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[Page 95]

The Religious Life of the Jews of Drohobycz

by Yehuda Ben Avraham

Translated by Moshe Lubianiker

The Jewish residents of Drohobycz worked hard, day and night, and were completely involved in their businesses and their work. However, when mincha[1] time came, a congregation made out of these same preoccupied and busy Jews filled the synagogues and batei midrash (houses of study). Many of them were not satisfied just with the service and remained attached to the bookshelves to continue studying: some the Gemar[2], others the Mishna[3], and some Ein Yaakov[4], each according to his ability. A Jew arriving in Drohobycz on the midnight train or even later would rather enter a kloiz[5] than a hotel. In winter, he would find the kloiz heated and lit, boasting a free cup of tea and a homey atmosphere, where he could feel that he was among brethren, not strangers. The batei midrash served both for study and prayer. The chanting of the Gemara filled the study halls of Drohobycz night and day. During the day, youngsters and young married men (who were financially supported by their in-laws) delved into learning the Torah. In the evening, baalei batim[6], merchants, industrialists, and craftsmen joined them and the classes were devoted to Abaye and Rava[7].

The kloiz of Sadigura[8] had its special place in the religious life of the Jews of Drohobycz. It was located in the courtyard of the late Tsadik Rabbi Chaimoniew, ZT”L[9]. Another of the (famous) batei midrash was that of the Boyen Hassidim and there were many more. In these hassidic Courtyards the special hassidic atmosphere of Drohobycz was created and cultivated. After a hard day's work, a Jew would go to the kloiz where he could unburden his heart of worries, forget his everyday problems, and absorb the light of the Jewish spirit. In the kloiz holy meals (mitzva meals)[10] were arranged, a lechaim would be drunk for the yohrzeit[11] of a departed Rebbe. There, the congregants celebrated all their joyful occasions. In the kloiz, one would be acquainted with those in need and those who could lend a helping hand. The Jews discussed world affairs and community concerns, including choosing a new Rabbi.

Politics played an important part in the lives of the Jews. The kloiz also took political positions. Candidates for the City Council of Drohobycz sought the approval of the Jews of these courtyards.

The haredim[12] called the main synagogue of Drohobycz, the Ashkenazi Synagogue. Its service was the same as in other synagogues. No organ was played, the women prayed in a separate area, and only men sang in the choir.

Once a year, on May 3, a Polish national holiday, Rabbi Dr. Avigdor would give a lecture in the Polish language. In the year 1920-21[13], the yeshiva where my father, HARHAG[14] Rabbi Avraham Kitaigorodski, ZT”L, served as Headmaster of the Upper School, moved from the building known as Talmud Torah (under the leadership of the chief Rabbinical judge Rabbi Zeev Velvele, ZT”L) to the building of the main synagogue (under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Dr. Avigdor).

The Jews of Drohobycz had a strict method of Hebrew education. The program included reading in Hebrew (ivri), afterwards the study of the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Posek (the study of Prophets and the other books of the Bible). Finally the Gemara and the Poskim[15] The education system of Drohobycz had three schools for that purpose: the elementary school heder – for young children; the middle school[16] – for the study of the Pentateuch with Rashi's[17] commentary, the Shulchan Aruch[18], Jewish Law and the Mishna; And the high school (known as the Metivta[19]) where the Gemaraand (Talmudic) commentaries were studied. The Metivta was a Rabbinical educational institute intended for those who engaged exclusively in the study of the Torah. I remember the yeshiva that my father, ZT”L, presided over as headmaster, first in the TalmudTorah building where he resided, and then in the main synagogue. Even the poorest of Jews wanted their sons to learn the Torah even if it meant scrimping for food. This is the way a Jew was educated throughout the generations in the Diaspora, and in Drohobycz as well.

My father, ZT”L, passed away at his home, lying very ill in his bed, while lecturing a group of intellectuals, merchants and craftsmen on the Eight Chapters of the Rambam[20]. Among his accomplishments was the education of an entire generation of students and the spreading the word of the Torah publicly. The community, headed then by Dr Tennenbaum, honored his memory and his loss was felt heavily by the entire city. He was buried alongside the Tsadik of Karlin,[21] ZT”L.


Footnotes
  1. Mincha: the afternoon prayer service usually held an hour before sunset. Return
  2. Gemara: the main body of the page of the Talmud, occupying its center and printed in formal block letters. The Gemara is an interpretation of the Mishnah. Semantically, the words “ Talmud ” and “ Gemara ” are actually synonymous deriving from words meaning, “study”or “learning”. Talmud is Hebrew, whereas Gemara is in the Aramaic dialect of the Babylonian Talmud. Return
  3. Mishnah: the collection of interpretations of the legal portions of the Torah and a codification of traditional Jewish practice. The Mishnah and the Gemara constitute the Talmud. Next to the Scriptures, the Mishnah is the basic textbook of Jewish life and thought, coveringsuch things as agriculture, the Sabbath and religious festivals, marriage and divorce, and civil and criminal matters. The final compilation of the Mishnah was made under the direction of Judah Ha-nasi from the work of the Tannaim , a group of sages of the first and second centuries. Return
  4. Ein Yaakov: acompilation consisting of all of the legends but none of the legal material in the Talmud, by Ya'akov ibn Habib (1460-1516) usually regarded as being of lesser importance than the more “serious” rabbinical texts. Return
  5. Kloiz (Yid): house of worship or study. Return
  6. Baalei batim (Heb): Literally “owners of houses”, meaning persons in authority. The author implies that these were engaged in commerce and industry in contrast with full time scholars. Return
  7. Abaye and Rava: Two of the most prominent Babylonian Amora'im (Fourth Generation). Abaye, who died in 339, headed the academy at Pumbedita. Rava (bar Joseph bar Hama) who died in 352, founded an academy at Mahoza. The disputes and discussions of these two scholars, students of Rabbah (Rabbah bar Nahmani, died in 330), are found on almost every page of the Babylonian Talmud. Return
  8. Sadigura or Sadiger: a branch of the Ruzhiner dynasty of Rabbis, sometimes called the “Golden Dynasty” that began with Rev. Abraham Yaakov of Sadiger (b. 1820). The dynasty divided in the last decade of the nineteenth century and one of the branches settled in Drohobycz. Return
  9. ZT”L: Zekher Tsadik Lebracha: “the memory of the righteous should serve as a blessing”, a traditional phrase used when referring to learned rabbis who are deceased. Return
  10. Mitzva meals: suppers held on the occasion of religious festivities or for the purpose of raising funds for the community. Return
  11. Yohrzeit : the anniversary in the Jewish calendar of the date of a person's death. Return
  12. Haredim : ultraorthodox Jews. Return
  13. The Jewish year 5680 beginning in the autumn of 1920. Return
  14. Harav Hagaon : The genial Rabbi, an honorary title given to teaching Rabbis. Return
  15. Poskim: a collection of questions and answers on the Halacha gathered from thousands of books and pamphlets published by authoritative :abbis whose opinions are regarded as the spirit of the law regarding the Halacha. Return
  16. Equivalent to junior high school. Return
  17. Rashi: Rabbi Solomon Bar Isaac of Troyes (1040-11O5), probably the best-known medieval Jewish scholar. Return
  18. The Shulchan Aruch (Set Table) is a compendium of those areas of the Halacha (Jewish religious law) that are applicable today. Composed by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the 1560's, and supplemented by Rabbi Moses Isserlis of Kracow in the 1570's it is generally accepted as authoritative and represents the Halacha as followed by Ashkenazi Jews. Return
  19. Literally “the best of the best”. Return
  20. The treatise by Maimonides on ethics. Return
  21. Reb Aharon of Karlin (1802-1872): son of Rebbe Asher of Stolin, father-in-law of the Sadigura Rabbi and the founder of the Karliner dynasty which still thrives today. Return

[Pages 96-99]

Drohobycz between the Two World Wars

by Shmuel Rothenberg z”l

Translated by Sara Mages

Edited by Valerie Schatzker and Alexander Sharon

Before the Second World War the population of Drohobycz consisted of about 38,000 people: 19,500 Jews, 11,000 Poles, and 7,500 Ukrainians. The Jewish population was composed of merchants, doctors, lawyers, engineers, a small class of industrialists, factory clerks, labourers, artisans, people without a profession, and beggars. There were about twenty Jewish public organizations in Drohobycz and some of them were very active.

 

The Jewish Community

Until the Jewish National Bloc in the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish parliament) gained control of the Jewish communities in the cities of Poland, the Jewish community of Drohobycz had been called the religious community of the Jewish people (Izraelicka gmina wyznaniowa). After the Jewish National Bloc took over the community, it was renamed the religious Jewish Community (Zydowska gmina wyznaniowa). Only those citizens who paid a tax had the right to vote for the board of this community, and this tax was imposed only on those whom the politicians were convinced were Polish Jews. With the establishment of the Polish state, Jews who held nationalist sentiments became the active members of the Jewish community of Drohobycz. The first president of the community council, Dr. Avraham Backenroth, resigned because of ill health; Dr. Leon Tannenbaum was elected in his place. Mr. Wilhelm Ruhrberg was elected chairman of the council.

After the Jewish National Bloc gained control of the community, it began to regulate its legal status. With a great deal of money and a lot of work, it repaired the bathhouse and put it into operation, established a cemetery, and built an orphanage on a large plot of land that had been owned by Ukrainian farmers for several hundred years.[1] An old folks' home was established and the Jewish Hospital, which was about to be closed, was handed over to a special committee chosen for this purpose.[2] The committee members were: the engineer Karl Bauer, Dr. Yona Hirschdorfer, Maurycy Freund, Shmuel Rothenberg, Dr. Meisels, the engineer Alexander Goldwasser, Dr. Shmuel Michel, Dr. Viktor Kreisberg and Leon Schutzman. After four years of hard work, the board was able to repair the hospital building. Central heating was installed, twenty beds were added, and proper equipment was provided. In the fall of 1938, the hospital was returned to the Jewish community. It was designed by the engineer Goldwasser, who also directed the building's renovation from start to finish. Dr. Viktor Kreisberg was elected as the hospital's first director. No one could foresee the important role that the hospital would fill during the days of the Nazi occupation. In those days, Jews were not accepted at the General Hospital and could be cared for only at the Jewish Hospital. Although none of the hospital's patients remained alive at the end of the occupation, at least for a short time, they were able to get necessary medical service.

In 1918, with the re-establishment of the community in the new Polish Republic, the pictures of the first leaders of the community, whose images I can still see today, were removed from the walls by Dr. Leon Tannenbaum. The pictures of Yehoshua Sternbach (Yehoshua Regirer), the grandfather of Professor Leon Sternbach, Yosef Hersch Sternbach, Markus Sternbach, Eliyahu Feuerstein, Yona Kuhmärker, Dr. Alexander Bergwerk, Hersch Goldhammer, and Maurycy Parnes had been hung on the walls of a room in the community building.

For many years the driving force of assimilation in Drohobycz was Dr. Jacob Feuerstein, who served as the president of the community and also as the Vice Mayor. He was a man of iron will who did not surrender to pressure or resistance from any side. He ruled the city. He appointed the mayors, the city council members, the community board members, the rabbis, and also approved the appointment of the city's priests. He eliminated his political opponents by any means. He punished tavern owners, who did not vote for his list of candidates, by rescinding their tavern permits. Those who owned old houses that needed repair were not allowed to fix them. Not even minor work, such as repairing the roof tiles, etc. would be permitted. He would assemble a special municipal committee to certify that these houses were “dilapidated”. He destroyed hawkers' stalls in the small marketplace if their owners were his political opponents. He influenced the factory managers to lay off workers who didn't support him. On the other hand, he helped his political followers and his influence reached the highest authorities in the country. He behaved in the same manner towards the Polish and the Ukrainian population. In 1907, in one of the city council meetings, when Sieroniecki,[3] then the high school principal, expressed his opposition to one of Feuerstein's proposals, Feuerstein replied, “You Poles, what do you have here? Take your churches and your sport's auditorium and go to hell.” The Poles didn't forget this meeting, and when the Polish state was established they changed the name of Jacob Feuerstein Street to Henryk Sienkiewicz Street.

In 1911, Jewish youth received the right to vote for the Austrian Parliament for the first time.[4] They were the same young people that Feuerstein had treated with contempt, calling them “the boys”. They united against him.

In these elections, Feuerstein won a decisive but bloody victory.[5] Due to the storm and the discontent among the Jewish population, Feuerstein and his supporters moved out of the public eye and went to live in Vienna for a short period of time. After they returned, no one disturbed them with their future political action.

 

The Orphanage

After the election struggle, Jacob Feuerstein, the president of the Jewish community, decided to raise money for an orphanage. He turned to the city's wealthy residents and to the oil magnates who lived in Vienna and, in a short period of time, the required funds were collected. A plot of land the size of three dunam[6] was purchased in Sobieski Street, and the construction of the building started. The leaders of the building committee were: Josef Metzis, the engineer Karl Bauer, Henryk Kuhmärker, the municipal fund manager Leon Schutzman and Adolf Kiesler. The building was designed by the engineer Franciszek Jelinek. In the fall of 1913 a magnificent building, whose cost of construction including equipment was more than $100,000 was finished.

At first, twenty-five orphans were brought to the institution. Karl Unter was elected as director. On 16 September 1914, Drohobycz was occupied by the Russian Army, who used the building as barracks. On 15 May 1915, when Drohobycz was occupied again by the Austro-Hungarian army, the building was used as a military hospital. Only in the spring of 1919 was the orphanage officially returned to the Jewish community by the Polish authorities. The reconstruction, approved by the Austrian authorities, was implemented by the Polish authorities, and an amount of 225.000 z³oty[7] secured the existence of the institution. Forty children were accepted to the orphanage. A committee was established, whose members were: Josef Metzis, Dr. Witold Weisenberg, Karl and Chana Bauer, Shmuel Rothenberg, Henrik Kuhmärker, Dr. Sigmund Barchasz and Emil Safran. Over time, the number of children in the institution reached seventy. After the leadership of the community had been transferred to Zionist circles, they directed their attention to the education of the children in the national spirit. A Hebrew teacher was hired and a suitable library estabished. The community property, mentioned above, was transferred to the orphanage and a farm established under the management of the writer of these lines. The farm also served as model for the area's farmers. We had ten cows and a couple of horses. The orphanage developed an active program and its situation improved day by day. We were helped by the organization of former residents of Drohobycz and Boryslaw in New York. In 1933, the committee decided to organize a foundation. This it caused a sharp conflict between Metzis' group and the group represented by Leon Tannenbaum. Metzis and his supporters believed that the directors of the fund should be people who contributed to the founding of the building. Tannenbaum explained his opposition on the ground that most of the contributors had converted or were going to convert in the near future, and that Jews will never agree to the establishment of a fund whose members would be Gartenberg, Feuerstein, and the like. After a lengthy negotiation, Metzis yielded to Tannenbaum. With the help of a man from Drohobycz, Dr. Herman Horowitz, brother of David Horowitz president of the Bank of Israel, who served as the director in the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance in Warsaw, it was agreed by both sides to form the first board of governors for the Jewish orphanage. Metzis was elected as the institution's president for the duration of his life. The other members were: Chana and Karl Bauer, Shmuel Rothenberg, Dr. Z. Barchasz , Dr. Josef Friedman, Dr. Avraham Backenroth, Dr. Leon Tannenbaum, Dr. Yoachim Hausmann, Avraham Fränkel, Leon Spandörfer and Wilhelm Ruhrberg. To be precise, I would like to mention the commemorative plaques of marble, which hung on the walls of the building's corridor. One of them had the following inscription: “This building was built during the reign of our beloved king Kaiser Franz Joseph I.” With the establishment of Poland, the plaque was turned and another inscription, appropriate to the spirit of the times, was written on it. The second inscription read: “Eliyahu Feuerstein initiated the idea of establishing the orphanage and his son Yakov executed it” The third inscription said: “Giving to the orphans is like giving to God”. There were also a number of plaques that listed the names of the people, who contributed large sums of money for the establishment of the institution.

In February 1939, the board of governors decided to sell five percent of the foundation's bonds, and purchase a large building in Lwów with the money. Dr. L. Tannenbaum, Dr. Josef Friedman and Shmuel Rothenberg were sent to Lwów and bought the building at 3 Jan Lam Street for 230,000 z³oty. In 1937, Mrs. Henrietta Adolf died in Drohobycz and left her beautiful home on the market square to the orphanage and to the Jewish Hospital.

In Drohobycz, it wasn't necessary to establish workshops for graduates of the orphanage as was done in other cities, since most of the students found jobs and places of training in the Galicja refinery. We had locksmiths, engravers, welders, carpenters and refinery workers who received their vocational training in the Galicja oil works.

The first pioneers in the oil industry in Drohobycz and Boryslaw were the brothers, Moshe and Eliezer Gartenberg. In 1862, at the recommendation of the Gartenberg brothers, Yakov Gottlieb[8] (the father of the well known painters, the Gottlieb brothers) bought a plot of land in one of Drohobycz's suburbs, and established a refinery there under the name “Gartenberg, Goldhammer, Lauterbach, Wagmann and Partners.” People called this refinery “the big factory.” The two Gartenberg brothers, who could not sign their names, were geniuses.[9] Moshe was the spirit and the initiator under whose advice they bought plots of land that had oil. They started to drill in Boryslaw and Schodnica. In each place that the Gartenbergs drilled, they found crude oil, which was transferred in a special pipeline to Drohobycz and later processed in their refinery. In a short period of time they took over the Austro Hungarian Empire market and started to look for new markets.[10] For that purpose, they sent Eliezer to Russia. He concluded that the amount of paraffin in the crude oil in Baku and Georgia was small and insignificant. Eliezer Gartenberg found that in every city and village where Russians prayed on their knees to their icons, there was a great need for candles for the religious rite. He returned from Russia with a proposal to found a candle factory in Russia, for which the oil refinery in Drohobycz would supply the paraffin needed for candle production.[11] Moshe started to work on this proposal. A plot of land was purchased in Siemiatycze, which at that time was in the territory of Congress Poland. All necessary machines and qualified manpower were sent from Drohobycz. At that time, the manager of Drohobycz's factory was Van Haecht, a Belgian aristocrat and a great chemist, who received a decent portion from the plant's income for his inventions. Van Haecht traveled to Russia for a tour of the factory in Siemiatycze but he never returned. When he passing by an open vat full of hot paraffin, he slipped, fell into it, and died from his burns. There was suspicion that the Gartenbergs had asked one of their loyal workers to get rid of Van Haecht. Elisabeth, Van Haecht's widow, who was interested in this case, made her way to the Austrian Empire. The matter, which cost the Gartenbergs a great deal of money, was settled with the intervention and support of people who held high positions in the Austrian government.

The Gartenbergs' wealth and fortune increased day by day, but with it, the exploitation of the workers also increased. The workers worked twelve hours a day for low wages, and when it was necessary, they were delayed at the factory for a few extra hours without pay. During elections, the masses of workers were brought to the polls, where, under the direction of the Gartenbergs' loyal staff, they were forced to vote for the candidates that were selected by them.

Moshe Gartenberg had an ambition. He wanted to leave behind a good name for the good things he had done for the Jewish residents of Drohobycz. At the insistence of his wife Ottilia, who was a warm-hearted woman, they established a home for the aged in Mickiewicz Street. Sixteen elderly, men and women were cared for in this home. At the same time, a Jewish Hospital was established in the Jewish quarter.

The Gartenbergs reached the peak of their aspirations and happiness when Emperor Franz Joseph I came to visit their factory. It was at the beginning of the autumn of 1878.[12] A gate made of red wax was built at the entrance to the factory, and the workers and artisans stood in lines in the factory's courtyard. The workers wore new clothes that they received from the factory, and the artisans black holiday clothes and a half top hat. The workers' clothes were taken away as soon as the emperor left the factory, but the artisans were allowed to keep their half top hats. They wore them during celebration and holidays throughout their lives. In 1939, with the outbreak of the war, there were still two Mohicans in the factory from 1878, who still wore their half top hats for various occasions.

In 1885, a young engineer by the name of Josef Metzis, who was not only a good chemist but also a fine administrator, was hired at the factory. He introduced several innovations that benefited the workers and also founded a free clinic for them. Because of his direction and various improvements, occupational accidents were reduced to a minimum.

Thanks to Metzis 'efforts, the factory employed one third Jewish workers, one third Poles, and one third Ukrainians. The number of Jews in the factory did not change during the Polish period and lasted until the outbreak of the war in 1939. The technical and the administrative staff consisted of eighty percent Jews and twenty percent Poles.

In 1905, the firm Gartenberg, Goldhammer, Lauterbach, Wagmann, and Partners was sold a company of Austrian and English oil barons; it continued under the name The Anglo-Galician Oil Company.

After taking their share of the partnership worth fourteen million crowns, the Gartenberg family moved to Vienna. Later the company changed its name to the Galician shareholding petroleum company, Galicja A.G. (Galicyjskie towarzystwo akeyjne naftowe, Galicja).

In those days, when the Polish population was already filled with anti-Semitic venom, the Galicja Company was an island of refuge for Drohobycz's Jewish population. Jewish workers there had a secure job and a secure income. To Metzis' list of achievements, we also need to add the training of two generations of Jewish clerks and technicians, who were known as excellent workers, not only in our city and in our province, but wherever there were petroleum manufacturing plants.

In 1907, a government built a factory for mineral oil in Drohobycz. Originally, the government had planned to manufacture locomotives that would run on crude oil instead of coal. A modern refinery was established to make the fuel for these engines. The refinery would process crude oil by removing the benzene and the remaining mineral elements would be used as fuel for the locomotives. The refinery was built but the plan was not implemented. The refinery established traditional industrial petroleum refining processes. The refinery's first director was Dr. Stanis³aw Pilat, who was later appointed Professor in the Lwów Polytechnic University. The management of this factory could boast that not even one Jew was employed there.

At about this time, the company Thurn und Taxis established a large oil refinery called Austria, not far from the government's mineral oil factory. Its first technical director was Dr. Lichtenstern, who is lives with us today in Israel.

Apart from the refineries mentioned above, several other smaller refineries were established by Jews who were pioneers in this field. They were: the refinery Nafta belonging to the Händel brothers, Yakov Aszkenazy, Mermelstein and Schutzmann in Boryslaw, the Hubicka and Dere¿ycka refineries, and others. These refineries were managed by Jewish engineers and technicians and the hardest work was done by Jewish labourers. The Jews also built oil factories in other cities like Jas³o, Stanis³awów, and others, regardless of the difficulties that stood on their way. They created jobs and income, not just for the Jews but also for Polish and Ukrainian workers.

The Jews were also the first pioneers in the oil-drilling field.[13]


Footnotes
  1. As Rothenberg relates in this chapter, the orphanage had been built before the war and was renovated in 1919. Return
  2. Both the hospital and the old folks' home had been built before the war. They may have been damaged during the conflict and therefore required rebuilding. Return
  3. This name may not be accurate. Return
  4. Austrian men were given the right to vote in 1907. Return
  5. Jakob Feuerstein did not run for office in the election of 1911. He supported the conservative candidate Nathan Löwenstein, who did win. There were accusations of fraud during the voting process, for which many blamed Feuerstein, who had been Vice-Mayor in former administrations. On election day, discontented voters caused much property damage, and, in the afternoon, when unhappy throngs had gathered, the army unaccountably fired into the crowd, killing twenty-five people and injuring many others. Return
  6. The dunam was a unit of measurement of area used in the Ottoman Empire. 1 dunam =1,000 square metres (10,764 sq ft), also known as 1 decare. Return
  7. The Polish currency at this time was the mark. It became the z³oty in 1924 during a reform of the Polish currency. Return
  8. Isaac Gottlieb was the father of the famous painter Maurycy and his three brothers, also painters. Return
  9. The legend of the Gartenbergs' illiteracy is often repeated. Leiser older brother must have attended cheder as a child. He was able to write in the Hebrew alphabet and was known to have written to his daughter in German, transliterated into the Hebrew alphabet. It is unlikely that Moses Gartenberg was unable to write in Polish or German. Return
  10. The Gartenbergs' success in the petroleum business inspired exaggerated claims that they found oil wherever they drilled. In the early 1860s, when the Gartenbergs began their refining business, there were no pipelines in the Drohobycz-Borys³aw area. They were not built until the 1890s. The Gartenbergs' petroleum interests were large but they certainly did not dominate the Austro-Hungarian market. Return
  11. Leiser Gartenberg's trip to Russia would have been for the purpose of finding markets for the candles his refinery was already producing from ozokerite or mineral wax. This hydrocarbon was mined in the Borylaw area after the 1860s when cheaper American crude oil made oil production in Galicia less competitive. Many mining enterprises turned to wax ,which could command a higher price. Return
  12. Emperor Franz Joseph's tour to Galicia was in 1880. Return
  13. Polish oilmen in western Galicia had experimented with drilling techniques in the 1860s but it was William Henry McGarvey, a Canadian, who introduced a successful method of drilling for oil in Galicia. Return


[Pages 100-102]

Drohobycz under Ukrainian Authority
(Memories)

by Anonymous

Translated by Sara Mages

Edited byValerie Schatzker and Alexander Sharon

From 2 November 1918, Drohobycz was under Ukrainian rule. Although the news, which came from the west beforehand, prepared the public for change, the coup came unexpectedly. On Saturday afternoon, the city's residents learned that the small detachment in Drohobycz's garrison had scattered to all sides of the city, that the military warehouses had been broken into and robbed the night before, and that the Ukrainian army had conquered the city's key institutions: the municipal authorities, the railway station, the district administration, etc.

At the outset, the Ukrainians placed Dr. Bodrugy, [1] a judge in Drohobycz, as the leader of the district administration. He resigned immediately and handed his role to a local lawyer Dr. Horbachevsky (the brother of the former Austrian minister of health), who became Commissar of the National Ukrainian Council. However, his appointment as district commissioner was only nominal. In reality, Semyon Wityk, president of the local Ukrainian Council, who had been the socialist delegate in the former Austrian parliament, took control of the city and its environs. He had the ultimate authority in all political, economic, and military matters.

The coup in the city showed its signs immediately: a slow paralysis of the entire railway and postal network. After the coup, train service continued for several days, but without a plan and without order. The trains that ran were mainly those that transported soldiers returning from the front, and prisoners from Hungary to Russia. When this traffic ceased, the railway became completely paralyzed. The reason for this paralysis was the lack of personnel; Polish railway workers, except for some individuals, withdrew their services. There was also a shortage of locomotives and railway cars, and, most important, there was a shortage of coal, which reached almost catastrophic proportions.

Besides the city's civilian authority, there was also the Ukrainian military administration: a combat army unit headed by a sotnyk [2] of the Ukrainian Army. The city itself and the entire Stryj-Sambor railway line were located in the war zone. Therefore, immediately after the seizure of power, a state of emergency was declared by the military, and a military court was established. All communal halls and clubs were open until only ten at night, and walking in the streets was allowed until only eight o'clock in the evening. Although some had authorization to walk in the streets after this hour, it was not a pleasant thing to do because of frequent harassment by the military guards. However, this emergency situation had one advantage; because of it, the city's welfare and safety were maintained. Here it should be noted, with full emphasis, that peace and order prevailed in Drohobycz at all times, and there was no attempt to breach the public peace.

In mid-November, the military authorities announced a partial mobilization. Only Ukrainians, born between the years 1883-1900, were summoned for military service. Poles and Jews were not called to serve in the army. There was no compulsory enlistment; former soldiers volunteered to serve as a gesture of good will. Because the Ukrainian authorities understood the peasants' mood, that they had reached the point of exhaustion because of the long war and thirsted for peace, they appealed to the public's patriotic spirit. As a result, it was mainly young people who applied to serve in the new Ukrainian Army. In late November, an order was proclaimed prohibiting soldiers in the new Ukrainian army from wearing the uniform or symbols of the former Austrian Army. This order, which affected hundreds of former soldiers, who had few financial resources, caused a strong resentment among them. After the intervention of the Jewish National Council, the decree was “softened” and partly canceled.

One of the decisions of the new municipality, headed by the priest Rudnitzky after the resignation of the former mayor Jarosz, was the elimination of all restrictions in the sale of food and the restoration of an open market. This measure, which brought great relief to the entire community, had many risks. Prices in Drohobycz began to rise and the cost of some commodities reached fantastic heights. The reason for this was the fact that the city was completely isolated and supplies could not reach it. The shortage of goods such as sugar, coal, matches etc., grew worse from day to day. It was apparent that, under these circumstances, there was a lot of corruption and fraud.

In striking contrast to the opening of the market in food products, the municipal government issued an order prohibiting trade in crude oil and all of its by-products. This provoked anger and resentment in the entire population. Those who understood the importance of the crude oil industry for Drohobycz and the surrounding area realized what this decree signified: thousands of people were left without a job or source of income. The Ukrainian ad hoc committee for petroleum affairs, headed by the parliamentary representative Wityk, took over the market in crude oil as a monopoly. Every transaction in the oil business, even the smallest one, had to be licensed by this committee. All oil production, which had already been reduced because of the Ukrainian seizure of power, was completely paralyzed because of security problems and lack of transportation. Appeals for intervention by the affected parties to the Ukrainian authorities did not help. Instead, the authorities not only refused to cancel the decree, but also imposed additional and substantial taxes on each railcar of oil. These actions increased revenue to the Ukrainian treasury, but placed a heavy burden on the petroleum industry.

Indeed, the industry was in a crisis. The town of Borysław, near Drohobycz, had been in Polish hands at the beginning of November. The vast majority of its workers were Poles. When it was forced to surrender to the Ukrainian Army about a week later, the majority of its Polish workers left the city. As a result, most of the oil factories were paralyzed. Problems with transportation then arose; the severing of the train service reduced crude oil production even more. Finally, there was a severe shortage of currency throughout the Drohobycz area. Factories were forced to lay off most of their clerks and labourers. This reduced crude oil production even further. The shortage of currency became so acute that, in an attempt to cover at least some of their financial needs, the seven largest factories were forced to establish a special committee to ask the entire population to loan money to the banks at a high interest. Since the results of this appeal were limited, the operation of the petroleum industry came to a halt.

Life became sad and monotonous for all the above reasons. The government ministries were active, but the entire economy was crippled, because there was no transportation, even to the neighbouring areas. In all offices, Ukrainian managers were appointed. In protest, many clerks stopped working. In the first days of November, the Ukrainian Commissariat closed the elementary schools. The secondary schools remained open, although the faculty was very much reduced. They were the only ones that the Ukrainians did not change, but remained as they had been in former times.

Because of the total absence of newspapers, the atmosphere became tense and susceptible to rumour. If a single newspaper managed to reach the city, it cost between 4 to 5 zehuvim [gold coins]. The latest, most important printed news, which contained the most vital telegrams, was distributed in the streets of the city. During the last days of the new republic, the distribution of the Jewish magazine Dos Yiddishe Vort [The Jewish Word] was revived.

In early December, the terrible news about the pogroms in Lwów descended upon us like a thunderbolt from the sky. At first, the information was vague, but later, as it became clearer, we learned the truth. The entire Jewish population was affected terribly by the horrific events. The Jewish community council, whose authority had grown from day to day, decided to express its protest and anger at this barbaric murder. On 8 December 1918, a mass demonstration took place in the Great Synagogue, and a memorial service was held for the souls of the holy victims. Thousands of people from all circles and social classes filled the synagogue and the courtyard. After the memorial speech and the El maleh rahamim prayer (prayer for the souls of the dead), conducted by the rabbi and the cantor, Dr. Friedmann spoke of the Drohobycz Jews' indignation at the murder of innocent people. At the end of the assembly, a large, spontaneous procession was formed. The city of Drohobycz had never seen such an impressive procession. A large black flag flew over the demonstrators' heads. The procession stopped in front of the Jewish council building, where Dr. Friedman gave a speech. He ended it with the hope that the victims' spilled blood and their new graves would hasten the arrival of a better, happier future for the Jews.


Editor's Notes
  1. Bodrugy: this may not be the correct name. Return
  2. sotnyk: officer for one hundred men. Return

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