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Fading letters tell a story of transactions that occurred during World War II when hundreds of thousands of refugees were taken in from all around the world. In particular, these fading letters, point specifically to one refugee center, the Jewish Relief Association. 1 A letter by A.W. Rosenfeld one of the founders of the JRA describes the financial struggles of the agency. Others speak of the origins of the JRA and stories of refugees, to whom the agency offered shelter. 2 These letters remind us that in the world of turmoil, there was also compassion for the thousands displaced from their homes.
Note: Via the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee letter archives, documentation of there being an active office for the Jewish Refugee Association has only been located in Bombay. 3 Through the letter archive, there was no mentioning of a JRA office in Calcutta though one letter printed shows a Jewish Relief Refugee Association in Calcutta, where in the writer was acknowledging concern for orphans in the city. It is unclear as to whether the two organizations are directly related. 4
In 1934, the Jewish Relief Association (JRA) was founded by European Jews in Bombay, India. One source characterizes the head founders, A.W. Rosenfeld and A. Leser, as German refugees. 5 6 Letters in the American Joint Distribution Committee archive from A.W. Rosenfeld indicate that he was most likely an American philanthropist and businessman. At the time, a significant number of wealthier German, Austrian and Baghdadi Jews also contributed to establishing and supporting the JRA . 7 The JRA was designed for European Jews who were seeking refuge in India. The Central Council of Refugees London, Council for German Jewry and the Indian government gave primary support. 8 In 1944, JRA offices were opened in Kolkata (Calcutta) and Madras.9
Because India was still under British control during World War II, Britain and Germany were on opposite sides of the enemy spectrum. Thus, despite the JRA being systemized for European Jews, German Jews had a particularly difficult time being accepted into India for asylum. They were seen as hostile and suspect and were not allowed to speak German. They were told to only speak English. The JRA faced this type of xenophobia as well as having financial difficulties in providing for the refugees and helping them to assimilate into British India. 10
Despite these challenges in the time of the Holocaust, it was through the work of these relief associations, that India became a beacon of hope for Jewish refugees who were not allowed asylum in the nations of North America and Europe. 11 12
The Jewish Relief Association in giving refuge to Jewish communities is remembered through the business and financial letters digitized by the American Joint Distribution Committee and family refugee stories in the Association of Jewish Refugees, such as “Seder in Bombay in 1944.” 13 14 For more information visit ajr.org.uk (Association of Jewish Refugees) & jdc.org (American Joint Distribution Committee).