Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez
I would like to tell about my small town, Narajow. Jews lived in it for many centuries. They knew poverty, pogroms, humiliation and a few moments of happiness. A small town, on the main road from Lwow to Brzezany, nestled between mountains, immersed in forests and groves, surrounded by valleys and abounding rivers.
It is a typical small town or village. There are many more like it in Galicia, in the Austro Hungarian empire, which became part of Poland after WWI.
The village houses are like a circle within a circle. At the center, there are the stores, and around them, the Jewish families houses. At the center lived the Jews, and around them lived the Ukrainians and Poles. Some of these Poles were brought from Western Poland after WWI to balance their number in the population. Around town, there were many farms; some of them belonged to Jewish families, especially before WWI and a few years after the war. These estate owners were respected Jews that added gist to the village life. I specifically remember the Bleyberg, Frash and Nagelberg families.
I remember these estate owners well because one of them was my beloved grandfather, Isar Milshtok, whose farm was a little farther away. His farm was like the Garden of Eden, full of orchards and processed fields. It is known that after the war Anti-Semitism was on the rise, and it was difficult for a Jew to hold an isolated spot. Many Jews had to sell their land. My grandfather sold his farm as well, for the same reasons.
The Polish settlers came and took their place, after the Polish government divided the land among them. There were times of good neighboring relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish population, but starting with the 1920's and especially in the 1930's, the Nationalistic- Fascist feelings of the Poles and even more so of the Ukrainians grew bigger. They were inspired by the rise of Hitler and were waiting for the opportunity to destroy the Jewish community, to murder them and to take over. Among the estates owners were many Germans called Volksdeutsche , who were doing commerce with Jews up to WWII, and had descent relations with them. The truth was revealed only with the arrival of the Nazis. They were the most organized fifth column and were helping the Germans tremendously. After the war they fled to Germany.
When trying to describe the distant past, we see only the beauty and the good, like manifested in the songs of Isaac (Itzik) Reiss (Rayz) from Narajow, known in his pen name Moshe (Moyshe/Moishe) Nadir. This Yiddisher author and poet, immigrated to America as a young man, lived most of his life in America and even when he visited Europe, he did not visit his hometown. He wanted to live with his memories the good and the beauty of the distant town. Reality is forever grey - he said. He dedicated a bundle of Yiddish songs to his home town, two of which are presented in this book.
There were those who earned a descent living, but many were barely making it, that's why many immigrated, especially to America.
More than a few achieved respectable positions overseas. Many people in Narajow, were surviving due to money they received from their relatives who immigrated. There were many shop owners, butchers and small craftsmen and peddlers who were travelling during the week to neighboring towns to sell their merchandize.
Life was difficult despite help from charitable persons to the needy ones. They tried to ease the burden of many with tzdaka and giving charity in secret. There were institutes like the Jewish community and charity organization but there was no support system like we have today in Israel. Nevertheless, there were no social problems like those we face in Israel today. That's because people were ashamed to get support in the open and tried to work and earn a living in many ways. People of Narajow did not lose their decency and beggars were not among them. Educated and simple people lived next to each other. Some were even great Torah and Talmud scholars, and more than once were asked to advise to Rabbis from far away on controversial issues in different disagreements. Yossia Neuman, Israel Ne'eman's grandfather, Eliezer Milshtok, Aryeh Goldschlag's grandfather and my uncle (My grandfather's brother) were some of those scholars. I remember Narayevsky, a Catholic theologist and the Rector of the University in Lwow, who was visiting his estate in town during his vacations. He used to seat in Eliezer Milshtok's house and argue with him on religious matters and different tractate of the Mishna.
Holidays and happy gatherings
Sabbaths and Holidays are engraved in my memory very well. The town became festive, old and young everyone took part, everyone helped prepare and participated, and this atmosphere of togetherness filled the streets. How beautiful and interesting were the holidays, each holiday with its special character, whether we knew it or not. The Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ambiance was felt already on the month of Elul: visiting the cemetery, the Slichot prayers and the voice of the beadle (Shamash) before sunrise on fall days Steit oif zu Slichot echoes in my ears even today. The expiation (Kaparot) ceremonies on the eve of Yom Kippur and my good mom dividing the Kaparot chickens among the needy, like others probably did according to the custom. In the high holidays, the synagogues were completely full. Many lights, the white cloths and the devotion made this unique atmosphere. In Simchat Torah, after the prayer, people were walking in the streets, singing and dancing until they reached the Rabbis house or one of the home owners and everyone was very cheerful. The celebrations of the Maccabi's holiday (Chanukah) were very meaningful, presenting the lighted candles in the window covered with frost flowers, the pleasant tune Hanerot Halalu (these candles), Chanukah songs, games, delicacies and later on there were balls whose revenues were dedicated to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le'Israel) or to Help (Ezra) a special fund for the pioneers who were making Aliyah to Eretz Israel.
In Purim there was a lot of activity as well. Different bands dressed in costumes from all the youth movements, were going from home to home with rich programs, dancing and singing during the feast, collecting money for Eretz Israel.
For Passover, preparation started on Chanukah, by preparing geese fat and even before that, wheat for the Matzah Shmurah was collected and kept well and then baked under strict supervision. Only a few had the Matzah Shmurah. After Purim, baking of Matzah's for everyone started and in Passover, a kosher Seder was performed in all the houses of Israel in town.
And so were all the other holidays. The mourning days, such as Tisha B'Av, were observed as well, and you could feel the fasting, the Lamentations and the saying of Eichah. I doubt if all these details can give a real picture of everything like it was. It is not surprising that due to this atmosphere we stayed connected with our heart and soul to everything that is national and Jewish.
Youth and culture
|The Shomer Ha'tzair branch|
Such a tiny place brought up, between the two wars, magnificent youth. A few left to continue their studies in the nearby city or in Lwow. Some of the youth were self taught and educated, like the exceptional Aryeh Meir and more. It is hard to explain how in a place where it wasn't a live language, the youth spoke such good Hebrew, saturated in rich atmosphere of Zionism with a lot of Judaism. Before noon, kids went to a Polish school, but they got more than just general education. They studied Torah and bible with the Melameds in the Cheder. A few, like Shlomo Ne'eman, Yehezkel Herz and Yaakov Weiss, learned Talmud with R' Yossia Neuman. A respectable place was reserved for the Hebrew school, that was founded in the 1920's, by Shifra Marcus of Tarnopol (approx. 1925-6). That was a school like any other school: it taught Hebrew, literature, Bible, History, Eretz Israel's studies and more. There was a choir, and there were plays all in pure Hebrew. It is important to mention that the tuition for the Cheders and also the maintenance of the Hebrew school and its funding, were all the responsibility of the parents, according to their abilities.
A pretty chapter in the life of the town was the different youth movements representing all the sections: Hashomer Hatzair (The Youth Guard), HaChalutz (The Pioneer), Betar, The Zionist Youth and Bnei Akiva (Akiva's children).
Life was beautiful and healthy. In spring and summer activities were held outdoors. These activities, surrounded by nature, enriched the imagination. In the winter, activities were held in the Youth movement's building. The members were paying for everything with their own money. The youth movements enriched the youth's life, they lived like in en route state. Everyone expected to make aliyah and to fulfill these ideas in Israel, and regretfully, only a few had this privilege and we all know what the reasons were. The strict policy of the Polish government, who discriminated against Jews, caused unemployment and spread hopelessness among the youth.
Those who did not fulfill the Zionist dream dropped out of the youth movements and turned to the communist movement. Future days proved it to be a tragic illusion.
The money collections to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le'Israel) and to help the pioneers were organized by representatives of the youth movements in full cooperation. Just before it was time for the Zionist Congress there was a lot of commotion in town. Election was accompanied with (sometimes ugly) typical vigorous publicity under strict supervision to prevent fraud. One distinctive character was Rabbi Zvi Grosswax, representative of Mizrahi movement who was also a member of the World Joint and was serving as a Mizrachi representative to the Congress.
All elections (electing a Rabbi or ending a term) were accompanied by deep quarrels and even violent forms of hatred between the different sides. Many were involved in what was happening in the big world and in the Jewish world and had subscriptions for Polish newspapers. Mail would arrive from Brzezany in the evening. People used to gather near the post office where the mailman was handing out letters to those who were waiting. They would grab the papers and get carried away into enthusiastic arguments.
My father - a public figure
I will sin if I will not mention my father, Mendel Herz, a lovely, heartwarming figure. A man who is knowledgeable in the ways of the Torah, in Polish, in German and Ukrainian, who is familiar with statutes and law and who is a brilliant wood trader. He had a respectable place in the town's life. He was not born here; he was from the Carpathians, a descendent to the Stern-Shteg family, Tur Zahav (TZ).
This wide artery divided the town center in half. Beside its role to connect the two major cities Lwow and Tarnopol, the road served as the hub of life in town and that's where many events took place for generations.
Here is where they all passed: army processions, princes, counts (grafs), estate owners and simple people. This is where the parents of a noble Polish fell on their knees in front of Kaiser Franz Joseph's wagon to get pardon for their son who was held in Siberia, here is where Jews rejoiced, but from here they were also transported to the different extermination camps. Here, on Thursdays, the days of the weekly market, the many farmers wagons passed, got situated in the center and from there they sold their crops.
In the evenings, on Shabbat and during the holidays, the road served as kind of a promenade for pedestrians and bike cyclers and in the winter, in snow and frost, they would ice skate on it.
When motor cars were introduced, they too used that road, and so did the daily buses from Podhajce to Lwow.
This road witnessed happiness, but even more so pogroms. The pogroms targeted the whole Jewish community because of sins of single hot-tempered Jews. Especially on Sundays, the holy day for Christians, the incited Ukrainians were leaving the prayer house in a parade hurrying to complete their holy work: Breaking the windows of Jewish houses with all that's involved, causing fear and terror to spread among the peaceful Jews.
Way of life and trade
Vast forests belonged to count (graf) Potozky, and indeed many wood traders came and bought portions of the forest. A diverse wood industry was established and some products were exported to other countries.
Throughout the day, most of the wagons traffic was to Brzezany, 16 kilometers away. A big part of the population spent many hours in Brzezany and returned to town towards the evening: some to buy or sell something, some to the courts or to the district offices and some to visit a tailor or a seamstress.
Some youth attended schools in Brzezany but some preferred to attend Jewish-Hebrew schools in Lwow.
Trade, as well as social and cultural connections brought the Jews in Narajow and Brzezany closer, both in times of Joy and during the Holocaust.
Trade life in the shops, stalls and wagons were lively and full of charm, a mix of characters, colors, sounds and movement. Among them I can not forget the colorful coachmen: Shein, the Red Moshe (Der Royter Moshe), Strong Not'e (Not'e Der Harb) and their wagons, which served the people of Narajow.
In the middle of town there was a big well that supplied water to the residents. Well remembered is Yehezkel Der Wassertrener which means : Yehezkel the water carrier, a big pole on his shoulders with two buckets, with which he would deliver water in an orderly and concise manner to those who wanted. This Yehezkel had a big family and later he immigrated to the US.
The carpet factory deserves to be mentioned as well. It supplied jobs to many young Jews and to training personnel from Bnei Akiva (Akiva's children). This business was run by the Rabbi and his partner Yehezkel Herz.
And all this was going on during peaceful times, in summer and winter, in happy times and during different pogroms, until the big holocaust when it all stopped. The malevolent Nazi soldiers with their helpers, cleansed the town from its Jewish residents, took them through the mentioned road to Brzezany, where they found their death.
May their memory be blessed.
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