti-Semitism also in Western and Northwestern Poland]
Riots, pogroms, and boycotts now spread to areas in western and northwestern Poland, where the number of Jews was very small; up till then these areas had been spared from excesses.

(End note 14: 45-publicity, bulletin, 3/10/30 [10 March 1930]; thus a bloody pogrom in Dobrzyn caused "many Jews to be wounded", etc.; at the same time the pogroms did not cease elsewhere).

[April 1936: Poland: Law against ritual slaughter]
Jews, especially observant Jews, who formed the majority of Polish Jewry, were hard hit by Polish laws against ritual slaughter (shehita) enacted in April 1936 and, in a final and drastic form, in March 1939. Not only was religious freedom sharply diminished, but a large number of Jewish butchers and supervisors of ritual slaughter were threatened with economic ruin.

[March 1939: Poland is threatened after German occupation of CSR - laws against Jews in anti-Semitic Poland]
The general and extreme anti-Jewish movement, both political and economic, continued until the spring of 1939. Only with the increased Polish-German tension after Hitler's conquest of Czechoslovakia in March did Polish anti-Semitism show signs of weakening, as the attention of the Polish nationialists became directed outward.

Yet the long campaign against the Jews was even then by no means over; on the contrary, it was the clear intention of the middle-class parties to enact openly anti-Jewish legislation. Laws modeled on Nazi legislation were to include "the revision of citizenship and the elimination of the Jews from the economic and cultural life of Poland."

(End note 15: 44-4, memo, 5/1/39 [1 May 1939])


[5.3. Structure of criminal anti-Semitism in Poland in the 1930s: Church - economy - nationalism]

[1930s: Three elements of anti-Semitism in Poland]

Polish anti-Semitism in the 1930s drew its inspiration from three sources:

-- the traditional, historic enmity of a Catholic people to the Jewish minority;
-- economic competition exacerbated by crisis conditions;
-- and a virulent form of nationalism that was influenced by Fascist models.

[There was already an anti-Semitism before 1929. So, with the world wide economic crisis since 1929 anti-Semitism in Poland is rising to a level during the whole 1930s which is in Nazi Germany reached only in 1938].

[The propaganda of the Polish Catholic church against the Jewish population]

The historic element was most clearly expressed by the church, (p.185)

which exercised a tremendous influence and used it to agitate in fairly extreme terms against the Jews. Although paying lip service to its abhorrence of "the eruption of human passions" generally, a statement by the Catholic Press Agency in early 1936 declared the Catholic belief in "the cultural separation of Poles and Jews".

It thought that Jewish youth was generally "badly brought up, which sets a bad example for Christian youth". Jews were accused of having Communist leanings. "As to other negative traits of the Jewish character", the statement continued, "even writers of Jewish origin do not fail to emphasize them. In the forefront of the fight against Christianity in Poland, there too Israel's sons are being found".

Anti-Jewish boycotts were justified because it was no sin to defend the laborer against exploitation.

(End note 16: 46-reports 1936/7-Catholic Press Agency statement, 1/25/36 [25 January 1936], Moskowitz-Schneidermann report, March 1937)

"The Jews are ulcers on the Polish body", declared a Polish paper, and another Catholic writer thought that while "no power will be able to stop" the hatred between the Jews and Poles, "this hatred is highly beneficial to our Polish trade and to our country".

(End note 17:
-- Lukomski in Sprawy Katolicke, Lomza, 11/10/36 [10 November 1936],
-- and Kerwalski in Gazetta Swiateczna, no. 2915 (1936);
-- 46-report)

Traditional anti-Semitism could also be discerned in aristocratic circles, as in the newspaper Czas, which was under the influence of Prince Radziwill and Prince Lubomirski. The peasant leaders declared that they opposed anti-Semitism radically, "but they could not ignore the importance of polonizing industry and relieving the peasant from exploitation by the Jewish traders".

(End note 18: CON-17, 7/1/38 [1 July 1938], memo by Raymond L. Bull of the Foreign Policy Association to the American Jewish Committee)

[1928-1934: Economic desaster in anti-Semitic Poland provokes poverty of traders and farmers - measures against the Jewish competitors]
One can see in these opinions the overlapping of the economic and nationalistic aspects of anti-Semitism with the more traditional element. The peasants were hard hit by the crisis, which caused agricultural prices to fall from an index of 100 in 1928 to an index of 34 in 1934, whereas government and private monopolies in industries contrived to prevent a similar decline in prices of manufactured goods, which only fell to 82.

(End note 19:
-- R14, Kahn material, November 1936;
-- Raphael Mahler: Jews in Poland between the Two World Wars (Hebrew); Tel Aviv 1968, p. 15)

These fluctuations in prices affected the small Jewish trader no less than they did the peasant, for indeed the economic decline of the peasant was the root cause of Jewish rural poverty. Of course, the peasant leaders failed to see this. On the other hand, the crisis increased cutthroat commercial and industrial competition. In this (p.186)

area the Polish middle class was supported by the government in its violent attack on Jewish competitors.

[Joint Distribution Committee working in Poland helping the Jews]

Essentially, therefore, it was the task of JDC as the major Jewish aid organization to fight a rearguard action to protect the helpless Jewish trader and artisan as afar as possible against the combined onslaught of government, mob, and economic competition.

[Since 1937: Anti-Semitic Poland copies the Nazi laws against Jews of the Third Reich]
Economic and nationalistic anti-Semitism was clearly Nazi-influenced. Revocation of Jewish equality in Poland became a declared Endek [National Democrat] policy in April 1937. Boycott measures and pressure on Jews to emigrate referred constantly to the German example.


[5.4. The Jews in Poland 1921-1938: Figures]

[Jewish population in Poland and professions]

The number of Jews in Poland in 1921 was 2,845,364;

(End note 20: 44-29, memo 1/30/39 [30 January 1939])

by late 1938 it was approximately 3,310,000. The annual rate of growth was about 30,000.

(End note 21: R50, "Situation of the Jews in Eastern Europe", memo of the Paris JDC office, June 1938. The figure of 3,310,000 appears in "General Survey of Political and Economic Conditions in Poland in 1938" (12/3/38 [3 December 1938]), in 36-report 1938).

The Polish census of 1931 gave the number of gainfully occupied Jews as 1,123,025.

[There has to be considered an inofficial emigration so every year emigrated about 100,000 Jews from Poland to oversea countries;
In: Herman Graml: Die Auswanderung der Juden aus Deutschland zwischen 1933 und 1939; Gutachten des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte; im Selbstverlag des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte. München 1958, S.79-84; Tel.: 0049-(0)89-12688-0].

(End note 22: Mahler, op. cit. [Jews in Poland between the Two World Wars (Hebrew); Tel Aviv 1968], pp. 46 ff. Only 37 % of the Jews were economically active, compared to 42.5 % of the non-Jews (excluding agriculture). This meant that given the same income, the Jew was worse off because he had to fee more mouths. Seen in another way, this was a form of concealed unemployment).

Of these, 277,555 were classified as workers, about 200,000 were artisans,

(End note 23: The total in industry and handicrafts were 506,990. Without the workers, there were 229,435. This included 22,367 home workers. The total number of Jewish employers was 75,362. This figure included industrialists. By all accounts, therefore, the number of Jewish artisans cannot have been less and was probably more than 200,000).

and 428,965 were traders. In 1931 the number of registered unemployed workers was 78,256, or 28.2 % of the total.

[1935: Kahn reports: unemployment and misery of over 1/3 of the Jews]

In 1935 Kahn reported that no less than 60 % of the workers and employees were unemployed; of these, only workers employed in enterprises employing more than 20 people were entitled to unemployment  insurance. Those who did work received an average of 30-40 zloty ($6-$8) a week. Of the artisans, one-third were estimated to be "in distress".

In 1931 the traders and their families had numbered 1,140,532. In 1935 Kahn estimated that there were 1,150,000 and that 400,000 were living in "dire poverty". Of the 120,000 whom he classified as "intellectuals" and their families, 60,000 had no steady income. Kahn estimated the total number of Jews who were without any income, unemployed, or distressed to be over 1,000,000, or one-third of Polish Jewry.

(End note 24: WAC, Box 323 (c), Kahn's report on Poland, 5/22/35 [22 May 1935])

This estimate was given credence by a number of other authorities.

(End note 25: Rabbi Schorr of Warsaw in the Jewish Chronicle, 1/18/35 [8 January 1935], p.20: "Not less than one-third of the entire Jewish population of Poland was today dependent on charity in some form or other.")

[1937: Jewish Chronicle reports: Jews in Poland in poverty and misery]

Two years later the London Jewish Chronicle could describe the Jews in Poland as "a helpless minority sunk in squalid poverty and misery such as can surely be paralleled nowhere on the face of the earth. Today it is generally agreed that one-third of the Jewish population is on the brink of starvation, one-third contrives (p.187)

to obtain  a mere existence, and the rest are fortunate in securing a minimum of comfort."

(End note 26: Jewish Chronicle, 1/8/37 [8 January 1937])

[Indicator of poverty: Charity day at Passover]

A fair indicator of the economic condition of the Jews was the number of people asking for charity at Passover. In 1933, 100,000 of the 350,000 Jews of Warsaw applied for such assistance,

(End note 27: JDC Library-American Federation of Polish Jews, 25 annual convention, June 11-12, 1933)

or less than a third. In 1935, 60 % of Warsaw Jews applied.

(End note 28: Abraham G. Duker: The Situation of the Jews in Poland; Newsletter of the Conference on Jewish Relations, April 1936)

In the spring of 1939 a JDC memorandum estimated the number of Jews wholly dependent on charity at 600,000, or close to 20 % of Polish Jewry, while a total of 38 % (1,250,000) were wholly or partially dependent.

(End note 29: 44-4, memorandum re Poland, 5/1/39 [1 May 1939])

[1934: Neville Laski about Jewish poverty in anti-Semitic Poland]

In August  1934 Neville Laski, president of the British Board of (Jewish) Deputies, reported from Poland that he had "never seen such poverty, squalor, and filth. It made one despair of civilization." What was more important, he discerned a downward trend and foresaw that "even this year will be looked back upon as a happy year".

(End note 30: 44-6)

[1937: Kahn: The Nazis are more honest to the Jews than the Catholic Polish population]

This prediction was fully borne out by Alexander Kahn, chairman of JDC's Polish Committee, who reported in 1937 that "in Poland the Jew is in the midst of his ruthless enemies, bound hand and foot, and without a chance". He described how the "bands of savage youths, wild-eyed and bloodthirsty, with every human instinct obliterated, jump upon old men, women, and young children in the streets and in the public parks of Warsaw". The Nazis, Kahn thought, were "more honest"; the Jews in Poland were faced with "extermination or expulsion".

[Supplement: It's strange that Polish economy could not profit from the German economy since 1933. When the economy in Germany had been as bad as the Polish economy the Nazi government in Berlin would not have been better than the Polish government].

Polish competition was, with government help, fairly effective.

Table 11: Jewish versus Non-Jewish Enterprise in Kalisz
Type of Enterprise
Increase or Decrease
Jewish businessesxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Non-Jewish businesses
789    907    +118xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Jewish artisans
328    311    -17xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Non-Jewish artisans
497    536    +39xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
(End note 31: R14, November 1936, Schweitzer report)


Some detailed researches affirmed this. Table 11 illustrates the situation in the town of Kalisz.

[Early 1939: JDC memo: About 30,000 shops have changed between Jews and Non-Jews]

In early 1939 a JDC memorandum estimated that between 1933 and 1938, some thirty thousand non-Jewish shops had opened and that about the same number of Jewish shops had closed.

(End note 32: See note 29 [44-4, memorandum re Poland, 5/1/39 [1 May 1939])

[Oct 1936: Sholem Asch deplores Jewish skeletons are walking in anti-Semitic Poland]

The deterioration of Jewish economic life led to serious social and medical consequences. Sholem Asch, the famous Jewish writer, claimed that "people made the impression as if they were buried alive. Every second person was undernourished, skeletons of skin and bones, crippled, candidates for the grave".

(End note 33: "The Mourner at the Marriage Fete", October 1936; In: WAC, Box 366 (c)

It should be remembered that this was written three years before World War II began.

[Oct 1937: Harsh poverty for Jewish children in anti-Semitic Poland]

The most serious results of this general situation were evident among Jewish children. A detailed investigation in the town of Ostrog showed that, out of a sample of 386 Jewish children in four out of 15 "Jewish" streets, 262 were of school age but only 109 attended school. Of the other 153, 12 were ill, 3 were retarded, 6 had no documents for registration, 9 had not enrolled in time, 6 were not accounted for, and 117 could not go to school because they had no clothes or shoes. Of the total of 386, only 67 were healthy; 196 were weak or anemic, 61 were scrofulous. A total of 71 % of the children were in various stages  of undernourishment down to and including starvation.

(End note 34: 45-CENTOS, report, October 1937)

This was the situation three years before the establishment of ghettos in Poland. Similar descriptions could be quoted about other areas as well. JDC estimated that about one-third of the Jewish schoolchildren went to school hungry.

[Anti-Semitic Poland: Tax recovering by robbing the Jews of essential equipment]
Government action, quite apart from official policies, tended to be quite unscrupulous. Polish tax collectors interpreted the law in the most brutal way. Reports came in to JDC of bakers from whom the last bit of flour was taken away in lieu of taxes they could not pay; of horses taken away from peddlers, thus reducing them to complete destitution; of wewing machines taken away from tailors, as well as material left by the customers to be made up into clothes. (p.189)

(End note 35: R16, 11/23/1935 [23 November 1935], "Notes and Source Material for Committee on Poland and Eastern Europe")


[5.5. Work of Joint Distribution Committee in anti-Semitic Poland]

[Factors in anti-Semitic Poland: Government - population - no economy - no political resources]

This, then, was the situation facing JDC in Poland - a mass catastrophe  of the largest Jewish community outside the United States: a hostile government, an anti-Semitic population, and no local economic or political resources to draw upon.

JDC could not send to Poland more than it received from American Jewry.  Table 12 shows that from 1934 on - even in the face of the decline in JDC income and expenditure in 1935 - the importance of Poland in JDC work increased steadily, in spite of the German emergency. By 1937/8 fully one-third of all JDC work was done in Poland.

[JDC: Jews in Poland are not the only case]

This paralleled the attitude of the Jewish Agency, noted earlier, in granting the majority of Palestine immigration certificates to immigrants from Poland, despite the German emergency. The situation described above was constantly brought to the attention of the JDC Executive Committee members in New York. They were torn between the needs of German Jewry, the necessity for supporting German Jewish refugees in various European countries, the need for supporting emigration, the urgent needs of Romania, eastern Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania, the obligation to wind up the Russian work in an organized fashion and, finally, the desperate situation in Poland.

Several problems confronted JDC in Poland. A major problem was whether to enable at least a certain proportion of Polish Jews

Table 12: Expenditures by JDC in Poland
Total JDC expenditure (in $)
JDC expenditure in Poland (in $)
Percentage of total
123,700xxxxxxxxxxxxx 18.5xxxxx
1,382,326xxxxxxxxxxxxx 136,280xxxxxxxxxxxxx 9.8xxxxx
983,343xxxxxxxxxxxxx 216,532xxxxxxxxxxxxx 20.7xxxxx
1,904,923xxxxxxxxxxxxx 464,529xxxxxxxxxxxxx 23.7xxxxx
2,883,759xxxxxxxxxxxxx 943,830xxxxxxxxxxxxx 32.7xxxxx
3,799,709xxxxxxxxxxxxx 1,245,300xxxxxxxxxxxxx 32.7xxxxx


to emigrate and thus partly alleviate the situation for the rest. In the early 1930s all such ideas were rejected out of hand. "With the doors of the world closed to immigration in the largest measure, Jewish life will have to be reconstituted in the lands in which large Jewish populations abide", declared Hyman in 1934.

(End note 36: R17-Hyman's draft report to the Executive Committee, 8/24/34 [24 August 1934])

This was the JDC attitude until 1935/6.


[5.6. Jewish voices say Palestine is no solution - Zionists are blocked since 1935 by British block of immigration into Palestine - unrealistic points of view]

[Left Jewish Bundists (anti-Zionists) say that emigration to Palestine is not the solution - 30,703 Polish Jews officially emigrate in 1935, 24,300 to Palestine in 1935 - no counting of the inofficial emigration]

Apart from the obvious difficulties in getting Jewish emigrants accepted anywhere in the world, there was an ideological tendency to see the Jews as loyal citizens, and ultimately integrated members, of their various host nationalities, paralleling what the leaders of JDC considered to be their own experience in America. As a result, those leaders rejected Palestine as even a partial solution to the Polish Jewish problem, though 24,300 Jews emigrated to Palestine in 1935 out of a total Polish Jewish emigration of 30,703.

[That's the official figure for the emigration. The non official emigration is not counted and can only be estimated. Graml estimates in his study about emigration that 100,000 Polish Jews have emigrated every year in the 1930s;
In: Herman Graml: Die Auswanderung der Juden aus Deutschland zwischen 1933 und 1939; Gutachten des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte; im Selbstverlag des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte. München 1958, S.79-84; Tel.: 0049-(0)89-12688-0].

[1936: George Backer also says that emigration to Palestine is not the solution]

In the 1930s one of the central figures in JDC in New York was George Backer, who was very active in anti-Nazi politics in the United States and was also fairly friendly toward Palestine causes. Even he declared in 1936 that there was no use in glorifying Palestine "until the structure of Jewish life in other countries has been saved."

(End note 37: R15-Backer report, 4/27/36 [27 April 1936])

[1935: Zionists are hampered by the British blockade of Jewish immigration to Palestine]

The Zionists argued that Jewish life in Poland simply could not be saved, but they were hampered by the fact that the British increasingly barred the doors of Palestine to Jewish entry after 1935, and thus removed Palestine as an immediate solution. When Simon Marks of England tried in 1937 to raise funds there for Polish Jewry and intended that these monies reach "the Hechalutz and Zionist groups", Kahn remarked that "these are just the people who have not been very prominent in our work".

(End note 38: 44-3-Kahn to Baerwald, 1/17/37 [17 January 1937])

[1935: Harsher measures of the anti-Semitic government in Poland]

After 1935 the attitude of JDC underwent a gradual change. The main reasons for this were that

(1) Polish Jews (actually, the Zionist leader Yitzhak Gruenbaum) themselves declared that one million Polish Jews should emigrate; and

(2) the Polish government exercised ever-increasing pressure both on Polish Jews and on international bodies to help large numbers of Jews to emigrate.

JDC resisted these demands; Hyman complained especially of the (p.191)

fact that the Jews themselves were expressing what amounted to "demands for the expulsion of millions".

(End note 39: R13, Hyman to Budget and Scope, 6/27/37 [27 June 1937])

[Unrealistic point of view: Left Bundists state that Jews are foreigners]

Labor leaders close to the Bund were more explicit. In Poland the Bund declared itself opposed to the notion that Jews were an alien [foreign] people in their countries of settlement;

(End note 40: Jewish Chronicle, 5/15/36 [15 May 1936], p.19)

[The unrealistic element of this statement: To be Jewish is a religion and not a nation].

[Vladeck states that the problem has to be solved in Poland]
in the U.S., Vladeck wrote in the Yiddish socialist paper Forverts that "to make the existence of the Polish Jews possible in Poland, they must stop looking upon Palestine as the solution to their problem. ...

They must dedicate their activities to a healthy, free, and better Poland - and not Palestine."

[The unrealistic element of this statement: The anti-Semitic Polish government will not give in].

[Asch states, 3 mio. Jews cannot emigrate]
Sholem Asch was certain that once the Polish government realized that 3 million Jews could not emigrate and that economic betterment for all of Poland's citizens should be their aim, the Jews would succeed in maintaining their position as  citizens of Poland.

(End note 41:
-- Executive Committee, 5/18/37 [18 May 1937].
-- Hyman to Oscar Janowsky, 11/24/37 [24 November 1937],
-- R13)

[The unrealistic element of this statement: Poland needs a membership in an economic confederation for having a better economy].

[JDC Hyman states the need of a liberal and tolerant system of society]
This was echoed by Hyman, who hoped that the situation in Poland was "only a temporary setback to democracy and liberal ideals." He still believed in finding a way "to integrate the Jew with his environment under a liberal and tolerant system of society".

[The unrealistic element of this statement: The anti-Semitic Polish government will not give in and a liberal and tolerant system of society is not to have when economy is bad].

[Early 1936: Polish government states the will that the Polish Jews would all emigrate]

When the British delegation of Lord Samuel, Lord Bearsted, and Simon Marks came to the U.S. to discuss the emigration of German Jewry in early 1936, Polish government circles seized the opportunity to present their demand for the mass emigration of Polish Jews. Prince Radziwill voiced the demand in the Polish senate in early February [1936].

[Oct 1936: Polish delegate at League of Nations appeal for opening other countries for Jews]
In October the Polish delegate at the sixth commission of the League of Nations demanded that countries other than Palestine be opened for the emigration of European Jews, so as to allow for an emigration of Polish Jews as well.

(End note 42:
-- 46-reports 1936/7, October 1936 (the name of the delegate was Tytus Komarinski);
-- and: ITA, 12/12/36 [12 December 1936])

[Kahn against unilateral emigration]
A scheme for the yearly emigration of 18,000 was discussed. Kahn reacted immediately and stated in a press release that the scheme was "ill advised", that on principle it was wrong to "single out Jews for such emigration", and that this was a "discrimination against the law-abiding Jewish citizens which (he) did not think possible in Poland".

(End note 43: R14, press release, 2/1/36 [1 February 1936])

This indeed was slowly becoming the second line of defense for JDC: objectively there might be a case for an ordered emigration (p.192)

from Poland, but Jews should not be singled out. Within a ordered program of emigration, the Jews would play their part in proportion to their numbers.


[5.7. Plans for emigration to Soviet Union and to Madagascar]

[1936 appr.: Plans for Jewish emigration to the Soviet Union and to Madagascar]

In early 1937 JDC changed its attitude even further, because by that time there seemed to be hope for a practical plan of emigration. We have seen that Joseph A. Rosen tried to organize the emigration of German and Polish Jews into the Soviet Union [to Biro-Bidjan]. At the same time, there appeared on the horizon another plan for mass emigration - to Madagascar.

[Chlapowski: Madagaskar is not good enough for Poles - but good enough for Jews]

Polish interest in that tropical island under French rule was by no means new. In 1926 the Polish ambassador to France, Count Chlapowski, had inquired about the possibility of Polish peasants emigrating there, but the information he received regarding climate and soil conditions convinced him that this was out of the question. However, if it was not suitable for Poles, it might still be good enough for Jews.

[Jewish mission in Madagaskar - no possibility for a mass immigration to Madagascar]
The French government was quite willing to encourage European immigration into the Malagasy highlands, and the Poles sent a mission there, under Major Lepecki; this mission included two Jews. Lepecki's report was not favorable, and the two Jewish members reported that "there is no possibility for a mass immigration to Madagascar".

(End note 44: Marcell Olivier: Madagascar - Terre d'Asile?; Illustration, February 19, 1938, pp. 197-98)

[1937: France government supports the Madagascar plan - Polish anti-Semitic foreign minister Beck presents his plan]

The French Colonial Office, for its own reasons, nevertheless began exerting pressure on JDC to lend its support to Jewish settlement in Madagascar or other French possessions. In June 1937 Rosen and Kahn were received by officials at the Colonial Office and assured of French interest and cooperation. Despite Lepecki's report, the Polish foreign minister, Józef Beck, discussed the problem in France and proposed a Jewish emigration of 30,000 families yearly, or 120,000 families (about 500,000-600,000 individuals) within five or six years.

(End note 45: ITA, 12/6/37 [6 December 1937]; 44-29 Rosen and Kahn to Liebman, 6/12/37 [12 June 1937])

Rosen thought Madagascar had possibilities, and he wanted an independent JDC commission to go there to investigate the island. Tentatively JDC allocated $ 12,000 for such a commission, but it never got under way.

(End note 46: CON-2, 8/18/36 [18 August 1936], Rosen to Lehman)

The concrete results of all these developments were practically nil. Despite the change of attitude on JDC's part and the great need (p.193)

of Polish Jewry to flee Poland, not more than 8,861 Jews emigrated in 1937; of these 3,423 went to Palestine.

(End note 47: 44-29, HICEM report)

[This is the official emigration figure. The illegal emigration is not counted. The emigration from Poland in total is estimated by Graml to 100,000 every year in the 1930s;
In: Herman Graml: Die Auswanderung der Juden aus Deutschland zwischen 1933 und 1939; Gutachten des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte; im Selbstverlag des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte. München 1958, S.79-84; Tel.: 0049-(0)89-12688-0].

This emigration was considerably less than the birthrate for Polish Jewry,

(End note 48: About 30,000 a year)

and the Poles had before them the shining example of Nazi Germany, which had managed to rid itself of a large number of Jews by forcing them out.

[Supplement: There is proved that Zionist Jewish organizations have well organized the immigration of German Jews to Palestine, and the Yiddish speaking Polish Jews should be exterminated because Yiddish should not be spoken in the Holy Land].


[5.8. Claims abroad of anti-Semitic Poland for emigration of Polish Jewry]

[1938: Conference of Evian: claims of anti-Semitic Poland for emigration of Polish Jewry]

When President Roosevelt called upon the nations of the world to meet in Evian in July 1938 to discuss the problem of refugees from Germany, the Polish government also swung into action and demanded that the Evian Conference discuss the problem of Jewish emigration from Poland.

The Americans and British refused, but the Poles tried to press the Jews themselves to ask for the inclusion of the Polish Jewish problem at Evian. In the course of this campaign the Polish ambassador in Washington, Count Potocki, approached the American Jewish Committee and JDC (on June 8, 1938). He asked for an emigration of 50,000 a year, and alleged that the relatively small emigration of 30,000 in 1935 had had a psychologically calming effect on Polish anti-Semitism.

(End note 49: Conversation between Potocki, Waldman, and Hyman, 6/8/38 [8 June 1938], CON-2)

(Actually, after the "calming effect" of the 1935 emigration, pogrom activity increased sharply in late 1935 and in 1936. Nevertheless, the argument that emigration would be an effective way of avoiding anti-Semitic outbursts became a deeply ingrained belief among Jewish leaders in Poland).

[1937: New York: Polish consul Gruszka states that Jewish emigration would help democracy...]

In a more subtle way the same point was made in discussions held in New York in October 1937 between the Polish consul general, Sylvester Gruszka, and JDC. Gruszka also demanded emigration. He intimated that

-- this would aid the democratic and liberal wing in the Polish government in their struggle against Polish reaction,
-- and that therefore the support of American Jewry for Poland was very important.
-- He asked specifically that the New York Times be persuaded to desist from anti-Polish articles,
-- that the influx of American Jewish capital into Poland be organized,
-- and that JDC help in eliminating from the public scene in Poland those American Jewish organizations that the Poles considered objectionable.

[The main problem, the economy, will not be solved by this].

[American Federation of Polish Jews (AFPJ): Campaigns against anti-Semitism - Gruszka wants to play the Jewish organizations off against each other]

This last referred to the American Federation of (p.194)

Polish Jews, which was conducting a propaganda campaign with largely political overtones against anti-Semitism. There was considerable Zionist influence on AFPJ, and it was even trying to collect money for Polish causes in the U.S., which in the eyes of JDC was wrong. When Gruszka tried to use the animosity between the two Jewish organizations in order to put them against each other, however, Hyman refused to cooperate.

The AFPJ, he told Gruszka, was quite useful, if only they would stop competitive fund raising. He and Kahn "stated very definitely that we could not assent to the idea of permitting any pressure to be brought upon the Jews of Poland in relation to the Federation".

(End note 50: Conversation between Gruszka, Kahn, and Hyman, 10/17/37 [17 October 1937], CON-2)

[Gruszka: JDC is the main development aid for Poland]
At the same time, Gruszka intimated that JDC was after all the source of most of the money sent to Poland, and its cooperation was needed for any development connected with the modernization of Polish industry, the advancement of Polish exports to the U.S., and the emigration of Jews.

[The chameleon Polish policy abroad (facade) and at home (reality)]

In planning its policy in Poland, JDC had to take into account the difference between the utterances of Polish representatives abroad and the actual policy of the Polish government vis-à-vis the Jews. Abroad, the pressure for Jewish emigration was coupled both with plans for the modernization of the Polish economy and with statements expressing the hope that the Jews who would remain in Poland would be assimilated politically and become patriotic Poles.

[Anti-Semitic Poland: JDC Giterman reports fair treatment of the Jews would result in voting out of politicians]
The Jews in Poland were loyal to Poland (if for no other reason than that the alternatives in the 1930s were Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia), but in actual practice the Polish government did not tend to act on such optimistic and relatively friendly premises. The head of the JDC office in Poland, Isaac Giterman, declared quite bluntly - on the basis of very full knowledge of Polish policy toward Jews - that there simply was no possibility of a more liberal treatment of the Jews. Polish anti-Semitism was inherent in the local population, and any minister who treated the Jews fairly would lose his position.

(End note 51: 44-6-Neville Laski report, August 1934)


[5.9. JDC work in anti-Semitic Poland: Kassas]

[1930s: Anti-Semitic Poland: JDC gives no support to Polish Jews - help only in special cases like floods or after pogroms]

In the face of these obstacles and difficulties, the policy of JDC was intractable and heartrending. In the 1930s JDC continued to (p.195)

refuse to spend its monies on relief.

[There is the suspicion that also JDC was in line with the Zionists to exterminate the Yiddish speaking Jews].

But that policy could not always be maintained. There were natural disasters, such as the floods in Galicia in the summer of 1934, which caused damage estimated at 1 million zloty ($ 200,000). The Polish government established a "nonsectarian" relief committee (with one Jewish representative) and JDC contributed $ 10,000, or 5 % of the sum that was needed.

Then there were man-made disasters. After each pogrom, JDC stepped in to save whatever could be saved. Its Free Loan kassas were strengthened in localities hit by the outrages, and the child care, health, and educational institutions supported by JDC increased their allocations to help as best they could.

Some of the items that appeared in JDC budgets as constructive help through the support of organizations were in fact little more than intelligently - indeed, constructively - applied relief to stricken communities.

[JDC industrialization plans for Poland]

Generally speaking, however, in its approach to the Polish Jewish problem JDC moved more and more in the direction of the industrialization plans advanced by Kahn. The sums devoted to Poland were increasing, and there seemed to be an opportunity for testing Kahn's plans.

[The industrialization which Stalin performs in Soviet Union in the 1930s is performed in Poland only since 1950].

[JDC kassas are partly not operating!]

The problem of the industrialization plans was intimately connected with the future of the Free Loan and Reconstruction Foundation loan kassas. The older, more conservative loan kassas were able to help those who were in a stronger economic position by loans with a low rate of interest. We have also seen that the position of these kassas weakened as a result of the 1929 economic crisis.

On paper there were still 680 such institutions in Poland in 1933, but an indeterminate number of these were in fact inactive. In 1934 it was estimated that only 340 of the 601 still registered were actually operating. The figures quoted in various JDC sources were contradictory; but by 1935 only 223 kassas were said to be in operation, and 221 more were inactive.

[1935-1937: Anti-Semitic Poland: Reconstruction Foundation for reorganizing the JDC kassas]

The Reconstruction Foundation stepped in, and throughout 1935-37 tried hard to reorganize the kassas. Their importance lay, after all, in the fact that large numbers of small traders, artisans, (p.196)

and small manufacturers, as well as members of the intelligentsia, had recourse to them. Even in early 1936 the number of active members was estimated to be over 47,000. There was an umbrella organization of these kassas, largely influenced by Zionist elements. This group, the Verband, had no financial responsibilities, but was supposed to supervise the kassas and to see to it that the rules and regulations were observed. It was not al all efficient.

In the autumn of 1936 Kahn and ICA intervened decisively and declared that they would maintain direct contact with the kassas and no longer work through the Verband.

[May 1937: Anti-Semitic Poland: Reconstruction Foundation sets up Central Financial Institution under Karol Sachs]
Despite the negative experience with the Central Bank in the early 1930s, the Reconstruction Foundation set up a new Central Financial Institution, headed by its own nominees from the conservative and largely assimilated group around the Jewish industrialist Karol Sachs. Sachs received the highest accolade JDC could bestow on a Polish Jew: he was placed "in the class of our own leaders in America".

(End note 52: r10, Troper report, 2/17/39 [17 February 1939])

The institution was set up in May 1937, and from then on the Reconstruction Foundation gave its credits to the kassas through it, leaving the Verband to deal with questions of organization and rules. In 1937 the foundation appropriated 1 million zloty ($ 200,000) to reorganize and revitalize kassas, under the prodding of its very effective deputy director, Noel Aronovici.

[1932-1937: Kassa work without industrialization]

At the same time, the foundation [Reconstruction Foundation] was pursuing an essentially conservative policy. Between 1932 and 1935, during and after the dissolution of the Central Bank, the foundation actually withdrew more monies from the kassas than it gave them in credits.

(End note 53: Between 1932 and 1934, 745,000 zloty were granted in credits and 2,394,000 zloty received in repayment (46-reports 36/7, memorandum of 9/30/37 [30 September 1937])

This money was not returned to the foundation, but kept in Poland. It was not reinvested, however, until the new Central Financial Institution had been set up in 1937/8. In 1937 the foundation books showed a reserve of $ 494,000 in cash, and its total expenditure in credits granted that year was considerably less than that. ICA had no real wish to invest the monies in doubtful industrialization plans in Poland, and so the kassas carried on with their work of helping those whose economic situation was sound. At the end of 1937, 241 (p.197)

kassas were functioning and 161 more were awaiting reorganization; 205 others were defunct and had to be liquidated.

[Supplement: There comes up a severe and logic suspicion: Industrialization in Poland should be realized only without the Yiddish Jews. The anti-Semitic Polish government did not want that the Jews would integrate by industrialization as the integrated in the Soviet Union. So the Yiddish Jews should first be exterminated before industrialization comes in Poland in the 1950s].

At the same time, the Reconstruction Foundation included in its work program loan kassas organized by merchants on an occupational rather than general basis. The functioning kassas included 37 such merchants' institutions, which were really small merchants' banks; these were quite successful. Kassa membership in Poland at the end of 1937 numbered some 68,000.

[Loan kassas of the Reconstruction Foundation help reinstall Jewish business from inner Polish Jewish refugees in the towns]

As we have already seen, the political situation of Polish Jewry began to improve very slightly in early 1939. However, the economic situation was worsening, and the loan kassas hat do intervene in what really amounted to a prevention of catastrophe rather than reconstruction. While most of the work in this respect was done by the Free Loan kassas, the loan kassas of the Reconstruction Foundation also played a part. A report in 1939 claimed that in many places the kassas had prevented the elimination of Jewish market stalls and bakeries; Jews who had been forced to leave their villages by the pogroms of 1937/8 were now being helped to establish places of business in towns. Certain projects engaged in by the more successful artisans and traders, such as fowl fattening, sawmills, and production of soda, were also being aided by the kassas.

(End note 54: R60, report of 4/18/39 [18 April 1939])

[Reconstructions Foundation is too strict - many kassas are ruined by the foundation itself]

Relations between the kassas and the Reconstruction Foundation were not always happy. The foundation did supply credits, but only on strict terms. On the harsh conditions of economic crisis in Poland there were occasionally bitter recriminations at the rigid way in which agreements were interpreted. The complaint was even heard that the foundation credits had been collected "harshly and ruthlessly, and many kassas have been ruined" by the foundation itself.

(End note 55: Raphael Szereszewsky, quoted in a report of the Reconstruction Foundation, 5/22/36 [22 May 1936], WAC, Box 347 (d)

[Supplement: That's the sense: The Yiddish Jews should not be helped...]

Against this stood the foundation policy, which was quite clearly "not to save the weak and unsound, but to fortify and strengthen the sound and secure positions".

(End note 56: 44-21, Alexander Kahn report, 12/9/37 [9 December 1937])

[Popular Free Loan kassas]

The main instrument of reconstructive work in Poland was not, however, the loan kassa but the Free Loan kassa. These institutions, it will be remembered, were JDC creations and had no (p.198)

contact with the Reconstruction Foundation-run enterprises. They became immensely popular as the economic crisis hardened, because they charged almost no interest on loans. There were 676 such kassas in Poland in 1933, and 841 by 1939. This meant that in practically every Jewish village there was a kassa where impoverished artisans and traders and intellectuals, and to a certain extent workers, could get loans to tide them over difficult times. These loans were very small, averaging about $16. But they often prevented a Jew from becoming a public charge.

[CEKABE gives credits to the kassas]

The central institution of the kassas was the CEKABE,

(End note 57: Polish initials for the Central Society for Free Credit and Furthering of Productive Work among the Jewish Population in Poland)

through which credits were channeled to the kassas; it also filled the functions exercised by the Verband in regard to the foundation loan kassas.

[Kassa figures]

The total amounts loaned by the Free Loan kassas were at first considerably below those loaned by the foundation kassas - in 1934 the latter loaned $ 38.8 million, whereas the Free Loan kassas only loaned $ 2.2 million - but the number of free loan grew steadily throughout the 1930s. The average sums loaned were paltry, which in itself was an indication of the deteriorating position of the Jews.

While the number of free loans and their general totals were increasing, the Reconstruction Foundation kassas' work was declining: in 1936, the foundation kassas had loaned $ 15.8 million, or 40 % of the 1934 total.

Table 13: Free Loan Kassas in Poland
No. of loans
Total amount (in millions of zloty)
Average loans (in zloty)

($ 17.60)  
($ 19.40)  
($ 18.40)  
($ 18.80)  
($ 18)  
(End note 58: The figures are rather problematic. There are divergences in the reports and between one report and another. It must be remembered that there were self-help institutions approximating the JDC-supported kassas in almost every locality, and many of these were not recognized by CEKABE. Reports from the localities were not always accurate).


With the relative increase in funds available for Poland, Kahn returned to the idea of industrial and other constructive investments in strategic places. In May 1935 he asked for a special yearly allocation of $ 100,000 for that purpose. The idea was received favorably by Bearwald, who advanced the project in a memorandum of September of that year.

(End note 59:
-- Kahn to Warburg, 5/11/35 [11 May 1935], 15-33;
-- and 44-5, Baerwald memo, 9/18/35 [18 September 1935])

British help was solicited, and the Board of Deputies agreed to participate in the effort.

As early as April 1934 a Jewish Economic Council (known as Wirtschaftsrat) had been founded by CEKABE; it was run by Isaac Giterman. This now swung into action and in 1936 started very cautiously to help in establishing small local crafts and industries, and to supervise them, check the quality of the products, and aid in finding appropriate markets if necessary. This kind of rather plodding but quite effective small-scale work went on throughout  1937 and 1938.

[1938: Subcommittee TER for finding export markets - financed by JDC and others]
A special subcommittee set up by the Wirtschaftsrat in January 1938, called TER, took over the task of finding export markets for those establishments that needed it. In this, it was hoped, some government help would be obtained. A total of about $ 410,000 was invested in these ventures directly by JDC; an additional 30-40 % was found locally.

[JDC organizes help for families and artisans by fund raising at the Landsmannschaften in "America"]

In addition, the call went out to certain expatriate organizations in America, comprised of people who had emigrated from certain localities (Landsmannschaften). These were asked to contribute a minimum of $ 2,000, which would be matched by JDC. Up to 1938, 250 Landsmannschaften responded, and rather large amounts of JDC money went out to match these small grants.

The expenditure was under the surveillance of CEKABE.

In 1937 some 5,000 families were helped by these small ventures, which included such branches as mechanical weaving (at Choroszcz), carpenter cooperatives (Tarnopol), saddler's cooperatives (Chelm), and semiagricultural pursuits, such as vegetable farming, the planting of medicinal herbs, and the like.

[DEKABE helps families and artisans]
Another venture of DEKABE was the establishment of small dairies on the outskirts of towns. This work was carried on in 1938. There were 2,088 families that were helped in this way in the first (p.200)

half of the year, but we lack information for the rest of the period, up to the outbreak of the war.,

(End note 60: 46-report 1938. In 1937 Jacob Lestschinsky produced an industrialization plan of Polish Jewry for Simon Marks, which was based on the same principles as Kahn's plans: "Not to save the weak and unsound, but to fortify and strengthen the sound and secure positions." The plan would cost $ 4 mio., of which $ 3 mio. would come from abroad. See 44-21, Committee on Poland, 12/9/37 [9 December 1937])

By early 1938 Kahn had accumulated sufficient experience to decide that the experiment had been worthwhile. In January of the year [1938] he demanded a yearly allocation of $ 1 million for this kind of economic reconstruction, and hoped that within five years this would lead to the employment of 23,000 families. It can safely be estimated that up to the end of 1938 JDC had succeeded in finding new employment in these enterprises for about 10,000 families.

This in itself was a partial success, and JDC could justly be proud of it. Yet measured by the economic decline of the Jewish population in Poland and by the fact that about one million people there were living at or beyond the edge of starvation, the outcome of the efforts was small indeed. The basic problem of JDC was that with its relatively small resources it could do no more than help those who were above the danger line from sinking below it. JDC was not a government, and it could not solve the problem of the starving million.

For a few years JDC was helped in its efforts by the British Jews. In 1935 British Jews sent close to 40,000 pounds (almost $ 200,000) to Poland, to be distributed by JDC. This was repeated in 1936. But in 1937 the pro-Zionist and non-Zionist wings in Britain disagreed on aid to Poland, the Zionists favoring such aid. Collections went down, and no more real help was obtained. The help of the British Jews, while it lasted, was important from another angle. JDC and ICA (primarily a British organization) had been very interested in vocational retraining. JDC saw this as one of its main tasks.


[5.10. Vocational programs in Poland: Farming for Palestine or future jobs for industrialization - it's all in vain]

[Vocational programs in Poland]
However, the vocational programs in Poland were distributed among a variety of organizations. ICA ran its own schools, and JDC had to divide its money between three additional groups of schools:

-- those established by ORT,
-- those of an independent organization in Galicia (the former Austrian, southern part of Poland) known as WUZET,
-- and JDC's own schools.

[ORT is not investing in future industries - JDC pupils have no work after their school]

There was much criticism of ORT in JDC circles, especially at the Warsaw office. The charge was that ORT was too prone to follow established trade lines such (p.201)

as textiles, fur, and the like, and did not attempt to pioneer in the employment of Jews in the mechanical trades and in new industries (radio, auto repair, etc.). The problem was that when the youngsters finished their training, they had to be given employment in Jewish enterprises - non-Jewish ones would not accept them - and there simply were not many new Jewish industries around.

[JDC helps when pupils have lodging problems]
Another problem had to do with the so-called Bursen, or apprentice homes, for those youngsters who were living away from home while learning a trade. This was a real problem, because usually the partners could not afford the expense of paying for lodging, and JDC had to help. It did so, and through various social institutions (TOZ, CENTOS, and the like) it supported a number of homes that were either built or rented to house these young people.

[Vocational schools: Figures]
By early 1938 there were 17,720 pupils in these vocational schools, which were of varying standards; 3,946 were in ORT schools, 4,714 were in ICA schools, and 6,172 were in schools supported directly by JDC, 2,888 more were at WUZET institutions.

[Hechalutz vocational trainings on farms for emigration to Palestine - doubts to get to Palestine - Kahn supports training in future jobs for Poland - JDC vocational trainings for industrialization]
In addition to all this, there was the network of training camps run by Hechalutz, the Zionist organization that prepared pioneers for Palestine. By early 1938 Hechalutz had 16,206 trainees who were working, as Kahn put it, "in a manner still somewhat primitive".

(End note 61: Kahn's lecture at Cincinnati, 1/10/38 [10 January 1938], R12)

Hechalutz had no money, and it had to send its members to farms and shops where the conditions of work were primitive and extremely difficult. Most of the trainees worked in agriculture, the idea being that they would leave Poland as soon as possible.

The British funds in 1935 and 1936 were partly earmarked for Hechalutz [for Jews for emigration to Palestine], and Kahn supported this allocation. The reason was that while the Hechalutz people were supposedly training for Palestine, the lack of certificates for that country made it extremely doubtful that most of them would ever get there;

therefore, they were actually training for future jobs in Poland, a program Kahn favored.

(End note 62: R15, 3/29/36 [29 March 1936], Kahn report)

Here, too, there was a growing discrepancy between the number of individuals trained for new jobs and the number of jobs available. Large groups of trainees were bound to suffer the hardships of unemployment unless large-scale efforts were made to (p.202)

provide employment through investment in new or old enterprises. But before this problem really became acute, the "final solution" came and solved this and all other problems for Polish Jewry.

JDC tried industrialization and it supported vocational training. But it was not, of course, operating in a vacuum, was not free to operate as it wished. Jewish groups and subgroups were fighting for position in the harsh reality of Poland.

[There is the big suspicion: Polish government wants industrialization without Yiddish Jews and wants to exterminate the Jews before industrialization will come].


[5.11. JDC work in Galicia]

One of these struggles was the fight against centralization waged by regional interests, especially in Galicia, which was very poor but had a very proud tradition of culture and independence. Galicia was traditionally under strong Zionist influence, and a group of leaders emerged among whom Alfred Silberschein occupied a place of special importance. Silberschein, a Zionist leader, favored decentralization, and he gained the support of most of the influential circles in Jewish economic life in Galicia. In early 1937, 25 % of the total Jewish population in Poland lived in Galicia . Yet the Galician Jews were underrepresented in all the economic activities undertaken by JDC. This charge in itself would have remained ineffective had not an organization been founded called the American Committee for Aid of Jews in Galicia, which threatened to solicit funds in competition with JDC.

Early in 1937 JDC asked its Warsaw office for an explanation and proposals, and in April and May 1937 these came. They revealed a difference of opinion between the head of the Warsaw office, Isaac Giterman, and his two chief lieutenants, David Guzik and Leib Neustadt. Neustadt and Guzik were for maximum centralization and were prepared to fight Silberschein's demand that JDC set up special regional organizations for its free loan institutions there.

Giterman, on the other hand, acknowledged the fact that Galicia had separate institutions in many areas; a separate CEKABE committee was thereupon established by JDC for Galicia, though only in early 1939. More important, it emerged that a number of local enterprises (probably more than Galicia's proper share) were established there by CEKABE: a chain factory in Stanislawow, a carpenter cooperative in Stryi, two locksmiths' (p.203)

shops in Czortkow, an export furniture shop in Lwów, and so on.

(End note 63: 14-39)


[5.12. JDC work for Jewish children and schools in anti-Semitic Poland]

[Work for children makes JDC popular - funds of JDC for children organizations CENTOS and TOZ]

The question as to whether work for children was relief work exercised some of the minds at the JDC offices. To Kahn, at any rate, it was quite obvious that this was constructive work of the highest order, and he insisted on devoting roughly one-third of his Polish budgets to the support of various types of activities for children. This, of course, was in line with the traditional Jewish approach to social work generally and made JDC popular among the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe. A large percentage of these budgets went to two organizations that dealt mainly with children: CENTOS and TOZ.

[Figures of children programs]

The number of children requiring the attention of CENTOS, the child care agency, grew considerably in the 1930s. Only a small number of them could be accepted into institutions providing full-time care; these were mostly either orphans or half orphans. In 1937 there were 8,047 of these youngsters. However, the total number of children that CENTOS looked after, partly or wholly, grew from 15,102 in 1933 to 32,066 in 1937. These  included youths in vocational training institutions (they were included as JDC institutions in the figures for vocational training given above) and summer camps.

[JDC cooperation with children organization CENTOS]

JDC actually supplied about 12-13 % of CENTOS's budget, in line with its policy of helping others to help themselves. But these percentages were very important for the men who ran CENTOS. They could then go to the Polish government and municipalities and point to American help (in foreign exchange) as a weighty argument in their demand for Polish contributions. These contributions added another 17 % to their budget, and the rest was largely covered by membership contributions. This was a unique system of organization whereby CENTOS had over 45,000 registered members who owned, and theoretically ran, the organization and its institutions. They were, of course, recruited from the wealthier segments of the Jewish population, and there too, the fact that CENTOS had been set up by JDC and continued to enjoy its support was adduced as an argument in collection drives. (p.204)

[The work of TOZ with the poor Jewish families - TOZ medical facilities]

A similar structure characterized TOZ, though TOZ was smaller and weaker than CENTOS. The task of TOZ was not limited to children; it had to look after the health of the poorer sections of the Jewish population, young and old. It had only 11,191 members in 1937, and its budget was 1.4 million zloty, or less than half of the 3 million zloty budget of CENTOS. But it, too, spread its 142 institutions all over Poland, and tried to introduce modern hygienic methods into slums and poverty-stricken townships and villages.

One of its main achievement was the organization of lectures by various types of experts. Its 46 stations for mothers and babies gave valuable advice at very little cost to large number of women who could not afford to visit doctors. It had six X-ray installations and 29 dental stations, some of them mobile. It ran three Jewish hospitals, 33 ambulatory clinics, and 12 anti-TB dispensaries in 1938.

With regard to TOZ, JDC help was relatively larger than with CENTOS and amounted to 28 % of the TOZ budget. But Polish governmental and municipal help amounted to only 9.4 %, and the percentage of the budget covered by local Jewish contributions was about the same as for CENTOS. JDC supervised closely the expenditures and general activities in both cases through its Warsaw office.

[JDC network for children summer camps]

One of the most important types of work with children encouraged by JDC was the network of summer camps. The reasoning behind this network was that children who suffered privations throughout the year should spend the summer in healthful surroundings, with adequate medical attention and with plenty to eat, (p.205)

Table 14: Summer Camps in Poland
No. of camps
No. of children
xxxxxxxx1935xxxxxxxx 222 37,286xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxx1936xxxxxxxx 428 58,661xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxx1938xxxxxxxx 636 102,615xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


relatively speaking. In 1934 some 35,000 Jewish children went to summer camps supported by JDC-subsidized institutions. These included not only CENTOS and TOZ, but also the various Jewish school networks.

Direct participation of JDC in these camps ranged from 10 % of the budget in 1936 to 7.2 % in 1938; but apart from JDC's direct participation, the various organizations that ran the colonies were themselves JDC-controlled or -subsidized or both, and the expenses of these camps were part of their regular budgets.

The problem of starving children could not, of course, be solved by a few weeks of summer vacation.

[Poverty for Jewish children in Poland]
Very large numbers of Jewish children went to school in the mornings without breakfast. The choice was whether to give them something to eat at school or let them go hungry. There was no question as to the response from JDC, despite its opposition in principle to direct relief. In the face of the deteriorating Polish situation and the approach of war in Europe, some JDC officials in New York asked whether some of these expenses could be cut; Kahn lost his usual patience and retorted: "Try to be hard and do not give any money for feeding and clothing and see what will happen. I hear so much about your wanting to be drastic - try it!"

(End note 64: 44-21, Kahn's letter, 7/25/39 [25 July 1939])

They did not [cut].

[1940-1943 the ghettos would cut, under the eyes of the Polish Catholic - extremely anti-Semitic - population. Many Jewish children have survived on farms with helping on farms, and later were defined as Christians to hold them there for further help on the Polish farm...]

The problem of Jewish children in Poland was very closely bound up with the question of Jewish culture and religion. JDC's main task was to try to save the economic and social structure of European Jewry; but it could not, and did not want to, close its eyes to cultural and educational problems. Cyrus Adler, head of the American Jewish Committee, served as chairman of JDC's Cultural and Religious Committee. In 1935 he states: "Hard as the situation is, if no effort is made to save the minds and the soul of the Jewish people, there will not be any Jewish people left to save."

(End note 65: Executive Committee, 3/26/35 [26 March 1935])

There was some truth in that statement, though the danger was less one of immediate cultural assimilation than of physical, economic, and ultimate cultural degradation and decline. As it turned out, the spirit of the Jewish people bore up remarkably well in the face of the most horrendous obstacles. (p.206)

[Orthodox Jewish families get no state schools for their Jewish children]

The first and most urgent problem was that of schooling. Polish schools were making it increasingly difficult for observant Jewish children to attend classes. In the 1930s the special Polish schools where Jewish children were excused from writing on Shabbat began to close down. The same fate awaited Jewish private schools.

The pretexts were usually of a purely formal nature, that is, nonobservance of regulations regarding the size of rooms, facilities, and the like that were ignored as far as the Polish schools themselves were concerned.

[Jewish schools have no money for renovations - Kahn's warnings closed Jewish schools will never reopen]

Then there were Jewish schools that had to be renovated for reasons other than the pressure by Polish authorities; these schools, which depended largely on voluntary contributions, were rarely in a position to build or renovate without financial aid.

In 1934 Kahn was warning New York that "the schools, once closed, will never be allowed to reopen" by the Poles. "The institutions, fallen to pieces and deteriorated considerably, will cost very much more to restore if they are allowed to go to pieces altogether."

(End note 66: R17, letter by Kahn, 11/3/34 [3 November 1934])

In the early 1930s Kahn was experiencing great difficulties in getting allocations for physical facilities for Jewish schools, but the situation eased somewhat later on as a result of increased funds. It was then that he stated his view that schools were as productive as industry and indicated his opposition to those in New York who wanted to increase "productive" investment at the expense of schools.

[Jewish schools in anti-Semitic Poland: Figures]

The Polish Jewish school structure was itself a model of confusion. At the end of 1935 a total of 523,852 children were registered in various types of institutions, government and private, from the primary grades to the age of 18. Of these, 343,671 studied in Polish schools, including those where certain allowances were made for Shabbat observance. This accounted for about 2/3 of the Jewish children;

the rest, 180,181 children, studied at Jewish institutions of different kinds. The largest of these were the religious primary schools, traditional chadarim, where Jewish law and religious observances were the main studies. These schools were said to have close to 50,000 pupils.

Some 35,585 girls studied in specially set up, rather primitive religious institutions that paralleled (p.207) the chadarim. About 16,000 boys of high school age studied at various types of yeshivoth (higher institutions of traditional learning); thus over 100,000 children attended 963 religious educational institutions.

Of the rest, the most important were the Tarbuth schools, where most of the subjects were taught in Hebrew rather than Polish or Yiddish, though both the latter languages were also taught. There the stress was on modern secular schooling, with a careful balance of the sciences, humanities, and sports. Needless to say, this network of schools was under Zionist influence [because Hebrew was foreseen for Palestine and Yiddish should be exterminated and not been spoken in Palestine]. A total of 44,780 children studied in its 269 institutions. These included 9 secondary schools, from which much of the young Zionist leadership between the two world wars in Poland came.

Also Zionist, modern, and religious were the 299 schools of the Yavneh group, which had 15,923 pupils. Yavneh was under the influence of religious Zionist parties.

A special network of Yiddish schools (167 primary and 2 secondary) was organized by circles close to the Bund; this network was called Cisho. A total of 16,486 children studied in those schools; the trend was left-wing, Yiddishist, and anti-Zionist [because they thought Jews should not leave their home countries].

There was also a small network of 16 schools with 2,343 children (Szulkult), which tried to combine Yiddish with Hebrew [a multi-cultural schooling system].

That was the complete picture of Jewish elementary and secondary schooling in Poland.

(End note 67: All the figures are taken from a detailed report by Neustadt, dated 5/10/36 [10 May 1936]: Jewish Private and Public Instruction in Poland; 46-reports)

To this one must add the 167 yeshivoth for young adults, with their 31,735 pupils, who formed the backbone of traditionalist Jewry in Poland. JDC paid special attention to the yeshivoth, mainly because Adler saw in them a certain guarantee for Jewish existence in Europe, and also because the many Orthodox supporters of JDC had the right to expect financial aid for the yeshivoth. Besides the yeshivoth, JDC also supported the Jewish Scientific Institute (YIVO), which had its main center in Vilna. In 1939 a JDC leader said of YIVO that its achievements made "the Hebrew University look childish in accomplishment".

(End note 68: 44-21, Committee on Poland, 4/11/39 [11 April 1939])

This may have been somewhat exaggerated, but there was no doubt that YIVO was an institution of quality and had a right to expect JDC help. (p.208)

[JDC help for the Jewish schools in anti-Semitic Poland]

JDC had the choice of supporting all the different trends in Jewish education or none. The schools represented various types of political thinking no less than various trends in education, and JDC could not appear to be partisan to any particular trend. Subsidies therefore went to all types of schools; but the principle of supporting only capital investments, not current budgets, was carefully observed. This was sometimes rather liberally interpreted - for example, when it came to various types of teaching aids; but generally speaking JDC support went toward construction, repairs, acquisition of essential school equipment, and the like.

From 1933 to 1939 JDC school expenditures trebled,

(End note 69: From $ 44,000 to $ 121,000)

and while the total sums were quite small, a great deal was done with them. As in other cases,, JDC made its support conditional on the raising of local funds. Without JDC contributions these funds would never have materialized. With them, many schools in Poland either were built or were salvaged for the use of thousands of pupils.

[Late 1930s: The last years of Jewish schools in Poland]

Yet despite all these efforts Jewish schools continued to shut down all over Poland in the late 1930s. In the Cisho network alone, 63 schools with 8,400 pupils were closed down by the Polish government between the two world wars, under a variety of pretexts. Kahn suspected that the Poles would attack the Tarbuth network as well. The same pattern that we observed in other areas was repeated here: the funds that JDC had at its disposal in Poland simply did not allow for any radical cure of the massive illness the Jewish economic and social structure was suffering from. Without JDC help, it must be presumed, the situation would have been considerably worse; with it, it was bad enough.


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

5.13. Romania [Codreanu - Tartarescu - Goga]

[Since 1919 and since 1929: Romanian development is like in Poland]

The situation of the Jews in Eastern Europe outside Poland was similar to that of the Jews inside Poland. Romania was moving in the same direction as Poland, as far as both the general and the Jewish situations were concerned.

[The economy of Romania was cut from the markets in Middle Europe in 1919 when the Austrian empire was cut into peaces. So there were no developments possible, and added with the nationalism the minority of the Jews was blamed for the bad economy, as in Poland...]

[Codreanu - Tartarescu - Goga]

The Romanian Fascist movement known as the Iron Guard was growing stronger. Under its leader, Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu, it embarked on a campaign of (p.209)

violence that led to the assassination of a Liberal party prime minister by an Iron Guard member in December 1933. From that moment on, Romanian democracy, never very strong, was in constant decline.

Until 1937 the Liberals, under Tartarescu, were in power, but their policy became more and more rightist and anti-Semitic under the pressure of a right-wing opposition group that came under the influence of a Fascist leader, Octavian Goga. A prop of the regime against a rightist takeover was King Carol, though he also aspired to dictatorial rule and had in fact attempted - unsuccessfully - to gain absolute power in May 1934.

The fact that his mistress, Madame Lupescu, was of Jewish descent increased anti-Semitic tendencies because of the almost universal distaste with which the king's extramarital adventure was regarded. Despite all this, a semblance of parliamentary democracy was maintained until December 1937, when the defeat of the Liberals brought about a sharp turn to the Right and the ascent of Goga to power.

[Jews in Romania: Figures]

The number of Jews living in Romania was a matter of dispute. Romanian sources tended to exaggerate their estimates in order to prove the supposedly inordinate influence of the Jewish population in the country. In fact, the census of 1930 showed that there were 728,000 Jews in Romania. An investigation into Jewish citizenship in 1939 showed that there were 662,244 Jews. Even if we assume that some Jews managed to escape a census that was intended to deprive them of their citizenship,

(End note 70: New York Times, 11/26/39 [26 November 1939])

there could not have been many more than 700,000 Jews in Romania in that year. The figure of 760,000 usually mentioned in Jewish sources represented the absolute maximum and was probably an overestimate.

[Supplement: The number of Jews in Romania in general is dependent from the size of the country. Before 1919 Romania is little, in 1920 Romania becomes a big state with Transylvania and Bessarabia, in 1941 a part of Transylvania is added to Hungary, and 1945 Romania becomes a medium size with Transylvania, but without Bessarabia. And there is a little border difference with Bulgaria about a landscape at the Danube delta].

[Structure of the Jewish communities in Romania - poverty in Transylvania, Bucovina and Bessarabia]

The Jewish communities throughout the country differed considerably from one another. While the Jews in Bucharest and in some parts of Walachia, Moldavia, and central Transylvania were at least partly westernized and had abandoned the religious way of life, others were living well within the sphere of strict Orthodoxy. IN northern Transylvania, around Satu-Mare, Máramarossziget, and Brasov, there lived a poverty-stricken Jewish population clamoring (p.210)

for the kind of help JDC could provide.

[Supplement: It can be assumed - it would be only logic - that the Jews in Hungarian Transylvania had been cut from their connections to Hungary, so the market for their products was lost. The same impoverishment happened with the Germans there, can be assumed].

In Bessarabia, and to a certain extent in Bucovina too, a similar situation existed. In Bessarabia there was a fairly large Jewish agricultural population (about 40,000 persons), whose primitive methods of cultivation exposed it only too often to threats of starvation in years of drought.

In Romania, as in Poland, JDC was able to increase its allocations as the 1930s progressed. Of the sums available, about one-third was spent to feed children in hunger-stricken districts and to maintain summer camps, because Kahn believed that such camps constituted a primary reconstructive task.


[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.


[5.15. General JDC work in Romania: Kassas]

Generally speaking, much of the work of JDC in Romania was done by the Reconstruction Foundation loan kassas, whose influence in Poland has been discussed. In fact, with the Polish loan kassas in the throes of a crisis between 1933 and 1937, much attention was devoted to the Romanian kassas, and large sums (p.212)

were invested in Romania.

(End note 75: In 1934 the foundation invested $ 36,820 in Poland and $ 156,349 in Romania. In 1935, $ 137,500 was invested in Romania; in 1936, $ 220,000)

The number of these kassas grew, until they reached 81 in 1938. Over 52,000 individuals were registered with them; together with their families, this embraced over 25 % of the Jewish population in the country, and thus the kassas became a popular and extremely helpful prop for the shaky Jewish economic situation. They charged only a nominal rate of interest and extended loans that averaged about $ 70 for relatively long periods of time.

As in Poland, this helped small Jewish merchants and craftsmen to withstand temporary setbacks, made it possible to purchase essential equipment or horses for transport, and aided them in their hard struggle against growing competition. A large proportion of these kassas operated in Bessarabia (39 in 1938), the most poverty-stricken area in the country.

Free Loan kassas existed in Romania as well. However, contrary to the situation in Poland, these never became popular. Only 15 such institutions operated in 1935, and their number did not increase in later years.

[1937: Romania gets a good economic situation]
It should be stressed that, except for regions such as Bessarabia, Romania recovered from the effects of the world economic crisis quicker than did her neighbors. By 1937 she had achieved a budgetary surplus, and exports were rising.


[5.16. Nationalism - anti-Semitism - discrimination - Goga laws]

[Nationalism in Romania presses against the minorities]

However, it was mainly the Romanian middle class and landowners who benefited, while the rising tide of nationalism prevented most minority group members from participating in this economic improvement. These minorities, about 4.5 mio. people in a nation of 18 mio. [Germans, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, Ukrainians etc.], were not treated equally by the government. Hungarians and Germans, who were a majority among the 4.5 mio. were treated better than the rest - Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Russians, Gypsies, and Jews. The usual reasons for anti-Semitism were aggravated in Romania. Small trade was, in crucial areas, in Jewish hands - 48.3 % of Romanian Jews engaged in trade -

(End note 76: R50: Situation of the Jews in Eastern Europe; report for June 1938; 32.8 % of the Jews were engaged in industry, 4.1 % in agriculture, and 2.7 % in the professions).

and the economic competition grew by leaps and bounds. The Jews were the least protected of the ethnic minorities and could be dealt with impunity by economic competitors.

[Since 1935: Anti-Semitic laws and laws against minorities in Romania - Jewish small businesses are going down]
It is therefore not surprising that openly anti-Semitic measures (p.213)

were taken even by the Liberal regime. By late 1935 decrees had already been published limiting the employment of non-Romanians in industry. In late 1936 and early 1937 a series of government decrees said that at least 50 % of the employees in all industrial or trade establishments must be ethnically Romanian. As the Jews were the only minority among whom trade and industry formed a major part of the occupational structure, the decrees were clearly aimed at them.

Worse, the Romanian National Bank instructed all its branches not to rediscount bills of businesses belonging to members of ethnic minorities. Merchants, artisans, and mercantile employees had to pass examinations like the Polish ones or be deprived of their occupations. Apprentices - in a country where the majority of artisans were Jewish - would have to have seven years of Romanian elementary schooling in the future.

(End note 77:
-- R48, report from Romania, 1/19/37 [19 January 1937];
-- R16, Kahn report, 11/19/35 [19 November 1935])

[The Romanians and the minorities have to help each other to fulfill the new laws]

The results were a swift deterioration in the Jewish economic position. One after another, Jewish banks outside the JDC kassa system were failing. Jewish masters had to accept non-Jewish apprentices for training, both to satisfy the quota for Romanian employees and also because there simply were not enough Jewish apprentices to qualify under the new regulations.

[Since 1935: Discrimination in professions for Jews in Romania]
Unofficial but effective ostracism operated in the professions too. In 1935 and 1936 no Jewish lawyers were accepted by the Romanian bar; the number of newly accepted Jewish medical students dropped from 66 in 1934 to five in 1935 and to none in 1936. In 1937 four Jewish students were accepted by the medical school, but were prevented by force from attending classes.

(End note 78: Ibid.
[-- R48, report from Romania, 1/19/37 [19 January 1937];
-- R16, Kahn report, 11/19/35 [19 November 1935])

[18 Dec 1937: Romania: The right extreme Goga government - Christian maids' law]

It was against this background that the extreme rightist government of Octavian Goga came to power on December 18, 1937. The rumors that began to spread among the Jewish population were only too well-founded. The New York Times reported on January 20, 1938, that Goga wanted to expel 500,000 Jews, that another luminary of the government, Cuza, had said that there would be no expropriation of Jewish property "at present", and that no Christian maids under 45 would be allowed to work in Jewish homes - this latter statement had been taken straight out of the Nazi Nuremberg laws. (p.214)

[22 Jan 1938: Romania: Law about citizenship brings Jewish communities in big trouble]

On January 22 [1938] a law was passed forcing Jews to submit to a "revision" of citizenship. This was to completed by February 12 in so-called Old Romania (that is, Moldavia and Walachia) and in the rest of the country 50 days later. Jews had never bothered to establish their residence by documentation. The peace treaty had laid down that people habitually residing in the territories acquired by Romania after World War I would automatically become Romanian citizens. Owing to their lack of documentation to establish habitual residence, the anti-Semitism rampant in courts of justice, their limited knowledge of Romanian culture and language, and the ridiculously short time in which to correct all this, there was pessimism and even panic in Jewish circles. Dr. Wilhelm Filderman, a lawyer and the head of the Romanian Jewish community, who also was JDC's most trusted contact in Romania, estimated that 80 % of the Jews in "New" Romania would be deprived of their citizenship. At a meeting in France between Filderman and representatives of JDC, ICA, and the Reconstruction Foundation, the conclusion was reached that the coming Romanian elections on March 2, 1938, would be of "vastly greater importance than the hopeless task of mitigating the effects of an anti-Semitic victory". The situation of the Jews in Romania was judged to be a "disaster, even worse than (that) which befell the Jews in Germany".
(End note 79: R48, Nathan Katz to Hyman, 2/2/38 [2 February 1938])

[10 Feb 1938: Dismissal of the Goga government - king's government follows]

However, the new decrees were too much even for many of Romania's rightist politicians, including the king. Early in February a juridical committee of the Romanian parliament found the anti-Jewish decrees unconstitutional, and the Goga government resigned on February 10. It had been in power for less than six weeks, but the damage it did was incalculable. In its stead the king established a coalition of Right and Center, with the patriarch Miron Cristea as prime minister. It was in a real sense the king's government that now took over.

[More anti-Semitic laws from Goga government]

The openly anti-Semitic course gave way to a more subtle approach. New decrees were enacted regulating such things as the renovation of shops, requiring state examinations for previously qualified doctors and druggists, forbidding the transfer abroad of (p.215)

funds for the support students who were not of Romanian descent, requiring proof of Romanian citizenship for any foreign transaction, and the like.

(End note 80:
-- 48-Gen. & Emerg. Romania, general, 1938-39, 4/28/38 [28 April 1938];
-- report of Kahn and Schweitzer on meetings in Bucharest)

This was followed by the mass cancellation of the licenses of Jewish petty traders. All big industrial companies were told to name Christian directors. Worst of all, although the summary procedure of depriving Jews of their Romanian national status was abolished, the principle of a revision of citizenship was maintained and the threat of denationalization remained.

Kahn fully expected that 150,000 Jews would lose their Romanian citizenship. Most of them would then have no way of earning a living, and there would be a tendency for them to emigrate under government pressure. Yet there seemed to be no alternative to supporting the king, because the most vocal opposition to his rule came from the pro-Nazi Iron Guard.


[5.17. Nationalization laws - emigration terror without organized emigration]

[1938: Nationalization of all cooperative institutions - Reconstruction Foundation and Free Loan kassas have to go - fight about the kassa system - the normal kassas can stay]

The situation continued to deteriorate during 1938. In the spring of that year the Romanian government decreed that all cooperative institutions would be incorporated into government cooperatives. This meant the end of the Reconstruction Foundation and Free Loan kassas. JDC and its ICA partner tried to prevent this liquidation, and ICA obtained the British government's agreement to intervene with the Romanian government. As a result, the liquidation, which was to have taken place on June 1, 1938, was postponed. In the meantime, Alexander A. Landesco, a prominent member of JDC's Executive Committee, who was of Romanian Jewish origin, went to Bucharest to try to influence the government. At the same time, Hyman intervened with the Romanian minister in Washington.

On June 16, 1938, Landesco cabled from Bucharest: "Liquidation cooperatives Romania suspended one year." But on June 23 the minister with whom Landesco had negotiated, Militia Constantinescu, went back on his word and declared that the liquidations would soon begin. Liquidators were in fact appointed on June 28.

ICA and JDC again tried in every possible way to influence the Romanians. The State Department was asked to intervene. On July 21 James C. Dunn of the State Department wrote to Hyman that (p.216)

the Romanians had told the American representative in Bucharest that Landesco had "misunderstood" the Romanian minister: what Constantinescu had meant was not postponement for one year, but one year's time for the cooperatives to liquidate. Since the Romanian government had not received a prompt answer to this generous offer, it was now withdrawing it and would liquidate the cooperatives as required by its laws. The exchange of letters with the State Department continued into August, but the State Department was inclined to blame JDC for not having promptly accepted the Romanian offer and declined to take any further steps in the matter. Fortunately, the remnant of the Romanian kassas was saved by a ruling of the Romanian Court of Cassation in March 1939.

(End note 81: Ibid.
[-- 48-Gen. & Emerg. Romania, general, 1938-39, 4/28/38 [28 April 1938];
-- report of Kahn and Schweitzer on meetings in Bucharest]
for correspondence with the State Department in June and August 1938. See especially 5/27/38, memorandum by Paul  Baerwald. Executive Committee, 5/19/39, Hyman's report).

[1938: Romania: All denationalized Jews become foreigners: about 150,000]

In the meantime, denationalization proceeded. Two decrees, on September 15 and December 2, 1938, provided explicitly that all denationalized Jews would henceforth be treated as foreigners and required to obtain certificates of identity that would authorize them to reside in Romania for one year at a time. No licenses for trade, industry, or the professions would normally be issued to such persons. The number of persons affected by these decrees was in the neighborhood of 150,000.

(End note 82: Ibid.; memorandum re legalization of social welfare activity in Romania, 3/1/39 [1 March 1939])

[Jewish organizations have to close]
In the wake of these draconian laws, all Jewish organizations of a political nature were ordered closed down. This affected the Union of Romanian Jews led by Filderman and the Jewish political party (Volkspartei).

[Language terror]
In certain areas of the country Jews were forbidden to use any language except Romanian, even though that was not the language generally spoken there.

[Emigration terror without organized emigration - memorandum by Noel Aronovici]
Economic and political ostracism of Jews reached unheard-of proportions. The only Jewish organization permitted to exist, declared the foreign minister, would be a committee for the emigration of Jews.

(End note 83: Ibid.)

Paralleling the development in Poland, Romanian politicians now began an intensified propaganda campaign for Jewish emigration. Illegal immigration into Palestine was encouraged, and further declarations in favor of Jewish emigration were made.

JDC, overwhelmed by the effects of Nazi expansion on Central (p.217)

European Jewry and deeply worried about the fate of Polish Jewry, which was also facing threats of expulsion, did not know how to deal with the Romanian situation. A memorandum by Noel Aronovici, himself a Romanian Jew, proposed remedies in more or less traditional terms: more homes for apprentices, vocational retraining, establishment of Free Loan kassas (despite the fact that the existing ones were being closed down), and aid to children.

(End note 84: R11, memorandum of December 1938)

[1937-1939: Not much help of JDC possible]

Indeed, there was very little that JDC could do in this situation except increase their help in the form of thinly disguised relief until the overall situation eased. Attempts by the World Jewish Congress to arouse public opinion by political action at the League of Nations met with no greater success.

(End note 85: WJC submitted a sharply worded memorandum to a subcommittee of the League of Nations that was supposed to investigate complaints regarding the treatment of Jews in Romania, 3/1/39 [1 March 1939])

[There is the same suspicion like in Poland: The Yiddish speaking Jews in Romania shall be exterminated, and the German Jews may go to Palestine to create the new Israel state. And this is regulated by the Zionists].

The feeling of gloom and lack of any real hope found its way into Joseph C. Hyman's speech in September 1938, when he declared: "While we sit here and talk of budgets, of quotas, of campaign agreements, a remorseless torrent sweeps away everything that our brethren have believed in, have prayed for, have fought for, and have built up during their existence."

(End note 86: Speech by Joseph C. Hyman at the JDC National Council, 9/18/38 [18 September 1938])

JDC was trying its best to stem the flood, but those who directed its fortunes were well aware not only of the hopelessness of their task but also of the fact that the very foundations of their humanist and liberal philosophy were being swept away.

Finally, as in Poland, the very grimness of the situation was beginning to force upon local Jewry the necessity for unification. As in Poland, JDC in 1939 tried to set up a Central Committee of Romanian Jews, for economic purposes at first. But unlike Poland, negotiations in Romania did not advance beyond a preliminary stage. Nothing had changed by the time war broke out.

(End note 87: 48-Gen. & Emerg. Romania, general, Troper to JDC, New York, 1/13/39 [13 January 1939])


C. Czechoslovakia and Hungary

[JDC in Subcarpathian Russia]

Another area in which JDC spent sizable sums of money and considerable energy was Subcarpathian Russia (or PKR, in Czech initials), the easternmost tip of Czechoslovakia. A mostly Orthodox Jewish community lived there, subsisting on petty trade, agriculture, and forestry. There was a famous Hebrew secondary (p.218)

school at Munkács (Mukachevo) and a number of yeshivoth. In 1933 JDC started a feeding program for children.

(End note 88: JDC report for 1933)

Occasionally small sums were granted to vocational establishments or small Jewish workshop cooperatives, mainly in the automobile repair and textile branches. Most of this work was done in conjunction with the Jewish Social Institute in Prague and a parallel organization in Bratislava.

[JDC in Hungary]

In neighboring Hungary, JDC did not operate at all in the 1930s though it followed developments there with increasing anxiety. The Jewish population in Hungary was actually declining, as a result of numerous conversions among the upper strata of Jewish society and a decline in the birthrate. There were 444,500 Jews in Hungary in 1930. With the annexations of parts of Slovakia and PKR in late 1938 and in March 1939, the Jewish population grew to 725,000 by 1941.

In Hungary proper (as contrasted with PKR), and especially in Budapest, Jews tended to be a prosperous middle-class community. In early 1939 it was estimated that 43 % of Hungarian commerce was handled by Jews; 49.2 % of the lawyers and 37.7 % of the doctors were Jewish. Industry, too, was partly in the hands of Jews.

(End note 89: R46, reports for January 1939. The population statistics are taken from Erno Laszlo: Hungary's Jewry: A Demographic Overview, 1918-1945; In: Hungarian Jewish Studies, ed. Randolph L. Braham (New York, 1969), 2:157-58)

[Horthy government]

Yet Jews in Hungary were still considered to be strangers, despite the fact that they had lived in the country for many centuries and despite their own keen desire to be regarded as Hungarians. The regime of the archconservative regent, Admira Horthy, wavered between personal friendship for Jewish elements in the Hungarian aristocracy and anti-Semitism.

[May 1938: Percentage law for businesses - Jews are considered as outlawed]
In May 1938, under the influence of Nazism, Hungarian anti-Semitism won its first great victory in a bill that decreed that by June 1943 not more than 20 % of people working in any establishment could be Jews. As a result, a large number of Jews were thrown out of their professions.

Hungary's politicians followed the German example closely in other ways too. In late 1938, after the Sudeten crisis in the autumn of that year, the Hungarian government published the text of a second bill, which was finally passed in March 1939. The preamble (p.219)

to that law stated quite explicitly that the Hungarians were outlawing Jews as part of a general movement: "Before the (1938) law was promulgated, only one of the neighboring states, Germany, had taken energetic measures to drive the Jews out of the country. Since that time, however, many other states in Europe have followed this example. ...

[Supplement: No Haavarah agreement for East European Jews
For German Jews there is the Haavarah agreement. But there is no Haavarah agreement for East European Jews. This is the point that the Yiddish Jews should be exterminated, the German Jews not. It can only be assumed that Zionists are steering this process].

The Jewish question is an international problem like many other questions of international interest, such as world traffic, world economy, hygiene, and instruction." An international solution - that is, mass emigration and expulsion by international consent - was consequently desired.

[1939: Hungary: More discrimination laws: Citizenship questions - profession discriminations]

The 1939 bill itself provided for the invalidation of the citizenship of certain classes of Jews who had obtained their Hungarian nationality after 1914; in effect, it revoked the Jewish franchise by instituting a separate Jewish poll in the national and municipal elections; and it barred Jews from positions in the civil service, municipalities, and public corporations, and from working as public notaries and editors-in-chief. The number of Jews in the legal, medical, and engineering professions was limited to 6 %. Publication of papers owned by Jews was forbidden, and state contracts for Jewish enterprises were withdrawn. Most serious of all was the provision that no trade concessions or licenses could be granted to Jews unless the percentage of Jewish license holders dropped to less than 6 %.

The definition of a Jew was clearly Nazi in origin: a Jew was a person of Jewish faith, a Christian born of Jewish parentage, or the offspring of a mixed marriage if the Jewish parent had not been baptized before the marriage.

It was quite clear that very soon Hungarian Jewry would be calling for active help from JDC.


D. The Baltic States

[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...]