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{Page 132}

Before and Between the Two World Wars

Rzeszow in the Past

by Leon Weisenfeld of Cleveland, U.S.A.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

For many years, I wanted to write a long composition about Rzeszow, the city in which I first saw the light of the world, where I was educated and raised. When I was in London in 1907, I wrote a short essay on Rzeszow, at the request of the late Maurice Meir, the editor of the daily newspaper “Der Yiddisher Journal”. I desired to write more on this topic; however due to difficulties in distant lands and various other distractions, I was unable to realize my dream.

Now that Jewish Rzeszow has become a heap of ruins, that our beautiful city has been wiped off the Jewish map and no longer has even one Jew, I wish to relate with pain the story of Jewish life in Rzeszow, which was so cruelly destroyed by the hands of the nation of “philosophers and poets”.

When I left Rzeszow for the last time in 1920, it had approximately 12,000 Jews. The anti-Semitism that was deeply rooted in the hearts of the Poles reached its pinnacle that year. This was after the pogrom in Rzeszow, and the general boycott against the Jews was in full force. Certainly, I was able to tell a great deal about the Jews of Rzeszow, however here I will only write about a few details of their lives, which I was witness to during my younger days.

The Jews of Rzeszow, until the time that I left the city, were not at all different from the Jews in any other city of Central Galicia. Just as in all cities, there were good, G-d fearing, righteous Jews. However, there was no shortage of different types of Jews. There were a large number of Hassidim, as well as Misnagdim who stubbornly struggled against them. There were ordinary orthodox Jews in Rzeszow, who were neither Hassidim nor Misnagdim, but ordinary righteous people. There were also “progressive” people, or as they were known at that time “Deutschen” (“Germans”), who spoke German, as well as Jews who saw themselves as assimilationists and Poles in every matter, who were known as being “of the Mosaic persuasion”. In short, Rzeszow was not lacking of Jews of any type, just as in other cities of Galicia.

In Rzeszow, there was a small but active group of Maskilim. There were members of the free professions, most of whom were assimilationists. A few of the assimilationists of Rzeszow were known outside the city. At that time, there were also renowned rabbis – Rabbi Heshel Wallerstein and later Rabbi Nathan Lewin – both of whom were giants of Torah. Rzeszow had its own Admor – Reb Lozerel.

Aside from these, Rzeszow also had several very fine householders who were the pride of the city. The most important of these were Reb Motish Eckstein, Noach Shapira, Asher Silber, Michael Birman, Nathan Kanner, Zangen, Froilich and others whose names I do not remember as I write these lines. All of them – and even those whose names have escaped my memory – faithfully engaged in work on behalf of the community and served as representatives of the Jewish community of the city. They were the leaders of the community, and a few of them served on the city council.

At that time, there were no important societal institutions. When I left Rzeszow for the first time at age 16, there was a Chovevei Zion group, however its influence was small. If my memory does not serve me wrong, the leaders of that organization at that time were Moshe David Geshwind, Abba Apfelbaum, and the capable youth Kalman Kurtzman. I do not know how many members that organization had at that time; however, Rzeszow had not yet become a bastion of Zionism worthy of the name.

I remember that at that time I studied in the Cheder of Reb Bantz, and together with the rest of the children, I slipped away from the Cheder and went to the marketplace to hear Dr. Theodore Herzl who visited Rzeszow during his tour of the cities and towns of Galicia. The marketplace was packed with Jews of all stripes, who gathered around the building of the Jewish communal offices and waited for the visitor. When Dr. Binyamin Zeev [1] Herzl arrived in an open carriage accompanied by Moshe David Geshwind and others, silence prevailed, as everyone was awestruck by the beautiful and glorious personality.

My brother Moshe who studied at that time in the Kloiz with other young men, was completely engrossed in his studies of Torah and Hassidism, and did not go out to greet the guest. When I ran enthusiastically to the Kloiz to tell him how impressive was Dr. Binyamin Zeev Herzl, my brother Moshe slapped me on the face and said: “Go back to the Cheder, you Sheigetz”.

The youth of Rzeszow, and even more so the adults, were not yet ready to absorb new ideas. This was the situation in the city until I traveled to America. Rzeszow was, for the most part, a city of orthodox people that contained a number of Maskilim and progressive individuals.


Changes in Rzeszow – Jewish Newspapers

I left my birthplace of Rzeszow for five years and visited not only America, but also other lands such as England, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. I absorbed general knowledge and forged my world outlook. I became convinced in the depths of my heart that only Socialism was able to solve the worldwide Jewish problem. I wrote articles and essays in Jewish newspapers in America, and also in the Jewish newspaper of London. I already saw myself, not without pride, as a budding journalist.

When I returned to Rzeszow I found, to my great surprise, that great change had taken place. The image of the city had completely changed from the time I had left it five years previously. First of all, there was a Jewish Socialist organization existing in Rzeszow, of which there was no trace previously. Secondly, the Jewish youth, and even a significant number of adults, had become attached to Zionism. Even my brother Moshe had already become a Zionist. He had organized a group of former Yeshiva students into a Zionist group called Hashachar. Furthermore, my brother Moshe had also become interested in journalism, and wrote for Hebrew newspapers.

To my great surprise, a weekly newspaper was published in Rzeszow, called “Neie Folkszeitung”, which catered to Zionists and non-Zionists. The publisher of this weekly was the well-known Hebrew teacher in Rzeszow, Naftali Glucksman. My brother Moshe served as the vice-editor of the weekly, and Abba Apfelbaum, Chaim Wald, Mendel Karp, Naftali Tuchfeld, Levi Chaim, and Ben Zion Fett were contributors. The weekly was at a high level even though the contributors had no experience in journalism. The main thrust of the newspaper was toward Zionism, however it also dealt with other problems such as the introduction of reforms in the Jewish community, the raising of its level of democracy, etc. The paper fought a strong battle against the conservatism of the community. It demanded democratic elections and other improvements. These ideas made a great impression upon the Jewish youth during those days. At that time, there was already a Poalei Zion group in Rzeszow, which was headed by Marcus Buchbinder and Bernard Fish. For a certain period they supported the Neie Folkszeitung newspaper; however later the relationship went awry, and a second Jewish newspaper “Di Gerechtikeit” was founded. The founder of this newspaper was Efraim Hirschhorn, a bank official. Mendel Karp, who left the Neie Folkszeitung, was chosen as editor. However, after all the preparations were made, the publication of the weekly was postponed for some time. At that time, I traveled for a few weeks to Berlin, and I did not follow what was going on with the newspaper. In Berlin I used to visit daily the Café Das Westenes, which served as meeting place for writers from many countries. At this café, I met, among others, Dr. Nathan Birenbaum. He was a native of Vienna, his parents having come there from Galicia. His sparkling personality and outstanding abilities influenced me greatly, and I became taken with his ideas of Jewish national autonomy in the lands of Eastern Europe, and to the Yiddish language as the national language of the Jews, which should be recognized by the governments. After I returned to Rzeszow, I made efforts among my acquaintances on behalf of the ideas of Dr. Birenbaum. Efraim Hirschhorn invited me to participate in the new newspaper. After two weeks, we published the first edition of the second Jewish newspaper of Rzeszow. The other participants were Zucker, an expert sign painter; Hirschhorn; Tzvi Simcha Leder; and two others whose names I have forgotten. At first, the newspaper was not successful. The founders of the newspaper decided to appoint me as the editor of the newspaper that appeared every two weeks. The first two pages were dedicated to worldly matters, in particular the ideas of Dr. Birenbaum. The other pages were dedicated to local problems, in particular to the battle against the competing weekly Di Neie Folkszeitung.

Nevertheless, due to many reasons, primarily financial difficulties, the newspaper failed after six editions were published. Immediately after that, I took up my travels again and went to the Scandinavian countries. I returned to Rzeszow after four months and did not see any remnant of the other weekly Di Neie Folkszeitung. It too was short of money, and failed. Thus ended the first experience of publishing Jewish newspapers in Rzeszow.

Only much later did I found in Rzeszow the weekly Di Yiddishe Folkszeitung, which was accepted positively by most of the Jews in the city, and even by the Jews in the towns around Rzeszow. In this newspaper, I warned of the dangers awaiting the Jews from the anti-Semitism, which was rearing its head. After Poland was liberated at the conclusion of the First World War, and Galicia, which had been part of Austria for 150 years, was reabsorbed by the renewed Poland, persecutions against the Jews commenced. The era of the Hallercziks commenced, along with its tribulations. The poisoned cup arrived in Rzeszow as well – on May 3, 1919, on the Polish national holiday, the well-known pogrom took place.

{Newspaper heading bottom of page 133 – Yiddishe Folkszeitung (Yiddish People's Newspaper), edition from October 24, 1919.}


{Page 134}

During the Interregnum

by Dr. Moshe Yaari Wald [2]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

When the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy fell apart in October 1918, Rzeszow found itself in a state of chaos, like all the towns and villages of Galicia. In Vienna, where I was studying, it was clear as early as summer 1918 that the Hapsburg regime was coming to an end, and we stood before the defeat of the central powers, Germany and her allies. I spent my holiday months July and August in Rzeszow, where I could clearly see the signs of the end, the final convulsions of Austrian rule. The patriotic Polish youth, particularly the youngsters who had volunteered for the Polish Legions commanded by Joseph Pilsudski, behaved as though the foreign authority had already come to an end. Evening after evening I saw the outbursts of national dissidence. Youngsters sang songs of revolt in chorus, smashed the imperial symbols, blotted out or obliterated any inscriptions of the words “Imperial and Royal” and removed the signs from the government buildings. But the actual end came at the close of October, when the central powers surrendered to the western allies.

On October 30, 1918, I was in Vienna for the examinations and was an eyewitness to the popular revolt in the Parliament Square. The monarchy fell apart and came to an end, and the subjugated nations, including Poland, returned to life. I left Vienna in alarm and hurried home to my parents in Rzeszow. For the first time I crossed new frontiers, the frontier between Austria and Czechoslovakia, and the frontier between Czechoslovakia and Poland. The railway carriages were full of soldiers and officers, hungry, torn, and tattered, belonging to all the nations of the former empire. Now they were in a hurry to get back home. Signs of anarchy could be seen everywhere. The soldiers pulled off the Imperial emblem from their caps and joyously prepared for peace and freedom by enthusiastically tearing off the insignia of rank from the uniforms of the officers and generals. Everybody was equal now. The soldiers placed the emblems of their own nations on their coat lapels, and Jewish soldiers also put the Star of David or a blue-white ribbon on their military caps.

I arrived in Rzeszow. The railway station was crowded chockfull with soldiers of all nationalities, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Croats, etc., who had abandoned the front and were hurrying to their homelands. The red-white flag with the Eagle of Poland was flying from the government buildings. The Polish commission for the liquidation of occupation rule had appointed a temporary administration for the district of Rzeszow (Reisha). It was headed by Dr. S. Jablonski the former mayor, Dr. Roman Krogulski the mayor, Antoni Bomba the Austrian M.P for the Peasants' Party, and Dr. Theofil Niecz an anti-Semite and head of the Nationalist societies of the town. Not a single representative of the Jews in the town or district was appointed, nor was anyone co-opted to the District Administration.

The economic situation in the town was very bad indeed. The four years of war had impoverished the entire economic structure. The blockade of the western powers had broken off every tie with the world overseas. The shortage of raw materials had brought all civilian industry to a virtual standstill. The military authorities had requisitioned all means of transport. The sources of food such as flour, sugar, etc., were confiscated and diverted chiefly to the army. In Eastern Galicia war was waging between the Poles and Ukrainians, who demanded independence and separation from Poland. Trade was at a standstill. Whatever business there was, was done on a black-market basis. The peasants did not sell their produce for inflation paper money but rather dealt on a barter basis, agricultural produce for industrial goods or dairy products, vegetables for kerosene and salt, fruit for sugar, etc.

There was no internal security. Jews were afraid to go to the outskirts in the evening. Shots were heard here and there at night. The soldiers who had returned home found nothing awaiting them. Gangs of thieves and robbers made the roads dangerous. The streets were half-lit or not lit at all, because fuel was in short supply. Violence was frequent at all hours of the day and night.

The Poles in Rzeszow set up a national defense committee. Police and special police were mobilized. The Jewish ex-servicemen in their uniforms, with the Shield of David on their caps, organized for self-defense and stood on guard in Jewish quarters and in front of synagogues. The municipal authorities faced grave problems, particularly in supplying food to the inhabitants. They could find no way out except to confiscate secret hoards of food in the towns and villages. During those uncertain times, there was a resurgence of the darker instincts among people who had been uprooted from their normal lives during the four years of war. The Jew-hatred, which had been kept concealed in times of peace, was now allowed free and open expression. Jews were beaten in the streets and on the roads. Soldiers were streaming from all parts of the various fronts, going home by train; particularly the Polish soldiers of General Haller's Brigade who returned from France. They maltreated Jews, cut off their beards and earlocks, and flung them out of moving trains.

There was a feeling of ruin and destruction among the Jews. The Polish authorities in town controlled the commercial and industrial departments and discriminated against the Jews at every step. When distributing raw materials and food, they preferred the shops that were opened by the Poles, and which suddenly sprouted up everywhere like mushrooms.

The economic situation of the Jews grew steadily worse. Under Austrian rule, trade had been almost entirely in Jewish hands, and most of the workshops and factories had been working for the Austrian war effort. Even then, during the war period, only very small remnants were left of the economic life and industrial work of the civil population who were not at the front. The storehouses were empty after four years of war, and what remained for the civil population was just the waste and offal. Bread was baked with moldy flour. In the open market all the trade was done by substitutes. The term “Ersatz” (substitute) was heard on all sides. Instead of coffee, some black powder was sold, while tea was replaced by brown leaves manufactured from potato peel. Woolen or cotton goods were replaced by textiles of the queerest fibers or paper. Shoe-soles were made of wood, etc.

Under Austria, as remarked, trade had been 90% in Jewish hands. In face of the bitterness which affected the rural and urban population alike, the Polish authorities and nationalist demagogues found only one thing to do: to divert he fury of the proletariat against the Jews who had been the scapegoat since time untold.

In Rzeszow and the small towns of the district, the Jews cried aloud at the violence, robbery, and hooliganism. During those days of distress for the population as a whole and our people in particular, well to do peasants became rich. They sold their produce at inflated prices. People who had been well to do in times of peace lost their prosperity, and were replaced by energetic young men, former assistants in big warehouses, whose owners had lost all they had during the Russian invasion because all contact with foreign countries had been broken.

Particularly unhappy was the position of the Jewish intellectuals. The studying youth dreamt of a new world, of social justice, of national liberation. They could see only one way out – to leave anti-Semitic Poland. But the frontiers were closed and barred. Most of the youth that had been educated in the Zionist spirit, and whose hopes had been awakened by the Balfour Declaration, impatiently awaited the opening of the frontiers. In this difficult situation, the Jewish leaders in our town saw that they must organize in order to protect the physical, economic, and spiritual existence of the Jews. A National Council was set up, composed of representatives of all currents and parties. This council published a proclamation in Yiddish and Polish, signed by the leaders of our community.

{Newspaper pages on bottom of page 135 – Two front pages of Komunikat, Jewish newspaper of Rzeszow, one page in Yiddish, and one in Polish.}

The Poles also set up a National Defense organization, for they too were experiencing a period of anarchy that threatened to overwhelm them. The Communist leaders in the country and elsewhere preached and encouraged the poverty-stricken groups in towns and villages to confiscate the estates of the Polish nobility. The atmosphere was highly explosive, and there was a scent of revolution in the air. The Polish National Defense Organization also issued a proclamation to the inhabitants. The Jews were insulted and apprehensive because of one sentence in this document, which prohibited the admission of Jews as members. They recognized that this indicated that it was not the task of the organization to defend the Jewish half of the Rzeszow population.

The Jews were also called upon to lower the price of goods by 75%, which hinted that the Jews were keeping up the prices in order to become rich. Dr. R. Krogulski, the mayor, demanded that the War Profits Tax should be collected by force. The National Defense Organization issued an official communiqué stating that the son of Dr. Wilhelm Hochfeld (who had been the head of the community) was welcomed into the Catholic Church in a festive ceremony under the patronage of the Pierrian Monastery.

Heavy clouds lowered over the Jews at the end of 1918. Thunder could be heard on the horizon, and we awaited a tremendous storm that might burst out any day. Nor was it long in coming. Poland had taken the Third of May as its national festival, in memory of the constitution granted on the 3rd of May 1791. On May 3rd 1919, riots against the Jews of Rzeszow and the neighboring towns broke out, with the participation of ruffians from the town and country. This was a Pogrom according to the familiar formula of robbery, bloodshed, and destruction of property. The civil and military authorities did not even lift a finger to stop it. The authorities did nothing for a whole day, until the fires of destruction began to approach the estates of the nobility and the mansions of the rich Christians. Mr. Leon Weisenfeld, a writer and journalist, now living in Cleveland, U.S.A., had given his account of the Pogrom as he saw it in a special contribution.

As mentioned above, the Jews were prepared, and were not taken by surprise. The Jewish inhabitants of Rzeszow, including hundreds of demobilized soldiers who had returned from the front, prepared a National Council, and on November 15th, 1918 (1 Kislev 5679) issued a communiqué. The council consisted of fifteen members representing all the national trends, and was headed by a presidency. The head of this body was Rabbi Nathan Lewin, and his assistants were Reb Abba Apfelbaum and Dr. Kalman Salzmann. The treasurer was E. Lifschutz and the secretaries: Dr. Eduard Lecker and Kalman Kurtzman. The National Council elected a community of 21 members. Dr. Adolf Schnee was elected chairman of the community, with Dr. Felix Hopfen and Chaim Eisenberg. The Polish authorities appointed Dr. Adolf Schnee as the commissioner responsible to the government. These committees were elected: 1) economics; 2) culture; 3) legal assistance; 4) finance; 5) information and press.

The community council resolved on lowering prices and requested the government representative to appoint a joint committee to fix prices, headed by a government official. They also demanded that suitable representation for Jewish merchants and consumers should be secured on this body.

The National Council called on merchants and innkeepers to carefully obey the instructions and prohibitions of the government, to keep to the maximum prices announced, and also to close the inns and drinkshops until further notice. The council also called on the Jewish ex-servicemen to remove the Shield of David signs from their caps.

Representatives of the council proceeded to Krakow and appeared before Count Lasocki and Mr. Tetmeyer, who were the heads of the military and administrative council of the country. There they submitted a complaint regarding the prohibition of Jewish membership in the National Guard. The heads of the commission promised to view this complaint favorably and to give suitable instructions to Dr. Krogulski, the commissioner in Rzeszow. Dr. A. Schnee and Dr. Samuel Reich continued the negotiations in this connection with Dr. Krogulski.

On November 5th 1919, a proclamation in Polish appeared in Rzeszow, signed by the Jewish Socialist party (Z.P.S.), the Zionist Organization and the Poaleii Zion, in which they demanded recognition of Jewish minority rights, cultural autonomy, political and civic equality, and proportional representation in all government bodies. Communiqué No. 5 of the O.O.N. (National Defense Organization) expressed regret at the issue of the proclamation by the Jewish National Council. They complained because it had been published and distributed in “jargon”, and remarked that a document of this kind was not likely to calm the general mood.

Finally, the communiqué stated that the Jews would do better if they refused to purchase stolen or pillaged goods. The same communiqué also contained a denial of the report that the Jewish Dr. Marek Pelzling, who was a leader of the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S.), had been dismissed from the leadership of the group.

The chaos and confusion in our town reached their climax on May 3rd, 1919. After that, the storm gradually died down, and was followed by years of relative tranquility.


{Page 137}

The Chaos of 1918

by Rabbi Moshe Kamelhar

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the year 5679 / 1918, after the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire, new countries arose upon its ruins. With the help of the great powers who won the war, the Polish nation attained its freedom and independence. The province of Galicia, which had belonged to Austria for more than one hundred years, was annexed to Greater Poland. After gaining its independence, the Polish nation celebrated its holiday of independence. They were drunk with victory, and celebrated this holiday at the expense of the Jews. Bad tidings of incidents and attacks against the Jewish residents began to flow in from cities and towns of the country. There were places where the Jews defended themselves – the defenders were those who had returned from the war – and they even had weapons. In such cases the “brave” people who were drunk with victory recoiled, however there were places where the tribulations broke out without the Jews suspecting that anything was about to happen, for the preparations for the attacks were done very carefully and in secret. Rzeszow was one of the cities upon which the attack came suddenly. The perpetrators chose the Sabbath day, when the Jews would be gathered in the synagogue. Then they displayed their might against a community that had no opportunity of defending itself. The pogrom broke out on May 3rd, 1919. The large Kloiz was the first to be attacked. As the worshippers were in the middle of their prayers, explosions were heard and heavy rocks flew through the windowpanes onto the heads of the worshippers. Many were injured, and some people started to jump out of the windows. However, the attackers surrounded them and fell upon them with fury. When the frightening news spread to the other synagogues in the city, everyone fled in confusion in search of a hiding place. My father worshipped in the Rymanow Kloiz. When the news reached there, he stood in his place, without knowing what to do. I advised him to flee and to find a hiding place for himself in the home of Reb Eliezer Low, which was close by. When we entered, the house was already full wall-to-wall. I told them that according to my opinion, the danger was greater than in any other place. They absolutely should not remain crowded in that house, for then Heaven forbid, the attackers would come and there would be many victims. Immediately we were the first to leave the place, and we attempted to forge our way to the house in which we lived. It was a great distance from Reb Eliezer Low's house to our house, for we lived at 5 Wolnosci Square. During the time of danger, every step was like a mile, however we forged our way with full faith that nothing bad would happen to the Tzadik. We saw the great damage inflicted on the Kloiz, the old synagogue, the Beis Midrash and the rabbi's house that stood side by side, upon which the attackers had fallen with great fury. There was already an armed soldier standing guard there, obviously after the fact – which eased our passage through the lane on the way to the entrance of our house. At a distance, a large crowd was mulling about, apparently busy in breaking into stores and pillaging, and they did not pay attention to us. Miraculously, we arrived at our home.

On occasion there was a knock at the door, and attackers accompanied by an armed soldier entered the house and conducted a search of the premises. With the soldier standing by, they took anything that came to their hands, put it into their sacks, and left. Thus did the tribulations last for two days, until the army began to restore order. Apparently, the attackers had received permission to attack and pillage for only two days.

The city of Rzeszow was perplexed. The terrible war had just finished, and now there were these types of tribulations! The Jews of Rzeszow sensed, all at once, that the positive relations between the community and the government that existed during the time of Austrian rule had suddenly flown away.

In the meantime, Poland entered into a war against the Bolsheviks, and for a short period, they forgot about the Jews. At that time, I left Poland.



The Pogrom of Rzeszow

by Naftali Hakhel

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Upon the establishment of independent Poland, the first job was to take care of the Jews. Just as in the other cities of Poland, the Hallercziks (the legionnaires under General Haller) went around the streets of the city armed with guns and pistols. They attacked the Jews who passed by, using various pretexts. Rumors circulated around the city about the preparations of the masses of farmers for an attack upon the city. My brother (who had returned from the war) and myself participated in a meeting in the large Kloiz, which was convened by the heads of the community in order to take council about arranging defense. During the meeting, the possibility of obtaining arms from the provisional government of the city was discussed. When we returned, my brother and I discussed this matter loudly, just as two legionnaires were passing behind us. When they heard the word “geveher” (“arms” – they knew German), they found a pretext to capture us. They brought us to the place where many citizens were gathered to receive arms in order to preserve the order. They detained us all night and threatened to shoot us dead. After that, they imprisoned us in the courthouse jail, and recorded all details. They imprisoned us for four days. When this became known at our house, honorable men from the community were called who interceded in our favor before the government, and then we were freed.

Slowly, life returned to its normal pattern. However, the peace was tense, and the anti-Semitic atmosphere continued. The masses waited for the day when they would be able to arrange a pogrom in the city in order to pillage the property of the Jews. This took place on May 3rd, 1919. In the morning, the pogrom started with an attack on the worshippers of the Great Kloiz with stones and clubs. Many Jews who did not succeed in escaping via the windows were injured. At that time, our family lived in Lobasch's house. A miracle happened in that we did not hurry up to go to the prayers. We closed and locked the gates of the courtyard while there was still time, so the hooligans could not enter. We stood on the balcony facing the courtyard and looked at the house of Lazer Koretz, which was next to the Mikoszka canal. We saw how the crowd of pillagers stormed around the gate and broke through. The residents of the upper floors began to scream in fear. Pillows and blankets were thrown from the windows, and the feathers scattered all over the street. The pillaging, theft, and screams continued throughout the day. Only during the last hours did the police and army take control, and quiet was restored.


{Page 138}

The Sejm (Parliament) Committee,
and the Ministers from Rzeszow

by Dr. Yechezkel Lewin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Footnote at bottom of page: The Polish government and the Starosta forced the Jews to give money and sign loans for the war. The Pole Leon Bilinski was the finance minister of the Hapsburg government.

This article was published in the Nowy Dziennik Jewish newspaper in the Polish language.

Yesterday, the delegation of Sejm members and ministers, headed by Vitus, arrived in Rzeszow. The delegation included the Sejm representative Dr. Yitzchak Schipper, and the priest Okun and others. Immediately after they arrived, they went to Strzyzow, and returned toward evening. In the office of the Starosta (mayor), a reception was arranged for the representatives of the institutions and offices of the Jewish community. Those invited include Dobrowloski, the head of the court; D. Ostrowski the head of the gymnasia who was a representative of the chairman of the N.D. party (National Democrat Party, which had an anti-Semitic leaning); Dr. Krogulski the mayor; Dr. Wilhelm Hochfeld the head of the supply division of the town council; Dr. Shmuel Reich, the chairman of the relief committee; Dr. E. Schnee, the chairman of the communal council; Leon Weisenfeld, the editor of “Neie Yiddishe Folkszeitung” as a representative of the newspapers, Dr. Niecz, the chairman of the national defense organization, as well as the mayors of the neighboring villages.

The parliamentary committee received first and foremost the representatives of the P.P.S. (The Polish Socialist Party) and discussed with them the supply situation, the work shortage, and the unrest that took place in the city on the 3rd and 4th of May. Dr. Krogulski later described the happenings in the city. Dr. Hochfeld gave information about the supply situation. The representatives of the city magistrate and community were received separately.

A strange thing happened. During the interrogation of the chairman of the community Dr. Schnee, as he began to discuss the unrest in detail, he was interrupted by the chairman of the evening Vitus who claimed that the matter had already been discussed. However he was forced to permit him to continue when Dr. Y. Schipper claimed that it is important to hear the other side from a representative of the Jews who suffered. During his testimony, Dr. Schnee mentioned that for some time prior to the outbreak of the unrest, rumors spread in the city that on the 1st or 3rd of May there would be an action against the Jews. The schoolchildren also had heard this. On the basis of these rumors they turned to the government while there was still time, and received assurances about their defense. May 1st passed uneventfully, however on the 3rd of May, the pogrom broke out with frightening fury. The rabble pillaged, broke into homes and stores, robbed, destroyed, ignited fires, injured Jews, broke into the synagogue, desecrated the holy objects, tore and trampled upon the Torah scrolls, and left complete destruction in its wake.

The Starosta Konsznowice did whatever was in his power. He turned several times to the officials and demanded the help of the army, however the army stood to the side and did not become involved. Those who were pillaged and injured took the hint that there is no judge and no judgement, and that the bonds had been broken. Dr. Schnee discussed the causes of the unrest. In the neighboring villages, people were incited. It was clear that some hidden power directed the events. Rumors about the murder of a Christian child for religious purposes had circulated around; however the government immediately took contrary measures. It would seem that the day of the unrest had been predetermined. Dr. Schnee continued and described the work of the institution for judicial assistance, which had already started work and already investigated 340 cases of theft. The damage amounted to more than 5 million Crowns.

After hearing the testimony of Dr. Schnee, the chairman Vitus invited all of the participants to a plenary session, where he explained in a short speech that the purpose of the meeting was to establish the cause of these events and who were perpetrators and the guilty parties. Afterward he requested that the invitees express their opinion on this matter. There was silence in the hall. Then Mr. Leon Weisenfeld, the editor of the Jewish newspaper, arose and blamed Zawada, the commander of the battalion, for being responsible for the worsening of the pogrom, for the army could have put down the unrest with threats. The commander refused to become involved from the morning until the afternoon, and permitted the crowds to plunder despite the requests of the Starosta Kosznowice. The Sejm member Vitus asked if this “action” was only against the Jews. Mr. Weisenfeld answered that the main fact that proves that the entire event was organized against the Jews was that the Christians walked around peacefully in the street while the ruffians beat and hurt any Jew who passed by. He pointed out the idiosyncratic fact that during the time of the pillage of the stores, the ruffians broke into a Christian store, and when the Christian storeowner appeared they begged his forgiveness and left. The events of the 3rd and 4th of May were not merely an “action” or an occurrence, but rather a pogrom against the Jews in the full sense of the word. Mr. Weisenfeld claimed that the reasons for the pogrom could be seen in the propaganda published by the Polish newspapers as well as the activities of Mr. Vitus, Okun and their cohorts who incited the farmers against the Jewish community in their public gatherings. The newspapers ignited the fire, which erupted into flames of pillage and destruction. At the request of Mr. Weisenfeld, Dr. Hochfeld presented details about the blood libel accusations against the Jews of Rzeszow. During the days of the holidays, a young Christian girl from an honorable family disappeared for a few days, and when she returned home she told that the Jews tortured her and imprisoned her in a cellar for two days. From an intensive interrogation and physical exam by a doctor it became clear that the girl spent those days with a young man, and out of fear of her parents she fabricated this story blaming everything on the Jews. This was a factor that incited the pogrom. Mr. Weisenfeld then went on to praise the behavior of the Starosta Kosznowice, and deplored the behavior of the commander Zawada.

The mayor of the village Pobitno blamed the Jews for raising the prices. Mr. Weisenfeld retorted that the farmers demanded 1,000 crowns for a measure of wheat! The mayor continued with his accusations, claiming that thousands of Jews from the entire region came to live in Rzeszow and ate the bread of the poor of the Christian nation. He said that the farmers of his village did not participate in the pillage, only the youths and children who brought home toys and items of small value. He claimed that in his village there is no trace of anti-Semitism. The mayor of the village Staromiescie made a blood libel accusation against the Jews. Ostrowski, the head of the gymnasia (high school), blamed the Jews on account of their assistance and support of the Germans and Austrians. The Jews signed loans for the Austrian war effort. The Jews did not serve in the army, but rather engaged in forbidden business and price fixing. He and his group were certain that this behavior would lead to dire results, and the Polish people would take revenge against the Jews, however they did not feel that the revenge would be in the form of a pogrom and pillage. According to his opinion, the responsible party for the pillage and unrest were the Communists and the socialists such as Father Okun and Sztefanski the leaders of the left wing farmers. Father Okun issued a sharp rebuttal against the words of Ostrowski. The head of the gymnasia continued and called upon the party of Okun and Sztefanski to unite with his party in order to create a strong government. With regard to the unrest, he said that it would have been appropriate to put the army into action and to crush it using weapons to instill fear. His speech was filled with Jew hatred. Dobrowolski, the head of the court, felt that the hands of the Bolsheviks and Socialists were involved in organizing the unrest. That was the black hand. Dr. Niecz criticized the failure of the police and the behavior of the magistrate in that they did not conduct investigations against the Jews. The mayor of Pobitno claimed that the farmers did not pillage. Among the Jews of Rzeszow there were many supporters of the Bolsheviks. Mr. Weisenfeld contradicted this claim. He stated that the Jewish workers' organizations were very far from Bolshevism. Dr. Reich mentioned the damaging influence of the newspapers such as Piast, Korier, etc. He said that it was the duty of the government to censure these papers in order to crush the anti-Semitic leanings. Mr. Weisenfeld sharply criticized the inflammatory articles of Piast, and requested that the member of the Sejm Vitus exert his influence upon the publication of his party that it cease its incitement and calm down the villagers, of which he was the leader.

As a side point, Dr. Niecz said: “there are Zionists among you”. He lumped the Zionists together with the Bolsheviks. Mr. Weisenfeld pointed out to him that the Zionists were faithful citizens and the accusation that Bolshevism is connected to Zionism is a dirty lie, for the majority of the Jewish people are lovers of Zion.

Dr. Yitzchak Schipper, a participant of this meeting, requested that the voice of Poalei Zion also be heard, for up until now only the opinion of the citizens' parties had bean heard; however his request was turned down. Thus ended the meeting of the delegation, which continued until an hour and a half past midnight. All of the deliberations of the delegation took the form of a public gathering and no inclination was displayed by the delegation to investigate the motives of the perpetrators of the unrest. It is important to point out the meetings of the delegation took place after 9:00 p.m., when the curfew was in effect and it was forbidden for a citizen to appear in the streets. In this manner, all contact between the delegation and the Jewish population was prevented.

On Tuesday, the Sejm delegation traveled on to Kolbuszowa, and an inter-ministerial committee was left in Rzeszow, which heard the testimony of Dr. Krogulski, Dr. Schnee, and the editor Weisenfeld. Dr. A. Schnee presented a written account of the pogrom and demanded that the government put a stop to the anti-Semitic incitement of the newspapers. The committee promised to present this request to the government.

Nowy Dziennik, Rzeszow, 20th May, 1919.

{Photo page 139 – Members of “Hashachar” in 1922, in the center is Rabbi Dr. Yechezkel Lewin.}


{Page 140}

The Morgenthau commission in Central Galicia

by Yosef Storch

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Footnote at bottom of page: From the paper “Zionist Folkszeitung” of Warsaw.

{Photo page 140 – Leon Weisenfeld. His signature appears below the photo.}

After the emissary Morgenthau left our city Rzeszow, his assistant, Professor Gothardt, remained behind. He sat in the communal offices all afternoon on Thursday and listened to testimony about the pogrom that took place here on May 3rd and 4th. Dr. A Schnee, a Zionist and the head of the community gave him a detailed description of the situation of the Jews prior to the pogrom. In particular, he pointed out the difficult economic situation that the Jews found themselves in. Later, testimony was heard from some of those who were badly injured.

The editor L. Weisenfeld gave him a complete description of the events, pointing out the reasons behind the pogrom. With harsh words, he blamed the government who had it within its power to quell the pogrom, but did not do so.

After the investigation, Professor Gothardt went to see the damage that was inflicted upon the synagogues and the homes. The next morning, Professor Gothardt, accompanied by the editor Leon Weisenfeld, went to Kolbuszowa and Glogow.

In Kolbuszowa, they went to the home of Dr. Rabinowicz, the assimilationist. The Jews of Kolbuszowa turned to Mr. Leon Weisenfeld and requested that he explain to professor Gothardt that Dr. Rabinowicz, is actually a real “anti-Semite”, that all of his “activities” actually express disdain for the local Jews and that he causes damage with each footstep of his.

When they arrived at the house of Rabinowicz, the editor Mr. Leon Weisenfeld had to immediately stand up in defense of the Jews of Kolbuszowa. The boorish “politician” immediately, in his first conversation with Professor Gothardt, began to describe the misdeeds of the Jews and even permitted himself to point out that the Jews themselves were responsible for the frightful pogrom since they express nationalistic tendencies and occupy themselves with business. Professor Gothardt began to show disinterest in the conversation, and only then did he send for members of the Jewish council. They were all able to describe details of the frightful pogrom of May 5th and 6th.

The stories of the Jews, who were for the most part elderly, were frightful. That was particularly true of their description of the cruel manner in which nine Jews were murdered, including two women, and two elderly men, one 85 years old and the other 92 years old. The ruffians dragged Natobitz, who was in her forties, the entire length of the marketplace until the church. They murdered her at the gate of the church, and then abused her corpse. The vice-mayor Mr. Eckstein described the great destruction that took place against the majority of the Jewish residents of Kolbuszowa. Of the 416 Jewish families, 370 people were injured, and 250 families were left without anything, and now have no means of livelihood up till this day.

Mr. Leon Weisenfeld was quite taken aback when Professor Gothardt, after hearing the frightful description, expressed his opinion that a solution could only be found if the Jews would shave off their beards and peyos, speak Polish, and take on the customs of the ruling nation. All the appeals of the editor Leon Weisenfeld were not able to move Professor Gothardt from his opinions, until… they arrived in Glogow.

In Glogow, the communal council and important citizens of the town awaited them. The head of the community described to them the frightful situation of the local Jews, and the terrible events that took place on May 5th.

Other elders, including 85 year old Reb Yosef Tahler, described the various tribulations and the general destruction. With tears in their eyes, they all made a singular request: “We do not want to complain about anyone, we do not want to punish those who pillaged us, and we are not interested in revenge. The only thing that we request is to help us while the possibility still exist, for our energy will not last for very long.”

During the return trip from Glogow to Rzeszow, the editor Leon Weisenfeld asked Professor Gothardt about his opinion of the Jews of Glogow, and their beards and peyos. Professor Gothardt thought and then said: “You are right! These Jews deserve to be treated with honor.”


Translator's Footnotes

1. Theodore Herzl's Hebrew name was Binyamin Zeev. Back

2. This section has been translated in the English section, pages 57-60. The translation presented here is a word for word transcription of that translation. Any awkward English that appeared in the translation (and there indeed was some) was preserved. Some awkward capitalization, spelling, and grammar were fixed. One paragraph that was noted to be absent in the English was added in. The footnotes that appear only in the Hebrew section have not been included in this translation. They mainly refer to Kommunicat proclamations of the O.O.N. Back

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