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[Page 225]

Memories from the Old Home

by Sara Weiss-Hauptman

Translated by Susannah Juni

Stryy was my birth town. There I lived with my parents and with the entire Hauptman family. There in Stryy I spent my childhood years. There I dreamed and fantasized of a brighter, greater world – childish dreams from a time happily spent.

I remember yet well that big Zionist Folk-Fest in the park, “Olshina.” The sensations from the Fest were 12 cutters from the Land of Israel fields. I was one of them. In white clothes, white head-scarves, white-blue sandals on our feet, scythes in our hands and grasses gathered up in our aprons, we went around the great park, raising our scythes high and sang in Hebrew: “How loved and dear you are to us, our earth in Zion.”

In the avenues of the park were standing small tables, where we sold various things and onzikhts - kortlakh [?] from the Land of Israel. People called these avenues “Jerusalem Avenues.” the money went for the K. K. L.

The initiators of the Folk-Fest were Berl Stern, Aron Hauptman, Benyamin Klein, Chaim Dovid Korn, M. Wagner, of blessed memory.

A second event from that time:

A well known woman from Stryy came to my father and recounted to him the following:

A Ukrainian neighbor had accused her husband in court, of spitting on him and his sacred pictures in his home, for not punctually paying his apartment rent. The Christian lived by them [were renters] and didn't want to pay for the apartment. He had devised a frame-up lie on them. His 8 year old boy testified that the “Zshid” had expressed to his father: “I spit on you and your god.” The second day a home-agent came and arrested her husband for insulting the Christian religion. The woman cried before my father and asked him to help her.

My father was out to the Jewish Court Counsel, Yanas, whom he personally knew and asked him to be personally interested with the matter.

“It's bad,” said the Court Counsel, Yanas, 'here we're dealing with problems of people who are religious feeling offended, when it comes to this, some of our Christians are inventive, especially when it's a matter of a Jew. But I am sure and believe that it is a frame-up lie, and I will see about something to do about this thing.


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The Jewish Militia in Stryj

Translated by Daniella Heller

Chaos ensued after the end of the First World War, when Stryj came under the Ukrainian rule. The new rulers had no organized administration and no functioning police. During the first days after the war, the town was a lawless no-man's land. Day and night demobilized armed and unarmed soldiers wondered the streets, trying to get back to their homes.

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Various Jewish parties took initiative and approached the Ukrainian authorities asking for permission to create a Jewish militia in order to protect the Jewish population.

According to the agreement each party had to supply certain number of people for armed patrols in the streets.

Some officers took it upon themselves to organize and implement the project. The headquarters of the militia was established near the synagogue, where the weapons' store room was also located. The patrols assembled in the Academic Union hall, where the night duty officer was stationed. A small fund was established in order to cover the expenses of the militia.

The patrols consisted of four men for each one hour shift. They had the authority to detain and interrogate any suspicious person wondering the streets at night. If they caught a thief they had the authority to arrest him. Often they found weapons which they confiscated as most of the thieves were demobilized soldiers.

Sometimes there were violent encounters in the dark streets. As there were no street lights some clashes occurred with Ukrainian military patrols, but luckily no one was hurt.

One day the Ukrainians attacked the headquarters of the Jewish militia and took all their weapons.


The First Self Defense in Stryj

Translated by Daniella Heller

During the last winter of the First World War 1917-1918, the discipline in the Austro-Hungarian army started to deteriorate. Thousands of deserters were wondering around. Hunger spread everywhere and demonstrations and riots occurred due to the situation. The war prisoners started to return from Russia after the revolution.

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In the spring of 1918 the food shortages increased and hunger was felt everywhere. As the food became scarce the black market flourished. Hunger demonstrations were held in various places against delicatessen stores. Polish organizations took advantage of these demonstrations to inflame their anti-Semitic talk and action.

On April 16th, 1918 a demonstration took place in Krakow during which Jews were beaten and robbed. A man from Stryj who happened to be in Krakow on business was killed in the riots. The murder of Mahler made a big impact on the Jewish community in Stryj. The committee of Poalei Zion decided to prepare for future dangers and appointed people to organize a self defense. A secret meeting was held in which five men were elected to the committee: Shlomo Rosenberg, Leib Teper, Avraham Menderer, Shimon Rosenberg, and Nathan Wunderlicht. It was decided to deploy forty men on the roofs to protect the Jewish population.

Some weeks after Passover it became known that an Austro-Hungarian demonstration was going to take place in Stryj in cooperation with local criminals.

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A crowd started to gather before noon in front of the house of Itche Sheinfeld on Potocki Street. The entrance to the yard was guarded by the police. The crowd of about five hundred people was shouting slogans about hunger and bread and marched towards the market square.

The Jewish self defense groups were ordered not to interfere unless there was a specific anti-Semitic action. The self defense groups were armed with sticks and other cold weapons and deployed around the demonstrators.

As the crowd approached a coffee house owned by gentiles, the leaders went up the stairs but stopped and left after the owner came out and said quietly something to them. They went on to a Jewish owned kiosk which was closed and started to break the doors. When it became clear that Jewish shops were the target, it was decided to act and the members of the self defense group attacked the hooligans. The rioting mob started to escape as many passersbys, Jews and gentiles were watching. As stones were thrown by the hooligans, one of them wounded a soldier. The army attacked the mob and they dispersed.

This was the first, and probably the only public action of the Jewish self-defense in Stryj.


[Page 230]

Béla Kun in Stryj

By S. Rosenberg

Translated from Yiddish by Ganit Eiron

Translated from Hebrew by Susan Rosin

The Stryj railway station was an important transportation hub of the Hapsburg Empire's provinces with the east. There were north-south and east-west connections in Stryj. At the end of the First World War, Stryj was an important hub for the Empire's trains transporting soldiers from the east and the west back to their homes. This line also transported returning prisoners of war from both sides of the conflict. Since the Przemyœl – Lvov line did not operate due to the hostilities between Poland and Ukraine, Stryj became a major hub. The multitudes on the trains were a heart breaking sight: Frozen, dirty and hungry people travelling in a variety of cars: first, second and third class cars without the windows' glass, without heat and without any basic conveniences, as well as in open freight cars. Bodies of those who died because of the cold, hunger, and diseases were constantly removed from the open cars. Slowly the town's people got used to these difficult sights.

A well-armed Ukrainian unit was present at the station at all times. They used to stop and search each and every car and disarm those who were inside. Only then, they allowed the trains to proceed. That was the agreement that was put in place for all areas of the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire.

An incident caused much worry and stress in town. A train carrying many Hungarian prisoners of war returning from their captivity in Russia in overflowing cars was stopped in town. The train “commander” refused to let the Ukrainians inspect the cars and disarm the occupants. The Ukrainians brought machine guns and threatened to shoot at the train and its occupants. Instead of white flags, the occupants pulled out their weapons, gun barrels appeared in the windows and they threatened to open fire as well. The town commander brought reinforcements from the barracks and the station was closed. The news spread fast and the more daring young people came to the station to watch the dangerous game.

A negotiation between the two sides did not yield results. The Ukrainians threatened that they would not release the train move. The rebels responded with a threat of their own - they would take the train station by force. The atmosphere became charged. The Ukrainians did not want to get into an armed confrontation with the rebels that numbered about two thousand. In the end, the Ukrainians relented and let the train continue to Munkács (Mukacheve).

Later it became known that Béla Kun, the future leader of the Hungarian communist revolution was on the train with his bodyguards.

 

First Train with Petliura Forces in Stryj

In the summer of 1919, the Ukrainian army started to retreat due to the pressure from the Poles. The front line lay in a great curve from the San and Bug rivers to Stryj. The fiercest battles took place in the Przemyœl region and the Polish army threatened the Boryslaw oil area. Whereas Poland won the support of

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almost all the western countries, the Ukrainians had to rely only on themselves. Petliura's great Ukraine was torn apart in the civil war, and his gangs had to retreat towards the Galician border under pressure from the Red Army. In order to gain some ground, Petliura agreed to send some of his forces to the Boryslaw front. These forces, who took part in the pogroms, were corrupt and spoiled and had a thirst for Jewish blood. They had poor morale and barbaric behavior because of the defeats on the various fronts. The Eastern Galicia Ukrainian regime was very careful to prevent pogroms because it needed the recognition and support of the League of Nations, which was supposed to convene and discuss their case. For that reason, the Petliura people were transported unarmed by trains. At the transit stations in the cities, they were not allowed to get off the trains in order to prevent anti-Jewish outbursts. As the Petliura units had to pass through the Stryj station, the local military authorities tried very hard not to let these "heroes" roam the city until the train's departure. Incidentally, delegations of Jewish representatives warned the local authorities against this danger.

On one occasion, the railway to Boryslaw was blocked due to other trains, and the Petliura units had to stay in Stryj for a few hours. Several hundred of them burst into the streets of the city and began to rob local shops. There was a danger of a pogrom. The local military unit was called and with arms in hand surrounded the train station and forced the savage people of Petliura to return to the cars. Fortunately for the Jewish population, the Petliura people were not armed.


Bloody Wednesday in Stryj

By S. Rosenberg

Translated from Yiddish by Ganit Eiron

Translated from Hebrew by Susan Rosin

Stryj was a typical Polish provincial town. Life was mostly peaceful and quiet. There were no particularly interesting places in town that might have made life there more exciting. It was not famous in terms of social diversity or industry. In its industry, such as wood, metal, and matches there was not much agitation. If there were wage struggles or strikes, they were mostly peaceful.

Just like in neighboring Drohobycz during the 1911 elections it was the fate of Stryj to record a bloody chapter in its history. In Stryj, it was bloody Wednesday in March 1926.

This was a year of great economic crisis and high unemployment in Poland. Masses of workers in Poland suffered through a severe winter of unemployment and distress. There was no sign of an improvement in the economic situation. On the contrary, the number of unemployed people only rose to hundreds of thousands in the country. The crisis also affected Jewish professions. The Jewish workers' parties and labor unions convened a conference in Warsaw under the slogan "The right to work."

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From the Polish Sejm, and in meetings in the cities, the workers' representatives demanded work and assistance for the unemployed. Under public pressure from the workers, the reactionary government of Chjeno-Piast agreed to grant limited funds to the unemployed. However, the local authorities did not rush to distribute the money.

During the 1925-1926 winter several sawmills ceased operations in Stryj. Other sectors of the economic spectrum saw major cuts as well. The Council of Professional Organizations (Rada Zwi¹zków Zawodowych) that included most sectors (except for the railway workers) and was under communist influence organized rallies and sent representatives to the mayor's office demanding assistance.

The authorities finally agreed for the professional organizations to register the unemployed and be provided with the lists. Since the government ruled that only the unemployed who worked in a factories or workshops with at least five workers would be eligible for assistance, the council refused to recognize most of the Jewish unemployed who were previously employed in smaller workshops. Because of this rule, a conflict arose with the representatives of the Jewish professional organizations that were represented by the Poalei Zion party. The Jewish representatives left the Joint Council and established an independent committee of the unemployed. A delegation from this association visited the mayor's office and informed him that the Jewish representatives would create their independent lists and send them separately.

Many weeks passed but there was still no support for the unemployed. In mid-March, before Passover, the council started to organize a demonstration with the purpose of appealing to the mayor. The demonstrators gathered on Wednesday, March 31st, (second day of Passover) near the trade union building. About 500 workers, including a small number of Jews who belonged to the Communist Party, marched through the streets. Prior to their arrival, the city hall was fortified with an army unit ready for battle. The demonstrators approached the building peacefully, but the entrance was blocked by the police. The police allowed only a delegation to enter the building and they remained in there for a relatively a long time. The people on the street grew impatient and were incensed by the various propagandists. Later there was a speculation that among the crowds were political agitators sent by the authorities. At one point the demonstrators tried to break into the building. The police retreated upstairs. The demonstrators were encouraged and began to climb the stairs. At this point the bloodbath began. The police commander ordered his men to shoot after getting an agreement from the mayor. The barrage of bullets started without warning. The shots were fired into the crowd and many were killed and many more injured. On the street there was a horrifying sight: the echo of the shots created a terrible panic. In a sense of mortal fear, the people fled in every possible direction. Some fell dying on the street; Bloodied people, sought first aid. Soon the size of the massacre became known: Eleven dead and several dozens wounded. Among thedead was the nineteen year old Jewish man Krigger.

This event took place during the noon hours. The shocking news

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spread fast and the streets emptied except for the brave and curious few. Armed policemen patrolled the streets. Afraid of riots, the Stryj army unit was placed under the highest alert.

The news of the unscrupulous massacre spread throughout the country. The next day, the newspapers were filled with the news of the bloody Wednesday in Stryj. The city was full of journalists looking for sensational material. The workers' parties in the Sejm strongly condemned the attack and it was decided to establish an inquiry commission. As a result of the investigation, the mayor was removed and the police officer was found guilty.

The funeral of the Jewish victim was conducted by the police. To avoid possible demonstration it was held in secrecy with only the family present.

The other funerals were held three days later, during Passover and were attended by workers and delegations from all three nationalities. The police and the army were prepared to prevent possible disturbances. Policemen and soldiers stood guard during the entire funeral procession of the ten coffins. The victims were eulogized by representatives of all the workers' parties: P.P.S., the communist faction of the Sejm – by members of the Sejm Pasztaszok and Pristopa, the Jewish workers and Po'alei Zion – by Shimon Rosenberg. In spite of the anger and the tense atmosphere, the funerals passed peacefully.

With these events, some members of the workers' council were arrested, among them the Jewish communist activist Moshe Wagman, who later was sentenced to a year in prison.

The authorities were still very concerned about the workers' possible reaction to the bloodshed that had taken place earlier. To prevent this, they arrested all activists from the left-wing parties on the eve of May 1st, including Shimon Rosenberg of Poalei Zion.

 

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