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[Page 125]

Zionist Activity in Turka in the Years 1930-1935

by Zev Steininger

In memory of my dear parents, my brothers and sisters, relatives and friends who did not merit witnessing the birth of Israel.

Even though our city was located far from the large Jewish centers, Zionist life bustled there with full strength. The many Zionist youth groups as well as the pioneering aliya that streamed to the Land of Israel starting from the beginning of the 1920s testify to this. The aliya continued throughout the entire time -- whether through certificate or through illegal aliya.

The majority of the youth were organized into the Labor Zionist camp. This was natural, since the majority of the Jewish population of Turka and its environs were of the working class, tradesmen or middle class.

*

The merit of being first belongs to the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. It was the only one in our town for several years. Only with the increase of Zionist activity in Poland did its echoes begin to reach us too. Representatives of all the movements began to influence and organize the youth.

The Hebrew Akiva youth movement, which had the goal of organizing the studying youth, began its activities at that time among the others. The activity was successful, and the majority of the youth who studied in the gymnasium gathered around that movement. The movement drew the youth toward Zionist actualization by studying the Hebrew language in its many clubs, by sending its pioneering members to hachshara, and by activities on behalf of the Jewish National Fund.

The Akiva movement was the only one in our town to organize a mass gathering when the Nazis, may their names be blotted out, ascended to government. It sounded an alarm regarding the great danger that was hovering and approaching us. The gathering took place in the large Proszbyta Hall, and the young, talented lawyer Yosef Szprung delivered a fiery speech.

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Aside from the youth movements, there were also organization of the older people. It is appropriate to note here the Achva movement of the general Zionists. There was also Hapoel Hamizrachi, which served the religious wing of Zionism in our city.

The crowning achievement of Zionist activity was the Sabbath afternoon meetings. All of the youth gathered in their headquarters and arranged roll calls, and then set out in their groups and brigades toward the open fields outside the city, where they conducted discussions on issues of the day. It is interesting that the place at which all the groups met was called “Das Shomer Veldl” (The Shomer Grove) by the people.

{Photo page 126: The Achva Zionist youth in Turka.}

All of the youth movements of our city joined together in another important field of endeavor. A local convention took place with representation of delegates from all the factions and youth movements. This was a successful activity because, in addition to the meetings of the delegates, large scale educational activities took place amongst all the various Jewish strata.

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One of the foundations of the Zionist education delivered by the youth movements was education toward a Jewish personality who had pride in his Judaism and who would also know how to defend himself in the event of tribulations.

*

Then, the evil decrees began for Polish Judaism: The decrees of Mrs. Prystor[1] and the ban of Jewish shechita (ritual slaughter), the pogroms of Przytyk, and the anti-Semitic incitement in every city and town. Of course, the tribulations did not skip over our city. The gentile stores, barber shops and bakeries began to add the notation “Christian” to their signs…

{Photo page 127: The Achva Zionist youth in Turka.}

The anti-Semitic incitement increased especially among the Ukrainian population who lived on the edges of the city. They often attacked Jewish passers by, especially the Jews of Upper Turka, who had to pass through their neighborhood. The Jews would often defend themselves and return the beating. Such an incident took place on one Sabbath eve when the Jews returned home after the service to Welcome the Sabbath. In the fracas that broke out, the Ukrainians received severe blows from the brave Jews, like the descendents of “Noach Pandre”[2]

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The organized youth reacted to what was taking place to them in those days by clarifying the situation at internal meetings and preparing for self defense. Rumors spread that the surrounding population was planning to perpetrate an attack to plunder the Jewish stores on the market day that took place every Wednesday. The situation would have come to actual violence were it not for the strong reaction of the Jews toward the local authorities. As a result, the authorities took restraining action, and the plans of the hooligans were thwarted.

*

The economic situation worsened day by day. The youth began to leave the city and search for other places to live. Many made aliya to the Land through various means.

The parents remained, and many hoped for the opportunity to reunite with their children, many of whom had arrived in the Land. Alas, all contact was lost at the outbreak of the war, and all hope was lost.

{Photo page 128: Members of the editorial committee of “Iton-Chai” (Living Newspaper). Standing: Yitzckak Karafiol (living in Haifa). Sitting from the right: Naftali Zauerbron of blessed memory, Abish Artel of blessed memory, Moshe Press (living in Haifa), Yaakov Weiss of blessed memory.}


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Mrs. Janina Prystor, a deputy of the Polish Sejm and wife of former Polish Prime Minister Aleksander Prystor. In 1936, she introduced a government bill that would ban shechita. Return
  2. A character from one of the books by the author Zalman Shneur. Return


[Page 129]

Zionist Activists

by Chaim Pelech

 

Yosef Koppel

{Photo page 129: The Hechalutz Organization of Turka, September 15, 1934.}

In the Zionist organization of Turka, the oldest organization in the city, there were many people that excelled with their activity as general activists. Yosef Koppel was one of them. Koppel excelled as an honest and honorable activist and as a nationalist Jew. He was the director of the Gemilat Chassadim Bank. That institution developed greatly under his directorship. The bank functioned very well and efficiently, and administered assistance to hundreds of small-scale merchants and craftsmen. He led the bank for more than twenty years – always with responsibility and without subterfuge.

I recall the following fact: Once I went to him to purchase something. I chanced upon his wife (she was involved in the business) weeping strongly. I asked her, “Mrs. Koppel, why are you weeping?” She answered me, “Why should I not weep – I have a husband who is a bank director, and my husband, the director protested about my five promissory notes that were not paid… He protests about his own promissory notes!…”

I had long known Koppel as an honorable Jew, a son of the judge Elia Koppel. However that fact left a strong impression upon me as something unbelievable.

He was also a very educated man. Under his leadership, the Zionist organization in Turka displayed a great deal of activity in many realms of political and societal life. Still later, when the organization was already led by Dr. Winter or later by Dr. Glick, his influence was still strong. He was numbered among the oldest and first Zionists in the city.

He also took part in the electoral activities for the Austrian parliament on behalf of the Zionists. He campaigned in the city for the candidates – for Dr. Zipper against the assimilationist Dr. Levenstein.

 

The Brothers Baruch and Nissan Maj

Baruch Maj was also numbered among the first Zionists in Turka. He was an intelligent and honorable man. He worked for the party for his entire life, and stood in its first ranks in the darkest of times. Already in the years 1907 and 1911, he was involved in the great struggle for the nationalist candidate Dr. Zipper. At that time, it was still difficult to be a Zionist in Turka. However, Baruch Maj was not from among the cowards. His idealism and dedication to nationalistic matters overcame all difficulties.

His brother Nissan Maj was also a dedicated activist in Turka. In 1919, Nissan Maj was the secretary and council member of the Jewish national council. He demonstrated that he was very capable in political affairs. The opposition did not know what to do about him. Still, everyone had the greatest of respect for him because of his capabilities.

In 1920, Nissan left for Pressburg, and from there for Israel. He died in Israel in 1963. His older aforementioned brother Baruch died in Turka when he was very young.

{Photo page 131: uncaptioned. A group photo.}

 

Matis Operman

He was a representative in the cultural organization. He excelled in his willingness to work for the Zionist organization. As a great liberal, he acted for the entire Jewish population of Turka. He was probably murdered by the German murderers.


[Page 133]

Yiddish Theater in Turka

by Eli Montag of New York

{Photo page 133: Uncaptioned. Eli Montag.}

To the holy memory of my dear wife Peshi and my son Moshele.

I recall that after the First World War, the spiritual and cultural baggage of our town was especially rich. Various groups and organizations of all persuasions constantly sprouted up like mushrooms following a rainfall. Lectures, speeches, and literary evenings of all types were a weekly occurrence.

 

Prior to the First World War

The theater played a very important role in the cultural and social life of our town. It is also worthwhile to mention that from speaking to people older than me, it is clear to me that theater troupes from the former Lemberg and the former “Singer Brothers” used to come to town often and perform Yiddish theater with great success. Already at that time, years before the First World War, Turka had a good drama club with a very active director. His name was Melech Brauer. Under his directorship, they performed plays of Jacob Gordin[1], Avraham Goldfaden, Latiner[2] and others on countless occasions, and the audience literally licked their fingers. It is especially worthwhile to mention two actors from that time. The first is Henia Zuswajn. Incidentally, she stemmed from a well placed family. Her father was

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the honorable Jew, Avraham Zuswein. People who knew her told me how she played Mirele in Gordin's “Mirele Efros”[3]. They said that her playing of that role and her performance on stage can be compared with the best actresses who played that character on the Yiddish stage. The second, Pinchas Rotenberg, who was actually called “Pinchasl” played comical roles. His performance of “Leizer Badchan” in Gordin's “God, Man and Devil” was something special.

 

After the War

Immediately after the First World War, when Jews began to return to the town and the majority of the houses had been destroyed during the war, including the only theater house with a stage; there were some people who found a house that had a large hall, rented it, set up a galiarke as they called it, constructed a stage. Yiddish theater groups from the former Galicia began to come, and theater was once again performed! Truth be told, neither the repertoire nor the performance of the actors was the best. However, the audiences came en masse; first of all because people hungered for Yiddish theater during the war years, and second, because viewing Yiddish theater, hearing and learning to sing a Yiddish song was something that flowed in their blood.

 

Theater Troupes Visit Turka

The rise of better Yiddish theater in Poland also came through our town. In the coffeehouses and the conversation groups, people began to talk about the “Vilna Troupe” and all of the other fine Jewish theater groups that began to appear in Poland at that time. People who had been in a large city and had seen the “Dybbuk” or “Night in the Old Market” there would express their amazement and talk grandly about what they had seen. In fact, Turka was the last point on the map of Eastern Galicia, far off in the mountains near the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border. Nevertheless,

[Page 135]

the Jewish theater contractors knew that Turka was a town where people craved the best Yiddish words, Yiddish songs, and Yiddish melodies. The finest Yiddish theater ensembles in Poland began to visit Turka. Even American theater groups that came to Poland and only visited the largest cities would come to perform also in Turka. In truth, it must be mentioned that at times they bypassed larger cities on their way to Turka and did not perform there. It is not boasting, but rather a description of the cultural level, to list some of the theater troupes and actors that performed in the town from 1928 to 1939. The list is as fallows: The “Azazel” Kleinkunst (cabaret) theater of Warsaw; the “Ararat” Kleinkunst theater of Lodz; Ida Kaminska and her troupe; Jonas and Zygmunt Turkow with their troupe; Boris Tomashevsky from America with his group; Pesachke Bornstein from America with his troupe; Rachel Holtzer, Yosef Kamen, and many, many others. They did not come once in a jubilee, but rather quite often, both in summer and winter. They always performed before a packed theater. The better the performance, the more enthusiastic was the audience, and the bravos deafened the theater hall. We knew that the name of the town of Turka must be well known by every Jewish theatrical contractor, and had an important place.

 

Local Drama Circles

I always took great interest in theater in general and certainly for Yiddish theater. Between 1928 and 1940, I worked as a director and at time an actor in several drama circles in our town. With modest means, I always succeeded in creating the best that was possible. Under my direction, we performed Shalom Aleichem's “The Grand Prize,” “It is Hard to be a Jew,” “People” ; Peretz Hirshbein's “Green Fields”; David Bergelson's “The Deaf Man” and others, which were rehearsed countless times.

I remember the following about the preparations and performance of one of them:

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At around the end of 1930 or perhaps later, the Y. L. Peretz Jewish Culture League set up a dramatic club and I was asked to prepare a performance. I told them that I was prepared to help only on the condition that they forget about light theater and quick performances, but rather work on a long performance that would bring out the best that is possible. Everyone agreed, and even boasted of the idea of preparing a spectacle of a high artistic level. I suggested that we take on “The Deaf Man” by David Bergelson.

After the first reading, at which strong interest was expressed, we discussed the assignment of roles. We abandoned the customary form of “one role for one person.” Two people were selected for each role so that there could be a choice. The tryouts lasted for several months. The participants, young lads and charming girls, created the best character types. A great deal of work took place on the technical side. A special set was constructed, under the supervision of an overseer who made constant demands. The set reflected to a theatrical time and place. In short – we invested a great deal of work in the performance.

It would be improper to neglect to note here the name of Levi Hamerman, under whose supervision every technical detail was prepared with exactitude. At the end, the performance was performed in the town at a very high artistic level. It was considered among the best that had been performed in our town. The performance resonated very strongly within the theatrical world.

Finally, I wish to recall all of the fine young men and women who gave so much of their free time with goodwill toward this fine work; as well the theatrical world, on whose behalf the entire work was conducted, theater goers who themselves for a part of the Jewish way of life., and who took the Jewish word to their hearts and soul. It is a shame that they are not here any more…


[Page 137]

Klezmers Come to the Shtetl

by Chaim Pelech

 

Musicians in Turka

1. Chaim Pelech – Musicians Arrived to Town

One a fine morning at the beginning of 1870, a horse and covered wagon entered the Turka market square, driven by a Jew with a not bad looking beard. Turka Jews soon began to gather around the wagon, thinking that they were wayfarers. The non-local Jew realized this and then said, “Good morning, Jews. I have come to you because I have heard that you have no Jewish musician in town who would play genuine Jewish music at Jewish weddings.”

The non-local Jew continued on, “I present myself before you. I have come to you from Bessarabia. I am the bandleader. This is my wife, and this is my band. I want to play for you at Jewish weddings in such a manner that you have never heard before…”

A wife and five not yet grown up children sat in the wagon. Together, they formed the musical family. The father was named Fridl Operman, and his sons were Shmuel, Moshe-Avraham, David-Itzik, Berl, and Yossel.

The Jews of Turka received him well, simply because they needed them very badly…

The bandleader did not let the Turka Jews down. They were first class wedding musicians. This was despite the fact that they could not play from notes, but only by ear. They specialized in genuine Jewish wedding music, and the Jews of Turka and its environs were very happy and took great pride in them…

Their name began to spread throughout Galicia as well as into Hungary… Rebbes and wealthy Hassidic Jews from Munkacz, Sighet, Beregszasz and other cities in Hungary

[Page 138]

hired them to entertain the guests at their weddings. They were “torn” in that sometimes Turka Jews would have to postpone weddings because the band was taken over by the world…

{Photo page 138: The Operman band.}

The musician brothers grew up and led a very interesting Jewish life in Turka. Three of them had beard and peyos, whereas two of them shaved. The oldest brother Shmuel led the band, and Moshe-Avraham was his second-in-command. The band owned all the instruments needed to play at Jewish weddings.

In those days, weddings were very joyous. Young people used to shout out, “Moshe-Avraham, a Kozokl, Moshe-Avraham, a Brogzl![4]” Then the youths dressed in streimels and silk bekishes went to invite the women to dance with a kerchief in the hand[5]… They came to the women, and quietly laid down the kerchief. The women would take the kerchief and go to dance. At first, they would lower their heads a bit and blush – and the youths with streimels

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danced enthusiastically. When the musicians stopped playing, they would shout out, “Moshe-Avraham, continue, continue, more, more – we will work out the accounts later!” The musicians played, and things got steamy! Who can imagine and comprehend today the great joy that overtook the crowd during those weddings. The Turka band cooperated wonderfully.


[Page 139]

The Orchestra in the New Times

by Moshe Frum

With time, the primitive musicians modernized and became accustomed to the new times. The sons of Moshe-Avraham and Shmuel Operman learned how to play from notes and formed themselves into an organized orchestra that not only played at Jewish weddings, but also gave concerts and played in theatrical performances and dance evenings that were often organized by the modern Turka youth.

The orchestra developed especially after the First World War. The Opermans studied music when they were refugees in Vienna. When they returned to Turka after the war, they once again took up their former livelihood.

A movie theater with talking films was started in the city. They would accompany the show with music. Often, the audience would derive more pleasure from their accompaniment than from the film… When various theatrical troupes from all places in Poland would often visit the town, they would engage the orchestra as accompaniment. The Ukrainians and Poles would also engage the Jewish orchestra for their performances that took place in the Sokul and Prasawyta cultural centers.

Thus, the orchestra was loved by the entire population of the city. Its good name also spread far beyond the bounders of Turka. When the Munkaczer Rebbe of holy blessed memory married off his daughter, he specifically hired the Turka musicians for the wedding. Even though Muncacz was situated within the borders of

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of Czechoslovakia at that time, the Rebbe obtained a special permit for them to travel across the border. The orchestra remained there for a month and entertained the guests in the rebbe's court. The Turka musicians would not forget that wedding for a long time… Aside from the fact that they ate and drank the finest and best of the rebbe's table, they returned home laden with money. The payment was sufficient for wood and potatoes throughout the entire winter, and there was enough left over for shoes and outfits for the children.

The unfortunate thing was that such wealthy weddings took place one in a blue moon... In general, our musicians were paupers who struggled hard for their existence. They would often have to perform more tricks to provide for the Sabbath than to perform music… Therefore, each of them had to have a secondary source of livelihood, otherwise they would have been unable to sustain themselves.

*

The Operman family remained the primary kernel of the orchestra. Their name was synonymous with musical activity in Turka. As has already been mentioned, some of them studies music in the Vienna Conservatory when they were there as refugees in Austria. One member of the family even became a great virtuoso, but he remained in Vienna and did not return to Turka… The chief leader of the orchestra was Itche Operman, who was known as “Itche Grotsz” (Itche the Hot Headed). He took care of all the administrative details, however he did not play the first violin in the orchestra itself. He was a householder. He had his own small house on the Railway Street and a house full of children… He earned his livelihood with difficulty from the bow, and he broke the musical tradition of the family – he permitted his children to learn other trades…

His brother Leibish Operman was a good violin player. Aside from playing in the orchestra, he also gave music lessons, thereby earning his livelihood for his large family.

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The greatest musician in the family was Matis Operman. He was the only one for whom music was lifetime employment. His primary livelihood was from a colonial business for musical instruments located on the Railroad Street. He only took part in the orchestra for serious endeavors such as concerts or musical theater accompaniment when a Jewish or Ukrainian theater troupe would visit the city. He would seldom play at weddings. If a local wealthy person would marry off a child and specially request that Matis Operman play at the wedding, it would be much more expensive. Not everyone could permit themselves such excessive luxuries.

In truth, it was a special experience to hear Matis play first violin. He would stand earnestly before the entire orchestra and majestically move the bow up and down, bringing out hearty notes from his fine instrument. One did not have to be a special connoisseur of music to realize that a talented musician was standing there.

Things were so good for him that he did not play his music for the purpose of livelihood. He perhaps occupied himself with his music more for his spiritual world. The other orchestra members played more confidently when he was playing with them… They would then all play more seriously, with some sort of special responsibility. They would not rush, and they made sure that they got through it properly. People used to say, “When one has a good wagon, it is also easier to go by foot…”

Pinchas Schwartz was also a good musician. He played many instruments: the violin, trumpet, double bass, and others. He could also sing from notes, and he indeed organized the choirs of the youth organizations and directed their performances.

Pinchas Schwartz came to Turka as a young child already before the First World War. He worked with the city cantor Isser Maj, and sang with him as a singer in the synagogue. With time, he got married and became a resident of the town. He did not make a great

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fortune. He worked a great deal: playing at night and giving lessons during the day. Even from all that, he did not have enough for the Sabbath… In order to support his wife and four children, he also had to work as a night watchman in a lumber warehouse…

Leibish Artel played the clarinet, flute, alto, and also the violin. However with all this: with all the instruments and the meager livelihood – he also worked as a hairdresser.

Hershele Poyker (the Drummer) also belonged to this group. He was a small Jew, who worked as a bricklayer as his main source of livelihood. He played the drum in his free time. That is why he had the nickname “Poyker.”

*

{Photo page 142: An amateur orchestra in Turka under the direction of Pinchas Schwartz.}

Indeed, our musicians did not earn an easy livelihood. As has been said, they always struggled hard for their existence. However, they

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lived respectable lives as householders and raised their children well. It is worthwhile to emphasize an interesting phenomenon that characterizes their decency. In contrast to them was the merchant class, whose members always fiercely competed with each other, and often came to disputes and even to blows, frequently ending with a Torah based judgment or a court case. On the contrary, peace always pervaded between our musicians. They lived literally like a single family, and never came to any battles. They worked hard for their hard-earned groszy. They were indeed loved greatly by the local population, both Jewish and Christian.

{Photo page 143: Berish Miriam's engaged in a conversation about current events on the street.}


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Mikhailovich_Gordin Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Lateiner Return
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirele_Efros Return
  4. Names of dances. Return
  5. So that there would be no physical contact between the sexes. Return


[Page 144]

Moshe Shein

by Chaim Pelech

Moshe Shein was an interesting and special personality. He was the first Socialist in town; he founded the Z. P. S. (Zydowska Partja Socialisticzna) Jewish Socialist organization, which was, on a nationalist scale, a division of the P. P. S. Polish Socialist organization.

This took place still in 1911. Moshe Shein rented a room in the attic of Mordechai Klein's house. There, he assembled the “proletariat” of Turka: a few young tailors, a few young shoemakers, and a couple of young carpenters. There were no women there, for they were ashamed…

Shein was connected with the small P. P. S. group that was in Turka; He was liked by them as well, for he appeared on stage at their meetings, where he spoke with enthusiasm, gesticulating greatly with his hands… On May 1st, 1911, he organized, together with the P. P. S., a workers' demonstration. This was the first time something of this nature took place in Turka. Jews indeed claimed that this was the end of the world: Such smart Alecs going in the streets of Turka with red flags, and together with the Christians!

However, Moshe Shein did not listen to them. He was very active. Still in the same year, during the election campaign between the assimilationist Dr. Levenstein and the Zionist Dr. Zipper, he worked on behalf of Dr. Zipper. He organized election meetings and demonstrations against Dr. Levenstein day and night. He was not afraid of anyone…

Aside from this, he had some sort of a “speech job” in Turka. In a certain house on the Rynek, he had a table with a bench – and he delivered Socialist speeches to Jews and gentiles. He had a Ukrainian friend named Kopushtak, and both disseminated Socialist propaganda. When Moshe was speaking, Kopushtak sat on the stool and acted as chairman… He loved it when Moshe spoke. He was dressed with a bright red bow. He stood at the table and delivered fiery propaganda regarding a Socialist order…

Shein was never lacking a topic for a speech. His topics included the matters of the profinancia [1] that suddenly took hold; the Starosta [2] Lokamski with whom Moshe Shein had spent the years; and other topics. Above all, he was a very honorable person and a nationalist Jew.


After the First World War, Moshe Shein changed somewhat. The world concerned him less, and he began to take interest in Jewish problems. He then joined the Poale Zion party, which had been founded in Turka by Shlomo Pelech. He served as chairman of the party for a long time, and was also a representative on the Turka city council, having been elected by Poale Zion. His popularity was very great among both the Jewish and Christian populations. Everyone trusted and had faith in him.

Later, in 1933, when Hitler took control of Germany, he said that Jews must flee from Poland. He used to say that Hitler is not only in Berlin, but he would soon be in Turka too…

He indeed set out on his way. He sold his small house in 1935, and left for the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, he did not live long there.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The liquor monopoly. Return
  2. Starosta is a mayor or regional head. Return


[Page 146]

Personalities of Turka

by Shmuel Kraus of Haifa

 

Heshio (Tzvi) Buchman

{Photo page 146: Uncaptioned. Heshio Buchman.}

He still stands before my eyes in full stature, despite the decades that passed, as a student in the local gymnasium. He was quiet, polite, with the outline of peyos on his cheeks. He was well-known for his talents and knowledge. He inherited the scholarly quiet from his father. His father was modest, and a great scholar. According to Reb Hershel Rand of Tarnowa, he was a religious Zionist with consciousness – the first in our town.

He stood out in the gymnasium on account of his diligence and quick grasp. In addition to his secular studies and his Gemara studies with his father, he studied typesetting and printing in Grossman's printing house. Aside from playing the mandolin, he composed actual lyrics appropriate for the realistic situation in the school for all the “hit songs.” He translated poems, drew caricature illustrations, wrote articles for the school newspaper, and helped those who were struggling without exception.

He studied oriental studies in university. I recall that when I met him before I made aliya to the land, and he told me that the famous Polish orientalist Smogozynski visited Saudi Arabia at the end of the 1920s and received an ancient Arabic manuscript as a gift from King Ibn Saud. After he translated it, he felt the need to publish his research with the source. On account of his fluency in Arabic script and knowledge of printing, Heshel[1] arranged, printed and published the first book in Arabic writing in Poland.

Buchman was also involved in the translation of the poems of Bialik, Tshernikovsky and others into Polish, a long time before Shlomo Dikman of blessed memory. He published his translations in the daily newspapers of Poland.

 

Abish (Abba) Artel

He was a scholar with pleasant mannerism, and a friend. Political differences of opinion did not

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cloud our friendship. He was among the founders of Gordonia in the city. He was active and urged others to be active in our cultural life, especially amongst the youth.

He began to study medicine in Prague, but he interrupted his studies for reasons that are unknown to me. When he returned, he dedicated himself with heart and soul to Hechalutz, and was also a member of its headquarters. After I left Turka, echoes of his successful work along with his friend Ruchia Zulinger reached me. In the Land, I dreamed that we would be together, and I awaited the moment of his arrival. He was killed along with Ruchia in the forest a short time before the liberation.

An entire family was cut off in this manner, for his brother Tovia, a member of Nir-David and a soldier in the brigade was murdered by the British on the “Black Sabbath”[2] on his way to fortified Ein Harod.

 

The Priest Kolkowski

We could often see him as he descended from the Polna with his black robes. He had a protruding stomach, an ugly face filled with youthful blemishes despite his advanced age[3], a thick, red nose and bleary eyes.

He reached the rank of prelate in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He preached tolerance. I heard this when I remained in the classroom by chance during the religion classes at the gymnasium.

When Turka was captured by the Nazis, the Ukrainians demanded a “free hand” to wreak judgments upon the Jews. He, the priest, presented himself before the German command and demanded that by virtue of his authority that this be prevented. Using polished German, he succeeded in his objective on that occasion, even though this did not help during the time of organized mass murder.

It is fitting to recall him in a positive light for this deed.

 

The Circle of the Intelligentsia

During the First World War, the same thing happened to the Jewish youth as happened to the youth from various countries who arrived in the Land during the period of the ingathering of the exiles. The older youth, who were forced to wander from Turka into the bounds of Austria or Bohemia with their families in the wake of the Russian advance during the First World War, stood face to face with the secular, western culture, especially with German culture. Of course, this had its influence and left its mark on all areas of the life of these youths. When they returned to their towns before the end of the war, they were recognized by their dress, mode of conversation, occupations and comportment.

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I recall the small group of that type. Motty Shein, Elisha Reichter, Yosef Baranka, and Eigler belonged to it. They would sit until late at night and discuss the meanings of the concepts of “subject” and “object,” and the difference between Hegel and Nietzsche. They would recite “Hapaamon” (The Bell) by heart, and delve into the meaning of Faust with breadth and sharpness. They also occupied themselves with the “modern” subjects of that time, such as telepathy, hypnosis, spiritualism, and the like. They were also additional groups of this genre. Their intellectual consciousness and serious relationship to matters of the spirit are etched deeply in my memory and have not left to this day…

{Photo page 148: The Poale Zion group in Turka}


[Page 149]

Memories from my Parental Home

by M. and Ch.

 

Reb Avraham Alter Montag

Father was a tailor by profession, but tailoring was a minor component of his life. Her primary activity was social and communal activism.

First of all, there was the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) which he headed. Incidentally, there was a tradition amongst the tailors to be involved in that organization. The cemetery, which was located on the mountain and covered completely with trees and greenery, was close to the home of Reb Avraham Alter. On Sundays during the harsh Carpathian winter, when the wagons from the villages around Turka, which were home to many Jews, began to bring the reapings of the Angel of Death from the latter days of the week – there was no need to inform Reb Avraham Alter, the head of the Chevra Kadisha. He came himself. He saw those wagons from the window of his house and ran “upward” to take care of things. He fulfilled this task with exceptional devotion, for he regarded this as a true act of kindness. He regarded this type of activity as the purpose of his life, which provided some sort of mystical connection with the world of truth… The entire household was affected by this spirit. For example, Reb Avraham Alter's mother prepared exceptionally fine shrouds for herself during her lifetime.

His communal activities generally took up his entire mornings. Only afterwards did he sit down to work in his trade… His house was a meeting place for activists, and served as the gathering place for the “prayer quorum” not only on Sabbaths but also on weekdays. His wife was also affected by this spirit and agreed to host the prayer quorum, whether willingly or whether because she had no choice. She also served as the head of the prayer quorum for women on Sabbaths and festivals. She was a righteous woman who loved to give and assist.

*

Reb Avraham Alter's home was built in that place in the latter part of the 19th century after the “Great Fire.” In general, that fire served as a reference point for marking time: a certain event took place so and so number of years before the fire; and another, so and so years after it… With the passage of time, when the Great Fire was forgotten, the large and small floods took its place: so and so number of years after the Great Flood… Thus, for example, Reb Avraham Alter's mother, who was a beloved midwife and who took pride in that over “half of the children of Turka” were hers, that is to say, that they came to the world through her midwifery – she herself counted the years with reference to the floods: so and so many years before the

[Page 150]

a certain flood, and so and so many years after another one… Indeed, everyone knew that she was already an octogenarian…

Indeed: Reb Avraham Alter's home was built immediately after the Great Fire of the town, along with other houses, in the well-known “Ilyca.” At that time, there was a feverish building effort in the city, and the bricks were brought to the building site straight from the over in the kiln. The builders stood by and waited for their materials…

 

Turka Arranges an Exile

Near the house lived a Ukrainian blacksmith who was an avowed anti-Semite, despite the fact that many Jews lived near his workshop. He always plotted to do something against his neighbors. He eventually found a propitious moment: when the Jews of Turka arranged an exile; when they escaped the wrath of the “Puni” brigades at the outbreak of the First World War, this anti-Semitic blacksmith was the first one to break into the homes of his Jewish neighbors, first and foremost the home of Reb Avraham Alter, in order to pillage everything that remained.

Reb Avraham Alter set out in haste at the head of the Jews of our town in order to go into exile, as has been said, to foreign parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until the wrath would past. Everyone went out bereft of everything – taking only such things as could be carried by hand. However, Reb Avraham Alter did not think of his personal effects. He took in his hands the Torah scroll that was in his house. Thus, they reached the village of Sianki. There, the found out that one of the Jews remained in the town, and that the hooligans were not letting him leave… Reb Avraham Alter left behind his family and the wandering refugees at a certain point, and decided to return himself to the town to redeem the Jews. He took with him a unique means of persuasion: a bottle of liquor…

 

The Refugees Return Home

After the war, the Jews of Turka, including Reb Avraham Alter, returned to their ruined houses. The Ukrainian blacksmith once again took advantage of the chaos that pervaded during the change of regime, and plotted murderous deeds. In the darkness of night, he sent soldiers to the home of Reb Avraham Alter to plunder and murder. There were several non-family members as well as family members, including his brother, in his narrow house at that time.

When the hooligans broke into the house, they started to deal with Reb Avraham Alter and were about to murder him. The children raised an outcry, but none of the neighbors were brazen enough to come and save them… The situation was very bad. However, salvation came from the uncle who was sleeping in a hidden corner. When he realized that the hooligans were beating Reb Alter, he burst forth suddenly, extinguished in the darkness the candles

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that were in the hands of the hooligans, and began to take away their guns in the darkness. The hooligans felt that a large Jewish resistance was being mounted, and they fled from the house.

Attacks were perpetrated also in other places in the city. The Jews saw that their blood was forfeit, and mounted a “self defense.” At that time, the young Abba Chushai began to operate in the town.

*

Reb Avraham Alter succeeded in making aliya to the Land in 1937, and died at an old age in Haifa in 1952.

{Photo page 151: Reb Avraham Alter Montag.}


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Heshel is another nickname for Heshio. Return
  2. See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Black_Sabbath.html Return
  3. I suspect that this is a reference to pimples. Return

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