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[Page 193]

November 1918
(a chapter on Jewish defense in Przemysl)

Tzvi Luft


Tzvi Luft



The actual period of defense continued for no more than 11 days, from November 1, 1918 until November 11. Those days were part of a longer period, beginning at the end of October 1918 and continuing roughly until April 1919, which was the period of the creation and existence of the Jewish National Council in Przemysl. The establishment of a Jewish council was an event of great importance in the life of the Jewish population in our town. Within an overall atmosphere of national awakening, which had emerged at the end of the war in the areas of the former Austrian Empire, the hard work which had been invested during the twelve years prior to the war bore fruit. This work had been in the area of education for national sovereignty, in which our society, "The Herzl Society," played a significant part. The results of this awakening were discernable even after the Jewish National Council had been abolished. The amorphous mass of Przemysl Jews became, overnight, a group with a national awareness and remained such a group with unavoidable rises and falls until the last days of its existence.

I spent the days of October 1918 as an Austrian officer, on leave in Przemysl. Those were days of a general anticipation of great events. But no one foresaw the nature of these events. Life continued on its normal course. There were very few "Herzl Society" members in the town, as the vast majority of them were in active service, and only those who happened to be on leave, such as myself, were in Przemysl. From among the members "in civilian clothes" who were in town at that time, I can recall primarily Julek Scharf; from among the non-members, who were nonetheless connected to us, I recall Hertzbaum.

At the end of October, the situation suddenly changed: news traveled through the grapevine, there was talk of the end of the war, of the changes which may occur, of the possibility that the Austrian Empire would collapse, and of the establishment of national states. I recall one meeting which was held secretly by the socialist representative, Dr. Lieberman (or by his initiative). If I am not mistaken, Scharf and myself participated in this meeting as representatives of the Zionists. Scharf was the speaker, among the two of us. The hazy impression which remains in my memory, is that there was talk of the possibility of an outbreak of pogroms, and that the main argument revolved around the allocation of seats in the organization which was about to be created in order to represent the Jewish interest.

It was clear to me that it was time to organize a defense force, and I left the meeting with that decision. There were brief arguments between my friends and myself, as to whether this was desirable and attainable. I summoned the heads of Hashomer Ha'tzair for a discussion if I remember correctly, Tadek Weissberg was then in town and Altbauer was also present at the discussion, as well as a number of other leaders, all upper classmen1, apart from Weissberg, who was in uniform. In this discussion, which according to Altbauer took place in the "Habsburg" Café, I announced the establishment of the organization, in a style appropriate to those romantic times and to the romantic sensibility I was possessed by in those days.

[Page 194]


The pace of events suddenly increased. The Emperor Karl issued a declaration to his people, in which he announced the creation of a federation of nations within the Habsburg monarchy. There was news of national councils being organized, of the collapse of the monarchy, of the end of the war. The town was still quiet, but increasingly tense. Army warehouses were opened, news spread of distribution or looting of goods, by the masses. The main issue for us was the question of arms. On the last day of October, Tadek informed me that one could "take" arms from the army weapons warehouse. This was immediately organized and that same evening (it was a gray, gloomy winter evening), a few dozen "guards" appeared, wearing capes. A kind of conveyer belt was arranged from the army weapons warehouse on Mickiewicza Street, to our main warehouse, which was established in Leo Astel's cellar (on Jagiellonska Street). I do not know who the first "takers" were. The rifles were passed beneath the capes two by two, from one hand to the next, and placed in the cellar. After a short while we stopped working, but we had already placed some few hundred confiscated rifles in our warehouse.

This occurred on October 30. On November 1, the monarchy collapsed and the power passed from an existing authority to "no authority." Three national councils were established in the town: Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish. The Jewish militia was established immediately by the Jewish Council, which was called a "national" council, and began to maintain order, particularly in the Jewish quarters. Naturally, the Poles and the Ukrainians also established their own military forces.


Dawid Weissberg


This episode is extremely hazy in my memory. I definitely recall a number of cases of officers' insignia being removed in the town, a sign of the deterioration of the military rule. I am reminded of a large meeting of Jewish soldiers that was held on a Friday night in the kahal2, in which there was a declaration of the establishment of the Jewish National Council, of the kahal leaders' authority being seized by a company of soldiers, and of other similar events. Friends upon whose memory I can rely, tell me that the command of the militia was assigned to Hauptmann3 Eisner, the owner of the "Eisnerowka" (a block of houses on Mickiewicza Street).

I recall that in the "headquarters," which were located during the first days in the kahal halls, were Moch Gottfried and Leo Astel our friends, and another two or three people, whose names I have forgotten and whose existence I was not aware of. The main burden of work was assigned to Gottfried and myself. Astel, being an artillery officer, could not be of much assistance to us. Hertzek Hertzbaum was actively involved, as was Julek Goldfarb. I believe that Ringel and Weissman also cooperated. Tadek Weissberg and a group of guards which included Altbauer, Rinde and Rubinfeld, worked extremely hard. They served as a kind of "stabs-kompanie" who guarded the weapons room, ran errands, and filled any gaps that developed.

It is difficult to describe the chaos of the first few days and nights. I remember Moch Gottfried and myself (and Weissberg always at my side), each surrounded by a group of 5 or 10 men who were shouting, asking questions and awaiting orders, while the great hall of the kahal was full of soldiers and volunteers, also shouting and making noise. Gradually, the first groups were arranged, and then there were many voices giving out orders, shouting and cursing, in the style of the Austrian army. The question of food supplies quickly arose, and a number of women oversaw the arrangement of the kitchen, organized shifts and assigned duties. There was training and rifle practice, registration and communication, accountability [195] for what was going on in the town, supplying food and sleeping arrangements all these matters as well as dozens of other issues, required constant attention. To this day I do not understand how the miracle occurred, whereby our militia operated immediately, and worked properly, to the complete satisfaction of the National Council, which did not refrain from praising and complementing it. The energy and participation of all the forces in the headquarters must have compensated for the organizational faults and the lack of routine. It is also possible that the great enthusiasm among the Jews and the comprehension of the gravity of the situation, also contributed.

We never lacked people for work and volunteers for action. Both the men and the women performed their jobs loyally, night and day, without attending to their exhaustion or their personal affairs. As for the gravity of the situation, one must remember that the two opposing camps had set their eyes on Przemysl.

Although they had at first agreed on a temporary ceasefire, the two sides were planning to seize control at the first opportunity. Only a few days went by before the Ukrainians took control of the town itself and the Poles entrenched themselves in Zasanie. The San River separated them, and the two sides proceeded to wait for the moment of definitive confrontation. Under these circumstances the Jews found themselves, literally, between the hammer and the anvil 4. The tension in town was rising, there were several armed confrontations between the sides, and the Jewish patrols who roamed the streets were often caught in the line of fire. There were no mob outbreaks, which must surely be largely attributed to the militia's actions, however there was certainly no lack of individual attempts at robbery and destruction.

As far as I can remember, the militia suffered no casualties, with the exception of one or two injuries.


After the Ukrainians took over the town itself, the question of the Zasanie Jews arose. The Jewish National Council decided to organize a Jewish militia in that quarter, similar to the militia in town. The organization duties were assigned to me. At the Council meeting, the chairman, Maks Rosenfeld, informed me of the essential importance of the job, and did not hold back in his efforts to convince me to take on the commanding position. Reluctantly, I parted with my friends at the headquarters, which had in the interim been transferred to the Nussbaum residence on Jagiellonska Street. Armed with the letter of appointment, "Przepustka"5 in Ukrainian and Polish, I crossed the bridge over the San River and entered my new position.


Copy of "Self Defense Identity Card"


The public life of the Jews of Zasanie was concentrated at that time around the synagogue on Grunwaldzka Street. I set up my residence not far from there. But how different was that life from life in the actual town! The Jews in this quarter lived in fear. There were not many of them, and they were dispersed throughout many streets, some of them in areas which were known as places intended for pogroms. These were the outskirt suburbs, on the way to "Chyclowka" 6, to Winna Gora, to Ostrow and to Na Budy7. I could barely convince a number of people to volunteer for militia work. Their courage was not great, and I could only provide the guard duty requirements thanks to finding a few people from the local "Apashim" and "Siberiakim" and assign them as heads of patrols. We head no weapons, apart from a small number of rifles.

As soon as I arrived in Zasanie, I contacted the Polish command. A large Polish army force was concentrated in the barracks of the 77th Battalion, and they were commanded by a "Porucznuk8," whose name I cannot recall. He treated us fairly, [196] and immediately gave orders that our work was not to be disturbed. I was, therefore, amazed when in the small hours of the first night, I received information that the Jewish patrol which had been dispatched to Buszkowicka Street (mainly because there was a candle and soap factory there, belonging to Mr. Hacke, a well known public activist in town), had been taken into custody, along with its precious weapons. At dawn, I reported to the Porucznik. After a brief negotiation, he apologized to me for the "misunderstanding" which had occurred, gave orders to release the people, and reluctantly also returned the weapons. Another day of organizational work, training and arranging patrols went by. But in the middle of the night, the news came again: most of the patrols had been taken into custody and their weapons had been seized.

This time the Porucznik was somewhat embarrassed when he received me. He apologized again, promised again, gave orders, released people, returned weapons, but on the third night my entire camp was taken hostage. This time the Porucznik was noticeably relieved when he received me. According to the information he had received from the people who reported to him, there had been a case of severe "provocation" on the part of the Jewish patrols, however this provocation would not if it had been up to him have hindered the militia's continued work. However, he had explicit orders from the Polish National Council to put an absolute end to the existence of the Jewish guard, and to dismantle it immediately.

Thus ended the Zasanie episode. The people were released, the weapons were confiscated and I returned disappointedly to present a report to my dispatcher, the Jewish National Council.

Those three days taught me a lot. I saw the Jews of the [Zasanie] quarter in their fear and their lack of desire to participate in the militia actions. But I then came to know them in their stubbornness and persistence, despite the arrests, the obstacles and the real dangers to which they were subjected. They were simple people, prepared to accept discipline, who performed their work quietly and diligently. An order was an order. They fulfilled their obligations faithfully, without raising any objections or troubles![i]


When I returned to the headquarters in the Nussbaum residence, the town residents already knew what I myself had not known in Zasanie that the Poles were planning an attack on the Ukrainians in that part of Przemysl. That was also the reason as I understood it for the dismantling of the Jewish militia in Zasanie.

It was relatively quiet in the headquarters, meanwhile. One of the reasons for this was that after the initial enthusiasm, some of the volunteers had dispersed. The remaining ones were already somewhat accustomed to their daily routines. The headquarters remained in the kahal building,9 and the recruits were transferred to a quieter and safer location, which I believe was the yard of the Jewish hospital on Basztowa Street.

Order practices and rifle practices, which they had been doing for some time, had turned them into a real military company. But although they knew how to stand in straight rows, break into quarters, perform a military march, and load and unload their weapons, their appearance was not particularly "martial." It was a motley crew of civilians, with a forgotten soldier here and there, yeshiva boys, students, laidik-gaiers, 10 and perhaps a few laborers. Apart from a few students, the intelligentsia had left the militia. An interesting detail sticks out in my memory from one visit: at the far right end of the line, in a "flank" stood one of the members of Ha'ivria, Baumold, of blessed memory (who later died in the influenza epidemic), wearing a "beaver" hat, his traditional three-quarters length coat, his face bearded, bespectacled, a rifle over his shoulder and a military belt around his waist. The young men of Israel in those days!

[Page 197]

The headquarters were located in a truly inconvenient place. The Nussbaum residence was near the railroad bridge, in the only place through which the Poles could infiltrate the town. And when the Poles began their attack on November 10, we could see the entire battle from the windows of the house. The attack was unsuccessful. The armored train the Poles sent to break through into the town, only reached as far as the middle of the bridge and was forced to retreat. There was an exchange of fire, which mainly hit the Nussbaum house, and there were a few victims (among them Ludwig Uberahl, who fought in the ranks of the Polish army as a Polish patriot. He was injured during the attack on the bridge and died later from his wounds.).

The next afternoon at 2 o'clock, the attack was renewed. The armored train crossed the bridge and the Poles began bombarding the town from their cannons. The whistles of shells and the explosions of grenades mingled with the rumbling of machine-guns and the brief rifle shots. The Ukrainian defense did not have the upper hand. Their resistance was quickly broken.

One group of Ukrainians infiltrated the Nussbaum house. They would not heed my protests that we were neutral, and known as such by both sides. The house was virtually the key position for the Ukrainians, and it is a wonder they did not realize this until the last minute. They continued their self-defense from the windows which faced the bridge, and we were forced to accept this unfair necessity.

But the Polish cannons were relentless. Here and there, flames burst out and the Ukrainians were forced to retreat, taking with them some of our ammunition. We also had to seek a safer place. The order was then given to move to the kahal buildings, in the intervals between the shooting. There were not many of us in the Nussbaum house. Apart from myself and my sister Tosia, there were some twelve young men, including a few "guards" and Rubinfeld.

In the kahal buildings there were several dozen militia members, who had to go out on guard duty that night. Of our common acquaintances, I found only Hertzbaum and Goldfarb there.

Our situation was most unpleasant. The noise of the battle was increasing. The Ukrainians were retreating, group by group. A Ukrainian soldier was severely wounded and collapsed next to the building entrance and we had to take him into the house and bandage him. We could already hear the shouts of the approaching Poles. The adjacent house was hit by a cannonball and began to burn down.

Sometime later things quieted down. The building was silent, despite the dozens of people in it. We had to ascertain the conditions outside, and find out whether we could each go to our homes. Hertzbaum took on this duty, but he had only gone a few dozen steps when he was captured on the "temple" steps by a group of Poles. I believe they wanted to kill him immediately, but at the last moment they decided to just imprison him.

Darkness had fallen meanwhile, and the only light coming through the windows was from the burning houses. Dozens of remaining militia people sat, lied and wandered around in the kahal halls, to the light of a small lantern. In the small adjacent room, the janitor's apartment, the final war council was held by candlelight. Two or three people and the injured Ukrainian soldier participated in it. It was no longer possible to leave the building, as the Polish army had already entered the town en mass. Every so often, we heard frantic pounding on the door and shots coming from every direction. It was no less dangerous to remain in the building, in the midst of the battleground, with our few weapons (our arms warehouse was in the Nussbaum house). And I therefore issued a command which seemed to me at the time to be the only option: gather all the weapons and throw them into the cesspool. All we had were a few pistols, two or three bayonets, some military belts and a few miscellaneous pieces of ammunition.

My sister and another woman or two found shelter in a private apartment on the top floor of the house. The rest of the people maintained complete silence, as ordered.

In that way, we passed a troubled night. And as the sun rose, the evacuation began. Either in pairs, or individually, [198] all the men dispersed. Most of them lived in the vicinity of Jagiellonska and were therefore already located to the rear of the advancing Poles. As far as I know, they all reached their homes safely.

Four of us remained in the community building: my sister, Mrs. Tenzer, Goldfarb and myself. We had to cross the Polish ranks. We left the house and walked towards the market. At the edge of "Plac Rybi," opposite us, we encountered the first Poles. A ditch had been dug across one side of the square, and companies of Polish soldiers were in the trenches, waiting for battle. We walked towards them unhesitatingly, and were successful. The sergeant in command of the company, probably an old soldier from the Austrian army, gave me a military salute and let us pass with no negotiations. I remember standing for a moment and wondering what condition the town was in.

In the market we passed rows of soldiers again. We went up the stairs at the corner of the market and said goodbye to Goldfarb, who had reached his home. Unfortunately for him, the door was locked, and by the time it was opened for him, he was captured and imprisoned by a Polish patrol.

We reached "Grodzka," where we encountered a patrol of the famous Haller11 people. We were detained and I was asked whether I was Polish or Ukrainian. I answered: "Jewish," and for some reason we were allowed to go through. (I had completely forgotten this episode, and this story is based on information I received from my sister.)

In a few steps we reached our home, exhausted. I took off my uniform and went to sleep. When I went into town again, I wore my civilian clothes: the militia period had come to an end.

Epilogue: On the night the Poles entered the town, one Jew was killed.

There were also instances of looting in Jewish shops on Franciszkanska Street, and other Jewish properties were damaged.

The militia was dismantled by order of the Polish authorities. Many of its members were imprisoned, but they were released after a short while.

The Polish authorities did not touch me. Some time later, I was sued in connection with a newspaper article, in which I recounted the events of the riots on the night of November 11'th. In March 1919, my house was searched, but nothing was discovered.

Roughly one year later, another echo of the 1918 events was heard. This time, a Jewish commandant in Vienna presented the Polish consulate there with accusations against me, for having been involved with the militia. I was then in Krakow.

A search was conducted in my house and an investigation was held, but thanks to an interesting turn of events, the investigation was assigned to a clerk of whom I was in charge during the war. The investigation revealed nothing!

(from the pamphlet, "Forty Years (5664-5704 [1904-1944]) Since the Foundation of the Przemysl "Herzl Society"").

[Page 199]

Chapter 4

The Nation, City and Community

Y. A.

In the Nation

In 1922, the political condition of eastern Galicia was determined. Along with it, Przemysl was also finally incorporated into the new state of Poland. Within a short while, elections were held for the Sejm. All the Jewish parties, with the exception of the "Bund," formed a unity and presented one candidacy list of representatives for the Sejm (No. 17). The National Unified Party12 received 15,438 votes (11.8%) in the Przemysl area. The "Bund" received 403 votes (0.3%). The Sejm representative elected from the national party was Moshe Frostig, a fine Zionist activist. For the first time, and also the last, national Jewish Przemysl had its own representative. However, it should be noted that the tradition of Jews voting for Dr. Lieberman was not yet broken in those days. Several thousand Jewish voters still could not deny their longstanding loyalty to Lieberman and they voted for the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S), headed by Dr. Lieberman. A paradoxical situation ensued, whereby the number of votes for the national Jewish party in the Senate elections, was greater than the number of votes for the same party in the Sejm elections. This occurred despite the fact that the number of people eligible to vote [for the Senate] was smaller, due to the discrepancy in age-groups (voters for the Sejm had to be 21 years of age, while for the Senate they had to be 30 years old). This attests to the fact that the Jewish voters did not vote for the P.P.S. but rather for Dr. Lieberman.


Moshe Frostig


Democratic elections for the Sejm and the Senate were held on two more occasions, in 1928 and in 1930, in which Jewish parties ran. In the final elections, when the electoral system was changed and adapted to the dictatorship of the Pilsudski people, the Przemysl Jews did not take part as a national faction.

In the 1928 elections, the activists were unable to bring about a national unity. This time, three Jewish parties ran. These included a party comprised of the various Zionist factions, the Bund and the economic bloc. The Zionist party received 14,448 votes (6.8%), the economic bloc received 2,166 votes (1%) and the Bund received 322 votes. Together, the Jewish parties won 16,936 votes, which was more than in the 1922 elections (15, 841 votes), however the ratio of [Jewish] voters as compared to all voters decreased from 11.8% to 8.0%, because the Ukrainians did not boycott the elections this time. In these elections too, Dr. Lieberman "robbed" a significant number of Jewish votes and prevented the achievement of a Jewish mandate in the town.

The third time, in 1930, the failure in the Sejm elections was greater. The national party received only 9,900 votes (4.9%) and the Bund only 137. Pilsudski's dominant party used means of duress and terror on the Jewish population, particularly in the rural areas and the villages, and forced them to vote for the party. There was another reason for the failure: in a letter written by the town's national party representative, Matityahu Mieses, to Dr. Knopf on November 24, 1930, we read the following: "To our regret, Przemysl did not comply. Our town's feelings toward Dr. Lieberman have not changed; quite the contrary, they have increased as a result of his imprisonment in Berst DeLita13. Lieberman's supporters took to the streets with the slogan: we must save a Jewish man and release him from prison. Our explanations that Dr. Lieberman had been assured a seat with the national party and that the Jewish votes would only assist Pawlowski (the P.P.S. candidate), were of no use. And now the Jewish votes were wasted."

The difficult political situation and the desperation felt by the Jewish population in the country were so influential that there was no renewal of activity during the next elections.

[Page 200]

In the City

The replacement of the Austrian rule did not change the situation in town. Until 1928, at which time municipal elections were held, Dr. Yosef Scheinbach, the son of Moshe Scheinbach, served in the administration as an assessor. He was an assimilated Jew, with ties to the Polish Democratic National Party (Endecja). In an article in the weekly "Przemysl News" from May 31, 1925, we read the following: "The anti-Semitic weekly "Zimia Przemyska" attacks its Jewish supporter Dr. Scheinbach, who until now had been loyal to the issues of the Narodowa Demokracja,14 for having dared to vote against the party line in the matter of imposing an excise tax on alcoholic beverages, an act which was detrimental to the livelihood of the Jewish taverns." The Jewish members of council, Dr. Landau and Dr. Probstein, managed to revoke the edict.

In 1928 there was a complete change in the condition of the Jews in the town. That year, municipal elections were held, still according to the borough system. This time, a forth borough was added. The united Jewish national party entered into an agreement with the Pilsudski supporters' Polish party (B.B.W.R15) for the purposes of the elections, and was successful in all the boroughs. Out of 40 council members, 18 Jewish candidates were elected from the united bloc. Some of the Jewish organizations, such as "Poalei Tzion Smol"16 and the Bund, who ran together with the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S) as a united democratic bloc, were defeated. The united national bloc received 2,400 votes in the forth borough, the democratic bloc received only 350 votes, and the communists received 70 votes.

The national bloc candidates who were elected were: Dr. Zvi Reichman, Lipa Galler, Y. Amster, Wilhelm Haspel, Dr. Efraim Schutzman, Yosef Rinde, Eliyahu Schweber, Meir Honigwachs, (general Zionists), Dr. Mordechai Schattner, Haim Elias, Pipes, Elisha Stein ("The Unity"), Dr. Israel Steinhardt17 (revisionist), Moshe Katz, Hirsh Nussbaum (Mizrachi18), Matityahu Mieses, Maurycy Schatzker, Abraham Laufer (merchants). Dr. Zvi Reichman was elected as Assistant Mayor and Wilhelm Haspel as a member of the municipal administration (a "Lawnik19"). For the first time in the history of the town, a Jewish assistant mayor was elected. The representatives of the Jewish parties in the municipalities were elected as members in all the municipal institutions. Additional Jewish clerks were employed by the municipality. Funds were allocated to Jewish institutions in the city budget. For example, in the 1930/31 budget, which was raised for discussion by Assistant Mayor Dr. Reichman, the following allocations for Jewish institutions were approved: 4,000 zloty for the orphanage; 6.300 zloty for the old age home; 3,500 zloty for the Noar ha'Oved20 boarding school (Bursa); 1,000 zloty for the professional school for girls; 3,000 zloty for the Jewish hospital; 300 zloty for the public kitchen; 200 zloty for the society of two agoroth "Dwucentowka"; 200 zloty for the Bikur Holim21 society; 200 zloty for the Gmilat Hesed22; 2,000 zloty for the Jewishgimnazjum23; 500 zloty for the Jewish elementary school; 200 zloty for the "Samopomoc" mutual aid for the Jewish academic; 250 zloty forYuval24; 100 zloty for "Canzonetta25." During this period a large amount of money was also allocated for the construction of a professional school and boarding school for the Noar ha'Oved, and Jewish names were given to streets in the vicinity of the Great Synagogue, such as Peretz Street, Bialik Street and Sokolov Street.

The municipality retained this make-up until 1934 (6 years). It was dispersed by order of the Ministry of the Interior and was replaced by a commissioner appointed by the government. The official reason was that the administration was ineffective. The true reason, however, was the conflicts which were revealed among the members of the governing party, the "Sanacja," which was the name of the Pilsudski supporters' party.

In the next elections, which were conducted by the relative system, the number of Jewish council members was reduced. Among the new members elected to the council was Mr. Tafet, representing the united party. Mr. Haspel was elected as a "Lawnik" in the municipal administration. The office of Assistant Mayor was not held by a Jew this time. While the number of Jewish elected officials was reduced, there was an increase in the number of council members who represented [201] the anti-Semitic party, who took advantage of the municipal stage to issue anti-Jewish incitements, and several times blocked allocations for Jewish institutions from being approved in the budget. The anti-Semitic party's slogan in the elections was: maintaining the Polish character of the town. The Jewish elected officials had a difficult struggle in the municipality to defend the rights of the Jewish population, whose economic situation was deteriorating by the day. In an article in "Chwila," from July 8, 1937, the journalist Shamai Tennenbaum writes: "The main activity of the municipality was to issue poverty certificates for the Jewish population." During the period before the high holidays, there was much work to be done by the department of pawnage (lombard) of the municipal savings fund. Several hundred heads of Jewish households crowded in line to pawn their jewelry to obtain small amounts of money for the holiday necessities. Mr. Haspel, a member of the administration, and a Holocaust survivor, recalls that when the war broke out in 1939, there was chaos in the town. After heavy bombing from the air, the residents who had suffered damages sought the mayor's assistance, to help evacuate the casualties. His reply was: you have a Jewish "Lawnik," ask him.

[photograph of City Hall]

[Page 202]

In the Community

Since the establishment of the revolutionary Volksrat, the first community elections were held in 1924. The elections were held that year according to the old majority system. The make-up of the community did not change much as a result of the elections. Dr. Leib Landau remained in his position as head of the community (the denomination "Volksrat" was cancelled) and Mr. Haim Klagsbald was his assistant. The administration was comprised of M. Schatzker (merchants), D. Krintzes (Yad-Charutzim), Dr. A. Schutzman (Zionists), Dr. Eisner (unaffiliated), S. Babad (Aggudah). When the Polish currency (zloty) stabilized at the end of 1924, after the rapid inflation of the Polish mark26, when one-million mark became the smallest unit of currency, the community organized a tax collection (the simpel shteier). The tax was set at a sliding scale, beginning with a minimum of one zloty (a fifth of a dollar27) and ending with 300 zloty. The stabilization of the currency enabled regulated management of affairs according to a predetermined budget.

In 1928 the communities in the state of Poland were reorganized. According to the new law, the number of members in a community board was to be 20 and the number of members on the executive board was to be 10. The franchise was given to every Jewish man over 25 years of age, regardless of tax payment. The electoral system was relative.

In the 1928 elections, which were held according to the new system, the lack of unity among the Jewish public was drastically pronounced.

The following 13 lists of candidates were presented to the election committee:

The United Zionist party (with Haim Klagsbald and M. Schattner); the butchers' party (Hand); two unaffiliated parties (Dr. M. Schwartz, S. Grossman); the Bund (S. Krieger); Yad Charutzim (M. Estreicher); Aggudah (S. Babad); Poalei Zion (Dr. B. Teich); two Chassidim parties (Y. Rothman, Y. Rosenberg); and four individual parties. In the elections, which were held on July 8, 1928, the 20 seats were assigned as follows: Zionists 7; Yad Charutzim 4; Aggudah 4; Butchers 2; Poalei Zion 1; Individual parties 2.

Although the Zionist party was the largest, the Aggudah member Shmuel Babad was elected as the head of the community, as a result of a coalition between the smaller parties. The elected administration members were: M. Hacke, L. Galler (general Zionists), M. Katz (Mizrachi), Dr. B. Teich (Poalei Zion), Y. Strudler, M. Krintzes (Yad Charutzim), A. Diller (Aggudah), Y. Rosenberg (Chassidim). Although there was some degree of negative criticism of the community administration at the end of its four year term, we should take particular note of the effective efforts of the head of the community with regards to restoring the hospital. In 1930 the community budget was 364,000 zloty, out of which 44% went to clerical work; 20% to religious affairs; 4% to the hospital maintenance; 11% to social welfare; 19.2% to support for institutions; and only 0.8% to Eretz Yisrael funds andHachshara28; 1% to cultural needs.

The final elections before the destruction were held on September 1, 1936. This time the division was even greater. 20 parties with 760 candidates competed for 20 positions in the community, among which was one party which ran under the bizarre name "Objective Jews," lead by Y. Rothman. The number of people eligible to vote reached 5,000.

The results of the elections were similar to those of 1928. The Zionist party was again the largest in the community (7 mandates). Another collusion was made between the Aggudah and the minorities after the elections for the community administration, and as a result the Zionist party was noticeably deprived. An appeal was made against the administration elections. The appeal was accepted and the elections for the administration were revoked. In the interim, the community was ruled by a commissar appointed by the authorities, Dr. Rawicz an assimilated lawyer in good standing with the ruling party, the "Sanacja." His leadership lasted more than a year. Only at the end of 1937, after new elections were held by order of the Lvov district governor, was a new administration chosen in the following make-up:

Dr. Jacob Rebhan, who was chosen as the head of the community; Abraham Schechter, Eliyahu Schweber (general Zionists), [203] Jacob Katz (Mizrachi), Leizor Shechner, Jacob Mendel (Aggudah), Hirsh Rosenberg (Chassidim), Brish Schtremer (small merchants), Yosef Strudler (Bund, Yad Charutzim), Jacob Rothman (unaffiliated). And the following were elected to the final community board, before the destruction: Lipa Galler, Wilhelm Haspel, Shimon Morgenroth, Adolf Neubort, Haim Elias, Mgr. Pfeffer, Jacob Katz (united Zionists), Dr. Benjamin Teich (Poalei Zion), Yitzhack Kaufstein (unaffiliated Charedim29), Leon Nessenfeld (Yad Charutzim), Leon Krolik (butchers), Yosef Asher Horowitz, David Langsam (Aggudah), Hirsh Rosenberg, Mordechai Dornbusch (Belz Chassidim), Yosef Strudler (Bund), Izydor Salzberg (tailors), Dr. Brandstedter (combatants), Jacob Rothman (unaffiliated), Herman Feuer30 (small merchants).

The term of office of this administration was the most difficult in the history of Przemysl Jewry. The anti-Semitic edicts with regards to kosher slaughtering, and the systematic dispossession of Jews from positions in the economy, caused an impoverishment of the Jewish population and a reduction of the community's income.

Only a small portion of the Jewish residents were required to pay the community tax. The vast majority of taxpayers were taxed at 50 zloty a year. Only three citizens in the town were assessed at 600 zloty a year. The deficit was increasing from day to day.

The community was in the midst of a bitter conflict with regards to the meager allocation of kosher meat to the town. In 1938, 30,000 kilograms of kosher meat were allocated for a period of three months, to a population of 20,000 Jews.


Dr. Jacob Rebhan,
The last Head of the Jewish Community


The community organized special training for the porgers to enable use of the rear part of the meat, which was only made kosher by porging. There was an increase in underground kosher slaughtering, which engendered law suits and the imposition of heavy fines. In order to eradicate begging and mendicancy, the community organized a weekly distribution of support to the needy, with the help of 200 affluent families which operated to eradicate the wave of door to door beggars. Among the community's constructive activities, we should especially note the organization of a committee for imparting productive professions to the Jewish youth, and education towards labor values. In the vicinity of the town, an agricultural farm was established, where dozens of youths were given training, among whom were 30 academics. The cultural committee, lead by Y. Haspel, was also very active. In 1936 a special committee was established, lead by H. Klagsbald, to renew and renovate the Great Synagogue.


A short handwritten letter in Yiddish, written on the letterhead of the Jewish Community in Przemysl, dated June 15, 1939

[Page 204]

A copy of a notice to the community about the distribution of matzah as follows. Translated from the Yiddish by Mike Finlay


We announce that matzahs for Pesach (moes-khitim 'alms for providing the poor with their Passover needs') will be distributed over 4 days according to the arrangements indicated below:
Sunday 26.3 ABCDEF 
Monday 27.3 GHIJKL 
Tuesday [2]8.3 MNOPRS 
Wednesday 29.3 TUVWZ 

Each Day from 9 - 1 and from 4 - 6 in the afternoon.
We also advise that anyone not presenting himself by Wednesday 29th of this month will lose their right to free matzah.
The Community Welfare Office

Przemysl 23 March 1939

[Page 205]

The community budget for 1938/39 reached 295,000 zloty and the income from taxation only reached 55,000 zloty. In the report given by the administration of the Przemysl Landsmanschaft in the United States from June 15, 1939, with regards to the aid money sent by the organizations, it was reported that 7,000 people, meaning 36% of the Jewish population in town, enjoyed Passover alms for the poor, which was a clear indication of the impoverishment of the community which had a glorious tradition, hundreds of years old.

Such was the state of the community at the beginning of the summer of 1939, a fatal year for the Jews of Europe. 1939 brought the beginning of the end for this ancient and respectable community.

* * *


The Rabbinical Court[ii]

Since the death of Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes, no substitute was appointed until the Holocaust. Only a rabbinical court operated in town, under the leadership of Rabbi Zvi (Hershele) Glazer31, whose members were Rabbi Yehoshua Wiederkehr, Rabbi Shlomo Hister and Rabbi Abraham Babad.

  1. Rabbi Hershele was the son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Miesels, who was himself a member of the Przemysl rabbinical court. Rabbi Glazer, who was originally from congressional Poland, was a student of the Gaon32 Rabbi Haim Eliezer Wachs, author of "Nefesh Chaya,"33 a book of questions and answers, and a member of the rabbinate in Kalisz during the years 1862-1881. According to authorized information, Rabbi Glazer was "proficient in all the treasures of the Torah." As the head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Glazer represented the rabbinate opposite the Polish authorities and, in this capacity, officially participated in all the national ceremonies.


Rabbi Glazer at a parade

[Page 206]

  1. Rabbi Yehoshua Wiederkehr, der neistater, the rabbi from Nowe Miasto was a student of thegaonim34 Rabbi Shalom Schwadron of Brzerzyn35, author of the Maharsham36 Responsa, and Rabbi Meir Arik Miazlowitz, author of the book "Menateach Petim." He was described by Rabbi R. Alter Mayer, who knew him for many years from the courts of theAdmorim37 in Czortkow, as being quick to learn and sharp-witted, one who did not miss a thing.  At first the rabbi was engaged in "trade and property," and only after some years did he agree to take a seat in the rabbinate in Nowe Miasto (near Przemysl), from whence he moved to the Przemysl rabbinical court in 1923. The most well known of his books is "The Maharav's38 New Interpretations of shulchan aruch Or Chaim" which made a great impression in the scholarly world.


Rabbi Y. Wiederkehr

  1. Rabbi Shlomo Hister, son of theshochet39 Michael Hister, was born in Przemysl. He was a kind man, well liked by his fellow beings, and was a student of Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes and Rabbi Moshe Miesels. He served as a judge in the religious court.
  1. Judge Abraham Babad, grandson of the rabbi from Zamosc. He acquired his fame as an expert on questions of permissions and prohibitions, and was written of in another article in this book.[iii] The three previously mentioned rabbis each directed a small yeshiva, presented daily classes on the Talmud and thepsukim40 to young men, and taught many students. Some of them are in Israel today.

Original Footnotes

  1. It should be noted that the defense headquarters also took care of the Jews in the surrounding areas of Przemysl. The Goldstein brothers, together with Mark, were appointed by the headquarters to organize the defense in the village of Biznakowice [this place is spelled in the original "bet, yod, zayin, nun, kof, vav, vet, yod, tsadi, hey". This is probably a spelling error - there is no town of Bizankowice in the Przemysl area. This probably refers to the town of Nizankowice (ed.)], where the situation was dire. Back
  2. The information was provided by the rabbi of Yad Eliyahu neighborhood, A. Weinberg of blessed memory, and by Moshe Tuchman. Back
  3. See the article about the holy vessels during the last period of the Austrian rule. Back

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. According to Waclaw Wierzbieniec's book, Spolecznosc zydowskaPrzemysla w latach 1918-1939, p. 138, Agudat Herzl was an organization comprised of [university] and senior gimnazjum students, who were Zionists (ed.). Back
  2. This probably refers to the Beit HaKehilah building, which no longer exists. A modern map of Przemysl shows a park in the area where this building was located. A sketchy map in the Przemysl Yizkor book shows the Beit HaKehilah building at Berkowicza street, between Jagiellonska and Wodna, where Jagiellonska turns south (ed.) Back
  3. Hauptmann - German for captain (ed.) Back
  4. An idiomatic expression to describe a difficult situation. An equivalent of "between a rock and a hard place" in English (ed.) Back
  5. Polish for pass, permit (ed.) Back
  6. In Hebrew "hey, yod, tsadi, lamed, vav, bet/vet, kof, hey" (ed.) Back
  7. This probably refers to Budy Male and Budy Wielkie, which are areas in the northern part of Przemysl (ed.) Back
  8. Polish for lieutenant (ed.) Back
  9. The Hebrew text is somewhat contradictory here, with regards to the location of the headquarters. A possible explanation is that the "kahal" was actually located in the Nussbaum residence (tr.). Back
  10. Yiddish expression meaning "idlers" or "loafers."(tr.) Back
  11. Refers to general Jozef Haller and his army. Members of the Haller Army were infamous for their anti-Semitic sentiments.(ed.) Back
  12. Waclaw Wierzbieniec, Spolecznosc zydowskaPrzemysla w latach 1918-1939, (p.158) calls this: " Komitet Zjednoczonych Stronnictw Narodowo-Zydowskich" which could be translated as "Committee of United National Jewish Parties. The phraze used in the original Hebrew text literally means "the unified national list/party". (ed. & tr.) Back
  13. Brest Litovsk, or Brzesc (Brzesc nad Bugiem). A town now in Belarus. Herman Lieberman, together with other Polish parliamentarians, was imprisoned in the Brest fortress in 1930. These members of Parliament were in opposition to the sanacja regime and were accused of treason. (ed.) Back
  14. Polish for "National Democracy" - the right-wing Polish party, usually referred to as Endecja. (tr.)  Back
  15. "Bezpartyjny Blok Wspolpracy z Rzadem (the "Non-Party Bloc for Cooperation with the Government"), founded in 1927 by Pilsudski's top advisor. BBWR was a political organization comprised of people and organizations supporting J. Pilsudski and the sanacja regime (tr. & ed.)  Back
  16. The Leftist Zionist Workers' party. (tr.) Back
  17. This probably refers to Dr. Aleksander Steinhardt, whose Hebrew name was Israel (ed.) Back
  18. An international religious Zionist movement, founded in Vilna in 1902.(tr.) Back
  19. Lawnik -Polish for councilman, 1919-1939. (ed.) Back
  20. "The Working Youth" - a Zionist youth movement.(tr.) Back
  21. Literally, "visiting the sick" - societies to help invalids and their families.(tr.) Back
  22. Charitable society.(tr.) Back
  23. Gimnazjum - Polish for high school (ed.) Back
  24. According to Waclaw Wierzbieniec's book, p. 245, Yuval was a Jewish Drama and Music Society (ed.) Back
  25. Canzonetta was a Club of Mandolin players. (ed.) Back
  26. In the original: mark haPolani (ed.) Back
  27. Please note that this conversion rate was relevant at the time the text was written, and is no longer applicable. (tr.) Back
  28. Agricultural training farms which were set up throughout Europe, to prepare the youth for their future life and work on a kibbutz.(tr.) Back
  29. Ultra-orthodox.(tr.) Back
  30. Feuer, spelled "fe, vav, yod, ayin, resh". Possible alternative spelling: Foyer (ed.) Back
  31. Glazer, spelled "gimel, lamed, zayin, resh". This name has also been transliterated in the Yizkor Book as Glazer but in other sources, it appears as Glaser. (ed.) Back
  32. 32. Literally: "genius" (Hebrew). A title given to the rabbinical leader of a community, or an outstanding Torah scholar.(tr.) Back
  33. Literally: "a living soul" (Hebrew).(tr.) Back
  34. Plural of gaon (see n.32) (tr.) Back
  35. Spelled "bet/vet, resh, zayin, apostrophe, zayin, apostrophe, nun" (ed.) Back
  36. Acronym for moreinu harav rabi shlaom mordechai - the full title of Rabbi Schwadron.(tr.) Back
  37. Plural of the acronym "admor," which stands for adoneinu moreinu verabeinu - "our master and teacher" - a title given to Chassidic rabbis. (tr.) Back
  38. Acronym for moreinu harav rabi yehoshua viderker - the full title of Rabbi Wiederkehr.(tr.) Back
  39. Kosher slaughterer.(tr.) Back
  40. Scriptures.(tr.) Back

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