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[Page 380]

Across the Continents

 

The Piotrkower in the United States

After World War II, wherever a Piotrkower settled, his Landsleit followed and proceeded to create their own Landsmanschaften. In locations where there were only a few of them, they would maintain close contact with their compatriots in the vicinity and elsewhere.

The largest Piotrkower community in the United States settled in New York, where a strongly organized association functions to this day. The Landsleit who live dispersed throughout the Northeast, in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, remain in constant touch with their counterparts in New York, attend their events and generally contribute to the social and cultural well-being of their respective communities not only locally, but also in the great cities of Boston and Philadelphia.

Another branch of the Society of Piotrkow and Vicinity was established in California in the early 1950's by about 70 survivors of Piotrkow, Belchatow, Sulejow, Wolborz, etc. A group of Piotrkower still resides in Los Angeles. They are a close-knit community but socialize throughout the world.

The Los Angeles Society in the fifties
The Los Angeles Society in the fifties

 

In the Southeast Region of the U.S., a relatively large group of Piotrkower and their compatriots lives in Florida, predominantly in the Miami Beach area. Needless to say, many Landsleit converge on the sunny beaches to relax and bask in the warm climate, coming from as far away as Canada and other distant areas. It is surprising, therefore, that the natives of Miami, despite many opportunities and doubtlessly good intentions, have been unsuccessful in forming their own organization and association. Albeit very active socially, the residents of Miami and their visitors are consequently forced to join the activities of other Landsmanschaften. Nevertheless, there is still hope that the Piotrkower of Florida will establish a vibrant and thriving Society.

Some Piotrkower live in the state of Georgia, others still further north in the area of Washington, DC, mainly in Silver Springs, Maryland. Several groups reside in the Chicago region, others south from there in St. Louis. Our compatriots in that area remain in lively contact with one another and with us; we hear from them and from our Landsleit in neighboring states such as Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Kansas. Several Piotrkower can be found further north, in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, while others reside in the Southwest, in Texas and Arizona. With the exclusion of metropolitan New York City, approximately two hundred subscribers to the New Bulletin are scattered throughout the United States.

 

Piotrkower in Canada

The period of mass emigration to the shores of America began early in the twentieth century. Several Piotrkower who were unable to gain entry to the United States temporarily settled in Canada.

No accurate records are available concerning those early emigrants who settled but left Canada as quickly as they were able to immigrate to the United States. The permanent and thriving communities of Piotrkower were established in Canada after World War II, when the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust escaped from Europe. Mindful of their past in Piotrkow, concerned for their future and with the preservation of their dignity, they reconstructed their lives on the foundations of their forefathers. The first post-war Landsleit in Canada formed their own Landsmanschaften in Canada's major cities in the East, Montreal and Toronto.

 

The Piotrkow Trybunalski Landsmanschaft in Montreal

The Piotrkower of Montreal play an important role in the Jewish community there. They are a close-knit group, well established and very active in all cultural and social events of Jewish life. One of their most important achievements in Montreal is the nurturing and maintenance of the Holocaust Memorial Centre and the Jewish Public Library. Their annual Hazkarah, in memory of the Holocaust Martyrs, is a solemn and dignified affair. This meaningful tradition was founded years ago and throughout those years Hazkarah participants would bring old photographs, documents, arts, crafts, and other mementos of the past to the proceedings.

The 'Landsmanschaft' in Montreal some 35 years ago
The Landsmanschaft in Montreal some 35 years ago

 

The Piotrkow, Tomaszow, Belchatow and Vicinity in Toronto

Piotrkower in Toronto some 35 years ago
Piotrkower in Toronto some 35 years ago

 

As the consequence of a unique event, the survivors of our home town region who had settled in Toronto joined forces there some years ago and established the Piotrkow, Tomaszow, Belchatow and Vicinity Society. This organization also figures prominently in the life of the Jewish community in Ontario. Of their important achievements, special mention must be made of their erecting an impressive monument to the memory of our Kedoshim. All members actively participate in the activities of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee, the Memorial Centre of Toronto and in Holocaust Education.

The second generation of Piotrkower in Canada carries the torch of their parents' legacies. The relationship between parents and children is remarkably close. It is also important to mention that the few Piotrkower who live in Winnipeg maintain truly close ties with other Landsleit throughout Canada, as well as with those in the United States and Israel.

The very first 'Hazkarah' after the war
The very first Hazkarah after the war in Landsberg, Germany – 1946

 

Piotrkower in Europe

Following World War II, the once vibrant Piotrkower communities practically ceased to exist in Europe.

As soon as the liberated survivors from concentration camps had regained some of their strength, they began their search for survivors and remnants of their families. Most of them settled, temporarily, with repatriates from Russia in Displaced Persons' Camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Very few remained in Piotrkow; all soon made plans for their future. A great number decided to end the Diaspora and emigrated to Israel. Others set their hopes on the Western hemisphere, on such countries as the United States, Canada, Australia, and all of South America. A smaller number resettled in the various countries of Europe.

Regardless of where fate had tossed the Piotrkower, they proved themselves to be assets to their adoptive countries, never, however, forgetting that their hearts belonged to Piotrkow while becoming avid, loyal supporters of Israel.

 

The Piotrkower in Sweden

A group of girls from Piotrkow in Sweden after the war
A group of girls from Piotrkow in Sweden after the war

 

The first Piotrkower to set foot on Swedish soil were female survivors of the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany. They had been saved and transported to Sweden by the Red Cross under the auspices of Count Folke-Bernadotte just prior to the end of World War II. After the general liberation of survivors from concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen and others, they were sent to Sweden for rehabilitation. Some emigrated to other countries over the years. The majority, however, settled in Sweden, where they were absorbed in the mainstream of Swedish life.

Regrettably, one must note that during the 1950's and 1960's, anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jews ran rampant in Poland, whereupon a number of our Landsleit left the country to seek refuge and a safe haven in Sweden and in Denmark. To this day, the Piotrkower in Sweden have remained in close contact with their compatriots in Israel as well as in other parts of the world.

 

The Piotrkower in France

Piotrkower in France
Piotrkower in France gather at the “Les Enfants de Piotrkow”
(The Children of Piotrkow) monument in Paris

 

The emigrants from Piotrkow who had left for France during the years between World Wars I and II were for the most part working people who had left in search of a better life. Most settled in Paris. The pre-war, sluggish economy there made life difficult for the immigrants, who had little time for socializing. The struggle for existence absorbed them completely. Consequently, the first Piotrkower Landsmanschaft was founded in France only after World War II, when the small remnants of our Landsleit had returned to their homes. Many had fought with the French Resistance. These Piotrkower extended their hands and aided their surviving countrymen as they arrived in Paris in search of a new life. Soon they began to meet frequently, at first for the annual Commemorative Gatherings, and then for mutually productive cultural events.

One of the great achievements of this particular branch of Piotrkower was the building of a monument to honor “Les Enfants de Piotrkow” (The Children of Piotrkow). It was built to commemorate their demise as the hands of the Nazi persecutors. To this day, a small community of Piotrkower continues its activities and remains in contact with their Landsleit in Israel and in other parts of the world.

 

The Piotrkower of England

The Piotrkower Committee in England
The Piotrkower Committee in England

 

The emigration of Jews from Piotrkow to England began early in the nineteenth century, when Ernestine Rose-Potovsky, the famous feminist and co-founder of the Women's Suffrage Society, departed Piotrkow to live in London in 1832. Her worldwide activities are well documented in the annals of the women's emancipation movement. She left England for the United States in 1836 but returned to London in 1869.

The first really significant emigration from Piotrkow to England started at the end of the nineteenth century. For most of the new arrivals, the ultimate dream was to eventually reach the “Golden Land,” the United States of America. Those for whom this dream remained unobtainable remained in England and founded the first Piotrkower Circle in the city of London.

It is important to note that the London Landsleit remained in touch with their less fortunate brethren in Piotrkow and generously supported their efforts at rehabilitation and survival there, or, conversely, aided them in emigrating and establishing themselves in England as refugees. The first Landsmanschaft was founded by Moshe Gelade, Bunim Bromberg, and Nathan Glogowski in London in 1924.

After the end of World War II, the Piotrkow Society of London resumed close contact with their Landsleit in Israel. Their representatives frequently visited the Jewish State, where they were always welcomed-warmly by the Irgun Yotzei Piotrkow.

One momentous event must be related and remembered. It is the story of forty-one youngsters from Piotrkow who survived the Holocaust and were liberated from the concentration camp of Theresienstadt in 1945. They were rescued and sent to England in August 1945, together with the first group of three hundred children who were similarly fortunate. Nearly all were orphaned. Only four of the Piotrkow group had at least one parent who had survived.

The devotion and compassion of England's Jews accelerated the healing process for these children; it was a difficult and arduous one. After a few years they were rehabilitated and absorbed into the mainstream of English life. Their integration into British community events was complete.

These children, now adults, have grown to become respected members of the Jewish community in England. Their successes, economically and socially, are remarkable. They represent an important part of the prestigious “Forty-Five Aid Society.” The longtime chairman of that Society is the versatile and devoted Ben Helfgott, a genuine and true Piotrkower. He also chairs the Yad Vashem Society in the United Kingdom.

Not only is Chairman Helfgott a leading member of the community, he is also an essayist. One of his essays, entitled, “From Piotrkow to London,” is being published in this book. In it, he unravels, with penetrating insight, the saga of the children from Piotrkow and how they managed to return unscathed to life with renewed confidence and dignity, in their new land and home of England.

 

The Piotrkower in Belgium

The Piotrkower who emigrated to Belgium were motivated, much like those who departed for France, to achieve a higher standard of living, and by their desire for freedom.

Prior to World War II, there were several families from Piotrkow who had settled in Bruxelles, Belgium. Most of them were tailors. Only a handful escaped Nazi oppression and persecution there. After the war, some survivors from Piotrkow joined them to begin a new life.

A rather small community of Piotrkower remains in Bruxelles at this time; it is a closely-knit, friendly group who avidly participates in Jewish community life. Needless to say, their eminent concern is for the continuance of activities to aid the survivor group of the Holocaust in their newly adopted country, Belgium, and its Holocaust Organization. They also maintain close ties with compatriots all over the world.

 

The Piotrkower in Germany

Quite a number of Piotrkower lived in Germany prior to Hitler's coming to power. All had been well-established there without, however, having any connection with their countrymen, who were scattered all over, in contrast to communities founded in other countries. During the late 1930's, all Piotrkower in Germany were deported back to Poland by the Nazis via Zbaszyn. Most returned to Piotrkow. After World War II, Piotrkower were to be found in nearly every Displaced Persons' Camp, primarily in those concentrated in Bergen-Belsen, Landsberg, Feldafing, and Salsheim. Later, some made their homes in Berlin, Munich, Hanover, and Frankfurt. At this time there are still a few families from Piotrkow living in Munich and Frankfurt. Most, however, maintain second residences in Israel.

 

The Piotrkower in Poland

Only a very few Piotrkower still live in Warsaw and Lodz, although completely assimilated. Only one last Jew remains in Piotrkow itself.

 

The Piotrkower in South America

Piotrkower in Argentina
Piotrkower in Argentina – early 1950's

 

The Trisker-Gruszkowski families were the first from Piotrkow to arrive in South America and live in Argentina in the early 1920's.

In 1928, Motl-Mordechai Lenczycki, the gifted amateur actor and director, and one of the founders of the “Hazomir,” left Piotrkow for Buenos Aires.

Upon his arrival there, together with the Triskers, he organized a Drama Circle which remained active for many years. The Landsleit of Piotrkow in Argentina kept contact with one another, and also with their families in Piotrkow and Israel. A Piotrkower Landsmanschaft was officially established in the early 1950's. All Landsleit in Argentina contributed generously to the publication of the Piotrkower Izkor Book, which was brought to life in Israel.

Sadly, during the following years, the pioneer, senior generation gradually faded from view; less and less was heard from our compatriots. Thus, at present there is no contact whatsoever with the younger generation or the children of the original emigrants to Argentina.

Nevertheless, we shall continue our search. We have asked our Landsman, Saul Dessau, a prominent businessman and industrialist in Buenos Aires, to endeavor to locate our Landsleit and to see if new ties could be forged. We hope to hear from our compatriots in Argentina in the near future.

Several Piotrkower are located in Brazil and Uruguay. Unfortunately, the senior members of this group have passed away in recent years. We do maintain contact with a few of our people in Brazil and lately have obtained addresses of several Piotrkower who live in Montevideo, Uruguay.

 

The Piotrkower in Australia

Although minimal in membership, the Piotrkower community in Australia nevertheless has made, and is still making, impressive contributions to Jewish life in that country.

It all started with the Jacobs family in 1858, when they arrived in Melbourne from Piotrkow via Plymouth, England. According to Sir Asher Joel of Sydney, a Knight of the British Empire and a highly respected and distinguished personality, his maternal great-grandparents had the foresight to leave Europe long ago to start a new, wonderful life of service in the Victorian Jewish community with his grandfather, the Rev. Joseph Jacobs, as a spiritual leader.

During the ensuing century, the Jacobs, Israelewicz and Joel families remained prominent in the life of Jewish congregations in Australia.

Very few families from Piotrkow reached the Australian continent before World War II. After hostilities had ended, however, a large group of survivors from Piotrkow settled there, mostly in the Melbourne area with only a few traveling to Sydney.

Our people in Australia remain the guardians of tradition, remembrance and Yiddishkeit. They are ardent supporters of the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne and fervently participate in every phase of Jewish life. A significant factor is the drive to preserve the Yiddish language. Our Landsleit cheerfully participate in the activities of Jewish institutions such as Kadimah, a center of Yiddish culture, literature, and Yiddish theater.

The children of Piotrkow survivors in Melbourne attended the thriving Yiddish Sunday Schools; their grandchildren now follow in their parents' footsteps. They continue with their ambitious efforts to preserve their proud heritage, the Remembrance, and the growth and security of the State of Israel. The Piotrkower of Australia continue their life there in the noble tradition of their parents, their grandparents, and their forefathers.

Compiled by B.G.

 

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