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[Page 205]

Ways of Life,
Experiences, Recollections

 

[Page 215 - Yiddish] [Page 205 – Hebrew]

Jews and Poles in Jaroslaw
And Their Relationship in the Years 1918-1945

by Mundek Hebenstreit

Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

When describing the relationship between the Jews and the Poles in Jaroslaw during the above-mentioned period, I was directed by the principle that you cannot explain the life of the Jews in our town of Jaroslaw, not even briefly explain the behaviors between the Jews and the Poles, even though the Poles comprised two-thirds of the city's population, and the Jewish only one third.

For the sake of truth, we must underscore that generally, the relationship between the Jews and the Poles in town was not very close. We Jews used to meet in the locations of the Zionist youth organizations, in various sports clubs, sport locales, and synagogues. On the other hand, the Poles would organize their meetings in their national youth organizations, such as “Sokol” [Polish Gymnastic Society], “Strzelec” [“The Shooter”; youth paramilitary association], “Kasina Oficerska” [“Officers Club”]. There were recognized

 


The “Sokol” cinema

[Page 216]

sports clubs such as “Jaroslawjanka” and “Ogniska,” but aside from that, there was close contact between the two nations in the everyday life.

In addition, this caused all kinds of situations, and mainly that a significant number of Poles were hired by Jews and their various projects in town, in their businesses, and in the service areas.

For many years, many Poles lived among the Jews, knew their language, and even spoke Yiddish quite well. This was quite a familiar phenomenon in the city. Who, for example, did not hear about the Polish bath worker Pal, who spoke Yiddish like a Jew.

The Jewish youth studied together with the Polish students in all schools, and we used to go with them to all kinds of sport competitions in the city stadium of the Polish army.

The Jewish merchants and artisans would visit the city council (magistrate) on all kinds of opportune times, also the offices of the administration departments, or the finance offices, and in that way, they stayed in contact with the Polish officials in the government offices.

There were even contacts in the Polish police, and particularly with the familiar policeman Wianorwycz. But we were lucky that the contact with him was only in a political context, not a criminal context, since there were really no criminals among the Jews. The Polish police carefully guarded that the stores should be locked at the designated time according to the law, and there were also incidents when the Polish police arrested left-wing Jews just before every workers' holiday.

One has to state that the Jews and the Poles, in large numbers, behaved towards each other with a certain contempt. In the eyes of the Polish student, a talented Jew, or Jew with a strong fist, was no more than a “Żydek” [derogatory term for “Jew”]. On the other hand,

[Page 217]

by us – and mainly by our parents, every Pole was no more than a gentile, and in the cheders [religious schools] he was called Esau, or sheigetz [derogatory term, means someone who openly defies Jewish law]. But generally, we have to say, that the behavior of the Polish people towards the Jews was overall proper. In our city, it was not like it was on other cities – a ghetto where it was exclusively the Jews who lived there. The Jews lived not only in the region of Rynek [the main square] and in the nearby streets. Many of them settled in the exclusively Polish streets, such as: “May 3,” “Dietziusa”, “Poniatowski” and “Kościuszko.” On Shabbat and on the Jewish holidays you could see Jews dressed in their talit [prayer shawls] and shtreimlech [fur hats] on their heads, and religious chassidim with long beards and sidelocks as they used to walk by the main streets of the city in the direction of the synagogues or the Beit Midrash [Study Hall]. On those same streets, on Sundays and on the days of Polish national holidays, Polish soldiers would march to the church or to the Orthodox Church. We have to emphasize, that in Jaroslaw the Jews were not under the terror of anti-Jewish excesses of the Polish population.

In the Years 1930-1939

In the 1930s, and particularly in the years before World War 2, the good relationship between the Poles and the Jews began to deteriorate.

 


Part of Gunwaldzka Street
(Page 206 - Hebrew)

 

During this period, anti-Semitism in Poland increased, finding its expression in open hooliganism against the Jews, and pogroms that broke out in various cities in Poland. For example, in the city of Przytyk, the farmers, heated up by a priest, left a church and threw over the stalls of the Jewish merchants in the marketplace, stole their possessions, and even killed some Jews.

In the city of Mińsk Mazowiecki, a Jewish soldier shot a Polish gendarme out of desperation, since the gendarme was bullying him. As a result of this shot, a pogrom broke out

[Page 218]

and the Jew who shot the gendarme was sentenced to death by the Polish court.

In the universities of Warsaw, Krakow, Lvov , and Vilna, the Endek students attacked their Jewish friends with clubs, on the edge of which razors were wedged in. With the help of these types of instruments, they conducted their ideological discussions with the Jewish students.

The relationship of the Poles to the Jews worsened after closing the no-attack clause between the Poles and Nazi Germany at the end of January 1934. I remember the indignant appearance of the anti-Semitic priest Czeczak, the famous appearances of Mrs. Pristarowa who was against ritual, kosher slaughter. In the universities in Poland there was a “numerus clausus” [one of many methods used to limit the number of students who may study at a university] established, and the Polish government declared an economic war on the Jews that found its expression in the word “Owszem” [“yes”] from the head of government at the time, General Sławoj Składkowski, which meant: “Make pogroms on the Jews, get rid of them physically – no, but fight with them economically – absolutely!”

After an anti-Semitic incident in the Polish high school, there were the “left ghetto chairs”, the so-called “ghetto chairs,” that were set up for Jewish students in the higher education institutes. The Jewish students did not agree to this “ghetto” in the high schools, and in protest of this discrimination, they would remain standing as they listened to the lecture. My brother, who at that time was a student in the Lvov polytechnic, told me that he and his friends were prepared to stand for hours and listen to the lectures, and not sit on the “ghetto chairs.” These types of anti-Semitic incidents were also felt in our town, but not in such a sharp manner as it was in other cities in Poland. But very often, you could see “academics” in the streets with “Mieczyk Chrobrego” (“the sword of Chrobrego”) [Boleslaw Chrobrego's sword; a symbol used by Polish nationalists, representing the coronation sword of Polish kings] placed on the lapels of their shirts, and “corporants” [the corporations, businesses], with flyers that told them to boycott

 


Leaflets circulated by Antisemitic pickets in front of Jewish shops
(Page 208 Hebrew)

[Page 219]

the Jewish stores: “Poles, buy from your own,” or “Fish for the holidays, only from a Pole.”

The leader of the anti-Semites was the despicable Kazimierz Tumidajski, whose face actually did not fit the representation of the “pure Aryan race.” With government blindness, the Poles would cry out “patriotic” praises, such as: “Commander, take us to Zaolzie [land beyond Olza River, part of Czech],” that was said to the marshal of Poland, Edward Rydz-Śmigły, or: “Strong, United, and Ready!” “Silni, Zwarci, Gotowi” . These encouragements blinded the Polish nation that did not sense the approaching danger of Hitler's Germany.

We, the Jaroslaw Jews, felt the looming windstorm. We saw the danger that was coming towards the Jewish people, even though none of us, in our worst dreams could imagine the gruesome results of the approaching catastrophe.

In the Years 1939-1945

Only after the Germans expelled the Jews from the city, did the Poles begin to understand the danger that the German occupation brought for them as well. The well-known Volksdeutsche [ethnic German, non-citizen] Schmidt, whose activities on the Jewish street became limited, now looked for new activities for himself. He would search for and find nationalist elements, among whom there were also many Endeks. In many different ways, he pursued them, informed on them to the German government, and in the end, he delivered them to the Gestapo. Among those arrested were the Poles Szimlakowski, Trojanowski, the engineers Rynjak, Dubrzinski, Albinowski, Nazarkewicz, Galinski, and others. Many of the Poles were arrested and they were later deported to Auschwitz. A total of 70 people. Only a few of them survived and the rest perished in the camps. One of them, Galinski, a native of Jaroslaw,

[Page 220]

was mentioned in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem by the eye-witness Raya Kagan.

Galinski was a son of the caretaker of a middle-school, and when he was in Auschwitz, he met the Jewish girl Mala Tzimetboim from Belgium. Both decided that they would flee from the camp. With the help of several Jewish prisoners, Galinski was able to get a uniform of an SS officer, and thanks to this uniform he was able to escape the camp together with Mala Tzimetboim. His goal was to get to Slovakia. On the way, not far from the city of Bielska, his Jewish girl friend became ill and they were forced to hide at a farmer's place, who later handed them over to the Gestapo. Galinski was hanged in Auschwitz and Mala Tzimetboim sliced her own veins and died agonizingly before the Germans could pass their death sentence on her, by a hanging.

It is worth noting that for three weeks, both withstood the worst tortures that the Germans afflicted on them in order to find out who had helped them escape the camp. But despite all the tortures and pain, they [the two martyrs] did not reveal anything.

In the second group that was taken to Auschwitz, there were officials from the magistrate. They were accused of illegally listening to radio broadcasts. The magistrate officials were given over to the Gestapo by city councilmen Podgurni and Hanaiko. In connection to that, I want to stress that we Jews well knew that most of the Polish population were indifferent to the fate of their Jewish neighbors. Some of the Poles, the so-called “szmaltzowniks” [“blackmailers”], delivered the Jews to the Germans. But despite the toxic atmosphere, there were still individual Poles from the “chasidei umot haolam” [“righteous among the Nations”] who, disregarding the danger

[Page 221]

that was pressing, still saved Jews from death. But Poles who gave their own brethren to the Germans, is a fact that speaks for itself.

In the year 1940, another group of Poles was arrested by the above-mentioned Schmidt and his Nazi friends. Among those arrested were the director of the finance office Aslanowicz, the director of the postal company – Kurek, and also the directors of two gymnasiums: Dr. Mertowski, engineer Sobolewski, and the Pole Wajdowycz.

Not long before the end of the war, the 25-year-old student Basha Pozan and the teacher Ziemnicka were arrested and later shot in the Kidloweica forest.

But the main goal of the above-mentioned Nazi Schmidt was to persecute the Jews. Even though there were no Jews left in the actual city of Jaroslaw, he searched for Jews in the nearby towns and in the forests.

In June 1942, Schmidt and the German security police conducted an Aktion, murdering 360 Jews, who had been sent to the Pelkinia camp.

Schmidt was also guilty in this: In the summer of 1942, at the wall of the monastery “Anna Kasarnia,” Schmidt killed the father and son of the family Sztelcer.

It is worth noting that Schmidt was also the murderer of 30 residents of Jaroslaw, Jews and Poles, whom he shot at the same wall of the monastery.

At the end of the war, Schmidt fled to West Germany, and now he lives a calm life there, since there were no living witnesses found to report his crimes against the people. This year, after lengthy searches for witnesses in the “Department of Investigation of the Nazi Criminals” of the Israeli police, a significant amount of material was collected that enabled him to be put on trial.

When there is talk about the Nazi Schmidt, it is worthwhile to

[Page 222]

mention another Pole – a lowlife type by the name of Geroi. This Pole, a former Polish officer, occupied himself, during the Nazi occupation, with delivering Jews and Poles to the Gestapo, those Jews who were hiding in all kinds of hiding places in villages around Jaroslaw. This same Geroi also informed on Zosia Szpac (the daughter of a well-known doctor from Jaroslaw). At that time, she worked in an agricultural colony Demitrowica. He was even accused of having informed on his own brother-in-law – the judge Topolinski – whose own roots were Jewish, and who, after long and harsh tortures, was murdered by the Gestapo.

At the time of the war, after the Germans expelled the Jews from Jaroslaw, our town's Jews spread out in the eastern regions of southern Poland and found temporary shelter with relatives and friends. Some of the Jaroslaw Jews settled in the cities: Sambor, Drohobycz, Jaworow, and other places. But the majority settled in Lvov.

In the year 1940, when the Soviets ruled the area the NKVD conducted a raid on the “refugees” and many of our Jaroslaw Jews were deported to distant areas of Siberia and there they spent the rest of the war years in very harsh circumstances.

To our great joy, the majority of these deported Jaroslaw Jews survived, whereas of those who remained in the area and fell into the hands of the Germans only very few managed to save themselves.

In the year 1945, I met several Jews in Krakow who survived the Nazi hell. From their reports I found out that many of them were living witnesses to the murders of their relatives by the Germans.

One year later, I met our Jaroslaw Jews who returned from Russia. From their reports as well, I found out

[Page 223]

about the terrible conditions in which they had lived in freezing Siberia during the war. A terrible fate had greeted our Jaroslaw Jews during the years 1939-1945. The majority of the Jews were murdered by the Nazi thugs. This period of time demands substantial investigation.

* * *

To end my brief discourse, I want to mention how I separated myself from our dear city and from the Poles, who, before the war, served as spokesmen in the merit of being the guard of the “pure Polish race.”

Not long before the end of the war, as I was a cadet in the officer's school of the Polish army, I went on a mission for one day to my city of Jaroslaw in order to take care of some things. After completing all the things that were connected to my mission, I went out to see the city which I had not seen for years.

 


(Page 212 - Hebrew)

 

My excursion across the city was started at the “small Rynek” [square]. Leaning on the railing, I gazed at the beautiful plain that spread out before my eyes. Somewhere in the distance the waters of the San River flowed calmly and slowly.

I remembered that not far from here, as if stuck to the scruff of the mountain, was the location of Beitar [Revisionist Zionist Youth movement] and Hashomer Hatzair [Socialist Zionist Youth movement], where the life of Jewish youth once throbbed. Understandably, these two places were located at a certain distance from one another as if the two Zionist organizations wanted to distance themselves ideologically from one another as well.

I looked around and I could not believe my own eyes: Not far from here there once was a small synagogue that was known as the “Kehat Kloiz” [small shul, place for prayer]. In my youth, my father and I would go to this shul for prayers on Shabbat and the holidays. This was

[Page 224]

a holy place where the beloved voice of the dear and honored Rav, Reb Dovid was always heard. This shul no longer existed. The shul was destroyed and its walls collapsed into the ground.

I crossed over the abandoned and silent square and went to the corner of Rynek and Spitka streets. The house that once stood on the left was destroyed. From Tribunalska Street, I came to the place called “Wały,” and from there

 

[Page 225]


Yad Charutzim”
(Page 213 Hebrew)

 

I went down the steps and remained still in front of the building that once was the “Yad Charutzim” [social hall and artisan association]. In this place, there used to be Yiddish theater performances, and also lectures and readings of Zionist activities in town and in the center. Here, our youth had fiery, passionate discussions among themselves, and sometimes these discussions took on a sharp edge. We would come to the Yad Charutzim to spend Shabbat evenings, the days of Chanuka, and for Purim celebrations. Now the building is empty, there is no living soul there. Only a sign in the front of the building testified in irony of fate, that the Poles had changed it into their “House of Culture.”

I returned to Grodska Street. Once, this street was the center of trade for the city. Here you were able to feel the pulse of Jewish life. And now? All the shops were closed, only two of them had been changed over to cooperatives. I turned right to Lubelska Street, to the place where once there was the center for Czortków hassidim, but which was now an empty, abandoned place, overgrown with weeds. With pain I asked myself: How could this happen? In the end, the Jews of Jaroslaw comprised not more than a third of the population of the city, and now without them, life in the city died. A strange emptiness covered everything. (At that time there was only one Jew in the city, that was Zilberman, who had the bakery in the square.)

I returned and I feared new disillusionments. Not far from the place where I was standing there once was the Talmud Torah, and close to that was the Jewish bathhouse and the mikvah [ritual baths], and who knows what was there now!

As I went through Grunwaldska Street I met two people. When they saw me, they stopped. One of them was Zadarazhni, who once worked for my father in his business. The other person was his friend, an official in the magistrate.

[Page 226]

In order to underline that with both Poles who, before the war were vocal supporters of the Nazi ideology, I held lengthy and sharp discussions about Judaism. And now, meeting them, there was a paradoxical situation: I was in the uniform of the Polish army with a gun on my shoulder, and they, the Poles – representatives of the “ruling race” stood opposite me with downcast heads. They politely asked me about the fate of my family, and asked for pardon for their earlier anti-Semitic talk from before the war regarding the Jews. I thought that it was very sad that the destruction of their ideological youth came years after the time when our Jewish nation lost millions of victims of our brothers and sisters.

There were eight hours left for me until the time when I would leave the city, but I felt it was beyond my strength to remain even one more minute. The city where I was born and raised, the city that is dear and close to me, was now dead as a cemetery. I left to Słowacki Street, and then with the first train I left the city. This was my last parting from the city of my youth, from Jaroslaw.

 


On the beach in the sun
(Page 214 Hebrew)

 


[Page 227]

The Town Wherein
I was Nourished by Zionism

by Attorney Moshe Aridor (Weihenmayer)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

There were cities in the Jewish diaspora that the nickname “Metropolis of Israel” clinging to the title by virtue of being centers of Jewish culture, the “cribs” of great Torah scholars and renowned educators, ancient synagogues and centers of the economic life of Diaspora Jews. Events occurred within them that were recorded on the pages of history as milestones in the annals of the people. The town Jarosław for me was a “Motherly Metropolis” because of its maternal qualities where I was reared and nourished with the doctrines of Zionism. Pure, maternal, natural Zionism, with no spices, like the pure natural genuine milk the mother gives her baby, granting him life and like the mother's milk, that same Zionism was free of infection, sterile but not unfruitful. Warm as if a mother's heart – not frigid and cold with pure reason usefulness and not destructive like coals afire, glowing with the fervor of flag-carrying Marxism and all the other threats. If I am immune in today's Israeli society after the Yom Kippur War, when I am faced with questions such as “What are we doing here?”, I must thank the cradle that permitted me to suckle Zionism, devoid of those venomous bacteria that threaten to destroy the very tissues of the Jewish State.

* * *

In retrospect, in the world of my childhood and youth, that I lived through in Jarosław, things now look a little different than we imagined them at the time. The Zionist youth movements represented the majority and the best of the Jewish youth in the town, from the Hebrew Youth Association Akiva, Betar, the Young Zionists and the religious youth movements, and including Hashomer Hatza'ir. Much of our innocence was in our perception of Zionism in terms of a worldview rather than a movement for the national liberation of the Jewish people, devoid of political independence. A mixture of scouting, mysticism and sometimes abstinence from the pleasures that nature gives to a young boy. A dividing line separated the majority of the organized youth in the Zionist movements in the city, from the so-called assimilated minority, who aspired to resemble their gentile friends, those same “golden youth” who looked with compassion and pity on those who trained themselves to immigrate to the Land of Israel, learning a profession to work there, or to wear the uniforms of Betar, or trained to use weapons that will

[Page 228]

liberate the land of Israel. We used all sorts of derogatory nicknames for them.

* * *

Much of the innocence sprang from the image we created for ourselves in spite of the reality at that time in Israel. We did not want to know the “truth from the Land of Israel” but thanks to that innocent Zionism, which I nursed from in my youth, I can today stand tall, and not bow my head in front of the “realists” of all kinds, for whom the word “Zionism” is used in quotation marks and who ask: “What is our right to this land?”

* * *

When I try to go back in my memories and recreate the sights of the same city (which, sometimes instead of “Jarosław” I say “Tel Aviv” and is often perceived as a Freudian mistake), two images always come to mind. One - of those Sundays of a Polish-Christian holiday, with army battalions marching through the city streets, and cavalry on white, sleek horses, with their flags honoring and glorifying their bearers, followed by rows upon rows of elementary and high school pupils in their uniforms and glittering symbols, accompanied by bands playing marches, all of them on the way to the church; everyone, that is - except the Jews. We do not belong. The flag, the symbols, the melodies – they are not ours.

* * *

On those Sundays, I looked forward to the coming of Shabbat and the traditional assembly of the Movement's branch and the large blue and white flag that flew with all its beauty and grandeur before the rows and rows of the Jewish youth, training themselves for the establishment of their State. Then the air would be filled with Hebrew orders: “Attention!” Then and only then did I feel myself of value and equal to them – the Poles: I have a flag, I have a National Anthem, I have a language and I have a country to which I must go. That was the compensation for the pain that I suffered on those Sundays in which I had no part. In the afternoon, on Shabbatot, when we marched out of town to enjoy the open countryside, to the nearby hills for activities and debates to strengthen the mind and body of young Zionists, no Polish youth dared to bother us, or to call after us with their insults. Only the grinding of teeth could be heard. It was then that I felt the force of the Jewish strength and its flag. They learned to respect those that respected themselves.[1]

[Page 229]

The town of Jarosław was not counted among the largest of towns in Poland but it was unique. It was among the oldest towns in Poland. The name Jarosław is associated with the history and struggles of the country whose enemies tried many times to “partition” it. The educators of the new Poland knew how to instill into the Polish youth a sense of National pride and the school fulfilled that task successfully. I, as a young Jew, who identified with the plight of the Polish people against their oppressors studying the Polish history created a sense of jealousy. For every evil act carried out upon the Polish heroes in their wars against the Russians, the Germans and even the Tatars, I asked myself: have we, the Jews, no warriors, heroes and victors? And when we had religious lessons, we were separated from the Polish students and when the Jewish teacher of religion, Distenfeld, taught us about Yehoshua Bin Nun, Moshe, the Maccabees and the Hasmoneans, my heart was filled with satisfaction and my wounded pride was healed.

* * *

The town of Jarosław was far removed from the model of Jewish towns and villages of Eastern Europe, identified by their Jewish ghettos. Jarosław was distinguished by its cleanliness, its broad streets in keeping with the period's style, and its tolerance of the “Jewish minority”, a minority, where the cynics at times provoked the anti-Semites: “The streets are yours but the houses ours.” Here the physical exile was not one of the hardest exiles in the world. Therefore, the memories themselves are not saturated with dramatic events. You cannot dredge up from the depths of your memories feelings of excessive hatred, nor excessive feelings of affection. Whenever I recall this city, the huge town hall, with its tower and dome towering up to the heights of the sky and the municipal building with its huge clock come to mind. Then the little boy's fears came back to me, of the little man who patrolled the heights around the tower turning back and forth night and day, on fire-watch of the city, lest he fall from the high tower and smash himself on the stones of the town square. But the huge clock in the tower continued to ring and count its hours placidly, its sounds calming and with that calm the fear of that little man falling from the heights of the tower gradually faded.

* * *

There was a town in Poland called Jarosław. It was one among many. For us, it no longer exists. Our memory is the memory of our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters who lived there and are no more. Them, we will remember forever. For us “A Metropolis in Israel” is Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa and every town in the land of Israel. In Jarosław I was reared and nourished by Zionism – Here, I live it!


Translator's Footnote

  1. See Pessaḥim 49a, (freely paraphrased): “…not flatterers of goyim and those who dance, but those who stand up to them and give them a stern look.” Return


[Page 237 – Yiddish] [Page 230 - Hebrew]

With Jaroslaw Jewry

by Yeshayahu Rabinowitz[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

My encounters with the Jaroslaw Jews were accompanied by a feeling of strangeness and loneliness. In the city, I felt like an immigrant who came to a strange land. The language of the land, which the majority of the Jews spoke, and particularly the nationalist youth, was foreign to me. Few people understood my Yiddish, and very few spoke Hebrew.

I remember a day when I was invited to the home of the parents of one of my students of the “Yavneh” school. During a conversation, with a cup of coffee, I received a “compliment” from a woman: “You speak Yiddish so beautifully, that I did not understand even one word.”

I came to Jaroslaw from a real Yiddish environment, where everyone from the water carrier to the religious, worldly intellectuals, spoke Yiddish, and the sounds of the Hebrew language were heard by the students in the Hebrew schools and from adults as well. There was a great difference between those Jews and the Jews of Jaroslaw. Here, in Jaroslaw, the Jews were dressed in their traditional clothes, wearing shtreimlech [round, fur hats] on the Shabbat and on the Jewish holidays, and the worldly, Jewish youth did not, more or less, distinguish themselves from the non-Jewish youth. Here, the Jewish youth spoke Polish, and their knowledge of Judaism was very limited. For me, the lifestyle and habits of the local population were also unusual, with their exaggerated politeness. At meetings, you could hear: [Polish] “My respects”; or [Yiddish] “I bow to you” [repeated in Polish]; and greetings to a woman: [Polish] “I kiss your hands”; and so on.

But despite my difficult integration into Jaroslaw, I remained in the city, and that was thanks to the chairman of the school committee of the Hebrew school, Shimon Spiegel, of blessed memory.

[Page 238]

He brought me closer to him and had a warm relationship with me. The same was for his wife Regina, who, with her great understanding and wisdom, addressed my inner stress. In this absolutely venerable family, whose Torah and Zionism were their beliefs and their motto, the activities and needs of the Hebrew school were their focus. I found a familiar warmth in this Spiegel family – the most important thing for a person who finds himself in a strange environment, and really, their warm connection to me, as to a family member, enabled me to acclimate myself to Jaroslaw.

In the center of Jaroslaw, in the marketplace, there was an old, historical building with huge thick walls. Its ceiling was arched, and in the upper part of the building there were special openings where you could place cannons in case of enemy attack. I had the impression that this old-time building symbolized a tombstone of the Jaroslaw Jewry.

Among the Jaroslaw Jews you could still find young people dressed in specifically traditional clothing. I heard them say that the Rebbe's shamash [beadle] “conquered worlds” to bring the youth close to the Rebbe, but when they got older, they left their Rebbe and then the devoted shamash cried out in pain that they would not live to get older.

Whereas the parents of boys attending the government school wanted them to extend their religious studies, the girls were totally released from Jewish studies. The religious Hebrew school “Yavneh,” brought in a great change to the education, but could not make a significant change to the situation. The students of the “Yavneh” school were only boys. But in those circumstances, the school activists did not want to introduce essential changes into the religious school system, and dealt with it accordingly, and did not establish general studies for both the boys and girls.

[Page 239]

It's a wonder that it did not occur to them to worry about a traditional Jewish education for girls too.

We have to underline that it was actually the Agudat Yisrael who was the pioneer in this area, as they opened a “Beit Yaakov” [religious] school for girls. They invited a compassionate teacher to the Beit Yaakov school who taught the religious girls subjects in Yiddish traditionally and national spirit. In these conditions, the Zionist youth organizations became the main source for some of the girls to strengthen their traditional education as a barrier against assimilation. Later, the party of the general Zionists established the primary school for boys and girls in Jaroslaw, and Polish was the language of study. In that school, other than the studies in the Polish language, they also studied the Hebrew language and Yahadut [Judaism]. In this school, there were no classes on Shabbat, the environment was really a Jewish one with a traditional spirit, but if the students in this school excelled in Hebrew or Judaism, is very doubtful to me.

* * *

Jaroslaw was a cultured, European town that had a particular charm. Life in the city flowed quietly, without disturbance. The streets were clean and straight, the city garden was large and well tended to. The city had a large electricity station, gas, and an urban canal system with a central water line. But there were still houses in the city, with outhouses in the courtyards, and where water was drawn from artesian wells.

Even though the inter-party frictions among the Zionist parties in Jaroslaw did not bear a sharp feel, as it had in various other cities in Poland, this did not prevent sharp, political, opinionated discussions [from taking place]. I remember the lecture of Meyer Grossman

[Page 240]

the leader of the “Judenstadt [the Jewish state] Party,” which took place in the music-school building. During the presentation, leftist Zionist youth interrupted his lecture and threw stones through the window. Some people got hurt when this was going on, by shards of glass from the shattered window panes…

I will bring another example from my own experience: The split of the revisionist party occurred at the Katowice conference. The central committee of the “Judenstadt Party” for western Galicia and Silesia organized in Jaroslaw, with Yehoshua Potasher as chairman. As secretary of the central committee of the “Judenstadt Party,” I had several presentations in many different cities, and I expressed my views against the decision to leave the Zionist movement. As a punishment for this “sin,” the commander of Beitar, Nasik, ordered that the friends of Beitar, to whom I had taught Hebrew, should terminate their studies with me. This order, which caused me to suffer a real material loss, actually had the opposite effect: The students completely stopped making any progress in the Hebrew language. In a discussion with the commander of Beitar, I explained that he dealt very inappropriately with me, and I was very offended. He became very angry, and with sharp words, he argued against my viewpoint, adding that if he would have the chance, he would ship me off to a punishment camp.

* * *

That which was told above, took place in the first half of the 1930s. Life in Poland still flowed smoothly, without any marked upheavals in Jewish life, but inside the country, there were already signs of …

[Page 241]

… the approaching storm, in which even the greatest pessimist could not envision the horrific results. This was the time when Hitler came to power in Germany. The tensions between Poland and Germany grew from day to day. As the danger to Poland grew, so the anti-Semitism became stronger. The hatred towards the Jews took a sharp form, and its flow also reached Jaroslaw. Poisonous, anti-Semitic slogans appeared on the walls of houses, as rumors spread that on a certain day it was going to be “merry.” The Jewish youth decided that it would defend itself. (I do not know any details about this decision, but the day that was set aside for these troubles passed by peacefully.)

In the year 1936, when I went as a delegate of Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal; created in 1920 to provide resources for return to the Land of Israel] to visit various cities in western Galicia and Silesia – I already saw the effects of the poisonous, anti-Semitic propaganda that brought terrible consequences. There were cities and towns where the Jews were simply afraid to go out into the streets in the evenings and leave their homes. As a result of the economic ban on the Jews, the Jewish population in the towns became impoverished. Those Christians who were not anti-Semites, did not have the courage to enter a Jewish shop, knowing that a watchful eye of the leaders of the ban would notice them.

In Poland, the “Sanatzia” Party [“Healthy Politics Party”; Polish fascist party] was in the government. Officially, they did not preach anti-Semitism, but they used all the means, kosher and non-kosher, to trip up the opposition party and the parties of the national minorities during the elections to the Polish Sejm [parliament]. During a lecture by the Zionist senator Dr. Schreiber on the eve of the elections to the Polish Sejm, the commandant of the police suddenly appeared in the hall of the “Yad Charutzim” [“Craftsmen Union”] * [artisans' hall; see p. 153 of this YB for details of hall], accompanied by an entourage of police, and dispersed the meeting by saying that

[Page 242]

“the floor of the hall is bad and that it could cave in.” It should be noted that the government organizations generally did not disturb the election meetings of the “Agudat Israel” [political party representing the Orthodox Jews]. At the election meeting of the “Agudat Israel,” a maskil [“enlightened” Jew] from Przemysl came forward and discussed the meaning of number “1” (the number “1” was the electoral number of the Sanatzia). The lecturer later justified his action at a meeting with his acquaintances, explaining that he had no other choice and that he was forced to fulfill the orders of the government party.

In connection with the situation of those days, I want to relate an episode: In the capital city of Warsaw, a mixed committee of Jews and Christians was created – “Friends of Israel.” The “Judenstadt Party” invited one of the members of the above-mentioned committee, the duke Pruszinski, who was a journalist himself, who had published a book about his impressions of his own trip to Israel. (After World War Two, Duke Pruszinksi was the official representative of Poland in the United Nations). At that time, we thought that a large number of Christians would be in attendance at his lecture, but we were mistaken. Even his title of “duke” – “editor” – that was written on the posters, attracted only a small group of Christians. Our Jewish brothers filled the hall, those who did not need a pro-Israel election. The following day, after the meeting, I spent a few hours with Potaszer and Pruszinki. During the time of our discussion, we addressed the ways of creating an understanding between the Jews and the Poles – citizens in Poland. Our guest agreed to the necessity of this agreement and promised to occupy himself with this. I asked him, in his opinion, how could a better understanding be established between Jews and Poles. After a brief silence, his answer was: “Sport.” I expressed my opinion, that I very much doubted this, that general sport competitions between Jews and

[Page 243]

Poles would be able to create a better understanding between them. I stressed that the spirit of sport alone was not enough. This “sport spirit” would not be able to prevent fights during the competitions between the Polish sport organizations, and you could imagine that the sport competitions between the two nations would only heat up the national instincts of certain elements, instead of reaching an understanding between the two. Our discussion ended with a tie: Neither side was able to offer concrete suggestions for improving the situation. The only solution for the Jews, which is what I thought about during the discussion and could not express openly, was: exodus [to Israel]. Tens of thousands of Jewish youth were aiming for this exodus, but the gates to Israel were locked.

At night, we invited the speaker to a kibbutz of “Hechalutz Hamedinati” [“State Pioneers”], and Gershon Zhelinkowski talked about pioneer life on Hachshara [“preparation” for living in Israel], about their preparations for building of the Jewish country, and he stressed that they were waiting impatiently for the time that the gates to Israel would open and they would be able to immigrate to their land. Pruzhinski replied with a short speech and ended with these words: “Maybe you will be able to see the documentary film about the development of the Polish legions at the end of World War One. Some of the legionnaires were wearing sparse uniforms, were barefoot, and were not taken care of with ongoing, military equipment. That's how the soldiers of the Polish army looked at that time. Looking at you today –the pioneers of the Hachshara squad, who are preparing to build a Jewish country, I believe, and I am certain, will arise.”

 

Memorial Candle

A row of faces of Jaroslaw Jews pass before my eyes: friends, acquaintances, my students from the “Yavneh” school, whom

[Page 244]

I taught and with whom I was linked with my heart and soul. Also, the grown-up students whom I taught in the evening courses. I feel it is my sacred responsibility to light a memorial candle for all those Jews who died and were tortured, and to put up a memorial tombstone in the Yizkor book. I wish to dedicate my words in the memory of two people:

 

Yehoshua Potaszer

Yehoshua Potaszer was a popular Jew and an interesting conversation partner. He possessed an exceptionally magical personality, and he really inspired a person with his words. He was an old Zionist, one of the founders of the Krakow Zionist newspaper, “Nowy Dziennik” [“New Journal”]. He would spend his free time in places with intellectuals (the club of the doctors, as it as called at that time). He participated as a delegate at the Zionist Congress, for the Judenstadt Party, and he was also a delegate at the founding assembly of the World Jewish Congress.

As a light to his memory, I would like to present one of his interesting stories that has remained deep in my memory:

As an officer in the Austrian army, he was once walking on Grunwaldska Street, and a Jewish soldier passed by in front of him and did not salute him. Potaszer intentionally walked past him, waiting to see if he would salute him, but without success. Being curious, Potaszer walked by a third time, then approached the soldier and said to him:

“Did you see me pass by?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know that I am an officer?”

“Yes.”

“Then why did you not acknowledge me?”

“Because you are Jewish.”

[Page 245]

I dedicate these words to Potaszer, because I spent much time in his company, in general Zionist work.

 

Ber

I did not know him personally, because at the time when I started visiting his home, he was no longer there. I was with the Ber family during my last days in Poland, just before my Aliyah to Israel.

The Ber family owned a restaurant that was near the train station. The restaurant was open every day, and also on Shabbat. When the Tuczyn Rebbe came to town, Ber was actually a chassid [follower] of his he went in and began crying: “Rebbe! I am being forced to desecrate the Shabbat!” .As the Rebbe listened with understanding, he replied: “My child, earning a living is a great thing.”

I presented two episodes which cast a light on and characterize the daily life of the Jaroslaw Jews.

There are warm feelings in my soul, of the time when the Jews waited impatiently with great eagerness for the establishment of the Jewish state. Many of the Jaroslaw Jews hoped to come here. It is with great pain and sadness that the Ruler of the People did not have enough strength to protect the survivors – and only very few merited to reach the shores of this land.


[Page 234 - Hebrew][a]

Translated from the Hebrew by Susan Rosin

I cannot add much to describe the Jewish community life in Jaroslaw. I was in Poland unwillingly, staying longer than expected, and I was not paying attention to the local life; In addition to my professional work, I was very involved in the Zionist and party activities.

Taking upon yourselves the honorable task of erecting a monument to the community of Jaroslaw, and to document historical material, to describe the institutions and activists of a Jewish community, I hope that a special emphasis will be placed on “Amcha” (the “common folk/ordinary people). Without this portion of the population, the various institutions and activists would not have been able to exist, the same way that a general cannot conduct a battle without an army behind him. It is very important to immortalize the daily life of the people, the family celebrations, the way they celebrated the holidays, in the study halls and at home; The education and educators of the “Talmud Torah”, and so on. During my time in Jarolsaw, I did not hear even one song in Yiddish. I assume that Jewish mothers in the traditional families did sing Yiddish lullabies, and Yiddish folk songs to their children. If I am correct in my assumption, maybe it is still possible to rescue some of these songs,

[Page 235]

as well as folklore, local sayings and traditional stories popular among the people.

I can recall two local customs that were new to me and were not practiced where I came from:

A. During the Purim feast, dressed-up groups from the local youth organizations or institutions performed a song or a short play. At the end, they would be rewarded…

B. During Passover eve, singles would send a ship sailing ticket “Steamer to Egypt”, stating the location and timing of departure. I heard that these tickets came in various shapes and colors. It will be great if tickets like these could be found, so that they can be added to the folklore section.

I will end with a tale that reflects the local customs of Jaroslaw and the area: A young Yeshiva student was introduced to a girl from a neighboring town. He liked the girl, and promised her that upon his return to Jaroslaw he will write to her. He was in great distress, as he had no clue what to write. Suddenly he had a brilliant idea: he copied the entire “Song of Songs” scroll (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים Shir haShirim) Editor's in tiny letters on a postcard and sent it to the girl…


Comments from the editor:

  1. Yeshayahu Rabinovitch died in the year 5731 [1971]. He came from Rasno, and worked for several years as a teacher in Yavneh school on Jaroslaw. He was one of the founders of Hashomer Hadati [religious Zionist youth organization].

    When the Judenstadt Party was established, whose leader was Meyer Grossman, Yeshayahu Rabinovitch was elected as secretary of the Central Committee of the party. Return


Footnote:

  1. Pages 234 - 235 are part of the Hebrew article (pages 230 - 236), but are missing from the Yiddish (pages 237 – 245). Return


[Page 246]

Jaroslaw As I Knew It

by Dr. Yitzhak Schwartzbart

Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

I would like to discuss a different part of our small kingdom. I have in mind the “Eastern borders [edges] of our small kingdom. In these borders, there was a second “kingdom,” that was started, the kingdom of the “Eastern Galician National Association.” There was a really beautiful city there, and that city was called Jaroslaw. This was the central county that was in our proud corner. I loved this city very much. My memory is therefore, particularly connected to it. In the hall of the handworkers' union, very often our Zionist meetings took place. The city was beautiful, clean, Jewish, and it was truly a pleasure to wander through its streets. It didn't have too strong of a temperament. There was not a particularly strong sense of a Zionist unrest, but in spite of that, it was strongly connected to our movement. I personally had another specific reason that I remember this city. In my last wanderings through Poland during the last meeting of the Polish Sejm, at the beginning of September 1939, my road brought me to Jaroslaw, because the road back to Krakow was already torn away. I spent only one day here. It was a real hell. For almost twenty-four straight hours, German bombs fell on the city. From there, the following morning, I left on foot to Przemysl, while the German airplanes covered the sky. These types of experiences very strongly tie the memory to the place.

But let us go back to the beautiful city of Jaroslaw itself. I already noticed that the leaders of the local Zionism movement were not quarrelsome. Therefore the executive felt they (the locals) were able to do the Zionist work. The names of Dr. Spatz, Yehoshua Potasher, remain in my memory. Also, the name of Dr. Rager, a lawyer whom I met in Jerusalem in the year 1953.

The Zionist youth there was wonderful. They were wonderful with their many

[Page 247]

problems. Well, wherever there are problems, there are also arguments and disputes. It simmered in the pot of youth.

Occasionally, here on Broadway, in New York, I meet a friend who in my time, was one of the calm directors in Jaroslaw of this local Zionist youth, and today he is a well-known scholar in the area of old Yiddish literature. He is an expert in Yiddish knowledge, and he is also the pride of the city of Jaroslaw. This man is Shalom Spiegel, the well-known professor of the Theological Teachers Seminary in New York.

Excerpted from the book “Between Two World Wars,” pages 45-46.

 

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