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Przemysl Memorial Book

Notes: The numbers in square brackets are the page numbers in the original. The coordinator's and the translator's annotations are enclosed as Editor's and Translator's notes

[Page xv]

The People of the Book

The idea of collecting material for the commemoration of our ancient community was first expressed at the 40th anniversary party of the "Herzl Society" of Przemysl, which was held in Tel Aviv at the end of 1944. In those days the cannons were still roaring at the front, and news of the destruction of Jewish Przemysl was still unclear.

In the early fifties there had been some serious efforts to prepare the material necessary for the publication of a memorial book. A committee was established for this purpose, lead by Mr. Haim Klagsbald, of blessed memory, who also funded the first editions. Dr. Joseph Glernter (Bar-Orion), of blessed memory, began to collect the historical data and Dr. Yitzhak Mann, of blessed memory, was the intended editor of the book. At the same time, the committee of "Irgun Yotzei Przemysl" [1] held a fundraising effort to finance the book; however, the attempt to publish a memorial book failed, for various reasons, and the committee decided not to make another attempt, but rather to use the collected money for other purposes. Its seemed as though the committee had given up the idea, but it was reawakened some years later.

At the beginning of 1958, the manager of the Tel Aviv branch of Yad Vashem, author Rachel Auerbach, contacted one of the Przemysl people in Tel Aviv and proposed a renewed effort at preparing the book. The member agreed, on condition that other people willing to cooperate on the project would be found, as indeed they were. A group of initiators called the "secretariat" was formed, headed by engineer Joseph Altbauer, Dr. Dov Nitzani and Dr. Mordechai Schattner. Each of them took upon himself to collect material belonging to one of the following historical periods:

1. Nitzani - From the beginning of the Jewish settlement until the end of Austrian rule in the city.

2. Altbauer - The period of Polish independence (1918 - 1939).

3. Dr. Schattner - (a Shoah survivor) - The Shoah and the destruction.

The correspondence was managed mainly by Dov Nitzani, while Altbauer was responsible for the collection of pictures. The committee managed to establish contacts with the primary countries in which former Przemysl inhabitants resided, as well as with Polish scientific institutions in Przemysl and elsewhere, who cooperated with us and provided us with valuable material. In Israel, we contacted the former inhabitants of our town and requested that they supply us with any materials concerning Jewish Przemysl. These people provided the committee with dozens of letters and various oral information which they recalled, and they added many details about the community's history - its institutions, its people and its way of life. The committee enjoyed its work, which included among other things poring through books and newspapers, and also enjoyed the help of volunteers, among whom we would like to mention the late Yaacov Kraner.

At the end of 1960, the committee (which was then called "the committee for the gathering of historical material about Przemysl"), concluded from the extent and nature of the material, that the editorial work should begin. Dr. Moshe Altbauer, in cooperation with committee members Joseph Altbauer and Dr. Mordechai Schattner, edited a prospectus in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, which was beautifully published in March, 1961. The distribution of this prospectus was extremely helpful in collecting donations for the publication of the book, which was begun by the committee of "Igud Yotzei Przemysl" [2] alongside the work of the editorial committee. Here, we must express our thanks and appreciation to the heirs of Mr. Haim Klagsbald, of blessed memory, whose significant contribution enabled the initial funding of the book's publication.

[Page xvi]

In April of 1961, Dr. Arie Menczer of Haifa was appointed editor of the Hebrew section of the book, and at approximately the same time the committee changed its name to "The Editorial Committee." The members of the committee were Joseph Altbauer, Eliyahu Bloch, Leopold Getz, Shlomo Goldstein, of blessed memory, Matityahu Gans, Hanoch Hand, Hanan Trau, Arie Menczer, Dov Nitzani and Mordechai Schattner. In 1962, the Przemysl organizations in New York joined the funding efforts, and were represented by Mr. Nathan Kupfer. In 1963, the editing and proofreading of the Yiddish portion were assigned to Mr. D. Stokfisch. The proofreading of the Hebrew section had been assigned to Dr. Nathan Kodish, who died an untimely death in April 1964.

Our aim in editing the book was to present in a concentrated and unbiased manner, the reliable historical facts of the beginning of our community's development and prospering, until its destruction, while underscoring the various figures who were active in it. There may be additional people worthy of mention in the book; we regret that we either did not have material about their lives and times, or else their names escaped our memories. We are aware of the flaws and imperfections in our efforts to present a comprehensive portrayal of the Jews of Przemysl, in their lives and in their deaths. We would be glad if any former residents of Przemysl having knowledge of the facts, would correct any errors in the book and add important details; this, of course, would only be of value if an appendix to this book is published, which would include revisions and fill in the gaps.

The members of the editorial committee read much relevant literature, however they have no pretenses of publishing an original scientific, historical book. On the contrary - they direct the readers to the sources from which their facts are derived. This book is not intended only for our townspeople and those who were active in it, but also for the children and grandchildren of the former residents of Przemysl, so as to enable them to know the sources of their origins: the glorious "mother city," which no longer exists.

The editorial committee worked in a collegial manner. The responsibility for the content of the book belongs first and foremost to the writers themselves. Most of the writers of the pieces in our book are not professionals, and therefore it is possible that the literary forms of their essays will not always appeal to readers accustomed to fine literature, and we sympathize with these readers.

In closing, we must thank all the institutions and individuals who helped us in our mission, especially: Mrs. Prof. Leah Goldberg of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Dr. (Mrs.) Elisheva and Dr. Maurycy Horn in Opole (Poland), history lecturers; Dr. Krzysztof Wolski, secretary of "The Society of Friends of Science" in Przemysl; Mr. Leszek Wlodek in Przemysl; Dr. A. Zakai, lecturer at the University of Krakow; Mr. Moshe Morganstern of Tel Aviv; Prof. Bernard Mark, director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw; Prof. Dr. Naftali Schneid in the United States.

We send blessings to all the former members of the Przemysl community, wherever they are, in Israel and abroad, who helped us with information and with producing materials and photographs, and to those whose donations enabled the publication of this book.

The Editorial Board

Tel Aviv, Iyyar 5724 (May 1964)


Editor's and Translator's notes

1. "The organization of former Przemysl residents" (tr.). Back
2. This most probably refers to "Irgun Yotzei Przemysl" (ed.). Back


[Page 1]

[drawing of Przemysl]

Dr. Yitzhak Mann

Przemysl - Our Beloved Town [ *]

Whenever we speak of it, of our beloved town of Przemysl, almost immediately we recall the Jewish Przemysl: its people, its leaders, its merchants, its crowds, its institutions and its Jewish way of life, all of which were destroyed along with Polish Jewry. And at these moments we feel a pain which is incurable - how precious was this town to us, where we were born and raised, and in which we spent the peaceful years of our childhood.

All that remains of our splendid community are heaps of desolation and graveyards - ashes and dust: the ashes of the terrible fire and the dust of our suffering martyrs. Nothing but the past is left for us there, not even a fragment of the future. Unlike our forefathers after the Persecutions of 1648-1649, [1] three hundred years ago, we have no desire to go back and rebuild the ruined and abandoned houses of Israel; we no longer wish to return and plant new trees of life in the ashes that are crushed and soaked with the blood and tears of our victims.

[Page 2]

We have left the foreign land and we shall never return to it; we have learned a lesson and felt the curse that lies in that same foreign land, and now we work so that we may reap the fruits of our labor in our homeland. Here, we are prepared to lovingly accept the pains of hard work and the torments which are necessary for building the homeland, which was barren for many generations. The bridge to the foreign land is burned and forever destroyed, there is no way back to the diaspora of Poland. Its sacred sites have been desecrated by strangers, the spiritual values which evolved over hundreds of years have been destroyed, and its properties and assets were scorned and burned. The Jews, the bearers of these values and assets, were annihilated and live no more. And for us, the survivors, the small remainder after the Shoah, far off Poland is meaningless without our brothers and sisters. Przemysl is meaningless to us when we cannot even go and lie on the graves of our forefathers, because we do not know where the graves are and where the tombstones are. Our calamity is as wide as the ocean, and we have no solace.

And nevertheless, we have remained tied with all our heartstrings to our town of Przemysl, as it once was, as it lives on in our blood and in the depths of our souls. The heart yearns and twitches with pain when we recall its landscapes and its scenes of the age-old Jewish way of life, especially of the time before the First World War. Indeed, those were days of prosperity and comfort which shall never return.

Since that bitter day of Shabbat Hazon [2] in the summer of 5674, [3] when the First World War conscription was announced, the lives of Polish Jews were disrupted, and never regained their peaceful light and serenity. Indeed, that was the beginning of the decline of great Polish Jewry, until its terrible end. In particular, the brilliance and the glory of our town of Przemysl declined after 1914. But most of us remember Premishla [4] - as the town was called by our forefathers, of blessed memory - when it was quiet, with no outbursts and no screaming on the streets, before 1914. Each one of us can see these scenes of life in their eyes, in dreams and in daydreams, and the scenes are wrapped in a glow of happiness from the childhood days which have gone, never to return.

In our minds we are back again walking in the main streets of the town, toward the large square in front of the economic and spiritual center, around the great old synagogue. There, at the edge of the square, is the "house of teachers," alive with the noise of children like a swarm of bees in a hive. In the long winter nights the house stands lit, and from its windows come the voices of children reciting the words of their rabbi, and their eyes glisten as they identify with the sorrow of poor Joseph, that dear boy who came to his brothers and they grabbed him and took off his multicolored coat and threw him cruelly into the empty pit, which was full of snakes and scorpions. Or perhaps they are learning the lines of the Torah: "when I came from Padan..." [5] and seeing with their very own eyes the delicate image of Rachel our mother, as she stands at the crossroads, tears streaming from her eyes at the sight of her sons going off into exile, lead by their captors...

And in front of us stands the Klois [6] building, and in its large hall sit young men holding candles, which were given to them by the shames [7] , R. Wolff, of blessed memory, and study Torah from the large volumes of Mishnah, and the house is filled with warmth and light, the warmth of the big stove and the vapors of the scholars' breath. And when the study hours are over, the children leave the house of teachers, holding their torches, and the young men leave the big Klois - and both alike make their way home, passing by the synagogue, which stands closed at this hour, lost in the thoughts of the dark night.

[Page 3]

And the hearts of the men beat and shudder from fear - fear of the souls who have gathered in the synagogue for a silent prayer...

The Jewish settlement in the town expanded from here. First, it was concentrated in the three streets: Kazimierzowska, Ratuszowa (Die Yiddishe Gas), and Walowa Streets. From here on it burst out and sent branches into Franciszkanska, Jagiellonska, Mickiewicza, and Slowackiego streets, and reached even over the San river.

These streets, and the neighboring ones, were centers of trade and commerce and were always crowded. And they were full of a special kind of Jewish folklore, both during days of joy and during days of mourning. Many of us surely remember that on the night of Tisha B'Av the square in front of the synagogue and the nearby streets would be filled with adults and youngsters from the working classes - porters, tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, butchers, etc. - who would "honor" the passersby with prickly thorns, apparently so as to relieve the sorrowful mourning... And these masses would assemble during other important occasions, such as after the Kol Nidrei [8] prayer, and especially on Simchat Torah [9] night. Here, a group of Hasidim is leaving the house of Rabbi Shalom Baumwald on Franciszkanska, passing by the Jewish street and the square in front of the great synagogue, singing and dancing, until they reach the Klois.

And now the great joy of the hakafot [10] begins. And here is the special folklore of the popular theatre groups, who would practice their "Purim Schpiel" and the "Sale of Joseph" during the winter nights, preparing for the great celebration, which would overflow into the streets of the Jewish town on Purim - until an ordinance was declared by the army commander, General Galgozi, which prohibited all masked processions through the streets.

I have only described a few of these scenes; each one of us can remember many more - they are ingrained within the depths of our souls and will never be blurred, as long as we have a soul. But our children know nothing of that life. It is as if they have no past, only a future. They are connected with all their hearts to the future - and the future of our people is here, in the fatherland, in the state of Israel. And only we, the transition generation, are seemingly destined to be pulled between these two magnets, the past and the future. The future of our children in this state is dear to us, but we are tied with a thousand strings to the past too, to the town of Przemysl and its streets and its Jewish life. That life has ended now, and a deadly silence prevails. Silenced are the voices of young babies, silenced are the voices of the Torah scholars in the Klois, silenced are the joy and the sorrow of the simple people in the town streets. The Jewish way of life has ceased on the Sabbath, on weekdays, and on holidays. And only in our hearts can we retain these dear memories from days past.

Will this abundance of pictures and memories be doomed to destruction, after we ourselves go the way of all flesh? Are these memories destined to vanish and pass like a fleeting dream? It is our duty to pass on our hearts' emotions and our eyes' visions to our children, to recite them and to write of them, so that they too will know. Because the history of the people of Israel is multi-generational, it is a history of efforts and doubts, of destruction, of suffering and pogroms, of aspirations and failures - a history of thousands of years and of two-thousand years of exile and foreignness, until we returned to this land to start over and build a better future, after the destruction of the past.

[Page 4]

Let us find the way to accomplish this, and thus we will bless the memory of our martyrs. We cannot erect stones on their graves, because we cannot find the dust of those who were killed and the ashes of those who were burned. Let us eternalize the memory of our holy forefathers' lives in pre-Shoah Przemysl.

In this way, we will pass on our own memories to future generations, so that they will be bound with the lives of our people on the pages of this book.

[picture of Fishmarket]

* From his speech at an assembly in memory of the martyrs of Przemysl. Published in a book in his memory, "Man and Society." Back
Editor's and Translator's notes
1. This is a reference to the Chmielnicki massacres. Bogdan Chmielnicki organized a rebellion against the Polish rule in the Ukraine, during which hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed by the Chmielnicki Cossacks. A mass wave of Jewish emigration from Poland followed (ed.). Back
2. The Shabbat before Tisha B'Av (which means the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) - around July or August. Tisha B'Av is a solemn, full fast day commemorating the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BCE (ed.). Back
3. 5674 is a Hebrew year, corresponding to 1914 according to the secular calendar. The date referred to here (Shabbat Hazon, 5674) corresponds to Saturday, August 1, 1914. For conversion see the JewishGen Jewish Festival Dates Tool at http://www.jewishgen.org/jos/josfest.htm (ed.) Back
4. One of the ways Jews referred to Przemysl (ed.). Back
5. Refers to Genesis 48:7, where Jacob reminisces about his journey from Padan (ed.). Back
6. Klois - Yiddish for a small synagogue or a house of study. This word was often spelled Klaus in Przemysl. Also see: Waclaw Wierzbieniec, Spolecznosc Zydowska Przemysla w latach 1918-1939 (The Przemysl Jewish Community 1918-1939), Rzeszow, 1996. According to Mr. Wierzbieniec, the Klaus prayerhouse was one of the largest sacral buildings in Przemysl. It was located on Serbanska 24 and it belonged to the Klaus Association. It was frequented by Orthodox and Chasidic Jews (page 214) (ed.). Back
7. A person who manages the synagogue and makes sure that things run smoothly (ed.). Back
8. Kol Nidrei (All Vows) is the central prayer of the Yom Kippur evening service (ed.). Back
9. Joyous holiday to celebrate the finishing of the reading of the Torah and starting anew. Celebrated on the 23rd of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, right after the festival of Sukkot (September/October) (ed.). Back
10. Marching of the Torah around the synagogue at Simchat Torah (ed.). Back
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