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[Page 184]

Boryslaw, the Oil City

Joseph Kitai

Translated by Shimon Barak

 The only place in the world where oil [1] was, for many years, the produce of Jewish  entrepreneurship, talent, capital and labor is the city of Boryslaw, now in the  western part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, [2] in the foothills of the outer range of  the Carpathian Mountains, south of the county city of Drohobycz.   In the years between 1772-1918, Boryslaw belonged to Austria as part of the Province of Galicia.  For a long time and until the development of the oil industry in Romania, Boryslaw was  the most important oil center in all Europe. Later it was the major oil center in Poland.  This center was established and developed by Jews. In Boryslaw, oil  flowed on the surface of  the ground and soil wax or natural paraffin was also found and used in the production of  candles [3] . The Jews were the first to refine crude oil and produce oil for illumination.  This invention brought wealth and plenty of work for thousands of Jews who formed a  battalion [4] of thousands of Jewish proletarian workers who, as is usual when a major  industrial economic venture is first established, worked hard. Among the Jewish oil well  owners in Boryslaw was Moshe Gartenberg, in whose small field petroleum was found in  abundance.   In those days, the towns and cities in the foothills of the Carpathians were inhabited by  "Work and Torah" Jews who worked during the week no less than the Ukrainian peasants,  but on Shabat, wearing the Shabatmantle and hat [5] , became devout Hassidim,  "Owners of Shabat" and followers of the Hassidic way. I knew many of them personally  as a child. During the years I lived in Schodnica I got to know the Jews of Boryslaw in  their cups, in their anger and by their purses. [6] The Jews of Boryslaw knew how to live  and how to have a good time. The sidewalks, roads and plots of earth  were always  muddy, dirty and full of debris but there was always money and what they did not find in  their own houses they searched for in Truskawiec Krynica, Zakopane, etc.   The young men, nicknamed Borislawchik, and were always ready to beat and punch anyone,  especially Christians who usurped Jewish work places. There were many Mazur workers [7] who came from Eastern Galicia  who were anti-Semites but were afraid of Jews.  I came to know the Jews of Boryslaw especially "in their purse" when the Boryslaw  Yeshiva was founded. The writer of these sentences had the privilege of serving for  many years as the standard bearer [8] of the Gaon [9] Rabbi Raphael Kitajgorodsky. On  Motsei Shabat [10] we traveled from Drohobycz to the meeting of the founders of the  Boryslaw Yeshiva. The meeting took place in Reb Shaye Fuchsberg's home. In a short  while they gathered: Reb Isaac Glick, Lifshitz, Krochmel Baruch, Leibele Kastenbaum,  Berl Eisenstein (his brother is Reb Yosef Eisenstein from Ramat Gan). The important  guests heard and absorbed new Torah  (commentaries) and the humorous remarks from  the Gaon Reb Raphael who delivered them one by one, as a jewel merchant would take  out precious stones. When morning light arrived they dispersed, each to his business  and the work he had to do that day but left behind, each and every one of them, a sum  of money far larger than he had the means to donate, and thus on that day and place  the Boryslaw Yeshiva was gloriously founded. And till today there are many who think  they had the privilege and honor of learning and getting their education from the Gaon.


Footnotes and references

TN: translator's note

AN: author's note

Ger: German

Yid: Yiddish

Pol: Polish

Heb: Hebrew


[1]Petroleum (TN)

[2]  Since this article was written in the 1950's, Ukraine is referred to as a Soviet Republic

[3]The Hebrew term is donag adama, a verbatim translation from Polish wosk ziemny,soil wax. This  natural hydrocarbon, known popularly as natural wax and scientifically as ozokerite, has been known to humanity since antiquity.  In ancient Egypt it was used in the embalming of mummies.  It is a natural resource which appears only in a few places on earth. (TN)

[4]The work battalions were a socialist concept in which individual workers functioned according to their physical abilities and were paid a  salary according to their needs. The famous work battalion in Palestine, established according to these principles, paved roads with asphalt.  According to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, "it was the best résumé‚ for a political candidate".(TN)

[5]Although not mentioned by name in the text, the author refers to the fur hat ( strammel) and the special robe which sometimes was golden that Hassidim wear even today on Shabat and holidays.

[6]A quote from the Talmud that says: "In three things a man is known (his true nature is revealed): bekhoso;in his cups or when drunk, bekhaso, in anger or when he loses his temper; bekhiso, by his purse or when he spends or donates money. (TN)

[7]Mazurs are the people from the eastern Polish plains (TN)

[8]In the original nose keilim, bearer of instruments. It usually refers to a disciple who acts both as a secretary and as a majordomo.(TN)

[9]  Gaon is the Hebrew word for genius and an honorific title for those versed in Torah and Talmud. (TN)

[10] When Shabbatis over. (TN)


[Pages 185-187]

My Little Hamlet, Medenice

by Engineer Yitzhak Heller

Translated by Miriam Dashkin Beckerman

Edited by Valerie Schatzker and Alexander Sharon

When speaking about Drohobycz, one must also speak about Medenice, one of the interesting towns in the vicinity of Drohobycz. It was a typical town, consisting of about 150 Jewish families, surrounded by twenty hamlets, in each of which lived a few Jewish families. Most of the Jews were tradesmen. As in all the towns and villages of Poland and Galicia, so it was in our town Medenice. There were also some, not a large number, who were engaged in agriculture. They were farmers, who earned their daily bread by hard work on their land. In their hearts they were Jews and in their outward appearance also. Their life style as farmers did not diminish their Jewish character nor their Jewish nobility. I see before my eyes each one of these Jews with healthy, strong bodies, broad-shouldered, with bearded faces and side locks. Each of these Jews was his own boss and worked his own fields together with his sons, who looked a lot like their fathers.

The beaming faces of these Jews on the Sabbath stands out particularly in my mind, as for instance the image of Reb Zalke Mischel, a farmer in Medenice, when he appeared Friday evening at the synagogue school with his sons. The smell of the soil still clung to them, as though purposely bringing to the house of God this “smell of the earth”, in order to show everyone the beautiful world of the Holy One, blessed be He. It is true that Reb Zalke Mischel was occupied night and day with his work in the fields, yet he observed all the commandments faithfully. His home was open to every passer-by, and he would joyfully welcome everyone, because every Jew in the village had friendly relations with the Gentiles where they lived. The dream of Eretz Israel was very strong among these Jews who worked the land. They lived with the dream of one day cultivating land in Eretz Israel, to continue the holy work in the Holy Land.

I recall discussions about Zionism and about the return to Zion that we held among ourselves, and to this day I feel the pleasure I derived from them. My pleasure was boundless. As a young Zionist follower, I gained much encouragement and excitement about the Zionist ideal that inspired me in our town.

Here are some further recollections about the Jews of Medenice. The Jewish “banker” in our town was Reb Chaim Süssmann. His son, to this day, is the head of the Society of Drohobycz Jews in America. He was a tall, slender, fit, young man. Mr. Süssmann carried on his shoulders the entire burden of the town's Jews, and with unlimited devotion, helped them earn a livelihood. Since he had a monopoly on the sale of tobacco for the whole area, he would bring the supply that was apportioned to him in order to distribute it among the villages. During the First World War and in the years that followed, there was a shortage of cigarettes, tobacco, etc, so that the entire supply that was brought to his store was grabbed by the customers. As a result, these sales brought in a sizeable sum in a very short time.

I recall the beginning of the sports club Hapoel, Mr. Süssmann's devotion to it, and the initiative that he demonstrated step by step, by always being available. When anyone was hurt, he would be brought to his store for first aid. He would help anyone in need with financial assistance (and what Jew was not in such need). Mr. Süssmann received everyone with the same warmth and concern.

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