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[Page 464]

Michael Ostereicher[1]

by D. N.

From his earliest childhood on, until the last moment of his life, Michael Ostereicher remained true to the Socialist movement in Przemyśl. His activity began as one of the creators and founders of the Jewish Socialist organization “Briderlechkeit.”

During the 1890s, he founded the first Jewish business employees' organization. Ostereicher worked with heart and soul in the strong workers' movement that began with the arrival of Dr. Lieberman to Przemyśl.

After the Austrian Socialist party took in the national parties, he joined the P.P.S.D. and invested his best energies and activities into it. He was a member of the city committee of the P.P.S.D. for a long time, and worked intensively with it, especially on the eve of elections. Several years before the outbreak of the First World War, he was a founder of the large and fine “Arbeiter Hoiz” [Workers' House]. He was a member of the house committee until his final illness, from which he never recovered. Thanks to him, a sick fund was set up in 1897 – a strong position for his party. He was always a member of the sick fund committee. He used to write articles for the Jewish publication of the P.P.S.D. “Przemysler Folkschtime”, which used to appear prior to the elections.

When the Jewish Socialist Party was founded in 1905 and the P.P.S.D. fought against it strongly and with unpleasant means – Ostereicher remained in the P.P.S.D. He would have possibly started to go around as a Pole, but he did not want to part from Dr. Liberman, to whom he was strongly bound.

[Page 465]

Intelligent and easy going, he suffered from hatred and persecution and was without doubt the man of peace. As Dr. Lieberman's chief advisor in Jewish matters, he probably was instrumental in getting Lieberman to change his attitude toward the problem of the existence of the Jewish nation. Whereas Lieberman claimed both in 1897 and 1906 that such a nation does not exist, he declared at the time of the elections to the Jewish council in 1911: “Am I guilty if I had been influenced by Polish literature from childhood on?” That means that he radically changed his opinion.

Ostereicher did not abandon the P.P.S.D. even after it made peace with the Jewish Socialist party. Nevertheless, he still was trusted as a Jew by the Jewish nationalist camp, and on November 1, 1918, he became a member of the Jewish people's council as a representative of the Jewish section of the P.P.S.D. He played an important role there too.

Ostereicher was one of the closest collaborators of Dr. Lieberman, who held him in high esteem for his diligence and faithfulness to the Socialist movement as well as for his good character.

In 1930, a severe illness tore him away from his party work, to which he had given decades without personal interest. Unfortunately, he died three years later in 1933 at the age of 66.

Michael Ostereicher was a merchant and manufacturer of women's accessories. He did not do badly, even though he lived a very modest life. Even though he had no higher education, Ostereicher was a well–read man, with good orientation, especially in politics. He was also an honorable man.

Translator's Footnote

  1. There is a text footnote here, as follows: Written as part of a memorial in Nowy Głos Przemyski, number 20, May 14, 1933. Back


Dr. Ludwik Grossfeld

by D. N.

Ludwik Grossfeld was born in 1889 in Przemyśl. His father, Izydor, came from a well–pedigreed rabbinical family. His mother Basia was the daughter of Reb Chaim–Yitzchak Blumenfeld, a scholar and staunch misnaged, the first gabbai of the old synagogue. Nevertheless, their son in fact did not receive a Jewish education and there was not a great deal of Jewish practice in the house. However, there was not that much of Polish culture either. His father did not know Polish well, and preferred to speak German outside of the house. Ludwik Grossfeld obtained his Polish culture from the school. He graduated from the gimnazjum in Przemyśl and later studied law. He received a doctorate of law from the University of Kraków in 1912.

He opened a law office in Przemyśl in 1919, and ran it until September 1939. He edited the Socialist weekly “Nowy Głos Przemyski” from 1924 until 1939.

After he immigrated to London, he became the general secretary in the Ministry of Labor of the Polish Government in Exile in 1940. From July 1943 until

[Page 466]

September 1944, he served as the Finance Minister. From July 1945, he served as a member of the liquidation committee of the Polish Bank in London.

{Photo page 466: Dr. Ludwik Grossfeld.}

Grossfeld returned to Poland in October 1945 and took the office of vice minister of ports and foreign trade.

He was elected as a deputy of the Polish Sejm in the general elections. In 1949, he organized the Polish business chamber for foreign business, and then became its president. He remained in that office until his death in 1955.

From his earliest youth, Grossfeld was closely linked to the Socialist way. During his gimnazjum years, he belonged to the “Promień” illegal union of Polish Socialist youth. He was also a long–time member of the “=Zjednoczenie” (Unity) Socialist youth organization in Przemyśl, which included Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian students. He joined the P.P.S.D. in 1907 and served as secretary (or chairman) of the district committee of the P.P.S. from 1919–1939. He was a member of the leadership committee of the P.P.S. from 1925. In the years 1929–1939 he was the representative of the P.P.S. in the Przemyśl city council. He was chairman of the sick fund committee of Przemyśl and member of the district committee of Lemberg [Lwów – ed.] from 1920–1930.

Grossfeld was a participant in many political lawsuits. After the famous farmers' strike, he led the defense of several hundred political prisoners in central Galicia.

Grossfeld was dedicated to his ideals and served the party faithfully. His social environment was primarily Jewish. He considered himself to be a Pole, was did not aspire for assimilation or distance from other Jews.


[Page 467]

Przemysl Maskilim [1]
Mordechai Yonah Rosenfeld (Myshu'b)

by Avraham Kahana

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The shochet [ritual slaughterer] Reb Mordechai Yonah Rosenfeld takes an especially honorable place among the Maskilim of Przemyśl. He was known by his literary name “Myshu'b” (acronym of Mordechai Yonah, the Shochet and Bodek[2]).

By calling, he was a shochet in the village of Medyka, and later in Pysznica (both near Przemyśl). However, he extended himself beyond the narrow confines of shechita, and devoted a great deal of time to the study of philosophy. After a long time, he amassed a great deal of Hebrew philological knowledge and became an expert not only in Talmud and Jewish law, but also in the classic philosophical works including Moreh Nevuchim [Guide of the Perplexed], Chovot Halevavot [Duties of the Heart][3], Or Hashem [Divine Light] by Chasdai Crescas, Ibm Ezra, etc.

Rosenfeld authored several books at a high literary level. First and foremost, his composition “Or Karov” comes to mind. It is a commentary on the “Or Chayim” book by the Gaon and Kabbalist Rabbi Yosef Jawetz, a student of Don Isaac Abarbanel. The author of “Or Chayim” speaks out against Maimonides and the philosophical track in general, pointing out that the majority of the Sephardic Jewish intelligentsia did not stand up to the test during the Spanish inquisition, and gave up their faith , at a time when the coarser people gave up their bodies and possessions in sanctification of the Divine Name.

Reb Mordechai Yonah Rosenfeld defended the opinion of Maimonides regarding the need for philosophical studies in order to demonstrate to the nations of the world, on the basis of rationalism, the truth of faith. On the other hand, he points out, Maimonides was also not a follower of exclusive philosophical meditation devoid of the consequences of observing the commandments and performing good deeds.

In his commentary “Tur Karov”, Myshu'b demonstrated great expertise in Hebrew philosophical literature.

In the same book “Or Chayim”, he also included a commentary by the great sage and scholar Rabbi Hirsch Elimelech of Dynów (Bnei Yissachar) under the name “Maayan Ganim”. There, he sharply attacked the Jewish intelligentsia of that time who occupied themselves with philosophy rather than Torah. The “Maayan Ganim”, however, had more of a polemical than objective character. This is what Myshu'b wished to correct and stress – and he succeeded very well. Rosenfeld writes about Rabbi Hirsch Elimelech with great respect, referring him in the introduction as “my teacher and rabbi, a Gaon, who is holy in Israel, the author of the book Bnei Yissachar.”

Myshu'b also composed a commentary on Job, published in Lemberg [Lwów] by Yaakov Ehrenpreis, 1875. In it, he includes a great deal of his philosophical knowledge and philological expertise. The composition is one of the best in that field. It is a shame that he did not

[Page 468]

also leave behind commentaries on other books of the Bible. That commentary consists of two parts: 1) “Hochach Milim” [Proofs of Words] dealing with the etymological–linguistic aspect, and 2) “Knaf Renanim” [Wings of Pleasantness], which is a commentary on the characteristic dialogues.

In his wonderful introduction, the author deals with the history of the book of Job in a meaningful fashion, as well as with the role of the trop accents in clarifying the meaning. In the introduction, he also describes his motives for writing a composition on a book that already has sufficient earlier commentaries. Specifically here, he followed in the path of Maimonides, who stove forcefully to introduce various philosophical systems from the Asharites[4] and Aristotle into the specific language of the discussion. Myshu'b also demonstrated that this would not work, for in the discussions, there are many contradictions between the systems.

Aside from this, Rosenfeld wrote an excellent commentary titled “Ein Bochen” on the poetic–philosophical work of Rabbi Yedaya Hapenini Bedersi[5].

As can be seen from his works, Myshu'b was under the strong influence of the Jewish philosopher Rabbi Nachman Krochmal[6] (Rana'k), from whom he also borrowed the exceptionally clear stylistics.

Still in Medyka, Myshu'b was strongly persecuted by the Hassidim, who did not trust him on account of his general erudition. After 1870, he had to become a teacher of Bible and other Jewish subjects for the children of a landowner in Naklo near Przemyśl, and he wrote a great deal during that time. Feeling sick, he asked to travel to Przemyśl, where he had family and where his grandfather had once served as rabbinical judge. He died there at the age of 86, after a difficult life.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a text footnote here, as follows: “Unzer Tribune”, Przemyśl, number 8–9. 12.7.1930. Back
  2. Bodek is a task associated with ritual slaughter [shechita], and involves checking the internal organs of the slaughtered animal for lesion that would render the animal non–kosher. The two functions together often receive the acronym of Sh'ub (Shochet and Bodek). Back
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chovot_HaLevavot Back
  4. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash%27ari Back
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedaiah_ben_Abraham_Bedersi Back
  6. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nachman_Krochmal Back


[Page 469]

Beirech Schafir
– the Jewish Troubadour of Przemyśl

by Avraham Kahana

He was a jester, improvisator, and therefore had a frivolous nature. His poems have cultural–historical value. Przemyśl Jews remember him very well. He was one of the most interesting personalities in Przemyśl during the pre–war era. He was raised in a Polish environment. More than once he literally caused terror with his debauchery, while simultaneously remaining the darling of the Jewish people. Anyone who met him at a joyous occasion would laugh heartily from his verses and improvisations.

Sending his “muses” out to the world, he says:

Give a dance, a laugh a snap –
Do you want to acquire a friend?
Do you intend …[1] and with gusto,
From the world …
[1] you?
You see your idea standing
Better reformed.
Go my child, my child go –
Stroll through the world.

One of his poems was known not only in Przemyśl, but also far–far outside the borders of the city:

A cold wind blows outside
A terrible Kislev[2] night
An old man sits quietly by the lamp
Closed in his room.
His beard is snow white
His eyes glow
And weeps hotly
At the Gates of Zion
[3].
Deep in the heart
We hear him calling out
Only one word:
Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
My dear, holy place…

I want to weep, sigh in grief
Forgetting joy and dance.
From behind, that sorrow breaks
My luck, my thoughts, my gleam.

[Page 470]

No strength remains,
No altar, no sacrifice,
The prophets were driven out,
They perished in exile.
Turkish vehicles
Appear like stones,
There upon Mount Moriah.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem
My dear, holy place…

Time had passed,
With its sharp suffering.
Then I cannot forget you,
Forget you – not!
Rome knew
Your holy tracks.
The Ottomans did not
Shine your floors.
In the walls remain,
On them is written
With Jewish blood, the words:
Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
My dear, holy place!…

The end of the poem is already a bit mysterious, for the author ends it with a love song for the Polish homeland. His poem “Chatzot[4] also exists in Hebrew translation, as I found with his colleague Welwel Zbarazer. It is worthwhile to note that the Hebrew translation is no less flowing than the Yiddish original. In addition, he wrote Hebrew poems with themes from Jewish history.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. I could not translate a few words in these places, but the theme remains intact. Back
  2. Kislev is the Hebrew month that generally maps to December, but can start in November and end in January. Back
  3. Likely referring to the name of a Prayer Book here. Back
  4. Meaning “midnight”, but could also refer to the Tikkun Chatzot service (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikkun_Chatzot) Back


[Page 471]

Rachel Korn

by A. B.

{Photo page 471: Rachel Korn}

The Yiddish poet Rachel Korn was born in a village on the San River, where her grandfather owned land, which was worked by him and her father. There, the young Rachel absorbed the love of the earth, imprinted with a village façade and farming life. That connection and proximity to the earth left its impression upon the creations of the poet.

Rachel's first steps into poetry were taken specifically in the Polish Language. She very quickly transferred to Yiddish. In 1928, her first booklet of poems, called “Dorf” [Village] was published in Kletskin's Vilner Publishing House[1]. Her first story booklet was also connected to the village theme, and was called “Erd” [Earth]. It was published in Warsaw in 1936, by the “Literarische Bleter” Publishing House. Another poetry collection, “Roiter Man” [Red Man] was published a year later by the Jewish Pen Club of Warsaw.

Rachel Korn lived in Przemyśl for many years. There, she married a member of the local Poalei Zion organization, whose family name she carries to this day. Her husband, like her large family, was murdered in Poland by the Nazi murderers. The poet herself survived the war years in the Soviet Union. She returned to Warsaw during the repatriation wave. She later traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, and from there to Montreal, Canada, where she lives with her only daughter, a doctor.

In 1948, her book of poems “Home and Homesickness” was published by the Publishing House of Polish Jewry in Argentina. Her book “Nine Stories” was published in 1949 in Montreal.

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In 1962, the Y. L. Peretz Publishing House of Tel Aviv published Rachel Korn's anthology of poems, “Fun Yener Zeit Leid” [Poems from That Time], dedicated to the poet's mother. The following dedication in the book is typical of the creative path and voice of the poet.

“The memory of my mother Chana the daughter or Rivka shall be sanctified.

My mother, who was the greatest audience of my first poems, lived together with me through the fate of the poor and the shamed. She always wished that I would dedicate a book to her, even if this was not meant to be. She lies somewhere in a forest with a German bullet in her heart – in her heart that was full of love for humanity, animals, the forest, and even a minute blade of grass.

My poems are the continuation of her snuffed–out life.

In 1959, the poet spent several months in Israel. She was the guest of the Organization of Przemyśl natives. The local Yiddish press and several important Hebrew newspapers dedicated long treatises to the poet, and greatly praised her achievements in Yiddish poetry and prose. It is especially worthwhile to mention the work of Gitel Meisel in “Davar Hapoelet” [The Female Worker's Word], and the interview by M. Chalamish with the poet, published in the “Al Hamishmar” daily newspaper.

In order to characterize the creative style of the poet Rachel H. Korn, I include a few of her poems – two of which portray Przemyśl.

Translator's Footnote

  1. See http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Kletskin_Boris_Arkadevich Back


On the Ruins

by Rachel H. Korn

1. The Synagogue

The synagogue stands there, with the bursting walls,
Like a brown, dark structure, open to the rain and the wind,
And when the moon shines through as in a pail
Until the core of its destruction to the ground.

And the whispers, the whispers of personages, dark to the bottom
The entire horror of the destruction and passing away,
When one peers through the shattered windows
Its cold, frozen light, like silent weeping.

Like blind pages groping in the dark, the pillars,
Want to flee from the frightening, naked wind,
Obstructing the path to the star studded sky
From the depths, the shadows – like outstretched hands.

[Page 473]

2. The City

Around the burnt synagogue a mound of bricks, glass
As if the sorrow is protected from every comfort –
Only dogs and cats run around here at night,
The ghosts glitter with burnt letters.

The day is coming with cross–eyed beauty
The streets are surveyed, like shrouds for the city,
That are littered with scattered, shattered panes,
As if they are reflecting a dead God.

If a swastika is sometimes seen at an intersection
And cuts through the streets with cruelty and pain,
Then the last beauty of the day flees from there
And the streets cry out with fresh marrow and blood

Przemyśl, Cheshvan 1939


[Page 474]

Yaakov Zinneman[a]

by D. N.

He was the oldest son of the devoted and diligent teacher and idealistic nationalist activist Reb Nisan Taffet, who had lived in Przemyśl for almost 20 years[1]. His mother was the daughter of Zinneman, the religious judge of Rzeszów. Since the parents of Yaakov Zinneman did not conduct their marriage ceremony in a legal fashion (a frequent occurrence in this days in the traditional Jewish circles of Galicia[2]), the son kept the family name Zinneman.

Nisan Taffet spoke only Hebrew with his children, and they were given a Hebrew Language education. Yaakov Zinneman graduated from the Polish government gimnazjum in Przemyśl.

After the outbreak of the First World War, the Taffet family left Przemyśl and settled in Vienna as refugees. During the war, Yaakov performed four years of military service. Then he studied history and geography at the University of Vienna. His higher education concluded with a Ph.D.

In 1923, we find that Yaakov Zinneman was a history and geography teacher in the Hebrew gimnazjum in Białystok, and later, in Kalisz. He moved to Warsaw in 1927, where he dedicated himself completely to literary and journalistic work. Several books and brochures in Polish issued from his pen. (For example, “Dzieje Jednej Rewolucji” – The History of the Austrian Revolution.) He published treatises in the Jewish–Polish press and also began to write in Yiddish newspapers. We say “also” because at first Zinneman did not write, or even speak Yiddish in Congress Poland.

He was positioned in seventh place on the Zionist list during the communal elections in Warsaw. He married in the Polish capital, where he also had a son. He was serving in the Polish Army at the outbreak of the Second World War. After the Russians marched into the eastern area of Poland, Zinneman was sent to Siberia. He returned from there to Poland in 1946, and found that nobody remained from his family. They had all been murdered by the Nazis. He published his book “History of Zionism” in Polish in 1947.

Since 1947, Yaakov Zinneman lived in Paris, where he published several books: an expanded edition of his “History of Zionism”; “The Forgotten Prophet” (about Max Nordau); “In Conflict” (essays); “In Rabbinical Shadows” (Marx); “Biography of Theodore Herzl” “The Life of Emile Zola.” Aside from this, Y. Zinneman published memoirs of his early years in Przemyśl.

His biographical and historical books read like novels. That is the style of his writing, so that the books are accessible and readable to the reader. Whenever he prepared to write a new book, he read a great deal about the topic, and delved deeply into the problems that he had to portray. Yaakov Zinneman knew the Hebrew Language well. Therefore, it was no major effort for him to translate his books into Hebrew.

Editor's Footnote

  1. Yaakov Zinneman was using the name Jakub Zineman when he was living in Poland and published his books under this name in Poland. Back

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here: See D.N. Study of the Hebrew Language in Przemyśl. http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/przemysl/prz146.html#Page154 Back
  2. A Jewish religious ceremony would have taken place, but the requirements of civil marriage may have been ignored. Back


[Page 475]

The Schwebel Brothers

by Chanoch Hand of Haifa

{Photo page 475: the Schwebel brothers}

An exhausted world
In the wild winter forest
Let you only go out
When you do not want there
To seek honor and money…

With these words, Shimon Schwebel dedicated a book as a gift to a friend who had left Przemyśl to seek fortune in the wide world. Shimon and his brother Leib, who was usually called Leibish, were two Przemyśl personalities of a unique stature. They were bookbinders by trade, and they were personalities within the social and cultural realm, each with their own personality.

The bookbinding shop on Śnigórskiego Street (in the same courtyard where the Hashomer Hatzair headquarters was located) also served as a gathering point for all people who had an interest in Jewish literature, art, and politics.

They were anarcho–syndicalists[1]. There heroes were Bakunin, Stirner, Proudhon, Godwin. They believed in the evolution of mankind. They spread out into various fields, and expressed their Jewish and worldly culture within the bounds of their possibilities, through the printed word in novels. Leibish Schwebel was a talented orator (including literary themes). He delivered countless lectures in Przemyśl and other cities, inspiring his audience with his interesting stories about books, theater, and art. I cannot forget his recitals about “cinema, theater, and the daily realties” (a theme that was dealt with one year later by the Russian writer Ilya Ehrenberg in his book “Dream Factory”). He began an initiative to disseminate

[Page 476]

Yiddish books in the original and in translation from general literature. He lectured about the Yiddish classicists: Mendele Mocher Seforim, Shalom Aleichem, and Y. L. Peretz. He was a magnificent chairman and introducer for such guest speakers as Zerubavel, Itzik Manger, Melech Ravitch, Shefner, Ashendorf, and others.

{Photo page 476: Przemyśl celebrates Shalom Aleichem's 80th birthday –– 1939.}

He and his brother Shimon were the most active members of the Przemyśl chapter of the “Yiddish School Organization.” (This was the reason to believe that they belonged to the Bund.) They also conducted evening courses for Yiddish and amateur drama groups, and directed and conducted Yiddish theatrical performances. Shimon was not a significant speaker, but he was a fine literary critic as well as a writer. (As I know, he did not publish his writings due to issues of censorship.) An amateur drama group of about thirty people performed his three–act theatrical work “In a Besieged City”, which dealt with the role of “a writer, a merchant and a wife” in the besieged Przemyśl during the First World War. No important guest in the area of Yiddish literature who came to Przemyśl did neglected to visit to the Schwebel brothers in their bookbinding shop, which was a small room full of machines, stacks of paper, and – a world of books that everyone was permitted to read. There, everyone discussed newly published books. While they were discussing books, they forgot about their work which was waiting, they forgot about the cramped, uncomfortable quarters, where there was not even room for benches. Therefore, one found that with the highest levels of the

[Page 477]

muses, every political event to oppress the Jews in their rights (as if with regards to ritual slaughter for example) always brought youth to the Schwebels' bookbinding shop to hear their opinions. Their opinions were always intelligent and well thought through. Their predictions were correct for the most part, and this gave them the reputation of well oriented politicians.

In 1939, they were the initiators and leaders of the great celebration in honor of the 80th birthday of Shalom Aleichem. The various events lasted for an entire month.

Shimon Schwebel was born in 1904 and Leibish in 1906. They came from a very Orthodox family. When the Nazis entered Przemyśl, they both had the possibility of escaping, but they decided to remain with their family (Leibish had a wife and a daughter). They were all murdered by the Nazi murderers.

Translator's Footnote

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho–syndicalism Back


[Page 478]

Types from the Jewish Street by Eliahu Bloch

by Chanoch Hand of Haifa

Not very well pedigreed – for the most part common folk who pass through the memory, even though somewhat hazy. These are stories of a Przemyśler Jew, as his mother of blessed memory had portrayed them to him in her stories.

Dedicated in memory of my mother Serka (Sala) Bloch, the daughter of Shlomo and Jenta Morgenroth.

 

A.

There once was a city filled with Jews. It was called Przemyśl – in Yiddish Premisle. “Przemyśler Yoich” [Przemyśl Soup] does not mean that they cooked in a unique way, but rather that the Jews of Przemyśl willingly ate this food… In truth, we should say that a document regarding such cannot be found.

During the era that is being portrayed here, the main streets of the city already had electric lamps, as did the better businesses and a few of the dwellings. On the other hand, the older Jewish living spaces remained unchanged. Depraved echoes had not yet resonated, and the traditional Jewish customs still maintained their hold on life. The elders did not have any basis to state that they do not understand today's world…

As in every city with a large Jewish community, Przemyśl was rich in contradictions and conflicts. The colorful collage of the Jewish population ranged from the uncompromising Hassidim and extended to the brazen apikorsim [heretics]. Those differences were expressed externally by differences in dress. The small, crowded alleys of the Jewish quarter swarmed with personages with long beards and peyos, with pocketbooks underneath and a red kerchief and pipe sticking out; on the head there was a black beaver hat. On the Sabbath and festivals, he wore a silk bekishe[1] [Polish: bekiesza, frock] with a radziwill on top (in the winter, a tolup, whether it was the Sabbath or a weekday), and a streimel on the head. The finer the householder, the finer the streimel.

Anyone who had already had a taste of worldliness went to the synagogue on the Sabbath with a cylinder hat on his head. On a weekday, they would have simply worn a topcoat, which was, like their beard and like the size of their “worldliness,” more or less short. Every year, the number of people who dressed in German fashion grew.

Here, we are not discussing three generations who, one after the other, made the revolution in clothing and in weltanschauung, for it often happened that during the course of his brief life, an individual Jew went through the process of evolution from the bekishe to the geirak. He would later take pride in the fact that his “gentlemanly, stylish clothing” turned him into “The King of England” on the Franciszkańska, or the “Prince of Wales” in the Lwowska–Mickiewicza. His heart then pounded behind a white, stiff shirt, which was no longer obstructed with a beard, which had fallen as a sacrifice to the razor. Scoffers would even try to poke fun at the “Germans”:

[Page 479]

The son, with the father
Threw away the frocks.
When they will admit this
People will –– –– –– stare at them.

However, this did not bother the “gentiles.”[2]

If you wish, this is a bit of cultural history from the standpoint of clothing styles.

 

B.

{Photo page 479: The Gate Square, 1949.}

Like other Jewish cities and towns, Przemyśl cannot boast that a Rothschild died in its brick houses. There was indeed some talk of Przemyśl millionaires and wealthy people, but this would be measured within the scale of the medium sized Jewish communities of that time. They could be found at the highest level of society. Below them were the householders, about whom it could be said that they live in prosperity. People who had a secure existence due to their stable source of livelihood are counted in this category. Below that category were the large, gray masses of merchants, small businessmen, tradesmen, employees and wage earners who had to toil hard and bitterly, and concern themselves with an honorable livelihood for their families. If the earnings were not always sufficient to satisfy the customary lifestyle,

[Page 480]

such Jews did not have to help themselves with fast days in order to complete the week… During those days it was very difficult to earn the guilder – but the guilder was still a coin! The Austrian press would boil over if there was a proposal to raise the price of sugar by one kreuzer

All the poor people did business on all sides of “the Gate.” At that joyful place near the Reformed Church, near the monument of the monk who saved Przemyśl from an enemy attack, one could find every day the “stick Jews” of Przemyśl and others of their ilk. There, they discussed any topic of conversation. There, they conducted business transactions from beginning to end. “By the Gate” became the expression for everything that took place in the city – both in public and in private life. Coming home, one already knew everything. That which was written in the newspaper was already old news… Only those who wanted to get to the bottom of things would subscribe to a newspaper (mainly the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna) in a second hand manner – through other homes or coffee houses. Some also subscribed third hand.

 

C.

Experts on the Jewish economy claim that every Jew must “stop” at least one time. If he died without fulfilling that “commandment”, he would have died temporarily. It would be a terrible travesty to attribute that, in its general form, to our city. This does not mean that there were never any bankruptcies in Przemyśl. It would be too nice, and even impossible, for every few years there was a crisis that demanded its victims. There were fewer with the tradesmen, more in business, and the main one in the textile manufacturing arena.

Those bankruptcies left various divisions. First of all, there were those in which the victim was the Vienner (more seldom – the Lemberger) Liperant, and the private loan givers or the cases that quickly became known as banks or small banks. There were cases of bankruptcy where the person straightened out matters with the credit giver. Others gave promises once again: if they will ever say that they will not pay, they will forego the right to take back their own promise…

There were also cases where the victims submitted accusations to the prosecutor, the matter was brought to court, and may have even ended with a jail sentence. The relatives of such a person would say that he “had traveled to the spas.” There were even open hearted notaries who did not keep secret that which was indeed a secret for the entire Brody… Their claim was that actually the criminal was created for people – and he is not more than sinfulness and blood.

Frequently, a bankrupt person would disappear. He would go out to the wide world, not to the Land of Israel, but rather to America. Columbus did not only discover America for those wise people who did not want to serve in the army for a full three years, but also for those whose own wives were sick of them… The first year of the prosecutor Stebelski was especially harsh for the bankrupt people. Often, with the passage of time, the

[Page 481]

“emnity” between the sides became blurred. The prosecutor and his clients “lived one atop the other.” Thanks to this, there was an increase in the number of cases where the great accusation against the name of a merchant was replaced with a small tablet with the name of his wife, with the single word “before” [przedtem] written in tiny letters. A passer–by would quickly figure out the matter: the lament is ready…

 

D.

{Photo page 481: The square in front of the Old Synagogue.}

As we recall the joyous–sorrowful stories, we recall the personages of the Przemyśl tradesmen, who earned their morsel of bread through their own efforts. My mother or aunt would tell about some of them. Who does not know about Szyja Gedankensznajder, who sewed dressed, jackets, coats, and the like? Since the clients and their tailor did not know about style journals, Reb Szyja, after doing his actual work, would shut himself in his room in the attic and spent hours along in contemplation, seeking inspiration for his work. In this matter, the order was completed to the satisfaction of the client and the master. There was nothing to be ashamed about such styled garments. One could wear them anywhere – in the synagogue as well as under the wedding canopy.

[Page 482]

Mechel Schuster, a broad–shouldered man with a pitch black, round beard, was different from all other shoemakers in the world. He was no bungler. A shoe from Mechel's workshop would beautify even a clumsy foot of a beautiful Jewish girl. Mechel the shoemaker always kept his word regarding the promised deadlines to complete the work, even though he always worshipped with a minyan, over and above his activity in the Chevra Mishnayos. Along with all those described here, he was G–d fearing, staunchly pious Jew, without being guilty for anything before the Master of the World…

Birech the baker was also a pious, G–d fearing man. He was as proud of his rolls and challos as he was of his fair daughters. Moshe Goldfarb was also faithful in his service of G–d. He was called Moshe the Hunchback on account of his low shoulders. He loved his locksmith shop very much, and even taught this trade to his sons. He also had another trade, to which he devoted himself with his heart and soul: he was the gabbai of the small Beis Midrash. His short personage was the driving force in that house of worship. Moshe Goldfarb's lock workshop was located in a house on Kazimierzowska Street, “Pod Książką” (under the book) in a cellar in the courtyard. One could go directly to the Fish Place from that courtyard.

The Fish Place (Fisch Platz), in accordance with its name, belonged to the Jewish fisherman who had a veritable monopoly in the fish business of the city. They were not involved in catching the fish, for they left that job to others. They only sold fish, also to Christians for their festivals. On the other hand, every Thursday (sometimes also Wednesday and rarely on Friday) one could find Jewish wives purchasing carps, pike, and other cheap types. During those times in Przemyśl, the husband, “the crown of creation” did not get involved in such “lowly” work as washing dishes, rocking babies, or going shopping at the shops. This all was in the hands of the wife, even when she was involved completely in earning a livelihood. There were a few men in town who did not even let their wives purchase fish, but rather did so themselves. These men were known as unemployed fish eaters, and demonstrated great knowledge about the subject. The fishermen who candidly expressed their thoughts “that which is on the long – is on the tongue” were also well known. The motto, “one can purchase honor in the butcher shop and in the fish market” circulated around Przemyśl.

 

E.

Tepper the binder used to bind the finest and most expensive books. He had a well–equipped bookbinding shop, in contrast to that of Josele the binder. He was a shrunken Jew with a shiny kapote. Under his fur hat he had a disheveled beard, and a pair of lively eyes. His important area of work was – the press, which he received from the Baron Hirsch Foundation.

Jona the wagon driver did not wear any long garments, for they would have interfered with his work. He had a beard and peyos. He owned a horse and wagon to carry loads – but none that were too heavy… Such would not be permitted for Jonah's mare, which he weaned from food. He reduced its portions every day, and therefore its

[Page 483]

hunger pangs slowly diminished. Cruel fate had it that when he felt his livelihood slowly getting easier, the foolish horse lay down and did not get up again.

We cannot ignore those who carried loads on their own shoulders. The gathering point for the Jewish porters, whose work implement was a long, thick stick wound around the hips, was the intersection of Franciszkańska and Kazimierzowska Streets, opposite Mr. Marcus Eisner's shop and Reb Mordechai Schmelkes' business. A Jewish transport worker from Przemyśl would carry on occasion a fifty kilo or heavier sack of flour, or a clumsy wooden table that would be lifted like a ball. Aside from carrying things, the practitioners of this trade were also known for their firm muscles and … loose mouths. Everything was used for the work. The nickname “porter youth” was not considered a complement.

{Photo page 483: Przemyśl. Intersection of Franciszkańska and Kazimierzowska.}

Would I be forgiven if I forget to mention the Tarner doctor and his modest and simply organized “hair dressing salon for men” on Jagiellońska Street in the house of Simcha Frey? The Tanner doctor also used to extract teeth “without pain” with exceptional lightness and without anesthesia. His specialties were cuppings and leeches as well as relieving stomach troubles. His two sons were also hairdressers – one of them on the main Franciszkańska Street.

Berl the glassmaker forms a chapter unto itself. He was a wholesaler of glass and mirrors. He would import wagons of merchandise. There was no equal to him in this field. Aside from this, he was a glassmaker. People came to him with all types of large scale glassmaking projects. He also supplied the army. He always had plenty of work. All of the glassmakers in Przemyśl were his customers – all the Jews and even a few Christians.

[Page 484]

Berl the glassmaker did not become a Rothschild from this – not even a small–scale Rothschild. He was a joker by nature. His son Izik inherited that trait along with the business. Berl would look with jealousy upon the officers passing by with their gold collars, and think the melancholy thought: why did Father of blessed memory not let him go to the army, where one can also become depressed, perhaps quicker than in the glassmaking workshop.

I wish to end this chapter with Pinchas the bricklayer. He was constructed from completely different material than anyone whom I have mentioned so far. He was getting on in years, and had a long, white beard. Pinchas fixed ovens in the kitchens of Jewish houses. The principle that time is money was foreign to him. What should have taken three hours would take him three days. It is not hard to understand why it was such. First, he did not start work that early. Second, he left work three times a day to worship and to quench his hunger and thirst. Each time when he returned after a long break, he had not only had his fill of worshiping, but he was also in a better mood. When he finished a job, he would receive the remainder of the money that was owed to him, for he kept an account with every client for his mealtimes. Unfortunately, the fixed oven or kitchen did not smoke any less than before the renovation… However, our householders would turn to Pinchas once again for help. Jewish wives in Przemyśl remained faithful to Pinchas the bricklayer.

It would be an injustice to Reb Towie to avoid mentioning him right after Reb Pinchas the bricklayer – on account of their closeness in profession and their love for the bitter drop (liquor). When Reb Towie Meller did not have the needed amount, he would think with his head about how to quench his thirst. Reb Towie was always thirsty, and he always had the same idea about how to quench his thirst… Przemyśl Jews would thank him for many happy moments.

 

F.

It is worthwhile to mention the women who also bore the yoke of livelihood just like the men. The intention is not to discuss those women who took up a profession in order to change the social structure, or to those affected by the emancipation movement. We wish to direct our remarks to the old trades of women, such as midwives, wig makers, or braiders, who worked with the same methods of their grandmothers and great grandmothers. The midwives about whom we are referring did not want to hear or know about what was written. They never called a doctor or sent the woman in labor to a clinic. However, they helped bring into the world fine Jewish baby girls and healthy baby boys who would be brought into the covenant of Abraham our Forefather after eight days. We should note here that a Jewish physician from Przemyśl, Dr. Kutna, published a book in German titled “Should we circumcise our Sons?”

The braiders (one of whom was Reizele the Basiche) would come day by day to the home of their clients. These were women who had no patience (there indeed were such at that time), or who were in need, or were incapable of doing it themselves. Therefore, they were in a position to pay for the efforts (how much to pay – I

[Page 485]

no longer recall) so that the wig or the hairdo would be in order. It is indeed the case that those braiders were the precursors of the modern hairdressers, and to some degree, even to the fine salons of today.

{Photo page 485: A Jewish porter in Przemyśl, painted by Chana Winkler–Mieses.}

Jewish women were involved in business – small–scale business for the most part. They would sit on the Vul [“na Woli”], table to table, one next to the other, so that it was difficult to tell them apart. Everything fell apart when we children arrived. The crowding testified to that field of business, and even more important: for the entire day, from dawn until late at night, they sat under the same open sky, whether on a hot summer's day, a wet rainy autumn day; or a cold winter's day, wearing thick kerchiefs and hovering over a fire pot – waiting for a customer, mostly children. Their merchandise was of the cheapest kind: apples, pears, cherries

[Page 486]

plums, as well as gooseberries and currants –not by weight but rather by measure. A grosze for a measure. There was one things that differentiated the market women. One was good, another prone to anger, and a third one prone to silence, with measured speech. The relationship of one to the other was often like the weather in those places. Sometimes it was friendly, sometimes inimical, and rarely smooth. “First class fruits”, eight barrels of kurtroibs[3], Tyrolean apples, one could find “at the first load” and later in its proper shop.

The fowl dealers on the Jewish street took in more money than the women “on the Vul.” They were paid for live or slaughtered hens, ducks, and geese. The majority of the business was conducted on the eves of Sabbaths and festivals. There was also a great deal of business in the winter, when the women purchased geese to prepare goose fat [schmaltz] for the entire year. A few hucksters would also bring the merchandise to the houses. They were never lacking a word. They always knew what to say and to answer.

Whereas the fish trade was in the hands of men, the fowl and fruit business was in the hands of women. There was a man who went about the streets caring cold measures (“wynko, winko”), hot hens and hot babehs[4], covered with an old cushion so that they would not get cold. The various times of the year regulated his business.

 

G.

Those whom I have written about until now earned their livelihood through their own efforts. There were also those who did not have any trade or source of employment. They had no source of livelihood, and did not even receive any help from their own families. The pitiful poor people relied on a great deal of mercy. They would be remembered from time to time. Goodhearted Jews would conduct a campaign for support on their own initiative. They would not go from door to door, but rather to specific houses where they were certain that the well–off householders would give them a nice contribution. They were seldom disappointed.

There were two women who undertook these efforts, and, incidentally, would come by very often (the women were merciful and quickly knew what was cooking – or was not cooking in a strange pot). They were not very picky. If they visited more houses, they would receive less money… They did not accept the coin that was given in their hand, but rather asked that it be put in the open, white kerchief that they had brought with them. In this manner, they did not extend their hand to a face that they recognized, but rather believed in G–d. In those days, they did not know about giving receipts. Everything was based upon trust and faith.

Przemyśl was used to seeing its house–goers, the various beggars and poor men and women who went around with outstretched hands. To their praise, it must be said that they did not take their young children with them to arouse sympathy.

The difference in begging style between Jews and Christians was starkly obvious. Each of us certainly remembers the straight line, arranged almost in

[Page 487]

a military formation in a disciplined fashion, of Christian men and women beggars. They would appear in front of the Christian businesses every Sabbath. In the 1890s, the number of such businesses was very small, but the number grew from year to year. The “elder” of the group would enter the shop, receive his donation, and everyone would be given his share. Then the group would march along with dainty steps to the next Christian business, a pork butcher. There, they received small portions of meat instead of coins.

On the other hand, the Jewish tailors were “industrialists.” Each of them conducted their business under their own auspices. There were some who used to go to the houses only on certain days of the week, with each house having its respective day. On the other hand, others preferred the Sabbath. Having no choice, they had to suffice themselves with a piece of bread of challah. One of them, a well–known Sabbath beggar woman, had a well–known statement: “You should distribute large pieces of cake at your children's weddings.” Her comrade in that profession, who conducted her work only on weekdays, had a minimum price: she would not take less than a kreuzer – since for the most part, people gave her a half a kreuzer, and in some businesses, a box of matches.

Since we are already talking about beggars, it is worthwhile for us to mention, even though their number was not large, those who did not beg in their own city, but for various reasons (and each had their own reason) went out into the countryside. That means that they went to the nearby or far area of Przemyśl. These were primarily men who wandered around the villages or town for a period of months like Gypsies, living like dogs. They only returned home on occasion, primarily on festivals, and then set out on their journey once again.

 

H.

On the other hand, Trompel did not belong to that category. His territory was the city of Przemyśl itself. He went to the houses every Rosh Chodesh. His claim was that he was the Turkish Sultan himself. Accompanied by his sister, he walked about with dignity, as the Sultan would have done. As a symbol of his status, he carried a simple stick made out of cut wood, with a piece of leather thong as a handle. He was tall, and his walking stick seemed long to us. Today it is difficult for me to figure out if we were more afraid of his ice cold stare or his stick… It must be stated that Trompel was really not bad. He used to wait at the door, without even opening his mouth. He had somebody upon whom to depend – his sister.

With him, we begin the gallery of city crazy people and fools. Chamelia (Chaim Eli) was one of the city fools. In contrast to Trompel, who wore a schpentzer[5], with a hat and visor in the summer, and a soldier's coat with a fur kosma[6] hat in the winter; he always wore a ragged bekishe, which was more green than black. He had a constant smile on his lips, so that everyone could definitely see how fortunate he was. When he was given three entire kreuzers to buy a warm meal or a Jerusalem Soup (as a slime soup was called) with a piece of bread from the fat Herszko in the Folk's Kitchen

[Page 488]

on Szkolna or Dobromilska (later Słowackiego) Street, he would sit there for an entire day.

Itzik–Schpitzik was also a city fool. From him one can only say – aside from the gossip that one spoke about him – that the foolishness only lies on his face and peers out from his eyes. This also applies to Munio Szpigiel. Whereas others dressed in Jewish clothing, Munio dressed in German style… He would wear a geirok with a hard collar and a tie. He would wear a hard hobik hat. Munio was never seen without a cigarette, and he always begged for a kreuzer to purchase a cigarette. Munio Szpigiel never spoke anything other than Polish. During his earlier good days, he was a photographer. Nobody knew what happened to his mind.

Leibele Kurzig lost his sanity while serving in the army. He was a native of Przemyśl, and was drafted into the tenth infantry regiment. The regiment was Leibel's constant topic of conversation with others. One did not have to draw out his tongue. Leibele Kurzig did not beg, and he was always neatly dressed. One could usually find him on Jagiellońska Street, where the post office used to be. He had previously lived on that street.

Rivka the crazy woman was indeed crazy, but not so bad in comparison to the environment. On the other hand, Welwel was quite crazy during the time of an episode, which took place with him quite frequently. It was scary and painful to look at him jumping through the street as a mischievous child with tricks ran after him, tormenting him to the point of blood, calling him names and throwing stones. From time to time, Welwel disappeared from the streets of Przemyśl and appeared in the surrounding towns and villages. After a brief sojourn in the countryside, he instinctively returned to Przemyśl. Sometimes he dressed in German fashion, and sometimes in Jewish fashion, but always torn and disheveled. He was a constant target of pranks.

The unfortunate human beings whom we have mentioned, and also those whom we have not mentioned – for the writer of these lines is not able to provide a complete list – form a sort of lexicon of the crazy people of Przemyśl. For the most part, they did not have a roof over their heads. Their homes in the summer and winter were the streets upon which they wandered. This fact sheds light on the social activism of that time. Much could have been improved by better planning and organization, but without doubt, the Jewish social institutions did not have the power to solve the problem in its entire manifestation, due to lack of means. It was also clear that the municipal institutions were not involved with this matter in full seriousness. The Jews handled this type of thing worse than the non–Jews, as can be seen from the fact that the number of needy Jews (even when one takes into account the larger percentage of Jewish “nervousness”) was greater than the number of non–Jews , for whom extending help in such circumstances was considered to be an elementary human duty.

 

I.

If we have already returned to those bygone days, then why should we not mention with appropriate honor the known storytellers of the city, who,

[Page 489]

in the fashion of their colleagues, the former Arabic storytellers from the Thousand and One Nights, portrayed wonders and miracles ––not entirely untrue, but prone to the greatest exaggeration. People perked up their ears to hear such stories. A tall Jew, thin as a rod, would come to a celebration, sit at the table, and stand up after the meal as fat as a beam; the storyteller had seen with his own eyes a live herring jump out of a barrel of herring; he brokered no more and no less than a wagon for travelling; his friend boasted again that he had sold something good and asked smart Jews for advice about what to do with the money… “Pay the debts,” they advised him. “Good,” he responded, “but what about the rest?” “The rest you will prolong”

Przemyślers were interested in such stories. They listened and laughed. Jews of Przemyśl loved a witticism and would laugh heartily. They also knew that laughing is healthy. Doctors order laughing.

* * *

Thus, in a short time, we have portrayed various types of Jews who lived and loved in our city on the San River; pious and enlightened, rich and poor, those who earned a living for their families honestly and respectably as well as the unemployed disgraceful people and beggars, wise people and fools, sane and crazy. Everything that they had done and had “forgotten” to do; everything that they had created or destroyed; that about which they had dreamed; how they rejoiced, laughed, and had fun; how they felt sorrow and wept; how they served the Creator of the World and how they sinned and did not uphold the 613 commandments sufficiently – all of this together forms a colorful picture of a lively and ebullient significant Jewish city, the holy community of Przemyśl that once was – and is no more..

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Polish: bekiesza. A frock, usually used in reference to Hassidic garb, but also worn by Polish and Hungarian gentiles. Back
  2. In this context, gentiles refer to Jews who appear as gentiles. Back
  3. kurtroibs [yid.], kurtrauben [germ.] – grapes, raisins. Back
  4. I am unsure of the meaning of this term – seemingly a type of pastry. Back
  5. schpentzer [yid.], szpencer, spencer [pol.] – a type of clothing. Back
  6. A type of hat. Back

 

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