Pistol takes a shot at bringing 90 years of World Jewish Relief history to digital life

Historian Dr Rachel Pistol will be working with the case files of more than 200,000 people supported since the charity's establishment as the Central British Fund


As it celebrates its 90th anniversary, World Jewish Relief is working with digital historian Dr Rachel Pistol to bring its rich history to life.

Founded as the Central British Fund in 1933 to rescue Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe, the charity’s humanitarian aid work today includes Ukraine, projects addressing the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable people and the UK’s biggest programme of employment support for resettled refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.

WJR’s digitised archive contains the names of over 207,000 people who contacted the charity for help during the Holocaust era, as well as case files for 35,000 of the 65,000 refugees the charity supported from Germany and Austria through the 1930s and 40s.

Through requests via its website, its volunteer team endeavours to reunite families with their files.

Additional material covers council meetings and other records related to the saving of 65,000 Jewish lives, including those on the Kindertransports.

Dr Pistol is based at the department of digital humanities at King’s College London, where she works on the project management board of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure.

She has published widely on wartime refugee and internment history in the UK and America.

Having been appointed WJR’s honorary historian at the end of 2022, she wants to make the archives better catalogued and facilitate easier access for those whose family names are included, while preserving the sensitivity of the personal data.

“World Jewish Relief’s archives are as relevant today as ever,” she said. “They have the potential to influence people’s lives, whether through finding out about, or reconnecting with their families.”

They helped to “create a bridge between our past and what we do today — the fact World Jewish Relief is still going strong, helping people in need across the world”.

WJR chief executive Paul Anticoni added: “Knowing our past to inform our future is important and we are excited that Dr Pistol will assist us to ensure our unique archives and past stories are more accessible and more widely known.”

The charity also has records of people brought to the UK as a consequence of numerous other rescue missions, including Jews from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bosnia and Argentina, which it plans to make available in the future.

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