Strzyzow my birthplace
In my survey about the shtetl Strzyzow and its Jews during the last fifty years, I tried to paint a clear and truthful picture about life in the shtetl without any prejudice or glorification. I did not exaggerate the negative because the dead cannot defend themselves. However, certain facts I could not hide in order to be truthful.
In my writing, I relied strictly on my memory during more than forty years of my life in my birthplace. My parents and grandparents were also born in Strzyzow. I heard the Ritter story from my father and also from Reb Shlomo Yahalomi. An important source of information for me was Reb Levi Itzhok Schiff who immigrated with his family to Eretz Israel before the Holocaust. The blood libel of 1919 and the pogrom that followed, I witnessed myself. As to what happened during the Holocaust, I mostly relied on what Reb Itzhok Leib Rosen told me. He lived through the tragedy and survived and also from another survivor, Reb Shimon Mandel who just happened to be in Strzyzow when the war broke out. He was visiting his grandfather and was forced to remain in Strzyzow. I was unable to obtain any information about the Jews who lived in the villages around Strzyzow, about their lives and sufferings during the Holocaust years. I wrote in general about common life in various cities throughout Galicia of which Strzyzow was no exception.
In describing life in Strzyzow and about the Zionist movement, I had to mention also the part I played in it as a leader for eighteen years. By mentioning my part in the movement I did not intent to boast about it but I could not avoid it either. If I left somebody out or told something incorrectly, my apology. It was not intentional.
Strzyzow was located in central Galicia in the southern part of Poland, midway between Rzeszow and Yaslo. The Wisloka River flows through the city. To strangers, the name Strzyzow does not mean much. It was known only to Jews living in the nearby cities in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, bordering Slovakia and Hungary. It was also known to the admirers of Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro and his son who left Strzyzow and moved to Munkatch. To researchers who wrote history about Galician Jews and their Rabbis, Strzyzow was well-known because very famous Rabbis resided in Strzyzow. At one time or another, these Rabbis became religious leaders all over Galicia.
Cities like Strzyzow one could find in the thousands in that part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Strzyzow had interrelations with man cities of the Empire, commercial and by marriage, until the end of World War I when Galicia was included in the re-established independent Poland. To those who were born in Strzyzow and spent most or part of
their life there, particularly their childhood, Strzyzow never ceased to exist and they can never forget it because of the memories, whether they were happy or sad ones.
I will begin my story about the last period before the Holocaust, from about the end of the nineteenth century until the destruction, since I have very little information of life in Strzyzow before that period.
Spiritually, it was a very rich life, a life of work, study and spiritual fulfilment. Youths lived a life of dreams about a better future that never materialized. We like to commemorate those people who were always busy doing something for other people, helping the poor and the sick, lending money interest-free to the less fortunate; our parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends who perished by the Satan of Europe. Such a tragedy should never be forgotten.
In 1895, a big fire destroyed the attic and roof of the shul and the entire structure of the Beit HaMidrash. The attic of the shul was used as a storage place for the pinkasim. These pinkasim were an irreplaceable source of information for the community. The period of which I am writing is about its ups and downs in the social life of the community and also about its economic life, especially after World War I. The Zionist movement contributed to the progress and modernization of life in Strzyzow.
Nobody knows exactly when the Jews settled in Strzyzow. In Polish history books, Jews were mentioned since the beginning of the sixteenth century. In the first and oldest cemetery was an old gravestone dated 1703. There were other gravestones but the dates were worn off. The tree trunks in the cemetery showed signs of very old age. The shul was built four hundred years ago. According to the Polish history books, Strzyzow was founded in the tenth century and most inhabitants were shepherds who specialized in sheep-shearing. Strzyzow in Polish means shearing, that is how the name Strzyzow originated. In 1241, Strzyzow was still mentioned as a village but at the end of the thirteenth century, Strzyzow was proclaimed a city.
Since Strzyzow served as an overnight stop-over for travellers on their way from Poland to Hungary, they were permitted to sell wine and spirits and that contributed to the economy of the city.
In the sixteen century, the Arians (a Christian sect) settled in Strzyzow and its vicinity. These settlers contributed to the improvement of life in the city, culturally and economically. The entire area was ruled by feudalism for centuries. They owned the land, flour mills, brick yards and breweries, which by the way was the main industry of Strzyzow and its vicinity until World War II.
The ownership of these enterprises changed hands. It was passed on from generation to generation. Names like Jan and Mikolay Olva, Stanislaw Wielkopolski and Strazowski were still remembered by some old people. One of the last feudal lords was the head of the Wolkowitzki family whom the Jews used to call the old man to distinguish between him and his son who lived in our time.
The old Wolkowitzki took part in the Polish uprising against the Russian Tzar and escaped to Galicia where he married a daughter of one of these wealthy families in town and settled in Strzyzow.
At the beginning of the century, feudalism was abolished by the Austrian government. Old man Wolkowitzki gained his Austrian citizenship with the title of Count. He was awarded the monopoly to sell wine and spirits and other taxable merchandize and later leased these rights to Jews. These Jewish lessees had a bad reputation in the community as being mistrustful for their association with the local non-Jewish people. However, they mustered respect out of fear and therefore were always elected to the community leadership. I still remember three such personalities who served as heads of the community. I will write about them later on in this book.
Until the end of the nineteenth century, most of the buildings in Strzyzow were wooden structures except for a few houses that were built from stone. All the wooden houses were destroyed during the big fire which I mentioned before and were replaced with brick buildings. The big fire started in the house of Reb Yacov Sturm the hat maker. The oven which he used to dry the hats caught fire and within minutes the whole town was engulfed in flames. The wooden houses with their straw roofs burnt down to the ground and from the stone houses, all that remained was the walls and chimneys. The City Hall, the roof of the shul, the entire structure of the Beit HaMidrash, everything went up in smoke. The local fire fighters with their primitive equipment were unable to help, especially when most of the equipment was used to save the local church. This fire was remembered for generations. It served as a milestone during conversations. People used to ask when did it happen before or after the big fire? The townspeople of which the majority were Jewish, suffered heavy losses and it took many years to rebuild the town because fire insurance was unheard of. Therefore, Strzyzow looked like a new little town just built. The town was remarkably clean and the air was clean and fresh because of the green meadows and fields that surrounded the town a perfect natural landscape with the Wisloka River flowing through the city. Strzyzow was located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, 800 ft. above sea level, surrounded by pine woods. After the railroad was built at the end of the nineteenth century, Strzyzow was connected with the rest of the country and this was an important factor in the development of the city.
The population in Strzyzow was about six thousand people, evenly divided between gentiles and Jews. When Poland became independent after World War I, in 1918, a redistricting took place in which a few nearby villages were annexed to the city in order to create a non-Jewish majority. Although the people were not happy with the annexation because of higher taxation, no protestation helped because the order came from the central government in Warsaw. Since then, the population remained one third Jewish to two thirds gentiles.
Most of the Poles were farmers, even those who lived within the city boundaries. Some were employed by the government and a few were professionals: teachers, doctors, judges, etc. The farmers sold their products to the Jews and in return, they bought from the Jews supplies and items
Most of the Jews had little stores in the marketplace. On Market day, which used to be on Tuesday, the farmers brought to town all their agricultural products, poultry and cattle for sale. The local Jews and the Jews from nearby towns who came to Strzyzow on Market day displayed their wares on tables and sold it to the farmers. Of course, there were as many sellers as buyers and everyone struggled to eke out a living. Every city had a different Market day. During the rest of the week, the people from Strzyzow travelled to markets in nearby cities. There were many Jews who went to the villages and bought directly from the farmers. Since they did not have any means of transportation and had to walk to the villages, whatever they bought they had to carry home on their backs. There were no factories in town except a lumber mill owned by two Jewish partners. The workers in the mill were all gentiles. There were a few tradesmen, tailors, dressmakers, shoemakers, barbers and a few sheet-metal craftsmen in town. Jews in the free professions such as doctors, lawyers and dentists were very few. They all came from other places. After they obtained their diploma they settled in Strzyzow.
Livelihood was very hard. The people struggled all their lives to make a living. From time to time, a salesman from out of town or an agent would show up in Strzyzow to conduct some business. Preachers, scribes and watchmakers often visited Strzyzow and offered their services. They stayed a few days and left.
On Market days, an acrobat or a magician would come and perform in the market place and, until the end of the day, nobody would even know if they were Jewish or not until they appeared in the shul for the evening services.
There was a group of Jews about whom nobody knew exactly what their occupation was and how they made a living. These people were intelligent self-educated and used their knowledge to buy all kinds of freight bills or some kind of discount papers, and since the average Jewish merchant did not know how to read or write, they had to rely on these people as middlemen. Book sellers often came to display their wares in the Beit HaMidrash, sold religious and story books in Yiddish. Occasionally they would secretly sell to young people books from the New Hebrew literature. Out-of-town beggars frequented the town and went from door-to-door begging alms. Of course, nobody ever refused them a donation.
The most famous of the Rabbis who served in Strzyzow was Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro from Dynow, the founder of the Dynow Rabbinic Dynasty. After he left Strzyzow, his son, Rabbi Elazar was elected to replace his father. After serving a few years in Strzyzow, Reb Elazar left and his son, Rabbi Shlomo became Rabbi of Strzyzow.
Reb Shlomo served the community in the second half of the nineteenth century. The older people in Strzyzow remembered him well. They called him the Munkatcher Rabbi because he left Strzyzow for the rabbinical post in Munkatch, the capital of the Carpathian-Ruthenia district.
Rabbi Shlomo was beloved and admired in Strzyzow. He left Stryzow because Munkatch was a much larger community and his father and grandfather served as Rabbis of Munkatch. The people in Strzyzow were unhappy about his leaving. Therefore, he left Strzyzow during the night. Rabbi Shlomo's mistake was that he did not secure a replacement. While living in Munkatch, he groomed his older son, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh to take his place and returned to Strzyzow with the intent to put his younger son Reb Moshe Leib in the rabbinical chair. However, it was too late. The post was filled by a young Rabbi, Alter Zev Horowitz from the Ropczyce Dynasty. This young Rabbi had just married and was looking for a place to settle and it was then that the everlasting rabbinical dispute began.
The young rabbi was a bright young man and the community took a liking to him especially the members of the Kehillah Committee and other influential people in the community. Rabbi Alter Zev bought an old house which he demolished and replaced with a three-story building, the first such building in Strzyzow's history. He served the community close to fifty years. He was a very strict and demanding leader, a scholar and spent most of his time studying Torah. He was a pious man, strictly and meticulously observing all religious laws and chanted the prayers with special melodies of his own compositions. Before the High holidays, he trained a choir to assist him in chanting the High Holiday prayers and a few of his choir boys grew up to be good cantors.
Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz had many opponents in the community and there were always scandals and arguments, especially when Rabbi Alter Zev ignored some of the Kehillah members who sided with the Shapiros in the rabbinical dispute, which never ceased up to the Holocaust. Rabbi Alter Zev always came out a winner having the support of the central and local non-Jewish authorities. In order to understand why, I would describe the relationship between the Poles, the Jews and Austrians.
At that time, in the last twenty years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when western and eastern Galicia were one entity and the city of Lwow was the capital, the Governor of the district was always a Polish aristocrat, a devoted sympathizer of the Hapsburg Dynasty. There was an existing animosity between the Poles and the central government in Vienna and, as always, the Jews were the victims. Austria granted to the Poles complete autonomy. The German language was used in the army and railroad administration only. The Poles also ruled the Ukrainian minority who lived mostly in rural areas. The majority of the rich landowners were Poles and very few Jews. The Poles, in order to strengthen their influence with the Austrian government, claimed that the Jews were considered Poles of Hebrew persuasion. The majority of the cities in Galicia were Jews. One of the paradoxes was that in the 1910 census, the majority of the Orthodox Jews and the assimilated Jews declared that their mother tongue was Polish, just to bootlick the Poles. Many of these Orthodox Jews did not even know how to speak Polish. In contrast, the Zionist intelligentsia who frequently used Polish, declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue.
The Hassidic movement made an alliance with the assimilated Jews to help Polish candidates win their seats in the Austrian Parliament just to hurt the Zionist candidates. Many Rabbis, leaders of the Hassidic movement, especially the Rabbi from Belz and the Rabbi from Munkatch,
and many smaller Rabbis urged their followers not to vote for the Zionists.
This disunity in the Jewish camp caused the Poles to consider the Jews as pawns in their political machinations. Therefore, all these Rabbis from Strzyzow and other places, by supporting the Polish rulers, have secured their rabbinical posts.
Whenever Rabbi Alter Zev felt threatened in Strzyzow, he always had the support of the Polish authorities. His position with the authorities improved even more after his son Reb Chaim Yehuda grew up and became an active politician because he was not qualified to be a Rabbi. Reb Chaim Yehuda Horowitz was famous all over Galicia and was known in the government for his influence among the Jews.
Rabbi Alter Zev was an anti-Zionist in general but he never fought the local Zionists claiming that the Zionists in Strzyzow just happen to be good religious people. There was plenty of antagonism between his son the politician and the Zionist movement in Poland on the political area.
The fighting between Rabbi Alter Zev and Rabbi Moshe Leib Shapiro slackened during World War I when both Rabbis lived in Vienna as refugees during the Russian occupation of Strzyzow. In Vienna, these two Rabbis met each other often like old friends. It seemed that they had declared a cease-fire. During the war, Rabbi Moshe Leib passed away and his son, Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro remained in Vienna for a few more years after the war.
When Rabbi Alter Zev went on in years, he and his family began to worry about securing the rabbinical seat for his grandson, Kalonymus since his son; Reb Chaim Yehuda had no intention and was not qualified to take his place. Rabbi Alter Zev decided to hand over his rabbinical post to his grandson while he was still alive. Rabbi Alter Zev passed away the first day of Passover 1930. He was the first Rabbi in the Jewish history of Strzyzow to die and be buried in Strzyzow. Around his gravesite, a mausoleum was erected. In 1946, when the survivors of the Jewish community visited Strzyzow, they only found a pile of rubbles at the site of the mausoleum. Rabbi Kalonymus Horowitz was a very pious, G-d fearing man, humble and well-liked by the community just like his grandfather. In the last few years before the Holocaust, he was active in the community, aiding the German-Jewish refugees and cooperating with the Zionists. When World War II began, he escaped to the eastern part of Galicia which was occupied by the Soviet army. When the Soviets arrested all refugees and exiled them to Siberia, for some unknown reason, he was spared and was given a Russian passport. He lived in Rohatyn and from there he sent food packages to Siberia where the people of Strzyzow were exiled. After the Germans occupied Rohatyn, he was killed with the rest of the Jews. His father, Reb Chaim Yehuda Horowitz lived in the ghetto of Rzeszow and died of starvation together with his family while hiding from the Nazis in an underground bunker.
Rabbi Moshe Leib Shapiro was called the Rabbi from Sassov. He was the son of Rabbi Shlomo who left Strzyzow and went to Munkatch. When he was a young man, he served as Rabbi in Biecz and later became Rabbi in Sassov. Therefore, they were both called the Rabbi of Sassov. As it was mentioned before, he did not succeed to regain the rabbinical chair.
Nevertheless, he remained in Strzyzow and was supported by his ardent followers who never recognized Rabbi Alter Zev as a legitimate Rabbi. Before every holiday, people used to send him donations. From time to time, the Kehillah also gave him cash allowances. He often left Strzyzow and travelled throughout Czechoslovakia and Hungary where his father was well known, to ask for financial support.
Rabbi Moshe Leib was a very capable man and after the big fire in Strzyzow, he built himself a beautiful house with a chapel which he used as a study and to pray. He later converted the chapel into a big prayer house which was called The Kloiz. The kloyz contributed to his income and also added to his influence in the community.
Rabbi Moshe Leib had a very pleasant voice and chanted the prayers on every holiday. He was an excellent Torah reader, outspoken and refused to compromise when it concerned religious laws or traditions. He concerned himself particularly with the religious upbringing of the younger generation. If he did not like how certain parents brought up their children, he would refuse to let them come to the pulpit to lead the prayers. He himself kept an eye on the youngsters and as soon as he noticed some reading a newspaper, he would grab the paper and tear it into shreds. (In those days, reading a newspaper was a cardinal sin in Hassidic circles).
Rabbi Moshe Leib passed away during World War I in Vienna and his son, Rabbi Nechemiah remained there until 1930. Rabbi Nechemiah was an official mohel and performed most of the circumcisions in the hospitals. When he returned to Strzyzow, he also was supported by his father's admirers.
Rabbi Nechemiah was very handsome with a well-groomed beard, very educated in the holy books and knowledgeable in secular subjects as well. But, he opposed Zionism like all other rabbis. He visited the United States twice, and when he met emigrants from Strzyzow, he urged them to be faithful to their upbringing especially in observing the Sabbath and keeping kosher. Rabbi Nechemiah had a very high moral standard. While in the United States, he refused to accept a thousand dollar donation from a rabbi who, it was rumoured, that he earned the money unethically.
After Rabbi Nechemiah returned from Vienna, the dispute over the rabbinical seat flared up again, in a stronger form than before, especially after Rabbi Alter Zev passed away. It should be added to the credit of the Shapiros that during all the years of dispute, they avoided involving the non-Jewish authorities.
When the Nazi came, Rabbi Nechemiah did not leave Strzyzow. At the beginning he went into hiding but later, during the occupation, he moved back to his house. One of the Nazi officers who was an Austrian took a liking to him for his knowledge of the German language and the Rabbi
used him to get favours for the people of Strzyzow. His fate was like all the others. The rabbi, his wife Tila and his son Reb Shlomo with his family were among the last Jews to be taken to the Rzeszow ghetto. But they never arrived there and nobody knows where and when or how they died.
Another son of Rabbi Nechemiah, who lived in Dukla, Reb Yeshayahu Napthali Hertz with his family and a daughter Fruma Ryvka with her husband and children also perished. May their memory be blessed.
(The translator of this book, before escaping the Nazi, went to see Rabbi Nechemiah to ask for his advice and for his blessing. Despair was the expression on his face and he said with a sigh: In a time when the whole world is in turmoil and nothing makes sense anymore, what possible advice can I give you? May G-d watch over you).
The rest of the clerical functionaries in Strzyzow, like the sextons, the ritual slaughterers, the assistant rabbis, had little impact on the community. Their function was to obey the rabbis and the community leaders.
Besides the two official assistant rabbis, Reb Joseph Mordechai and Reb Alter Ezra Seidman who served the town, one before World War I and the other immediately after the war, there was one outstanding personality who lived in Strzyzow and I would like to tell something about him. He was a descendant of the Shapiro Rabbinical Dynasty but his father was a simple merchant. His name was Reb Eisik Holles.
Reb Eisik Holles' occupation was to study day and night, literally, and to serve G-d. He had no official function in the community but people, instead of going to the rabbi with their problems, preferred to ask Reb Eisik. When the holiday came around, they never forgot to send him a donation.
The last rabbinical assistant was Reb Yacov Shpalter. The last two ritual slaughterers were: Reb Chaim Friedman, the grandson of the assistant rabbi Joseph Mordechai and Reb Mendel Rosen. They were both natives of Strzyzow. Reb Mendel Rosen had a good voice and served sometimes as an unofficial cantor. They all perished in the Holocaust.
The function of the Kehillah members was to supervise Strzyzow's few public institutions: The prayer houses, the bath house including the mikva and the cemeteries. They also provided flour for matzoth and emergency charity needs. The Kehillah paid the salaries of the rabbi and the ritual slaughterers. The funds came from three sources: The fee for slaughtering poultry and cattle, burial fee (only from those who could pay) and a special annual tax was collected from all the community members, which was assessed by the Kehillah with the approval of the authorities. The taxes were very progressive, not too burdensome and based on income. The upkeep of the prayer houses and the provision of firewood were funded by the Kehillah but small daily expenses were donated by the worshippers. The income from the sale of kosher flour for Passover was distributed among the poor. To purchase land for cemeteries and their upkeep, an inheritance tax was collected, similar to the tax which is collected nowadays. This
tax was also very progressive and poor people did not pay. The amount of the inheritance tax depended on the wealth of the deceased and his generosity when he donated to charity.
The Kehillah members were not paid for their services. On the contrary, it was an honour to be elected to the Kehillah. In the second half of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, the head of the Kehillah was always nominated by the gentile landowners of the surrounding land, villages and the town. Such a nominated head of the Kehillah was Reb Zalman Mohrer who was a very simple man. He was followed by Reb Yacov Kanner, a member of a very rich family who lived in Strzyzow for many generations. Reb Yacov Kanner was one of the last community leaders nominated by the non-Jewish authorities.
After the abolishment of feudalism at the beginning of the twentieth century, the system changed and the Kehillah leaders were elected by the Jewish community. Reb Tzvi Brav who was a newcomer to Strzyzow was the first head of the community elected by Jews. Names of other Kehillah leaders are: My father, Reb Baruch Berglass, Reb Wolf Deutch, Reb Moshe Diamand, Reb Alter Nechemiah and Reb David Dembitzer, just to name a few. These community leaders had their advisers who ran the show behind the scenes.
One time, the rabbinical dispute and the arguments over who should serve as rabbi went so far that the Kehillah leader that sided with the Shapiros fired outright Rabbi Alter Zev. But, as mentioned before, because the authorities were on his side, they opposed his firing and there was nothing the Kehillah could do about it.
Before World War I, Strzyzow had two outstanding community leaders: Reb Tzvi Brav and Abraham Keh. Later, the leadership went to Reb Wolf Deutch. They all passed away during the war. At the time of the transition from the Austrian rule to the Polish rule in 1918, the head of the Kehillah was Reb Abraham Tenzer. It was very hard times for the Jews. Pogroms occurred almost daily all over Galicia and in the rest of Poland. After Reb Abraham Tenzer, the leadership passed on to Reb Yacov Greenblatt, followed by Michael Schitz. They also had plenty of trouble because this was the time when the rabbinical dispute was at its peak. Reb Yacov Greenblatt sided with Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro and Reb Michael Schitz was rabbi Alter Zev's man.
The last Kehillah leader that was elected in a free election was Reb Heschel Diamand. He was young, energetic, and sympathetic to the Zionist cause and was neutral in the rabbinical dispute. Before the Nazi occupation, he escaped to eastern Poland and spent the Holocaust years in a Soviet labour camp. After the war, Heschel Diamand immigrated to the United States.
During the Nazi occupation, the Nazi nominated as head of the Jewish community the so-called Juden Rat, Abraham Brav and his assistants were Yacov Rosen and Aaron Deutch. The Nazi selected these three men because they were the sons of former Kehillah leaders. These three men did all they could to help the Jews in Strzyzow. They never betrayed anybody in order to improve their own lot and, of course, they perished with the rest of the people from Strzyzow.
Life in Strzyzow was based on an orthodox-Hassidic foundation but not too extreme. The relationship between the Hassidim and the progressive segment of the population was very good. The rabbinical dispute which lasted for generations never affected the relationship between the people. Besides siding with the rabbi or the other, in other aspects of day-to-day life, there was always peaceful cooperation.
The controversy between the admirers of the rabbi from Ryzin (later Sadigora) and the rabbi from Sandz occasionally reached violent outbursts and once went too far when the Hassidim of Sadigora caused the arrest of Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro by the local non-Jewish authorities.
The Hassidim of the rabbi from Sadigora were a well-organized group. They used to organize Saturday night get-togethers and helped each other in time of need. Their political representative was Reb Levi Itzhok Schiff and the spiritual leaders were Reb Baruch Diller and his son-in-law Reb Hershel Gelander.
Reb Hershel Gelander was a fine religious man, a Torah scholar with a good voice who for years chanted the prayers on the High Holidays. In later years, the animosity between the Hassidim subsided and the two opposing groups became more tolerant of each other.
Until the end of the nineteenth century, one could hardly see anyone in town not wearing the typical black coat on weekdays and a silk coat with a fur hat, called a shtreimel on Saturday. Women shaved their heads after marriage and wore wigs. Women did not use cosmetics. Jewellery, which was handed down from generation to generation, was worn. All the people in town observed all the commandments and stringent religious rules both at home and outside. Trimming beards, reading books and newspapers was forbidden.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many changes occurred in Strzyzow. People began to wear modern clothes, wearing stylish haircuts, trimmed their beards and many even shaved them off altogether. People began to subscribe to newspapers and read secular books. But still and until the Holocaust, one could not find anyone in Strzyzow who would not observe the Sabbath or eat non-kosher food. Traditions were strictly observed and everybody spoke Yiddish.
The day usually started by going to the Beit HaMidrash for the morning services. Many people used to get up earlier to study the Talmud and other holy books. During the day, everybody went about their business or occupation. At the end of the day, the synagogue filled up with worshippers again who came to the evening services. After the services, people remained in the synagogue, some to study and some just to chat. There were organized study groups. The long winter nights in particular were used for studying. During summertime, people loved to spend more time outdoors enjoying the freshness of the summer air.
Women generally stayed indoors doing household chores and raising children. They rarely visited their women neighbours for a chat. Many women helped their husbands in the stores especially on market days. In later years, younger couples allowed themselves to take a stroll on
a Sabbath afternoon, sometimes even a few couples together. Boys and young men spent their time studying Torah and praying. On summer afternoons the young people also allowed themselves to go outdoors for a breath of fresh air or even to take a swim in the Wisloka River. But of course, girls were excluded from such activities.
In the late twenties and early thirties, the Zionists organized the youth and taught them how to enjoy life by singing songs together, playing an instrument or organizing a play. They read books in Yiddish or Polish. In front of the shul was a big lawn with lust green grass where the children felt free to run around and play games. However, many times the sexton who wanted to save the grass for his goats would close the gates for the children. Sports were unknown in Strzyzow except summertime swimming in the river and wintertime riding down the hill on a sled.
The preparations for the Sabbath began on Thursday when the women did their shopping. Friday at noon, the bath house keeper appeared in the centre of the market place and blew his horn announcing that the bath house was ready to receive visitors. Taking a bath for the Sabbath was a joyous occasion. Even the gentiles frequented the bath house. Later in the day, women carried pots of cholent to the bakeries to put them in the oven to keep warm until the next day for the midday Sabbath meal.
At candle lighting time, late customers would rush into the store for last minute shopping and the sexton, Reb Eisik, circled around the market place and called to close the stores, announced that the Sabbath had arrived and time had come to go to the shul to welcome the Sabbath queen. After Reb Eisik passed away, this tradition was discontinued.
Dressed in their best for the Sabbath, the men went to G-d's house for the Friday evening services. On Sabbath day, the services lasted until noon. After a scrumptious meal, the older people took their afternoon naps and the young people went for a stroll in the fields or nearby woods. Taking a nap on a Sabbath afternoon was one of the luxuries reserved for the Sabbath only. On weekdays, nobody had time for such a luxury. Later, after the nap, everyone went back to the shul for the evening services and if it was too early for the end of the Sabbath, they would stroll up and down the market place which was also the main street in town.
When the holidays were approaching, the town was bustling with preparations and excitement especially the Passover holiday. Actually, soon after one Passover was over, people began to get ready for the next Passover. Sumer time, when fruit season started, the women busied themselves preparing all kinds of preserves for Passover. Then, when the grain harvest came along, the Jewish farmers from the villages around Strzyzow took extra care while harvesting wheat in order to keep it dry and kosher for matzo flour.
At the beginning of the winter and around Hanukkah time, the geese were at their best. Goose fat and chicken fat were staple food in every Jewish home. This was the only fat used on Passover and, therefore, it had to be prepared during the winter. On Passover, nobody, even the closes
Friends, ever share food or for that matter, any dishes with anybody else out of fear that they were not careful enough in observing the laws concerning kashrut and chometz.
At the beginning of this century, the wheat for matzo flour was stone ground. Later, the rabbis permitted under their supervision the preparation of flour in water mills. Flour for matzo was sold exclusively by the Kehillah and the profits went to the poor.
A month before Passover, the bakers began to prepare their bakeries and made them kosher for baking matzo. Every household prepared a barrel of borsch for Passover. Normally the fermentation of the beets for the borsch took about a month. And of course, everybody made his own wine from raisins for the required four cups on the Seder nights. Those who could afford it, allowed themselves to order from the big city a bottle of Carmel wine from Eretz Israel.
Everybody participated in baking their own matzo. The fresh baked matzo were carefully put into a white sheet and carried home on a pole on the shoulders of two people. At home, the matzo was hung up from the ceiling on a special hook put there for that purpose. On the eve before Passover, the Passover dishes were brought down from the attic where they were stored during the year. The everyday dishes were taken away and hidden out of sight. All these preparations were made with inner spiritual happiness in anticipation of the spring and freedom festival.
In the synagogues, the big chandeliers were glistening from the polish they just received. All the children wore new clothes. This was their happiest moments of the year. Later into the night, the sound of Passover songs were heard from all the homes in town. Between the first two days and the last two days of Passover, which is called Chol-Ha-Moed, guests from out of town came to visit their relatives and prearranged meetings by matchmakers of marriage candidates took place. Only on the last day of Passover was the strict observance of Passover kashrut relaxed and people visited each other to taste the delicacies which each housewife had prepared and was anxious to show off.
A distinctive feature of Passover was the escorting by Jewish family members of the gentile water carriers to and from the city water pumps. The Jews feared that the water carriers might tamper with the water and would not be kosher for Passover. (Until the destruction, Strzyzow did not have running water or electricity).
Between Passover and Shavuot, a light mourning period was observed. No weddings, haircuts or swimming in the river was permitted. (The water in the river was cold anyway). On Lag-B'Omer, the morning stopped for a day and it was a children's holiday. The melamdim and their helpers took the children out into the fields every child was armed with a bow and arrow and they played soldiers. The arrows sometimes caused light injuries.
On the Shavuot holiday, the homes were decorated with greenery which symbolized spring. This was the peak season for dairy products and the menu was: cheese cakes, cheese kreplach, sour crème and sour milk everything homemade.
On Tisha B'Av, the day when the Holy Temples were destroyed by the Romans and the Greeks, the tables and benches in the synagogues were
turned upside down as a sign of mourning. No kerosene lamps were used, only candles, everybody fasted that day and leather shoes were forbidden. After Tisha B'Av, when the days became shorter and the evenings longer, people remained in the synagogues after the service to study the holy books. These studies continued all winter until Passover.
As the High Holidays were approaching, the sound of the shofar was heard daily from the interiors of the synagogues as it is customary to blow the shofar daily. Some people blew the shofar during the day for training purposes for the upcoming High Holidays. Many people were traveling to other cities to visit their parents' or relatives' graves as it is customary before the High Holidays. Many strangers were also seen in Strzyzow who came to visit the graves of their relatives.
Traditional Slichot were conducted in the early morning hours of the last Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. The Hassidim of Sadigora conducted their services at midnight. In the pre-dawn hours, the sexton went from door to door, knocked with a wooden mallet and called: Children of Israel, arise and come to worship the Almighty. The services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were solemn. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the entire community turned out at the river to say Tashlich. There was a tradition that after finishing the prayer, people emptied their pockets into the river symbolizing the throwing of their sins away. The children used to fill their pockets with challah crumbs and empty these into the river and the fish happily devoured these crumbs. It seemed that the fish were waiting for such a treat which only came once a year.
Early in the morning on Erev Yom Kippur, the Shohet went from house to house to slaughter the Kaparot. This is an old tradition that every Jew is required to get a chicken for each female and a rooster for each male in the family hold it over the head and recite a prayer. After this ceremony, the chickens were either given away to the poor or slaughtered and a donation given instead. Yom Kippur started early afternoon with afternoon prayers in the synagogues. At the completion of the services, everybody passed a table with collection plates for different charities and donated generously. There was another tradition on Erev Yom Kippur after the afternoon services and a very peculiar one as well! A small rug was spread out on the floor and all adult men lay down while the sexton with a whip in his hand flogged them symbolically as atonement for their sins. And of course, the sexton was given gratuity for his service.
At home, a lavish meal with kreplach stuffed with meat was waiting for the whole family. After the meal was finished, the head of the family, with teary eyes, bestowed a blessing upon the children's heads and wished everyone a Happy New Year. Of course the women also joined in the shedding of tears while wishing each other a Happy New Year, asking each other for forgiveness for any misbehaviour during the year. Then, the entire family went to the synagogue. On the way to the synagogue they stopped at the neighbours' homes and extended best wishes and asking their forgiveness for any transgressions that they may have committed during the past year. The Jewish farmers from the vicinity around Strzyzow used to leave their homes and their households in the hands of their non-Jewish friends,
and came to town for the High Holidays. In later years, they established their own places of worship where they conducted the services lead by people they had hired from the city.
Soon after Yom Kippur, the peasants from the villages knew already that it was time to bring to town pine branches and sell them to the Jews for the Sukkoth holidays. The branches were used to cover the Sukkoth. In every backyard, a Sukkah was erected for the holiday. The decorations for the sukkah were the children's responsibility, especially the girls. A lot of effort was invested by the youngsters to show their artistic talents by decorating the Sukkah and preparing flags for Simchat Torah. There were no ready-made flags in those days, therefore, all the children had homemade flags. Men spent time in the Sukkah not just to eat meals but also to sing songs and entertain their neighbours. In fact, in those days, the Sukkoth holiday was exclusively a man's holiday. The women were busy preparing and delivering food to the Sukkah and the men enjoyed themselves. Since Sukkoth is always in the fall, and in Eastern Europe fall is sometimes very cold, often the rain disturbed the sitting in the Sukkah and forced the people to escape into the house. Then, the town joker used to say that when it rains, he enjoyed best the holiday by eating in the house. When the weather was cold, everybody had to bundle up to keep warm but nevertheless, it was fun.
On Simchat Torah night, the rabbi was escorted to the synagogue with dance and songs. After an afternoon of drinking and celebrating, the spirits were high. The shul, the Beit HaMidrash and the kloyz were lighted brightly, filled with people with shining faces and children were parading with their multi-coloured flags topped with apples. Stuck in the apple was a burning candle, and not one flag went up in flames, to the children's sorrow. A remarkable thing in all the holidays was that on the second night of any holiday, during the intermission between Mincha and Maariv services, the prayer houses were packed to capacity with people studying the holy books and it was hard to find a seat or the desired book. People were rested and did not have to be up early the next morning so they studied in a most relaxed way.
Hanukkah was not much of a holiday. However, it was a happy time for the children. When the sexton lit the Hanukkah candles in the Beit HaMidrash or kloyz and while he recited the blessing, the children were allowed to make all kinds of disturbances screaming and throwing snowballs at the poor sexton. This was a tradition of unknown origin. During Hanukah, people used to gather at the Rabbi's house to watch him light the Hanukkah candles and sing Hanukkah songs together. During the ceremony the rabbi wore his Sabbath shtreimel and his silk coat. As the people started to leave, everyone handed the rabbi Hanukkah gelt. No presents were exchanged in those days. The Zionists had fund raising parties for the Jewish National Fund. The next holiday was Tuv B'Shvat which was celebrated only by eating fruit from the Holy Land Eretz Israel.
When the Purim holidays was approaching, signs were put up in the prayer houses with pictures of two fish, a glass of wine and clasping hands. In Jewish tradition, the symbol of the month Adar is fish because fish is considered good luck. Therefore, the month of Adar in which the Purim holiday is celebrated, is considered to be a lucky month for Jews.
The clasping hands wishing l'chaim symbolized merrymaking.
On Purim, the streets were crowded with masked people, who went from house to house, performing a Purim spiel, or singing songs, for which they received a donation. Also messengers were hurrying with plates covered with embroidered handkerchiefs and filled with delicacies as it is customary on Purim to send Mishloach Manot.
Purim was a holiday of giving charity. The head of the family sat at the head of the table loaded with cakes, cookies, hammantashen, candies, fruit, wine and liquor. When people soliciting donations, or poor people who were asking alms came into the house, they were invited to sit down, have a drink and taste the delicacies. Then everybody received a generous donation. On every holiday, including Hanukkah and Purim, the clerical functionaries used to get gifts from the well-to-do, and also from the average people. An exception were the ritual slaughterers. They had a regular salary, and wintertime, one leg from each goose or chicken belonged to them. They also had free meat from the butchers.
Family life in Strzyzow was generally good, even though romance as we know it nowadays did not exist. Matchmaking was made by professional matchmakers or by friends. Therefore, whenever a matchmaker proposed a match for a son or a daughter, the concerned parents begun to gather information about the family background of the marriage candidate, his or her parents, and their financial situation. The information gathering was done with the help of friends and relatives who lived in the city of the proposed match. If what the matchmaker told about the candidate turned out to be true, a meeting was arranged, and both parties worked out an agreement about the dowry, wedding, and any other problems concerning the welfare of the young couple. And at last, love came for the young couple.
If the parents of the bride did not fulfill all the promises, then a dispute broke out before the wedding. However, the parents always found a way to smooth things out. These arguments never affected the newlyweds.
In later years when the Zionist organization sprang up all over Galicia, and young people of both sexes began to meet more freely, as a result of such fraternization, some marriage came about without matchmakers.
Jewish life was very conservative. Even the people who were rich and better off than others, led a thrifty life, always saving money for dowries, for their daughters, and in some cases, also for their sons. Family celebrations such as wedding or the birth of a child were celebrated only within the family or very close friends. When a baby was born, especially when the baby was a boy, men were invited Friday night to a welcome male party, during which beer and garbanzo beans were served. This was a tradition for generations. Lavish parties were unknown. However, wedding celebrations were celebrated on a larger scale. Even the not so well-to-do people used to borrow money and make a rich looking wedding. The parents of the bride had to provide the dowry and to
Furnish the place where the young couple intended to live. Therefore, poor people with daughters found themselves in a helpless situation. The only solution for the girl from a poor home was to learn a trade and to earn her own dowry, or leave town and emigrate. A seamstress was the most popular trade.
The emigration from Strzyzow was mainly to two countries Germany and the United States. After World War I, many young people moved to Upper Silesia, the industrial centre of Poland. Most of the emigrants were young people who could not find employment in Strzyzow and their parents' little stores could not absorb them. Therefore, they left Strzyzow in search of a better life elsewhere for themselves and to be able to support their parents at home. In some cases, the head of the family was forced to emigrate and later to bring his family over. All those who left Strzyzow never forgot their relatives and friends. They never lost contact with the shtetl. In all the strange places of emigration, the people from Strzyzow always met and were in close contact.
After World War I, emigration rose to even higher proportions. Many families who left Strzyzow during the war never returned. They remained in Western Europe. Many young men were forced to emigrate to escape the military service in the Polish army which was known for its hatred of the Jews. Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz and Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro used to receive financial support from these émigrés, particularly from people who had immigrated to the United States. In the later years, a Strzyzow Society was founded in the United States with the purpose of helping the poor in Strzyzow.
Strzyzow had three synagogues. A shul, the Beit Hamidrash and the kloyz which Rabbi Moshe Leib Shapiro built. Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz had a small sanctuary in his house. In the thirties, the religious Zionists established their own place of worship.
The shul, with its enormously thick walls, was four hundred years old. It was located in the centre of the town with a big lawn in front of the building. Surprisingly, the Catholic Church was on a side-street. This was a paradox because in most Galician cities, the Catholic Church was always located in a central place.
The entrance to the shul was though a narrow low gate and to the left of the entrance was a small window with a heavy iron grill. At the end of the nineteenth century, this window was converted to a second entrance. The entrance hall had a giant column in the centre, supporting the vaulted ceiling. On the right side of the entrance to the sanctuary, there was a niche in the wall with a big copper collection box. Upon entering the sanctuary, worshipper dropped coins for charity. When entering the sanctuary, a person had to bend down because it was very low and you had to descend a few steps to reach the floor. The ceiling in the sanctuary was also vaulted. The windows were located high, just
below the ceiling as a protection against rock throwing by the mob in time of pogroms. In the centre was the bimah surrounded by four heavy columns supporting the ceiling. The ark was simple as were the benches, because all the wooden parts of the shul including the ark, an artistic woodcraft, burnt down in the big fire of 1895.
Paintings which adorned the ceiling were also ruined in the fire. Only one big fish, the Leviathan, which was painted on the ceiling right in the centre above the bimha, survived. A few chapters from Psalms were carved in the wall that also remained intact. These carvings and the paintings on the ceiling were painted hundreds of years ago. During the fire, a few courageous young men jumped into the shul and saved the Torah scrolls. The huge chandelier made of brass was carried out by a young and very strong man and whose name was Elimelech Korn. He worked in the bakery of Reb Aaron Kanner.
After the fire, the walls were whitewashed and remained that way until 1930 when they were repainted by a painter from Przemysl by the name of Samuel Garfunkel and his son Aaron. Aaron was married to the daughter of the shul treasurer, Reb Leib Sternberg. Father and son teamed up and painted the shul in beautiful colours and Bible pictures. In one corner of the shul, an eternal light burned over which the sexton watched and refuelled with oil whenever it was necessary. There were two small rooms adjacent to the big sanctuary which was used for meetings of the community leaders, and sometimes, a room was rented out for a cheder.
To the left of the main entrance, on the west side of the building, were stairs leading to the attic. The attic was filled with torn prayer and study books and maybe writings and Kehillah ledgers that were hundreds of years old but that no one had ever checked them for historical purposes.
There was a little window in the attic which was used for displaying the national flag on national holidays because it was facing the market place. Before World War I, the Austro-Hungarian flag was flying and later, the Polish flag.
After the big fire, a new roof was constructed to replace the one that had burned down. This time, the roof was covered with metal sheets. All the repairs were made at the time that Reb Tzvi Brav was head of the Kehillah.
On weekdays, the shul was closed in the evenings. As the shul was near the cemetery, people were afraid to pass by at night especially the children. There was a superstitious belief that the deceased from the cemetery would gather in the shul every night to worship and to read the Torah, and if a by-passer was called by his name to the Torah, he would shortly die. Daily and Sabbath services were only conducted in the summer.
Wintertime, the only services held were on the Sabbath because it was very cold in the shul as it was not permitted to have an oven in the shul. The people who attended services in shul were mostly simple people, peddlers, tradesmen people who hardly knew how to pray or chant Psalms. Hassidim and Torah educated people worshipped in the Beit Hamidrash or at the kloyz.
In the last twenty or thirty years, when the Zionist idea started to make in-roads in Galicia, the shul served as a place where Zionists congregated to worship. On High Holidays, Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro and
later, Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz used to conduct the services.
Under the Austro-Hungarian rule, whenever there was a national holiday or the Emperor's birthday, special services were conducted in shul under the auspices of the Rabbi and the presence of government officials. In the last twenty five years, the shul was also used for political meetings organized by the local Zionist activists.
All wedding ceremonies in town were performed in front of the shul. The young couple were led from their houses escorted by all the guests while the klezmorim were playing joyous tunes to and from the chuppa.
For many years, the cantor in shul and also the Torah reader was Reb Leib Sternberg who conducted these services free of charge. He was very well liked by all the worshippers. The only reward he received for his services was that on Simchat Torah, the entire congregation came to his house to escort him with song and dance all the way to the shul. The treasurers of the shul were always fine people doing their best to manage the shul's needs. It would not be fare not to mention a few of them. Abraham Minc was treasurer at the end of the previous century. In this century, the treasurers were: Reb Feivel Diamand, Reb Moshe Henig and Reb Yehuda Gruber. During Yehuda Gruber's treasurer ship, all the above-mentioned remodelling and re-paintings took place.
The Beit HaMidrash was built during Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro's service as Rabbi at the end of the nineteenth century. The Beit HaMidrash was located in an alley which was called the Beit HaMidrash Alley.
The building was a simple structure from the outside and simple furniture inside. The ark where the Torah scrolls were kept was a beautiful piece of artwork made of oak and adorned with beautiful wood carvings. Along the western wall were huge bookshelves filled with holy books, Bibles and Talmud tractates. This library belonged to the congregation and nobody was allowed to remove any books. In the centre of the sanctuary, a big kerosene lamp hung from the ceiling surrounded by half a dozen chandeliers. Looking out through the windows on the north side, the oldest cemetery in town could be seen. The Rabbis in Strzyzow worshipped in the Beit HaMidrash all year round except on the High Holidays when they led the prayers in shul.
After Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro built his own prayer house which was called kloyz, he did not worship in the Beit HaMidrash any longer. The Beit HaMidrash had no steady cantor. On Saturdays and holidays, the prayers were led by lay-men but there was a steady Torah reader. On the High Holidays, Reb Hershel Gelander led and chanted the prayers all his life. On weekdays, services began early in the morning and continued until noon. In the evening, the Beit HaMidrash was filled with worshippers especially in the winter months when the shul was closed on weekdays. Torah studying was a tradition that never ceased. People, old and young, were studying Torah and other holy books.
Although the shul was a very nice and representative building and was loved by everyone in Strzyzow, still, the Beit HaMidrash was the place where people came to meet and share their time in prayers and learning Torah. In time of trouble or sickness, candles were lit, prayers were recited in Beit HaMidrash, and everyone joined in reciting Psalms and pleading G-d for help.
The upkeep of the Beit HaMidrash came from donations. People gave when they were called to the Torah or on happy family occasions. Treasurers were always elected by the worshippers. However, since the Beit HaMidrash was Rabbi Alter Zev's domain, and because he worshipped there all year round, the treasurer was always on of his followers.
The kloyz was a big solid building with a gallery for women. Actually, it served the same purpose as the Beit HaMidrash. The only difference was that it was private property belonging to the Shapiros.
The house where the Shapiros resided was adjacent to the kloyz. The kloyz had simple furniture except for the ark which was adorned with wooden carvings of lions and other Biblical animals. When Rabbi Moshe Leib built his house, he added an extra room for a permanent Sukkah, with a movable ceiling and roof. The Sukkah was used during the year as a study. This was one of the most modern Sukkahs in the entire area. The architect always sought Rabbi Moshe Leib's advice in every step of the building. Like the Beit HaMidrash, the kloyz also had a huge collection of books; some of them were very rare. The people, especially the young men, had the responsibility to watch over the books, to re-shelves them and if there was need for repair, it was their job to take them to Reb Zalman Brauner, the only book-binder in town. Funds for the upkeep and the purchase of new books were collected from the worshippers. Every Friday, a youth went around from house to house and asked for a donation.
Seats in shul and in the Beit HaMidrash were private property. Everybody in town owned a seat and whoever was able to pay more, owned a better seat at the western wall. The seats were passed on from father to son as an inheritance and so were the women's seats. In the kloyz, seats were only on a yearly rental basis.
As mentioned above, in the last two years before the Holocaust, the religious Zionists had their own place to congregate and worship. The majority of the Zionists continued to worship where their fathers and grandfathers had done so before them.
The bathhouse, including the mikva, was built hundreds of years ago soon after the first Jews settled in Strzyzow. The bathhouse was the property of the Kehillah and was leased to a bathhouse keeper. At the time when Hersh Brav was the head of the Kehilla, he modernized and remodelled the bathhouse so that Strzyzow's bathhouse was up to par with many bathhouses in bigger cities.
Strzyzow had four cemeteries. The oldest cemetery bordered with the shul, and the next oldest, bordered with the Beit HaMidrash. The first, the second and the third cemetery were all connected with a path leading to each other.
The last cemetery which existed up to the Holocaust was located out of town on a hill on the way to the village of Zarnowo. In addition, there
Was one cemetery which was shared by the Jews and gentiles. In 1880 a cholera epidemic swept through the town and hundreds of people died and were buried in this cemetery. This cemetery was called the Cholera Cemetery. The cemeteries were divided into separate sections for men, women and children. Many times when someone passed away, arguments occurred about the gravesite selections. A section near the fence was reserved for people who committed suicide. In the old cemetery, the inscriptions on the gravestones were unreadable but in all other cemeteries, the gravestones were easily identifiable. Almost everybody in town had some relatives buried in one of the three cemeteries. In the beginning of this century, a stone and cement wall was erected around all cemeteries.
As in many cities, Strzyzow had many charitable institutions some to help the local poor and some for the people who came from out of town. The well-known local poor used to receive support regularly but those unfortunate who were embarrassed to ask for help, for them, there was always a friend who knew about their predicament and through these friends, help was extended whether a one-time help was needed or more, especially before holidays when help was always there.
Since the majority of people in Strzyzow could not afford the luxury of a hospital, when somebody became seriously ill, hurriedly, one or two people went around town to make a collection. The patient was sent on the next train to the nearest hospital which was in Krakow, a distance of seventy miles. Collections like this sometimes had to be made during the night to enable the sick person to leave with the morning train because there were only two trains a day.
Strzyzow had some tight-fisted people from whom it was very hard to extract a donation befitting their ability. But nobody could shirk the responsibility entirely and everybody participated in giving to charity. There were those volunteers who were always collecting charity, ignoring the fact that they themselves hardly made a living.
There were some well-to-do merchants about whom rumours were not so kind when charity was concerned. But these rumours were not always accurate because they just gave in their own way without fanfare and publicity. As an example, I like to mention two names about which people were talking that they did not do their fair share. They were my father Reb Baruch Berglass and Reb Israel Gertner. But the fact was that Reb Israel Gertner had his own private free-loan bank. The village peddlers and small store owners always turned to him for a loan whenever they needed cash to buy merchandize for the upcoming Market Day. On the other hand, he was very particular in setting a due date for the loan and strictly adhered to collection on time.
My father, Reb Baruch Berglass never refused to anybody when asked for charity but he always tried to haggle and give less than asked, but he never let anybody out the door without giving. On the other hand, feeding the poor was his life's goal. His house was always open whether
on a weekday, Saturday and holiday. There were always one or two strangers sitting at his table together with his family. He simply did not enjoy the Sabbath meal without having a poor man at his table.
Reb Joseph Schacher, before his impoverishment, used to send checks to the needy by mail, anonymously, and nobody knew from where the checks came. Women like Rizha Rosenblith and Hena Rachel Unger specialized in collecting challah and fish for the poor. Whenever a poor Jewish wanderer was arrested, these two women always stood by to help with kosher food and bail when it was needed.
And Reb Joseph Klotz, who hardly made a living for himself, used to bring hot coffee or tea every Saturday for the poor who slept in the Beit HaMidrash. Reb Yeshayahu Mandel, a poor little man himself, always collected charity for some cause. The Shohet Reb Leib Friedman had a bed reserved in his house in case someone needed lodging. Of course, he had a guest every night.
Strzyzow was a little town with many permanent charity institutions. Some existed continuously and some ceased to exist for lack of funds and later reorganized. Food for Passover Appeal was activated every year to provide the poor with food for the holiday. In the last few years before the war, funds for this purpose were received from the Strzyzow Society in the United States for distribution among the poor.
There were people who were embarrassed to accept charity at home but from the Strzyzow Society they gladly accepted. It would not be fair not to mention Reb Samuel Mussler and Hersh Unger in New York who were active all their lives to collecting and sending money for their fellow countrymen in Strzyzow.
One of the most important institutions in Strzyzow was the Talmud Torah. Their goal was that no poor Jewish child should remain without Torah education. Every Jewish child was required to study Torah and if the parents were unable to pay, the town's responsibility was to provide such education. A special committee was elected to collect donations regularly on a weekly basis to pay for teaching the poor children. There was a tradition in Strzyzow that at every happy occasion, plates were put on the tables for different charities and Talmud Torah was one of them.
Every year in the fall, a one-time appeal was made to help the poor prepare for the winter with potatoes, firewood and warm clothes. Strzyzow also had a Free Loan Society which provided loans without interest to small storekeepers and tradesmen. Dr. Chaim Frenkel, a lawyer, was in charge of the distribution of these loans.
After Hitler's rise to power, funds were raised to help the Jewish refugees who were expelled from Nazi Germany and all their possessions confiscated. Most refugees were concentrated in a refugee camp on the Polish-German border in Zbonszin, a place in no-man's land, because the Polish government refused to let them in.
When the wave of oppression started and refugees began to arrive into Poland, a mass protest meeting was called in Strzyzow, as in all other cities in Poland, under the leadership of all organized groups in town. Everybody in Strzyzow came to the meeting. The speakers were: Avigdor Diamand, the head of the Zionists, Dr. Chaim Frenkel, on behalf of the intelligentsia and Reb Shlomo Diamand, representing the orthodoxy
(Yahalomi) who was a very bright young man. Reb Shlomo Diamand resides now in Israel. A collection was made at the meeting and everybody signed up a pledge which had to be paid monthly to the refugee fund.
A few families who immigrated from Strzyzow to Germany were expelled and came back to settle in Strzyzow. These families were helped locally and funds collected monthly were sent to a central committee in Warsaw.
The Bikur Cholim Society in Strzyzow was an organization whose members' main duty was to stay with the sick at night to enable the family members of the sick to rest. And, in many cases, they also paid for the prescriptions.
Of course a city cannot exist without a Hevra Kadisha to take care of everything, from removing the body from the house to preparing the funeral and digging of the grave. An initiation fee was required from each member and yearly membership dues were collected from all members.
When a member passed away, a fee for the gravesite had to be paid separately. They money was used for the upkeep of the cemeteries and if extra funds were available, it went to charity. Of course, all these assessments were made according to the financial situation of the concerned. Everybody in Strzyzow belonged to the Hevra Kadisha because, sooner or later, everybody needed them.
There were two Mishnayot Learning Societies that studied a few chapters of Mishnayot in memory of the deceased society members. The first year, when a member passed away, ten members studied a few chapters daily and, thereafter, on each yahrzeit, Mishnayot was studied again by ten members, a minyan. There was an elected committee with a record keeper who kept the records with the dates of the yahrzeits. To be a member in the Mishnayot Learning Society, a one-time fee was assessed according to the financial ability of the candidate. From members who did not know how to study, a higher fee was collected.
There was once a man in Strzyzow by the name of Reb Moshe Diamand, a very rich man. He owned land and forests for timber. He left a bequest in his will that the firewood for the oven in the Beit HaMidrash should be supplied from his estate forever. After many years, when the heirs wanted to sell the inheritance free of debts, they could not do so until they satisfied the Kehillah. The agreement called for the heirs to build a two story building which would serve as a Talmud Torah School where children would study Torah. The upper floor was to be used for classes and the ground floor as a shelter for poor people where they could spend the night. The furniture was later donated by Reb Abraham Tenzer in memory of his two sons who died in their youth.
The writer of these memories, Itzhok Berglass and his two sisters, Nechama and Chaya donated the equipment for the Talmud Torah but, to our sorrow, the building never served the purpose because it was finished just when the war started.
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