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Translation of Podhajce chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Podhajce chapter from
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II, pages 410-414, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Many Jews lived in Podhajce before it was declared a town. In the local cemetery in 1926, tombstones were found from 1420. The first list of taxes that the Jews of Podhajce paid was from 1552. In the 1670's the Jews of the town paid 20 zlotys as a head tax. In 1578 they paid 60 zlotys. The Jews of Podhajce were then a part of the city population, which was a combination of Wallachians (Romanians), Armenians, and Poles. The Jews were merchants and tenants, and a minority of them were artisans. In 1650 they built a synagogue that resembled a church. In 1677 there was some cruel decree of the authorities, for some unknown reason, which caused Jewish casualties. Echoes of this disaster are in a book, Gefen Yehudit , by Rabbi Zeev Ben Rabi Yehuda, which tells about this affair in a hazy style.
Until the partition of Poland in 1772, Podhajce was one of the most important communities of Belarus (White Russia), because of the list of great rabbis and Jewish scholars who lived there or came from there. The first rabbis who are known to us from the sixteenth century are Rabbi Moshe and his son, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, who was buried in Lvov. From 1580 until 1620 the rabbi of Podhajce was Rabbi. Binyamin Aharon Ben Rabbi Avraham. He was one of the best pupils of the Rema and of the Maharshal. For a few years he was the Rabbi of the state of Silesia, and he moved from there to Podhajce. His book Masa Binyamin includes important information about clothing and customs of Polish Jewry during this era. Rabbi Yakov, his son, whose famous book was Nahalat Yakov, succeeded him. After him was Rabbi David, who wrote Tiferet Yisroel. Then followed Rabbi Moshe Katz, ben Rabbi Shabtai, and his famous book was called Hashach. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the rabbi of Podhajce was Rabbi Katzenelenbogen, the son of Rabbi Shaul, who moved from Podhajce to Ansbach in Bavaria. Rabbi Moshe, the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, who was born in Shemeshel, followed him. Then came the son of the author of the book Pnei Yehoshua, Rabbi Isahar Ber, who was afterwards elected the Rabbi of Mainz. On his way to his new position, he died and was buried in Berlin (Magnetza?). Rabbi Meshulam Zalman, the son of Rabbi Yakov Emden, served in the middle of the eighteenth century. Afterwards Rabbi Meshulam was the Rabbi of London for many years. The last rabbi before 1772 (the division of Poland) was Rabbi Simcha Rapaport, the son of Rabbi Haim Hacohen Rapaport, the Rabbi of Lvov.
From Podhajce came famous rabbis who became rabbis in other communities. For example Rabbi Yakov Ben Rabbi Baruch, whose book Birkat Yakov (1635) included the regulations of the Council of the Four Lands of Poland. The brother-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Katzenelenbogen, Rabbi Zaharia Mendel, was nicknamed Zaharia Hanavi. He was the rabbi in several communities, and died as the rabbi of Frankfort-on-Oder in 1791. He wrote many books, but the three most famous are Menorat Zaharia, Zaharia Meshulam, and Zaharia HaMevin.
The movement of Shabtai Zvi influenced this community. Many of its members believed in Shabtai Zvi, even after he converted to Islam. At the beginning of the eighteenth century Rabbi Haim Malach, one of the leaders of Zvi's movement, visited Podhajce for a short time. The head of the Zvi believers in Podhajce was the local Magid (one who gives sermons), Rabbi Isachar.
Rabbi Yakov Emden, the leader of the anti- Shabtai Zvi movement in Central and Eastern Europe, fought very strongly against him. He knew about the situation in Podhajce from his son, who was the rabbi of the community. At the beginning of the eighteenth century Rabbi Haim Malach, another of Zvi's followers, visited Podhajce for a short time. Two very famous believers of Shabtai Zvi in this era came from Podhajce. One was Shmuel Yakov Falk, who was nicknamed Falcon or der Falk, who lived from 1708-1782. From Podhajce he came through Germany to London, and was famous as a man who did miracles. The second follower was the cabbalist, Rabbi Moshe David, who was born in Podhajce, and was active in Porta and Altona in Germany and was one of the circle of Rabbi Yonatan Eibschitz.
During his first visit to Poland, Yakov Frank came to Podhajce and there, according to his testimony, Eliahu HaNavi came to him. Many Jews from Podhajce converted to Christianity in 1759. The most famous were Dominic Wolfowitz, Boneventura Podietski, Yosef Piesitski, and Nachman, the son of Natan Netter, who was the brother-in-law of Rabbi Hersh Vittles, the famous rabbi of Opatov (Apte). He was also the cousin of the author HaNoda B'Yehuda.
After the partition of Poland, Podhajce was the part of Galicia that belonged to Austria. The Jews of Podhajce, like their brothers in the other parts of Galicia, had to pay heavy taxes at the beginning of the Austrian period. (Some) Jews collected taxes, became very rich, and were the leaders of the community. Nine families of Jews from Podhajce were forced to become farmers. Secular schools were established all over Galicia including Podhajce at this time. They were opposed by Jews, and were closed in 1806. The Jews of Podhajce suffered from heavy taxes until 1848, until they were abolished all over Galicia. In 1848 the Podhajce community grew and developed, until it reached its peak in 1880. The big emigration started after then from Podhajce to other parts of the Austrian Empire, and also to countries overseas. In 1895 Jews who came from Podhajce to the United States founded the Union, Masat Benjamin, in 1895.
The professions in the town during the years 1876-1881 are not fully documented. According to the town records of Jews and Christians, there were two grain merchants, three liquor sellers, seventeen pub owners, four iron merchants, one leather seller, six agents, one pharmacist, and three grocery owners. The list contained merchants and shop owners, but no peddlers. You can suppose that the majority of the peddlers were Jews.
The list of artisans: two glaziers, two building carpenters, two makers of spokes for wheels, four potters, eight butchers, three bakers, thirteen shoemakers, thirty furriers, thirty-two coopers, nine furniture carpenters, and three carters. In some of the professions there were only Jews, and in others only Christians. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were three doctors and two lawyers.
At the end of the nineteenth century there was a big fire. Two-thirds of the Jewish houses were burned, and many inhabitants left.
The majority of the townspeople were Hassidim: Stratin, Belz, Rejin (Husiatin and Chertikov) Hassidim. There was also a big group of Mitnagdim that was concentrated around the Beit Midrash, and from this group came many of the Maskilim.
In 1876 a Jewish Citizen's Club was formed that had a library and reading room. It was also active in teaching secular subjects. We can suppose that this club was connected with the Union, Shomer Isroel, whose center was in Lvov.
We can include in the list of town Rabbis Arieh Leib, who wrote Leib Arieh, and moved from Podhajce to be the Rabbi of Brody. In the second half of the nineteenth century there were the rabbis Shimon Meller and his son, Rabbi Natan Netter, who moved from Podhajce to Stanislavov. The last rabbi of Podhajce was Rabbi Shalom, the son of Rabbi Haim Lilienfeld. He was born in the town, and was one of its richest citizens. In 1907 the Ukrainian farmers from the outskirts of the city crowded into the city in order to protest against the authorities and the Polish nobles. The Jews were very frightened, and they wanted to ask for the help of the authorities. But the rabbi calmed them down, and invited the leader of the farmers to make a speech from balcony of his home. The speaker said good things about the Jews, and called for an alliance between the Jews and the Ukrainians. When the rabbi died in 1909, the Admor, Rabbi Itzhak Isaac Eizenshtain of the Zidichov family became the new rabbi. He was the author of Imre Tov, Imre Bracha, and Imre Ratzon. He was nicknamed the Admor of Borbshtain, and lived in Podhajce until the end of his life.
In the first elections to the municipality in 1874, the Jews gained eighteen of the thirty mandates. In 1889 the vice-mayor was Isidore Lilienfeld. So it seems that during the years 1874-1940 Jews were the vice-mayors. In 1908 Zionists were elected to the Executive Committee of the local council of the municipality. In 1889 Baron Hirsch visited Podhajce and donated 50,000 francs to be divided among the poor people of the city. His donation was given to 761 people, Jews and non-Jews.
In 1898 members of Hovavei Zion (an early Zionist group) organized a group called Zion, and members of this union were members of the settlement Mahanayim in Galilee. One of them was Elyakim Getzel Perl from Poalei Zion (another early Zionist party) and included 150 members. Among its leaders was one of the richest men of Podhajce, and the head of the community, Benyamin Kuttner. The rabbi, S. Lilienfeld was sympathetic to the Zionists. In 1906 a branch of Poalei Zion was established in the town.
Because of the failure of the general school established by Herz Homberg, the Jewish children of the city had only a traditional education. Another general school was a established in Podhajce in 1872, and there were Jews among the pupils. In 1904 the Zionists tried to establish a Hebrew school, but they did not succeed. One year later the rabbi, S. Lilienfeld, established the Talmud Torah Kali, and all the Melomdim (religious teachers) of the township were concentrated in it. The Melomdim got their wages from the town council.
After the occupation of Podhajce by the Russian army during the First World War, most of the local Jews fled into the interior of the Empire. Those who continued living in the township did not suffer from especially because of the army, but the war and the epidemics that it caused impoverished the Jewish community.
In 1917 most of the town's Jews returned. During the Western Ukrainian Republic (November 1918 May 1919) the security situation deteriorated. Many Jews suffered from bandits and many kinds of persecution from different non-Jewish groups fighting among themselves. Podhajce Jews also suffered from the armies of Petlura, and the Polish forces that cooperated with the Ukrainians during the Soviet-Polish War.
The Joint (Distribution Committee) helped greatly in the economic reconstruction of Podhajce. Many Jews got support from their relatives in the United States. Two financial institutions were established in the town. The Credit Union Bank gave loans to well-to-do people and charged the customary interest. The second was a charitable fund that gave loans without interest. This fund distributed funds from 1936-1937. 207 loans were made for 28,940 zlotys.
During the 30's the economic situation of Podhajce Jews deteriorated more and more, and many Jews lived on Welfare. During the winter of 1936-1937 about eighty Jews got free dinners every day. Many merchants who lost their capital needed the support of the local council, which got (so it seems) part of its budget from Podhajce-born Jews in the United States. One of the activities of the local council was welfare for orphans, and many were sent to families. Also some traditional charities were active, such as Gomrei Hesed.
In Podhajce there were branches of all of the Zionist parties: General Zionists, Radical Zionists, Hitachadut, Hamizrachi, and the Revisionists. The General Zionists party had the greatest influence in the town. Hashomer Hazair (established in 1918) was active during all this period, and since 1938 was the only youth organization in the town. Achva was active during the years 1927-1937, and published a monthly journal. During the years 1931-1935, there was a branch of Betar in Podhajce.
A branch of Agudat Yisroel was established in 1928 by the initiative of one of the dayanim, Rabbi Abraham Eisen. There were also some Jews in the Communist Party, and among its sympathizers.
In the election to the municipality in 1927, conducted according to Austrian regulations, the Jews gained 24 of the 48 mandates, and 17 of them were Zionists. David Lille, a Zionist and engineer was elected mayor. In 1931 the Poles left the City Council, and the authorities nominated an appointed group to run the city's affairs, whose head was an anti-Semite, Pyotr Suraski. In the Municipal elections of 1934, six Jews of the sixteen members of the council were elected. Four of the Jews were Zionists, one of the Jews was from Senaszia (a Polish anti-Semitic party), and one was a member of Agudat Yisroel.
Till 1927 an executive committee nominated by the authorities dominated the community council. The traditional circles won the elections of that year, and only in 1931 was a council elected whose majority included Zionists. The executive committee of the new community repaired and made a fence around the old cemetery, which was established in the fifteenth century. It also established a council for social work and organized welfare activities of all sorts.
In the beginning of the 20's a private general high school was established by the initiative of the Jews. There was also a general trade school in the town, and many of the pupils were Jews. Among the educational institutions which were Jewish only, we have to mention a General Talmud Torah, a complementary Hebrew school, (an afternoon school) which had 270 pupils, and also a kindergarten.
The academic Zionist Union, Kadima, had many cultural activities, a choir, and a dramatic circle. There were also three public Jewish libraries. Hapoel, a part of the Hitachadut (forerunner of the Labor Party), organized sports.
There were some famous Jews born in Podhajce: author and theatrical expert Michael Weikart; Prof. Avraham Weiss, a teacher at the Institute of Jewish Sciences in Warsaw, and at Yeshiva University in the United States, and the journalist and scholar of German language and literature, Adolph Gelber.
In 1922 anti-Semites persecuted and beat up Jewish peddlers in the villages near Podhajce, and similar incidents occurred in 1936.
After the Germans occupied Podhajce on July 4, 1941, the Ukrainian population began to persecute the Jewish people. On July 13 there was a big demonstration in the city that was organized by Ukrainian nationalists. Those who took part in the demonstration attacked the Jews and forcibly took their possessions.
In July 1941 the Judenrat was established, headed by L. Lilienfeld. Its members were: Lawyers Ratner and Horowitz (the latter was the head of the Work Department), Doctor Itzik, L. Goralnik, M. Fink, Shapiro, and Doctor Margolis. The Jewish Police were connected to the Judenrat. One of its commanders was a lawyer, Gerenfeld.
On Aug. 10, 1941 the Judenrat had to pay a contribution of half a million rubles and valuable goods. The Judenrat was ordered to send hundreds of people every day for forced labor. Some of the group repaired roads and bridges, and one group collected beets in the Zeitz region.
There was a demand in December 1941 to send 500 Jews to the work camps in the vicinity, which was opposed by the community, and only150 candidates came on the appointed day. The Judenrat tried by oppression and other ways to fulfill the quota. For example, a commission was appointed which selected men for the work camps from families that had more than one son. The Judenrat also obligated itself to help the families whose sons were sent to the camps, and also the people in the camps. People from Podhajce were sent to work camps in Burke- Vilkia, Camionka, and Halobochek. During the spring of 1942 the members of the Judenrat communicated with the people in these camps and sent them food parcels. They also tried to free some people who were ill.
During the spring and summer of 1942 the people of Podhajce looked for steady workplaces, which gave some immunity from being kidnapped into the camps. Two workplaces were the most popular, and hundreds of Jews worked there. One was a depot for collecting scrap iron, and the second was a facility for tanning leather. People gathered scrap iron by collecting old weapons and ammunition that the Soviets left behind when they retreated. This work included the possibility of going out of the city, and getting food, and afterwards it made it easier to prepare bunkers in the forests in the vicinity. The first mass Aktion was on Yom Kipur, 1942. The Germans, the Ukrainian police, and some groups from the local population kidnapped Jews, and after selection (some dozens of artisans were not deported) more than a thousand Jews were put freight cars and deported to the extermination camp of Belzec. A few people jumped out of the train during its journey. Those who were not killed by the bullets of the guards returned to Podhajce.
After this action a ghetto was established in Podhajce. The Jews were concentrated in a few alleys in the area between the Polishuk building in Halishka Street to Bjejonska Street. More than 4,000 people remained in the ghetto.
A work camp was established in the same area, located in the building of the Admor of Burshtein. Dozens of artisans or workers who were indispensable to the German economy were in this place. Afterwards the camp was transferred to the house of the Weinglass family, which was situated in the center of the city, but was isolated. But after a few selections, the camp was liquidated. The establishment of the work camp, and the separation between indispensable workers and those unfit for work raised panic in the ghetto in June 1943. People were also afraid of another Aktion, and quickly began to prepare hiding places in the ghetto and the forests of the vicinity.
On October 30, 1942 the second Aktion began. The Germans and their assistants did their best to uncover hiding places, and more than 1,200 Jews were sent to the death camp in Belzec.
In the winter of 1942-1943 the dire straits of the remnants of the community, famine, and disease caused a high death rate. But the main problem of the Jews was how to hide, because of the supposition that the end of the ghetto was coming nearer and nearer. The youth of the ghetto organized a group whose main purpose was to gather ammunition, and send people out from the ghetto to the forest. They planned to build bunkers in the forests of the area between Zavalov and Voyzhevov. The main purpose of collecting ammunition was self-defense. After many difficulties, the members of the group obtained some pistols and rifles. Their leader was Israel Zilber.
June 6, 1943 was the date of the ghetto liquidation. Hundreds fled during the Aktion and came to the forests. All those who were caught in the ghetto or during their flight were brought to the Jewish cemetery and there they were killed. In those days the last Jews arrested in the work camp in Podhajce were killed. The town was declared Judenrein-clean of Jews.
After the liquidation of the ghetto, the hunt continued after those who were hidden in the forest. The local Ukrainian population took part in searching for Jews, and handing them over to the Germans or killing them on their own. In this way many bunkers were discovered and many dozens of Jews were murdered. During the last month of 1943, Israel Zilber's group helped the Jews hiding in the forest, and did its best to supply them with food,
Some Jews were saved thanks to the aid of Subotniks (members of a Christian sect who observed the Sabbath on Saturday) in the vicinity of Podhajce. Among those who helped the Jews and rescued them while endangering themselves was one very distinguished man, Lev Blicharvski.
At the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, gangs of Ukrainian nationalists, called the Banderas, were active in the forests around Podhajce and murdered many Jews.
On April 1, 1944 the town was freed by the Soviets, but because of a German offensive, the Russians retreated. Part of the remnants of Podhajce Jews attached themselves to the Soviet Army, but the others had to continue hiding until the final liberation of the city on July 21, 1944, and about fifty Jews survived. Because of insecurity, inimical relations with the local population, and the activity of Bandera men, all the survivors lived in a few building very near to each other in one of the alleys. And clearly there was a basis for the survivors' anxiety. A Bandera gang active after the return of the Soviets murdered the pharmacist Haim Weintraub in the summer of 1944.
The survivors of Podhajce Jewry were active in preserving the memory of those who were exterminated. They built two tombstones on the mass graves in the Stare Myasto (old city), and in Zeitza, places where the Jews of Podhajce were killed. The last Jews of Podhajce left the town in 1945 and continued to Poland, and from there to Israel and other states.
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