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[Page 357]

Here and Now Far and Wide

 

The Piotrkow Trybunalski Relief Association
A Centennial

In their search for a safe and decent place to live, free from repression and persecution, some Jews from Piotrkow emigrated to the United States as early as the mid-1800's. In 1858, Michael Heilprin, a linguist, scholar, encyclopedist and author, came with his family to America and settled in Brooklyn.

 

The First Society

A group of new immigrants from our home town organized the first Piotrkower Society in New York in 1881. The first President was A. Davis and the Secretary, Berlinski. There were 35 members initially. However, more and more Piotrkower immigrants joined the ranks. Due to harsh economic conditions, the Society established an assistance fund in order to help our Landsleit in time of need. This Relief Committee was actually the beginning of a noble tradition. During the next century, the Piotrkow Relief Society served an important role in helping their brethren in the U.S. and abroad. The first recorded charitable activity was the purchase of a large piece of land at the old Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, called the “Piotrkower Beit Olam.” There, over the years, more than 600 of our “landsmen” were laid to rest. A “Hevra Kadisha” was formed under the leadership of Shmuel Zainvel Davis, who organized the Second Generation of Piotrkower immigrants in America and served as their secretary general starting in 1909. At the turn of the 20th century, most of the working class among the Jewish immigrants arriving in the U.S. was socialistically oriented. However, among the Jewish people of those times, the idea of Zionism had started to sprout everywhere. Thus, in America, a large group of Landsleit broke away from the mainstream and organized a movement following the visions of Dr. Theodor Herzl.

 

Ahavath Zion

In 1901, the Zionist-Socialist movement, called “Ahavath Zion,” was established and some Piotrkower promptly joined the new organization. During the turbulent, revolutionary period of 1904-1907, a new wave of immigrants arrived at New York Harbor. Various political associations came into existence. In 1906, a group of newcomers from Piotrkow, members of the Bund, founded the “Piotrkower Young Men's Club” and the “Piotrkower Young Ladies Club.” These clubs conducted lively cultural and political activities among the working class Piotrkower. Shortly after, however, in 1904, the important “Workmen's Circle” came into existence; both clubs formed the prestigious “Piotrkower 368 Arbeiter Ring Branch.”

 

Branch 368

This long-lasting, vital society served as an important role in the lives of many Piotrkower in the United States. This group also emerged as the main pillar of consolation and support for the struggling and suffering Jewish community in our hometown, Piotrkow. The first task of the 368 Branch was to establish a Relief Committee, which, from 1910 to 1918, the years of the first Jewish boycotts in Poland, and throughout World War I, helped enormously in easing the hunger and poverty among their Landsleit back in Piotrkow.

The Piotrkow Trybunalski Relief Association Committee
The Piotrkow Trybunalski Relief Association Committee – New York, 1945

 

During World War I, quite a number of Piotrkower immigrants served in he U.S. Army. Some received medals and commendations, among them Chaim Prais, Hyman Solomon, Schiomo Berger, Itzie Oizerowitz, H. Rabinowitz, and others. Especially honored was our “landsman” George Wald, who achieved the rank of Major and was the subject of many articles in the American press praising his heroism.

Our people were also active in forming the famous “Jewish Legion.” Some of them, under the leadership of Abraham Grabowski, went to the battlefields of Egypt in 1917 and were among the first to reach Eretz Israel with the vanguard of the Jewish Legion. The war didn't deter the activities and vitality of the Piotrkower in New York. In 1917, the Piotrkower self-educational club was formed.

In November of 1918, when the war ended and the tragic situation of our brethren in Piotrkow, who were plagued by poverty and anti-Semitism became apparent, our people in America started their energetic crusade again. They formed their own “Piotrkower Relief Organization,” sending thousands of food packages and the so-much-needed proper emigration papers to relatives and friends in Piotrkow. When the post-war immigrants arrived in New York, the Relief helped to find shelter and jobs. During the 1920's, scores of newcomers came from the old country and, after a period of adjustment, became productive and thriving citizens who, in turn, helped others come over and settle in the New World. In the early 1930's the Piotrkower in New York continued to consolidate and coordinate their noble activities. Important developments is Europe after Hitler came to power; the resurgence of rabid anti-Semitism in Germany and other European countries, placed the objectives of the Piotrkower Relief in a new perspective. Joel Wolreich came from Piotrkow to New York. He presently resides in Silver Springs, MD, with his wife Helen. He is the only living witness who participated in the assistance campaigns and actions just before, during and after the war. Here are his recollections about these turbulent times.

I arrived in the United States of America in October 1936. It took me some time to adjust to the new life. My wife Helen (Tolep), who was also born in Piotrkow, made my adjustment to the new life a lot easier. She had come to the U.S.A. with her mother, brother, and sister to meet their father who had come earlier, before World War I. Helen knew the Piotrkow Landsleit and their activities. Together we attended their functions. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the Society and the Ladies Auxiliary.

In 1937, we received alarming letters about outbursts of anti-Semitism. During the years 1937-1945, Mrs. Frackman and Mrs. Lang of the Ladies Auxiliary raised funds to help by organizing door-to-door campaigns and various benefits. When the war broke out in September, 1939, Piotrkow was one of the first cities occupied by the Nazis. During the war, we had no contact, but we were able to send some aid through underground channels before the United States entered the war. By 1941, an enlarged relief committee was organized, consisting of landsleit belonging to several organizations. These included the Ladies Circle consisting of Beatrice Charmatz (president), Helen Frackman, Gosi Freeman, Feli Lang, Hena Berliner, Celia Berger, Golda Borenstein, and Helen Shulman; the Branch W.C. 368 consisting of Sam Ozer, Max Frackman, Harry L. Berman, Ben Weinberg, Pincus, Barney Freeman, Morris Berliner, Max Grossman, and Louis Grossman; the Benevolent Society consisting of Sam Bleiwas, Issac Rosenblum, David Kingstein, Sol Berger, G. Schwartz (treasurer), Jacob Fish, Sara Zisholtz, and Joel Wolraich (corresponding secretary).

After the war ended in 1945, some survivors began returning to Piotrkow. I was the first to receive mail from them. I read about the horror they lived through to survive and the finding out the full extent of the Holocaust. They described their pain and agony at finding out that they were the only surviving members of their families. I felt some of the pain with them because I was the only survivor in my family. As more members returned, they formed a committee with Dr. Zygmunt Tenenbaum as the chairman, and Eva Borzykowska as the secretary.

The Relief Committee from here immediately sent clothing, food, money and other things Dr. Zygmunt Tenenbaum who was an ear, nose, and throat specialist, requested instruments so he could begin to practice again. We immediately sent him a medical catalog so that he could indicate the instruments he needed. The Relief Organization sent him those instruments so that he could begin his practice. The survivors set up a system of signing for the aid they received to make sure that everyone received his or her share.

Later some of the survivors came to the United States. Some of these were helped in their immigration by the Relief Committee. Upon their arrival, they were also helped by the Relief Committee with finding housing and employment. Some of these survivors remained in the D.P. camps. The Relief Committee sent help to them. More survivors immigrated to the United States in 1946 and 1947. As they arrived, we received them with open arms, warmth, and understanding. From 1946 to 1959, many more survivors came to the United States and established themselves. They are now a part of the Piotrkower Relief Association and doing a fine job.

 

Our People in the Spotlight

It is important to mention our gifted and talented writers and actors of this era. Among them were Samuel Torenberg, a prolific linguist and dramaturgist, and the renowned actor Gold-Geladi, who performed with the Adlers and other famous ensembles. The names of Jack Rechtzeit, the president of the Jewish Actors' Alliance, and of his brother's Seymour Rexite who is the husband of the famous Miriam Kressyn, were and are known to every Jewish theatergoer.

The poems and short stories of Moshe Korman, based mostly on his young, lean years in Piotrkow, were read by many. Hershel Novak, the talented author, was widely heard of among Jewish readers. His book, My Young Years, were warmly praised by the critics.

Annual Hazkara of the Association in the early sixties
Annual Hazkara of the Association in the early sixties

 

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