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[Page 611]

Brest Jews in the World

The Landsmanschafts and the
Story of the United Brisker Relief

by J. Finkelstein

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Translators note: There is no exact English word for Landmans – Compatriot means people from the same country or place – however, compatriot or countryman/woman does not convey the deep bond the members of these organizations had. (JB).

The Landmanschafts were a great strength in the life of the Jews and played an important role for us in the U.S. For decades they carried with them the warmest emotions for their old hometowns. These organizations were built on the names of these towns. They participated fully in the community life of their new country but enthusiastically fulfilled their obligations to answer the requests from the old home.

A deep-rooted idealism motivated this voluntary work – time and money were given plus the highest sentiments of helping one's brother, from one country to another. Through their activities there developed a community life where people could involve themselves and hold important positions as activists and leaders of large national organizations in our country (U.S.A.)

There were two great waves of Jewish immigration to reach the shores of the U.S. The first was after the pogroms of 1882, the second after the great wave of anti-Semitism that followed the 1905 revolution in Russia, and the peasants rebellion in Romania with it's pogroms. These upheavals played a large part in the emigration of Jews – the other factor was the grinding poverty and miserable economic conditions – the pogroms were just the final straw to make them leave their homes.

The newly arrived migrant searched for a path in this new life. But he was attracted and drawn to people from his own home country and town - to those that spoke his language. This became his social home and nest, which to some degree eased his transition pains and gave him a glimpse of the atmosphere of his lost home. This served as a bridge from the past to the future. The spark of the old home gladdened the heart; the relatives and friends would always be in one's mind.

The Landmanschafts were the primary cells from which great national organizations have arisen. Fraternal societies that were concerned mainly in helping their own: Sickness benefits, insurance, medical assistance, and activities within the cultural sphere. The oldest Jewish society was established in 1843 and served as the Union of German Jews.

In later years whole rows of large national Jewish fraternal organizations of different backgrounds reached a membership of 100,000s.

The Brest Relief Committee was part of this network and was organized in 1915 in New York. An extraordinary meeting took place immediately after W.W.1. This emergency meeting was to establish life- saving relief for the destroyed cities and towns far away over land and sea. The Brest Relief Committee collected over 200,000 dollars for Brest itself in 1921.

W.W.1 had encompassed all of Europe in terror and flames that had destroyed our city. Terrible news came from the front – heartrending letters arrived for our townsman Hershel Freiluk, now Dr. Harry Freiluk. His letters were passed on to the committee and several Brest activists, members of the Brest National Workingman's Union and Brest Bundist Group. They got together with the aim of forming an assistance and relief organization for the city of Brest.

Out of love it was decided to establish a relief committee that would be dedicated to providing help for the people of Brest and the Brest Institutions.

At the first planning meeting which had taken place in 1914 at 179 E. Broadway at Sarzer's restaurant, a committee of three was elected: H. Frieluk, J. Finkelstein and Hersh (Yudel) Margolis.

The aim was to establish contacts with the following organizations: The Brest Branch (286) of the Workmans Circle, Brest Young Men, National Workers Union Branch, and Brest Bundists Organization. An explanatory assembly took place at Halperin's restaurant at 139 Henry St. in N.Y.

It was resolved to turn to the membership and the Brest organizations about the organizing of a large united conference.

The founders of the Brisker Relief 1914
R-L: Dr. H.R. Margolis, J. Finkelstein, and Dr. H. Freiluk.
(Absent Topolewski, Sarzer and Riger)

 

The Foundation Committee of the Brisker Relief

In January 1915 a great conference took place in a hall at 206 E. Broadway with the participation of all the N.Y. Brest organizations. All the delegates attended:

Branch no.286 of the Workman's Circle: H. Kleinberg, M. Mezrich, Y. Rosenberg.

The Brisk Bundists: J. Finkelstein, L. Raf, and H. Riger.

The Tiferet Israel Synagogue: R. Feldman, G. Sheinman, and L. Freidman.

Brisk Independent Young Men's Society: Hershel Yudel Margolis, S. Halperin, and R. Cherkies.

Lodge 337(AABS) A. Reis, B. Fisher, and M. Rubin.

Lodge 682 (IOBA): B. Stern, P. Rabinovitch.

Brisker-Semiatycher Society: L. Wilner, M. Dreyfus.

Rabbi Zylberstein's Lodge: S. Barmatz, Y. Grossbauer.

Brisk D' Lita Lodge: Wengerowski and Jacobson.

Brisk Support Society: Y. Rosenthal, Tesher.

Brisker Women's Organization: Mrs. Sarver, Mrs. Kushner, and Mrs. Wishnograd.

Brisker Self-Education Club: G. Sklar, W. Strummer, and D. Leibovitch.

This diverse gathering from every different faction, direction, and political affiliation came together and united with the sole aim of creating assistance and support for our brethren in Brest. This conference elected the following officials: Wilner – Chairman. M Dreyfus and Cherkas were the financial secretaries. H. Frieluk was executive secretary. H. Margolis, J. Finkelstein and B. Rubin - Publicity and correspondence secretaries. Dr. Bulkowstein – Treasurer.

The 1st meeting of the Brisker Relief took place January 1915, at Forsythe Hall, 206 Forsythe St. N.Y. The agenda of that evening declared that it's primary and greatest undertaking would be a large Charity Ball to be held in the New York Opera House. Immediately there was a conflict of opinions about organizing this first undertaking. Two differing opinions became obvious – the older Briskers with their approach to work, and the younger ones who had only recently arrived in the U.S. who sharply differed in their approach to practical work. The Charity Ball proposal did not succeed….

This first project ended in instant disappointment. The entire winter went on with only the usual meetings. No concrete fundraising eventuated. Upon the German expulsion of all the inhabitants of Brest, a group formed claiming that no help was needed: “because there were no Jews left in the city of Brest”.

After an entire year spent squabbling, no practical results had been achieved. At a meeting of the Relief Fund, one of the members declared that: “since they were all expelled there is no one to help. Therefore, there was no necessity for the United Relief Fund”. Upon hearing this, a portion of the older members left the hall. However Hyman Kleinberg made this statement at the same meeting: “We formed this Relief fund not to play games or to seek glory. We are certain that the Briskers will return to their city and will need assistance”. The following were elected to continue the work:

Philip Rabinovitch – Chairman. M. Mezrich – Financial Secretary. N. Sharon – Head secretary. H. Kleinberg – Treasurer. J. Finkelstein, B. Rubin and Dr. Margolis were the press committee.

As the war progressed our Brest people (compatriots) became more and more anxious and would come to the United Brisker Relief Committee asking for help in locating friends and relatives. After the Germans expelled the entire city, the Briskers wandered to various towns and villages in the district, as well as further away. The Relief began seeking ways of finding these scattered Briskers. The task was transferred to the press committee – J. Finkelstein, B. Rubin and Dr. Margolis.

The war had engulfed the whole of Europe and the delivery of mail had ceased, but the Brisker Relief did not rest until we had received from the Red Cross lists of Brest people that had been located in places like: Antopol, Pruzhany, Lukav, Mezrich, and Biale (Biala Podlaska). The U.B.R. called a mass meeting of all Briskers at the Aldrich St. Hall. Many found the relatives they were seeking in the lists. We received more names and places from the Red Cross and gave them to the Jewish press to print. Many people received news of their families in this way.

Brest Bundist Organization in N.Y. 1917

From R-L: Top Row: H. Sarzer, S. Riger, Leventhal.
2nd Row: Mrs.Shapiro, B. Rubin, D. Leibowitz, Sophia Katalanski
3rd Row, seated: H. Riger, S. Silver, P. Novick, Z. Zaldman, B. Katalanski,
Bottom Row: L.Raf, L. Kling, J. Finkelstein

 

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