Translated by Yehudis Fishman Three bridges linked the two parts of the city on either side of the river. One was on the road near the house of Mendel Reys, or, as he was called, Mendel Getzels. The second bridge was near the butcher and the third was further south on the way that led to the small Ukrainian section. The Ukrainians did not come to the city often since they built their own church that the Jews called, Nikoliski's church. The proval existed in the city until the First World War when the ruling Austrian army was forced to close it for sanitary reasons. Since there was a state of war, they found a way to conscript hundreds of Jews and non-Jews, who worked a stint of forced volunteerism, without payment and without time limit.
In the street around the big shul, the house of study and the shteibel, there were various kinds of schools that served beginner students to students of Talmud. On this street, one could become familiar with the students and their teachers. Unfortunately, I was largely removed from this experience. I only went to the school of Menashe the Melamed during the first stages of my education. Together with my sister Faige, we learned how to read Nishmas (a Sabbath prayer) from the siddur that was printed in large letters. We knew it by heart better than we knew how to read it from writing. As in a dream, I remember a joint visit of the cheder children to say the prayer of Shema. There is a Jewish custom that the night before bringing a baby boy into the covenant of Abraham our father, young school boys were invited with their Rebbe to say Shema near the crib of the infant and his mother's bed. On that night it is told that there is increased danger from destructive forces that plot to harm the well being of the newborn. For this visit, the students would go out en masse with their Rebbe in the lead. When they completed their task, they were honored with nuts, raisins, and sweets.
The beginning of my Chumash study as a six-year-old boy was accompanied by a ceremony and celebration that was held on Shabbos in the cheder of Menashe the Melamed. However, after that, I was exiled from the table of the melamdim and handed over to the Hebrew schoolteachers. As my father wanted to supplement my studies in Tanach as it was taught in the Hebrew school -- studies that were rich in quality and poor in quantity, he hired private teachers who either came to our house or taught me in their houses. For over two years, I was the student of Shlomo Heller, who gave classes in Tanach to individuals or small groups. He was one of the more progressive teachers who assisted in translating the commentary of the Ibn Ezra, and paid attention to grammatical principles, though his pedagogical approach was not to translate classic Hebrew into Modern Hebrew. On Shabbos afternoon, I would sometimes visit his house to study Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers.) From among his books, my attention was drawn to a Hebrew book about the wonders of nature. I don't remember the name of the author, but I'm almost sure that this was the Sefer Habrit (Book of the Covenant) by an anonymous author.
After I finished my Tanach studies with Shlomo Heller, I studied Talmud for a while with Reb Kalman Shmuel, the son-in-law of Mendel Lesser and the grandfather of our friend Lippe Liser from Kibbutz Ramat Dovid. There, I studied with a small group of three or four students, one of whom was his grandson Lipa. The studies took place mostly at night, especially in the long winter nights. Lipa used to make the other students laugh when he showed wall shadows of grazing goats by creating appropriate hand positions. In short, of the special flavor of learning in Cheder, I tasted only the edge of the fork. Furthermore, I knew the melamdim of Horodenka only by name, and not by their essential character.
The two well-known melamdim in the city who were not teachers of the very young but rather taught at an intermediate level, from Chumash studies through Talmud, were Yonah the Melamed whose family name was Leibman, and Yehudah the Melamed from the family of Toyber. However, he was usually called by the nickname that stuck to his family, Yehudah Bazjor. He was one of the older teachers in the city and many of the students' parents had also been his students in the past. He was known as an impatient teacher who cast bile upon his students and threw fear into them by word and deed.
A different sort of teacher was Reb Notah Katz. He also translated his teachings into Yiddish, but his school was more progressive than the others that concentrated primarily on Talmud. Reb Notah put a lot of attention into learning Tanach and used many modern commentaries such as Mendelsohn's Biur, which was controversial in the eyes of the other cheders. The students also received something of an education in grammar and in general, a spirit of the new times wafted within the walls of this cheder.
The family of Notah Katz was similar to that of Shlomo Streyt to a certain extent, though without such extreme contrasts. The father was a man of the older generation. The oldest son, Motti Katz, was taken to the army straight out of high school, and upon his return, he gravitated toward Zionism. He was a man of action and went to Israel with a group of the first immigrants, who included Asher Yungerman, Eliezer Bilder, Monk Kanopas, Hertzel Veykh , and others. However, the younger son, Yossel, entered head first into the Yiddishist movement and was one of the founders of the Yiddish school, as well as one of its teachers. After the father died, the rest of the family the mother and two sisters followed the oldest son to Israel. The younger son remained faithful to the concept of exile, and suffered the lot of the Jewish population in exile.
In one of the corners of this section that included most of the shuls and the cheders, the city bathhouse stood. Mainly this was a for a shvitz (steamroom-sauna) and bathing was allowed for individuals only on special request. The heat and steam bath was accomplished by a very primitive process. In a specially constructed oven, special round stones were heated for several hours till they were red and glowing. The non-Jewish assistants would periodically spill several pitchers of boiling water on these stones. The water would instantly burst into steam, and the boiling steam gushed out of the stove and filled the entire bathhouse. The seats were placed on stairs, one above the other, and the further up one went, the hotter it got. To increase the pleasure, the attendants would beat and rub the bathers with special bundles of reeds that they would wave higher and higher in order to heat them well.
In the main section of the bathhouse was the heated mikveh, from which they drew water for washing during the shvitz and for dipping into when the shvitz was finished. The washing day was usually the day before Shabbos. However, Chassidim and scrupulous people would take an additional dip on Shabbos morning before prayer.
Besides the city shvitz, there were two other bathhouses with shvitzes in different corners of the city: one of Eli Yosef Shpierer, that was made according to the pattern and design of the city bathhouse, and the second of Velvel Greenberg, made according to the newer and more advanced model. The main new feature was that the steam for the shvitz flowed from a boiler, when needed, with a deafening noise. The hot and cold water was sufficient for those who took showers. Many faucets were available in a wide hall for the convenience of the bathers. The hygienic conditions were much more up-to-date compared to the other bathhouses, but the mikveh component was completely missing. Those who came to the bathhouse could only wash and had to overlook the commandment of immersion in a mikveh, which they could fulfill only in the other bathhouses.
Like an arrow shot between the above described section and the main street, stood a cluster of houses that spread out in a straight row from the alley near the pharmacy of Luria to the crossroads that led on the right side to the area of the Ukrainian Count Pilvarkovi and to the section of the city's Frankist population. This row of houses consisted of several stores, among which I will mention only two that I used to go into at regular intervals. One was Leibele Korn's iron parts, and the second was Yona Kramer's shoe store where we went before the holidays to buy new shoes. This was an experience that added a charm of its own to holiday preparations, and is one of my favorite childhood memories.
On this row was also the store of Feivel Kvassnik, the primary supplier of Kvass, the national drink of Horodenka. Kvass was a sweet drink made of dried fruit that was sold in the summer at many of the stands in the city. It was poured from glass pitchers in which ice cubes were floating, into thick glass cups, and it would quench the thirst of the citizens and their guests. Reb Feivel was a great expert in the manufacture of Kvass, and this cool drink was refreshing and invigorating. On market days, the drink was sold also by traveling merchants who would announce their wares in loud voices. Among them,
Meir Hershele stood out. He had a huge, shining forehead and ceaseless humor, and would proclaim his drink in Ukrainian peppered with rhymes like: Sweet as honey, cold as ice, whoever drinks will truly live. Meir Hersheleh was literally poor his entire life, and was supported by many temporary jobs, but he bore his lot with a smiling face and words of teasing and jokes about both others and himself never left his mouth.
This row of houses on the right of the main street was slightly elevated to several steps above the road. The extremely narrow sidewalk near the water canal allowed movement only with difficulty. In contrast, there was a wide sidewalk on the other side of the road that concealed the water canal beneath it. Over it the main flow of pedestrians was concentrated. It was natural therefore that several important stores would be located there. Nearby was also a non-Jewish establishment that made a big impact on the community life of the city's Jewish population.
A row of stores opened here with ready-made clothing sold by Chaim Shuchner. It was a double store with two doors, and Chaim worked there with his three sons, two of whom were twins, Moshe and Pilah. The more professional Jews of the city did not shop in the store. They generally preferred clothes with a Jewish cut, that could not be found in these types of stores. The Jewish and Polish officials also didn't need ready-made clothes and didn't like these styles. The Ukrainian village population in that district also didn't use European clothing because their natural garb was linen shirts and pants in the summer, and lambskin in the winter. There remained therefore only shoppers from the poorest of the people who weren't that particular about their clothes, and for whom it was easier to buy a cheap ready-made garments than to look for cloth merchants or tailors. To the latter they turned only in times of celebration, to sew wedding cloths etc. In the years before the First World War, there was another type of buyer of ready-made clothes. The economic conditions and the burden of debts forced many of the surrounding farmers to emigrate to Canada. These emigrants didn't want to appear in their strange national clothing and therefore felt obligated to buy European garb before going out into the big, wide world. Afterward, a period of relief and prosperity came to this store that was practically one of a kind in our city.
Near Chaim Shuchner's store, opposite the pharmacy, stood Yossel Landheim's fruit stall. Yossel was called, as was the custom, by his mother's name, Yossel Mindis. Our neighborhood was blessed with fruit that fell from trees apples, pears, and peaches fruit that was sold cheaply and in great bulk, near the stands by the village women who brought them for sale. Since this abundant produce was prevalent everywhere, it was unnecessary to display them and to sell them specifically on the first sidewalk. In that place, primarily rare fruits were sold, fruits that came from other countries: Yellow peaches that didn't grow in our land, grapes imported from Hungary and Germany, and melons sold in slices. These fruits were also used to say the blessing of 'Shehecheyanu,' on the second night of Rosh Hashana. Oranges were also sold and purchased to revive the soul of the sick, or in contrast, to add pleasure during performances by the Jewish theatre from Lvov in the Sokol auditorium. The fruit stalls remained in place until the outbreak of the war in the year 1914. At that time, the roads were damaged and the order was changed and imported fruits undermined the basis of the business. However, the place didn't change its character much, and after the war, David Glugar opened a store for the sale of candy and delicacies. This store had a great appeal for the younger generation who longed to see the world in their own lifetime.
At the edge of this cluster of houses near the alley, was the store of the watchmaker, Shmuel Frishling. He prayed in the Zionist Minyan and was father's friend. His son Artzi nickname for Aaron went to high school in Chernowitz. I remember that Artzi Frishling was the first to appear in the streets of Horodenka riding on a bicycle, thus drawing a lot of attention. My special closeness to this family developed in 1916, when we wandered like refugees during the third invasion of the Russian army. Many of our Jewish brothers acquired horses and wagons to prevent their having to flee by foot and to be able to salvage more property. With the partnership of our uncle Mendel Flor, our family was able to acquire a wagon. Shmuel Frishling also traveled with his family in a wagon harnessed to a skinny horse. Since the invasion happened at the end of summer, together we made the trip to Stanislavov through the many encampments in villages and even sometimes in open fields. There was not much food for the animals, and more than once we would joke that Shmuel Frishling would give his horse an overabundance of water, in the place of the food that was missing.
On the other side of the alley stood a two-story building belonging to Reb Velvel Zeidman. He was one of the few upon whom it is said: He had Torah and greatness in one place. He was materially well off, as well as being a Torah scholar who lived righteously. He was concerned with the needs of the community and was among the group of the most extreme religious who opposed Zionism. He was rarely seen in the streets, and therefore I remember his appearance only in a blurred way, since I saw him only two or three times. In contrast, I knew his young son Froike (Ephraim) well. He was a handsome, well-dressed youth, who hung out with the young Zionists in the city. Since he was conscripted in Lipnik, Moravia around the time of the world war, he was a frequent visitor to our home when we were refugees for a few years. When we got to Israel in 1925, we met him in Jerusalem, and both of us frequented the home of Artziali (the uncle of Ephraim Geller), of blessed memory. He stayed a while in Israel and wanted to settle there, but didn't succeed. In the end, he returned to Lvov to his family, and from then on, I heard nothing about him.
Velvele Zeidman also had a beautiful daughter, but I never got to see her. A report about her came to my ears from a special guest. We needed a worker to turn the ironing wheel for our laundry business. Ordinarily, an older, very intelligent non-Jew named Haritzko, did this work. However, during the days he was absent, either due to illness or his holidays, Jewish workers assisted us. The ones available were Meir Hershele who was mentioned above, and in an emergency, Binyomin Katz, who was nicknamed, Trombar. He was a very short person with a doubtful smile always spread over his face. He was single and a person of extraordinary simplicity, and the family would often joke at his expense. For example, they would ask him if he would agree to get married to the daughter of Velvele Zeidman, and he would answer with his simplemindedness that he desired her very, very much, but thought that she was not an appropriate match for him, since he could not provide for her in the luxurious manner that she was accustomed to.
The home of Velvele Zeidman was on the second floor; the first floor was occupied by several stores, among which was the store of Chaim Hersh Zeidman that contained cloth and woven goods, the iron supplies of the store of Eliezer Friedler, and the grocery store of Motel Adelshtein. Eliezer Friedler went to Israel on the heels of his son and daughter and son in law Yitzchak Shapira. However, Motel Adelshtein and his wife Matel were killed in the Holocaust with all the Jews of Horodenka. After the Holocaust we found out that their son Yaacov Adelshtein was one of the Zionist leaders of the Jewish community in Czechoslovakia. He sanctified the Divine name by his consistent and courageous behavior during the Nazi regime. May his memory be blessed.
Near these stores stood a building that was externally different than the other buildings in that row, because it was obviously recently remodeled for its new purpose. This building held the organizations of the national Ukrainian movements, and in the front of the building, the Torhovlah, the cooperative store. From generations back, there was in Eastern Galicia a divergence of roles among three groups; a divergence that no one questioned. The Ukrainians had the agricultural role, the Polish held office positions in the local government, and the Jews handled business. Craftspeople came primarily from among the Jews, but there were a significant number of non-Jewish workers, especially carpenters, shoemakers, and builders. However, beginning in the early twenties, there were early signs of a change in these distinct rules. Jews who graduated from public schools penetrated more and more into liberal administrative groups. The Jews, because of their quick grasp and their proficient knowledge of the German language, which was the native language of Austria, rose in most situations to higher positions than the Polish and the Ukrainians. Also, when they began to dedicate themselves to mastering Polish and Ukrainian, they didn't lag behind the ones who spoke these languages from birth. On the other hand, there was a strong movement to take businesses away from Jews. The practical outcome of this movement wasn't felt much during its first decade; it was hard to compete with the complexity and organization of Jewish businesses. However the propaganda that supported this movement contributed a lot in spreading the poison of hatred for Jews, and to portray them as taking advantage of the populace by their business methods.
In the framework of this movement, the Ukrainian Torhovlah also arose. One must admit that this was a beautifully arranged and clean store. However, by its very nature it was set up for a very limited group of purchasers from among the Ukrainian intelligentsia and didn't meet the traditional needs of the village buyer. Thus the Jewish storekeeper remained, as before, the primary provider of basic, everyday needs.
In the years that preceded the Russian Revolution, the Second World War, and the Nazi Holocaust, the Jews were so involved in marketing eastern and central European products that it seemed that no winds could move them from their position and nothing could upset their place without a general disturbance in the economy. On the basis of this feeling the saying was formed: Just like the word 'Goy' can't exist without the letter Yud (Y sound), so too the non-Jew can't survive without Jews. (Yud also means a Jew). It appears that in those days there was a basis for that saying. Even the group that concentrated around the Torhovlah found the need to engage at least one Jew as a middleman between itself and the Jewish neighborhood, probably to prevent direct contact with a large number of Jews. Therefore a Jew was found who placed himself at their disposal for the sake of his livelihood, even though this wasn't the most honorable profession. I don't remember the name of that Jew anymore, but everyone's nickname for him was cum which in Ukrainian meant friend. He would also come to our laundry very often as a messenger from his bosses, and that's how I got to know him.
Inside the building were the organizations of the Ukrainian National movement, which included in those days mainly only their intelligentsia. On their property was an extremely large hall with a stage for performances the Narodny Dome (People's house.) In the years before the First World War there were no ties between the Jewish national movement and the Ukrainians. Both of them were still in their infancy stages, and both suffered from the hostile attitude of the local ruling Poles. I think the closeness came in the years 1917-1918, during the short period when the Ukrainians ruled eastern Galicia. It was a fact that the Ukrainian ruler was sympathetic to the Zionist cause, and the relationship didn't split even after east Galicia was annexed to Poland and referred to as the little Poland of the east. The Zionist youth in the city would organize parties at pre-arranged times, primarily for the purpose of conscripting money for Zionist causes and various community needs. In all cases we were able to use the Narodny Dome.
The Torhovlah was really the last store in this row of business buildings. In one of the buildings behind the Torhovlah was a storage place for selling whiskey -- the Propintzia, which also did retail business. At the end of the row was the hotel of Monish Shmid. I think I was in this house only one time, in 1922, when an Israeli Shaliach, named Erez, visited there.
The business section that took up almost half the length of the main street extended to the hotel of Shmid. From there on, on both sides of the street were homes, legal offices, and some communal organizations. Only here and there jutted out a store that served the residents of the immediate neighborhood.
The hotel interrupted the row of houses. The houses receded to a depth of about twenty meters, creating a road two meters wide. In the front part, trees were planted under which were benches for relaxation; the other part served as a gathering place for worshipers in the Greek-Catholic church, the Ukrainian one, which was one of the houses on that street.
In the first house lived a Jew called Itzik Elya Leichtmache (candle maker), so named because of his craft of making brass candleholders. These candleholders were a much-needed necessity in the generation before mine, because each home had brass candlesticks in honor of the Sabbath. Each Jewish woman would beautify this mitzvah, and would recite blessings over many candles, according to the number of people in the family. Usually an older grandmother would live in the house, and she would also need several of her own candles. (In times of emergency, they would also use extra candles ensconced in clay candleholders.) One of the beloved activities of the children was polishing the candlesticks before Shabbos until they sparkled and were prepared for festive lighting. Only in the later generation, with the appearance of silver or silver-plated candle holders that were inexpensive and mass produced, were the heavy brass holders pushed aside and became obsolete in most Jewish homes.
Itzick Elya's home was a single house. A narrow alley separated his house and the hotel; on the other side was a small street that led to the city garden. On the other side of the street was Shamai Bakher, who was considered a well-off Jew, though I don't know his profession. He acquired his house at a later time, in 1933, through his involvement in the Zionist movement, and it functioned as a community house. I don't remember if Shamai Bakher's house was attached to the wall of the Greek Catholic church, or if there was another building between them.
It's interesting that the church stood exactly in the center of the Jewish settlement, and not closer to the Ukrainian suburb from where flocks of people headed to the church every Sunday. In truth, even the Roman Catholic Church stood among the Jewish houses, because there was no escape from living in this neighborhood where most of the population was Jewish. This was also less surprising than it otherwise might be, since the Polish people who were Roman Catholic were also citizens of the city. Besides this, its isolation and alienation was not so deeply felt because the central government building was attached to it. This latter building was also very large with a beautiful front, and therefore a Christian section was formed. In contrast, the Greek Catholic church was totally surrounded by Jewish homes, and appeared to be actually captured by them.
The Jewish houses of prayer did not stand at all in the front part of the main street. The bigger ones were behind the main street, closer to the big shul. In the streets further away from the center, there were a few small shuls, besides the special minyanim for Shabbos and holidays. Two such minyanim also existed on the main street; one of them, the Zionist minyan, was actually located opposite the entrance of the Ukrainian church, on the other side of the street. On ordinary days the two camps the Jews and the Ukrainians would not meet. One celebrated on Shabbos and the other on Sunday. However both groups met when one of the Jewish holidays occurred on Sunday or when one of the Ukrainian holidays happened on Shabbos. It would be difficult to say that this meeting brought pleasure to the Jewish group, but I don't recall any disturbance created by one group encountering the other.
The Zionist minyan was held in a rented room in the home of Aharon Kugelmas, and was used for prayer on Sabbaths and holidays. On Shabbos after daavening and on weekdays, the room served as a meeting place and a reading room for the Zionist organization, Bnei Zion. There it was possible to read the Jewish Zionist newspapers, both in Yiddish and Polish. The Tagblatt was the daily Jewish newspaper printed in Lvov. A weekly Hebrew journal called Hamitzpeh was printed in Krakow. Occasionally, there was also Hatzefirah the daily Hebrew newspaper that came from Warsaw. After 1918, after Galicia was annexed to Poland, the Yiddish Tagblatt stopped, and the Yiddish readers had to be sustained by the Warsaw papers -- Heint and Moment. On the other hand, in Lvov there began to appear a Zionist newspaper written in Polish named K'ville, (The Moment). One could also find in this meeting room, the newspapers of the world Zionist movement: Di Velt, in German, and Haolam, (The World) in Hebrew. In the years before the first world war, there were two primary newspapers from the capital of Austria: Noy Praiya Proso and Vienna Zjornal.
The existence of the Zionist minyan and the Zionist organization was burnt into my memory from my childhood. From the time they were small, the children would accompany their fathers on Shabbos to this prayer house. I don't recall any other shul that my father prayed in before he had turned to the Zionist minyan. My uncle, Mendel Flor, my mother's brother, was also one of the steady attendees there. He had the weekly job of reading from the Torah, or, as it was called, being the Baal Koreh. These readers were also among the prayer attendants, and only rarely, on the high holidays, would they bring in a cantor from the outside.
In addition, my father served as the cantor and was accepted very graciously as an accomplished master of prayer. He also had a regular position as the cantor for Kol Nidre and Neila on Yom Kippur. Among the people praying, there was one who stood out by his pleasant voice; the impact of his sweet prayer remains as one of the most enjoyable memories of my childhood. This was Boni Fleshner, by occupation a bank clerk. He was also one of the three partners of the shingle factory that was in our courtyard. It's also appropriate to mention a talented person who appeared in the Zionist minyan. For a long time, a young man prayed with us by the name of Shaul Sucher, a man of short stature with a pointy, golden beard. No one had suspected that he was musically talented, but on one of the days of the festival he approached or was sent to be the cantor, and it turned out that he had an exceptional voice. He didn't indulge in complicated trills, but he pronounced the words clearly. From then on, he acquired a prominent reputation and eventually ended up in Lvov, where he was appointed the cantor in one of the synagogues.
A few houses away from the Zionist Minyan was Weinstein Hall. This was the only public hall that served as a kind of coffee house for the professional intelligentsia of the city. Sometimes it was rented for weddings and parties. In the years following World War One, the Yiddish school resided there, and the place was transformed from a building of leisure activities to a place of Torah
Somewhat distant from Weinstein Hall was the home of Yudel Pasvig, where there was a minyan for Sabbaths and holidays. Yudel Pasvig was the son-in-law of Meshulem Wagner, one of the heads of the few Mitnaggedim (opponents to Chassidim) that lived in the city. I didn't know Meshulem Wagner because he died before my time, but it appears that he was related to reb Chaim Shnitzer's family.
The home of the city rabbi, Reb Elimelech Ashkenazi, was also on that main street a few houses due south of the Zionist minyan. He had an ordinary home like every businessman, no better or worse. One can assume that it wasn't too spacious, especially since one room had to be dedicated to receiving visitors, and his family was blessed with daughters. In my childhood, most of them were already married, and two of them were daughters-in-law in the Shnitzer family; one of them the wife of Reb Chaim Shnitzer and the other the wife of his brother, Simcha Shnitzer. Since I was close to the Shnitzer family, because of my friend Meshulem Shnitzer, I was also acquainted with another son- in-law of the rabbi, Israel, who lived in Sokol. This young man had a special charm. He was upright and handsome, and of a noble appearance that could not easily be forgotten.
I know very little to relate about the rabbi as a spiritual leader. He was considered a great Torah scholar and everyone treated him with respect, but I don't know what he did specifically to increase Torah knowledge in our city.
On the other side of the street opposite the Rabbi's home, which was considered the spiritual center of the city, was the finance center. Here were the offices and homes of the city bankers, Alter Yungerman and his son Shmuel. This was a big single story house, divided into two wings for two families. The building was beautiful, with a small garden in front, and a white picket fence around it. Special attention was paid to the echoes of a piano that emanated periodically from the house due to the talents of the family's daughter. Like all the Jews of the city, the family of Shmuel Yungerman left Horodenka during the war, and returned a long time before our family did. When we returned to Horodenka in 1919, Asher Yungerman, the first-born son of Shmuel Yungerman, was the head of the Hebrew school that was founded in the city by his friend Azriel (Illa) Libster. He was also one of the first to make Aliya. In Israel too, he devoted himself to education and to this day is a principal in one of the schools in Haifa.
One of the few houses between the Zionist minyan and the home of Rabbi Ashkenazi belonged to Doctor Kanapas. As the only Jewish doctor in the city, Dr. Kanapas was a familiar figure in every Jewish home, since in those days people stopped relying on magic potions alone, and began to call doctors in times of need. The Jewish doctor was able to speak German with his patients; in his home, Polish was spoken, according to the custom of lawyers, and many Jewish government clerks. In short, this home was, at least according to external appearances, an assimilated house. However, in his old age, the situation changed significantly. His son Monak joined the Zionists and moved to Israel with the first pioneers. Also his son-in-law, the lawyer Dr. Mans, who settled in Horodenka, became an active Zionist who was at the head of the Zionist organization in the city. Eventually he also went to Israel with his family, and settled in the Kibbutz of Shiller. After the Second World War, Dr. Kanapas's widow also joined her daughter and son-in-law in Shillers' kibbutz.
The more distant that each home lay from the business center, the more their external structures were sprawled out and their interiors more expansive. The homes of lawyers and court clerks some Jewish, some not were near the courthouse. In one of these houses with a beautiful fenced in porch was the office of Dr. Werber. On the other side of the street was the office of the Ukrainian lawyer Dr. Okuniovski. In this section was also situated the government police office, the Gendarme.
Near Yungerman's house, there were several homes whose residents filled a role in the cultural and social life of the city during different seasons. The first house was the home of the Shapira family the family of the judge, Reb Mendel Shapira and the family of Shmulik Shapira. These two families were blessed with offspring who were active in the Zionist movement, with the pioneers, and with the Hebrew movement. Among them are included Yitzchak Shapira, the judge's son, and Liba Shapira, the daughter of Shmulik Shapira.
Yitzchak Shapira was among the younger generation trained by the Shomir (The Guardian), who were students in Yungerman and Liebster's Hebrew school. He was an activist in government, culture, and even in sports. One should especially point out his involvement in founding Chalutz, (The Pioneer) and his part in founding the Gordonia organization in our city. When he got to Israel, he settled down in a workers' collective near Tel Aviv, in Tzupit. Also he worked as the secretary of the agricultural center and was a special member of the more important groups of the party of Poalei Eretz Yisrael.
Liba Shapira hung around the Zionist youth of the city and, with her expansive spirit, in her infectious joy, and her pleasant voice, there was no Zionist activity in the city that she didn't participate in. In Israel, she continued her communal activities and her dedication to the labor party. Liba Hoffman Shapira was also known as one of the activists who worked on behalf of the organization of working mothers in the city of Haifa, where she lived.
Near the house of the Shapira family was the house where Hershel Preminger lived with his brother Leizer. Tzvi (deer in Hebrew, and Hershel means deer in Yiddish) Preminger was the epitome of a Zionist in the period before World War One. I already mentioned that he instituted Hebrew speech in his house. He also established a factory for shoe polish called Levanon, whose product appeared in a package with a symbol of the Hebrew high school in Tel Aviv and had instructions for use written in Hebrew.
The third house was that of the Libster family. The father of the family, Abba Libster, was ultra-orthodox, and was one of the staunchest opponents to the opening of Baron Hirsh's school. His oldest son Israel daavened with the Zionist minyan and his daughter Mazdi was involved in teaching in the Polish public school. However, the place of honor in the city's cultural scene belonged to the youngest son, Azriel called Illa Libster. In 1918, together with Asher Yungerman, he established the Hebrew school and developed an educational program that expanded and flourished.
Uri Chaim Shertzer owned the last house on the main street. Its front faced the side of the street that turned right and led to the courthouse building, to the train station, and on to the village of Czerniatyn. Many of my childhood memories are bound up with Shertzer's house, since that's where the first Hebrew school run by the Rirachowskis was conducted. There one could also find the Hebrew kindergarten run by Tziyupeh Shertzer. The owner of the house, Uri Chaim Shertzer, was well known to me and for several years he daavened with the Zionist minyan. He was much older than most of the others who prayed there, and it's questionable whether he prayed there because of ideological compatibility, or because of convenience of location. He usually came to pray accompanied by Shaul, the son of his old age. (He came to Israel during World War Two and his oldest son Naftali also came to Israel). In the years before the First World War, he opened a modern restaurant, and introduced something new a big jukebox whose music was enjoyed by the guests. The jokers of the Zionist minyan used to say that since he acquired the jukebox, he changed the words of the liturgy from to listen to the song and prayer, to to listen to the song and NOT the prayer.
The street that turned right from the main street was generally outside of my interest, except for two houses, both of which were associated with Torah learning. One was the house of Alter Zilberg, where the Hebrew school was situated after it left Uri Chaim Shertzer's house. Alter Zilberg was an enlightened Jew and a dedicated Zionist, and for many years he served as a head of the group, Sons of Zion. He had two grown sons and both of them learned geometry in one of the state high schools; they would come home for vacation. I especially remember the younger one Itzik, who during his military service came to visit his parents in an elegant officer's uniform. He allowed himself to go bareheaded, something that wasn't acceptable in a Jewish home like that of Alter Zilberg. Their home was in the old house in front, and the school rented out the new house of two rooms in the courtyard.
A short distance from Zilberg's house, on the other side of the street, was the home of Mendel Liser, in which I spent many evenings of my childhood as a student of Reb Kalman Shmuel, the father in law of Mendel Liser. Reb Kalman Shmuel was even then in the years 1913-14 an older Jew, a widower living with his son in law. He spent only a few hours a day teaching, and in them he taught Talmud to a small group of students, among whom I was included.
The second road branched off the main street and led outside the city to the village of Statzuva, and to the city Sniatyn. This road also was tied to several childhood memories. It led to a wide grassy area called Toliki, that served as a playing field for the youth of the area and as pasture ground for the horses of the city's wagon drivers. In the years after the First World War, this land served as a central soccer field, which to my sorrow, I had no part in. I remember this grassy area mainly in the years before the world war, from the Shabbos walks that the members of the Sons of Zion organized in the summer, before sunset. Often I would accompany my father on these walks and I'd listen to the conversations of the grownups, which in the course of their talks would cross the entire field. Many of the houses on the street had somewhat of a village character. A big courtyard that was sometimes used for farm supplies, vegetable gardens, birdcages, coops, and barns for various animals, small and large, surrounded them. Such a place was the home of the Ofenberger family, whose sons were involved in farming and the city's Zionist youth. The second house in this neighborhood that I recall from my childhood was the home of Abba Kalmus, who daavened in the Zionist minyan and was a friend of my father. He was the one who emptied the large storage bin in his yard and let the Hebrew school use it to celebrate one of the graduation ceremonies.
It was the third or fourth graduation ceremony of the Hebrew school. The first graduation under the leadership of the Rirachowskis was celebrated in the biggest and most beautiful hall in the city, the Polish Sokol hall. This hall was on the street opposite the main street, behind the house of Rabbi Ashkenazi. It was also rented for guest appearances of the Jewish theatre, but it was used primarily for local celebrations of the Polish population, and for presentations and celebrations of Polish students. In this hall, gymnastic lessons for local high school students were held. In it we also saw moving pictures for the first time, which, because of technical faults, seemed to be constantly raining. From all the pictures that were shown, I remember the film, The Last Days of Pompeii. However, nothing can be compared to the feelings that were awakened in us at the presentation of the film, Jewish Life in the Land of Israel, which was shown in a festive celebration that took place in the streets during Passover.
Opposite Sokol hall was a two-story building which housed the Polish public school for boys. Most of the Jewish boys who did not attend the public school founded by Baron Hirsh learned there.
The public schools were run according to the educational system of the private schools. The public school for girls was in another corner of the city. All the Jewish girls learned in this school because the Baron Hirsh School was designated only for boys. It existed only till the outbreak of the war in 1914, and when it closed due to conditions of the war, it never opened again.
In this school, I spent four years of my childhood. During all those years the teacher of my class was Mr. Norad. Two of his sons emigrated to Israel. The school's principal was Mr. Mosler. From the other teachers, I remember especially Mr. Zanvil Zilberg, a relative of Alter Zilberg, who was the religious teacher. The studies included the basic principles of the Jewish religion and an abbreviated history of the Jews in Biblical times. We were also taught the Polish version of the Ten Commandments, all this from the syllabus of the Polish school. In Baron Hirsh's school, they also taught chapters from the Bible translated into German. Thus they fulfilled their obligation of teaching Hebrew and of paying a tax to the Jewish character of the school. However the Jewish character was preserved mainly because all the students were Jewish. Outside the walls of the classroom, children spoke the vernacular of Yiddish, while the students of the public school were inevitably in a Polish environment. The language of education in Baron Hirsh's school was also Polish, but they also taught German, the language of the rulers, and Ukrainian, the language of the masses of villagers in the country.
This is a good place to tell of one of the first teachers in this school, who in my time was already a teacher in a different city. I knew him only as my father's friend, whom I met on one of his infrequent visits to our city. This teacher was born in Horodenka and was the son of a rope maker, Pinye Shtrikmacher (ropemaker). His father was a short, silent Jew, with a long white beard filled with stalks of flax from his constant involvement in his profession. The son Yankel Fink was tall and handsome, and from behind his gold-rimmed glasses peered forth two eyes filled with intelligence and humor. In his youth he was in the group of the Maskilim, but left them and picked up a working knowledge of Polish.. (Most of the Maskilim were satisfied with a knowledge of the German language and chose teaching in public school as his life's profession.) He was separated in a good way from the other schoolteachers, all of whom, except for Mr. Viselberg, tended toward assimilation. He, however, remained a nationalist Jew all his life, and stayed faithful to the Hebrew language. His letters to my father were very rare, but they stood out in their beautiful Hebrew style, and they testified to his deep connection to the language.
The school of Baron Hirsh stood on the city's border, on the way to the village of Sarafince, not far from the city's center. This was a one-story building with four classrooms, the teachers' room, and, also I think, the residence of the principal Mr. Mosler. There was a wide room, which the students used as a playroom during recess. In the middle of the courtyard there was a kind of scaffold, on which some planks of wood were stretched in a vertical position. The children exercised on them, climbing up about four to six meters. This provided an outlet for the youthful energy that bubbled in their midst. There was a sizeable portion of students from among the poor; these students received short jackets and boots for winter and a warm meal before they left school in the afternoon.
Near the school of Baron Hirsh stood the courtyard of the rabbi of Horodenka, Reb Michale Hager. This was a very big building; most of the rooms were designated for the rabbi's private quarters, and only two rooms and a hallway were designated as rooms for prayer. The rebbe was descended from a dynasty of rebbes of Vishnitz, but was not among the most famous of them. Most of his Chassidim came from Horodenka, and only a few came for the holidays from surrounding areas to spend time in his courtyard. A short time before the First World War, they started to build a large synagogue in the courtyard near the house, but when the war burst out, the rebbe escaped with his family. After the war he settled in Chernowitz, and didn't come back to Horodenka. Several years later, the son of the rebbe Reb Michale, Rabbi Baruch Hager, became one of the leaders of the Mizrachi movement in Chernowitz
While speaking about the Rebbe, it's hard to skip over his shadow, his gabbai, or attendant. It's appropriate to mention him not just in his own right but also and primarily for the merit of his son. Reb Pinchas, the gabbai, was a Jew with broad shoulders, a prominent stomach, a beard streaked with old age, and wise and smiling eyes. He was known as a man of humor, and didn't take his honorable role very seriously. He joined the Rebbe during his wandering in the days of the World War, and after the war he also settled in Chernowitz and remained at his post until the end of his life.
I knew his son, Shmuel Abba Sofer, during the years 1912-1914 as a student in the third and fourth classes of the Polish high school, and as a close friend of Berl Mossberg, who hung around our house. He was a tall, skinny kid and got to high school two years late, since before that there was no high school in Horodenka. But he wasn't satisfied with the knowledge that he got in high school. He swallowed every book he could obtain, primarily from the German library of Motel Hurwitz. His close friends were the Shtrum brothers, his classmates, and also Mayer Kron and Berl Mossberg, both of who were several years older than he. He excelled due to the penetrating ability of his mind and the sharpness of his sayings, one of which I remember in relation to education. He was accustomed to saying: A person is obligated to educate his parents, meaning he must train them not to be an obstacle to his development. It seems this saying was based on his personal experience, for he convinced his father to accept his free life-style, even with his position as the attendant in the courtyard of the Rebbe. It is near certain that a great portion of the educational success of the son was due to the merit of the father, as the student, whose grasp in those matters was not so difficult.
Around the year 1917, in the thick of the First World War, Shmuel Abba happened to be in the city of Leipnik in Moravia, where many refugees from the war relocated. In this city, there was an encampment established by some of the troops, to which several Horodenka folks belonged. For the short period that this camp was in Leipnik, he would spend many of his free hours in our house, and sometimes even offered to help me in my studies. Till this day, I remember how he once explained something in physics to me the difference between kinetic energy and potential energy a fact that stuck in my memory. After the war, he settled as a scribe in Chernowitz, in which his father Rabbi Pinchos also settled as the attendant of the Rebbe of Horodenka. There he also was involved in communal activity and in scribal work, and earned his full title from Dr. Shlomo Bikel and Yitzchak Paner.
The second soldier among the people of Horodenka, who used to come in and out in our house in Leipnik at that time, was Heinrich Shpierer, the second son of Berel Shpierer, the communal head of Horodenka. In that summer of 1917, Henya Birnboym happened to come to Leipnik, when she returned from Vienna to visit my sister who was her devoted friend, and living in our home. Heinrich Shpierer spent a lot of time walking with girls (after asking them permission). In truth, he was an ugly boy, but he would often speak about his imminent death on the Italian front, where he would soon be sent when his training was up. You'll see, he said, in another three months you'll open the paper and find my name among the list of those who fell on the southern front. A short time after he was sent to the front, his wealthy father came to Leipnik to find a way to nullify the decree. However, Heinrich refused this by saying that if he got out of going to the front, someone else would be attacked by the bullet that was meant for him and such a low deed, he's not prepared to do. Actually, it happened as his heart prophesied. A short time after he arrived at the front, he fell from the enemy's' bullet.
The row of the few houses between the Rebbe's courtyard and the building of the Polish meeting house, comprised two buildings, that I had a special connection to the homes of the Bilder family and the Shnitzer family. This was a connection of two generations. Both Menashe Bilder and Chaim'l Shnitzer were connected to my father with ties of friendship expressed by mutual respect and deep love.
In an absolutely accidental manner, the bond of friendship between the parents passed over to the generation of the children, and I was very close to both Eliezer Bilder and Meshulem Shnitzer. I studied with Bilder for four years at Baron Hirsh's school, but when I went to the Polish High school, our paths separated and I don't recall any other interaction we had until we returned from the exile in Moravia on one summer night in 1919. I remember that he was one of the people who met us in the train station, but I don't think he came to see me, but rather to accompany his friend from the Hashomer group, Henye Birnboym. However, when we met, we immediately renewed our friendship, with the mutual longing and expectation for a resumption of a full Jewish life. Eliezer Bilder was a handsome youth, friendly and pleasant to everyone. He was a member of Hashomer, one of the outstanding students of the school under the administration of Yungerman Libster, and he stayed friendly with his neighbor Meshulem Libster who was several years his senior. I was accepted as a third member of this group, which decided to use only the Hebrew language as our means of communication.
In 1920, Eliezer Bilder went to Israel with the first group of pioneers. But because of the lack of work combined with an outbreak of malaria, after a year had passed, he gave in to the pleading of his parents and returned to Horodenka. He brought along with him a large bundle of Israeli experiences and a great admiration for the leaders of the workers. Primarily he mentioned the name of Remez Vashprinztik, may his memory be blessed. He continued on a regular basis to receive the workers' newspapers: The Young Worker and The Collection. Thus we lived to a certain extent in the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael and were updated on everything that happened in the land. We were especially moved by the discourses of Y. Lupven of blessed memory, and of Ch. Shorer, may he be singled out for a long life.
When I went to Israel in 1925, I left these two friends and their families. Like the majority of families who leaned toward Zionism, they were satisfied with sending representatives: Only one from each family reached Israel: Moshe Bilder, of blessed memory, and singled out for life, Yaacov Shnitzer HaLevi. My friend Eliezer Bilder died in his youth from a malignant disease and the rest of his family perished in the holocaust. The lot of these families followed the lot of the collective house of Israel not one remained.
From among those who dwelled near the school of Baron Hirsh, I remember two: Yekhezkeil Dul and Tzirel Koser. Dul was a well to do Jew, who made his living in leather and farmers' boots. What distinguished his house from all the others was the large fruit orchard that surrounded his home. His son, whose name I think was Meir Dul, was my neighbor on the bench in the Baron Hirsh school, and during summer vacation he would sometimes invite his friends to the orchard and offer them some of its fruits: blackberries, blueberries, unripe apples, and bitter pears.
Tzirel Koser was a widow who supported herself from a small grocery and writing materials store, patronized primarily by the school's students. I also recall her son, a quiet young man around twenty. I don't remember what his business was, but he could have also been involved with his mother's little store.
Tzirel Koser's store stood in the row of houses opposite the Baron Hirsh School and the Rebbe's courtyard. One of the distinguished residents in this row was the old Polish doctor of the city, Doctor Roshko. There was also the Polish pharmacy called The Golden Star, that arose as competition to the pharmacy of Miron Luria. In the last years before my aliya, Doctor Kaufman lived there; he was one of the few who escaped the Holocaust and was successful in reaching Israel with his entire family. Here also stood the house of Yonah Veykh, whose son Hertzel Veykh went to Israel with the first pioneers from academic circles. He didn't stay long in Israel and moved to one of the countries across the sea.
The steady row of houses ended around the home of Menashe Bilder, where there was a wide path that led on a slight slope to the building of the Armenian Polish church, or as it was called by the Jewish dwellers, Di Timchas. In this area lived the Horodenka landowner, Baron Romaszkan (before the land went to Prince Lubomirski) and one of the respected Polish citizens, Stepanovitz.
Near this church stood a beautiful renovated building with a pretty garden in front, called The Poviat, meaning, the central house. This building contained the management of several economic institutions that were under the Polish community organization. One of these stood out in relation to our family: the large shingle factory that succeeded in ousting from the market the production of shingles in our house by my father and two partners.
Near the village square, opposite the entrance to the Polish church, was a one-story city building called the Gemina. This building was narrow and tall and contained space for city departments and also the city police station, and even a temporary waiting room for passersby. Once a year during the last days of summer, this building was used for conscription to the army of his Honor, Emperor Franz Yosef, and afterward, for the Polish army. This was the only opportunity I had to visit this building.
The path that led to the Armenian Church continued past the church to a narrow path that opened up to the main street near the Greek Catholic church and was swallowed up at the end by the trails of the city park. In this alley behind the Armenian church, was the villa of one of the honored wealthy men of the city, who served for many years as one of the communal leaders and was beloved by most of the city dwellers. The man's name was Berel Shpierer.
In his youth, Berel Shpierer was a member of the Maskilim the secularists who gathered around Chaim Leib Halpern, a person for whom all the Maskilim of Horodenka poured water over his hands (attended to). I don't know how he acquired his wealth, but I do know that in my childhood, he owned a small bank. One day I found out that he obtained the property from Bornstein and became its landlord. My father was his childhood friend and this relationship continued after he became wealthy. He was considered an adherent of the Zionist movement, but he wasn't a member of the local Zionist group.
Therefore he was trusted by the ruling powers as one who was not suspected of harboring extreme Jewish nationalist positions. He moved up the ranks of the Zionist hierarchy whose slogan was to wrest the zeitgeist, the contemporary cultural outlook, from those ultra orthodox who opposed Zionism. People felt that there was no one in Horodenka better suited to be appointed the head of the community, and so he was chosen around 1911 as the communal head, with the support of the Zionists, the workers union, and other groups who did not support the leadership of Orthodox Judaism.
To the extent that I recall, there was no separate office for the community meetings; instead they were held in the home of the communal head. There also was the community council called the Koltus-raat. The secretary was David Zeidman, who was an official in the central ruling house. Functioning as the community secretary was an additional side job for him.
I don't remember if they had new elections after the war, or if the community council just continued its job out of inertia. I only know that even in 1924, the composition of the community council was practically unchanged: Berel Shpierer was the head and my father was one of the council members. I remember this clearly because of something that happened. The oldest son of my sister was born in 1922. When he was about two years old, my sister had to spend most of her time earning a living, and she needed to get a woman who could be a housekeeper and babysitter. As was then the custom she preferred a Christian village girl who was more acceptable for many reasons. It happened that they got a young girl of high natural intelligence. She quickly mastered the few Hebrew words that were necessary to take care of a two-year old. In the course of time, her storehouse of Hebrew broadened to the point where she could explain the songs of Bialik to the child. Thus we had in our house the phenomenon of a Hebrew- speaking Christian girl. Once when the community council was having a discussion about Hebrew language and speech, the head of the council said, partly as a joke and partly with seriousness: If only I knew how to speak Hebrew like the maid in the Lindenberg house. In any case, especially with regard to spoken Hebrew, there was indeed something to envy .
The tragedy that struck Berel Shpierer when his son Heinrich fell at the front wasn't the only tragedy that struck this family. In 1919 or 1920, the gang of Petylura reached our place. This gang ostensibly came to join the Poles in their war against the Bolsheviks, but actually engaged in murdering Jews and plundering their property. Berel Shpierer, as a wealthy Jew, wanted to avoid the face of evil and escaped with his family in a carriage. On the way, the gang of Petylura overtook him, plundered some of his belongings and killed his oldest son Mitzi, who had completed his studies as a lawyer and stood out in his refinement and exceptional courtesy. The only son left to him was Luci, who was around my age. In the days of the Russian conquest before the Nazi rule, the entire family was exiled to Russia and there he disappeared. Only the son Luci succeeded in escaping Russia; it's reported that he ended up in one of the lands across the sea.
The rest of the path, which crossed through the main street, led to the Courtyard, the property of Baron Romaszkan that later went to prince Lubomirski. The path continued to the train station called Yakubuvka, where those who missed the main train went with the hope of catching the second one. It also led to the villages of Kornev, Raszkow, Semenovka, and to the city of Obertin. On the section of the road that was still within the city boundaries, several families lived whom I want to mention.
The first building near the crossroads was a cluster of large buildings surrounded by a stone wall covered with fragrant lilacs, buildings that I already mentioned. In these buildings many Christian families lived, and before World war One, a post office was also there. Since this was a Christian section, it was natural that the only store selling pig meat was located there. Near there was also, I think, the store of Chaim Hirsh Meltzer, who was one of the participants in the Zionist minyan. In the years after World war one, some Jews lived in these houses; the one that stands out is that of the Marksheid family. Rabbi Elimelech Marksheid stood out from all the Jews in the city in his extreme righteousness, but his sons and daughters not only did not follow his path, but also stood out in their extreme philosophical positions. Still, this was one of the families where all the children went to Israel, and because of the children, so did the parents. Only one son, Chaim, came back to the exile after staying in Israel a few years, and he perished with the other Jews in the city.
Near this cluster of houses, which were in general a part of the business section surroundeding the market square, stood the house of Dudi Shtachal, the owner of one of the saloons that served primarily as a meeting place for the farmers on market day. On the other days of the year, they hoped for city guests who might long for a glass of beer. Not far from there was the store of Yehudah Wolf Shuchner, a Jew old in years with a wide and long white beard, who in spite of his age appeared full of strength and worked full time running his grocery store with both wholesale and retail stock. The primary workers in his store were his three sons: Bum Shuchner and his brother Milek (Yerachmiel) who hung out with the young Zionists in the city, and the third son, Zarakh who was completely invested in the store's business.
On the other side of the road, opposite the house of Yehudah Wolf Shuchner, was an alley that led to the butcher shop and from there on the left, to the large synagogue, and by contrast to the city bathhouse. The alley deserves mention because of the two houses that stood at its entrance. One was the shteibel (a small shul) of the Chassidim of Vishnitz. It was a long building of average length, whose walls were filled with windows, like a porch enclosed in glass. This gave the building an appearance of temporality, in contrast to the Chortkover shteibel that was a large solid building of thick walls. The temporality of the former building was perhaps appropriate to the lighthearted character of the Vishnitzer Chassidim, in contrast to the seriousness of the Chortkover Chassidim.
Opposite the shul of the Vishnitzer Chassidim was the home of the Dayan, the judge, Mendel Shapira. I remember this especially because of my many visits to his house as a messenger of my mother, of blessed memory. She acted as a proper Jewish woman, inspecting with seven eyes the insides of every chicken that was slaughtered. In every doubtful situation, she would send me to the Dayan to receive his Halachic decision regarding the Kashrus of the suspicious organ or of the entire chicken. Only in rare occasions did he declare the chicken unfit for eating; in most situations, I left his house with a positive answer, as a representative of my mother who waited hopefully for the decision of the Dayan.
Near the Dayan's house stood another house that was etched in my memory from childhood, even though the memory weakened somewhat with the passing of time. In this house lived my Zaide's brother, Izzi Melamed, who made aliya in his old age, in order to die in the holy land. This happened when I was about six or less, and although this was one of my more pleasant memories, it was also one of the haziest of this stage in my life.
The house of Bartfeld stood isolated in the center of town and sprawled between the road to Kotikovka and the road that led to the courtyard. At the end of the street stood two rows of houses, and between them a street that connected the two roads. Among the residents of this street that I passed by innumerable times in my childhood, I recall only the family of Baruch Leib Liser, the father of Avraham Liser from the community of Yifat, and his brother Yitzchak, of blessed memory, who passed away in Tel Aviv in 1960.
According to how it was told to me from the Liser family in Israel, this family reached Horodenka from Russia in mid century. During my time, this Horodenka family had four patriarchal families whose fathers were: Baruch Leib, Mendel, Kmiel, and Yosel who worked in the produce business. In my childhood I knew Mendel Liser, whose father-in-law Kalmen Shmuel was my Talmud teacher, and his son Lippe, a fellow student. Also I knew Herschel Liser, the son of Kmiel, who was one of the Zionist youths in the period before the World War. After the war came a time of Zionist activities for the young sons. Some of them went to Israel, and one of them, Avremel'che Liser, from the community of Yifat, acquired a name as a detector of mines which were set up to destroy the farms in our land.
The first building on the second side of the street was the house of Ben Tzion Strikmacher (rope maker), whose family name was Dinar. He had an only son named Mendel, who reached adolescence at the end of the World war, and like many of his peers, joined HaShomer and the cultural groups that sprung up around it. Among the actors in the drama groups and amateur bands that arose in the years 1919-1924, Mendel Dinar stood out as an extremely talented actor. Somehow, he found his way to cross over to Russia, and actualized his talent as a Yiddish actor. However, from then on, no knowledge of his life and activities reached us.
Ben Tzion Dinar's house stood actually on the shore of the Proval, near the spot that met the wide valley through which the streams flowed. On this spot a bridge as wide as the road stretched out over the Proval. On the other side of the bridge stood the house of Mendel Rice, who was known by the name of his father, Mendel Getzels.
Mendel Rice's house was a solitary house whose front faced the other side of the road, whose one side turned toward the Proval, and the other toward the row of houses that turned straight south. The front of these houses turned toward the Proval; at a distance away, and near them was a paved road, without a sidewalk, which assured an easy access, even in the rainy season. Among the dwellers of this street, I will mention Moshe Lampner, whose house was the first in the row, and had a wide gate like that of a hotel. Then there was Zaide the butcher and his wife Sarah di zeideche, both of whom had big bellies and no children. Finally, came the family of Simcha Lagshteyn.
Simcha Lagshteyn was the former brother-in-law of my father, the husband of my father's sister Devorah. She passed away in her youth and left behind a little girl named Golda. After the death of his first wife, he married a second wife named Yuta, and had two sons. Simcha Lagshsteyn was far from Torah and enlightenment. He had a quick temper and was blind in one eye, and even his livelihood was obtained with difficulty. Therefore, it is no wonder that the daughter Golda used every opportunity to distance herself from the murky atmosphere in the house, and to come our home to be with her aunt, and especially with her grandmother, my father's mother, where she found a substitute for the maternal love that was missing from her life. She was an outstanding student in a girls' school run by Mrs. Reichnochova, and she excelled especially in poetry readings in Polish and Ukrainian. During the war years, our ways parted. After the war she returned to Horodenka, but our mutual grandmother was no longer alive. Thus the contact between us weakened even before I moved to Israel. I know only that she married a villager from around Horodenka, and presumably her fate was like that of all the Jews of Horodenka.
The street described above was the last paved road of the city. Behind this row of houses was a big cluster of plain cement houses and narrow streets without pavement that were full of mud during the summer. When the snows melted, they filled with puddles and mud of significant depth. This section of the city was called by the general name Di Huntergasse, meaning the back street. It is not even necessary to say that its residents, except for a few, were among the poorest of people laborers, peddlers, and wagon drivers and other kinds of Jews whose sustenance depended upon a miracle.
The northern border of this section was the road that led to the courtyard of the estate, and the houses on both sides of the city belonged, as seen from their design, to the planned part of the city. The main direction of the road was from east to west, and although the part near the Proval made a small turn to the right, afterward the road immediately returned to its primary direction.
In my childhood there stood a new big house built from unplastered red bricks and with a roof covered with shiny, white slats. This was the house of Gedalia Shpierer, a Jew who became rich from business dealings in horses. It seems that in the building itself or near it, a place was set aside for a stable, and the horse business left its mark on several of the family members. Not only did the son Baruch Itzik go out in public wearing boots and riding pants (which by the way was in style even for those who never rode a horse in their lives) but also the young daughter, Sosia, dared to walk in the street in riding clothes with a whip in her hand, and she thereby earned the nickname Sosia the tomboy. In contrast, the older sister Gitel or Gisela, excelled in playing the violin, and surprised all who heard her whenever she agreed to play in front of an audience. After the First World War, she brought with her a new stringed instrument called a Banjo, and opened up the jazz era in Horodenka. The entire family immigrated after that to America, and I think none of them perished in the Holocaust.
Not too far from Gedalia Shpierer's house, at a short distance from the road, stood the house of Dudi Meltzer, or Dudi Mahler, according to his profession, who was one of my father's friends, but also a competitor in the profession of painting signs. Although he never reached the level of perfection that my father had, thanks to his talent and to the experience he acquired in New York, he was, like my father, also a master of many crafts. The profession that gave him the title Mahler was painting, which included not only plastering the walls of a building, but also engraving different colored designs, according to the custom in those days. Painting signs was subsidiary to painting, though his main livelihood was in a small, cloth making building on the floor level of his house. The moving power of this factory was a horse that was harnessed to an apparatus called 'Kirat,' and the clients were the farmers of the neighborhood who came to squeeze oil from the sunflower seeds.
Next to Dudi Meltzer's house stood the house of Velvel Greenberg, who has already appeared in this essay during the description of the modern bathhouse that occupied a prominent place in the building. The two-story building stood on the edge of the slope that led to the creek's channel. The upper part, on the road's plateau, was used for the growing family; a modern locksmith with a system of machines moved by steam occupied the lower part that was on the slope. This mechanism was used mostly to fix the heavy mechanical equipment that began to be used by the mansion's landlords, such as clumsy threshing systems with a system of complex revolving wheels. A steam machine on wheels that looked like a locomotive, named Locomobile turned these on. All year round, especially on the days before the harvest, part of the slope next to the workshop was occupied entirely by three or four machines of this kind. When it was their turn to come out into the air after the repair, four pairs of horses were harnessed to them. These horses finally succeeded, amidst cheers and encouragement and the assistance of about half a dozen people, to take these machines to the flat part of the road, and from there they could reach their destination, pulled by only two pairs of horses.
It seems as if all the talent of Horodenka in the field of designing machines was concentrated in this house. The patriarch of the family, Velvel Greenberg, was skinny and bent over with a short, pointed beard, and was an exceptional craftsman. His four sons also followed in his footsteps. The first born, Udzi, became famous as an excellent craftsman even before the First World War. Besides this, he also stood out in on the stage of the local drama club. The next brother, Yisroel, who was known by his nickname, 'Tzunia,' also excelled in crafts and broadened his knowledge through self-study and immersion in books about craftsmanship. He settled in Israel in 1912, and so too did his two younger brothers. All three were immersed in metal making in Israel. Yisroel Greenberg established a machine factory worthy of its name near Tel Aviv, and also stood out in the field of engraving in a local production plant. He was also one of the first to establish a military industry before the State of Israel was founded. In the days of the Kommemiyut War, Greenberg placed his factory at the disposal of military manufacturers, and it became an important center for the production of weapons and bullets for Israel's defense army. He didn't seek or accept any payment for the use of his factory, even though when the war ended and the factory was returned to him, he had to invest substantial funds from his own pocket to fix the machines and to prepare them once again for civilian operations.
Among the other houses that stood in this row, I remember only three: the house of Nota Boral, the house of Azriel Fleshner, the father of our friend Moshe Fleshner, and last and most beloved the house of Hirsh Birnboym. Hirsh Birenboim was one of the most unique personalities of Horodenka. He stood out both in his great height and his unique spirituality that had no rival among the city dwellers. In his youth he was one of the group of intellectual heretics that Chaim Leib Halperin led and guided spiritually. Birnboym moved far away from all his friends in actualizing the teachings of their leader, which they did primarily by curtailing every expression of traditional Judaism: shortening prayer, shortening the beard and sideburns, and shortening clothes. Also his life profession as an expert in manufacturing shnaaps in one of the distilleries located on the large mansions, distanced him from the Jewish environments and caused him to become closer to the Ukrainian villagers. In their company, he spent most weekdays and even some of his Sabbaths. Because of this influence, he absorbed much of the nature of the peasants, and knew how to spice his words with sayings and parables that were popular among the Ukrainian people. At times, even a measure of coarseness was not missing from them. He admittedly did add a measure of charm by being so audacious as to refer to things in the names that were appropriate to them.
Birnboym was my father's closest friend, and like him was also a Zionist member, without taking an active part in its programs. Like most of the enlightened ones, he was proficient in the German language, and was familiar with the classics of German literature. He also loved to immerse himself in books of natural healings, and acquired a wide knowledge in diagnosing illnesses and prescribing natural remedies.
The friendship between Birnboym and my father extended to their families. The compatible ages of the children in the two families enabled the ongoing continuity of this friendship. This was a bond that spread over two generations. Strong ties of friendship existed especially between my sister, a small blond girl, and Henya Birnboym, a charming, dark-haired girl who was very tall for her age. They shared a bench in their studies, and also shared childhood playfulness. They could be seen together all hours of the day or night. This friendship continued through the years when they both became active in Zionist groups and in professional drama clubs.
Henya Birnboym was the singer of Horodenka. She had a pleasant voice, not too strong, but soft as velvet and full of expression a voice that could penetrate the heart. She was not easily persuaded to perform and it was very fortunate when she got together with Gitel Shpierer to sing, accompanied by her violin, some of the popular songs that we loved like, Voiyet, voiyet, baize vintn.
During the Holocaust only the patriarch of the family, Hirsh Birnboym, remained in Horodenka. According to the testimony of one of the survivors, he was among the first to be executed by the government in the village of Michaltche. The rest of the family members were then scattered to all corners of the earth, in Israel, Europe, America places where the hand of the oppressor could not reach.
I began this essay with a description of my father's house, and concluded with the Birnboym family, which was closest to us out of all the Horodenka families, and to a certain extent, continues to be so until this day. A short distance from the Birnboym house, the row of residential houses ended. The road that led to the estate, to the agricultural school, and to the airport was surrounded on both sides with a pine tree forest, which was the property of the estate owner. Only a few houses stuck out here and there from between the trees, and I remember only two: the family Freedshand, one of whose sons got to Israel and settled in a Chassidic village called Yad Shalom, and the family of Streezobar, whose daughter Ethel was a school friend of my sisters, and also participated in the drama club, successfully portraying the characters of older mothers and grandmothers.
Near those places, on the right of the road, was one of the natural gems of Horodenka, the big lake called Sobikas Teich, that attracted, with enchanted ropes, the most daring swimmers of Horodenka. I, however, to my distress and shame, only heard about it, and perhaps saw it from afar once or twice, but never got near it. However, it had a bad name in the city as a cruel master who demanded each year 'an offering of the life' of one of the excessively audacious swimmers.
My essay is complete, but not finished. I have brought up what remains in my memory of the city and its inhabitants, from those who I encountered in too short of a life span. I was twenty-five when I left Horodenka and immigrated to Israel. One must subtract from this at least the first five years of my childhood and the three years that we were refugees in Moravia. I don't pretend that I succeeded to encompass in my essay all the groups and sectors of the Jewish settlement in the city. There were at least another two important sections that I didn't even touch upon: the ultra-orthodox circles and the workers groups. My connection with these two groups was very tenuous, and the little I know about them is not worth hearing about. However, although this description is unfinished and truncated, it still encompasses a significant portion of the city and its Jewish dwellers. I hope too that I have assisted the readers in visualizing a city and its inhabitants, and perhaps my portrait has even succeeded in transmitting to the coming generations some brush strokes of the city of our birth, a city that was completely destroyed together with other Jewish communities in the exile of Europe.
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Updated 1 Sep 2005 by LA