by Sara Ecker Feuerstein
Translated by David Goldman
The Balfour Declaration was a revolutionary turning point for Radekhov, a remote and closed off town prior to World War I. Within a short time, all sympathizers of the Zionist idea got together at the Kadima club, and community activism began. Hebrew language courses were started in which almost all children, except for the extremely religious ones (Belz Chassidim), participated. The teacher, Yaakov, was busy from the morning until the late hours of the evening. Kadima opened a library, started a drama club, and for the first time in the town, Yiddish plays were performed. There were Chanukah and Purim evenings, parties, dances, and more. Women contributed to the snack bar and volunteered their services for it. All income was contributed to the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund). Among the first activists in Kadima were Chava Reis, Esther Pfeffer, Belka Ecker, Weissman, Hillel Greenberg, Menaker, Barak, Miller, Natan Barak, Nissan Axler and others. Shortly thereafter the first pioneers planning to move to Palestine became organized, and they began training with local Jewish landowners including the Rappaport, Ecker and Kardimann families. In the meantime youth groups from all the Zionist movements sprouted up: Hashomer Hatsair (Young Guard), Gordonia and others; and they began ideological debates. Emissaries from the centers in Lvov arrived to give lectures and provide explanatory and other types of reading materials. All of this caused the rapid development of the cultural level of the youth.
The second important factor in the development of the town was the opening of a high school in Radekhov (1923). Count Badeni, who was the guardian of the town (he owned an estate and castle and most of the public buildings and elementary schools), donated a building in his garden for the high school, and part of the garden to the town for a public garden. School tuition was very high, so only a small number of Jewish families could send their children to the high school; but, over a number of years, the town's intelligentsia arose from this small percentage.
Over the years until approximately 1930, there were normal relations between the Jewish and non-Jewish students (Poles and Ukrainians) in the high school. There were joint social get-togethers after school for sports activities, tennis and skiing competitions, field trips, etc. I remember a number of Jewish homes that hosted regular meetings of students. The Schuman's son was the first to build himself a radio receiver, and in the Schuman home we had our first opportunity to listen (intermittently with earphones) to
|Photograph [of Hebrew school students] from a children's play|
opera broadcast from La Scala in Milan. Mrs. Schuman always welcomed us warmly and with a smile, offering us refreshments despite the difficult economic situation. In the Ecker home there were three children in high school, and the house was always full of young people of every age who engaged in loud debates. It was always fun in the Schwarzwald home with Papka and Izio Schwarzwald. Izio was the first victim when the Germans arrived in town. He was shot on the street because he did not respond properly when questioned by a German officer.
The Poles and Ukrainians had two community centers in town: Sokol for the Poles and Narodny Dom for the Ukrainians. The Jews did not have their own center so they rented these halls for their parties and plays, and rented tennis courts for games. In the 1930s under the influence of the Nazi Party in Germany, the atmosphere in town changed as it did everywhere in Poland. Not only did they [Ukrainians and Poles] not want to rent their halls to Jews, but they also ceased all social contact. After finishing high school, those who sat next to us in class stopped greeting us on the street. Things reached the point where the Jews restricted themselves to a part of the street for Sabbath strolls because they felt open hostility on the Christian part. In university they went from numerus clausus to numerus nullus, and the luckier ones faced social ostracism. They sat on special benches and frequently faced cruel beatings from their friends, members of the anti-semitic nationalist organizations. There were even cases of murder in universities during this time. At the same time the Jews of Poland experienced economic hardship. The Polish government minister at that time was known to oppose anti-semitism, but not social economic pressure. Thus, within a short time Polish and Ukrainian stores and cooperatives sprouted up that openly promoted propaganda not to purchase from Jews. On the other hand, because of high taxes the authorities forced many Jews to sell their businesses and think about emigration.
We then used to meet at the Senensieb home. The father was a Judaism teacher in the schools, and it was he who taught us our first ideas about Jewish history. His wife and daughter, Hala Senensieb, were active in all the women's organizations in town. Visitors to their home included Dr. Milgrom, the town doctor, who was very active in the Zionist movement; attorney Dr. Peczenik; Dr. Gruber; Dr. Charak; Engineer Feuerstein and others. We played bridge in order to ease the stress. However, our main debates focused on the questions of what would be, what to do, and where to run. All gates were locked. Emigration was only possible to the land of Israel for capitalists, and to Canada and Australia for agricultural workers. Despair began gnawing at us slowly but surely. Young people with higher education were unemployed even though the Polish economy was booming because of preparations for war. Everything was closed off to the Jews, however. Those who returned to town with diplomas from foreign countries (France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia) were required to undergo nostrifiktsia, that is, a two- or three-year retraining program. However, to be accepted to such programs one could wait for years until it was his turn, and meanwhile be prohibited from working in his profession.
This is basically how the situation was when World War II broke out. Although we read and heard a lot about the situation of Jews in Germany and Austria, we were too far away to understand what awaited us. The following is a typical story to which I was an eyewitness: In September 1939, when the Germans were at the gates of Lvov and bombarded the city for days, we stayed in a large fine shelter with hundreds of adults and children. The electricity grid, water and gas systems were damaged, and food was scarce. Only the brave among us ventured out at night during brief pauses in the bombing in order to get some water from the town square and some food from a store that was looted. A few days later the women began to grumble and scream: let the Germans come already as long as our suffering could end and we could get out of here. Then an older lady from Vienna stood up (she was one of those expelled to the Polish border by Hitler) and as she cried she began to tell us who the Germans were, and that she herself was prepared to stay in this shelter an entire year as long as the Germans would not come.
|From right to left: Nusik Pfeffer, Herszko Ecker, Munio Schuman, Szanka Wasser, Julek Kramm, Salka Ecker, Lalo Wurm?, Tolci Kurzer, Dunek Ecker, Klara Zimant, Lotka Leider, Meir Feuerstein and Guttman from Lwow|
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