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[Pages 5-6]

From the Author

Translated by Edmund Henenfeld

I was born in Boryslaw, a town whose character was determined by crude oil and therefore very different from other places in the region. I spent my childhood and youth among oil wells which reeked of the characteristic odour of black gold. This atmosphere strongly influenced my future career. I chose chemistry. Because, like other young Jews I was restricted by the numerous clausus[1], I left the country on the advice of older friends to study industrial chemistry[2] in France. I specialized in crude oil and remained loyal to my specialty until my retirement. The friendships formed during these years have survived the upheaval of the war and, insofar as the laws of nature allow, we maintain contact in spite of the distance separating us.

Azkara means remembrance, memory; Sefer Yizkor means Book of Remembrance.

The history of this book began twelve years ago when by sheer chance, a group of former Boyslawians met in the capital of Sweden. It difficult to imagine what these meetings were like and how many tears were shed. Do you remember?… This question was repeated again and again, especially on the occasion when we met at Beka and Kulo Meisels'[3] home What emotions did each of us experience? The occasion took on a special character when we looked at albums with photographs of the town, of old friends whom we had not seen for a long time. The eyes of young people were staring at us, people whom we no longer resembled, people who were familiar to us, people whom we no longer meet, of whom only memories are left. Yes…yes . We looked at their faces through the veil of profuse tears and if one made a sound it was only a sigh …Do you remember?…

The silence was deep,.. deep as the well of our memory. Time passed … the albums passed from one to another… and then, so very quietly we heard the voice of Róża who had come from Poland: “It must be written down; this has to be passed on to our children."

A pause and then Róża turned to me: “You must write it down; you have to describe today's meeting. Let it be in the form of a testimonial, something so that it not be lost … We have to save it from oblivion … by any means!"

This happened in the summer of 1978.

In November of the same year I published an article entitled, “Boryslaw of our Youth” in Nowiny Kurier, a Polish newspaper in Tel Aviv. The next day I received a phone call from Munysz Majer z”l, a representative of the Committee “Do not forget”. He proposed that I write a Sefer Yizkor dedicated to the victims of the extermination in Boryslaw.

"Unfortunately I do not know how to write books,” was my answer.

But Majer's proposal haunted me. I began to conduct research like a journalist. I met former Boryslawians; I recorded their memories on tape; I found an opportunity to use the testimonies of Yad Vashem and the narratives which former Boryslawians sent to me. That's how this collection was born which I called The Tys'mienica Still Flows, since this phrase captures the character of the history of the town.

I realize that in writing a memoir of a town and its inhabitants one must include many things, with one goal only, “to save this from oblivion”.


AI: Author's index. At the end of the printed book is an index of names and a glossary. For the purpose of publication on the Internet, these entries have been put into the footnotes for each chapter.

1 Numerus clausus: limit imposed on the number of candidates admitted a to group, often applied to religious or ethnic minorities, particularly Jews who lived in central Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Between the wars in Poland, Leopold Held and his contemporaries would have been subject to the laws which restricted the number of Jews who could attend universities. Some courses of study were not open at all (numerus nullus). Although decisions of this nature were taken independently by university senates, the Polish government did not challenge them. Jews were also hampered in other ways. In some cases Polish students introduced “ghetto benches” (Polish: ghetto lawkowe) which restricted where Jews could sit in the classroom. Many Jews refused to sit on these benches and took notes standing throughout entire lectures. Some Polish students stood with them. Periodically, Jews would also be harassed and beaten up by anti-Semitic Jewish groups on a university campus. As a result, many Galician Jews went abroad to study. Back
2 Mr Held states that he studied industrial chemistry in France. This translation is correct. However, now this specialty is now known as chemical engineering. Prior to World War II , the term “industrial chemistry” was used in order to differentiate it from “pure” (or laboratory) chemistry. Back
Meisels, Beki: author's sister in law, evacuated with him and his wife to Kazahstan. From 1969 in Stockholm, the Boryslaw reunion was organized at the apartment of her and her husband, Kulo. AI Meisels, Kulo: member of the Boryslaw Jewish sports clubs, host of the Boryslaw reunion in Stockholm, in 1978. AI Back

[Pages 8-34]

The Beginnings


A Difficult Birth

(A Somewhat Fictionalized History)

Translated by Chris Wozniak

Where have you come from? And you? Common, simple, direct questions, typical of introductions in Israel.

“I came from Poland, from Warsaw, but my origins are in Borysław. Ah, Borysław! That's petroleum ... just a moment ... I had friends there, before the war. I think I met them in Sopot,[1] or perhaps in Truskawiec.[2] Truskawiec ... it's close to your hometown, isn't it? Those friends of mine, I remember, were involved with oil, wells, or something. You must have known them ... Stern, Himmel, - Bloch, I think an engineer. Do you know what happened to them?”

A wave of my hand was enough of an answer.”

Before “Borysław … that's petroleum”, this was the story:

The history of the town, when it was still a sparsely populated sub-Carpathian village, as its name indcates,[3] did not begin with petroleum. The quality of the soil in the village was not uniformly good. In some areas the inhabitants had no problems with cultivation. The earth bore crops in accordance with the seasons; the water drawn from the wells, even shallow ones, was good and fresh.

But it happened that the Jews had settled in other parts, where the soil was hard. They were either forced or persuaded to stay in these areas. Burekh Gruber built his shack there with the help of his grown sons. His better half, Leah constantly nagged him: “Where are your brains? Can a Jew can be that stupid! Why do we have to live here, where nothing will grow where there's no water? Oh G-d, G-d, help us ...”

The patient husband tried to pacify his wife: “G-d is generous, G-d will provide ...”

Nearby lived Luzer Hersh Nadler, who had come from Kropiwnik a few years earlier after the floods took away what he inherited from his father, zihrono l'vraha.[4] He decided to move to another village, one on flat land by a smaller river, far away from the one whose raging waters would flood his native Kropiwnik. And besides this, a relative of his lived here as well. A remote relative, it is true, but kin. Also, Reb[5] Schreiner, that very relative, was widely known not only as a pious Jew, learned in the Holy Scriptures, almost like a rabbi, but was also talked about as a wise man with a good head on his shoulders, who could even read Gentile writing.

And so gradually, like lemmings, they migrated and a significant settlement grew, inhabited solely by Jews. At first they gathered in private houses for the morning and evening prayers, one time at Gruber's, the other at Schechter's or Schreiner's. The latter finally proposed that they build a synagogue. As time passed it became too small and couldn't hold the eight miniamin[6] of adults. It was decided to hold the morning and evening prayers in two sessions. All the Jews wanted to praise G-d and all of them had problems, sorrows and supplications for the Lord in Heaven, who listens to the faithful when they pray.

And there was a lot to complain about and to pray for. One common problem affected everyone. The soil was so strange, different from that in neighboring settlements, where the fields were green and lush, where birds sang, where the wheat and rye in the fields grew tall and healthy. On sunny summer Saturdays, the Gruber, Schreiner, Wolf families and the children of that poor, crippled widow Chaya used to venture to that “other side” and look enviously at the gifts bestowed by the Omnipotent on those farmers, who don't even belong to the chosen people. So why does it happen? Why barukh?[7]

G-d protects from the rain... but every spring and autumn it rained often. Thick mud mixed with grease stuck to shoes, pants, capes and long skirts. It was hard work to remove even some of that mud. The stains stayed forever. Sometimes, though not often, all the dirt came off after a wash on a hard, corrugated, scrubbing board in the nearby stream. But then the story would repeat itself after each new rain. It was G-d's punishment. Then there was the problem with water or rather the lack of it. Even after digging deep wells, the water was unfit for drinking or cooking. It smelled of sulfur and the stench wouldn't leave even after long boiling. It just stank. Sender, that strong, one-handed man managed, with the help of his equally strong sons, to dig a well with good water. Barukh hashem![8] But good water was very scarce. There was not enough for all the inhabitants, not even for half of them. Nukhim, who earned most of his money from children, because he sold sweets from his stall (Lord have mercy on such pitiful earnings) tried to dig near that well too. He tried, digging with the help of his wife, Scheyndela Rifka. They worked long and hard and finally were successful. They did find water ... but their joy was short lived. The water stank of sulfur, just like the other wells. Even the nanny goat that Scheyndela Rifka milked to feed her twins, wouldn't drink that water. Sender, at least, allowed people to draw water from his well. But the complaints in all houses never ceased.

Reb Schreiner[9] stood out in this community through his knowledge of the world. He traveled to Drohobycz and other towns and brought back the newspapers from his trips. On Saturday evenings, after prayers, he related to the others the news he had read or heard. His hobby was tinkering. He rebuilt the oven of the baker, Meylech Weiss, and after that his bread was much better. He made crutches for Josef Wolf Halber, the cripple, so the poor invalid could move about.

Then Reb Schreiner started to manufacture candles at home. This brought him, however, only a modest income because of the shortage of bee's wax, the raw material. But because his needs were modest he could manage with his family. Yes, he could. “But what was G-d doing?,” as the Jews say. Reb Schreiner was troubled by a major problem. His son, worshipped by both parents, was a big worry. The melamed[10] from the kheder[11] complained that Avremele[12] was woolgathering, that while the other children dutifully learned khumash,[13] he, that kaddish[14] of yours, sits over an open book, as if he were sleeping with his eyes open. Father and mother were very worried by their only son who didn't even want to play with his schoolmates.

On Fridays Avremele delivered the candles that had been ordered from his father to all the houses. On the eve of the Sabbath, Schreiner's candles were lit in all the Jewish dwellings.

Avremele helped his father dig a well. “There should be good water here,” said his father. After they dug the first few shovels of earth, Reb Schreiner suddenly stopped working. He bent down and picked up a few small, hard lumps. Avremele watched his father with wonder.

“Nu, tate...”
His father showed him a few dark lumps cleaned of clay lying in his palm, and said, “Let's go home.”

Dusk was falling. They had to hurry to avoid being late for the synagogue. During prayers Schreiner couldn't stop thinking of those small lumps, even though it was a sin. After prayers he didn't stay for a chat as usual, but went quickly back home. He looked up at the dark sky. It seemed to him, that the stars were winking at him meaningfully. He could not stop thinking about the small parcel of lumps now in the pocket of his jacket. Avremele walked silently beside his father. He was surprised by his behavior but didn't dare to ask the reason for all this haste.

Reb Schreiner's wife was also surprised that her husband would not sit at the table as usual to eat supper with them. She watched his every step. He smiled, and singing the melodious fragment of a prayer, took the lumps from their paper wrapping to put them into a flat tin box. “How fortunate,” he thought, “that he had brought home this box which he found in the street in Drohobycz.” He was obsessed with picking up random odd and ends, a nail, even a rusty and bent one, that might come handy, a piece of string, or a smooth stone, that can be used for sharpening a pocket knife. His wife didn't like this. She complained and grumbled that he was silly, that the rooms were already full of such rubbish and that she would throw all of it away. But her threats just words. She would never have done anything against her husband.

On the kitchen range the supper was still warming but Schreiner was watching what was happening in the tin box next to the two pots. He was excited. The lumps melted and changed into thick liquid. Schreiner carefully took the box off the hot range and looked at it thoughtfully. What was happening before his eyes reminded him of the raw material he used for candles. This material melted when hot and solidified when cooled, just like beeswax.

“G-d, what is being revealed to me,” he thought. “This is some kind of wax too. Candles can certainly be made of this.”
The next day, early in the autumn morning after a restless night full of thoughts, he climbed out of bed softly to avoid waking up his wife and son and on his way out, kissed mezzuzah[15] three times. A cold rain drizzled from the cloudy sky. Schreiner propped the hoe and shovel against the wall of the house, tied a piece of string around his waist and raised the collar of his jacket. He checked that the bag was still in his pocket, took his tools, and went towards his well.

He worked enthusiastically until he became hot; then he stopped digging and gathered the lumps into the bag. Then he stood and reflected, he didn't know for how long. He saw that smoke had begun to rise from the chimney of his house, which meant that his Blima was already up and about. He hurried home with the treasure he had dug. On the way back he made the decision to go later to the second session of the morning prayers. Once inside his house he started working feverishly.

Schreiner was overcome by excitement. He noticed that his hands shook a little. At first this was a bit of an obstacle in tying down the wicks in the tin molds. Soon everything was ready...the molten wax was poured into the tubes. Now one had only to wait ... wait ...

People in the synagogue were surprised when Reb Schreiner arrived so late. It had probably never happened before.

“Nu, what's the matter? Did something happen at home, G-d forbid?”
All present watched Avremele, trying perhaps to read from his face an answer to their questions. But he only smiled and stood silently next to his father.

Immediately after prayers Reb Schreiner put his tallis[16] and tfillin[17] together with his prayer book into the dark green cloth bag that he gave to his son as usual. Then both left the synagogue. Avremele had a hard time keeping pace with his father. He was also hindered by the wind that blew from one side and whipped his face with rain. At home Schreiner found his wife bent over the tin molds where the candles had cooled. It was not surprising that she shared his excitement.

Reb Schreiner took the first candle made of the so-called earth wax in his hand. He looked at it and seemed reluctant to light it. He didn't quite like its color that, in his opinion, was too dark. Finally he lit it.

“May this moment be blessed,” said Blima. Just then Halber limped in to ask his neighbor to fix one of his crutches and therefore became a witness to this exceptional event. Reb Schreiner didn't try to hide his discovery. The fame of the new material spread quickly to all the Jewish homes. After evening prayers the only subject of conversation was Reb Schreiner's discovery.

“This is a true miracle,” some voices said. “Perhaps that wax is in the soil everywhere here? Oy, we'll be rich!”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” loudly laughed Moyshe, called łec, because he was always ready with a story or anecdote.

“A miracle? Listen to this! A certain miracle-working tzadik[18] told his students about a miracle: A poor mother had abandoned her child in the woods because she had no money to feed it. The child lay in the forest and cried. A woodcutter heard the baby crying and took it home with him. The hungry baby kept crying but the woodcutter had no money to buy milk. What do you think G-d did? He performed a miracle. The Almighty caused the woodcutter to grow a breast full of milk, so that the baby could be fed.”
The snickering of the amused audience filled the synagogue.
“Oy Moyshe łec, when you tell a story, all split their sides laughing....”
“Hush, Hush, Jews, I haven't finished yet. Listen. When the rabbi finished his tale, his students were full of wonder. Only one had a dissatisfied expression on his face. The rabbi turned to him:
“You look as if you didn't like that story.”
“Not quite,” answered the student, “I cannot understand why G-d performed a miracle in that way, contrary to the laws of nature. After all G-d could have done it differently. Instead of giving a woman's breast to a man, he could have dropped a bag full of money from the sky. The woodcutter would have found it, engaged a wet nurse, and everything would have been fine. The baby would have been cared for and the laws of nature would not have been violated.[19]

My dear boy, you're a rational man. You must admit that since G-d could create the miracle of having the woodcutter grow a woman's breast, he didn't have to part with all that cash. The Jews went home laughing.

Schreiner was not satisfied with the sooty flame made by the candles of earth wax. However, the possibility of free raw material that would just cost a bit of work encouraged him to think that even that shortcoming could be removed. The most important plan now was to increase production. The only thing needed was a new supply of tin molds. He went to see the tinsmith Mendel, called Red, to distinguish him from another Mendel, called Black and who was a cooper. Mendel the Red, caressing his small beard, as was his habit, showed him a few sheets of tin to choose from.

“No problem Reb Schreiner, I'll make those tubes just as you want them, with G-d's help. And G-d grant that you'll be satisfied with them and make good candles.”
As expected, the earth wax was plentiful and, what was very important, it was not far down but just under the surface. Because of this, there would be many customers.

It happened often that in the evening, Blimele (that was Reb Schreiner's pet name for his wife) had to remind her husband who was so engrossed in his work, that it was time to go to the synagogue.

The neighbors also started to dig around their houses. If Providence had given such a treasure to their village why shouldn't they benefit as well! Itzik Kluger offered to join forces with Schreiner to work together but Schreiner refused.

“There's enough wax in my shaft and my Avremele can help me with the work and sales”.
The number of the wax excavations grew. The owners collected the lumps they dug to sell them. Some tried to make candles but were not very successful. They had neither Schreiner's experience nor the proper tools.

It must be said that Reb Schreiner was honest in his dealings. Because the raw material was inexpensive, or more accurately, free he lowered the price of candles considerably. Production expanded and the number of customer increased.

On a late October day, when the wind caused the branches of the trees along the road to sway with their yellow, brown, and few remaining green leaves, a thin rain was falling. The forest was preparing winter quarters for its inhabitants. Avremele hurried home along a wet, forest path from Truskawiec. He liked this path, one that he had been taking fairly often in recent days. He watched the birds flying from one tree to another with pleasure and listened to the mysterious sounds coming from the depths of the woods. When he reached the road he heard from afar the barking of dogs that guarded the Ruthenian dwellings. The sack in which he used to carry candles to Truskawiec was empty. The two bottles of that strange water from Truskawiec that he always brought for his father were no burden at all.

Thanks to that very water, Truskawiec became an increasingly popular spa. Even in autumn people went there to treat their ailing kidneys and other ailments with the natural mineral water, which smelled of sulfur, like rotten eggs.[20]

“It's strange. The water in our wells has a similar smell but maybe it's not an identical smell. It's probably different water....”
On this occasion Avremele had other thoughts as well. Customers from Truskawiec began to complain about the candles he delivered. They objected to the sooty flame that left a dirty film on everything inside the house. They found the flame too dim and what is worse, it crackled. They preferred to pay more for a superior product.

In the evening when Reb Schreiner was preparing to produce the next batch, Avremele said softly:

“Tate, do you know what they are saying in Truskawiec?”
Surprised, his father stopped working, “What caused his son to speak up!” It was most unusual.... He listened as Avremele hesitatingly related the customers' complaints and grumbling.
“Do you know, Tate”, said the boy timidly, “I think that your candles from this new wax could be improved.” He stopped. Perhaps his father would be angry.... They looked one at another for while.

“You say, improved? My kaddish has suddenly became a wise guy! Nu, what needs to be done to make them better?”

“The wax needs to be clean, Tate, then....”

Avremele did not finish, because father interrupted him sharply

“What, don't I clean the wax? I .... I ... “ Excited, Reb Schreiner suddenly became silent.

Avremele blushed. Perhaps he was sorry that he said anything at all, that he dared to upset his father. But it was necessary for his father's own good... His mother approached her son, smoothed his hair, and looked at her husband reproachfully.

“Tate, I'm not implying that you don't clean the wax. You certainly do.”


“Maybe it's not being done the right way; perhaps it should be done differently?”

“But how….how? Perhaps you can do it better and show me how it needs to be done my khakham fyn der ma mishtana[21].

“Very well, Tate, I'll try”

While his father stretched the cotton knots as he always did, Avremele melted the wax in the large pot but did not pour it into the molds right away. Instead, he waited a while, then with a ladle, slowly poured the upper layer of the melted wax into another pot, leaving considerable residue in the first. Father watched all this attentively. He now understood his son's idea.
“Now, Tate, pour the wax from the second pot into the molds, they're too high for me; I can't reach them”.
Avremele wiped the sweat from his brow. It was not very hot but he was anxious for the success of his experiment

Time dragged on mercilessly for the boy; it seemed that the cooling took ages. His parents were impatient as well, especially his mother. Silently she prayed for her only son's idea to work.

When the first candle made using their son's idea burned brighter than others, didn't produce little soot and didn't crackle, Reb Schreiner and his Blimele were overcome with emotion. How Avremele came by his discovery will remain a mystery forever. After all he had studied neither chemistry nor physics and, as we know, was never an outstanding student of the Scriptures in kheder. When asked by his parents where his idea came from, he always answered: “I don't know”.

Reb Schreiner's situation improved considerably. The candles he manufactured were bought not only by the locals but also by the inhabitants of Mraznica, Schodnica, Tustanowice, Truskawiec and Drohobycz.

On the next Friday evening the celebrations in the Reb Schreiner's house were special. Avremele's mother covered her head with the white scarf. The khala[22] lay on the table covered with the best tablecloth specially embroidered for this occasion by his mother. Candles were put into the new brass candlesticks. Homemade wine was prepared for kiddush.[23] Blima stood for a while in front of the candles, encircled the flames with her arms and covered her face with hands. Very softly she whispered, “Blessed be you, our G-d, ruler of the Universe, who orders us to light our Sabbath candles”.

And a little louder: “O our Lord in Heavens, full of benevolence, you gave us a son, who bears the name of our forefather. Grant that he grow for your greater glory and our joy. Amen”.

Husband and son repeated slowly: “Amen”.

The news ground wax in the soil spread to places tens and hundreds of kilometers away. More and more people arrived to settle in the village. After building some sort of hut they immediately began digging. Almost always, they found wax. The whole area was covered in pits that after a while had to be dug deeper to get to the precious material. Some of the pits even reached depths of a few score meters. In such cases one had to descend ladders to get to the bottom or ride down in a cauldron tied to a chain secured to a winch. Like moles, people dug in the earth searching for wax in the underground passages. Those who were better off or those on whom fate smiled by giving rich bodies of ore employed boykos, as the poor Ruthenians were called, to do this dirty job. Accidents were unavoidable; the deeper the mines went, the more often there was a danger of methane gas, as in coalmines. The means of rescue were primitive and often insufficient. Rescue actions were made more difficult by the narrow diameters of the shaft entrances, often as small as one and a half meters.

Reb Schreiner's had success selling his candles. For quite some time they lit the local houses and hovels and those in more remote places. News about Borysław's treasure quickly came to the notice of the manufacturers of wax candles further away. They calculated that the product made from the new material might not perhaps be as good as but much cheaper. Because their factories were much more efficient and modern than Reb Schreiner's primitive molds, the Borysław “producer” was not able to compete with them in spite of the free supply of wax.

Outsiders were buying up all the wax that was excavated in Borysław. Borysław's inhabitants, though well disposed towards Reb Schreiner began to buy their candles from the producers in the larger towns because they were better.

“Better?” mused Avremele. Perhaps they added something to the wax. Neither father, nor son could find the answer to that puzzle. For Reb Schreiner the competition was a severe blow. Was this short period of prosperity going to come to an end so soon? He had many sleepless nights over this but at last, the first producer in Borysław of candles made of earth wax stopped worrying.

It was February. The village was bound in by frosty weather. Snow filled the shafts; the earth was hard. People stopped mining. When townspeople came to buy wax they found none. Only Reb Schreiner decided to fight winter. Avremele helped as best he could. In a small field next to their house they tore chunks of earth from the frozen ground. They carried the ore into the building on a sledge of narrow planks of wood nailed together. Avremele's inventiveness again was a help to his father. To the ends of the sledge he had tied two lengths of rope so that he and his father could loop them around their shoulders, his father from his side and he himself from the other, so that an increase in the weight of the load would not place more strain on their arms. His father looked at his only son with real pleasure.

“How had this happened? He had been such a strange child; he wouldn't study, wouldn't talk ... answered questions with only a short word or two .... and now such ideas appear in his little head. He's growing into a good man. He certainly won't be a learned rabbi, but with such a head on his shoulders ... who knows ... even now he can already fix and improve things ... O G-d protect him with your mighty hand ....”
Reb Schreiner realized that people were buying his candles only because the harsh winter prevented them from getting them elsewhere. He anticipated this improvement in his business to be short-lived … at best to the end of winter.
“Well, so our candles won't sell? Does it matter? Our wax will always sell. Nobody can take this parnusa[24] away from us. G-d gave it to us; he'll protect us. The wax is found only here in Borysław. This business will endure.”
After the spring thaw, everything changed again. The manufacturers returned and took all the wax to Drohobycz, Sambor and Stryj.

However, these changes were not the real cause for worry for Borysław's Jews. The changes that followed made their hearts beat faster. Life still went on in the usual way. The reasons for disquiet and complaint were still small but unspoken fears and premonitions stole into conversations and even the silences. Those silences were the greatest worry. Only Moyshe łec did not lose his cheerfulness. One evening in the synagogue he told the following anecdote:

“Two Jews are sitting at table. Oy sighed one. Oy sighed another. After a brief silence the first cried: Let's stop talking politics! ”
The audience laughed, but without much conviction.

From time to time strangers appeared for a short stay of half a day. They walked around the village, took notes and measurements. They wouldn't say a word to the locals. They took samples of earth in small bags or boxes and left. Rumor said that they were people from Lwów or perhaps Vienna.... Nobody knew for sure....

Plenty of water had flowed in the Tys'mienica since the days when Avremele had helped his father so bravely. Sometimes during the thaw in spring and after the big rains in autumn the Tys'mienica flooded its bed. Many such springs and autumns had passed. He was not called Avremele anymore, just Avram. His face was encircled by a weak but visible black growth. His father, one of the few enlightened inhabitants of the settlement, decided to get him a birth certificate since it was just twenty years since his son's birth. It was late, but better late than never.

When Reb Schreiner told the other Jews to get birth certificates for their children they only smiled and said that there was no need for that....

“Neither my grandfather, zihrono l'vraha, nor my father, nor I had a birth certificate, and still everybody remembers the date of his bar mitzvah[25] and knows how old he is ... more or less”.
Reb Schreiner on the certificate registered his son not as Avremele, or Avrum, but as Abraham Schreiner.

More than ten years had passed since that important event. Abraham Schreiner, already married and on his own, became intrigued by the small plot of land next to his house. A greasy, thick, dark liquid started to appear on the ground there. Its smell reminded him of the time when he dug the well with his father. He already knew that the peasants in the neighborhood used this liquid, which was somewhat like dark resin but much thinner, as a remedy that supposedly cured wounds in animals and even people. By pure chance, young Schreiner learned how combustible that sticky liquid was.

Abraham's contemporaries remembered him as Avremele, who wouldn't study in kheder but had unusual ideas instead. Now the young man came to some interesting conclusions: If that dark, dirty liquid can cure wounds, how powerful would it be if purified ... His thoughts raced. He knew that potato pulp heated in the right way would yield a clear liquid, alcohol. Then maybe if that dark substance were heated ... but there was no one nearby, who had a ready answer.

According to Borysław legend, the appearance of petroleum was connected with the occurrence of an epidemic. One exceptionally hot summer people became sick and many died. Only a few hours after feeling slightly ill, a man would be knocking at death's door. Even petroleum was not effective as a cure. Bells rang in the Catholic and Orthodox churches; masses were celebrated continuously, with crowds crying and praying to heaven for help. In the synagogues, the Jews recited thilim[26], reading the appropriate psalms. Weddings were held in the Jewish cemeteries; it was thought that this would help with any calamity. Flies settled on the fevered faces of the sick, their weak arms could not to wave them off. They were everywhere in the houses and yards.

Abraham Schreiner recollected then that among many wise things learned from his father, blessed be his soul, there were stories about flies being the carriers of sickness. He didn't remember if those were some stories from the Talmud[27] or the Midrash[28], or from another source. His father had also demanded that before a meal hands had to be washed as well as a prayer of thanks for food said. All day Abraham walked around the rooms of his house and woe to any fly he spotted. He attached a piece of leather, the length and width of a small human hand, to a thirty centimeter rod and used it to hit those small, winged troubles, as he called them. He was convinced that they were spreading the epidemic. His obsession with flies often woke him at night when he imagined that he heard buzzing in the room. He was afraid that, heaven forbid, a child might get sick, so shoo.... His wife scolded him for not going with the other Jews to the synagogue to pray for deliverance but he kept telling her that if the people didn't gather together so much, the epidemic might finish sooner.

Other thoughts troubled Abraham Schreiner. How could he clean that sticky liquid to make it pure. Perhaps it could be a more powerful cure for this horrible sickness. Apart from that, it might become useful for other purposes, after all it burns... well, we'll see.

With the arrival of the cooler, autumn days, people's health began to improve. There were fewer new cases and fewer deaths. However, the toll of the epidemic had been terrible. The house of Abraham Schreiner was among the few in which no one had been afflicted with the epidemic.

It was time to get to work. With help of Berl, who inherited his tinsmith's shop from his father, Mendel the Red, he built a tripod structure with an iron hoop at the top. The hoop would support a pot, similar to the one in which his father, blessed be his name, melted wax for candles. A tightly fitting cover was also found. The tap at the bottom was sealed as well. All morning Abraham prepared small pieces of firewood and after lunch, when the neighbors were busy in the fields, he began to implement his plan. Abraham put the firewood under the pot of the mysterious liquid that sat on the tripod's hoop and lit it. The day was exceptionally cool and dry. Abraham sat close by and from time to time added wood to the fire. His heart beat quickly; he guessed that he was confronting a great enigma. Schreiner didn't stir the pot under which the fire was burning briskly. It seemed that he waited for ages ... and then ...

People working in the fields heard the loud explosion. When they rushed back, they saw, even from a distance, his wailing wife, the pot on fire and their neighbor, with his clothes burning, barely alive. Carefully they carried him home.

Medical assistant Meylech, called royfe[29] visited and tended to the victim. It was he who saved the life of the aspiring inventor who did not yet know the rules of chemistry and physics, one of which concerned the expansion of the gas created by the substance he tried to rectify.

His convalescence dragged on for two years. All that time, plans for a second attempt would not leave Schreiner's mind. He shared his idea with visiting neighbors. Listening to all this, his wife called her husband “pigheaded” and complained that he would bring misfortune on the family.

“It's hopeless,” she said. “There's no cure for his stubbornness.”

It was late autumn again. Abraham Schreiner traveled to Drohobycz and even to Lwów to seek advice from educated people about cleaning that so-called kipieczka[30]. He considered pharmacists to be educated people. He learned from them that various pipes and valves are needed for heat exchangers, as well as a perfectly sealed vessel and other implements. One pharmacist even drew a picture of the whole apparatus. Abraham began enthusiastically to gather together the parts depicted in the drawing. As one would expect, his wife was bitter about Abraham's madness. This time everything was done in the cellar of the house with the help of Berl, the tinsmith, who became quite enthusiastic also.

Abiding by strict safety measures dictated by experience and recommended by the friendly pharmacist and by that inventive streak of his, Abraham started the process. The distillation, for this was what he was doing, worked without a hitch. Clean liquid, transparent as water dripped into the container but after a while, Schreiner noticed that the fluid trickling from the heat exchanger was becoming darker. He then stopped stoking the fire under the boiler. Liquid still flowed into the container until finally, the last few drops came out. Schreiner produced a liquid like water, but darker. Its smell was only a little like that of the original substance. Abraham went into the corner of the room and picked up an iron lamp with a thick cotton wick he had prepared earlier. He filled it up with his new product and went out into the backyard. His wife ran to meet him, glad that her husband was whole, undamaged, and smiling happily. In her presence he lit the wick. The flame burned brighter than a candle, even a beeswax candle. Abraham was overcome by joy - barukh hashem!

One of Schreiner's main concerns was to make the flame less sooty. In 1853, he took a barrel of petroleum to Lwów in a two-horse cart (for it was a trip of over 100 kilometers) and unloaded it at Mikolash's pharmacy.

The next chapter in this strange tale has two versions. According to one version, Ignacy Łukasiewicz, a pharmacist working there at the time, participated in the conversation between Schreiner and the owner of the pharmacy. Being an educated and astute man, he implemented the idea of the Jew from Borysław and distilled clean kerosene from the petroleum Schreiner had brought.

The second version assigns to Abraham Schreiner the glory of not only being a discoverer of petroleum but also the pioneer of the petroleum industry. According to this version, passed on by Borysław's grandfathers to their grandsons, Abraham Schreiner produced pure kerosene himself and news about it spread not only to places in Galicia, but even to Vienna, from which, in 1854, Schreiner received the first large order to supply kerosene for the lamps of the to the Emperor Ferdinand I Austrian Railway Company. After that order, others followed.

The Austrian Railway Company bore the name of Emperor Ferdinand I who was still alive at that time, but did not rule.[31] A few years before, Europe had experienced a wave of revolutionary unrest. That period, between 1848 and 1849, was called “the spring of nations”. As a result of the unrest, Emperor Franz Joseph acceded to the Austrian throne. He sent a considerable number of Austrian troops to Lwów, not far from Borysław. The task of these troops was to guard the empire and its new Emperor. School children and adults learned a new anthem: “God support, God protect our Emperor and our country”.

Small detachments of troops were stationed in nearby Drohobycz. From there it was only nine kilometers to Borysław. One could easily walk there.

The number of inhabitants in Borysław increased year by year. In 1860 there were already 1,000. Austrian soldiers passing through from time to time told them that all young man in the Austro-Hungarian empire were required to serve in the army. The local Jews were terrified but they believed that God would help them, that He would listen to their heartfelt prayers and protect them from that duty.

Abraham Schreiner developed his petroleum business to keep up with deliveries of his product. The historians of that period called him the pioneer of the new era, the era of petroleum. Another version has it that Ignacy Łukasiewicz, after learning about the distillation of oil from Schreiner at Mikulash's Pharmacy, established a distillery in the town of Jasło. The oil was extracted in that town and also in Gorlice in Krosno but the total output couldn't be compared to Borysław's. The kerosene produced there was allegedly supplied to other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both these versions enjoy equal support.

Perhaps a paradoxical article printed during the period of “the earth without God”[32] can clarify the doubts and remind the world the name of the true discoverer and inventor, without lessening Ignacy Łukasiewicz's services for developing the petroleum industry.

In 1943, when Borysław and Drohobycz were under Nazi occupation, a handful of Jews, the remnant of an army of petroleum workers, were working in one of the refineries. By chance they came upon a scrap of a German scientific petroleum magazine. It was from an article that mentioned the discoverer of petroleum, a Volksdeutscher[33] by the name of Schreiner. One of that group of Jewish workers was a grandson of Abraham Schreiner. He read that story about his “Volksdeutsche” grandfather; he remembered him as an old Jew with a beard and sidelocks.[34] There!

But the year 1943 was still very far away in the future. Now we are dealing with events that happened in the years before the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. New ideas and names not yet widely known, such as Wiener Kreditanstalt,[35] Kaiser und Königliche Privilegierte Länderbank,[36] ozokerite instead of earth wax began to be known in Borysław. The Länderbank established the company, Aktiengesellschaft Borysław für Erdwachs und Petroleum Industrie[37] based in Vienna.

All this was bad news. Small local Jewish entrepreneurs were finding harder to conduct business. Some Jewish public companies were set up; the Jewish Bank was created. But neither the companies nor the bank were able to withstand the pressure of the foreign financial giants. Even rich entrepreneurs, like Israel Lieberman, or brothers Leyzer and Moyshe Gartenberg, had problems coping with the new decrees of the administration. But they held on; they could afford the closure of some pits. Many of their workers were dismissed; the remainder expected to be sacked at any time.

The representatives of the powerful banks arrived in Borysław. Szumski, a Pole acting for the Kreditanstalt, and Werber, a converted Jew acting for Länderbank, negotiated the closure of ninety percent of the small ozokerite mines with support from the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture, which put forward a (spurious) argument about workers' safety as the reason. In consequence of that decision, six thousand Jewish workers in Borysław were left without employment and means of support.

The major shareholders of the above-mentioned banks, the millionaire Salomon Meir Rothschild and Samuel von Hahn, the managing director of Länderbank and the President of the Jewish gmina[38] in Vienna were not concerned with the tragic fate of their co-religionists. They accepted the opinion of the anti-Semite, Szumski and the convert, Werber that the Jews of Borysław were unable to become accustomed to the new machinery in the ozokerite mines.

Petitions to Jewish financial potentates asking for help in getting a job in the new ozokerite mines or elsewhere were sent from Borysław. One of the addressees was David Ritter von Guttman. Who was that powerful gentlemen?

In the second half of the nineteenth century two young Jews, Velvel and Duvidl Guttman came to Vienna from Moravia. They began their career by delivering coal to the Jewish households. Being astute and lucky, they quickly became rich and made so much money that, in partenership with Baron Salomon Meir Rothschild, they bought the coal mines in Witkowice and shortly afterwards the metal works there. But to be in business with a baron and not have a title! They discovered that such titles were merchandise as any other. All that was needed was enough money. The money was there. An attempt to purchase a baronetcy was unsuccessful but both brothers were granted the title of Ritter (knight), thus they became Wilhelm, Ritter von Guttman and David, Ritter von Guttman. After the titles came honors, fame, and chairmanships in various societies and organizations.

When David Ritter von Guttman received the petitions for employment in his coalmine from the Jewish workers, he sent an engineer to Borysław to investigate the issue. After a few days the envoy returned with a report stating that the Borysław Jews were not suited to hard, physical labor and “certainly” will refuse to work on Saturdays. In this way, Guttman pacified his Jewish conscience. It was rumored in Jewish circles in Vienna that the report was inspired by the opinions of David Ritter von Guttman himself.

Despair spread among the Jewish entrepreneurs and especially the workers. With fear in their hearts they watched the building of the new, huge ozokerite mine in the middle of town. Desperation, not just poverty, stole upon Jewish families. Their despair knew no bounds. Mazurs,[39] as they were called, from Western Galicia and poor Ruthenian farmers from the neighboring villages were imported to work in the new mines.

Jewish workers had heard whispers about the dismal work conditions in the new mines. In spite of them, they would have agreed willingly to work in order to earn minimal support for their hungry families. But not a single Jew was hired to work in the mines.

The town was restless. After the greatest of the Jewish Holy Days, Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur, had been celebrated in 1896, groups of unemployed increasingly began to assemble here and there. Some groups went to the mine, the largest one, surrounded by a tall wooden fence, to listen to the rhythmic rattle of machinery. The noise sounded like the devil's snigger to them. Even the autumn rains and cold weather didn't keep the unemployed Jews at home where they had to watch their children shivering in their rags. They went out into the streets to meet their fellow sufferers. In the pregnant silence with questioning gaze they read each other's thoughts. All were troubled by the same idea: jobs and bread.

Time dragged on and patience slowly ran out. The unemployed Jews talked nervously. More and more often the cry, timid at first, was heard, “to the mine!” Sabbath was approaching, one of many with not enough money to buy bread for the children. “Why, for what sins, oh God! With what other misfortunes will you punish us?”

So the workers complained and with these questions they turned their eyes up to the dark, cloud-filled sky. Are you up there? If so, why are you deaf to our despairing cries?

Groups of haggard looking Jews went towards the bridge in the middle of town. They moved like shadows. They walked aimlessly. They came from PaŃska and Kasarnia streets, from Wolanka and Potok. Then suddenly, something unexpected happened. That Moyshe, called łec, who always amused people with his jokes, yelled: “Jews, what are we waiting for, let's go together to the mine!”

That was the fuse that sparked the explosion. “To the mine! To the mine!” The human mass started to move.

“We want jobs! To the mine!”
The passers by were surprised by that spontaneous demonstration, the yelling of their demands, “Jobs and bread” in Polish and Yiddish and shook their heads with disapproval:
“Nothing good will come out of this!”
“It can't get any worse, can it?” replied hundreds of mouths. The crowd filled the entire street. People shouted, “Our children are starving! Our families are freezing! Give us jobs, give us jobs!”

Some young man climbed onto the shoulders of his comrade and shouted, “For Gods sake, people, we won't achieve anything here.... Let's go to Eretz Israel![40] Our place is there!”

His voice was drowned by other shouts, “We'll starve before we get to Eretz Israel! The solution must be found here, not in Eretz Israel. They destroyed our lives, so they must give us jobs! To the mine!”

The situation was becoming tenser by the minute. When the spontaneous, disorganized demonstration reached the tall fence around the mine, the gate was already closed and barred from the inside. The mob stopped and demanded that the manager holds talks with the representation. There was no answer. The mood of the crowd became ore ugly, more aggressive. Stones started flying over the fence into the courtyard, a few at first, then more and more. A rain of stones and bricks. People went wild.

Suddenly the mine went silent. The rattle and hum of machinery ceased. From inside the gate a voice asked in Ruthenian, “What do you want?”

“We demand that the manager talk to our representatives.”

“The manager is away.”

“That's a lie, he's there! We want the manager! He must talk to us!”

An official replaced the Ruthene at the gate; in German he threatened the crowd with the police and soldiers from Drohobycz.
“Call them if you want. Our families are hungry. We have nothing to lose, so we are not afraid of anything!”
The crowd started to push against the gates:
“Push harder! Once again! Once more!”
Unable to withstand the pressure of the mass of people, the gates opened with a clang. The despairing, unemployed Jews rushed inside like a tornado. They were armed with clubs, sticks, wooden planks, iron bars ... They smashed everything in their path. With wild fury they destroyed machines, pumps, equipment.... Amid the noise rose shouts:
“Give us jobs! We are hungry! Jobs!”
The manager and a few officials were glimpsed far ahead. Terrified, they were running towards a big iron tank. As fast as they could they climbed the ladders and quickly vanished inside.

They were taunted by shouts:

“Look what a hero, he's afraid of us, poor Jews!”
In the meanwhile the mineworkers, Ruthenians and Mazurs, armed themselves with whatever came to hand and rushed forward yelling, “Forward! We'll teach the Jewboys a lesson!”

Bloody fighting broke out in the huge machinery shed. Faced by the superior number of desperate demonstrators, the mineworkers ran away or hid. Suddenly someone cried:

“People ! The soldiers are coming! Many soldiers with guns....”
Nothing more could be done. The Jews ran away chaotically through the gates, through the holes left in the fence after the pickets were torn out ...

An unconscious Jew in a sheepskin coat, typical dress of the night watchmen, lay on the bloody floor of the machinery shed next to the smashed equipment and torn transmission belts.

Only a small percentage of the few hundred unemployed Jews took part in that single spontaneous demonstration.

The question of 6,000 unemployed in Borysław reached the second Zionist Congress in Basel but was taken off the agenda after the representative of the organizations from Germany protested that the Congress was not supposed to deal with social and economic problems.

However, one year later in 1899, Dr. Theodore Herzl[41] returned to the question. In a speech he described the pitiful, tragic situation of the Borysław workers and their unsuccessful struggle for jobs. But this time, it was the Chairman of the session, Rabbi Dr. Moyshe Gaster[42] of London, who interrupted the speech claiming that the problem, once again, could not be a subject of the Congress deliberations. In reply, Mrs. Gottheil,[43] wife of the President of the American Zionists, proposed the organization of a voluntary collection of money from among the Congress delegates. The proposal was accepted. The collection resulted in the “huge sum” of 1,000 Swiss francs. With that effort, the Congress closed the issue. It is pointless to state that such a sum was a drop in the ocean of need.

Dr. Saul Rafael Landau,[44] a lawyer from Vienna, visited the Jewish settlements in the Eastern Galicia at the request of the London magazine, Jewish World and stopped for some time in Borysław, where he found thousands unemployed Jews in a desperate situation. His widely publicized action, involving, among others, the B'nai B'rith[45] chapters in Germany, especially in Upper Silesia, resulted in a considerable sum of money for the Ahavat Zion society. The aim of that organization was to settle Jews in Eretz Israel. Over ten families from Borysław were resettled at that time.

Due to Dr. Landau's initiative the Jewish Resettlement Society, established in 1891 by Baron Hirsch helped almost 500 Jewish families from Borysław to emigrate to Argentina. It provided great assistance but it was not enough. There were 3,000 Jewish workers who still remained unemployed.

Baron Hirsch's foundation concentrated actively on education. The new school, named after the Baron who financed it, was established in Borysław. It is true that the Zionist organizations already existing in town accused the administration and teachers of the school of a lack of Jewish character and “assimilationism”, but all the same, the school fulfilled an important role in education and vocational studies. The Jewish community can attribute the significant achievements in those areas to one teacher, Teller, a Jewish poet and writer. In 1896, the year of the Jewish “revolution” in Borysław, over 400 Jewish children were students in Baron Hirsch's school. They also received some meals there.

Other poor children, hardly more than toddlers, were forced into helping their parents scrape a pitiful living. Like small animals, they scrambled onto wysypy[46] where they could find small lumps of wax covered with sand and gravel. Some older girls, called kuczynierki[47] for an unknown reason, gathered wax together with the small children.

The houses of the poor began to resemble their starving inhabitants. They became bowed and sunken in the earth that held such treasure but which, to them, was a stepmother.


Giza, Stanisław. On the Screen of Life, Ludowa Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza, Warsaw, 1972, in Polish.
Hirszhaut, I. Yiddishe Naftmagnaten (Jewish Petroleum Potentates) Centralny Związek Źydów Polskich w Argentynie, Buenos Aires, 1954, in Yiddish.
Kener, Jacob. Kvershnit, New York, 1947, in Yiddish. Chapter nine is entitled, “The Tragic Fate of the 6,000 Wax Mine Workers”.
Mądrości Źydowskie (Jewish Wisdom), collected, translated, and edited by Aleksander DrożdżyŃski, Wiedza Powszechna, Warszawa 1961, in Polish.
Porembalski , Tadeusz. Wspomnienia nafciarza, (Memoirs of a Petroleum Worker), PWN, Warszawa, 1978, in Polish.
Sidow, Fiszel .“Three generations of the Jewish Petroleum Workers”, Folkshtimme, 11/11/1956, in Yiddish.
Yevreyska Encykłopedia, vol 2, p 827, Publ. 1916 (in Russian)


AN: Author's note in the original edition. All other notes are supplied by the editor or the translators.
TN: Translators Note

1 Sopot: seaside resort in the bay of Gdansk TN Back
2 Truskawiec: spa in the Bieszczady mountains, located ner Drohobycz. Both Sopot and Truskawiec were very popular between the wars among Poland's upper and middle classes TN Back
3 Borysław: from the Polish, bory słavne or famous forests. TN Back
4 zikihrono l'vraha: of blessed memory. AN Back
5 Reb: Sir, a title to show respect. AN Back
6 miniamin: (Hebrew) plural of minian, quorum. A group of at least ten adult Jews, permitted to participate in certain prayers and observances. AN Back
7 barukh: (Hebrew) Be blessed (Oh Lord! is implied). AN Back
8 barukh hashem: (Heb) Blessed be the name (of the Lord). AN Back
9 Hillel Samuel Schreiner: born and died in Boryslaw, 1789-1855. TN Back
10 melamed: (Hebrew) Teacher in a kheder. AN Back
11 kheder: (Hebrew) Religious school, where children, almost exclusively boys study Holy Scripture. AN Back
12 Abraham Schreiner: born and died in Boryslaw, ca. 1805-1891. TN Back
13 khumash: (Hebrew) Pentateuch. AN Back
14 kaddish: (Hebrew) prayer for the dead. Also, the eldest son whose duty it was to recite this prayer for his dead parents. AN Back
15 mezzuzah: (Hebrew) a roll of parchment in a small frame (box), nailed to the right hand side of the house entrance door and the doors of every room in it. Pious Jews entering or exiting touch it with their fingers and then kiss them. It is usually done only once each day. AN Back
16 tallis: (Hebrew) white, black striped shawl, worn by Jews during the morning prayers. AN Back
17 tflillin: (Hebrew) are two small black boxes with black straps attached to them used for morning prayers on weekdays. One part is put onto forehead, the other onto the left forearm, using black leather straps, wrapped around the forearm and the middle finger of the left hand. TN Back
18 tzadik: (Hebrew) literally: just, righteous. Khassidim gathered around men such as these. AN Back
19 Reference to “Tales of Jewish Wisdom”. AN Back
20 Medicinal mineral water “Naftusia” (Petrowater) AN Back
21 khakham fy nder ma nishtana: (Hebrew) Khakham means “wise”. So begin the four questions that the youngest child asks his father during Passover. AN In the story of the exodus from Egypt read before the special supper called seder on the eve of Passover, four personages appear: The Wise (khakham), The Bad, The Fool and the one who is not even smart enough to ask questions. Ma nishtana thus begin the four questions directed to the father be the youngest child: “How is this night different from all others TN Back
22 khala: bread made with eggs, often bdecoratively braided for the Sabbathe nad other special occasions. Back
23 kiddush: (Hebre2w) Prayer over the wine to celebrate the Sabbath or other holy day Back
24 parnusa: (Hebrew) wages, income, living Back
25 bar mitzvah (Hebrew): Celebration of a boy's thirteenth birthday as the commencement of adulthood for religious purposes. AN Back
26 thilim: Book of Psalms AN Back
27 Talmud: teaching, a collection of stories and commentaries on the Holy Scripture. AN Back
28 Midrash: Commentary on the Holy Scripture with rules for religious, and social behaviour. AN Back
29 royfe: (Yiddish) physician. The word was used for medical assistants and barbers, who applied cups and leeches Back
30 kipieczka: local word for crude oil derived from the Polish verb “to boil”. Back
31 Ferdinand I (1793–1875): Because this emperor was subject to fits of insanity, a Council of State, led by Prince Metternich ruled in his name until he was forced to abdicate in 1848. TN Back
32 The earth without God: Ziemia bez Boga, the title of the book by Koppel Holzman in which the author describes the Nazi occupation in Borysl\aw. TN Back
33 Volksdeutsch (German): of German nationality. During the the second world war, this term was used to describe citizens of countries occupied by Germany, who could lay claim to German ancestry and thus gain a status that was privileged but still not equal to the “German”. TN Back
34 See I. Hirszhaut, Yiddishe Naftmagnaten (Jewish oil Magates), Central Organization of Polish Jews in Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1954. Back
35 Wiener Kreditanstalt: a Viennese bank. TN Back
36 Kaiser und Königliche Privilegierte Länderbank: an Austrian bank, the Imperial and Royal Bank of the Provinces. TN Back
37 Aktiengesellschaft Borysl\aw für Erdwachs und Petroleum Industrie: Boryslaw Public Company for the Ozokerite and Petroleum Industry. TN Back
38 gmina: (Polish) community. TN Back
39 Mazurs: The inhabitants of Eastern Galicia where the population was a mixture of Ruthenes, Poles, Jews, Armenians and a few other nationalities. TN Back
40 Eretz Israel: the land of Israel. TN Back
41 Theodore Herzl (1860-1904): born in Budapest, Herzl moved to Vienna where he became a writer, a playwright and a journalist. He became a proponent and philosopher of Zionism that he espoused as the answer to the plight of the Jews in the diaspora. TN Back
42 Moses Gaster (1856-1939): born in Bucharest he went to England where he became a lecturer at Oxford, principal of Judith Montefiore College, and chief rabbi of the Sephardic communities in England. He was active in the Zionist movement. TN Back
43 Gustav Gottheil (1827–1903): born in Prussia, he was served as assistant in the Berlin Reform Temple, rabbi in Manchester, England and from 1873 as assistant rabbi, then rabbi, of Temple Emanu-El, New York City. He had an enormous influence on Reform Judaism in the United States. TN Back
44 Saul Raphael Landau (1869-1943): born in Kraków, died in New York, he was a writer in Vienna on subjects of social eforem and Zionism and also served as a representative to International Jewish Congresses. TN Back
45 B'nai B'rith: The oldest and largest Jewish charitable organization, established in 1843 in New York. AN Back
46 wysypy (Polish): Tailing dumps left after the extraction of earth wax. These were typical
of Borysław's landscape. AN Back
47 kuczynierki : In his book, On the screen of Life, Stanisl\aw Giza mentions the chicken coops, where people kept poultry, pigs or rabbits. These coops were called kucza in Ukrainian. It is possible that the nickname kuczynierka stuck to the girls who were looking after those coops or perhaps, the nickname came from the houses that looked like coops, where these girls lived. AN Back

[Pages 35-42]

From Rags to Riches

Translated by Joseph Schatzker

Edited by Valerie Schatzker

The director, known as Baron Samueli, sat at his desk cleaning his monocle with a piece of chamois. His lean face showed deep concern. A moment before, several members of the board of directors – Moses Schreiber, Henryk Neumann, and Ignacy Buchsbaum – had resigned. After a two-hour discussion, they had been unable to come to a reasonable decision. It was very hot – the heat was unusual, even for August – and also for the political situation with the announcement of the mobilization of the reservists. It was all very depressing.

The director looked once again at the envelope on his desk. Ideas swirled in his head. Who could know how much longer mail would be addressed to The Association of the Heirs of David Lindenbaum, 132 Koszczuszki Street, Borysław? How long would this association exist? Who could know? So many question marks …

Samueli lifted the telephone receiver and dialed 1159. The discussion with Moses Schreiber was short. Schreiber accepted the position of director. It was decided to answer the challenge to the stewardship by circumventing the issue. The final decision would be made on September 1 – that meant in a few days.

* * *

The village of Kropiwnik lies in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains on the shores of the Stryj River, which winds its way at the foot of the Bieszczady Mountains to end in the Dniester River. Not too far from Kropiwnik is the beautiful trail to the village of Kruszelnica. This village served as the point of departure for climbers – and there were always a great many of them in the first few decades of the twentieth century – who would climb Paraszka, the highest peak in the Bieszczady Mountains during the summer, and during the winter would ski down to Skole, a beautiful, elegant summer resort.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, Kropiwnik belonged to Pan[1] Nahujowski from Nahujowice, a wealthy landowner who owned about 2,000 hectares. Part of it was cultivated, but the owner was most proud of the dense forests where he often hunted with his guests, who loved the wild animals and birds that teemed in these areas. The lord of Kropiwnik was a very generous host; after the hunt, all the guests would gather in his home. During such occasions, he took great pride in showing off his mistress whom he brought with him from his travels abroad.

At the right hand of the owner was the god-fearing Jew David Lindenbaum. He was not only a tenant; he had the full confidence of the owner. No matter how serious the issue, be it in commerce, finance, and sometimes also in personal matters, Nahujowski would always seek advice from “Davidek” as he called David Lindenbaum. There was not a single instance when the advice given by Lindenbaum did not turn out to be the best.

Recently, Nahujowski had allowed himself to spend a small fortune on his mistress while enjoying her company abroad. He was now without the cash he needed to purchase equipment for his estate, which he was modernizing. Also, for the last few weeks he could not stop thinking about what was happening in Borysław … People were making easy fortunes there from rock oil[2] which was readily obtained from shallow wells. Even the peasants from Kropiwnik, who went there to make money, told all kinds of tales. Nahujowski decided to send his agent[3] to Borysław. He advised him to make inquiries about two issues: first, selling lumber, which, as he had heard, was necessary for shoring up shafts, and second, to see about the eventual acquisition of oil-bearing terrain.

Lindenbaum spent two days in Borysław. He managed to get information on both matters. And not only that. he took advantage of the conflict that had emerged there between the existing lumber suppliers, the brothers Leyzer and Moses Gartenberg from Rybnik[4] and the local entrepreneurs.

The wealthiest of these was the owner of many oil and wax shafts. His name was Israel Liebermann. For some time, he had been working on a terrain in Tustanowice. The owner of this land was the wealthy farmer Andrzej Drozd. Liebermann and Drozd had met several times, but nothing had come of these meetings. They could not come to an agreement regarding the price of the land and several other issues. One day, the local entrepreneurs were surprised by the news that the Gartenberg brothers had bought Andrzej Drozd's land that Liebermann had been trying so hard to get. Liebermann was furious and vowed to take revenge on the Gartenbergs. And just such an occasion came to pass.

David Lindenbaum arrived in Borysław just at the time when everyone was talking about this conflict. The sale of lumber from the forests in Kropiwnik was not an issue. Israel Liebermann assured David Lindenbaum that he was ready to sign a contract making him the permanent supplier of lumber. He also managed to convince other entrepreneurs to sever their contacts with the Gartenbergs and follow his example. That was his revenge on “the boys from Rybnik.”

Pan Nahujowski listened with glee to his agent's interesting news when he came back from Borysław. Regarding the purchase of oil-bearing terrain, Lindenbaum advised that he move carefully and not make a sudden decision, because it often happened that someone would dig and dig …. for nothing. More than one had been burned … one had to examine all these issues carefully. It would be better to wait until after the spring rains had stopped and also the spring floods which could cause great losses in many shafts.

At the end of their discussion, the landowner told Lindenbaum that in two days, the lord of Borysław would come to Kropiwnik.

“Davidek, we must prepare everything, as we always do, for the hunt.”
The expected guest arrived with his camp followers, as he called his servants: Pan Karnicki was the lord of Borysław; his land was at least three times as big as Kropiwnik, about 6,000 hectares. Karnicki never missed an occasion to hunt and enjoy himself. He was very jolly by nature and this character trait assured him of many friends. He was well-liked, particularly because he was very generous; he didn't count his pennies – nor the larger coins. He was known to have had quite a past. During the January Uprising[5] he had led his unit with great valour.

The horses were trotting lightly. When they stopped to find their way, Karnicki asked his friend how he was managing with his cash flow. Nahujowski replied,

“You see, I have Davidek … a clever Jew. Without him, I would be lost. More than once he managed to save me during tough times

“And what about your mistress? Doesn't she long for the world she came from? O, sie ist entzückend [German: Oh, she is enchanting].”

“She has everything she needs, everything her heart could desire. During the winter we'll go to Vienna.”

The hunt lasted over two hours. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the sky darkened. It looked like rain, perhaps a downpour.
“Well, too bad We'll get wet. We must get back.”
The servants attached the game to the saddles and they set off.

Nahujowski invited his friend to come to his home to taste excellent wine and relax. Karnicki thanked him.

“Maybe next time. I am going to spend the night in Schodnica, I hope to be able to extend the deadline for paying my debt; maybe I'll get a few hundred gulden while I am there.”
As they were parting next to the large wooden cross, the two friends said goodbye and promised to meet as soon as possible. A light rain was drizzling. Nahujowski spurred his horse. The servants followed. As he was nearing his home, the landowner thought of his mistress and how he would pleasantly surprise her by his early return. He told his two servants to stop off in the inn and have some beer on his account.

Nahujowski was surprised at how quiet it was in his home. He stopped; he listened. From the bedroom, he could hear the voice of his mistress.

“God,” he thought, “Maybe she fainted?” He quickened his pace opened the door.

– Jesus Maria!!! – He grabbed his rifle and squeezed the trigger twice. Then he ran in a mad rush to the tavern. David had never seen his landowner in such great distress. Without saying a word, Nahujowski dragged his agent inside the house. Breathing heavily, he told him that he had killed his mistress and that bastard butler.

“I must … I must run away …now …now. There's no time to lose. I will write to you ... Don't tell anyone where you get the letters from … Give me any money you have …”

In the book of Tadeusz Porembalski, The Recollections of Oilmen[6], we read,”
“After this horrible deed, he had to run from the authorities and justice. The Hungarian border was not far away, about three hours by horse. He left his entire estate in Lindenbaum's care. He crossed the Hungarian border, reached Italy first, and subsequently America. Lindenbaum sent his master money until the amount was equal to the value of the Kropiwnik estate. The court in Drohobycz assessed the value of the property, and Lindenbaum advanced from the position of a tenant to the owner of the estate.”
We met Pan Karnicki not long ago and found out that he is a rich man, although he is in debt most of the time. He squanders his money to pay for parties and pleasures. He does not really care for his property while he spends his time in Vienna. At that time, Vienna was considered to be one of the greatest centres for culture and theatre in the world, but also the centre of unbound pleasures. In this atmosphere of light entertainment our bon vivant, the owner of this rich village, could forget all his debts. Until … the time came when the lord of Borysław had to find a new source for borrowing money. Karnicki remembered what his friend, the lord of Kropiwnik, had told him about his David Lindenbaum, that without him it would have been extremely difficult … how more than once he got him out of great trouble. … and so, if you have problems, go to the Jew …

Karnicki came in person to the new lord of Kropiwnik. He knew that he would not be going hunting. He expected considerable difficulties in talking with Lindenbaum, who probably would ask for God knows what kind of guarantees. But Karnicki was astonished; his discussion with David Lindenbaum went very smoothly and – as people said many decades later – the discussion took place in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding. The lord of Borysław agreed to sign a contract in which he committed to pay back his debt within a definite period. One point of the contract contained the conditions that would result from non-payment of the debt.

A few days later, Karnicki travelled to Vienna, overjoyed with the amount of money he had. Once he was in Vienna, it became clear that the money he brought was slowly diminishing. Therefore, one should not be surprised that time and again he sent Lindenbaum requests for more cash and new commitments. In Porembalski's book, which we have already mentioned, we read …

” Karnicki's debts grew more and more, and the owner, who was constantly in Vienna, kept demanding money. As a result, his estate was legally sued by Lindenbaum.”
Let us quote the next paragraph literally: “Most of the drilling (for oi) was carried out in fields which belonged to Lindenbaum. In return, the naphtha enterprises paid 20 percent of the gross value of production to Lindenbaum. In other words, the Lindenbaum family received oil without paying for it and just prior to the Second World War, the family was receiving 200 wagons or 2,000 tons every month, which was worth 400,000 zloty. In addition, the Lindenbaum heirs charged .3 kilograms of wheat for every square metre of surface area occupied by a petroleum mine. The forests of Borysław represented great wealth, but Lindenbaum, or one should say, his heirs also had other properties, as well as further income from a refinery in Hubicze (near Borysław).”

As a curiosity, here are a few fragments that could be titled, “What did Borysław look like in David Lindenbaum's time”, that means when he was a tenant in Kropiwnik. These are found in an article, “The Town of Drohobycz and its Environs,” written by Jósef Dobiszewski-Śmigielski, published in the weekly Kłosy, 19-26 April 1873.[7]

” Sixty-six kilometres south-west of Lwów, half way between Stryj and Sambor in the old area of Przemysk, on the shores of the river Tyśmienica, lies a small town, which was founded in the dim past. … Arriving in Boryslaw, a mile from Drohobycz and about a mile from Stebnik, the smell of oil, a smell not too unpleasant … immediately catches the traveller … Among the houses here and there, a woman with a yellow complexion might appear, holding a child or cuddling it to her breasts, her face lacking any smile or sign of happiness.”
We will now consult the encyclopedic work Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries[8] published in Warsaw by Filip Sulimierski and Władysław Walewski in 1880. In the first volume, we find the word Borysław.
” Borysław: a village in the county of Drohobycz on the Tysmienica River, 343 metres above sea level. The railway from Drohobycz to Borysław is a branch of the Danube line (11 kilometres long). It was built to go only to Borysław because of the extremely rich petroleum mines found in this village … In 1870 in Borysław and the nearby villages Tustanowice, Wolanka, Mrażnica, Schodnica, Orów, and Nahujowice, there were 4,338 wells, which multiplied daily … In 1870, in Borysław alone, there were ten naphtha refineries, and the number of these grew from year to year. The oil from Borysław reaches many distant areas. In Borysław, there are 1,166 Roman Catholics, 660 Greek Catholics, 270 producers and employees, and 3,204 Israelites. All together 5,300 ... In 1873, there were 12,000 shafts producing naphtha and earth wax and sevety-five large and 779 smaller enterprises which employed 10,500 workers … The whole valley of Borysław was covered with productive wells, as well as partially filled holes and depressions full of water, which multiplied from day to day. In the same way, earth wax[9] is also exploited; the shafts are now more numerous in Borysław than rock oil (crude oil) shafts … From all these areas that are soaked in petroleum, deadly gases emanate. For this reason, they are using fans or air-cleaning machines to purify the air … There is a great deal of cheating and deception, the price of wells rises and falls from day to day, as do the stocks on the exchange, and reckless speculators, intoxicated with the hope of making a killing, repeatedly drown their pennies in the sweat of their brows for many years.”

* * *

The board of the Association of the Heirs of David Lindenbaum did not answer the letter of August 1939 regarding the issue of stewardship, neither later, nor EVER. Within a week of the receipt of the letter, events occurred with lightning speed. The members of the board, Samueli, Buchsbaum, Neumann and Schreiber, if they met at all, met while hiding, but there, all they cared about was how to survive the war.


  1. Pan: The Polish title Pan can mean mister, master, or lord. In the context of this chapter, it has the meaning of master or lord, a member of the Polish nobility and owner of a landed estate. Return
  2. Rock oil is crude oil. The early word for crude oil in Polish was olej skalny, or oil from stone. Return
  3. The Polish word arendarz is translated here as agent, an employee of an estate who manages it and conducts business on behalf of the owner. Return
  4. The family of Moses and Lazar Gartenberg lived in Drohobycz, not Rybnyk. The story of a rivalry between Israel Liebermann and the Gartenberg brothers had become a legend in Drohobycz. It is difficult to assess its veracity, especially since they were business partners for a time. Return
  5. The January Uprising was an insurrection principally in Russia's Kingdom of Poland from 1863 to 1864. It was a failed attempt to restore the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Volunteers came from Galicia came to assist the insurgents. Return
  6. Tadeusz Porembalski, Wspomnienia nafciarza (Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawn. Naukowe, 1978). Return
  7. Jósef Dobiszewski-Śmigielski, “Miasto Drohobycz i jego okolice,” Kłosy, 19-26 April, 1873. Return
  8. Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego I innych krajów słowiańskich (Warszawa: Nakł. F. Sulimierskiego i W. Walewskiego, 1880-1904). Return
  9. Earth wax is a translation of wosk ziemny from Polish and Erdwachs German that was the term used for ozokerite, a waxy hydrocarbon composed mainly of paraffin, found in vein-like deposits within rock fissures and crevices. It is formed by the slow evaporation and oxidation of liquid petroleum. Return


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