Both before and after the start of the war, most governments did little to assist or rescue Jews from the tyranny of Nazi Germany. Even when Jews were permitted and encouraged to emigrate from Germany and German occupied countries, most countries refused to accept any significant number of refugees. During the course of the war, aid or rescue was not high on the list of priorities. Accordingly, the primary burden of assisting in aid and rescue fell on various Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and individuals. The purpose of this section is to highlight some of these organizations.
HICEM was created in 1927 through the merger of three organizations: HIAS (United States Hebrew Sheltering & Immigrant Aid Society; ICA (Jewish Colonization Association), which was based in Paris and registered as a British charitable society; and EMIG-Direct, a migration organization based in Berlin. Its primary purpose was to act as an information and assistance center for Jews emigrating from Europe. EMIG-Direct was forced to withdraw in 1934 after the Nazi takeover. After the war began, ICA was restricted by the British government from using its funds outside of Britain. Accordingly, HIAS became the principal support for the organization. HICEM's European headquarters was in Paris, but after the Germany's occupation of France, the offices were moved to Lisbon. Between June, 1940, and the end of 1941, about 25,000 persons were assisted by HICEM in leaving Europe through Lisbon, Casablanca, and Marseilles. In 1945, HICEM was dissolved and its operations transferred to HIAS.
Below are thumbnails of various philatelic items relating to HICEM's operations. The first is the front and back of a registered cover from the Jewish Community offices in Vienna postmarked August 5, 1939, addressed to the Society of Protection of Immigrant Israelites in Santiago, Chile. The return address is overstamped "Emigration Department of the Jewish Community-Labor Exchange." This Gestapo controlled office was established after Austrian incorporation into the Reich in 1938 and operated under the purview of Adolf Eichmann's "Central Office for Jewish Emigration" in Vienna. The second is the front and back of a postcard written October, 1938, to the HICEM office in Paris, in which Norman Breslauer, formerly of Saarbruecken, Germany, in which he urgently inquires about his pending immigration to South America. The third is the front and back of an airmail cover from the HICEM office in Prague, postmarked March 14, 1939, just days before the invasion and take over of Czechoslovakia. The cover was routed via Berlin and arrived in Buenos Aires on March 19. It was addressed to SOPROTIMIS (Society for Protection of Jewish Immigrants), a rescue group in South America. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 1-3" in the left frame to return.
The fourth is the front of a cover from the "Committee for the Assistance of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai", and the HICEM office in Santiago, Chile, postmarked May 8, 1941. It bears a July, 1941, arrival cancel. The fifth is the front and back of a cover from the "Far Eastern Jewish Central Information Bureau for Emigrants", PO Box 1425, Shanghai, to the same organization in Santiago,as the previous cover, postmarked August 28, 1947. HICEM was now operating under the name "HIAS." The sixth is the front and back of a cover dated March 20, 1941, from the Ustredna Zidov (the central Jewish Organization) to the HICEM office in Santiago, Chile. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 4-6" in the left frame to return.
The seventh is the front and back of a cover dated March 20, 1941, from the Ustredna Zidov (the central Jewish Organization) to the HICEM office in Santiago, Chile. The eighth is the front and back of a postcard sent from the Shanghai office of the Jewish organization, HICEM, to the head of the Judenrat in Litzmannstadt (Rumkowski). The card was sent on October 28, 1941, via the US, since this was before the start of the war with Germany. The ninth is the front of a cover dated April 2, 1940, from the Welfare Bureau of Hungarian Jews to the HICEM organization (Hebrew Immigration Society) office in Santiago, Chile. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 7-9" in the left frame to return.
The tenth is the front and back of a cover postmarked October 9, 1944, from the British Refugee Children's Movement in London to the HICEM office in Santiago, Chile. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Item 10" in the left frame to return.
American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)
The American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was founded in 1914 to needy Jews in Palestine and Europe during World War I. After the war, the suffering of the Jewish communities in Europe accelerated due to factors such as increased anti-Semitism, the Russian Revolution, and the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungary empire. The JDC played a major role in providing relief. With the rise of the Nazis, the JDC increased assistance to German Jews. It also helped about 375,000 Jews leave Germany and Austria. During the World War II, it played a major role in all phases of relief and rescue operations in Europe as well as other areas such as Shanghai and Latin America. From 1938 to 1945, the JDC spent more than $80,000,000 on these efforts, which would be over One Billion dollars in today's currency.
Below are thumbnails of various philatelic materials relating to JDC's operations. The first item is the front and back of a registered cover from Prague, postmarked February 8, 1940, to Maurice Troper in care of the JDC office in Budapest. From there, it was forwarded to the main JDC office in Paris, which would soon be closed due to the German invasion. Troper was chairman of the JDC headquarters in Paris prior to the war. He played a major role in attempting to find a haven for the passengers on the refugee ship, St. Louis, for which he was honored by the French government. The second item is a letter from an internee, Max Adler, at an internment camp in Canda (see Canada) to Moses Leavitt in New York City. Adler was a German Jew who had moved to Holland in 1935. He fled to England at the time Germany invaded Holland, leaving his family behind. Moses Leavitt was the head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York City. The letter asks for his assistance in getting his family out of Amsterdam. The letter bears a Base APO Canada postmark dated April 16, 1941, and also has a receiving cachet from the Joint Distribution Committee dated April 21, 1941. The third item is a registered cover dated in February, 1941, from the office of the leader of the Jewish community in Sosnowiec to the famous Jewish financier, Felix Warburg, in care of the American Joint Distribution Committee. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 1-3" in the left frame to return.
The fourth item is the front and back of a registered cover mailed through the Jewish Cultural Council (Judische Kultusgemeinde) in Prague to the American Joint Distribution Committee in Lisbon, Portugal. The cover is postmarked May 21, 1941, and was received in Lisbon on May 29, 1941. The fifth item is the front and back of a cover from Leopold Luftig, an inmate at Fort Ontario, New York, postmarked Oswego October 4, 1944, to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York City. For more information on Fort Ontario, see United States. The sixth item is the front and back of a postcard from St. Gallen, Switzerland, postmarked November 19, 1940, to Josef Sumpf in Przemysl, "formerly Poland". The sender was Saly Mayer, the representative of the Joint Distribution Committee in Switzerland. Przemysl was right on the line dividing German occupied Poland from Russian occupied Poland, pursuant to the Hitler-Stalin pact entered into on the eve of the war. When the card arrived in Przemysl, someone entered a pencilled notation on the left of the card front that the addressee "finds himself on the Russian side." The card went back to the post office where it was stamped on the back side with "Addressee unknown; called without result-- Przemysl Post Office" and stamped "Russland" on the front. It was received on the Russian side and stamped with a Russian cancellation for Przemsyl dated December 26, 1940. The card was then sent to Moscow which could do nothing with it and returned it to Przemysl with a boxed stamp: "Retour-Moscou-Rebuts". It was received back in Przemysl pursuant to a cancellation dated February 21, 1941 and another dated April 27, 1941. On June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded Russia and immediately occupied Przemysl. The next marking is a date stamp of November 4, 1941, reading "Deutsch Przemysl". The final markings are a stamped box reading "Retour-Inconnu" (return-unkown in French) and a crayoned arrow pointing toward the Swiss-imprinted stamp. Somehow the card did make its way back to Switzerland. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 4-6" in the left frame to return.
The seventh item is a folded letter is from Hans Walther, a passenger on the Dunera, at internment camp 10 in South Australia, to the American Joint Distribution Committee in New York. The letter was received on October 11, 1941, and asks if they could locate a recent immigrant, Lisl Lissak, and give her his address. For more information on Australian internment camps, see Australia. The eighth item is a postcard from an inmate at Theresienstadt, Betti Oettinger dated September 15, 1944. The card contains a 4 line mailing cachet indicating return mail through Prague. The card is addressed to Saly Mayer, the Joint Distribution Committee representative in Switzerland. According to the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, she died at Auschwitz. The ninth item is a cover postmarked September 26, 1940, from Allier in Vichy France addressed to Morris Troper of the JDC. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 7-9" in the left frame to return.
Many of the surviving postal items sent from Ghettos were postcards sent to RELICO (The Relief Committee for Jewish War Victims) located in Geneva, Switzerland, and to Alfred Schwartzenbaum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Relico was established in September, 1939, by Doctor Abraham Silberschein. Funding was provided by organizations such as the World Jewish Congress and the American Joint Distribution Committee. The following description of Relico's activities is from the Yad Vashem Resource Center:
"In the early days of the war, Silberschein was informed that the Germans were willing to release Polish Jews from Sachsenhausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald if they would leave Germany immediately. With help from a Jewish immigrant organization in America, Silberschein succeeded in getting several groups out of Germany in 1940 and into Bolivia and Palestine. Relico also helped organize the emigration of Jewish refugees from Vilna and Kovno to Japan, Shanghai, and to the Dutch colonies. It also aided Polish refugees in Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Italy, in addition to refugees from the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France, who had reached the unoccupied (Vichy) zone of France.
In all his refugee activities, Silberschein used the services of various bodies to transmit information and deliver packages of food and medicines; these included the International Red Cross, the Polish, Czechoslovak, and Dutch consuls in Switzerland, representatives of the Vatican, the Protestant Church Council, and the Quakers. Due to its many contacts and its ability to transmit information quickly, Relico was one of the first sources to break the news about the Chelmno and Treblinka extermination camps."
Alfred Schwartzbaum was a wealthy Polish Jew who settled in Lausanne, Switzerland. He provided aid an assistance to Jews in Poland and worked with Relico.
Below are thumbnails of postcards pertaining to the operations of RELICO. The first is a postcard from the ghetto in Opole, Poland, to Relico in Switzerland. The postcard acknowledges receipt of six packages from Relico. The postcard is postmarked October 11, 1941, and was received in Geneva on October 20, 1941. The card bears a circular Judenrat cancel. (See Opole). The second is a postcard dated March 6, 1942, from Lublin to Relico in Switzerland. The postcard acknowledges receipt of a package from Relico, and the card also bears the cachet of the Lublin Judenrat. (See Lublin). The third is a preprinted parcel acknowledgement card to the Comite Relico in Switzerland. The card was sent from Kolomyia, Ukraine, and bears a blurred cachet. The back of the card bears a December 30, 1941 handstamp. (See Kolomyja). Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 1-3" in the left frame to return.
The fourth is a postcard mailed from Krakow to RELICO in Switzerland. The postcard acknowledges receipt of packages from RELICO. The card contains a one line Judenrat cachet. (See Krakow). The fifth is the front and back of preprinted parcel acknowledgement card to the Comite Relico in Switzerland. The card was sent from Kielce, Poland. (See Kielce). The sixth is a postcard postmarked November 6, 1941, from the Judenrat in Siedlce, Poland, to RELICO in Switzerland. The postcard acknowledges receipt of 8 packages from RELICO. (See Siedlce). Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 4-6" in the left frame to return.
The seventh is a preprinted RELICO card from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Geneva, Switzerland, postmarked Berlin, November 14, 1944. The card acknowledges the receipt of one food package. Most of the Relico mail originated in the Polish ghettos and bears ghetto postmarks. Berlin cancelled mail is much rarer. (See Auschwitz-Birkenau). The eighth is a "Comite Relico" acknowledgment card sent from Prezmysl, Poland, in February 1942 to Geneva. The card contains a cachet "Aufgeliefort am Schalter" together with black and red censor numbers. (See Przemysl). The ninth is a postcard postmarked April 25, 1942 from Lobor-Grad to the "Relico" committee in Switzerland acknowledging receipt of two parcels. Lobor-Grad was a concentration camp located in northern Croatia. The camp was set up in September 1941 and dismantled in October 1942. It served as a camp for women and children. In May 1942, the women and children prisoners were deported to Auschwitz. (See Croatia). Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 7-9" in the left frame to return.
The tenth is a postcard postmarked May 28, 1942, from the ghetto with the cachet of the Jewish Committee in Modliborzyce, Poland, to the "Relico" Committee in Geneva acknowledging receipt of a parcel. (See Modliborzyce). The eleventh is a preprinted parcel acknowledgement card sent by an inmate at Arbeitslager Jawischowitz to the Comite "Relico" in Switzerland acknowledging receipt of two packages. The card bears a Brzeszce postmark of June 24, 1944. Arbeitslager Jawischowitz, a subcamp of Auschwitz, was located near the town of Brzescze. The inmates of this camp worked in a coal mine belonging to the Hermann Goring Reichwerk. (See Jawischowitz). Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Items 10-11" in the left frame to return.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was founded in 1917 to provide young Quakers an opportunity to serve those in need rather than fighting during World War I. During the 1930's, the AFSC helped refugees escape from Nazi Germany, and after World War II started, it assisted refugees in France and numerous other countries. Below are thumbnails of three covers. The first is a cover, postmarked Vienna January 20, 1941, from the Society of Friends Vienna Office to their main office in Philadelphia. The envelope bears only German censorship, as the United States had not yet entered the war. The second is a cover, postmarked September 17, 1942, from the AFSC office in Marseilles to the main office in Philadelphia. Marseilles was one of the last and most important ports of exit for those escaping Nazi Germany. The third cover, postmarked Frankfurt February 14, 1941, from Dr. Ludwig Israel Reinheimer, to the AFSC office in Philadelphia. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "AFSC" in the left frame to return.
The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was created at a 44 nation conference at the White House on November 9, 1943. Among its mission purposes was repatriation of refugees and the administration of the many displaced persons camps established in the wake of the end of the war. It supervised the work of numerous voluntary welfare agencies, such as ORT, Joint Distribution Committee, and HIAS. Below are thumbnails of four covers. The first is the front and back of a cover from the UNRRA Fifth District, APO 757, postmarked July 16, 1947, addressed to the HIAS office in Santiago, Chile. The second is a cover from a refugee at the UNRRA camp at Grugliasco near Torino, Italy, postmarked December 28, 1946, addressed to New York City. The third cover is a cover from a refugee at the UNRRA camp near Kassel, Germany, postmarked October 12, 1946, addressed to the American Federation for Polish Jews in New York City. The fourth is a pre-printed official UNRRA form from the Duppel Center Camp in Berlin, postmarked Berlin December 13, 1945, addressed to Joseph Bornstein, Brooklyn, New York. The form is a notice and permit for the addressee to send one package per week to Jakob Glotter, an inmate at the Duppel Camp. Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "UNRRA" in the left frame to return.
Henry Schwab, Postal History WWII Aid and Rescue, The Israel Philatelist, December 2005, P. 212-215
Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing Company (1990), P. 657-658, 752-756
Holocaust Home Page
Copyright © 2006 Edward Victor