The Kurlander Young Men's Mutual Aid Society
The 1924 KYMMAS database
Material Donated by Marion Plotkin, Naomi Freistadt and Myra Miller
Database entries by Jerry Becker
The Database Contents:
This database consists of 1,223 names of members of the Kurlander
Young Men's Mutual Aid Society, or "KYMMAS", together with their families.
It is compiled from the 35th Anniversary Booklet of the Society, published
in New York in 1924, written by Isidor Berg and donated by Marion Plotkin.
This Memorial book lists all members of the society from its inception in
1889 until publication. Mrs. Plotkin realised when she found the booklet
amongst family papers that the information given was not only of genealogical
value but also that it was a document of substantial historical interest.
In addition the database contains miscellaneous information from individually
dated records relating to KYMMAS insurance provision. These were rescued
from almost certain destruction by the quick thinking of Naomi Freistadt
who donated them to the Latvia SIG in 1996. Finally, Myra Miller found and
donated material from a KYMMAS booklet from Quebec dating from about 1944.
These documents demonstrate the importance of Landsmanshaft organisations to
Courland ancestors right up to and including World War II. We hope that
now the ball is rolling that more and more these historic documents will
be located in family drawers and attics.
History of the Society - Its German Origins
The "Gegenseitiger Unterstuetzung-Verein Kurlander Junger Männer"
was founded on the 1st January 1889 in New York. Until 1922, membership
was restricted to those born in Courland or of direct descent through the
paternal line from a father or grandfather born in Courland. In 1922,
after apparently heated debate, the Society adopted what is described as
a "most progressive and liberal law" permitting sons of mothers born in
Courland to become full members even though the mother may have married a
Members initially paid dues of 10 cents per week which, during the
first two years, were used for rudimentary unemployment benefits of
$4.00 per week, half of which was to be repaid each week when work was
finally obtained. From 1891, sick benefits were added, followed by free
burials for members and their families. Membership fees were raised as
various additional needs were identified. Soon the Society included a
Widows and Orphan Fund and later still, a Loan and Relief Fund. In the
early days a short lived monthy newsletter was published. Finally, in
1909, it was decided to change the name of the society from German to
its American version: The Kurlander Young Men's Mutual Aid Society, or
KYMMAS for short.
Charitable Work of KYMMAS - War Relief in Courland and Elsewhere
As World War I dragged on, it became apparent that the Jewish community
at home in the towns and cities of Courland had suffered greatly as a
result not only of the war itself but also because of the resultant social
dislocation. The forced expulsion of many of the Jewish families in Courland
in 1915 meant that everything that had been built up over many years was
lost at a stroke. KYMMAS raised substantial sums which they sent back to
the Jewish communities in Courland to rebuild Jewish Schools and to provide
sources of relief crucial to the efforts of our ancestors to rebuild their
lives and communities.
The following table is made up from information from the 1924 KYMMAS
Memorial book and includes particulars of the towns aided and the amount
distributed by way of Courland charitable relief. Much of this relief
was channelled through Rabbi Dr. Nurock, a distinguished teacher and
humanitarian. The historic town name is given followed by the modern
Latvian form in square brackets, e.g. Mitau [Jelgava].
||Amount of Donation
||Date (if given)
|Rabbi Dr. Nurock
||For Relief to all towns in Kurland
|Libau [now Liepaja]
||School, Free Kitchen, and other Relief
||Hospital and Relief Work
|Mitau [now Jelgava]
||School, Free Loan Society and Relief
|Goldingen [now Kuldiga]
||School and Relief Work
|Tukum [now Tukums]
||School and Relief Work
|Windau [now Ventspils]
||Schools and Relief Work in nearby towns
|Frauenburg [now Saldus]
|Pilten [now Piltene]
|Candau [now Kandava], Zabeln [now Sabile] and Sassmaken [now Vandamarpils]
|All Kurland Towns
||Distribution for all towns for the Passover Holidays in 1920
||Distributed by Brother Adolf Feitelberg personally
|Kurland Orphanages, Ladies Auxiliary Societies and Hospitals and Welfare Institutions
||Distributed Personally by Dr. Adolf Sundelson
Total Aid Dispersed to homeland 1920-1923 $12,987
Connections between Past and Present Courland Families
Adolf Sundelson and Adolf Feitelberg are listed as having personally
returned to Kurland to distribute aid. You will be able to find the
antecedents of both Sundelson/Sondelson [3 records] and Feitelberg
[63 records] in the All Latvia Database. Each of them is listed in
the above chart as having returned to Courland to assist in the
distribution of War relief. There is a Feitelberg among the recent
members of the Latvia SIG and a Feitelberg searching family connections
in the JewishGen Family Finder for various towns in the Courland area.
The evidence of lasting loyalties and links to the past is apparent
here as it is in so many areas of work relating to Jewish Family history.
The Language of the Documents
The Historical Review written by Isidor Berg is in English but he
gives an interesting account of the reality of the German context of
the Courland experience. For the first 25 years of the society the
minutes of the Society were written and read in the German language.
Discussions had gradually shifted from German to English as the new
generations adapted to their new homeland.
"Two of our original constitutional laws read that the name of the Society
shall be "Gegenseitiger Unterstuetzung-Verein Kurlander Junger Maenner" and
that the German language shall be used in all transactions. It was strictly
provided for that those laws shall never be changed. However, the
Americanisation of our very Charter members and their use of the English
language in their homes and businesses caused them to forget their German
Grammar and rather than be ridiculed for speaking poor German and in order
to please members of American birth they spoke English during discussions.
The minutes however were still written in German."
The tradition of writing the minutes of the meetings in German continued
until 1917. Courlanders saw themselves as part of the mainstream of European
culture and learning. Proud to be Courlanders, they did not allow that to
separate them entirely from the rest of the Jews who suffered in World War I.
The Memorial Book makes it clear that substantial sums were donated to the
War effort outside of Courland.
According to Isidor Berg, the author of the 1924 Memorial book, "a real
Kurlander will rather die than beg" and that was the whole purpose of this
society: to prevent embarrassment in time of need and to be there for their
fellows should that unfortunate time come to pass. They were there to fill
the needs of companionship, of understanding, to support their brothers
whenever needed, and to enjoy one another's company when times were good.
What comes across in all these documents relating to the early Jewish
immigrant's experience is how important the ties of kinship and friendship
were both with those left behind but also with those in the new land.
Using the Database, The Entry Fields
- Surname: This is the person's last name or family name.
The German form ending in "sohn" for "son" is still retained in many cases
in the older records.
- Given Names: These are person's first names or the names by which
he was known. Interesting name fashions appear including the popularity of
the name Adolf. Names have become more anglicised by 1924.
- Maiden Name: Where a married woman's maiden name is known from
the original records then database includes this information.
- YOB: This refers to the Year of Birth.
- Town of Origin: Reporting of these is somewhat sporadic in the
original records. Where a town or city is mentioned it is recorded in its
modern form, e.g. Mitau appears as "Jelgava".
- Initiated: This refers to the date on which the person was formally
accepted into membership. There is no mention of the style or content of the
initiation induction procedures. The date is one of some importance since it
is the most commonly recorded date in the KYMMAS original records.
- Date of Death: This appears to have been recorded only in the
case of War dead or of distinguished members who served as officers of the
- Comment: This field is primarily concerned with relationships
and will delineate family connections such as "Mother of" or "son of".
Occasionally service as an officer of the society is recorded.
- Source: This specifies whether the data has been extracted from
the 1924 Memorial Book, the Miscellaneous records of KYMMAS or the Quebec
document from 1944.
We are indebted to the quick thinking and foresight of the women who have
preserved these wonderful documents from which we now all benefit.
Marion Plotkin and her Mother, Naomi Freistadt and Myra Miller all made
this database possible.
In addition Jerry Becker took on the task of data-entry with his usual zest
and energy despite recent illness. Michael Whippman completed the work on
the Excel files. Finally, we express our gratitude to our web masters Michael
Tobias and Warren Blatt who pulled everything together and ensured that it
is available to Jewish families round the world courtesy of JewishGen®
notwithstanding the demands on their skills and time from the whole of the
Can Obtain a copy of the Memorial Book?
Yes, please contact Martha
Lev-Zion or Mike Getz. We do not
charge for this but we hope that you will make a donation to cover the
costs and, if you are able to do so, to one of the database or SIG projects.
All Latvia Database Co-Ordinator
Copyright ©2001, Courland Research Group