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[Pages 92-96 Hebrew] [Pages 254-259 Yiddish]

The Zychliner Organization in Israel

by Yehoshua Wojdeslawski

Translated by Leon Zamosc

Until the outbreak of the Second World War, the Zychlin Jews who had left for Palestine did not feel the need to establish a landsmen's organization. Each one of us had their own attitudes on social and political matters and their own private circle of personal acquaintances. We were not immigrants in a foreign country. Every Zychliner who came to the Eretz Israel was received with open arms by the previous settlers. Some of the immigrants joined kibbutzim and the rest settled in cities and towns. They would socialize with their friends in their homes, or in the clubs of the political parties to which they belonged.

When we began to hear about the criminal acts of the German murderers in the occupied lands, we became anxious about the fate of our friends and relatives who had stayed back in Zychlin. But we could not imagine that the disaster was so horrendous. In those days, the idea was born to organize ourselves as Zychlin landsmen in order to be ready, when the war was over, to help the survivors who would be coming to Eretz Israel. To this end, several activists gathered at the home of Reb Mendel Meir Rozenblum, who had been an activist of the religious Zionist party Mizrahi in Zychlin. The meeting was attended by Yosef Rozenberg, Yosef Rozengarten, Yehezkel Helmer, Leibush Opatowski, Yitzhak Rozenberg, Shlomo Wojdeslawski, Yaakov Neufeld, David Steinberger and Yechiel Plotzker. We discussed the tragic situation of the Zychlin Jews and decided to establish an organization that would include all the Zychliners who were living in Eretz Israel. A temporary committee was elected and charged with the task of preparing the organization's bylaws.

On May 13, 1944, the founding meeting was held at Yitzhak Rozenberg's home. It was attended by 40 members. As elected chairman, Moshe Kelmer lectured on the organization's goals, read the bylaws and proposed the immediate establishment of a charity fund. Yaakov Neufeld was elected as treasurer. Those who were present at the meeting made donations on the spot. Five members were elected to the executive committee: Yosef Rozenberg, Yaakov Neufeld, Yehezkel Helmer, Yitzhak Rozenberg and Aryeh Szenowski. The audit committee included Yosef Zolty, Yosef Rozengarten and Moshe Helmer. There was also a membership committee that included Mendel Meir Rozenblum, Bunim Boim and Leibush Opatowski.

The war came to an end. Of the four thousand Jews living in Zychlin, only a few dozen had miraculously survived the Shoah. Some of them tried to resettle in Zychlin, but they could not endure it. Very soon, they left the town. Zychlin became a “Judenrein” place.

In 1952 we were visited by Sam Berman, the most engaged activist in the organization of Zychliner landsmen in America. We received him with a large meeting that was attended by veteran Zychliner residents from all over Israel and by the first group of Zychliner survivors. After a report on the organization's activities in Israel, the survivors described the heartbreaking loss of our relatives and friends. We learned that on Purim 1942, the Jews of Zychlin were taken to be gassed at the Chelmno extermination camp.

 

Committee of the Zychliner Organization in Israel with Nat Opatow from America

 

At the meeting, we made a decision to commemorate the holy victims and to establish a permanent home for the activities of the organization in Israel. Sam Berman promised to work with all his might to achieve this goal. A new committee was elected including Yehoshua Wojdeslawski, Yosef Rozenberg, Zechariah Targovnik, Yitzhak Helmer, Shmuel Jakubowicz and Yehoshua Kowent (among the new immigrants).

Zechariah Targovnik's proposal to buy a small residence for the organization was also adopted. Thanks to the joint effort of the Zychliners in Israel and the United States, two small houses were purchased at 88 Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. One of the small houses was dedicated as a memorial synagogue for the Shoah victims of Zychlin and the other was designated for the meetings and activities of the organization. The Zychlin House became the permanent memorial for the Jewish community of Zychlin in the State of Israel.

As the activities expanded we realized that the small house was insufficient for the needs of the organization. On Sam Berman's second visit to Israel in 1962, the committee discussed with him the building of a larger house for the organization. He supported the proposal and promised his assistance. But the opinions were divided and the matter was not pursued.

 

House of the Zychiner Organization in Tel Aviv

 

Foundation Document for the Zychlin House cornerstone laying ceremony in Tel Aviv, 1965

The document reads:
On this day, 5 September 1965, we laid the cornerstone for the House of the Zychiner Organizations in Israel and America, dedicated to the remembrance of our town's martyrs who perished in the Shoah. The American committee: Nat Opatow, Godel Gorki, Sam Berman, Sidney Berman, Yosef Lemberg, Israel Lemberg, Sidney Kujawski, Louis Laski, Moshe Helmer, David Lazarus. The Israeli committee: Yaakov Ben-Binah, Yaakov Noy (Neufeld), Yehuda Opatowski, Meir Helmer, Avraham Zigelman, Shmuel Jakubowicz, Yitzhak Kelmer, Yehoshua Kowent, Yitzhak Rozenberg.

 

A new committee was elected at the 1964 annual meeting. It included Aryeh Opatowski, Yaakov Ben-Binah (Lemberg), Yaakov Noy (Neufeld), Shmuel Jakubowicz, Yitzhak Kelmer, Yitzhak Rozenberg, Meir Helmer, Avraham Zigelman and Yehoshua Kowent. The committee pushed forward the plan for the construction of the house. They again contacted the Zychliner landsmen's organization in the United States, which sent to Israel the activist Nat Opatow, with whom we found a common language. We hired a contractor and on September 5, 1965, we laid the cornerstone for the new Zychlin House. In an uplifted mood, the committee appealed to all Zychliner landsmen in Israel and abroad for help. With those joint efforts, the new Zychlin House was finally completed with a hall that can accommodate three hundred people. At the synagogue, which was also rebuilt, regular prayers are held on Saturdays and holidays.

 

Zychlin House cornerstone laying ceremony in Tel Aviv

From right: Yosef Zolty, Yitzhak Kelmer, Nat Opatow (holding the Foundation Document), Zechariah Targovnik, Yaakov Ben-Binah, Levkovitz, Yitzhak Rozenberg, Yaakov Noy (Neufeld)

 

Nat Opatow and Yaakov Ben-Binah at the Zychlin House cornerstone laying ceremony in Tel Aviv

 

Exchange between Yaakov Ben-Binah and Sam Berman
(from New York) on the design of the Zychlin House

 

Yaakov Ben-Binah reads the Foundation Document
at the Zychlin House cornerstone laying ceremony

 

Our meetings and celebrations are held in the large hall. We welcome our guests from abroad and facilitate their meetings with relatives and friends. We also use the hall to observe Holocaust Day with memorials and celebrate Israel's Independence Day. Friends from all over the country come to the Zychlin House to participate in all these events.

Our committee decided to publish a memorial book in order to commemorate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of the Jews of Zychlin, our ancestral town.

 

Yaakov Ben-Binah and Sam Berman installing the remembrance plaque
for the Zychlin martyrs at Martef HaShoah, Jerusalem

 

Zychliners at the installation of the remembrance plaque
for the Zychlin martyrs at Martef HaShoah, Jerusalem

 

[Pages 259-266 Yiddish]

Zychliners in the United States

Adapted by Y. B.

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc

In 1905 when strikes, demonstrations and street battles broke out throughout the Russian Empire against the Czarist regime, a significant sector of the Jewish population participated in the events. The enlightened youth and the conscientious workers threw themselves into the active struggle with the hope and belief that bringing down the Czar would bring equality and renewal to the Jewish masses. Unfortunately this beautiful dream ended in failed revolution, a general crackdown against the rebels, and agitation and pogroms against the Jews. It was the weak and oppressed who paid the price of this rebellion.

In Zychlin, as in other places, the Jewish youth, disappointed, repressed and despondent began to look for a practical solution. There were no prospects in the town. They began to leave, some to larger cities and others across the ocean. They dreamed about the “Golden Land”, America, where one could breathe freely, earn a living, and in time, bring the rest of the family.

 

The First Steps

However, being an immigrant in a strange land, without the language or a profession, without family or friends, proved to be very difficult. In addition, there was much longing for the wives and children, parents, brothers and sisters who had been left behind. It was particularly sad on the Sabbath and holidays when one remembered how everything was celebrated in Zychlin with family and friends, gathering for celebrations or simply for a glass of tea. All that was gone!

Still, nobody wanted to return home because the bottom line was that there was nothing to go back for.

In time, the number of immigrants from Zychlin increased. By 1910-1914 there were already entire Jewish families from Zychlin living in New York. People helped each other in the process of leaving the town and coming to the United States. It was then that the idea emerged to establish an organized landsmen's society in order to help the new immigrants and keep the people from Zychlin closer together in a foreign unfamiliar country. The initiators were: Aaron Berman, Shmerl Berman, Avraham Makover, Sam Zaiderman and Meir Kelmer.

With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 the earnings of the Zychlin Jews in America were improving and they began to think about helping their brothers back home. This idea was transformed into action. They really helped, particularly when the war ended and the economic life of the Jews in independent Poland was completely ruined. Antisemitism and boycotts were rampant throughout the country and also reached Zychlin.

 

The Official Founding of the Society

Our landsmen's society was officially founded in November 1923 under the name Zychlin Young Mens' Society. The meeting took place in the home of Avraham Makover. The following were elected to the executive committee: Avraham Makover, Shmerl (Sam) Berman, Israel Lemberg, Sam Zaiderman and Sidney Berman.

It is worthwhile mentioning a few of the first important decisions:

- Each member would pay an annual membership fee to cover ongoing expenses.
- The executive committee would hold meetings every two weeks.
- A Gemilat Hesed Kasse fund for interest free loans would be created in Zychlin with our support (Avraham Elye Berman donated money on the spot for this fund).
- Land would be purchased to have our own cemetery.
- A fund would be created to provide Passover assistance to the poor in Zychlin, sending the money every year on the eve of Passover.

Of course we did not refuse individual aid. When we got a letter from the Zychlin rabbi about his difficult situation and the fact that he was not receiving anything from the funds we sent on Passover, we immediately sent aid to his address.

At the same time, we had to take care of our landsmen in New York. To achieve this we established the following:

- A benefit for the sick to help our members and their families with aid for medications and hospitalization.
- A relief fund to help our members in emergency situations.
- An interest free loan fund to give loans in comfortable conditions.

We also worked out the bylaws for the organization, stipulating an annual general meeting in which the president and treasurer would present a report of activities. We also agreed that the executive committee would include the following positions: president, vicepresident, treasurer and manager of the cemetery. Besides these, there were three members who were responsible for the medical assistance to our membership.

In 1938 we sent one thousand dollars to Zychlin for the Gemilat Hesed Kasse and also arranged for the Society of Polish Jews in America to send 600 dollars from their fund. On that same year we also sent 110 dollars to Zychlin for the sick.

 

During the Second World War

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 and Zychlin was occupied by the Germans, all contact was lost with our hometown. In 1941, we sent through Spain, with the help of the Red Cross, 16 packages of food with the hope of alleviating the suffering of our unfortunate brothers. Unfortunately those packages never arrived in Zychlin.

 

The executive of the Zychlin Society in the United States

Standing from right to left: M. Kovent, T. Leibowitch, A. Kirshtein, M. Helmer, M. Waitzberg, and G. Makover
Seated: S. Berman, L. Lasky, S. Kubski, and G. Gorki

 

While waiting for Hitler's defeat, we prepared to help the Jews from our old town. We provided collection boxes to every Zychliner home in New York in order to have money ready for the Zychlin Jewish children after the war. When the German army was defeated on all fronts and the Third Reich ceased to exist our joy was disturbed by the horrific news about the extermination of Jews in Europe and especially about the scale of the destruction in Poland. It appeared we did not have many Jewish children from Zychlin to help…

However there were survivors that needed assistance to get back on their feet. The material help provided by our townspeople in America was exceptional, but the moral help was no less important. We had to encourage those who had survived that great national catastrophe. We sent out this appeal from the president of the Zychlin Society in New York, Nat Opatow written in 1944:

“Let us help those who hope to be able to help themselves some day!”

To all landsmen from Zychlin,

As you know we are living through the worst and most inhuman period in human history. Never, in the history of Jewish suffering (and we Jews have suffered a lot) have we had an enemy as brutal and horrifying as Hitler, who with his bloody rule tried to annihilate the Jews from the entire world, and to a certain extent, satisfied his thirst for Jewish blood.

He has already killed millions of our sisters and brothers in Europe and who knows how many more millions will be killed. To solve the Jewish problem is the obligation of the whole world, but saving our unfortunate brothers and sisters in Zychlin is our task.

We must not forget for one moment, that we, the Zychliner Jews of America are their only hope. We must not disappoint or abandon them.

Therefore the Zychlin Relief Committee of New York is appealing to you with the cry of those who cannot speak for themselves: Fulfill your obligation!

This appeal is aimed directly at all Zychliners, including those who do not live in New York. This is the first time that we, the Zychlin landsmen of New York are asking you to help the relief effort. We do not need to tell you that collecting funds for Zychlin is not new in New York, but at this present moment, when the need for rescue is far greater than ever, we must turn to you to help us out. Get to work and join a committee with other landsmen in your city and explain to them the importance of sending help for Zychliners. We hope to receive donations from everyone, as you deem appropriate for this sacred objective.

We are calling a meeting of all Jews from Zychlin in New York. However to all of you who live in other cities in the United States, we are appealing in writing.

Help is needed now. Do not put it off to tomorrow. People's hopes depend on you. Give more than you can. Be generous, we are dealing with a great tragedy.

The money received will be deposited in the bank until the moment we can send the aid to Zychlin.

Zychlin Relief Committee, Nat Opatow, Chairman.

This appeal was warmly received and the Jews from Zychlin living outside New York joined the effort to help the survivors.

 

After Liberation

Right after liberation in 1945 we sent 20 packages with food and clothing to Zychlin because we hoped that many who had survived would benefit. Sadly, there was no one there to receive that help.

Subsequently a member of our executive, Sam Berman, sent letters to all the Displaced Persons camps in Germany asking about survivors from Zychlin that we could help. At the same time a special fund was set up to bring Zychlin survivors to America. Thanks to this, we were able to help them to find work, place a roof over their heads and more importantly, stand on their own two feet with the financial and moral support from our association.

After the war we also sent packages of food and clothing to Palestine for the needs of the Zychliner survivors who were getting there.

On May 15th 1948 the establishment of the State of Israel was declared. The Zychlin Jews in America were very excited. We decided to actively raise funds for all the campaigns for the State of Israel. Every year on Israel's Independence Day we organize a party for our members and their families with tables covered with tablecloths. There is a holiday mood and atmosphere. Our hearts beat in rhythm with the hearts of all the Jews in the world who are happy about the existence of our independent Jewish state.

Of course, we do not forget our holy martyrs. Every year we organize a memorial evening to remember those who perished.

 

Zychlin House in Israel

In 1951 the chairman of the Zychlin Society in New York, Zechariah Targovnik, travelled to Israel with his wife. He proposed to the Israeli Zychliner organization to build a memorial house to perpetuate the memory of Jewish Zychlin. The idea was approved and the Zychlin society in New York quickly collected a respectable amount of money to achieve this goal. Land was bought in Holon, but in 1953 Sam Berman visited Israel and realized that Holon was not an appropriate place to erect the Zychlin House. The lot was sold and, through the joint efforts of our landsmen in America and Israel, two old buildings were purchased on Bograshov street in the centre of Tel Aviv.

 

Three active members of the Zychlin Society in New York
From right: Nat Opatow, Sidney Berman and Sam Berman

 

Ten years later, when Sam returned to Israel in 1963 bringing ten thousand dollars to build the house, there was no agreement between him and the Israeli committee regarding the character and function of the Zychlin memorial house. The realization of the project was postponed.

In July 1965, Nat Opatow arrived in Israel with full authorization from the New York committee to resolve the differences with the Israeli committee. The newly elected committee in Israel quickly reached agreement with their guest from America and, on September 6th that same year, they laid the cornerstone for the Zychlin House in the presence of Nat Opatow. The building now stands proudly in Tel Aviv bearing the name “House of the organization of Zychliners in Israel and America”. There is a synagogue in the building dedicated to the holy martyrs of Zychlin.

The house serves as a reunion place for the Zychlin Jews living in Israel and as a welcome center for landsmen from abroad who come as tourists to Israel.

It is regrettable that our dear members Sam Berman and Nathan Opatow, who dedicated so much energy and devotion to the idea of Zychlin House, did not live to see the fruits of their efforts. May their memories be blessed.

The Zychliners of America intend to continue their activity for our people in Israel, the United States, and wherever our landsmen are living today.

 

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