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Hope for Thousands — A Tour of the Jewish Winter Aid

Heavy layers of snow covered the city of Berlin during the night. It continued snowing all through the day, as if the day was to merge into the night. A hostile wind blew icy snow flakes into our faces.… It makes one think of how cruelly the frost clutches the people who are badly nourished and poorly clad, who live in unheated homes, who have to fight the wind walking up and down the streets…

We finally reached the place, and with frozen hands opened the door of the Jewish Community of Berlin. Inside it was warm, bright and very busy.… Jewish men and women work here with devotion to help their fellow community members in need of shelter and safety. The workers haven't one free minute. But on this day the directors of the Winter Aid have taken upon themselves to present their compassionate battle against hunger and cold to the representatives of the Jewish papers and periodicals.

Every Jew in Berlin and throughout the Reich knows about the Jewish Winter Aid. It takes from some, and gives to others. Is there really such a division? Is there not a merging through solidarity of those who give and those who take, without a clear cut division between those who suffer and those who have resources?…

There are 150 employees in this agency and another five thousand volunteers who assist them.… The Winter Aid has every right to be proud that although as a large organization it aspires to tend to everybody's needs, it is still able to take care of the particular needs of the individuals.

This winter, approximately 30,000 people in Berlin applied for aid.… If one could complete the picture by knowing how many of the applicants were over 60 years old, it would be evident that the majority are lonely old people and that the aid is to a large extent aid for the elderly. This winter aid was given also to people who do not belong to the Jewish religion. Their number was around 1,800 or 6.5% of the total.

What does the Winter Aid provide? Packages, food coupons, potatoes and coal.… At the Kuerstener Street, the distribution point for the Charlottenburg district, we saw the packages being prepared for distribution. There were seven different kinds of packages, among them packages for people with diabetes, stomach and gall bladder ailments, malnutrition and those in need of special care. The prepared portions were piled up on the covers of boxes, and looked appetizing and attractive. The efficient workers stood in front, dressed in white aprons and told us that the recipients were always delighted by the packages. Approximately 15-16,000 packages were handed out monthly. One can understand some of the organizational difficulties in potato supply when one learns that in January around 20,000 Kilos of potatoes were delivered to homes.… The Winter Aid spends about 55-60,000 Marks a month for food coupons.

Another service is distribution of clothing. One could write a long article on this subject alone. We learned that it began gradually. It is a small warehouse, managed by professionals of the textile business with their own production and repair store, employing Jewish workers. Clothing for men, women and children is neatly arranged in the storerooms, in long rows of hangers. They have shoes, underwear and even bridal gowns and baby outfits. The clothes are all of good, lasting quality, most of them new, because donations are far from sufficient to cover the demand. The need for clothes is enormous. A third of the Winter Aid budget is for clothing. The clothing warehouse took care of approximately 60,000 people throughout 1936. The emigrants create a special need. They are supplied with clothes, shoes, linen and furniture. They should not arrive in a foreign land shabby and poverty stricken. This is the last act of love by their old community back home. Certainly many will remember this fondly.

We also visited a distribution point of the Winter Aid in the north [of Berlin] that is supplying about 6,000 people. Here one finds undisguised destitution. The workers on their house visits see undernourished men and women, people suffering from lung diseases, people in ragged clothing, helpless women whose husbands have emigrated. And what about the children?, one of the participants in the tour asked. The children are mostly healthy and neat. In short, praise for the Jewish parents who give their very last to the children.

In the Western parts of the city, the first impression is in most cases completely different. Most of the needy here are impoverished academics and artists, former factory managers, unemployed sales clerks. Some of them still live in large homes and wear good clothes. They still cling to their former life style that is now hollow and will soon shatter. We heard there was an 83-year-old man who is homeless and sleeps in a garage. Someone wrote about a family in a large apartment in the West end that is close to starvation. The need hiding behind their nice clothing is probably one of the worst experiences of the workers of the Winter Aid.

Every protege of the Winter Aid is also being taken care of psychologically. The Winter Aid provides afternoon activities for children, concerts, programs for the evening and gives out free tickets to Kulturbund performances. The artists who produce these events will hardly find a more enthusiastic audience than the people of the Winter Aid.

Source: CV Zeitung, 28 January, 1937.

Source: Yad Vashem