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People from Suwalk in the World

 

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Suwalk Relief Committee

Hayim Zeligson

In October 1914, as I was walking by 206 East Broadway, my attention was attracted to a sign with large letters: “People from Suwalk, take notice! There is a mass meeting here of people from Suwalk to see what can be done for the Jews of Suwalk and environs, occupied by the Germans”.

The sign drew me like a magnet. After a moment, I was in the hall. There I discovered that the meeting was called by the “Independent Suwalk Society”.

 

Hayim Zeligson

 

The Chairman read the following paragraph from an English language newspaper:

“General Hindenburg and his army marched into Suwalk and established his headquarters on St. Peterburgski Prospect, N°60. The city has not suffered much, and everything is in order there”.

A discussion began on how to help the Jews in Suwalk. The writer of these lines suggested that a relief committee be organized to make contact with other organizations from Suwalk province in order to work out a common relief plan for the Jews of Suwalk of our home town and surroundings.

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The proposal was accepted unanimously. Fifteen members were chosen along with the one who made the proposal as secretary of the committee. Right on the spot, the first funds were raised: a total of sixty-eight dollars.

This was the beginning of the Relief Committee for Suwalk and environs.

On 14th November 1914, the committee met in the office of Dr. Shaul Sheyfer {from Vilkovishk} at 32, Pike Street, New York. There the first officers were elected: Y. Sidney, owner of a gold business, chairman: H.Sheyfer, financial secretary: Ayzik Sapershteyn from Kalverie, clothing manufacturer, treasurer: Hayim Zeligson, recording and corresponding secretary.

It was decided to call a general meeting of all Suwalk societies as soon as possible. The meeting was held in the new quarters of the Gan Yeladim Ivri at 35 Montgomery Street, New York. The delegates of the following organizations participated:

Independent Suvalker Benevolent Assn: Suvalker-Vilkovishker Branch 300 A.R. {Arbeter Ring (Workmen's Circle): Suvalk Lodge of Order Brith Abraham: Suvalk synagogue Mishkan Yisrael: Suvalk synagogue Kol Yisrael Anshe Poylin miSuwalk: Kalvarie synagogue Bene Yisrael Anshe Kalvarie: the Krasopolyer Hevrah: Yagustover synagogue: the Ratsker and Sofotkiner Ahe Grodne Shul: Yagustover Branch 77 Arbeter Ring. There were also some representatives of the Lazdeyer, Yelinever and Sereyer hevrot.

Saturday night, 27th November 1914, the committee called a mass meeting in the big Suwalk synagogue, Kol Yisrael Anshe Poyln miSuwalk, on 114th Street, New York, where Cantor Mayzel memorialized and Reverend Rabinovitsh, one of the most popular speakers at that time, gave a fiery sermon. Altogether, we raised $81.

On 30th December 1914, the committee received an invitation from the New York Kehillah to send a delegate to a conference where plans would be considered on how to organize relief on a mass basis. Secretaries Zeligson and Sheyfer were delegated to attend.

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At that time there were three main committees in Jewish American life, active in relief work for the Jews suffering from the war in Europe: 1) the “Central Jewish Committee” under the leadership of Leon Komaiko – publisher of the “Idish Taggeblatt”. This committee was concerned with Orthodox Jews and institutions such as yeshivot, hadorim, etc. 2) “Peoples Relief Committee” which had as its task the support of the labour movements and their institutions. 3) “American Jewish Committee” led by the rich German Yahudim {sarcastic pronunciation of Jews}.

In order to centralize the entire relief work to ensure greater success in its work, the conference worked out a plan to unite all of the separate relief committees into one large organization with the name: “Joint Distribution Committee”, (known until the present as the “Joint”) which would distribute the funds to all Jewish organizations without discrimination.

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The Suwalk delegates reported to the Suwalk Relief Committee. A debate developed whether to give the collected funds to the “Joint” or whether to work alone for Suwalk and environs. It was decided to proceed independently and to work for our home town. In a short time, the Suwalk Relief Committee had collected the sum of $400, which was a large sum in those days. Because of the war, the money could not be sent abroad.

When America entered the war, the younger and more active members of the Relief Committee were mobilized. For this reason, it was decided to halt the work of the committee temporarily, and the funds that had been collected, by the, around $500, were transferred to the “Joint Distribution Committee”.

This is how the first chapter of the dedicated work of the founders of the first Suwalk Relief Committee in America ended.

 

The first Suwalk Relief Committee in New York, 1918

From right to left, sitting: P. Blumental: S.Kantor: L.Livay: Hayim Zeligson: Yaakov Markson: M.Lindental: unknown
Second row: standing: R'Avigdor HaKohen: Moshe Danski: L.Silverman: Dr M.Dzsh Kats: Natan Silverman: L.Danski: L.Dzsheykobson
Third row: unknown: Dr.P.Levander: S.Sandovski: Dzsh.Levin: L.Sigel: Barukh Herison: Betsalel Gladshteyn: M.Braun: Tikotsinski: Vroblevski: B.Salinkski: V.Markovits
Last row: unknown: Mitnik: Rakovski: Gelis: Rozntal: unknown

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Right after the end of World War I, through the initiative of the writer of these lines, the Suwalk Relief Committee was re-organized, in order to help the impoverished Jews and the destroyed institutions in Suwalk and environs. It included: Dr.M.Dzsh.Kats – a Suwalk son-in-law, President: L.Silverman, Vice-President: L.Danski, treasurer, and Hayim Zeligson, Secretary. The committee also included as consultants, the famous poet, Morris Rosenfeld, who came from the Suwalk area: Judge Rozalski from Ratzk, as well as V.Pakhutski, from Suwalk who worked at the Morning Journal: Dr.L. Frank, director of Beth Israel Hospitals, and Yehezkel Sarasohn, publisher of the Taggeblat.

The committee set as its goal to collect a fund of $25,000.

The first meeting was held in “Mishkan Yisrael Anshe Suvalk” at 38 Henry Street, New York, in December 1919. Among the speakers was Morris Rosenfeld who began his talk with the quotation: “For God did send me before you to preserve life”. {Genesis, XLV,5}. “Like Joseph in his time” --- the poet said –

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“so are we here in America destined to feed our brothers on the other side of the ocean!”

It was decided to sponsor a benefit in Thomashefsky's theatre. This produced an income of $2,000 for the relief fund.

It happened that a young man from Grayeve – Eliyahu Vipinski – a nephew of R'Avigdor HaKohen, a member of our committee, was preparing to travel to Grayeve. We sent the $2,000 with him to bring to Suwalk to the rabbi of that time, Rabbi Menahem Krakovski, to the dayan Rabbi Binaymin Magentsa, and to the mohel, R'Zalman Birger. According to the instructions of the committee, the following were added to the distribution committee: - In Suwalk: Menahem Mendl Fridman: Shelomoh Perlo: Tanhum Krutshenishki *: Yitshak Levin: Yisrael Davidzon *: Avraham Yehudah Zeligson: Aharon Hasid (son of the cantor): Ginsburg (R'Zelmele's son-in-law: Dr.Hayim Vigdortshik: Moshe Gladshteyn: Moshe David Zilbershteyn: Yitshak Abrameytis: Avraham Shemuel Lizshevski: Haim Ber Smetsikhovski *: Yakkov Shelomoh Finkovitsh; and Mrs.Berta Levin: Mrs.Roze Gradovski; and Mrs.Kavin (from the Suwalk Women's Society).

 

Committee of “Ezrat Ahim” of Suwalk

Right to left, sitting: Moshe Gladshteyn and wife: Dr.Vigdortshik: Shelomoh Perlo: Dz.Shperling: Eliezer Lizevski: the dayan R'Binyamin Magentsa: Rabbi Yehudah Khashesman: unknown: Aharon Hasid
Standing: Yaakov Ratskovski: Yaakov Shelomoh Fnkovitsh: Mrs.Kavin: Yaakov Gotlib: Yisrael Davidson * {note: there are not errors, the names are spelled differently in the text}: unkown: Mrs.Raza *Gradovski: Mrs.Shperling: Shalom Shperling: Yitshak Abrameytis: Moshe David Zilbershteyn: Tanhum Krutshinski *: Avraham Yehudah Zeligson: Ginsburg (R'Zemele's son-in-law): Haim Ber Smetshekhovski *: the rabbi of the Tailors' kloyz: Mrs.Berta Levin.

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Not long after our committee organized a big concert in Carnegie Hall, with the participation of the then well-known cantor, Yosef Shliski and the violin virtuoso, Edi Braun. The concert made us a clear profit of $3,500.

At the same time, our committee announced that it would accept private funds for relatives, with the condition that the American donor gave ten per cent of the amount to the relief committee. They percentages of these funds produced another $1,800 for the relief fund. Due to the increased activity, an office was opened at 124 Rivington Street in New York.

When the sum of about $6,000 had been collected, the relief committee began to consider the idea of sending an emissary to Suwalk to distribute the money there, because there was no other way to send money to Poland. However, the trip alone would cost a minimum of $1,000. It was also difficult to get a visa[1*] at that time because there was an “epidemic” of emissaries sent by various landsmanshaftn to Europe to give money to relatives, and the State Department made it difficult to obtain visas.

But here, another opportunity arose. A young man from Suwalk, Yosef Shperling, had already obtained a visa to go to Suwalk to bring back his relatives, and for only $300, he agreed to take on the responsibility of distributing the funds to people's relatives and to the distribution committee in Suwalk. He had a total of $23,000 to distribute.

The Suwalk committee, which called itself: “Ezrat Ahim”, loaned money to retail merchants and distributed funds to the

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Needy, gave free medicine, set up public baths and soup kitchens. etc. according to our instructions. They also sent money to the surrounding villages: Ratzk, Baklerowe, Filipowe, Yelinewe, Saini, Wizshan, Psherosle, Punsk and Lubave. All of these funds were carefully distributed.

It is clear from the first report of the “Ezrat Ahim”, that a nine-month period (Aril 1920-January 1921) our relief funds were distributed thus: (at the exchange rate of 100 marks = $.83)

Support of needy 657,883 marks
Loans for workers and retailers 164,000
Doctors and medicines 20,000
Support for poor refugees 12,400
For Jews of Saini who suffered from pogroms by Poles 23,000
Clothing and food for Talmud Torah children 95,600
Medicine for surrounding villages 84,200
Communal institutions 84,300
Total 1,151,383 marks

 

When one considers that over a million marks were distributed by our relief committee in the course of nine months, one can get an idea of how important our support was for our needy brothers and sisters in our old home.

In April 1921, the New York committee published a journal which I edited, called “Der Suvalker Leben” {Suwalk life}, where our relief committee in Suwalk gave a full report and described the prevailing need.

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But the Suwalk Relief Committee did not continue having large profits. Many people did not respond as warmly as they had immediately after the war. In the journal, “Der Suvalker Leben”, there are some bitter remarks on the subject by the then President, Dr.Dzsh.Katz, Wilyam Pakhutski and L.Perlshteyn, especially on account of the Suwalk Nouveau riche in America. With great effort, we were able to send another $2,000 to Suwalk and we instructed the “Ezrat Ahim” to use it as a loan fund. Suwalk householders and workers were greatly helped by this loan fund.

The first secretary of the “Ezrat Ahim” committee was Hirsh Bernshteyn, may God avenge his blood. afterwards,

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The former rabbi of Baklerwe, the great scholar, Rabbi Yehudah Khashesman, may he live for many long days, who later became the rabbi of Tiktiner synagogue in Chicago, served.

It is only right to mention the names of the devoted people who worked so hard for our landslayt and who are no longer among us:

M.Kahan: M.Zablodovski: M.Rozntal: M.Semyanski: Detsalel Gladshtyen: Barukh Herison: M.Braun: Shemuel Sandovski: L.Silverman: M.Lindental: L.Dzsheykobson: N.Silverman: Dzsh.Grosman: V.Markevitsh: M.Rozndorf: Avigdor HaKohen and Dzsh.Markson.

 

{on photo in white ink}: The Suvalk Relief together with the delegates from environs

First row sitting from right to left: P.Blumental: Kanter: L.Livi: Hayim Zeligson: Dzsh.Markson, peace upon him: Max Lindental, peace upon him: Eliezer Perlshteyn, peace upon him
Second row: R'Avigdor HaKohen, of blessed memory: Moshe Danski, of blessed memory: L.Silverman, of blessed memory: L.Danski: Dzsheykobson, peace upon him
Third row: Unknown: Dr.Levander: Shemuel Sandovski: Dr.Levander: Shemuel Sandovski, peace upon him
[2*] Dr.Levin: Sigel, peace upon him: Barukh Herison, peace upon him: T.Gladshteyn, peace upon him: Meir Braun, peace upon him: Ayzik Tikotshinski: Dr. Vroblevski: B.Salinski: Markovits, peace upon him
Fourth row: Unknown: L.Mitnik, peace upon him: Rakovski: Dr.Gelis: Rozntal, peace upon him: Unknown.

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As time went by, the meetings became weaker and the activities of the committee lessened. The indefatigable Dr. Kats had to give up his involvement in 1923 because of difficult conditions. In 1973 {1923}, the committee was re-organized with a smaller membership.

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Hayim Zeligson was elected president and Perlshteyn was elected secretary. The committee consisted exclusively of representatives of the Suwalk society and

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the Suvalker Arbeter Ring Brentsh 300{Workmen's Circle Branch 300}.

At that time we began to get sorrowful tidings about the condition of Jews in Poland. Jews were thrown out of moving trains. The boycott against Jewish business ruined thousands of Jewish families.

As a result of the generally difficult conditions, the Suwalk institutions such as the Talmud Torah, the Folk Shuls, hospital, Home for the Aged and Orphanage, were also seriously affected. They appealed to us for help in order to continue their existence. The Relief Committee organized a number of entertainments and the profits were sent to the communal institutions in Suwalk. In addition, special funds were sent before every Passover and every Rosh Hashanah to buy clothing for the poor children of the Talmud Torah.

And so it went until 1935. Anti-Semitism in Poland because so strong that a series of pogroms actually occurred in some cities. This wave of anti-Semitism also visited our city, Suwalk. A pogrom broke out on the ninth of June, 1935. The Suwalk correspondent of the Haynt of Warsaw, Aviezer Zilkevitsh, described it thus:

“Sunday, about nine p.m. a signal was given by the Fire Company's siren. At first people thought there was a fire. Suddenly the sound of shouting was heard coming from hundreds of people, gentile youths from the trade schools. This mob rushed into the Jewish neighbourhood, broke windows with stones and iron bars, attacked the Beth Hamidrash and the Talmud Torah and wounded a number of Jews; Dr. Staropolski among them, whom the hooligans stabbed in the head. “Struzshes” {watchmen}, who depended upon Jews for their livelihood, broke in the windows of their Jewish employers and robbed them; taking whatever they could. It lasted until Monday morning when a delegation, including the Suwalk rabbi, Rabbi David Lifshitz and the wounded, Dr. Staropolski, was able to persuade the city police and military commander to prevent further pogroms”.

The New York Relief Committee sent a strong protest resolution to the Polish Ambassador in America and to the State Department in Washington along these lines:

“We have been informed by reliable sources that on the ninth of June, 1935, there was a pogrom in Suwalk in which

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The students of the Polish schools participated. A number of Jews were beaten savagely and were wounded. Jewish property was robbed. We protest strongly against the Polish government which allowed this anti-Semitic outbreak to occur and did not protect the Jews who lived in the city for hundreds of years and who participated in its development and growth. As American citizens, we ask the State Department to demand that the Polish government investigate these incidents and punish the guilty parties”.

Copies of this protest resolution were also sent to Yiddish and English language newspapers. Reply was received from the State Department that our protest had been sent to the Polish government.

The difficult situation in Poland, which kept getting worse for the Jews of Suwalk, laid many heavy responsibilities upon us to provide assistance, and we tried very hard to do this.

We set an annual tax of one dollar from every member of the Suwalk Landsmanshaft, which is, by the way, in force until the present day. The Yiddish language press described this as a good model for other landsmanshaftn to follow.

Shortly before the Holocaust, we had an opportunity to send a delegate to Suwalk in the person of L.Perlo, Relief Committee treasurer, who was empowered to investigate conditions there, and to distribute money to institutions and individuals. He visited the communal institutions and paid special attention to the Talmud Torah, where 500 children studied at that time.

Upon his return to New York, L.Perlo delivered a sad report from Suwalk, where the people lived in constant fear of anti-Semitism, and where the institutions were in very bad shape.

On September 1, 1939, the war broke out. Hitler's Nazis marched into Suwalk on Simhat Torah. After a few weeks of dreadful decrees and oppression, they declared a total expulsion of the Jews from Suwalk and environs.

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The deportation of the Jews took place under dreadful conditions. Jews were rounded up from the streets and from their homes by the thousands, packed into freight trains and sent away to distant

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Polish towns: Lukov, Farthshev {Fortshev?}, Biale-Podlask and the so-called Lublin reservation.

Last picture of Suwalk Talmud Torah in 1939
In the middle is Rabbi Lifshits and our delegate, Leon Perlo

 

A few thousand Suwalk Jews escaped deportation by running away into the forests and fields around the city and hiding in “no-man's land”. Some were able to sneak into Augustow, then under Russian rule, and the largest number, around 2700 people, went to the border towns of Lithuania, Kalvarie, Lazdey, Vilkovishk, Mariampol and others.

The Suwalk Jews in Lithuania were in great need and the local Jews helped them. However, they were not able to carry the entire burden of assistance by themselves.

Around 1940, a letter was received by the Lithuanian Jewish Farband in New York from Rabbi Shimon Bengis of Kalvarie, which was the centre of Suwalk refugees, about the indescribable conditions in which our landslayt lived and begging for immediate help.

After the New York Farband of Lithuanian Jews consulted with our Relief Committee, a conference of all of our organizations was called. There, a more broadly based aid committee was formed

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Which took in the Jewish-Lithuanian Farband under the name “Rescue-Committee of Suwalk Region in {and?} Kalvarie and Environs”.

The following officers were chosen: Leon Shapira – legal counsel, Hayim Zeligson – president, Neytan Frank – vice president, Lazar Perlshteyn – secretary, Leon Perlo – treasurer.

*note! Organization given different name each time it is mentioned. Impossible to know correct name.

The Rescue Committee collected $600 and wired it to Rabbi Bengis in Kalvarie and, to relieve the immediate need for clothing, the Lithuanian Farband collected 700 pounds for clothes which we sent over to Kalverie right away.

Rabbi Bengis was requested to set up aid committees which would distribute the funds and which would open soup kitchens.

On January 28, 1940 we called a mass meeting where all the horrible facts were reported about the Nazi regime in Suwalk and environs. The news that some Suwalk Jews were shot at as

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they attempted to cross the border into Lithuania, aroused a cry of dismay, as did the news that some Jews drowned as they swam across the canal near Augustow. Right then and there, we raised $3,500.

The committee carried out collections of clothing and other intensive tasks under the leadership of the writer of these lines. Five bales of clothing and shoes were sent to Lithuania. Because of war conditions, the entire transport was help up in Sweden for a long time.

Our committee learned that among those who had escaped was the rabbi of Suwalk, Rabbi David Lifshits and his family. They had had a frightful journey: while they were crossing the border to Kalverie, their young child died. We wired him requests to head the relief work and to set up a committee which should include representatives of all of the towns where refugees from Suwalk and environs were found.

Under the rabbi's leadership, a central committee was set up and in 1940, we sent large sums of money on his name for our refugee landslayt in Lithuania. The transport of clothing which had been held up in Sweden arrived that summer in Kovne and through the central committee; the clothing was distributed to the needy.

We can get a partial overview of the sad situation of the refugees from a report which we requested from the “Joint” in the summer of 1940:

“Mr. Bekelman, our representative from the Vilna office, toured Lithuania and found that in 12 small towns, there were 1646 Jews from Suwalk. Of these, 1533 are being supported by the refugee committee and 113 by the local residents. Mr.Bekelman paid special attention to the condition of the refugees in Vilkovishk, where there are, according to his report, 290 refugees. Of these, 42 are being supported by local residents and 248 by the refugee committee. The monthly budget for Vilkovishk is $1,675. The refugees live in houses furnished by local Jews. The children go to school, and 15 boys are studying in the local ORT school.

Hygiene conditions were very bad. Clothing was old and torn. They did not have clothes or underwear. Among

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the refugees, there were no cobblers, so a cobbler shop was set up in Vilkovishk to repair the shoes of the refugees.

In other places, the conditions were worse. There were no shoes or clothing at all, and the children did not go to heder”.

It should be added to this “Joint” report, that the number of refugees from Suwalk in Lithuania was about 3000 and they were scattered in more than 12 small towns.

In order to make the assistance more effective, our committee contacted the Suwalk landsmanshaft in Chicago, whose president was Shmuel Bernshteyn. Thanks to his activity, the Chicago Suwalk Club supported the refugees in Lithuania most handsomely. S.Bernshteyn also organized the landslayt in Detroit and they also sent much help.

At this time, the president of the Suwalk society in Buenos Aires got in touch with us. David Roznblum sent us materials from the Argentine landslayt for the Suwalk refugees. He also got in touch with the landslayt in Montevideo (Uruguay) where the work was carried on by the present, Shelomoh Stutshinksi.

S.Bernshteyn initiated a national conference in Pittsburgh in July 1940, to which all the Suwalk organizations in America sent delegates. Our delegation to the conference consisted of: L.Perlshteyn, Leo Perlo, and Berl Gershen. There it was decided that all of the organizations should carry on their relief work under one body named “Federate Organizations of Suwalk and Vicinity” and, that the next conference would be in Cleveland.

At the end of the summer of 1940, the Vaad Hatsalah of the Agudat Ha-Rabonim in America informed our relief committee that the American government had provided some visas for Jewish leaders from Europe, including the rabbi of Suwalk, Rabbi David Lifshits. We were happy to collect the material goods needed for his arrival in America. After a long journey lasting months, through many countries, the rabbi and his family arrived in San Francisco, California in June, 1941. Our landslayt welcome him with extraordinary warmth on his way through Chicago and later, when he arrived in New York.

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On Sunday, June 22, 1941, there was an official reception for the rabbi in Manhattan Plaza. He told a packed hall, in detail, about the horrible destruction which Hitler had wrought upon the 15,000 Jews of Suwalk and environs. His talk made such an impression, that the people could not stop sobbing as they heard about the fate of their relatives and friends. The rabbi also

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reported some of the difficult conditons of the “lucky” 3000 Jews who had managed to escape to Lithuania. He expressed the most heartfelt gratitude for the support which our committee had given the unfortunate landslayt {compatriots}, in his name and in the name of the survivors and asked for continuing support.

But even as he spoke and on that very same day,

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Lithuania was occupied by Hitler's army and our hopes to be re-united with our landslayt {compatriots}, were lost. Heavy clouds covered the whole free world and despair reigned. Nevertheless, our work was not halted. We made plans to be prepared to render assistance to our rescued landslayt at the earliest opportunity when the world would again be free.

Therefore, we called the second national conference of all of the Suwalk organizations in July 1941 in Cleveland.

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The chairman was S. Bernshteyn of Chicago. The New York delegation consisted of H. Zeligson, L.Perlshteyn, L.Perlo, B.Gershen, S.Sandovski and Dzh.Markson.

There were also delegations from Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburg. The conference lasted two days. Plans were made to be prepared with immediate assistance as soon as world conditions would allow.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Col. 553]

Bialystok and Lodz.

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

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

[Col. 554]

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

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

[Col. 555]

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

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

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

In the summer of 1946, a “Vaad Le-Yehude Suvalk vehaseviva”[3*] was organized in Tel Aviv, thanks to the initiative of dedicated workers: Yehudah Koyfman, Moshe Goldshteyn and Shelomoh Shulkes, Shpunder and others. Even though the situation in Palestine was very difficult, the committee carried out some fundraising campaigns and sent immediate assistance to Suwalk Jews.

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

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

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

[Col. 556]

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

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

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

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

From Pittsburg: Dzsh.Saul[4*]

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

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

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

[Col. 557]

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

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

[Col. 558]

each Suwalk landsmanshaft continued to carry on its work independently.

Suwalk Relief Committee in New York, 1959

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

[Col. 557]

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

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

[Col. 558]

building at the entrance to the cemetery, containing the room for cleansing the corpses and the synagogue, had been torn down by the Nazis. The monuments over the graves of the famous rabbis, Rabbi Ayzik Heber, Rabbi Yehudah Leyb Bakhrakh, Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Luria and Rabbi Yosef Yoselevitsh had been destroyed. It would take a lot of money to repair all of this, and we sent the money immediately to Kopl Lubovski. He and some of the other Jews, built a new fence, filled in the graves, and set up the monuments of some of the rabbis for which the New York Suwalk Committee provided the previous text.[5*]

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

[Col. 559]

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

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

A Jew of Augustow, returning from Sibera, and learning from his gentile neighbours about the murder of his family by the Nazis, died on the spot. Since there were no more Jews in Augustow, the Suwalk Jews brought him to be buried in the Suwalk Jewish cemetery. Since they could not cover the burial expenses, our Relief Committee had the mitzvah of “hesed shel-Emet”[6*]

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

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

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

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

[Col. 560]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Col. 561]

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

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

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

[Col. 562]

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

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

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

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

 

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

[Col. 563]

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

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

[Col. 564]

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

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

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

 

Editorial committee of book

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

[Col. 565]

Our committee also passed such a resolution[7*] about Suwalk and environs.

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

During the summer of 1952, Rabbi David Lifshits visited Israel. Our committee gave him a number of “scripts”[8*] to distribute to needy landslayt. We also gave him the authority to investigate the problems relating to our relief work in Israel.

[Col. 564]

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

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

[Col. 565-566]

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

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

[Col. 565]

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

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

[Col. 566]

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

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


Translator's Footnotes

    1*. It is not clear: needs research into travel restrictions of time Return
    2*. Repetition of two names obvious typo Return
    3*. Council for Jews of Suwalk and environs Return
    4*. Whom I know as Joseph Saul Return
    5*. This part of the sentence is extremely ambiguous. I am guessing that it means that the New York Committee sent the text of the inscriptions that had been on the destroyed monuments so that they could be engraved on the new stones Return
    6*. True charity. Usually translated in America as Free Burial Society Return
    7*. i.e. to publish a book Return
    8*. Probably means scrip which was used in Israel during the years of austerity to purchase hard to get items in special stores Return

 

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