Cycle of Life: Natural Disasters (Part 4)

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

This is the fourth installment of an ongoing series.

Part 1 is available by clicking here. Part 2 is available by clicking here. Part 3 is available by clicking here.

Much of what we may associate with famine is due to war and its depredations. Many times, crops are destroyed, or there is no one to harvest the crops as they are in the army or have been killed whether by war or disease.

However, there are incidents when natural forces play a role in the destruction of crops and the population thereby suffers from lack of sufficient food. One of the places which had many incidents of famine was Israel. In the 1800’s one will find these incidents last for long periods of time. Many attempts were made to obtain foodstuffs for the population, but many such donations came too late to help the residents.

Persian Famine, 1872 (March 14, 1873) – The Persian (Iranian) famine sorely affected the Jewish population, especially in the towns of Ispahan, Shiraz and Teheran. In one instance, the Jews sold all the doors and windows of their homes to buy bread. In another incident, the Jews sold their holy objects from their synagogue and refused to take assistance to purchase bread until these objects were redeemed. The poverty in Ispahan, in particular, was occasioned by the breaking up of about 3,000-4,000 silk looms which were a major provider of income for the Jewish population.

One of the early supporters of relief for the Persian Jews was to be found in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid which advertised Persian Famine donation lists totaling over 40,000 Jews from the Pale of Settlement with 5,000 Lithuanian Jewish heads of families. These are to be found on JewishGen by clicking here.

Fund for the Relief of the Jewish Victims of the War (April 14, 1922) – An estimated one million Jews were in the grip of starvation and pestilence following World War I with approximately 200,000 destitute refugees and 100,000 homeless orphans accounted for. Further, it was stated that there were 60,000 orphans and homeless children in Volhnyia and central Lithuania alone.

OZE Bessarabian and Lithuanian Relief Campaign (April 19, 1929) – The OZE which was an organization which promoted health among the Jewish population tried to raise funds to support their fifty-three medical and relief institutions in sixteen towns: Akkerman, Balti, Bender, Britschewo, Chisinau, Chotin, Falesti, Jedinetz, Lipkani, Orgejew, Resina, Rishkany, Romanowka, Soroki, Telenesti, and Walui-Wladi. Their plans were to add thirteen new towns and help 4,000 children there.

Their efforts in Lithuania were to be found in the towns of Birshtani, Kaidani, Kovno, Mariampol, Morsheiki, Outyani, Ponevezsh, Shavli, Vilkomir, and Vilkovishki. There had 6,000 children under care and were going to treat an additional 1,000 children in the summer, who were famine victims. Approximately, 40% of the Jews of Lithuanian lived in the affected districts.

Involved in this relief campaign were Dr. O. Finkelstein, member of the Sejm (Lithuanian parliament), Dr. A. Kotzin, Chairman, Medical Association of Lithuania, Dr. R. Rubinstein, Editor, “Yiddische Stimme”, I.B. Woolf, President, Jewish Congregation, Kovno, and Dr. J. Rabinson, President, Jewish Group in the Sejm.

Bessarabian Famine Relief Fund (February 14, 1936) - Approximately 50,000 Bessarabian Jews were in the throes of the third major famine in twelve years. An emergency appeal went out in England to assist them which related the following: “The population of the affected area has for some time been eating the so-called “famine bread”, a product baked from inedible surrogates, affecting the intestines, and a considerable numbers of deaths, particularly among the children, have been recorded as a direct consequence of this famine food.”


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