I recently spent two weeks in New York and finally ticked off three archives that have been on my ‘to do’ list since 2016. These were the United Nations archive, the American Jewish Joint Distribution (JDC) archive and the Jewish Centre for Historical Research. It was a fascinating trip punctuated by icy blizzards (I enjoyed a ‘snow day’ in the hotel – one of my first for many years!) and avid cable news consumption as President Trump came under increasing pressure to defend his charge of wiretapping against the former administration.
In this article, I’ll be sharing my research experience at the JDC archive, an NGO founded during the First World War and the first Jewish organisation in the United States to dispense large-scale international funding. Over the past five years the JDC has digitised its vast holdings and these digital records are now searchable and accessible online here (on PDF format). Portions of the archive’s holdings are available in-house only, including the New York Head Office collection (pertaining to China) – records most relevant to my research. The JDC’s post-war China records provide a fascinating insight into the organisation’s Shanghai office and their struggles to deal with large-scale refugee movements from China to Australia, Canada, Israel, South America and the United States amidst rampant inflation, fluctuations in the currency market, lack of funds and the complexities of the Western immigration landscape. The records also reveal the JDC’s collaboration with United Nation legacy agencies such as UNRRA and IRO, as well as other Jewish refugee organisations. The collection is available in digitised or microfilm format, and the archivists are most helpful. They can be reached via email, here.
Most records in the New York UN archive were created by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA), a UN agency from 1945 until its closure in 1947. UNRRA was active in China dispensing relief services to millions of internally Displaced Persons, both Chinese and European. For those looking for UNRRA’s successor organisations, such as the International Relief Organisation, you’ll need to go to the Archives Nationales in Paris, France, whilst the records of the UNHCR are held in the United Nations archive in Geneva (confused yet?). Researchers should note that the New York office is in the midst of a large-scale digitisation programme in collaboration with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and quite significant portions of its holdings are currently held off-site. The bitter-sweet upside of this is that by the end of the year, most UNRRA records should be accessible online, possibly negating the need for that expensive research trip to the States.