by Nuchim Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Once, a week before the first Selichot [penitential prayers preceding High Holy Days], the omed [cantor's pulpit] caught fire from a yahrzeit candle that burned late into the night. The omed and a nearby table were burned along with a part of the floor where the cantor stood, but the fire didn't spread any further and went out all by itself. The next morning, I entered the synagogue along with several other men and we all gazed in amazement at this wonder.
After that event, the ba'al tefillah was Moshele Shohet (Kenigsberg) who had also long been a member of Itsik Yeshaya's choir. He led the Musaf prayers [recited on Sabbath and holidays] in the synagogue until World War II. He lives today in Haifa. His grandfather Leib Itsik Shohet led the Shacharit [morning] prayers for many years. After Moshele Shohet died, David Inalers (Elboim) succeeded him and served until the final destruction of the community.
The Synagogue that Fire Could Not Destroy
Within weeks of invading Tarnogrod, the Germans twice set fire to the synagogue and each time the fire extinguished itself. So, the synagogue stands there to this day, orphaned and alone, without its faithful congregation.
Many legends about the synagogue were passed on from generation to generation. Parents told their children about the souls [of the dead] that came to pray in the synagogue in the middle of the night. On dark nights, the children were afraid to walk alone on Synagogue Street.
Behind the synagogue, down the hill, stood the municipal baths with two mikvahs, one heated, one not. This was a large bathhouse with two sets of benches, banked like steps, so that you could climb up to where the heat was highest and have a good sweat. Every Sabbath and holiday the bath was well heated; the only Sabbath that it was not heated was, Shabbat Chazon the Sabbath before Tisha b'Av, when people had to make do with just the mikvah. The mikvah was heated twice a week, Monday and Thursday.
The bath attendants were just as pious and refined as the other highly respected Jews, like the ritual slaughterers, cantors and rabbis. Until the fire that destroyed half of the bathhouse, the longtime bath attendant was Shlomo Leib Silberzweig, along with his son Yisroelke, an upstanding Jew, a good baal korei [one who reads aloud from the Torah] and a religious scholar After them various other men took care of the baths. The last two were brothers-in-law, Leibish Margolis (Klein) and Dan Dvokeles (Elboim)
To the right of the synagogue were two shtibls [small Hasidic house of worship]. To get from the shtibl of the Shiniaver sect to that of the Beldzer sect you had to go along a narrow lane where Leibish Melamed lived. Every Hasidic shtibl had a women's section. In later years, when there were few [older] boys who engaged in religious studies fulltime, they were concentrated in the Beldzer shtibl, which was bigger than that of the Shiniaver.
Hasidim and their Rebes [Hasidic spiritual leaders]
There were other Hasidic groups in Tarnogrod in addition to the Beldzer and Shiniaver, including the Trisker, Razvadover, and Kuzmirer. The tradesmen were followers of the Tarbiner rebe; they jokingly called him the proletarian rebe.
The Hasidic rebes would often come to Tarnogrod on the Sabbath to be with their followers. There were hardly any Jews in Tarnogrod who were mitnagdim [opponents of Hasidism]. Everyone believed the rebe had special powers, that with his prayers he could intercede with God on their behalf. They were happy to go to the rebe with their kvitlekh [written requests], which were accompanied by a monetary gift. In the kvitlekh people poured out their hearts, pleading for help, a cure for an illness, advice on how to handle a business problem or a family quarrel. The rebe's word was sacred, his approval or opposition decided everything, starting with sending a child to heder, then yeshiva, learning a trade, or making a marriage match.
Sometimes, a son or daughter needed to go to America. The father would go to see the rebe for advice, but the rebe always shook his head, no, saying that America was an unkosher land where they violated the Sabbath. That was enough for the young boy or girl to have to abandon the plan to emigrate, because they could no longer rely on their parents' permission and to act against their parents' wishes was impossible, since they had not saved any money of their own.
The same thing happened when parents sought advice from the rebe about sending a child to Eretz Yisroel. Certain rebes saw it as a land of heretics where boys and girls lead a sinful life, and stubbornly opposed emigration from Poland to Eretz Yisroel, telling them to wait for the Messiah, who would take all Jews there. Deferential but confused, these parents would take leave of the rebe unsure whether to oppose their own children, who struggled to free the Holy Land and live a free and healthy life there.
The Last of the Tarnogrod Rabbis
The rabbi, Reb [respectful term of address] Leibele Teicher, lived near the besmedresh [house of study also used for worship] in a stone house. The rabbi lived on one side of the house, his son Reb Hershele and his family lived on the other side.
|The Reb Rabbi Aryeh Lieb and Family|
Our rabbi, Reb Leibele Teicher, treated everyone with love and devotion. His piety reflected his boundless love for the creator and his creatures. His devotion to the Jewish people was paired with a pure and unblemished faith. His chief characteristic was honesty toward others and himself, which he passed on to his children.
Reb Hershele died in Russia during the Second World War. His wife and children live today in Israel. His son Moshele lived upstairs. Reb Moshele was the last rabbi of Tarnogrod.
It is not entirely clear how long Reb Leibele Teicher held the rabbinical seat. I remember only the date of his death, at the age of 96, a Saturday in the month of Av, in 1935. His funeral was attended not only by all the Jews in Tarnogrod, but also those from Bilgoraj and surrounding villages. Pursuant to his wish he was buried in the oyel [small structure serving as a memorial] near the Kreshever tsadik [saintly man].
Until the outbreak of World War I the Jews of Tarnogrod followed the custom of summoning people to morning prayer by knocking on their shutters. I remember the small man with a short gray beard called Zanvele Shul-Klapper [one who summons people to prayer by knocking]. He lived in an alley in a dark little house, as a tenant of Yoylish Schneider.
Every day at dawn Zanvele Shul-Klapper would walk through the town with a wooden hammer resembling a shofar [ram's horn] banging it on the shutters of Jewish homes, calling out, Get up to pray to God! The banging woke up everyone in the house. The husband would leave to go to pray, the wife began to prepare breakfast and the children got dressed to go to heder. The older boys went to the besmedresh to study.
After returning from prayers, the husband would eat breakfast and go to his shop. If he was a tradesman, he would set about his work.
Zanvele Shul-Klapper had his own rhythm for banging the hammer. He used another, special rhythm on the days when the Selichot prayers were said, before the High Holy Days. On those days he would get up an hour earlier than usual. In the dark, heavy fog, in pouring rain, he would slink through the muddy streets with a lantern in his left hand and the hammer in his right hand, and would bang on the shutters, calling people to go to synagogue to say Selichot.
Every Friday evening, a half-hour before the lighting of the Sabbath candles, he would bang out the call to go to synagogue. At this signal the women would begin to prepare for candle lighting and the men changed into their Sabbath attire.
On Friday, Zanvele would visit Jewish homes with a basket and collect candles to be used in the yahrzeit prayers for rabbis held in the besmedreshes. His income consisted of the several kopeks he was given each week in each home. It sometimes happened that by accident or on purpose he failed to bang on someone's shutters, and that person would complain and demand an explanation for the omission.
The Sabbath and holidays were the only days Zanvele did not bang on the shutters. On those days, the shamosim [sing shames -- caretaker] of the synagogue and besmedresh would go around the town and summon people to pray with the traditional religious melody. Nuchim, the synagogue shames, made the rounds of the houses in the marketplace; Moshe, the shames of the besmedresh, went around the back streets. On the non-sacred intermediate days of the Passover holiday, the shamosim visited the houses with baskets to collect eggs, willingly donated by every woman.
When Moshe the shames died, Kalman Lerner took his place. When Zanvele Shul-Klapper died, Kalman took over his job as well. After World War I the custom of shul-klapping disappeared, possibly because people then had alarm clocks to awaken them. The only custom that remained was the summons to prayer on the Sabbath by the shames. This continued until the last Sabbath preceding the complete destruction of the Jewish community.
Nuchim the shul shames died several years before World War I, at the age of 97. He was succeeded by Aharon Dovid Tryb, who was called the Magid [preacher-storyteller], who held the post until the end, killed along with the rest of the Jewish community.
The poorhouse was in an old abandoned wooden building that had a vestibule without a floor. Under the threshold there were holes made by feral cats. By a sidewall stood the equipment used by the burial society for preparing corpses for burial the tare board [on which the body was laid], and a pot to heat water for washing the body.
The poorhouse was the permanent home for the poor and abandoned. The walls were always black with dust and dirt. Spider webs hung from the corners of the ceiling. Bottles and broken glass stood on the cracked windowsills. Rags were stuffed into the spaces left by missing windowpanes.
In the main room there was a small alcove, set off by a hanging sheet, where the keeper of the poorhouse lived with his family. His name was Aharon, but people called him Kuni Leml [a character in a play by A. Goldfaden, synonomous with a comic fool]. He was his 60's, had a broad, burly face with a big snarled beard that, like his nostrils, was stained by the tobacco, which he stuffed into his nose all day long. On the Sabbath and holidays he wore the same greasy long coarse coat that he wore all week. In that coat, bound by a broad sash, he would sit up overnight with the corpses awaiting burial. In winter and summer he wore thick boots with wide bootlegs. The soil-stiffened skirts of his coat banged against the bootlegs with a tinny sound.
He earned his living by working for the burial society. He sat up with every dead body and carried the board and pot of water for washing the corpse.
His wife Shifra bore him two sons in the poorhouse. One, Leibush, entered the Russian army in 1914 and never returned from the war. The second son, Gedalia, at the age of 16, was in the attic of the poorhouse when its rotted ceiling fell down and killed him.
An investigative commission then ordered that the neglected poorhouse be torn down. Sometime later, the town began to build a new poorhouse behind the synagogue, on the road to the bath, but it was never completed. Under Polish rule [i.e., after the establishment of Independent Poland in 1920] the Jews of Tarnogrod became increasingly impoverished and no longer had the means to build this institution.
Shifra, the wife of the poorhouse keeper, was like her husband Kuni Leml very pious and just like him sniffed tobacco. On her shaven head she wore a scarf. She very rarely went out into the street; only during the two weeks before Passover would she go out the matzo bakery to help roll out the dough. All year long she would sit in the little alcove with her prayer book, praying and reciting psalms. In her 50's she became blind in both eyes. She would sit near the oven by the window, reciting prayers and psalms from memory. She knew by heart the entire liturgy for the HIgh Holy Days. And so she lived on, blind and silent, for several years until death liberated her from her impoverished and unhappy life.
It is impossible to describe the merriment that began with the feast held on Purim eve. The prosperous sat at tables covered with all kinds of delicacies kreplach and hamantashen and distributed money to the Purim-shpilers [amateur actors who performed traditional Purim play] as well as alms-seekers that solicited contributions, some for themselves, others on behalf of the needy. Children distributed shalekh mones [gifts of food and drink] on plates covered with pretty napkins.
Right after Purim, people began to whitewash their houses [in preparation for Passover]. Peasants delivered wagonloads of potatoes and beets, which Jews bought several weeks before
the holiday. Women peeled and sliced the beets and put them in big pots and small barrels to make Passover borsht. The potatoes were put in the attic to keep them from being contaminated with hametz [leavening].
But much earlier, as far back as Hanukkah-time, the women had already started to prepare shmaltz to use in preparing the Passover dishes. Even the poor would save up for a farm-raised goose to use for schmaltz. Right after Shabbat Shirah [the Sabbath on which the Torah portion Beshalach is read] people brought wheat for baking matzo to the rabbi for inspection. That wheat was very expensive because it carried a special tax designed to raise money to provide the poor with matzo. The rabbi inspected it to assure that it was kosher and received a fee for that service. The wheat was then brought to a mill for grinding. The rabbi strictly required that it be ground in a mill with grindstones, not rollers, and that it be sifted so it had a finer appearance than ordinary coarse flour. Because Tarnogrod didn't have such a mill, the wheat had to be brought to Bilgoraj for milling. After World War I Ben Tzion Weinrib and his brother-in- law Itche Silberzweig built a mill on the blonye [pasture land] that met the requirements and it was no longer necessary to bring the wheat to Bilgoraj for milling.
Ready-made matzo was not available for purchase in Tarnogrod, as it was in other towns. Everyone had to go the warehouse to buy the amount of flour needed for his family from the people who had bought wheat and had it ground. The redler [person who perforates the matzo] then delivered the flour to the matzo baker, where each customer had already obtained the right to have his matzo baked.
The matzo bakers started their preparations before Purim. They bought dry wood and sought out women to hire to help in rolling out the dough, kneading and perforating it, and shoveling it into the oven. The baking began on the first day of [the month of] Nisan and went on for two weeks until the eve of Passover. On the very eve of Passover the bakeries were occupied by Hasidim who baked their own shmure matzo [made under especially strict rules]. They didn't want
women rolling out the dough. They themselves did the rolling, kneading, piercing, and insertion in the oven, singing psalms the entire time.
In the days before Passover there was a rush of women coming to the rabbi with questions about how to make their utensils kosher for the holiday, especially those from families that didn't have sufficient pots for exclusive use on Passover. They had to kosher their regular pots, which were tainted by hametz. The iron pots had to be put in a burning hot oven, all the openings of which had been sealed with clay.
Several days before they went to have their matzo baked, people washed their cupboards with boiling water, and scoured the boards with sand with a special stone that had been immersed in flames.
For two weeks before Passover, the matzo bakers could be seen everywhere carrying baskets of matzo on their backs to deliver to their well-off customers.
If the weather permitted, cupboards, tables and benches were brought outdoors where the Christian women [servants] cleaned and washed them. Their husbands would whitewash the interior walls. On the rubbish heaps lay the old broken straw that had been used to stuff the mattresses.
The people who worked the hardest on the eve of Passover were the bakers, because they had to get rid of their hametz before 9 AM., by selling or giving it or giving it away to non-Jews. Then, not having slept much and very tired, they had to get ready for the holiday. They had to do in one day what others had had two or three weeks to accomplish.
At night, at the seder, when the father returned home from synagogue with the children, with a beaming holiday greeting, the table was waiting with its fresh, white tablecloth, the plates of matzo and charoses, raisin wine in the big carafe and in the sparkling goblets, which had belonged to their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. The candles in the silver candleholders shone with a holy joy. In most families they lit a candle for each family member. They also used an oil lamp set to its highest flame and even though Tarnogrod did not have electricity at this time; the room was flooded with light. The home was filled with the aroma of delicious food. The children, scrubbed from head to toe, sat around the table impatiently waiting to ask the four questions.
Father wore his pure white kitel [special robe] and reclined on the special upholstered chair like an angel, reciting the haggadah. The wife served the kneydlekh and all the other delicious Passover dishes. And so, the two Passover nights passed with worldly pleasure and spiritual exaltation.
by Nuchim Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
The chol hamoed days were a mix of holiday and weekday. People travelled and did business and yet there was a festive feeling. The tradesmen did not work, but strolled around in the market place dressed in new work smocks, met up with friends and family, and chatted in groups about various topics. The shopkeepers were also dressed in a semi-holiday, semi-workday fashion. The grain merchants were a bit aggrieved during Passover, since they weren't allowed to buy grain, and like the bakers they slept all day and rested up.
The matchmakers were especially active during these days, setting up meetings between prospective matches and their families. At tables bedecked with khremzlekh [matzo meal pancakes] the boys presented the girls with presents, and the girls did the same when the boys were invited to their homes. In the meantime, the parents discussed the wedding arrangements.
During chol hamoed the bakers went house to house to collect the money owed them for baking the matzo. In the prosperous homes they were treated to khremzlekh and slivovitz [plum brandy] and Passover vishnik [cherry liquor].
Among the matzo bakers whom I recall were Moshe and Grafs (Lipiner); my father Chaim Krymerkopf; Itsik-Hersh Fefer, who was partners with Meir Leibeles; Khaye Beile-Rechl; Berger; Yekutiel Honik and his wife.
On the Sabbath and holiday they conducted the prayers in the besmedresh with great enthusiasm. All kinds of good food were prepared at home, even among the poor. The parents derived joy from the sweet voices of their children, who joined in singing the zemirot [melodies]. Every boy who went to heder wished that Passover lasted several months. Classes ended several days before the holiday, because the rebe had to get ready.
In the pleasant chol hamoed days the heder boys were busy making whistles from tree twigs and playing games with nuts. Even before Purim, the prosperous parents had bought their children new clothing and shoes for Passover. The tailors and shoemakers had no time to finish orders for the poor children; they were too overwhelmed with work for the children of the rich and postponed the orders for the poor until after the holiday. The children of the poor cried in shame, but still ran out to play in their old clothes and forgot about their troubles.
During these days the melameds would visit the parents of their pupils and entreat them not to remove their children and send them to another teacher. They collected payment for the tuition that was owed them and at the same time took the occasion to recruit new pupils. The belfers [teacher's assistants] also went around to collect the money owed them for whole year of washing the children, helping them with their morning prayers and polishing their shoes.
It was a delight during chol hamoed to go outside to the large Tarnogrod market place, where the warm spring sun had already dried up the mud. Everything had a semi-holiday appearance. Yankl Getz (Spielsinger), the water carrier, went around with his water cans on his shoulders singing a song about half-holidays, half-matzos, half-eggs, and half-potatoes, mixed in with verses from Psalms.
On the other [sacred] days of the holiday, the Jews felt exalted and in good spirits. These days were spent praying, eating the festive meals, taking an afternoon nap and then going back to the besmedresh to study and recite psalms.
The last day of Passover the shmirenikes [ultra-observant], who during the holiday refrained from eating kneidlach [matzo balls] and other delicacies made with matzo meal, indulged themselves and made up for the entire holiday by eating in one day all the foods which they had been eyeing with great appetite, but had not eaten.
The khevre kedushe had a custom of holding a feast for its members on the last day of Passover, to which they also invited the members of the khevre noysim.
When the holiday ended, it felt as if something precious had been lost. The mood was sad. People began counting the days of the Omer [the 49-day period between the end of Passover and Shavuot], waiting impatiently for the arrival of the holiday of Shavuot. During this period people did not hold weddings, sew new clothing, or cut their hair.
On the day of Shavuot eve boys visited the houses of the prosperous with bunches of wild iris to sell. The flowers grew along the Zheke, where this small stream flowed far from the town, and the boys went there to pick them. They would make whistles from the stems. The women spread the flowers over the floor and on windowsills.
There were also families who sent each other these flowers as an expression of friendship. Thus, when a Jewish woman wanted to say that she and another woman didn't get along, she would use the expression, Well, so she won't send me flowers on Shavuot.
While the women saw to it that there were flowers at Shavuot, the men took care to supply the household with Shavuot trees. The tree boughs were hung on nails that had been hammered into the walls, in the corners, on the ceiling around the chandeliers. No one in town knew the correct name of the trees, which grew outside the town and behind the synagogue. They called them Shavuot trees because every year they cut the branches of those trees to use to decorate the houses for Shavuot.
Heder boys pasted special colorful paper decorations on the windowpanes in the shape of flowers, which were called hag hashvueslekh.
In the synagogues and besmedreshes the tables, altar, pulpit, lectern and Torah ark were decorated with tree boughs, and these houses of worship, just like the homes, looked like fragrant gardens.
The first day of Shavuot, before reading the Torah, they recited the Akdamut prayer. On the second day, they read the Megilla of Ruth. In the synagogue, where they prayed in the Ashkenazic manner, they recited yotzros [liturical poems] every Sabbath from after Passover until Shavuot.
On the first day after Shavuot, there was an Isru Chag [half-holiday] and the tradesmen did not begin work until noon.
Then came the days and weeks of summer. Everyone was busy with their weekday work, some in commerce, others in their workshops. On hot days, door and windows stood open. At some houses ducks and chickens wandered about. Children ran around barefoot; the youngest wore only shirts. People ate mostly dairy foods. When the berries ripened they cooked them into compote. On Friday the mothers prepared baked goods with the berries especially for the children, but grown-ups didn't mind eating them as well. The children's mouths were constantly smeared and blackened from eating berries. The mothers put up big jars of berry preserves.
After berry season came the season of fruit cherries, sour cherries and all other fruits that grew in orchards around Tarnogrod. In the month of Av, when the sour cherries were harvested, they started to make vishnik for Passover.
There were Jewish orchardists in Tarnogrod who rented orchards with fruit trees outside the town or in the surrounding villages from estate owners and peasants. When the fruit ripened, they picked them and brought them to town, keeping them in cellars, and in this way supported themselves for the entire year.
In the month of Av the orchardists would travel to the orchards with their wives and children, taking with them their prayer shawls and tefillin, and some pots to cook with. The family lived together in a hut that they built, cooking on a fire lit in the middle of the orchard.
The huts were made from poles covered with straw. Inside there was more straw, on which the family slept. The huts were so cleverly constructed, under the protection of the trees, that they could withstand the strongest winds and torrential rains.
The orchard keepers lived in the orchards from the beginning of Av until Rosh Hashanah. If the harvest was late, they would stay there through the High Holy Days and Sukkot, and would erect a sukkah in the orchard.
The orchardists whose orchards were in the villages would pray with the village Jews in their minyans on the Sabbath and holidays. The Tarnogrod orchardists would not pick up fruit that fell on the ground on the Sabbath.
The well-off orchardists who had wholesale businesses hired peasants with wagons to transport the fruit to sell in the nearby towns: Jozefow, Bilgoraj, Sieniawa, Lezajsk, where there were no orchards. In the last years before the war there were already orchard keepers who owned their own horses and wagons and transported the fruit to town themselves.
The wives of the smaller-scale orchardists would sit in the market place near the fabric shops, with piles of fruit which they sold year-round. In winter they sat with a fire-pot at their feet and sold by the kilo. A frozen apple was considered a desirable delicacy in Tarnogrod.
It was harder to make a living in summer than in winter. Most of the customers were peasants, who in summer were busy in the fields and rarely came into town. The big fairs were also less busy in the summer.
Business didn't pick up until the month of Elul, when the peasants had already harvested the grain from the fields. The well-off Jews began to buy wood, so it would be dry in time for winter. The poor got ready by buying potatoes, beets and carrots. Wood was too expensive for them, and only when the cold weather approached did they buy a small wagonload of pine branches, which were wet and did not burn well, filling the house with smoke.
High Holy Days
The day of Rosh Hashanah eve, before the slikhes prayers, the women began baking for the holiday and the entire week following. They baked special challahs that looked different from the regular Sabbath challahs, called radishen When people returned home from the slikhes prayers, the smell of sugar pears drying in the ovens after the challah was baked emanated from many houses.
It was considered a mitsve to buy a living carp or other fish on Rosh Hashanah, as a charm for another year of life. Two partners, Zisman Fink and Zalman Weintraub, sold live fish for many years until World War II. They bought the fish from estate owners who raised them in the lakes on their estates. They transported the live fish in barrels filled with water to other towns.
Many years before World War I, the practice was that on the day of Rosh Hashanah eve, just as on Friday, the bathhouse was reserved for women until noon. After noon, Moshele Tsvaniak went through the streets ringing a bell to signal that the bath was now available to the men. For this service he was paid a few groshen by the bath attendant. When Moshele Tsvaniak died Hetish Wassertreger, the mute, took over the job of ringing the bell.
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah prayers began a bit earlier than on an ordinary Sabbath eve, and ended much later. On their way home, people wished each other a good year leshone tova tikateyvu.
All of the next day was spent in prayer and reciting psalms. For the ceremony of tashlekh people went to the Zheke, where it flowed under the bridge at the Bilgoraj gate. The entire way back the worshippers, along with the rabbi, sang various nigunim [religious melodies].
During the 10-day period of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur everyone was very serious, fearful of the approaching Day of Judgment. On Yom Kippur eve, by order of the rabbi, the bath was not heated and people had to make do with the heated mikve.
During minkhe [afternoon prayers], they performed the malkus ceremony [symbolic whipping]. Two men stood at the torah ark to administer the lashes. The person who was to receive the lashes lay face down on the floor, which was covered in hay. With a wide leather belt, the beater slowly counted out forty strokes, while the person receiving the blows struck himself in the chest and confessed his sins. People paid three kopeks in advance to undergo the malkus ceremony. In addition, people donated money for the poor who stood at the door to the synagogue, and to communal charitable institutions, which had laid out plates on a table for that purpose. That is how things were done until World War I; after that, the custom was abandoned.
After the seudah hamafsekes [final meal before the Yom Kippur fast] and the candle lighting at home, you would hear weeping from parents and children. Relatives and friends would drop in to wish each other a good year, meanwhile shedding copious tears. Teary-eyed, people went off to the synagogues and besmedreshes to pray, and did not leave until late in the night. Many did not go home to sleep, but studied and recited psalms all night. The same occurred the entire day of Yom Kippur; prayers lasted all day, until people left to bless the new moon. They took with them the stubs of candles that had been burning for 24 hours. They had made sure that a piece of candle remained to be used in the ceremony of Hoshana Rabbah [7th day of Sukkot] when the Hoshanot prayer is recited.
It was an old tradition to begin building the sukkah immediately after the first meal after the Yom Kippur fast had ended. There were sukkahs for individual families, and sukkahs that were shared, with several families eating together.
During World War I Tarnogrod and Bilgoraj shared a single esrog [citron used in religious ritual on Sukkot]. The Tarnogrod Jews had to delay the ritual requiring the esrog until 2 o'clock in the afternoon, when a Christian boy rode in from Bilgoraj, 21 kilometers away, and delivered the fruit.
Chol hamoed Sukkot was similar to Passover. Matchmakers came to propose marriage matches; prospective brides and grooms arranged to meet and invited each other to their parent's homes. But the chol hamoed days of Sukkot lacked the joy of the renewal of nature felt at Passover. The approaching chill of winter was already in the air.
On Hoshana Rabbah, people spent the day in prayer, reciting psalms and study. The Rabbi went around collecting alms for the hidden poor [people who concealed their poverty] and other charitable causes. On the night of Shimini Atzeret the Jews who followed Sephardic tradition carried the torah around, as on Simchat Torah. Those who followed the Ashkenazi tradition did this only on Simchat Torah, after the conclusion of prayers.
Simchat Torah was a joyous holiday. After prayers people would visit the gabbais of the besmedresh for Kiddush that included kreplach [filled dumplings]. Relatives and good friends would visit back and forth, so people spent the whole day in a state of intoxication. People didn't sleep during the day, as on other holidays, but caroused until late into the night.
1914 A New Era
Until World War I Tarnogrod was under Russian rule. In my childhood old people told stories about how the Russian khappers sent away two poor boys from the town to become kantonists in the Russian army, where they served 25 years.[i]
Moshe Klug, who came from the village Rozaniec, near Tarnogrod, served 15 years in the Russian army, in a unit stationed in Moscow. His wife stayed in Moscow the entire time. He returned to his village and lived to be very old, until one night a peasant burnt down his home, with him in it.
Tarnogrod Jews lived through all the wars fought by Russia. Jews remembered participating in the Russo-Turkish War [1877-78] and the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, in which several Tarnogrod Jews died. There were several Jews who fled to America [to avoid military service] and returned to Tarnogrod when the war was over; others remained in America and brought over their families.
After the war with Japan, when life in Russia returned to normal, Jewish life in Tarnogrod was quiet and peaceful until war broke out in 1914. The First World War broke out on Tisha b'Av 1914. There was a mobilization in the entire country, and Jews from Tarnogrod were drafted into the Russian army. The impact of the war was strongly felt from the first day. The town was close to the Austrian border and immediately became the front line.
The border military, called obietshikes, penetrated deeper into the country. The Austrian army crossed the border and invaded Tarnogrod. That day, there were still several Russian border patrol soldiers on the Folwark, near the Bilgoraj gate. When they spotted an Austrian cavalry patrol, the Russian soldiers ran toward it with rifles in hand, positioning themselves behind Mordechai Mantl's stone building, and began shooting. One rider was wounded, another fell off his horse, dead, and the rest retreated. Having accomplished this bit of work, the Russians went off in the direction of Bilgoraj.
A half-hour after this incident, the town was quiet. There wasn't a soldier to be seen anywhere in town, except for the dead Austrian cavalryman who lay in the middle of the market place near the water pump. After a quiet pause, the Austrian army began marching in, without encountering any resistance. The military regiments passed through the town, continuing further on all of the roads that led deeper into Poland.
A military authority was established in Tarnogrod. The dead cavalryman was quickly removed from the market place. A Pole arrived and told how he had seen Chaim Maler (Blinderman) kick the body of the dead man. Chaim was arrested and sentenced to death by a military court. Twenty-four hours later, he was shot in the Jewish cemetery. He had no children, just a wife who was left a widow.
During the short pause before the soldiers marched in, the horse of the dead cavalryman ran around the market place. Hersh Adler, the 16 year-old son of Meir Wolf Katsev, a horse-dealer, caught the horse and brought it back to his stable. When the Austrian soldiers found the horse, they arrested Hersh. He, too, was in danger of being sentenced to death, but was saved because he was a minor. He was sentenced to an internment camp where he remained until 1918. Today Hersh Adler, now an old man, lives in Mexico.
In the villages and in Tarnogrod there were Russian peasants who shot at the Austrian soldiers as they marched through. This happened in Plusy, on the road to Bilgoraj. The Austrian military command arrested the village peasants along with every civilian they encountered on the roads. In this way several Tarnogrod Jews were arrested just for walking on the street. Among those arrested were: Meir Wolf Katsev, Yeshaye Mendak (Fisher), my father, Chaim Krymerkopf, who was arrested in his orchard, where he was praying in his prayer shawl and tefillin. All of the arrestees were sent to a prison camp where they remained until the end of the war.
The Austrians commandeered all the agricultural products and manufactured goods, issued ration cards for food, and forbade any private commerce conducted without special permission from the military authority. The Austrian military also took all the newly harvested grain and all food stores found in the villages. As a result, there were no longer any market days or fairs. The rich peasants were afraid to sell even the products that they had been allowed to keep after the military had confiscated their required amount.
Accordingly, people began to deal in smuggled goods, which entailed many problems, arrests and confiscations.
Money lost its previous value. The cost of living rose and hunger afflicted many Jewish homes. Tradesmen went idle, with no prospect of work. In the course of the war, our town changed hands twice, but it wasn't subjected to heavy shooting as was the neighboring town of Krzeszow, which was completely destroyed by fire. Sieniawa experienced the same fate, under heavy attack by Russian cannons. Jews from Sieniawa fled their destroyed homes for Tarnogrod where they received a warm welcome. Every Jew took in a burned-out family from Sieniawa and provided them with necessities.
Poverty grew greater every day. Jews went out to work on repairing the roads that had been damaged by the military. The town authorities paid very little for this work. Prices for food and materials rose daily. A piece of black bread was a great treat; no one baked challahs for the Sabbath. People wore clothes made from the dyed homespun woven by the peasants.
Tarnogrod, like the entire region of Lublin, was occupied by Austria twice: the first time, at the beginning of the war, from the month of Av to Tishri ; the second time, from the month of Tammuz in 1915 until Kislev 1918, when Independent Poland was established.
by Nuchim Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
In the month of Tishrei, 1914, the Russians succeeded in pushing out the Austrians, chasing them back to the Carpathian Mountains. The battlefront was established outside Krakow. Conditions in Tarnogrod improved. Fresh supplies -- flour, sugar, tea, and chocolate began to flow in and warehouses reopened, full of goods.
Tarnogrod Jews resumed doing business with the Austrian towns now occupied by the Russian army. Avraham Kagan (Roisenfeld) brought large shipments of flour, sugar and tea to Rzeszow, Tarnow and other towns close to the battlefront.
The economic situation in town greatly improved. Yet people still feared the Russian army, especially the Cossacks, who marched through the town on their way to the battlefront. At those times, Jewish girls didn't dare go out into the street.
After the defeat of the Russian army in the Carpathians, the Austrians again occupied Tarnogrod. All of the food reserves that the Russian army had left behind in their rush to retreat were confiscated by the Austrians, who also seized food supplies from private homes. Once again life was marked by anxiety and hunger was the norm.
During the Russian retreat a relentless battle took place 7 kilometers from Tarnogrod at the bridge over the Tanew River. The Russians mounted a rigorous resistance. The Jews of Tarnogrod rushed to the big stone synagogue seeking the protection of its thick walls. Those who could not fit into the fully packed synagogue ran to find hiding places outside of town. A Jew from Krezeszow was hit by shrapnel and fell dead in the priest's garden, where his body remained. Not one house was damaged by the shooting.
In the summer of 1916 there came reports that an illness affecting children was raging in nearby towns, and that it was being transmitted to adults. This was cholera. Young and old died. In Bilgoraj there were 30 deaths a day. The same happened in Jozefow, and soon the disease spread to Tarnogrod.
It was a horrific epidemic. People died within hours of falling ill. It began with cramps in the arms or legs and a few hours later, the person was dead. Tarnogrod had fewer victims than other towns because people realized early on that it was unacceptable to sit by and do nothing and they organized a committee of young volunteers called the Sanitorer Committee --to fight the plague. Still, many Jews there died of cholera and there were houses where two or three family members were lost.
The members of the committee that had undertaken the mission to fight the epidemic threw themselves into their work with body and soul. Among them were: Moshe Firsht, Hersh-Meir Zychler, Faiwel Bas, Simcha Tarbiner, Shimon Schorer, Shimon Fluk, Moshele Shohet, etc. etc.
The committee was based in the home of Faiwel Bas. There they kept a whole pharmacy's worth of remedies various ointments and bottles of medicine. In particular they amassed bottles of pure alcohol which they applied to the body parts where the patients were experiencing cramps.
People could not understand why the disease spread in the Jewish towns but barely touched the villages. The disease was especially virulent during the hot summer months of Tammuz and Av.
The committee members worked with tremendous dedication. I remember how an 8-year-old boy, Avraham Batsh, while sitting on a bench on Razhnitser Street, was seized by cramps and began writhing in convulsions. His mother Chana-Lea immediately ran to the committee offices and Moshele Shohet and Moshe Firsht responded to the scene in their white aprons. At the Batsh family home, they put a sugar cube saturated with a yellow liquid into the boy's mouth and he immediately opened his eyes. They rubbed his entire body with alcohol, put him to bed, well covered, and the boy recovered within a few hours.
Those members of the committee who did not directly treat the sick were tasked with regularly visiting the homes of those who had recovered, monitoring their condition and reporting to the committee.
During the summer of 1916 our rabbi Reb Leibele Teicher worked tirelessly on the rescue effort. He and his sons Moshele, Hershele and Shayele studied day and night, researching religious books that talked about terrible epidemics and gave instructions on remedies that had been used to fight them. He summoned the shameses of the synagogues and besmedreshes and ordered them to announce during prayers that the rabbi had decreed that fasting was not permitted on Tisha b'Av; that after reciting the Lamentations people should go home, eat, and drink as much whiskey as possible, since it was probably whiskey drinking that had helped the villages to evade the epidemic.
The epidemic continued to rage and the rabbi began to look for a prospective bride and groom who would be married under a black khupe at the cemetery. It was an old custom among Jews to do this as a remedy against a plague.
Among the Jews who had fled to Tarnogrod from Sieniawa there was an old, poor bachelor named Skhariye, who had a hunchback, and an old maid Taybele Tam [simpleton] -- two friendless people who lived in the poorhouse and slept on its decrepit floor. They were designated to get married under the black khupe, thereby stopping the plague in town. When they went to ask the prospective bride if she wanted to marry Skhariye, she merely lowered her eyes and said nothing. The same thing occurred with the prospective groom.
Having no choice the rabbi sent the shames to summon the couple to his rabbinical court. The rabbi himself assumed the role of the matchmaker, carried out the formalities, and the date for the wedding was set for the same week.
A bed and a bench-bed were purchased and set up in a corner of the poor house run by Kuni-Leml, and curtains were hung [to provide privacy]. On the day of the wedding, the shames announced in the besmedresh that Skhariye and Taybele would get married that day and that the ceremony would take place in the cemetery [traditional site for a black khupe].
At noon, the shames went around town banging on doors to summon people to prayers and at the same time inviting everyone to come to the wedding ceremony. The shopkeepers shut their stores, tradesmen set aside their work and everyone came to the cemetery. Moshele the rabbi's son and his wife Malkale accompanied one of the wedding couple to the khupe, and Simchale Zetzer and his wife Tshipele accompanied the other one. Shlomole Marshalek and Mulye Schleiser were the wedding musicians.
The ceremony of badekns [placing the veil on the bride] took place in the rabbi's court and the couple was then escorted to the cemetery. Along the entire way the musicians played and everyone held burning candles as they walked. Little boys carried the poles of the khupe. The rabbi Reb Leibele conducted the marriage ceremony.
People danced the traditional mitsve dance with the bride and drank a lot of whiskey.
After the ceremony they escorted the couple to their corner in the poorhouse. It's true that the cholera epidemic did not end as a result of the ceremony but I do remember that afterwards, everyone felt relieved.
Finally the epidemic gradually began to ease. People calmed down and life returned to normal.
But that didn't last long. Soon after the cholera disappeared, a typhus epidemic broke out. It was much less severe than the cholera. There were some fatalities, but in large part the illness was repelled, until it disappeared entirely.
by Nuchim Krymerkopf
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
The First World War brought about radical changes in the economic conditions of Jews in Tarnogrod. People became newly rich or newly impoverished. There were war profiteers who made fortunes by smuggling and illegal trading, risking their lives to do so. There were formerly wealthy merchants who could not follow such a path and were forced to live on their reserves, which exhausted their capital and often became ordinary poor folk. Especially hard hit were those merchants who were owed money by Christian peasants in the villages. It was a rare peasant who remembered the debt that he still owed to a Jew. Even if an honest Christian did pay off an old debt, the money no longer had its previous value. The most devalued currency was the Russian ruble. The Austrian crown was still in circulation.
The economic conditions for Jews worsened day to day. There were households where they didn't have a scrap of meat to eat, even on the Sabbath. Things got even worse when the government banned the slaughter of cattle, because the lingering war had depleted all the cattle to feed the soldiers.
The Christian population did not feel the effects of poor economic conditions as strongly as the Jews. The Austrian regime did not force the occupied populace to serve in the army, although it did impose forced labor for which people were paid a negligible wage.
The Austrian authorities had a police station in town manned by several police officers. One fine clear morning, several young Poles approached an Austrian police officer and ripped off his belt and rifle, as well as the insignia designating his military rank. The policeman did not resist and seemed to accept this as a natural thing.
The Jews were in an uproar. They could not understand the meaning of this episode. They did not receive newspapers; no one was interested. People were busy in the pursuit of a livelihood and mourning their children and parents who died in the epidemic. Each person interpreted this unusual event in their own way.
But after a while we began to see Christian civilians walking around the market place with rifles on their shoulders and rumors quickly spread that a Polish state had been reestablished, one which included parts of Galicia and Germany as well. In a word a cataclysm!
The Jews immediately felt the effects of this huge event, the reestablishment of Polish independence. First of all, Austrian currency became worthless. The new regime issued a new Polish mark, made of paper; even the smallest unit of currency, the groshen, was made of paper. Those Jews who didn't have a reserve store of merchandise suddenly became poor and couldn't afford to buy a piece of bread; they had no prospects at all for a way to support themselves.
The First World War had ended. In Russia the revolution was still being fought. Soldiers began to return from the front, and prisoners of war from captivity, bringing joy to many homes. But there were other homes that were revisited by grief, where they had hoped for the return of a son or father but now realized that they had fallen in battle or died in captivity. Among those who did not return were: Daniel Aharon Wassertreger, Yekl Moshe Khanes, Leibush Kuni Lemels, Hersh Dovid Yoels (Walfish), Bunim der Shegekhes (Agert), Avraham Honik, Pinkes, Kozak's son in law, and many others whose names I have forgotten.
We should mention here the support that Tarnogrod's Jews received from relatives in America. The Tarnogrod Society in America sent money for poor people to buy what they needed to celebrate Passover. The money from America was tremendously important in improving the quality of life. The dollar was very valuable, worth incomparably more than Polish currency. You needed hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Polish paper currency to buy anything. Purchases were made by the packet, with a packet consisting of 100,000 marks. When you had to pay half million marks, that was called five packets. Everything was calculated with reference to the dollar, the value of which was constantly rising. It got to the point that a dollar was worth 11 million marks.
In Poland the war with the Bolsheviks flared up. There was a military draft which included the Jews. The Polish army was dominated by anti-Semitism. Especially threatening to Jews were the forces of [General Josef] Haller. Luckily the Hallerites did not pass through Tarnogrod, although the Jews there suffered from sheer terror, since we had heard of the horrific acts these bands had carried out. Especially terrifying was the pogrom the Polish army carried out against Jews in Lvov in 1918, after driving out the Ukrainians.
The Zionist Movement
Along with economic changes came changes in the intellectual and cultural life of the Jews of Tarnogrod. New winds began to blow. Cautiously and gradually young people began to take an interest in what was happening in the outside world. The religious besmedresh student sitting over his gemore was also holding a concealed newspaper or secular book.
The historic Balfour Declaration evoked a great stir. When news of the Declaration reached Tarnogrod it caused tremendous joy, especially among young people, who saw before them the possibility of realizing the 2000-year-old dream of national redemption. On the street, in the besmedresh they exchanged mazel-tovs. At prayers they recited hallel [Psalms 113-118] in praise of God to express their great enthusiasm for this historic event.
There were debates in the besmedresh. Certain religious Jews held that it was not appropriate to say hallel over the Balfour Declaration, that the recognition of the rights of Jews to Eretz Yisroel did not constitute a true deliverance, which required the coming of Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple. But the majority of religious Jews were carried away with the enthusiasm of the young people and recited the psalms along with them in honor of the great event.
Enthusiasm among the young grew. They began to organize clandestine groups. They were afraid not only of the police but also their own parents who opposed the new political movements and who didn't want their children to put aside their religious studies and take up reading heretical [i.e.secular] books. There were fights at home. Boys and girls became insolent, fighting their unenlightened religious parents who wouldn't permit them to join a Zionist organization.
There were fathers who in their hearts understood their children's ideas but who concealed their feelings because that would subject them to harassment from the extreme fanatics. Berish Ringer's bakery was boycotted because his son Meir became a Zionist.
The young increasingly oriented themselves in the ideological struggle between right and left. Revolutionary [i.e. socialist] circles were formed, but the young were mostly in the thrall of Zionism. Every movement or idea that arose among Polish Jewry received a warm response in Tarngorod. The boys who studied in the besmedresh found their way to the sources of Hebrew literature. Moshe Lemer's home became an intellectual meeting place for progressive young men. Moshe Lemer had gotten married during the war and for a short time lived with his father in law Yekl Trinker in the village Rozaniec.
Trinker was large landowner and supported his son in law so he could engage in religious studies. He bought him a large Talmud and other religious books. Several years later, when Moshe Lemer abandoned his religious studies and was drawn into Zionist activity he donated the books to the besmedresh.
Moshe Lemer continued to live in the village, but spent the entire week in town, staying with his parents and earning a living from a small soda water factory. On the Sabbath he would return to his family in Rozaniec. Several years later he relocated his family to Tarnogrod. There, they lived communally with his parents, sisters and brothers, paying for expenses and purchases from a single purse. When times were bad, they all shared the hardship.
When times were good and their situation improved, everyone shared the income.
Many besmedresh students took their first steps toward Zionism in the Lemer home. Every day they would gather there in their free time and discuss Zionism and other cultural issues. Eretz Yisroel was the center of every discussion. Everyone worked to learn the Hebrew language, but Yiddish literature also took up a lot of their time.
This communal beginning helped to activate young people as well as a certain part of the older Jewish population. The young people led the shtetl out of the stagnation and generations-old quiet that characterized pre-war Tarnogrod. People decided to establish a library, which was actually the first Tarnogrod had ever had.
Cultural activities began in the library. Young people of every social and economic sector who yearned to read a Yiddish or Hebrew book came there. They elected a board of directors whose task it was to buy new books and collect books from individual book owners. Bazhe Bank was designated chairman. He and his parents had come to Tarnogrod from Sieniawa. One of his assets was his knowledge of Hebrew that he spoke more fluently than anyone else. Moshe Lemer was selected to be vice-chairman and Meir Ringer was the librarian. I was assigned the job of secretary. Shortly after, Chaim Apteker took over as secretary; he kept the minutes of our activities in Hebrew.
The group was on a high cultural level.
They threw themselves into the work body and soul. They bought a large number of books and obtained some as gifts or loans from private parties. Gitele Wachnachter from the village of Biszcza loaned out all of her books, but she never asked for them to be returned. Itche-Ber Adler donated several books by Mendele Moykher Sforim and Sholem Aleichem when he came to Tarnogrod on a visit from America.
That was what the Zionist movement [in Tarnogrod] looked like at the time when it did not yet have an official name or charter.
Thanks to the systematic educational work the number of members of the Zionist movement increased and the Zionist ideal spread among broader circles of the Tarnogrod population. The Jews, especially young people, every day became more convinced in the correctness of Dr. Herzl's words: Zionism is the return to the Jewish people even before the return to the Jewish land. And so they constantly increased their Zionist activity, raising the younger generation in the national spirit and encouraging in them love for the Hebrew language, even though among themselves they spoke Yiddish most of the time.
As regards to national ideology, the Jews in Tarnogrod were pro-Zionist although of course there were a sufficient number who didn't understand what that designation meant and opposed it. But even among the opponents there was a love for Israel and yearning for national liberation.
Tserei Agudat Israel
There were also other ideologies. Many people sympathized with Agudath Israel [ultra-orthodox, conservative, anti-Zionist organization]. There were also young people with leftist leanings. But these were not many and they did not engage in any public activity in accord with their ideologies and certainly did not form any branches of those parties in Tarnogrod.
In the last years before World War II there was an association of Tserei Agudath Israel [youth movement associated with Agudath Israel] in Tarnogrod. They had their own minyan on Lakhover Street, in the home of Leibl Zaberman, where they prayed on the Sabbath.
There was also a Beis Yakov school for girls on Razhenitser Street, in Moshe Feingold's building.
But it was at the library that the liveliest activity took place. The library created a drama section that organized its own theater productions. There was a shortage of female members, so often boys played women's roles. The only girl was Moshe Lemer's sister Freida. They held rehearsals at the home of Itche Ber Adler. He was also the theater prompter. Adler lives today in America.
The First Hebrew School
From the beginning, the library founders were aware of the enormous importance of teaching the children Hebrew. They saw no way to conduct productive Zionist activity without a school that would acquaint the children with the rich past of our people and educate them in its national spirit.
And so a Hebrew school was established. They hired a Hebrew teacher and the Hebrew language proudly began to sound from the mouths of our children. The founding of the Hebrew school led to a big fight with the fanatical Jews. The melameds played a certain role, seeing in the school a threat to their livelihood. The rabbi and other religious personnel also sharply opposed it.
When Zionist and Mizrakhi [religious Zionist] speakers came to Tarnogrod they encountered the same vigorous opposition from the rabbi and other religious Jews, who did not permit them to appear in the besmedresh or other houses of worship.
The Free Food Program for Children
The library founders also put a lot of energy into creating a food program for children. With the significant help of the Joint Distribution Committee, about 200 Tarnogrod children were fed two meals -breakfast and lunch- a day.
Young volunteers from the Zionist movement carried out the work in and around the kitchen, did the cooking, serving and cleaning and distributed food to the mothers, who came everyday with pots to carry out food for their children.
In the difficult years of the First World War the importance of a food program for children of poor homes was enormous. Later, when food began to become available on the free market, the service gradually ended.
At that time, the tradesmen also founded a cooperative store where they sold their goods at low prices. The longtime chairman of the cooperative was Yekl Schneider (Magram) who now lives in America.
The First Emigrants to Israel
Finally the Polish-Bolshevik war ended and free emigration to other countries, mostly America, began. Later, when America closed its gates, emigration continued to Germany. Gradually, many of the library founders emigrated. Moshe Lemer, along with his entire family parents, sisters, and brothers settled in Berlin, where, incidentally, they became very rich. Bazhe Bank, the chairman of the library, also emigrated with his parents and settled in Berlin.
Meir Dinger, the librarian, married a girl from Sieniawa and after the wedding they too went to Germany. When Hitler came to power Dinger left Germany and was able to go to Eretz Yisroel, where he still lives.
Chaim Apteker who was among the most skilled in Hebrew and active in the Zionist movement emigrated to Israel, where he still lives, occupying an important position in Tel Aviv.
Others who made aliyah at this time were: Chaim Lipiner and his wife; Avraham-Yitzhak and Golde Kenigstein, who got married there and live today in Tel Aviv; Shmuel Fefer and his family, who live today in Kiryat Motzkin; Shmuel Akst; Zishe Fester and his wife, who came from America to Tarnogrod and soon after left for Israel, taking with them a large crate of books they had brought with them from America; they live today in Haifa; Berish Schorer and his wife, who live in Tel Aviv; Volvish Weiss who several years later brought over his brother Moshe, they live in Tel Aviv.
Jews who lived in the villages around Tarnogrod also had a strong desire to emigrate to Israel. Zalmen Feferman from the village Lukow and Dovid Entner from Rozaniec emigrated, but after living there several years returned to Tarnogrod. Entner was killed several days after Tarnogrod was liberated in World War II. Feferman lives today in America.
A hakhshore was established in Tarngorod a training kibbutz where boys and girls prepared for emigration to Israel by engaging in farm labor and other physical labor. The farming was done at Yekl Sharievker's in the village. The other heavy labor part time and full time -- was done in town for various employers who considered it their obligation to give work to the Zionist youth dreaming of making aliyah and reviving the devastated land.
Tarnogrod also had a Betar [Revisionist Zionist] organization, led by Moshe Kenigstein, who several times a week led the group in military drills.
In time Tarnogrod developed closer ties to the larger cities. The words Eretz Yisroel resounded deeply in every heart. The new word, chalutz [pioneer] drew us to our land, to a new life and future. The movement carried us away and interest grew in all the different Zionist organizations. Hashomer Hatzair [the Young Guard] was very successful. Young people joined in with their parents' approval, engaged in various athletic exercises and organizational activities, with special insignias and clothing.
Parents supported their children's Zionist activity with the hope that it would help them realize their plans to go to Eretz Yisroel. But only a very small number of Jews from Tarnogrod were able to do so.
The Impoverishment of the Jewish Population
In the period between the two World Wars the town experienced ups and downs. When the [First World] war ended, Jewish life in Tarnogrod, as in the rest of Poland, began to normalize. Although pre-war means of livelihood disappeared, and people could not directly return to their businesses or skilled trades, the Jews gradually overcame the difficulties and slowly began to rebuild their lives.
The Jews demonstrated great initiative in redeveloping the town. People were inspired by social forces. They returned to conducting commerce, and various trades tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, et. al. were revived. There were no large industrial enterprises in Tarnogrod. The Jewish merchants, just like the tradesmen, toiled from very early until late at night.
Waves of anti-Semitism grew stronger, but that also strengthened Jewish feelings of national resistance. Jews participated in political life, actively engaging in elections to the Sejm [Polish parliament] and town council, where they had their representatives.
In the early years, Tarnogrod had created a workers' party in which Itsik Farber (Leibl Melamed's son) played a leading role. It had its offices in the house of Avrom Hersh Adler.
One May 1st, the Jews marched through the streets to the Polish town offices, carrying a red flag and singing workers' songs. Itsik Farber stood on a table on the square in front of the town offices and delivered a speech in Polish. He was followed by additional speakers who spoke sympathetically about the Communist regime in Soviet Russia.
Police and town officials, along with other Poles, stood in the square calmly listening to the speeches. No one interfered. But when the group resumed the demonstration and began marching back to their offices, the police attacked, beating them right and left with the butts of their rifles.
A whole slew of worker activists were arrested and put on trial. The Jewish households whose sons had been arrested were in turmoil. They hired lawyers who took from the poor parents their last few pennies. Many of the arrestees were released after a few months pending trial. After trial, many of them received long sentences. Itsik Farber was sentenced to six years in prison. During the Second World War he was sent to a Soviet camp, where he died.
That was the sole public action by the Communist youth organization, which remained illegal the entire time.
Anti-Semitism grew from day to day. The Polish government began to impose heavy taxes on the Jews. In addition to having to buy a special license, a Jewish shopkeeper had to pay all kinds of fees and taxes. The Jews sorely felt the burden of these enormous taxes. In addition, they gradually lost their peasant customers in the nearby villages. The peasants travelled to other towns in Galicia, which were accessible by better roads. They travelled to Lezajsk and Sieniawa, Oleszyce and Lubacow, where they sold their produce and bought whatever merchandise they needed.
The fairs in Tarnogrod grew increasingly smaller. The market days, which were the main source of livelihood for Jews, also had fewer peasant customers. Christians set up stalls in the market and new Christian-owned businesses opened up. They received special financial support from the government, which enabled them to compete with their Jewish neighbors.
The town government officials also aided the Christian merchants by imposing oppressive measures on the Jews, making their lives more difficult. Prominent among these were the town secretary, Witkowski, and the mayor, Rutkin. A Jew had to obtain permission for every little thing, even the renovation of one's home, which was hard to get and took months.
Once the renovation was done, the two officials would visit the home to check on the work, always finding something that didn't conform to the administrative order, for which they punished the Jew with a stiff fine or arrest.
Each year, the tax officials in Bilgoraj held special meetings which lasted several weeks, at which they considered tax calculations for the entire population of the Bilgoraj district. They summoned to these meetings two Jews from every town, who had to give their opinion about the earnings of the Jews in their town. The two such experts selected from Tarnogrod were Khaim Goldman and Yosef Maynes-Royznblat. These two delegates had the difficult task of combating the excessive taxes that the officials wanted to impose on the Jewish merchants and tradesman. But their efforts were in vain. Burdened by heavy taxes, the shopkeepers got ever poorer. They travelled to Warsaw, Lviv and Lublin to get merchandise on loan, signing long-term promissory notes which made the merchandise even more expensive, by 20% and more. When the due date for the promissory notes and for taxes approached, many of them went bankrupt.
For a Tarnogrod Jew, the first bankruptcy was shameful, a slap in the face. He would struggle with all his might in order to remain an honorable man. But he could not see any way out and had to sell his merchandise below cost. Bankruptcy became a common event. Later on, merchants from larger towns would travel to Tarnogrod with the unpaid promissory notes and initiate litigation in the Jewish religious court, where arbitrators conducted negotiations and made adjustments. Afterwards, the shopkeepers continued to do business, employing the same methods and encountering the same problems.
Even if the shopkeeper somehow managed to work things out with the wholesaler, it went much worse with the tax officials, with whom there was no room for negotiation. Every market and fair day, the sekvestratorn [confiscaters] from the Bilgoraj tax authority would come to collect taxes from the Jewish storekeepers. They were very brutal, extracting the last penny from their pockets. If they didn't find any money, they took the merchandise.
The taxes were so high, that even after the merchandise was confiscated, the storekeeper still owed money. The sekvestratorn would then go to the Jew's house and confiscate any items of value. If these were not sufficient to satisfy the debt and the fees for confiscation, they were sold at auction at half price and the storekeeper remained in debt to the government. Such auctions occurred every week.
Here we should mention the Jewish town magistrates: Khaim-Leib Mantel, Leibtshe Lipiner and Godl Vetsher. They were employed by the town government at a low salary and their job was to accompany the Polish officials and to take care of issues involving the Jews.
The Jewish magistrates felt powerless to help the Jews. But it often happened that a sekvestrator would arrive from Bilgoraj and ask the Jewish magistrate to take him to a Jewish shopkeeper to confiscate his merchandise. The magistrate did everything he could to alert the shopkeeper to the arrival of the sekvestrator, so he would have time to hide items of value. When the sekvestrator got there, he found nothing of value and left empty-handed.
Another source of terrible problems for the Jews was the sanitation commission. Every house in Tarnogrod had a piece of land where night soil was discarded. The peasants would take it away and spread it on their land as fertilizer, paying for it with a few potatoes. The sanitation commission imposed fines for the presence of the waste.
The commission also caused a lot of difficulties for the bakers and food shops. Strict ordinances required the bakers to have seven rooms and a ceramic tiled oven for baking, as well as a separate shop to sell the baked goods. It was strictly forbidden to sell baked goods from a table in the market place. No baker could comply with these regulations and they were constantly at risk of having their business closed, even when it was as clean and sanitary as an apothecary.
In the air hung the feeling of an impending storm. The peasants felt that they could do whatever they liked to the Jews, and just like the Christians who lived in town, felt entitled to goods at half price. The Christian customers increasingly bought on credit and increasingly forgot to pay their debts. When conversing with Jews, the town Christians and the village peasants would, in an ostensibly innocent way, mention the pogrom that had occurred in Przytyk [in 1936], hinting at what might happen [in Tarnogrod].
The economic boycott made itself felt. Christian customers were embarrassed to enter a Jewish shop. In the villages there were violent attacks, robberies, and thefts against Jews.
The criminal acts of the Nazis in Germany and of the anti-Semites in other Polish towns, especially the pogrom in Przytyk reverberated in Tarnogrod and soon had an effect. Encouraged by anti-Semitic harassment by the government, hooligans carried out attacks in Tarnogrod unimpeded.
The air was electrified. There were rumors that a pogrom was being planned. Supposedly, on a certain Tuesday market day, peasants from villages near and far would come to Tarnogrod and attack the Jews.
Jews were worried. A delegation travelled to the staroste [head official] in Bilgoraj, requesting protection against the organized attack. The staroste promised to send a reinforced police division to the fair. He also asked the Jews to try not to provoke the crowd.
The Bilgoraj staroste was known as an anti-Semite and the Jews put little trust in his promises. The young people therefore decided to organize a self-defense. They were relying on the strength of the Jewish butchers, stablemen and other strong young people.
Some people were of the opinion that on the targeted day, the stores should remain closed and that merchandise should not be loaded onto the market stalls. But others feared that the Christians would be angry if the shops were closed and that on the pretext that they wanted to buy, they would break in and loot the goods. The conclusion was that it was better to open the stores and be prepared for an attack.
This was in the summer of 1939, in the Hebrew month of Tamuz. Early in the morning, the Jews went out into the street, opened their shops and stacked their stalls with merchandise. In the market place there actually was an enhanced police patrol. Peasants who had never before visited Tarnogrod started to arrive in large crowds from villages near and far, in wagons and on foot, carrying thick sticks in their hands.
At the market place the crush of people kept growing. Christians armed with sticks streamed in masses among the Jewish shops. Despair grew in the hearts of the Jewish shopkeepers, but no one displayed their fear and feigning calm they laid out their wares.
Hooligans armed with sticks stationed themselves at the Jewish shops and businesses and wouldn't allow any Christians to enter. If a peasant approached wanting to enter a Jewish shop, seeking cheaper prices, the hooligans would forcibly drag him away. The Jewish shops were pasted with placards and signs warning in big letters that this was a Jewish store and should not be patronized.
In some stores the hooligans took merchandise without paying, with the intention of instigating a quarrel that would lead to blows. Some hooligans grabbed a piece of goods from a stall and ran away with it. Others waited provokingly for the Jewish owner to try to retrieve the goods. The Jewish shopkeepers submitted to everything and this way avoided even the slightest fight.
In the end, the market day passed without any disturbances, only fear and despair. The Christians dispersed on foot or in wagons not having been able to provoke the planned pogrom.
The Jewish Kehillah [Organized Jewish Community]
Until the First World War Tarnogrod did not have an organized Jewish community. Yankl Mentl took care of Jewish issues. He also kept records and prepared birth certificates for Jewish newborns, for which he received a small stipend. Only after Poland became independent did Tarnogrod have a Jewish governing council which consisted of 12 elected representatives and a president. The elections for the council were hotly contested. Placards were mounted on walls and people campaigned in the streets and houses of worship for their candidates.
Yisroel-Noah Pelts neglected his shoemaking workshop and threw himself into the election, as did other tradesmen and shopkeepers.
The Kehillah took on the responsibility for paying pensions to the Kley Kodesh [religious functionaries], and sustaining other religious necessities. This wasn't easy, taking a lot of effort to figure out how to raise the required funds, and it was necessary to impose a special tax on the entire Jewish population.
The following served as president of the council during the time of its existence: Khaim Goldman, who died in Russia during World War II; Shloyme Mantl, who now lives in Israel; Aron Listrin; Hersh Blutman, who was killed by the Germans.
Gemilut Chesed [Interest Free Loan] Fund
There were Jews in Tarnogrod who appeared to live on nothing but air, who spent entire days looking beseechingly at the sky, wondering where they could borrow money, a few cents to travel to Bilgoraj and earn enough to buy a piece of dry bread.
It must be said that Tarnogrod Jews helped each other out and wouldn't let someone go under. Walking to prayers in the morning, their prayer shawls under their arms, people would ask for the loan of a few zlotys. The food shop owners, who themselves were not rich, never refused anyone food on credit. Their account books were filled with unpaid debts.
The tradesmen were in general worse off than the shopkeepers. In some households they were literally starving, not earning enough to feed their children.
Tarnogrod had a gemilut chesed fund, run by Yastshes (Royznman). He lives now in Israel. One could obtain an interest-free loan up to 100 zlotys that could be repaid in installments. There were instances where people could not pay but no one was sued in court.
Activists who worked on behalf of the gemilut chesed included prominent people who were devoted to the work body and soul.
Religious Youth in Tarnogrod
Religious young people in Tarnogrod were organized in Hapoel HaMizrachi [religious workers organization] and Tseirey Agudas Yisroel [religious youth organization].
There were also young men who were continuing their religious studies, mainly in the Belzer shtibl [small, Hasidic house of worship] where they sat day and night studying Gemora to the tune of a melancholy Hasidic melody. For some of them, Talmudic analysis was the only thing that mattered. They were satisfied with whatever they had, hoped for the coming of the Messiah and focused on the world to come.
When a poor man needed help, he knew to come to the Belzer shtibl where he always found young people, as well as older ones, who were ready to come to his aid.
Members of other Hasidic sects Trisker, Sandzer, Kuzminer and Gerer also prayed in the Belzer shtibl, as did ordinary Jews who were not affiliated with any Hasidic rabbi.
During the war the Belzer shtibl was turned into a hospital. The biggest Nazi aktsie [mass murder or deportation] took place on the square adjacent to the shtibl.
Tarnogrod also had girls who belonged to Bnoys Yankev [Daughters of Jacob, organization of orthodox religious schools for girls.] These girls from religious homes were modest and quiet, holy in their beliefs and good deeds who studied with their parents and female religious teachers.
|First group of girls of the Tarnogrod Bnoys Yankev|
Such was the life of our sacred Tarnogrod Jewish community, which was completely wiped out and remains only as a gravestone memorializing a warm, beautiful and vibrant Jewish community.
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