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[Pages 270 - 292]

Parties, Organizations, Societies

by Chaim Yisroel Weissbrodt, Kfar Saba

Translated by Morton Lang

Chorostkow – a typical shtetl, like many such in Eastern Galicia, surrounded by a village by the same name, the Christian population of which was five times larger than the number of Jews in the shtetl itself.

The town was spread over several streets. It began at the end of Mill Street, where on the riverbank stood the mill which separated the town from the village. The end of town was the Red Bridge. From the West stretched a long street, the Tzirilifke. Parallel to it was the highway under the bridge up to the demarcation line between the two neighbourhoods – the town and the village. From the East a second long street eith its most important central points in the life of the town:

  1. The market square with its stores, the Groisse Shul (The Large Synagogue) and the Rathaus, the towers of which resembled a castle.
  2. The Torowice, where every Monday the Yarid (market day) took place, from which Jews stretched a livelihood for the whole week.
The town's population of about 2000 souls carried on its confined and separate life, exactly as if the Jews willingly created a ghetto-like existence in their location. Except for a few Christian families (a wood chopper, water carrier, Shabos Goy [one permitted to do tasks forbidden to Jews on Sabbath], bath heater and guardian of the cemetery who also took care of the burning candles in the synagogue on Shabbat, festivals and especially on Yom Kippur) only Jews lived in town. The peasants from the surrounding countryside came to Chorostkow on the market days and sometimes mid week to buy or sell.

Until the First World War, Jewish Chorostkow lived according to the traditions and customs of their fathers and forefathers.

The Community, National Councils, Town Councils

The actual Jewish organizational life, as distinct from the religious stream, concentrated itself with the community: the need for a rabbi, shochtim (ritual slaughterers), mashgichim (kashrut supervisors), parnassim (synagogue functionaries), cantors, chevra kadisha (burial societies), mikvot (ritual bath houses) cemetery and all those matters concerning Jewish needs that involve the community. According to law, the community administration was elected every four years. Voting age was from 24 years and up, for men only. Until WW1, the community government was in the hands of “acceptable Jews” – and later on rabbi's lackeys, shtadlanim (community spokesmen), and the rich.

The community budget was limited because it was derived only from taxation of local Jews. In order to assure a maximal collection of these taxes, the community carried out an annual open tax sale, the right to take over and lease the collection of these taxes. This process took place in the Big Beit Hamidrash (synagogue), with only those people really interested involved. The Town Crier called out last year's price and whoever bid a higher sum, which no one else wanted to top, was elected the community tax collector for the following year.

The actual sources of this tax were the payments for the slaughter of cattle and chickens. It was told said that many years ago Jews paid a “Candle Tax” which was known as a “candle lease”. The tax collector, in order to determine the community rate, would go from house to house and establish the number of candles that were lit for Shabbat and thereby establish the amount of tax. In Chorostkow this tax did not last long.

The cemetery also provided funds to the town treasury to some extent, but only in the case of death of a very rich and wealthy Jew. The bath house was assigned to a Jew who paid the community rental. However, the frequent repairs to the bath house resulted in continuous deficits from that source. The bath house was open every Friday and the day before holidays for men as well as women. For women additional weekdays were assigned.

Community expenditures were strictly supervised: held for the Rabbi, ritual slaughterers, mashgichim, writers of sacred Hebrew texts and the community secretary. Contracts between the Jewish community and its functionaries were quite informal, except in case of a wedding, a Brit and occasional events, when it became necessary for the community administration to become involved. The community did not even have a permanent address. The administrative meetings were held in the home of the chairman or secretary. This lasted until 1914.

World War One, the revolution and other events led to radical changes in the structure of Jewish organizational life. After the break up of the Austria- Hungarian Empire and the occasional Ukrainian governments, elected national councils, chosen by the Jewish population eligible to vote from age 21, were founded in our areas in 1918, replacing the former community structure. The first national council formed in Chorostkow was Zionist in its make up. Instead of nominated representatives, new, young people appeared with much good will, and deeper understanding of the new era and its demands. They formed Jewish schools and also a Hebrew school community supported; also established were subventions for philanthropic institutions, free loan societies and women's organizations. Community service was organized on a different basis. In the bath house everyone was given a piece of soap, in addition to free admission and no charges, three times a week. A special committee concerned itself with the necessities of life for the Jewish population that suffered during the war. A selfdefense had to guard Jewish life and property. The young people took an active part ill these events. In town were set up trades courses, evening courses, drama groups and cultural societies. And above all this dominated the Balfour Declaration. From the larger cities came speakers, declarations, learned men and a variety of projects which enlivened and nourished Jewish social life.

Chorostkow did not experience pogroms or antisemitic manifestations during that period. But that did not last long. Petlura bands, different Ukrainian groups and later, the Poles reminded us of other miserable times and did not allow us to go forward to our broadly promised freedom of activity.

The change from Ukrainian rule* to new Polish government put an end to the National Council in our town and we returned to the old system of community governance, although under new conditions in a new era. During the first election, a community leadership of nationalistically oriented Jews was chosen, but the individual representatives were loyal to rebbes, various synagogues and shtibalach (small religious groupings). Even the partly and their parties and organizations, such as General Zionists, Poale Zion, followers of their completely assimilated decorated themselves in nationalistic colours so that they would be acceptable to the Jewish population.

During the early years of Polish sovereignty, the town leaders voted an annual subvention for a Hebrew school and in a disguised manner also for Keren Haysod and Keren Kayemet. Social support took on a more formal organized structure. Meetings of the administration were held on a regular basis, once a week, with a prepared agenda. The community leaders, as representatives of the Jewish population, behaved with respect to the Polish authorities and knew what and how to make requests for their needs. However, from the “high windows” (the power elite) of the Polish government angry winds started to blow towards Jews. Antisemitism became official policy from the central and local power structures, which stimulated and helped set up the various official policies in order to undermine the already weak economic situation of the Jews. Whenever a Polish Cooperative was formed, the Ukrainians in Chorostkow copied the example. Thus there developed great competition between Jews themselves.

In a shtetl like Chorostkow the entire Jewish life orbited around and within the community: religious gatherings, education, schools, business,taxes. However anti-Semitic incidents in Poland began to also penetrate Chorostkow. Life became more difficult and less stable. Even the minutes of meetings of the town administration were demanded to be in Polish. Mayor's representatives mixed into the internal concerns and the budget had to be approved by the provincial authorities As a result, several activities, other than on the national agenda, had to be carried out by subterfuge. The needs, in the meantime continued to grow, but funds kept diminishing.

The poverty of the Jewish population continued to increase. Commerce in wheat, with which many Jews occupied themselves, was now taken over by Christian Co-operatives. The salt monopoly, which at one time was in Jewish hands, was also taken over by the Poles.

* In the West it is accepted that WW1 ended November,1918. In Eastern Europe fighting continued until 1920 between the Ukrainians, fighting for independence from the Russian Bolsheviks, the newly independent Polish armed forces seeking to expel both Ukrainians and Bolsheviks from what was Eastern Galicia. This resulted in much instability, changes of governments and pogroms under the Ukrainian anti-Semitic regime under Petlura for a short period of time in 1918-1919.

While the abbatoir for cattle belonged to the town, killing of chickens was under the supervision of the Jewish community. A long wooden barrack like building was divided into two sections for killing and plucking of feathers, which were sold to the merchants for cushions, bed covers and quilts. The slaughterers(shochtim), more than once, would pluck the best dawn feathers from under the wings, particularly when children brought the chickens for slaughter. Such youngsters would get a few slaps from their mothers, who would not be too lazy to go to the shochet and give him an argument.

Toward the end of the 1920's, the community bought 20 acres of land for a new cemetery. This was not easily accomplished, because there were many regulations, imposed by the Polish government, that had to be satisfied. To sanctify the cemetery, the Rav Hagaon Mesholem Rat from Bukovina, was invited and he remained as Rav in our town for 30 years. The entire Jewish population of the town participated in the ceremony and taxed itself to build a fence around the cemetery.

Chorostkow had 9000 residents, 1/3 Jews. Accordingly the municipal government was constituted of 36 councilors, with 12 representatives each: Ukrainian, Polish and Jews, in spite of the fact that the Ukrainians were in the majority. This existed until the end of WW1. The Chairman was always one of the local Polish aristocracy (in our case the local count) who spent much time in Vienna as overseer of the Equestrian Academy in Emperor Franz Josef's palace. He was a liberal individual, behaving in a paternal manner toward the town residents and their concerns and in the final analysis, covered the town's monetary deficits from his own pocket. In the town government during that time, the spirit of togetherness and harmony was the rule. Also the most important offices were divided proportionately according to the national origins. Funding came from various taxes as well as from the slaughter of pigs and cattle.

Our community leaders

The more prominent Jewish public achievers and magistrates as well as community leaders deserve to be singled out for mention in this book:

After the war, there were four Jewish doctors in Chorostkow, one pharmacist and one Jewish government veterinary.

The head of the first elected community council was Moshe Weiselberg. He was a rich man, but poor in knowledge and education. He did everything himself, without asking anyone. In town he was known as “Moshe the Red”. Thanks to the political power and pressure of his friends, it became possible foe such a Jew to head an elected town administration

He was succeeded as head of the community council by Arie Bornshtein, a wealthy Jew (Arie Bertchin), an enlightened, God fearing Jew and dedicated Chortkower chasid, but too weak to hold such an important position. He was community chairman for only one term.

The third chairman was Shmuel Hersh Fogel, a blacksmith and lessee by occupation. He in fact accomplished more than his predecessors. A friend of the Rabbi, he repaired the Synagogue, but as leader he also served only one term. His successor Chaim Shimon Milrad, a rich merchant but poor in Judaism, was weak in community affairs. Because of the outbreak of war in 1914, he did not even complete one term in office. After the Russians occupied the town, they named overseers over the community. When the revolution took place, the Ukrainians took power in town and for the first time the administration was elected in a democratic manner, the head of which was Yaacov Moshe Frish, a stubborn Jew who blundered from one extreme position to another, but among the earliest Zionists in town, dating back to 1900-1914. Thanks to him, Chorostkow boasted a bank and a library. However in the National Assembly, he behaved like a dictator. It was only in 1921 that it was possible to remove from him the Town Seal, with government help. The community situation was very bad and it was necessary to start all over again.

After Frish, Pinchas Hoffman was chosen as chairman. A well to do Jew, who rented the mill, was of weak character and held half-baked modern ideas. He was influenced by his co-workers, except for the teacher Menashe Felner, who wanted a continuation of normal community affairs under the leadership of the local Zionist organizations. He wanted cordial co-existence with all but did not last more than one year. He was followed by a wealthy Jew, a lessee of land in co-operation with the local bank. He was a kindhearted person, a philanthropist and liberal individual. He dreamed of Zion. Part of the Rathaus was purchased during his regime and the land of the new cemetery put to use. Because of minor conflicts and intrigues, he did not want to place his candidacy as chairman for a second term.

The last community chairman was Meyer Gelman who could not complete his term of office because of the start of WW2.

“Power Brokers”, Synagogues and Houses of Religious Study

We return to an earlier era when Jews in Chorostkow had liquor monopolies which provided the community with significant income. Only a few influential individuals in town dealt with the local Count Lewizki to obtain the concessions to sell liquor and for the moneys earned built a beautiful new Synagogue – but not forgetting to keep for themselves substantial “commission, with which they built for themselves 3 two story houses, the only ones in town. Count Lewizky made certain that his name and rank were inscribed on the entrance gate of the Groisse Shul (the Great Synagogue). As regards the houses of the power brokers, thy always remained unoccupied and the town told secrets of the happenings that occurred during the night. It was looked upon as a penalty for the black market dealings that went on between several “nice Jews” and a Christian Gentry.

The Synagogue building was very beautiful – on the balcony was the women's section – the Ezrat Nashim. Below to the right, the large sanctuary, where the prominent citizen's of the town and the Rabbi prayed. There they held open meetings. To the left was the tailors sanctuary, where arguments to get an Aliyah to the Torah occurred often. There the laborers and the poor prayed.

In addition Chorostcow had the Large Sanctuary, a long building, divided in two by a thick wall which separated the women's section. Here the merchants and storeowners prayed and served to hold large meetings to hear speeches by visiting speakers. During WW1, the Czar's army turned this building into a military hospital. During 1915 – 1916, the structure was destroyed and later rebuilt with more space and served as a meeting hall where practically all large Zionist meetings were held.

In the small synagogue prayed the manual workers and unemployed. There several young men studied Torah zealously. I remember a few of them: Josef Gross, Shlomo Schneider, Moshe-Leib Krenkel and others.

Chorostkow also had prayer shtibalach for the Husiatiner as well as the Chortkower Chasidim. Of course, all of the houses of worship belonged to the community, but the responsibility of supporting them was that of the different worshippers.

Jewish Education

There were two government schools: one for boys and one for girls, the latter being taught by nuns from a monastery. There were no Jewish teachers other than the teacher of religion for boys. Later under the Austrians, there were 3 Jews among 12 teachers. When the Poles took over the government in 1920, their first act was to get rid of the Jewish teachers, other than the teacher of religion, because to teach religion was obligatory. During WW1, the only Hebrew school that existed since 1912 was closed until 1920. In our town there were such exemplary teachers that they later gained fame outside the boundaries of Chorostkow: Saul Sharfstein, Sapirshtein and Zvi Ungar.

Thanks to the united strength of the community and volunteers from the Zionist youth organizations, the Hebrew school was reestablished and every year new classes were added.

In 1907 or possibly in 1908, the Rabbi founded a Talmud Torah where Jewish children, aged 5 to 15, learned in separate classes from aleph beit to Chumash, Tosefot, Rashi and Gemorrah, but included arithmetic, Jewish history and other subjects. However, this experiment did not succeed and there was a return to the primitive system of a cheder. Here teaching was done under very crowded conditions, with 20 to 30 children in a room for 10 to 12 hours a day. A child who did not yet know the aleph beit properlt was forced to learn Chumash, the decision being made primarily by the parent of the child. The “taking” of the child to cheder at 5 years of age was accompanied by a celebration by the family, friends and students.

In the cheder where Chumash was taught, conditions were somewhat better than in the lower classes. Richer Jews chose better Hebrew teachers and more compatible “schools”. However, not all students knew the Parsha (Portion) of the week by Thursday, when examined, and made only lesser progress in their studies. Higher Jewish education was with a rabbi for Gemorrah, Tesofot and Mishna. These children, more capable and who could afford it, who finished 6 or 7 years pf public school were accepted to “gymnasium”(high school) in the surrounding larger towns and there with effort became good students. Those youngsters in later life became dedicated, life and limb, to the Zionist ideals and with their knowledge and skills accomplished much for the town.

The Zionist Movements

Even before the First Zionist Congress in Basel and before the rise of the old world Zionist organizations at the end of the last century, there were already hot advocates of the Zionist ideals in Chorostkow. The brothers Yaacov Moshe, Chaim and Aaron Frish, the German anguage teacher for girls, Gelman, the learned Chaim isroel Harnish, Eliezer Pasternak, the teacher of religion in the public school, Jacob Berman, (before Menashe Felner and before him, the teacher Eliezer Schechter), and others. They founded the Zionist organization “Safah Brurah (?)” with a library and a public bank. Unlike in other towns, where such organizers had to tolerate interference from government, from fanatical parents, assimilated individuals and ordinary trouble makers, - the development in Chorostkow was peaceful and under favourable conditions. Widespread efforts were initiated; courses for workers, discussions took place to multiply and struggle for better standards for the community according the examples of the central body in Vienna. Side by side with the pushke (box) for alms appeared the blue and white box of the Keren Kayemet l'Yisroel (The Jewish National Fund) into which Jews willingly threw coins.

In assimilationist and deeply religious circles, the growing influence and activity of the Zionists were not much welcomed and they employed different measures to make life more difficult and bitter. This came to a head when Zionists dared in 1907 to put up their own individual candidate list for the Austrian Hungarian Parliament and start a campaign for their own national candidates. As a result Jewish voters, under the influence of and pressured by the various Rabbinic Dynasties and local assimilationists, voted for the Poles as their parliamentary representatives. In Chorostkow, as “punishment” for his Zionist involvement, the concession for repairing clocks in railway stations in the entire region, was taken away from Yaacov Moshe Frish. The Zionist activist, Kalman Selzer, a tailor by trade, was accused of unruly drunkenness (after a kiddush in his own house) and at the same time closed up the neighbourhood bakery which his wife ran illegally, in order to help her husband to earn a living. Government agencies did not hesitate from harassing businessmen, craftsmen and workers. But the people did not give in.

When the Zionist candidate camr to Chorostkow to address an election meeting, almost all the Jews of the town converged on the meeting hall. The candidate, Dr. Brown, started his address with these two words: “I am a Jew” and immediately captured everyone's attention – the vote was overwhelming. For the first time the Jews from Galicia and Bukovina sent 4 deputies to parliament representing Jewish nationalism The people saw therein the beginning of redemption.

In the club “Safa Brura(?)”, everyone could read Zionist newspapers like “The Daily”, the Polish “Chwila”(“The Moment”), which was published in Lemberg (Lwow). The organization also ran evening courses to learn Hebrew, founded a Loan Bank to extend credit on easy terms too small enterprises and craftsmen – the majority of Jewish residents in the shtetl.

The Drama Circle that carried out its rehearsals in the home of Israel Hersh (Zvi) Lang (my grandfather and the house I was born in and lived until my departure to Canada and which technically I own having been inherited by my late mother z.l. as indicated in a legal handwritten writ in Yiddish and still in my possession – except for the fact that the house no longer exists) and his kind hearted clever wife Chaye Sarah (my grandmother, who came to the USA in1924 and visited with us in Montreal for a period of time after we arrived in 1936 and died several year's later in New York), staged several well received successful plays. These were the only theatre productions in shtetl, because even traveling troupes avoided Chorostkow. In spite of the fact that these plays were not considered fund raisers, they always made some monetary contributions wit which the Gemilat Chesed Kasse (The Hebrew Free Loan Bank) was strengthened. The youth, even from assimilated and so called “prominent” homes began to show an interest in Zionist Movements.

The first sports festival and the appearance of a scouting movement among the Zionist youth in shtetl were highly acclaimed. This took place in 1910 on the lawn in front of the station building. Old and young alike took part in the celebration. Encouraged by this successful undertaking, which developed such acceptance, the initiators the brothers Frish, Gelman and Menashe Felner decided to organize a similar festival two years later in 1912. This time the celebrations took place in town with the play “Dvorale of Aristocratic Heritage”in the town hall, followed by an evening of dancing with an orchestra.

According to plans another festival was scheduled for 1914 but the outbreak of WW1 spoiled many such plans. Jewish refugees began to appear in town driven by war operations. The Zionist organizers now busied themselves with helping these unfortunates, welcoming them with a glass of tea, a hot soup, clothing and a pair of shoes. Those who decided to go on were given travel assistance.

When the Russians took the town, all social activity stopped, because the new rulers behaved in a different manner towards the Jewish population. The economic situation also worsened a great deal and food availability was bad.

During that period a women's committee did much to alleviate the needs of the suffering Jewish population. This committee was headed by Miriam Hirsch, (all her children are now in Israel and hold important posts.) The ladies committee assumed the responsibility of helping women whose husbands were mobilized into the army, as well as looking after those who were ill, with the mitzvah of caring for the sick and giving loans without interest to those women who assume the burden of earning a living. The committee received funds from membership dues and from well to do Jews as well as assistance from various projects and help from those young people who remained in town and not yet mobilized into the army. Among the projects was a series of liquor lotteries and buffets which brought in significant funds and the liquor prizes and food were freely donated.

After 4 years of war, wins, losses, suffering and pain, a new world was born with new regimes and a new political map of Europe. The Balfour Declaration and its implied hopes, hightened new expectations of idealism and activity for a Jewish National State, which was also felt in Chorostkow.

The Zionist organization in Chorostkow fragmented into various groups and parties of all colors. A group of right wing Poalei Zion was born. Histadrut and Mizrachi which absorbed almost all the religious nationalist Jews was headed by Rabbi Mesholem Rath, who was a member of the Central Committee in Lemberg (Lwow) and deputy of the United Zionist Block to the Polish Seim (Parliament) after the elections of 1922. He later resigned from that mandate in favour of the General Zionist from Lemberg, Dr. Inzler, but continued to be very active in the election campaign in cities and towns in Eastern Galicia.

Left wing Zionists and anti Zionists did not have any following in Chorostkow. After the close of the San Remo conference in 1922, women took off their wedding rings and other jewelry in order to donate them to Eretz Yisroel. The same thing occurred at the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. The exultation was tremendous.

For Parliamentary elections in 1922 and 1928 Zionists of all stripes in Chorostkow presented rheir prominent candidates and significant help. Antisemitic tendencies and anti Jewish manifestations, both from the government and the local power structures, already became evident. Even under such circumstances, Zionist work continued with much effort and zest practically everywhere, as a community and individually. The extent of the activity is attested to by the fact that the secretary's office in Lemberg – Palestine Branch co-opted one of our townsmen. The same thing happened in the general secretariat of Hitachdut in Lemberg and he later made aliyah to Israel as well as the secretariat of the Galician Deputies in the Seim (Parliament).

The Hitachdut came to the fore on other occasions. From their ranks many youngsters joined chalutz activity so that they could obtain certificates to make aliyah to Israel.

In Chorostkow existed a large Hitachdut organization, headed by Fishl Werber z.l., who later became secretary of the Land Movement in Lemberg. Pinchas Lavon* (then Lubianiker) was a frequent visitor to our town as a sheliach (messenger) from Central.

*(Later famous for the so called “Lavon Affair” which resulted in a major Israeli intelligence failure involving Egypt)

As regards youth organizations, one must mention Hnoar Azioni. Hersch Mendel Kleiner (now in he USA) and the author were at the head of Hitachdut for periods of time, which in the 30's was an exemplary organization in town. Regrettably, only a few of them could make aliyah, because aside from the difficulties involved, many were tied to their parents and their homes which they did not want to abandon.

Several years before the Holocaust a group of Betar was also founded. This organization, like the others in Chorostkow, did much to plant practically and idealistically a Zionist mentality in the hearts of Jewish youth.

I do not recall the exact period when Yad Harotzim was founded, but I am certain that this was one of the first such organization in Eastern Galicia. The goal of this organization was to make Zionist activists among the Jewish laborers and artisans in our town.

Jewish Enterprises

Foremost was the weekly yarid (market day) which attracted to Chorostkow hundreds of peasants, businessmen, retail merchants and craftsmen in order to sell, buy and carry out all sorts of transactions and actively involved almost all Jews of the town for whomthis opportunity presented itself to provide a means of livelihood for at least one week until the next yarid.

Our ironsmiths were famous in the entire region. This craft was handed down generally from generation to generation. This was a “golden craft” in a community where the only means of transportation was the horse and wagon. As already mentioned, one of these smiths reached high prominence and for a period of time served as chairman of the Community Council. Jewish carpenters were also a family enterprise and supplied furniture to some 20 villages in the neighbourhood. On market day, every Monday, they displayed their furniture along the length of the street parallel to the Red Bridge. Also famous were the “sleep sofas”(benches) and cots or bunks on which at night could sleep 2 adults or 3 children and in daytime served as benches to sit on. Various tables, chairs, bar stools and the famous trunks, deep 4 sided chests with4 broad legs which the Ukrainians called “skrinia”

The Jewish tin smiths had high season during the hot summer months when the peasant whose homes went op in smoke and fire decided that a tin roof was more secure against fire than a straw thatched roof.

Two kinds of tailors supplied clothing for the town and surrounding areas. Those who worked to order (custom) and those who mass produced for the yarid and market generally. Also the Jewish hat makers and furriers made a living from those occupations. Horse and buggies and their drivers brought passengers and their merchandise to the railroad station, about 2 kilometers from center of town and also to the surrounding neighbourhoods. There were also porters, bakers, shoemakers, water carriers- all of whom or the large majority of them belonged to the Yad Harotzim, the organization which volunteered for the mitzvah of visiting the sick and help the sick members and their families. On the day of Moshe Rabenu's Yahrtzeit, the 7th of Adar, they held an annual gathering and food function, when they elected the “first” and “second” gabais, a trustee and a mashgiach (Kashrut Supervisor). Each had his responsibility. The trustee was responsible for their finances and the mashgiach arranged for visiting and spending the night with the sick.

As indicated, the yarid was the foundation of business in town. Jews would get up in the morning that it should not rain or snow because when it did, many of the peasants hesitated to come to Chorostkow. One must not forget that in a town such as ours every second Jew was a merchant, a retailer or had some connection with a business of some kind. A Jew who obtaine a loan from the Free Loan Society or had something left over from his dowry, bought a scale, several weights, a few sacs and became a wheat merchant. On market day 50 or 60 wagons of wheat were brought to the big merchants and their granaries. They shipped the wheat to Lemberg or even exported to Germany. On the other hand the smaller merchants ran around the smaller villages with a sac on their back or traveled to nearby markets.

Wheat dealing was carried on in cash. On the other hand, the food stores, textiles, iron, building materials and others were rooted in a credit system – and not a single Jewish merchant or storekeeper ever had much worry about dishonest customers. Such merchants, however, could have their credit stopped by wholesalers, which aggravated their situation. In addition there was raging competition between the Jewish merchants themselves.

Jewish business suffered most from the antisemitic policies of the government and local power brokers. The organized Polish and Ukrainian cooperatives receive government assistance and credit grants; they also arranged picketing of Jewish business and the motto “Swoj Do Swoje” (Each to his Own) completely ruined the weaker merchants and threatened the survival of the stronger ones. Even Jewish taverns and restaurants were boycotted and one needed a license to run them. Many restaurant licenses were not granted to Jews.

In the summer months from May to July when cows give birth to calves, to every yarid some 2000 calves were brought into town and were sold as far as Vienna (and therefore were referred to as Vienna calves). The slaughterhouse had much work along with he various traders, buyers, herders, skinners and others. In this manner the cattle trade became an important economic factor for the Jewish population.

The Drama and Literary Society

In Chorostkow, a Drama – Literary Society was founded and active even before WW1 The Society had a membership of some 15 young men and women and they wanted to limit their membership. Some feared that the Society would become involved in politics, while another group favoured widening its membership However, as time went on the Society expanded when a number of “mashkilim”(moderners) were accepted as friends. The Society later became a participant in Hitachdut with responsibility in cultural, drama and literary areas and visibly active everywhere. In the library were found mainly Yiddish books and a few in Hebrew, beginning at its founding by the first group of the Society when Polish books were also introduced. The library was one of the largest in the region and Christians would also borrow books to read. The Society invested a large amount of money and energy in the library and bought such books which were not available in libraries of even larger towns.

On page 286 of the original “SEFER CHOROSTKOW 'is found a copy of the following invitation which is self-explanatory, printed in Yiddish and Polish. I have left the Polish untranslated to enhance its authenticity and because it is merely a translation from the Yiddish. M.R.L

The Jewish Drama Literary Circle in Chorostkow

On the occasion of the 20th Jubilee of the J D L C and its Loan Library is being organized

On Saturday, April 8, 1939 in the Main Hall of the Beit Am


with the following program:


1 Welcome     6 A report on the activities of the JDLC
2 Opening Commentary     7 Perspectives
3 Greetings from Organizations and Institutes     8 Recitations and Declamations
4 Remembrances of former members     9 “Jermiyahu” Stefan Zweig
5 A lecture   10 Shalom

Dancing following the Program

To which we have the honor of inviting you.

Starting at 8 o'clock in the evening – Home made buffet- Orchestra – Admission 1 Zloty.

Z Okazji Dwudziestolecia Istnienia Zydowskiego Kolka Dramatychno Literaciego

--------------------------------- w Chorostkowie -----------------------------------

1919 XX Anniversary Jubilee 1939
of the Jewish Drama Literary Circle of Chorostkow

1919   A group of the local Jewish population founded a club with the objective of having a venue where to amuse themselves during free hours and at the same time to provide for the cultural needs of the youth. In this manner was the cornerstone of the JDLC laid. A drama section formed and with much success produced many worthwhile objectives. A library was established, A cultural center and an exemplary institute developed. The JDLC was created during troublesome times and its evolution was stormy at times; not once was its existence threatened – many times its books lay in cellars. The JDLC overcame many inconveniences and set aside many difficulties.
1939   The JDLC stands at its Jubilee fully grown and the goal of its members is to carry on with its Drama- Cultural section and to add many achievements to its existence. The most important and decisive thoughts are for its library of 2500 books.


The plays were of the Drama Circle were always ranked on a high level. I remember when a famous theatre troupe came to town and prepared to give 10 performances. The leadership of the Circle warned them that their repertoire was not serious enough and would not appeal to the local public. The artists did not listen and created am incident for which the Circle declared a ban. Only a few Jews came to the show and this traveling troupe left the town in disgrace.

The Circle existed from 1919 until the late 30's. Numerous plays were presented in Chorostkow and surrounding towns. Externally it was assumed that the Circle was apolitical, but insiders knew that the dedication and sympathies were completely Zionist. Part of the income of the Circle went to the Hebrew school.

The lack of a nonsectarian hall for plays, book reviews and meetings resulted in negative acceptance by various Jewish parties and organizations. The Poles who had their own National Home were not eager to rent their halls for Jewish events. Our youth organizations tried with all their means and might to find a suitable place for large assemblies.

At the same time that the town was ready to sell part of its large Rathaus building, the question of engaging a new Rabbi for the town came to the fore. To avoid the usual arguments a bickering in the Jewish community and competition among candidates for the Chorostkower Rabbinic Fund, an initiative was launched by several responsible activists and a general fund was established which Rabbi Rappaport took over and the sum of money he raised would be used to buy a wing of the Rathaus building. Thanks to this fund it became possible to settle quietly the Office of the Rabbi and set up a communal modern hall for Jewish events.

Women's Organizations

This initiative, in time, would include almost every woman in town and with their social abilities and substantial help filled an important function among the Jewish population.The annual community subventions and contributions of wealthier Jews were not sufficient to cover all of the expenses and grants of this group. Various sources were sought for this budget: a flower day, membership contributions, entertainment and formal balls once or twice a year, collections during weddings, circumcisions and other festive occasions. The bookkeeping was exemplary and under public control. I recall that the opposition to the Public Council would sometimes state that the activity of the women's organization was more effective and useful than the Community Council.

The chairlady at the founding of this organization, Mrs. Miriam Hirsch, was given much recognition. She died after a difficult illness. She was followed by Tova Tennenbaum, the wife of Jankel Tennenbaum, the community secretary. This intelligent lady lived many years in Vienna and was familiar with the activity of worthy institutions. Unfortunatele she too did not head the organization for too long because of illness and early death. After her Zisl Rotenberg was elected, a wise and good hearted lady, a widow, who conducted the organization's affairs with much tact and ability and knowledgeable when and where to seek necessary help. With a good word and a Jewish joke she calmed arguments and brought out a smile.

To conclude my overview of the Jewish community life in Chrostkow until the Holocaust, I will describe the exceptional service of the Hebrew Free Loan Society (Gemilut Chesed Kasse).

The Free Loan Society

The Chorostkower Society, founded before WW1, occupied itself not only with granting loans but also with visiting the sick and burials.

The annual activity of the society began with a festive dinner in which about half of the adult population was involved. After the meal a report was presented and a new administration elected. Every one knew that loans were made only to the most needy and sick, who were who were expected to get well and faithfully to refund the commuity moneys. Without written regulations everything was carried out faithfully and honestly and who knows how long this Society would continue on such a trust worthy system, if WW1 had not intervened in 1914, which put a stop not only to this activity but to all other Jewish institutions and organizations. Even the sick visiting was curtailed while the front lines were close to town during 1915 – 17 and everyone was concerned about his own home and family.

In a free Poland, it was first forgotten that there was a Free Loan Society. It was only the increased necessity for loans served as a reminder about the Free Loan. Nobody asked what happened to the funds because the answer was self evident and the currency changed with each government. Help began to arrive from our brothers in America and the “Joint” and practically every town established free loan societies and cooperative banks. The Main objective of the “Joint” was that such banks be established locally to raise funds and that they would match such funds raised. Exact guidelines and rules were promulgated on how to establish such banks. The loans were made on a percentage basis and repayments made on a weekly basis at bi-weekly rates.

The help did not have a philanthropic character nor a tzedaka basis, but was based on constructive needs of artisans, merchants and retailers. A revisions committee oversaw that operations were carried out appropriately and that the bank fulfilled its local obligations. The Community Chairman also sat on the governing board of the society along with the sitting representatives of the parties. This bank developed so successfull that in some communities the capitalization ran to 10,000 Zlotys. This allowed for larger loans than originally intended. In some instances loans of 200 Zlotys were granted. This happened when the Polish government declared a moratorium on the debts of the peasants which they applied first and foremost not to repay debts to Jews.

Almost 80% of Jewish families in Chorostkow had to turn to the Free Loan Society. The needs resulting from the anti-Semitic boycotts and increasing poverty led to the fact that even once rich Jews needed urgent help. Those who often helped the Society with substantial sums now had to line up for its help.

That Jewish Chorostkow no longer exists, nor its institutions, its parties, its organizations, which was its religious and secular life. The Nazi Holocaust wiped everything out, destroyed and annihilated. Left only is the memory of the martyrs and the will to carry on life in the face of loss of a creative, mature Jewish community that no longer survives.

Translator's note:

I believe this is the most comprehensive and best description of the town in every aspect. Weissbrodt left Chorostkow for Israel the year before I left for Canada. He was our next door neighbor in town and after WW2 we exchanged visits on several occasions and he and his family attended our middle son's Bar Mitzvah in Montreal and we were their guests in Israel on several occasions. He passed away several years later. He was always regarded as the town's best chronicler and historian.

Morton Lang

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