The American Joint Distribution Committee, Warsaw office, 1945-1949
The original documents were confiscated by the Communist government of Poland in 1949, after AJDC was forced to suspend its operations in Poland due to the decision of the Polish authorities to eliminate most of the Jewish organizations, political parties, associations, and institutions in Poland. The documents were later transferred to the Jewish Historical Institute (JHI) in Warsaw, where they remain. Although an inventory made by the AJDC Warsaw office in December 1949 indicates the existence of 15 cartons of material, only 12 cartons were transferred to the JHI.
The American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC, as it was known in Poland) was active in Poland from the time of its founding. Immediately after the end of World War I, in early 1919, AJDC sent representatives to Poland. The outbreak of war in 1939 did not stop the AJDC relief efforts in Poland. During the first years of Nazi occupation, the Joint was able to continue its activity, although much diminished compared to the prewar period. The branches of AJDC in the area of the General Government worked until December 1941. When the United States entered the war, AJDC’s work continued underground. With the total extermination of major Jewish communities in 1942 and 1943, AJDC efforts in the occupied territory ceased almost entirely.
Surviving members of the AJDC Polish branch managed to reopen the Joint office in Poland only a few months after the end of the war: on July 19, 1945, the Ministry of Public Administration gave formal consent for the Joint to begin its activity, and in August the initial agreements that established the operating principles of the AJDC branches were signed. The Polish headquarters was located in Warsaw at Chocimska 18 as of September 1, 1945. The main initiator of reconstruction of the Polish branch was David Guzik, one of the AJDC directors during the interwar period and occupation, who had organized help for the Jewish people during the war. Guzik became the first director of the Warsaw headquarters; after his tragic death in an airplane crash on March 5, 1946, he was replaced by William Bein. The general secretary in Warsaw was Józef Gitler-Barski. The Polish Joint was gradually growing: in October 1945 it hired twenty people; several months later (March 1946) it was almost eighty; and by December 1947 its branches employed almost 130 people.
AJDC's most important objective was providing aid. Food, medicine, clothing, raw materials, machinery, and other goods were obtained through foreign assistance or direct purchases abroad or in Poland. In the years 1945-1949 AJDC imported almost 600 railway car and shiploads with hundreds of tons of food and other goods. The first transport arrived in Gdynia on October 8, 1945, and contained, among other items, 5 tons of vegetable fat, 2 tons of powdered milk, and the like. The Polish headquarters of AJDC had separate departments for receipt, storage, and distribution of the enormous aid. Financial (cash) assistance was given directly to individual recipients in only a minority of cases; mostly, such funds were directed to various organizations and associations. The major beneficiaries were the Central Committee of the Jews in Poland (CKŻP) and the health care organization TOZ; for example, the Central Committee received about 3.5 billion Polish zlotys in the years 1945-1949. The Joint also supported Jewish political parties and social organizations, youth associations, and religious organizations and Hebrew schools.
Academic, cultural, and artistic associations were also the focus of Joint activity and interest. It supported the activity of the Central Jewish Historical Commission (which became the Jewish Historical Institute in 1947), whose major task was to collect materials related to the Holocaust. Separately, the AJDC financed the work associated with the preservation and arrangement of the Ringelblum Archives (the first parts of which were excavated in 1946) and the search for the second part of these archives (excavated not earlier than 1950). Other groups that benefited from the Joint’s funding were writers’ and artists’ associations, publishing houses, and newspapers and magazines.
In economic activity, the Organization for the Development of Industrial, Craftsmen’s, and Agricultural Activity (ORT), the Cooperative Bank for the Productivity of the Jews, the Solidarność (Solidarity) Cooperative Center, and other cooperatives operated under the auspices of the Joint.
A separate field of AJDC interest was the landsmanshafts—associations and societies of people from the same villages or towns across Poland. The landsmanshafts were organized among the repatriates, mainly those who had been displaced to the interior of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the war, but also Jews who survived the war in Poland and other European countries. They not only benefited from AJDC’s financial support but also received employment assistance and loans as well as raw materials and machinery for production.
The Joint also directed its financial assistance to non-Jews. Special consideration was offered to those who rescued and hid Jews during the occupation; for example, 1 million zlotys was allocated to this purpose during the first quarter of 1947. At the same time, several caregiving facilities—orphanages, convents, and boarding schools—administered by monastic communities that hid Jewish children received AJDC support.
Besides providing financial aid, the AJDC dealt with the search for lost persons. The Department of Tracing Services generated voluminous correspondence with various institutions and private individuals in Poland and abroad. Thousands of letters survived in the department’s documentation. The documents include lists of family members whose relatives searched for them; few of them were found, the majority having died during the war. The search lists were published in the press at AJDC cost.
One of the AJDC objectives was to help people who wished to emigrate from Poland. The Department of Emigration handled the preparation of documents, passports, visas, railway tickets, and the like. Travel expenses for people of limited means were paid. In addition, emigration groups were organized. Most people immigrated to Palestine (Israel), the United States, and Latin America. Altogether, the Department of Emigration helped several thousand people to emigrate, although this represents only a small portion of Jews emigrating from Poland in that period. A separate unit of this department looked after children, especially orphans. AJDC financed the redemption of Jewish children from Polish families, organized health care for them, granted scholarships, and prepared them for emigration.
The AJDC branch in Poland operated until the end of 1949. Its activity was discontinued due to the decision of the Polish authorities to eliminate most of the Jewish organizations, political parties, associations, and institutions in Poland.
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
The current arrangement of this collection and preparation of the inventory was performed by Tadeusz Epsztein, Agnieszka Jarzębowska, and Agnieszka Reszke of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, in 2003-2005 with support from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
This finding aid to the digital files in the JDC Archives database, based on the prior Polish finding aid, was produced by Jeffrey Edelstein and Tamar Zeffren in 2014.
Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, Poland
The collection has also been microfilmed on 444 reels, which are available at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
JL according to the description collection on the JDC website:http://archives.jdc.org/explore-the-archives/finding-aids/warsaw-45-49/
EHRI Guidelines for Description v.1.0