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[Page 207]

Chapter 5

The Jewish Population – Constituents and Economy

The Population

During the period between 1918 and 1939 there were two censuses of the population, in 1921 and in 1931.

In 1921 the number of Jews in town was approximately 18,360, some 38% out of the total population of 51,038.

In 1931 the number of Jews in town had dropped to 17,326, which was 34% of the population.

According to the report made by the community board on June 15, 1939, the number of Jews that year reached 19,400. (It is likely that this count included Jewish residents of surrounding villages who belonged to the community).

In comparison to other large towns in Galicia:

1921 1931
No. Town No. of Jews % of
Population
No. of Jews % of
Population
1 Lvov 76,800 35.0 99,600 31.9
2 Krakow 45,200 24.6 56,500 25.8
3 Przemysl 18,360 38.3 17,300 34.0
4 Stanislawow 15,900 56.2 24,800 41.4
5 Tarnow 15,600 44.2 19,300 42.0
 

From the above table, it is evident that with respect to the Jewish population, Przemysl dropped from the third place [in 1921] to the fifth place [in 1931], among the Galician towns. The causes for this were: the worsening economic situation, immigration to other countries in Europe and to America, and the aliya to Eretz Yisrael, which had begun as early as 1920. In 1939 there was another increase in the Jewish population, due to the re-emigration and expulsion from Germany and Austria[1].

 

The Social Composition

The Jewish population's social composition during 1918-1939 was stable, with minimal deviations.

Although we do not have official statistics regarding the occupations of the Jewish population in town, it can be closely approximated according to the data in the reports prepared by the Hebrew gimnazjum, which specified the professions of the students' parents. According to those data, the parents had the following professions:

Trade 52.2%
Crafts 10.8%
Industry 6.5%
Clerical 14.1%
Liberal professions and teachers 6.2%
Agriculture 2.5%
Homeowners 2.4%
Miscellaneous 1.3%
Unemployed 4.0%
Total 100  %

[Page 208]

Personalities of the City in Caricature

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[Page 209]

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A significant proportion of people with academic education among the Jewish population, left its stamp on the social and cultural state of Jewish Przemysl and determined its character.

There were some one hundred Jewish lawyers in the town. Among them were first-rate legalists, the foremost of whom was Dr. Leib Landau, who was famous throughout Poland. In addition to their professional work, many were engaged in public and cultural affairs.

There were approximately a hundred Jewish physicians in town. A number of them worked for free in the Jewish hospital clinics, which provided a high level of service.

The pharmaceutical profession: seven pharmacies, out of the nine, which existed in town, were owned by Jewish pharmacists. Dozens of teachers and educators, both in Jewish schools and in public schools in town and in the towns of Wielkopolska [2] , taught the youth. Some served as headmasters of high schools (Dr. Axer[3] in Czestochowa). Jewish engineers, both independent and publicly employed, designed and built modern Jewish houses throughout the town. Among the engineers we should mention Selo Schaffer[4], who drew up plans for public institutions for free. Jewish Przemysl also supplied rabbis with academic degrees. The head rabbi of the Polish army was General Dr. Josef Mieses, the son of a prominent family in town. Dr. Haim Astel, a member of Hashomer movement, served as a rabbi in the town of Kromeriz in Czechoslovakia. Aguddath Herzl member, Michal Patron, chose to become a rabbi, and Dr. Shmuel Hirschfeld served as rabbi in Biala[5].

The Jews were also represented in the senior government official positions: Dr. Gans and Mr. Honig[6] in the Ministry of the Treasury. Among the judges in town were four Jews: Lowenthal[7], Hornik, Schwartz and Eisner.

Jewish Przemysl was also blessed with artists and writers. The painters M. Feuring[8] and Otto Axer were well known throughout Poland. The latter was the scenery painter in the great theatre in Lvov. Adolf Bienenstock, an art teacher in the gimnazjum, painted the stained glass window pictures in the new synagogue on Slowackiego St., with great talent. Another artist of note was the excellent caricaturist Arthur Oller (see pp. 208-209).

Arnold Gahlberg, Henryk Saltz, and Emil Henner were among the authors in town. The well-known Matityahu[9] Mieses, and the prolific journalist Abraham Kahane (an avrech [10]) are mentioned in this book (see the chapter on personalities).

The art of music was also nurtured in Jewish Przemysl. Apart from “Yuval”, the society for music and drama, we should also mention the well-known personality in town, owner of the music school, Shaul Axer; the music teachers in the schools, the pianist Jakob Koritan, the fine violinist Klemens Silber, the piano teacher Ms. Teich, wife of public gimnazjum teacher and public figure Gabriel Teich, violinist Ms. Meltz[11], nee Weissberg, wife of engineer Meltz, violinist Yosef Kronberg, a clerk at the city hall.

There were dozens of cultural, social and welfare organizations in town, including many activists and youth movements with hundreds of members. There are separate chapters dedicated to them in this book.

The town had a library called “Czytelnia Naukowa[12] , which housed 40,000 volumes in Polish and other languages. Once a week there were lectures on literary and scientific topics in the library. The last chairman of this institution was the Jewish public gimnazjum teacher, Brandler.

These few lines cannot suffice to describe the vibrant and fruitful life of Jewish Przemysl, which is forever silenced. We are unable to mention all the people who deserve mention. We have devoted a special chapter to the prominent ones among them.

[Page 211]

Economic Life During 1918-1939

When the Polish state was established in 1918, a drastic change occurred in the lives of Przemysl Jews. The town ceased being a military town, with all the implications of such a place. The military supply industry, which was mostly run by Jews, was greatly decreased in size, and the Jews were systematically dispossessed of it, over the course of time, by the new regime. There was less construction of military buildings, which meant a smaller need for the supply of construction materials and contractors, a Jewish profession in town.

The raging inflation impoverished all the old trade industries, with years of commerce behind them. The field of colonial goods, of which Przemysl was the center, gradually became less lucrative. From time to time new companies sprung up, attempting to exploit the inflation by speculation, but they quickly disappeared.

The stabilizing of the currency in 1925 did not have much affect on the economic situation of Przemysl Jews, as a result of the government policy whose purpose was to disenfranchise the Jews from the economic positions they occupied. The high taxes which were mercilessly levied on the Jewish population, prevented any possible economic rehabilitation after the inflation.

One of the most important areas occupied by the Jews of Przemysl was the manufacturing and trade of wood. This collapsed in 1930, as a result of the Russian “dumping.” The industry recovered slightly for a short period during the last years before World War II broke out. Among the wholesalers in this area were Engel-Hotrer Goliger and Gottfried.

Some rays of light in the town economy were the industrial factories which existed during this period. Among these were the “Polna” factory for agricultural machinery, sewing machines and bicycles, owned by the great Zionist activist, Mr. Haim Klagsbald and his son Szymon (currently activists in the “Association of Industrialists in Israel”). The factory employed 400 people, mostly Jewish laborers, a revolutionary change in the Jewish life in town.

Other factories included the metal factory “Cyklop,” founded by attorney Dr. L. Peiper and managed by Mr. Klinger; a factory for mechanical toys, “Minerwa,” belonging to the family of Yosef Rinde, a Zionist activist and city councilman; the factory for agricultural machinery belonging to the Honigwachs family; the Pipe family's button factory; the Langsam family's furniture and carpentry tools factory; the pharmacist Laufer's cosmetics factory, “Aya”[13] ; the Poller family's cigarette holder factory; the candle factory established by prolific Zionist activist Mordechai Hacke; a modern cotton gin for linen, belonging to Zionist activist Lipa Galler; the Rebhan family's “Victoria” beer brewery. There were also dozens of workshops and small factories which operated in the town.

Przemysl was known as a town with a tradition of Jewish craftsmanship. According to the report issued by the society of Jewish craftsmen, Yad Charutzim, from 1938, the number of Jewish craftsmen in town was 1,500. The fields in which Jews were occupied were: metal workers (tinsmiths and locksmiths), carpentry, painting and tailoring (250 people – according to the report from the society of Jewish tailors from 1938), shoemakers, bakers, hat makers, furriers, barbers and others.

The same report describes the harsh state of the Jewish craftsmen in the town: “due to the dispossession policy, the Jewish craftsmen are not given any work from governmental or municipal institutions. The government banks do not give them credit. Various decrees intended to harass the Jewish craftsmen are periodically instated. The burden of taxes in all forms is destroying their livelihood.”

[Page 212]

“Yad Charutzim”

The organization of craftsmen, “Yad Charutzim,” played a respectable role in defending the Jewish craftsmen's rights. Jewish craftsmen from all fields of work were represented in it. The society was established in 1868, along with similar organizations in other Galician towns. Its purpose was to defend the professional rights of its members, particularly in times of trouble. Although the Jews were the majority among them, the Christian members discriminated against them, by failing candidates in their exams, and so forth. In the years before 1900 the society was chaired by tailor Henryk Blatt, an educated man. Mr. Blatt was elected during the last years before the destruction [Shoah] as an honorary chairman of the society for the remainder of his days. Henryk Blatt was also a tireless activist in other institutions in the town, and also served as a board member for the Keren Hayesod in town, representing the non-Zionists. He died in Siberia, where he had been exiled after the Soviets occupied the town. After Henryk Blatt, from 1905[14], the chairman was attorney Bertold Herzog.

 

prz212.jpg
Henryk Blatt

 

When the socialist idea began to become prevalent among the craftsmen ranks, the influence of the activists connected with the P.P.S.[15] increased in the organization: Leon Nessenfeld and Michal Estreicher, and later the “Bund” activists, Yosef Strudler and Dr. Gottdank. The society participated in the political life of the town and the community, and its representatives were chosen as members of the community board.

Among the fruitful and important acts for the benefit of the craftsmen and for the education of the younger generation, we should give honorable mention to the craftsmen's “Cooperative Fund,” which provided affordable credit to its members. The institution began operating in 1925.

In 1938 there were 150 fund members. The fund was managed by Dr. Gottdank, Dr. Sohn, Leib Pillersdorf and Herman Rubin. An exemplary institution of the society was the Noar Haoved boarding school. Active members of Yad Charutzim included welder Yitzhak Izik Schlusselberg[16], a member of the boarding school committee and the representative of the craftsmen in the government bureau for craftsmen in Lvov. He received a commendation for his activities in developing artisanship. Other activists were Messrs Kreinczas, Probstein, Oberlander and F. Bien.

 

Commerce

The success of Jewish commerce decreased during the period between the two world wars, following the drop in the farmers' buying power, the economic crises which the state periodically experienced, and the government's fiscal policy and the boycott against Jewish businesses. The situation became so bad that many business closed down because of the burden of taxes, of various types. They were unable to pay even the “patent tax” (business tax) without the assistance of the organization.

Two merchants' organizations were founded in the town, in order to protect Jewish merchants' interests: “The Organization of Merchants” and “The Organization of Small Merchants.” The Organization of Merchants had some 750 members. It assisted its members, both by defending them from unjust taxation, and by extending credit, which a Jewish tradesman could not obtain from any governmental source. For this purpose, a cooperative bank for merchants and industrialists was formed. It was jokingly called “Die Reichsbank,” after the name of its manager, Mr. Alojzy Reich. The bank entrepreneurs were public activists Maurycy Richter and Lipa Galler, who directed the institution for a long time. The bank's balance in 1932, according to the report published in Chwila, reached a total of 428,471 zloty and 30,056 dollars; the profit was 15,526 zloty. In 1928 the profit was 18,000 zloty. The bank allocated funds to institutions such as the Hebrew gimnazjum, Keren Hayesod and welfare institutions.

The activists in the “Organization of Merchants” were: Matityahu Mieses, who served as chairman of the organization for a long time; Lipa Galler, pharmacist Karol Wiesel, Leon Amster, Lipa Diamant, Alfred Frankel (owner of a large flour mill), Markus Guttman, Efraim Katz, Zygmunt Heiman, Emil Klausner, Abraham Laufer, Yosef Rinde, Szymon Morgenroth, Hirsch Miltau, Moshe Perlroth, Shmuel Rosenfeld, Maurycy Schatzker, and Adolf Neubort.

The “Organization of Small Merchants” included some 500 members, and was very active for the benefit of “the small man.” Among the activists of note were: Abraham Poller, Eichenbaum, Penner, Kasselman and Tafet.

The “Credit Union” (Zwiazek kredytowy) was very active for the benefit of small merchants. It was also known as “JCA Bank,” since the JCA supported it. The institution was founded in 1910. The activists in the society were: Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes, Dr. Bernard Gans, Efraim Knoller and Judge Izydor Lande. Its purpose was constructive aid for the small merchants and small artisans. Long-term loans were given to the needy, which could be paid back in small weekly installments.

From 1921 the institution operated as a cooperative and it expanded its activity among all ranks of the Jewish population. It acquired the trust of the wide public and every year the number of deposits and the turnover grew. The cooperative also had credit in national banks.

Henryk Blatt, Max Oksenberg, Dr. Leon Probstein and Dr. Kalman Reich managed the institution, in the last years before the destruction, with dedication and without purpose of reward.

Among the Jewish professional societies which were active in town, we should mention the professional society of private clerks, which numbered some 200 members, and was lead by the activists: Dr. Krongold, Edmund Landau and Mrs. Raab, Mrs. Stagman and Mrs. Gans.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes:

  1. In October 1938, Germany expelled about 15,000 Polish Jews who had been living in Germany. Initially, Poland would not allow them in and many of them were held in the Polish border town of Zbaszyn. After a public outcry, the deportees were allowed to enter Poland (ed.) Back
  2. Roughly speaking, South-Western Poland (ed.) Back
  3. The Yizkor Book transliterates this name as Akser. However, this name is commonly spelled as Axer. (ed.) Back
  4. Schaffer, spelled with an “a umlaut”. (ed). Back
  5. Biala (or Bila, Bile) There are a few towns in present day Ukraine that fit this spelling. Hebrew spelling “bet, yod, alef, lamed,
    hey”. (ed.) Back
  6. Honig, spelled with an “o umlaut”. (ed.) Back
  7. Lowenthal, spelled with an “o umlaut” (ed.). Back
  8. Feuring. Spelled “phe, vav, yod, resh, yod, nun, gimmel”. Possible spelling alternative: Feiring. (ed.) Back
  9. Matityahu is the Hebrew rendition of the Polish name Mateusz (ed.) Back
  10. A young Torah scholar. (tr.) Back
  11. Meltz. Spelled “mem, lamed, tsadi”. Alternative spelling: Maltz (ed.) Back
  12. Polish for Scientific Reading Room (ed.). Back
  13. The Polish spelling: “Aja” (ed.). Back
  14. Most likely, this is a typographical error. (ed.). Back
  15. Polish Socialist Party (ed.). Back
  16. Schlusselberg, spelled with an “u umlaut” (ed.). Back

 

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