[A. Destruction of the Jewish
existence in Poland 1929-1939]
[5.12. JDC work for Jewish children and schools
in anti-Semitic Poland]
[Work for children makes
JDC popular - funds of JDC for children organization
CENTOS and and the health organization TOZ]
The question as to
whether work for children was relief work exercised some
of the minds at the JDC offices. To Kahn, at any rate, it
was quite obvious that this was constructive work of the
highest order, and he insisted on devoting roughly
one-third of his Polish budgets to the support of various
types of activities for children. This, of course, was in
line with the traditional Jewish approach to social work
generally and made JDC popular among the Jewish masses in
Eastern Europe. A large percentage of these budgets went
to two organizations that dealt mainly with children:
CENTOS and TOZ.
[Supplement: At the other hand the Jewish organizations
made themselves unpopular at the "Christian" population
because "Christian" children received no help].
[Figures of Jewish
children programs in anti-Semitic Poland]
The number of children requiring the attention of CENTOS,
the child care agency, grew considerably in the 1930s.
Only a small number of them could be accepted into
institutions providing full-time care; these were mostly
either orphans or half orphans. In 1937 there were 8,047
of these youngsters. However, the total number of children
that CENTOS looked after, partly or wholly, grew from
15,102 in 1933 to 32,066 in 1937. These included
youths in vocational training institutions (they were
included as JDC institutions in the figures for vocational
training given above) and summer camps.
[JDC cooperation with
children organization CENTOS]
JDC actually supplied about 12-13 % of CENTOS's budget, in
line with its policy of helping others to help themselves.
But these percentages were very important for the men who
ran CENTOS. They could then go to the Polish government
and municipalities and point to American help (in foreign
exchange) as a weighty argument in their demand for Polish
contributions. These contributions added another 17 % to
their budget, and the rest was largely covered by
membership contributions. This was a unique system of
organization whereby CENTOS had over 45,000 registered
members who owned, and theoretically ran, the organization
and its institutions. They were, of course, recruited from
the wealthier segments of the Jewish population, and there
too, the fact that CENTOS had been set up by JDC and
continued to enjoy its support was adduced as an argument
in collection drives. (p.204)
[The work of TOZ with the
poor Jewish families - TOZ medical facilities]
A similar structure characterized TOZ, though TOZ was
smaller and weaker than CENTOS. The task of TOZ was not
limited to children; it had to look after the health of
the poorer sections of the Jewish population, young and
old. It had only 11,191 members in 1937, and its budget
was 1.4 million zloty, or less than half of the 3 million
zloty budget of CENTOS. But it, too, spread its 142
institutions all over Poland, and tried to introduce
modern hygienic methods into slums and poverty-stricken
townships and villages.
One of its main achievement was the organization of
lectures by various types of experts. Its 46 stations for
mothers and babies gave valuable advice at very little
cost to large number of women who could not afford to
visit doctors. It had six X-ray installations and 29
dental stations, some of them mobile. It ran three Jewish
hospitals, 33 ambulatory clinics, and 12 anti-TB
dispensaries in 1938.
With regard to TOZ, JDC help was relatively larger than
with CENTOS and amounted to 28 % of the TOZ budget. But
Polish governmental and municipal help amounted to only
9.4 %, and the percentage of the budget covered by local
Jewish contributions was about the same as for CENTOS. JDC
supervised closely the expenditures and general activities
in both cases through its Warsaw office.
[JDC network for children
One of the most important types of work with children
encouraged by JDC was the network of summer camps. The
reasoning behind this network was that children who
suffered privations throughout the year should spend the
summer in healthful surroundings, with adequate medical
attention and with plenty to eat, (p.205)
Summer Camps in Poland
|No. of camps
|No. of children
relatively speaking. In 1934 some 35,000 Jewish children
went to summer camps supported by JDC-subsidized
institutions. These included not only CENTOS and TOZ, but
also the various Jewish school networks.
Direct participation of JDC in these camps ranged from 10
% of the budget in 1936 to 7.2 % in 1938; but apart from
JDC's direct participation, the various organizations that
ran the colonies were themselves JDC-controlled or
-subsidized or both, and the expenses of these camps were
part of their regular budgets.
The problem of starving children could not, of course, be
solved by a few weeks of summer vacation.
[If also "Christian" children get summer camps in Polend
is not mentioned. If not there is a big subliminal base
for envy of the "Christian" population].
[Poverty of Jewish
children in Poland]
Very large numbers of Jewish children went to school in
the mornings without breakfast. The choice was whether to
give them something to eat at school or let them go
hungry. There was no question as to the response from JDC,
despite its opposition in principle to direct relief. In
the face of the deteriorating Polish situation and the
approach of war in Europe, some JDC officials in New York
asked whether some of these expenses could be cut; Kahn
lost his usual patience and retorted: "Try to be hard and
do not give any money for feeding and clothing and see
what will happen. I hear so much about your wanting to be
drastic - try it!"
(End note 64: 44-21, Kahn's letter, 7/25/39 [25 July
They did not [cut].
[1940-1943 the ghettos would cut, under the eyes of the
Polish Catholic - extremely anti-Semitic - population.
Many Jewish children have survived on farms with helping
on farms, and later were defined as "Christians" to hold
them there for further help on the Polish farm, because
the men were killed in the war...]
The problem of Jewish children in Poland was very closely
bound up with the question of Jewish culture and religion.
JDC's main task was to try to save the economic and social
structure of European Jewry; but it could not, and did not
want to, close its eyes to cultural and educational
problems. Cyrus Adler, head of the American Jewish
Committee, served as chairman of JDC's Cultural and
Religious Committee. In 1935 he states: "Hard as the
situation is, if no effort is made to save the minds and
the soul of the Jewish people, there will not be any
Jewish people left to save."
(End note 65: Executive Committee, 3/26/35 [26 March
There was some truth in that statement, though the danger
was less one of immediate cultural assimilation than of
physical, economic, and ultimate cultural degradation and
decline. As it turned out, the spirit of the Jewish people
bore up remarkably well in the face of the most horrendous
[Orthodox Jewish families
get no state schools for their Jewish children]
The first and most urgent problem was that of schooling.
Polish schools were making it increasingly difficult for
observant Jewish children to attend classes. In the 1930s
the special Polish schools where Jewish children were
excused from writing on Shabbat began to close down. The
same fate awaited Jewish private schools.
The pretexts were usually of a purely formal nature, that
is, nonobservance of regulations regarding the size of
rooms, facilities, and the like that were ignored as far
as the Polish schools themselves were concerned.
[Jewish schools have no
money for renovations - Kahn's warnings that closed
Jewish schools will never reopen]
Then there were Jewish schools that had to be renovated
for reasons other than the pressure by Polish authorities;
these schools, which depended largely on voluntary
contributions, were rarely in a position to build or
renovate without financial aid.
In 1934 Kahn was warning New York that "the schools, once
closed, will never be allowed to reopen" by the Poles.
"The institutions, fallen to pieces and deteriorated
considerably, will cost very much more to restore if they
are allowed to go to pieces altogether."
(End note 66: R17, letter by Kahn, 11/3/34 [3 November
In the early 1930s Kahn was experiencing great
difficulties in getting allocations for physical
facilities for Jewish schools, but the situation eased
somewhat later on as a result of increased funds. It was
then that he stated his view that schools were as
productive as industry and indicated his opposition to
those in New York who wanted to increase "productive"
investment at the expense of schools.
[Jewish schools in
anti-Semitic Poland: Figures]
The Polish Jewish school structure was itself a model of
confusion. At the end of 1935 a total of 523,852 children
were registered in various types of institutions,
government and private, from the primary grades to the age
of 18. Of these, 343,671 studied in Polish schools,
including those where certain allowances were made for
Shabbat observance. This accounted for about 2/3 of the
the rest, 180,181 children, studied at Jewish institutions
of different kinds. The largest of these were the
religious primary schools, traditional chadarim
Jewish law and religious observances were the main
studies. These schools were said to have close to 50,000
Some 35,585 girls studied in specially set up, rather
primitive religious institutions that paralleled (p.207)
About 16,000 boys of high school age studied at various
types of yeshivoth
(higher institutions of traditional learning); thus over
100,000 children attended 963 religious educational
Of the rest, the most important were the Tarbuth schools,
where most of the subjects were taught in Hebrew rather
than Polish or Yiddish, though both the latter languages
were also taught. There the stress was on modern secular
schooling, with a careful balance of the sciences,
humanities, and sports. Needless to say, this network of
schools was under Zionist influence [because Hebrew was
foreseen for Palestine and Yiddish should be exterminated
and not been spoken in Palestine]. A total of 44,780
children studied in its 269 institutions. These included 9
secondary schools, from which much of the young Zionist
leadership between the two world wars in Poland came.
Also Zionist, modern, and religious were the 299 schools
of the Yavneh
group, which had 15,923 pupils. Yavneh was under the
influence of religious Zionist parties.
A special network of Yiddish schools (167 primary and 2
secondary) was organized by circles close to the Bund;
this network was called Cisho
A total of 16,486 children studied in those schools; the
trend was left-wing, Yiddishist, and anti-Zionist [because
they thought Jews should not leave their home countries].
There was also a small network of 16 schools with 2,343
children (Szulkult), which tried to combine Yiddish with
Hebrew [a multi-cultural schooling system].
That was the complete picture of Jewish elementary and
secondary schooling in Poland.
(End note 67: All the figures are taken from a detailed
report by Neustadt, dated 5/10/36 [10 May 1936]: Jewish
Private and Public Instruction in Poland; 46-reports)
To this one must add the 167 yeshivoth
for young adults, with their
31,735 pupils, who formed the backbone of traditionalist
Jewry in Poland.
JDC paid special attention to the yeshivoth, mainly
because Adler saw in them a certain guarantee for Jewish
existence in Europe, and also because the many Orthodox
supporters of JDC had the right to expect financial aid
for the yeshivoth. Besides the yeshivoth, JDC also
supported the Jewish Scientific Institute (YIVO), which
had its main center in Vilna. In 1939 a JDC leader said of
YIVO that its achievements made "the Hebrew University [in
Tel Aviv?] look childish in accomplishment".
(End note 68: 44-21, Committee on Poland, 4/11/39 [11
This may have been somewhat exaggerated, but there was no
doubt that YIVO was an institution of quality and had a
right to expect JDC help. (p.208)
[JDC help for the Jewish
schools in anti-Semitic Poland]
JDC had the choice of supporting all the different trends
in Jewish education or none. The schools represented
various types of political thinking no less than various
trends in education, and JDC could not appear to be
partisan to any particular trend. Subsidies therefore went
to all types of schools; but the principle of supporting
only capital investments, not current budgets, was
carefully observed. This was sometimes rather liberally
interpreted - for example, when it came to various types
of teaching aids; but generally speaking JDC support went
toward construction, repairs, acquisition of essential
school equipment, and the like.
From 1933 to 1939 JDC school expenditures trebled,
(End note 69: From $ 44,000 to $ 121,000)
and while the total sums were quite small, a great deal
was done with them. As in other cases, JDC made its
support conditional on the raising of local funds. Without
JDC contributions these funds would never have
materialized. With them, many schools in Poland either
were built or were salvaged for the use of thousands of
[Late 1930s: The last
years of Jewish schools in Poland]
Yet despite all these efforts Jewish schools continued to
shut down all over Poland in the late 1930s. In the Cisho
network alone, 63 schools with 8,400 pupils were closed
down by the Polish government between the two world wars,
under a variety of pretexts. Kahn suspected that the Poles
would attack the Tarbuth network as well. The same pattern
that we observed in other areas was repeated here: the
funds that JDC had at its disposal in Poland simply did
not allow for any radical cure of the massive illness the
Jewish economic and social structure was suffering from.
Without JDC help, it must be presumed, the situation would
have been considerably worse; with it, it was bad enough.