I will introduce myself. I am Alter Trus, Motye-Aba the hat-maker's son. My mother was Sheyne-Yente. I am 50 years old, born and raised in Bransk. I am by trade a hat-maker. I have been employed in this trade my entire life.
What propelled me to write this book? Especially about our home Bransk and mostly for Branskers? To answer this question, I wrote this forward.
In 1940 several Branskers and I, especially those who were interested in community work, and were elected representatives to the Bransk Town Council and in the Bransk community, were sent out of Bransk by the Soviet authority. This was a result of certain Bransk communist leaders, primarily those who began to become the leaders as soon as the Soviets took control of Bransk. They could not tolerate that any of the previous community leaders remained in Bransk.
My station there lasted until September, 1941. I then enlisted in Shikorski's army. Because of the terrible anti-Semitism there, we Jews of the Bialystok, Brisk and Rovner area entered the Russian army at the battle of the Lower Volga. I became ill. I was then sent to work in a pelt factory. When the war ended, I continued to work there as a civilian. Eventually, I gained the right as a Polish citizen to return home. On the eve of Passover, 1946, I arrived in Bialystok. I found about 40 Branskers there who had been forced to abandon Bransk because of the anti-Semitism in Bransk even though the war had already ended.
In Bialystok we establish an organization to unite all the lonely Branskers who live there and who felt strange in the new unfamiliar surroundings.
At one of our gatherings, we made the decision to bring to the attention of the world the horrific events that the Bransk Jews experienced prior to the liberation of Bransk.
This work fell upon me. I immediately received personal descriptions from some of the 42 survivors about their experiences, as well as from some who were already in distant camps.
All of these descriptions were recorded in writing. Many of the events have not yet been confirmed because
I was unable to locate the only surviving witnesses. Eventually, through my connections with such Branskers, I received from them written descriptions which shed light on our formerly collected facts.
I received descriptions from Bransker Christians who witnessed certain events.
The most important assistant in assembling all the chapters that stretch from 1939 to the liberation was Moshe Yentchman. His intelligence was of great help to me in this matter.
Moshe Oskart, Khaim-Velvl Pribut, Hershl Shpak, my son Leybl, Fishl Lyev, Khava Okon and the Alyentskys were important contributors in the publication of this valuable material.
I am most especially grateful to the president of the Bialystok Committee Magistrate Turek, the second president Pesakh Burshteyn, the co-workers of the Bialystok Historical Committee, Mrs Fuks and Mrs Factor.
Magistrate Turek afforded me the possibility of contacting the court authorities through whom we later brought to justice many of the Bransk bandits who had participated in the murder of Jews. The Historical Commission gave me the possibility and aided me in receiving all materials connected with Bransk activity.
Many of the historical documents and copies of court-sworn descriptions were sent to Mr Julius Cohen of the New York Relief. He photographed them and sent the originals back to me. These will probably be printed in the book.
My activity became known to the Bransk Polish Christian bandit groups and I was forced to leave Bialystok and went to Stockholm, Sweden. It is here that I am free to send everything to New York to Mr Julius Cohen.
We also felt that the history of Bransk must be included as far as is possible to do so, from the first day of her
existence as a Jewish town to her last days in order to give the book a complete portrayal of all the phases of her life, her strivings, her various activities, her society, her political parties, her various classes of people, who influenced Bransk during all the years of her existence.
In order to detail this part of the book, I used the Bransk pinkas which I had studied for years. My activity in all matters relating to the Bransk Jewish community life, my 50 years of living in Bransk from my birth on, all of which helped me greatly.
At the same time I admit that I am neither a professional nor a writer. Working for my parents as a hat-maker from an early age, I did not have the opportunity to become educated.
I compiled all the collected facts in accordance with my capabilities. Knowing that my literary knowledge is lacking, I turned the rest of the work over to the New York Relief Committee which agreed to print the book.
The work of publishing the book in a literary language, in a logical and readable format, will be done by everyone's beloved and honored landsman, Mr Julius Cohen.
I gave him the complete freedom not only to correct and edit, but also if necessary, to rewrite it properly and to expand my work.
I am certain that the Bransk Yizkor Book, after its reworking by Mr Julius Cohen will be recognized by all landslayt, in all parts of the world as an important contribution to the history of our life, aspirations and eventual horrific demise.
I myself await with the greatest impatience for the publication of my book just as all of you await it as well.
Stockholm, November 5th, 1947
Footnote (Rubin Roy Cobb)
by Julius Cohen
Secretary of the Bransk Relief in New York
It became my destiny to help in ensuring that the Bransk Yizkor Book, compiled by our landsman Alter Trus, be published for the world to read.
I received from the writer, who resides in
Stockholm, Sweden, the manuscript and almost 60 handwritten letters. Only now did I comprehend the great and important work ahead of me.
The manuscript could not be completed in its original form. Alter Trus is not a professional writer. However, he was able to put together this book, which will surely occupy an important place when the history of European Jewry is written, and most especially about the destruction that occurred during the five years 1939-1944.
I took upon myself the responsibility of helping so that the Brank Yizkor Book would take its proper place in history.
This was not an easy task. Alter Trus is in Sweden, I am in New York, and there was no possibility of working together. The writer turned his manuscript over to me. I approached this work responsibly, made an earnest effort to remain within the bounds of the given facts as far as they were known to me or confirmed by other surviving Branskers.
I must admit however, that I do not pretend to be a literary person or a writer. My talent in this matter is quite limited, and yet I promised to rework Alter's manuscript and bring it to you in accordance with my abilities.
The persons who are in the first part of the book are not familiar to me from my youth. Alter was yet a seven-year old boy when I already participated in Bransker culture and also in the revolutionary activity in 1905.
I had personal conversations with several Bransk landslayt in New York who clarified certain events for me from the end of the 18th century, and I include them in the chapters wherein they belong.
When I reworked the third part of the book, I included additional information that I received in New York
about Bransk life from remaining witnesses as well as private letters I received from Poland from those who had lived through the horrifying events.
I most especially made an effort to ensure that the Bransk Yizkor Book be the written as a memorial about our hometown, about our past and final heroes of religious, political and economic life in Bransk.
Another difficulty that I had to deal with was of a financial nature, to raise funds for the publication of the book. My appeal to all the landslayt to help make this possible brought the desired results. For this you can be grateful to the almost 60 persons who responded to my appeal who made possible that the proceeds of the book would be a significant one and will be used for relief purposes for Bransk refugees.
In general, I saw to it that the book should be written in simple Yiddish so that every Bransker, wherever he may be located, would find it easy to read and understand. Not being a professional writer, I believe however, that to a certain degree, I succeeded in popularizing the book.
When reading the Bransk Yizkor Book you will yourself experience the events of Bransk. You will shed tears at the fate of our dear loved ones as I did while writing the chapters. I cried and continued to write.
I am certain that every Bransker will hold this book dear and will read it at the very least, at every yearly memorial observance, just as we observe Tisha b'Av when the destruction of the Jewish temples are mentioned. May this book become the written memorial, the monument erected in our homes, the words engraved in our hearts.
As a representative of the Bransk Landsmanshaft since 1918 until today, I did that work also with the same energy and devotion, (I believe) with which I fulfilled
all the duties in the interest of the Bransk Relief work, and believing that you, honored landslayt, expect this from me. If this contribution of mine to the book will help to improve it, I will be grateful to the writer for the opportunity that was given me to work on the Bransk Yizkor Book.
With this feeling I present to you, dear landslayt, the Bransk Yizkor Book, compiled by Alter Trus, corrected, enlarged and edited by me.
I am certain that you, like the writer, will understand that with my rewriting of the book, I did not seek any honour or credit for myself.
2060 Ocean Avenue,
Brooklyn 30, N.Y.
Footnote (Rubin Roy Cobb)
Our hometown of Bransk, where we, our parents, and grandparents were born and raised.
Bransk is located in the former Russian Poland, Bielsk Circle (district), Grodno Guberniya (State or Province), now known as Bransk, Bialystok.
Bransk is about 20 miles from Bielsk, and the same distance from Tchekhenoftse and 20 miles from Shepetove, the train station of the once WarsawPetersburg line. The town is connected by a paved road to Bielsk and muddy roads to Tchekhenoftse and Shepetove.
Bransk is located at the confluence of the Nuretz and Bronke Rivers. Bronke is a small village. Bransk is a town with a population of approximately 7,000. The Nuretz swallowed the Bronke River just as Bransk surpassed the village.
The Nuretz is the river that encircles Bransk on two sides. We called it the Bransk River. We drank water from this river and used it for making tea. We bathed there during the summer and skated on its frozen ice during the winter. Our mothers washed their laundry at its edges. The Nuretz provided Bransk with fresh fish for Shabbos and holidays. The river claimed many of our brave young people who dared to measure themselves against its hidden depths.
The Nuretz demanded and received its victims during Passover, when its waters spilled over all the roads and engulfed its travelers.
There is a mountain located on the second side of the river. The Poles call it the Shloss. This is a historic place, shaped like a circular
fortress. The centre of the mountain is lower, level with the river bank. By whom and when this mountain was utilized as a fortress, we do not know. What we do know is that within the mountain a couple of thousand people could hide.
There remained in Bransk three important historic buildings. They were specially built as fortified places or for military purposes. The buildings are situated opposite the river in strategic places. These are: YoslBenye's brick house, the old synagogue and Boyike's brick house. The walls of these buildings are about six feet thick.
The old almost totally collapsed brick building that stands near YanklZavl's orchard is also historic. That was where the archives of the region were kept. All the documents of hundreds of years were kept there. At the end of the 18th century the important papers were transferred to Grodno. The rest remained uncared for, rotting from old age, from the rain and snow that poured through the broken walls. Kheder boys never wanted to crawl in there because they were certain they would see devils.
The Kumant (?) is also an historic place, near that well and little bridge where there took place all the wars and battles during the times of the Swedish War up to the last war when Poland entirely lost her independence to Russia, Prussia and Austria and only Congress Poland remained as a remnant of her former greatness. Bransk is about 20 miles from the Bug River which remained the border with Russian Poland.
It is a known that until 1808 there were no Jews in Bransk. At the very least, there is no record of Jews in Bransk until that time. In the villages around Bransk there were Jews, those who worked for the lords as their zhidkes.
Bransk is famous for her marketdays and fairs. Every Monday is a marketday. The annual fair sometimes lasted
three days. The layout of the town, with its large square in the centre, is suitable for the markets. The market in the smaller marketplace is known as the horsemarket.
In 1813, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when all of Poland was destroyed by the Russians, and the retreat of the French from Moscow, Bransk rebuilt. Jews were now to be found in Bransk, in a small number at the beginning. Later there was a larger number. Most probably Jews from the villages slowly moved into the town. The town records indicate a Jewish population in Bransk, but not of a Jewish community.
The following villages around Bransk had several Jewish families through whom later on the Jewish community in Bransk evolved: Rutker, Mien, Damanove, Alyentsk, Shvirir, Zaluske, Malyeshe, Bronke, Kalnitse, Kersnove, Atop, Karibovke, Lubine, Kashive, Alyekshen, Zaminove, Dolabave, Planeve, Smurle, Pyetrosk, Poplov, Glinik, Potok, Lazefine, Kozlove, Zalyeshe, Mervin, and so forth. In all of these villages there were Jews who found favor with the nobles and lived peacefully, married off their children, and the son and sonsinlaw of the village residents later moved into Bransk, because in the villages their fathers or fathersinlaw saw that there was no possibility of earning a living.
There is a record in the Bransk pinkas of 1816 of a meeting. The names of those present are stated: Reb Yankev bar Khaim or Reb Dov bar Yankev. Nobody knows who these people were. There is talk at this meeting about building or purchasing a building for a synagogue. This indicates that Bransk already had a minyan or even more because previously Bransk Jews went to pray with the Poplov minyan. According to witness MotyeLeyb's the glazier, born in 1822, his father went to the minyan in Poplov.
In the pinkas of 1820 there is already mention made of money collected in the sum of 70 gildn for a small synagogue/house of study.
Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)
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