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[Page 105]

The History of the Proskurov Relief League in America

G. Bresler

The first news of the great misfortune in Proskurov hit us like a thunderbolt. It was a brief report in the newspapers that, “The whole Jewish community in Proskurov has been slaughtered.” We did not know how to relate to this news. It was rather not believed; it had come so unexpectedly, just as the news of the death of someone close whom one had met heatlhy and strong not long before. Besides, the whole thing sounded too exaggerated: “The whole Jewish community slaughtered!” As if it were a trivial thing to say! Maybe something had happened, but not so terrible. So we investigated, explained and let quite a few months go by without the slightest attempt to do anything.

Gradually, however, the fog of doubts began to dissipate. There were staggering pieces of news, one more terrible than the others. Concrete facts were provided. Names of streets were mentioned, names of acquaintances. No, there could not be any more doubt. It was true, a bitter truth. Here is the list of those killed and who knows whether it is complete. Everyone suddenly felt in mourning, an orphan. We all went about bewildered, dragging our hands and feet, paralyzed, incapable of thinking about anything that might help our unfortunate town in its great wreckage.

However, things could not go on like that for long. We gradually came out of our state of paralysis. Something began to move. The active and dynamic took up the work. In a short while, all the Proskurov societies were successfully united: the Zion Congregation, the Young Men's, the Workmen's Circle branch, the Women's League, as well as a whole array of youth who did not belong to any society. The foundation was laid for Proskurov Relief, which later grew into a

[Page 106]

significant organization with sections in almost all important cities throughout the country.

We knew that the task of relief must be – to help. But whom to help? To help with what? How to help? For us this was not clear at first. We were separated from Proskurov by thousands of fences. How could one reach there; how does one break through the wall that surrounds the Vale of Tears, the terrible Plain of Lamentations, and who knows whether there is still someone left to help? Thus, we were in such doubt. In our imagination all of Proskurov appeared as one big slaughterhouse. Yet, we worked, knocked on doors, called meetings, collected money, for the sake of what? For whose sake? Rather than for anything else – for one's own sake. We felt that we must do something. Everyone felt culpable, felt guilty for being here in a peaceful country while over there one's own might have died in the slaughter. Everyone wanted to redeem and ransom himself from his country; and we devoted ourselves body and soul to the labor of relief. That first period of relief activity occurred at the time of the High Holidays, already a somber High-Holiday mood prevailed at every meeting which was called. The public had responded with feeling to the appeals, and money came in by the hundreds. One might say that the largest sum of relief money was collected in that first, emotional period of our relief effort.

The black curtain which concealed our unfortunate town, had meanwhile been raised. We perceived that the Angel of Death had left behind a terrible bequest. We found out that hunger was stalking the streets of Proskurov and terrible plagues were rampant in the town. We were affected by the laments and cries of pain of hundreds of orphans who had remained forlorn and

[Page 107]

helpless after the massacre. Meanwhile, Proskurov came into the hands of the Poles and we were able to get there.

Two ways were open for us. One was clearer, broader, safer – through the “Joint” – the second was narrower, more dangerous, yet, for that reason more direct – through our own representatives. We went off on both roads. We made contact with the Joint, and through it we sought to send help to the Proskurov community, but after the decision of the Relief League, we withdrew from the first road and decided to go by the second road. We also fitted out two representatives, Friend Mandel and Friend Hornshteyn, who, after taking a long, dangerous way, reached Proskurov, bringing a whole package of letters and greetings together with three thousand dollars of Relief money, which they presented to the community there.

Besides that, they distributed small sums which had been sent by relatives to their relatives.

As the report from Mr A. Groyser shows, $1,800 dollars were distributed to the three established orphan homes, six hundred dollars for the Jewish hospital in which there were tens of invalids and sick persons at that time, while, for six hundred dollars, a cooperative food business was founded for the hungry, along with the purpose of maintaining the practice of welcoming guests.

During the time that the representatives spent in Proskurov, the war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks was creeping closer. Proskurov was taken again by the Bolsheviks and the way there was once again disrupted. The representatives had to leave the city. Doing so, they were able to grab about twenty Proskurovers, whom they took along with them to America.

[Page 108]

The representatives and the first to come over brought a lively, fresh greeting from the Proskurovers to their own folks in America. They renewed the torn threads tying “there” and “here.” They gave a picture of the situation in the town, they called for new work and strengthened efforts. The Relief activists were pleased with the “representatives-project” and, with renewed strength, they threw themselves into the work of strengthening relief, reinforcing the organization, and in particular they endeavored to gather new sums of money.

But what should be done with the money? How should we once again reach our own in Proskurov with our relief? There were differences of opinion about that. Most of the Relief activists held that there could not be any more talk of sending new representatives. The way to Proskurov was cut off. Banditry was rampant around the town. Not long before, the emissaries of the Joint, Dr Friedlander and Dr Kantor, had been killed near there. No one to whom a relief mssion might have been entrusted would now dare travel there. Various volunteers might undertake adventures, but we must not do that. If the Joint undertakes to send help to Proskurov, we must send, but if not, we must wait for more favorable conditions. We want to help our own as soon as possible; we must not, however, let ourselves be led astray by our feelings. We must conduct ourselves very cautiously. These considerations were raised by those who stood at the helm.

These arguments however fell flat with the broad public. The mama insisted that the “representatives-project” be quickly repeated. But on a much greater scale. Not giving just a few thousand dollars for relief purposes, but all the money in the treasury. Sending private money should not be a collateral matter, but a fundamental part of the representatives' mission.

[Page 109]

The Relief League should be a kind of “agency” which would send sums of money through its emissaries from relatives to relatives, for a certain percentage.

The issue of representatives was hotly debated at the general meetings of the Relief League. Both sides (the executive and the chairman on one side and the mass of members on the other) bitterly defended their opinions. This was – one might say – the most critical moment for the relief organization. Each one felt that the future of the Relief League depended upon the measure that would be taken. It was finally decided to send two new representatives to Proskurov and the names of candidates willing to go were presented. Of all those presented, candidates `Ayin and Daled seemed to be the most suitable, and they were elected to perform the important mission.

The representatives went off on their way, taking along about fifteen thousand dollars in Relief money and about fifty-two thousand dollars in private money. Before their departure, the representatives received instructions on how to divide the relief funds – one thousand dollars for the orphan homes; five hundred dollars for bringing over twenty-five orphans; twenty-five hundred dollars for the old age home and hospitals; twenty-five hundred dollars for refugees who were on their way.

A part was to go to various institutions that belonged to the community, a smaller part was meant for the refugees who were in the border towns of Poland and Rumania. These refugees later became the chief element which occupied the time and attention of the representatives. As could have been foreseen, the representatives could not get to Proskurov. The way there was cut off. The representatives were forced to make contact with the

[Page 110]

town through “hired agents” – this was very risky and involved large expenditures. What was left for the representatives was to spend their time on the refugees, who at that time had greatly increased. The work stretched on. The time allotted for the representatives was over. Moreover, Representative `Ayin was arrested in Rumania and only after a long lobbying effort was he successfully released. Everything happened as the adage has it: “with the butter-side down,” with bad luck.

Meanwhile, people began to come into the Relief League to complain about the representatives. Harsh accusations were made against them. Some indicated that the representatives were guilty for stopping on the way; others complained that the funds that they had sent to their own had not exactly been paid out. Others again brought reports that the representatives had made substantial payments out of the relief funds to certain refugees, without checking with the Relief League. The public became impatient. The mood became strained. The feelings against the representatives grew and were finally expressed in the demand that the representatives should be called back.

The representatives were called back and made a report which was very far from satisfying the broad public. At meetings the representatives were openly accused of misusing the funds that had been collected with so much toil and effort. The audience was saddened, embittered; it was felt that they were torn apart, split open, that it would be difficult now to go on with the work. Besides, the economic crisis was seeping in, incomes were becoming smaller, people stopped giving money, the relief treasury was emptied, many activists turned away from the work. The remaining activists made an effort to continue the activity, but it turned out to be very hard for them. The atmosphere

[Page 111]

around the Relief League became chilly. Not much remained of the former dedication, the former enthusiasm. The Divine Presence was gone from the Relief League.

And many of the most enthusiastic, most dedicated activists left the work, totally refusing any active involvement.

Only a few stubborn activists stayed at the helm and, under difficult conditions, tirelessly continued the relief effort. And thanks to their energetic work, quite substantial sums for that time were accumulated through several successful undertakings. The sums were sent on several occasions as support for our old home.


[Page 112]

Report of Relief Income and Outlays

After the Return of the Representatives, from February 1921 to February 1923, Compiled by Alter Groyser, According to the Monthly Reports that Were Sent Every Month by the Aid Committee in Lemberg [= Lvov- tr] which Our Relief League Had Founded There.

Payout Polish
Marks
Dollars Income For Support
Dollars
Private
funds
Families to
families
Paid out to 33 families Travel support to the land of Israel 45,000 $443 1921 – 1 Feb sent by Relief $1950  
Paid out to 35 families Travel support to Argentina 448,000 $478 3 August sent by Relief 800.00  
Paid out to 18 families Travel Support to America 118,000 $260 3 August Private   335
Paid out to 60 families to travel back to Proskurov 700,000   1 Oct Relief 300  
Paid out to 1 family travel support to Cuba   15 1 Oct Private   30
Paid out to 2 families travel support to Danzig 18,000   1 Nov Relief 100 100
Support in Lemberg for 2 years 716 families 2824 persons 1,129,740 10 1922 1 January Private   400
Payments to the Lemberg hospital for 37 ill persons 384,000   1 January Relief 100  
Evacuation from Lemberg to Przemesl 15 families   183 1 May Relief 600 445
Legal aid for 29 families 441,000   1 May Relief from Chicago section 300  
One family travel support to Canada   15 1 June Private   283
Renting an aptmt for homeless to stay overnight     1 July Private   766
& buying beds chairs & rent money 705,285   1 Sept Ladies society of Chicago section 300  
Loans to 39 families 262,000 68 1 Sept Private   253
Support to Ukrainian Committee in Lemberg 48,000 60 1 Oct Relief 100 367
Travel support for six families to travel to Rumania 37,000 8 1923 1 February Relief through Idgezkos 300  
Book-keeper, secretary, books, office expenses 570,833     TOTAL 4850 2979
Sent for Proskurov orphanage homes and old age home 4,906,858 1792        
4,906,858 value in marks after exchange rates at time of exchange   1518        
Private funds sent through the Lemberg Aid Committee to Proskurov to 373 families   2979   Relief Funds
Private Funds
  4850
2979
TOTAL $7829       $7829

 

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