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[Page 307]

Our Landsleit in America


[Pages 307-311]

The Brief History of the
Chicago Dobrzyn Organization

By Esther Graner-Rabbe

Translated by Pamela Russ

To the Yizkor Book that our Dobrzyn friends in Israel are publishing, I would like to contribute a brief overview of the work that the Dobrzyn landsleit (referring to people from the same town) in Chicago did to help our tragic Dobrzyner during the time of the destruction of Europe, and what they did for the few that survived after the death of our loved ones by the hands of the Nazi bandits. At the same time, I would like to give an accounting of the thousands of dollars that the Dobrzyn landsleit collected in Chicago.

I would like to give a clear explanation to each and every Dobrzyner wherever he may be about the devoted work that the Chicago landsleit did for our few surviving sisters and brothers who are now spread across the world.

The history of the Chicago Dobrzyn Organization begins in the year 1917 when it was established as a result of the terrible reports in the American press about the situation of the Polish Jews. At that time, a group of Dobrzyner landsleit in Chicago formed together as an organization to be able to assist those who were in the town of Dobrzyn and needed help. Europe then was terribly impoverished, and it was the Jews in the small towns who suffered most. In the years 1919-1920, we sent many thousands of dollars to Dobrzyn. At the same time, our organization also helped a group of Dobrzyn youths who were in Berlin. After that, we sent smaller sums regularly each month to individual families in our town, understandably, to those who most needed the support. In the year 1923, the Dobrzyn women in Chicago took over this assistance work and …

[Page 308]

… they immediately sent notices for money – according to a list – to about 150 families. The need for help was tremendous and many times we were simply unable to meet those needs. In that situation, we women of the organization would borrow larger sums just to satisfy the needs of the community.

In the mid-1930s, the economic situation in the town worsened because of the anti-Semitic movement that incited a boycott. Then the men's union became more involved in active assistance. They organized themselves to send packages and clothing, shoes, and food. Help was sent for children in the schools and Talmud Torahs, and special help for the library, and a sum of money for the community charity fund (gemilas chesed) so that it would be able to help those who presented themselves for immediate help. In the year 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, the assistance stopped completely. The Chicago organization then was flooded with letters that reached out to us, but unfortunately there was already no possibility of sending help. Among us friends the collection of monies did not stop in order that there would be money in the fund, and so that when the opportunity would arise we would immediately be ready to send help. But the realities were not as we had imagined. The destruction of our brothers in Poland in general and in Dobrzyn specifically, undid all our plans.

Only in the year 1948 did we finally have the opportunity to connect with all kinds of centers in Europe, and through them we found out about scores of Dobrzyn refugees that survived the massive destruction. Slowly, we began to receive letters from them in which they asked for help. We immediately undertook massive assistance activity.

In our correspondence we were in touch with several countries in Europe, and through messengers and through the mail we sent larger sums of money as well as clothing and food. The joy and comfort that our help brought …

[Page 309]

… our letters brought to the survivors, was heard in their heartfelt thanks from the pained hearts that lived through the war, some in bunkers in Europe and some in the vast wasteland of Russia. Their joy was enormous and with doubled efforts we threw ourselves into more collection activities. To our great joy, everyone doubled their contributions and money flowed in from all sides. Often we organized lunches where we would read the letters from our dear survivors. When we would read these letters, a quiet weeping could be heard among those gathered together. We looked for any opportunity to support our dear ones not only materialistically but also in morale through sending them pictures and letters that, as soon as they were received, evoked tremendous joy. They didn't feel abandoned, God forbid, knowing that there were still devoted family members who would make sure that these survivors would be able to get on their feet again and build their lives.

Our help reached each person …


Mrs. Zbicki from New York at a welcoming in the hall of the Keren Kayemet in Tel Aviv

[Page 310]

… wherever he would be, even in China. We sent all kinds of medicines, blankets to cover themselves, and help for those with lung problems so that they could cure themselves. Also, through our intensive correspondence, we brought together families that were spread apart, family members that didn't know of the others' existence. We busied ourselves with making sure they would be able to rebuild themselves as quickly as possible. Because of that, many of them left Europe as soon as they could, and many of them immigrated to Israel, as well as many to America. When they arrived in Israel we received mail from them very often and upon their request we sent work materials that would help them with their livelihoods -- machines for example, etc. We responded to each request according to our possibility, and I think no one was wronged and everyone was treated fairly.

Among all the letters of pain, we received a request from one of our Dobrzyn survivors, a man that lost his entire family. The author of the letter was a chassidic Jew and he said he would be very grateful if we would send him a talis (prayer shawl). Of course we immediately sent him a talis and the letter of thanks that we received from him completely touched our hearts. He wrote:

“Dear friends,
When I received the talis, I cried deeply from great joy. The talis will serve as a valuable garment for my life and I will ask that I be buried with this talis upon my death. When I wrap myself in this talis my Jewish soul sings and I remember the heartfelt folksong, ‘The dear talis, the dear talis, my only joy and comfort.’ Be well and be blessed for your esteemed gift.
Your friend who will never forget you,
Mordechai Eliezer Tinski”

A half a year after we received this letter of thanks, we received a letter from a friend of Eliezer telling us that Eliezer had died in Poland and was buried …

[Page 311]

… wrapped in the talis that we had sent. In that way we knew that we had done a true kindness for the dead (chesed shel emes) for a religious Jew who after terrible pain and suffering merited at least to be buried in a Jewish grave.

Now, dear friends, we will stand shortly at the publication of the Yizkor Book – a book that must serve as a holy tombstone for our Dobrzyner martyrs. In this should also be remembered the important activities of our friends in Chicago, many of whom are already in the Next World, for what they organized and did for our suffering brothers who came out with their lives from the horrific destruction. And when we will assemble at a meeting and open the Yizkor Book, with our heads bowed, we will say Yizkor from the deepest sorrows in our hearts for our dearest and most devoted parents, brothers, and sisters, and all the other millions of Jews and our innocent children, the future of the Jewish nation. A holy kaddish for all the martyrs of all generations.

Yisgadal ve'yiskadash shemai rabboh


Family Lurd

[Pages 312-316]

The First Association of Dobrzyners in America[1]

by Shlomo Aleksander

Translated by Allen Flusberg

The history of the settlement of Dobrzyn Jews in America began at the moment when the first few dozen immigrants from Dobrzyn reached the shores of the New World, approximately in the first half of the nineteenth century. The hardships of earning a living on the part of the Jewish masses, in Poland in general and in the small towns in particular, motivated many of them to look for a way to settle across the vast seas. By then America had made a name for itself as a land of unlimited possibilities; immigrants from all over the world were streaming to the Golden Land in waves of tens of thousands, to seek and find a source of subsistence. They began their new lives under rather harsh conditions: whether as peddlers or by putting in a hard day of work, often beyond their strength. But the stubborn will to stay in the new country and to create a means of support for themselves overcame all the obstacles. Most of them stayed, and with the passage of time acclimated and adjusted themselves to the conditions of the land.

It with some satisfaction that we call attention to the intimate, fraternal solidarity and cohesiveness among the Dobrzyn immigrant landsleit[2]. They were concentrated for the most part in the Lower East Side of New York, which in those days generally served as a mecca for all the Jewish immigrants from the Eastern European countries. In that very district the day–to–day lives of the few Dobrzyn immigrant–landsleit were fashioned. First and foremost, the boundaries that had existed among them because of pedigree, station and class fell away. Unified in purpose, like siblings of a single family, they gathered together, after a hard day of labor, on a cold winter night of the year 1870, at the home of one of their members, whose name was Braun; and they established the modest foundation of an association that they called “Doresh Tov Dobrzynsk[3]. The association began its activity with limited means along the lines of a gmilas chasodim[4] fund for making loans, supporting the sick, and ensuring a cemetery plot noch hundert un tsvantsig yor[5]. With the passage of time and with the steady growth in the number of immigrants from Dobrzyn, the association expanded and branched out in its activities, and thus became a significant force for helping those new immigrants who were in need. At the same time it contributed to various prominent charitable institutions. Among these institutions were HIAS[6] and the JOINT[7], which already at that time—and especially after the First World War—had expanded their activities throughout the entire Jewish world in support of the oppressed, defenceless Jewish masses, whom they were literally rescuing from ruin.

The warm, close relationship that had existed among the Dobrzyn Jews within the town, and which had served as an example for many other Jewish towns in Poland, was brought with them to America by the immigrants. And now that they were settled in their new homeland they did not forget their needy families and friends from their old home town; on all occasions, whether those of joy or sorrow, they remembered the poor and unfortunate people there and provided for them. However, because of the distraction of their own day–to–day concerns, it was better and more constructive for them to organize this aid. We must call attention, with the greatest of respect, to a group of women volunteers of the Dobrzyn Association for their tireless years of effort and toil and for their achievements fulfilling the relief program. The most active members of this group were the following: Mrs. Rivka Aleksander, Mrs. Goldfeder, Mrs. Garber, Mrs. Zaklow, Mrs. Francis Gorski, and Mrs. Mary Zabytski.

It is no secret that the impoverished families of the town viewed their American friends—who continued to display yearning and sympathy for their unforgotten families and friends in the old homeland—as a life raft for a sinking ship. It would be superfluous to point out the empathetic attitude and benevolent acts of individual members to benefit various families of the town. While the association was generally concerned with assisting the very neediest, they also did not forget to donate in the form of matan besayser[8], so as to ensure respect for the dignity of the recipient families.

Decades passed in hope and nostalgic longing. “Doir hoileich vedoir bo[9]; but the Association continued its regular relief activity for the benefit of the needy of the town. Even for the second generation it was like a sacred, though unwritten, testament. And they, too, fulfilled their obligation with distinction. At the most critical moment, the town was threatened with hunger because of the Polish anti–Semitic and hooligan–like bands that ran amuck in the town, cutting the Jews off from the very last sources of their difficult and harsh livelihoods and thereby actually leaving dozens of families destitute, with no food. At that critical moment their relief arrived and prevented those dear to them from hungering.

The tragic fate that befell Polish Jewry in general did not skip over our town, either. The Second World War signified the end of the history of Dobrzyn, a history that had lasted hundreds of years.

When the first reports of the brutal calamity reached us, we still questioned and thought that perhaps these reports were exaggerated. But very soon the reality of the horrific catastrophe became clear to us. Only after the war had ended did we fully realize that what we were seeing was the destruction and doom of Polish Jewry and the dire loss of our forlorn people, who were almost totally eradicated throughout Poland. Receiving the first reports of refugees from Dobrzyn in various countries of Europe, the Landsleit Association of New York immediately undertook a large aid campaign: it contacted the few remaining refugees and sent aid, money, food, shoes and clothing.

After some time had passed, when a large fraction of the refugees were now concentrated in Israel, and the drive for constructive loans grew on a daily basis, our Association reinforced the money shipments by creating a matching fund for this important purpose. The committee in Israel stays in close contact with our American members and sends us reports from time to time.

Our main goal at the present time is to speed up publication of the Yizkor Book that is dedicated to the martyrs of Dobrzyn–Golub—a sacred memorial to our martyrs.


Yitzchok Yaakov Szmiga, his wife and grandchild[10][11]


The Zaklikowski brothers, children of Berish Zaklikowski[12]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn–Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn–Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 312–315. return
  2. Landsleit (singular: landsman) = compatriots, Yiddish term for Jewish immigrants who hailed from the same town or region. return
  3. Doresh Tov Dobrzynsk (Hebrew) = seeking the good of Dobrzynsk (paraphrasing Esther 10:3), i.e. Benevolent Society of Dobrzynsk. It should be noted that the Jews of Dobrzyn called their town Dobrzynsk (pronounced Dubjinsk). See Y. Lichtenstein, “Dobrzyn, My Town”, p. 30 of reference cited in Footnote 1. return
  4. Gmilas chasodim = general charity for those in need, e.g. interest–free loans return
  5. noch hundert un tsvantsig yor (Yiddish) = literally, after 120 years, i.e. upon one's eventual death. 120 years was the age that Moses lived to; the mention of one's future death is transformed into a blessing of sorts by suggesting a longevity surpassing that attained by ordinary mortals since Moses. return
  6. HIAS = Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. See the following link (retrieved July, 2015): http://www.hias.org/history. return
  7. JOINT = American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. See the following link (retrieved July, 2015): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Jewish_Joint_Distribution_Committee. return
  8. Matan besayser = anonymous giving (based on Prov. 21:14). The Talmud describes matan besayser as a high form of charity in which the donor and recipient are unknown to one another (Baba Batra 9b). The recipient is spared the embarrassment of accepting charity from someone he knows, and the donor cannot expect future compensation from a recipient who does not know his identity. return
  9. Doir Hoileich vedoir bo = a generation goes and a generation comes (Hebrew, Ecl. 1:4) return
  10. From p. 316 of reference cited in Footnote 1. return
  11. On Szmiga see “The Synagogues and Shtiebels in Dobrzyn”, pp. 264–269; also Dzialdow and Sanger, p. 286 of “Religious Life in Dobrzyn,” pp. 284–291, both in reference cited in Footnote 1. return
  12. From p. 316 of reference cited in Footnote 1. return


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