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The Jewish Youth of Turka in the 1920s and 1930s

by Zerach Shein

Uncaptioned. Zerach Shein


At times, we, the Jewish youth of Turka in the 1920s and 1930s, began to become acquainted with friends from the neighboring cities and towns (Nowy and Stary Sambor, Drohobycz, Boryslaw, Stryj, Skala, etc.). “From where, from Turke (or Turka), from the place where the skies are covered with rags?” We used to listen with great astonishment to those anachronisms (still from the 19th century, when there was no railway line yet through the eastern Beskids, and Turka was approximately 50 kilometers away from the railway line) that were characteristic of our quicksilver–like1 town, which incidentally was a regional administrative and business center for approximately 80 villages. It had a significant (for those years) wood industry (four sawmills, including a large sawmill with 12 gates and a large, steam driven factory with more than 500 Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish employees). It had a significant lumber industry and conducted significant export of lumber and planks.

However, those telegraphically calculated economic traits of the city were not the reason for our astonishment. The prime reason that the parable “heaven that is covered with rags” was a 180 degree full contradiction to us, the Jewish youth of Turka from those years was that the Jewish youth from out town – from all political leanings, from the Achva to the Communists – with their political and cultural activity, intelligence, progressiveness, with their commitment

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and interest in the national, socio–political and cultural problems of that stormy era, were not at all aloof from the youth of the larger Galician cities. It was the opposite. The number of progressive Jewish youth who broke away from the traditional way of life was significantly greater than in other cities and towns. Aside from this, the progress of our Jewish youth in the city had various traits that were very pleasant and positive in contrast to the snobbish attitudes of a series of cities and towns in Galicia.

The number of our own, home–grown, “shmendrick assimilated”2 people (not counting those who have immigrated) in Turka was negligible. Speaking Yiddish was not a sign of backwardness, and speaking Polish during day to day activities, especially among the youth, was not a sign of progressiveness or haughtiness. Our students who used to come home from outside the country on occasion (V. From, Manes Bernas, Fani and Pepi Lerer, and others) used to speak Yiddish among themselves and with others, and would conduct discussions in Yiddish not only about politics, but also about ordinary scientific topics. The Shomrim of Turka were known within the Shomrim circles of Galicia as people with a good grasp of Hebrew and Yiddish language and literature. I recall that a member of the Peretz Farein (the Cultural Club named for Y. L. Peretz), who for a time functioned in another city in Galicia, returned to Turka and told the following: “They (i.e. a segment of the youth from that city) run about with their prayer books to worship, and speak Polish. We do not run to services, and speak Yiddish…”

Very characteristic of the mentality of the Jewish youth and influences upon the Jewish youth in Turka during the inter–war period is the fact that no religious or extreme right youth organizations existed at all in Turka during the 1930s. Young Mizrachi and Beitar (Brit Trumpeldor) were established just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and did not play a significant role. From among the populist parties, the Bund never played a role in our city. Even though

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it was a general phenomenon in the cities and towns of eastern Galicia, it had no relevance to our ideas.

The “fareinen” [organizations] as the elder generation referred to the parties and organization throughout eastern Galicia and also in other cities, awakened and nurtured in their members an interest not only for national and socio–political problems, but also for elementary knowledge, literature, and art. This primarily touched Hashomer Hatzair (founder was Abba Chushai) and also Hechalutz (founder was Mendel Filinger of blessed memory), the rightist Poale Zion (founder was Shlomo Pelech of blessed memory), and the “Jugent” of the leftist Poale Zion (founders were Chaim Pelech, Uziel Tabel of blessed memory, and Yehoshua Artel of blessed memory), the Peretz Club during the 1920s through the offices of the “A.Y.A.P. (General Jewish Workers' Party) prior to its delegalization, and the Sports Club in the 1930s after the delegalization of the A.Y.A.P. Incidentally, the Sports Club had a very fine football team (the stars of the team were Yosha Bernanke, Ben–Zion Eisman, Kalman Meiner, and Mani Laufer of blessed memory), which used to beat other football teams in the city as well as in the “Sztszelec”3.

The founders of the Peretz Club were Zerach Shein (chairman of the committee until the delegalization), Shlomo (Ini) From (secretary until the end), Levi Hamerman (vice president), Eliahu Montel (chairman of the culture committee), Dr. Norbet April (honorary president), Pesi Szpigler and Leibush Mandel. The official founders of the A.Y.A.P. were David Bergsztejn and Wolf Hauer.


We can appropriately estimate the importance of the cultural enlightenment activity of the aforementioned organizations only if we take two things into account: a) the need, and 2) the results.

The working, proletariat, and poor youth of our city, who were already born before to the First World War and spent their childhood and school years during the difficult war years of 1914–1918 (on the so–called “Flucht4) or the lean

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post–war years had completed two, three or four beginner's classes and were given over to at age 11, 12 or 13 to “ler” – to learn a trade and work from 10–12 hours a day, and often even more.

In the parties, and in particular in the Peretz Club, whose membership consisted primarily of the aforementioned youth, the youth learned to appreciate literature and art, to differentiate between genuine, good literature and literary trash, between good artistic theater and trashy theater, between modern artistic theater and melodramatic, sentimentalist “chinke pinke5 theater. Their primary love was their own Jewish culture. The leading members of the Peretz Club would often tell the members about all the new happenings in Jewish and world literature, about the famous theaters, theatrical doers and directors of that time (Habima, Vilner Troupe, Maurice Schwartz's artistic theater, Vikt, Max Reinhardt, Ervin Piscator, Michaels, Leon Schiller, etc.6) Alongside the educational activity in the cultural realm, the Peretz Club also conducted systematic socio–political educational activities.

It is characteristic and worthwhile to note that the drama circles that were active in our city during the 1920s and 1930s deviated from the traditional repertoires of the earlier drama circles (Gordon and Lateiner). In the 1920s, the Hashomer Hatzair drama club performed Hirschbein's “Joel” and “Green Fields”7. In the 1930s, the drama club of the Peretz Club, directed by Eliahu Montag, performed Sholom Aleicheim's “The Big Lottery,” “The Golddiggers,” and “People” [Menchen], and David Bergelson's “The Bread Man” (“The Deaf Man”). The directorship was considered to be at a fine level and some of the participants attained the level of amateur actors (Yeti Reifler of blessed memory and Hirschbein's “Green Fields,” Yancha Weiss of blessed memory as the deaf man, Chaim Feiler of blessed memory as “Byk,” Eliahu Montag as Yosele Babches in the “Bread Mill,” and Bronia Kraus–Brandelstein as Fanichka in Shalom Aleichem's “Menchen”.)

The results of the cultural educational activity undertaken by the organizations were astounding.

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Renowned and good Jewish theaters, theater troupes, actors, and directors who visited Turka performed in packed halls. This was not only for one evening, but often for two or three evenings in a row. The theatre troupe led by Prisament8 and Hart appeared in Turka, and performed about eight to ten performances in a two week period. I recall how on one occasion, the actor and manager Hart asked for the stage at the end of one performance, and introduced the following performance with the words, “Turka loves good and serious literature. Therefore, I will give you such literature. The coming performance is ‘Three Gifts’ by Y. L. Peretz.”

During the first half of the 1930s, the Peretz Club organized three open literary judgments within a short time, on the topics of: 1) Georg Fink's “Mich Hungert” [I am Hungry] (Prosecutor – Zerach Shein; Defender – Eliahu Montag.) 2) Reimarque's “No News from the Western Front”: (Prosecutor – Z. Schein; Chairman of the court – Yosha From). 3) Romain Rolland's “Jean–Christophe” (Prosecutor – Jan Jaworsky; Defender – Y. From; Chairman of the court – Z. Shein). All three literary judgments took place in a fully packed hall (The final judgment was in the Sokol Hall). Aside from the generally known constant discussion participants, many new faces participated as witnesses and discussion participants during the judgments.


In my sparse and short memoirs, I have only discussed a narrow segment of the Jewish youth in Turka during the 1920s and 1930s, and did not touch at all upon the problems of the Jewish youth (productivization, hachsharah, proletariatization, studying, numerus clausus quotas9, anti–Semitism, unemployment, emigration, etc.) that cannot be dealt with appropriately within the limited framework of a single article.

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Seemingly a reference to its speedy development at the time. Return
  2. A colorful term, seemingly meaning those who are assimilated without any interest or concern for anything Jewish. It is not referring to the secularists, Communists and Bundists who retain a strong connection to Jewish culture if not religion. Return
  3. I am not sure what this team means, but it seems to be the district of the region. This entire article has a large number of words that are likely local jargon. Return
  4. Likely in “flight” or in exile from the town during the war. Return
  5. In German, this term literally refers to hopscotch. Return
  6. For examples, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Schwartz http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Reinhardt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Piscator Return
  7. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peretz_Hirschbein Return
  8. See http://translate.google.ca/translate?hl=en&sl=pl&u=http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Szlomo_Prisament&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dprisament%2Bwikipedia%26espv%3D210%26es_sm%3D93%26biw%3D866%26bih%3D614 Return
  9. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numerus_clausus Return

[Page 413]


Yitzchak Zigelman. Editor of the Book


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Turka on the Stryj. A Memorial Book to the community of Turka. A monument and memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Signature at the bottom is M. Langenaur


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These are our brethren of the Sons of Israel, men, women and children from Turka and its surrounding villages, who were murdered, burned, or buried alive in sanctification of the Name and the nation – by the troops of the enemies and their assistants, in their city, in their wanderings, and in the concentration and death camps.

In Memory of the martyrs of
On the Stryj River
Who were killed, murdered, and burnt
In sanctification of the Divine Name
During the Second World War
May their souls be bound in the bonds of eternal life


The following entry, starting on page 417, was translated by Haim Sidor, who took the list of names, alphabetized it in English, and added valuable notes on family relationships and cross references into the book. His translation covers the list of names from page 417 until page 452. My [Jerrold Landau]'s translation will pick up from the Addendum of page 452. Haim Sidor's translation includes all but the first 3 items of the addendum, so I retranslated the entire addendum list on 452. Note that my rendering of the spelling of the names may differ from Haim Sidor's on occasion. Haim Sidor's translation did not include the photo captions, so I include here a list of photo captions from pages 417-452.}

419 Nachman Bernas – second from left
420 Sender, Shula, Aharon Branenka
421 top The family of David-Shia Binder
421 bottom Dr. Tzvi (Heshiu) Buchman
422 top The family of Yosef Meir Bank Yaakov and his wife Perl
422 middle row, right to left Moshe and Yenta, Tzipora, Nechama
422 bottom The family of Shalom Bruner
428 The family of the dentist Avraham Weiss. His wife Sara. Children: Yitzchak, Yehuda, Henryk, Basia.
430 The family of Shlomo Zehman
432 The family of Yitzchak Lerer
433 The family of Yosef Langenaur
435 Ester May {Accompanied by a poem in writing (some of the letters are hard to make up, so the translation may not be fully literal):
Your memory is conjured up with the picture and the year
A group of friends at the top of a hill…
You included among them
And from this day, the brigade has already passed you
Then a thought comes to your mind
Your lips whisper and utter the words
How good and how wonderful!
For brothers to spend time together!…
For eternal memory, from your group
436 The family of Yitzchak-Aharon Nistel
437 The family of Berl Naituch
438 The family of Yaakov Nagler
439 Shlomo Pelech
440 The family of Avraham Pelech
442 The family of Ben-Zion Ferbel
444 The family of Moshe-David Kesler
447 Shlomo Rozen
450 The family of Moshe Steininger
451 right, and left (Yosef the son of Avraham Szprung; Avraham the son of Mendel Szprung


Translator's Footnote:
  1. The style of this plaque indicates that it is from the Holocaust Cellar [Martef Hashoah] on Mount Zion. Return

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