By Philip Kunik



Pruzana Jews began arriving in America in the 1870s. Most of them settled in New York or Philadelphia. About half of them intended to earn money and return home, and even in the Twenties many emigrants had similar intentions. The immigrants (to America) worked hard seven days a week in sweat-shops. They suffered from loneliness and in their spare time they maintained contact with their fellow townsmen.


At the end of the 1880s, their number increased and in 1887, the first organization was set up: the Pruzaner Charitable and Benevolent Association, whose members were workers and petty traders. This association still exists and is the richest and largest of all the organizations set up later. Like all other immigrants, the Pruzana Jews settled in the oldest and poorest part of New York. The religious Jews founded their own synagogue made up of Jews from Pruzana, Malch and Shershev and it is still in existence. At the end of the 19th century, a similar religious organization was set up called the Pruzaner Society. It only had a few members. In Philadelphia and nearby towns an organization with a lot of members was established in 1898. Later, a similar organization was set up in Chicago, which included Pruzana Jews living in nearby places.


At the beginning of the 20th century, immigration increased until 1923 when the American authorities limited it. The restriction of immigration reduced the number of members of the organisations: the older generation gradually dwindled; the younger American-born generation was not interested in the Landsmanschaften. Families expanded and people were no longer isolated. Among the immigrants were progressive workers who set up a club of "Bund" members in 1906. Two years later, the Club joined the "Arbeiter Ring" as branch 244. In 1929, a woman's organisation was set up in the same branch. They were the last two organisations set up by Pruzana Jews. Each organisation had its own cemetery and held funerals at its expense. Each organization provided medical aid, life insurance and a charitable-loan fund. The organisations were founded by Jews from Pruzana and the nearby towns.

The organizations containing the name Pruzana were: the Pruzaner Charitable and Benevolent Association; the Pruzaner Arbeiter Ring Branch 244; and the Pruzaner Arbeiter Ring Branch 244 b. All these organisations were set up for the use and benefit of their members. If they sent aid to Pruzana, it was done on the initiative of individuals and groups.




Immediately after the First World War, several members of the Pruzaner Charitable and Pruzaner Branch organized a project for our town but it did not last long. Several Pruzana Jews such as S. HALPERN, M. AVERBUCH, A. BERENSON and others would send money to the Rabbi in Pruzana for distribution among the needy. The author used to collect money for the orphanage. Thus, individuals and groups operated on their own behalf and not in any organized way.


The only organization in New York that budgeted aid for Pruzana institutions was the Branch, but as most of its members were workers, its operations were limited. In the 1920s, Gershon URINSKI, the headmaster and founder of the Yiddish school appealed for help several times. In 1925, Pola PERELSTEIN ­NEIDUS came to New York. She told a Branch meeting about the school's difficult situation and an Aid Committee was set up to help the school. The committee was made up of branch members and later non-branch members were added. The organized balls brought in apparent income.


I must mention particularly Max KRONSHTAT, the chairman of the school aid committee. His help was provided in the best possible way. He had a lot of financial opportunities and set up a fund in the ORT for building a factory in Pruzana for providing employment in Pruzana for poor people. The money was later used for the school's benefit. In 1935, he contributed $1,000 of the fund's money for buying a field for the school. He died in 1940 and the two branches immortalized his name by calling themselves the Max Kronshtat Branch 244 or Max Kronshtat Branch 244 b.






After the success of the balls, I proposed that the Aid Committee should help all public institutions in Pruzana and not just concentrate on the Yiddish school. Income would increase as not only the Arbeiter Ring public would be involved. Although I was the only member of the committee who did not belong to the Arbeiter Ring all the members agreed to my proposal. It was decided to send the money to Gershon URINSKI with an instruction to set up a committee that also included the Rabbi which would distribute the money in accordance with the budgets of the institutions.


Thanks to this decision, I brought in additional members outside the Arbeiter Ring circles. The work expanded and income increased and was distributed between all the needy institutions. When the war broke out and contact with Pruzana was lost, the money was handed over to the Joint, which was known for its extensive help to war victims.




Immediately after the war in 1945, the Joint announced that they knew there were a few Jews in Pruzana, but they were not sure if money could be transferred to them. We immediately held consultation and the participants lent $1,700 of their own money which was handed over to the Joint. Later, we received a report that the Joint's money was received. However, we did not receive further information.


In August 1945, we received a letter, through an American soldier, that detailed a list of survivors at the Feldafing camp near Munich. The letter was signed by Zalman URIEWICZ, Sender ZAKHEIM and Yitzhak JANOWICZ. The list included 140 names of survivors out of the thousands of Pruzana Jews. Later, further lists were received and it emerged that 300 Pruzana Jews survived the Holocaust.


When the second letter was received which included details of the destruction of Pruzana Jewry between January 28 and February 3, 1943, we decided to fix the Sunday of that week as a day or mourning and remembrance for the martyrs. At the initiative of Zalman URIEWICZ, a delegation of survivors started looking for others who had survived and assemble them at the Feldafing camp.


The aid committee convened a meeting of all the organisations and proposed concentrating all the aid jointly to the survivors from Pruzana and nearby towns and send immediate help through the Jewish Workers' Committee, the Joint, Young Agudat Yisrael and the representatives of large organisations permitted by the Occupation authorities to work in Germany. The first consignment of 150 food and clothing parcels was sent to the address of the main committee of survivors in Munich. The Pruzana survivors at Feldafing elected a special committee headed by Zalman URIEWICZ, who distributed the parcels among the survivors.


I must make particular mention of the conduct of Zalman URIEWICZ in the concentration camps, his concern for his brethren and his devotion after liberation. After we received confirmation that the first consignment reached its destination, we sent a second consignment with money as well that amounted to between $1,000 and $1,500.


We received letters from survivors in Austria, Italy and France. We put them in contact with their relatives. The aid committee was an address through which survivors found their relatives and friends. We also influenced relatives to speed up help to survivors. Among them were tuberculosis patients, whom we gave special portions of food, medicine and monthly financial support.


The American immigration laws laid down that every immigrant must produce a letter of commitment from his relatives or friends that they are affluent and a promise that the immigrant will not become a burden on the public. The aid committee searched and found relatives and influenced them to issue the appropriate commitments for their relatives. For those immigrants who did not have rich relatives, the members of the aid committee took pains to issue the necessary papers. The committee gave guarantees to two large organisations dealing with immigration of Pruzana survivors. A special committee of members of the aid committee looked after immigrants who did not have relatives or whose relatives were not wealthy. When the State of Israel was established and survivors announced their desire to immigrate to Israel, they were sent money so that they could buy clothes and appliances.


Over $50,000 was raised for the survivors, apart from food, clothes and medicine. Most of the money came from New York, but also from other cities and nearby states. In Philadelphia, an appeal brought in $1,000. A similar sum was raised in Havana, Cuba. Several times, money was sent from Chicago to New York.


The Pruzana survivors mostly live in the United States, but some live in Israel, Canada and Latin America.


The Aid Committee made an agreement with the Histadrut to set up a Kupat Holim clinic at Kiryat Ata, near Haifa, in memory of the Pruzana martyrs.


The building was established with a memorial copper plaque at the entry. Editors remark: The Pruzaner Charitable and Benevolent Association existed till the beginning of the eighties in the century.