by Shimon Bedor (Bedler)
Translated by Meir Bulman
A. Before WWI (1914)
I have come to tell of a period in the life of our town which I and many of my friends, some living and many murdered by Hitler, experienced in our youth. Before telling that story, I would like to write about the chapter which came before it; my childhood and the childhood of members of my generation.
The story will include the impressions of a boy who grew up within the confines of our small town, who saw the world through the lens of Jewish life around him. Sober reflection on life during that time was still distant for that boy.
Those were the first years of our century (the 20th century). Life in Jewish towns in greater Austria progressed peacefully. Tradition was observed and aside from one exceptional person (as opposed to two such people in each family), there were no disruptions. The boys followed in the footsteps of their ancestors, be it regarding tradition or trade. Sons of merchants traded goods and craftspeople continued their fathers' crafts.
The entire population of the town was Jewish. Not a single Gentile lived in the town. The mayor was Jewish. The only policeman in town, Mikita, was a Gentile and had two roles: first, that of a Shabbos goy and the other as a news announcer. The policeman would strap on his large drum, drum until all the town's children gathered, and announce the latest developments. Developments such as that the cattle fair in Borszczów or Korolowka had been canceled because of a cattle disease, or that all the residents who lived near the gemenda (city hall) must sweep the street facing their houses because the regional commander was coming to town. The policeman occasionally had another role: assistant to the state creditor who came from Borszczów (the district capital) to repossess pillows, blankets, and candlesticks from Jews who could not or would not pay taxes. The policeman would warn the Jews ahead of time to be cautious and act wisely.
There were no remarkable class differences in our town. There were very few wealthy folks in the town.
Unlike other regional towns which hosted large fairs and whose Jewish residents were mostly merchants who traded in their towns, most residents of our town were craftspeople and merchants who earned their pay in the neighboring towns. Every day, there was a fair in a different town.
Each morning, the horse traders would travel to the fairs. Merchants sat in the coach surrounded by a herd of horses. They retuned in the evening with their traded goods.
Livestock traders sent their cattle to the fairs with a Gentile cattledriver. Then drivers would walk the cows a few dozen miles and return in the evening with different cows. Not all grain merchants traveled far; many would walk to neighboring villages except on Wednesday when there was a market day in town, where they would purchase grain from local peasants and sell their goods. In contrast, the cattle merchants traveled far and even reached Hungary in order to prepare goods for large fairs, especially for the Ułaszkowce fair.
|The Grain Market (Gemindeh Platz)
The Bedler and Steining Families (standing third from the left: Shmuel Moshe Zelig)
There were Jews of all kinds, ordinary people without pretension. Aside from a few wealthy individuals, residents were occupied by work, except on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, residents convened in the synagogue corridors.
My older friends have already described the various synagogues. I would like to add (some) facts. Jezierzany was unlike other regional towns in which the Hasidic were divided into factions according to their allegiance to Hasidic dynasties. There were many disputes but Hassidim were divided into two camps: Yoel loyalists and Shapira loyalists. I do not know the origin of the names because the dispute was an inheritance from a previous generation. Members of the older generation who now live in Israel will shed light on the origins. We just knew that the name Yoel referred to those who followed Rabbi Velvel and his soninlaw Elazar, and the name Shapira noted those who followed Rabbi Yechiel. They both served, or wanted to serve, as rabbis of the town. They were both beloved Jews, great scholars, and good men. To this day, I do not know the reason and origin for the dispute. It is enough to note that the dispute had left its mark on public life in Jezierzany for two generations and at times reached points of mutual hatred. There was a link between the dispute and the division of the synagogue, although they (the synagogues) could also be divided according to the classes and members of each trade who prayed in them.
The first synagogue was the Ancient Synagogue. Most of those who attended that synagogue were Shapira loyalists. Most of the worshipers there were not scholars, did not prolong their services, and completed prayers in the early morning hours so they could enjoy the Kiddush and cholent which awaited them at home. That synagogue building was constructed of wood, like the style of most ancient synagogues in Poland. Even the town elders did not
remember when it was constructed. According to the prevailing opinion in town, the synagogue building had existed for centuries. Between funerals, the coffins stood on the side of the yard.
There was a legend in town that the dead came to pray in the synagogue at night. It was said that Mendel, the old synagogue custodian, opened the synagogue in the middle of the night and (once) there was one man missing for the dead men's minyan so Mendel joined them. Children feared passing by the synagogue at night.
The two smaller sections of the synagogue building housed two other prayer rooms, one for the furmakers and the other for the tailors. Their names described the men who prayed there according to their trade. Clowns (joker or prankster?) mocked one man or another who was summoned for an aliyah but were not wellversed in Hebrew.
The study house was near the ancient synagogue. As opposed to the sense of frigidity (cooleness?) of the old synagogue, one felt warm when entering the study house. It was lively there from dawn to midnight when the last young men who studied Talmud by candlelight left. Even at night, the study house was not empty. Drawersofwater Leiser Wolf and Shmuel Abba often slept by the fireplace; often they were joined by a poor man who travelled from afar to raise money.
From dawn until dusk, prayers did not cease at the study house; one minyan ended as the other began. First the fair people prayed; they were followed by the traveling merchants who were followed by the traders who earned well and did not have to travel far. The final minyan was that of the Hassidim whose income was not a sure thing at all, but they believed that God would provide. The final man to pray was Nachman Chassid who prepared for prayer all morning; he would repeatedly run from the study house to the bathhouse and only reached a selfsatisfactory prayer level at noon.
The third synagogue was called Molly's Kloyz. It was named for Molly Cohen, who had devised (donated?) her estate to the synagogue. There was a varied crowd at Molly's Synagogue. Several town residents sat along the honorary eastern wall; they included the two doctors, Alter Feivish Pinchas's and Yehudah
Berr Zeidman (? Seidman). On the High Holy Days, Moshe Gold and Abbish Cohen also prayed there. Mordechai Tziganner (?), the teacher, was a strict, educated, scholarly man. Yisrael Nagler was a silent scholar and Yossel Ittess gave generously to charity. BenTzion Ferster, an educated scholar, also attended Molly's Kloyz. Abba Ittess served as chief custodian for many years. Abba was a quiet man who, at the end of each year, handed out honey cookies and liquor in exchange for the donations promised throughout the year.
Lippa (Lipa'lekh's) Applebaum's (Apfelbaum?) family had a respected position in Molly's Kloyz. Lippa, his sons, and grandsons were wealthy livestock traders who generously contributed to charity. Moshe Sperling (Mossi)
Patriarch of the Lipa'lekh Tribe
and his sons were also successful livestock traders. Moshe's brother, Shlomo Zalman, was a Psalms Man (a Tehilim Yud) who never ceased reciting psalms. His poor wife, who never bore him children, believed that he was destined to heaven because of the Psalms.
The cantor of Molly's Synagogue was Leiser Chazan (Zeidman or Seidman). Leiser also helped his wife at her store and was appointed by the Vizhnitz Kolel to empty the charity boxes around Jezierzany and its satellite villages.
Also at Molly's Synagogue was an ensemble of pranksters who would talk in the middle of services and liked to toss wet towels on Chaim Fishel, the custodian, as he lighted the Hanukkah candles; or they would throw thorns on Tisha B'Av. I have not described all of the nuances of that synagogue because so much happened.
The town's rabbis' prayer houses are also noteworthy. Rabbi Yechiel's congregants were successful merchants who were less observant. Those who supported Rabbi Yechiel did so because he modeled himself after the House of Hillel and saw the good in every man. In contrast, Rabbi Elazar's congregants were Hassidim who were religiously strict and imposed their strictness on others. Some of Rabbi Elazar's congregants made pilgrimages to Chortkiv and others to Husiatyn.
Rabbi Elazar was the son of Rabbi Simcha of Łańcut, a descendent of Elimelech of Lizhensk. Elazar served as rabbi in Jezierzany because he was Rabbi Velveli's grandsoninlaw. Elazar acted like a Hassidic rebbe and hosted
|Three Generations of the Bloital Family|
Tishes. Elazar's style was more like the Belz, Dinov, and Ropshitz dynasties as opposed to the geographically closer Chortkiv and Husiatyn dynasties. Elazar and his followers tucked their pants into their socks or boots yearround; wearing a necktie was forbidden.
Among Elazar's confidants were Shmuel Sharf, Shlomo Heller, Michel Zeidman, my father Mosher Zelig, and Moshe Getter (der Royter). Among those who were close to Elazar were those who dressed less strictly yet he still liked them, for example Yossel Feldshuh, an educated bible scholar who wore a modern top hat on weekdays, and Moshe Gold, who also wore such a hat and was a community leader when the Yoel loyalists were in control.
The group of Hassidim whom I mentioned did not miss any opportunity to gather on a free day or the anniversary of a rabbi's death. On Shabbat and holidays, they gathered by Rabbi Elazar's table. When they reached a state of elation, they engaged in mischief such as sneaking into the home of one of the attendees, taking the kugel out of the oven, and bringing it to the table.
Rabbi Elazar's servant was Yeshaya'ke Avraham who served free of charge; we will expand on him later.
I must praise Moshe Getter and his wife, Yente, for their wonderful hospitality.
Moshe was a fulltime scholar. He was a dear man, pure in his dealings with God and men. His wife, a baker, provided for the household. When she earned well, their home was open to every poor guest who visited town. I, as Moshe's pupil, can testify that not a day passed that they did not host several poor folks in their home and provide them with food and lodging. While on the topic, I note that among the residents of our town there were no poor people who went door to door to fundraise (beg). There were a few poor families,
who were supported anonymously by a few righteous women who would go from house to house and gather donations into a white kerchief.
During those years, there were many poor folks who walked from town to town and village to village and reached our town as well. The donation they received at most homes was a Pruta, a local coin minted for charity purposes. The coin was worth half a Heller, which was the smallest form of currency in Austria. The Prutah's value was stable and did not change through many years of currency fluctuation. The custom was that when a poor man came to town, he would go to Avraham Shochet, the hunchback and chairman of the Pruta bank, and exchange 5 Greitzer [?] for 20 Pruta. The 20 coins were used as change for every donation of a Heller (half a Greitzer). Before they left the town, they returned to Avraham Shochet and exchanged their coins for accepted currency.
In addition to plain poor folks, grandsons also often came to town. The grandsons felt that collecting (begging) doortodoor was beneath them; instead they would bother the few young men who studied at the study house(and ask them) to fundraise on their behalf or accompany them to the town's rich (residents). It was a plague; they vehemently claimed they were grandsons of the Apter Rebbe, although it was unclear to us how the Rebbe had so many grandsons.
I cannot conclude this chapter without mentioning the four community servants who each received a mandate from the community. The first was Moshe der Langer, custodian of the great synagogue. Every Friday, Moshe wore his Shabbat shtreimel and coat, went out to the market, stood tall, held his hand to his ear like a cantor so his announcement would be heard for a distance, and called, In shul areyn [to the synagogue]. It was an announcement on behalf of God, declaring the arrival of Shabbat. The second was Chaim Fishel, custodian of Molly's Kloyz; he was the town's burier (undertaker), and the tool of his trade was a pole from a fireplace rake with which he measured the decedent's body. The third was Itzik Fink, custodian of the study house who, during the Selichot period, patrolled the town and announced, Jews, wake up for Selichot. Last but not least, was Yeshaya'ke Avraham, Rabbi Eleazar's servant. Every Simchat Torah, Yeshaya'ke Avraham would get drunk, go out in the streets with a sack over his shoulder and accompanied by all the town's children and sing, Sing, children. We are happy, how content we are and our fate is pleasant, and the children replied by singing the chorus. Occasionally, he would call out, Lambs of God! and the children replied with Baa baa. Singing, they all walked to the fruit growers and each grower gave his share until the sack was full. They reached the synagogue and, atop the synagogue tower [?], Yeshaya'ke Avraham emptied the sack and the children grabbed fruit in honor of Simchat Torah.
To complete the picture, I note that there was a small intelligentsia in the town, led by Shmuel Pohuriles, which attempted to change parts of the status quo but their success was limited. They founded a modern Hebrew school in the first decade of the 20th century but, because of strong opposition from Rabbi Elazar and his followers, the school was forced to shut down after mere months of existence. A while later, they established a reading club which also did not last a year before closing as there was no regular readership.
We went on like that until WWI, which began to shake our foundations.
B. During WWI and After
WWI found the Jews of Jezierzany, like other smalltown Jews in Galicia, living a lifestyle based upon generations of tradition. We felt safe and had positive relations and close economic ties with the gentile neighbors.
Under Franz Joseph, Jews were granted full equal rights. Jews enjoyed a certain economic advantage by balancing the treatment of the authorities towards Poles and Ukrainians. There were several generations of complete peace, aside from a small war in Bosnia and Herzegovina among Austrians and Serbs. That war did not have an impact on our region as it was short and distant. Austrian authorities managed to impose the rule of law on the nations in its territory, who were known as historically lawless people. That regime granted Jews security of life and possessions. All roads between
the small towns and the cities which passed through the Gentiles were safe. Jews whose income depended on regional villages would walk there at night without issue.
That way of life was fully and suddenly undermined when the war erupted in August 1914. As Russian forces entered two weeks after the war began, most trade routes were sealed and most Jews in town lost their sources of income. The proximity of the Russian border and the sudden invasion caused the Jews of Jezierzany to stay put. Jews of other towns that were farther away from the border ran for their lives. Most of the Jewish youth also stayed in place because Austrian authorities, who hastily retreated, did not enlist the young people in the military. Only a few people who were on reserve duty were enlisted before the Austrians retreated.
In the first few months of the Russian occupation, Jews were forced to live a life of idleness. Fear of the Cossacks was instilled in the Jews' hearts. Additionally, Jews were not allowed to travel freely because they were suspected by the Russians as sympathizers of the Austrian Kaiser. During those months, Jews hoped for the return of the Austrians, sat idly by, and awaited a redeemer.
Meanwhile, all sources of income were closed off. Most of the town Jews who had depended on trade at fairs or were craftspeople were on the verge of starving.
Several women founded a soup kitchen that delivered food to the most impoverished. The kitchen was in Devorah Cohen's home, and her neighbors volunteered to cook, prepare, and distribute the food. The women cooked and daily distributed soup, meat, and bread portions to each family according to household size. Although the food was dull, due to a lack of resources, the line to receive food was quite long.
The kitchen was maintained for many months until occupation forces opened a kitchen and warehouse for distributing clothes and other goods in Moshe Gold's yard.
A few months later, Jews began to adjust to the new regime. Occupation forces eased the burden and issued travel permits, first for travel to neighboring villages and later to farther distances. The Jews of Jezierzany quickly changed
professions, like many other Jews in the region. Cattle traders became oil traders and horse sellers became tobacco merchants, etc.
The proximity to the border eased trade. The Jews of Jezierzany, mainly young folks, traveled trade routes and reached Kiev on one side and L'viv on the other. In those days, one could witness a Jew leading a convoy of wagons carrying goods of all kinds like oil, perfumes, fabrics, shoelaces. The journey would last several weeks. The roads were disrupted and dangerous. There were incidents where men were stuck on the road and left agunot at home.
However, not all Jews in town were able to adjust to their new roles and fortunes began to change; some ascended and other descended. A new wealthy class emerged (they were called kriggsgevenner as in, rich thanks to the war). In contrast, a substantial portion of the population decayed.
That period of occupation was almost orderly in terms of security of life and property. However, there were still often individual, unorganized robberies by Russian soldiers. Thus, in the first months of occupation, a citizen watch was formed. People of all ages took turns guarding the town. The guards, who numbered in the dozens, patrolled the streets while holding sticks to scare potential thieves.
The gathering spot for the night guards was the teahouse owned by Abba Blecher (Muster). Shifts changed at the teahouse; as one group left to patrol, another entered to warm up with tea and conversation.
The watch (guard) was formed without the knowledge of the Russian authorities. Russian troops tasked with maintaining security were outlaws themselves. The watch was canceled after those whose role it was to maintain peace and security assaulted the guards; I, too, experienced the lash that night. I recall that my uncle, Abba Steining, and Yosef Feldshuh stood near the gas lamp by city hall. They both endured such assaults; they could not leave their homes for a few days.
That same night, those law keepers robbed
Avraham Shindler's leather shop and rendered it empty. Only a few days later, when they were bribed, they found the robbers and returned the stolen goods.
Relative stability was maintained until the Russians were defeated near Przemyśl. They began retreating gradually and the battlefront approached the Dniester River. The Jews of the towns near the Dniester were then expelled. Later, the Jews residing near the Seret and Zbruch rivers were also expelled.
Jezierzany was relatively distant from the rivers and considered strategically unimportant. Thus, many Jews from Zalishchyky, Ustitshki [?],Ułaszkowce, and Skala were exiled to our town. The Jews of Jezierzany greeted the refugees in the spirit of Jewish brotherhood and opened their homes to the refugees. There were refugees in every home, which resulted in significant overcrowding. Many of the refugees were impoverished. Distress was widespread. Thus, plagues and typhus broke out. Aid organized by locals and refugees was insufficient.
Luckily, organized aid by Russian Jewry then began. In 1916, Dr. Lander and Dr. Gomelsky of the Jewish Aid Union of Kiev arrived in Jezierzany. The union, led by writer S. RappoportAnski, worked within the Russian occupied region,. The organization orchestrated local aid operations with contributions by local residents, opened soup kitchens, and distributed clothing and funds to the needy. The aid continued until the end of Russian occupation and eased much the refugees' hardship. After the Austrians returned, most refugees returned to their places of origin while a few remained and became fullfledged residents of Jezierzany.
As the Russians retreated, they stayed in town. Russian soldiers looted Jewish stores, rioted, and raped. On the night before they departed, they burned columns of houses in front of their owners. That night they killed Yecht [?] Wagner. When the Austrian soldiers returned to the town the Jews greeted them as liberators.
Jews were relieved when the Austrians returned. The Austrians reinstated the governmental officials from before the Russian occupation, officials who were Jews. All went well. The economy prospered and income came mainly from the many soldiers, Austrians and Germans hosted in the area. Meanwhile, the Austrians and Germans crossed the
|Soldiers in WWI. Hirsch Leib Einhorn (bearded) on the right|
Russian border. Austria occupied Ukraine and brought many goods from there. As a result, of course, Jewish trade flourished between Austria and its occupied territories. The new concern became the drafting of sons into the Austrian military. A short while after their return, the Austrians summoned all Jewish young men to the army. They were summoned but not enlisted because the Jews found a loophole. Only some enlisted, and those who did, enlisted voluntarily. Most traveled to occupied Ukrainian territory and waited there until the war ended and the AustroHungarian empire disintegrated.
C. Under the Burden of Changing Regimes 1918 1921
The toughest years for Jews from a stability and security perspective were the years after the world war, the years of the struggle between the Ukrainians and Poles and their later joint struggle against the Bolsheviks. After the Austrian revolution in Vienna, Ukrainian nationals overtook a large territory of Eastern Galicia. The Ukrainians placed their temporary capital in StanisLviv (Lviv at the time was divided among them and Poles). The Ukraine headquarters treated Jews liberally. The Ukrainian intelligentsia that led the government wanted to repay the Jews for the positive stance nationalist Jewish youths had shown Ukrainian nationalists. The Ukrainians even declared their intention of granting Jews personal autonomy, and recognizing Yiddish as a language used in Jewish schools and in governmental offices. Indeed, in governmental offices, signs were in three languages: Ukrainian, Polish, and Yiddish. The question of the status of the Hebrew language was deliberated for a long while but never resolved.
As the Ukrainians waged a persistent war against the Poles over territory, Ukrainians were interested in Jewish sympathies. Ukrainians attempted to influence the masses of peasants, who were naturally antiSemitic, to treat the Jews tolerantly during the transition to Ukrainian rule. That time was marked by active Jewish cultural developments. At that time, we in Jezierzany organized a selfdefense organization, Zionist organizations, and a theater company.
However, the peace lasted only a short while. As the Ukrainians merged with Eastern Ukraine and Petliura, peace vanished. (It was) the time of horrors by the rioters, descendants of Ivan Gonta and Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
The Petliruans were in our area twice: once as they escaped the Bolsheviks progressing into Galicia and Poland and once when they returned, united with the Poles in their war against
|Flower Day Benefit for Keren Kayemet|
the Bolsheviks. When the Petliruans were in town, the Jews were afraid to leave their homes. The Petlurians rioted, raped, and murdered Jews as they arrived in town and as they left town.
The Bolshevik period in Galicia only lasted a few months. Under their rule, there was no explicit discrimination against Jews. Supposedly Jewish craftspeople were included in town administration and the workers' union. However, for the most part, it was a time of financial straits for the Jews. The Bolsheviks confiscated goods from wealthy people and there were also imprisonments and baseless persecutions.
The last in line were the Poles who gradually beat back the Ukrainians and the Bolsheviks. Galicia remained a part of Poland until WWII. After they entered following the Bolsheviks, the Poles treated Jews cruelly. Poles gave free range to their Soltadtkik [?] who captured Jews in order to torment them, even cut their beards and sidelocks. It was a time of terror and humiliation of the Jews, even if there were no actual bloody riots.
D. Social Life in Polish Galicia
As I mentioned, the years before WWI marked a social awakening of national selfrecognition and the first buds of organized activity in that direction was seen.
The Jews of Jezierzany read the Tagblatt, published in Lviv, or as we knew it, Lamberger Tagblatt. The Tagblatt served as the daily connection to the Jewish masses and the outside world. The Yiddish newspaper was
the only daily newspaper in Galicia revered by the Jews of Jezierzany. We felt a special connection to the Tagblatt because a son of our town, M.A. Tennenblat, edited the paper for years. We devoured Tennenblat's editorials, which he signed M.T.T.
Some residents read Hamicpe, which was published in Krakow and edited by Shimon Mencahm Lazar. The newspaper Machzikei HaDat also reached us and we followed with special interest the disputes between the more religious Jewish writings, which we dubbed Mashkes, and the enlightened nationalist media.
To this day, I cannot forget the special experience my friends and I had when we read Hatzfirah. Three of us signed the only subscription form which reached our town; BenTzion Fenster, Mendel Nagler, and I. I was only 13 or 14 years old then and read the paper under the guidance of Mendel Nagler. We read the paper with awe and reverence. Political Opinion by Ness was, for us, a supreme expression of political views. We searched for hidden gems between the lines. We solemnly followed Nahum Sokolow's energetic essays in his struggle against the Roseboy[?]. The Sabbath newspaper gave us special spiritual pleasure. Frishman's Floating Letters and Sokolow's Sabbath Guest were a life force for us. Hatzfirah had a unique influence on our thoughts. The paper then was passed among all the town's enlightened folks.
All of that ceased when the war began. We found ourselves detached from any source of spiritual nourishment.
The Jewish youth were mostly quite religious, aside from a few sons of wealthy individuals who attended secondary education in other towns. The youths were detached from studies against their will, be they secular studies or religious studies. Due to the new conditions imposed by the war, youth were tasked with taking part in (contributing to) the family's source of income. Young people were more capable of traveling distances on the disrupted roads and more capable of trading illicitly. Only a small group of scholars gathered on Friday nights after they returned from the week's troubles and studied Or HaChaim by the flickering candlelight.
The youth were on the verge of adulthood and dreamed of universities and doctorates. However, they had to forego the
careers they dreamed of in order to lend a hand to their families' livelihoods. That generation's wings were clipped.
Despite being under Russian occupation for three years, the influence of Russian Jewry was not seen in our town. The only connection we had with Russian Jewry, which we were then a part of, was the Yiddish newspaper Unzer Lebben. The paper was only informative and lacked in quality and quantity, probably due to strict censorship.
That situation continued for a long while until area refugees arrived in our town. Although from an economic and hygienic standpoint they brought with them poverty, overcrowding, and disease, from a social perspective they brought a certain social awakening. Most of the refugees were from Zalishchyky, which had many residents who were members of the intelligentsia; they acclimated well and later participated in Zionist activities and the drama club.
Towards the end of the war, local Ukrainians seized power and chaos ensued; it subsided only when a central government was formed. At the same time, Austrian troops returned from Russian and Ukrainian territories. Austrians were now undisciplined and divided into gangs, and there were many cases of riots as they traveled. Groups of nationalist Ukrainians attacked Jews. At that time, a Jewish selfdefense organization formed. The organization was not hidden. Members wore an Austrian military uniform with a
Jewish star pin. The organization included most youth from the town. Shifts patrolled the town day and night and guarded Jewish lives and possessions. The organization later received approval from
|Tikvat Zion Union [Hope of Zion]|
|Poale Zion Farein [?] (Workers of Zion)|
local Ukrainian authorities. Only after the regime became supposedly stable and centralized did authorities dissolve the organization.
At the same time, two youth organizations were formed, one named
Tikvat Zion and the other Poale Zion. Truthfully, at the beginning the distinction between the groups was not necessarily a class one. The members of both were middle class although there were more craftspeople in Poale Zion. As time went on, there was competition among the two groups in recruiting members and in social and cultural activities. Competition had positive results. One group fundraised for Keren Kayemet and the other for the Palestine Arbeter Fraynd. Two groups appeared at each wedding, one carrying the Arbeter collection box and the other the Keren box. Both groups formed book clubs. They also hosted lectures on various Jewish topics and never missed an opportunity to hold literary events on every holiday or special occasion. The crowning glory of group activity at the time was Tikvat Zion's
theater company. The company produced many plays by Gordin, Shalom Aleichem, and others. After local success, the theater company gained a reputation in the region and was invited to produce plays in area towns.
Those were days of lively Jewish life in a folksy and simple area.
Group activity ended in 1920 as the Bolsheviks entered Galicia and the war between them and the Poles and Ukrainians. As the Polish government stabilized, the members of the groups dispersed in all directions, some to Israel and some to other places in the world.
After a short hiatus, there were those in the younger generation that followed us who continued our legacy. The younger folks will continue this story.
|Immigrants to Israel in 1925 (Shlomo and Iyta Fink)|
General Notes and Footnotes
by Eliyahu Goldenberg
Translated by Meir Bulman
The Bolsheviks left the town as the Poles entered in 1919. Early on Friday morning, after the Bolsheviks had evacuated, two Polish horsemen entered the town. Each one held a gun in each hand. The residents, especially the children, were amazed the thieves held guns instead of holding onto their horses. The town braced for what was to come but nothing happened. The sun began to set, its final rays vanished, and the town was enclosed in a fearful darkness. The prayer greeting the Sabbath was whispered before the heartshaken people said goodbye. All through the evening and night, folks listened to the winds for an omen.
At midnight, some shots were fired. As dawn approached, the whole town was alert. News arrived that a gang of 10 thieves (probably from Petliura's company) was in town and searching for leaders. The thieves placed a machine gun and guards near city hall while the rest spread through the town, searching for the town's notables and wealthy individuals. Not one local (person) helped them in their search. The town fell silent. Everyone stayed indoors. Some held their children's hands and led them to hide in friendly gentiles' homes.
At approximately 9:00, the policeman appeared, holding his drum. He drummed unusually loudly, resembling a mournful shout. The listeners felt a chill through their spines. The policeman declared that everyone must gather near city hall. Not long passed before Aharon Appelbaum was seen being led by two thieves, as men gathered around them, surrounded by curious children.
The gang leader stood on the steps of city hall and declared that by 11:00, the residents must supply an enormous amount of food. The amount was almost nonexistent in the town after food had dwindled in the period of war and plundering. The crowd dispersed, heads bowed in silence. No one knew how matters would develop and what would happen the next second.
Everyone peeked through his veiled window, entertaining the delusion that the thin curtain protected like an impenetrable wall.
The thieves began rioting. Aharon Schindler was assaulted and dragged to the shoe and leather warehouse. Aharon Applebaum was hit with a rifle butt and whipped. Aharon Ber Sperling was assaulted in his yard while his strong sons looked on, helpless. Rumors spread of rapes and women who were chased and saved miraculously.
We heard of brothers Hirsh and Yaakov Sperling who escaped from the thieves and the thieves' guide, Ozer der Babess[?]. The string of violence reached its height in breaking into abandoned homes and culminated with the murders of Hirsh Kenol [Kanol?] and his sister Rosia, Feldshuh's wife. The town residents wept and mourned.
The bandits ended their thievery with that double murder. As they left town, they took with them Shlomo Weissbrod, who was mayor against his will, under the Bolsheviks. Shlomo was an only son, a humble, honest, and quiet man. He was driven to the woods where he was stripped of his clothes and shot as he ran. The thieves then desecrated his body until it was unrecognizable. On Sunday, a peasant brought the terrible news and the whole town prepared for the funeral. Shlomo's destroyed body was brought. All the town residents, men women and children, gathered. Rabbi Yechiel Paper painfully eulogized the victims.
Thus, Jezierzany accompanied its pure and holy murder victims. That Shabbat Shuva was etched in every Jewish heart in Jezierzany and will be remembered for generations.
by Zvi Fenster
Translated by Meir Bulman
Residents of Jezierzany from the previous generation tell much about how Jews, both scholars and ordinary folks, celebrated Simchat Torah.
The holiday began with Hakafot during which we danced holding Torah scrolls, circling the pulpits in the various synagogues. The celebration emanated from synagogues to the streets and many homes. Giddiness, which bordered on licentiousness (according to the standards of the time), was instilled in Jews of all ages. The celebration continued all day and into the night after the holiday.
Of course, that happy mood was not unique to Jezierzany. Most Jewish towns in Eastern Europe similarly celebrated Simchat Torah.
In this essay, I will note certain episodes which I remember from my early childhood until the destruction of Jewish Jezierzany. I will note events which took place on Simchat Torah, both in its happy celebration and during the days of destruction.
Shay'ke Avraham and the Apples
I remember the parade Shayke led on Simchat Torah. I think that was his final parade. We children had long lasting memories of Shayke and the apples he tossed from the synagogue balcony.
On Simchat Torah 1913, I joined the parade, or more correctly, the gang of children which followed Shayke. Shayke was an elderly, bearded man from Platkiwits Street who wore a bekishe and a shtreimel covering his yarmulke. He smiled and glowed as he led the toddlers who were joined by older, mischievous children who surrounded him, pulled on his sleeves, and attempted to climb on the old man's back. Periodically, Shayke called out, Holy lambs! and the children called back in unison, baa!
Occasionally, the old man began singing hymns and prayers, and the procession joined him in song. I recall Adon Olam,[Master of the Universe] and Ha'Aderet V'HaEmunah, [The Glory and the Faith] in which the lyrics are organized alphabetically and the crowd chants the course.
We marched through the streets and alleys until we reached the American Synagogue. Shayke brought from there a sack of apples which he mounted on his back before marching back to the Great Synagogue. Some older boys, his assistants, helped him in bringing the sack up to the balcony. Shayke stood smiling on the balcony and called to the crowd beneath him, Holy lambs! and, as the replied and echoed baa, he began pouring out the apples from the sack.
Before the apples fell onto the small wooden bridge at the synagogue entrance, the children swiftly pounced
without sensing that the apples were still raining down upon them, until the sack was emptied.
To this day, the image of the Apple Battle does not leave my mind. A group of children bowing, leaning, wildly
|Shayke Avraham with the Apples on Simchat Torah
sketched by Moshe Sternshus
shouting and crying. The strong ones shoved mockingly as the weak groaned, were trampled over, and pushed aside. I was a member of the latter group. I was unable to catch even a single apple. I crawled out of the pile of apple snatchers while I still could. I went home crying. Mother tried to console me and gave me apples as she stressed that they were tastier than Shayke's apples. Her consolation efforts were unsuccessful because, in my child's mind, those [Shayke's apples] were the best, tastiest apples in the whole world!
The Dramatic Struggle Over Singing Hatikvah During Hakafot
On the night of Simchat Torah 1922, a very large crowd attended the study house. Among the audience were many who usually attended Molly's Kloyz (I think because of maintenance at Molly's). Among
the youth, some ceased studying at the study house a short while prior and some were still studying. However, all study house students were close to Zionism and some were active within Zionist organizations.
I cannot recall whether it was a planned move or a spontaneous effort. I remember that, after the first circling, before elderly men could finish singing their own Hassidic tune, many youth and some older men, began singing Hatikvah. At first the Hassidim were shocked and did not respond. Soon enough, one of the Hasidim began shouting and the others followed, Shkotzim! A shame! Desecration of the Holy Name! Hatikvah on Simchat Torah?!
The singers were not intimidated and when they completed Hatikvah they began singing other Zionist songs like Rise, Brethren and others. They formed a procession around the pulpit and danced as they sang. The leader was David (Adzia [?]) Berman who was known both as a sharp mind but also a sheygetz. I also participated in singing and dancing.
Of course, the Hassidim were not idle and tried to penetrate our ranks. Matters turned increasingly dangerous. Meanwhile, news of the excitement spread throughout town and at the study house, and reinforcements arrived from the other synagogues, among them from the Ashkenazi minyan at the PohurilesGruser [Grosser?] home. Among the arrivals was Moshe Berman who heard his brother was in trouble and came to rescue him. A large crowd gushed. Insults were heard from both sides, topped by the cries of the children who, as was tradition, stood on the surrounding benches ready to kiss the Torah scrolls but instead observed the fearful sight.
The celebration struggle continued for some time until some peacemakers (like Yosef Steining, who was fond of Zionism but also a Hassid) worked hard to pacify and mediate between the disputing parties. After the event, the rabbi from Zalishchyky, Fishel Arik, who settled in our town and was known plainly as Reb Fishele, worked a lot to calm spirits.
During the fight, Rabbi Fishel comfortably sat at his seat and did not intervene. After some
calming, Rabbi Fishel ascended the pulpit and gave a short speech in which he rebuked both sides. He said also that he saw no wrong and no commandment against singing Hatikvah in the synagogue during hakafot.
The next morning following the victory and Rabbi Fishel's kosher certification, matters progressed smoothly. The crowd at the study house was smaller. Hakafot were as if orchestrated by a conductor's wand; first the Hassidim sang, then the youths.
As is tradition, those wonderful Jews,
|Halutzim at Aliya Training|
the Hasidim, gathered for the last circling. After the Hassidim circled the pulpit holding Torah scrolls, they grouped together and formed a tight unit of prayer shawls, tassels, and yarmulkes. With intense expression and halfclosed eyes, the formation swayed back and forth as they sang enthusiastically.
Because the singing and dancing continued for longer than usual, the other side grew impatient and began singing its own songs. When the Hassidim heard that, they raised their voices to overpower the young men's shouts and came closer together. Some waved their hands and prayer shawls as if to say, Begone, devil! Interestingly, that had the desired effect and we turned silent.
Instead, we watched the wondrous Hassidic dance which continued for an hour of elation. I still remember the faces of Moshe Zelig Bedler, Feivil Melamed, Avraham the shochet (the hunchback), Moshe Chaim Fenster, Avrahm Rogtnik [?], Menileh [?] Luft [Loft?] and many others. That dance remains in my heart, more so than ordinary Simchat Torah dances.
Despite our supposed victory, my conscious plagued me and did not relent. Who knows whether my friends and I had sinned towards those noble and pure Jews who were closer to the Torah than us, the free youth.
I found a powerful and accurate expression of those feelings in the wonderful poem, Masada, by Yitzhak Lamdan. Lamdan described the hora dance which the generation of halutzim dances enthusiastically in the renewed Israel, as a continuation of our ancestors' dance on Simchat Torah.
So our fathers danced:
One hand on a friend's shoulder,
In the other a Torah scroll
So our fathers danced
When our fathers danced,
They shut their eyes
Our fathers knew very well
They danced upon chasms [abyss].
When I read those lines, our fathers' dance on that Simchat Torah in the study hall of Jezierzany immediately came to my mind. I thought long about the chasms upon which they danced.
Twenty years later, on the first day of Sukkot 1942, I saw in the Jezierzany marketplace some of those who danced on that Simchat Torah of 1922. I saw Moshe Getter (the Red) whose beard had turned white, without a remnant of his previous red beard. I saw Feivel the teacher with two of his students, young boys with long sidelocks. Avraham the shochet was also there, brought from his bed. Avraham shivered although the sun shined. I also saw my former teacher Sender and many others. I wondered whether anyone had anticipated the abyss of tragic destruction upon which we stood and walked toward on this holiday, the eve of our journey to Belzec.
Baruch Koenigsberg Dancing Happy Are We in the Judenrat Office
Simchat Torah was a few days after the big Aktion. The aktion occurred on the first day of Sukkot (September 26, 1942) in Jezierzany and four neighboring towns: Borszczów, Skala, Mielnica, and Korolowka. As a result, more than half of the Jewish population was displaced. (more details in the designated section of this book).
I was also on the death train to Belzec but managed to escape near Ternopil and return to Jezierzany.
After the aktion, there was no longer a Judenrat in the town. Mendel Majberger, head of the Judenrat, was shipped to Belzec with his friends. However, the
Judenrat office remained in the back of Yentel Dov's house.
A few men gathered in the Judenrat office on Simchat Torah of that year. We had a conversation, the details of which I do not recall but I can imagine the topic.
Our surroundings were drenched in blood and shouted and cried without sound or tears. A deathly silence descended upon the emptied alleys. Some homes were completely emptied. Some who were lucky stayed behind and survived the aktion while their closest and most beloved people were taken.
The questions on our minds were, Why? How long will we survive? What is ahead of us? A rumor spread that Jezierzany would be destroyed and the remaining residents would be transferred to one of the two ghettos formed in Borszczów and Tovste. Our small group of initial survivors had no desire to pack what little that remained and relocate to the ghettos and live as refugees among the local Jews and become the first victims of kidnappings and aktions. That was the gist of the conversation in the former Judenrat office.
I do not recall the other participants in the conversation but one figure was etched in my mind: Baruch Koenigsberg, (nicknamed Hutsk in Jezierzany ), soninlaw of Asher Kimmelman of Treblinka. At first, Baruch was composed, alert, and participated in the conversation. He was known for his habit of reading many newspapers and conversing about politics. If I am not mistaken, he was in the optimists' camp. He did not escape the aktion unscathed and many from his family were led to Belzec.
Suddenly, Baruch jumped out of his seat, wearing his long black coat. He bowed his head and began circling as if in a dance, and began singing How happy are we in the melody sung in Zionist youth groups. How happy are we, how wonderful is our lot, how pleasant is our fate, and our inheritance is so beautiful. Happy are we!
Baruch became increasingly immersed in ecstasy and danced circling the small room. He sang the song in an increasingly loud tone.
That song and dance were somewhat of a nightmare if we compared the words to our situation. We looked at him in shock. We tried to calm him by saying, Reb Baruch, what's the matter? Please, calm down. But he, as if no one had approached him, danced in a circle and did not stop singing. I could see his energy depleting as his voice grew weaker.
Suddenly, Baruch began weeping strongly. Tears rolled from his eyes onto the dusted wooden floor and his coat. Yet, he continued dancing and singing, How happy are we.
Undoubtedly, if we had not been able to calm Baruch, he would have collapsed. Someone ran into the room and announced that a German was standing outside asking about the Judenrat. It was possible that one of those in the room staged the notice to stop Baruch's strange dance, or it might have been the truth. Either way, the notice stopped Baruch; he was jolted. He circled once more and then snuck out of the backdoor to the hallway; then we all walked home through the back alleyways.
Zelig Gruser Writes Torah Commentary in the Forest of Felled Tree Trunks
Fall 1943. Almost a year passed since Jezierzany's first Judenrein (cleansing of Jews) and four months after Jezierzany was fully cleansed of Jews. Only several dozen Jews roamed the forests and fields. After the harvest, when the fields remained exposed, those survivors retreated to the woods.
Former Jezierzany residents concentrated mostly in the two forests near Jezierzany. One was the Dembina [?] forest on the road to Laskowce, (as opposed to the grove of the same name on the road to Lanowce). The other was the Fianx [?] forest.
My surviving family members and I were in the Fianx forest. Zelig Gruser and his son Yosef also roamed those woods. The Grusers and we occasionally met in various spots in the forest.
During the holiday month of Tishrei, the biggest tragedy befell that forest; Avraham Leib Kubert's bunker was discovered. All 12 people who were in the bunker perished and were buried inside the bunker, covered by a thin layer of dirt.
Obviously, the spirits of those hiding in the woods were low. The events in Avrahm Leib's bunker heightened the ordinary depression as any hopes of surviving in the woods were quashed. Still, the residents of the forest continued to meet, be it on evenings in Polish huts on the edge of the woods while buying food, or in hidden spots in the forest.
One of the meeting points was a small wooden hut in a valley at the edge of the forest. The valley was surrounded by a tree curtain. Bunkers of various sizes were constructed in the valley's slopes. Occasionally, bunkerless people hid in those bunkers or stayed the night. Those bunkers were visible, if not to the Germans and Ukrainians, then to the local shepherds.
I met up with Zelig Gruser on Simchat Torah of 1943. I very much wanted to meet him, as I knew he possessed a Bible. I yearned to obtain the Bible or even to read from it to pass the time and busy the mind. I do not know how Zelig obtained the Bible. I recall that I first saw the book in the hands of someone else. It was a pocket edition published by a wellknown company. The letters were small and the cover shiny and black, like new. I asked Zelig to borrow the book for a day or two but he refused, saying, These days, one cannot know what will happen to either one of us in a day or two. Instead, Zelig invited me to meet, discuss and read the Bible together.
It is possible we had scheduled the meeting for Simchat Torah. We met in the late hours of the morning and sat together until noon. The area was magnificent. The golden Polish fall had started. The sun rays were gentle, caressing. Birds sang and danced from branch to branch. The tree leaves (had turned ) to turn yellow. Our surroundings were the complete opposite of our moods.
When I arrived, I found Zelig sitting at the valley's edge. If not for the scenery and slight abnormalities in his dress, I would have pictured him on the famous bench at the entrance to his house, on the BorszczówChortkiv main road, sitting in the shade and discussing politics or gossiping with friends and neighbors.
We began by discussing the holiday. Well, is there still joy in the Torah? Where is the Jewish people and where is its god? Zelig stopped our pessimistic inquiries. He took out from his pocket the Bible which was full of small pieces of paper he used as bookmarks to avoid excessive pageturning. He began speaking about his interpretations
of biblical passages, as he turned pages to compare one passage to the other. Because I did not know him to be a great scholar, I was skeptical about his interpretation and nodded along to be polite.
I recall that Zelig attempted to interpret the passage, You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk, which appears three times (Exodus 23, Exodus 44, Deuteronomy 14), each time proximate to (the words) the Lord your God. I do not recall his interpretation.
What I found more interesting than his biblical commentary was his repeatedly highlighting that we must not forget that we are sitting in the Forest of Felled Tree Trunks, celebrating Simchat Torah and studying the Torah. Zelig said that, if we survived, we would look back fondly at that moment.
A few weeks later, I learned that Zelig and his son Yosef left the Fianx woods. He and his son traveled to Lanowce where Zelig had many Gentile acquaintances. The local Gentiles handed him and his son over to the Ukrainian militia, who led Zelig and Yosef to the Jezierzany cemetery and shot them.
Of course, Zelig's bible vanished with him. That Bible connected to the memory of how two Jews celebrated Simchat Torah as Jewish Jezierzany died.
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