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[Page 165]

Part Four

Brzeziners in America

Our Landsmanshaft

brz165.jpg -   Nathan Summer

by Nathan Summer

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

In November 1956, the sixtieth-year jubilee of the Brzeziner Landsmanshaft [society of fellow townsmen] in the United States was celebrated in a festive manner. Now, preparing this monumental work, in which we want to show generations to come the history of our town in all its phases and aspects, it is especially important to let them learn the rich history of our landsmanshaft in America.

More than sixty-five years ago, the first Brzeziner families began to arrive here. As is usual for people in a foreign land with an unfamiliar way of life, they felt depressed, deserted, and lonely. Longing for home gnawed away at them, and spiritual desolation prodded them. Individual Brzeziner families began to cling closely to each other. At that time, an idea was born to organize themselves into their own society in order to recreate a familiar environment and also to maintain the ties linking them to their town, to their own roots. They tried to transplant the traditions, the customs, and the spiritual institutions of their town to American soil.

New York was the point of disembarkation for the majority of the immigrants. You must understand that our first Brzeziner pioneers also fell into that great “melting pot.” Certainly, the immigrant here in the early years did not have it so easy. Those were difficult years, physically and spiritually, for those far from home. Thus they clung so ardently to their own, to their landsman, people from their own town.

In 1896 Brzeziners organized officially and received a charter under the name Di Breziner Untershtitsung Farayn [The Brzeziner Benevolent Society]. This is the way the first minutes read, found years later among our archives, written by Gerszon Dymant [George Diamond], who was the recording secretary from that time until the time of the first official election. The authenticity of the minutes was actually later confirmed by the first secretary and also by other original founders. Here are the minutes of that historical, first founding meeting:

On the 30th of March, 1896, the first meeting of the Brzeziner landslayt was held at the home of Hyman Rechseit on East Second Street. At this gathering it was decided to establish the Brzeziner Benevolent Society. The following landslayt attended this meeting and registered as members: George Diamond, Hyman Rechseit, Sam Cohen, Sam Newman, Jack Wolborsky, Morris Drengel, Morris Krengel, Hershka Weinberg, Jacob Hillel, Israel Rosenkrantz, Kive Rubinstein, and Daniel Glicklich. Jacob Hillel was elected secretary-treasurer until the election of officers. [1]

G. Diamond reported that he mailed out twenty postcards to landslayt. The purpose of the current meeting was described in the postcards. Only twelve people attended the meeting. It was resolved that everyone who registered as a member in the organization should pay twenty-five cents, and this should be in effect until the election, which would take place at the first meeting in July. Then the initial fee would be raised according to the decision of the members. It was also decided that those members who wished to register today should pay their twenty-five cent dues from now until the first meeting in July, which amounts to the sum of $1.25. It was also decided to meet in private homes until election time, since our financial situation does not allow us to rent a meeting hall. Brother Diamond was requested to send out postcards so that all Brzeziners who live in New York, and also outside New York, would be informed of the founding of the society. It was also resolved that those who join as members at this meeting or at the next meeting would constitute the founders of the Brzeziner Benevolent Society.

G. Diamond, Temporary Recording Secretary

About the language—which we have not changed—notice the signs of German influence that were strong at that time. And not only is the language strongly affected by English expressions and ideas, but also the names were changed very quickly. The majority of them who only a short time ago called themselves Abraham, Mojsze, Szlama, and Dawid—already are called Abram, Morris, Sam, and David. They Americanized quickly, and a great deal of the homey familiar traditions and customs underwent a transformation, although, when they came together with familiar landslayt, they were nostalgic about their youthful years in Brzezin.

From that small cluster of people mentioned by the founders in the first minutes, an organization sprang up, which at the time of the Fiftieth-Year Jubilee, celebrated in 1946, consisted of about four hundred members. Achieving this number is certainly the greatest accomplishment in the history of our landsmanshaft. In 1956, when the Sixtieth-Year Jubilee was celebrated, many of the first of that pioneering generation were no longer with us. Nevertheless, our landsmanshaft now consists of approximately a thousand members keyn-yirbu [may they increase].

Hyman Rechseit's home was the assembly point for the assimilated residents who had already been in America several years and were already accustomed to the new land. This house was also a well-known gathering place for newly-arrived immigrants, who, in the beginning months, really needed substantial, immediate help.

Also, in those early years, A. Barash's delicatessen on the East Side served as a club for Brzeziners. After a hard day's work in a factory, they gathered there in the evenings over a glass of tea and talked about all sorts of things, especially, you understand, about the landslayt. They enjoyed themselves, lehavdl [separating the sacred from the profane], as they did in the besmedresh in Brzezin. They talked over the events of the day, about what was going on in the country, but especially details about the landsmanshaft. Here they created the future plans of the society. Here they also did not escape various frictions and quarrels over insignificant things, but in the end, they would reconcile again, as was usual in those days.

Extremely interesting is that this Mr. Barash was not even from Brzezin. He was a native of Bialystok, and yet, he became very interested and involved in Brzeziner “politics” and was aware of and acquainted with every little street in Brzezin, even though he himself had never been there. This Barash was a curious and interesting person, who willingly adopted Brzezin as his hometown and became a member of the organization. His wife was also closely linked and bound to everything that had a connection to Brzeziners. She had the warmth and tenderness of a loyal mama. In her shop on the former East Side, she was involved with the bright beginning of our landsmanshaft.

So the years passed swiftly by. The situation of our hometown went from bad to worse. As soon as it was possible, people fled; they emigrated. And the majority of the emigrants were drawn to the United States. There were also many who went to Eretz Isroel [Land of Israel]; others traveled to South America and settled there.

The great majority of those others were drawn to South America. In the first place, because they already had relatives and friends there who could give support in time of need, and secondly, because they received encouraging reports from landslayt already living there under reasonable circumstances.

 

brz166.jpg -   A group photograph of Brzeziner 'landslayt'
A group photograph of Brzeziner landslayt in New York.
Here can be seen former leaders who unfortunately lie in the dust, among
them Aaron Kuyawsky, Toviah Peizer, Alter Rosenfeld, Israel Cohen, and others.

 

In general, the economic situation was much better here. The conditions in the tailoring trades began to improve with the rise of the trade union movement. This certainly encouraged the younger tailors in Brzezin to emigrate to a distant and free land.

Emigration brought here ever greater groups of our landslayt, and with the new emigrants, the local landsmanshaft grew and prospered. Soon, as usual, people began to show their dissatisfaction with the old, established leadership. The younger, the newer element, and even among them some of the older ones, came with a bunch of complaints and questions that provoked dissent. And the dissent brought about a rift.

This rift occurred in the years between 1908 and 1910. Twenty-six members broke away from the mother organization and created their own independent group. They even took out a charter under the name “The Brzeziner Progressive Society,” so that the newly-created organization would have a legal standing. The leaders of this newly-created organization were Abraham Icchok Rosman, President; Alter Rosenfeld, Vice-President; Charlie Baron, Secretary; and M. Rosman, Treasurer. They held their meetings in Springers Hall on Avenue B.

It should be noted that among the stated number of those who officially split off, there were also those landslayt who kept their membership in both organizations simultaneously. Those members who remained loyal to the old Brzeziner Society tried, in this way, to act as go-betweens in order to make peace again between the two separate factions. In the last analysis, the rift was not caused by, God knows, some kind of terrible ideological clash over who should have authority, in which the possibility for both sides to make up would have been altogether lost.

This voluntary mission on the part of those who remained in the old organization was successful. In the scant two years that the new group had functioned, after the entire dispute was brought to court because of stolen books and in order to maintain the legal right to speak in the name of the Brzeziner landslayt, peace was finally reestablished between the feuding factions. The newly-created organization agreed to support the decisions and regulations of the mother organization.

The organization again operated with its usual routine. The membership continued to grow with newly-arriving immigrants. That is how things proceeded until the outbreak of the First World War.

During the war years, there was little opportunity to keep in touch with those nearest and dearest whom we had left behind in our town. By indirect means we received news of the terrible impoverishment of our hometown, Brzezin, but there was little likelihood of easing the pressing need. Our help could not reach our loved ones.

Finally, after those difficult war years, when armistice was declared, the old ties were reestablished, and the landslayt began to think about sending a messenger directly to Brzezin.

It must be understood that during the time of war, the landslayt here did not rest. They prepared a plan for the time when the first opportunity would arise to help our starving sisters and brothers on the other side of the ocean.

 

brz167.jpg -   A. Barash, whose delicatessen on the 'East Side'
A. Barash, whose delicatessen on the “East Side”
was the first destination for immigrants from Brzezin

 

The first one who reconnected and linked us again with our town was our landsman Hyman Funt, e'h [may he rest in peace], who traveled to Brzezin immediately after the war. He actually went on a visit to the town and willingly carried our messages. The society had entrusted him with a great mission.

He, Hyman Funt, belonged to the pioneer generation of our local landsmanshaft. His clothing factory was a haven for Brzeziners. A great number of undertakings were planned and dreamt of in his shop. The “sweatshop system” that predominated in those days in various trades was well known, and in that respect, his shop was an exception. Our landslayt tailors boasted to other landslayt about his fair and humane treatment. This was not the way other bosses behaved, who seriously exploited and used their landslayt brothers to promote their own interests.

He had a very difficult mission on his visit to Brzezin. In order to distribute the first relief funds that the American landslayt had entrusted to him, he used a lot of common sense, and, in general, his handling of those who had suffered was very judicious.

There were also other landslayt who visited Brzezin later and were, at the same time, our ambassadors, who represented the local landsmanshaft on behalf of the relief work.

At various times the following landslayt visited Brzezin: J.D. Berg, (who was, incidentally, the leading spirit in the great relief-and-rehabilitation work after the more recent great catastrophe of our people—a bright chapter of its own that will be told in later accounts), Icchok Rosman, and Jacob Fogel.

As already mentioned above, the work of the society in those postwar years was concentrated mostly on sending help to the victims of war. A “Relief Committee” was formed, consisting of Aaron Kuyawsky, Toviah Peizer, William Green, Benny Loomanitz, Louis Horn, Alter Rosenfeld, Jacob Leib Wald, Israel Cohen, and Jacob Fogel. The majority of the landslayt mentioned are unfortunately no longer with us. Every one of them contributed in his own way to the landsmanshaft. There were even landslayt who took an active role in the relief work who had not yet officially joined as members of our society. They felt, however, the responsibility of the moment and wanted to have a share in the very important assistance to our town.

Certainly the form of help in those days did not take on the character or establish such concretely defined objectives as after the recent great disaster, of which we will give an account later.

After the First World War, the town began to recover. The Jewish population remained, although its status was certainly not the same as in the thriving prewar years. A portion of the working class began to turn to the outside, toward the world, for the simple reason that the sources for earning a living had seriously dried up. Many left for America—in the first place, because, in those days America was prospering economically, and secondly, after a Polish government was reestablished, the entire political-social climate was not favorable for Jews. However, the great majority of Brzeziner Jews remained in the town, and many were living in miserable circumstances.

Between 1918 and 1936, the Brzeziner Relief Committee sent the sum of approximately seventeen thousand dollars to Brzezin. It can be seen that the amount of aid during this time period was not very significant. However, one must not minimize this limited form of relief-and-rehabilitation work of our local landsmanshaft.

It was a different time, and from the beginning, the committee set about its work on a minimal basis. In those years, when the Jewish population of our town became seriously impoverished, any form of assistance made things easier and reduced need.

In the meantime, week-in, week-out, Brzeziner landslayt began arriving in America, immigrants both young and middle-aged. Of course, the new type of immigrant was cut from a different cloth. He was of the more modern, enlightened type. He had already been exposed to and infected with the agitation of various kinds of Jewish factions during the war years in Eastern Europe. Quite a large percent had belonged to or were active in the various Socialist and Zionist organizations. In one word—a progressive, cosmopolitan element.

Coming here, encountering the local landslayt, attending meetings of the society, the entire style and leadership of the landsmanshaft seemed strange and very conservative. The established ritual for coming into a meeting, standing at attention like a soldier, the hand over the heart—this all felt old-fashioned, out-of-date, and did not at all appeal to the newly-arrived immigrants.

They began immediately to revolt against this archaic form and strove to introduce new ways, a new style in the life of our society. Of course, this did not go entirely easily. As always, they did not permit the new generation of immigrants to approach the Eastern Wall [take a place of honor]. They (the old-timers) took a dim view of them, regarding them with suspicion and mistrust. They criticized them, saying that they came disturbing the peace and that their new ways and methods would bring about the downfall of our entire structure. Disputes and flare-ups between the older residents and the new generation of immigrants did indeed take place. They could not live together in peace.

This state of affairs led to a new rupture in the solidarity of the society. Most of the new immigrants, with the help of several older leaders, founded an organization called “The Brzeziner Culture Club,” which later was transformed into “Workmen's Circle, Branch 472.” There the influence of the new immigrants was evident.

Among those especially active in the “Culture Club” were Jacob David Berg, B. Loomanitz, Joseph Diamond, Velvel Rosenblum, and B. Brakash (the last was not even a Brzeziner landsman). They conducted their meetings according to modern ideas and standards. They, the landsmen who had already partaken of the ideas and ideals of the various movements in Jewish society, really did not feel comfortable at the meetings of the old Brzeziner Society. The spirit that the society had adopted from the Hungarian and German way of operating was, as already stated, not to their taste. It also had very little relationship to the town of Brzezin. That is why the “Culture Club,” which wanted to bring in a new style and modern concepts into communal work, came into being.

At the meetings conducted by the Culture Club, the order of business was not so important; they were mainly concerned that the gathered group should hear an interesting lecture about an important topic. They thus brought to almost every meeting well-known writers and lecturers, and the people were satisfied and enjoyed themselves. Brother Diamond tells us that in that interesting time they not only tried to educate and teach people but also to entertain and amuse them in an appropriate way. From time to time, they arranged concert evenings with well-known and gifted artist groups from the Jewish stage.

But Fate willed it that the new Culture Club, just like the earlier Progressive Society, would not last long. The overwhelming majority of the Brzeziner landsmanshaft, united in their sentiments, again prevented a victory. The newly-founded organization dissolved, and the old and the new elements flowed back together and established a lasting peace. Both sides agreed to the compromise. The old leadership relaxed their domination a little, and new, fresh blood began to make its appearance in the leadership. The meetings began to have a different character. Little by little, a lot of the out-of-date methods, which had the smell of the former mysterious ways of operating, were eliminated or repealed.

A great number of the pioneering generation, because of their advanced age, no longer participated actively in the society's work. Many of the founders and leaders from the old generation had passed away. New faces appeared, and new leaders, along with new ideas about communal work.

Of the leaders from the old generation, we still had the rare privilege of having among us nice, sincere, unpretentious, ordinary people. I will mention several. Toviah Peizer, a real veteran, who tried to adapt to the later conditions in the society. Nevertheless, physically and psychologically, he remained fixated in the past. It would cause him to muse, “Once it used to be…,” and his face would practically light up. He evoked beautiful, shining recollections from the familiar past He got carried away by his own speech, while he painted a picture for us of the first ten years of the life of our local landsmanshaft.

Aaron Kuyawsky—or the way he was called among the landslayt, Aaron Dan Aszer's [son of Dan Aszer]—also belonged spiritually to the earlier generation. He was not of the “leadership type,” but he always filled important posts and was deeply loved among the landslayt. We really rarely complained about his actions—although they were not, God knows, of any great stature. We knew, however, that our Aaron had honest and fair intentions. He did not put on airs; he did not have any great pretensions. He did not even get angry when someone stepped on his toes. Often it seemed that Aaron, the “Pop” (father)—the title that many of the younger generation respectfully gave him—felt unjustly treated because of this or that action. However, he always found a justification for everyone, rationalizing that they could not have acted differently.

And, of course, Alter Rosenfeld was very active. When you leaf through old record books, you find that already at that time he was an ardent participant in the discussions that used to stretch late into the night. Alter Rosenfeld was active in our society for many years, almost until the last day of his life. He held office as our president many times. Already all kinds of legends about Alter's constant “presiding” have spread among our landslayt. He was a person with a fiery temper, and he suffered from a “father complex.” It always seemed to him that the leaders of the younger generation continuously sought to harm the reputation of the society. He, as the founder, would not permit “his” society, perish the thought, to be destroyed because of the strange behavior of the new leaders. But with all his faults, he was good for the society.

In their naivete, in their plain-folk simplicity, the old leaders accomplished wonderful things. We, the present-day leaders, remember them with admiration and respect. Thanks to their persistence and devotion, this all came about.

Activities

During our many years of existence, our activities were not limited exclusively to organizational routine. We displayed an interest in all the important events in Jewish life.

In addition to our usual meetings, at which specific Brzeziner matters were taken up and handled, we always expanded our activities to all things associated with the Jewish people. From time to time general Jewish problems were raised and discussed at our meetings.

We arranged dozens of lectures and papers on various topics connected with Eretz Isroel. We discussed, when it was timely, the matter of Jewish settlements in lands other than Eretz Isroel. We also saw to it that the members were more or less informed about the details. We invited distinguished and prominent personalities to lecture about all these problems, so that our members would have an objective picture of what was happening in the Jewish community.

Jewish literature in its development was also not an unusual topic for us. We listened to lectures on various cultural issues that held a broad interest for Jewish people. Among the distinguished representatives of Jewish organized society, and from Yiddish literature, who made presentations to us were S. Niger, H. Leivick, Peretz Hirshbein, N. B. Minkoff, Mordechai Dantsis, Dr. E. Naks [Israel Knox], Leibush Lehrer, N. Meisel, Aba Gordin, Dr. Seikin, B. Shefner, Sasha Zimmerman, Dr. Emanuel Pat, B. Kaplan, and many others.

When the Yiddish theater blossomed in the Jewish community, and the people were younger, the Brzeziner Society organized theater performances almost annually, as was the custom in those early years.

The Brzeziner Society also responded to appeals from important fund-raising campaigns for the Jewish people of that time. The Brzeziner Society took a very active role in almost all important collections of money administered by responsible Jewish community organizations. In our record books, financial contributions were noted to such distinguished organizations as the United Jewish Appeal, the Joint Distribution Committee, ORT, Keren Hayesod Fund, Histadrut, Keren Kayemeth, HIAS, World Jewish Congress, American Jewish Congress, Red Mogen Dovid, the Red Cross, and various health organizations and institutions that served the interests of the Jewish community.

It also must be recalled here that during the time when weekend “picnics” were in vogue during the hot summer months, the Brzeziners were not behind the times in that aspect relative to other organizations. We spent the entire day in good spirits under the open skies, sang Yiddish folk songs, played pinochle, and the women prepared delicious snacks and drinks. Often we had a keg of beer, just like in the good ole days in our former hometown.

The banquets and concerts that the landslayt arranged for various occasions, especially to celebrate some important event, really deserve a prize for their grand style. The fortieth-year and the fiftieth-year and even the recent sixtieth-year commemoration will live long in the memory of those who had the rare honor to participate in those celebrations.

The special journals that were published for the jubilee celebration under the editorship of Nahum Summer have been renowned for a long time. These very beautiful journals hold a place of honor in most Brzeziner homes throughout the world. Distinguished literary critics also wrote warmly about them. These journals are of great historical significance. They certainly served as an important source for our present Sefer Brzezin [Brzeziner Book].

For the sixtieth-year celebration a new booklet was also published with illustrations and pictures about the ten years of our relief work.

Since we are speaking about important journals, it must also be noted that for the sixtieth-year celebration of our distinguished landsman, Jacob David Berg, a beautiful journal was published with important comments about the yubilar's [honoree's] many activities, both as a culture builder and also as an important leader in the work of our landsmanshaft, especially in our relief work.

The memorial monument that the landslayt erected at the cemetery on Long Island must be mentioned as an important accomplishment in the effort to immortalize the martyrs of our destroyed shtetl. There, in the Beth David Cemetery, we have come together on various occasions in order to pay tribute to the martyrs of our hometown and also to recall those landslayt who died here.

Since this monument was erected, it has became a tradition in the month of May to arrange an evening of commemoration for the Jews from our Brzezin who were gassed and murdered and also for the members of our landsmanshaft who died prematurely.

I have not exhausted the history of our landsmanshaft with this account. We have only reviewed here the most important moments in the sixty-year existence of our Brzeziner Society.


  1. The spelling of names in this chapter, in so far as possible, is that which was used in the United States, especially if the people were listed in the 80th Anniversary journal. Surnames appearing in this chapter were more likely to have been spelled in Poland as follows: Cwern (Zwerin), Dymant (Diamond), Fuks (Fox), Goldkranc (Goldkrantz), Grynszpan (Green), Hajman (Hyman), Hauzer (Hauser), Hilel (Hillel), Kalisz (Kalish), Kon (Cohen), Kujawski (Kuyawsky), Lomanec (Loomanitz), Najman (Newman), Pajczer (Peizer), Pakull (Pakula), Rechtszajt (Rechseit), Rozenberg (Rosenberg), Rozenblum (Rosenblum), Rozenfeld (Rosenfeld), Rozenkranc (Rosenkrantz), Rozman (Rosman), Rubinsztajn (Rubinstein), Silski (Schilsky), Szajbowicz (Shaibowicz), Sobowinski (Sobovinsky), Szwarc (Schwartz), Tuszynski (Tushinsky), Wajnberg (Weinberg), and Wolborski (Wolborsky). Return

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