The fact that the battle zone moved further east did not immediately remove all problems. After all, the war continued and the government banned all free trade. Everything needed a permit. Bread and sugar was distributed by coupons and the lines for bread extended for tens of meters and frequently the bullies received the bread while the rest of the people did not. (In those days people were not accustomed to stand on line and proceeded to shove and push and the strongest managed to push their way to the head of the line). The government appointed a commissioner to supervise trade and commerce in Jaslo. He was named Kamitzky and he hated Jews with a passion and merely sought excuses to raid Jewish stores to confiscate goods; he even searched private homes and confiscated flour.
Despite the hardships, the authorities launched festivities with the capture of the city of Przemysl from the Russians.
Processions marched along the streets with Polish flags weaving and bands playing dancing music. The organizer and mover of the event was the son of Bliach.
The second grand celebration took place on the 85th birthday of the Austrian Emperor Frantz Joseph. A large military parade was held, bands played and Suris, the Christian cook, set off fire crackers. A special service was also held at the synagogue, and the cantor and his choir conducted special prayers for the Emperor and all the important guests.
Most of the Jews of Gorlice returned home. The hamlet was almost totally destroyed and the Jews had to rebuild it slowly. Most of the Jews of Jaslo also began to return home. Some of them found their places destroyed. All the wooden homes were dismantled. A few Jewish families from Jaslo remained in Vienna and other cities where they found refuge and some families left for Germany or the United States.
World War I left serious problems in its wake among the Jewish population. The first signs of serious changes were evident in the behavior of the people towards customs and leaders. In this short period of time long established traditions began to feel the challenge of the time. Changes were in the air. People began to moderate their adherence to the ways their fathers practiced religion. They began to doubt and question, new winds appeared on the horizon. What represents two or three years in human history that consists of generations? Still the relative short period of time was enough to weaken and change the social structure and to give new spiritual dimensions for life.
More people began to wear more modern clothes like the three quarter outfits; they trimmed their beards; they curled their payot or side curls; and some even abandoned the traditional Shabbat dress.
I still remember Karp, Goldstein and other home owners who, prior to the war, wore the traditional silk coats and shtreimels. When they returned from their place of refuge, they adopted the bright tall cylinders or tuxedos or modern suits.
The worshippers at the study center and at Rabbi Mandil's synagogue continued with their traditional dress but amongst the worshippers at the synagogue there was a handful of people that continued to dress traditionally, including Nahum Shochet, Berish Bron, David Eliash, David Wilkport, Yehoshua Kippel.
Education also underwent a radical change. People that hesitated before the war to send their children to high school, now encouraged them to study, claiming that it was not a violation of the Shabbat. This conduct infuriated the very orthodox Jews but they could not stop the trend. They withdraw to the home. Jewish society slowly became polarized between very orthodox and religious Jews on one hand and secular, enlightened and Zionist Jews on the other.
Education presented a special problem for there was no proper schooling for small children during the Russian occupation of Jaslo. All governmental schools, heders and Talmud torahs were closed. The children were roaming the streets and causing all kinds of problems. The teachers and Hebrew teachers had been drafted in the army. The problem of education was very serious and demanded action.
A few well to do Jews met and discussed the serious situation and they decided to appeal for help amongst the capable people of the city. They urged them to begin voluntary instruction to the children. An educational committee was formed to implement the resolution. The committee consisted of Chaim Rapaport (father of the author of this book), Eisik Dintenfas, and Moshe Eder.
The selected teachers devoted themselves daily to their tasks and began to teach bible, Talmud, and Hebrew. There were several teachers that came to Jaslo during the war and they joined this educational program, including Elikum Gorlitzer and Chaim Trzicicer (Wekselbaum) from the hamlet of (Trzcicina). The number of students who received a basic education was very small and did not affect the great majority of Jewish students who still needed and education. A committee was formed to reestablish the Talmud Torah chaired by Chaim Rapaport and nominally headed by Rabbi Elimelech Rubin.
The committee soon published ads for teachers listing the requirements. The response was positive and the first teachers accepted the paid positions in Jaslo. They were David Stratiner from Korczyna, Yossef Bendit Akselrad from Krosno, and later Yerachmiel Lipschitz nicknamed the Pariser Hebrew teacher and a few others. The educational committee consisted of Chaim Rapaport (father of the author of this book), Eisik Dintenfas, and Mordechai Drenger.
During this time, the scout movement made its appearance and called itself Hashomer, the guard, or the shomrim (guards), as they called themselves. They paraded in the streets or went on hikes in the country always dressed with large brim hats and wooden sticks in their hands.
The Hebrew songs they sang along their marches popularized the idea of Zionism and the return to the homeland. The white blue flag carried high
by the youngsters gave the Jewish population a warm and national feeling.
This movement attracted many Zionist youths in the city including some of the best students, namely the Domb brothers, Miriam and Awraham Hoffert, Wistrich, Israel Plotzker, Kramer, Beni Karp, Rubel. The community suffered a great loss with the death of Awraham Werner, the son of Lipcze Werner, who fell in the line of duty with the Austrian Army where he served as a high ranking officer. Awraham was very capable, educated, and a leader who helped the Zionist cause in the city. His loss was felt throughout the community. His body was brought to the city of Jaslo to be buried. He was brought to the synagogue where he was eulogized by many speakers including Dr. Thon, who came especially from Krakow to eulogize the young Werner who defended his country. The synagogue was packed with people who were moved to tears.
Writing these lines on a day in Chanukah, I am reminded of an incident that took place in our town which shook me beyond description. It affected a young student that was studying at the synagogue. He was insulted and lost face in the synagogue.I feel the need to record this unpleasant event in this book, for to this day I feel repulsed by the event that took place in Chanukah of 1917, following the Balfour Declaration. The young Zionist movement decided to launch a party in honor of Hanukah or as it was then called A Maccabi Party in the Yeshuron Hall in the house of Amer and Kornfeld on Kazimierz Street. A young student from the study center also attended the party to express his support for the Zionist movement or to see what was going on.
The visit soon became known amongst the student body of the study center. When the young student entered the study center the next morning, and sat down at his usual place, another student approached him and told him: you were at the Zionist party and therefore you have no place here; get up and leave the place instantly. The innocent student was at a loss and did not know how to react. Do they want me to leave the place or are they just jesting? The spokesman then grabbed the student in question by the neck and threw him out from the study center. No one reacted or protested the bully's actions. The young ejected student stood and begged, felt dejected, white as the wall, tears in his eyes, pleaded his case but to no avail. He was forced to leave. He returned the next day, thinking that the incident was forgotten, but the enforcer again took matters in his hands and approached the student and screamed at him: again you are here! I will not permit you to study here! Get lost and don't come back! He was not permitted to continue his studies. He was beaten and dragged away from his study place in a shameful manner. The case went to the courts and litigation started that did not bring great honor to the community and eventually the innocent youngster left Jaslo.
The lawless behavior of one of the beadles and the overcrowded conditions of the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays led many of the worshippers to the conclusion that a new place is needed to worship. They began to search for a permanent place. They decided to refurbish the old study center that has been empty for four years. The place was restored and services for several dozen worshippers began there.
The war continued in Europe. Hunger embittered the people. The mob was angry due to the terrible conditions that never seemed to end. Suddenly an outlet was found in the pogrom of Targowica and the side streets. A mob of Christian youngsters emerged from the small streets of the Targowica area and began to smash windows of Jewish stores and apartments. They were also screaming abusive language towards the Jews, namely: The Jews started the war and they are responsible for the hunger and shortages in the city.
Night after night bands of underworld people, amongst whom one could see the anti-Semitic agitators, attacked and molested the Jews of the city. Stones were aimed at Jews, specifically at the bakery of Zelig Korzenik . First the mob stoned the place then broke the doors and practically dismantled the house.
On the third day of the disturbances, the Jewish youth decided to react. They decided to infiltrate the bands of hooligans and when the latter start to throw stones, they will also threw stones but at the Christian homes and windows; what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
The nightly attack repeated itself but this time there were also broken gentile windows and homes, for the Jewish youth decided to visit the gentile streets and do what was being done in Jewish streets. The reaction was one of amazement at what the Jews did but it had a sobering affect on the city and soon the Army made its appearance. There were still a few protests against the government with sign calling Bread for the People, An End to the War. (The Jewish wholesale dealer, Benjamin Kramer, of flour and fuel was detained for a few hours). However these events soon ended and the city calm was restored.
During these days, the Joint Committee opened a public soup kitchen to provide meals to the needy. Nuta Maltz's daughter and few other people devoted themselves to this project.
Three years of war and the occasional Austrian victories left their impressions on the children. The fighting spirit affected all their games which now consisted of war games. The hill at the top of Shajnochy Street, near the destroyed blacksmith's place, gained prominence. It was called Trzicicir Mountain because the Hebrew teacher from the hamlet of Trzciana lived there.
Brutal fights took place at the top of this hill between groups of children. Stones were thrown at each other. Some gentile children also participated in these war games including Winicki, Loch and Nimcinski. Many fights also took place in the hills of Guriowic that resulted in injuries and prisoners. It is important to add that the Trzicicir Mountain also served as the main skating place and the center of sled rides during the winter. The sleds consisted of simple wood planks, boards, boxes, broken chairs, etc. Those children that did not have sleds, or were afraid to use them, used pots, pans or large bowls. These were the so-called winter sports of Jaslo. During the winter months, Shajnochy and Widok streets were especially noisy since this was the central skating section of the city and most of the Jewish youth came to practice this sport here. The starting skating line was next to the synagogue and downwards. To this place streamed the youth from the Talmud Torah and the Heders in the area. They used skates or horseshoes mounted on pieces of wood and small sleds. The place was active from morning to evening. The inhabitants of the area disliked the noise but when they tried to protest, they were chased away by snowballs fired by the youngsters. (Even passerby pedestrians often received snowballs). The screams and shouts that the children emitted when somebody slipped or fell on the snow could be heard throughout the neighborhood.
The fall winds blew away the last leaves on the trees and they also foretold changes in the air. The large ethnic minorities within the Austrian Empire became restless in spite of the Austrian and German victories. These populations wanted their national and cultural independence that was inculcated amongst them for some time.
Emperor Karl the first was crowned in 1916 and managed to visit many imperial cities including the city of Jaslo. He stayed at the home of P. Karp. These visits however could not stop the disintegration of the
Austrian Hungarian Empire. The process went rapidly down hill and the State of Poland emerged with its capital in Warsaw. Overnight, the Galician Jews who were Austrian citizens became Polish citizens.
The Poles who were subjugated for about 140 years soon began to act like lord and masters over their minorities, especially the Jews.
Pogroms aimed at Jews occurred everywhere, led by ant-Semitic students who also incited the peasants, the discharged soldiers and the mobs to attack Jews and attack they did throughout Poland. A wave of bloody pogroms rocked the country.
Jewish life was in danger everywhere. Jews that lived in farming villages were robbed and then their places were burned; this forced them to flee to the nearby cities for protection. It was very dangerous to travel on the railroads because the anti-Jewish elements would toss Jews out of moving trains. The Jewish market stands were constantly attacked and robbed of their goods. The Polish police played stupid and did not interfere with the mobs that attacked the Jews and their property. The terror gained the upper hand and ruled the country inflicting heavy physical and financial damages to the Jewish population. The newly gained Polish State thus showed its attitude to the Jewish people of the country.
During these bloody days, Dawid Furman was killed in the city. He was a quiet person. The tragic incident shocked the entire Jewish population in the city that attended en masse the funeral at the synagogue. The wounds barely healed when another incident took place; Dawid Mergalit, the son of Abtche Margalit, was tossed out of a moving train heading to Bochnia from Krakow. His body was found along the railroad tracks. Dark clouds overcast Jewish life in Poland. The pogrom epidemic spread throughout Poland. No place was safe. The dangerous road situation meant that Jews from nearby cities like Krosno, Rymanow, Dukla, Frysztak, Zmigrod and Brzostek stopped coming to Jaslo to trade. The bigger cities were a bit safer and thus attracted many Jews who sought safety.
Zmigrod suffered greatly from pogroms that occurred occasionally. The Rabbi of Zmigrod, Rabbi Sinai Halbershtam then left the hamlet and settled in Jaslo. Eisik Ditenfas placed his apartment at the Rabbi's disposal. (The Rabbi of Zmigrod was a grandson of Rabbi Chaim of Sandz, the author of Divrei Chaim. He was one of the great and well known Hassidic Rabbis in Galicia. He was a great Talmudic scholar and a capable speaker and attracted many people to his speeches. His great knowledge profoundly influenced the Hassidic movement. With the outbreak of WWII, he managed to reach Russia and there he passed away. His oldest son, the Rabbi of Sczekowa resided for many years in Jerusalem. His youngest son reached Palestine during the war period. He resided for many years in Petach Tikva and is now Rabbi in Jaffa.
The pogroms aimed at the Jews continued unabated and forced the Jews to organize a self defense force called the Jewish Police to protect the Jews and their homes. Practically every city organized such a force which consisted of local Jewish youngsters. The Jewish police in Jaslo began to train with live ammunition and some non-Jews joined the ranks. I still remember Pinhas Shwimer dressed in civilian clothes armed with a rifle patrolling the city streets with an entire backup group which included Abish Eliahash. As a result of these actions the situation in the city began to improve.
The disintegration of the Austrian Empire released thousands of Polish soldiers who returned home; amongst them some real troublemakers including Tcharni Frank and Stashek Beitluk who would always start a commotion on Friday, the day of the market in Jaslo. They would drink with the farmers and then proceed to attack Jews, Jewish property, windows were smashed etc. The peasants took advantage of the lawless street and began to break into stores with their wooden sticks that they
brought with them. Any Jewish store that was not closed hastily was vandalized by the mob.
The Jewish institutions appealed for help from the government and the later promised to restore order but did very little besides paying lip service. The police began to appear at the scene of the riots but always a day late. The fear was so real that frequently people did not attend Shabbat services for fear of being attacked and on a few occasions the services were halted when the news reached that a mob was assembling at the entrance of the city.
I remember one Friday evening when Naphtali Mahler was leading the services, since this was the memorial day of the passing of his parents. Suddenly there was noise outside, it sounded as though a mob was approaching the synagogue. Fear gripped the worshippers and they began to escape. The leader of the service took of his praying shawl and joined the escapees.
The Polish anti-Semitic behavior reached new heights when the Poles attacked the Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia. The Poles entered the city of Lemberg and immediately organized a terrible slaughter of Jews. They looted Jewish homes and then burned them. Synagogues were torched including the famous synagogue of the author of Hatori Hazahaw or the golden column. Religious books and torah scrolls were desecrated. The despair reached many Jews. The question was on everybody's lips what will be? Will there be a possibility of living in Poland for Jews? Is everything lost in Poland? The heart foretold destruction and desolation but no one knew how close these feelings were to reality.
The injured Jews barely recovered from their wounds when a new wave of terror was unleashed on them in the form of the demobilized soldiers of Hallerczik. They wore the blue uniforms of the Polish Army and whenever they encountered Jews, especially religious Jews, they attacked viciously. Their favorite sport consisted of grabbing Jews on the train, molesting them and brutally cutting their beards and side curls. The cutting frequently resulted in deep flesh wounds for it was done very sadistically.
Amongst the Jews of Jaslo that experienced such event was Leibish Hass, who had a full grown lengthy beard and was caught on the train. They not only clipped his beard but also part of his chin so that he had to wear a handkerchief as a partial face mask to hide the injury. The same fate befell Elimelech Shochat on the train.
The armies of General Haller, or rather the soldiers that served with General Haller in the fight of Poland against Ukraine, distinguished themselves in attacking helpless and defenseless Jews by torturing, disemboweling them and finally killing them. Blood libels against Jews also began to make their appearances. A Polish maid disappeared in the hamlet of Stzyzow on the eve of Passover and immediately the accusation was made that she was abducted by Jews. Luckily, the maid was found in time.
I remember that one late Yom Kippur evening; a few people were sitting in the study center and noticed a wrapped bundle near the building. Fear instantly seized the worshippers that this was a provocation. They feared that the bundle contained a child that someone intentionally placed there in odder to accuse the Jews of kidnapping a child. The panic ended merely in fears and shattered nerves.
The study center along the Koczerow Road and the big synagogue were frequently stoned, resulting in broken windows. Eventually the windows were protected by shutters. Along the railway line Krakow-Jaslo, there was a station called Biecz (a small hamlet, translator). The Jews that traveled along this road frequently huddled amongst themselves when they entered the station, for the name is pronounced just like the Polish word to hit, meaning or alluding, you can hit here Jews.
I frequently digress from the main topic of Jews in Jaslo but I think that these unrelated events influenced greatly the life of the Jews of Jaslo, many of whom left for the USA or other countries. These events also affected the growth of the Jewish community of Jaslo, which stopped expanding. The pogroms continued until the elections for Parliament in 1921.
The Polish anti-Semitic parties launched their election campaigns with bitter attacks on the Polish Jews. The most rabid anti-Jewish party was of course the party called the Endek or the Endejca party, which openly called for the economic destruction of the Jews of Poland.
The Polish government based itself on so-called democratic principles that promised equal rights to all citizens of the country including the Jews. The government did little except for issuing oral promises to the Jews. The latter also feverishly involved themselves in the elections.
Many speakers and representatives appeared in Jaslo where there was only one big hall, namely the study center, that could accommodate a large crowd. Appearing on behalf of the Zionist cause were Dr. Yehosua Thon (also spoke in the synagogue), Dr. Schwartzbard, Chaim Nigger and others. Their appearances were very impressive and dignified.
Dr. Thon mesmerized the audience at the synagogue when he said that the Jewish people must appear on the world stage as a people with a country. The Jews must know what lies ahead and take, demand or insist on the necessary steps in that direction. The Jews must concentrate more on their future. Settling and building Palestine should not only be a commandment that is spoken in religious circles, it must become a real goal, and not a mere paraphrase that is exchanged superficially. This is similar to the student that hears his teacher explain a sentence and then combines the word to mean something else. The Jewish people as a nation must think a bit and understand that it is like other nations!
The successful placement of Zionist candidates on the parliamentary list can be attributed to the following people, namely Dr. L. Oberlander, Dr. Naphtali Menashe, Yossef Frumowicz, Dr. Awraham Kornhauser, Dr. Shtin and others. Amongst the Mizrahi party activists we have to mention Mendel Meller, Shlomo Schmidt and others. Indeed the Zionist cause was victorious and elected forty Jewish candidates to the Polish House and Senate.
The Jewish elected officials immediately began to protest against the anti-Jewish behavior of the government. The Endekes and their supporters protested and frequently shouted down the Jewish speakers or threw stones at them when they left parliament. Still the Jewish representatives kept up the pressure which was supported throughout the world. Finally, the government began to act and slowly the pogrom atmosphere began to decline until it eventually disappeared, and life returned to normalcy.
A spark of hope did appear on the horizon that promised hope and fulfillment for Jewish life in Poland, namely two charming words that had one purpose: to unite and to organize for the movement to Palestine.
Rabbi Groibard from the town of Staszow appeared at a packed study center on behalf of the Mizrahi Zionist party (in his retiring years he will be chief rabbi of Toronto, Canada). He exposed the idea of the religious Zionist party and intertwined Talmudic scholarship with Jewish reality and was very successful. Hundreds of shkalim (membership cards for the forthcoming Zionist Congress elections, translator) were sold that evening. The same evening a reception was held in his honor at the home of Abraham Schecht. The crème of the Jaslo Jewish society was there and the Mizrahi Zionist branch of Jaslo was established. Founding members of the branch were: Chaim Rapaport zal., Motel Beck, Naphtali Hupperrt, Israel Wilner, Mendel Meller, Awigdor Kilig, Awraham Schecht, Shlomo Schmidt, Tzwi Tzimet, Yaakow Miller, Ozer and Moshe Engel and others. The Engels were brothers and came from the small hamlet of Nowy Zmigrod where they absorbed hassidic tradition and acquired an erudite contemporary Hebrew literary knowledge as well as Talmudic scholarship. Both spoke fluently Modern Hebrew. Moshe later left for Palestine with his wife but due to his state of health had to leave the country and return to his native land but years later returned.
The branch office was located at the house of Yaakow Will on Nowa Street that also served as praying hall and an occasional assembly hall.
|Members of the Mizrahi movement branch in Jaslo|
The worshippers of the new study center decided to name the place the Mizrahi Study Center. There was some objections from the very religious worshippers that called the place the Bolshevik Study Center but they had to acquiesce in view of the large majority in favor of the name.
Jaslo was frequently visited by distinguished speakers namely Wolf Getzler, the son of Mordechai Getzler, who appealed to the audience to support the national feelings of the Jewish people. These lines strengthened the inner feelings of the listeners. M. Kamelhar, the son of Yekutiel Kamalhar of Sanok, presented lectures that dealt with Jewish scholarship and intertwined it with religious scholarship that mesmerized the audiences.
The free discussion of ideas did not last too long in the city of Jaslo before the Zionist opponents begun to vociferously attack the concept of religious Zionism. I remember the following incident that was very upsetting and angered the Jewish population. The Rabbi of Kolo, near Lodz, was once invited to speak on the ideology of the religious Zionist movement of Mizrahi. A libel was spread to the effect
that the rabbi's beard and payot were on to pretend. A series of ugly incidents followed, namely, the night before a speaker was to address an assembly at the study center, someone entered the hall and placed paper wrappers in the electric sockets so that the hall would be dark. The meeting was cancelled. The sabotage was discovered later. The Rabbi Yehezkel Levine (the son of the Rabbi Cohen of Rzeszow, later Rabbi of Lemberg) visited Jaslo once to speak about Zion. The meeting was disrupted by bullies that screamed, shouted and prevented the audience from hearing the speaker resulting in the suspension of the session.
Another serious incident occurred when the Rabbi Tzwi Hirshhorn (later Rabbi of Jaworzne) came to Jaslo to organize the branch of the very religious political party Agudat Israel. His speech was full of venom directed at the religious Zionist leaders of the Mizrahi movement. He used lines from King Solomon's trial and, most importantly, insisted that the movement disappear. Tempers flared and threats and insults were hurled at each other and at the speaker. Mendel Meller, one of the leaders of the local Mizrahi movement, challenged the Rabbi. The discussion became vociferous and personal with innuendos being flung by both sides. The noises and the fights spread to the Jewish community that was now divided between Zionists, Assimilationists, Religious Zionists and very orthodox Jews.
The study of a daily page of the Talmud was then introduced to many Jewish communities in Poland, including Jaslo, in spite of the political divisions with in the Jewish community. The organizer of the event was Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Sanok, later Piotrikow and Lublin. He was later a member of the Polish parliament. He also established the famous Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin. The main reader of the program was Rabbi Yehiel Engel.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro once visited the city and paid a visit to the local Rabbi. He discussed with him the need for a Yeshiva of a high standard that would be based on a religious foundation.
At one of the talks, he described a so-called great learner that was asked to conduct the services. During the service, the man had an inspiration and barely finished the Amidah prayer of the service. The Rabbi insisted on finding the identity of the party and it was soon revealed to be that of
Nachman Krochmal. The great Rabbi then said that the great ideas of Nachman Krochmal merely confuse individuals as well as the leader of the service. The Rabbi further added that the scholar that has solid ideas based on scholarship does not confuse the worshipper; what does confuse him are the inspirations of so-called torah scholars of the Nachman Krochmal type.
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