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[Pages 138 - 145]

Between the Two World Wars

1919 – 1939

by Mendl Dole

Translated by Miriam Beckerman

Edited by Myrna Neuringer Levy

After having driven the Ukrainians out of Lvov (Lemberg) in November, 1918, the Polish military conducted a pogrom there. This alarmed the whole Jewish population, especially those who, like us, were at the centre of the events. Rumours also reached us about how the Poles treated the Jews in the newly conquered cities. News was conveyed that soldiers cut off beards and sideburns (payes), carried out pogroms against Jewish stores, etc. It is therefore no wonder that the Jewish population was very suspicious of the Poles who came in.

The Poles, on the other hand, when they first arrived in 1919, accused the Jews of being aligned with Ukrainians. Then, when the Red Army was chased out in 1920 they called all the Jews Bolsheviks. And though it was known that during the Polish-Ukrainian war the Jewish national advisory board (with its head office first in Lvov and then in Stanislaw) declared its neutrality in the war between two Slavic nations – this did not stop the Polish anti-Semites from carrying on a hate campaign against the Jews for their supposed disloyalty to Poland.

The accusation “Jew Bolshevik” was something we heard from official Polish circles all the time. This applied not only to the Borchov Jews.

This mutual distrust lasted until the very end. When we look back on the situation now – after everything that happened – and we want to characterize it all in a few words, we must say it was a time when things were going from bad to worse from an economic standpoint. It was a time of steady decline in the fortunes of the Jews of Borchov, and indeed of the Jewish population in general, including those who had been assimilated. This situation only served to strengthen the Jews' allegiance to their religion and culture.

The majority of Jews spoke Yiddish. Polish-speaking Jews were the exception in the city. While Polish was spoken to some children of a certain age, this was the case only among so-called “enlightened” Jewish families.

All of the Jewish population was pro-Zionist. Of course, there were those who didn't understand the concept: for these people, Zionism and Yiddish-keyt (nationality) were one and the same. There were some individuals who had a different ideology, sympathized with the Agudah, or with the left-leaning ideologies. There were very few who didn't participate in some way to express their ideology by creating their own separate organizations in the city, or sending representatives to non-Zionist party organizations.

[p. 139 picture holding sign “Keren Keyemet Society” (J.N.F. Society of Borchov]

On the other hand, all streams of Zionism, starting with “Mizrahi” and ending with “Brit Trumpeldor,” carried on active work. There was a general local Zionist committee in the city, a “Keren Keyemet Committee”, and at a general Zionist yomtov (celebrating the Balfour Declaration) the whole Jewish population participated.

It was during this time that the number of children who studied Hebrew increased. The number of subscribers to Jewish national newspapers (“Heint” [Today], “Moment” from Warsaw and “Khvila” in Polish from Lvov) also grew, as did the number of users of the Yiddish Reading Room.

The economic situation of the Jews in Borchov was the same as throughout the land. In eastern Galicia, because of the specific composition of the population, it kept on deteriorating mainly because of the constantly growing organized competition from the Poles and Ukrainians. It was their aim to develop amongst themselves a “third stand” of peddlers and tradesmen and by doing so, to get rid of the Jews. In our area, Polish merchants from the west (poizn) would come and suddenly out of the blue, open stores or businesses. This meant that we had to deal with cooperatives. For instance, the Polish “Robnick” sold implements to the peasants for farm work, thereby diminishing the income for the long-established Jewish iron merchants. The “Skep Mizeshchensky” was in “Das Polski” establishment, where the Starostved was in charge and competed with the established Jewish stores.

The Ukrainian competition was felt even more strongly than the Polish “noblemen's” competition. “Maridna Tohovla” cooperative was in the location of “Dos Narodni” which had existed before World War I. Then, a second competitor came along, the “Soyuse.” This co-op, on the one hand, purchased all products that they needed from the peasants, in this way eliminating the Jewish buyers, and the Jewish agent. On the other hand, it also provided them with articles for their daily needs. In this way they eliminated the Jewish small dealer. In addition, we must take into consideration that this attempt of the Poles and Ukrainians had the aura of patriotism and nationalism which were sanctioned by the political parties through the press, while at the same time they benefitted from the low interest rate set by the state. We can see how detrimental this was for the Jewish merchant or tradesman. It is, therefore, no wonder that Jewish stores were liquidated, and their owners had to either find other work or emigrate…or remain without work or income.

[p. 141 picture: sign says “Brit Trumpeldore.”]

In the “Yiddish Economist” of May, 1937 we find a list by Yaakov Leshchinsky of the number of Jews who were put out of their local trade, market, and stores. The list is based on information supplied by correspondents in 91 locations. H. Joyber supplied the following figures for Borchov.

In 1932 there were 76 stores in Borchov, 8 Christian ones and 68 Jewish ones. (84.9%) By 1937 there were 18 Christian stores and only 77 Jewish stores, i.e. 81%. In other words: in the course of five years, ten additional non-Jewish stores were established, while the number of Jewish stores grew by only 9.

It was also the same throughout the Jewish business world. We lack the specific numbers, but every one of us remembers, no doubt, that the number of Jewish tradesmen declined because of natural causes (death), emigration, or change of line of work – while new opportunities rarely arose. Sons did not follow in the footsteps of their fathers, as was the custom previously. On the other hand, we remember how the number of non-Jewish tradesmen increased, even in trades in which they hadn't been represented before (tailoring, hairdressing, watch making.)

Jewish communal events were often subject to fines: sometimes for not keeping the location clean, sometimes they were imposed for not ceasing business until a few minutes after the mandated seven p.m [closing]. Other times fines were [imposed] for selling something on a Sunday or for not having signs with prices. Gendarmes used to patrol the streets, charging this [merchant] one day, another the next day, and assess fines which the Jew had no choice but to pay. No excuse helped. All of these decrees caused the Jews to close their businesses because it didn't pay for them to carry on.

Jews tried to defend themselves against all these persecutions. A merchants' “farein” (organization) was established: its main purpose was to gain some influence through their delegates with regard to the turnover tax and unfair restrictions on the size of the business.

As for the Borchover tradespeople, they sought protection in the “Yad Kharutzim Farein” (which was headquartered in Lvov) and which had existed since before World War I. A Free Loan Bank was also established in order to enable the Jewish merchant to get a loan because he could not get one through the government. These loans were to be at a very low interest rate or to carry no interest at all, but in this endeavor Borchov did not achieve any serious results. The central Jewish organizations (whether in Lvov or Warsaw), the co-ops of the Jews, “Tzekabeh” and others complained more than once about how hard done by the Borchov Jews were in this respect.

Jews, in order not to perish, and in order to earn a livelihood, started new undertakings in an attempt to “proletarize” themselves. They undertook physical labor, and when electrification started Jews engaged in this new work and became electricians. They climbed up the high posts, strung electric wires, etc. – something new for Borchov.

Jews, mainly women, also tried to get hired in the “Magazin” – a Titun monopoly, where hundreds of men and women including Christians from Borchov and surrounding villages worked at seasonal employment. Some of the Jews succeeded.

All this, however, could not put a stop to the impoverishment process. Some lived on charity, some went begging from house to house, some hungered in hiding. Other Jews lived on what they received from their relatives abroad. Many tried to establish themselves in larger cities, or to emigrate overseas, which was not easy in those years. Some families did suceed in this, however.

We get a picture of the condition of the Jews who were residents of Borchov at that time through their correspondence with Dr. Zvi Heller, who was twice elected in our area to the “Siyum” (1923 – 1928). Dr. Heller himself made available to us his correspondence to the extent that it survived.

[We read that] teachers from the public school insulted or even hit Jewish children. The main complaint was the anti–Semitism. A Ukrainian Judge resorted to anti–Semitic remarks during a court case. The police commissioner even beat a Jew during a court hearing.

Our Siyum deputy intervened in all these cases, even bringing some Borchover matters to court, but to no avail.

As noted earlier, Jewish taxpayers continued to complain of having to pay illegitimate taxes. There were even cases when a Jew, at the end of the year (when the permits were bought for the coming year), would buy a permit of the fourth category, just as in previous years, and in mid – year he would get a bill for a higher category (third), and also be fined for holding back the payment!

The Jews had their concessions for operating small taverns taken away from them (1927 from Yisroel Libster, Anshl Weisbrod), as well as the sale of Titun manufactured goods, in general to deal with monopoly items (salt, alcohol, smoking products). Jews were powerless against all these decrees.

Another “unjust” penalty was delayed attendance to Jewish related complaints.This often ruined Jewish plans relating to studying abroad because at that time, there was a quota for Jews to attend high school.

In general, when a Jew applied to an official, no matter in what connection, even if the matter was finally settled in favour of the Jew, it usually took months and it was necessary to have the intervention of a Jewish deputy in order for the matter to be concluded.

From the following we can see how randomly Jewish property was treated: In a letter dated February 11, 1930 to the Siyum deputy, Dr.Heller, Yisroel Tzifferblat related the following:

About two years ago, the Borchover Starosta, as commendant of the “Shcheltzes” (Pilsudski's followers) took uniforms from Tzifferblat and he did not pay for them in spite of many requests, and regardless of the intervention of the Starosta deputy himself, until his election in Borchov. Tzifferblat even wrote personally to the Marshelok! If a Starosta could deal this way why is it surprising when the lower ranks committed such crimes against the Jews?

In another instance, Meyer Epstein had his stable confiscated and it was necessary to arrange for the intervention of the higher authorities in order for it to be returned to him. The horse dealers (nearly all of them Jews) were not allowed to go on the “fargovitzeh” with wagons, etc.

In the province of Borchov it was worse, understandably!

Anti- Semitism was preached by the party organizers, through the government organizations, newly arrived Polish merchants, etc. Some priests played a not insignificant role with their Sunday preaching and teaching. As a result there was a certain tension in the air at all times. If a Jew dared to go out of the city by himself, he was never certain that he wouldn't get a stone thrown at his head by an unseen “shagetz” (non-Jew). Often it would happen that because of a minor argument at a market between a Jewish and a non-Jewish merchant, the threat of a pogrom could arise. And if an “opportune” political situation would sometimes happen to arise, one could already see goyim (gentiles) from the surrounding villages arriving in the city en mass…with empty sacks. I myself recall such a scene: I was standing at the front of Zaidy's store and saw such peasants. But at that moment they were disappointed because the Polish police did not leave the spot. On the contrary, they patrolled the city armed with bayonets. I even recall how my Uncle Kiva gained courage when he saw this, and asked one of the goyim what use he had for the empty sack…

However, in spite of all this, Jews often lived in peace with their gentile neighbours, both Poles and Ukrainians. Jewish children went to the public school and gymasiums together with non-Jewish children, sat on the same benches, and helped each other in the hardest undertakings. Sometimes the relationships were even quite friendly, both between the older generations as well as among the younger generation. There were even some goyim who spoke a perfect Yiddish with “loshen kaddish” (Hebrew: mother tongue) inserted. Such an individual was Vandzura, a Ukrainian peasant woman, who used to come in to the rebbe Rav Shmuelik to whom she would present such arguments in Yiddish, that it was hard to believe that she was not a Jewish soul. There were even cases when Christian peasants would approach the rebbe for help, or present candles for lighting in shul – in order to pray for the recovery of a sick person.

There were also expressions of sympathy for the Jewish people from the Ukrainian or Polish intelligensia. For instance, I recall that when the great Balfour celebrations took place in 1916, the Ukrainian Korchak sent a personal handwritten letter (in a small envelope) with good wishes, etc. The letter was addressed: “Do zhidivska narodeh, na rookie copliya Veinshtenia” with whom he was in friendly terms. This Ukrainian signed his letter:”In the name of the Ukrainian people.”

These, and other happenings are worthy of note. For example, if ever, God forbid, a fire broke out in the city (far from a rarity), both Jews and non-Jews would rush to extinguish the fire, actually endangering their lives to save others, regardless of whose home or business was burning. However, all of this could not lay a foundation for widespread peace and did not allow for the possibility that such relationships could exist among the three nationalities that had lived and worked together for hundreds of years in the same soil. [This lack of coexistence remained through] the cursed war years during the German occupation.

 

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