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Relief Work and Shikkun Brzezin (Brzeziner Housing Project) in Israel (cont.)

The first news came from the camps in Germany—Bergen-Belsen, Stuttgart, Bad Worishofen, Munich, Bad Reichenhall, Camp Fernwald, Feldafing, and many others.

As soon as we received news from a landsman, or about him, a letter was sent, as well as food, and, where possible, money, also, in order to let him know that he was not alone. We put together lists, and in many cases helped to unite families.

After the first contacts with individuals were established, we organized district committees where help was consolidated, and the relief work was carried out through these committees.

At the same time, an intensive campaign was conducted to raise money needed to satisfy the requests that came daily from various camps and countries, once our landslayt learned that there was a committee in New York helping Brzeziners.

There were many cases in which strangers who never belonged to the shtetl but heard of the Brzeziner aid turned to us for support. Although in several instances we knew that these were “imposters,” nevertheless, we helped them. The slogan of our chairman, Brother Berg, was “In boydkin mizoynes” [when someone asks for food, give it to him without questions]. If someone turns to us for support, it doesn't matter if he is trying to fool us; we have to help him in order to succeed in making him believe once again in humanity.

In a few months the work had so expanded that we had to engage a secretary to answer the large amount of correspondence—which was carried on by our secretary, Brother Maliniak, all over the world and with more than half a dozen organized committees. (Such committees existed in Stuttgart, Bergen-Belsen, Sweden, Lodz, Paris, and Tel-Aviv.)

Meanwhile, we also advertised in the Jewish world press, and in that way we reached almost one hundred percent of the surviving Jews from our shtetl.

A special chapter is needed to cover the group of landslayt saved by the Red Cross in Sweden. There, at the head of the committee stood Mrs. Rebecca Grosman, who was well known to the secretary, Brother Maliniak, because he had worked with her before in a Brzeziner youth organization.

Our landsman friend, Jehudah Fuks, whose assignment was to personally look for landslayt and also to distribute help according to their need, traveled there later.

Soon the possibility arose to send money, food, clothing, and medical supplies to Lodz, where Jewish survivors who had returned to Poland were concentrated.

In those days significant sums of money were raised that were sent directly to the surviving landslayt in Poland. Understand, that for such work great effort was needed among the landslayt to campaign for funds. Large mass meetings of landslayt were called in order to rouse the landslayt and tell them about the concrete needs of the survivors.

Through an agreement with the organization “CARE,” hundreds of packages of food were sent. The same was done with medical supplies. As soon as someone needed a particular item, not easily available in those days, like medicine, it was quickly arranged.

Somewhat later, a clothing campaign was organized, in which Brother Sam Hyman clearly excelled. It should also be noted here that Chicago was very successful in this campaign. Thousands of pounds of good and clean clothing were collected and sent.

As a rule, the work was carried out according to the requirements of the time.

For example, the first step was establishing the connection and satisfying the major needs—this stage we can call “Immediate Help.”

The second stage was linking the survivor with his family and with setting up a local district committee where help could be organized though the local cooperative—which understood the situation better than we did here in New York. This period can be labeled “Team Help.”

The third stage was involved with the exodus of the survivors from their camps. An enormous task was accomplished in this area.

The fourth stage was the constructive assistance that was given to our landslayt in Paris. The first opportunity opened up for us when our brothers in Paris began to return to their homes. Most of their houses had been plundered and destroyed. In the great conflagration they had all lost everything and had to start all over again from the beginning. Then came the Relief Committee, which brought sewing machines. Since the majority were tailors—a trade inherited from our shtetl—they took our practical means of help with immense gratitude. In this undertaking we had the cooperation of “ORT” [Organization for Rehabilitation and Training], which immediately supplied over seventy machines of all kinds. These machines were not at all easy to get, even for money. In organizing the project to get the machines, we also helped interested relatives by providing them with machines so they could also take part in the work. The landslayt were literally restored. This gave them the ability to support a family through their own work. We still remember very well their letters of thanks with brokhes [blessings].

 

brz187.jpg -   At the Sixty Year Jubilee for Jacob David Berg
At the Sixty Year Jubilee for Jacob David Berg

 

In the name of the Brzeziner landsmanshaft, Brother Moishe Hendricks presents to J. D. Berg, as a gift, on his becoming sixty years of age, a check for the benefit of the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee, of which Berg is chairman. In the picture, seated, is J. D. Berg. Standing, from right to left: Luzer Horn, e”h, Fishel Maliniak, Rachel Bergman, Abraham Rosenberg, Isaac Hemlin (a guest at the gathering), Joseph Diamond, Moishe Hendricks, and Fannie Tanenbaum.

 

brz188.jpg -   J. D. Berg and Har-Jaffe (Szajnberg) at the opening of the library named for the Berg family
J. D. Berg and Har-Jaffe (Szajnberg) at the opening
of the library named for the Berg family

 

Finally, comes the crown of our work—the Shikhun Brzezin that was built in Israel

We also carried on activities to help our uprooted landslayt come to America. Later, we helped them settle here by getting them jobs and visas. In this respect, the following shall be recognized here. When the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union obtained the prospect of employing a greater number of tailoring factory workers in Canada, we also did not let the moment pass. Through our influence in the local trade union movement, particularly thanks to the capable and energetic effort on the part of our distinguished landslayt, Joseph Diamond, Louie Hauser, Abraham Rosenberg, and Louie Horn, e”h, we succeeded in getting a greater number of visas. This permitted several dozen Brzeziner refugee families to settle in Canada as qualified tailoring craftsmen. Here the Jewish Workers' Committee also cooperated with the company's community organizer and the manager of the International in Canada, Friend M. Shein.

The same thing took place again when the International gained the opportunity to bring a greater number of tailors to America. Nearly thirty families were brought to the United States at the expense of the government, and with the help of our landslayt, they were all accommodated. Also, Friend Sasha Zimmerman, then head of Dressmakers' Local 22, assisted us in this, and also B. Kaplan, manager of Cloakmakers' Local 117.

Calls for help from refugee landslayt who had succeeded in rescuing themselves and had immigrated to Eretz Isroel began to reach us. We knew their difficult situation very well. This call for assistance on the part of our landslayt did not let us rest. However, we decided that our help should have a more constructive character than it had possessed up to that time. We should not be satisfied with just sending food packages, clothing, medical supplies, and a little cash. The assistance should have a more solid, a more lasting foundation.

Then all sorts of plans and proposals were brought up regarding the appropriate way to help the surviving landslayt in Eretz Isroel.

At that time we had even developed the idea of building a tailoring cooperative in conjunction with Histadrut. Certainly, it was plausible, since Brzezin was then well-known for its clothing industry. And with Brzeziner Jews, who for generations had worked in that trade, such a project as a tailoring cooperative, particularly with the collaboration of Histadrut, would be sure to succeed.

But when we proceeded to think about the project concretely, various difficulties and complications arose, especially after the well-known Jewish workers' leader, Benjamin Kaplan, who had visited Eretz Isroel at that time, actually talked with our landslayt. He spoke to them about this matter and about other plans and about what they could use immediately that would also have lasting value.

At that time we also had more detailed accounts from our own landslayt from America—Julius Fox and Fishel Maliniak, who had also been in Israel during those years and were deeply interested in the problems of the landslayt there.

Friend Berg decided to go to Israel, and you understand that the landslayt gave him a mandate on the spot to investigate the entire matter and actually see what was the most appropriate way to perpetuate the memory of our destroyed shtetl and, at the same time, to help in a tangible way the surviving landslayt who had managed to save themselves in Israel.

The well-known journalist M. Tsanin wrote about this in an article in the New York Forverts (published August, 9, 1953): “A few years ago, a Jew by the name of J. D. Berg, a Jew from America, but for whom America had never erased the attachment to Brzezin … That which he, as a young man had absorbed in that small shtetl was never eradicated. And in Israel, that Jacob David Berg got wind that 'his' Brzeziner Jews, who had come to Israel as immigrants, were still sitting in transit camps, hoping to see a home where they might once and for all unpack their satchels and become just like Israeli Jews. Jacob David Berg opened his Brzeziner heart. 'What is this, my landslayt sitting in transit camps? Who ever heard that Brzeziners should allow such a thing?'”

 

brz189.jpg -   The signing of the contract with the 'Rasko' building contractor
The signing of the contract with the “Rasko” building contractor
Seated from right to left: Abraham Fox, Joseph Diamond, Ray Bergman (chairman of the
Ladies' Auxiliary), L. Horn, e”h (who had held the office of Financial Secretary of the
Brzeziner Relief Committee), and Alter Rosenfeld.
Standing from right to left: Fishel Maliniak, Fannie Tanenbaum, J. D. Berg (chairman of the
Relief Committee), Mr. Louis Berg (attorney for the Brzeziners at the closing of the transaction),
P. Imber (representative of “Rasko”) Ruth Hauser (later financial secretary of the Relief
Committee), and Sam Fox (then president of the Breziner Society)

 

Berg called together the long-time residents in Israel and said to them, “We want to build Brzezin in Israel. Those unfortunate individuals who arrived in Israel, rescued after enduring all the anguish and horrors that they lived through before coming here—that our minds can never grasp—we cannot allow them to wander about in holes, in dens, and live again under inhuman conditions.”

And so it was. When Berg returned from his trip to Israel, he reported on all that he had seen and heard among the landslayt in Israel. “It is our duty,” Berg contended. “History has decreed it for us. Since we certainly cannot restore the entire world, we should at least take care of our own landslayt, whose plight is so dreadful. We must no longer leave them in such terrible conditions. Specifically, we must build a housing project. We must provide those who remain in these wretched shelters with decent housing, so that they may become normal people once again.”

 

brz190.jpg -   J. D. Berg addressing the meeting of the Relief Committee
J. D. Berg addressing the meeting of the Relief Committee
On the platform are, from the right: Fishel Maliniak, Jehuda Fuks,
Joseph Diamond, Louis Horn e”h, and Abraham Rosenberg

 

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