During the Spanish Civil War, AFSC joined British Quakers in feeding displaced children on both sides of the conflict. After Franco’s victory, the relief moved to the south of France, where Spanish refugees were soon joined by many others fleeing the Nazis. AFSC staff worked to assist people in these refugee camps and to secretly transport children to safety. Numerous “hostels” were created across Europe, in the U.S., and in Cuba to provide safe haven for tens of thousands of Jews. 

The Friends Ambulance Unit worked to save lives across Europe and in China. They also organized medical care for people trapped inside transit, forced labor, and refugee camps.

According to the committee that awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to AFSC in 1947: “The end of World War II brought a burst of AFSC effort, with Quakers engaged in relief and reconstruction in many of the countries of Europe, as well as in India, China, and Japan. In 1947, the Service Committee helped to resettle refugees who had lost their homes as a result of communal rioting over the partition of India; and in 1948, Quaker workers undertook a program of relief for Arab refugees on the Gaza Strip.

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  • Group of adults and children standing together in a room near a table with a large kettle on it.
    This Quaker milk station in Barcelona was one of 16 set up to serve refugees and provide for children’s health during the Spanish Civil War.
  • Drawing of planes flying over buildings, which are on fire and several green trucks driving by the buildings.
    Manuel Izquierdo fled Spain at age 14 and ended up at La Rouviere Quaker children’s colony, where he drew his diary. He lived to become a prominent artist in Portland, Oregon.
  • Group of women seated around a room, sewing by hand.
    Sewing classes gave refugee women a way to support themselves and their families in a new life.
  • Picture of the front page of a newspaper with the headline "Friends' society sends mission to intercede for German Jews"
    In 1938, a team from AFSC traveled to Germany to negotiate the delivery of urgent relief to the Jewish population and the release of as many Jews as possible. Once war broke out, the Nazi authorities ignored their promises.
  • Group of women, two holding babies, two without babies, and one man behind them.
    As war overtook Europe, AFSC continued to manage the children’s colonies in southern France, taking in Jews and others fleeing the Nazis.
  • Children sitting at a table eating soup.
    The colonies became havens for the most vulnerable children from the refugee camps—those who were alone or especially sick or frail.
  • Child wearing a hat, eating out of a metal bowl with a spoon and bread nearby
    A 1941 report stated that “Les Quakres Americains” were feeding 7,200 adult refugees and 800 children daily in camps and hospitals.
  • Schoolchildren seated at long tables outside.
    While providing medical support to prisoners at Gurs internment camp, Norwegian nurse Alice Resch Synnestvedt managed to smuggle buses filled with Jewish children to her Quaker colleague Mary Elmes in a nearby town.
  • Two women holding files standing in front of a vehicle.
    Mary Elmes (right) would gather or create papers needed for the children’s evacuation to safety in the United States.
  • Men standing in front of palm trees, some wearing shirts, some without, some wearing wide-brimmed hats.
    AFSC established several hostels for displaced Europeans in the U.S. and Latin America, including the Finca Paso Seco Hostel in Cuba.
  • People lifting a patient on a stretcher into or out of the back of an ambulance.
    The Friends Ambulance Unit, staffed chiefly by conscientious objectors, served throughout Europe, as well as China, India, and Greece. This mobile surgery operated in Pao-shan Yunnan, China in 1946.
  • Children stand next to milk jugs being filled by a man using a hose to take milk out of the back of a truck
    AFSC continued our commitment to victims of war even after hostilities ended. These German children welcomed the Quaker truck that brought them milk.
  • Woman standing in a crowd of women holding babies
    AFSC staffer Esther Rhoads distributes milk to children in post-war Japan.
  • Image of the Nobel Peace Prize metal that is decorated with the profile of a man's head and lettering around the edge.
    In 1947, AFSC and British Friends Service Council accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Quakers worldwide for efforts to heal rifts and oppose war. The prize emphasized work during and after both world wars to feed starving children and help Europe rebuild itself.
  • Man with armband hands out blankets to members of a crowd.
    When the British Mandate over Palestine ended in 1948, the ensuing war left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as refugees in Gaza. AFSC took an active role in their well-being.