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The Landsmanschafts and the Story of the United Brisker Relief (cont.)

The Brest Committee in Warsaw

In 1917 the newspaper “Morning Journal” printed a statement that Briskers had organized a committee in Warsaw to help the Brest homeless. It consisted of:

Raphael Shereshevski - Chairman. Moshe Perelstein - Secretary. Ber Finkelstein and Yitzhak Rodevski were Treasurers. Members: Michael Stock, Mordechai Baraks, L. Levine, Y, Badanski, N. Rosenberg, N. Finkelstein, Y. Ehrlich, N. Wein, A. Goldberg, S. Stock, Y, Licht, S. Lev, B. Yaffe, I. Tzemach, M, Halperin and A. Rodefski.

The Relief decided to send the committee in Warsaw $700 dollars - they confirmed receipt of this by telegram.

 

The Warsaw Committee for The Brest Homeless 1917

Standing R-L: P. Halperin, Avraham Goldberg, Isser Tzemach,
Eliezer Bloch, Dov Yaffe, Badanski, Rodevski and Chaim Halperin.
Seated: Y. Ehrlich, S. Stock, Raphael Shereshevski,
Yitzhak Rodevski and Moshe Feldstein

 

The situation deteriorated in 1917 when the U.S. entered the war and all contact with Europe was entirely cut off. The younger generation was called up to the U.S. Army. Many young Briskers joined a Jewish Brigade and served in the British Army. In that year the work of the U.B.R. abated.

Only at the end of the war in 1918 did the work resume. Vigorous efforts were made –several branches of the Brest Relief were organized in the city of New York and in the boroughs. We became aware that a great relief effort would be necessary when the Briskers returned to their hometown. The first branches were:

The Harlem Branch of the Brest Relief. The founding members were Brest compatriots who carried love and nostalgia in their hearts for their old home. They were successful in raising large funds for the Brest Relief. We mention them, many have passed away since then but they earned our respect and pride: Shlomo Silver (Shlomo the tailor). Benzion Rubin, Lazar Raff, Max and Chaya Silver, Roshberg (now Mrs. Stock), Nathan Cohen, Wolinsky, Dora Yachsan, Miss Rubin, Kramer, Algaza, Melnik, Jenny Hoffman, Rabbi Margolis, Kunik, Steinberg, Yashke Israel and Meir Stock.

The Brownsville Branch of the Brest Relief

The activists who formed this branch were: Barnet Stern, Guske Sharon, and Schenker. They attracted members from the General Relief to the Brownsville Relief: H. Fein, Anna Strein, Gerin Wabnik, Tenenbaum, Patchilkey, Grossman, Weiner, Lederman, Goldman, Miss Liberman, Cohen, Brychman and Miller. They were very active in stirring the Briskers in their district and got very good results - collecting large sums of donation money that was transferred to the General Relief.

The Third Newark Branch

Newark is a neighboring city of New York, on the other side of the Hudson River where there are many Briskers involved in fundraising activities: The following are participants in this group: The Brisker Shul (Synagogue), and the Brisk Society.

The speakers from New York at the first meeting in the synagogue were - H. Kleinberg, Dr. Margolis, L. Komarovsky and J. Finkelstein. The first leaders of this branch were: Freidland, Weinstock, Watstein, Lederman, Blinder, Gevras, Belfuss, Shuchman and others. These leaders have shown great dedication. Until today there is a Newark chapter that does fundraising work. Thanks to Sam Gershonbaum, Kravetz, Freidland, Borodsky and others.

Briskers throughout the country heard of the United Brisker Relief in New York and it's fundraising work. The most important activities were always publicized in the Jewish press. It became apparent that Briskers wished to set up branches in other cities under the guidance of the New York committee. Three groups were established in Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. Cleveland especially distinguished itself – this was where the greatest number of Briskers became involved in helping their brethren and had great success… they were regarded as one of the most outstanding branches of the United Relief.

The Cleveland administration included: P. Hametz, Fredlis, Perlman, Fishman, Kaufman, Stein, Ross, Sandstein, Williams, Gerenstein, Sarzer, Dolinsky, Wolinetz, Rabinovitch, Goldstein, Pecker, and Max Gordon.

In Chicago there were less members involved in the fundraising work, but their leadership were very energetic and dedicated landsman – Weiss led the committee, which operated during the time that the Relief sent a delegation to Brest.

Detroit was the weakest branch; it was a large town with a lot of Briskers, but lacked leadership. Although the members showed great emotion and love for their hometown, they did not distinguish themselves with donations, but did achieve some material results and participated enthusiastically when the delegation went to Brest 1920-21.

With much effort and publicity in the press the Relief appealed to the other large cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Atlanta – however the only ones to respond were the Briskers from Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Branch

Their first chairman was an energetic and devoted Brisker – Sam Novick. Y. Ginsberg was the secretary. In a very short time they achieved great results and financial assistance for the Relief. In 1951 they sent food parcels and medicine to Briskers in the displaced persons camps in Germany, as well as money to the Brest survivors in Stettin Poland, and in Paris.

The most difficult times for the Relief in N.Y. and the rest of the country were the years 1919 -1921, after W.W.1. The inhabitants of Brest had been expelled from their homes for three years and had lived in exile in many surrounding towns and villages. They returned to their city to find it ruined and partially destroyed – hundreds of letters began arriving from the leaders of the Brest community and from private individuals to the Relief Fund and to friends and relatives. The call from everyone was “help, please help us”. Sending money was very difficult – relatives sent money, by the time it arrived it had lost it's value due to the great inflation and devaluation of that time. There was a great demand from the people of Brest that the Relief should send a delegate to Brest. At a huge conference of all the branches it was decided to send a delegation to Brest – mass meetings were held in various parts of New York. At each of these it was unanimously decided to send a representative to Brest to personally bring aid and assistance for the city of Brest.

Within a short period the Briskers had collected 80,000 dollars to be sent to Brest for both the public institutions and pivate individuals. The first delegate elected to take the 80,000 dollars with him to Brest was Philip Rabinovitch. Although by that time (1921) the Polish government had established its authority - the Poznanchiks (anti–semitic hoodlums) were still agitating in Poland. They would cut Jew's beards, and throw them out of trains. In Brest they beat some Jews to death, including the elderly businessman Michael Weissman. The letters that arrived from Philip Rabinovitch were full of the fear that people experienced – they were frightened for their lives.

Our compatriot Pesach Novick was at that time in Vilna, he was a leading member of the Brest Relief Fund. In answer to our request he traveled to Brest and sent this report of his visit there in a letter:

“I immediately traveled to Brest upon receiving the letter from J. Finkelstein, 30th June 1919 asking me to go there. My friends, I can only write you of a mountain of woes, and this mountain of woes is our city. A committee of workers has been organized with 7 members, including participants from the Bund, the left Poale Zion and the communal kitchen, 1 from the primary school, 2 from the central headquarters of the professional unions, and myself (P. Novick). I immediately came across the people's kitchen in Brest where they were feeding over 800 people daily, including widows and orphans as well as people that just recently were wealthy. Schools for the children are needed almost as urgently as food for the stomach.

The most important streets in the city have been severely damaged or destroyed completely. At present there are 20,000 inhabitants here now –75% need assistance. The once wealthy now beg for bread. The homeless roll around on benches, on the ground, in refuges and the synagogues. Assistance is needed urgently and as quickly as possible. Write if you can send parcels - I will immediately send you the addresses. The Brisker Relief and the Brest community cannot remain silent and must immediately respond to this cry for help.”

After our delegate Philip Rabinovitch returned, we received many thank - you letters from individuals and institutions who wrote that thousands had been saved by our help and asking that another delegate should come to Brest. This request was relayed by our delegate Rabinovitch at a large assembly to which he described what the city looked like, the great poverty of the returned exiles, and their great hope that we would help them. This brought about the idea to send a second delegate.

At an executive meeting at the Relief office at 202 Broadway, we discussed this matter and decided to send two representatives – H. Kleinberg and J. Finkelstein. This decision was warmly endorsed by all the Brisker societies. The Brisker Relief committees of N.Y., Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Newark collected $109,000. The two delegates distributed this donation money in Brest assisting 3,500 individuals; in addition $15,000 was given directly to Brest institutions without discrimination or distinction to whatever political leaning or direction they came from.

This large sum of money that the delegates brought with them resuscitated and revitalized the city. Merchants began trading and workers found jobs. The institutions broadened their activities. The delegates felt the joy of the people in the rebirth of their city. Leaders and officials expressed their thanks directly to the Relief and the delegates for their work, and publicly in the press as well.

 

The Brisker Relief Delegates sent to Brest 1920-21
R-L: H. Kleinberg, P. Rabinovitch, J. Finkelstein

 

The Relief Delegates visit the Old Age Home in Brest

 

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