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[Page 160]

Olshaners in America


Emigration and Nostalgia

by Leib Potashnik

The first emigrants from Olshan arrived in New York before WWI. Their organizational efforts in WWI were started by Shlomo Zalman Koslovski, Moshe Baron [son of Chaim the teacher], Yekusiel Koslovski [son of Keseler Antshelikes]. They founded the Olshan ‘Relief Committee‘ and this was active until 1921. I arrived in NY August 1922, nostalgic for my family in Olshan, so I sought out my countrymen from Olshan. This wasn't difficult. At the same time, my niece Rikleh Abramovitch came with her children. Their home swiftly became a meeting point not only for Olshaners but also from Oshman, Vishniev, Trov and others.

Among the first ones I mentioned were also Chaim Leib Shneider, his wife Rachel, sister of Ben–Zion Goldberg [now editor of the Morning Journal], Kalman Brudni, Meyer Nissn, Gdalia Berman. I was told that an Olshan organization no longer existed, only a Hebrew school. Avrohom Abramovitch was president of the school, which was named Olshaner, but all the Olshaners had moved out. They had gradually become part of the New York Jewish community and had become Americanized members of their local schools and temples.

I always felt that there should be a relationship between the Olshaners in America and the community in Poland, which needed help, so I convened a meeting of those I have mentioned, a volunteer's evening of our countrymen. I acted as secretary, and thus created the Olshan Organization of America. The response was extraordinary. Our meeting was attended by our countrymen from far and wide, a warm heartfelt reunion for many after long years apart. At our second meeting, I produced a one–act play, “The Crazy Man in the Hospital”. Ben–Zion Goldberg was the director and Chaim Leib Shneider was the reader. I continued as secretary.

The purpose of our committee was to support our countrymen's institutions in Olshan, the Hebrew schools, Tarbos school, refurbish the Bays Hamidrash, modernize the baths, restore the grounds around the cemetery, increase the capital of the savings and loan bank, found an interest –free charitable lending bank, and help our Olshan people in all their needs. Our Olshaners in America used all our talents.. The chairman of all the committees was Mayor Nissn Berman, associated with A.L.Gershonovitch

My correspondence with the Olshan community was through Reb Khodesh. In 1929, telegrams from my parents and Reb Khodesh brought sad news of the pogrom in Olshan, and then came a second pogrom. Our American supporters did their duty, and renewed our efforts to help the victims. Throughout, we devoted our efforts to support community organizations as well as to help re–unite families. Our activities cemented warm close connections among our countrymen in America, eliminating all class divisions. We all felt like one family with one purpose, to preserve our connection with our Jewish roots in the shtetl.

In 1945, at the end of the war, we got a letter from my brother Max in Olshan, and I had it published in a Jewish newspaper, with an appeal to revive the Olshan relief organization, to mobilize aid for the victims. I arose from my sick–bed to call on my countrymen , who responded, doing much to assist the survivors of the Holocaust

[Page 164]

Olshaners in America

by Leib Potashnik

The first emigrants from Olshan arrived in New York before WWI. Social activities started during the war. Shlomo Zalmen Koslovski, Moshe Baron (son of Chaim the teacher), Yekusial Koslovski [Keseler Antshelicher's son], and others founded the Olshan Relief Committee, which was active during the war years, up to 1921.

I arrived in NY In August 1922. I was homesick for my family in Olshan, so I sought out my countrymen. That was easy;at the same time came Rikle Abramovitz, my sister–in–law, with her children. Their home became a meeting place for all countrymen, not only from Olshan, but also Oshmen, Vishniak, Trover and others. Among the first countrymen I met were Shlomo Koslovski, Moshe Baron, Yekusial Koslovski, Chaim Leib Schneider, his wife Ruchl, sister of Ben–Zion Goldberg, now the co–editor of Daily Morning Journal, Kalman Brudni, Mayer Nisan, Gedaliah Berman. I asked about an Olshan organization, but I was told that there was only a Hebrew school. Avrohom Abramovitch was the president of the shul– he called himself Olshaner, but was really an associate, selected by the countrymen from that region. Gradually they merged into the New York Jewish community, were Americanized, and welcomed into the shuls and temples.

I felt strongly that there should be a connection between our countrymen in America and our institutions in Poland, to provide help. I assembled a group of people, who decided to stage a voluntary fund–raising event. Letters were sent to our countrymen in various cities. I was elected secretary, and that's how the American Olshan organization was formed. The response was extraordinary. On this night, our compatriots came from far and near, for a warm re–union among many who had not seen each other for many years. At the second meeting, I staged a one–act play, The Lunatic in the Hospital. The author Ben–Zion Goldberg read the play, and Chaim Leib Schneider reluctantly did the narration. I was again elected secretary.

Our Aid Committee was dedicated to supporting the institutions of our countrymen in Olshan, such as the shul, the Beys Hamidrash, [house of prayer], the cemetery, increase the resources of the Savings and Loan Bank, create an interest –free loan organization. The chairman of the committee was Maier Nissin Berman, and we also enlisted A.L. Abramowitch. My correspondence with the Olshan community and their rabbis had become routine, when in 1929 we received telegrams from my parents with the sad news about the pogrom in Olshan, followed shortly by another pogrom. Our people in America did their duty, and many worked with renewed energy to help the victims. Over the years, many individuals from Olshan asked for our help. Our guiding principle was to work with social organizations, but we didn't neglect individuals, we worked to unite them with their families.

Our activity also facilitated closer relations among the Olshaners in America– a warm friendship was cemented among them. All the class divisions disappeared at the meetings, they all felt like family members, all from the same roots and with the common goal of uniting with our common past history of our shtetl traditions. In 1945, in the wake of the war, I received a letter from my brother Max from Olshan. I circulated the letter in a Jewish paper, to re–invigorate the Relief Organization, to help the persecuted victims and survivors. I arose from my sick–bed and called on our members to begin this holy work, and our dear cousins did much to help those Olshan Jews who had survived.


Olshan Emigrants

The history of Olshan emigrants to America goes back 100 years. In the last half of the 19th century, young people from Olshan traveled to the Medina [golden land]. Among them was a 12 year old boy, Chaim Sholom Kaplan. His voyage to America involved a dramatic story. Chaim Sholom had asked his poor parents to allow him to travel to America with his sister Eshke, to join their sister Libe Disye. The parents refused, so the boy ran on foot to Vilna to follow his sister Eshke and brother Leib, who had accompanied her on the way. When he met them in the train station, he declared to them that he would never return to Olshan, and if they wouldn't let him go with his sister to America, he would throw himself on the train tracks. The brother and sister knew from this boy's firm character that this was no idle threat. So his brother paid for his trip, and he departed with his sister to the United States.

At the time of the Russo–Japanese war, a few Jews from Olshan came to America. After the collapse of the 1905 revolution, many Olshaners fled because they feared arrest and exile in Siberia. And that's how many of them were implanted and spread widely in the U.S. After WWI, the Olshaners in America organized a committee to help the starving people of the town, and to get them back on their feet. They're–built and repainted the Beys Hamidrash, and sent substantial funds to found a Free Loan Society. In those days, the work was supported by a surtax supervised by Moshe Baron, assisted by Shlomo Zalman Koslovski, Marta Lutinger, Chaim Gurvitch, Leib Potashnik, Moshe Yosef Soladeka, Yidel ben Moshe Mordechai Levin.

[Page 166]

Loyalty and Pride

Shlomo Koslovski was a remarkable personality, outstanding in all respects. He had a burning thirst for education, was generous, honest and dedicated. But all this was concealed hidden behind the walls of the Jewish ghetto in Tsarist Russia, on one side, and the paternal socialism, fanatically exclusive, on the other side. His best years were spent in the Yeshiva and in civil duties. The only way out was America.

Like many emigrants from before WWI, he had to work as a tailor and presser in small Jewish shops, under the most difficult primitive conditions. But unlike many others he escaped his confinement. Something bothered him; the ‘something’ was that he became a soldier in the American army in WWI. Post–war, he dedicated himself unstintingly to founding and supporting Olshan social organizations. Despite his fervent loyalty, strength and pride, money and education were lacking. Then came the terrible destruction of WWII. There were no survivors of his dear family, for whom he had lived and suffered. The catastrophe was too much for him, despite his strength. Broken and bewildered he remained entirely alone. If he had only known how admired and beloved he was by all who knew him.


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