[Page 7 English section]
I am writing this article for the benefit of the younger generation of "Rohatyner" who read and understand only English and consequently are not in a position to know what this book is all about.
This book commemorates the lives of our kinfolk who were all so inhumanly killed by the Nazis.
I will not dwell, however, upon the sickening subject Of Nazi savagery of which everybody has heard, but instead will relate a page of the history of our town, as it was prior to World War II. It might give our second and third generation of "Rohatyner" in America an idea about our background and the lives their parents and grandparents lived before they came to these shores, and perhaps help them to understand us better.
We all came from a town in Eastern Galicia. called Rohatin, not far from two great cities. Lemberg (Lvov) and Stanislau (Stanislavov). In Yiddish abbreviation it was called "R'teen."
The name Rohatyn is derived from the Ukrainian word "Roh" which means a horn. The horn of an elk was the official emblem of our town, which was referred to in olden days as the Royal Free Town of Rohatyn. History has it that our town was founded in the year 1185, which is about 5O years before the English got their Magna Carta, and about the time of Moses Maimonides. one of the greatest of Jewish philosophers. Now that we have the proper historical perspective, we will turn back to the life of the Jewish community in Rohatyn. Jews lived in Rohatyn for hundreds of years, practically from its very inception. as bits of information in various Polish end Ukrainian annals tell us.
It is interesting to note that in the days of the false Messiah, Sabbatai Zvi, there was a large and thriving Jewish community which prided itself in being among the most ardent followers of the "savior." That is why the Rohatyner Jews were called the "Shabse Zwinkes" by the residents of the surrounding towns.
Our town must have been built according to well-laid engineering plans. No hodge-podge of streets and little huts as in most of the towns in Poland and Russia, but wide, straight streets around a big square in the very center of the town. Facing the square were multi-storied brick houses and two monumental-looking churches, one Polish, the other Ukrainian. I particularly liked the two picturisque fountains on each side of the square, where people used to gather at all times of the day to fetch and drink water or just to "exchange news."
A helicopter view would have shown the beautiful scenery around the town, colorful fields, forests, a river, an extinct volcano known as the "Devil's Mountain," and the long straight line of a well kept highway known as the "Emperor's Road." The "Kaiser Road," as some called it, was part of the main artery of roads in Galicia, which connected our town through Lemberg with the cities of Western Europe, and through Stanislavov with the bigger towns of east-south Russia. There wa another connecting road, running north, which connected our town through Tarnopol with the great North-East of Europe.
No wonder Rohatyn became a center of business, which won it in the old days the status of a "Royal Free Town" and drew many merchants and farmers from all the surrounding towns and villages. As the Seat of County Administration (Starostwo) Rohatyn had under its jurisdiction over one hundred towns and villages, like Bursztyn, Bukaczowce, Bolszowce, Stratyn, Knihynicze and many others. On a Wednesday, the day of the weekly fair, one could not find a place to park one's horse and buggy because all the municipal and private parking lots were filled to capacity.
Prior to World War I life in our town, characterized by the gaiety and conviviality of its people, was pleasant and easy. There were daily walks on the pleasant streets of the town, particularly the one leading to the railroad depot, called the "koleiufka." All the streets in Rohatyn were lined with trees, but this one had a double line of trees, which made it a favored place for promenading. This was our "course", where one could see everybody, relatives and friends, have dates with boy or girl friends and walk and talk late into the night. These walks which were a daily ritual in our town, are among the more pleasant memories I have of Rohatyn. But what made Rohatyn lively was its progressive youth.
Rohatyn's young people were well-educated and well aware of what was going on in the wide world outside our town. There were two high schools, both co-ed, and a number of libraries, well stocked with books in different languages. One could always find a copy of a famous work of world literature, either in its original language or in translation.
There was a movie in town and I remember seeing "Quo vadis," "The Last Days of Pompeii" and the "Exodus of the Children of Israel", a sort of "Ten Commandments", way back before World War I. There were theatrical performances, either by professional theater ensembles or amateur groups, of which there were a number in town. The amateur groups were usually composed of members of social and political clubs, like the "Eretz Israel Verein", which sponsored many a show in Rohatyn.
I remember particularly a performance called the "shechite", (the massacre)
given before World War I, in which Pater, Bernstein, Wald, Meyer Leventer and
Miss Beder and Toni Loew participated. Meyer Leventer, a brother of our Dr. I.
Leventer, gave a performance as a Shadchen which was long the talk of the town;
it was simply unsurpassed by any professional comedian.
All this "pastoral" life came abruptly to an end in August 1914, when the war broke out. Within a few eeks Rogatin was invaded by the Russian Army, first looted completely and then burnt to the ground. Whoever could run away fled in panic before the Cossacks reached the town, but many remained and suffered hunger and privation. The Russians did not like the Jewish people and treated them as ""ustrian speis"" Consequently, before they were forced out by the returning Austrian-German army, they dragged away as hostages to Russia all the male Jewish population, old and young. Before they left, they also burned down the few Jewish houses that were left in the southern section of the town, called the "new town", first taking away anything they could lay their hands on.
The only adult men left in town were the Dayonin (religious judges); both the elder, Henne (who has a son Sam, living in Bayonne New Jersey) and the younger, Spiegel (whose son Yehoshua lives in Israel). Both men led a group of terrified women and children who were running frantically in all directions away from the burning houses and flying bullets.
I remember that night of horror; the town on fire, street skirmishes between the retreating Russians and the advancing Austrian soldiers, and us, four little boys, my brothers Leo, Mundzio and Kalman and myself, walking the streets of Rogatin. In the confusion which gripped the town we became separated from our mother and didn't know where to hide, so we walked the whole night, the streets a desert of ruins because of burned houses, with no human beings anywhere.
Because of hunger, lack of shelter and the presence of the decaying bodies of dead soldiers, lying for days in the streets, an epidemic broke out and took hundreds of lives. First dysentery, then typhoid and then cholera. I remember people walking and then suddenly keeling over and other people running away from them. I lost my grandmother Rose and my beautiful little sister Goldele within 15 minutes of each other. When we ran to help out grandmother I heard my mother's cry, "Goldele is dead."
Town cars finally came and carted away the bodies and threw them into a pit, Jews and non-Jews together. There was no help, no doctors, no medications, no food, no water, except contaminated water. We lived from scraps of food found at army camps and chunks of ice which we found in one cellar of a burned house. We all got sick too, but managed to survive by sucking ice chunks.
With the advancing Austrian army things came slowly almost to normal. People started coming back from Vienna and Prague and what was most important, our male population came back from exile in Russia. I shall never forget the joy, the singing and dancing in the streets when wives saw their husbands and mothers their sons. My father also came back on a short furlough from the Austrian army, after having been wounded in one of the battles with the Russian Army.
Soon life began pulsating again in Rogatin. Some houses were rebuilt, businesses were established, and we youngsters went back to school. It was a bit queer for me to sit among school children, because in the meantime I had "graduated" to the position of the man of the house, supporter of a family of six at the ripe age of 13. But giving up the status of a grown-up had its compensations. First it meant being together with other teen-agers. Second, I had to put on the uniform and cap which high-school boys in Austrian days were obliged to wear, and this made me look as elegant as an Austrian officer.
Things went well for a while and soon we had our clubs and organizations functioning and new ones being formed. Of great influence was the newly-formed "Hashomer", a sort of boy and girl scout organization, strongly oriented toward Israel. Originally we had a few kvutzot for high school students only, but the idea of the Hashomer caught on so fast that soon we had to open the doors to all Jewish boys and girls and to form more than a dozen "civilian" kvutzot.
My fondest memories of my youth go back to those years. Being together with a
large group of young people and having a lot in common with each other meant a
lot to us. Studying together, learning Hebrew, Jewish history, Jewish and
Hebrew songs, created for us a world of special interest. True friendship
blossomed among the Shomrim and Shomrot in these kvutzot and even today, when
one meets a fellow Shomer in America or in Israel, there is nothing that can
express our feelings of joy and happiness in seeing each other again.
All these good times ended in 1918 when "peace" came. To us in Rogatin peace came with a big bang. There soon was fighting again, but this time between the Ukrainians and Poles, both of whom wanted possession of the town. When the Ukrainians too over, they treated us fairly, when the Poles took over, they treated Jews like second-class citizens. The goodwill of the Ukrainians was particularly demoonstrated when the Petlura hordes, also Ukrainians but from across the Russian border, threatened to wipe out the entire Jewish population in town, as they did in other towns of Galicia.
The Ukrainians gave us permission to organize a militia and even supplied us with rifles and machine guns to defend ourselves. Almost overnight a self-defense group was organized, formed by Jewish ex-soldiers and members of the Hashomer, all under the command of Captain David Tuerkel. In those days we were proud to wear a blue-white armband with the Star of David, while patrolling the streets of Rogatin. All of us were ready to fight and protect our families with our lives when the alert was sounded that Petlura's Cossacks were already in Bursztyn. Fortunately, the town's military authorities, with Professor Borys as commanding officer (he taught us mathematics in high school), rode out to Bursztyn to forewarn the Petlurowces to bypass Rogatin because there was a hot reception waiting for them in town. They took his advice and our town wa spared the fate of other towns like Bukaczowce, where the Petlura Cossacks maimed and killed many of our people.
Soon the Poles took over and we became Polish citizens, after having been Austrian citizens most of our lives and Ukrainian citizens in between. To us, Polish rule (or rather mis-rule) meant one good thing - it opened a window to the West and gave us a chance to renew contact with America. I shall never forget the first letters that arrived from America after a silence of five years. The first food packages and money that we received were actually life-savers. Soon clothes packages began to arrive and we began to look like human beings again.
However, the good days did not last long. In 1920 the Russians came back again, this time as Bolsheviks, which meant Communists in those days. They promised us everything: equality before law and freedom from oppression, but started their rule by taking away everything they could lay their hands on, from the poor as well as from the rich. Again we had to suffer hunger and privation because there was no chance to earn a living or a possibility of getting any food. The Communists fed us with propaganda, meetings twice a day in the center of the town, and free newspapers. No wonder we considered it a great relief when the Poles came back, although we knew what to expect from them. At least there was a chance again to get help from America and to plead for an affidavit.
Many of our people left Rogatin in 1920, soon after the Bolsheviks left. Our people emigrated wherever they could, a great number to America, some to Canada, South America ande ven to South Africa and, of course, to Palestine. The flower of our youth went to Palestine as chalutzim. Our Hashomer organization suffered so much from this exodus to Palestine that soon afterwards, depleted of most of its members, it fell apart. Unfortunately, many had to remain in Poland.
Jewish community organizations did a lot in those days to make life a bit easier for those that could not leave the town. With the help of the Joint Distribution Committee the local Jewish Council (the Kahal) opened soup kitchens, where children of all ages got three meals a day. Food packages and clothes were distributed to needy families and some families were put on steady relief. Relatives from America helped to put us on our feet again and their money helped to open up business and trade and to rebuild our houses again.
Slowly everything became normal again. The new houses which were coming up in town gave Rogatin a new look. The houses were bigger and roomier and were all equipped with electric lights, lending Rogatin the appearance of a modern, progressive town. Even the streets had become lively again, with a semblance of the good old pre-war days. Jewish youth organizations became active again and by the joint efforts of the Eretz Israel Verein and the ex-Shomrim produced a play, called "The Jewish King Lear". This was a sure sign of a "come-back" of social life, as evidenced by the fact that practically every Jewish family in town attended that performance. The show was followed by a dance and the proceeds of the big affair were designated for the erection of a Jewish National House in town.
We needed a Jewish Center very badly. Most of our communal affairs, meetings,
lectures, play rehearsals and weddings had to take place in the Municipal Bath
Building (in "bood"). Every day of the week there was some special activity
going on in the Baths building, but on Friday the building had to be
relinquished to bathers. Going to the Turkish bath on Friday was a weekly
ritual, which few wanted to miss, not only because they needed a work-out on
the hot benches, followed by a dip in the pool (the mikveh), but also because
it was a chance to meet friends and exchange news. It was quite lively on a
Friday in the Public Bath, and everyone had a lot of fun. For one thing, it
made us forget what was going on in the outside world and on the streets, ruled
by the Poles.
With antisemitism rampant all over Poland, Jews encountered discrimination in every field. Jews could get no jobs in Government or private industry. All doors were closed to them, regardless of ability or qualifications for the job. There were quite a few Jews in Rohatyn who held positions in the Court, in the Income Tax Department and in County and Town Hall offices, but they were all squeezed out and replaced by Poles. Jewish shopkeepers and tradesmen were assessed with such exorbitantly high taxes that they could barely make a living. Many had to close their shops because it was impossible to carry on, and joined the jobless, walking the streets and looking for something to do but finding nothing. More and more people became dependent on help from America and a letter from America with money was virtually the only source of income.
The Jewish youth were particularly badly hit. Finding themselves barred from colleges in Poland, they had to seek admission to colleges abroad, although few could afford it. However, they went, worked hard at any job they could find in order to finish their college education. I was one of the first to go to Prague in Czechoslovakia, to study chemical engineering, although there was a Polytechnic Institute right in Lemberg. Although I passed the entrance examination with the highest marks I was turned down, only because of religion.
When I came back to Rohatyn in 1928 as a graduate chemical engineer, I found myself, like other Jewish fellows in town, and many thousands all over Poland, an "unwanted and superfluous Jew." The situation became hopeless and Jewish youth was restless, if not desperate. There were no cases of juvenile delinquency, but there was a trend to do something radical, and many of us older fellows were afraid they would fall into the clutches of Communism. Fortunately, there were strong Jewish national organizations in town to take care of the younger fellows and to help keep them out of reach of the Communist soul-catchers. Among the new youth organizations was the "Hanoar Ha'ivri" where gifted Jewish boys and girls found an outlet for their desire to be active. Boys demanding more direct action found a place in the Brit Trumpeldor Organization, which was inspired by Zev Jabotinsky, founder of the Revisionist Zionist Organization. For the older fellows inspired by the positive thinking of Zev Jabotinsky, there was the "Hazohar." The Hazohar took in everybody, young and old, single and married people, and soon became one of the most active and strongest organizations in Rohatyn. Those who went in for sports and athletics were active in the Maccabi Jewish Soccer Club. Rohatyner boys excelled in all kinds of athletics, just like American boys and perhaps a bit more.
Under the capable leadership of their captain, Joseph Kartin (now a resident of Haifa), the Maccabi team became so proficient that they could take on any big league soccer club and come out on top. Many a soccer game was won by the Maccabi club and Rohatyner Jews and non-Jews were very proud of their local team. The record has it that the local Polish team lost many a game to the Maccabi. Woe unto any local hooligan antisemite who dared molest any Jewish girl or boy in town! These boys could, and many times did, return better than they got.
The last affair that I attended in Rohatyn was a play "Das Groise Gewins," by Sholem Aleichem. I organized the amateur group, directed the play and saw to it that the proceeds of the show and dance went to three favorite charities of mine, the Auxilium Acadicum Judaicum, which helped out many Rohatyner college boys studying abroad, the WIZO, a Zionist Women's Organization, and the fund to build a Jewish Center.
Shortly afterwards, on a Sunday, I took my last walk on the Rohatyner Course. I did not have to go anyone's home to say good-bye, because everybody was, as usual, on the promenade.
I stopped at a house near the Sokol, where my life-long friend, Sam Spiegel lived, married to Felka Schwarz. Half-jokingly I asked Sam why there were no children in the family. He answered seriously: "There is no future for Jewish children in Poland, what's the use of having them." I reprimanded him for expressing such defeatist ideas, but Sam had a strong foreboding of what was coming and he was right. When the Germans and the stormtroopers took over Rohatyn the fate of our people was sealed. The whole Jewish population was massacred and only a handful escaped.
Jewish Rohatyn, where our kinfolk lived for centuries, was utterly destroyed, by the greatest devastation any people ever suffered. To us, who survived by the Grace of God, it is a lost world, gone with the evil wind. We carry on and attend to our daily tasks, but there is a pain and bitterness in our hearts which only those who suffered directly can understand.
There is no forgiving the murder of our parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. We shall always remember our dearest as long as we live and their memories will be holy in our hearts and minds. It is my fervent hope that our children and grandchildren will always remember their kinfolk who died as martyrs for Kiddush Hashem. Let us hope that this Yizkor book, written in memory of Jewish Rohatyn, will help us remember the loved ones we lost.
[Page 18 English section]
No one lives forever! Individuals come and individuals go. Some have fulfilled a purpose in life and others have gone unnoticed. Some had much to offer, but were never given a chance, while others lived a long life with no aim or purpose. No one will ever fully understand the mystery of it all, and very few, if any, of those who succeed us, will fully understand the agony and suffering of the millions of Jews whose dreams and hopes were so tragically cut short.
Those Jews who were born on the American continent, and have led a more or less protected life, have never fully known the sting of anti-semitism or the frustrations of a hopeless future. Some may even feel "superior" because "it did not happen to them." Yet I, who have spent half of my life in Europe and half of it in America, can assure our future offspring, in America or in Israel, that the people of Rohatyn had fine men and women with high aspirations and brilliant intellects, with many wonderful ideas and ideals and with many inspired dreams of a brighter and more beautiful future in a friendlier world.
The intellectual life of Rohatyn was centered around the Gymnasium which stood majestically in the center of our little town. Next to it was the other important structure, the town church. To us Jews, who comprised a majority of this town of 10,000 people, the fence around the church furnished a backdrop for a convenient meeting place. Here, in front of the fence, the Jewish youth gathered, discussing their problems, planning their future or whistling at us girls passing by.
If one stood there long enough, one could meet almost anyone in town and, since there were very few telephones in those days, it was an easy way to make dates, exchange books, plan meetings or just talk about a hopeless future. For even before the war and the ghastly slaughter to come, the future looked so very hopeless to most of the youths leaning against that fence!
Some of us, like myself, were fortunate enough to have the opportunity of Studying abroad. It was not easy to be accepted at foreign universities and its cost was prohibitive for most of our people with their meager incomes. To be accepted in Poland was almost out of the question. There was a "numerous clausus" for medicine and its related fields at all Polish universities. Some Jews who were privileged to attend a Polish university were permitted to study law, but to the majority only philosophy was open, with the dubious outlook of what one could do with it later. For how many Jewish teachers would Poland choose to employ? And so many a time, as I would pass these boys along the fence, graduated or about to graduate from gymnasium, my heart would sink, knowing how little life had to offer them. After all, a girl can always get married and raise a family but a man ? What avail were scholastic attainments or fine personality or good looks? Unless he had good connections or money to go abroad, his fate was sealed.
To follow in one's father's footsteps was rarely desirable. Most of our fathers were shopkeepers or artisans and could hardly eke out a living for themselves. The few who were Professionals could hardly accept their sons as associates and only the few well-to-do merchants could absorb their sons into their businesses. Consequently, at the important turn of life, when the boy became a man, he had only two alternatives: to keep his ideals and sacrifice his future or to "sell" himself in order to attain a profession. For it was obvious in our day that there was no need for any more merchants or artisans and the Jews were just not given a chance to be anything else. They even had very little chance to migrate as Palestine was closed by the British and America was accessible only to those few who had relatives willing to serve as guarantors. Even for the latter there were many years of anxious waiting as the Polish quota was a small one.
To "Sell" 0neself meant to get "hooked" or engaged, not to your childhood sweetheart or the girl of your dreams, but to that "lucky" girl whose parents had saved and slaved all their lives to scrape enough money together for a dowry. That dowry would either buy the young man a business, or, preferably, send him to a university abroad. It was a hard test of character for the young men, for many of them must have been tempted to desert their betrothed at the end of their studies and marry either the girls they always wanted or Ones they met while studying abroad. I must say the majority came through with "flying colors" as they buried their beautiful dreams in order to fulfill their obligations. How lucky were the few boys whose parents could make the sacrifice to send their sons abroad without commitments, and how uniquely lucky was I that m father thought as much of his daughter as of his son. Thus I was given the chance to go abroad to study medicine and not, "sold'' to some potential doctor. I should explain here that, although Polish Jews were barred from studying medicine in Poland, they were allowed to study abroad. Then, provided they could pass a rigid licensing examination, they were permitted to practice in Poland. This regulation, understandably, closed the medical profession to all but the exceptionally brilliant. To the generous decision of my father to send his daughter to medical school in Vienna, I feel I owe my life.
My lovely younger sister Ania was not old enough to receive the same chance as I. With her rare beauty, her brilliant intellect, her charming personality, what a contribution she could have made! And I think sadly of several girl friends who might have had the same opportunity as I if only their fathers had had the wisdom and foresight of my parents. Particularly I think of Mina Mandell, whose father Lipa was a wise man but who chose to marry her off instead of sending her abroad.
Others of my girl-friends who finished "matura" had little choice for they had little means. I feel particularly for Helka Landau, strikingly beautiful and so eager to "drink from the cup of life." And Lonka Holder, with her great charm and wisdom and her constant, friendly smile. And what about all other girls who never had a chance to go even to high school. I knew them all in our Zionist organization which was the only hope for a better future and which gave some substance and meaning to our existence.
We were mere children when we were drawn into the movement. Little did we know that Israel would really take shape in our lifetime. To all of us Israel was a reason to exist, something to work for, and our Zionist meetings were our Scout Clubs and country clubs, social dances, summer camps and, most of all, a place to keep all of us out of trouble. Whoever heard then of Juvenile delinquency? We had too much to do and to plan for, so much work to do to bring our ideals to fulfillment.
We must have matured very fast for our discussions were on lofty planes. We covered Jewish and Zionist history and world politics. Between the ages of fourteen and sixteen years my brother and I, with other friends, organized Zionist chapters of Honoar Haivri and K. K. L. (J. N. F.) and even assumed leadership. Naturally, we had our fun too! What wonderful community singing and dancing and what beautiful hikes! No, we did not need chaperons and our parents did not need to worry. Neither did any of the shy girls or boys need to worry about "girl meeting boy" or getting a date. We were all in it together, through thick and thin, and some day we were all going to build a better world. Only it did not happen that way! Very few really saw their dream come true with a Jewish State born and with it the rebirth of Jewish dignity. The majority were thrown to the wolves of human cruelty, beastly sadism while a world of "fine people" looked on and remained aloof.
Gone are the many synagogues and the many people who walked so humbly under God. A great culture has been buried forever in Rohatyn, no less than in all the other cities. Gone also is the mysticism, the romanticism of the Hassidic group which I loved so dearly. How many children nowadays know the joy and exaltation of dancing with Hassidim and their Torahs on Simchat Torah? Never have I seen a jollier crowd at any dance anywhere. And to think that these men were just lost in the Talmud, plain fanatics, would be sheer nonsense. I still see their faces burning with desire for a better world, frantic at times and so warm and hopeful at others. Often I "traveled" with them into the higher spheres, exploring the stars and the heavens. So often, however, were they "down to earth," interested in that outside world Which I, but alas! not they, was later to see. How beautiful and heart-warming were their tunes and melodies, expressing all they did not dare to express otherwise. And there were "geniuses" among them, too; some who were fine scholars, others who were good teachers and others who had rare talents for something even as abstract as mathematics. How well I remember that tall Hasid with his long grey beard, solving mathematical problems for us students of the gymnasium.
How much "richer" were the students of the gymnasium, who kept our roots in the culture of our forefathers, filling our hearts and minds with their great heritage. How hard must it have been for the few "assimilated," those who preferred the ranks of the Polish intelligentsia, to accept their final horrible fate. What a pity that the few Jewish professors we had were so insecure in their positions that they never dared to be one of us. Some of them were as despicable and corrupt as our non-Jewish professors, forcing Jewish parents to give bribes to enable their children to enter the gymnasium or to pass their examinations, particularly the "matura."
An Englishman once said to me that every country has the kind of Jews it deserves. How very true! Yet Poland did not even deserve the kind of Jews it had in return for the kind of treatment it gave them. There should have been many thieves and many more cheats. Stealing from the government was a 'mitzva" and cheating at examinations was almost a "must." While a non-Jew had to be terribly dull not to pass, a Jew had to be exceedingly bright to pass without cheating or bribery. Many a professor thought nothing of acquiring merchandise at a store belonging to the parents of a pupil and never paying for it. If a bill was sent, the pupil was sure to flunk out. I'll never forget the courage of my dear father, who went to the house of the mathematics teacher to demand money or the return of his merchandise. My brother was a mathematical "genius" in those days and there was no chance of his failure. So many years have passed and I still bitterly resent the "bleeding" of Jewish parents for good marks for their children. Can you then imagine the sweet joy and the exaltation when, on the morning after "matura' (graduation from high school), our Jewish orchestra (The Faust brothers) would awaken you with the joyous tunes of Jewish melodies? I do not think that any serenade ever sounded sweeter. And yet, how many of those who finished gymnasium ever had a chance for further education?
Yes, the Fausts played at "maturas" and they played at the weddings. They played after the Yom Kippur fast and on any occasion when they might earn a zloty. One of them, who was our violin teacher, often told me about the adventures of his past. He had been in the great land of America and had had a chance to marry a rich girl there, but he preferred to come home and to marry the girl he loved. He often wondered how wise he had been. Could he have foreseen his end ? And what a hard job it was to teach kids like us all day and play at social functions all night! On Yom Kippur, when all of us would run home from synagogue after the Fast to rejoice with our families over the delicacies prepared for the occasion, the Fausts would run home to get their violins and go from house to house, playing happy tunes to wish those who could afford this "luxury" a happy New Year.
In spite of the usual faults of mankind, our people were a benevolent group. They always helped each other out and hardly ever did anyone really starve or go into bankruptcy. In no place have I ever seen so much money-lending and borrowing so that some poor man could continue to make a living. No beggar was ever turned away and no one would ever go hungry on the Holy Sabbath or on a Holy Day. Seldom did we have a Friday evening without a stranger to share our meal, and it was my task, as a little girl, to watch at the window to see whether father was walking home with someone. On Saturdays I used to count the number of men he brought home for Kiddush. It was a good thing that our dear mother was a willing and happy hostess who was always prepared. During the week, too, most of our friends would pop in and out, to study or exchange books, etc. and our home was always an open one. From my mother I must have learned to have an open house for all our friends and visitors at all times and from my father I must have acquired the urge to travel. And from him, too, I learned the many beautiful songs, both Hebrew and Yiddish, which I cherish so much. My father had a beautiful voice and when he was given the honor of chanting the prayers on the High Holidays, everybody in the synagogue used to rejoice. Most of all, we kids rejoiced, for, as a token of appreciation, we used to receive a big basket of rare fruits and so the High Holidays became doubly joyous for us.
Now all the synagogues are destroyed and all the Jewish homes taken over by people who hated us just as much as the Nazis, people who also participated in "heroically" capturing, torturing, and finally killing the frightened children, their horrified mothers, the weak and the old as well as the few survivors who had some strength after years of starvation but were hopelessly outnumbered. I have heard from some survivors that the hopelessness was even greater for those survivors whose entire family was wiped out, leaving no one to remember them. May this book be a consolation to them and a testimonial that the names and sufferings of their loved ones are not forgotten and live imperishably in our memories. If when the end came, my parents and my sister found some consolation in the fact that my brother and I were safe in another land, I am grateful.
But how can we, the survivors, ever find consolation? Perhaps some comfort can be found in the hope that out of the shock produced by this monstrous holocaust there will emerge such a revolution against man's inhumanity to man that future generations may never know the scourge of unreasoned hate and savage brutality.
[Page 25 English section]
Memorials deal with death. There is nothing sadder than death. Death comes to all of us by the inevitable process of years or accident or violence. When the final day arrives, sometimes a summary is made by the remaining living. These are the questions they could ask. Did the deceased serve his country, his fellow man in some way? Did he ever bring joy to someone's heart,? Did he help someone who was desperately in need? Did he do any good?
When we ask these questions the people from our town we can truthfully answer in the affirmative. As we mourn the passing of our relatives and friends, let us discuss the good they did in their lives.
We had many young people organized in Zionist organizations whose aim was the spiritual and physical preparation for immigration to Israel. The daily work in the Zionist organizations, which included rigid training in summer camps and on arms, created the hard core of the future sturdy citizens of Israel, It was difficult to be an active member of a Zionist organization an at, the same time attend the state gymnasium. The school authorities and the local police kept a watchful eye and close vigil on Zionist revolutionaries. The daily living habits of our young people made it hard for them to adjust to farm work. Their days were long and hard from sunrise to sunset and their work included manual labor as well as studies. They suffered but persevered. Some succeeded in reaching Eretz Yisrael and contributed to the building of the Jewish state, but most of them fell before they could reach their goal.
The people of Rohatyn always helped needy people, no matter where they came from. I can still see passing before my eyes the caravans of wagons of displaced people going by our town and asking for help. Our citizens formed committees, collected money and helped the needy. I remember how my father, who was on the committee, spent all his Sunday afternoons helping to take care of the poor and needy. The good deeds of our people were numerous. They gave of their time, effort and money without looking for recompense. Is it not therefore appropriate for us, the living, to pause and express our praise and admiration for these brave, good people, who were murdered without anyone coming to their help.
[Page 27 English section]
24.6.1941: This day will always be engraved in my memory. It was the beginning of; the terror the unending wailing of the sirens, screaming airplanes, bombs, fires, and above all, the fear of the unknown.
Wednesday: Unaccustomed silence. We don't hear the motors any more, nor bombs exploding. It is silent. I feel as if something was strangling me, something terrifying and powerful. It's so hard to keep from crying cut. But who would hear? And who would help? .. .Thursday: They've come. On high horses, all of them tall, with clear but bitterly hard eyes. Without noise : only the plodding of the horses' feet sounded our knell. .. .Friday : All the day long they are catching Jews to clean up the city. They are paid with the stick and the end of the rifle, with whatever they find at hand. Without consideration for sex, age or status.
Saturday: We're hungry. Someone brings news that they are giving out white bread. We run fast. Mother comes back happy. She was lucky. But her joy is soon spoiled. Some one is groaning on the stairs; it's father. He has been beaten. Father's story is interrupted by an inhuman shout. We run to the window. By the wall of the house opposite, behind the shul, Rabbi Tumim, Rabbi Spiegel, Amarant, Freiwald, Dr. Goldschlag and Rotbaum all the officers of the Kehilla, are standing with their hands in the air. Local hooligans are standing opposite them and beating them as hard as they can. And at the same time they are shouting: "Now's the time to pay you back!"
My father stopped groaning and continued his story:
"We were standing in line, quietly, without paying any attention to the provocations and insults. Suddenly one young fellow practically a child, began to shout : 'Jews to the fire!' That was a signal. Someone gave me a blow with a rifle butt, somebody else began to punch me and spit in my face, while a third urged me to bring the fiddle in order to Flay for the occasion. 'It's a big day today,' they laughed to each other."
Someone knocked at the door: 'Give some soap, coffee or cocoa so that we can ransom the hostages by the wall." That's the way hell began.
In town everything was still chaotic. In their retreat the Russians had taken apart everything they could. Now the Jews had to clean up everything: the ruins after the bombardment, the broken windows, the broken wagons and autos. Every Jew, regardless of status, was taken to work. Jews who held official positions were required to hand over their keys and to resign. Shops were confiscated without appeal. Doctors, dentists, lawyers no longer waited for clients. For the Jews everything was closed and forbidden, even the right to go to the market.
The homes of the wealthier Jews were taken over by the army. They were given a half-hour's time to take themselves off. Every day Germans and Ukrainians fe11 on Jewish homes and take away any clothing or furniture they want. And woe to anyone who resists.
September 5: Advocate Alter and Professor Kartin have been arrested (to square private accounts!. Mrs. Banner was beaten bloody by the barber across the street, in payment for many years of service and credit.
This month an order was published requiring the Jews to remain within the limits of the ghetto allotted them and to wear the degrading armband.
The Judenrat : In order to prevent the personal contact and the unending snatching of workers, as well as the robberies, the Jews have elected a committee. Its members were mainly the former elected members of the kehilla. The Jewish workday began in different ways, depending on the demands of our rulers. In addition to organizing the work battalions, the Judenrar had to issue the special orders which marked the different days as for example:
Fur-day: all Jews were ordered, within 24 hours and under the penalty of being shot. to hand over all women's and men's furs, children's sheepskins, and even fur collars.
Silver-day: In addition to the monetary contributions which all the German-Ukrainian officials demanded as bribes, all silverware had to be handed over: again with the threat that the failure to do so would mean an immediate death penalty.
The Judenrat became the spokesman for the Jews towards the outside world. It did everything it could to cancel the orders concerning the ghetto and the armbands, but nobody could do anything.
The removal to the ghetto took a few weeks. A lot of arguments and authority had to be used to move the Ukrainians and the Poles whose homes were now within the borders of the ghetto, though they received fine Jewish houses in return.
Sorrow, personal problems (who would live with whom?), and constant sensations such as the shooting of the wealthy Mr. Reis, the tearing of the beards of elderly men and rabbis, the beating of old Blech, the throwing of Rabbi Eliezer'l into the open privy; these were our daily portion.
It was dangerous to go out into the street, to remain at home, to go to sleep, just to live. The ghetto was filled with terror, tears and tragedy.
In January someone spread the news that a German auto with S. S. men had gone through the town. Engineers with maps and instruments were looking for a place for a new tile factory.
Afterwards, every day additional groups of men began to dig ditches. The town mayor himself personally directed the strenuous work. But the work went on at a slow pace. The snow, the frozen ground and the unfit workers didn't make it possible to attain the desired results.
In the freezing weather the Jews were ordered to undress half-naked and to work without a break. It became harder and harder to gather the contingent of workers that the Germans demanded. Workers returning from the forced labor did so beaten and sick. Finally they bribed the mayor not to be present at the work. The work gradually drew to a close. The engineers measured and calculated and the Jews prepared to build the tile factory.
Friday, March 20, 1942: From 6.30 in the morning we have been hearing people rushing about in various directions. Suddenly shouts and shooting. Mrs. Green comes running into our house and shouts: "Hide, they're shooting!" My cousin grabbed her children and was the first into the cellar in the garden. Itche Hochberg's family followed them. They were so afraid that they nailed the door shut and we couldn't open it from the outside.
We run across the gardens. From all sides we are warned from the windows to hide ourselves because they were shooting.
"Why?" Mrs. Katz asked me.
But without trying to answer I ran to my parents' house. I barely had time to convince them to hide. There wasn't much to decide: the cellar was without a bit of air. We wait We hear an order; "Come out!" Someone utters "Shma Yisrael " The others were struck dumb.
Amarant and other men had remained above. We heat blows and loud commands. Some women explain that their husbands were at work and the Germans answer: "Good." They went away, after leaving a sign on the door, that the house was "Jew-free." We were saved from the first massacre, which continued until night. In the evening the snow was stained red Everywhere, in the streets and in the houses, dead people lay: men, women, young and old, children and infants. That's how we made our acquaintance with the word "aktzia."
The first "aktzia" in our town had been organized and planned to the least detail. The ditches dug for the tile factory served as graves for three thousand Rohatyn Jews.
Gestapo-men from Tarnopol had first surrounded the ghetto and then searched every house. Those trying to run away were shot.
People didn't believe what was in store for them. Until the last moment they persisted in the illusion that they were being taken away to work-camps. The Willig family stood in front of their house with a suitcase in hand and waited to be taken away. Sophia Schummer had wondered whether to take along her sewing machine and her Vienna diploma. Dr. Schummer-Teitelbaum had begged permission to be together with his little daughter. Permission was very generously given and both were shot with the same bullet.
The others were stood in rows, four abreast, and ordered to march towards the Rineck. When the whole group had gathered they were ordered to kneel. The bestial game had begun.
Beards were plucked out. The unfortunate pharmacist, Lustig, had a pail of water put on his head and he was beaten with rifles. Then they remembered that doctors and dentists had the right to stand aside They might still be needed For some it was unfortunately too late. But Dr. Kreisler, Mrs. Katz, Rotbaum, the Freiwalds and some others who displayed enough energy and orientation managed to escape. Those chosen were separated and the others were loaded on trucks like beasts and carried away to destruction.
At the edge of the ditches the jewelry and the clothing of the victims were taken away. Then the shooting began. Dead and wounded fell into the graves. Some jumped in alive, hoping that they would be able to save themselves in that way.
There were some cases of people coming back. Among those who were buried alive and managed to return was the mother of Leah Jupiter (Chana), who returned with frozen hands after she had lain in the ditch several hours. My best friend, Leah, had lain there as if she was fast asleep. Rega and Niusha Weintraub had been slightly wounded and had lain in the ditch calling for help. But no one was in a position to help them. The ditches were deep and they were unable to move under the weight of the dead bodies.
At night distracted mothers wandered about looking for their children. Men looked for their wives. Sometimes a live person was found among the corpses Every house had its victims and had suffered the tragedy.
In the morning and for the next few days a group of Volksdeutsche rode about the ghetto gathering the furniture and other belongings of the murdered people.
In secret the Jews gathered the dead bodies and attempted to bring them to a Jewish grave. The order was to throw them into mass graves, to pour on gasoline and to burn them!
The 20th of March 19?2 the first joint grave of Rohatyn Jewry.
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