JDC Global Archives Brings Jewish History to Life

The Paul Nathan Hospital in the Smidovitch settlement, Larindorf, was a well-equipped and staffed facility. Crimea, c. 1925; photo courtesy JDC.

New York, March 3, 2012 – Which U.S. president publicly urged Americans to support the first campaign aiding war-ravaged Jews overseas? Which organization brought the first John Deere tractor to Ukraine? What killer disease was eradicated in Ottoman Palestine by a Jewish doctor?

Such historical gems, together with harrowing eye-witness testimonies of war, strife, and Jewish community life in Jerusalem, Warsaw and Morocco comprise the hundreds of thousands of searchable documents and more than 45,000 photos now available at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Global Archives website. The website, and the JDC Global Archives digitization project were made possible through a lead gift from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky. Drawn from the humanitarian organization’s vast international collection, the online compilation currently represents materials from JDC’s founding in 1914 through 1932. Additional records are being added in the coming year.

“The JDC Archives document an important chapter of modern history. It would be tragic if they had been lost. They will now be broadly accessible and available for posterity,” said Dr. Polonsky.

Leonard Bernstein leading a 30 piece orchestra performance, consisting of former concentration camp inmates, for DPs in the Feldafing camp as arranged by JDC; May 10, 1948. Photo courtesy JDC.

The website offers extensive photo galleries, including photos by renowned photographers Walter Limot and Al Taylor; lists of more than 7,000 aid recipients from the First World War Era, and a video lecture series on JDC from Professor Yehuda Bauer. With materials for scholars, educators, genealogists, and the general public, the site also has a tutorial for site visitors. Users will be able to match archival documents with photos, the names index, and oral histories. The website includes material for serious scholarly research, curated exhibits, and a search option for those interested in family history and general Jewish interest.

“The importance of this website, and JDC’s archives overall, is not just that it uniquely chronicles Jewish life abroad for the past 100 years, it’s that it demonstrates how one organization steadfastly stood by its vow to help Jews in need, wherever they were,” said New York University Professor Marion Kaplan.

Whether it’s the shocking field reports of pogroms in Polish cities during the WWI, vintage fundraising posters depicting the plight of Jewish suffering, or papers detailing the remarkable cooperation of JDC and the American government in alleviating famine in Ukraine, all can be found through an integrated search of text, photos, and names.

“JDC’s Archives contains some of the most remarkable stories of Jewish life and Jewish heroism in the last 100 years. No matter what your background or reason for visiting this site, you will be inspired by tales of perseverance, bravery, and an unquenchable desire to hold onto our Jewish identity in the most difficult of circumstances,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager.

A special feature on the site is a virtual memorial to more than 40 JDC staff who died in the field. Victims of Nazism, Communism, and other tragedies, these men and women were dedicated to saving lives and rebuilding communities. “Their legacy is our mission, even today,” said Schwager.

Paired with the website launch is recruitment for the Fred and Ellen Lewis JDC Archives Fellowship. Designed for scholars engaged in graduate level, post-doctoral, or independent study, the fellowship’s research can take place in either New York or Jerusalem in JDC Archives facilities. Topics for consideration include twentieth century Jewish history, general history, and humanitarian assistance as well as other areas of academic research covered in the JDC archival collections.

The JDC Global Archives includes over 3 miles of text documents, 100,000 photographs, 1,100 audio recordings including 95 oral histories, 157 recorded historic speeches and broadcasts, and 1,300 video recordings. Every year, close to 1,000 researchers, scholars, genealogists, filmmakers, journalists, Holocaust survivors and the general public conduct research in the JDC Global Archives.

JDC previously made available a collection of its historic records and photographs from the Holocaust period on the Our Shared Legacy mini-site, now part of the JDC Global Archives website.

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