By Moshe Marder
Only a few of the residents of our city made Aliyah to the Land of Israel as pioneers, with the intention of living there in a Kibbutz framework. Therefore, even in this small note, I will be able to mention almost all of those who lived to do so. Even now, some few survivors continue to arrive.
The Jewish youth in our city were wonderful, vital, alert, and filled with the deep spirit of Zionism. They belonged to parties and youth organizations. Each youth joined a group that matched his or her weltanschauung, world outlook.
Each young Zionist Skalater had the training and desire, not only to do physical labor for the sake of the Land of Israel, but also to realize his or her dream. More than once I asked myself why were there so few who had the power to join the pioneer movement, yet remained in Skalat, only to have their lives end in that awful hell?
If only there had been a leader with the authority and charisma who could have convinced those youngsters that the time to go had arrived. Such a person could have organized a mass exodus before it was too late. He might have pressed us to consider the reality of our lives in Skalat, to rise up and make Aliyah to Palestine, and to realize for ourselves all that we advocated. I am certain that many would have joined the pioneer camp, and would have made Aliyah despite the difficulties and barriers.
The initiative of the pioneer movement began to catch fire in our town in 1925. The Unified Groups were organized and began training for agricultural readiness. At the end of the agricultural season, they returned to Skalat to ready themselves for making Aliyah, but discovered all manner of obstacles blocking the path. There was a great financial crisis at the time, severe limits on Aliyah by the British Mandatory Government, and the lack of available travel certificates. Instead, there was a pervasive belief that it might take years until Aliyah would be permitted.
My brother, Israel, was the first person from Skalat to make Aliyah to the Land as a pioneer. After months of wandering through many places, with much suffering along the way, Israel and his companions from other towns in Galicia organized as a pioneer team, and succeeded in arriving and settling in Binyamin. At the time, there was a great crisis in Palestine so they found a temporary place. Later, they were forced to disperse to other locations, and my brother was able to get into the Betzalel Academy of Art and Design for his studies.
Shortly after that, the Greenfeld sisters arrived. The two of them were determined to live an agricultural village life, and joined the Alef Settlement. They found their place in the village of Bilu.
The older sister, Salka, of blessed memory, lived and worked in the village until her death. The second sister, Branka, still lives there.
After several years, Malka Hecht, one of the graduates of Gordonia and the Unification, arrived. She found a place in the collective Shachariya in Migdal. Later, she went to Kibbutz Mizra in the Jezreel Valley. Currently, she resides in Haifa.
In 1932, Hadassah Katz made Aliyah. Her way was clear to her. She joined the first settlers of Hulda, and her task was to greet those who came after her. Hadassah still lives there along with her daughter, her sons, and many grandchildren.
Sarah Shpatziner, of the Gordonia Movement, made Aliyah to Palestine after continuous preparation, anticipation and unlimited patience. She joined Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, and has been there since.
At about that same time, our friend Yitzchak Teller made Aliyah. He also joined the collective Kiryat Anavim, became a member for a short period, and for different reasons, he left and went to another place.
At the beginning of 1935, Tzilla Branzon arrived, and she and I joined Kibbutz Hulda.
A short time after this, Devorah Landsman of blessed memory and Leah'ka Ratzinshtein arrived in the Land. These two lovely young women entered the Ayanot Agricultural School, under the direction of Adah Maimon. At the conclusion of their studies, Devorah joined Kibbutz RamatDavid, and was active there in many areas. Leah'ka joined Kiryat Anavim. She lived there for many years. Today she is a resident of Jerusalem.
Shmuel Visilberg (Hermoni) and his lady friend, Tzipporah Katzur, made Aliyah and joined Kibbutz Hanita. Shmuel volunteered for the Haganah and in the battle on the mountains of Gilboa against the army of Qawukji, fell in defense of the homeland. His wife Tzipporah established a small agricultural farm in Even Yehudah. In recent years, she has devoted herself to the art of drawing. Many art lovers visited and enjoyed her large exhibit two years ago.
Tzvi Hermon, Shmulik's brother, made Aliyah through the Organization of Zionist Youth, though he was the only one of that movement to do so. He became a member of Kibbutz Usha.
The Aliyah was continual. In a short period of time, several more friends came. First, Pinchas Balbat Dagani, then Hannah Neuman and Berta Kleiner. Pinchas Dagani became a member of Kibbutz RamatDavid,
active in many fields. In recent years, he has been involved in educational matters. Hannah Neuman joined Kibbutz Degania Alef, but because of the climatic hardships in the Jordan Valley, she was forced to move to the center of Israel. Today she is a resident of TelAviv.
Berta Kleiner stayed in Hulda for a short while. She worked in BenShemen, and afterwards moved to Moshav Atarot. In the War of Independence, the community was conquered by Jordanian Legionnaires. The members subsequently reorganized and founded BeneiAtarot, where she lives with her family and continues her work.
And so our friends from Skalat, who came at different periods, connected their lives with agricultural and settlement communities.
Yehudah Oren, Leah'ka Yisraeli's brother, reached the Land via Vienna, and since then has been an active member of the farm S'dehNachum in the BethShean Valley. Sarah Axelrod, too, is a member of Kibbutz S'dehNachum. Dov Engel lives in the settlement of AinShemen. All of these people reached Palestine before the outbreak of the Second World War.
With the conclusions of the war, remnants of the survivors arrived, and a portion of them turned to working settlements. Mordechai Wisman and his sister Yocheved Sarid (Sarid means 'survivor') are both people of tradition and religion, the grandchildren of a Shochet, and they built their homes in the collective, Yavneh, and established families of activists in the life of the Kibbutz.
Ya'akov Zharkover, of blessed memory, came to visit me in Hulda, one day. He wanted advice from me. I want to be a farmer, he said. He had been advised by others to acquire a farm on Moshav Avigdor. I blessed him for his intentions, and encouraged him to accept the suggestion. And that's what he did. He worked his farm side by side with his wife and children. But in recent years, fate was cruel to him. Illness kept him in his bed for a long time. A short time ago, he passed away.
Israel Wallach first immigrated to South America. From there he made Aliyah to Israel, and settled in K'far Argentina. Today he is a resident of Rishon L'Tzion.
Gershon Ratzenshtein Tarshish joined Kibbutz Ma'ale Hachamisha, and from there moved to Moshav Kfar Warburg. Currently, he serves as the coordinator of the farm's physical plant.
All told, a small contribution to the Jewish state, but a wonderful one.
By Eliezer Rosenstock
It is very difficult for me to determine the date of the original founding of the Great Synagogue in Skalat. In the seventeenth century, Skalat Castle and the walls around it were rehabilitated, and so the foundation was laid for the market square by the Lithuanian Princess, Maria Shtzipionova. The Great Synagogue and the Catholic Church are mentioned in the documentation of that period, and they stood close together in that place which is remembered by every one of us. The fact that the Great Synagogue was built a short distance from the church demonstrates the freedoms enjoyed by the Jews of Skalat, because in that early period, Jews were generally not permitted to build synagogues in proximity to Catholic churches. The Synagogue was located within the city walls, protected from the outside, showing the good relations between the Jews and Christians of Skalat in the 1600's. Most of the Jews of the city lived in the area of the Synagogue.
It is difficult for me to say something about the appearance of the old synagogue, for in our days there did not remain a vestige of it. However in the 18th century, the Baal Shem Tov, in his glory and person, had officiated as Prayer Leader in the older synagogue. And so it became a tradition, in the course of many generations, prevalent among elders of the Hassidim in Skalat, that leading prayer in that synagogue was therefore considered a great honor.
A huge conflagration, at the end of the 19th century, destroyed part of the city of Skalat. This tremendous fire destroyed the area of the marketplace, and both the Great Synagogue and the Catholic Church went up in flames. The reconstruction of the Great Synagogue, which was recognizable to all of us, was accomplished shortly after.
The Poles entrusted the rebuilding of the Catholic Church to a renowned architect of the day. And if my memory does not mislead me, his name was Tarnowski. This man became famous because of the beautiful churches he had built. Among others, he planned the church named for Saint Elizabeth in Lvov/Lemberg, and the Parpilanic Church in Tarnopol. And it is interesting that the Jews entrusted this Catholic architect, after the Great Fire, with rebuilding the synagogue as well.
Tarnowski built the synagogue in the Gothic ecclesiastic style, but instead of a cross, he designed the upper portion of the building in the shape of the Latin letter T. In the lower portion of the building, he added a row of structures, which served as a women's section and a synagogue for the men. In this way, he differentiated the synagogue from the church.
The interior of the synagogue was adorned by the artist Sak. He was from Salonika, but fled from there in his youth. He wandered for many years and finally settled in Podvolochisk. His grandson was the wellknown photographer, Bryer, in Skalat. In the later period of the 1930's, when he was already 82 years old, the artist Sak rehabilitated his original adornments in the synagogue, which were distinguished by their attractive appeal. Additional details concerning our Great Synagogue are not known to me.
By Chaim Nachman Bialik
If you wish to know the fountain
From which your slain brethren drew
In days of evil, such strength, spiritual powers,
Going out joyous to face death, to extend their throats
To any burnished knife, to any impending axe,
To ascend to the pyre, to jump into the fire,
And with the One to die the death of martyrs.
And if you desire to know the fountain
To suffer without end, without bound, without future.
By Monio Chaim Dickstein
The Beitar Movement in Skalat was founded in the year 1930 or 1931, relatively late, since the youth in Skalat was already 'taken' by other movements which preceded Beitar, such as Gordonia, the Zionist Youth and B'nei Akiva.
The founders of Beitar in Skalat were, according to their ranks: The Commander Ya'akov Zharkover, of blessed memory, the Assistant Commander Monio Dickstein, and the Secretary, Hofman. Ezra Samet was a member of the Command and also the librarian. I don't remember all of them, and it is probable that I have not mentioned the names of more central members.
In the first days of the movement, an apartment was rented which served as a club. It was in an alley that led to the house of the local Rabbi. Immediately, with the opening of the club, dozens of teen boys and girls streamed to it. To me! Are there left yet any unaffiliated youth in Skalat? (This was an imitation of the Biblical Verse: Mi La Shem Elai!) It is logical that a portion of them came from other organizations, and another portion of them came after they heard 'living words' about the ambitions of Beitar the establishment of a State of Israel immediately, and not just the slogans: A Dunam and another Dunam, referring to a measurement of land, or A BiNational Home. The Beitar movement began to develop with giant steps, quickly becoming an important factor in the city.
The activities that were pursued were the study of the History of the People of Israel and of Zionist history. And we also trained with military exercises. Beitar preached the idea of the establishment of a State of Israel in our own days.
Joyfully, the idea took shape To teach the sons of Judah the Bow, to practice military selfdefense and not be passive. It was not in vain, and it is only too bad that the head of Beitar did not live to see the realization of his philosophy.
Trembling and profound sadness afflict me when I think of the youth of Skalat in Beitar, healthy in body and spirit, who were uprooted from our nation in gruesome deaths.
May their memory be blessed!
By Tunka Pickholz
Even though our town was small, there were many Hassidim in it, divided among the Courts of Admorim, which is an acronym for Hassidic Rabbis for Adoneinu, Moreinu, ve Rabeinu, namely of Husiatyn Hassidim, Chortkov Hassidim, Vizhnitz Hassidim, and others. The most famous Admor Rebbe in our city was the Husiatyn Rebbe. And indeed, he had many admirers in Skalat.
Thanks to my father, who was one of the Hassidic followers of the Husiatyn Rebbe, I have preserved many memories and impressions of the Hassidic milieu of those days.
A prosperous Jew in Skalat, Joseph Milgrom, owner of the flourmill, and a great admirer of the Rebbe of Husiatyn, was accustomed to hosting the Rebbe in his home. Milgrom lived in a large house at the edge of the town. The house bordered on a garden whose ground was slanted, creating a kind of natural slope. At the edge of the garden, Milgrom set up a wooden hut a ‘schloss,’ a stately, little safehouse. Behind the schloss there were pastures, fields and a flowing creek.
An internal partition divided the schloss into two sections. In the small section, the Rebbe of Husiatyn prayed. Generally, the Rebbe stayed there by himself.
The second section included the central hall of the hut, which resembled a prayer room. Tables and benches were arranged around the walls. Similarly, a kind of step, attached to the wall, arose in order to enable the Hassidim to observe the radiance of the Rebbe's face at the time of prayer.
The Rebbe would arrive in Skalat near the holiday of Shavuot, and would spend six to eight weeks. Normally, he resided in Vienna. His fixed visit in Skalat was apparently connected to his pilgrimage to the grave of his father, who was buried in Husiatyn. His visit became an event for all the Jews of the city. They all went out into the streets to greet him. A delegation of chosen Hassidim went out in carriages to greet the Rebbe outside the town. In front of the house where the Rebbe stayed, his followers arranged themselves in two rows, and greeted him with a festive Shalom Aleichem! Just a glimpse of the Rebbe sufficed in order to enflame the multitudes who believed in the sanctity of the man.
During this period, hundreds of Hassidim, from all corners of Poland, and especially from Galicia, streamed into Skalat. Hotels, lodging places and even private apartments could not contain all the people who arrived. The city seethed with life. In the courtyard of the schloss, multitudes sang and danced, especially on the holiday and on Shabbat.
They revered the Rebbe as holy, and awarded him royal honors. The Rebbe excelled in his great knowledge, whether in medical matters or legal ones. The simple Jews of Skalat had an address and someone to whom to turn to seek advice, particularly at a time of distress. The Rebbe was accustomed to
directing sick people who knocked on his door to doctors famous in his generation. It happened also that nonJewish Poles would turn to the Rebbe and seek advice from him as well.
The period of the Rebbe's stay in the city temporarily improved the economic situation. More than a few families waited for his visit with anticipation. Lodging the guests in their homes made an important contribution to the improvement of the town's economic health. I remember Hassidim from Zhuslov and Karkov who lodged in our house. In late hours of the night, they would sit together, argue over subjects of faith and religion, and would tell many stories concerning the greatness of the Rebbe. The meeting between every Hassid and the Rebbe would become the central experience in the life of the believing man.
Before leaving Europe, the Rebbe traveled around advising Jews to flee and go to Palestine. He was known to say, Whoever has some sense should flee while he can even in his slippers! He understood what was about to happen and did his best to alert the people. The Rebbe of Husiatyn made Aliyah to the Land of Israel in 1937 at the age of 80. He died at 92. His grave is in the old cemetery in Tiberias among the students of the Baal Shem Tov.
By BenZion Benshalom
The following is a chapter taken from BenZion Benshalom's book, In the Storm in the Days of the Whirlwind, by Masada Press. The author, a refugee from Western Poland, fled from the advance of the German army, eastward, at the outbreak of the Second World War, and in the course of his wanderings, passed through Skalat.
SKALAT. I stop a young Jewish man and ask him how the mood is in this place. He tells me that the people of Skalat still live normal lives. Several times, planes appeared in the skies of the town, but there were no bombings. Thousands of refugees have already flooded the town and the surrounding villages. There are new camps of refugees arriving every day. Vanguard German squads are not far away at all, and I hear the thunder of muted artillery, but for the time being, there is complete quiet in the place, and a large army is encamping here. There is no lack of food, because the environment is blessed by God and overflows with everything good. The young man advises me to remain here and wait until the situation is clarified. You've already reached the border, he adds. Where will you flee to now?
The town is beautiful, rich in vegetation and very charming. Its houses are beautiful. Its streets are clean. In its streets, men, women and children move in groups. However, we see that the town is full of refugees, and that there is no room left. I meet many refugees from my own town, and they too advise that I should remain with them in this lovely place. I accept their opinion and go to the office of Satrusta, the municipal officer, to seek permission to remain in the town. The Satrusta is not there. With difficulty, I manage to get an interview with his assistant. I present him with my request. He looks at me and sees that I am broken and exhausted, and that it is hard for me to continue traveling. He examines my papers and asks all kinds of questions, and then finally informs me that he is unable to permit me to remain in the town. There is no room. All the apartments are full. I tell him that I have found friends who want to give me lodging, and that my wounded legs are in need of medical treatment, but he, for his part, says, Impossible, there is no room. Polish refugees receive permission to stay in a few minutes, and I exit in disappointment, and boiling with anger. When I leave, I decide I will remain without permission!
The sun is setting and a sweet, delicate, glimmering radiance bathes the town. One by one stars are lit in the sky. Evening comes a late summer evening, warm and beautiful. I stroll in Skalat's darkening streets and enjoy the respite I had so needed, and that I had not known since the day of the outbreak of the war. The night covers street after street. The town gradually settles into darkness. Afterwards, I sit with my acquaintances at the lodging house, and we take our time in conversation. From the time they arrived in town a few days ago, they dwelled in relative peace. They could hear
radio broadcasts, while I struggled, pursued by bombs day and night. They tell me that the situation is gradually improving. The Germans indeed reached as far as Lvov, but they were stopped there. Lvov is being defended courageously. Near Warsaw, the battles are fierce and the casualties are many. The Germans completely control the airspace of Poland, and their planes bomb the entire country, but when battles are actually waged on the ground, the Germans are repulsed. The positions of the Poles are gradually being strengthened and a front is being created. Many Polish divisions are concentrated in the eastern region of the country, and a great conflict is going to erupt there. We sit and speak about events of recent days and about our families, whom we sent away from our hometowns before the war broke out, and we do not know how far they traveled or where they are at the moment. We drink tea. My heart is full of yearning for the days of tranquility which are now gone. Someone mentions the names of acquaintances and friends who were killed or captured, and expresses the hope that we will not suffer in vain, and not shed blood. Our hope is that Amalek will be overthrown and evil will pass away entirely.
The moments pass. The hour is late. People go off to sleep. I receive a bed. A bed? After many nights which have passed for me without normal sleepa real bed! With the aid of two roommates, also refugees from Western Poland, I remove the torn shoes from my injured feet. After that, I strip off my clothes. It has been about 10 days that I have not removed them. At last, I lay in the bed. My eyes close, and against my will, I fall asleep immediately.
In the dead of night, I awaken. I hear my roommates conversing in whispers. I immediately feel that something has happened. In the room darkness. Nevertheless, I see that my companions are standing near one of the walls, and I hear them whispering. What are they doing there? I strengthen my eyes. Yes. I am not mistaken. Two of them are standing next to one of the walls of the room, with their ears glued to the wall. They stand silently, listening, whispering from time to time. I call out to them. They approach my bed and tell me in a whisper that something has happened, but they don't know what. A Polish sergeant was staying in the neighboring room with members of his household. A few minutes ago, a military squad knocked on his door to awaken him. My companions were standing near the wall next to the sergeant's room, listening.
We decide we should get dressed. We dress in the darkness. In the adjoining apartment, someone is wailing quietly. We strain our ears to listen. The sergeant says goodbye to his wife and after several minutes, we hear the muted banging of the door, which signifies that the sergeant has left the house. We hear the sound of his footsteps in the garden and in the silent street. And beyond the wall, his wife is wailing softly. What has happened? We must absolutely have information! We knock on the wall. She approaches. The wall is thin and our conversation is carried on without difficulty. We asked what happened? What is she crying about? Where was the sergeant summoned to? For a short time, she is crying and finally we hear, Poland has fallen. There is no escape everything is lost there is nowhere to run. The end has come! But what happened? we shout, excited and panicked. She is silent for several minutes. Afterwards, she whispers, The Russians have crossed the border.
The Russians have crossed the border! The report astounded us. Even after a pact had been concluded between Germany and Russia, no one believed that the Russians would attack the Poles from the rear. And now it has come true!
Everyone understands that everything is lost, that the Polish army will not hold out in these pincers, between the German hammer and the Russian anvil, and the question arises, What is there to do? To flee? Where to flee? The time is two thirty in the morning. Before dawn breaks, the Russians will be in town. We come to the conclusion that there is nowhere to flee, and that there is no reason for flight at this moment, because everything is lost. We sit in the dark room and wait for morning.
With morning, the town slowly awakens from its deep slumber. We go out to the garden, all of whose flowers and grasses are bathed in morning dew. The east is totally aflame. The last stars disappear, one by one. A fresh morning breeze rustles in the adjoining gardens. How beautiful the town is, in its dawn garments, when all of its houses and streets are bathed in fresh morning dew dripping from all the roofs and from all the trees. It is early, before the pampered veil of radiance has disappeared, when grayness and pink occur mixed together. Doors and windows are opened and the early risers appear in the streets. The knowledge of a Russian arrival spreads with the speed of lightning. People begin to gather and to argue. Someone casts doubt on the truth of the report, and argues that it couldn't have happened, but here come people who heard the radio declaration of Molotov last night. And the NonAggression Pact between Poland and Russia what will become of it? they ask. And the answer is? Molotov announced that he is abrogating that pact.
Suddenly there are explosive sounds, which come one after another. The townspeople think that a battle is raging on the outskirts of the town, and they hurry to hide in their gardens and cellars. Moments of silence. And again explosive sounds. After a few moments, it becomes clear that there is not any battle. The rabble has fallen on the storehouses of the Polish army, full of clothing, food and commodities. The soldiers guarding the storehouses throw handgrenades but the crowds are eager for spoil. They emerge from the cellars and other hiding places, gather in the streets, pray without end and wait.
Eight hours later, an acquaintance comes and reveals to us with a whisper that there is a possibility of escape before the Russians enter the town. The Romanian border is open and there are still places available on buses, which will leave for Romania in just a few minutes. The buses are waiting in one of the alleys, which is furthest from the center of the town. And if we hurry, we can yet obtain seats. We take our bundles and turn to go to the alley where the buses are parked. We arrive in time. There is still room. We sit on the buses and wait. Hearts pound. Will we really be able to escape? Will we really be in Romania in a few hours? The drivers believe that the way is still clear, and that we will succeed.
But why aren't we traveling? A quarter of an hour passes. Another quarter of an hour and we are still sitting on the buses and waiting. The buses are full. Poles and Jews. Young and old. Women and men, and even children, are gathered together. All of us are excited. Will we succeed? And why are we waiting? I get out to find the reason for the wait. It becomes clear that the police are preventing it. About ten policemen have gathered near the bus, and they firmly request that we make a place available for them as well. If their request is not honored, they will not permit us to travel. Places are cleared for them. The buses have been filled from one end to the other and perhaps even more than that, but they do not move from their spots. The police order that we wait. The poor policemen! They are without plans. They don't know what they should do. They also want to escape to Romania, but they are afraid
to flee. The police have been undone. There is no command and no commander, so how can they even know what they should do. What is permitted, and what is forbidden? They attempt to phone the police commander in the large neighboring city, but they are unable to reach him because the connection is severed. Without a plan, they stand near the buses. They do not dare to join us, and they do not permit us to travel without them.
The policemen! How different are their faces and their postures during these few hours! Even their height seems lowered. Their embroidered garments still shine and sparkle, and their weapons are still in their hands, but they are poor and forlorn, and all of their radiance has left them. In one day, all of their wisdom has been confounded and has dissipated, after having stood by them for many years. How clever were those discerning ones to see every Jewish store whose owners had locked up a few minutes after the appointed time, and not to see the Polish stores open a half hour or three quarters of an hour after the appointed time had passed! How did they know how to calculate the time in the days of riots and pogroms, and to appear always at the correct and appropriate moment in order to manage to arrest the victims! Now they surround the Zhids for whom they had shown contempt and had persecuted just yesterday, to consult with them because, at this moment, they tend to believe that the Zhids know everything.
Suddenly, the air is full of the roar of airplanes. The people rush to disperse and hide. Flights of airplanes appear in the sky and quickly disappear. This time, the roar is not similar to the roaring of the German bombers, which we heard for sixteen days from morning to evening. This time, the roar is weaker and the planes are faster. We understand immediately that these planes are Russian and that they are not bombers. They move about the skies of the town, coming and going. The civilians quickly become accustomed, do not get excited, and do not hide. But the policemen run from time to time to the nearby garden and lie prone there in the grass or under the bushes and return dusty and filthy after the planes have disappeared. Oh, my heart to the policemen! All their bravery and courage has deserted them.
The hours pass and we sit on the buses and wait. We become angry and get agitated, but we do not benefit from this at all. The policemen send agent after agent to all kinds of offices, and the agents go and return and go again, and we wait. Noon. One o'clock. Finally, the policemen decide to travel. The driver grasps the steering wheel, the autos move. But at this moment, one of the agents who had been sent to scout out the way on which we intend to escape, returns and announces that all of the roads have already been captured by the Russians. We get off the buses and begin to disperse. A Polish official severely curses the policemen and they stand mournfully and shamefully. They hear the agent's reproaches and do not say a word.
Afternoon. The town is feverish. All the stores have been locked and the streets are full. The Polish army has left, but the Russian army has not come. There is not even a single soldier in town. The Ukrainian peasants from the nearby villages come to the town equipped with sacks and clubs. They walk about the streets and look at everything while their eyes express hatred and anger. Someone spread the rumor that the Russians would not come, but the Germans would, and the rumor passed from street to street. Jews were walking about worried and frightened. The Jewish youths are speaking of the need to establish selfdefense, because there's no way of knowing what will happen at night. The looks of the peasants going around the streets of the town do not prophesy good things.
Opposite the Post Office building stands a Polish worker who says that the Germans are gradually coming nearer. He swears that he has seen them with his own eyes, two hours ago, at some distance from the town, along with several German tanks. People ask him if he is not mistaken, and maybe he saw Russian tanks. No, no! He saw German tanks; a small Nazi flag was flying over every tank. By the life of my head! They gather around him, hear his story, and their hearts are full of panic and trembling. Whom to believe, and what to think? Who has come? The Germans or the Russians? My heart tells me that the story of the Polish worker, about German tanks that he saw outside the town, is a complete falsehood. Indeed, the Germans are not far away, but according to the information received from the radio, it seems reasonable that the Russians are advancing with the consent of the Germans, who are evacuating the Eastern region, which had already been conquered by them. There is no reason, therefore, to imagine that the town, which sits near the Russian border, would be conquered by the Germans. This, reason argues, must be correct. But the heart is suspicious nonetheless.
Alarming reports begin to arrive from adjoining villages. It seems that the Ukrainian peasants are preparing for something. At this moment, no government exists in Skalat or in the vicinity. In the Ukrainian villages, they think that ‘the strap has been undone,’ and that the time has come to wreak havoc against both the Poles and the Jews. The peasants are convinced that the Germans are coming. They believe it because they desire it. One of the peasants, with whom I had the opportunity to strike up a conversation, explains to me that there is nothing like the Germans for honesty and for a fair attitude toward the population. They are mighty and righteous and they are friends of Truth to the Ukrainians. He continued that his entire village prays for the coming of the Germans, but is afraid of the Russians, that they will rob the peasant
of his land and everything he has, that they will hand it over to the Zhidiks the word the peasant uses for us. Jews managed to gather around him while we conversed worried and fearful, but with the double worry about those same peasants who walk about in the town laughing but silent. Jews gather together in groups to share news. They confer and decide to spend the night in camps. The residents of several houses will gather in one apartment and will stand watch in shifts.
The sun sets. The western sky is aflame. Evening comes slowly, a delicate, lovely evening of the beginning of Autumn. The famous autumn of Poland arrives with its sweet warmth and with an outpouring of golden radiance. Choruses of stars twinkle in the deep firmament and the sickle of the crescentmoon appears over the town. Skalat is covered with a garment of tender darkness. The streets of the town radiate light. The period of darkness has ended. The inhabitants, who for three weeks have not seen an illuminated street, stroll at their pleasure and move in the streets. Even the mood begins to change favorably. People come who testify that they saw squads of Russian tanks at a distance of several kilometers from the town. It seems reasonable that the Russians directed the bulk of their armies toward the large cities, and that the town situated on the side was automatically captured. The inhabitants, whose souls had been depressed by the specter of German occupation for the entire day, breathe a sigh of relief, not only Jews, but also the Poles. The Ukrainians generally are not satisfied. They looked forward to Hitler. After the feverish hours of the day, the evening brings a bit of calm. The man, dusty from the street, says, It is good that the Russians are coming it is good that we have been saved from the hands of the Germans…
The night is heaped with terrors and much fear. Shots and distant explosions shook the silent city. We did not close our eyes. We sat in groups, listened and waited. Where are they shooting? And who is shooting? All kinds of theories were expressed. But the prevailing opinion was that something was happening in one of the nearby villages. We sat. We heard the shots and waited for the morning, with impatience and nervousness. The hours cranked by lazily. It seemed as if the night would never end, the moments advancing with excessive slowness in order to antagonize and provoke us. The night is expiring. The stars are covered with a thin and airy veil of mist. A slight wind blows through the garden and rustles the dawn. The sound of shots disappears. There is much silence all around. The sky becomes gray. The east brings dawn. Morning has arrived. The news comes to us that in one of the neighboring places our Jewish brothers and sisters, who dwell among the Ukrainians, experienced a very hard night.
With morning, our neighbor, the sergeant, returns. How much has he changed during a few hours! His face is as white as lime. Despair is in his eyes. At first he avoids us and is silent, but finally he begins to speak with his voice trembling and tears in his eyes. Poland is lost the fault of our officials and our generals. What a disgrace, what a reproach! The officers fled and advised us to disperse. I am a soldier and I certainly know that sometimes one is forced to surrender but does one disarm this way? through panic and confusion? When an officer flees, does he say to his soldiers, Do what your heart desires? Do army men surrender this way? Is this why there was chatter for years about
military honor and bravery? Where did all these officers and cadets go? Who permitted them to flee like mice, and to leave us like a flock without a shepherd? Why did they not at least assemble us and explain to us that we were compelled to surrender? And why did they not arrange the surrender through order and honor? Do what your heart desires! May darkness take them! They received salaries. They wore shining uniforms. They spoke haughtily but finally escaped like contemptible cowards. They didn't even know how to surrender honorably. Poland is lost. Tear after tear falls on the sergeant's cheeks. We comfort him. Poland will arise. In revival, a nation that dwells on its land will not perish. He listens, but does not accept consolations.
After a few hours, the first red flags appear in the town. They are raised above the municipal and governmental buildings and offices, and a large crowd gathers and looks on. A group of youths performs a demonstration. Two minyanim pass through the streets and shout, Long live Stalin! Long live Voroshilov! The local Communists take government into their own hands and organize a militia. A Jewish youth goes around in the streets and announces that he was sent by the command of the Red Army to organize the Soviet government in the town. He appeals to the citizens and requests that they stand at his right hand. He explains that the Russian army has come to the aid of Poland, and then ends his speech with the words, Long live independent Poland! The people hear this and it's obvious that they do not believe it, except for a few fools. In the afternoon, Russian tanks and several trucks full of soldiers arrive in town. The people who are standing on sidewalks look at those coming out of curiosity, but without enthusiasm. The Russians sing melodious songs and, with their caps waving in their hands, greet the inhabitants of the town who have, with handkerchiefs and hats, returned greetings to the arrivals. Some strike up conversations with the soldiers, and they announce to all of us that they are going out to fight against Hitler. We ask with surprise, Against whom? And again they announce, Against Hitler! Against Germany!
SKALAT. Days of Transition. Days of Changes. A regime goes out and a regime comes in. Glimmers. A government ends and a government is born. The flags of Poland were lowered, and the red flags were waved. The Polish eagle came down from its greatness, and the Soviet star inherited its place. Those above were below, and those below were on top. The Polish policemen, the fear of the Ukrainian village and the Jewish street are confined to barracks, and urchins of the Children of Israel go about the streets with a red ribbon adorning them, and their pride is on the rifle. The Polish officials, rulers of the town and its guarantors, have fled. And of those remaining, their radiance has departed and their honor has flown away. A Ukrainian serves in the position of mayor, and he publishes announcements and issues orders.
Days of Transition. There is confusion and disorder. You want to you open your store. You don't want to the store is closed. The peasant wishes you can buy his produce with Polish gold coins (Zlotys). If you don't wish you are obliged to pay him with salt, with gasoline, with matches, with sugar. The fools still believe that the Red Army has come to help Poland, and that the area of the Russian conquest will be returned to the Poles after Hitler is defeated. Consequently, the Soviet regime will not be instituted in the area of conquest, and the orders of life will not change. Someone floats rumors such as these, and the
fools believe, but anyone who has eyes and a brain understands that there are ‘no bears and no forest,’ that they did not intend help, and that they did not think of conquest as temporary.
An Atmosphere of ‘Between Sessions.’ The streets are full of peasants who come to the town equipped with sacks and armed with curses and clubs. They have heard that it will be possible to ‘disappear‘ a bit and to enjoy some anarchy. They go about disappointed. The Jews act naively and ask, What are these sacks which you have brought? The peasants blush and stammer about sugar and salt they had hoped to buy. Sugar and salt. Russian soldiers and officers circulate in the streets of the town and people gather around them. The soldiers tell of wonders and miracles in the Soviet Union. The legislation of Stalin shines for all the nations of the Soviet Union, and contributes a protective wall for all of them. Everyone receives employment and can support himself honorably. It is possible to buy food and clothing most inexpensively, and without any limitations.
The economic and cultural situation of the Soviet Union is excellent, and all the states' populations are happy and satisfied. If you are not lazy, and you have the desire to roam the streets and linger a few minutes near any group, which gathers around the soldier, you will be surprised and astounded. You will imagine that you have not heard the stories of a few soldiers but the story of one soldier. The same words, the same phraseology, the same details, the same tone. By my life! These Russians either all of them think according to one template, and
their thought is collective, or someone dictated to them exactly what they have to say and how they are required to say it.
Days of Vacation. Regarding the stores, a few of them are closed but most of them are open. But in the open ones, there is almost no merchandise. They say that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, the closed ones will be opened, and their owners will be compelled to sell the stock. They say that tomorrow, or the day after, ‘normal’ life will begin, and everything will return to business as usual. For the time being, Jews stroll in the streets and circulate in endless conversations and smoke cigarette after cigarette. Days of transition, days of anticipation. A regime dies and a regime comes in. What was ended is finished. The present? Woe to this present! What is hidden in the bosom of the future? What?
In the nights, a deadly silence rules the town. After eight o'clock, it is forbidden to go out into the street. The militia is very strict about the hours of curfew, and one who goes out onto the street after eight returns mostly in the morning, after he has spent the night in jail. We sit in our rooms or in the garden around the houses, bring up memories, and chatter endlessly. In the sky, stars burn. And in the desolate streets the men of the militia stroll. In the villages surrounding the town, there is much ferment, and every night ‘miracles’ occur there. The peasants relate to the new authorities with suspicion, and there is reason to believe that they are not happy. On one of the nights, a doctor was summoned to one of the villages. The Communist propagandist, who had traveled to the village, had been beaten murderously by the peasants. Multitudes of the Ukrainians are dissatisfied. They hate the Poles, but they did not look forward to the Russians. A different ‘redemption’ was promised to them and their hopes for ‘Redeemers’ were so close. They heard the thunder of their artillery and listened to the humming of the airplanes. And somehow a strange error occurred. ‘The liturgies were switched, ’ and the cards were mixed up. They had waited for the Germans, but the Russians had come. Someone had deceived them and mocked them. So they gnashed their teeth and their glances were dark. Their wrath blazed and their lust for revenge enflamed and agitated them.
Every tongue speaks in praise of the Russian soldiers. They are good. They are courteous. They are merciful. Those who remember the army of Czarist Russia say that the Russian soldier has changed his skin. He will not curse, will not get drunk and won't molest the girls. He knows how to read and write, and his manners are good. His uniform is plain but clean. In the Russian army, Jews constitute a large percentage. The young Jewish men have already managed to assimilate completely. They will speak Russian, but will not understand Yiddish. The Jewish way of life who has mentioned it? 'The old ones' have not managed to forget everything. They speak Yiddish, and childhood study still percolates in them. At the close of Yom Kippur, a high officer greets and blesses the owner of a restaurant in which he will eat dinner. May you be blessed with a good year! Next Year in Jerusalem! And on the first day of Sukkoth, a group of soldiers, strolling in the streets, greets Jews returning from shul with shouts of, A good Yom Tov, Jews! A good Yom Tov!
Are the Jews happy? Are they satisfied? The Jewish Communists emerged from their hiding places and there is no limit to their happiness. Just as there is no limit to the joy of the Polish and Ukrainian Communists. When the Russians entered suddenly, to the astonishment of all the people who were convinced that the Germans were coming, the Jews rejoiced greatly at the first moment. The Poles also rejoiced, and only the Ukrainians were sorry. But the Communists were few in the town, and the
first moments passed quickly. Was the Jewish population of the town happy? Was it satisfied? No and no! In his innermost thoughts, a simple Jew asks, What's your opinion? Are we lost forever? Is there hope that we will yet see life, and yet be human beings? And a Jewish woman wipes her tears and says, I will not send my children to school where they will yet learn that there is no God but Stalin, and that Voroshilov and Molotov are his prophets. The Jews of the town suffered not a little in the days of the rule of the Poles. Polish officialdom persecuted them, suppressed them, expelled them from their positions and from their occupations, and related to them with hostility and contempt. The truth is that the Polish administration in the border regions did not excel in excessive political insight, was not blessed with broadmindedness or with the talent to accommodate a different future for Poland.
A story is told about a Polish military officer who sent a car to Tarnopol without any concern for the cost of fuel or the effort in order to buy an item in a Christian owned store, even though it was available for purchase in a Jewish owned store in the town. The cost of fuel amounted to much more than the price of the article that was purchased. The story showed the deep animus of our Polish neighbors against the Jewish townsfolk.
And there is the tale of officials who invited Jews to their offices and said to them, If you do not fulfill our demand and contribute such and such to a Polish cause, you must surely know that you dwell in a border region, and we have the power to expel you from here on the basis of the ‘Law of the Border Regions.’ The Jews of the town suffered in the days of the rule of the Poles. There was no joy and no satisfaction in the stories of the wonders of the Russian soldiers, as they were just more madeup stories leaving the future painted in dark colors. The Jewish townspeople think about their future with much worry, especially related to trade, their main livelihood in the conquered areas, which would be destroyed. Without trade, Jewish merchants would become superfluous persons, hungry for bread, for whose lives there would be no reason. The possibilities of getting settled in other branches of livelihood would be very limited. The children would no longer be able to be educated in Torah, and without Judaism, they would be no better than the Goyim. No satisfaction, and no tranquility. The faces express worry and the glances show trembling. How would life get along? What would the near future bring? Days without deeds and nights without sleep. They turn from side to side. Their worries would not allow them to fall asleep. Those would be days of transition and changes, days of anticipation and trembling.
The stores have all been opened. Everyone buys, Russian soldiers, refugees, inhabitants of the town, peasants. The ravenousness of buying and hoarding has seized people. It is not important what they buy. The main thing is to buy! Shirts, suits, garments for the peasants, shoes, suitcases, sugar, flour, tea, everything. And they buy. In another few days, the entire stock will be sold and the stores will be empty. Then it will be impossible to acquire new merchandise something that every merchant understands. Prices will keep going up. There is already a shortage of certain commodities. The Russian soldiers comfort the people, don't worry, everything will be in abundance. No coffee? There will be coffee! No sugar? There will be sugar!
In the first week, the new authorities would publish their announcements in three languages,
Ukrainian, Polish and Yiddish. After that, only Ukrainian and Polish. Now the Jewish Communists are already content with only Ukrainian and Polish. The Jewish Communists rejoice and explain, which Jew doesn't understand Ukrainian or Polish?
In the town, there are several owners of farms, Jews and Christians. The government performs judgments against them. They arrest the owners. They show them contempt. All of their property has been confiscated. And if you ask which of them did they especially torment, and who was chosen to be the scapegoat? Any one of the inhabitants of the city, Jew as well as Christian, would answer, soandso the Jewish owner of the farm. AntiSemitism? God Forbid! The reason is very simple. They try not to anger the Polish public. They do not take into account the Jewish public. And what is the fate of the farms that have been confiscated? Have they been turned into collective farms? God forbid. They divided the horses and cows among the peasants. And the mighty stock of grain and silage vegetables and other food commodities, which were found in the farms? They were crushed and disappeared in a few days. Farms fly away. Farms arrayed in exemplary fashion, gloriously destroyed in one day.
By Eliezer Degan
The first pogrom in Skalat, the day after the conquest of the city by the Germans, was held at the initiative of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Four hundred of our residents were put to death by the Germans and the barbaric, bloodthirsty Ukrainians. The permission to kill Jews was given only for one day, but the human beasts, the Ukrainians, continued in their rampage in a partisan manner together with the special commando groups of the regular German army. With a variety of excuses the search for hidden weaponry, army deserters they conducted searches in the houses of Jews, and many of the residents of our city perished in this rampage. It is fitting to remark that all of the calamities, which descended on our heads in the first week of the city's conquest, primarily affected the men. Only a few women were affected.
At this opportunity, it is incumbent upon me to mention a good and humane act, which an anonymous German soldier carried out. Early in the morning, on the first day of the pogrom, this German soldier entered our house and announced, Today a great pogrom will be perpetrated in your city in accordance with the demand of the Ukrainians, who are known for their cruelty. My advice to you is to hide until the anger passes. In his presence, we were able to mask off a side room in the apartment by moving a cabinet, which hid the entrance door. In that masked off room we hid my father, of blessed memory, may the Lord avenge his blood, and I while the German remained at his post in the apartment for two consecutive hours. When the Ukrainian murderers entered and searched for men in the apartment, he answered them in German, Everyone is gone!
One day, in that first week of the conquest, a German soldier, a commando, entered our apartment to search for weapons and fugitives. In the course of carrying out the search, he got up on a chair, looked at the cabinet, and to his surprise saw the door behind the cabinet. A cry of joy burst from his mouth. He was convinced that he had indeed found a rare treasure. The intervention of my older dear sister, Chaya, may the Lord avenge her blood, saved us, and we fled to the cattle barn, which was behind the house. At that instant, Yarmyszyn, a famous Ukrainian murderer, who had been chosen by the Germans to serve as the acting mayor of the city, passed by and noticed us. He was furious that we were still alive, and he did not cease reviling and cursing us.
For two hours, we sat in the attic of the barn. Suddenly, my sister Chaya of blessed memory, appeared, with a frightening message. The Ukrainian, from whom we had escaped, was sitting in our apartment and wanted to talk with us. He promised that no evil would befall us. Though we did not have much confidence that he would keep his word, we decided to come down and hear what he had to say. We were terrified, but he attempted to calm us. He presented himself as appointed mayor, and by the power of his office, he told us that we had until noon the next day to supply him with 150 workers to carry out certain tasks. He held out the threat of a second pogrom, if the requested workers did not appear at the designated hour near city hall.
Horrified and seized with fear, we went out to notify the Jews of the community. We were received with cold stares. No one believed the word of the Ukrainian, who purported to be the mayor. The suspicion was that a trap was being laid. The next day no one came except for the two of us my father of blessed memory, and me. At the appointed hour, the Ukrainian appeared and was astonished. Where are the workers? he shouted. We attempted to explain, but without success.
Yarmyszyn was angry and infuriated. He summoned the police and gave them an order to bring 300 men. In accordance with his order, they went from house to house and took all the men they could find. They assembled the men near the city hall. From there they brought us to the brickworks on the road to Horodnitza, gave us shovels, and commanded us to dig a pit. It was clear to us for whom it was intended.
Suddenly, two police officers appeared. They had been sent with instructions to bring us back to the city. We were brought to the Strustva building, divided into two groups, and told to clean the mounds of trash and papers in and around the building. The Russians, who had recently retreated from Skalat, had left all the garbage.
Before completing the cleanup, my father (zl) and I were brought to the mayor's office. The Ukrainian mayor greeted us with rebukes and reprimands. He blamed us for not forcing the others to show up. According to him, it was a miracle that we were still alive, his words. This was not our fault we explained. It was the fault of the Germans who demanded us to perform labor, in order to prepare residential places for the Senior German Command who were about to arrive.
The mayor, with the power of his authority, demanded that we supply workers every day for different tasks. He promised a wage for the workers. Skilled workers were especially in demand, carpenters, locksmiths, and others. We were harnessed for labor, and we prepared a list of members of the community, according to the places of their residence, so we could be sure that all of them would bear the yoke, which the authorities had imposed. This organization of labor functioned efficiently, and the men received a wage. In the event that a man did not turn out, he hired another in his stead. When the demands of the Germans steadily increased, and it was not in our power to bear the burden by ourselves, we turned to a neighbor, Itsi Shtekel, and we asked him for his help in organizing the daily departure for labor. He worked with us, and the three of us continued in our labors for a full month, to the satisfaction of all the parties.
Suddenly, the skies darkened. The Germans imposed a random contribution upon the community. A large sum was demanded. It was compulsory to supply the money in a set time period. But this task was beyond the power of individual people. We called a general meeting of all the people of the community, in which a majority participated. At this meeting, the Judenrat was chosen. Nirler was elected as chairman. In this position, Nirler was saddled with an impossible task the collection of funds to pay the ransom, which had been imposed upon us. To achieve the goal, he used different means, not always refined. He overcame every single obstacle until he succeeded in raising the sum demanded of the community, and even more, well before the deadline set by the Germans. That is the only praise that one can assign to him. To his credit, Nirler succeeded in preventing a new pogrom in the city.
In the course of time, the Judenrat took a more inflexible stance. Their extortion methods were forceful. The local policemen the German Schutzpolizei, the Ukrainian police, the Kripo criminal police all came and made various demands, and it was incumbent upon the Judenrat to supply them.
Three individuals in particular helped to develop the procedures of the Judenrat: Nirler, chairman of the Judenrat, the attorney Muni Lampert, responsible for the labor office in the Judenrat, and Zimmer, who functioned as liaison between the Judenrat and the head of the Gestapo in Tarnopol. Likewise very influential were Dr. Brier, head of the Jewish Police and a few advisers who acted as Nirler's right hand men. All these formed the policy of the Judenrat and its daytoday operations.
My conscience obligates me to emphasize that the greatest failure of the Judenrat was in the matter of the Contingent, the agreement of the Judenrat to present the Germans a list of people who were to be executed arouses repugnance and is worthy of public condemnation. I will never be able to understand the explanation for this abominable matter.
My father (zl) was among the people who were elected to the Judenrat. He was never counted among the 'top brass,' in whose hands were the determinations and the decisions. He was a simple man all the days of his life, and in his simplicity, he also struggled in the Judenrat. Secretly, his soul cried at the fate of his brethren, the people of his city. Concerning his reputation, Dr. Berkowitz wrote, At the time of the German conquest, I was together with Mr.Leibish Degen in the Judenrat. He never made peace with the awful distress in which we existed, and never trivialized the severity of the situation. Sometimes we argued about our situation under the rule of the German conquest. In the decline of faith, he saw the source of our catastrophe, and in its strengthening, hope for our deliverance through the kindnesses of the Holy One, Blessed Be He!
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