Felshtin Update, 2/19/2010

February 19, 2010

I’m writing to bring you up to date on several important issues and to you ask for your help on several others.   Most importantly, if we wish to maintain the Society and help it survive, your support is critical.  We need volunteers to help with the outreach for the trip, you will see below that we need a volunteer to help with the cemetery and we need everyone to pay dues for 2010.  We also need you ongoing dialogue to sustain our efforts so,  please keep in touch.

Cemetery Issues

Our most important issue here is that Peter Hoffman is stepping down from his role as President of the First Felshteener Progressive Benevolent Assoication which is the  official body that has responsibility for the cemetery.  Over the years, Peter has been responsible for helping with our relationship with the Baron Hirsch Cemetery. However, he will no longer be able to continue with this task.   We are seeking someone who lives on or near Staten Island to be able to attend an annual meeting at the cemetery and make an occasional visit.  If you are able to help and want to volunteer for this job please let me know as soon as possible.  Both Peter and I would be able to assist in helping a willing volunteer get started with what has to be done.  Our goal here is to keep the Society actively involved in the management of this gravesite.

Additionally, you should know that if your loved ones are interred at Baron Hirsch that there is need for some work to be done with various grave sites.  I have taken the responsibility cataloging all of the grave sites and have posted a number of pictures of the head stones on the Felshtin web site.  While this job is not yet complete, it is my intention to have a picture of each grave on the web site at some point in the future.  If you are unhappy with the condition of your family member’s grave you can request care from the cemetery administration. For you information, I have the list of the families who have paid for perpetual care.  If you have a question, don’t hesitate to give me a call or call the cemetery directly at 718-698-0162.

For the Society as a whole we are being asked to procure liability insurance for the grave site. This will protect the Society in the event that there are any injuries on the grounds.

If you look at the pictures you will see that the apparent condition of the plot changes greatly from season to season.  Summer growth conceals many of the problems that are obvious during the winter.

In order to proceed with the care of the plot in a responsible fashion we really should  have the insurance in place.  Peter Hoffman was kind enough to investigate the matter  and we can purchase a policy that will cost $350 per year.  Therefore, I am asking everyone to help by paying their annual dues which are now $36.  You may send a check to Sid Shaievitz or use our on line payment system on the web site, www.felshtin.org . Either way your contribution is critical for this project and others. Mailing and other costs of maintaining the Society need to be borne by the membership.  Please pay your 2010 dues as soon as possible.  Thank you.

Felshtin Trip Update

We continue to work on our program and itinerary for the Felshtin trip.  For your information I have posted the itinerary below.  There is still time to join us on this trip if you would like to.

Some people have asked why we are undertaking this trip. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to this question. First, we are going to dedicate the monument that we as a group have erected. While we have not identified the event as an official,  religious unveiling, that is the spirit with which we are undertaking this journey.  Also,  we feel a strong sense of urgency in having our presence connected with the monument. Our presence will afford anyone who may be interested an opportunity to understand  what it represents.  Our goal is to have a local group of students involved with the Society to work on local research and perhaps to help maintain the site.  Toward that end and others, we are making efforts to connect with and meet locals during our trip.

We are hoping that there are some who have interest in what we have done and might be willing to work with us to build local interest in our group.  We have communicated with town officials, people connected with the synagogue and Ukrainian organizations dedicated to the holocaust.  We are awaiting responses from these people.  If you have an idea or think that you can help us to find other sources of local support, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Another reason for undertaking this trip is to make an effort to keep the memories of Felshtin alive to the young.  All surviving generations should have an appreciation of what happened to those who perished those who fled and the efforts made to save the people who survived.  The Felshtin story, along with all other such tales, needs to be told and retold so that it supports all efforts to confront genocide in the world.  We hope that our journey will keep the flame burning in our broad, extended Felshtin “family” and inspire others to become involved.  Toward that end, we are making efforts to record our experience.  A possible documentary project has been discussed with film producers.  If you are interested in supporting this effort, we are looking for an individual or a group that might offer us seed money for this effort.  Right now we do not have help with this  part of the project but if you know of anyone who would be able to help with this, please let me know.  I have attached our proposal for your information.

Also, we all feel strongly that this act of remembrance will serve to further close the gap in history that exists between the events of Felshtin and the group’s current collective reality. We feel strongly that many of the issues commonly faced by all generations of survivors are bound by experiences that have yet to be fully understood.  Without action  it would be hard to comprehend the nature of this experience and what it has meant to the descendants.   So, some of us, including myself, are looking forward to this as an act of personal discovery.

However we can accomplish it, we all hope to share our experience with you, the members of the Society, upon our return.

Our current schedule is as follows:

Sunday May 16:  arrive in Lviv

Monday May 17: AM travel to Khmelnitsky where the group will stay for 2-3 nights PM tour Khmelnitsky

Tuesday May 18: AM tour Khmelnitsky – 11AM group lunch

Noon – ride to Gvardeskoye for touring; return to Khmelnitsky for dinner Wednesday May 19: return to Gvardeskoye for monument dedication & community meeting

Late PM: return to Lviv in time for dinner

Thursday May 20:  tour Lviv Friday May 21: depart Lviv In friendship and with good wishes,

Alan Bernstein, President

Documentary proposal

The Felshtin Society is one of many fraternal and mutual aid groups that were formed in the period between about 1860 and the 1920’s by people who had emigrated from Eastern Europe.  This particular group was composed of people from a small shtetl in the Proskurov area of the Podolia region in the Ukraine near the former Austro-Galician border.   As had happened at other times in the history of this region, armed conflict  found a target in the population of Jews who were significant part of the region.  While the number varies, somewhere between 500 and 600 people were slaughtered in this town in 1919. No one was spared who did not hide, flee, or otherwise make themselves  difficult to exterminate.  Of those who remained, most fled to the United States and other places of refuge.

During 1930’s the Works Progress Administration established a Federal Writers’ Project that funded the completion of a book that documents not only the pogrom but also the cultural, religious and commercial life of the town’s people.  However, most importantly the Felshtin Yiskor book depicts the actual horror of the event itself by first person accounts.  Much of the book was written in Yiddish.  It was translated in 1998 and is now being replaced by a definitive new translation that is expected to be completed by the end of 2010.

The people who died in the slaughter were buried in a mass grave with no monument   save the book to mark their passing.  Recently, the Society commissioned and erected a monument to memorialize the horrible deaths suffered by these poor innocents.  This year in May a group of the Society’s descendants will make the journey to Felshtin (now Gvardeskoye) to properly dedicate the monument following the Jewish tradition.  We are hoping that this journey will involve some of the remaining local Jewish population in the region as well as the town’s people who may be interested in understanding these events of the past.  There has been almost no recognition locally of these events or of the events that occurred during WWII that marked the almost total elimination of the Jewish population.

The Society hopes that its act of closure and healing will, in some small way help the world appreciate the suffering of all who have felt the torment of this type of slaughter. After 91 years the descendants of this group represent the highest levels of achievement in our society.  They’re doctors, lawyers and represent many other professions. The lessons of human resilience and courage are too important to overlook and need to be shared in order for humanity to recover from this most heinous wound. The group will make an effort to depict the event as a shining light to groups who now suffer and a word of warning about what the world gives up when it permits such atrocities to proceed unchallenged.  We are seeking a group that will help us make a permanent record of our pilgrimage and the events that will mark the occasion.

Alan Bernstein, President