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Jewish Scholars and Activists

by Rabbi Yehoash Zavozhnitsky–Savitt & Rabbi Moshe Amittai–Zavozhnisky

The Silverman Brothers

by Moshe Zavozhnitsky–Amittai

In Suwalk, we were acquainted with Chaim Shlomo when he was already quite old, although he and his father, Reb Jankiel, were born in Suwalk. In the prologue of his book, Or Yaakov Reb Haim Shlomo tells us about his father as follows: “A scholar and a clever man. All his work, at every time, consisted of studying and teaching God's Torah.” In the town, they called him “the American” because he spent many years in the States.

Reb Haim Shlomo published many books in which he collected ethical and moral teachings from the works of many scholars and added many of his own good thoughts about the basis of Judaism and strengthening the Jewish religion. The names of his published works include: Sefer Midrash Raba (in two volumes). St Louis, 1919; Or Yaakov, Jerusalem, 1899; Shulhan Shabbath, Suwalk, 1925. He also published many pamphlets on religious subjects in Suwalk in 1926 and used to distribute them to Jews on the street free of charge.

With great diligence he would also sit with other people in the Bet Ha–Midrash and in the Hospitality House. He would pay other rabbis to go and teach Torah in various other Suwalk institutions. He gave much money to charities for the support of the needy, especially those too bashful to ask for help.

He was also helpful in making repairs to ad building the mikvehs (ritual baths) as needed, in this case being much influenced by the memory of Hafetz Hayim.

His fame as a charitable man spread far beyond the borders of Suwalk.

He bought a house for the Bikoor Holim and Linas Ha–Tzedek. Later he bought a second house to generate income for Linas Ha–Tzedek.

Where did Reb Haim Shlomo get all this money to give to charity? He obtained it from his American brother, Reb Israel Meyer, who was a plain, poor peddler, a great scholar and a pious man who lived a frugal life. He saved what he could and sent money to his brother in Suwalk, large amounts of money, to spend on charity, Torah study, and other good uses. Reb Haim Shlomo himself lived very frugally in an attic. He was old and suffered from malaria. On Sabbath and Jewish Holidays he ate with the well–known philanthropist, his good friend, Shmuel Noah Shapiro.

Rabbi Israel Meyer was born in Suwalk in 1853. He studied at the great Volozhin Yeshiva with the Gaon Natziv. Around 1873, he came to America.

Reb Israel Meyer went out every morning with a big package of sheets, blankets, pillow–cases, and similar goods, wandering in the villages around Hazeltown as a peddler. All his customers, both Christians and Jews, respected him as a very honest and fine man. Most of his income was donated to charities in Israel, Suwalk and America. For himself, he kept very little. He slept on the floor and ate only bread and salt. Only on Sabbath and holidays would he sleep in bed and prepare better food for himself.

He passed away in 1944 and was buried in the cemetery of the Yeshiva Tifereth Yerushalaim in New York.

The other brother, Reb Haim Shlomo, lost his life at the hands of the Nazis in 1941.

Haim Mendel Friedman

The pride and joy of the Jews of Suwalk in general, and the observant Jews in particular, was Reb Haim Mendel

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Friedman, one of the great scholars in town, one of the finest scholars among the merchants. He was also a respected businessman and a great philanthropist. He was a devoted activist in religious and social life. He was one of the finest public speakers. He got along well with people, and emerged as a chief spokesperson for many groups, and was the President of the Jewish Community Board for many years. He was an ardent Zionist (“Mizrahi”) and worked hard for Palestine.

Important visitors contacted him first upon arriving in Suwalk. In his house assembled the Torah scholars of Suwalk.

In his youth, he studied in the great Volozhin Yeshiva in its time of glory. Reb Naftali

Zvi Yehuda Berlin (“Hanatziv”) wrote in his well–known book, Meishiv Davar, two articles discussing with Reb Haim Mendel Friedman points of Jewish law and referring to him with great admiration.

His sudden death in 1938 left a mourning Suwalk.

Naftali Friedlander

Reb Naftali Friedlander, after the death of Haim Mendel Friedman, was his successor as leader of many organizations and was regarded by many as taking his place. He was also well–known as a scholar and orator. Reb Naftali delivered the annual sermon at the traditional scholastic gathering of the Hevra Shass. He was a man of a logical mind and of great ethics. For many years, he was listened to with great respect by the townspeople, who approached him often for advice.

Elie Rosenthal

Reb Elie Rosenthal was a tall, handsome man with the looks of a prince. He regarded respect for Torah as the greatest of life's achievements. When he spoke with energy and pride of Torah, he did himself what he demanded of others. He came from the highly respected Rosenthal family of Suwalk, who were known far beyond the borders of the town. He was briefly the Deputy–Mayor, and held leadership posts in many organizations. He held a scholarly minyan on Saturday nights in his home. He passed away in 1932.

Hasidim and Misnagdim in Town

Prior to the First World War, Suwalk had a minyan of Hasidim, but these Hasidim were not Suwalk natives. After the First World War, there remained only two Hasidim in the whole town. Actually, there was no difference between the Hasidim and Misnagdim. Both of the Hasidim were scholars and they had the same wishes and desires as the scholars who were Misnagdim.

Reb Haim Leib Bakhrakh was the first. He was a descendant of the well–known Gaon Bakhrach. He studied in the Lomzhe Yeshiva.

Reb Haim Leib through marriage moved over to Suwalk. He was well–known and respected by all; the rabbis of the vicinity, including the chief Suwalker rabbis, David Katzenellenbogen, Moshe Betzalel, Aron Baksht, and Yoseph Yoselevitch, with whom he was very close. In 1920, he became the mashgiah in the Talmud Torah. He and his family moved to Israel in 1935, and passed away in Tel Aviv in 1937.

Reb Menachem Waxelboim was the second Hasidic member of “Hevra Shass”. He was known as Menachem the Monument–Engraver. He was the first to come to the Shass table to learn, and contribute greatly to the discussions with his lively canistry(?). He had a sharp mind and a great interest in Talmud. From time to time he proved his ability as a preacher and many listened to him attentively. He passed away in 1931.

Mordkhahi Kozlovsky

Reb Mordkhe Kozlvsky, a born businessman. At times, his business was very large, but he was devoted to higher things than just business. He was active in many things affecting the community, especially fud–raising for Israel. He gave handsome charitable donations, and was a gabai in the Hevra–Midrash synagogue, and a member of Hevre Shass, where he used to bring out beautiful thoughts.

Reb Mordkhe was born in Brisk Litovsk and studied in the yeshivas of Brisk, Telz and Slobodka.

In 1937 he and his wife came to Israel and settled in Kfar Saba. They opened a grocery store and worked very hard to make a living.

Their children have inherited his devotion for the Jewish people, but he himself did not have the pleasure of seeing how his son Pinhas became the Minister of Com–

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merce and Industry in the land of Israel. Reb Mordkhe passed away at the age of 73 in 1953.

Haim Reibman

Reb Haim Reibman was a businessman, with a big wholesale food business on Shulgass. He was one of the fine Suwalk members and scholars in Hevre Shass. He did a lot for Israel. He was a very gentle man. He always tried to resolve disputes between other Jews, and for this he was loved by the whole town. He was a member of the Community Council for many years, and was always active in community affairs. He perished with the other martyrs of Suwalk.

Aviezer Zhilkevitz

He was an agent and correspondent for the daily newspaper, Haynt. He was a good mixer with the public. He studied every day in the Hevra Shass, in the great Beth Midrash, where he was also often the cantor. He did a lot for Israel and was very active in community affairs. He perished with the other martyrs.

Benjamin Mintz

He was one of the finest types in town, a combination of goodness and piety. He was born in Suwalk. According to his family history, the Mintzes came from Germany to Poland several hundred years ago. He was orphaned from his father when he was very young, but with his great abilities he became a very wealthy man, and he owned the biggest dry goods business in town. Everyone in town had great respect for his good nature, ethics and deeds.

He loved the learning of Torah, supported Torah scholars very charitably and was one of the great philanthropists in town generally. Twice a year, before Pesach and Sukkot, he used to ensure that the poor children at the Talmud Torah and the orphanage were well–fed and well–clothed. When the Talmud Torah building was too small for the students, in 1932 he gave the largest donation toward a fund to construct a new two–story building.

His wife Chana had a custom that every Friday and before all Jewish holidays, she would send food to institutions such as the orphanage, the old–age home, and the hospital.

They both perished in the big slaughter in Slonim in 1942. They were about 80 years old.

Shmuel Noah Shapiro

Reb Shmuel Noah Shapiro married Reb Benjamin Mintz's daughter Esther, and became his partner. After closing his store, he would go into the Fisherman's Synagogue and sit down at the table to study with the well–known Reb Haim Shlomo, who used to advise him how to distribute his anonymous donations without embarrassing the needy.

Reb Shmuel Noah was a highly educated man. He was an engineering graduate from the University of Berlin.

Reb Shmuel was also very active in community affairs. He was a member of the Community Council and had great influence in town.

His two children were raised in the town Talmud Torah and Yeshiva Ohel Yitzhak.

At the beginning of the last war, he and his family went to his two brothers in Lida, later on to Slonim, where he perished in 1941.

Eliezer Kagan

For many years, Reb Lazer was the City Cantor in the great synagogue. He was also the leader of a well–organized choir. He was a man of Torah, who sat for hours in the Beth Midrash studying with other Jews, especially with well–known singer and scholar Reb Hirshe Rubinstein. Studying and singing with him went hand and hand. He was also briefly the cantor in the Grodno synagogue. After he left Suwalk, he became the cantor in Swentzia. He died a young man a few years before the Second World War.

Shmuel Gradowsky

For many years, he read the Torah on Sabbath and on High Holidays in the big Beth Hamidrash, where he came evenings to study Gemara. He was a son–in–law of the Lazdeyer Rabbi, Rabbi Hagoen Yoffe. He was himself a respected man in town with unusual good qualities. He was an honest merchant. He had a clothing business and he was known for his good works for his fellow man. He and his wife, Sara, sent their children to study in yeshivas. Their oldest son, Chaim Zalman, was very active in community affairs, and was a leader of a youth organization.

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Four Ministers

by Rabbi Yehoash Zawozhnitsky (Savitt)
and Rabbi Moshe Amittai-Zavozhnisky

Aaron Sheinman, Director General of the Soviet Union's National Bank

Aaron was the son of a wealthy Sheinman family, who were bankers in Suwalk. Soviet currency at the time was not stabilized, and except in Russia itself had no value in the world markets. Sheinman did an awful lot for the finances of the Soviet Union, and when the Soviet government issued new Russian currency with an international value, one of the signatories n the bills was Sheinman as director general of the Soviet National Bank.

His origins in a Suwalk Jewish bankers' family was not a problem in the Soviet Union when they needed his abilities. During the 1930's, while he was on a mission to America, the government suddenly demanded that he return. He assumed that something was wrong, and refused to return. In this way, he did not have the same fate as all the others in the trials held in the Soviet Union. Later on he went to Berlin where he is said to have committed suicide.


Moshe Bokanovsky, Minister in France

This is an unusual story of a Jewish family which in a short time was successful in ascending from the deepest poverty to the highest achievements of spiritual and material richness.

Only two generations ago, the Bokanovsky family was among the poorest in Suwalk. The father Moshe could not support his family, and his wife had to sell peanuts in the streets in order to help him earn a living. In the beginning of this century, the Bokanovskys immigrated to France. Their children were very successful, starting the first department store, which later on became one of the biggest retail chains in France, with headquarters in Paris, under the name “Baka”.

Of all the children, Moshe (changed to Maurice), was remarkable in ability, and when the family was starting their commercial and industrial empire, he devoted his time to politics. He was elected to the legislature, where his first speech was a big success in content and form. The well-known Prime Minister, Poincarre appointed him a minister in is cabinet. First he was Minister of the Fleet, then several times Minister of Commerce, and later Minister of Aviation.

Moshe Bokanovsky can actually be called the creator of the French Air Force, as he was the first Minister of Aviation in France. Notwithstanding his meteoric success, he remained a very Jewish man, and proud of his Jewishness. He would love to sit at home in his salon, telling stories of his childhood years in Suwalk.

Moshe Bokanovsky died in 1928 when his personal plane crashed during Air Fleet maneuvers.

Michel Morris Bokanovsky, a minister in General DeGaulle's government, was a grandson of the Jewish immigrant family of Suwalk.


Pinhas Sapir, Minister of Israel

Pinhas was the son of Reb Mordekhai Kozlovsky, a respected man of Suwalk. In his youth he was a student in the Suwalk Yeshiva, and he was also very active in the Zionist movement. He organized in Suwalk the Hehalutz, and was its leader until he went to Israel. There, he grew to be one of the leading powers in the Mapai (Labor Party) and excelled with great achievements for the country, eventually becoming Minister of Industry and Commerce in Israel and then Minister of Finance.

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Benjamin Efron

by Ariel

Benjamin Efron was one of the leading figures in the Suwalk Jewish community between the two World wars, without whom the lives of many of its youth would have been different.

He was born in the town of Indora in the Grodno district, molded of the same Lithuanian-Jewish material as were the Jews of Suwalk. Nevertheless, when he came to live in our town, it took several years before he became fully integrated into the life of the community, taking part in all events, and known and respected by all.

After receiving an engineering degree in Lisle, France, he worked at his profession for five years in Warsaw, until his natural inclinations prevailed and he decided to devote himself to education. For three years he was principal of the high school in Wloelawek, and his reputation as a gifted teacher and excellent administrator reached the central offices of the Zionist Organization in Warsaw, who proposed that he head the education and culture department in Warsaw. He held this position for two years, and in 1920 moved to Suwalk on the invitation of the Suwalk enterprise society founded to establish the Hebrew high school in the town. Here he developed and demonstrated his full abilities in planning, organization and management as well as public relations among the Jews and statesmanship towards the authorities. The ability to stand up to the government agencies, which were by nature anti-Semitic and especially so from the late 1920s, with the rise of racism in the west and the desire to purge Jews from all positions above the working class in the east – was vital to the principal of a private Jewish school in Poland.

It was not easy to meet the demands of the government inspectors, in order that the school should receive authorization each year to administer examinations to its students and to issue official matriculation certificates to those who passed the examinations when, in addition to the regular curriculum, ten hours were devoted each week to Jewish subjects of study: Hebrew, Hebrew literature, Bible, Jewish history, and later even a smattering of Talmud.

It was important that the Jewish school principal should constantly prove his loyalty to the state, and most importantly his Polish cultural identification. At the same time, he was a devoted Zionist, who longed to follow his brother, sister and mother and settle in Palestine. But, like many others, he postponed its realization to the indefinite future. His students repaid his deep sympathy and dedication with appreciation and respect. They sensed his positive attitude towards their various initiatives, reflected in his support for every stage performance in celebration of a national holiday, and in his closing his eyes to the active membership of most of the students in Betar.

After four to five years during which the school established itself in the community and in the eyes of the government authorities, years during which he devoted most of his time to its problems (while teaching mathematics to the upper classes), he considered himself free to turn to public affairs, revealing himself as a fervent Zionist, familiar with the problems of the movement, and a member of the “Al Hamishmar” faction of the General Zionists.

With the passing years, he began to appear at public meetings and to speak in his rich Yiddish, with great rhetoric ability and sincere enthusiasm, especially before the elections to the Zionist Congress, the two houses of the Polish parliament, and the Suwalk municipality – to which he was elected by the General Zionists. In addition, he was a member of the local ORT directorate and supported the Maccabi sports association.

The people of Suwalk appreciated the blessing which he brought to their town with his talents, his energy and his dedication, according the town an exemplary educational institution. The education they received was to save the lives of many of its students by imbuing them with nationalist feelings which led them to settle in Palestine before the Holocaust. For his sincere love and understanding, his students repaid him with love.

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Dr. Naftali Staropolski

by Eliahu Hadrai

Before Naftali Staropolski turned to medicine, he received a strong religious education, first in the Suwalk Talmud Torah and later in the Lomzhe Yeshiva. In both, he demonstrated outstanding diligence and sharp perception which, combined with an exceptional memory, enabled him in the latter years of his life to retain a mastery of Bible and Talmud, engaging in discussions of Talmudic problems with the sharpest members of Hevra Shas. At the same time he was fluent in Hebrew, in which language he delivered speeches freely, although, despite his efforts, he found it hard to adapt to the accepted Sephardic pronunciation.

He completed his studies at the Russian government high school in Suwalk and at the faculty of medicine at Konigsberg University in eastern Prussia. Upon his return to Suwalk, he opened an extensive private practice. As a doctor, he was popular and sought after by many Suwalkers of all classes. But it was not only these who accorded him his high social standing in the town. He had a natural tendency to public service, together with all the necessary traits: he was well-liked, aware of the needs of people of all classes, aroused confidence with his ability to listen, and was always ready to offer assistance simply and naturally, as though it were his duty.

It was self-evident to all that Dr. Staropolski had to be a member of the Community Board, as well as on the local Zionist Organization and all charity institutions. Of the latter, he was particularly active in “Bikur Holim”, whose patients he treated for a token fee or free of charge, and in T.O.Z. (Society for the Protection of Health). In addition, he was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Maccabi and instrumental in raising funds for the Talmud Torah School.

He served as a doctor to three of the Suwalk schools: the Hebrew high school, the Talmud Torah, and Tarbut. He served on the parents committee of the high school, which concerned itself with the school's welfare.

Even after the outbreak of World War II, he continued to devote himself to community service, until he perished in Vilna, with his wife and three of his four children.

Of his fourth son, Dr. Israel Staropolski, Eliahu Yunis, an eye witness, wrote in his book On the Edge of the Pit (Hebrew: Yad Vashem, 1948), that he demonstrated valor, national pride and outstanding courage in the face of the heads of the Nazi forced labor camp, Korowitz, in eastern Galicia, to which he was sent as a prisoner, and where he served as doctor, bringing help and relief to his fellow prisoners with dedication and self-sacrifice, until his death.

Dr. Leon Weissman

by Dr. Viera Gawza

I was nine years old when my mother married Dr. Leon Weissman. He had three children from his previous marriage, and my mother bore him another son.

He knew how to make maximum use of his time, dividing it between professional work and his many public functions. He served as doctor to many of the Jewish residents of Suwalk and surrounding area, but also had [patients among the Christian population. In addition, Dr. Weissman ran the Jewish hospital in Suwalk and treated “Bikur Holim” patients, some for a nominal fee and the poor among them without charge. While the latter was a part of his public work, he always demonstrated the highest degree of seriousness and dedication, and always provided the best care he could.

As a public figure, Dr. Weissman was one of the foremost community leaders. Like the vast majority of the Zionist public in the town, he belonged to the “Et Livnot” (a time to build) faction of the General Zionists, of which organization he served as chairman for many years. He was not only its chairman, but its unquestioned leader.

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Even the youth, who on the whole did not belong to the same party, enthusiastically supported him in the elections to the Community Board (until 1937) and to the Suwalk municipality, viewing him as their faithful representative. Indeed he was repeatedly elected to the Community Board, and also served as leader of the community. As a member of the town council, he was one of the most outspoken, presenting a proud Zionist position which never bowed to the Christian majority. It should be noted that event he “Endeks” (National Democrats), the most openly anti-Semitic, treated him with honor and respect.

Shortly after he began his public career, he launched and edited a local newspaper called “The Suwalker Shtimme” which, for lack of funds, soon folded.

His renown as a leading Zionist figure and a winning speaker of high intellectual caliber extended beyond the bounds of the town and surrounding area. He was a candidate for the Polish Parliament in the pre-World War II elections but was defeated by Yitzhak Grynbaum.

Among the local institutions which he supported or in which he was actively involved was Maccabi, ORT, and Bikur Holim.

When I look back on those distant days, I find it hard to understand how this wonderful man found enough time to do all he did. For a while, he spoke of his interest in settling in Palestine, but never realized his dream.

My father suffered two great tragedies – the death of his 18-year old daughter and, in 1936, of his son Ya'acov, who was then already a well-known cardiologist in Warsaw.

During the war, my parents came to join me and my sister, Dr. Naomi Weissman, a pediatrician, in Warsaw. I followed my husband eastward to Palestine. My parents, sister and younger brother remained in the ghetto and perished. Niuta Gutkovsky attended my father's funeral in Warsaw.

The Trial of the
High School Students in Suwalk

by Shmuel Abramsky

In spring 1932 several Jewish high school students were placed on trial for communist activity and membership in the Polish Communist Party (PPK). Two of the accused, Shmuel Abramsky and Y. S'hus, were students in the Hebrew high school; Avraham Garbarsky – a student in the Polish state high school; Binyamin Mintz – a graduate of the local commercial school. The other accused were: Glickson, the son of a Bundist family; and the sole worker, Kaplan, who according to the charge sheet was the ring-leader of the group.

These young men were all accused of membership in the Communist party, which was illegal in Poland. In addition to the accusations of aspiring to forcefully remove the elected Polish government and to set up a violent dictatorship of the proletariat, several specific accusations were added: the desire and attempt to sever from Poland the districts of Galicia (the western Ukraine in Russian-Soviet nomenclature) and western Belorussia, and to annex them to the Soviet Union.

The affair began in 1929, when the students first took an interest in Marxist literature, probably the result of youthful curiosity, in their search for new ideas. They were attracted to Communist circles by adroit propagandists and found themselves, almost unwittingly, in a kind of reading and debate club.

Again almost unwittingly, they were asked to take part in organizational activities such as distributing manifestos, and they began to feel that the game had gone too far. In November 1931 Abramsky and S'hus decided to stop playing hide and seek and to announce their withdrawal from the group, which they did in a detailed written declaration in Polish. But in the meantime matters had taken their course.

On December 11, 1931 Abramsky and S'hus were called out of the classroom by the principal and handed over to two people. Thus the investigation began. The two arrested youths did not deny their ties with the party, and confirmed the statement read to them. At first they argued that they had belonged only to a pre-Communist group which they had subsequently left, but ultimately they agreed with the investigators that they had in fact without their knowledge belonged to the party.

The Jewish community of Suwalk was in an uproar on learning that students of the Hebrew high school were accused of membership in the Communist party. The young men were not considered heroes in the eyes of the Jews of

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Suwalk, most of whom were nationalist Zionists to whom Soviet Communism was repugnant.

With the conclusion of the investigation, Abramsky and S'hus were informed on March 12, 1932 of their release on bail, and in April 1932, two weeks before Passover, the trial began. The court was full throughout the proceedings, which many were curious to see and hear. The young people were defended by professional lawyers.

The accused were found guilty, and their sentences were not light: Glickson, the youngest, was released; S'hus – received eight months imprisonment; Abramsky – one year; Mintz – one year; Garbarsky – four years; Kaplan – six years. The declaration did not help the two Hebrew high school students. Formal legalism prevailed. They had belonged to a Communist club, and, to all appearances, to the Communist party, and they were therefore guilty – even if they had later recanted. The accused announced their intention to appeal the decision, and the prosecution had no object in to the students remaining free on bail, under the conditions already set.

The appeal was heard in the Supreme Court of Appeals in Warsaw on August 15, 1932. The Supreme Court justices seriously examined the declaration and agreed that it expressed a well-considered statement by young people politically involved in world affairs. They stated that the young men in question had in fact not belonged to the Community party but to a political study group run by party members, which the latter thought to exploit for their own ends in the future. On Shabbat Nahamu the students were informed of their acquittal, and they returned to school.

The group disbanded, and each went his own way. Shmuel Abramsky later immigrated to Palestine, where he did not join any political party. As a student, he was one of the founders of the Zionist anti-Fascist union in Jerusalem. He headed the student study group, which focused its attention primarily on the development of the Nazi movement. In 1938 he withdrew from all political activity and even involvement. Since then, he has devoted himself to research in the areas of history, historiography and Bible, as well as to teaching and non-political writing.

[The youth who was once accused of membership in the Communist Party is today Professor Shmuel Abramsky, one of the leading Bible scholars in Israel.]

The History of the Independent
Suwalker & Vicinity Benevolent Association

by Leslie Sherer

The emigration of Jews from Suwalk to the United States started in the 1880s. People with a trade in their hands came here to start their life again. Among these was a young man by the name of A. Markowitz. He knew the old and the new Suwalker arrivals and their needs, their joys and sorrows. His dream was to organize the landsleit in some kind of a Ferein where the newcomers could get help or help one anther in case of need or sickness or come together to reminisce about Suwalk and the “good old times” there. In the U.S.A. life was very hard then; some immigrants remained here and some returned. Markowitz, however, was able to organize those who remained into an organization.

In August 1905 he and some of the older residents and some of the new ones (Seven in all) got together and established the “INDEPENDENT SUWALKER BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION”.

In the years prior to and after WWI the large immigration from Russia to the U.S.A. began. Many Suwalkers arrived and needed the help and care which the organization provided. Many joined the society. This was a new element: merchants, manufacturers and intellectuals. They democratized the I.S.B.A., took in many new members, fostered more traditional East European Jewish habits, were more socially and philanthropically minded and supported the ideals of Zionism. Under the leadership of Sam Sandowski, Leon Perlo, Bernard Gershen, Louis and Morris Danski, Israel Miller, and Jacob Markson – one of the original founders – and the leading guiding spirit of the I.S.B.A. – as lifetime secretary, the organization grew and prospered and at one time listed as many as 400 member families.

During WWI the I.S.B.A. responded to the great need of the time and organized the “Suwalk and Vicinity Relief

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Committee”. Relief work continued throughout the war and reconstruction period.

When the unrestricted immigration to this country was stopped, the I.S.B.A. encouraged and helped to form Suwalker Committees in South America and Palestine.

In 1922 the ladies organized the “Independent Suwalker Ladies Auxiliary”. Their aim was to help Jewish institutions as well as needy individuals in Suwalk. The last and distinguished President of the Ladies Auxiliary was the late Mrs. Sylvia Gershen.

World War II found our organization hard at work in as much help and concern as it was possible to render. Work of great magnitude started – through its branch the Suwalker Relief – to help the unfortunate few who remained alive in the camps of Europe, or spread throughout post-war Poland and later in Israel. Inquiries were made. Survivors were sought. Food, clothing and money were immediately sent. Assistance was given wherever possible, as soon as a name and address were received.

The I.S.B.A. – under the dynamic and indefatigable leadership of our late President Hyman Seligson – the guidance and direction of our beloved Rabbi David Lifshitz, through the literary labor of our late Relief Secretary I. Pearlstein, the research of Leslie Sherer and a group of dedicated members has built a great, eternal monument to our beloved Suwalk and our brethren by publishing a Memorial book for the Martyrs of the Old Home Suwalk. A book which gives the history, folklore, names and pictures of Suwalk and its vicinity and its Jewish life and deeds.

We were instrumental in erecting a 425 yard cut stone wall around the Jewish cemetery in Suwalk. We have, in partnership with the landsleit in Israel erected a monument to the victims of the Holocaust, partisans, pioneers and soldiers of Israel of Suwalk and Vicinity.

Since 1905 every president, from S. Silverman through S. Sandowski, J. Julius, David Silverman, H. Seligson and L. Sherer – Vice Presidents Leon Perlo, Wm. Karmin -- Treasurers B. Gershen, L. Levy, Wm. Karmin and Chas. Oken as well as Secretaries J. Markson, Wendorff, J. Gladstone, L. Sherer, S. Rayman and I. Kalet, Recorders I. Miller, M Mishel, L. Mosierznicki, A. Wise and Sam Aueron as well as all dedicated Trustees: L. Perlo, M. Abramowitz, Sam Gladstein and Directors: Rabbi M. Ammitai, Dr. K. Eilender, S. Gradowski, M. Levine, A. Levitt, Dr. I. Mirow, A. Rakow, I. Ribald, M. Rich, M Rotschild, S. & W. Szwecky, S. Savitt, who stood true to the aims and ideals of its founders and kept up the good work and the good name of our Independent Suwalker and Vicinity Benevolent Association.


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