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[Page 99]


30 years of the Brisker Society in Argentina –
A summation of our communal and cultural activities


Our Brest

By Moishe Katz

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

30 years ago, when we established the Brisker Society in Argentina, no one imagined that we would be governed by the strong desire to be united with our fellow townspeople and the strong sentiment for our birthplace. We had great nostalgia and yearning that brought us together, but it never entered our thoughts that there would come a time when we would have to think about ways to perpetuate the memory of the entire destroyed community of Brest. It is the saddest and most tragic fact that from the life of an entire nation, the only thing that remains is the written word to remember the past, and with these written words to perpetuate the memory of all the past generations that carried on the Jewish life of Brest. Those generations who toiled and suffered and made Brest famous throughout the Jewish world.

The bloodthirsty Nazis turned the Jewish Brest into a ruin, without a trace of the heroic struggle that the Jews of Brest conducted against their vicious enemy.

We search for any trace or vestige, any 'treasure' of their heroic resistance - with the aim of bringing the facts to the entire Jewish world, and to remember the Jews of Brest amongst the six million Jewish martyrs. Hopefully in the future, there will be writers of Jewish history to whom this material will serve as a reference. These writers will record how the Jews fought, struggled, and heroically perished.

Perhaps the future historians reading this 30th anniversary book will not find enough documents but will find however, accounts by ordinary folk, ordinary truths about our home town. Accounts of their lives there, their longings and experiences. And the difficult times of transition when one ruling power was replaced by another.

Finally, the desperate and hopeless struggle against an inhuman bestial enemy.

We also mention the present Brest, which is again a freed city but only with a small number of Jews. The Brest Society therefore presents this material written by ordinary people, the compatriots of Brest, written about their lives and achievements, and their hometown of Brest.

That is how this idea came about – we Briskers wanted to perpetuate the shining city of Brest with its holy murdered martyrs. Let our compatriots relate and describe the saddest and most joyous of memories that provide the links the golden chain that bind Briskers throughout the whole world. Also for all those that are not mentioned, their memories will always remain with us.

[Page 100]

An Overview of our Foundation

By Y. Munk

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

Our large city of Brest was densely populated, and the greater part of the population was Jewish. The population suffered from historical dramas over the past century such as the Great fires, which destroyed the entire city and caused disastrous economic situations and extraordinary suffering to the community. Our own generation, the descendants of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, has witnessed the greatest fatal catastrophe in the history of Brest.

Our road to this martyrdom began in my early youth with the outbreak of W.W.1.

Both spiritually and physically, we were overwhelmed by the consequences of that period. Especially in Brest, which was strategically and geographically situated for military defence. This was the reason for our exile from the city, our wanderings, suffering, and homelessness.

We were forced to leave our childhood homes and were scattered about for several years far from our birthplace. Exhausted from the suffering and pain, the majority of the Brest residents returned to their mother town when the war ended to be met by the real consequences of the war. We found the burnt and ruined city – without roofs over our heads – without any means of making a livelihood, we had to rebuild the city from the foundations. We endure great hardships, sickness and epidemics, and chronic unemployment.

Despite the deprivations and weaknesses, we nevertheless went forwards, with our hopes and spirits rising. A new wind of freedom was blowing from the east that lifted one's spirits and consoled one that a new beautiful morning would arrive.

Together with the physical rebuilding of the city, there was the building of new cultural and social organizations. The youth and the workers began to form professional and trade unions, libraries, clubs, cooperatives, workers libraries, which all sprouted and grew. The workers organizations ran evening courses for adults, held lectures, as well as schools for children.

At the same time that our city was being rebuilt and developing, and with the growth of the cultural activities, there was also an increase in the reactionary policies of the anti Semitic Polish regime. Their repressive policies took on a more serious character with frequent sharp attacks on the Jewish community. The increased severity of the attacks occurred with the retreat of the Soviet army in 1920. Each day one experienced more assaults on Jews in the streets and attacks on the workers halls. Arrests followed which made it impossible to attend our offices. It became very dangerous to belong to the workers movement, and the attacks took on a more brutal nature. The first famous arrest was at our place, and resonated throughout the Kressy (the former Russian held territories of eastern Poland).

It was impossible to travel by train as there was the danger of being thrown out whilst the train was moving. There was a boycott on Jewish tradesmen and workers, and they were banned from worksites. The atmosphere was stifling and restrictive – there were no opportunities or hopes for the future – the youth and the unemployed frustratedly grappled to try and find a solution to these overwhelming problems.

The emigration began in droves. Some went to Palestine as pioneers, others travelled to the golden land – the U.S. The majority struggled against the hopeless situation. When the quota system to the land of Columbus (the U.S.) was restricted, emigration was directed to other countries, among them Argentina, although in the first years many Briskers went on from Argentina to North America.

The majority of these migrants typically found it difficult to adjust to the new conditions and customs and life in their new country. They showed a negative approach to everything and didn't think of building new secure foundations for their existence. Somewhat later when the gates to the U.S. were also closed to those from Argentina, the stream of migrants increased with a greater proportion remaining in Argentina. We can confirm that Jewish settlement in Argentina grew and strengthened, and consolidated with the new Jewish migrants making a significant contribution with their hard work, both socially and collectively.

The post W.W.1 immigrants to Argentina found a wide variety of Jewish social activity here, with an array of cultural institutions and significant Yiddish literature. There were several important Yiddish libraries, a Yiddish secular school, 2 Yiddish newspapers, Yiddish theatre and a Jewish hospital, etc.

It is important to mention the Jewish sections of the trades unions, for example the hat makers union whose members were almost all Jews, the furniture manufacturers and the tailors union, both of which also had large libraries. These organizations set up the so-called “ The Opposing Committee for Immigrant Workers” in 1921. The aim of this organization was to provide jobs for immigrants and to oppose their exploitation by the deregulation of a cheap labor force.

With the economic strengthening of each individual, the pressure grew to bring out their families from the old home, and naturally there was also a demand for spiritual and cultural enlightenment. It is important to stress that every newly arrived migrant from Poland and Lithuania brought with them their cultural and spiritual baggage. They had the conviction to settle and establish stable foundations for their families in their new country because there was no alternative left for them in the old home.

The greater majority were without family members and lonely. They were strangers to the Spanish language and there was a great need for them to be together with compatriots from their hometown.

Just as with other groups, a group of Briskers including the writer of these lines found to necessary to take the first steps to set up a Brisker organization in Buenos Aires as an expression of our comradeship and nostalgia for the home we had left behind, and to form a 'homely' environment here. As a memento of our comradeship we had ourselves photographed as the first group of Brest migrants to Argentina after W.W.1. At the same time, we laid the basis for our future harmonious and close relationships between us. Thus the forming of a Brest Landsmanschaft (association)) became a reality.

We took the aims and purpose of our association from our brothers in the U.S.A. – we modelled ourselves on their example of assistance and help for the city of Brest after W.W.1. However, according to our more limited capabilities and smaller number of members, we felt that one of our primary duties would be, for example, to meet new arrivals from Brest at the boat, and to assist them with a place to sleep (the home of a fellow Brisker), and help them obtain work.

The first tangible achievement of our organization was the then infamous anti Semitic rulings by the Pilsudski Polish government presented by the local minister in 1923 to disrupt the Jewish immigration from Poland to Argentina, specifically against women, who were unable to produce their wedding certificates. Out Brest sisters were not exempted from these laws, and as fate would have it, our organization intervened through a delegation of three people: President David Tabatchnik, Secretary Babrach, and Treasurer Y. Munk. We approached various government departments and put pressure on them -with great difficulties we were successful in tearing out the anti Semitic nails that threatened to send these women back to Poland, amongst them was Sheina Zilbergleit -Youngerman, the wife of our own Monya Youngerman.

We also fulfilled the promise that we pledged to our comrades in our old hometown before we left, to support and send assistance for their cultural institutions back in Brest.

For example, it is interesting to point out that one of our undertakings in 1925 was to set up a drama circle and an orchestra. This was with the support of several newly arrived and energetic Brest members who showed great appreciation and enthusiasm for these endeavours, to provide a more 'homelike' atmosphere. After some time we appeared in public in one of the largest theatres in Buenos Aires with the play “The Thieves”, followed by some concerts and then a ball. Finally, this fund raising campaign ended with a huge fund raising dinner, to signify our great moral and material success.

Together with our brethren in the U.S.A., we helped to strengthen the home grown cultural institutions back in Brest that stood on the brink of financial extinction.

The second great challenge to our organization was the period before the famous pogrom in Brest in 1937.

A special chapter of our history should be dedicated to our organization's assistance to the politically persecuted at home in Brest. It has already been described in this book, and was an important part of our humanitarian solidarity, and sacred work for us – one cannot praise our organization enough.

Our activity over the last thirty years underwent several changes and turns, with much hard work and endeavour since the formation of our Brest Society, which eventually came to play a vital role in the welfare of the Jewish society in Argentina.

The framework of the Landsmanschaften became part of the general community work. Thus our work to assist the hungry and suffering in the U.S.S.R. in 1922- 1924.

There was the committee for direct assistance to the immigrants, the committee against Fascism and anti Semitism, this committee sent assistance to the Spanish Republican army in the Spanish Civil War. Many Briskers fought in the ranks of the International Brigade in their fight against Fascism. The last committee was to assist the victims and survivors of the Nazi catastrophe on the Jewish nation.

With the overflowing stream of migrants, who were professionals and tradesmen, our organization greatly assisted the new 'green' arrivals with finding accommodation and jobs for each one. Not only in finding work, but also with assistance with the appropriate permits and paperwork, and looking after their cultural needs, with visits to libraries and reading rooms etc.

There was an improvised cultural group that met in private homes of Brest members every Sunday afternoon that drew many that were interested, not only Briskers. There were debates and discussions on various problems and issues in 1925 -1926. This was all spontaneous, founded by and with the participation of our Brest comrades. They then started the famous club, the “Freedom Club”. After setting up this club, we are proud of the participation of our brethren in the building of all the important institutions in Buenos Aires. In general, one must never forget to defend these achievements and guard against the people's fight against Fascism and anti Semitism.

Our brotherly and harmonious society always took the correct stands in its history. We should stress the massive assistance and welfare it rendered the survivors of the Second World War, especially in cooperation with the Argentinean Federation of Landsmanschafts, which assisted the survivors, assisted Israel, and the Brest orphans that were in France.

Our Brest families in Argentina are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their society. As one of the first organizations of its kind in the Jewish community here, it now begins an important new chapter in supporting the local community here to reach full wellbeing and progress. Our brethren who settled here have grown economically and culturally; they felt that they had a moral duty as veteran citizens of Argentina to assist everyone to live in their own way and at their own level. At the same time they appreciate the hospitality of this free country and carry their share of responsibility to the progress and wellbeing of the nation.

[Page 103]

A Glimpse of the Past

By Shmerel Petchnik

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

One is reminded of the masses of people that streamed from their homeland, expelled from their jobs and driven from their homes by the former reactionary Polish regime. Because of the policies of this repressive regime, these people were forced to seek new economic opportunities and had no alternative other than to immigrate in great waves that flowed to countries such as Israel, France and North and South America.

These same waves thundered in our hometown of Brest, where thousands of Brest workers, who had toiled throughout the centuries, were uprooted from their homes, employment, and forced to leave – a great part of them came to Argentina. The parting from one's home was very difficult. It was hard to leave one's parents who had struggled to feed the family, to distance oneself from the many branches of the family, the close friends and comrades. To leave the places where we would meet in large numbers, read a book together, debate social issues and express our ambitions and longings for a free new world. This was the grey reality that forced many to leave.

A small number of Brest compatriots that arrived in those early days of emigration found themselves lonely and unable to speak the language in a strange environment. They felt a strong need to have a 'friend' from their hometown, given these circumstances it forced these compatriots to bond with one another. This gave them a feeling of warmth in contrast to their strange surroundings and the opportunity to mutually assist each other, especially those who were sick and needy.

This need for closeness brought about even closer bonds to each other, which was later expressed in the formation of the Landsmanschafts.

The struggle for equality, the right to work and freedom continued in our hometown of Brest. Many from the general community participated in this struggle with the workers organizations being especially active, as well as the Jewish intelligentsia. The struggle was against the oppressive policies that deliberately set out to destroy the existing Jewish economic life.

The result of these reactionary policies was that hundreds of Brest workers who were the breadwinners of their families were imprisoned, often for many years. The significant Jewish institutions such as the Jewish hospital, the Jewish schools, the children's home, and the orphanage were struggling for their very existence.

Under these circumstances we were forced to leave our loved ones in our unforgettable hometown. The Brest compatriots in Argentina were bound with the moral duty of sending as much assistance as they could to Brest, being an expression of our brotherly solidarity from far away Argentina for their difficult and righteous struggle for a better existence.

This motive of a greater and higher moral duty to help the victims of the reactionary regime in our hometown could not be carried out individually, as help was needed by the majority in Brest. The assistance had to be given collectively by all of the Briskers who found themselves on Argentinean soil. Thus an organization for all Briskers in Argentina was established - with the noble purpose of helping their Old Home.

Help for our Old Home

In the rich 30 - year history of our organization, in the period between 1923 and until the outbreak of W.W.2 in 1939, assistance was directed exclusively to our hometown of Brest. Significant sums of money were sent to the Jewish secular schools that were struggling for their financial survival. The same applied to the great worker's library that was situated in the large trades union building at 5 Kosciusko St., that not only supplied books to its 5,000 registered members, but to a large part of the Jewish community as well.

One recalls the great joy when the announcement was made at the library committee meeting that the Argentinean Brest Society had sent $150 to purchase new books. This was an extraordinarily important gift to the library. The second vital assistance that was sent from Argentina to Brest was directly to the committee that gave financial assistance to political prisoners and their families, taking into consideration that most of these were the family breadwinners. We sent money to this committee regularly every month from 1929 –1937, when the connection with this committee was severed for many reasons.

Our membership fees were not sufficient for these regular payments. We often had to collect money, by means of fundraising theatre nights, balls and picnics. In this manner we could fulfil our brotherly solidarity with assistance to those suffering under the brutal reactionary Polish regime.

Help for the Local Argentinean Cultural Institutions

With the passage of time, and the daily arrival of new migrants, the Jewish community grew and spread in every direction and was concentrated in dense Jewish groups. This began to present cultural problems. It became a necessity for each district to have a Jewish community centre where one could meet and mix socially, and for the Jewish youth to attend secular Jewish schools. For this purpose, local committees were formed to raise money for the existing local Jewish institutions. At that time, only a minority of the Landsmanschaft groups were involved in these committees. The majority became active after W.W.2, with the great need to help the survivors of the great catastrophe inflicted on the Jewish nation by the Nazis.

The Brest Society, which was already an established and reputable institution in the Jewish community, received many appeals for help and cooperation with the other Argentinean Jewish welfare institutions. We gladly received their delegates at our own meetings, and helped them build their cultural and educational institutions with our utmost efforts. We accepted every appeal from the Joint Argentinean committee for the mutual benefit of everyone.

Appeals from the Left Poale Zion School, the secular 'Equus' school, the theatre group - we Briskers in Argentina carried a large share in helping build up these cultural and educational institutions. As well as helping them establish themselves, today there are a large number of Briskers involved in the boards and leadership of these community activities.

Our welfare activities for Humanitarian and Jewish causes

The rise of Hitlerism and the destruction they created on all the ground that they trod on. Their first actions against the democratic world were in the Spanish Civil War. This brought to us the necessity to organize and send help to the anti- Fascist forces that came from various countries to take part in this life and death struggle. A significant number of Briskers were amongst these volunteer fighters. At that time, help from Argentina for the fighters was sent through a special committee set up for this purpose. We actively took part in this work for the whole duration of this struggle, which was lost due to the false neutrality of certain governments.

An organization was set up to send assistance to the persecuted Jewish victims living under the Nazi regime - the funds were for the purchase of bread and food, a bowl of soup to quell their hunger. At that time, the extent of the Nazis murderous policies against the Jews were not known, so we participated in raising money for this humanitarian work.

It was only after the outbreak of W.W.2 and the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, that the destructive policies of the Nazis against all of humanity and primarily the Jewish nation became apparent. In Argentina we formed a Jewish committee to assist the Allied nations who were fighting the Nazis. The Brest Society set up a special committee of our members and proclaimed a fund raising drive to raise 3,000 pesos for the Allies. It is worth noting that we were the only group from the Landsmanschafts that came out with a communiqué in the press calling for the support and participation of all Jews in these critical times, and for everyone to help those who were fighting the bloody Fascist murderers. The publicity generated by this article by the Brest Society did not please the reactionary journalist H. Shopheim and he wrote an article in the same newspaper criticising the Brest Society for it's communiqué and for raising 3,000 pesos to help the Allied forces. We ignored this public criticism and continued our sacred duty and work. We duly transferred the appointed sum of money to the committee for assistance to the Allied forces. It is unnecessary to stress that our position was the correct and sound one.

After the murderous Nazis were defeated we organized help for the victims who had survived the war. We proclaimed a widespread campaign amongst all the Briskers in Argentina to assist our survivor brethren. We sent numerous parcels to the Brest survivors in Stettin Poland containing clothing and goods; and we sent money to Brest survivors in Paris, Italy and Germany. We also sent many permits to enable them to emigrate to various countries, and various monies for their expenses. The total cost was 47,802 pesos.

There were numerous other efforts, for example, sending individual food parcels to Briskers in various places across the ocean. We participated in the Argentinean Welfare Fund, and took an active role in the work of this organization.

The victory of the Allied Nations with the Soviet Union taking a leading role, meant that many nations opened their doors to the victims of the persecutions, and brought about the possibility of masses of Jews settling in Israel, and taking their destiny into their own hands.

The proclamation of the State of Israel was acclaimed with joy and elation by Jews all over the world including Argentina. The Briskers in Argentina were ecstatic with the U.N. proclamation in August 1947 recognizing the right to an independent nation of Israel. The consequent war against the new state by the reactionary Arab governments with the tacit assistance of the British and U.S. governments caused a huge wave of solidarity amongst the Jews of Argentina. We Briskers expressed our support and played a significant role in the campaign to raise money for the heroic Haganah fighters. To this purpose we immediately transferred the 4,300 pesos that were in our bank account.

When the United Campaign to Assist Israel was proclaimed; we called on all the Briskers to pledge money and 22,000 pesos was transferred to the Federation of Landmanschafts in Argentina for the United Campaign.

When the Federation of Landmanschafts dedicated funds for housing in Israel, we transferred our pledges of 14,000 pesos to them, and further funds for Keren Kayemet in Israel, Magen David Adom, and orphanages in Israel. The Brest Society also sent individual food parcels to Brest compatriots in Israel, a total cost of 18,000 pesos. Although the Emergency Campaign for Israel took precedence and we raised 58,300 pesos, a further 47,872 was sent to Brest survivors in various European countries = 106,172 pesos in total to help in the difficult period after W.W.2.

In this abbreviated overview of our history, and of our important welfare and assistance work, it becomes clear that we only achieved what we did thanks to what we brought with us from our Old Home of Brest, and that was the consciousness of those toilers and hard workers in that Jewish city, who had the great traditions of fighting for humanitarian causes and Jewish liberty. It is this spirit that was transplanted to our new country of Argentina, and was expressed in all the manifestations of self-help and building the Jewish settlement in Argentina in which the Briskers played an honoured role.

By casting a glimpse over the past and looking over the various stages in our winding paths, from the day we left our hometown to the present day, and our 30 years of activity in Argentina, we can now say with confidence that this was the correct path and that this path will continue with our cultural and welfare activities, because this path is to friendship, peace, and humanitarian causes, and this is also our path.

[Page 107]

Our First Public Appearance

By Y. Kazak

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

In the years when the streams of immigration flowed to all the countries of South America, especially Argentina, many Jews were amongst this mass immigration, including no shortage of Brest Jews. Like all the other immigrants we missed our Old Home. As was the custom amongst us 'greenhorns' we would meet on Sundays and holidays. We would go out in groups, spend time together and reminisce about incidents and episodes from Brest. Promenading on the boulevards on the Christian Holy days and not having anywhere to go, because in those days the majority of Jews worked. On one such day I met with a Brest brother who had the privilege of working for a devout Catholic employer. Thinking of how to spend the day, my compatriot said it would be ideal to go to the port, to see the arrivals from the ships and meet any arriving Briskers who would bring news and regards from the Old Home.

Arriving at the gates of the immigration building we soon came across a Brisker just off the ship and how astonished we were when we saw it was a close friend from the Old Home. He stood with glazed and bewildered eyes looking at the big city of Buenos Aires and not knowing where to go. He was amazed to see us as he had not expected anyone – suddenly he had found friends who would show him how to take the first steps in his new home.

From that time on, the port was my favourite destination and pastime. One day I was informed that I was invited to a meeting of Briskers. Arriving there I saw many Briskers gathered in a small room. They sat on several broken benches, on the bed, and the rest had to stand or sit on the floor. The meeting began and a letter was read out from the Worker's Library in Brest. They appealed to us, their 'rich cousins' to assist them against the unemployment and poverty that was prevalent in Poland at that time. They were unable to satisfy their thirst for books; therefore we should set up an appeal to enable them to purchase a certain number of new books. After lengthy discussions, it was decided to hold an afternoon tea concert with an entrance fee of 30 cents to raise money for this purpose. Everyone was allotted tasks to prepare for this function and to report back on their progress at the next meeting. Arriving at the next meeting, it became obvious that no one had done anything. This was because they had met and mixed with other Briskers on the street who all had great enthusiasm for this project, and all had decided that would should become bigger.

We should not hold an afternoon tea concert but a Gala occasion that would have great impact, not only in Argentina, but also in our old home of Brest. Again, tasks were allotted to everyone and received progress reports at subsequent meetings. A large hall “Forwards” on Rincon St. was hired for the 22nd June 1925. A drama club had been formed and they decided to put on the play “Ganuvim” (thieves). An orchestra was formed, and would give a concert and after this performance, a gala ball would be held.

To carry out this work, the homes of the older 'veterans' were used for rehearsals and preparations. We were impatient for the day of this great event to arrive. One only heard praise and applause from the participants and the audience. The hall was decorated – people were dressed in their best clothes, the atmosphere was wonderful. We were so excited that we forgot the condition that there should be more seats than people admitted. But we were forced to admit double the number of people than there were chairs, and we barely managed to escape paying the large fines that were imposed on us for not complying with the regulation.

Suffice to say, not only did we have great acclaim and success, both material and moral, but also the seeds of the former 'Frieheit' Committee and the present day 'IFT', society were born out of this evening. We are certain that the Brest Society planted the seeds of the 'IFT' and the present day A.J.F.

At the time that some members of the Brest Society founded the drama club, there were already various drama groups in existence, which had not satisfied the demand of the Argentinean Jewish community for artistic expression. The drama group of Polish Jews, after their success with the first performance of “Ganuvim”, was met with many requests from other groups to help them with their own fundraising functions and stage performances for them. The drama club felt that there was too much competition for the meagre fundraising monies- it was not possible to satisfy the demands of the Jewish community in this regard, and therefore they decided to aim higher. After consulting with colleagues from Warsaw and Lodz in a cramped room, it was decided to set up a “Drama and Musical Society”, and this founding committee rented a hall and held a general meeting at which it was decided (proposed by a Brisker) that this organization would be called “Frieheit”. This organization became renowned for a long time by the Jewish working classes until it's demise.

Before it's end, several Briskers sensed the end was coming, and founded, together with other organizations, the Spartacus Sports Club on the Via Crespa. The greater part of the drama club's activities were under the direction of two well known artists: Namoyev and Avrasha Levine. It was not long before we felt the pressure of financial reality. We decided to unite with the Jewish Worker's Library on Via Crespa and set up the 'Avant Garde' club. Several years later when all the clubs had closed down, the drama performed in private homes under the directorship of the deceased member Factorowsky.

Later on, several members of the closed down workers club joined the drama club including members of the Argentinean youth club, and it was decided to form the Jewish Dramatist that became the 'Ift' Society.

It is significant to point out that not only the actors of those days, but also the activists from Brest who participated, have continued until this present day with their social activism and work. Even the deceased comrade Savitski was also from the former Brest drama club.

This is just a short history of the participation of the Briskers in this field.

[Page 110]

Two Societies: Then and Now

By Israel Tish

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

The Brest society was founded by a group of recent arrivals to Argentina in 1923 with the aim of helping them settle into their new country, and to assist our brethren in our Old Home, both economically and morally. Within a short period, a Loans Fund was established within the Society to lend up to 300 pesos, not just exclusively for Brest compatriots, but for other new arrivals as well.

After the pogrom occurred in Brest in 1937 and assistance was urgently requested, the question arose, to whom to send the money? One group wanted to sent it to such individuals who would ensure that the money was divided equally amongst everyone – because this money had also been collected equally from individuals. However, it was to no avail, the other group prevailed and acted as they saw fit. Later on, it was seen that the first group had prevailed until 1933, they had done their work, and held their functions such as picnics, and they had their sympathizers and always had success. The second group failed together with the loan fund. Due to various circumstances the fund raising work weakened, and some time later we carried out a reorganization of the society. At that time the Brest Society loaned up to 50 pesos to everyone who could repay at 5 pesos a month interest free. If there were those who were unable to repay the loan, we would write it off as a bad debt due to financial difficulties. The monies for this loans fund was collected from the membership fees, fund raising events, and donations. We also organized that our fellow members could frequently meet and mix socially.

But then came the terrible war. We were cut off from our Old Home and our nearest and dearest. We remained without any contact with Brest. Furthermore, as time went on it worsened as we received all sorts of horrible and ghastly news, we did not want to hear these awful and demoralizing bits of news, so our meetings grew less frequent. The loans fund slowly lost it's importance as our members did not need the meagre 50 pesos any more. Gradually the fundraising work stopped. When we asked ourselves, we did not know what to do…. we felt that the Brest Society should keep going and preserve itself for the time when the war ended and the terrible news would spread throughout the world. It was indeed shattering – 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazi beasts and among them our nearest and dearest. There was no one left to write a letter to – there was no one left to request our help – all had been murdered.

One cause remained – the Holocaust survivors. We threw ourselves into our work with all our hearts and souls. We began to collect money, it was not difficult, as everyone from Brest and surroundings gave generously, and helped us with our fundraising. The majority pledged their money; the sum grew and was handed over to the Central committee for that purpose. Upon discovering the whereabouts of Brest survivors, we immediately forwarded help to them. Until today, any Brisker who applies to us for help from anywhere in the world, will be assisted by us.

With the establishment of the Nation of Israel, everything was done collectively through a general committee, and everyone pledged according to their means. However, in 1949 divisions began, and these divisions were forcibly brought into our organization. A United Campaign was established and a people's committee formed. Then conflicts were arose in our organization as in other organizations - brought on by people who never wanted to work, and especially those who sought positions of power.

A meeting took place amongst the community groups and a statement was issued, saying that after negotiations – it had been decided there should be a split in the organizations – and so it was carried out. Unfortunately it was carried through in an ugly manner, and caused much damage.

I will explain here what took place. Several of the Brest members had earlier issued an explanation in the press, that they supported the United Campaign and asked for the members to solely support them. This should have been beneficial for them, but no, this was not enough, they came to our general meeting with about 20 people and issued the following statement: “ If we do not support the United Campaign, then we are not Jews”. After several silly attacks, they decided that they would ruin the Brest Society. We, on the other hand, barely responded to their idiocies, and to their declaration that they would distance themselves and their families from our organization; we replied that they could do what they liked. They went away and actually helped our cause because they established another society and left us in peace to continue our welfare work. They took with them the noisemakers and disruptive elements. We went our own way and have become more respected from year to year with our aims of further assisting the Jewish community here and in Israel, and our Jewish consciousness as human beings and for the whole world to live in peace and equality.

Now they can see the mistakes that they made with their split in their own home – I call it our home because I understand that our organization is not only for raising money for welfare work but also should be a peaceful home to all our Briskers. We should all live in peace and harmony on all levels as a symbol to the memory of our hometown Brest.

[Page 111]

Brest Women in Argentina

By Brainche Kaufman

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

When recalling our participation in the 30 years of the existence of the Brest Society in Argentina, it is important to stress that we, the Brest women, drew our inspiration from our hometown, which has been inscribed in the golden pages of history.

Already after W.W.1, when Brest was liberated from the German occupation, we were full of hope and the spirit of that time. We, the young women, took an active role in the building of cultural and communal institutions, with conferences, public meetings, lectures and debates. Not only were the halls filled, but also the streets were full, especially the city square that was a meeting place for the progressive Brest youth of those days.

Alas, this did not last long. The new Polish occupation brought all this down with its heavy reactionary policies on the newly enlightened Brest youth, and suppressed every free thought and the will to create a better and more attractive life. We, the young women of Brest especially felt the hard hand of the Polish reactionaries – the prisons were full of female comrades such as Dora Sussman, Eidel Feder, Esther Gross, Leah Pieshatzer, Rachel Goldstein and others. Many were forced to emigrate, some to the U.S.A., some to Argentina and other countries.

Those who remained conducted their struggle until W.W. II, when they were liberated by the Soviet Union, and then murdered during the Nazi occupation.

May their memory be honoured

When some of these women arrived in their new free home of Argentina, they understood that they were the children of another era that had taught them to help build a better life in their new country. Our renowned and well-known Jewish women from Brest took their place in the community life of Argentina. We began to build some schools and organizations such as the drama club, and welfare and humanitarian work. Many of the female Briskers have been involved in community work in Argentina for the entire 30 years of the Brest Society.

One must stress that we took an active role in preparing our first large event to raise money for the Brest Worker's Library in Brest, and this was carried out successfully. If later on the women did not take such an active role in the Brest Society, it was because it took a different direction, and closed out our Brest sisters to some extent.

Our organization is preparing to celebrate 30 years of its existence, so surely the words and participation of the women should be heard – and furthermore, in the future, we should be included in all the decisions and activities. We will stay in our positions and continue to participate in the great work that our society has carried out since its beginnings, and the great welfare work since the end of W.W.11 for Holocaust survivors and survivors from Brest and district. We organized a women's branch of the Brest Society which has brought a strong revival in the overall Jewish Federation and had great success in all our initiatives conducted within our Brest society family.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, all our efforts have gone towards ensuring a free and independent nation. The Brest women have responded with warmth to our appeals for help. Also, on the cultural front, we Brest women have not turned aside from the efforts to raise the cultural and educational standards of women. We were the first to set up a reading circle (book club). This has been active for more than 5 years and holds regular meetings with readings and discussions on various literary and social issues.

What especially attracts all of us Brest women are the cultural activities that the Society holds, such as the Yiddish classes, and lectures on modern Yiddish literature such as “Mendele, Mocher Sfarim” (Mendele, the book seller), Scholem Aleichem, I.l. Peretz, and others.

We also have played an active role in the welfare work for the orphanages in France and Israel.

We therefore welcome with all our hearts the publication of this book on our Society's 30th anniversary. It reflects the best years of our communal and welfare work, it depicts an important period, and records many of our recollections and memories. This spurs us on to go on with courage and strength towards our aims and victory.

[Page 113]

Our Productive Period

By Sholem Koloditzki

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

After some years of polarization and division, a reorganization of our Society took place in 1937 The initiative came from the members Petchnik, Tryneh, Tish, Levinson, Koloditski, and the late comrade Barenbaum. The first meeting took place at member Ostrovakh's home. At that meeting a decision was reached to revitalize the original Brest Society with renewed membership and new support from various groups. A second meeting was held later at Barenbaum's home, which was attended by a larger number of people. A committee was elected with Rabinov as President, Barenbaum Vice President, Secretary Levinson, acting Secretary Petchnik, Treasurer Tish, David Wabnik and Sholem Koloditski publicity and press, and two members Sidor and Mechanik.

We immediately apportioned the work: to liaise with the various cultural institutions, to raise and send financial assistance for our Old Home, and assistance for the new arrivals from Brest to help them settle in their new home

We joined YIVO as an associate member, we held theatre nights, one such event was held by our compatriot, the now deceased performer Goldenberg. The income from these theatre shows was used to subsidize our sick and needy compatriots – like a sick compatriot with a stall in a large department store, we helped a widow set up a kiosk for cigarettes and drinks in the Excelsior theatre, and also compatriots who were injured at work were given 300 pesos by us. This was all achieved in the first year of activity by the revitalized Brest Society. At our first A.G.M. the following committee was elected:

President – Tish, Vice Pres.- David Wabnik, Secretary – Faden, Assitant Sec – Perchnik, Public Relations – Pinchas Wabnik, Treasurer – Koloditski, Spokesman – Fidelholtz. Committee members: Tryneh, Rotstein, Sidor, Mechanik and others.

Our work broadened in several directions. We joined the boards of the Scholem Aleichem school, the Zhitlovski School, and the Jewish Hospital. In order to give financial assistance we opened a small Loans Fund - this was a limited fund, our members could borrow up to 50 pesos to be repaid interest – free at the rate of 5 pesos a month. In 1940 we held a banquet with the artists Bosgan and Schiller – this period of our existence was spent in these endeavours.

[Page 113]

The Brest Society's Loans Fund

By B.A.

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

Although not originally planned for, within a short period, and due to the various multifaceted activities of the Brest Society and demands for assistance from the broader Jewish community, a proposal was put to the committee of the Brest Society to form a Credit Cooperative. A Credit Cooperative was established immediately after that, which now, on the 30th anniversary of the Brest Society, has been awarded membership in the Union of Credit Cooperatives that enables us to distribute loans to many of our brethren with expanded financials resources.

In the short period of barely over a year, since the Credit Co-op. (La Fraternale) was established, great work has been done from which we can see the fruits. However, that does not mean that we can rest upon our laurels. We of the Brest Loans Fund, which consisted of the Brest compatriots in Argentina, were amongst those who built up the Jewish institutions in Argentina and also in our hometown of Brest, until the Fascists destroyed it. Also here in Argentina there are those from amongst us who helped to build our own economic institutions such as the Credit Co-operative of the Brest Loans Fund.

In order to better evaluate the significance of the new Co-operative it was necessary for the members of the Brest Society to assemble on a Thursday evening at 4635 La Vasa, in the building that functioned as the Loans Fund. Dozens of our members had previously come there to sort out their credit dealings, from cases requesting immediate loans – we had always treated everyone as equals.

Now, when we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we must not forget the outspoken members who founded the savings and loans fund - the Savings and Loan Co-operative “La Fraternale” would not exist today but for a small stubborn band of members, but also all the active members of our Society from Buenos Aires and surroundings who contributed in building this co-operative.. This credit co-operative can now lend large amounts and hold savings deposits, and has become an institution for the masses in Argentina.

Recognition of their efforts and their legacy to us will soon follow.

[Page 115]

A Glimpse Over the Past 30 Years

By S. Zuckerman

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

When we look back over the 30 years of Brisker activity in Argentina, we come to the conclusion that the Brest Society was founded and built by a small number of Brest compatriots, who had not known each other back in Brest, but almost all of them arrived in their new land with the communal traditions that was characteristic of our hometown.

None of us had left as tourists to see different parts of the world – each one of us was driven out by the difficult social, political and economic conditions.

We met as a group of compatriots in our new home of Argentina, that in those early years gave everyone the opportunity to live with the best traditions of their past. We resolved to form a Brest Society in Argentina that would support the community and social work back in our hometown, where everyone had a hard struggle for their economic existence and social equality. These same circumstances that had brought masses to Argentina – we resolved to assist them financially and socially to integrate into our new home. We wanted to create a homely atmosphere with comradeship, support and advice. Also to establish cultural activities, a book club was formed that held readings and discussions. In our eyes this was a reminder of our hometown and the thousands of links that we had to it, as well as our striving for a better life in our new land.

We organized the first material assistance for the Brest Worker's Library (money to buy books), which was very much appreciated. Later on, there was great solidarity and direct financial assistance for the victims of the Polish reactionary regime that the majority in our hometown suffered under.

The critical depression years both in Argentina and in Brest, was the reason that we established the loans fund to assist our members, and played an important role in those years. Many Briskers reached the conclusion that the loans fund was a vital necessity. Thus we proceeded with our welfare work through those first years in our new home.

Our Brest family has become a respected and established member in the community here- with its active participation in building the large community institutions such as schools, libraries, clubs and others.

Thus the golden thread that unites us Briskers in Argentina was woven. There is ample evidence of the undertakings over the last 12 years of our Society, such as contributing to the fight against the greatest enemies that we have ever known – Fascism and Nazism.

The majority of our fundraising pledges went at that time to assistance for Jewish institutions in Argentina.

After W.W.2, a huge amount of work and effort was mobilized to assist survivors from Brest and district: Terespol, Kotelne, Domachevo, who turned to us for help from wherever they were found.

We sent large shipments of clothes to Poland and individual parcels to Germany and Italy, financial assistance to France, which was a transit country for Briskers waiting to migrate to other countries such as Israel and South America. We also made a huge contribution to the General Emergency Appeal to help Holocaust survivors. We gave whatever and whenever we could to the State of Israel in its struggle for independence, and later to the consolidation of the new Israeli nation.

We collected large amounts of money for the United Jewish Appeal, which was later exploited by a small group that wanted to have a monopoly on the Brest Society in Argentina for its own political purposes.

This caused rifts and schisms in our Brest family. But our Society knew how to deal with this small dissident group and to continue on its own broad path. The majority of the members of the Brest Society (and Brest district) have accompanied us over the last 30 years to realize our aims and on to new achievements.

[Page 116]

The Past 30 Years of the Brest and District Society

By A. L. Bialetsky

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

The Brest Society has existed for 30 years in Argentina. This means 30 years of service to the Briskers in Argentina – and to Briskers anywhere. It has responded to many appeals for help. 30 years of joys and sorrows. 30 years of struggles and fights, difficulties and achievements. 30 years of the existence of a Jewish institution, that has upheld the Jewish tradition of assisting, brick by brick, to build and strengthen Jewish life everywhere. Now, more than ever, after the terrible European catastrophe that annihilated the unending Jewish spring of energy – that spiritual energy that streamed and pulsated out to the entire Jewish world.

It is indeed a joy to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a Jewish institution that helps and gives special opportunities to further spin the golden thread of Jewish tradition. Therefore our joy today in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Brest Society.

There has been 30 years of continuous contact with the local Jewish community life, helping both directly and indirectly to develop and strengthen the Jewish community here in Argentina.

These 30 years of activity of the Brest Society was not an accidental phenomenon that arose by itself. On the contrary, it arose as the result of deliberate and conscious decisions by people who were aware of the needs of the community. Consequently the Brest Society took its place in all aspects of the life of the general Jewish community, social, economic and cultural - assisting both directly and indirectly to the growth of the Jewish community in Argentina. There was not one event or crisis that we did not respond to when calls for help were made upon the Brest Society.

There was a great stream of Jewish migration to Argentina after W.W.1, amongst them many from Brest. This generated a flurry of activity and growth in the Jewish community, together with the establishment of many institutions and organizations.

In 1923 the Brest Society was established - from the beginning of its existence, it set itself social goals. They decided to provide support to assist the new migrants to settle in to their new country, and provide a warm environment as a basis for their new lives in the Argentinean Republic.

The Brest Society celebrates 30 years of activity, and it is an important event as it is one of the important Landsmanschafts in the Argentinean Jewish community. It is a celebration for all progressive people in our community who appreciate the contribution the Society has made on all levels. It crowns the many years of stubborn collective efforts by a group of socially responsible people. There was no important communal or welfare undertaking that the Brest Society did not participate in.

Rightfully, we can say that the great success of the Society is due to the hard work and dedication of the members who founded it, and the continuous support of the members who made such great efforts to its development and growth, because they were imbued with the spirit and aims of the organization.

It was not accidental that the committee members over the past 30 years were able to withstand the difficulties and problems and maintain their important work, especially during the terrible Hitler years and their aftermath. These members were proven responsible community workers, who were also board members of other institutions:

The Federation of Jewish Landsmanschaften, 'Ichuv', 'Summerland', IFT, libraries, schools and cultural institutions.

The Brest Society holds an honoured position in the Jewish community life in Argentina. The Society is a patron of the Jewish Hospital and other charities that we support according to its financial capabilities. We support YIVO, ORT, and the Yiddish primary schools. The Society also helps publicize and disseminate the works of Jewish writers and author irrespective of their political leanings.

Of the initial work of the Society in the formative years, it is important to mention the small loans that the Loans Fund lent from the first day of it's existence until it changed into 'La Fraternale' Society – but this is a chapter in itself. These small loans helped a large number of Brest immigrants in their 'green' years.

Many of the present well-established Briskers remember those times that the loans fund helped them with their financial difficulties with affection and gratitude.

From time to time the Brest Society also held various communal, social and cultural functions for its members, musical evenings, lectures with cultural figures, writers both local and foreign, including the famous writer and activist Pesach Novick.

From the beginning the Brest Society never forgot it's hometown of Brest and maintained constant contact on all levels – we assisted whoever turned to us for help. With the outbreak of W.W.2, all contact was severed with the city – no new immigrants arrived and the activity of all the Landsmanschafts weakened. But the Brest Society did not slacken in its work, thanks to the dedication of the members who understood that one must 'stand guard' in those very difficult times and be prepared. When the Hitler catastrophe ended, and the first calls for help came, we were prepared and sprang into action and greatly broadened our welfare work. Immediately a woman's branch was set up with their dynamic participation to work with the emergency committee to raise funds for the survivors of the Nazi beasts.

These survivors were scattered throughout the world, a large welfare drive was established to assist them with love and care. This emergency committee was a stimulus and model for other welfare institutions and was even renowned overseas.

From then on, the Brest Society maintained contact with all the other Brest groups in the world. They have assisted Brest migrants to find secure new homes, and helped them settle in. They have responded whenever calls for help came to them. The committee, together with the woman's branch, has sent seven crates of new clothing and shoes to the Brest survivors in Poland, and 60 individual parcels of food to the Brest committee in France. The society sent over 7,000 pesos, application forms for immigration, and ship passages - the Society donated 10,000 pesos for this purpose. The Society played a large role in the Emergency Campaign in Argentina and donated 7,000 pesos to this committee.

The Brest society also pledged money to the United Argentine Appeal for the Haganah, the Israeli Ambulance service, and Magen David Adom. We also participated in the Argentinean Federation of Jewish Organizations emergency campaign for the suffering Holocaust victims in Israel, and sent them 18 crates of new clothing.

The Brest Society constantly sends individual parcels to the Federation of Briskers in Israel. The Woman's branch conducts daily activities to raise money for children's homes in Israel and an orphanage in France. This work has all been carried out thanks to the tireless efforts of the Brest Society and the Woman's branch. We all understand that the Society has to uphold the beautiful traditions of our destroyed hometown.

The Brest Society cannot allow the memory of our heroic fighters and holy martyrs to dim. The flourishing Jewish life that flowered in Brest and was totally destroyed by the bestial Nazis should not pass by as a distant dream but remain engraved in our memory.

[Page 118]

The Federation of Landsmanschafts –
the Axis of all the Landsmanschaft groups in Argentina

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

To write about the Federation of Argentinean Landsmanschafts, with its dozens of auxiliary Landsmanschaft groups would take up many pages of this book. However, the Brest Society occupies an important place on all levels of this Federation, and carries out work that benefits every organization.

We will limit ourselves here only to the welfare work carried out by the Federation – one example is the sending of food parcels to the State of Israel. The Federation has a committee that is in charge of sending all parcels to Israel or other places on behalf of all the Landsmanschafts. The Federation conducts this task with great efficiency and trust – the parcels are immediately sent without asking for reimbursement of the postal costs. It should be stressed that all relief parcels are sent through the Federation for insurance purposes, and to ensure that all the products are of the highest quality, and we really congratulate the Federation for it's initiative.

The Federation occupies a most respected position in the cultural sphere with the various Landsmanschafts and Societies of the general Jewish community. It supports the great Dubnov Library with its hundreds of books, which is at the service of all the various groups and their membership, and it is a joy to see all the members borrow these books.

The large library hall serves all the Landmanschafts for free – they can hold their social and cultural gatherings there, as well as the youth groups of the Federation. All the community groups hold their meetings there, and this adds also to the significance of the Landsmanschaft movement in the Jewish community of Argentina.

The founders of the Federation understood the need to establish a credit co-operative to assist all the members of the Landsmanschafts who needed financial assistance, and would arrive at the co-operative to receive a loan without difficulty. The Federation hosts the annual ceremony to honour the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This is held in one of the largest halls in Buenos Aires with the attendance of the elite of Jewish Buenos Aires. The Brest Society, as a member of the Federation, responds enthusiastically to this initiative of the Federation to honour the best of the Jewish nation that set an example to the world with its' resistance.

The Federation has set itself a goal to educate and train officials of the various Landsmanschafts – every official receives practical training to carry out their work.

It is therefore a great honour for the Brest Society to be one of the most respected members of this Federation, as the Federation represents us in all the Jewish institutions and brings us an involvement in every event connected to Jewish life in Argentina. Thus we must support the Federation in its activities, giving it the power to carry out its work and fulfil the community needs.

Translators note: There is no exact word for Landsmanschaft in English – it is a group of people from the same town or district, the word compatriot or countryman does not convey the strong bond fraternal bond that the members of the Landsmanschafts had.

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