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Previous Generations

 

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History and Demography

A. Ancient Turka

Until the middle of the 15th century, Turka and its surroundings was a desolate place, covered with endless forests. No human foot ever trod there, except perhaps for cases when a person was forced to find refuge from the attacks of the Tatars. However, when the enemy garrisons passed, people returned to their place. It is surmised that this wild area was an ancient crossing area, traces of which remain. This was apparently a narrow and uncomfortable pathway, passing some distance from the banks of the Stryj River. This path connected the lands of Czervinski with Hungary.

We can surmise this pathway was difficult and tiring. It is told that King Ludwig of Hungary lost more than 40 horses, who died of hunger and exhaustion as he attempted to shorten his route to Hungary via this path. He and the people accompanying him only reached their destination after four years. Apparently, this was referring to the path that goes forth from Klimets near the Stryj. This was the first time that Turka was mentioned in history, and shows that the path that runs between the forests of Turka was uncharted, difficult, and unused. People did not frequent the wild areas surrounding the desolate mountains of Turka.

 

Ownership of the Town

There was no further mention at all of Turka for almost 100 years after Turka was first mentioned in history

In 1431, King Wladyslaw Jagiello bequeathed Turka and the surrounding estates, through the rights granted to him in Medukha, to one of his warriors of the Wallachian families and their dynasty, who excelled in their faithful service to the kingdom. The bequeathment included the rights of inheritance.

However, the borders of the inheritance were not explicitly defined. The Stryj River, along whose banks the estate was situated, was mentioned in the documents. It mentions the trees, called “Ayl” on the fields of Isa, Sursur, and Brod, as the border point between separating between the lands of the Wallachian fighter and the royal lands. For this reason, King Zygmunt I was forced to appoint a special commission in order to precisely establish the borders of the Lords of the Turcki family and the royal estates.

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Szymon Turcki

From a certain document from 1494, which states that Szymon Turcki gave over a portion of his lands to his four sons, we learn that the landsof the Turcki family -- after whose name the Turka family was called -- include Vyaory and Jasinicka aside from Turka. According to the most reasonable estimation, the highest mountain peak of the mountains surrounding Turka was called Szymunka after Lord Szymon Turcki.

In 1444, Wanko of Turka, one of the confidantes of King Wladyslaw, who was called Waranczyk after his death, received, due to his many rights, a plot of three square miles located between the Bukowiec River (that flows into the San) until the borders of the village of Zurawno. This right was given in Wardein, Hungary. In addition, he received a permit that applies to his former rights, that is to the bequeathment of Turka to his father by King Wladyslaw Jagiello. Their sons and grandchildren, who received Turka and its environs from the kings as a gift, called themselves Turcki. Those who belonged in Jawor called their name Jaworski, and those who settled in the Ilnyk area called themselves Ilnycki.

 

History

From that time on, there were many mentions of Turka in history. We will summarize the important ones in brief.

Queen Buna commanded that the road from Sambor to Turka be paved, so that all sorts of good things could be transported to her native land. She visited the area frequently in order to hunt in the forests of Turka. In the 16th century, there were already many Wallachians there who fled there to escape Hungarian oppression. They brought their customs and laws with them, which became accepted and customary there. Indeed, the settlement in all of the villages in the region of Turka was conducted primarily by the law of the Wallachians. The rights of these locales were frequently emphasized.

The Tatars, who prior to this never came between the mountains out of fear of the difficult passage and of ambush, were forced to escape in 1594 through the mountains of the region of Turka and Skola, when the Polish army headed by commander Jan Zamojski pursued them. The Tatars left a trail of ruin and destruction in the wake of their escape.

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Historical information about the local disputes and battles of the “Szlachta” (Polish nobility) remain with us to this day, including the attack of Szlochtong on the court of Jaworski Prakowicz near Turka, the attack of Wysocnaski on Rozmir, and of Pamientowski from Rozluch on the Dwornickes of Bobarka, and finally -- the dispute between the Szlachta of Wysock and Komornik with the people of Skoli.

Turka was destroyed by Hungarian pillagers in 1697. After the victory over the border guard Stefan Turcki, they pillaged the entire area and set it on fire.

In 1729, Turka, along with its suburb of Zawiznice, transferred from its previous owners, who lost their means due to the previous attack, to the hands of Jan Antoni Kalinowski.

(Based on Zarys monograficzny powiatu, Turczanskiego Lwow, 1939).
Translated from Polish by Ch. D.

 

B. Jewish Turka

It is difficult to establish exactly when the first Jews arrived to Turka and its area. However, it is clear that Jewish settlement in great numbers was connected to the name of the Magnate Jan Antoni Kalinowski. In 1729, Kalinowski purchased the town of Turka. One year later, with the authorization of the king, this town was raised to the status of a city in order to turn it into a commercial center, on account of its proximity to the Polish-Hungarian border. In order to attract new residents to the city, especially businessmen and tradesmen, Kalinowski sent his assistants throughout the area to promise in his name that all new residents will be granted freedom of action in business and trade. Therefore, the first 25 Jewish residents of Turka arrived: Avraham Szymonowicz Ratuszni who was the first rabbi of Turka, Shimon Berkowicz, Baruch Arendtur, Zalman Joselowicz, Abish Herszkowicz, Yaakov Roth, Hersh Arendtur, Shua-Hertz Zelmanowicz, Baruch Natalowicz, Yehuda Mendlowicz, Moshe Aharonow, Shmuel Nachumowicz, Daniel Marodowicz, Yosef Kanahowicz, Shlomo Szpinkowicz, Nachman Aharonowicz, Yaakov Matatowicz, Yosef Judkowicz, Shlomo Jakub, Yitzchak Brodek, and Berl Cymbalista.

 

The Building of the Market

Still in that year (1730), Kalinowski built four rows of houses in the form of a square (the market) on a gigantic field near his palace. Kalinowski rented those houses to the new residents at an particularly low price, even relative to that time period. Similarly

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A map of the region of Turka

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he concerned himself with their religious and social needs. That year, he built the first synagogue in Turka with his own money, costing 30,000 Polish zloty at that time. He also donated through his own initiative a Jewish old age residence. He gave the Jews a suitable plot for a Jewish cemetery from his private land. All the local Jews were permitted to take the necessary amount of wood from his forests for building their residential homes and for heating. Kalinowski even set up a Jewish printing press, which published various prayer books and study books. One copy of this ancient prayer book was kept in the archives of the community of Turka until the Holocaust. The following text is written on the front page of the prayer book in both Polish and Hebrew.

“W Turce. Dziedzicznym miescie I. W. Imci Pana Antoniego, Pana Na Wielkich Kamionkach Turce, Beniowycz X. Kalinowskiego, Podkomorzego Inflantskiego Wojsk Jego Krolewskiej Mosci y Rze. Pos. Pulkownika Pana y Dobrodziedz.”

Photocopy of the front page of the Siddur that was published in the Turka publishing house in the middle of the 18th century

Note: this is a machzor -- a festival prayer book. A rough English translation of the above Polish inscription is as follows. Some of the titles could not be translated literally:
In Turka. To ... Sir Antoni Kalinowski, landlord of Turka, Kamionki Wielkie, Beniowce (?) and ... and colonel of HM the king and the Republic.

 

United City Council

Until 1867, there were three separate communities in Turka: a) The community of the Christian residents; b) the community of the Polish nobility; and c) the Jewish community. Each community had its own official seal. The inscription on the Jewish seal was “Turka ver Yuden -- Gemeinde -- Siegel”.

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After the declaration of the constitution and the change of citizenship rights in the lands under Austrian rule, the three aforementioned communities merged into on civic community for all citizens. After the merge, Mrs. Moshe Shechter was elected to the city council as a representative of the Jews.

Throughout that entire era, until the year 1903, no official Jewish community with a charter for autonomy and general elections existed in Turka. The people who headed the community were given the title of Regirer. These were delegates of the Jews who were elected from time to time at meetings in the synagogues. However, these people did not maintain any office, did not collect any taxes at all, and did not set up committees to administer to the needs of the community. The shochtim (ritual slaughterers) earned their livelihood from the income of shechita, and also designated specific percentages for the rabbi of the community or his delegate. Communal affairs were decided upon in meetings that were convened with sufficient frequency in the synagogues. These meetings were conducted by influential Jews, and the decisions that were taken obligated the entire community.

 

The Railway and the Beginning of Modern Life

A fundamental change took place in Turka starting in 1903. At that time, a railway line was built though Turka, which strengthened its economic and social life in a significant manner. Many new people with energy and initiative from the Jewish intelligentsia and commercial strata settled there then. That year (1903), the government authorized the founding of an official Jewish community, based on the Austrian law of Jewish communities, for the first time in the history of Turka. The following people then became members of the communal council: Moshe Shechter, Zalman Margolis, Avraham Zuswajn, Yisrael-Tzvi Hirsch, Chaim Hirsch, and Dr. Turnheim. The latter served as the chairman of the community. A new period of this communal organization began after the communal elections in 1908. The following were elected: Dr. Lowinger -- chairman, Daniel Ortel - vice chairman; and Peretz Klein, Abish Berman, Gedalia Mendel, Leibush Konka, Yosef Brandelstein, and Avraham Zuswain as members. The period of tenure of this communal council continued until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

No election to the Jewish communal council took place during the time of the First World War, since the residents left en masse due to the approach of the Russian Army. Indeed, the Russian army mercilessly plundered and destroyed all of the Jewish property in the city.

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After the First World War

The members of the communal council returned in the autumn of 1918 and began to renew the work of the communal council. However, after some time, the work was again interrupted due to the Ukrainian Revolution, and the authority of the communal council transferred to the Jewish National Council. This council only existed in Turka for a period of six months, after which authority was again transferred to the Jewish community that came to life again after the end of Ukrainian rule. The same members who had been elected a long time before the First World War continued to serve on that communal council.

The next elections for the communal council in Turka took place only in 1925. Once again, Dr. Lowinger was elected as chairman and Daniel Ortel as the vice chairman. The members were Hirsch-Leib Shreiber, Mendel Keller, Dr. Glik, Moshe Hirt, Sh”N. Majner, and Avraham Langenauer.

Elections to the communal council took place once again in 1928, on the basis of the new charter of communities of the Polish Republic. The members of the new committee were: Dr. Lowinger as chairman, Dr. Glik as vice chairman; and six members that including the rabbi of the city Rabbi Eliezer Mishel as vigilist. There were twelve council members, headed by Mr. Adolf Bernstein.

 
Member of the communal
council Dr. P. Rajntal
  Chairman of the communal
council Dr. M. Bruch

Due to disarray in the community, the government disbanded the council and the committee, and, in the year 1935, appointed the Turka lawyer Dr. Maurycy Bruch as the government trustee. Alongside him, the advisory council consisted of Yisrael Intrator as vice trustee, Dr.

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P. Reinntal, Yaakov Tzvi Konka, Avraham Langenauer, Uziel Ortel, Yitzchak Engelmeir, and Shlomo Shliser.

The population of Turka prior to the Second World War was 6,000, of which 41% were Jewish. The number of Jewish residents in the surrounding villages was 7,000.

(From Almanach gmin Zydowskich w polsce)

Translated from Polish by Ida Z.

C. Demographic Notes and Other Things

Administrative Divisions

The primary factor in the settlement and building up of Turka and its dependencies was undoubtedly the rivers and the abundance from the mountains. The primary administrative division was in essence the town itself: Turka on the Stryj River, which was the “capital” of the district, and which contained all of the district government offices. 273 villages and settlements were dependent on it.

 

Demography
  1. There were 114,457 (according to the 1931 census) living on the area of 1,829 square kilometers, as follows:

      Turka District
    Roman Catholics 1,706 4,595
    Greek Catholics 4,211 92,353
    Jews 4,117 (!) 6,510
    Others 33 800
     
    Polish Speakers 3,997 22,106
    Ukrainian Speakers 1,446 49,122
    Russian Speakers (Not Russians!) 1,571 28,344
    Yiddish speakers 3,056 4,496 (!)
    Speakers of other languages 25 130

  2. 10,627 Jews lived in the district of Turka. They formed 40.8% of the population of the town, and 6.2% of the population of the villages (!!) This was 141.3% larger than the number of Poles who lived in Turka itself. However, along with this, we can see that almost one third of the Jewish population of the district of Turka (3,065 out of 10,627) specified Polish as their vernacular. This raised the number of people who declared Polish as their mother tongue by 2,411 people.
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  1. The standard of living in the district was very low. Living conditions were unbearable. 56.4% lived in one-room dwellings. 29.7% lived in two-room dwellings, and only 7.5% lived in three-room dwellings. There were only 9 physicians in the entire district, 7 of them in Turka.
  2. There were 15 average sized sawmills in the district and three small ones. Four of these sawmills were located in Turka itself. Except for three, the largest of the sawmills were owned by Jews, who developed the lumber industry in the district, which was in general an agricultural region.
  3. The “intelligentsia element” in the broad sense of the term, including officials in the district government offices, medics, teachers, clergy, police, and pensioners with their families -- numbered 3,229 people, forming 2.9% of the population.
(From Zarys monograficzny powiatu Turczanskiego Lwow 1930)

Railway tracks approaching Turka

 

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The Ledgers of Turka Until the Second World War

By Chaim Pelech of Kiryat Chaim

(Memories and Episodes)

uncaptioned, Chaim Pelech

In olden times Jews of Turka lived in the same primitive conditions as the local Ukrainian population. They ate potatoes and oatmeal bread all week, and for the Sabbath, they went to the mill, milled a bit of wheat, and baked narrow wheat challos. There was no great difference between rich and poor. Even the clothing was very poor. Young people wore long shirts of thick flax and in the summer they went barefoot without shoes… For the wedding, they made the young people trestle boots, two pairs of cloth pants and bekishes (Hassidic cloaks), and shirt of thick gentile flax. They did not make much more for the girls…

 

Deep Religiosity

All of the Jewish children in Turka and in the surrounding villages studied in cheders. At that time, they did not know of schools, although the wealthy Jews gradually began to bring teachers from the larger cities for their children, so that they would learn to write German and Polish. For the poor and middle class Jews, the cheder was the highest level of study and education. First and foremost, one learned how to pray there, and even more. Later, various strata of the Jewish community sent their sons to the Rabbinical Yeshivas of other cities in Galicia. Therefore, many students came to Turka, who would sit day and night in the kloizes and study.

 

Railroad and Changes

Young men of Turka at the banks of the Jablonka

As the very old Jews used to relate, a great change came in life in Turka when they began to build the railway line. Turka continued to live with the old order as long as there was no railway line. The economic and employment situation changed completely. Together with that, the cultural and social situation changed. In truth, people relate, that even before the time of the railway, there were already a few great students n Turka, who had already secretly become Zionists and occupied themselves with Zionist literature – but this was all strictly undercover.

When the railway was built, a certain Jewish railway engineer came to Turka, and founded a Zionist organization called Mizrachi in Turka – the first organization of the new times in Turka. At the beginning, the organization was very small, for the youth were afraid to join it due to the great persecutions that they had to withstand, both from their parents and from others. They would not let the youth worship in the kloizes. On occasion such a young man would receive a slap and be thrown out of the Belzer Kloiz. This was considered to be an illness for them… they were called 'treifenicks' 1.

However, time did not stand still.. Slowly, the Zionist organization expanded and grew. Elections to the Austrian parliament took place in 1907. There were two Jewish candidates in the regions (the nationalist Jew Dr. Gershon Zipper and the assimilationist Dr. Nathan Levenstein – “A Pole of the Mosaic faith”). By then, the Zionist organization of Turka conducted a large scale activity and great agitation.

The economic changes were mainly evidenced by the building of many sawmills, for when the railway was built, they began to cut down the forests and transport the wood by train. This provided livelihood to may Jews of Turka. Jews were clerks, contractors, employees, etc. at all of the lumber enterprises. Life changed significantly, and Jews no longer had to mill flour for the Sabbath…

One profession in Turka was a victim of the railway – the wagon drivers. They, whose entire livelihood consisted of bringing in and sending out of merchandise with their horse drawn wagons, begged G-d that He should make a miracle and the axle of the train should break… However, no miracle took place, and the trains continued to ride…

Indeed, business greatly expanded, and Jews conducted commerce. But not all… the greatest number of Jews still remained poor. They worked at various trades, and were tailors, shoemakers, and others. Above everything, tailors worked with their hands, for there were no new machines in Turka. When one could obtain a new machine, there was no money to purchase it. One tailor, who had some means, purchased a new machine at that time. This was Baruch Yosef Frankel. Indeed, other tailors would come to him and pay him to make their stitches. Later, the Singer firm from America arrived. It was represented by Alter Montag, who was the gabbai (trustee) of the Tailor's Synagogue. Reb Alter gave machines to all of the tailors, which were to be paid for in installments. The terms were for a year or two, but it often dragged on to six or eight years. Alter Montag would always lengthen the terms.

In short, it was a bit better for tailors and shoemakers. However, when Thursday came, and one needed 4-5 Crowns for the Sabbath, one had to sweat hard until it came.

 

Societal Life

At that time, the entire societal life in Turka took place in the Beis Midrashes and kloizes. There was a Belzer Kloiz in Turka, in which Jews sat day and night and studied; There was a Sadigora Kloiz, a Chortkower Kloiz, a Beis Midrash, and also a large synagogue – where more enlightened Jews worshipped with a cantor and a choir. The Tailor's Synagogue 2 and the “Businessmen's” Synagogue were located near the large synagogue. Aside from there, there was a large Kloiz of Rabbi Langerman, and also shtibels that held services in accordance with their style. There was also a Zionist shtibel, an hand-worker's shtibel, and still others.

Young people slowly began to read the “Jewish Tagblatt” that was published in Lemberg 3. They also took interest in Yiddish theater. Troupes came from Lemberg, and various Jewish songs began to be sung in Turka.

However, not everything went smoothly. Youth still went “to sing and to recite” with their observant parents and other observant families. The older generation did not surrender so quickly, and they waged a battle with the treifeniks.

It was fortuitous that the older generation did not always have a great deal of time, and they were occupied with their own problems and difficulties. As well, G-d sent them a difficult problem when they had to choose a new rabbi after the old rabbi died. This was in 1909 or 1910. A large proportion wanted the grandson of the Rebbe of Sambor. However, the communal council and other Jews wanted only Rabbi Mishel, who was not very popular, but was very good at learning. Samborer Hassidim stormed the communal offices. There were fights in the streets, and also at tables and on chairs…

Rabbi Mishel and the Jewish community council were victorious. With them were wealthy Jews, the owners of the Profinacia (Liquor monopoly), who purchased it from the heirs of Count Kolinowski. Those heirs owned all of their lands in the Turka region, and Jews purchased these lands. All of the wealthy Jews were adherents of the assimilationist Dr. Levenstein against the nationalist activist Dr. Zipper. The Pole of the Mosaic faith once again was victorious in the elections of 1911. Great battles broke out in Turka over those elections. Moshe Shein and his Socialist group came to the assistance of the Zionist side, which was incidentally quite strong. The assimilationist group won, for it was helped by the police.


When the famous Beiles Trial took place in Kiev prior to the first World War, a large protest meeting against the Czarist authorities took place in Turka. Leibel Taubes from Lemberg spoke at that gathering, which took place in the large synagogue and was packed.

A time of cultural and political activity began in Turka at that time. Theatrical troupes began to come from Lemberg and Krakow. Then, a dramatic circle was founded as part of the Zionist organization at that time. The Turka population attended all of the performances en masse.

At that time, a table maker by the name of Hersh Fett came to Turka and settled there. Fett founded a handworker's organization called Yad Charutzim, which developed with fine activities. It was a union that included shoemakers, tailors, clockmakers, locksmiths, table makers and other professions.

The aforementioned Moshe Shein founded the first Jewish socialist organization called Zh. P. S., which was a branch of the Polish P. P. S. (Polska Partja Socialistyczna). That Socialist organization did not have a great success, for people were somewhat ashamed to belong to that organization…

Small social-religious organizations were active at the time. These included the Chevra Kadisha (which was as old as the town of Turka itself…), Psalm reciters, and others. Their members were extremely disciplined, and any command from a trustee was immediately acted upon. They stood at a very high moral level. They had respect for old people, and never battled against them. Jews were honorable and deeply religious. They eschewed tale bearing and accepted lovingly all manners of life that were thrown their way.

 

One Relates…

Various stories were told in Turka during those good times.

In 1912, a young man (He was a son of the Koncikers Rebbe name Oestreich) got married in Turka. He wished to open a clothing factory in town. The tailors found out about this and gave him a difficult time. The young man soon regretted this and clarified that he would not wish to take livelihood away from the poor tailors.

Rabbi Eli Kapel, a judge and great scholar, ordered two suits for his two children. The tailor delivered the work, and Reb Eli did not have enough money to pay. Reb Eli sent back the clothing, for it was strongly forbidden to wear things for which the workers the workers were not paid.

There was also an organization for giving of assistance in secret. The city knew that Chaim Hirsch would send two cranes to Mattel the scribe and to other poor Jews every Thursday for the Sabbath.

A poor Jew called Yankel Kugel used to travel around with a hors and buggy. He would conclude his work at noon on Friday. Two hours before candle lighting, he already went to worship at the Kloiz, dressed in a silk bekishe (Hassidic robe), streimel, loafers and white socks. Yankel used to always conduct services. He would worship in the Kloiz of Rabbi Langerman on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They used to say that his praying would instill fear in the youth. His voice thundered up to heaven.

Berl Chaluk was a poor, honorable Jew. He had the custom of bringing cold water into the synagogue when Jews used to sit there on the Sabbath and recite Psalms. The Psalms reciters would refresh their heart with the water. One day, Berl met a young man who said to him, “Berl, you have taken water to the synagogue for such a long time. Perhaps you should give this over to someone younger than you?” Berl answered, “My young man, this water porting to the synagogue is my mitzvah and my custom, and I have no intention of giving it over to anybody… When I die, it should be transferred to my son Shimon…”


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. From the work 'treif', which colloquially means 'non-kosher'. Treifenicks would mean 'non-kosher people'. Return
  2. Literally, “little synagogue”. Return
  3. Otherwise known as Lvov, Lwow, or modern day Lviv. Return

 

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Turka

by Eizik Kurtz of Haifa

Uncaptioned; Eizik Kurtz

 

A. A Jewish Town

The town of Turka belonged to Austria until the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War. Then it transferred to Poland. It fell under Russian rule at the end of the Second World War.

Turka is situated in the Carpathians, approximately 30 kilometers from the Beskid Peaks. The population of the city was more than 50% Jewish. There were also many Jews among the population of the large number of villages surrounding Turka. Some of them literally worked the land. Poles and Ukrainians formed the rest of the population of the city. The Polish residents were the intelligentsia of the city for the most part, including teachers, government officials, and the like. However, there was a certain degree of intelligentsia, primarily teachers, among the Ukrainian population.

There were very few Jewish officials of the general government. On the other hand, I recall two Jewish mayors. One Jewish mayor was Shechter, who was the wealthy man of the city, and the second was Dr. Landis. A Pole was appointed as mayor only in 1916 or 1917. He was the school principal. It is especially appropriate to note Dr. Landis here, for he did a great deal for the benefit of the city. Indeed, at times, the thought has come to my mind that this Dr. Landis served as a good example for our Abba Hushi...

Turka, like all of the cities of Galicia, was somnolent from generation to generation... until the Haskalah began to knock on the gates of the Jewish settlements -- some sooner and some later. In any case, the Haskalah came to us in Turka very late... Only certain special Jews

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were involved in it at the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century, but they were not so daring as to make this fact public.

Limierz River at the time of the melting of the snow

 

B. Composition of the Jewish Population

As in most of the cities of Galicia, the Jews of Turka worked primarily in small-scale commerce and trades. For example, all of the tailors were Jews, and they also sewed for the gentile population of the villages. The builders were also 95% Jewish. There was perhaps one gentile among all of the shoemakers... This was also the case with the Jewish harness-makers, barbers, etc. Even the members of the free intelligentsia such as the lawyers, physicians, etc., were all Jews, with the exception of two physicians -- one of whom was the director of the hospital and the second of whom was the supervisor of the office of health. It is no wonder, therefore, that all of the main streets of the town were occupied by Jews until the end of the century... Gentiles only began to penetrate into the Jewish center in the years 1909-1910. Someone named Schipka, who had formerly been a servant of the aforementioned Shechter, opened up a restaurant. Someone named Kucira opened a second restaurant.

With the passage of time, gentile grocery stores began to open up, especially a Ukrainian cooperative. There were not yet any other sources of commerce, for everything was in

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the hands of the Jews. A change for the worse took place during the 1930s, as many gentile shops opened up.

 

C. Zionism in the Town

Zionism as a movement appeared in the town two to three years after the First Zionist Congress.

It was like this. The railway line between Lwow and Budapest via the Carpathians began to be completed at the beginning of the century. This railway line passed through Turka. This led to an improvement in the economic situation of Turka, and the town began to arise from its poverty. At that time, there were thousands of workers in the town and the area, primarily Italians, and there was hope. Something else helped with this: Along with the workers, a Jew named Rozenblat, who was attracted to Zionism, came to town. This engineer was the one who brought a new spirit to numerous youths of the kloizes. Thus, the first breach was created... Among these first ones, we should mention Baruch Maj (his daughter lives in Israel), Nechemia Shteiger, Yosef Kopel, Y. M. Shreiber, and Berish Lorberbaum. With the passage of time, other youths were added to these daring ones, and the founded a Zionist organization named “Mizracha”. By the years 1907-1910, their influence on the Jewish Street was already quite recognizable. When time came for the elections to the Austrian government, and the assimilationist Dr. Levinstein who was supported by the government as well as the Zionist Dr. Ziper submitted their candidacies, a commotion broke out in the city, and there was also a Zionist demonstration.

The first beginnings of the Hebrew school also took place at that time. However, this activity was very restricted, and was not met with recognizable success.

The situation changed in its entirety during the period of the First World War. The Jews left when the Russians entered the town, and only returned when the town was reconquered by the Austrian Army in 1915. From then, things began as new. Everything was in the hands of the youth, for the older people were drafted to the army. One youth appeared at this point, who today is the mayor of the city of Haifa, and gathered a group of youths into his house, who were the sons of proper people with curly peyos (the writer of these lines among them), and began to speak about the founding of Young Zion, the study of Hebrew, preparations for aliya to the Land of Israel, etc. Indeed, we began to study Hebrew, using the book of Moshe Roth.

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When the refugees of the war began to return to the town, many members began to join Young Zion. The group disbanded with the passage of time. One group, along with Abba Hushi, transferred to Hashomer Hatzair, and the second group remained with Young Zion until the appearance of Hitachdut. These two groups conducted many cultural activities in the city. A library affiliated with Young Zion was opened in the city, containing books in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German. At Hashomer Hatzair, we attempted to prepare for aliya to the Land. At that time, we obtained a plot of Land to work. We also chopped trees for the householders of the city. In those days, such activities were very revolutionary...

These activities were primarily centered in the large community hall that was built by the local Zionist organization. Already before the First World War, a Jew named Dr. Turnheim donated the land for this building.

*

The first group, headed by Abba Hushi, made aliya to the Land in 1920. (I did not make aliya with that group due to a family tragedy.) After some time, the second group, of Young Zion, made aliya, headed by Moshe Yisraeli.

At that time the Hechalutz movement began. Its members came from various organizations. A Gordonia chapter was also founded at that time by Manis Branes of blessed memory. I recall that Pinchas Lubianker visited the town for a leadership inspection at the time of the founding of that chapter. Activists in Hitachdut included Shlomo Pellach, Shlomo Feiler, Moshe Krabes, and others.

I especially wish to note the activities of Y. M. Shreiber, who was a Hebrew teacher as well as the delegate of the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) throughout all of his days. Absolutely everybody received their inspiration from him. In 1939, I received a letter from him containing greetings for our members in the Land.

 

D. Miscellaneous

It was 1918. The Hashomer Hatzair movement in Galicia was then in its full blossom. The entire movement was based on “scouting”, and their uniforms made of Paulist cloth were quite recognizable.

Then the headquarters of the movement decided to hold a national convention. At that point, Abba Hushi already was able to influence the headquarters to hold the convention in the village of Torna near Turka. There was

[Page 45]

a Jewish landowner there named Tzvi Rand (a Holocaust survivor, whom I greeted here when he came to the Land), who placed his barn and some of his buildings at the disposal of the convention. The participants included Elizer Berger of blessed memory, Dolek Horowitz, Meir Yaari, Spiegel, Sarah Meirsdorf, and Abba Hushi. I recall the strong impression that the convention delegates had on the people of Turka. Their arrival by train, dressed in uniforms that resembled army fatigues, etc. -- all of this excited our imaginations, for we saw them as a Jewish army who would go up and conquer the Land of Israel...


[Page 45]

Turka During the First World War

By Chaim Pelech of Kiryat Chaim

The war during the years 1914-1918 brought great tribulations to the Jews of Turka, and a great destruction to the town. This began on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. At 2:00, a Russian cavalry patrol tore into Turka. Not two minutes passed when the whistle of a locomotive was heard. It became known in town that the train station was empty. Nobody from the town was there, for everyone fled. We soon understood that something was about to happen. Indeed, shooting was heard shortly. It became known that an Austrian patrol arrived with the locomotive and shot at the Russians. The Russian patrol fled, and the city was left empty – not Austrian and not Russian…

 

The Night of Horror

The Jewish community of Turka then went through a difficult night, for news spread that the Ukrainians were gathering together at night to ambush the city and pillage the Jewish population. People closed themselves up in their homes and prepared hatchets to defend themselves against the robbers. The night was completely peaceful. In the morning, the first day after Rosh Hashanah, a large portion of the Jewish population began to flee to the surrounding villages. The Russian army began to march in at exactly 12:00 noon. Large army battalions came in and immediately began their “work”. They set fire to a large portion of the city between the Rynek (Market) Place and the alleyways, where the synagogue and Kloizes were located. And where the crowded Jewish population lived.

A great panic ensued. People ran from the burning houses as they were, leaving behind all of their belongings, the product of the labor of the course of over a hundred years. As stated, the fire engulfed the entire Rynek from both sides, and burnt all of the alleyways around the synagogue and the Kloizes. The synagogue, the Belzer Kloiz and the Beis Midrash all burnt. The panic was indescribable. Jews ran to save the Torah scrolls. They tore into the burning Kloizes and dragged out the holy scrolls. The Cossacks were standing not far from those Jewish alleyways, beating the Jews who were carrying the holy books with Cossack style whips.

 

Pillage

Many Jews fled to the “Olica”[1]. There, 6-8 families were stuffed into one room. At that time, many Christians from the villages came to city and pillaged the burning houses. Strong young people stood around some of the houses, and did not permit them to be pillaged. In such cases, the Christians brought Russian soldiers to help. Then the strong people had to flee and hide – and the Christians freely pillaged the Jewish belongings. Jews dared to ask a Russian officer why they were pillaging and burning the Jewish property. He answered that the Jews telephoned the Austrian army, telling them that they should shoot at the Russian patrol that entered the town the day before. Therefore, Jews were punished. Of course, this was the eternal libel against Jews, which was thought up in order to justify pillaging Jewish belongings.

Thus did Turka burn until the second day. The Christians pillaged until late in the night. Then, things began to be quiet… However, late at night, a new terror and panic began among the Jews who remained in the city. Russian officers broke into the Jewish houses with revolvers in their hands, and searched for Jewish girls and women… The shrieks of those girls and women were terrible. It seemed as if they would kill all of the Jews. From one house, the cry of the entire Jewish population who lived there could be heard. This continued until 2:00 a.m. Afterward, it became silent again until the morning.

The result of that night was one Jew dead and one Jew wounded. This occurred because they did not allow their wives to be violated. In the morning, all Jews left the city and fled to the villages around Turka. The Turka Jews lived there for a difficult 21 days, for there was nothing to eat. Many people died from the typhus and cholera that quickly spread among the Jewish people. The weather was also uncooperative. On the eve of Yom Kippur, there was a large snowfall. Winter lay like a heavy stone upon the hungry Jewish population, who slept in the attics of the stables of the village Jews. The rooms were filled with young children. Among other things, there was no place to lay one's head.

Thus were they tormented for the entire three weeks until the Austrian army retook Turka, and the Russians fled to Stary-Sambor. Then the Jews of Turka returned to their city, and once again crowded themselves into the Olica, 4-8 families in a room. The poverty was very great. They had no shirt on their bodies, and no money with which to purchase a piece of bread. People ran around the Christians to retrieve their pillaged items. A few indeed succeeded in retrieving something, however the great majority could not get anything.

 

Leaving Home

As has already been stated, there was no livelihood. The news from the front was also bad. The Jews began to prepare to flee to Hungary. The torment went on for a few more weeks – and when the Austrian army retreated to Hungary, the few Jews from Turka joined them. Only two Jews remained in the town – Yisrael Mendel Binder and Aharon Mordechai Filinger. Their end was tragic. Yisrael Mendel was dragged into Russia, and Aharon Mordechai was shot by the Russians on the spot.

The Turka Jews were homeless refugees. They were tossed into the Austria-Hungary Empire, and they spent the entire war there. The Austrian regime even gave them a significant amount of support, that enabled the homeless Jews to withstand the tribulations and permitted them to return to their former homes. In 1916, when the Russians began to retreat from Galicia, the Jews of Turka began to return home.

 

Returning Home

When we arrived in Turka in 1918, we already found a living town, with a new youth, with new ideas – nothing of what once was… We found a new, strong Hashomer Hatzair organization. The youth were going around with books under their arms… We read a lot we conducted discussions, there was Socialism and Zionism – it was lively in the town… We went to readings. There was a great cultural ascent among the youth, who did not yet need to seek their livelihood… Indeed, with regard to livelihood, the struggle in the town was still very difficult. The war continued on the fronts, and the elder generation sweated greatly when Thursday came and there was no food for the Sabbath.


Time passed and the war finally ended. The Jews soldiers began to return home from the fronts. There were new tones: everyone was a thorough revolutionary.

In the meantime, the Ukrainians took over the political authority, and it was hard on the heart… They granted so-called political freedom, but there was no food and no livelihood. The Ukrainians and Poles formed a common front – and the struggle became more difficult. The Ukrainians began to see where they were, and it was very cramped. Typhus began to spread again, and slowly engulfed the entire Jewish population. Many Jews died of the epidemic. The struggle became progressively worse.

Nevertheless, the youth organized themselves into various groups that sprouted up. The youth felt that a new time was coming. The Ukrainians would not be able to maintain their authority, and we would become Polish citizens.

Indeed, that is what happened. Within a short period of time, the Poles overtook the Ukrainians, and we became Polish citizens, albeit with new tribulations and new worries…


[Page 50]

Episodes from Life in Turka
from Before the First World War

by Elka Moshenberg of Haifa

Uncaptioned. Elka Moshenberg

 

Yisrael Moshe Shreiber

Yisrael Moshe Shreiber, who served as the first Hebrew teacher in Turka and was a maskil and Zionist with heart and soul, was my cousin from my father's side. I will tell here about his first steps as an educator.
It was approximately 57 years ago. His mother had died, and he lived with his father in our house. His father was elderly and sickly, and was always coughing. His son Yisrael Moshe took care of them with the help of my mother.

He excelled in his studies in cheder, and became an assistant to the teacher. His father's hope was that he would end up as a teacher to the older students.

Once, I climbed up to the attic for some reason, and, to my surprise, found a complete “treasury” in the form of a closed trunk. This was a type of “kopertal” in the vernacular. I opened it and found books, booklets, and other types of papers. With joy, I told my mother Rivka about this find. However, she had certainly known about this, and she forbade me from approaching the trunk. It was clear that this trunk housed Yisrael Moshe's study materials, which he used to study secular subjects in secret.

He would study every night, with his head resting on his elbow, supporting himself on the table. He would not utter any sound, but only study the holy books. However, when his father went to sleep, he would get up, take out the hidden secular books, and study them.

My later father would get up in the middle of the night to recite the Tikkun Chatzot service[2]. Once, he passed by him, and saw him with the “non-kosher material” in his hands. He told my mother, but my mother softened Father's stance, “The cheder studies are not sufficient to sustain him…”

[Page 51]

As I have stated, he later became known in the city. Everyone studied Hebrew with him. He married and had a child – but no memory of them remains.

 

Regarding the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society)

The Chevra Kadisha of our city also served the Jews who lived in the surrounding villages. The concentration of Jews in those villages varied by size and circumstance. There were villages in which a minyan of Jews could barely be found, whereas others maintained small Jewish communities with cultural vibrancy and strong Jewish tradition. The people would earn their livelihood from grocery stores in the village, inns, and also from working the land.

These Jews would generally conduct themselves according to the principles of “tending to guests,” participating in communal matters, etc. However, there were also some who acted in a miserly fashion, and did not tend to guests. The Chevra Kadisha knew how to repay such miserly Jews. When they would bring their dead to be buried, they would be asked to pay more than double. The incoming money was, of course designated to the upkeep of the cemetery, the costs of burial of poor people, etc.

*

There was a custom with the Chevra Kadisha of Turka that if they were unable to bury the dead on the day of his death, two of the members would be asked to sit with the deceased for the entire night next to burning candles.

Once, on a winter night, my father was asked to stand guard over the deceased along with another man. Indeed, my father had the opportunity to fulfill this commandment often enough, since our house was located in close proximity to the cemetery. Already before midnight, the guardians realized that the candles would not last the entire night. Therefore, the second man was asked to go to the store of Yosef Meir Bik, located nearby, to purchase candles. First, the man drank a glass of liquor, and then he sat down to rest on some bench, and fell asleep for the entire night…

My father remained with the deceased in darkness. In accordance with the custom, he had to remain with the deceased until daylight.

*

How did the Chevra Kadisha get new members? How did these members pass the first “trial by fire”?

[Page 52]

They brought the candidate to the tahara room[3], and left him there. If he endured this, he would be accepted as a member…

 

The Raftom[4] Week

When the mandatory draft was decreed, which at first only included bachelors, 40 weddings were arranged in one week in Turka. Therefore, this week was called – Shabbat Raftom

 

“A Grown Up Child”

And it took place during the time of Cossacks –

Gutscha, a girl of about 15 years old, was the daughter of my uncle Neituch. She dressed up as a boy, so that the Cossacks would not set their eyes upon her. She tied a kerchief to her belt, as if she was suffering from a toothache, and a large hat that covered her forehead. She put on an old man's suit and boots – and thus did she go around among the men in the shadow of her father.

Once, a Russian soldier came to us and wanted to say Kaddish in memory of his father. When he wanted to include the “lad” in the minyan, he was told that he had not yet reached the age of Bar Mitzvah. He answered, “Without inviting the evil eye, -- a grown up looking child…”

 

We Became Refugees

At the beginning of the First World War in 1914, the Austrian Army decided to step over the front in Galicia. After a few attempts to take hold, all of the Jews of Turka, including the Jews of the adjacent villages, became refugees.

Our route led in the direction of the Hungarian border. There were no trains, so some set out by wagon, and others by foot, throughout all the paths and routes – the main thing was to leave the place. Even the Austrian Army retreated across the Hungarian border. Thus, our route was determined by the movements of the army. When the captains saw my two younger sisters and younger brother, they had mercy on them and seated them in an army wagon. My older brother was told to walk behind the wagon. Our aim was to go to our uncle in Berezina. My mother and I walked on a separate path. In the middle of the night, the captain who was transporting our family received an order to return to Turka. The children had to get off the wagon and wander by foot on unknown paths in the darkness of the night. Along with

[Page 53]

other refugees, we reached the Shanka border crossing. A transport train arrived there, which gathered all the refugees, and crowded them in like sardines. We could not meet up with our young family members, but it was clear that we would meet up at our uncle's in Berezina. However, when the train arrived in Berezina, the Hungarian police arrived and did not let anyone get off the trains. My mother and I succeeded in sneaking off the train and hiding beneath it, but the children did not do this, and therefore continued on the train to the city of Gaya in Moravia. Many refugees from Turka had also come to that city. My parents and I later left Berezina to go to Gaya, but this time, we were sent to Czechia[5] instead of Moravia. We arrived in the city of Klatovy, not far from Pilsen. The family was separated, and was only reunited after a long time.

The Czechs were good, upright people. They had not yet felt the taste of the war, even though their children were already serving in the army. These Czechs were surprised and asked, “Why are there only Jews among the refugees?

*

The situation in Klatovy was very difficult at first. The refugees lived in large warehouses and slept on straw. There was a central kitchen which cooked substandard food, and whose kashruth reliability was questionable. Therefore, many Orthodox Jews subsisted on tea and bread. The young children contracted various childhood illnesses that spread like an epidemic. These diseases cut them down – 40 children died within one month.

The wealthier of the refugees, who had sums of money with them, were permitted to live in the city. However, these were very few. Some other refugees went on strike and refused to accept the portions of cooked food. As a result of the strike, the Austrian government built new bunks. A large kitchen was built which was available to the families for private cooking. The families received sustenance grants in accordance with the number of family members. There were also factories in which one could work and earn a salary.

For a long time, the children of the refugees did not have a school. Finally, a teacher from Poland was found who gathered four grades together and taught them. The students mainly studied German; however, it should be noted that these studies did not have great value.

*

Grandfather once went to the funeral of a refugee in the cemetery. He noticed that the deceased, who was lying in a crate, was lowered deep into the grave with chains. He said, “Me, they won't lower

[Page 54]

with chains.” He left Czechia in haste and arrived in Turka. He found his home in ruins. He wandered around for a week, and then went to his son in Berezina. He died there after about a week, at the age of 83.

The town, with mountains surrounding it

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Olica is the Polish word for Street, but here I believe it refers to a specific place. Return
  2. The room in which the deceased is ritually prepared, washed, and dressed for burial. Return
  3. A non-obligatory, private prayer service that is recited at midnight and bemoans the destruction of the Temple. Return
  4. It is unclear what this word means exactly, but the root 'Rft” means “to wear out.” Return
  5. Bohemia. Return

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