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This material is protected by U.S. copyright law. © Rhoda Kuflik, 2022

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Chapter X

Kittever Heroes

One should particularly mention the heroic Jewish youth of Kittev which, on many occasions and with self-sacrifice, defended Jewish honour and sometimes also the life of the Jews of Kittev. In this way they taught the enemies of the Jews a lesson in how to live with their Jewish neighbours in peace.

I wish to mention just a couple of incidents which serve as an example on how Kittever Jewish boys repelled attackers and took away their appetite for messing with Jews.

Right after World War I, Kittev was, as mentioned before, occupied by the Romanians. The Romanian soldiers had a little fun at the expense of the Jewish population, beating and pulling Jewish beards. One time, on a Sunday afternoon, a Romanian started chasing after a Jew, caught him, beat him and whipped him with a long whip and insulted him as well. Two Jewish boys arrived – Moshe Klinger and Israel Hechler, and not fearing the strength of the Romanian tuft of hair, they dragged him into the hallway of Rachel Tillinger's house in the market square – beat him up really good, took away his weapons and then threw him into the dark cellar. The soldier who scoffed at the Jew begged the Jewish boys for mercy, to spare his life. After he got out from Jewish hands, barely with his life, he learned a lesson and didn't bother a Jew any more.

As mentioned, the Kittever Jews always strove to live peacefully with their Polish and Ukrainian neighbours. It seldom happened that a non-Jewish neighbour should show his ugly anti-Semitic side openly and attack a Jew just so. The Jews used various methods

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to pacify their non-Jewish neighbours and try to sober them out of their anti-Semitic hate. With the formation of the Polish republic, the Polish anti-Semitism grew. This anti-Semitism penetrated into such towns as Kittev and gradually poisoned the long-lasting peaceful relations between the old neighbour peoples.

In the year 1926-1927, the Polish anti-Semitism passed from words to deeds. When the local Polish students, sons of the Polish local government officials, would come home on vacation, they brought with them the anti-Semitic spirit of the universities and wanted to plant it in Kittev. But they received such a lesson from the Jewish boys that they had no further desire to express their anti-Semitic doctrine through deeds.

In public, the anti-Semitic “heroes” were afraid to practice their anti-Semitic deeds so they tried to do it at night when everyone was asleep and nobody could hinder their black work. Once, they broke the windows of a Jewish house that was in a non-Jewish neighbourhood (in the Jewish streets, these anti-Semitic mouth-heroes were afraid to show themselves) another time, they pasted anti-Semitic propaganda on the telephone poles – hatred and enmity to Jews – calling on the Christian population to boycott Jewish businesses and artisans. Afterward, they also started to attack physically helpless older Jews whom they met in the street. It came to this that Jews who lived in Christian neighbourhoods were afraid to go outside at night especially during vacation times when the students had returned home.

The representatives of the Jewish community naturally turned to the police requesting that they arrest and

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punish the nocturnal attackers. They pointed out that it was against the law of the Polish constitution to incite one part of the population against another. However, the police didn't hurry to catch and punish the guilty ones, who among them were their own sons; perhaps they enjoyed seeing how the Polish students amused themselves at the expense of the “Zshides” (derogatory terms for Jews). Then the heroic Jewish youth of Kittev determined to take the law into their own hands, drove the anti-Semitic “darlings” away from the Jewish streets.

The most popular heroes of the Kittever Jewish street were the three sworn comrades and friends: Zaide Mandel, Gedaliah Landvehr and Shlomo Moskowitz. They were fearless heroic young men, swift and clever so that even the Ukrainians and the Hulutzes of the surrounding villages, who respected a Jew in proportion to his “hands of Esau” – trembled with the fear of death before the three comrades who were called “the team”. It was woe to the “sheigets” who fell into the hands of one of the team. The team organized the Jewish self-defence and thereby put an end to the attacks and the anti-Semitic propaganda in Kittev.

The defence was organized in this matter: A few nights each week, several Jewish boys watched over the Jewish houses that were located in the Christian section. Once the anti-Semitic night-heroes broke the windows of a Jewish house on the Sniatiner Street and began pasting anti-Semitic placards on the telephone poles, the Jewish boys would appear and treat the students to such a beating that the next day, they were ashamed to show their black eyes and bruises to their comrades. This was their reward for their anti-Semitic deeds.

In the summer of 1934, Kittev was famed throughout Poland as a spa and a pleasant vacation spot. Each summer, thousands of guests would come down here with their families. In that year, there were a sizeable number of students among the guests who belonged to the Endekes – the Polish anti-Semitic party. Kittev was a town where one met Jews at every step.

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This bothered the Endeke students very much. The Poles, therefore, at every occasion when coming across a Jew, in the summer places, at the Chermesh and similar places of amusements - sought to provoke and insult the Jews. At those times, the Kittever Jewish youth would appear and teach the anti-Semites properly, responding to their provocations appropriately and (repay them) even with per cent.

There comes to mind a Sunday. The Polish spa guests and the anti-Semitic students gathered at the Sokkol hall for a Polish ball. When they were well lubricated and happy from the extra glasses, they set out into the street and hollered: “Beat the Jews). They demonstrated their heroism by beating up two Jewish little boys who were playing in the street. After this heroic piece of work, they ran back into the hall. But it didn't take long before all Kittev knew about the attack on the two Jewish boys. Jewish young fellows gathered on the streets and held a consultation on how to teach the anti-Semites that Kittever Jews were not helpless and could strike back. They worked out a whole strategy and a number of boys volunteered for the “job”. The rest went quietly home because they knew they had left the matter in good hands.

Next morning, it became known that the Endekite students had been found lying in the gutter, beaten up, more dead than alive. When they subsequently came to complain to the police, the police advised them to pack up and go back to where they came from because Kittev was not Warsaw or Lemberg and that they should well understand and remember. And indeed, the Endekes remembered this for a long time.

The anti-Semitic attacks did not cease completely especially in later years when the anti-Semitism increased

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throughout Poland. Some attacks on Jews still took place on the part of the anti-Semitic spa guests but each time, the Jews fulfilled the verse: “an eye for an eye” and drove off the attackers.

On many occasions, the Kittever Jews, especially the Jewish youth, exhibited heroism, bravery and courage in defending Jewish rights and not allowing Jews to be degraded as second-class citizens. Later I will talk about the role of the Jewish youth in Kittev in guarding the city from an attack by peasants from surrounding villages at the beginning of World War II when the Polish military, along with the police, retreated and left the city wide open.


Chapter XI

Kittever Nicknames and Types

Just as in other cities, there were a number of Jewish families in Kittev who were called by the names of their occupations: Chaim Hersh the Shuster (shoemaker), Mechl the Shneider (tailor), Moshe the Stolier (carpenter), Abraham the Buchbinder (bookbinder), Dov'tshe the Shamess, Zaide the Chazan, Joseph the Cohen, Meche'le the Katzav (butcher), Leib'eniu the Muller (mason or bricklayer), Moshe Meir the Kalch-Jew (whitswasher), Berish the Becker (baker), Velvel the Becker, Zindel the Bershtelmacher (brush-maker), Shlomo the Krupnick (barley dealer), Rachel the Boobeh (a regional word not in my dictionary), Itzie the Rophe (healer), Anshel the Frizirer (hairdresser), Yankel the Treger (carrier), Meir-Hersh the Baal-Agolah (wagon driver), Eisig the Katzav, Alter the Kirshner (hatter), Yossel the Zeigermacher (clock-maker), and many others. All the artisans who were called by their trades took it as self-evident and felt as though this was their second name. Therefore, in time, their children were called the same way, for example: Min'tshe, Berish the Bekker's daughter, Moshe Leib'une the Muller's

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son, Moshe Mechele the Katzav's son, Ethel, Itzie the Bedder's daughter, and so on.

Another category of Kittever Jews who were called by special names were men and women who were called by their parents' names: Chaim Peshe Roize's Yankel Chaim Mendel's, Moshe Yankel Crendel's, Feivel' Chananiah's, Itzie Yossele's, Feige the Raphael'iche, Moshe Hannah's, Shlomo Shime'les, Gedaliah Mirele's, Moshe Choneh Adelle'. My own mother, may she rest in peace, was called Sheindel Roize's (the name of my grandmother who in her old age went to Eretz Israel to die there).

The third category of Kittever names were the nicknames that were attached to people for various reasons such as their origin, character, occupation or because of an unusual happening in their life. Among this group, the names were of a tragi-comical nature. There were in the city various characters and personality types. There were Jews with a sense of humour who loved to poke fun at themselves and other who joked at the expense of their neighbours and friends. But there were Jews without any sense of humour who would get very insulted and angry when they were called by their nickname. Often, the use of a nickname would cause anger and enmity. As mentioned before, there was no dearth in Kittev of jokesters who liked to wise-crack at another's expense. If a sensitive Jew fell into the company of jokers, he had no lack of troubles. Very often a joke would end in a fight.

The children of Yehudah Leib Klinger were called the Shneiderukes (an insulting form of the word for a tailor) even though they were all businessmen. The family Druck was designated as Shkrabes (worn-out shoes). Mechele Ungar, who was a tailor, was called Mechele Katz (cat). When he met children in the street, they would hide and holler: “Mechele Katz” and

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meow like a cat. Mechele would chase them and throw stones . . . Mechele was afraid to pass by the meat-markets because as soon as they saw him, the butchers and market-youths would start a caterwauling: one would meow, a second would holler “mitz, mitz” and a third would holler “prush”. A fourth would sneeze and poor Mechele would swallow it all because he simply was afraid to start a fight with them. His only weapon was the curse and he used to curse them with might and main.

Chaim Windrech was called “Chaim what time is it”. If one asked him for the time he replied with curses.

Abele Shnitzer was called Abele Hooze and some even thought that that was his real family name.

Itzik Booler was called Itzik Tson (tooth); Meir Socher – Meir Tsitsele; Chaim Sender was called Chaim Ketzele (pussy-cat); Gedaliah and Elihu Shatner – Gedaliah and Elihu Pletnick; Feivish Solomon and his son were called Zazaule; Meir Tsirel – Meir Fuftsiger and Yossel Ehrlich –Knapper.

Zaide Shatner was called Zaide Tukeh because of an actual happening. Once, going down into the cellar, he fell down the steps and dragged down with him various wooden utensils with which he dealt. The fall made such a noise that his wife came running and asked breathlessly: “What happened Zaide?” Zaide could only mumble: “Tu-tu-tu, I'm feeding the chicks”. His wife, who was quite a Cossack, answered: “A black dream upon you, your chicks are in the attic, not in the cellar”. The neighbours who heard this comical colloquy between husband and wife, gave Zaide the name Zaide Tukeh.

In Kittev there was also a Jew named Chaim Shnitzer who was called, Chaim Ya-Chaitse: a true story. This is how it happened: His wife's name was Chai'tse and she had a cow which only she, Chai'tse would milk. It happened once that Chai'tse got sick and Chaim had to milk the cow. The cow, being used to Chai'tse milking her,

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would, in no way, let herself be milked by Chaim. She twitched and kicked him with her feet. So what does Chaim do? He got the idea to fool the cow to make her think that he was Chai'tse. Done and done! He put on an apron and a kerchief on his head, imitated a woman's voice and started telling the cow that he was Chai'tse. If the cow believed him, I don't know but I do know that the neighbours saw it all and heard it all. They in confidence told their neighbours as a secret. It became a “secret for all Brod”. Chaim was nicknamed Ya-Chaitse (Russian for: “I am Chai'tse”).

Moshe Strauss was called Moshe Shostick; Shmuel Ornstein – Shmuel Zaveruche (hurricane); Monieh Ornstein – Monieh Buziak; Abraham Hutterer – Abraham the corpse; the families Ezra and Yossel Grau and Velvel Grau – the Tshuchanes and the Shmertz family – the Pertsiukes.

Leizer Tillinger, a dark-complexioned man, was called the “double-eight” (in dominoes the black stone is the double-eight because it has sixteen black dots on a white background). Moshe Foigel was called Moshe Ganev (thief). Actually, he was a Jew with a long beard who went to Kossev for High Holidays to be with the Rebbe.

Elasar the hatmaker was called Alter Plooz; Aaron the carrier – Aaron Trimbe; Shimon Foigel – Shimon Kuzshme; Totke Tannentsop – Totke Niuch; Hersh Leib Chasid – Hersh Leib Shniapkes; Hersh Tau – Hersh Loksh; Totke Zwiebach – Totke Mitskes; and Yude Klinger –Yehudah Kolbasnik.

There was also in Kittev a Jew of many occupations and few blessings (in Yiddish this rhymes), who was called “Yoske the Moid” (maiden). Among the wagon-drivers there were types who provided much humour and fun.

We had a wagon-driver called Shmuel Kluger. He was called: “The Youth”. He always looked healthy, with a ruddy face and his horses were also big and strong, reddish with

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gleaming hides. The Youth loved his horses very much. He never touched a whip to them. If someone insulted the Youth, he just got angry but if a horse of his was touched, he was ready to commit murder.

There was another wagon-driver, Moneleh Shustick, an extremely poor man. From time-to-time, the Kittever Jews took up a collection to buy him a horse to allow him to earn his wretched livelihood. As Moneleh was bitterly poor and barely earned bread for his family, he showed the horse hay on in the Siddur (a pun on the Hebrew letter H, called Hay). Naturally the animal couldn't las long and would “stretch out its hooves”. Moneleh always explained using the words of Grandfather Mendele (the Yiddish writer Mendele Mocher S'forim) in the story “The Mare”.” I worked long and hard to train the horse not to eat, so now, for spite, it goes and dies.”

In Kittev there was also another wagon-driver, Shemaiahu Sander who was called the Shtomper (stumbler). The story of the “Shtomper” is as follows: One Friday morning, Shmuel Kerner, a Kittever tanner, had a lawsuit scheduled in the court in Kossev. He hired Shmaiah to drive him to Kossev for the trial. On the road, driving step-by-step, Shmuel Kerner realized that at this rate they would never get there on time. But Shmaiah didn't even answer – he just kept on driving slowly and even started singing a Rosh Hashanah tune. Then Shmuel Kerner in his irritation let fall a word which made him lose the lawsuit. In excitement he called out to Shmaiah: “Such a lazy horse, such a stumbler, I wouldn't even give him straw to chew”. When Shmaiah heard this, his wagon-driver's pride was aroused and since Shmuel had insulted his chestnut and called him a stumbler,

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he turned the wagon around and drove back to Kittev. Shmuel's pleading and threatening had no effect: “You called my chestnut a stumbler so he won't take you to Kossev”. That was Shmaiah's decision and Shmuel Kerner lost his lawsuit.

It's worth mentioning another category of names of Kittever Jews who were given nicknames because of their skin and colour. Such for example were: Yehudah Leib the Blue; Meir the Red; Sarah the Black, Bobbe the Red, Shmuel the Yellow, and so forth. Others had the “privilege” of being named for their physical defect: Shmuel the Blind, Yossel the Deaf, Moshe the Mute, Hersh the Crooked, Leibele Hunch and others.

Finally, I want to mention a special type of Kittever Jew – the Jewish village-walkers – Jews who went into the mountains at the beginning of the week, from village-to-village, seeking to buy something – a little cow, a goad, a lamb or a slab of cheese or butter. For Shabos, these Jewish village-walkers would return to their families and sell the livestock to the butchers and the cheese and butter to their neighbours. These Jewish village-walkers who lived so much among non-Jews in time began to use non-Jewish words in speaking. Altogether, they spoke more Goyish than Yiddish.

I recall a case of two brothers, village-walkers, who returned to the city to observe Yahrzeit for their father. The older brother knew a little Hebrew and went up to the reader's desk.

It was then the time of counting the Omer (between Pesach and Shevuos). He didn't know which day of the Omer it was so he turned to his brother and asked him in Ukrainian “what number is it today?” The next day, this brother went to the reader's desk again. It was a Thursday when the Torah is read. When it came time to close the Aron Kodesh (the Holy Ark), he turned again to his brother and called: “lock the gate.

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This kind of Jewish village-walker and village inhabitant, simple but upright Jews who struggled their whole lives to earn their piece of bread and nourish their families, provided plenty of material for Jewish humour and folklore. These were Jews who were ready to sacrifice their lives for their faith.

Let me be permitted to close this chapter about Kittever Jewish folklore by noting that I have not covered all the Kittever folk types. For example, I have omitted the various types of Hasidim who belonged to the various Hasidic courts (each Rebbe's establishment is like a royal court) – the Misnagdim who scoffed at the Hasidim. Also, Kittever Jews who gave Tsedakah or gave in secret, and ordinary Kittever people who had Jewish hearts of gold and were ever ready to fight for Jewish honour and Jewish rights. I also didn't dwell on the various types of Jewish artisans – women who sat in the market-place, and others. This would require an entire separate book.


Chapter XII

Polish Jewry Before World War II

It would not be right to depict the social and cultural life of the Jews of Kittev; the awakening of their national consciousness; their cultural and education institutions – all that they created- without an overview of the great pre-war Jewish community of Poland as a whole. After all, Kittev was but a small link in the chain of Polish Jewish cities and towns – a microcosm of Polish Jewry in general.

The Jewish community in Poland was a living and productive organism. There was a pulsating active Jewish life

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in every city and town, in every village where Jews found themselves; an energetic Jewish communal life, full of a spirit of enterprise and initiative, whose energy brought prosperity and wealth for all of Poland.

Trade, industries and the free professions lay, on the whole, in Jewish hands. Jews conducted the Polish export and import in an organized fashion. Polish industry continually grew and developed thanks to the capable Jewish industrialists of Lodz, Billitz-Biale, Bialystok, who were famed for their textile and goods factories; for their linen and cloth fabrics.

Jewish community life in Poland was a colorful rainbow which encircled the whole country. Polish Jews had various organized movements, parties and institutions; professional societies and cooperative enterprises. Poland had her religious Jewish parties: Hasidim and Misnagdim, Orthodox and Maskilim, Agudas Israel, Mizrachi, Hapoel Hamizrachi, the youth organization Bnai Akiva, Revizionists, Brith Hanoar named for Joseph Trumpeldor (Betar), the Judenstat party, General Zionists, Hitachdut, Gordoniah, Bosliah, Hechalutz, Right Labour Zionists, Left Labour Zionists, Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsair, the socialist Bund party, the leftists and the professional societies.

Among all these parties and groups, there was a competition and a struggle which often overstepped the bounds of their local chapters and became a public issue. The struggles were especially noticeable before elections, elections to the community council, the Seyim (Polish parliament) or the Senate and also before elections to the Zionist Congress.

Every one of the parties issued propaganda and put forward their programs as the best and most equitable. Each party and group had pretensions of being the only one able to solve all Jewish problems.

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To gain the support of the community and of the Jewish masses and popularize its thought and ideology, each party had its propagandists, preachers, lecturers, speakers, who travelled around all the cities and towns. Each party also had its written organs, daily papers and weekly and monthly periodicals.

The Polish Jews especially excelled in the cultural-educational sphere. Poland possessed networks of general and trade schools, Hebrew kindergartens, elementary schools and also high schools, orthodox and secular teachers' schools as well as great and famous Yeshivos and Beth Jacob schools for girls. All of them helped to educate and raise up a proud Jewish national type of which World-Jewry could be proud.

It would take too much space to write about the contribution of Polish Jewry in the fields of journalism and literature. In the first instance, the press, which had a circulation of many thousands: The Heint (Today), the Moment, Tageblat (Daily Page), the Morgen (Tomorrow), the Radio, Neies (News), the great Jewish-Polish daily the “Chvilla” and the periodical publications, literary gazettes, Vochenblatt (Weekly Page), the various other literary journals and the Hebrew press.

Jewish Poland possessed a whole group of world-renowned writers, poets and prose writers, romance writers and novelists and dramatists, composers, conductors, musicians, theatre stage-managers and directors. From the Polish-Jewish publishing houses, all of World Jewry drew as from an inexhaustible well. The Polish-Jewish printing presses were famous the world over. And who can forget the Yiddish theatre in Poland; the famous Vilna company, the actors Zigmunt Turkov, Ida Kaminski and Jonas Turkov, Maurice Lampe and Shoshanah Rabinovitch and others?

Polish-Jewish genius was also noticeable in the field of the free professions. The most prestigious attorneys in Poland were

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Jews; famous Jewish professors, surgeons, pharmacists and dentists filled every city and town in Poland. Jewish talent, genius and initiative was evident throughout the country. Naturally Jewish participation in the free professions and in all branches of the economy elicited plenty of jealousy and enmity from the Polish population and strengthened the anti-Semitism.

In regard to Zionist activity and pro-Israel action, Poland surpassed all of World Jewry. Polish Jewry was the backbone of the world-wide Zionism – both as a reservoir of Chalutzim and in the area of raising funds. Polish Jewry furnished huge sums for the Zionist funds, Keren Hayesod and Keren Kayemet. The Polish Zionist youth organizations provided an idealistic human-resource which had no equal in many generations. All over Poland there spread networks of Hachsharah (preparatory training) points where Jewish boys and girls productized themselves and prepared to live as workers in the historic Jewish homeland. It is surely no exaggeration when we state that Polish Jewry prior to World War II had the biggest share in preparing the way for the rise and the establishment of the State of Israel.

With the rise of Hitlerism, the Jewish horizon in all of Europe and particularly in Poland began to cloud up. The black anti-Semitic forces in Poland raised their heads and prepared for open strife against the Jews. The Poles used all methods to push Jews out of their economic and cultural positions. Not only did the Polish government not hinder the anti-Semites, but it strongly encouraged their anti-Jewish actions. Various anti-Semitic laws were enacted which increasingly degraded the Polish-Jewish community and robbed it of its civil rights.

The Endeke (National Democratic) party carried out a systematic propaganda aimed

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at driving Jews out of public life. They incited and organized pogroms and attacks against the Jewish population in many cities and towns. At first, the Endekes contented themselves with boycott-propaganda against Jewish businesses and goods. Then they started to “picket” the Jewish factories and stores. They terrorized the Polish customers of Jewish businesses; beat them and drove them away with violence. They also especially before the Christian holidays, tried to compete with the Jewish storekeepers. When the Jewish businessman would resist this competition, the Endeke students would incite the anti-Semitic mob to look the Jewish stores and murderously beat the Jewish merchant as well.

The pogrom in Pshitik is sadly notorious. In this Polish-Jewish town, the anti-Semitic ruffians attacked the Jewish stores, robbed and murderously beat the Jewish storekeepers. They also murdered a Jewish storekeeper. The Polish police who watched it all, did not lift a finger to stop the bandits, and did not make the slightest effort to catch and punish the murderers.

The Polish regime also did everything possible to ruin Jewish commerce and industry. They stopped the credits for Jewish commerce, raised taxes while encouraging the general economy by reducing taxes and issuing credit at minimal interest rates. The Poles also turned over to their co-religionists an exclusive monopoly on tobacco and cigarettes, liquor, salt and other articles.

Setting themselves a goal of wresting the free professions out of Jewish hands, the government established the notorious “numerus clausus” for Jewish students in the Polish universities. In general, they admitted only a small percentage of Jews to the high schools and universities. Finally, to completely embitter the life of the Jewish student, they came up with this drastic method of insulting and degrading him.

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They would force the Jewish student to sit on special benches. The benches on the left (they wanted to show that all Jews were communists). If a Jewish student refused to sit on the left-hand bench, the anti-Semites would jump him and murderously beat him. At the Lemberg Polytechnic, the Endeke students murdered a Jewish student because he defended himself when they tried to force him to sit on the left-hand bench.

The Polish government also forbade Jews to buy real estate. Ostensibly, the law said that Jews may not be landowners in areas bordering the neighbouring countries. Since nearly all of Poland bordered on neighbouring countries, it made it almost impossible for a Jew to buy a house or a field or a garden or an orchard anywhere. A Jew was only allowed to sell his house or garden to a non-Jew without limitation.

The depth to which anti-Semitism was rooted in the hearts and minds of the Poles may be seen in the fact that a few weeks before the War broke out with Hitler, regardless of the fact that they days of Polish independence were numbered, the Polish Seyim still let itself be swept along with the anti-Semitic wave and passed the “Shechita” law which forbade Kosher slaughter. This law was introduced in the Seyim by the member of parliament, Mrs. Pristar. Instead of unifying all the forces in the country against the enemy's attack and forging a united defence, the Poles, even in the face of the greatest peril to their nation, would not free themselves of their in-grown hatred of Jews and pushed through this law.

Kittev was no exception. Here too Jews suffered from the various anti-Jewish limitations and anti-Semitic laws. The richer Jewish parents could still afford the luxury of giving their children higher education and sending them to universities although they knew well that no matter how they excelled

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in knowledge, they would never have a chance to get any government job, not even that of a chimney sweeper or a street cleaner.

The taxes pressed more and more heavily on the Jewish merchant, artisan and house-owner. Those who enforced the tax law acted cruelly against Jews. It happened more than once that a Jew who could not pay the tax on time lost his whole inventory which was liquidated by the tax collectors. In this way, many Jews lost the ability to earn a bit of bread for themselves and their families. From the Jewish house-owner who could not pay the tax on the property, they would take away the furniture, even his clothes and the pillow from under his head. Jews often had to borrow a suit for Shabbos so that they could go to the Shul to daven.

A short time before Hitler's attack on Poland, the government which had finally begun to comprehend the danger, began to make preparations for defense. They then issued a call to all inhabitants of the country in which they appealed to their patriotic feelings and asked them to respond generously to the government loan which they proclaimed.

In the face of the peril which threatened the whole country, the Jews tried to forget all the glaring injustices perpetrated against them and they were the first to respond generously to the appeal and made a large contribution to the government loan. In Kittev, the Jewish population contributed more than 90% to the collection for the voluntary government loan.

The chief of the District of Kossiv, Fiola, established a quota for the entire Kittever community. The Council was to collect the sum from all citizens. The Kittever Jews were the first to hurry to pay the voluntary tax while

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the other citizens, Poles and Ukrainians, took their time. This slowed down the loan process in the city.

When the chief of the Kossever District, Fiola, saw that the collection in Kittev was in trouble, he came up with an idea. He came to Kittev and ordered that, within 24 hours, the Kittever Jews should make up the amount that the Ukrainians and the Poles failed to contribute. Not all the Kittever Jews were able to contribute again, so the chief ordered a few Jews to be arrested. Those who were arrested were kept in prison until their families produced the money.

This is how the Polish authorities treated the Jews. It should also be noted that among the anti-Semites were many former socialists and revolutionaries alongside of whom Jews had fought for social justice. Poland also forgot that Jews had often fought and shed their blood for independence and freedom of Poland. The former socialists and revolutionaries also forgot all the ringing slogans of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, the ideals for which so many Polish patriots and Jewish revolutionaries had sacrificed their lives. Polish chauvinism gained the upper hand. The Jews were the first victims of the raging Polish nationalism and chauvinism. The chauvinists united with the most virulent anti-Semites and together degraded the Jews to the status of second-class citizens who had to fulfil all responsibilities and bear all the burdens of citizenship and yet suffer from limitations and discriminations. When Polish Jews tried to protest against these crimes and demand justice from those in power, they were met with the well-known anti-Semitic refrain: “If you don't like it, go to Palestine”. ” Poland for the Poles”!

In such an atmosphere and under such conditions of anti-Jewish excesses and discriminations the Polish nation made its

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final preparations to fight against the Nazi enemy; in such a pestilent and poisoned atmosphere of blind hatred toward Jews, did Poland seek to unite all its citizens in the last battle for its future.


Chapter XIII

The German Invasion of Poland

Friday, September 1, 1939, the Nazi blitzkrieg invasion of Poland occurred. The war began with such swiftness and brutality, form air, land and sea, that the Polish army was unable to endure the first blows of the German attack and began to collapse.

On land, the German mechanized divisions; the heavy tanks and armoured cannons, quickly broke through the Polish forward defence lines and began their destructive march on Polish soil. On the sea, the German fleet which was supported by the German Luftwaffe, attacked the Polish fleet and bombarded the Polish port cities of Danzig and Gdynia. From the air, the Germans sowed destruction on all Polish cities and villages. All- important Polish industrial centers and factory cities, all important railroad stations and bridges, military camps and staging points, all aerodromes and military storehouses, went up in flames.

The Polish air force played a pitiful role during the short period of the German-Polish war and was practically unnoticeable. Already on the first day of their attack, the Germans damaged all the airfields and crippled the greatest part of the planes that were on them. The Polish planes and their fliers became helpless immediately after the first blows from the enemy.

The Polish soldier actually did exhibit a great measure of heroism and patriotism in defending his homeland. They

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had to stand against a gigantic armoured force with the most modern weapons. Polish soldiers threw themselves upon German tanks with bottles of gasoline. With incendiary grenades in one hand and a gun in the other, the Polish infantry tried to stand against the enemy's mechanized divisions, but defeat was inevitable. It was impossible to defeat such a mighty and overwhelming army as the Hitler war-machine which trampled, burned and destroyed everything in its way.

There were other reasons for the quick collapse of the Polish army beside the German bombardments. No small part was played by the rottenness and demoralization in the ranks of the Polish military which weakened their defensive power. The demoralization had an especially strong effect on the districts of Poizn and Upper Silesia. A large number of Polish officers hailed from the German areas: (Pomerania, Poizn and Silesia. They showed themselves as traitors on the first day of the war, put obstacles in the way of the defense. There were even cases when the ordinary Polish soldiers recognized the traitors and shot them on the spot. This fact can serve as an example of the inner demoralization of the Polish army.

Right after the invasion, in the first hours of the blitzkrieg, the Polish government ordered a general mobilization and called up all reserves. When the soldiers reported, many officers kept them waiting several days before they were taken into the military barracks. There were also cases when some were admitted to the barracks but sent away after a few days because it developed that there were no uniforms for them or enough weapons to send them to the front. After the collapse, when Hitler-Germany and Stalin-Russia divided Poland between them, entire

[Page 83]

warehouses packed with uniforms and various kinds of weapons, enough to equip whole armies, were found!

in Kittev as in all of Poland, the Hitler invasion filled every inhabitant with dread. The Jewish population found itself in a state of fear and panic. Every Jew took account of the atmosphere in which he found himself and trembled at the danger which was coming. With terror in our hearts and anxiety in our souls, we awaited the dreadful morrow.

In the first hours of the general mobilization, there were, in Kittev, among the Poles and Ukrainians, Jewish young men that were mobilized and who never returned from the battle. All means of transport: automobiles, wagons and even bicycles were confiscated by the army. Every few hours, transports of mobilized Kittever youth left Kittev for Kolomei. Many of them fell in battle.

In the first hours of the war, hours of despair and despondency, when all the Polish nation stood face-to-face with the greatest enemy and fought a life-and-death battle with the aggressor – even then they did not forget the Jew. The police confiscated the radios from all the Kittever Jews and thus robbed them of the only means of knowing the news of the world and the happenings in Poland. We had to live in the dark during every Jew's most fateful hour. After many pleadings and interventions, the rulers deigned to return a few radios to certain Jews – this after a promise that they would give back the radios.

In the first weeks of the war, Kittev, which lay not far from the Romanian border, became a place of refuge for thousands of refugees – a passage for tens of thousands of Polish government officials and, for a large part, the Polish officers-corps which fled to Romania.

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After the first week of the war, there began to stream into Kittev large transports of Jewish refugees from Upper Poland and Upper Silesia who had left their homes, businesses and factories to save their lives from the German murderers. From these refugees, we learned the first frightful details of the Germans' scandalous deeds. They told how the Germans had shot at members of their families with machine guns; how the Germans had bombarded the defenseless cities and burned thousands of houses together with their inhabitants; how the Germans had bombarded railroad stations where thousands were waiting for trains, and above all, how the German fliers had zoomed low and strafed the railroad cars filled with refugees, brutally destroying thousands of men and women.

In the second week of the war, there also arrived members of the Polish government in Kittev who had first sought refuge in Baranovitch near the Russian border and came to Kittev from there. Here, for a short time, was the Polish capital with all the foreign embassies, quartered in the richest houses of Kittev. On the Oidiush hill, they set up a radio station to broadcast various government decrees and orders.

These fateful days, the numbered days of the Polish government in Kittev, the end of Poland's independence and the start of the Hitler occupation, happened to coincide with the Jewish Days of Awe which etched themselves deeply into memory.

All the Jewish synagogues, kloizes and prayer-houses were filled with thousands of worshippers. In these truly awe-filled days, we forgot all the traditional heartily-sweet Rosh Hashanah tunes and recited the prayers with wailing and weeping which came from broken Jewish hearts.

[Page 851]

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, in the midst of the service, the Polish military and police appeared in all the houses of prayer and demanded that the daveners (worshippers) go home and open their stores to enable the Polish refugees to supply themselves with all their needs on their way to Romania.

Right after Rosh Hashanah, the Government left Kittev and retreated to Romania. Along with the Government, all the foreign embassies also left Kittev except the Soviet embassy.

In the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, long formations of Polish soldiers, brigades of tanks, motorized anti-aircraft and thousands of trucks filled the roads leading from Kittev to Romania. These accompanied the higher government people and their families.

For the Jewish refugees, it was very difficult to flee and cross the Romanian border. There were Jews who had provided themselves ahead of time with valid Polish passports and, therefore, crossed the border without difficulty. However, most had to steal across the border because the head of the Kossover district, the Jew-hater Fiola, refused to provide them with the necessary papers. Among those who sought refuge in Romania was the President of the Jewish Seyim club, Dr. Shwarzbard of Krakow, who also had to smuggle himself across because Fiola would not issue him a passport.

It's interesting to mention how this Fiola, before his departure to Romania, sent for the wealthy Kossover Jews and demanded a cash contribution. His excuse was that Poland had no interest in fighting Hitler and that the whole war was carried on by the Jews and on behalf of the Jews.

On September 17th, the radio reported that the Soviet army had crossed the Polish border with the objective of occupying the Polish White Russian and Ukrainian areas, which meant Kittev and all of

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Eastern Galicia. Then, Hitler and Stalin divided the Polish country between themselves, according to the treaty signed by the Hitlerite foreign minister, Von Ribbentrop and the Soviet foreign minister, Molotov. After 29 days of war, the 35,000,000 population of Poland was divided, not for the first time in its history – between the two neighbouring major powers – this time, Hitler Germany and Communist Russia.


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