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[Page 405]


Translated by Jerrold Landau


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The City on the River San

by Dr. Yaakov Zinneman[1]


Uncaptioned. Przemyśl on the San


Przemyśl was a city picturesquely situated on both banks of the San River. The San gave the city its unique color, without which one could not recognize the Przemyśl landscape. For the most part, the waters of the San flowed calmly and in a dignified, almost idyllic, fashion. Even children could bathe in the river in such a normal state. However, there were cases when massive streams of water flowed in from near and far cities. They stormed mercilessly, with a cruel, overpowering might, frothing turbulently with its wild waves. All of a sudden, the idyllic San grew tenfold and turned into a stormy sea, casting fear. With terrified eyes and with dramatic tension, the masses of people in the city stood on the long, metal bridge and stared with fear as the waves of the crazed river carried farmers' huts, broken household implements, stalls, and at times even cattle that were suddenly caught up in the flood and uprooted.

The stormy river would calm down, and the water would again flow calmly and idyllically, as if nothing had happened a few days earlier. On occasion, people tried to fortify the banks of the San utilizing modern engineering techniques. They attempted to regulate the flow of the river. However, this did not help a great deal during the days of its wildness.

There are ruins of an old castle top the tall, large mountain that was surrounded with a forest and a park. That castle with its large, beautiful

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park, which the children and adults of Przemyśl called by its Polish name “zamek” (Schloss in Yiddish), was, aside from the San, the second prominent landmark of the Przemyśl landscape. The park around the castle was a fine blend of forests and gardens. The wide avenues were beautifully formed, covered with stone and sand, adorned with aromatic flowers and colored plants. There were ample, comfortable benches all over, but a few steps away, one could become lost in the forest. As has been stated, the park occupied a significant area, and was literally a Garden of Eden for the Przemyśl residents on account of its natural splendor and mysterious breadth.

A long, beautiful avenue ran from one side of the castle and its park to the city, extending to the riverbank. During the Austrian era, the avenue bore the name of the old Kaiser Franz Josef, and after 1918 – the name of Josef Pilsudski. After the Second World War, it was given the name “Wybrzeże Manifestu Lipcowego” (“Bank of the July Manifesto”).

On the second, Zasanie, side of the San River, half–wild plots of land lay along the banks in their primitive state, covered with stones and sand, and having few houses.


Part of the Market Square “Rynek


The Ring Platz spread out in the middle of the city near the San. The Magistrat [Town Hall] building stood there. The old “Ratusz” [Rathaus – town hall] was built by the Austrians

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shortly after their occupation of Galicia[2]. Rows of old, solid houses stood around the Ring Platz. Two streets, Franciszkańska Street and Kazimierzowska Street, spread out from the Ring Platz. Almost only Jewish businesses and houses were concentrated along those streets. They ran almost parallel until they joined before the “Gate,”[3] where there was noisy motion, for five important roadways joined together there. Nature held small but strong positions even on the side streets off the main arteries, giving the old, historical city a sort of village appearance, which drew its sustenance from the thick fields and forests that surrounded the city from all sides – turning it into an island in the ocean of fields, forests, orchards, gardens, mountains and valleys. The waters of the San meandered in the middle of that ocean, testifying to the eternal connection between city and village, between man and nature.


The old clock tower, 1949


Editor's Footnotes

  1. The author was using the name Jakub Zineman when he was living in Poland and published his books in Poland under this name – ed. Back
  2. In fact the Austrians dismantled the old town hall built in 16th century. The present Town Hall is located in a house built in Austrian times – ed. Back
  3. Plac na Bramie – ed. Back

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History of the Jews of Przemyśl

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Pre–Galician Era – Until the Year 1772



For how long did the city of Przemyśl exist? In 1961, Przemyśl celebrated its own millennium of existence along with the millennium of Poland[a]. For both – the country and the city – 1961 was not considered the millennium of the beginning, but rather of the latest year from its founding. Both were older, seemingly much older[1].

How old is the Jewish settlement of Przemyśl? Until 1927 we believed, in accordance with Professor Schorr's book “The Jews of Przemyśl” (1903), that the beginning of the Jewish settlement of Przemyśl was in the year 1542. However, since the year of 1927, we know that the Jewish settlement in the city was a bit older than… 400 years prior to that. When Professor Schorr completed his book in 1902, the information about the Przemyśl response to Rabbi Yehuda HaCohen of Mainz in German Rhineland was still unknown. It first became known in 1927. Other old city documents from Przemyśl were first published in 1927.

The aforementioned responsa can only come from the period between 1020 and 1040, for it was only during that time that Rabbi Yehuda was active as a rabbinical decisor and member of the rabbinical court of Mainz. The question was sent from Przemyśl and requested an answer to the question as to whether a young widow who died a month after her wedding received chalitza[2], and then there was a suspicion that the husband's only brother was still alive? In the question, it was noted that the two brothers were in Przemyśl as children when the city was taken over. As is known, the city was taken over twice during the period from 1020–1040: once in the year 1018 by the Polish King Bolesław Chrobry, and a second time in 1030 by the Ruthenian count Jaroslaw the Wise. Therefore, it is estimated that the earliest year that the question could have been sent was a few years after 1018. The responsa led to a discussion amongst Jewish rabbinical decisors and historians, for the city was referred to by the name Prymut in the State of Poland. However, the scholars have almost unanimously identified Prymut as Przemyśl. Even Polish Royal historiography has accepted this[3].

From the documents of the city of Przemyśl that were published in the year 1927 in “Neien Zurik” dating from 1402, we can see that during the course of the following 140 years (1402 – 1542), Jews lived in Przemyśl, and had their own quarter and synagogue not far from the present–day Franciszkańska Street. They sold merchandise to the city residents. They lent money and conducted business not on a large scale, but in a stable fashion. The year 1402 is only the first date

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from the published documents, for earlier documents were simply not preserved. The city archives is missing earlier documents, and there are very few from 440 years ago,



The year 1402 is not long after the time of King Kazimierz the Great (1340–1370). In the middle of the 14th century, the king began the process of settling Red Russia (some as a heir, and some as an occupier). He started from Przemyśl. Thus it became possible for the Jews of Poland to settle in Red Russia, and everyone could settle in Przemyśl. In the year 1364 and again in 1367, the king granted two privileges for Jewish itinerants, especially from Western Europe who survived the terror of the Black Death, to settle in Poland and Red Russia. Thus, after taking over Przemyśl, a Jewish community was able to be set up there, which had not existed previously. However, in fact there was already a Jewish community in Przemyśl when Kazimierz took over the city. Professor Bałaban confirmed this explicitly in his work “Kiedy i skąd przybyli Żydzi do Polski?”[4]. He states that Przemyśl and Lemberg [Lwów–ed.] were the only Jewish communities that the king found in Red Russia. We do not know a great deal about that era of Mazimiez noblemen, aside possibly from the Przemyśl folk tradition. A Jewish synagogue was certainly built in the first century of the 6000s (according to the Jewish calendar) – that means between 1241 and 1340. (Incidentally, build does not necessarily mean on the place where it later stood).

From this responsa from the 11th century, we know in any case that there was a Jewish settlement in Przemyśl at that time – for that would have been the only situation in which they would have searched for a responsa from a rabbinic decisor who lived at that time. A settlement implies: a synagogue, a mikva [ritual bath], and a cemetery. A “community” would possibly also imply formal granting of rights from the country ruler.

However, specifically regarding Przemyśl, we read in the privilege of Zygmunt August from the year 1559 that the Jews of Przemyśl had lived there from old times (noted as “Ab antique”) without a royal privilege. In other words, the main thing was not the privilege. It was also possible to have a settlement without a privilege.

We must note: Jewish refugees from Asia and the Balkans arrived in the southeast and south of Eastern Europe during the first millennium of the Christian era. Thus, an inflow of Jewish immigration to Red Russia was not lacking when Przemyśl was severed from Poland (1087–1350).

Since there is not a broad historical discourse from the later times, beginning from 1542, we must rely on the book by Professor Schorr “The Jews of Przemyśl,” which was published in 1903, as well as other historical works.



I wish to note here three important royal ordinances, cited in Professor Schorr's book of 1903:

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  1. The aforementioned privilege from King Zygmunt August from 1559, which granted the Jews of Przemyśl the constant guaranteed right to live in the city, especially on the Jewish Street, where they had lived from very old times. They were granted the rights to settle there and to bequeath their houses that they purchased there to their heirs. Therefore, it was assured that the former rights are no longer valid, but only the ones from the royal jurisdiction stating that they have the same rights as the gentile citizens to purchase and sell merchandise.
  2. The charter of King Stefan Batory (1576), which regulated the free elections of the rabbi, and assured the representation of the Jewish administrators in district court cases against Jews. The privilege of King Władysław the Fourth (1638) stating that the Przemyśl community and the Przemyśl rabbi are the two agencies of the aforementioned communities in the district of Przemyśl and the local rabbinical courts. Without the agreement of the two agencies, the aforementioned communities cannot have synagogues and cemeteries, and are obligated to pay various communal fees to Przemyśl. This is how the large rabbinic district of Przemyśl began.
On account of the privilege of 1559, which assured the Jews equal rights to buy and sell merchandise, the Christian merchants of Przemyśl and their guilds exhibited great opposition and began to conduct a battle against the rights of their Jewish competitors. After a fierce struggle, the guilds of the city again began to fight with the Jewish tradesman who were unable to belong to the guilds due to their explicit Christian religious character. This was a struggle with protests and court cases in the royal courts; of ambushes and confiscation of products and merchandise; from time to time – also attacks on the sales stalls and work places, houses, and even synagogues, ending with destruction and bloody fights. Both sides suffered significant losses of material, energy, money, interventions, and also – blood.

The royal court reacted in various ways: at times siding with the Jews and other times siding with the gentiles. In 1645, after many years of struggle, both sides both came to a general written agreement that regulated the rights of both sides in all areas of the economy. The Jewish side did not gain a great deal from the agreement, and they had to pay for the little that they did gain. According to Schorr, it was difficult to uphold most of the agreed–upon duties. It was not long before new disputes, protests, and court cases broke out due to failure to keep the agreement. The old war flared up again and continued until the year 1772, when Przemyśl became a small, poor city.

At the end of the battle that lasted for over 200 years, the Christian shops in Przemyśl disappeared. The Christian guilds maintained their legal superiority in the hand–working trade, but the Jews took over most areas of trade. In truth, the Jews were generally very poor and their numbers in the city had fallen greatly. In the year 1765, Przemyśl, excluding its suburbs, had less than 1,000 Jewish residents. Therefore, the number of Jews who received handouts increased.

The situation of the residents of the neighboring towns was no better. Some of them emigrated.

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Because of this, many houses of the wealthy people, in which tenants had lived, remained empty. Therefore, in 1757, the city council declared that Jews must rent the empty houses in the towns, outside the Jewish quarter, and that they even must purchase Christian houses.

This all took place because the general situation of the country, which was in a state of constant decline from the middle of the 17th century. The downward spiral began with the Cossack uprising in 1648. The war between the Swedes and the Russians followed, and later with the Turks, etc. In 1648, Przemyśl was saved from the hands of the Cossacks, and was not pillaged. In 1655 and 1656, the city withstood two sieges by the Swedes and their allies. The Jews of Przemyśl did not fight against the Swedes, but their economic life began to spiral downward. This continued until the partition of Poland.



I now wish to turn to the issue of Jewish autonomy and the Jewish status in Przemyśl. When the Polish regime granted the Jews the rights to determine their own internal matters in 1580, their sole intention was for to cash in on the Jewish payments to the regime, primarily the head tax. In times of war they would also profit from the other payments that Jews had not paid previously. The organs of the autonomy were

  1. The Council of the Four Lands (in Poland only, and not in Lithuania), (also known as the Generalność), with representatives from Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Wolhyn, and Red Russia as the Third Agency.
  2. The committees of the four districts, which, after time, grew to 12 (from about 1680, the district of Przemyśl was among the, set up after it broke off from western Red Russia). This was the Second Agency.
  3. The independent communities, numbering 33 in the royal district of Przemyśl (from Rzeszów in the northwest to Stryj in the southeast) in 1764. This is the First Agency.
The Generalność was tasked with the duty of collection of all the head tax from the regime, and divided it up among the districts. The district committees then divided up among the affiliated communities, which further divided it up among the individuals and “przykahalkas”. The three agencies were responsible to the regime for collecting the taxes.

Later, when the taxes rose due to the wars, the livelihoods of the Jews declined, and the communities were not able to free themselves from their tax obligations – the debts of unpaid taxes to the regime increased, and the debts of the communities, along with the loans to cover the prior loans, increased from year to year. Most of the communities, including Przemyśl, were effectively bankrupt. This was one of the reasons that the Sejm decided to repeal the Jewish autonomy and its tax collecting agency (including that of the communities) in 1764.

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Here is not the place for a long discussion about the Jewish spiritual life in Przemyśl during the Polish times. In the famous chronicle of the years 5408–5498 (1648–1649)[5], “Yayin Metzula”, the following is written regarding Przemyśl: “It is a large city of scholars and scribes.” The city gave forth a large number of important scribes. Its rabbis included famous Torah giants. During the Polish era, its Yeshiva educated many students. Professor Schorr mentions two Jewish physicians with foreign education, especially the head of the community Marcus Najger in the 16th century, and Dr. Winkler, the refugee from Vienna after the expulsion of 1670.


Ancient emblem of Przemyśl County


Coordinator's Footnote

  1. Przemyśl celebrated its own millennium in 1961 indeed, but the millennium of Poland was celebrated in 1966. The introduction of Christianity to Poland (“baptism of Poland”) in 966 C.E. is symbolically linked to the founding of the Polish state. Back

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here: See the article “Life of Przemyśl Jews in the Past”, page 15 and onward. Back
  2. A ceremony of release from Levirate marriage. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halizah Back
  3. There is a footnote in the text here: See the aforementioned article. Back
  4. There is a footnote in the text here: published in the first volume, page 17 of “Miesięcznik Żydowski”, Łodz, 1931. Back
  5. The years of the Chmielnicki uprising. Back

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Anti–Jewish Edicts of the
Bishop of Przemyśl in the year 1743

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On July 19, 1743, the Bishop of Przemyśl, Wacław Sierakowski, issued a decree that greatly restricted the freedom of the local Jews and made them dependent on the whims of the church ecclesiastical and administrative authorities. That edict was issued during a particularly difficult period for Polish Jewry, who were being accused of murdering Christian children for ritual purposes, selling stolen church objects, etc.

The following are several of the things forbidden by that edict:

  1. At the time of the procession during the day of Boże Ciało [Corpus Christi– ed.] or when the priest is going to visit a sick person, the Jews must not appear on the streets. They must lock their doors, gates, and windows. If this cannot be carried out, they must remove their hats from their heads. The Jews are also forbidden to open their businesses on Christian holidays.
  2. The Jews are forbidden to employ a Christian guard to guard their cemeteries and gravestones.
  3. The Jews are forbidden to work on Sunday and Christian holidays for a 24–hour period – from midnight to midnight.
  4. Jews must not employ Christian help for trades, or Christian servants for workplaces. A monetary fine for Jews and lashes for Christians will be administered for transgressing this ban. They will also lose their workplace.
  5. For insulting a Christian, even with words, the penalty will be a monetary penalty, lashes, or imprisonment.
  6. It is forbidden for the Jews to conduct weddings on the Polish fast days. On regular days, it was forbidden to make a procession for the bride and groom with lights, torches, music, and song, even through the Jewish streets. The Christians are forbidden to talk to the Jews, to eat and drink with them, and to attend Jewish weddings to dance there.
  7. The Jews are forbidden to use Christians to move the burning candles in the synagogue on Yom Kippur or other holidays. The penalty for violating this ordinance will be a monetary fine on the community and a month imprisonment for the rabbi. The motive for such penalties was that if the Jews use the Christians for such cases, they will quickly become their slaves.
  8. The Jews are forbidden to hire a Christian on Purim to appear as Haman, and to lead him around with festive voices and insults, thereby enabling the Jews to take their revenge on Haman. It is also forbidden for Jewish lads to dress up as Turks, to bring torches and straw for the synagogue, to carry burning candles on the street, to beat on small drums, and in general to make noise. The penalty will not be against the transgressor, but rather against the rabbi, who will be imprisoned.
  9. The Jews are forbidden to conduct ceremonies that might resemble church ceremonies in the slightest way – especially sitting in the synagogue with a silver crown like the bishop. Transgressing this will result in a very heavy fine.

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The Austrian Period (1772–1914)

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau



Already 150 years before the transfer of the government to Austria, Przemyśl was considered as one of the 20 most important cities in the large country of Poland. This was despite the fact that in the census of 1765, seven years before the Austrian era, the Jewish population was not even 1,000, and less than 1,100 including the suburbs. The communal debt reached the sum of 382,000 Polish zloty. In truth, the entire country was greatly impoverished during that era.

The transfer from the Diaspora of Poland to the Diaspora of Austria did not bring an improvement in the situation of the Jews during the first 95 years. Rather, it got even worse in many directions, even during the times where fresh winds blew from the west after the French Revolution, and new hopes were awakened within the Jews. During the time of the reign of Kaiser Franz Josef II (1782–1790), Austria was also going through a process of “lightened Absolutism.– They related to Jews of Galicia with scorn, and often also with hatred. They did not even grant them the privilege of being judged in their own courts in cases of one Jew against another, other than in purely religious matters. In mixed cases, where a gentile accused a Jew, it was even more difficult than it was in the Polish times. Poland did not attempt to mix into the traditional education of the Jewish children. Austria, on the other hand, wanted to demand that, starting in 1787, the Jews of Galicia send their children until the age of 13 to schools with German as the teaching language, and with a very primitive curriculum. In truth, the student body of those schools was entirely Jewish, as were the teachers, but the teachers had dubious moral and cultural qualifications. For the most part, they were brought in from the western provinces. Austria did this despite the explicit opposition of almost the entire Jewish population in the country, and even went through the trouble of persecuting the opponents for almost 20 years.

The Austrian regime first understood in 1806 that it did not help – and the entire school network of almost 100 schools was abandoned.



In the year 1787, Przemyśl itself had one such school in the city itself, and another six in the greater district of Przemyśl (one of the 17 districts of the entire country). In the final school year, it was said that the schools in the district of Przemyśl had 1,200 students (is this accurate?). This was the highest number in the entire country. It is hard to believe that “round– number, for 76 years later, in 1882, when there were already many Jews with worldly education in Przemyśl, including a significant number of lawyers and doctors, and compulsory education existed in society, no more than 18% of the Jewish students of obligatory school age studied in the public schools. (90% of the Roman Catholic children studied in these schools.)

The creation of the entire school network ended by obligating the Jewish parents

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to send their children to the public schools. It seems that the regime that this would be more effective than the Jewish school network that they liquidated. Therefore, they threatened that they would not permit weddings if the bride and groom could not prove that they went to a public school or be given an examination before a commission.



I must note here that, soon after beginning of Austrian rule, the regime decided to restrict the rights for Jewish weddings. A law was passed in 1773 stating that every Jewish wedding must receive a certification from the government, with payment of a special fee in accordance with the means of the groom's father, in order to affirm its validity. The fee grew with the wedding of each additional child. For example, a merchant had to pay 30 guilder for the first son, 60 guilder for the second son, and 120 guilder for the third son. Even though according to Jewish law, a Jew needs no more than a ring and the recitation of the phrase “harei at[1] in the presence of two witnesses even in the absence of a rabbi, the regime dictated that a wedding is only legally valid when a rabbi is present, when the marriage is recorded in the official registry, and when one is given an official certificate with the rabbi's signature.

Therefore, the majority of the Jews of Galicia got married “illegally– (earlier due to the “schools–, and later due to military service) …

The Austrian regime was not satisfied with merely designating the rabbi as the deciding factor of Jewish marriages. It also wanted to legislate that only certain special people (in accordance with their definition, of course), would be chosen as rabbis. Already in the 18th century, the country was divided into 18 administrative districts (of which 17 remained). Every district was the equivalent of 4–5 Starostowas of later times. It was legislated that the entire country must only have rabbis who were certified by the regime, and there will be only one rabbi for a district (a district rabbi). Thus, hundreds of rabbis who were already functioning in the country disappeared. For the larger districts, they had to make a concession and designate so called “synagogue speakers–, or later “religious advisors–. Thus, for example, in the district of Przemyśl, which had a population of 10,000 in 1789 and between 15,000 and 16,500 during the years 1821–1827, there were also “religious advisors– in addition to the district rabbi: Jaworów (210), Husaków (120), Krakowiec (100), Sieniawa (55), Mościska (40). The numbers in parentheses are the annual salary in guilders. The district rabbi of Przemyśl received 350 guilder a year. All the salaries were paid by the community rather than the regime. The “religious advisors– did not have the rights to conduct marriages.



The Austrian regime imposed strong legal restrictions on the Jewish sources of livelihood, especially on business and production. According to independent sources, a third of them were eliminated. The villages Jews were especially affected – therefore there was a large inflow of Jews from the villages to the cities. Przemyśl, whose Jewish population was less than 1,000 according to the census of 1765, and 1,050 including the suburbs,

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had 1,508 Jews in 1775. In fact, that number dropped to 1,426 in 1798. Later, in the year 1830, the number grew to 2,298, and went all the way up to 4,180 in the year 1850. In that year, the Jews comprised 41.2% of the population.

One of the difficulties that especially affected the Jews of Galicia was the special Jewish taxes imposed by the regime. They were high in amount, and offensive to every Jew. There was also a head tax imposed upon the Jews in the Polish times, however it did not make the Jews feel that they were living under the good graces of the regime. That tax increased toward the end of the Polish era. The Austrians doubled it again, and changed its name to the tolerance tax. In other words: actually, we should not let you be here, but we are doing you a good deed – therefore you must pay. And the Jews had lived there for hundreds of years, well before Queen Maria Teresa…



There were two other taxes: the candle tax and a tax on kosher meat. In actuality, these were payments for… religion. The candle tax was leased out to a Jew, who knew how to suck the blood from poor Jews. This was a payment for the candles that a family lit on the Sabbath, festivals, and weddings. The controllers disrupted far more than one Jewish celebration on account of the tax. Voting rights for communal elections were also determined by whether the head of the family had paid the designated amount of candle tax. In Przemyśl, for example, one needed to purchase seven candles for the Sabbath in order to have voting rights in the community.

Throughout the decades, the Jews struggled against the two taxes. The problem of those taxes was still being discussed in 1848, the year of the Austrian Revolution.



In those days, the Jewish communities of Galicia were comprised of Hassidim, Misnagdim [opponents to Hassidism], Maskilim and their opponents, all struggling with each other. It was known that the son of the local rabbi, the greatly beloved Admor of the first generation, Reb Levi Yitzchak, later known as the Berditchever, came from the village of Husaków near Przemyśl. We do not know if he ever attempted to disseminate his Hassidism in Przemyśl, and how he was accepted by the great rabbis of the city. The great Admor Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (Yismach Moshe) was a native of Przemyśl. The father of the later famous Admor and rabbinical decisor, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam (Divrei Chaim) of Sanz (Nowy Sącz), was a judge in the rabbinical court of Przemyśl. His son, the later rabbinical decisor, studied in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Shmuel–Zeinwil Heller. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Szapira (Bnei Yisachar), the founder of the Dynów dynasty of Admorim, the most important in central Galicia, came from a town near Przemyśl. It is obvious that the Hassidic way must have had firm roots in the city. A police report in Przemyśl, prepared at the request of the land authority in Lemberg at the end of the 1820s, testifies to the power of the Hassidic camp in the city, consisting of 100 heads of families[2].

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There were 2,298 Jews in Przemyśl in 1830. It is estimated that approximately on quarter of the Jews in the city were Hasidim. We also known that from the time of Rabbi Yosef Asher Erenberg until Rabbi Yitzchak Szmelkes (“Beit Yitzchak–) the rabbinic seat of Przemyśl was occupied solely by Torah luminaries – however not one of them was noted as being a supporter of Hassidim. In truth, it is also not stated that any of them conducted a battle against the Hassidim. It seems that they all did what they could to prevent a split in the Przemyśl community between the two disputing camps of Misnagdim and Hassidim. We also do not hear of a war between those rabbis against the Maskilim.


Przemyśl in 1834

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A revolution against Absolutism took place in Vienna in 1848. This revolution also spread to Galicia, including Przemyśl. The Kaiser agreed to elections for a legislative parliament. Several Jews were elected, including a western Jew who fought against the shame of religious taxes. However, the reaction dissipated shortly thereafter, and the only thing that remained was the repeal of the equality for the Jews.

The years of 1849–1859 were again years of Absolutism. First there was the defeat of Austria in the war with France and Sardinia in 1859, as well as the economic crisis, forcing the regime to decree constitutional rights and autonomy for the lands, including Galicia, and a parliament with limited competition. After a further defeat in the war against Prussia and Italy in 1866, the full constitution was finally declared at the end of 1867. However, the legal right to vote remained dependent on the payment of a certain tax. In 1868, the Jews received equal rights, at least in accordance with the written law. Thus, the Jews received the rights to become involved in the open professions and offices, to be taken as apprentices in the open schools, and even to be appointed as teachers in the universities.

In actuality, this was not always realized, especially in Galicia. In Przemyśl, for example, there was a government seminary for female teachers. Every year, it conducted entrance examinations. However, in its final year, 1914, only one Jewish girl was accepted to the class.

There was also no Jewish commissioner or Starosta in all of Galicia, but there was a high–level procurator in the police. Nevertheless, a path was opened to fight for various positions in livelihood.

Regarding communal autotomy, voting rights in the 30 largest cities, Przemyśl among them, was dependent on education and payment of taxes. The voters were composed of three curias, each of which had the right to elect six council members and their three representatives. After them, in most of the midsized cities, Jews were able to elect six council members in 2 curias, as well as gentiles in one. They reached a compromise that Jews and Christians can together elect all the council men in the three curias, half and half. The city council (magistrate) was comprised of six people: the mayor, the deputy, and four assessors. Only 1/3 of the six were elected by Jews. 2/3 were elected by gentiles. There were two Jewish assessors in Przemyśl. In other cities with a greater percentage of Jewish residents, a Jewish vice mayor and one Jewish assessor were elected.

Regarding the community, voting rights for its leadership council were dependent on the payment of taxes and fees. In Przemyśl, for example, in the final years before the First World War, there were 12,000 voters out of 18,000 individuals who belonged to the community (including the villages).



In 1907, the Austrians, evidently including the citizens of Przemyśl, were granted general voting rights, independent of whether the taxes were paid. With this, we can

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see the Jewish influence over the elections. Nevertheless, even at that time, the Jew Herman Lieberman was elected in Przemyśl, although he was not on the Jewish voters list.

In this brief historical survey, I was unable to deal with the personage of the communal activist Moshe Scheinbach, who had a great influence on the municipal and communal life of the city for twenty–some years, until the First World War. We suffice ourselves with merely mentioning his name.

I also want to note that during the constitutional era, Przemyśl had the following numbers of Jews: in 1870 – 5,692 (38.1%); in 1880 – 7,645 (34.7%); in 1890 – 10,998 (31.2%); in 1900 – 14,109 (30.4%), in 1910 – 16,062 (29.7%). The numbers in parentheses show the percentage of Jews within the total population, including the military, and officers with their families. Since the Przemyśl Garrison was 4–5 times larger than the garrisons in other Galician cities, excluding Lemberg and Kraków, we can understand the low percentage of Jews in comparison with other Galician cities.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Behold you are married to me with this ring in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel. Back
  2. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: See Professor Rafael Mahler, “Maskilim and Hassidim in Galicia–, Tel Aviv, 1962. Back

[Page 428]

History of the Jews of Przemyśl (1914–1939)[1]

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Keren Kayemeth Committee, 1917


Przemyśl was already capturing the headlines of the newspapers at the beginning of the First World War in 1914. The city withstood two attacks, and was forced to capitulate on March 22, 1915 due to hunger. Most of the residents of the city were evacuated to western Austria before the attack. The smaller portion, primarily Jews, remained in Przemyśl. As the city was transferred to the Russians, the Jews were driven out (headed by Rabbi Szmelkes and vice president of the community, Moshe Scheinbach). Przemyśl was retaken by the Austrians in June 1915, and life normalized.

Despite the war situation in the city, Zionist life did not cease. The driving force of the activity was the large number of Jewish officers in the Austrian Army with Zionist leanings who were serving in Przemyśl. A Zionist youth organization, Hashomer, was founded and developed in the midst of the war years. It enjoyed great success. Wide ranging social assistance activity among the Jewish population and the Jewish soldiers who served in the city as well as on the front lines also took place.

[Page 429]

Their numbers declined, as many Jewish youth of Przemyśl fell in the battlefields.

The end of the First World War and the transfer from Austrian to Polish rule left Przemyśl with a revolutionary spirit. Jewish officers with Zionist leanings drove out the reactionary communal council and proclaimed the founding of a Jewish people's council in its place. The head of the people's council was the well–known Poale Zion activist Dr. Max Rosenfeld. After his premature death, he was succeeded by the lawyer Dr. Leib Landau.

The first step of the people's council was to set up a self–defense organization under the leadership of the officers Dr. Eisner and Tzvi Luft. The people's council existed until the communal elections of 1925.

The Jewish social order underwent a radical change during the inter–war period. The Jewish population of Przemyśl acted as a consolidated, national force that struggled for its rights. The Zionist deputy Moshe Frostig of Przemyśl was elected to the Polish Sejm, even though Dr. Herman Lieberman received many Jewish votes.


The First Zionist weekly in Przemyśl I, 1919 – Der Przemysler Yud. Lead article is “Opening letter from Rabbi Gedalia Szmelkes.”


The national Jewish block also won a victory in the city council. Dr. Henryk Reichman was elected as the vice mayor, and Wilhelm Haspel as alderman.

In general, a radical change took place on the Jewish street. The elections to the Jewish community were now free, without the pressure from the administrators and the “fine Jews.” Chairmen of the communal council included Dr. Leib Landau, Shmuel Babad of the Agudas Yisroel, and the final communal chairman, the Zionist Dr. Jakub Rebhun.

The Zionist camp in the city began to grow in different directions. The general Zionist, Poale Zion, and Mizrachi with their youth movements conducted wide–branched activity. Elections to the Zionist Congress were conducted in Przemyśl

[Page 430]

with no small amount of fanfare and activity, just like the elections to the Polish Sejm. The Hebrew Language was used a great deal. Hundreds of pioneers from all the Zionist hues made aliya to the Land of Israel.


Celebration at the ending of a Betar training camp in Kuńkowce


Josef Neger, the music teacher of Yuval


Many cultural institutions were active in the city, including a Hebrew folks school and a Hebrew gymnasium with hundreds of students. Educational institutions focusing on productivity, a folks school for Jewish girls, and a bourse (internat) for school children were set up. The bourse was created through the initiative of the Yad Charutzim handworkers union.

Religious schools and Yeshivas were also not lacking in Przemyśl.

The Yuval union, which was founded in 1919, promoted theatrical and musical culture. It put on performances with great success, among them the Dybbuk by Ansky. Broad circles of Jewish youth were influenced by the cultural activity of Yuval.

It is also clear that physical education was not neglected. The Hagibor sports organization, founded in 1919, had hundreds of members and was active in all branches of sports.

Jewish Przemyśl excelled with its superb health institutions and organizations for

[Page 431]

charitable purposes. The Jewish hospital which was built after the First World War had a name throughout all of Galicia for its high level. It faithfully served the Jewish people. The TAZ society also did a great deal in the field of health and hygiene among the Jewish population. The orphanage and old age home were maintained thanks to the support of the Jews of Przemyśl.


Female students of the trade school for girls, 1924


They also did not forget to extend assistance to the studying youth. The lightening of the load of the middle schools and students was largely due to the Double Grosch Union (Dwucentówka)
[a] and the Academic Self Help (Samopomoc Akademicka).

On the other hand, there was a great decline in the economic realm. Przemyśl ceased being a business center and location of military delivery, as it had been under the Austrians, on account of the military fortress in the city. Only later did it slowly began to develop in industry and trades. The economic situation of the Jewish population continuously grew more difficult. The various edicts and political taxes, the aim of which was to vex impoverish the Jewish population, took their toll. The battle for Jewish existence was difficult. In order to defend their economic and political positions, an array of organizations and institutions were set up for extending assistance, such as the business and industrial bank, the handworkers' bank,

[Page 432]

benevolent funds, the merchants' union, the small business union, the Yad Charutzim tradesmen organization, employee organizations, and others.

In the final years before the Holocaust, the situation of the Jewish people became unbearable. Anti–Semitic pickets of Jewish shops, the ban on ritual slaughter, and the Zbąszyń episode[2] poisoned the atmosphere in the city. These were the first winds that foreshadowed the terrible storm that destroyed the Jewish community of Przemyśl, which had existed for hundreds of years…


Leaflets circulated by anti–Semitic pickets in front of Jewish shops in 1938
Translated from Polish by Łukasz Biedka


The intense Christmas shopping season is coming!
Let the slogan of all Polish men and women be:
Christmas without Jews!
The traditional Christian Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas tree should be decorated with goods made by Polish and Christian manufacturers!
Today, the entire Polish society has realized what the Jewish–communist subversion means!
Owing to great determination of the Poles, tens of thousands of new Christian shops have been opened!
This is a message to all Polish people!
Do your Christmas shopping at Polish retailers! Support only them! Buy only genuine Polish and Christian products!
Once put into action by the whole Nation, this idea will uproot Jews from our towns, providing bread and jobs to our jobless compatriots!
Paying a penny to a Jew, you commit a crime against the Nation!
Poles support Poles!!
Victory is coming! Prepare the way for the Great, Catholic and National Poland. It depends on you!

“Self–Defence” Society}

Coordinator's Footnote

  1. In Hebrew section: ‘society of two agoroth “Dwucentowka”’, p. 200. Back

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here: A summary from the Hebrew section of the book. (Note from translator: I have retranslated this from the Yiddish rather than lifting the translation from the Hebrew.) Back
  2. The deportation of thousands of German Jews with Polish citizenship to the border towns, especially Zbąszyń, in 1938. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zb%C4%85szy%C5%84 Back

[Page 433]

Synagogues, Beis Midrashes, Kloizes,
and Minyanim in Przemyśl

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau


The Old Synagogue


Entrance gate to the ancient synagogue


The main part of the building was built of stone in the year 1594. Later, a room was built for the yeshiva, a conference room, and the Tailors' Minyan. Later, there was both a Sephardic and Ashkenazic minyan in the courtyard. Prior to the partition of Poland, a rabbinic court used to convene in the anteroom (at that time, there were two rabbinic courts in Przemyśl). It met in a room to which one had to go up several steps, and where one could wash one's hands. Earlier, probably during the pre–Austrian era, there was a kuna [stocks] there, where they used to tie up Jews who had committed a transgression against the community.

The façade of the synagogue was not pretty, for the church did not allow a synagogue to appear beautiful. For this reason, the windows were also coarse.

In 1840, the great hall was painted anew, but without any improvement from an artistic perspective.

Immediately after an examination by the royal conservators in 1911, an opinion was determined that it would not be sufficient to renovate the beautiful, old building from the inside, but that they should also beautify the external appearance of the synagogue. Then, they indeed beautified the façade.

The rabbi delivered two sermons each year. On the eve of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, they recited selichot in memory of Rabbi Moshe Schmukler, who was burnt in the year 1630.

During the second half of the 19th century, the chief gabbai was Reb Yitzchak Blumenfeld. At the beginning of the 20th century, that office was occupied by someone from the Ganz family.

[Page 434]

For many years, until the beginning of the 1890s, the cantor of the synagogue was the beloved Strucki (the father). After his death, a passionate battle began between the supporters of the son of the deceased cantor and the supporters of Cantor Schechter, who came from Russia. The supporters of the “Strucki party” were victorious. The Schechter supporters then left the synagogue and set up a new synagogue in Lipper's house, and later hired a very musical cantor, Trachtenberg. From that synagogue, an initiative came to found the “New Synagogue” on Słowackiego Street.

After the First World War, through the initiative of the chief gabbai Reb Chaim Klagsbald, artistic efforts were begun to beautify the inside of the Old Synagogue. When the work was finally completed, the Second World War broke out. The synagogue was burnt down by the Germans on the first day of the war. Today, not even a trace of the synagogue remains.


Front of the ancient Synagogue at Jagiellonska Street


The Small Beis Midrash

We do not know when it was built. As far as we remember, the doors of the Beis Midrash were open before sunrise, especially for the Jews of the

[Page 435]

The holy ark in the ancient Synagogue


[Page 436]

province, who would come to Przemyśl with their wagons laden with merchandise that they had to deliver within the city, or to purchase merchandise. In the interim, they could warm themselves up in the Beis Midrash. It was light there at night as well. Since the year 1916, hot tea with sugar was available to all in need, and sugar was difficult to obtain at that time. A Chevrat Lina operated out of the Beis Midrash, whose task it was to ensure that poor, sick people would have a person stay with them overnight.

Renowned scholars and important merchants would come to worship in the Beis Midrash. For a long time, the chief administrator was the locksmith Moshe Goldfarb.


The Large Beis Midrash

It was built in 1700 by Reb Yitzchak, and Reb Nathan, the father and brother of Reb Anshel Asher, the author of “Shmeina Lachmo.” The building had several stories. The first story housed three shops, the second story housed the Beis Midrash, and the top story had private dwellings. Reb Anshel was first a rabbi in the town of Zasław and later a Magid and preacher in the Beis Midrash in Przemyśl. The building collapsed in 1906, and was rebuilt in 1910. Rabbi Yankele Hirschfeld, the father of the rabbi of Biała Dr. Shmuel Hirschfeld, delivered lectures and studied with the congregants.


The Large Kloiz and Smaller Kloizes

The Belzers, Blazowers, Bukowskers, and earlier also the Sanzers and Sieniawer Hasidim all worshiped in the Large Kloiz. Since the Sanzers and Sieniawers could not bear the yoke of the Belzers, they later set up their own small kloiz in the house of Nuta Teich on Serbanska Street. There were also other kloizes in the city: the Sasowers, Boyaners, Husiatyners, and Czortkowers. From time to time, after the First World War, and later on, Admorim came to visit their Hassidim in Przemyśl (e.g. from Sasów and Bukowsko). The Hasidim in the kloiz never overlooked it when someone did not conduct his private life in an appropriate fashion. As soon as someone sinned, he would be thrown out of the Large Kloiz with shame and embarrassment.


The New Synagogue on Słowackiego Street

It was also called the Scheinbach Synagogue, for Moshe Scheinbach from the community, who had great influence in the city council, hatched the plan to obtain a significant subsidy for its building already before the First World War – not only from the Jewish “Old Bank” but also from the Magistrate and the city savings fund. An imposing building was planned from the outset, but after it was built (according to the plans of a well–known, gentile architect) it did not come out as nicely. The building, including the interior, was completed in the years of Polish independence. The wall and ceiling paintings were produced under the design of the academic painter, Professor Bienenstock, who also designed the stained glass. In general, it was a fine piece of work. Only the inside of the synagogue was burned by the Germans. The building survived and serves today as a warehouse for textile products.

[Page 437]

Stained glass window in the New Synagogue


The Temple

It was built in the years 1886–1890 through the initiative of enlightened Jews (not Reformers, who had no interest in involvement with the Jewish tradition. They simply wanted to build a modern synagogue in Western European style, and did not think of changing the prayers and the liturgy).

Nevertheless, it appeared different inside the Temple. From the outset, there was no bima, but this was changed in accordance with the wishes of Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes. There were no hanging curtains in the women's gallery. The cantor and the choir wore black robes, and the services were conducted in the style of the temples of Vienna. They strictly ensured that order and decorum would prevail.

Jacob Reisner was the leader and initiator of the Temple Organization. He collected the necessary money for building and other purposes. The shamash Reb Eliahu Singer ensured that everything would run as was appropriate for a temple. His son Meir served as the cantor there for a long time, and his father–in–law Yitzchak Vogel was the Torah reader. The choir sang the melodies of Sulzer[1] and Lewandowsky[2], as in other temples. Reb Pinchas Lauterbach would serve as prayer leader for Shacharit and Neila on the High Holy Days, as well as for the Tal and Geshem prayers[3]. He was greatly loved for his fine, traditional prayers. Avigdor Mermelstein served as the shofar blower for a long time. Dr. Schwartz was the chief gabbai of the temple during the Polish times.

The temple was burnt by the Germans at the end of September 1939, before they transferred the city to the Russians.

[Page 438]

The Zasanie Synagogue

Even though there were few Jews in Zasanie, they decided to build a synagogue through their own means. The synagogue was ready in 1895. Not only did Jews from Zasanie worship there, but also those who lived on the other side of the San near the riverbank. The synagogue is still standing today, but it is used as a warehouse.



There were small synagogues in the large synagogue as well as the large Kloiz. The Kleizl of Moshe Hirt, where one could recite the shacharit service from early morning until noon, is known.

The minyanim of the Blech and Bernstein families on Mickiewicza Street are known, as were the minyanim of Teich and Rabbi Schmelkes on Słowackiego Street.

Later, there was the minyan of Fishel Nagel on Targowica, the minyan of Pfeffer on Basztowa St., Goliger on Wygoda, and others.


The Rabbi of Boyany on a visit to Przemyśl


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salomon_Sulzer Back
  2. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Lewandowski Back
  3. The prayers for Dew and Rain, recited respectively in the Musaf service of the First Day of Passover and Shemini Atzeret. Back


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