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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 6. The Beginning of the End
[E.] JDC in 1938/1939

[6.14. Internal change of structures within the Joint Distribution Committee 1938/1939]

[20 Sep 1937: Death of Felix M. Warburg - successor Paul Baerwald]

The dramatic developments in Europe caused an internal upheaval in JDC's setup. This reorganization had already started during the last months of Felix M. Warburg's life. When the founder and honorary chairman of JDC died on September 20, 1937, his death was a tremendous blow to the organization, because there were few persons in American Jewish life who could match his humanitarianism, his personal concern with aiding stricken Jews all over the world, and his prestige in the Jewish and non-Jewish world.

Paul Baerwald, his close associate in JDC work, became the head of the organization in fact as well as in name. (Years before his death, Warburg had officially ceased active work for JDC, becoming honorary chairman - but in reality he remained the arbiter of the organization's fortunes).

[Since 1936/7: Growing JDC needs new structures - Administration Committee set up]

In 1936/7 JDC grew into a large organization, and the old way of running things no longer seemed adequate.

In June 1937 a nucleus of the Executive Committee, called the Administration Committee, was formed to run the day-to-day affairs of JDC. It was composed of those laymen most concerned with its work: James N. Rosenberg, George Backer, Alexander Kahn, Morris C. Troper, Jonah B. Wise, William Rosenwald, Herbert J. Seligman, Mrs. Harriet B. Goldstein, David M. Bressler, and a few others.

[Weekly meetings of the representation persons Hyman and Baerwald]

The JDC office was represented by Hyman, and of course Paul Baerwald almost always participated. Meetings were sporadic at first, but soon weekly meetings became the rule.

[1938-1939: JDC Structure reforms: Steering Committee set up - Budget and Scope Committee]

By the middle of 1939 even the new committee had become too unwieldy, and a small steering committee, composed of 15 members, began to emerge. More and more, the Executive Committee's meetings became formal occasions, with the real decision-making transferred to the smaller bodies. (p.250)

In late 1938 and early 1939 committees of laymen were formed to deal with policy decisions on separate areas, whether geographical or other. Cultural, religious, and educational matters had been the province of a special committee ever since the inception of JDC. There was also the Budget and Scope Committee, which dealt with financial planning.

[JDC: Fund raising committee - committee on refugee countries - Latin America committee - Poland and Eastern Europe committee]

Other committees dealt with fund raising, allocations, and other matters. In 1938 the need arose to coordinate activities in different parts of the globe. A committee on refugee countries was therefore formed under Edward M.M. Warburg, Felix M. Warburg's son, who was to take his father's place in the leadership of the organization. Another committee under Alfred Jaretzki, Jr., was formed to deal with Latin America; a committee for Poland and Eastern Europe, under Alexander Kahn, had been in existence for some time.

[1937: European Council of JDC set up]

A similar process began at the European and of JDC's operations. As early as January 1937 Baerwald began admonishing Kahn that he should be in constant consultation with his chief accountant and representative on the Reconstruction Foundation, David J. Schweitzer, and with Joseph A. Rosen. A European Council of JDC was then formed, of which Kahn became chairman and Nathan Katz secretary.

(End note 74: 44-3, Baerwald to Kahn, 1/28/37 [28 January 1937])

[April 1938: Replacement of Kahn because of age and citizenship - successor Troper]

The truth of the matter was that Kahn was getting old; in early 1938 Troper visited the Paris office and reported that Kahn did not seem to be able to manage the whole scope of JDC's affairs; other thought differently.

In April 1938 the demand that Kahn be replaced was voiced at an Executive Committee meeting. The main reason advanced seemed logical enough: Kahn was not an American and could not move about in German-occupied countries. JDC had to plan ahead for the eventuality of a German takeover in Czechoslovakia, and an American Jew who knew the American background of JDC would now be the right person to represent the organization in Europe. When Kahn was informed of the decision, he did not object. He moved to New York, became an American citizen, and spent the rest of his extremely active life as a member of the JDC office.

(End note 75:
-- Executive Committee, 4/20/38 [20 April 1938];
-- and confidential information given this author).

This is perhaps the place to evaluate the contribution of Dr. (p.251)

Bernhard Kahn to Jewish history in the interwar period. For most of the period between the wars, Kahn was the arbiter of many Jewish economic endeavors in the field of reconstruction and relief. Behind his cold and remote exterior there was a warm heart and an immensely fertile mind. None of his peers, certainly none of his successors in JDC or elsewhere, could equal his knowledge of Judaism, Zionism, economics, history, social work, philosophy, art - or indeed his achievements and interest in a dozen or more fields. His departure in 1938 was, one suspects, inevitable; but with him disappeared one of the great figures of Jewish life - as man whose name rarely if ever appeared on the pages of the press, and whose preoccupation with practical matters never allowed him to devote his time to creative scholarship.

His successor as chairman of JDC's European Council was Morris C. Troper, until then the head of a firm of accountants who had been responsible for checking JDC's accounts. In many ways Troper was Kahn's opposite. A simple man with simple tastes, an efficient administrator, ebullient, he was quite unlike Kahn, the aesthete and polyglot. Troper had a warm heart and - again, unlike Kahn - could express himself publicly much more effectively than the shy German Jew with his foreign accent. The difference lay, among other things, in Kahn's knowing Europe, and that was his strength; Troper's strength lay in his knowledge of America and American Jewry.

In autumns of 1938 Troper went to Europe to take over responsibilities from his predecessor.