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[Page 65]

The First World War (1914-1918)

 

During the Russian Invasion (1914 – 1915)

Translated by Susan Rosin

The First World War erupted at the beginning of August 1914 and Stryj was conquered by the Russians a month later. Thousands of Galician Jews escaped west to Czechoslovakia, Austria and mainly to Vienna. Some of the Stryj Jews joined the refugees, but most stayed in town and some of the refugees from the eastern parts of Galicia remained in Stryj.

The first days after the invasion were chaotic with kidnappings for slave labor, rape, looting and plunder. A few days into the occupation the town was put under military authority and the civilian institutions were banned. A special committee was formed to represent the Jewish population before the authorities and to prevent further attacks.

The members of the committee were: Abraham Appfelgreen, Zvi (Hersh Wolf) Wizalteer, Yehezkel Lerrer, Shlomo Hertz, the son of rabbi Feivel Hertz from Glogow, Zvi (Hershel) Pferbaum, Leibish Pikholtz, Yeshayahu (Shaya) Weinrab, Samuel Klein, Joseph Shapira. The main function of the committee was to supply workers for the military. Actually this was slave labor without pay and the committee was paying the workers from donations that were collected among Stryj Jews.

The renowned author S. Ansky whose most famous play is The Dybbuk visited Professor J. Bernfeld during the Russian occupation and donated 500 rubles for Passover. Before their retreat in 1915, the Russians, under threats of rape (as in Drohobycz) demanded 200 workers for digs in the Carpathian Mountains. The workers were selected by the committee.

The Russians took hostages upon retreating from the city in 1915. They kept them in jail for three months and then they were deported east into Russia. The names of the hostages were: Professor Bernfeld, Feivel Hertz from Glogow, the religious judge rabbi Yeshaya Yolles, the cantor David Nussbaum, Abraham Appfelgreen, Leibish Pikholtz, Leon Buch, Isaac Ingber, Leiser Unger, the pharmacist Baruch Shur, Elisha Appfelgreen, Chaim Wizalteer, the police chief Reif, Isaac Pikholtz.

All hostages except for the police chief Reif and Elisha Appfelgreen returned to Stryj in March 1918.


The Russian Occupation in Stryj (1914 – 1915)

Naphtali Ziegel

Translated by Susan Rosin

I.

At the beginning of the war in 1914 I was stuck in Stryj. Anyone that was able to, escaped west.

Stryj was overcrowded with refugees that came from the towns and villages bordering Russia in eastern Galicia. They left their homes and everything they owned and came west with the few belongings they could carry and the little bit of money in their pockets. Their fate scared us and we decided to stay.

Without any organization the Jewish homes opened to the refugees and whole families were taken in. The refugees kept telling us about their travels from the east and we were getting even more depressed and concerned.

There were some funny stories due the gullibility of some refugees such as: “We were told there is not going to be fighting in Stryj. The warring governments decided that all hospitals will be in Stryj”.

In the meanwhile the Russians continued their advance to the west and terrible rumors were spreading from the neighboring town. Those who were able to, packed their belongings and moved west. Others who had no means stayed behind. My fiancé L.L. and I decided to leave. We packed our belongings in two large trunks and stored them in the train station warehouse for two days. Then we were told our trunks cannot go on the train. We stayed.

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We understood we have “new owners” when the Cossacks who rode into town turned their weapons towards the people. We opened our trunks and waited anxiously for what comes next. Slowly the town's people started coming out of their hiding places and gradually life was getting back to normal.

The Russians' first step was to check the abandoned apartments. In the first few weeks we had a very “active” low-level soldier in our house. He started by removing linens, furs, clothing, and any household items that could be easily moved. He packed all of those in crates and sent them to his home in Russia. After he “cleaned” the apartments he invited various officers and administrators who were partying and drinking at night. When they were cold and could not find fire wood for heating, they would break furniture and even a piano to burn in the stove. The soldiers were rotating from time to time as they were sent to the front.

One day, while standing on the sidewalk by my home, a heavy object fell on my head and caused me to fall. When I came to I realized that this was a Gmara book (Sahs Vilna) bound in leather. I saw that many pages were cut out with a knife. I went upstairs to that apartment and found soldiers that were busy cutting out and tearing pages from Jewish books. I scolded and reprimanded them and even threatened that I would complain to the civil authorities and they will be punished for desecrating holy books. They stopped and even helped me move the remaining books to Beit Hamidrash.

 

II.

One day I was travelling in a wagon with my father-in-law Abraham Levin Z”L from Lviv to Stryj. Not far from Mykolaiv (Polish: Mikołajów) we noticed a man of about 30 years old who was following us. We asked the driver to stop and the man approached us. After he found out that we were on our way to Stryj he asked if he could come with us. He told us that he was an escaped Austrian prisoner of war and wanted to re-join the army. We provided him with food and clothing and pointed him in the direction of the border. When the Austrians returned to Stryj we received a picture of him in uniform signed “Onofri from the Rawa Ruska area”. Did he remember our help when his brethren were murdering and looting our people during Hitler's time?

Another time we transported two Austrian Jewish officers from Lviv to Stryj. They were the renowned Zionist Dr. Loeb from Vienna and Dr. Szerbstein who was employed in a branch of a large Austrian bank in Lviv. Both stayed in Stryj during the Russian occupation and lived in a special room at Salka Szperling's apartment on Botorego street. She had two rooms and the entrance to the back room was thru the front. By placing a cabinet at the entrance to the second room they were able to conceal it. They left the room only at night.

 

III.

With time we got used to the new reality. During the day we traded and the nights were spent with the family. The relatives and neighbors gathered in my father-in-law's apartment where I read Shalom Aleichem stories. Everybody laughed and so we forgot our daily troubles.

We kept all our valuables in trunks in the cellar and took turns in guarding them from the looters.

For a while we even spent time in the evenings at Mark Bakka's café and some of the officers became friendly with us. However, we decided it would be safer to stay home.

The fighting got closer to town at one point and the Austrian army occupied the city for one day. Many Jews holding Torah books and led by rabbi Shalom Yolles came out to greet the soldiers. However, the next day, the Russian re-captured the city again. The rabbi managed to escape, but many Jews were punished.

During the Russian occupation the town was neglected and extremely dirty. The officers and soldiers were only interested in liquor and looting.


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The Jewish Defense 1918

Shimon Rosenberg

Translated by Susan Rosin

In the winter of 1817 – 1818 during the fourth year of the First World War, the law and order of the Austro-Hungarian Empire started to collapse in spite of the state of emergency that existed due to the war. Thousands of deserters were wondering in the Carpathain and Sudeten mountains. A strike erupted in the munitions factory in Wiener Neustadt. Demonstrations were held in many places to protest the food rations, its quantity and quality. With the return of POWs after the Russian revolution in 1917, the military discipline started to crumble. They started to rebel against the officers and the military in general. The authorities reacted with restrain to the civilian demonstrations as not to increase the people's exasperation.

The hunger increased in the spring of 1918. It was hard to eat the meager stale bread, the rationing was not administered properly. The black market was not able to supply the demand in spite of the sky-rocketing prices which were out of reach for many. Spontaneous hunger demonstrations erupted in many places. At the beginning the demonstrations were targeting the government offices responsible for the food distribution, but then they turned their anger against the bakeries and especially the food markets openly displaying highly priced delicacies and luxuries while most could not afford the basic staples. The army did not intervene even when the demonstrators looted stores and smashed windows.

The demonstrations and riots did not skip Galicia. In many cases these demonstrations were incited by Anti-Semitic elements who were emboldened by the fact that many food distributors and grocers were Jewish.

During a demonstration on April 16th 1918 in Krakow that was organized by railway workers, Polish legionnaires and the mob, Jewish stores were looted and their owners beaten. The police were nowhere to be seen. A Jewish merchant from Stryj that happened to be in Krakow for business, Petahia Muller was fatally beaten and died that same day.

Petahia Muller's death caused a lot of fear in our city. Rumors abounded that riots were about to start in Stryj as well. Knowing the Ukrainian and Polish mob, the Jews had reasons to fear that they will be the target.

In a meeting of the Poalei Zion council it was decided that pre-emptive action is needed “just in case”. A group of 3 was elected to organize the defense and to meet and discuss the situation with the Z.P.S (Zydowska Partia Socjalystczna – Jewish Socialist Party (SR)). A secret meeting was held in an apartment of the Academic Society and a committee to organize the 40 person defense force (20 from Poalei Zion, 10 from the Z.P.S and 10 from the Academic society) was formed consisting of the following members: Shlomo Rosenberg, Leib Tepper, Monderer, Shimon Rosenberg, and Nathan Wunderleich. A “headquarter” was established and the various groups started to prepare. The hunger demonstration in Stryj was held a few weeks after Passover. Among the “organizers” of the demonstration were many from the mob. Demonstrators started congregating in front of Isaac Sheinfeld's house on Potocki street who had a flour warehouse guarded by the military police.

The crowd grew to 500 people and there were cries and slogans for bread. The demonstrators moved towards the plaza (rynek – market), on their way destroyed and looted two kiosks and continued towards Golochowski street.

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Mickewicz. On the street corner was a café owned by (the Ukrainian) Markipka displaying cakes and other baked goods. The demonstrators were turning towards the stairs and it seemed as if they were going to attack the café. At that moment, the owner Markipka approached the lead demonstrators and seemed to whisper something. The demonstrators retreated and turned into the avenue leading to the train station. The demonstrators did not touch any of the Christian shops they passed, but when they reached the avenue they attacked the Jewish kiosk owned by Jacob Reinhartz. With their intentions clear, the sticks of the Jewish self-defense men came down on their heads. The brave actions of the defense startled the rioters and some of them promptly retreated. The street was full of people including soldiers all taking in the scene. Some of the demonstrators recovered from the shock and started to fight back by hurling stones at the defense members. Luckily a blood shed was averted as one of the stones hit a soldier and he started bleeding. On seeing their wounded comrade the angry soldiers attacked the demonstrators and they dispersed in a few minutes. Undoubtedly the soldiers' intervention prevented casualties among the members.


The Jewish Militia in 1918

Translated by Susan Rosin

With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the war Stryj was included within Ukraine. Without any civilian institutions there was much chaos at the beginning. All facets of civilian life had to be restored including the police. The population was without any protection during these first days. The town was full of soldiers coming back from the front and trying to reach their homes. Many carried weapons and some took advantage of the confusion to rob and loot. Worrying about the security situation, the Jewish parties sent a delegation to the Ukrainian authorities and got an approval to establish a volunteer Jewish militia and were given some rifles.

Each party was supposed to send a number of volunteers that were taking turns in patrolling the streets at night. Only the veteran officers from the Austrian army were paid for their service in the militia. The headquarters was at the “Talmud Torah” building across the street from the Great Synagogue. Before leaving for their patrols at night, the volunteers gathered at the academic society “avoda” on the corner of Botorego and Potocki streets. The commanders of the militia were receiving reports and updates throughout the night from the patrolling volunteers. A fund was created to cover the few expenses of the militia.

The patrol consisted of 4 – 10 people and they had the authority to stop, conduct a search and bring any suspect to headquarters. Sometimes they stopped thieves but in most cases they stopped ex-military personnel carrying weapons that were disarmed but not prosecuted.

The streets were very dark at night and sometimes the Jewish patrols encountered the Ukrainian patrols that were guarding the streets from possible Polish actions of sabotage. These encounters in the middle of the night could be very dangerous as both militias were still wearing the Austrian uniforms and there was always a danger of being fired upon. Luckily, this did not happen.

Once the Ukrainian secured their control of the city, the “Talmud Torah” building was surrounded without warning by soldiers and the Jewish militia was disarmed.

* * *

The members of the defense group were instructed to intervene only if it was clear beyond a doubt that the demonstrations were Anti-Semitic. More than 30 members from the Jewish defense, armed with sticks and other non-lethal weapons followed the demonstrators. A Jewish store was looted on Golochowski street. However, since there were only Jewish stores on that street, this could not be proven to be an Anti-Semitic act. From Golochowski street the demonstration turned into

[Page 68]

Mickewicz. On the street corner was a café owned by (the Ukrainian) Markipka displaying cakes and other baked goods. The demonstrators were turning towards the stairs and it seemed as if they were going to attack the café. At that moment, the owner Markipka approached the lead demonstrators and seemed to whisper something. The demonstrators retreated and turned into the avenue leading to the train station. The demonstrators did not touch any of the Christian shops they passed, but when they reached the avenue they attacked the Jewish kiosk owned by Jacob Reinhartz. With their intentions clear, the sticks of the Jewish self-defense men came down on their heads. The brave actions of the defense startled the rioters and some of them promptly retreated. The street was full of people including soldiers all taking in the scene. Some of the demonstrators recovered from the shock and started to fight back by hurling stones at the defense members. Luckily a blood shed was averted as one of the stones hit a soldier and he started bleeding. On seeing their wounded comrade the angry soldiers attacked the demonstrators and they dispersed in a few minutes. Undoubtedly the soldiers' intervention prevented casualties among the members.

 

The Jewish Militia in 1918

With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the war Stryj was included within Ukraine. Without any civilian institutions there was much chaos at the beginning. All facets of civilian life had to be restored including the police. The population was without any protection during these first days. The town was full of soldiers coming back from the front and trying to reach their homes. Many carried weapons and some took advantage of the confusion to rob and loot. Worrying about the security situation, the Jewish parties sent a delegation to the Ukrainian authorities and got an approval to establish a volunteer Jewish militia and were given some rifles.

Each party was supposed to send a number of volunteers that were taking turns in patrolling the streets at night. Only the veteran officers from the Austrian army were paid for their service in the militia. The headquarters was at the “Talmud Torah” building across the street from the Great Synagogue. Before leaving for their patrols at night, the volunteers gathered at the academic society “avoda” on the corner of Botorego and Potocki streets. The commanders of the militia were receiving reports and updates throughout the night from the patrolling volunteers. A fund was created to cover the few expenses of the militia.

The patrol consisted of 4 – 10 people and they had the authority to stop, conduct a search and bring any suspect to headquarters. Sometimes they stopped thieves but in most cases they stopped ex-military personnel carrying weapons that were disarmed but not prosecuted.

The streets were very dark at night and sometimes the Jewish patrols encountered the Ukrainian patrols that were guarding the streets from possible Polish actions of sabotage. These encounters in the middle of the night could be very dangerous as both militias were still wearing the Austrian uniforms and there was always a danger of being fired upon. Luckily, this did not happen.

Once the Ukrainian secured their control of the city, the “Talmud Torah” building was surrounded without warning by soldiers and the Jewish militia was disarmed.


[Page 69]

The Ukrainian Rule (1918)

by Naphtali Ziegel

Translated by Susan Rosin

I.

My army company was stationed in Stryj during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The collapse of the empire was felt by everyone. My commander, the ober-lieutenant Ivanitzki (a Ukrainian from Stryj) summoned me and told me that I was free to go as the empire no longer existed and the area was under Ukrainians rule. He added happily that one of his Jewish acquaintances proclaimed: “From now I am a Ukrainian Jew”.

TheWest-Ukrainian People Republic government was set-up In Stanisławów(today Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine (SR)), and a proclamation recognizing the Jewish identity was published in Ukrainian, Polish and Yiddish. The renowned Zionist leader Dr. Israel Waldman from Ternopilbecame the minister for Jewish affairs. He established a press service and was in touch with world Jewry that supported the Jewish neutrality and viewed favorably the Ukrainian promise for Jewish autonomy.

There was a debate whether the Jewish soldiers and officers who returned from the war should join the Ukrainian army. The Zionist organization made a decision that the Jews should remain neutral in the struggle between the Ukrainians and Poles. However, the various units should not disperse, but should organize into a Jewish militia to be ready 'just in case'.

The militias and the various parties decided to establish a local national council in every town. All these local councils congregated in Stanisławów to establish a central national council. A 12 person committee was elected headed by Dr. Carl Halpern who was a wealthy landlord non-partisan and non-assimilated and Dr. Jonas Rubin one of the leading Zionists in Stanisławów. The convention speakers were the most active Zionists: Engineer Israel Reich, Dr. Jonas Rubin, Dr. Hillel Zusman, Dr. Ordober, Dr. Alexander Riterman, Dr. Anzelm Halpern, LeibShusheim and the engineer Naphtali Landau.

The council's had two main objectives: To organize the Jewish life and identity and to fulfill the Zionist dream in Eretz Israel. The council was coordinating it activities with the leaders of the Zionist movement in Vienna.

The Ukrainians with the help of Dr. Waldman tried to take political advantage of their promise for Jewish autonomy and the difference between them and their Polish adversaries: “They are organizing pogroms and we are giving the Jews autonomy rights”.

 

II.

The first action of the council was to organize a memorial service for the Lviv pogrom victims. The memorial took place in the Great Synagogue and was attended by a high level official. The speakers were rabbi Shalom Yolles (Yiddish), rabbi Ladier (German), and myself (Naphtali Ziegel) (Hebrew).

The Stryj Jewish militia had a priority to transfer the Kehila administration matters from the assimilationists led by Dr. Wiesenberg. A delegation of about 50 people marched on his office, and demanded his resignation, which he did under protest. The delegation members were elated and sang the “Hatikvah”. Among the delegation members were Dr. Naphtali (Tulo)Nussenblatt, Dr. Borak, the lawyer Dr. Gross and his officer brother, Oper Levi (one of the founders of Poale Zion), Shalom Reich and many many more. One person from the Z.P.S took over the office management and others took over the rest of the Kehila affairs.

The Jewish National Councilwas set up with representatives from all political parties. Dr. Heinrich Bykwas elected chairman, Dr. Max Bienenstock vice-chairman and Naphtali Ziegel secretary. The parties' differences dominated every discussion.

We were isolated from the world and rumors were rampant such as: A Jewish government was established in Eretz Israel with Chaim Weizmann – the president,Max Nordau – secretary of state, baron Edmond de Rothschild – secretary of finance, etc.

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We published a weekly newspaper called Yidishes Folk-Stimme [Jewish People's-Voice] with articles by Dr. Bienenstock (signed “bee house”) about Jewish organization in the diaspora and by N. Ziegel about Hebrew education and culture. We published for 18 issues. Some other notable newspapers published in neighboring towns were: Der Yidisher Arbeiter [The Jewish Worker] (Stanisławów), Yidishe Stimme [Jewish Voice], Dos Freie Vort [The Free Word] (Zlotshov – present day Zolochiv), Die Neie Tzeit [The New Time] (Kolomea).

 

III.

Those were days of high spirits and realization for national and spiritual unity and integration, energizing the Jews who were not paying attention to the restrictions, the edicts, the humiliations and the poverty.The council delegates were busy with their public activism with discussions lasting well into the nights. The Jews united in spite of their political differences to lay a foundation for a brighter future.

A movement for the Hebrew language was established which was also aided by external factors. The youth who were brought-up with Polish stopped using that language fearing the Ukrainians. Those who did not speak Yiddish started to learn Hebrew and its sounds were heard on city streets.

The council sent a memorandum to the secretary of education and cultural affairs Dr. Artimowiczdemanding to establish autonomous Jewish schools to be funded by the government. The secretary agreed to the idea in principal but was doubtful if the Hebrew language could be used for basic teaching. A convention of the Hebrew teachers was organized with full agenda in Stanisławówon January 19th – 20th, 1919 to discuss this issue in detail.

Professor D. Horowitz'slecture on “The nationalization of Jewish schools” caused a public discussion that lasted almost the entire convention. The problem was that the accredited teachers could not teach in Hebrew due to their lack of knowledge of the language. On the other hand, those who had the Hebrew knowledge did not have the accreditation.

The discussion was attended by the engineer Reich, a representative of the central council.

The decisions were as follows:

  1. The Jewish school is a national school;
  2. The teachers are employed by the government which also pays their salaries;
  3. All teachers must be accredited.
After a heated argument the convention participants agreed to a compromise suggested by Naphtali Ziegel representing the Hebrew teachers:

Many teachers who were qualified to teach Hebrew but lacking the formal certification would enroll in a program that will provide them with accreditation within five years and take the matriculation exams. In addition, those teaching secular studies would need to be tested in Hebrew. In the meanwhile, the authorities will be asked to provide temporary teaching permits only to teachers recommended by the “teachers union”. A central council for education comprising of seven members, among them Dr. M. Bienenstock and N. Ziegel from Stryj was elected.

The heated discussions lasted two days – on thestreet, in the hotel and the restaurant between the “Yiddishists”, the assimilationists and the Hebrew teachers. When the “Hebrews” won the public discussion I was asked to give the convention closing address. To this day I can remember one sentence I said from the podium: “Today we lifted the diaspora disgrace”…The excitement was electrifying. We were sure our redemption was near.

IV.

Upon our return to Stryj we started preparing for the upcoming school year. Only one high-school teacher in Stryj knew Hebrew. The rest, even the religious teachers did not know the language. I was the tutor in the training class that was set-up by the council and was attended by all the eleentary and high school teachers. I recall a few names of the participants: Dr. M. Bienenstock and his wife, Dr. Szeft, Tauber, HellaPreis, Deliktish. They were all dedicated students and made great progress. They were proud in their achievements and were able to convince the new council chairman and renowned Zionist Dr. Shlomo Goldberg to join.

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There was a feeling of great national purpose.

Once I traveled to Stanisławów with Dr. Bienenstock for a meeting with the secretary of education and cultural affairs (a former high school teacher). His office was located in a private home that was confiscated by the government and was sparsely furnished. He was very accommodating and promised to fulfill our requests. “I would like to help the poor Jewish people.” We left the meeting happy but upon reaching the street we were attacked by soldiers who began removing Dr. Bienenstock's shoes. I started screaming and a passing officer slapped the soldier and made him return the shoes.

The Russians in their time also used to stop people on the street asking them for the time and when a watch was pulled out of the pocket they would grab it and run. The Ukrainians were in rags and used to attack Poles and Jews and remove their shoes. I witnessed Petliura himself riding a horse on the streets of Stanisławów and whipping soldiers who were looting shops and homes.

On our way home as I recalled our conversation with the minister and his promise to help us.I was amused that he, who had barely a desk and two chairs in his office would help the “Jewish millionaires”. Not much longer after that I regretted those thoughts. One little pogrom and all our worldly possessions would be gone and we would be left with nothing. The imminent danger of our destruction is constant. But they, the Ukrainians are on their land and it would never be taken away from them.

“And the land was given to people” – Are we people too?

 

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