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Jewish Relief Association Bombay

  • Name:
    Jewish Relief Association Bombay
  • Alternative names:


  • Kind of Organisation:
    Relief Organisation
  • Introduction:

    In 1934, the first refugees from National Socialism founded a Jewish aid association in Bombay called the Jewish Relief Association (JRA) to help refugees in financial and other difficulties.

    Word Count: 28

  • Content:

    In 1934, the first refugees from National Socialism founded a Jewish aid association [“Jüdischer Hilfsverein”] in Bombay in cooperation with former Jewish emigrants. It was later converted into the Jewish Relief Association (JRA) to assist refugees in financial and other difficulties. First as an association, later as a society, the JRA tried to create a social and economic safety net for Jewish refugees in India, with later branches opening in Calcutta and Madras. Oscar Gans, an exiled university professor of dermatology from Frankfurt/Main was one of the first secretaries of the Jewish Relief Association. Later, Alfred W. Rosenfeld (1908–1946) and Ernst Alexander Lomnitz in particular became involved as managing directors, together with many volunteer helpers. Major Indo-Jewish entrepreneurs like Sir Alywn Ezra were elected as presidents in Bombay in 1939. Central European exiles and emigrants did the day-to-day work and Indian Jewish entrepreneurs donated generously to aid projects. In 1942, the Jewish Relief Association had 300 paying members and 424 in 1945, some of whom were commercial enterprises, Jewish charities and wealthy private individuals such as Sir Victor Sassoon and Sir Alwyn Ezra.
    By 1938 the workload and the required commitment of the refugee helpers had multiplied due to the increasing number of refugees. Aid initially simply included assistance on arrival, such as finding accommodation and employment, but now the JRA began lobbying for the right to act as an official agency for Jewish refugees with the British-Indian authorities.
    After the occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany (1938−1939) and the further increase in refugees arriving in India, political lobbying in London was intensified and, from 1939, the JRA was allowed to act as sponsor and official guarantor for refugees. The JRA’s financial guarantee was made a prerequisite for the granting of a visa by the Indian Government.
    Financial support for refugees in the form of loans, subsidies and donations until they were able to support themselves, along with assistance with finding accommodation and work, were the focus of the JRA’s interventions.
    A dense network of economic contacts made it possible for the refugees to find work with small Jewish businesses, some of which had been founded by former exiles. Large Jewish companies, such as the industrial conglomerate E.D. Sassoon & Co Ltd. which owned many textile factories, like the India United Mills in Bombay, also employed refugees. Sassoon also ran a training centre for textile engineers in Bombay. In addition, the JRA arranged apprenticeships as well as schools, including boarding schools, for refugee children.
    Accommodation was initially organised informally, in the private homes of the members of the JRA or their friends. Later, probably from 1939, the JRA operated two hostels in Bombay, the first in Byculla district. “This was a big apartment on a several-storeyed building facing the main road. The large room I was assigned had four beds [...] Fortunately all the rooms had stone floors so the bugs as well as large cockroaches and gekkos could easily be seen. [...] Mrs. Bergwerk was in charge. She saw to it that we were fed and she supervised the housekeeping. There were maybe about twenty people living in the home. A few were very old and there was also a family with a 14 year-old daughter.” (Kahn 2005, 40.) The second dormitory was managed by her husband Markus Bergwerk from Vienna, his son Walter Bergwerk remembered: “At the same time, the demand for places at the hostel was increasing as refugees continued to arrive during the war by an overland route. After some discussion, my father was employed to open a second hostel some distance away and my mother accepted the post of managing the existing hostel. The hostels were rather spartan and people tried to leave as soon as they were able to make their own way. There were inevitably some residents who never left, but on the whole the pressure on places eased as the years passed.” (Bergwerk 2011, 3).
    After the internments of Central European refugees (as they were regarded ‘enemy aliens’ after the outbreak of war) in September 1939 and May 1940, the JRA took over the political representation of the Jewish internees. When the British government in India forged plans at the beginning of 1946 to close the internment camps and repatriate the remaining internees, it was suggested that the remaining Jewish internees would be repatriated to Germany. This was met with a storm of protest in the Jewish refugee community and a committee of the JRA travelled to New Delhi for successful negotiations with the Government of India.
    During and after the Second World War, the Jewish Relief Association took over international communication services. It served as a contact point for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the International Red Cross and international tracing services, and also operated an information bulletin. Cultural and social services were also offered and existing synagogues were invited to provide religious services.

    Word Count: 800

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    1941: E. D. Sassoon Building, 4th floor, Dougall Road, Ballard Estate, Bombay (now 15, N Morarji Rd, Ballard Estate, Fort Mumbai);
    1963: Hague Building, 2nd floor, Sprott Road, Ballard Estate, Bombay (now SS Ram Gulam Marg, Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai).

  • Signature Image:
    Letter from the Jewish Relief Association confirming active membership to Joe Schimmel during his years in India (© Private Archive Joe Schimmel, Cape Town).
  • Media:
    JRA announcement of the release of Victor von Leyden from internment on 5 October, 1939 (© Private Archive Flora Veit-Wild, Berlin).
    Memorial plaque for Alfred W. Rosenfeld at the Chinchpokli Jewish cemetery in Mumbai, 2010 (Photo: Margit Franz; All Rights Reserved).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Bergwerk, Walter. “Seder in Bombay 1944.” AJR Journal, vol. 11, no. 5, May 2011, p. 3, Accessed 25 April 2021.

    Franz, Margit. Gateway India: Deutschsprachiges Exil in Indien zwischen britischer Kolonialherrschaft, Maharadschas und Gandhi. CLIO, 2015.

    Kahn, Henry H. “The Silver Candle Holders: Autobiography and Background of Henry H. Kahn. Bethesda, 2005.” (unpublished autobiography, Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, New York, 2005), Accessed 11 April 2021.

    Voigt, Johannes H. “Indien.” Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration 1933–1945, edited by Claus-Dieter Krohn et al., Primus, 1998, column 270–275.

    Weil, Shalva. “From Persecution to Freedom: Central European Jewish Refugees and their Jewish Host Communities in India.” Jewish Exile in India 1933–1945, edited by Anil Bhatti and Johannes H. Voigt, Manohar, 1999, pp. 64–86.

    Word Count: 118

  • Archives and Sources:

    Private Archive Margit Franz, Sinabelkirchen.
    Private Archive Joe Schimmel, Cape Town.
    Private Archive Flora Veit-Wild Archive, Berlin.

    Word Count: 17

  • Author:
    Margit Franz
  • Date of Founding:
  • Participants (selection):

    Prof. Dr. Oscar Gans (1888–1983), Alfred W. Rosenfeld (1908–1946), Ernst Alexander Lomnitz, Karl Maximilian Feil, Gerhard Gabriel, Max Lesser, Hanns Günther Reissner, Hans S. Grossmann (1902–1974), Joe Schimmel, Käthe Langhammer.

  • Metropolis:
  • Entry in process:
  • Margit Franz. "Jewish Relief Association Bombay." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Emanuel Schlesinger
    Factory OwnerTechnical DirectorArt CollectorArt Critic

    The art collector Schlesinger provided primarily financial aid by creating working opportunities for young artists in post-independence Bombay, and initiated the corporate culture of buying art.

    Word Count: 26

    Opening of the Raza exhibition, first row from left: Unknown, S.H. Raza, Käthe Langhammer, Rudolf von Leyden, second row from left: Walter Langhammer, K.H. Ara, Emanuel Schlesinger, 1948 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz, authorized by the late S.H. Raza © Raza archive; All Rights Reserved).
    Letter from Emanuel Schlesinger (Bombay) to S. H. Raza (Paris), September 1956, on official INDON letterhead paper (Reprinted from: Vajpeyi 2013, 96; Image courtesy: The Raza Foundation).Emanuel Schlesinger (far left, seated in the first row) at the opening of the Chemould Gallery at Jehangir Art Gallery Main Hall, September 1963 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz © Gandhy Archive, Mumbai; All Rights Reserved).Early Raza painting Street Scene in Bombay from Schlesinger Collection as a calendar print (Photo: Margit Franz 2010; All Rights Reserved).
    Willy Haas
    EditorScript WriterCultural Critic

    The former editor of Die Literarische Welt fled to Bombay in 1939. In India Haas worked as scriptwriter for Bhavnani Productions – and had further impact on modern Indian film.

    Word Count: 28

    Portrait of Willy Haas as censor of the British Indian army, n.d. (Repro by the author from the collection of Dr. Herta Haas/ now Schiller Nationalmuseum/Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach am Neckar).
    Letter of intent to employ Willy Haas at Bhavnani Productions, 3 March 1939 (Repro by the author from the collection of Dr. Herta Haas/ now Schiller Nationalmuseum/Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach am Neckar).Willy Haas’s ticket for the passage to India on the SS Conte Rosso, 1939 (Repro by the author from the collection of Dr. Herta Haas/ now Schiller Nationalmuseum/Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach am Neckar).Scene from the movie Prem Nagar directed and produced by M. Bhavnani, 1941 (Screenshot by the author from a copy by the National Film Archive of India/courtesy of Famous Cine Laboratory).Book jacket of Germans beyond Germany. Bombay: International Book House, 1942 (Repro by the author from the collection of Dr. Herta Haas/ now Schiller Nationalmuseum/Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach am Neckar).
    Ernst N. Schaeffer
    JournalistPhotojournalistTour GuideEditorRadio ModeratorNewspaper Correspondent

    In exile Ernst Schaeffer diversified his journalistic practice and developed an understanding of Bombay through walking the city streets, taking on street-level-photography and photojournalism.

    Word Count: 24

    Portrait of Ernest N. Shaffer, around 1965. (© Shaffer 1971; Photo: Margit Franz 2021).
    Photo Studio Ernst Schaeffer's logo and address (© Antiquariat Gerhard Gruber (Heilbronn); All rights reserved).Portrait of Maharaja Raol Sir Shri Krishna Kumarsinhji Bhavsinhji KCSI (1912–1965), the last ruling Maharaja of Bhavnagar State by Ernst Schaeffer, around 1935 (© Antiquariat Gerhard Gruber (Heilbronn); All rights reserved).Ernst Schaeffer’s photographic documentation of the renovation and expansion of Nilambagh Palace in Bhavnagar, mid 1930s (© Antiquariat Gerhard Gruber (Heilbronn); All rights reserved).Ernst Schaeffer, Juhu (Pictorial Bombay, p. 54; Photo: Margit Franz 2021).Cover of Ernest N. Shaffer’s autobiography Ein Emigrant entdeckt Indien (Photo: Margit Franz 2021).
    Baumgartner’s Bombay

    The novel Baumgartner’s Bombay provides an opposite picture to that of the successful refugee in Bombay. Anita Desai’s fiction depicts poverty and failure in Indian exile.

    Word Count: 28

    Book cover of Baumgartner’s Bombay by Anita Desai, 1988, detail (Photo: Margit Franz 2021).
    Book cover of Baumgartner’s Bombay by Anita Desai, 1988 (Photo: Margit Franz 2021).Postcard of Bombay Mahalaxmi Bombay Race Course, around 1960 (© Margit Franz Archive; All rights reserved).
    Lesser’s Boarding House
    HotelGerman Jewish boarding house

    During the 1940’s Max Lesser ran one of the very few German-Jewish boarding houses in Bombay – in the art deco “Soona Mahal” on Marine Drive.

    Word Count: 25

    Historic postcard view of Marine Drive with the Soona Mahal on the far right and Sea Green opposite (Private Collection Rachel Lee).
    Drawing of Marine Drive from the roof of the Soona Mahal by Walter Langhammer (© Vardha and Dinesh Thacker Collection, Mumbai. All Rights Reserved).Portrait Max Lesser, around 1945 (Reprinted from Geni, Max Lesser).Portrait Elli Lesser (Reprinted from Geni, Elli Lesser (Brühl).List of approved companies of exiles from July and August 1941 in The Calcutta Gazette, no. 13, 25 September 1941, white background: p. 489, grey background: p. 490 (reprinted from Franz 2015, 140).