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Second World War

 

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“HeHalutz” organization 1925

 

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“HeHalutz” organization 1925

 

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“Gordonia” organization 1930

 

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Members of the Revisionist organization in Stryj

 

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The committee of “Poalei Zion” 1917 –1918
From right to left: First row: L. Mentel, S. Rosenberg
Second row: D. Seltzer, Hila Borer, Sara Hauptman, S. Rossler, Bertha Friedman, Shlomo Rosenberg
Third row: A. Wagner, H. Rappaport, A. Monderer, Miriam Igra, Rivka Friedman, Mania Hauptman, P. Miller

 

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Toynbee Hall committee
From right to left: Standing: Eisensher, D. Zeidamn
Sitting: H. Wizaltier, H. Neumann, M. Wagner, M. Frankel, W. Hauptman, Petrach

 

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The leadership of the united party “Hitahdut – Poalei Zion” 1931
From right to left: Sitting in the first row: I. Lustig, M. Marbach, M. Rotfeld, N. Pomerantz, Meller
Sitting in the second row: Ben Zion Garfunkel, L. Oper, H. Neumann, A. Meller, L. Schwamer, Dr. A. Eisenstein, S. Rossler, S. Rosenberg
Standing in the third row: –?–, Robinson, L. Kronberg, –?–, L. Garfunkel, M. Rinhartz, N. Lindner, I. Meisels, M. Freilich
Standing in the fourth row: Belz, I. Steiner, M. Hubel, –?–, Zukerkendel

 

The Soviet Occupation (1939 – 1941)

Shimon Rosenberg

Translated by Susan Rosin

During the third week following their invasion of Poland, the Germans occupied Stryj.

Seventeen days after the start of the war, the red army crossed the eastern border with Poland and occupied the eastern parts of the country. At the end of September 1939, the German and red armies faced each other along the Stryj river. Following the negotiations, the German army retreated to the San river. After some tense days, the red army occupied Stryj.

One of the German bombs destroyed the Elner's house in the rynek. Jews that were hiding in the cellar of the house were buried under the rubble. That was the only harm to the Jews inflicted by the Germans – for now.

The Soviet army was received by the population with mixed feelings. The Poles hated the new rulers. The Ukrainians reserved judgment and the Jews felt it was the lesser of two evils.

The new authorities published new rules and regulations. The population was required to relinquish all weapons and open all the stores. Public gatherings and meetings were forbidden.

 

The Regime

The new instructions and commands did not prevent war time suffering. Within a few days food disappeared off the shelves and prices went up. Long lines formed in front of bakeries, grocery stores, shoe stores and linens stores. Within a few days the stores were emptied out of their merchandise. The merchants amassed large amounts of money and even items that normally had no buyers were snatched. The authorities ensured that the merchants would not hike their prices and hide their merchandise.

It was not the town's people who started this shopping panic, but the soldiers from the garrison. The officers and soldiers were buying anything and everything and sending it to their families back in Russia. Months of starvation and shortage followed and people had to stand in lines for a loaf of bread in the freezing cold. There were instances where hungry people attacked bread deliveries for the army.

In time, the administration in town stabilized. Commissars and their families arrived from the Soviet Ukraine and organized the offices of taxation, commerce, manufacturing, police, cooperation etc. it needs to be noted that the new authorities employed the town's people in their offices without discrimination of religion or nationality. The town's people quickly learnt how to survive with their new authorities and employers. The new relationships were mainly based on “you help me and I'll help you” practice with bribery, corruption and mutual embezzlement…

After the new regime was stabilized, the people started to feel the difference. The Russian goods were not supplied to the people through private trade. Institutions were established to oversee the trade and provide employment. In the first stage, the bakeries, mills, factories and large enterprises were nationalized. In the next stage, the authorities nationalized all homes valued at more than twenty thousand rubles. This rule had wide options for bribery, and many homes that were supposed to be nationalized remained in the hands of the owners as did many apartments. Favoritism and bribery were rampant. Craftsmen were not forced to organize in cooperatives, but because of the taxation they did. Many closed their workshops and organized themselves in cooperatives. Some of the merchants found employment in the national factories, while others made a living from the inventory in their stores. In most cases, the authorities did not single out the Jews, but there were a few arrests.

[Page 162]

The arrest of the renowned lawyer Dr. Wundell caused a stir in town especially because for years he was the defended communists in political trials. Many rumors circulated about the reason for his arrest, none was confirmed and he died in jail. Two “Bund” activists, Benjamin Ber and Fridel Boxer were arrested and they too died in jail. Dr. Hausman was arrested because of a book by Trotsky (that was actually legal during the Polish rule). The truth was that he was arrested because of his lovely apartment that was desired by one of the officers. He too died in jail.

Aside from them, some merchants were arrested due to so–called price gauging. Among them was Kriszer.

In the spring of 1940 a new blow was inflicted on the population. The authorities announced that the Polish currency would no longer be accepted and the only legal currency will be the ruble. Thousands remained penniless. Just a few days before this decree, the authorities paid the workers' wages in the Polish currency, thus leaving many without means.

 

The Refugees

The Polish–German war created a stream of refuges moving east. Thousands of refugees arrived in Stryj and only a fraction of them found employment whereas the rest continued eastward.

In the summer of 1940, the Soviet authorities decided to “solve” the eastern Poland refugees issue in a brutal act. In Stryj, the authorities descended on the apartments occupied by refugees from western Poland. They allowed 15 –20 minutes for the refugees to gather their belongings and board a train. This decree affected all – men, women, children, old and young, the working and the unemployed. Later it was discovered that this plan was prepared in complete secrecy and for a few weeks large freight cars were prepared at the station for a long journey. They were equipped with sleeping bunks and stoves for heating. For the abductions, specially trained brigades in cooperation with the Soviet militia were used. They performed this task without pity separating families. The trains traveled for many months through the Russian prairie and taiga on their way north. Many perished during this inhumane trip and upon arrival in the polar region, other perished due to the cold conditions.

Many of the expelled had no chance of getting warm clothing and froze in the cold land of exile. Letters of despair and hopelessness were received by relatives of the exiled.

The Relationships Between the Nationalities

The soviets declared eastern Galicia part of the Ukrainian republic and the formal language became Ukrainian. This caused much satisfaction to the Ukrainians and uneasiness to the Polish population. The authorities started in transitioning the administration positions previously held by Poles and Jews to Ukrainians. However, due to the lack of skills among the Ukrainians, not all Jews and Poles could be replaced. For this purpose, the soviets used the most educated Ukrainians although the nationalistic feelings and the hatred towards Russia was strong among this group. This did not cause antagonism between the two nationalities. However, the negative feelings of the three groups towards the occupation forces reduced the tensions among them. The Poles and Ukrainians were more tolerant towards the Jews as compared to the period before the soviet occupation.

[Page 163]

The Jewish Social Life

The soviet occupation brought a complete closure of the Jewish institutions, the various parties and cessation of public life. Some of the institutions such as the orphanage and the children's' home were annexed to Polish and Ukrainian institutions and were administered by the city and lost their Jewish character. Ukrainian was the official language in all institutions.

The authorities opened classes to teach the masses about the bolshevist party and to listen to speeches made by communist leaders. People attended these classes out of fear and in order to keep their jobs.

At first, the authorities did not get involved in the religious life of the Jews, but the religious institutions that were dependent on the kehila encountered difficulties. The Jewish communists that served the authorities did not try to help and on the contrary and as flattery to the authorities promoted the use of the Ukrainian language.

Although eastern Galicia was officially part of soviet Ukraine, the border was closed throughout the occupation. The eastern Galicia civilians that were drafted to the red army were given inferior tasks such as building fortifications.

A week after the German attack on Russia, the soviets left Stryj (on June 22nd, 1941). They abandoned the government offices and institutions taking with them thousands of civilians. A few hundreds of Stryj's Jews took advantage of the situation, joined the transport and escaped to the east.

Immediately after the start of the war with the Germans, the soviets drafted a substantial number of Jews to the red army. Two of Stryj's Jews Israel Pfeffer and Shlomo Segal were executed on grounds of desertion.

Before they left town, the soviets arrested the Jewish activists Benjamin Klein, Ben Garfunkel and Meisels and executed them at the jail yard without trial.


A Refugee Writes about Stryj's Jews

Translated by Susan Rosin

This letter was received in the editorial office of the “Yizkor” book from Mr. Zvi Reps from Dubiecko (Poland).During the war, Mr. Reps arrived in Stryj with other Jewish refugees. In his letter, Mr. Reps who later settled in Tzfat (Israel) described the assistance and kindness of Stryj's Jewry during the cruel expulsion to Siberia by the Soviet authorities.

The Russians arrested us on Friday night. The following day, Saturday we were packed into train cars, and on Sunday we arrived in Stryj. We had no idea where we were being transported to, but Stryj's Jews knew we were being exiled to Siberia. The Russians did not allow any help, but the Jews in Stryj bribed the NKVD. In one day only they bought huge amounts of bread, jam, cheese, butter, herrings, candy, medications and diapers for babies. They even divided a sum of 30,000 rubles among the refugees – a huge amount in those days. It was a well–coordinated effort: a sort of emergency was declared, and the people were asked to give up any luxuries and allocate all resources for the refugees. When the train started moving, a woman handed me a large jar of jam and a bag of sugar saying “it's for all of you”.

Hundreds of Jews were at the station when the train left. Many of them were crying. In all of eastern Galicia I did not encounter such warm and humane feelings as we were shown by the Jews of Stryj. For years I was trying to locate a Jew from Stryj, hug him and tell him what it meant for us. Eventually I met someone

[Page 164]

and told him it is necessary to bring into light what the Jews of Stryj did for their refugee brethren.

I am confident that those who were with me in Siberia could add much more to what I said about Stryj's Jews.

May their memory be blessed.

(Signed) Zvi Reps, Tzfat


A Stryj Refugee in Russia

Translated by Susan Rosin

The surprise attack of the Germans on Russia on June 22nd 1941was so sudden that people in Stryj could not surmise that the explosions heard that morning had any connection to the war. However, realization set–in with the radio addresses from Moscow that morning.

Stryj was in the danger zone from the first day of the war.

The Russian–German border extended along the San river from Przemyśl in the north through the Carpathian mountains. The mechanized army was able to get from Przemyśl to Stryj in a few hours and the planes reached thetown in a few minutes causing much destruction to the Russian bases.

It is interesting that the people of Stryj were not scared at first and were not aware of the ensuing danger and did not plan an escape.

During the twenty months of the Soviet rule, the army fortified the border, so the general opinion was that the fighting will take a while. However, after two to three days it became apparent that the German army broke through the north–eastern Russian front it became clear that the center front will be next and that Stryj was doomed.

In spite of these facts, it did not seem that the Jews of Stryj were eager to leave. How can this apathy be explained in the face of the danger of German occupation?

  1. Stryj's Jews saw the suffering of the thousands of refugees from western Poland who lived in poverty and suffered hunger during the 20 months of the Soviet rule and were afraid of the same fate;
  2. The Jews were not aware of the Germany's brutal “final solution”;
  3. During the Soviet rule many became disillusioned by the corruption, the bribery, the liquidation of all private property and commerce and the general decline in standard of living.
An air of defeatism spread among the Jews and nobody was too eager to leave. Only small groups left Stryj: healthcare workers, communist youths, and men who were drafted to the soviet army and air defense during the initial days of the war. So, only men left town with the retreating soviet army, whereas women and children were left behind.

Anyone who wanted could have left town in the last trains that passed Stryj on their way from Drohobycz – Boryslaw or the trains that left Stryj in the last days before the German invasion. About three hundred of Stryj's Jews left for Russia that way.

In the first few months, the Jews concentrated in the places where they disembarked from the trains, mostly in Ukraine. But because of the rapid progress of the Germans, they spread in the entire European and Asian portions of Russia.

The fate of the few hundred refugees from Stryj was not different from that of the other refugees. They worked in the kolkhozes, in factories and workshops and wandered around Russia, homeless and hungry, dressed in rags. Some engaged in illegal black market commerce.

[Page 165]

Some were sent to prisons and concentration camps, living in filth, contracting diseases and many died. Finally, in 1945/1946, those who remained were returned to Poland. There are no exact numbers for those that returned, but they are estimated to be about two hundred.

 

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Members of the Revisionist organization in Stryj

 

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“HaOved” Organization in Stryj 1934

 

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A group of “Hashomer Hatzair” 1918

 

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A group of “Hashomer Hatzair” 1918
From right to left: Standing: Malka Leibowitz, S. Harshderfer, R. Reinhartz, Weinrab, Kaufman, Shmorack
Seated middle row: P. Kastenbaum, Marbach, R. Lindner, S. Kronberg, Waldman
Seated in first row: S. Lindner, Lindner, L. Reich

 

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