“Korolówka” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume II
(Oleyëvo-Korolëvka, Ukraine)

48°44' / 25°59'

Translation of “Korolówka” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Max Heffler

 

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II, pages 489-490, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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[Page 489]

Korolówka, Ukraine

(Borszczów District, Tarnopol Region)

Translated by Amy Samin

 

Population

Year General
Population
Jewish
Population
1900 3,5761,596
1921 3,0811,161

 

The Jewish Settlement from its Beginnings to 1919

The town was located twelve kilometers from Borszczów; it was apparently founded in the 17th century and was privately owned by the members of a noble family. The town began to develop in the 18th century and grew particularly well in the 19th century. At the end of that century, Korolówka was connected to the railroad. Next to the town was the castle of the estate holders. After the town was damaged during the Russian occupation of 1914 – 1917, the population declined.

The Jewish settlement was apparently established at the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th century. The wooden synagogue, the foundations of which date from the 18th century, attest to that. The synagogue remained standing until the 19th century. In 1726 Yaacov Leibovitch Frank, the founder of the Frankist sect, was born in Korolówka and dwelled there until the age of twelve. The Jewish settlement grew and developed in the 19th century, despite the fact that it always remained overshadowed by the communities of Borszczów and Brzeźany [today – Berezhany]. In 1904 a fire consumed about 30 Jewish homes. Jews from Brzeźany came to the aid of their neighbors, bringing them food. After the destruction of the town by the occupying Russians (not a single working well remained in the town) another fire struck the town and burned approximately 30 homes in which 38 Jewish families had lived.

The first Jewish settlers dealt in leasing and commerce (in the 18th century also in commerce with Walachia), and in the 19th century in small trade, peddling in the villages, and handwork. No significant changes occurred in the professional make-up of the Jews of Korolówka during the period between the two world wars. We can learn this from the professions of those taking out loans, which appear in the benefit society fund's records (the fund was founded in 1929 and distributed loans as follows: 1935 – 1936 202 loans in an amount totaling 11,197 zloty, and in 1936 – 1937 217 loans totaling 15,090 zloty). Of those who received the loans 16 were workshop owners, 78 were small merchants and peddlers, 4 were workers who earned a daily wage, 15 farmers and 12 others.

In the 1930s the economic situation of the Jews of Korolówka worsened; the merchants were forced into a difficult competition with the Ukrainian cooperatives, and anti-Semitic incitement was on the rise both in the town and in the surrounding villages. In May of 1937 a Jewish family was murdered in a nearby village, and in other villages Jews received threatening letters. In April of 1939 the Jewish owner of an oil producing factory was beaten. When the edict regarding the slaughtering of animals was passed down in 1937 in Poland, the authorities would not allow even one kosher butcher shop. The butchers were left without the means of earning a living, and the Jews were forced to bring in meat from Borszczów.

Of the rabbis of the town we will mention Rav Avraham-Abush Eisner, a native of Korolówka who was the holy leader in Huºi in Romania, in Gródek Jagielloński [today - Horodok] and in Korolówka. He was well-educated and participated in “HaMagid” and “HaTzfirah.” In his articles on the ways of Jewish education he advocated the establishment of schools for the children of Israel of the sort run by the company Alliance Israélite Universelle. In 1877 he retired from the rabbinate in Korolówka and opened a bookstore there. He founded the magazine Hatzofeh (the Spectator); only two issues were ever published, both in 1878. In 1879 he moved his shop to Czerniowce [today – Chernivtsi] in Bukovina. For many years the office of rabbi of Korolówka was held by Haim bar Yaacov-Shimon Rozenberg, who was appointed in 1884 and continued to serve as the rabbi through the period between the two world wars. As a result of his opposition to Zionism, there were no organized Zionist groups in Korolówka until

[Page 490]

World War I. However, through the efforts of some of the well-educated people in the town, including among others the doctor Lazar Fierstein, in the last years of the 19th century or first years of the 20th century, a school founded on the principles of Baron Hirsch was established. At the end of the First World War, after the rule of the Republic of Western Ukraine in the town from 1918 – 1919, and after the withdrawal of the Bolsheviks in 1920 and after the Polish government was formed, the Zionists of the area began their activities in earnest. At first they organized on behalf of the refugees who came to Korolówka from the Ukraine; with the passage of time branches of the Histadrut HaZioni (Zionist Union) and various youth movements such as Hashomer Hazair (the Young Guard), Hanoar Hazioni (Zionist Youth), Beitar and Gordonia also appeared in the town. In 1925 a branch of Ezra was created. During the period of growth, the group Hovevai Tarbut (Culture Enthusiasts) was active and there were libraries and drama classes which existed alongside the youth organizations. In 1935 a comprehensive Hebrew school was established in the town.

In the 1927 elections for the city council twenty-two Jews were elected (out of a total of forty-eight seats), many of whom were Zionists. One of these was N. Gelbard, who was elected vice mayor of the city. In the Zionist Congress elections of 1935, the people voted as follows: General Zionists – 202, Mizrachi – 13, Eretz Yisrael Ha'ovedet – 137. In 1939 79 shekels were sold, although the elections for the Congress did not take place in Korolówka.

We are lacking information on the lives of the Jews of Korolówka during the period of the Soviet rule (September 1939 – June 1941). After war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Germans entered the town on the first of July 1941. They immediately began persecuting the Jews: all members of the population who were fit to work were sent to forced labor camps, particularly to do agricultural work. Jewish possessions were stolen; among other things the Jews were ordered to hand over all of their valuables. The Judenrat, which had been established on the orders of the rulers, was obligated to carry out the task of collecting the items. The head of the Judenrat was Max Glickstern, a wealthy and respected Jew of the town. A Jewish police force was also created.

The main aktion for the destruction of the Jews of Korolówka took place on the Sukkot holiday, September 26, 1942. German and Ukrainian police surrounded the city and opened fire. The Jews left their homes and gathered in the square next to the cross. The frail were killed in their homes, and those who tried to run away were shot. Those who gathered in the square were loaded onto trucks and taken to nearby Borszczów, which was also experiencing the expulsion of its Jews to the extermination camp at Bełżec. Those who came from Korolówka were added to that expulsion. The number of victims from Korolówka in that aktion was 700 – 900, including those who were killed in the town itself. Only a few Jews were left in Korolówka; they survived because either at the time of the aktion they were in their places of work, or thanks to an efficacious hiding place. A month later, on October 22, 1942, the Jewish community of Korolówka ceased to exist, for the few that remained were ordered to move to the ghetto in Borszczów within twenty-four hours, where they met the same fate that befell the populace of that place.

A few dozen Jewish workers were concentrated on a large farm close to Korolówka. Certainly some of them were from Korolówka and the surrounding villages. That labor camp continued to exist until the end of the agricultural season of 1943; it was destroyed in the latter part of the autumn. Most of the Jews were killed on the spot.

Sources

Aiyosh: 03/2945
AMTY: P83 (E 33)
“Beit Yisrael” January 1910; “Tagblatt” 9.8.1923; “HaMitzpeh” 19.8.1904, 18.3.1921, “Die Zionistisheh Vach” 5.4.1934, 7.2.1936; “Der Kampfe” 12.8.1932;
“Chwila” 24.4.1925, 20.3.1926, 25.7.1927; 24.6.1928, 12.9.1929, 23.12.1936, 10.5.1937; “Chwila Wieczorna” 4.2.1937, 4.4.1939; “Hanoar Hacijoni” 15.4.1935, 1.3.1938, 1.11.1938; “Zew Młodych” 1936 no.6.


Coordinator's Note:

In 2003, while exploring this remote cluster of caves, a team of experienced cavers and adventurers, including the authors, unexpectedly uncover artefacts indicating that the caves had once been inhabited. Following the clues, the explorers discover an astonishing and poignant story of a family who endured a perilous life underground and survived to recount their story.

The Secret of Priests Grotto combines natural history and family history to tell the remarkable story of the Stermer family, an extended Jewish that survived the Holocaust by hiding in the labyrinth of Ukrainian caves known as Priests Grotto to escape Nazi persecution.

In 1993 an American caver named Christos Nicola, exploring a maze-like Ukrainian cave south of Kiev, was startled to find hand-built rock walls, old shoes, buttons, and other signs of human habitation. Four years later, he tracked down the cave's inhabitants: three families of Jews, now living in the United States and Canada, who hid in the cave during the Nazi occupation.

The Secret of Priest's Grotto, a photo-illustrated book, interleaves an account of an expedition to the cave with the story of the families who hid there. Living underground in the seventy-seven-mile-long cave for nearly a year (after five months in a smaller cave), the Jews suffered hypothermia, malnutrition, and sensory deprivation. But the greatest danger was other people. When Ukrainian peasants realized Jews were hiding in Priest's Grotto, they worked for days with picks and shovels to block the entrance.

Only two former neighbors remained trusted friends. Had Nicola not been curious about an old shoe and a few buttons, we might never have heard the survivors' story.

Google books has a portion of it online

All of them were fleeing their villages of Korolowka and Biche-Zolote. In all, their group numbered 38 people, including a two-year-old boy and a seventy-five-year-old grandmother and they had lived in Popwa Yama for nearly a year. Between 1943 and 1944, three ordinary Jewish families - the Stermers, the Dodyks, and the Kurzs - had survived the Nazi occupation through extraordinary means, living in two different caves, surviving off the land, and running supply lines at night like well-trained military guerrillas.

Priest's Grotto was a cave known officially as Ozernaya, but local called Popowa Yama, the second longest of the Gypsum Giants and the ninth-longest cave in the world. The first cave was Verteba located a half hour outside of Bilche-Zolote by foot or horse-drawn cart. That cave was 4.8 miles long.

Verteba cave occupants: The Stermers, the Dodyks, the Wexlers, the Bodians, the Franks, the Barads and Mr. Chisdes.

Max Heffler


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