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People's Relief Committee for Jewish War Sufferers Records

Identifier: I-13

Scope and Content Note

The records of the People's Relief Committee for Jewish War Sufferers contain handwritten and typed correspondence, newspaper clippings, reports, lists, and receipts and official forms for donations made to the organization. There is both incoming correspondence as well as copies of outgoing correspondence. Most of the correspondence relates to fundraising activities and events from committee members and branches in the United States and Canada. Much of the correspondence from Europe and Palestine contains lists and reports of how and where donations were applied as well as what needs remained. The scrapbooks contain Yiddish and English clippings from newspapers in the United States and Canada relating to the situation of Jews in Europe and Palestine as well as promotional materials related to the work of the People's Relief Committee. Although the majority of this collection relates to aid given to Jewish communities overseas, it also contains some information about immigration to the United States during World War I through the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924, which tightened immigration quotas on Jews from Eastern Europe.

The majority of this collection is in English and Yiddish, with some items in German, Hebrew, Russian, Romanian, Lithuanian, Spanish, and Polish.


  • 1915-1924


Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish and English, with some German, Hebrew, Russian, Romanian, Lithuanian, Spanish, and Polish.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection has been closed due to the fragility of the materials.

Use Restrictions

This collection is closed to the public until further notice. The collection is fragile and cannot be handled for researcher use. For more information, please contact: the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Historical Note

When World War I began in the summer of 1914, close to three-quarters of the world's Jews lived in Europe and the Middle East. As the fighting spread across the globe and the Ottoman Empire cut off Palestine from the outside world, Jews in Eastern Europe and the Yishuv, who had already been suffering from poverty and discrimination, faced increased risks of starvation and disease. On October 4, 1914, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, chiefly Eastern European-born Jews, created the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering through the War, or, the Central Relief Committee (CRC), to aid Jews caught in the fighting. Soon after, on October 25, 1914, the American Jewish Committee, mostly Reform Jews of German background, formed the American Jewish Relief Committee for Sufferers from the War (AJRC). Representatives of the two organizations formed the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) on November 27, 1914 in order to coordinate the distribution of funds to local groups, governments, and relief organizations overseas.

In early June 1915, a group of secular Jews met to establish an organizing committee for another relief committee. After an organizational meeting on July 30, 1915, the People's Relief Committee for Jewish War Sufferers (PRC) was officially established at a meeting at the Educational Alliance on August 8, 1915. This committee was made up of secular, Yiddish-speaking Jews, mainly from labor and socialist groups, lodges, trade unions, Workmen's Circle branches, and a few radical groups, as well as some Zionists. The PRC specifically appealed to those who could only afford to give small donations and did not belong to the Orthodox community. This group that had previously not been part of fundraising appeal efforts. The PRC joined the Joint Distribution Committee on November 29, 1915. The three constituent committees raised money separately while the JDC was responsible for the overall distribution of the funds to Jewish war sufferers in Eastern Europe and Palestine. The PRC also sent money and supplies directly to various communities.

Despite the traditional Socialist dislike of charity and the belief that philanthropy was anti-labor, the PRC members recognized that the crisis occurring for Jews in Europe and Palestine was serious enough to overcome these principles. The organization mostly conducted its fundraising through bazaars, donations from people on the street, and house-to-house collections. There were also speaking and musical tours and concerts, sometimes in collaboration with the CRC, AJRC, and JDC. Thanks to regular membership drives conducted at Socialist clubs, Workmen's Circle branches, and trade unions, at the height of the war the People's Relief Committee had over 300,000 members in regional branches around the United States and Canada, as well as contacts with Jewish communities in Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and other parts of Central and South America and the West Indies. The PRC raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, often in the form of small donations. Even contributions of a nickel were acknowledged with printed receipts. Along with the other two relief committees, the PRC took part in the Joint Distribution Committee's campaign to raise $10 million in 1917. These efforts were greatly helped by President Wilson's declaration of January 27, 1916 as National Jewish Relief Day, a day to donate specifically to Jewish relief funds, which was celebrated once again on January 27, 1917.

Many prominent politicians, Yiddish writers and intellectuals, labor leaders, doctors, educators, lawyers, and other figures were involved with the People's Relief Committee. Among them were Meyer London, founding chairman; vice-chairmen Sholem Asch, Samuel Ellsberg, and Jacob Pankin; Alexander Kahn, chairman; Boris Fingerhood, secretary; and Baruch Zuckerman, executive director. Other well-known members included Louis Lipsky, Max Pine, Morris Rothenberg, Benjamin Schlesinger, Joseph Schlossberg, Jacob Milch, A. Litwak, Abe Cahan, Adolph Held, Ephim H. Jeshurin, Chonen J. Minikes, David Pinski, R. Guskin, and Boruch Vladeck.

After the end of World War I, the PRC, along with the other relief committees, transitioned their work towards rehabilitation and reconstruction, rather than just general philanthropy, although much of the work was similar. All three committees raised money in order to find homes for refugees displaced by fighting, provide medical and sanitary care, clothing, shoes, and fuel. The PRC, CRC and AJRC, as well as the JDC, aided Jews in finding employment, restored educational and cultural institutions, cared for orphans, and provided economic rehabilitation. They often worked with relief organizations in the United States and Canada as well as in Europe and Palestine, including the All-Russian Jewish Public Committee, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America (HIAS), ORT (Society for Trade and Agricultural Labor among the Jews of Russia), and OZE (Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jews). The People's Relief Committee worked to facilitate the resettlement and adoption of Jewish orphans, particularly victims of the Russian Civil War, by Jewish families in the United States.

In November 1920, the Joint Distribution Committee instructed the PRC, CRC, and AJRC that all American general palliative relief for Jews in Europe and Palestine must be discontinued by July 1, 1921. From that point forward, relief work would be the responsibility of European agencies. In early 1921, the People's Relief Committee discontinued its contributions to the JDC for general education and cultural institutions abroad. A Committee for Cultural Affairs was established under the leadership of Dr. Cyrus Adler and while each of the three constituent committees was allocated a certain percentage of funds to be distributed among the institutions of its choice, the PRC's percentage was quite small and it continued its own fundraising efforts. The People's Relief Committee ceased operations in 1924, in part due to the newly restrictive quotas on Jewish immigration.


44 Linear Feet (49 manuscript boxes, 2 half-manuscript boxes, 11 oversized 1 boxes, 1 oversized 1 folder)


The records of the People's Relief Committee for Jewish War Sufferers consist of correspondence with Jewish communities and relief organizations in Europe, Palestine, Cuba, South America, the United States, and Canada; as well as scrapbooks containing U.S. and Canadian Yiddish and English newspaper clippings and printed promotional literature pertaining to the fundraising activities of the People's Relief Committee in North America and abroad.


The collection was originally housed in bound volumes of correspondence and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by country, state or province, then by city and then chronologically. The scrapbooks of clippings are arranged in loose chronological order. The collection is arranged in two series.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

Donated by Joshua Bloch, chief librarian of the New York Public Library's Jewish Division, circa 1934 (Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (PAJHS) volume 33).

Related Material

The YIVO Library holds several reports and publications of the People's Relief Committee. The YIVO Archives contains the Papers of Max and Libby Grackin, RG 1163, and the Papers of Reuben Plafkin, RG 1158, both of which deal with local People's Relief Committee branches. The AJHS Archives holds the American Jewish Relief Committee for Sufferers from the War Records, I-83; a Central Relief Committee scrapbook, 1917-1921, I-297; and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee collection, I-345. All of the partners at the Center have materials related to the Joint Distribution Committee and the JDC has its own archives. The Records of the Central Relief Committee, Volumes I and II, are in the Yeshiva University Library Special Collections. In addition, 11 volumes of digitized Correspondence of the Jewish People's Relief Committee with other organizations from 1915-1924 are available through the Harvard University Library Open Collections Program on Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.


Correspondence binders were disassembled and pages were stabilized for digitization.


Correspondence has been digitized with funding by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Processing information

Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Correspondence binders have been disassembled and the contents put into folders.

Guide to the People's Relief Committee for Jewish War Sufferers Records, 1915-1924 I-13
Processed by Rachel S. Harrison
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Digitization funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Edition statement
This version was derived from PeoplesRelief_I-13.xml

Revision Statements

  • May 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup.
  • 2023 January 24: TElder: Updated barcodes except for boxes with an A designation.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States