A century of search
Europe, subsequent appeals for relief — particularly in Russia and central and eastern Europe — and the need to co-ordinate a response, led to the creation of what would become known as the JDC.
The JDC’s 100-year history is marked by a series of operations and campaigns to alleviate the suffering of those affected by war.
At the midnight of Jewish history, in 1939, the JDC was able to help around 110,000 German Jews emigrate — against the backdrop of economic depression in the United States. It helped a further 81,000 Jews flee Europe up until 1944.
In 1940, the JDC was helping refugees in transit in more than 40 countries.
A f t e r t h e war, when millions of E u r o p e - ans were displaced, including a r o u n d 75,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust crowded into displaced personscamps, theJDCwasone of a number of organisations on the ground providing humanitarian aid and relief.
In Aharon Appelfeld’s novel Tzili, he describes his protagonist — a refugee and survivor of the Holocaust — arriving in Zagreb, a “strange, half-ruined city”, to find the JDC “distributing biscuits, canned goods, and coloured socks from America”. Women rushed to get boxes of dresses and shoes; “Tzili received a red dress, a petticoat, and a pair of high-heeled shoes. A heavy smell of perfume still clung to the crumpled goods.”
As with many stateless Holocaust survivors, Tzili’s
wish was to go to Palestine. Zionism took root and flourished in persons’ camps across Europe. At a time when aliyah was being severely and cruelly restricted by the British, the JDC provided funding and supplies to Bricha and Aliya Bet, underground Zionist organisations that were trying to get Holocaust survivors out of Europe and into Palestine. The JDC also supplied medical, educational, and social services in the British interment camps in Cyprus. In the end, around half of the Jewish refugees ended up in Palestine.
Once Israel existed, the JDC played a vital role in enabling the safe passage of olim to
the Jewish state.
Yemeni Jews at the JDC’s Sha’ar Menashe care home in Israel