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[Col. 547-548]

Reception for Israel Minister, Pinhas Sapir,
by the “Suvalker Landslayt Fareyn” in Buenos Aires

Some of those shown are: Leyb Masheznitski, President: Daniel Levkovitsh, Vice-President: Z.Levitas, treasurer: Hersh Rimatski: Zalman David Roznblum: Leyzer Shkolnik: Hayim Blokh: Binyamin Blokh: Avraham Glikson: Mrs.Levkovitsh: Leyzer Lubelski: Simha Yablonski: M.Dishman: M.Levin: Minister Sapir is seated in the middle

[Col. 549]

The conference chose a special executive committee: S.Sandovski (N.Y.), President: Dzsh.Dante (Detroit), Vice-President: Semuel Kriger (Chicago) recording secretary: L.Perlshteyn (N.Y.), Press secretary: S.Bernshteyn (Chicago), Executive secretary: Herold Gutkovski (Chicago), Treasurer.

[Col. 550]

The conference worked out a constitution to guide the relief work. It was decided to hold the next conference in New York.

The work of our relief committee received appreciative write-ups in the Yiddish press. On March 20, 1942, both The Morning Journal and The Day reported on the activities of the Suwalk Relief Committee, and also of its constituent organization and how they were preparing to help their landslayt {compatriots} after the war.

Although we had lost contact with our landslayet, we did receive sad reports from time to time. We learned, for example, that around 3000 Jews from Suwalk were murdered in Slonim by the bloodthirsty Nazis and that the majority of the Suwalk

Jews, who had escaped at the end of 1939 in Lithuania, were killed in the general slaughter, in the towns where they had sought refuge, such as Mariampol, Kalvarie, Lazdey, Vilkovishk, Trok and others. In the Slonim massacres, I lost my brother David Berl and his family; my sister Bashe Feygl and her family were killed in Trok, and my brother Yaakov and his family died in Lasdey, Lithuania. May God avenge their blood.

The Guest delegation of the Buenos Aires Suvalker Landslayt Fareyn, photographed in New York in 1955

From right to left: Daniel Lefkovitsh, Mrs.Lefkovitsh; Zisko Levitas – President of the Fareyn, Fanie Baygrodski, Leon Masheznitski

[Col. 551]

We learned of the great tragedy of our people only at the end of the summer of 1945, when the blood war with Hitler was ended. We could not imagine it, but it was the gruesome reality: Six million Jews were slaughtered by Hitler murderers. A small remnant survived. We waited with bated breath to receive news of the fate of the Jews of Suwalk and environs.

We understood that the dreadful fate of world Jewry had not by-passed our landslayt, yet we kept alive a spark of hope that perhaps some of our nearest and dearest would have escaped the murderers by hiding in the forest, or perhaps had escaped to Siberia. But we received now news {of such survivors}.

The first letter told us the dreadful truth. The great Jewish town of Suwalk, a city and mother in Israel, no longer existed. Only a few individuals returned from the various hells, and all of the Jewish homes and businesses had been taken over by the Poles. The names of these first survivors of whom we had news were:

Kopl Lubovski, brothers Kramarski, Shelomoh Golding, Hone Vinitski, Meir Fridman, Motl Polnitski, Shelomoh Podruzshnik, Hanah Altshuler, Mrs.Idleson and her son, Engineer Trotski, Caleb Khanovitsh, the Solnitski family, Yeshayah Kershkovski, Mishkinski and a few others.

Those who were rescued described their situation and their sufferings in their letters and asked for immediate aid.

Our committee sent out assistance immediately along with encouraging letters. We wrote that we were ready to do everything possible to relieve them. We also begged them to send us detailed lists of the names of survivors from Suwalk, and where they were now.

In response to our requests, we began receiving mail every week with lists of names of groups and individuals.

At the beginning of 1946, it was concluded, on the basis of all of the reports, that of the estimated 17,000 Jews of Suwalk and environs, barely 400 had survived. Most of the returned survivors had escaped or had been sent into the farthest reaches of Russia at the start of the war, and after the re-establishment of the Polish government, all Polish citizens were permitted to return to Poland. Some had

[Col. 552]

Been Partisans, and had fought the Nazis in the forests, and a very small minority had been liberated from the concentration camps by the Allied armies.

On Sunday, March 20, 1946, we convened a mass gathering and memorial in Manhattan Centre, in order to collect more funds for the survivors. The gathering was opened by L.Perlshteyn, secretary of the Relief Committee. H.Zeligson, the President of the committee gave a report on the committee'' activities and also read a list of names of survivors. Thus, some of those assembled learned of the survival of relatives.

The rabbi of Suwalk eulogized the martyrs and after he made a heart-rending plea to assist the survivors, the sum of $3,200 was immediately collected.

To help make the work of the relief committee more effective, two sub-committees were established; one to collect and the other to send food packages, under the direction of Dzsh.Saymon.

At the end of the winter, we were informed that the number of survivors who had returned to Suwalk had increased to about 90. We sent them all the necessities for Passover: matzos and other Passover foods, and even raisins with which to make wine. This made it possible for them to celebrate the traditional sedarim in Suwalk after a lapse of six years. They described in tear-stained letters how these sedarim revived their memories of the recent past and how they once more felt part of the Jewish people.

After Passover, at our request, a committee was organized in Suwalk to include the following: Shelomoh Gutman – former member of the Vaad Hakahal, president: Engineer Trotski: Kopl Lubovski: Caleb Khanovitsh and Hanah Altshuler, secretary.

We sent about $1,500 to the committee and many large packages of food and clothing.

During the first summer months of 1946, more Suwalk Jews trickled back from Russia and were settled, according to the instructions of the Polish government, in the neighbourhood of lower Silesia; Dzsherzshanof, Rikhbakh, Lignitse, Shtetin, Vrotslav, and other places. A small number settled in Praga,

[Col. 553]

Bialystok and Lodz.

Because of anti-Semitism and attacks and pogroms in some cities after the war, the few surviving Jews in Suwalk became frightened. Most of them left for the lower Silesia area that summer. Most of the Jews were concentrated there. At the end of the summer, there were over 300 Suwalk Jews there. In order to make our work more systematic, a central relief committee was organized in Rikhbakh to include the representatives of various towns in lower Silesia under the leadership of Gedalyahu Smetsekhovski. He was in constant touch with us via telegraph and post. He worked tirelessly, devotedly and sincerely for the good of the Suwalk Jews. After the founding of the central committee, we directed all of our assistance – money, food packages, clothing and various religious articles such as phylacteries, prayer shawls and prayer books, to the address of the committee. We were especially concerned to send clothing and shoes. Those most involved in collecting and sending food and packages were: Dr.D.Mirov, Y.Saymon, Y.Trop, Y.Silverman, B.Saliniski, H.Vladkovski and others.

In accordance with the resolution of the Cleveland conference in which everyone should cooperate in the raising of funds for the survivors, we asked all of the Suwalk landsmanshaftn in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Mexico, to organize their relief work on a broad base. Our request elicited a warm response.

[Col. 554]

The Chicago Suwalk group inspired by Rabbi Pinkus and S.Bernshteyn, carried out a strong relief campaign and sent large sums of money, packages of food and clothing to the committee.

Memorial {meeting} of Suwalk Landsmanshaft in Montevideo, May 26, 1946

[Col. 555]

The Suwalk group in Detroit headed by Frank Markson, Dzsh.Danta, Mrs.Gladshteyn and Aleks Gotlib, were actively involved in providing much assistance. In Buenos Aires, large sums of money were raised under the leadership of David Roznblum, L.Masheznitski and Z.Levitas.

In Montevideo, Uruguay, the Suwalk activities were led by Shelomoh Stutsinski and Yitshak Golumbievski.

Rabbi Rafalin, born in Punks, and A.Roznfeld, organized the relief work in Mexico.

In the summer of 1946, a “Vaad Le-Yehude Suvalk vehaseviva”[1*] was organized in Tel Aviv, thanks to the initiative of dedicated workers: Yehudah Koyfman, Moshe Goldshteyn and Shelomoh Shulkes, Shpunder and others. Even though the situation in Palestine was very difficult, the committee carried out some fundraising campaigns and sent immediate assistance to Suwalk Jews.

The relief committee was also responsible for saving some Jewish children from being converted to Christianity. For instance, the children of Haya Goldberg, daughter of Mordekhay Asher Epshteyn of Suwalk, were hidden in the homes of Christians in Paris, after her husband was killed by the Nazis. The Christians did not want to give up the children after the war and were only persuaded to allow the children to re-join their mother by the large sums of money which we sent, and the involvement of our landsman Adlson in Paris.

Another incident occurred with the daughter of Leyzer and Rahel Kuperberg, granddaughter of Shelomoh Gutman. The parents were in the Kovno ghetto. As is known, there used to be murderous attacks on young children. On the eve of such an attack, the desperate parents gave their one-year-old child to a Christian woman, to be hidden by her. The parents survived, miraculously. When they began to search for their child, they discovered that their daughter was on a farm in Poland, with a Christian family that did not wish to give her up. The parents appealed to us for money, and thanks to that, and with much difficulty, they were able to rescue her.

At the end of the winter of 1946, the first Suwalk survivors arrived in New York. Among them was Dr.Leon Smolenski

[Col. 556]

who had remained in Suwalk with our rabbi until the last moment, and had helped many people. After the deportation, he barely made it to Slonim where he remained until the gruesome massacre. At the last moment, miraculously, he succeeded in escaping from the Nazi guards, into the forest where he was a partisan for a number of years. Based on the reports we received from various sources and from the survivors themselves, we were able to publish a pamphlet in June of 1946 with the names of 284 survivors.

As our relief work branched out, we decided to call a national conference in New York of all of Suwalk landslayt in America. It took place on 4-6 July, 1946, at the Pennsylvania Hotel. The New York delegation consisted of: Hayim Zeligson, L.Perlshtyne, L.Perlo, Dzsh.Gladshteyn, B.Solinski, Dr.David Mirov, B.Gershen, David Silverman, Pinkus Silvershteyn, L.Sherer, H.Vladkovski, H.Gotlib, Dzsh.Ylius, A.Aynhorn and Dzsh.Glikman. Rabbi David Lifshits was the chairman of the New York delegation.

The Chicago delegation consisted of Dzsh.Bauer, Izidor Faynglas, David Gitlson, H.Gutkovski, Tsh.Kohn, David Livi, S.Reyn, Mrs. Diana Shtyn, A.Beylis, L.Bauer and Sh.Bernshteyn – chairman of the delegation.

From Detroit, Al.Gotlib, Mrs.L.Gladshteyn, Mrs.Eker, Dzsh.Danto, Rozntal, Krause, P.Markson – chairman of the Detroit delegation

From Pittsburg: Dzsh.Saul[2*]

There was a delegation from Augstow's Workmen's Circle Branch 77: S.Leyng; H.Levin and L.Buki.

The Suwalk Rabbi opened the meeting in a hall filled with hundreds of compatriots, describing the destruction of Suwalk and appealing for the rescue of the survivors of the Holocaust.

Reports were given by H.Zeligson, L.Perlshteyn (New York), Dr.Leon Smolenski – a living witness of the Nazi murders, shocked the audience with these words: “Before my eyes, my father was shot and my mother and sister {s} were buried alive along with thousands of Jews. The earth quivered over these buried alive for three

[Col. 557]

days. Men, women and children marched to the gas chambers. Woe is me, it is dreadful to believe, but it's true”.

The meeting resolved to raise $40,000 for relief work. For various reasons, these plans were never carried out,

[Col. 558]

each Suwalk landsmanshaft continued to carry on its work independently.

Suwalk Relief Committee in New York, 1959

First row, seated (from right to left): Lazar Perlshteyn, secretary: Leon Perlo, treasurer: Rabbi David Lifshits, honorary president: Hayim Zeligson, president: David Silverman
Second row, standing: Dzsh.Gladstaun: P.Silvershteyn, peace upon him: B.Gershen: B.Solinski: H.Vladkovski

[Col. 557]

As was mentioned above, a small group of Jews remained in Suwalk after the holocaust. We were in constant touch with them. The relief committee was not only concerned with the handful of the living remnant, but also with preserving the honour of the dead.

Kopl Lubovski, the oldest of the surviving Jews of Suwalk, reported to us that the Nazis had vandalized the cemetery. They had uprooted the tombstones and many graves remained open. The fence {around the cemetery} was broken. The large

[Col. 558]

building at the entrance to the cemetery, containing the room for cleansing the corpses and the synagogue, had been torn down by the Nazis. The monuments over the graves of the famous rabbis, Rabbi Ayzik Heber, Rabbi Yehudah Leyb Bakhrakh, Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Luria and Rabbi Yosef Yoselevitsh had been destroyed. It would take a lot of money to repair all of this, and we sent the money immediately to Kopl Lubovski. He and some of the other Jews, built a new fence, filled in the graves, and set up the monuments of some of the rabbis for which the New York Suwalk Committee provided the previous text.[3*]

All of the synagogues and kloyzn in town had also been torn down.

[Col. 559]

Some were completely ruined, but the big synagogue was only half destroyed - an eternal monument to the murdered Jewish population.

The few remaining Jews felt as if they were living in a vast cemetery. Not everyone could bear the burden of such grief, and sudden death, put an end to their deep sorrow. In a letter we received in New York, this happening was described:

A Jew of Augustow, returning from Sibera, and learning from his gentile neighbours about the murder of his family by the Nazis, died on the spot. Since there were no more Jews in Augustow, the Suwalk Jews brought him to be buried in the Suwalk Jewish cemetery. Since they could not cover the burial expenses, our Relief Committee had the mitzvah of “hesed shel-Emet”[4*]

M. Zaborovski, from Augustow, who visited the town in 1947, described Suwalk a year or two after the war. He was the only compatriot from abroad who visited Suwalk at that time, and he wrote in his letters:

“Arriving in Suwalk from Warsaw by train, it seemed as if everything was as it had always been. The same train station, the same fields, the same gentiles around. But coming into the city itself – what a scene of destruction! The streets are the same, but where are our brothers and sisters? Where are the Jewish faces? Where are the Jewish children? Gone. All gone! Later, I met with the few remaining Jews who had survived by a miracle. Old Kopl Lubovski, who alone remained of his large family; the widow, Hanah Altshuler; the widow Adlson; the two sisters Salnitski and engineer Trotski, and a few more. That is all that remains of Suwalk. Once a city and a mother in Israel.

Augustow was even worse because there, not one Jewish person remained. Such destruction!”

One of the important aspects of our work was seeking and finding relatives of survivors and putting them in touch with their lonely friends.

[Col. 560]

We also advertised often in the newspapers for surviving Jews of Suwalk to contact us and we would help them. These advertisements appeared in the Yiddish newspapers which the survivors published in the camps. Based on replies we received, we were able to put together new lists of survivors from Suwalk, whom we helped to get in touch with their relatives. This successful effort was carried out for a number of years by our dedicated secretary, Lazar Perlshteyn.

In 1946-1947, the situation of Jews in Poland was not very safe. There were attacks upon Jews in many cities. It was dangerous for Jews to travel on trains and roads.

A particularly tragic fate befell our landsman, M.Kushel, who was brutally murdered while he was traveling on the train from Suwalk to Warsaw. May God avenge his blood.

This put dread into the hearts of the Jews in Poland and they began to flee en masse. The Jews of Suwalk also fled. They managed to reach the camps in the American and British zones in Germany, Austria and Italy, traveling over various roads and crossing the borders. The condition of those who came to the {D.P} camps was very bad. The only hope that kept them going was to be able to emigrate to Erets Yisrael, America or other countries.

But the conditions for emigration were very complicated, so they had to remain in the camps for a long time. The Suwalk survivors were concentrated in the camps at Dalsheim, Landsberg, Shvab-hol (Germany), Edelsberg, Haleyn (Austria), Cremona, Milano, Trani, Bari (Italy). They all appealed to us for help and the relief committee tried to respond to all requests and from time to time send packages of food, clothing and medical supplies.

At that time, the illegal immigration to Erets Yisrael increased. In its ranks, there were Jews from Suwalk as well, experiencing the heroic chapter of the struggle against the British Mandatory power which had barred the gates of Erets Yisrael. The ship, “Exodus”, was involved in a tragic incident. There were some Jews from Suwalk aboard, among them Hayim Grinshteyn, at present, the secretary of the Suwalk committee in Tel-Aviv.

[Col. 561]

As is well known, the British would imprison the captured illegal immigrants in concentration camps on the island of Cyprus. There, too, the number of Jews from Suwalk grew. They languished there in need, lying on the sand in canvas tents. Some of them fell ill.

When their desperate plea reached us, we wired them money until they could come, one by one, to Erets Yirsael.

After many Jews fled from Poland, during the winter of 1946-1947, there were still a few hundred Suwalk Jews remaining in various cities such as Lignitse, Dzsherzshanov, Rikhbakh, Stettin and a few in Suwalk itself.

[Col. 562]

They too received assistance from us. Since it was impossible to obtain ritual objects in Poland, the Suwalk rabbi sent phylacteries, prayer shawls, bibles, prayer books, holiday prayer books, tassels {tsitsit}, mezuzot and skullcaps. We sent them matzos, Passover foods and Haggadot for Passover. Thus our compatriots were able to celebrate the sedarim together.

In 1948, right after the establishment of the State of Israel, many Suwalk refugees arrived there. They came without means. Our compatriots, Shulkes, Koyfman, Gutkovski, Grinshteyn and others, with the committee in Tel- Aviv, helped lighten their burden. They carried out a big fundraising appeal and helped the new immigrants. The number of Suwalk immigrants kept increasing. They included elderly people, women and sick people. The tasks of the committee became increasingly heavier. Therefore, the Tel-Aviv council appealed to New York, Chicago and Detroit for assistance. Their request was heard and large sums of money were sent to the committee and to individuals, as well.

Because of many requests for clothing, we revived our previously constituted clothing committee. It carried out

Surviving Jews from Suwalk and environs celebrate the seder in Lignitse in 707{1947}
At the head {of table} is Meir Gelbart

 

Surviving Jews from Suwalk celebrate seder in Rihbakh.
At the head is Gedalyah Smetsikhavski

[Col. 563]

successful appeals for clothing during the course of a few years and accomplished a great deal in this area. The members did all the packing and shipping themselves and sent thousands of pounds of goods to Israel.

In order to make our help more practical, the Tel-Aviv Committee established a free loan office, according to our plan, which gave larger loans. The relief committees of New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles sent the capital fund with which to start the loans.

[Col. 564]

Because of the desperate need, the relief work of all of the Suwalk committees increased during the years 1949-1950-1951.

The New York Committee held a lottery to raise a larger sum of money. It was directed by Dzsh.Gladstaun and brought in $1,300.

During 1950-1951, many landsmanshaftn began to memorialize their destroyed communities by publishing Yizkor books.

[Col. 563-564]

Editorial committee of book

From right to left: Berl Kahan{Kagan}, Rabbi David Lifshits, Hayim Zeligson, Lazar Perlshteyn

[Col. 565]

Our committee also passed such a resolution[5*] about Suwalk and environs.

A special book committee was chosen which included Rabbi David Lifshits, Hayim Zeligson and Lazar Perlshteyn.

During the summer of 1952, Rabbi David Lifshits visited Israel. Our committee gave him a number of “scripts”[6*] to distribute to needy landslayt. We also gave him the authority to investigate the problems relating to our relief work in Israel.

[Col. 564]

On the occasion of Rabbi Lifshits' visit to Israel, the Suwalk committee in Tel-Aviv convened the first memorial meeting in which hundreds of Suwalk landslayt in Israel participated.

Rabbi Lifshits' talk, in which he described the dreadful destruction of the Jews of Suwalk and Suwalk province electrified the landslayt. They wept bitter tears as they remembered the time when this important rabbi was the leader of the now vanished Suwalk community.

[Col. 565-566]

Farewell for Rabbi David Lifshits on the eve of his departure for Erets Yisrael on
15th of Menahem Zv, {5}712, August 5th, 1952

Seated from right: H.Zeligson, Rabbi Lifshits, S.Skibelski, A.Koyrsh, Skibelski
Standing from right: Dzsh.Yulius, L.Perlshteyn, L.Perlo, B.Goyrshen; D.Silverman, B.Solinski, L.Danski, M.Mishel

[Col. 565]

Among the participants in Yizkor meeting was Mrs.S.Gladshteyn-Kenigsberg, an active leader of the Suwalk relief committee in Detroit, who was visiting Israel at the time. She also brought along “scripts” for the needy, in the name of the Detroit landslayt and she promised to continue the relief work.

During the last few years, some of the Suwalk survivors in Israel have become established, but there are still many who must have our assistance. Besides,

[Col. 566]

we must continue to send help to our surviving landslayt in the various countries in Europe and to widows, elderly and sick.

Faithful to our landsmanshaft feeling, we are trying to continue our relief work for all of those who were uprooted from Suwalk and environs, who need our warm, brotherly help. May the future bring them joy in their life.


Translator's Footnotes

    1*. Council for Jews of Suwalk and environs Return
    2*. Whom I know as Joseph Saul Return
    3*. This part of the sentence is extremely ambiguous. I am guessing that it means that the New York Committee sent the text of the inscriptions that had been on the destroyed monuments so that they could be engraved on the new stones Return
    4*. True charity. Usually translated in America as Free Burial Society Return
    5*. i.e. to publish a book Return
    6*. Probably means scrip which was used in Israel during the years of austerity to purchase hard to get items in special stores Return

 

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