Concealed in the Open: Recipients of International Clandestine Jewish Aid in Early 1950s Hungary


  • Zachary Paul Levine Yeshiva University Museum



Jews, black market, humanitarian aid, Israel, Joint Distribution Committee


This article discusses the emergence of the semi-clandestine efforts of a network of international Jewish philanthropies and the Israeli government to send material and financial aid to Jews in early-communist Hungary. Post Second World War Hungary was a special focus for Jewish aid organizations in the west and the Israeli government. They poured resources into Hungary, both to feed, cloth and provide medical care to hundreds of thousands of Jews, and to assist thousands of Jews migrating west through Hungary. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the dominant Jewish aid organization in the world at the time, ran its largest and most expensive program in Hungary. Working with Israeli and Hungarian authorities, it financed a network of welfare services, often through the importation of scarce consumer goods and raw materials. As the Communist Party reshaped the economy, and pushed out “undesirable elements” from Hungarian life, this aid program served a growing population of impoverished, sick, and religious Jews, some exiled in Hungary’s countryside. This program increasingly took advantage of black market networks to distribute aid. Yet, after conditions deteriorated so much that this program ceased officially, Jewish aid providers in the US and Israel adapted their earlier practices and networks to take advantage of the impoverished consumer economy in program to distribute aid clandestinely to Hungarian Jews, with the cooperation of Hungary’s communist authorities.

Author Biography

Zachary Paul Levine, Yeshiva University Museum

Zachary Paul Levine is a curator at Yeshiva University Museum where he develops exhibitions on the intersection of modern Jewish history and contemporary art. He conducted his historical research while a doctoral student at New York University in the departments of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History. Mr. Levine presented many of the findings in this paper at the Center for Jewish History in March 2010. He received an MA in History from Central European University, and BAs in Government and Politics and Jewish Studies from the University of Maryland.






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