by Shraga Feivel Kallay
Translated by Michael Kallay
Sometimes I close my eyes and let my mind wander in the world of my childhood, our small and humble town that I left more than forty-three years ago, when I was not yet 19 years old. In my mind I walk from one end of the city, through the center, near the pine forest at the crossroads to the villages Lanki and Strzalki, opposite the town's last Jewish home, the home of the policeman Saul Cutter.
I walk along the shabby road by the courthouse, which is also the jail, I walk from the Zagura down along the cemetery wall, to the bridge over the creek der Fotteck, which turns into a small lake here (the Rieke), and in rainy years it floods the bridge. As children we like to swim here, and in the water reservoir to the right of the bridge.
And still I am at the heart of town, opposite the gate of the cemetery, through which I always walked with great fear. Even though for 40 days I accompanied grandma Chaya-Rachel when she went pleading on the grave of her late husband Moshe-Leib, asking him to lobby in Heaven for the reversal of the wicked Mayor Gabrishevsky's condemnation of our house as a dangerous wreck; (because my cousin Shmuel Schleider carried the flag in a Zionist parade); Even after that I would not dare walk past it alone at night.
As I leave the bridge, walking towards the town's periphery, There on my right is the dirt road leading to the quarter that was once the Jewish quarter Jidivska Vilitse. On my left, along the wall of the Jewish cemetery there is a pathway to the slaughterhouse, through the cattle market (Taragovitsa) and further away to the forest behind Tchaykovsky's farm, the farm that people used to call the white courtyard ( Das Weisse Hoif). And when I continue along the main road, I reach the town's main area, among the crowded houses, the house of the Rabbi Yosef Kliger, those of Feivish Kris and Avraham Breitfeld, near the bar of Yankel Freitag, the house of Wof Mechlis, and then the oil press of Yakov Wolf Weizer.
There, opposite Simcha Lotringer's hostel, there is another alley leading to the Jewish street. Here, at the corner, was the house of Yehoshua (Shua) Dreier. Here the road led on a slight rise to the center of town (ryneck). On the right stood the house of Itsikle Landau. Near that house there was a small alley leading to the Great Synagogue and the beit midrash [house of learning]. Opposite that alley there was another branch of the road, leading, through the market, to the Bejechovsky house, to the Ruthnic Church [Ukrainian Orthodox] on one side, and to the main road (Batorego) of the bath house on the other.
That main road went past the tobacco shop of Itamar Ehre, to Yona Schreier's house on one side, and to Sheia (Yeshaia) Schur on the other. And so we have reached Downtown, with the Jewish shops and booths, and the water pump at the center.
On regular non-market days, apart from the permanent shops, there were some temporary stands at market, selling produce, cookies and candies, and all kinds of goods and merchandise. But on market days one could hardly find one's way between the numerous stands, carts, animals and people.
The straight street at the main road led to the post office, beside the Catholic Church. There it branched to the right on a steep slope, to the main highway leading to the city of Lvov. But continuing straight on that road would take you to a town called Kozina, and going left would take you to the quarter called Zamlinia ( behind the mill).
At the corner near the Ruthnic Church was one of the centers of the Heder's (Jewish schools). There, not far from the Belze Cloiz [house of worship], were the schools of Yossle Melamed ( Yossle Borscht), Yehudah Melamed, and Berle Melamed [melamed = teacher], the latter being right next to the church. From there a road parallel to the above went past the soda pop factory, Nahman Kol's house, by the bath house, the Chortkov Kloiz, and here you were back by the school down the hill on that side, and on to the Zamlinia, that is, behind the mill.
Thus, our town was not that small, and it was a lie that was told about it in jest that it was the size of a yawn, namely: if you entered town yawning, you are out of it before your yawn is over. And it was definitely an exaggeration when they said that our town was so small that at night it would be taken on a wheelbarrow into the Town Hall, so that it doesn't catch a cold. For us it was a great metropolis, like Nineveh of ancient times, a district capital that presided over 99 villages and townships, among them some cities like Schliska (Strelisk), Wibranuvka (Beranivka), Chodorov, Bjozdovza (Brizdovitz). The city of Bobrka was the seat of the Starostva (District Commissioner) and the court. Every Thursday was a market day, attracting farmers from villages all the district's villages; and apart from that, there were several special fair days during the year, attracting merchants from the surrounding area. In that sense, only Lvov (the capital of Galicia) seemed to be a greater center than our town.
Dr. S. P. Kallay
Translated by Sara Mages
As the year 1941 flowed in its usual way, Bobrka's Jews lived their daily monotonous life. In the morning, some Jews went to the synagogue and some to Beith ha'Midrash carrying a bag of Tefillin (or a Talith and Tefillin) under arm. The children went in the morning to the gentile's school and in the afternoon to the Heder. The wagon drivers delivered flour to Lvov and brought back from Lvov all the commodities needed in the city.
All the bad news and all the sad events always happen on Tish'a B'Av [nine of Av]. On that year, Tish'a B'Av fell on a Saturday and was postponed to Sunday. But the authorities could not postpone the war for the next day, so they hurried and announced it on Friday before the start of the Sabbath.
Besides the declaration of war by Hoser the municipal policeman, who was drumming his drum throughout the city, notices from Emperor Franz Josef the First, to his beloved citizens, were plastered in the city, informing them that he did not have a choice, but to declare a war on those who murdered the lovely crown prince Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Therefore, he found in right to mobilize all his young citizens so they can go and protect the homeland from the enemy.
We were young and we did not understand much about politics, but what's left in our memory is the fact, that this Sabbath was a black Sabbath, and we can't remember another Tish'a B'Av when so many tears were shed like that Tish'a B'Av. And no wonder! There wasn't a home without draftees, and there were homes where two or three were required to report; sons, son in-laws, brother in-laws, uncles and cousins.
The bad news came like a thunder on a clear day. Mothers separated from their sons, brides from their grooms and wives from their husbands. Everyone was hurrying, urging and saying; he duty of saving life overrides the Sabbath Laws. The families escorted their love ones to the city center on their way to the train station. Suddenly, the town was emptied.
Everything happened very fast. Rumors circulated that the Russian army - mostly the Cossacks - were camping in the nearby woods.
New arrests took place every day. Here, they arrested the Pravslavi priest, and the following day the church's care taker was also arrested. The story about the arrest of the Polish municipal clerk left a great impression on us. He was taken out by force only wearing his cape and without a coat. Only then, we realized that we were encircled by Moskalophilim - Russian sympathizer spies.
Not too many days later, and the military movement started. Foot soldiers, cavaliers and horses hitched to guns, marched day and night. All the transport was done by horses, and the authorities confiscated the horses from the gentiles, leaving pieces of papers in their hands.
The town was teeming with soldiers. The Emperor sent his best and most loyal army from Shetreirmark in the Tyrol. The cheerful youth who were secure in their victory, shouted in joy; We will bring the head of the ‘Ros’, we will return to you shortly.
Everything was in abundance. The soldiers purchased everything they were able to put their hands on, and paid generously. The stores emptied real fast, and the Jews put a little cash aside to cover travel expenses for their escape from the enemy.
Not many days passed, and only a few returned. They returned broken and fatigue, without arms and without legs. The trains were full with a new army heading to the frontline bringing back the dead and wounded.
The town's schools were used as military hospitals. Every day, groups of Russian guards were caught in the forests. The battle got closer to us, and we were able to hear the echoes of gun fire. Also the rumors increased: the Cossacks are terrible, they rob, rape and burn. The Jews who wished to stay alive started to run away.
And I must mention the measure of the wisdom of our town's Jews. They collected all their possessions in the cellars, closed their homes, sealed their windows with wood planks, packed a small bundle containing a Talith, Teffilin and one shirt, and left - where to?
We also did the same. On a Thursday afternoon, we packed one package for each one of us, and went to the train station in order to travel - to escape!
At the station the officials were laughing at us - How are you going to travel? All the rail cars are designated to the military use, for the soldiers. There is no room for private citizens. We were not embarrassed, we returned home.
Jews also escaped from the nearby villages. One day, when I was older, I asked myself: Why and for what reason did the Jews escape? - If they did not escape maybe they would have been saved, their homes would not have been burnt and their possessions would not have been robbed. Later on I found out that I was not right. The Russians invaded like vandals. They did not take pity or protected those who welcomed them with the customary greeting of salt and bread. They burnt, robbed and raped. One of the farmers who happened to be in town with his horse cart came to our home. On Monday we traveled with him.
We did not go too far. We stopped at the village of Nizritsov not far from the city of Stary. The landowner's yard was broken into and robbed. On Sunday, we traveled only a distance of a few kilometers when the Russians caught up with us. We did not have a choice but to return.
The week before, we left a three floors house full of the best. When we returned we found that our home was ruined, burnt and destroyed. We stood in front of it shocked, naked and hungry, and our hearts were aching.
More than half of the town's population escaped. Some of them reached Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and some even reached Vienna. The government supported the refugees and took care of the children's education who remained refugees until the end of the war. There were those who settled in them new locations and never returned to our town. Few found a way to immigrate to the United States before 1917, the year the United States joined the war.
The situation of the Jews who remained in our town was very bad. The Russians spread a libel that the Jews poisoned the water and lined them up against the wall in order to shoot them. They burnt the Jewish homes after they allowed their gentile neighbors to rob them. Rabbi Eyzek Lander collected his congregation around him and recited the confessional prayer before death for them. It is told that the he saved the remaining Jews by offering the Russians that they will drink the water, and so they did.
And we should remember with kindness the Jewish Russian soldiers, who risked their lives to save the Torah scrolls from the burning Beith ha'Midrash and the synagogues (the great synagogue was not burnt).
The Russians treated the Jews population as hostile population. They limited their movement, forbidden them from traveling from city to city and sent them to force labor.
The merchants operated their businesses with the help of the gentiles who were free to travel. The storekeepers opened their stalls and the craftsmen opened their workshops in the ruins or in the few buildings that were saved.
For a full year the Russians guarded the fort and a lot of blood was shed there. In the summer of 1916, the counter attack started and the Russians were forced to retreat. It was a very difficult period of time for the Jews. When the Cossacks and the Circassian arrived, the Jews hid in their cellars and in the ruins abandoning their property in order to save their lives.
Towards the end, the evil Russians increased their actions against the Jews. The more I think about it, the hardest it is for me to understand how a nation could be so full of sin, wickedness and evil. At the last moment they abducted any Jew they were able to grab, even the elderly. They pulled them out of their shelters and hiding places, and took them with them. They walked them all the way to the Podolotisk border, and from there they sent them by trains to Kyiv and to also to the city of Panza.
What kind of danger was waiting to kingdom of Russia from those Jews?
What kind of benefit could Russian gain from these Jews?
The battle took place in the city. The Russian guns stood on top of the mountain in the center of the city, and the Austrian army stood behind the mill. On Saturday, before Mincha service, the first Austrian unit entered Bobrka. The Jews, dressed in their Streimlach, came out of their hiding places, and to the sound of the whistling bullets, they kissed the Austrian soldiers. And the Jews did not know that their real war just started.
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