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[Page 67]

From the Past


History of the Jews of Podhajce

by Nachman Blumenthal

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1. Name and History of the City

The name of the city appears in the sources in various forms. Here we will deal with the Hebrew and Yiddish sources. In the Hebrew sources, we find various spellings of the word[1]: Podhaitz in the ledgers of the Council of Four Lands; Pohitz in the Birchat Yaakov book by Rabbi Yaakov the son of Rabbi Baruch of Pohitz, Lvov (1745); Podhaitze – “Hamagid”; Podhaitz – in a booklet published in Przemysl in 1906; Podheitzi – G. Kressel in the Lexicon of Hebrew Literature, 5722 (1962). There were authors who used differing version in the same work. In a single edition of the Hebrew “Hamagid”, it is written once as Podhaitze and once as Podhitze.

We also find various versions in Yiddish literature: Podheitze – “The Private Teacher”, Drohobycz 1897; Podheitz – R. Mahler, Warsaw, 1958; Podietz – Weichert, Memories, Tel Aviv, 1960; and even Podgaitze – Pages on Yiddish Demography, Statistics and Economics, 1923, number 3. In ordinary Yiddish, the word is pronounced as Pidhaitz or without the 'yod' as Podaitz. In that respect, the Yiddish version is closer to Ukrainian than to Polish.

The name of the city stems from the large forests (gaia, haia) between which the settlement is situated[*1]. The settlement itself is situated in a valley surrounded by densely overgrown hills. The sources emphasize the fine position of the city that was founded later, which attracted tourists and guests. The great Polish composer Friedrich Chopin used to enjoy staying over there on account of the beauty of the area[*2]. With the growth of the settlement, the forests were cut down to a large degree. Fields and gardens near the houses took their place.

The settlement was already known at the beginning of the 15th century. In the year 1463, the Roman Catholic (Polish) church was erected. In the 16th century, the Greek Catholic (Ukrainian) church was erected, which was built like a fortress. Aside from this, there was a castle, and walls surrounding the city. In the middle of the 17th century, a Frenchman who was among Jan Sowiecki's court men, Daleran, describes the city in 1667. Among the residents of the city at that time, Jews, Wallachians, Armenians, Poles and Ukrainians are mentioned[*3]. Everything was wiped out by the frequent battles that took place there. Only ruins remained from the castle, and a beer brewery was erected in its place.

Podhajce was a city from the beginning of the 16th century. It obtained the privilege of conducting a major annual fair, aside from the weekly fairs for the nearby towns. Podhajce obtained the Magdeburg rights in 1539, which helped the development of the city. From the year 1630, Podhajce became the place of residence of the Potocki Polish magnate family.

Podhajce was situated upon the road through which the Tatars, and later the Cossacks and the Turks would invade Poland. The Polish army commanders (hetmans), as well as the Polish kings, Jan Kazimiersz in 1663, Jan Sobieski in 1667 and 1687, and August II in 1698, spent time in Podhajce. In 1675, Podhajce was plundered and destroyed by the Turks (Ibrahim Pasha). In 1698, the Polish military,

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pod068.gif The cover page and last page of the book Masaat Binyamin [71 KB]
The cover page and last page of the book Masaat Binyamin,
by the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Binyamin Aharon Solnik
of blessed memory. Published in 5383 – 1633

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headed by King August II, drove out the Tatars[*4]

Podhajce transferred over to Austria in 1772

Jews in Podhajce

It is difficult to assert when Jews first settled in Podhajce. According to Meir Balaban[*5], Jews arrived there during the 16th century. According to other sources, Jews came there much earlier. Two known Polish scholars state that the Jewish cemetery in Podhajce is much older than the Christian one, and that the oldest monuments date from the year 1420[*6]. Regarding the old times of the city, that same researcher mentions the “Interesting synagogue which is completely similar in structure to the local Greek Catholic church, which was built in the year 1650.” According to the authors, the similarity is because the synagogue was first designated as a house of worship for the Aryans, and later given over to the Jews[*7]. In 1602, there was a rabbi there, which means that there was already an organized, independent Jewish community with a significant number of Jews. The rabbi was Rabbi Binyamin Aharon the son of Avraham Solnik, a known author of responsa under the name “Sefer Masaat Binyamin”[*8].

The Jews fought alongside the Christian population at the time of the battles around Podhajce, defending the walls of the city during the time of the siege in 1667. The same thing happened when the Turks invaded the city in 1672. Jews took part in defending a portion of the walls, and the remainder was defended by the Polish population of the city. The Turks invaded the city twice: on July 22, 1673 and in 1676. They razed the city to the ground, and some of the Jews who did not succeed in escaping or hiding were killed or taken prisoner[*9].

The Sejmik[2] in Halicz decided after that, on account of the service of the Jews in the war, to present a request to the chief Sejm in Warsaw to free the Miastszanes[3] and Jews of Podhajce for twelve years from paying royal taxes. The Sejm approved this on December 3, 1676[*10]. The Sejm in Warsaw dealt with this matter once again on April 18, 1701, and decided to continue to free the city from the aforementioned taxes for a longer time, for the city had suffered greatly from the battles in its area [*11].

During those years, the Jewish community played a great role in the spiritual life of Jewry. A full tier of rabbis and scholars lived and were active there. Since there was no printing press in Podhajce, they printed their books in outside cities that had printing presses, and they mentioned the name of their community on the title page. The book “Masaat Binyamin” by the aforementioned Rabbi Solnik was published in Krakow in Cheshvan of 5363 (1633)[4] by his grandson Rabbi Chaim Menachem Mann.

In 1672, the Turks crossed the Polish border and took over Podolia (below Podhajce). They remained there until the year 1699. They perpetrated a pogrom in the city in 1676. Many Jews were murdered, and others were taken prisoner. A selicha (penitential prayer) by Wolf the son of Rabbi Yehuda Leib remains and was published in the book “Gefen Yechudut” which was published in Berlin in the year 1699. When he later returned to Podhajce, the city was in disarray after the Pogrom that the Turks had perpetrated. The selicha begins with “Kel Maleh Rachamim”[5]. The Podhajce rabbi Moshe the son of Shabtai Cohen, who succeeded in escaping from prison, tells about it in the introduction to the book “Nekudot Hakesef” which was published in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1677[*12].

We know of the following from among other rabbis and sages who lived in Podhajce:

Yaakov the son of Baruch of Podhajce, the author of the book “Birchat Yaakov”, which was published in Lvov in 5506 (1746).

Meshulam Zalman the head of the rabbinical court of the community of Podhajce, the son of Rabbi Leib the son of Shaul (approximately 5511 – 1751).

Yissachar HaMagid of Podhajce (from the same time). Yaakov Emdem considers him as an adherent of Sabbateanism, although “he is considered by them to be a great and pious man”[*13].


At the beginning of the 18th century, the Sabbatean Chaim Malach settled in Podhajce, and attracted a great number of adherents. Thanks to him, “Podhajce was an important center of Sabbateanism”[*14]. Another Sabbateanist was known – over and above the aforementioned Yissachar HaMagid of Podhajce – from a later generation, Rabbi Moshe David

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of Podhajce, who was born in Podhajce in the year 5456 (1696). A ban of excommunication was imposed upon him and he was forced to leave the city. He later settled in Altuna, Germany, where he died in the year 5526 (1766).

There were Jews from Podhajce among those who became apostates at the time of the Frankist movement. In 1759, 508 Jews became apostates in 1759, including the following from Podhajce: David Leizerovitch, Jas (Josef) who took the new name Podajcki upon receiving his baptism. His daughter Malka also became an apostate and took on the name Mananna; the son of Moshko (Moshe) of Podhajce took on the name Franciscus Seraficus, Pesach from Podhajce – Josefus Piesecki, his son Moshko (Moshe) Lodowicius, his daughter Dvora changed her name to Roza Bananenzis. Chava the maid of Moshko also became an apostate and took on the name Manannia Szajnska, her second daughter took on the name Saloma Anna Piasecka. Another Jew, Moshko, took on the name Tomasz Elazanius Podhajciecki, his wife – Mananna There was also a seven year old girl among those who became apostates. She took on the name Franciska Bonawentura Podhajciecka.

In 1760, Yankel the son of Aharon became an apostate and took on the name Gregorius Jakubowski da Podhajce, and Pesia Ickowicz took on the name Franciska Benedictus Aranska. On November 9, 1760, Anna the daughter of Shimon and Zofia Jablonski became an apostate in Kamenetz-Podolsk. Her parents had become apostates earlier. Aside from these, others Podhajce Jews became apostates on other occasions, such as Zofia Podhajiecka, and others. According to Polish statutes, the apostates became members of the nobility, which means they joined the ranks of the szlachta[6]. This is also indicated by their names. We find important Polish aristocrats among those who were baptized[*15]. The text of the oath was in Polish.


The final rabbi of Podhajce in independent Poland was Rabbi Hirsch (Tzvi) the son of Berl Dov. His name is included among the list of Jews in Podhajce that was produced through the census of 1765.

After Galicia was taken over by the Austrians, the center – not only administrative – transferred to the regional city of Berezhany, where the seat of the headquarters of the regional rabbinate was located. Only an “ordinary” rabbi, a religious leader, remained in Podhajce. However, his salary was more than the other rabbis in the other communities, aside from Berezhany. It is no surprise that the city grew with it scholars, and with its high cultural and moral achievements. The emphasis often stemmed from the great bygone generations, the writers and correspondents of the city, who had written in the various Jewish and Hebrew journals for decades. A. David Polisiuk writes in Hamagid in 1876 that Podhajce is not like the other surrounding towns which sit in darkness and are shielded from the world so that no new light would Heaven forbid penetrate into them. On the contrary, Podhajce acts like the large cities, moving toward progress and the ways of the Haskala.

In Tishrei 5666 (1876), an organization was founded in Podhajce with the purpose of “reading the periodicals in the holy tongue and the vernacular.” It rented two rooms in an appropriate house, in which the members gathered together every day. The name of the organization was “Meeting Place of Jewish Citizens” (In German: Izraelitishes Bergerliches Kasino”).

After enumerating the activities regarding obtaining certification from the civic administrator in Lemberg, and enumerating those who stand at the head, the correspondence ends with a call to the small towns: “Look at the city of Podhajce, take note and do as it does. Arise from the slumber of folly. Wake up and become like people who know how to differentiate between the light of intelligence and the darkness of the fool, and then you will be called a wise and understanding nation.”

The same correspondent did not neglect to send other correspondences to the same periodical, about their other important problems. He always invokes the great past of Jewish Podhajce.

After Austria took over Galicia, the situation of the Jews deteriorated. The country was cut off from its earlier sources and had not yet set up contact with the rest of Austria. The Jews also had to become accustomed to the higher taxes

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that were imposed upon them by the Austrian regime, and also to the national projects to Europeanize them.

A new tribulation crept up; they began to draft the Jews to the army (1788), and one was able to evade the draft for a fee. The money had to go to a middleman. We know that in the year 1853, the community members gathered in Podhajce and decided that in order to collect the tax to free the community from the army, they would impose a special surcharge on flour for matzos, which would go to the communal coffers. All merchants who dealt with salt similarly decided to impose a special fee for that purpose. In 1855, anyone who would not abide by that decision was threatened with a ban[*15]. Later, the Jews had to give over either money or a quote of people. In 1852, the region of Berezhany had to provide 58 soldiers (1,281 in all of Galicia). In 1878, general military duty was imposed upon the Jews in a similar fashion to the gentile community (from age 21). This applied to all healthy males, without exception.

The Jews had the duty to pay the various taxes: for candle lighting on Friday nights, for having a wedding, for kosher meat, etc. Cliques were formed which ruled over the community and used the Jews for their own self-benefit. Clashes arose between the head of the community and the Jews. In 1855, the head of the community was even removed from his office by the regime[*16].

As well, the communal elections were not democratic. The voters were divided into categories; who belonged to the intelligentsia, who paid the most taxes – these are just a few – belonged to a higher curio which elected a greater number of members to the communal council than the lower curios to which belonged the masses and the remainder of the residents who paid the lowest taxes (known as etat). The communal elections themselves – Galician elections were a byword – were rife with forgery, just like the general elections. Those whom the authorities approved of were elected. Thus was the situation in the Austrian era, and thus was the situation later under the Poles.

With this situation, there was friction between Jews until the outbreak of the First World War; the Jewish community became the seat of backward elements, and was run for the most part by designated officials. This came to an end after the rise of Poland, when democratic elections were conducted, and every individual had only one vote.

However, new tribulations began at that time. The authorities would interfere with the elections, and not approve all candidates. On occasion, especially in the later years, they would dissolve the communal council if they found something inappropriate in their eyes. Instead of elected members, they would nominate a government commissar who would rule with the power of the regime behind him.

In general, the community concerned itself solely with religious matters, with everything else being run by the Polish decree. The community took the name “Gmeina Wyzaniowa”, and had to concern itself solely with the religious needs of the community: a cheder, a rabbi, a cemetery, a bathhouse, and the like, and to some degree with social assistance.

If at times the community allocated in its budget a specific sum for a worldly cause, such as a secular school, the national funds, and the like, the Starosta would impose penalties, and in such a case, appeals to the Wojewoda[7], to the higher authorities or the interior minister would not help

If the authorities approved of a communal head, he would remain in his position without elections for a long time, not infrequently until death. This would especially be the case in smaller cities. There were also cases, often connected with livelihood, where the honor was transmitted hereditarily.

The head of the community of Podhajce at the beginning of the 20th century was Leib Rottenberg. He remained in office until the beginning of the world war.

In independent Poland, the Zionists would enter the communal elections with their own list. Eventually, they did so in cooperation with like minded organizations. However,

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during the elections, they were not able to obtain the approval of the Starosta, without whose approval the elections would not take place. A regime commissar would be appointed from among the assimilationists, who was, of course, from the “Party of the Regime”.

Such a commissar existed in Podhajce in the year 1927. His name was Ratner. He was a wealthy Jew, and he threatened that whoever would not vote for his list during the elections (which the regime finally confirmed after intervention from the Jewish nationalist elements) would be persecuted. The Polish administration had the appropriate means to do this, and they would gladly apply it against Jews whom they could easily accuse of anti-government activities, etc.[*17]. They could also take other frightening actions, such as removing concessions, raising the government taxes, etc.

The “Cywila” writes regarding Ratner's machinations (May 13, 1927) that he agreed that only 260 Jews would take part in the list of those entitled to participate in the elections., and after reclamations, it was agreed to register another 180 names. In total, this was 440 who were registered for the election, at a time when their numbers in the city were more than one thousand. These were the known tactics that were used in Galicia earlier during the elections to the Austrian parliament, to the Landrat of Galicia, and so on.

With the intention to help “his” party, the Starosta forbade the use of Yiddish in the election rallies. This made the publicity work more difficult, for the Jewish masses did not understand any Polish. When Dr. Adolf Rothfeld from Lvov, a member of the Zionist executive in Poland, came to an election rally and spoke in Yiddish, The delegate of the Starosta interrupted him and did not let him speak until Dr. Rothfeld would switch to Polish. At the beginning of his speech, he stated that he would raise an interpellation about this in the Polish Sejm

The Zionist organization achieved victory in the communal elections of 1933. They won five mandates (Engineer David Lileh, Dr. Zalman Dik, Michael Kohn, Chaim Lehrer, and Moshe Weintraub). On the other hand, the list of the Husyatiner Hassidim won only one mandate, as did the Yad Charutzim (workers) and the Aguda, who elected the assimilationist Tovia Ratner[*18].

However, the victory did not last for long, for the authorities dissolved the communal council and nominated the court officer Pastel as a government commissar. He immediately removed all allocations from the community budget that were designated for Jewish national interests[*19].

In an article from Podhajce that was published in the Cywila of Lemberg in those times, the communal activities were described. It seems that they conducted all of their activities in an orderly fashion. They chose a special committee chaired by Ch. Funken in order to renovate and improve the old cemetery. They helped the Gemilut Chasadim fund, the committee for social assistance, etc.

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