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The Activities of the Joint in Brest (cont.)

Towards the end of 1921 the great writer Scholem Asch visited Brest and vividly described the densely crowded refuges in the packed synagogues and prayer houses.. The tragic scenes he saw moved him to tears. He later published several articles about the misery before the Holy Ark and the suffering of the returned exiles to Brest. His articles elicited a large response, not only from the Joint community in Poland, but also in the Joint circles in the U.S. They immediately set about rebuilding the city for the homeless returnees.

In 1922 I was sent by the Joint to Brest to oversee the Joint's many-sided relief, welfare, and assistance activities. We began with a budget of $100,000 that rapidly grew tenfold. Our activities concerned the following:

  1. The erection of temporary housing of 2-3 rooms, which was allocated according to the size of the family.

  2. Partially destroyed homes were leased for between 5 –15 years, the renovation costs being the rental. The rental payments were determined voluntarily.

  3. We built a new suburb in a large street that was named after Felix Warburg, the then chairman of the Joint. The houses were two storeys and had an area for grass and garden. During 1922-23 we managed to build schools for the children of the poorer residents. Our activities in Brest were considered the crowning achievement of the Joint in Poland, all visiting dignitaries, officials and representatives went to see the beautiful houses in Brest – amongst them was James Marshall, the son of Louis Marshall.

The Felix Warburg Colony
(Pictures from Image Before our Eyes)

 

One of our most significant activities was the construction of Jewish schools in Brest. We established many schools of all the various factions - General Zionist, Tarbut, Talmud Torahs, yeshivas – all of which had been destroyed in the war. The Joint could not leave the city without schools – although we did not interfere in policy matters of education. Therefore, we paid great attention and effort in establishing the same schools that had existed in Brest previously. A huge and bitter political fight between the leaders of all these different factions resulted - with the Joint office trying to solve the educational issues. Every faction was afraid that they would lose their power and influence to their political opponents.

We established an orphanage hostel for the orphaned and abandoned children of Brest, which we divided between the various factions, according to the numbers in their schools. The Joint also established a large trades school that taught trades such as metalwork, lock smithing and carpentry; it was well equipped with instruments and machinery. In 1924 this school was handed over to the ORT organization and existed until the outbreak of W.W.2.

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