LANDSMANNSCHAFTEN, immigrant benevolent organizations formed and named after the members' birthplace or East European residence, for mutual aid, hometown aid, and social purposes. In North America landsmannschaften were, at first, immigrant synagogues. This began to change after 1880 as secular landsmannschaften tended to replace the synagogue societies. The benefits which the landsmannschaften attempted to provide included sick benefits, interest-free loans, and burial rights and aid to families during the period of mourning. They also aided their overseas landsleit and helped to bring many to the United States. By 1914 New York City knew of at least 534 of these organizations with membership ranging from 50 to 500. Many became affiliated with national fraternal organizations such as the Workmen's Circle, Jewish National Workmen's Alliance (Farband), and Sons of Zion. In addition, there existed such federations as the United Galician Jews of America. The number of landsmannschaften grew rapidly during World War I, and these organizations, representing most of the cities and towns of Eastern Europe, dispatched millions of dollars in relief supplies and cash. After the war, the landsmannschaften utilized their money and membership to finance the relief work carried on by the Joint Distribution Committee, Hadassah, and other organizations, and to oppose antisemitism and discrimination in its varied forms.
Despite the decline in the membership and activities of the landsmannschaften after 1930, due in part to the dying off of the immigrant generation, hundreds of thousands of European-born Jews still belonged to landsmannschaft societies in the period immediately prior to World War II. European antisemitism stimulated the formation of many central landsmannschaften which attempted both to assist their harassed landsleit overseas and to bring groups of immigrants into the United States and Palestine by the use of "corporation visas." During this period, the landsmannschaften increasingly participated in such local Jewish communal activities as community councils and the charity federations.
The landsmannschaften experienced a minor revival after World War II, brought about by the need to aid both the survivors of the Holocaust (many of whom joined these landsmannschaften after their arrival in the United States) and Israel in the form of clothing, medical supplies, food, and war material where and when it could be procured. However, this revival was relatively short-lived. Taking Chicago as symptomatic of this revival, that city had approximately 600 landsmannschaften with 40,000 members in 1948. In 1961 there were only 60 landsmannschaften in the city.
In Latin America
In most Latin American countries Jewish organizations and congregations were formed in three separate frameworks: East European; Sephardi and Syrian-Lebanese; and German. Each was subdivided in many groups, according to their places or areas of origin (Bessarabian, Polish, etc.; or those from Aleppo, Damascus, or Bulgaria, Turkey, etc.; German, Austrian, Bohemian). They sometimes published newspapers or periodicals in their language of origin, maintained clubs, commemorated their communities which perished in the Holocaust (and sent help to those which still exist). Most of these landsmannschaften did not survive the immigrant generation and disappeared gradually among their Spanish-Portuguese-speaking descendants. (See the articles on individual countries.)
Already in the Mandatory period, and particularly in the State of Israel, many immigrants established organizations according to their places or countries of origin. Those who originated from a town or region (such as Bialystok or Bessarabia) aided individual immigrants from there and cultivated, orally and in book form, the memory of their communities destroyed in the Holocaust. More comprehensive organizations, particularly those representing immigrants from Germany and Austria in the middle and late 1930s (Hitaḥdut Olei Merkaz Europa), eventually even coalesced into political parties (as Aliyah Ḥadashah), which later dissolved into the traditional parties of the yishuv. They also developed a net of mutual aid and welfare institutions, such as old age homes. A specific role has been played by the unions of immigrants from Soviet Russia and the Western and overseas countries – Britain, Latin America, United States and Canada – which greatly influenced the immigration and absorption system evolved by the Jewish Agency and the government in dealing with the special needs of these immigrants. Little effort was made to cultivate the various non-Jewish cultural and linguistic traditions brought by the immigrants from their countries. Some East European groups aided the publication of Yiddish literature; Italian immigrants formed the Dante Alighieri Society; many non-Hebrew newspapers (including Hungarian and Russian) served the needs of immigrants for information, etc. However, the most conspicuous trait of these phenomena is
W.J. Robinson, in: Sentinel's History of Chicago Jewry, 1911–1961 (1961), 198–9; M. Rischin, Promised City (1962), 104–5; M.J. Karpf, Jewish Community Organization in the United States (1938), 131–2; U.S. Works Progress Administration, Yidishe Landsmanshaften fun New York (1938).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.