by Tzila Fleischer
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Yossel's Heder does not produce much income and Shmulik, too, sits idle at home. Therefore, Yossel decided to try his luck in the villages. Perhaps God will pave his way and he would be able to buy something for reselling or, at least, he could obtain food for the household. There was not much available in town. The two went to one of the distant villages. However, everywhere they went, either the inhabitants were poor (so they said) and never had anything to sell or they had already done so.
They were ready to return home when they noticed that policemen had entered the village. Yossel and Shmulik turned into a lane, went around some yards and went into a Jewish home. A few minutes later, the police officer from Ustiluh stood in the doorway. He was a Pole, around fifty years old, short and fat. He had a moustache like a Cossack and was accompanied by two young helpers.
Who are and what are you doing here?- he said to Yossel, intimating that the two Jews were suspected of treason or murder.The officer looked at the identity paper: Yossel Winemaker? - he murmured and immediately ordered his helpers:
We are from Ustiluh and we came to visit our relatives in this house
Ah, you are all related! Do you have an identity paper?
Yes. Here it is.
Look for liquor!
Yossel tried in vain to correct the officer's error and to tell him that he does not produce liquor and never dealt in this trade. It was just his surname that he had inherited from his ancestors.
The helpers upended the beds and searched the cupboards and storage. They even went into the attic and any place a bottle could be hidden. Nothing was found. The officer then turned to Yossel:
Do you have a travel permit?The inspectors did not work for nothing. The two criminals were written down in the book and were sent home to await their punishment.
On Friday night, just before candle lighting, the officer appeared and invited Yossel and Shmulik to be imprisoned for three days.
The prison was the former residence of the priest who had fled from his wife with her herd. The house was situated in the church courtyard which was surrounded by a tall stone wall and a beautiful fruit garden. The regular prison did not fulfill the needs in special times. The authorities found this large home suited them perfectly. The rooms were filled with various criminals: smugglers, money traders, profiteers, people who did not follow cleanliness rules, those without travel permits, etc.
Father Kutchkov definitely had not foreseen that his home would be used by young Jews to sing socialist songs and to make fun of the saints and the Tsar. He certainly did not dream that the Jews would be holding a prayer session there.
It was a symbolic gesture- to welcome the Sabbath in that house, across from the cross atop the dome. The cross that looked like a scarecrow in the lush garden.
In the meantime, Yossel and Shmulik. Like the others, were forced to sleep on bare boards. Berel, the lame one, said the boards were much harder than those in his home. In his bed the bones did not ache as much.
This was not the only problem.
Usually, every evening, the guard would bring a pail for body wastes. That night, the guard did not bring it in. He was probably too drunk and the prisoners did not notice. They figured that in case of need, they could knock on the door and the guard would open it. However, the needs were numerous and the guard did not react to the knocks. In the end, the two young men broke the barred window and it became easier
The situation in the women's room was worse. They knocked and suffered all night. There was no relief.
Shmulik had never before felt how long winter nights as he did during these three days.
At least they were not alone there. The young men sang, argued and played games. It seems that Yossel's physical condition suffered as a result, but not Shmulik's. Shmulik's spiritual world was enriched by these events.
In the meantime, a new source of work opened up. The railroad passed through Ustiluh and Shmulik found temporary work. All went well, except for the slap he received from an officer from Diari. He had been found to be pushing a wheelbarrow only half filled with earth. This gentile who saw the pale and skinny face of the young man and hit him cannot be considered a human being. So, there is no insult as a result.
I. Poles, Bolsheviks and New Times
There was a rebellion in the Austro-German army and anarchy prevailed. Units and single soldiers wandered about on their way home. Jewish young men who had not ever stood out as courageous, became so and disarmed those who came through town. Even Yisraelik, the friend of Shmulik, used to stand at the gates of town and when a lone armed soldier passed by, Yisraelik would order him: Take off your gun! The soldier obeyed. Yisraelik brought all the guns to the attic of the Shtiebel. There were neither stairs nor a ladder leading up to it.
A civilian militia was organized in town. Its first task was to get rid of the remnants of the officers in the local command. These geniuses had pressured the residents for the past three years, but they were scared and ran away to the area capital. This, after they gave their guns to the new militia. One of them, Lieutenant Schwartz, was happy when he was permitted to take his beloved horse. The militia commanders looked grand. They were sons of the wealthy families and were dressed elegantly. The officer's belt with its revolver fitted well.
The commanders went around town proudly, preening like peacocks. Mishka Odissist (he spent many years in Odessa), a former revolutionary, would shoot his gun in the air. He repeated: Oh what a pleasure! A Jewish realm. However, the masses were embarrassed and were full of doubts about the uncertain future.
When it came to the abandoned cattle, goats, wheat, etc., originally owned by the occupiers and left on Beliankin's farm, it was different. It was useful to utilise them. The strong early bird tied a rope to the bull's horns and led him home. Another dragged a sheep or a goat while others filled their bags with anything they found. What would Jews do with bulls? They would slaughter them, of course, and would sell the meat cheaply.
The truth is that in Ustiluh in those days more beef was eaten than during all the years of the Austrian conquest. So much meat is like the quail in the desert!
The barns and silos were emptied and the people attacked the piles of potatoes in the fields. Suddenly, a small unit of Polish speaking soldiers appeared. They began to disperse the crowds. Anyone who did not throw away his loot was beaten badly.
In the evening, a large meeting was held in the Great House of Study. A discussion about the soldiers ensued. They presented themselves as Polish legionnaires- the first time this was heard in Ustiluh. One young man from Hrobishov jumped on the stage and swore that he recognized the head of the troop as a well-known thief in his town.
Finally, it was decided to get rid of the suspicious soldiers from the town.
The next morning, a group of former soldiers went to the inn where the Poles were staying. They held their guns cocked in front of them. The forced the Poles to leave town immediately, but allowed them to keep their guns.
As the Poles crossed the bridge over the Bug, they turned back and began to fire at the town. some Polish residents in town also fired their guns. The Jewish troop returned fire, but did not notice the enemy within. The battle lasted for an hour. Four people were killed and there were injuries.
The next day, a larger group of legionnaires came to town and began to conduct an inquiry about the incident. The town representatives proved that the militia was defending the town from robbers. Although it was a mistake, the commander of the second group only imposed a monetary fine.
For some reason, the fact that Poland was liberated brought an ugly wave of Anti-Semitism left by the legionnaires from some sections of the army. The plucking of beards with the flesh of the cheeks and the casting of Jews from trains were daily occurrences. Even in Ustiluh one would meet Jews with bandaged faces. Slowly, the authorities became stronger and civil life became more stable. Then the Jewish community in general and in Ustiluh in particular was awakened.
The Balfour Declaration led to the establishment of various Zionist organizations. There were parades, parties, lectures, etc.
The Lag Baomer parade of that year was like the prophecy of dry bones. The voice of the redeemer could be heard.
It is a Sunday and all stores are closed. There are hordes of people in the streets: Jews, Ukrainians, Poles. A spring sun is warming everyone.
The sounds of music are approaching- it is a music of reawakening and victory.
Here comes the orchestra followed by a parade never before seen in Ustiluh. Blue and white flags are waving in the wind. The members of Young Generation, girls in white dresses and boys in blue shirts, are marching in rows surrounded by blue and white streamers. They are followed by various Zionist organizations with their own flags and slogans. Finally, the crowd comes streaming from all streets and alleys and joins the parade.
The orchestra stops and powerful singing bursts from among the young people. It envelops the crowd:
Get up you the exiled, remove your burdenNot many fully understand the Hebrew words, but the Jewish soul, thirsty for redemption and freedom feels the meaning. Oh, Eretz Israel! Oh, Jewish realm!
Spring sun is shining on you
Wake up from your slumber of exile
Open your eyes, lift up your heads
Understand that you will not find rest here
Let us go eastward!
Even the gentiles feel, at this great moment, how their neighbors have been degraded up to now. The Poles murmur with envy: Look, the bloody dogs have finally earned it. The Ukrainians sigh with jealousy: Soon they will go there to their Palestine.
Yes, the parade made a great impression, but not everyone understood they will not find peace here. Most of the Jews of Ustiluh quickly forgot the parade and its meaning and went back to their lives as before. Only the youth did not forget. They truly intended to fulfill their dreams of two thousand years. In the meantime, there was a great interruption which derailed the hopes they had in their hearts.
The Bolsheviks in Ustiluh. It was a short chapter, amusing at the beginning, but very saddening in the end. It was amusing from the point of view of the change in regimes.
The Poles left the town at night without any shots being fired. In the morning, the forces of the Red Army arrived. They were not received with happiness as the people of Ustiluh were not impressed by the Soviet liberation. However, they were not really afraid. It was known that it was not common for them to take revenge on Jews. Also, they did not pull beards nor did they throw Jews off the train. These deeds were not known among the Soviets.
Actually, their entrance was peaceful, modest and even amusing. The first soldier to come was barefoot, without a hat, with his rifle hanging across his back. People reacted with laughter.
If this is how the Red Army looks they whispered with a wink- We will be fortunate to see them leave. The Red Army in all its glory appeared: wearing peasant clothes and rags, Cossacks with Hassidic hats and women's jackets. There was no difference between the soldiers and the officers.
Moshe Burlyant, the town secretary, was not a very courageous man. He was invited by the Soviet commander to his office. When he saw that he was wearing a faded coat and torn boots, he felt he could speak to him like a friend. This is how Moshe Burlyant reported to the large circle in the market place that was waiting for results of the meeting.
What did the commander want? To continue all civic matters without interruption. Of course, there would be a government appointed commissar in town. I said: as you command, Comrade commander. Ha, ha, ha, Comrade Commander! They were good customers. Money meant nothing to them. They had bank notes in the form of pages of postage stamps and they would tear rows of them and pay without a receipt. They bought everything available in the stores. It reached the point where the store owners gave up on these paper payments and the stores slowly closed, one by one. The next day, many stores were found to have been broken into and emptied. This was especially true of stores that sold cloth and shoes. The owners came to complain and they were told: Open your stores in the daytime and no one will steal at night. In other words, give the merchandise in exchange for these papers that were good for toys.
Due to this situation, there was nothing for sale in the stores. Then houses were searched for valuable items. In the morning, people were kidnapped for work on barbed wire fences and unpacking war supplies from the train. The Bolsheviks paid for this work with speeches, music in the market place and nightly performances- but no money.
One of the speeches, in Yiddish, was dedicated to the youth. In order not to arouse suspicion of counterrevolution, members of all youth groups came to the lecture. It was worth listening to it. It was a masterful misinformation and ignorance of Zionist matters. The speaker directed his sarcasm towards Zionism. Any one of those who attended would have been happy to stomp on the bald head of the speaker when he repeated, several times, that Aliyah to Eretz Israel is only meant for rebuilding the Temple and to bring sacrifices. The lecture, of course, was accepted without any arguments. Those sitting in the first few rows even applauded. The speaker descended from the stage with a glowing face, like a general who had won a battle.
The Bolsheviks were trounced on the Vistula in Warsaw and had to retreat. The Commissar stood, in Ustiluh, on the balcony of Meir Weinfeld and orated enthusiastically:
You will no longer be slaves to the Poles! Your children will no longer go hungry! Your earnings for hard work will not be stolen! Your wives and daughters will not be raped!
However, it was not the Poles who robbed and raped the women in Ustiluh. Within two days it was the Red soldiers of Bodiano! They even found something to steal in Yossel's house: the boots he wore were taken off his feet. They took Reuven's sheep coat (Sima's husband) and twenty-year-old Shmulik's Sabbath clothes. Shmulik was short and skinny and would not accept the fact they he was robbed. He ran after them to denounce them. However, a gun thrust in front of him stopped his progress.
At night, a time of remembering the covenant, the screams of tortured women pierced the air in town.
The next day, the residents were in their homes and listened to the booms of the artillery aimed at the town. They announced the approaching Poles. It was a miracle that no homes were destroyed.
In the afternoon, one could see through the cracks in the shutters, Soviet armies leaving town. The Poles arrived and filled the homes for the night. They were careful and before going to sleep they checked everywhere to make sure there were no Bolsheviks hiding anywhere. When none were found, they took small mementos that could be put into a pocket or in a bag. Unfortunately, the soldiers in Yossel's house could not find anything. However, to show their victory, they took Dina's Sabbath silk scarf.
The curfew of the last six weeks was lifted and life went back to normal as far as was possible at that time. The children returned to their Hebrew school which had been closed during liberation. In the evenings one could again hear songs of Zion everywhere.
New times came to town. At least this is what everyone in Ustiluh-young and old- hoped for - better times. True for the Diaspora or the land of their fathers which is calling them from afar.
There was once a small and pretty town called Ustiluh. It is no longer exists
In the nineteen years since our story ends, life continued on an even path. Young people were married and established a home and a family. They tried to build a proper base as much as possible. Others did not see their future in town and left. Some made Aliyah to Eretz Israel and others went to the American continent or other cities in the country. People died, either too early or in time, and were mourned properly. Even Yossel, the saintly, honest man, died young after a lengthy illness. He was full of sadness after his son, gentle Asher, died young. Prior to that, Sima was married.
Her lot was to become a widow before her seventh son was born. He was named after his father. Shmuel also married a woman from a village nearby and moved there. Even Dina did not live to a ripe old age. Her weak heart could not stand the sorrow of her widowed daughter. She died seven days after her son-in-law. In the meantime, Shmuel did not sit still. He had a fairly good economic situation, but he always dreamed of making Aliyah. He managed to do so with his wife and two daughters just before the terrible fire that engulfed his hometown as well as the town of his birth.
This is what the survivors will speak about.
|Aaron Goldberg and his children going to synagogue|
|Handwritten letter by R. Dov Tabakhandler (for page 23)|
|A mother writing to her son in the Polish army (for page 23)|
by Elyhau Schlachter
Translated by Ala Gamulka
A. My town - a general look
My town Ustiluh- you stand in front of my eyes as if you were alive. Years have passed since I left you, but you are etched in my heart. I cannot forget you.
The Bug river streamed through the western part of town. It formed a natural border between Volyn and Congress Poland. The bridge on the river connected the districts of Ludomir and Hrobishov. Transportation used this route.
Earlier, the town was called Little Danzig. On a hill on the shore of the river stood two wooden warehouses. Wheat from nearby villages and lumber from the surrounding forests were placed on shelves inside. They were then taken by steamboat to Danzig.
When was this town founded? The residents were not really interested. Only the faded letters on ancient gravestones were proof that Jews had lived there for several generations.
The area of the town was small. It was surrounded by villages, forests and fruit orchards. The population was about 4000 and 90% were Jews.
In the center of town there was a large market place. It was filled with stores. Several small streets branched off it. The streets were: Ludomir, Danche, Bathhouse, Winehouses. Shlakhtse street was where my parents lived. Their house was encircled by a garden and cherry trees. Most of the neighbors were gentiles. Not far away were two government schools. Most of the Jewish youth attended them.
Most of the houses were built with wood. Only a few buildings had two stories. In the center there was a well. Water was drawn from it and carried in pails on a pole. There were also people who worked at drawing the water and delivering it. I remember Yankel Katchke (Duck) the water drawer and Baruch the Water Carrier.
There were two factories for making soda water: that of Reuven Sodovnik and the Shtimer family. The production was done in a primitive way: a large wheel was turned to start the engine and the needed gas was produced. In the hot summer days, people enjoyed drinking cool soda water. There were also 4 plants producing oil. They belonged to the Boim family. The mills for grinding the seeds were run by the help of a horse whose eyes were covered or who was blind. It would turn a huge wooden wheel. The ground seeds were drained in a large steamroller.
On the other side of the Bug river there were around 20 Jewish families. They earned their living mainly from fishing and dairy. They would bring the milk daily to the store of Falik Khaznonlad in the town center. There was a large green meadow that served to feed their farm animals. These people from the other side were strong and brave. They were also excellent swimmers. It happened often that they were called to rescue someone drowning in the river. They came quickly in their boats to help out. In the beginning of spring the entire area was flooded with water. Sometimes their houses were in the water up to the roof. There was a danger of destruction as well as drowning. Even the big wooden bridge was in danger. Soldiers used to blast the frozen ice.
Later in the spring, the area became a place to walk and a soccer field. There were other pretty nooks in town: the fruit orchard of Bieliankin, his palace and the fields, the neighboring forest, Konstantin's hill, There was a small flour mill on the street of the Gentiles, lying among the green mountains that made our hearts happy.
On the Sabbath and holidays there were walks individually and in groups. Our young hearts were beginning to feel love and these pretty nooks kept our secrets. When the fruit was ripe, we would go into the garden to taste the apples and plums. We would sit in the shadow of the trees, sing and tell jokes. Before nightfall on the Sabbath, the entire community would walk on Ludomir street. It was the street for the walkers.
B. On weekdays and on the Sabbath
During the week, life was difficult. Light and shadow were intermingled. The market place was the source of income. Most of the stores were there and also the commerce with the gentiles from the nearby villages. The Jews would go to the market place early in the morning to see if they could find a bargain.
Sunday was the day of rest for the gentiles. The Polish authorities did not permit the opening of stores. However, the need to make a living forced the Jews to transgress. As soon as the police officer left and went to another street, customers would be sneaked inside through the back door.
All day, church bells would be heard. The church stood on Ludomir street. It was a large, tall building with its crosses piercing the skies. We were overcome by fear as we passed by it and we would murmur: Let us be quiet so we are not harmed. A wall and tall trees circled the building. In the yard there were fruit trees. The priest leased the trees to Jews. Among them was Shmerl Lipinski who now lives in Israel. Another was Peretz Gurevitch. They used to stand in the market place selling various kinds of apples and pears.
Wednesday was market day and the sleepy town would awaken. The stores were filled with customers, mainly from nearby villages. Vendors in the market place would sell their wares. There was give and take, much noise and many people.
The taverns belonging to Pinchas Berkes, Yenta Printsches and Esther Manises were filled with gentiles. They drank liquor and ate bread with herring. Yenta was a woman of valor and she kept everything in order. She listened to their arguments and prevented fights. When they became tipsy, she took them outside and said good-bye in a nice way.
On Thursdays, the women of Ustiluh would get up early. My mother also ran to the market place to buy meat and fish for the Sabbath.
On Friday mornings, before daylight, mother would fire the oven in order to bake Challot and bread for the entire week. My sisters, Esther, Hannah and Riza would also get up and begin to help. They would clean the rooms and iron clothes for the Sabbath. We studied in the Heder until noon. We then went to the bathhouse near the river bank. It was dangerous to go up and down in the winter since there was snow and ice. My brother Berel and Yossel, son of Tile, the shoemaker, went from door to door to collect Challot and loaves of bread for the poor.
At nightfall mother blessed the candles. We went to synagogue. It was clean and shiny inside. At the eastern wall sat Jews with beards. After services we returned home. Father would bring a guest. We said Shalom Aleichem and make kiddush. We washed our hands and ate the sumptuous Sabbath meal. Every course is accompanied with chants. The next morning Father walked through the room and recited the morning blessing. We got up and took the chicory drink, with milk, from the stove. We drank and went to synagogue. Jews would congregate and put on their prayer shawls. Yankel, the yellow one, led the morning services. The Torah scroll was taken out and placed on the table. The synagogue director gave out the Aliyot. Moshe Yudel read the Torah. We prayed the supplemental portion. We greeted each other with a good Sabbath and we went home to eat the second meal. There was delicious food, especially Cholent and Kugel.
C. Holidays and festivals
Memories of Hanukah in the Heder with the dreidels spinning are etched in my memory. At Purim we worked hard to prepare masks and graggers. The Megillah was read in the synagogue and great noise was made when the name of Haman was mentioned. Presents of food- couples came to the doors and Father always donated generously.
I will describe in detail the preparations for Pessach: the women of the town worked hard to whitewash the dwellings and to clean everywhere beforehand. In our home the women did the painting themselves or they hired Motel Sofer, the painter. The house looked like a battlefield. Tables and chairs were moved with other items piled on top. Slowly, order returned. The house was all white inside. Everything was washed and scrubbed. In a special room stood a large basket with Matzos, covered with a white sheet.
At dawn on the 14th day of Nissan, Father checked for Hametz. I held a candle and Father, had a feather in his right hand and a wooden spoon in the left one. We went from window to window and one piece of furniture to another. Father collected crumbs of chametz, prepared by Mother, into his spoon.
On the eve of Pessach, we would get up early. Father went to synagogue and from there to the slaughterhouse. There were long lines of men, women and children holding chickens to be properly slaughtered. At home, the last preparations are being made for the holiday. My sisters are working hard. They clean the windows, change the curtains and wash the wooden floors. At 10 the last chametz meal is eaten. Father burns the chametz in the small stove. We fire the stoves with high heat. According to the rules, the stove must glow.
The day passes. We have already dunked the dishes. We brought down, from the attic, the Pessach dishes. Mother gives me the honor of grinding matzos in a wooden mortar. This is hard work, but there is no choice. She makes me feel better by offering me pocket money to buy nuts.
After a festive prayer in the synagogue, we return home for the Seder. Father sits at the head of the table leaning on pillows. His face is pale. Mother is sad and tears are flowing from her eyes. She remembers her four sons Herschel, Nahum, Shlomo and Leibush who are not with us. They are in foreign lands. I am wearing a suit and new shoes. Everything in the house is clean and shiny. The wine in the glasses entices me. I ask the Four Questions and we read from the Haggadah. We drink wine and eat special food. My mother and sisters are tired and are dozing.
The first days of Pessach pass. On Hol HaMoed the weather is still cool. Everyone is wearing holiday clothes. People visit each other. Some go to the train station to welcome guests. The station is full of travellers, coming and going. There is excitement and the heart is happy and full of hope.
Rosh Hashana. The synagogue is completely full. Jews are wearing white kitels which are covered with talits. Their faces are full of dread and self examination. Father leads the morning services. When he begins the special tune for the Days of Awe, he starts to read from the prayer book. The crowd is silent. The Torah is read and the Shofar is blown. Everyone is together, listening to the entreaties of the prayer leader who raises his arms towards heaven as his voice becomes louder. I understood the meaning of the prayers. To this day I feel the sense of fear of that moment.
The eve of Yom Kippur. The afternoon prayer is done earlier. It is amusing to see grown men prostrating themselves on the floor like young boys. Moshe Yudel, the teacher, hits them with a belt to atone for their sins. We eat the last meal when the sun is still high in the sky. Father changes his clothes. My sisters wash the dishes. Mother blesses the candles in a tearful voice and wishes everyone a good verdict.
We go to synagogue. One hears women crying from all the houses as everyone rushes to synagogue. Our synagogue is filled. The men wear kitels and talits and wish each other a good year. On the tables and in every corner, there are crates filled with sand. Inside are large wax candles. The floor is covered with aromatic hay. People step on it wearing slippers or socks.
The cantor and his assistants begin with Kol Nidrei. Everyone is standing and chanting with trepidation. This prayer reminds us of the forced conversions in the middle ages. After services, some elderly men remain in the synagogue. Some of them study the daily portion and others recite Psalms.
The next morning everyone comes back for morning prayers. Some do so in whispers and others move fervently and cry loudly. The Torah is read and the supplementary prayer follows. During Al Het (my sin) they beat their left side and confess to any sins which they did or did not commit. The Unetaneh Tokef is then said. Everyone is uptight during this heart-rending prayer. I still remember the feeling of that day. Sounds of crying are heard from the women's section. Sometimes a woman faints, weak from fasting. She is revived with a strong perfume that some of the attendees have. During Neilah, the final prayer, excitement grows. It is time for the final signature and everyone is fearful. When the prayers are over, everyone feels livelier and hopeful for the coming new year. The evening prayer is said quickly. Everyone is rushing home holding bits of lit candles. The elderly men stay to bless the moon.
The signature of Yom Kippur requires final approval and Hoshana Raba serves that purpose. The elderly men sit in synagogue all night. They read Torah and recite Psalms. All this to obtain a good result.
Simchat Torah. The synagogue is lit up. Boys and girls holding flags. The cantor says You have shown us and the large crowd replies with enthusiasm. Hakafot around the platform are done holding the Torah scrolls. After every circling, Hassidic chants are sung. I, too, circle the platform holding a small Torah. The next day, after prayers and a special kiddush in the synagogue, we go to visit many homes. There we eat potato pancakes with meat. The children chase the drunks and yell - Holy herd- Meee!
D. Childhood and War
After the holidays, life goes back to normal and to daily worries. The children, laden with books, return to the Heder to learn Torah. I was studying with the children's tutor Haim Wolf. He was a kind and honest man. He never beat his students. He treated me with patience. He showed me large letters of the alphabet using his pointer.
He lived a life of dire poverty. He only ate potatoes and kugel made from the leftover pieces of bread of the students. He used to stir it with beer.
My brother, Leibush, studied with Yossel the emperor. He was stern. On Thursdays, anyone who did not prove to him that he knew the portion of the week with Rashi commentary, would be lifted up by his ears. I saw my brother sitting behind the house, crying. He was afraid to go back.
This interesting time passes in front of my eyes like a film.
When WWI broke out in 1914, I was six years old, but I remember everything as if it were today. The Jewish residents were afraid of what was to come. Father dug a hole under the floor and hid clothes and valuables. This was in case there was a fire or we had to flee. There were rumors of losses by the Russian army and that the front was moving close to our town. Since we lived in a gentile area, my parents decided to move to the center of town- to the large inn of Pinchas Berkes. We packed bundles of clothes and food and we moved to the new place. We slept on the floor, in our clothes. At night, there was total darkness. On the streets there were Cossack guards. Early the next morning we woke up to the sounds of bombings. The Russians bombed the bridge on the Bug. The Germans shelled the town. There was great consternation and people began to flee the town. Some went by cart and others on foot, carrying their bundles on their backs. We fled in the direction of Ludomir. After we walked for several hours, we noticed it was completely quiet and before nightfall we returned to town. Everyone was anxiously waiting for the Germans to enter town. As they conquered the town, they did not harm the residents. The Ukrainian population fled to Russia and left its homes and land. The Germans took the men to work in digging and fortification. After a short time, the town management was transferred to the Austrians.
Illnesses and epidemics erupted, such as Cholera and Typhus. Hundreds of people died. There was hunger.
The Austrians established government schools and opened medical clinics. Every resident was inoculated against infectious diseases. There was free medical help. Bridges and roads were built with lumber from the forests. A small railroad was erected. Food was distributed (less and less eventually). Education was compulsory. I was registered in Grade One. My teachers were Moshe Kornfeld, Mentze Barak and Shmerl Sokoler. The principal was officer Kimmel. We learned Hebrew and German. I still remember the Austrian national anthem.
The Jewish youth began to organize and meet in the military shack of Leib Gut. It became a place to present plays. Once, during a play, fire broke out. The ceiling caught fire from a lantern. The entire audience tried to leave through the only exit. It took a long time to empty the hall. I was taken out through a window. The fire was quickly put out, but there were some injuries.
Four years passed and the war continued. Suddenly, it became known that there were revolutions in three rival states in Russia. The powerful Tsar Nikolai was thrown out and the same happened in Germany and Austria.
The officers and soldiers who were staying in Beliankin's palace took off their insignia. They threw away their guns and embraced each other with happiness. The prisoner camp near our house was emptied of guards. The barbed wire fence was destroyed and the prisoners were freed. All the roads were filled with soldiers and refugees returning to their homes and their families. The Jewish soldiers who returned organized a self-defence group. There was news of pogroms on the Jews of Russia and Ukraine. Gangs of killers were roaming the forests. They attacked and took Jewish belongings. Among the members of the defence group in our town I remember Yitzhak Goldberg, Mordechai Fleisher, Kalman Blatt, Yerucham Zweig and a few more young men whose names I do not remember. Near the palace of Bieliankin there were large stores of food, cattle, horses and lumber. Everyone took what he wanted.
E. Poland is revived
There was a short period of relative calm. Nothing special happened and life continued. On Friday night, in the synagogue, I heard someone tell that a military troop came into town and stayed in the house of Pofelis. All day, on the Sabbath, there were military guards who went around and did not allow any gatherings. On Sunday, there were searches for arms. On the weekly market day there were fights between Jews and soldiers. The latter wanted to confiscate the carts and horses of Jews. They, in turn, opposed it.
The residents of the town did not know that the Polish people were coming back to life. They were surprised to hear the guests were representatives of the new regime. A meeting was called in the Great House of Study and it was decided to ask the commander of the troop to stop the confiscations and to behave properly towards the Jewish population. In the morning there was a parade going to the house of Pofelis. The people were shouting and shooting in the air. The commander and his soldiers were scared and began to fire a machine gun. Some people in the crowd were hurt and the others fled in many directions. The soldiers killed anyone they met on the street. Around 12 people were killed and many were injured. The next day, 10 town leaders, including, Bentzi the Dayan (judge), were imprisoned in the House of Study. They were heavily guarded. A group fine was imposed on the town. There was a threat of killing the hostages if the fine was not paid within 24 hours. After strenuous efforts, the fine was paid. Some of the defense team were freed. A committee was sent by the Polish parliament to investigate. The entire episode was erased.
F. Between Bolsheviks and Poles
In 1920, the war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks broke out. Trenches were dug and fortifications were built. The Polish soldiers from Poznan abused the Jews and cut off their beards. They especially performed these activities on the Sabbath. They took Jews out of synagogues and forced them to work on the Sabbath.
I saw, with my own eyes, how a soldier caught Yehuda Fleisher and tried to straighten out his crooked finger. His screams filled the air.
The front approached our town. The Poles retreated and bombed and burned all the bridges. The Bolsheviks entered the next day. They were shoeless, wore torn clothes, and looked really miserable. The commissar called for a meeting and chose a local committee to run the town. The economic situation worsened. There was absolutely no commerce. They did supply propaganda material. There were newspapers in Russian and a lot of entertainment-concerts and plays. After six weeks, on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Bolshevik army retreated from town and the Poles took possession again, after heavy bombing. Several people were injured and some houses were damaged.
G. National-public reawakening
Slowly, conditions began to ameliorate. Commerce began to develop. Schools were reopened. There were elections to the Polish parliament. I took part in the elections. All the Jews voted for A'. The village obtained the status of town. Most of the town councillors were Jews.
|Michael Krakower, first chairman of the Jewish community with his grandson Leibele|
|Branch of the scouts on Memorial Day for Herzl, 1924|
Teacher Shlomo Kent was elected as vice mayor. Michael Krakower was chosen as the chairman of the Jewish community. He was followed by Yeshayahu Eksmit. They were devoted civil leaders and fulfilled their positions with loyalty.
I returned to school. In the Polish school we were greatly annoyed by the gentile students and I left the school. I had private tutors: Yankel Zipper and Moshe Shpirer. The local youth was reorganized. A drama group was founded and was headed by my brother, Leibush, Moshe Burlyant and Haim Terner. The younger ones established a Hebrew library which had 750 books and another one for Yiddish. Plays were presented and the income was dedicated to the acquisition of books. We obtained a nice apartment with two rooms. From time to time, lecturers came to speak about various topics. The youth participated fully. Various political parties were organized- Zionist, Poalei Zion, Mizrahi Hechalutz, Hashomer Hatzair and Beitar. Hebrew evening classes were offered. We had discussions about Eretz Israel, Histadrut and their institutions. We celebrated, in grand style, the inauguration of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. We held memorial assemblies for Herzl and Trumpeldor. The speakers were Fishel Eisenberg, Yankel Yokhenzon and Yitzhak Yeshayahu Eksmit. Their speeches excited the listeners. Some young people were fortunate to make Aliyah.
H. Bloody events and crisis in Eretz Israel- depression in the Diaspora
News of bloody events in Eretz Israel- attacks by Arabs on Jewish settlements reached us. A protest meeting was held in the House of Study. There was resentment in the Jewish community about the exploitation of the Jewish workers by the orchard owner in the settlements.
In 1924 I was one of the first volunteers for kibbutz training. It was meant to accustom us to physical work according to the norms in Eretz Israel and to communal life. To my great sorrow, I could not withstand the work and I returned home after a short time. At that time there was a great depression in Eretz Israel, right after an increase in Aliyah. Some immigrants came back- Michel Shafran, Mordechai Vogenfeld and others. There was a feeling of depression and disappointment. Activities for Keren Hayesod and Jewish National Fund waned. The public stopped donating. The youth in town began to search for different methods to establish themselves and started to roam to countries across the ocean. My brother Leibush immigrated to Mexico.
In the meantime, the Jews of Poland were under heavy clouds. Anti-Semitism reared its head. The Nazi movement in Germany, like a plague, infected most of the gentile population of Poland.
I. My Aliyah- bloody events
The Jewish youth, with its healthy sense, predicted, for a long time, that the economic base was being taken away from the Jews. Another dry goods store will not resolve the issue. The worry about what was to come strengthened the need for a new life. In spite of the fact that my economic situation was sound, I went again to the training kibbutz. Other youths followed in my footsteps.
After 3 years of work and suffering I was fortunate to make Aliyah in 1936. There were many good-bye parties. Several friends made Aliyah with me.
In the absorption center in Haifa, we were welcomed by all the friends who had made Aliyah before us. Each one chose his own settlement. At the same time, there were bloody events between the Arabs and the Jews. There were victims on a daily basis. Among them was our dear friend Yaakov Cohen. Avner Goldhaber was injured. There was high unemployment in the country. The Mandate government cut the number of permits for Aliyah. Many friends left the kibbutzim and settled in towns and moshavot.
J. Second World War- Holocaust
In 1939, the big war broke out with all its terrible events and destruction. I was working then as a plumber in the construction of the oil refinery near Haifa. Since my town of birth was conquered by the Red Army, I was fired from my job. Ominous news began to arrive. The town was completely burned. Leibele, my sister Rizaa's son, was killed by shrapnel. The house was burned and they were left with nothing. Here, too, we began to feel the war. The Italians bombed the oil tanks near Haifa. My dear friend, Yehuda Fleisher, was killed. I lived in Kiryat Haim, not far from the airport and we felt the bombardment quite often. For several years we had no reliable news of what was happening outside of the country. Here and there, we heard some rumors, that the Nazis were exterminating all the Jews. Without exception, no one wanted to believe that the enlightened German people would be capable of such deeds. Ships of illegal immigrants began to arrive in the country, especially after the State of Israel was established by a fiery war, and the few survivors from our destroyed town came. The bitter truth was confirmed by them. The Jews of Ustiluh were exterminated and no one was left from my cherished family. May their souls be bound in the bonds of life.
K. Election of Rabbis
I cannot end my reminiscences without mentioning a public event from my youth that left a mark in the town for some time. It created a state of celebration and great interest.
Rabbi Yossel Wertheim left town when WWI broke out and wandered eastward until bad times will have passed. The supervision of religious interests: marriages, divorces, kashrut, Torah laws, etc. was left on the shoulders of two Dayanim (judges)- Bentzi Reider and Reuven Zack. At the end of the war, he did not return to Ustiluh, but became the rabbi in Hrobishov. For several years, out town did not have a chief rabbi. Then, the rabbi from Beltz offered his son-in-law, Rabbi Pinhas (Piniele) Tversky for the position of Rabbi of Ustiluh. The Beltz rabbi wanted this to happen because our town was famous for its former rabbis who were truly righteous.
Ustiluh also wished for this to happen as it wanted to be connected to a rabbi with thousands of followers. So, everyone agreed and there was a grand ceremony.
The Beltz rabbi was well accepted by the Polish authorities because of his civic loyalty. (He ordered his followers to vote for the party in power). For that reason, a special train was assigned to him and hundreds of followers came with him to Ustiluh for the crowning of Rabbi Piniele. The entire town came out to meet them. The Vinehauser people decorated their horses with colorful papers and there was a unit of horsemen who rode in front of the wagon. It was said that when the train arrived and the rabbi was to descend from it, Yossel Tiles, the shoemaker, lay down on the ground to serve as a step. I remember that the day was rainy and the way from the station to town was full of mud. The followers and the rest of the crowd ran after the wagon with their feet full of slush. Near the Shtiebel Ahava Raba (Great love) (Kuzmir), there was huge open tent to serve for prayers and to set tables. Hassidim from everywhere in Poland streamed to our town. Even sick people were brought to ask for healing.
The Beltz rabbi stayed for a month. In the meantime, Rabbi Piniele was crowned as chief rabbi. However, the merger did not work out. Rabbi Piniele mainly was occupied with religious matters, but Ustiluh needed a leader like Rabbi Yossel Wertheim. He returned to Galicia after a few years.
Ustiluh again did not have a Rabbi. The question was who among the two Dayanim (the late Reuven was replaced by his son-in-law Yehoshua Shintop), would be the official rabbi, recognized by the authorities. Elections were held and there was great competition.
In spite of the fact that Bentzi was known as an outstanding scholar and was also older than his competitor, young Yehoshua obtained a majority. Bentzi felt greatly slighted. He became ill and never regained his strength.
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