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[Page 105]

My Memories of Drohobycz

By Rivka Shapira

Translated by Anita Harband


My earliest memories of Drohobycz, my birthplace, reach back as far as 1911. It was an election year for the Austrian parliament (the district was then one of the many counties belonging to the multi-branched Austro-Hungarian monarchy). The struggle was mainly between two dominant, rival parties: the ruling party which included the assimilated circles, government officials, merchants and members of the "upper" echelons of the city and headed by Yaakov Feuerstein who was the leader of the community at that time. The delegate for this party was Nathan von Levenstein. Opposing this powerful party, undoubtedly the regime's favorite, was a party composed mainly of the lower classes – artisans, clerks, petty merchants. This was the Zionist Party. But to its help came the Jewish youth, that sensed, even then, the forthcoming redemption,[1] joined the party and became devoted passionately and with tremendous enthusiasm to this holy mission. I remember the day when the Zionists' delegate, Dr Gershon Tzipper, arrived in the city. The entire young generation showed up to welcome him and boys were running down the city streets announcing that the Messiah had come.

There was one rabbi residing in Drohobycz at that time, Reb Chaim M.Y. Shapira, later known as the ADMO'R[2] of Drohobycz who was "hooked" to the Zionist cause, an idea rejected unequivocally by the ultraorthodox as well as by the "intelligentsia", the "pragmatists" and the "realists". This ADMO'R invited Dr. Tzipper into his home, arranged an elaborate reception in his honor and permitted the Zionists to use the kloiz[3] in his courtyard for election propaganda, meetings and speeches. The ADMO'R 's activities backfired for when his "misdeeds" were discovered he was ostracized by most of his Chassidic followers and even his close friends abandoned him. Undaunted he continued to pursue this road which ultimately led him to Zion. In 1921, after the end of World War I, he collected all his family members and left for the Land of Israel, an act that was then regarded by many to be suicidal.

The above-mentioned elections were also accompanied by a tragic event for the Jewish community of Drohobycz, which lost eleven souls when Government agents fired into the crowded streets on the day of elections. An accurate account of the disaster is provided elsewhere in this book. A long time passed before the city recovered from the severe shock caused by the bloodshed. Indeed, the "pampered" generation of those days did not anticipate what fate had in store for them in the coming years…

Being the "living quarters" of the wealthy who owned the oil fields in nearby Boryslaw, Drohobycz was well known for its affluence and philanthropy and had many charitable and humanitarian institutions. The residents of Drohobycz were also renowned for their hospitality. There was hardly a Jewish home which did not host a "Sabbath guest" and many of the needy would frequent this city, which was reputed to have many rich and numerous philanthropic inhabitants.

Although the majority of the city's population was Christian, the Jewish way of life was prominent and its influence unmistakable in society. The Jews were the "tone setters" in matters of culture, education and good taste.

Trade and labor were suspended on Shabat and Jewish Holy days and all the shops were closed since the Jews owned most of them. Upon taking control of the city during World War II the Nazis immediately ordered the arrest of the leadership of the Jewish community and the saga of agonies and tortures began. In early 1942 remnants of the Jews who had survived previous "actions" were gathered for the final phase of their extermination. Rabbi Zeev Wolf Nussbaum led the procession, marching with his head held high, singing and dancing, encouraging those who were about to die for kiddush hashem (sanctification of the name). Thus was one of the eminent and splendid communities of eastern Galicia, the Jewish community of Drohobycz, eradicated.



Footnotes
  1. redemption: this is the English translation of the word geula meaning fulfillment of the Zionistic ideal and dream of a sovereign nationality in Eretz Israel. Return
  2. ADMO'R : Adoneinu Moreinu Ve Rabeinu meaning our master, teacher and Rabbi. Return
  3. kloiz (Yid): house of worship or study. Return



[pp. 106-107]

Pleasant Memories

by Yehuda Cohen

Translated by Anita Harband



I am not a native of Drohobycz. I was born in Russia and my parents, Shmuel Yona and Chaya Cohen Z”L, escaped from Russia to Chernovtsy[1] when I was five years old. My father was appointed there as a teacher in the municipal school while my uncles, the Rabbis Abraham and Raphael Kitaigorodsky, left Russia for Galicia with the intention of establishing
yeshiva
[2] and thus ended up in the town of Drohobycz. My parents sent me there for my yeshiva studies and my father was invited there later to teach the Bible and Hebrew literature in the yeshiva. In that way, while still a youngster, I had the opportunity to get to know the Jews of Drohobycz, their leaders and respected people of the town, and especially the great and admirable Rabbi Chaim Munio Shapira. The yeshiva, where we absorbed the Torah and knowledge, was in his court. We had great respect for this noble and gentle Rabbi, a great scholar who was a true “lover of Israel”, an ardent Zionist, who dreamed of Jewish unity. He raised his family according to those important principles. He eventually emigrated to Israel and was here too an influential figure as an educator and promoter of unity and brotherhood among all people His sons followed the path of their distinguished father. His grandson is the famous poet, Shin (Shapira) Shalom,[3] the son of Reb Yaakov Shapira, who upon coming to Israel fulfilled his duties towards the Torah and Avodah.[4]

I remember Dr. Leon Tannenbaum,[5] the great Zionist leader, who spent all his time on Zionist activities, community committees and public issues. The great Zionist, Dr. Spindel Z”L and Dr. Shimon Lustig, who resides in Israel, all dedicated leaders of their Nation and Land. [6] In Drohobycz, under the influence of these people, I absorbed the national spirit, the Torah and culture. The people from this city are dispersed across this country (Israel) and occupied in various fields of work, such as kibbutz members, city workers, industrialists, lawyers, etc.

The city was undoubtedly a model city in Galicia with its unique Love of Israel,[7] In the elections for the Polish Parliament and the municipality, the Zionist list consistently got the most votes.

When I undertook to establish the local chapter, my dear friend, the enthusiastic Zionist, Dr. Moshe Tannenbaum Z”L, immediately helped me. With his warm heart and unrelenting enthusiasm, he spent much of his time on He-Halutz[8] helping the local chapter become the leading one in the area. We built an agricultural farm where hundreds of pioneers received a practical, agricultural education through actual hard work. When hundreds of pioneers illegally crossed the border from Russia to Galicia, the Drohobycz chapter of He-Halutz was among the first to accept our pioneer brethren openly and warmly. For many months they stayed on the farm working and absorbing the national and brotherly spirit until their final arrival in Israel.

Among the pioneers from Russia was the group from Proskorov, who currently reside all over Israel. They can testify to the warm and gracious treatment they received. (Among them are Shimon Kitai, the Haifa lawyer, and Schwartz, the pharmacist from Tiberias.)
We founded the Ivria Club[9] and held periodic meetings to hear lectures on Hebrew literature. The only language spoken there was Hebrew.

We also founded a youth group called Herzl, among it's leaders was Dr. Moshe Tannenbaum. Its members were extremely active in every Zionist activity possible.

The Hebrew school led by the teachers Kramer and Feingold produced hundreds of graduates immersed in the Torah and general knowledge. The school was a meeting place for the study of Hebrew culture and education.

I remember one interesting incident: After listening to the Hebrew lectures, many of us, among the Ivria activists went out to fulfill our duties as guards in the vegetable garden of the farm, prevent thieves from entering. One evening as I was on duty, I found a pair of horses grazing in the garden. I chased them out but their owner, a heavily built Gentile, appeared. He gave me a hard blow on my cheek, threw me to the ground and fractured my arm. I was hospitalized for a few weeks. Later on, the Gentile turned me in to the government, accusing me of treason. I couldn't speak Polish at that time and therefore was unable to defend myself. I was tried and imprisoned for nearly a year. In prison, I was accused of being a Russian spy. They had also found Austrian and Italian coins in my pocket and accused me of being a dealer in foreign currency. However, I had been one of the first candidates chosen to go to Israel and the Eretz Israeli office, headed by Dr. Schmork and Dr. Weisel, made sure that every pioneer had some foreign money with him for his travel expenses. The journey was to be by way of Vienna-Trieste, thus the Austrian and Italian currency. Dr. Tannenbaum and other leaders made many efforts on my behalf. The mayor of Drohobycz, a philosemitic Gentile, also tried to help me. He testified that although a native Russian. I was first and all a Zionist and my propaganda was pro-Israel and not, G-d forbid, against Poland! Nevertheless, I was released on bail only after many months.

In the meantime, as the Russians were about to invade Warsaw, all Russian citizens were transferred to a camp.[10] My parents were also arrested and transferred to a camp in Hungary, where they became ill and died within one year. We were orphans. I became the breadwinner of the family and had to take care of our bare necessities simultaneously with my activities in Youth of Zion, He-Halutz, and other Youth Organizations.

I was accepted as a teacher in the Hebrew school, but I couldn't let go of my desire to fulfill my duty and make aliyah. I managed to came to Israel despite all the difficulties and bring along my sister Yehudit, who works in a Medical Fund, my brother Chanoch, one of the first port workers; and my brother Pinchas, the secretary of the Drohobicz Landsmen Organization. The Nazis murdered one of my sisters, Tzilah, and her husband, Moshe. One of their daughters, Chaya Chaviv, lives in Even Yehudah. I constantly think of my past in Drohobycz, the warmth, and the acceptance of all of my Zionist activities and the help that every activity of the National Fund received. The Jews of Drohobycz were the first to embrace Zionist action and set an example for all communities.

The natives of this city, from which thousands came to Israel or other countries, will undoubtedly write and tell the stories of the Jewish and Zionist way of life in this lovely city, a Jewish city permeated with the Torah and genuine love for the people and the land of Israel.



Footnotes
  1. Chernovtsy: modern spelling for the town in the province of Podolia in Ukraine, also spelled (also Cernauti, Chernivtsi, Chernovitse, Chernovitsy, Chernovitz, Czerniowce, Czernovitz, Czernowitz. In the period to which the writer refers, it was the capital of Bukovina, a province in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Return
  2. Yeshiva: a rabbinical college Return
  3. Shin Shalom (Shalom Joseph Shapira): born in 1904 in Parzew (near Lublin), Professor of Hebraic Studies (1930 – 1931) in
    Nürnberg. Return
  4. Torah and Avoda: one of the ideals of the early Zionists, to integrate simultaneously study and work. In the case of Shin Shalom he became both a teacher and a famous poet. Return
  5. Tannenbaum, Leon: Born 1884 in: Boryslav, lawyer, graduate of the Faculty of Law, University of Lwów. In 1924 he was elected President of the Jewish community of Drohobycz and in 1928, Vice-president of the town Return
  6. Nation and Land: refers to the Jewish Nation and the Land of Israel. Return
  7. Love of Israel: dedication to Jews and Judaic things whenever possible. Return
  8. A world pioneering youth movement, He-Halutz initiated illegal immigration to Palestine in 1934 and later worked with the Hagana in its activities for illegal immigration Return
  9. A social club dedicated to the Hebrew language and culture. Return
  10. In 1920, Poland and Russia were at war after Poland invaded Ukraine and Russia. Russian troops attacked Warsaw. Return

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