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The Kurlander Young Men's Mutual Aid Society

The 1924 KYMMAS database
Material Donated by Marion Plotkin, Naomi Freistadt and Myra Miller
Database entries by Jerry Becker

The Database Contents:

This database consists of 1,223 names of members of the Kurlander Young Men's Mutual Aid Society, or "KYMMAS", together with their families. It is compiled from the 35th Anniversary Booklet of the Society, published in New York in 1924, written by Isidor Berg and donated by Marion Plotkin.

This Memorial book lists all members of the society from its inception in 1889 until publication. Mrs. Plotkin realised when she found the booklet amongst family papers that the information given was not only of genealogical value but also that it was a document of substantial historical interest. In addition the database contains miscellaneous information from individually dated records relating to KYMMAS insurance provision. These were rescued from almost certain destruction by the quick thinking of Naomi Freistadt who donated them to the Latvia SIG in 1996. Finally, Myra Miller found and donated material from a KYMMAS booklet from Quebec dating from about 1944. These documents demonstrate the importance of Landsmanshaft organisations to Courland ancestors right up to and including World War II. We hope that now the ball is rolling that more and more these historic documents will be located in family drawers and attics.

History of the Society - Its German Origins

The "Gegenseitiger Unterstuetzung-Verein Kurlander Junger Männer" was founded on the 1st January 1889 in New York. Until 1922, membership was restricted to those born in Courland or of direct descent through the paternal line from a father or grandfather born in Courland. In 1922, after apparently heated debate, the Society adopted what is described as a "most progressive and liberal law" permitting sons of mothers born in Courland to become full members even though the mother may have married a non-Courlander.

Members initially paid dues of 10 cents per week which, during the first two years, were used for rudimentary unemployment benefits of $4.00 per week, half of which was to be repaid each week when work was finally obtained. From 1891, sick benefits were added, followed by free burials for members and their families. Membership fees were raised as various additional needs were identified. Soon the Society included a Widows and Orphan Fund and later still, a Loan and Relief Fund. In the early days a short lived monthy newsletter was published. Finally, in 1909, it was decided to change the name of the society from German to its American version: The Kurlander Young Men's Mutual Aid Society, or KYMMAS for short.

Charitable Work of KYMMAS - War Relief in Courland and Elsewhere

As World War I dragged on, it became apparent that the Jewish community at home in the towns and cities of Courland had suffered greatly as a result not only of the war itself but also because of the resultant social dislocation. The forced expulsion of many of the Jewish families in Courland in 1915 meant that everything that had been built up over many years was lost at a stroke. KYMMAS raised substantial sums which they sent back to the Jewish communities in Courland to rebuild Jewish Schools and to provide sources of relief crucial to the efforts of our ancestors to rebuild their lives and communities.

The following table is made up from information from the 1924 KYMMAS Memorial book and includes particulars of the towns aided and the amount distributed by way of Courland charitable relief. Much of this relief was channelled through Rabbi Dr. Nurock, a distinguished teacher and humanitarian. The historic town name is given followed by the modern Latvian form in square brackets, e.g. Mitau [Jelgava].

Recipient Purpose Amount of Donation Date (if given)
Rabbi Dr. Nurock For Relief to all towns in Kurland $1,000 1920-1923
Libau [now Liepaja] School, Free Kitchen, and other Relief $1,292  
Riga Hospital and Relief Work $772  
Mitau [now Jelgava] School, Free Loan Society and Relief $895  
Goldingen [now Kuldiga] School and Relief Work $640  
Talsen School $648  
Tukum [now Tukums] School and Relief Work $611  
Windau [now Ventspils] Schools and Relief Work in nearby towns $1,048  
Frauenburg [now Saldus] Relief Work $90  
Pilten [now Piltene] Relief $100  
Candau [now Kandava], Zabeln [now Sabile] and Sassmaken [now Vandamarpils] Relief $190  
All Kurland Towns Distribution for all towns for the Passover Holidays in 1920 $2,117 1920
General Distributed by Brother Adolf Feitelberg personally $400  
Kurland Orphanages, Ladies Auxiliary Societies and Hospitals and Welfare Institutions Distributed Personally by Dr. Adolf Sundelson $2,550  
Total Aid Dispersed to homeland 1920-1923 $12,987

 

Connections between Past and Present Courland Families

Adolf Sundelson and Adolf Feitelberg are listed as having personally returned to Kurland to distribute aid. You will be able to find the antecedents of both Sundelson/Sondelson [3 records] and Feitelberg [63 records] in the All Latvia Database. Each of them is listed in the above chart as having returned to Courland to assist in the distribution of War relief. There is a Feitelberg among the recent members of the Latvia SIG and a Feitelberg searching family connections in the JewishGen Family Finder for various towns in the Courland area. The evidence of lasting loyalties and links to the past is apparent here as it is in so many areas of work relating to Jewish Family history.

The Language of the Documents

The Historical Review written by Isidor Berg is in English but he gives an interesting account of the reality of the German context of the Courland experience. For the first 25 years of the society the minutes of the Society were written and read in the German language. Discussions had gradually shifted from German to English as the new generations adapted to their new homeland.

"Two of our original constitutional laws read that the name of the Society shall be "Gegenseitiger Unterstuetzung-Verein Kurlander Junger Maenner" and that the German language shall be used in all transactions. It was strictly provided for that those laws shall never be changed. However, the Americanisation of our very Charter members and their use of the English language in their homes and businesses caused them to forget their German Grammar and rather than be ridiculed for speaking poor German and in order to please members of American birth they spoke English during discussions. The minutes however were still written in German."

The tradition of writing the minutes of the meetings in German continued until 1917. Courlanders saw themselves as part of the mainstream of European culture and learning. Proud to be Courlanders, they did not allow that to separate them entirely from the rest of the Jews who suffered in World War I. The Memorial Book makes it clear that substantial sums were donated to the War effort outside of Courland.

According to Isidor Berg, the author of the 1924 Memorial book, "a real Kurlander will rather die than beg" and that was the whole purpose of this society: to prevent embarrassment in time of need and to be there for their fellows should that unfortunate time come to pass. They were there to fill the needs of companionship, of understanding, to support their brothers whenever needed, and to enjoy one another's company when times were good.

What comes across in all these documents relating to the early Jewish immigrant's experience is how important the ties of kinship and friendship were both with those left behind but also with those in the new land.

Using the Database, The Entry Fields

  • Surname: This is the person's last name or family name. The German form ending in "sohn" for "son" is still retained in many cases in the older records.
  • Given Names: These are person's first names or the names by which he was known. Interesting name fashions appear including the popularity of the name Adolf. Names have become more anglicised by 1924.
  • Maiden Name: Where a married woman's maiden name is known from the original records then database includes this information.
  • YOB: This refers to the Year of Birth.
  • Town of Origin: Reporting of these is somewhat sporadic in the original records. Where a town or city is mentioned it is recorded in its modern form, e.g. Mitau appears as "Jelgava".
  • Initiated: This refers to the date on which the person was formally accepted into membership. There is no mention of the style or content of the initiation induction procedures. The date is one of some importance since it is the most commonly recorded date in the KYMMAS original records.
  • Date of Death: This appears to have been recorded only in the case of War dead or of distinguished members who served as officers of the society.
  • Comment: This field is primarily concerned with relationships and will delineate family connections such as "Mother of" or "son of". Occasionally service as an officer of the society is recorded.
  • Source: This specifies whether the data has been extracted from the 1924 Memorial Book, the Miscellaneous records of KYMMAS or the Quebec document from 1944.

Acknowledgments:

We are indebted to the quick thinking and foresight of the women who have preserved these wonderful documents from which we now all benefit. Marion Plotkin and her Mother, Naomi Freistadt and Myra Miller all made this database possible. In addition Jerry Becker took on the task of data-entry with his usual zest and energy despite recent illness. Michael Whippman completed the work on the Excel files. Finally, we express our gratitude to our web masters Michael Tobias and Warren Blatt who pulled everything together and ensured that it is available to Jewish families round the world courtesy of JewishGen® notwithstanding the demands on their skills and time from the whole of the JewishGen community.

Can Obtain a copy of the Memorial Book?

Yes, please contact Martha Lev-Zion or Mike Getz. We do not charge for this but we hope that you will make a donation to cover the costs and, if you are able to do so, to one of the database or SIG projects.

Constance Whippman, All Latvia Database Co-Ordinator
Copyright ©2001, Courland Research Group
February 2001

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