Immediately after our brothers and sisters were liberated from the Nazi, they sought assistance. They needed to recover from their horrible experiences in order to begin new lives.
The survivors from Bialystok, including ghetto escapees, exiles in the Soviet Union, resistance fighters and others who emerged from the bunkers, quickly sought to establish contact with landsleit in other parts of the world. The Bialystoker Centre in New York enthusiastically responded to their appeals for help.
Right after the war, countless letters arrived at the Centre from survivors in Europe, Cyprus and Israel, where they fled after the Nazi defeat. They appealed for financial and moral support. Furthermore, they inquired about relatives and friends with whom they lost contact during the war, or who were already living in the United States.
The Centre's positive response made the survivors feel they were not alone. During that postwar period, our Centre fulfilled the sacred traditions of Bialystok compassion, humanity and generosity toward people in desperate need.
A largescale relief effort, supported by the landsleit in the United States and in other countries, went into full swing. Bialystoker societies in New York, Newark, Paterson, New Jersey, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal and Toronto, Canada participated. The Bialystoker Centre in New York sent money and supplies to Jews in Bialystok and surrounding towns as well as to Bialystokers who resettled in other European countries and on Cyprus on the way to Israel. Those temporarily confined to displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria, Italy and other countries became additional beneficiaries of the relief programme.
Many survivors who moved to the United States or Canada received support from the New York Bialystoker Centre. In turn, they became active in the Centre's programme to help less fortunate Bialystokers just as they had received support in their time of need. The Bialystoker Stimme, the official magazine of the Centre in New York, played an important role in furthering the relief effort. Spotlighting the dire straits in which survivors found themselves; it succeeded in uniting landsleit in America, Israel, Canada and other countries to help their counterparts in Eastern Europe.
Leafing through the pages of the Stimme, we find moving articles, notices and letters concerning the fundraising campaign carried out by the Bialystoker Centre, as well as expressions of appreciation from beneficiaries of the programme. Particularly touching is the solidarity that Bialystokers donors and recipients alike felt.
In the following pages, excerpts from documents printed in the Bialystoker Stimme are reproduced to illustrate Bialystoker humanitarianism and kinship.
The Relief Committee Forwards Assistance to landsleit in Europe.
$4,375 allocated for food, medicine and other supplies
$2,500 sent through the Joint to Jews in Bialystok
Paterson Relief Society sends $1,000 Assistance provided
to Bialystoker poor in France, Sweden and Italy A campaign
launched for clothes Relief Conference to be attended by
delegates from all over the U.S. will be held on Sunday,
December 16, 1945.
Some three hundred Jews live in Bialystok today with more arriving daily. Gradually, Bialystokers are returning from the Soviet Union having gone there at the start of the war to escape annihilation. Life in Bialystok is still gloomy; practically nothing of the city stands.
A Jewish Reconstruction Committee registers all the Jews who return to the city. Our Relief Committee in New York awaits an updated list of all the Jews living in Bialystok.
The Relief Committee has allocated $1,000 for food packages for Bialystok and for other countries in which Bialystokers reside. It appeals to all members to send clothes in good condition for needy survivors. A decision was made to send $500 to the Bialystoker Centre in Paris for desperate landsleit.
Sunday, December 16, 1945, a conference of delegates from Bialystoker societies throughout the United States and Canada will meet at our Centre in New York to improve coordination for the relief effort.
On Sunday, December 16, 1945, a nationwide conference of Bialystoker relief committees was held at the Centre in New York. The participants discussed ways to improve our assistance programme for surviving landsleit.
David Sohn, Executive Director of the Bialystoker Centre, reported on the progress of the relief programme todate. He described the difficulty the committee first encountered in sending funds directly to Bialystok. It became necessary to funnel these monies through the Joint Distribution Committee. Now it is possible for our committee to send packages of food, medicine and clothes to the several hundred Jews in Bialystok directly from New York. We have also aided Bialystokers in France, Italy, Belgium and Sweden. We have received conflicting reports about the exact number of Jews in Bialystok today. The situation is in flux: Jews arrive and depart every day.
Bialystok is in ruins according to mail we received from Jews living there. All factories were destroyed by the Nazi. The Jewish citizenry there has attempted in recent weeks to rebuild a modicum of Jewish life in the city. In fact, a school for more than twenty Jewish children has opened. Most Jews wish to leave Bialystok for the United States or Israel because it is difficult for them to stay there. The blood of their loved ones drenches the soil.
Mr. Sohn stressed that the assistance we have provided thus far has only scratched the surface. More substantial relief in the coming months can alleviate the problem. This will, of course, depend upon our resources. We will have to send equipment to promote business, funds for loans, supplies to outfit a hospital and, in general, everything needed to reestablish a Jewish community in Bialystok.
Mr. Sohn lamented the fact that landsmanshaftn in New York and other American cities representing communities surrounding Bialystok have not seen fit to join the relief effort to improve the quality of the programme. Instead, they operate independently; their efforts less than successful. Many Jews in Bialystok today originate from towns represented by these societies. It would, therefore, be logical for them to unite with the Bialystoker Centre. Mr. Sohn expressed the hope that this conference would find a way of winning the support of these groups.
Jews in Bialystok have inundated our headquarters in New York with a stream of letters inquiring about family and friends with whom they have been out of touch. The Committee has located one hundred and twentytwo families, placing them in contact with their relatives in Europe. The most tragic letters are from people who, unfortunately, have no family or friends and who are totally alone. Mr. Sohn concluded his report by thanking the Bialystoker organizations outside of New York that have done such splendid work on behalf of the surviving Jews in Bialystok.
The following resolutions were adopted by the conference:
Dear Bialystoker landsleit in America.
Once again we Jews from Bialystok and vicinity have found each other, this time on Cyprus after an attempt to immigrate to Israel. We were resistance fighters in the Bialystok ghetto, partisans, concentration camp survivors, Polish and Red Army soldiers and exiles to the Urals and Siberia. Throughout the horrible war years we sought each other trying to remain close because we shared memories of our birthplace. Dreaming together about that happy moment when we would meet again in Bialystok, finding our families and loved ones, we helped each other make life easier.
Unfortunately, our dream remained a fantasy. We found graves and ruins in Bialystok upon our return, driven there by our longing and inextinguishable love for the town. It will forever symbolize our past, our youth and the peaceful family lives we enjoyed. We have since left Bialystok, never to return for we, like all other Holocaust survivors realize that our future lies in Israel.
For almost a year, we have been wandering like nomads, from one camp to another, from one country to the next, climbing mountains, crossing borders to reach our fatherland the land of Israel. On an old merchant ship, which we named Patria (birthplace), we drew close to Israel's shores. But our ship contained a breech in its underbelly which allowed water to rush through. Moreover, we failed to circumvent the British coast guard. An airplane spotted our ship and soon afterward, tugboats pulled us to the port of Haifa. Following a long and bitter resistance, we were beaten and teargassed to transfer to another boat which took us to Cyprus. Now we are in a concentration camp behind two rows of barbedwire fences, under continuous watch by British soldiers. What awaits us in Cyprus is life without freedom.
Nevertheless, we are neither downhearted nor in despair. We face the future with pride and courage. Sooner or later we will go to Israel to participate in the rebirth of the Jewish people.
In this difficult hour, as prisoners in Cyprus, we, who as Bialystokers have shared a common destiny, address our attention to you, Bialystoker Relief Committee. We recognize that you, better than anyone else, will do everything possible to support us both morally and financially.
Following our ship's mishap, many of us arrived on Cyprus with insufficient clothes and undergarments and without enough money to buy a postage stamp. Furthermore, the food we receive in the camp and our cigarette rations are inadequate. We believe you will be able to assist us in these matters. Please send us publications from your Centre in New York.
It is difficult to appeal to you for help, but your support will not be charity for poor brothers. You will see us as we are pioneers of our people who deliberately selected the thorny path of illegal Aliyah to struggle for the freedom and independence of the Jewish people. Your assistance will enable us to carry on this effort.
It is important that we be assured of your empathy with our physical suffering and your understanding of the ideals to which we were loyal and for whose realization we suffered so much. It is the Jewish State of Israel for which we fight the ingathering of the exiles. Your adding your voice, American brothers, to our efforts would be not only comforting for us but also a great boost to our morale. Your strenuous protests surely will cut short our imprisonment on Cyprus, unnecessary torment and an absolute waste of time.
Do everything possible, Bialystoker brothers, to end our exile on Cyprus for your satisfaction in having done good and our appreciation will be your best reward.
With Zionist greetings.
Dr. Szymon Datner,
Fiszl Galinski and
April 21, 1946.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we received the gifts which the gracious Bialystoker landsleit in America have sent us. We immediately distributed them to a poor woman who recently gave birth as well as to many other needy and lonely people. May the Almighty reward your generosity. We are pleased that the gifts arrived in time for Passover. Twice we have received from you various food and clothing packages that were invaluable to us. May God enable you to continue doing such noble deeds.
We request that if possible clothes be sent for young people between the ages of eighteen to twenty who walk around barefoot and are poorly clad.
Wishing you all the best, we remain,
Bialystoker Religious Kehilla.
Dear Bialystoker Friends,
Just this minute I received your wonderful gift the Bialystoker Stimme. Can you imagine the joy in our house? Every word reminds me of Bialystok. For five years, cut off from my sweet hometown, and living deep in Asia I looked for landsleit.
Once when I carried my halfdead child to the hospital, three young men approached me mentioning Bialystok. Forgetting for a moment that I was holding my child, who no longer had a pulse, I started at the mention of my birthplace and detained the three men. Truly they were Bialystokers. Suddenly tears drenched my cheeks. I could not speak. Finally, I asked them to escort me to the hospital and on the way, we talked. We were all in the same boat.
When my child was admitted to the hospital for emergency care, the three men did not move from the window but started at my swollen eyes. They asked where I lived. In the garden, on the grass where all homeless people stay, I answered. My baby, no longer able to endure the hunger and cold contracted diphtheria and the doctor gave him a poor prognosis, indicating that he needed many pints of blood to survive. The three immediately volunteered their blood, as much as necessary. I told them no the blood had to come from his father or mother. Certainly his father must have perished and I, severely anaemic, could not donate my blood. I ran to the doctor pleading with him to save my child. The landsleit offered to do everything but their blood was not accepted. I write all of this to show what Bialystokers are. Although strangers, we were close.
Fortunately my husband turned up alive soon afterwards. As the Nazi were shooting the last twentyfour Jews, he jumped from the second story of the building where he was, fled and survived. I would write a book about all of this. My son lived and is now eight years old, a handsome Bialystoker lad.
I read every article and poem in the wonderful Bialystoker Stimme. It stimulates me and draws me closer to my Bialystoker friends. I ask you to send me future issues of this magazine. Reading through the articles, I remember all the beautiful places in Bialystok that no longer exist. All of it is nothing more than a dream. You are all that we have because we are all alone here. You are our brothers and sisters. Please send my regards to all Bialystoker landsleit.
A Bialystoker woman in Poland.
(Editor's note: We received similar letters at the Bialystoker Centre in New York from landsleit in Romania, Sweden and other countries).
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