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Translation of Przemyśl chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Przemyśl chapter from
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Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II, pages 424-440, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Przemyśl Region, Lwow District)
(It was called Premisla by Jews)
Translated by Shlomo Sneh
Edited by Francine Shapiro
I. Jewish Settlement from the Beginning to 1919
A. From Its Establishment until the Annexation by Austria (1772)
There is firm evidence that Przemyśl was a citadel in the ninth century, a station for merchandise destined for the continent coming from southern Europe to the Baltic Sea, and from western Europe to the farthest areas of Russia. Archaeological excavation bore witness to the fact that Przemyśl was settled before then. It was occupied by Vladimir the Great, Prince of Kiev in 981. In 1031 the King of Poland, Vladislav the Brave, occupied Przemyśl. At the end of the eleventh century it was the center of an independent Ruthenian principality.
For a short time it was occupied by Polish princes or by the Hungarians, but its permanent government was that of the Princes of Halych. German immigrants, merchants, and artisans streamed into the city at this time, and they all received autonomy. The Polish king, Casimir the Great, annexed Przemyśl including the entire county of Reisen in 1340, and fortified its citadels. Przemyśl gained the status of a city according to Magdeburgian Law in 1389. Then it became the capital of a district in the state of Reisen in the kingdom of Poland. Because it was located at a crossroad on the Polish border it was harmed by invasions of foreign enemies. It also suffered natural disasters, and during the years 1489, 1499, 1538 and 1678 it endured great plagues and fires.
The city's guardians succeeded in repulsing the Cossacks in 1648, the Swedes in 1656, the Hungarians in 1657, and the Tartars in 1672. But the city was damaged by the sieges, its population diminished, and economy depressed. After the partition of Poland and the annexation of all of Galicia to Austria in 1772, for a short time Przemyśl was a private city (during the years 1778-89) and later returned to royal status.
It underwent marked economic and social development in the second half of the nineteenth century. Railroad tracks connected it to Krakow in 1860 and Hungary in 1872. The construction of a citadel in 1876 gave it the status of a place of great strategic importance.
During the First World War ferocious battles raged around the city. After long months of siege the Russians occupied it. Two months later, on March 22, 1915 it was occupied by German units, who returned it to Austrian rule.
It is an accepted hypothesis that by the tenth or eleventh century a Jewish trading station existed. It is also reasonable assumption that there was a permanent Jewish settlement in Przemyśl from the Ruthenian Principality until the city's annexation to Poland. However, authoritative information about Jews exists only from 1437. More information comes from 1500 about a Jewish woman, Adele, (Hadas) or Hannah (Chana), who sold part of a plot of land on the San River to another Jew, Moshe Yordan. According to the data from 1542, 18 Jewish families lived in Przemyśl, seven in their own houses, and the others in rented apartments. The owners of the houses paid the king's representative four zlotys annually for the right to occupy them, and the renters paid two zlotys annually. The Jews owned 13 houses in 1565, 37 in 1633, and 100 in 1671, and with the renters there were 300 families. There was a large Jewish population, according to taxpayer records of the head tax: 169 people in 1563 and 206 in 1578. Before Poland's partition, the Przemyśl community was one of the largest in Poland, numbering more than 1,500.
The legal status of Przemyśl Jews was defined in the Polish king's privileges, and one of the most important was given by King Zygmunt August of 1559. It promised the permanent right to settle and to buy houses from the Christians. Another right was to trade as freely as others in the city. It was also a fixed right that only the king or his representatives could judge Jews. In King Stefan Bathory's privilege of 1576, important guidelines were included: only members of the community could elect community leaders, and the leaders' nominations had to be ratified by the Woywoda (the royal government). The royal or any other administration did not have the right to nominate the rabbi. The judge of the Woywoda's Jewish court did not have the right to set regulations without the cooperation of Jewish community leaders; however, the fate of the Jews depended solely on the mercy of the king, who also bestowed privileges on their competitors and rivals. Other townspeople contested privileges donated to the Jews.
Their security and livelihood depended a great deal on the network of relations between themselves and the townsfolk. Townspeople tried to deprive them of the right to settle and make a living through trade and artisanship.
Tense relationships between both sides sometimes caused acute crises. In 1561 the Jews suffered from pogroms caused by the townsfolk. Riots followed by robberies occurred time and again in the following years. A proclamation from 1571 announced that the king reprimanded the townsfolk, the municipality, and demanded that there would not be recurrences (of lawlessness) or anarchy in our state, since our will is to maintain the privileges and liberty of all. But the Jews knew how to overcome hindrances. Some gained personal privileges, and the townsfolk were forced to accept the situation. In 1595 they signed a compromise contract. According to it, the Jews had to pay a one-time sum of 500 zlotys to fortify the city, and in return they got permission to lease areas near the walls and build a hostel for the poor there, and a house for the rabbi and the cantor for an annual lease of six zlotys and 12 grush. This contract and others that followed it were not carried out by both sides. In 1608 the town complained in a petition to the king that the Jews, by their cunning, deprive them of trade in the city, and they occupy three full streets in the city, instead of living in the houses which they hold. The suits about this continued about 40 years, and the verdict of the courts contradicted one another each time.
Meanwhile in 1628 the townsfolk became violent, and in the pogroms that erupted that year, the property of the Jews, some 33,000 zlotys, was robbed and destroyed. In 1630 the situation climaxed in a blood libel. A local inhabitant, Moshe Shmukler, was accused of profaning the host. He was tortured horribly, but although he did not confess to the accusation, the local court found him guilty, and the verdict was that he be burned. This martyrdom was described in a eulogy written by Rabbi Moshe HaMedakdek, in the prayers of Rabbi Shabtai Sofer. The day of Shmukler's burning, 30 Adar, was fixed for generations as a day of fasting in the Przemyśl community.
In 1645 a compromise contract was again signed between the Municipality and the Jewish community. The meaning of the agreement was more limitation than compromise concerning the rights of local Jews. It included regulations that totally changed the meaning of the royal privilege of 1559. The Jewish peddlers were permitted to sell only in the Jewish streets. Tailors could work only for Jewish clients. Pharmacies were forbidden to sell medicines to Christians, and barbers could not bleed the Christian sick. This agreement was in force until 1772, but it was not also carried out as written because both sides did not honor it, and suits about it were numerous in the next decades. Although there were difficulties and limitations on their livelihoods in trade and artisanship, the local Jews were resourceful and enterprising during this era, and they increased their sources of income.
At the end of the fifteenth century, the local Jews had trade connections with their Hungarian counterparts (some Hungarian Jews even settled in Przemyśl), and bought and sold wines, metal, oil, and furs which were imported from Hungary, and exported mainly salt and cattle. In 1493 the king permitted the local Jews to exchange annually 1,000 head of cattle for cloth, and only sell wholesale in the fairs of Przemyśl and Jaroslaw.
Under pressure from the townsfolk, the king forbade Jews to produce and sell beer. In 1604 the townsfolk received the royal privilege of a monopoly to produce and sell mead, but already by 1568 the king permitted a local Jew to produce and sell distilled spirits as a personal privilege. A similar privilege was given to local Jews one hundred years later, in 1649, but on the other hand the townsfolk also succeeded in gaining privileges that barred local Jews from making a living in this trade. In 1655 the Jews compromised with the townsfolk, who permitted them to produce mead for ten years, but only sell it wholesale. Jews had to pay a fee of 2,500 zlotys to the town, and build a brewery that would become town property when the lease expired. At the end of the lease, the judicial bans were renewed again and again. Rich Jews leased other commodities.
During the years 1564-1570 local Jews named Yakov Ganson and Husco leased a large flour mill; in 1617 Yakov, nicknamed Hundl, leased all the flour mills in the area of Przemyśl. Itzhak the Jew, who lived in Przemyśl in 1580, leased all the salt mines near Drohobych. Mendl from Przemyśl was the agent of the famous Danilowicz noble family in 1630 and in 1631, and leased its factories and revenues (e.g. collected taxes). In the first part of the seventeenth century Moshe Ben Yakov from Przemyśl leased both the tax revenues and the local real estate taxes.
Jewish artisans conducted a harder, more difficult battle over income. In principle, artisanship was a monopoly of Christian guilds, and the Jews were forced to breech these restrictions by legal means, a request to the authorities to receive personal privileges, or via compromises with the guilds, or to secretly work at artisanship while overcoming discrimination and oppression.
As in other places where there was organized Jewish settlement, there were artisans in Przemyśl. The most important were butchers (because of the kashrut of the meat), and tailors (because of the prohibition against shatnez). The growth of the Jewish population created a problem in selling parts of animals difficult to kosher to non-Jews. The Royal Privilege of selling meat to non-Jews was given only in 1576.
In 1645 textile dyers compromised with the Municipality, which permitted them to dye textiles for black clothing. This compromise agreement also permitted Jewish bakers to make baked goods only for Jews, according to the laws of their religion. They were prohibited from baking and selling white or rye bread to the public. The Jews did not observe these limits, and secretly baked all sorts of goods. The glaziers bypassed the prohibitions of the Christian guilds and succeeded in gaining the right to practice their craft from the Royal Representative- the Starosta. In return they had to glaze the castle windows for free. In Przemyśl there was only one glazier in 1542. In the first half of the seventeenth century there were already 53 Jewish glaziers, half of the men who worked in this craft. Yakov the Builder, nicknamed Bloniyaj, repaired the royal palaces in Przemyśl, Medyka, and also built the castle in Djyevienchitsa. For this reason, he not only gained permission to work in his craft, but was granted a field and garden in Przemyśl. Jewish craftsmen were registered doing other hand work at the end of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth centuries.
The name Israel Saban was registered in 1591. It is known that Shachna Saban had a longtime conflict with the Christian guild, and the case went to court. A Jew named Yitzhak produced gunpowder in Przemyśl during the years 1607- 1619. In those same years there were two hatters, Yakov and Yisroel, and also two furriers, Yisroel and his son, Kalman. Their businesses were permitted by royal privilege. Jewish shoemakers were allowed to produce their wares from sealskin and suede leathers, which altered the amount produced and sold. Jews were compelled to violate the agreement, and trials concerning this matter continued for many years. There were only a few Jewish jewelers in Przemyśl. They worked secretly, and are only incidentally mentioned in the document. A jeweler named Levkowitz (son of Leib or Levi), was also an agent and received a license to lease the wine tax, was mentioned in 1644. The jeweler Moshe Ben Yakov was accused in 1699 by the authorities of counterfeiting coins. There was a blood libel declared against a jeweler, Levka in 1646. The result of the libel is not known, but it can be assumed that the origins of the accusation lay in the Christian competitors.
The fate of Jewish craftsmen, ribbon weavers, was also not good. One of the five who were mentioned in the first half of the seventeenth century, Moshe, was accused of profaning the host, and burned in 1630. There were many Jewish craftsmen of stature as well as their established societies among the Jews of Przemyśl during the eighteenth century, and tailors were the best known. The notebooks of this society from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were preserved and published. They are some of the rarest of their kind in Jewish historiography, and testimony to the high levels of Jewish artisanal organization during this era.
The Jews hardly suffered from the atrocities of 1648-49. True, the city was besieged, but the Polish army dislodged the Cossacks, and liberated the city. The Swedish War (1656-1657) and the Tatar invasion in 1672 did not harm them badly, in comparison to other communities in the region. The same is true of the wars at the beginning of the eighteenth century. One can note that the Jews participated in the defense of the city during its siege. The Jewish leader who commanded the Jewish squadrons was nominated hetman, (or commander). Contemporary German testimonies called him general. Although there were no Jewish victims, they suffered the predations of various armies, which exploited and robbed them at every opportunity. Economic depression after the war, weakened royal authority, and anarchy all over Poland were very significant for Przemysl's Jews.
The tax burden increased (for example, the head tax grew from 612 zlotys in 1715 to 1,563 in 1763). The community sank into heavy debt, which grew from year to year until 1773, when the debts grew to the giant sum of by the concepts of the era-154,000 zlotys. Under pressure from the debtors, the community was compelled to take out large loans, and mortgage the synagogue and Bet Midrash (in 1667). Taking into account the poverty of the community, the kings and emperors in some years did not collect taxes. But royal good will was often not implemented on the local level because royal representatives did not carry out these directives.
But even before the general deterioration, before the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there were significant instances of Jews being tortured by royal officials. The Starosta (royal local representative) Krashitski who was nominated as judge of Jewish matters during the years 1619-1622, discriminated against Jews in every court case involving the city's citizens, and placed heavy financial penalties on them. The local Jews decided to complain about the judge to the Woywoda, and sent it via David, the community representative. When this fact was known to the Starosta, he ordered the representative put in jail. He was liberated from prison only after paying a ransom of 250 zlotys. From that time the Starosta increased the tax burden on the community, and ordered those who complained about him to be put in jail. So, for example, he jailed the community leaders, Shmuel, Israel, and Yitzhak, and liberated them only after payment of a penalty of 120 florins. In order to increase the discomfort of the Jews, he settled an army unit in its quarter for a long time. That meant the Jews had to pay for supplying the unit, and every day there were robberies. The soldiers left the Jewish quarter only after payment of a large penalty. Such events occurred at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century.
In such an anarchic atmosphere the students of a Jesuit school in the Jewish Quarter rioted, and in 1746 even made a pogrom. They destroyed the interior of the synagogue, burned an important archive housed in it, and desecrated Torahs. There was so much destruction that a court imposed the penalty of 15,000 zlotys.
Until the second half of the seventeenth century, it was under the authority of the Lwow community, which was the central community in the Reisen state. In 1664, when the status of the Lwow community diminished, representatives of communities that had revolted against the authority of the Lwow community met in Svirzh, near Bobrka. Among them were representatives from Przemyśl, Zolkiew, Brody, Buczacz, Kolomea, and other places. One important decision was to establish an independent region, headed by the Przemyśl community, and 26 sub-communities in the surrounding towns that were not under Przemyśl's authority. The number of the sub-communities grew in 1765 to 100, and some were independent. The rabbis of Przemyśl held the title Av Bet Din, or leader of the rabbinical of the holy community of Premysla (Polish) and the region. Community representatives presented the sub-communities to the Council of the Four Lands.
In the second half of the eighteenth century the communities under the authority of Przemyśl, Jezowe, Luczyce and Dobromil revolted and established independent regions of their own. The organization and financial improvement of the community was accompanied by building institutions. The local synagogue (a wooden one) is mentioned in documents of 1560 and later. At the end of the sixteenth century, a new, larger, and ornamented building was erected, which stood until the outbreak of the Second World War. The large study hall was built around 1700. The cemetery is mentioned in the most ancient privileges given to the local Jews, but the oldest tombstones are from the seventeenth century.
The majority of the city rabbis headed the local yeshiva. They signed documents Av Bet Din (head of the court), or head of the yeshiva of the holy community of Przemyśl. Their rabbinical seat (of Przemyśl) was honored by people of all generations, and many of the rabbis added prestige and honor to this community. The first, known as head of the Przemyśl yeshiva (and even as the local rabbi) was Rabbi Shlomo Luria (known by the acronym Maharshal, the rabbi of Lublin), who lived in Przemyśl around 1535.
We know that a local rabbi in the sixteenth century was the Marharshal's disciple, Rabbi Moshe Ben Rabbi Avraham from Premysla, who had been the rabbi of Belz, and was the author of Mate Moshe. (1591) - Tari Yag 613 Mitzvot- (1580), and Horeel Moshe (printed in 1612 after his death.). In his last years he was a rabbi of Opatow, and head of the Bet Din of the whole Krakow region. During the years 1610-11 the local rabbi was Shimon Wolf, son of Rabbi David Tevele Auerbach, who was afterward rabbi in Poznan, Vienna, and Prague. He was succeeded by his follower, Rabbi Yoshua Ben Rabbi Yosef, who was formerly the rabbi of Tikotin (Tekhtin) and Grodno. From Przemyśl he moved to Lwow and from there to Krakow. He was known as one of the great experts in Halacha in his generation.
His books are Magine Shlomo (about Rashi, 1740); Pnei Yohoshua-Part I Arbaat Turim 1715), and Questions and Answers (1860) Part II. The rabbi of Przemyśl during the 1740's was Rabbi Menachem ben Rabbi Yoel Feivish Shtangin (Ashkenazi), followed by his son, Rabbi Eliahu. Rabbi Arieh Leib, son of Rabbi Zaharia Mendel, was nominated as Rabbi of Przemyśl and the region in 1654, and he continued in office until 1660. From Przemyśl he moved to Vienna, and there to Krakow. For a short time Rabbi Arieh Leib followed Shabtai Zvi, and even sent the preacher, Rabbi Brechia Berach Shapira to Constantinople. Rabbi Arieh Leib wrote a book called Tikunei Tshuva in the Jewish-German language. In the Records of Council of the Four Lands we find Rabbi Yosef, son of Rabbi Yekutiel Lowzl HaLevi Horowitz, the rabbi of Przemyśl during the years 1663-1681. During the years 1691-1694 the rabbi was Arieh Yehuda Leib ben Rabbi Moshe. In 1702 the local rabbi Yosef Segal died, son of Rabbi Moshe Harif. He was the author of the book Safnat Pa'aneech, and had been the head of the Lwow yeshiva. The next rabbi of Przemyśl was Rabbi Yitzhak Meier, son of Rabbi Yona Teomim Frankel, the author of Kitonet Or. During the years 1717-1732 the rabbi of Przemyśl was Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke, son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Slonim, and during his lifetime he was followed by his son Yechiel Michel, who was the local rabbi until his death in 1771.
Besides those rabbis, there were more rabbis in Przemyśl who were heads of yeshivas or religious judges. Some of them were heads of courts, but only for a short time, in transit from one rabbinical seat to another in a different community, according to the custom of the large communities in this generation.
Some very famous Jewish doctors lived in Przemyśl. Moshe Rofe of Przemyśl practiced in Krakow, and in 1465 was elected community leader. In 1581 the community leader was Marcus Mieger (the black), who had graduated in medicine from the University of Padua. He was a Renaissance man, and quarreled with members of his community because of his heretical views. In the royal privilege which removed his Jewish judicial authority, he was still praised because of his erudition in the Old Testament, and also the New One plus his mastery of Latin and Hebrew languages. Dr Hansel, son of Rifka, was mentioned as a resident of Przemyśl in a document from 1659. Itzhak Lionel Winkler, one of those expelled from Vienna in 1670, a doctor of Philosophy and Medicine, settled in Przemyśl in 1682.
B. Austrian Period (1772-1914)
The wave of financial prohibitions, and the expulsions concerning Jews in traditional businesses (such as production and trade in liquors, and leases), which marked the beginning of Austrian rule all over Galicia, did not miss Przemyśl's Jews. The new regime firmly demanded repayment of the loans given to the Przemyśl community, and those other communities of the region. They had accumulated during the depression that began in 1648-49, and amounted to hundreds of thousands of crowns. The activities of the community decreased, and the right of elections was given only to those who paid a tax on candles-in Przemyśl to those who paid a tax on seven candles. On the other hand, the Austrian authorities gave the Przemyśl Jews the privilege of enlightenment and productivity. During the years 1786-1806 the local Jews were forced to operate a school established by H. Homberg.
The number of those registered in it was negligible. There were 29 students in schools in the district when they closed in 1806. The same thing happened to schools for teaching Jews productive professions, and forced them to make a living through agriculture. Only about 10 Jews from Przemyśl remained farmers for the next ten years, and all traces disappeared completely in a few years.
Natural disasters sometimes injured the residents of Przemyśl, especially Jews. The floods near the San River and the epidemics of cholera in 1831-1849, and especially that of 1854-55, caused many deaths. More than 30 people a day, among them many Jewish paupers, died in that epidemic. During the first years of Austrian rule, non-Jewish citizens of Przemyśl thought it was the right time to force out more Jews out of trades and crafts. The guild of Christian tailors collected annual taxes from 10 Jewish tailors during the 1780's, but allowed them to work only for Jews. There were many searches among Jewish tailors, and clothing ordered by non-Jews was confiscated.
In 1783 Jewish furriers accused Christian tailors of trespassing and violating an agreement. According to it tailors were not allowed to combine tailoring and making furs. The municipality in the same year sent a petition to the Kaiser demanding a limit (to the number of) Jewish merchants selling tobacco and fresh fish, and also prohibited them from brewing beer and distilling hard liquor. Although these discomfiting conditions prevailed, Przemyśl Jews knew how to overcome limitations; it seems that they were aided by objective conditions (the growth of demand for trade during the Napoleonic Wars, city development, etc.).
In Przemyśl in 1820 there were 143 merchants, 137 of them Jewish (17 of them were grain merchants, 4 dealt in furs, and 4 sold mead in their saloons). But in truth the battle over freedom of enterprise in Jewish trade and artisanship continued until Emancipation in 1868. Before this act, the local archbishop sent a pastoral letter in 1857, influenced by the competitors of the Jews, saying that all Christians who worked for Jews in either their businesses or their homes committed a grave sin, and for this reason they were barred from all honors in church ceremonies.
As was stated previously, great economic development in the city occurred when it was connected by rail to Krakow, Vienna (the capital), and especially when a fortress was built. The Jewish merchants' and initiators' share of the resulting economic flowering was very substantial. Wholesale merchandise: iron building materials, grain and flour, food, wood, and even regional dimensions were in Jewish hands. Przemyśl became a center for the importation of sewing machines for all Galicia. Wholesalers and sales agents, too, were Jewish. Large army suppliers provided an income for contractors and merchants who provided goods. There were Jews among the pioneers of industry in Przemyśl. One pioneer, Frankel, established a flour mill with a chimney. It was one of the biggest in Eastern Galicia and employed 60 non-Jewish workers and about 10 Jewish clerks. Among other flour mills, although smaller, was Lustbaum's mill, established a short time before the First World War. In the nearby town of Nizankowice, Jews established a few sawmills. Friedenheim and Teich had notable brick factories in the city. All over Galicia, and even throughout the whole Austrian Empire, were well-known rubberized clothing and shoe factories (especially rubber collars which were then in fashion) from Lieber's factory, which employed about 50 Jewish workers. Among the factories which were established by Przemyśl Jews at the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth included a carton factory, another for cigarette holders, and a factory for corks. Every one of them employed about ten workers, the majority of whom were Jewish. The well-to-do among Przemyśl's Jews included building contractors, building owners, and liquor distillers in the vicinity.
At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, Jewish money changers developed into modern bankers. About 12 credit banks were owned or managed by Jews. The biggest, very influential over industry, merchandise, and crafts were: The Old Bank, The Giro Bank, and the Spotke Bank (nicknamed for the bank owned by the members of the large Beit Midrash, the majority of whom wore shtreimels on Saturdays, nicknamed Spodek), the Husackover, the Lenders' bank, the Factory Bank (of the merchants), etc Many printing and publishing houses were established in Przemyśl in Hebrew and other languages during the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1869 Dov Ber Luria established a branch of his Lwow and Zolkiew presses. The printing houses were later transferred to different partners. At the beginning Hebrew books were printed, and foreign languages added after 1910. A very famous publishing house was the successor of Freund, and there was the Schwartz and Robinson printing house for textbooks in foreign languages. Jewish professionals gained elevated status at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, especially doctors and lawyers, in view of their numbers and the status of their colleagues in the city.
However, the majority of Jewish breadwinners and their families made their living through trade and craftsmanship, stalls in the market, and peddling in the surrounding villages. Their lives were difficult, and their revenues were a few crowns weekly. Many of them wanted to solve their problems through emigration, a development that increased, especially in the 1880's. In 1889 the first association of Jews from Przemyśl indicated the great number of immigrants to the United States.
During the second half of the nineteenth century Hassidism with all its branches strengthened on one hand, while on the other hand intensified political activity was expressed by the establishment of modern political parties. Among the Hassidim, the first were Blajov Hassidim (a principal branch of the Dinov dynasty). Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Shapiro, author of Zvi HaTzadik who established this dynasty, lived in Przemyśl for a short time. There were also many Belz Hassidim who were dominant in the majority of towns in Eastern Galicia, and also the also the Sadigora (a branch of the Rygin Hassidim).
In the city there were also smaller groups of Komarno and Shinovi Hassidim.
Kloises were built in the city, and sometimes admors established their courts descendants and sometimes their children established their courts in Przemyśl. Hassidim were active in the Jewish community and its internal elections. Their opponents in this area from the 1860's were the Assimilationists. Some of them were from Shomer Yisroel, and others, called Deichen by the masses, were generally opposed to them. They were people who changed their clothes to modern dress, cut their side curls, and shaved their beards. The Assimilationists were concentrated around a reading hall for scientific literature and 2-4 non-Jews were also members.
The Enlightened Movement as was found in Tarnopol or Lwow-Brody was not especially significant in Przemyśl. The first buds of the national movement were seen in the 1870's, and its members were yeshiva students who had begun to leave the conventional religious paths, or students who had completed non-Jewish secondary schools. A company for the settlement of Palestine was established in 1875. The aim of this association was to collect donations for the Jewish settlements in Palestine, and the money which had been collected was sent to Sir Moses Montefiore in London. In 1877 these groups established a company of Torah and knowledge seekers in order to spread the Hebrew language and its literature. An association with the similar purpose, Bet Yisroel, was established in 1894. However, one can date the beginning of the Przemyśl Zionist party to the establishment of the Zion party in 1893. After a short time, this association established the Yeshurun organization for the spread of literature. Already before Herzl's era, there were between 400-500 members. The head of the association was Mordechai Shmelkish, brother of the local rabbi, Yitzhak Shmelkish, author of Bet Yitzhak. It said that before he left Przemyśl for Lwow he had also become a member of Zion.
Jewish Zionist organizations were established at the beginning of the twentieth century-Achva in 1902 and the students' organization, Agudat Herzl, which continued broad cultural and organizational activity, after a break during World War I until 1939. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Zionist youth organization, Bar Kochva, was active in Przemyśl.
The Zionist Academicians organization was established in 1912, using Agudat Herzl as its base. For a short time it was the center of all the branches of that organization in Galicia. The Poalei Zion branch was organized in Przemyśl in 1903, and then the Youth branch, and finally in 1905 an organization of secondary school students, called Herut.
In Przemyśl there was a Zionist organization for youth called HaShachar whose members were mostly religious. With the spread of the Enlightenment, the Jewish women's organization that was established in 1911 adopted the task of caring for poor young people. Zionist influence was significant in the activities of employees, especially in the associations for bookkeepers and clerks. The majority of the members of the administration which was elected in 1894 supported Zionism.
The Polish Socialist Party or P.P.S. was active among the Przemyśl Jews, and its influence was significant at the end of the nineteenth century. One of the P.P.S. leaders in Galicia, H. Lieberman (of Jewish origin) lived in the town. For this reason the Jewish section of this party was successful, especially among assimilated circles in Galicia.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, P.P.S. established a Jewish organization attached to it called Bruderlichtkeit. Just as in other places, some of the Bruderlichtkeit members split in 1905 and established a branch of the Jewish-Socialist Party, but it was not influential in Przemyśl. In 1905 the P.P.S. published a Yiddish newspaper Pshemisler Folksshtimmer. This party even tried to establish branches among humble merchants and artisans.
Until the 1840's the Jewish community committee was led by the wealthy lessees and important wholesale merchants. From the 1860's the representatives of the Enlightened became significant among the principal community spokesmen, and they had an unwritten agreement with the ultra-Orthodox representatives. For example, the community was headed in 1865 by the lawyer, Dr. Herman Frankel, who represented it to the authorities. On the other hand, internal matters (e.g. synagogues, the rabbinate) were left to the ultra-Orthodox. The prominence of Moshe Sheinbach was significant (a local bully of simple origins) in that he became very powerful and dominated the community. (There were rumors that he could not write.) He controlled the staff of the community for about 30 years. Officially he was no more than vice-head of the committee, but really his opinion was the most important in every matter. There were 500-600 men who had the right to vote from a community which numbered more than 12,000 people.
This M. Sheinbach paid the community taxes for a group of poor people- in this way they gained the right to vote, and they voted for him. The leadership of the community was given to Dr. Manbruchowicz, but the most important decisions remained in the hands of Sheinbach.
The community's budget was limited (for example in 1907-1908 it was 112,000 crowns, and 140,000 crowns in 1913-1914). Its institutions supported themselves (religious slaughter, bathhouse, cemetery, and the Hevra Kadisha); however the welfare and mutual-assistance organizations were established by unions or philanthropists. The artisans' organization, Yad Harutzim (established in Przemyśl in 1868) supported its members and gave them loans. The union of merchants, organized at the end of the nineteenth century, established a cooperative association for credit, which gave loans to the needy among its members. These organizations were especially active during the crisis years of 1892-1893, and 1912-1913. In 1913 it gave 516 loans to 281 merchants, 169 artisans, 15 farmers, 62 professionals, and 105 others. From 1842 there was a Jewish hospital in Przemyśl, a sort of hostel for the poor. Only in 1904-05 was a new hospital built from donations, (among others the military supplier, Eliahu Shimon Hirsch, donated 50,000 crowns for its construction). (Moshe Hirsch, son-in-law of Eliahu Shimon) donated 30,000 crowns to the construction of an old age home in 1907, which housed 20 of the elderly. He and his wife Haya established a shelter for the chronically ill, with 25 beds. A Bikur Holim Association was established in 1870, whose purpose was financial help for poor ill people. An orphanage was established by a public committee of donors (there were only 20 orphans in 1911).
A soup kitchen which doled out about 250 meals at a very modest price was active in 1870. Yad Harutzim also challenged the community and sold matzos to its members cheaper than the community bakery in 1807. The association Tzvai Kreitzer Ferein (Association of Two Cents) had a significant local character. It was active in Przemyśl at the beginning of the twentieth century, and its purpose was to help the school students with textbooks and shoes.
During the Austrian era the rabbinate continued to be one of the most important in Galicia. Actually it was led by very famous rabbis who were known even outside their community. Rabbi Yosef Asher Elenberg, son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, was nicknamed the Tzadik from Premishla by his generation. He followed his father (who was the rabbi of Przemyśl from 1770-1792) until his death in 1826. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, called Rabbi Yekutiel Asher Zalman Enzil Suzmir, who had been the rabbi of Stryy. After the death of his father-in-law he was the rabbi of Przemyśl until 1838. A book of questions and answers by him was published in 1882. Rabbi Yosef Hanania-Lipa Meisels was named rabbi of Przemyśl in 1851, and even then he was evaluated as the genius of this generation. His books (mainly questions and answers), Tiferet Yosef and Pnai Yosef, were most important in the rabbinical world. His new interpretation of the Babylonian Talmud was published by the Rome Publishing House in Vilna. He died young at 42, and was buried in the old cemetery of Przemyśl, which was closed after his burial.
Rabbi Yitzhak Aharon, the son of Rabbi Mordechai Zeev Segal Itinga was nominated as rabbi in 1866. Like his father he was the Eretz Yisroel's head of the Galicia Kollel in for a long time. His book of answers and questions, Mahary HeLevi was published in 1891, two years after his death. Rabbi Yitzhak Yehuda Shmelkish, son of Rabbi Haim Shmuel Shmelke (sic) began as the rabbi of Zhuravno, and from there he moved to Berzezany as the local rabbi, and also as the district rabbi. In 1869 he was nominated to the head of the religious court in Przemyśl, and he lived there 26 years. In 1893 he moved to Lwow, where he lived until his death. A book in four volumes of questions and answers, Bet Yitzhak, was printed while he was alive, made him very famous, and gave him the nickname of Bet Yitzhak. Two more volumes were printed after his death. Rabbi Yitzhak was famous as a supporter of the settlement in Palestine, and there is a rumor that he was attached to the Zion Association in Przemyśl. There was no chief rabbi in Przemyśl until 1905, so it was led by a group of rabbis. Rabbi Gedaliyahu Shmelkish, nephew of Bet Yitzhak, was elected as the local chief rabbi in 1905. Since he was notable in Halacha, and also knowledgeable about the manners of the modern world, Rabbi Gedaliyahu understood how to bridge the gaps between the different circles in his community. He was favored the Zionist movement (he took part in the Zionist Congresses of 1909 and 1911), and even the Enlightened admired him. A dais was built in the Enlightened-Temple in his time in order to make it possible for the ultra-Orthodox and the rabbi himself to visit the synagogue. The Temple in Przemyśl was built during the years 1886-1890, and like the other places in which synagogues of this sort were built, it was not very different from regular synagogues, not from the point of view of the order of prayers, and not in the customs of Saturdays and holidays. At the beginning there was no dais, and the women's section was not covered by curtains. Among other reasons, the synagogue was built to serve Jews from all over the Empire who were in the local garrison of Przemyśl, who were accustomed to a synagogue which had modern procedures in the prayers and singing.
Jewish political activity in the municipal area became significant in the second half of the nineteenth century. Until the regulations of 1889, the Jewish representation on the municipal council was limited. In 1874 there were only eight Jewish representatives of the 36 members of the council-representation which was not proportionate to the percentage of Jews in the total population. But, since 1889 there was an agreement about the ethnic groups that populated the city, and with the support of the authorities, it was decided that the Jews would get half the places. This compromise agreement was valid until 1918. At the beginning the Jewish representatives were elected from the loyalists (to the Austrian Empire-FS), but under the influence of H. Lieberman, the Jews succeeded in electing two Jews to the city council, from the P.P.S. (Polish Socialist Party).
Also in the cultural area, the second half of the nineteenth century and especially the beginning of the twentieth century can be seen as an era of breaking through into the secular stream. However, it was not a breakthrough in tradition, because the traditional way of life was the dominant one among Przemyśl Jews in all cultural spheres. The traditional approach dominated education, i.e. the Cheders with the melamdim, and the Beis Midrashes and Kloises with their adherents, as it was usual all over Galicia. Both Talmud Torahs for children of poor families, supported by the community, were small and weak in terms of numbers of students, educational conditions, and level. As has been mentioned before, the government plans for education, (i.e. the school) established by H. Homberg in Przemyśl failed, and the same thing happened to the State School for Jews with two classes, established in 1848. The plan to establish a school for Jewish children financed by taxes on a religious lottery which was levied in 1853 also failed. Even in 1883 when education was compulsory, only 143 Jewish children of the 780 children at the age for compulsory education and 373 girls of 564 studied in the general elementary schools. The others, who had to study there, evaded it, and the parents preferred to pay fines rather than endanger their children by assimilation. On the other hand, the percentage of Jews in the secondary schools was quite significant; in 1882 there were 109 Jewish pupils in the three secondary schools. In 1910-1911 there were 350 Jews and three female Jewish students in the Teachers' Seminary. This high percentage was not surprising because they were from well-to- do, Enlightened families. Their proportionately large number was a sign that this small group favored secular studies. A complementary Hebrew school was established in Przemyśl in 1895 by teacher and educator Avigdor Mermelstein. This school underwent various transformations, suffered from budgetary difficulties, and was supervised by a public committee in 1908. It was finally annexed to the Safa Brura school system. The teaching system, generally 22 hours a week, was based on the principle of teaching Hebrew in Hebrew. There were six classes in the school, and about 150 boys and girls.
The first modern Jewish cultural institutions were established in Przemyśl at the end of the nineteenth century, and the beginning of the twentieth. There were local periodicals, drama clubs, and sport began to develop among Jewish youth. By the 1870's there was a sporadic appearance of the weekly Die Yiddish Presse, including a literary supplement called Kohelet. During to 1880's the monthly Aohev Amo v'Eretz Moledato appeared. The parties established clubs, Hebrew evening lessons, courses for the illiterate, libraries, and even social clubs. The most important of these institutions was Toynbe-Halle. (Established in 1902, it reached a high point in 1910). In its cultural activities (popular, scientific, lectures, etc.) it reached hundreds of people from various areas, including the P.P.S. and members of Zionist unions. Dramatic circles were the cradles of the local Jewish theater, which did not reach a high artistic level, but was an entertainment center for simple people on holidays and Saturday nights. A sports club, HaSchachar, which included gymnastic and football groups was organized in Przemyśl a few years before the First World War.
Przemyśl was famous at this time for her Enlightened Jews, and it was the place of origin or home of scientists, authors, and cultural figures. The most famous of them were: Naftali Zvi Weinig, author of the pamphlet supporting Shadal Shmuel David Luzzato in 1873. He was a member of the Enlightened circle, headed by Isaac Shaltiel Graber. Mordechai Yona Rosenfeld belonged to this generation; the author of Yeor Karov (a commentary on Or HaHaim by Yosef Yabetz), and a commentary on the Book of Job in two volumes. Ephraim Einhorn, born in Volyn, (later known as Porat in Israel) lived in Przemyśl for a long time. He was very influential in Enlightened circles. Some of his Przemyśl followers established the Evria.
During the first part of the twentieth century Shimon Menachem Lazar lived in the town. He was the author of The Riddle of the Wonderful Legends about the Ten Tribes, and a German-Hebrew dictionary with Torcyzner. He was the editor of HaMitzpe from 1904.
The head of the local poets was Abraham Soneh, who was among those who established Agudat Hertzl. Yakov Ehrlich was author of essays and poems, and Joshua Atlas wrote the play HaNirdaf, and translated Schiller's version of Tourandot into Hebrew. Przemyśl was the birthplace of Professor Moshe Shor, the famous historian and expert in ancient Assyria, and also of Mattityahu Meizes, who investigated various fields in the Humanities. Przemyśl was the source of the good name of the lawyer, Dr. Leib Landau.
The first signs of anti-Semitism were perceived at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. They were bad omens for what happened in the city during the Russian occupation in World War I, and during the entrance of the armies of General Haller of Poland after the war. The anti-Semitic propaganda even resulted in pogroms not only by mobs, but also bands of organized workers. In 1904 a bomb was hidden in the house of Yakov Schecter, and it killed his two children. Afterward a proclamation in Polish was found, including the slogan It is only the beginning. A few years before the war shops were established with the sign A shop owned by Christians and also proclamations were promulgated with calls to ban Jewish trade.
C. The First World War
Przemyśl was the site of the heaviest fighting in the region during the First World War, because it was most important and biggest citadel in Galicia. At the beginning of Sept. 1914, the Russian armies in their offensive drives neared the entrances to the town. Many civilians left the city during the first month of the war, and lived temporarily in the surrounding villages and hamlets. Only 20,000 civilians remained in the city, about 8,000 Jews among them. The Russian siege began on September 22, and lasted for 21 days, until October 10. Later there was a pause that continued until November 12. During the break in the battles, five thousand more people were evacuated from the city. The second siege continued for 122 days. The shelling caused much damage to property and life, but those who died of hunger outnumbered those who died from the bombs, especially among the poor.
The city surrendered on March 22, 1915, and the Russian armies entered it. Hunger stopped, but very high prices prevented the local population, including many who returned from their home from surrounding areas, from buying basic foodstuffs.
The Rabbinical Court allowed the people to eat legumes and hametz. The Russians began expelling the population. At the beginning there was an expulsion of about 4,000 people, among them many Jews. At the beginning of May 1915 they published an order, and according to it the remaining Jews had to leave Przemyśl in a few days. If they would not comply willingly and by their own means, a Cossack battalion would expel them.
Strong attempts by the Assistance committee to approach the Russian government in Lwow failed. It also repeated the pretext that according to Russian law Jews were forbidden to live in citadel cities. Jews were forced to leave their shops open to robbery, to abandon their properties and to wander in the direction of Lwow and Sambor. Among the last Jews left in the city on May 10 was Rabbi G. Shmelkish. The Austrians and German army that assisted it recaptured Przemyśl on June 3, 1915. Many Jews found their homes ruined or robbed, and not only by the Russian soldiers, but mainly by the local citizens who claimed the The Moscovites robbed everything. Many of the expelled Jews did not return to their city, and continued to live in Vienna, Budapest, and the Sudetenland. This was the reason that community life did not return to its usual state, except for improvised aid activities (establishment of soup kitchens, assistance for orphans). The economic, political, and cultural activities were paralyzed in the local Jewish population. For this reason it seems extraordinary that HaShomer HaZair was organized, and it united with Zeorei Zion, which had been established before the war. But the number of HaShomer HaZair members was no more than 25-30, and the main club activity was a Hebrew language course.
II. Between the Two World Wars
After the disintegration of the Austrian administration there was a critical battle between Ukrainians and Poles for domination of the city. The local Austrian garrison had already crumbled on November 1, 1918, and began disarming officers and soldiers. Ukrainian and Polish militias and army units were organized. A group of Jewish army officers began to prepare for what was going to happen in October, and tried to get ammunition for self-defense. At the beginning of November, a Jewish militia with about 200 guns and 1,000 bullets was organized. In effect the city was divided between Polish and Ukrainian authorities. Each one of them was dominant in certain suburbs and a national council of rival powers was established.
A Jewish Folk Council was established: including six Zionists, three from Poalei Zion, two from Yad Harutzim, two from the P.P.S., two from the J.P.S., two unaffiliated to political parties, and two Orthodox. Dr. Max Rosenfeld was the head of the council. After his sudden death in February 1919, he was replaced by a famous lawyer, Leib Landau.
The council abolished the Community Committee, and took upon itself to represent the Jews before the authorities of the two national-local sectors. The Council declared the neutrality of the Jews between the two rivals, and demanded acknowledgment from their administrations of the authority of Jewish Council, and recognition of the basic functions of the Jewish militia (keeping order in the Jewish suburbs, and defending against robbery and violence of the mob). The Polish and Ukrainian council actually agreed to these demands. Ukrainians, in contrast to the Poles, even recognized the functions of the Jewish militias in the suburbs which were under their domination.
On November 11, 1918 the Polish units dominated. 11 Jewish citizens were killed in the battle for the city from accidental shots. Five buildings and 12 apartments of Jews were damaged by fires, and 17 apartments were damaged by shells. In the first three days after they came to power, some units of the Polish army, including their officers, made a pogrom among local Jews on the pretext that they cooperated with the Ukrainians, and even shot at soldiers who assaulted the city. One Jew was murdered in these pogroms, 10 were injured, and 46 were arrested and detained up to four days. Those arrested were made to work at forced labor, and personal property was taken from them. During the plunder 67 apartments and 76 shops belonging to Jews were robbed.
According to the estimates of the Jewish council, the total damage was 3,072,000 crowns, and besides this the Polish commander added a punishment tax of 3,000,000 crowns, threatening to collect it using force. There were many instances of publicly beating Jews and cutting their beards and side curls in the city. The Jewish Council fiercely protested to the local authority and to the acting parliament in Warsaw after it was elected in February 1919, and publicized it in Poland and abroad. It resulted in stopping the violence, but general disorder in the city negatively influenced the economic situation. The Black Market continued to exist instead of regular trade, and there were many speculators (also among the Jews), who took excessive profits. It was so acute that the local rabbinate, headed by G. Shmelkish declared a ban on speculators. The Jewish parties also tried to act against speculation, especially the Herzl Association, and HaShomer HaZair, which began to reorganize.
After the Polish victory over the Bolsheviks in August 1920 life in Przemyśl gradually began to return to normal, but the effects of the war still were felt for some time.
The local Jewish population did not grow in the 20 years between the two wars. Even more, in 1931 the population was smaller than that of 1921. The Jewish economy did not recover until the end of the era, and the main reason was that Przemyśl stopped being the place where army units were stationed in the numbers they had been before the war.
The army supply wing that had been mostly Jewish was now restricted by the Poles, and those who had dealt with it were forced out by the new regime. The deterioration of the economic situation was also abetted by: the inflation of the 1920's, major world economic crises between 1929 and 1931, discriminatory taxation enacted against Jews, and anti-Semitic propaganda of the last year before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Trade in imported goods and machines, for which Przemyśl had been distinguished in the past, could no longer compete with other factories or centers of trade in Warsaw, Poznan, and Silesia. Factories processing wood or selling the products could not continue to compete, especially against imports from the Soviet Union in the 1930's. Factories and craft businesses ceased to function; those whose production had diminished during the war and immediately afterwards did not recover until the end of the era. Of the 486 factories owned by Jews in 1921, 19 closed completely, and 376 were operated only by their owners. About 200 of all the businesses dealt with confectionery or hats. 168 of them did not pay wages, but were operated only by the owners. The second large source of income, the factories using wood, had 295 workers in the 20 active factories, but only 100 were Jewish. In the food industry there were 75 businesses, and 45 of them had 141 workers, 112 of them Jewish.
During that time the number of factories owned by Jews grew. The largest were: the Pulna factory for agricultural machines, sewing machines, and bicycles; the Ciclop metal factory, the Minerva mechanical toy factory, a button factory, Aya cosmetic factory, one for furniture and tools for carpenters, one for cigarette holders, carding linen, and the Victoria brewery.
However, the percentage of Jews as employees was only 7%, and only 11% of all Jewish workers were artisans. The majority, as was said before, made their living through manual labor in services. The situation of the artisans worsened during the 1930's because of the complete lack of orders from government and municipal agencies. Because of the burdensome taxation laid upon them about 50% of the Jews of Przemyśl made their living through trade (most of it retail or peddling). Their situation after the crisis of 1929-31 deteriorated; many of them could not even pay for a business license. By the end of the 1930's Jewish merchants, stall owners, and peddlers were burdened by the boycott, anti-Semitic propaganda, and also by the establishment of Ukrainian and Polish cooperatives. There were high percentages of Jewish professionals (about 100 lawyers, and a similar number of doctors), teachers, and clerks. Some members of the professional intelligentsia moved to other cities which had been in Congress Poland before the First World War because of the lack of work. They were also included among the other Jewish emigrants abroad.
In order to defend the interests of Jewish merchants and artisans, two organizations were established in Przemyśl: the Merchant's Association (about 750 members) and in 1928 a Small Business Association (about 500 members). Members were also helped by Jewish banks: the Cooperative Bank of Merchants and Industrialists whose balance in 1921 was 283,038 zlotys, and also 26,513 dollars. (Its net profits were 18,000 zlotys, from which the bank gave financial support to all educational, welfare, and Jewish institutions, e.g. a hospital, orphanage, old age home, soup kitchen, Jewish school, Talmud Torah, etc.) The small businessmen were also assisted by the Credit Cooperative Association Bank, which had been known as the I.C.A. (It was established in 1910, and renewed activity in 1921.)
In 1925 it had 554 members (128 of them artisans, 381 small businessmen, 19 merchants and industrialists, 8 farmers, and 18 others). In this year it gave 757 loans whose sum was 115,000 zlotys. The Free Loan Fund had about 1,000 members (about 700 small businessmen, and 33 artisans). This fund annually gave about 500 loans, whose sum was 30,000 zlotys. (In 1933-34 it gave out 509 loans; it lent the sum of 31,810, and in 1936-37 it gave out 450 loans which totalled 31,200 zlotys).
The mutual help and credit assistance could not prevent the deterioration of Jewish trade, which had grown from the Great Crisis years until the outbreak of the Second World War. The number of trade licenses which were purchased by Jews lessened annually by four percent in comparison to the year before. On the other hand the number of promissory notes which were not paid had risen, a phenomenon which meant near- bankruptcy of the businesses. (E.g. the number of notes which were not paid in 1931 was 4,721, and the number of repossessions and confiscations added up to 17,438). And indeed in 1937 shop owners who made their living through trade for years went bankrupt, and now were added to those who received Passover baskets.
The situation of employees and laborers was worse. The result was strikes (in 1936 there were strikes of salesmen, laborers of an oven factory, etc. organized by the general labor organizations. They also included Jews, such as the Jewish Clerk Association and the mail workers).
The time between the two world wars was significant in local Jewish life for the political, social, and cultural activity of the Jewish parties and their youth organizations. The General Zionist organization in Przemyśl was one of the biggest in Galicia after the separation of Hitachadut and Poalei Zion, which became an independent party. When the Revisionists left in 1935 this organization continued its existence as the General Zionist organization. It was the biggest Zionist local party, its representatives were members of the community committee and the municipality, and the members were the hard core of the voters for the Jewish national list to the Sejm. Its youth organizations were also among the biggest in the city. The Herzl Association and its Women's academic organization, Hertzlia, became active again in 1925. The Herzl Association organized circles of Zionist artisans in 1933, but its main achievement was the establishment of a Popular University (1925), which had hundreds of students every year. HaTikva Association, a branch of the Herzl Association, and Hebrew Youth, established in 1926 and united in 1928 established the Zionist Youth Branch. In Przemyśl from 1926-39 there was a branch of the Akiva youth movement, under the influence of the General Zionists in Krakow. The Socialist-Zionist movement was represented in Przemyśl by Poalei Zion, which began in the years before World War I, and the Hitachadut, which was established after the war by Ziorei Zion, and the remnants of the organizations: Ivri, Achava, and Tzeorei Yehuda.
In Przemyśl there were about 300 members of the movement after the unification of Hitachadut and Poalei Zion in 1933. The left-wing Zionists in Przemyśl were represented by two youth movements: HaShomer HaZair and Gordonia. The beginning and the peak of its activities were in the years after the First World War (there were 500 members of the club), but in the 1930's the membership diminished to 80-100. Gordonia began in Przemyśl at the end of the 1920's, and in the 1930's the number of members was 200-300. Gordonia established a Preparation Group (Hachshara- for life on a kibbutz). From 1928 there was a local organization of Jewish Scouts called HaTzofeh.
As was mentioned, the Mizrachi movement in Przemyśl was established under the influence of Rabbi Gedalia Shmelkish, even before World War I, and renewed its activity when it ended. In 1927 it organized the Hechalutz HaMizrachi, and in 1930 the youth of the party was organized into a separate framework of Mizrachi Youth, while the teenagers belonged to a movement called Torah and Avoda (work).
In Przemyśl the party had a Hachshara Kibbutz for all its branches in the towns in the area. The Mizrachi synagogue was the center of the Orthodox Zionists.
The Revisionist branch was established in 1926. Betar, its youth movement was established in 1930, and the Revisionist Student Organization, Emuna, was established in 1932. The election results of the Zionist Congresses of 1931 and 1935 show the proportions of the different factions.
|Name of Party||Number of Votes|
The branch of Agudat Israel was established in 1920, and after a short time it was followed by the Agudat Israel Tsairei, some 100 young men.
Agudat Israel established the Etz HaHaim yeshiva, which attracted young men, even from nearby towns. During the 1930's a girls' school, Bet Yakov was started. For a short time the Tsairei Israel published a Yiddish Weekly, Der Yiddisher Weg, with a supplement of rabbinical literature in Hebrew.
The influence of the Bund in Przemyśl did not increase even after the unification of the J.P.S. in 1920. In the elections to the Sejm in 1922, the Bund list got only 403 votes, in comparison to 15,000 votes for the National Zionist list. The Bund devoted itself to activity among the Jewish labor organizations, branches of general organizations, artisans' cooperatives, and cultural activities in Yiddish. The Bund established a public library, an acting group, and organized lectures in its club. For a short time there was a local branch of the Bundist youth organization, Zukunft (Future). During the 1930's the Bund had to contend with the influence of the Jewish members of the Polish Socialist party P.P.S., especially with the famous leader of the party, H. Lieberman. During the 1930's it also had to accommodate itself to Jewish Communists, whose legal and illegal activities among labor organizations and labor clubs was increasing.
Many Jewish Communists in Przemyśl were jailed and sentenced for long periods. (In 1931: 13 of 18 local Communists brought to trial were Jewish; in 1935: 13 of the 16, and in 1937: 10 of 16.)
During the first years after the war the national council continued to perform the functions of the Vaad HaKehila. The first elections to the Vaad HaKehila were in 1924, with few changes in membership; Dr. Leib Landau continued in office as head of the community, and its directors included Zionists, Agudat Yisroel, merchants, and Yad Harutzim. Elections in 1928 went according to the new constitution. The results: seven Zionists, one from Poalei Zion, two butchers, four from Agudat Israel, four from Yad Harutzim, and two unaffiliated individuals. The Zionist faction was the biggest, but the little factions united in a coalition and elected a member of Agudat Israel, Shmuel Babad, as head of the community. The community budget reflected its activities. From the 364,000 zlotys of the budget, 44% was allotted to the community for administration, 20% for poor religious people, 11% for social welfare, 19.2% for institutions supported by the community, and only 1% for culture. In the last elections to the Vaad HaKehila, again there was a coalition of small groups against the Zionist majority, which had seven mandates. The Zionists appealed against the election results and the authorities named Dr. Ravitch as commissar of the community, an assimilated lawyer who was liked by the authorities. The administration reorganized at the end 1937, this time headed by the General Zionist representative, Dr. Yakov Rabhan.
The period of the last administration was the most difficult in the history of the Jews in Przemyśl. (Because of the poverty of the Jews about 7,000 people received a Passover outlay in 1939.) The number of community taxpayers diminished, and the taxes covered only a sixth of budget outlays. The Vaad Hakehila had to challenge harsh decrees, for example, such as prohibitions on kosher slaughter, and a boycott which became harsher against Jewish trade and artisanship. The poisonous anti-Jewish propaganda became an everyday phenomenon.
The local municipal council and administration continued in the same configuration until 1928 to function according to a formula fixed before the establishment of a Polish state, with only slight changes. In the elections of this year the National Jewish Bloc formed a coalition with the Polish Government Party, the Senatia, and 18 Jews were members of the 40-member council. The leftist Poalei Zion and the Bund in coalition with the P.P.S. did not get a single seat. Dr. Zvi Reichman of the National Bloc was vice-mayor, and another Jew was a member of the city administration. During the term of this city council that continued until 1934, Jewish council members influenced budgets of Jewish educational and welfare institutions in a not-small sum of 22,000 zlotys. Also in this term Jewish names were given to the streets in the Jewish Quarter. But this city council was dissolved and replaced by a government-nominated commissar. Only 10 Jews (six of them Zionists) were elected to the council in 1934, and the amount of council members from the Senatzia and the number of members with anti-Semitic sympathies increased. This time there was no Jewish vice-mayor, and only one Jew was elected to the municipal administration. During the term of this council, municipal support for Jewish educational and welfare organizations was drastically cut.
As in the other Jewish communities in Poland the burden of Jewish social and welfare institutions was placed mainly on the Jewish public. The authority and municipal support for them was sometimes symbolic. Community support was insufficient, and its existence continued with the assistance of local philanthropists from the area, others who lived abroad, or from payments from those who used the services.
The Jewish hospital had played an important role in health services that was enlarged when it received modern equipment in 1924 with the help of the JOINT. During the years 1924-1936 its departments cared for 12,529 patients. The number of sick days it verified was 166,349. 79,698 of them did not pay. 131,698 patients in all were seen.
A Jewish committee for hygiene was organized in 1922, and it initiated popular lectures by doctors about hygiene and health subjects. A branch of T.A.Z. whose main concern was the health of schoolchildren was established in 1929. Except for regular check-ups, T.A.Z. did much to provide extra nourishment for many schoolchildren. It had a special budget for nutrition for needy children (about 250 children in 1937) and ran summer camps. About 200 children were sent annually to summer camps outside the city or day camps.
The Jewish orphanage was established in 1917. There were 20 children at the beginning, and in time about 400 were educated there until 1939. It had a boarding school that supplied education and nutrition to poor children, or children with only one parent. An educational counseling service with a professional library was located in the orphanage. There was also a Two-Pennies Organization that continued to supply schoolchildren with clothing, food, and school fees. This help was given to a large number of pupils (in 1931 it helped 850 pupils). The Association of Mutual Assistance for Academics, established in 1923, helped the various university students from Przemyśl. The annual budget of this association was about 50,000 zlotys in 1928, and about 50 students were assisted with school fees, clothes, etc.
There were about 20 people in the local old age home, established in 1907. The Friends of the Elderly, established in the 1920's, was one of the institutions that gave money to the old age home.
A soup kitchen established in the 1870's gave meals to needy people, free or at a low price-40 grush for a meat meal, and half that sum for a vegetarian meal. The activities of this institution included supplying 80 meals for the Talmud Torah pupils daily.
The Vaad HaKehila and other public associations had annual targeted campaigns for special welfare activities like Passover rations (about 8,000 Jews got help from it in 1935), or assistance with heating for winter (500 Jewish families received this assistance in 1937). There was a special committee to help refugees from Russia at the beginning of the 1920's, and an Assistance committee for refugees from Germany in 1938 that assisted 50 families that had been expelled.
The Jewish Association for Elementary and High School was organized in 1919. Kindergartens and a course for nursery school teachers were established. The two first classes of the elementary school were opened in 1920. In 1925 the earliest classes of the Gymnasium were opened. The establishment of a complete Humanistic Gymnasium with eight classes was ratified in 1929. The students of the Gymnasium were girls and boys. After a short time it received full government recognition. The language of instruction was Polish, but some subjects like Hebrew, Jewish history, and Bible were taught as separate subjects. It was one of the best high schools in the city. Besides this high school, there were special governmental elementary schools (one in the city and another in the suburb of Zasanie) that were closed on Saturday. The subject of Religion was taught for more hours than in other governmental schools. A Jewish association for encouraging vocational education was established in 1920. It established a vocational school for girls (which taught sewing, embroidery, weaving, spinning for carpets, home economics, and cooking). Besides these basic subjects, the girls also learned language, plus other subjects including Hebrew. In the 1930's the school became a vocational high school, and was given governmental recognition. There were 170 students at this school in 1936.
Another important institution for vocational education was the school for Jewish children, which was established by Yad Harutzim in 1926. It moved to its own building in 1937. 100 pupils studied there.
A complementary Tarbut Hebrew School was established in Zasanie in 1929. It had 120 students at the beginning, but through all its years it suffered from budgetary problems and was perpetually in danger of closing.
The majority of Jewish children in Przemyśl continued to get a religious education in the Cheders. The poor students learned for free in the Talmud Torah, called Bet Talmud, 150 all together. The institution did not have a good reputation because the levels of instruction and hygiene were poor. On the other hand, the Girls' School, with 120 students, was organized properly. The girls received a general education at the elementary level, except for religious education.
Between the two wars there were two yeshivas: Etz Hayim with 200 students in three classes, and an upper yeshiva, which trained the students to become rabbis. It also included about 200 pupils from Przemyśl and the surrounding area.
A cultural institution whose influence was known beyond the town was called Yuval, patronized by supporters of music and drama. It was a center for the Jewish intelligentsia from all streams. The association was established in 1919 and had two sections: one for music and the other for theater. The orchestra and choir of the association in the city and nearby towns were at a high level. The theater arts section succeeded in developing an acting troupe at a professional level. From 1919 there was a music club, Canzione, which had a mandolin orchestra that was famous in the area. The Yuval association was closed in 1937, and replaced by a theater club named for Esther Rachel Kaminska. Drama circles, choirs, and amateur orchestras were active from time to time, plus youth organizations and libraries of all parties. The big library for Jewish sciences in Przemyśl was in the Jewish high school.
Some Jewish periodicals in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish were published between the two world wars. The first, the Premishler had been published by 1919 and had put out 20 issues by 1926. A weekly supplement of the Tagblatt of Lwow was called Shemishler Nayes. 50 issues were printed. The weekly Volksfreind appeared between 1927-29, succeeded by the weekly Unser Tribune between 1930-32, both published by the General Zionists. The Hitachadut party and the Gordonia youth organization published a Polish monthly in 1930 called Nasher Drugy (only 2 issues), and the Revisionists published an issue of the Zionisticher Emet. From 1935-38 the high school students published seven issues of a periodical in Hebrew and Polish, Hayenu. Hashomer Hazair published only two issues of their magazine. They could not compete with the Jewish newspapers of Lwow, which was fairly close. This was the reason why periodicals in Przemyśl were short-lived.
The sports organization, HaSchachar, continued between the two world wars. HaGibor, a club that had its own stadium from 1925 had soccer as its main activity, plus basketball, tennis, track and field sports, swimming, etc. It was very active.
Jewish life in Przemyśl became gradually darkened by anti-Semitic propaganda which strengthened (from time to time there were poisonous deeds -boycotts against trade or arts-with enforcers placed near Jewish shops), and also by violent acts of anti-Semitic hoodlums against Jewish passersby. Many Jews were beaten from the years 1936-38. In 1938 there was even a small pogrom, leaving 16 Jews injured, five of them badly. This phenomenon alluded to the disaster which was to come in the Second World War.
III. The Second World War
Many Jews from Przemyśl were recruited into the Polish army in the first week of the Second World War. Others took part in the organization of the urban Civil Defense. On Sept. 8, 1938 the city was bombed and mass flight began in the direction of Hungarian and Romanian borders. Part of the Jewish population, mainly the men, participated in the stream of refugees. Only a few of the refugees really reached Hungary or Romania. Most returned to the city after the occupation by the Soviets at the end of the month.
The city was occupied by the Germans on Sept. 14, 1939 and about 600 Jews were executed. They were murdered in three places near the city: Lipowice, Pikulice, and Prakowce.
According to the German-Soviet agreement, the main part of the city east of the San River was under Soviet rule, and the west, Zasanie, remained under German rule. Before evacuating the city, the Germans burned some synagogues, including the Temple, the main synagogue, and the main Bet Midrash. The German soldiers also burst into Jewish shops and robbed their goods. Two days before the Soviets entered the eastern part of the city, the Germans ordered all the Jews who lived in Zasanie to move to the eastern part of the city. At the beginning the Jews of Zasanie tried to overturn the expulsion order, but finally preferred to move to the Soviet side of the city, although they knew how difficult their refugee status would be. Those expelled were permitted to take only a few possessions, and the majority crossed the San River on foot. Only a few of them succeeded in getting carts or boats in order to move their families and possessions to the east side of the river.
The Soviets entered the city on September 28, 1939. The Jewish communal institutions stopped functioning immediately, and the property of the community was nationalized. The Jewish parties stopped functioning; their clubs were closed, and became the property of the authorities. Some of the party activists were imprisoned and expelled to the Soviet Union, among them Hayim Eliash from Hitachadut Poalei Zion, and Fishel Babad of the Revisionists. Some of the Zionist and Bund activists left the city to avoid being imprisoned. The Jewish orphanages, old age homes, and hospital became the property of the municipality, converted into general institutions, and lost their specific Jewish affiliations. All welfare and mutual Jewish assistance institutions also stopped their activities. Synagogues were allowed to exist, and for this reason, except for their religious functions, the synagogues became assistance centers for needy local Jews, and refugees from western Poland who found shelter in the city. In the first weeks a public kitchen was opened which served hot meals to the refugees.
The language of instruction in the Jewish high school changed from Polish to Yiddish. The Scientific Jewish Library with its 30,000 books was closed. Books which did not follow the principles of the Soviet government were eliminated, others were dispersed among general city libraries, and part of the collection was lost.
About 7,000 Jews were expelled into the Soviet Union between April-June 1940. Mostly they were Jewish refugees who had expressed their desire to return to their families in the German occupation area. Small groups of people who had been in the Polish government service, as well as the formerly well-to-do were given an identity card which excluded them from living in Przemyśl because it was a border city. Actually many were compelled to leave the city and live in settlements in the Western Ukraine.
Przemyśl was bombarded before dawn on June 22, 1941 by the German army, the day of the beginning of the German -Soviet war. After the Red Army soldiers recovered from the sudden attack, they succeeded in holding the city another week. Some 100 Jews succeeded in fleeing to the east, but many of them were caught by the German army. Immediately after the entry of Germans to Przemyśl on June 8, 1941, the Jews were ordered to be present at a roll call, and the men who came were taken for forced labor after torture and humiliation.
The Judenrat was established in July 1941, headed by Ignatz Doldig, and among members of the councils were famous public figures as L. Zisswein, D. Hass, S. Tennenbaum, A. Kronenberg, Finkelstein, Wicher, and A. Rechter. Its activities included the Jewish police, headed by Manktrau and his deputy, Goldberg. The employment service took a census of the Jewish population, and was responsible for the supplement of supply of workers for forced labor. Jewish physicians issued exception forms to Jews who for whom harsh labor would endanger their lives. For the most part the Germans did not honor these documents. The Judenrat also included other departments, such as financial, headed by Doldig, and the Economic, Health, and Housing departments. Removal of Jews from non-Jewish suburbs began in the first weeks of the occupation, centered in the Garbarze area.
The Judenrat parceled out official food rations, almost starvation rations, and did not even have a minimal basis of existence. Jews could shop before eight in the morning or after six in the evening at the market. This meant was that there was almost no possibility of buying food. The Judenrat organized public kitchens that eased the hunger of the poor a little. But the pauperization of Przemyśl's Jews became worse after non-stop confiscation of property such as furniture, carpets, silverware, and valuables. Jewish groups were already imprisoned in the summer of 1941 and murdered in the central prison. In November 1941 about 1,000 Jewish youngsters were sent to work camps in all the areas of eastern Galicia. Imprisonment and executions of Jews accused of cooperating with the Soviets continued during the winter of 1941-42. The community also suffered from other persecutions: forced contributions and confiscation of furs by the German army. Hunger and plagues caused many deaths.
In the spring of 1942 the Judenrat established many institutions and workshops in order to produce places of employment for the Jews of Przemyśl with the hope that it would prevent their expulsion to work camps. In June 1942 the Germans demanded a thousand Jews for the Janowska camp in Lwow, and the Judenrat discussed possible agreement. At last it decided to implement the order-- with the conjecture that perhaps in this way-- worse harm to the community might be prevented. An internal committee of the Judenrat was constituted to create the list, and it chose names from the Jewish community register of the labor office. There was a rumor in the city that by paying a sum of money there was the possibility of avoiding expulsion to the camp. On June 8, 1942 the men who were to be conveyed to the Janowska camp were sent to one place. The Gestapo men made another selection from this group, took the victims to the railroad station, and from there they were delivered to the camp. Some family members who asked to say goodbye to their loved ones were murdered by the bullets of the guards.
Another contribution was extorted from the Jews of Przemyśl at the end of June 1942. The declaration of the establishment of the ghetto came at the beginning of July 1942. The whole population was ordered to move there by July 15. The borders of the ghetto were fixed in the areas of Jagiellonska, Mnisza, and the Garbarze quarter. The density in the ghetto was terrible. People lived in every possible place, including attics, storerooms, and cellars. In fact on July 15, 1942 the ghetto was enclosed, and everyone who went outside without permission received a heavy punishment, including the death sentence. The authorities forbade non-Jews to help members of the community by the threat of capital punishment. Jews from settlements in the area, including Bircza, Kazifshka, Nizhankovichi, and Dinow also were included in the ghetto.
In order to overcome hunger, food was smuggled into the ghetto, although the dangers were great. As it happened, many paid with their lives as they attempted to smuggle. Public kitchens of the Judenrat served food twice a day.
In July 1942 the Jews heard about expulsions in other places, and many sought work places which might give immunity from this. Among these work places were Baudienst and the Wehrmacht camps. Many bribes were paid to ensure work in these places. On July 24, 1942 the Judenrat was ordered to collect all work cards that belonged to the population of the ghetto and deliver them for stamping in the Gestapo. On July 26, 1942 only about 5,000 stamped cards were returned, and while the number in the ghetto was about 22,000. The whole ghetto was in a panic, especially those who lacked a permit for a protected workplace. In a parallel move, the ghetto was surrounded by German policemen and their Ukrainian assistants. The night before Jewish policemen began to concentrate the Jews who were going to be expelled according to German orders. An announcement that was publicized said that the expulsion would not include owners of stamped work cards, members of the Judenrat, employees of the Judenrat, and members of hospital staff. Thousands of Przemyśl Jews already were assembled in the market square at seven in the morning. Although the real purposes of the expulsion were not yet known, many preferred not to come to the square, but to conceal themselves in hiding places. Those who could not get to the square on their own, the old and ill, were taken out of their homes and murdered on a ghetto street. Groups of Jews were taken from the concentrating yard to the railroad station and from there to the Belzec extermination camp.
During the Aktion there were flights from the yard. Many of those who tried to flee were murdered by the shots of German and Ukrainian police. Many corpses of men, women, and children were found in the streets of the ghetto at the end of the Aktion. About 7,000 people were delivered to Belzec on the first day of the Aktion. The next day, July 28, 1942 the Germans ordered the remaining population of the ghetto in Mnisza Street, and part of Kopernika Street to move to another area of the ghetto in an hour. It was possible to cross from one part to another only by a narrow path. The Germans were adamant that all the property of those who left should remain in the area which had been cleared. This property was moved shortly afterward to Germany by train.
Three days later the Aktion began again. In the second transport another 3,000 people were sent to Belzec. On the last day of the Aktion in August 3, 1942 all the people of the ghetto were ordered to assemble in the morning near the offices of the Judenrat. This group included owners of cards that were stamped by the Gestapo, and people without permits.
The Gestapo men checked the workplace permits. Those whose permits were unsuitable were added to groups who had been expelled. At the same time the Ukrainians made thorough searches in all the houses of the ghetto, trying to find those who hid. Most of those they found were murdered immediately, and others were taken to the concentration place. The Germans also entered the Jewish hospital and murdered all the patients in the yard. The personnel of the hospital was added to those expelled. After finishing the selection, the ghetto was inhabited mostly by those who worked in vital German factories, and those who succeeded in concealing themselves in various ways. At the end of the day another 3,000 Jews were sent to Belzec. So the general number of those expelled for extermination in this Action was about 13,000. At the time of this Aktion there were many suicides, mainly among families of doctors.
The head of the Judenrat, Ignatz Doldig, tried to take advantage of his connections to the Wehrmacht officers in the city at the beginning of the first Aktion, to possibly prevent the expulsion of the Jews who worked in army camps, even if they lacked German police permits. The Gestapo refused to free this group of workers from expulsion, and in reaction the Wehrmacht soldiers closed off one of the bridges, and stopped the train that delivered the victims to Belzec. Only after negotiations between the police and the army at high levels in Krakow did the police at this stage accede to the demands of the army officers, and those workers were not expelled in this Aktion. According to another source the relinquishment of the police was incomplete, and some workers in the army camps were expelled. The punishment for Doldig's initiative and that of another member of the Judenrat, A. Rechter, was to be called into the Gestapo, tortured, and murdered. Yakov Ravhan, the last head of the Jewish community before the war, was nominated as head of the Judenrat after the death of Doldig.
On August 4, 1942 the day after the first Aktion, the Germans demanded a sum of money to pay for the transportation of those who were expelled to the east (Belzec), and setting up barbed wire around the smaller ghetto.
In the middle of September 1942 the Germans announced they would have mercy on Jews who hid, and when they would come out, they would get work and permits for a legal existence in the ghetto. About 100 people answered this call, especially because of the difficult conditions in hiding places, lack of food and water. After a few days those Jews were ordered to concentrate near the Judenrat offices as if to be organized for work. When they were crowded in, they were surrounded by the German police, who loaded them on trucks, as if being taken to a work site, but were really taken to the Jewish cemetery and murdered there.
In September and October 1942 the efforts of the Jews in the ghetto were directed to either finding work places that could assure them of remaining in the ghetto, or strenuous hard work to prepare hiding places in which they could remain for a longer time during Aktions. Some of them tried to find shelter on the Aryan side, and there were some who left Przemyśl and went to another city and lived there with Aryan documents. Some groups left for the Romanian and Hungarian borders, but most of them were murdered by the Germans and enemy elements among the local population.
The Judenrat initiated deals with German plants even during those months in order to create workplaces for the remnants of the community. For this purpose they bribed the plant owners and directors. The Gestapo for its part very much restricted the types of Jewish workers who were vital for the German economy.
The second Aktion began on November 18, 1942. All the owners of permits from workplaces were taken to an army camp in Czarnietski Street, and they were prohibited from leaving the place. At the same time the Germans and their assistants took all the people who remained in the ghetto to the market square. This time also, just as in the first Aktion, many tried to flee on the way, or from the concentration square, but the majority of them were murdered by the Germans and the Ukrainians. The people who were discovered in their hiding places were murdered on the spot. The Jewish orphanage was emptied in this Aktion, and about 80 of its children were added to those about to be exterminated. About 3,500 people were concentrated in a compound during this day. There was also a selection among the workers who were enclosed in the army camp in Czernietski Street. Only a few were permitted to remain in the ghetto, and the others were transferred for expulsion. In all, about 4,000 people were taken away for extermination in Belzec in this Aktion.
Some of the artisans were maintained in concentration camp conditions in their plants. Another group of artisans was taken to the Wermacht camp in Bakonczyce near the city.
Also after this Aktion the Germans gave them the possibility of living legally in the ghetto, but after past experiences, those who could stay in their hiding places in shelters preferred to remain in them as long as possible.
At the end of November 1942 the ghetto was divided in two: Ghetto A which was near Iwasziewicza Square, held about 800 people who worked for the German economy. Ghetto B held those who were not qualified for work, about 4,000 people. The number of inhabitants of Ghetto B was changed frequently because from time to time the remnants of communities of the region that had been liquidated were brought there. At the same time there were people who had fled from there in order to be rescued from the Nazis. But the number of those who were saved in this way was miniscule. The attitude of the majority of the local non-Jewish population to Jews who tried to save their own lives outside the ghetto was hostility. On the other hand, there were instances of assisting and saving Jews even while risking their own lives. For example, two Ukrainian sisters, Stefania and Helena Podgorski, hid 13 Jews, and supplied them with food until liberation.
The people of Ghetto B endeavored to move to Ghetto A, because they assumed their lives would be saved for a longer time. Workshops were established in Ghetto A, including a tailor shop, another for making delicate metal mechanisms, a feather-cleaning shop, laundries, and storage for the clothing of Jewish victims. The role of the Jewish police was to inspect the various working groups. The slightest breach of discipline was severely physically punished, and those accused were transported to Ghetto B, where it was clear to its inhabitants that their fate was to be exterminated in the near future. In Ghetto A there were about 300 illegal Jews, mainly old people and children, assisted by their relatives who were artisans.
Officially Ghetto A became a work camp in February 1943 under the direct command of the S.S. From this time continuous Aktions began whose purpose was to diminish the number of Jews working, and to take advantage of their labor potential until their final extermination. The Jewish physicians in the camps did their best to save the sick and hide their illnesses from the Germans. In order to strengthen the feeling of degradation of the camp inmates, the Germans ordered them to organize an orchestra; musicians were brought for this purpose from Ghetto B. For a short time the orchestra played public concerts three times a week in the center of the camp. This emphasized more the tragedy of the Jews of Przemyśl that in a condition of very hard labor, illnesses, hunger, and unceasing murder, they were forced to perform concerts in the presence of the German murderers.
The inhabitants of Ghetto B were also taken for forced labor in factories in the city and area, and their lives consisted of constant fright because of the never-ending periodic murders while waiting for new Aktions. In the middle of April 1943, a group of Jewish youngsters ( apparently from the work camp), led by Green and Bronik Kastner, left the ghetto on their way to the woods in Przemyśl area in order to join the region's partisans. The group was caught by the Ukrainians, and all of them except Green were murdered. Green himself returned to the ghetto and was caught with a weapon in his hand.
It was clear to the ghetto-dwellers that his fate would be death, but meanwhile integrated in it was another affair that intensified it, and caused more victims. On May 10, 1943, a young Jew called Krebs met a drunken German who entered the ghetto, wrenched his pistol away, and fled. As a reaction the Gestapo burst into the ghetto, murdered some people, took 50 hostages, and threatened to murder them if Krebs was not turned over to them. The Jewish police began to search for him, finally found his trail, then imprisoned him with a friend, and gave them both to the Gestapo in order to save the hostages. The Gestapo ordered a public hanging of three men in the central square of the ghetto: Krebs, his friend, and Green, who was caught beforehand with a weapon in his hand. All the ghetto dwellers were ordered to be present at the hanging. Before his hanging, Green uttered words of contempt for the Nazis. His last words were: God will revenge us. After the three were hung, 27 of the hostages were shot, although they promised to liberate all the hostages. The remaining 33 were liberated.
A short time after this incident the Judenrat was ordered to give the Gestapo 30 old people in exchange for the liberation of 30 young Jews who were imprisoned by the Germans, and were about to be shot for various sins. There were acute arguments among the Judenrat members if they had to agree to this demand, which meant they would hand over people to the enemy for certain death, even if there were any chance in this way to save others. Finally, after a fight among the Judenrat members, they decided to fulfill the demand, and Jewish policemen collected 30 adults who were given to the Germans. Afterwards the Germans really liberated the 30 youngsters. This affair preoccupied the remaining community of the ghetto. Those who were saved argued and remained in Przemyśl after the liberation continued to argue about it, because it stressed the severe moral aspects connected to this incident.
On November 2, 1943 a new Aktion began in Ghetto B. All the Jews were ordered to come to the expulsion square, but the majority of them hid in pre-prepared hiding places. The Germans came with a battalion of collaborators. They destroyed the houses and removed those who hid by using heavy equipment. About 3,500 Jews were concentrated after these activities and sent to Auschwitz. About 600 people were removed from the city work camp on September 3, 1943, and were taken to a camp in Szebnie. 250 people remained to organize and classify Jewish property.
The Germans continued to search for hidden Jews even afterwards with the assistance of the corps of engineers. Every house that seemed suspicious was bombed by the engineering corps, and in this way the succeeded in discovering more than 300 Jews. In this stage the Germans didn't harm them, but concentrated them in two buildings which were surrounded by a barbed wire fence. A new Judenrat was nominated in order to manage this group, headed by Neubort.
The Germans announced that in the ghetto every Jew who would leave his hiding place willingly would be taken to the camp in Szebnie It was difficult to continue to hide, so for this reason the last 900 Jews left their hiding places. Some of them were taken to the work camp in Przemyśl and others temporarily remained in the ghetto.
Between September 10 and 11, 1943 there were additional selections in the work camp and temporary ghetto. About 1,200 people in the ghetto were executed and shot under the pretext they had evaded previous expulsions. So in groups of 50 the victims were delivered to a big structure in the former ghetto, and after they were ordered to undress, they were shot to death.
A small group of people were not executed, but were employed in burning the corpses. Obliteration of the traces of this last murder continued for five days. In the autumn of 1943 about 200 remained in the work camp. On November 28, 1943 100 people were taken out and sent to Szebnie. Only a few of the remainder succeeded in fleeing to the Aryan side. At the end of February 1944 one group was sent to the work camp in Stalowa Wola and the rest to Auschwitz. Later a group of the last women who remained in the Przemyśl work camp was sent to the Plaszow camp and from there to ammunition factories in Skarzysko Kamienna. In fact it was the extermination of the work camp.
The Soviet army liberated Przemyśl in July 29, 1944. After a few days about 250 survivors who left their shelters gathered in the city. The remnants elected a Jewish committee which was headed by M. Shatner, although despite money problems, it began to help the needy, and aided in searching for survivors. Also there were attempts to remove Jewish children from the Polish families to whom they had been given during the Holocaust. An orphanage was established in Tarnowska Street, and by the initiative of the Jewish community there were 80-100 children were placed in it. The majority of them were taken out of Catholic monasteries in the area. At the beginning of 1946 these orphans were moved to central Jewish institutions in Krakow, Lublin, and Lodz, and from there they continued after a short time on their way out of the borders of Poland.
The activities of the Jewish committee were halted in 1947. Surviving Przemyśl Jews who fled during the war to the Soviet Union returned to the city hoping to find someone from their family, but when it was clear that everyone else had not survived, they left and turned to the west.
There were about 100 Jews in Przemyśl at the beginning of the 1950's, but the majority of them had not been members of the Jewish community before the war. They included the remains of settlements in the area: Biercza, Mostiska, Dinow, and other places.
There was a branch of the Social-Cultural Association of Polish Jews at the beginning of the 1960's. The authorities turned the Sheinbach synagogue into a textile store. Another remaining synagogue, in Zasanie, was turned into a garage. The cemetery was in disrepair. Gradually the remaining Jews of Przemyśl left the city. The majority of them left Poland for destinations overseas, especially to Israel.
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