A. M. Fuchs
Translated by Lily Fox Shine and Cyril Fox, niece and nephew of the author
Donated by David Fielker, for this article which was previously
published in Shemot (JGS of Great Britain), September 1999
My birthplace, the shtetl Jezierna, on the railway line from Lemberg to Tarnopol in Eastern Galicia, belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Emperor Franz Joseph. In WWI the Jewish population became dispersed. In 1918-20, when the monarchy collapsed, Jezierna, and indeed Eastern Galicia (including the Western Ukraine), belonged to the Ruthenian Republic. Then, when the Poles won the war against the Ruthenians, Jezierna became part of Poland and the shtetl rebuilt itself. Today  my birthplace belongs to the Soviet West Ukrainian Republic again.
I did not know my paternal grandparents, but I am named Avrom Moshe after my grandfather. I do know that he was a small-time merchant selling produce to the peasants of the surrounding area. He was a Baal Tefilah (lay prayer leader) in the Beth Hamidrash of the main synagogue. My grandmother, Channa, ran a small dairy. My father was known in the shtetl by the nickname Chaim Chanele's Smetankes because of this and because he was very blond- an allusion to the white Smetana which was made in the dairy.
My maternal grandfather was Sholem Fuchs, and my grandmother was Leika (Esther Leah). The family on both sides was related. Grandfather Sholem was a merchant, dealing with the Polish peasants and gentry, and in the summer he rented orchards in the neighbouring villages. Leika also had a bakery in their large house, making challoth [sabbath loaves], rolls, etc. The customers were the people of the shtetl and the country folk. Every Passover eve they baked matzos in the great stove for the entire locality. Shulim and Leika died in Jezierna in 1910.
In my family we were four brothers. I was the oldest, then Shea (Yehoshua), Hersh and Itamar.
In my childhood and youth, I was naturally close to my relations. They still stand before my eyes, all in youthful fellowship, fine people, cut off from life by fire and blood. I come from simple, honest, god-fearing people who were pleasant, good-humoured and friendly, and happy to do good deeds and help others. They all had some type of work in the shtetl bakers, carpenters, locksmiths, merchants and orchard keepers. Some sold flax or honey or wheat; some had a horse and cart for transport. Summer and winter they scraped a hard-earned living. Only on the Sabbath and on festivals did they rest and have a party. They all suffered from the pain and harshness of their livelihoods.
There were also happy times: joys and pleasures from their children. The boys went to cheder, learning Hebrew, prayers and the Bible, then they learned a trade. The daughters, the young ladies, learned Hebrew and also Hebrew/Yiddish translation, ie tzena-urena [pious texts]. The fathers, with difficulty, paid the teacher. At home the daughters loved to sing Yiddish folk songs. They could speak Ukrainian, Polish and Yiddish. They were raised in the best ways of their parents until they were married. They were brought up to be well-mannered and modest. The mothers were orthodox and scrupulously observed dietary laws, Sabbath and festivals. They prayed with fervour, crying out to God.
Their literature consisted of holy commentaries and stories from the Bible, and later they read Yiddish story books, for example from Sholem Aleichem and Mendele, which they bought in the market place. They enjoyed listening to storytellers, jokers and singers, especially at Purim. Although they were not Chassidim, they would go to the Jezierna Rebbe during the intermediate days of Passover for blessing and advice.
The Jezierna Rebbe, Levi Yitzhak Manisohn from the Rhziner dynasty, was well known in the surrounding towns. He had a large following of Chassidim who used to stay with him. He had a large house with a courtyard and a small school with teachers. In my youth I saw him many times; he was short and slim with a delicate pale face, brown eyes and a short tidy silver beard and short curly sideburns. On the Sabbath and on festivals he dressed in silk striped trousers with a white girdle, white silk shoes and stockings and a large golden fur hat. His weekly attire was a black silk hat, black silk coat with velvet sleeves and black patent small boots. I also heard that the Rebbe had written a small religious treatise, but I personally had another book printed in Hebrew from one of his followers with a foreword from him. In WWI the Rebbe's mansion was destroyed and he and his son Reb Moishele fled to Vienna; the Rebbe died shortly afterwards in 1915 and two years later his son died there.
In the mid-19th century there was also a greatly revered rabbi, Rebbe Shloimele, who grew up in the shtetl. The Emperor Franz Josef ruled at this time and a special stone synagogue was built, which lasted until 1941 when the Nazis destroyed it. The Rebbe was deaf and had poor vision, yet busied himself with teaching and many good deeds to humans and animals. In my youth, I once went with my father to visit ancestral graves and I saw the special private burial memorial to R Shloimele. It was a small room in which stood the memorial stone, old and worn, in the form of two tablets, on which the symbolic Cohanim fingers, thin and worn, were outstretched in blessing. The words were faded away but my memory of this is inerasable.
I remember that years ago in my childhood days misfortune befell our family. My father, a quiet, refined man, was not in the best of health and had no means of livelihood at the time. My mother went for advice to a special rebbe in Tarnopol. This Rebbe Lazar gave her a blessing and good advice which was that my father should become a merchant and rent orchards together with his father-in-law and brothers-in-law and with God's help he would be successful. So it turned out, and my mother used to talk, with tears in her eyes, about the wonderful advice and how our faith had saved us.
So, my family mainly lived on the sale of fruit from the orchards they rented from the Polish gentry, which produced cherries, grapes for wine and later apples, pears and plums. They gathered the fruit, loaded it in boxes and sacks onto wagons and sent it for sale in the Jezierna market. They worked from Shavuoth to Rosh Hashanah and shared the profits. Unripened fruit was stored in straw and sold when fruit became scarce. This was my father's business too; he had his own horse and wagon. They also owned a small spice and condiment shop, but this was destroyed by thieving village lads.
Another group of memories appears before my eyes. My father had a lime pit and a small hut which stood at the edge of my grandfather's garden. In the front it was partitioned with flower boxes, thorny bushes and trees overhanging from the very large garden of the Ruthenian priest. There was a refuse bin and a lime pit in the large cattle, horse and pig market. The general market place, with Jewish wine establishments and shops, was in the centre of the shtetl. Nearby was the old stone synagogue, the Beth Hamidrash, the Rabbi's house and also the Polish and Ruthenian churches with their high bell towers.
The Chassidic Rebbe's courtyard with a large garden was on the side of the stone cobbled Kaiser Strasse. The old stone brandy inn had a wide entrance for the horses and wagons of the Polish gentry who would gather there, perhaps some of the wealthier Jews. The old flour mill with its huge wooden water wheel stood by the side of the stream, a tributary of the wide river with tall willow trees on its banks.
Like all Jewish boys in our town I went through four classes in our state Jewish Baron de Hirsch School. The official language was Polish, but I also went to learn Jewish subjects more intensely at the cheder where the teacher was Reb Lazar Bick. I studied Hebrew and the Bible with Rashi and some Talmud. Later, I educated myself more deeply in Jewish subjects and world culture.
At the age of fourteen I went from my home to Lemberg, then for a while in New York and after that for 24 years in Vienna, ten years in London and a little time in Paris. From 1910 onwards, my main profession was that of a Yiddish writer and journalist, mainly in Vienna and later in London
In Vienna I was conscripted into the Austrian army in various military capacities between 1914 and 1918, going as far as the borders of Austro-Hungary.
After WWI I was able to return to Jezierna. The German troops had fought backwards and forwards against the Russians as far as the Russian border, passing through Lemberg and Jezierna. There was great slaughter of Jews in this area by the Russians, Austrians and Germans. Many of the villages were destroyed. The Jews of Jezierna and the surrounding villages fled over the Carpathian Mountains to Hungary, where there was a camp for Jezierna Jewish refugees. After the War the Jews returned to Jezierna but many of their homes had been robbed, burnt down or destroyed. Their livelihoods were non-existent and hunger and poverty were everywhere.
Now the Ruthenians governed the area, but there was no stability as they were still at war with the Poles in East Galicia. Also in 1919-20 there was war with the new Soviets along the borders of Russia and East Galicia, and Petlyura's Ukrainian soldiers conducted pogroms against the Jewish inhabitants, plundering villages and murdering Jews all along the border towns. In East Galicia the Red Army did help somewhat to protect the Jews as Petlyura's men rampaged through Jezierna. Then came the Polish legions, murdering Jews in Lemberg and other Galician towns. The slaughter also took place in Zlocov. Then East Galicia was occupied by Ruthenian soldiers and cut off from the outside world, without communications or transport.
Very sad news filtered through from this area to Vienna concerning the savagery of Petlyura towards the Jews of Galicia and the Ukraine. I was sent as an accredited correspondent for the Wiener Morning Journal, the Jewish national paper, to investigate and report on the conditions of the Jews of East Galicia and bring back the true facts to Vienna. In 1919 my journey was very difficult; I had to travel for weeks by train via Budapest and Muncacz and through the Carpathian Mountains and by this roundabout way I arrived in Tarnopol.
This large town was half destroyed, the shops were looted and only a handful of Jews were left. Some of the army had returned, and they were wounded and robbed by Petlyura's men who were running the town and had murdered most of its Jews. No train journey was possible for civilians; I travelled on Polish sledges for which I paid exorbitantly. The weather was cold, frosty and at times stormy. At night in the snowy fields there were howling, hungry wolves. With fear and trepidation I went on and whenever I met with Jews in the area the same pitiful story was told poverty, robbery, pursuit and often murder. The days and nights passed with pain and terror.
The young Jewish soldiers who had returned from the Austrian front were weary and with difficulty they carried on trying to earn some money to help their broken parents.
Naturally I went to Jezierna as quickly as possible to reunite with my parents and family, who had returned from their flight to Hungary. I also went from Tarnopol to the border towns between Russia and Galicia. On this trip I was arrested several times by Petlyura's soldiers but my documents and newspaper credentials from Vienna saved me and some honest Ruthenian officials came to my rescue and freed me from custody. The Jews were not taken to serve in the Ruthenian army and on the whole the Ruthenian government protected the Jews in Eastern Galicia, but over the border the Petlyurian gangster army, who were Ukrainians fighting the Red Army in Kiev and other Ukrainian towns, massacred any Jews they found.
On 29 January 1919 I was in Tarnopol where I received the news, from Austrian soldiers returning from the Russian border, of the terrible pogrom the day before in Proscurów, where Petlyura's men had killed 1,500 Jews in a day when they captured the town from the Reds.
The same hatred existed towards the Jews of Western Galicia by the Polish National Army where there were also pogroms and slaughter. Jews were accused of being leaders of the Communist revolution, especially because of Trotsky, Zimoniev and Kaganovitch, and they also supported the Communist uprising in Hungary where Bela Kun, the leader, was a Jew. In general the expression was Jewish Bolshevik. With all these pogroms organised by different armies over the area it is estimated that more than half a million Jews were murdered. Villages became seas of Jewish blood; all were united in their hatred of the Jews. Ovruch, Berdichev, Zhitomir and Proscurów were some of the towns that Petlyura swept through, moving from house to house murdering Jews. In 1919 there were 493 pogroms. I finally returned to Vienna with my report.
In 1923 my father (not so old) had died from all the troubles in Jezierna and my brother Yehoshua took my mother to London, where she died in 1942. Yehoshua also brought my brother Itamar to London from Vienna in 1930. The families of my father's three brothers and two sisters from Jezierna all emigrated to America and England before WWI.
I had settled in Vienna with my wife and daughter and was an established citizen of the new Austrian Republic. However, in 1938 when Hitler marched into Austria I was imprisoned with my family and robbed of my possessions. Many precious manuscripts, stories and articles were destroyed. Then with the help of my brothers and their family in England we were saved*.
Jezierna was occupied by the Soviets from September 1939 until June 1941, but in July they withdrew from Eastern Galicia and the Nazis entered Jezierna and slaughtered most of the Jewish population. My brother Hersh was murdered by the Nazis in Slochev, together with his wife Miriam and all the Jews of the town, in 1941. My mother had three sisters and a brother, all with large families; they virtually all perished under the Nazis and only a very few survived. From my grandparents on my mother's side there was a large family with brothers and sisters in Jezierna, Zborov, Tarnopol, Lemberg and Czernovitz; they also perished in the Holocaust.
We lived in London from 1937 to 1948, survived the Blitz and Hitler's bombs in WWII and made aliyah and settled in Tel Aviv, Israel.
For 25 years AMF was the Vienna correspondent of the New York Jewish Daily Forward. He was also assistant editor of the Jewish Morning Post in Vienna and critic for a monthly journal, as well as contributing to many Jewish papers and books. He published six books of Yiddish stories, many about life in Jezierna. The articles about the pogroms for the Vienna Jewish Daily News were also translated and printed in America, Poland and other countries. Later he wrote stories with themes on the terrible breakdown and impoverished hard life of the Jews of Western Galicia at that time (1919). His books were translated into Hebrew, German, Polish and other languages and he received several literary prizes, including a major award in Israel late in his life.* Primarily it was AMF's American Press Card that saved him from the Nazis in 1938. Return
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