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[Pages 84 – 85]

Life of the City


by Rabbi Yitzchak Weisblum, Haifa

Translated by Rabbi Mordecai Goldzweig

Rohatyn is one of the small towns of Galicia that do not usually appear on a world map but left their lasting impression on the Jewish map of Galicia in the hearts of Torah, Judaism, and Hasidism. It is not the size of an area that brings about important decisions but the amount of influence that a place exerts and the distinguished personalities who live within it and honor it with their presence. This applies to Rohatyn. It earned its fame through the great people who lived in it. One of the most outstanding of these was the holy Gaon, Rabbi David Moshe Avraham, the son of Reb Tzadok Ashkenazi, of blessed memory, the dayan (chief justice) of Rohatyn and the author of Mirkevet Hamishne, who passed away in Rohatyn on 18 Heshvan 5510. According to tradition, he used to be visited by the Baal-Shem-Tov, of blessed memory, and even received his blessing.

It was a privilege and an honor for a rabbi to live in a place where his predecessors were great men. Such greatness was a drawing factor in attracting rabbis who chose this place over a larger one. Rohatyn was a town that excelled over others because of its great rabbis and dayanim. The last of those who presided over the religious court was our teacher and rabbi, Avraham David Spiegel, of blessed memory (may his blood be avenged by the Alm-ty), who was murdered by the butchers (may their names be erased).

Rabbi Avraham David Spiegel was a native of the town of Rohatyn, born in 5645 (1885), a descendent of the Gaon, Rabbi Avraham David Moshe, the author of the Mirkevet Hamishne, who blended within his personality a wide variety of superior qualities. As a chief justice, he was strong and strict on one hand and meek and gentle on the other. A great man in Torah, it automatically follows that he possessed wide understanding and comprehension, a strong feeling of pity for others, as well as a pleasant demeanor towards people. He was ordained as a rabbi in his youth by the greatest rabbis of the day in Galicia. This included the Gaon, the Marsham of Brzezany (Moreinu Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron), a famous posek (rabbinical religious authority) of his day, of blessed memory, and the Gaon, Rabbi Meir Arik, of blessed memory, chief dayan of Tarnσw, as well as other rabbis. The extent of his greatness may be judged by the Shelot U'Tshuvot (responsa) he exchanged with the great rabbis of the day. These included Rabbi David Halevi Horowitz, of blessed memory, chief rabbi of Stanislawow, who recorded his questions together with his response, indicating that he was communicating with an important rabbi. [*] Because of his greatness and the charm of his personality, he served as Av Beth Din (chief justice of the rabbinical court) of Rohatyn for over thirty years, as well as many additional years as acting chief justice, until Rabbi Mordechai Lippe Teumim, of blessed memory, was officially accepted as chief justice, may his blood be avenged.

The Hasidism of Stratyn that established its residence in Rohatyn through the Admor, our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Uri, of blessed memory, the son-in-law of the Holy Admor, Rabbi Avramtche of Stratyn, of blessed memory, placed its stamp on the people of the area. This approach of forgiveness and simplicity was also the way of the great Rabbi Spiegel, of blessed memory, who gave up his position in favor of Rav Teumim, even though he could easily have continued as acting rabbi and prevented the acceptance of anyone else. This action, reflecting his noble personality and meekness, renders him as a true heir of the B'nei Beteira (the sons of Beteira – Shmaya and Avtalyon) who gave up their presidency of the Sanhedrin to Hillel Hazaken. Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi said about him, “There were three who personified meekness, my father (Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel), the sons of Beteira, and Jonathan, the son of Shaul (Bava Metzia Chap. 5). (It was written at the end of Tractate Sota of the Jerusalem Talmud about Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, that when he passed away “there came to an end meekness and the fear of sin in the world.”) Where his greatness lay, there was his meekness. This memory of Rabbi Avraham David Spiegel is engraved in the hearts of all of the people of Rohatyn as one who shaped the character of the town and the living spirit that existed within it that was lost when the town was lost, thereby closing the grave of this elevated community. May they rest in peace.

[Photo pg. 85 Caption states
This picture was taken January, 1938 in the courtroom of Rabbi Spiegel, of blessed memory, also showing his library. First row, standing to the right: Chayche, Yente, Reizel, Chana-Taube, Yuta, Yehoshua, Rabbi Avraham David Spiegel, Ryfke, Rebbetzin Chaya, and Yaakov Meshulam. Rabbi Spiegel is shown holding Yalkut Shimoni, the book he constantly studied.]

[Pages 86 – 100]

The Rohatyn Way

by Dr. Isaac Lewenter, New York

Translated by Benyamin Weiner


Rohatyn was actually once a little shtetl. Back in the Polish days, letters were addressed to us as follows: "Rohatyn by Firlejow." Jews called it Perlev. Later, Firlejow became one of the villages surrounding Rohatyn.

Rohatyn stood at a crossroads that went on in one direction toward Lemberg and Stanislawow, and, in the other direction, toward Tarnopol and Stryj. This facilitated the development of trade and transport in our shtetl. When they built the train station in Rohatyn, it became a passage point between Tarnopol and Stryj.

Jewish life in Rohatyn dates almost from the earliest years of Polish history. Jews lived in Rohatyn for over nine hundred years. In the old cemeteries, one could find gravestones seven to nine hundred years old. Rohatyn was also associated in Jewish history with a number of its inhabitants who were followers of the Shabbethai Zevi movement (hence we were called by the nickname " Shabbetzvinikes") and Frankists.

These are my words of introduction to the actual description I will offer of Jewish Rohatyn prior to the destruction of the Third Temple. I will use no historical material in my exposition of this topic. These will be personal memories.


Rohatyn was considered a "Jewish city." Close to four thousand Jews lived there. In the time of World War II, around ten thousand Jewish souls thronged together in Rohatyn as people fled Hitler's advancing soldiers. Of this number, very few survived. Nearly the entire Jewish community of Rohatyn was murdered by the Germans and their local assistants, the Poles and the Ukrainians.

Prior to World War I, life in Rohatyn, from a Jewish standpoint, was quite interesting. A Zionist movement was organized very early on, and many of its leaders became known, not just within our shtetl but also outside its borders (Shalom Melzer and Sender Margolis among others). We had many Hasidim, as well, who did not constitute an anti-Zionist force but were simply honest and faithful followers of the Rebbe.

The hall of the Zionist league was a gathering place for older and younger Zionists alike. There, we spent long hours "politicking," playing chess, and participating in a host of other activities. I had the pleasure of defeating the old chess players, Avrum Zlatkis and Yaakov Fish.


I remember the rabbi of Rohatyn (and later Rzeszow) well – Rabbi Natan Lewin. He was a learned Jew with a fine, stately beard. He was esteemed and highly thought of by all. When he walked in the street, he was met with great respect. His face shone with such a special light that not just Jews but Christians, too, would give way as he passed. His sermons, full of Jewish and worldly knowledge, were renowned. It was said that people did not walk to his sermons, they ran to them. He gave them every Shabbos "after table."

On the birthday of the Kaiser and other state holidays, the rabbi would deliver his witty, German "speeches" that would astound the fancy-dressed local officials in attendance and fill them with wonder at the rabbi's oratorical skill.

When I was still a little child, my grandfather used to take me with him to the rabbi's table. I would listen carefully to his clever words about Torah, without understanding a thing…

As I remember, the rabbi did not stay long in our city because Rohatyn was too poor to support his family. After his departure, the city remained without a rabbi for a long time. Meanwhile, the office was occupied by the dayan (judge), Reb Kave Schein, a man entirely the opposite of the rabbi. Whereas the rabbi was steeped in Jewish and worldly knowledge, and on top of that a handsome man who commanded the attention of everyone he met, Reb Kawe was an introverted man, small in stature, having only the one-sided knowledge of Jewish religious practices and laws. He was, however, honesty and piety personified. For this reason, he was held in high esteem.

In his old age, the dayan no longer had the strength to carry out his duties, and in 1904, his place was taken by Rabbi Meir Henge from Strzeliska. Rabbi Henge was an old-fashioned Jew, with all of the attendant virtues. He knew how to study and was esteemed for his piety and kindness.

After a time, a "local boy" from Rohatyn was chosen to serve as dayan. This was the "young dayan," Reb Avrum-Dovid Spiegel, whose family was well known in Rohatyn. His brother, Neftali, returned from America and struggled bitterly his entire life to make a living. He was popular in the shtetl because of the wonderful cloth work he used to do for the gymnasium (high school), embroidering curtains for the holy ark and decorative mantles for the Torah scrolls. Generally, he was an expert in piecework. The second brother, Pinchas, was a clever and handsome man, a devoted Zionist, and my good friend. He also eked out his existence bitterly until the final years.

Even though Reb Avrum-Dovid Spiegel was a "local boy" from Rohatyn itself, the administration of the community did not provide for his livelihood. When his children grew up, they were obliged to provide for themselves. One of his children, Yehoshua, now lives in the state of Israel, and, as I understand it, the yoke of putting together our Yizkor book lies mainly on his shoulders.


Rohatyn was generally regarded by inhabitants and outsiders alike as a progressive town. It contained two middle schools (gymnasium) – one, Ukrainian, and the other, Polish. Many Jewish children studied in these schools. In Austrian times, no educational restrictions were placed on Jewish children. These were first instituted when Poland achieved independence.
The Ukrainian gymnasium, a private school, was founded in 1907, and the Polish (state) school, in 1912. Most Jewish children went to the Polish school, although the instruction there was useless. It was maintained by the civil authorities. There were also some Jewish boys and girls who attended the Ukrainian gymnasium.

[Photo #1, p.88: “The red public school.”]

[Photo #1, p.89: “The Ukrainian gymnasium.”]

Most of the Jewish population of Rohatyn made their living in small trade. They bought eggs, butter, cheese, chickens, geese, and ducks from the local farmers and sold them to other Jews. A fair was held every Wednesday.

In our shtetl, there were a few merchants with bigger trade. They would bring their goods from Lemberg, Stanislawow, Vienna, and Budapest. These were the shtetl magnates, the gentry, who dealt with rich Jews and local landowners.

There was also, as in every other Polish-Jewish shtetl, a significant class of Jewish craftsmen – shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and the like. The shtetl also possessed a few Jewish clerks, a small number of lawyers, three Jewish doctors (Dr. Stein, Dr. Schaff, and Dr. Mehlman) and a few Jewish schoolmistresses. I must also mention the local religious teacher, the tiny Schwartz (we used to call him "Schwartzenyu"). He had one outstanding quality; he did not teach too much to the children, simply because he did not know very much himself. No child ever received a "two" in religion from him, and therefore no child ever needed to be held back for a second year in the same class.

Jewish children also studied Hebrew. This subject was taught in two places – the cheder (Jewish elementary school) and the Hebrew school. In cheder, the youngest children started off with the "children's teacher." As they grew, they advanced to the study of Chumash and " Chumash with Rashi" until they worked their way up to the study of " Gemara with Tosafos" and Tanach.


Such was the path I took. My "children's teacher" was Rabbi Hirsh Fang. Baruch, the rabbi's eldest son, and Leib, a relative of the rabbi's, served as his "assistants." Their job was to drag the children to cheder. Not every child wanted to go with them, and many bitter tears were spilled.

We did not learn a great deal in cheder. After a year or two, we more or less knew the alphabet. Children began attending when they were barely three years old. We were told that from the earliest ages a Jew must take upon himself the yoke of Torah.

Etia, the rabbi's wife, was as good as the day and as poor as the night. As we lived next door, the rabbi's children often received their board in our house, eating together with us. As the rabbi had, keine hora (no evil eye should harm them), many children, Etia could often be found pouring out her bitter heart to my mother. The two women would cry and hope for better times.

Later, their whole family went away to America.
My " Chumash with Rashi" teacher was Judah-Ber, nicknamed "the kitten." He often whipped us with his bamboo stick; yet we all still loved him. Our study was not at the highest of levels. It is worthwhile taking this opportunity to relate the following incident:

On a certain Sunday, we were learning the weekly Torah portion – Vayisrotsitsu (and they struggled together) habonim (the children, Jacob and Esau) bikirbah (in her belly). This was sung to the appropriate tune. We were all five years old and could by no means understand how children could struggle together in their mother's belly… so we asked the teacher. And we got the answer, "Rascals! Don't ask!"

He had a hard time making a living, as well. Every Thursday evening we went to his house to review the Sabbath Torah portion. As he came in to listen to us, his wife would always whisper: "Nu, Judah-Ber, give me something to make Sabbath."

The rabbi, however, had nothing to give, as many of his students had not paid their fees. He answered simply, "I don't have anything." She began to curse him. He answered her curses as follows: "Why do you curse? You have with me the greatest pleasure a person can have!" Her curses grew louder and stronger; it is a bit of good luck that none of them came true. In the very middle of cursing, she would ask him the question, "So tell me, great breadwinner, what is this pleasure that I have with you?"

The rabbi answered her, "The greatest pleasure a person can have when they itch – is to scratch themselves! So, do I not let you scratch?" The rabbi's wife was not to blame; she worked herself to the bone.

Besides this rabbi, I also had another " Chumash with Rashi" teacher. He was called Nachum Melamed. He had three fine sons and two daughters. The sons were already grown, and two of them later emigrated to Israel.

Nasan and the "Finch" (I still remember his nickname) were Gemara teachers, but I never studied with them. I went away to Stanislawow and prepared for worldly studies.

The Jewish population of Rohatyn had the good fortune, before World War I, to have good Hebrew teachers, among them Soferman, Scharfstein, Spiegel, and Ahnd. Many youngsters, between the ages of ten and fourteen, studied the language and used it, as well.


Every Jew from Rohatyn would certainly remember the "family band of musicians," the Faust family. They were the talk of the town – Moshe, Dovid, Itzik-Hersh, Mordecai-Shmuel, and Yaakov. Moshe, the father, was the conductor, Dovid, the fiddler, Itzik-Hersh, the flautist, Mordecai-Shmuel, a multi-instrumentalist and clarinet player, and the little ruffian, Yekel, the trumpet player and drummer.

Weddings in Rohatyn reverberated throughout the surrounding countryside. The canopy was set up beside the large synagogue, and the bride and groom were led there amidst a grand parade. The band led the way. The music rang through the streets and raised a great crowd. Children ran ahead and had a great time chasing after the band. It was lively and cheerful in the shtetl.


A different spirit pervaded the so-called "propinacja" (tavern). This was the place for all the drunks, where they sat all day as long as it was open. There was no end to the drinking that went on there. When the doors to the tavern were closed, the drunks left for home. They often fell down and took a nap on the street. Passersby would smile – and go on their way.


My father once told me a story about a Jew who lay down to sleep Friday night and slept for thirty-six hours straight. Early Sunday morning, he finally awoke and was convinced it was the Sabbath morning. He put on his Sabbath clothes, his long black coat and fur-trimmed hat, and went to the house of prayer. Along the way, he greeted everyone he passed with a "Good Shabbos." People answered him, "Good morning." Nobody brought the error to his attention. The first thing he saw upon entering the house of prayer was the entire congregation putting on phylacteries.


In the village of Podgrodzie, next to Rohatyn, there lived a fine Jew. He had only one fault – though he never brought any horses into stranger's stalls, he was in the habit of stealing them away. It was difficult to catch him. He managed to alter the stolen horses to such a degree that it was impossible to identify them. He made them younger, changed their color, stuck teeth in their mouths. How he did all of this remained his secret.

Once, however, he slipped up and was consequently brought before the court. He went calmly to his trial, singing a hasidic melody…

He enlightened the judge as follows: "I was strolling peacefully when I came upon a ditch. I realized that I would have to jump over it. So what does God do? A horse was lying in the ditch. When I jumped, the horse rose up, and against my will, I landed on his back and was carried far far away. I had no way of knowing whose horse it was…"


In the year 1914, life in the shtetl proceeded as in normal times. Jews rose in the early morning to worship at the house of prayer. The less religious were satisfied with coming only on the Sabbath and holidays. People traveled to fairs in other towns, and our own fair in Rohatyn was still held every Wednesday. Weddings took place as well as births, festive occasions, and misfortunes. Everything in the shtetl flowed in the usual channels as if nothing were taking place in the world at all. Nobody anticipated the catastrophe that was creeping upon us.

At the start of the summer of 1914, the army reserves were mobilized. The newspapers brought no good news.

When the Austrian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, everyone knew it would lead to the outbreak of war. Yet people still comforted themselves with "maybe" and "perhaps."

After the war broke out, a great misfortune befell our shtetl. A division of Austrian infantry put up in Rohatyn. The fully equipped soldiers settled in to rest, following a difficult march. An entire regiment bivouacked in the middle of the marketplace.

All of a sudden, there was the sound of gunfire. Nobody knew where it came from or who had fired. It was probably the provocation of informers or spies. The soldiers answered by shooting blindly in all directions. It was a miracle that nobody was injured.

Yet panic took hold of the shtetl. On the second day, nearly the entire population fled, taking with them only small packs. They believed that they would soon return – and so left everything behind. Later, it became evident that the running would be without cease; that the wandering had just begun. They were forced to flee to Vienna and even further into Austria.

We went to Stryj, toward which the Russians were rapidly advancing.

After a few weeks away, we were able to return to Rohatyn. Unfortunately, our home was no more. After the Russians ransacked everything the Jews had left behind, they set fire to the houses. They were assisted in this task by our Ukrainian neighbors. Of the whole city, only a few backstreets remained. The Jewish bath still stood, as well, and there the young rabbi, Avrum-Dovid Spiegel, had gathered the remaining Jews together.

Nearly the entire large Beit Midrash (house of prayer and study) still stood, as well. The Russians had tried to set it on fire, but only a few floorboards had burned. The building remained intact. The Jews said that we had my old uncle, Alter, to thank for that, the "jester," who was a righteous man in his generation and had bequeathed to the house of prayer the beautiful holy ark and all of the Torah scrolls.

Materially, life was very hard. The remaining Jews of Rohatyn, together with those who had come in from the surrounding countryside, made their living through great hardship. They engaged in small trade. A few craftsmen managed to find work. The overwhelming majority fed themselves by calling in loans that their honest Christian neighbors returned.


In these ways, people coped with the new situation. The winter of 1914-15 passed. Spring came. In May, the German-Austrian offensive in western Galicia began. The Russian Army was defeated and fled east. As the Galician Jews were known to be Austrian patriots, they were deported to Russia by the retreating army.

Rohatyn was no exception. On a certain evening, the Russians dragged the entire male Jewish population of Rohatyn out of their homes, assembled them in the center of town and thereafter marched them to Podwysokie. The first night there was spent sleeping under the open sky. In the morning, the long march began and continued until we reached Kiev.

In Kiev, a special Jewish brotherhood committee attended to all of our essentials. There were also Jewish families who took us into their homes, guaranteeing to the Russian authorities, even though they did not know us, that we would not flee. After a few days in Kiev, we were loaded onto a wagon and taken to the Pezner province in the state of Chembar. Material life was not difficult there, but we were completely cut off from our families; we did not know anything about our wives, sisters, and little children who had remained behind. We longed for them greatly.

Only three Russian-Jewish families lived in Chembar proper. One was a pharmacist, another, a large manufacturer, and the third, an engineer, who, by the way, was a provisional railway man and worked on the laying of the local train tracks. I personally spent long hours in intimate conversation with them, discussing the situation of Jews in Russia and Austria. For all of us, everything that we reported to each other was fresh and new. We therefore felt that brother and brother could speak to each other about one and the same matter.

[Photo #1, p. 95 YB: “A group of Rohatyn Jews (men only) during the Russian captivity. From top right: unknown, unknown, Mendel Rotenberg, Shmuel Weissbraun, unknown, Monish Schechter, Aharon Schechter, Benzion Weissbraun, Nahum Mantenberg, Shaul Teichmann, Moshe Weissbraun, unknown, Wolf Steinmetz, Yehoshua Otner, Selig Nagelberg, Wolki Allerhand, Dr. Yitschok Lewenter, Neftali Rosenstein, unknown, unknown, Moshe Schechter (shochet—ritual slaughterer,) Neftali Spiegel, Bertsi Weissbraun, Selig Holz, Weissbraun, Zushe Holz, Meir Maor, Yosef Hammer, unknown, unknown, Nahum Milstein, Yehoshua Lipshitz, Yosef Mark, Rokeach Mivutshats, Yosef Widhoff, unknown, Alter Dorst, Yudel-Michel Sofers, Moshe Freiwald, unknown, Alter Lewenter, unknown, unknown, Yehoshua Stryjer, Volvel Weissbraun, Yehuda bar Zilber, Avraham Roten, Alter Faust, Urtsi Horowitz, Nehemiah Reich, Avraham Zeif, Noach Milstein, Dovid Weissbraun, Elisha Teichmann, Avraham-Yosef Ehrenberg, Kalman-Yoel Lipshitz, Uri Lipshitz, unknown, Yechezkel Honge, unknown, Lipshitz, Ehrenberg, unknown, Natan Wald, Shaul Panzer, Yosef Wald, Itsi Spiegel, Chuna Wachman, Pinia Spiegel, unknown, Nachman-Yeshia Wachman, Dovid Einshtum, Moshe Lewenter, Noach Leyner, Moshe Mitman, unknown, Yaakov Leiter, Avraham Lichtgarn, Yaakov Barban, Yantsi Leiter, Mendel Bernstein, Iser Glutser, Wolf Freiwald, Hori Pater, unknown, Meir Lewenter, Dovid Wald, Leyb Widhoff, Nuni Eichenstein, Moshe Faust, Moshe Freiwald, Itsik Bokser, Leyzer Bokser, Meir Glutser, Boris Teichmann, Hirsh Hochwald, unknown.”]


At the end of 1915, we were sent back to Galicia. We went as far as Tarnopol, as this was the last city remaining in Russian hands. We stayed there for almost two years, until the summer of 1917, when the Germans occupied it.

In Tarnopol, it was every man for himself. There was no joint Rohatyn committee to look after the group. Everyone sought out his own means by which to live through this terrible time.

Tarnopol was liberated after the first revolution in Russia. Kerensky had come to Tarnopol and delivered a speech on freedom and the justice of Socialism.

When we returned, full of longing, to our region in Austria, we found it pervaded by a strange spirit. The air was full of the nervous anticipation of something overwhelming. It was no longer the same land for which we had longed and yearned.

I cannot write about Rohatyn during that time, as I was among those sent away to Przeworsk. From there we went to Lemberg. I could not join my family, as my mother and the smaller children were in Austrian Silesia. In the meantime, I grew sick and was therefore released from the army for six months. This gave me the opportunity to renew my study of medicine in Lemberg.


In 1918, it was felt that defeat was imminent. Our armies were far from their borders, deep in Russia or in France. The general impression was of an oncoming catastrophe.

An influenza epidemic broke out in the city, claiming as many casualties as had fallen at the front. At the end of 1918, I also fell sick. After a short time spent in a hospital bed, I recovered. In November, we were told that the Ukrainians had taken Lemberg.

I remember that Friday when, still weak, barely able to stand on my feet, I went out into the street to gather news. The Ukrainian militia had taken over the rule of the city. Relations were tranquil. Early the next morning, a few incidents broke out between the Ukrainians and the Poles, and on the third of November, the battle between these two armies began.

A Jewish militia was organized on the Ukrainian side. It remained neutral in this struggle and had as its one and only objective protecting the lives and property of the Jewish population.

As the battle between the Ukrainians and Poles raged in Lemberg, the rest of the province was quiet. Rohatyn, too, felt the tranquility. It lay in a region occupied by the Ukrainians. This new power evinced loyalty toward the Jewish population.

Meanwhile, combat between the two sides continued in Lemberg. On 21 November 1918, a two-day cease-fire was declared. A thousand people took advantage of the occasion to leave the city. I took the opportunity, as well, and returned to Rohatyn where life flowed peacefully. The divided families were once more reunited. This occurred while the Austrians were still in the town. Throughout 1917–18, Jews returned to Rohatyn and resettled in their old homes.

In May and June of 1919, the Ukrainians were defeated, and the Poles occupied Galicia, including Rohatyn. The Jews, as usual, were victims of this shift in power. Before the Ukrainians left, they plundered the Jewish population. Many fell in this attack against the Jews. Persecution of Jews began as soon as the Poles arrived. I personally had to flee Rohatyn, because in Lemberg I had given a speech against the pogroms, and therefore a warrant had been issued for my arrest.


I was away from Rohatyn until 1922. Many people were missing from the shtetl when I returned. Many had perished on the battlefields, and many, with the passage of time, had died natural or unnatural deaths.

In the meantime, life had normalized for the Jewish community of Rohatyn. A younger generation had arisen, full of the energy and will to put an end to the abject life of Jewish exile in which we were subject to constant danger. Jewish youths organized into various pioneer movements in order to emigrate to the land of Israel and build a new life. Many of them actually reached Israel, where they live to this day, together with their families.


I will record a few general features of Jewish communal life in Rohatyn in the period between the two world wars.

The great majority of Poles were predisposed toward anti-Semitism. It was in their blood. Parents taught their children that Jews were to blame for everything because Jews had crucified Jesus. They were convinced that Jews were swindlers whose only concern was how they might manipulate the Poles. This attitude had its consequent impact on their day-to-day dealings with Jewish citizens, even though the Polish constitution was among the most liberal.

In the first years of the Polish Republic's existence, when Pilsudski and his socialist memories were still alive, when the Poles were not yet drunk with the power they had acquired, Jews were treated liberally by the state. A Polish Nationalist party did exist, however, that was anti-Semitic through and through. It maintained that Poland had too many Jews, who, therefore, had to leave the land and go to Palestine. This party called unceasingly for a Polish boycott of Jews and made it their business to harass Jews in whatever way possible.

The Jewish representatives in the Polish Sejm (parliament) struggled continually with the Sejm for the rights of the Jewish minority. In civil life, however, as in economics, this did little help.

Trouble had already begun for the Jews of Rohatyn in the twenties when Pilsudski took power and established the well-known "sanacja" (BBWR – Nonpartisan Block for Cooperation with the Government). Although this party was a conglomeration of various elements, it was uniform in its anti-Semitism. It sought to remove Jews from their economic status and, if possible, throw them out of Poland proper.

The Jews of Western Galicia had an additional problem – local Ukrainian nationalism. The Ukrainian element, a more virulent faction, exhibited a more brutal form of anti-Semitism, striving to cut off Jews at the root. They began setting up cooperative organizations that undermined the economic foundation of many Jewish families. Many of these families were therefore forced to leave their dwelling and set off across the sea.

Jews in our region suffered from both sides, from Poles and from Ukrainians. Anti-Jewish pogroms also occurred from time to time.

In those years, Jewish life was ceaselessly inundated with biological, anti-Semitic propaganda. This was printed in two languages, though of one and the same content. The Polish " Swoj do Swego" (each to his own, i.e., buy from your own) was translated verbatim into Ukrainian. The economic boycott took on more severe forms that served to increase the already substantial level of Jewish poverty.

Two cooperatives were organized in Rohatyn, one, Polish, and the other, Ukrainian. Each sapped the livelihood of many Jewish families. This led to emigration. There were many Jews, however, who could not afford to leave and thus remained in their place, suffering want and hunger.

Still, parents who could barely get through the day never stopped considering how they might provide their children with an education. Meanwhile, the Polish authorities did all they could to deny Jewish children access to middle and high schools.

In the thirties, the Polish government began taking lessons from Hitler in how to make life miserable for Jews. Ritual slaughter laws dried up business for the twenty Jewish butchers of Rohatyn. They had the right to sell only kosher meat and were obliged to throw out all of their non-kosher stock. This was a blow not just to the Jewish butchers but also to the Jewish cattle dealers, slaughterers, and deliverers who lost their livelihood. A Jew who wanted to deal in dairy products had to obtain a concession, for which he had to pay heavily. Therefore, very few concessions were issued. For such a business, one needed to have three rooms and a special facility, which cost quite a lot. Everything had to be certified by the authorities. In our shtetl alone, this affected one hundred families who lost their livelihood. This was the real intent of these anti-Jewish laws.

The fact that we were forced to open a communal kitchen is indicative of the extent to which the material situation of Rohatyn had deteriorated.

At the initiative of my wife, a women's committee was convened and took responsibility for the organization and upkeep of the kitchen. It was located in the building of the Jewish bath. The kitchen provided meals not just to the truly poor Jews but also to those who had recently become impoverished.

I must acknowledge, with thanks and praise, the dear Jewish girls who contributed so much toward fulfilling the purpose of the kitchen. Everyday they carried food to the homes of those families who did not come to the kitchen. For this, the holy memory of Zofia Kleinwachs should be recalled. She lived through the years of occupation, and after liberation immigrated to America where she died young. Lara Mark, the daughter of Joseph Mark, who now lives in America, should also be remembered. These two girls used to carry food to the homes of those too ashamed to come to the kitchen.


In this manner, a significant Jewish community lived and evolved – until the catastrophe came. In July of 1939, I traveled as a tourist from Poland to America to attend the World's Fair. We did not then anticipate that tragedy was approaching. The official organs of the Polish state boasted about the potential power of their army. Poland flirted for a long time with the Nazi leaders, until these leaders realized that they no longer needed Polish help.

From then on I was severed from Poland and from my beloved Rohatyn. All of my nearest and dearest perished there, and my heart still grieves for them. The holy images of those I knew, and with whom I traveled the long road of joint struggle for a Jewish life, hover before my eyes.

May their memory be honored!

[Photo #1, p. 100: “Beside the brickyard, in front of the area of the train station, to the left, lie our dear ones, the thirty-three hundred victims of the first “action.” The two who stand together with bowed heads are Ulki Schwartz, who lives to this day in Bursztyn, and the son of Selig Nagelberg (a leather merchant.)]

[Pages 101 – 112]

A City in Life and in Destruction

Our City Rohatyn

by Yehoshua Spiegel, Tel Aviv

Translated by Rabbi Mordechai Goldzweig


I lived in Rohatyn twenty-five years before I emigrated to Israel. During this time I came to know Rohatyn from the perspective of a resident. I received additional information from the elders of the town especially from my father, the Rabbi, of blessed memory. Other residents of Rohatyn who were my neighbors will write about the things that they knew and that were close to their hearts – the more the better.

[photo, pg. 101 Caption states
Wald, Lunka Teichman, Rosenstein, Yechiel Fischer, Yosef Weich, Suzi Ehrenberg, Yosef Weiss, Rozia Reiss, Nuncia Willig, Chana Gold, Sarah Reiss, Unknown, Klara Cytryn, Unknown, Weissbraun, Zylber. A group of Jewish students of the Polish high school in our city Rohatyn.]

It is natural that names and events that are linked to childhood and the growing years will elicit a great deal of emotion from survivors of a town, wherever they may be, as it reminds them of those times and places. These threads of the past tie them to those who are no longer alive and whose memories are as close and dear to them as their own lives – family, relatives, and friends. But even those who did not live in Rohatyn will still find a replica of their own town here – the same life, the same traditions, and the same stereotypes. Perhaps the names are different. Still, we are talking about those who continued to spin the age old threads while guarding the values of their people that have been carried down to the present day.

Situated as they were in a sea of ignorance, among goyim (gentiles), Jews displayed a wide knowledge and deep understanding of the ways of the world and of the individual. Quite a few giants of spirit rose from within their midst.

The Town

The Rohatyn that I knew was for the most part populated by Jews. The mailmen used to joke that “the streets are ours but the houses are yours.” Relatively few Ukrainians and Poles lived within the town itself. Ukrainians populated the one hundred and fifty villages and hamlets, big and small, that surrounded our town, whereas only a few of the Jews lived in the villages. The closest villages around the town included Babince, Putiatynce, Zaluze, Wierzbolowce, Podhajce, and Perenowka. Perenowka – who did not go walking to Perenowka and its forests? I remember how my father, the Rabbi, of blessed memory, used to go walking there with his students and stop there to teach them their lesson in Talmud. On the way they would pass in front of a spring whose waters were recommended by Rabbi Meir of Przemyslany as a cure for eye diseases. People believed in its remedial powers and came to drink from its waters. Among our neighbors were the towns of Stratyn, Bukaczowce, Bursztyn, Podkamien, and Knihynicze. Especially well known was a village called Czercze, which had a clinic for the treatment of rheumatism. Another village, Potok Psary, had a limestone quarry with lime that went directly from the quarry to a furnace, from which it was shipped to the cities and towns of Poland.

Rohatyn is situated in Eastern Galicia between Lwow and Stanislawow, with which it was in contact for both culture and business. If you wanted to go to Lwow, you took the train through Chodorow and then the bus through Przemyslany – and to Stanislawow, by train through Chodorow and by bus through Halicz. This town, Halicz (Galicz), which was at one time the capital of the area, gave its name to the whole surrounding district – Galicia.

There were at that time approximately ten thousand people in Rohatyn. A road went through the center of town dividing it into two parts. It had a mountain pressing in on either side with the names of Mount Putiatynce and the Mountain of the Devils [i] ? Rohatyn rests on the shores of the Gnila Lipa River, which looks like its name (rotten linden tree), with many forests along its shores. These supplied wood for fuel and industry. The town had three elementary schools – Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish. The first high school built in Rohatyn was Ukrainian, but the Jews attended it since they did not have one of their own. When the Poles built their high school, the greater part of the Jewish student body transferred to it.


Most of the Jews of the town earned their livelihood in business. Weekly market fairs were held on Wednesdays. They also engaged in crafts and brokerage, and there were doctors and lawyers among them as well. The town candy factory belonged to Reb Ephraim Kanfer and his family. Two printing shops there belonged to Jews – Chaim Szkolnik and his family and Szymon Teichman and his family, of blessed memory. Chaim Szkolnik was chairman of the Association of Craftsmen, a Jew of importance in business and industry and a lover of chazans (cantors). Any chazan that appeared in our town could find a place to stay and eat, as well as other help, in his home. Now, only his son, Zvi, has survived and lives in Israel. He is a sergeant in the police department and active in affairs relating to the people of Rohatyn in Israel. The second shop belonged to Mr. Szymon Teichman and his family, of blessed memory. Here I learned printing. He was the chairman of the charity organization Gemilas Chesed in Rohatyn and active in other public affairs of our town. His two daughters, Bluma and Leah Teichman, now live in Israel, and his son, Mordechai, a doctor, now lives in the U.S. The soda factory in our town was owned by Mr. Schumer, of blessed memory. The American style flour mill belonged to Reb Uri Messing, of blessed memory, and it was there that my uncle, Reb Yosef Klarnet, of blessed memory, worked as a bookkeeper. Reb Uri was active in community affairs, especially those dealing with religion. Bakeries were owned by Dudke Horn, of blessed memory, Gira, Reb Meir “Kumizbeker” (as he was known), of blessed memory, and Reb Alter Faust, of blessed memory, a religious Jew, active in doing good deeds and helping the needy in the community. In addition there were the home bakeries.

Various Torah Scholars

In Rohatyn as in other Polish towns, there were to be found a fine assortment of Torah scholars such as Reb Mordechai Pikower, Reb Zalman Piktnitzer, Reb Chaim Jupiter (from Czesniki), a true Talmid-Chocham (scholar), ordained and G-d fearing, versed in the mystic and revealed Torah knowledge. Even when he lived in a village, he dug out a mikvah (ritual bath) in his yard so that he might be able to immerse himself at anytime that he found it necessary. There was Reb Elisha Aharon Klarnet, Reb Yosef Hacohen Laks, Reb Moshe Leib Kowler, Reb Tuwia Shochet, Reb Avraham Hirsch Koenigsberg, Reb Chaim Hirsch Weissberg, Reb Nachman Szaja Wachman, Reb Azriel Gan, and Reb Yisrael Gleicher, all of blessed memory. May they all rest in peace.


The town shochetim (ritual slaughterers) included Reb Moshe Schechter, of keen mind and well versed in Torah, a man who was both very religious and wise, yet knowledgeable in worldly affairs and a composer of melodies. His wife's name was Sarah. Four of their sons are alive, two in Israel, two in other countries. His brother, Mordechai, was a baal tefilla (leader of services) during the holidays and serenaded his neighbors on Shabbat and Yom Tov with zmirot (hymns) for the occasion, his children joining in. His wife's name was Esther. There was also Reb Leib Shochet and Reb Tuwia Shochet. The latter was the supervisor of the shochetim and among other duties examined their ritual slaughtering knives. He was a pious Jew filled with Torah. May they all find themselves in a bright Gan Eden (Garden of Eden).

The Rebbes

There were two Hasidic rebbes in Rohatyn, Rabbi Eliezer Langer and Rabbi Shlomo Brandwein, of blessed memory. Rabbi Eliezer Langer, of blessed memory, was the essence of wholeness and was loved by everyone. He possessed a sharp mind and was a great scholar as well as being dignified looking and very refined. Rabbi Shlomo Brandwein was an excellent baal tefilla with a Stratyner background, very dignified in his appearance. The two rebbes were related to each other.


Jews who lived in Rohatyn and the surrounding area were Stratyner Hasidim as a result of their physical proximity to the town of Stratyn, famous in the world of Hasidism.

[Photo pg. 104)
(To the right) (Caption states) Owner of printing house, Chaim Szkolnik, of blessed memory.
(To the left) (Caption states) Owner of printing house, Szymon Teichman, with his wife, Sarah.]

The first Rebbe of Stratyn was the “Strzelisker,” Rebbe Uri of Strzeliska, known among Hasidim as the saraf (angel of fire). He was immediately followed by his student, Rabbi Yehuda Zvi, of blessed memory, who was the true founder of the present-day Stratyner dynasty of Hasidism. When Stratyner Hasidim repeated Rebbe Yehuda's “Toiras” (Torah dissertations), they introduced them with the words, “Der Alter Rebbe, Rebbe Yehuda Hirsch hot gesugt…” (The Elder Rabbi, Rebbe Yehuda Hirsch, has said.) He was followed by his son, Rebbe Avrumche, of blessed memory. After him, the Rabbinic dynasty was presided over by his son-in-law, Rebbe Uriale Rohatyner, who was in turn followed by his son, Rebbe Yehuda Zvi, of blessed memory. Both of them were buried in Rohatyn. The last mentioned rebbe marked the end of Stratyner Hasids in Rohatyn, even though their descendants were still to be found in the other towns of Galicia and even in the U. S. One of the characteristics of Stratyner Hasidism was the stress on dvekus (strong emotion) in prayer. They used to sing their prayers with melodies that tugged at the heartstrings and which have enriched religious Jewish culture in general. (Some of the melodies were put down on paper by the composer Mr. Stoczewski after hearing them from me, the author).

The Stratyner melody for “Sfirat Haomer” (Counting of the Omer) left a strong and lasting impression on all who heard it. And even now, everyone who comes from Rohatyn and still remembers this melody uses it when singing the b'rachot (blessings) for Counting of the Omer – and only for that. On Lag B'Omer, the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of the Rebbe Uriale of Rohatyn, Hasidim would gather around his grave – rabbis, Admorim, and just ordinary Jews, including women and children. They would offer their prayers and leave their pitkaot (notes of request) in the cracks of his gravestone. Even non-Jews used to stand in awe near the gate when they heard the closing ceremony – the singing of Bar Yochai – sung with good taste by the assembled forming a choir. Perhaps it would be proper to keep these melodies that were sung by the Hasidim of our town for future generations, or by Rebbe Yosef Hacohen Laks, of blessed memory, or by the shochetim, and transfer them to a recording – as long as there is still someone who remembers them and thus carries out the saying “but the song always lingers on.”

[2 photos, pg. 105
(Top) (Caption states) Ruins of the Main Synagogue after World War I

(Bottom) (Caption states) Synagogue of Reb Nataniel Sofer]

[Photo., p. 106) (Caption states) The Main House of Study]

But back to the customs of Stratyn. On the night of Shvii shel Pesach (the seventh day of Pesach), it was customary to meet at the home of Rebbe Eliezer L., of blessed memory, to commemorate the crossing of the Red Sea with song and dance. Water was poured on the feet of the dancers so that they would feel that they were “actually crossing the sea on dry land,” in order to fulfill what is written, “Bechol Dor VaDor Chayav Ha'adom Lirot et Atzmo keilu hu yatza miMitzrayim (Pesach Haggadah). (In every generation a person is required to visualize himself as if he were actually leaving Egypt.)

On the last night of Chanukah (known as Zot Chanukah) the Hasidim used to gather by the rebbe for a festive meal, and the rebbe would deliver his words of Torah, which were preceded by a sigh and the words, “Der Zohar Hakadosh sugt… (The Holy Zohar says…) Divrei Chachamim b'nachat nishmaim (Words of the Sages are heard best quietly).” And I still recall a crumb of his teaching: When the Torah (Exodus 30:13) refers to the half shekel, contributed by each man as part of the census, why does it use the unusual term "machtzit" (spelled mem, chet, tzaddik, yud, taf) for the word "half" rather than the usual term "chatzi"? Because the middle letter of the word machtzit is tzaddik, suggesting that a person must be close to a righteous person (also known as a tzaddik). For a person who is close to a tzaddik will merit the two letters which surround the letter tzaddik, that is chet and yud, which spell "chai," meaning life, as in the phrase (Leviticus 18:5) "v'chai bahem" (and you shall live by them). However he who distances himself from the tzaddik brings upon himself, God forbid, the combination of the two outer letters, that is mem and taf, which spell "met," meaning death. And the discerning person will understand the meaning of this.

Keepers of Tradition

After World War I, Hasidim began to change the style of their dress from the long robes to more modern garb. They stopped praying all the time with the Admorim and attended the established synagogues to pray. Instead of wearing a shtreimel (fur-trimmed hat) on Shabbat, they might put on a black hat. Instead of dressing in a bekeshe, the silk robe of the Hasidim, they might wear something shorter of woven cloth and put on a tie and shoes with laces. However, they did not stop studying the Torah or the Talmud, the Mishnayot, or the Chumash with Mephorshim (Commentaries). You could still hear them from afar studying and praying in the filled synagogues and study halls.

Houses of Prayer

And these are the synagogues that remained after World War I – and after a fire – and were used by our town until the time of the Shoah: There was the Beth Haknesset Hagadol (the main synagogue) with two wings, each housing a separate synagogue, the Schneider Shulechel (the tailors' small shul), and the Schuster Shulechel (the cobblers' small shul). The large Beth Medrash (House of Study) had remained intact after World War I. It had been erected by Reb Alter Weidman and Reb Yakov Hacohen Lewenter. I remember the name of the latter, because it was to be found on the memorial plaque that was mounted on the northern wall of the Beth Medrash. (Not far from this plaque on the mizrach vant, the eastern wall, to the left of the Aron Hakodesh, the Holy Ark, where his son Reb Alter Lewenter, of blessed memory, continued to pray). [ii]
Reb Alter Lewenter was the father of Dr. Yitzchak Lewenter ( Yibadel B'Chaim, may he be set aside for life). It is interesting to note that a short time before the war broke out, Dr. Lewenter and his wife, Cyla, took a trip to the U.S. but were unable to return. The war broke out, and our town was pillaged. Its Jewish inhabitants were murdered, including the doctor's only son, Maciek, along with the rest of his family. May this memorial book to which they contributed and for which they collected funds be of some solace to them. May they enjoy a long life. This large Beth Medrash was the only religious building that survived World War I. The rest were destroyed. And then there comes to my mind Reb Yosef Zylber, the bathhouse caretaker. He was completely devoted to his work and also was the usual baal tefilla for mincha (services) in the Beth Haknesset Hagadol. May his memory be blessed.

It was to this Beth Medrash that everyone came to pray after the fire; it was a place of breathtaking beauty, decorated with paintings of the Chayot Hakodesh – the Celestial Animals – and the symbolic drawings of each of the Twelve Tribes, all painted in oil. Reb Joel Granowiter, of blessed memory, was the gabai (sexton) there. Reb Avraham Messing used to “tear the world apart” when he pronounced the words, “Yachid Chai Ha-olamim” (of Baruch She-Amar), according to the melody of Stratyn, and used to complete the “Echad” (of Sh'ma Yisrael) with a special melody accompanied by his friend, the Hasid, Reb Yehuda Sofer, of blessed memory, in his hoarse voice, shaking his head up and down and to the sides so as to teach you that the spirit of the L-d permeates in all directions of the universe.

On the other side of the bathhouse, a shed was erected to be used for prayers that was called "Barak" (barrack), where the candles were lit in candleholders that still were made of clay. Here, the younger children were taught by Reb Moshe Gershon, “der Langer”(the long). (He received this name because he was very tall and very thin.) Reb Arche, the principal of the cheder (Hebrew school), a full fledged scholar in his own right, used to teach the older students Gemora and Tosfot (Talmud and Commentaries) in the alcove there. Reb Arche later left for America.

As new synagogues were built, the old shed was torn down. Not far from there, a small place of prayer was opened in a cellar termed “Im Keller” (in the cellar). The founders of this minyan (prayer group) were Reb Yekel Yona Schnekraut and Reb Nosson (Nusia) Chaimowicz, of blessed memory. A small Beth Medrash was built later. (By the way, they sometimes used to call people who prayed in this Beth Medrash “Shabse Tzvinekes” in jest, because some claimed that in the past the adherents to Shabtai Tzvi had once met in this cellar).

Then there was the small kloiz (prayer house) of Reb Nataniel, of blessed memory (I think he was a sofer), the Czortkower Kloiz, the Stratyner Kloiz, and the two rebbes of our town each had his own kloiz. An empty lot near the home of Yossel Fidelbogen, of blessed memory, was intended to become the place where a Zydaczower prayer house was to be built, but this never came to fruition.

By contrast, the Poles and the Ukrainians each had only one church in addition to the chapels at their cemeteries. On the other hand, when it came to other communal buildings, the Poles had a community center called the “Sokol,” the Ukrainians had their “Proshvite,” while a Jewish community center was not built until later.

The Rabbis

Among the Rabbis who practiced in our town a special place is reserved for the Holy Gaon, our teacher, Rabbi Avraham David Moshe, or David Moshe Avraham, whose initials were A'D'M – the author of Mirkevet Hamishne on the Mechilta of Rabbi Yishmael [iii], a world renowned scholar. Because of him the reputation of our city spread to the Jewish communities throughout the world. In their letters of approbation of the book, in the forward, the rabbis describe the Gaon as follows: “A true genius, holy and marvelous, whose name enlightens, Rabbi David Moshe Avraham was the chief dayan (judge) of Rohatyn.” “To tell the praises of this genius is superfluous. But this I will tell you, my brothers – that which I heard from our grandfathers, which their forefathers told them – that the Ba'al Shem Tov visited Rabbi Adam prior to his demise when this G-dly man went up to the heavens. He came to visit him and to attend him in the fashion that one attends a great scholar, and the Ba'al Shem Tov told the Rabbi, the author, “Rabbi, Bless Me,” and the Rabbi put his two hands on the Besht's head and blessed him. On his way home the Besht said to his student, “It appears that the Rabbi has now passed away, for I saw the heavenly company coming towards him.” And I heard that the great rabbis of his generation called him “Rabbi Adam.” The story was told in our town that Rabbi Adam commanded orally, with his holy mouth, before he passed away, that no one should be buried next to his grave, and, if they did not fulfill his instructions, then the flour mill would burn down, the water wheels would go up in flames, and his tombstone would split. One or two generations later a Talmid Chochom passed away, and they violated the will of the Gaon, Rabbi Adam, of blessed memory. The Talmid Chochom was buried next to the grave of Rabbi Adam, of blessed memory, and his warning came to pass. The mill became a blazing inferno, and his gravestone split.

When I was still in Rohatyn, I remembered that the community and rabbis set aside a day to repair his tomb and support it with metal posts on both sides. All the Jews of the town came to his grave to ask for his forgiveness and recite Tehilim (psalms).

It was customary for anyone who came to the cemetery to pass by his grave and spend some time there as a segula – a protective measure. I did the same after visiting the grave of my mother, the Rabbanit Chana Tova, daughter of Reb Elisha Aharon Klarnet, of blessed memory, in keeping with the instructions of my father, Rabbi Avraham David ben Reb Yitzchak Spiegel, who was a descendant of Rabbi Adam.

The successor to the holy Rabbi Adam was the holy Rabbi Avraham Shlomo (the uncle of Rabbi Shaul Yosef Nathanson) and after him came the pious Rabbi Elisha Aharon, of blessed memory. [Tr1] Among the rabbis of note in later generations were Rabbi Eliazer Horowitz, the author of the book Sefer D'var Halacha (Book of the Word of Law), the son of Rabbi Meshulam, known as “Ish Horowitz.” He was followed by Rabbi Meir Glass; after that there was Rabbi Nosson Lewin (father of Reb Aharon Lewin, of Rzeszow, and of Rabbi Yecheskel Lewin, the Reform rabbi of Lwow, both born in Rohatyn). He was followed by Rabbi Yaakov “Kavi” Schein. (My father was his student for many years). After that, Rabbi Meir Shmuel Henna of Strzeliska, of blessed memory, known as the “Old Dayan” (he was my teacher), a man who was very astute, very learned in the Talmud and religious laws, a person who kept to himself and was very careful of his behavior, as if he were not part of this world. (Not so long ago his son Yehoshua Henna came to Israel from the United States. [iv] )

My father, Rabbi Avraham David Spiegel, of blessed memory, served the town for thirty some years. He was a native of Rohatyn, born in 1885. At first he studied with his father, my grandfather, Reb Yitzchak Spiegel (an acknowledged scholar in his own right), until he was about eighteen years old. Then he went to study with Rabbi Yaakov Kavi, of blessed memory, and afterwards, he was ordained as rabbi by the renowned Rabbi Meir Arak of Tarnow and by Rabbi Shalom Mordechai HaCohen, the chief rabbi of Brzezany. In 1910, at the age of twenty-five, my father became rabbi of Rohatyn.

Before I left for Eretz Yisrael, my father had finished writing his book, The Mesorah (Tradition). He was incisive and scholarly, an excellent speaker and an excellent teacher, whether it was in Halacha or Talmud. He had a dignified appearance and would lead the prayers during the High Holy Days in his clear and distinct fashion. In addition to this, he was a man of action and did many things for the town of Rohatyn. A few years before the Shoah, Rabbi Mordechai Lippa Teumim, of blessed memory, served as the rabbi in Rohatyn.

Age of the Zionists

The first of the early Zionists whom I came to know was Mr. Zvi Latterman who lived near Zaluze. His son-in-law, Yisrael Fried, was a well known athlete. Latterman was a maskil, “enlightened one,” and an open promoter of Zionism in Rohatyn. For this he suffered more than one towel thrown at him in the Beth Medrash or in the Kloiz of Rabbi Nataniel, of blessed memory, by the Hasidic opposition, or, in general, by those who opposed Zionism. However, he, Zvi Latterman, never tired of urging Jews to return to Israel. His younger followers included Pinchas Spiegel (my uncle) and Elchanan Wachman, his friend. They founded the first Zionist group in our town under the name of  “Eretz Yisrael Verein” (Society for Israel) and later united with “Hitachdut,” where many young people were indoctrinated into Zionism. From time to time they delivered lectures in the Verein and presented general information on the developments in the Land and made collections for Israel. In fact, the names of Elchanan Wachman and Pinchas Spiegel are inscribed in the Golden Book of KKL (Keren Kayemeth L'Yisrael – the Jewish National Fund). The founding of Hechalutz, an early pioneering group, began the active process of return to Israel, and the young people in it joined the hachshara (preparation) for emigration to Israel.

[2 photos, pg. 110
(Top) (Caption states) Library of the “Eretz Yisrael Verein” (Society for Israel). Standing to the right: Mucia Modlinger. Seated: Halpern and Dudke Bajdoff. Standing: Lipa Freiwald, Chaim Eisen, Yosef Montenberg and behind them, Yehuda Bratspeiss.

(Bottom) (Caption states) Pinchas Spiegel and Chuna Wachman, of blessed memory.]

[Photo, pg. 111) (Caption states) The “Deborah” group of Hashomer Hazair in Rohatyn 1918: Upper row from the right: Braincia Teichman, Esther Grad, Sarah Baraban, Unknown, Raiza Leiter, Salka Wald, Czarna Schnekraut, Braina Stryjer, Rachel Lieder, Leah Katz.]

As in other towns of Poland, the first youth group established in our town was called Hashomer, Zionist Youth Scouts, which eventually became Hashomer Hazair. Later were formed such Zionist groups as Hanoar Hazioni (Zionist Youth), Brith Trumpeldor (Covenant of Trumpeldor) and later still Gordonia and Mizrachi. In this way young people of our town began to prepare for aliyah (emigration to Israel), and some actually emigrated.

The General Zionists were composed mostly of middle-aged and even older people, including very important citizens of the town such as Yaakov Seidler, Lippa Mandel, Akiva Wagschal, Elisha Teichman, Dr. Zlatkis, Dr. Goldschlag, Izzie Doller, Pinnie Spiegel, Szymon Teichman, and attorney Szmuel Spiegel.

This is how I remember Rohatyn, my town, to which I am linked by so many memories, both sad and happy. Here I was born and here I grew up. The wounds caused by World War I had not yet healed, and the early harbingers of improvement were just beginning to appear as a result of the hard work of the Jews (One Jew, Dr. Goldschlag, of blessed memory, even became Vice Mayor of Rohatyn.) – when that evil hand was brandished, the hand of the murderers, the bloody Nazi murderers. The town was destroyed. Our nearest and dearest were murdered. We could not imagine such a blood bath – so terrible a storm that passed over the towns of Poland and among them, our town. Who would have thought that the tree would be so completely uprooted? Twenty years have passed since that terrible and bitter day when the scythe was raised against the inhabitants of our town; yet the pain burns, and the wound pours blood as if it all had just happened yesterday. Their memory will never leave us.

An Elegy to the Martyrs of Rohatyn and its Environs

The cruel tide of that time swept away the Jews of our town, the innocent and the righteous, during the storm of the total destruction that Jews endured from the evil decrees of 1942–43. Our dear ones were scattered, humiliated, oppressed, and brutally murdered. The grandeur of the aged, the greatness of the wise, the joy of childhood, the exuberance of youth – all wiped out in the deluge of blood and fire by the unclean hands of the satans of our generation. In place of a Jewish community, alive and vibrant, there remains a void, empty and defiled…

In this book we are memorializing the history of the community during the passage of its generations, its organizations and institutions, its personalities and activists to the last ones – all of whom were erased from the Book of Life. We will tell about a life that was effervescent, dreams that were woven, experiences and longings of many generations, those years of the town of Rohatyn and her children that maintained the traditional and ethnic way of life in the Polish land of exile.

[Photo, pg. 112) (Caption states) Top from the right: Michal Kizel, Yehoshua Bader, Yuzia Freiwald, Widow Schorr, Mordechai Kizel, Weissberg, the wife of Yonia (a Christian), Benjamin Melman (Schorr) and his son Moshe, Raiza Leiter, the daughter of Melman, and her husband, Dr. Fassberg. Seated from the right: Esther Schorr with her two granddaughters, Nechemia Grunzeid with his wife, Grundzeid's son, the groom with his bride (of the Schorr family from the United States), at his side, the wife of B. Melman with their grandchildren next to her; the son-in-law of Grunzeid, his wife standing next to him, and the daughter of Yonia and Benny Grunzeid.]


* In the book Imre David 32/3, Rabbi David Horowitz, of blessed memory, Siman 3 and Siman 96 and other responsa.
[Stanislawow is now Iwano Frankivsk. Ed.] back
i Menashe Unger writes in a Yiddish newspaper in an article entitled "Fun Eibiken Kval" (From the Eternal Source), "Rohatyn hut men gerufen ' Shabse Tzvinekes.'" (Rohatyners were called followers of Sabbatai Zvi.) In the back of the town there is situated on flat land a mountain termed "Chartava Hara." The Jewish legend explaining this goes as follows: Sabbatai Zvi flew with the power of the Divine Name, carrying the mountain, and when the rooster crowed after midnight, it was placed on the flatland. From this story we learn that there were in Rohatyn many adherents of Sabbatai Zvi. We even know the names of those adherents." back
ii Reb Alter was a man of pleasant bearing who always had a smile on his lips. He was a Cohen, who like Matityahu had five sons who appeared with him to present the priestly blessing. His sons' names were Meir, Yitzchak, Pinchas, Zvi, and Rafael. He also had a daughter, Tova. back
iii First printed by his grandchildren and their families in the year 1895 in Lwow with the backing of the modest Mrs. Tema Goldschlag, of blessed memory, who was known for the fine comportment of her family and noted for her good deeds in our town. This book was presented as a gift to the Rambam Library of Tel Aviv by Mr. Zvi Nagelberg of Lwow. back
Tr1 [There is a difference of opinion as to who succeeded Rabbi Adam. In the book of Harav Zvi Halevi Horowitz, Chief Rabbi of Dresden for many years, LeToldot Hakehillot B'Polin (Towards an Understanding of the of the Jewish Communities of Poland) ed. Yitzchak Rafael, Mosad Harav Cook (Jerusalem), from manuscripts that had escaped destruction during WWII, page 509, we find that the successor was Rabbi Yitzchak, his (Rabbi Adam's) son. This is verified in his introduction to the book, Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting), Frankfurt an der Oder, 1756. Other rabbis in Rohatyn included Rabbi Yehuda Leib of Cracow, known as Rabbi Leibush Jolles, the Rabbi before Rabbi Adam; Rabbi Adam was followed by his son, who was followed by Rabbi Yosef Halevi Landau; after that, Avraham Shlomo Halpern, the son of the renowned Rabbi, Yechiel Michal Halpern of Brzezany, the one to whom the author apparently was referring.] back
iv [The second chapter of Tractate Kedushin which deals with betrothals.] back

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