Translated by Claire Hisler Shefftz
During the Polish-Bolshevik war in the Ukraine, a Polish division under General Zeligowski tore through Bessarabia and Bukovina and stopped in Kolomea during its winter march to Poland.
Kolomea was then temporarily occupied by the Rumanians and the border was near the shtetl Otynia between Stanislav and Kolomea.
During their stay in Kolomea, General Zeligowski's soldiers (the wild division, they called them) often attacked Jews. But Jewish workers organized a civil patrol and gave the hooligans quite a few beatings.
During the march to Otynia, Zeligowski's soldiers carried out a pogrom against Hachshara HaKibutza from HaShomer HaTsair which was an agricultural school owned by the Jewish Colonization Association in the village of Slobodka Leshna.
On the sixteenth of June, 1919, the hooligans killed three student Halutzim: 1) Joseph Bal- the son of butcher Moshe Bal from Franzishkaryuzifar Street, 2) Tsvi Rotenberg, the son of the restauranteur Rotenberg from Yagielanskai Street near the Post office, and 3) Shmuel Presser from Stanislav. Members of the Bartfeld family were also murdered.
The dead were brought to Kever Israel in the new Kolomear cemetery on Klebanye Street. Almost the whole city took part in the funeral. Adjoining graves were prepared for the martyred near the main entrance to the cemetery.
Even officers of the Austian army who had been former Halutzim, delivered eulogies: Lieutenant Engineer Shlomo Rores, Lieutenant
Teacher Poizer-Dresher, and an Oberlieutenant from Prague, a son-in-law of Kolomear resident Max Vaykselboim.
When the Polish army turned toward Kolomea in September 1919, the three Jewish officers who had spoken at the funeral were taken before a military court and accused
of insulting the Polish people and the Polish army. The sentence was a relatively light one. Rores and Dresher were demoted to a lower rank and the Prague lieutenant was sent out of the country.
The hero of the wild division, General Zeligowski, was the same one who later, in 1920, plundered Vilna for Poland and carried out a pogrom against the Jews there.
For another account of this incident, see Shtetl Memoirs by Joachim Schoenfeld, New Jersey, Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1985, p. 212. General Lucjan Zeligowski (pronounced Zheligovsky) is mentioned on page 221 as having occupied Wilno (Vilna). The author, born in 1895 in Sniatyn which was some miles west of Kolomey, lived in that Galician town until World War I. He provides historical background about Jews in Galicia as well as accounts of typical Jewish life in Sniatyn and his service in the Austrian army. He also describes how Jews fared under independent Poland in the years between the two world wars.
by Dr. Stanisław Vincenz (Paris)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In antiquity it was believed that blood spilled by murder, absorbed in the earth, awoke the sleep of the holy goddesses of revenge, the shadowy, quietly slinking Erinyes. Let these Erinyes reach not only the guilty but also the indifferent. They demand not only revenge, but also memory! They demand a struggle against hate. And against indifference, too.
There was a belief among Jews that at Yiskor [memorial service] on Yom Kippur the corpses at the cemetery stand up. Let them also be present today and participate in the Day of Judgment at the trial of the world.
One wants to remember Kolomea from various eras, in various situations. I remember that once, after a long sojourn abroad, I traveled to Kolomea and went to the coffee house that was named Tsentral [Central]. My attention was immediately drawn to the fact that the coffee house was empty. I looked through the window: the only guest was asleep, sitting with his cheek [on his arm] and his horse had apparently also fallen asleep. At first, I was surprised that the city was so empty. In about a second, I understood: it was Shabbos [Sabbath]. I remember exactly that I thought: This is how Kolomea would look without Jews.
An old Ukrainian folk song says: Kolomyia ne pomyia, Kolomyia misto [Kolomea is not slops, Kolomea is a city]. And still, what a city. An eternal fair, a tumultuous one, a surging one. Every village would arrive in its own clothing, with different harnesses, even the types of people were different. Every corner was a characteristic for an ethnographer. We usually think superficially that Kolomea Jews were mainly involved in trade or only in trade. Alas, no one has tried to create statistics about artisanship. And yet there is no doubt that the majority of Kolomea artisans were Jews. Shoemakers, tailors, furriers, tinsmiths and others. At the small number of factories, Jews provided the greatest amount of the city's needs and of the wider area, because the importance of Kolomea reached the Dniester, [reached] the highest peak of the Carpathians under the Chornohora [mountain range]. I also now remember various artisan personalities. I remember everyone with whom I was involved. But about this, later.
From my young years until ripe old age, I was interested in spiritual professions. During my school years I was a constant and avid client of the institution that was called the great library. One axis of my aspirations was the Kraszewski Library and the second actually the great library. It was at the market not far from the city hall and it was founded by the Kolomea bookseller, Yankl Ohrenstein, later a famous publisher of Ukrainian books. We would borrow Polish books from the Kraszewski Library and books in foreign languages from the great library. However, its attraction was that at that time, at the beginning of the 20th century, it had serious books, particularly philosophical. The philosophical advisor to Yankl Ohrenstein was a certain Kohn, as it happens, an Orthodox Jew, because he walked around in a long, loose robe and wore a beard. However, he was extraordinarily well read in the philosophical literature of that time. From the great library I borrowed the thick volumes by Kuno Fischer [historian of philosophy], the magnificent History of Philosophy [six volumes] and monographs. There I first learned about all of the books of [Henri] Poincaré about the problems of science. I borrowed them and studied. From there the works of Bernson, James and many other reached me.
Several alleys further from the market was located the modest and unremarkable kloyz [house of study] of the Boyaner Hasidim. It carried the name of the shtetl Boyan [Boiany] in neighboring Bukovina, where a famous rebbe once lived. His Hasidim were mainly relatives of the small artisans and merchants. However, they were difficult to recognize, because there they were changed, almost uplifted. In my youth I knew nothing about this kloyz. I was completely uninterested in it and, certainly, neither were my friends or colleagues. I first discovered it in my ripe older years when one of my colleagues, by chance from the sphere of small merchants, invited me there and I came to the prayers for Yom Kippur. There I found the phenomenon of such fervid, exaggerated prayer and so different for each of the worshippers that all of my modern ideas about prayer disappeared. A little later, at my suggestion, the same acquaintance invited a friend of mine, a guest from Switzerland. Becoming acquainted with the text of the prayers (which they had hospitably given to us in the German translation), hearing the singing of the old khazan [cantor], whose voice broke tragically, seeing the faces of the old men and also of the young people, exhausted from fasting and from constant prayer, I sat through the evening until the late hours, together with my Swiss friend, and the following day until evening. However, we, Christian guests, left to eat and the worshippers fasted the entire time and even the old men, even those who fainted from exhaustion, did not take a drop of water in their mouths.
I had never felt in the presence of a Godly Day of Judgment the fundamental idea was difficult for my Catholic concepts or Platonic conceptions but I had never been so close to being persuaded as then.
How much spiritual power was hidden behind these unremarkable kapotes [caftans]. In one alley that was near the great library, they observed the advance of the newest ideas and in another, an old fire was unextinguished for even a minute and apparently flared up no less than in prior generations.
Saying goodbye to Kolomea, how I would like my greeting to reach the other shore, to reach those who have not lived for a long time or fell as victims during the war.
I remember the professor of Greek, Skharye Dembicer, who taught us to love Homer. I remember my neighbor, the pious old man, Berl Lenter, who calmed the frightened and murmuring Christian witnesses when the members of the Gestapo led him away: Children, this is all from God, do not complain.
I remember my school friends and friends from among the Jews, those who died in their youth before the First World War, such as Marsel Ritigstein, Misha Hules, Mishel Sucher, about whom the priest, catechist, would always say to us: Look at him, he has Jesus' face.
I remember the Bobeshi [diminutive of grandmother] Hules who would traverse Kolomea with small steps and erected a home for Jewish orphans with the donations she collected. She, at the age of 80, was deported with her great grandchildren. I remember the poor couple from outside Kosów [Kosiv] who, almost unrecognizable, invited us during the occupation to spend the night in their underground cabin. Tens and hundreds of faces from that side of the shore elbow their way to me. I greet them.
by Shlomo Bickel
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Kolomea was a pious city. There were present, it should be understood, also a considerable number of members of the Enlightenment. However, they mostly behaved with dignity. They were enlightened, but they did not separate themselves from the remaining Jews, not with their clothing, not with their way of life and not even with the education of their children.
Even the pious associated with and boasted of the arriving Maskalim [followers of the Enlightenment], Reuben Asher, Broydes and Hersh Leib Sigheter. Reuben Asher was a sharp wit and recited witticisms, and the pious ones would often forget about his heresy because of his comments. Hersh Leib Sigheter was a splendid badkhan [wedding jester] whose humorous rhymes and curious stories were enjoyed. While his literature was close to the heart, the heretical touch in his songs and stories was disregarded and his entertaining with his jokes and with his learned insight was thoroughly enjoyed.
Hersh Leib Sigheter was, it appears, himself a little bit amazed by the mild climate he met in the Galician city. As he underlines particularly in his autobiography that when he came to Kolomea, he was embraced by the Maskilim as well as by the scholars with great respect. In his Hungarian birthplace Sighet [Sighetu Marmatiel, Romania] he had had to endure persecutions and finally had to escape from the rage of the rabbi who placed a ban on his newspaper, Hashemesh (The Sun), and here in Kolomea, not only did they pretend not to know of the Sighet rabbi's ban, but Hersh Leib was invited to Shlomo Halfen's home on a Shabbos [Sabbath] night and he recited Torah [Five Books of Moses] to a group of scholars who scalded
their tongues by doing two things at once: eating hot borscht with potatoes and laughing at Hersh Leib's jokes and badkhnlike antics.
One of my uncles, who spent several such Shabbos evening meals with Shlomo Halfen and who remembered a considerable number of Hersh Leib's songs and jokes until his death, would often tell me about the famous Sighet badkhn and people's poet, who spent three fortunate years in Kolomea paradise.
Hersh Leib Gottlieb already was then a Jews of about 70 and his clever, sad face was encircled with a grey beard that was cut short, which looked like a wreath of wilted greens.
If you saw him in the street my father said you would never in your life think that this Jew had such a golden mouth. He had a clever, Jewish face, but his eyes showed his fear and therefore he gave the impression that this Jew must be a person who does not speak. And he was the true silent one… a fiery tongue and as soon as he opened his lips, there was the desire to laugh. To begin with, he started it was at the home of Misnagid Shlomo Halfen with cutting remarks about observant Jews and Hasidim. His host [Shlomo] smoothed his beard with pleasure and the sonsinlaw and the sons laughed with great pleasure; and when he, Hersh Leib, felt that the audience was his, he began slowly to include in his witticisms and in his songs so much heretical poison that it became awkward to sit through it. They were ashamed to look at Shlomo Halfen, in case it was painful to him. And once my uncle recorded in his memoir Shlomo hit Hersh Leib lightly on the shoulders and half in jest and half earnestly said:
You must atone, Hersh Leib!
Hersh Leib did not ask why, but turned to Reb Shlomo's soninlaw, Simkha, who was a gentle Jew, very knowledgeable about Tanakh [Bible] and a grammarian, and asked him in a totally serious tone:
Reb Simkha, what gender is atonement, male or female?
And, as Reb Simkha, as was his manner, calmly and with an embarrassed smile answered: Female, Hersh Leib raised his back and covered his face as if to show despair and roared:
The devil knows! And I have so little of the yeytserhora [evil inclination] toward her [atonement]!
Everyone laughed heartily My father assured me And forgot that the joke was nor only heretical, but that it reeked of quite a lot of foul language. But my father himself had surely laughed at Hersh Leib Sigheter's wisdom repeated more than 30 years later in Chernowitz [Chernivtsi].
While Reuben Asher Broydes and Hersh Leib Sigheter had so much success in the city, [other] wellknown members of the Enlightenment during those years did not have such good fortune, particularly among the pious. At the same time that Reuben Asher's pointed witticisms were going around and respect was given to the Sighet heretic, Hersh Leib, Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock, a local follower of the Enlightenment, had to endure suffering incited by the Hasidim. Khaskl Itsik was not a source of jokes and did not dazzle with humor. He was a poor melamed [religious school teacher] in a long caftan with a shtreiml [fur hat worn by some Hasidic sects] and never missed the afternoon and evening prayers in the small synagogue. In general, he spoke little and what he thought, he never spoke except with a few chosen ones. Nevertheless, this quiet Jew drew the rage of the pious as if through human magnetism. As is said, he prayed every day in a group, but pious young people furtively observed him and knew with certainty that he did not even move his lips. On a Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement], when Khaskl Itsik again sat as did all Jews covered with his talis [prayer shawl] at his reading desk, the same pious young men observed furtively that the teacher was reading a newspaper. It probably only appeared that way to some since Khaskl Itsik would not dare to bring anything but a Makhzor [prayer book used on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] to the synagogue and there never was any direct proof of heresy against him. However, the community had the holy spirit. Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock was the deepest, the most educated and the most obstinate heretic in the city.
He lived for all his years on Spinoza Street because he had great respect and love for the Amsterdam gaon [often a title of respect for someone learned in Torah] and was a complete expert on his works. Khumashim [Five Books of Moses], Gemaras [commentaries] and other permitted books lay on the table and on several shelves near the wall in the front room, where Khaskl Itsik studied with his students. In an alcove that the sun never reached and which was pitch dark, he
kept his philosophical books. He usually would drop in there after the afternoon prayer and sit by the flame of a candle end and study the entire night. And Khaskl Itsik was not only interested in philosophy, he truly, breathlessly read and could not tear himself away from books about mathematics and physics.
The spirit of Salomon Maimon lived in the poor religious teacher from Kolomea's Spinoza Street. Perhaps he was just as proficient as [Maimon] in Talmud and in knowledge, but he lacked the other's tempestuous boldness, the other's intellectual rigor and certainty, as well as Maimon's writer's splendor. Like Maimon, Khaskl Itsik learned German through the difficult language of Kant and Hegel and like him, while learning the language, recorded the ideas in the book with penetrating philosophical questions. However, he did not have the courage to carry his questions over the threshold of his alcove because he was afraid of losing his teaching job and he was even more afraid of the fury of the Sadagorer and the Boyaner Hasidim who, God knows why, as is said, considered him a terrible enemy. Khaskl Itsik shared his ideas with a select few people in the city. And these people, among whom was my father, connected with the religious teacherphilosopher with a deep love and with such a deep silence.
And remarkably the less we heard from Khaskl Itsik, the more he would come to pray even more and on time, so his students could better study a page of the Gemara and they were surer of his piety, and the Sadagorer enemies seethed more and more at the silent and mysterious teacher. A bit of the psychology of the police lived in the young Hasidim who were ready to destroy a criminal when his crime could not be proven.
Until one summer day, Shabbos at the third meal, when the young people in the small synagogue were overtired, threw sharpwitted aphorisms and towels at each other and did not know what to do with their energy, which gushed from their bodies, just then Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock strolled in with his stately, fine stride. It happened as such cases of mass psychosis always happen. One of the young people shouted that one whose lack of piety brought shame to the Jewish people had come and no one later knew when
and how 10 hands grabbed the poor teacher, turned him with his face down and attacked him with lashes from yarmelkes [skull caps], blows with gartln [ropelike belts worn by pious men] and even several fleshy blows. It became a riot … Fathers uttered bitter words of reproach to their excited sons and a quarrel almost broke out with the elders, who condescendingly tried to reproach the fathers of such sons. However, two good things came out for both sides in that twilight. The Hasidim finally had certain evidence of Khaskl Itsik's heresy. How? The most secret students of the philosopher finely came out of hiding and publicly began to praise their rabbi [Khaskl Itsik], that he is just as great as the Rambam and… that he had his ways of Yiddishkeit [a Jewish way of life]. Khaskl Itsik was finished both in the synagogue and in the kheder [religious primary school]. [His] clandestine students gave the philosopher a monthly salary and he spent the several years that he remained alive in his house on Spinoza Street and occupied himself with the books of the Amsterdamer [Spinoza] and in other books through which he could better understand the five parts of his [Spinoza's] Ethics.
Khaskl Itsik now lived calmly and without concerns about income, but he could not overcome his fear of the Hasidim who had punished him previously. He rarely appeared in public and he read quietly with his visitors, as if he were whispering a secret. My father, who was one of Khaskl Itsik's close friends, once told me about an event that throws a particularly sharp light on the fear that the Hasidim inspired in the poor teacher and of the strange way of revenge with which he quieted his heart against his enemies.
My father, who after his marriage lived in a small shtetl [town] near Dniester in Galicia Podolia, always visited his rabbi when he came to Kolomea. One night he knocked on the door of his [Khaskl Itskik's] house on Spinoza Street. The door was locked and he felt as if Khaskl Itsik was afraid to open it. He asked who was there several times and did not believe my father when he answered. The way the poor Jew fluttered around the room in fear and could not decide to open [the door] because it could be a Hasid who was pretending to be one of his good friends. In fear, he did not recognize the voice of one of his close
friends and when my father finally entered the room, he saw lying on the table a copy of the excommunication against the Hasidim that the parnasim [trustees] and rabbis of the Brod kehile [organized Jewish community] issued during the large yearly market of 1772. The excommunication could not in essence have any more value for the follower of Spinoza, than, for example, In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov [stories about the founder of Hasidism]; both were for him the products of demons. Yet the human weaknesses cooling the heart led Khaskl Itsik to reread several times a year the sharp precepts against Hasidim of over a hundred years earlier, and he felt lightness in his heart [knowing] that the greatgrandfathers of his torturers had received the true judgment. And perhaps this was not any human weakness, as can be seen, but really true philosophical greatness that the teacher from Spinoza Street had the rare strength to console himself with such a confused comfort as the excommunication of 100 years earlier. If those young Hasidim had possessed Khaskl Itsik's historical vision, perhaps the excommunication of Spinoza of two hundred years earlier would have been enough on that dawn in the synagogue.
However, that Khaskl Itsik was in fear when he read the excommunication and that he closed and locked the door and gate behind him, this surely was not like Spinoza… And something else also was not according to [Spinoza's] Ethics. After the teacher calmed down, he again considered if there was anyone in the room besides him and his student and, trembling violently, he began to curse with pointed, barbed curses, particularly against the Hasidim from Sadagora and Boyan.
How did Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock look during my time, that is, in the years just before the First World War? Completely different, totally different. He was called Mekhl Kon and was dressed according to the latest male style. An elegant, round beard, a well cut afternoon jacket or Schwalben coat, as it was called then, and a thin cap. He did not speak Yiddish or Polish. He spoke German and read the newest novels that appeared at the book market. He was not fond of
Bernard Kellerman's Der Tunnel [The Tunnel] (Kellerman was too in love with technique) and saw that the JewishGerman writer, Jacob Wassermann was marching downhill in his literature in his last work, Die Juden von Zirndorf [translated as The Dark Pilgrimage]. He was a great admirer of Richard Dehmel, but he explained to us that the profound poetpersonality of our time was the young, pure one, [Rainer] Maria Rilke.
We went home from the boring literature courses that we heard in the gymnazie [secondary school] and we encountered Mekhl Kon on the street. If he was in the city, he strolled two or three times a week around noon to Mickiewicz Street and met some of his young friends there. Young Jewish students from the fifth, sixth classes seeing Herr Kon raised their hats with joy and approached him. He began to talk about German literature and everyone listened to him with open mouths. They first began to realize that Professor Wishniewski's course of an hour or two earlier [had taught] them nothing. Then, the master group scattered and a few, three or four young people, remained. They all accompanied Herr Kon home and they made an appointment to meet in the FolksGarten [public garden]. In the afternoon, around five, they met in a side alley and Mekhl Kon opened new horizons for the students. He gave us a lecture about philosophy; he led us to [Friedrich] Nietzsche's and [Arthur] Schopenhauer's works. He criticized their ideas for us and inspired us with their language and once suddenly launched into a long speech about Hasidus. And I saw before me a miracle worker, not the kind I had read about in [Heinrich] Graetz's Jewish history and, of course, a completely different one than those that had reached me through the tradition of my enlightened family. He spoke about wonder rabbis [rabbis capable of performing miracles] with such tolerance and such a thoughtful love that at the first opportunity when the Vizhnitzer Rebbe came to Kolomea for Shabbos [Sabbath], several of us students went to the Vizhnitzer synagogue, mixing with the joyous enthusiastic Jews and took part at the table like true Hasidim with fervor and rapture. And something more: He told each of us something nice and interesting about our deceased grandfathers and greatgrandfathers, whom he knew and woke in us a strange feeling and insight and pride in our family and for those who had gone on the eternal road.
And Mekhl Kon was a quiet one, hidden and a timid person as once was the remarkable teacher of Spinoza Street. And he was the most effective teacher not of a generation (it was not in accord with his temperament), but among several individuals of a generation. And I think the individuals learned everything from him and that without him their private lives would have looked different, much slighter and much noisier.
Translator and Coordinator's notes:
by Dovid Landman (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
A Jewish workers movement began to arise in Kolomea around the last quarter of the 19th century. Jews already were employed as wage workers in almost all of the Kolomea branches of industry during the period before the First World War; Jewish workers could be seen in all of the larger and smaller factories and, of course, in the workshops where the owners worked together with three or four workers. The factories in which Jews worked mostly belonged to Jews where non-Jews also often worked; a small number of Jewish workers also were employed in non-Jewish factories. The Kolomea Jewish workers had not created any strong, organized professional organizations during that era; the small number of those among them who were class conscious took upon themselves the difficult mission of attracting the wide-ranging Jewish workers group to fight to better their economic and social conditions.
At that time, before the First World War, there were two leading influences on the Jewish working class in Kolomea: the Zionist-Socialist movement, led by Poalei-Zion and the anti-Zionist, Z.P.S. [Jewish Social Democratic Party] and also in part by the Jewish section of the P.P.S. (Polish Socialist Party). The leaders of the P.P.S., Dr. Schorr, Herer and others, were popular with the Jewish and non-Jewish workers in Kolomea, particularly among the large number of Kolomea Jewish artisans.
Until 1914, the focal point of political life in Kolomea was the periodic elections to the Austrian parliament where the central government had designated one seat for Kolomea. There usually were three candidates: from the Jewish-National movement (a Zionist), from
the P.P.S. and one of the cliques, a Jew who was obsequious to the non-Jews or a Polish landowner, According to a simple accounting of the number of followers, the chosen candidate was supposed to be, if not the Zionist, the candidate of the P.P.S. However, the election committees always had in their arsenals various machinations and the winner always turned out to be the candidate of the reactionaries. Kolomea really did not have the good fortune to have a socialist or liberal as its representative in the old Austrian parliament.
The economic and political proportions changed in Kolomea after the disintegration of the Austrian Empire when the League of Nations gave all of eastern Galicia to the new Poland. The workforce in Kolomea was politically aware at that time and influenced by the victorious Bolshevik Revolution. After the split in the Poalei-Zion party into right and left, a left Poalei-Zion party also arose in Kolomea; an illegal Communist Party also existed. The majority of the Z.P.S. organized in the Bund, joining the general Jewish Workers Bund in Poland. The right and left Poalei-Zion, the Bund and the Jewish division of the Communist Party now fought for influence among the Jewish working class in Kolomea. Cultural institutions began to rise - libraries and evening courses; the largest according to their scope were the Y.L. Peretz Library and the communal evening courses that were created by left Poalei-Zion. The Bund created the Medem Library, the communists the Karl Marx and the Sholem Asch Society. The communist institutions would be closed by the Polish regime after a short time.
At the head of the parties stood the activists, known from before the First World War and, also, the younger, newly arrived. With the left wing Poalei-Zion party, the leaders were Yuda Langemas, Miler, Y. Shleier, M. Marksheid, Avraham Parnes, Shmuel Winkler, Berl Krauthamer, Shlomo Shmois, Leib Elenberg, Leib Meizler-Weitz and the writer of these lines. The leaders of the right Poalei-Zion were: Shlomo Badler, Dr.Wagman, Shpiegel; of the communists, known were: Shike Shechter, Yidl Greif, Heizer, Nusan Meizler, Sheyndl Shechter; at the head of the Bund stood: Gizelo Herman, Naftali Kesten, Leah Rozenshtreich, Feywl Loiber, Dr. Adolf Frish. There were many other party workers; however, I do not remember their names.
The existing parties, as well as a number of impartial worker activists, made great efforts to create professional unions in Kolomea and drew into them an even larger number of members. Others in the unions of needle-workers, bakers, weavers, woodworkers, those employed in trade and others were active. However, Jewish workers, after all, for the most part were scattered in the various smaller workshops. Therefore, the fight for better working and wage conditions would end with only small successes. They did not always succeed in drawing all of the workers in the designated trades into the fight. In such trades such as bakers and hairdressers, a general strike by the workers did not stop the enterprises from functioning. The owners would mobilize their family members and somehow continue working. However, as a result of the strike something would be achieved: a little higher wage, better conditions and the recognition of the existence of the professional organization.
As a rule, the state labor inspectors were not very fastidious in the application of the existing labor laws. The only function of the police was to make sure that the businesses and workshops that opened up into the streets closed at the prescribed hour of seven o'clock in the evening.
Kolomea belonged to that part of the new Poland where the Poles were in the minority. The Polish regime, therefore, was on the lookout for unrest and did not permit any open gatherings and demonstrations, principally the 1st of May demonstrations, unless they took place in a locked meeting hall. Such a locked First of May demonstration took place in Kolomea for the last time in 1923. The hall was packed with Kolomea workers, Jews and everyone else, city dwellers as well as village dwellers. At that time the old Austrian law about the right to speak in public only in three languages, German, Polish and Ukrainian, still was valid. The demonstration ended with a march to the city hall through the main street in Kolomea, where the leaders of the demonstration had decorated the balcony with the red flag and gave speeches. This was the last time that the red workers' flag waved over the Kolomea city hall.
The Medem Union was a group of Jewish writers and activists which helped found the Medem Library in Paris which still exists today since its members hid the books in basements all over Paris during World War II. [Coor.] Return
by Leib Weitz
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
I travel to Kolomea in my imagination and here I stand on Osa Street where I spent my youth. It was a small street, a muddy one, unpaved and the only sidewalk on the street is full of mud and holes. Small houses on both sides, some of which were ready to fall. The street itself was not yet very old.
My mother still remembered how the old Prut [River] alleys were not yet streets, but fields. Past the fields [there were] paths on which we went to the Prut to swim.
However, it seems that the houses were older than the street. Most of the houses had crooked doors and windows, peeled walls. There also were several new houses. I myself remember how they were built. The new houses [belonged to] the aristocrats among the people.
Common Jews lived on our street: shoemakers, tailors, wagon drivers, water carriers, shop owners, butchers and horse traders (koniares). There were several shops in the small street where herring, bread, butter, salt, kerosene, glasses for lamps, soap, coal and lumber was sold. Everyone earned their livelihood from [this] work, but earning was difficult, although no one died of hunger.
On the right side of our house lived Dudya Henigsberg or, as the Jews in the street called him, Dudya Telep [tremble] because when he walked he shook or, as we said, trembled. Dudya was a tall Jew, a solid one of middle age with a partially grey, small beard and always laughing eyes. He had five sons and two daughters. The sons were all as tall and as solid as their father and also butchers like he was.
Dudya was not learned and also not too skilled in world questions. But everyone looked to him and everyone loved him. If someone in the street became ill and did not have money for a doctor, he went to Dudya. If the water-carrier's horse died and he did not have enough money to buy another one, he went to Dudya. Dudya did not refuse anyone.
Dudya Henigsberg was a busy man. He would wake up early when it was very dark outside to go to the slaughterhouse. Later, during the day, he stood at the covered market and sold meat. He came home very tired. Therefore, when Shabbos or a holiday came, he beamed with joy. He became a different man. His house was full of Jews. They spoke about politics, about helping Jews who needed help and meanwhile gemakht a l'Chaim [literally made a l'Chaim a toast; had a drink]. Dudya, himself, did not drink much. But he loved for the Jews to drink and there was no lack of what to drink in Dudya's house.
I leave my small street and drop into the city where there was commerce, where the workshops stood, the small factories as well as the communal institutions and the places of entertainment.
So, this is Di Neye Welt [the New World], the street that led from here to the market. There were houses on both sides, not ugly ones, the doors beautifully painted, the walls whitewashed, clean and tidy. Jews lived in all of the houses, only Jews. There were no gentile houses. The Komarner Rebbe lived on the left side. There was also a synagogue in his house. It was always full of Jews on weekdays and self-evidently on the holidays. The Komarner Rebbe was a Jew in his late fifties, with a white beard, not tall, with dull, blank eyes. He was surrounded with much love and simple, ordinary Jews. He prayed alone at the pulpit. With his entreating voice he quarreled with the passersby in the street. It was said that his oldest son wrote surreptitiously for one of the Yiddish newspapers.
And so I was on the bridge across the Potiek that once arose [there] and became a great [body of] water. It poured out over the banks, flooded entire streets and caused much damage. A great deal of wild grass grew on both sides and it
gathered a great deal of dirt. Only in the middle of the flow was there a little green water. However, a small bridge over the Potiek led to a large spring. There were always many Jews and non-Jews here. But below, near the Potiek, was a drinking trough. The horses of the local wagon drivers and the village horses drank here. There were many people and horses present here during the market days. There was no room then to throw a pin. A few steps further stood four pumps and at each pump stood a water carrier who pumped water.
I knew one of the water carriers very well. He was a small man with a yellow face and yellow beard. He was lame in one foot. He was called Borukh the krumer [lame one]. He was a quiet and a pious Jew, could pray well and observed Yidishkeit [Jewish way of life]. He had many children, boys and girls. When the children were small I could never tell which of them was older. They grew to be important people and took part in communal life in Kolomea.
When Borukh the water carrier's father was still a boy, he fell in love with a Christian girl and married her. After the wedding, she learned the Jewish laws, kept kosher, celebrated the Jewish holidays and provided a room for a synagogue and he, Borukh's father, had a religious book written. When I knew her, she already was very old. One could not recognize that she did not come from a Jewish family. She spoke a good Yiddish just like all of the Jewish women of Kolomea.
It was different at the market than in the back alleys. The streets were paved and clean. Wide sidewalks with trees were on both sides, gardens, memorials and squares. The streets were clearly lit with electric lamps and there were Jewish shops on all sides. The streets were full of people, with wagons, horse-drawn carriages and autos. Here the life of an entire generation lay ahead of them.
Opposite the city hall the A-B line begins. Grinberg's paper shop is here. Here we get all of the Yiddish newspapers, daily newspapers, weekly publications and journals. Foreign newspapers, including American, can be gotten here.
The A-B line was always full of people. Workers gathered here very early with packs of food under their arms. Here, journeymen tailors and workers from other trades strolled around. They carried on discussions about world problems, carried on fights between the left and the right. When the city clock struck seven, they dispersed, each to
his direction, each to his work. In the middle of the day the A-B line was full of merchants from the city and from the provinces, with customers and at night it was impossible to pass through here. Workers were coming from work, trade employees were coming from the businesses and there were strollers boys and girls. It was joyful in the evening at Line A-B. Dressed up people walked through the street to the café-hall. Theater was presented there. Brides and grooms, young couples walked on Line A-B. Workers dressed in holiday clothes stood peacefully in discussions. The discussions often led to shouting. The police who kept order here were not so friendly; they drove, pushed and sometimes let loose with their rubber sticks.
Pilsudski Square was located in the center of Line A-B. My heart begins to beat faster. Here stood the house of my young dreams and of my communal work. This was a large two-story building whose windows looked out onto three streets. Almost every apartment was occupied by private residents, by doctors. Only one apartment, whose windows opened onto the small alley that led to the Hey Platz [Hey Square], was occupied by the Jewish Workers Library named for Y. L. Peretz.
The entire meeting hall consisted of three large rooms. The library, the evening courses for workers, the collection group for the Jewish Scientific Institute (YIVO), the Poalei-Zion Party [Marxist-Zionist] and the youth organization, Yugnt [youth] here are concentrated in these rooms. The library was in the first room.
Various posters about events were always pasted on the walls. Here hung a large red poster that announced a reading by Y. Zrubbel on the theme, From Y.L. Peretz to H. Leivik. In another corner a large poster about a reading by Z. Sonalowicz. A third poster was about a report by Yoal Mastbaum. Another poster was about a theater performance with the famous artist, Aleksander Granach, and still another poster called the young to a reading about youth problems by Yakov Kener. And dozens and dozens of other posters, printed and self-made that told about small and large political
and cultural undertakings, about dozens and dozens of discussions and evening courses that were organized through the years by the Y.L. Peretz Society and through the Poalei-Zion party.
The library room was full of people who came to read books. On the other side of the table stood comrades and they gave out books to the readers. Among them was Rayzl Merbaum, a worker in Shimshon Heler's talis [prayer shawl] factory. Comrade Chana Birnbaum sat in another corner. She sat bent over and wrote something. Not far from her sat Comrade Reicher. He worked with the statistics of which books were loaned the most [often].
In a corner on another side sat a person deeply absorbed in his thoughts. This was Moshe Elenberg. He founded the library. He built the most beautiful Jewish library in Kolomea from a small number of books, gathered from among his own comrades. He was a weaver by trade, worked at Shimshon Heler's factory. Moshe began to work when he was very young. He worked hard in the factory during the day and he devoted his entire free time to library work. He studied at night like someone who is thirsty and he swallowed books, in Yiddish and in other languages. It was difficult to mention a serious book that Moshe Elenberg had not read. He had a lung illness from too much exertion and was forced to remain in bed for many years. But despite his illness, he led the cultural work of the Poalei-Zion youth.
A fervid argument occurred not far from the door. They were discussing the most recent events in Eretz Yisroel. Everyone shouted at the same time, but Maks Rot always shouted over everyone else. Maks Rath was small, short with a pale face, straight hair combed down. He had a high forehead with deep wrinkles, with greenish eyes. He was a sick man. It was rare when he did not have a cold. He was good by nature, genteel in character, an idealist and a terrific optimist. He lived with his parents on Sloneczna. The room in which Maks lived with his parents looked as if it had been rebuilt from a wooden cell.
Maks' father was a free person, a socialist. He was a member of Poalei-Zion (right) for many years. He was a brush maker by trade. He worked in Kiva Hener's factory for many years. Because of a strike that broke out in the brush
factory, Maks' father lost his job. He was forced to work at home in a small spot in his small room that was divided by both beds. A hand-machine to cut the bristles from the brushes stood there. Thus Maks lived. There he read books, read poetry that he loved so much.
It was dark in the other room of the meeting hall; only a strip of light from the third room made its way in. The meeting of the committee that led the organization, Yugnt [youth] took place here. The committee consisted of the comrades Chaim Bal, Leibel Elenberg, Moshe Herman, Mekhl Lichtn, Y. Latner, M. Cweig, Leib Meizler, S. Kamet and Josef Biber. These were the leaders of the organization. Hundreds and hundreds of young people in its ranks were educated. Many of them first learned to read and write here at the evening courses. A large number of the young people actually were wrested from the underworld and turned into [socially] conscious, useful people.
The organization worked according to a plan, according to a purpose. All of its members were divided into groups with 15-20 members in a group. The selection of the groups was according to age and according to the knowledge the member possessed. Group meetings would take place at least once a week in addition to gatherings and lectures. The main themes were political, economic, history of the Jewish workers movement, history of socialism, Eretz-Yisroel problems, Palestinographia [the study of Palestine] and Borochovism [socialist Zionism]. The lectures were appropriate to the level of the members. In addition to this, there was a presentation circle where the comrades would learn to speak at a meeting and gatherings.
A committee sat in another room of the premises and discussed a plan to carry out a questionnaire among the young people in the city to find out about the life of the young, the work of the young people and the number of grades in school they had finished. This was a giant undertaking but they had to do it because the Polish government was not interested in doing this, so they had to do it, said Chaim Bal who reported now about this plan. Chaim Bal, a solidly built young man, with red checks and a high forehead, looked a great deal older than his age. He was a true idealistic type. His mother did not permit him to learn a trade because it was
not appropriate for her son to be an artisan. He became a komi (business employee) in a shop. He worked in the shop until he became a member of the Yugnt [youth]. There he learned that there is no shame in work. Chaim Bal immediately left the shop and went to Avraham Zimmer to learn carpentry. He did not know Yiddish from his home; he learned mama-loshen [mother tongue, Yiddish] and became an expert on Yiddish literature. He became one of the most beloved leaders of the youth organization. His fervid dream was to settle in Eretz-Yisroel.
Mekhl Lichtn sat at Chaim Bal's right hand. Lichtn was descended from a poor, respectable home. His father died when Mekhl was still very young. His mother sewed shirts and cared for him and his sister and young brother. Mekhl studied industriously in a kheder [religious primary school]. His mother hoped that he would become a teacher. However, his mother's dream was not accomplished. Instead of becoming a teacher, he became a business employee at a leather shop. Mekhl Lichtn was one of the best and most substantial speakers and lecturers among the young.
Next to Mekhl Lichtn sat Leibele Elenberg, a young man of middle height with a worn out face and with a warm human heart. He stood there and spoke before the young people. He loved the young people as much as his life. Perhaps that is why he never had his own youth. He always was an adult. He worried about his younger brothers and sisters. He worried about his old father. He was raised without a mother. He did not even remember her. She died when he was still very small. They lived on Rogatke Street in a house that should have already collapsed with age.
Leibele Elenberg was a bright, transporting speaker and the best of all of the activists. The young loved him as much as their own lives.
The brother and sister, Dovid and Loti Reichman. were noticed immediately among the arriving readers.
Dovid and Loti Reichbach remained alone in Kolomea after their parents and sister left for America. They were not allowed into [America] because their eyes were not healthy. They were members of the Y. L. Peretz Library. After a short time, the brother and sister became active
members of Yugnt. There was no area of work in which they were not the first ones.
When Dudya and Loti left for Warsaw, Dudya became one of the best instructors in the Poalei-Zion children's organization, Yungbor [Young Borokhovists], and Loti became an active comrade in the Warsaw Yugnt.
All of my dear comrades, whom I have mentioned, perished.
Moshe Elenberg, who was the founders of the library, committed suicide. Chaim Bal was shot in the courtyard of the factory where he worked even before the start of the aktsies [deportations]. Leibl Elenberg perished with all of the other Jews; Mekhl Lichtn was also among them. My dear comrade Maks Rot tried to commit suicide after his wife, Comrade Chana Gartenlaub, had been taken away. However, he was not successful. He perished along with the other Jews. Loti and Dovid Reichbach, who returned from Warsaw before Hitler took Kolomea, also perished.
by Leizer Walder (New York)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
We lived on Walow Streeet opposite the Baron Hirsch School where I was a student.
My father, MosheLeib, was a baker. He worked hard through the night and barely earned a livelihood. The flour dust and the difficult work undermined his health little by little. However, he never complained although he knew how weak and sick he was.
Once, I was then not yet 12 years old, my father had a conversation with me.
You know, my child, while I would want you to study, what can I do?
I do not see any possibility for you to continue going to school; there is no purpose in it for you.
You will remain neither here nor there. I will give you [as an apprentice] to a tailor; you will become a good craftsman and not know from need.
My father chose a tailor, a good craftsman; he was named Yakov Hersh Kalechstein. He was a genteel man, a learned man. He was called the Hasidic tailor because his children were Hasidim and he would sew silk kapotes [long, black coats which are worn by Hasidic men] for them. My father apprenticed me to the Hasidic tailor for two years and also paid 20 krones. He had to borrow the money as a loan.
The day on which I went to the tailor to work for the first time was a holiday to my father. He said he had provided for his child.
However, he was not destined to see his child taken care of; he died during the same year and left my mother a desolate widow with three orphans.
One of our neighbors was Shlomo Dovid. In the city, he was called Shlomo Dovid der shtotbalebos [important man in the city]. After my father's death, Shlomo Dovid's wife called in my mother and consoled her in pious Yiddish: God is a Father of orphans and widows. He feeds all creatures and He also will feed you. She persuaded her husband to provide us with a bit of housing and, after Passover, we actually did move into a small house in Shlomo Dovid's courtyard. This was a true ruin; the walls had holes, the doors were without doorknobs and did not close properly. Shlomo Dovid was an important person at city hall and he pushed through a proposal that the kehile [organized Jewish community] pay him rent for my mother.
This Shlomo Dovid was one of the Kolomea elite. He was dressed like an elegant young man. His boots were always shiny. Whenever one met him, he was carrying a portfolio under his arm and a pen was behind his ear. Besides being a meddler at city hall, he was an intimate of the district chief and influential at the kehile. He approached everyone from above, never answered anyone's Good morning, and said Du to young and old alike. In general, he carried all of Kolomea in his head. He had a list in which he recorded everyone's behavior. In the main synagogue, where he was, it should be understood, an important person, he, tall and proud, would go to the Torah reading desk on Shabbos [Sabbath] and call out the weddings that were scheduled for the coming week.
And we were lodgers of this Shlomo Dovid.
After my father's death, my mother became the breadwinner for the family. She would help flick goose feathers during the winter and in addition to [receiving] a few kreutzers, she would also earn several feet, wings and a few gizzards from the geese. During the summer she helped middleclass women with the cooking, washing, polishing and thus we lived in need and in poverty.
During the two years in which I learned tailoring, I did not completely leave school. I worked with a needle from early in the morning to around six at night. I went to school from six to eight; from there I went back to work until around 11 at night. My mother, exhausted and broken from a day of heavy labor, would wait to take me home. My mother's only hope at that
time was that I become an artisan and be able to earn my own bread and, with Shlomo Dovid's influence, I would not have to go to serve in the military.
In order to become a tailor, a young boy had to be apprenticed to a tailor for three years. The first year, the young boy worked without pay. The second year, only for food and the third year the young boy received two kronen a week along with food.
The first year the boss's wife made use of the young boy. He needed to carry water from the well, chop wood for the oven, help carry the laundry to be washed, coddle the children, run an errand, and do other such work that had nothing to do with tailoring.
The second year, they would little by little begin to break in the fellow in tailoring. First, they would bind the middle finger of his right hand for a few weeks. This was a means for him to hold the needle well in his hand. The young boy took pride in his bound finger he already was like a tailor. In addition to this he also would run to the bathhouse for hot coals for the pressiron. He was taught little by little to sew on the sewing machine during the second year, so that by the end of the second year he could make a pair of pants and he could legitimately earn the food he would get. But the food was woefully poor. One consolation was that the boss himself did not have better food.
During the third year, the boy was a full journeyman and he was trusted to make a jacket, so that in addition to food, he received a suit and a pair of shoes.
The workday would begin at 67 o'clock in the morning and last until 10 at night approximately 16 hours a day. Holiday evenings were irrelevant. They would work until 12 o'clock at night and the week before Passover, the entire night. At the Seder [Passover meal at which the Hagadah containing the story of the holiday is read], all of the apprentices would sit around the holiday table, but immediately after the Kiddush [blessing of the wine], they all fell into a sweet sleep. They waited long for the holidays, the poor things, so that they could sleep well.
You will find a large number of former apprentice tailors from Kolomea in the New York Garment Center. Some of them are now rich manufacturers. Others remained workers. I hope that reading this writing will remind them of that time and they will again relive their dear younger years.
Singing songs at work was always a part of the tailoring trade. I still remember many of the songs that we would sing at the time in the workshop in Kolomea. And here is one of them:
Sleep my child, sleep well,
I will sing you a song.
If you rest, my child, you will grow older,
You will know the difference.
If you, my child, will grow older,
You will become equal to people.
Then you will learn,
What poor is and what rich is…
The most expensive palaces, the richest houses
All of this is built by the poor.
But do you know who lives in them?
Not him, but the rich man…
The poor man he lies in a cellar.
The moisture runs from the walls
He gets rheumatism
In his feet and in his hands…
Songs were written for every important event that happened in the city. One such song was composed when a strike broke out in which a victim even fell a young girl named Chanala was killed then.
Here it is:
Chanala went to work
And did not know of anything.
They called out the militia
And Chanala was shot for no reason…
Chanala fell dead
Her eyes, her lips closed…
They wrapped her in the red flag
She fell in the sacred battle!…
A tragic event once happened near Kolomea, at the gasworks. A young man, a Jew, was killed there because of an explosion and they sang about his tragic death in all of the Kolomea workshops. Here is this song:
Perhaps you saw or perhaps you heard,
What happened here?
A young man, a bridegroom,
Was standing at work,
And the gasometer [storage tank holding natural gas] discharged.
When the gasometer discharged at him,
He ended up like clay.
He asked that they send for his beloved bride,
Because he wanted to see her again before he died.
My two years as an apprentice passed. I could sew a pair of pants and a waistcoat by myself.
Our friend, Hershl the tailor of women's clothes, presented me to the best tailor in the city. His name was Zeyda Pesler from Budapest. The agreement was: He would pay me three krone a week for the first half year and five kronen a week for the second half of the year.
My mother could barely make due end meet with my salary. There was only bread during the week and challah [Sabbath bread] and a piece of meat for Shabbos.
Her luck did not last for long. The First World War broke out in 1914 with all of its terrors.
The government mobilized everyone who could carry a weapon. The young were taken into the army. There was an effect on income. The tailors and the shoemakers were the first to be affected. They wandered around without work, without income, full of poverty and fear.
The worst was when the Russians entered the city. They showed what they were capable of doing. They robbed, tortured, murdered. No one's life was secure. Everyone lost hope. Everyone walked around with a gloomy face. Whoever could, escaped. Whoever could not escape looked for a place to hide wherever they could find a hiding place.
In 1915, two weeks before Purim, the Germans drove out the Russian troops. The Austrians returned and we were a little more calm, but not for long.
During the same year on the 15th of May, the Russian hordes recaptured Kolomea. The tumult that was brought to the city cannot be described. All of the residents of the city were scattered and our friend Shlomo Dovid took his talis and tefilin [prayer shawl and phylacteries] and in a whirlwind ran with everyone else to find a more secure place.
I escaped to Bohemia then. My mother, my brother Avraham and my sister Rywka also ran to Bohemia after me. But they did not find me there. The Austrians mobilized me and sent me to the Italian front.
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