Monday, February 23, 2009

Care Packages and How The Mail Got Delivered

By Ann Rabinowitz
Whilst doing research on families in Lithuania, I have often seen in the tax and other records notations that the person was being supported by family from South Africa or America. It is interesting to determine what exactly was meant by that notation. For one thing, many families, particularly in the pre- and post-World War I eras were sent care packages and checks to get them through the hard economic times. Much of this was brought on by various economic restrictions as to allowable occupations or what one could sell or not sell and a general lack of jobs opportunities for Jews. The wartime conditions and the creation of the new Lithuanian national state also affected the condition of the Jewish communities.
I have often wondered how the care packages were sent to family in "der heim" and how they arrived there. Further investigation revealed the following:
  • Items had to be chosen and then purchased in the most economical fashion.
The items were often purchased in bulk and sometimes from vendors who were associated with the group making up the packages. For instance, an example can be taken from the landsleit of Kupiskis, Lithuania, who often utilized the products of the factory in Johannesburg, South Africa, owned by their President Abe Esrock.
  • Items to be sent needed a container to be mailed in.
In the days before one could easily obtain cardboard boxes for mailing purposes, barrels were used depending on what and how much you wanted to mail. The barrels were large and commodious and could be filled with all sorts of items including breakable ones such as china and reach their destinations with the items mostly intact. However, they were rather heavy to transport and despite their wooden structure could be damaged easily and when filled with certain items could leak.
Times changed and with the advent of the sewing machine, a much used container for sending packages became burlap, canvas or cotton sacks, often a 100 pound size, which had been used for flour, oatmeal, salt, or for cattle, chicken and hog feed. It was very sturdy with its double stitched seams and could be filled with all sorts of items and then sewed shut or sealed in other ways. In some cases, the sacks had a printed pattern and, if the sack withstood the journey well, it could then be used to make dresses, tea towels, pillow cases or other household necessities. In today's world, feed sacks have made the transition to the modern age and are made from polypropylene or plastic.
The following is a photograph taken on the Lotzoff farm in South Africa, which shows several family members next to feed sacks. This is an example of the feed sacks which were utilized later on for shipping packages. From this photograph, you can see how commodious these sacks were and how much they could actually hold.
Mrs. Lotzoff and her great niece and nephew
  • Agents were required for the forwarding of packages outside the country.
At the time of the mailings, the postal service in Lithuania was controlled by Russia. In order to send parcels, they had to go through an agent in London and thence onto Vilnius, all via mail boats.
  • Postage was needed and permissions to cross borders.
  • A post office was required at the final destination and a dependable delivery person.
Very often, shtetls had postmen who were given tips to deliver important mail such as packages or envelopes containing checks. In Kupiskis, in the pre-War period, there was a separate Jewish mailman who could be depended upon to make sure these valuable packages were delivered.
Given these things, there is documentation of, at least, three shipments of care packages in the post-War period in 1951, 1954 and 1957 by the Kupishoker landsleit. These packages were sent to both Lithuania and to Israel and were either food or other items. Since there were no Jews who remained in Kupiskis after the War for any substantial length of time, most of the packages were sent to the larger cities such as Vilnius, Kaunas or Panevezys, as well as larger Polish cities where the Holocaust survivors congregated.
Much of what was sent to Russia and Israel were staples and those things which could be used to either earn a living or to sell and get money to pay the rent or purchase food or medicine. For instance, lengths of suit material were often included in the parcels, particularly to those who were tailors. If the person was not a tailor, he or she could sell the material for profit and many did enabling them to purchase tickets to depart from Lithuania for Israel or other places. Other popular items were shirts, underwear, stockings, sugar, coffee, tea, and tobacco, canned meat, cheeses, etc.
According to the late Percy Berger, of Cape Town, SA, who was involved in the shipment of the care packages for the Kupiskis landsleit, the annual subscription fee to the Society was two and sixpence, but some gave as much as 5 shillings. 
Before the war, the monies raised by the Kupishok Benevolent Society were sent to a Mr. Dinnerman in London, who acted as their agent. He bought rolls of material, nylon stockings, and underwear and sent these goods to Kupiskis. In Kupiskis, these items were then sold to raise money for the recipients and their families. After the war, the money was sent to wherever there was a Kupishoker in need – Lithuania, Russia, and Israel. Mr. Israel Trapido, formerly of Johannesburg, SA, and then Israel, was in charge of distributing the money in Israel.
The Kupiskis landsleit kept records of who sent packages and to whom they were sent which included addresses at both ends of the transaction. Sometimes, the person sending the package chose a relative or friend and, oftentimes, it was to a perfect stranger and was a pure act of charity. Examples of these records are the following:
Morris Trapido, P.O. Fishers Hill, Transvaal, SA,, sent a package to Leia Eiof, Shiluto 7/3, Vilnius, LT.
Harry Oshry, 68, 14th Street, Orange Grove, Johannesburg, SA, sent a package to Smerl Tuber, Gedraico 25/3, Vilnius, LT.
Nahum Brozin, Hendrik Potgieter Street, Middelburg, SA, sent a package to S. Kotler, Newezio 5, Panevezys, LT.
These care packages, either prior to the war or thereafter, were lifesavers for the recipients and got them through the hard times which were so prevalent then. It is amazing that with all of the tumult of the post-War years that these items reached their destinations and it is proof that the mail usually arrives no matter what.

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