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[Page 27]

The Way Of Life

 

[Page 28]

Jezierna

by Dr. Nachman Blumenthal, Jerusalem

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

Introduction:

A person is – someone once said – a world unto himself; a microcosm in which the big world (the macrocosm), a world with so many details, reflects itself. And if this is true for an individual, how much more so is this true for a collective setting, like a Jewish town, a Jewish community. Here we already have what to discuss – as the grandfather of Yiddish literature, Mendele Moicher Sforim, said: “It's a world with small worlds.”

And if it's a world, a whole world, so who can undertake to write its history from beginning to end? It would take years of work, travels across the world, searches and rummages through archives, browsing all the newspapers, interviews with each history writer who originates from these places or who somehow wandered around these parts, and trace every descendant from that place, to wherever and whenever he has roamed, etc.

Who can permit himself to do this?

I believe all this is important to say, since I will attempt to paint the history of the town of Jezierna only with broad strokes. Cut off thousands of kilometers from the city itself, without any chance of accessing any archives or institutions, as much as they could have survived after the destruction that World War Two brought with it, something from our past – since there is no other way, our work must bear the character of distant echoes that once was and is no more. More than this historical outline is likely not necessary for a memorial book … in order to remember.

 

The Shtetl (Jezierna in Polish, Ozerna in Ukrainian)

The old settlement was located near a large lake into which rivulets flowed, and near a small river, Wosuszka, that flows into the Stripa River. From that lake the settlement took its name – Jeziero in Polish, and Ozero in Ukrainian. And these provided a livelihood to the early settlers many years ago. With time, as the settlement grew around both sides of the river, it came to pass that the river split the town into two. Years ago, when the waters rose, the settlement was protected like a natural fortress. One could not get to it easily.

We hear about Jezierna for the first time in a letter from Zygmunt August, written in the year 1545, to his father the king of Poland, Zygmunt I (the Elder). The letter was about this specific village that Jan Tarnowski, the great military commander–in–chief of Poland (of “the Crown,” that is Poland without Lithuania) had forcefully taken over (justly or unjustly – who can judge this today?) from Duchess Beata Ostrogska.

In about 1615, the settlement was purchased by Yakob Sobieski, the governor of Lublin, father of the future king Jan Sobieski, whose family estates were located in Reussen, part of later East Galicia: such as Olesk, Zlocow, Zhulkiew, etc.). He built a castle, to protect himself on the mountain, located southwest of the settlement at a height of about 400 meters. He also built a Roman Catholic church in the year 1636. Other members of the Sobieski family would also come here to live – the father, and after that the son; then later King Jan III and his son Jakob.

The position of the settlement: a lake, a river with flowing water, and a mountain that had strategic defense capacity were the cause of occasional military campaigns.

 

Historical Events:

In the year 1649, on the third of August, at the time of the Chmielnicki revolt and the wars with him, and the Tatars on one side and the Polish military on the other side, King Jan Kazimierz waited to the rear of Zborow for the bridges to be repaired so that he could pass over to Jezierna, Tarnopol[1]

On May 29, 1651, during the second assault on Poland, Jezierna was occupied by Chmielnicki. He waited here for the Tatar Khan[2] for several months.

In the year 1655, Jezierna was involved in an agreement between the Poles and the Khan.[3] In that same year, on the ninth of November, there was a confrontation between the Tatars and the Russian military; the Tatars did not want to allow the Russians to pass over the embankments into the city, but this didn't work. At least that's how the Czar's messenger Buturlyn presented this in a letter reporting to the Czar.

Again in 1657, the well–known Polish commander, the great military man and anti–Semite Stefan Schtarnazki [Czarniecki] was there and from there he continued his war with the Swedes…

In the year 1667, the great commander and Grand Marshall Jan Sobiecki, the future king, wrote to his sister Duchess Katarzyna Radziwill that the hordes of Tatars completely destroyed Jezierna, among other towns. “There is no sign of what once was. You cannot find even one peasant for help.” – They had all run away.

***

These are more or less the important historical facts of Poland's past that are related to the Jezierna of those times. Jezierna then passes into the hands of the magnate family Radziwill. Moczei Stazhenski buys this village from them; in 1863 half of the settlement belonged to the Ilinski family.[4]

At the first partitioning of Poland in 1772, Jezierna is transferred to Austria as a part of the kingdom of Galicia, and then remains in Austria (afterwards Austria–Hungary) until the end, which began in November 1918, when the huge empire fell apart. Jezierna is taken over by the Ukraine which creates its western Ukrainian republic in that part of Galicia. After half a year, more or less, the Polish military, in conflict with Ukraine, chases the Ukrainians out of Jezierna. Now Jezierna becomes a Polish city (with a short lapse, when in the year 1920 Bolshevik soldiers enter the city), until September 1939, when it is transferred to the Soviet Union. In July 1941, the Germans enter and remain until June 1944. Then the Soviet government returns.

During the Austrian era, the town was part of the Zloczow province; then from October 1, 1904, part of the Zborow county that was established at that time. That is how it remained in the days of Poland. In time, the larger administrative union, to which the Zborow county belonged, became the Tarnopol province. Under the Soviets, the town itself became the center of the region (formerly the province).

 

Demographic Details:

The number of residents in the city:[5]

Year General Number
of Jews
% of Jews
1880 4.713 955 20.3%
1890 5.275 1,164 22.1%
1900 5.843 1,195 20.5%
1921 5.578 813 14.6%
1931 6.026 700 11.6% *****
1939 ––– ––– ––––%

The first three numbers are from the time that Jezierna belonged to Austria–Hungary; the rest are from the time that the town already belonged to Poland.[6]

We see from these numbers that between the years 1880–1900 the settlement grew: both the general population grew by 1,130 people (almost 19.4%), as well as the Jewish population by 240 people (that means more than 20%). The growth of the Jewish population becomes more impressive for this period if we take into consideration for the years 1880–1900 not the numbers in the general population, but the number of non–Jews and compare them with the number of Jews. In that case, for the year 1880 there were 3,758 non–Jews, and for 1900 there were 4,648; the increase in the non–Jewish population was about 890 people – that is, 19.1%.

It is worth noting that the general (non–Jewish) population in that first decade (1880–1890) grew by 562 people, almost the same number that it grew in the next decade (1890–1900) with 568 people – that is a normal rate. On the other hand, there is a great jump in numbers in the Jewish population. In that first decade, the Jewish population grew by 209 people, and in the next decade by only 31. These numbers are understandably not a result of a natural, normal biological increase, but only because of the incoming Jews from foreign parts, primarily from nearby areas. The majority of the Jews from the villages moved to the cities – a typical “Jewish” phenomenon.

In the year 1890, the Jews in the city reached their relative peak at 22.1% of the general population.

These were “normal” times that were exceptional because of the rise in emigration by the impoverished population of Galicia, Jews and Ukrainians alike, who left their homeland to go primarily to “America” (those who went to the United States were mainly Jews) and to Canada (mainly Ukrainians). This includes part of the natural increase and so the settlement did not grow proportionally as the natural increase would indicate, but in the later years it all took the form of an apparent increase.

However, when we look at the numbers of 1900–1921, a span of about 20 years, we see a different picture:

The non–Jewish population grew as follows: in 1921 – 4,765 (813–5,578); in 1900 – 4,648 (1,195–5,843), having grown by only 117 people, this is less than the natural increase would be, but nonetheless, there was growth.

On the other hand, the Jewish population dropped significantly by 382 people (1,195–813), not considering the normal increase that would have taken place over these more than 20 years – at least 50 people. The number of Jews was decreasing both in absolute and relative terms – in relation to the non–Jewish population, from 20.5% to 14.6%. These are the results of the war vis––vis the Jews. In other words, we suffered from the war (1914–1920) in a much more significant way than the non–Jews.

What in truth we have to admit is that among the Jews, at the beginning of the war and during the fighting around Jezierna (the Austrian–Russian conflict, then after that the Polish–Ukrainian conflict and the Polish–Soviet conflict), more Jews than non–Jews left the town (we don't have exact numbers), but overall the emigrations involved so few that they could cope with the dropping numbers – 382 people plus the natural growth from 1900–1914 in normal times; and the smaller increase from 1915–1921 in the abnormal war times!

And so, because of World War One, Jezierna lost 450 individuals. These were actually war victims (those who died in battle, soldiers and civilians, and those who died from epidemics, from famine and from need), and those who, willingly or not willingly (were chased out, were afraid of pogroms, etc.), had left the city and run away to distant Vienna (in Austria), or to the larger cities (to be among Jews – to Zloczow, Tarnopol, eventually Lemberg, etc.). A small number of Jews returned after the end of the war that lasted longer here than in the West.

For the later years, we do not have official data, particularly about the Jews, but the number of Jews certainly did not increase. The natural growth that decreased significantly, particularly for the Jews, after World War One, both because of the poverty of the Jewish population and because of the changing lifestyles, more modernization, fewer children, etc. – certainly included the emigration of Jews from Jezierna who settled in other, larger cities in Poland, or who left for foreign countries (America … and Eretz Yisrael).

Incidentally, in 1921, Jezierna still had 14.6% Jews, as opposed to the other cities – in total – from Zborow county, to which Jezierna also belonged, where the number of Jews was only 5.8% (down from 14.2% in 1881).

What is relevant is that in the year 1921, the natural increase of Jews in Zborow county was 1,000 – 31.1 births, 13.0 deaths, that is 18.1 (per thousand); that comes to 5.5% of the general population, while the percent of Jews in the county was 5.8%; that means that Jews decreased by 0.3% from the general non–Jewish population. The reason is understandable – Jews were more “big city”; more modernized, more thoughtful about … the future. So, the economic situation for the Jews was certainly worse than that of the non–Jews who lived on their lands (peasants and farmers), and those who enjoyed the state's support (officers, etc.).

***

According to the religious profile, in the year 1921, the town was comprised of:

2,496 Roman Catholics
2,269 Greek Catholics (Uniates)
813 Jews (followers of Mosaic Law
5,578 Total

According to nationality:

3,635 Poles
1,634 Ruthenians[7]
309 Jews[8]
5,578 Total

The large number of Poles according to nationality is remarkable. This is a result of the census method used in 1921. The Polish Commission of Statistics was especially interested that in that year, when Eastern Galicia had not yet been recognized as part of Poland, the number of Poles should be high. So they did not ask everyone about their nationality and they wrote whatever they wished. Secondly, not all the Jews, especially the Jews that did not know any Polish, paid attention to the questions of religion and nationality, and especially about their citizenship. For the ordinary Jew, it was important that he was just a Jew, that means a believing Jew, the rest did not interest him.

It is still not possible that in a city such as Jezierna 504 Jews (more than half) were actually assimilated, spoke Polish, considered themselves as Poles, etc.

To the abovementioned statistic of the year 1921, you have to add the number of people who lived on the estates of the owners of the city, called in Polish “obszary dworskie” (court areas). With time, they established an independent administrative unit.

On the estate, (that means those who worked for the landowners), there were 106 people: among them were 61 Poles, 23 Russians and 22 Jews. According to religion there were: 24 Roman Catholics and 60 Greek Catholics, and we know that the Greek Catholics were primarily Ukrainian. This was how the Polish census looked at that time.

We have to add these 22 Jews to the numbers of the shtetl. They belonged to the Jewish community just as much as the other Jews did. The fact that they belonged to the estate shows that their work only involved agriculture (in a relatively large number): estate stewards, record keepers, guards, distillers, foresters, etc.

At the beginning of the war, in September 1939, according to certain non–official calculations (taken from Jewish sources), there were only 700 Jews. A decrease compared to the year 1921 – of 113 people.

 

How Did the Jews of Jezierna Make a Living?

With regard to the economic situation of the Jews of Jezierna, we can quote this, which Dr. Ch. D. Hurwitz wrote about the “Jewish Economy” in general, in the year 1902, in the “Jewish People's newspaper” (Jiddische Volkszeitung), num. 1 (from June 13, 1902), published in Krakow, edited by M. Spektor and Ch. D. Hurwitz: “The Jewish situation (in Galicia in general) becomes more tragic, more terrible, from day to day, and even more so for our Jewish artisans...” Before, they had a peaceful life; they were not rich men, but they earned a living. The same was true for the merchants. “Only one thing is missing for the Jewish artisans today – that is a livelihood. He becomes somewhat of a salesman (goes to the fairs to sell his wares), but the merchants also become poorer each day.”

In August 13, 1902, Yakov Shor wrote an article in the same newspaper entitled: “The Jews in Galicia” – saying that Galicia is filled with capable people … and no one has a livelihood. Among the reasons for this difficult situation, the writer listed: “…the competition of the Polish and Ukrainian cooperatives, the Polish “Farmer”, the Ukrainian “People's Trader”, and also the legislation that was enacted against the Jews. Jewish shops were closed for two days a week: Saturday by their own choice, and Sunday because of the enforced law. The same was true for artisans, etc.

The situation did not change even in later times until the very end. On the contrary, the situation worsened considerably.

And when the general depression occurred all over Poland, it fell first on the shoulders of the Jews, and when the establishment of the government's anti–Semitic edicts: higher taxes, not permitting Jews to take government jobs, etc. It seemed better in the thirties, the situation for the Jews was relatively better than in other places, and that was because in Jezierna, the Jews were occupied primarily with agriculture. It's as if the words of the folksong (of Eliakum Zunser) came true, that “in the plow lies good fortune and blessing.”

Of interest is the article by S. Gershoni, published in the “New Tomorrow” (Neuer Morgen) of November 3, 1932, under the heading “A Town in Galicia Where Jews Live from Working the Ground”.

The correspondent had a lengthy discussion with population registrar M.M. (Markus Marder), and this is what he said – based on what he [Marder] knew about the distribution of “his” town; on the basis of the statistics of which he was officially in charge – he concluded that 90% of the Jewish population in the town are small plot-holders, (not “Land-Owners”!) Almost every Jew owns a small piece of field, animals (or at least some goats that also give milk), a garden – of fruits, vegetables. The majority of them work the land by themselves (an indication that the area is not large): the Jews sow and plough. They live modestly, primitively, and if they save a few pennies, they buy more land. And this provides, if not a complete livelihood (for everyone), at least a livelihood more or less.

Understandably, in the town there are also artisans and a larger number of merchants (small shopkeepers), but not all can make a living from this – and therefore, their numbers are decreasing. Because of this, they also occupy themselves with agriculture. The wife stays in the shop, the husband works the soil, the son...

(About this problem, see also the chapter about the Jewish bank and about the cooperative “Unia.”)

In Jezierna, at the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th century, there was the well–known Shloimele Charap who was like a Rebbi, to whom Chassidim [followers] would come from distant places. This also provided a livelihood for the innkeeper – the sexton and for the Rebbe himself.


Footnotes

  1. Hrusewski Michaela: Russian History – Ukraine; volume 8, page 196 return
  2. Hrusewski, volume 9, page 273. return
  3. Hrusewski, volume 9, page 1091. “Pid Ozierniew.” return
  4. According to the Encyclopedia (first Polish general encyclopedia) published by a Jew, Shmuel Orgelbrand, in the 60's of the previous century [1860's] in Warsaw. return
  5. Jezierna in Old Poland and after that in Austria, was considered a city (a small town was called “miasteczko”), and in independent Poland it was for the first time considered a “city settlement” (“osada miejska”) and later as the location for the collective municipality (“gmina zbiorowa”) to which only villages belonged. return
  6. These numbers for the years 1880, 1890, 1900, are taken from: Dr. St. Gnunski: Materyali de kwestii zydowskiej w Galicyi, Lwow 1910.
    The numbers for the year 1921 are according to: Statistisches Gemeindeverzeichnes, Berlin 1939, page 98.
    The numbers for the year 1931 are taken from: Bogdan Wasitynski: Ludnosc zydowska w Polsce w XIX, XX wieku.
    The numbers for September 1, 1939, are taken from: Bletter Fahr Geshichte, Warsaw, 1953, Volume 6, book 3, table 11, page 132. return
  7. From the Polish “Russini.” The Polish administration was not eager to use the national “Ukrainian” descriptions. return
  8. According to the files in Yad Vashem. return

Editor's Note:

Photograph of Geographic details of Jezierna in a Polish newspaper clipping View Image 33 online http://yizkor.nypl.org/index.php?id=1289


[Page 38]

The Jezierna Cooperative Bank

Translated by Ida Selavan–Schwarcz

The Jezierna Cooperative Bank (its official Polish name was Bank Ludowy Spoldzielczy [Cooperative Peoples Bank][1]) was established in 1930. At that time the general crisis in the country affected the Jews, especially Jewish artisans and small merchants. The bank had to help its members as far as possible with small loans and discounted exchange rates, so that working Jews would not go under. These Jews struggled mightily for their economic existence and did not want to be considered poor folks dependent on social welfare.

The bank quickly joined the Union of Jewish Cooperatives in Poland (Zwiazek Zydowskich Spoldzielni w Polsce) whose headquarters was in Warsaw with a branch in Lemberg for Little Poland. The central bank gave interest free loans to every cooperative bank when it was established, thus helping it become organized; it gave instructions, intervened with those in positions of power when necessary, etc. The central bank also received exact semi–annual reports from its members and its affiliates and published them. Thanks to them we have accurate information about the working of the bank in Jezierna.

The central bank also granted loans from the funds which it received from the CKB Centralna Kasa Bezprocentowa (Central Interest–free Bank), which was a branch of the JOINT [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee].

The operation of the bank in Jezierna was very active. We see this from the fact that from its very establishment it was in close contact with the central agencies, while other larger banks from bigger cities were not; some were even liquidated with the passage of time.

Secondly, the Jezierna bank sent delegates to the conferences of representatives of the banks to Warsaw and Lvov. At the last annual conference of the Jewish Cooperatives in Little Poland, which took place in Lemberg [Lvov] on April 30, 1939, there was a delegate from Jezierna, Marcus Marder. He was elected as one of the 29 ambassadors of Little Poland, who were supposed to participate with the plenipotentiaries of all of Poland, in Warsaw.

On the basis of these publications from that time, we can reconstruct the activities of the institution. At the beginning of 1931 the Cooperative Bank had only 117 members. During the first year of its existence 50 new members joined and not one member left – a rare event in those times and places; thus at the end of 1931, there were already 167 members out of 750–800 Jewish souls in town! Almost every head of a family joined the bank. It was truly a peoples' bank.

To which economic classes did the members of the bank belong? Here too, the reports give us the data.

There were 33 farmers(!); 96 merchants and manufacturers; 15 artisans, and 23 others.

The large number of farmers in town is astounding.

Let us look at the last report we have from 1937 (published in Warsaw in 1938; this is the last report which was published). In that year there were 195 members in the bank (about 30 more than at the bank's founding). During the year 11 new people joined and ten left, probably left town. Thus, at the end of the year there were 196 members. When we compare the numbers to other small towns in Poland at the time, we see that first of all, people did not desert the bank; they had faith in it, it developed, even though at a very small pace, but it was, after all, a small town! And in those times running a Jewish bank was not easy. Moreover, as far as Jezierna is concerned, the Jewish population of Jezierna kept decreasing. Nevertheless, the bank grew, even if only a little bit, probably helped by its members.

These were the members in 1937: 48 farmers – 15 more than six years before! 95 merchants and manufacturers – one less than in the previous report; 13 artisans – two less; 4 government officials, a new category; and 36 miscellaneous – 23 in the past.

From these numbers we learn that the bank was now including people who had not participated in the past, because their situation had been secure, better. Now they were also in need of . a short term loan, and a promissory note that could be discounted, etc.

The growing number of farmers shows, indirectly, that times were hard for Jewish small merchants and artisans in Poland. This was happening in the era of the rise of a Polish middle class, or so they said. Just a few years before the great catastrophe, Jewish artisans and others changed their calling and became farmers (either exclusively farmers or farmers – working also as artisans, etc.).

The dues of the members was 25 zloty. In addition every member of the bank was assessed for another 20 zloty. By the way, in the report for 1931 there were two salaried staff of the bank. In the report of 1937 they no longer appear. They were let go in order to save money. We see that in 1931 the salaried staff received a monthly payment, but the director worked voluntarily. While there was no paid staff in 1937, the manager of the bank did get paid – very little, it must be said. These are the signs of the times.

Here we present the headings of the reports for 1931 and 1937.

CREDITS
(The amounts are in Polish zlotys)
  Highest Loan Amount Number of Loans Repaid Amount Repaid Discount and other credits Total Number of Borrowers for the year Highest earned interest on the loans
1931 1,000 119 46,071 54,667 100,738 111 11%
1937 800 228 46,180 732 46,912 120 10%

 

DEPOSITS
  Deposits Withdrawals Number of depositors Interest paid on deposits
1931 32,812 20,491 31 5%
1937 3,686 3,553 12 5–5.5%

 

DOCUMENTS IN BANK
  Number Amount
1931 742 107,442
1937 466 66,556

 

EXPENSES
  Handling and administrative expenses (total) Awards to goodwill organizations Paid to Personnel Social insurance Payment to the Union Taxes Miscellaneous expenses
1931 1635 _ 665 45 132 _ 793
1937 2,066 1,100 _ 4 160 4 798

 

Held back for costs for capital turnover
1931 4.2
1937 _

 

NET PROFIT
  Amount Transferred to Reserve fund Other Purposes
1931 700 60 100
1937 _ _ _

 

EXPENSES AND ALLOCATION OF PROFIT
  Handling and administrative expenses Provisional percent Amortization Net Profit Total
1931 1,635 2.710 11 700 5.056
1937 2066 1.168 16 _ 3.250

 

ACTIVE
  Cash on Hand Investments and Benak? Financial Instruments Loans Due Current Assets Discounts and other Credits Other Accounts Losses Balance
1931 939 208 65 28.050 97 31.008 204 _ 58.965
1937 97 107 1,065 24.782 298 _ 537 363 27.249

 

PASSIVE
  Current Liabilities Reserve Fund Customer Deposits Special Funds Loan Received from Center
1931 5,323 601 20,869 _ 5,400
1937 7,646 1,122 5,423 1,022 5,423

 

By comparing the two rows of numbers from two years, we can learn about the economic situation of the Jews in Jezierna. For example, if we take the number and size of the loans: in 1931, 119 people paid off their loans with a total of 46,071 zlotys; in 1937, a larger number 228 people (almost double) paid off almost the same amount, 46,180 zlotys. What does this mean? The loans were smaller, but the number of people who needed even small loans grew! Obviously loans were not taken simply for luxuries. The impoverishment of the Jews is also indicated in the amounts of the deposits of money in the bank (for interest): in 1931 the sum was 32,812 zlotys; in 1937, only 3,686 zlotys. From the deposits of 32,812 zlotys, 20,491 zlotys were withdrawn in the course of the year. At the end of 1931 there still remained 12,321 zlotys [on deposit], as opposed to the end of 1937 when only 133 zlotys remained on deposit.

In 1931 the bank had a profit of 700 zlotys; in 1937 no profit was shown. The expenses increased and losses grew (loans were not repaid) etc.

From another report of 1933, we see that the deposits of that year total 47,437.44 zlotys.[2] This was the largest amount reached by the bank in its short history! This was a year of prosperity!

Naturally there are recollections in the book about the activity of the bank, as well as mention of people who were involved in its work and deserve to be mentioned favorably. But even from the dry statistics we see how united the people of the shtetl were, how with little means they were able to create a mutual aid organization which assisted them in their difficult economic struggles during the last year before the war.

The manager of the bank, Marcus Marder, was also the Metrical Book registrar, [recorder of the population's births, marriages, deaths]. As was generally the case in such a small town as Jezierna, one person took care of all the communal affairs. And, as is known, the income of the population registrar was minimal – the population declined as the young people left; natural growth decreased catastrophically; so that the mainstay of his [Marder's] income was from ..the bank. This allowed him to manage the activities of the Zionist organization, etc. Finally, since the town was small in size as well as in population, it was good that one person was in charge of everything.

 

Unia

In Jezierna there was a cooperative of grain merchants, “Unia” (Unia Zbiorowa, Spoldzielnia zarejestrowana z ograniczona odpowiedzialnoscia). In number 12 of the Przeglad Spoldzielczy, dated 1.12.1929, we find a report of the year 1928.

Active: Merchandise –21,354 zl.; Debts –2,211.57 zl; Fixed Assets –634.50 zl; Miscellaneous –84.34 zl.; Cash–on–hand –527.64 zl.; Total –24,812.05 zl.

Passive: Loans –19,812.03 zl.; Current Liabilities –3, 500; Current accounts –1, 500 zl.; Total –24,812.05 zl;

Profits from Merchandise –13,824.47 zl.; Miscellaneous –84.34 zl.; Total –13,908.81 zl.

Charges: Administrative expenses –13,588.31; Benefits –250 zl.; Current Assets –70.50 zl.; Total –13, 908. 81 zl.

There will probably be mention of the Unia in the memoirs of people who belonged to it when they were still in Jezierna.

Editor's Note: Some financial words were not translated.


Footnotes

  1. It's first name was Kasa Kredytowa Spoldzielnia z organiczona odpowiedzialnoscia w Jerziernie, which was changed in March 1933. return
  2. Przeglad Spoldzielczy number 1 from 1.1.34. return


[Page 45]

Cultural and Political Life

Translated by Ida Selavan–Schwarcz

The ‘Hatikva’, founded by Schmaryahu Imber, the teacher, was the only Jewish society in Jezierna and lasted 40 years – until the outbreak of the Second World War. It had its own little house. People came there to read newspapers, to hear readings, hold discussions, and here, too, was the only Jewish library in town, with books in various languages, not only Yiddish.

For the 25th anniversary of the Jewish National Fund, a ‘Tea–Event’ was prepared by the JNF committee in the Hatikva house, of course. Yitzchak Charap gave a review of the story of the JNF. The program included songs, an orchestra and the main point…the event raised a nice income for the JNF. (Correspondence from S.I. in Haynt, dated 4.1.27

The local community did not have a great role in town affairs. It concerned itself with communal functions, the religious institutions of generations: rabbi, ritual slaughterers, ritual bath, cemetery.

There was also an amateur theatrical circle, which presented a play from time to time, and the receipts went toward ‘a worthwhile goal’. On the twentieth of Tammuz 1934, the anniversary of Theodore Herzl's death, there was a memorial meeting in the morning, a ‘mourning ceremony’ (at which Professor Sassower spoke) and in the evening the drama group performed Gordin's ‘The Unknown’, under the direction of Mrs. Fancia Blaustein. A great success morally, it also brought in a nice revenue as well (‘for societal purposes’, Chwila, Lemberg, 2.8.1924).

Jezierna had only one party, the Zionists – with its various shadings; at least so it appears from the newspaper correspondence from Jezierna. As far back as 1900 a Zionist organization existed there.[1] In 1905 the Jezierna Zionist Organization founded a club ‘Dorshei Zion’, under the chairmanship of Schmaryahu Imber, which joined the Lvov district. The well–known Zionist communal worker Ephraim Wasicz also came from Jezierna.[2]

At the time of the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1933, Jezierna voted for the various lists as follows:

World General Zionist Organization 17
Mizrahi and Tzeirei Mizrahi 17
Labor Eretz Yisrael (United Zionist Socialist Party, Hechalutz, Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia) 63
Zionist Revisionist (Jabotinskyites) 89
Zionist Workers Party ‘Hitachdut’ (opponents of ‘Ichud’ group of Dr. Schwartz) 12
Total 275

(‘Nayer Morgen’ [New Morning] 17.7.1933)

In July 1939, the number of votes was considerably less (List 1 = 16, 2 = 4) according to ‘Haynt’ of 26.7.39. It is possible that this was a printing error, which we cannot correct at present, unless there are Jezierners who remember those times.

In 1934 the local Zionists were busy collecting funds for the pioneers of the General Zionist organization who had settled in Kfar Ussishkin. Participating in this campaign were the head of the community, W. Klinger, Dr. Tenenbaum's wife, R. Shtrick and others.

The local General Zionist pioneers founded a brigade which tried to find work on a farm under the supervision of the most important community leaders in Jezierna, firstly from Mr. Klinger, who was also the manager of the farm, and Mr. Falk.

Before the war Jezierna had a Jewish mayor. In order to prevent this, after the war a Polish government commissioner was appointed, and along with him there was a council, shared according to an understanding among the three ethnic groups in Jezierna: Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians. In 1931 the Jews resigned from the office of mayor and took on the office of vice–mayor. They assumed that an elected mayor would be more interested in the welfare of the town than an appointed official. In the end, the Jews, that is the twelve Jewish representatives out of 48, resigned from the office of vice–mayor for the sake of peace, in favor of the Ukrainians.

But when there was an opening for a treasurer in the municipality, with a salary of 35 zloty a month (!) and the Jews requested that a Jew receive the position, the Poles united with Ukrainians and gave the job to a non–Jew. There was not one Jew among the personnel in the municipality, although the Jews paid the largest proportion of municipal taxes.

The Jews also gave up three classrooms in the former Baron Hirsch school to the government public school, for no remuneration. On the other hand, the Polish Community Center, which gave up a room for that purpose, was paid.

“That is a good lesson for the ‘Moshkes’ (assimilationists)” – with these words M.M. completed his correspondence, published in the Lemberg ‘Chwila’ on 16.3.1932.


Footnotes

  1. Dr. N.M. Gelber: The History of Zionism in Galicia. P. 432. return
  2. See separate note about this. return


[Page 58]

The Rabbis

Translated by Pamela Russ

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the rabbi in Jezierna was Rabbi Asher Zelig Aptowiczer. We find his name among those rabbis who signed the protest (a public protest) of the rabbis, totalling 100 persons, who had assembled in Sadowa Wisznia in the year 1907, at end of August – under the chairmanship of Harav Hagaon [The Gifted Rabbi] Sholom Mordechai Hakohen Schwadron, Chief Justice of the Beis Din [Rabbinic Court] of Berezhany, in order to protest against the rabbis who permitted riding the electric tramways on the Sabbath – “in the carriage that runs on mechanical power (steel tracks and the tramway) ” – as it was expressed in the protest document. We are leaving out the original words and format. See the [newspaper] “Kol Machzikei Hadas” [Voice of Supporters of the Religion] that was published in Lemberg in Hebrew, on September 8, 1907.

The Rabbi was the son–in–law of Rabbi Chaim Leibish, head of the Rabbinic Court of Lopatyn, and was the son of Rabbi Yosef, head of the Rabbinic Court of Schterwicz [Szczurowice].[1]

Besides him, in that same period, there was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Manson, born in 1843, a grandson of Yisroel Ruzhiner, of blessed memory, and a son–in–law of Rabbi Michel of Azipoli. Reb Levi Yitzchak was the author of a book on the Torah, “Becha Yevoreich Yisroel” [Through You Israel Will Be Blessed]. “He was a man great in Torah,” said the writer of “Sefer Oholei Shem” [Book on the Tents of Shem]. An additional praiser adds: “He distributed a lot of money to support the yeshivas [schools for religious studies] in the above mentioned cities.”[2]

And in truth, in the newspaper “Kol Machzikei Hadas” of December 12, 1905, we found an announcement that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Manson donated 10 Kronor (Crowns) as Chanuka–gelt [Festival of Lights – gift of money] to the yeshiva in Berezhany, the first modern yeshiva in eastern Galicia.

It seems odd, such a small town and at the same time – for part of the time – two rabbis.

As can be seen from the title page of “Sefer Becha Yevorach Yisroel,”, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Manson was a grandson of The Ruzhiner (Yisroel Friedman), who in the year 1840 moved from Russia to Austria (Galicia), then settled in Sadigora (Bukovina). He was the founder of the dynasties of rabbis that branched out into separate rabbinic courts, such as Vizhnitz, Chortkow, Husiatyn, to mention only the more famous ones.

Manson was a true grandson. In my younger years – I remember – they spoke dismissively about “ordinary” grandchildren, because his mother Gitel was the Ruzhiner's daughter; (his father Yosef was an ordinary pious Jew who knew how to study Jewish texts).

The book consists of 61 pages in two columns – and is a commentary on the Torah. That is just the first section; the second “Zahav Peninim” [“Golden Pearls”], if I am not mistaken – does not appear in the printing.

In the introduction to the book the writer excuses himself, and asks that if the reader finds any printing errors, he is not to blame for them and that “G–d should protect me and give me long days so that I will have the merit to publish the second part.”

The book was compiled by “the young man Mordechai Leiter,” a disciple of the rabbi, who actually lived in the rabbi's house – with the support of the notes that the rabbi wrote in the margins of the books about individual passages in the Torah.

In the epilogue, the writer explains, for the second time, that what he put in the book he had noted for himself while teaching. It is likely that he used the explanatory notes for the lectures that he delivered in the synagogue. He apologizes for “mistaken or incorrect ideas and also for other discussions that are already included in a book.” He asks to be forgiven for this, he did not do this intentionally – but only because “my memory is failing or that I did not see that particular article.” That means – there is no plagiarism.

In a later explanation, he says that during his whole life he suffered from “the pain of raising children” – it would be interesting to find out from the Jezierna Jews who still remember this time, what happened to the rabbi's son.

Did he leave to follow unapproved modern ways?! And aside from that, the rabbi was always sick. These are the external reasons that disturbed the writer during his work. To his critics, perhaps, he responded as follows: “It's easier to be a critic than to be an investigator.” A classic phrase showing that Rabbi Manson was a clever Jew, not in the least bit an old–fashioned fanatic (“khnyok”).

In the epilogue, the writer concludes very nicely: “It is forbidden to enjoy anything in this world without reciting a blessing, so therefore I will say the blessing appropriate to this particular item: Thank you God, for teaching me Your laws.”

Such a Rabbi was certainly the glory of the town!

There are two additional pages to the book with names of the “subscribers,” meaning those Jews who paid for the book even before it was sent to print, and that made it generally possible to publish the book. In those times, this was an accepted means used by writers who did not have their own funds to put out a book and did not have a publisher who would do this at his own expense.

Among the subscribers there are 44 Jezierna families. Understandably, these are the prominent ones of the city, who were not only able to study it, but could also permit themselves to acquire the book. The amount that they paid – is not disclosed. Everyone paid “according to his means.” Among these names we find: The Holy Rabbi, our Teacher Mishal; the son of the holy Admor [master, teacher and rabbi], may he have long life; the large court of the Holy Rabbi, may he have long life; Misters Sholom Charap, Avraham Charap, Nuchem Charap, Zalman Winkler, etc.; names of families that played a role in the lives of the Jews of Jezierna. Besides these subscribers, we find names of people from other places, such as Azipoli (The Gifted Rabbi, our Teacher Yishaje Landau, Chief Justice), Amiszynce, Bodzanow, Brody, Tarnopol, Koprzywnica, Podhajce, and so on.


Footnotes

  1. The book Ohalei Shem contains all the genealogy and addresses of the rabbis, city by city and country by country. It was edited, organized, and published by Shmuel Noach, son of our teacher, the scholar, Rabbi Dov Ber Gottlieb, of blessed memory, of Pinsk, in 1912; page 385. Return
  2. From the book Ohalei Shem. In addition, we will add that the writer received his biographical information from the questionnaires he sent to the individual cities. Return

Editor's Note:

View online http://yizkor.nypl.org/index.php?id=1289
Image 64 – cover of Rabbi Manson's book
Image 65 – list of purchasers

Personalities:

Wasicz, Efraim (Fishel), born in Jezierna in the year 1879, completed middle–school in Zloczow and then university in Lemberg as a lawyer. He was one of the founders of the “Tagblatt.” He actively participated in the Zionist movement (Zeirei Zion) and attended all the Zionist congresses. After the pogrom in Lemberg in 1918, he founded a Jewish military. After that he escaped to Vienna and later he settled in Israel (1919) and worked as a lawyer first in Haifa and then later in Jerusalem. He died in Jerusalem, on the 17th of Shevat, 5705 (1945).

(from Pinkus [record book] of Galicia 1945, p.225/6)

Fuchs, Avraham Moshe, born 1890 in Jezierna. As a child from a poor little shtetl and closely tied to the village, he absorbed all the healthy good–naturedness and simplicity of the hard–working Jews with their joys and pains, and had a silent love of nature. At age 16, he came to Lemberg and worked at many types of jobs. Here he became interested in the Workers Movement and with the activities of the Jewish Socialist Democratic Party, (the Galician “Bund”). Later, he came to Tarnopol, and here he became popular. In 1911, he made his debut with sketches and stories in the “Sanok People's Friend,” and then also wrote for the “Tagblatt” and “Yiddishe Arbeiter” [Jewish Workers] in Lemberg. In 1912, he published a collection of stories titled “Einzame” [Loners]. That same year he left for America then returned to Europe in 1914 and settled in Vienna. With time, he became a contributor to a whole array of daily newspapers, journals, and literary collections of narratives, and grew in his belle–lettres skills to artistic perfection. Some of his works have been translated into German. The majority of his narratives are about life in the poorer classes and the underworld. His protagonists are the unfortunates, depressed, blind, insane, prostitutes, murderers and suicidals, and he painted them boldly and colorfully, revealing to the reader with satirical cleverness the most concealed images of human struggles in their frailties and abandonment in life. Human suffering, poverty, depression, bitter confusion, and phenomena of fate were the material for his creations.

(from Pinkus Galicia, 1945, pages 241–242)

Conclusion:

For the historian of an existing settlement, a kibbutz, first there is a past that he endeavors to reconstruct on the basis of documents. Not for nothing have historians been called “prophets of yesterday.” He looks backwards, not like a prophet who sees the future as well as the present (time–warp), which passes ceaselessly into the past. The future is not the subject for the historian; he leaves that for the politicians, the columnist, the writer who has imagination, who sees that which is still hidden from the harsh, scholarly eye. Therefore, history has no beginning – because who can dig until the actual 'beginning'? And it has no end, because who can fathom the final days of a living nation?

But in our history of the Jewish community in Jezierna – as in the other cities in those districts – we have come, because of the tremendous tragedy that we lived through during the days of Hitler, to the end of the chapter. The Jewish settlement in Jezierna ceased to exist. Of the Jewish town there remains only a memory of those whose origins are from there, who still carry the memories of the town. The memory of the past remains within the organizations that continue the 'golden chain' of the earlier settlement – in their memories, memorials and Yizkor books.


[Page 72]

How We Spent Our Childhood Years
Episodes from Jewish life in Jezierna at the beginning of the [20th] century

Related by Zvi Zamora

Translated by Tina Lunson

The Jewish settlement in Jezierna was considered a progressive one, and so it had the nickname “Philistine Jezierna”. I came here as a boy from the village Ostaszowce, 3 kilometers distance from the town. But let us first talk a little about the village.

*

About 300 families lived in the village Ostaszowce, mostly of the Ruthenian–Ukrainian nationality. Poles lived there too, who in no way differentiated themselves from their Ukrainian neighbors. Among all these there were also 12 Jewish families, scattered around the village; the Jews lived very nicely with their non–Jewish neighbors. The Jews drew their livelihood from working a plot of land and from doing a little trade. There were even some who were in a good economic position – they had bigger plots of land and did more trade.

With such a small number of Jews it was not possible to create independent institutions, neither religious nor cultural – so the Jews belonged to the Jezierna Jewish community and it was from there that they reaped their intellectual and religious gratification. And if one wanted to send a boy to cheder [religious elementary school]– one sent him to Jezierna, where there were teachers of various categories, beginning with elementary teachers who taught the child the alphabet, up to Talmud teachers. A child studied with an elementary teacher until age 5. After that he moved on to a teacher of Chumash and Rashi, and later to a Talmud teacher. In Jezierna there was also a 4–grade Jewish public–school where they employed Jewish teachers – that was the Baron Hirsch School. It should be understood that many other villages in the vicinity with few Jewish families maintained the same contact with Jezierna.

*

Our family was among the earliest settlers in the village of Ostaszowce. My grandfather and probably my great–grandfather lived there from the beginning of the 19th century. The village Jews had lived peacefully together with the local people for generations. My father was one of the property owning Jews; he had his own field and also worked the priest's fields. He used to rent them from the local Ruthenian priest and every few years he renewed the contract. But as a Jew he was tied and bound to Jezierna. And when I became a bigger boy and the village teacher would no longer suffice, I began to go to study in Jezierna.

I went there each day by foot. In summer the way was very pleasant. I passed through green fields, bejeweled with little red flowers. The birds twittered… Crows flew overhead, making round circles and continually calling “kra–kra!” They made a few circuits in the air and then flew lower towards me. And when they recognized me, they cawed again and reckoned that they would not get any subsistence from this little Hershel… then they lifted off and settled a little further along, where a gentile was plowing the field, and where they pulled worms from the freshly–plowed earth and swallowed them hungrily… There were also green meadows with little streams along my way. Long–legged storks wandered through them, using their long beaks to search out frogs… they were not very agile movers on land. I would run to get closer – but the stork did not think for long before flying away… I was left standing there, looking after him and thinking, “If only I had wings…” I would look around, and it was already late, I should have been in school already, and started walking faster. But then, I might encounter a butterfly and I forgot school once again… And sometimes I would meet up with shepherds along the way. “Where are you going, boy?” they would ask. And I would answer, “What's up with you?”, to which I would receive a few clods of dirt. Sometimes too I went with a horse–and–wagon, ours or a neighbor's – but in winter and autumn I stayed in Jezierna for the whole week; my father would take me home for the Sabbath.

*

In Jezierna I became familiar with the town. I remember her people from before the turn of the century, when I was just a young schoolboy. My first teacher was Reb Alter, Pinchus–the–ritual–slaughterer's son–in–law. The cheder was in the teacher's home; he ate and slept in the same room. In that crowded place the children sat at a table and studied from a prayer book. We would repeat after the teacher whatever he said. The pupils had respect for the Rebi – that's what we called him – and always obeyed him. For disobedience, the Rebi used several drastic, measures, the mildest of which was powerful.

In cheder several, shall–we–say, special events took place. Besides Channuka with its dreydles [spinning tops], which the Rebi made with poured lead and gave out to the students; Purim with its gragers [noise–makers]; Lag B'Oymer when he led the cheder boys to ‘Mount Sinai’ with little rifles – there frequently took place a 'krishmelaynen' [reciting of the Shema (Hear O Israel) prayer]. It was the custom that when a son was born and the child was a few days old, the father would invite a local teacher to come with his pupils to visit the convalescent mother. The woman, hidden behind a white sheet, together with the household members, awaited the guests. The Rebi and the children came into the room and he immediately began to recite “El Melech Ne'eman” [“God is a faithful King” – the opening line of Shema] –– and the children repeated after him with strong high–pitched voices. The children were honored with candies, the Rebi got a shot of brandy and went merrily home with the children.

I remember my Talmud teacher too, Reb Yakov Biller, of blessed memory, a faithful human being who devoted himself to the children. For a certain time I also studied with Reb Chaim Lachman, who was not really a teacher, but a small merchant of charcoal. But when business was poor, and Reb Chaim was a knowledgeable Jew, he took in a few students and studied with them.

In 1898 I was enrolled in the Baron Hirsch School. There one studied according to the government plan. The language of instruction was Polish, but religion was taught in Hebrew. Some in the orthodox circles had no desire to send their children to that type of Jewish school because of the whiff of apikorsos [heresy] that they smelled from it… We did indeed study bare–headed in that place and the teachers were progressive people. The principal was Blaustein and the teachers were Imber, Feldman, the Misses Faust and Brik. After completing the 4 grades of the school, I of course went back to study in cheders.

*

The first years of the century. National consciousness began to develop among the Jewish youth and Zionism also arrived in Jezierna… Then a few Jews organized the first Zionist society. We used to meet in the home of Reb Josef Steiger (Yosi –Yizchok's); his low little house stood at

the rear of the market square. There was a newspaper. We read and discussed world events and political Zionism. That was the only place where Jews used to gather, besides the synagogues. That same Yosi –Yizchok's was occupied with other community activities: along with other Jews he organized a gemiles–chesed [free–loan] society. If a poor Jew needed to buy some merchandise for the fair, he could borrow a little money there without interest; thus, he could earn money to buy food for the Sabbath. When Reb Josef passed away, the work was taken up by his son Luzer Steiger, who was murdered with all the Jews in the great Holocaust.

*

But politics one could hear about in other places, in particular the synagogue study hall. That was the era of the Russo–Japanese War, in 1904. The Jews in the Austrian Empire were then pro–Japanese and against tsarist Russia where antisemitism was rampant. It was that way in Jezierna too. We only debated the outcome of the war, we tossed it around … we followed the battles as though we were generals. Reb Nuchim Schonhaut, Pinchus the–ritual–slaughterer's son, brought home a newspaper especially from Lemberg (one could not get such a thing in Jezierna…) and reading it, saw the whole strategy of the war. He had the map in front of him and he predicted that Japan would win. And when Japan did win – he got the nickname Yapantshik.

*

In those days there was this story: Scholem Francas, the son of the Rabbi's gabai [beadle], who sat day and night with the Rabbi in the small prayer house and studied, who wore long peyos [sidelocks], a long coat and velvet cap, disappeared one fine morning and showed up in the Austro–Hungarian capital– Vienna. There he put on modern clothing, shaved his beard and sidelocks and was accepted in a high school. He graduated and enrolled in the university and used to come home to his sister – his parents were no longer alive. He had changed so much that people did not recognize him. He later became a mathematics instructor in Tarnopol.

During that time the Jewish youth in Jezierna in general were eager to go to the larger cities. We wanted to be ‘menschen’ [regular human beings]. There began to emerge Jewish officials, Jewish secondary schools, and the youth sought a purpose.


[Page 77]

My shtetl

A. M. Fuchs

Translated by Lily Fox Shine and Cyril Fox, niece and nephew of the author

Donated by David Fielker, for this article which was previously
published in Shemot (JGS of Great Britain), September 1999

My birthplace, the shtetl Jezierna, on the railway line from Lemberg to Tarnopol in Eastern Galicia, belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Emperor Franz Joseph. In WWI the Jewish population became dispersed. In 1918-20, when the monarchy collapsed, Jezierna, and indeed Eastern Galicia (including the Western Ukraine), belonged to the Ruthenian Republic. Then, when the Poles won the war against the Ruthenians, Jezierna became part of Poland and the shtetl rebuilt itself. Today [1969] my birthplace belongs to the Soviet West Ukrainian Republic again.

I did not know my paternal grandparents, but I am named Avrom Moshe after my grandfather. I do know that he was a small-time merchant selling produce to the peasants of the surrounding area. He was a Baal Tefilah (lay prayer leader) in the Beth Hamidrash of the main synagogue. My grandmother, Channa, ran a small dairy. My father was known in the shtetl by the nickname Chaim Chanele's Smetankes because of this and because he was very blond- an allusion to the white Smetana which was made in the dairy.

My maternal grandfather was Sholem Fuchs, and my grandmother was Leika (Esther Leah). The family on both sides was related. Grandfather Sholem was a merchant, dealing with the Polish peasants and gentry, and in the summer he rented orchards in the neighbouring villages. Leika also had a bakery in their large house, making challoth [sabbath loaves], rolls, etc. The customers were the people of the shtetl and the country folk. Every Passover eve they baked matzos in the great stove for the entire locality. Shulim and Leika died in Jezierna in 1910.

In my family we were four brothers. I was the oldest, then Shea (Yehoshua), Hersh and Itamar.

In my childhood and youth, I was naturally close to my relations. They still stand before my eyes, all in youthful fellowship, fine people, cut off from life by fire and blood. I come from simple, honest, god-fearing people who were pleasant, good-humoured and friendly, and happy to do good deeds and help others. They all had some type of work in the shtetl – bakers, carpenters, locksmiths, merchants and orchard keepers. Some sold flax or honey or wheat; some had a horse and cart for transport. Summer and winter they scraped a hard-earned living. Only on the Sabbath and on festivals did they rest and have a party. They all suffered from the pain and harshness of their livelihoods.

There were also happy times: joys and pleasures from their children. The boys went to cheder, learning Hebrew, prayers and the Bible, then they learned a trade. The daughters, the young ladies, learned Hebrew and also Hebrew/Yiddish translation, ie tzena-urena [pious texts]. The fathers, with difficulty, paid the teacher. At home the daughters loved to sing Yiddish folk songs. They could speak Ukrainian, Polish and Yiddish. They were raised in the best ways of their parents until they were married. They were brought up to be well-mannered and modest. The mothers were orthodox and scrupulously observed dietary laws, Sabbath and festivals. They prayed with fervour, crying out to God.

Their literature consisted of holy commentaries and stories from the Bible, and later they read Yiddish story books, for example from Sholem Aleichem and Mendele, which they bought in the market place. They enjoyed listening to storytellers, jokers and singers, especially at Purim. Although they were not Chassidim, they would go to the Jezierna Rebbe during the intermediate days of Passover for blessing and advice.

The Jezierna Rebbe, Levi Yitzhak Manisohn from the Rhziner dynasty, was well known in the surrounding towns. He had a large following of Chassidim who used to stay with him. He had a large house with a courtyard and a small school with teachers. In my youth I saw him many times; he was short and slim with a delicate pale face, brown eyes and a short tidy silver beard and short curly sideburns. On the Sabbath and on festivals he dressed in silk striped trousers with a white girdle, white silk shoes and stockings and a large golden fur hat. His weekly attire was a black silk hat, black silk coat with velvet sleeves and black patent small boots. I also heard that the Rebbe had written a small religious treatise, but I personally had another book printed in Hebrew from one of his followers with a foreword from him. In WWI the Rebbe's mansion was destroyed and he and his son Reb Moishele fled to Vienna; the Rebbe died shortly afterwards in 1915 and two years later his son died there.

In the mid-19th century there was also a greatly revered rabbi, Rebbe Shloimele, who grew up in the shtetl. The Emperor Franz Josef ruled at this time and a special stone synagogue was built, which lasted until 1941 when the Nazis destroyed it. The Rebbe was deaf and had poor vision, yet busied himself with teaching and many good deeds to humans and animals. In my youth, I once went with my father to visit ancestral graves and I saw the special private burial memorial to R Shloimele. It was a small room in which stood the memorial stone, old and worn, in the form of two tablets, on which the symbolic Cohanim fingers, thin and worn, were outstretched in blessing. The words were faded away but my memory of this is inerasable.

I remember that years ago in my childhood days misfortune befell our family. My father, a quiet, refined man, was not in the best of health and had no means of livelihood at the time. My mother went for advice to a special rebbe in Tarnopol. This Rebbe Lazar gave her a blessing and good advice which was that my father should become a merchant and rent orchards together with his father-in-law and brothers-in-law and with God's help he would be successful. So it turned out, and my mother used to talk, with tears in her eyes, about the wonderful advice and how our faith had saved us.

So, my family mainly lived on the sale of fruit from the orchards they rented from the Polish gentry, which produced cherries, grapes for wine and later apples, pears and plums. They gathered the fruit, loaded it in boxes and sacks onto wagons and sent it for sale in the Jezierna market. They worked from Shavuoth to Rosh Hashanah and shared the profits. Unripened fruit was stored in straw and sold when fruit became scarce. This was my father's business too; he had his own horse and wagon. They also owned a small spice and condiment shop, but this was destroyed by thieving village lads.

Another group of memories appears before my eyes. My father had a lime pit and a small hut which stood at the edge of my grandfather's garden. In the front it was partitioned with flower boxes, thorny bushes and trees overhanging from the very large garden of the Ruthenian priest. There was a refuse bin and a lime pit in the large cattle, horse and pig market. The general market place, with Jewish wine establishments and shops, was in the centre of the shtetl. Nearby was the old stone synagogue, the Beth Hamidrash, the Rabbi's house and also the Polish and Ruthenian churches with their high bell towers.

The Chassidic Rebbe's courtyard with a large garden was on the side of the stone cobbled Kaiser Strasse. The old stone brandy inn had a wide entrance for the horses and wagons of the Polish gentry who would gather there, perhaps some of the wealthier Jews. The old flour mill with its huge wooden water wheel stood by the side of the stream, a tributary of the wide river with tall willow trees on its banks.

Like all Jewish boys in our town I went through four classes in our state Jewish Baron de Hirsch School. The official language was Polish, but I also went to learn Jewish subjects more intensely at the cheder where the teacher was Reb Lazar Bick. I studied Hebrew and the Bible with Rashi and some Talmud. Later, I educated myself more deeply in Jewish subjects and world culture.

At the age of fourteen I went from my home to Lemberg, then for a while in New York and after that for 24 years in Vienna, ten years in London and a little time in Paris. From 1910 onwards, my main profession was that of a Yiddish writer and journalist, mainly in Vienna and later in London

In Vienna I was conscripted into the Austrian army in various military capacities between 1914 and 1918, going as far as the borders of Austro-Hungary.

After WWI I was able to return to Jezierna. The German troops had fought backwards and forwards against the Russians as far as the Russian border, passing through Lemberg and Jezierna. There was great slaughter of Jews in this area by the Russians, Austrians and Germans. Many of the villages were destroyed. The Jews of Jezierna and the surrounding villages fled over the Carpathian Mountains to Hungary, where there was a camp for Jezierna Jewish refugees. After the War the Jews returned to Jezierna but many of their homes had been robbed, burnt down or destroyed. Their livelihoods were non-existent and hunger and poverty were everywhere.

Now the Ruthenians governed the area, but there was no stability as they were still at war with the Poles in East Galicia. Also in 1919-20 there was war with the new Soviets along the borders of Russia and East Galicia, and Petlyura's Ukrainian soldiers conducted pogroms against the Jewish inhabitants, plundering villages and murdering Jews all along the border towns. In East Galicia the Red Army did help somewhat to protect the Jews as Petlyura's men rampaged through Jezierna. Then came the Polish legions, murdering Jews in Lemberg and other Galician towns. The slaughter also took place in Zlocov. Then East Galicia was occupied by Ruthenian soldiers and cut off from the outside world, without communications or transport.

Very sad news filtered through from this area to Vienna concerning the savagery of Petlyura towards the Jews of Galicia and the Ukraine. I was sent as an accredited correspondent for the Wiener Morning Journal, the Jewish national paper, to investigate and report on the conditions of the Jews of East Galicia and bring back the true facts to Vienna. In 1919 my journey was very difficult; I had to travel for weeks by train via Budapest and Muncacz and through the Carpathian Mountains and by this roundabout way I arrived in Tarnopol.

This large town was half destroyed, the shops were looted and only a handful of Jews were left. Some of the army had returned, and they were wounded and robbed by Petlyura's men who were running the town and had murdered most of its Jews. No train journey was possible for civilians; I travelled on Polish sledges for which I paid exorbitantly. The weather was cold, frosty and at times stormy. At night in the snowy fields there were howling, hungry wolves. With fear and trepidation I went on and whenever I met with Jews in the area the same pitiful story was told – poverty, robbery, pursuit and often murder. The days and nights passed with pain and terror.

The young Jewish soldiers who had returned from the Austrian front were weary and with difficulty they carried on trying to earn some money to help their broken parents.

Naturally I went to Jezierna as quickly as possible to reunite with my parents and family, who had returned from their flight to Hungary. I also went from Tarnopol to the border towns between Russia and Galicia. On this trip I was arrested several times by Petlyura's soldiers but my documents and newspaper credentials from Vienna saved me and some honest Ruthenian officials came to my rescue and freed me from custody. The Jews were not taken to serve in the Ruthenian army and on the whole the Ruthenian government protected the Jews in Eastern Galicia, but over the border the Petlyurian gangster army, who were Ukrainians fighting the Red Army in Kiev and other Ukrainian towns, massacred any Jews they found.

On 29 January 1919 I was in Tarnopol where I received the news, from Austrian soldiers returning from the Russian border, of the terrible pogrom the day before in Proscurów, where Petlyura's men had killed 1,500 Jews in a day when they captured the town from the Reds.

The same hatred existed towards the Jews of Western Galicia by the Polish National Army where there were also pogroms and slaughter. Jews were accused of being leaders of the Communist revolution, especially because of Trotsky, Zimoniev and Kaganovitch, and they also supported the Communist uprising in Hungary where Bela Kun, the leader, was a Jew. In general the expression was “Jewish Bolshevik”. With all these pogroms organised by different armies over the area it is estimated that more than half a million Jews were murdered. Villages became seas of Jewish blood; all were united in their hatred of the Jews. Ovruch, Berdichev, Zhitomir and Proscurów were some of the towns that Petlyura swept through, moving from house to house murdering Jews. In 1919 there were 493 pogroms. I finally returned to Vienna with my report.

In 1923 my father (not so old) had died from all the troubles in Jezierna and my brother Yehoshua took my mother to London, where she died in 1942. Yehoshua also brought my brother Itamar to London from Vienna in 1930. The families of my father's three brothers and two sisters from Jezierna all emigrated to America and England before WWI.

I had settled in Vienna with my wife and daughter and was an established citizen of the new Austrian Republic. However, in 1938 when Hitler marched into Austria I was imprisoned with my family and robbed of my possessions. Many precious manuscripts, stories and articles were destroyed. Then with the help of my brothers and their family in England we were saved*.

Jezierna was occupied by the Soviets from September 1939 until June 1941, but in July they withdrew from Eastern Galicia and the Nazis entered Jezierna and slaughtered most of the Jewish population. My brother Hersh was murdered by the Nazis in Slochev, together with his wife Miriam and all the Jews of the town, in 1941. My mother had three sisters and a brother, all with large families; they virtually all perished under the Nazis and only a very few survived. From my grandparents on my mother's side there was a large family with brothers and sisters in Jezierna, Zborov, Tarnopol, Lemberg and Czernovitz; they also perished in the Holocaust.

We lived in London from 1937 to 1948, survived the Blitz and Hitler's bombs in WWII and made aliyah and settled in Tel Aviv, Israel.

For 25 years AMF was the Vienna correspondent of the New York Jewish Daily Forward. He was also assistant editor of the Jewish Morning Post in Vienna and critic for a monthly journal, as well as contributing to many Jewish papers and books. He published six books of Yiddish stories, many about life in Jezierna. The articles about the pogroms for the Vienna Jewish Daily News were also translated and printed in America, Poland and other countries. Later he wrote stories with themes on the terrible breakdown and impoverished hard life of the Jews of Western Galicia at that time (1919). His books were translated into Hebrew, German, Polish and other languages and he received several literary prizes, including a major award in Israel late in his life.
* Primarily it was AMF's American Press Card that saved him from the Nazis in 1938. Return

 

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