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[Page 27]

The Way Of Life


[Page 28]


by Dr. Nachman Blumenthal, Jerusalem

Translated by Pamela Russ



A person is – someone once said – a world unto himself; a microcosm in which the big world (the macrocosm), a world with so many details, reflects itself. And if this is true for an individual, how much more so is this true for a collective setting, like a Jewish town, a Jewish community. Here we already have what to discuss – as the grandfather of Yiddish literature, Mendele Moicher Sforim, said: “It's a world with small worlds.”

And if it's a world, a whole world, so who can undertake to write its history from beginning to end? It would take years of work, travels across the world, searches and rummages through archives, browsing all the newspapers, interviews with each history writer who originates from these places or who somehow wandered around these parts, and trace every descendant from that place, to wherever and whenever he has roamed, etc.

Who can permit himself to do this?

I believe all this is important to say, since I will attempt to paint the history of the town of Jezierna only with broad strokes. Cut off thousands of kilometers from the city itself, without any chance of accessing any archives or institutions, as much as they could have survived after the destruction that World War Two brought with it, something from our past – since there is no other way, our work must bear the character of distant echoes that once was and is no more. More than this historical outline is likely not necessary for a memorial book … in order to remember.


The Shtetl (Jezierna in Polish, Ozerna in Ukrainian)

The old settlement was located near a large lake into which rivulets flowed, and near a small river, Wosuszka, that flows into the Stripa River. From that lake the settlement took its name – Jeziero in Polish, and Ozero in Ukrainian. And these provided a livelihood to the early settlers many years ago. With time, as the settlement grew around both sides of the river, it came to pass that the river split the town into two. Years ago, when the waters rose, the settlement was protected like a natural fortress. One could not get to it easily.

We hear about Jezierna for the first time in a letter from Zygmunt August, written in the year 1545, to his father the king of Poland, Zygmunt I (the Elder). The letter was about this specific village that Jan Tarnowski, the great military commander–in–chief of Poland (of “the Crown,” that is Poland without Lithuania) had forcefully taken over (justly or unjustly – who can judge this today?) from Duchess Beata Ostrogska.

In about 1615, the settlement was purchased by Yakob Sobieski, the governor of Lublin, father of the future king Jan Sobieski, whose family estates were located in Reussen, part of later East Galicia: such as Olesk, Zlocow, Zhulkiew, etc.). He built a castle, to protect himself on the mountain, located southwest of the settlement at a height of about 400 meters. He also built a Roman Catholic church in the year 1636. Other members of the Sobieski family would also come here to live – the father, and after that the son; then later King Jan III and his son Jakob.

The position of the settlement: a lake, a river with flowing water, and a mountain that had strategic defense capacity were the cause of occasional military campaigns.


Historical Events:

In the year 1649, on the third of August, at the time of the Chmielnicki revolt and the wars with him, and the Tatars on one side and the Polish military on the other side, King Jan Kazimierz waited to the rear of Zborow for the bridges to be repaired so that he could pass over to Jezierna, Tarnopol[1]

On May 29, 1651, during the second assault on Poland, Jezierna was occupied by Chmielnicki. He waited here for the Tatar Khan[2] for several months.

In the year 1655, Jezierna was involved in an agreement between the Poles and the Khan.[3] In that same year, on the ninth of November, there was a confrontation between the Tatars and the Russian military; the Tatars did not want to allow the Russians to pass over the embankments into the city, but this didn't work. At least that's how the Czar's messenger Buturlyn presented this in a letter reporting to the Czar.

Again in 1657, the well–known Polish commander, the great military man and anti–Semite Stefan Schtarnazki [Czarniecki] was there and from there he continued his war with the Swedes…

In the year 1667, the great commander and Grand Marshall Jan Sobiecki, the future king, wrote to his sister Duchess Katarzyna Radziwill that the hordes of Tatars completely destroyed Jezierna, among other towns. “There is no sign of what once was. You cannot find even one peasant for help.” – They had all run away.


These are more or less the important historical facts of Poland's past that are related to the Jezierna of those times. Jezierna then passes into the hands of the magnate family Radziwill. Moczei Stazhenski buys this village from them; in 1863 half of the settlement belonged to the Ilinski family.[4]

At the first partitioning of Poland in 1772, Jezierna is transferred to Austria as a part of the kingdom of Galicia, and then remains in Austria (afterwards Austria–Hungary) until the end, which began in November 1918, when the huge empire fell apart. Jezierna is taken over by the Ukraine which creates its western Ukrainian republic in that part of Galicia. After half a year, more or less, the Polish military, in conflict with Ukraine, chases the Ukrainians out of Jezierna. Now Jezierna becomes a Polish city (with a short lapse, when in the year 1920 Bolshevik soldiers enter the city), until September 1939, when it is transferred to the Soviet Union. In July 1941, the Germans enter and remain until June 1944. Then the Soviet government returns.

During the Austrian era, the town was part of the Zloczow province; then from October 1, 1904, part of the Zborow county that was established at that time. That is how it remained in the days of Poland. In time, the larger administrative union, to which the Zborow county belonged, became the Tarnopol province. Under the Soviets, the town itself became the center of the region (formerly the province).


Demographic Details:

The number of residents in the city:[5]

Year General Number
of Jews
% of Jews
1880 4.713 955 20.3%
1890 5.275 1,164 22.1%
1900 5.843 1,195 20.5%
1921 5.578 813 14.6%
1931 6.026 700 11.6% *****
1939 ––– ––– ––––%

The first three numbers are from the time that Jezierna belonged to Austria–Hungary; the rest are from the time that the town already belonged to Poland.[6]

We see from these numbers that between the years 1880–1900 the settlement grew: both the general population grew by 1,130 people (almost 19.4%), as well as the Jewish population by 240 people (that means more than 20%). The growth of the Jewish population becomes more impressive for this period if we take into consideration for the years 1880–1900 not the numbers in the general population, but the number of non–Jews and compare them with the number of Jews. In that case, for the year 1880 there were 3,758 non–Jews, and for 1900 there were 4,648; the increase in the non–Jewish population was about 890 people – that is, 19.1%.

It is worth noting that the general (non–Jewish) population in that first decade (1880–1890) grew by 562 people, almost the same number that it grew in the next decade (1890–1900) with 568 people – that is a normal rate. On the other hand, there is a great jump in numbers in the Jewish population. In that first decade, the Jewish population grew by 209 people, and in the next decade by only 31. These numbers are understandably not a result of a natural, normal biological increase, but only because of the incoming Jews from foreign parts, primarily from nearby areas. The majority of the Jews from the villages moved to the cities – a typical “Jewish” phenomenon.

In the year 1890, the Jews in the city reached their relative peak at 22.1% of the general population.

These were “normal” times that were exceptional because of the rise in emigration by the impoverished population of Galicia, Jews and Ukrainians alike, who left their homeland to go primarily to “America” (those who went to the United States were mainly Jews) and to Canada (mainly Ukrainians). This includes part of the natural increase and so the settlement did not grow proportionally as the natural increase would indicate, but in the later years it all took the form of an apparent increase.

However, when we look at the numbers of 1900–1921, a span of about 20 years, we see a different picture:

The non–Jewish population grew as follows: in 1921 – 4,765 (813–5,578); in 1900 – 4,648 (1,195–5,843), having grown by only 117 people, this is less than the natural increase would be, but nonetheless, there was growth.

On the other hand, the Jewish population dropped significantly by 382 people (1,195–813), not considering the normal increase that would have taken place over these more than 20 years – at least 50 people. The number of Jews was decreasing both in absolute and relative terms – in relation to the non–Jewish population, from 20.5% to 14.6%. These are the results of the war vis––vis the Jews. In other words, we suffered from the war (1914–1920) in a much more significant way than the non–Jews.

What in truth we have to admit is that among the Jews, at the beginning of the war and during the fighting around Jezierna (the Austrian–Russian conflict, then after that the Polish–Ukrainian conflict and the Polish–Soviet conflict), more Jews than non–Jews left the town (we don't have exact numbers), but overall the emigrations involved so few that they could cope with the dropping numbers – 382 people plus the natural growth from 1900–1914 in normal times; and the smaller increase from 1915–1921 in the abnormal war times!

And so, because of World War One, Jezierna lost 450 individuals. These were actually war victims (those who died in battle, soldiers and civilians, and those who died from epidemics, from famine and from need), and those who, willingly or not willingly (were chased out, were afraid of pogroms, etc.), had left the city and run away to distant Vienna (in Austria), or to the larger cities (to be among Jews – to Zloczow, Tarnopol, eventually Lemberg, etc.). A small number of Jews returned after the end of the war that lasted longer here than in the West.

For the later years, we do not have official data, particularly about the Jews, but the number of Jews certainly did not increase. The natural growth that decreased significantly, particularly for the Jews, after World War One, both because of the poverty of the Jewish population and because of the changing lifestyles, more modernization, fewer children, etc. – certainly included the emigration of Jews from Jezierna who settled in other, larger cities in Poland, or who left for foreign countries (America … and Eretz Yisrael).

Incidentally, in 1921, Jezierna still had 14.6% Jews, as opposed to the other cities – in total – from Zborow county, to which Jezierna also belonged, where the number of Jews was only 5.8% (down from 14.2% in 1881).

What is relevant is that in the year 1921, the natural increase of Jews in Zborow county was 1,000 – 31.1 births, 13.0 deaths, that is 18.1 (per thousand); that comes to 5.5% of the general population, while the percent of Jews in the county was 5.8%; that means that Jews decreased by 0.3% from the general non–Jewish population. The reason is understandable – Jews were more “big city”; more modernized, more thoughtful about … the future. So, the economic situation for the Jews was certainly worse than that of the non–Jews who lived on their lands (peasants and farmers), and those who enjoyed the state's support (officers, etc.).


According to the religious profile, in the year 1921, the town was comprised of:

2,496 Roman Catholics
2,269 Greek Catholics (Uniates)
813 Jews (followers of Mosaic Law
5,578 Total

According to nationality:

3,635 Poles
1,634 Ruthenians[7]
309 Jews[8]
5,578 Total

The large number of Poles according to nationality is remarkable. This is a result of the census method used in 1921. The Polish Commission of Statistics was especially interested that in that year, when Eastern Galicia had not yet been recognized as part of Poland, the number of Poles should be high. So they did not ask everyone about their nationality and they wrote whatever they wished. Secondly, not all the Jews, especially the Jews that did not know any Polish, paid attention to the questions of religion and nationality, and especially about their citizenship. For the ordinary Jew, it was important that he was just a Jew, that means a believing Jew, the rest did not interest him.

It is still not possible that in a city such as Jezierna 504 Jews (more than half) were actually assimilated, spoke Polish, considered themselves as Poles, etc.

To the abovementioned statistic of the year 1921, you have to add the number of people who lived on the estates of the owners of the city, called in Polish “obszary dworskie” (court areas). With time, they established an independent administrative unit.

On the estate, (that means those who worked for the landowners), there were 106 people: among them were 61 Poles, 23 Russians and 22 Jews. According to religion there were: 24 Roman Catholics and 60 Greek Catholics, and we know that the Greek Catholics were primarily Ukrainian. This was how the Polish census looked at that time.

We have to add these 22 Jews to the numbers of the shtetl. They belonged to the Jewish community just as much as the other Jews did. The fact that they belonged to the estate shows that their work only involved agriculture (in a relatively large number): estate stewards, record keepers, guards, distillers, foresters, etc.

At the beginning of the war, in September 1939, according to certain non–official calculations (taken from Jewish sources), there were only 700 Jews. A decrease compared to the year 1921 – of 113 people.


How Did the Jews of Jezierna Make a Living?

With regard to the economic situation of the Jews of Jezierna, we can quote this, which Dr. Ch. D. Hurwitz wrote about the “Jewish Economy” in general, in the year 1902, in the “Jewish People's newspaper” (Jiddische Volkszeitung), num. 1 (from June 13, 1902), published in Krakow, edited by M. Spektor and Ch. D. Hurwitz: “The Jewish situation (in Galicia in general) becomes more tragic, more terrible, from day to day, and even more so for our Jewish artisans...” Before, they had a peaceful life; they were not rich men, but they earned a living. The same was true for the merchants. “Only one thing is missing for the Jewish artisans today – that is a livelihood. He becomes somewhat of a salesman (goes to the fairs to sell his wares), but the merchants also become poorer each day.”

In August 13, 1902, Yakov Shor wrote an article in the same newspaper entitled: “The Jews in Galicia” – saying that Galicia is filled with capable people … and no one has a livelihood. Among the reasons for this difficult situation, the writer listed: “…the competition of the Polish and Ukrainian cooperatives, the Polish “Farmer”, the Ukrainian “People's Trader”, and also the legislation that was enacted against the Jews. Jewish shops were closed for two days a week: Saturday by their own choice, and Sunday because of the enforced law. The same was true for artisans, etc.

The situation did not change even in later times until the very end. On the contrary, the situation worsened considerably.

And when the general depression occurred all over Poland, it fell first on the shoulders of the Jews, and when the establishment of the government's anti–Semitic edicts: higher taxes, not permitting Jews to take government jobs, etc. It seemed better in the thirties, the situation for the Jews was relatively better than in other places, and that was because in Jezierna, the Jews were occupied primarily with agriculture. It's as if the words of the folksong (of Eliakum Zunser) came true, that “in the plow lies good fortune and blessing.”

Of interest is the article by S. Gershoni, published in the “New Tomorrow” (Neuer Morgen) of November 3, 1932, under the heading “A Town in Galicia Where Jews Live from Working the Ground”.

The correspondent had a lengthy discussion with population registrar M.M. (Markus Marder), and this is what he said – based on what he [Marder] knew about the distribution of “his” town; on the basis of the statistics of which he was officially in charge – he concluded that 90% of the Jewish population in the town are small plot-holders, (not “Land-Owners”!) Almost every Jew owns a small piece of field, animals (or at least some goats that also give milk), a garden – of fruits, vegetables. The majority of them work the land by themselves (an indication that the area is not large): the Jews sow and plough. They live modestly, primitively, and if they save a few pennies, they buy more land. And this provides, if not a complete livelihood (for everyone), at least a livelihood more or less.

Understandably, in the town there are also artisans and a larger number of merchants (small shopkeepers), but not all can make a living from this – and therefore, their numbers are decreasing. Because of this, they also occupy themselves with agriculture. The wife stays in the shop, the husband works the soil, the son...

(About this problem, see also the chapter about the Jewish bank and about the cooperative “Unia.”)

In Jezierna, at the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th century, there was the well–known Shloimele Charap who was like a Rebbi, to whom Chassidim [followers] would come from distant places. This also provided a livelihood for the innkeeper – the sexton and for the Rebbe himself.


  1. Hrusewski Michaela: Russian History – Ukraine; volume 8, page 196 return
  2. Hrusewski, volume 9, page 273. return
  3. Hrusewski, volume 9, page 1091. “Pid Ozierniew.” return
  4. According to the Encyclopedia (first Polish general encyclopedia) published by a Jew, Shmuel Orgelbrand, in the 60's of the previous century [1860's] in Warsaw. return
  5. Jezierna in Old Poland and after that in Austria, was considered a city (a small town was called “miasteczko”), and in independent Poland it was for the first time considered a “city settlement” (“osada miejska”) and later as the location for the collective municipality (“gmina zbiorowa”) to which only villages belonged. return
  6. These numbers for the years 1880, 1890, 1900, are taken from: Dr. St. Gnunski: Materyali de kwestii zydowskiej w Galicyi, Lwow 1910.
    The numbers for the year 1921 are according to: Statistisches Gemeindeverzeichnes, Berlin 1939, page 98.
    The numbers for the year 1931 are taken from: Bogdan Wasitynski: Ludnosc zydowska w Polsce w XIX, XX wieku.
    The numbers for September 1, 1939, are taken from: Bletter Fahr Geshichte, Warsaw, 1953, Volume 6, book 3, table 11, page 132. return
  7. From the Polish “Russini.” The Polish administration was not eager to use the national “Ukrainian” descriptions. return
  8. According to the files in Yad Vashem. return

Editor's Note:

Photograph of Geographic details of Jezierna in a Polish newspaper clipping View Image 33 online http://yizkor.nypl.org/index.php?id=1289

[Page 58]

The Rabbis

Translated by Pamela Russ

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the rabbi in Jezierna was Rabbi Asher Zelig Aptowiczer. We find his name among those rabbis who signed the protest (a public protest) of the rabbis, totalling 100 persons, who had assembled in Sadowa Wisznia in the year 1907, at end of August – under the chairmanship of Harav Hagaon [The Gifted Rabbi] Sholom Mordechai Hakohen Schwadron, Chief Justice of the Beis Din [Rabbinic Court] of Berezhany, in order to protest against the rabbis who permitted riding the electric tramways on the Sabbath – “in the carriage that runs on mechanical power (steel tracks and the tramway) ” – as it was expressed in the protest document. We are leaving out the original words and format. See the [newspaper] “Kol Machzikei Hadas” [Voice of Supporters of the Religion] that was published in Lemberg in Hebrew, on September 8, 1907.

The Rabbi was the son–in–law of Rabbi Chaim Leibish, head of the Rabbinic Court of Lopatyn, and was the son of Rabbi Yosef, head of the Rabbinic Court of Schterwicz [Szczurowice].[1]

Besides him, in that same period, there was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Manson, born in 1843, a grandson of Yisroel Ruzhiner, of blessed memory, and a son–in–law of Rabbi Michel of Azipoli. Reb Levi Yitzchak was the author of a book on the Torah, “Becha Yevoreich Yisroel” [Through You Israel Will Be Blessed]. “He was a man great in Torah,” said the writer of “Sefer Oholei Shem” [Book on the Tents of Shem]. An additional praiser adds: “He distributed a lot of money to support the yeshivas [schools for religious studies] in the above mentioned cities.”[2]

And in truth, in the newspaper “Kol Machzikei Hadas” of December 12, 1905, we found an announcement that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Manson donated 10 Kronor (Crowns) as Chanuka–gelt [Festival of Lights – gift of money] to the yeshiva in Berezhany, the first modern yeshiva in eastern Galicia.

It seems odd, such a small town and at the same time – for part of the time – two rabbis.

As can be seen from the title page of “Sefer Becha Yevorach Yisroel,”, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Manson was a grandson of The Ruzhiner (Yisroel Friedman), who in the year 1840 moved from Russia to Austria (Galicia), then settled in Sadigora (Bukovina). He was the founder of the dynasties of rabbis that branched out into separate rabbinic courts, such as Vizhnitz, Chortkow, Husiatyn, to mention only the more famous ones.

Manson was a true grandson. In my younger years – I remember – they spoke dismissively about “ordinary” grandchildren, because his mother Gitel was the Ruzhiner's daughter; (his father Yosef was an ordinary pious Jew who knew how to study Jewish texts).

The book consists of 61 pages in two columns – and is a commentary on the Torah. That is just the first section; the second “Zahav Peninim” [“Golden Pearls”], if I am not mistaken – does not appear in the printing.

In the introduction to the book the writer excuses himself, and asks that if the reader finds any printing errors, he is not to blame for them and that “G–d should protect me and give me long days so that I will have the merit to publish the second part.”

The book was compiled by “the young man Mordechai Leiter,” a disciple of the rabbi, who actually lived in the rabbi's house – with the support of the notes that the rabbi wrote in the margins of the books about individual passages in the Torah.

In the epilogue, the writer explains, for the second time, that what he put in the book he had noted for himself while teaching. It is likely that he used the explanatory notes for the lectures that he delivered in the synagogue. He apologizes for “mistaken or incorrect ideas and also for other discussions that are already included in a book.” He asks to be forgiven for this, he did not do this intentionally – but only because “my memory is failing or that I did not see that particular article.” That means – there is no plagiarism.

In a later explanation, he says that during his whole life he suffered from “the pain of raising children” – it would be interesting to find out from the Jezierna Jews who still remember this time, what happened to the rabbi's son.

Did he leave to follow unapproved modern ways?! And aside from that, the rabbi was always sick. These are the external reasons that disturbed the writer during his work. To his critics, perhaps, he responded as follows: “It's easier to be a critic than to be an investigator.” A classic phrase showing that Rabbi Manson was a clever Jew, not in the least bit an old–fashioned fanatic (“khnyok”).

In the epilogue, the writer concludes very nicely: “It is forbidden to enjoy anything in this world without reciting a blessing, so therefore I will say the blessing appropriate to this particular item: Thank you God, for teaching me Your laws.”

Such a Rabbi was certainly the glory of the town!

There are two additional pages to the book with names of the “subscribers,” meaning those Jews who paid for the book even before it was sent to print, and that made it generally possible to publish the book. In those times, this was an accepted means used by writers who did not have their own funds to put out a book and did not have a publisher who would do this at his own expense.

Among the subscribers there are 44 Jezierna families. Understandably, these are the prominent ones of the city, who were not only able to study it, but could also permit themselves to acquire the book. The amount that they paid – is not disclosed. Everyone paid “according to his means.” Among these names we find: The Holy Rabbi, our Teacher Mishal; the son of the holy Admor [master, teacher and rabbi], may he have long life; the large court of the Holy Rabbi, may he have long life; Misters Sholom Charap, Avraham Charap, Nuchem Charap, Zalman Winkler, etc.; names of families that played a role in the lives of the Jews of Jezierna. Besides these subscribers, we find names of people from other places, such as Azipoli (The Gifted Rabbi, our Teacher Yishaje Landau, Chief Justice), Amiszynce, Bodzanow, Brody, Tarnopol, Koprzywnica, Podhajce, and so on.


  1. The book Ohalei Shem contains all the genealogy and addresses of the rabbis, city by city and country by country. It was edited, organized, and published by Shmuel Noach, son of our teacher, the scholar, Rabbi Dov Ber Gottlieb, of blessed memory, of Pinsk, in 1912; page 385. Return
  2. From the book Ohalei Shem. In addition, we will add that the writer received his biographical information from the questionnaires he sent to the individual cities. Return

Editor's Note:

View online http://yizkor.nypl.org/index.php?id=1289
Image 64 – cover of Rabbi Manson's book
Image 65 – list of purchasers


Wasicz, Efraim (Fishel), born in Jezierna in the year 1879, completed middle–school in Zloczow and then university in Lemberg as a lawyer. He was one of the founders of the “Tagblatt.” He actively participated in the Zionist movement (Zeirei Zion) and attended all the Zionist congresses. After the pogrom in Lemberg in 1918, he founded a Jewish military. After that he escaped to Vienna and later he settled in Israel (1919) and worked as a lawyer first in Haifa and then later in Jerusalem. He died in Jerusalem, on the 17th of Shevat, 5705 (1945).

(from Pinkus [record book] of Galicia 1945, p.225/6)

Fuchs, Avraham Moshe, born 1890 in Jezierna. As a child from a poor little shtetl and closely tied to the village, he absorbed all the healthy good–naturedness and simplicity of the hard–working Jews with their joys and pains, and had a silent love of nature. At age 16, he came to Lemberg and worked at many types of jobs. Here he became interested in the Workers Movement and with the activities of the Jewish Socialist Democratic Party, (the Galician “Bund”). Later, he came to Tarnopol, and here he became popular. In 1911, he made his debut with sketches and stories in the “Sanok People's Friend,” and then also wrote for the “Tagblatt” and “Yiddishe Arbeiter” [Jewish Workers] in Lemberg. In 1912, he published a collection of stories titled “Einzame” [Loners]. That same year he left for America then returned to Europe in 1914 and settled in Vienna. With time, he became a contributor to a whole array of daily newspapers, journals, and literary collections of narratives, and grew in his belle–lettres skills to artistic perfection. Some of his works have been translated into German. The majority of his narratives are about life in the poorer classes and the underworld. His protagonists are the unfortunates, depressed, blind, insane, prostitutes, murderers and suicidals, and he painted them boldly and colorfully, revealing to the reader with satirical cleverness the most concealed images of human struggles in their frailties and abandonment in life. Human suffering, poverty, depression, bitter confusion, and phenomena of fate were the material for his creations.

(from Pinkus Galicia, 1945, pages 241–242)


For the historian of an existing settlement, a kibbutz, first there is a past that he endeavors to reconstruct on the basis of documents. Not for nothing have historians been called “prophets of yesterday.” He looks backwards, not like a prophet who sees the future as well as the present (time–warp), which passes ceaselessly into the past. The future is not the subject for the historian; he leaves that for the politicians, the columnist, the writer who has imagination, who sees that which is still hidden from the harsh, scholarly eye. Therefore, history has no beginning – because who can dig until the actual 'beginning'? And it has no end, because who can fathom the final days of a living nation?

But in our history of the Jewish community in Jezierna – as in the other cities in those districts – we have come, because of the tremendous tragedy that we lived through during the days of Hitler, to the end of the chapter. The Jewish settlement in Jezierna ceased to exist. Of the Jewish town there remains only a memory of those whose origins are from there, who still carry the memories of the town. The memory of the past remains within the organizations that continue the 'golden chain' of the earlier settlement – in their memories, memorials and Yizkor books.

[Page 77]

My shtetl

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 [1969] 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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