Translations donated by Tanya Buchman
by Eliezar Barzilai
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We are not going to deny that we somewhat liked our city of birth. And not just a blind love, the one that can drive a person crazy not at all; we knew our city with all the advantages and disadvantages. We loved her the way she was.
We know that her place was among humble people; a simple city without special heritage, without beauty or special glory. She was hidden among the hillsides of the Carpathian Mountains. She spread comfortably in the rectangular valley alongside a creek with water clear as crystal. Nobody great in the Torah or very wealthy came from there. Most of the houses were made out of wood and low. They were connected one to the other and only a few homes had two floors and gave it the look of a city. Even though the city was a major city for a lot of villages around; it didn't have the stature being the residence of the governor of the region. That honor was given to the neighboring city called Linsk. The people of Isterik had to go to Linsk to see the Governor and they were therefore jealous of the people of Linsk , and when we had to mention their names , we mentioned them with irony to pick on them; The wise men of Linsk. Even though you were blessed with all the good things (having the Governor residing with you), and all the administration connected to the Governor: your income was better than our , but you were not blessed with a sharper wit. The opposite was true! We, the people of Isterik had wit.
The people of Isterik were named the Firefighters. that was the name of a local gang that was active in the region and was busy stealing horses an original way. Their way they did it was to break the horses out of the stalls in the owners barn, get the horses out, and before leaving they would light a fire in the stall and leave heaps of bones there that they took from a kitchen. This way they would blur the traces by pretending that a disaster from heaven occurred, the stall and all the horses were burned and only the remains of the horses were left.
We loved the clear creek that was a place of entertainment for us during the afternoon on Friday. During the summer, we were still studying in the Torah room (the Children of Israel didn't have the merit to be off of school and on vacation during the hot summers) . Vacations were given only between the times, that is during the rainy days before Passover and during the rainy days of the month of Tishrei. We received the authorization to fish in this creek and when we saw any fish in the clear waters, whatever the size of the fish, we didn't give up until we caught it. We were very sorry that this creek didn't have a name, and therefore, in the case of a divorce, which were very rare in our city, the couple in conflict had to travel to the neighboring cities , where a river had a name, and thus it was possible for them to receive a divorce certificate.
Our city was not specially clean or beautiful or even rich. Most of the people of the city were poor and just struggling to make a living, to get bread and clothes for themselves and their families. But we loved our city the way she was. And how could we not love her? A city with a Jewish mayor that was so wellmannered. He participated in all the Chasidic events like a normal person and not like the mayor of the city. How fitting it was when we were together the day before Yom Kippur in a circle in the Kleiz (shul), around a platform of straw, and on top of it was the Mayor prostrating himself in order to receive lashes from Isaac Boutz, according to Jewish law.
From a rumor we knew that something called antisemitism. That Jewish people were persuade because they were Jews. In Isterik it was not antisemitism because the Jews were a majority, and a majority can't be persecuted by a minority. All our fear of gentiles was about a drunk gentile (goy). One time a drunken gentile was drunk during the market and caused a turmoil that made the Jews close the store in fear of the big mess that could follow. But is was not only drunken goy and you can't get angry because of a drunken goy. The opposite we have to pity him. We, the Jews received the Torah from Sinai, and that was our destiny, and the goy's destiny was to get drunk.
When Moshe Frankel was the mayor the city, it was obvious that the policemen of the city needed to be like an uncle to us. And for us as children, it was a pleasure and a big joy when we saw the policeman uncle present in the square of the city with his drum and playing the drum and at the end declared in a ridiculous Polish language an order or new information from the authorities.
When I said that the city was not beautiful, it was only because it was poor, but in reality is was a beautiful city, surrounded by four beautiful mountains. It looked like the city of Haifa, surrounded Mount Carmel, which. When you are on a promenade in the street of the city, you were able to notice the slope of one of the mountains the train running while making a frightful whistle, piercing the air, a sign that the train was getting close to the station. That fact gave the farmers of the a reason to be admired. There was a legend of a mother that asked her son, who went to market day in the city what he saw there. His answer was that the biggest surprise for him was when he saw in the mountain a terrible animal running: black, long and wide and emitting terrible sounds from his nostrils.
We had some kind of national park in the city named ‘Al Haganim’, where the young people came Saturday afternoon on Shabbat, when the parents were sleeping and digesting the chulent. All the days of the week we longed for the recreation of Shabbat in ‘ Al Haganim’, when we were free without the serious supervision of our parents, busy playing different games and enjoying eating fruits and vegetables that Gd forbid we didn't pick with our hands, but were picked mysteriously by others for the pleasure of the children of Israel.
If someone thought that Isterik was full of only poor people,
he would be wrong. There were many real estate owners that reached a considerable level of wealth. We have the explanation that there are only two Jewish families of great wealth in the world. One is the Rothschild family in the Vienna and Paris and he second one is the Hanig family in Isterik. The Rothschild family was richer that the Hanig family, but the Hanig family had the time to catch up and become richer.
In Isterik we also had heavy industry. There was an oil refinery that didn't employ 2000 workers like to oil refinery in Haifa, but still had a couple hundred employees. We also had a sawmill that was big and spacious and employed hundreds of employees. The Jews didn't work in these factories because they were not created for Jews. Jews were employed only in the soda factory, owned by Moshe Kol, especially a Jew named Shimshon the Famous, who was loved and famous among the young people. Not every city had the privilege to have a crazy person like Shimshon. It was said about him that while was serving in the Austrian army as a deputy commander ( almost a lieutenant), he received an order to brush one of his commander's horse's. For this job he took a can of shoe polish and brushed the horse then asked his commander to give him another can of shoe polish because one was not enough for the horse. In Moshe Kol's factory one special engine was not activated because only Shimshon , who was so strong, and was known as the man with ‘10 horsepower’, was able to make it work. This Shimshon was so nice to the kids and did everything to please them.
There was a live music band in Isterik that was famous all over the region and under the leadership of Yossi Knof. The band had the monopoly on the wedding ceremonies all over the region in the cities of central Galicia. When Yossi played his sophisticated violin, even a heart of stone would melt. We remember very well the flute player in the band. His name was Haim Valvalee, who was loved by the youth of the city and especially by the young girls. On his free days he used to stand by the windows of the most beautiful girls in the city and play an Italian serenade in her honor.
There was a big change in the city after World War I, especially after the power was transferred to the hands of the Polish people. Antisemitism appeared again and the young people didn't see any future there. But, as we say, the medicine came before the sickness, and the Balfour Declaration opened the door to the land of Israel for a lot of pioneers from all over the world. In our city a group of pioneers trained themselves for all different trades and farming to be ready for their immigration to the land of Israel.The first opportunity came when Menachem Aldobi, of blessed memory, came to the city and when he left, he took with him a group of young people to Tshernovich and then on their way to Israel.
It's very sad that only a few people from Isterik immigrated to Israel. Unfortunately most of the people stayed and were exterminated by the oppressor (Hitler and the Nazis), May Gd erase their memory.
by Matityahu Mendel
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During one of the Shabbat of summer, 1913 a Zionist lecturer was supposed to come to Isterik, and speak at the synagogue of the association of the crafters. The name of the synagogue was The Hardworking Farayin. The lecturer came to expose and teach the idea of Zionism. The initiative was taken by 2 or 3 open minded businessmen. When it became known in the city that a lecture would take place, it created a big storm. Rabbis and spiritual leaders were opposed to it and they lectured in synagogues and social halls against the impurity that is going to come to the city. The few people that were for the Zionist lecture were swallowed up by the general storm against it.
The ‘Farayin’ synogogue was near one of the four important Torah study schools (Heder), where boys aged 1216 studied and the same Friday before the Shabbat that the Zionist lecturer was supposed to talk in Farayin, the students of the Torah school broke a window in the synagogue Farayin and on all the walls they wrote the words Doctor Hertzel, may his name and memory be erased. Of course the lecture never took place.
One evening after Shabbat in February, 1925, we had a going away party for Rabbi Betzalel Eitan (Barlezai). He was a teacher of one of the 4 important Torah study rooms and he was an honorable Chortkobai Chassid, but in the meantime he became an enthusiastic Zionist like other people . That night, after Shabbat, he and his family left to immigrate to the land of Israel.
This going away party turned out to be an incredible manifestation of support in the city for the Zionist idea and the man that took part to promote the idea among the people of Isterik. In their enthusiasm the young people of the city separated the horses from the cart that was carrying the family traveling to the train station and they carried the cart with their own hands out of respect and admiration for the man and the Zionist idea.
The writer of the these two stories, by the way, participated in them and wanted to show the importance of the revolution that WWI brought to Isterik and the other Jewish cities in Galicia.
The Fog of the Past
The Carpathian Mountains extend themselves from west to the southeast of Galicia and north of Slovakia. In these mountains some rivers ran through the valleys and in one of these valleys, north of a high mountain named Zaykiv, sat a city by the name of Isterik, for the Jewish people and in the Polish her name was Uszhiki Dolne.
The beginning of the story of the city is very foggy. We doubt we can ever find the researcher that knows the details about it. But we will describe in a few seconds the little we know about her.
In the cemetery of Isterik was a hut called the Ohel. There were three graves in this tent: The grave of Rabbi Zanvol Bravor, who later on changed his name to Ber (This was because of the obligation to serve in the Austrian Army. He changed his name to avoid it.)
The grave of his son Rabbi Berish
The grave of his grandson Rabbi Moshe Abba
The three were Admorim and big rabbis in Isterik.
Rabbi Zanvol Bravor Ber was a friend and student of Rabbi Yaakov Isaac Horowitz, the Prophet (Visionary) of Lublin. At the end of the eighteenth century, and for the nearby city of Litovisk, he came to settle next to the village Isterik. He bought a mansion there, with a lot of followers and disciples that came to him from far away. A short time after Rabbi Mendel Zofnik bought land next to him, or possibly from him. From these two leaders and from Chassidim that decide to reside next to them, a little Jewish settlement started.
And Rabbi Zanvol was the Rabbi of the community. After him followed his son, the chief rabbi, Rabbi Berish and then his grandson, Rabbi Moshe Abba, who probably didn't have any sons. He was followed by his son in law, Rabbi Yehoshua Zalman Kalach, who became to chief rabbi, but not an Ardmor. The Ardmor function probably disagreed after the death of Rabbi Moshe Abba.
These details were told by the great grandchild of Rabbi Abba. His name of David Dominitz. He lives in Tel Aviv and he heard it from his father of blessed memory. His name was Rabbi Simon Dominitz, . He was the son of the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Abba.
Isterik became step by step a small city and in the middle of the 19th century, she was already an important city that was different and a little far away from the village with the same name and only Jews and gentiles lived there.
During the 19th century , a steel rail train was built through the city; in the beginning on only one rail existed, later another trail was added and served the southern line Karkov, Stanislav, along Galicia, also the main line between Levov Pashmishel, to Budapest and crossing the Carpathian Mountains from north to south along rivers and tunnels under the mountains. The train rail gave a push for the development of the city. A tiny trade and craft industry was a added, mostly in the field of trees; because the train station was near big cities in the Carpathians and not too far from far from toward the south steam machinery for the sawing of trees was built and late on, with the discovery of oil in the Carpathians, a big oil refinery
was added. Even though the Jewish people didn't work in the oil refineries, the needs of the workers there was a source of income for the Jews of the city in the commerce and craft fields. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city already had 1500 residents, all of them Jewish families, except for three gentile families. All were in a mostly disconnected to the early families that settled in the city. But we were still able to feel a certain connection to the families of the past.
|Convention of pioneers in Isterik with the director, Dov Shtok, now Professor Dov Sadan|
In the eastern part of the city, the noble and rich families resided:
The Zofnik family that was the first to settle in the city and the villages around it.
The second family was the Hanig family, which was related to the Zofnik family because of their position of wealth. In Yiddish they were called the ‘dey Hainkas’. There were Hassidic followers of the Ardmors of Sedigora and Boyn and some of them were Hassidim of the Rabbi of Tshorkov. , descendants of the Rabbi of Rayzain.
With the increase of the sources of income, the construction of the train rails and the discovery of the oil, the city grew toward the west. The center of commerce was in the center of the city in the form of a square and was called ‘der ring’. That was where the dealers in commerce settled. West of it descendants of crafters were located. They were named after the first settler, Rabbi Shimon or Sheik ‘dey Shemikes’. They were very observant Jews, but very simple and not Hassidim, most of them belonged to the ‘Hand of the Pioneers of Faryn’, and on Shabbat they studied
in the associations of ‘Ein Yaakov’.
Southwest of this quarter resided the descendants of a family of traders of goods from the villages of the region and the name of the family came from the first settle in the city ‘Rabbi Israel’ ‘Dey Israelikes’ were very observant Jews and Hassidim of the Rabbi of Beldez, and the rabbis that belonged to the branch of the Belzai. The descendants of these four families were a minority in the city because most of the people came from other places due to the economic development of the city.
Life in Isterik before WWI
As we know almost all of the people of Isterik were Jews. Most of them pious and following one rabbi or another. Some didn't belong to any rabbi, but practiced and visited any rabbi that came to the city. The Hassidim were divided into two camps: The majority were from the camp of Belzai and Sandzai including the Rabbis Blozov Yabornik, Sassov, Dinov and others from other dynasties. A minority were attached to the descendants of the sons of ‘Rayzin’, that were Hassidim of Sedigor, Tchortkov, Boyen, etc. each camp had his own rabbi. But on the side of the Balzai, that was the bigger and stronger, they had their own rabbi, the rabbi of the city named ‘der Shtat Rav’ and the second one was called ‘der Sdigarer Rav’. After Rabbi Yeshiya Zalman, who was the rabbi of the city, Yossef Reimman became the rabbi of the city. As a matter of fact the writer of these stories had the merit to listen his Torah lectures during his life.
On the side of the Balzai, there were two Torah schools; the old one and the new one. On the side of the Sadigorai there were two branches; the branch of the Hassidim of Sadigora and Boyan and the branch of the Hassidim of Tchortkov. Simple Jews prayed in the general synagogue called ‘de Shil’. The crafters prayed in the ‘Farayin’. Also in the city were Rabbi Zoter and Rabbi Yosla, and in his home he had a small synagogue for his Hassidim.
Most of the children and teenagers didn't study in public school, but in Hadarim (Torah study rooms), and there were four levels of these: Level A: Studies of reading and writing. Level B: Torah and Rashi. Level C: Studies of Gemarah and Rashi. Level D: Studies of Gemara more in depth and other commentators. In Level A: All the children aged 3 to 6 learn writing and reading of the holy language without understanding the meaning of the words. In Level B: The boys 7 to 10 years old studied but the girls of this age didn't study in these Torah rooms, but in the public schools. Level C: The boys 10 to 13 years old studied, but not all of them, some went to public school and some went to trade schools. Level D: Only the talented boys studies, whose parents were able to pay for the studies at this level. There were 4 Torah rooms; the rabbis in charge of these rooms were: Rabbi Mordecai Sikvoter, Rabbi Betsalel Eitan, Rabbi Nissan Lopovski. These three rabbis were from the Sadigorai branch of Hassidim and the fourth one was Rabbi Shimon From the branch of the Balzai. In these Torah rooms were about 50 to 60 boys and when they graduated, they continued to study in their homes or in other higher level Torah studies, a ‘Beit Midrash’. They were the ones that gave the city the reputation and a name of being a place of Torah studies.
Sitting from right to left: Koflig, Shmerl Hachel,Leah Koflig
Kneeling from right to left: Chaim Stervich, Meir Fleizner*
*Translator's note: This gentleman had gone to Israel and come down with malaria so he returned to Isterik
Isterik had a government courthouse and was the commericial and administrative center for many of the surrounding villages. Most of the residents earned their living in a very humble manner; doing commerce and craft.
During the division of Poland between Austria, Germany and Russia, Galicia belonged to Austria and in the beginning of WWI in 1914, the King of Austria, Frantz Yosef, had served as king for 66 years. He was well known as a protector of the Jews. The Jews of Galicia were poor in general, but during the reign of King Frantz Joseph they were secure and without fear of the authorities and non Jewish people. During the Napoleonic wars Galicia was not touched by war and the Jews felt safe even then. But they heard about the pogroms of in Russia and the killing of so many Jewish men women and children.
Therefore it is not a surprise that after the retreat of the Austro Hungarian army from the conquering Russian army, most of the Jewish people of Isterik escaped and then were taken by the authorities to Thecia and Monrovia. Only 17 families stayed in Isterik during the Russian conquest. In the summer of 1915, the Austrian and German armies fought back with success against the Russian army and were able to reconquer all the lands in Galicia and Hungary from the Russians; and they even conquered some Russian territories. After cleaning up the land from the disaster of the war , in 1916, refugees were able to come back to their homes.
While they were taking refuge, the Jewish people of Isterik connected with Jews and non Jews from western European cultures and had a taste of the spirit of freedom of the people at the end of the war. On top of this everyman 18 to 55 years old was taken to the army. All these men heard and thought of matters that were forbidden in Isterik. They saw and felt hope in the freedom of people and they felt the lack of meaning in the life of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. They met Zionist Jews that convinced them of the negative ways of living in the Diaspora and gave them the faith to believe in salvation, if they were ready to act upon it. They heard of the Balfour Declaration and also the contacts with the German authorities to get a similar declaration. It was obvious that the refugees and soldiers that came back to Isterik after the Russian conquest at the end of the war were completely different than they were before the war.
Between the two World Wars
WWI ended with the liberation of Poland, and Galicia became part of Poland. Right after the end of the rule of Austria, a war started between Ukrainians that claimed sovereignty over eastern Galicia, not including the big cities, and the Polish people that claimed, for historical reasons, sovereignty over all of Galicia. During the winter of 19181919 the front of the rival armies was near our city and the Jewish people suffered from persecution by the Polish soldiers and from the lack of food that almost reached a state of famine. In the summer of 191 the Polish Ukrainian war ended with a complete defeat of the Ukrainian army, but for another year the war against the Bolsheviks continued.
The suffering of the Jewish people of Isterik during the Polish wars and especially the one against the Ukrainians, reinforced their Zionist consciousness. Among the people that sealed their signatures with Zionist activities in Isterik, it would be proper to mention three of them:
Aaron Eizen: He was and Arbeiter (Workman's Circle) before, and after he came back from captivity in Russia, he did a lot to promote the study of the Hebrew language, in the Sephardic style that is spoken in Israel, and he also took part in the formation of the first group of Zionist activities. In 1933 he immigrated to Israel and now lives in Haifa.
Menachem Zofnik (Aldobi): In 1921 he succeeded in organizing the first group of Isterik teenagers to cross the borders of Poland and Roumani and immigrating to the land of Israel. This group was a big inspiration for the immigrants that followed later and was also a live connection the land of Israel and the Zionist people in the city. After the Holocaust he was the live spirit for the Jewish people. He passed away in Tel Aviv in 1963.
Betzalel Eizen (Barzelaiai): Before the war he was one of the teachers at the Torah studies room at the highest level. He was a refugee from Vienna and was influenced by the literature and education of the modern world and the birth of nationalism. But his approach to it was in line with being an orthodox Jew. He was very knowledgeable in Torah literature and had no problem proving that to be a Zionist there was no need to reject even one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. He participated in the association of Talmud studies of the teenagers in the city and also directed some of the studies. Young observant Jews saw in him an honest man, showing them a new way. He proved to them that to immigrate to Israel and to be a Zionist was not a sin at all, but a big Mitzvah.
After the riots in Israel, in May, 1921, that caused the death of dozens of Jewish people, there was reluctance and confusion about immigrating to Israel. But to prove his point he sent his two sons, Eliezer and Hertzel to immigrate to Israel with the Aldobi group. This act made him look like a man that demands and delivers, a man of action, a true hero. His good influence paved the way for the extension of Zionist activities in large circles. The Zionist association called
‘Kadima’ was created to establish studies to learn modern Hebrew. Large activities for the Keren Kayemet took place, as well as the creation of a dramatic group that sent all the money raised to Keren Kayemet LeYisrael. A group for training people to work in different fields was organized by some of the members of the Klois Madras and they succeeded in making a revolution in the attitude toward work among the people of Isterik. What was considered in the past to be shameful and inappropriate work as a Jew, like cutting trees or digging holes in the streets of the city, like Goyim or with Goyim, now became honorable work. In his honor Kibbutz Betzalel was named.
A branch of the organization Hechalutz ( the pioneer) , that educated and prepared young people to immigrate to Israel was established, as well as a branch of the Solidarity Party, that was managed by Yehudi Koflig for many years, who, unfortunately, did not have the merit to immigrate to Israel, because he died during the Holocaust. In general it was a strong Zionist city.
Betzalel Eizin immigrated to Israel in February, 1925, but left a strongly rooted Zionist movement behind him. He passed away in Tel aviv in 1963.
To what level the Zionist movement was popular in the city can be shown by the joyful and festive meeting in honor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in Spring, 1925. The meeting took place in the Beit HaMedrash of the Hassidim of Blaz and the people close to them.
More than 150 people from Isterik immigrated to Israel between the two World Wars and only a few of them ever left to return to Isterik or other places in the world. It would be important to note that more than half of the people were brought to Israel by Aldobi and his brother. They were owners of a metal factory and were needed by the prestate authorities during the British Mandate.
Isterik was touched by the process of cooling in the Diaspora after the enthusiasm of the early years of the Balfour Declaration. There were many reasons for this, the failure of the British to protect the Jews because of the opposition of the Arabs, the attacks of the Arabs against the Jews that became more frequent and stronger, the lack of work for the Jews in the land of Israel caused some people who were weak in character to leave the country. These reasons didn't motivate Jews in the Diaspora to immigrate to the land of Israel. The disastrous action of the communist movement incited antisemitism, contrary o the movement ‘Agudat Israel’.
Other subjective reasons influenced the Jewish people who immigrated to the land of Israel, such as single people who got married, had children and were involved in the needs of their family, the preparation for WWII, and because the Nazi movement in Germany brought the world a new economic boom and Isterik felt all of it. Therefore the decision to immigrate to Israel became difficult, as there were many unknowns in Israel. In the beginning of WWII, 3000 Jews lived in Isterik.
With the disintegration of the Polish army in 1939, and the entrance of the Germans into Isterik, the final solution regarding the Jews didn't yet exist. After a few weeks of the German occupation, the control of the city was transferred to the Soviet authorities due to the Robentrof Molotov agreement. During the rule of the Soviets correspondence through the mail existed with the Jewish people of Isterik. As a matter of fact the writer of this document received letters from his family. Few Jewish people were sent to Russia by force, therefore they were able to survive and immigrate to Israel after the Holocaust.
After the start of the German Russian war in 1941, the German army for the second time took Isterik and from our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, descendants and friends, almost nobody stayed alive. We know very little of their fate, other than what we know about the six million that were killed.
Moshe Liberman, now called Habibi, who lives in Beer Sheva, told us that in September 1941 all of the old people , men and women, including the mother of the writer of this story, who was 73 years old, were taken out of the city and were shot by the Germans. In the year 1942 all the Jews of Isterik were transferred to the extermination camp of Belzitz and the details of the atrocities in this camp were later revealed to us during the Eichman trial and from other sources.
May their souls be connected for eternity to the life of our nation and may Hashem avenge their blood.
by Tuvia Lewis
|Picture of the author|
25 years have passed since this fatal day, September 1, 1939, the day that was the start of WWII. This date is deeply engraved in my memory, because on this date the destiny of the Jewish people was sealed and with it the fate of Isterik , my Jewish town.
Isterik is situated at the junction of ways between Pashmiel, Sanok and Titovisk. Isterik stood out by the beauty that nature granted it. Isterik was surrounded by mountains and the river Strowiaz, that crossed her from the entrance to the exit from the city. At the two ends of the city were two bridges. One bridge stood at the entrance of the city, in the direction of the village Barha, next to the house of Moshe Frankel (Hashem bless his memory), he was at one time the mayor of the city. The second bridge was at the entrance of the city, in the direction of Ustianova, next to the house of Davidi Moshe Fisher (Hashem bless his memory). The city was built in a square shape. The buildings concentrated around the square were built with stones and up the three floors. The buildings in the alleys were built with wood and had only one floor, in the same style as the other cities in Galicia and Ukraine. All the first floors of the buildings in the square were retail stores.
The Jewish population of the town numbered about 500 people, 95% of whom were Jews. The synagogues in the city were: the big synagogue ‘HaShil’, that was destroyed during WWI and rebuilt in the 1930's. The ‘old Beit Hamidrash and new ‘Beit Hamidrash’, the ‘HaKloyz’ of the Sadgora Hassidim and the ‘Ha Kloyz’ of the Blaiz Hassidim, the synagogue of the association of ‘the Hand of the Hardworking ( crafters)’, the synagogue of Rabbi Yossale and some other small synagogues in private homes.
Because the Jewish people didn't have the opportunity to work in agriculture, clerical work in the government institutions and local authorities and public institutions, they had no choice but to deal in the commercial field. As far as I can remember the economic situation of the Jews was bad and poverty ruled in every corner. Stores and stands were crowded next to each other. A large number of the Jewish people that didn't have stores dealt with peddling in the surrounding villages. The population of these villages was Ukrainian and they worked in agriculture. To make a living doing commerce was very difficult because the potential buyers were in the agriculture field and most of them were very poor and desperate because the land was very poor and the crop were almost nothing compared to the countries with modern and developed agriculture.
The farmers in our region didn't even have the possibility
of enjoying the taste of bread during the year. In order to be able to buy himself and his family even the basic essentials such as clothes, shoes, salt, matches and oil and to fix the plough during the spring, the cart and all the other accessories to cultivate the land, he had no choice but to sell all his small agricultural produce like eggs, milk, butter, grain, and even the pig that he raised during the same year. The farmer and his family had the eat mostly potatoes and cabbage.
When Poland got independence after WWI, the Polish authorities didn't care to increase the level of life of the population that numbered about 35 million people. Besides a small minority of people that belonged or were connected to the authorities and did well, the rest of the people were poor and in this stagnant social and economic structure. The situation of the Jews was extremely difficult.
When I was young, I already understood the meaning of the proverb, ‘to earn a living is more painful than crossing the Red Sea’. Every Thursday, during the week, was like to day of judgement for a lot of Jewish people. Because after running and working hard during the week, the Jewish men didn't have the minimal budget to give their wives the money to buy the basic commodities vital for Shabbat. After Shabbat the men were again worried by the idea of how to provide food for their families.
For some honorable families, their only source of income was small donations that they received secretly from the community, so that, Gd forbid, the neighbors would not know they received charity. A lot of families were hungry for bread. Shabbat evenings some housewives put covered pots with only boiling water inside to give the impression to their neighbors that they were cooking special meals for Shabbat. This was the level of poverty, but that didn't take away the dignity of the Jewish people.
A lot of pictures of the Jewish life in Isterik and characters are engraved deeply in my memory. People with very nuanced personalities and wonderful traits. Each of them with their own view of the world and the ways to deal with it. My teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Asher Eizin, that lived in my neighborhood, at the junction of the roads that was called ‘der Shrankan’, was the first man to enter the frame of my life. He was an older man with eyebrows that almost covered his eyes. He was a keeper of commandments, and had the fear of heaven. Day and night he studied Gemarah and didn't leave his house. Only during the days around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, ‘the Terrible Days’, did he go to pray in synagogue. In my childhood I compared him in my imagination to the Patriarchal image of our biblical father Abraham, who was known for his hospitality, as we know from the Torah. His wife Geitla excelled in her modesty and her pursuit of good deeds. She always knew where to find sick people and poor women that were giving birth and were in need of help. She always knew how to care for them and their needs in a very discreet and humble way. Rabbi Asher and his wife Geitlan divided their duties like the tribes of Issachar and Zevulon; he studied and taught Torah and she took care to provide an income. She bought eggs and poultry and sold them to the neighbors. That was a very small income, they simply lived close to famine.
A spicy detail is left in my memory: one time while studying Torah, I asked Rabbi Asher, What are the sticks next to your bed and your wife's bed? He answered, I use them to chase away the rats that come at night and that don't let us sleep.
The second man that I knew very well Levi Bachman. I used to visit often in his home as
an accountant from 1933 until the beginning of the war in 1939. He excelled in his strict and elegant clothes and had a nice appearance and look. The poor people of the city had the habit of visiting him in his home to rejoice with all their hearts and eat with generosity . Merchants that needs money for their business used to borrow from him and he always answered their demands with a beautiful smile. He was known in the city as a charitable man.
A very friendly and charming man was the leader of the Jewish community in Isterik, and his name was Mendel Pothisher. He was the representative of the Jews to the Polish authorities. He was a very educated Jew, and absorbed with Torah and wisdom. His beautiful appearance brought him respect and admiration. He was very well mannered, had a lot of class and was very humble as well.
A different type of man was my uncle, Moshe Fisher. A simple man, humble like the type of average man of the people, and he was observant of Torah commandments. He was a confirmed disciple of Rabbi Yossale, and gave him financial support. He also did something out of the ordinary. When his older son Elimelech got very sick and his chances to survive were very slim, my Uncle Moshe and his wife, Chaya Brendel, made a vow that if their son Elimelech were to survive, they would keep their home open to any beggar or homeless person, or money collector that used to travel from city to city some by train, some by feet. Their son, Elimelech, healed and got better and their home became a sanctuary for the poor people. I remember the home of my uncle becoming hell on earth. The beggars took control of the house. They took everything they could grab, food, clothes, etc. They used all the kitchen utensils, slept in the beds and even took the pillows.
My uncle and aunt were able to stand up to this difficult test and didn't break their vow until the last of day of their lives. Until this day I have difficulties understanding how they were able to
deal with such terrible suffering. That was the lifestyle of the Jewish people with lights and shadows for many generations.
|Party of Mendel Aldobi's (May his memory be blessed), during his visit to Isterik in the year 1936. Near him his relative Malka Yakav and the Zupnik family|
A dramatic turn took place in the life of the Jewish people in the early 30's, with the appearance of the Nazi movement in Germany, whose influence was felt in all the countries bordering Germany. The antiSemitic elements in Poland started to rise and persecute the Jews in front of the Jewish stores and businesses. Shifts were organized to conduct a destructive propaganda strike against the Jews and called for a boycott of the Jews and not to buy from them. I remember that Isaac Greenbaum, who was a famous Jewish artist active in Polish art, contacted the head of the Polish government and asked him why the authorities are permitting an economic boycott against the Jews. He answered to Greenbaum, The hit the Jews, no. But to boycott them.
Another fact of the antiSemitic spirit that existed in these days: in the year 1936 the Polish are force opened a flying school in Ishtyenev (Where Granma lived), near Isterik. The pilots came from the region of Pozman, a place known for antiSemitism. Every Sunday the pilots came to pray in the church in Isterik. On their way in and out of Isterik they rioted, they beat Jewish people that were on their way and broke windows. They also did the same horrible acts in the evening when they were off from their camp. They caused a lot of fear among the Jews when they left their camp.
The Polish youngsters in the city in general did respect their Jewish friends, but they started to change because of the propaganda of antiSemitism on the radio and in the newspapers. A typical event that happened in the these days was the case in 1937 in the small city of Pettshik, near Warsaw. A Polish man was killed by a Jewish butcher as a result of an argument and fight between them. In the past an event like this was not a big deal and would be mentioned only in the chronicles of the local newspaper. But now the newspapers and the radio directed a wild incitement campaign in the style of the Nuremberg laws that made this event take on big and dramatic proportions. This caused riots for the Jewish people of this city and a large number of people were killed and a lot of property was destroyed and stolen.
The national economic and social situation between WWI and WWII, and especially during the 30's was characterized by a lack of action among the Jewish population, because it was difficult for them to help themselves. But it was a cause for a revolution for the young people in their way of thinking. The same Jewish youth that lived for generations accepting the patterns that were a heritage from father to son, started to see their situation in a different light than their parents did. They started to understand that in order to change the destiny of the people of Israel, they needed to introduce new patterns and value in the life of the Jewish nation and direct it toward a more secure and good future and to once and for all stop being a sacrifice to the nations. Under the knowledge of this historical truth, the Jewish youth started to create different movements and parties. Each one according to his approach to the problem. In Isterik most of the youth belonged to Zionist organizations like: Gordonia, Hashomer Hatsair, (The Young Guard), Hehalutz (The Pioneer), Dror (The Sparrow), HaMizrahi (The Eastern), HaPoel Hamizrahi (The Eastern Worker), Bnot Agudat HaMizrahi (The Daughters of the Eastern Worker), Betar, Agudat Israel (The Association of Israel),Bnot Agudat Israel(The Daughters of the Association of Israel), Hanoar Hatsioni (The Zionist Youth), Bosliya, The Association of the Workers of Zion, and the non Zionist labor party know by the initials א י ע פ. This party was persecuted by the authorities
that claimed that they was Communist. Every year in the evening of May 1st, some members of this party were arrested and put in jail until the end of the festivities of Mayday. To understand the degree that the Polish authorities fought Communism and how far antiSemitism was involved in this war, it would be interesting to remember the words of the local police chief that said in an antiSemitic tone, Every Communist is a Jew. Some activist among the members of this group were jailed in the prison in the city of Sanok, and were accused of being involved in the Communist activities and were expected to get 15 years in jail. After some big efforts and help from famous lawyers they were freed after 6 months. But they were constantly being watched by police.
The youth in all the cities, among them Isterik, excelled in a high level of culture. In Isterik was a large library and the youth spent a lot of time reading there and debating the actual problems, therefore extensive Zionist activities took place. Lecturers from Lvov and Pashmishel often visited the city and gave lectures about these topics. Boys and girls from different movements of pioneers went to be part of the ‘training companies’ and were taught different trades and work to be able to immigrant to Israel. Because the government of the mandate(the British) gave some certificates to immigrate to Israel, some did leave, but the majority were not able to, and most of them perished during the Holocaust.
I would like to bring you the image of a friend that is engraved in my memory. His name was Bennzion Levlag, who was known Ben Zion ‘Tatka’ a very talented young man. In his youth he was a Yeshiva student in the Yeshiva Blez. Later on he left his holy studies and came to Isterik. Besides being knowledgeable in the Torah, he was also knowledgeable in secular matters. He knew a lot about the writings and work of the philosopher Spinoza, Kent, Shopenhouer, Nitche, and others. I remember the afternoon hours and the evenings when many of the young people, including myself, outside of the city on a hill called Zagroda in the company of BenZion, to enjoy the words of his mouth and the instructive talks the flowed from his mouth like water from a river. His speeches gave us a lot of material to think about. Besides his intellectual qualities, he had a good sense of humor. Even among the observant religious Jewish groups that didn't forgive him that he deviated from the ‘right path’, they respected him as being a very knowledgeable man in political matters. Everything coming out of mouth was acceptable to everybody and he got himself a lot of followers among the various layers of the city's residents. He was also like a ‘Hershele Astropoler’ character. From time to time he did act in a joking way, like a clown. On Shabbat days, when the people of the city were coming back from synagogue, BenZion Levlag stood in the middle of the square surrounded by a group of disciples and when the people were close enough to him, BenZion whispered to his friends, Did you hear? Hitler committed suicide. Right away the city got excited. People came out to the square and started to talk among themselves about the suicide matter, the meaning and the possible results of it, regarding the Jews and the rest of the world. Only Saturday night at the end of Shabbat, when the Jews of the city turned on the radio, with the hope of hearing the good news with their own ears, did they realize that they had been tricked by another joke of BenZion Levlag.
It is possible to show many pictures of the vibrant life of the youth of Isterik, but it is impossible to describe the full life of the city in one document because there is enough material to write so many pages the size of a book. This part I will put in the hands of the historians. That's how the life of Isterik was until the first step of the war arrived at the gates of the city and with it the Holocaust that recorded in our holy blood the biggest sacrifice that our people suffered.
WWII opened a new page, full of suffering in the history of the people of Europe. Their countries were conquered by the Nazis and their independence taken away. Their suffering continued for six years. With the end of the war in May 1945, the nations of Europe got back their independence, husbands and sons came back home and started to recover and build their countries again. Slowly, slowly they came back to normal life. That was not the case for the Jewish people in Europe that didn't have a brother or friend that suffered as much among the family of nations in the world. That was a big disaster for the Jewish people in that generation , most of the Jewish people were exterminated, only a few survived. The survivors were from concentration camps, ghettos, Jews that survived in the forest and Jews that came back from Russia. It was a miracle that they escaped from the nails of death, I am one of them.
The beginning of our journey at the end of the war to the places where we were displaced in the beginning of the war. When I arrived at the outskirts of Isterik, my hometown, my eyes discovered the horrors and sinister events of the war. and the truth was revealed to me regarding the tragedy of the destruction of the Jewish people in Europe and with it the city of Isterik. For the short time that I was in Isterik, it did seem to me that I was walking in a big cemetery named Isterik. All the wood homes were completely destroyed because the Ukrainians from the surrounding villages took the wood to use it to build their own homes. The stone buildings were still there intact, but orphaned from their prior owners. It was difficult to get used to the new bitter reality. Poles and Russians took over these homes and used stolen Jewish properties. From the mouth of Polish and Ukrainian people that I knew before the war, I didn't succeed in pulling out one word about the fate of our loved ones. I felt an organized evasion from their side to talk about the inferno that was ordered against the Jewish population. Instead they said in a sorry and sad voice how much they helped their Jewish neighbors in their suffering. It was almost possible to believe their stories, but I saw with my own eyes the homes where they lived, and the clothes that they wore, the shoes that they wore, the furniture, the pictures and he curtains that they decorated their homes with all this was from Jewish blood and property. My heart ached from the pain of seeing all this. This tragic picture revealed the explanation of the verse, ‘You kill and you inherit too?’
After the war, in 1945, I was in Poland only a few months. I lived in Sambor, not far from Isterik. I wasn't able to live in Isterik. I felt out of breath in Isterik. I visited Isterik sometime and a nightmare pursued me, the nightmare slaughtered people rolling in the streets of the city and asking for revenge. In every corner of the city I was able to hear voices of my relatives, my friends and other Jews, and in my imagination I saw the picture of the vibrant life
of the Jews before the Flood (Holocaust). For every place I walked in the city, the view of the cemetery was in front of my eyes. The cemetery was on a hill on the other side of the river Stroveinz, not far from the slaughterhouse. Because the homes around the cemetery disappeared , the city looked like a big cemetery to the eyes of any Jew that survived.
To continue to live in a place like this that became part of the cemetery of the Jews of Europe, I was unable to do so. With a lot of pain and suffering I escaped this nightmare and arrived in Israel, the place I wished to come to since the dawn of my youth.
Because the bodies of our holy people are scattered all over Europe and were not brought for burial in Israel,. May this book, and these writings be a memorial and a monument for all of eternity.
by Tzvi Teller
|Picture of the author|
I was a 5 year old child when I arrived in Istrik at my grandparents Levy and Devorah Buchman. My parents of blessed memory (Chaim ben Eliezer and Frida bat Chaim Levy) Teller moved from Poland to settle in France. Naturally, I studied with various Jewish tutors (Melamdim) who didn't mingle in the Shtetle (village), and also in a Public School which went up to 7th grade. When I became a young man, I became closer and closer with this Carpathian Shtetle. I knew each road, path and village which had any connection to Isterik. I, also, knew all the people and the way they lived. Isterik was a Shtetle where a few hundred Jewish families lived ranging from different social levels. Some were poor and resorted to paddling but the majority had various trades. Judaism in the Shtetle, in spite of the fact that there were many gentiles living there, had a strong effect. When the holy Sabbath arrived everything stopped and the only thing you could see is Jews wearing Shtreimles (special fur hat for Sabbath) and long silk jackets walking to the synagogues. The top leader in the Jewish community was the honored Reb Mendel Fotasher ZL (of blessed memory) and his assistant Reb Zisha Tranter ZL. Both did a lot for the Isterik residents especially the poor ones who didn't mingle in the Shtetle. It is also right to mention the well to do members of the village: Reb Levy Buchman, Reb Hersahle Brandwine, Reb Leizer Wissberg , David Sheinbach and others who did a lot for the Shtetle.
The Zionist organizations were actively involved in the culture of the Shtetle. A Hebrew school was established as well as a beautiful theater which was built with help of Dr. Stern and other members who loved acting and participated in the endeavor. Also, various traveling shows came from all over Poland and the theater was always
packed. In short, the Shtetle was full of life for everyone, the simple Jew, the poor one, the rich one and average one.
So it was until the terrible disaster was approaching. It was already felt by the boycott and signs No buying from Jews. When in 1938 the Jewish refugees from Germany started to arrive and told what happened to them, every Jew understood that most likely his fate will not be different from those refugees, but no one thought about a possible way to escape. Then came the historic day of 9.1.1939 when the Germans' planes bombed the cities of Poland and the country was chaotic. The refugees started escaping from every city until their fate caught up with them. Also from Isterik people had to run; the only question was where to? The German technic was to advance without a stop and it was impossible to escape from them. They always arrived before the refugees, so anyhow there was no purpose to run.
The Germans occupied Isterik two weeks before the Red Army marched in. No other city experienced such a tragedy as the one which happen in Isterik during those two weeks. The first victim was the head of the community Rabbi Mendel Fotasher HYD (God will revenge his blood). They tortured him to death. The second tragedy which happened in Isterik was that the refugees started to return to their homes where they met their terrible fate. The Gestapo with the help of the Ukrainian collaborators led about 60 Jews to Sokol Hall and held them. Later they took them to the bridge and pushed them off the bridge killing all of them. At that time is was one of the most brutal actions which couldn't be comprehended.
In the Shtetle the fear was great. The houses of study (Beith Midrash) and synagogues were vandalized to the ground. It was the High Holy times and Minyans were gathered in private homes, but this too they didn't allow. On Yom Kippur, knowing that Jews are fasting, they mobilized all the Jews to work, until they were completely exhausted. We endured it with love because we were alive and able to return home. But they didn't rest at all. When Yom Kippur was over, that same night, they broke into the home of Aaron Goldvender and Anshel Shopnik ZL (of blessed memory) and beat them up mercilessly. They wanted to show their power before they had to leave the Shtetle. The news that the Russian are about to come in awakened much joy in the Shtetle, each minute seemed like a year.
The first day of Sukkoth 1939 came the salvation, the Red Army marched in and the Jews raised their heads. Life started to be normal again. Jews were able to get Government jobs. During the Chol Hamoed Sukkoth (intermediate days) the 60 victims who died by the hand of the Germans Yimach Shemam (may their name be blotted) were uncovered and brought for burial in the Jewish cemetery of Isterik. May God remember their soul! Among them I recognized my cousin Moishe the son of Aron Gross from Sandez, who lived next to Naftali Pelzenshtein ZL (of blessed memory). The funeral took place in a very sad mood. Every Jew in the Shtetle participated. The Russian authority promised to find the Ukrainians who helped the Germans, but they did nothing to them.
Later with the Russian there was no shortage of troubles. They oppressed the middle class; the refugees they sent to Siberia and they tore children away from their parents.
Until now I discussed Isterik up to the war between Poland and Germany which broke on 9/1/1939 and also the time until the war between Germany and Russia which broke on 6/22/1941. During the Russian occupation Isterik was a border town. Immediately after the Sabbath (Motzei Shabbes) that same day 2nd World War broke, we already had the first news that the world flares up. Some young men were mobilized by the Red Army and the others waited to find out their fate. On Wednesday 6/26 a storm! The Russians escaped with fear. The Jews were mixed up and didn't know what to do! To escape, how, with what? Because there was no communication and the Russians mobilized all the horses and wagons. However, a few, not too many, ventured to the road and no one knew where to go. A small percentage of Jews left the Shtetle. There were families who didn't want to separate. This was one of the reasons why there were so few refugees from Isterik and also the fact that there was a short time to decide. On 6/27/1941 I was in Sambor (now Simbir) and there I already heard the Isterik is occupied by the Germans. I was terribly worried and from the beginning I had great regrets that I left my old grandfather (zayde) and grandmother (Bobe) ZL who won't have anyone to provide them with a piece of bread and some water. But the wave of people forced and pushed me to continue to run. This is how I and my older brother left the beloved home, the beloved Shtetle where we grew up. The trains travelled day and night but we didn't forget our home. Even under bombs and cannons with our thoughts we were at home. When we had the opportunity, we wrote home letters.
No one imagined that the disaster will be so huge. This is how we wandered to Stalingrad (now Petersburg). Our experiences and worries about home are indescribable. When the Germans followed us to Stalingrad we had to wander again. A turn in the war occurred when the Germans started to collapse. We saw railroad workers who directed us to the old work place at the train station in Lembereg (AKA Lvov). The next day after Lemeberg became free I was already there and heard from survivors of the Holocaust. I already imagined that sadly I won't find any family member. A few months later Isterik also became free and I was the first Jew who came with the first train to Isterik. When the first Gentile [Goy] greeted me with hello he asked me with irony: are there many Jews still left? I came in at night and spent the night at the station. The next morning I went out to the Shtetle and looked around and it made a horrible impression on me. The largest half of the Shtetle was ruined. There was no sign of a Jew in the Shtetle. When I asked the Gentiles perhaps they hid someone or know about someone, they were silent. Later I was told that all the Jews of Isterik and its surroundings were shipped to Zoslava near Zagoj. The cemetery was ruined and from the tomb stones they made sidewalks. The only consolation I had was when I saw that the main synagogue (Shul), the small synagogues and Jewish study houses weren't touched. I couldn't last a long time in Shtetle, the anguish was too much, and no one was there to shed the tears with, so I went back to Sambor. In Sambor after a few days I found out that a Jewish woman named Yungvirt, who came from Poland survived. She was hidden by a priest. Immediately I returned to Isterik to meet her and also a family that just came from Russia. My mood change a bit when I saw another Jew. While talking with the Behr family I heard that more Jews survived and they are abroad. I was broken after what I heard from Mrs. Yungvirt who also was in the Zoslav Ghetto. She told me that the Jews 65 and older were shot. The rest of the Jews from Isterik and vicinity were transferred to the Ghetto in Zoslava. Some of them were killed in the Ghetto and the others were sent to Belzitz. A short time later I visited Sanok and there I met a friend from school (heder), Bertzie Sheiner and his wife who escaped from Soslava and hid in
Haradak (they live now in America). He didn't have much more to tell. Later, I visited Isterik many times but sadly couldn't find even ten (Minyan) Jews. Now, gentiles (goyim) live in the Jewish homes, they use the Jewish furniture and clothes which I myself saw with my own eyes. This is how the Carpathian Shtetle Isterik was destroyed with the few beloved Jews whom we mourn and never forget.
Remember what the Amalekites did you your fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and relatives. Remember!
by Wolf Reiss (Buenos Aires)
|Picture of the author|
It is possible that I would have never had written the following lines unless I was asked by Hygn (Argentinian) a help the Organization for Isterik and Vicinity to share in the Book of Memories. The book will be published by former residents of LiskoBaligrodIsterik in Haifa. The organization serves all the people of that region. If I will be able to enrich the Book of Memories with the few memories I carry with me from my birth Shtetle Isterik, then it won't be in vain. If the little bit of material that I bring in, although not rich in facts and episodes, nonetheless, I perform the Mitzvah of the more you tell the better it is. After the great catastrophe not one fact, happening or episode remained. This is my apology, and this is why I didn't refuse the request to write something about Isterik. I write what I remember.
My small birthplace Isterik dwells between two bigger and more famous cities Pshemishel and Sondak. Their fate was marked on the map and Isterik was in the middle. Perhaps the location where the Shtetle was surrounded by four mountains and the good weather contributed to the fact that it was hidden from angry eyes and passers by. Just like other small Jewish Shtetles, so was Isterik, with all its attractions it consisted of two large streets and a center square. The center also served as a market and every Wednesday the farmers from the surrounding villages came driving in horse and buggy. They would display the various products and sell them. Sometimes they sold to local merchants and sometimes they would exchange for other products which they didn't have. From the center of Isterik, to be precise with the geography of Isterik , two streets branched off and one of the streets was leading to the new House of Study (Beit Midrash) and the Sadigorer synagogue. The second street was leading to the old
synagogue (Beit Midrash) and the Shul. It is obvious that besides the Houses of Study Isterik had another important center which was the Bath House. Over there women bathed once a week and men came on the eve of Shabbat (Friday) to the steam bath. At the entrance Chaim Hirsh Bader gave every Jew a small straw mop and a ladle for water.
Chaim Hirsh Bader was a fast moving Jewish guy. He used to march with proud steps and this is thanks to his wife Ettel who was a complainer and listless woman. She had pale face and weak voice that could hardly be heard but from a prestigious family, which was the pride of Chaim Hirsh. He was so immersed in the status of his wife that in every conversation he had to bring in the brother, the fatherinlaw and even the clothing store.
I have a memory of the Shtetle center square which is the water well that provided water for the Shtetle. The well is connected to an unusual event which is inscribed in my childhood memory and wasn't erased until today.
It was the beginning of the First World War and a Russian patrol came in with the purpose to search around and see if Isterik is clean of Austrian soldiers. This happened exactly on the day of Rosh Hashanah. The patrol came from a cavalry unit with long rifles in their hands. They stopped at the center near the well. When the Jews came out of the synagogues, each one was stopped by the soldiers who asked them what time it was. Every Jew who took out the watch to check the time did it for the last time with that watch, because he had to part with the watch for ever. After the Russian soldiers collected all the watches from the Jews, they spread all over town to find Tabaco and cigarettes. Since it couldn't be found they started to play a game with their rifles and shoot at the main Tabaco store named Tropic that belonged to Yoel Englelman. The shooting at the store created a terrible fear among the Jews who hid out of the Shtetle and in the surrounding villages. Even in the villages the Jews were not calm and didn't trust the local farmers who always were in debt to the Jewish merchants. Truly, the next day the Jews came back to the Shtetle.
The Russian army came in and didn't stay
long, because soon enough the Austrian army came and occupied the Shtetle.
So far these are my childhood memories connected to the water well in the center of town. The new military units which came to town didn't leave the same impression as the Cavelry shooting with the long rifles. The joy of having the Austrian army didn't last long because rather soon it became known by the town administration that Isterik will have to be transferred to the Russians. Those who wanted to leave Isterik, the Austrian government was willing to provide free train transportation. A large part of the Jews left the Shtetle and settled in German areas, Hungary and other places. My family left for Carlsbad.
We travelled by cargo train which was murder. But at the stop station we asked the train engineer for hot water to make tea. Also, we're able to get some products such as: bread, salami, condensed milk, etc. The ability to get such products on the way was great. It was so distant that families were lost but nothing to compare with the death trains taking Jews to the concentration camps. This in comparison was like paradise on earth. It was a trip full of hardships but the most important thing is that Jews arrived at their destinations and so, we too, arrived in Carlsbad.
The new temporary home, the beautiful artistic Carlsbad was not the same for the refugees as for the vacationers. The mineral waters, the beautiful hotels and the outstanding strolling gardens where military bands played, didn't evoke any sense of pleasure with the refugees. The issue of livelihood was the same with everyone. Refugees' aid was dictated by the Austrian authorities. The aid was distributed each month by a Jew named Kahan. There was a joke with regard to Kahan. Jewish guys would joke with him and once, the eve of Passover; one said to him that he wants to sell the Chometz (leavened), so he asked the guy what it means? So, it was explained to him that the Chometz is being sold to a gentile (goy). Kahan gave a wise answer that he is not doing such deals, because what will he do if the goy won't give him back the Chometz?
Each Jewish refugee asked the same question, how long will they have to stand in line for a bread card? Finally, there were postings announcing that Pshemishel in back in Austrian hands and those who want to return can do it. We did it immediately.
The Shtetle, upon return, was unrecognizable. The Russians didn't leave even one house undamaged. This was done so that we'll remember for a long time that the Russians occupied the place and left destruction as a gift for those who returned home.
There was nothing one could do to make a living except engaging in the old way of smuggling, the way merchandise was delivered from Pshemishel to Isterik. It was not that difficult to deal with the black market and the black merchandise. One could bring the merchandise with ease to the station in Isterik. Climbing up to the train with the merchandise was a difficult matter, because there were two policemen, Bank and Kawalski who followed the smugglers. Usually the policemen weren't seen, but when a shipment of merchandise arrived and the owner wanted to exit the train, they immediately appear from under the earth and confiscated the merchandise. At times they would accept a bribe and allow the smuggler to pass. Most of the time they wouldn't even allow any discussion and right away they shipped the smuggled merchandise to the Magistrate Hall that was located close to the train station. The merchandise stayed in the common area under the supervision of the former mayor, Moshe Frenkel, a rare example of an Aristocratic Jew, intelligent, who used to go to Shul (synagogue) and on Yom Kippur he stood the entire day whispering the prayers, shouting them and shaking with deep emotions. That Jew, Frenkel, who was chosen to be the town's Commissary Officer, had a reputation of being honest, generous heart and ready to serve. Needless to say that the Jews, whose merchandise was confiscated, turned to him with pleas to give them back the merchandise, because this was the only source of livelihood for their families.
Frenkel who, on one hand, wanted to do a favor for a Jew, and on the other hand he was loyal to his official position, used to answer harshly that the confiscated merchandise cannot be returned according to the law of the government. By the way he used to give a hint that the merchandise is in this and that room and no one will touch it there.
The Jew who came with the request to Commissar Frenkel didn't need further explanation, immediately, the merchandise from this and that room was removed and Yasha Shteiger, the driver, who used to deliver the merchandise to the train, was waiting outside to transfer the newly found treasure.
More than once it happened that the two policemen, Bank and Kawalski, wanted an account of the confiscated merchandise disappearance. So, Frenkel had a theatrical act posing as an innocent person with an expression in his eyes and facial expression which reflected honesty and innocence.
What, he would answer with a question, the packages are missing?
The two antiSemites policemen, Bank and Kawalski, after such a counter question, would not discuss it any more. They wiped their lips and left believing that the merchandise was distributed with the mayor's knowledge.
The Frenkel family was one of the families in Isterik who opened a window to the Western Culture, and they were considered as the intelligentsia. All of his children were students and one of them, Yoske Frenkel, who was my age, was noticed for his oratorical talent and his outstanding intelligence. He studied law in Vienna and became a fanatic revisionist. With him, the person who is writing these lines had the following incident.
One Saturday (Shabbat) afternoon, I came in the Zionist Hall Kadima, to settle some business with Keren Kayemt (a Zionist Organization) where I was a member. It happened that I just arrived during a lecture presented by Yoske Frenkel, who delivered it in his style with oratorical pathos regarding the need to bring Revisionism to the Zionist movement. Being a member of the organization, the lecture was of no interest to me and I wanted to leave the Hall. The speaker, Frenkel, discussed his philosophy In Fire and Sword and was at the end of his lecture when he turned to me and asked me to shut the door. I answered him calmly that I found the door open. It seems that he already prepared himself to be a leader, (if I'm not mistaken this person Dr. Frenkel is a revisionist activist) and persisted on telling me to shut the door.
I don't know whether he wanted to impress the small town auditorium with his strength, or he wanted to test his power of confrontation. Anyhow, at that time he suffered injustice from me, because I told him that the more he uses strong language the less it impresses me and needless to say that I left the door open. Since then I didn't experience
this type of speech and didn't join any party who practiced such methods; I joined an open minded party which is founded on work and free mind.
I mentioned that episode in order to bring a few features of Dr. Yosef Frenkel, our countryman, the way I remember him. Today, this seems childish and small town event, but it stayed in my recollection.
So, the end of First World War arrived. In our place as well as in the entire land of Galicia; the fight flared up between the Ukrainian and the incoming Polish troops. Needless to say, that the Jews became the scapegoat. The Ukrainian fighters didn't last long and were defeated, because the chief of the train station, who was a Pole, allowed cars full of Polish troop to enter freely. They in turn immediately started to bother the Jews. The Polish Independence War had nothing to be ashamed of when comparing it to the forth coming war of Nazism. Those who preceded Hitlerism know the methods of extraction which they called contribution. This was above the means of such a small town as Isterik. Those payments had to be delivered immediately. As a guarantee they held up the town's Rabbi and searched for the other important people of the community. In our Shtetle lived Dr. Shtivell, his house was close to the center of town; I'm telling it because his name is connected to an episode which shows that there were always Jews who were proud of their Judaism even in a small town as Isterik.
In one of those raids when those soldiers were searching for Jews, Dr. Shtivell stood on the balcony of his home and shouted to the soldiers in Polish: I'm a Jew. This made a strong impression not only on the Jews but also on the other residents of Isterik. To my regret, I can't remember whether they arrested Dr. Shtivell, but I remember that the Shtetle talked about it for a long time.
Jews weren't allowed to show up on the streets, the same as with the Nazis. The ones who didn't obey were apprehended and taken to forced labor. That means that during the day Jews didn't want to be seen on the streets. After 8:00 it was forbidden to go out and one had to have a permit to be able to walk freely. This lasted a while and slowly life became normal again.
Social life started to take hold, mainly in a Zionist fashion. In a different place (the Notebook of Galicia) I mentioned in an article the various organizations and parties that existed in Isterik. I want to discuss specifically the establishment of the Union (Hitachdut). We, a group of Isterikers, among them Gershon Hochtof, Yehudah Koplick, Tuvya Schechter, Malkah Goldvender and the writer of these lines, these were the founder of the Hitachdut. Soon after the founding of the organization we brought the present Mapai (Israeli Political Party) activist in Israel, Fishel Verbe, who became a frequent guest with us. He was a good speaker and was able to draw many people to his lectures which made the Hitachdut a significant established party in Isterik. A bit later, together with Hitachdut, Y.L.Peretz organized a Union with leftist elements. The Union had a weak power but because it represented the masses it seemed strong. We can't say that the Union had surplus of intelligence. The major part of the Union were upset that we called it a Culture, although they liked the name of Y.L.Peretz and most of them couldn't even read a newspaper. I'm not mentioning it as a derogatory fact God forbid, because one could find there mostly Blue Collar workers and they were not to blame for not being educated. But outspoken they were even at that time. People learned from them all the negative expression such as Chauvinism Dark left etc. It went as far as when a women belonging to such a party gave birth to a child, people said that a new Chauvinist was born. The bottom line is that it is the same as in our times.
I remember another episode which reflects the mentality of the Union members. We, in the Hitachdut, as already mentioned, used to bring from time to time our friend Fishel Verve from Lemberg. He would deliver lectures at the synagogue and he was successful in weakening the orthodox Jews who were well versed in Zionism. He never mentioned the Union of Y.L.Peretz because they didn't consider him as a powerful person. Once, a young man, a Union member, with a book under his arm, his casket hat tilted to the side and he said that he wants a word with the delegate from Lemberg. We asked him who does he have in mind and what is his name? So he answered that the first name he doesn't know
but the last name is delegate. So, the guys answered that truly there is a guest from Lemberg but his name is Fishel Verbe and not delegate. The young man became angry with his friends who sent him like a fool. He apologized and left.
This is a second episode to show the intelligence of the Union. The Zionist organization in our Shtetle had a drama club, and occasionally they put on shows. The Union also wanted to have theatrical shows, but because they were too small and too weak as far as resources, they brought the amateur club from Sanok to perform Dobos by Alter Katsizne. They were on the seventh cloud because that club had the same philosophy. So when the amateur Zionist group put on a show they would shake their heads and had one medicine: If this piece would be acted like Dobos from Sanok, it would have been good, because the Zionists don't have talent like in Dobos.
Later the Union became stronger because two members from Hashomer Hatzayir (youth organization) switched to them. For some reasons I don't want to give their names. These two new members brought some culture to the Union. It went as far as participating in the town's election that Y.L.Peretz Union had a candidate in the election, regardless of his platform he showed much power.
Just like these, I have recollections from my life in our small Shtetle Isterik which is no different from other small towns in Poland and Galicia. Jewish life went on in spite of the difficult torture by the Polish authorities and pushed the youth out of the narrow quarters to the wide world, mostly to an ideal. Thanks to this ideal we have today a treasure for the entire Jewish people, the Jewish State. Out of the small meetings, discussions, gatherings and campaign flourished the power that brought us to this day, without looking back to the loss of millions of Jews.
It is especially pleasing that this Book of Memories will be treasured in Israel and will include memories from an intense and beautiful Jewish life where my Shtetle Isterik won't be missing. I hope my words will be a small contribution to the collection of memories.
Mr. Abraham Tzafnik from Isterik tells:
The German entered Isterik on Sunday September 10, 1939, corresponding to the Jewish calendar 27 of Elul, the first night of selichot the Jewish year 5696. The first two days it was rather quiet. German troops passed through the town and proceeded toward LinskSanik. But on Tuesday the OSA came and gathered the Jews, only the Jews, with a reason or without a reason, and forced them to wash their cars, clean their offices and road work. Jews were forbidden from walking on the sidewalk. This labor was enforced only for accessibility. They organized the Ukrainians as guards to watch over the Jewish work so that it will be performed well. Those Ukranian guards had a yellow armband with a blue swastika.
That went on every day from morning to evening. Every Jew had to appear for work.
The Jews of Isterik came home in the evening ok, but refugees, nonresidents didn't have the same fate. They were taken after work to Dom Shwiatovi and they weren't seen any more, they disappeared.
When the Germans deserted Isterik on the second day of Sukkoth (Chol Hamoed) as a result of the agreement they made with the Soviets, it was discovered that those 46 Jewish refugees were tortured and killed. They were buried in a forest behind the village Berehi. This we found out later from a gentile (goy) who lived there. Moshe Horowitz and Mordechai Yamner HYD (God revenge their soul) brought out the bodies from the forest and transferred them for burial in the Jewish cemetery of Isterik. Their names were not known since their documents were destroyed and the money robbed. I remember that two brothers and a botherinlaw from Sanik were among them.
During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur no one prayed in a synagogue only in private homes and even there the Germans found them, abducted them and forced them to hard labor of carrying airplanes' parts to Mt. Zikof.
During that short time of the Nazi invasion, Reb Mandel Potisher was taken away with other Jewish people. Reb Mandel Potisher was a dear beloved Jew not only in the Jewish community but also among the Christian population. We didn't know why Reb Mandel didn't return, we only knew that he was arrested by the Gestapo. Once the Gestapo retreated, people returned to their offices and they found Reb Mandel on the floor, hardly alive, beaten, blood running from all over his broken body and he was moaning. It was difficult to recognize him since they tore his beard and payes (side lock) and his face was covered with scars and bloody bruises.
He was brought home and immediately the best doctors came to help but to no avail. He managed to tell us, that when the Gestapo took him they interrogated him with unfounded allegations connected to the Elders of Zion, and blamed the Jews for causing this World War. At the end they gave him to sign a document which stated The international Judaism wanted this war. Reb Mandel refused to sign the document. They told him that he must do it, and if he won't do it willingly they will force him. They took him to a hill, tied his beard and payes with a rope and choked him until they tore his beard and payes and then pushed him down the hill.
They took him from there unconscious, and every day they repeated the same speech telling him let us see who will win, you or us, finally you are going to sign so why delay. They revived him just to cause him more torture and hell; they poured water on him, beat him up but Reb Mandel didn't give in and didn't sign.
Just before the Germans left, one of them said that they should shoot this dirty Jew who refused to sign. So his friend answered him: God forbid, anyhow he is not going to live long, let him die in misery so that his dirty Jews, his community will know that you can't defeat the Germans, Germans are undefeatable, then he went and trampled on him.
Reb Mandel suffered a week of torment; he couldn't eat, drink or relieve himself. After what he heard from Reb Mandel, Mr. Tzafnik, who was the head of the organizers during the time of the Russian takeover, tried very hard to get a military doctor who will help the injured Reb Mendel. Finally, a Russian doctor agreed to see him. On the way to the house the two spoke Ukrainian but when the doctor entered the room he yelled in Yiddish God all mighty! The doctor came to him and examined him carefully and said in Yiddish: Friend Potosher, you will be well, don't be afraid, you are going to live many more years.
When he left the room he called the family and said in Yiddish: forget about the medication, they ruined his lungs and all his vital organs, no doctor in the world can help, let him die in peace. Don't bother him with medication, let him die.
The family didn't listen to the Jewish doctor's advice and continued to nurse him. Before he died, Reb Mandel called me and other friends saying: Tell my children in Israel that I'm not guilty. If my children remained orphans, I didn't capitulate to the murders, with full consciousness I sanctify God's name. He died a martyr sanctifying God's name.
This was written by Menachem Aldobi ZL (of blessed memory). Edited and printed by SH. Fridlender.
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