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In Israel

 

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Bialystoker Centre in Israel

by Zalman Yerushalmi and Kopel Lew

The Irgun Yotzei Bialystok in Israel was organized in 1946 shortly after World War II ended. Our Centre in Israel was established to help newcomers, surviving landsleit seeking a new life in the Holy Land, find employment as well as give financial assistance.

Later on, we built a community in Israel, Kiryat Bialystok, which carried the name of our beloved hometown that was destroyed by Hitler. For this reason, the late David Sohn convened a world conference in 1949 in New York, attended by representatives of Bialystoker organizations throughout the world. The delegate from Israel was Zvi Klementynowski. At the convention, the Kiryat Bialystok Foundation was formed, headed by the late Ralph Wein. Simultaneously in Israel, a Kiryat Bialystok committee was organized, whose members included the following leaders of our Centre: Zalman Yerushalmi, Zvi Klementynowski, the late Mordechaj Krugliak and others.

In 1950, a contract was signed with a construction company to build Kiryat Bialystok on the site of Yahud, where Bialystoker pioneers had tilled the soil one hundred years earlier. The first hundred homes were erected in 1951 and were soon occupied by newly arriving Bialystoker immigrants. We developed this village so that it could become a second Bialystok – dynamic and vibrant – like its predecessor before its liquidation.

With the financial assistance of landsleit in America, Australia, Mexico and other countries, another 108 homes and institutions were built, including a kindergarten, child–care centre, community centre, high school, a beautiful synagogue and a monument to the martyrs of Bialystok that was financed by the late president of the Kiryat Bialystok Foundation, David Lubin. In 1963, a large textile factory was constructed with the help of the foundation in New York. Many of Kiryat Bialystok's streets were named after prominent Jewish personalities from our hometown. At the monument, annual memorial assemblies are held in tribute to our martyrs and heroes. Moreover, a senior–citizens centre was formed in our community building.

Today we focus on absorbing new arrivals from the Soviet Union. They attend lectures. Hebrew and English courses, dramatic presentations in our theatre and participate in excursions throughout Israel. Our library lends books in three languages. We even have a credit union named after the martyrs of Bialystok. It provides interest–free loans for the needy. Many visiting landsleit from abroad are proud of the way the village has progressed. In fact, we were the only landsmanschaft to memorialize our annihilated community in pre–war Poland by establishing a Bialystok village in Israel.

In 1969, the Irgun Yotzei Bialystok convened a world conference of landsleit which set the following goals:

  1. Strengthening identification of Bialystokers with the State of Israel.
  2. Encouraging succeeding generations of Bialystokers to carry on the spiritual values of our hometown.
  3. Remembering the Holocaust and remaining vigilant against neo–Nazism and anti–Semitism.
The credit union in Tel Aviv has supported Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. In 1964, a high school in Tel Aviv, known as Tichon Daled, pledged to honour the annihilated Jewish community of Bialystok in consideration of large donations from our landsmanschaft. The students study the struggle for survival in the Bialystok ghetto as well as the heroic uprising and the final liquidation. Within the high school, we built an auditorium and cafeteria named after David Sohn with financial support from the Bialystoker Centre in New York.

We also honoured the memory of our late leader, Mordechaj Krugliak, by naming a study hall after him equipped with visual media that will enable children from Oriental lands to progress in their studies. Zalman Yerushalmi personally contributed to and raised funds for this project at a dinner marking his eightieth birthday.

 

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Bialystoker pioneers in Israel: Welwel and Etka Suchawolsky arrived in Eretz Israel in 1903. They Were the first to be buried in the Tel Aviv Cemetery

 


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Jews in their new home

by Izaak Rybal–Rybalowski, General Secretary

(Editor's note: The following letter sent to the Bialystoker Centre in New York after World War I, describes the initial efforts of Bialystoker Jews in Israel to found a central landsmanschaft organization. The letter was written by the “Bialystoker Centre in Israel”, fore–runner of the Irgun Yotzei Bialystok)

Dear landsleit,

In recent years, many families from Bialystok arrived in Israel during the fourth Aliyah. The reason for this massive influx was that Bialystokers, always lovers of Zion, dedicated themselves to settling in Israel from the time of the late Rabbi Szmuel Mohilewer. Israel is very dear to us despite all the difficulties we encountered. The situation in Bialystok deteriorated, robbing its inhabitants of any hope and discouraging Bialystokers who immigrated to Israel from returning to our hometown. Love for Israel is deeply rooted in our hearts and our only hope is to remain here; those who returned to Bialystok regretted their hasty move. We must find ways to support those who settle in Israel permanently and to bring increased bounty to this land.

Our first order of business is to establish a loan fund for our landsleit, who, with modest loans, could start small businesses that require only minor amounts of capital. By lending each applicant several hundred dollars, we could save many from bankruptcy. We cannot stress enough that this loan fund must be started immediately. We must spare our brethren financial ruin.

Second, we must raise funds to teach our kinsmen a trade. Many landsleit are silk manufacturers or factory workers. The majority of the youth are school children and those who possess a trade are unsuitable for work in Israel; their skills are in no great demand. That is why we must help them learn jobs that the land requires. It will take them approximately four months to develop new abilities during which we must pay for their vocational training and maintain them. Afterward, they will support themselves. These funds will be lent to them and they will have to repay the loans according to a fixed schedule.

In order to ease severe unemployment, we must expand the wool–processing industry, a Bialystok specialty. We will introduce weaving machines that can employ hundreds of our families. Upholstery is a second industry in demand here that interests people from Bialystok. Unfortunately, we cannot purchase the necessary equipment with our own resources. We depend on assistance from abroad. We could import these machines from Bialystok at relatively little expense. There is a building available here that would make a good wool factory. This building and all the equipment would be controlled and operated by Bialystokers in Israel, with the consent of our benefactors.

In order to make this project possible, we have established a centre for Bialystoker Jews in Israel to unite our landsleit living here according to the following principles:

  1. Assist our brethren to settle in the land and to earn a living;
  2. Take steps to obtain government approval for a Bialystoker bank that will finance our efforts in business, labour and agriculture;
  3. Form a credit union that will make interest–free loans to assist small businessmen and farmers;
  4. Finance home construction;
  5. Support those who wish to learn a trade;
  6. Remain in contact with Bialystokers in other countries.
We await assistance from our landsleit to whom this letter is addressed.

Sincerely,
Bialystoker Centre in Israel.

One of the most beloved Bialystoker pioneers in Israel is Zalman Yerushalmi. He was born in March 1899 to Rochel and Gedalja Jerusalimski. His father was one of the first rope manufacturers in Bialystok. He began his business in 1870.

Zalman studied in Bialystok and abroad but as a young lad, he became involved in his father's business. Thanks to his personal acumen, he succeeded in expanding the concern. In September 1924, Zalman married Rochel Judkowski–Repelski. From his early youth, Zalman was active in the Zionist movement and in 1925, he and his family settled in Israel.

At that time, people arrived in Israel with ambitious plans but found life more difficult than expected. Despite such obstacles, Zalman Yerushalmi demonstrated boundless determination as an industrialist, developer and entrepreneur. He resolved to continue his father's achievements.

Zalman improved manufacturing methods by introducing innovations developed in other lands. He faced all difficulties courageously, working together with his brother Chaim, also an ambitious businessman. The Yerushalmi brothers became popular in Israel, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.

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Zalman Yerushalmi brought other members of his family from Bialystok to Israel. He was quite successful in this effort. During the 1930's, the Yerushalmi brothers' enterprises expanded. Zalman acquired machines for his factories from other countries and enabled many families to make a living.

Soon, Yerushalmi plants opened throughout Israel manufacturing rope, wool and other textiles. Zalman also became active in Israeli banking and the Zionist movement. His ideas and plans increasingly received respect from those who worked with him.

From the day he arrived in Israel, Zalman Yerushalmi remained in close contact with matters relating to Bialystok. He was one of the first to unite the Bialystoker landsleit in Israel, as well as to promote Bialystoker interests throughout the world. He helped found many Bialystoker institutions and he urged landsleit in Israel to assist Jews remaining in Bialystok through hard times.

The Holocaust years were very hard on Yerushalmi. He was anguished by the news filtering out of the Bialystok ghetto but there was little he could do.

Right after the war and as soon as it became possible to help the survivors, the Irgun Yotzei Bialystok in Israel alleviated the suffering of our landsleit who had miraculously survived. Mr. Yerushalmi was one who initiated the idea of a Kiryat Bialystok, a village in Israel that would perpetuate the name of our beloved hometown.

Zalman Yerushalmi and Zvi Klementynowski, as well as others in Israel, insisted all along that a Bialystok memorial volume be published as soon as possible. We are proud of Zalman, the successful businessman, a conscientious BIalystoker leader and communal activist. His long and productive life has brought prestige to Bialystokers everywhere. We hope he will enjoy many more healthy and fruitful years continuing the wonderful work he has been doing for a lifetime.

 


A new settlement in Israel

by Avraham Wertheim

I wish to describe the wonderful story of the Bialystoker community in Israel.

In early 1925, a group of Bialystokers formed a village in Israel, twenty kilometres from Haifa, called Ramat Yishai. Its founders, most of whom were textile tradesmen, wanted to establish a settlement in Israel whose existence would depend not only on agriculture but also on textile manufacturing. To this end, they purchased 7500 dunams of land from the American Jewish Land Society and subsequently built a textile factory containing thirty–three weaving machines with diesel motors. It cost $150,000 to purchase the land and construct the factory.

Seventy families arrived from Bialystok and vicinity. They settled in Ramat Yishai in temporary shacks. Despite hardships and a water shortage in the area, the newcomers were determined to develop the budding settlement and to make a new life for themselves in Israel.

In 1927, the economic situation in Israel worsened and at the same time, Poland's economy improved. As a result, some of the settlers left Israel and returned to Poland. Those who remained in Israel struggled to maintain the settlement and improve their existence. Only about twelve to fifteen families stayed behind in Ramat Yishai.

Between 1936–38, the period of Arab uprisings, the small colony heroically defended itself, repelling Arab attacks on several occasions. But on August 30, 1938, the textile factory was set aflame by marauding Arabs, killing one Jewish settler who defended the village.

Thanks to assistance rendered by Jewish institutions in Israel, the factory was rebuilt. Twenty–five workers tilled two and a half dunams of land. With great effort, the Jewish community maintained itself.

At the beginning of World War II, the situation in the factory improved. But Ramat Yishai lacked water, a bet midrash, a school and a clinic for the sick. Then a remarkable thing occurred. A former teacher, Yishai Adler, donated his entire life savings of ten thousand pounds (forty thousand dollars) to develop this Jewish village. These funds were lent to people interested in building and living in houses. Part of the money was used to extend pipes across a distance of three kilometres, solving the severe water shortage. Thanks to Adler's donation, ten homes were built and another five homes were added by an institution known as Bitzur. There is also the factory and an office building. Twenty–five families live in Ramat Yishai and additional families may settle there.

Many Bialystoker Jews who left Israel for Poland in 1927 perished in the Holocaust. These people maintained contacts with the community in Ramat Yishai from the time they arrived in Bialystok until they were killed. All along, they hoped eventually to return to Ramat Yishai and reclaim their property.

We are concerned about how best to expand and fortify our village. There is enough water and land to settle more families. Many homeless Bialystoker refugees are interned in European displaced–persons camps as well as on Cyprus. It would be a fitting tribute to our

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Bialystoker martyrs who owned land in Ramat Yishai but did not survive to reclaim it, those other Bialystoker landsleit who did outlive the destruction settle on their property.

What needs to be done to help the new immigrants make their homes here? First of all, we must open a school for children living in the village. Eventually, it should offer vocation training so the youngsters could learn to work with textiles. Demand for textile manufacture has sharply grown in Israel and prospects for young textile workers to do well are excellent.

It is also essential that we complete a bet midrash and a cultural centre, construction of which has already begun. Because of dearth of funds, it is not possible to finish these projects. We have already commenced work on a clinic thanks to a $3000 donation from one of our patrons. We need several thousand dollars more to finish the clinic.

We must enlarge the village which, some day, will be called Bialystok, so new immigrants will be able to find work. We will need tailors, shoemakers, locksmiths and carpenters.

Let us pay tribute to our beloved Bialystoker martyrs by granting new life and hope to those who endured unspeakable suffering and, thanks to a combination of luck and the determination to survive, overcame all adversity.

Bialystoker Stimme
January–February, 1948.

 

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A group of Bialystoker young men and women In Israel in 1934

 


Pioneers in Israel

by Avraham Lis

Bialystoker Jews possessed enormous drive in promoting Zionism. First of all, they were culturally the most “Jewish” of Jews, avoiding assimilation at all costs and unmoved by alien social and religious forms. Surely a less secure group would have succumbed to the seductive influences of succeeding Russian, Prussian and Polish administrations to shed its identity?

On the other hand, Bialystokers did absorb Jewish traits and religious inclinations from different countries: the Chasid's episodic sadness and elation; the Lithuanian Jew's sober approach to life as well as the Russian–Jewish penchant for warmth and zest. Chasidic silk merchants brought to Bialystok their enthusiasm and personal piety. Jewish manufacturers from the Russian interior introduced their enterprising spirit, communal activism and philanthropy.

Ambitious industrialists carried their wares to remote markets such as Central Asia and Manchuria, China and India, exporting Bialystok's economic and cultural influence far beyond its borders. In fact, a silk trader, Eliezer Fejgin of Bialystok, in the year 1920, edited and published in China a Yiddish weekly – Der Weiter Mizrach (The Far East).

With this background, it is easy to understand how Bialystoker Jews were among the first pioneer settlers in Israel a hundred years ago. They helped found and develop the then agricultural settlement, today's modern city, Petach Tikvah, Members of the Chovevei Zion party, these affluent families also established Kfar Uriah, Hadera, Atula and Ikaron. Throughout their century of deep involvement, our landsleit consistently invested their energies in strengthening our homeland. They contributed to all areas of Israeli life, compiling a record of which Bialystokers everywhere can be proud.

Our people constructed the first textile factory in Ramat Yishai in the 1920's. The Jerusalimski–YIerushalmi family settled in Israel at about the same time, creating a large manufacturing network throughout the land. Significantly, in addition to transplanting traditional Bialystoker industries onto Israeli soil, our settlers converted arid terrain in the Jezreel and Beit Shan valleys into fertile areas.

In Hebrew literature, art and theatre, Bialystokers left their mark: Chajele Grober, the actress; Nochum Cemach, founder and director of the Habimah National Theatre Company; Professor Israel Halperin, historian and author; Yosef Serlin, the late Minister of Health; Professor Lipa Sukenik, noted archaelogist and present of the historical society that published A.S. Herszberg's two volume ‘Pinkas Bialystok’; Dr. Shlomo Kaplan–Kaplanski, a founder and director of the Technion in Haifa and numerous others who enriched the religion, politics and economy of Israel.

As a resident of the Jewish State for many years and as a Bialystoker, I am convinced that our beloved homeland would not be so great if not for our landsleit's efforts. With all the suffering we endured during the Holocaust, that should be most comforting.

 


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Kiryat Bialystok – A new beginning

(Editor's note: Following World War II, surviving men, women and children from Bialystok arrived in Israel amid great difficulty. They, together with landsleit who had settled in Palestine years earlier, established a Bialystoker community in the Holy Land which demonstrated their determination to perpetuate the legacy of their beloved hometown. Kiryat Bialystok (village of Bialystok) won the immediate support of the Bialystoker Centre in New York, landsleit in other American and Canadian cities and throughout the world. Thanks to this enthusiastic backing, Kiryat Bialystok became a reality. Following are excerpts from the first letter written by Bialystokers in Israel in 1948, shortly after the establishment of the State, to their counterparts in America about building Kiryat Bialystok).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After two thousand years of exile and the worst catastrophe ever to befall mankind, which cost the lives of six million victims, we reclaim our homeland and our right to self–determination.

In these joyful days we turn to you in the name of our surviving brothers and sisters and those still interned on Cyprus and in the German, Austrian and Italian displaced–persons camps – please help us!

We wish to erect in our Jewish homeland a living memorial to our birthplace, Bialystok. Let its successor in Israel resurrect everything that was dear to us. Let Kiryat Bialystok also become the home of those who miraculously survived – heroic Bialystoker partisans; former soldiers in the Red and Polish armies who fought against the bloody Nazi for the glory of the Jewish people. Those who endured the German concentration camps – a true hell on earth – and Bialystokers all over the world who wish to make Kiryat Bialystok their new home will join them. In this village, we unite with other Jews seeking freedom and independence. We who lost beloved relatives and friends cherish the massive relief efforts the Bialystoker Centre in New York has launched, enabling refugees to immigrate to Australia, Israel and other havens. We are confident you will help found a new Bialystok in the Jewish homeland.

Over fifty young Bialystokers, the vanguard of the new Jewish community in Kiryat Bialystok, have already arrived in Israel. We instituted appropriate contacts with national Jewish organizations in this country to acquire land. Your satisfaction in assisting your brethren, as well as our undying appreciation for your help, will serve as your reward.

Committee for Construction Kiryat Bialystok in Israel:
Zvi Klementynowski, Esq.
Dr. Szymon Datner.
Mordechaj Krugliak.
Pejsach Bursztejn.

 

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Signing a contract with Rasko Company to build the first homes in Israel

 

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The World Convention in New York

On August 21–22, 1949, the sixth anniversary of the Bialystok ghetto's liquidation, 277 delegates from landsmanschaften in the United States, Canada and twelve other countries attended a convention called by the Bialystoker Centre in New York. The conclave concluded with the decision to establish Kiryat Bialystok in Israel.

Zvi Klementynowski, a leading activist in the Bialystoker community in Israel and a delegate to the convention in New York stated: “A new Bialystok in the Jewish State will provide not only a roof over the heads of many Bialystoker immigrants but will serve as a resting place for the souls of our martyrs which wander all over the world seeking their final peace and are present among us in this auditorium”. In response to Mr. Klementynowski's moving address and to a fervent appeal from David Sohn, founder of the convention, $100,000 was raised at a banquet for the construction of Kiryat Bialystok in Israel.

The resolution authorizing the plan was read at the conclusion of the conference, parts of which are reproduced below:

 

A new Bialystok in the State of Israel

We, the surviving Bialystoker Jews, will never forget the beautiful, noble and proud lives that our martyred brethren lost during the Holocaust. Their supreme sacrifice for the glory of God and the Jewish people will forever remain sacred to us. Our children and grandchildren will be told the story of their valiant lives and heroic deaths.

The convention resolves to establish Kiryat Bialystok in the Jewish State in tribute to Bialystoker Jewry. This new Bialystok will serve as an eternal, living monument to our destroyed hometown and to the 60,000 Jews who perished in the liquidated ghetto – people who never abandoned hope during their long struggle for survival that the Jewish people would one day be liberated from tyranny.

Kiryat Bialystok will contain two sections. In one area, several hundred homes will be constructed, surrounded by important communal, cultural and religious institutions. The second section will feature textile and other important factories.

The streets, communal organizations and industries will be named after Bialystoker Jewish personalities and generous benefactors. Various organizations representing Bialystok and vicinity can enshrine their names by making large donations.

 

Proclaiming a Million–Dollar Fund–raising Campaign

Finally, realizing that this massive project will require large sums of money, the Bialystoker convention hereby proclaims a campaign to raise $1 million as seed money. This drive shall begin at the present convention and end on August 21, 1951.

 

An appeal to organizations representing towns near Bialystok

Recognizing that the Jewish citizens of communities near Bialystok shared the glory as well as the gruesome fate of the Bialystoker Jews, the convention calls upon organizations representing these towns to join us in transplanting Jewish Bialystok to Israeli soil.

 

A salute to the Jews remaining in Bialystok

The world convention of Bialystoker landsmanschaften greets the Jews in Bialystok who have stayed behind to rebuild their lives there.

As long as Jews continue to live in Bialystok, their landsleit all over the world will not abandon them but will extend fraternal assistance.

* * * *

The resolution excerpted above, adopted at a session of the Bialystoker convention held at the McAlpin Hotel in New York, generated a warm response from landsleit everywhere. Donations began pouring in from many lands for the Kiryat Bialystok project.

On Monday, June 26, 1950, at a special luncheon, the contracts for building the first one hundred homes in Kiryat Bialystok were signed which thrilled the participants. Subsequently, a “brick campaign” was launched. The price of a brick was one dollar, each booklet contained ten coupons, or ‘bricks’. In particular, the Bialystoker Ladies Auxiliary and affiliates were quite active in the brick campaign. This was a clever method of involving Bialystoker Jews from all economic strata in helping build Kiryat Bialystok, rather than depending on a few wealthy donors. A Kiryat Bialystok Foundation was formed, representing twenty–one Bialystoker organizations.

 

David Lubin and David Hein

Among those who were most responsible for establishing Kiryat Bialystok were David Lubin and David Hein. Lubin was the President and Hein the Treasurer of the Kiryat Bialystok Foundation which is based in the United States. Both spared no effort or generosity in seeing the project through to completion. After Lubin's death several years ago, Hein succeeded him as President. He remains as committed to Kiryat Bialystok's welfare as he was more than thirty years ago. Mr. Hein lives in Miami Beach.

 


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In Australia

 

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The Bialystoker Centre in Australia

by Pejsach Albert

Bialystoker Jews first arrived in Australia in 1926. They had to work hard in order to make a living and many were poor. The newly arrived immigrants established a relief fund in Melbourne as well as a credit union to assist those in need from Bialystok and vicinity.

The liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto and the wholesale destruction of East European Jewry by the Nazi gave landsleit in Australia an opportunity to demonstrate their dedication and selflessness. Surviving Bialystokers miraculously having avoided perishing at the hands of the Nazi, needed to resettle in countries that would welcome them. Efforts were begun immediately to bring many to Australia. Those who involved themselves in this resettlement effort and other relief work well understood the tremendous expenditures of energy and resources that would be required.

Soon after the war in 1946, Bialystokers in Australia set up a special fund with which they purchased a large building in the St. Kilda section of Melbourne. This headquarters for the Bialystoker Centre in Australia served as a settlement house for Holocaust survivors.

Thanks to the efforts of many landsleit who had previously moved to Australia, the Bialystoker Centre obtained six hundred visas for Bialystoker immigrants. Most of the newcomers first stayed at the Centre's headquarters where they received food, clothing and small allowances. This temporary assistance continued for a short period until the Centre helped these people find apartments and employment. Interest–free loans were granted to put them on their feet. The president of the Bialystoker Centre in Australia, Mr. M. Pit, established a special loan fund in memory of his late wife, Esther, to help the immigrants start new businesses.

The post–war Bialystoker arrivals eventually acclimatized themselves to their new life in Australia and became an important part of the general Jewish community in that country. The Centre in Melbourne did not limit its activities to assisting immigrants. It also tried in every possible way to ease the plight of landsleit remaining in the displaced–persons camps in Europe, those who were still interned on Cyprus and who had arrived in Israel. Bialystokers in Australia provided food, clothing and cash for the needy. Furthermore, the Melbourne landsmanschaft sponsored a multifaceted Jewish cultural programme. Finally, it contributed heavily to advance general Jewish interests in the State of Israel.

Our worthy landsman, Awrom Zbar, conducted a successful public relations campaign, sponsored by the Bialystoker Centre in Melbourne for the benefit of our landsleit and the Australian Jewish community as a whole. The Davis brothers donated six hundred books to start a fine library under the Centre's auspices and in memory of the martyred Pejsach Kaplan. Our headquarters also contained a kindergarten that served its temporary residents' children. Approximately thirty youngsters received their first exposure to Yiddish and Hebrew in this kindergarten. Frequent recitals, cultural programmes, Bible courses as well as High Holiday and festival services were offered.

As Bialystoker immigration to Australia waned, the large Centre building was no longer used to full capacity resulting in huge deficits. We reluctantly decided to sell it and donate the large Pejsach Kaplan Library, containing five thousand books, to the Kadimah Culture Centre in Melbourne, after its own library had been destroyed by fire. We contributed part of the proceeds of the Centre building sale to the Red Magen David, donating an ambulance to Israel. Another sum of money went to the Irgun Yotzei Bialystok in Israel. We have generously supported Kiryat Bialystok in Israel as well as other important Jewish institutions in Melbourne.

Bialystoker landsleit in Australia continue many important activities for the benefit of our own people and for the larger Jewish community. We still send aid to disadvantaged Bialystokers in Israel and other countries for the Jewish holidays. Every August, we conduct a memorial assembly on the anniversary of the Bialystok ghetto's destruction. We also contribute large sums to the United Israel Appeal. Our contacts with other Bialystoker organizations remain regular and frequent. All that we do, as detailed above, is to perpetuate the legacy of our beloved hometown which still inspires us spiritually.

 

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A Memorial Service of Bialystoker landsleit in Melbourne, Australia


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In Argentina

 

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The fiftieth anniversary
of the Bialystoker Society in Argentina

by Wolf Czynski

Establishing a Bialystoker organization in Argentina was attempted in 1922 and again in 1926 but to no avail. Only in 1930 were such efforts successful and in 1980, we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of our organization.

Our activities need not be described in detail but developed gradually from a shared perception that we Bialystokers in Argentina must help one another on all fronts amid the prevailing crisis in this country. To this end we offered interest–free loans as well as medical and legal assistance.

The Bialystoker community has become an important factor in the Argentine Jewish population. Our society remained in contact with Bialystok, contributed relief assistance to it and was in regular touch with other Bialystoker organizations in New York, Melbourne, Uruguay, Paraguay and other countries.

Volunteers who served as the welcoming committee for newly arriving landsleit in Argentina deserve much credit. Our landsmanschaft provided concrete financial and other assistance to them.

Before the war, we established a library within our society. World War II plunged our membership into profound despondency, bringing our activities to a virtual standstill. Only when the grim consequences of the Holocaust became known did our compatriots reorganize to help surviving landsleit make new lives for themselves. They promptly acted to ease the situation of concentration camp survivors and prevail upon other Bialystoker societies throughout the world to relocate these victims. Our Bialystoker community outshone other Jewish groups in its relief activities as well as the speed with which it implemented them.

In 1947, the first issue of our magazine, Bialystoker Wegen, was published and continued without interruption to the present day. This magazine became popular not only among our own people but among Bialystokers everywhere.

In 1950, we celebrated our twentieth anniversary. Reports were delivered on the development of local textile industries under Bialystoker auspices. We strengthened our cultural programme and increased national and traditional celebrations. We devotedly conducted annual Yizkor assemblies in tribute to our martyred brethren.

Bialystokers in Argentina published books, wrote poems, composed music and published essays. Among them were: Chajele Grober, Awrom Szewach, Henach Kon, Zusman Segalowicz, Jehoszua Rapoport, Dr. Chaim Slowes and others. We were at the forefront of support for the establishment of the State of Israel and provided assistance to the fallen soldiers of its various wars.

In 1957, our landsmanschaft formed a credit union. At the same time, we sponsored a memorial gathering saluting Ossip Dymow's life and literary achievements.

Subsequently, building a “Bet Bialystok” became popular for which we formed a special committee. On December 10, 1964, we purchased a building at 622 Jean Jaures, our Bialystoker headquarters in Buenos Aires. We renovated the building to suit our needs. Bialystoker became increasingly active in carrying out these efforts, attempting to motivate the interest of second–generation Bialystokers. Unfortunately, this proved unsuccessful.

Our Bialystoker family continues to be closely knit. We share joyous and sorrowful milestones. Celebrations are accommodated at our Bet Bialystok building. The Chazanowicz library received a large number of Yiddish, Hebrew and Spanish books from landsleit. Our friend, Izchok Czesler, edits an annual bulletin containing the programme for our third seder. A social club, “Achvah” enables Bialystokers and their guests to enjoy Sunday afternoons in our headquarters.

We have hosted Bialystoker visitors from other countries who have relatives in Argentina or who are interested in observing what we accomplished here. Our guests invariably go away feeling they were warmly received and treated with proper Bialystoker affection.

We offer lectures by our own people. In addition, our Women's Organization plays an important role in our activities and deserves full recognition.

Finally, we are indebted to many generous Bialystoker supporters who never failed to share their bounty with our organization.

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The Bialystoker Community in Villa Lynch

When one refers to the Bialystoker Jewish community in Buenos Aires, he means several hundred Jewish weavers in Villa Lynch who, up until twenty years ago, were factory workers. Today, many of them are successful textile manufacturers who have made real achievements in the weaving industry. Villa Lynch, a suburb of Buenos Aires, has become synonymous with Bialystoker ambition and initiative.

These entrepreneurs won the respect and admiration of all Argentinian Jews for their philanthropy as well as their enthusiastic involvement in Jewish communal affairs. Their charitable contributions increased in many cases tenfold from several years ago. Despite their newly acquired wealth, they have remained loyal to the Jewish community in Argentina. They maintain an interest in Yiddish language, theatre, Jewish schools and raise their children in a Jewish environment.

Bialystoker Jewish immigration to Argentina began in the 1890's. In fact, the colony of Los Palmeros near Palacios and Mosesville, was named Bialystok. Succeeding generations of Bialystoker immigrants did not build up this suburb but sought work opportunities elsewhere in weaving. They were determined to transplant their textile industry from Bialystok to Argentina, inspiring older Bialystoker immigrants to do the same. The community in Villa Lynch, owing to its fantastic success and prosperity in textile manufacturing, has been called the “Jewish Manchester”.

The life–style of these Bialystokers is truly amazing. All day long they are feverishly preoccupied with their industrial interests. At night, they devote themselves to the affairs of the Jewish community: schools, libraries and relief campaigns. Their dynamism boggles the mind. Our landsleit in Villa Lynch are contributing to all facets of Jewish life including the welfare of remaining Jews in Bialystok. We can be very proud of their activities.

 

bia196.jpg
A group of Bialystoker landsleit at a Welcome Celebration in honour
of Dr. Chaim Shoskes (sitting fourth from right) in Buenos Aires in 1945
Seen in this photo are well–known industrialists and communal leaders: Zorach Ponieman, Hersh Woltshansky, the brothers Kulish, Abraham Epstein, the brothers Deitsch, the brothers Cantor, the brothers Musikansky, Fishel Wolkowisky, Velvel Rojsman, Yitzchok Munacker, Abraham Shewach, H. Bez and others

 


[Page 197]

In France

 

[Page 199]

The Bialystoker community in France

by David Podliachouk

To understand the origins of the Bialystoker Jewish community in France, we must recall that in the 1930's, between the two World Wars, our dedicated landsman, Dr. Awrom Bonczewski, attempted to found a society of Bialystoker Jews in Paris. Unfortunately, his efforts failed. During the Nazi Holocaust, Dr. Bonczewski and his son Victor were deported to Auschwitz. Several months later, Boncszewski's brother, Herszl Georges, was also sent there: all three perished in that death camp.

Under the Vichy regime, Bialystoker Jews were proudly represented in the resistance movement by their spokesmen, Dr. Aron Youchnovetzky and his wife, Rywka. This couple risked their lives each day to save, first of all, Jewish children, and then any other Jews in jeopardy of falling into Nazi hands. Because they were in the forefront of the resistance, the Youchnovetzkys often had to move from place to place, not daring to return home because they were in danger of arrest and extermination.

Following the war, Dr. Youchnovetzky served as chairman of a committee consisting of Bialystoker landsleit. The committee included the following: Dr. Youchnoveszky, chairman; Wolf Babiez, treasurer; David Podliachouk, secretary; Benn H. Barenbojm; members Mrs. Youchnovetzky and Miss M. Hofenbach all rendered valuable assistance. At the beginning, this committee was very popular among Bialystokers living in Paris since Youchnovetzky was an encyclopaedic source of information about the fate, suffering and liquidation of Jews in the Bialystok ghetto. When the full magnitude of the tragedy became clear, the committee continued to receive the full support of local Bialystokers for its activities in helping other surviving landsleit on their way to the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries, most of whom passed through Paris. These transients provided answers about what had happened to particular Bialystokers – whether they perished in the ghetto or in the concentration camps, whether they survived or were exiled to Siberia.

At a meeting of the Bialystoker Society in France which was held on October 8, 1945, the following goals were adopted:

  1. To stay in direct contact with Bialystok and to acquire more information about surviving Bialystokers, including details about the lives of Jews in the Bialystok ghetto and their resistance, which could be recorded in a future Bialystok memorial volume;
  2. Remain in close touch with the Bialystoker Centre in New York and serve as liaison between that institution and the Jews in Europe;
  3. Assist needful Bialystoker Jews in France, especially those returning from deportations, with funds that we and the Bialystoker Centre in New York would raise.
After the survivors left Paris, the Bialystoker Jews there lost interest in the committee, which was reflected in the decreasing turnout at annual memorial meetings. Nevertheless, a small group of Bialystokers continued perpetuating the memories of the Holocaust victims of Bialystok, particularly on each anniversary of the ghetto's destruction.

The Bialystoker committee in Paris also conducted a cultural programme for local landsleit, including Chanukah, Purim and other holiday performances. Thanks to the late Sara Babicz, a talented pianist and to Zalman Kolesznykow, the well–known actor, these shows were popular among Bialystokers and other Jews. Credit must be given to the late Wolf Babicz who, together with his wife Sara, invited many Jewish entertainers, musicians and singers from all over the world to their home, and of course, Bialystokers or anyone who had a connection with Bialystok.

The committee in Paris continued its activities until 1977. Because its active membership diminished, so did its functions. Nevertheless, the small group of landsleit still remaining in Paris continue to be in touch, despite changing circumstances.

For many years, the committee maintained cooperative relations with the Bialystoker organization in Israel. We played an important role in establishing Kiryat Bialystok. We raised funds to the best of our ability to carry on our cultural programme. Furthermore, we invited Dr. Samuel Pisar, the youngest Bialystoker survivor from Auschwitz and a renowned international lawyer living in Paris, as our guest speaker at annual memorial meetings, through the good offices of the late Wolf Babicz.

With the death of Aron Youchnovetzky in March, 1977, the committee came to a virtual standstill. At the same time, the late Wolf Babicz was already quite ill and a number of other active Bialystokers ceased their work because of old age and illness. We may be proud of the thirty–two years – 1945 to 1977 – during which our committee made a major contribution to advance the Bialystoker Jewish community throughout the world. We did everything possible to commemorate our sacred heritage and to carry on the humanitarian legacy of our beloved birthplace.

May all those who participated in these noble efforts and who died, find eternal repose.

 


[Page 200]

A reminder and a warning

by Dr. Samuel Pisar

(Editor's note: On June 18, 1975, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing visited Auschwitz, accompanied by Dr. Pisar who delivered a brief but moving address about his sentiments upon returning to the grim concentration camp. The following is the text of Dr. Pisar's remarks).

To return at your side, Mr. President, to this altar of the Holocaust where, as a boy of 14, I died so many deaths, lived so many tortures and humiliations, where all I ever loved was reduced to cinders, is an experience that staggers the soul.

But it is also a journey from tragedy to triumph. By your presence here today, the date on which from London, 35 years ago, Charles de Gaulle's call to resistance redeemed the honour of France, you add a new dimension to the historic meaning of the 18th of June.

From here, Mr. President, you speak to generations, to races, to nations, to ideologies, to liberal and conservative, to rich and poor and to East and West.

For on the spot on which you stand is the deepest wound ever inflicted upon human civilization, the inferno where Eichmann's realism eclipsed Dante's vision of hell.

On this I bear you the personal testimony of a rare survivor, perhaps the youngest survivor of all.

Among the unspeakable reminiscences that food my mind in these once–familiar surroundings, one heart–breaking image stands out and it is the only one about which I would like to say a word.

Near those machine gun towers, in their striped blue and white rages, sat every day the most remarkable symphony orchestra ever assembled. It was made up of the greatest virtuosos from Warsaw and Paris, from Kiev and Oslo, from Budapest and Rome. The precious violins they brought along on their last journey were signed Stradivarius, Guarneri and Amati.

To accompany the daily hangings and shootings – while the gas chambers over there belched fire and smoke – they were ordered to play Mozart, the Mozart you and I adore.

Enough of the past!

These horrors which I have never mentioned to you in the years of our friendship, devoted to seeking together new avenues of international coexistence, new weapons of peace must not numb our senses nor shake our faith in God and man.

If they seem relevant today it is because we dare not forget that the past can also be prologue, that amidst the ashes of Auschwitz, we behold the true spectre of doomsday – a warning of what might still lie ahead.

It is to this barbed–wire fence, therefore, that man must come in emulation of your example, to bow his head and meditate on justice, on tolerance, on respect for human rights and, most of all, on new moral perspectives that can reclaim the world's alienated youth.

Mr. President, in this cursed and sacred place, you are facing your greatest audience. Here you stand in the presence of four million innocent souls.

In their name, and with the authority of the number engraved on my arm, I say to you that if they could answer your noble words, they would cry out: “Never again!”

Never again between Frenchman and German, between Turk and Greek, between Indian and Pakistani. Never again between Arab and Jew.

In their name, I thank you for your pilgrimage to this shrine of martyrdom and agony. Your gesture inspires universal hope that the statesmen of the world will pay new heed to the clouds of violence that are gathering around us. That they will spare no effort to lead us to a safer and better future.

 

bia200.jpg
Samuel Pisar (right) at the age of 17, shortly after he arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1947, to stay with his uncles Nachman and Lazar Suchowolski. Standing next to him is his childhood friend from Bialystok, Benjamin Kaufman who shared the horrors of the concentration camps with him.
After the war, they both immigrated to Australia with the assistance of Nachman and Lazar Suchowolski. The above picture shows them at the time they had just arrived in Melbourne. Mr. Kaufman went on to become a very successful Australian businessman.
Benjamin Kaufman passed away in July, 1976 at the age of 48. Dr. Pisar made a special trip to Melbourne to deliver the eulogy.

 


[Page 201]

The French committee after the war

by Fiszl Fajnfeld

The post–war Bialystoker committee in Paris began its work under difficult circumstances. Receiving no aid from abroad, it used its own resources to give each Bialystoker Jew passing through Paris money and other assistance to obtain temporary visas and to immigrate further.

A group of landsleit who arrived in Paris directly from Bialystok was warmly received by the committee which offered all necessary aid.

Many thanks to Izaak Rybal–Rybalowski, who found temporary quarters for transient Bialystokers. Furthermore, the committee resettled the fifty Bialystoker children who arrived in Paris from the Soviet Union, led by their teacher, Jakow Tobias. We set up a colony for them in the Rothschild's' summer home, forty kilometres outside Paris. Several members of the executive and other Bialystokers visited them quite often.

Wolf Babicz and David Podliaschouk were instrumental in providing care for these orphans. The well–known Bialystoker artist, Benn, donated one of his paintings which the committee sold for a large sum to advance our humanitarian activities.

Chairman Youchnovetzky, at a committee meeting held on March 31, 1947, announced that a traditional Passover seder would be conducted for all surviving Bialystokers as well as for landsleit living in Paris. On Friday, April 4, the seder was held. All the guests wished each other a happy holiday.

Approximately one hundred sat at beautifully decorated tables. Szymon Amiel led the seder and Mr. Babicz's son asked the “four questions”.

Dr. Youchnovetzky welcomes the guests with warm holiday greetings. Fiszl Fajnfeld suggested that everyone rise in tribute to the martyrs of Bialystok. He expressed warm wishes for the Bialystoker Centre in New York as well as for Bialystokers all over the world. Special greetings were sent to the landsleit in Australia who had obtained visas for hundreds of Bialystokers saving them from the Nazi clutches.

The seder ended with all the guests expressing their appreciation to the committee for sponsoring this moving traditional Passover seder which gave landsleit in Paris the opportunity to celebrate the holiday together.

The Bialystoker Committee in Paris, assisted by Izaak Rybal–Rybalwoski, a printer, decided to issue an album containing Bialystok ghetto songs with musical notes.

 

bia201.jpg
A group of Bialystoker delegates to the Culture Congress in New York in 1948

Seated right to left: B. Zalewitz (Tel–Aviv); J. Pat; David Sohn; Z. Segalowitz; Jacob Waks (Melbourne); Meyer Brown (President of the Jewish National Workers' Alliance); Louis Cohn
Standing: Harry Kaplan and Bernard Morgenstern

 

[Page 202]

Bibliography

Yiddish Source:

Allgemeine Encyclopaedia (General Encyclopaedia). Volume 1. New York, 1963.
Beker, Isroel. Die Biene Von Mein Leben (Stage of Life). Jerusalem, 1979.
Bialystoker Bilder Album (Bialystok Picture Album). New York, 1951.
Bialystoker Freunde (Bialystoker Friends), New York, March 1950.
Bialystoker Fundament (Bialystoker Foundation) New York, 1935.
Bialystoker Geselach (Streets of Bialystok) Buenos Aires, 1951.
Bialystoker Jowel Sammelbuch Gewindmet Dem 70 Jahrigen Geburstag Von Dowid Sohn (Bialystoker Jubilee Anthology Marking the 70th Birthday of David Sohn) New York, April 1961.
Bialystoker Leben (Bialystoker Life) New York, September 1936.
- New York, September 1939.
- New York, June 1940.
- New York, March 1943
Bialystoker Stimme, New York, January 1928–September 1980.
Bialystoker Wegen (Bialystok Paths) Buenos Aires, December 1947.
- Buenos Aires, September–October, 1973.
- Buenos Aires, September 1980.
Der Bialystoker Pionier (The Bialystoker Pioneer), New York, November 1931.
Die Judische Landsmannschaften von New York (The Jewish Landsmannschaften of New York). 1938.
Die Judische Presse Was Ist Gewesen (The Jewish Press that Was). Tel–Aviv, 1975.
Die Verschwundene Welt (The Vanished World) New York, 1947.
Grim. F. Mojsze Grosman. Im Vergeschuften Land Von Legendaren Dzugashvili (In the Bewitched Land of the Legendary Dzugashvili). Parils, 1946.
Grodner Wegen (Grodner Paths). Buenos Aires, 1959.
Grusman, Chajke. Unser Wort (Our Word). Bamberg. Germany. August, 1946.
Herszberg, Awrom Szmuel. Pinkas Bialystok (Bialystok Notebook). Volume II. New York, 1950.
Judischer Theater in Pollen Zwischen Beide Welt Milchomos (Jewish Theatre in Poland between the Two World Wars). New York, 1968.
Kiryat Bialystok Bulletin. Volume 1. New York. December 1949.
- Volume II. New York. July 1950.
Klementynowski, Dowid. Leben Und Umkum im Bialystoker Ghetto (Life and Death in the Bialystoker Ghetto). New York, 1946.
Kot, Stolke. Churban Bialystok (The Destruction of Bialystok) Buenos Aires, 1947.
Lieder Von Bialystoker Ghetto (Songs of the Bialystoker Ghetto) Parils, 1947.
Nationale Und Politische Bewegungen Bei Juden in Bialystok (Jewish National and Political Movements in Bialystok) Volume I. New York. 1951.
Pinkes Von Judischen Drucker in Pollen (The Diary of Jewish Printers in Poland) Warsaw, 1949.
Rajzner, Refoel. Der Umkum Von Bialystoker Judentum (The Destruction of Bialystoker Jewry). Published by the Bialystoker Centre in Australia. Melbourne, 1948.
Rubinsztejn, Josef. Megilas Russland. (The Scroll of Russia). New York, 1960.
Sefer Bialystok (Bialystok Volume). Volume I. New York, 1951.
- Volume II. New York, 1963.
- Volume III. New York. April 1964.
Sohn, David. Die Tatigkeit Von Der Bialystoker Landsmannschaft in Amerika (The activities of the Bialystoker Landsmannschaft in America). New York, 1934.
Szpizman, Leijb. Chalutzim in Pollen (Pioneers in Poland) Volume III. New York. 1962.
Tennenbaum–Beker, Nina. Mordechaj Tenebaum–Tamarof, Der Held Von Die Ghettos (Mordechaj Tenebaum–Tamarof. The Hero of the Ghettos). Volume II. Tel–Aviv, 1977.

Other Sources:

Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1971.
Krasko, Ryszard. Bialystok, A Tourist Guide. Krakow, 1972.
Polacy I. Zydzi, 1939–1945 (Poles and Jews 1939–1945) Ksiazka I. Wiedza. Warszawa. 1971.

 

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