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,
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
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
invited Dr. Tzipper into his home, arranged an elaborate reception in his
honor and permitted the Zionists to use the
in his courtyard for election propaganda, meetings and speeches. The
'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
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
(sanctification of the name). Thus was one of the eminent and splendid
communities of eastern Galicia, the Jewish community of Drohobycz, eradicated.
redemption: this is the English translation of the word
meaning fulfillment of the Zionistic ideal and dream of a sovereign
nationality in Eretz Israel.
: Adoneinu Moreinu Ve Rabeinu meaning our master, teacher and Rabbi.
(Yid): house of worship or study.
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 ZL, escaped from Russia to Chernovtsy
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
and thus ended up in the town of Drohobycz. My parents sent me there for my
studies and my father was invited there later to teach the Bible and Hebrew
literature in the
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
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)
the son of Reb Yaakov Shapira, who upon coming to Israel fulfilled his duties
towards the Torah and Avodah.
I remember Dr. Leon Tannenbaum,
the great Zionist leader, who spent all his time on Zionist activities,
community committees and public issues. The great Zionist, Dr. Spindel ZL
and Dr. Shimon Lustig, who resides in Israel, all dedicated leaders of their
Nation and Land.
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,
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 ZL, immediately helped me.
With his warm heart and unrelenting enthusiasm, he spent much of his time on
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
Yeshiva: a rabbinical college
Shin Shalom (Shalom Joseph Shapira): born in 1904 in
Parzew (near Lublin), Professor of Hebraic Studies (1930 – 1931) in
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.
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
Nation and Land: refers to the Jewish Nation and the
Land of Israel.
Love of Israel: dedication to Jews and Judaic things
A world pioneering youth movement,
illegal immigration to Palestine in 1934 and later worked with the
in its activities for illegal immigration
A social club dedicated to the Hebrew language and
In 1920, Poland and Russia were at war after Poland
invaded Ukraine and Russia. Russian troops attacked Warsaw.
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