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Translation of Borszczow chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Borszczow chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Translated and submitted to the Yizkor Book Project by Lancy Spalter
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
for the Suchostaw Region Research Group (SRRG)
to put this material on the JewishGen web site.
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II, pages 102-106, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Borszczow served as a trade and crafts center for its agricultural environs. Since early times, its annual fairs hosted an active trade of cattle, horses and grain; during the 18th century it became known for the manufacture of coarse fabrics for winter coats. In the 19th century a paper factory was established in its vicinity. The owners of the large estate also set up a brewery and a spirits distillery.
The biggest fire in town occurred in 1912 and many houses burned down. During WWI this town was not badly damaged in comparison to other towns.
It is possible that the first Jews settled in Borszczow even before the events of 1648-1649 as in other places in Podolia, but there is no evidence to it. In the Pinkas Kahal Czortkow (the annals of the Czortkow Community) there is an entry from the early 19th century that reads: The great rabbis of the Council of the Four Lands have decreed that no son of Israel will reside here until in 1705 the local noble requested that Jews come to reside there and promised to grant them freedoms. After some insistence, permission of residence was granted (free translation). It seems that the Jewish settlement in Borszczow was renewed during the Turkish occupation (1672-1699) and developed during the 18th century. The Jewish Cemetery called the Old Cemetery still remains from that time; its dimensions attest to the existence of a large Jewish community in Borszczow. In the 1880's the number of Jews of the community of Borszczow reached its peak and by WWI it had decreased, mainly as a result of emigration to overseas lands. The Borszczow Benevolent Society Erster Borszczower Kranken Unterstutzungs Verein was established in New York already in 1897.
At the turn of the 20th century there were only 225 community taxpayers in Borszczow. The Jews of Borszczow were fortunate. During the Russian occupation in WWI (which in Borszczow lasted until mid 1917) there were almost no cases of looting, raping and fires, as in other places. Borszczow even absorbed hundreds of Jewish refugees from neighboring villages and helmets. And yet, both the local residents and the refugees suffered from kidnappings for forced labor (building fortifications, etc.) and from the economic hardships of the war. In 1915 there was an epidemic of cholera that took a heavy toll among the Jews; an aid committee and a people's kitchen were set up. The Jewish community of Borszczow did not suffer that much from either the rule of the West Ukrainian Republic or the Bolshevik occupation of the town (out of the five members of the revolutionary council established by the Soviets, two were local Jews).
The first Jews of Borszczow dealt in tenancy, tavern keeping and trade (chiefly grain and cattle). During the 19th century and early 20th century the Jewish trade became more varied and craftsmen proliferated. During this time some of the families continued to make a living from leases from the local noble estate (flourmill, brewery), and thus providing sustenance to agents, suppliers, intermediaries, etc. During the second half of the 19th century, there were 4-5 Jewish estate owners in the area. Towards the end of the same century Jews leased orchards and marketed the produce as far as Lvov. Among the big merchants there were those who traded in eggs, grain and cattle; most of them were not independent and represented trade companies in the large cities. The rest of the merchants were shopkeepers, kept stalls at the market or peddled in the country villages. The largest group of craftsmen (200) were the tailors. Most sewed cheap clothing for sale to the peasants on market days. In addition to the traditional Jewish crafts (glaziers, carpenters, coopers, butchers, bakers, watch repairmen, etc.), there were in Borszczow 3-4 blacksmiths, 2-3 saddlers working at the estate, a distillery specialist and one soapmaker (whose trade had passed from generation to generation).
The Industry and Trade Bank was established in 1898; they gave credit to merchants and craftsmen. This bank operated until 1914. During the same time there was one other bank in Borszczow, privately owned, that worked intermittently. A doctor, a lawyer and several public officials represented the modern Jewish intelligentsia.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Borszczow community was not independent; it was annexed to the Ozeryany community. Only from mid 19th century there is strong evidence of its independence. The wooden and externally whitewashed synagogue was built in the 19th century. With the increase in the number of Hassidim in Borszczow in the second half of the 19th century, learning centers of the Hassidim of Vizhnitz and Sadigura-Ruzhin were established. The Yad Charutzim Craftsmen Union (organized apparently at the end of the century) had its own prayer house.
Little is known about the rabbis of Borszczow. From early on the community had managed with only a judge and ritual teacher, who acted also as ritual slaughterer; the example is Rabbi Meir Leibush bar Shalom Neiberger who was appointed to officiate in Borszczow in 1906. Several years before WWI, Rabbi Ben-Zion Katz (who wrote Yerushalaim Dedahaba and Gaon Zvi) was appointed Head of the Rabbinical Court in Borszczow. He left Borszczow during the war and never returned. At the end of the war he was officiating in Chernowitz.
Zionist circles were organized in Borszczow at the end of the 19th century. In 1897 Agudat Zion was established. A literary society, Deggel Yeshurun, had been founded two years before. The local intellectuals had created it for popular lectures and festivals. Side by side, there was a library and reading room. In 1914 a number of gymnasia graduates founded a students' organization Hashmonay. The Torah studies (Talmud Torah) underwent during that time a process of modernization and they had 100 students in four classes. In 1909 a Hebrew school based on Saffah Berurah was established; it had one teacher and 60 students. The school operated until 1911. In 1909 a private gymnasia was created and a significant percentage of its students were Jewish.
During this time there were not many changes in the occupational structure of the community, but the economic situation of almost all bread-earners worsened. The Polish authorities dismissed all Jews that had filled public offices during the Austrian reign, and these people joined the lines of unemployment of the local Jewish intelligentsia (mostly graduates in Humanities who could not find work). By various pretexts, Jews were refused the necessary licences to trade in commodities (salt, tobacco, alcoholic beverages) and to run taverns. The Jewish merchants found it hard to compete with the Ukrainian and Polish cooperatives. In 1932 there were in Borszczow 76 stores; 68 belonged to Jews and 8 to Gentiles. Five years later, the number of shops that belonged to Gentiles grew to 18 and, more important, the extent of their trade increased significantly. In 1936-1937 the number of cases of violent offences against Jews of nearby villages and peddlars increased. Many of the impoverished craftsmen underwent a process of proletarization; some found work at the flourmill leased by Jews, at the brewery and at the new, small grinding mill. A number of Jewish laborers worked at the electric power station built by Jews. Jewish women applied for seasonal work at the large tobacco packing plant.
The Kupat Gemiluth Chassadim benefactory fund established in 1928 did not succeed. In 1933 it granted 73 loans for a total of 7,575 zloty and one year later only 9 loans for a total of 1,170 zloty. The poverty of the Borszczow Jews was made evident with the Kamcha Depascha fund (aid given to the poor to cover for their Pessach needs): the number of people requesting aid from this fund doubled from 1936 to 1937. The Ternopol community had to finance the needs of the 6 Borszczow orphans. In 1937 the Borszczow community budget allotted 400 zloty (under the item Assistance) to Talmud Torah (schooling for poor children). No other assistance could be extended for lack of means.
Up until 1924 there was no Head of Rabbinical Court in Borszczow. That year Rabbi Shlomo Hertz was appointed. He also had laic education and for several years he also acted as member of the Town Council.
In 1929, sixteen Jews were elected to the Town Council according to an agreement reached by the three nationalities Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish. In 1931, by this agreement the Jews received 3 seats out of 16. In 1939, the nationalities did not reach an agreement, and yet 3 Jews were elected to the Town Council but neither Jews nor Ukrainians were appointed to the Town Administration. The Jews elected to the Town Council were mostly Zionist.
The Zionist organizations in Borszczow renewed their activity in 1918. A branch of Hashomer Hatza'ir was established in 1918 and was followed by a branch of Hitachdut in 1923 and one of Ezrah in 1925. The strongest movement in Borszczow was the Zionim Klalim (General Zionists) and their youth groups: Hanoar Hatzioni, organized in 1930, Achava in 1934 and an organization of Zionist professionals in 1932. These three movements, at the peak of their activity in 1934, numbered 170 members. There was also a branch of the Revisionists in Borszczow but their number and the number of votes they received in the elections to the Zionist Congresses were very small.
In the 1933 elections to the Zionist Congress, the results of the voting were: General Zionists 142 votes, Mizrachi 3, Hitachdut 70, and the Radical Zionists 105. Two years later the results were: General Zionists 316 votes, Working Eretz Israel Party 298 and Radicals 13.
The Deggel Yeshurun club renewed its activities in 1924. Its library held some 2,000 books and the reading room had 50 newspapers and other publications. During 1936-1939, the library housed a circle of YIVO supporters. Lectures of noteworthy people (writers, politicians, scientists) from important centers of Poland were held in the reading room. The drama circle hosted by the club performed in Borszczow and nearby towns. Also, all prominent Jewish artistic groups touring Poland visited Borszczow. The Hebrew complementary school renewed its activities and operated until 1939.
In 1940 most craftsmen organized cooperatives, but continued to work unofficially for the private market. A school whose teaching language was Yiddish, opened in town and had some 200 students. A number of Jewish estate-owners were exiled to the Soviet Union.
When the German invasion started on June 22, 1941, groups of Jews tried to cross the border to the Soviet Union, but the Soviet guards posted at the border prevented it. Only the front's collapse and the evacuation of town by the Soviet administration at the end of June, enabled small groups of Jews to move east.
On July 6, 1941, after the Soviet evacuation, the local Ukrainians took over the town's administration, causing tension between them and the Jewish population. A moderate local Ukrainian leader, who was in good terms with the Jewish leadership, interceded and aggressions were prevented. Units of the Hungarian Army allied with the Germans arrived in town on July 7, 1941. On July 8, the Hungarian soldiers, together with the Ukrainian police, confiscated all the radio sets from Jewish homes.
By the same time a Jewish committee was organized in Borszczow, headed by Wolf Hess, to take care of the vital needs of the community. Hundreds of Jewish refugees exiled from Carpatho- Ruthenia were brought to Borszczow in July 1941. The local Jewish committee organized the provision of food and clothing and, during the few days that they stayed in Borszczow, they were also given a roof over their heads. During the Hungarian military administration in Borszczow, there were no cases of physical aggression against Jews, but from time to time the Hungarian soldiers plundered Jewish homes.
In September 1941, the town's administration was handed over to the Germans. A number of restrictions were imposed on Jews: to wear a white band with a blue Maggen David; all Jewish men aged 14 to 60 were subjected to forced labor; there was night curfew for Jews; Jews were not allowed on the main street; they were not allowed to leave town without a permit; purchase of provisions at the market was limited to one hour per day, from noon to 1:00 PM.
The existing Jewish committee became the Judenrat, and Wolf Hess was appointed to head it. The other council members were Hersch Taiber (deputy), Meir Gottesman, Shalom Rosenblatt, Shachner (treasurer), Friedrich Lubliner, Shpigel, S. Neiringer, Meshulam Blumenthal, Meir Latkovtzer, Mordechai Rosenstock and Rabbi Shlomo Hertz.
Within the frame of the Judenrat there was a labor department to supply men for forced labor, a welfare department that organized a public kitchen and aid to the needy, a special department to provide valuable effects to the Germans on demand, a public health department to deal with hygiene and prevention of disease, a food department in charge of official rationing. These rations could not sustain the community they were insufficient and their supply was irregular.
Side by side with the Judenrat, there was a Jewish police. Hess did his best to make the Judenrat work on sound foundations, to have it clean from corruption, and he initiated various activities to ease the hardships of the communtiy. Towards the Germans he presented a proud and respectable stand, while he strived to deter them from carrying forth different edicts. This attitude towards the Germans, combined with Jewish informers who were not satisfied with his policy, resulted in Hess' arrest; he was sent to Belzec for extermination on July 27, 1942. On his death, the Judenrat's standing in the eyes of the community succumbed. A refugee from Vienna, Oscar Hessing, was appointed to head the Judenrat. His line was total obeyance to the Germans. He placed his brother Shimon as head of the Jewish police and they both ignored the needs of the community.
A branch of the J.S.S. acted in Borszczow headed by Isaac Beidof. Its members extended aid to the hungry and the sick. In the autumn of 1941 the Germans demanded a contribution of gold and silver from the community as well as large quantities of coffee, tea and valuable wares.
By the winter of 1941-1942 groups of youths were abducted to labor camps in the environs of Ternopol: Stupki, Kamionka, Borki-Wielkie. They were engaged in quarries and other forced labor, and the inmates were gradually exterminated.
The ghetto of Borszczow was created on April 1st, 1942. It enclosed a number of overpopulated streets with rundown houses. In time, it had to absorb also Jews from Mielnica, Skala Podolskaya, Ozeryany, Korolevka and Krzywcze Gorne as well as Jews from Zloczow and Czortkow. The ghetto was not closed but it was forbidden to leave it without a permit. Hunger and typhus killed many. Yet, in spite of the difficult situation, the Jewish children continued to gather in small groups and to learn with the help of local teachers and educators. Songs were written and a 16-year-old youngster, Meshulam Meisel, left a collection of drawings depicting the grim reality of those days.
In April of 1942 some of the Jews of Borszczow were murdered but the first big aktsia took place on September 26, 1942. About 100 people mainly sick and old were killed on the spot. 800 Jews were sent by train to Belzec for extermination. A group of youths were sent to Janowska in Lvov, where they died later on. By the same time there were aktsias in nearby towns. The survivors of those communities (Mielnica, Skala and Korolevka) were taken over to the Borszczow ghetto. Together with the local Jews they suffered hunger and epidemics during the winter of 1942-1943, and were prey to murders. During those months, the Jews started to prepare hiding places inside the ghetto and in the surrounding forests. From time to time, families or small groups would disappear and hide away in those bunkers. Some of the hiding places were discovered and their occupants killed.
On March 13, 1943, close to 400 people were sent away to Belzec. On the eve of Pessach, April 19, 1943, a roundup of the German and Ukrainian police gathered 800 Jews, took them to the cemetery and killed them the following day.
On June 5, 1943, some 700 Jews were murdered at the Jewish cemetery. The massive wave of aktsias resulted in more attempts to flee from the ghetto. But the odds of finding refuge among the local population were limited.
The aktsia that broke out on 9 June 1943 lasted 5 days. By the time it ended, 1,800 additional Jews were killed at the Borszczow cemetery. The town was officially declared Judenrein. A group of 60 people, the last remainder of this community, was concentrated in three houses next to the Vizhnitz Hassidim synagogue and were engaged in sorting out the Jewish assets. The Germans used various ploys to discover the Jews in hiding. They proclaimed that those leaving their hideouts would be concentrated in a work camp and would come out unharmed. With this artifice, some 360 people were caught and executed on August 14, 1943. After that, every Jew discovered was shot on the spot. The Jew hunting continued until the last days of the Nazi occupation. Some of the Jews hiding in the bunkers physically resisted their captors.
As early as the spring of 1942, a group of youngsters of the Borszczow ghetto became organized and started to plan resistance actions. The group grew especially after the first aktsia in September 1942 and reached tens of members. Their leaders were Wolf Ashendorf, Joel Weintraub, Kalman Schwartz and a Jewish soldier of the Red Army named Lyoba who had escaped the Germans. The underground managed to acquire a small number of arms; a few days before the end of the ghetto, they smuggled a small group of members to the forests. This group of fighters became known as the Borszczower Band. For a few months since the summer of 1943, they made several attacks on Ukrainian policemen and on Bandera Ukrainian nationalist groups. On November 17, 1943 they boldly released all 50 inmates of the Borszczow jail, among them 20 Jews. Further acquisition of arms became difficult and they were faced with the hostility of the local population. On December 6, 1943, a large force of Germans attacked them. After a battle that lasted a few hours, in the course of which a few Germans fell, the Jewish fighters suffered many casualties and had to disperse. Some put an end to their lives to avoid being caught by the Germans and some joined the partisans passing by.
Borszczow was liberated on July 21, 1944, and only a few survivors gathered in town. Not long afterwards they emigrated to Poland and from there to Eretz Israel and other countries.
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