The Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskiej (Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population; TOZ) was established in Warsaw in 1921, when the Polish branch of the Saint Petersburg–based Obshchestvo Zdravookhraneniia Evreev (Society for the Protection of Jewish Health; OZE [later, Oeuvre de Secour aux Enfants; OSE]) united in a national organization. The objective of TOZ, which was funded by memberships, donations, and foreign Jewish philanthropies, was to look after the welfare and well-being of Jewish citizens in independent Poland, promoting their health and the health of their children.
We are working for a healthy generation. Come join us and take part and help." Yiddish poster. Artwork by S. Nichamkin. Printed by Paul Schöpf, Berlin, 1926, with the aid of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and distributed in Eastern Europe by OZE. (YIVO)
As far back as the early days of World War I, various philanthropic institutions were established in Warsaw for the purpose of safeguarding the health of Jewish inhabitants by preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Additionally, these organizations managed food supplies in view of shortages brought about by the waves of Jewish refugees who poured into Warsaw from nearby provincial towns and from eastern Poland during the first year of the war. OZE (founded in 1912) was active in Warsaw at this time. For many years, the prominent physician and public activist Gershon Levin (1868–1939) headed TOZ. He was a lung disease specialist who also specialized in various public health issues.
TOZ set itself the goal of extending the life expectancy of the Jews of Poland and looking after their health by promoting hygiene and providing adequate nutrition for infants and children. The organization focused on welfare activities for needy families and contributed to a substantial decrease in infant mortality among Jews. TOZ operatives provided instruction to pregnant women on such topics as nutrition and food products for babies. By 1929, only 6 Jewish newborns per 100 died (in Warsaw) as opposed to 12 per 100 non-Jewish babies. The organization provided vaccines against such infectious diseases as smallpox at Jewish schools. TOZ distributed food rations to 36,000 children at Jewish schools in 69 towns. It also organized summer camps for about 14,000 needy children who suffered from poor health due to inadequate living conditions and poor nutrition. Additionally, TOZ established hospitals for indigent Jews.
Organized health-care activities, aimed at treating infectious diseases and improving the nutrition of infants, began only after TOZ was established. It began its activity by treating boils and other skin diseases, and in the 15 years following its inception, TOZ managed to cure some 18,000 patients suffering from boils. Additionally, the organization specialized in treating tuberculosis and ophthalmic diseases.
“Exterminate flies. They spread diseases. Keep your home and yard clean. Cover your food.” Yiddish poster. Artwork by S. Nichamkin. Printed by Paul Schöpf, Berlin, 1927, with the aid of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and distributed in Eastern Europe by OZE. (YIVO)
The number of TOZ branches grew rapidly, beginning with 17 institutions in 1922; by 1939, TOZ was in charge of 368 clinics and institutes in 72 towns and employed 1,000 physicians, nurses, and residents. When the organization expanded, its activity expanded as well, and initially city councils throughout Poland provided substantial amounts of money in order to balance its budget. However, because of the global economic crisis, that support was discontinued and Jewish philanthropists, kehilah councils, and about 15,000 paid memberships provided the majority of the funding. In 1936, TOZ’s total budget was 1.74 million zlotys.
Following the outbreak of World War II, TOZ continued to operate for a while with support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. TOZ operatives continued to battle infectious diseases and pressed on with their attempt to supervise the sanitation conditions of the Jewish population. Initially, the Germans did not prevent or interfere with this activity, and TOZ continued to operate in several ghettos, probably until 1942.
Almanach Zdrowia TOZu i Szpitala Żydowskiego Fundacji Maurycego Lazarusa (Lwow, 1937); Israel Biber, Higyene: Individuele un sotsyale (Vilna, 1933); Hirsh Mac, Di oyfgabn fun “TOZ”: Oyfn gebit fun higyene-propaganda (Vilna, 1937); Joseph Marcus, Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919–1939 (Berlin, 1983).
Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann