"The Jews were the worst sufferers in the war. 'The successive blows of contending armies have all but broken the back of European Jewry and have reduced to tragically unbelievable poverty, starvation and disease about 6,000,000 souls, or half the Jewish population of the earth."
-From a statement by Felix Warburg, Chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee, November 1919.
"In Europe there are today more than 5,000,000 Jews who are starving or on the verge of starvation, and many are in the grip of a virulent typhus epidemic."
Speaking from Paris on October 26, 1919, Felix Warburg spoke about plans to switch from emergency or general relief to reconstructive relief in the activities of the Joint Distribution Committee. Warburg said:
"The 30 million dollars given since the war by America for the relief of Jewish victims of the war programs has been well spent and served the purpose of keeping body and soul together for millions of unfortunates who otherwise would have perished.
Warburg explained, 'The great need of urgent relief-food, clothing, and shelter, still exists but as Europe settles down the need for money for that purpose will pass. It is passing even now. We are hoping to get 20 million dollars in an American drive and use perhaps half of this for work of immediate relief.
'The other half will be used as capital for a bank. What the Jews and everybody else in Europe need is raw materials to get back to work. [...] We negotiated with local bankers throughout the stricken section, saying: 'We will give you a certain amount of money if you will advance an equal amount as a loan to reestablish the people in their accustomed trades.'
'We want to encourage the Jews in trade and farming so far as possible, and discourage mere merchandising. We feel that in this way we can do much to eliminate race prejudice. This plan of lending money at small interest may go a long way toward this.
'I see no reason to believe that profit cannot be shown on the great mass of loans we intend to make. Naturally we are interested primarily in the Jews, but so far as practicable we hope to do business - that is what this is, with non-Jews as well."
Back in New York from his trip to Paris, Felix told the New York Times in an article that the Jews were the worst sufferers in the war, "and have reduced to tragically unbelievable poverty, starvation and disease about 6,000,000 souls, or half the Jewish population of the earth." At the same time, one of Felix's older brothers, Max Warburg, was representing Germany on their Finance Committee at the Versailles Peace conference. Max ran the Warburg bank in Hamburg and played a role at every major reparations conference for 14 years giving him wide yet unofficial influence. During the Weimar Republic, Max Warburg was on the Central Committee of the Reichsbank and on the board of 27 German businesses including I.G. Farben.
American Red Cross and American Jewish Committee representatives were working in a remote region of Poland according to another 1919 report article:
"The war has left 5,000,000 destitute and stricken Jews in Eastern Europe. [...] Their number is being reduced every day by a series of the most terrible epidemics that ever swept any section of the world."
He attributed this to an accident of geography, causing Jews to suffer "more from the war than any other element of the population."
Felix Warburg had a secretary, Harriet Lowenstein, who was active in the Joint Distribution committee. She went to Europe on their behalf and made large purchases from the U.S. Army. When the servicemen asked what she was going to do with the 100,000 plus candles that she bought, she told them that the candles were to keep the rats away from the dead in the horrible cellars where so many of the destitute Jews live in Poland. This was perfectly true, too, according to Lowenstein.
This article was apparently written months after the fact, probably in New York, after Miss Lowenstein had returned home from Europe. Speculating on how this story came to be, it is possible it was written to explain rumors among the American soldiers that there was a Jewish woman with a lot of powerful friends who was pushing everybody around France and almost stealing army supplies and equipment. It's also possible that the story was just a human interest story, perhaps written to show contributors to the 'Joint' that they were getting their moneys worth, but that alone wouldn't explain the smart mouth routine about the candles to the American servicemen. Of course only a very small percentage of the world's many needy people then were Jewish, as is true today, although the State of Israel receives the lion's share of the total of U.S. foreign aid. Some things don't change.
Here is another remarkable 'news' story from 1919. Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau Sr., the father of Henry Morgenthau Jr., back from an official mission to Poland, reported that five to ten million people in Europe and the Middle East faced hunger death in the coming winter. That there was massive hunger in Europe at that time was certainly true. But his real point was not just to talk about the 'starving millions.'
This article's centerpiece is the theme we have seen stressed so many times since, in so many places and in so many ways. Morgenthau uses a Jewish massacre as a universal symbol for all suffering for all people who experience injustice. Morgenthau called the Jewish massacre at Pinsk "a complete expression of the misery and injustice which is prevalent over such a large part of the world today [...]" Later he calls the massacre, "the anguish cry of a terribly persecuted race; to my mind it expressed the misery of centuries and the misery not only of the Jews, but the numerous other people that for ages have looked for justice and have not found it." An earlier example of trying to appropriate the Christian message that we see over and over echoed in today's popular culture.
Sholem Asch, a well-known Yiddish writer, served on the Joint Distribution Committee during World War One. When the 'Joint' entered Lithuania in 1919, he went there on its behalf. Asch later served on the pro-Soviet American Committee of Jewish Writers and Scientists. Three years before World War Two began, Asch wrote concerning Polish Jews:
"people made the impression as if they were buried alive. Every second person was undernourished, skeletons of skin and bones, crippled, candidates for the grave."
"In the Valley of Death" was a fictional article published by the New York Times magazine in 1943 written by Asch in which he wrote of
"gas chambers and blood poisoning stations which are established in the outlying countryside, where steamshovels prepare community graves for the victims."
At the end of World War One, there certainly were people starving in Europe. There were millions of Germans, Poles, and Russians starving. Also more people died in a worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918-1919 than died in World War One. On Christmas Day of 1919, the American Relief Committee for German Children, which included Jacob Schiff and Paul Warburg, was soliciting funds for hungry German children through the Society of Friends.
In 1920, there was a non-sectarian appeal for funds with the slogan, "This time the burden is too gigantic to be borne by Jews alone", by the Greater New York Appeal for Jewish War Sufferers. This fund drive included many prominent Protestant and Catholic clergy with special model sermons prepared for delivery in all denominations on Church Sunday. The New York City Board of Education cooperated so that children in the public schools could hear the story of the suffering of the children in other lands. Once again the appeal concentrated on Poland, and 10,000 active volunteers were helping in the New York campaign. Dr. Boris B. Bogen, sent to Warsaw by the Joint Distribution Committee, provided this message:
"Hunger, cold rags, desolation, disease, death - Six million human beings, without food, shelter, clothing or medical treatment. At no time during the war, in any land, not either in Belgium or Northern France, was there a situation more critical, a need more great, a demand for sacrifice more insistent than now comes from Eastern and Central Europe. Both the present and future existence of an entire people are at stake."
This 1920 fund raising campaign was aided and legitimized by at least two New York Times editorials. One entitled "A Work Of Mercy" made the point that the Jews who fought bravely for the allied cause had no fatherland and were still suffering even though the war had ended. It stated:
"In Europe there are today more than 5,000,000 Jews who are starving or on the verge of starvation, and many are in the grip of a virulent typhus epidemic. An appeal has been issued throughout the world."
Another Times editorial captioned "The Jewish War Sufferers" reported:
"In Russia and the neighboring countries the Jews have been subject to a particularly malignant persecution which has not ended with the war. Without any national organization of their own, they have no central organization to appeal to. Living in segregated and generally impoverished communities, their misery is cumulative to an extent unknown among other sufferers. It is estimated that more than five millions are actually starving or on the verge of starvation, and a virulent typhus epidemic is raging among them and is already spreading among neighboring populations."
Although obviously not true, or at the very least grossly exaggerated, these stories, which have been completely forgotten today, were taken quite seriously at the time they were made. Please remember that the press had a lot more credibility in 1920 than it has today.
On September 10, 1920, President Woodrow Wilson expressed sympathy for the suffering Jews of eastern Europe in a letter to Stephen S. Wise, then Executive Chairman of the Committee on Jewish Status in eastern Europe. President Wilson declared:
"I am deeply moved by the reports which you send me of the trials and sufferings endured by your fellow Jews throughout Eastern Europe. No American, whatever his racial origin or religious creed can fail to feel the deepest sympathy with the Jews of Eastern Europe who continue to bear not only the burden of the war, but also the sufferings incident to unenlightened and unjust treatment at the hands of governments and peoples. [...] I am of the hope that those nations with which our own land holds political commerce may do everything in their power to end not only the legal disabilities of their Jewish populations as provided for in the minority clauses of the Peace Treaty, but all the injustices and wrongs which are laid upon them."
The peace treaty that President Wilson was referring to was of course the Versailles Treaty and the Peace Conference at Paris that ended World War One.
By this time the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was being called the "undisputed colossus of overseas aid." The group's executive committee met at Felix's office at Kuhn & Loeb or in the Rembrandt Room of his mansion, named for the Rembrandt paintings on display.
There were free loan societies and other financial institutions being funded through charitable contributions in place by 1921. Instead of having to pay back depositors plus interest, they didn't have to pay anybody back when the money was donated. One might think that they wouldn't charge interest. But as their own records show, the 'Joint' did charge substantial interest, as proven by this interchange at the Chicago Conference of the American Jewish Relief Committee held in 1921:
"Mr. Adolf Kraus: 'I would like to ask the speaker a question. I understood you to say that these banks that will loan out the money will charge no more in the way of interest initially than if we had administered the cost of carrying on these banks. Did I understand you correctly.'
Colonel Lehman: 'Yes'.
Mr. Kraus: 'If the initial cost will be ten percent, will these people be charged ten percent?'
Col. Lehman: 'I have said that we will not allow them to charge an amount more than will be necessary.'
Mr. Kraus: 'You are not answering my question.'
Col. Lehman: 'Yes, I will answer it. I should have said that we will not allow them to charge more. I did not mean to give the impression that we will not allow them to charge as much as may be necessary to carry on with the administrative charges. In other words, I believe about ten percent will be necessary to carry on with the administrative charges.'
Mr. Kraus: 'I protest against charging these people ten percent interest.'
Col. Lehman: 'I want to emphasize the fact that the reconstruction committee, the Joint Distribution Committee, will under no circumstances charge ten percent or any substantial proportion of that. The reconstruction committee in Rumania is charging to the federation of cooperatives making these loans two and one half percent. You can't expect these people to whom we are giving the money to assume all of the costs of administration. They are willing to take some risk of loss on the administration, but where the cost is, say six percent to eight percent for administration, it would be hard to expect them to carry that themselves. Now, in Poland I should say that the cost of administration would be that, while the Joint Distribution Committee is only going to receive three or four percent.'
Mr. Kraus: 'What is the difference to the man who pays the interest whether the bank in Rumania receives the interest, or in Poland, or the Joint Distribution Committee? My opinion is that if any interest is charged it should be limited, so it should not cost the person who pays it more than five percent. If we are going to do charity at the rate of ten percent interest and over, let us stop. It is no charity at all.'
Col. Lehman: 'I don't think that you can change the economic laws with the use of a million dollars. You can change them to a certain extent. I think that Dr. Bogen will bear me out when I say that the interest rate in Poland is much higher than that.'
Dr. Bogen: 'In Poland the moneys that will be received from America will be used in reconstruction work, and to help the Polish Jew so that he will be able to help himself. The usual rate of interest in Poland is 1 percent a week, or 52 percent a year. The Jews in Poland do not want to borrow money without interest. When I told them that we were going to give them relief they told me they wanted to send you an appreciation for all that was done in the matter of relief.'
The Chairman: 'Subject to the approval of the conference the chair would suggest that such questions as may arise in the minds of the members of this conference be jotted down and the chair proposes to set aside all the time that we need for answering questions."
The excuse was later given that the interest rates are high in Poland due to the exchange drop (inflation) in Poland, but since the money was donated in dollars that kept their value, the Polish currency fluctuations shouldn't have made any difference.
Later a Dr. Rosenblatt of the conference discussed pogroms and children. Dr. Rosenblatt said:
"Pogroms are going on daily. They spring up sporadically, unsystematically, in one place one week and the next week in another place, and there is no power on God's earth which can cope with the situation of the pogroms. I do not want you to misunderstand me. The Russian Government is trying its utmost to cope with the situation but it is powerless, because these pogroms, this pogrom movement, these criminal ways of killing the Jews, are a movement against the Soviet government. It is synonymous with them to make a pogrom and to fight the Soviet government and therefore the one insoluble problem today is how to cope with the pogrom situation'. [...]
I witnessed scenes of children playing. What is the play, what is the game of the children? They are playing in pogroms, a group of 25 children on one side and a group of 25 children on the other side. One group is the pogrom maker and the other group consists of Jews who must save themselves, and the psychology of those children, the frame of mind of these children is the most horrible thing to think of."
A Mr. Billikopf, who had been a commissioner of the Joint Distribution Committee for three months in Galicia, Lithuania, and Poland, gave the hard sell:
"I advocate a new and immediate drive as the first and the imperative task that is before us. I know that the words 'drive' and 'campaign' have become odious - that they cause our flesh to shrivel when we think of them, but whether they are odious or not, there are 60,000 Jewish orphans who, without us, will die!"
Dr. Nathan Krass spoke about some of the negative rumors that must have been floating about at the time of the conference. Dr. Krass testified:
"I have crossed the ocean a number of times in the interest of the Joint Distribution Committee. I have traveled all through America, and therefore geographically I have trained myself to see both sides of the problem. I see it from Europe; I see it from America. I see it through your eyes; I saw it through the eyes of our brethren over yonder. I am glad that I was in Europe this year, because so many of our rich Jews of America were tourists this year. I met them in Carlsbad, I met them in Marienbad; they were everywhere, and everywhere they grumbled because they saw in so many of those summer resorts the Jews of Europe living in the hotels and enjoying themselves and they came to the rapid conclusion that because these few Jews, the thousand they saw in Carlsbad, and the 800 they saw in Marienbad and the 500 in Wiesbaden, who through the decline in the exchange value could translate their lei and their lire into large amounts of money in Czechoslovakia and in Germany - these American Jewish tourists have come to the conclusion that all the Jews in Europe are rich and have grown prosperous and therefore we need no longer help them, but we should let them help, let them take the burden from our shoulders."
He further stated that while he was in Europe he also saw orphan asylums, misery, and hard working 'Joint' agents.
Felix Warburg and Henry Morgenthau also spoke at this conference along with others.
The fund drives continued on a more or less annual basis. In 1922, a Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, condemned the silence of pogroms that he said were being carried out in Ukraine. He declared:
"[...] 1,000,000 human beings had been butchered and that for three years 3,000,000 persons in the Ukraine had been made 'to pass through the horrors of hell.' [...] He said that although the pogroms in the Ukraine had ended there were something like 600,000 homeless children, 150,000 orphans and 35,000 double orphans in the Ukraine who would die from cold, hunger or disease unless Jewish hearts remained human and came to the rescue."
A brief 1922 news article "Jews Take Over Relief" reported that the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was taking over the work of the American Relief Administration in overcoming famine in seven governments of the Ukraine.
In 1923, the Jewish Relief Committee of the Joint Distribution Committee was reporting 1,165,290 stray children wandering in the Ukraine. They made the further astounding claim that the 1,165,290 stray children were wandering in the Ukraine because 3 million dollars in pledges had not been paid. The New York Times reported that the Committee stated:
"There is still time to round up these 1,165,290 homeless children and reclaim them from the fate of savages. There is time to snatch them back from the first onslaughts of Winter in Russia, even now creeping over the hills, but it will require every dollar of the cash pledged to the program of relief and now withheld. Unless the money can be had at once it will be too late."
Some people will, by inclination, believe that wherever there's smoke there must be fire. Even when the smoke is coming from dry ice. These people will think there must be some truth to stories told often enough and well enough, whether or not the stories pass the smell test. By inclination, I may tend toward the opposite extreme. Show me where somebody's obviously lying and I will probably remember that incident even when he is trying to tell the truth. A lot of the money raised by these drives was used to help many people, and it is possible to argue that if the promoters hadn't dramatized the situation, less money would have been raised which would have meant that fewer people would have been helped. But on the other hand, the more dubious stories compromised the integrity of these endless appeals for charitable contributions. The next chapter covers the 1926 drive, where stories of 5,000,000 starving European Jews were spread to finance banks in Poland and kibbutz like agricultural colonies in the Soviet Union. It was perhaps the high water mark of fund raising prevarication, at least for the 1920s.
|||"Tells Sad Plight of Jews," New York Times, November 12, 1919, p. 7. See Appendix, p. 126.|
|||Editorial, New York Times, April 21, 1920, p. 8.|
|||Editorial, New York Times, October 27, 1919, p. 3.|
|||"Felix M. Warburg Tells Sad Plight of Jews," New York Times, September 29, 1919, p. 7. For the complete article, see Appendix, p. 106.|
|||"Five Million Face Famine in Poland", New York Times, December 3, 1919, p. 24. For the complete article, see Appendix, p. 111.|
|||"Spends $2,000,000 in one Bargain Hunt," New York Times, October 26, 1919, section 2, page 1. For the complete article, see Appendix, p. 107.|
|||"Says Ten Millions Face Hunger Death," New York Times, Dec. 3, 1919, p. 19. For the complete article, see Appendix, p. 109.|
|||Y. Bauer, op. cit. (note 56), p. 11.|
|||Arkady Vaksberg, Stalin Against the Jews, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, p. 118.|
|||Y. Bauer, op. cit. (note 56), page 189.|
|||Sholem Asch, "In the Valley of Death," New York Times, February 7, 1943 p. 16.|
|||"Jews Ask Public to Aid War Victims", New York Times, May 2, 1920, p. 1. For the entire article, see Appendix, p. 113.|
|||New York Times, April 21, 1920, p. 8. For the entire article, see Appendix, p. 113, reproduced on p. 124.|
|||"The Jewish War Sufferers," New York Times, May 3, 1920, p. 12. For the entire article, see Appendix, p. 116, reproduced on p. 125.|
|||"President Urges Justice for Jews," New York Times, September 12, 1920.|
|||R. Chernow, op. cit. (note 34), p. 246.|
|||Proceedings of Chicago Conference of the American Jewish Relief Committee held on September 24-25, 1921.|
|||Ibid., p. 40f.|
|||Ibid., p. 55.|
|||Ibid., p. 61.|
|||"British Chief Rabbi Condemns Silence on Pogroms Carried Out in Ukraine", New York Times, January 9, 1922, p. 19. For the entire article, see Appendix, p. 117.|
|||"Jews Take Over Relief. Will Carry on Work of American Body in Ukraine," New York Times, July 2, 1922.|
|||"1,165,290 In Ukraine Verge On Savagery - Jewish Relief Committee Here Appeals for $3,000,000 to Aid Homeless Children", New York Times, September 3, 1923.|
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