Morris C. Troper had said at
the 1938 JDC annual meeting that to foresee the expenditures
for JDC was, in a sense, to forecast the course of history.
There seems little doubt that during the decade 1929-39, the
course of JDC's history was to a large extent the course of
the history of the Jewish people in Europe. JDC had started
out in 1929 with the idea of finishing a job that had been
started in 1914. By 1931 it had become clear to the leaders
of the organization that JDC could not be disbanded. The
economic crisis in the U.S. had almost killed JDC. But it
survived and was ready to meet, though it never had enough
money, the terrible disasters that befell the Jews of Europe
in the 1930s.
In a very real sense, JDC undertook a Sisyphean task. With
relatively little money it tried, against all odds, to save
the crumbling economic structure of the Jewish people in
Eastern Europe; then it tried to save the Jews of Central
Europe from the effects of the Nazi onslaught. Certainly it
suffered from the shortsightedness of its leaders; certainly
it made mistakes, did not realize the gravity of situations
until it was too late - but did not others fail as well,
without trying to do a fraction as much as JDC?
It can be cogently argued that the attempts of JDC to reform
the Jewish economy in Poland were foredoomed to failure.
With hindsight it is possible to criticize severely the
investment of so much money and goodwill in Soviet Russia.
JDC's opposition to Zionists (p.302)
merits careful analysis. Its hesitations regarding the
emigration of German Jewry from 1933 to 1935 can also be
criticized. Yet with all that, JDC could look upon that
terrible decade as a period of trial in which it had on the
whole stood the test, to the best of its limited
There have been few Jewish leaders and thinkers who judged
their times with more perspicacity and lucidity than
Bernhard Kahn, or with more human warmth than Felix M.
Warburg. JDC could not dispense more help to Europe than
American Jewry was willing to provide. It never hid any
facts from the American Jewish public. It always demanded
more funds than it got. It did not keep those funds in
banks, but spent them to help the needy, feed the hungry,
clothe the naked. There were never enough funds, and too
often the answer to a plea for assistance had to be no.
But critics rarely criticized what JDC was doing - usually
the criticism was directed at what JDC should have done and
did not do (largely because it lacked the means). It tried
to meet the emergencies as they arose.
JDC, together with HICEM and others, was involved in the
emigration of some 440,000
(End note 1: Based mainly on R21, draft 1939 report)
Jews from Central Europe: 281,900 from "old" Germany,
117,000 from Austria, 35,000 from the Czech lands, and 5,500
[Supplement: It can be estimated that about 10 % of them had
been cought again by the NS forces in the campaigns of
1939-1943: in in Poland, in Denmark, in Norway, in
Luxembourg, in Belgium, in Holland, in France. Many managed
to flee to France, then to South of France, then to Spain
and overseas. Illegal emigration is not mentioned but has to
It had relieved the suffering of many more in Europe. It
proved to them that the Jewish people in America cared, that
they were not alone. It answered the voice of conscience -
which is more than can be said of many in that time.