JDC Emigration Service Index Cards: Warsaw Office, 1945-1949

In May 2017, Jewish Records Indexing – Poland and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) entered into a collaborative agreement to enable searches of the JRI-Poland database to display links to selected holdings in the JDC Archives Names Database.

The aim of the JRI-Poland/JDC agreement is to bring the remarkable work of the JDC to the widest audience as well as to utilize the multi-faceted JRI-Poland search engine options to dramatically increase the potential for finding cards of interest to researchers.

The board of JRI-Poland expresses its profound appreciation to the JDC for enabling us to share this important information with the research community.

The initial collection of records to be shared, which is now searchable on the JRI-Poland database is:

  • JDC Emigration Service Index Cards: Warsaw Office, 1945-1949.

The History of the JDC

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (known in Poland as the American Joint Distribution Committee or AJDC, colloquially known as “the Joint”) was active in Poland from the time of its founding in 1914, providing humanitarian relief to Jews displaced by the turmoil of World War I. JDC’s relief and reconstruction efforts in Poland continued through the interwar years. These efforts did not cease with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. During the first years of 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 Poland Offices managed to reopen the Joint office in Poland only a few months after the end of the war. Restoration of operations in Poland was initiated by David Guzik, an AJDC finance director during the interwar period and occupation, who had survived the last years of the war in the Soviet Union. Guzik was appointed Director of JDC Operations in Poland in 1945.

AJDC’s most important objective was providing relief aid, including food, medicine, clothing, raw materials, machinery, and other goods. Other activities included the renewal of Jewish communal life and the opening of new communal institutions in response to the tremendous needs, the investigation of inquiries from relatives abroad attempting to trace lost family members, and assistance for those wishing to emigrate.

Transporting supplies labeled “Joint” to a warehouse, Warsaw, c. 1946-47.
(Photo courtesy of the JDC Archives.)

The JDC Warsaw Office Collections

In 1949, the Communist government of Poland decided to eliminate most Jewish organizations, political parties, associations, and institutions in Poland. AJDC staff prepared to shut down operations, packing the office records in 15 crates for shipment out of the country, presumably to the JDC Overseas Headquarters in Paris. Before the material could be shipped, government security forces confiscated it. Eventually, the bulk of the collection was transferred to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw (JHI or ZIH in Polish), where it remains.

As part of the Victim List Project of the Swiss Banks Settlement, which identified archival sources that contained the names of those killed during the Holocaust and of survivors and sought to improve access to the repositories that contained these names, in 2002, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), with support from the Swiss Banks Settlement, provided the resources for the records of the JDC Warsaw Office 1945-1949 to be arranged and microfilmed. JHI archival staff prepared a detailed finding aid and inventory that was published in 2005. In 2012, the JDC Archives, having by then begun to digitize its text collections and publish the documents online, entered into successful negotiations with the JHI to digitize the collection, which was opened to the public via the JDC Archives website in December 2014. An English-language finding aid, which includes direct links to the database records at the file level, is available.

Following this successful collaboration, JDC and JHI came to a similar agreement regarding the digitization of JDC’s wartime Polish records, 1939-1941. These were put online in March 2016 (see finding aid).

The JDC Emigration Service Indexing Project

One of the largest record groups in the postwar AJDC Warsaw Office collection is that of the Department of Emigration. JDC played a leading role in enabling thousands of Jews to emigrate, assisting with the preparation and obtaining of passports, visas, and other documents and purchase of railway tickets. JDC paid the travel expenses for people of limited means and organized emigration groups. Most of Poland’s surviving Jews, including those repatriated from the Soviet Union, left Poland during this period, particularly after the Kielce pogrom of July 1946. JDC’s Emigration Service provided assistance to a small portion of this population.

This activity is documented in more than 300 case files, which are numerically arranged by case number. Accompanying these case files is a set of approximately 6,400 index cards, alphabetically arranged by name. Although these index cards were included in the digitization project and were searchable online within the text collection, the individual names were not always available (e.g., if the card was handwritten) and only the principal name on the card was directly searchable; accompanying family members listed on the same card could only be found using the full-text search feature via optical character recognition, which, given the way the names were entered on the cards, was not entirely reliable or complete.

In order to make this information more accessible, the JDC Archives decided to include the JDC Emigration Service index cards in its Names Database, which is accessible via a separate API on the JDC Archives website and is designed for more direct and straightforward names search. Volunteer indexers entered the principal data from the cards, reading handwritten names, correcting misspelled names in the text-collection records, and identifying duplicate cards, which were then combined into a single record with a multipage pdf of all copies of the card.

Sample index card

The cards vary in the degree to which all fields on the index cards were filled in. The most complete cards include information for the following fields:

  • Surname
  • Given Name
  • Sex
  • Address
  • Birthdate
  • Birthplace
  • Nationality (Present and Former)
  • Occupation (Present and Former)
  • Country of Destination
  • File Number
  • Opening Date
  • In Transit From
  • Accompanied By
  • Closing Date

The fields that appear in the record entries are:

  • Surname
  • Given Name
  • Birthdate
  • Birthplace
  • Country of destination
  • Accompanied by

Users can see the additional information that has not been included in the records by opening the pdf and viewing the card. Once the accompanying family members are taken into account, the database includes 8,218 names.

Accessing the Data

In addition to the availability of these records in the JDC Archives Names Database, this collection is now included in the overall JRI-Poland database. To view images of the index cards, users of the JRI-Poland database should follow the link to the JDC Archives record and click the pdf icon.