« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Columns 287-288]


[Columns 289-290]

Educational and Cultural Institutions


[Columns 291-292]


[Columns 293-294]

Hebrew Educational Institutions in Ternopil


“Tarbut” [“Culture”] School

by Mordekhai Deutsch

Translated by Moshe Kutten

When I arrived in Ternopil in 1924, I found a cultural field of action – The Hebrew school. That school was founded before the First World War through the efforts of pioneering activists. With the break of The First World War, many activists left the city, which was close to the Russian border. They elected to move to the capital city Vienna until the fury passed. The young ones enlisted in the Austrian army. The old-timers never returned to their native city. Some remained in Vienna, and others moved to Congressional Poland. There was ample space for cultural work.

The war handed Ternopil a heaping plate of troubles, calamities, pandemics, and destruction. Schools were closed because the state of the Jews was grievous. following days of the foreign and hostile regime and the continued war around and within the city for three years. Then came the Ukrainian regime, which lasted half a year, and in the end, the entrance of the Poles. All of those events impoverished the Jewish population. Only a handful of people dedicated themselves to the idea that the youth must receive a Hebrew education. They recognized early that there was no future for the Jewish youth in the diaspora, and therefore, they must be educated in pioneering [for settling in Eretz Israel], and be provided with the knowledge of the Hebrew language, a common language needed for the ingathering of the exiles in the homeland. These people invested substantial energy and efforts to revive whatever needed revival and fix whatever needed fixing.

Their way was not paved. They faced many obstacles.


Poetess Elisheva with the Committee of the Hebrew School

[Columns 295-296]

Founders of “Tarbut” in Ternopil, 1926
From right to left –sitting: Weisman, Tukhman, R. Berger, Greenspan, Simon
Standing: Z. Wahler, M. Deutsch, I. Kurfuerst, A. Meiberger


However, these pioneers possessed a strong will, which won over their initial ability. We often faced challenging problems. For example, the search for a place for the school. We took over rooms in Perl's school, which were slated to be rented to shop owners. That school was under the control of the assimilators, and they did not want to let the Hebrew school have a foothold in “their” school. We waged a fierce battle against them until they were forced to yield to public opinion. It was also helpful that we were already situated in the school, and it was not easy to get rid of us. However, they reminded us at every opportunity that we forced our way in as if Perl's school was their private property.

Balancing the budget was one of the most severe problems we faced. Often, we could not pay the teachers their wages on time, but we have always managed to overcome the crisis. Our elected members in the municipality council helped us tremendously by securing a monthly financial allotment from the municipality. That enabled us to continue our operation and even widen and improve the school. We were not satisfied with what we had; We wanted to enlarge the framework and connect with the center in Poland.

When the state-wide organization of the Hebrew elementary and high schools was established in Poland under the name “Tarbut”, the schools won their proper recognition. When Tzarist Russia ruled Poland, it looked unfavorably at the existence of a modern education system in Poland. The Tzarist government often interfered with the efforts of the local authorities to establish new schools. When Poland secured its freedom, its government turned to establishing a modern educational system for Polish children. The Polish authorities did not object to Jews establishing their own schools based on their own customs. In Galitsia, a sophisticated educational system of the Austrian government has already existed. It was difficult for us to follow our brothers in Congressional Poland and establish independent elementary and high schools according to their format since it required investing substantial expenses. Our parents were still far from the idea that their children need a complete Hebrew education consisting of both Jewish and general studies. We, therefore, began at the foundation and established the first Hebrew kindergarten. Our hope was that when the children graduate, they will be ready for elementary school. We also hoped that sometime in the future, we will be able to establish a high school. We joined the “Tarbut” system and elected a special committee to handle the affairs of the kindergarten. The members of the committee were: Ostren, Rekka Oks, and Penka Shekhter and they invested substantial energy and effort in it.

The second thing we found proper to establish was evening Hebrew lessons for youth and adults. A few months later, people started to talk Hebrew in Ternopil, and debates and discussions in Hebrew could be heard. A while later, Dr. Ledder founded a “Tarbut” branch in the city. The following members were elected to the committee: Kurfuerst, Edelstein, Weisman, Wahler, Saraf, Ginsberg, Meiberger, Berger, and Deutsch. The school won the parents' confidence due to the dedication of the teachers to their role, and the time and effort they invested to improve and elevate that institution.

With our lobbying, prominent figures from Eretz Israel visited our city. The author Shmuel Tchernovitz (aka “Sfog”) gave lectures about educational and cultural problems. He was impressed with Ternopil and wrote an article about the city and its cultural situation in the weekly “HaOlam” [“The World”, the official journal of the international Zionist Union]. Even the great author Sh. Y. Agnon [later a Nobel Prize winner] was our guest at the school while he stayed in the city.

[Columns 297-298]

He even participated in a trip with us. Dr. Tzvi Feffer Z”L accompanied the author to show him the city's antiquity and Perl's library. We also invited poet Elisheva when she toured Polish cities to learn about Polish Jewry. She read from her poems in front of a large crowd in the “Betztvo” hall. We were also fortunate to bring the giant of Hebrew poetry, Kh. N. Bialik, to our city. The culture committee exerted a substantial effort until we managed to bring the poet to our city. Bialik lectured about “National Culture Problems”. He was very interested in seeing Perl's library and visited the remnant of that prized asset. The neglect in the library, particularly the ancient manuscripts, depressed the poet. I have already mentioned that Perl's school and the library were under the control of the assimilators, and they did not allow any foothold for the Zionists. The proposal about moving the library to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem met with a total refusal. In the evening, at the gathering, Bialik's speech was filled with bitterness about that neglect. He called in sorrow: “What is culture?”, he asked, and answered: “A person of culture is not the one who dresses in a nice shirt that others made from him, but a person who knows how to create new things for himself”. At night, we held a small party among our people and fans. Here we met a completely different Bialik, the man of the people. He lectured us about Mendelson's Enlightened Movement. Bialik explained that that movement targeted Torah learners and yeshiva students who knew Hebrew. The Hebrew language served them as means through which they aimed to reach the German language. Their translation of the holy scriptures helped these young men to learn German. The final objective was total assimilation. Opposite that movement was the Galitsian Enlightened Movement, which targeted the masses to be able to teach them to read the holy scriptures. Their objective was to translate the bible into the spoken language [Yiddish] so that even a commoner who cannot read the source would be able to appreciate the beauty of the translated Book of Books. They hoped to attract the masses toward the source. That was why Mendel Lefin translated the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job into Yiddish. He wished to bring the bible close to the commoners. From there, just a short jump to the root, the source. Bialik spoke with admiration about Galitsia wise men, RN”K [R' Nakhman Kromkhel], SHI”R [Shlomo Yehuda Rapoport], Lefin, Perl, and their colleagues.

We tried our best to increase and strengthen to school. During the last few years of its operation, the student body reached seven hundred. The Hebrew evening lessons were also filled with students. We wished that the center of Torah studies would fit the name the city acquired for itself throughout the diaspora. Although according to the size of its population Ternopil was considered an average city, much like many other average cities in Galitsia, it was known as great in Torah, education, and loyalty to Zionism.

Then came the oppressor and destroyed everything. Nothing was left from the cultural richness. The dear members who devoted days and nights to the dissemination of the Hebrew language are gone: Israel Kurfuerst, who ran to do any meritorious deed., Tzvi Greenspan, the dedicated teacher, Saraf, Zusia Wahler, Mrs. Shitzer, and Mrs. Steinberg, all teachers, and counselors, whose heart was dedicated to the education of the young generation toward Eretz Israel. The activists Meiberger, Yehoshua Parnas, Ya'akov Feffer, Knopholtz, Primer, Weisman, Shalom Fisher, Kopel Yaffe, Friedberg, Tzvi Ginsburg, Rekka Oks, Dr. Tzellermayer. The defiled hand of the Nazi beast of prey annihilated everything.

The students who live in Israel will never forget the teachers and activists who were so dedicated to the dissemination of the Hebrew language because the school was the element that pushed them to leave the diaspora and make Aliya to Eretz Israel.

“Tarbut” Association and its Activities

by Nathan Ostern

Translated by Moshe Kutten

An important and unforgettable page in the chronicles of Ternopil was the fruitful work in the field of the Hebrew culture.

Under the management of the teacher Peled, the Hebrew school, which contributed significantly to learning the Hebrew language (using the Ashkenazi pronunciation) and its culture, served as a spiritual center for the community as early as 1909. Later on, other famous teachers joined such as Matok and Wittenberg Z”L, and with unified forces, disseminated knowledge and taught Hebrew and general education to many local Jews.

The First World War and the prohibition by the local authorities caused a severe reduction in a school activity. However, even then, teaching did not cease. Some people always managed to organize underground Hebrew courses despite the strict prohibition. In that affair, we should particularly commend Eliyahu Shitzer, who was very active until his Aliya to Eretz Israel, where he became one of the founders of Kfar Yehoshua.

[Columns 299-300]

With the end of the war, the school officially reorganized and renewed its operation with more vigor. That time, Greenspan Z”L took the helm. Assisting Greenspan was a group of skilled and enthusiastic teachers. We should note Hadasa Shitzer (Greenspan's wife), Saraf, Gusta Steinberg Z”L, and others. In 1920, the first kindergarten was established in our city. The “Tarbut” association, which set a goal for itself to disseminate the Hebrew culture among the masses, was established in 1924.

Before the “Tarbut” association was formally established and received recognition by the authorities, another association, by the name of “Ivriya”, was already active in Ternopil. It fulfilled all “Tarbut's” roles (except for the evening lessons). When the “Tarbut” organizations were formed in all Polish cities, we simply changed our name from “Ivriya” to “Tarbut” and widened its operation.

Two big halls in the famous “Schloss” building (“The Castle”) were rented. They served the goal of the association – the dissemination of the Hebrew culture. All the obstacles faced by the association, including the financial difficulties, were resolved with substation efforts.

A whole branched network of activity was established. Hebrew lessons for the youth and adults were organized, lectures were given by invited lecturers, and prominent guests were brought over for a visit. Among these prominent people were: Bialik, Mossinson, Elisheva, and Agnon. Over time, a Hebrew library and a reading room were established. The “Tarbut” union became a center for a rich community life, which created institutions that glorified the entire Jewish community.

The way “Tarbut” revived the local kindergarten after a halitus of two years (1921-22) deserves to be mentioned. The activists copied from the birth lists all the children aged 4 – 6. After visits with the parents and explanations, the kindergarten was revived with 25 – 30 children. They were nurtured with love by dedicated and skilled kindergarten teachers.

The activity network required a substantial budget. The school and kindergarten tuition covered only 50 – 60% of the budget. The activists had to knock on many doors – among them doors of institutions that were hostile to “Tarbut's” activities – to collect sufficient allotments and contributions to enable the operation of the many activities. The successful annual balls in Purim and Hannukah also brought some money to the budget.

From the group of “Tarbut” union activists, the noble and modest image of the chairman, Israel Kurfuerst, stands up. He acquired a lot of respect and affection from people from all walks of life. He was very active and together with others bore the burden consistently and decisively out of recognition of the role and the mission.

Over time, many other people joined “Tarbut”, among them students of the Batei Midrash who played a major role in the development of the movement in the city. These people contributed their vigor and education to the success and proliferation of “Tarbut”, which penetrated all layers of the population, particularly the assimilators' circles. It is deserving to mention some of these people. Zusia Wahler was an educated man who served as a “Ba'al Koreh” [Torah reader] at the big synagogue, the secretary of the Hebrew school, and a teacher at the evening lessons. His Shabbat afternoon lectures in front of the association members excelled in their content and format and attracted a large crowd.


“Maccabi” Hebrew School, 1909

[Columns 301-302]

Haiman arrived at “Tarbut” almost directly from the Beit HaMidrash. He was a single son of pious parents, received religious education, was a man with great skills, and was very perceptive. He excelled in his wit and ability to analyze problems, on which he lectured in “Tarbut” clubs. Weihraukh, Zeidman, Baras, and others were among “Tarbut” activists, who did not spare their time and energy for the association's activities. It is no wonder, therefore, that emissaries from Eretz Israel, authors, and journalists, found fertile ground in Ternopil for their cultural activities. Through their visits they enriched the Hebrew atmosphere in Ternopil. Journals and weekly newspapers could be found not only in the reading hall of Tarbut but also in tens of private homes. Hebrew books enjoyed wide distribution in Ternopil.


Committee of the Hebrew School in Ternopil, 1929
From right to left – sitting: Friedberg, Primer, Deutsch, Yaffe, Luner
Standing: Knopholtz, Tz. Greenspan, Wahler, Margolis

  Many of the activists managed to make Aliya, however, the connection with the members who remained in Ternopil was not cut off, and the fruitful work did not cease. The school principal, Greenspan Z”L, barely restrained himself from his passion for making Aliya since he recognized his essentiality in the city and his responsibility for the continuation of the cultural work in Ternopil.

In 1937, the author of these lines received a letter from Greenspan with a fiery soul outpouring filled with yearnings for Eretz Israel. Greenspan wrote about his strong desire to make Aliya and continue his activity in our homeland. However, the hand of the vile murderers got him. He and the rest of the activists and the best of the youth were annulated. The Holocaust put an end to their dream.

Their body was annihilated, but their spirit is hovering with us. They have been memorialized by their cultural ventures, which took root deep in the hearts of those who worked with them or were fortunate to learn the Torah from them and who made Aliya Israel. May their memory be blessed along with the rest of our nation's martyrs who were cut off before time by the barbarian murderers.

The Kindergarten of “Tarbut”

by Masha Ostern

Translated by Moshe Kutten

I will raise some memories from the kindergarten of “Tarbut” in Ternopil. When I arrived in 1930, I had already found a kindergarten operated for several years. It was located in the “Zamek” [Castle], a large house that served as a king's castle in the past, but nothing left of its magnificence. It was populated by many residents, most of whom were artisans, and small shopkeepers, who hardly made a living. When one of the residents' children became ill with a contagious disease, the kindergarten had to move out and look for a temporary apartment for a certain period.

[Columns 303-304]

The kindergarten's apartment served as a class of Hebrew lessons during regular days, and on Shabbat for gathering of “Tarbut” members. The furniture color faded from use, and the rest of the equipment was impoverished. Most of the children came from poor or middle-class homes, and their mother tongue was Yiddish and Polish. When I asked where are the children of the Jewish intelligentsia, I was told that there are in the Christian kindergarten. I recall the painful impression That this answer made on me. My first visit was to Christian kindergarten.


The Committee of the Kindergarten, 1934

From right to left: Kurfuerst, Z. Schekhter, Prin, Tutoress, Ostern


It was arranged very nicely in a decent apartment but I was shocked to see the Jewish children kneeling at the picture of the holy mother, together with the Christian children for morning prayer. I decided then to try my best to take our children from the Christian kindergarten.

I first began to improve our kindergarten to be worthy of its name. “Tarbut” rented two large and long rooms. After a long battle, explanations, and pleas, I finally managed to convince the cultural committee of the need to dedicate one of the rooms solely for the use of the kindergarten. I painted all the furniture myself, and the floor I painted red. I decorated the walls with pictures and placed pots and flowers on the windows. Unfortunately, there was no room for a garden because we did not have a yard. I gradually introduced all sorts of games and instruments. I followed Montefiore's method, whereby I built most of the instruments myself with the help of the children. I established a workshop for wood and other crafts. My goal was to begin the education of good pioneers for Eretz Israel at an early age.

I must note that I found understanding and dedication from the kindergarten committee. In the beginning, the number of children was low, and the tuition fees were insufficient to cover the expenses. The committee organized various activities to balance the budget. The main activity was the show by the children in the “Sokoll” hall in Hannukah. The educator in me objected strongly to the appearance of the children as “artists” in such a large hall full of strangers. I fought against such a show but did not prevail since it had already become a tradition. It also served as propaganda. The kindergarten committee overruled me. The Christian kindergarten also conducted a public show once a year.

The appearance of the children was successful in several aspects. After the show, dances and games were organized in the large hall with the participation of guest children. There was a rich and nicely organized snack bar, a large orchestra of wind instruments, and many other surprises. The women of “Tarbut” invested a substantial effort in organizing the ball. “Tarbut” halls were bustling like beehives, with members who came to help in the preparations for the ball. Everyone wanted that ball to succeed. Indeed, the ball covered all the deficits of the entire year.

I started an educational activity among the potential parents by conducting individual discussions, home visits, parents' gatherings, lectures about education in early childhood, national education, and value of our national holidays, the education towards work and social life, mutual aid, and more. I have to mention, with feelings of gratitude, Mrs. Shmorek, who was our regular lecturer at the parents' gatherings. She lectures on topics that I had difficulties with. As a result of these activities, a flow of the children of the Jewish intelligentsia ensued. They realized that even “Tarbut” can organize a kindergarten according to hygienic and pedagogical principles. We also were privileged to be visited and praised by the Christian supervisor from the government's education department. The number of children exceeded all estimates, and we were forced to hire a helper.

I should mention here a daring trip that I organized on the “Lag BaOmer” holiday. I rented several cabs, and we decorated them with our national flags. Every child was dressed in white and was holding a bow decorated in blue and white. We invited the available mothers, sat down in the cabs, drove through streets with deafening singing, and went to the “Gaia” (A forest distanced several kilometers from the city). We spent several hours there, playing games, eating a festive meal, and singing. We went back home in high spirits. That daring trip was a subject for conversion by all.

The kindergarten was a big center for the youth, members of “Tarbut”. I had many volunteers helping to prepare instruments and games before every celebration. We spent many pleasant evenings on improvement and enhancement work. Dear and delightful youth grew up in Ternopil, dedicated to national ideas.

During my four years of work in Ternopil, I became attached and fell in love with the city. Some of my students reached Eretz Israel as children with their parents, and I also followed their progress here. However, most of them were annihilated by the defiled hand. May their memory be blessed.

[Columns 305-306]

The Jewish Theater in Ternopil

by Dr. Moshe Fiol

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Ternopil, the district city of Ternopil of forty thousand people, did not have regular Polish or Ukrainian theaters. From time to time, some troupes bothered to appear in our city from the outside, but with little success. Their success was limited because they stayed with us only a short period and were not popular except for the intelligentsia circles. The approach of the Jewish public to the theater was completely different. Ternopil Jews got to see different troupes, from popular troupes to the best representatives of the theater world. The Jewish artists sometimes stayed whole seasons in the city, and when they were about to leave, new troupes were waiting at the gates, announcing their future shows. I remember seasons when two troupes appeared at the same time. Besides theater troupes, prominent artists appear from the outside, as well as local semi-amateurish artists.

Before the First World War, the shows were mainly held in a hall, which the people called the “Schloss”. After that, they usually rented the Ukrainian theater building “Bratztva Mishchenskia” for the shows until the building became the permanent location for the Jewish theater. The Polish theater “Sokol” was also made available for Jewish artists after the First World War. Only when the state of the Jews became more distressed, the Jewish theater had to move to the movie theater and the Polish workers' club “Gaviazde”.

The remarkable appreciation the Jewish public in our city had shown toward the theater, either as spectators or by working on the stage, can be attributed not only to the fondness for the spoken Jewish language, jokes, and folklore but also to the unique geographical position of the city.

Ternopil was located not far from Galitsia's capital, Lviv, which served as the center for many theaters. Also, the short distance to the Russian border was an advantage, as Russian Jewish artists considered Ternopil their first artistic stop on their way abroad. The fondness the wandering artists received from us in Ternopil influenced their decision to elongate their stay in the city. As an example, we should mention the artistic couple Felpeda [?] who, after the First World War, intended to just pass through the city to other places and even held contracts from Jewish theaters in the US. However, from the first moment of residing in Ternopil, they felt the warm cultural atmosphere that encircled them. The local artists held on to them for two seasons and appeared together. When the couple left the city, the local troupe continued with more vigor and energy in its theatrical activity.

That theatrical club, which took the initiative in its hands, was close, in its spirit and status to the professional guilds. The actors were commoners, who worked in workshops during the day, gathered in the evenings, and busied themselves with their artistic work, which they considered a holy mission. Here is the place to praise those dear people who did not let any political element take over their artistic aspirations. They did not separate between proletarian and any other art. They even assisted other drama clubs we will mention below.

We will remember these dear people in their heartfelt simplicity. How high-souled these commoners were! With deep intuition and sincere love for the art, they fulfilled their aspiration. These were: The brothers Strusler, Emil Schorr, Kaufman, Hennig, Weizer, and Mrs. Luftig. May their memory be blessed.

The years following the First World War brought with them the formation of a new theater in the Jewish world. The echoes of Vilna Troupe and the artistic theaters in Warsaw, Moscow, and New York arrived in the city. Only a short while later, these famous theaters appeared in Ternopil. People from all walks of life visited the popular theaters and enjoyed

[Columns 307-308]

Goldfaden's plays “Akedat Yitzkahk” [“Binding of Isaac”] and “Shulamith”. The intelligentsia preferred the new artistic theater. That was the first time the words of the great dramatists, such as Romain Rolland, Hayermans, Nikolai Gogol, Moliere, and others, could be heard from the stage in Yiddish. That was also the first-time people in the city saw the original plays and comedies by Ansky, Asch, Wajter, Nomberg, Shalom Aleikhem, and others.

The high artistic level of the new theater impressed the intellectual spectators, so much so that a group of students who wished to follow the artistic theater was organized. That was how the academic drama troupe “Ansky” was established. Jewish male and female students who were originally distanced from the Jewish national language and culture immersed themselves in serious artistic work. To gain experience on the stage, they began showing easy plays. After acquiring the language and stage experience, they became a meaningful studio that no longer ascribed importance to the number of plays but their quality. Thus, the preparations began for the famous play - “HaAverkh MeVilna” [“The Young Man of Vilna”, or in Yiddish - “Der Vilner Balebesl”] by Mark Arenstein. The play was chosen not only due to its great literacy value but also because of the large number of characters, which allowed many actors to gain experience. Among the participants in that play, some had already endeared themselves to the audience with their acclaimed talent. First and foremost, we should mention Emil Blishtift Z“L. That assimilating student, who initially did not even know Yiddish, became an enthusiastic follower of the Jewish culture. He distanced himself from any other occupation and dedicated himself, without any reservation, to the Jewish theater. The others etched in my memory were: Levinkron, Liebergal, the brothers Gelber, Mrs. Simi Ger, and Mrs. Nagler, may their memory be blessed, and Kornblit and Kinstler, may they live long, who headed the troupe. We should also mention the former professional actor Mr. Peled Z“L who served as the volunteer director for some time. We should also note the academic association “Bar Kokhba, where most of the participants came from, and also allowed the club's rehearsals to be held in their hall.

The intelligentsia and other layers of the Jewish population flocked to see these shows. Professional actors from the professional Jewish and Polish theaters often attended the shows. There is no doubt the repertoire of the drama clubs greatly influenced the repertoire of the professional theaters. Thus, advertisements for the plays by Ansky - “The Dybbuk” and “Day and Night”, Gutzkov - “Uriel D'akosta” and Asch - “Esh Nekamot” [“God of Vengeance”], and others began to appear.

During the time when the two drama clubs experienced successes, the idea came about that for the advancement of the common goal it would be


Students of the Dramatical Troupe “Ansky” in Ternopil, 1923

[Columns 309-310]

The Dramatical Club “Hatikvah”, 1925


beneficial to unify. That was how the partition between the two clubs fell, and a unified troupe, under the management of the author of these lines, was established. The first and only literary theater began its operation in the city. Credit must be given to the theater for a whole series of successes. It would be sufficient to mention part of its repertoire to get some idea about the amount of work. In the winter season of 1927, the following plays appeared: “Two Hundred Thousand” and “It is hard to be a Jew” by Shalom Aleikhem, “The Eternal Wandering Jew” and “The Singer of His Sorrow” [In Yiddish - “Der Zinger fun zayn Troyer”] by Osip Dymov [pseudo name of Isidorovich Perelman], “The Last Days of our Lives” by Andreyev, “Motkeh the Thief” [in Yiddish - “Motkeh Ganev”] by Asch, “The Village Boy” [in Yiddish - “Yankel Boyle oder Der Dorfs-Yung”] by Kobrin, and “The Wall” [in Yiddish- “Di Vant”] by Segalovitz. Besides the big plays, we organized, on various occasions, literary evenings, where we played poems and stories by Bialik, Peretz, and others. We also showed plays in Polish for the youth who did not understand Yiddish.

At some point, Polish actors turned to us with a proposal to collaborate on showing the “Dybbuk” in the Polish language. However, the general atmosphere was unsuitable for such a collaborative project. At that same time, clouds appeared in the sky of the Polish Jewry. The air became thicker and thicker, and the approaching storm was felt. The Poles stopped renting halls for Jews. The censor demanded to receive a Polish translation of every play. Hopelessness prevailed, and the youth began to dream about leaving the country. The Zionist organizations grew from one day to another, and the desire to immigrate strengthened. The gray days blackened until the 1st of September 1939, when the end to everything came.

[Columns 311-312]

Wolfstahl Family


“Wolfstahl Orchestra”

by M. Sh. Geshuri

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Ternopil people are boasting, until today, about the musical Wolfstahl family that gave great pleasure to the people of Ternopil with its music. The founder of the family, Khoneh Wolfstahl (1851 – 1924), was born in Tysmenytsia near Stanislaw [today Ivano-Frankivsk] to his cantor father. The latter was a good player and loved music. Instilled that love in his seven sons. Troubled by worries about their livelihood, the family settled in Ternopil, where they organized themselves as the “Wolfstahl Orchestra”.

As a child, Wolfstahl sang in a chorus with his brothers under his father, the cantor. Thanks to his compositions, the band, which traveled around and played in rich people and Admors' courts, acquired substantial fame in Galitsia, particularly in Ternopil, where it played for many years.

Wolfstahl was autodidact in music. He did not receive any music education until his service in the [Austrian] army as a military musician. During his military service, Wolfstahl composed several military marches, waltzes, and other dance melodies. His compositions were played by military orchestras throughout Habsburg's kingdom.

For his brothers to play his compositions, he was forced to send them to foreign composers. Only after these compositions were issued under foreign names, the brothers could include them in their reportorial. Wolfstahl did not publish these compositions in print. Only a few were preserved by some orchestras. Most of them were forgotten or remained under the name of other composers.

Wolfstahl's true passion was discovered in the Jewish theater when he served as a conductor of Ya'akov Ber Gimpel's chorus. He wrote compositions for the theatrical operettas: “Satan as a Savior” by Moshe Schorr, “R' Yehuda HaLevi”, “Bat Yerushalaim” [“Jerusalem Daughter”], and “Bustanai” [“Orchardist”] by Yitzkhak Auerbakh, and “Queen Sheba” and “HaNeshef Hakomi" [“The Comical Ball”] [the name of the play in the article - “The Comic Bal” seems to be erroneous]. These operettas held on for years as part of the repertoire of the Jewish theaters in Eastern and Western Europe. Many of Wolfstahl's melodies were sung by the people as folklore melodies.

Due to his poor financial situation, he was forced to play day and night. Wolfstahl was forced to organize his own ensemble, have a tour throughout Galitsia and Bukovina, and also played in Budapest and Berlin. In the end, the ensemble disbanded and he settled with his family in Lviv. During the First World War, Wolfstahl resided in Vienna and conducted the Jewish theater Orchestra there. After the war, he returned to Lviv and played at weddings and cafes. During the pogroms in Lviv, the artists café, where he usually played, was destroyed, and he was left without a means to make a living.


Marcus Wolfstahl

Marcus Wolfstahl was a great musician from the same family, who resided in Ternopil, and gave music lessons, including cantors. One of his students was the cantor Mordekhai Shnormakher, a native of Drohobych. The latter studied with Marcus to play the contrabass. When he gained a bass voice, after losing his young voice, he began to sing with the local cantor in Ternopil, Nisan from Odesa, who was a great musician. Marcus Wolfstahl resided in Ternopil for a long time. From there he moved to Lviv, where he learned to play the piano with the Polish pianist Yartzki. He also studied harmony and other musical areas with the conductor of the Lviv Orchestra, Badenstein. After he learned to speak German, he moved to America and served as a cantor there.

[Columns 313-314]

Khone Wolfstahl

by Karl Rothaus[1]

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Many eventful years have passed in my life, which I devoted to music. I began playing in my childhood. I still remember those initial days when a good angel stood by my cradle – a man with a royal beard, in the style of [the emperor] Franz Joseph. His blue eyes shined on a pleasant face that sang melodies, with a nicely carved nose, and a forehead of a distinguished musician.


Khone Wolfstahl


The man was respectable and possessed good manners. His hands caressed me like warm father's hands, and his fingers were musician's fingers proficient in all instruments, especially the violin and cello.

Sometimes, during the snow and freeze-filled fall mornings, I encountered Khone Wolfstahl while passing through Sobieski Square, marching home. He entertained the audience during the entire night and played dance melodies with his band until the light of day. Then, with the violin half-hidden under his coat's wings, close to his heart, he marched home while his big galoshes creaked in the snow. I greeted him, feeling guilty: I went out on my way to school following a pleasant sleep and a hearty meal, while my uncle had to earn his living “in that way”. There was always an apologetic undertone in his response since he knew that people did not appreciate his work.

When I started my daily studies of Greek, Roman, and history literature, Khone would arrive home, drink coffee, and rest for a few hours. His apartment, situated within our spacious house, was very small: one bedroom and a small kitchen. When he was resting from the endless rehearsals playing Waltzes, Polkas, and quartets, his wife Sara, would sit down idle to avoid disturbing him. She did not even dare to read a book. Indeed, who wants to read a book in the morning? A while later, she would glance at her watch and sneak quietly out to go shopping. Upon her return, she would already find him sitting at the kitchen table writing music notes. Composing music brought comfort to his delicate soul but also the curse of obsession, passion, and meager living.

Khone Wolfstahl never got the chance to study music. His entire music education was acquired while serving in the [Austrian] army. That was where he learned how to play all of the instruments, organize and conduct an orchestra, and compose his new compositions.

In his civil life, while he played as a member of a “Kley Zemer” [musical band], he became a father of four. He was then tasked with the difficult role of making a living for his family by music involvement only: playing violin and cello, solo or in a band, playing dancing music, playing classical and classical-like music on orchestra's instruments, and composing music on commission. For a fee of ten coronas, he would organize a band of four musicians. To best harmonize the tones, he would incorporate a violin, flute, harp, and double bass. For an additional charge of 4 coronas, he would add some players, for example, one or two violins, a double bass, and a flute. Concerning the program, Khone would incorporate music from different backgrounds: old melodies, Jewish songs, parts of modern operettas, and ending with mazurkas. Khone would prepare the program for every band and perform the following night.

He would compose melodies deep in his heart, filled with the warmth and dedication of a true artist. Everything he touched, was involved music: Roses' Waltz for his daughter's birthday, a polonaise-styled glorification song for a Polish noble (Prince Sapieha), and story tales using amusing rhymes for a little child.

Khone considered receiving money for music compositions, an insipid matter. He was tortured by sleeplessness, lived in poverty and under pressure, and swallowed his wife's silent reprimands, only to be able to sit down and compose his melodies.

He struck luck when the manager of a Jewish theater, where he and his orchestra often played, noticed him. The head of the theater in Lamberg [Lviv] decided to allow Khone the opportunity to show his ability;

[Columns 315-316]

The theater captured the heart and mind of the music composer.

Allow me to note that I am not seeing the Jewish theater with an evil eye. The “Brody Singers”, and the folk plays by Gordin were etched in my memory as the birthplace of pure Jewish art. As a youth, I experienced the events and experiences of life's light and shadows at the Gimpel's theater. There was where I learned to laugh and cry with the play's characters.

When Khone was tasked with the new role, a bountiful spring of melodies, hymns, waltzes, and polkas was awakened in him. The new theater of “a drameh mit tantz un gezang” (Jewish drama with dance and singing) was born. Khone prepared the libretto, composed the music, and wrote the music notes. Rehearsals were conducted and repeated, and the performance was entirely at the hand of my uncle, Khone Wolfstahl. I recall the plays: “Bat Yerushalaim” [“Jerusalem Daughter”], “Bustanai” [“Orchardist”], and “Shalosh Matanot” [“Three Presents”].

The musicals were ordered and the wage was paid in cash. According to my memory, Gimpel paid 200 coronas for each musical, and he gained all rights to it. The sum was agreed upon when Wolfstahl was ordered by his physician to travel to Carlsbad for four weeks of therapy. The costs associated with such a trip, including the taxes, physician's fees, and travel expenses, were estimated to be 200 coronas, and that was the sum requested by Khone as a wage for his work. He did not request a penny more.

The publishers did not show any interest in these compositions and plays, so Khone did not gain any additional encouragement or publicity. However, the songs, melodies, and ideas, began to appeal to the Jews in all countries Jews resided. Sometimes, Khone Wolfstahl's name was mentioned, however, his name was omitted. Nobody paid attention to that except Khone's wife, whose heart was broken because of that. However, she learned to stay silent and share the fate of the true artist and skillful composer. Besides, she knew that it was beyond Khone's ability to change things around and that he was happy with what he got.

The circumstances and events occurring over time changed his life, in a way they did for the entire world. During the First World War, I saw Khone among the refugees in Vienna as a wonderer and homeless, but he also enjoyed the atmosphere of musical Vienna.

When the war was over, here returned to his city, Lamberg [Lviv]. I visited him there. His apartment was located in a gloomy building in the corner of the yard. Metal scraps were scattered whole over the yard and a sign was hung on the wall: “The office of Robfogel Zonena and Partners”. The door opened on the second floor into a narrow and dark room. From beyond the table, I saw the kind face of my uncle, Khone Wolfstahl. I spent hours with him, his wife, and his daughter Rosa. I felt that the time came for the publication of his compositions. I hind as much to him, but he was undecided and hesitant in his response, so the matter was postponed.

* * *

Ternopil, the birth city of Khone (and mine), the city in the Austro-Hungary kingdom, ceased to exist. Since then, it transferred to the hands of the Poles, Ukrainians, and Poles again, conquered by the Germans and then, the Russians, who were rumored to name the city Tomashinkgrad. And the Jews, whom Khone lived among, and for whom he composed his music, where are they? Many of his generation, his friends and admirers, perished in the Holocaust. Only a few survived. Some are scattered in European countries, and some arrived in New York, but, most of the surviving remnants reached the safe shores of our homeland in Israel. The time has come for us to gather his compositions and publish them so that they remain in the hands of the nation in Israel.

Book Editor's Note:

  1. When this hearty article about Khone Wolfstahl was prepared for print (December 1954), we received the news about its author's death. Karl Rothaus, a native of Ternopil, was a prodigy. He played the piano from the age of five, and compose his first musical composition at the age of seven. His name is associated with an unbreakable bond with the history of the modern Hebrew theater due to his famous composition he wrote for the play “Uriel Acosta”, and the less–known music for “Shylok” played at [Israeli National Theater] “HaBima”. He composed many symphonies, chamber compositions, operas, and ballets. With the eruption of the Second World War, he moved to the US. He taught and guided a whole generation of young musicians, and served as the vice president of the International Music Corporation for Modern Music. Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Ternopil, Ukraine     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 7 Oct 2022 by MGH