[English Page 5]
Editor Manachem Katz, Haifa, April 1978
Dr. Zimerman Jakob chairman
Roth Ozer secretary
BarDawid (Bardowicz) Moshe
Organizing Committee in the United States
Members of the Editorial Board In Israel
[English Page 6]
The last Jews of the city of Brzezany were murdered by the Nazi henchmen thirtyfive years ago. Almost a generation's life time had to lapse before the last will of some twelve thousand souls, men, women and children, who were put to death within the town's periphery or sent to outlying deathcamps, could finally be fulfilled.
The names of the Jewish native population of Brzezany and Naraiow will now be committed to print for the sake of future generations. Along with them some nine thousand anonymous souls will be commemorated. They were Jewish refugees from various parts of western Poland who found their temporary and, as it happened, also terminal home here. They shared together with the local community four years of life and its tragic destiny.
The last survivors of Brzezany's Jewish community both in Israel and in the United States have decided to commemorate the martyrs. A committee of former citizens collected over years of unceasing effort a considerable documentation on which the present memorial book is based. I have contributed my own share to the effort of editing, design and printing. As a native of Brzezany and witness and survivor of the Nazi occupation period, I am not only acquainted with the history of my hometown and the martyrology of my community, but was constantly haunted since the end of the war by its tragic memory. I felt it a sacred obligation towards those who perished, a pledge we gave each other, in those dark days: If you survive, remember those who did not. Report to the world. Tell the story of our annihilation and avenge our blood.
Now that these pages are brought to print, I trust that the little I am able to contribute to the commemoration of my community will materialize. I do not think there is further need for introductory notes, neither is it necessary to laud the past of my community and describe the illustrious men who lived in it
[English Page 7]
during its four hundred years of existence. All those interested in becoming acquainted with Brzezany and its people will be able to do so in these pages. The reading of it in itself will revive the memory of the past and commemorate all those who only wanted to live to live as Jews.
To all those who helped me and supported my work and assisted in the materialization of this task first and foremost Dr. Eliezer SzaklaiWagszal my thanks and appreciation.
May this book serve as a memorial to the Jewish people and to the community of Brzezany, which fell victim to forces of darkness of Nazi Germany. May this book also serve as an eternal memory to the coming generation a light to our youth which is renewing our existence as a free people in our homeland, and a warning to those of our people dispersed in the diaspora, who have not yet drawn the obvious conclusion from our tragic past.
[English Page 8]
In southeast Galicia, about 100 kilometers from the city of Lvov, in the triangle between the cities of Lvov, Stanislovov, and Tarnopol, hidden between trees and forests, close to the river ZlotaLipa, at the edge of a lake, in a low valley, is situated the small town of Brzezany. The town is well known in the wide world thanks to its great Torah scholars whose fame went forth far from its boundaries.
Four roads, running in four different directions from the center connect it with the rest of the world. There is also another connection Brzezany boasts of the railway. Thus Brzezany is the central town of an entire region. A number of villages with a population of one hundred thousand citizens are under its authority. The town itself is divided into five sections: the center and four suburbs. In the northwestern corner of the town rises the Bernadine mount. There, also stands the monastery, an ancient building, big and long. From there one has an unforgettable view of the entire town and its surroundings. One can see, stretching like a mirror, the long lake, framed east and west by mountains and hills. The lake was the source of sustenance and relaxation for the town's
[English Page 9]
population. The height of the lake is about 100 meters above the level of the town. A high dam prevents the lake from shedding its waters into the town and flooding it. East of the town, between the two forks of the river stands a big stone structure, a remnant from the 16th century. Originally, this building served as a citadel for the Sieniavsky family, founders of the town. In this antiquated stronghold lived and were buried numerous generations of the Sieniavsky family. the citadel, together with an immense fortune, was handed down from generation to generation. The last member of this renowned family was the famous Graff Potocki, whose palace was in a nearby village Rai.
On the west side of the town was the park. Across the park stood the Polish community center Sokol. At the back of the center stood an old, neglected building, called Reitschule. Close to this forsaken building lay a wide open field which belonged to the fire brigade.
The center of the town ran symmetrically. Its central building was the Town Hall. It was a big square building, surrounded by a spacious yard. It consisted of two floors with a tower in the center. In the tower was set a clock, visible from all four sides of the town. The tower also bore the crest of Graff Potocki, a five angled cross. Surrounding the base of the Town Hall, as well as in the courtyard, there were many stores. Most of them belonged to Jewish storekeepers. The second floor of the Town Hall served as a high school. Further west, between the houses stood the Greek Catholic church. Behind it was the Armenian's church and toward the south stood the Catholic church. Close to the south side of the Catholic church stood the statue of Jan Sobieski. On two sides, north and east were platforms which served as parking spaces for the horses and wagons, belonging to the farmers. Part of this plot was set for the local drivers and porters. All the houses in the center of the town, contained stores or bar rooms, owned mostly by Jews.
Further north, there was another market, the NoviRynek. This market was much smaller and more neglected than the market in the center of town. Zbozova street connected both. On the east side of the street stood the two floor Jewish community center which was built after the First World Wr. Northeast and south of the commercial center extended a number of streets and alleys. On both sides of these streets stood small dilapidated houses. This was the residential section of the poorer Jewish population of the town. On the south side of this quarter stood the big synagogue, a beautiful well decorated structure which was constructed in the 18th century. On the way to this synagogue, there were two study houses, as well as a number of Hassidic houses of worship. Nearby stood the community bath house, the Jewish hospital, the dilapidated oldpeople's home and several other institutions owned by the Jewish community.
West of the business center was the most beautiful part of the town. Here stood magnificent homes, there were also a number of beautiful villas. Between the gardens and the homes, towards the southwest the street Raiska winds. Here, on this street were the cemeteries, the Jewish on right side of the street and the Christian on the left.
[English Page 10]
Brzezany was founded in the year 1530. The royal courtier Mikolai Sieniawa was given permission by the Polish King Sigmund the First, to change the village Brzezany into a township. The history of the Jewish community of Brzezany is tied to the history and development of the town. The town's population reached 260 souls in the year 1570, including four Jewish families who were engaged in trade. One hundred years later, in 1672, the town's population reached 500 families. Among these were one hundred Jewish families. Thus the number of Jews in our town continued to increase throughout the years.
In the seventeenth century Brzezany burned twice. These distressing events continued to plague the town until the first quarter of the eighteenth century. In the year 1772 Brzezany, together with the rest of Galicia, passed into the hands of the Austrian government. In the 19th century Brzezany became the center of the offices for the entire district, called the Starostwo. The majority of the Polish section of the population were employees in government offices, the Ukrainians were farmers, while the commerce lay in the hands of the Jews. The respective occupation of these three people partly changed in the latter generation. Jews became doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges and officials, while commerce fell into the hands of the Polish and Ukrainians. The Poles and the Jews inhabited the town proper, while the Ukrainians lived in nearby villages. As a result of the first World War, the Ukrainians seized the rule of Galicia in the fall of 1918, however, in the spring of 1919, the Poles captured city after city, thus putting an end to the young Ukrainian state. Shortly thereafter, there was also a war between the Poles and Soviet Russia which lasted for a number of
[English Page 11]
months and ended in a peace treaty. The Jewish population suffered most severely during that War. The town of Brzezany was burned twice, and the possessions of the Jewish population were plundered. Those years were decisively negative and tragic for the Jewish community.
The two decades after the First World War filled with chaotic and disorderly events which resulted in the Second World War which for us Jews brought destruction and annihilation.
This is a brief chronological review of the history of that time.
The Jewish Community
Jewish community organization was established according to the Magdeburg code of laws. At the head of the community stood the administrators. In addition to the administrators, three good persons were elected. They had their own court which was under the authority of religious judges (Dayanim) headed by the Rabbi, and their judgements and decisions had to be ratified by the community leaders. The life of the community was centered around the synagogue. The first synagogue was already in existence in the 17th century.
Near the synagogue were a school, a bathhouse, a hospital and a lodging house for poor transients. The Rabbi was chosen by the Jewish community and had to be authorized by the rulers of the town. The community administrators collected taxes from the citizens of the town. They cared for the poor, the education of the children and for the religious services. They had authority over the slaughter house, they supervised the burial society and the great synagogue.
The Habsburgs brought about cognizant changes in the lives of the Jews. They flooded them with instructions and enactments. First of all they levied high taxes. The government also limited the production of intoxicating drinks. In the cultural field it strove to Germanize the Jewish minority. First the Jews were given German family names, then they established government schools for the Jews. They also placed a head Rabbi of the entire district.
A decisive change took place in the days of the renewed Polish rule, following the First World War. The law decreed personal, secret and democratic elections. Every Jew in town who reached the age of 18 could participate. The last elections to the Jewish community Council were in 1936. Eight persons were elected with Dr. Klarer as its presiding officer. This administrative body became automatically active during the rule of the Nazis as the Council of the Jews, Judenrat.
[English Page 12]
The Economic Situation
In Brzezany and surroundings there were no natural resources or industries of any kind. There were a handful of wealthy people such as owners of estates, possessors of flour mills and lumber dealers. The middle class was predominantly composed of physicians, lawyers and merchants. A lower class consisted of small traders, artisans and cart drivers who worked very hard from morning till night, but still needed financial aid. Quite a sizable portion of the Jewish community lived on welfare. It is therefore easy to understand the reason for the massive Jewish emigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. Multitudes left in order to find their fortunes in distant America. Of course, this emigration brought relief but it also caused many tragedies. A great number of emigrant husbands left their wives and children without any material aid and disappeared without leaving a trace.
The various wars which took place in the year 1914 1920 had an ill effect on the Jews of our town. Many Jews left Brzezany forever. Most of the Jewish homes were destroyed, the possessions of the Jewish community were robbed and the sources of livelihood were completely ruined. Merchants who returned after the wars reopened their stores, each one according to his ability. Soldiers who returned from the armies and youth that grew up during the war years and had no opportunity to acquire a trade, now turned their attention to business. The number of merchants grew more than this economy could support. The merchants organized themselves into a merchant's unions. Mr. Jacob Mittelman was elected as its president.
[English Page 13]
A very small number of Jews served as judges, and there were also a few high school teachers. Among the professionals of the town were six Jewish physicians. There were physicians who left our town to search of more suitable places of work. There were also doctors who completed their course of studies, but received no license to practice medicine.
There were about forty lawyers thanks to the district court. Some of these lawyers eked out a scant living from their profession. There were also a number of engineers who completed their course of studies but could not find any work in the field. Most of the druggists couldn't find any work either. A fair portion of them left the town. The same fate met the young teachers. All of them faced a hopeless future. The situation of the artisans and craftsmen failed to improve after the First World War, in many instances their lot became even worse. For the working youth there were no prospects of even finding employment in our town. They organized themselves in various youth movements and waited for Aliyah to Israel.
Religion and Culture
Renowned Torah scholars lived in Brzezany. Rabbis went forth from here into all parts of the world. It is sufficient to mention Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathanson, Rabbi Kluger, the magid (preacher) from Brod Rabbi Isaac Shmelkes and Rabbi Shulem Mordechai Hacohen Shwadron. Also Rabbis Margolis, Jehuda Bergman and rabbi Meirson studied and drank from the fountains of Torah in our town. The Hassidic movement captured many hearts. Various currents of Hassidim impressed their stamps on the Jews of our town, among them were the house of Rishin, Belz, Stratin, Zydachow. The second half of the 19th century witnessed the period of enlightening, the search for new ways and ideas. It caused a complete change in the cultural life of the Jewish community. Some of the local Jews started reading monthly and weekly literary publications in Hebrew, such as the Halutz (pioneer), the Magid, the Mevaser and others.
Part of the youth remained loyal to traditional Judaism, with the synagogue as their center, while others organized themselves into the various factions of the Zionist movement with the Hebrew school as their center.
Prior to the period of enlightenment and even after it, the Jewish town administrators attended to the cultural life of the community. They synagogue continued to serve as the center of all cultural and spiritual life. In the synagogue Jews gathered to study Torah, and to participate in prayer and worship. In the synagogue they celebrated their holy days, they preached their sermons, they exchanged informations and made decisions. Their joy or, God forbid, their sorrow found their expression in the synagogue. The Hassidim centered their spiritual activities around their Klezlach (small houses of worship). Architect Menachem Katz describes in this book the main synagogue of Brzezany, as well as the smaller prayer houses. I'll only mention their names.
[English Page 14]
Synagogues of the Town
The Large Synagogue
The large synagogue was built in 1718 and was renovated at the end of the 19th century. It was an imposing, beautiful edifice. This central building around which the life of the entire Jewish community was centered. Laws, judgements, decrees, fines, holidays, births, deaths filled this holy place. So it was until the Soviet occupation of the town in 1939 when the synagogue was turned into a shelter for refugees. Afterwards it was turned by the Soviets into a grain storehouse. The Nazi oppressors who came afterwards did not change the functions of the structure. It continued to serve as a storage place even after the entry of the Red Army in 1944. The building is standing to this day. 2) The newly built Synagogue stood close to the left side of the big synagogue. Jews who worshipped in this synagogue were mostly from wealthy and middle class families. This house of worship was also undamaged from the wars and under the rule of the soviets it served as a grain storehouse.
The Cantor's Synagogue
The Cantor's synagogue, in the corner of Zygmuntovska and Skoina streets, in which Rabbi Nathanson prayed and preached, remained completely desolate and forsaken.
Reb Yudels Synagogue
Reb Yudels Synagogue stood at the corner of Lvovska and Tarnopolska streets. This was a very popular synagogue. It was wide open for everyone. It never lacked a quorum for a prayer service. This house of worship was burned down and utterly destroyed.
The Tschortkower Klois
The Chrotkover Klois belonged to the Hassidim, followers of the Rabbi from Chortkow. This was a 2 floor building. The upper floor contained the section for women worshippers and stood near to the house of Rabbi Gaon Mordechai Hachohen Shwadron, the Rabbi of the town. The synagogue was completely destroyed in the First World War. Part of it was later reconstructed, but it was eventually destroyed.
[English Page 15]
The Jair Synagogue
The Jair Synagogue on Tarnopolska street was broken open and plundered and thus it remained.
Rabbi Mendele Synagogue
The Rabbi Menele Synagogue located on Strazacka street was burned down during the bombardment of the Nazis.
The Old Stretiner Klois
The Old Streiner Klois which was located near the renovated synagogue was turned into a grain storehouse during the rule of the Soviets.
The Rozler Klois
The Rozler Klois which was situated on the northwest side of the Big Synagogue became ruined and forsaken.
The Potiker Kleizel
The Potiker Kleizel which was housed in Reb Jidels Synagogue was destroyed. Destroyed and burned down during the Nazi bombardment, it was the Kleizel of the tailors, the porters worship place, the prayer quarters of Rabbi Seide Halperin, the prayer quarter of the Mizrachi and another synagogue called YadHaruzim.
The People's Center The National House
The People's Home was an important property of the Jewish community of Brzezany. Dr. Falk and his wealthy family provided the funds for the erection of this spacious structure on Zboshova street. The People's Home was more impressive than any other structure in the surroundings. This beautiful institution was dedicated in April 1930 to serve the needs of the community and was registered as the property of the Orphan Home. The building contained two halls. The large hall which could accommodate 500 persons
[English Page 16]
served mainly for important meetings and community events. The Dramatic circle staged its performances here. The Nazi oppressors made use of this hall as a detention place for the Jewish population before their deportation to concentration camps. During Soviet rule it was turned into a cinema. The People's Center is perhaps the only reminder of Jewish cultural life in our town. This lonely monument is a reminder that Jews lived here.
Z.K.S. The Jewish Sport Club
Jewish Sport Club was founded by a small group of youths in 1922. Its first activity was to organize a football team. They began without any financial means, but before long they were successful. In 1929 this team participated in regional games and advanced to league A. Mr. Josef Maiblum was elected president of the Sport Club and Mr. Josef Lebers, vice president.
The Musical Dramatic Circle
In innovation, during the period of enlightenment was the appearance of theatrical groups in our town. There were performances in Hebrew as well as in Yiddish. The Yiddish spectacles were staged by local performers. Most active in these performances was Mr. Bialer, brotherinlaw of Shlomo Redlich. Besides the performances staged by the local actors, there came to our town, professional theatrical groups, who staged dramas by Goldfaden, Gordin and others. Those active in the musicaldramatic circle after the First World War were S. Redlich, BarDawid and Segal and the majority of the young people in our town were centered around it.
Alongside the Dramatic Circle was founded a library, the largest in our town. It contained books in three languages: Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. There was also an orchestra. Two wellknown families in our town appeared in musical performances on festive occasions the Kurtzs and the Gutenplans. They also gave violin and clarinet lessons.
[English Page 17]
The Zionist Movement
This Zionist movement in our town existed since 1893. That year marked the founding of a Zionist organization, the Beni Zion, who consisted mostly of the intelligentsia of our community and a number of property owners. Mr. Saul Maiblum was elected president of this organization. In 1897, Brzezany Zionists participated in electing a representative to the First Zionist Congress in Basel. S. Maiblum was elected as delegate. The teachers of Hebrew in town had a great influence in spreading the Hebrew word and the Zionist idea, which were closely tied with each other. The Zionist movement grew from year-to-year and there were a number of Zionist organizations in our town even before World War I.
In 1917, the youth movement Hashomer was founded in Brzezany. Its local head was M. Fried, followed by Mr. Bergman. The Hashomer movement was a national-Zionist movement attached to the world Scout movement. Two years later, the youth movement Hehalutz (the Pioneer) came into being. Many members of the Hehalutz movement went on Aliyah to Eretz Israel. They were the first group to go on Aliyah, even before World War I. After World War I, these two Zionist movements were augmented by other Zionist movements such as: Hashomer Hazair, Mizrachi, Zionist youth and Betar movements. A considerable number of the members of these organizations also settled in Eretz Israel.
[English Page 18]
Keren Kayemet Keren Haysod Ezrah
In outstanding Zionist activity in our town was on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. There were a great number of activists who dedicated their time and energy to this sacred work. Some of them were: Dr. Solomon Glaser, President, Mr. Thaler, secretary, E. Roth and M. Tunis were members of the committee. The names of these four devoted J.N.F. workers were inscribed in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund.
The Keren Hayesod in Brzezany was established in 1922. Dr. Nagler was elected President, M. Taub, treasurer and Mr. Bar-David, administrator.
The aim of Ezra was to render financial aid to those who wished to go on Aliyah to Eretz Israel. The president of Zerah was Dr. Wilner. It is worthwhile to note that not one young person who wished to leave for Israel had to give up Aliyah because of lack of finances.
The Hebrew School
An important chapter in the history of the Jews of our town was the founding of a Hebrew school by the organization Safa-Brura, (clear language) in May, 1903. The actual founders were: Mordechai Wolf Maiblum, Yehudah Zarvintzer, Zalman Zaper, Josef Finkelstein and Jacob Bauer. The teaching staff included: Abuhav, Cohen, Rachovski, Zigel, Dlugach and Zvi Scharfstein. Adolf Horn was elected president of the school. A club called Ivriyah with a library and a reading hall were established at the same time.
[English Page 19]
During World War I and even somewhat later, the teacher, Feld, served as principal of the school. He left our town in 1921. The Hebrew-School was opened again in 1926 with two teachers: Isaac Biterman and Abraham Halperin. At the end of 1927, they brought a new teacher, Mr. Komorovski, as principal. In 1929, a second Hebrew-School was founded by the Tarbut organization. Mr. Mansfeld was its principal. Shortly thereafter, yet another Hebrew-School was established by the Mizrachi organization.
Charity and Welfare Institutions
After World War I, many orphans without shelter and protection were left in the town. Thanks to the intervention of Mrs. R. Reich, Mrs. H. Goldenberg and Mrs. A. Milch and other Jewish women, a Jewish women's organization for the protection of these children was organized. In 1920, it changed its name from the Organization of Jewish Women for the Supervision of Orphans to the Society for the Protection of Jewish Orphans. This worthy cause was supported by Brzezany emigrants to the U.S.A. and particularly by the family of Isaac and Rosalie Feld from Philadelphia. Thanks to this aid, an Orphans'-home was built on Strazhacka Street. The majority of the 32 orphans of both sexes were taken in and brought up in this home. They received a thorough basic education and in addition, an occupational training so that they could later take care of themselves. This Orphans'-home ceased to function when World War II broke out. The destiny of these orphans was part and parcel of the destiny of the Jews in Brzezany.
The Holy Burial Society and the Coffin Bearers
This society was founded by Rabbi Naphtali Herz Halperin and Jakob Apel in 1837 and it was ratified in 1876 under the name of Charity and Kindness. Every member of this holy society volunteered his services and took part in all its affairs without receiving anything in return. When World War II broke out, one member, David Ginsburg, took upon himself to conduct the affairs of this society. He devoted his time to this holy work to the very last day of his life. Other charitable and welfare institutions were: The Diligent Hand of the Artisans, the Society for Charity and Welfare, the clothing of the Naked and the Mutual Assistance of the Academic Youth.
[English Page 20]
The Beginning of World War II
Both the Poles and the Ukrainians strove to seize the sources of livelihood from the Jewish population of the town. They were assisted in their evil deeds by the Polish Government. The Government levied heavy taxes upon the Jews and decreed harsh laws against them. The Polish and the Ukrainian mobs translated these laws into the force of the first. The Poles began by attacking and beating up their Jewish neighbours and the Ukrainians engaged in burning and pillaging Jewish homes and even murdering Jews who lived in villages. Anti-Semitism increased from day-to-day.
When World War II broke out, though we were aware that it could come, it was a heavy blow. We were not prepared for the war neither physically nor spiritually. Terror and confusion gripped us and fortunately, we didn't suffer human casualties in the brief initial period. From the Start, Polish officers and generals deserted the frontiers. The roads were jammed with refugees, soldiers and vehicles. There was confusion from constant bombardment by the German air force. The air attacks caused heavy losses. We helped the fleeing people with whatever we could. It is difficult to describe the prevailing confusion and despair. On Tuesday morning, September 17, 1939, we heard on the radio that the Soviets had crossed the Soviet-Polish border. We breathed relief. The great misfortune passed us by.
The Soviet Rule. 1939-1941.
When the soviets entered Brzezany, overnight, chaos broke loose though without bloodshed. The uppermost were made lowly and the lowly became uppermost. First of all, the Soviets released from jail all political prisoners and with their assistance, they established their rule. They helped themselves to whatever they needed and wanted. Every person's property was estimated and taxes were levied accordingly. Counter-revolutionary movements were checked and examined. Private property such as homes, merchandise and even furniture were confiscated. This condition lasted until the arrival of administrative personnel from Russia proper. All those who had served as officials before were dismissed. They newly arrived Russians bought out everything there was to buy. The stores were emptied and closed down. Farmers stopped bringing their produce to town. Before long, there was a shortage of foodstuffs and commodities.
The size of the population in town grew from day-to-day, due to the constant flow of refugees from the West and the arrival of the Soviet Government officials with their families from the East. In a short time, the Jewish population increased from 3,500 to over 12,000. The population of the town reached 35,000. To solve the problem of dwellings, the refugees used every vacant store, every synagogue and every hut and cabin. Local Jews did their utmost to render aid to the refugees,
[English Page 21]
but it was to no avail. The poverty and shortage grew from day-to-day, even if one had money, he couldn't obtain any food.
Towards the winter, the Soviet announced that the whole region was being added to the large family of the Soviet republics. Every person was obligated to obtain an identification certificate. However, prior to it, one had to sign that he was accepting Soviet citizenship. Those who were unwilling to assume Soviet citizenship were transported to Siberia. Other who received a special paragraph in their papers, which imposed all kinds of limitations particularly in the fields of employment and dwelling. Every person from the age of 18 and up had to work. If he was not employed, he was sent to the Donbas region. Those Jews of our town who had no specific occupation, or those who were superfluous in their trades, tried very hard to create places of work at their own expense so that they could remain in the town. The majority of the merchants became physical workers. Many professionals did likewise. The artisans organized themselves in cooperatives. A Soviet official, called a politrook was assigned to each place of work. This official was responsible to the Government for his particular sector. Each person had a personal card issued to him by the N.K.V.D. (Soviet Ministry of Interior). This card bore all the particulars of the person's past and also of his present.
Our active life came to a standstill all of a sudden. The Library was closed down and the books disappeared. Not a vestige remained from the Dramatic Circle. The various Zionist movements were liquidated. A Hebrew word was considered (as a crime against the Government).
Everything one did was by order, according to a prepared plan. A man was only a tiny screw in a big machine. He was forbidden to think or, God forbid, to ask questions. We learned to keep silent. The Soviets forced us to spy on other people around us. Once a week, on a certain day and in the early hours after midnight, one had to appear before the N.K.V.D. and tell them what one had heard and saw. Closest friends became strangers to each other and shunned away from conversing with one another. Men of 18-50 years of age were subject to mobilization and a large portion of the youth served in the Soviet army. In such a depressing atmosphere, we continued to live for almost 2 years.
On May 1, 1941, we heard rumours that the Germans were making preparations for war near the Russian borders. Worry and anxiety returned to us for we knew the meaning of these preparations! On the night of June 22, 1941, war broke out between the Nazi and the Russians. This time we suffered severely even before the Germans entered our town. German airplanes bombed Brzezany. Many houses were destroyed. Fires broke out in many parts of the town and there were a great number of casualties. Among the wrecked houses was the home of my parents. In the course of several minutes, we began to remove what we could out of the wreckage. We succeeded to extricate 8 living persons. After much effort, we pulled out another 30 persons and 25 dead bodies. Among them were 5 of my family. We dug graves with our own hands and performed for them the last kind deed. On July 1, 1941, the Germans entered our town.
[English Page 22]
The Holocausts' meaning is the murder of six million Jews. Six million times murder. Each individual and his specific and distinctive death, accompanied by fear and torture. Every human being represents an individual tragedy, a distinct story of his life and the days he lived saturated with tears, filled with rage and chagrin, agonized by hunger, by pain, by constant beatings and by the fear of death.
Suddenly we were attacked by an enemy who was strong, shrewd, corrupt, despicable and utterly cruel. An enemy who had only one aim to exterminate all Jews without exception in the shortest way and by whatever possible means. To attain this goal, the Nazi mobilized learned professors, scientists, psychologists, medical doctors and simple scoundrels without any conscience or feeling. They had easy access to the most modern techniques and thus, they constructed a mass-murdering machine such as was never known in the annals of human history.
Against such a vicious, shrewd and powerful enemy, we stood helplessly believing naively in order, in law and justice. We thought, in our naivety, that the free world would not remain silent. The enemy exploited, on the one hand, his excessive strength and on the other hand, our naivety. Suddenly he hit us with savage cruelty until we lost sensibility. When we woke up, we found ourselves bruised physically and spiritually. We were starved, sick, feeble and depressed. We were shut up in ghettoes without any hope for the future. Hunger, epidemics and fright devoured us. All we were able to do was to reflect passively on the hope that the free world would emerge with its empathy and silence and would hasten to render us help. But the world continued in it's silence and help didn't come. Yet, in all these trying conditions, we were determined to endure and to survive. This is the secret of the eternal nation of the Jews a stiff-necked nation that never despairs. People helped each other quietly without receiving any orders and sacrificed their lives to that others might live. They were the heroes.
The Germans entered our town on Tuesday and the following Wednesday night, a battle broke out between the German occupying forces and a detachment of the Soviet cavalry. The streets were full of dead soldiers and dead horses. The next day the German commander of the town issued an order that the streets had to be cleaned by the Jews in one day. Another German officer who supervised this work, picked out 3 Jews and shot them.
On Friday, a rumour spread that in the local prison, a locked cell containing 12 dead prisoners had been discovered. Right away, the Ukrainians spread a rumour that the Jews had killed these prisoners. The Sabbath passed by in relative quietness, however, on Sunday, mobs of peasants came from the countryside to pray in the church. There they received encouragement from their leaders
[English Page 23]
to attack the Jews. The peasants then scattered throughout the town and murdered and wounded, in bestial cruelty, hundred of Jews then robbed them of their possessions. At first, the dead were buried in the city park. Later, our people, guided by Ginsburg, transferred the dead from the public park to the Jewish cemetery. A total of 250 people were killed besides those who were killed in the Christian cemetery. The complaints of the local Jewish committee to the Nazi commandant of the town were answered by a number of announcements which informed us of a great number of anti-Jewish laws.
Two burning problems demanding immediate solution faces the Jewish community. The first one was the problem of hunger and the second was the need to provide work for all the Jews. The Ukrainian militia blocked all the roads leading to the town. No one could come in or leave, especially those with merchandise or commodities. The Ukrainians hoped to become the conquerors of the town and then confiscate all Jewish possessions. How strong was their disillusionment when the opposite happened. The Germans included the Lvov province in the general government. The attitude of the villages to towns changed completely. The Ukrainians began exploiting the food storage. In exchange for their products which were of very poor quality, they demanded valuable articles from the Jews.
The Germans demanded daily the Jews for different types of work. It was only the Jewish population that were obliged to fulfil all German demands on the very same day. The demands were not small. The German appetite grew from day-to-day. In those days, he who worked a day's work received, besides the beatings, one loaf of bread.
The health situation was frightful. There were hundreds of wounded and sick which hospitals would not admit. Dr. Falk and I, with the consent of the head of the Jewish community, opened a Jewish hospital in the community centre. Near it, we opened a clinic. We supplied all the necessary furnishings and equipment. Due to hunger and over-crowded living conditions, there appeared the first signs of an epidemic. We fought against this disaster with all our strength attempting to stop it, while there was time.
The military administration of the Germans ended after 6 weeks and a civil administration was established in its place. Easter Galicia was divided into 3 regions and our town belonged to the Tarnopol region in which was situated the headquarters of the Gestapo for the entire region. Kreishauptmann Asbach was put at the head of our town's administration and the Sonderdienst Police was put at his disposal. As soon as he arrived in town, he ordered Dr. Klarer to appear before him together with 23 men. I was one of them. I shall never forget this meeting. We entered as free men and left as the Judenrat (Jewish Council) responsible collectively for any disdain or opposition, punishable by death. We didn't know then what the task of the Judenrat meant but we had a feeling that a death sentence was put upon each one of us. Before the day was over, the Judenrat was already in full swing. The Kreishauptmann ordered the Judenrat
[English Page 24]
to collect 800,000 zloty from the Jews of the town within 6 days and then bring the collected money to him. After much crying and screaming, the Jews gave the demanded money and the Kreishautmann deposited it in his chest.
Rosh Hashanah arrived. We held services in private homes. We poured out our hearts before our creator. In those moments, death sentences were decreed for many of us. Eight more days passed. On the day before Yom Kippur, an order from the Kreishautmann reached the Judenrat. Tomorrow, October 1, 1941 at 10 a.m., all Jews aged 20-30 headed by the Judenrat, had to appear at the Targovica square to register for work. The news spread in a second. We had the feeling that this order endangered our lives. We tried to clarify its real purpose but didn't succeed. No one knew whether he should advise the people to obey the order or to ignore it.
We finished the sacred prayer of Kol-Nidrei. This service will never be forgotten by those who remained alive. The Yom Kippur morning service was completed at 9 a.m. Hand shaking tears and words of encouragement followed the service.
At 10 a.m. the Jews reported to the specified place. The Gestapo too was not late in coming. With weapons in their hands, they surrounded Targowice square. An order was issued: The Judenrat members would stand separately workers would stand on the opposite side; the rest of the people such as lawyers, teachers, accountants and merchants would stand by themselves. After the assortment of the people was completed, they ordered the workers to go back to work and the members of the Judenrat were free to leave. The rest were surrounded by the Gestapo and led away to the prison. The following morning, after a meeting with the Kreishaputman, we rushed to collect golden items as ransom for the lives of those Jews who were put in jail. He took the gold and put it in his pocket dud did not release the people. Instead, they were loaded on trucks and transported to an unknown destination. They disappeared without leaving any trace. The peasants in the neighbourhood told, later, that these people had been murdered. The Germans claimed that they had been taken to a labour camp. We lived with the hope of seeing them alive again.
The German machine to finish off the Jews, worked without a halt. A new order came from the Kreishauptmann. He could not stand so many Jews in our town. He, therefore, decided to transport at least 100 of them weekly to nearby towns. The feeble, the old and the sick had to go first. Only those who were able to work and be useful were to be left in the town. The responsibility to carry out this scheme was placed on the Judenrat.
The Judenrat also had to report to the German authorities each time, the number of Jews deported to other towns. There was no alternative. The Judenrat had to comply with the order. To carry out this task, it was necessary to engage a force of men who would be subject to the authority of the Judenrat. An order was given by the German administration and the Judenrat organized a Jewish militia, the Ordnungsdienst. In the time this militia became very helpful in
[English Page 25]
finishing off the Jews. The Kreishauptmann came with new demands each day. Thus, he demanded once that the Judenrat should place 40 men to his disposal for the purpose of clearing all the houses in the Jewish quarter, which were ruined by fire and bombardments.
The hunger and congestion affected the health of the Jewish population and epidemics began to spread. One day, I was called to the Judenrat. When I came there, I found the Gestapo waiting for me as I was responsible for reporting to them on the health conditions of the Jewish population. Right there and then, they gave me an order to inform them without delay on any case of a contagious disease. Of course, I promised to do so. I promised but did not carry it out. Yet, it didn't prevent the Gestapo from visiting our town each week and shooting a number of persons, justifying their action by claiming that they were clearing the town of typhoid. Actions such as these continued.
Eight days before Hanukkah, the Kreishauptmann called the Judenrat representatives to his office and told them, in anger, that he would not stand for the disregard of his command to transfer Jews from our town into neighbouring towns. He, therefore said: You are given eight days in which to select and prepare 1,000 Jews (not one less) and deport them to the nearest town Podhaica. The whole project was to be supervised by the Sonderdienst and by the Ukrainian militia. The march would take place during the night of December 15-16. The Jews would march by foot, 4 abreast. This news spread throughout the town with lightning speed. The Jewish inhabitants left their homes and scattered beyond their dwelling places. The town was left empty. After an exhaustive and costly effort by the Judenrat, Kriger, the assistant to the Kreishaupmann, was commanded to take it upon himself to investigate the whole project and to see to it personally that no harm should happen to anyone. He, himself, would see to it that the transfer of the 1,000 Jews should be orderly and that dwelling places would be prepared for these people. He also gave permission to take 20 wagons for the use of the elderly and the children. A great number of Jews were scattered outside the town and the Judenrat, together with the Jewish militia, could not collect the required number to be transferred. After midnight they were joined in the search for Jews by Germans. Altogether, they collected 600 men. At 3.a.m. the caravan moved in the direction of Podhaice. To this caravan were added the Judenrat officials who were helpful in collecting the Jews. The tragic end of this story was that the Gestapo was waiting for them. The whole caravan was brought into a forest and all of its members were killed.
One witness remained, as if by a miracle to tell what had transpired. Soon afterwards, we hastened to that spot. We found the massacred bodies buried in a mass grave.
The next day the Kreishauptmann was furious and, for the first time, he hit the Judenrat members and wounded Dr. Klarer because of the unsuccessful and disorderly project. At the same time, he gave another order all Jews were to hand over, in the course of several days, their fur coats. To add more force to his order, he demanded 12 persons as hostages. We all felt responsible for the 12 hostages. Without delay, we brought the fur coats and the hostages were freed. This time the act was completed without bloodshed.
[English Page 26]
Labour and Concentration Camps
The Germans exploited the human strength of the Jews for rigorous labour. For this purpose, they concentrated them into labour camps. Near us were a number of such labour camps. All of them were not car from the city of Tarnopol. Such as the scamp in Zborow, in Kamionka, in Hluboki Wielkieand many others. In every such camps there were between 400 to 800 men. They worked in quarries and on highways. The Judenrat was obligated to supply the manpower according to the demands of the Gestapo. From the standpoint of actual work, there was only enough for several hundred men, but for the Gestapo and for the German labour offices, these camps turned into a sort of business. The German officials were interested in bringing into the camps not merely hundreds or thousands of Jews, but tens of thousands of Jewish slave labourers. To materialize this purpose, they used their energy in destroying and exterminating, by every possible means, the Jewish labourers who were already in the camps and bringing new ones in their place. With every new group of workers, they received a large sum of money from the Judenrat, besides robbing the workers of their belongings. The Nazi labour and concentration camps constituted one of the saddest, depressing and most painful chapters in the history of human brutality. It left the mark of Cain on everyone who had something to do with them. Labour camp these two words spelt hunger, terror, torture, murderous beatings and degradation until redemption by the Angel of Death.
The labour camps as well as the ghettoes were a long legend of suffering. It was a Gehenna a veritable inferno on earth. In camps and ghettoes, brother harassed brother and Jew battled his fellow Jew. This was the height of slavishness and degradation. The human being lost his hopes, stopped thinking and became a blind medium a mere tool in the hands of his oppressors. There was no one to rouse him from his stupefying sleep. People were drugged, misled and went astray from the human path.
The winter itself caused many casualties, beside those who were murdered by the Nazi. Hundreds died from hunger and epidemics. The spring of 1942 that followed brought no relief for us. Day-after-day there came new commands and with them, new and fresh troubles. The Kreishauptmann was displeased with the Judenrat and reorganized it. He added another man, Bercio Feld. The Kreishauptmann saw in him the man who would carry out his orders to his fullest satisfaction. He also reduced the number of the Judenrat from 24 to 12 so that it would be easier for him to deal with the Council. Feld's first activity was to reorganize the Jewish militia. He brought into it many of his trusted friends and appointed Bettinger as its commander. The Nazi order in those days was to concentrate in Brzezany these Jews who resided in nearby villages. It was forbidden for a Jew to live in a village without a special permit.
The holiday of Passover came. We spent the eight Passover days without agitating any incidents. The worrisome news about the plight of Jews in Western
[English Page 27]
Europe reached us. According to this news, which was brought to us by Polish neighbours who added a bit of poison to each story, the Germans were uprooting Jews from their places of residence and were being brought by train to the district of Lublin.
What were the Germans doing with those Jews? Everyone had his own comments. Finally, we learned the tragic truth about the final solution. The Nazi were transporting the Jews into special extermination camps. A place, or district where Jewish inhabitants had been exterminated became designated as free and clear of Jews Judenrein.
Thus, the Jews began to look for ways and means to save themselves. There were some who attempted to cross the Hungarian border. Others tried to live as gentiles on Aryan papers. A good portion of Jews looked for hiding places among the neighbourhood peasants. Some of them were lucky and survived, however, in most cases, the peasants themselves killed the Jews or handed them over to the Germans for a pot of lentil-porridge. The simplest thing was to build a hiding place, each one in his own house and to use it as a shelter in time of trouble. Much planning, toil, effort and strength went into the construction of these hiding places, which were helpful but for a limited time.
During the month of July, 1942, the Germans, for the first time, instituted a search for young women to be sent to labour camps. They seized 60 girls and transported them to the Yagelnica camp near Chortkow. After several months of body-breaking work, the girls met their death.
The days were passing swiftly and each day brought new news. In those days we were informed about an extermination camp to be set up especially for us and constructed in the town of Belzec. Belzec, a small forsaken town, was suddenly marked on our map with the blood of innocent Jews. The uprooting of the Jewish population in our region began with the city of Lvov, and, according to Nazi plans, continued district-after-district and town-after-town. This is how the Germans operated. During darkness of night or close to dawn, they would surround the town, attack Jewish homes, make thorough searches, seize people and bring them to a central assembly place under a hail of shots, beatings, insults and shouts. They stood there for long hours and were then led away to the train railroad station under heavy guard. The train arrived, the people were brought into the coaches which were locked and sealed, and the train left. After travelling for hours in over crowded coaches, they arrived at their destination. The coaches were opened and the people led out. The Germans forced them to remove their clothing and they were then led away to the gas chambers. The gas jets were opened and the bodies were burned and even before this tragic scene ended, new transports arrived.
[English Page 28]
Finally, our town's turn also came. Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, 1942, was approaching. We had not forgotten yet the last Atonement Day. The Gestapo, for a money bribe, promised to postpone the planned action for a later day but this time too, they deceived us as they had done many times before. Instead of starting their rounding up before dawn as we had expected them to do, they appeared suddenly at 7:30 a.m. and began their work with more cruelty than before. At the beginning they succeeded in gathering many Jews from the synagogues, but those Jews who were still at home succeeded in hiding or slipping away and evading the Gestapo. As a result, they were short of the number of Jews required by their plan. They continued the action the following day until the goal was attained. They took away from us more than 1,500 persons. The train made its way to the extermination camp in Belzec. On the way, some of our people succeeded in breaking down the doors of the wagons and those who had strength and luck jumped from the train and came back to town to start anew. On the morrow of this action, the Germans collected the Jewish belongings what they inherited from the people they had murdered the previous day as though to fulfil the saying: Thou has murdered and also taken possession!.
In order to make it easier for themselves in the future, the Gestapo confined us into a much smaller and closed-in ghetto. They brought us into half-ruined houses in the Jewish quarter. The living conditions in these ruins were unbearable. 20 persons were crowded into one room. It was no wonder that epidemics killed hundreds of us. The ghetto was closed and without a special permit, it was forbidden to leave it. This brought about the breakdown in the barter business with the peasants of the neighbourhood. We also lost at once most of our hiding places and the advantage of escaping from the town in time of danger.
The next action was not late in coming. By the month of January, 1943, 3 actions each one crueller than the other had taken place. We were only a small group of people left in the ghetto, a mere remnant of the Jews of our town. At the beginning of February, the Judenrat received an order from the Gestapo to bring back to town all of the Jews that had received special permission to live outside the ghetto. On 15th February, 1943, the validity of these special permits expired. This served as a sign that in the coming days, a complete and decisive purge of the remaining Jews would take place. We still do not know the reason which eventually caused the Germans to postpone the last action for a number of months.
On March 12, Jewish women received permission from the Gestapo to go and purchase whatever they needed in the market of Novi-Rinek. There, the German gendarmes were waiting for them. They arrested the women and brought them straight to the cemetery where they shot and killed them.
Prior to the final liquidation of the ghetto, there was one more action which lasted 3 days. It began several days before Passover. Unlike the previous actions, this one was performed by local forces. It was done slowly, quietly and carefully. In a matter of 3 days, they succeeded in gathering 300 people, men, women and children into the prison yard. There, Herman of the Gestapo made a selection. Some were assigned to a labour camp while the rest were led away to the cemetery.
[English Page 29]
The Germans were making the last preparations necessary for the liquidation of the ghetto. Before our very eyes, they were digging in the cemetery mass graves for us. They were not hiding their intentions from s, on the contrary, with a smile on their lips, they told us of the approaching Judgment Day. Day-after-day, they organized our liquidation. Town-after-town was being finished off. We were counting the few remaining hours. Everyone was trying to utilize them. Some were trying to repair the hiding places, others were searching for ways and means to save themselves, even at the last moment. All of a sudden, we received encouraging news. The Gestapo informed our representatives that it had the authority to exempt 200 men with required skills. These men would have to reside in army barracks under a heavy German guard. They would work and would not be harmed. An admission card to these barracks could be obtained for an enormous sum of money and was given to men only. Two days went by and the number of persons who were ready and willing to pay the required sum of money for an admission card to the barracks were twice as many as the available card. After an effort by our emissaries, the Gestapo agreed to increase the number of admissions to 400.
During the month of May, 1943, the barracks were prepared for 400 men in the home of Dr. Falk. The Germans constructed high wire fence around the house so that no one could come in or leave without the guard's order. Everyone who had obtained a card had to come and reside there no later than the end of May. At dawn on Saturday June 12, the final action began, 3 days ahead of our expectations. On that day, the Gestapo finished off the ghetto as well as the people in the barracks. Once again, the Germans had succeeded in deceiving those who believed them. Under a heavy guard the barrack dwellers were brought to the cemetery. Only one witness of that event, Menachem Katz, survived and told us what had happened.
[English Page 30]
Several hundred Brzezany Jews succeeded in avoiding the brutal hand of the executioner and fled the town, but only a few returned in torn and rotten clothes, practically dressed in rags. They entered their hometown 13 months after they had left it. Altogether, 36 people survived. That was all that had been left out of 12,000 Jews who had resided in Brzezany when the German occupied the town. We, those who came back, lived like one family. All of us lived in one section, far from the ghetto and from those people and places where we dwelt during the Nazi rule. We had a strong desire to get away from the local population, a great majority of whom had given a helping hand to the murder of the Jews. We were looking forward to the day when we would be able to leave that terrifying place, where our lives and the lives of our dear ones were brought to a premature end. Our situation after the liberation by the Soviets became more difficult than before the Nazi occupation. The non-Jewish population as well as the Soviet government could not forgive the fact that we remained alive. They saw in us an unwanted remnant. They, as well as we, were waiting for the day when we could leave the place forever. Finally, that day arrived. According to an agreement between Poland and the Soviet Union, we were allowed to leave the town our fathers and forefathers had lived in. We left it with tears in our eyes to start our lives anew and to never forget all those who did not survive. We left behind a big empty synagogue, a desolate peoples' centre and a large cemetery, filled with mass graves.
Never, never shall we forget our dear ones ! !
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Berezhany, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 27 Jul 2023 by JH