by Dr. Abraham Stupp
Tluste was a town like all other Jewish towns in Galicia. Out of a population of three thousand there were about two thousand Jews. For many years the mayor, Eli Albin, was Jewish. Eli Albin was a rich Jew and the owner of many estates, some that he owned and some that he leased. His face was adorned with a handsome beard, and he built the most beautiful and the most expensive house in Tluste.
The town's clerk, Kanper, was also a Jew and he served in his position for many years. Two or three non Jewish policemen ruled the town on behalf of the municipality. Each one of them wore a uniform and carried a sword by his thigh. The most recognized by the public was the old policeman Bodnarski, the owner of the drum one of the town's most important accessories. Equipped with his drum, Bodnarski went out to announce and inform all kinds of information on behalf of the town: when the young people must enlist to military service, when to register the children for school, when to bring the babies for a smallpox inoculation, the closing of roads and bridges for traffic due to repair work, and other important information of that sort. Bodnarski had an extra merit, as he announced his announcements in the spoken languages, in Yiddish, and all the members of the town from the young to the old were able to understand his words.
Until the days of our generation, the Jews who lived in those towns were subjected to a difficult lifestyle within the walls of customs and habits that had ruled their lives for hundreds of years. These lifestyles, and the customs that were created out of them, ruled the lives of the Jews day after day, from morning to night. And so it continued from generation to generation for hundreds of years. When we come today to write something about the life of a Jewish town in Galicia, two different kinds of Jews who belong to two different periods of time, are standing before our eyes: the first period lasted from the first days of the Jewish settlement until the days of the First World War; and the second period, from the end of the First World War until the days of holocaust and destruction. For that reason, a Jew who was born in 1897, at the end of the 19th century, can try to describe the two different kinds of Jews who are mentioned above, because he himself lived and acted during those periods which are different from each other.
In a town like Tluste, a Jewish child started to feel his Judaism when he reached the age of three. At that age, he was sent to the Heder [religious elementary school] to learn the alphabet. It was not required by law or influenced by any kind of organization. Every Jew knew that it was his duty to make sure that his son received a traditional Jewish education.
I studied at Aba Melamed [teacher]. He started to educate me according to the system that was customary in those days, with the help of his assistant Leybush. The system was very old. A large number of schoolchildren spent all the hours of the day in the Heder, immersed in their games. Twice a day, the rabbi and his helper brought the children in and taught them the letters of the alphabet. To do that the rabbi held two instruments in his hands: a Teitel [a pointer] made out of wood to point to the letters in the Siddur, and a Kantshik a kind of a whip that was used to punish disobedient students. Without these two instruments he did not earn the title the primary teacher. There was a third educational instrument that was used very seldom. It was an old Shtayrml [a furedged hat, worn by rabbis and Hasidic Jews on the Sabbath and holidays], that he put on the head of the delinquent child who stood in the corner for an hour as a punishment for his crimes. Outside of school hours, children spent their time playing games. Beside the game of horses and other children's games, we had a unique job in Rabbi Aba's Heder. In front of the house there was a round stone, and bricks of different colors were scattered around it. So, the Heder boys started to produce flour in different colors by crushing the bricks on the stone. We came home from this job with an eye infection, and our mothers had to put cold towels on our eyes to cure the results of the strange flourgrinding work at our rabbi's home.
And so we continued our studies and advanced from month to month. I remember when I was already a young man of five and went to pray with my own prayer book. A respected old Jewish man, Aytzik Fiderer of blessed memory, approached my father and said in this language: Reb Moshe, your young man is showing off his Judaism and turning it into a heap of……. All of my life I was not able to forgive this old Jewish man, although with my many sins he was right in his judgment…
When a boy reached the age of five he started to study the Chomash [one of the five books of Pentateuch]. It was the highest possible step in the primary teacher class. Two other steps preceded it and they were called: half a step and a full step. After that, they started to study the Chomash. This matter entailed a full ceremony for which they practiced for many weeks. First they started to study the book of Vayikra [the book of Leviticus], which was explained in a very simple way: since the book dealt with the rules of Holiness and the Jewish children who started the Chomash were the holy flock that would study it. This reason was expressed by the One who asked and by the One who blessed in the Chomash ceremony, and the two duties were given to two of the Chomash boys' friends. The three of them climbed on a table and the ceremony took place in front of all the participants. For the duration of the ceremony a number of watches, which were borrowed from the guests, were hung on the chest of the hero of the day. I remember that I did not finish the whole ceremony. When it was my time to climb on the table with two of my friends, my father's friends changed their mind and did not let me climb up for fear of the evil eye…. and so, the three of us were left with our words inside us and we not given the opportunity to say them. But the matter did not bother me later on in my studies, and did not prevent me from studying in the Heder until I reached the age of 17, as it is going to be told hereinafter.
Since I saw myself as one of the last Mohicans of the typical Heder boys, I want to note how unprepared and unqualified our teachers were. Not once they repeated words that they learned in their youth, without thinking about the meaning of the words or understanding what they were saying. Their interpretation of the Chomash expression Shesh Moshzar[twined linen] was twisted and spun, believe me, even today I don't know what was spun and what was twisted. Another example: the Rabbi translated the word Nad [skin bottle] to raw skin. I am sure that the rabbi himself, may he forgive me, never saw the shape of raw skin in his life, and did not know what it looked like. Some years later, when I lived in Israel, I saw an Arab carrying cold water in a black skinbottle, and I knew that that's what the rabbi was talking about. Or for example, the rabbi translated the word Tiger to Lempert [a lion cheetah]. Many years later, after I left for the big world, I visited one of the big city's zoos. When I saw the word Leopard posted next to one of the animals, I thought to myself that this is the animal that our rabbi called by the name Lempert. I am still wondering today where our rabbi found the explanation of Rashi's words: The Lord created the sun and it shone hotly from her case, the rabbi translated the words from her case to from her ring. Even today, I can't imagine the shape of the ring that the sun is incased in. I also remember another incident. I was maybe eight years old when we studied Mesechet Ketuvot, I think it was written on page seven or eight, I am a virgin deflowered by accident, and Rashi interpreted it as: In the same place. My friend Yodele' Meimen wanted to know the meaning of In the same place and, instead of an answer he received two slaps on his cheek that are still ringing in my ears.
My first public appearance during the period of my studies in the Heder happened eight years after I started to study the Chomash, when I read my sermon before a large audience on my BarMitzvha. My mother of blessed memory prepared the meal for my BarMitzvah as though she was getting ready for a large wedding. She cooked and baked all night. At noon, all the worshipers from Chortkov's Hassidim synagogue gathered, and during the meal I read my long sermon which my teacher and rabbi of that time, Rabbi Zalman Kelman, wrote for me. This time they let me say my words, and a number of guests argued with me. For the event, they dressed me in a new black silk coat with pockets in the back. My father also wanted to buy me a fur hat, but I refused. I did not want to be the only boy in town whose head was covered with such a hat.
From my years of study in Aba Melamed's Heder, I remember the three holidays that only we, the Heder students, celebrated. From time to time, we went together with the rabbi's helper to recite the Shema by the bed of a woman who had just given birth. It was done to protect the newborn from evil spirits and demons. Surely, the child's father did not trust us, and he pasted all kind of swear words against demons and evil spirits on the walls. Once a year, on Lag Ba'Omer, all the students went out of town to Mount Sinai. Each one of us was equipped with a stick in memory of the destruction and we staged a war to commemorate the heroism of Rabbi Akiva's students during the revolt days of BarKokhba. The third holiday was Tu B'shvat, when we ate the fruits of Eretz Yisrael.
Of the importance of protecting a mother and her infant from evil spirits, I can tell from my own personal experience. Surely, for the sake of the truth, my personality at that time was not highly measured, since I was only a baby of three or four days. The words that I am telling here were given to me by my mother may she rest in peace during my childhood around sixty years ago and, according to her words, the story was as follows: A few days after my birth, when she was still confined to her bed, the members of the family went out and left her alone in the room. Suddenly, the door opened and a tiny Ashkenazi with a hard hat on his head entered. In a loud and scolding voice he demanded my mother to give him the baby. It turned out that my mother did not give him the boy but screamed with all her might and called for help. The neighbors gathered to the sound of her screaming, among them Jews dressed with the Four Fringes. When they saw that my mother was as pale as chalk, holding her baby as tight as she could (meaning me), they all started to callShema Yisrael! and the tiny Ashkenazi disappeared, not through the door, just vanished in the air vanished and was no longer there. The neighbors understood that it was not just a matter of so what, but the situation was very serious… And now you need to arrive at your own conclusion, what could have happened if the Jews with the fringes had not come to call Shema Yisrael! I am afraid that someone else would need to bother himself and describe our town on the pages of this book…
And so, the first three years passed in the company of the infant teacher. In the sixth year of his life, the boy was given to the first Gemara teacher. There were a number of teachers of that kind in our town: my teacher was called Rabbi Kehet, a Jew with a handsome beard and eyes the color of copper. On the same day there was a small party in our house, and I was given my first Gemara, the Baba Mezia tractate in white fabric binding. And so, I sailed and went swimming in the great and wonderful Talmud sea, sailing that lasted from the first Mishna Two are holding on to a garment… to the seventeenth year of my life.
But not only the study of the Gemara was a new trade, there was a difference between the studies with R' Kehet and the studies with the primary teacher. Also the study of the Chomash, which we started with the primary teacher, received a new structure and a new meaning. We were not forced to explain and translate the words in the known version, but we had to show that we fully understood the meaning of the subject. Whoever studied in the Heder would never forget the special melody in which the rabbi explained the contents and the meaning of the written words in parashat Vayechi&3148; And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me, and it seems to me, that the words should be written in the book as clear and interrupted as it came from the mouth of our rabbi, R' Kehet.
And I and I am Yakov, when I came came from Paddan it is PaddanAram died passed away, unto me because of me, Rachel Rachel Imenu… Although, that I trouble you to take me to be buried in the land of Canaan, though, I did not do so for your mother… and I know that there are hard feelings in your heart against me, but you should know that by the words I buried her there so that she should be of aid to her children… and so, we went and interpreted the wonderful interpretation of Rashi: … and when Nebuzaradan would exile them and they would pass through by way of her tomb, Rachel would go out onto her grave and weep and seek mercy for them, as it is said (Jeremiah 31) A voice is heard in Ramah… and the Almighty answered her: for there is reward for your work, says the Lord and the children shall return to their own border.
And the rabbi explained and we learned to interpret the words. And, in this way, the difficult feelings of enslavement in the Diaspora and the hope for a brilliant future And thy sons shall return to their borders entered our tender hearts. In the winter, as we walked home in the evening to the light of the flickering lamp and we were only sevenyearold boys then we saw in our imagination Yakov Avinu [our Patriarch] walking from FadanAram, we saw Rachel's tombs by the road side, and a beautiful tall woman with long black hair was standing next to it (that's how the image of our Mother Rachel was pictured in my imagination), and she stretched her arms pleading before Gd, as written A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children… and the young boy's heart was full of pride and happiness for all that he studied in the Heder, for the wonderful feelings and images, in which none of the gentile boys who lived around him took part.
Our Rabbi R' Kehet thought that, in addition to teaching us a page in the Gemara, he also needed to teach us the art of writing. First, he taught us to write the AlephBet and, later on, he prepared a weekly written sample that we had to copy every day of the week. At the top of the page our rabbi wrote ‘With Gd Help' in handsome curly letters, but none of us was able to write it that way. So, we only copied the contents of the script and, while doing so, we managed to stain our clothes with ink to such degree that our mothers were forced to prepare a new washed and ironed suit every morning. Also our fingers were black after this work.
At the end of our studies with the teacher R' Kehet, we started to study with R' Shmuel Naman. It was a higher level of study, and we ploughed deeper into the Talmud for the beginners, R' Shmuel's apartment was next to the Rabbi's apartment, and I remember how our Rabbi entered almost every day to check the details of the subject of study. R' Shmeul's motherinlaw was called Sara, a daughter of a good family by the townspeople, because all her days she was looking for the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. Her husband did not belong to the town's rich, but she always remembered where a hungry sick person was lying, and brought him a little cholent, and where to give a few coins for food. In the room of R' Shmuel Naman there were many young men and it was necessary to make sure that they washed their hands before the meal and said their prayer, and for that she brought them the water and poured it on their hands. And the Mishnayoth in Beit Ha'Midrash needed to be replaced and it was her duty to make sure that a new one would be purchased. In short, she was the real image of Sara, a daughter from a good family.
After I finished my studies with R' Shmuel Naman, my father tried to bring teachers for me from other towns. They were highly educated Jews who tried to give us some of their knowledge, although it was not done in an organized system and without an explanation to the historical facts that were connected to the subject. The class was very small, only four or five students, and there were two problems: we had to provide food for the rabbi and also find an apartment for him. Since my father was interested in buying a good study friend for me, sometimes he had to provide my friend's share of the rabbi's food if my friend was unable to pay. Finding a room for the rabbi was also not easy. I remember how I walked with my friend both of us were eight or nine to find an apartment for the rabbi. We also spent all hours of the day studying in that apartment until the late hours of the evening. I remember the names of two Jews who used to rent apartments to teachers from out of town: Yosel Haim Glezer and R' Mendale Dulig. This Heder did not have a legal license, and we were always under the fear that perhaps a policeman would surprise us while we studied. If we saw a policeman through the window, the Gemaras were closed and the students went out for a walk. For us, the students, it was very good and comfortable if we found a policeman at least once a week, and to our bad luck it happened only once every two months.
My education was illegal to a certain point. Every year, my father received a notice from the authorities to send me to the general school that was established by Baron Hirsh. But every year he paid a fine of Ten Crowns and never thought of sending me to that school. He was firm in his decision that he had to find a teacher to teach me the art of writing and mathematics, and that the rest of my time should be dedicated to the studies of the Gemara and Posekim. With the teachers, who came from other towns, we went through a good portion of the six orders of the Mishna. In addition, we studied Meginim and Yoreh De'ah [one of the four parts of Sulhan Aruch]. As I found out, not many youngsters studied that way or were rewarded to study with such excellent teachers, but a good portion of the town's Jews educated their sons in that manner. Young men, who finished their studies with the town's teachers, always sat in groups in Beit Ha'Midrash and also in the synagogues of the Chortkov Hassidim and the Vishnitz Hassidim and studied on their own.
All these young men, when they reached the age of twentyone, had to present themselves for a test before a military drafting board, not only once, but three times in a period of three years. Since no one wanted to spend three years as a soldier in the Kaiser's army, they used to suffer a few weeks before the test. At night the sufferers walked around in groups, singing and shouting in order to stay wake. Out of mischief, they stopped at their relatives' homes in order to wake them up from their sleep. Others went farther in order to be exempt from military service. Some mutilated their bodies and lived all of their lives blind in one eye or with two fingers attached to their palm.
The teaching in the Heder was mostly dedicated to the study of the Gemara, and there was no understanding of other studies. In all my years in the Heder I did not study grammar, and chapters from the Bible were hastily taught before the rabbi went to pray Mincha and Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers]. It was customary that the rabbi prayed with the public, and we boys were left in the Heder. After the rabbi returned from his prayers we sat down to study. In the winter we studied until eight in the evening. In order to walk home in the dark winter nights, the parents purchased lanterns for their children. There were different kinds of lanterns: a simple one with a candle for light, and a better quality one with a small oil lamp and a small fixed mirror behind it. Not once, when the older boys dealt with the small oil lamp, the kerosene caught on fire and the fire spread to lantern owner's coat. Then, they had to remove it from the child's hand and immediately save his life. And so the studies continued year after year in the winter season.
Also at home the air was saturated with the smell of the Torah, but in a different way than the Heder. After the evening meal was finished, and the family members went to bed, my father of blessed memory pulled the lamp down, opened the Gemara and sat down to study his lesson in an enthusiastic melody. Every evening I fell asleep to the sound of his singing, and the taste of that melody stayed with me all the days of my life.
This was the substance of the life of a Heder boy, and there was nothing else beside it. I remember my father's attitude towards one of my pranks that brought me a lot of pleasure. In the winter evenings, when we sat and waited for the rabbi to come back from the synagogue, the boys went out to the nearest hill and sled downhill. And it happened that one of my father's friends saw me in my corrupt behavior and told my father. In my father's eyes, it was a terrible and dreadful crime, and he explained at length that the practice of sliding on my buttocks was not proper. I had to promise him with a handshake that I would never do it again. And surely, since then, I abstained from this pleasure and did not touch a sled.
Not all the town's Jews were Hassidim. There were also simple Jews, who usually prayed in the Great Synagogue and in Beit Ha'Midrash. But many of Tluste's Jews gathered in the Hassidic synagogues that were called kloizen [the kloiz often represented the professions and the association of its worshippers]. The largest kloiz belonged to the Hassidim from Chortkov [Czortków]. The Great Synagogue and Beit Ha'Midrash stood to its right and to its left. A little farther up, next to the road, stood the Zaleszczyki Hassidim kloiz. The Kleizel [small kloiz] of the Vizhnitz Hassidim was located inside Beit Ha'Midrash.
I still remember the building of the old Beit Ha'Midrash, with its cracked walls and low roof that the town's goat walked on with great pleasure. Later on, our townswoman, Rivke Braksmier, woke up and donated ten thousand Crowns for the construction of a new building. A sign with golden letters was posted on the facade, and it said: for eternal memory, Rivke Braksmier donated the money for the building of the new Beit Midrash. There was also a sign on the Chortkov Hassidim kloiz, but the letters were not golden but painted in black, and it was written: Chortkov's kloiz, its glory was renewed in the year… for many years the sign hung on the wall for all to see, and the kloiz's worshipers, most of them great scholars, did not realize that the inscription was not according to the correct grammar.
The town's Jews gathered in Beit Ha'Midrash and in the kloizen twice a day. There were three days a year when the synagogue looked different: First on YomKippur on that day the floor was covered with a layer of straw because the worshipers took their shoes off and walked only in their socks. The second, on Tisha BeAv [the Ninth of Av] first of all the benches were turned, and the worshipers sat on the turned benches, as low as they possibly could. The chandeliers were not lit, and by the dull light of a few candles they sat and lamented the destruction of the holy temple. There were Jews who cried, and there were Yeshiva boys who threw thorns on the worshipers, inside their beards and side curls in order to add misery to their sorrow. The third time was during the holiday of Shavuot. Then, the synagogue was decorated with greens, green branches and flowers, in remembrance of Mount Sinai where the Jews received their Torah.
And when we stand on the affairs of YomKippur, it is worth mentioning the tradition of the lighting of the YomKippur candles. It was a law, and every Jewish family had to prepare two big wax candles one for the living and the second for the dead who reside in the next world. The candle making ceremony started by the inserting the wicks. The expert was an elderly woman, and the wicks were inserted in her house while the proper pleas were said during the act. A few days before YomKippur, my mother went to her house and when she returned her eyes were red from crying. One of the two candles was lit at home on YomKippur eve, and the second was taken to the synagogue and was lit over there. Boxes full of sand stood on the tables and the candles were inserted in it. It is easy to assume that hundreds of burning candles did not do good to the quality of the air in the synagogue, but everyone came to the same agreement that we must light the candles in memory of the dead. Viktor, the gentile cemetery keeper, walked all day in the synagogue and straightened the bent candles. On the conclusion of YomKippur we took what was left of the candles home. We tried to take the candles while they were still burning. The candle stub was used during the year as a Havdalah candle on the conclusion of the Sabbath.
On YomKippur eve, during the morning hours, we waved the Kaparot. A white rooster or a white hen was prepared for each member of the family. During the waving of the Kaparot we said a special prayer People who sit in darkness and deep shadows at the end of the prayer, the fowl was waved above our heads while we said: This is my exchange, this is my substitute. During the event, the chicken looked at the large letters in the prayer book without understanding the meaning of the matter. From here came the slogan: He is looking like a rooster who is looking at people.
Before RoshHashanah and before YomKippur, we woke up early and went to Selichot [prayers of repentance], and sometimes we went to Selichot at midnight. Then, the young crowd lit candles that were glued to planks of wood and sent them afloat in the river in honor of the Selichot There were other holidays, each holiday had its own character, its own flavor and a special influence on the lives of the town's Jews.
The holiday of Passover required many preparations at home, more than any other holiday. We started before Hanukkah when the geese were purchased, and the fat for Passover was made out of them. About two weeks before Passover we pickled the red beets in a small wooden barrel in order to prepare beet root soup for the holiday. A few days before the holiday we cleaned the kitchen and the oven. It was not an easy thing to do. For that, we put a large barrel covered with a clean white sheet in our home, and we had to follow the shiktze [a nonJewish girl] who brought water from the well and watch her carefully that, Gd forbid, she would throw a little Chametz into the pails.
We were Shmura eaters, meaning that during the seven days of Passover we only ate Matzha Shmura [guarded matzha], and it was forbidden to bring a simple matzha to the table. Only on the last day of Passover my father agreed to use regular matzha. When I was small, they let me eat matzha on Passover but not at the table, only on a small table that stood in the corner of the kitchen. We had special dishes for Passover that we brought down from the attic before Passover, year after year. Each one of us searched and found his small glass and all the special plates and bowls for Passover. Today, no one is able to taste and understand the special flavor. Up to this point is the matter of Passover.
A totally different matter was the holiday of Succoth. Immediately after YomKippur, we started to build the Sukkah. In most cases the Sukkah was built outside, next to the house. In the newer homes the Sukkah was inside the house, on the balcony with a small rotating awning that was opened for the period of Succoth. This Sukkah had a special advantage, you were able to close the awning when it rained and keep the Sukkah and the people inside from getting wet.
In addition to the Jewish synagogues and the religious schools, there were also two churches in town, one for the Poles, and the other for the gentiles, meaning the Ukrainians. My foot never stepped on the threshold of their house of worship. I only knew that every Jew who passed next to their house of worship had to say: You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban. Another matter that they committed to my memory was: if a priest crossed my way I had to find a straw reed and throw it behind him. The reason for that is: in ancient times, when our forefathers were forced to make bricks for the pharos in Egypt, they were not given straw (as it is said your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, make bricks!). The priests helped our forefathers and gave them straw for the bricks, and for that reason we must pay our forefathers' debt.
I must mention the two different kinds of Eruvim [a boundary for the Jewish Sabbath that allows observant Jews to carry needed items in public on the Sabbath] that were customary in our town, as in many other Jewish settlements. One was Eruv Hazerot [the mixing of domains], that encircled the whole town and created one yard, enabling us to carry our belongings within its boundaries during the Sabbath. The Eruv was created by tying a string between two high wood posts that were stationed in different locations. The second Eruv was Eruv Tavshilim [mixture of foods]. Thanks to it, we were allowed to prepare food on a holiday for the Sabbath that followed it (according to the law it was allowed to cook on a holiday, but only for that particular day). A general Eruv Tavshilim was created with a matzha that was framed and covered with glass, and it was hung in a visible place in the synagogue. By doing so, anyone who forgot to create Eruv Tavshilim in his home according to the law, was exempt from this duty. It was one of the compromises that the Jews had with Gd, like Heter 'Iska [transaction permit] and the selling of the Hametz that were strictly observed. If it was discovered that the Eruv broke in one of the locations on the Sabbath, it was announced in all the synagogues, and then the worshipers were careful not to fold their tallit and carry it in their hands, but instead they wrapped it on their shoulders as though they were wearing it for their pleasure. It was also not allowed to transfer a handkerchief in their pocket, and they had to tie it to the palm of their hand.
And so the Jews of our town lived and acted. Even the members of the young generation, who did not believe in all of that, tried to the best of their ability to keep their unconventional ideas to themselves. In Tluste there was one and only Jew, Dr. Krasutski, who allowed himself to smoke in public in the street on the Sabbath.
The influence of the Admorim [Hassidic rabbis] from Chortkov and Vishnitz was felt the most in our town. There was always an argument between the Hassidim and their supporters. The matters that they argued about were not among the most important ones, but the arguments were hard and without a compromise. Once, it was the matter of hiring a second Shochet [ritual slaughterer] in town. The victory was with the Vishnitz Hassidim, and the community leaders decided to accept Rabbi Shlomo Shochet. Immediately, the opponents started with a cruel war against the Shochet from Vizhnitz. In our home his slaughtering was strictly forbidden, as if it was pork meat, only the slaughtering of Feybush the Shochet was considered to be Kosher. The same thing was repeated later with the matter of the community leader position. This position was given the old way before the practice of elections arrived to the world.
I remember that Manie Gertner held in his possession the community's copper seal. It was heated by a candle flame and the documents were sealed with red wax. Later on, when Haim Nagler became the community leader, the Chortkov's Hassidim organized a difficult campaign against him until he resigned. After him, the position was transferred to the hands of BaruchItsha Vitashka, a rich Jew and a man of property who belonged to the Chortkov Hassidim. He held this position until the First World War and some years after it.
The town's Jews were not only divided between Hassidim and nonHassidim, but also according to their trade and their occupation. Most of them were merchants, big merchants or smaller ones but merchants. All of them earned their livelihood mostly on Thursday, the day of the weekly market. Thousands of farmers gathered in the market. They came from thirty farms and they were recognized from a distance with their special customs and mostly by their hats, since each village had its own unique hat. They brought the agricultural products to sell in the market: fruits and vegetables, butter, eggs, chickens, and also animals and grain. When they sold their merchandise, they came to the stores to buy the necessities for their homes. In the whole town there was almost no home without a store. In some places there were warehouses for grain, eggs or wood. Whoever came out to the streets on market day was terrified from the sea of thousands of people's heads, who were walking in the market or standing next to the different stalls. Pants, dresses, shoes, boots, and other merchandise were hung on display. Some of the stalls sold soda water and other kinds of drinks. A gentile beggar always sat on the side of the road, singing melancholic songs and playing the violin that he was holding in his hand. Tears poured from the peasant women's eyes to the sound of his songs, and they dropped a few small coins into his hat. Not far from there, a Jew stood with a music box and a parrot stood on top of it. The parrot pulled a piece of paper with its beak a fortune paper which the gentiles bought for a few coins with a complete trust that their entire future was written on it…
The Jews were not only merchants but also tradesmen. The selling of meat with the exception of pork was in the hands of the Jews. Many gentiles came to the butcher shop to buy the back parts that were not kosher.
Only later, during the days of New Poland, the antiSemites started a campaign against kosher butchery in order to take the meat trade from Jewish hands. Also the selling of spirits in the government stores and in the inns were all in the hands of Jews. Most of their income was also earned on Thursday. Market day brought income to almost all the Jewish population in town and provided the needed provisions for the whole week. Even if there was a great noise and chaos during that day, it passed without any incidents. It was a very difficult day for the Austrian policemen who had to keep the order in town, and most of the time they succeeded in doing so.
And now, when I tell about Tluste, and mostly about Tluste's market day, it is difficult to avoid telling about the nearby town of Lashkovitz [Lisowce]. This town was located around seven kilometers from our town and excelled with two things. First, every year around 7 July the great Lashkovitz market took place. Merchants from all over the world came to it. Second, the rabbi who knew how to evict evil spirits sat there… Different stories circulated about this matter, but we don't have the space here to repeat them. I just wanted mention the fact.
It is also important to mention that all the Jews, no matter their occupation or trade, looked the same and dressed the same. Even Shemya Ashre's, who was the owner of a large wagon for heavy loads stood by his cart with the reins in his hands, dressed in a black caftan [a full length coat] and a black sash. Only once, he allowed himself to tuck the edge of his caftan into his sash so it wouldn't interfere with his work. He never thought of wearing a short coat more appropriate for his work because it was known and customary that every Jew must wear a long caftan.
|Market square during a fair. In the background the Polish Church|
A special division in the Jewish population was the hagglers or to be more precise the women hagglers who resided in the market square on both sides of the road, and their main occupation was the selling of all kinds of fruit.
They had their own language, kind of correct answer language, that none of Tluste's Jews was blessed with. If one of the customers dared to say something that the haggler did not like, he got such an immediate answer from her that he did not know where to run to. And in an instant, you were able hear the echo coming from the other hagglers, like a piano that had one of its keys touched. None of the town's residents had such a treasure of foul language and curses in his mouth as the haggler's lexicon. They sat by their stalls in the heat of the summer and the chill of the winter, warming themselves by the hot kettle that was standing next to their feet. In the summer, they sold apples, pears and other kinds of fruit, and in the winter they sold goose meat. In our town, there were certain young men, who walked around holding a long stick with a nail fixed on its end. And so, they were able to buy by pulling an apple or a pear from the stands. One of them was Rochale's son, who became the chief of police during the Bolsheviks days thanks to his ancestral merits. At that time the town's commissioner was Meir Margalit, the musician. These two community leaders sent me one Saturday morning, together with other young men from our town, accompanied by a band, to the village of Lashkovitz to fix a bridge.
You were not able to get a divorce in Tluste, since the river that flowed in town did not have a name. Nevertheless, there was a scribe in town who dealt with the writing of Tefilin and Mezuzut. Reb Moshe Sofer [the scribe], was a chubby Jew with a very long beard. It is not necessary to say that he was a pious Jew, but he had something that was not so: he simply did not like to work. There was a popular story on that subject: A Jew started to build a house immediately after Passover so he would be able to finish it by RoshHashanah and before the rainy season. The same Jew came together with the builder to R' Moshe Sofer to order two Mezuzut for his house. The Jew was busy all summer building his house, and forgot to worry about the Mezuzut that he had ordered. At the end of the summer he met R' Moshe Sofer in the street and asked: R' Moshe, what about the Mezuzut that I ordered? R' Moshe answered him: I am going to write the second Mezuzah.All was in order, and they continued to build the house throughout the month of Elul. On Rosh Hashanah eve, the homeowner moved, with good luck, to his new home. Before evening, after he finished arranging the furniture, the Jew remembered that the most important items were missing in his new house: the Mezuzut were not there! And how could a Jew enter a house on Rosh Hashanah eve without Mezuzut? He rushed to R' Moshe Sofer to collect the Mezuzut that he had ordered at the beginning of the summer. R' Moshe had just returned from the Mikve [bath house], and on his table was an unfinished Mezuzah.
You see he said, apologizing to the homeowner, I did not have the time to finish the Mezuzah. With tears in his eyes the homeowner faced him and said: if so, could you at least give me the first Mezuzah so my home will not be without a Mezuzah. R' Moshe answered him: you have to understand, this time I started to write the second Mezuzah before the first one…… Nevertheless, Reb Moshe the scribe was a respected learned man, and if he wrote a lot or wrote very little he was called by all: Reb Moshe the scribe.
In cultural understandings, the Jews tried very hard to draw from the nation's ancient springs. If some of them had a little time after they finished with their negotiations, they dedicated it to their studies. The one who was an expert studied a page from the Gemara, the one who was not able to do so studied and read EinYakov, Midrash RabaorChok L'Yisrael and the one who was not well versed in all of them simply read from the book of Psalms. Their private life gave them enough satisfaction and they were not eager to connect with the outside world. In those days, there were maybe two or three Jews who read the newspaper.
Most of the Jews lived with the opinion that all these matters did not have any value. And so, their lives were set in the traditional iron mold and no one wanted to become acquainted with the new.
This traditional way of life ordered them to pray for the rain and to pray for the dew at the time and place when such a prayer was not needed. It ordered them not to obey the law of the country where they lived. For example: as we know, the life of the Jewish family was very very pure, but none of them thought of registering their marriages as the law required. So it happened that all the children, myself included, were written as illegitimate in their birth certificates, meaning that their parents were not legally married…… Everyone who knew my father, Moshe Stupp, and my mother of blessed memory, knew for sure that a situation of that sort was far from their hearts and their character but this was the situation in regards to the rule of the country. They lived within themselves and without contact with the world around them. One time a cardinal came to town for a visit. The Jews showed him respect like all the other residents, they walked towards him holding a Torah in their hands, the rabbi stood next to the cardinal and tried to smile at him, but he was not able to exchange two or three words with him. And so, the matter continued from generation to generation. They sunk their head in the past and asked for amendment for the whole world. Once a month they blessed the moon and the entire Jewish community, most of whom were not able to supported their families, stood and prayed from the bottom of their heart: May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun… as though it was their one and only worry. They made sure that, Gd forbid, they would not fail to fulfill a mitzvah. For example: it was forbidden to study the Torah on Christmas Eve so the soul of that man would not enjoy the sparks of holiness that were created from the breath of the Heder students when they dealt with the Torah. Therefore, they spent the evening playing the notes game. Also, during Hanukah, we used to play this game. The making of the notes was a job in itself. We sat and carefully drew the letters of the alphabet. My father did not think that it was right for me to play this game with children my age, therefore he sat and played the notes game with me every evening during Hanukah.
The same Jews, who were knowledgeable in the Torah and spent all their time studying the Gemara, adapted the Talmudic terminology to themselves, even during the time when they spoke Yiddish to each other.
Amusing stories were told in this matter, and here are two of them:
The father of Feybush the slaughterer was a learned Jew. One Friday afternoon he sat in his home and studied the Torah. A gentile woman entered his home and offered to sell him yellow sand to spread on the smooth plaster floor for the Sabbath (at that time most of the homes did not have wooden floors). The gentile woman asked him in the Ukrainian language: Who wants to buy sand? Feybush' father answered her in the Gemara language: Who will buy will buy, and who will not buy will not buy.
And here is a second story: Once, during the reading of the Torah, two homeowners started a quarrel that ended in blows. The matter reached the authorities, and the rabbi was also invited to testify before the judge. The judge asked the rabbi if he was able to answer in Polish. The rabbi answered: No. In Ukrainian? No Maybe German? The rabbi answered: I know a little German. The judge asked the rabbi to give his opinion about the incident. The rabbi answered him in German in this way: At the beginning, I was angry at him to destroy, to kill and to lose. Such a Chutzpah [insolence], a disgrace to the Torah during the reading! But after the fact, I fully forgave him, and I am asking the judge not to punish him. We can easily assume what the judge was able to understand from the rabbi's words which were spoken in flowery German.
The Jews' social life was strictly among themselves, mostly among the Hassidim. I remember that every Sabbath, after services and after, so to speak, pleasant singing, the kloiz's worshipers made arrangements to meet at the kloiz in the afternoon. When they gathered, they sent two young men to the tavern with a note in their hands (in place of money), and the two young men rolled a small keg of beer back from there. And so, they sat, drank and sang Hassidic songs, and at the end they got up and danced around the table singing with a pure heart we will faithfully serve you, and by doing so they came with the expression Neshama Yetira [the extra soul that every Jew acquires on the Sabbath according to legend] and the feeling of Oneg Sabbath [enjoyment of the Sabbath] that every Jew must feel on the Holy Sabbath. The simple folks also gathered and spent their time cracking seeds. When we returned home from the synagogue we met Gavriel the waterdrawer and his friends in the street, leaning against the railing by the water canal and cracking seeds. It was already after the event, meaning after the prayer and after the meal. In the afternoon most of them went for a walk in the direction of Swidowa, and for that it is worth to tell the following incident an event that really happened.
On 1 August 1914, the First World War erupted. It was on Tisha BeAv [the Ninth of Av] that fell on the Sabbath. There were many reservists in town, and each man answered Kaiser Franz Joseph's public statement to all the people of my country, that was announced on Saturday morning. They left their homes the next day and reported to their units. The reservists were mostly Jews over the age of forty who had served in the army in their youth. One of them was Antshel Pfeffer a cavalry man in his time they took him and put him on a horse. A second Jew was Haskel (Yechezkel) Olnick, the owner of the oilpress, a Jew with a long beard who pumped oil all of his life. They dressed him with new blue uniform and stationed him with a gun in his hand to guard the mail box. His friend (I can't remember his name) and companion in the reading of a chapter in Ein Yakov [teaching of the Talmud], walked alone lonely and dejected. When he arrived at the mail box he saw his friend Haskel dressed in his uniform. He called him from the other side of the street: Haskel, you became a member of the kingdom, tell me please, that is happening in the political world? And Haskel answered him instantly: And if I knew, would I tell you?…
As I already mentioned, the town's Jews lived in their own world, withdrawn and separated from everything around them, but the Hassidic way of life contributed to the expansion of their narrow way of life. They traveled to their rabbi, and there in the rabbi's court, they met Jews from other locations. They talked to them about politics, about matters of trade, and of course about Jewish matters, the bitter life in the Diaspora and the arrival of the Messiah.
Generally, the trip to the rabbi's court was not so special. I still remember the great impression that the court in Chortkov left on me, when my father of blessed memory took me with him when he traveled to his rabbi. The Great Synagogue with the garden that surrounded it, the quiet pond with the swans that swam in it, Munish the cantor, and Hershil Rapoport the Gabai [synagogue manager]. I was mostly impressed with the respect that the Hassid showed his rabbi when he met him and gave him his note that listed all of his heart's wishes, and then he stood and waited for the rabbi's blessing. I remember one of our visits to the rabbi (R' Yisrael'nio, May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing). The rabbi faced my father, pointed at me with his finger, and said: Moshe, is this your only son? What will I bless him with? May it be the wish that he will follow the righteous ways and his soul desires the Torah! And surely, both blessings came true, and if the rabbi had added and said may he also be very rich perhaps, and without a doubt, it might have come true. But the rabbi did not add that, and I'm unable to forgive him all of the days of my life…….
The connection between the Hassidim and the rabbi's court was very tight. On every happy occasion, or Gd forbid during a tragedy, they approached the rabbi and informed him about it. It seems to me, that there was not a single Hassid in town without a charm from his rabbi. The charm was in the form of a coin that the rabbi gave as a remedy, a protection from evil spirits. When I was a teenager, I also carried a charm on my neck that the rabbi from Chortkov gave me. It was inside a small bag, and was tied with a white string. My father collected many charms until he gave them to a silversmith to make a box for his smelling tobacco that he used only on the Sabbath and the holidays. The Hassidim loved their rabbi and his court. On the day when the rabbi from Rizshi, May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, died, they prepared a community meal and the Hassidim wives saw the preparations for the meal as a great mitzvah. On Hohsana Raba [the last intermediate day of Sukkoth], the day Rabbi DuvidMoshe'nio died, there was a great celebration in the Chortkov Hassidim kloiz. We, the Heder boys, walked between the town's stores and collected colorful paper that we used to make colorful lanterns that we hung for display, so every person in the world would know how the Hassidim were keeping the memory of their rabbi in their hearts.
Those Jews who were not Hassidim, who did not travel often to their rabbi, received greetings from the great world through a preacher who came to town every once in a while and preached to the crowds on Saturday afternoon. We also had our own preacher in town, R' Pinchas Lapiner. Every once in a while a wandering Jew arrived in town with a cart full of books. When he arrived in our town, he displayed his books on a table in the kloiz or in Beit Ha'Midrash, and Jews, who read books, came and bought one or two books from him, each person with his needs and understanding. Also, once or twice a year, a Jew from EretzYisrael came to our town to collect money for charitable organizations in Israel, for a Yeshiva or for Bikur Cholim [visiting the sick]. This Jew was warmly welcomed in Beit Ha'Midrash. Everyone listened, with fear and love, to every word that came out of his mouth about the situation of our Jewish brothers in the Holy Land. I remember to this day, how impressed I was from the words of that emissary who told us that in Israel it was customary to cook borsht out of oranges. Another continuing connection with Israel was the boxes of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess that every woman dropped a few coins into on Sabbath eve, or just at the time when she requested something special from Gd. The slaughterers emptied the boxes twice a year and, at the same time, gave a receipt for the money that they took out from the previous box. There were pictures of different organizations in the Holy Land on the receipts and we, the Heder boys, were very impressed by them.
Each town, without exception, had its own public organizations. First of all the rabbi: I still remember the old rabbi, R' Pinchas Chodorov, who associated with the Vizhnitz Hassidim. He was a great scholar, but he stuttered when he preached in front of a large crowd. He died in 1915 during the days of the First World War, as one of the first victims of the cholera epidemic that raged in the towns that were close to Austrian and Russian front lines. The entire town accompanied him with respect to his resting place in Tluste's cemetery. And this is the place to mention that there are ancient tombstones in Tluste's cemetery, from three hundred years ago and more. Among them is the tombstone of Ba'al Shem Tov's mother, with the inscription: Here lies buried Sara the mother of Yisrael Ba'al Shem. In the 1920s, my friend and I repainted the stone, took a picture and sent it to Jerusalem.
After the death of R' Pinchas Chodorov, his widow, the Rebbetzin Sheindale', remained in town. She was a wise woman and a very important Rebbetzin. His two sons also stayed Shmuel Aba and Yehusua Heshil. The oldest son, R' Shmuel Aba, was nominated as Tluste's Rabbi. He was still young, but he had the right of claim to the rabbinical chair in our town. I studied with his brother Yehusua in the Heder, and our friendship lasted for many years after that. Each time I came home from Lwów [Lemberg] (after I became unworthy….) I visited the rabbi's home. During the Second World War, Yehusua wandered to Tashkent where he lives today with his wife and his two daughters. Yehusua's son arrived in Israel a few years ago, and he works as a postal clerk in TelAviv.
Besides the rabbi there were three other Jews in town who knew how to give judgment to a question. The three Jews were: R' Hershil Meir, R' Zalman Kelman, one of my teachers who taught me Torah, and R' Yankel Schorr, who was called by the name Yankel the tinsmith's son. When the rabbi left town, and a woman needed an answer to a question about a chicken, or about a cookingpot, she rushed to one of the three to ask her question.
The second Jewish organization that was extremely important was the community committee, which I already talked about above. Its main duty was to provide the salaries to the rabbi and the slaughterers. One of its main incomes came from the selling of slaughtering notes. Also the cemetery was under its care. Besides all of that it was not very active. There was not a TalmudTorah or Bikur Cholim and not even a home for the elderly in town. The care for the sick was limited to one thing: providing enough ice to the town's residents. In winter the ice was brought to an underground warehouse and covered with straw. When summer arrived, it was possible to get ice for cooling drinks during a party, or Gd forbid, to cool the fever of the sick.
The second organization in town was the Baron Hirsh School. I remember two of its principals, one by the name Prochtman, and the second was Yakov Fel. The school's principals and its teachers were Jews who had moved away from Judaism and, for that reason the school did not have a Jewish educational value. All of its value was in the fact that it was possible to go to a general school without the danger of desecrating the Sabbath. There, the children studied the art of writing and arithmetic, they learned a little of the languages of the country, Polish and German, and by doing so they got closer to the nonJewish environment. Among the teachers there was also a teacher for Jewish studies by the name of Kurzer, but the students learned very little about Judaism from him. After the world war he served as a teacher and a cantor, and was rewarded to see one of his sons settle in Israel. Evening classes for older teens were also organized at the school, and the sons of the simple folks received elementary education there. Yakov Fel also took care of the birth books, and was the director of a lending fund that gave easy payment loans to hagglers and craftsmen.
As in every town, there was alsoHevrat Kadisha [burial society] in our town. The two caretakers Shemaya and Michael, and a third by the name of Haim Schwarzbart who prayed at the Chortkov's Hassidim kloiz, took care of burial matters. The cemetery caretaker was Tovye, a Jew who enjoyed his intoxicating liquor. He was helped by a gentile by the name of Viktor, who dug the graves.
I remember the two cantors of Tluste. One was R' Alter Wasser, who prayed in the Great Synagogue and had a little knowledge in reading music notes. Some years later he left Tluste and moved to Chortkov [Czortków]. In his free time, he was painting and drawing. He also drew needlepoint samples for women and girls who needed them. I remember when we created a needlepoint picture of Kaiser Franz Joseph the cantor finished the picture by drawing the Kaiser's head. After R' Alter Wasser left our town he was replaced by R' Yitschak Velphberg who, in addition to being a cantor, was also a scribe. My father was very satisfied with this change of personnel. He said that it was better that a Jew who knew how to write a mezuzah walked by the ark than a Jew who just talked to a gentile woman in regard to a painting that he painted for her………
The cantors who passed by the Holy Ark during the High Holidays, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, had a great influence on the young generation. In our kloiz, the Chortkov Hassidim kloiz, Motya Spitzer passed before the Holy Ark during the Shacharit [morning] service, and Hershel Kopel during the Musaf service [additional morning prayers during the Sabbath and holidays]. From the days of my childhood until the First World War, I used to listen to their prayers year after year, meaning fifteen times during my lifetime, and their melodies remained in my heart for eternity. If I was asked today to repeat one of their prayers, I would be able to repeat every detail of it. Not once during my old age, with the heart of full of sadness, I see Hershel Kopel Rozenkratz before my eyes, standing and praying the Yom Kippur Musaf service and, as though on its own, a silent melody leaves my mouth.
The public prayer during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur contained a large portion of our Jewish awareness. It seems to me, that every person who heard Hershel Kopel Rozenkratz prayers fifteen times in his life would not be able to release himself from his Judaism and would remain a Jew for the rest of his life. It is pity that today we cannot bring life to prayers said in synagogues, so the young generation can draw inspiration from them for the rest of their lives.
The melodies that a Jewish man absorbed during his adolescence in the synagogue and in Beit Ha'Midrash followed him all of his life. Every tailor apprentice had an inner need to entertain himself with a melody hunched over his work. He never heard arias from Tosca in his life, never saw Madam Butterfly in his life, but he heard the cantor's melodies and the prayers from the Mahazor were sunk deep in his heart. And that tailor apprentice sat, singing to himself while pulling the needle with the white tread, and the singing and the work wrapped into each other and, by the time he finished stitching a pair of pans, he finished the prayer in fullest detail.
The influence of the melodies was felt mostly on the Sabbath and during the holidays. On the Sabbath, when the city's streets were empty from people, before the residents left their homes after the Sabbath nap, the sound of the melodies was heard from each home.
The best and well known cantor in our town was R' Yankel Schorr who was mentioned above among the scholars. Moshe Katz, Abali Pfeffer and other cantors traveled to the nearby villages as representatives of the local synagogues.
To be fair, I cannot skip the public bath. There were two Mikvahot [baths] in our public bath a cold one and a hot one. The last one was called the Ba'al Shem Tov Mikveh. It is said that one winter night Ba'al Shem Tov went to the Mikveh without a candle. He asked the caretaker, who was walking behind him, to go and bring an icicle from the building's roof, and he carried it like a candle in his hand to light the baht house. You are allowed to believe this story or not believe it, but in each Hassidic community book, you will find it printed in black on white: Shimshon Meltzer, our town's poet, dedicated his poem One winter night to this legend.
At the end of my short story about the life of Tluste's Jews at the beginning of the twentieth century, I would like to describe in a few words the clothing and the food of the town's Jews, even though our town was not different than any other town. We will start with the Sabbath clothing. First of all, each Jew wore a Streimal [fur hat] on the Sabbath. It was kind of a headdress with a velvet top that was wrapped with thirteen reddish color fox tails. I never knew from where this costume came to us. Years later, I happened to be in Zurich during a folk festival in which the locals were dressed in traditional middle age clothing. To my great surprise, I saw them wearing almost the same Streimalach that our forefathers wore. So we can assume that we kept this practice since ancient times, and a headdress of that kind was customary as a holiday dress by the local population of central Europe.
The Sabbath's outer garment was a frock that was sewn out of black silk with a velvet collar, and at times also with velvet cuffs. Under the frock they wore a silk caftan. Those were also the wedding clothes that were given to the groom and, on those days, no one imagined to himself that it was possible to walk under the Chuppah without them. No one was willing to give up the right to wear a silk caftan. A Jew who was not able to afford a new one continued to wear the old caftan without paying attention to the fact that it was torn and the internal fabric was coming out of it. In the winter months, rich Jews wore a fur coat that was made out of silk.
During the weekdays they wore a coat. Underneath it they wore a caftan sewn out of a regular fabric or a light coat and, at home, they wore a house coat. All their clothes were long and you were not able to see a decent Jew walking in the street wearing a short coat. Boys who passed the age of BarMitzvah wore a caftan, not a suit and a jacket. The Hassidim and other orthodox Jews wore a velvet hat also during the weekdays, and under it they wore a yarmulke. People who were not Hassidim wore a black hat. Very seldom were you able to see a colorful hat in town. The few Ashkenazim in town like doctors and lawyers wore hard hats.
There were two doctors in Tluste: the first was Jewish Dr. Yeger, and the second a Pole Dr. Gilnrayner. Most of the Jews called on Dr. Yeger. Once a year on 18 August, Dr. Yeger gave a speech at the synagogue in honor of Emperor Franz Joseph's birthday. Dr. Gilnrayner was antiSemitic by nature, but he took care of his Jewish patients with dedication and devotion. The name of the pharmacist was Emil Titinger. Also the veterinarian was Jewish Dr. Shperitser. His daughter arrived in Israel and lives in TelAviv. Dr. Yeger's son Moshe Tzayad is an engineer by profession and today he works as a high ranking clerk in Haifa's city hall. Yeger and his wife left our town in 1941 and moved to Lwów where Dr. Yeger continued to work as a doctor. His wife became an important Zionist activist in the Zionists Jewish Women organization. As far as I know, both of them were killed during the days of the holocaust in the total destruction of the Polish Jewry.
Besides the two doctors there was also Moshe the Doctor in town. He was crowned with this title despite the fact that it was not his main occupation. He was a barber by profession and was busy all day long shaving people's beards and fixing their hair. His medical business provided him an additional source of income. When he pulled a tooth from the mouth of one of the gentile farmers, his shouts reached the center of the heavens. It was always possible to obtain a number of leeches, and in time of need he knew how put suction cups on a sick person who needed them. Apart from that, he did not know much but it was customary among the town's Jews that in case of sickness not to call the doctor, but to call Moshe the Doctor first. And Moshe the Doctor came to the patient equipped with two instruments: he brought his small thermometer and his big head. The thermometer was used to read the patient's temperature, and Moshe attached his head with the big cold ear to the patient's stomach in order to hear what was happening inside it. In truth, many were of the opinion that Moshe's hearing was not very good, but he did not give up his listening. And only after he listened to something, or did not listen to what he wanted to listen, he ordered to put a bandage or to wash with salt water. Two days later it was necessary to call the doctor, but without the care of Moshe the doctor it was not possible to cure an illness.
In regards to the tradition of eating, there was a significant difference between the rich families and those with minimum income. Not everyone was able to provide generosity to his family and properly feed his family. And the truth was that there were many Jews who tried to spend very little during the week. Only a few were able to allow themselves to eat meat every day, and the others were only able to eat potato soup, a small measure of grits in milk and other cheap food. All their worries were centered in one area from where they would bring the needed food for the Sabbath. There were many Jews, who blessed their hearts if they were able to provide bread for the whole week because also a slice of bread seasoned with onion or garlic was not a bad meal. There was a saying among the poor: the one who eats bread and garlic his cheeks are red, and if it was possible to slaughter a salt herring for dinner it was life of affluence.. In fact, the greatest part of the Jewish population lived in poverty, except for a few Jews whose situation was better.
A totally different matter was the Sabbath's food. In preparation for the Sabbath they polished the silver candlesticks, or the brass candlesticks, and each housewife tried to put many good dishes on the table. When I bring to my memory all the different dishes that were served on our table on the Sabbath, it is impossible for me to understand how we were able to eat and feed everyone. For example, on Saturday afternoon when we returned from the synagogue we blessed with whiskey (on Friday evening we blessed with raisin wine), and to wash it down we ate thick sandwiches, a little boiled beans and calf's foot jelly. After that, the members of the family washed their hands before the meal, and the affair of eggs with fried onions, fish and a joint of calf's leg that was seasoned with garlic, and all of that was just an appetizer before the meal. Later, grits soup and meat kugel (kind of a pie) were served. All of that was put in the oven on Friday evening and taken out on Saturday afternoon. If it was a special Sabbath, like Rosh Hodesh, or if a holiday fell on the Sabbath, it was necessary to serve two pies. It is understood that between dishes we sang melodies. This was a Sabbath meal in the home of a rich Jew. They made sure that the young boys wouldn't eat part of a heart or a brain because, as we know, it can bring bad influence on the memory.
The town's Jews did not eat a lot of vegetables except for potatoes. In general, we only knew a few kinds of vegetables: onion and garlic, big radish and small radish, cucumbers, beet, carrot and cabbage, parsley to season the soup, dill to pickle the cucumbers and horseradish for the meat. We did not eat any other vegetables and we did not even know about their existence. Bread and Halla were prepared on Thursday or on Friday for the whole week, and for that they started to bake early Friday morning, twice, one after the other. At first they filled the whole oven with all kinds of trifles ringshaped rolls baked in pans and without pans, pastry stuffed with mashed potatoes or cooked buckwheat, malai (a pastry made out of corn meal) or mandeburtshink (a pastry made from mashed potatoes). In the summer during the fruit season, they also baked blueberry doughnuts. In the second oven they baked pretty twisted Hallot. On Friday night mother put a wide untwisted Halla and a twisted Halla on the table, both covered with a pure white cloth, so they wouldn't feel unworthy because the homeowner blessed the wine and not the Hallot… In the second oven they also baked beautiful rye bread. In the last years before I left town, a Jewish baker came to settle in town. His name was Leon (Leyb) Stein but we used to call him the Ashkenazi baker. The bread that he baked was very tasty when it was fresh and people said that he used a special powder. His small loaf of bread, which cost ten Agorot, lasted for only one meal therefore it was said that buying bread from him was like bankruptcy… During the week we ate the round bread that our mother baked on Friday, which stayed fresh all week long thanks to the climate conditions.
Up to here is the matter of eating. The matter of drinking did not cause special problems because the Jews were not heavy drinkers. For the Sabbath they cooked raisins and made raisin wine for Kiddush, besides that, there was half a liter of whiskey at home that we drank after eating fish. We gave our guests tea from the kettle and on special occasions we put the samovar on the table so everyone was able to pour his own tea and drink as much as he wanted.
And this is how the life of the Jews in Eastern Galicia was carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century. Of course, it is not a detailed description because it is given in a book of a completely different interest the description of the destruction of this life during the first 40 years of this century. Up to now I only described the traditional way of life, all that is left for me is to describe the changes that took place in the life of the Jews of our town during the first 40 years of the twentieth century. We need to list the many changes that took place in the last generation, my generation, and when I look and try to reach the source of these changes I remember a wellknown Jewish tale:
In one of the places the Rabbi gave the tailor a piece of fabric to make him a pair of pants. A long time passed and the pants were nowhere to be found. The rabbi came to the tailor and complained: look and see, my teacher and rabbi the tailor. For a number of weeks, you are holding my fabric in your hands and you have done nothing with it, and during this time I gave many sermons and I have many more to give. The tailor answered him and said: Let's see what is the difference between us.
What is the connection? Until the beginning of the twentieth century, Jewish life in Eastern Galicia was conducted the way the holy books dictated them. They did not wish for more and did not ask for more. But, when the Zionist movement was born, new winds started to blow in the Jewish street and, only then, part of the members of our nation started to search for new solutions for their troubles, and new possibilities for contact with Jews around the world in order to find together the desired answers and resolutions. From that time, the emphasis was not of what Rashi said and what the Rambam said hundreds of years before, but what was said and done during that time.
It started with the formation of small groups in each town and city, one from the city and two from the family. Most of them were young men from good families who received their education in the Heder and Beit Ha'Midrash. It was the minority of the minority of the Jewish population, but it was a very active minority. Most of the Jews continued to see the center of their lives within the walls of the kloiz and Beit Ha'Midrash but, even there, arguments erupted between those in favor and those who objected. Those small groups did not remain in their isolation, so they started to connect with the Jewish world, and took part in committees and conferences. Each activity of that kind found an echo within the community, in the synagogues and in Beit Ha'Midrash. Later on, they started to establish Zionists groups that directed their activities in two directions: first of all the deepening the awareness that Israel was the future home of the Jewish nation, and the second organizing cultural activities in the Diaspora in order to take the Jews out of the ghetto where they had lived for hundreds of years. In Lwów, The Yiddish Journal, a daily newspaper was published and Jews started to read newspapers that greatly influenced Jewish public opinion. I still remember the shocking headline in the same newspaper: your brothers' blood is shouting, after the military shot a number of young Jewish voters in the city of Drohobycz during the 1911 election to the Austrian Reichstag [parliament]. The background to that matter was the Polish struggle in Galicia against the central power that the Jews were dragged into. During the census each person had to declare his nationality, and the Poles wanted to influence the Jews to declare their loyalty to the Polish nation. It is worth mentioning that the rabbis and the Admorim [Hassidic rabbis] helped the Poles with their scheme and influenced their Hassidim to declare their loyalty to Poland, and the song the Rabbi ordered to write Poland was sung in the synagogues. The following joke circulated at that time: A Hassid entered the registration office together with his escort who was instructed to direct him what to say. The Polish clerk asked the Hassid questions about his education, about the language that he spoke at home, and about the books that he was reading. But the Hassid did not understand him, and after each question he asked his guide: What is the master saying? Finally, the Polish clerk faced the Hassid and asked him to declare his nationality. The escort answered him spontaneously: Your eyes see that he is Polish, so please write Polish nationality…
Certainly the Zionists rebelled against this denial of the Jewish nation and invested all their youthful enthusiasm in this war. Those years, when the Jewish national movement walked its first steps on the world's stage, were the most beautiful years of the new period. The small Zionist groups, which were scattered in the cities and in the small towns, saw themselves as the pioneer army of a big movement that was given the duty to wake the world from its deep sleep. Their first duty was to shake the Jewish world from its complacency, and turn the Jews' attention to the solution that the Zionist movement offered in the countries where they lived. This process lasted many years. Zionist activists by the thousands and tens of thousands started to organize themselves in an international Zionist movement, and their intensive activities resulted in the revival of the country of Israel only fifty years after the establishment of the Zionist Union.
Today the scope of the Zionist movement weakened, but on those days, the first years after the establishment of the Zionist movement, its followers were full of excitement with the duty that was given to them to be the messengers of the new period in the life of the Jewish nation. As far as I remember, the first Zionists in our town were Motya Mozer (who now lives in Israel and with Gd's blessing passed the age of eighty), Melech Freid, and BenZion Libman. They established the first Zionist group Tikvat Zion [Hope of Zion] and started to acquire souls to the Zionist concept. I remember when I returned home from the kloiz on the Sabbath together with my father, the member Gutman, Natan Hikand's soninlaw, shoved into my hand the new newsletter that had just arrived from Lwów. This newsletter was a new greeting from Israel, more important than the greetings that we were getting from the butchers when they emptied Rabbi Meir Bal Hanes' charity boxes. Keren Hakayemet collection boxes appeared in some homes and were hung next to Rabbi Meir Bal Hanes' box. Surely, these boxes did not reach my father's home, and no one thought during those days that a Keren Hakayemet box could be hung in a Hassid home. Despite all of that, a certain movement was felt a Keren Hakayemet collection bowl was placed on Yom Kippur Eve even in the Chortkov Hassidim kloiz. I still remember how R' Moshe Vilner, a kloiz member and a friend of my father, faced me and said you have to understand Avramele,' we don't need it, we are only doing it for you since you are Avramele' the son of Moshe Monya… Many years later, after the great holocaust, I've been told that the same R' Moshe Vilner shouted in a great voice God is great, Gd is the Lord when he was led to his death at the cemetery. At the same time I remembered his words to me, Avramele', we don't need it…. I don't have any complaints against him everyone was like him and that's how they led their lives. Only a minority, the few exceptional ones, tried to establish a Hebrew school, a Hebrew nursery school, and from time to time they also organized a talent show. Of course, the members of the Chortkov Hassidim kloiz did not come to watch a comedy, but the simple audience, the ordinary Jews, came and enjoyed themselves and learned what theater was all about. Even today, I still remember the great impression the show The Slaughter left on me. Miriam Rozenboim, the daughter of Shneior Melamed, and her friend Abrahamtzi Laster excelled in this show. At that time Miriam was the director of the Hebrew nursery school in our town (today she lives in New York). I was only a young Heder boy at that time.
There were a number of Yeshiva students who received the Hebrew newspaper Hazfira or the weekly magazine The World (the Zionists' union weekly magazine), and there was only one Yeshiva student who tried to establish a private library. That one is our friend Yisrael Shechner who now lives in Israel. I was younger than him by a few years, but I was able to borrow from him all the books that he purchased, and so I became familiar with what was called then Hebrew literature. Yisrael Shechner studied the Gemara in his youth and even today he did not forget his studies. But he was one of those Yeshiva students who was dedicated to the Zionists' idealism. The flour shop that belonged to his father served as a meeting place for his friends and they let me join their meetings despite the fact I was a lot younger than all of them. His father, R' Itsha Finies, was not happy with the many customers who negotiated with his son each time he came to the store.
In general, there was always a struggle between the old and the new generations. Also, years later, when I left to study in Lwów and it was known that I became unworthy, R' Fishel Goldig, one of my father's friends, met me when I returned home and asked me jokingly: tell me Avrahmele' are you still circumcised…?
During the days of the First World War a total change occurred in the situation. At first, the town was emptied of its young Jews, and eventually most of the town's Jews were forced to take their wandering stick in their hands and all of them became refugees. In 1915, close to their first retreat, the Russians set the whole town on fire. Our house stood out of town, I climbed on a tree in our yard and from there I saw the town engulfed in flames. Later on it was found out that the town's liberation from the Russian invaders lasted only a few days, and again the Austrians were forced to retreat. It was then that I left town with my mother of blessed memory, and we became refugees. We returned only in 1918 and found the town in poor condition it was completely burnt and half empty. We went through all the revolutions and changes in power that occurred in the days after the First World War: the Ukrainian republic, the invasion of Petlura's people, and six weeks of Bolshevik rule during the PolishRussian war in 1920. At the end of the war against the Bolsheviks, life started to return to normal. Those were the years after the Balfour Declaration. It was then that we organized a Zionist movement on a large scale. There were a number of Jewish estate owners who gave us a helping hand, such as the Stekel family who for many years leased a farm in the village of Rozshanovka [Różanówka], the father of Professor Martin Buber, and also Pohorilles who owned an estate in the village of Hinkevitz [Hińkowce], and a number of others. All of them accepted Haluzim for pioneer training and by doing so they helped us with our activities.
|The General Zionists committee: in the center Dr. A. Stupp|
Our activities to organize work for the members of the Halutz movement gave the Poles the impression that the leaders of the Halutzim groups were in fact their leaders, and assumed that they were Socialists and Bolsheviks. The matters reached the point where, before their retreat from the Bolsheviks, they decided to take with them two Zionist leaders as hostages. One of them was, Ludvig Stekel (who died in Israel in 1961), he discovered it in time and moved from Tluste to Lwów. I was the second hostage. I was a young man then. In the morning the Poles invited me to their office, which was located in our home, and advised me not to leave home since I was going to join them that night. The news spread throughout the town and caused a lot of commotion: The Poles are taking Avrahmele' with them! I remember that R' Dovide Fiderer came to me on the same day and gave me a sizeable amount of money so I would not travel empty handed. None of the young Zionists dared to walk in the street. At that time the young group included the members Yisrael Shechner, Moshe Pfeffer, Yisrael Fiderer and others.
When the time arrived to leave town, the Poles changed their mind and did not take me with them, but during the six weeks of the Bolshevik occupation I only left the house during the night from the fear that they would come back and take me with them.
The Zionists' activities increased after the country calmed down from the PolishRussian war. After the historic conference in San Remo, when England was given the mandate for Israel in order to create a home for the Jewish nation, we made sure that the declaration would be read in public in all the synagogues. Also the Halutz movement grew larger and a number of students who gave up their studies joined it in order to arrive quickly to Israel and help in the building of the country.
In 1922 the Ukrainians in Galicia decided to boycott the elections to the Polish parliament. According to the election results the Jews received the seats in the parliament that the Ukrainians relinquished. And so we had more than twenty Jewish delegates in the Polish parliament. The whole town was decorated when Dr. Bernard Hausner, one of the new delegates, came to visit Tluste. Almost all the town's Jews came to welcome him at the train station. He gave a speech at the great synagogue about Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal] and I don't think that there was one person in town who did not join the funddrive. I remember how Slome'le the cart owner, whose only possessions were his horse and his flat cart, came to me complaining that I did not come to him to receive his donation to Israel.
We were also very active in other fields. We established a Zionist library and, since we did not have a room for it, we kept the books on the balcony of Yakel Pfeffer, Moshe Pfeffer's fatherinlaw. I stood there every Friday afternoon, also on the freezing winter days, and handed out books to read. The simple girls had one claim: May his master give me the thickest book… and the smart ones choose a book according to its contents and subject. There was another kind of reader I used to bring books to the Chortkov Hassidim kloiz, and people who were pious in their heart and their soul received them from me in secret under the table so they could read them in their homes. Among them were: R'Baruch Itsha Vitaska, one of the richest men in our town, and R' Yisrael Glick, the father of Berzie [Berel] Glick, a wise man and one of the greatest scholars of our town. I still remember the great impression that the book Herzl's diary, which was published in those days, left on them. Not once arguments erupted in the kloiz as a result of reading these books, and we felt the cultural benefit that these books brought to our town.
Every once in a while the different Zionists Unions that were located in Lwów sent delegates to our town. Despite the fact that our town was small and the Zionist groups were small, they had a great influence on the town's Jewish population and many came to hear the delegates' lectures. The good old days before 1914, when the community leaders closed the synagogue or Beit Ha'Midrash before a Zionist lecturer were gone. Many from each sector of the Jewish population attended each conference and each party that the Zionists organized. A new kind of millionaire was created people who calculated how many millions of Dunams were in the hands of the Jews, and how many Jews were needed to complete the first half a million Jews in Israel.
At the beginning of my article, I talked about the two different kinds of Jews who lived and worked during the two different periods of Jewish life in the Diaspora. However, also during the second period after all the changes in the Jewish community, this community was composed of two different kinds of Jews. In antiSemite Poland, where the life of the Jews grew worse day after day, everyone wished and waited for a change. However, while the Zionist section was awake and active and wished to bring changes, the other section was completely passive and accepted their life the way they were. And so the situation lasted until the tragic hour that threw the Polish Jewry into Hitler's rule, the greatest and most dangerous enemy of the Jews in all the generations.
And only in this period, which is both tragic and full of glory the period when onethird of the Jewish nation was killed in such a cruel way, in which the independent sovereign nation of Israel was established I came to the correct understanding of the Gemara words: May the Messiah arrive but my soul will not see him coming. Our generation was witness to the destruction of two different kinds of Polish Jews. It was destined to live in a sea of troubles, blood and tears, in a way that no other generation had experienced before. But all of that will be written and told by those who saw it with their own eyes, those who miraculously saved their souls from the hell of total extermination.
by Y. Sternlieb
The town of Tluste, which was located by the main LwowCzernowitz road, was established in the 18th century during the period of Baal Shem Tov, who lived in our town before his revelation. Baal Shem Tov's mother also lived in Tluste and she also died and was buried there. During the partition of Poland the town became part of the Austrian Empire and since then belonged to the District of Ternopol.
Before the railway was constructed all the goods were transported by wagons on the Lwow Chernovitz main road through the town of Tluste and every second house in town served at as an inn and a tavern. Like all the towns in Poland the town belonged to a Polish landowner to Prince Poninski. At the entrance to his castle stood a two story building which was built in the form of a fortress and called Brama (the gate). It was told in town that, at that time, it was used as a convent for Polish nuns. Later, the fortress served as a center for Polish underground fighters and their weapons were kept in the large cellar. In recent years the Poles opened a cooperative store named Kolko Rolinitza (agricultural department) on the first floor.
The fortress served as sort of a core and the town's first institutions were built around it. The Polish Church was built next to the castle and the council building, which was called the council house by the town's Jews, was built about hundred meters from it. The council building was built with big and strong stones and there was also an inn and a tavern inside it. Small stores, in which the Jewish shopkeepers sold their merchandise, were built around the council building. Every Thursday was a market day in town, the local farmers brought their products to sell and with the proceeds they purchased all the needed merchandise for their homes. The weekly market days and the special fairs, which took place from time to time, provided the main source of income for the town's Jews. During the last years, before the Second World War, Yehoshua Halpern's tavern served as a meeting place for the estate owners who came to town every Thursday and in this way a stock exchange for grain was created there.
At the beginning, during the days of the Kingdom of Poland, there were five big stables in town that were built at various points on the edge of town. After the town was passed to the hands of the Austrian rule, these buildings served as stables for the Emperor's cavalry. Later, they were transferred to the hands of the local authorities and given to local public organizations or sold to the town's residents. The stable on the road to Zalishchyky [Zaleszczyki] was given to the Ukrainians who turned it into a community center. The building on the way to Chortkov [Czortkow] was purchased by R' Binyamin Kamerling and became his family's home. The building on the way to Borshtshov [Borszczow] was given to the Jewish community, which turned it into the town's Great Synagogue. The fourth building housed the Polish community center, the Star, and the fifth stable, which was located on the road to Buczacz, was purchased by a court clerk named Paslavski.
In 1848, the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef the first, came to visit our town. The town's Jewish residents welcomed him with salt and bread, holding a Torah in their hands, as it was customary to welcome a distinguished guest. When the Emperor asked the Jews what is their question and what they desire, the community leaders asked the Emperor to give the Jews the exclusive right to all the inns and taverns in town. The emperor obliged to their request and gave the order. For many years my grandfather, R' Yehoshua Nagler zl, kept the certificate in a silver case.
In 1899 the railroad was inaugurated in town and this matter completely changed its appearance. Stores were built in place of the inns and the export of agricultural products to Germany began. According to the regulations this merchandise was exempt from taxes. Estate owners started to fatten the bulls which were also intended for shipment to Germany.
With the expansion of the trade the town's Jewish population also grew. Besides the Great Synagogue there were also a number of religious schools and three Hassidic synagogues: the Chortkov Kloiz, Vizhnitz Kloiz and Kopyczynce Kloiz. There were also social associations and organizations: the society of Bikur Cholim [visiting the sick], the association 'Yad Harutzim [hand of the diligent men] and the school that was established by Baron Hirsh.
The members of Bikur Cholim helped the sick by giving them financial aid, sleeping at their homes and helping those who needed their dedicated help. One Sabbath a year, the Sabbath of Parashat Mishpatim, was dedicated to this organization. On that Sabbath the town's Jews gathered at the Great Synagogue and all the vows of that Saturday were devoted to Bikur Cholim.
The association Yad Harutzim was founded by the craftsmen to provide help to poor and needy craftsmen. They also had their own synagogue in the cellar of Beit Ha'Midrash.
Jewish boys from all walks of life were educated at the Baron Hirsh School. The sons of the poor received a hot lunch at school during the winter months and clothes for all seasons of the year. The institution sent outstanding students, at its own expense, to the agricultural school in Slobodka Leshna. The graduates of the agricultural school were sent, with the institution's help, to J.C.A. [Jewish Colonization Association] farms in Argentina and Israel. Our townsman, Chaim Gabai, who lives today in Haifa, was one of the Slobodka Leshna students who were sent to Israel. The school officials also helped in organizing the cottage industry in town, especially the industry of hair nets that the town's needy girls specialized in. Next to the school was also a bank for loans and Kupat Gemilut Hasadim [InterestFree Loan Fund] which was founded by the Baron.
A few years before the First World War, a Zionists association named Tikvat Zion [Hope of Zion] was established in town. Its leaders were BenZion Libman and Melech Freyd. The secretariat of Keren Kayenet Le'Yisrael [JNF] was established by the association and its secretary was Aba Gutman. He was rewarded to immigrate to Israel and died here a few years ago in Kiryat Haim near Haifa. At the same time a Hebrew School was opened in town. The first Hebrew teacher was Mr. Zilberharber. The teaching, of course, was done in the Ashkenazy accent. A nursery school was also opened under the directorship of Miriam Rosenbaum, daughter of the intelligent teacher, R' Shneor Rosenbaum, who taught the bible to his student with Mendelson's interpretation. They said that he knew all of Shiller's poems and works by heart. It turned out that all the Hassidim boycotted him and none of them gave his son to his hands. Miriam Rosenbaum lives in the United States and a year ago visited Israel as a tourist.
In 5666 (1906), the town was overrun by a mass of Jewish refugees from Czarist Russia who escaped across the border for the fear of the pogroms. Some of the refugees remained in town but most of them continued their journey across the ocean.
In the same year the new Beit Ha'Midrash building was dedicated. It was built with the money that was donated by my aunt, Rivke Braksmier zl (Rivke the philanthropist). A sizable sum was invested in the building of Beit Ha'Midrash ten thousand Florin, but Beit Ha'Midrash was opened with a disagreement. According to the plan, the places should have been given to regular worshipers, the veterans, but, in fact, the places were sold to the highest bidders. As a result, the argument divided the town and the matter reached to a desecration of God's name every Saturday, during prayer time, a number of policemen stood next to Beit Ha'Midrash and kept the order…
At the same period a controversy also erupted over the control of the community committee. For many years the community committee was in the hands of the Amcha [ordinary Jews] and the head of the committee the community leader was my grandfather, R' Chaim Nagler zl. The estate owners Eliyahu Albin, Meir Kleiner and Yitzchak Vitashka eyed this position and wanted to take the reins of power into their hands and with the help of the squire and the help of the authorities they even succeeded. The argument in this matter ended only in 1914 when the Russians invaded the town and burnt it.
At the end of my article I want to mention two distinguished personalities from among the residents of our town.
R' Pinchas Chodorov ztl. He was the rabbi of the community of Tluste for many years and one of the greatest rabbis of his generation. He died in the cholera epidemic that broke in our town during the First World War and killed many of its residents.
The second figure was Sara, daughter of MordechaiHirsh. She was called Sara daughter of a wellestablished family by many. She was a modest woman who dedicated all her life to the needs of others. Every Friday she walked around town collecting Hallot for town's poor. She cared for the sick and took care of their needs. She also took care of the Jewish prisoners, supported and encouraged them.
Such was the image of our town that was destroyed together with all other Jewish communities in the European Diaspora.
|A group of General Zionists with Yehoshua Sternlieb and his family prior to their immigration to EretzYisrael|
[Pages 33-34 - Hebrew] [Pages 80-82 - Yididsh]
by Shmuel FidererMargulies
It is fitting to begin my words about the distant and recent past of our town with the popular saying: When we leaf through the history book of our town… However, is there any written history, printed or handwritten, for our town, which was destroyed, from which we can draw information about the existence of our community in previous centuries? Indeed, a rumor reached my ears on the existence of a history booklet named Tluste on the Dupa River that was written by a Polish writer and published in Lwów eighty years ago. However, as hard as I tried to get this booklet, I was not able to acquire it. On the other hand, the handwritten collection Pinkas Tluste, which was found at the home of R' Zeida, the rabbi's son, included a lot of information about various religious issues, the Gabaim [synagogue's treasurers], the slaughterers, the order of prayers, the cemetery and almshouse, but there is almost no historical value to it. Therefore, we need to find the answers to the following questions: since when was there a settlement in Tluste; who were the first families in our town; what was their lifestyle, their source of income, and so on….?
R' Zelig Kramer, May he rest in peace, who was an educated man and knowledgeable in history, told that at the beginning of the 16th century Tluste was only a district market place, a place where local farmers came to sell their products. One clear day, two Jewish families, who came from RussianUkraine or from Podolia, settled there and opened small taverns to sell spirits and mead to the farmers who came to the fair. Those were the forefathers of R' Aizik Sternlib (from our time) and they settled on the hill above the water well, not far from the cattle market. Later, several other families arrived from the same area and built houses and opened stores. At the beginning of the 18th century, during the days of Ba'al Shem Tov, there were already several hundred Jewish families in Tluste who were mostly engaged in buying and selling. The Baroness Poninska, whose rule extended through the whole area, had a lot of interest in the development of the town. Therefore, she amended a decree that any Jew who wanted to build himself a house or a store in town would get the land and the garden for his house for free. For the building of the house, he was allowed to use the trees from the local forests for free, his cattle were allowed to graze for free in the town's meadows and he was rewarded with many other benefits. According to a special decree, which was signed at the Baroness' house, Tluste was declared a free town and received a special status in the whole area. It is said about the same Baroness, that, during her later years, she happened to be in town during one of the market days. When she saw the first store that sold fabrics, she was so impressed that she bought herself a few meters of tzitz [fringe] for a dress and paid a great fortune for them ten gold Ducats!
And so it went year after year. Tluste remained a free town while the rest of the towns and villages had to pay taxes to the Baroness for everything small and large. This situation continued also after the Baroness' death since she included an order to her heirs in her will not to change the status of the town. Once upon a time, a Tluste Jew arrived to the Baroness court and asked to see the late Baroness' son. When he was brought before the Baron, he told a tale that never happened. He said, that he came as a delegate of the Jewish community of Tluste to ask him in the name of all the Jews to cancel all the special benefits that were given to the town by his late mother since the Jews did not want to have better living conditions than their neighbors… they wanted to pay the same taxes that all the other towns were paying. The same Jew also presented a forged document that was supposedly written by the management of the Jewish community and sealed with its seal. In it they wrote, black on white, that they do not want a free town. The Baron thought for a while, and later said: If this is the will of the Jews, I will fulfill their wish… From then on, matters rolled according to protocol: the Baron called his director and ordered to change all the procedures, meaning, to take back all the extra rights of Tluste's Jews and remove the town's duty free status! It turns out that, from that day on, the Jew became a regular guest at the home of the Baron and his business manager, and instructed him on the practical work of skinning the Jews of Tluste. And, in doing so, he made sure that some of the new taxes that were imposed on town's Jews would enter his pocket.
Therefore, the chapter of payments and extortion of taxes, by all kinds of tricks and excuses, from the rich and the poor alike, started. Anyone who was not able to pay was sent to Chad Gadia [prison] or was seated at the home of the zakitznik [executor]. The zakitznik appeared in the form of a dragoon (cavalry soldier) from Zalishchyky [Zaleszczyki] who came riding his on horse, sat in the home of the person who owed tax, and lived on his account until the debt was paid in full. And so, the zakitznikim became regular guests at the homes of Tluste's Jews. I've heard this story, and other stories, from our friendly neighbor, M.Z. Kramer.
Not less interesting is the story about the war of Tluste's Jews against the rioters who were called by the name Baraber, a war that they won.
And who were the Barabers? And how did they arrive in Tluste and for what? The story was as follows:
In 1898, during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Austrian government laid a railroad track throughout Galicia, and the execution of this gigantic enterprise was very difficult. The workers who laid the section of the track near our place were called Baraber by the Jews. They were tall gentiles with broad shoulders who frightened everyone who came around them with their wild behavior and extreme drunkenness. They spoke with kind of a Polish dialect that was not understood in our locale, and were always happy to start an argument and a fight. And why were they given the nickname Baraber? For that you cannot come with questions to our Tluste Jews. Who is wise and can investigate the source of the different and strange nicknames that were circulating in our town. It is possible that they were called by that name because they looked a bit like Arabs… There's reason to believe that they were Polish Masurians, but no matter what the origin of the Barabers was, the fact is that they decided to carry out a small pogrom on Tluste's Jews exactly on the first day of the holiday of Shavuot in the year 1898. The excuse for that: the bartenders exploited them, charging higher prices for the drinks, while the shot glasses in which they served the alcoholic beverage were too small. The Jews did not know of the danger awaiting them. At that time, they were in the synagogues and the houses of prayer enjoying the sound of the holiday melodies. But, as we say, Behold, the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. Franz Joseph's gendarmes knew what was going on and burst into the synagogues, in the middle of the prayer services, shouting: Jews, save your lives! In the blink of the eye everyone ran to their homes, grabbed anything in sight axes, balances for the carts, and other weapons and stood behind the gendarmes and marched to face the enemy on the road to Swidowa. The strong and the brave marched in the first rows: the horse traders, the butchers and teenagers, with the determination in their heart to teach the Barabers a lesson for they can hear and see… The meeting between the two camps took place out of town, on the main road. The gendarmes' leader shouted at them: Stop or I will shoot you! But his shout did not help. They started to throw stones at us and rushed towards us with their weapons: shovels, picks and iron poles. The gendarmes answered with real fire and a number of them were instantly killed. The Barabers turned their backs and fled. Our people ran after them to the camp where they lived and beat them up. The attack lasted only a few minutes, but brought great disaster on the attackers. A number of them were killed but only a few Jews were injured. No one talked loudly about the results of the attack, they only whispered for fear of what will the gentiles say, because the authorities were going to investigate the loss of life… But, in the end, the matter calmed down and, since then, the Barabers quieted down and did not hurt anyone. A few weeks after the event they finished their work and left town. Since then the local gentiles treated us with respect and this attitude lasted for a number of years. This was the compensation for the turmoil and for the holiday that was disrupted on Shavuot of 1898.
These events and others like them sad, interesting and also soul lifting took place in the town where we were born and grew up. Where our loved ones lived their lives in days of joy, days of mourning and sadness, and in which they perished together with six million holy and pure martyrs from our nation. We will never forget them, we will tell about them and about our town, which is engraved deep in our hearts, to our sons and the sons of their sons, to the end of all generations.
|The main street and the main road from Zalishchyky [Zaleszczyki] to Chortkov [Czortków] during the Russian occupation (1915)|
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