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Translation of Mielnica chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Mielnica chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Project Coordinator and Translator
E. Jeanne Andelman
Project Coordinator and Translator
E. Jeanne Andelman
Translated and submitted to the Yizkor Book Project
by the Suchostaw Region Research Group (SRRG)
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II, pages 320-322, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
(Region: Borshchov, District: Tarnopol)
The first Jews were settled in Mielnica from the time it became a city. The Jewish population grew rapidly during the second half of the 19th century, but toward the end of the century the number of Jews declined steadily as a result of Mielnica's residents emigrating to larger communities and to lands scross the sea. During the period between the two World Wars, the Jewish population steadily grew.
Mielnica's Jews derived their principal livelihood from small business and from trades. Individuals carried on wholesale commerce in grain, cow, leather, and eggs. To aid Jewish merchants and trades people, the Joint Distribution Committee set up two financial institutions in Mielnica: a charity fund (1928) and a credit bank (1929). In 1935 some ten Jewish houses, several shops, a granary and a bakery went up in flames during the aforementioned fire. A collection was organized, whose funds were disbursed among victims of the fire without regard to religion or nationality. During the thirties, many Jewish merchants and trades people in Mielnica became impoverished and were unable to compete with the Ukrainian and Polish cooperatives which were set up there. As a result of a government ban on kosher slaughter, several Jewish butcher shops closed down in 1937, leaving their owners with no means of support.
An independent community was organized in the forties of the 19th century. In 1843 Rabbi Yehiel Meir Michael ben Moshe Bromer was appointed local rabbi, and served until 1883, when he assumed the post of chief rabbi of Buczacz. In 1895 Rabbi Meshullam ben Shim'on Roth, author of Kol M'vaser, was elected rabbi of Mielnica. In 1899 he moved to Horostkov to serve there, moving again to Czernowitz in 1936 and emigrating to the Land of Israel in 1940. From 1908 to the First World War, Rabbi Uzziel Meir ben Shmuel HaKohen Rapoport served as rabbi of Mielnica. Between the two World Wars the rabbis were Rapoport and Weiss.
Zionist groups existed in Mielnica at the beginning of the 20th century, though an active Zionist presence was already visible at the end of World War I. At that time branches of Poalei Zion, Hitachdut, General Zionists, Mizrachi, and the Revisionists were set up. In addition, youth organizations such as Yugend, Zionist Youth, and Gordonia were active, and in 1923 a branch of Ezra was set up.
In the elections for the Zionist Congress of 1935, the General Zionists received 125 votes, Mizrachi received 50, the Labor League for the Land of Israel received 256, and the State Party received 141.
In the 1922 election, 650 Mielnica Jews voted for the Nation Zionist Party.
From 1928 the Zionists held a majority in the Jewish community. A Mizrachi person was elected chairman. In the city council, which was elected in 1934, the Jews received 5 out of 16 mandates, among which were 2 Haredim (right-wing Orthodox), 1 General Zionist, and 2 representatives of Hitachdut.
After World War I, the Jewish Community Center was established in Mielnica. The local Hitachdut branch set up a public library. In 1920, a supplementary Hebrew school was opened with 3 teachers. For a period of time Yiddish courses were given at the Yugend branch.
When war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, military conscripts retreated together with Soviet authorities as did a few Jews who were known Communists. The Russians did not try to persuade Jews to leave the city. Practical possibilities for evacuation were closed off; roads were sealed by the army and were bombed by the Germans. Up until the Soviet authorities and army departed, a hostile atmosphere toward Jews prevailed. Ukrainian nations organized their own militia, spread anti-Semitic slogans, and cited the Christian people to reprisal, plunder and rioting. On the pretext that the Jews had collaborated with the Soviet police in the murder of Ukrainians, Jews were ordered to exhume the bodies of 12 prisoners who had been shot by the Soviets in the prison yard. To prevent harm to members of the community, Jewish youths gathered at the Community Center and organized themselves into night patrols. Jews were afraid to go out into the street. From all over the surrounding area, and even from Bukovina across the Dniester, wagonloads of Ukrainian farmers streamed into town to plunder the property of Jews. Armed with axes, the farmers and the urban mob broke into Jewish homes and shops and destroyed a pharmacy. Only the intervention of the Greek Catholic priest, a group of Baptists, and some decent Ukrainians in Mielnica kept the looting from becoming pogrom. Especially great bloodshed took place in the village of Volkovca. Bodies of murder victims floating on the Dniester were retrieved by the Jews of Mielnica and buried in the cemetery.
After several days of general anarchy, on July 8, 1941, the Hungarians entered Mielnica and established a large military presence in the city. Officers took up residence in Jewish homes, treating Jews with a decency comparable to that shown Christians, and often sharing food with their hosts. The Hungarian command imposed order and put an end to killing, looting, and housebreaking. The farmers who had come into Mielnica from the surrounding area were dispersed. In exchange for this, the Hungarians demanded that the Jews supply them with food and goods, and coerced them to serve and work for the army. The following representatives of the Jewish council which had been organized in those days maintained contact with the Hungarians: David Mancer, Leibush Schwarcz, Rabbi Donner, Ch. Feuerstein, Richter the pharmacist, and Moshe Kopler.
Suddenly, after two weeks of calm, the Hungarians arrested and incarcerated a number of Jewish men and women on the eve of July 17, 1941. This arrest was carried out following denunciation by the Ukrainians, who brought the Hungarians a list of alleged Communists in town - 146 Jews and 4 Ukrainians. The prisoners were treated very rudely but were released after a short time, evidently through the intervention of the Jewish delegation with the Hungarian commander.
The Hungarians brought to Mielnica several truckloads of Jewish refugees from Carpatoros. These refugees were starved and weak, shoeless and threadbare, and had been robbed and beaten on the way by the Ukrainians. The Jews of the town aided the refugees as much as their means allowed, inviting them into their homes, feeding them, and collecting clothing for them.
When authority passed directly to the Germans in August 1941, a Jewish council was established in Mielnica. It included respected members of the community and public figures who had been active during the days of the Hungarians. Among the other members of the delegation mentioned above, we know the names Itche Fischler, S. L. Scharfstein, Munyu Roth, Izio Reich, Nathan Sohnenklahr, and Joseph Kesselblat.
Under Hungarian rule the situation of the Jews of Mielnica became severe. They were forbidden to stroll in the city's center, and the men were forced into hard labor: unloading and loading, paving and repair of roads, breaking of stones for paving, work on surround estates which had been taken over by the Germans. In addition, a derogatory star-of-David ribbon was instituted (though even under the Hungarians it had not been uncommon to mark Jews with a yellow star sewn to the clothing). The Jews were left with no means of livelihood, the poor among them being hired out as workers on Ukrainian farms. This contact enabled them to purchase needs whose official sale to Jews was banned.
Along with its responsibility of regularly supplying the Germans with manpower, the Jewish council was required to give them money, jewelry, merchandise and furniture, clothing and shoes, and surplus food items on a permanent basis. German border guards were billeted in the Zilberbusch home, and the Jewish council was forced to equip the building with furniture and appliances, which it procured from wealthy Jews or bought from Christians. The German border guards enjoyed getting drunk, rioting through the town and harassing Jews whom they happened to encounter in the streets. They broke into houses at night and raped young girls. Many Jews never undressed for the night or simply slept out of their houses until dawn. Gestapo men from Czortkov would often fan out over Mielnica, demanding money and merchandise in exchange for false promises to protect Jews from new edicts. The Jewish poulace complained to the Jewish council because it had no power to prevent such abuses. A severe night attack occurred in December 1941: the Germans broke into many Jewish homes, even that of Rabbi Donner, abusing the rabbi and degrading his wife. Several Jewish homes were set afire and some Jews were murdered. Next day, when Rabbi Donner and Moshe Kopler came to complain to the commander of the border patrol in the name of the Jewish council, the rabbi was beaten and thrown down the stairs. After this incident, Moshe Kopler served as council chairman.
At about that time, in the winter of 1941-42, the Jewish council was commanded to collect from the Jews all fur products, gold and silver objects, and other articles of value.
Impressments of young Jewish men to the labor camps at Varkivialka and Stopki began in November 1941. The first time, the Germans demanded of the Jewish council that they bring 40 men to the gathering point in Czortkov. The Jewish council selected men whose families had at least two sons or two wage earners. Those were to go were given warm clothing.
Some time later, however, when the Germans demanded 70 men, no one came forward because the terrible conditions at the labor camps had become known. This time the German and Ukrainian police launched a manhunt in the houses and streets. The third dispatch of people to the labor camps included 50 women who had until then worked at the neighboring tobacco plantations. They were abducted and transported by the Germans to an unknown work site.
A small number of Mielnica Jews succeeded in escaping from the town and hiding in forests or familiar farmhouses. Most of them were killed as a result of denunciation by the Ukrainian residents, or were discovered by the police. Some local Jews and some who were refugees from Hungary attempted to cross the border into Bukovina with the aid of Ukrainian smugglers in exchange for large sums of money, and from there to Czernowitz. Most of the escapees, however, were caught there by the police, brought back to the border point at Sniatin, and handed over to the Germans, who murdered them on the spot.
Despite the decline in population because of deportation to the labor camps and because of flight, the number of Jews in Mielnica not only did not decrease; it actually increased during the period of the German conquest to about 2,500. This was because of the flow of refugees from Hungary, mentioned above, and later because of the flow of refugees and displaced persons from the surrounding villages. The last group of exiles was concentrated in Mielnica on September 25, 1942. Next day, on September 26, 1942, the first day of Sukkot in the year 5703, a liquidation action took place in the town, conducted by Gestapo men from Khorostkov. German and Ukrainian police surrounded the town and began shooting. People were abducted from the houses in the streets, brought to the marketplace, and made to sit with their hands on their necks. During the action the sick, the weak, the handicapped, and those who had hidden out were summarily murdered. The police also shot those who attempted to escape. Some 100 to 300 persons were killed. The Ukrainian rabble looked at the murders and aided in the hunt for those in hiding. Those who were concentrated in the marketplace were brought to the railroad station in the village of Ivania-Pusta, 4 kilometers from the town. Some wagons transported those who could not walk fast. From this station they departed for the annihilation camp at Belz. The number of exiles, local Jews, and displaced persons is estimated variously as 1,200, 1,400 or 2,000. After the action several hundred Jews were left in the town. Some were not discovered in hiding, and some were permitted by Germans to remain. Among the latter were members of the Jewish council, the Jewish police, and the burial society. During the action the Germans did not respect any work cards, and those who held such cards were sent to their deaths.
The next day, or perhaps some days after the action, the German authorities let it be known that in two weeks (until October 22, 1942 according to another account) Mielnica was obligated to be Judenrein [clean of Jews] and that its remaining Jews were to move to the ghetto at Borshchov. The Jews loaded their remaining possessions on wagons and relocated to that ghetto. Before they left they hid several Torah scrolls under the floor of the great synagogue, Torah scrolls that they had until then managed to save from destruction. They took some Torah scrolls with them to Borshchov, where the fate of Mielnica's displaced Jews overtook them.
After the Soviet army liberated Mielnica on April 6, 1944, 28 of the town's pre-war Jewish residents unexpectedly came out of hiding. They had passed the war in nearby forests, in villages, or in farmers' homes. Some Jews had been saved by the generosity of a righteous gentile, the Ukrainian IIya Lopatnuk. Some hundred Jewish residents of Mielnica fought the war on the side of the Soviet Union, thanks to their conscription into the Red Army during the period of Soviet rule (1939-41). The Jews who gathered in Mielnica after the war moved quickly to larger cities out of fear of hostile activities by Ukrainian nationals. Most of them emigrated to the Land of Israel or the United States. [Translated from Pinkas Hakehillot - Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Vol. II: Eastern Galicia. Published by Yad Vashem, Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Jerusalem, 1980. Spellings are, for the most part, phonetic.]
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