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Museum chronicles 100 years of humanitarian group

Associated Press Updated: June 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

NEW YORK (AP) — A 100-year-old humanitarian assistance organization that helps Jews and non-Jews around the world is the focus of an exhibition opening Friday at the New-York Historical Society.

"I Live. Send Help" chronicles the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) through photographs, artifacts, films and audio recordings.

The JDC was founded in New York in 1914 to help Jews in the Middle East and Europe suffering at the beginning of World War I. As new crises emerged, it expanded its efforts to more than 70 countries. More recently, it distributed relief supplies to typhoon victims in the Philippines and currently offers cultural and educational opportunities to the Jewish community in Ukraine.

Among the exhibition highlights is a 1921 photograph showing painter Marc Chagall posing with teachers and children outside a JDC-run school for war orphans outside Moscow. Years later, in 1941, through JDC's efforts, Chagall and his wife, Bella, escaped war-torn Europe aboard the SS Mouzhino that carried 798 other passengers from Lisbon, Portugal, to the United States.

It also includes a 1940 letter from Albert Einstein to the JDC chairman urging nations in the Western Hemisphere to help children escape Nazi persecution.

"Efforts to save these children must not slacken...," the scientist writes. "It is not only a question of bringing them to the States, other countries must be opened to them."

Among other objects is a child's dress distributed to a Holocaust survivor at Ellis Island. Another poignant item is a pair of eyeglasses held together by string, wire and rubber bands, worn by an elderly Russian Jewish man until they were replaced by the JDC in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. They were donated by the owner, who received them upon his demobilization from the Red Army after World War II and could never afford to update them.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 21.

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