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[Page 677]

Chelemer Landsmanschaften


The Chelemer Landsmanschaft in South Africa

by H. Y. Monti

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund


H. Y. Monti


Our landsmanschaftn [organization of people from the same city or town] consists of a small Chelemer colony because few Jews emigrated from faraway Poland to South Africa. The first emigrants from Chelm to South Africa were Dovid Alter, may he rest in peace, and Hersh Dreksler, who left Eretz-Yisroel and wandered away to Africa. This was a bold objective on their part. At first these emigrants could not acclimate themselves and quickly went back. However, a few years later they returned to South Africa and began to adapt to their new home.

It was difficult for the Jewish emigrants to adapt as citizens of South Africa, to anchor themselves and establish roots in the country because the language was strange for them. The emigrants from Poland and from Chelm had to apply themselves until they established their economic positions. It was a long evolutionary process.

The Jewish immigrants in South Africa, as in other countries, created unions for communal work that were principally bound to their old home. The nostalgia and the everyday interest and connection to their home beyond the sea stimulated the creation of an entire series of landsmanschaftn in South Africa, including the Chelemer landsmanschaft.

Because the number of emigrant Jews from Poland to South Africa was small, the “Club of Polish Jews in South Africa” was created, which still exists. It unified all Jewish emigrants from Poland. Those whose initiative founded the club were: Y. Gerszt, N. Winik, Y. Poliak, W. Flaksman, the Getc brothers, Szuster, Kejwan, Jarszin, Shlomoh Metz, Later, the Chelemer Aid Union was organized when several more Jews emigrated from Chelm. Their aid work consisted of sending help for the Chelemer needy and to institutions.

The social-economic condition of the Chelemer Jews at home was then difficult because of the growth of anti-Semitism and Owshem [Our Own, government policy of a general boycott of Jewish products and workers] politics. We in Chelm received the first aid with great gratitude and

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the Jewish press in Chelm warmly, full of appreciation, published activity reports from our South African Aid Union, such as the following:

“In August, 1936, a Chelemer Aid Union was founded.

“The purpose of this union was to help relieve the needs of the Chelemer Jews who had become impoverished in the old country.

”The founding meeting took place in the residence of Hersh Handelsman. A large number of Chelemer landsleit [people from the same city, town or village] were present at the meeting. A managing committee was immediately chosen of the following people: Motl Alter, H. Sziszler, N. Winik, Hersh Handelsman, Shmuel Berger, Chava Biale and Ruchl Alter.

“The elected managing committee appealed to the assembled group to immediately impose a tax on themselves for the union. Almost everyone present agreed to the tax. A significant sum was raised then and there.”

In a second correspondence from H. Sziszler in the Chelemer Shtime, dated July, 1937, is the report on six months of activity of the Chelemer Aid Union:
“The Chelemer Aid Union in Johannesburg works with the greatest intensity and self sacrifice. There are conferences each week and new ways to collect a few pounds are sought. It is truly admirable that in the short time the small group has existed, it has been shown to carry out undertakings that were accomplished with success.

“The entire so-called Chelemer colony that is quartered in Johannesburg consists of barely two minyonim[1] of Chelemer countrymen and, perhaps, scarcely a minyon of them work with devotion and sacrifice to gather aid.

“The work of the Chelemer Aid Union in Johannesburg is becoming admired and valued highly by older, longtime societies there, which are very backward in this regard. It is not an exaggeration to say that many communal workers were inspired and expressed recognition of the Chelemer Aid Union in South Africa.

“The Chelemer Aid Union arranged an impressive family evening this past Shabbos evening. The program consisted of 1) an activity report, 2) a literary-musical part and 3) a dance. The evening was arranged in the house of Friend [a term often used among landsmanschaftn members] Jakov Alter, at beautiful serving tables.

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It is interesting that all Chelemer countrymen along with the Yiddish press in Johannesburg were invited as well as many acquaintances and friends who came with help for the landsmanschaftn. The evening was a successful one.”

In a later correspondence by Ben-Ahron (H. Sziszler) published in the Chelemer Shtime of October 1938, we learn the following facts about the first yearly gathering of the Chelemer Aid Union:

“Sunday, the 23rd of October, the first yearly meeting of the Chelemer Aid Union took place in the home of Hersh Sziszler in Johannesburg. The meeting was called for the purpose of providing an activity report, to elect a new managing committee and to strengthen the work of collecting support for the poor in Chelm.

“Nakhum Winik was elected as chairman of the managing committee and H. Y. Monti as secretary.

“Shmuel Berger gave the activity report showing the work carried out by the Union. The treasury report for the entire time of the existence of the Aid Union was given by Hersh Sziszler, showing that the small group of Chelemer landsleit in Johannesburg had succeeded in collecting the sum of more than 200 pounds in a short time from which the needy in Chelm benefited with over 120 pounds for Passover and the rest was sent to Chelemer institutions and individuals.

“A new managing committee was elected of the following: M. Alter, Y. Alter, N. Winik, Leizer Sziszler, H. Sziszler, H. Handelsman, Y. Zigelboim, Shmuel Berger, Mrs. Biale and H.Y. Monti.

“M. Alter was again elected as chairman, Y. Zigelboim as treasurer and H. Y. Monti (Monczarsz) as secretary.

“A women's committee was elected of Rayzl Sziszler, Rikl Alter and Ruchl Alter.”

As we see, the Chelemer Aid Union, which later became the Chelemer Landsmanschaft, was only a young institution compared to the long-term societies whose members emigrated to South Africa many years before the Chelemer pioneers set foot on African soil. Thus we can assert that the superb work, which was judged with words of praise by our home city, was carried out by the small group of Chelemers until the Second World War.

The Union would arrange two activities a year until the war: a winter collection to provide wood and clothing for the needy and a collection for Passover.


The Chelemer Colony in South Africa


First row: sitting from the left: Leah Sziszler, Leizer Sziszler, Motl Alter, Hersh Handelsman, H. Y. Monti, Yakov Alter, Josef Palman, Moshe Rajkhbind, of blessed memory, and Mrs. Rajkhbind
Second row from the left: Yisroel Zigelboim, Sheva Winik, Rayzl Sziszler, Mrs. Monti, Rikl Alter, Feywl Rajkhbind, Ruchl Alter, Rywka Palman (Alter), Brukha Handelsman and Rayzl Monti
Third row, from the left: Bune Rajkhbind, Berish Biderman, of blessed memory, Gershon Monti, Akiva Winik, Nakhum Winik, Bayla and L. Waksman and Chaya Fajerman

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Erev-Pesakh [on the eve of Passover] 1939, almost the entire Chelemer colony energetically took part in the carrying out of a great aid campaign that began with a general meeting in H. Sziszler's house.

This was the last Passover action for the needy in Chelm. Thanks to the energetic activity of F. Zigelboim, Haim Luksnburg, Meir Celniker, a famous artist from London who starred in South Africa, an impressive people's concert was organized, which brought in a significant sum to help the poor Jews in Chelm. A banquet took place in M. Alter's house after the concert. The press and communal and cultural workers were invited to the banquet.

The war broke out and there was no contact with the old home and no new immigrants came to South Africa.

Jewish immigrants from Poland only passed through South Africa during the war. Also in 1945, Polish Jews came who had escaped to Russia from Hitler's sword and joined Anders Army, which arose on Russian territory in accordance with General Sikorski's[2] Polish-Soviet pact. They were with Polish soldiers (there were 4,000 all together) in 1945. They turned up on the shores of South Africa, traveling farther, to Iran (Persia). These Polish and Jewish soldiers were housed in the military barracks in Pietermaritzburg (Natal).

As soon as we learned of this, representatives from the “Polish Club” were delegated to meet with the Jewish soldiers from Poland. Representatives of the Chelemer Aid Union were also in the delegation.

The first encounter with these Jewish soldiers from Poland, who numbered about 84 men, was very moving. Although we already knew about the calamity to our people, a small hope was smoldering in our hearts that perhaps there was a larger number of survivors and perhaps we would receive some news about the survivors, their names and families.

With broken and aching hearts, the delegation was informed precisely about the atrocities and the sadistic slaughter of the Jews in Poland and in Europe.

The delegation carried out a registration of all of the Jewish soldiers and from where they came and where their relatives were located, their names and their families. This list was published in the local Yiddish press and in the foreign Yiddish newspapers. Akiva Winik, the Chelemer landsman, occupied himself with searching for the relatives of the soldiers.

The Chelemer Aid Union along with the Club of Polish Jews organized aid for the Jewish refugee children who were brought from Russia with the homeless Polish children. The children settled in Oudshorn, Cape Province. Among these

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children was a Jewish girl from Chelm who was brought to Johannesburg by the Club for Polish Jews and who later was sent to Israel, where her parents who had escaped from Chelm to Russia before the Germans arrived in Chelm were located. They emigrated from Russia to Israel. The Chelemer Aid Union helped a family from Poland that survived emigrate to Australia.

* * *

To our deep pain and grief, there was no longer any opportunity for our Aid Union to send aid to Chelm where the city had become Juden-rein [cleansed of Jews], but it was bound to the several hundred Chelemer Jews who, by a miracle, survived and were spread in various camps in Germany, Austria, Italy and for those who reached Eretz-Yisroel with assistance from Hapoel [“the worker”], we organized an aid campaign, sending them food products, money and clothing.

Under the leadership of Mrs. Ryfka Alter-Palman, a committee was created concerned with sending packages of food and clothing to the surviving landsleit in the camps and in Israel. We also provided packages to the Chelemer Jews in Russia through American firms. Later, the committee itself bought food products, which were much cheaper, and a greater number of packages were sent.

The Aid Union would receive hundreds of letter from the surviving landsleit who thanked the Union for the help provided and for the display of interest in their cruel fate. They described the horrors of the Nazi slaughters and their survival.

Then the idea developed to memorialize the Jewish community of Chelm in a yizkor bukh [memorial book] that would recall the old home with its institutions, parties, groups and organizations, the Chelemer Jewish people, the meritorious community workers and cultural workers and also the destruction of Chelm.

An initiative-commission was created that published a call to all of the landsleit in the world to send in material and descriptions for the Chelemer Yizkor Bukh.

In December 1950, a brochure was published – a schematic draft for the book. A second appeal was also published to the Chelemer Jews throughout the world:

Distinguished and Dear Chelemer Landsleit!

The Union of the Chelemer landsleit in Johannesburg, South Africa, has taken the initiative to publish a yizkor book consecrated to our annihilated Jewish city Chelm and its surroundings, where
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thousands of our own brothers, sisters, relatives, etc. were so brutally annihilated by the Nazi hangmen.

Our city, Chelm, had a rich and very interesting past. A full-blooded life pulsed there with a network of institutions and diverse organizations and movements.

Very notable and interesting cultural, communal and religious personalities lived and created in Chelm. There was a well-established Jewish national way of life with great experiences and themes. According to the assertions of historians, Jews lived in Chelm from the 13th century.

The many generations of the Jewish population's existence in Chelm and its surroundings, the savage death of about 18,000 Jews in Chelm itself and the thousands of Jews tortured to death in nearby cities and towns demand from us their redress, a matzeyvah [headstone] and a monument.

Over the past year since our correspondence, landsleit from destroyed Jewish cities and towns have erected monuments by publishing pinkasim[3] and yizkor books in memory of their unforgettable cities. The idea that the memory of their cities could be entirely forgotten over the course of time tormented them. Therefore, with great skill, love and responsibility, they erected matzeyvus [headstones] in the form of books and monuments.

This preoccupation and concern stimulated us to publish the Chelemer Yizkor Book.

As is explained in the enclosed prospective, we have created the format for the materials that will be published in the yizkor book.

However, we are determined that the story be more deeply and voluminously illuminated and, therefore, it is a clear necessity that the Chelemer landsleit must accumulate still more materials that have a connection to all the themes described in the brochure and also that they themselves write, because every detail and even the smallest item will enrich your and our memorial book.

It is unquestionably a colossal, gigantic work that demands sufficient effort and intensive activity. We must not stop for any difficulties because the yizkor book is the most important work remaining for us for the holy memory of our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends, who perished so unmercifully in our unforgettable city, Chelm. We will see to it that more historical documents and testimony from the tragedy of the Holocaust in the Nazi era, photographs and biographies of our landsleit, both dead and from the Chelemer Jews around the world and in Israel, may their lives be prolonged, will be published.

Our desire is that the Jewish cities and shtetlekh around Chelm also have a respected place in the book; the economic, cultural and communal life of all of the Jewish communities that existed for generations should also be illuminated. These shtetlekh were also closely

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bound to Chelm geographically, such as, Staw Lubelski, Krasnystaw, Apalyn, Szelszcz, Wlodawa, Hrubieszow, Dejwic, etc. Their history is restored in the Chelemer yizkor book.

However, we must stress that the yizkor book also requires financing. It will cost more than 2,000 pounds.

The number of Chelemer landsleit in South Africa is very small (that is, a few dozen families). Without your direct financial support it will be very difficult for us because the book will be published shortly.

We turn to you as the committee of Chelemer landsmanschaftn [organizations of people from the same city, town or village] and individual landsleit and ask that you designate special commissions whose task will be to collect documents, articles, memories, pictures and photographs, literary creations, folksongs and ethnographic material (about Chelm) and sums of money for the Chelemer yizkor book.

It is just a few years since the tragic death of our Jewish kinsmen in Europe and it is still not too late to revive our memories of many of the facts and matters that bind us to our old home. With the passage of time it will not be possible to accomplish our holy mission.

The famous Jewish historian, Prof. Shimon Dubnow, called out to the surrounding Jews as he was led to the Nazi scaffold, “Remember and set it down in writing for the future generations!”

Let us all put our testimony in writing, and remember and record the great scroll of suffering of our dear home city, Chelm!

Chelemer Aid Committee in Johannesburg: Y. Alter, M. Alter, B. Biderman, B. Bojdek, H. Handelsman, N. Winik, E, Winik, Y. Zigelboim, Ch. Y. Monti, Y. Palman, H. Sziszler, L. Sziszler.

P.S. We ask you to obtain subscribers for the Chelemer Yizkor Book. The price of the book: two pounds or five dollars. Please, compile biographies of landsleit, necrologies with photographs that will go into the book, including “who is who” – one side costs 20 pounds; a half side – 10 pounds; a quarter – 6 pounds; an eighth of a side – 3 pounds.

Johannesburg, December, 1950

After publishing the call, hundreds of landsleit in various countries, such as France, Australia, America and Israel spoke up with much appreciation for this book idea. In France, thanks to the special interest of our distinguished countryman, Josef Milner, a committee was created consisting of the following Chelemer countrymen: Josef Milner, Y. Torn, Dr. Arlan, M. Szpejzman, Y. Murowiec, Y. Staw, Mrs. Parobek and A. Globen. This committee

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proceeded to collect money and subscribers to the yizkor book, even from landsleit who live in Holland, Belgium and elsewhere and published the following call:


To All Chelemer Landsleit and People from the Vicinity of Chelm in France, Belgium, Holland, England and in Europe

The great tragedy that befell our people also destroyed Chelm, our old historical city, and its neighbors. Tugged and spread over the entire world, they created a Chelemer Society in almost all of the nations where Jewish communities are located. And one of these societies from distant Johannesburg (in South Africa) took upon itself, with the assistance of all of the Chelemer societies around the world, the fulfilling initiative of publishing a yizkor book that will immortalize our birthplace.

It is already more than a year since the founding in Johannesburg of the committee, which took upon itself the holy duty to carry out this work.

They were successful in gathering and creating extraordinary material and the book and its contents will adorn not only every home of our landsleit, but will also enrich every Jewish library and increase knowledge and will provide vast material for future historians.

We turn with our appeal to all Chelemers in France, in Belgium, in Holland and in England. We need to help our landsleit in distant South Africa carry out their undertaking, which will be an honor for our former city of birth and will be a monument that will remain for generations. We turn to all landsleit from the surrounding area (Zamoczsz, Tomaszow, Lubomyl, Hrubieszow and so on) because all of these communities will have a respected place. Such a book will need to cost over 2,000,000 francs (this is the amount that the Lubliners devoted to their “yizkor book,” which is in print). A minimum of 500,000 francs must be reached and that falls on us. There will be more than 250 illustrations and pictures in the book that will remember our old home; several hundred articles about the former Chelm, which alas was once a Jewish city that was annihilated in the Holocaust.

The Chelemer Society in Paris organized a special committee to awaken our landsleit that we do everything so that the yizkor book is published quickly.

The committee-members were

Y. Torn
Y. Staw
SzpejzmanMadam Parabek[4]
Y. Murowiec
A. Globen
  1. Each Chelemer must subscribe to a minimum of two copies (each copy costs 2,000 francs) one for himself, for his children, for his home, and a second to give to someone close to him in order in that way to immortalize the city where our cradles stood.

  2. Create a fund for the yizkor book.

  3. Each landsman can contribute necrologies with photographs of their parents and relatives who perished. Each landsman is asked to contribute for the book and his name will be published in the book with the sum [that was contributed].

  4. Everyone who has memories of our city should record them and send them to the address given below.


We call on you, dear landsleit, to go to work at once.

And we hope that no landsman will remain indifferent to this sacred work that will be an eternal monument for all of our martyrs and will contribute generously for this purpose.

In all instances you can write and send your orders or checks to this address.

A. GLOBEN, 16, Bld. Des Filles du Calvaire, PARIS. Tel. Rog. 22-11.

Committee for the “yizkor book” of the Chelemer Society in Paris.

Similar book committees were organized in Australia, Canada, Israel, and so on, that sent in material, photographs, writings and testimonies about the Holocaust and also money.

The interest in the yizkor book was observed by all landsleit in the Jewish world. A special “Chelemer Yizkor Book Committee” was created in America that published the following call:

Chelemer Yizkor Book Committee in New York
Chelemer Memorial Book Committee
[in English]

Endorsed by:

Chelemer Branch 585 Arbeter Ring [Workman's Circle], First Brotherly Aid Union.


Dear Landsleit of Chelm and its vicinity:

The Chelemer Yizkor Book is about to go to the publisher. This book will be a monument, a collective matzeyvah [headstone] for Chelm, our birthplace, for the 18,000 annihilated lives of our parents, sisters, brothers, relatives and friends who fell at the bloody hands of the murderer, Hitler, may his name be erased. In addition, the yizkor book will also reflect the distant and recent past of Chelm, where our cradles stood.

Important and interesting historic material, memories, monographs, histories were collected

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and many pictures of our ancient Jewish city and also material about the bloody, sorrowful chapter of the annihilation of the Jews in Chelm and its vicinity.

Now we are giving you the last opportunity to acquire this yizkor book because the number of books printed will be those subscribed for in advance or ordered. You must hurry and send in your five dollars or more to our treasurer, A. Rozenboim. You can order more than one book – it will be a gift valued by everyone, even those not from Chelm; Chelm was from ancient times a symbol of incisive humor and hearty cheer for Jews all over the world.

Considerable sums of money are still lacking for our yizkor book to emerge as impressive as it deserves. There have been much larger expenses than could have been foreseen. Actually, the book will cost almost eight dollars. For this reason, a larger sum of money has already been contributed by organizations and individuals in all corners of the world, including New York with around 600 dollars. It is an interesting fact that the smaller Chelemer community in Paris provided almost twice as much as New York in the number of subscriptions and contributions.

The yizkor book is mainly dedicated to immortalize the name of our martyrs. With a minimum of 10 dollars and more, each landsleit can erect a matzeyvah for those closest to them.

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The city of Chelm is Juden-rein [empty of Jews], the cemetery was destroyed. The ashes of our Chelemer Jews and those from the surrounding area, who were burned in Sobibor (between Chelm and Wlodawa) or other crematoria, were carried by the winds to all seven seas. The memory of these martyrs lives only in our hearts. Let us record and publish the sacred names of those close and dear to us in the yizkor book, which will be found in all of the libraries in the entire world, in all of the houses of our Chelemer landsleit in every nation in which they are located.

Let us immortalize their names and in this way not permit their memory to be erased from the world, as the murderer, Hitler, may his name be erased, wanted. The names of landsleit who died in America or elsewhere need to be immortalized in the book. Hurry up and let us know before it is too late. You should know that without the small Chelemer community in Johannesburg, in distant South Africa, the Chelemer Yizkor Book would never be published. They, in South Africa, voluntarily took this colossally difficult task upon themselves and we, at least, should help them to finish this sacred work.

Make out a check or money order in the name of
and in the enclosed envelope, conveniently send what you can,


Members of the Book and Editorial Committee


Sitting from the right: Hersh Sziszler, Hersh Handelsman (chairman), Y. Palman (treasurer)
Standing: Akiva Winik, H.Y. Monti (secretary), Yisroel Zigelboim and Nakhum Winik

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giving the number of books that you are ordering, as well as the names that you want to have immortalized on the collective matzeyvah.

With respect,

Chelemer Yizkor Book Committee
in New York

B. Binsztok, Cantor Y Brejtman, K. Boldman, Y. Hercman, Sz. Waserman, Sz. Winer, Sura Wodzilowski, Y. Yorfest, J. Mitelman, A. Rosenbaum, M. Sztejn.

A. ROSENBAUM, Treasurer
3971 Governeur Avenue
Bronx 63, N.Y.
Phone: Kingsbridge 6-3478

Yisroel Zigelboim's visit to the countries of South America was also used as an opportunity. He interested the Chelemer Jews there in the book and also the publisher of Dos Poylishe Yidntum [The Polish Jewry], because we thought about sending all of the material to Argentina so that the above-mentioned publisher would publish the book. However, for technical reasons, this idea could not be realized.

In 1951, Akiva Winik took a great deal of time collecting material for the yizkor book on a visit to Israel. A special meeting was called about the book by the Chelemer landsleit in Israel.

The Chelemer Aid Union or the Chelemer landsmanschaft in South Africa established a book and editorial committee with the following composition: Josef Milner, Hersh Sziszler, H. Y. Monti, Akiva Winik, Nakhum Winik, Hersh Handelsman, Y. Palman, Yisroel Zigelboim.

The pedagogue and editor, Malekh Bakalczuk Felyn, was invited to edit and put together the yizkor book.

Of course, the undertaking to publish the Yizkor book was daring on the part of the small group of Chelemer in South Africa and it required many achievements and much effort. We ourselves did not foresee the difficulties that were involved in publishing such a book and therefore, it could not be published on the announced date. We also did not receive any material from the shtetlekh, although we turned to individuals and the press many times.

An interesting notice in the name of “The Chelemer International” - in connection with the Chelemer Yizkor Book – appeared in the Parisian newspaper, Arbeter-Wort [Worker's Word] by A. Briksman:

“…the Jewish tragedy truly has no borders… A Yizkor book for Chelm is proceeding to publication in Johannesburg. A group of landsleit in Johannesburg could not create such a yizkor book alone. This was more than they were capable of and Chelemers from New York and Chicago, from Israel, from France, from Canada, from Argentina, from Mexico, from Cuba, from Australia grouped themselves around the yizkor book. A true 'ingathering of the exiles”
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of Jews from a Jewish shtetl in Poland, who were widely scattered throughout the entire world. The groups created among the landsmanschaftn a great and intensive correspondence. It was learned where this one, that one or another Chelemer lived. Contact was made. Solidarity was created. Such a fact should not be forgotten and, even more, should not be neglected. It can create the terrain for a federation of Jewish landsmanschaftn on a worldwide scale. An organization can be created that should include many countries. A 'va'ad' [council] of many 'aratzot [lands]'[5] that would have an influence both in the cultural and in the material sense. In short, a 'Chelemer International.'”

A small number of Chelemer Jews are in South Africa now, in total a few minyonim. The harsh immigration laws of the South African government and the outbreak of the Second World War prevented the bringing of relatives and friends from Chelm. Only a few individuals succeeded in entering the country after the last war. However, despite the small size of the Chelemer colony in South Africa, it is active in all spheres of communal and cultural life.

The majority of the Chelemer immigrants were good artisans and workers at home. Each landsman had to work hard to make a living during the first so called “griner” [literally, green – the years before cultural assimilation] years. Then many of us “worked ourselves up.” Several attained a stable economic position. However, their unpretentiousness and traditions did not disappear even in the best economic conditions. The Yiddish language also was preserved in the homes of the Chelemer Jews. Several of us occupy a very respected place in the various communal


Malekh Bakalczuk-Felyn

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institutions. Chelemer Jews in South Africa respond with aid and with actions for all campaigns and undertakings.

In the course of all the years of existence of the Chelemer Aid Union or of the Chelemer landsmanschaftn, the following people, who have already died, were also active in the work:


Dovid Alter, of blessed memory


Dovid Alter, of blessed memory


He was one of the first Chelemer pioneers in South Africa and thanks to him the Chelemer colony in distant South Africa arose. He came to South Africa in the 1920s with colossal entrepreneurial vigor. In his years as a griner, he created a furniture factory. Later, he moved on to construction in which he progressed. He always showed an interest in his home city, Chelm, and its townspeople and he took part in the work of the Chelemer landsmanschaft. He died prematurely at age 48.

Honor his memory!


Fanya Zigelboim, of blessed memory


Fanya Zigelboim, of blessed memory


She was torn away during the best years of her life. She was everyone's beloved and devoted worker for the Chelemer landsmanschaft.

She was one of the most active and devoted women of the Chelemer landsmanschaft and showed a great interest in the poverty of the Chelemer Jews, devot-

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ing much effort and time to each aid activity carried out by the Chelemer landsmanschaft.

Fanya Zigelboim also was very active in our Jewish societies and institutions in South Africa.

Honor her memory!

Berish Biderman, of blessed memory


Leibush Biderman, may he rest in peace, father of the deceased Berish Biderman


He was active in collecting the first sum of money that was sent to our old home. When the Chelemer Aid Union was created, he was one of the most active founders and activists.

Berish Biderman was much beloved in our Chelemer colony and greatly valued both because of his good virtues and because he preserved his Chelemer way of life here in South Africa. He was a fully religious Jew and preserved the Jewish traditions and religious conduct of Chelm. His bearing and Yidishkeit [sense of one's Jewishness] reminded each Chelemer landsman of the patriarchal, handsome, innocent figures and types in Chelm.

May his memory be blessed!

* * *

To this day, the Chelemer landsmanschaftn is in contact with the Chelemer landsleit and sends them help, but the yizkor book was the crown of all of our achievements. However, without the help of the landsmanschaftn in the Diaspora and in Israel we would not have been able to fulfill this idea.

Our messages and letters had a warm reception with all Chelemers everywhere and this encouraged us in our work, which was very difficult, considering the small number of Chelemer families in South Africa.


Translator's footnotes
  1. Barely 20 people, a minyon consisting of a minimum of 10 men. Minyonim is the plural form. return
  2. Wladislaw Sikorski was the Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and died in a mysterious plane crash in 1943. return
  3. A pinkas (singular of pinkasim) was originally a register of names and events in Jewish communities. After the Holocaust, many pinkasim were published, providing the history of various destroyed cities and towns. return
  4. Earlier spelled Parobek return
  5. a reference to the Va'ad Arba' Aratzot – the Council of the Four Lands that was the central authority governing the Jewish communities in Poland from 1580 to 1764. return

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Chelm in America

by Ben Binsztok, New York

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The emigration of Chelemer Jews to America must be divided into two emigration periods:

  1. The first emigration that lasted until 1905;

  2. The second emigration that extended from 1905 until the Second World War.
The first emigration brought Jews who were “risk takers” to America, that is, Chelemer Jews who took a chance and “left for America;” Jews who “had to escape” from Chelm, where “the earth burned under their feet” – Jews who ran seeking “luck in America.” There were Jews who escaped after the “oath[1]” because they did not want to go “to serve Russia.”

The second emigration began in 1905-1906 after the failure of the first revolutionary outbreak in Czarist Russia. Chelemer Jews – together with the Jews in all of the other cities and shtetlekh [towns] in Russia and Poland – left en masse that year because they could no longer or did not want to live under the severe Czarist regime. Among them were found socialists, revolutionaries, who lived under the shadow of Article 102, which meant long years of hard labor; socially conscious workers, the intelligencia and followers of the Enlightenment [maskilim] who had felt humiliated and fell under the special exception laws.

When the new independent Poland arose after the First World War, a time of new persecutions of Jews began: cutting Jewish beards with swords, throwing Jews out of trains, excesses, riots and pogroms. It was the time of Grabski's sadly famous “hearse” that looted Jewish possessions through taxes and the Polish economy had proclaimed “swoj do swojego [support your own]” and “Zydzi do Palestini [Jews to Palestine]” policies.[2] On one side, the economic restrictions, the baiting of the Jews and, on the other side, the longing of the Chelemer landsleit [countrymen] in America for their relatives and families was the driving force of the last Chelemer mass emigration to America.

The Chelemer landsleit during the second emigration were younger and more modern. They were the Chelemer with seniority in communal activity, people with responsibility for the community at large who had a healthy influence on the local landsleit and existing Chelemer communal institutions in America.

* * *

The needle trades in America that were concentrated in New York absorbed the great majority of Jewish immigrants of that time.

Other Chelemer landsleit from the first emigration – with small exceptions – brought with them poor spiritual baggage.

The first 10 years of this century [20th century] in this country – mainly in New York – were years of “cutting teeth” – pioneer years, which placed their stamp on the immigrants. Other Chelemer were “cooked” in the American melting pot, but they came out only partially cooked. America, the land of unlimited possibilities, helped a share of the emigrants become rich, but only materially.

The beautiful American democratic virtues, traditions, the glorious American history, literature, art and science – our Chelemer drank very little (with a few exceptions) from this well. Little pieces and crumbs of so-called local customs and the partly democratic system lulled our Chelemer to sleep and they did their duty. And thus was shaped a kind of uncooked and unbaked, half Chelemer-half American element.

The difficult “green” years through which the majority of emigrants passed brought them closer together and united the Chelemer landsleit. The solitude, the loneliness and the “longing for home” brought our landsleit together under one roof, where their general problems and communal needs, their daily anxiety and worries would be debated spontaneously.

These common problems led to the founding of the “First Chelemer Brotherly Aid Union” in 1906.

The mission and purpose of the Union has remained almost the same to this day:

  1. To support the enrolled “brothers” in case of need (including charity);

  2. To help him in case of illness, God forbid;?

  3. To help in case of death, when the society will assist with funeral expenses, a grave and one dollar for each enrolled member will be paid to the widow.
All of the benefits listed are the minimum that a Jewish society in America provides for its members.

Only three of the founders of the Chelemer Aid Union are still alive today – may they live to be 120 – in New York.

Sholem Lederer, one of the main founders of the society, was one our most intelligent landsleit [people from the same town] in the first emigration. He wrote multi-volumes of interesting short stories and novels. He died at age 92 in 1952.

We Chelemer landsleit of that time lived communally in an intimate way in and around the society. Doors and windows were firmly closed to all international and national American problems.

In addition to the above mentioned obligations, the society also made sure “to satisfy” the members spiritually. To attain this purpose the society would organize

[Pages 695]

a picnic for a summer Sunday, where each one brought a package of food. The society provided a keg of beer and our Chelemer “frolicked” the entire day in the “park” along with landsleit from other cities and towns.

The society would hold a banquet, a kind of melave malkha[3] that would usually take place every first and third Sunday of the month after its meeting. The group would come because it was an attraction and everyone would greatly enjoy themselves.

The greatest and most important undertaking that the Chelemer Society would carry out was the yearly ball during the winter. This ball was arranged in a large, beautiful hall with a beautiful orchestra. Our landsleit and their wives felt as if they were at their own wedding – in the manner of important in-laws, and they paraded, each wanting to surpass the other. There was rejoicing and simple happiness, when a “grine” [green one – newly arrived immigrant] family would appear in the hall. Everyone was ready to “do their thing,” clapping the “grine” on the back and speaking to him in English.

The organizing committee wore bright, colored ribbons – like generals – and badges with the inscription “committee” pinned to their lapels. They would bustle about in the hall, keeping order and circling with the American and society flags.

These proceedings – one of many that our Chelemer landsleit found somewhere and introduced as a part of their communal ritual – did not find favor in the eyes of the young Chelemer immigrants. Through these rituals and strange conduct, our old Chelemer landsleit of that time actually wanted to suggest the new manner of life in the free land, America.

The regular twice a month society meetings were carried out under the popular parliamentary rules.

The agenda – a strongly local one – would be very fervidly debated. The question, if this or that brother-landsleit was entitled to receive the payment of his health insurance, would be heatedly debated, often until late at night. One brother reported that he had not found the sick one at home; a second said that he met him eating a small dish of “kliskelekh mit bebelekh [small dumplings with small beans].” All of our brothers exchanged glances and murmured: “Ah… kliskelekh!... bebelekh!...

These debates did not interest the young element that had begun to “run” to America at the beginning of 1905. Among these Chelemer emigrants were found very highly intelligent landsleit who clearly understood very well the new world and the new time in which they were living. Understandably, for the new arrivals, the organized society of the First Chelemer Brotherly Aid Union was not enough and the new emigrants organized a youth club that was established as the Progressive Chelemer Branch 585 of the Arebeter Ring [Workmen's Circle].

The following statement of principles (published in a journal), written by the writer of these lines, shows the new, widespread communal scope with which the younger element of Chelemer landsleit were involved and lived:


16th Year of Communal Work of the Chelemer Branch 585 A.R.

Our branch is a link in the great chain of social-political organizations that the post-war period encountered and very much needed.

Worker problems, both national Jewish and international, questions and events that have communal, economic or cultural worth occupy the head of the table at our meetings.

Our meetings are interesting, lively and have a social-political educational worth, thanks to the idealism and intelligence of the active members.

Our national orientation in light of revolutionary developments is clear and of consequence.

We materially support: workers' struggles, children's schools, various “aid” undertakings here in this country and in the old home.

Our branch strongly fights communal apathy, emptiness and monotony, which recently threatened the existence of many similar organizations.

The Chelemer Women's Club, which our branch recently established, bubbles with activity and is able hold its own; the journal and ball would not have been possible without the Chelemer Women's Club.

We heartily greet all of our friends, sympathizers and members. We say thank you for all of the compliments that are published in the journal.

We call: Join as a member of our branch.”

This is not the place to record and list the names of all the individual landsleit who achieved an eminent place in American and Jewish communal life through their communal activities.

* * *

The Chelemer landsleit in America and mainly the Chelemer colony in New York recorded a glorious chapter in the history of communal activity, of self sacrificing aid work for the last 35 years.

Members of the Chelemer A.R. branch 585, where the younger, international element of Chelemer landsleit have grouped themselves, have influenced and led these communal activities in the course of the turbulent and bloody events of the last 30-35 historical years.

The meetings of the Chelemer A.R. branch 585 are carried out in the best parliamentary way. The meetings, which are held twice each month, reflect almost every important American, Jewish and worker

[Page 697]

problem – both national and international. The debates at these meetings often have a highly academic, instructive character.

Finding themselves constantly in a whirl of communal activities, the people planned, roused and called upon the Chelemer landsleit not to stand apart, but to take an active part in the great historical events of our era.

Understand that such a group of young people did not avoid the plague of dividing into left and right.

The Chelemer A.R. branch 585 was the first organization in America to buy an Eretz-Yisroel bond, although only a few members were disposed toward Zionism and only one – of those I know – was a Poalei- Zionist. This was Itshe Fiszelson, a graduate pharmacist in Baguszewski's pharmacy in Chelm. He came to America in 1913. He was a member of the “Young S.S.” (Socialist Territorialists). Here in America he was a Poalei-Zionist. A highly intelligent, energetic person, serious and honest, he fought and defended his viewpoint and ideas at the Chelemer A.R. branch 585.

In 1929 he organized a group of members who left our Arbeter Ring branch with him. They founded branch 280 of the Jewish National Worker's Union (a Poalei-Zionist fraternal order]. He was a restless communal man with a sense of fairness and justice and the suffering of the masses in America in the difficult economic crisis of that time pushed him farther to the left. He left the Poalei-Zionist order and became a member of the Jewish branch of Left Worker's Order. At that time, he was also in the leadership of the Birobidzhan movement [movement for an autonomous Jewish homeland in the Soviet Union] in America. He died of heart disease in 1948. He was eulogized at his grave by a representative of the Communist Party in America.

* * *

During the first few years of its existence, the Chelemer branch 280 of J.N.A.P.[4]was a lively Poalei-Zionist organization. In 1930 the name “Chelemer” was changed to Akhdes [unity]. I do not know the exact reason for this, just as I do not know why other Chelemer landsleit in New York say that come from Lublin or Lublin gubernia [province].

The Chelemer A. R. branch 585 also had members who were not from Chelm.

In all situations, Akhdes branch 280 was in contact with the Chelemer institutions. In 1934 they published Der Chelemer [The Chelemer – person from Chelm], a compilation of interesting material about Chelm. Itshe Fiszelson was the editor of the journal. I hope that the name “Chelemer” will again be used because according to what I hear there has been no Akhdes – unity – there for a long time.

The Chelemer landsleit in New York, Newark and Montreal demonstrated a great deal of devotion and self-sacrifice to the relief problem.

[Page 698]

Chelemer Relief was actually founded in New York during the course of the First World War. Our distinguished landsman, Avraham Rozenboim, is one of the key founders of Chelemer Relief and of the Chelemer branch 585 Arbeter Ring. The mail and correspondence with Europe was interrupted then because of the war. Chelemer landsleit in New York were very worried about the fate of the Jews in Chelm. Chelemer Relief was organized then in order to be ready to provide support as soon as the war ended.

The first relief money was brought by our distinguished landsman, Shmuel Winer, to Chelm erev Sukkous [on the eve of the Feast of Tabernacles] in the morning in 1921. The sum that was sent then was only for institutions in Chelm: Talmud Torah [elementary religious school for poor, young boys], Lines haTzadek [poor house], the old age home and for the Peretz Library.

Chelemer Relief first took on its proper character and importance in the 1930's. Anti-Semitism in Poland flared up. The bitter economic condition of the Jews in Chelm forced the annihilation of the existing communal institutions, which were so important and necessary in the city.

Serious and responsible Chelemer landsleit in New York evaluated the situation in the light of the events at that time and decided that:

“Greater support, more often and for a longer time was arguably needed in order for the Jews in Chelm and the communal institutions there to be able to repulse and survive the difficult economic attacks by the so-called independents and “Free Polish Government.”

Chelemer Relief, which until now consisted of individuals, was reorganized under the name “the United Chelemer Relief” and was joined by all existing Chelemer organizations in New York.

Thanks to the experience and intelligence of the new, younger Chelemer immigrants, “United Chelemer Relief” was rebuilt on new foundations.

This “going to the city” to gather contributions with a “red handkerchief,” in which the collected money was held on the basis of “me-you” accounts was changed into well organized “money campaigns” for Chelm. I provide my report about the relief activity in 1937-1938 here as a concrete example:


Relief for the Year 1937-1938

The very new, serious and bitter condition of the poor Jews in Chelm mobilized and united all isms, all organizations, all landsleit in New York, Newark, Montreal (Canada) in one “United Relief Committee" and the result was a great moral and material success. True, at that time we did not reach all of the landsleit, but those we reached generously gave their support, more than once, or four or five times, directly and quietly, at each opportunity and again at other kinds of opportunities. The detailed financial

[Page 699]

report mirrors the heartfelt connection to our Jews suffering from need in Chelm. Over 218 dollars were raised from several card and house parties that were given by H. Rozenfeld, G. Rajf, A. Bron in New York and by Y. Sztajn, J. Czenser, B. Zamelman and Sh. Blajer in Newark. One designs an "arm chair" to raffle, another - a "bedspread" and a third - delicious kasha knishes.

There are more interesting features from this year's campaign: Mrs. B. Hertc collected 4,500 dollars for ads in the journal. Ten or 12 devoted members of the committee in New York and Newark collected over 800 dollars by completing visits to the houses of about 200 landsleit. Newark would contribute about 30-40 dollars to support earlier campaigns. This year - over 340 dollars. Montreal never had a relief campaign - this year we established a permanent relief society, to which landsleit pay 25 cents monthly dues, come to meetings, are interested in Chelm and we have actually received the first 100 dollars from Montreal and a balance remaining of 10 dollars in the bank there - a promise of further support. At the high point the oldest and most sympathetic Chelemer society, the branch 585 Arbeter Ring, branch 280 Jewish National Workers Union, together contributed over 150 dollars. It would be very interesting to mention each person's cooperation and devotion. However, this is technically difficult.

May we be spared today! After the first "point of order," our communal meeting adopted parliamentary procedures. Our president, G. Rajf, very quickly and skillfully found his bearings so that he could be proposed as chairman of the "League of Nations." G. Rajf was not only "a ___[5] and representative of," he was also a responsible, earnest relief work volunteer. In short - we have a very sympathetic chairman. Y. Tukhman, our treasurer justifiably earned our trust and appreciation. B. Hertc, H. Flug, M. Sztajn, Y. Dreksler, A. Karp, Kh. Rozenfeld, W. Dublman - worked like bees. The Newark committee amazed us with their successful work. Montreal, Canada, was truly a great surprise - let us applaud them all.

We ask our landsleit in Chelm to accept our help - although not great - not as charity, not with lowered eyes, because we here are the lucky ones and, as such, we must help.

We wish you a better and hopeful future.

We greet the new committee in Chelm and we hope that the manner for dividing the money will satisfy us in America and you in Chelm.

Greetings from Chelemer landsleit in New York, Newark, Montreal and Chelm.

Ben Binsztok

[Page 700]

Financial Report for 1937-1938


First Chelemer Aid Union $150.00
Chelemer branch 585, Arbeter Ring $105.00
Branch 280, Jewish National Workers Union $100.00
Support from landsleit $804.90
Card and house parties organized by Chelemer Women's Society
At H. Rozenfeld, Brooklyn $50.00
At G. Rajf, Brooklyn $53.45
At A. Bron, Brooklyn $29.00
Organized by Newark Committee
At Y. Stajn, Newark $30.00
At Sh. Blojer, Newark $23.00
At Ben Zemelman, Newark $20.96
At Yakov Czesner, Newark $12.00
Mrs. B. Hertc $45.00
All others combined $73.50
Complimenting Chaim Zemelman $100.00
All others $109.25
Events arranged by
The Chelemer Women's Society $105.40
Newark Committtee $55.10
Total $1,866.56
Protest meeting hall $23.00
Protest meeting hall $20.00
Printing $36.21
Postage $32.10
Montreal Society $16.00
Newark $3.36
State of Finances
Distributed for those suffering from need in Chelm $1,200.00
In bank, New York $382.35
In bank, Los Angeles $10.00
Debts of 27 landsleit $143.75

The raffle will take place at another opportunity, because not all of the stubs and money have been received.

All contributions are officially acknowledged in the Journal.

Ben Binsztok.

The new manner of collecting money demanded planning, publicity and appealing, informative-literature.

The work was difficult and painstaking. Personal interests often suffered because of communal activities.

In the beginning, it was a little difficult to collect the funds. Certain landsleit and even entire organizations wanted only religious institutions to receive support. Free-thinkers did not want religious institutions to receive “even one groshn.”

[Page 701]

There were times during the first years of Relief when we had to use strategic methods in approaching some of the landsleit as well as organizations.

In the beginning, the leaders of the first Chelemer Society opposed the relief work. However, thanks to the tireless informational work that was methodically carried out by frequent postscripts, letters, lectures at various large and small gatherings, or entertainment evenings specially organized by the “United Chelemer Relief” – thanks to this, hearts softened and the money purses of many skeptics of relief opened.

In the last summary it must be said here that the Chelemer landsleit in America recorded a hearty and superb chapter of history in the realm of aid to our unfortunate poor brothers and sisters in Chelm.

The slogans of “tzadekah” [charity] and “constructive aid” went hand-in-hand with aid for “political arrestees” in Chelm.

All Chelemer landsleit remember the case when the Polish government arrested two Chelemer young workers and sentenced them to death.

A call for help reached us in New York, which requested moral and material help.

We accepted the call and organized the Chelemer Patronat – an outspoken political aid organization of that time.

The work was difficult: first, because of the purely political character, and secondly – because of the fact that one of the two arrestees was a Ukrainian (the Jew was named Kupersztak).

Money was provided for the attorney and petitions were sent to the Polish government on behalf of the arrestees. The result was that the young men were saved from the gallows.

The Patronat also supported the Botwinces[6] in Spain. They were the first partisans who went to fight against the Fascists and Hilterists – the bloodiest enemies of the Jewish people.

Here we must remember Shlomo Elboim (a son of Sura-Elke and Yisroel Elboim - a baker-worker in Chelm), who escaped from Poland to France in a remarkable and dangerous way:

In Warsaw he hid under a wagon of the Warsaw-Paris express train and in this way traveled to Paris where he was removed half dead and taken to a hospital. The French newspapers then wrote very fiery reports about this case.

Shlomo Elboim left France for Spain, joined the Botwin Company. He was wounded several times and finally fell on the battle field, two days before the Botwin Company was called back from Spain.

* * *

Not all Chelemer landsleit felt comfortable in specific Chelemer societies. Many landsleit

[Page 702]

departed on their own, or were driven out by the Chelemer environment or because of one or another incident. Here I will remember only one name from this category of Chelemer landsleit:

The shwartsn [black or dark] scribe's son. He lives in a suburb of New York and is a music teacher. In 1912 he graduated from the conservatory in Warsaw. Several of his friends organized his first public concert in the Chelmer Circus Hall, Sirena. A. Kipnis took part in the program. The purpose of this concert was simply to place several rubles in the pocket of the dark, charming Chelemer young man, who was as poor as the night. Jewish Chelm did NOT come to the concert. The undertaking was a great failure. The shwartsn scribe's son, who is now well known in the musical world is America under the name Josef Wardi, avoids the Chelemer landsleit in New York.


Captain Milton (Mendl) Winer, son of Sh. Winer – in 1944. He took part in the Second World War. He traveled around the entire globe more than once during the war years, by ship and airplane, with danger to his life. He visited every continent and went to the ends of the earth. He did not forget that he is a son of the Jewish people and looked for fellow Jews in the faraway nations.


On the 22nd of December 1951, the Chelemer branch 585 Arbeter Ring celebrated its 35th anniversary with a magnificent banquet and dance in a beautiful, large hall on Broadway in New York.

The Chelemer Arbeter Ring branch knows how to arrange a banquet or any kind of entertainment. However, an experienced eye is needed to produce delicate effects. The tiredness, oldness really hurt the eyes. The invited children, the daughters and sons-in-law, sons and daughters-in-law, who so beautifully and cheerfully enjoyed themselves, underscored and brought out the tiredness more sharply. It was noticed that a considerable number of members moved around as if at a stranger's wedding. Friendly joy and family joy was lacking that was natural at past anniversaries. The members are relatively young. I believe 55 is the average age of a member of branch 585 A. R. In a society like the Arbeter Ring branch, friendship and truly friendly relations actually need to be the alef-beis [a, b, c's], the basis of the daily tasks and activities of the Chelemer landsleit organization.


Translator's footnotes
  1. The “oath” refers to being inducted into the Russian army. Poland did not exist at this time due to the numerous partitions of the country by Russia, Prussia and Austria. return
  2. Wladyslaw Grabski was the Polish Prime Minister during the 1920's and reorganized the Polish economy in a way that was very detrimental to the Jews; the wagons of the tax collector's were nicknamed “Grabski's hearse.” return
  3. “Ushering out of the queen” – the evening meal at the conclusion of Shabbos. return
  4. Jewish National Workers Union. return
  5. This space appears in the original text. return
  6. Members of the Naftali Botwin Company of Jewish supporters of the Republican side who fought in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Naftali Botwin was a Polish-Jewish radical, who was executed in 1924 for the assassination of a member of the Polish secret police. return

[Page 703]

The First 25 Years of the Chelemer Arbeter-Ring
[Workman's Circle] Branch in New York

by Shmuel Winer

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

(This article was printed in a special journal published by the Chelemer branch of the
Arbeter-Ring in New York in March, 1941, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.)

Born in April 1916 in the middle of the First World War, our branch now in March 1941 celebrates the observance of the conclusion of a quarter century of fruitful communal activity in the very fervor of the Second World War. Twenty-five years in which the face of the world has changed completely.

And yet one only needs to close one's eyes and one thinks it is yesterday. Memories come back to the surface and such clear pictures, episodes, events from long ago swim out, which will return no more.

* * *

Together with hundreds of thousands of immigrants who stormed the “golden land” from the four corners of the world just before the outbreak of the First World War, came a bunch of young people from our home, Chelm. They made their home in New York, the greatest city in the world.

The first steps in the cold strangeness were difficult. The struggle for a piece of earth under the sun, for the ability to exist was accompanied by death. The process of adaptation and fitting in was not easy. The road in the new, strange world was full of stumbling. Uprooted from their old home; not yet rooted in the new home. They had a ceaseless longing for those familiar dear faces, for the familiar sky, for that entire way of life in which they grew and matured that was left on the other side of the ocean.

[Page 704]

Under the circumstances, the more lively of that bunch developed the idea to unite, to join in a landsmanschaft [organization of people from the same city or town] mutual aid organization in which they could properly live communally and culturally. In as much as a number of them had brought with them their revolutionary and socialistic traditions, it was natural at that time to join the fraternal workers' order – the Arbeter Ring.

And thus, the progressive branch 585 Arbeter Ring was born 25 years ago.

It did not take long for the branch to be safely past the childhood diseases that each new born organism must go through and it quickly stood on its own feet.

The branch constantly grew in esteem and in the number of members. Little by little, all of the youthful, intelligent strength among the landsleit was brought in. The new immigrants, after the First World War, brought fresh youthful strength to the organization. Its communal unity and activity grew side by side. The branch omitted nothing. It reacted to initiatives and took part in all of the movements dedicated to the building of the Jewish street in New York – the largest center of Jews in the world. They were everywhere – at every gathering, conference, of every direction and nuance there was. It was everywhere, full of life and momentum.

The meetings, every second and fourth Friday night of the month, became noisier and more interesting. The crowd sharpened its tongues – even more their brains. They slowly became more proficient debaters, speakers. All communal


A group of members of the “First Chelemer Sick Aid Union” in New York

First row, sitting: Y. Nodel, Sh. Kuper, M. Sztajn, Y. Kuszerman, (long time secretary of the Chelemer Society), E. Ejzen, A. Stahl, of blessed memory, H. Lorber, G. Rajf (president of the Chelemer Society), M. Long, B. Szternberg, Sh. Blajer, Klajnman
Second row, standing: L. Blajer, women: Feder, Nodel. Stroj, Kuszerman, Fajertog, Kohn, Lorber, Czesner, Herc, Sztajnberg, Rota, Blajer, Klajnman
Third row, standing: Mrs. and Mr. Kh. Berland, A. Berland, Cymerman, Gutharc, Sh. Mandelboim B. Szumlan, Y. Goldman, Y. Zalc, Y. Kaj

[Page 705]

movements and ideologies received their clear expression here. The world was shaken at it foundations. Years, loaded with dynamite, cooked and effervesced during those stormy 20 years; the branch was transformed into a combat arena. One competed against the other in strength. Each deeply confident in his truth threw himself into the struggle with youthful enthusiasm. The struggle became sharper and more bitter. Many times too bitter.

The air became that much hotter. It became more difficult for the various contradictory ideologies to live peacefully among themselves. Personal bitterness also grew among a sizable mass of the members. And thus, the branch was brought to crisis in the 1930's.


Gabriel Rajf, communal worker, untiring social worker and chairman of Chelemer Relief in New York for the last 30 years


Earlier, a group of members disposed to Zionism severed itself and became instrumental in the founding of a Chelemer branch of the National Workers Union (the Poalei-Zionist Fraternal Order). Immediately after, a group of leftist members left the branch and joined the International Workers' Order. This accompanied the bitter Hoover depression that also did not do the branch any favor.

At this critical time, our wives came to help the branch.

The children were no longer small; the mothers had a little time for themselves. One after the other our wives began to appear at meetings of the branch. It did not take long and they began to be at home in the branch. They brought fresh life to the organization.

[Page 706]

Maks Sztajn, active worker and secretary of Chelemer Relief in New York


Here at the end, at this opportunity, our veteran must be remembered with respect, who with his unrelenting stubbornness played a considerable part in the founding of our branch. This is no one other than our respected Avraham Rozenboim (he was known in Chelm as Avraham the Krasnystawer iron dealer's son). During the space of more than 20 years, he served devotedly as secretary of the branch and carried the burden not only of the entire organization, but also was devoted to each particular member with body and life. He never spared effort, time and energy when somone was in need of help in times of trouble. He was not only beloved because of this by the branch members without exception – from the left to the right – but by the local Chelemer colony in general.

* * *

It is now hard to believe that a quarter century has passed since the branch began its existence.

And time passed. Each in his way left deep roots in the native soil [of America]. Built homes, had children, went through difficult paths with them from birth to adulthood. In a word – all have little by little grown intertwined in the web of life here on the native soil.

Certainly there is now great joy. A celebration for all members who have weathered all storms with the branch and in the branch and reached the 25th birthday of their branch 585 Arbeter Ring.

New York, February 1941.

[Page 705]

A Chelemer Story in an American Way

by B. Alkwit

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I come from Chelm. Should I tell you about it? This is not a story from the past. It is lost today, but for the Chelemer landsleit [people from the same city or town], who are found everywhere, throughout the world – it is a new Chelemer story.

Chelm, who has not heard of this Jewish city? – Who is not a Chelemer? Chelm was an important Jewish cultural center, not because of its size – but Chelm was great because of its name, because of the center that it was – a center of fools, as is told in the Chelemer stories.

Chelm was one of the first Jewish cities that the

[Page 706]

Germans destroyed, but how Chelm stood up against the devils, how it fought – Yitzhak Fajgboim, a Jew from Poland, a respected Poalei-Zion worker, told at his arrival in New York in January, 1941 how the first ghetto revolt was in Chelm.

And after the revolt, shortly after, Chelm became a cemetery for many Jews from other cities, from other countries. Corroborative reports about this began to arrive in Washington at the beginning of February, 1943, that masses of Jews from various points in Europe were driven to Chelm from the ghettos and there – massacred.

[Page 707]

America's then Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, issued a report at a press conference and Anthony Eden, England's Foreign Minister shocked the Parliament with a speech about the events in Chelm. But…

This is history. Yet I will tell a story from today, about the Chelemer landsleit – perhaps the last Chelemer story.

* * *

One beautiful day two Chelemer landsleit meet. One a writer, the other a proof reader; they converse. He says: Nu [well], what, nothing? I ask him: What, what? I mean Chelm, he says.

He is worried. His quiet, troubled voice becomes a little more troubled: I mean, he says, among fine Jews, landsleit, something is being done to remember, to immortalize the memory of their cities, their shtetlekh [towns]. They are doing, they are publishing yizkor-bikher [memorial books]. But Chelm, wow – Chelm! It is time, I think, to get to work, to collect material. Yet this cannot be done overnight. And if not now, when? If not us, the family, the landsleit, who?

Yes, I agreed with him; it is the utmost time; the materials that we must gather are treasures that, I think, have no equal – the documents, historical and culturally historical; personalities and memories, from Reb Eliyiahu bal Shem [miracle worker] to the martyred Shmuel Zigelboim, who in his youth lived and fought in Chelm. Today, the stories of or about Chelemer fools, the entire folklore riches and how this influenced Jewish writers – Chelm in the Jewish literature.

Our classical writers have written about Chelm – Mendele Mocher Sforim, Yankev Glatshteyn, Y.Y. Sigal, Ahron Zeitlin and many others – it hurts me that I cannot mention each of them by name – and painters came to see the city and “to paint it.” Even music is here. And when Nathan Ausubel published his large collection, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, Chelm occupied a particularly large part with an introduction about the local humor of the stories and…

What a large Jewish cultural work, to collect material and publish a Chelemer memorial book!

However, time did its work; it passed. Years went by, until one night, this summer, I met my landsleit in the subway and, here in the heat, in the crush, in the very “rush hour,” I fell on him as if from heaven: He asks if I still live at the same address, in Africa?

In Africa?

Yes, in Johannesburg. There they are publishing a Chelemer memorial book. He will send them my address so that they, my landsleit from South Africa, can correspond with me about the great work.

Nu, imagine what a person can tell you in the heat, in the crush. In the very “rush hour” in the subway. I shake

[Page 708]

my head to him: yes, yes, and I ask him to meet with me somewhere else, where we can talk. But he lives in the Bronx, I in Brooklyn and before what, when, there is a letter from Johannesburg.

The letter is from H. Sziszler, a writer. He requests material and asks for contacts and financial help, because this will cost a great deal and how many are there, the Chelemer landsleit in South Africa?

A few dozen families, in all.

* * *

A few dozen families.

How many Chelemer landsleit are in New York? I do not know. But the Arbeter-Ring [Workman's Circle] has a Chelemer branch with around 100 members. The National Worker's Union has a branch of 200 Chelemer landsleit and there is also a society here, a support union and there are surely landsleit in other cities in the United States and in other countries of the American hemisphere.

There are also Chelemer in Israel. I know of two poets in Israel for whom Chelm is their birthplace. And there is one other, a new name, Sh. Wazager, who has published his first book after being in Germany.

But the few dozen families in South Africa are publishing the memorial book.

And they have made contact with landsleit in America, in Israel, in Europe, that we should send the materials, the documents, pictures, eye witness accounts and local stories, memoirs, songs and stories to Johannesburg – and the necessary funds – and they in South Africa will publish the book.

And it was sent.

Is this not a Chelemer story?

Perhaps the last story of the fools, the Chelemer Jews, who can tell stories about themselves with laughter, with mockery and farce from our wisdom…

I think we need such a story to close the memorial book, that will be published in Africa, while in New York, you see, we did not do it. Perhaps because the New York landsleit have so convinced themselves that they are no longer Chelemer.

And perhaps because it is the great New York, because here we have such large numbers, that…we no longer need to do anything. Thus it is in all of communal Jewish life.

Yes, we send materials and the financial means to the few families in South Africa, who are still good Chelemer, with the pure naiveté, that is called foolishness, with the irony and the mockery of the Chelemer stories.

And we will have the moral, that the number, the size of a group, plays a negligible role when cultural work needs to be done.

Small numbers can do greater work than large groups.

[Page 709]

The Chelemer Landsmanschaft[1] in Paris

by Dr. B. Orlean

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Our landsman [person from the same city], honorary president and great friend, Josef Milner, once wrote an historical review about the Jewish communities in France and said that the Pilsudski era, as it was known, brought a great number of immigrants to France – the victims of the Grabskis and the Becks.[2] But in 1928, more than 9,000 Jews arrived in France. And that year one of our Chelemer Jews, a person with a noble soul, Szulman, had the idea to found a Chelemer Landmanschaft. (Our dear Szulman was deported during the occupation and perished at Auschwitz.) Clearly, at that time, Szulman turned at once to Josef Milner, who did not refuse (we should remember that, in general, he never refused when it was a question of communal work and, particularly, when it involved Chelm). To this day, I remember the first meeting

in the Paris ghetto, in the famous “Pletzl” [Little Place – the Jewish area located in the 4th arrondissement]. Josef Milner gave, as was his manner, a fiery speech about the necessity for organizing. He called on the old Chelemer in Paris, who were already residents and even “naturalized French,” to become guides because in such a large city, in a strange environment and with a strange language, the Jew, the emigrant, needed to have a place where he could meet a friend from his childhood, meet with people who could even teach him how to conduct himself in a new country, sometimes to obtain a loan “when in need” from his own loan society and believe that he is not alone, even though he is far from his old home. Several active community workers were then grouped around Szulman, such as Torn and many others, who alas also perished and whose names are engraved on the matzeyvah [headstone] “To the memory of the Jewish Community of Chelm” at the

[Page 710]

Paris cemetery. He was the son of “zeyfenzitser” [slang expression connoting a person who has an easy job or is well situated], Reb Shimkha. He was among those who earned a very fine material position in Paris, but earlier, in 1914, he had slogged in other positions, on the Marne and outside Paris, as a volunteer fighter against the Germans and returned after the war with medals for his heroism. He was also deported with his entire family and they were never seen again …

In general, there was a tendency then in France (and also in other immigrant nations) to place oneself in a group and organize life around it. Could it be different then?... But the situation was not as it is today, now that the old home has been completely destroyed and the borders are closed and we remained and we were there where fate has already given up. At that time many immigrants were able to travel further, that is, to America, to Argentina and young people as pioneers to Eretz-Yisroel. The development of the landsmanschaft was affected by the fact that the immigrant element was not a stable one. Alas, we must add that often the immigrant was unable to accustom himself to the new environment and he took his traveling stick in his hand and returned to…Chelm! And how many such Chelm Jews who were already in Paris, lost their courage, returned home and were sent to in Trawnik, or Majdanek or Auschwitz?...

It was very different in 1944, on the morning of France's liberation: the Jews understood that there was no long any “return.” And in addition to this, we suffered so greatly during the years of occupation; there was not a family that did not have a victim (“…for there was not a house where there was no corpse…” [Exodus, chapter 12: verse 30]) and moreover we grew closer to the French. We finally had the same enemy and the French were so helpful in our rescue that we understood that we must organize our lives here. And in addition, a new generation emerged, the generation of our children, who were born on French soil. And Jewish life in Paris truly began to sparkle.

You must excuse me when I speak more of Paris because it is said in France that “a Parisian is French, but not all the French are Parisians.” Paris is everything. The few widely scattered Jewish families from Chelm in Nancy, in Rouen, in Lyon (in the old historic town of Bezie [Béziers], where Reb Avraham Ibn Ezra [1092-1167 - Hebrew poet and scholar] once lived, there is one Jewish doctor and he is a Chelemer: Hershl Erlikh's son!) and in other cities show that in reference to Chelm one must turn to us, in Paris. And not only from French cities; our Chelm landsmanschaft is today the only one in Europe. Chelemers from Belgium, Holland and England come to us for

[Page 711]

a meeting or for an entertainment, for remembering a father, a mother and even a relative.

Immediately after the liberation, intensive Jewish communal work began to bubble – we went from defeat to the light. French Jewry became the largest Jewish center in Western Europe, the largest Jewish community, almost 300,000 Jews. All of the organizations carried on intensive and widespread activities. And all of the landsmanschaftn responded to this; their work stood at the center of this new construction because all of the Jews here had to start from the beginning. And a new constituent joined. The survivors – landsleit [people from the same town or city] from the camps. We carried out great work. We supported those who were homeless, found opportunities for them to work and the ministerial permission to work. We had a cash box and gave loans. Thanks to the important communal position of our Josef Milner, we did everything we could to heal the sick through OZA [organization offering medical care], to teach new professions at ORT [organization providing vocational training] and gave them opportunities to go to America, Australia, Canada, Argentina and Israel and to receive through HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society], for example, the opportunities for emigration and thanks to the “Joint” [Joint Distribution Committee], the needed support for the voyage and also immigrant relief. Here, we want to present a hearty congratulations to all of the organizations mentioned by us. All of our Chelemer who are in new nations as a result of our work can easily corroborate this.

And now I will dwell on our cultural activities. Our landsmanschaft had a great reputation in Paris and other landsmanschaftn were simply envious of us. Our undertakings were a great success. We had a great ball (along with the Brisk landsmanschaft). Three or four times a year we organized


Josef Milner speaks before the Chelemer landsleit during the erection of the matzeyvah [headstone], “The entire Israelite community of Chelm,” at the Paris cemetery

[Page 712]

evenings that were famous and drew large crowds to them. Here we will remember the names of our skillful friends, devoted Chelemer: Torn, Spajzman, Staw, Mrs. Parboek, Mrs. Szrajer, Ahron Glaben, Murawicz, Mr. and Mrs. Micpilker, Goldsobel, Mr. and Mrs. Feldman, both Szmaragd brothers and many others. All devoted, all with heart, with large Jewish hearts.

Here I will cite several of our cultural undertakings:

1) We were the first and the only society of immigrant Jews who entered…the Sorbonne in Paris! The entire press wrote about this, both in France and overseas. Imagine that Chelemer Jews organized a historical evening in the Sorbonne dedicated to the history of the Jews in Paris!... Chelemer Jews came in order to learn Parisian Jewish history. A large crowd filled the amphitheater. The honorary chairman was the well known judge, Leon Meis, and the chairman was Mr. Georges Wormser, the president of the Paris Consistoire (a former associate of Clemenseau during the First World War and cabinet chief for one of the well known Jews, French minister, Georges Mandel, who perished at the hands of the occupiers). The following were the lecturers: Josef Milner – about the Jews in France since the Romans and until the Revolution; the famous researcher, the greatly educated “Grand Rabbi,” Maris Liber – from the Revolution until the Dreyfus Trial; and the great Jewish-French writer Pier Parof – from Dreyfus until the present. It is really impossible to describe the impression made. For a long time after, Chelm was spoken about everywhere, even in French circles.

2) When Josef Milner returned from his trip to Israel (during the first year of the Jewish state), we organized a lecture, under the chairmanship of the same Mr. Leon Meis and with the Israeli Consul in Paris, Avraham Gilboa, in a large theater ballroom. Our landsleit Josef Milner was also a splendid speaker and his lecture about Israel was truly an extraordinary literary work.

3) In 1947 we celebrated the 60th birthday of Josef Milner, who was so beloved by all of us. A group of several thousand Jews who are grateful to Josef Milner for their existence stroll around in Paris and in France. Before, during and after the occupation, Jewish societies wanted to celebrate

[Page 713]
his birthday, but he refused. However, he could not refuse us, those from Chelm, and there was a celebratory “gathering” that could only bring respect to our city, Chelm.

4) Literary “tea evenings” with Ephriam Kaganowski and Yitzhak Janosowicz took place that were organized by us.

And in conclusion, permit me to end with our destruction. Also, here, our Chelemer landsmanschaft in

[Page 714]

Paris did not forget its duty. At the Paris cemetery, there stands a beautiful, large matzeyvah which remembers the destruction of our city and before which almost every day Jews from every city who come to a funeral or for a yahrzeit [yearly anniversary of a death] stop and with reverence quietly view the monument which explains how modern Huns, motorized anti-Semites, annihilated a Jewish community, and this is only a small part of a great sea of blood, in which six million of our brothers perished al kiddush haShem [in the sanctification of God's name – as martyrs].


The Chelemer Matzeyvah at the Paris Cemetery

The old Jewish cemetery in Chelm does not exist anymore… The matzeyvah* for all of Chelm, for its well known personalities, for the hundreds of thousands who were annihilated, is located at the Parisian cemetery – a monument erected there by the Chelemer Jews in France.

*[Names appearing on the matzeyvah:

Reb Elihu bal-Shem [miracle worker]
Reb Shlomo Chelm
Reb Shlomo Yehuda Lederer
Mordekhai Lederer
Reb Yehuda Arya Milner
Dr. Yitzhak Sziper
Shmuel Zigelboim
Dr. Oks]


Translator's footnotes
  1. An organization of people from the same city. return
  2. Wladislaw Grabski was a prime minister of Poland [1920, 1923-1925] and reorganized the country's financial and monetary systems. Jozef Beck was the Polish Foreign Minister [1932-1939] under Polish ruler Jozef Pilsudski. return

[Page 715]

Chelm and Surrounding Areas Society
for Mutual Aid in Argentina

Josef Eplboim

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Our society was founded in the year 1934. At that time, the economic crisis penetrated all branches of industry and commerce and the new immigrants suffered more than anyone else. This propelled the landsleit [people from the same country] union which, through its direct activity, also created the loan office that provided the landsleit with specific support so that they could get settled.

Let here be recorded the following founders: Bejrekh, Szajer, Hersz Szajer, Motl Sztiglic and Zelik Bobes, who called together the meeting and clarified for those present the purpose of the future institutions that would carry on communal and cultural activities in addition to economic assistance.

At the meeting, the following were elected to the managing committee with the following composition: Welwl Milsztajn (chairman), Meir Herman (secretary), Hersz Szajer (treasurer), Shimeon Nakhman, Moshe Gobel, Welwl Mandlboim, Leibush Lang and Motl Sztiglic. In accordance with its abilities, the

[Page 716]

managing committee began its activities, which were very prominent in Argentine landsmanschaft [organization of people from the same city or town] life.

We then recognized the need to join the Federation of Landsleit-Unions in which the greatest number of the largest groups were members and this influenced our society to strengthen itself with new members and that our institution should take on the challenge to accomplish new tasks. We took an active part in the campaign for the Land of Israel and for the orphans in France.

The first messages that we received from a few of our landsleit in Poland depressed us. But we consoled ourselves with the short list of names of the survivors.


Committee members of the Argentine landsmanschaft

[Page 717]

At first we made contact with our landsleit and when we received the full list with 700 names of survivors and the report about the convention in Lower Silesia, we published the material in a publication which was received with great interest and love by our members and landsleit. (The work of publishing was carried out by Chaim Eplboim.) At the same time, we began to create the opportunity to help out the landsleit who wanted to come to Argentina and when they came here, we helped them settle in, providing then apartments and with the most needed things. The most moving encounters were the holiday gatherings which our society arranged for the newly arrived landsleit from Poland. Let us here record their names: Yona Szajer and wife, Yoal Engel and Rywka Nodel, Hersh Feldmus and Andje Goldfeder, Motl Feldman and wife, Shimkha Kuper and Mrs. Sztajner, Chaim Sztajner, Shmuel Bakalosz and wife, Motl Cymerman and Mrs. Dajmowicz. The above-mentioned are from Chelm. The following landsleit also came to us from Rejowiec: Shmuel Meir Cederboim, Yankl Cederboim, Itshe Cederboim, Szeja Firszt, Zishe Dumkop, Eli Wilder, Shmuel Szlajer, Itshe Frajnd, Leah Rukhwang. From Sielec came Perl Rutker, Motl Szulklaper, Leib Lerer, Kiwa Zylberman.

We held dear the decision that was made at the meeting in Lower Silesia by our surviving landsleit in Poland that during the days of Shavous all Chelemer and those from the area, wherever they were, should have a formal expression of mourning and honor our unforgettable parents, sisters, brothers and friends, who were murdered in the most horrible way by the Nazi murderers.

This decision was upheld with sacred honor and trembling. Almost all of our landsleit came to the act of mourning – both the unveiling of the memorial tablet for the Chelemer religious community that is found on the monument to the memory of the six million martyrs, which Jewish Buenos Aires erected and to the sad evening that we arranged within the confines of our society. And when the news was learned that the Chelemer in Africa were

[Page 718]

undertaking the sacred task of publishing a book that would immortalize the memory of our destroyed home city, we gave our entire attention to publicizing the idea among our members and landsleit. In connection with this, a series of meetings was held at which we clarified the importance of such a book, so that when Y. Zigelboim came with the same task, he found the work for the memorial book already begun and it can be said that all of our landsleit, both from Chelm and from Rejowiec, Szeliszcz, Dubienka, Wojslawice, Niechen and Sawin, took part in the important work for the book that would not only share the remembrance of those from our unforgettable city who perished, but would also be an addition to the act of accusation that the Jewish people will yet bring to worldwide judgment against the Nazi criminals.

As we have shown earlier, we took part in all Jewish communal activities that had a connection to the land of Israel and to our local life in Argentina. Our part in the cultural-communal work that was carried out by ICUF [Idischer Cultur Farband – Jewish Cultural Union] here was completely separate. We made an effort that not only our landsleit should come to performances that ICUF arranged, but we arranged evenings with representatives of the Cultural Union.

We also made efforts so that our members would benefit from better Yiddish theater. For this purpose, we hired the better Jewish professional theaters for performances as well as exhibitions of AIFT (Argentine Yiddish Folk Theater) that we all visited together. In this way we tried to sow the cultural-communal continuation of our loved and unforgettable home city that was such a firm ring in the golden chain of creative Jewish life in Poland.

The composition of the current managing committee is as follows: Josef Szperling (chairman), Josef Eplboim (secretary), Moshe Nobel (treasurer), Manish Cederboim (vice chairman), Chaim Eplboim (recording secretary), Beirekh Szer, Shimeon Nakhman, Avraham Lindnboim, Sheya Firszt, Shye Yedvabnik, Tovya Bankirer, Efroim Hakhsztajn, Welwl Mandelboim, Mekhl Butman and Itshe Cederboim.

[Page 719]

Chelemer Landsmanschaft[1] in Australia

by Reizl Ceber

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Before we write about the Chelemer landsleit [people from the same town or city], we must stress that Chelemer landsleit are found in large number in Melbourne. It is not known about Chelemer in other cities in Australia. Only individual families are located in Perth and in Sidney. Regrettably, they have no contact with we Chelemer in Melbourne.

In order to clarify who were the first immigrants who came here and when they came, we must return to the year of 1920. During the Third and Fourth Aliyah[2] to Eretz-Yisroel many artisans and Zionist idealists from Chelm traveled to Eretz-Yisroel. But when the crisis broke out in the years 1924-1926, our landsleit made use of the opportunity provided by the English government which had given permission for immigration to Australia. One of the first who came to Melbourne was our dear landsleit, Mr. Yakov Wajnrib, of blessed memory. He brought over a considerable number of landsleit, such as M. Szekhter (Shechterson), Moshe Sznajder (Meir Ber's son), W. Gotlib, Berland, Kajfer, and still others from Eretz-Yisroel.

The home of Dr. Wajnrib was the center for the Chelemer. Letters for almost all Chelemer came to his address. His home was our meeting point where one was delighted with the remembrances of the old home. Mr. Wajnrib was a man with a phenomenal memory. He remembered everyone by his name and even his nickname.

Landsleit in Melbourne went through all phases for an immigrant: heavy labor, wandering, a struggle for a better income, and so on. It is worthwhile to remember our landsman [country man], Moshe Sznajder, of blessed memory, who settled on the land and was the pioneer of farming in Shepparton, Australia.

In the course of time, our landsleit became Australianized. They had a stable income. At the same time, economic conditions in Chelm grew worse. The families in the old home bombarded the landsleit with letters about aid or bringing them here.

There awakened an initiative among our landsleit and we obtained a few “permits,” thanks to the intervention of Mr. Wajnrib, of blessed memory. In 1937-1938, many newly arriving Chelemer immigrants were here, for whom Chelm was still fresh in their hearts and in their memories.

Thanks to the initiative of Mr. Y. Ceber and the assistance of C. Eizen and W. Gotlib the first Chelemer committee was created. Its task was to help the old home materially. The first founding meeting took place in Melbourne, in the meeting hall of Gezerd [a radical left-wing organization] in November 1938. The following people were elected: C. Eizen, Yakov Wajnrib, of blessed memory, Moshe Wajnrib, W. Gotlib, H. Mark-

[Page 720]

man and Y. Ceber. Almost all of the landsleit became members, almost 20 families.

A fund was created of 80 pounds. At that time this was a considerable sum. But the money could not be sent home. In 1939, several people were still successful in coming to Australia. This happened close to the outbreak of the Second World Slaughter… We followed the news that came via the Red Cross with heavy hearts and sorrowing spirits. We learned from the American newspapers about the terrible death march of the Chelm and Hrubieszow Jews. We also learned that many Chelm Jews successfully escaped to Russia. The work of the committee was halted because of the World War.

Meanwhile, a great campaign continued in Australia for sheepskins for the Russian soldiers, organized by the Australian-Soviet Friendship League. With the initiative of several members of the Chelemer committee, the sum of 80 pounds was sent for this purpose.

When the Second World Slaughter ended in 1945 and we learned of the vast Jewish destruction, the feeling awoke in our hearts to help not only our own who had survived, but all of the Chelemer Jews – refugees in the camps. In their time, the Aid Committees in Australia went actively to work. Landmanschaftn from the larger cities such as Bialystok, Czestochowa, Warsaw, Radom, Lwowicz and others were created. On the 25th of August 1945, a general gathering was called of all of the Chelemer and Hrubieszower


Managing Committee of the Chelemer-Hrubieszower Aid Committee in Melbourne, Australia

Sitting from left to right: Yitzhak Ceber – secretary, Wawke Gotlib – chairman, Chaim Markman – treasurer, and Josef Papir
Standing from the left: Leibl Ribeizen, Ch. Oder and Khenina Binsztok

[Page 721]

landsleit at the home of Mr. Oder and his wife. Both cities went together on the death march, and also perished together in the ovens of Majdanek and Sobibor. In addition, many Hrubieszower landsleit had Chelemer wives.

The meeting was very enthusiastic; the Friends [term used for members of landsmanschaftn] C. Eizen and Y. Ceber spoke. The gathered drafted the nature of the activities of the established Chelemer landsmanschaft – the combined Chelemer and Hrubieszower landsleit – with the purpose of helping the landsleit from the two cities and surroundings. The aid consisted of sending food packages for the Chelemer refugees, as well as “permits” (entry papers). A fund created through assessments (224 pounds) was established. The following people were elected to the committee: C. Eizen (Chelm), treasurer – Mendl Korn (Hrubieszow), secretary – Ch. Oder (Hrubieszow), Y. Ceber (Chelm), Mrs. Berland (Chelm).

The committee contacted all Chelemer committees throughout the world. However, only a few individual committees responded, from Poland, Africa, Paris. The Chelemer Committee in Wroclaw sent us a list of Chelemer survivors, who were located in Poland, in Lower Silesia. Letters flowed in asking for aid and “permits”. The committee tried to accommodate each one. “Permits” were obtained for Chelemer and Hrubieszowers. Active work took place. A women's committee was created. Food and clothing was collected and in the evening we gathered in Mrs. Eizen's home and packed the packages. We sent packages to the Chelemer committees in Chelm, Wroclaw, Stettin [Szczecin]. With the support of the Aid Fund, our landsleit packed the crates with clothing for Chelemer in Poland. The crates were sent through the “Joint” [Joint Distribution Committee]. In addition, the created fund required a great deal of money, because Chelemer who already had “permits,” but no money for expenses turned to us. With the help of our landsleit in Africa, five families came down from Poland. We paid for others ourselves.

In 1948 we had a considerable number of newly arrived. Then a new problem arose. As in all nations that took in immigrants, there was a shortage of apartments and getting residences for those arriving was required a great deal of money. To provide our refugees in Australia with a roof over their heads was one of the greatest problems.

The committee did not have much money at its disposal that would enable it to buy a house for the new arrivals as was done by other landsmanschaftn. The tide of immigrants in those years was considerable. From 20 families in 1945, our landsmanschaft reached 50 families, just from Chelm. The committee contacted the general Melbourne aid fund and the immigrants, who then arrived, received a temporary residence from the aid fund until they received an apartment. Among the new arrivals was a portion who needed basic material aid. For such situations, the committee provided a loan of from 50 – 100 pounds with

[Page 722]

repayment at favorable rates. An group of people received such loans and this helped them to obtain a residence, set up furniture or even to establish a business. In addition to the material aspect, it was also the task of the committee to support the Chelemer immigrants spiritually. For this purpose, meetings of our landsleit were arranged from time to time. Such gatherings took place in the homes of Mr. and Mrs. Korn, Mr. and Mrs. Markman, Mr. and Mrs. Fajfer, as well as several in the auditorium of the Kadimah [Jewish Cultural Center and National Library]. All of the meetings passed with great success.

On the 11th of November 1950, the committee organized a memorial evening in the Kadimah auditorium in which a large number of landsleit from Chelm and its vicinity took part. The room was already filled at 8 o'clock. Right at the entrance, one noticed the black covered table with two burning lights and opposite hung an illustration of a matzevah [headstone] for the fallen martyrs. This made the proper impression and brought tears to the eyes. The matzevah had been done by our landsman, Shmuel Ceber. The khazan [cantor] recited the El Maley Rachamim [memorial prayer – “God full of mercy…”]. Then Mr. Gotlib spoke.

Our newly arrived landsleit gave greetings from home after the war. After a very successful conference, Mr. Soler from Hrubieszow spoke; Messers Klajn and Goldman provided a short overview of their return to Chelm after the war. Mr. Likhtman read several excerpts from newspapers about Zamoszcz. Then Friend Klajn presented two successful recitations: “A Mountain of Shoes in Majdanek,” “Stand Up, Jeremiah” – by Bunim Warszawski. At the conclusion, Friend Y. Ceber gave a very successful report. The evening ended with the singing of the partisan song, Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg [Never Say That You Are Trodding the Final Path – written by Mordekhai Gebirtog, who perished in Krakow]. Our landsleit went home deeply moved.

* * *

After the message from Africa was received about assisting in the publishing of the yizkor book, photos, as well as individual articles by our landsleit were sent. The committee arranged a meeting in the Kadimah auditorium where Friend Ceber read the appeal as well as the contents of the prospectus. The month of May was chosen for action for the yizkor book. The committee members visited each landsman and encouraged him to provide a necrology and to order a book. All of the landsleit, with a few exceptions paid for books and a certain number of necrologies were created.

Right now, the following people carry on the work: W. Gotlib, Y. Ceber – secretary, Mrs. Berland, Josef Paiper. Ch. Ador, Kh. Binsztok, showing a great responsibility and understanding of the important work of our landsmanschaft.


Translator's footnotes
  1. Society of people from the same city or town. return
  2. The Third Aliyah took place from 1919 to 1923 and the Fourth Aliyah from 1924 to 1929.] From the years 1924 to 1926 there was a financial crisis in Poland leading to increased emigration. Starting in 1882, there were successive waves of immigration, aliyah, to Eretz-Yisroel. return

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