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[Pages 122 - 131]

First World War

Translated by Miriam Beckerman

Edited by Myrna Neuringer Levy

Before the outbreak of the [First World] War, during the Balkan War of 1912, people used to tell each other stories about the terrible battles that were taking place. The Jews in our city were particularly worried. They felt that something could also happen to them, especially since they did not trust Russia. In order to calm the people, to stop an attack, to scare “Fanya” [the derogatory nickname for Russia] a company of [Austro-Hungarian] soldiers was sent to Borchov. They were billeted in one of the shuls. For the city this was something new. People had something to observe.

The company [of soldiers] used to do drills right in the street. Sometimes they would march out of the village to the field to do shooting exercises. Early in the morning and towards evening they would carry on their marches and parades. What amazed the people most was the “Hauptman” because he rode on a horse and was accompanied by two Hussars who wore colorful uniforms with red hats and blue coats.

The crowd calmed down. For a while four soldiers with guns were stationed on the roof of the gymnasium in case, as they explained to each other, a Russian airplane would fly through Borchov. Until that time nobody had ever seen an airplane. The soldiers [on the roof] were supposed to shoot the airplane down. Once, when a patriotic demonstration took place and it stretched until evening, people saw “the airplane.” It was high in the sky and they looked at it wondering what was happening. They fell into a panic and started to run home. But the airplane, which from the distance appeared to be just like a star, didn't move from its spot. It seemed to be observing everything that was going on...this lasted for hours until the “star” disappeared.

Later, this company was taken away and everything went back to the old order. “Fanya” got scared! The real war broke out unexpectedly; on a Friday, I saw an official run out of the headquarters and he shouted to my father, “General mobilization!”

As he continued on the way home, my father said these words to everyone he met, both Jews and Christians. I didn't understand what these words meant and what there was to talk about. In the city the mood immediately became very depressed. Women started to cry; their husbands, sons must hide. While davening in the shul, people already debated the current events and concluded that Russia will ultimately surrender, beaten, and then shrink to the size of the Dalina [the local river]. Nobody even dreamed that it could be otherwise. Our military! “Ein kleinakait!” [They were something!]

On Shabbos, the first train arrived with those who were called up. It was overfilled. On the platform there stood quite a large group of women, children, and older people. When the train started to depart, people started to cry bitter tears, to heaven above.

I didn't understand what this crying was about and I could relate it only to patriotism, that is, to the romance with which a war was, in my fantasy, connected.

Such trains continued to depart on Sunday, which was Tish'a B'av, at five o'clock in the morning and in the afternoon. The screams, wails, and crying were not any less each time.

Then, it was quiet for a few days. Suddenly, we saw a regiment of infantry marching through the city towards Scala [a neighboring village]. The soldiers looked tired and disheveled. Some marched in groups; others marched alone. The crowd was wondering if this is how a regiment marches, our army? Jewish people were standing on the sidewalks with cans of water and tin cups and they handed the soldiers drinks or distributed bread and rolls. The soldiers took it like beggars. The crowd wasn't very happy about that.

The regiment spent a few days in Scala. Then they went over the border and went to Kommenitz. News was passed among us about what they accomplished. A Jewish officer distinguished himself there. He fell in battle, but before he died he killed a Russian soldier!

A few days later they saw the same regiment marching back. Their appearance was even worse. After the army, [came] the trains - trains filled with all kinds of provisions and after them [came] the wagons. These were peasant wagons with peasants driving them and they used these because they were short of military wagons.

Once more there was quiet in the village for a few days. One day when the gendarme officer, ( who came to Borchov a few days before the outbreak of the war ) rode through the main street on his horse, the letter carrier went up to him and gave him a dispatch. The officer opened the dispatch and read it to the Jews who were standing around him. “Paris is conquered!” The Jews started to yell, “Hoch!” The officer saluted and rode off.

At night the officer, together with the gendarmerie, disappeared. The city was left without anyone in control. The mayor, a Pole, left. Everyone felt very uneasy. They worried. The city is without a leader. Should the Russians come, with whom will they speak? Who will defend us? And the Jews were also afraid - what would happen to them?

So they went to the old former leader, to beg him to take over the city. He was a Ukrainian (he spoke Ukrainian so he would be able to converse with the Russians) Usually, we hated such people, but now in a time of trouble....? In the meantime, he was maintaining friendly relations with the Jews. He was “a decent goy.” He let himself be convinced [to take over the leadership] and he immediately went over to the side of the community. The crowd watched over him both day and night so that he shouldn't leave. “In case they came.” Several Jews who were more scared hired a coachman and wagons, loaded with their wives, children and some belongings and left for Verkhniakovitz [another village] which was two or three kilometers from Borchov. They believed that since this [village] was off the main road the Russian army would not go there. They were trying to avoid traveling on a road that the Russians might use.

The first order from the new mayor was to hang out white flags, a sign that Borchov surrenders, so that the Russians would not do anything. The next day, in the afternoon, the Russians came in. It was a Cossack command. First, one Cossack, with a rifle in his hand, galloped in on a small horse. Later, another one, and another one. They passed like an arrow from a bow through the city. One of them rode back afterwards at a gallop. He was a Cossack with a gun in his hand. He stopped his horse in front of Lipster's house and he started to yell. “Vodka!” The old Lipster came out of the house with a bottle of whiskey and a small glass. He filled the small glass and handed it to the Cossack. The Cossack was afraid that the whiskey was poisoned. The Cossack told him to drink that himself. The Jew drank the whiskey. When the Jew wanted to pour a second glass, the Cossack tore the bottle out of his hand and took off with the whole bottle.

Then a giant mass of army men came riding into town with a general in front. He saw a few Jews in the market. He stopped and gave a short speech in Russian.

Not everything was understood, but we took it to mean that he came to free us from Austrian rule and not to fear, the Cossacks would not do anything to us. The Jews raised their hats and the general left. The column [of men] stretched for a long way. We stood on the sidewalk and watched without fear. We marveled that the Cossacks looked like human beings because before they came in, people told one another that the Russians sent to the front mainly Tartars from the Caucasus, who have one eye in the middle of their foreheads, and they believed that! They were told that the Tartars would rob and kill...

Amongst the army there rode doctors, medics with red crosses on their arms and amongst them the people could recognize some Jewish faces as well.

When the march stopped for awhile the riders went into the stores (they were all open to show the Russians that we were peacefully inclined) and people started to ask if there were any Jews amongst them, Jews from the other side.

After that one of their officials stayed in the village. He brought with him a few reinforcements.

Nothing changed in the city. We lived as before and slowly we got accustomed to the Russians. Jews opened an inn where the Russian soldiers used to come to drink tea, to eat fresh buns and pay the full price with rubles.

Jews started to do business with the Russians and they started to deal with cash. Once, at night in the year 1914 we were awakened; the Russians had left! Our [side, the Austro-Hungarians] are coming back! At night with the soldiers gone we ran to let out the prisoners [in the local jail] and we waited for our own people full of joy.

The next day the Russian commander came back with his whole band. Because of the shame of running away to Kommenitz without any reason and being told to return, he shot himself. The Russians made a funeral for him and the Jewish band had to learn to play Beethoven's Funeral March.

A new commander came. The Russians were in Borchov for three years. People got used to them, especially with the Tartars from Krimsky Company. That was a regiment named after the Czar's wife, Anna Feodorovna. They were in Borchov for quite a length of time, quartered mainly by Jews. [They got along fine.] It came to a point that a Krimsker soldier actually rocked a Jewish child. Another used to help in a store. A third one used to groom a Jewish horse; a fourth one chopped wood for the Jewish housewife. But in spite of all these good relationships, Jews still looked for their own [to return]. They passed on political news to one another that was to their advantage.

I remember exactly how sometime during the year 1915 (when the Russians were very far away in Galicia), we got a note from Scala, written in red ink, understandably written in German (so that “Fanya” wouldn't be able to read it). In the note was written, amongst other things, “Czar Nickolai dead. Paris has fallen. Pankara was hanged.”

Representatives from the “Association of the Russian Cities” came to Borchov and brought help for the population, especially the refugees who came there. They established an aid association and opened a soup kitchen where they distributed meals and gave money to those in need. The representatives of [this association] to our city were Jews - Shmuel Gomelsky and later Itzhak Gutterman from Kiev.

In addition there were two Russian military doctors, Dr. Bloch and Dr. Landau, who helped the impoverished Jewish population in secret. Since they were stationed in Borchov in the military hospital, they could help Jews in their free time. When they were on leave in Kiev or other large cities, they bought materials with their own means and distributed it in secret. They used to ride to the most out of the way shtetls in order to leave a few rubles for poor families.

There were two additional reasons that the population was so poor. Jews were chased out of nearby shtetls, including Scala, and they settled in Borchov. Other shtetls situated on the Dniester River were destroyed because of the war and there was nowhere to house the people. The Jews from these villages came to Borchov. Parts of these shtetls were left in ruins and they did not get rebuilt after the war and they were left almost without Jews.

Understandably, there were Jews in the surrounding villages, who because of the fear of the Russians, came to Borchov. Not all of them were refugees and their number was not small, about several hundred. They could not find work in the small and impoverished shtetls.

Some of these refugees remained in Borchov even after the war. Some stayed because they managed to establish themselves, others because they had nothing to return to. Although they did not own anything in Borchov, local institutions would give them support.

In time, these refugees became part and parcel of the Borchov population. People forgot from whence other people had come. But sometimes, according to the surname, they knew that the Jew was not originally from Borchov.

Slowly, friendship and good relationships developed between the Jews and Russians. [Nevertheless] they had great sorrow when the Kaiser, Franz Joseph, died.

As much as the Jews were tied to “ours” [Austro-Hungarians], we could see [the condition of] the Austrian or German prisoners, both healthy or wounded. People used to gather money, cigarettes, and clothing for them, endangering themselves by handing it over. Understandably, this was not allowed. Jews also wanted to know from the captured ones where the front was, where they were captured.

The prisoners would willingly answer especially when they would get bribes. Frequently we did not understand their remarks. The soldiers were happy that they were in captivity. Others, though, expressed themselves with unsuitable words about our army and its leadership. We were ready to kill them [for saying things] like that.

Another disappointment we lived through was when they moved a German captured officer through the main street. When the wagon stopped and one of the guards looked away, one of us asked him quietly, “Where were you captured?”

At this the German started to shout, “Scram, dirty Jew!”

We could not grasp this at all. People excused this by saying that the officer was embittered because he could no longer fight for his fatherland.

In addition to these events, the Russians captured Jews, just Jews, for work. These captured people worked in the city itself. They chopped stones, and they also dug trenches in nearby villages. There was a panic when girls were grabbed for work. They were taken to a work camp. When the Russian commander from that camp showed up in the city other girls ran to hide.

When the Russians were grabbing [Jews], they did not care who they grabbed; they did not care if a person was intelligent or not intelligent, so long as he was a Jew. This aroused the Borchover academics. They decided to demonstrate against this. They sat in the middle of the city on piles of rocks and they chopped the rocks and this made an impression on the city people and the authorities.

Another time the Jewish Kehilla had to supply a number of workers to dig a trench in another town. This was in the cold winter. Again the academics appeared and they were well equipped. The Jews supplied each one with a good sheepskin, some money, and a bag of fruit. In addition, sleds were hired for them. They were led off. [The Russians] didn't give much consideration to the fact that these were academics. They were taken to work.

By this time the front was getting close. People could hear shooting. They saw an Austrian airplane. So our heroes [the academics] got together and in the dark night they ran away. Some of them ran to Chernovitz. (Some of them had previously studied there.) Others hid in other neighboring shtetls until, in time, all of them came back to the city. The fear of punishment vanished and the authorities forgot about them.

Another misfortune was cholera. It first broke out amongst the Russian military and then it spread amongst the Jewish population and it was very bad. Very few sick people survived.

In order to get rid of this epidemic the Jews used the tested means - they had a wedding performed in the cemetery. They took a poor girl, who in this case was the grave- digger's daughter and they called a fellow who limped on one leg and was a refugee. They dressed up the couple, she with a white veil and he with a fine frock coat, even though it was a hot summer day. They were both taken to the cemetery. The band played, the Chusen [groom] was brought in. After the wedding the crowd took the couple to their new home, which was a rented room in someone's house. The Kehilla provided this.

[They took a poor girl with no chance of getting married and a poor man who nobody wanted. He benefited, she benefited, they made a “shiddach.” This was supposed to get rid of all the bad things.]

It is true that the epidemic did not stop because of this, but I remember that after the wedding everybody felt their hearts lighten.

A few times a day you would see a wagon loaded with wooden stretchers and a soldier would be walking at the side with a white apron. With one hand he held the reins of the horse and in the other hand he held a whip. Under his arm he held a flask of carbolic acid. Because of a lack of space in the cemetery, the Russians grabbed a part of the field opposite the Jewish cemetery and started to bury their dead there. Soon the local Christian population started to bury their dead there. This is how Borchov gained a new gentile burial ground. After the war when our men, including the academics who ran away, came back they could not go there. The former landlord of the fields could not get them back.

Finally, finally an end did come to the epidemic.

A change of events came with the Russian Revolution in 1917. Political agitation started in the army. They didn't forget about the Jewish population. Dr. Landau, who until then had worked in secrecy, was known amongst the Jews. He came to us now as an official representative of the “Russian Power.”

He gave a speech in Yiddish in shul that went on for several hours until late at night. He spoke about the revolution and suggested that we elect a national committee in the city. Everybody got caught up by the speech. They saw in the Russian “a mensch.” The main reason why [Borchovers] hated “Fanya” was because of his anti-Semitism. This decreased and Jews got all rights [after the Revolution.] The mood in the city changed completely and they started to follow the events in Russia.

[Ansky was the pen name of Shlomo Seinfeld Rappoport. He was a journalist, writer and social activist. He is most famous for his play The Dybbuk]. He was in Chotkov for awhile to gather folk material. His book, “The Destruction of Galicia”, gives us some particulars about what happened in Borchov at that time. Some people in Chortkov reported to him that in Borchov eleven people were brought to court, amongst them four women, who were sentenced to death. One of the women was Jewish. At her first trial she was proclaimed innocent, but the commander demanded that she should be judged once more. The second time she was freed again. So the commander demanded that she be judged a third time and at this trial she was sentenced to death and hung. “No exact information about the process was available.” [Ansky's words. It is not clear what the charges were, probably spying for Austria.]

These processes against Austrian spying took place several times in the city. Krinsky conducted these court cases. During the court cases, near the small house where the court was held, two soldiers used to stand with swords extended so people in the city knew what was happening there. The soldiers used to talk about it also. After the trial the prisoners would be seen as they were taken out to be hung. They were hung in the forest. Once, four women were condemned. It is not known if there was a Jewish woman among them.

As the condemned ones were brought out on foot surrounded by soldiers with their extended swords, the crowd would accompany them to the place of execution. People used to say that even the soldiers cried when they saw this!

The last time a young non- Jew was not led to the forest but hung on a tree in a yard [in the middle of the city.]

Another notice of Ansky's tells that, in 1916, the Russian authorities allowed the homeless to return to Russia. Fifteen hundred people came to Borchov from Scala because the authorities there did not let them return to their own destroyed city.

A third notice announces that the Ziemski Association opened an orphanage for approximately 100 Jewish children.

This was the first orphanage for Jewish children. The ones who took care of them were women from the community. They did this voluntarily. The language spoken was Yiddish. The children were taught to sing Yiddish songs and they played different games. It is [written] that this orphanage was established in the house of a Ukrainian who lived upstairs.

Several months after the happy revolution our own [conscripted men] finally returned. They were actually German soldiers. The first days people rejoiced with them because after the regular Russian military left the city and before the new regime arrived after the Revolution, the city fell into a panic. The retreating Russian soldiers used to rob the people who were also afraid of rape and pogroms.

The last organized Russian military unit we saw was composed of Polish cavalry. People rejoiced with them and detained them in the city overnight. The night was calm; they did not allow robbing of the retreating Russian soldiers. But the next day before leaving they told the Jews here and there to give money and valuables, threatening them with shooting.

At that time Jews who paid did not show up on the street. It was agreed by the Russians that when they attacked a house all the assembled Jews should make a “gevalt” [loud cries] so that another unit might hear and not come to their aid.

And that is what they actually did.

Altogether, this withdrawal cost us money and other trouble. One Jew had his ear cut off. One girl was raped. The last day before their departure German artillery attacked the city and that caused minor damage. In the end it became quiet and “our own” went in.

After a few days we began to be disappointed. People noticed that amongst those who arrived, there were signs of anti - Semitism and they also started to take [our Borchov boys] into the army.

[Pages 131 - 134]

After the Russian Revolution

Translated by Miriam Beckerman

Edited by Myrna Neuringer Levy

The local authorities, called the “starusta” and made up only of Poles, were anti - semitically inclined. Because of this, a Jewish delegation went to Tzigan, a village near Borchov, where a general and his corps were stationed and the delegation complained about this starusta. The delegation could not expect very much from the general. The whole Austrian army was rotten; the national minorities who were not German were not happy about the conduct of the war and they really did not want an Austrian victory. They started to recall the previous Russian times.

News also started to arrive about the Jews who served in the army. Some of them were killed. The remainder longed for home...and general depression overtook everyone.

As a result of the war Jewish life became radicalized. I recall that on the day of the general mobilization, in the year 1914, the city Shammas, whose name was Shimshela, went out Friday evening as usual, with his “shtremel” [ black hat], stood in the middle of the market and shouted, “Come to shul!” The Jews who were standing about attacked him because at such a serious time, he continued to call everyone to go to shul.

That was the last time that people were called to go to shul in Borchov. After that, religious practices ceased. Because of fear of the Russians, many Jews stopped wearing a “shtremel” on Shabbos. They didn't even return to that later when the Austrians returned to power.

Because of the difficult economic situation people stopped eating fish on Shabbos; not only fish, but soup with meat and cholent.

They started to keep the stores open on Shabbos because of a Russian order.

With one word, a whole upheaval!

On the other hand, national and social consciousness was awakened. The tie between the Russian Jews and the Borchov Jews was strengthened. More than once someone would approach a soldier who looked like a Jew and say, “Are you a Jew?” Borchovers wanted to be friendly with him and invite him home. People became conscious of Jewish life beyond their own borders. They became aware of political and revolutionary groups amongst the Jews. Until that time they had never heard of any of this...

In addition, the disappearance of the Austro - Hungarian monarchy affected later events. Ukrainians took over power in the city. People renewed their old contacts from the time when they used to go together to vote for the Viennese parliament. A Ukrainian Democratic Republic was established. Jews were promised all rights. A central Jewish national committee was established. Its headquarters was in Lvov, later on in Stanisloi. Much was expected of this national group: Jewish schools, Yiddish as the recognized language and so on. The sympathy [of the people] was definitely on the side of the Ukrainians. In their army, there were a lot of Jews who were officers of the previous Austrian army. When Polish troops started to march in, a Jewish legion of volunteers was organized in Tarnopol; Jewish students went to help the Ukrainians. When the Ukrainians were short of ammunition, it is said, that there was a Jew who took it upon himself to supply ammunition to the Ukrainian army. There was also talk of a Jewish government official, Dr. Yisroel Waldman, from Tarnopol.

The Jews, therefore, felt themselves quite close to the new rulers.

The Ukrainian soldiers under the leadership of an officer went around to the houses to get provisions for the soldiers [mainly warm underclothing] because the soldiers had nothing. And because they had nothing they were dirty.

Jews let them open the shops and closets and they took menswear for themselves. But they did it with “chesed” [loving kindness]. There was no talk at all of the robbery of precious things, there was no talk at all. [According to the author, this information comes from Reuben Fann, “History of the Jewish National Autonomy in the Period of the Western Ukrainian Republic”, Lemberg, 1933].

Jews from Borchov had high hopes - especially for Jewish autonomy - from the newly established Ukrainian Democratic Republic. Indeed, their hopes were focussed upon the Republic's leader, Dr. Petrushawich. As a result they were crushed when they saw that the republic was dying out.

The territory of the new state kept getting smaller and smaller under pressure from the Polish army until the new government moved to Chortkov, which became the capitol. [Our capital] was transferred from Vienna to Chortkov.

Word got around about a secret conference that took place in Chortkov. It had been convened by [a Ukrainian leader] with representatives from the Jewish communities. Bernard Turner, a teacher from Borchov, took part in the meeting. Finally the [separate] Ukrainian government of Chortkov, including Borchev relocated to the eastern Ukraine and with that our hopes disappeared.

Once more Borchov was left without anyone in power. People were very much afraid of the Poles who were supposed to arrive. People told one another terrible things about their handling of the Jews; for example, that they used to cut off beards, beat the Jews, etc.

In November,1918, we received information about pogroms in Lemberg. The pogrom was [carried out] by the Polish army. So there was a gathering to mourn those who were killed. A black flag was raised and guards were standing throughout the shul to prevent the religious from taking the flag down. Understandably, these events strengthened the connection [people felt] to the new Ukraine. Therefore you can understand the fear that they had of the Poles.

They were terribly afraid of the period when the government would change, when the Ukrainians would leave the city and the new government would not yet have arrived. Again, the Jews approached the old man Poshkovsky to take the reins of the city.

The Poles came. There were no pogroms against the Jews. But they used to grab Jews for labor, only Jews. They even [grabbed Jews] when it was Shabbos and they were returning from the shul. Jews were put to work cleaning the stables and sweeping the barns. The Poles started to persecute those who sympathized with the Ukrainians. Jews and the current government officials were fired from their jobs. All kinds of concessions were taken away from the Jews. (Monopolies from the times of the Austrians, for example.)

The Poles went away shortly thereafter and then the Bolsheviks came. A revolutionary committee of five people was established and it included two Jews, Yehuda Fahrer and Kanfer. But the Soviet regime in Borchov didn't last long. The victory of the Poles in Warsaw caused the Bolsheviks to run from our town. The Poles came back; they took revenge on the “Jewish Bolsheviks.” They ruled with an iron hand until the start of World War II.


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