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[Page 205]

Ways of Life,
Experiences, Recollections

 

[Page 215 - Yiddish] [Page 205 – Hebrew]

Jews and Poles in Jaroslaw
And Their Relationship in the Years 1918-1945

by Mundek Hebenstreit

Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

When describing the relationship between the Jews and the Poles in Jaroslaw during the above-mentioned period, I was directed by the principle that you cannot explain the life of the Jews in our town of Jaroslaw, not even briefly explain the behaviors between the Jews and the Poles, even though the Poles comprised two-thirds of the city's population, and the Jewish only one third.

For the sake of truth, we must underscore that generally, the relationship between the Jews and the Poles in town was not very close. We Jews used to meet in the locations of the Zionist youth organizations, in various sports clubs, sport locales, and synagogues. On the other hand, the Poles would organize their meetings in their national youth organizations, such as “Sokol” [Polish Gymnastic Society], “Strzelec” [“The Shooter”; youth paramilitary association], “Kasina Oficerska” [“Officers Club”]. There were recognized

 


The “Sokol” cinema

[Page 216]

sports clubs such as “Jaroslawjanka” and “Ogniska,” but aside from that, there was close contact between the two nations in the everyday life.

In addition, this caused all kinds of situations, and mainly that a significant number of Poles were hired by Jews and their various projects in town, in their businesses, and in the service areas.

For many years, many Poles lived among the Jews, knew their language, and even spoke Yiddish quite well. This was quite a familiar phenomenon in the city. Who, for example, did not hear about the Polish bath worker Pal, who spoke Yiddish like a Jew.

The Jewish youth studied together with the Polish students in all schools, and we used to go with them to all kinds of sport competitions in the city stadium of the Polish army.

The Jewish merchants and artisans would visit the city council (magistrate) on all kinds of opportune times, also the offices of the administration departments, or the finance offices, and in that way, they stayed in contact with the Polish officials in the government offices.

There were even contacts in the Polish police, and particularly with the familiar policeman Wianorwycz. But we were lucky that the contact with him was only in a political context, not a criminal context, since there were really no criminals among the Jews. The Polish police carefully guarded that the stores should be locked at the designated time according to the law, and there were also incidents when the Polish police arrested left-wing Jews just before every workers' holiday.

One has to state that the Jews and the Poles, in large numbers, behaved towards each other with a certain contempt. In the eyes of the Polish student, a talented Jew, or Jew with a strong fist, was no more than a “Żydek” [derogatory term for “Jew”]. On the other hand,

[Page 217]

by us – and mainly by our parents, every Pole was no more than a gentile, and in the cheders [religious schools] he was called Esau, or sheigetz [derogatory term, means someone who openly defies Jewish law]. But generally, we have to say, that the behavior of the Polish people towards the Jews was overall proper. In our city, it was not like it was on other cities – a ghetto where it was exclusively the Jews who lived there. The Jews lived not only in the region of Rynek [the main square] and in the nearby streets. Many of them settled in the exclusively Polish streets, such as: “May 3,” “Dietziusa”, “Poniatowski” and “Kościuszko.” On Shabbat and on the Jewish holidays you could see Jews dressed in their talit [prayer shawls] and shtreimlech [fur hats] on their heads, and religious chassidim with long beards and sidelocks as they used to walk by the main streets of the city in the direction of the synagogues or the Beit Midrash [Study Hall]. On those same streets, on Sundays and on the days of Polish national holidays, Polish soldiers would march to the church or to the Orthodox Church. We have to emphasize, that in Jaroslaw the Jews were not under the terror of anti-Jewish excesses of the Polish population.

In the Years 1930-1939

In the 1930s, and particularly in the years before World War 2, the good relationship between the Poles and the Jews began to deteriorate.

 


Part of Gunwaldzka Street
(Page 206 - Hebrew)

 

During this period, anti-Semitism in Poland increased, finding its expression in open hooliganism against the Jews, and pogroms that broke out in various cities in Poland. For example, in the city of Przytyk, the farmers, heated up by a priest, left a church and threw over the stalls of the Jewish merchants in the marketplace, stole their possessions, and even killed some Jews.

In the city of Mińsk Mazowiecki, a Jewish soldier shot a Polish gendarme out of desperation, since the gendarme was bullying him. As a result of this shot, a pogrom broke out

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and the Jew who shot the gendarme was sentenced to death by the Polish court.

In the universities of Warsaw, Krakow, Lvov , and Vilna, the Endek students attacked their Jewish friends with clubs, on the edge of which razors were wedged in. With the help of these types of instruments, they conducted their ideological discussions with the Jewish students.

The relationship of the Poles to the Jews worsened after closing the no-attack clause between the Poles and Nazi Germany at the end of January 1934. I remember the indignant appearance of the anti-Semitic priest Czeczak, the famous appearances of Mrs. Pristarowa who was against ritual, kosher slaughter. In the universities in Poland there was a “numerus clausus” [one of many methods used to limit the number of students who may study at a university] established, and the Polish government declared an economic war on the Jews that found its expression in the word “Owszem” [“yes”] from the head of government at the time, General Sławoj Składkowski, which meant: “Make pogroms on the Jews, get rid of them physically – no, but fight with them economically – absolutely!”

After an anti-Semitic incident in the Polish high school, there were the “left ghetto chairs”, the so-called “ghetto chairs,” that were set up for Jewish students in the higher education institutes. The Jewish students did not agree to this “ghetto” in the high schools, and in protest of this discrimination, they would remain standing as they listened to the lecture. My brother, who at that time was a student in the Lvov polytechnic, told me that he and his friends were prepared to stand for hours and listen to the lectures, and not sit on the “ghetto chairs.” These types of anti-Semitic incidents were also felt in our town, but not in such a sharp manner as it was in other cities in Poland. But very often, you could see “academics” in the streets with “Mieczyk Chrobrego” (“the sword of Chrobrego”) [Boleslaw Chrobrego's sword; a symbol used by Polish nationalists, representing the coronation sword of Polish kings] placed on the lapels of their shirts, and “corporants” [the corporations, businesses], with flyers that told them to boycott

 


Leaflets circulated by Antisemitic pickets in front of Jewish shops
(Page 208 Hebrew)

[Page 219]

the Jewish stores: “Poles, buy from your own,” or “Fish for the holidays, only from a Pole.”

The leader of the anti-Semites was the despicable Kazimierz Tumidajski, whose face actually did not fit the representation of the “pure Aryan race.” With government blindness, the Poles would cry out “patriotic” praises, such as: “Commander, take us to Zaolzie [land beyond Olza River, part of Czech],” that was said to the marshal of Poland, Edward Rydz-Śmigły, or: “Strong, United, and Ready!” “Silni, Zwarci, Gotowi” . These encouragements blinded the Polish nation that did not sense the approaching danger of Hitler's Germany.

We, the Jaroslaw Jews, felt the looming windstorm. We saw the danger that was coming towards the Jewish people, even though none of us, in our worst dreams could imagine the gruesome results of the approaching catastrophe.

In the Years 1939-1945

Only after the Germans expelled the Jews from the city, did the Poles begin to understand the danger that the German occupation brought for them as well. The well-known Volksdeutsche [ethnic German, non-citizen] Schmidt, whose activities on the Jewish street became limited, now looked for new activities for himself. He would search for and find nationalist elements, among whom there were also many Endeks. In many different ways, he pursued them, informed on them to the German government, and in the end, he delivered them to the Gestapo. Among those arrested were the Poles Szimlakowski, Trojanowski, the engineers Rynjak, Dubrzinski, Albinowski, Nazarkewicz, Galinski, and others. Many of the Poles were arrested and they were later deported to Auschwitz. A total of 70 people. Only a few of them survived and the rest perished in the camps. One of them, Galinski, a native of Jaroslaw,

[Page 220]

was mentioned in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem by the eye-witness Raya Kagan.

Galinski was a son of the caretaker of a middle-school, and when he was in Auschwitz, he met the Jewish girl Mala Tzimetboim from Belgium. Both decided that they would flee from the camp. With the help of several Jewish prisoners, Galinski was able to get a uniform of an SS officer, and thanks to this uniform he was able to escape the camp together with Mala Tzimetboim. His goal was to get to Slovakia. On the way, not far from the city of Bielska, his Jewish girl friend became ill and they were forced to hide at a farmer's place, who later handed them over to the Gestapo. Galinski was hanged in Auschwitz and Mala Tzimetboim sliced her own veins and died agonizingly before the Germans could pass their death sentence on her, by a hanging.

It is worth noting that for three weeks, both withstood the worst tortures that the Germans afflicted on them in order to find out who had helped them escape the camp. But despite all the tortures and pain, they [the two martyrs] did not reveal anything.

In the second group that was taken to Auschwitz, there were officials from the magistrate. They were accused of illegally listening to radio broadcasts. The magistrate officials were given over to the Gestapo by city councilmen Podgurni and Hanaiko. In connection to that, I want to stress that we Jews well knew that most of the Polish population were indifferent to the fate of their Jewish neighbors. Some of the Poles, the so-called “szmaltzowniks” [“blackmailers”], delivered the Jews to the Germans. But despite the toxic atmosphere, there were still individual Poles from the “chasidei umot haolam” [“righteous among the Nations”] who, disregarding the danger

[Page 221]

that was pressing, still saved Jews from death. But Poles who gave their own brethren to the Germans, is a fact that speaks for itself.

In the year 1940, another group of Poles was arrested by the above-mentioned Schmidt and his Nazi friends. Among those arrested were the director of the finance office Aslanowicz, the director of the postal company – Kurek, and also the directors of two gymnasiums: Dr. Mertowski, engineer Sobolewski, and the Pole Wajdowycz.

Not long before the end of the war, the 25-year-old student Basha Pozan and the teacher Ziemnicka were arrested and later shot in the Kidloweica forest.

But the main goal of the above-mentioned Nazi Schmidt was to persecute the Jews. Even though there were no Jews left in the actual city of Jaroslaw, he searched for Jews in the nearby towns and in the forests.

In June 1942, Schmidt and the German security police conducted an Aktion, murdering 360 Jews, who had been sent to the Pelkinia camp.

Schmidt was also guilty in this: In the summer of 1942, at the wall of the monastery “Anna Kasarnia,” Schmidt killed the father and son of the family Sztelcer.

It is worth noting that Schmidt was also the murderer of 30 residents of Jaroslaw, Jews and Poles, whom he shot at the same wall of the monastery.

At the end of the war, Schmidt fled to West Germany, and now he lives a calm life there, since there were no living witnesses found to report his crimes against the people. This year, after lengthy searches for witnesses in the “Department of Investigation of the Nazi Criminals” of the Israeli police, a significant amount of material was collected that enabled him to be put on trial.

When there is talk about the Nazi Schmidt, it is worthwhile to

[Page 222]

mention another Pole – a lowlife type by the name of Geroi. This Pole, a former Polish officer, occupied himself, during the Nazi occupation, with delivering Jews and Poles to the Gestapo, those Jews who were hiding in all kinds of hiding places in villages around Jaroslaw. This same Geroi also informed on Zosia Szpac (the daughter of a well-known doctor from Jaroslaw). At that time, she worked in an agricultural colony Demitrowica. He was even accused of having informed on his own brother-in-law – the judge Topolinski – whose own roots were Jewish, and who, after long and harsh tortures, was murdered by the Gestapo.

At the time of the war, after the Germans expelled the Jews from Jaroslaw, our town's Jews spread out in the eastern regions of southern Poland and found temporary shelter with relatives and friends. Some of the Jaroslaw Jews settled in the cities: Sambor, Drohobycz, Jaworow, and other places. But the majority settled in Lvov.

In the year 1940, when the Soviets ruled the area the NKVD conducted a raid on the “refugees” and many of our Jaroslaw Jews were deported to distant areas of Siberia and there they spent the rest of the war years in very harsh circumstances.

To our great joy, the majority of these deported Jaroslaw Jews survived, whereas of those who remained in the area and fell into the hands of the Germans only very few managed to save themselves.

In the year 1945, I met several Jews in Krakow who survived the Nazi hell. From their reports I found out that many of them were living witnesses to the murders of their relatives by the Germans.

One year later, I met our Jaroslaw Jews who returned from Russia. From their reports as well, I found out

[Page 223]

about the terrible conditions in which they had lived in freezing Siberia during the war. A terrible fate had greeted our Jaroslaw Jews during the years 1939-1945. The majority of the Jews were murdered by the Nazi thugs. This period of time demands substantial investigation.

* * *

To end my brief discourse, I want to mention how I separated myself from our dear city and from the Poles, who, before the war, served as spokesmen in the merit of being the guard of the “pure Polish race.”

Not long before the end of the war, as I was a cadet in the officer's school of the Polish army, I went on a mission for one day to my city of Jaroslaw in order to take care of some things. After completing all the things that were connected to my mission, I went out to see the city which I had not seen for years.

 


(Page 212 - Hebrew)

 

My excursion across the city was started at the “small Rynek” [square]. Leaning on the railing, I gazed at the beautiful plain that spread out before my eyes. Somewhere in the distance the waters of the San River flowed calmly and slowly.

I remembered that not far from here, as if stuck to the scruff of the mountain, was the location of Beitar [Revisionist Zionist Youth movement] and Hashomer Hatzair [Socialist Zionist Youth movement], where the life of Jewish youth once throbbed. Understandably, these two places were located at a certain distance from one another as if the two Zionist organizations wanted to distance themselves ideologically from one another as well.

I looked around and I could not believe my own eyes: Not far from here there once was a small synagogue that was known as the “Kehat Kloiz” [small shul, place for prayer]. In my youth, my father and I would go to this shul for prayers on Shabbat and the holidays. This was

[Page 224]

a holy place where the beloved voice of the dear and honored Rav, Reb Dovid was always heard. This shul no longer existed. The shul was destroyed and its walls collapsed into the ground.

I crossed over the abandoned and silent square and went to the corner of Rynek and Spitka streets. The house that once stood on the left was destroyed. From Tribunalska Street, I came to the place called “Wały,” and from there

 

[Page 225]


Yad Charutzim
(Page 213 Hebrew)

 

I went down the steps and remained still in front of the building that once was the “Yad Charutzim” [social hall and artisan association]. In this place, there used to be Yiddish theater performances, and also lectures and readings of Zionist activities in town and in the center. Here, our youth had fiery, passionate discussions among themselves, and sometimes these discussions took on a sharp edge. We would come to the Yad Charutzim to spend Shabbat evenings, the days of Chanuka, and for Purim celebrations. Now the building is empty, there is no living soul there. Only a sign in the front of the building testified in irony of fate, that the Poles had changed it into their “House of Culture.”

I returned to Grodska Street. Once, this street was the center of trade for the city. Here you were able to feel the pulse of Jewish life. And now? All the shops were closed, only two of them had been changed over to cooperatives. I turned right to Lubelska Street, to the place where once there was the center for Czortków hassidim, but which was now an empty, abandoned place, overgrown with weeds. With pain I asked myself: How could this happen? In the end, the Jews of Jaroslaw comprised not more than a third of the population of the city, and now without them, life in the city died. A strange emptiness covered everything. (At that time there was only one Jew in the city, that was Zilberman, who had the bakery in the square.)

I returned and I feared new disillusionments. Not far from the place where I was standing there once was the Talmud Torah, and close to that was the Jewish bathhouse and the mikvah [ritual baths], and who knows what was there now!

As I went through Grunwaldska Street I met two people. When they saw me, they stopped. One of them was Zadarazhni, who once worked for my father in his business. The other person was his friend, an official in the magistrate.

[Page 226]

In order to underline that with both Poles who, before the war were vocal supporters of the Nazi ideology, I held lengthy and sharp discussions about Judaism. And now, meeting them, there was a paradoxical situation: I was in the uniform of the Polish army with a gun on my shoulder, and they, the Poles – representatives of the “ruling race” stood opposite me with downcast heads. They politely asked me about the fate of my family, and asked for pardon for their earlier anti-Semitic talk from before the war regarding the Jews. I thought that it was very sad that the destruction of their ideological youth came years after the time when our Jewish nation lost millions of victims of our brothers and sisters.

There were eight hours left for me until the time when I would leave the city, but I felt it was beyond my strength to remain even one more minute. The city where I was born and raised, the city that is dear and close to me, was now dead as a cemetery. I left to Słowacki Street, and then with the first train I left the city. This was my last parting from the city of my youth, from Jaroslaw.

 


On the beach in the sun
(Page 214 Hebrew)

 


[Page 227]

The Town Wherein
I was Nourished by Zionism

by Attorney Moshe Aridor (Weihenmayer)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

There were cities in the Jewish diaspora that the nickname “Metropolis of Israel” clinging to the title by virtue of being centers of Jewish culture, the “cribs” of great Torah scholars and renowned educators, ancient synagogues and centers of the economic life of Diaspora Jews. Events occurred within them that were recorded on the pages of history as milestones in the annals of the people. The town Jarosław for me was a “Motherly Metropolis” because of its maternal qualities where I was reared and nourished with the doctrines of Zionism. Pure, maternal, natural Zionism, with no spices, like the pure natural genuine milk the mother gives her baby, granting him life and like the mother's milk, that same Zionism was free of infection, sterile but not unfruitful. Warm as if a mother's heart – not frigid and cold with pure reason usefulness and not destructive like coals afire, glowing with the fervor of flag-carrying Marxism and all the other threats. If I am immune in today's Israeli society after the Yom Kippur War, when I am faced with questions such as “What are we doing here?”, I must thank the cradle that permitted me to suckle Zionism, devoid of those venomous bacteria that threaten to destroy the very tissues of the Jewish State.

* * *

In retrospect, in the world of my childhood and youth, that I lived through in Jarosław, things now look a little different than we imagined them at the time. The Zionist youth movements represented the majority and the best of the Jewish youth in the town, from the Hebrew Youth Association Akiva, Betar, the Young Zionists and the religious youth movements, and including Hashomer Hatza'ir. Much of our innocence was in our perception of Zionism in terms of a worldview rather than a movement for the national liberation of the Jewish people, devoid of political independence. A mixture of scouting, mysticism and sometimes abstinence from the pleasures that nature gives to a young boy. A dividing line separated the majority of the organized youth in the Zionist movements in the city, from the so-called assimilated minority, who aspired to resemble their gentile friends, those same “golden youth” who looked with compassion and pity on those who trained themselves to immigrate to the Land of Israel, learning a profession to work there, or to wear the uniforms of Betar, or trained to use weapons that will

[Page 228]

liberate the land of Israel. We used all sorts of derogatory nicknames for them.

* * *

Much of the innocence sprang from the image we created for ourselves in spite of the reality at that time in Israel. We did not want to know the “truth from the Land of Israel” but thanks to that innocent Zionism, which I nursed from in my youth, I can today stand tall, and not bow my head in front of the “realists” of all kinds, for whom the word “Zionism” is used in quotation marks and who ask: “What is our right to this land?”

* * *

When I try to go back in my memories and recreate the sights of the same city (which, sometimes instead of “Jarosław” I say “Tel Aviv” and is often perceived as a Freudian mistake), two images always come to mind. One - of those Sundays of a Polish-Christian holiday, with army battalions marching through the city streets, and cavalry on white, sleek horses, with their flags honoring and glorifying their bearers, followed by rows upon rows of elementary and high school pupils in their uniforms and glittering symbols, accompanied by bands playing marches, all of them on the way to the church; everyone, that is - except the Jews. We do not belong. The flag, the symbols, the melodies – they are not ours.

* * *

On those Sundays, I looked forward to the coming of Shabbat and the traditional assembly of the Movement's branch and the large blue and white flag that flew with all its beauty and grandeur before the rows and rows of the Jewish youth, training themselves for the establishment of their State. Then the air would be filled with Hebrew orders: “Attention!” Then and only then did I feel myself of value and equal to them – the Poles: I have a flag, I have a National Anthem, I have a language and I have a country to which I must go. That was the compensation for the pain that I suffered on those Sundays in which I had no part. In the afternoon, on Shabbatot, when we marched out of town to enjoy the open countryside, to the nearby hills for activities and debates to strengthen the mind and body of young Zionists, no Polish youth dared to bother us, or to call after us with their insults. Only the grinding of teeth could be heard. It was then that I felt the force of the Jewish strength and its flag. They learned to respect those that respected themselves.[1]

[Page 229]

The town of Jarosław was not counted among the largest of towns in Poland but it was unique. It was among the oldest towns in Poland. The name Jarosław is associated with the history and struggles of the country whose enemies tried many times to “partition” it. The educators of the new Poland knew how to instill into the Polish youth a sense of National pride and the school fulfilled that task successfully. I, as a young Jew, who identified with the plight of the Polish people against their oppressors studying the Polish history created a sense of jealousy. For every evil act carried out upon the Polish heroes in their wars against the Russians, the Germans and even the Tatars, I asked myself: have we, the Jews, no warriors, heroes and victors? And when we had religious lessons, we were separated from the Polish students and when the Jewish teacher of religion, Distenfeld, taught us about Yehoshua Bin Nun, Moshe, the Maccabees and the Hasmoneans, my heart was filled with satisfaction and my wounded pride was healed.

* * *

The town of Jarosław was far removed from the model of Jewish towns and villages of Eastern Europe, identified by their Jewish ghettos. Jarosław was distinguished by its cleanliness, its broad streets in keeping with the period's style, and its tolerance of the “Jewish minority”, a minority, where the cynics at times provoked the anti-Semites: “The streets are yours but the houses ours.” Here the physical exile was not one of the hardest exiles in the world. Therefore, the memories themselves are not saturated with dramatic events. You cannot dredge up from the depths of your memories feelings of excessive hatred, nor excessive feelings of affection. Whenever I recall this city, the huge town hall, with its tower and dome towering up to the heights of the sky and the municipal building with its huge clock come to mind. Then the little boy's fears came back to me, of the little man who patrolled the heights around the tower turning back and forth night and day, on fire-watch of the city, lest he fall from the high tower and smash himself on the stones of the town square. But the huge clock in the tower continued to ring and count its hours placidly, its sounds calming and with that calm the fear of that little man falling from the heights of the tower gradually faded.

* * *

There was a town in Poland called Jarosław. It was one among many. For us, it no longer exists. Our memory is the memory of our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters who lived there and are no more. Them, we will remember forever. For us “A Metropolis in Israel” is Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa and every town in the land of Israel. In Jarosław I was reared and nourished by Zionism – Here, I live it!


Translator's Footnote

  1. See Pessaḥim 49a, (freely paraphrased): “…not flatterers of goyim and those who dance, but those who stand up to them and give them a stern look.” Return

 

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