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[Pages 48-55]

Jews From Kolbuszowa In America

By David Salz

All the signs point to the eighteen-eighties as the period in which emigration started from Kolbuszowa to the United States. It may be that some Jews undertook the journey earlier but they were very few. It is impossible today to determine accurately who was the first Jew to leave Kolbuszowa and settle on the shores of the new continent. What we do know is that the first wave of immigration reached Memphis, and that the immigrants from Kolbuszowa--like countless other newcomers of that era--became peddlers.

Many of them lived up and down America's east coast and a substantial number settled in New York. Above all they were concentrated in the Jewish East Side, where they became deeply rooted in the hard-working mass of the rising proletariat. Like other immigrants from Galicia, the Kolbuszowa newcomers earned their living in the bleak sweatshops. Characteristic of the time was the fact that many of the "shtetl" people who came here had no intention of settling here permanently. The purpose of their coming was to improve their financial situation, balance their budget, save some dollars, and return; in fact, they left their families back home, planning subsequently to go back to them.

Life was very hard for the newcomer. In the shop he was as a rule forced to slave away under the most difficult circumstances. Not always did he manage to have an apartment for himself; often he had to live as a boarder in someone else's home. Instinctively the "greenhorns" sought one another out and stayed close together. In most cases they had to learn a trade and pick up the language. The whole immigrant environment was so different from the homelike, intimate atmosphere they had left behind in the home-village across the ocean! Consequently, driven by the loneliness and strangeness which they felt at every turn and every step, and by their ceaseless longing for the "Old Home"--they formed the Kolbuszowa societies and landsmanschaft organizations.

In 1890 a group of Kolbuszowa townspeople established a congregation in New York which they named "The Kolbuszowa Teitelbaum Brotherhood, Sephardic Nusach" (after their rabbi, Reb Avraham Aharon Teitelbaum of Kolbuszowa). A few years later they built a synagogue on East Fifth Street. Among the founders and presidents of that synagogue were Baruch Apfel, David Beier, David-Leib Mechlowitz, Hirsh Sieseles, Leibush Hyman, Moshe Letzter, Eli Binenstock and others.

In 1902 another group followed suit. They took the name of "Bnei Levi" after Levi-Chayirn (Tszensivker). Their membership consisted in the main of people who had lived in the villages around Kolbuszowa.

In the Bronx there functions to this very day a synagogue named after the Kolbuszowa rabbi, Reb Aryeh-Leib Teitelbaum, which is now led by his son, Rabbi Alexander Teitelbaum.

In the nineteen-twenties a club for Kolbuszowa townsmen existed here; it was known as "Young Friends of Kolbuszowa". And to this very day there are in the "Brith Abraham Order" two lodges of Kolbuszowa countrymen which bear the name of Baruch Apfel and the name of Rabbi Teitelbaum.

"The Kolbuszowa Young Men's Benevolent Society" constitutes a special chapter in the history of the organized life of Kolbuszowa Jews in America. On May 13, 1899 a group of countrymen gathered in the home of one of them, whose name is unfortunately not known, at 62 Pitt Street in New York, and there decided to organize this society. The purposes they adopted were to bring help to the needy among their members as well as medical and material assistance to all in times of illness. The organization also took upon itself the sad duty of providing, upon the death of any member, a burial place and all necessary arrangements. One of the most glowing attainments of this organization was its Free Loan Fund, which enabled the members to receive long-term loans without interest. The first president was Moshe Goldberg.

Among the founders and initial board-members of the "Young Men" were, in addition to the above-mentioned Moshe Goldberg, his brother Kalman Goldberg, Harry and Joseph Penstein, Aaron Storch, Yakov Singer, Alter Komito and Harry Sonnenschein.

Dr. Harry Goldberg, a member of the organization, suggested that the society open a school in which its members could study the English language. His suggestion was adopted and on October 15, 1902 a series of courses were launched in the clubrooms at 19 Attorney Street. The Educational Director was then Harry M. Gastwirth.

The clubrooms hummed with activity. Among others, fiery discussions took place there on current themes such as: Should Chinese immigrants be permitted to enter the United States? Is technical progress and the introduction of modern machinery a blessing for the working masses? Other social and political questions, too, were openly discussed, arousing a great deal of interest among the members and becoming generally known among other landsmanschaft-organizations of Jews from Galicia.

The society conducted a series of events for the benefit of its members, such as picnic outings, dances and other entertainments. The first dance was held on July 5, 1899.

The social and political views held by the majority of the members may be deduced from the decision passed at a general meeting to the effect that merchants, businessmen, beer-hall owners, bartenders and the like would not be accepted as members. These radical limitations were, however, voided on July 11, 1900.

To the list of extraordinary facts of those days may be added the one that the picnic outings arranged by this organization were brought to the attention of the public by posters held aloft by members as they rode on horseback up and down the crowded

streets of the Jewish East Side. The riders usually performed their publicity stunt on Friday evenings, aiming at informing the largest number of the forthcoming event. But not infrequently it happened that certain of their religious-minded fellow-members saw in such behavior on the Sabbath a deliberate desecration and public disrespect for Jewish tradition, and in protest, resigned from the society.

Let it be noted here, moreover, that our Kolbuszowa organizations took an active part in the historic protest-demonstration on the streets of New York City immediately after the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903. Our countrymen were an organic part of the lively Jewish community of those days and participated in all events of a genuine character. So it has continued to our own time; our organizations engage in collecting funds for all Jewish causes, for the State of Israel and others.

During the latter half of the nineteen-twenties, two of our members, Joseph and Leib Gastworth, made the journey to Kolbuszowa to visit their families. While there, they had several conferences with Bezalel Greenstein, the president of the local Jewish community, in order to familiarize themselves with the conditions of local Jewry. As a matter of fact, their own eyes told them how bad the situation was. Upon their return to America, they described the bitter circumstances of Kolbuszowa and its Jews. As a result of their report, a general meeting of all Kolbuszowa countrymen was called. The assemblage, chaired by the writer, adopted a resolution to appoint forthwith a "Committee To Aid the Jewish Population of Kolbuszowa". The writer was elected president, Leibush Berle,secretary, and Shmuel Bluth, treasurer.

The first function arranged by the Committee was a theater benefit. This netted the organization a considerable sum of money which was immediately transmitted to the needy in the old home-town. A large number of men and women devoted themselves wholeheartedly to this aid-action, arranging a variety of fund-raising functions. Many volunteered to visit countrymen in their homes in order to solicit contributions to assist those suffering "back home". These strong, many-sided activities led to the founding of a new society, named "The Kolbuszowa Relief Society". I was elected president. This occurred in 1929.

That same year arrangements were made to make a film of everything in Kolbuszowa, including places, people, personalities and special types, occurrences, modes of life, commerce, a market day, Jews and Gentiles doing business, Jewish tradesmen, and uncommon sights. This documentary film also caught the unusual in the towns of Rzeszow, Sokolow and Raniszew. These films were shown at various opportunities. Our countrymen were curious to see them, eager to recognize on the screen a mother or father, a brother or sister, aunt or uncle, friend or acquaintance. They watched with nostalgia accompanied by many a sigh as the film unrolled, bringing the old world vividly back to life. . . . The Yiddish press in New York also reacted warmly to these films, and their announcements helped to draw a large attendance to every showing.

From then on substantial sums of money were sent regularly to the home-town, especially preceding a holiday, for fuel in the winter, following a fire, etc. A special committee was appointed in Kolbuszowa, consisting of the most responsible and honest men in the community. To them the money was addressed and by them they were fairly and justly distributed among the needy, with a deep sense of social responsibility and above all, in strictest confidence. Full reports were submitted to the American committee so that it had accurate information as to the manner in which the funds were used.

The spirit in which this work was done is reflected clearly even today in the letters, reprinted in this book, which were signed by Yaakov Ekstein. The same spirit of brotherly responsibility continued after Ekstein's death.

Thus the work continued at the same pace when the Free Loan Society was founded in the town. The American Kolbuszowa organizations contributed to it heavily, both directly and independently, and indirectly through the Joint Distribution Committee.

This situation was maintained until the outbreak of World War II and the immense destruction that followed. Naively enough we here in America, in our landsmanschaft-organizations, believed and hoped that the war would end momentarily, that the world would return to its normal state, and that Jewish life in Kolbuszowa would be rebuilt. All those who had hidden away, or been in exile in Russia, or experienced the horrors of the German extermination-camps and miraculously survived, would return and a Jewish community, large or small, would yet exist in Kolbuszowa. Consequently, all of our Kolbuszowa-organizations worked feverishly all through the war years in preparation for the blessed day when the world should hear the glad tidings that the war had ended. Funds were collected in various ways and methods, and in fact thousands of dollars were ready to finance fast, well-organized assistance to our wretched brothers overseas, who had survived and had to rehabilitate their lives. In the course of these intensive labors in the war years periodic bulletins were issued in New York and later also a magazine of the "Kolbuszowa Relief Association" edited first by Rabbi L. Berle and D. Sa1z, and subsequently by Shalom Muhlstein.

Sam Greenberg, a member of the "Young Men's," although himself not originally from Kolbuszowa, was exceptionally outstanding in all of these activities. For a time he served as secretary of the society and had many friends there. He was Honorary President of the Kolbuszowa Relief Committee, and in all our money-raising functions he was always one of the first not only to contribute considerable amounts on his own, but to collect large amounts from his business associates. Both of the Greenberg brothers, Sam and Abe, identified completely with the Kolbuszowa membership and Abe continues to this very day as a devoted member of the Kolbuszowa societies. Among other active members of our aid societies should be noted Sam Bluth and Irving Weitz, who in addition to contributing large sums themselves also arranged entrance-permits for a number of Kolbuszowa survivors.

How profoundly tragic it was when we began to receive the initial actual facts about the bitter reality, when we learned that only a rare few of our townsmen had survived the devouring fire that had razed Kolbuszowa and its Jewry. All at once our hopes were utterly destroyed!

In our great grief we felt that we have to do something to memorialize our brethren who perished in the years of the German rule in Kolbuszowa. In 1948 a monument in memory of the annihilated Kolbuszowa Jewish community was erected by our New York organizations in the Beth Israel cemetery in Woodbridge, N. J.

Needless to say, the American brothers undertook immediately a systematic aid-action for our surviving townspeople. Money was quickly sent, parcels with food and clothing, the necessary papers for those who requested them, and travel expenses for the journey to America or to Israel.

It is gratifying to state that our assistance was constructive and worthwhile, for all who benefited from it on the heels of the Holocaust succeeded in getting on their feet and rebuilding their lives satisfactorily. We also participated in raising the funds for the founding and operation of a Free Loan Bureau for our townspeople in Israel and helped them increase their capital.

Generally speaking, the Kolbuszowa Jews, like all other immigrants to America, had to work very hard under harsh circumstances in order to earn their daily bread. Gradually, however, their industry, energy and initiative were rewarded. Many climbed high on the ladder of success, as for example, Abbale Beller, who at the turn of the century was considered one of the leading manufacturers of women's clothes, and Saul Zaleschitz, who rose to be one of the chief silk manufacturers.

Other Kolbuszowa Jews, although not too successful from a material point of view, did everything in their power to give their children a good education, enabling them to become professionals: doctors, lawyers, rabbis, scientists and artists. All of them bring honor to our organizations and benefit to the country. Thus, Henry Geldzahler, the son of our eminent member Joseph Geldzahler, is the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Sam Salz, the son of Moshe Sopher Salz of Radomisl and grandson of Reb Itchele Sopher of Kolbuszowa, is not only a famous painter but an internationally recognized art connoisseur and collector.

After the second world war, when a number of newly arrived immigrants joined our ranks, a new Kolbuszowa organization was formed, "United Kolbuszowa Jews," which is a purely social body. The newcomers, along with a group of the oldtimers, comprise its membership. The writer has the honor to be its president. The main purpose is to prevent the eradication of the Kolbuszowa origins among us here in America, to meet several times a year and spend a few hours together socially in a homey atmosphere. The chief goal of this organization in the last few years has been the publication of the Memorial Book as an everlasting monument to Kolbuszowa so that the imprint of our demolished old home may not be lost forever.

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