From 1945 through 1961, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a 94-year-old humanitarian aid organization, collaborated with Australian Jewish welfare organizations—often behind the scenes—to re-settle tens of thousands of Displaced Persons (DP) from the atrocities of the Holocaust in Europe.
From August 3-September 7, 2008, JDC and the Jewish Museum of Australia will present Nationality: Stateless, Destination: Australia, an exhibition which features previously untold personal stories and photos from JDC’s vast archives that illustrate the hardships—and triumphs—of these Jewish refugees as they migrated from Europe and attempted to rebuild their lives in Australia.
She is twenty-six. A dressmaker. A typewritten address,‘Azbergerlager’, has been crossed out and‘Rothschild Hosp’ scrawled over the top. Her nationality: stateless. Her destination: Australia. She is accompanied by her husband.
He is seventeen. A student. His address is also Rothschild Hospital, but unlike her, he is accompanied by no one. His nationality: stateless. His destination: Australia.
This is JDC’s first exhibition to be held at the Jewish Museum of Australia’s Gross Gallery. On Wednesday, August 6, JDC President Judge Ellen M. Heller and Chief Executive Officer Steve Schwager will host a special evening to honor Holocaust survivors who will share their own stories of immigration and of strength.
“Immediately following the Holocaust, JDC quickly mobilized to help people who lost everything—from their homes and jobs to their loved ones, friends and communities—by building Displaced Persons camps, feeding the hungry, and helping re-settle Jewish refugees,” said Steve Schwager, Chief Executive Officer, JDC.
Under-resourced local community leaders turned to JDC, already known to respond quickly to crises, in the immediate post-war years and after the Australian Government restricted the number of refugees to the country and refused to provide assistance for their passage or resettlement. JDC swiftly organized visas and chartered ships to bring the refugees to Australia and then worked with local Jewish welfare organizations to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, and housing as well as provide small business loans.
In the 1970s and 1980s, working again with local Jewish welfare agencies, JDC brought nearly 2,500 Jews to Australia from the former Soviet Union (FSU). JDC’s Australian connection continued by supplying the funds for the planes which flew Soviet Jews first to Rome, providing accommodation and food while they were in transit there and assisting many with their passages to Australia.
“The importance of this story for all Australians is manifold. It tells of a significant migration of Jews to Australia and the conditions in which they came; it represents the lessons of the Holocaust that need to be taught in each generation; and it reminds us of our obligations to those who arrive in this country in need,” said exhibition curator, Sarah Rood.
JDC’s historic work with vulnerable Jews and non-Jews around the world today includes unwavering assistance to 188,000 elderly Holocaust survivors throughout the FSU.
“Nationality: Stateless, Destination: Australia is a fitting tribute to Holocaust survivors and other Jewish refugees. JDC is proud to have helped to build the impressive and vibrant Australian Jewish community of today,” said Schwager.