In most of the Batei Midrash and the kloises, individuals and groups studied Torah all day, and in many evening classes. The old Beit Midrash was an especially important place for the study of Torah and Jewish studies. The mitnagdim were concentrated there, prominent scholars led by Rabbi Mordechai Spielberg. They prayed there throughout daylight, and there were valuable books in the library. Interestingly, the library rules stipulated a special department whose books were accessible only to adults, and youngsters under the age of fifty were forbidden to read them. A notable scholar in this mitnagdim group was Avraham Freid, grandfather of Ze'ev On, a member of the Tel Yosef kibbutz and manager of the workers' society.
Among the students of this Beit Midrash were also porters and butchers, and also a few of us students, and of course there were landlords and young men knowledgeable in the Torah. Some of the volunteer lecturers and teachers who excelled in conducting their classes were Asher Miller, who taught Mishna on week days, at Mincha and at Maariv; Chaim Weinraub and others who taught Ein Yakov and Akedat Yitzhak, and others who taught Tanach and literature. All these studies were conducted in the evenings and particularly during the winter months, on Shabbat evenings, while Midrash was taught on Shabbat mornings.
The Hebrew language, especially grammar and Tanach, was taught by several teachers and private tutors, who taught Hebrew, general education, classic German literature and calligraphy. Many students studied in the primary schools and in the Polish gimnazjum, at first in the Basilian monastery building and later in the beautiful government gimnazjum. Progressive Buczacz had long been notable for its professional Jewish intelligentsia, which was the fruit of independent, local nurturing: the physician Dr. Nacht and his sons, Dr. Stern, Dr. Marangel, Dr. Peller and others who were teachers, senior government officials, and even one female physician, Dr. Frankel (daughter of Aharon). And during the last fifty years there were hundreds of Jewish academics in Buczacz, including many young women (and many of them now work in their professions in Israel and America).
The pioneer in the instruction of the Hebrew language was Yosef Rosenman, and one of the first activists was Ms. Shindel Segal, who also taught Hebrew in her apartment in the house of Haim Neta Anderman Brink or in the soup-kitchen. At that time, Dr. Silberstein came from Lvov and began to teach in the public kitchen according to the Hebrew in Hebrew system.
During the years 1906-1907, the Hebrew enthusiasts from the Zion society, led by Yitzhak Hirsch Weisser, Yakov Leib Alfenbein and Matityahu Weinreib, as well as the youth movements, decided to create a Hebrew school named Clear Language (Safah Brurah), modeled on the schools which existed in other places in Galicia. They contacted the center for Hebrew teachers in Lvov, which was directed by Raphael Soferman (now a teacher at the Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv) and Zvi Sharpstein (now a teacher and writer in America), and asked to bring the well-known author and teacher G. Shofman, who lived in Galicia at that time, to Buczacz as the headmaster of the school. However, the teaching center recommended Berkowitz, a Hebrew teacher from Eretz Yisrael, who had evidently been in a position in Rohatin until that point, and is now a teacher in Hadera. The school was located in the Garbarnia house, in the Eisenberg-Fried house behind the Ukrainian church next to the market square. It then moved to the Kaner house near the post office and city hall, and later to the Abisch Dik house, opposite the gimnazjum. As headmaster, Berkowitz managed to expand the school, which was at first a school for kindergarten children and evening classes for the young people who studied at the Polish governmental, general-primary and secondary schools. Yisrael Farnhof (who was related to the author Yitzhak Farnhof) was appointed as a second teacher, and Berkowitz also acquired students from the senior classes in the gimnazjum and the students of the senior course.
Due to a severe conflict which developed among the teachers, part of the school board was opposed to Berkowitz. At that point, Farnhof, with the help of Yitzhak Hirsch Weisser, founded a separate school and Berkowitz moved to the court of Moshe Weisser, a Hebrew scholar (whose son Matityahu Weisser is in Tel Aviv), where he managed a school for young people. After a while Berkowitz returned to Yavniel in Eretz Yisrael, but he returned to Buczacz after a short period, married a wife from the Friedman family and opened a school in the form of a kindergarten. He then moved to Lvov as the director of a Hebrew kindergarten, and after not long he retuned to Eretz Yisrael. The Hebrew school deteriorated, and only after the war, during the realization of Zionism and the pioneeringaliya, the study of Hebrew began to develop again, both in the pioneering youth movements and in the school directed by Farnhof and assisted by Haim Kofler and the teachers Ms. Gottfreid (daughter of Shmuel), Ms. Glanzer (daughter of the judge Glanzer and wife of Knobler) and others.
As I write of all these events, it is impossible not to mention the dear, kind young man, who was like a pleasant riddle to everyone in our town. I am referring to Shmulik Czaczkes, the famed author Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who lives in Jerusalem. His father was a learned man with great knowledge and a Chassid in the Czortkow kloise. Shmuel Yosef's uniqueness was evident from early childhood. He internalized knowledge and Torah in his father's house and in the kloise, but this framework became too narrow for him, and he desired spiritual and mental expanses in other places and in educated and progressive circles in Zionist organizations and clubs for studious youth. In the general great Beit Midrash for the landlords in Buczacz (directed by Rabbi Itzi, named after the tzaddik from the Wharman family), where my father, of blessed memory, was a gabbai for a long time Agnon's grandfather, Reb Yehuda Farb, of blessed memory, and my own grandfather, Reb Mordecahi Heller, of blessed memory, would sit nearby a large window and pray. In this place I myself sat, as did little Shmuel, on small, low chairs during the High Holidays prayers, and we internalized the tunes and the beautiful prayers sung by the cantor and the shochet Getzel Golberg (his sons Alter and Yehosha and his daughters are in Eretz Yisrael, and his son Moshe, who was learned in the Talmud and known for his journalistic articles, was killed by the Nazis). In this Beit Midrash we both later met with Zionist landlords and young men, apart from my student circles and the young men from his kloise. In this Beit Midrash and in the nearby Fritzhand house, we initiated the custom of pledges for the benefit of the JNF during the aliyot on Simchat Torah. Shmuel Czaczkes liked to come to the Zion society often. He was friendly with a group of young men, such as Paul Edelstein, Shalom Weinstock, Yakov Halpern, Yakov Fischer (his daughter in Israel is married to Dr. Kornblit-Korn from the Kupat Cholim [sick-fund] center), and he was also close with the heads of the Zionist Noar Lomed, and particularly the Hebraists, including Yosef Tischler, Menatzeach and others. In the Zion society he published a newspaper named Shabbat-Oivest (Fruits of Shabbat), which was published in handwriting and in print. This paper contained discussions of the Messiah and Messianic beliefs, as well as poems and articles on other topics. When he came to the youth parties and especially to the Chanukah celebrations, Shmuel Czaczkes would secretly bring one of his poems, which would be read to the audience by a student. This may have been done out of modesty or perhaps out of fear from the klois. I recall that a poem of his was once recited by the student Halpern (brother of Ms. Salzman, who is in Tel Aviv), who drowned in the Stripa river. Many people at that time suspected that the young Shmuel Czaczkes was presenting poems written by his father, for who could believe at that point that this child was destined to become Agnon.
When he walked with his friends, Agnon would often break away from them for a few moments and disappear through the gates of one of the houses. When he returned, he would explain that he had suddenly been overcome with thoughts and ideas, and had gone inside to write them down in his notebook.
During that time there was
a cantor and a choir in the Great Synagogue in our town, where the youth
took singing lessons. Towards Passover, the cantor was preparing a new
tune and he asked young Czaczkes, who had already become famous for his
ability in this area, to write him a small poem for a melody he would compose.
If I am not mistaken, the song was approximately as follows:
Pesach was there.Agnon was also involved in a different society of older intellectuals, such as Mordechai Kanfer (who teaches in the Baron Hirsch's school) and his son Moshe; Moshe Gotold (the local socialist); Teuber the old teacher; Itzi Farnhof, who was a Hebrew teacher in the village and then found acclaim with the publication of amusement books. There was also Fischel Engelstein, who later lived in the colony of Buczaczers in the town of Metz in Alsace-Lorraine. Farnhof also published a pocket dictionary of Grazowski with translations into Polish, German and Yiddish, called New Hebrew Dictionary. It was printed in Stanislaw, by Robinzon (now a book publisher in Tel Aviv). With the help of his son (now Dr. Farnhof, a doctor in New York) and his relative Dr. Kopel Schwartz, of blessed memory, our friend Yisrael Cohen published the late Farnhof's books in Israel. Young Czaczkes also published his articles and poems in Hamitzpeh [The Observer] and the editor of that paper, the author S. M. Lazar (whose son the journalist Dr. Lazar is one of the editors of Maariv in Tel Aviv), came especially to Buczacz to meet Czaczkes, whose articles made a great impression on him. When Rokeach came to Buczacz, Agnon was given an opportunity to expand his literary work. The author Rokeach came from Eretz Yisrael to Galicia via Romania, where he stayed and worked for a while. He began his activity in Stanislaw and then moved to nearby Buczacz. Rokeach and Czaczkes became very friendly, and they cooperated in publishing the Hebrew monthly Hayarden and the Yiddish weekly Der Wäcker, both of which were printed in Stanislaw and in Buczacz at Helberg & Dretler's printers. These periodicals published many poems and articles by Shmuel Czaczkes. Yakov Kaner, who was later active as secretary of the youth movement in the Poel HaTzsair party in Galicia, was a technical assistant. Hayarden also published caricatures of Buczacz personalities. One of them had the following caption: I am a tailor, I make clothes, whoever wishes shall wear them. Rokeach was also assisted by many people such as Kanfer, author Yitzhak Farnhof, and others. Rokeach moved from Buczacz to the town of Stri (due to financial difficulties and printing debts) and eventually returned to Eretz Yisrael.
And if there are no more matzot and wine in my house
But the bread is no more.
Shalom Aleichem came to Buczacz on his literary tour, invited by Moshe Kleinman, editor of the Yiddishes Tagblatt in Lvov. He was supposed to visit Agnon, who also published his poems in this publication of Galician Zionists. However, the visit did not take place, and Shalom Aleichem left his card for Agnon before he left. He apologized for leaving without saying goodbye, but left a friendly suggestion: Learn, learn a lot, for your actions will be rewarded. Rokeach also gave many lectures in Buczacz on literary and philosophical topics.
Three other societies were active in Buczacz until the First World War: a women's Zionist society called Rachela, directed and activated by Ms. Dr. Peller, Gizella Stern (wife of Dr. Moshe Kanfer), the sisters Regina and Rosia Stern (daughters of the young Abisch), Toni Eisenberg, nee Edelstein (now in Haifa), and the young women Herzes, Hecht, Primazia Weinrab, Chana Blein, Hagar and others. It was a very active society, which arranged Hebrew lessons, parties, in which students and Zionist youth also participated, lectures by members and by students (Weinrib, Weksler Heller). Once they even brought Shlomo Schiller, the author and writer from Lvov. The members of Rachela collected donations for the JNF at weddings. The society met at Yakov Stern's house. It is worth mentioning a tragicomic incident, which occurred due to the cooperation between the members of Rachela and the students. Avramtzu Spirer (later a lawyer and head of the community in Jaslo), who was known as a practical joker, once arranged a game in which he placed a ring on the fingers of twelve Rachela girls, adding the phrase with this ring I take you as my wife according to the law of Moses and Israel. It is hard to describe the panic and the scandal in town following this funny event, since the Rabbinate asserted that he must give an official get [divorce] to each of these young women.
For a number of years, there was also a society of trade assistants, within the Poalei Zion party, in Ehrlich Bringplatz's house, under the presidency of Berzio Frankel – son of Yonah (who was later director of the Joint in Munkatz and a lawyer in Lvov). Members included Yonah Kopfer from Monasterzyska, who was an accountant for the Eisenberg brothers, and a man from Tarnopol named Zalman Hertz, who worked at the Dretler printers and helped the Poalei Zion, and died in Eretz Yisrael. Among the activists were Anshel Czaczkes, Agnon's brother (now in Jerusalem) and others. The Poalei Zion party had ties with similar societies, such as Achva in Stanisalaw and Lvov. AfterPoalei Zion left the national Zionist movement and became an independent party with a class-based and Yiddishist character, the Zionist intelligentsia left it, and the Buczacz branch was closed down.
There was a workers' association for many years in Buczacz, named Bertrestwa-Briderlichkeit (unity), whose residence in the period before the war was in a house on Podhiezka St. It was a general workers' association with a cultural, social nature, for the class whose members felt the need for a special social framework, as they thought they had been excluded from the society of landlord-like youth (Zionist and Hassidic youth and the Noar Halomed organizations). This association developed and became a socialist organization affiliated with the Z.P.S. Since its members were only Yiddish-speaking Jews and their spiritual leader was Dr. Anslem Mozler, founder of the Jewish sector in the P.P.S. named Z.P.S. the Buczacz association also moved to the Galician Z.P.S., which later united with the Bund. The association was very active, mainly in the social and cultural areas. Among its leaders and activists were Moshe Gotwald, Zleznik, the members of the Duchovny family (one of whom is now in America and his wife is chairwoman of the Buczacz women's assistance organization), the Kitenflon brothers, Yonah Rosenblum and his wife, from the Kitenflom family (now in America), Zeifer and many others. Zlaznik Herman once organized a tailor workers' strike and set up a kind of cooperative a joint workshop for all the strikers. However, this cooperative did not last long, because the workers went back to their tailors. Zlaznik remained in the cooperative as an independent tailor. After the war, Zlaznik was chairman of the society of artisans, Yad Charutzim, which existed many years before the war and whose main role was to elevate the social standing of the artisans and obtain representation for them in all the elections for the municipality, the community, the tax board and the professional union, which was directed for many years by the Jewish tailor Nussi (Nathan) Pik. The artisans had welfare assistance institutes, both separate from and joint with other citizens, and they had a beautiful, large synagogue next to the Ezrat nashim of the Great Synagogue and opposite the old bathhouse, which was called Das sneiderishe shilachil. This synagogue was directed by Shimon Hecht, Fischel Skelka, A. V. Yurman, Fischel Kitenflon, Mordechai Winkler and others. Not far from there, on Mikolei Street, stood the Jewish hospital in a separate beautiful building. After the war, the hospital was directed by Arie Rol and his wife Khaye, nee Beuler (she died in Tel Aviv) and the physicians Dr. Nacht, Dr. Chalfon and Dr. Hirschorn. The latter two came to Israel as Holocaust survivors, and died here.
The butchers and carriage-owners represented separate ranks, and they included people knowledgeable in the Torah, and with social and cultural knowledge and aspirations. Some were also financially successful. Among the butchers were the Weisser and Peper families, and among the carriage-owners was the Goldberg family. Meir Goldberg provided his sons and daughters with an education, and his daughter is now a teacher in America, and is married to Professor Schotsman, also one of our townsmen who is active in America, who visited Israel to acquire knowledge of the land and the country at Beit Berl.
There was also an anarchist group in Buczacz, led by the brothers Sigmund and Monia Nacht (sons of the doctor), Dr. Kanfer (who was later a teacher in Chelm and a journalist in Krakow in the Zionist Novi Dezianenik and moved to the Poalei Zion party), young intelligent store assistants, who gathered secretly in the forest near the Stripa river, opposite the black bridge, and once in a while they would include us students of the lower classes of the gimnazjum in the meetings. The Nacht brothers were known as pillars of the world anarchist movement and were active in Spain. The youngest, Monia (Max), still lives in America and recently gave a scientific lecture at the club of former Buczacz residents.
There were some individuals with vague socialist leanings in the Zionist movement and among the young men and landlords. My father, who was a merchant, gabbai of the Beit Midrash and chairman of the Zion society, also had a socialist outlook. This fact had a great influence on my characteristics and my way in life. The people also sensed this and presented my father, the commoner landlord, as their candidate for the community elections, and he was their representative on the tax board and the local sick fund management, although he himself was distant from these things due to the worries of earning a living. He chose to devote his spare time to writing essays and poems in Hebrew, Yiddish and German, although he never revealed this in public.
The occupation of Buczacz by the Russian army during World War I and the Cossack reign over the town for several years, destroyed most of the houses and businesses. Many Jews died in the typhoid epidemic. Many died on the fronts, in deportations, or from starvation. Many went to Stanislaw or Lvov and other places, or moved to the Western areas of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, such as Hungary, Czech, Moravia, Graz and Innsbruck. Some two-thousand people arrived in Vienna the capital and managed there. At the end of the war and after the further suffering during the small wars between Poland and the Ukraine, and between Poland and Soviet Russia, the soldiers began to return to our town from the army and from captivity and many returned from their places of exile. Hundreds of Buczaczers gathered in a café on Overdonau Street in Vienna, after I posted small announcements in the Jewish prayer houses and cafés, inviting them to the meeting. The participants included people from all ages and classes, including those who had lived in Vienna even before the war the presidency was occupied by respectable activists from our community. The meeting had two purposes: a) to explain to our brothers in Vienna that they must return to the destroyed Buczacz to start a new life there. It was after the Balfour Declaration and the San-Remo Conference, where Eretz Yisrael was declared as our real homeland and it was waiting for enterprising, willing groups of people. There was great enthusiasm and understanding. We knew that Galician soldiers from the Austrian army, including some from Buczacz, were still in Eretz Yisrael: engineer Wildman (a senior clerk in the Mandate government), Dr. Smeterling (now a lawyer in Jerusalem) and Dr. Gutman from Stanislaw (now a lawyer in Jerusalem and former assistant mayor) and of course Agnon, and others. But the prohibition against aliya dictated by the Zionist executive cancelled this initiative. b) to establish a Buczacz Landsmannschaft in Vienna, in order to provide for those who returned and those who stayed. The organization was established, because some one-thousand Buczaczers remained in Vienna, and it was led by Leibisch Freid and others, and during the years before Hitler, our friend Yehezkel Ederer was elected as chairman.
After we returned to Buczacz, we began to work toward the restoration of the town and its Jews, and to rebuild the ruins of public life and the Zionist movement. This was a period of festiveness in light of the San Remo Conference resolutions, which the Jews interpreted as the establishment of a Jewish state, and the days of the great awakening of the national spirit under the regime of the Ukrainians, who were interested in the Jewish national movement and in establishing Hebrew schools, in order to release the Jews from the Polish influence. In the democratic elections, national councils were elected instead of the religious communities. These were lead by Tze'irei Zion circles and representatives in Czortkow and Buczacz, which were established in the area under the influence of the movement in Russia and the Ukraine, and which were pillars of the Zionist labor party, Hitachdut, in Eastern Galicia.
Due to reasons of worldview and from bitter experience, we decided to prevent the Bund's control over the workers and the folkists and among the artisans. We established a popular, inter-class Zionist association, which united within it both the workers and proletarian youth, and the popular ranks, who had been distanced from Zionism before the war, as it had been a movement of landlords and intellectuals and their children, and they therefore found their place in the anti-Zionist parties. We rented all the rooms on the ground floor of Dr. Auschnit's house on the gimnazjum street, and began the work of social merging of the boys and girls from all levels, by means of various activities: lectures, parties and communal studying in meetings, lessons and conversations. To our regret, the reluctance was mutual. The parents' objections on the one hand, and mistrust on the other, were an obstacle for us. Due to this lack of success, the path was reopened for the activity of non-Zionist circles and their followers among the Noar HaOved, with the help of salon-communists from among the students and the red rabbis, graduates of the Beit Midrash, especially after our first pioneers from Hashomer HaTzair made aliya, as we were left with deficient resources.
The first Hashomer Hatzair groups from Buczacz and nearby Czortkow made aliya with the large wave of aliya of this youth movement from all of Galicia. They immigrated after spiritual preparation and agricultural hachshara [training]. We made many efforts to help them with the hachshara. I lived in Czortkow at the time, and I would come to Buczacz often, of course, to assist this pioneering movement. Our hachshara place in Czortkow, for example, attracted important figures among the youth, such as Dr. David Meletz's daughter and Gershon Ziper's daughter, who has been in Israel for a long time, and whose name is now Dr. Helena Flaum-Ziper. She worked at first at the National Library and now works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This group of Hashomer Hatzair pioneers left Poland illegally, without passports, and was delayed for a long time in Slovakian Pressburg and worked hard to make a living, until they arrived in Israel and began immediately to work in road-paving and various public works. They worked on the Haifa-Jeddah road, under very harsh conditions, along with Egyptian laborers, and they suffered from dysentery, rheumatism, malaria, and so forth. Most of the group's members were the founders of Kibbutz Beit-Alpha, and some later moved to Ramat-Yochanan. This group included Zvi Neuman (now in Beit-Alpha, an agricultural expert and member of the agricultural center), Ze'ev Eiserzon (now named Ze'ev On), Ish Tel-Yosef, who moved to the Gdud Avoda and was among the founders of the large Kibbutz Ein-Harod and later among the founders of Kibbutz Tel-Yosef, together with his wife Yonah of the Budinger family, one of the first pioneers in Czortkow and now a well-known and experienced vegetable grower. Ze'ev Eiserson-On is one of the central figures in the labor movement, and director of the Workers' Society; Yehoshua Hoenig one of the founders of Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel, who was the manager of the Na'aman factory and is now a manager of Hamashbir Hamerkazi; the agronomist Yakov Bleukopf, a teacher and agricultural counselor, and now director of a division in the Ministry of Agriculture. Yosef Held, Masha Antler and her husband Milek Hirschorn, who died defending his group in the War of Independence, all moved from Beit-Alpha to Ramat-Yochanan. Other settlers there included Hirschorn's brother, the physician Dr. Hirschorn, who died after a short life in the homeland, and my brother Mila (Shmuel) Heller, of blessed memory, the youngest member of the group. He fell prey to the harsh reality during an all-night guard duty near the camp on the Haifa-Jedda road, and was buried in Haifa in the old cemetery, at the age of 17 or 18. Yodenfreud now a managing director of Ha'Ogen and the Solel Boneh shipping works in Haifa; and Leibel Ze'ev, one of the managers at the Kibbutz Artzi's Na'aman factory, who lives in Kiriat-Haim; Dov Kaner, who moved from road-paving work to Tel Aviv as an experienced construction worker, and the member Schopler (in Jerusalem). Some did not make it and left Israel: Samet and Nirenberg returned to Buczacz, Zelig Anderman went to cure himself of the severe malaria, came back to Israel after Hitler's Holocaust and worked in his profession as a pharmacist. Yisrael Neuman went to America, where he continues to be active as a friend of working Eretz Yisrael. Neuberger and Segal, who lost their Zionist faith, are now in Poland. From among the hachsharah members who did not make aliya at the time, Ze'ev Goldberg came to Israel later, and Willa Torton and Dr. Rega Zahler came as new immigrants, and are both government clerks in Tel Aviv. It is worth noting that even before this group, which was one of the pioneers of the Third Aliya, Buczacz pioneers made aliya during the Second Aliya, including Gershon Gafni (now a farmer in Israel) and Fritz and Moirer, who worked in the Openheimer farm in Merchavia, directed by our townsman the well-known agronomist Shlomo Dik.
After the first group immigrated,
a young group of pioneers remained, and they continued their hachshara
at the quarry works belonging to Itzi Hirsch Weisser. There was a group
of 5 or 6 young candidates who worked at Folkenfolk in Nagorzanka,
and another group of Weksler and Yisrael Neuman (Zvi's brother, who was
later a lawyer in Buczacz), who cleaned produce for the Buczacz landowner
A. Zelermeier. In one incident during their work, the group of pioneers
mostly gimnazjum students were surrounded by Polish scouts,
called Harcerze, with Professor Michelski from the public gimnazjum.
Many were then expelled from the gimnazjum and others were tried
in court for treason. But in the meantime, the war between Poland and Soviet
Russia broke out, and the town was occupied by the Bolsheviks, and then
they managed to destroy all the prosecution's material. When the Poles
returned, the court was forced to release the defendants due to lack of
evidence. These events weakened the movement. However, at the Shomer Hatzair
conference which was held, if I am not mistaken, in 1921 or 1922, the anti-Zionist
group appeared with anti-British slogans, and although the central leadership
tried to silence this movement, it completely destroyed the Shomer Hatzair
branch, and consequently the pioneer movement in Buczacz. Only after a
certain period, during 1923-4, was there a reawakening of the aspiration
to train pioneering aliya. This time it came from the Hitachdut
party circles, under the welcome initiation and guidance of Yisrael Cohen
(whose brother Asher Cohen is also in Israel), who is now editor of the
party weekly, Hapoel Hatzair (it is worth mentioning at this point
Yisrael Cohen's elderly mother, eighty years old, Ms. Gitl Cohen, wife
of the Shochet and Bodek Yitzhak Cahn, who is in Israel).
The Women's "WIZO" Activists, 1934 The "Hashmonaim" Association The "Mizrachi" Activists, 1934 The Commitee of Young Merchants, 1939 The Noar Lomed Movement, "Tze'irei Zion-Hatikvah" The Poalei Zion (Ichud) Association, 1934 The Hebrew teacher Yisrael Farnhof with a group of students The Zionist organization, "Achva" Hebrew course for trainees at the "Safa Brura" [Clear Language] School The "Hechalutz" [the Pioneer] Organization in 1928 The "Hechalutz" [the Pioneer] Organization in Buczacz in 1930 The "Hechalutz" [the Pioneer] Organization in 1924 Pioneer Kibbutz "Solel" The First "Shomer Hatzair" Group (1920)
Following is the Yiddish
announcement which the Meshulash group published in Buczacz, calling
upon residents to contribute to the aliya fund:
Buczacz, 21st day of Tishrei, 5675
After the group made aliya, Ze'ev Goldberg gathered some 20 young people who were not party-affiliated, and along with the remaining members of the Cohen group, organized a new pioneer hachshara. In 1925 these pioneers went to four hachshara locations. At the same time, the Shomer Hatzair also recovered and began its organizational pioneering activity.
There was also a sports club in Buczacz, Z.K.S., in which Zelig Anderman (now in Israel) was very active. Ze'ev Goldberg was secretary, and was sent by this club to Lvov, to train as a certified sports instructor. While there, he also made organizational and ideological contacts with the Hitachdut party and the Gordonia youth movement, and when he returned to Buczacz he became active in both these organizations, particularly in the area of pioneer hachshara for the youth, in the framework of Gordonia, together with his wife Rosia Genzel and others Yisrael Cohen's students.
Our town also had a branch of Ezra the society for assisting pioneers whose center in Lvov and whose leadership were mainly in the hands of the Zionist labor party, Hitachdut. The chairman of Ezra in Buczacz was Sher (a member of the movement in Kopyczynce, who married the daughter of the shoemaker Zeideh Sternberg, and died at a young age). The secretary was Goldberg, and activists from all the Zionist parties began to collect money to help the local pioneerhachsarah and the members of the Meshulash kibbutz, who managed to reach Vienna after being smuggled over borders, and then arrived in Israel. The Gordonia pioneers made aliya in 1929, and at the same time as the members of Hashomer Hatzair, who included Shumert, Schwartz, Karbas and others (in Ein Hamifratz and Mizra).
The Hitachdut was directed by the lawyer Shico Hecht, Haim Sinzia Frankel, Hirsch Nirenberg, Yosef Hornstein (son of Shimon), Gustav Flenboim, Rol and others. The Hitachdut was at first concentrated in the Zionist association in Dr. Auschnit's house and then moved to Zeide Sternberg's house, and from there to Yosef Gotfried's house, and finally to Hirsch (Hanzis)-Ginsberg's house (the Yitzhak Schulman house). The party was active in the fund work, in assisting pioneer hachshara and in the local elections, and its representative Dr. Hecht was elected to the community and Dr. Frankel to the municipality, Ze'ev Goldberg to the sick-fund management. In affiliation with the party, there were also departments for artisans and hired workers. The latter established a professional organization for egg-packing workers, of whom there were many in Buczacz.
The General Zionists party had public value in Buczacz because of its long-time activists. They were active in the funds, in assisting the pioneers, in providing for the Hebrew school. The representatives of this party were also in the community, the municipality and the merchants' union. Among its activists were the Knobler brothers, Pinchas Weinstock, Zvi Kalman, Pinchas Weinstock's brother-in-law (now in Petach Tikva, as Zvi Hinter, representative of the Zionist labor in the Petach Tikva workers' union), Yakov Halpern and Asher Katz, Yitzchak Katz, the son-in-law of Nissan Pohorile, Yisrael Farnhof, Medwinski (whose son is in Israel), Patznik, and Dr. Engelberg, who was the party chairman during the last period. The youth movement, Achva, was lead by Dr. Geltner (now a doctor in Rehovot and director of the government hospital in Tzrifin), Shmuel Horowitz, Bleukopf, Kaner and others. Achva provided hachshara activities for its members.
There were also old-time activists in the Mizrachi party, such as: Yisrael Shlomo Stern and his son Abish, Mendel Reich, Munisch Frenkel, Yisrael Katz and others, who were active in various areas and particularly in the community. There was no Agudath Yisrael in our town, nor a unified Hassidic sect, and they represented all the orthodox people in the town. Silberstein and others were active in the Mizrachi pioneering.
The Revisionist party, which was established in 1926/7, was active in its separate areas and in its youth movement, Beitar. The party chairman was the notary clerk Leib Zeifer, and among its activists were Hirsch Alner, attorney Yozek Stern, Anderman, Gottfried, Medwinski and Kirschner (the latter two are in Tel Aviv). This party was also active in pioneer hachshara.
Hesio Shetchel, Yosef Knobler, the Wizo representatives, and the youth and women's organizations, were active in the JNF committee. Dr. Henrik Gross was chairman of Keren Hayesod and its activists were Pinchas Weinstock, Medwinski, Farnhof, Haim Frankel and others. Wizo was lead during that period by Ms. Medwinska, the physician Dr. Wolftal, Ms. Khaye Rol and Ms. Bazner-Eisenberg (who is now on Kibbutz Mishmar-Ha'Emek with her son Bertek Bazner, one of the kibbutz founders).
The parties Poalei Zion Yamin [Right Zionist Workers], lead by Bernard Herzes, and Poalei Zion Smol [Left Zionist Workers], lead by Yitzhak Shtachel, were weak in terms of numbers, and therefore they had few activities and their existence was only slightly noticeable during elections. There were also Bund representatives. The communist group was stronger, mainly because its members came from the academic youth, particularly those who had returned with this spirit from the university in Prague, and also from among other students and even the local Beit Midrash students. They also included many salon communists, who joined at a young age under the influence of friends, with no self awareness, and they quickly distanced themselves from any activities. But there were also those who stayed loyal under all circumstances and even when their lives were endangered. These young men, who came from wealthy and middle-class families, suffered intensely from the regime's persecution. Some of them left for Soviet Russia and others continued to be active underground in Buczacz, or reached Russia during the Holocaust and returned to Poland or Israel. Many came back from there disappointed by their ideals and the party. The communists, the Bund members and even Poalei Zion Smol, created a neutral framework internally and externally, in the form of a cultural organization named Peretz Farein, which was located on Branzki Street and which had a Yiddishist, combative, leftist image. They built a library and organized lectures, plays and parties. The members included Aharon Kopler and Yakov Klemper, but it was clear that the communists in this society overpowered their Zionist and Bundist adversaries and they controlled it.
The Yad Charutzim artisans' association was one of the oldest in town and encompassed craftsmen from all professions. The association was lead by Yitzhak Freund, Zelznik Herman, Sternberg Zeideh, Yakov Margolis and Alter Goldberg and his son. The association was also active in welfare activities and special institutions: a hostel for the poor, support for the needy and so forth, as well as in the professional field in the form of apprentices, distributing licenses for independent workshop owners, work relations and professional training for craftsmen and workers. During the elections they always sent their representatives to the community, the municipality, and the sick-fund, where their representative was once the chairman (Nathan Pik) and more recently the assistant chairman. During the last period before the Holocaust, a severe disagreement arose between the two leaders, Herman Zleznik and Freund and the craftsmen ran separately for the community elections and split the association into two societies of artisans.
The Merchants' Association encompassed many merchants and shopkeepers and they met in the cooperative bank, Bank Zaliczkowy, at Yakov Stern's house. The association was led by Yitzhak Katz and the bank, which gave loans for all types of commerce and craft, was directed by Katz, Michal Kornovelia, Yakov Margalit, Alter Goldberg, and the manager and secretary was Haim Frankel, M.A. The merchants' association was very active in defending its members from the taxation burden during the Grabski period, on issues of licenses and so forth.
During that period there was also a wonderful Hebrew school directed by Yisrael Farnhof and Haim Kopler, Ms. Gottfried-Sapir and Ms. Lustgarten.
All the youth movements and pioneer movements gave Hebrew language lessons. Some of the teachers were volunteers. There was also a drama class, led by Kalman Freidman (who tried to work in his profession as a soap and candle manufacturer in Eretz Yisrael, and returned to Buczacz), the pharmacist Zelig Anderman (now in Israel), Herzas Bernard and his wife from the Shenberg family (now in Israel), Adella Pines and others. In our town there were several public libraries during that time. A Zionist library, whose books came from the community, from the pre-war libraries, and it was probably located in the Zion society or in the Kehila [community] halls; a Hebrew library, which was located in the kehila corridor, and was given special care; a Hitachdut and Gordonia library and internal libraries in each of the other Zionist associations, such as the Peretz library and the Shomer Hatzair branch library. This branch was called For the Shomri Youth, and it operated as a branch of the association center, which was located in Lvov for legal reasons, Opieki nad mlodzierza szomrowa,Tow. It functioned as an association of adults in support of the youth, and was directed by attorney Yosef Koch and Dr. Zvi Heller. Although they themselves were members of other parties, they gave their names officially, in order to enable the Hashomer Hatzair its legal existence and activity.
The hospital operated until the period of the Holocaust, as it was constantly an exemplary institution and a pillar for the people's needs in times of sickness. It was directed at that time by David Neiman, Arie Rol, Ms. Paula Marangel, Manish Frankel, Zvi Nirenberg and others. The physicians were Dr. Nacht, Dr. Hirschorn and Dr. Chalfan.
The orphanage, which was created for World War I orphans, operated in Buczacz until the Second World War broke out and was an exemplary institution. It was located on the Pedor Mountain in a beautiful and hygienic environment, in small pretty houses and excellent air. The public committee was directed by Professor Yitzhak Flik, Ms. Paula Marangel (Dr. Marengel's wife), Ms. Dr. Gross and a few activists who were dedicated to their welfare duties. The household was managed by Ms. Weissinger (whose sons and daughter are in Israel). The pedagogic administration was run by Ms. Pepa Anderman, who is married to Neiberger, and they are both still in Poland.
The children were given national Eretz-Yisraeli education and learned Hebrew. All their spiritual and physical needs were taken care of. There were, of course, other welfare institutions, including the society for dissemination of hygiene among Jews, Tow. szerzenia hygjeny wsrod Zydow, a branch of the center in Lvov, which was active in Galicia in similar ways to the activities of Oza in Poland and the entire Jewish world. The association was given educational materials for the masses and hygiene means (sheets, soap, etc.) from the center, and it distributed them among the needy. It also received sports and exercising equipment, and arranged lessons for both youth and adults. Herzes, Goldberg and others were active in this area.
In this context we should mention the beautiful recreational places in our town, of which there were many, however they were seldom used due to the concepts of time and lack of understanding on the part of parents. The town was in a valley between the two ends of the Stripa river, and the crowdedness caused poor hygiene conditions. On the other hand, the town was surrounded with beautiful mountains and forests, a wonderful view and clear air. Apart from the Basta mountain (formerly a Polish fortress), with the train bridge under which the beautiful river ran downhill there was a poor Jewish neighborhood and the Jewish cemetery. Opposite this was the other mountain, the Pedor, which the river surrounded on three sides. The Christian cemetery was on this mountain, as well as an area of villas, mainly owned by clerks and the Polish intelligentsia. There were lovely forests there. All this area was a wonderful place for hikes and for the social life of the youth and its organizations, a place for adults to take walks in the evenings, and a place for recreation and convalescence for people suffering from lung disease and exhaustion, during the day. The Stripa river at the foot of the mountains was a place for bathing and ocean sports, for sailboats and even bathing. The other beautiful place was in the city park, Topolki, near the large flour-mill belonging to Count Potozki. This mill was leased by Jews Moshe Gottfried, Avraham Freid and others. It was the only sports area for the Jewish youth, where they played Semal and Palstra, to which the parents severely objected as they saw it as mischief on the part of the children, who played instead of learning, and even placed themselves in physical danger by the beatings they would give and receive during the game. There were also regional exhibitions organized in Buczacz. In 1905 there was a large and successful agricultural exhibition. The exhibition hall a large wooden building was later purchased communally by the Jews Shlomtzi Schulman, Pik and others. Another building which was open for purchase by Jews in the town was a large building for performances and gatherings and a theatre auditorium, in the beautiful place in the town park. A dramatic detail is worth recounting: after the Yiddishist conference in Czernowitz, the authors Shalom Esh, Y.L. Peretz and Nomberg came to our town, following the recommendation of the famous conference initiator, Dr. Nathan Birenbaum. A welcoming party was gladly arranged for them, in the form of a literary ball in the aforementioned auditorium, even though the town was mostly Hebrew in its spirit, and Zionist in its ideology. For many years a rumor went through our town, whereby Shalom Esh, who did not know the character of the town or the organizers of this ball, supposedly attacked the Hebrew language in his speech, which caused one academic, a fanatic Hebrewist, to jump up on the stage and slap Esh on his face. This rumor has not been sufficiently confirmed.
This park was also a place
for recreation, especially for the Jews, who organized celebrations of
various kinds there. A coffee-house, which was established here by our
friends Arie Rol and Medwinski, served as a fine committee-house for our
public meetings and gatherings.
During the winter, I liked to go sledding down the mountain, and when the snow melted at the beginning of spring and the blocks of ice floated on the stream, I liked to sit on a block of ice and sail across the water…And when I fell into the stream, which was not deep, I did not despair, but rather got up onto another block, until I happened to hear Mother or Father calling, and then I would hurry ashore. I may have been slapped by Father, who was never idle and would give me a piece of his mind… In our large garden next to the house there were fruit trees, and at spring time I would enjoy the blossoming of the cherry tree, and the apple and pear trees. It was a great pleasure to climb the cherry tree and pick the beautiful juicy fruit and put it straight into my mouth. And how I loved going up to the wild-berry bushes and picking and eating the sweet, tart berries, an act which my mother, of blessed memory, said I excelled at as early as the age of two. And the best of all was the giant pear tree, full of juicy Emperor pears, whose taste, the taste of heaven, still lingers in my mouth. And there was also a forest in the village, where my friends and I would walk on Shabbat and that was our Oneg Shabbat, which would conclude with a visit to Count Wolenski’s fruit orchard, whose Jewish lessee would sell the fine apples, pears and plums. There were also pink rose bushes growing there and we would buy good fruit and roses and bring them home, and our mothers would make an excellent kind of confection from the roses, similar to jam, which is good, as is known, for times when there is no need to use it, or as the saying goes: may we never have need for this confection…
Lag Ba’Omer was a great occasion for children. We would climb a mountain which we referred to as Mount Sinai, armed with bows and arrows, and would have target practice. Then we would take out of our backpacks, which we brought from home, tasty biscuits, eggs and preserved cherries, and after saying the boreh pri ha’eitz and boreh minei mezonoth blessings, we would dine to our hearts’ content on these delicacies. And the merry winter holiday was Tu Bi’Shvat (Arbor Day) on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, which promised the enjoyment of Eretz Yisrael fruits such as figs, dates, carobs and almonds.
After returning to the village from Buczacz, my father placed me in the first grade of the village school. A gentle young village teacher taught us in Ukrainian and Polish. She tried to arouse our interest in the studies, and I did indeed find some interest in them, however my position as the only Jewish child in the class of shkeitzim, whose language I understood only a little, was unpleasant for me. And the foreign languages were not attractive to me either. I therefore left the school and stayed in my father’s house, where I continued my religious and secular studies as before. Besides Hebrew, I also studied German, Polish and arithmetic. I recall that when I was six years old, I would tutor my late brother Israel, who was five, in Hebrew writing.
My father, Reb Avraham, son of Nathan Rodes, a Buczaczer, who moved to the village of Pauszowka after his marriage with my mother Chaya Esther, daughter of Shlomo, tried his hand at first in commerce, like the other village Jews, and we had a general store. However, my father was not especially successful in his business, and gradually moved to the profession of teaching. He would teach all the Jewish village children from age 3 until their marriage (18 to 20, approximately). The content of the studies was: Hebrew, from the alphabet to the Tanach and Talmud, and German up to reading Schiller and Goethe and learning them by heart. His educational activities also included helping to write love letters from the groom to the bride in German, and letters to the father-in-law in Hebrew.
Most of the students were from the Zonensein family and the head of the family, Reb Moshe Zonensein, owner of an inn, was a learned and educated Jew, and wrote poetry in Hebrew and German. Some of his sons and grandsons are in Israel.
When I reached my second grade studies, I finally moved to the town of Buczacz and entered the second grade of the Baron Hirsch Primary School. The beautiful blonde teacher, Mrs. Langer, wife of the headmaster, had complete control over me there. This teacher managed to make the studies pleasant for the young children, and she would speak Polish and sometimes a little Yiddish with us. I recall that when I had to write an exercise in school and my pen nib broke, the teacher gave me a new nib and, pinching my arm, said: here is a pinch and a nib for you [in Yiddish]. A Rabbi’s wife such as this was likely to be beloved by the students more than a tutor with whip in hand at the ready.
At the same time I would also go to the cheder. In the winter I studied with the teacher Rabbi Meir on the Nagorzanka, and we would descend the hill in the evening, at eight, heading towards the town. We would go to the animal market near the soup kitchen, from whence we would go home in groups. Once, we reached the animal market and I was intending to walk home with a group of friends who lived nearby the great Black Bridge, which crossed the Stripa river. However, imagine my surprise and amazement when I saw all my friends capturing pigs, which always wondered around there, and riding them home… I, who was reluctant to ride such an unclean beast, had to walk home on my own to my residence with my Aunt Chana, of blessed memory, and pass through the main road near the cemetery’s stone wall. It was snowing heavily and I walked through the snow, daydreaming. And suddenly, I was horrified! A figure wrapped in a white prayer shawl appeared before me. It was none other than a dead man risen from his grave in the cemetery, approaching me. It did not take long for me to realize what this image was, I fell to the ground… When I awoke, I found myself in bed in my aunt’s house. It turned out that an acquaintance had passed by in a sled and found me laying on the road, and had taken me on his sled and brought me home to my aunt… During the summer, I studied in a different cheder with a tutor (not a rabbi), Shmuel Horn, the brother-in-law of Dr. Peller. He was addressed by the students as teacher, rather than rabbi. He had a beautiful young daughter named Bertha, and I met her years later in Vienna.
I left Buczacz again after one year of study
and returned to our quiet village, where I continued to study diligently
with my father and teacher. Eventually, the rural idyll ended because we
moved to the city, and I then entered the Baron Hirsch Primary School again,
in the forth grade, where I studied together with my friend Yosef Tischler.
Apart from general studies in Polish, we also learned German and Ukrainian.
We learned Hebrew from a text book in Polish translation, and Hebrew grammar
from the teacher Mordechai Kamper, mentioned previously.
The bridge on the way to the primary school and the "Sokol" The market stalls next to the city council On a Zionist celebration day
There was also a teacher of religion, meaning, Jewish history taught in Polish, who was the elderly teacher Reb Moshe Chaim Teuber, who had a long white beard and wore a black prak. He was a teacher who had become licentious, and according to the gossip about him, he secretly smoked cigarettes on Shabbat. We had to learn the lessons by heart, word for word, from the Jewish history book, and mercy on us if we missed a word, God forbid… After the fourth grade of the primary school, we had to pass an exam in order to transfer to the gimnazjum. To my misfortune, the exam was given on Shabbat Chazon, the evening of Tisha Be’Av, and there was also a written exam. I was a religious boy, who kept all the mitzvot and was strictly observant, with short side-locks on my head I was faced with the severe transgression of writing on Shabbat! The battle within my heart was difficult, but I gave in to the demand of my parents, of blessed memory, and I was also somewhat influenced by the bold approach of my friend Yosef Tischler to this severe transgression.
We passed the exam successfully and were accepted, with good fortune, to the gimnazjum, and once again I was tested by having to wear the goyishe uniform and cut off my side-locks. I lacked the courage for this operation, but my educated uncle Z. Rosenberg, of blessed memory, who later emigrated to America, stood by my side and took care of the arrangements. He led me to the barber, where I went through the shearing and returned home with my side-locks shorn, put on the blue uniform and went out with my uncle for a trial walk through town. In this way, I was admitted to the society of gimnazjum students in the highest educational institution in our town, where my fate was to battle the anti-Semitic teachers and fight for my survival, as I had to give private lessons to the school students and contribute to the support of my family, because my father, of blessed memory, continued to teach. My friend Yosef Tischler and I were among his students. We learned the Bible, Prophets, Talmud and Hebrew as a living language. I used the book A Speaker of his People’s Language at that time, and in order to make the studies easier I put together a Hebrew-German dictionary from the textbook. This pamphlet disappeared over time.
I loved the Hebrew language and studied it with dedication and diligence. I found the Talmud studies difficult, especially as I had to study in the evenings when I was sleepy and exhausted from hard day’s work. However, one thing would encourage me on those winter evenings of studying, which was an evening meal of hot potatoes and a cup of tea, after which I was able to continue my studies. I learned a few tractates, but I did not internalize the Aramaic language well.
My father, of blessed memory, used to pray at the great Beit Midrash (Sephardi version) next to the Great Synagogue. I was bar-mitzvahed at that Beit Midrash, and I would always pray there on Shabbat and holidays with my father. Rabbi Demata would also pray there, and the Beit Midrash attendees would sit and study diligently. I recall two prominent scholars, one was the grandson of the great tzadik from Buczacz, Rabbi Yisrael Leib, who was short and hunched, but his face was noble. The old-timer scholars would address him with various questions, especially when they were stuck with some serious problem. The second was a blind man, Chaim Raphael, and when someone would read to him from the Gemara, he could explain every single thing and could also continue reciting by heart from the place the reader had stopped. From among the town’s most educated men, I recall S.Y. Agnon’s father, who was a merchant and an educated man. It appears that it was he who paved the way for his young son in the field of Hebrew literature and lit the spark of poetry in his heart. I also recall Matityahu Weinraub’s father, who was a scholar and was fluent in Hebrew and German. There was also the Zionist scholar Leibisch Fried, as well as David Neuman and Ginsberg, may they live long, who are now in Israel. There were also Jewish socialists such as Gottwald, who was associated with the Zionists, and a militant socialist from the town’s group of assimilators, Mosler, a leader of the movement in the region, who also exerted great influence on the Ukrainian peasants.
On week days I would usually pray not in the large Beit Midrash, but in the old mittnagdim Beit Midrash, because I had to get up early and prepare to go to school. Therefore, I would pray early in the morning with the old-timers. As I stood in one corner of the Beit Midrash, immersed in my prayer, a young religious scholar with side-locks and a long coat stood at the other corner it was S.Y. Agnon, who was destined to become the greatest Hebrew writer of our generation.
My love for Zion began when I was very young, in my childhood village, in the fields, gardens and forests of Pauszowka. During those days, I read a pamphlet published by Hovevei Zion in Odessa, which was very influential on me. During the First Zionist Congress my father, of blessed memory, would read reports from the congress in HaTzfira with me, about Dr. Herzl’s speeches and his opponents… On Shabbat afternoons my father would attend a Hebrew speakers club in the Zion group, and he would come home and tell of how they spoke Hebrew for a whole hour, which made a great impression on me. During that period I would hike through the forests of Podlesie and Fedor in the environs of Buczacz, and I would read the historical stories of S. Friedberg about The Kingdom of the House of David, Mapu’s Love of Zion and also Religion and Life by Reuven Asher Broides, The Book of Wandering by Peretz Smolenskin, and amusement books by Yitzhak Farnhof. Zionist preachers would come and give sermons in the Great Synagogue and I waited impatiently for the preacher to finally start talking of the love of Zion and Eretz Yisrael. I particularly recall the preacher Abramson, who I believe was from the Ukraine, and who was the father of the Hebrew writer H. S. Ben-Avram, who now lives in Israel. He was a prominent Zionist national speaker, and how happy I was to hear him speak out against the Uganda plan, for I suffered the pain of Zion Zionists, who were outraged at the Ugandists. At that time, we read the Hebrew newspaper Hamaggid, which was published in Krakow, and later Hamitzpeh and Hatzfira. We also read the official German Zionist newspaper Die Welt, and later the Polish Wschod and Moriah.
Our practical Zionist activity began from the forth division of the gimnazjum, and consisted of founding Zionist circles among the unassimilated students. In these circles, we studied the history of Judaism and Zionism (using V. Sapir’s book) and Eretz Yisrael studies. In particular, the students organized activities for JNF fundraising, distributing collection boxes to all sectors of the Jewish population and in the synagogues and study houses. Our first counselors and teachers were Matityahu Weinrab and Avraham Silbersein, of blessed memory, students of the upper classes in the gimnazjum, and after completing their studies at the gimnazjum – as academics. I recall how my friends Avraham Chalfan and Zvi Anderman (who is now a Reform rabbi in America) and I studied the book of Jessayahu with Silbersein, including learning entire chapters by heart. Silbersein also gave Chalfan lessons in Polish on Jewish history, from a book which would be published as a textbook by the Zeirei Zion center, which was a Zionist organization of Galician high-school students, from which Hashomer Hazair stemmed at the end of the First World War. Silbersein taught Hebrew in Hebrew to the gimnazjum students from all classes, both beginners and advanced students. His influence on us was great and he instilled in our hearts a significant affinity with Hebrew culture, for he was a philosopher with extensive knowledge of Jewish culture. There were some contrasts and a kind of completion between the two leaders, Avraham Silbersein and Matityahu Weinrab. The latter was an expert in Torah and Talmud and was warm-tempered, an enthusiastic Zionist and an exciting orator. He was a prominent Zionist activist, founder of the women’s society, Rachel, together with Dr. Peller’s wife, and was very active there. This society conducted Zionist lectures. And I recall a lecture by Shlomo Schiller, who was invited especially from Lvov. Matityahu Weinrab’s friend and partner in Zionist activity was Leon Weksler, an extremely talented orator, who was well-known as a popular speaker.
I would like to recount some events which are ingrained in my memory from those days. Once during the morning break from classes at the gimnazjum, my friend Manio Pohorile came over to me, alarmed, and said: Did you know Herzl has died! It was a blow to the Zionist ideology which nested deep in our young hearts and it was impossible to accept this terrible news.
I was deeply impressed by the mourning assembly held in memory of Kishinev after the pogroms. This moving ceremony was held in the Great Synagogue, and besides the recitals of Yizkor and El Male Rachamim [prayer for the dead] by the cantor, some of the Zionist leaders participated in the ceremony as speakers, and the student choir sang Yehuda Halevi’s Eli Zion Ve’Areyah.
In 1906 a Hebrew author, Eliezer Rokeach, came to Buczacz. He was the uncle of former Minister of the Interior, Yisrael Rokeach, and came from Eretz Yisrael through Romania (see his description in Silberbusch’s memoirs and in Moshe Smilenski’s The Family of Earth). Rokeach quickly made contact with the intellectuals of Buczacz, especially with Mordechai Kamper, the Baron Hirsch School teacher mentioned previously, who had socialist tendencies. He also contacted the young poet, who was a rising star, Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes (Agnon). Together with them, Rokeach established a Hebrew literary journal, HaYarden, and also published a weekly, Der Waker (the Arouser). In my estimation, these two intellectuals, Rokeach and Kamper, had no small influence on their young friend, the dreamer, who was taking his first steps in the field of Hebrew literature. Agnon would stroll with his two elderly friends in the Schulgas Forest and they would discuss literary and cultural issues, matters of great importance. I recall a literary lecture given by Agnon, a kind of essay on the new Hebrew literature, which was full of pearls of wisdom and brilliance.
Rokeach’s lectures on Eretz Yisrael and Hebrew literature were scientific and in-depth, but the lecturer would flit from one subject to another and would strew his talks with the ideas of Aristotle, the Rambam, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Wagner. I remember one sentence from one of the lectures, when he was intending to compare and contrast Schopenhauer and Wagner: Schopenhauer musizierte in der Philosophie und Wagner philosophierte in der Musik (Schopenhauer made philosophy into a kind of music and Wagner made music into a kind of philosophy). I recall Mordechai Kamper’s literary essay in HaYarden on Henryk Ibsen.
It would be appropriate to describe our gimnazjum teachers a little. There were a few Jewish teachers, and among the Christian teachers there were many enemies of Israel, but this did not prevent them from secretly accepting gifts, in cash and deeds, from the Jewish students’ fathers, in order to sweeten the children’s fate in the progress of their studies. An exception to this was the Latin and Greek teacher, whose name was Chlebek. He was a Pole, with white hair, dressed in old-fashioned Schlacziz clothes, a kind of short, green zupitza which reached down to his knees, and folded boots. He was a philologist, and besides the European and classical languages, Greek and Latin, he also knew Sanskrit and Semitic languages, including Hebrew, which he learned from Munish Bauer, the former Beit Midrash attendant, who became heretical. And the latter studied Latin and Greek from his student and teacher, Professor Chlebek. Chlebek would show the school students the similarities between Hebrew and the Arian languages, Latin and Greek, and Sanskrit. For example: the word Ra’ah [saw] is in Greek hora’u, har [mountain] is similar to horus, shakaf [transparent] to skuapeo, yayin [wine] to oyanus and so forth. He would speak Hebrew with me, and would tell me to translate into Hebrew the lesson I had translated from Polish to Greek, and of course I would do so willingly. Once a supervisor came to visit the gimnazjum and when he saw my notebook, he asked: What is this script doing in the Greek class? Chlebek replied: This student knows Hebrew, and I suggested that he translate the Greek into Hebrew.
In the upper classes of the gimnazjum, when we had to write an essay on a topic of our choosing, I abided by the following rule: begin every essay with a Hebrew saying. For example, I began the essay on the function of blood in the body with Hebrew and Latin characters: Blood is the soul. I recall the teacher Kironski, who was a Greek teacher. When he entered the classroom we were in danger of being tested on our ability to recite a lesson from Xenofon or Homer. My friend then asked me to ask the teacher what he thought of some idea from a Jewish philosopher, a Talmud scholar or the principles of Judaism, as compared to the ideas of Socrates, Aristotle or Plato. The scheme was successful, for the philosopher teacher with his great mind, would delve into the ocean of Greek learning and extract several ideas from Greek wisdom. He would not have time to finish his lecture in one class and would have to continue the next class. With this trick, my friend and I escaped the hassle of a recitation exam a few times. I also recall another Latin teacher by the name of Rembetz, who had an awkward, fat body, and who was very fearful of the socialists and the anarchists. He called me an anarchist I do not know where he got this opinion from.
Our serious cultural life occurred outside of school, in the general and Zionist cultural clubs, where we heard lectures on topics from general literature or historical subjects, or Hebrew literature. In those days I would prepare my homework together with my friend Manio Pohorile, who now lives in Jerusalem. Along with other friends, such as Zvi Heller, Schenberg, Guttfreud and others, we would give Zionist parties, especially Hebrew literature parties. Once we held a party in honor of Ahad Ha’Am’s anniversary. I knew that Bialik had written a poem To Ahad Ha’Am. However, I was unable to locate a book of Bialik’s poems in the entire town, so having no choice, I had to sit down and write a poem for Ahad Ha’Am. And thus Ahad Ha’Am was saved from having no poem at the party held in his honor. All the Zionist gimnazjum students were organized in clubs with counselors from the upper classes, including myself.
Apart from the Zion group, in which the Zionists were organized, there was also the Ivriya club, where the young Hebrew teacher Yisrael Farnhof was especially active. They held various lectures on historical, Zionist and Jewish topics.
The Zionist activists in Buczacz tried to establish a Hebrew school in town. We attempted to bring in an external teacher, in addition to the local teachers. I found out that the writer G. Shofman was living in Lvov, and also engaged in teaching. I quickly wrote to him and invited him to come to our town and serve as the teacher in the Hebrew school about to be established. I received a rapid response on a postcard, with the words: I will not move from here. Some time ago, when I visited Shofman, he reminded me of his words: Do you remember what I wrote to you from Lvov: ‘I will not move from here’… What a wonderful memory you have I replied. In 1907, the expert teacher Baruch Yitzhak Berkowitz, who now lives in Hadera, was invited to Buczacz by the Galician teachers organization.
In 1907 I left Buczacz, due to the oppressive gimnazjum teachers, and moved to the town of Brzezany. There, I continued my studies and my Zionist activities, in the framework of the Zeirei Zion organization of students, and in Ha’Ivriyah, under the guidance of the Hebrew teacher Zvi Sharpstein, now a professor at a teaching seminary in America. And on the holidays when I came to the home of my parents, of blessed memory, in Buczacz, I took part in Ivriyah. My friend Yosef Tischler, who came to his parents’ house on holidays, would also be active in Ivriyah, and I remember one lecture he gave on the Jewish Legend. After completing my gimnazjum studies in 1909, I had to decide which profession was most suitable for me in Eretz Yisrael before entering university. I asked for advice at the Hovevei Zion office in Jaffa, whose secretary was then S.Y. Agnon, who had made aliya two years prior. I received a reply with advice to study medicine, but Agnon wrote on the margins of the card: Stay where you are and seek out a living there. This angered me, for I viewed it as an insult to my heart’s desire to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael. And when I met Agnon here I asked him why he had given such as response. He replied that during those days they were not issuing propaganda for making aliya, due to the harsh conditions in Israel. Agnon later immortalized that conversation of ours in his book A Guest for the Night, in a conversation that occurs between the narrator and Dr. Milch.
After I left Galicia in 1909 and moved to Vienna, I of course continued my Zionist activities, in the JNF and the Eretz Yisrael office, and I took part in founding the Hebrew academic society HaTchiah, together with my friends from Buczacz, Avraham Chalfan and Zvi Anderman. We later founded the Hebrew Association, but that is a separate episode in the history of Zionist youth who moved from Buczacz to Vienna.
My parents moved from Buczacz to Vienna in 1915 and I
lived there with them until coming to Israel. Later, I visited them frequently
here in Hadera, until their deaths in 5702.
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