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Between Two World Wars

Yehuda Knebel

Translated by Renee Miller

My First Information about the City Neisandz

My parents z”l [of blessed memory] lived in Bukovsk, a small shtetl [town] near Sanok. In 1898 – I was eight years old at the time – the Jewish population in Neisandz and environs, suffered a greatly from the attacks by the peasants, provoked by the electioneering of the Stojalowski Party [Stojalowski and other populist leaders based their electoral tactics on anti-Semitic appeals. They offered an anti-Jewish program as a panacea for all Galician problems, such as economic disaster, alcoholism, illiteracy and political conflicts. From: The Jews of Galicia under Austrian-Polish Rule, 1867-1918.by Piotr Wrobel].

The “royb” [attacks] against Jews took place in a few small villages, until the Austrian military came to Sandz from Krakow and proclaimed martial law in the city.

This was the first knowledge I had about the city Neisandz.

The Sandzer Yortsayt [Anniversary of Death]

The yortsayt for the tsadik [saint], R' Chaiml Sandzer (Halbershtam) zts”l [the memory of a tsadik is a blessing], that fell right after Pesakh, was always an event not just for the Hasidim in Galicia. Orthodox Jews and even the so-called “progressive ones” used to travel to Neisandz from cities and towns in middle Galicia, also from Slovakia and Hungary. Guests from far away were also found there.

Because of the yortsayt, Neisandz became the meeting place where merchants from various places met each other, and took this opportunity to chat together about all sorts of business matters. Also the youth from the surrounding small towns used the yortsayt to dash to Sandz looking for work and a chance to earn money.

In 1904 I decided to leave my birthplace and I actually used the opportunity when a great number of Jews from Bukovsk prepared to travel to the yortsayt in Neisandz.

Right after Pesakh we set out. The rail station was besieged by Jews from the surrounding small places and villages. The railroad director had prepared a larger number of various trains and almost every hour a train left for Neisandz, packed full with Jews who were travelling to the yortsayt.

When we arrived in Sandz, a strange picture unfolded before our eyes. The area of the train station was full of droshkes [horse cabs]. A noise, a racket and no other language was heard besides Yiddish.

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The streets from the train station to the market, especially the lanes around the market were practically like a fair, with little stands, shops, where hundreds of Jews were hanging around, old and young, observant and ordinary Jews, brokers and merchants.

The question came to my mind: is this the same Neisandz from six years earlier when my mother z”l had told me about the pogrom of that time against Jews; is this the same city swarming with Jewishness, during the yortsayt [memorial ceremony]?

Only later, after the yortsayt, did it become clear to me that Neisandz was a city like any other in Galicia, a city with Jewish and Christian residents. The coaches at the station were not all Jews, and only then did I understand that because of the yortsayt, the Polish coachmen with a really Jewish appeal: “Feter, kumt aher” [old man, come here], had Sandz seemed like a Jewish city.

Also, later, that's how I understood my experiences in the life of the Jewish community, in the years between both world wars.

The Fight for a Democratic Jewish People's Representation

At the beginning of November 1918, the Austrian Empire brought together and dissolved the Austrian army and administration. The people who had put together the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, proclaimed their independence. In Galicia a Polish liquidation committee was organized with its headquarters in Krakow and it assumed temporary power. The Jewish population in Galicia immediately declared its allegiance to free Poland. The Jewish political parties promptly published declarations, concerning the positive position of the Jewish population in regard to Polish freedom. In those declarations the hope was expressed that in the free Poland, Jews would participate in fuller political and national equal rights

Already in the first day of the Austrian meetings, Thursday, the 2nd of November 1918, an urgent conference of all the Galician Poalei-Tsion organizations was called to Krakow. However, the chaos was so great that any normal conversation could not be held there. Seeing a delegate from Neisandz, I held a brief consultation with the Krakow friends and followers, and late at night I went back to Neisandz. We waited for several friends at the railroad station and gave them some of the details about the situation in the city. They told me that at motse shabes [the close of the Sabbath] the then head of the community, Dr. Kerbel, called together the kehile [community] leaders and proposed to send a loyalty resolution to the Polish national committee.

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A large crowd assembled before the kehile building, and as the intent of the loyalty resolution became known, the representative of the Jewish national committee went into the meeting room and proposed to change the style of the declaration of the Jewish national “self”. The meeting of the kehile leaders blew up and not one decision concerning the declaration of the kehile was undertaken.

The following day, Sunday, it was lively in the city. The interparty Jewish national committee had suspended permanent meetings, because of dangerous news of anti-Jewish excesses in various places, especially in the small shtetlech [towns] around Neisandz. Jewish self-defense that had been strengthened with Jewish demobilized soldiers began their activity.

The Poalei-Tsion party convened a soldier board, under the leadership of Nahun Henig and Baruch Rozenfeld. At the same time the Jewish National Committee began to negotiate with the leaders in all Jewish political and social organizations, in order to create a general Jewish representation in Neisandz. Attempts were made to reorganize and strengthen the kehile-representation. But the efforts in that direction had no effect, because until then the community leaders had not shown the least understanding for the newly created political situation and did not want to contend with the desires of the general population that had now come into their own.

Our efforts to create a joint platform were useless. The kehile leaders in charge up to now did not want to open the door of the kehile to fresh communal power. The leader of the Poalei-Tsion did everything in order to create a true peoples' representation in the kehile. We came to the belief that the long debates would not bring about anything useful and so we communicated with the Jewish soldiers' council in order to begin a joint action, that would make it possible to carry out a reorganization of the kehile leadership and make it possible for them to adapt to the new conditions and requirements in the Jewish quarter.

After several more consultations with the soldiers' council, we gained their support for our stand during the negotiations with the current kehile management. At one of those negotiations with kehile management, a delegation of 15 soldiers from the Jewish soldiers' council appeared and referring to the fact that they have organized everything for defense [especially against pogroms – Uriel Weinreich] and freely took upon themselves the protection of the Jewish population in the city and in the surrounding area, - they requested that their opinion on the resultant situation be heard.

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Thanks to the status of the Poalei-Tsion delegates and thanks to Dr. Leon Zilberman, who was chairman of the conference, the representative of the soldiers' council to the conference, Natan Henig, was allowed to read his statement and be heard. He stated the readiness of all demobilized soldiers to shteyn af der vakh [remain watchful] for Jewish life and property –simultaneously requesting the expansion of Jewish representation that has to rely upon Jewish national elements.

The speech from the leader of the Jewish soldiers made the appropriate impression and all the participants of the conference who were in agreement with the stand of the Jewish soldiers' council, immediately set up the “Jewish National Council”. At the same time it was agreed to create a new provisional kehile management committee that would be allowed to tax 50 pr. [professional representative] for the newly created “Jewish National Council” and 50 pr. tax on other political parties and interests who had not been represented in the Jewish “National Committee”.

In several hours after this meeting, the former chairman of the kehile-Council, Dr. Kerbel, resigned his post. Dr. Leon Zilberman, the former vice-chairman of the kehile- management assumed the leadership of the Jewish kehile in Neisandz.

The Nitsokhn [Victory] of the Jewish National Movement

The new kehile-council now instituted stronger payments. Until now the kehile-council had not represented the entire Jewish population and particularly lacking as members were the Jewish orthodox groups, who were split into small pieces, various hues and shtiblekh [small Hasidic house of prayer]. Because of this, negotiations began to include in the kehile-council members of the Orthodox and the meetings of the new kehile-management was completely occupied with vikukhim [debates] without end.

An interesting episode occurred during one of these meetings. We received news that the Czech soldiers who had served until then in the Austrian army, had gathered at the train station in order to travel back to Czechoslovakia, which had just declared itself as a free government. The Polish provisional power groups (the Polish Liquidation Commission) had arranged a public farewell celebration and also the Jewish United Committee had decided to take part in this celebration. We interrupted the meeting and all the members went to the train, where a large crowd of people was already assembled.

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Dr. Sifor and the writer of these lines, with great strength pushed themselves to the tribune and proposed that they permit a greeting from a representative of the Jewish population. The leader of the P.K.L. [Polish Liquidation Commission] was at first, not in agreement with this, but since the representative of the P.P.S. [Polish Socialist Party], Hendlarski was also on the tribune, on our behalf, he intervened and soon, in the name of the entire Jewish population Dr. Sifor presented our heartfelt best wishes to the Czech people who, in their manifesto of freedom, had assured all national minorities including the Jews- full freedom and civil rights, and so shall Poland do, as did the Czech people, give the Jewish minority in the independent Poland, full freedom. The Czech officer who lead the home-bound group, in his closing words, appealed to the Polish population, so that they would give the Jewish minority in free Poland, full freedom as did the Czech people. This statement by the Czech officer aroused very strong enthusiasm on the part of the Jewish participants at the farewell celebration, that spontaneously, a movement of hundreds Jews, with song, was formed marching though the streets toward the center of the city. The uplifted and happy feelings, in addition, hot goyrem geven [gave rise to] an insight that had materialized between the Jewish parties, since it now clearly showed the significance of a united Jewish national representation.

On the route, even while we were marching in the demonstration, I negotiated with the leader of the Zionist groups, with Dovid Mandel and Gershon Weinberger, how necessary it was to complete the negotiations about creating a national representation that would include all strata of the Jewish population in Neisandz. We did agree to convene the next day a mass meeting at which the new united kehile-council and the National Council would be proclaimed. After the dissolution of the demonstration, we reported the contents of the settlement to Drs. Zilberman and Sirof and it was agreed to call a meeting on the next day, in the shul, at which we would celebrate the materialization of the united peoples'-representation.

The next day, in the morning, in every part of the city appeared young people from all the Zionist youth organizations that distributed blue-white ribbons and called the Jewish people to the celebration in the shul to be held at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Before noon the organizing-committee convened and began the final negotiations concerning the merger of the national council. The meeting ended with a communication from all the parties, all diverse groups and Orthodox societies and when after midday the meeting finally ended and we went to the great shul, it was already fully packed with people and even the plaza in front of the shul up to the Jewish section was fully packed with Jews who came to the celebration.

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Jewish scouts (“ haShomer-haTsair”) kept order in an exemplary fashion. With earnestness and impatience, the great crowd waited for the opening of the assembly. A deep silence ruled, when Dr. Zilberman, with a short introduction, opened the conference. In the name of the ordinary Zionist Party Gershon Weinberger made a declaration and the writer of these lines did so in the name of the Poalei-Tsion Party. After these two declarations, Gershon Weinberger read out loud the list of 70 members from the Peoples' Council and 18 members from the National Board (the kehile-council). With a great rush and without any opposition on the part of those present, both lists were adopted and with much singing of “Hatikvah” at this solemn demonstration.

On the same day, at eight o'clock in the evening, in the kehile hall, the first constituted meeting of the Kehile-council and 9 members co-opted from political organizations and movements. After selecting a presidium, it was decided to proceed to concrete kehile business within the next few days.

The New Kehile Representatives Before a Difficult Task (1919)

The new peoples' representatives had to handle a difficult task: the Peoples' Council and the kehile-council (National Board). First of all, it was necessary to help the Jewish poor, who now found themselves in a terrible situation. The new free Poland was struggling with economic difficulties and it was not so easy to withstand the frightening economic chaos in the land that previously belonged to three different governments. In this abnormal state of affairs Jewish workers, shopkeepers and merchants suffered the most. Their work places and often their entire little hob un guts [belongings] was destroyed during the war years. Help came from the “Joint” [The Joint Distribution Committee-an American organization founded in 1914 to provide relief to European Jews during World War I - later expanded to serve Jewish communities worldwide] which in every city and town opened points to distribute food, such as meal, oil and sugar. At the same time, Jewish political and economic organizations began to establish cooperatives (consumer) so that the Jewish impoverished population could create the means for a livelihood. This lasted for a long time after the end of the war when everything was rationed, according to a means-of-life card.

On Pesakh 1919, American meal for matzos came to Neisandz. The poor Jewish population was then certain that they would have cheap matzos. Suddenly it became known that the Rabbinate had banned the American meal. This news spread quickly throughout the Jewish quarter and created a great outcry…how come? Now there will be no inexpensive matzos.

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A deputation from the interested circles immediately turned to the city rov and asked him for clarification on the whole thing. One of the delegates, “Fule Treger”, a well-known driver in Sandz - stated the cause by its real name, as to why the American meal was banned. Bekolrom [in a loud voice] asked the city rov, if it was true that his son had prepare Pesakhdike wheat for matzos and because of the American meal he would not be able to request higher prices for matzos. Since the Jewish poor would not be able to pay the higher price for the matzos - “Fule Treger” added – and it was because of this that the American meal was banned – the people will not be frightened by the rov's prohibition and will use the banned meal for Pesakh matzos. And besides - “Fule Treger” warned – if the rov did not void the prohibition against the American meal, the people would throw bread and khometz [not kosher for Passover], into the dishes in which the Pesakhdike matzos would be prepared, making those matzos, in fact, baked from banned meal.

This warning helped because after midday, the rov's two sons came to the writer of these lines, and after a short discussion, it was agreed that to 10,000 kilos of American meal, they will add 10, 000 kilos of meal from their wheat. In that manner, cheaper matzo for for Pesakh for the poor Jewish population in Neisandz was assured. In order that the meal for matzos was properly and speedily distributed, a meeting of workers and merchants was called, and a consum (a food cooperative) was formed. Its first assignment, of course, was to have two of its members distribute the cheaper meal for matzos. Later, this cooperative grew into a real institution in the Jewish quarter in Sandz. More than 500 families belonged to the consum, which was located in a large local in Shteyf's house on Piarska-Street.

After that, produce cooperatives of tailors and shoemakers were formed and had their central headquarters in Krakow, the so-called Zkivs supported the cooperatives with raw material and machines. These production cooperatives however, did not have a long existence, for various reasons, especially because of the great administrative costs that did not permit them to compete with the cheaper work of independent merchants. Aside from that, these same institutions did not benefit from the support on the part of the working people in Sandz.

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The Dissolution of the Democratic Kehile-Council

The Jewish National Board (kehile council) in Neisandz, with complete responsibility and earnestness had handled all the daily problems of Jewish life in the newly created political and economic conditions and, therefore, had won the fullest confidence among the greatest part of the Jewish masses. Justly, the National Board in Neisandz was considered among the best democratic peoples' representatives that were constituted at that time in independent Poland.

However, there also were elements in the Jewish quarter who could not go along with the spirit of the time and who did not want to join, with the idea that in the kehile there should be leaders from the broadest peoples' strata. Backwardness, darkness and powers from previously “kahalnikes” [community elders], under the mask of poorly understood religiosity and together with the last of the Mohicans of assimilation, opposed the peoples' will and sought ways to undermine and destroy the new democratic peoples' representation.

Soon an appropriate moment came for the destructive work. May 3rd, 1919 – on the day of a Polish national holiday, the then-minister-president of the Polish government, Wintsenty Witos, the leader of the powerful peoples' party came to Sandz. Three representatives of the Orthodox and the assimilators group, I. L. Lustig, Sholem Shtater and Dr. Shteinman, with the request to dissolve the “Revolutionary” kehile-council in Neisandz and on the basis of the old Austrian kehile law, an overseer-like kehile-council was created with Sholem Shtater and Dr. Shteinmetz nominated to be at the head.

Jewish Political Parties in Neisandz in Independent Poland (1919)

In the new united Poland that included the Jewish inhabitants in all areas that formerly belonged to Russia, Austria and Germany thoroughly changed the social-political proportion in the Jewish quarter. There was an understanding of the necessity for economic and political organizations to continue the fight of the Jewish masses for full political equal rights (not only formally) but for the right to work and for the creation of services for the development of Jewish cultural life.

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Zionism, in all its various hues, included continually broader strata of the Jewish population and with greater vigor took on the fight against the remaining circles of assimilation. The self-awareness of the Jewish worker developed strongly. The following fought for influence over the Jewish working elements: the “Bund”, that, at that time, had joined the previous Zsh. P. S. (Jewish Socialist Party), and the Poalei-Tsion that was now a component of the Poalei-Tsion National Movement with headquarters in Warsaw.

In Neisandz, the Poalei-Tsion organization succeeded in taking over first place in Jewish political life, thanks to their dedicated, useful activities in all areas. Apart from the general sympathy on the part of the Jewish population of the city, the Poalei-Tsion won not just a large portion of the young people but also significant individuals and social leaders joined the Poalei-Tsion organization. As, for example, it is worthwhile to remember that such a personality as Dr. Jeremiah Frenkel, who had been active for many years in the regular Zionist organization, had, after a lecture by Dr. Yuris, announced that he had joined the Poalei-Tsion. Although Neisandz was not on the main line of the Krakow- Lemberg train, that was the main line of speakers, we had, at that time, the skhie [rare honor] that important lectures (among them {Jacob} Zerubavel [1886-1967; important Poalei-Tsion leader], Nir-Rafalkes [Nahum Nir-Rafalkes (1884-1968) - lawyer, labor leader and second speaker of the Knesset. He led Poalei Zion Left and represented it in the Histadrut and the Va'ad Leumi, and became a member of Mapam when the groups merged. He was deputy chairman of the Provisional Council of State, member of Knesset (1949-1965), deputy speaker and speaker (1959) of the Knesset { Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs}], A. Sz. Yuris: [Poalei-Tsion activist]) took the trouble to visit Neisandz, where their lectures would draw great masses of listeners. Apart from the Poalei-Tsion organization, general Zionists and the “Bund” played a role in Jewish life in Neisandz.

The Soviet-Polish War and its Influence on Jewish life in Neisandz (1920)

For the Jewish population in Poland, difficult times had begun. The Soviet-Polish war gave rise to a difficult economic crisis in the entire land, and Jewish population especially suffered. The American “Joint” [The Joint Distribution Committee] distributed the most important food, such as meal, sugar and milk to all the cities and towns in Poland. Also, in Sandz, the “Joint” developed its aid activities. Separately, help came from the yesoymim-hoyz [orphanage] that was led by R' Shmuel Mashler. The greatest weight in this useful institution was placed on training these orphans in a craft that would make them productive.

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Image:

“Joint” – Linke Poalei Tsion with Zerubavel in 1926

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With a view to this end, the “Joint” sent to Neisandz as instructors A. Shushaym, lecturer from the Poalei Tsion organ, “The Yidisher Arbeter” [“The Jewish Worker”], in Lviv. He was a maker of straw twine little cables and he actually taught the orphans that trade. With a great deal of warmth and devotion, A. Shushaym worked in the orphanage; in addition, he devoted all his free time to community work in the city.

The Rift in the Poalei-Tsion Movement

In the summer of 1920, after the Fifth World conference in Vienna, a rift developed in the Poalei-Tsion movement. Some in the movement committed themselves to forge a relationship with the Third International [The Comintern (Communist International, also known as the Third International) was an international Communist organization founded in Moscow in March 1919-Wikipedia] and a number with the Eretz-Israel “Akhdut Ha'avodah” [Unity of the Labor Movement in Israel], the leader had not want to join in and created the World Union Right Poalei-Tsion.

In Neisandz the left wing grouping from the organization had such leaders as Shaul Amsterdam, the later secretary of the Polish Communist Party, who was killed in Russia, during the Stalinist purges, in the 1930's – plus the Ringelblum brothers (the older, Emanuel, who grew up before the last world war to become a significant Jewish historian, was one of the leaders and fell during the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, and who made himself famous with the creation of an archive of Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto, that today carries his name) there was Dr. Naftali Schipper, Dr. Shakhna Holzer, Dr. Benek Landoy, Dr. Leon Wadler and the historian Dr. Rafael Mahler who lives today in Israel. Thanks to the influence of that group of Poalei-Tsion activists, the entire Poalei-Tsion youth in Neisandz joined the Left P. Ts. Movement and Fish, Shushaym, Dr. Jeremiah Frenkel and the writer of these lines joined.

As for the institutions that were created in Neisandz and now belonged to the Left P. Ts. Group, most of them did not have a long existence, and with time became extinct.

A certain fair was allowed to set up a market in the Zionist organization. In general, the influence of political organizations in Jewish communal life weakened. Important active community leaders left the city. Dr. Jeremiah Frenkel went to Lodz where he took over the management of the Hebrew Gymnasium [school] “Yavneh” , - Shaul Amsterdam had taken over leadership work in Warsaw in the Central Poalei Tsion party and Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, as did Rafael Mahler settled in Warsaw were they earned a living with research work, on the topic of Jewish history.

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When Shushaym also left Neisandz, the basket-making activities that was to lay the basis for wide far-reaching employment in basketry work stopped

A salient expression of the diminished influence of the political organizations was the proportion in the Jewish kehile that was found under the management of the overseers, Dr. Shteynmetz and Sholem Shtater. The assimilation element that had long disappeared from the Jewish community arenas again raised its head, this at a time when the remains of the previous assimilation-political idea had been driven out of Jewish community life in other cities. Here these remnants, because of certain ambitions, were an instrument in the hands of the powers that be. It also gave rise to the fact that Jewish Neisandz was left without proper necessary representation. To a certain extent, an entire line of objective justifications also had an effect particularly on the Jewish merchants, who already felt the serious action of the tax robbery and the publication of various administrative orders. These destroyed the very means of existence for Jewish business. Because of this situation, the Jewish public shoved out the shtadlonim [mediators], and found their own personal access to various active power organs, not counting on the general interests of the Jewish klal [community at large] for such intercession. They also supported the merchant union, under the management of Sholem Shtater, and around this organization the krayzn [sets of people, circles clustered, and which the overseer of kehile welfare supported.

As an illustration of the then oversight of the community economy, the Jewish hospital in Neisandz was closed. The society “Toz” the so very useful Jewish social help institute for Jewish health, wanted to open a course for training nurses and midwives, in the Jewish hospital building in Neisandz – and they would give as a gift the necessary instruments for this purpose. This attempt also did not succeed. The committee that should have made such a necessary plan come to pass, had to establish its own activity without the least amount of help from the oversight kehile.

The Efforts to Rebuild the Jewish Societal Life in Neisandz (1922)

The Jewish societal leaders, estranged by the local power organs from the leadership of the Jewish kehile, did not lose courage and picked up the fight with the assimilationist groups.

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The tireless, energetic and virtuous community worker, Sz .Mashler, organized a second merchant union. He set as a task to help the Jewish merchant in his fight with the various administrative and fiscal decrees that had as its purpose to conspire to worsen the situation of the Jewish merchants' position. The new union opened a reading room on the premises of I. Shpreys' restaurant on the Yagelanska-Street and very soon this reading room became a gathering place for all Jewish peoples' circles.

Also, the Zionist group became aware of a revival. At that time among the young Zionists there arose a strong wish to make aliyah [emigrate to Palestine/Israel]. Hagshama Atzmit [reestablish independence] became the watch word of Zionist youth. Halutz [pioneer] youth organizations were created and in almost all of the larger cities in Poland arrangements for hakhshore [preparatory training for prospective agricultural emigrants to Palestine/Israel] at which halutzim prepared themselves for aliyah Larger groups of halutzim came to Neisandz from the Ukraine in order to attend the hakhshore. And as soon as we retrieved the premises of the Peretz Kutur Heym [Peretz Culture Home] (in ruined condition) from the military-power, we gave the place to be used for hakhshore. They then spent 10 months until the time when they received the certificates and had to make aliyah to Eretz Isroyl. We arranged a great social event and that is how we got the money to donate for the trip to Eretz-Isroyl for all the halutzim. This first hakhshore point made a great impression on the Zionist youth in Neisandz who joined the halutzim movement and thereafter occupied a respectable place.

The Self-Help Activity in the Jewish Quarter in Neisandz (1923)

The severe economic condition of the Jewish population in Neisandz had encouraged the community leaders to undertake an action, in order to alleviate the need of the Jewish masses. First of all, the ability had to be created to care for the Jewish merchant and hand worker with inexpensive credit so that he could support his workshop. With help from the “Joint” in Sandz, (as was the case in other cities) a credit cooperative was founded.

The new institution that was near the new merchants' union was named “Spulzieltshi Zviyonzek Kreditovi” – Cooperative Credit Federation – and got its first capital together from savings accounts from several managing committee-members and from the grant from “Joint”. The supervisory board consisted of several agents from the merchants' union, as well as from Jewish organizations and noteworthy Jewish community leaders. In this way, the existence of this credit-institute that had distributed loans was assured.

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With the idea of creating concrete help for the impoverished Jewish population, all the honest and sincere community leaders in the city joined together to create community strength that first of all, understood that an end must be put to the precinct economy in the Sandzer kehile. The consciousness of poverty, strengthened the merchant groups and others, to reorganize and activate the Jewish community life in Neisandz. For the Jewish artisan, the significance of organized self-help was now understood. Earlier back in the time of the Austrian memshole [domination] there lived in Neisandz a larger number of craftsmen, who were involved with tailoring and shoemaking. The number of Jewish home-manufacturers, who had earned their yenike [livelihood] from home-work, was not small. Over time, Jewish hand-work included other trades and they modernized their workshops and reached a significant role in the economic life in the city. In the general guilds, to which first of all, every hand worker had to belong, prominent anti-Semitic tendencies were expressed in various demonstrations of chicanery that made the life of the Jewish artisan very difficult. From an earlier time, a Jewish handworker union had existed in Neisandz, “The Harutzim” [Industrious], but it was limited to philanthropic activities for their members. Now, at the initiative of the writer of these lines, a committee of artisans was created with the task of reorganizing “The Harutzim” union and transforming it into a modern artisan organization that would be mesugl zayn [equal to the task] of protecting artisan interests and to assure the rightful place of Jewish organized society in Neisandz. The following artisans belonged to the organizing committee: Moyshe Fish, Leyb Korn, Leon Geldberger, Yosef Shteiner, Dreksler, the Oftergut brothers, Alish Horvitz, Adolf Frenkel, Shpringer, Hecht, Gribel, haim Birkenboym.

Of all these honest, industrious community leaders that managed “The Harutzim” – were left alive, tsu lange yorn [for many long years – {said after the name of a living person mentioned in the same breath as a dead person}], and living now in Isroyl, R' Leyb Korn and the writer of these lines. All the others murdered and exterminated during the German destruction. Koved zayn andenk [Honor to their memory].

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The Economic Crisis in Poland (1924-1925)

The Polish government's action to stabilize foreign currency created a severe economic crisis in 1924. But, while the in Polish economic sector, credit flowed from various official and semi-official government credit institutions, Jewish merchants and artisans found themselves under severe fiscal stress on the part of government tax-apparatus, that turned on them completely without mercy and with the direct intention of undermining the basis of Jewish economic survival. Thousands of Jewish workshops were involved and had no other choice but to emigrate. The majority of these victims of the economic catastrophe emigrated to Eretz-Yisroyl. The great fourth Aliyah [emigration] of the Jewish middle-income came about – the so-called Grabsky-emigration [“Remembered notoriously, the Polish minister of finance, Grabsky, during his term in government caused many bankruptcies among Jewish businessmen.” {from “The War for Life”, Litman Mor, translated from Hebrew by Yossef Rothman}].

The Jewish Neisandz was almost a yoytse-min-aklal [exception] because of the fact that Jewish economic circles suffered less from the severe pressure that hung over Polish Jewry. Sandz was fortunate in that it was close to the area's health spas, such as Krinitz, Szczawnica, Rabka-Zdroj Piwniczna-Zdroj, Ritra and others. Thanks to the fact that in these areas tourism developed strongly, it strengthening business that was concentrated in Neisandz, the largest city in the entire area. At this point, the credit cooperative that had been in existence for some time, enabled Jewish merchants and artisans to survive the crisis. On the other hand, with the newly opened gmiles-khesed [loan without interest] office with Moyshe Rubin in charge, and the financial help from the “Joint” and local citizens, who helped with loans without interest, hundreds of working people were assisted in preventing the failure their of their workshops.

Jewish Life in Neisandz after Pilsudski's Overthrow (1926-1930)

The May-overthrow of Pilsudski in 1926 changed the history of the Polish government. The Polish folk masses as well as the national minority, with full confidence, received the new regime, hoping for a liberalization of the political life in the land.

The Jewish population in Poland lekhatkhile [initially] pinned its hopes on the change in the leadership of the country. They thought it would reduce the political and economic distress in all area of Jewish life. Pilsudski's decree concerning the voting ordinance for the kehile councils created new – although narrowed – possibilities, to bring fresh community power into the kehile management that would attract social and national trends that were becoming predominant in the Jewish quarter.

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The new kehile voting ordinance abolished the old census system according to which the only ones that had the right to vote for the kehile were the payers of the community tax; general and proportional voting rights were introduced. When new voting was actually carried out, pursuant to the new voting ordinances, the kehile management in the cities went into the hands of various representatives of political parties and groups that represented political and ideological positions.

In Neisandz the kehile management was made up of a group of politicians, allegedly kehile providers who had absolutely no connection to Jewish life. In general they had not thought about the difficulties of organizing actions to help the Jewish population in its difficult fight for work and earnings. And when the administrative powers, had finally seen that the commissary kehile economy must lead to chaos in the Jewish quarter and that the rov minyan vebinyen [the greater part] was against the kehile rulers and had no confidence in them - the commissary management was dissolved under the leadership of citizens Dr. Shtaynmetz and Korn. A new management was set up with the Zionist leader Dr. Sirop Brash whose assignment was to introduce new elections to the kehile in the name of new voting ordinance. But the old kehile matadorn [old leaders] did not resign and in addition plotted to tear down anything, to permit the door of the Sandzer kehile to be opened by the true representatives of Jewish people. And just as the new voting ordinances had permitted various opportunities, in order to strike from the voting lists (made up on the basis of declarations carried in) a great number of those with the right to vote, those groups from the old kehile-fixer brought into use all kinds of ways not to allow the true intentions of the newer vote-organization to succeed.

A repercussion from this fight blazed up in Neisandz even during the pre-conferences for the new voting. We found ourselves in a correspondence and in an appeal from Neisandz that was published in the organ of the Zionist organization in Tarnow: “Yiddish Weekly” in number 31 of the 28th November 1938.

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In the column, we read: “News from Neisandz” among others: “the local Yiddish society in small towns with their impractical politics finds itself under the wings and hazhgokhe [custody] of various local megalomaniacs who, because of their political ambitions and other private interests, do everything possible to prevent the Jewish masses from doing anything This correspondence also said: “In the kehile management (in the former managing council) it was thought that a majority of the management was from the 'Gribover Party' and though the chairman was the Zionist, Dr. Sirop – with whom we had entrusted the mandate after the council led by Sholem Shtater had been dissolved, at the meeting of the voting commission the above mentioned majority resolved, not the chairman. These, the 'Gribover' men decided that they must have their own commission, as it was before, and they actually succeeded. Eleven people who got on to the voting commission were from their 'party', and since there were 16 members altogether, they had the absolute majority. Herr Shmuel Herbst was put at the head of this commission. He pledged – when he had to – that he was not a Gribower Hasid – but in the voting commission he did everything to attack the vice-chairman of the commission, well-known from the previous kehile management, Dr. Shtaymetz, the current leader of the Gribower Hasidim in Neisandz”.

The appeal that the Sandzer Jews carried out under the title: “A Protest-Shout”, as mentioned previously in “Yiddish Weekly of Tarnow, the 9th of November, 1928, (No. 31) even more clearly reflected the fight about the Sandzer kehile.

Here is a fragment of the appeal: “It really pains my heart to see the maysim-toyvim [good deeds] done in the Sandzer kehile over the voting. There is not any city or town in Poland, where there is voting for the kehiles that such things were heard of that took place there in broad daylight. Even the worst, lowest common people from any place did not have the least idea of such shameful abuse of the Pilsudski-decree. True – from here and there came loud noises about certain voting irregularities, but there were only a few. Everyone understood, with their simple human sense, that voting must be true and clean. The fighting only reflected on the council electioneering. But this was not true for the city of Sandz. We do not have any voting for now. Some thinking is not the main point – with us, the smallest things in the preparation for the voting are important.”

The author of the appeal, under the pseudonym E. D. – complained of the attempts to cripple the voting law. Jewish national representatives had fought for many years with the law-giving bodies and figured out everything about the voting influence that the majority in the voting commission had.

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That is how, for example, they asked the kehile to disclose to the public those recipients who benefitted from the charitable funds. With this information they would, according to the voting-ordinance, take away the right to vote from all whom, for various reasons had benefitted from kehile support such as kimkhe-depaskhe [Passover meal given to the poor] and so forth.

The author continues telling of his protest actions. Of the 3418 declarations of the right to were entered, only 1570 really had the right to vote, and within that group they found several hundred who intentionally mixed up their names and used names of people who were dead…and he ends with: “Can we walk by, watching the underhanded tricks played with the bloodiest games against the interests of the Jewish population? Do we wonder with all these 'makhers' [fixers] whether or not rov binyen-verov-binyen [the greater part], that is, of the Jewish population, will allow themselves to be driven like sheep by a sinister clique of only one group? No! We must not be silent. The entire community must resist these disgraceful 'fathers'. It's not enough, that until now one only talks to another of his bitterness. Without any distinction between party and group, we must use public protests to regulate all these terrible actions. We must request another, purer voting commission that, through clean voting, will give the Jewish population the ability to elect such representatives who would not be blamed as an irresponsible clique, but elected on the basis of programs that speak to the needs of the entire Jewish community”.

At the new kehile-voting the various Jewish national parties won. Worthwhile organizations that also participated in the voting for the city community council brought in representatives who pledged to fight for the just demands of the Jewish population in the city.

Powerful actions actually developed not only in the Jewish political parties, but also in the Jewish economic organizations. The new merchants union became an important point of support and guide for the Jewish merchant in his everyday struggle with all kinds of administrative and fiscal decrees and laws.

The unions “Yad Harutzim” [Hand of the Diligent Men] and Shomrei Emunim [Guardian of Belief] represented almost all the Jewish artisans who now understood the usefulness and necessity of their own trade organization concerning self-help and cultural work.

In the political realm the Jewish youth organizations were especially strengthened in various ways. The Zionist groupings, Hashomer Hatzair [socialist Zionist youth movement], Gordonia [a Zionist pioneering youth movement named for Aaron David Gordon], Borochov-yugent and Frayhayt embraced a wide layer of the young generation that bound their fate to the building process in Eretz Yisroyl. It increased the numbers of the Halutzishe youth, who were preparing themselves in various hakhshore areas [the preparatory training for prospective agricultural emigrants to Palestine – U. Weinreich] for aliyah [immigration to Palestine/Israel] and were waiting for certificates.

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There also was a foment among the Orthodox youth; the girls created their own Organization –“Bnoys-Yankev” [“Daughters of Jacob”] with a program that combined religious upbringing with elementary general education.

An important center for Jewish culture remained, as in the past, the culture home “Peretz” with the reading room; although the development of this institute had suffered a great deal because of the rift of the Poalei-Tsion party.

Now the womens' organization “Vitzo” [Women's International Zionist Organization, also known as WIZO (Hebrew: Vitzo] took on a new position in the community life of Sandz. It brought a great number of Jewish women to Zionist activities and social aid work. Among the leaders of this organization were, among others, these women: Dr. Einhorn, Zlate Knebel, Blumenfeld, Rozen. Through various undertakings, they created funds for national and philanthropic institutions.

Aside from lectures, courses and libraries, there were Jewish theater activities that had a permanent place in the union ”Peretz”. Unfortunately, after the rift with the Poalei-Tsion party, which had managed the Culture-Home, a split also took place in the amateur-club and it became two amateur-circles: one with the right wing Poalei-Tsion, under the leadership of Leon Ablezer (now in Israel), Max Kluger, Hanke Shternlicht and a second one with the left wing Poalei-Tsion under the leadership of Rotenberg, Hershl Meyerfeld and Lustbader.

Both amateur clubs performed various pieces from time to time, but the receipts did not cover the expenses needed to support the Peretz Culture Home. It had to close.

The Last Ten Years (1930-1939)

Those were the years of hard fighting for work and for the necessities of existence. With the Pilsudski regime, the so-called”Sanatzie” [Polish: sanacja] purge, now openly turned to the anti-Semitic discrimination policy competing with the changing elements in their pursuit to eject the Jewish population from their economic positions. Jewish merchants, artisans and those in free professions had to fight against administrative ordinances and the heavy load of taxes that were aimed at burying the Jewish ability to exist. In addition to this came the anti-Jewish boycott action that was carried out by the “Endetsie” [extreme right wing political party], with the silent approval of Sanatorishe government circles.

This increase in the anti-Semitic course was also very clear in Neisandz. They began to eject the Jews even from those ways of making a living that they alone had developed in the course of generations. This was the case with fishing that was a source of earnings for tens of Jewish families.

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Neisandz was blessed with two rivers, the Dunajec and the Kamienica, both rich with fish. Among the Jewish fishermen from Neisandz were the well-known family Boyman who achieved great mastery and delivered a great quantity of fish for the Sandzer population. A special branch of Jewish fishing was the capture of salmon that would swarm in a great mass from the sea to Dunajec, to the Tarle. The Sandzer fishermen provided salmon not only for the neighboring spas, but even to Warsaw and Lodz.

Organized Polish anti-Semitic groups involved themselves in this livelihood of the Sandzer Jews and began a campaign to drive the Jewish fishermen from their employment. Immediately they formed a Polish fishermen society under the cover of a “Club Wieshlarski” that benefitted from the support by the Polish power groups. Although the Polish fishermen received various discounts and concessions, the Jewish fishermen with the family Boyman at the head, held their positions, thanks only to their great knowledge of this area and intense work.

It is well to remember: the frequent floods every spring when the waters of the Dunajec and Kamienica overflowed. The greatest flood occurred in 1934, when hundreds of Jewish families had to leave their poor little huts and were left without a roof over their heads. At that time WIZO organized and the woman Zlate Knebel z”l carried out the relief work. She immediately gathered the necessary help and a kitchen was opened where vulnerable families could get warm food. A separate committee took care of the kitchen and thanks to the produce that the magistrate gave, three times as many people as they would have been able otherwise to feed, continued to receive meals (in the morning, at midday and in the evening - about 600 Jews – until they were able to return to their dwellings.

The boycott campaign against the Jews was carried out in the thirties in Poland with the approval of the Polish powers. The Skladowski's official anti-Jewish declaration (economic fight against Jews – on the contrary – “owshem” [on the contrary] spread to all cities and villages. Jews were thrown out of all public business activities. The gates of Polish business or semi-business industrial centers were closed to the Jewish merchant, worker, intellectual, or artisan. When the Polish regime began to work on the project to make use of the energy of the Dunajec waters in the Sandzer neighborhood for a gigantic electrical institution, Jewish merchants and artisans put great hope that undertaking would bring them work.

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By the first week of building the dams near Rachow, it was clear that Jews were to be shut out from deliveries or work. Yes! They employed several Jewish engineers because they needed their knowledge and abilities.

Regardless of the very severe economic conditions, and in spite of the difficult fight for existence itself, Sandzer Jews along with the entire Jewish population in Poland did not lose courage. They did everything they could to survive in their current economic and cultural situations.

In those difficult years in Neisandz, the striving for cultural activities became stronger. There was great interest in political events and the efforts to address their needs in addition to the systematic exchange of opinions. The need to find a place where the Jewish people would be able to gather, in order to read a newspaper, listen to a lecture and even to get through the time together, grew. First, a reading room opened in 1934. The general Zionists, with a view to this end took over the great hall located in Abrahamowitch's house, on the corner of Walower Street, where there once was a Jewish bank. Later, all leftist Zionists together created a reading room with a community club in the locals of the former Polish casino, also on the Narutowitsce Street. Both reading rooms prospered. After a lot of effort, a Beys-Eym” [community house] was set up in a beautiful building. During the time of the Hitler occupation it was taken over for the office of the Gestapo.

Sandzer Jews took part in all general Jewish activities, either in the fight against growing anti-Semitism, or in the area of aid work. When a boycott of German goods was proclaimed in all Poland, a Jewish boycott committee was also formed in Neisandz to make sure that no merchandise from Hitler-Germany was sold in Jewish shops.

In 1938, Polish Jews were driven out of Germany and thousands of Jewish families were thrown into Poland at the border point Jbonshin. They had been robbed of hob-un-goods [possessions, belongings]. Jewish Sandz took in a great number of those unfortunate refugees. A committee was specially created to get places for the refugees to live, get nourishment and the ability to settle down. In the community club that had given over two rooms for the refugees, a kitchen was established where refugees were fully supplied with meals.

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Just as the catastrophe was approaching, it was noted in Sandz as in all Poland, that intensive efforts on the part of Jewish organizations were being made to maintain Jewish existence. Particularly important was the activities of the gmiles-khe'sed-kases [free loan societies] under the tireless and energetic leadership of the community leader Sh. Mashler. The “Joint” came to help these institutions and the American organization of Galiciana Jews; their chairman, Semi Lov also came to Sandz and held important conferences with the Sandzer community leaders about the manner and form of the aid activities.

Before the Hurbn [Destruction]

In the second half of August 1939, we already knew that we were heading for difficult political times. Neisandz was not far from the border of Slovakia, where the Hitler regime already reigned. Because of this, two weeks before the outbreak of the war, we were able to see that the Polish military had begun to concentrate on the Slovakian border. But on the day that Hitler's divisions assaulted Poland – it was a Friday in the morning – German bombardiers were already visible over the city. So far, they had spared the population and did not drop any bombs. At the same time, refugees from the border began to stream into Sandz. They relayed the news that in Krynica-Zdrój, and in Muszyna German troops had been seen.

A real hullabaloo had broken out in the Sandzer town office. There was an order to dig trenches against the bombing. I was still an official from the Piekler region so I was given the assignment to get the trench dug. But the Jews of the Piekl had other worries. What to do now? – they desperately asked. Should we stay waiting for the Germans or run away as did the well-to-do of the Jewish population? And when, as the Jewish communal leader, I clarified it: especially those who had carried out anti-Hitler boycott actions, must run. You could see the poor Piekler Jews trampled in their eyes. Men and women cried and I together with them. With what could I console the Jews? The mandate to represent them in the city council had been entrusted in me for so many years. Now I stood before them without advice and did not know how to help them. Now only tears were left…silently we parted forever…after the war we did not meet in Neisandz…the virtuous, industrious Jews of the Piekl, all who had been tortured by the German rotskhim [murderers] …they all fell alkidesh-hashem [martyred].

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That Friday I still remained in Sandz and prepared myself to leave my home. I found my old friend and comrade Moyshe Fish z”l and told him he should also leave the city. He, however, felt that only Jews who had been politically involved had to flee. Thanks to Avrum Salomon z”l a larger P. K. P. autobus was rented and a large group of community leaders left Neisandz after midnight. Dovid Salomon, the Hasid from the Gribower rov with his family, his son Abraham a leader of the “Hitakhdus” association was travelling with us. Dr. Hersh Sirof z”l, chairman of the general Zionist organization, Dr. Einhorn, Chairman of the “Makabi”, his wife and my wife Zlate z”l who was chairwoman of the “WIZO” organization in Neisandz. In addition to them Dr. Shtaynmetz, the former assimilation head of the kehile, Kaner - the secretary of the Jewish kehile was also with us. We all forgot the political khiluke-deyes [difference of opinion] that separated us all our lives…now we carried out one and only one wish – to run away from the enemy

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