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[Page 665]

The Brisker Society in Paris

“Amicale Be Brest - Litowsk”

By B. Wolski (New York)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

After the First World War, the Jewish youth of Brest found themselves in desperate circumstances without any future prospects for their existence. Therefore they sought any opportunity to emigrate. Not everyone could travel to the U.S.A. or Israel – some also immigrated to France. The majority of them settled in Paris, where they encountered great difficulties upon their arrival. Without family, friends or understanding of the language they had great difficulties in obtaining work permits. As foreigners they did not have the right to work and these permits were difficult to obtain. Overall their situation was grim.

On the “Pletzel” (the Jewish quarter of Paris) there was a shop owned by Leibl Prizant who sold underwear. This shop became the first gathering place at which the newly arrived Briskers would meet. The second place was the shoe repair shop owned by H. Gutmacher. Gutmacher was a young man from Brest, a genuine man of the people. Warm, friendly, big-hearted and always ready to help anyone – Gutmacher would lay down his tools and go with the newcomers to assist them –organizing their documents at the Police Prefecture to obtain their work permits.

The number of arrivals grew from day to day. Men of all different political persuasions and beliefs, who would never have mixed together in Brest, became friends in this foreign place. They would seek out opportunities to meet each other, to schmooze about their hometown, and to help each other. The two above mentioned businesses were not suitable for this purpose – a hall was needed for regular meetings and organized assistance for each other.

The writer of this article took upon himself the initiative to form a Brisker Society in Paris. He contacted several influential Parisians who had originated from Brest. One of them, Yitzhak Tilles, invited a group of Briskers to his home. Amongst them was Rabbi Chernaya, the son of Avremeleh the owner of the Paris Hall in Brest. Rabbi Chernaya was the rabbi of the Jewish community of Angen le Ben, a suburb of Paris. He was elected as Chairman of a temporary committee. Frequent meetings were held at Tilles' home, whilst they worked out the statutes of the new society, and collected addresses of Briskers who had settled in France.

At the beginning of 1924, a foundation meeting of the Brisker society in France was held. The following were elected: President: Rabbi Chernaya, Vice Presidents – the lawyers Frankel and Gorevitch, General Secretary – B. Wolski, Secretary – Sternberg, and Treasurer – A. Egdeshman.

Members were: Halbertal, Kranski, Leifer, Gerson, Gutmacher, L. Glozman, Kamenetski, Leibovitch, Morgenstern, Blackman, Itzkovitch, Shwartz, Hechtman, Eichenbaum and Leventhal.

The Society set itself the goal of giving moral support and material assistance to all the new arrivals from Brest, and to participate in their cultural and social lives. The society formed a loans fund, a reading room, and organized monthly cultural lectures about various topics like health, sociology, literature, history, etc.

When the influx of new arrivals decreased, the new immigrants were able to organize themselves and the Society evolved into a mutual – help organization, the purpose of which was to provide medical help for its' sick members, organizing graves and burials when they died, and covering their debts to the loans fund. They also provided support for widows and orphans. However, the society did not abandon its' cultural activities and also financially supported the ORT Trades school in Brest.

Committee of the Brisker Society in Paris

Seated R-L: Katzav, Engineer Shishkin, Gorevitch and Dr. Braverman
Standing R-L: Dr. Mintz, Kaplan, Gerson, Ginzberg, Glozman and Kamenetski

 

The new arrivals in France found adjusting to the French way of life difficult – during this period their children attended French schools and were quickly becoming assimilated. Due to this the initiative was raised to form a “Colony School” with the aim of providing supplemental Jewish schooling and summer activities and camps for Jewish children.

The “Colony School” achieved great success and was one of the most popular and liked Jewish organizations in Paris. It exists until this day and owns and runs 5 homes for orphans, a building that houses 150 residents at the seaside resort of Bourg Plage, and has a mobile clinic that provides free medical aid. It runs two Jewish supplementary schools, and many social activities for Jewish youth.

The fate of the author of this article was to become the Chairman of the Colony School and so I had to relinquish my position on the Brisker Society.

Brisker Landsleit (compatriots) in France

The first wave of immigrants from Brest to France occurred in 1906-08, after the Russo –Japanese War of 1905. The defeat of Russia caused a wave of anti Semitic riots and pogroms due to the economic upheavals and unrest. The following 20 years 1905-1925, saw a great increase of arrivals. A younger and dynamic element arrived that managed to quickly make contact with the older migrants who were able to assist them to find work, with their papers, legal status, and provide help for the urgent needy cases. The foundation meeting of the new Landsmanschaft of the Brisker Society was held on the 14th Febuary 1925. On the 7th December 1926, a Loans fund that provided interest free loans was established. This was an autonomous organization that gave long-term interest free loans to small businessmen, tradesmen, and students.

The Brisker Society provided medical treatment and medicines, financial support in case of serious illness, burial costs, and support for the widows and orphans of the deceased. There was also an active cultural program; lectures were regularly held, as well as group tours of places of historical interest in and outside of Paris, museums etc. They also held an annual Ball that was the traditional get- together of all the Briskers in France. Thanks to the initiative of the Brisker Society, the 'Colony School' that provided supplemental Jewish education for the children of the Brest migrants was established. In the same year (1926) an appeal for the hungry children of Poland and the orphans of Brest was held. In 1930 an appeal for the Jewish schools of Brest was held. At the outbreak of war in 1939, the Brisker Society organized itself to morally and materially support their members who were fighting on the battlefront and their family members at home.

Many Briskers fought in the French underground during Hitler's occupation. Amongst the first 48 French resistance members to be shot was our Brest brother, Hersh Leib Meirovitch.

Immediately after the liberation of France, a general meeting of all Brest survivors was called in September 1945, at which a plan of material and moral support was worked out. The Society played a vital role in the lives of the young Jewish children and orphans of W.W.2. They held summer colonies for the elderly; the Society supported all the Jewish organizations that provided financial and moral assistance to the French Jewish community, and their anti-defamation, anti-semitism and anti-racism work. It took an active role in the movement against German rearmament, and support for the activities of the Haganah in the early days of the State of Israel. (They raised 500,000 francs). In 1956, the Brisker Society celebrated its 30th anniversary in France. They received congratulations from all over the world – from the U.S.A, Argentina, Israel, Warsaw and Stettin Poland, and Australia. All expressed the hope that we would never forget the tragic destruction of our 1000-year-old community, and that we would remain in close contact with all the Briskers from all the corners of the world.

The committee of the Brisker Society consisted of the following members:

Honorary president: Evel Gorevitch. President: David Lerner. Vice presidents: Lazar Glozman, Albert Gutmacher, and Bernard Gerson. Secretary: Moshe Shishkin. Treasurers: Ovsei Tashkin, and Mordechai Kamenetski.

Members: Aaron Mintz, Yosef Farwein, Yekutiel Kaplan, Dr. Shmuel Danovski, Kalman Ginzberg, Yosef Glozman, Alexander Sochowolski,Jacques Glozman, Boris Mular and Yitzhak Levenberg.

Amongst the members who had distinguished themselves with their dedication and work were: Leiber Rimland, Moshe Sternberg, Felix Morgenstern, Mrs M. Katz, Henri Ramo, Mottel Berman, Moshe Katzaf, and Armand Leventhal.

The French Memorial in Honor of the Brest Martyrs

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