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My Brother`s Keeper: A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1929-1939.

by Yehuda Bauer

Bibliographic information

TitleMy Brother`s Keeper: A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1929-1939.
AuthorYehuda Bauer
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectGeneral Jewish-Interest Literature


My Brother's Keeper deals with the efforts of American Jews - through their overseas aid organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) - to come the aid of European Jewry in the crucial prewar decade, 1929-1939. The book opens with a brief summary of the period 1914-1929, when JDC laid the foundations for its later work in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The daring and tragic experiment of Jewish colonization in the Crimea under JDC auspices is carefully detailed. The personality of Joseph A. Rosen, agronomist and social engineer, stands out in this drama, which broadens into a description of central aspects of the economic and social history of Soviet Jewry in the 1920s and 1930s.

The book goes on to deal with the progressive deterioration of the economic and social conditions of Polish Jews and the rise of Polish anti-Semitism. With the coming of Hitler, German Jews were threatened politically and socially, though a precarious economic existence was still possible until 1938. JDC, through Bernard Kahn, its European director, appears to have been the major agency of help. It attempted not just to hand out doles but to engage in constructive plans to raise standards of living in Poland. It also helped German Jews to close ranks and provided essential services in the face of increasingly threatening circumstances.

In the later 1930s, emigration and refugees were the main subjects of JDC concern. JDC's struggle with Zionist bodies over the American Jewish aid dollar, its changing ideological posture, and the changes in its organizational structure are dealt with. JDC help often came late; American Jewry gave it only small sums of money to work with - yet it was a unifying force among Europe's Jews and the only effective source of aid. The history of JDC became, to an ever-increasing extent, the economic and social history of European Jewry before the dark curtain descended in 1939.

About the Author 

Yehuda Bauer ---

Yehuda Bauer was born in 1926 in Prague. He immigrated to Palestine in 1939 and received his Ph.D. in 1960 from the Hebrew University, where he is now a professor. He is currently head of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry and head of its Department of Holocaust Studies. He is a member of Kibbutz Shoval in the Negev. He is the author of From Diplomacy to Resistance, Flight and Rescue, and other works.



Introduction: The First Fifteen Years

1. A Time of Crisis: 1929-1932

2. Anglo-Joint

3. Germany: 1933-1938

4. Refugees: 1933-1938

5. Prelude to the Holocaust

6. The Beginning of the End


Income and Expenditure of JDC: 1914-1939





In a world of closed borders and hostile officialdom, the Jews of Germany and Austria were ready to clutch at straws. One such straw was Shanghai. In 1937 Shanghai was divided between the international settlement, which was run by the foreign powers (who had, in fact, been ruling the city during the period of the disintegration of the Chinese state), and the Chinese part of the city, which had just been conquered by the Japanese. There was no requirement for an entry visa into the city. IKG became aware of this fact in Vienna in the summer of 1938. The problem was to pay the fares to Shanghai, usually by a German or Italian boat; later, a rail connection via the USSR into Manchuria and thence to Shanghai would also be attempted. Shanghai became a place of refuge, especially for those people who, threatened with arrest and a concentration camp, could find no other place of emigration.

The Jewish community in Shanghai was made up of two main elements: a wealthy aristocracy comprised mainly of Iraqi Jews (among them were members of the famous Sassoon and Kaddouri families), and Russian Jews who had come from Manchuria after World War I. Since the rise of Hitler to power, some German Jews had also arrived, mainly members of the professions. the different groups maintained separate social and cultural lives and evidenced little mutual sympathy for one another.

The situation of few German Jewish refugees had attracted the attention of JDC toward the end of 1937. At that time Judge Harry A. Hollzer of Los Angeles, a respected JDC stalwart, drew the attention of JDC to Shanghai - his brother, Joseph Hollzer, who was the head of a Jewish Relief Committee there, had provided him with some distinctly disturbing information. In early 1938 there some five hundred destitute Jews in the city, not all of them German Jews. But in London the Joint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association decided that Shanghai was "not a matter about which any Jewish community outside of Shanghai and Hong Kong need be troubled." The truth of the matter was that the rich Jews of Shanghai were able, but not very willing, to look after the few refugees who were then in the city. From London it seemed ridiculous to send money to a place like Shanghai.

JDC could not take this kind of attitude. Not only Hollzer, but also other people turned to JDC. In February 1938 the New York office empowered Kahn to look into the matter, though Shanghai was hardly included in Europe, which was Kahn's proper field of activity. JDC records indicate that during 1938, $5,000 was appropriated for refugee work in Shanghai.

After November 1938 people began streaming into the Far Eastern metropolis. Bu June 1939 there were ten thousand refugees in the city, and by the time war broke out in Europe there were close to eighteen thousand. Most of them found refuge in the Chinese part of the city. Unemployment was the rule rather than the exception, because Europeans could not compete with the Chinese for work. In early February the British, American, and French consuls drew "the attention [of] their governments to [the] refugee situation, particularly to [the] necessity [for] relief funds." The U.S. government of course turned to JDC. In JDC the opinion was that "as [the] matter came to us from [the] State Department, we must be prepared to be helpful." The Council for German Jewry in London also provided help in the form of 5,000 pounds; but the main burden fell on JDC, which sent $60,000 to Shanghai before September.

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