Jewish Centers around Rohatyn (Rogatin)
By Joseph Millner, Paris
The saintly Dr. Majer Balaban, of whom it can assuredly be said that another like him has not arisen in the field of the history of Jewish cities and towns in Galicia, supplied, more than fifty years ago, interesting facts regarding Jews in Rohatyn. He based his information on a census taken in 1765 (that is, two hundred years ago) according to which Rohatyn then contained a community of 797 Jews, and the entire region up to 1347 Jews! When we compare this with the demographic figures of those times (from the Petersburg Jewish Encyclopedia, published in Russian and edited by Dr. Y. L. Katsenelson and Baron David Ginsburg. Fifth volume, pages 77 and 115,) we can say that this population count represented a significant number Rohatyn could (and certainly did!) exert its influence over the smaller localities in its vicinity. In that era, Rohatyn had two smaller communities under its governance: Podkamien (128 Jews) and Stratyn (453 Jews.)
Historically, Rohatyn played an important role in the era of the false messiahs. Shabbethai Zevi, for example, found in Rohatyn a breeding ground for disciples, and there this false messiah had passionate followers. Jacob Frank, who had a real center of operations in Rohatyn, used this spirit for his own purposes. So it was in the beginning of the 18th century. These movements were so strong, that the Polish King, August III, had to take them into account, and decreed three cities to be Frankist zones: Busk, Gliniani, and Rohatyn.
Around the time of the Enlightenment, Rohatyn once again be came a center. A school for worldly learning and the study of Hebrew opened there.
In 1912, on the eve of World War I, Rohatyn was a town of 7000 inhabitants, 3217 of them Jews! It is known that the yearly communal budget amounted to the sum of 20,000 crowns.
The large Jewish centers near Rohatyn were:
Burshtyn: a shtetl that provided a famous name that has been carried by many Jewish families. Two hundred years ago, there were already 453 Jews in Burshtyn. It can be said with certainty that when Hitler's agents of destruction came to the shtetl, it contained around 5,000 Jews. It is interesting to note that from 1908 onward there was, in a single Burshtyn house, a school for 160 students, built with the money of Baron Hirsch.
Bukaczowce: 361 Jews in 1765, and 1,216 Jews in 1909. In 1909, 236 Jews paid the communal tax.
Bolszowce: A flourishing Jewish community. The number of Jews in Bolszowce, sixty years ago, is (erroneously) given in some sources as 2,256.
[Photo #1, p. 326: Feyge and Yisroel Krig, of blessed memory.
Photo #2, p. 326: Neftali Lev and his daughter.
Photo #3, p. 326: Sarah Baner with her son Chaim, of blessed memory. Her daughter Cila (pictured) now lives in Argentina.
Photo #4, p. 326: Suzy and Berel Krig.
Photo #5, p. 326: Michael and Chaya Leder.
Photo #6, p. 326: Zion Mott.]
By Yehoshua Pinchas Klarnet
In memory of the Ehrilich, Kessler, and Aronberg families, and of Yoel Ginsburg, of blessed memory
From the Publisher:
Bursztyn was one of the towns in the region known as the Rohatyn district, which included Strytyn, Podkamien, and Knyhynicze. Strong ties existed between Bursztyn and Rohatyn. In civic matters, the population of Bursztyn was subject to the authorities in Rohatyn. The Hasidim of the two towns intermingled in the Rohatyn court. The fair in Rohatyn was a serious meeting place for Jews from all over the region, a place where trading relationships and solid partnerships were formed. (For example, Shimon Meltzer's father, from Bursztyn, was a partner in the American Mill in Rohatyn.) Rohatyn had two high schools, one Polish and the other Ukrainian, which the youth of Bursztyn attended. This led to contact and fast friendship between the young Jews of the two towns. The two towns assisted each other in staging Zionist activities, in both the first and second generations of the movement.
In addition, Jews of the two towns were united through bonds of marriage, and members of the same family could be found in both places.
The same cruel fate befell the towns of Bursztyn and Rohatyn. In the time of the Shoah, Bursztyn Jews were first transported to the Rohatyn ghetto, where they were destroyed or sent to the death camps. Thus, it can be said of Bursztyn and Rohatyn: United in death as in life.
Many are moved along with me to pick up the pen and dedicate pages of testimony to the town of Bursztyn, for the sake of out book of remembrance. Only sixteen kilometers separated this town from the regional city of Rohatyn. It is therefore no wonder that relationships, sometimes intimate, were forged between the Jews of the two towns: trading partnerships, marriage bonds, agricultural collaboration, and joint youth activities. Jewish students attended high school in Rohatyn, and the two towns were even connected by a single river, the Gnila Lipa.
Hasidism took root in Bursztyn in the early 19th century, under the influence of Reb Yehuda-Zvi-Hersh Brantwine, from Strytyn. Grand Rebbe Nahum, who sat on his throne till 1914, was a learned man and a cabbalist. He published four books on the cabbalah: Imrey Tov, Imrey Chaim, Imrey Bracha, and Imrey Ratson. He set up a magnificent court in Bursztyn, and his many followers came from all over, bearing contributions for the upkeep of the Bursztyn community. In 1914, vacation time in the mountains, a fire broke out in Bursztyn and consumed half of the city, including the Rebbe's court. Consequently, Reb Nahum relocated to Stanislawow, where he died in 1915, leaving an only son, Eliezer, and four daughters. This son took his father's place in Stanislawow. In 1935, Reb Moshe, son of the above mentioned Reb Eliezer , reestablished his grandfather's court in Bursztyn, and was the Grand Rebbe till he perished with his wife and three children, in the time of the Shoah. Reb Mosheleh's leadership was renowned, and he had many followers. The Nazis seized and tortured him, and he died in 1942, in Stanislawow.
Slowly but surely, an aspiration toward enlightenment and the education of children penetrated into Bursztyn, according to the spirit of the times. In 1898, apparently through the intervention and leadership of the intelligent and cultivated academician Dr. David Maltz, a Jewish school for young people opened in Bursztyn. It was established with the assistance of the Baron Hirsch Fund. The founding of this school aroused the opposition of the Hasidim and the pious. Nonetheless, they had no choice but to accept it. Adult courses were held in the evenings, attended by fifty-two people. The school grew to the point that it required its own building, which was purchased in 1904 by the Baron Hersh Fund. In 1906, sewing courses for young women were established under the auspices of the Baroness Klara Hersh Jubilee Fund, led by Mrs. Fogel. In the first year, fourteen young women studied sewing and tailoring. In 1914, the school building passed into the hands of the community, and was transformed into a cultural center, named for Y.L. Perets, complete with its own popular library. In 1905, the Ika loan-society was founded. In addition, a cooperative bank also began to operate, and the two were in business till the outbreak of World War One. In 1918, they merged under the name Cooperative Loan Society.
The founding of the Zionist association Chovevey Zion, by Bunem Shapiro, ushered in a period of energetic national life. Zionist-Jewish personalities began to assemble in Bursztyn following the arrival of the attorney Dr. David Maltz. He was the educator of a group of Zionist students led by Dr. Avraham Kurk. Together with others, including Dr. Yehoshua Ton, he founded the Zion society in Lwow, which was the cornerstone for Zionist activity in Galicia, a number of years before the emergence of Dr. Theodore Herzl. He was counted among the Zionist writers of quality. In 1909, a Hebrew school was founded, with a teacher and nine students. During World War One, Dr. Wolf Shmeruk (brother of the well-known Dr. Shmeruk) settled in Bursztyn as an attorney.
The livelihoods of the Bursztyn Jews were similar to those practiced in Rohatyn. The overall character of the city was actually quite Jewish. Even the postman, Reb Ephraim Schneider, wore a beard and sidelocks.
Most of the Bursztyn Jews were Hasidim. Even though the Grand Rabbis of the Brantwine family ruled Bursztyn, most of its Jews were actually Belz or Tchortkov Hasidim. Zelig Hammer sat at the head of the communal board.
Dr. M. Haber writes: The Jews of Bursztyn were quiet people, but by no means cowards. In times of danger they were always ready to rise to the defense of their lives and honor. In the days of Prince Yablonovski, a fight broke out between the Tatars and the Jews. The fiery Tatars, together with the Poles and Ukrainians, ran about the town streets like wild men, shattering windows. The Jewish workmen went out to meet them immediately, butchers with their knives and hatchets in hand, and the Tatars quickly retreated. The courage of the Bursztyn Jews fell upon them like blows. For the first time, the rioters felt that danger was upon them, and they fled in a panic. The town escaped without injury. Meanwhile, officers had arrived from Rohatyn, and the winds soon died down.
In 1917-18, after the end of World War One, battles raged on in the Bursztyn region between the Ukrainians, Poles, and Bolsheviks. The Jews, of course, were left dangling in the wind, victims of robbery and murder, women raped before the eyes of their husbands and children.
Harder than all others were the blows of the men of Ptlura. Even General Heller's band could not best them. If not for the assistance of the Joint, the Jews would have faced certain destruction. The Joint set up a public kitchen and cabins for the homeless.
M. Nochvolger adds: Who can forget the Hebrew teachers: Sobel, the girl from Borislav, Shorets, Shtruweiss, and others? Each of them individually, and all of them together, devoted their time, even after the fixed lesson hours, to kindling the Zionist spark and love of the homeland in the souls of the youth. The Zionist spiritual centers were the Poaley-Zion Union (right), Betar, and HaNoar HaZioni. Hundreds of young men and women were members. Youth activities and debates on Zionist issues were held in the Union hall. The young people received instruction in Zionism, literature, and communal life, and would attend the lectures and theatrical performances that came to town. In 1925, Chaim Ginsberg (son of the instructor) founded the Gordonia association.
Y. Fenster adds: In 1908, elections were held for seats in the Austrian parliament. The Zionist movement participated in the campaign. Adolf Shtand, the Zionist leader, came to speak in Bursztyn, although the authorities, siding with the Polish candidate, had forbidden him from speaking in the synagogue. But the Zionist youth rose up and threw open the doors to the synagogue, and Dr. Shtand strode in before them and delivered a stirring address on the Zionist cause.
Monye Cohen adds: When the teachings of Jabotinski began to make inroads into the cities and towns of Galicia, his movements also came to Bursztyn. On Shavuot in 1927, the founding committee of Betar was established. Its delegates participated in all of the regional and national meetings. Members of the cell also played roles in the central leadership of Betar. Gershon Ginsberg (the Dayan's son, who parted ways with Gordonia,) was a district officer in Lwow, and afterwards in Lwow and Cracow. Betar was active until World War Two. (The son of Reb Yoel Ginsberg, Gershon was imprisoned by the Russians in 1940, in a jail in Lwow. In 1941, before the Nazis overran Lwow, as the Russians were fleeing the city, this well-known jail was set on fire, and the soul of Gershon Ginsberg, of blessed memory, was carried upward on these flames. Y.S.)
In the first days of the war, as the Germans drew near, and the Ukrainians began to menace the Jews with plunder and murder, the commanders of Betar joined forces with the Polish youth of the city, and together they formed a self-defense force. In this hour of tension, the Jewish youth gained the opportunity to protect their people from the onslaught of robbery and killing.
Lusha Freiwald (Rozen) adds: I recall one friend of mine, a Christian girl named Renye Gvodowitz, through whom my life was saved from the whims of the Nazis. She hid me in her home. Perhaps this can be slight consolation, that in this great sea of suffering and torment, in those days of destruction and annihilation, there were a treasured few among the Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi inferno.
Pinchas Gelernter recounts: Dov-Ber Gelernter was exceptionally learned in Torah, Talmud, and Rabbinic judgments. He had the authority to teach, but chose not to make Torah a tool for his own service. He was a Zionist all of his days. He was a dear friend of the attorney Dr. David Maltz, who was one of the earliest Zionist leaders in Galicia, a gifted speaker and shrewd publicist, an intimate acquaintance of Natan Berenboim, and a follower of Herzl. Reb Dov-Berish Gelernter and Dr. David Maltz were friendly with Reb Sholem Meltzer, one of the early founders of the Mizrachi organization, and a driving force behind the Hebrew school and the Safa Brura organization in Rohatyn.
Mordechai Nachvolger adds further: HaNoar HaZioni was founded in Bursztyn in 1928. 164 cadets passed through its program. This organization strove to be the next link in the chain that began with the regional branch of Poaley Zion, which had sent the town's first pioneers to Israel in the third era of aliya (Sarah Kessler and Bina Briter.) On the eve of Sarah Kessler's departure for Israel, they held a party that went on well passed midnight. (By the way, she is a relative of the Klarnet family. She is involved in the Survivors of Bursztyn organization, and continues to be an active socialist. Y.P.K.) HaNoar HaZioni in Bursztyn received aid and encouragement from Yehuda Hadar and Dov Kirshen, members of the Rohatyn branch.
Dr. Lipa Shomer, the town doctor of Bursztyn, testifies: On September 17, 1939, there was no discrimination practiced toward any segment of the population. In contrast, the Ukrainians started inciting against the Jews, and began informing on them to the Soviet authorities. At that time, bad tidings had already reached us from central Poland, pertaining to the suffering of the Jews under Hitler's conquering army. 2600 Jews were then living in Bursztyn. At the same time, the authorities had jailed the young Jewish leaders of the Zionist youth movements. Those arrested and imprisoned were transported to Lwow, where they were executed alongside the Ukrainian nationalists, or sent to Siberia. For the time being, the authorities did me no harm, because, as a doctor, I was necessary to them. The situation changed on June 22, 1941, the day war broke out between Germany and Russia. The Red Army fled in a panic. At the city limits, they abandoned their battle with the advancing German army, and blew up the bridges. A certain number of local Jews, mostly from among those who had found positions in the Soviet administration, joined the Russian retreat.
Then the many troubles and sorrows began to fall upon the Jews, inflicted by the Ukrainians as well as the Germans, and as an eyewitness Dr. Shomer will describe them:
The best men of the city, among them Rabbi Hertz Landau and Reb Yoel Ginsberg, an old and honored teacher, were beaten and maimed in the town office. One of the Ukrainians came up to the old Dayan, shaved off his white beard and threw the hairs in his face. As he was doing so, he said to the old man, Leprous Jew, the time has come to be rid of all of you, and to pay you back what you have coming. The old Dayan's eyes filled with tears, but he did not say a word in response. As we left the room, we saw the Ukrainians tying ropes around the necks of the Rabbi and the Dayan, and fastening them to the iron lattice of the window. I begged the German sub-lieutenant not to allow them to be tortured. The German commanded me to go, saying, The Rabbis will not be tortured to death. Meanwhile, the respected Ukrainians of the town, among them judges, lawyers, and regular townspeople, had assembled to riot against the Jews. The next day I went to see the Rabbi and the Dayan. I found them both in their quarters, lying on their beds bruised and wounded, wrapped in talis and tfillin. I examined their wounds and showed them mine.
In the beginning of August 1941, the order came down to establish a Jewish Council of eight people. I was numbered among them, and was forced to serve as chairman. The body also included the attorney Phillip Tobias, Mina Tobias, Yehuda-Hersh Fishman, and others. We received word from the Judenrat in Rohatyn that the German authorities had ordered three representatives from every town in the region to appear before the Rohatyn council. There Shlomo Amarant read an order from the German authorities that a compensatory tax of eight to ten million rubles was being levied on the Jews, as it were, for the damages that we owed.
Our lives hung before our eyes. People lived twenty to a room. Jews were permitted to walk only in the middle of the road. The people, swollen with hunger, were terrible to behold, and the children with spindly-legs and bellies inflated by starvation. As a doctor, I had permission to go outside the Jewish zone, but I continued to wear the light-blue and white band bearing the star-of-David on my arm, according to the law.
The Germans demanded that the Judenrat supply them with quotas of Jews for labor. These were brought to the railroad station in groups of 120, pressed into railcars and sent on their way. Many of the deportees died of suffocation in the overcrowded wagons, or perished of hunger and thirst. They were transported to Belzits, were they were murdered in the crematorium.
On October 15th, the Germans ordered all Jews to relocate to Bukaczowce. Only thirty Jews remained in Bursztyn, working on the roads. Two doctors were among them, Dr. Shmuel Katz and myself, as well as the head of the Judenrat, Phillip Tobias, and two of his friends. A month later, the Gestapo came to the camp and transported all thirty Jews to the ghetto in Rohatyn. We fled into the forest to hide. On July 9th, 1943, we heard loud gunfire. The Germans were liquidating the Rohatyn ghetto, shooting all of the Jews that they found. We built bunkers in the forest and hid in them, changing out location often, so as not to fall into a trap. We endured hunger and thirst, slept in damp, and ate lice, till farmers that we knew began bringing us things to eat. For the most part, these were members of the Christian Baptist sect (living around the village of Tsrov.) We hid in this manner until May of 1944, when the Russians came and chased the Germans away.
Ya'akov Feldman continues the account:
On Yom Kippur, 1942, the action began in Rohatyn, where very few Jews were still living. It was announced in Bursztyn that two railcar loads of Jews would be transported to their deaths. I will never forget this Yom Kippur. Reb Yoel Ginsberg, of blessed memory, the religious instructor of the town, requested the people nonetheless to pray as a community on the holy day. The Dayan prayed all day through his tears and sobbing, calling out to the assembly to accept the judgment without fear, to walk with heads held high to meet the bitterness of death. It was amazing that this man, suffering the effects of torture and hunger, had the force and courage to preach these words of consolation.
The Germans entered the city on the day after Yom Kippur and began shooting at Jews in the street. Most were seized and transported to Rohatyn. The members of the Judenrat knew that the action was coming, and had hidden their wives and children. Soon Bursztyn too was emptied of its Jews, who were taken to Bukaczowce, were they were loaded into railway cars and transported to the death camp of Belzits. Reb Yoel the Dayan was shot to death in Bukaczowce, as he was passing among the Jews, offering words of comfort and reciting the deathbed confession with them. The remaining Jews of the region were driven into the Rohatyn ghetto, among them many Jews from Bursztyn. One of them was Shlomo Mendelberg, who, when we were separated, said to me, I know that I am going to meet death. How strange it is that I came back from the Land of Israel to fall at the hands of these murderers.
The Rohatyn ghetto was liquidated in June of 1943. Even after Bursztyn was Jew free, there remained a few isolated Jews in the area, hiding with farmers or in the forest. Mundze Fishman, Wolf Ostrover, and Loti Bronstein dug themselves a bunker in the stables of the prince's palace. They had a revolver and a number of bullets. Rafel, the lame cobbler who guarded the courtyard, helped them and found them a little food. One week, the Ukrainian police fell upon the bunker, by order of the Germans. The bunker was well concealed, but the son of Pad Bober the chimney sweep had informed the Germans of its existence. The officers called on those hidden to come out of the surrounded bunker. When Mundze realized there was no escape, he came out with the revolver in his hand and shot the German commander, injuring him severely. His shots also hit and wounded the officer firing the machine gun. Mundze and Loti fell as casualties. Wolf grabbed the gun, went back down into the bunker, and came out the other side. The murderers pursued him, and Wolf Ostrover fought like a hero. He hit another Ukrainian policeman, not far from Dr. Shmeruk's house. Wounded and loosing blood, he still managed to fire on his pursuers. He fell outside the city, hit by Pad's son.
Honor to their memories! Their heroic deaths kindled a ray of light in the darkness of the Shoah and the destruction of our town.
Translated by Rabbi Goldzweig
Edited by D. Gold Shwarzstein
We, a group of Jews in the forest, decided to take revenge against our oppressors. We dressed in farmers' clothing and entered the town at night. We then grabbed the night watchman and forced him to accompany us to the house of Ped ordering him to knock on the door and call him to come out. Once Ped came out, we grabbed him and killed him on the spot. His wife followed him and she too received what she had coming. Unfortunately we did not catch their murderous son. We found out later that he had been hiding in the chimney. For this we were indeed sorry. Those who took part in this foray included Kalman, the son of Sarah the baker, and two Jews from Bukaczowce.
Kalman the son of Sarah the Baker
Kalman had begun fighting the Nazis with live ammunition when there was still a ghetto in Rohatyn. He and a group of other Jews attacked Germans on the way to Knihynicze. Some of the Germans were indeed killed, but they were numerous, and the four of our attacking group were killed and their bodies were returned to the Jews for burial. Kalman had been included with the bodies. However, the Jews noticed that Kalman was still alive, but he had a very serious injury to his head, and they buried someone else in his place. There was no shortage of bodies to be buried. Kalman eventually recovered from his wounds and again ran away to the forest where he stayed for a long time. However, as the time of liberation from the Nazis approached, the Germans sent Kalmucks - Russian prisoners from the army of Vlasov[Ed1] who had gone over to the German side - with orders to kill the Jews who were wandering in the forests. By that time the Jews had acquired some weapons and stood up well against the murderous attacks on them. In one of those attacks Kalman died a hero's death, gun in hand. All honor to his venerable name!
Long before the destruction of the Jews of Bursztyn we learned about the Germans' evil plans to destroy all the Jews of Galicia. Successive trains filled with Jews passed through the train stations of Bursztyn on the way to the crematorium camps. One time 11 Jews jumped off the trains, were caught and brought into town. At that time there was a German stationed there who had a hobby of shooting helpless people. He was particularly cruel to children and it was he who received these 11 Jews as his targets. First he shot nine of them and there remained a mother and her seven-year old child. The murderer ordered the child to turn around and face him as he took out his pistol to shoot him. Then a remarkable thing happened. The boy faced the German with an innocent smile on his face. The murderer was stunned and remained standing as if he had been turned to stone, his gun falling from his hand. This murderer, who had killed hundreds of people, many of them children, this animal in the form of a human, who never before had shown pity to any child who may have crawled before him and begged for his life, was completely overcome by the smile of an innocent child and he fell in a dead faint. When he was revived, he ordered the Ukrainian policeman Schtick, the one who had shot the first ten Jews of Bursztyn, to bring the child to the Judenrat making him accountable for the boy's life. This German lay in the Tanka Moskeviten house for many days and would command that the boy be brought to him from time to time because he felt better when the boy was there. When the Jews of Bursztyn were killed, the boy and his mother disappeared and no one knows what happened to them.
Ilana Mischler Szmorak tells this story about Ze'ev Szmorak. She recalls his initiative and Zionist dedication all of his life until the period of the Holocaust. When the important members of the community suggested that he preside over the Judenrat, he refused to accept the position, explaining that only a criminal could be capable of cooperating with the Nazis. On October, 1942 he, his wife, his mother and the rest of his community were driven out of town to Bukaczowce and from there to the concentration camp in Bel¿ec. A short while afterwards his daughter also died, as did his brother Dr. Szmorak, a staunch Zionist, who was murdered during the first weeks of the German conquest. May the Alm-ty avenge their deaths.
Fenster relates hearing from Yaakov Feldman that at one time the German murderers gathered up hundreds of Jews in Rohatyn and informed them that at a given time bread would be distributed to the children, and hundreds of children gathered there; the bestial murderers shot them all to death. Once a German spy came to us and pretended to be friendly to the Jews. When we saw that we had fallen into his trap, we grabbed him, stabbed him to death and buried him on the spot.
Y. Shmulevitz, New York, as heard from Yaakov Glotzer: Together with my wife and three children, I came on the 22nd of October, 1942 to Rohatyn, where the remainder of the Jews of Rohatyn, Bursztyn, Bukaczowce, Knihynicze and Zurów were in hiding. While we were in our room where we were hiding, a Jew by the name of Skolnick, a printer who lived in our proximity, came to me and warned us, Prepare yourselves. You may be killed at any moment. Knowing that every week the Judenrat of Rohatyn was required to present the Germans with 100 Jews to be shot in their own basement, we began digging a tunnel that night lead from the side of our room to the river Gni³a Lipa. Working only at night, the process took three weeks. While we were in the house, we constantly heard the groans of Yisrael Schtander of Stratyn who was hiding in the attic and was dying of thirst, and we were unable to do anything for him. When we reached the forest where the partisans were stationed, I was given a rifle and I took part in their activities. At night we went out to the farmers of the villages to get food.
The partisans started their attacks by breaking into the police station of Bursztyn and taking nine rifles. Then the Jewish partisans went out of the forests into the roads that led to Bukaczowce and fell upon German drivers, whom they shot, taking their rifles and boots. In this way they collected weapons, clothes and food.
He also heard a similar story from Paula Tichover: When we came to the ghetto of Rohatyn, someone from Rohatyn by the name of Shmuel Acht accepted us into his room. After eight days the Akcja began. Shmuel Acht had prepared a bunker before this, and about 20 people hid there. I used to sneak out of the ghetto to bring wood. A Jewish policeman caught me, took away the wood and beat me, but G-d punished him. When the ghetto was liquidated, he hid in the attic of a farmer and there he rotted to death.
By contrast, she praises a Ukrainian farmer Miko³aj Maækio (Yiddish: Matskie) who enabled them to stay alive. She describes life in the forests. One time the Germans came with their dogs that led them by scent to the bunker which was empty. When a German bent down to look into the bunker Mordechai Blumenfeld shot him with his rifle. The other Germans were frightened and retreated from the forest. They became angry with the Ukrainian militia for not informing them that the partisans had weapons. Upon leaving, the Germans shot Mordechai in the arm and leg. We were able to treat the arm but not his leg and he limped. Mordechai was shot and killed during another attack by the partisans in a different place. May he rest in peace!
Miriam Ginzburg(Gintzburg) Allerhand recalls the stories of her father-in-law Rabbi Yoel Ginzburg, about his son and her husband, Chaim who worked as a reporter for the Nowy Dziennik[Ed2] and the Haolam[Ed3] in London. He was also a teacher of Greek, Latin and Hebrew in the Jewish high school of Cracow (Kraków) and he received from Dr. Yehoshua Tahon, of Blessed Memory a citation for excellence, which is displayed in the book of Bursztyn. She relates how they spoke Hebrew to their son Amram from the day he was born. By means of an Aryan document under the name of Marja Yowserewsky, she succeeded in escaping to Warsaw. She had a miracle, that when the Germans were beating her with a pistol, her child broke out in uncontrollable tears and one of the Germans said to the other, I can't shoot this child. He reminds me too much of my own children at home and left them alive.
Yosef Schwartz of New York cites, among other things, the worthy behavior towards Jews of certain Gentiles, among them a priest, who supplied Jews with food in the area of Tarnopol. While they were hiding in the grain fields, Russian soldiers came there and took them to headquarters on suspicion of spying. The interrogator was a Jew from Kiev. When I started to tell him what we went through and what others are likely to go through, he broke into tears like a child. When it became dark, they wanted to return us to town, but the commanding officer, a Jew, ordered us to remain in the room. He then accompanied us to Brze¿any where we met other Jews who had succeeded in running away.
Bella Ehrenberg Zinger recounts that the inhabitants of Bukaczowce and the Poles and Ukrainians of the village of Czarów did not usually bother Jews, except in some specific instances. There were some who actively helped Jews. For instance, Marja Lubinic (Loubinitz) and her son Ped hid me and my first husband Mordechai Blumenfeld for a period of between four to five months. From there we went to the forests, where we built a bunker and joined other escapees. Mordechai, who was born in Czarów, was the chief organizer of the rescues. He took revenge on the Banderowcy, the Ukrainians who grabbed Jews when they left their bunkers and delivered them to Rohatyn. On the other hand, the farmers of Koniuszki and Obelnica were big terrorists.
Shmuel Shapira of New York - He remembers the teacher, Rabbi Yoel Ginzburg (Gintzburg), and his three children - Zimell, Chaim and Gershon - all three of whom influenced Jewish religious and national life in the area. Two of them, Zimmel and Chaim, were teachers in Hebrew high schools. He (Rabbi Yoel) was a very pious, an enthusiastic Zionist, and a member of the Mizrachi.[Ed4] It is interesting to note that Rabbi Yoel enjoyed speaking with Mina Tobias, the leader of the awakening youth. These two personalities brought light to the town during the dark period of the Holocaust. Mina Tobias was appointed head of the Judenrat, but when the Germans wanted him to cooperate, he resigned.
Yosef Schwartz relates that, on one winter night in the year 1915, a Russian officer entered the Beth Hamidrash. He was tall and strong, with a gray beard and very dignified. The congregants were frightened and rose from their seats, but the officer began to speak to them in Yiddish and shook hands with all of them. He looked at the open Gemara volumes on the book stands (shtenders), then took out a small notebook and turned to Reb Leibish Kletiffer with questions. How many Jews left the town? How many remained? How do they support themselves? Before he left he said, If the Russians try to bother you, come to me. My name is Shloime Rapaport and I live on the grounds of Count Jablonowski (Yablonowsky). This was S. An-ski.[Ed5]
Yisrael Fenster in explaining Mina Tobias' outlook on life, tells the following story. During World War I, he (Mina Tobias) became acquainted with a learned Russian Jewish prisoner, who was knowledgeable in Yiddish and modern Hebrew literature, and had become an aide at that time to the then Austrian officer M. Tobias. This prisoner began to read with his officer a variety of Yiddish and Hebrew literature that included Bialik, Peretz, Mendele, Sholem Aleichem. The reading sessions with this Russian Jew had a notably strong effect on Tobias. Thus, during the years 1918-20, when there were altercation between the Poles and the Ukrainians and battles between the Poles and the Russians, the town passed from hand to hand, and the honor of Jews in the town was non-existent, Tobias happened to see a Polish officer trying to cut off the beard of a passing Jew. Tobias stopped him and said to the hooligan, I am also an officer. The Polish officer slapped him in the face. Mina Tobias told this to the army authorities and resigned as Polish officer, with all the privileges this meant. The Polish army authorities were highly insulted. The survivors of Bursztyn relate that he was quick to discern the wicked trickery of the Nazis and refused to cooperate with them and act as head of the Judenrat. Because of this he was sent to the ghetto of Rohatyn and died there.
The missing people of the forests of Katyn
In 1943, in the midst of the flames of World War II, the world was very upset by the announcement of the discovery of the mass grave of thousands of Polish officers who were murdered in the forests of Katyn. It turns out, however, that among those murdered were many Jews, including three people from Bursztyn.
The story of the Sefer Torah - Pinchas Haber, the son-in-law of Avrumtsie from Bohorodczany, brought a Sefer Torah with him when he settled in Bursztyn and put it into the Stratyner kloiz (Stratyn small synagogue) where he prayed. When the murderers began to cause riots in town, Pinchas hid the Sefer Torah and no one knew where it was. When Bursztyn was liberated by the Russians in 1944, the Jews who had been in hiding returned to their town to weep over its destruction. One time an old Ukrainian lady came to Yaakov Feldman and said to him that she had a secret that concerned him. She related that at the end of 1941 Pinchas Haber and Mordechai Bernstein gave her a Sefer Torah to hide. They knew this old lady, whom they called Stepanke, and trusted her. She belonged to Sabbath Observers.[Ed6] and would probably care for it. She took the Sefer Torah from them and set up a special bunker where she placed it in straw to protect it against dampness. The old lady gave him a hat to cover his head and he went with her. The Sefer Torah was still in its hiding place, as she had said, and she handed it to Yaakov Feldman, the husband of Dazi, the daughter of the above named Pinchas Haber. After years of wandering, Dazi and Yankel Feldman came to Israel in 1948 and brought with them the Sefer Torah that was rescued.
|1||Good Words, Words of Life, Words of Blessing, Words of Favor back|
|Ed1||A. Vlasov (1900-1946), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, McMillan Co., 1990, Ed. I. Gutman Vol. 4, p. 1579 back|
|Ed2||The New Daily, first Zionist Polish-language journal. It appeared daily in Cracow beinning in 1918. back|
|Ed3||The central organ of the World Zionist Organization, published as a weekly from 1907 to 1950. back|
|Ed4||The term means eastern and is derived from Merkaz Ruchani, spiritual center. A religious Zionist movment, whose aim was expressed in its motto: The Land of Israel for the people of Israel for according to the Torah of Israel (coined by Rabbi Meir Berlin-Bar Ilan). back|
|Ed5||Pseudonym of Solomon Zainwil Rapaport, Yiddish playwright, author of The Dybbuk back|
|Ed6||Shomrei Shabbat (Subbotniki) back|
By Chedveh Weisman
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
This essay is based on answers to the questionnaire of the Central Historical Committee of the Central Committee for Liberated Jews in the American Zone (compiled May 12th, 1947)
Bukaczowce (or Buktshevitz, as the Jews used to call it) had 500 years of Jewish history behind it. Before World War I, around 1,000 Jews lived there. Their main occupations were trade and artisan crafts. There was a Kahal (local communal board,) various unions and organizations, two houses of study, a library, a school for culture, and a graveyard, where a mausoleum stood over the grave of the local Rabbi Avrumtshe Singer.
From the outbreak of World War II (Sept. 1, 1939) till the Nazis marched into our shtetl (July 1st, 1941) life was relatively tranquil. The first anti-Jewish decrees pertained to the wearing of a special symbol on the right arm and not being seen on the street after seven in the evening.
The Ukrainians took advantage of the opportunity to beat and rob. The Jews were seized for forced-labor and beaten murderously in the process. All of the eminent men of the shtetl were held captive: Moshe Grunberg, Moshe Schifer, Dovid Schifer, Shmerl David, Stern and others. The Jews were ordered to hand over all of their jewelry, fur, pelts, silver and gold. Those later found holding on to any of these requisitioned goods were shot.
The first action occurred on Yom Kippur 1942. Around 100 Jews were transported in cars to an unknown destination from which they never returned.
Twice in January of 1943 Jewish boys and girls were seized and transported to the concentration camp in Brzezany where they were shot. Our Jewish community was destroyed in the same month. Later, the remaining Jews were driven into the Rohatyn ghetto, where they perished, on June 6th, 1943, for the sanctity of God's name.
During the occupation years, the non-Jewish population of the shtetl treated the local Jews very badly. Often they were even worse than the Germans. We offered no organized resistance.
Only about 20 Jews survived--by holding out in the forest, being saved by Christians, or hiding on the Aryan side. Many went to Russia.
Yaakov-Shimon Schifer, a well-known official in the community, perished on the first day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 1942, at the age of 62. The Ukrainians beat him horribly, at the order of the local Judenrat Altester Emil Kreutz. He died two days after the beating. Rabbi Kafeides (60 years old) and Rabbi Schwartz also perished.
By Leon Gewanter
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
Bukaczowce contained some 1000 Jewish souls before the war, most of them merchants, peddlers, and butchers. The murder of the Jews began with the coming of the Germans. The Ukrainians killed entire families, and threw their corpses into the Dnister. The first action was directed against the sick and crippled, some 200 in number, who were transported to an unknown destination. A similar action was carried out in Rohatyn. After the first action, a carpenter friend of ours, an able and inventive man, built us a shelter (bunker) in the cellar. This shelter was concealed by shelves stacked with bottles and jars. The hiding-place was behind the shelves.
My father, who was a veterinarian, was taken with the other doctors to a camp. This was a consequence of the testimony of an informer, who said my father was still practicing his profession, though it was forbidden to do so. Father returned to us after two months, thanks to the efforts of a German who knew us.
Before the action, Jews had been transported to Bukaczowce from Burstein, and they swelled the local population of Jews. Before the Germans came to carry out an action, the Jewish police would warn us, and we would hide in our bunker for a day or a day and a half, until the hunt had ended. Many Jews were seized in the action, moist of them Jews who had been brought from Burstein. Members of the Jewish police acted honorably, not handing over any Jew to the Germans, and even helping as far as they could.
After this, my father found a hiding-place with a Gentile named Stocki, who lived in a secluded place. My parents, my brother, and I hid there, along with two other Jews who were horse-traders. After a month the winds died down and we returned to Bukaczowce. My father managed to find work, but not for very long. When we wanted to go back to the farmer who had hidden us, he no longer wanted to take us in, and so we turned to Rohatyn.
There we suffered a catastrophe. Someone informed on my father, saying that he had not handed over his veterinary equipment. The Germans appeared, and took my parents and brother away. At the time, I happened to be visiting neighbors, and so was saved. But the Gestapo found a photograph from which they became aware that I also belonged to this family. They searched for me, and even threatened the Judenrat that if I were not given into their hands they would kill 300 Jews in my place. But all the time I was hiding with the carpenter who had built us the first shelter.
My parents were shot.
Everyday we lay waiting for the liquidation, and throughout the week of the action we stayed in the bunker. There were sixteen of us. After a week, we left the bunker and went our separate ways. I went with the carpenter's family, but left them because I wanted to return to Bukczowce to get a few things. All of this took place during the Christian Pentecost, when there were many people out roving in the fields. I hid in a grain field and a deep sleep fell upon me. I was hungry, weak, and filthy. Someone found me while I slept and took me for dead. A Ukrainian farmer came upon me. He recognized me from the days when my father used to visit the farmers, when I would accompany my father in his work. The farmer took me to his cottage, fed me, and washed me. I went at night to the Polish farmer who had our possessions. I stayed with him for a few months, in an attic, until they began taking farmers away to work in Germany. People began rising up and fleeing. My benefactor also fled with his family to another village, but could not take me with him because I had no papers and everyone in the area knew me. I banded together with other Jews, and we went to the forest. In the forest there were many well-camouflaged bunkers. Five Jews had rifles. The Germans and Ukrainians were afraid to penetrate the forest. Only two people knew of our hiding-place, a Pole and a Ukrainian. The Pole would warn us if we were in danger. But once the Ukrainian got drunk and began to prattle. The Germans dressed him in a soldier's uniform and commanded him to go with them and show them the hiding-place. But in the meantime the farmer had sobered up, and he took them to bunkers that the Jews had already left.
The Jews would raid German storehouses at night, and take away necessary foodstuffs. We lacked nothing, except that it was hard for us to wash our sheets and we were covered with lice. Often the Germans placed blockades against us, but they were afraid to penetrate the thick forest.
With the advance of the front, we began digging holes in the forest and filling them with guns. Gathering food grew more and more difficult. When the Germans began blowing up railway lines, we knew that the Russians were drawing near, and we began crossing the Germans lines on the Dnister and Svits.
There we found many poles seeking refuge from the Ukrainians. The Bendereftsi were killing Jews and Poles alike. There on the banks of the river I received the oncoming Soviet army with open arms.
By Leon Schreier
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
I lived from childhood in Zurow. My father and forefathers lived there too. The Germans entered Zurow at the end of June 1941 and already on the day after the occupation all Jews of both sexes, ages ten and up, were forced by decree to wear bands on their left arms, bearing the Star-of-David.
I lived in Zurow until April of 1942. Then the Ukrainian national militia gave the Jews 24 hours to leave the village, and forbade them by force from taking more than 25 kilos of property per person.
The Jewish population, some 100 people, worked the land for the most part, owning farmsteads, equipment, and cattle. But they were forced to abandon all of this, and were uprooted to the nearby town of Bukacowce, in the district of Rohatyn. While still in Zurow, we were privileged to experience the pleasure of the Ukrainian militia's strong arm. They banned trade with four Jewish shopkeepers, and forced us to work on the roads and on nearby farms. In Zurow, livelihood was earned through farming, and for a few through artisan crafts. But from April of 1942 onward there was not a single Jew in Zurow.
I lived in Bukacowce from April of 1942 till October of the same year. In peacetime, the town's Jewish population numbered about 1300, out of 3000 total inhabitants. But now the Jewish population itself swelled to 3000, with the addition of Jews from the surrounding villages and towns: Zurow, Knyhenice, Pudmikaluwce, Wasucik, Rahurow, Lukovce, Wishniew, Kuzari, Cirniov, Puzbiz, Tintnik, Caharow, Kulkulin, and Martinow. The Jews of these village and towns were driven out to Bukacowce. In addition, Jews were transported to Bukacowce from the west. All of us dwelled alongside the local Jews.
Every Jew 15 or older, male and female, had to go out daily to work on local farms, five to eight kilometers from the place where we lived. We went on foot. As payment for our work, we received forty grams of bread a day, and sometimes 100 grams. Many Jews died of hunger. The first victims were Jews uprooted from the surrounding towns and villages. My wife, our two little children, and I lived on the potatoes I was able to steal in the field, or the oats I stole from the feed of the horses I was tending and stuffed in my sack. At home, I dried them out and ground up the kernels, and we baked them into wafers. Others of us gathered potato skins when working on the farms, and cooked them together with chickpeas.
The local Jews of Bukacowce were better off, because they still had their own apartments and could sell their remaining clothes for the necessities of life. As a consequence of hunger, lagging strength, and the inhuman living-conditions, a typhus epidemic broke out which claimed several hundred victims in the month of September. Fifteen people were crammed into a single room, an attic, or a manger. There was no hospital. The sick lay among the well in the apartments, without any means of quarantine whatsoever.
On Yom Kippur in 1942 the Gestapo came from Rohatyn, and with the help of the Ukrainian militia carried out a deportation. We were praying at the time, not in the synagogue, as the Germans had turned it into a granary. When we saw from afar the car full of Gestapo officers, we knew right away that a great catastrophe was about to occur. The young fled and sought cover in the bunkers that we had previously prepared in fields or barns. The Gestapo shot at those who fled, and killed scored of them. Others were caught and taken to one of the buildings next to the Judenrat. My father, an elderly man 84 years old, and my brother-in-law and his three little children were removed from the house-of-prayer and seized by the Germans. In all, 300 Jews were seized and taken in groups to the station, to Rohatyn. In Rohatyn, 200 Jews or more were loaded into each railway car and transported to their destruction, probably to Belzec. On this Yom Kippur, the Germans also carried out selections in other towns in the Rohatyn district: Rohatyn itself, Burstein, and Bukacowce. Jews from these towns were transported to Rohatyn, and from thereto destruction.
Three days after the catastrophe, my friend Yisrael David returned. He had been captured by the Germans and numbered among the large toll of Jews who had perished along the way, in the packed cars sealed shut with boards, without any breathable air. The whole transport went west, but he managed to pry loose one of the boards, escape from the car, and return on foot to Bukacowce.
The next day, the Jews went out again to work, despite the calamity and terror that were upon them. Someone had been taken from almost every family, but they had to work nonetheless. After a few weeks, another action took place, this time on Sunday and Monday. The Gestapo placed blockades on all roads leading to the town, and with the help of the Ukrainian militia, began the hunt. They went from house to house, looking in cellars and attics, and concentrated all the Jews in the marketplace, from which they were transported to the train station. They were loaded into railway cars facing west, to be carried to Belzecto destruction. My friend Hersh Jupiter escaped from this transport. A tinsmith by trade, he had a set of pliers in his pocket, and with their help he pulled off a board from the wagon and jumped out with his brother, in the vicinity of Chodorow.
My children and I hid in the attic of good friends. My wife was captured and carried away with the rest of the transport, because she was unable to escape with us. I saw her through a slit in the closed shutters as she asked the Gestapo men for permission to take a coat, but they responded with blows from the butt of a rifle.
After this action, only member of the Judenrat and Jewish police remained in Bukacowce, as well as a few hundred people hiding in bunkers. The Jewish police let us know that the action was ending, and that in three days the Jews would have to leave the town and go to Rohatyn. We left Bukacowce, taking with us only a few article of clothing. It was forbidden to take furniture. Bukacowce was now Judenrein (Cleansed of Jews.) Actions took place throughout the district of Rohatyn, and those who survived came to Rohatyn itself.
We lived in the Rohatyn ghetto. It was impossible to leave it except for work, and this as done only under the escort of the Jewish police. A great distress prevailed in the ghetto, along with hunger, overcrowding, and typhus epidemics. The Gestapo would often visit the ghetto. They would enter homes, and if a sick person were found within he was shot in his bed. They also broke into the hospital and killed the sick together with their attendants. Many times the Gestapo came suddenly and demanded a few score Jews. The Jews delivered up to them were taken to the Judenrat and shot. Each time, the focus of the action was broadened, to include children, the elderly, the sick, and those who could not work. After such an action the Judenrat was still forced to prepare a banquet for the Gestapo, and pay them ransom money. But abductions to the work camps in Tarnopol and to the stone-quarries continued.
Three days before Shavuot, in the Jewish year 5713, the final action in the Rohatyn ghetto began. The action lasted several days, from Sunday to Wednesday. On Sunday, the Gestapo, helped by the Ukrainian militia, broke into the ghetto, seized members of the Jewish police, and shot them. After this, the Jews were transported group by group out of the city, where they were commanded to dig their own graves before being shot by the Germans. I hid with my children in a bunker we had dug over the course of a few months. David Shifer, whom the Germans forced to cover the mass graves, told me about the events of the action. He himself was able to hide in the forest.
A few thousand Jews fell in this action. All were killed in that place. At dawn on Thursday, when the shots had ceased, I fled with my children from the ghetto to the village where we hid.
[Photo #1, p. 341: Moshe-Leib Messing, Mintse Steinmets, Sheindel Kleinwachs, unknown woman]
By Aryeh Rebisch, Tel Aviv
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
To the west of Rohatyn lay a little shtetl called Knihynicze. Jesters called it Canaan. Three hundred Jewish families lived there, concentrated around the so-called Ringplatz and its surrounding streets. The other dwellers in the shtetl were Ukrainians.
Knihynicze possessed its own Jewish communal board, rabbi, dayan, ritual slaughterers and other religious officials. Jews were employed in trade. They dealt with the non-Jews and so earned their livelihood. There were no reputable local schools, and this influenced the cultural level of the shtetl. The few boys and girls who received a real education didn't know what to do with themselves in the generally lowly shtetl. Jewish parents sent their children to learn in the cheder or in the Talmud Torah. The education of the growing children was entirely restricted to this. There were therefore, in our shtetl, many people steeped in religious learning.
According to the stories of the older Jewish residents, Jews had lived in the shtetl for over 400 years. There, they survived several military invasions. The old people used to boast of the former splendor of the shtetl. In the time of the Polish-Turkish wars, when the fighting came to our area, the Polish general's headquarters was located in a village fifteen kilometers from Knihynicze.
There were eminent rabbis in Knihynicze such as the righteous Monastritsher rabbi and Rabbi Weiss, later a rabbi in Czerniowce.
Jews used to dress in their traditional long black coats. They grew beards and sidelocks and observed the 613 commandments. They dealt in grain of inferior quality. They had to rinse the grain in water in order to clean it. This was done in the little river Swirz, which ran through the shtetl. It was hard work, but only after they had finished washing the dirty wheat, could they receive their appropriate due. Jews worked at this all day and so earned their livelihood, but after the work was done, they sat in the Beit Midrash/house of study over a page of Talmud.
Stories were often told of the great dispute surrounding the selection of Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natansohn as the shtetl's rabbi. Learned Jews opposed him. Their reason for doing so was not given. Years later, Rabbi Natansohn was chosen to be chief rabbi of Lemberg. Certain prominent householders of Lemberg came to escort him to his new residence. The entire retinue, led by the rabbi, rode through Knihynicze. Coming to the little river where the Jews in their long black coats, beards and sidelocks were washing their wheat, the rabbi held up his entourage and addressed them as follows: Do you see these field-worker Jews? They didn't want to choose me as their rabbi
[Photo #1, p. 343: The Knihynicze branch of 'Torah vi-Avodah' (Torah and service.)
Photo #2, p. 343: Shmuel Rebishhead of the community of Knihynicze, his son-in-law Shimon-Yitschok Alboir, Lybush, Martsis (children,) Yaakov Tabak, Reizel Altboir.]
Of the old-time rabbis, it is worth recalling Rabbi Ber. He was held to be one of the students of the Baal Shem-Tov. In my childhood, I saw this rabbi's gravestone, dating back over 150 years. It was said that before he died, Rabbi Ber had declared that when, God forbid, the Jewish community of Knihynicze experienced a time of trouble, they should come with their pleas to his grave. He would struggle in heaven on behalf of his people.
There had also been a Rabbi Yehudah (Yidl) in our shtetl who was reputed to have been a secret saint. He accepted neither fees nor petitions. A tent was put up over his grave. In his lifetime, this rabbi was so beloved by the Jews that the Knihynicze Society in America is called by his name.
At the beginning of this century, Rabbi Avrumtshe Langner, the son of the Stratyner rebbe, was appointed Rabbi of Knihynicze, and as dayan, Rabbi Dovid Halevi Kimsol. The dayan was a respectable young man and a good prayer leader, known in the rabbinical world for his Responsa. He was the author of many religious books, most of which were unpublished. When I studied with him, he would often show me letters from other rabbis who sent him questions on a number of matters. Once, when I was with him, I saw a letter from a rabbi in Kleinmehrn, so far was Rabbi Kimsol known. His grandson, Rabbi Hanoch Henech, was, through me, appointed dayan of Knihynicze on the eve of my departure for the land of Israel.
My grandfather, Yitzhak Tabak, of blessed memory, who was born in 1828, recounted that in olden times, there were military barracks in Knihynicze where a regiment of Hungarians was stationed. In the time of the 1848 revolution, when the Hungarian leader Kossuth raised the flag of revolution against the Austrian monarchy, the Hungarian regiment left Knihynicze on a certain night and went away to Hungary. As is known, the Russian Czar offered to help Kaiser Franz-Josef put down the revolution. Franz-Josef accepted this help, and the Russian Army marched through Knihynicze on their way to Hungary. Jews were filled with fear of the Cossacks who were marching through town and could have caused great trouble. The Jews of Knihynicze turned to the liberal Austrian government and asked that the Russian Army march through Knihynicze by night and not during the day. In this way, our community was saved from Cossack plunder. The dayan, Rabbi Berel, also told me about this event about which he had read in the annals of the shtetl. These annals were destroyed during World War I.
The real trouble for the Jews began with the outbreak of World War I. A few Jewish families, including mine, saved themselves by fleeing to Bohemia. Most Jews remained, however, and suffered great hardship at the hands of the Russians and, more to the point, at the hands of the local Ukrainian population. When the Russian Army left Knihynicze, in 1915, they deported the entire male population of the shtetl, including Rabbi Berel, into the depths of Russia. The women and children remained in the shtetl, untouched. The yoke of earning a livelihood now fell upon the women. The shtetl was nearly empty. Even worse was the situation of the children, as at this point, there weren't even any cheders. Children grew up without supervision and without education. This generation of youth didn't know a letter from a hole in the ground.
We returned in the beginning of 1918. The Austrian monarchy had fallen. The Western Ukrainian Republic was established in our area, and our troubles grew greater. We put up with a lot from the Ukrainian soldiers who openly robbed and plundered the Jews, who simply let them do it. On top of this, the Ukrainians organized their own cooperatives in competition with the Jewish businesses. Strong propaganda was circulated, instructing the non-Jewish population not to buy from Jews.
It was now clear to us that Jews had no future in Knihynicze. A group of young men and women decided to establish a Zionist organization in order to instill the local Jewish youth with the spirit of Zionism and to prepare them to immigrate to the land of Israel.
Our efforts met with many hardships. The Jewish youth, as was said before, were almost completely without education. It was difficult to lead them in enlightening cultural activities. With great patience, however, we managed to break through the silent wall and establish a respectable Zionist organization, particularly after the end of the Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Bolshevik wars. During this time, the Bolsheviks were in our shtetl three times, but in the end, they were forced to abandon it completely.
We then established a good Hebrew school, with a teacher from Histadrut HaMorim Hebraiim B'Galicia (Organization of Hebrew Teachers in Galicia). We prepared ourselves to go to the land of Israel. Of course, there was some commotion, especially on the part of our elders who could not agree with the notion of no longer waiting for the days of the Messiah and already planning to go to Israel to build the land
The first meeting of our newly established Zionist organization was held in the woman's section of the Beit Midrash. The Hasidim tried to frighten me, screaming that I would bring misfortune upon the shtetl. My father, of blessed memory, was the chairman of the Jewish communal board and an official of the great synagogue.
[Photo #1, p. 346 YB: The 'B'not Mizrachi' (daughters of the east) association in Knyhinicze.]
At that time, more than twenty young men and women immigrated to Israel. They took root in the land and raised families there. Those who couldn't make it to Israel went to Argentina and other lands. Thus, some Jews were snatched away from the danger of being murdered. Of the hundreds of Jewish families in Knihynicze, almost none were saved. The Germans and their assistants, the local Ukrainians, murdered them all.
By Zvi Fenster (Felker)
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
It has been thirty years since I left Podkamien, where I was born, and lived till the age of ten. Between 1930 and 1941 I visited Podkamien frequently, but I was not a resident.
Podkamien lies around 10 kilometers to the southwest of Rohatyn, about halfway along the road from Strelisk (Streliska Nowe.) To the east is the village of Czercze, to the west Beikowce and Frei (Fraga.) Zalanow is to the north, about seven kilometers to the southwest of the station Pomonieta Psary.
Before World War One, there were at least 100 Jewish families in the village. Most of them left and were scattered, some to other cities and towns in the region, and others to America.
In 1930, Podkamien contained about twenty Jewish families. Two or three of them left the village after 1930.
Most of the population in the village, apart from the Jews, were Ukrainian, with a few Poles. There were also some German families, holdovers from the Austrian era who had taken root in the village. Most of the Poles had been settled there in the twenties, in separate enclaves, by the Polish government, which was trying to impart a Polish character to the village. A drawn-out war, complete with acts of hostility, was waged in the village between the Poles and Ukrainians. At the end of the twenties, the violence took on a more serious aspect, and I recall a period in which twenty Ukrainian homes were set on fire by Polish nationalists.
The Jewish populace hardly took part in the communal life of the village, except for the indirect influence of one or two Jews in favor in the court of the count. The count actually spent most of his time abroad, but his property manager and the priests were the effectual governors of the village, despite the so-called elections for the municipal institutions.
Most of the non-Jewish residents were farmers of their own land. Some, however had either no land at all, or small plots that could not provide sufficient livelihood, and so they hired themselves out to work in the fields of others.
The non-Jewish populace were reserved in their treatment of the Jews. I remember very few public acts of violence or hostility against the Jews occurring in those years, but the Ukrainian children and youths pursued and oppressed the Jewish children. A great fear would fall over me whenever I had to pass by the house of a Ukrainian boy who was bigger than me. In the thirties, with the opening of cooperatives in the village, a covert economic war against the Jews began.
The Jews that remained in the village were for the most part those who could not immigrate to other lands, mostly the elderly and some who were disabled, and some closely related to those who had to stay. Three Jewish families lived off of agriculture, owning fertile parcels of land, upon which the Gentiles cast jealous glares.
Two Jewish families eked meager livings out of their village general stores. A third established ties with the count's court, and was therefore considered wealthy, and so felt the sting of the local cooperatives directed at them.
There were two barkeepers in the village, one of the holding open an inn as well, where non-Jews met to consider the municipal and economic matters of the village over glasses of brandy. One of the two taverns closed at the end of the twenties, when its owner, a widow and her two children, immigrated to Canada.
There was also a kosher butchery in the village.
Most of the retail trade was based on selling to the local populace on credit. Once every week or two the storeowners went to the city and brought back their goods. After passing them on to their local customers, they would go out among the villagers many mornings, with their baskets, collecting eggs, hens, and so forth, as payment for the goods they had given out. Once or twice a week, when the peddlers and merchants came from Rohatyn, the storeowners would give over the gathered yield.
At the beginning of the thirties their was still a shochet (ritual slaughterer) in Podkamien, who went through the surrounding villages, as far as ten kilometers away, visiting Jewish families to slaughter fowl and cattle, sometimes by special invitation. In general, he had the most work on the eve of Yom Kippur, when Jews from all around would bring him their kapparot (expiatory sacrifices) for slaughter. This shochet also taught the children Chumash (Torah) with the Rashi commentary. As I recall, he left after a year or two, for lack of livelihood.
The first stage of Jewish education, the alef-bet, was provided for the Jewish children by a dardike-melamed (preliminary religious teacher,) but at the start of the twenties a number of families also brought in a Hebrew and general studies teacher.
A public school with four grades was also established in the village. The few Jewish children also attended it. The level of education was very low, and a graduate of all four grades could read with difficulty. The percentage of students who dropped out before finishing all four grades was high, because there was a shortage of man-power in the farming families, and the children served as shepherds of cattle and geese. Two or three times a week, priests would come into the class to give religious instruction, and I remember that always after such an instructive lesson I took a beating from the Ukrainian children, together with curses: Jew, you killed our lord.
Jewish life in the village was concentrated around the synagogue. This synagogue stood in the center of the village, next to the village-council building and a large public square. It possessed four Torah scrolls.
In the period that I remember, there were no public prayer services on regular weekdays, but only on Shabbat, holidays, and festivals. Only on memorial days (yarziet) would a minyan (quorum) assemble for prayer. In contrast to this, the synagogue was full to capacity on holidays, when Jews from the neighboring villages of Dhova, Psiri, and Zilnow came to pray with the community. When a holiday fell on Shabbat, the Jews would come with their families and stay over, so as not to transgress the Shabbat limitations. On Yom Kippur they would remain in the synagogue, spending all their time on the recitation of Psalms. On other holidays they would stay as guests in the homes of local Jews. Or they might leave Podkamien on the Days of Awe, and go to the court of the Stretiner Rebbe, to Rohatyn, and spend the holidays there.
To this day, the Torah reading of Reb Mordechai Wilig, of blessed memory, still resounds in my ears. He was the usual reader on every Shabbat of the year, and would walk the village roads from his house to the synagogue and back decked in his talit (prayer-shawl) because of the prohibition against carrying anything on Shabbat. He would spend Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with the Stretiner Rebbe, and hear the Torah reading there.
The stirring words of Reb Shlomo Titel, before shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana, and before neilah (the concluding prayer) on Yom Kippur, brought tears to the eyes of everyone praying in the synagogue. This learned old man was the spiritual leader of the regional Jews, and was regularly called upon to blow the shofar, and to lead musaf (the additional service) on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
When the archbishop passed through the village in the twenties, it was Reb Titel who went out to greet him with a Torah scroll in his hands, and in those years, when on Simchat Torah the Jews still went dancing out onto the village roads, he went out, together with Mordechai Wilig, at the head of all the Jews.
Reb Moshe Fenster, a shofar blower, who led shacharit (morning prayer) on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, used to gather all the youths on almost every summer Shabbat, and instruct them in a chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) or a page of Gemara.
And Zvi Axelrod, who stood and recited pesukay d'zimra (preliminary morning prayers) for an hour and a half on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, must be remembered. He could be seen on every summer Shabbat going out to survey the fields.
With the coming of the Germans in 1941, all the Jews of Podkamien were transported to the Rohatyn ghetto. As far as I know, only two or three Podkamien Jews survived, the rest perishing alongside the Jews of Rohatyn and its vicinity.
May their souls be bound together in eternal life, and may their memory last forever.
|1||A person is prohibited from walking more than about ¾ of a mile outside the town one is in durng Shabbat. back|
By Yaakov Palgi, Kiryat-Chaim
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
Seven kilometers from Rohatyn, along the road that leads from Rohatyn to Brzezany, lies the village of Chesnik (Czesniki.)
In the period between the two World Wars, Chesnik was a fairly wealthy Ukrainian village. Many of its inhabitants read the newspapers, and sent their children to high school in Rohatyn, and even to schools of higher learning.
Chesnik did not differ from the rest of the villages in the area. I do not know its history, but I remember the stories the old farmers told about their liberation from serfdom to the landlords (Pancizne, in the foreign tongue.) A Jew named Reb Moshe, who lived in the village for many years, achieving wealth and length of days, was active in their emancipation. At the right time, he purchased a large section of forest and grazing-ground for cattle from the landlord, for the sake of the villagers. These grounds were placed under the authority of the village-council, and every village farmer had the right to graze on them. Every winter, the farmer's family would also receive wood for heating. In addition, it was said that the landowner wanted to give this Jew the land for a cheaper price and on better conditions, provided he would not hand it over to the village-council and the farmers. But this simple Jew saw the emancipation and strengthening of the farmers as a noble goal, and did all that was in his power to bring it about.
One heard this story from the mouths of the old villagers, who would gather in the saloon and reminisce about their hard lives during the era of serfdom, and about the emancipation that came at the hands of this Reb Moshe. This same Reb Moshe strove to establish his generations in Chesnik, and there is some truth to the belief that all of the Jews of the village, some 75 families in number, are his descendents.
In those days, it was the accepted practice for rich village Jews to turn to the yeshivas (academies of Jewish learning) in order to find grooms for their daughters. The Jews of Chesnik did likewise, when their daughters reached maturity. After inspecting the Yeshivot, they would bring home a young student, well-formed and steeped in Torah. They displayed him before the elders of the family, tested his strength in Torah, and if all went well[,] they made the match. Reb Chaim Jupiter was one such groom.
The young couple settled in Chesnik. Their house stood beside the main road, on a lovely hill surrounded by a garden, with plum and apple trees. On the other side of the road was an even larger garden, with a fountain in the middle that Reb Chaim Jupiter transformed into a Mikveh (ritual bath.)
During the summer, Jews would throng there every day, to immerse their bodies before shacharis (the Morning Prayer,) and sometimes they would even throng there in the winter.
I remember only a very few of the specifics of this wonderful man's life.
After World War One, between 70 and 75 Jewish families lived in Chesnik, and these were preoccupied with the care of their children. On Shabbos (Sabbath,) the parents would gather up their jewels, and take them to uncle Reb Chaim tsum farheren, that is, to have the Torah knowledge of their children tested. And there were those who feared these examinations, though it was in truth a baseless fear, as Reb Chaim was a dear man who loved to joke with the children and amuse them.
[Photo #1, p. 351: Moshe Taichman and his Wife]
[Photo #2, p. 351; Michael and Estel Schafel]
[Photo #3 (in four sections) p. 351;
rightBuntsie Schafel and his widfe Leah
middle topMoni Jupiter, Yitka Schafel
middle bottomThe Kreizler children
leftMiriam and Reuven Schafel]
After the death of the Jew Metsniki, the Torah scroll that he had possessed was bequeathed, not to his sons, but to his son-in-law, the learned Reb Chaim, who was great in his knowledge of Torah, and in whose home all of the males of the family used to pray every Shabbos evening and day. I still remember how all of the men would wait in the prayer room for Reb Chaim to emerge from his little room, where he sat learning all night. Sometimes we would wait long hours, when we were very hungry, and when the door opened and his figure appeared we rejoiced, and were ready to begin praying. But he, following his own schedule, would cross the room and descend to the garden, were he would enter the Mikveh and prepare to immerse himself. We, the little children, would run after him, in order to see what he was doing down there. Once in the winter, in the middle of a great frost, we all caught fever watching how he stripped off his clothes beside the fountain and jumped into the water, immersed himself, and emerged. And only after he had dressed and returned to the house of prayer did the service begin. After the Shmoneh-Esreh was finished, and everyone had already dispersed, he remained standing as straight as a pillar, without moving from his place. Once I was bold and asked my father why uncle remained standing for so long, when all the rest skip through their prayers. My father, of blessed memory, answered that my uncle was communing with the Master-of-the-Universe.
Reb Chaim was good of heart, clever, and learned. In his last years he swore off meat entirely. He moved to Rohatyn, where he dwelled with Rabbi Eliezer, and studied day and night. It was pleasant to visit him, and discuss the issues of the day. He was well versed in matters of state, and he showed an understanding of Aliyah (immigration to Israel) and the building of the State of Israel.
Before I made Aliyah to Israel, I went to take my leave of him. He asked me to come to the Beis-Medresh (house of prayer and study) of Our Master and Teacher Rabbi Eliezer Langer, and he set aside time for me during Shaleshudes (the traditional third meal eaten on Shabbos.) He brought me in to see Rabbi Eliezer, and there I received my uncle's blessing that I be a good Jew. He explained to Rabbi Eliezer that I was going to the Land of Israel. I felt that my uncle was proud of this.
The life of this dear Jew ended at upwards of ninety years, under very tragic circumstances. He was lying on his bed, wrapped in his talis and tfillin (prayer shawls and phylacteries.) A German Nazi entered the room, saw him, and so his worthy soul departed. May his memory be blessed.
On the other end of the village which was built in a triangle stood two fine houses,, their metal roofs gleaming (the farmers' houses were covered with roofs of straw.) These houses were seen from afar by those traveling the road from Rohatyn, and in times of war, soldiers, or simply bandits, would come straight to them. Two brothers lived in these houses, sons of the Jew Metsniki. The elder was Reb Yitschok, and the younger Reb Chaim Schafel. Both of them were blessed with sons and daughters. They were landowners and also established merchants. The elder, Reb Yitschok, worked most of his time in the fielda real farmer. He was not really steeped in Torah like his brother-in-law, Reb Chaim Jupiter, but he had a Jewish heart, and was a straight and simple God-fearing man.
Opposite the house of Reb Yitschok lived his younger brother, Reb Chaim. All his life, Reb Chaim was involved in the communal matters of the village. He was richer than his brother, his fields bigger, and his business dealings greater. He was very active in the elections for the village-council. In his old age, when he was sick and could no longer stand as a candidate for the village council, he appealed to his son Reb Michoel to run, so that the reigns of government might be kept within the family. But at that time the Jews were no longer interested in mixing with village matters, an attitude shared by Reb Michoel. Anti-Semitism was already making its mark.
It happened that the village-council infringed on the rights of one of his sons, refusing to permit him to chop firewood from the shared village forest, as was his right according to the regulations. Reb Chaim Schafel summoned the village voyt (headman,) and did not speak to him at length, but only struck his staff against the floor and asked that the matter be rightedand the matter was righted. These were the three Jewish elders of the village of Chesnik.
During World War One, the village passed from hand to hand. When the Ukrainians left and the Poles came, we were of the opinion that the days of the Messiah had come, and at last we could live in quiet. But one Shabbos evening, two Polish soldiers appeared at the house of Reb Yitschok, and stole absolutely everything, including the challas (ritual breads) for Shabbos. Reb Yitschok approached the thieves, and asked them to return one of the challas, so that he might bless it during the Shabbos evening meal. One soldier took out his dagger and stabbed Reb Yitschok to death. Reb Yitschok still managed to get outside. He sank to the earth, and his pure soul departed. May his memory be blessed.
But this was nothing to the suffering we suffered at the hands of the Ukrainians. Our family lived on the other end of the village, by the house of the landowner Milinski. We had neighbors, who, for a good reward, let us know that Tomorrow the Cossacks will certainly ride through the village, and we attempted to flee to the forest. As they were late in informing us, we were unable to escape. We ran to our near neighbors, to our close friends as it were, and begged them to hide us in their bunkers. They refused, and we continued to run and to entreat, until one had mercy on us, and gave us cover for the night. The next morning, our grandfather, Reb Moishe Teichman, left the bunker, wrapped himself in his Talis, went among the ditches, and began praying. A Ukrainian soldier appeared, and when he saw my grandfather, Reb Moishe Taichman, of blessed memory, with his white beard, he took his sickle in hand, intending to slaughter my grandfather. We heard everything, and, woefully, our neighbor would not permit my mother to go out and attempt to save her father. To our joy, and angel appeared, in the form of the same gentile who had given us cover in his bunker, and had protected us throughout the night. He promised the soldier a sufficient bribe and so saved my grandfather's life.
Another time, a Ukrainian soldier from a neighboring village, named Hertz came to us. Even though my father knew him and his family, he took everything away from our house on horse drawn wagons, with the help of a second soldier, then locked the doors, and began searching for silver and gold. We were forced to disrobe, and we stood for hours with our hands raised, as they continued to empty the house. When he had finished his work, he informed us that he was going outside to throw a grenade that was in his possession into the little room where we were gathered. It is impossible to describe the wailing and the crying. My grandfather, Reb Moishele, approached the goy and asked that he permit us to recite the Vidui (the traditional deathbed prayer.) The goy assented, so we sat there, pressed together against the table, my grandfather, my father, and my uncle Reb Avromtsi, and we began to pray with a broken heart, and how we children trembled with fear, and cried and wailed. Suddenly my mother's sister Rivtsi (then 17 or 18 years-old) went to the window, opened it, and jumped out, and we, all of the little ones, jumped out after her and began to run through the fields to the forest, and from their to our gentile, Tsimbl, who had built the bunker for us. We knew nothing of the fate of those who remained.
The soldier saw us running, and thought we were running to the officer who lived in the landowner's house, and made off hurriedly with all of the good he had plundered. That night the whole family arrived at the bunker of the righteous gentile, Tsimbl.
After World War One, the situation of the Chesnik Jews deteriorated. Absence of livelihood, persecution at the hands of the Ukrainian populace, a general boycott, and a lack of opportunity all lead the young generation to look toward the road. Some sought their livelihood in other places, primarily Rohatyn, some immigrated to the lands of North and South America, and others found for themselves the road to Communism. We suffered much, but we believed that the days of our redemption would come. There were others, younger still, who stuck to the path of Zionism, to the ideal of making Aliyah as pioneers. One of them managed to triumph over the difficulties that stood in his way, over the pressure of his family, and immigrated to Israel, to participate in the building of the homeland.
He was the only one who managed to come to Israel prior to the Shoah. Two brothers, grandsons of Chaim Jupiter, of blessed memory, served during the war in the Red Army, and so were saved.
This article is consecrated to the memory of my dear parents, and all of my family that suffered and fell at the hands of the Nazi oppressors.
[Photo #1, p. 354: In the village of Chesnik, in April 1935]
Yisroel Chetzroni, K'far Meserik
Lipica Gornafor all appearances a village like any other in the anti-Semitic Ukraine. It contains some 1200 inhabitants, most of them children growing up without education or supervision, abject and poor in matter and spirit, and as stuffed full of superstitious beliefs as a pomegranate is with seeds. The Holy Father, the priest, is the only authority-figure in the village, financing himself through the inscription of the living and the dead and keeping evil spirits at bay, sprinkling his fanatics with holy water and taking a poor Gentile's last chicken as payment.
There is not a single doctor in the village, nor a pharmacy or nurse. A handful of Jews is scattered among the Ukrainians, and about thirty Polish families are closed into a completely separate neighborhood. Like them, we too are hated by the Ruthenians. From the sole Orthodox Christian church, which stands on a tall hill in the center of the village, there pours forth a flood of Jew-hatred and calls for vengeance in the name of the crucified Messiah. And the constant danger of the blood libel and destruction hovers over the heads of the Jews.
World War One is over, and Poland comes back to life. The Jews return from their bitter wanderings, downtrodden, poor, and lean. On returning, they discover their property plundered and their houses burned, and their claims of ownership over houses and goods are met with hostility.
The Ukrainians will not be moved. They see the Jewish property as their spoil for the sake of their warriors, their valiant compatriots, and the previous owners have no claim at all. What do they care about the plight of mothers expending all their strength to nurse their babies? Hunger and fear press upon us. We are all tattered beggars, with no one to help us and nowhere to turn.
The Polish police try to defend us, following the intervention of Howoywda Mstinsliwow, and Histrovstva from Rohatyn. The head of the village-council, Simho Procik, the Ruthenian, also tries to help us, through his great influence over the villagers.
The whole village is surrounded to the east by forest. At the center of the village are fields of corn and wheat. And in the very center is the rich and fertile land owned jointly by a convert named Karl Pricki, and Crbinski, a Jew-hater from birth, a member of the Polish nobility, and a boor and ignoramus who looses dogs on any Jew that asks for his assistance.
The intervention of the Police and Histrovstva from Rohatyn is helpful, and thirty Jewish families return to their homes and attempt to resume their normal lives, and as much as possible, to reestablish relationships with their Ukrainian neighbors. Houses and fields are returned to every Jew able to prove his ownership of the property, but moveable property is not returned. The Jews are happy that at least they have roofs over their heads.
Of the thirty families, five immigrate to America, and the other twenty-five, some 150 souls, of all ages and all three generations, stay in their place.
The elderly believe in the coming of the Messiah and the days of the Redemption. I believe in the coming of the Messiah I will await his coming everyday. But the young generation is consumed with despair and disappointment. Their faces darken, for lack of knowing where to turn. The nickname Sliuk (hick in the forgein tongue) pursues them. The townspeople make fun of them, and try to convince them to transplant themselves to the urban Jewish centers. But love of their parents prevails upon them, and they remain in their place, helping to reconstruct the family's life and provide a livelihood sufficient for all its members. The small children reacquaint themselves with the free life in the bosom of nature, and trust in their parents erases all worry from their hearts.
Rivers traverse the village, one, the Naryuvke, responsible for more than a few floods and horrible scenes. Two flour-mills stand on the riverbanks, about a kilometer apart from each other, acquired from the nobleman Cerbinski by Reb Moshe Itsi Dorfman. In the course of time, a ramshackle hut has been transformed into a two-story stone building. The second mill, bordering the two villages of Lipica Gorna and Lipica Dulna, belongs to Moshe Shvaler.
The Ukrainians bring their kernels to the mill, and pay the fee in grain because they cannot pay cash. The Jews prove their generosity, and win friends among the Gentiles. Reb Eliezer Dorfman renovates his big house, which contains a bread bakery and a primitive oil-press. He opens a textile store in his big and generous house. Reb Eliezer Dorfman, a pure soul, turns his warm house into a place of prayer, and is adamant about releasing his clerks on Shabbat, festivals, and holidays, without exception. His wife, Mrs. Matala, of blessed memory, a simple and God-fearing woman, receives all comers with kindness, like a good, compassionate mother.
Reb Yankev Leib Freidan organizes communal prayers, and his voices rises up above the others: L'chu neranena [from the beginning of the Friday night service] or Livshi bigdei tifarteych [from the Friday night prayer Lecha Dodi], and though his clothes are worn and tattered, the soul strives for spirituality and Torah, and shared sorrow is half a comfort.
The aforementioned nobleman (the landowner) Pricko Karel, employs Reb Yankel Leib Friedan, a straight and simple God-fearing man, as the director of his property. Reb Yankel Leib Friedan is an able farmer, confident in his own skill, who has proven his ability to manage the estate, but never for an instant forgets the plight of his troubled brethren. He disseminates Torah to the multitude, organizing a communal printing-press, acquiring a Torah scroll for the community, and serving as its leader all the days of his life. And so that the children do not grow up neglectful of Torah, he seeks out teachers for the village, tests them, and supports them in their service.
Through the influence of Reb Yankev Leib Friedan, Pricko leases land to the Jews, and gives them grazing-grounds and stalls, and also gives them trade.
In addition to their meager trade, the Jews of the village also thresh fields, raise cattle, and distinguish themselves as farmers. Again the false hope of normalization, peace, and tranquility of home awakens in them.
I remember the communal matza-baking, when I was still a little boy. All the Jews of the village participated. As if in a dream, the seder nights pass before my eyes: reading the Haggada, a guest in every home, a poor person from the neighboring village, reclining beside the family in fulfillment of the commandment all who are hungry [let them come and eat.] We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and we built the store-cities and we went out from there. and here we are again in wretched exile. How long? Next year in Jerusalem!
How we yearned for that homeland. How many tears flowed when we prayed to the Master of the Universe that techezena eneynu b'shuvcha l'Tzion birachamim, [We envision the day when You will return to Zion in mercy] that the day would come when we would be farmers on our own earth in the Land of Israel, and not in this bitter exile, where we were like dung on the fields.
Many come to visit us from neighboring villages. Relatives forget to mock us as hicks when we make it known that village Jews do not differ from city Jewstheir homes too are open to peddlers come from afar.
Holiday follows holiday, and joy follows joy. I remember the festival of Shavuot in the village, a true festival of spring. Houses were adorned in green, yards looked like forests, and the Gentiles could not believe their eyes, seeing Jews rejoice on a land not their own. They lost no opportunity to bring this fact to the Jews' attention. This is the nature of Jewish joy: that it is always diluted with sorrow. The Ukrainians presented themselves in the street in unruly mobs, and the devils threw stones into Jewish homes.
Mourners sit with downcast eyes in the house of prayer. The benches are overturned, the men are barefoot, the lapels of their clothing are torn. They bewail the destruction of the Temple. Sobs are heard from the women's section. Reb Yankev Leib Friedan, of blessed memory, opens up the book of Lamentations
Emissaries come from Baron Rothschild, to see if the Jews of Lipica Gorna are truly farmers, and bringing financial assistance with them. Help also comes from the American Jews. Cultural life returns to normal. Jewish children study in cheder. There are few Poles, and the big and beautiful school, built before World War One[Tr1], is without students, because the Ukrainians have proscribed it, and sought out different schools for themselves. In 1927, the Ukrainian national awakening began, and they resumed sending their children to the village schools.
The Poles return, remove their children from the common school and set up a new one, which the Jewish children also attend. In practice, this is a Polish school comprised almost entirely of Jews. The Ukrainians see this as a betrayal, and an act of complicity with the Polish enemy. Poverty and exploitation help to persuade the young Ukrainians of this. An uprising against the Poles begins, accompanied by acts of provocation against the Jews. They begin to organize, establishing cooperatives, and the slogan of their boycott of Jewish goods is TheirsTheirs Alone. Their assembly hall becomes a center for propaganda against us.
The Days of Awe come, days of self-examination in matters between man and God, and between man and his neighbor. Leaders of prayer come from Rohatyn for the High Holidays, Reb Nechemye, or Reb Motsi the Schochet (ritual slaughterer,) and their affecting voices break hearts. Jews who on ordinary days pull a plough, chop trees, and struggle for their subsistence, now come to understand the bitterness of their lot in wretched exile, where their honor is demeaned and their freedom stolen from them. And what is their plea to the Master-of-the-Universe? Just a little peace, and a piece of bread with salt. They never protest their difficult circumstances, and joyfully recite the blessing Who brings forth bread from the earth. Who understood this blessing like we village-dwellers did? Our Father, our King, fill our storehousesWe repeat this prayer ceaselessly, because our situation deteriorates from day to day.
And for all the threats and persecution, the older generation never desists from their customs. It is a mitzva, my grandfather would say, to begin building the sukka on the eve of Yom Kippur. Which sukka? I asked innocently. The fallen sukka of King David, he answered.
I still remember Simchat-Torah at the house of Reb Eliezer Dorfman. A new Torah scroll was acquired by the community, so that it would not be without one. This was the only Torah scroll that survived the Bolshevik pogroms.
With what thrills of joy and love did we take note, we young people, of every letter of the Torah. How we rejoiced all through that night, singing Hebrew songs and feeling as though we were close to the Land of Israel, pioneers in one of its villages. That night many from Lipica Dulneh joined our pioneer ranks, and a covenant was forged between the two Jewish settlements.
But our happiness is not long-lived. The village council, which from 1928 has been dominated by the Ukrainians, is disbanded by the authorities. The district governor chooses a Polish village headman and a Polish treasurer, against the will of the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians rebel, destroying public property, railroad tracks, and telephones, and they also burn private property and Polish farmsteads. A penal squad from the 51st battalion in Stanislowaw, and a squad of young policemen from Poznan are activated in Lipica Gorna, at the village's expense, and these bands make use of the opportunity to pillage Jewish homes and assault Jews coming and going in the town. These are truly Days of Awe for us, in all senses of the word.
The winter goes and comes again, and so too the fear and worry. Ukrainian youths go riotously through the village. One frosty night, their jackboots crunching the snow, they set fire to the house of Sara Futter, of blessed memory, and its four inhabitants are left naked and completely lacking. In a few days, a relief committee is established to assist them. My mother, of blessed memory, Mrs. Matla Dorfman, and Mrs. Shular organize a drive and gather new clothes, linens, beds, winter blankets, and so forth, and all of this is given as secret gifts so as not to injure, God forbid, the honor of the family. These were our Yiddishe Mommes, their hands in everything, at all times and in all places: full partners in sorrow and worry, joy and festivity.
Some older children go to the surrounding cities to study in a gymnasium. They eyes are opened, and when they come home they will not keep quiet, and will not rest, and begin organizing the Jewish youth into Stam-Hachaluts, HaShomer HaTza-ir, and Brit Trumpledor movements.[Tr2]
Among these founder, I recall Yechezkel Bratsfis, superlative in the study of Torah and many other activities. He was the one who brought the spirit of the pioneers to Lipica Gorna. He organized and handed on the activities of the K.K.L.[Tr3] A library was established, under the leadership of our dear friend Futter, of blessed memory, who would neither rest nor be still till he had brought the whole young generation to read selected good books. His kind mother, Sara F., of blessed memory, after the restoration of her gutted house, offered us the use of it, and it became the sight of our library, and our chapter of the HaShomer pioneers.
Many newspapers, in many languages, come to us everyday. Pamphlets and all kinds of learning materials open our eyes and lighted us the path that we had chosen. Yechezkel Bratsfis, of blessed memory, does not rest on his laurels, but goes on to organize a drama club, into which he welcomes anyone who demonstrates even minimal singing ability. They put on a number of short plays from Jewish sources, and the proceeds go to the library, the movement, and to a reserve fund. Jewish youth from all around flock to Lipica Gorna, which is transformed into a spiritual and cultural center from the whole region. We establish strong ties with the nearby towns of Rohatyn and Brzezany. In summer and winter we hold meetings, joint hikes, and joint discussions on the future of Zionism and the aims of Jewish youth.
Can it be believed that in a village such as this many actually master the Hebrew language? Hebrew songs are sung by big and small alike, and Hebrew poems and songs are well-known to all the Jewish youth of the village. The chapter organizes a Hebrew club, and public lectures, led by Yechezkel, of blessed memory, on Jewish authors, and Jewish and Hebrew literature. The study of the Jewish histories of Gerets, Balaban, or Dubnow is required of all members.
The riots of 1929, and the news of them that comes to us through the Jewish press, cause us worry and dejection. We are all ready to join the struggle immediately, but the gates of Israel are locked. Illegal ships are returned and we are forced to wait until our hour comes, with prayers of peace for the Land and its Jews. Our mothers arrange a fundraising drive, serving both as donors and collectors.
In 1930, the first of our comrades go through kibbutz-training. Our parents accompany us, filled with a joy mixed with fear. Will we be worthy? Will we make it? The skies of Europe are darkening. The black monster of the swastika is casting out its horror. What will happen? Will it come here too? What will become of us? Our hearts cannot possibly envision the occurrence of what actually came to be.
In 1933, Yankev Steinwurtzel (Gallili) is our first comrade to leave for Israel. His letters stir us, and the cry of Come quickly, however you can, will not allow us to rest. After him, more of us immigrate to Israel.
A noisy train station. Dear ones of all ages are singing, We are going to the Land of Israel, but your heart cries, because you are being separated from those dear to you. Will you see them again? Tears of joy and sorrow intermingle. Hands press hands and hearts throb and plead, Come, join us, for the enemy is at the gate!
1933. Fascism rears its head. The madman proclaims his intention to conquer Europe, and the Jews above all else. The Jews of Lipica Gorna seems to set their worries aside, and go one with their work in the fields, with the fattening of cattle, and with the little trade through which they eke out their living. The older children stay in the village, not wanting to abandon their parents. The war comes in an instant. The letters fall silent and the voices cease
We are left adrift, bereft and lonely. We remain united with our dear ones, whose love and pleasantness never left them in life or death. Until the last of days we will remember the evil that the murderers did to us. We will remember out loved ones along with all the martyrs of Israel who were slaughtered, without mercy and free of fault. Accept this eternal people, because their blood cries out and will not be still.
|Tr1||Text reads World War Two, but this appears to be an error. back|
|Tr2||These Zionist organizations can be translated General Pioneers, The Young Guard and The Covenant of Trumpeldor. back|
|Tr3||Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (Jewish National Fund, an organization to purchase and care for land in Israel) and Keren HaYesod (Foundation Fund, an organization to raise money for Israel) back|
Ya'akov Glili (Steinwurtzel)
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
I wish to summon memories of Lipica Gorna, the village where I was born and lived for twelve years. The name by which the village Jews were known is quite familiar: Yishuvniks. If one wished to refer to another as a boor and ignoramus, it sufficed to call him village-boy (drofs-yingl in Yiddish.) There was some truth to this appellation, because most village Jews were terribly poor, and it was out of their arms' reach to bestow education upon their children. The distance from Jewish centers also exerted a negative influence, and when transportation was bad, these Jews could not allow themselves to send their children to the city. Besides, a child had to help his parents, and was harnessed at an early age to the yoke of earning a living. Most were burdened with many children, and the traditional livelihoods of Jews in all places, and especially in the villages, did not allow for elevated lifestyles, let alone broad education.
Many leased taverns from the noblemen, or flourmills, or land. They also peddled all manner of haberdashery, maintained small shops, or traded in foul and cattle. Here and there were a few artisans, and even some Jews that lived off working the land, thought this was rare, because land-work could not provide nearly as much as trade.
A few of the Jews who leased mills and property were quite wealthy. In the course of time, they even acquired their own mills, and purchased their own property, though very few actually did this.
Despite their great poverty, the Jews spared no expense to provide their children with a little Yiddiskeit. Several families would band together, and bring a teacher from the city to teach the children the basic concepts of Tanach (Hebrew Bible,) and teach them how to write a letter in Yiddish, and even sometimes in German. In the twenties, it was also customary to learn a little Hebrew, especially when the teacher was a young student who had been unable to complete his course of study for lack of funds.
In addition to the worries of livelihood and education, the Jews suffered further from a lack of security. There were schemes against Jewish property, and plots against their lives. Often, bandits attacked the homes of village Jews, robbing them and also setting the houses on fire, and the next day the Jews were without a cent or a roof over their heads. Even so, they could not go away to the city, lacking the means to do so. And so thousands of Jewish families lived in constant fear of tomorrow, worrying about security, livelihood, the fate of their children, and most of all the fate of their daughters, lest they be led away, God forbid, to conversion.
According to the news that reached me, pertaining to the fate of these Jews in World War Two, it seems that a portion of the village Jews were killed by Ukrainian hooligans even before the Nazi's systematic destruction began. Most were removed to the towns, and placed in ghettos, and only a small number were able to hide in the forests, in bunkers, or here and there to join the partisans, though the great number of these were murdered by the Benderaftsi and only a few survived.
The picture I have drawn of Jewish village life portrays the reality that I knew in the village of Lipica Gorna. But on top of that, there was something special about this village that for several years served as a center for the surrounding towns. This was because of the founding of bubbling and seething Zionist pioneer youth movements. Thanks to them, the Jewish youth took on a new character. The charge was led by Stam Chaluts (General Pioneers,) which was associated with the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsayir (Young Gaurdians) movement, and later by Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsayir itself, led by older members of Ha-Chaluts.
The youth began organizing in 1927/8. A few young people, who detested the idle and stagnant life of the village, decided to found a Zionist youth organization. With the help of a friend from Pudhice, who happened to join the circle, they gave the village youth a chance to learn about Zionist issues, and founded a drama club that contributed to the independent cultural activities of the Jewish youth. With the proceeds from performances founded a library and meeting-hall that drew in scores of youth from a 40-kilometer radius. This was no small feat, considering the state of transportation in those days. In addition to plays, they held various benefits for Zionist funds, and memorials for men like Herzl, Trumpeldor, and so forth. The town became a cornerstone, not just for the village youth, but for youth from surrounding towns as well. After the founding of Stam Chaluts, a group of youth broke off and started a chapter of Betar, but this contributed little to Zionist cultural activities, and none of its members immigrated to Israel. A Zionist meeting-hall was founded for the older youth, but its aims were hazy and unclear, and it did not last long.
At first, we had to struggle hard against old-fashioned beliefs, and the resistance of parents to send their children to meetings of these organizations. But we triumphed over all these obstacles, with the help of people who saw the wisdom in supporting us. One of them was M. Shvuler, the owner of a flourmill, who, though not a Zionist himself, still helped us as best he could. He was our shield and dear friend. I cannot possibly forget to mention my mother Rivkeh, of blessed memory, whose house was a meeting-place for all the young people. At first my father stood to the side, but later he too helped us in all kinds of ways. Everyone who came to out house was received warmly, and though our voices rang out in debate late into the bight, my mother, may her memory be blessed, did not disturb us at all. And like her was mother Futter, who rented a room to our chapter. With how much warmth and self-sacrifice did she worry over us, like a real mother. And when we went months without paying our rent, she would tell us laughingly, So be it. If you don't have it, don't pat it. She even often lent us money buy coal and firewood.
Apart from the regular activities, we read newspapers together in the chapter, and this was something of a novelty, because the newspaper had not previously been a regular guest in Jewish homes. But we also established more fundamental lessons in Zionist and socialist ideology. We were involved in every Zionist activity, beginning with collection work for the Jewish National Fund, and ending with the distribution of proceeds. In this service, we would wander far away, to the most remote villages, and were the first to bring something new to the village youth thirsting for activity. When there were congressional elections, Lipica Gorna became an election headquarters, and scores of youth would stream on horse or foot to the command center. All of these activities changed the nature of the youth of Lipica Gorna, and set them on the king's highway. Whoever was able began to attend secondary school in Rohatyn, but even in the village itself, the youth strove to acquire through independent study what they could not get in school.
I cannot record all the names of Lipica Gorna, and will recall only the few that contributed the most to the advancement of the youth. The Kornweitz family, one of whose sons, Yosef, of blessed memory, who hid through the war in a bunker and was killed with his sister only a short time before liberation, served as a teacher for the children of Lipica Gorna, and began to spread Zionist ideology. And likewise, the writer of these lines was very much involved with the Jewish National Fund. Its beginnings in Lipica Gorna were humble, but with the rise of the youth movements it branched out and came to involve all the neighboring villages, until there was not a home without a J.N.F. contribution box. All the other young people also made their contributions to the youth organizations. The children of the Steinwurtzel, Kliger, Dorfman, and Fundik families played considerable roles in the Chaluts movement, being among the first to join, and they also immigrated to Israel in their turn. Most of the Chaluts members from Lipica Gorna went through training outside of Israel, but only some of them immigrated, whether legally or illegally. Two survived the war, and now live here in Israel. Most of them live on the kibbutzim of Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsayir, Ramat Ha-Shofet, Ma'arot, Ayn Ha-Miforets, Sharid, and K'far Meserik. The rest remained outside Israel, for lack of certificates or means to immigrate illegally. They were caught during the war, and put into the ghetto. Most of them did not want to abandon their parents, and perished with them
I know that my brother Avrum stole out of the ghetto every week, went to the village, and brought back food for our parents, until he was caught by the Ukrainian Bendereftsi. He was tortured cruelly for three days in the forest beside the village, until his soul departed, may his memory be blessed.
A small number of Jews from Lipica Gorna were able to hide in the forest, or in bunkers on Polish property. The Poles were a minority in the area and so were willing to help us, in contrast to the Ukrainians, who turned over any Jew they found to the German authorities. Thanks to the good relations that existed between Jewish and Ukrainian youth, there were never any murders in the village, but no help was offered either.
After the war, most of the survivors came to Israel, among them two daughters of the Shvuler family, and only three immigrated to other lands.
Of the 25 families in Lipica Gorna, some 100 people or more, most perished in the Rohatyn ghetto. Today there are some 15 people from Lipica Gorna in Israel, and in addition, a few individuals from surrounding villages such as Lipica Dulna and others. All the immigrants from Lipica Gorna have integrated into the work and creative life of Israel.
It pains me greatly that such a small remnant remains of these deeply-rooted Jews, all good Zionists, who with purity of heart believed in immigration and the building of Israel. Let these pages be a monument to the thousands of Jewish families who lived in the thousands of villages of Galicia, scattered among the Gentiles, their hearts simple and warm Jewish hearts. Whenever someone contested them they responded with understanding, and devoted themselves to the cause of redeeming the Land of Israel and themselves.
May their memory be bound up in the life and the building of Israel.
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