by Emanuel Chmielash
Translated by Moses Milstein
In 1949, Jews from the DP camps in Austria and Germany, the Sh'erit Ha'Pletah, among them Shebreshiner Jews, began arriving in Montreal, Canada. In 1951, there were about twenty of us. Others arrived from Israel having spent a short time there.
In the fifties, we settled in the Jewish neighborhood of the time, around the commercial center of St. Lawrence Street. We lived close to each other and saw each other practically every day. On Sundays, we all used to meet on Esplanade Street in front of the Jewish Public Library.
In 1949, the secretary of the New York Shebreshiner society, Pesach Borek, ah, came to visit us. The meeting took place at Ephraim and Balche Milstein's house. For newcomers, it was a great pleasure to meet with old residents in a new land.
At the Milstein's house, together with P. Borek, we decided that the Shebreshiners in Montreal should organize themselves. We should get together and discuss ongoing problems. The committee was then formed of David Fuks, Wolf Ingber, and Ephraim Milstein. At the end of 1949, we called a meeting of all the Shebreshiner at Laizer Borek's house. We then elected a committee consisting of David Fuks, Wolf Ingber, Laizer Borek, Emanuel Chmielash, Azriel Drayer, and Chaim Unger, ah. We decided that everyone should pay dues of fifty cents a month.
We then established ties with the new Shebreshiner olim in Israel. We began to send the few dollars from the dues collected to the needy landsleit, the olim chadashim, in Israel. When we discovered that there was a Shebreshiner committee organized in Israel, headed by our respected landsman, Mendl Boim, we began corresponding with him. We sent the aid money to the Shebereshiner committee care of Mendl Boim.
Our activities also consisted of honoring the yorzeit of our fallen brethren. We hired a room at the Jewish Public Library and engaged a chazzan. All the Shebreshiner in Montreal, without exception, attended. After the memorial, we dealt with various issues.
When M. Boim wrote that they were gathering material about the destruction of our people in S. in order to publish a journal describing Jewish life in S., we sent them some documents: Dr. Klukowski's book, works by the poet Sholem Stern, (a descendant of S. and Tiszewic, living now in Montreal.) Others sent along certain descriptions of organizations and living conditions in S.
Although the collections were first published in journal form, the goal of the Israeli society was to publish a yizkor book. We in Montreal began collecting funds and transferring them to the committee in Israel. However, with the arrival of new olim in Israel, the committee found itself having to use the money to help the needy.
The task of producing a yizkor book stalled. Much documentation was already in the hands of Mendel Boim. We in Montreal wrote to him often. His answers were always full of hope, but little action was forthcoming. After a while, we gave up hope, but not without disappointment. We frequently asked each other why so many other shtetlach, some smaller than S., had already produced yizkor books, but we could not seem to manage it. We went over it so often and for so long that we finally gave up on it. We all felt a certain disappointment and regret.
Then the survivors of Lublin approached us: They were going to erect a monument in the Jewish cemetery to the memory of the Jews of Lublin and surrounding area. They asked if we also wanted to commemorate the S. victims. We convened a general meeting of our landsleit. I, personally, was against a monument of stone. A tombstone, no matter how tall and wide, no matter how beautiful, is simply an idol. On the other hand, a yizkor book is a living, movable, monument that everyone of us can embrace like a holy book, and pass along to future generations, to our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren—that tells them about their origins.
We learned from the Lubliner representatives that they had sent emissaries to Poland and had brought back a small box of ashes from Belzec. According to what we know, there were also Jews from S. in Belzec. The monument was erected over the grave where the ashes were buried. It was engraved also with the name of the Shebreshiner community. Every year, during the days of repentance, we convene a yizkor at the monument.
In time, Montreal grew larger, new suburbs were built. Shebreshiners also spread out. we no longer live in compact neighborhoods near each other. But we are still close. Telephone conversations are frequent and prolonged. To every simcha celebrated by one of us, every Shebreshiner is invited. And whenever we met, we always asked, Is there any news from Israel, meaning the yizkor book. Until…
Until several years ago, we received a letter from the Shebreshiner committee written by Ephraim Farber. Upon reading the letter resignation disappeared and hope shone on everyone's face. I myself did not remember Ephraim Farber. (He was youger than me, and before the war, he was in Warsaw). I just heard that he was Moishe Kliske's grandson and Mendele Kliske's son, and I was filled with hope that he would achieve the goal and bring out the book. Just as every Friday evening Ephraim's grandfather knocked on the doors of the stores with his hammer reminding Jews that the holy Shabbos was coming, so did his grandson with his letter hammer an awakening.
He awakened us from our lethargy. His letter called out to us: a new committee has been established among the Shebreshiner in Israel—young people who will make the yizkor book a reality.
The Israelis remember the phrase, M'Zion tetzeh torah to which they added three words, M'America tetzeh mamon. We had faith in the new endeavors. They woke us up and asked of us, Send money! We have many feelings for our old Shebreshiner home, our spiritual home is there. We raised several thousand dollars from the barely twenty Shebreshiner families here. Some of us were vacationing in Miami, Florida for the winter and there, in the home of a Shebreshiner, Hersh Fruchter, and thanks to our dynamic president, David Fuks, we had a meeting and raised money receiving contributions as well from people who were not actually from S but from nearby shtetlach.
Thanks to David Fuks, we also managed to raise money in Toronto. There is a small, not organized, group of Shebreshiner there. David Fuks traveled to Toronto, knocked on doors, and raised funds.
We are also allied with the Shebreshiner immigrants in New York. We were visited by Freida and David Blatt of New York.
At the request of the committee in Israel regarding expenses, we organized a standing committee. along with the emissaries who had recently been in Israel, at Leibl and Gitl Akerfkug's home. Freidele Blatt was also present. We Montrealers, and Freidele Blatt speaking for the New Yorkers, undertook to raise the necessary funds.
We have to recognize our honored landsman Mendl Boim who had amassed a larger amount and speeded up the work.
We Montrealers continue our correspondence with landsleit in various cities in Canada and the U.S. Some families live in Detroit—Yankel Miller; in Winnipeg—Itschak and Lube Gal; in Vancouver—Raizel Berger; in Nova Scotia—Sapian.
We see it as our duty to hold onto our connection with every Shebreshiner. Rather than extolling the virtues of individuals or groups I will end by saying, Am Israel chai, b'chol tfutzot ha'olam.
In the name of the Shebreshiner committee:
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