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[Pages 178-187]

Livelihood and Production

By Zelig Spierer

Donated by Karen Rosenthal

Making a living was the central problem in the life of Mikulince's Jews. The same was true of all three and a half million Jews who lived in Poland.

In order to show the importance of a livelihood in Mikulince, I will cite two examples. The most common good wishes were

“May you be healthy and make a good living”
(Gezundt and parnasah).

This good wish was common in saying goodbye, in letters, in Rosh Hashanah greeting cards and on other occasions. The preferred good wish on all occasions was : “parnasah” (a living). The word “parnasah” was engraved on the brain of every Jew.

As another example: in Mkulince all the men, and particularly the married men, participated in Sabbath services. Special attention was given to the Sabbath on which the prayers for the new month were said. These prayers include blessings dealing with everyday needs. One of them is: “a good living and support for my family.” When these words were spoken by the reader, the whole congregation would repeat them with great enthusiasm. The congregation's accompanying sughs, cries and sobs could be heard from far away.

All of this goes to show the extent of the problem and its seriousness.

The difficulties began with a young man's first steps in seeking work to support himself. It was difficult to learn a trade or find steady work. Mikulince was located in an agricultural area. Eastern Galicia's black soil was famous for its fertility. Farming was a Gentile occupation; there were only a few farmers among the Jews. Agricultural produce had to be processed and factories were established for that purpose. There were two large flour mills, a brewery and distillery and a packing house for the shipment of eggs. Only a few Jews worked in the factories. In the egg packing house, on the other hand, only Jews were employed.

The special circumstances of our town, and the decrees issued by the Polish government, forced Mikulince residents to create for themselves occupations and professions in keeping with the population's needs. Commerce was also difficult, but in spite of this the Jews worked, bought and sold to seek out a living for themselves.

The professions were entirely in Jewish hands. Craftsmen, Jewish merchants and the intelligentsia all devoted their initiative and creativity to satisfying the population's needs of the entire region. The craftsmen's output included a vast variety of products, from clothing to a wagon drawn by horses. The merchants stocked their stores with everything from buttons and shoelaces to complicated new machines and foodstuffs from salt to meat. The working intelligentsia served the public loyally and efficiently in health care, law, education and culture, planning and other fields. The Jewish women teachers in the government elementary school were widely known and praised for their work. The four Jewish women teachers, Clara Deutsch, Mina Cooperman, Marisha Margolis-Geller and Fell Tchatchkes, were loved by their Jewish pupils and are remembered to this day.

The Hebrew teachers (men and women) also played an important part in educating the town's children. The Hebrew school was attended primarily by girls. Learning the language helped them at prayer services and in the Zionist youth movement. The teachers Haike Goldhirsch, Pesia Trief and her husband A. Muskat were revered by parents and pupils alike.

There were also about ten teachers (men and women) who worked in other towns and cities. Our town simply could not support so many teachers. I will mention three teachers who became principals of schools in Bendin, Lodz and Lvov. They were Dr. Israel Friedman, Leser Lilker, and Munio Margulis.

Three Jewish physicians served the town and its environs, helping the population to the extent that the level of medical knowledge in those days permitted. They maintained public health and saved the people from dangers. The names of Drs. Yisrael Zilberman, Moshe Zilberman, and Oziash Roseman were known throughout the region.

Another excellent physician from Mikulince was Dr. Moshe Fried Margulis who , thanks to his ability and success, was accepted into a Viennese clinic known throughout Europe.

After the coup (putsch) in Austria, he came to Israel where he lived in Jerusalem and became famous as an expert internist and was well liked by his patients.

A younger generation of five doctors trained abroad joined the older physicians. In the 1930's they did their internships and residencies in Poland's large cities. They remained there to practice.

There was also a woman doctor, Dr. Bertha Katz. She did not practice medicine but was active in Zionist circles and was well known for her Zionist activities.

There was one pharmacy in Mikulince, which served the town and the surrounding villages. Its owner was the pharmacist.

There were two midwives in Mikulince, who delivered the babies with sure and experienced hands. The midwife Griminger was very experienced and had long experience. She was liked by everyone, young and old alike. The midwife Lancet was much younger and had better professional training. Her husband was well known because he was a licensed healer since the days of Austrian rule. Both of them provided health care services primarily to the Gentiles in the area.

There were two dentists in the area with organized dental clinics. Those who needed it received dental treatment.

There were three lawyers in town, each of whom had an office staffed with clerks and assistants. The lawyers represented their clients in the magistrate's court in town and in the district court in Tarnopol. The lawyers' names were Shapira, Yegendorf and Katz.

There was one Jewish clerk employed in each of the government offices, at the town council, at the courthouse, in the notary's office and at the bureau of public records. They all performed their duties efficiently and professionally and were a credit to the Jewish community.

The Jewish community and its institutions

The Jewish community employed a number of persons to meet the needs of its public institutions and the congregation's religious needs. When we look at these positions and at what their incumbents did, we see a picture of an active public social life which we can remember with pride.

I want to talk first about the rabbinate, since our rabbis earned the admiration and respect of their congregations. For generations, the Rabad family held the rabbinate. In 1935, the elderly Rabbi Yehoshua Yosele Rabad died and was succeeded by his son Rabbi Yosele Rabad. Because of his liberal approach to modern ideas, he was loved by all: workers, craftsmen, and intelligentsia alike.

The old Rabbi's brother, Rabbi Heshel Babad, was the rebbe of Tlust and lived in Mikulince. He did have the official status of rabbi but was supported by the community. His eldest son Rabbi Abraham Babad later became the rabbi of Mikulince.

The rebbe of Zlotniki lived in Mikulince and a number of Hassids became his disciples. He, too, was supported by the community.

The official rabbinic judge (dayan) was Rabbi Henioh Trief, the “melamed” (teacher).

Three ritual slaughterers served the city and also performed circumcisions. They were: Yaakov katz, Leibush Goldhirsch and Berish Horodner.

David Zeiler headed the community as its president. Menachem Krankel served for many years as community secretary.

A special functionary was employed to sell “Qvitlach” (slaughter tickets). The money collected for ritual slaughter was an important source of income for the community.

Meladim (teachers)

There were some meladim who taught everything from the alphabet to Humash (the Five Books of Moses) and gemarah (Talmud). It was customary for children to begin attending “cheder” (religious school) at age 3 and to continue until their Bar Mitzvah and the donning of the prayer shawl, when most ended their religious education. The religious school teachers (meladim) barely made a living. Tuition fees were very low.

Prayer houses, study houses, kloizes and the big synagogue

Eight houses of prayer, a study house, kloises and a big synagogue were the centers of worship and religious life. They were run by volunteer sextons (gabai) chosen by the congregation.

The cemetery

The Jewish cemetery was located behind the town. Here, every Jew was brought to his final resting place according to local customs. The cemetery was run by the community with the help of two voluntary organizations: “Hevrah Kaddisha” (the burial society) and the “bedbearers” (coffin carriers) association. There were two paid gravediggers, who also served as caretakers and watchmen. The shroud maker, coffin maker and monument maker were also paid.

Transporting head stones to Mikulince was difficult because of the climate, bad roads and the stones' weight. Nevertheless, every grave was covered with stones and had a headstone.

The town bath house

This institution served social and practical functions at one and the same time. It included a ritual bath (mikveh), a sauna and, later, bathtubs. There was an admission fee, but the poor were allowed in free.

There were four paid employees at the bath house: a male and a female bathhouse attendant, a fire tender and a cleaning woman. The bath house was used primarily by the Jewish community but shortly before the war Gentiles in the area used it as well.

The wages of Jewish community employees were very low but the prospect of steady work attracted certain people to the jobs.

Community activities united all strata of the public in a common effort.

Three types of production work were a source of livelihood: crafts, trade and a combination of both. Most of the stores were in people's apartments. There would be a sign on the door, and the nearby window would become a show window. Here, the best merchandise was displayed. Some of the merchants dealt at fairs in grain, farm animals and similar merchandise.

The crafts were as important as trade. Most craft work was done in workshops but some artisans went out to their customers. This last category included painters, carpenters, and tinsmiths.

There were also some producers who sold their own wares. These included bakers, restaurants, smiths, some furriers and others. All of them tailored their business to their families' needs, finding places for sons, sons-in-law, brothers and brothers-in-law. What started as one man's source of livelihood ultimately became a family business. As a result, the number of hired wage earners in Mikulince was very small.

No trade union was established. The only organized institution for hired wage earners was the government health insurance agency known as Kupat Holim or “Kasa Choryeh.” Hired wage earners were required to join, while family members who worked in a family business were forbidden from joining.

There was never more than a hundred hired workers in Mikulince.

Merchants and Storekeepers

Grocers were the largest number, comprising about forty families. What could you buy in such a grocery? Every kind of food except vegetables and meat. The grocers ranged from rich and successful businessmen to men who could not earn a living.

The textile merchants were next in line. There were about 25 of them. They can be divided into three categories: the well-off, who traded in fine fabrics; a middle category who traded in cheap goods and made small profits and a third class who traded at fairs in and around the city. On market days, they would set up stalls, display their wares and sell.

There were about twenty grain merchants in Mikulince. Some of them had roadside stands on the outskirts of the city. A few had their own granaries and others found their place in the market as agents for larger merchants.

About a dozen merchants traded in linen and flax. Like with the grain merchants, here too, some had their own store houses and others were middlemen.

There was serious trade in cattle and horses, involving about 25 people. Two thirds of them dealt in cattle and the remaining in horses. This trade involved export.

The junk trade employed sixteen people, four of whom had warehouses. These four bought from the other twelve the scrap iron they purchased on their trips (these twelve merchants each had their own horse and wagon and would purchase the iron in exchange for money or kitchenwares). These people left home before sunrise and returned after the stars came out, being forced to spend long hours on the road and among the Gentiles.

There were five shoe stores, seven leather and skins stores, nine notions stores, six metal goods stores, two tobacconists' shops, eight firewood and coal stores, three building materials stores, five flour stores, fifteen butchers' shops, ten egg stores, five poultry stores, three dairies, three fish stores and twelve fruit and vegetable stalls. All of these businesses had good times and bad. There were failures and losses as well.

Craftsmen and artisans

Some of these men produced their wares with machines and tools, while others used their bare hands. There were eighteen bakers, ten tinsmiths, four printers, one builder, six millers, one painter, four manufacturers, eight glassblowers, two belt makers, fifteen tailors, ten dressmakers, six underwear makers, six shoemakers, three locksmiths, three rope makers, two drivers, one brewer, two wagon makers, eight barbers, two women barbers, one potter, one cotton picker, 22 egg packers, six porters, six saleswomen, four women bakers, three soap makers, one brush maker, two watchmakers and two photographers.

These were the trades and professions at which the people of Mikulince worked. They were known as good workers.

Producers and merchants

The combination of production and selling was another source of livelihood.

Bakers: Bakers and their families worked day and night. Some of them baked, others went to purchase the necessary ingredients and others sold the results. Bakeries needed flour, sugar, salt, grease, firewood and more. All of this had to bought from outside sources.

Baking is an art in itself – kneading, shaping, etc. which require expertise. The finished product, the baked goods, had to be sold.

I chose a bakery as an example because I grew up in a baker's family. There were five bakeries and these were their owners: Nisan Rum, Zorach Spirer, Leib Spirer, Moshe Fogelbaum and Moshe Fink.

Tinsmiths: The tinsmiths, like the bakers, purchased raw materials, fashioned different kinds of tools from them (such as pots, pans, needles, etc.) and sold the finished products in their own workshops. There were five such tinsmiths in town.

Soap manufacturers: The soap manufacturers did the same. Soap was manufactured by the family of the melamed Nechemiah Taller.

Brushmakers, sodamakers, grits grinders, rope makers, barrel makers, furriers and others conducted their business in a similar fashion. Among the furriers, I want to mention Moshe Zipper. He had ten children, two daughters and eight sons. His home was organized like a factory. During the long summer days, the father and his sons processed the raw material, dyed and sewed furs, fur hats and elegant fur coats for men and women. They sold their products during the winter. Their situation improved from year to year. The first victim when the Nazis came was a member of the family, Abraham-Henoh. Four members of the family survived the Holocaust and settled in the United States after the war.

Owners of wagons and carriages

        There were more than twenty of these. Each had his own wagon, horses and stable. They cared for their horses the way they cared for their children, because their horses were their source of livelihood. These wagons were the only means of transport in town. The railroad station was four kilometers out of town. The district city of Tarnopol was twenty kilometers away. Everything the town needed came either from the railroad station or from Tarnopol, and everything came by wagon. The town's ability to import and export was totally dependent on the wagons. Coal and firewood, building materials and concrete and wooden planks had to be “imported” from out of town, while flour, eggs, grain and beer were “exported” to markets out of town. The carriage owners would transport passengers to and from the railroad station. There was a special wagon for the mail. The trip to Tarnopol, which took an hour and a half, was also made by wagon.

The wagon drivers worked hard to eke out a living. They had to compete with Gentile wagon owners who transported goods as an additional source of income to supplement farming.

Taverns and restaurants

There were ten taverns in town, four restaurants and five candy stores.

At a tavern, you could buy a can of beer or a glass of whiskey together with gefilte fish, matjes herring and peas.

The restaurants were more elegant. There you could get a full course lunch or dinner.

The candy stores offered chocolate, ice cream and soda – all luxuries.

I will end this catalog of employments in town by mentioning the large concerns owned or run by Jews. There were two large flour mills, one run by David Engel and the other the property of Brane Engel and her son-in-law Chaim Katz. Two additional flour mills which produced excellent flour in the neighboring villages of Czartoria and Luka Vielka were held by the Karp and Walfish families. The large eggpacking plant was run by Naftali Zeltzer.

The brewery, owned by Princess Rey, was leased to Jews. Estates, farms and quarries were similarly held on leases and run by Jews from Mikulince.

The Jews of Mikulince expanded great effort and initiative to support themselves and to earn their living honorably and with dignity.

[Pages 188-191]

Theater and drama groups

By Yitzhak Schwartz (Itzik Hersch)

Donated by Karen Rosenthal

In the period immediately following the First World War, “wandering stars” would appear in Mikulince. These were entertainers who traveled from town to town disseminating Yiddish theater and art. I still remember the elderly actor Shnek. He was one of Goldfaden's pupils and a member of his theater troupe. In the early 20's, he came to Mikulince and performed together with his wife in a program of dramatic readings, monologues, jokes and old style songs. The performances took place in private homes. A stage made of wooden planks would be set up and oil lamps would provide lighting. For a small price of admission, the audience would watch and listen in amazement and with great enthusiasm. These performances were a rarity, and no other forms of entertainment existed in town.

Later on, the youngsters formed a dramatic group and put on Yiddish plays themselves.

In those days, the very talented student, Laiser Roseman arrived in Mikulince. He came to town for his summer vacation, and succeeded in organizing a group of young people who, under his direction, put on the play “wild man.” This was done despite an almost lack of means. We did not have a hall of our own for putting on plays (electric lighting also had not yet come to town) and we had to rent the Ukrainians' hall. Scenery and costumes were arranged, commensurate with Roseman's talents, by borrowing the necessary items from townspeople. The makeup man was the barber, Melech Wunderlich. The music was played by the town orchestra, conducted by Shabtai K. Auerback. The cast was modest, but the success of the play was huge. The day after the performance, the town buzzed with excitement. Critics came and praised the talented actors and condemned those who lacked talent.

Everyone in town whistled, hummed or sang the song from the play:

“Mother, did you not bring forth from the rock of my quarry? Is our world for the wise? G-d, tell me. Please tell me, O G-d.”

The actors, who had previously never experienced the theater, were received with honor and acclaim. The beginning was a huge success and motivated continuing effort.

A Jewish dramatic group was organized. Its members were the most talented young people and the most avid readers. Under the direction of Dr. Yisrael Friedman, the following plays were staged: MIRELE EPHRAT, HASIA THE ORPHAN GIRL, TWO KUNILEMELS, etc.

In the course of time, there began to be more and more performances by traveling actors performing in the Ukraine. Some of these plays were Jewish in character. Among others, the play. THE REVENGE OF RACHEL THE JEWESS, was staged with great success.

These plays were put on not out of love for Jews but as a way to make money. In Mikulince, there was no Gentile audience of theatergoers.

Troupes of wandering Jewish actors also visited our town. The Bosik theater put on the plays: THE RUMANIAN WEDDING, MOTKE THE THIEF and THE DYBBUK.

The Latovitz theater brought plays of a national religious character, such as THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC, SHULAMITH and others – all by Goldhagen.

This theater visited Mikulince in the winter of 1929. Because of snowstorms, the actors were stranded in Mikulince and could not leave. Suddenly, the artist Latovitz died and was buried in the Mikulince cemetery.

I also want to mention an episode concerning the well known artist Jonas Turkov and his wife Diana Bloomenfield. On a small handbill, Turkov announced: “Om Sunday (I don't remember the date) the well known actor will present the play “Morphium.” It turned out that the hall was almost empty. I, as usual, tried to sneak in without a ticket, as children often do. Turkov caught me and asked if I wanted to see the play. He suggested that I round up other people so that they, too, could watch the show without paying. I managed to get together a small audience, and we saw real theater. Turkov performed as if he were playing to a full house.

The following day, the rumor of the great Jewish actor's artistic performance spread through the town. A delegation of Jewish youngsters came to the artist and asked him to put on the play again. He couldn't grant their request because he had previous commitments. However, he promised to come back to Mikulince on a future visit to eastern Galicia. He kept his promise and put on the following plays in Mikulince: “THE RED CUCKOO” and “THE OUTCAST.” He made a tremendous impression on the young people.

Turkov had good things to say about Mikulince and its population. In a conversation he held in those days, he described our town as “A wonderful, young town full of many ardent theater lovers.”

Another great actor who made a lasting impression on the town was Kurt Katch who presented his famous play “THE YELLOW STAR OF DAVID.” It was a relevant topic at that time, as Naziism spread throughout Europe.

The traveling theaters did not satiate the audience's hunger to see as many performances as possible. The following local dramatic groups were organized in Mikulince: A dramatic group affiliated with the “Gordonia” youth movement, directed by Meistrich Faivish. A workers' dramatic group directed by Maurice Goldstein. A Ukrainian drama group directed by Dekailo.

Preparing and presenting plays on a reasonably high level with untrained actors was no easy task. Casting was a real and difficult problem. Everyone wanted the leading role. We managed to solve the problem in connection with male roles, but it was far more difficult with the ladies. First of all, parental permission was needed. When permission was forthcoming, it was on condition that their daughter would look pretty onstage and would not play the role of an immoral character.

The first play which the “Gordonia” drama group presented was “GYPSY LOVE.” Yaakov Nassberg, accompanied by Fradel Fellner, played the part of a patrol.

The workers dramatic group put on the following plays: “TUVIA THE MILKMAN,” “THE DEAF,” and “SACCO AND VANCETTI.” The last play, “VICTIMS,” was presented shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. This play was presented again, with some changes, under the supervision of the Soviet authorities.

The Ukrainian drama group was also active.

When a contest was held among the drama groups in the Tarnopol area, a scene from “VICTIMS” won second prize. The scene was played by Chaya Rachel Glicksman and Itzik Hersch Schwartz.

After this success, the Culture Department of the Mikulince Town Council called all the drama groups to a meeting. During the meeting, the Ukrainian representative said something about “you and us.” The chairman of the culture department, an intelligent Russian citizen, stopped him. “There is no such thing as “you” and “us.” We will bring together all the talented actors and actresses and form one drama group to perform in the Ukraine. We will educate young people in the spirit of Socialism.”

The plan was never brought to fruition. The German fascist barbarians went to war against the Soviet Union. The results are well known ………

[Pages 192-194]

The kleizmerim (musicians) of Mikulince

By Yitzhak Schwartz

Donated by Karen Rosenthal

What characterized the “Kleizmerim” in our town was that their art was handed down from father to son. If a stranger, not from the family happened to join the “Kleizmerim,” he was never considered an equal partner, only a hireling. The orchestra was made up of amateurs without formal training or official certification. Most of them were sons or sons-in-law of Muni Bass (Has).

Why Bas? In our town, it was impossible for someone not to be given a nickname. “Has” is close to “bass' and the bass was the big, clumsy instrument handed down from generation to generation. The orchestra consisted of: Alter – the oldest player, his brother “Yekel” (Yaakov), his brother-in-law (Bass's son-in-law) Naftali and last but not least Alter's son Shaye. The orchestra's director, Shabtai Auerbach, joined the group but was never accepted as an equal since there was no daughter left for him to marry in order to be one of the family. Except for Shabtai, who read and wrote music, none of the other players could read a score. Alter, by contrast, had a marvelous ear and could pick up melodies, no matter how complicated, by ear. He was particularly good at Jewish folk music. Alter played the flute and with this instrument he enraptured his listeners, including those who themselves knew how to play. Yekel played the alto, Shaye the trumpet, Naftali played bass and Shabtai played the clarinet (later he played the saxophone).

As time passed, the orchestra expanded and expanded. It was joined by violinist Junio Marcus, Joseph Shechter as drummer, and the Pole Felix Mischevitz as accordionist. This was a more modern ensemble and the orchestra no longer limited itself to performing at weddings and family parties only.

The orchestra began to perform at the theater, at balls given by landowners and at parties and social gatherings throughout the area. The “Kleizmerim” were like one family and had family ties to tailors, seamstresses, cooks, bakers and others. Those in the needle trades made clothes for brides and grooms, and the rest made delicious gefilte fish, and the famous “golden soup” which was fed to the bridal couple after their day of fasting. The bakers excelled at preparing pastries, particularly the honey cakes distributed to the guests at the end of the wedding party to the accompaniment of the orchestra.

There was hardly a Jewish wedding which the “Kleizmerim” did not grace with their art. This happened only when the bride or bridegroom was in mourning. Those with money reached an agreement with the “Kleizmerin” on the musician's fee to the best of the ability of both sides to the negotiations. The “Kleizmerim” also graced the weddings of the poor where they settled for whatever the guests chose to pay them. They would play a piece for each guest, who would pay according to his means. During the meal, the sexton Meir would get up and announce: “In honor of the bride's uncle Reb so-and-so, happy mazel tov – play.” Alter Bass would give the keynote “Where are my seven good years?” or choose another hit of the day. His experience and knowledge of the people involved taught him what was most suitable to play for a particular individual.

The “Mitzvah Dance” was conducted with great charm. After the meal, the bride would come out with a white handkerchief and invite the male guests, one after another, to a round of the “Mitzvah Dance” to the orchestra music. After the “mitzvah dance,” it was time for the “anger dance” in which the mothers on both sides danced to the tune “Let's Make Peace.” The guests formeda circle around the dancers and clapped their hands in time to the music.

Most of the town's residents participated in the weddings – those who were invited inside the hall and the rest outside near the windows. Every pretty girl was a pretty bride. As for the girls who were not pretty, it was said n town that they had “the charm of a bride.” The wedding celebration would continue until dawn.

The “Kleizmerim” would accompany the newly married couple through the streets of the town to the door of their new home. This repeated itself at every Jewish wedding.

The “Kleizmerim” never got along with each other well. There were always disputes over the division of the money earned, as the art of music alone was insufficient to support the “Kleizmerim.” Their wives did any kind of work they could find: one as a seamstress; another operated a fruit and vegetable stand in the market. Yekel made “lades” and sold them on the streets. He also went to Gentile parties. It happened more than once that Naftali Bass, after a hard day's work, would fall asleep while playing his bass. When the conductor would call out “Nu?” he would wake up frightened and go back to playing at a faster tempo. This would anger the conductor and was sufficient grounds for a quarrel.

Alter Bass and his two sons, Shaye and Yisrael, were particularly talented musicians. Yisrael was the most talented of all, having shown special aptitude for the violin at age six. Dr. Julius Silberman took an interest in him and with the help of Countess Rey he was sent to a conservatory in Lvov. Later, he became famous as a violin virtuoso under the name of Igor Miller. He played in the Boufini Orchestra in Katowitz and was a soloist in concerts broadcast on Polish radio. Later, he played in Soviet Russia. With Anders' Army, he got to Israel where he was a famous and beloved violinist. He played in the “Kol Yisrael” (Voice of Israel Radio) Orchestra. Since his youth, he never parted from his violin, not even during the terrible days of the war. So it was until his dying day. He died, violin in hand, while playing the operetta “Silva” in Naharia. At his funeral, important artists in the field of music were in attendance and eulogized him. None of them knew where he had come from or knew his native town of Mikulince. With his death, the chain of Mikulince “Kleizmerim,” which had continued for generations, finally ended.

[Pages 195-196]

Football fever

By Itzik Hersch (Yitzhak Schwartz)

Donated by Karen Rosenthal

I vividly remember the period immediately after the First World War, when families which had fled the town for safer places began coming back. They brought with them a more modern way of life. One of those families was that of Joseph Engel. His eldest son, Adolf, introduced us to the game of football. He organized a team and kicked off the football era in our town.

Football fever spread and was “caught” by all the youngsters. They played in every empty, vacant lot they could find in town. The most serious games took place in the huge pasture known as the “Blonie.” Goal posts were erected, balls were purchased, and the players – wrapped in small prayer shawls – played with phylacteries and sidelocks blowing in the wind as they chased the ball. More than once, we played hookey from school, or neglected our prayers, to play football. After every game, there were arguments about wins or losses.

The religious school teachers (milamdim) vehemently opposed football because children neglected their religious studies and failed to attend “heder” (religious school). The children also stopped going to services and to school. Compared to the religious school teachers, the parent's opposition to football was not so serious. They, like us, enjoyed the game. I remember that the rebbe of Toist very much enjoyed seeing his son Asher playing football enthusiastically, dressed in fancy clothes. The rabbi claimed that play was a part of Torah study.

The first to play were the older boys. As time went on, a younger generation of players, with greater talent for the game, began to play.

The “Hitachdut” established an organized football team called “Hapoel.” This was a real team with uniforms, rules and the symbol of “Hapoel” from Eretz Yisrael. Players were required to come to training on time and to listen to the trainer's instructions. Tickets were sold to every competitive game, but the field was not fenced in and many spectators were able to watch the game without paying. Financing the team, therefore, was a problem.

There were fans who contributed money and members had to pay dues. The best player on the team was Itche Dobrish, who was killed in the Polish-German War in 1939.

Two other teams were also formed, one Polish and one Ukrainian, which enabled us to compete. Most of the games were won by the “Hapoel: team. At one game, a fist fight broke out between the “Hapoel” and the “Shzelez” team. Moshe Rathaus, a player on the “Hapoel” team, was injured in the jaw in this fight, and suffered a great deal as a result.

The referee at the games was Fischel Shor, the very talented son of Yaakov Meir, who was among those who returned to town at that time.

[Pages 197-201]


By A. Weisshois

Donated by Karen Rosenthal

The beginning was modest. A small group of young people who frequented the “Hitachdut” library to borrow books and to play chess aroused the interest of that organization's leadership.

This party was ideologically interested in establishing a youth movement whose ideology would be close to that of the “Hitachdut.” They suggested to the young people that they form “Gordonia,” a pioneering, scouting youth movement which the “Hitachdut” would sponsor and assist.

A number of young people got together to discuss the idea. Among them were some who wanted to reestablish “Hashomer Hatsair.” However, the majority voted for founding “Gordonia.”

The number of members was miniscule, between ten and a dozen. They lacked basic organizational talent and knowledge required for educational work.

Members of the “Hitachdut” – Moshe Zeftel, Leibush Tuchfeld and Yosi Fuchs – were active in organizing “Gordonia.”

A few times a week, we would meet at the “Hitachdut” club to “hold discussions.” We learned the history of Zionism and the ideology of the Zionist Labour movement. We used to read selected works of Jewish literature.

During the summer, we would meet in the forest or on the “cordon” for our talks.

Meanwhile, the number of members grew and the younger members joined us.

It was important that leadership pass into the hands of the young people themselves. The “Hitachdut” members lacked the time and patience to do everything themselves. They explained to us that it would be better if we ran the organization ourselves.

We selected and executive committee composed of the following members: Yaakov Somerstein, Aharon Weisshois, Yitzhak Schwartz, and Yaakov Nassberg.

Groups were formed, and each member of the executive committee was responsible for one of these groups.

An important development was the participation of girls in the movement. This was something new for Mikulince where we weren't yet used to such things.

As winter approached, it became imperative that we have our own club so we could work on a regular basis.

In order to raise money for this purpose, we decided to put on a play. Feibush Meistrich (Shraga Alufi) was the director.

It was a hard job, but the play was a huge success. The success was both financial and in terms of prestige.

Gordonia began to be publicized. Our first play was a landmark: an amateur dramatic club was established from among the movement's membership. The group put on a series of plays, which paid the rent on our clubhouse. We began to be independent.

Though other youth movements were established afterwards, Gordonia remained the most important youth movement. We carried out multi-faceted educational work and brought up a generation of Zionists with a goal of aliya and active membership in the Zionist movement.

A few important events in the history of our local “Gordonia” chapter remain engraved in my memory.

A. Dedication of the flag

If I remember correctly, Yaakov Somerstein, Yosef Zipper, Munio Hochberg, Yaakov Nassberg, Yitzhak Schwartz and Aharon Weisshois were chosen to design a flag for our movement. (I don't remember whose idea it was). There was a dual purpose. First of all, we wanted to carry the flag for festive occasions. Secondly, we wanted to use the ceremony at which the flag would be dedicated as a fund-raising event.

Each of the above mentioned members donated a few zlotys to the cause.

Yitzhak Schwartz drew a design for the flag and went as a representative to arrange for the sewing and embroidering of the flag.

Meanwhile, we planned the dedication party. We needed a special permit from the district governor in order to hold the party. We had some difficulties getting the permit. The Polish authorities suspected some kind of underground activity. We had to explain the meaning of the symbols on the flag and to provide a full scale drawing of the flag and an exact translation of everything written on it. Meistrich took care of all these formalities and the permit was ultimately granted.

We then organized a committee of townspeople to run the ceremony. The pharmacist Katz was elected chairman and Dr. Zellermeyer was chosen as the main speaker.

All the members of the movement were on the stage. The hall was filled to capacity and when I opened the ceremony it seemed to me as if the very walls were covered with people.

The ceremony made a lasting impression on the town. It was an unusual event which no other movement organized. It became the talk of the town. Parents who previously had not been happy about their children joining “Gordonia” now were very pleased.

B. Training group

The second thing that I vividly remember is “plugat hahachsharah” (the training group for older members). This was designed to prepare us for aliya (immigration to Israel). Unfortunately, this was difficult to achieve. There were insufficient places available for this training and many parents refused to allow their children to leave home. Therefore, we decided to organize a training center in Mikulince itself, with the approval of “Gordonia” headquarters.

The leadership in Lvov added a few members from other towns to the Mikulince members when the training center opened.

It wasn't easy to find work in Mikulince. Those who had previously worked at a trade continued to do so and the rest took whatever jobs they could get. They cut down trees and did other unskilled work. The training group lasted for almost a year but we were forced to disband it due to financial difficulties.

Those who came from other towns transferred to other training centers. The Mikulince trainees held out a little longer, but a short time later we had to disband the project completely. The experiment was an important achievement even though it had to be discontinued. The members learned to live in a collective environment and to do hard work. They learned to take care of themselves without their parent's help and to be self sufficient. At the same time, these same members ran the local chapter of “Gordonia” and this guaranteed its existence.

C. Summer camp

The summer camp organized by “Gordonia” is also worth mentioning here. Every year, the regional leadership organized a summer camp in the region of Tarnopol. Of course, this was very expensive. They to pay for the camp site, and we decided to help.
With the help of the “Hitachdut,” we succeeded in obtaining a suitable site in the forest near the “Lapayovka” hills. The forest belonged to Dr. Zilberman who owned an estate there. It was a beautiful place. The building where the youngsters stayed was surrounded by forest. A few Mikulince residents participated in this “Moshavah” (camp) and all the participants had a pleasant summer, except for the rainy days. Members of the chapter visited the “moshavah” every Saturday and Sunday.
Over the years, some of the movement's members left Mikulince for various reasons. Among them were the leaders of the movemenr.
Despite this, the organization's work continued and a new young generation of leaders developed.
Motel Apel is worthy of special mention for his dedication to the movement, as are Yerahmiel Glazer, Moshe Vunderlich and others.
“Gordonia” lasted ten years, until the outbreak of war between Poland and Germany.


“Gordonia” fulfilled an important function in educating its members – the vast majority of young people in Mikulince. The town lacked a secular educational institution. By this time, the “heder” had lost its influence over the youngsters. Religion was no longer seen as the only answer to life's problems. Zionism influenced and attracted a large segment of the populace, who saw it as a logical answer to anti-Semitism. They also saw it as a solution to the difficult economic and political plight of Jews in Poland.

The movement's purposes was to train the youth, in body and in mind, for life in Israel. Educational activities included Jewish history, Zionist ideology, and learning about Israel. The movement also included a scouting program designed to train the youngster's bodies for life in Israel as pioneers. We can conclude proudly that we succeeded in raising a generation of young people who believed in the ideals they learned in our movement.

Unfortunately, most died in the Holocaust.

“For these I cry
My eyes, my eyes water
for comfort is far from me
salve of my soul
my sons were desolate
because the enemy vanquished us”

Aichah 1-16

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