« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

{Page 229}

Rzeszow Jews and Censuses

by Ben Zion Fett

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1.

In a country such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was populated by many nationalities, every nationality made great efforts to persuade the officials that the number of its population is as large as possible. Indeed, the Austro-Hungary Empire was a conglomerate of eleven nations, aside from the Jews who were not considered to be a unique people.

Fifty years ago, Austria was ready to conduct reforms in laws regarding elections to the national council (the parliament of Austria). We, the Zionists of Galicia, were particularly interested in attaining recognition for the Jews as an independent national minority.

For many years, we were like a toy ball that was tossed between the Poles and Ukrainians. The Poles were interested in attracting the Jews of Galicia to their side, for without these Jews, they were liable to become a minority with respect to the Ukrainians, and their authority was liable to be restricted in a significant manner. The Poles wished to prevent this at all costs, and therefore they did not mince their means. They obtained the support of the assimilationists of the Jewish communities by granting various official positions to their leaders in the royal council and national council, and by bringing them to positions of authority within their communities by improper means. They granted the Rabbis various extra privileges to gain the approval of the Hassidim.

Woe to any person who rebelled against the government at that time. The city council had complete authority over the Jew. The lowest official of the city council, in the regional government or in any other government body – ruled over him, imposed fines upon him, and was allowed to deprive him of his livelihood. The Jewish intelligentsia gained a significant influence over the Jews. This caused them to act with greater independence, and they did not tremble that much regarding threats from the government.

2.

A census year would bring a change in the political life of the Jews. Now they could prove that they regarded themselves as an independent nationality that was not prepared to serve the interests of other nationalities. The Zionist organization decreed that one must enter "Yiddish" to the question regarding language, for this was the only way to demonstrate one's affiliation with the Jewish nationality. This strategy had to be explained to the masses of Jews. This could only be done through meetings, newspapers, decrees and personal explanation. The Polish leaders, from their side, tried to convince the Jews to register Polish as their language.

The ruler of Galicia of those days, Dr. Michael Bobozinski, ordered all of the regional captains to “concern themselves” that the Jews register Polish as their language. The Poles enlisted the assimilationists and the well-known Rebbe of Belz (other rabbis did not involve themselves in politics) in this action against the Zionists. They imposed fines upon shopkeepers who were known as Zionists, in particular against owners of grocery stores, in order to keep them from engaging in propaganda during the time of the census. One of those affected by this decree was the father of Meir Yaari and his brother Dr. Moshe Yaari, who owned a grocery store in Rzeszow. Nevertheless, he and his friends were not cowed. Whoever declared himself to be a Zionist had the strength to take a stand, even if heavy sacrifice was involved.

{Photo page 229: Ben-Zion Fett.}

3.

The authorities even attempted to break up the meetings that were called by the Zionists. They girded themselves with the Statute of Assemblies, which gave every regional official the power to forbid a gathering if it was liable to “disturb the public order”. However the Statute of Assemblies also protected the Austrian citizen from control by the officials, for paragraph 2 of that selfsame law permitted the conducting of meetings by personal invitation, without the need to announce such meetings in public.

Often enough, the authorities disturbed those meetings, despite the fact that this was against the law. In such cases, of course, the meeting organizer was permitted to complain through acceptable channels; however, in the meantime, the purpose of the disruption was actualized, that is the cancellation of the meeting.

Frequently, the authorities issued secret notices to the owners of the halls, informing them not to permit the Zionists to organize meetings there. In such cases, the situation was difficult, indeed almost hopeless, unless a person was found who dared to act against the decrees of the government, even though he knew that he would certainly be punished for that.

I remember one such occasion during the time of the elections to the council of the kingdom in the year 1907. As we were travelling through the electoral region, in which Rabbi Gedalyahu Shmelkes of blessed memory competed against the ruler at the time, Dr. Bobozinski, we came to the town of Mielec in Western Galicia. The Jews refused to provide a hall for us to use. In addition to the fact that the government forbade this, the local rabbi, Horowitz, also forbade this. We were at a loss, but we did not wish under any circumstance to leave the town without Rabbi Shmelkes delivering his election speech. David, the son of Rabbi Horowitz, a faithful and dedicated Zionist, advised us to enter into negotiations with the Polish lawyer Dr. Nowacinski, who was a mortal enemy of the regional captain. He gave over to us the four rooms of his office with obvious satisfaction. We enlisted the youth of the town, emptied the furniture from the rooms, and the gathering took place.

{Page 230}

4.

Let us return to the census. I was responsible for organizing the town of Dukla, near the Hungarian border. (Dukla was known from the First World War as the place where the Russians tried to break through the Dukla Pass in the Carpathian Mountains in order to penetrate into Hungary, but they were repelled with heavy losses.) On a cold winter day, I traveled by train to Iwonicz, and from there I was supposed to continue on by sled to Dukla, a few kilometers away from the train station. The local Zionists, who knew of my arrival, gave me “in case of difficulties” a warm fur coat, which served me well. When I arrived in town, I first of all asked that the posters I brought with me would be put up. These posters requested that the Jews register “Yiddish” as their language in the census forms. After that, I went out to search for a suitable hall, in which I could hold the evening meeting.

After the local youths put up the posters, they personally informed the Jews of the meeting. I spent the hours until the meeting in the home of the school principal Mr. Bader, the father of Menachem Bader who is today the general director of the development office. All of his family members belonged to the Zionist youth of Dukla. There, I heard information about the local conditions, and I met with the heads of the local Zionist office, with whom I discussed ways to publicize our activities with regard to the census.

In the evening we made our way to the meeting hall, that was filled from brim to brim. The meeting was called under the authority of paragraph 2 of the Statute of Assemblies, but we forgot to issue invitations to those attending, as was required by law. However, since there was no political authority in town, we saw no great danger in the lack of invitations. Aside from this, there was no time to prepare and distribute invitations. If something happened I, and only I, would be required to give accounting, and I was not able to impose responsibility on a local resident.

Indeed, an incident occurred. I did not pay attention to the fact that in places where there was no political authority, the town secretary was authorized to fill such a role.

I had barely started my speech when a man entered the hall, approached the podium, declared the meeting closed, and ordered those assembled to disperse. Without thinking too much, I pointed to the door and demanded that the man leave the hall. He indeed left. Those gathered took note of my strong action. Nobody left the meeting. I continued my speech, and with that I concluded my task.

5.

There was, however, a continuation of this incident. We were sitting innocently in Bader's house and eating supper, when two men appeared and informed us that the secretary (it was only then that I realized that they were speaking about the town secretary) was wandering through the town searching for witnesses of this incident. Through those two men, I sent him my visiting card, upon which I wrote that his searching is not necessary, as I was willing to admit everything. I thought that this would conclude the matter for me, for the meeting was conducted in accordance with paragraph 2. Since this man did not have an invitation (he could not have known that others did not have invitations either), I was correct in removing him from the hall. I did not hurt him in any other way. Therefore, it was unclear to me why he was searching for witnesses. Of course the entire incident that took place before the eyes of the residents of the town was not pleasant for the secretary, for he, the ruler of the town, was expelled from the hall by a young man who was not a local resident.

The elder Mr. Bader cordially offered to act as an intermediary between the secretary and me. However I refused, since it was clear to me that this secretary acted rashly, and he only wanted to salvage his own damaged reputation. I did not wish to assist him at all in that, especially after I had showed the Jews that one need not fear him. I did not want to weaken that impression under any circumstance.

6.

Two months passed. I suddenly received a summons to appear as an accused before the regional court in Dukla. I traveled there. Once again, the local Zionists sent me a fur coat to the train station. I once again was a guest at Bader's house. I was informed that the secretary had threatened all of the Jews of Dukla with a heavy punishment.

In the note of accusation, I read that: a) I had set up an illegal meeting; 2) I opposed the government; 3) I insulted an official as he was fulfilling his role. All of these crimes brought with them serious punishments. Twenty other residents of Dukla were accused along with me. Therefore, I convened the twenty ”criminals” in order to direct them as to how to conduct themselves in court. It is self evident that they were enveloped in deep fear of the punishment that awaited them. I declared that I would take the entire guilt of the incident upon myself in order to free them from the nightmare, but I am not sure that I succeeded in relieving their fear.

It was still not clear to me upon what the prosecution was based. I did not know what proofs the secretary would bring upon which to base his accusation. Would it be possible that he would enlist false witnesses to “fabricate” something that never took place? I was sure that it was impossible to prove even one of the three claims in the writ of accusation, but I was afraid that the secretary would use various means that would be difficult for me to contend with. But it turned out that this man was more naïve, or perhaps more stupid – than I anticipated.

7.

The courthouse was completely packed with Jews and gentiles. The Jews were in a low spirit. They felt bad for me, as I was awaiting a heavy punishment. The gentiles were joyful that they were able to annoy the brazen youth from the big city.

First of all, I inspected the prosecution portfolio. What were the proofs that the secretary brought upon which to base his claim? How naïve was he! First of all, there was my visiting card, after that, one of the posters that he had taken down from the wall. I immediately realized that this accusation was based upon very flimsy evidence. The only Jewish lawyer in Dukla offered me his services gratis, but I politely refused, since I had already planned my defense, and the lawyer who was inexperienced in political cases would only disturb me.

The trial was conducted in the presence of one judge. Complete silence fell as the judge entered the courthouse. The entire gathering listened very attentively to the reading of the writ of accusation by the court registrar. When he concluded, I requested permission to speak. I explained to the judge my surprise on the fact that twenty fine citizens were brought to trial because they responded to the invitation to the meeting, despite the fact that they have no connection to the content of the accusation. I pointed out that I myself take complete responsibility for what had happened.

{Page 231}

I gave a very long speech. The entire gathering listened with great attention. Then the judge stood up and announced the acquittal of the twenty accused Jews, “in the name of His Majesty”! It was easy to understand the joy of the Jews when they heard that they had been cleared. Actually they would have been an additional burden on my plan of defense. Of course, the secretary was angry that his attempt at revenge against the residents of his town was ended so quickly.

8.

Now the actual proceedings of the court case started. The secretary was the sole witness of the prosecution. The investigation began. The secretary described how he disbanded the meeting “in accordance with the law”, and how I asked him to leave the hall. He explained that nobody left the meeting in spite of his request. He concluded with great self-confidence that what we have before us is a severe violation of the law, and in addition, a blow against a representative of the government – offences that are worthy of a severe punishment.

The general prosecutor was silent. He did not interrogate the witness. My turn now arrived. The judge asked what I have to say about the content of the accusation.

I had only three questions. I asked the “representative of the government” if he knew of the specific paragraph in the Statute of Assemblies. The judge asked me to formulate my question in a clearer fashion. I did so by reading the full text of that paragraph: “the representative of the political government” – as is written there – “is required to appear at the meeting in full official uniform, wearing a hat, a bayonet on his belt and wearing white gloves.” I asked that official if he had been dressed in accordance with the law, and he was forced to answer in the negative. I continued to ask for the reason, and he answered that he was not equipped with such a uniform.

My next question was, “When Sir approached the podium and declared the meeting disbanded, did Sir introduce himself to anybody?” He answered negatively, and said, “Does not everybody recognize me”. “Even I?”, I asked. He again answered negatively. My final question was whether he checked if all of those present at the meeting had invitations, since the meeting was called in accordance with paragraph 2. His answer to this question was also in the negative.

9.

My plan succeeded. First of all, I proved that he did not appear as a government representative, since he was lacking the legal trappings. Secondly, the secretary confirmed that he did not introduce himself to me, and therefore, I was permitted to treat him as an interrupter of the order of events. Thirdly, I introduced the fact that the meeting had been called in accordance with paragraph 2 into the proceedings. Who could contradict this after many months that have passed since then? My purpose was attained. The man was not a government representative – and therefore this incident was not a blow against an official in fulfillment of his line of duty. Similarly, nobody committed any violation by not leaving the meetings. Finally, the accusation of organizing an illegal meeting was contradicted.

I received the right of making the final speech. I took full advantage of the opportunity. When would I again have such an opportunity to convene such a well-attended meeting hosted by the government? In a two-hour speech, I explained the Zionist objective. The gentiles in the crowd listened with interest. Afterward, I turned my attention to the case itself. Here, my task was to prove that the wretched official took upon himself an authority that was not his, without knowing the law, only to make an impression upon the populace. The way that I destroyed the entire premise of the secretary's accusations with three questions, and demonstrated his stupidity and lack of experience apparently made a great impression upon the judge. He read the verdict. I was acquitted!

10

The judge condemned the fact that the case was brought to court without serious consideration and without proof. Bringing such a case to court - the judge explained in describing his reasons for acquittal - can only lower the authority of the official in the eyes of the populace, etc., etc.

This was a day of joy for the Jews of Dukla. They breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the acquittal. In their imagination, they already saw me in jail. They also learned something from these proceedings.

I am able to state without exaggeration that I, in the courthouse, conquered an entire town to the idea of Zionism.

{Photo page 231: Former Rzeszow townsfolk meet in Tel Aviv. From right Gita Koretz, Yitzchak Oestreicher, Ben Zion Fett, Tzvi Simcha Leder, Meshulam Davidson.}


{Page 232}

In Rzeszow at the End of the First World War

by M. Ungerfeld, Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 232: Moshe Ungerfeld}

Rzeszow was very well known in our town, primarily because of army battalion number 89 which was stationed there. All of the recruits from our region were sent there annually for a period of three years. When they returned from there at the end of their service, for the rest of their lives they would tell about what happened to them in that battalion – about the tribulations and the “brave deeds” – everything that they saw and heard in the city of Rzeszow itself.

Each year, a military committee came to our little town, before which all of the youths who reached the age of the draft had to present themselves. Many preparations were made here prior to the arrival of this military committee, who were greeted here with gifts, prayer and fasting.

A few months prior to this, the period of “plager” (afflictions) began. All of the youths who were eligible for the draft began to afflict themselves with fasting and sleep deprivation. They would remain awake at night and limit their food intake during the day. Those who did not rely on miracles turned to an expert to inflict minor mutilations on the body. Those who had means turned to the agent – that is the man who had connections with the physician of the military committee, who would free several youths for a sum of money and declare them to be unfit for army service. Rumors spread from mouth to ear that the physician would write down the names of those who gave bribes on his shirtsleeves with secret writing…

We who studied in the Beis Midrash of our little town made our acquaintance with the city of Rzeszow, and knew how to value it through the means of old, valued books that were found in the bookshelves of the Beis Midrash and whose authors names indicated that they came from Rzeszow. These books include those of Rabbi Yaakov Reisher: “Shvut Yaakov” on “Torat Chatat” of Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, Polana 5564; “Iyun Yaakov” – an explanation on the legends in the book “Ein Yaakov”, Wilhermsdorf, 5489. Especially dear to us was the “Shaarei Yerushalayim” (Lemberg 1871) book of Rabbi Moshe Reisher, that deals with the praises of the Holy City and the Holy Land, and includes statements by our sages from the Talmud, and Midrash, and books of study, morality, exegesis and poetry from the middle ages about the love of the Land, its holiness, its nature, its praises, its fruits, its food, its customs, stories, and words of comfort – a book that enthuses with the love of the Land of Israel. It enumerates its precious fine traits, and describes it as a Garden of Eden for both the soul and the body.

The good name of the city of Rzeszow also brought to us stories of the wonders of rabbis, Tzadikim and Admorim, greats in both the revealed and hidden Torah, who lived in this city and displayed their wonders there. The rabbi of the city, Rabbi Moshe Eichenstein (a descendent of the Admor of Zydaczow) lived in a wing of our Beis Midrash, and from him, we heard stories about his relative Rabbi Menashe Eichenstein, the author of the “Alfei Menashe” book of didactics and new ideas, who conducted a Hassidic courtyard in Rzeszow in accordance with the style of Dzikow. He was called “The Rebbi of Wocki” and he was a great expert in gimatria (Jewish numerology). One day, the Rebbi of Tyczyn near Rzeszow, Rabbi Shlomo Leibele Weichselblum, came to our town. He rose up through his own initiative, as it was that the son of a simple village Jew became a great popular Rebbe. With his great modesty, he would spend time with simple Jews, wagon drivers and craftsmen. He had a large following of Hassidim from all strata of the population, in all cities of Austria and Hungary. He distributed to the poor the donations that he received from his many Hassidim who searched for and found hope and comfort in him. He himself lived in difficulty and poverty. The Admor of Tyczyn worshipped with us in the Kloiz of the Hassidim of Belz. He was a small, thin Jew, who spouted “fire and flames” during the times of prayer. When he reached Psukei Dezimra [1], he literally burned like a seraph and a fiery angel of G-d, and he brought the community of worshippers into sublime religious ecstasy. The entire town ran to him to give him their donations. He distributed this money, as was his custom, to the poor of the city even before he left.

From the elders of our Beis Midrash, we heard wonders about the Rebbe and healer Rebbe Eliezerl of Rzeszow, the author of the book “Mishne Lamelech”, that was about Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. He spent time studying the science of medicine as well, and wrote prescriptions for his ill Hassidim.

Not too many days passed, and we congregated in the library of the Shachar organization in our town with the books of Reb Abba Apfelbaum of Rzeszow: “The Story of Rabbi Yehuda Moscato” (Drohobyce, 5660), “The Story of Rabbi Azarya Figo” (there, 5667), and “The Story of Rabbi Moshe Zakut” (Lvov, 5667).

One day, the eldest son of the rabbi of the city of Rzeszow, Rabbi Nathan Lewin, was a guest in our town. He was the “kreizrabbiner” Rabbi Aharon Lewin, who had just accepted the position of rabbi of the area of the large city of Sambor when he was only 25 years old. His name went before him not only as a genius and Torah great, but also as someone who was interested in secular studies, who knew many languages, and preached

{Page 233}

wonderfully also in German and Polish. The Admor in our town, Rabbi Pinchas Nathan Safrin, who was blessed with a wonderful voice and unusual sense of music, worshipped up to this time in the Beis Midrash of the city. One day, he decided to “make Sabbath for himself” and establish his own large Beis Midrash. It was surrounded by many fruit trees, and was located on the banks of the Wysznia River. Many notables, including the heads of the regional government, the heads of the communities and rabbis – including the young kreizrabbiner of Sambor – were invited to the inauguration. The kreizrabbiner enchanted the hearts of the congregation with his sermon in three languages: German, Polish (in honor of the government officials), and Yiddish. Many had positive recollections of the father of Rabbi Aharon – Rabbi Nathan Lewin (the grandson of Rabbi Dov Yehuda the author of the book “Yad Yehuda”). He was the son-in-law of the gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Shmelkes, the rabbi of Przemysl and the author of the praiseworthy book “Beit Yitzchak”, who later was invited to occupy the rabbinical seat of Lvov.

Rabbi Aharon Lewin, who was raised and educated on the knees of this grandfather, later became famous for his books: “Davar Beito”, “Mateh Aharon”, “Hadrosh VehaIyun” (on the Torah), and “Avnei Chefetz” (a book of responsa). His name went before him as one of the illustrious leaders of Agudas Yisroel, as a delegate to the Polish Sejm and a member of the senate in Warsaw (he was murdered along with his younger brother Rabbi Yechezkel Lewin, the rabbi of Lvov, during the time of the Ukrainian and German murderers, members of the Nachtigal of the infamous Dr. Glowka, immediately after the conquest of Lvov by Hitler's garrisons.

At the end of the First World War, the writer of these lines had the opportunity to visit Rzeszow, to remain there for a few weeks, and to make the acquaintance of some of its eminent personalities, headed by the praiseworthy rabbi of the city, Rabbi Nathan Lewin. The Austrian Army was forced to conduct many attacks in order to repel the Russian conquerors from the borders of Galicia. All night long, the rattle of the Russian vehicles retreating in panic gave news of the awaited moment. It came with the sound of a strong bombardment over the large bridge over the nearby Dniester River. The first Austrian patrol, the batallion of Corporal Husari, was greeted with great joy and loud shouts. It entered the city in the morning and stationed itself near a large burning heap of hay, which was ignited by the Russians before their retreat. The next day, an edict was issued calling upon all men able to bear arms to join the army. Among those who presented themselves were many Jewish youths below the age of enlistment. The writer of these lines was there as well. This is how grateful we were to those who had redeemed us from the Russian conquering army. After a few days, all of the recruits and volunteers were loaded onto train cars. The entire city went out to accompany them. Their first stop was the city of Przemysl. There I was brought to a large barracks building filled with recruits and volunteers from other cities. We slept on the cold stones of the floor, and ate from the meager amount of bread that we had brought with us. After our names had been called out from lists that had been prepared previously, we were told to pack up our meager belongings and to set out once again for the train station. They brought us to Rzeszow. There we found that the railway station had been damaged by the retreating Russian army. We marched in a completely non-military fashion through the side streets until the barracks building of Infantry Unit number 89. After the role call in the large internal courtyard, we were brought to the rooms in the barracks – in each room, approximately twelve soldiers' mattresses were lying on the floor. I did not have time to guess who from our acquaintances in the town lived in this room during his tour of duty, for I fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, they brought us to the military training field. We were still wearing our civilian clothing. The trainer of our group was a young Ukrainian soldier, a farmer with a tall, athletic build but a tiny brain. In his commands, he garbled to the point of ridiculousness the few German words that he knew. At noontime, a short, mustached corporal came to us. He was armed with a small sailor's stick. After a brief, polite conversation with our giant commander, he beat him with serious blows in the sight of all of his charges. This situation repeated itself before our eyes almost daily at the same time.

Going out from the fenced in barracks to the city was not difficult. The soldier on duty guarding the gate would let us go into the city in exchange for a few cigarettes. After a brief walk, we would cross the bridge over the river, and we would be standing in the first streets of the city. To our surprise, we found no sign of damage to the houses of the city from the actions of the war, and the showcase windows in the stores displayed their wares to the viewers. We asked the passers by for the location of the Zionist organization in the city, and they brought us to a side alley. However, we found the doors of the organization locked. One of the neighbors explained to us that the organization was closed during the war since most of its members were drafted to the army.

On Sabbath morning, we requested to be excused from going to the training field, and we were permitted to go to worship. After searching around, we reached the large synagogue, and found that the service was up to the point of just before the reading of the Torah. Rabbi Nathan Lewin was standing on the steps in front of the Holy Ark, facing the congregation. He was enwrapped in a large Turkish tallis, with its wide silver decorative band adorning his head and his silver beard. He was preaching about issues of the day. His sermon was not fiery, his voice was slightly hoarse; however his words, delivered with subdued enthusiasm but with great fervor, captured the heart. After the services, I ventured to approach him, wish him the Sabbath blessing and congratulate him on his fine sermon. He immediately guessed that I was a drafted soldier, and took interest in my situation. He asked me if I wished to be invited to a Sabbath meal. I thanked him for his kindness, and as I parted from him, I displayed some familiarity with his family relations and the books of his grandfather and father-in-law.

The next day, I once again walked through the streets of the city with my barrack-mates. We went into one of the stores to purchase something, and spoke Hebrew among ourselves. It was nice to hear that the young woman who owned the store understood the words of our conversation.

I planned to visit other personalities of the city of whom I had heard in my town, and wished to meet face to face. We were suddenly informed that our group was to leave from Rzeszow and join a battalion of novices in the city of Brunn in Czechoslovakia. After a short period of training, I was sent to a training course for captains in the city of Linz, Upper Austria. However, I bore with me for a long time the memory of my brief visit to Rzeszow, the place of station of Infantry Unit 89.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Literally “Psalms of Praise” – one of the early parts of the daily morning service. Return

{Page 234}

Early Years in Reisha

by Irving Low of W. New York (New Jersey)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 234: Irving Low.}

I was born in Rzeszow in 1901, in the house of Moshe Schneeweiss, a salt merchant of the New Rynek (Square). My father Reb Leizer was a dairyman, and my mother Tzipa ran the household. Our dairy was located in a cold basement, where the milk was preserved well. This basement also housed the bakery of Itzik and Sima (Sima the baker), the parents of Reb Hirsch Moshe Eisen, who later became known as the “genius” (the student of Rabbi Heshel Wallerstein), and still later became active as a leader of the Mizrachi movement. The bakery of Sima was later sold to Tovia Mott (his son, Yeshayahu Mott, who immigrated to America, was the president of the old organization of Rzeszow natives in America). The offices of the communal council were located on the second floor of our house. In those days, Reb Kalman Kurtzman – one of the last of the Maskilim in our city and one of the first of Chovevei Zion – served as the chief secretary of the communal council. Reb Kalman had a noble appearance, with a short, triangular beard. Many of the poor people would visit the communal offices, and Kalman Kurtzman welcomed them warmly. I never saw him angry, and I never heard an angry voice from his mouth. With the exception of the days of Sefira [1], sounds of joy broke forth from the top floor, for weddings also took place in the communal hall.

I lived with my parents in this house until the age of thirteen. My friends and I loved to wander through the underground tunnels that led from the basements in the square, along the length and the width, to the other side of the square. Apparently, these were remnants of the defenses that were set up by the Polish kingdom in the 16th and 17th century against the Tatar invasions.

I prepared for my Bar Mitzvah celebration after the conclusion of my studies with the teachers David Pakeles, Moshe Aryehs, Pinile Hellman and Reb Tanchum Frum. My father requested that I wear a velvet hat and a black, silk cloak, as was the custom of Hassidim. I refused to wear this garb on weekdays, despite the fact that this was the custom of the worshipers in the Kloiz of the Hassidim of Rymanow. Grandfather Chaim, who came from Frysztak for the celebration did not insist on this, for he was easygoing, and got along well with people, in contrast to my father who had a strong personality.

The war with Russia broke out in 1914, and confusion overtook our city and the neighboring towns. This took place on Tisha BeAv. A draft was declared, and lads in Hassidic dress streamed to Rzeszow in order to enlist. At the time, we no longer lived in the house of Schneeweiss in the Town Square, but rather on the Tepper Gessel, where father built a large house. The Russians conquered Rzeszow, and I, a lad of 14, remained in the city. I obtained a horse and wagon, and took over the yoke of livelihood. I brought the tobacco bundles, which were given to me by the government monopoly, to the train station. I took the tobacco on the train to Dzykow, Frysztak, and Mielec. I also made sure that I kept a portion of this desirable merchandise. I bought crates of chocolate (“Suchard”) with the earnings, and my savings, and I invested the profits in the national bank. Once father saw me in the bank, to his great surprise. He did not know that I was involved in business and saving money, for at the time, I was already preparing to leave Rzeszow.

At the time of the second Russian invasion, our entire family fled Rzeszow out of fear of the Cossacks and pogroms. Thousands of families fled at the time to areas in western Austria. We went to Vienna penniless. All of the refugees supported themselves with difficulty through government assistance. I began to search for a livelihood. I distributed newspapers, and later I sewed blankets for the army for a small salary. The Russians were expelled from Galicia in 1916. The Austrians, who suffered losses, began to draft people of age 55-60 to the army. Father was also required to enlist. I left Vienna on my way to Rzeszow. I filled my pack with sausages, bread and sardines. I arrived in Krakow, where I spent several days with relatives. I later went by foot to Tarnow, where we still heard the shots fired by the retreating Russians. I finally arrived in Rzeszow, and found new dwellers in our house, who took it over during our absence. I went to Karpinski, the well-known Polish pharmacist, an old acquaintance, and asked him to help me enter our house. I then turned to the “Poritz”, the owner of the village of Zalesie, who provided us with milk during peacetime, and asked him to provide me with milk on credit. I also met Luftar, a horse dealer, on the street, and bought a horse from him. I paid him the value later. I also obtained a wagon, and began to work in our traditional family business – I became “Tovia the Milkman” [2].

In the meantime, hundreds of families, including my parents, began to return from the western regions. Rabbi Natan Lewin and his family also returned. His son Yechezkel renewed the “Hashachar” movement. The community was reorganized, and Chaim Eisenberg was appointed as the head of the community. I joined “Hechalutz”, for I had a strong desire to make aliya to our Land, the Land flowing with milk and honey. However I did not prepare myself to produce honey in the Land of Israel, but rather to produce milk. I was expert in this area. Alas, this desire of mine was not fulfilled. When I left Poland after the pogroms of May 1919, I wandered with many youths to Vienna and Pressburg. My friend Berish Weinstein was among those who left Rzeszow. Today he is a Yiddish poet in America. Certificates [3] at that time were hard to come by, and we set out for America due to lack of any other option. I have lived here for 45 years, and I make pilgrimages to Israel from here. I have visited Israel already seven times.

I last visited Israel in the summer of 1965 in order to expedite the publishing of the Rzeszow Yizkor Book.


{Page 235}

One in a Thousand

by Uzi Ben-Moshe and Roni Wechsler of Jerusalem

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Father sits opposite me and tells of his native town of Rzeszow and about his family who went up together in fire during the great burning.

This is the story of Rzeszow, more accurately the story of one family of Rzeszow. These words do not pretend to tell everything, but rather to dig up sections from among the ashes, ruins of houses and the smoke of memories.

For the first time, I understood the words of the song: “Brothers, there is a fire in the town – our town is burning up completely…”. For the first time I penetrated the beauty of the town and the glory that rose up from its midst.

It was not easy for me to penetrate this picture of one of the towns of Israel. As a Sabra, it was difficult for me to visualize in my imagination the town, and its inhabitants.

Take this Rzeszow and multiply it by one hundred, by two hundred, and then you will understand the magnitude of the loss…

“We were nine brothers and a sister…” – father opened up and said. The first was Leibche and his wife Itta, who had four children: three boys and one girl (she survived). The second was Roza and her husband Wolf Engel, who had two children, one of whom survived. The third is Vofche and his wife Elisheva of the Zucker family, who had one daughter. The fourth is Sheinche and her husband Leizer Einfeld who had two children. The fifth is Henia and her husband Avraham Mandelbaum who had two children. The sixth was Yehoshua Heshel, who died in his youth. The seventh was Baruch and his wife Nelly of the Frankel family, who had three children. The eighth was Yochche and her husband Yitzchak Gross who had three children. The ninth is I, the child of their old age who made aliya in the year 1934, and set up a household with your mother Roni (Rosie) of the Engel family. We have three sons and a daughter. Aside from me, and a son and daughter of my sisters, nobody remains of the family.

Memories of Childhood

When I was four years old – father continued – I visited my grandfather Yechiel Meir Tenenbaum for the first time. He was famous throughout Galicia and was called by the name of his city, Reb Yechiel Meir Baranower. I do not remember much about that visit, except for how Grandfather took me in his hand and walked with me into the room as he was humming a Hassidic melody. I was trembling in fear, overcome by the greatness of the experience. This was one of my first childhood experiences. First there was the trip to Baranow, a distance of about 100 kilometers. We had to switch trains several times along the way. The trains of that time were not the same as those of today. There was noise, many people, Jews and gentiles, farmers and merchants, people getting on and getting off, getting off and getting on – and I, the young child was watching it all, and my eyes could not get enough of the sights. Afterwards there was the visit to Grandfather's house, and how they all received the youngest child of my mother. Finally there was the experience – the meeting with Grandfather…

When I was five years old, my mother took me by hand and brought me to Reb Mendel Shapira to study Torah. Reb Mendel took me in his hand and sat me in the place that was designated for me. His bony hand strongly grabbed my hand as I was trembling in fear. Then there was the Chumash – a short time later, I myself knew how to read it. At first, the letters jumped to my eyes. Rebbe Mendel took a child and said to him: “Aleph”. The child answered Aleph. The Rebbe continued and said “Beis”, and the child answered Beis.”. “Kometz Aleph” – and the child answered “Kometz Aleph”…

Thus did we come to the cheder every morning at an early hour in the morning. The assistant (“Bahelfer”) would make the rounds to the houses in the morning to gather up the children, and he would return us to our homes late in the evening, all tired out. During the winter, each child returned home with a lantern tied to his neck…

It was a festival in the house. I started to study Chumash. That day, they made a party at the home, and distributed baked goods and sweets to the children. We learned about the travels of the Israelites in the desert; the crossing of the Red Sea after it split, the approach to the Land of Israel… “And I, as I was coming from Padan” [4] …, the Rebbe taught us, and we would repeat afterward, “And I, as I was coming from Padan”.

Rebbe Mendel would come to our home at set times to test me in front of all of the family, and to demonstrate his skill in teaching. Rebbe Mendel asked me a question. I was nervous and blushed as I vacillated in my answer. Father calmed me and said, “Leave him be, for he is nervous – can you not see?” Rebbe Mendel would be pacified, and I would be calmed. Suddenly the answer would flow forth from my mouth. Rebbe Mendel would beam and say, “I told you!” They would then treat Rebbe Mendel with a glass of liquor and various jams. I would run to hide under mother's apron.

Rzeszow

According to legend, Poland was called by the Jews “Po-Lin” [5]. The areas of Rzeszow were among the first areas settled in Poland. Rzeszow itself had a large Jewish population. It had about 30,000 residents, about half of whom were Jews.

Several well-placed, large families stood out among the Jews of Rzeszow. These included Zionists and secular Jews, but very few of them were assimilationists.

The Market Square was in the center of the city. There were many stores built up around the marketplace. On market days, there were hundreds of stalls. Market days took place twice a week. A large fair was arranged twice a year. At those times, Rzeszow would be filled with thousands of Jews and gentiles from near and far. The number of visitors was far greater than the number of residents. The weekly market day took place on Fridays. The narrow streets of the city were filled with thousands of people. Rzeszow on Fridays was not the same at all as Rzeszow on other days of the week. A large portion of the residents of Rzeszow earned their livelihood from these Fridays. They would fill the Market Square and the many nearby roads with stalls, upon which all sorts of good items were displayed.

The importance of Rzeszow as a business center was particularly great because it was located on an important crossroads: the railway line that connected Eastern Galicia and Bukovina with Austria passed through it.

{Page 236}

Therefore, the city was also a center for wholesalers. The purchasers were Jewish merchants and others from about twenty towns surrounding Rzeszow.

The towns of Glogow, Kolbuszowa, Tyczyn, and Blazowa were a distance of several kilometers from the town. People would come to Rzeszow from all of these towns on market days to buy merchandise and to arrange various matters.

The city would empty out on Friday afternoons. The merchants would fold up their stalls, and the city prepared to welcome the Sabbath. The arrival of the Sabbath could be felt in all corners of Rzeszow. Suddenly, a wondrous quiet and an aura of holiness fell upon the city.

Jews would leave their houses after the lighting of the candles. It was as if all of the streets of the city were reciting, “Come my beloved… let us greet the face of the Sabbath…”

Reb Lazerel Reisher

Reb Lazerel Reisher, a Hassid and a G-d fearing man, the grandson of Rebbe Elimelech of Lezajsk, was among the famous people in our city. Rebbe Lazer also had some knowledge of medicine, and many came to ask his advice. My mother of blessed memory honored the Rebbe greatly. She took me to him after I began studying Chumash. This was on a night of Chanukah, after the lighting of the candles. Rebbe Lazerl took me himself into his darkened room accompanied by the chant of “Mizmor Shir Chanukat Habayit Ledavid” [6]. I remember the feelings of awe and holiness until this day.

{Photo page 236: Rzeszow railway station.}

Members of my Family

Leibche, the eldest of my brothers and the firstborn in our family was, according to what father told me, born when my mother was 17 ½ years old. He lived in Dolina near Stanislawow in Eastern Galicia, and was a merchant of forestry products. Roza lived in Przemysl until the death of her first husband. Vofche was an importer who owned a felt store. His wife Elisheva was from a respectable, well-known family (Zucker). They had a daughter who was very successful. She was married to the son of Reb Yoske Spiegleglass, a well-known wealthy man and the head of a Yeshiva. He supported the Yeshiva and its students on his own account. Vofche himself was G-d fearing, as many like him. Reb Motish Eckstein, one of the notables of Rzeszow, once visited father of blessed memory and told him: “Today, I heard Vofche recite a weekday Shmone Esrei, and I had thoughts of repentance…” Vofche prayed with seriousness. He attended several lessons before the prayers. He circled around the synagogue and sang “Anah Bekoach” seven times, in the tune that was attributed to the Baal Shem Tov. Sheinche lived in Krakow, where her husband had a liquor factory. Henia (Chanche) and her husband lived in Czanow and had a perfume factory. Baruch and his wife lived in Rzeszow and occupied themselves with export. Yochche and her husband Yitzchak Gross lived in Krakow and worked as a coal wholesaler. Heshel was the most successful of us. He died in Vienna when he was about twenty years old, during the time of the First World War.

{Page 237}

My Mother -- The Berditchever

They called my mother of blessed memory “The Berditchever”, a nickname that was given to her by Reb Lazerl Reisher due to the goodness of her heart and her righteousness, which were known throughout Rzeszow. Reb Yaakov (Koba) Alter told me that he often saw my mother of blessed memory going from house to house in Rzeszow for matters of charity. She was modest and pleasant in her manner. Our house was open to all in need. There were those – both men and women, religious and secular, Zionists and Hassidim – who came to seek her advice. The Hassidim would listen to her words as they hid their faces for reasons of modesty.

In opposition to what was the custom in Orthodox households, Meshulam Davidson would come to our house on a regular basis. In his time, he had been in Israel. He fled back to the Diaspora after he had a dispute with the authorities. (Later, he returned to Israel. He was active here in the organization of Rzeszow natives. He died in his old age.) He taught my sisters Hebrew. I remember how Orthodox people came to my mother and expressed their surprise that she permitted her daughters to study Hebrew. “If the daughters of Reb Mendshi Wechsler study Hebrew, our girls will became apostates”. Mother answered them, “If I were younger, I would sit and study together with them…” She added, “It is sufficient for me that I have difficulty reading “Menorat Hamaor” in Yiddish, rather than in the language of our forefathers.

One of the stories of Reb Abba Apfelbaum regarding my mother of blessed memory is etched in my memory. “An old shoemaker lived in the upper floor of my house. He had a sickly and silent wife. Once, on Friday before the Sabbath began, the Berditchever herself appeared with a package. She entered the sickroom and remained there for quite a while. I was surprised. What is your mother doing in a sickroom for so long? Then I saw: Your late mother took the old, sick woman down from her bed, changed the bedding, washed the old woman, dressed her in a new set of nightclothes, and returned her to her bed…”

Reb Abba Apfelbaum wrote the text that appears on my mother's grave.

She spread her bread upon the hungry – a woman of valor
She arose to save a poor person still in the night
She came from a holy source – she is the pride of her forefathers
The crown of her husband – the diadem of her children.
In the hospitals there was – a merciful mother
Always and every day – they found comfort with her.
A day of disaster came – the breech took place
Fear and trembling overcame the hearts of all
Cutting down a dear woman – who was a symbol for all.
We will weep bitterly for her – everyone who knows her
But she will be remembered for generations – the goodness of her deeds
There is merit in her deeds – a name in Heaven
Much good awaits her in the Land of the Living.
It was on the 21st of the month of Iyar in the year 5685

My father of blessed memory

My father of blessed memory was a scholar, one of the notables of Rzeszow. Father was the Shofar blower in the synagogue, and on occasion he conducted the Musaf service. He had a splendid appearance a pleasant manner. He had a noble countenance. When father went to the synagogue, at least two of my brothers accompanied him, one on each side, as they were dressed with their Kolpak as is the custom of older youths. As they entered the synagogue, they would assist in taking off his coat, and putting it back on when he left. I remember that on the days of Rosh Hashanah, everyone would await the arrival of Father, the Shofar blower. When father entered the synagogue, silence pervaded throughout the gathering. A whisper was not heard. Nobody moved from their place. Father took his place and started reciting the “Zohar” prayers that precedes the Shofar blowing.

The rabbi of Jaroslawow and Rabbi Yosef Reich eulogized him after he died. Rabbi Yosef Reich arranged the circuits, as was the custom at the time of the death of important people of the city. The following is engraved upon Father's tombstone:

Water comes – from the eyes of all people
People walk about stooping – weeping over the breech
He is far from us – a man who stands out from the myriads
Woe for our terrible wound – his light is extinguished
His heart toiled in Torah – at night as during the day.
From the tents of the Tzadikim – his foot did not desist
He guarded the statutes – he kept the commandments with purity.
He supported the poor – he sustained those bitter of heart
He raised the poor from poverty – so that they will be sated with abundance.
The fruits of his righteousness – will be harvested in the habitations [7]
For his activity, much reward is awaiting.
Many families of Rzeszow, including ones of renown and uniqueness, were destroyed completely, without leaving behind one survivor. These included many noble families, including: Shapira, Kanner, Mintz, Teitelbaum, Silber, Eckstein, Yolles, Korn, Sternschuss, Moses, Sheinfeld, Wechsler, and hundreds of other ones, may G-d avenge their blood.

I remember several other personalities from among those who perished: Rev Avraham Schindler, who worked most of his days in charitable works, and gave lectures in Torah in “Sanhedrin Shilechel”.

Reb Itzi Zibner and Reb Avraham Malach were teachers of older students. They were known as fearers of Heaven who were very strict with themselves. They did not look outside of their four ells as they walked, on account of their modesty.

Reb Meir Offen was a cobbler. He was a scholar and fearer of Heaven. He was knowledgeable in the Kabbalah.

Reb Yisrael Moshe Rozenwasser gave a weekly class every Sabbath to dozens of householders.

Reb Hirsch Moshe Eisen spoke and preached abundantly on matters of religious Zionism and the duty of aliya to the Land of Israel. There were many others like them.

The First World War

The First World War broke out when I was about ten years old. I remember that they announced in the city that the Russian armies were approaching. This news caused great confusion, for people were very afraid of pogroms. I remember the retreat of the Austrian army through the city – thousands of soldiers hardly able to walk, in a disorderly fashion, dressed in rags. Here and there, there was a

{Page 238}

wagon hitched to horses. There were very few motorized vehicles in those days, and only the highest captains were numbered among their drivers.

That Sabbath, in which the Austrians retreated through Rzeszow, the rabbis of the city permitted cooking. The women of the house were to go out of their houses, and stand with large pots and pans in the streets of the city. They were to cook soup and other victuals, and feed the retreating soldiers.

At first, the residents decided not to leave the city. However, five days later, the decision was changed, and it was decided that anyone who was able to flee from the city should go, for it was already known that the Russian conquest was a certainty. Already prior to that, every one of us had sewn backpacks for our necessities. Our family set out together to the train station. Trains arrived that were full of people fleeing Eastern Galicia. Finally, one train arrived upon which it was possible to board, but on different wagons. My mother stood firm and insisted that the entire family enter one wagon, and if this were not possible, we would return home.

We returned home and sat there the entire Friday and Saturday. I still remember the Third Sabbath meal (Seuda Shlishit) of that Sabbath. We sat together and sang the hymns of Seuda Shlishit, but joy was beyond us. We made Havdallah after Seuda Shlishit, and set out once again for the train station. We left the house open, and only took the silver and few pieces of jewelry that were possible to carry. We were lucky this time and found space on the train. This was a day before Rosh Hashanah. I remember the lighting of the Rosh Hashanah candles on the train. Mother lit the candles and blessed them with her pleasant voice. Dozens of adults and children stood around, weeping quietly.

The situation worsened, for we heard that Krakow was about to fall to the Russians. Without any option, we traveled to Vienna.

Leibche had already arrived in Vienna some time before us, and he prepared a nice house for us. Only those families that were able to prove that they had money in their hands were permitted to enter Vienna. We were lucky that we had a little bit of money and jewelry. Our money ran out after a short period of time, and we were forced to find means of livelihood. My sisters and I worked in sewing clothing for the Austrian army. We busied ourselves particularly in the sewing of blankets for soldiers. We sewed the blankets out of paper due to the difficult situation in Austria.

The situation improved somewhat in the interim. The Russians began to retreat, and the area of Rzeszow was liberated. My uncle Reb Yoelche Lieber came to Vienna on account of his business and visited us. When Reb Yoelche saw me, he stated that he should not return to his town unless they give me over to his hand, for I was so thin that he was afraid of my fate. I traveled with Reb Yoelche to his town of Blazowa, and remained there for a certain time. I “celebrated” my Bar Mitzvah in Blazowa, far away from my family.

My family returned to Rzeszow after the conclusion of the First World War, and we were all reunited. However, immediately afterwards, pogroms and disturbances broke out against the Jews. Thousands of farmers broke into the cities, pillaging, injuring and killing. During these disturbances, the Polish soldiers who had returned from the French front under the leadership of General Haller were particularly active.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Sefira (literally counting) is the timeframe between Passover and Shavuot. Some light mourning customs are observed during part of this time period, and weddings are generally avoided. Return
  2. A reference to a story of Sholom Aleichem. Tovia (or Tevye) the Milkman later became the main character of Fiddler on the Roof. Return
  3. Certificates permitting immigration to Israel. Return
  4. A portion of a verse from the end of Genesis. Return
  5. Meaning “Remain here” – i.e. a place of refuge for the Jews in their Diaspora. Return
  6. A Psalm generally associated with Chanukah. Return
  7. Habitations may be a reference to the heavens. Return

{Page 238}

Rzeszow During the First World War, 1914-1918

by Sh. Anski

Translated by Jerrold Landau

(An excerpt from the book: “The Destruction of the Jews in Poland, Galicia and Bukovina”)

Rzeszow: A lovely city, with a large Jewish population. It was not damaged too much by the war.

There was a pogrom. Of course, the owner of the store next to the hotel in which I stayed showed me the damaged merchandise that the soldiers had ripped apart during the time of the pogrom and trampled with their feet or poured kerosene upon. I did not have any time to meet any of the communal activists. Since I knew that there was an old synagogue in the city, I went to see it. The synagogue was immersed in deep agony, and much of it was derelict.

It was the time of mincha (the afternoon service), but there was nobody in the synagogue aside from the shamash (beadle), an old man of 80, who was still healthy and strong in body and in all of his senses. He immediately recognized me as a Jew and turned to me as if to an acquaintance from way back.

“Do you see the synagogue? Here, people sat and studied day and night. The learners sat crowded together due to the shortage of space, and each person held his Gemara on the back of his friend. And now, there is desolation here as if in a ruin. It is only with great difficulty that I am able to gather a minyan (quorum) for services…”

“How did the Russian soldiers act here? Did they do any harm?”, I asked him.

The old man was silent for a moment, and then answered me in a low voice with a diplomatic answer.
“There are bad soldiers among your soldiers, and there are also such among our soldiers…”
After a brief silence, he added thoughtfully, “You asked if they did not do any harm here? A man can harm himself, and not his fellow.”

The depth of this statement, which would have been fitting of Socrates, moved me deeply. I gave the man 3 rubles. He did not even glance at the banknote that I gave him, and he said with a sad smile: “I do not need to take your donation for myself. I have no need for it. I earn my meager sustenance from the householders. However, your gift will go to help the poor of the city. There is great want here. People are literally dying of hunger.”


{Page 239}

Rzeszow

by Professor Sh. Y. Penueli of Holon

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 239: A memorial gathering in 1965. From the right: Dr. Moshe Yaari Wald, Sh. Y. Penueli (the speaker), Yitzchak Oestreicher, Moshe Wechsler, Dr. Manes Fromer, the lawyer Yehoshua Rosner.}

“The name of the city is Rzeszow , but the world calls it Reisha” – these words are the answer of a Jew of Rzeszow who is asked about the name of his city – that is to say, the name of the city of Rzeszow, but everyone calls it Reisha[1]. There is no wonder about this. The true “world” of the Jew of Rzeszow is the Jewish world, and at the epicenter of that world stands Reisha, as a form of Reish Galuta[2], as a city that is the head [3] to a number of cities, towns and villages that are located in the geographical triangle between the Wisla, Wislok and San. All paths lead from them to Rzeszow, and on the stony roads, wagons filled with Jews and Jewesses go to Rzeszow, where the economy of business and the hum of Torah studies, prayer and Hassidic melodies never cease. The city contains several Tzadikim and Admorim who are known by the names of their towns, such as the Blazower, the Ploncower, and the Koloszicer, but their place of residence and center of their rabbinic activity was Rzeszow. The Jews of Blazowa and Koloszyce would travel to Rzeszow to visit their Rebbe of Koloszyce or Blazowa. In the center of the market square, populated entirely by Jews and surrounded by Jewish stores and businesses, stands the statue of Kosciuszko, girded in the sword of the revolution and splendid in his Polish-national garb which is covered with dust and moss. But “a stranger will not approach it except for one day a year, that is the 3rd of May, when the Polish population that dwells in the suburbs gathers around to hear speeches of national bravery that has not yet been lost… During the rest of the days of the year, this statue is surrounded by Jewish men of business, commerce and the bourse, and on market days, also by merchants of old clothes. At the exit of the old market, near the road that leads to the new city, that is the Wolia, stands the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, the national poet, with his right hand over his heart and his eyes raised heavenward, as if he was preparing to break out the next moment in the “improvisation” in his play “Dziady”. However, this love stricken heart is not the heart of the city, and not the arteries of its blood. The main artery of the city is that corner where in close proximity, leaning one upon the other, can be found the old synagogue, of which only its front wall is exposed to the eye, for its other walls are common with other houses of prayer[4]. One does not enter this synagogue on upward steps, but rather on downward steps, for the prayers are heard in it from the depths, and its unique acoustics, which the engineers most certainly did not intend, lend themselves to an unearthly clarity in the prayers and melodies of the cantors – an unearthly clarity from the depths and an unearthly clarity from the heights. Even though the place was lower than the rest of the places in the city, the worshipper would feel that his prayers reach close to the uppermost heavens. Adjacent to this synagogue is the City Beis Midrash, where those householders who were not followers of Hassidism worshipped – those who did not shorten when it was appropriate to lengthen and did not lengthen when it was appropriate to shorten, and whose entire essence was quite balanced, not too cold and not too hot[5]. Adjacent to this Beis Midrash, and in its full glory, standing out with three walls with windows exposed to the outside, was the City Kloiz, whose doors never rested day and night from those entering and exiting, and from where the sound of Torah and prayer never ceased, for the sound was a constant din. The frequenters and worshippers of this kloiz were ordinary warm Jews, who did not know the boundaries between Hassidism and erudition, between the kernel and the shell[6], between different forms of Divine service. This was the community of Israel in its full purity, that expressed its essence on Sabbath evenings with the roar of lights and the roar of Lechu Neranena (the Sabbath evening prayer) that burst out from the kloiz as a demonstration of the "Reishaness" of this important city, surrounded by murderous hatred from the gentiles, waiting for its time to come… The rear wall of the synagogue was attached to a small synagogue, decorated in splendor and perfection by the hands of its worshippers, the craftsmen of the city. Each one of them contributed to the beauty of their sanctuary with his own abilities and taste. Near all of these stood high and tall, illuminated with its bright colors, without any mysterious clouds and without any secret – the Wolia synagogue. This was the new city, and its worshippers did not wear streimels on their heads and did not wear belts (gartels) over their cloaks. The echo of the prayers of the cantor burst forth horizontally and went, so to speak, to other expanses, strange ones, that hint to the existence of a different world and denied the “Reishaness” of Rzeszow. Those people, it seemed, were they to be asked for the name of their city, would answer in a different form: “The city is called Reisha, but the world calls it Rzeszow”.

There were many other houses of prayer in Rzeszow. On the other side of the Mikoszka and the old cemetery, which was so old that the fear of the buried deceased people had left and people were not afraid of walking around it at night, was located the Ruskawies quarter, that is the Russian Village. The non-Jewish residents of the city called this quarter the Zhydowskawies, that is the Jewish Village, since its population was completely Jewish, and there was not even one Russian there. There, in the Ruskawies Kloiz, there was a prayer leader who was also the shochet (ritual slaughterer) of the city, who would shed more tears during his prayers than the blood he spilled during the slaughter. When he would supplicate with his pleasant voice, the stones of the walls would answer him and strike a chord. Even though the writer of these lines is a vegetarian who does not eat flesh, and all of the various shochtim

{Page 240}

and the shechita of even the best of them is not considered kosher in his eyes – he would be moved in a lyrical fashion whenever he heard the prayers of that prayer leader: in a lyrical fashion that had no need for words and no need for rhythm. This was the voice of purity of the heart, the melody of a soul that was freed from all physical bonds, and would soar upwards. When that man died and the entire city arranged his funeral, a brigade of the Polish army headed by a young Polish captain riding coquettishly on his horse suddenly appeared at the funeral procession. He did not wish to honor the funeral and turn aside from the route. Meshulam Davidson, the Lithuanian Maskil and Apikoros (apostate) in the city, jumped out and grabbed the bridle of the captain's horse to stop him. When the captain pulled out his revolver and aimed it at him, Davidson rend his cloak and extended his heart to him: “Strzelaj”, he called out loudly, that is to say: shoot me, and only over my dead body will you be able to pass through and disgrace the funeral procession. The captain turned his horse and brigade aside. This was a miracle. And the story of this Lithuanian apikoros endangering himself became a legend…

The writer of these words is not a native of Rzeszow. This was neither the city of his birth nor the city of his education. He lived there only for a few years between childhood and youth. The year he arrived in Rzeszow was the year of the arrival of the Jewish refugees from Ukraine, some of whom resided temporarily in Rzeszow as they awaited the opportunity to continue their journey. Since he joined their social group, especially with the two Konstantinovski brothers who later went to Argentina, he was also considered to be a Ukrainian. Since he made a point of speaking Yiddish as it was written, as was the custom of the Lithuanian, his “Ukrainianness” was firmly established in the city despite the fact that the Lithuanian accent is not similar to the Ukrainian accent. He was invited to deliver lectures and presentations in Yiddish in the Hashachar organization in the new city, in the reading hall that was called Toinby-Hala on the 3rd of May Street, and in the Ivriya organization. On Tu Bishvat he was asked to read one of his poems in the Zionist celebration that was arranged in the only coffeehouse of the city.

My tenure in Rzeszow was not long. I was not "privileged" to witness the pogrom that was perpetrated by the Poles against the Jews of Rzeszow after they attained their freedom and the revival of their state, for I arrived in the city after the disturbances. What took place in Rzeszow until that time I know from the book of poems of Berish Weinstein called “Rzeszow”. I know about the Rzeszow of the present from the book “Sens Poetycki” of the Polish poet Julian Przybos, who described Rzeszow in one of his chapters called “Rzeszow-szczyzna”, partly with the groan of lamenting what is lost and will not be forgotten, and partially with the joy of sprouting and flourishing. Jewish Rzeszow is no more. The name Reisha is no longer heard. The Mikoszka, old cemetery, synagogues and Beis Midrashes are no more. Houses as tall as the sky are in these places. Rzeszow is no longer a provincial center but rather a regional center (wojewodztwo). It has agricultural cooperatives, factories and culture, as well as a new poetry created there by poets who stem from the farmers of the area.

{Photo page 240: Ivriya Committee in 1925. First row from right: Alter Sitz Tishbi, Chaya Shreiber (Shanuni), Yehudit Zeisel, Manek Salpeter. Second row from right: Anshel Lieber, Gittel Beck, Blumenfeld, Lonek Hershtal, Chaya Goldbander, Yehoshua Frei, Regina Luriner. Third row from right, standing: Sh. Y. Penueli, Moshe Frankel}

{Page 241}

{Photocopy page 241: A notice entitled “Chamisha Asar Bishvat”, with music and words by Nachum Sternheim.}

I never saw the Reisha as described in the stories of neither Berish Weinstein nor the Rzeszow as described in the stories of Julian Przybos. Warsaw attracts with its literary dynamism. Vilna attracts with its institutions of education and science. The Land of Israel attracts, for it is our homeland. However, Rzeszow is remembered as a precious memory between childhood and youth. There I saw for the first time a live Hebrew writer: Reb Abba Apfelbaum with his golden spectacles sparkling with sparks from the era of the Haskalah. He was the author of the book “History of the Gaon Reb Yehuda Muscato” and the book of the history of Reb Azaria Figo, the author of Bina Laitim and Moshe Zechut. I even had the privilege of hearing words of chastisement from him for beginning my lecture on Jewish literature with Yitzchak Leibish Peretz and not with “In the beginning G-d created” which is the beginning of our literature… There, I saw a live poet for the first time: Nachum Sternheim. He was a man who did not learn, did not study, and did not differentiate between poem and song. He would write words for his tunes, and tunes for his words, and he would sing them at celebrations. His soul was musical, and music would sprout from him.

There I met Yisrael Zalman Bierman, who was known as “the deaf Bierman”. He was deaf and short of stature, but no fool. His nearsighted eyes were wise eyes. The man was wise and poor, and his wisdom was despised . He lived alone as a widower in a small room of a wooden house, and he earned his meager livelihood by giving a few private lessons. Conversations with him took place by writing, for he did not hear a sound, as he was deaf in both ears. After a few visits, I saw that the man was hungry for bread. From then on, I brought a loaf of bread with every visit. He would write his poems in German, and his articles and stories in Hebrew and Yiddish. He would publish his Yiddish articles in the Sanoker Folksfreund newspaper. Among his writings, he wrote one story whose topic was similar to that of Y. L Peretz, in his own style. This aroused a great controversy around him, and articles in his defense were published in the Sanoker Folksfreund. He did not make use of plays on words, perhaps because he never heard the ring of many languages, which he knew but did not hear. To him, the entire essence of a language was a matter of seeing by the eye and not hearing by the ear. That may be why he beautified his written letters, to the point that their form would bring joy to the eye. His Hebrew articles were published in Hamizpeh, edited by Sh. M. Lazar. He also wrote letters of instruction for the study of the English language, patterned after the letters of instruction of Shevach Welkowsy, however he did not succeed in publishing them. On Sabbaths, he would wear a streimel on his head and go to worship in the Ruskawies Kloiz. However, he did not enter the interior of the kloiz but rather remained in the corridor, with his tallis over his shoulders and his streimel on his head. His nearsighted eyes, that could not see well, were cast afar to unfathomable distances. He may have prayed in his heart, but his lips did not move, as if his deafness prevented him from believing that there is an ear that hears in the world and to whom it is worthy to move ones lips and utter sounds. Why did the man go to worship, if there were no prayers in his mouth and heart? It is possible that his isolation made him yearn for a community, and it is possible that he found the need to declare his existence to the public, for being in his house was like being in his grave. Among the students of the deaf Bierman were the grandchildren of Reb Ekstein, the wealthy man of the city and the head of the Dzikow Hassidim. His charitable contributions were known to the masses. However, for some reason, his distribution of charity did not reach the poor and scanty dwelling of this wise deaf man, perhaps because the grandchildren hid from their grandfather the secret of their “studies” and involvement with non-religious books, or perhaps because this wise man was suspected of heresy. On the streets of Rzeszow walked

{Page 242}

a strange lad who was known as the “mad poet”. He was quiet in his wanderings, and he had no contact with any person. I was never able to find out what his poems were like before he went mad, but it was not difficult to discern his madness that came after his poetry. The madness that came forth from his eyes was not like that of a person whose ships had sunk in the sea, but rather like a person whose soul had drowned in his soul…

It is possible that a fate like the fate of Bierman and a fate like the fate of that “Mad poet” urged on anyone who dreamed the dreams of poetry and literature to hasten to leave Rzeszow in order to save their souls. If such fates as those would have urged others in the passionate and enthusiastic community of the Jewish community of Rzeszow to flee, then many would have saved themselves from the unnatural deaths that were the lot of the Jews of Rzeszow. However, only a few took the hint. One day, as I remember, a group of young men and women aroused themselves and became Belzer Hassidim of a new style. They were called “Belzaim”. They got up, went to Belz, and hired themselves out to work in a sawmill, cutting planks and boards, as they trained themselves in hard difficult labor. Many of them persevered and made aliya to the Land of Israel. Some of them did not persevere, and returned. Those who persevered made aliya to the Land, and are the last Hassidim of Reisha. Reisha was a Jewish city. Its Talmudic name was fitting for it, and it was fitting for its name. Now, there is no more Reisha. The poor dwelling of Bierman the deaf, along with the fine home of Motish Ekstein were destroyed on the same day. The “Dear Malkale” of Nachum Sternheim was destroyed and burned. Industry and agriculture flourish there presently, as is described in the stories of Julian Przybos, and poets who sprung from the farmers sing a new song there. “Now the city is called Rzeszow, and the world also calls it Rzeszow”. Its name befits it, for it is root is “Rzez”, which means slaughter[7].

Tel Aviv University, Tevet 5725

{Photo page 242: City Square, Town Hall in the center.}


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The repetitiveness here is because the quote is in Yiddish, and the text itself repeats the quote in Hebrew. Rzeszow is the Polish name of the city. Reisha is the name the Jews called it. I generally use the official Polish name Rzeszow in this text, as is the convention for this translation, except when the author intends to accentuate the Jewish nature of the town, in which case “Reisha” is used. The article itself does the opposite – it uses the Yiddish name Reisha except when it intends to accentuate the Polish nature of the town, in which case it uses Rzeszow. Return
  2. This is a play on words. Reish Galuta is the Exilarch – the title given to the leader of the Jewish people during the Babylonian Exile. Return
  3. This may also be a play on words, as the Hebrew word for head is 'rosh'. Return
  4. The grammar of this sentence is awkward – and the plural refers to the synagogue and the other houses of prayer, it seems. Return
  5. This cryptic statement contains various references to Hassidism, and can be interpreted as mildly derogatory. Return
  6. These are Hassidic innuendoes. Return
  7. Upon checking the online Polish dictionary at www.poltran.com, Rzez is indeed a word meaning slaughter. Return

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Rzeszow, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 23 Jul 2008 by LA