For the first time in its history, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is making a collection of its historic records and photographs from the Holocaust period available online. The website — — enables the public, especially Holocaust survivors and their families, to perform searches for themselves or others they know on a database of more than 500,000 names and to view and identify photos from 14 countries where JDC operated during and after the war. This will help JDC — known to millions as “The Joint” — fill in the blanks about its impact during this tumultuous time in Jewish history.

“I cannot express the profoundly deep connection I felt to my past and now to JDC when out of nowhere my young face popped up on the screen,” said Claus Hirsch, a German–born Shanghai Ghetto survivor who found a photo of himself in the Ghetto during his search on the system. Hirsch’s family was helped by JDC in China during the war, and he found two lists on which his family members’ names appear. Hirsch now lives in Manhattan.

The website will allow users to search the names database compiled from historic documents and JDC client lists from operations in Barcelona, Shanghai, Kobe, Vilna, Australia, South America, and the JDC Emigration Service in Vienna and Munich. A group of volunteer genealogists helped the JDC Global Archives create the database, and are adding new names each week. JDC’s website is being launched at a time when a number of leading organizations and museums are making newly–digitized Holocaust era records available online, allowing broad public access for the first time ever.

“For six decades, the vast majority of this data has been available only to professional researchers,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager. “Now, thanks to technology, survivors and their descendants can directly engage with our shared history.”

Users can also explore and identify people they know in photo galleries of 1,500 photos from Austria, Belgium, China, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Lithuania, Portugal, and Spain. JDC is also inviting the public to tag photos and to share their JDC stories from this period in history. JDC was responsible for caring for hundreds of thousands of Jews in places from Cuba to Portugal during and after the Second World War.

“Whether you were a little Jewish child we aided in Barcelona or one of the Jews we supported in Displaced Persons camps after the war, by putting faces, names, and stories together, you will benefit generations to come,” said Schwager.

With tens of thousands of documents and photographs from the Holocaust era drawn from JDC collections in New York and Jerusalem, this website aims to add personal stories to JDC’s vast international archive. Every year, hundreds of Holocaust survivors, genealogists, academics, filmmakers, and journalists conduct research in the JDC Global Archives. JDC will launch its Global Archives website in spring 2011 and will make available huge collections of newly–digitized documents and its significant photo collection from the organization’s founding in 1914. The JDC Archives website and digitization project were made possible through a lead gift from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky.