Records of the Geneva office of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
The Geneva office records include the records of JDC’s overseas branch offices, including the Legal Department, that were shipped to Paris and then to JDC’s Geneva Office, when that office opened on July 7, 1958 as JDC’s European Headquarters. These records were subsequently shipped to the JDC Archives in Jerusalem after JDC's Geneva Office was closed in 1977.
The Geneva files of 1945-1954 constitute the documentary record of JDC’s global overseas operations in the immediate post-World War II (WWII) period. These files testify to the complex and multi-faceted nature of JDC’s global rescue and relief efforts, primarily focused on: resettling Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors around the world; facilitating the renewal of Jewish life in Europe; rebuilding Jewish communal institutions; and providing sustaining aid to the remnants of Jewish communities worldwide. The collection documents JDC’s work in over 70 countries.
These records provide numerous perspectives, both wide-ranging in scope and nuanced in detail, on how JDC staff identified, prioritized, and conducted overseas operations in the aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust. The collection includes records about key field personnel and senior staff members who played pivotal roles in JDC’s global operations, most notably Joseph Schwartz, who served as Chairman (1942-1949) and Director General (1950) of the European Executive Council (EUREXCO) and Moses Beckelman, who served as Assistant Chairman of EUREXCO (1946-1950).
The organization’s efforts spanned the entire spectrum of humanitarian relief, from economic reconstruction to the establishment of JDC’s Location Service, which worked to reunite survivors with relatives, and these efforts necessitated collaborations with numerous intergovernmental, nonprofit, and governmental agencies and personnel. Through relief, rescue, and rehabilitation policies and programs, JDC mobilized to respond to an unprecedented crisis in Jewish history and to reconstitute Jewish communal infrastructure in Europe.
The bulk of the records in this collection focus on JDC’s operations in Europe, particularly Germany, and on its extensive relief activities in Displaced Persons (DP) camps established by Allied forces to house hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the war in Germany, Austria, and Italy in the wake of WWII. Other portions of the collection feature focus on JDC’s efforts to assist and resettle survivors in Palestine, later the State of Israel, and elsewhere around the world.
In response to the humanitarian crisis in the DP camps in Germany and Austria, JDC was one of the first non-profit organizations to receive official approval from the Allied Headquarters (SHAEF) to operate in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. It partnered with other relief organizations to provide supplementary food, clothing, equipment, vocational training programs, educational and religious materials, legal representation, and emigration assistance to survivors in DP camps. It is estimated that by 1947, about 250,000 Jewish refugees passed through the DP camps and received assistance from JDC. These files also record the negotiations between JDC and local military and diplomatic personnel, as well as with the U.S. State Department, regarding the passage of survivors and refugees from countries in Eastern Europe to the safety of the American zone in Germany.
These relief efforts depicted in this collection encompassed JDC’s extensive contributions to Palestine and then, after 1948, the State of Israel. JDC provided critical funding and supplies to the underground organized emigration effort to enable hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors to escape Eastern Europe to DP camps and Mediterranean seaports, and then subsequently to British Mandate Palestine.
After Israel became a state in 1948, its social services infrastructure was rapidly overwhelmed by waves of emigration, including many difficult-to-absorb populations such as the handicapped, elderly, and chronically ill immigrants. The following year, in 1949, JDC, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government, created a social service organization called MALBEN. A year later, MALBEN operated entirely under the auspices of JDC to provide institutional care and social services; establish hospitals, clinics and old-age homes; train nurses and rehabilitation workers; and foster the development of private and public organizations in Israel for the care of the handicapped. As the Geneva records testify, the advent of MALBEN introduces the crucial role JDC played as a partner with the Israeli government in promoting comprehensive social welfare services and generating resources that addressed the needs of vulnerable populations in Israel.
The Geneva records also demonstrate the international scope of JDC’s relief activities: documenting heirless Jewish properties and facilitating reparations payments and restitution proceedings; supplying relief packages to vulnerable communities in Soviet Bloc countries behind the Iron Curtain; initiating medical, educational, and vocational support for communities in North Africa and the Middle East; and establishing loan institutions for destitute refugees.
The files also document the myriad ways in which JDC staff mobilized to address emergent threats to Jewish communities in other geographic and political theaters, including the effects of the rising Communist regimes in both Eastern Europe and China and of independence movements in Tunisia, Morocco, and Yemen. Of particular note in the latter are the records of Operation Magic Carpet, a rescue operation organized and financed by JDC and termed the "the largest human airlift in history," which evacuated about 48,000 Jews from Yemen to the newly established State of Israel and Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, which brought approximately 120,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel.
The materials in this collection include: correspondence; committee and board meeting minutes; field reports from worldwide staff; budgets; income and expenditure statements; lists of survivors; tracing requests from relatives and friends seeking information about relatives who may have survived the Holocaust; memoranda; lists of aid recipients and supplementary allocations; program descriptions; passenger lists; cables; supply lists; restitution laws and statutes; summaries of statistical reports; personnel files; legal files; case files; conference proceedings; names lists; audits; brochures; press releases; pamphlets; and news clippings.
The Geneva Office records are arranged into the following four subcollections:Administration;Organizations;Subject Matter; Countries and Regions
The collection is open to researchers with the exception of files that are restricted due to the nature of their contents. Restricted files can include legal files, personnel files, case files, and personal medical diagnoses, etc
This collection was processed by multiple staff at the JDC Archives branch in Jerusalem, including Pinchas Aronin, Shalom Bronstein, Martine Cohen, Sam Englander, Rosemary Eshel, Sarah Lemann, Ayala Levin-Kruss, Israel Marcus, and Victoria Raun.
This finding aid was produced by Mary Haberle and Tamar Zeffren in 2013.
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Jerusalem Archives
The Organizations and Countries and Regions subcollections have been digitized and are available online through the textual collections portal of the JDC Archives database. The Subject Matter and Administration subcollections are presently being digitized.
JL according to the description collection on the JDC website:http://archives.jdc.org/explore-the-archives/finding-aids/geneva-office/1945-1954/
EHRI Guidelines for Description v.1.0