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[Pages 12 to 18]


by Dr. Yeshayaho Ostridan

Translated by Sara Mages

These words of introduction are written at the end of a modest project to memorialize, in this Yizkor book, the memory of Chortkov's Jewish community and its martyrs. A lot of work was invested in recording every detail in the history of the community. Collecting information on public affairs, economy, social life, culture, social conditions, political situations and the relationship with the districts and the local authorities. We searched for pictures from Chortkov's early days, so we could present you with the realty of the social and personal life of the Jewish families. We researched for information about early Jewish settlement in Chortkov. We present the religious-social conflicts between the Hasidim and the Intelligentsia, and the personality of Rabbi Yshaya-Meir Shapira and his struggle with the famous “court” of the ”Admorim” (the Hasidic Rabbis). In the end, we were only able to give you a glimpse into the cultural and social life of Chortkov's community. Each city and town in Eastern Europe presented “the whole world” of Jewish life, but Chortkov was the capital and a cultural center for Jews who lived in the surrounding areas during the generation before the Holocaust.

In this Yizkor book we, the active members of the Chortkov's organization in Israel, the committee in charge of publishing this book, the committee who collected the material, those, who are not authors or writers, who contributed articles and stories, the writer of these lines, tried to give an inkling of the prestige and the uniqueness of Chortkov. We bring it to you in articles, eye witness reports, stories and pictures. Chortkov was active and creative in Jewish Nationalism. The city of the Hasidic Rabbis and education. The city where the Zionist Idealism of B.Z. Herzl was alive and prosperous. A place were many enthusiastic leaders were eager to fight for the political rights of the Jewish people and their right to be represented in the Austrian Parliament as equal and proud citizens.

This is Chortkov – and those were her Jews; her dreamers and fighters; her leaders and followers; her rich and poor; her scholars and her illiterates; her enthusiastic followers of the Hasidic Rabbis. The Shpirantzikim, who were less enthusiastic, but strongly believed in education and in the duty to the Jewish Nationalist Movement; the Zionist movement with its many organizations and youth movements; and the role of the Zionist Movement in forming the future of the Jewish people. Chortkov was the birthplace of the youth movement “Hashomer Hatzair” and the breeding ground for the historical national movement of the Jewish youth in the Diaspora.

This city and her Jews no longer exist. The awful Holocaust destroyed the core of Chortkov's Jewish community. May this “Yizkor” book be a living memorial, an eternal candle to the souls of her Jews. A place to connect with the community's glorified past. The struggles, failures and success of her Jews whose stories will be told in the following pages.

Chortkov's “Yizkor” book is arranged in chronological order. It opens with a serious scientific work of Rabbi Dr. Efraim Zonenstein about the “Registry of the Chortkov's Community” followed by an introduction written by the scholar Dr. Meir Balaban. Chortkov was one of the few communities whose leaders were deeply involved with daily events and knew the importance of recording those events in the community registry. Those registries are “Chronicles” of ancient and famous communities in Congressional Poland, the two Galicias, Lita and many other regions in Eastern Europe. It is recorded, that in 1427 there was a place, named after its owners “Chortkovichi” and that Jews settled there at that period of time. Dr. Zonnstien based his writings on historical events, research books, the writings of K.A. Franzos – a Jewish author who was born in Chortkov. His books, written in German, describe in details the daily life of Chortkov's Jews. In his article, Dr. Zonnestien analyzed Chortkov's registry. Recorded in the registry are the names of Chortkov's Rabbis and educators who served the community, the names of the community's elected officials, the synagogues, financial reports and more.

Chortkov's stone carvers were well known for their craftsmanship throughout Eastern Galicia. Their magnificent carved tombstone, dated to the middle of the 18th century, reflect their imagination and their uniqueness. In this book we give you examples of their work and pictures of some of the beautifully carved ancient tombstones.

Chortkov's name was well known and its reputation spread over the borders of Galicia and Poland into the bordering countries. Chortkov's reputation increased after the establishment of the famous Hasidic “Court” by her founder Rabbi Reb David Moshe Friedman, the son of Reb Israel from Rozin. The golden period of Chortkov's “Court” lasted until the outbreak of World War I. As the result of the war, Rabbi Israel, the son of Rabbi David-Moshe, settled in Vienna, the new home for the Hasidic “Court”. The yearly visits to Chortkov, during the holidays, turned into a victory journey, for the Rabbi from Chortkov and his followers, along the road from Vienna to Chortkov. The famous “Court” of Rabbi David Moshe Friedman increased Chortkov's popularity among other Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. At the same time, the Jewish community in Chortkov was divided and there was a social-religion struggle that influenced the future life her Jewish population.

The struggle started as a personal conflict between the magnificent personality of Rabbi Yshaya-Meir Shapira who was Chortkov's Rabbi long before Rabbi David-Moshe Friedman established his “Court” in Chortkov in a royal palace purchased for him by his loyal and dedicated Hasidim. Rabbi Ysahaya Meir Shapira did not “object”, of course, to the teaching and way of life of the Hasidot, but insisted, that both, the teaching of the Torah and work should be the way of life for every Jew. The conflict started when the Hasidim, followers of their Rabbi from Chortkov, wanted to enforce their will and way of life on the community and on the city's Rabbi. That was the beginning of a fierce struggle between the powerful and rich “court” and the poor city's Rabbi who lived on his meager salary, paid for by the community. The intellectual Rabbi, who was also one of the first members of “Hovevei Zion”, wrote articles for the Hebrew newspaper that was published at that time and founded “Yad Harotzim” synagogue for the workers of Chortkov. After the death of Rabbi Shapira, there was an immediate division in the community. His followers, established their own synagogue, that later on served as a base for the development of the National Zionist Movement. At the same time the Hasidic “court” was strongly against the Zionist Movement and refused to join it and be involved in its activities. Later on, Rabbi Friedman was one of the founders of the ultra orthodox movement “Agudath Israel”. Even today, this movement is a strong opponent of the Zionist Movement but is taking an active role in the political life in Israel. A country that was established and built by the Zionist Movement.

The influence of the Hasidic Rabbis “court” and the personality of Rabbi Yeshaya-Meir Shapira, turned Chortkov into an important cultural and Torah center for the surrounding villages in Eastern Galicia. Their influence and creative spirits, also spread to far away places.

The Zionist Movement was extremely active in Chortkov and produced a long line of leaders. The movement's delegates took part in many different Zionist Congresses. It was the birth place of the Zionist youth movement “Hashomer Hatzair”, with its own independent social idealism. The movement required its graduated members to join a pioneer training camps and emigrate to Israel. The Zionist Movement and its idealism spread throughout Austria and Russia and later on to independent Poland. It influenced and awakened the social-political views of her young members, who took an active part in the social-cultural awakening that spread among the Jewish population of Eastern Europe. Chortkov's pioneer troops were the first Halutzim to immigrate to Israel before the outbreak of World War I .A stronger and larger youth immigration took place in the years between the two wars.

Chortkov was also a well-known cultural center. Many dedicated community leaders worked hard to provide books for Chortkov's children and tried to bring them to every Jewish home. The history of the libraries is told in this book. We bring you interesting recollections, written by community leaders, about the theaters and the choirs. Chortkov's Yiddish theater experienced a period of revival during the 1920s and the 1930s, even though “Yidishism” was considered to be an Anti-Zionist movement. Maybe we have to recognize the fact, that the “Bund” organization did not influence the cultural life within Chortkov's Jewish community and the cultural activities in Yiddish served as pure expression of the special social life,since Yiddish was the spoken language of the workers and the young people. There were many guests appearances by famous authors and lecturers from among the local intelligentsia and its outstanding personalities. The visit of the poet Elisheva turned into special cultural event in the lives of Chortkov's Jews. Also large theater companies from Poland visited Chortkov with a special performance of “Viket“ with Ida Kaminska, Zigmond Torkov and others.

With love and longing, we, Chortkov's townsmen, remember Cantor Haym-Manish, who sang in the Rabbi's synagogue. He was a cantor with a soul who created the “Chortkov Version” in cantorial music. The writers of the articles described his special personality, his talent as a musician and a composer, about his choir and his students who became famous cantors in Great Britain and America.

The active life of Chortkov is brought to light in stories about the different community organizations like; “Gemilut Hasidim” which helped merchants and workers with their dally struggle to earn a living. The orphanage, nursing home, synagogues and religious schools. Stories about the “Viznizer Synagogue”, “the Synagogue of the Stratin Hasidim”, “The Main Synagogue”, “Beit Hamidrash of Rabbi Hirshel”, the “Society of Torah Scholars” and many more. We also bring you in this “Yizkor” book the social life of Chortkov's Jews, their thirst to study the Torah, their will to help others without receiving a reward for their good deeds. We bring out in this “Yizkor” book the noble personalities from among the members of the Jewish community, a community that was a center of life and influencing power for the Jewish people in Eastern Galicia.

We put a lot of efforts to provide the reader with a complete picture of the financial situation of Chortkov's community, from the beginning of the 1920s until the Holocaust. Maybe the statistical information is not based on scientific information, but we can get a clear picture of the situation from the numbers presented in this book. Jewish trade unions were organized and Chortkov's chapter of the “Agricultural Movement”, which was based in Lemberg, was very active. In this book, we described the political situations in which the Jewish people lived in Independent Poland. The poor living conditions in the city and the daily struggle of her Jews to earn a modest living.

We end this ”Yizkor” book with a chapter about the Holocaust. A collection of documented memories, shocking personal testimonies on the destruction of Jewish Chortkov. The reader will find here a collection of horrible accounts on the events that led to the destruction of Chortkov's Jewish community. The misery and desperate struggle of individuals who managed to survive this horrible experience and were witness to the fall of the Nazis. A number of survivors from Chortkov worked hard to bring Nazi criminals to judgment. Some of the Nazi leaders were brought to trial and were punished for their crimes.

In this book, we remember the names of the brave heroic soldiers who fought with the Allied Forces against the Nazis. Many died as soldiers in the Polish Army and in the Red Army. Others died in the ghetto, with their heads held high, while helping the desperate and the sick. Many fell in the forests, fighting with the partisans and one son of Chortkov fell as a fighter and a hero of the French Underground. We also list the names of many who died fighting, but it is unknown to us who they fought with and when and where they died. At the end, we bring you the names of those fighters that were lucky to witness the fall of the Nazis and gave their blood in their non stop struggle to defeat them.

We end the “Yizkor” book for the martyrs of Chortkov with obituaries, written by the lucky ones who survived, in remembrance of their family members, relatives and friends. We also publish a list of martyrs who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

May this memorial book, find a place in each home of Chortkov's Jewish townsmen living in Israel, or in any other locations, within an arm reach of those who wish to read and learn about the generations of Chortkov's Jews, that are no longer with us.

May this “Yizkor” book be a living witness and a memorial to a magnificent and thriving Jewish community and may her name be kept forever in the hearts of her surviving sons for generations to come.

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