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[Page 86]

The History of the Jews of Horodenka

Dr. N. M. Gelber

Translator unknown; donated by Ellen Biderman

1. General Overview

Horodenka is located in the southeast corner of Galicia, or “Pokucie”, as the Polish people call it. The Jews who lived there during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also called this area “Reisen.” During the years between the two world wars, the town was on the crossroads of three countries: Poland, in which Horodenka was located, Romania to the south and the Soviet Union to the east. Like any border city during the world wars, Horodenka suffered from invasions and changes in regimes. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, control of Horodenka has changed seven or eight times. After World War II, Horodenka became part of the Soviet Union. But by that time the town the Jewish population was totally eradicated.

The written history of Horodenka begins in the sixteenth century. According to documents from 1579, Horodenka was a remote village on one of estates owned by the Polish aristocrat Michal Moszylo Buczacki. The village of Horodenka received the status of a town in the seventeenth century when Mikolaj Potocki, son of the aristocrat Stefen Potocki assumed the ownership of the Buczacki estate. Potocki left the Roman Catholic Church, which was Polish, and joined the Greek Catholic Church, which was Ruthenian and to which most of the villagers of eastern Galicia belonged. Amongst his estates was the town of Buczacz.

Before his death in 1782 Stefen Potocki handed Horodenka to his relative Jan Potocki who expanded and developed the town. He built churches and a fortified palace for himself and developed the town's economy. He also reconstructed the hospital for the poor that was built in 1754. This hospital continued to provide services until the beginning of the twentieth century.

The middle of the eighteenth century was a turbulent time for Horodenka. In 1739 the Russians invaded the region. They demolished many houses, robbed the inhabitants, and even desecrated the churches and tortured the priests. In the meeting of the Sejm (the parliament), which took place in Vizhnia, on August 22, 1740, representatives from Horodenka, Czarnelica, Tysmenica, and Syniatin related all the atrocities that their towns suffered during the Russian invasion.

When Poland was first divided in 1772, Horodenka was annexed to the Austrian Monarchy. This resulted in many administrative and legal changes. Horodenka became a part of the Zaleszczyki district while during the Polish regime it had been part of the Kolomyja district. Househager, the district governor, is mentioned in the reports from that time as a capable administrator. He was interested primarily in the welfare of the farmers helping them to increase their agricultural productivity and opening new markets for their products. Tobacco and beef were his favorite commodities. As a result, Horodenka grew and prospered. The Austrian authorities also took care to improve cultural institutions. In 1788 the first public school opened in Horodenka.

Economic conditions improved in the nineteenth century when many people began to move to Horodenka. In the year 1879 there were 8,824 people living in Horodenka, of which 3,159 were Jews. Ten years later, there were 10,014 people living in the city.

As the town grew, its administrative status changed. It was declared a county seat. Czarnelica, Obertin and nearly 50 other villages were now within its jurisdiction.

In 1848 the status of estate owners changed. The Austrian regime forbade the serfdom of the farmers and the large estates were partitioned. In this manner Horodenka changed hands, from the Potocki family to Baron Mikolaj Romaszkan.

The economy of the town was primarily based in agriculture. The main products were wheat, eggs, cattle, and horses. Other trades revolved around agricultural products. In 1870 there were two lime furnaces, nine water mills, a steel mill, three potash kilns, nine distilleries, a beer brewery, a factory with seventy weaving looms, six soap-producing factories, and thirty furriers. That year in an effort to develop the entire area, there was a plan to establish a steamboat line on the Dniester that would stretch from Horodenka to Odessa. However, it never materialized.

Starting in 1870, the authorities took a census every ten years. The following table shows the composition of the population from 1870 through 1921.

  1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1921 %(1921)
Jews 3,159 3,661 4,340 4,255 4,210 3,048 31
Poles 857 1,741 1,153 1,259 1,332 6,859 69
Ruthenians 4,726 4,547 5,635 6,056 5,650    
Others 82 65 34 43 31    
TOTAL 8,824 10,014 11,162 11,613 11,223 9,907 100

The mayor and an 18-member council ran the city. According to the municipality records from the year 1874, the council consisted of 7 Jews, 5 Poles, and 6 Ruthenians.


2. The Beginning of Jewish Settlements in Horodenka

The first Jewish community in eastern Galicia (which is located in the south-east area of the Reisen area) was established during the 16th century. However, during the 15th century there were a few Jews living in the Halicz region, which included the counties of Kolomyja and Trembowla. These Jews were mostly businessmen. Some leased salt mines, a few were moneylenders to the noblemen, some traded animals, and others imported goods from the western regions. Evidence of the existence of Jews in the area appears in a document written in 1444. A court in Horodenka sent a letter to a court in Lvov inquiring about the procedure for swearing in a Jew in court. The few judges that were around came from Lvov, a metropolitan city that had many Jewish residents. Jewish merchants from Lvov came to markets in Jazlowiczy along with farmers from the region, including some from Horodenka. Documents from that period mention the names of only seven Jews. Among them are Shimshon from Zezdaczow (1450), his son Joshua, and a Jew by the name of Isako from Litch (1439-1441). It is difficult to determine the exact date in which the first Jews arrived in Horodenka because of the lack of official documents. According to Austrian documents from a later period, there were few Jewish families in Horodenka prior to the 17th century when it was declared a city. Many Jews began to settle in the border regions and in Reisen shortly after Podolia was returned to Poland through the Treaty of Korlowitz.

In a document dated October 12, 1743 Mikolaj Potocki, granted the Jews emancipation to live in Horodenka. His father had granted emancipation to the Jews of Buczacz on May 20, 1727. The same type of document was also used in other Jewish communities like Chortkov and Stanislavov. According to the document, Jews were given the right to settle in the town and also the right to engage in various trades, wholesale and retail dealing in all kinds of merchandise, except for Christian religious articles.

The Jews were required to pay tax of one “taller” for each house that faced a street and half a taller for houses that were inside a courtyard. A site was allocated for Jewish burial. In it the Jews could build a guardhouse that was exempt from property tax. The Jews living on the estates of the Potockis were exempt from paying general taxes, especially taxes for the maintenance of the palaces and taxes for cattle with horns. However, Jews were required, like the non-Jewish residents, to pay for road maintenance.

The Jews were under the jurisdiction of the local governor but not the local courts. They had the right to appeal any decisions to the mayor. They were not required to appear in court on Saturday and it was forbidden to incarcerate them in the city jail, except in the case of criminal offenses. It was also forbidden to hold the weekly market on Saturday. Jewish Rabbinic courts had the authority to try and arbitrate cases between Jews. The Jewish butchers were not required to slaughter pigs for the palace; instead they had to pay a special tax to the local owners. They were also allowed to buy houses from Christians and to build breweries and distilleries on the condition that they obeyed the laws associated with such businesses. In addition Jews were allowed to own bars and serve liquor and wine by paying a special rent to the owners of the town.

Jewish craftsmen, like their Christian counterparts, were required to belong to guilds and unions and pay the appropriate dues and taxes. They were not required to go to church, participate in religious processions, or give candles to the church. But they did have to pay for candles for the church.

There is not much information regarding a unified Jewish community in Horodenka before the 18th century. However, from that period on, we know that Horodenka was well organized, taking care of Jewish villagers. Jews made their living trading both retail and wholesale in grain, cattle, skins, and furs. Jewish merchants had good business relationships with Germany during the years 1739-1748. Many Jewish merchants attended the big international fair in Leipzig. In 1739 and 1740 Mosheh Avraham stayed in the home of Feitel Meir. In 1746 Nathan Gershon came with his worker Leibel Hirsh and also stayed at Feitel's home. Nathan came often between the years 1738 and 1748. Volf Zeisel came in 1740. This list indicates that prior to the annexation of Horodenka to Austria, there were Jewish merchants and traders who exported agricultural good to Germany and imported goods from the west.

Wealthy Jews leased property they owned outside of Horodenka. One of them was Shabtai Katz and his son Gershon Rappoport who owned Lantzekron Arandi.

The Jewish community of Horodenka was organized in a manner similar to other communities in Poland. The community was a member of a Jewish regional committee located in Lvov and was obligated to pay taxes like other Jews in Poland. The internal life of the community was also conducted like other communities. Various matters concerning the leadership of the community, taxation and education were in the hands of the community; judicial matters were under the jurisdiction of a Beit Din (Court of Rabbis). The community was usually led by three to five “parnasim” (community leaders) who were also accountable to the government. Following their election they were required to take an oath of loyalty to the king and country in the presence of representatives of the government. The leaders would divide the various tasks among themselves and every month these assignments would rotate. In addition to these leaders, each community also had a committee of “tovim” to deal with various matters concerning the welfare of the community. The parnasim were elected by a specified number of “kashrim” (electors) who were picked in a lottery. The organizations of Jewish tradesmen also had representatives (usually their leaders) in the community government.

It is not clear to what extent the Jewish community in Horodenka was involved in fighting for Jewish autonomy in the Riesen region during the last half of the 18th century. However, we believe that their efforts were as pronounced as those of other Jewish communities in the region.

We can also assume that during this period there were guilds of Jewish craftmen and professionals that were represented at board meetings of the community. The rabbi, the judges, and the synagogue's shamash, reader, and writer would go to plead with the authorities on Jewish matters. They were all paid from funds collected from members of the community. The community as a whole took care of the educational and economic needs of its people. Representatives went door to door and collected money to cover administrative fees and taxes owed to the government, including the special taxes that only Jews had to pay. During the years 1718 and 1719 the Jews of Horodenka paid 877 gold nuggets per capita a year; in 1727 they paid 1200 gold nuggets.

Unfortunately we do not have detailed information about the rabbis and the leaders of the Jewish community during that period except for a single document signed by one rabbi containing the results of Jewish census.

The census was conducted on February 11, 1765 for the purpose of collecting per capita taxes. Komisar Yozef Paradowski and Macej Karwaszecki conducted the census. The Rabbi, two board members, and the shamash from the Jewish community were witnesses. They counted 863 Jews who were required to pay the per capita tax. They also counted 60 children under the age of one. A few villages adjacent to Horodenka were also included in the census with the following results: In Czerniatyn there were 7 adults and 1 child; in Okna, 7 adults and 1 child; in Sarafince, 20 adults; in Horodnica, 13 adults and 1 child; in Potoczysk, 13 adults and 1 child; in Zezwaczow, 7 adults and 1 child; in Niezwicz, 10 adults; in Herasimow, 4 adults; in Luka 8 adults; in Podwerbowce, 6 adults and 1 child; in Tsamkabetza, 4 adults; in Trojca 12 adults and 1 child; in Podwysoka, 8 adults and 1 child; and in Raszkow, 7 adults. In all, there were in the greater Horodenka area 989 adults Jews and 67 children, totaling 1056.

Rabbi Manes Ben Shimshon, the presiding rabbi at the time, signed all documents asserting that all Jews were counted in his Polish name Manis Samsonowicz. Two leaders of the community together with Shimshon also signed. The statement read: “We counted and registered all the Jews, adults and children living in apartments and in the villages adjacent to Horodenka and in between on the roads and we did not miss a soul in accordance with the laws of the Sejm.

Following the laws set by Treasury Department on April 22, 1766 and March 25, 1767, concerning the debt of Jewish communities, Horodenka was required to pay 3 golden nuggets, four grushim and a half-shilling per Jew. The total sum was 3,095 Polish gold pieces.


3. Horodenka during the Shabbetean and Frankist Movements

In the 1700's the Shabbetai-Zvi movement had a large number of advocates and supporters, including scholars and Rabbis. Most of its members lived in the southeast portion of the Riesen region. The Turkish Jews who immigrated to Kamieniec-Podolski during the Ottoman occupation promoted the belief in Shabbetai-Zvi as the Messiah. They spread their belief among the Jews living in Podolia and Reisen. The movement influenced Jews in Horodenka as well. The Frankist movement followed shortly thereafter. According to Rabbi Yaakov Amedin, who in the second half of the eighteenth century conducted a fierce movement of opposition to the Shabbeteans, many Horodenkans were enthusiastic followers of Shabbetai-Zvi. This occurred because Horodenka was situated in the midst of about 10 towns where the largest numbers of the movement's followers lived. These towns included Gliniany, Nadworna, Tysmienica, Rohatyn, Buczacz, Komarno, and Podhaicy.

Rabbi Zvi Hirsh was the chief Rabbi in Horodenka at that time. Later he was also the chief Rabbi in Jazlowicze and Zalesczyki. These two towns were part of the Poniatovski estate. Hirsh's son, Rabbi Meir Margaliot, took over the Rabbinate after his death. He is the author ofMeir Netivim (The Light of the Ways). He became the son-in-law of the famous Rabbi Itzik – also known as “Rabbi Itzik of Horodenka.”

In 1752 Rabbi Margaliot competed with Rabbi Hayim Rappaport for the position of chief Rabbi of the entire Reisen region. Bjonowicz and Barko, leaders of the community, decided to divide the duties of the office. Margaliot was named alternate Chief Rabbi and Rabbi Rappaport ran the day-to-day business of the area. Finally the community decided to split the position and give Rabbi Margaliot the title of vice-rabbi even though this was not permissible without the authorization from the governor. This shows how much they respected the Rabbi Margaliot and how difficult it must have been for them to decide among the two rabbi.

Yitzhak Ber, Meir Margaliot's brother, was elected chief Rabbi in Jazlowicz and Zaleszczyki after their father's death. He was one of the main participants in the public debate with the heads of the Frankist movement. The debate occurred in Kamieniec-Podolski. Leib ben-Daniel, one of the leaders of the Jewish community, also took part in the debate. Another debate took place in Lvov in 1759.

Rabbi Yitzchak Ber Margaliot was the last loyalist of the Podolia county committee. He signed, together with Leib ben-Daniel, a proclamation regarding the abolishment of debts in 1763. Rabbi Ber used some of his own money to pay the debt. When it was all said and done, the committee owed Rabbi Ber 2,980 golden nuggets, which included a year-and-a-half of interest.

When he was still chief Rabbi in Horodenka, Margaliot gave a written statement to the Jewish committee in Brody about testimony given to him by the Rabbi of Satanov regarding happenings in Kamieniec-Podolski. He describes the wild parties and raucous behavior of the residents. It is also interesting to note that in Lanscron, a gathering of the Frankists was discovered in the house of Rabbi Labor Riches. According to the testimony given, they were there every night. There were orgies, dancing, and playing around by the Jews of Horodenka. The testimony of Rabbi Bel Bolichavil said:

One night a Gentile farmer drove his cart, which was loaded with firewood, into town. He heard loud music coming from one of the houses and he led his horse toward the house. He knocked on the door and asked the people if they would like to buy his wood. They chased him away and didn't buy anything from him. The farmer continued to the house of the local Rabbi Gershon Katz of Horodenka who had a lease in the town of Lansconia and who used to buy wood from the farmer. The farmer told him about the party in the house of Rabbi Labor Riches and asked if there was a wedding. Rabbi Gershon sent his servant to check it out, but the man could not see into the house because heavy drapes covered the windows. The servant was determined and he poked a hole in the wall, which was made of mud and straw. He was stunned to see men and women dancing together. Upon hearing this account, Rabbi Gershon consulted with the leaders of the Jewish community, the owner of the estate and a judge. They decided to go to the house the following night to see for themselves. The following night the group approached the house cautiously. They quietly poked a few holes in the walls. What they saw inside the house left them stunned and shocked. Jews, male and female were dancing together naked. They were singing while uttering the name of Shabbetai-Zvi and other names of their spiritual leaders. It was on the 27th of January of the year 1756.
Upon seeing the evidence, the property owner, Romanovski ordered those people to be taken to the castle as prisoners. Most of the people in the group managed to escape but Yaakov Frank and eight followers were arrested. The following day, Rabbi Isaac ha-Cohen informed Rabbi Mendel, the chief Rabbi of Satanov about the incident.

Horodenka was also one of the centers of the Frankist movement. The leaders of the movement maintained a relationship with Prince Radziwill who showed interest in religious issues and who visited Yaakov Frank in 1759. In a list of Jews who converted to Christianity after the debate in Lvov, there is not a single name of a Jew from Horodenka. It appears that they remained loyal to the Frankist movement without changing their religion.

In 1766 Aharon Yitzchak ben Moshe, son of a famous family of Rabbis, the Teomims, left Horodenka for the city of Altona Germany as a messenger and preacher for the Shabbetean movement. This is how Rabbi Yaakov Emdins described the situation in his bookStruggle:

In 1767, a person arrived in Altona from Poland. His name was Aharon Yitzchak, from the famous Teomim family in Horodenka. He came as a preacher of Shabbetai-Zvi. First he stopped at Frankfurt am Mein. When he came to Altona he inquired as to the whereabouts of Wolf Akives. At first many of the members of the community gathered in the house to welcome him with honor, but soon they realized that he was one of Shabbetai-Zvi's followers and they chased him away from Altona with shame.
After being forced out of Altona, he went to Chevering and stayed there with Yosef Nata, a respected member of the community and an agent of the Prince of Hallenburg. From there Aharon Yitzhak proceeded to Hamburg. Soon after there were rumors that Aharon Yitzhak was a preacher of the Shabbetai movement. At first Yosef Neta refused to believe this. However he became convinced when he received a letter from Professor Tichzen in January 1767. In it there was a copy of a letter that Aharon Ytzhak Teomim had sent him. In the letter, Aharon claims that Shabbetai-Zevi in the true Messiah. Here are a few paragraphs from the long and cumbersome letter:

God bestows his wisdom to the wise men. With each generation, in every nation and state and with every language, God seeks man's wisdom and truth – the complete truth of mankind. The knowledgeable Prince Radziwill, who studied in depth all the religions of the world, did not find a single religion as truthful and filled with Godliness as the religion of the king Messiah Shabbetai-Zevi. Therefore he aligned himself with us to fight in the name of our truthful Messiah. His advisors requested that we enlighten those blind Jews of Horodenka, who are dwelling in the shadow of death, by teaching them the religious wisdom of Shabbetai Ben-Zevi. His teachings will heal those with broken hearts and will free those imprisoned by the web of other religions. The prince wants to have those people, Jews and Gentiles alike, live on his estate where they will be protected and safe and will lack nothing. I have been traveling from place to place to preach Shabbetai's wisdom and seek those who believe in him. I have been wandering until I came to this town and met the writer Mr. Weiler to whom I told the reason of my visit.
Yitshak Aharon requested that Weiler introduce him to Professor Tichzen so the latter would, hopefully, help him with his request. The letter shocked Yosef Neta and he immediately wrote to Professor Tichzen:

Dear Mr. Tichzen: I was shocked and frightened by the letter that my friend, Yitzhak Teomim, a member of a family of sinners and wretched people who stand against the Torah from God, sent you. I was enraged, after having him under my roof and giving him my hospitality, to find out that he is a heretic. We must chase after his kind with whatever means we can find in order to fulfill God's revenge against those who disobey God's Torah.
It is not known whatever happened to Yitzhak Aharon Teomim. There is no evidence that he returned to Horodenka and the end of his mission.


4. The Beginning of Chassidism in Horodenka

According to the writer of theNew Generation Order, pages 12 to 26, thirty-seven people were lucky enough to be chosen to study directly with the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism. One of those students was Rabbi Nachman from Horodenka, who turned out to be one of his most outstanding students. His name was mentioned in a number of books that were written about the Baal Shem Tov and his students including:The Praise of the Baal Shem Tov andThe History of Jacob and Joseph. His favorite saying was “It all happens for the best.” There are few specific details about Rabbi Nachman's life. It is known that he was in Miedziboz when the Baal Shem Tov passed away. He regularly would go to his grave and prostrate himself over it. When Rabbi Nachman wanted to emigrate to Israel, he asked the spirit of the Baal Shem Tov for permission. Then with a glowing face he announced that the Baal Shem Tov ordered him to go to Israel.

In 1764 Rabbi Nachman made Aliyah to Israel. With him were Rabbi Menahem Mendel from Przemyslan and Rabbi Simhah from Zalorzyc, the in-law of Rabbi Shlomo from Dunow, and author ofFor the Love of Zion. The group set sail from Gallatz to Constantinople on the fourth day of Tamuz, 1764. There they waited twenty days for a boat to Israel. On the 18th of Elul, they sailed together with 110 Sephardic and Ashkenazi immigrants to Palestine. On the evening of Rosh Ha Shana they arrived in Jaffa. In Jaffa, the Sephardic immigrants went to Jerusalem and the Chassids continued to the port of Acre. The following day, Rabbi Manchem Mendel and the rest of the group rode their mules to Tiberias where they settled. Rabbi Nachman died there a few years later. His son, Simha, married Fayga, the grand daughter of the Baal Shem Tov and the daughter of Hoddle. From this marriage, Rabbie Nachman of Brassler was born.


5.Under the Rule of Austria

With the annexation to Austria in 1772, there were few changes in the lives of the Jews of Galicia and those of Horodenka. Even after the Austrian occupation, the Jews of Galicia remained organized under the rules that were given to the Jews by the Empress Maria Teresa in 1776. They were still ruled by the main committee of the Jews of Galicia. In 1785 this national organization was abolished. The local matters were still run by the local board members who took care of the business of the congregation, the supervision of the census, the registrations of births, marriages, and deaths, and the collection of taxes. In a small town like Horodenka, there were three leaders at the head of the committee. Actually those board members were very much dependent on the local authorities and had to follow their orders.

In the congregation of Horodenka there was no ordained Rabbi. Rather, there was a teacher who received an annual pay of 104 florins. In 1775, according to documents, the congregation of Horodenka asked, because of the difficult economic situation, to reduce the per capita tax. This request was granted. In 1776, the central authority in Vienna asked for a report about the taxes that a few congregations, including Horodenka, had to pay in the times of the Polish regime to the local estates to enable them to choose their own Rabbis and board members. One of the main goals of the Austrian administration at this time was the cancellation and elimination of Jewish pubs because they saw them as a hindrance to development of the Gentile peasant population. This goal hurt the Jews of Horodenka because many of them leased pubs. There ensued a big struggle. The Jews argued that the authority to lease pubs was given to them in 1743 by the owner of the town, Mikolaj Potocki. This struggle between the local Jews and the central administration in Vienna lasted many years.

One of the most severe restrictions on the Jews of Galicia was the prohibitions and restrictions regarding marriage. For a license to marry, Jews were asked to pay a tax of 3 to 30 ducats, which was a lot of money at the time. Anybody who got married without the license was punished and their property was taken away by the state. Even participating in an illegal wedding was punishable. This restriction unfortunately created a tradition of turning Jews over to the authorities. For instance, between the years 1784 and 1785, the congregation of Horodenka suffered a lot from a Jew by the name of Label Hirschel. He would go to the authorities in Lvov and tell them about the underground weddings conducted by the Jews in Horodenka and the surrounding villages. He also claimed to have information about irregularities in the collection and regulation of local taxes. For his services, he demanded payments from the authorities. However, according to a document dated April 29, 1784, the Governor in Lvov demanded he supply factual material about his allegations or stop his reporting. A report filed by the Governor on May 27, 1784, ordered that he cease reporting underground marriages beginning June 24ththrough the next census. The local authorities were asked to look out for such marriages and to try and register them and tax the officiating rabbi two florins for each couple. Actually the authorities didn't need the snitching of Label Hirschel because even without his help, 464 cases of illegal marriages were reported in Galicia.

As a result of snitching about irregularities in taxation and collection, Vienna passed an order to supervise the congregations more strictly and to make their board members keep books and report every now and then about the financial activities of the congregation. These books were periodically audited. The board members were made responsible for irregularities and had to pay the difference from their own pockets.

In 1784 it was discovered that Label Hirschel himself was involved in cases of fraud. In order to resolve his problem he promised the central authorities in Lvov information that would gain them an income of 400,000 florin. Because the Governor was interested in this information, an order was given from Vienna to give him money for his snitching and drop the case against him. After he reported his findings in writing, the governor would decide what to do about him and the communities he reported on. Another order from Vienna appointed a committee to investigate wasting the tax money. That was not the end of the story of Label Hirschel.

In June of 1784, he asked to be given the lease for all the Kosher meat in the state. This request was denied. In August of 1784, a group of seven Jews asked to be compensated for the inconvenience his interference caused and were given the money. Label Hirschel is also mentioned as requesting to be paid for having the idea of taxing Kosher meat. His ideas and demands were soon too much for the authorities and in a special order in September 1784 he was told to stop annoying the central authorities and to pay money to the group that sued him for infringing on their rights. In December 1784 he was definitely rejected by the authorities and from that time on, the government documents do not mention him. However, establishing the tax on Kosher meat meant a loss of income for Theodor Potocki, the owner of the estate in Horodenka. He claimed he lost income because the Jews were paying much more money to the central authorities. After a long negotiation, Vienna rejected his demands in an order dated February 26, 1783.

In 1785 the rest of Jewish autonomy was cancelled and all the administrative rights to take care of themselves were abolished. According to the new rules, the taxes were no longer to be collected by the congregation, but rather individually. Every Jew was taxed and the collection was the responsibility of government clerks. Rabbinic courts were abolished. In matters of law, the Jews were under the jurisdiction of their respective municipalities.

The Emperor Franz Joseph II tried, because of his own ambitions, to solve the Jewish problem in Galicia by settling the Jews as land peasants. In 1782, there was an order from Vienna that Jews who were farmers would only have to pay half of the wedding tax and after a short time would be totally released from that tax. Serious efforts to create Jewish farms started in 1785 after the Emperor's decree was published. In the spring of 1786 Novi Sonch founded the first Jewish farm in the village of Dumbrovka. After that a second Jewish farm, New Babylon, was formed close to the town of Burhough. There were a few more little farms that didn't last long. That same government program mandated that 117 of the 1,410 families of Jews in Galicia be settled as farmers. Horodenka was burdened with having to provide for twelve Jewish families that would be settling there. And indeed, by the end of 1794 twelve families had settled in farms around Horodenka. They included twelve men, ten women, four boys and four girls under the age of eighteen. Those settlers received 138 plots of land, nine houses, nine barns, eleven horses, eighteen oxen, sixteen cows, and thirty tools to work with.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century most of these settlers were still farmers. Other families arrived from the towns around Horodenka. They included 129 men, 126 women, 116 boys and 94 girls. All in all there were 465 people. The expense of this experiment of settling farmers came to 200 florins that had to be borne by the individual communities. It took 25 to 40 households to provide the means to settle one family who didn't have their own means to survive. It seems that the Jews of Galicia who did want to become farmers were anxious to get the necessary permits to establish their own farms. In the year 1787, fifty Jews from Zaleszczyki came to the governing body and asked for land across the Dniester. This group owned 25 homes, including 4 taverns, 50 horses, 10 oxen, 76 cows, 20 calves, 17 beehives and a lot of cash as proof that they could farm and be self-sufficient. In 1787 they sent a copy of their request to the Emperor Franz Joseph II, stating:

We have decided to stop being merchants and start being farmers. Because we are being delayed in our request it seems that we will never get our wish or any land to till. We don't know where we should go from here because we have invested all our property in this attempt to farm.
In reply to their letter, the Emperor ordered the local authorities to appropriate land for Jewish settlers, which they did immediately. However they appropriated to them the worst land in the area. The Jews refused to accept those plots and changed their minds about farming. It seems that such requests were very common and that the Emperor was very supportive of them. The local authorities were the ones who put obstacles in the way of fulfilling these plans.

It was very common for the local peasants to complain about the Jews taking over the local grain market, buying everything from them and reselling it at steep prices. The ministers in charge of the county at that time used to send reports to the capital saying that the Jews would buy barley cheap and resell it at a very high profit. He recommended that the right to deal in wheat and barley should be taken away from the Jews. He equated them to the biggest thieves in the area. It seems from other expressions attributed to him that he was one of the staunchest anti-Semites in the area. He blamed the Jews for being stingy and thus being able to cut corners to provide the lowest prices available in the market. He was the one who supported the complaints of the peasants and did his best to take away their permits to deal not only in grains, but also to lease pubs, buy and sell tar, bricks, potassium, liquor, etc.

The Jews tried to intervene with the local authorities and to re-institute those permits. In some cases they were successful. In addition, the Jews of Horodenka, as well as the Jews of Galicia, had a very great tax burden. In 1777 to 1784, the Jews paid the following taxes: Protection and Tolerance Tax, four florins per family; and Property and Occupation tax, four florins per family. Married people had to pay an additional tax. In the year 1784, there was a slight change in the tax structure. The Property and Occupation Tax was cancelled and replaced with the Kosher Meat Tax. The Protection and Tolerance Tax was raised from four florin to five. Also its name was changed to “The Domestic Land Tax.” In addition to these taxes, there were special payments that the Jews had to pay for building new synagogues and for consecrating cemeteries (fifty florin a year). Also there was a special levy on building Jewish schools.

In addition to the great tax burden the economy wasn't good. As result Jews often couldn't pay the taxes in time. In 1791 the local authorities demanded that the congregation of Horodenka pay back taxes of 38 florins per family that was owed for the Domestic Land Tax. In a listing of the protocol on July 13, 1792, the leaders of the congregation, Jacob Wasser and Motle Edelstape, and board members Binya Mindankner, Moshe Offenberger and Abraham Sucher stated that there must have been some mistake because the money had already been paid to the government. After a lot of pressure from the Jews and a lot of requests, some of the taxes were lowered. However, after that the local authorities did not trust the Jews to collect the taxes and appointed their own people to do the collections.

To properly collect taxes, the authorities had to make a list of all the Jews in the town. Thus, we have for the first time a complete list of 422 homes according to their German last names that were assigned on February 3, 1785. Taking into account the average of five people per family, the Jewish population of Horodenka was 2,110. In the year 1792, the local authorities in Lvov received another request to try and collect all the money that was owed by the Jews. They went out, and after a lot of pressure, collected most of the money. But it was never enough, and the authorities in Vienna finally realized that because of the economy and because of the levy of taxes, the Jews would never be able to pay back all they owed. Therefore, in 1802, the Emperor Franz Joseph decreed that all the debts of the Jews would be cancelled and collections stopped.

On June 6, 1797 a new decree came out that made the Jews of Galicia pay a tax on sugar. On October 25, 1798, another special tax was established as a substitute for the local income tax. Also, a value-added tax was collected in case the meat tax and sugar tax didn't bring enough money to the treasury. The system of collecting those taxes was very complicated before 1848. Collections were at the whims of local authorities as much as the central government. It is noted in the archives of Horodenka that one collector of the Kosher Meat Tax, Leiv Kruman, was very cruel to the Jews. They complained about him to the authorities in 1795 but there is nothing in the archives to tell us of the outcome of this complaint.

In 1797 the treasurer of the Horodenka congregation, Rosenberg, embezzled the money that was supposed to pay for the taxes. The local authorities decided that the board members and committee leaders of the congregation would have to come up with the money. The board members appealed to Vienna, but in a decree dated April 12, 1797, the government in Vienna decided that the local authorities were right and that the board members should come up with the money that was embezzled. This burden of taxes created a lot of hard feelings and depression among Galicia's Jews. There are many folk stories from that time about the methods the collectors used and the ways the Jews tried to avoid paying the taxes. This went on until 1848, the year of the revolution.

In the early 1800's the situation of the Jews of Horodenka wasn't any better. In the year 1811, there was a conflict of interest and later an all out war, between the owners of the distilleries and pubs and the owner of the town, the Count Potocki. Citing a contract from 1743, Potocki tried to raise the amount of monies that the lessees were supposed to pay. When the lessees refused to pay any more money, the owner of the town prohibited the manufacturing of wine, beer and liquor. This conflict hurt 92 families who had made their living brewing and selling liquor. Both sides appealed to the authorities and the conflict went on until 1840. Because of this conflict there was also a question of what was to be done with contracts that were old and overdue for renewal. The local internal affairs office in Kolomyja to which Horodenka belonged suggested that the contracts be renewed for three years only. But the authorities in Lvov were against giving contracts for three years and said because many of the pub owners had other businesses they shouldn't get any contracts and that Jews shouldn't be allowed to own taverns and let Christians do the work for them. Because of the interference of the local authorities the Vienna government retracted the leases in 1845 and acceded to the demands of the local owner.

In addition to that, in 1822, there was a plague of fires in Horodenka that burned a lot of the local homes and made many owners poor. After those fires, the heads of the community appealed to the local authorities to reduce the taxes, but they refused, even though the Jews paid five times as much in taxes as the Christians. According to local statistics in that period, every Christian citizen paid 1.17 florins a year and every Jew paid 6.01 per year.

Some relief came for the Jews came after 1868 because the new authority accorded toleration and liberalism toward religious and national minorities. In the year 1852 the Jews were allowed to purchase real estate. Many Jews from throughout Galicia requested licenses to acquire real estate properties. Among them are listed two Jews from Horodenka: Zellig Engel, who owned a grocery store, and Dan Zilbur. They applied for a permit in 1863 and received it a short time later. Zellig Engel also got a permit to purchase plots that belonged to Christians in Christian neighborhoods that were also frequented by Jews.

We don't have statistical data on the Jews of Horodenka in the fist year of the Austrian regime, but do have records from the county of Zaleszczyki to which nine Jewish congregations belonged between the years of 1788 and 1792. In the year 1792 there were 2,969 Jewish families and 3,188 in 1789. This was divided between 6,906 men and 6,925 women, 13,831 people in all. In the year 1869, 3,159 Jews were counted in Horodenka: 1,593 men and 1,566 women. According to the census of 1890 Horodenka consisted of 1,782 houses, containing 11,162 citizens, of which 1,153 were Catholic, 5,635 Greek Catholic, 4,340 Jews and 34 belonging to other denominations. In the whole county of Horodenka, there were 9,990 homes and 52,421 citizens of which 5,207 were Catholic, 40,086 Greek Catholic, 6,979 Jewish and 149 other.

In the year 1900 the statistics for Horodenka were as follows: 1,898 houses with 11,613 citizens of which 1,259 were Catholic, 6,056 were Greek Catholics, 4,255 Jewish and 43 other. In the whole county there were 10,689 houses, with 55,903 citizens of whom 5,641 were Catholic, 43,437 Greek Catholic, 6,708 Jewish and 114 other.

In the year 1921 there were in the whole county 83,970 citizens of whom 7,148 were Jews. In the year 1910 the number of citizens of Horodenka decreased by 400 in relation to the number in 1900. At that time 11.9% were Catholics, 50.3% Greek Catholics and 37.8% Jewish. In relation to the general population the percentage of Jews rose between 1900 and 1910 from 36.6% to 37.8%.

Between the years 1880 and 1910 the percentage of Ruthenian citizens grew from 45.4% to 50.3%. The percentage of Poles decreased from 17.4% to 11.9%. The number of Jews increased from 36.6% to 37.7%. All in all, there were 4,210 Jews in the town in 1910. According to real estate records Jews owned 4,428 hectars of land in 1889 and 5,090 hectors in 1902. Out of fifty owners of real estate in the year 1889, seven were Jews. In the year 1902, nine out of fifty residents were Jews. In 1889 Jews owned 11.9% of the surrounding land; in the year 1902, they owned 9.6%.


6. The Social and Cultural Conditions in Horodenka

According to legislation by Emperor Franz Joseph II, as of March 20, 1785 Jews could create a general school in Horodenka. The Yiddish Elementary School opened in 1788. The teacher at that time was a man by the name of Shimon Borenstate. He was paid 200 florins per year. In the same year, Jewish schools were established in Zaleszczyki, Zeshdatchov, Chortkov, Buczacz, Zyszidaczow and Syniatin. It is interesting to note that a Jew from Horodenka finished the study of medicine in the eighteenth century and was licensed to practice. Besides his job as a doctor, he also served as the state Rabbi of the Ukraine. In 1781 the chief doctor of Galicia, Doctor Yange Kopinski, gave him a document that attested to his knowledge in medicine, especially in botany and chemistry, and allowed him to practice medicine in Galicia. According to Yitzchak Levy, he came to Krakow in 1782 as a doctor and also gave sermons in the synagogues.

In April 1821, the question of traditional Jewish dress was being discussed in the counties in the area. The central authorities in Vienna had taken up this issue in 1788 but came to no conclusion. However in April 1821, a few clerks from the local government in Lvov suggested to the authorities in Vienna that Jews should change their dress to better fit into the general population. The local governor, Fiar von Hower, opposed this view and in May 1821 he reached the conclusion that there is no connection between the way people dress and the possibility of getting them to assimilate into the general culture. But his was a minority vote and the central authorities in Vienna decided to take the opposite action in this matter. This decision caused a lot of turmoil and anxiety among the Jews of Galicia, although a few assimilated Jews from Lvov supported the central government.

The local Jews started swamping the authorities in the central government with requests to cancel the decree, arguing that a sudden change in the ways Jews dress would bring about a lot of trouble. For instance, the fabric to make secular clothes would be very expensive. Among the congregations in dissent was Horodenka. In May 1821 the merchants of Horodenka sent a plea to the central authorities in Vienna asking them to leave the Jews of Galicia alone and let them wear their own clothes. They reasoned that 1) they were attached to the way they dressed since they came from Poland, 2) most of them didn't have the money to buy new suits, and 3) a lot of merchants had a lot of the fabric used to make traditional dress in stock. If change were imposed, they would go bankrupt. Eventually, the issue faded and the decision by the government of Vienna was ignored.

Between the years of 1862 and 1866, there was legislation before the Galician Parliament about city governments. In the legislation that was put before the voters there were a few restrictions and limitations that would have excluded the Jews from participating in city councils. The Jews protested and after much debate, the legislation was amended. In 1878, an organization in Lvov called Shomer Israel, the Guardians of Israel, tried to establish a stronger sense of community by developing a constitution that would regulate all the Jewish congregations making them all members of a national organization. Representatives of Jewish congregations were asked to participate in the Day of Congregations in Lvov on June 18-20 1878. The participants in the conference reached an agreement about regulations and organized themselves in the spirit of Shomer Israel.

Following that conference, the Orthodox Jews declared that any decisions reached at that conference was against their beliefs. Therefore, they organized a union called The Beholders of the Religion headed by the Rabbi of Krakow, Abushima Schriber, and the Rabbi of Beltz. On February 14, 1882, all the Orthodox Jewish organizations got together in Lvov and decided to draw up their own book of regulations. These regulations established, among other things, that the Rabbi of a congregation would be elected for life and would supervise all matters of the congregation regarding education and the teaching of religion. The right to vote and to be elected would only be given to members of the congregation living according to the code of laws, the ShulchanAruch. Anyone not behaving as an Orthodox Jew would be excommunicated.

These ideas, if adopted, would have created a split among the Jews of Galicia, similar to what had happened to the Jews in Hungary. Rabbi Schriber presented the plan of the Orthodox Jews to the ministry of religions and education in the central government. In 1882 the congregation of Lvov protested this plan. Other congregations of Galicia joined the protest. The authorities in Vienna therefore rejected the plan. On March 21, 1890 a book of regulations governing all congregations in Austria and agreed to by the government and Jewish representatives was published. It expressed strong opposition to any attempt to create a rift among the Jews. This book was published as law and started a new era in public life within Jewish congregations.

According to these regulations, a board of governors would decide the matters of the congregation. This community advisory board would be elected for six-year terms. The executive committee would conduct the administrative work of the whole governing board. According to these regulations, in the year 1891, there were elections to the board of governors in all the towns of Galicia including Horodenka. In the years 1891 to 1900 Moshe Pinlesh was the head of the congregation in Horodenka. The following people were chosen in the elections in Horodenka at the beginning of the twentieth century: Yehoshua Dankner, Todus Kugelmas, Haim-Mendel Koch, Schlomo Pell, Monish Schmidt, Yeheiskel Shpierer, Josel Schertzer. The executive committee included: Jahuda Wasser, Josel Zeidman, Schlomo Kramer, Schlomo Avraham Shor. The president of the congregation was Joseph Wezner. Heading the Talmud Torah Yeshiva was Welwel Zeidman and Fishel Wasser headed the Chevra Kedisha or the burial society. The secretary of the congregation was Daivid Zeidman and the Cantor was Josie Shpira, also known as Josie the Cantor.

The income of the congregation was based on a tax that was levied upon each Jewish citizen according to their ability. Before the outbreak of the first civil war, 680 households paid tax. The congregation could also rely on foundations and money that was left to them for charity. Benjamin Dankner left them 20,400 crowns, David Zilber, 4,000 crowns, and Moshe Pinlish, 2,000 crowns.

Besides the big synagogue, the town had Yishivas, various houses of prayer, a few mynion that prayed together, and other local societies and unions. In the 1860s the Rabbi of Horodenka was Rabbi Moshe Teomim, who wrote a lot of responsa literature includingD'var Moshe,The Sayings of Moshe, which explained parts of theShulchan Aruch. This was published in Lvov in 1864. A third volume of the same book that included responsa from him and his son was published in Lvov in 1880.

Rabbi Moshe Teomim passed away in 1888. His son-in-law, Rabbi Alimelech Ashkinasi succeeded him. He was the rabbi of the congregation until he died in 1916. In 1913 Rabbi Ashkinasi participated in the conference of Hamizrachi in Galicia that took place in Lvov. He was elected as a member of the national committee of Hamizrachi and therefore established a movement of Hamizrachi in Horodenka. His second in command was Rabbi Mendel Shpira, who was elected to office in 1903. He was born in 1873 and his father was a rabbi in Jagelnica. There his father and his father's father served as rabbis for over a hundred years. Rabbi Mendal Shpira was rabbi in Jagelnica between the years 1894 and 1903 before he came to Horodenka.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of the Haskala, the Jewish enlightenment movement in Horodenka. Efram Zilber, one of the most educated people in town, was very famous in the area of Hebrew language and literature. He was an expert in ancient and modern literature and wrote reviews and notes to a publication called theHouse of the Talmud that was edited by Isaac Hirsch Wise and Mayer Friedman. This magazine was published in Vienna between 1881 and 1889. He also wrote for the publicationHamagid (The Herald). His bookSde Jerusalem (Field of Jerusalem)was published in Chernowotz in 1883. It included explanations and elucidations of the Torah. In 1896 his bookThe Flower of the Rose orPerach Shashon was published in Drohpbicz under the pseudonym Ben Paz. It contained commentaries on the Book of Esther.

Another famous Horodenka scholar and publicist was the Yiddish writer Schmol Aba Sofel, born on November 16, 1897. He was from a very established family of writers and a relative to the Vishnitzer rabbis. He studied in the gymnasium. He earned a degree in History and Geography at the University of Vienna and later in Chernovitz. In the weekly paper of the Poalie Zion Movement calledFreiheit orFreedom, he published legends from the land of Israel and about Rabbi Ubericher of Bratislawa. He also translated theBook of Lamentations andJob. In 1921 he published a Chassidic story in the collectionCulture, that was published in Chernowitz. From 1922 on he was the editor of theArbeiter Zeitung, the publication of the labor Zionist movement in Chernowitz. He also published a dictionary of Aramaic, Hebrew and Syrian words that were prevalent in the Yiddish language.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the Jewish community of Horodenka saw a national revival and the establishment of the Zionist movement, B'nei Zion or the Sons of Zion. In the year 1897, it included 150 members and the chairman was Hersch Schertzer. On December 14, 1898 in the theater hall in Horodenka, the Macabee's banquet was held at which Doctor Mentche of Chernowitz gave the keynote address. Heading the banquet committee was the local postal officer called Gotesman. In February 1899 the B'nai Zion movement had a public meeting at which Doctor Rosenhak from Kolomyja gave a speech about the Zionist congress in Basil and Mr. Kressel gave a Hebrew lecture about the Jewish Colonial Trust. That same organization sent a telegram supporting Dr. Hertzl's efforts. In the years before the First World War, the chairman of this movement was Rabbi Alter Weiselberg. In the year 1907 the first Hebrew school was established. The first Hebrew teacher was Rirachowski who lasted eight months. Another teacher, Hirschpelt taught for sixteen months. Beginning in 1910 there were two teachers, Yehuda Golstein and Yeshiya Itzik Beker. In 1911, there were 84 students in the school. In 1898 a school for Jewish boys was established and funded by the Baron Hirsch. A special building was created that cost 21,475 crowns. This school lasted for fifteen years until the First World War. On average there were 250 to 325 students there every year – most of them from lower income families. The school also gave students their clothes and lunches at a cost of about 2,000 crowns a year.

In addition to the Zionist movement, the Sons of Zion, there were other societies and movements that served different purposes in the town. Important among them was Agudat Achim, The Union of the Brothers, chaired by Itza Ayzi; Agudat Chaverim, the Union of Comrades, chaired by Dr. Yitzchack Baron; Bikur Cholim, Visiting the Sick, chaired by Hirsch Dolinger; the trade and humanitarian organization, chaired by Fishel Wasser and a few others. In 1908 in Horodenka, there were ten credit unions, four of which were Jewish. In the same year a branch of a Benevolent Society from Berlin created a workshop for making hair nets. This workshop employed twenty Jewish female workers.


7. Horodenka – Through the first World War and after

The years of the First World War, 1914-1918, wreaked havoc and almost total destruction on Horodenka and its Jewish inhabitants. As soon as the war started, at the end of September 1914, the Russians invaded eastern Galicia and stayed through the winter of 1915. During the period of this first invasion, there were very few cases of robbery and rape and the general situation wasn't very difficult. In the spring of 1915, the Russians were pushed back across the Dniester and Horodenka came under the Austrian regime once again. A few months later, the Russians again broke through the front line and occupied Horodenka for the second time. This time the Jews were scared of confronting the Russian army. Most of the Jewish citizens therefore escaped from the town together with the retreating Austrian forces. The Russians were furious at the Jews that stayed and took out their hostilities on them. Russian soldiers burned houses and then blamed the Jews as a signal to the Austrian army to come back. Using that excuse, nine Jews were hung in the main street of Horodenka. A month later, the Russians retreated again and the Jewish citizens who hadn't gone very far with the Austrians returned to find their homes burglarized and looted by the army and the local population. A short while later a third Russian attempt to take Horodenka began. This time almost all Jewish inhabitants of the town escaped west. With the support and help of the Austrian countries, especially Moravia and Bohemia, the Jews stayed there until the end of the war in 1918. A small number of the refugees managed to reach Vienna and spent the war there.

At the end of the war, all except for a very few Jews returned to Horodenka and started rebuilding. After the Hapsburger Monarchy collapsed, Galicia was declared a part of the Western Ukraine Republic. With the encouragement of the Ukrainian authorities, national Jewish committees were established in every town and village. Heading the national committee of Horodenka was a lawyer by the name of Dr. Alpert. Representatives of the national committee from Horodenka participated in a conference that took place in Stanislavov between the 18th and 20th of November, 1918. At the beginning of November 1918, Horodenka became a post for one of the Austrian regiments – regiment #24. The soldiers of this regiment started harassing Jews, burglarizing them by day and robbing them at right. They would rob them of their shoes, their clothes and their valuables. They took Jews for forced labor and waited at the train station to rob those Jews arriving in Horodenka.

In addition, during the time of the Ukrainian regime, the Jews suffered from the dire economic situation and from the policies of the central authority. No one could do much about the waves of anti-Semitism. But this regime too didn't last very long. The Polish regime then took control. Galicia belonged to Poland until 1939 when the Second World War started.

A lot of Jews in Horodenka immigrated to the United States along with other Russian and Galician Jews at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. They created the first Landsmanshafts settlement of Horodenkans. They took part in Jewish life wherever they settled and helped create Jewish centers across the sea. They were the ones that weren't harmed by the Holocaust of the Second World War.

The period between the two world wars was a period of blossoming and support for Jewish nationalism and Zionism. That atmosphere was responsible for the fact that a few hundred people from Horodenka made Aliya to Israel and became pioneers. These people who emigrated from Horodenka to Israel and the United States before World War Two are the only remnants of this glorious community that was mostly destroyed by the Nazis along with the rest of the Jewish communities in Europe.


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