In New York
Bransker Relief Committee
Under the name of the Bransker Relief Committee activities of the Bransk landslayt are conducted on behalf of the old home.
The Bransker Relief Committee was founded in 1918 at the end of the First World War. All the Bransk Societies in New York were represented in the Relief Committee.
The initial activities consisted of raising funds for the fellowcountrymen who had suffered from the war. At that time there were no possibilities of sending help directly to Bransk because of the destroyed financial institutions.
The style at that time was to send delegates to the towns to bring the money directly to the people. The Bransker Relief Committee was not an exception. The Committee at that time attracted many fellowcountrymen who worked like busy bees, visiting all the fellowcountrymen, receiving donations for the town of Bransk. In addition, individuals were interested in seeing that their money should reach their relatives directly.
The Committee's main office was located at that time in Mr. Zilbershteyn's store on Stanton Street. Thousands were raised and given to the messenger Avrum Zilbershteyn, who travelled to Bransk to fulfill the duty.
Mr Zilbershteyn carried out his mission. But the time of the terrible inflation in Poland were not favourable for any substantial aid. The money that the people received within a short time lost its value. Most monies were sent by relatives for their immigration purposes. Regretfully, many people exchanged
their dollars for Polish marks and were left with nothing, stranded in Danzig and asking for new money.
Only a few landslayt, those who did not exchange their money for Polish money, were able to reach the shores of America.
We must admit that the messengers, not being financial experts, were many times fooled by swindlers who took their American dollars and gave them Polish marks according to the daily rate. The Bransk messenger was not an exception.
When the situation in Poland stabilized somewhat, aid was sent through the local bank institutions. The Bransker Relief Committee sent regular substantial amounts of money for all the poor in town, most especially for those who were the most destitute and who could not expect any help from the local and broken poor.
The personnel of the Bransker Relief Committee were represented by all Bransk in New York.
Abe Steinberg and Yosl Turtshin of the Bransker Rudolf Sholem. Avrum Yankl Sankes and Shimon Wilf of the Bransker Brothers. Julius Cohen also represented the Bransker Brothers as well.
Representing the Bransker Young Men's were: Charles Kessler, Avrum Maishe Bertche's, Morris Rosen, Jacob Becker, Leyzer Fraynd and Zelig Saltzman.
They were also joined by those who were not members of the three Societies: Willy Cohen, Jacob Richman, Hershl Domenover and Jacob Sofer. When Sam Verp came from Chicago he immediately joined their ranks.
The group of young and older landslayt worked hard to collect the Relief funds which were sent home. The head of the entire effort was Mr Julius Cohen who devoted himself with his entire energy to help the Relief collections.
|Bransker Relief Committee in 1918|
|Bottom row from the right: Jack Becker, Avrum Silberstein, Julius Cohen, Lazer Fraynd, Abba Steinberg, Willy Cohen
Top row from the right: Willy Fiels, Jacob Richman, Harry Rosenthal, Morris Rosen, Yosl Turchin, Jack Sofer, Gedalye Hurwitz, Avrum Brian and Charles Kessler
He [Julius Cohen] addressed all gatherings, wrote letters and encouraged the landslayt to do their duty. All the younger members also threw themselves into this activity. The older ones were the honorary members. Committees visited the homes of the landslayt and were given substantial donations.
Over the years, a large number of the older landslayt passed away. The work was carried on by the younger ones with the same energy. The younger element attracted many other landslayt and together, they worked to raise all financial aid that was sent home for the poor for holidays or for a little heating which was terribly expensive, for clothing for little children, for institutions in town such as loan banks and Talmud Torahs.
By 1922, there were already Branskers who had emigrated from the war period. Having recently arrived from home, they helped in the relief activity of the earlier Branskers.
A couple of years later Branskers made various pleasure trips to Europe and traveled to see their parents and friends, to settle them in there, help them with whatever was possible, and also to bring whomever they could to America. Trips such as these were made by Julius Cohen, Sam and Louis Verp and Binyomin Zelvin, as well as others.
This gave them an opportunity to become familiar with the situation in Bransk. When they returned to New York, they made the local landslayt aware of the terrible poverty that existed in the old home and strengthened the relief activities. At the same time, they established communication with responsible individuals in the old home who would distribute the money in a just manner.
Messrs William Cohen and Sam Verp together with Julius Cohen, were this entire time the most active members in the New York Relief Committee. The Landsmanshaft, at mass gatherings, would always express their full trust to them and to their work.
In the early 1930's the Polish boycott
|Sam Verp and his family during a visit to Bransk|
of the Jews begins, against Jewish businesses, against Jewish artisans. Hitler's poison has seeped into the new Polish land that was supposed to become a free republic. Branskers, along with all Jewish cities and towns, suffer a lot economically. The Relief does its duty to help in any way possible.
|Louis Verp at the Bransk cemetery|
The boycott movement increases in strength. Christians are chased with sticks from Jewish businesses. This results in pogroms. Bransk feels the brunt of a fullfledged pogrom during the summer of 1937. The activities of the Bransker Relief increase in strength, raising money to ease the situation of those who are suffering and institutions in the old home.
The last financial aid for Pesakh was sent to Bransk in March, 1939.
The Second World War puts an end to all communication with Bransk. By the end of the war, there was finally revealed to the world the sad news of what had happened to the entire Polish Jewry, including Bransk. Millions were choked [to death] MCG in gas chambers. Those who had hidden were murdered by the Nazis for whom we are now searching to give ourselves strength once again, and from Polish bandits. Only a limited number of people miraculously remained alive.
At the beginning of summer, 1945, the Bransker Relief resumes its activities. The older Bransk societies are no longer interested in the landslayt relief because most of those who have the word are now not familiar with the Bransker needs and consider themselves second generation Americans.
The Bransker Young Men's benevolent Association chooses a committee from among its members, to begin a relief action. The very same who had always been active throw themselves once again into the work. The first mass gathering in the Forward Hall in May, 1945 selects Rabbi Avrum Yitskhak Edelman as Honorary Chairman, William Cohen, Chairman, Sam Verp Treasurer and Mr Julius Cohen as Executive Secretary. Money is raised regardless of not knowing whether there are any surviving Bransker landslayt.
The Troika, as the Messrs William Cohen, Sam Verp and Julius Cohen are called, are no longer the young men of longago, and yet they the most energetic. The most active in creating means of mitigating the situation of landslayt when and where they are to be found.
In September 1945 a list of 64 survivors in Bransk appeared in the Yiddish newspapers. No one at these newspapers had any idea of how to get in touch with these survivors. The correspondence had arrived to the Canadian newspaper and had been sent from there to the United States.
Cables were sent immediately to the names on the lists with prepaid responses. They disappeared like in water. no
replies. Packages of clothing, cigarettes, food were sent right away to firms that advertised that they would distribute them. Everything was lost.
We did not actually know that the several tens of Bransker Jews who survived were now in even greater danger and have to once again, flee Bransk. They were not safe at home and to travel or go on foot somewhere was again placing their lives in danger.
We did not know that many of the surviving Branskers had already gone over mountains and rivers past various borders far and near countries, investigating to run away entirely from what had been home.
|Khaim Vainshteyn, left with a group of refugees in Stuttgart.|
In November, 1945, KhaimHersh Bransky, may he rest in peace, the Bransker landsman who for 25 years had been a member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee [Joint], first in Paris and then in New York, came to a meeting of the Society. He brought a letter he had received from Bialystok with the address of a certain individual. The address was written in such a manner that it required a special talent to know the its meaning. The Joint could not decipher the address.
I was at this meeting as secretary of the Bransker Society. Khaim Hersh gave me the letter and the address. Looking at the words, I suspected that I could turn the letter over to someone else. I take the letter home with me.
Early the following day I met with Julius Cohen and he was immediately on a train with the letter on his way to the person in White Plains, New York.
I quickly responded to the writer of the letter in Bialystok who was Khava Okon. I gave her the correct address of her relatives. I inquired of her if perhaps she knows something about other landslayt.
This was the first communication I entered into with the remnants of the refugees of Bransk. In January 1946 I received the news of the surviving Branskers, and of those who had gone away and their whereabouts were unknown. In general, the entire tragedy of the Jewish people in Europe was revealed in its entire horror and sadness.
This was the beginning of the important work of finding and connecting them with their families in America. This was the first, the most important desire of the moment.
At that time, I did not have any farreaching correspondence with other American cities. Being secretary of both existing Bransker Societies for tens of years, I was in a position of being able to be helpful in this work.
Regretfully, not all the Bransker landslayt belong to the Bransker Societies.
The work turned out to be very difficult. I devoted all my time, my entire energy to fulfill this. Using various methods, I obtained everyone's information. I notified the people by cable of their families and their addresses.
At this same time, Branskers were already spread in DP Camps that were under the wing of the American army.
The connection with Jews in Linz, Austria is interesting. In May, 1946, a certain Mr Bernson received a cable from Linz, Austria. Someone is asking him to find Branskers. He wants to give this cable to the newspapers. His wife hears about this and she tells it to a neighbour. The neighbour tells it to an Americanborn woman. She hears the name of Bransk and says she needs to ask her fatherinlaw. He is a Bransker and is active in the Relief. The neighbour was my daughterinlaw Evelyn Cohen. My daughterinlaw tells me about this. I speak with Mr Bernson and he gives me the original cable which is dated 7th May, 1946. I have the difficult job of finding who those who are being sought could be. I ask them via cable for other signs. I pay for a reply. On May 16th, I receive a cable from them and I brought together Leyzer Vrone and his aunt in Brooklyn.
If this had been printed in the newspapers which were then bombarded with such notices, it would probably have been months until it would have been printed, and then it sometimes happens that it is not read by any Bransker because most of the names have been changed.
This happening quickly became known in that DP Camp. I receive tens of letters from other unfortunate wanderers. They ask me to do the same for them. I make it my responsibility to fulfill the requests of these people. I become even busier with the work. I look up the landslayt societies or their synagogues, ask for whom they are searching. When I find them, I give them the letter from their relatives in
the DP Camps. At the same time, the relatives are told by me who and where their friends are to be found.
I am inundated with such requests. My name becomes familiar in the DP Camps as one who helps to find relatives in America. I do not give up even though the work becomes more difficult for me, demanding almost my entire time. I give very little time to my own business. The correspondence from the DP Camps to me and my responses reach into the hundreds.
In the Joint I was called ‘the personal location service.’
The hundreds of letters I received from those whom I brought together with their relatives give me good satisfaction for the difficult work. At the same time, I receive a letter from Alter Trus who came from the Soviet Russia to Bialystok. There becomes a connection between the landslayt who are in Bialystok. Alter does an investigation to find the landslayt who are already somewhere on the way to various DP Camps to inform them of the Bransker Relief.
On the ship 4 Freedoms turned back from the shores of Palestine to Cyprus.
The name and address of the Bransker secretary is on the wall of the office of the Bialystok Committee for anyone who wants to contact him if they need his help.
The word there was that the Bransker secretary will locate your family quicker than anyone else.
(According to a letter from Alter Trus to me in January 1948.)
The Bransker Relief aided refugees in Shanghai, Italy, Sweden and sends CARE packages to all refugees in the DP Camps, helped the Irgun Yotzi Bransk in Palestine, for them to go there to fulfill their duty to the refuges who come to Eretz Yisroel, and also supports the United Jewish Appeal.
Refugees arrive in numbers who did not know of the Bransker Relief. Eventually, Brenner, who was in touch with the Bransker Relief through his trips to Poland, Austria, Italy and Palestine, arrives. From there he is caught by the British military and brought to Cyprus.
|Yankev Kestin and wife
New Year Greeting Card to Bransker Relief
The Bransker meet in Cyprus and find out about the Bransker Relief. They get in touch with their families who take over the work of helping them.
The Bransker Relief, in the new year, helps a number of refugees who do not have anyone who can take an interest in them, by clothing them as well as in other ways.
The Bransker Relief, through the help of individuals, worked out affidavits to bring certain people from German DP Camps. Regretfully, the State Department refused these people, did not permit them to enter because they were caught at a terrible crime. They sold a package of cigarettes in the DP Camp so they are not worthy of coming to America, regardless that the Relief had paid in advance for their transportation.
The Bransker Relief, at mass meetings, obligated itself to print the story of the destruction of Bransk, when the facts of the remnants of the refugees will be gathered and sent to New York. Alter Trus was informed of the decision, and he, with the help of all the survivors gathered the horrific facts of the Bransker Jews.
The work of writing this book in its final form once again fell on Julius Cohen, who for six months dedicated himself to it. The plan to raise the money for the publication of the book were formulated and carried out by him, and was later agreed to at Committee meetings.
This is a short description of the activities of the Bransker Relief Committee led by a few people and carried out by the secretary of the Committee, Mr. Julius Cohen.
In writing this article, I want to thank all Bransker landslayt and everyone else for their warm response to every call of the Bransker Relief Committee.
|Bransker Relief Committee in the year 1945|
|Bottom row from the right: Binyomin Spector, William Cohen, Julius Cohen, Rabbi AvrumYitskhak Edelman, Sam Verp, Sam Becker
Middle row from the right: Harry Levin, Charles Kessler, Hyman Novak, Abe Brayen, Charles Berman
Top row from the right: Avrum Friedman, Zaydl Zalefsky, Yosef Rosenblum, Jake Stoller, Izzy Fitel, Louis Verp, Benny Moss
Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)
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