JDC Archives Index of
Vilna Refugees, 1940

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Background

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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.

We are pleased to add a second collection, also now searchable on the JRI-Poland database:

  • Vilna Refugees, 1940.

The Wartime History of the JDC in Poland

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.

The Vilna Refugees List

In 1940, following the Nazi invasion of Poland, thousands of Jews fled east to find safety in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, which by then was under Soviet control. This list, sent from JDC's provisional branch office in Vilnius to JDC's New York headquarters includes the names of more than 9,000 Jewish refugees in Vilna who received assistance from JDC.

The list includes the person's name, city or town of birth, year of birth, and the city or town from which he or she fled. In the cover letter accompanying the list (below), S. Tarashtshanski suggests that the location information could be useful as a way to solicit financial support for the refugees from the various Landsmanschafts; a reply from New York dated 30 April 1940 indicates that JDC had pursued this idea and in fact had already received donations from several Landsmanschafts.

Letter from S. Tarashtshanski, JDC Provisional Branch Office, Vilnius, to JDC Headquarters, New York

In order to make this information more accessible, the JDC Archives decided to index this 152-page list 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 data from the list, creating a separate record for each name. A pdf of the complete list is available on the page Lists in the Names Database on the JDC Archives website, or click here (PDF).

Portion of the first page of the Vilna Refugees List

The entries vary in the degree to which all information was included. The most complete listings include information for the following fields:

  • Surname
  • Given Name
  • Location of birth
  • Year of Birth
  • Originating City

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 individual page on which a name appears, users of the JRI-Poland database should follow the link to the JDC Archives record and click the PDF icon.