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Experiences and Figures from the Recent Past (cont.)

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Members of the leadership of Beitar

In the center, the chairman of the chapter Friedler,
to his left Natan Milch (fell near Stalingrad)

 

to adorn their houses on that day with the red and white flags of the state, and the pictures of the president of the state and members of the government. On that day, large, splendid parades took place, in which groups from all strata of the population participated, as well as representatives of the villages of the area (of which there were more than 70), with their special multicolored costumes. The place of the Jewish community of the city was also not absent that day. Its delegates always had the rear place in the parade. This situation was also repeated with the groups of school children, and the Jewish children marched in the rear. Incidents sometimes took place where the Jews were accused of disrupting the order of the parade, or of not decorating their homes in the appropriate fashion. The Poles regarded this as a great desecration of their holiday. This matter was always associated with many difficulties. The parades often served as negative influences, where the Polish patriots became drunk. At times, these “patriots of the nation” became unruly and began to pillage the Jewish neighborhoods. Indeed, our Jewish brethren would foresee what was to take place, and were prepared for any circumstance. They would even organize themselves to protect their lives and property. The butchers, smiths, porters and others were especially involved in this. Despite all this, the people of Podhajce were forced to participate in the festivities, to march in the parades, willingly or unwillingly, and to dance at the joy of those who were as distant from them as east is from west. The Jews of Podhajce were no different in this regard than those of the other cities and towns of Galicia.

Regarding the Youth Groups, Cheder Education and the Hebrew School

Since we are discussing the youth groups of the city, it is worthwhile to mention that almost all of the parties and movements that existed in Poland existed in our city, including: Hechalutz, Gordonia, Hanoar Hatzioni, Achva, Bnei Akiva, and others. However, the Hashomer Hatzair movement was the strongest. We were also not lacking an academic student corporation and illegal Communist groups.

With regard to the study of the Hebrew language and literature, most of the youth of the city began their aleph beit studies in the cheder. In my time, this took place with Avromche Melamed (Walden) or Aharon Melamed (The Red), and their helpers (the belfers). Later, the children studied Chumash and Rashi, Bible, Gemara, etc. from the renowned Reb Davidl, his neighbor Rebbe Leibishl, Rebbi Meirl (on Schloss Gasse) and others. Aside from this, there were older youths in the city who would study Torah in the evenings from the three rabbinical judges of the city: the head of the Beis Din Eisenstein, the judge Haber and the judge Schurz (the son of the Rebbe of Zawalalow) from whom I studied along with the son of Rabbi David Lilienfeld. We studied for many hours with them at night, despite the fact that we were students of Gymnasium at the same time. From among the townsfolk there were also people whose souls longed for Torah. At night, and at times even during the day, they would sit and occupy themselves with Torah, whether in the synagogues, the Beis Midrashes or private homes.

The first teacher, whose name was Brecher, taught the Hebrew language (in the Sephardic pronunciation), both spoken and written. In my time, Koretz and Rozen were also Hebrew teachers. In their merit, we should point out the happy fact that most of the youth of all factions studied

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in the Hebrew school during the day or with evening classes. These two teachers worked hard to accustom the youth to Hebrew. They were the central point for the instilling of the love of Zionism and the Jewish homeland.

Economic Life and Anti-Semitism

To this point, I have told about religious and traditional life, feelings and faith, accepted paths of life, etc. However, we cannot ignore the economic factors, the staff of bread of the Jews of Podhajce. Similar to other cities and towns in Galicia and Poland, the Jews of Podhajce and its region were not only divided into Hassidim and non-Hassidim, but also into merchants who had stores and warehouses for wood, grain, coal, iron, etc. For five days a week (except for the Sabbath and Sunday), the stores, offices and warehouses were open as usual. Thursday was the weekly market day, when thousands of farmers from the nearby villages would come in with their wagons laden with the produce of their land and their manufactured items. The wagons of the villagers filled the center of the town, the areas of the city marketplace as well as the side streets. Merchants of the area also arrived with their stalls that day, and participated in the business and barter. The farmers brought fruits, vegetables, eggs, fowl, butter, cheese, as well as cattle and grain. After they sold their merchandise, they would go to the stores to purchase their household needs. On the market day, the entire city was filled with movement and a deafening din. Whoever went out that day to the streets of the city would be startled by the sight of the sea of thousands of heads, walking through the market or standing next to the stalls of the various peddlers, filled with all sorts of items, pants, coats, shoes, boots, and other such merchandise. The Jewish merchants, men and particularly women who were a unique group among the Jewish population of the city, played the main role in the market square. The hands of the women merchants were industrious, and they began to make use of their own language of sorts, a sort of constant banter. With the aid of this language, their hand was always on top. This fair also served as the gathering place for professional thieves, drunks, hooligans and men of the underworld who found a wide open field in the crowds for their activities. On occasion, the market day provided an occasion for an organized attack by anti-Semitic groups upon a Jewish merchant or stall, causing conflict and bloodshed. At times like this, Jewish self-defense became active. On many occasions the conflict concluded with the local police arresting the defenders rather than the instigators of the conflict and the attackers who had caused bloodshed…

In our town, a certain farmer of the region named Pilko the Drunk became known. He was quite wealthy and loved to tipple. On account of his drunkenness, he sold some of his land every year. When he became drunk on Thursdays he would hasten to the city, run through the streets and shout aloud, “Jews to Palestine”. Unintentionally, he thereby filled a Zionist role, declaring that the Jews are duty bound to return to the Land of Israel.

The main source of income of the Jewish merchants, peddlers and craftsmen in this city was on the Thursday market day. This day was a “day of blessing” for the Jewish population of the city. It was the source of livelihood for almost all the people, and provided them with their household needs for the entire week. Despite the sporadic incidents of strife and conflict, the days of the fair passed peacefully. Indeed, there was a difference between the fair days during the period of Austrian rule and those of the period of Polish rule. The Austrian gendarmes attempted to keep order with full force of the law, and succeeded in this. This situation took a turn for the worse during the Polish era.

Characters and Nicknames

In the space of every Jewish city and town in Galicia, there were stories, fables, legends, mottoes, and jokes that formed a rich and variegated folklore. Some of these were based upon historical facts that were adorned with stories of wonders. Some were fables of a moral theme, jokes, legends from the middle ages, as well as stories from people of our time. Stories of all of these types were told in Podhajce as well, and there is no doubt that some of this vast storehouse of material that floats around the space of our old community is worthy of being written down. It is possible to preserve some of the important folkloric material that relates to our town. However, without doubt, we will have to suffice ourselves with a little, literally “the tip of the fork”. Even this will not be in a complete fashion.

One of the most notable items is that almost all the residents of the town had a nickname aside from their regular name. At times, a nickname would be given to the residents of an entire city. The residents of Lvov were called “Lemberg Pipekes”, the residents of Berezany were called “Berezaner Kremalkes”, and the residents of the town of Przemysl were called “Przemysler Horse Thieves”, etc. Our city of Podhajce had the name “Podhajcer Duck Makers” (Podhajcer Katchke Machers). What is the source of this nickname? Regarding this, we have a long story that is brought in the memoirs of our fellow native Michael Weichert [1]

The nicknames that were added to the names of most of the residents of the city, in addition to the true family name, was another matter that was often humorous. For example, Yehuda the “lo” (The no), since always expressed a negative opinion and expressed his “lo” with stress of the vowel. The nickname “Pious man” was given to a certain Moshe the Pious who always brought home several poor people on the Sabbath for food, drink and lodging.

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The nickname “Abba Kalika” (Abba the cripple) was given to someone whose hand was somewhat paralyzed. “Leibish Mareni” was given to someone who, despite being a Hassid, loved to extend his hand to the young village girls who came to his store. A Jew by the name of Levi had the nickname “Levi Parch” (Levi the rat) because of his large bald spot. Each year on Shabbat Hagadol, when the city hoodlums would stand by the gates of the synagogue and accompany the worshipers who were on their way home with shouts and “cat howls” with various “musical instruments” (such as tin plates, pots, jars, etc.), this Levi would prepare cake, wine, and fruit as a fine snack for these hoodlums, instead of shouting at them as did the others. Nicknames were given to other citizens, such as “Muchia Puta” (Silly Muchia) to someone who was not overly intelligent, or “Yosha Kalb” (Yosha the Calf) for the same reason; “Yoel Natkes” – because he was too smart; Leib “Tziutzia Veyitzia” became he had many relatives; “Itzia Drong” because of his tall height, etc. The nickname of one Jew of our town by the name of Leon Weiss aroused great interest. He was a wealthy Jew, a merchant of hides and shoes, and he was known as “Leibele Trask” (“Leibele the Smack”) because he was short and he would become angry or upset easily. His wife was taller than him, and when he would argue with his wife and wish to slap her on the face, he would jump up and shout out “I will give you a smack” or “you will get a smack”. Thus did he gain the nickname “Trask”. Regarding this nickname and its bearer, it is told that once a shoe wholesaler from Lvov came to town to visit several merchants, including Mr. Weiss, who were delinquent in their payments. When the wholesaler descended from the train car, he asked one of the passers-by, “Where does Mr. Leon Weiss live?” He was answered that there was nobody in the city by that name. As the merchant continued on asking his questions to several other passers-by, each one of them could not answer his question. The wholesaler thought that there was a matter here of a man who did not exist, and the name signed on the contracts was nothing other than a forgery. Only later when he was meeting with one of the shoe merchants, he was answered, “I am sure you are searching for Leibele Trask, who is known to us by his nickname”. Thus did the wholesaler find the person for whom he was looking.

The water drawers of Podhajce were considered to be one-of-a-kind characters. Almost every part of the city or street had its own water drawer, who had the rights to provide water to the residents of this neighborhood. The largest street of the city (“Di Breite Gasse” – The Wide Street) and the surrounding area was considered the “territory” of Yosele the Water Drawer and his sons, who are known from the section on the Purim plays. “Mordechai the Water Carrier” and his wife Zelda the dull-headed has the rights to draw water on Schloss Gasse. On Holenada, this job was fulfilled by Rachele and her son Moshe, and we should not wax lengthy about this. Often, disputes broke out between the water carriers regarding competition between several houses of families, and also regarding prices. This was similar to the disputes and struggles that would break out between some of the shochtim (ritual slaughterers) who on occasion conducted their disputes in manners that were not acceptable to Jews, and also at times in unseemly fashions. Not infrequently, these matters would reach the authorities, an involvement that instilled shame and caused great unpleasantness.

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Schloss Gasse – the Street of the Castle

 

The Crazies of our Town

The veteran of them, who was nicknamed “Pasulki-Drefki” was a short Jew with a long beard who lived by the mercy of the city. He would go from house to house every Friday with two large sacks to collect challas, fruit, and other food items. His main craziness was politics. He would gather fragments of newspapers on the streets. He would always approach the telephone poles and hit them with his cane, thereby

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“discussing” about all types of countries, kings and statesmen. Later, when he continued going from house to house to collect food, he would inform the residents of the city about all types of political news, in accordance with his opinion. He had a special affinity for Bulgaria, and most of his proclamations were “Praise Bulgaria”, until he got to the topic of Sarajevo, the city that caused the First World War.

The second crazy in the city was loved by everyone, even the Christians. He was Moshe Chaim. Whenever anyone tripped along the way, he would approach him, pat him on his back and call him by his profession with the addition of the name “Abba” (father). He would call a baker “Father of Bread”, a shoemaker “Father of Shoes”, etc. He would call the Christian regional official “The Father of the City”. He was always happy with his lot, pleasant, dressed well, and with his great naivety he was able to receive his needs from everyone easily. He worked as a water drawer from time to time, providing for certain houses. He would give all the money he collected to his elderly mother, “Mother Rivcha”. He never requested donations. He loved to eat, and meticulous about eating good food. Therefore, he looked good and his health was strong. However, his tendency to gluttony hastened his end. As was related to me, one Seder night, he went from one Shulchan Aruch (Seder meal) to another, and a third, and he ate a great deal at each place. During the night he was attacked by strong pains and treated them with hot water bottles. When real medical help arrived, it was too late.

It is interesting to note here one episode that was characteristic of Diaspora Jewry and connected to Moshe Chaim, despite the fact that he was crazy. During the year of 1914-1915 of the First World War, after the Austrian army retreated from its positions and the armies of the Russian Czar advanced westward and entered our city, they immediately declared a curfew at specific times. However, this Moshe Chaim did not understand the order, and he went outside. The soldiers captured him, imprisoned him, accused him of spying, and tried him as a spy before the military court. However, the collective responsibility of the Jewish people in a time of tribulation was awakened in our city as well during that time came to the salvation of Moshe Chaim. After he was imprisoned, the Jews of the city felt themselves in an intolerable situation, and they worked diligently to free him.

The Russian army commanders who were stationed in our city knew that among the Russians, Circassians, Cossacks and other peoples of Russia that comprised the Russian army, there were also Jewish soldiers. They were also not oblivious to the fact that there were also Jews in the Austrian camp, and that on both sides of the front, Jews spilled their blood for a matter that bore no relationship to them. For such was the lot of the Jew in every country, to spill his blood on the alter of the “homeland” in which he was living. From that time, the nickname “Margel” (spy) was added to Moshe Chaim's name, or as he called himself “Ein Spien”.

This situation of the drafting of Jews to the armies of various countries resulted in tragic situations during battles between the enemy camps. Not infrequently, at a time when shooting took place between the two sides, one would hear the cry of “Shma Yisrael” from the “enemy”, and it became clear that the two combatants were Jews who resided in two enemy countries. I know of a specific incident of two brothers of the Lippa family from the village of Telyache near Podhajce, who met together, one from the side of the Russian army and the other from the side of the Polish army. At night, at the moment they were about to shoot at each other, it became clear that they were two brothers, and thus they were miraculously saved from death.

The Family Life of “The Eternal Jew”

Aside from a few families in our city, most of the Jewish population in Podhajce was composed of several large, extended families, such as the Horowitz, Fiszer, Perl, Haber, Stein, Milch, Itinger, Lilienfeld, Polisziuk, Pomeranz families, and others. There were also certain other families whose connections were more or less loose, but who would join together on days of joy or anguish, and became one body in the family of the wandering Jew. The situation was similar in Podhajce, on account of the mutual responsibility and joint suffering. On the one hand, we cannot ignore that in our city there were people who never met, never came in contact with each other, and never talked with each other for various reasons. However after the Holocaust, when very few were left, one from a city and two from a family, this situation improved. Today, if two natives of our city meet in the Diaspora, and even more so in Israel, they have a common language and mutual family warmth. The Holocaust survivors regard themselves as one large family, without concern for their various classes. The hearts of them all ache over the destruction of their community, and they find comfort in their survival and their reestablishment in independent Israel, that has once again become the homeland for all scattered Jews.

An Incident that Took Place with Binyamin Kitner of Podhajce

I have touched on the story of various families in our city, and I feel that one should not pass over the incident that took place to Binyamin Kitner of our city, who was a wise and pleasant man, honored and liked by his fellow. This interesting and sad incident took place in the years 19190-1920, when the Poles fled westward and the Bolshevik armies penetrated quickly to Warsaw. (Then, the “Miracle on the Wisla River took place, and the Bolsheviks fell and retreated eastward to Russia.) During those days, remnants of the Ukrainian nationalist soldiers and the inimical armies of Petliura roamed about the No Man's Land between the Polish and Bolshevik fronts. This No Man's Land touched Jewish settlements in many places. For quite some time they did not know for which side and for the benefit of whom they were fighting. However,

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one thing they knew very well: to rob, to pillage, to murder, and they especially placed their eyes upon the Jews.

Thus came the turn of Podhajce. When several dozen armed soldiers came to our town riding on horses, the people of the city did not realize that they were from Petliura's gangs, and the Jews went out to the street to greet “the new rulers”. Their commander asked that the elders and notables of the city be sent to them. Binyamin Kitner and Mr. Eizenstein the head of the civic court were sent as representatives of the Jews. It was thought that they were about to establish a provisional government in the city, and these were the men fit for the task. However, at the moment when both of them appeared before the captain, he drew his revolver and informed them that they were arrested as ransom, adding that within six hours, the residents of Podhajce, especially the Jews, must bring specified quantities of hides for shoes, textiles, food, etc. as fines. Failing that, the two men would be killed, and there would be many difficulties in the city. Thus, the people of the city found out who these soldiers were, and with whom they must deal…

The two men were imprisoned in an isolated house, and the Jews quickly began to collect the “contribution”. In the meantime, the ruffians spread out among the Jewish homes at the edge of the city and began to rob and beat the Jews, and rape the women. However, fortunately, after five hours of the rule by Petliura's gangs in the city, several soldiers of a Soviet battalion appeared suddenly, as evening fell, from the east atop the Gei Hill, and shot several gunshots over the city. Confusion and fear overtook the Petliurists. They began to prepare for defense, and the soldier that guarded the two prisoners was called up for defense. The prisoners seized the opportunity and escaped through the window to the next house, where they changed their clothes, donned the clothes of farmer women, and hid. Thus they were saved from certain death, for the soldiers later returned to search for them. These soldiers caused difficulties in the city all night, and only in the morning did they flee westward to the town of Zawalow. The situation was shakier there, and the local Jews paid with the blood of several victims who were murdered by the ruffians.

A day or two later, the Bolsheviks entered the city and began to impose their rule. The leadership of the city and the local militia was given over to one of the poor Jews of the city, a second class tailor who had a left leaning outlook. His name was Getzel Berg, and from that time, he had the nickname Getzel the Commandant. The Kitner family had a large house with many rooms in the city. This was formerly a hotel. Getzel the Commandant entered the home of Mr. Kitner and evicted him from most of the house, leaving him` 1 and his family with only one room as living quarters. He claimed that this was a command from the Soviet authorities, and as mayor, he required these rooms for offices. Kitner answered the order without any opposition, adding a few words to the Comrade Commandant: “Thank G-d that the leadership of the city has returned to the hands of a Jew”

Another Jew, of whom many of the city did not appreciate his virtues and qualities, entered into the history of the city during that brief period. He was a carpenter and also a local merchant by the name of Davidzili (David) Heiden, a short Jew with a long beard and peyos that he kept behind his ears, a naturally white face and other trappings of a Hassid. He worked in business as a side job. He was a good carpenter by profession, but since this profession did not sustain him appropriately, he also ran a small store for sewing materials, which was tended to by his wife. Despite the fact that he had a lot of business from his professions, he was not particularly wealthy. Just as he was short in stature, he lived most of his life in a small, short house, half of which was sunken into the ground. Only in the later years, when his family grew and his children (two sons and two daughters) grew up, did he began to add on to his small house with his own hands, and add three or four additional rooms, for dwelling and also for a workshop. He was a man of energy, strength, wisdom, and he had a good heart. He was expert in “the small letters” and knew how to study a page of Gemara. In the morning or evening, he would sit alone or in the company of Aharon the teacher and study Torah. He was a good prayer leader, and on holidays, they loved to listen to his sweet prayers and melodious voice. He would invite a poor guest to his table every Sabbath to eat at his table. On the Sabbaths and festivals, he would sing the hymns accompanied by his children, and his neighbors on the street (including me and my family) enjoyed listening to their singing. In addition, he was a communal activist, who distributed contributions with an open hand. He often succeeded in promoting peace between disputants. I recall the dedication celebration that took place when he moved to live in one of his new rooms. At that time, he donated a Holy Ark to one of the synagogues in which he worshipped, and his wife also gave a gift – a Parochet (ark cover) with fine embroidery, which she made herself. He put great energy into promoting peace among the shochtim in their dispute with the city. He did a great deal to ease the straits of the children of Mendel the Undertaker, who were hungry and did not have sufficient clothing. He did not pay attention to those of the city who said, “Such is an appropriate punishment for Mendel the Undertaker, for when he was the guardian of the cemetery (in which he resided), he did not act properly, and thereby caused disgrace to the cemetery.” Heiden concerned himself as well with Itzele the Musician at a time when his livelihood was not sufficient for all his needs, even though he was beloved and desired in the city as a jester and chief musician at all of the weddings in the town and region. Thanks to his intercession, he got an additional job as the guardian of the local bathhouse. From that, he also obtained his rent money. Heiden gave over the key to the back door of the large Beis Midrash to youths who were hiding from the government police, at a time when they were busy losing weight as a protection from

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being drafted into the army. He only asked of them that they study a bit of Torah in addition to playing cards. Heiden spread his protection upon Hershele the Satan (nicknamed the Lying Rebbe) when his neighbor wished to complain to the government against him for disturbing them day and night with his shouts, for Hershele would worship in his house on Shul Gasse (the Street of the Synagogue) in a loud voice morning and evening, and he disturbed the sleep of his neighbors. In his travels to other cities, he presented himself as the Rebbe of Podhajce. He had a long beard with long peyos, small, deep eyes, and wore a black, long kapote and white socks. Only, he did not know how to study Torah…

Before he reached the age of 50, Heiden took ill with intestinal cancer, and underwent an operation in the Jewish hospital of Lvov. I was present as well at the time of the operation. It was successful itself, however due to the lateness of the operation, complications, unsanitary conditions, and failure to use antibiotics in those days, he died, to the grief of all who knew him. His entire family was murdered during the murderous war of the Nazi Germans. His eldest son Shaul served as a soldier in the Polish army and was captured by the Germans. His friend Taubenkiwel who survived said that Shaul tried to flee from his confinement, and the German guards shot and killed him.

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The leadership of the T. O. Z.

Standing from right to left: Pepa Milch (nee Weinless), Yaakov Shear of blessed memory,
Hela Sperber, Magister Gang, Mania Kitner of blessed memory, the lawyer Notik of blessed memory,
Dr Tartan-Kressel of blessed memory, Michael Kohn of blessed memory, the court official Mr. Shleicher.
Sitting from right to left: Mrs. Shear of blessed memory, Mrs. Dr. Gross of blessed memory,
Mrs. Morgan of blessed memory, Mrs. Dr. Rott of blessed memory

 

Conclusion

The article is too brief to describe everything. I know and feel that with all my writings, I have not fulfilled my duty to the extent that it assuages the conscience. It was a bold and difficult experience to write on paper about a reality that is no more. I feel difficult pangs of conscience regarding the personalities and characters, each one of whom had a recognizable influence upon the city and the community. More than twenty years have gone by since the bloodbath in the cities of Poland, but the voices of my brothers and friends, relatives and family members burst forth from the group and demand that we establish a memorial to the pure souls. However, how can we respond to this serious demand? Who can plumb into the magnitude of the Holocaust?

Our city, with what is old and new in it, was destroyed in a cruel manner at the hands of the Germans and their troops. Fate did us a good turn in that a small remnant of the large family that was Jewish Podhajce remained. This town is worthy of a memorial in our lifetime, for in it we saw the first light of the world, in it was revealed to us the light of the rebirth that brought us to the designated Land, to live in it and revive it, to built it and be built up by it. It is fitting that the few survivors of it who remain among the Holocaust survivors, scattered in various Diasporas and also in Israel, will do everything possible to maintain the soulful connection that beats in our hearts for that town that was and is no longer. It is not the nostalgic longings for the Podhajce of the Diaspora, with all of its positives and negatives, that attracts us to it to remember it and inscribe it upon the tablet of our hearts, but rather the love of our parents' homes and our families who are lost for us forever. Their memory will never depart from our hearts. In order to fulfil the verse “and you shall relate it to your children that day” in its broadest meaning, it is the duty of all of us to tell not only of the suffering and difficulties prior to the Exodus from Egypt, but also about the cruel times of the decrees of annihilation in the Nazi war of destruction.

The bright images of our dear martyrs and the beauty of their lives will continue to live in our hearts and will serve as signposts in our lives.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See page 101. Return


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Anecdotes

by Dr. Matityahu Pomeranz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Brief stories about various personalities

One of the Orthodox Jews who earned his livelihood by the sale of “banned” merchandise whose sale was permitted solely through the agencies of government, sat one Sabbath afternoon with his neighbor as they occupied themselves with Torah. A gentile entered and asked to purchase a small bag of tobacco for smoking. The Jew was not lazy. He went up to the attic, brought down a bag of tobacco, gave it to the gentile, and received his recompense. The neighbor was astonished at this deed and asked: “Is it possible, is it permitted to sell something on the Sabbath?” The Jew answered with a question, “And on a weekday, is it permitted to sell?…”


Judge M. would come to the courthouse quite late and begin hearing the cases, even though the case was set for an early hour. Once, the judge turned to one of the Jews who was involved in the case with a warning, “Is it possible, sir, when you come to the court, to concern yourself with your appearance and to shave.” The Jew answered, “Indeed, I shaved, Your Honor, but during the time that we were waiting for the case to begin, my beard grew anew…” The judge laughed heartily at the wise answer, and would often mention it.

That judge had a sense of humor himself. When he came across a Jewish name that ended with “s” he would say, “Indeed they are Greeks, Hesheles, Breines, Chachkes, Socrates, Temistocles”. When he once came across a Jew from Monastyrishche whose name was Azdrabel, he called out, “Here once again we have a Babylonian…”


One citizen once turned to my brother, who was a well known lawyer, and requested that he prepare an eviction notice for one of his tenants. My brother explained to him that it is not possible to win the case, since there is a law to protect the tenants. The Jew turned to another lawyer who was willing to prepare the notice. Of course, he lost the case. After some time, the Jew ran into my brother and said to him: “I, thank G-d, have more brains than the lawyers, and I found my own means against my tenant. I tied a calf under his window, which mooed at night and did not let him sleep, until he left the premises and fled for his life.”


A middle aged fish merchant was invited to court. The judge wrote down his personal details, and asked among everything else: “Are you married?” The Jew answered, “No Your Honor, I am still a youth…” From that time, that Jew received the nickname of Youth.


One of the residents of the city who became wealthy during the time of the First World War did not have a great intellect, and he based his prestige primarily on his wealth. Once, he came to the train station to ship out a shipment of merchandise, the exchange of which was supposed to be paid right there. When he came to the train station, he put his hand into the pocket to take out his money, and to his great dismay, he found that he had forgotten his wallet in his home. His first reaction is, “Where is my intellect…”


One Jew named D. who was a carpenter by trade abandoned his trade and became a merchant. One of his weaknesses was his love of the “prayer leader's podium” – that is he loved to serve as a prayer leader. Once the shochet Yaakov Friedman stood next to him and pointed out, “Our D. is a great expert about the board.” (That is he is an expert about the wooden prayer leader's podium). In Yiddish, the word “breitel” means “board”, and serves as a euphemism for the prayer leader's podium in the synagogue.


Leibish Meier, a resident of the village of Lissa, informed the police that some wooden oak planks that he had purchased with his money from an estate had been stolen. After searches, investigations and inquiries, the planks were found hidden in the home of a villager named Tz. However, the gentile insisted that the planks belong to him. In order to prove the correctness of his claim, Meier demonstrated that all of the planks were marked with the letter M., the initial of his name. The gentile retorted: “I wrote this letter, and the letter M. stands for “moya” (“mine” in Ukrainian).


One of the residents of the city loved to spice his conversation with sentences in the German language. Not infrequently, he would stumble in his language, and use an expression that was not appropriate. When his mother died, he wished to explain this in the vernacular, and he said: “Meine mutter itzt mir niderge-komen”, the correct translation of which is “My mother is about to give birth”.


The residents of Podhajce were called “Podhajcer Katshkemachers” (Podhajce Duck Makers) by the residents of neighboring cities. The root of this nickname related to a Jew of our city who succeeded in convincing one villager that the calf that he brought to sell in the city is nothing more than a duck. However, our city was not the only one whose residents had a nickname. Regarding this it is said: “The distress of the many is half a comfort”.


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The House on the Small Hill

by Etty Gross

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In memory of Leib Kressel and Aba Rubinsztok who concerned themselves with finding a hiding place for the entire family, and they themselves fell victim.

One of the villages near Podhajce is called “Stary Miasto” in Polish. This was sort of a suburb of the city. Exactly on the boundary between the city and the village, on a small hill, stood a house in which two families lived. There was a large yard around the house, in which wheat was grown, and there was a cowshed. The families that lived there created the stamp of a new life, as if it was an intermixture between the village and city life. Thus was it before the outbreak of the war.

In earlier days, only one family lived there. This is the Kressel family: a father, mother, two daughters and three sons. The children grew up and left the home. Two daughters immigrated to the United States, one son immigrated to France, and only two children remained at home, the daughter Adela and the son Leib. With the passage of time, the father died, and the mother remained with two children. Adela married Abba Rubinsztok who came from one of the villages near Podhajce, and Leib married my sister Pepa Gross.

During that time, I got to know that family. I was then a young girl, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, and everything connected with the life of the land and village life enchanted me greatly. I loved to watch how they milked the cows, filtered the milk, and churned the butter. The fields were close to the house, and the aroma of the wheat wafted up from the farm.

I loved to visit them very much. The mother, Mrs. Kressel, was a short, rotund woman. She was smart, intelligent and full of energy. Since the hospital was very close to their home, she had an interesting occupation: as a member of Bikur Cholim, she would visit the hospital. Every ill Jew, especially if they were from the area, would benefit from her caring attention. She would bring food to the ill (for there was no kosher food there) as well as sweets. She made sure that permission would be granted for visitors to enter. She concerned herself with the forsaken ones, and in general, all of the ill Jews in the hospital were under her care. The Kressel-Rubinsztok family had fields, and occupied themselves in the grain trade. The two men had decidedly opposite personalities.

Abba Rubinsztok was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a tanned face. He worked the land with all the bones of his body. He would make the rounds through the yard with diligence and meticulousness. He would fix something here, straighten something there, and pluck every weed. He was a good homeowner in the full sense of the term. All the tasks related to the working of the land were under his supervision. Leib Kressel was his exact opposite: short, jovial, not excited about working the land but rather about business. He felt himself as a fish in the water when he was in the grain warehouse. Purchasing, selling, weighing, going to town – this is what he loved.

In the interim, children were born into both families. Thus they lived together in one house – with one complimenting the work of the other, in honor and peace, until the outbreak of the war.

Mrs. Kressel died at the beginning of the Nazi occupation. The family moved into the ghetto when it was set up, and lived in the ghetto like most of the Jews. In the ghetto, they recommended that Abba Rubinsztok join the militia, but he refused, which testified to his uprightness and propriety. Since the Kressel and Rubinsztok families had lived for all the years in the village and had connections with the farmers of the area, they began to think about a hiding place. Leib Kressel searched for and found a hiding place for my parents (the Gross family), me, his family, and the Rubinsztok family.

In the meantime, and aktion took place. They searched for men to go to the work camp, and came to search for Abba Rubinsztok. However, he succeeded in hiding. Leib Kressel was recovering from a severe bout of typhus, and was sure that they would not take him on account of his illness, but he was mistaken. They took him out of bed and told him that he would be freed if Rubinsztok presents himself. Obviously Rubinsztok would not present himself, for then they would both be held. The Rubinsztok family, Pepa Kressel and her son succeeded in leaving the ghetto exactly at the last moment, and arriving at their hiding place in Muzylow.

Leib Kressel remained at the work camp in Zagreblya near Tarnopol for four months, and then succeeded in escaping from there. He walked for eight days until he reached Muzylow, since he walked only at night and hid during the days. How great was their joy when he reached them whole and healthy and joined up with them. However, their happiness did not last long.

The farmers that agreed to hide them were Ukrainians. They belonged to the “Bondira Organization”. Apparently, they did not take two things into account in their reckoning: one is that the matter would last for so long, and second is that the danger would be threatening them from both sides, from the Germans and also from the members of Bondira. In any case, they changed their mind, and one night they forced the two men to go out to find another hiding place.

At that time Max Melcer, a court official, roved around the area of Holendri. He managed to arm himself with a gun, and instilled fear upon all of the farmers of Holendri by forcing them to provide him with food and clothing. The farmers put out an ambush for him, and to the ill fortune of Kressel and Rubinsztok, they arrived in Holendri that night and were caught. They wanted to enter the hiding place of my parents. However, the farmer did not permit them,

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and they were forced to remain in the field. Therefore, they were captured. The farmers who captured them were their neighbors, who had known Leib Kressel from his childhood. However, nothing helped. They beat them with death blows so that they would reveal the hiding places of their wives. Then they called the Germans, and both of them were murdered.

After the murder of the two men, the Ukrainian farmers had no choice but to continue to keep the wives and two children until the Soviets arrived. When the Soviets arrived in Podhajce in the spring of 1944, they only remained a few days and were then forced to retreat. Then the two women left the bunker and fled to Skalat. This was spring, and the snow had melted. There was mud along the routes, and they were almost barefoot. They had only rags tied around their feet. Thus they arrived in Skalat. They remained there for a few months until Podhajce was liberated, and they then returned to Podhajce.

Then the two sisters-in-law set out on different paths. Adela Rubinsztok and her son immigrated to America. Today she is the grandmother of three grandchildren. Pepa Kressel made aliya to Israel and established a family. Today she is the grandmother of two grandchildren.

I am certain that both of them recall that house on the small hill from the good days that went by.


Life of the Jews in the Village of Zlotnik

by Dvora Shapira (Friedman)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My town was small and poor, but it had a rich name: Zlotnik – the city of gold. It is adorned with forests and fields that spread out to the horizon. A river also flows through its precincts, the Stripa River.

During days as they were, the days of peace, this river knew many romantic secrets. When the days of the Holocaust arrived, it waters were reddened with the blood of the Jews. However, the river flows along its path as always, and tries with all its might to cover the blood and appear again as clean and pure before the sun – a stream like all other streams.

Like all cities and towns in mournful Poland, our town was destroyed in the great destruction, and everything related to it arouses pain, anguish and grief. Despite all this, at times the heart recalls other types of memories, from the peaceful days before the Second World War. A joyful tremble passed over the heart as these good days are recalled.

I recall how a group of amateur players organized themselves in Zlotnik and performed the play “Ahava Kovkozit”. Some of the organizers of that play are today in Israel, such as Rivka Flaszner, Tovia Feder and Chana Poker. I wanted to see the play very badly, but I did not have money for a ticket. To my fortune, I had an aunt named Bat-Sheva (Sheiva) who was close to the “Bohemian” people, and did not miss any performance. With her, I entered the hall and saw the play – without paying any admission.

I remember how the Hebrew teacher Mrs. Horowitz came to our town and began teaching the Hebrew language. I also registered for the Hebrew school, but since there was no class appropriate for my age, they included me in a class of older students. I already had a proper knowledge of the Hebrew language, and the older students were embarrassed that I exceeded them with my knowledge. Therefore, I was once again transferred to a different class of students who were younger than I. The classes under the direction of Mrs. Horowitz lasted only for a brief period, since the teacher made aliya to the Land of Israel, and she could not delay her aliya on our account.

Now, I will write a few words about our family in Zlotnik.

My parents had seven children. They were not particularly wealthy, and they saw no future for their children in the town. My sister Rivka, today living in Israel, went to Hachshara, but she remained in the town as she did not have sufficient money to obtain a certificate. My brother Moshe is also in Israel. The three of us were the only ones to survive from the family. The rest, our parents and the children who did not succeed in escaping, perished in the Holocaust.

Thus, our town is no more. The Stripa River washed everything away, and its waters are once again clear and fresh. However, in the hearts, wounds that will never be healed remain. Today we live in our Land, far from the anti-Semitic atmosphere that enveloped us in the Diaspora. We paid a dear price for our freedom. We have only one prayer in our hearts, that all that was accomplished through the toil of generations should continue on forever, as repayment for the suffering of the nation throughout many generations.

I hope that our children will not be witness for such tribulations as afflicted our generation. I tell my children about everything that my eyes witnessed, and ask that they also tell their children. For we are duty bound to fulfill the Biblical verse: Remember what Amalek did unto you.

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