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Yad Vashem Photographs from the Warsaw Ghetto

The Albums of the Self-Help Organization (ZSS)

Distribution of ration cards to Jewish war prisoners in the ghettoDistribution of ration cards to Jewish war prisoners in the ghetto
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A short time after Warsaw was occupied by the Germans, the Jewish community organized a social welfare committee known as the Żydowska Samopomoc Społeczna (Jewish Social Self-Help), or the ZSS, in order to provide social assistance to the Jewish residents. Funding for the activities came primarily from the Polish branch of the Joint, which was also located in Warsaw. The Joint, short for The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, was an agency that had been founded by Jews in America in 1914 in order to provide aid for Jewish communities located outside the USA. Because it was an American institution, the Joint was permitted to continue its activities in occupied Poland. During the first half of 1940 the organization’s aid activities focused on opening public soup kitchens and distributing food to the needy, on taking in thousands of Jewish refugees and captives who were pouring into Warsaw, and establishing institutions for child care. In addition to funds, the Joint sent food packages and clothing from the USA to Jews in Warsaw, and these were distributed to the ZSS and other organizations, such as the TOZ (Health and Sanitation Organization). Apparently, in order to show its donors how their contributions were being used to help raise additional funds, in the spring of 1940 the Joint asked a professional photographer to document this activity and to prepare an impressive series of photos. When the work was completed the photos were developed in the Foto Forbert photography shop, which was located at 11 Wierzbowa Street. The store was owned by a man named Baum, and he may have been the photographer. In any event, 462 photos were chosen by the store and they were mounted on yellow cardboard sheets that included short descriptions, as well as the name and address of the institution depicted in the photo. It isn’t clear who received these albums and what became of them during the war, but afterwards copies of them made their way to the Yad Vashem archives and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

The photographs in these albums were taken to serve a very specific purpose for the Joint, and therefore they cover only topics related to social aid, etc. Most of them were taken inside the various buildings operated by the self-help institutions. We can see various soup kitchens, improvised housing for new arrivals to Warsaw, orphanages, clinics, kindergartens, package warehouses, etc. Although all of the photos depict efficiency and activity, the photos of the Jewish refugees that had been expelled from other locations to Warsaw indicate the ever-increasing suffering of life inside the city.