Chapters of history
by Chaim Chen
Translated by Sara Mages
When we come to erect a memorial for our holy community Gorelic that was destroyed, and write its history, which is part of the city's history, we are groping in a nearly empty space. We donít have chronicles or historical records for our city, not public or personal documents that can be used as reliable information for its past - the mortar and bricks for the building of the history of the city. Therefore, we were forced to collect a few crumbs here and there, near and far, and from those who heard and saw. We organized and joined them together so we can weave short reviews to development of Jewish Gorlice from its inception to its destruction.
Gorlice was a district city -Powiat- in Western Galicia and the seat of the Starosta. The district court, which also served its neighboring city Biecz, was also there. The city lies on the northern slopes of the forested Carpathian Mountains, on the eastern section of the Beskidy Mountains at an elevation of 274 meters above sea level. The Ropa River flows through the valley and spills into the Wislok River. This river divides the city into two sections: the upper city - on top of the mountain, and the lower city - in the valley across the Zawodzie River. This was written on legal divorce papers: Gorlice is located on the waters of the Ropa River, Kaminitz and Sankova. Its main transport routs from east to west were: from Jasło to Grybow, Żmigród to Grybow, and also from Tarnow to the Slovakian-Hungarian border a distance of 29 kilometers. This road passed through the mountains and the passage was especially difficult on top of Megora Mountain. A rail spur at the length of only 5 kilometers also left the city. It merged near Zagorzany to the Krakow- Zaguzh-Przemyśl-Lviv railway line.
In our days there were several elementary government schools and a high-school that was founded in 1908.
The founders of the city
According to lexicon books and oral tradition, the city of Gorlice was founded by migrant-settles who came from Gorelitz in Silesia. At the beginning, before its Slavic residents became Germans, it was called Gorelic. In our days the Polish section of this city, which is divided into two sections, was called - Zgorzelec.
The Poles, in their patriotic arrogance, worked hard to blur the impression of the original German name Gorelitz until they invented that the origin of the name was Gora Lica - a pure Polish name. This gave our generation's clowns the opportunity to add their name to list of their city's names, simply - Gar-Letz…
We donít know what motivated these migrants, Germans and Germanized Poles, to settle in a place that wasnít on the main road. Maybe they were pushed by a political pressure or religious pressure, but more likely - natural treasures - forests, herds of cattle etc. As always, the treasures of the earth attracted the German eagle to lunge for prey in a foreign country.
When was the city founded?
It's noted in the Brockhaus Enzyklopädie from 1930, that at the beginning of the 17th century half of Gorlice's residents moved from Catholicism to the Protestant religion. As we know, after the great fire the Catholic Church, which was located in the Rynek, was built on the ruins of the small Arian Church (Kaplice). In any case, it's accepted that the natives of Gorelic founded the city. The sound of German surnames like: Schönwald, Schimberg, Reichwald, Rosenberg and others was sounded from the Polish speech in the countryside.
This sarcastic saying, which was said by Dr. Frling in a trial between a Pole and a German, was widespread in the city: By the time your forefathers arrived to Poland without soles in their shoes to grab something in their hands, my forefathers fought heroically for many generations against the Turks and the Tatars for the freedom of Poland.
According to Słownik Geograficzny from 1880, King Jan III SobieskiĢ of Poland (1624-1696) sat after his victory against the Turks (1683) near Vienna together with his veteran soldiers, who fought under his flag against the Turks and the Tatars, in Mecina Wielka near Gorlice.
The first Jews in the city
It may be assumed, that when this city was founded the Jews werenít allowed to live there according to the Magdeburger Constitution. However, as in all of Poland, Jews lived in the surrounding villages and the estates of Polish landowners and were the mediators between the urbanites and the farmers. The landowner had the authority to do as he wished in his estate in the village and wasnít governed by the laws of the city's officials. Therefore, it's no wonder that Jewish communities existed at that time in the villages around the city. The few Jews, who lived in the city, lived there illegally according to the unusual privilege of De non tolerandis Judaeis. Jews lived openly and with a permit in the city's suburbs - Ropica Polska, Siary, Sokol, Strezeszyn, Marianpolski and Magdaleni. They lived right on the city's border and mediated between the townspeople and the villagers.
In contrast, the Jews began to live openly in the city itself at a later period. At the last days of the Polish Kingdom, a short time before or after the partition, when this region was taken over by the Austrian government, the number of Jewish settlers increased in the city itself. At the end of the 18th century, or at the beginning of the 19th century, the number of Jews grew around the market square (Rynek) and in the nearby streets - the ghetto's area during the German occupation.
|Map of Gorlice and its surroundings|
|The Jews lived in the suburbs around the city|
The first Jewish families in the city
The first Jews came from the nearby towns and villages and also from across the Hungarian border - Bardiów, Zborow and other distant locations. Of course, the first Jews came from the closest environment - from Senkowa, Luzna, Moszczenica and Umschenka. From there also came the Chilukim, meaning, the descendants of Yechiel. Who was he, and what he was - no one knows, but the distinguished old families were proud of this head of household.
The priest Szwajkowski often told that when the city was founded the Jews came with the Germans. Dr. Blech tells that his forefathers came directly from Germany. However, the fact is, that from the immediate area came: R' Zlig Mreinfuler from Sakowa, Groubner from Gladyszow, Schel from Szymbark, Aba Koren from Ropica, Biran from Szymbark, R' Shmuel David Ehrenberg and the Hollander family from Losie which existed as a community before Gorlice. The Wineberg family came from Zmigrod, Neustettel from Dulka,and the family of my grandfather, R' Hersh Yehezkel, came from Ulanow.
As mentioned, the Jewish settlers not only came from the immediate area but also from distant places, but the Jews from the immediate area left their mark on the character of the city for many generations.
As we know, the city of Gorlice had Polish and Ruthenian villages, and only a few Ruthenians settled in the city itself. As was a significant difference in religion and way of life between the Poles and the Ruthenians, so was a significant difference between the Jews who came from the Polish villages and the Jews who came from the Ruthenian villages. Those who came from the vicinity of the Ruthenian villages, the southern villages near the border, were mostly God-fearing Torah scholars who were heedful of a light precept as of a weighty one, Hassidim and men of action. Among them were distinguished students who created generations of diligent scholars who taught Torah Ve'Yirah and influenced the course of life in the city. Those who came from the Polish villages in the north were already a bit modern, educated, enlightened in the language of the time, and their clothes were in the Deutschen style. The Hassidim didnít come from this side, it was the source of intellectuals and various doctors. It should be noted that from this area also came Dr. Shimon Hollander, Gorlice's last municipal doctor. He was a good active man who always helped the needy, especially - the Jewish child.
When the first Jews settled in the city, around the Rynek, they settled in houses that they didn't build. Almost all of them were the property of the local landowner, Graf Mialkowski. So were the houses of Scheinberg where the school of weaving was located, Arenberg, Mendle Parnas and Aharon Shmuel Landa. Yakov Yehoshua Alexandrowitch's house was first built as a courthouse. The tradition of Christian property was evident during the Catholics' idiom days like: Green Thursday when they put in front of these houses a worship-booth with the images of their saints inside them. Among them were the Schwimmer's house, Panska Hoyz and others.
Before the existence of the community in the city
The Polish Jews participated in all branches of industry, craft, and agriculture, and paide a lot of taxes to the royal treasury. There were also Jews who leased the estates of the great noble who didnít take care of their own property but received a sizable payment without working too hard. For that reason, the kings and the nobles supported the Jews and protected their rights. For these favors the Jews paid heavy taxes which were imposed on them with arbitrariness. The fiercest haters of the Jews were the small nobles, the merchants and the craftsmen who saw the Jews as dangerous competitors. They tried to oust them and reduce their rights in trade, craft and the purchase of land. They were joined by the Catholic priests who preached hatred of the Jews in their churches and incited the masses to attack them.
The first communities
In order to ease the collection of taxes, King Zigmond I (1506-1548), who treated the Jews with kindness, appointed Jewish tax collectors throughout the county and rabbis were appointed to assist them. This arrangement wasnít welcomed by the Jews. Eventually, the king decided to grant the Jewish settlements complete freedom to appoint tax collectors, especially after he imposed a poll tax on every Jew. King Zigmond II gave the Jews the freedom to elect rabbis and judges who, together with the community leaders, received the right to judge according to Jewish laws. This is how the community- the official version of the Jewish community - was created. As the number of Jews increased in their places also the number of communities grew, and each carried the burden of collecting the poll tax.
As a result, the community became an established and fortified institution and left its mark on the material and spiritual life of the Polish Jewry for hundreds of years.
|The Ohel of the city's rabbi the Admor R' Baruch Halberstam Ztl, and his righteous father-in-law R' Pinchas'l Ztl, at the center of Gorlice's cemetery. Around are several gravestones of the city's residents.|
The communities' institutions
In the communities were Torah study houses, the societies Shas, Mishnayot, Ein-Yaakov, Tehillim, Chumash and Rashi; the societies Bikur-Cholim, Linat-HaTzedek, Hachnasat Kallah, Matan BeSeter, Pidyon Shvuyim and also Chevra Kadisha. There were also a societies of craftsmen - Poalei Tzedek- tailors, glaziers, cart owners, etc. who had their own houses of prayer. At times they also had special rabbis or, at least, someone who gave them a lesson.
To faciliate the collection of the total amount of taxes each district organized several communities within it. The district's rabbi was in charge of the district and the communities' rabbis were his subordinates. In this way community unions were established in each district. Special committees, which represented the communities, gathered from time to time to estimate the amount of tax for each community, and discuss the affairs and needs of each community.
In 1764, the year in which Va'ad Arba' Aratzot [The Council of Four Lands] was dispersed (a short time before the first partition of Poland), the district committees established an association of large and small communities. The association was responsible for the debts of the community and the district.
Gorlice belonged to the Sanz district - Ziemia Sandecka. A large Jewish community only existed in Sanz. Indeed, small communities already existed in the district of Gorlice, but not in Gorlice itself. Those were: Biecz, Bovob, Olpiny, Losie, Razhpienik and more. The rabbi of the community of Sanz was also the region's rabbi - Kreisabiner.
The days of the first censuses
In 1765, the year in which a census was held in Poland before its partition, only a few Jews lived in Gorlice. Their number didnít increase in 1784, 12 years after Galicia was annexed to Austria in 1772.
Various censuses were carried out until the second half of the 19th century, but all of them were of little value because until 1869 most of them were held for fiscal purposes only. The general population - not only the Jews - opposed them and hid their correct number from the eyes of the government. The Jews, who feared that they would be the scapegoats in these censuses, avoided them in all sorts of ways. For that reason, in 1776, four years after the Austrian rule, we still donít have any information for the number of Jews in Gorlice.
We can find evidence of the Jew's evasion of the censuses in this data: in the same year, 1776, the number of Jews in Galicia was 148.598. In 1784, the number of Jews in Galicia rose to 184.448, but a year later, in 1785, the number of Jews rose to 212.000 because, slowly slowly, with the establishment of the new regime, the Jews began also to register and participate in the census.
In conclusion, we donít have any data on the number of Jews in Gorlice, not at the end of the 18th century and even not at the beginning of the 19th century. When the community was founded and who were its founders - for all of this we have no official documents that we can rely on.
Gorlice's community begins with the tenure of its rabbis
It's possible to get a reconstructed image of the community by determining the beginning of the rabbinate in the city.
Since Gorlice belonged to the Sanz district, the district's rabbi was also the city's rabbi. If he didnít appoint an independent rabbi as his subordinate, the Jews turned to him in time of need. Since R' Baruch Segel Landa was the district's rabbi in the years that we're discussing, he was also the rabbi of Gorlice.
The rabbis to their generations
And here, by the words of our townsman R' Yosef Blumenfled, the first rabbi of Gorlice was known by the name R' Yehezkel Landa, grandchild of Noda Biyhudah [Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau]. R' Baruch Halbershtam also testifies that he saw his tombstone in Gorlice's cemetery. We don't know if he was related to R' Baruch Segel Landa - the district's rabbi in Sanz - but it's known that this R' Yehezkel, who was childless, adopted and educated his brother's two sons: The name of one R' Moshe Landa, and the second - R' Orish Landa. The descendants of R' Moshe belonged to the family of R' Yosef Blumenfled and his sisters Miriam and Malka Zimet: R' Shmuel Nebenzahl from Stanislaw, and also the sons and daughters of R' Hanich Koren who live with us in Israel.
From the descendants of R' Orish we know: the sons of his daughter-in-law Hendel Landa (I donít know her husband's name), the Frenkel and Mensfeld families, Hendle's son Yakov Mordechai Landa who was a famous cantor in Vienna, the sons of his daughter Zipa Bittersfeld, and the Bittersfeld families. R' Aharon Englard, our city's last community leader, also belonged to this family.
|Rabbi Elisha Halbershtam
The last rabbi of our city
In 5590 (1830), R' Chaim Halbershtam, the author of Divrei Chaim, was appointed as the rabbi of the city of Sanz. Later, when he was elected as the district's rabbi, he appointed his son-in-law, HaRav Yekutiel ZalmanYehudah, as the rabbi of the community of Gorlice. HaRav Yekutiel was also called R' Zalman Leib Teitelbaum and was called by the name of his book Yetev Le. Beforehand, HaRav R' Yekutiel Zalman Yehudah served in the rabbinate in Stropkov and in Uihei [Sátoraljaújhely] Hungary. Presumably, this appointment took place in 5598-5600 (1838-1840) and his tenure lasted until 5616 (1856). The same year the rabbi left Gorlice and moved Drohobych where he served in the rabbinate in place of his father R' Eliezer. Before he left, there was an argument between him and the community of Gorlice, and between the communities of Drohobych and Gorlice. This matter was discussed in length in Sho'el u-Meshiv, the responsa of R' Yosef Shaul Nathansohn the rabbi of Lwow.
His son-in-law, R' Baruch, the son of the Admor R' Chaim from Sanz, came to inherit his place. However, R' Baruch only served for a short time in Gorlice because under the order of his father he moved to serve as a rabbi in Rudnik - the place where he and his father were born.
In Gorlice, the brother of the author of Yetev Lev, R' Shlomo Teitelbaum, was appointed as the city's rabbi. He served in the rabbinate for about forty years and died at a ripe old age in 5648 (1888). He was succeeded by son R' Yisrael, who was called R' Yokil. Until then he was a rabbi in the city of Berbeşti (in short: Besht), Hungary.
The elders of our city used to tell that the Admor, R' Chaim from Sanz occasionally visited the community of Gorlice.
The well known dispute broke out in the city a few years into the tenure of R' Yokil, R' Yokil left Gorlic and returned to Berbeşti where he served before. In 5652 (1892), R' Baruch was appointed in his place as the city's rabbi. R' Baruch died at a ripe old age in 5666 (1906) at the age of eighty. His son, R' Elisha who served as a rabbi in Krosno, sat on his chair. R' Elisha died in exile in Siberia. Two of his sons live with us in Israel - R ' Mordechai Dov Halbershtam lives in Jerusalem and works as a clerk in the Trade and Labor Ministry, and R' Baruch is a clerk in the municipality of Bnei-Brak. Three of the rabbi's sons, his son-in-law Moshe Parnas and his wife live in America.
The community leaders to their generations
By the words of our townsman, Mr. Yakov Shalom Tershner zl, his mother's father, R' Yakov Shalom Lifshitz, was first community leader in Gorlice, but he can't determine when it was.
Who were the second and third community leaders - we don't know.
The fourth was R' Gershon Weiss. During his tenure the author of Yetev Lev left Gorlice. After him, came R' Yakov Yehusua Aleksandrowicz.
After R' Yakov Yehusua came R' Naftai Bunder who served as a community leader for over thirty years. After them, one after the other, served - R' Ahron Shmuel Landa, R' Yehusua Gruber and Dr. Maurycy Stern who was an assimilated lawyer only served for a short time. The last community leaders were: Dr. Michael Bloistein, R' Yehiel Hollander, Dr. Arye Halbershtam, R' Aharon Engelhard, and the last one - Nathaniel Spitz from Losie.
Famous people who was born in Gorlice
The genius from Sękowa, R' Shmuel Firer, who served in the rabbinate in Milówka and also in Karosna, was born in 5625 (1865) in the village of Sękowa near Gorlice.
The first document that we have in our hands about a famous man from Gorlice came to us in the form of a book from the estate of Sir David Sassoon in London. The subject of discussion is a distant period. During the days of the partition of Poland the number of Jews in Galicia has dwindled. At that time the new region, which was annexed to Austria, didnít enter the cycle of the Austrian economics. The industry and the factories, which existed beforehand, were forced to face a difficult competition and generally failed. The Galician Jews were uprooted from their previous sources of livelihood, and without income they left to ask for bread in distant places. Most of them wandered to Germany and the young immigrated to America. The elderly immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael to live their last days in the holy places, and were those who dared to wander to remote places in the wide world.
One of them was R' Asher Halevi who reached Calcutta, India. Over the years he became a writer and wrote books and commentaries on the Torah. At the end of his life he wrote his memoires.
His life story was written by Avraham Yari in a book that was published in 5698 by Mass publishing house, Jerusalem.
R' Asher Halevi was born in 5609 (1849) in the town of Gorlice in Western Galicia to poor parents. His mother, a native of Gorlice, was the only breadwinner in the family because his father sat and engaged in the Torah.
However, the mother wasnít able to support a large family and for that reason the family moved to Kolomyia. Their son Asher remained in Gorlice with a primary school teacher for three more years, until the teacher died. Who was the teacher? When did he die? - Here the text is silent.
When Asher was 17 he left for his wanderings until he arrived, as stated, to India where he died in 1912 at the age of 63. On his tombstone in Calcutta inscribed:
Here lies the humble and honorable old man, Asher Yeshayahu son of Moshe Yitzhak Chaim Halevi. Born in the small city of Gorlice, Austria and gone to his everlasting place on Wednesday 13 Tevet 5672 at the age of 63 years. May his soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life.
This book is the first and only document that we have with an explicit date from the life in Gorlice - 5651 (1891).
And one more document:
My mother's father, R' Yitzchak Yehudah Wietz a ritual slaughterer in Bochnia, was the son of Hirsh Yehazkel Wietz a ritual slaughterer in Gorlice. He came from Ulanów under the order of the Admor R' Chaim from Sanz. My grandfather was born in 1851 in Gorlice and therefore we have a birth certificate that was issued in Gorlice. He was the same age of his friend, HaRav R' Yisrael Yokel, that the well known controversy was erupted because of him, and both of them served in the Austrian Army.
These are the only documents and dates that we have in our hands.
I've heard stories about the same period from R' Naftali Kefner and R' Tebel who told them at twilight next to the old Beit Midrash. They mostly told stories about the Russian army that passed through Gorlice to Hungary to help the young Emperor Franz Joseph to suppress the Hungarian revolt.
This R' Tebel served in the Austrian Army and fought in Lombardia in 1856, later, in 1866, he fought against the Prussians. R' Matis Terchner used to tell that during the war years the Jewish children of Gorlice unraveled wool fabrics and bandages were made from the threads for the fighting army.
We also have a booklet - a speech of teacher for Jewish religion in the Polish government school which was given in the synagogue in 1891. The teacher's name is Yakaw.
The economic life in the city
The Jews, who lived in the city when it was founded, made their living from the cattle business, irrigation, wheat, wine, textiles and especially - from the oil business which was found in abundance in the city and around it. The oil also was even felt in the city's atmosphere. Indeed, the residents of the city, big and small, didnít feel it but foreigners, who came to the city, couldnít drink from its wells and eat the fish from the river because of the oil smell that wafted from them. The water was really tasty and the fish were plentiful.
Gorlice's name in the oil world
We count approximately one hundred years of oil exploitation for modern use because at the beginning it was only used for lighting. There is already a disagreement in the world - which nation was the first to use it properly. The Americans say that they started to use it in 1859. The Germans boast that they used it in 1670. The Czechs say that in 1836 they illuminated their streets with oil lamps even though they didnít have their own oil. The Poles are proud to say that they were the first to distill oil and they also invented the lamp to use it.
According to their chronicles the inventor was Ignaz Luschwitz a native of Gorlice, and indeed, a street was named after him in the city.
This Luschwitz worked very hard until he managed to distill oil. Together with the distillation he made many attempts to invent a lamp that could serve as a container for burning oil. According to Polish stories, he was assisted by a Jewish tinsmith who ruined many sheets of tin until he was able to produce the desirable item. Who was this tinsmith - the Poles donít tell, but we know that in those days the only tinsmith in town was R' Shlomo Blech, grandfather of our respected townsman Dr. Blech.
Mrs. Luba Biran, a native of our city, tells again:
Her grandfather's father, R' Leibish Baruch Langazam, traveled for his business in a horse-drawn wagon to fairs as far as Iasi Romania. It was told in their home that he was the one who brought the first oil lamp to Gorlice, and it served as a sample for the production of identical lamps in Gorlice. This R' Leibish Baruch brought another innovation to the city - shoes with wooden nails and not of iron.
The Jews of Boryslaw in Eastern Galicia disagreed with the story that Luschwitz discovered the distillation of oil and was the first in this profession. They attributed it to native of their city and a member of their community - Avraham Schreiner, and it's interesting that the stories are almost identical. Now, go and judge - which one was the first!
Days of trouble and adversity
The Poles continued to bother their Jewish neighbors even after the discovery of oil resources that brought prosperity and wealth to all the residents of the surrounding area. As in all the periods of Jewish history, there were also attacks against the Jews during the economic prosperity in Gorlice - and there was never a lack of excuses to attack the Jews. We have clear information on the attack against the Jews of Gorlice that occurred in 5631 (1870), three years before the fire.
This report was published in HaMagid on Rosh Chodesh Heshvan 5631:
This is how Y. Wissman, a resident of Lancut and a native of Gorlice, describes it in this newspaper: The city's Christian residents attacked the local Jews on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. These were real riots and there were casualties and great damage to property. The district governor, to which the Jews turned with a plea for help, advised them to defend themselves because he didnít have a military force. The Jews listened to his intelligent advice, and with the help of the gendarmerie (the author calls them the guardians of the walls) overcame the Christians and put many of them in prison. The author doesnít mention the reason for these riots but says that he held in his hands a telegram that was sent to the leader of Adat Yeshurun in Tarnów and its content was: We defended ourselves heroically.
A second case of attack and riots was repeated about twenty five years later. Mrs. Luba Biran tells: in 1896 the farmers, who lived in the villages, attacked the Jews who leased the taverns. The greatest of these lessees was Malka Landau who was called by the name Tirkishe Malka because she was a partner in a company called Tirk. Young Yeshiva students - Leibish Degen, Berel Neustatel and others - left in the middle of the night to the villages and brought the Jews to the city.
They delivered Stewialkowski, the instigator of these riots, to the court later.
Over the years this incitement led to the establishment of Kolka rolnicza stores, sort of supermarkets for the Christian farmers so they wouldn't need the Jews for their buying and selling.
Member of the city council before the First World War
The great fire
The city of Gorlice suffered three fires in its history. We we'll tell about the first fire in these pages because it was the most important event in those days..
Well, the great fire broke out on a clear day, at one in the afternoon, on Saturday Simchat Torah 5634 (3 September 1874).
The great fire spread from there to all parts of the city
The house marked with an arrow was bombed in the First World War
The fire started in Bedel Gesel, skipped to Garbarinya, jumped and zigzagged to Pudkoscielna Street, moved to the Christian Church and spread to all areas of the city.
For two hours it consumed 437 houses, most of which were made of wood, among them were also synagogues and Batei Midrash.
All the city's institutions went up in flames - Jewish and non-Jewish, city and state authorities alike. All of the ancient documents of the courthouse, district government and the city council were burnt. Only the Tax Ministry documents werenít burnt. Nine people died in the flames including a Jewish woman - Leibush Roth's mother-in-law.
When the news of the fire became known the neighboring communities sent help and aid. The community of Zamigrod sent carts with bread while the community of Sanz sent Knifiklich (folded pocket knives).
From this fire the western side of Dworziska remained intact until before the First World War and also the buildings of Bozis in Zawada.
Immediately after the fire they started to rebuild the city. The Jews were assisted by contributions from Jews from all the cities in Galicia and the Austrian government also helped a lot.
The brick industry and factories for various building supplies, which were mostly in the hands of the Jews, were established in the city thanks to this construction. The construction itself created a special status of Jewish builders like R' Mendel Marer and his son R' Yatshe Kapner. From among the Gentiles excelled the builder Frank Pietzuch, who urged the workers to work faster so that the city's residents wouldnít remain homeless in the cold and in the snow.
Jews in the district of Gorlice
Overall in Galicia
Gorlice's territory - 6665 square meter
According to the testimony of Dr. Blech, in 1939, before the destruction, there were about 9000 residents in the city and more than half of them were Jews.
Before the First World War, Gorlice was among the small communities in Galicia - Jaslo, Bochnia, Krosna and Wadowice. Gorlice and Bochnia were the two communities that their number increased later.
Before the First World War Gorlice was among the seven districts in Galicia in which the number of Jews increased. Jews didnít emigrate from these places, on the contrary - they came from the outside. However, during the First World War many Jews fled from our city to all corners of the Austrian kingdom and many of them never returned to Gorlice.
Jews in the city council
Jews always sat in the city council according to the ranks - I, II, III. In rank I were - R' Aron Sobel and R' Gershon Weiss. Before the First World War the members of the council were: R' Yosef Einhorn, R' Yehezkel Leichtenberg, R' Leibish Dagan, R' Shmuel Hochberger, Berl Neeshtatel and Berl Weinberger.
Once, after Poland gained its independence, we, a group of young men who were members of Poalei Zion, walked in the street. The group included - Meir Budner, Yehazkel Gebel and the writer of these lines. Tadeusz Tokarski, who was a Polish socialist activist in the city, approached us and said that according to the new law the workers have the right, as a fourth rank, to send a Jewish member to the city council. Since the members of Poalei Zion represented the Jewish working class, we recommended Shmerel Zilber, a metal worker who worked for Yosel Einhorn the chairman of the craftsmen association Poalei Yisrael, for this honorary position. Of course, the citizens and the Zionist circles opposed this nomination. I donít know what happened at the end because I left Poland. I only remember that when I came to Gorlice many years later, my brother Moshe mocked me and said: you're the one who turned Shmerel Zilber into a community leader!…
Before the destruction 24 Jews, out of 48 members, sat in the city council after a mutual agreement. Therefore, it can be assumed that if the Poles agreed to such an arrangement they must have known that the Jews had a large majority against them.
The deprivation of the Jews in the city's civil service
In this city, that more than half of its inhabitants were Jews, there were almost no Jewish officials. Not in the city council and not among the government officials. Before the first war the two brothers, Moshe and Chaim Ruben, worked in the county government. The first was a registrar of births and marriages and the second a clerk in the office. The officer Binder was in charge of army affairs; Weisberger - a tax officer; Dr. Yehudah Zumer - the veterinarian; Dr. Friedman - the district's physician; Dr. Frieling - the city's physician; the mayor's secretary- Haim Ruben. For a short period also the manager of the train station was a Jew named Redlich.
During the days of independent Poland there was almost no change in this attitude. The city's physician was Dr. Hollander and Dr. Zumar was the veterinarian.
The Jewish community didnít receive any support from the authorities, not from the municipality and not from the government. It was an ancient Austrian tradition not to support the Jewish community.
The community's income came from: the meat tax which doubled the price of meat (a special tax that was installed in 1785-89 by the order of tolerance of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II), Zimpel (community tax), and other small sources of incomes.
The character of Jewish Gorlice
As stated, the decisive majority of the city's residents were Jews - active traders with initiative and imagination, successful artisans and energetic factory owners who saw a blessing in their work. Practically all of them were observant and religious. The majority were Torah scholars who were heedful of a light precept as of a weighty one, Hassidim and men of action even though they didnít flock to their rabbis in masses. They werenít men of vision and mystery. They were wise and practical homeowners who were involved in the Jewish culture and its values, the spirit of the Talmud, Shulchan Aruch and the sages of the generations. Therefore, they were dedicated Zionists who had deep feelings to all Jewish matters.
This town has excelled in its vibrant public life more than its neighboring cities: Losie, Olpiny, Rzepiennik, Zagórów, Bobowa and its nearest neighbor Biecz who is mentioned in Pinkas Hakehillot of Va'ad Arba' Aratzot [The Council of Four Lands].
Our endowment to foreigners
Nothing remained of a history of nearly one hundred and fifty years of Jewish life in Gorlice. Buildings and factories were confiscated from their Jewish owners. All that was owned by Jews was confiscated by strangers. Synagogues and Beti Midrash, which werenít destroyed or burnt - became warehouses and office buildings. Tombstones were uprooted from the Jewish cemetery and used to pave the city's streets. The survivors, who returned to the city after the Holocaust to visit the graves of their ancestors, asked the city authorities to return the desecrated tombstones to the cemetery but no one responded to their request. They rejected the unfortunates' request with a cynical answer: if we pull out the paving there would be mud in the streets.
This was the always the attitude of our neighbors towards us. They treated us in this manner not only after the destruction of our days, but also during the blossoming period of the city. When city was rebuilt after the great fire of 1847 it was called Maly Gdansk because its trade reached enormous proportions thanks to its Jewish residents. Even then the authorities ignored the city's Jewish residents and treated them as if they never existed. Also the Polish authors, who in 1881 wrote about Gorlice in Słownik Geograficzny, didnít have the courage to mention the great wealth that the Jewish residents brought to the city.
For these my soul is weeping
Most of the Jews, who escaped at the beginning of the Second World War, didnít survive. Masses, perished during the escape - in Nazi and Russian Poland, in the plains of Siberia and the far north, in concentration and labor camps from shortage, hunger and hellish torture. Out of those who managed to survive only a few returned to Gorlice. They only returned for one right - to visit the graves of their ancestors and escape. How was it possible to walk on the graves of parents, brothers, wives, husbands and children! It was especially difficult to endure the sting of the Gentiles' satanic sneer: You're still alive? Why didn't they also destroy you? It was nice on the part of those who stayed here, who didnít flee and were murdered before our eyes, to our pleasure and comfort - so we can inherit the wealth that they've built here…
Only a few of Gorlice's natives escaped and scattered around the world. Many of them reached a state of rest and security in Israel.
The treasures of the spirit
One thing remains from Jewish Gorlice - its exalted spirit which is expressed in sacred and secular books, by all methods and ideas: in the responsa of Rabbi Shmuel Engel, the responsa of R' Yosef Getnzon, in Divrei Chaim, and Ohr LeParo the book of laws and interpretations by my teacher and rabbi, R' Refoel Tzimetbaum who was a native of Gorlice. Also in that small book about the Jewish adventurer, Ashe HaLevi, we can find from the spirit of Gorlice and learn a little about Jewish Gorlice, or the booklet that was written in Gorlice by the teacher of religion - On the hundredth anniversary of the Polish Constitution of 3 May 1791.
The contents of the book: a very concise review about the history of the Jews from the day they became a nation until the destruction; the nation's wanderings to the countries of its exile and the favor that Hakodesh Baruch Hu has done to the Jews when he brought them to the land of Poland; the generosity of the Polish people toward the Jews; and the greatest act of grace that the Polish people have done to the Jews in their last enlightened constitution, in the constitution of 3 May, 1791.
Indeed, when the historian Dubnow talks about the constitution of 3 May 1791 in his book about the life of the Jews in Poland, he concludes that it didnít give anything to the Jews. They were only mere empty words toward the Jews. Even during the days of the Principality of Warsaw, after the constitution, the situation of the Jews hasnít improved. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of this important event in the life Poland, delegates of the state and the municipal authorities, representatives of the Jewish communities and important figures gathered at the Great Synagogue in Gorlice and the aforementioned teacher read from his book in fluent Hebrew before the audience. We donít know the reaction of the public and we never heard about it in our hometown. Only by chance, when I searched for sources to the history of Jewish Gorlice, I found this small book at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Indeed, it's puzzling that for seventy years we didnít know about the existence of the book that was written by a native of Gorlice. After all, at the same time that it was read in the synagogue the city's rabbi was R' Baruch, but we donít have any information if he agreed or disagreed to the statements made in book. Even the poetic language of the book and the Gentile printer, who printed it in Gorlice, say - interpret me.
Well, only these memory scrolls were left and will remain forever.
May the soul and spirit of Jewish Gorlice be bound in the bond of the eternal life of the Jewish nation in its country!
|The cover page of the Hebrew booklet for the centennial celebration of the Polish Constitution|
Translated by Sara Mages
A. A case in the city's rabbinate in the responsa Shoel u-meshiv (volume 2 sign 19) by R' Yosef Shaul Nathansohn. We found it necessary to bring it here because it concernes the rabbi of Gorlice [Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum], the author of Yetev Lev, even though the conflict that the author of Shoel u-meshiv discusses in his responsa came from the community of Drohobitch.
… and here, a letter came to me in the year 5615 (1856) from the community of Drohobitch. And the story was as follows. There was another ABD [chief of the court] in Gorlice before the late rabbi, our teacher and rabbi R' Avraham Yitzchak, who was previously ABD of the community of Ivanovo. The townspeople wanted to accept his genius son, our teacher and rabbi Eliyahu may his light shine, who is ABD of the community of Ivanovo in place of his father. At first, they appointed the late rabbi, our teacher and rabbi R' Eliezer Nisan zl, son of the genius rabbi R' M. Teitelbaum, ABD of the community of Uihei. After the death of the rabbi, our teacher and rabbi R' Nisan zl, they wanted to take the rabbi, our teacher and rabbi Eliyahu may his light shine, ABD of the community of Ivanovo. Indeed, the aforementioned Rabbi A. replied that he's a peaceful man and he doesn't want to start a dispute. After the death of his father he was forced to return to his home, but he wasn't awarded to sit on his chair because they were tempted to receive the rabbi, our teacher and rabbi R' A. Nisan zl. For that reason he doesn't want to stir up a dispute at the moment. They consulted together to accept the rabbi of Gorlice, the son of our teacher and rabbi R' A. Nisan zl, as ABD. They sent him a letter that they wrote a contract in which the name of the rabbi and his salary were written, and that they deposited it in the hands of the master, our teacher and rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Wissman. It was clearly stipulated that the contract will be canceled if he doesn't come by Passover of 5615 (1855). And here, time has passed, and they wrote him several letters that increased the time of his arrival to Drohobitch, and also informed him that they received a certificate for him and for his entire family from the district office, but he said nothing.
After a long time he wrote them to come and retrieve him according to the law, and so they did, they sent three carriages, which were harnessed to excellent horses, and two educated men. When they got there, he gathered the people of his city and told them about his desire to travel to Drohobitch because his livelihood was small in Gorlice. And the city Gorlice envied Drohobitch and added to his salary. The people with the carriages returned empty handed with most of the expenses. The people of Drohobitch came to R' Tzvi Hirsh Wissman may his light shine, to ask him to return the deposited contract, and he said that he wouldn't return it until he'll write a letter to the rabbi of Gorlice in the name of Heavens and people. And he wrote him a letter that if he wants to accept the rabbinate in Drohobitch the idle words in his letters are not enough and he should send his books as a guarantee, and if not, he should return the contract. The rabbi of Gorlice wrote back and asked them to wait until after the holiday of Sukkot because the people of his town gave him refuge in times of trouble, and if the people of Drohobitch don't want to wait, than, he will return the contract. And here, in the meantime, it became known that he really doesn't want to come to Drohobitch. His mother wanted that her young son, our teacher and rabbi Shmuel may his light shine, will receive the rabbinate and enticed the city's poor when she said that it was the wish of her late husband. When the matter became known to them they tore the contract, which was deposited in the hands of the aforementioned, and asked the rabbi of the community of Ivanovo to be their rabbi. About three hundred respected men and leaders signed the contract. For the second time side B sent two carriages to Gorlice to tempt the rabbi to come, and also this time they returned empty handed. Therefore, they reached out for the rabbi in Ivanovo and he came to them before the High Holidays. He was received with great honor and delivered a sermon on the Sabbath and also on Shabbat Shuvah.
And here, the wife of the rabbi, our teacher and rabbi R' A. Nisan zl, had died during Aseret Yemei Teshuva. The rabbi of the community of Gorlice came on the eve of Sukkot to receive the inheritance and many poor people, who pay the wages from which the rabbi supports himself, gathered around him.
I've been asked by many people from there about the judgment, and I didn't know. What kind of a question is that? Because the the rabbi of Gorlice didn't come at the time allotted there was nothing between them, and the RAMBAM wrote about that: only if son wants to came and take his place, but if he doesn't want to come, it's none of their business.
In the year 5615 they reached a compromise in this matter.
B. Segments from a booklet that was written by a native of Gorlice in honor of the constitution of 1791 and printed in Gorlice in 1891.
Our Jewish brothers
The maker of all and the creator of the world gave us his Holy Torah. He showed it to us in the mountain through Moshe Rabbeinu, his loyal servant, and the Holy Prophets taught us the history of the Jewish nation since ancient times. He commands us through Yirmiyahu HaNavi (29:7) And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto God for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. Therefore, we should at least know the basic history of our nation, and send our regards to our Polish brothers who liberated us from imprisonment at the time when all the nations pushed us to the ends of the earth and suppressed our lives to dust. In my words I will mention the ancient history of the Jewish nation so that every Jews will know that we aren't inferior from all the nations on earth because God gave us the best land of the world, the land of our ancestors, and it is Eretz Yisrael where we lived for more than one thousand and four hundred years. We also had good times when roses bloomed in their finest glory, when heroes ruled and God's emissaries, David and Shlomo, were our kings and we came together as one to obey them and carry all their needs with love on our shoulders. These blooming days came to an end and passed like a wind because after the death of King Shlomo the bonds of love and friendship between people were severed. They threw over their necks the chains of love to the house of David because they didn't want carry the heavy burden of taxes that were imposed on them by the kingdom. As a result, the House of Yakov was split into two kingdoms and the troubles of the Jewish nation lasted for many days. The Jews' haters rejoiced and threw an ember of hatred on the fire of controversy. When the flame of war between these brothers flared up and reached the heavens, the House of Yakov was scorned and plundered and the people of Israel scattered from their land and went to live in exile among all the nations on earth. That's why we lived a life of wandering satiated with scorn and shame for eighteen hundred years.
However, for nearly three hundred years God, in all his mercy, illuminated the sun from the east and showed us a place where we can rest from the great troubles that we've suffered for many days. He sat us in the Land of Poland whose inhabitants are known for their hospitality and love for foreigners. They received us with open arms, the way God receives an old passenger who bears his sufferings on his neck. They showed us signs of love under the regime of their good kings, from the day we arrived to their land to this day. And they gave us various nómoi of freedom (nomos - constitution - in Greek) to protect us from our enemies. In the year 5004 to the creation of the world, 1264 by their number, at the time of Władysław the righteous, the noble Kalisz and the elderly father of Kazimierz the Great, Poland gave the Jews laws of freedom in thirty-six sections, which promised them liberty and status in the country. Kazimierz the Great (1333 by their number) took all the Jews under his wing, and fulfilled all the laws of freedom owed to every citizen in the country. He gave them the right to build synagogues wherever they want, and opened before them all the gates to government intuitions.
After the legislated constitution was burnt in the distress of times, the leaders of the Diaspora offered Kazimierz Jagiellończyk (1744 by their number) a copy of the aforementioned laws. He believed them, and complied with all the laws of the constitution that was before him.
This renewed constitution removed all the evil decrees that were imposed on the Jews by King Jagiello (1386), and allowed them to judge in monetary laws between Yehudah and Yehudah (Jew to Jew) in a Jewish court.
King Alexander Jagiellon (1501 by their number) ordered to write the new freedom laws, which were written by Secretary Laski, in the country's legislation books. King Sigismund Augustus also showed his kindness to the Jews because he fulfilled the old freedom laws in the first meeting. He stood before the king of Russia to ask his permission to allow the Jews of Lita to send merchandise to Russia and trade with his country.
In the year 1580, King Stephen Báthory gave the citizens of his country a letter known by the name Uniperzal. In it he justified the Jews against their haters who informed on them about Christian blood for Passover.
The period, in which a quarrel erupted between the ministers and the nobles, was also a period of trouble for the Jews who lived a bitter life in the Land of Poland. However, after the death of King August Sasin in the year 1733 by their number, the sun started to shine again and the Jews knew better times.
King Stanisław Poniatowski, the last king of the people of Poland, reigned from 1764 to 1791 by their number. He spoke well about the Jews to minister Butramowitsch during the meeting of the council of ministers, and offered before them good and honest rules for Bnai Yeshurun. These laws will give the Jews the right of equality that is granted to all the citizens of the country, and wipe up the decrees and law that divided the Jews from all the citizens of the country.
The spirit of freedom for the Jews came to the thoughts of the kings and nobles of Poland many years before the kingdoms of Europe liberated the Jews. The matter was sealed in the meeting that is known by the name The big committee of four years. There, the nobles, ministers and priests received the proposed laws for the Jews and in this manner the law was established for the Jews. This law was also written in the constitution of 3 May which was enacted by the famous defenders of Poland.
The proposed law of minister Butramowitsch is written in this language:
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