by Ephraim Schreier
Throughout the years of rule by Austria, Poland and Ukrainians, there were few clashes between the Jews and their neighbors not even when Petlura's gangs roamed about the land. The exception was the murder of several individuals and the hanging of hostages by the Cossacks. The entire province was reported as quiet. On one occasion, during the Austrian rule, a Jew named Birnbaum ran for election to the Austrian National Council. The Jews made a deal with the Ukrainians in Tlumacz to support Birnbaums candidacy. One day Birnbaum came to Tlumacz to deliver a campaign speech. The Poles in the town conspired to attack him, whereupon the Ukrainians came out to meet him with cheers, and escorted him to the meeting hall, shouting Mi za Bimborna We are for Birnbaum (they could not pronounce the ‘r').
NonJews found guilty of murdering Jews, in civil life, were given heavy prison sentences.
Serious friction set in on the economic level, in the 1930's, and antiSemitism became strongly manifest. In Tlumacz, the Poles set up a marketing cooperative, Kulko Rolnicze, which was not very successful. Later the Ukrainians established a commercial cooperative, Maslo Soyuz, which tried to organize the trade with the rural settlements and farms, with the intention of taking this business away from the Jews. The Ukrainians were more successful due to their excellent organization and the pressure they put on the farmers to market their milk though Maslo Soyuz. That was when the first posters, Don't Buy from Jews, appeared particularly in Ukrainian.
For a while, the Sokol association refused to rent its hall for Jewish events, until the leftist Poale Zion declared a boycott on all Sokol enterprises, avoiding its film presentations and picketing its premises. The decree was annulled.
On the eve of the Second World War, as antiSemitic incitement increased, the Jews in the rural settlements were the first to feel the oncoming danger. They left their dwellings and came to live in the town.
One of the moving antiSemitic spirits in Tlumacz was a Polish priest,
Kanonicus Tabaczkowski. Strangely enough, this same priest issued baptismal certificates to Jews during the Hitlerian period and thereby saved them from death. For this, he was executed by the Nazis.
There were many instances of friendship between the Jews and the others. These relations were severed, of course, with the advent of the Nazi holocaust.
One of the outstanding figures, unusual among the Ukrainians as far as relations with Jews was concerned, was Dr. Ivan Makuch, a leader in the Ukrainian RadicalSocialist Party in Galicia and Wohlin. Dr. Makuch was a member of the Polish Senate for many years and gained a reputation for his courageous addresses. His radicalism was not of the partisan stripe but rather pure humanism, with an inbred sense of justice and brotherly love.
Born to a family of peasants, he remained true to his heritage of the plain folk, even when he rose to prominence on the political scene. His speaking style reflected his personality. In private conversation as well as public utterances, he included expressions and idioms of the masses, pointed as well as unsophisticated. As an experienced attorney, he interpolated the vernacular to drive home a point with telling effect.
Tall and erect, with a high and wrinkled forehead, long moustache drooping down to his chin, he resembled Maxim Gorki. His blue dreamy eyes were shaded by heavy lashes. He liked Jews and had many friends among them. One of his pleasures was to stop by in the town market place, at the entrance to a Jewish store. There was always a group of Jews gathered about him, chatting amiably as if they were members of his family. This went against the grain of some nonJewish circles.
He had an extensive law practice in Tlumacz. His office was run by a Jew named Hartenstein. There were many stories about him and his practice. Once he was engaged to represent a peasant. Right in the heat of the trial, he turned to his client and said, Can't you see, you peasant, that the Jew is right?
During the Ukrainian independence period, after the First World War, he served as Minister of the Interior and was at times successful in saving Jews from disaster.
On one market day, peasants gathered from the surrounding areas, axes and sacks in hand to massacre the Jews and pillage their possessions. They stopped in front of Dr. Makuch's house to receive his approval. Dr. Markuch stepped out on the balcony and said briefly, I do not wish it, then ordered the police to see that the peasants went back to their homes. On another occasion, he saw peasants pillaging Jewish stands in the
Market. You stupid peasants, he shouted. Our entire sovereignty will be lost, if you persist in regarding the theft of apples from Jewish peddlers as one of our national aspirations. In 1925, when the Jewish world celebrated the opening of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem, Dr. Makuch was the one who delivered the congratulatory address in the Main Synagogue.
In one of our chats, he said to me, Come, show me another government ministry in the world with a UkrainianYiddish inscription on the door, as there is on mine!
He spoke with deep anger about the violence in Galicia. In the elections to the Polish Chamber of Deputies, his party made an agreement with Yitzhak Greenbojm for technical cooperation. The Ukrainian nationalists denounced him for it. He was truly one of the very few decent Ukrainians, in his attitude toward the Jews. Despite the suffering that they shared with the Jews, their hatred toward them did not abate.
by Gusta (Weitz) Wurman
As the Jews in Galicia wandered eastward, they settled wherever means of subsistence could be found, and this led some of them to settle in the villages, although at first they attempted to settle their families in the towns and cities and to commute back and forth.
In the rural districts it often happened that the landed gentry sought skilled workers, for such enterprises as distilling spirits; because Jews didn't drink, they enjoyed almost a monopoly of the sales end of this industry. The estate owners also leased fields to them or sold futures, and Jews of enterprise and diligence could always be found to undertake these transactions. In time Jews engaged in commerce, the crafts and in farming.
At the beginning of the century there were quite a few Jews in the rural districts, particularly in the larger villages. Of the fifty points of habitation in the province, only six had one hundred Jews or more (1931 census). The figures fluctuated all along, and the entire scene changed completely with the outbreak of the Second World War and the German invasion.
A census taken on September 30, 1921 and another dated December 19, 1931 set the figures in the province as follows:
Tlumacz 2012, Tishminitza 1,090, Otinia 1,728, Nizhnov 482, Antonovka 10, Bortniki 27, Bratkovtze 96, Hotchimizh 160, Humiakovka 1, Charnolostse 4, Dolina 29, Dolha 21, Grushka 12, Harasimov 1, Horihladi 18, Hostow 29, Hriniowtse 18, Isakov 38, Jezezhani 4, Klubowtse 4, Kolintse 4, Korolovka 7, Country estate I 1, Kotiska 4, Lokutki 10, Nadorozhna 4, Niswiska (Horodenko Province) 74, Okniani 12, Uleshav 35, Ulshantze 6, Ostrinia 5, Palahicze 1, Petrilov 11, Piotrov 42, Pashivilov 32, Pshenitzniki 14, Puzniki 14, Strihantza 35, Targovitza 16, Country estate II 4, Tarnovitza Polna 25, Tarnowitza Leshna 55, Chorniki 35, Zhivatzov 51, Country estate III 8.
In the villages, the main Jewish occupation was the management of taverns, a business which passed from generation to generation in the same family. Then came farming and flocks and poultry raising, forestry and, again in the large country estates, property management, distillery operation and commercial promotion. ON the farms the Jews worked with their own hands, unless the farm was too large for the family, and help was then hired. At times the Jewish farmers helped the peasants who did not have enough land to sustain themselves or to tide them over when the crops were poor. The Jewish farmers were diligent: they rose before dawn to feed the horses, milk the cows, feed the poultry, take the flocks out to the pasture, and prepare breakfast. After morning prayers, they resumed their work in the field.
The Jews were the ones who brought industry into the villages. Among the plants was the Weitz factory of concrete pipe in Hurigladi for wells and bridges, cement boundary markers, tiles, and the like.
The village Jews maintained contact with their brethren in the towns at least once a week, mainly on market days, when they used to drive in by wagon or in winter, by sleigh, dressed in thick furs called, in Yiddish, reize pelts travel furs. To earn their livelihood they traveled even in the worst snowstorms.
The weekday menus of the Jewish villagers were mostly dairy dishes; meat was reserved for the Sabbath. The Sabbath halot, the fish and the meat aroused the jealousy of the peasants, although they used to spend more on vodka in one day than it cost a Jewish family to feed itself the entire week. The peasants also slaughtered pigs and kept stocks of meat in their homes all the time.
An exception to the steady dairy diet was the fish, boiled or fried,
enjoyed by the Jews who lived in the villages on the banks of the Dniester.
Some Jews began moving to the towns as soon as the first signs of growing antiSemitism became discernible, but most of the Jewish farmers stayed on. In general, relations with the Christian population were friendly, even cordial. More than once the Jews pitched in to help their fellow farmers with money before harvest time, when they ran short of cash. On the other hand, there were cases of attack and murder, particularly where the success of Jewish diligence aroused the envy of others.
Early in the Second World War, when the Jews went with the retreating Austrian army, the peasants pillaged the Jewish homes and burned them down, even the stables, so as to discourage their Jewish owners from coming back. In certain instances, this policy was effective. But there were others when a returning Jew was helped by the other villagers to set himself up again. In most cases, what happened or didn't happen depended on the village priest. Any of them were Jew haters, and their Sunday sermons reflected their feelings. The attitude of the local schoolteachers also had much to do with it.
Relations between the landowners and the Jewish farmers were tolerable. The landowner often came to the Jews for some kind of assistance. The Jews also sent the landowners gifts of fish and matzah around Passover, and the landowners reciprocated with goodies around Easter time. But there were also Jewhating landowners. The Jewish estate owners were on good terms with their brethren on the farms, and often came to the village for congregational prayer.
All week long they were hard at work, and the only Sabbath provided them with time for rest and prayers. Where there were only a few Jewish families in the village, a minyan with an ark and a Torah scroll, was set up in one of the homes. Where the number of Jews in the village did not suffice for a minyan, the farmers would travel several kilometers to the next village for prayer. For the festivals, they and their families would stay over in the larger villages.
Circumcision ceremonies, Bar Mitzvahs, engagements and weddings were celebrated with pomp and splendor. These were the occasions when Jews from many villages came together. When illness struck, a doctor would be brought immediately from the neighboring town, or else the patient would be taken to the Jewish hospital in Stanislawow. Jews who passed away in the village were brought for burial in the neighboring town.
Jewish youngsters in the village were taught by teachers brought from the towns and paid for by the village Jews. Some also imported Jewish
teachers for secular studies. More recently, Jewish children attended the general village school. The Jewish villagers in the province tried to send their children to school in the towns and the wealthier ones sent them on to the university. In some instances, prosperous Jews had indigent students at their table, particularly where there were daughters to be married off. While attending school in town, the Jewish students took active part in the public life. They served in the army, joined youth movements, broadened their horizons. When visiting the native village, they would gather the young Jews from the neighboring villages for dances and gettogethers. In time, the rural, countrytype of young Jew all but disappeared. The Zionist movement had its impress on the young people, as did the periodicals, in Yiddish and Hebrew, which reached the village and the youth movements in general.
An aliya movement set in. In the first half of the 1930's, an emissary named Tzidkow arrived on behalf of the Farmers Federation in EretzIsrael. The federation had been granted a special immigration quota of certificates by the British Mandatory Government to bring in tillers of the soil. Tzidkow visited the Jewish farms, and there wasn't a single village whose Jews did not provide young people ready to immigrate. However, there weren't enough certificates to go around.
This was the situation prior to the outbreak of the war. The takeover by the Soviet army and government wrought little change in the circumstances of most of the Jewish farmers, but some of them suffered a good deal. Many village Jews were declared to be kulaks and were deprived of their property. Jewish estate owners were deported to Siberia.
The invasion of the Nazis stimulated the Jewhaters to wreak havoc on the Jews. Even before the invasion, Jews driven out of RusCarpathia were murdered by the villagers, and local Jews were not spared.
Not all the villages behaved in this manner. Several of them allowed the Jews to remain and continue their work. Others took the middle course; they spared the Jews but compelled them to work at forced labor.
The villages were ruled by rural councils, village heads, or regional rulers, where several neighboring villages formed a regional entity. The regional heads were in contact with the Landskomissar, the provincial governor during the rule of the Poles. The regional head also received instruction as to how to deal with the Jews. It was enough for a Gestapo man in the village, a member of the criminal police or even for a Ukrainian policeman to say something ill of a Jew to have him put to death. Many a time I went to the regional head, with gifts collected from the Jewish villagers, to beg him to annul the decrees pasted on the Jewish homes in
the villages. These means sufficed to delay the decrees for a while. The Jews knew that they meant wandering, starvation, distress in the ghetto, and death. Their being in the village enabled them to get food into the starving ghetto in Tlumacz. Quite often I stole into the ghetto, carrying a sack of food on my back. Many times I led Jews fleeing from the ghetto to the Dniester. Our home in the village of Hurigliadi served as a way station for the fugitives.
The relative serenity of the villages was shattered after the harvest in August of 1942. The villages heads received orders to drive all the Jews into the Tlumacz ghetto. The police gathered all the Jews and sent them to the ghetto under heavy guard, allowing them only their meager personal effects. In the ghetto they suffered the same fate as the town dwellers: extermination. Only a few Jews succeeded in evading this fate, by hiding in the forests or in peasants' homes. Our village was among the more humane. When several Jews came to us for refuge, we received anonymous letters promising us that we too would be deported, but the villagers did not touch us or the Jews in hiding with us. Fortunately, our village was made part of the Buczacz province a few days before the edit came to send all Jews to the Tlumacz ghetto. The village head kindly let us remain until the formal transfer of the village to Buczacz went into effect. This did not delay the disaster very long. We soon found ourselves in the Buczacz ghetto, and the rest of the adventure began: the ghetto underground, the flight to the forest, the food forays in the villages and life in the depths of the forest, until the Russians came again, and the Germans fled.
by Ephraim Schreier
From our childhood days, many of us still associate Wednesdays with country fairs. From time immemorial, Wednesday was market day in Tlumacz. This was the day to which the entire Jewish community looked forward with great anticipation the storekeepers, peddlers, horse dealers and, one may say, the horses themselves. The poorer the people, the greater their expectation, to the point that a popular saying had it that if you don't get it on Wednesday, you won't have it for the Sabbath.
Summer and winter, in the early morning hours, Wednesday witnessed the arrival of the peasants from the neighboring villages. Wagons laden with sacks containing all kinds of commodities, handcrafts, fruits and vegetables were driven by barefoot peasants. Others came with dairy cows, horses, sheep, pigs. The air was filled with the crowing of the roosters and the jingling of the bells around the horsecollars. The arrivals could be identified by their clothing: hats, dresses all different depending on the locality.
Every vacant strip of space in the town besides the market area itself was soon occupied by the wagons or sleighs. In the fall, however, these parking areas turned into a morass of mud, greenish and deep, impassable to all footwear except the high peasant boots. The villagers would tie up their horses, feed them their oats, and then go off to YudaYoshe's tavern to enjoy the appetizers, the stuffed derma and the other delicacies that went so well with vodka. On the rise, near the Horonsak Bridge, three men Herzl the son of HonehDavid, the cantor of Reb Zisialy's kloiz and Harin the town policeman collected the municipal tax from each incoming wagon. The peasant women arrayed themselves in front of the store in the building owned by the Hermann and Schwarzbard families, up to the Gottlieb home, and offered their produce for sale: butter, cheese wrapped in bean leaves, potatoes, berries, corn, cherries, plums, mushrooms, eggplant and beets.
The German villagers were exemplary in their cleanliness, particularly their dairy products. There were other unusual merchants: onedayonly salesmen, poor people who would take merchandize from the wholesalers on credit, peddle it, and pay for it later, after the fair. They stood at the
stalls and sold bars of soap, salted tidbits, salt, chicory, laundry bluing, beads and goodies. Others sold tar, leather straps and sundry items. From Tismenitz came the hatters and leather workers. But the dealers in the center of the market commanded the scene they who sold dairy cows and horses. The cries of the dealers mingled with the counting of the moneys as they changed hands (sometimes there would come an outcry, My pocket has been picked!). The horse buyers would grab the animal by its jaws, examine its nostrils and teeth, tickle it in the ribs to get an idea of its quality. Peasants were known to come with weak and worn out animals, then give them spirits to drink. As a result, the animal would kick about and show signs of tremendous vitality. Then, shortly after it had been sold and the money for it paid, it would collapse and die on the spot, much to the understandable chagrin of the purchaser.
Market days also had their dark aspect. In the time of the Ukrainian Independent Republic, the peasants used to come to the market place with axes hidden in their sacks, ready to attack the Jews and pillage their shops. On one occasion a calamity was averted when the Ukrainian leader Ivan Makuch forbade them to attack the Jews and ordered the police to send them back to their villages.
by Ephraim Schreier
Once every two years, our locality celebrated St. Anna's Day. The peasants, men and women, came to Tlumacz from the villages of the province and even from beyond its borders. The celebration consisted of popular amusements, wandering about the town and buying merchandize displayed for sale by the dealers. The folk costumes were of brilliant hues, and the village girls were proud of their strings of beads and ornaments.
Following festive services in the churches, the throng would go dancing in the streets, to the music of harmonicas, pipes, string instruments of all kinds sad melodies as well as happy tunes.
The Jews prepared for this day weeks ahead. All along Horodonek Street, up to the bridge, they set up stalls and booths. Since the festival took place during the summer heat, many stands sold cool drinks, pink lemonades, and cookies of all kinds.
The church bells tolled, and the peasants made their way to the taverns for the holiday meal. The streets were filled with boisterous
laughter, and as the drinking progressed, the laughter gave way to cursing, each peasant trying to outdo the others.
The town's children would gather around the clowns and magicians and the blind drummer who beat out military rhythms on his worn drum.
Toward evening the streets grew empty. The peasants went back to their villages, and the Jews went back to their homes, always hoping that St. Anna's two years thence would bring greater prosperity.
by Ephraim Schreier
No one seems to know why the name Mexic had been given to that neighborhood in Tlumacz which was inhabited by the impoverished masses of the Jewish population. The fact remained that Mexic, in the lexicon of the more prosperous, meant the poor quarter. Whenever someone wished to cast aspersions, he would say, This kind of thing is good for Mexic. In time, of course, these gaps and boundaries were erased, as social progress was achieved and youth movements sprang up, uniting the community.
Mexic was a Ushaped neighborhood, enclosed on three sides. The open end led to the Catholic Church. Side alleys fed into the market place or to the Main Synagogue, with its surrounding smaller houses of worship and the meat markets.
There was much of the picturesque in the small, bentover houses in this quarter. They were like something painted by imaginative artists. It was for good reason that the Jewish painter, Wilhelm Wachtel, stayed in Mexic a few days on his tour of Galacia and painted its surroundings. Every nook and corner had its quaint charms. The impress of hardworking people could almost be sensed everywhere. The walls were bright with lime wash of various colors, and small windows peered from beneath gabled roofs or thatched overhang. At the center of the neighborhood there was an iron water pump with an eternal puddle around it.
The people living in Mexic were as eccentric as its houses. There was Michael the shohet, walking slowly and seemingly counting his steps, and Bercze the melamed, fast of gait. ShloimehMotl always had the drayman's rope tied around the waist of his tall figure. And who doesn't remember Hamanieche, that humpbacked woman leaning on her stick with her face of a witch? The children were frightened by her penetrating eyes and her asthmatic cough.
Mexic worked hard. There was no hunger within its bounds; each man earned his livelihood as best he could. During the week the quarter hummed with the sound of machinery and the blows of the hammer, permeated with folk tunes. On winter nights, the folks filled pillows and cushions with feathers and down, or put up preserves. A tempting aroma of baking bread came from the houses, filling the air with its freshness.
The children went to cheder, and spent their playtime with the usual children's games. On Lag Baomer they used to go up the hill, opposite Jashinski's house, and light a bonfire. We call the hill Mount Sinai.
Mexic enjoyed the Sabbath rest and tranquility as did the other Jewish communities. The artisans wore their Sabbath best, long cloaks or caftans. After the noonday Sabbath meal, the women would gather on the balconies and chat about everything: the events of the day or stories drawn from talented fantasy.
Thus did the Jews of Mexic live, generation after generation, the picture and essence of the Jewish shtetl.
by Dr. Alexander Schwarzbard
I write this with an overflowing heart, as one who approaches his task with the sublimeness of prayer, as I look back to the tragic past. My mind's eye sees clearly everyone of that generation, destroyed by murderers. As I see this generation and the deep spirituality imbedded in our past, I invoke my memory and write a chapter of that past.
I begin with the small Tchortkow synagogue, where my father, Reb Zisiye b'Reb Refoel Schwarzbard of blessed memory, used to pray. This synagogue was located on the corner of an alley that led to the Mexic quarter, near the iron pump. Another entrance opened on to the market place. We went up a few wooden steps to a narrow doorway, and right there we were facing the Holy Ark. Heavy wooden benches with high backs were attached to the East Wall. On the walls hung brass chandeliers. Along the northern and southern walls stood long tables, and the worshippers sat around them. The table covering on the pulpit was encrusted with wax drippings.
On weekdays, the worshippers in this synagogue numbered hardly more than a minyan. But on the Sabbath Eve, this small house of worship underwent a transformation: it became spotlessly clean and illuminated. Hardworking laborers and prosperous merchants came together, in their Sabbath attire, and the inspiring spirit of the Sabbath lay on everyone's face, all but concealing the lines of anxiety about next week's sustenance.
The Main Synagogue was accessible from all sides. It was surrounded by the smaller shuls and shtiblech: the Old BetHamedrash, several shtiblech. A bit farther, past the meat markets and beyond, behind Hirsch Toren's house, was Reb Zissele's kloiz.
The Main Synagogue stood in splendor, high above the small houses surrounding it. The fa?ade wall was high and smooth, with rounded windows above; higher, in the upper part of the wall, a wide, heavy door closed off the corridor. In the narrow passageway leading to the women's section were the stretchers of the Hevra Kaddisha (Burial Society) and
the pile of discarded sacred books, too worn for use. This corner shed frightening gloom.
The daily minyan was made up mostly by the artisans and working folk. On the Sabbath the synagogue was attended also by the dignitaries; the intellectuals came once a year, for the High Holiday services.
The Synagogue also served as a house of assembly for mass meetings, elections, state occasions and national observances.
Yoshe the melamed would open the Synagogue door after striking it three times with his heavy iron key. Inside, the Synagogue looked higher than from the outside. The vaulted ceiling rested on cast pillars. It was adorned with the symbols of the Tribes, the holy chayot, and the like. A large brass chandelier was suspended from the center of the ceiling. The pulpit, made of wrought iron and adorned with special patterns, was elevated above the floor, with several steps leading up on two sides. To the east of the pulpit was the Reader's stand (amud), and in the indentation of the eastern wall was the tall Ark, covered with a purple curtain, embroidered with gold thread and silk to form words and a Star of David. The curtain was drawn aside with a light pull on the silken cord.
In the Ark there were scrolls of the Torah, in colorful coverlets. Along the bottom the crowns were arrayed, each near its scroll. At either side of the Ark were two columns with spiral lines, each set in a wide base with gilded ornamentation. Above the Ark there was a combination of sacred ornaments: the two tablets of the Covenant, flanked by carved lions. Above them was the symbol of the priestly blessing, hands raised in benediction, and above them the crown of the Divine Kingdom, which reflected the brightness of the sun coming through the stained glass windows. From the vestry of the synagogue, a door led to the small and pretty synagogue (of Yoshe the melamed), known as the Tailor's Synagogue, whither most of the artisans hurried in the morning for daily prayers, before they went to work. They could always depend on getting a snifter of whiskey, which Yoshe kept in a bottle locked in the drawer.
The small Otiniya Synagogue looked like a bird's nest stuck to the window, as it was attached to a wall of the Main Synagogue. Its interior matched its outward appearance: simple wooden benches, a modest Ark, blotches in the whitewash of its slanting walls. But there was a family kinship spirit about it. On the festivals, particularly on SimchasTorah, merry Hassidic melodies flowed from this synagogue. Children holding paper banners with apples on top of the mast were perched precariously on the benches; each tried to push the others aside, so as to catch a
glimpse of his father dancing with the Sefer Torah in his arms, in a tight circle, redfaced, handkerchiefs waving in the air. Best among the dancers were Moishe Mendl Bildner, Moishe Held, Benny Epstein, Alter Inzlicht, Kopel Shohet, and Leib Olesha, he with a wide, parted beard. The sounds of celebration lasted far into the night.
Nearby, east of the Main Synagogue and behind the wayfarers' lodge was the old BesMidrosh of Beniumencia, where the simple folk prayed. Here a Jew of the lowest economic class could find refreshing prayer. Shmerl Shapiro the melamed had his cheder there. It was neither Hassidic nor Misnagdic, just Jewish.
Farther on, south of the small Otiniya Synagogue, was Haim Malachem's kloiz, all by itself. It stood on a plot of land completely covered with weeds low, wide buildings whose wooden walls were black with time. It had a glassenclosed vestibule, and mosscovered branches hung from its roof. The synagogue was called HaimMalachem's kloiz because DovidMalach used to pray there and his son Haim after him. The wellworn pulput, Ark and benches attested to the many generations of worshippers. Rabbi Yitzhak Ziff used to pray there too.
Behind the meat markets, adjacent to Keile Hoffman's inn, a new synagogue was built, of red brick. This was called the OldNew BetMidrash (Herzl's). The worshippers came from all strata of the community. It was easily accessible, being situated in the heart of the city, and passersby came in for mincha or maariv services. Old Friedler was the shamesh there as far back as anyone can remember.
Reb Zissele's kloiz (named for Rabbi Zissele) was rebuilt after the First World War into a large building with tall windows. Because of its large size it was at times used for election meetings. Here, too, the worshippers were from all classes: merchants, scholars, the indigent. Rabbi Ziff prayed here on the Sabbath. Reb NotteShmiel, the religious magistrate (dayyan), occupied a seat opposite the Ark all his days. The cantor was Herzl the son of HonehDavid.
Behind the synagogue was a large empty lot belonging to the town priest. Here the cheder youngsters battled the nonJewish kids from the other side of the lot. Stones flew like hail, and every week new panes had to be put into the windows.
According to Jews who visited Tlumacz after the Second World War, this center of Jewish life is nothing but rubble demolished houses, lonely walls, here and there a chimney still left standing, as if to warn the visitor: Do not come nearer! These ruins cannot be revived!
by Ephraim Schreier
Tlumacz has seen all types of melamdim and their helpers strict and easygoing, calm and nervous, but they all taught with the same singsong chant, as they translated the Torah from the original Hebrew into the spoken Yiddish: Vayedabber and He spoke, hashem God, el to, Moshe his name was Moishe…and if I wasn't paying attention, down would come the melamed's little rod, or his fingers would give my ears a meaningful tweak.
Each one of us young boys began his education in the cheder of Ajzik the melamed. Our first sounds of the alefbet came from his lips. His cheder was in a lane on the way to the Main Synagogue, across from Leib Wieselman's grain storage. The furniture in the cheder consisted of two long wooden benches. Ajzik sat between the two tables. He was a stocky man with a black beard and a pleasant smile. In one hand he held a pointer, and the other hand played with his beard, from which he would now and then pluck a hair. If Ajzik was satisfied with his pupil, he would get up and affectionately pinch his cheek. But if the youngster wasn't doing his work, Rivka, the wife of the melamed, would take him aside and bribe him with a sweet not to upset his teacher.
Another teacher of the young was SzojlMeir. He was a worrier by nature. He had a host of sons and daughters and lived in a small home. In time he was joined by his brother Zeliki, who also became his competitor, later on. SzojlMeir had a red beard, parted one half to each side. He always looked despondent because of the limited space in his home. At long last he moved his cheder to the OldNew Synagogue.
A melamed of a different type altogether was Mendeli from Belz. His home and cheder were in Mexic. The family was compressed into a small home, to which a windowless room was added. The table stood between two beds, and Mendeli sat at its head. He kept on taking snuff all the time; this blocked his nostrils, so that he wheezed much more than he spoke. He wheezed and sneezed and wheezed. He had one good trait, though: whatever the Almighty gave him, he accepted with
gratitude. His wife helped increase the family income by baking home bread for sale. Both of these occupations hardly sufficed to feed the family. His love for Torah made life easier for him.
Yoshe the melamed was different from all the others. He was hearty, merry and lovable. His cheer was in the Tailor's Synagogue, where he served also as the shamesh.
Yoshe's pupils like him real well, also because he spent many hours away from the cheder. He was always busy with public functions. As the shamesh he accompanied the Rabbi to every wedding. He also kept a register of the death anniversaries of the town's important residents. Yoshe was generally calm and serene, but whenever his ire got the better of him, he would yell at his pupils, Barbarians that's what you are! Since his voice was hoarse, the yells were not very convincing.
Mordechai Pusz, thin and agile, was another type. His small face, adorned with a sparse, pointed beard gave him the look of the rear of a plucked chicken. His small greenish eyes kept darting about all the time. In teaching his pupils, he tried to outshout them but quickly ran out of breath and had to resort to his little rod to keep order. On weekdays the pupils came to his home and studied in a small narrow room with one small window, but on Friday he held his class in Reb Zissele's kloiz, while chopping fish for the Sabbath. Every Wednesday he took a bundle of notions to sell at the market. This released us for a war with the stonethrowers from the other side of the field, behind Reb Zissele's kloiz.
Shmerl the melamed was not a Tlumacz resident. He came to town after the First World War. He was a scholar, wellversed in the Torah. He would have had no difficulty teaching it to others, except that he loved to nap. He would lower his beard to the edge of the table and fall asleep. When he woke up, he would find all his pupils gone. Shmerl had a son named Shloimeh. He, too, was talented, but he regarded himself as a prophet and was engrossed in figuring out when Messiah was due to come.
The important melamdim (they who taught Talmud) were Mendele Neeman and Bertche Melamed. Mendele was also kashrut inspector in the meat markets. He had no fixed cheder and used to teach the boys at their homes. He didn't spend much time with his students. It was rumored that at the home of Leiser Schweffelgeist he would imbibe wine which did not come from Jewish sources.
Bertche Melamed's students were known to be outstanding young men. He engaged in no other activity but teaching. His walking was restricted
to the distance between his home and the cheder and the synagogue. He was roundshouldered, and his large head sat stiffly on his short neck. A brownishgray beard adorned his face, and his earlocks were shaped like bottles. His eyes looked out from below his low brow, in gloomy and surly fashion. He was taciturn and never spoke an unnecessary word. His eyes took in everything. He did not berate his students, merely poked them in their armpits. We called this a billiard shot.
Why he was so silent, no one knew. When he died, at a ripe old age, he took the secret to the grave with him.
by Ephraim Schreier
In the past, as we recall, the wedding canopy was set up in the Main Synagogue. Women came with headdress, muslin scarves, long satin dresses and bedecked with finery, and elderly women carrying hallot danced in front of the couple. The wedding feast was held either in the homes of the parents or in a rented hall, usually in Leib Fish's tavern. There were the quiet wedding and the boisterous ones, that is, with an orchestra. Quiet wedding were performed at Chriplin's railway station.
As far as memory goes, not a single groom ever failed to show up at a Tlumacz wedding, and never did a bride elope with one of another faith. Nor did anything like the Tismenitz episode ever happen in Tlumacz there the bride and groom were swallowed up when the ground under them opened, during the ceremony; for generations the spot was fenced off. Not that Tlumacz didn't have its weird happenings, like the disappearance of a woman who had just given birth, during the night of the vigil; the evil spirits supposedly made off with her because the proper Psalm had not been posted in her bedroom.
An orchestra at the wedding was a mark of prestige. Upstanding families imported additional musicians from Stanislawow. The master of ceremonies, Moishe Mendl, also came from Stanislawow. The reinforcements first violin, flute, clarinet and double bass bolstered the Tlumacz musicians: David Weintraub (violin) and David the porter (drums and cymbals).
The first violinist was thin and very tall, like a mast about to snap. As he played, his cheeks became flushed, his eyes darted about wildly and his stub beard rose into the air, making him look like a wellrinsed whitewash brush. As fervor seized him, he would bend his head down to his
violin like a gypsy. Next to him stood the double bass, a roundish man with a prodigious beard that covered the upper half of his instrument. At times he would fall asleep in the middle of drawing his bow across the bridge. The clarinetist, a portly young man with a Chaplin moustache, swayed from side to side as he played, trying to eke every wisp of sound out of each note. His ambition seemed to be to drown out the drum.
As soon as the master of ceremonies announced the first wedding gift, he called for a real fine mazel tov, at which David the porter beat his drum to set the rhythm for all the musicians, a clear indication that the Tlumacz musicians were every bit as good as the imported artists. The hymn to the bride was played, followed by the mitzvah dance, and then the guests joined in the merrymaking, til the hour of midnight.
by Ephraim Schreier
Weeks before the Passover holiday, an air of gaiety and pleasure was already felt in the town. Preparations got underway for the festival. Mothers and children went from store to store shopping for clothes. The tailors were bogged down with work. Houses were given a coating of whitewash, utensils were made kosher for Passover use. The bakeries set themselves up for matzah baking, and the fragrance of fried kneidlach filled the air. The women busied themselves with straining the wine and preparing the cherry jam. The Passover dishes were taken down from the attics. The children showed off their new clothes and engaged in their favorite game rolling nuts.
Every man and his ideas. The town wits had established a tradition for the Great Sabbath, the Saturday preceding the Passover holiday. On this day all the lepers had to take the train to Egypt. The command post was set up near Moishe Held's store, and he himself prepared the green train tickets for the symbolic trip. Those who found these tickets expertly slipped into their pockets were thus sentenced to take the trip. On the Great Sabbath they had to stay inside their homes and not even go to prayers. They had to post their tickets outside the doors of their homes, and the youngsters would come around and sing, The Great Sabbath is a wonderful day, all you lepers to Egypt away!
In recent years this tradition faded away. Gone were the lepers, and everyone could breathe more easily.
by Ephraim Schreier
When the military conscription season arrived, Thlumacz witnessed the famous policy of abstinence: to abstain from food and drink, to stay awake by wandering about all night, using the side alleys so as not to be apprehended by the police all this to the end that when Conscription Day rolled around, the candidates would look emaciated, underweight, and otherwise unfit. Nevertheless, the conscription season had its pleasant aspects.
In the days of the Kaiser, there was an absolutely negative attitude toward serving in the army. Many mothers were convinced that if their sons were kept out of it, the entire military system would fall apart, and peace would reign on earth. They took pride in the ingenuity used by their sons to evade military service. My son, a mother would boast, jumped down from the attic and already in the first jump he was lucky enough to get a double hernia. Others drank vinegar (to slow down the heart action) or rubbed their eyes with a variety of weeds. Still others went to such extremes as to deprive themselves of the sight of one eye or to lop off a finger just so as not to be conscripted.
Under Polish rule, the resistance to serving in the army was not as pronounced. The abstinence was still there, but not as rigid. The wouldbe conscripts fasted during the day and ate during the night. While the town was asleep, they ruled the roost. They played cards on the park benches, changed furniture around by taking the wagon belonging to one teamster and pulling it to the home of a competitor. Or else they would tie a goat under the window of a respectable citizen and leave it there, bleating away. Then they would transfer the firewood in the yard of Yoneh the hardware store man to his pauper brother Yankele, after which they would go to the synagogue, drain the bottles of whiskey stored in the cantor's locker and fill them with water. On Sabbath Eve they would pilfer the plates of gefilte fish set out to cool on the balconies and enjoy their abstinence until the morning hours. Every batch of candidates would boast of its exploits in front of the new batch, while the latter would try to outdo its predecessors.
No account of the abstentionists would be complete without men
tioning an episode which took place during the days of FranzJosef. Gedalia the son of Meyer was summoned to appear before the Draft Board. In the community Gedalia was regarded as being physically inadequate, but the Board thought otherwise and approved his conscription. It occurred to Gedalia to ask the army doctor to allow him to count the beautiful gold buttons on his uniform. As the surprised doctor sat there, wondering what he should say, Gedalia began counting the buttons, from the bottom up. When he reached the top button he punched the doctor in the nose so hard that the medic saw stars. He jumped up and yelled, Get this nut out of here! And so Gedalia was exempt from military service.
by Ephraim Schreier
Tlumacz had a public bathhouse worthy of the name in its most extravagant respects. The smell of hot steam, mixed with a variety of odors, announced its location even before the eye saw it, in a remodeled building which had been all but demolished in the First World War, between the house of Hirsch Friedman the tinsmith and the lumber storehouse of Moishe Fish.
It was an antiquated building of two large rooms. In the larger room were several large yellowing bathtubs, and nearby was the purification bath. The few small private bathtubs were for special guests. The walls were always dripping rivulets of condensation on the rusted pipes. All the corners were covered with mold spores of brownishgreen, and steam filled the entire room.
The second room, across the narrow corridor, was the real steam chamber. It had stone ledges, from the floor up to the ceiling. When the pails of cold water were thrown on to the hot stone, it was like a contest among the bathers, to see who could stand up to the heat, up there on the top ledge. Gentiles also came in for a steam bath plus the rubdown with whiskbrooms applied to the pink and ruddy backs.
Whenever the door of this chamber opened, out would come a gust of steam and odors. Inside, the men kept calling for more water to be poured on the steammaking stone, and the sound of backs being whacked rose above the tumult.
The older men were expert in the ways of sweatouts Oizer, whose asthma should have kept him away but didn't, Naftali (and he was blind), Aaron Loitman (his arthritic feet seemed to come alive in the bathhouse)
and Yehiel the baker. There were no sulphur baths around, but the place smalled of sulphur nevertheless.
The man in charge of the bathhouse was Eisig der Flakernyk, a resident of Vienna for many years, big, goodhearted, wheezing for breath. His top assistant was Mihal, a Gentile, the bath attendant, a man with a red beard and an Austrian army cap on his head. Mihal must have been the reincarnation of a Jew; there was nothing of the goy about him. As Passover neared, Mihal would suddenly remember that he had to go to the dayyan and buy from him the community hometz, by written contract.
Toward sunset on Fridays, the men would come straggling out of the bathhouse, still drying their beards and faces, on the way home to prepare for the Sabbath, refreshed and invigorated by their adventure in the steam world.
by Ephraim Schreier
Year after year, in the early morning hours during the month of Elul, a knock would come on the window. Yoshe the shamesh was there, reminding the good Jews of Tlumacz that the time was on hand for them to visit the graves of their ancestors in the Old Cemetery.
Yoshe had the only key to the cemetery gate. He alone could find the tombstones on the graves of the grandfathers and grandmothers who had passed on; the stone, some of them sunken in the soil, were covered over with grass. Deepgreen moss also covered the stones, making it difficult to read the inscriptions.
Some of the stones dated back to the 17th Century, the days of the pogroms at the hands of Bogdan Chmielnicki.
Visitors to the Old Cemetery were often seized with fright. The spirits of the dead seemed to be moving about, and the silence of generations hung in the air, as thick as the earth beneath which they were lying.
The Old Cemetery occupied quite a large area and was surrounded by a high wall, with an entrance from Slowacki Street. On the other side were the wooden enclosures marking the terminus of the local railway.
On summer evenings the youngsters used to climb up the wall to get at the berry bushes growing inside the cemetery. On Tish'a beAv they gathered a certain sticky briar.
In one corner, near the gate, a small mausoleum contained the tomb of Reb Ziessele. The women lit candles to the Rabbi's soul.
by Ephraim Schreier
My greatgrandfather Moishe had three sons: Shloimeh, YosefShaiye and NotteShmuel. On the death of Reb Shmiel Margulis, my grandfather NotteShmuel was named rabbi, when he was but 18 years old. As I scan the pages of our family album, the image of Grandfather NotteShmuel illuminates my memories of him. I seem to see every line in his face, and I feel his strict yet fond gaze upon me. From my earliest childhood years I had great respect from him, and as I grew older, this feeling grew even more. He was a man of great understanding and tolerance, as interested in the world about him as he was in the Torah and observant of its commandments.
I see him bent over a tome, deep in thought, inhaling the smoke coming through the ambertipped cigarette holder, for hours on end, page after page. The thick lenses of his spectacles, perched on his slightly bent nose, gave his countenance a stern cast. The small transparent veins at his temples seemed to hep0 the flow of his thinking. When weariness finally overcame him, he would close the volume and serenely pass his long fingers through his neat graying beard.
Grandfather did not talk much and refrained from chatting. When two litigants would stand before him, he tried to get them to agree to compromise. If he removed his spectacles and began cleaning the lenses diligently, it meant that he was ready to render his verdict a pure trial by Torah, as the meat market owners used to say.
The aged dayyan had an extraordinary memory. Events, dates, places were preserved in his memory, and it didn't fail him to the day of his death at 84.
He was not a follower of the Hassidic rebbes, but he was a close friend of Rebbe Otiniya, Reb Haim'l Hager. Grandfather spent a good deal of time with him, whenever he paid a visit to Tlumacz.
Grandfather rarely gave sermons or preached. He sought to set an
Example for his people, not to reprove them. The only time I had the privilege of listening to him was when he appeared at the Main Synagogue on the occasion of the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Often I regretted that Grandfather never took me to task because I was not pious. I regarded this as an affront; it meant that it didn't matter to him.
On a dreary March morning, the snow in the streets of the town melted under the crunch of many feet, as a long cortege of men and women and children accompanied my Grandfather, NotteShmuel the dayyan to his final resting place.
by Rabbi Zalman Horowitz
My guide and mentor, my Grandfather Moishe, of blessed memory, was a genius of Torah and a pillar of its implementation. He was a rare figure among the famous Hassidim. His approach to learning was of profound depth, yet based on common sense, which he combined in order to lend substance to truth. This also marked his approach to his relations with other people. Persuasiveness, grace and goodness were characteristic of his doctrine. He loved to devote time to the study of Torah, and his lectures on this theme often stretched into the small hours of the night.
I recall one afterYom Kippur meal, as all of us sat down to break our fast, he refused to join us because, he said, he had spent the day in prayer and therefore gave no time to Torah. Now he was going to pay his debt to Torah, and he did not break his fast until long after midnight.
He was most careful about calumny. I recall a visit to Tlumacz. Several Hassidim came to tell him that they would like to institute a weekly Melaveh Malka gathering every Saturday night in the Chortkow Kloiz for the entire group, and they asked Grandfather to give his blessing. At first he was reluctant to sacrifice study time, but the others insisted that the occasion would provide Torah learning and Hassidic lore. Grandfather finally agreed, on one condition; no mention was to be made by anyone present to those who were absent, to avoid gossip and calumny. He dearly loved the common people. One of his favorite sayings was the famous statement by the BaalShemTov: the reason man was given two
Eyes is so that he should see his own faults with one eye and the good qualities of others with the other.
He was truly humble. One Rosh Hashana the synagogue wardens (gabbaim) wished to honor him by having him recite the names of the shofar sounds to the person blowing the shofar, a distinguished honor. When he refused, one of the gabbaim asked him, Reb Moishe, do you think that anyone here is more deserving of the honor? To which he replied, Every one of the worshippers is worthier.
I recall being taken aback by this remark, which to me seemed to be far from the truth. After all, he was the foremost scholar in the community. Later I asked him about it. He said simply, A shaliach tzibur must be someone who mingles with the people who make him their emissary. I sit and study all day, I do not engage in trade, and I do not do things for people why should I then be privileged to be their emissary? I was astounded by this genuine humility.
I was privileged to learn Torah from him, in his last year. We studied several hours a day in the Tchortkow kloiz. There were other groups in the kloiz for the same purpose, and Grandfather managed to work with me yet keep his ears open to what the others were saying, and whenever his ear told him that some passage was being misinterpreted, he would get up, go over and make the correction. When I commented about this custom, he said, A person is obliged to fulfill all the mitzvot in the Torah. Now doing something for someone is a great mitzvah which I do not get to perform because I do not mingle with people. What, then, will I have to say in the High court of heaven when I will be asked to account for gmilut hasidim. The only thing I can do is to help those who seek salvation in the words of our sages, to seek out the truth in them.:
The Torah I learned from my Grandfather and the fondness he had towards me are my greatest possessions.
by Moshe Flesher
The Rabbi of Tlumacz, in those days of doom, was R. Yitzhak Hager, grandson of the Rebbe of Otinya, R. Haim Hager, and the soninlaw of R. Shlomo Haim Perlow, Rabbi of Perlow. He served in the post for ten years, until the destruction of the Tlumacz Jewish community. He had
a son Mendele; he was ten years old when the Germans killed him.
Since everyone in the ghetto had to work, our Rabbi was engaged in burying the dead. And there were many dead, in those days. Almost daily, people died from hunger, and many were murdered by the Germans and their helpers.
Rabbi Hager was helped in this last act of grace by R.Yisroel Zvi Haller, an extraordinary man who had devoted his life to public welfare, especially to the needs of the poor. He himself was a Burstyner Hassid, and every year he used to go to Stanislawow to spend the Sabbath of VaYehi with his rebbe.
When Rabbi Hager was arrested and was led from the local prison along the streets, with other Jews, to the railway station, one of the Polish overseers, Banderowski, ordered the Rabbi and the others to sing. This was in October 1942. He had to sing all the way. He sang the Song of Songs, and the other Jews sang with him, until they reached the station. There they were loaded into boxcars and sent to Stanislawow, then to Belzitz and RawaRuska, then to the gas chambers.
Shortly before the community was wiped out, the same Banderowski came to the home of my uncle, R. Mendl Hoffman, and wanted to take him away. My aged uncle, with his shrouds in his hands, asked the Polish murderer to kill him on the spot. Banderowski refused, took him away, and tortured him until he died.
Tlumacz was also the residence of Rabbi Elimelech Lam, called the Rabbi from EretzIsrael. He settled in Tlumacz in 1930 and became known as a man of noble character and soul. He was always dressed white, and he put on two pairs of tephilin. He died a few years before the outbreak of the war. His widow, member of an important family (her cousin was the last Rabbi of Blez) was caught by the Germans after Passover of 1942, taken to Stanislawow and put to death, along with hundreds of Jews, in Rudolf Mill.
The son of Rabbi Elimelech, Reb Haim Lam, was a scholar and an excellent speaker. His lectures on Judaism drew large audiences. He was a member of the Mizrachi party and its delegate from Tlumacz to the Zionist Congresses. He established the General Cheder, which won wide acclaim.
The Germans caught him on the eve of Shavuot, 1942, together with 150 other Jews. They were taken to the notorious Janowski Camp in Lemberg, then to Winiki, near Lemberg. He was put to work and later killed.
The martyr Reb Yitzhok'l of Stanislawow is also buried in Tlumacz cemetery. He was the son of the Rabbi of Burstyn, R. Moishele Brandwein.
When the Nazis captured the town and put all its Jews to forced labor, Reb Yitzhok'l was put to work gathering scrap iron and rags for the Germans. For this he had a tag allowing him to travel by train. One day, on his way from Buczacz to Stanislawow, several Germans entered the car. Despite his tag and documents, they took him off the train to the Palahilcze station, then to the Tlumacz cemetery, and there they killed him.
His father, Reb Moishele, was a famous rabbi in Stanislawow. He helped build a small synagogue for Burstyn Hassidim. Mr. Max Feuer of Stanislawow, now residing in New York, told me that he and others had buried Reb Moishele, who body they found at Rudolf Mill, in a talit which they brought with them.
by Rivakh Shtockhammer
My father, Abraham Shtockhammer, the cantor of Tlumacz, was solid of build and broadshouldered. Music was his life; there was never a time that he wasn't crooning a melody to himself, a snatch of prayer music or a Yiddish folksong, as he walked along the street. He spent his spare time poring over collections of songs, scraps of written music, and folklore sources. His tuning fork was his constant companion.
He knew his way about classical Russian music, as well. Born in Berditchev, he absorbed the popular Ukrainian motifs from childhood. Staunch in his faith though he was, my father did not refrain from working with church singers; many of them learned the Ave Maria under his tutelage.
He studied music with the famed Nissan Belzer of Russia and was also a friend of Kussevitsky and Sirota. His salary was not high, and he augmented his income by training choirs for festive state occasions in the town.
I can still hear the tremor in his voice, as he went over Kol Nidre. Many a guest in our home heard him sing, for although my father was not a rich man he also brought home a guest, every Sabbath.
Where are those melodies I loved to hear? Whiter have my father's prayers gone? They are no more, nor is the community there any more. Gone, lost forever.
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