Until the second half of the past century, the Jewish children in Strzyzow received religious education only. A boy, when reached the age of three, was required to begin his education. At that time, his hair was shorn and only side-locks remained. A ritual four-cornered garment was put on him with tzitziot and, wrapped in a tallit; he was carried off by his father to the melamed in cheder. At first, he was taught the Hebrew alphabet and then the vowelization.
At the age of four or five, depending on the capability of the child, he began to learn the Pentateuch. A small party was given in honour of the boy who started to study Chumash. Relatives were invited on a Saturday afternoon the boy made a traditional speech which was taught for generations. The speech was actually a question and answer dialogue with the help of another boy. The guests were treated with apple cider and cake.
Every melamed had a helper whose job was to bring the children to cheder and to return them home. The helper's job was also to provide the children with a flag for Simchat Torah and a bow and arrow for Lag B'Omer. Lag B'Omer is a holiday in springtime, halfway between Passover and Shavuot. On that day, the children were free from studies and the helpers took the children for a day out into the woods where they played soldiers. There was also a tradition in Strzyzow that whenever a boy was born, the helper took the children to welcome the new born. The children recited a prayer and were given treats.
At the age of six, the child passed on to a melamed who taught the older children Talmud. And so the children kept passing from one melamed to another according to their progress in learning until they reached the age of Bar Mitzvah. After Bar Mitzvah, they were capable and prepared to dwell in the Beit HaMidrash to study Torah and other holy books alone or in groups but always under the supervision of the older scholars who were studying Torah as a permanent occupation.
The melamdim who were teaching the children were not professional pedagogues and did not have a manual from which they could prepare their lessons. Each had a system of his own by which he taught and the results were generally satisfactory. There were melamdim who specialized in teaching the alphabet, and then others took over and taught Chumash, Talmud and son on. Some melamdim taught only the Prophets and the Talmud. The melamdim were also required to teach how to write in Yiddish.
The melamed prepared the boy for his Bar Mitzvah. He taught him how to put on the Tefilin. Reading the Torah or chanting the Haftorah was not necessary because in Galicia this tradition was unknown.
As I mentioned above, every melamed had his system in teaching. It all depended on the disposition of the teacher. If he was an angry man, he was very strict with the children and if he was soft-hearted, he took it easy with the youngsters.
Reb Mordechai Rosenbaum who specialized in teaching little tots was nicknamed murderer because he was very strict. But parents preferred him over Reb Eliyahu who was very soft-spoken. With Reb Mordechai, the parents were sure that the child would know how to read. Reb Yaacov Dym, who had a cheder for many years, taught the 7-10 age groups. He was
by the Talmud Torah in Strzyzow
The award: A bundle of Tzitzioth
|Every student is required:
well-liked by both the parents and the children. Chaim Yacov Nuremberg taught Talmud exclusively to the 10-13 groups. His specialty was to break up the boredom of studying the Gemara with interesting stories and legends. By contrast, Reb Moshe Samuel Friedman did not want to waste time with story-telling. Pupils who graduated from Moshe Samuel came out with a perfect knowledge of the Talmud and also knew how to write a perfect Yiddish and Hebrew. Of course, it was the old-fashioned Hebrew which was called Lashon Hakodesh. Reb Moshe Samuel did not use a pen; he wrote with a quill.
Every generation which grew up in Strzyzow had a certain type of a melamed. The melamdim had not special training. On the contrary, in the old days, nobody wanted to grow up and be a melamed. Being a melamed was a shameful profession. When somebody was unsuccessful in life, being a melamed was the only way to earn a living. Usually, they began with one or two children and if they were successful, then they started a cheder.
There was no special location for the cheders in town. Every melamed used his living quarters as a classroom, sometimes with the permission from the authorities and sometimes without. Even if the melamed obtained a licence, it was always for a smaller number of children than he taught. In case of an inspection by the authorities, the extra children always disappeared.
The melamed's wife served as a nurse. When somebody hurt himself or cut his finger, she treated it with a piece of bread and butter that she put on the finger and wrapped it around with cobweb, and it always helped.
In the thirties, at the initiative of the Kehillah and the generosity of a few well-to-do people, a Talmud Torah school was built. As I already mentioned before, the children in Strzyzow did not live to study there. it was finished just when the war started. Presently, the Polish government is using it for a school.
The Agudat Israel, who had a strong following in Strzyzow, began to work toward modernization of educational systems for the children. They demanded better qualified teachers, instituted report cards with grades and rewards for outstanding students. One particular teacher whom I would like to mention was Reb Noah Schreiber who had a very progressive way of teaching children. As a matter of fact, he was recruited by another city to teach in a regular Talmud Torah School because of his qualifications. The payment to the teachers was seasonal, from Passover to Rosh Hashanah and from the High Holidays to Passover. Wintertime, every student had to pay extra for kerosene used to light the cheder.
Studying Torah was sacred among the Jews in the shtetl, whether you could afford it or not. Parents who were able to pay, paid themselves, and the community paid for the poor. But not child was deprived of education, heaven forbid!
One of the painful problems was how to teach the girls to read the prayers and how to write. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the majority of women were illiterate. In the synagogue, there were always one or two women who knew how to read the prayers and the rest were sitting and repeating after them. On this account, many jokes were born about how women twisted the words of the prayers. Rarely could anyone
in Strzyzow afford to hire a private tutor to teach his daughters. In the beginning of the twentieth century, people started to send the girls to cheder once or twice a week after the boys had left. But, the melamdim had no training whatsoever to teach neither boys nor girls. Eventually, a couple of young men came up with the idea to start a private class for girls for a nominal fee and later, a few of those girls started to teach the younger ones.
In the thirties, the Agudat Israel solved the problem of educating girls by opening a Bais Yacov School for girls. They brought a teacher, Ms. Diller from another town. She was not happy in Strzyzow and left after one year. Her replacement, Miss Wasserman, was a very qualified and devoted teacher. The parents and the students were very happy with her. Unfortunately, within five years, the school folded for lack of funds.
Soon after, the Zionist organization started a kindergarten for girls and taught Hebrew to older girls. This school lasted until the beginning of World War II.
During the nineteenth century, no Jewish boy and only a few Jewish girls attended a secular school. Those who knew Polish or German were self-educated. Rarely would anybody engage a private tutor.
Men who were about to get married and planned to join their father's business tried to obtain some education by private means. There were a few self-educated people in Strzyzow who passed on their knowledge to others for a fee. I would like to mention Reb Zalman Zagner who authored a textbook for mathematics and accounting in Yiddish. He was very popular in Galicia. Mr. Zagner moved to another city where he became a regular teacher in a school.
Another well-educated man who never received formal education was Reb Tzvi Mohreer. He was the official registrar who registered the Jewish new born and the deceased. He had this concession from the government and collected a fee whenever his service was needed. He received no regular salary. Mr. Mohrer was also a teacher who taught young people to read and write. Reb Tzvi Mohrer worked for the post office under the Austrian government on a temporary basis so they would not force him to work on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays. There was one very intelligent person who had an unofficial law office. His name was Alter Nechemiah. He knew the law as thoroughly as a lawyer though he never attended any school. The Greenblatt family were all self-educated and were always willing to share their knowledge with others.
In the last twenty years before the war, all the children were required to attend elementary school, whether boys or girls. It was hard for a Jewish boy to attend a secular school because of the way they were dressed with side-locks and a yarmulke. The gentile boys were very hostile to the Jewish students. It was also hard for Jewish boys because they had to attend the secular school as well as cheder. They could not neglect the studying of the Torah.
In the last ten years before the war, the number of young people who
|1. Schiff. 2. Deutch. 3. Lustgarten. 4. Goldman-Last. 5. Meisels. 6. Thim. 7. Schlisselberg. 8. Berglass. 9. Gertner. 10. Taub-Gertner. 11. Lichtman. 12. Hina Feit, daughter of Samuel and Rachel who volunteered their time and helped with the children. 13. Salzman. 14. Karp. 15. Schacher-Hagel. 16. Rosenblith. 17. Berglass. 19. Rosenthal. 20. Assistant teacher. 21. Teacher Elka Shulman|
continued studying Torah and dwelled in the Beit HaMidrash, dwindled to a few only. Strzyzow had also a secular high school in which Jewish students from out-of-town attended but not the local children because of forced attendance on the Sabbath and holidays.
Strzyzow had two political parties only. The Central Zionist Organization which was an umbrella organization for different groups and the Agudat Israel which opposed Zionism as such. The Zionist Organization was very strong in the last thirty years before the war. They influenced the youth and inspired them to work for the Zionist cause, namely, a Jewish homeland in Erets Israel which was under the British rule. About the Zionist activities, I will write in broader form in a later chapter.
The Agudat Israel was founded by Reb Naphtali Chaim Halbersten, a grandson of the famous Rabbi Chaim from Sandz. He came to Strzyzow after he married the daughter of Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz. My brother-in-law, Reb Itzhok Bernstein, Reb Joel Glickman and a very capable young man Shlomo Diamand (Yahalomi), helped him to establish the party. The most active member who ran the organization was the secretary, Moshe Schwartzman. The main task of the Agudat Israel was in the field of orthodox education, especially among the girls. The girls group was called Baos Agudat Israel. With all due respect, the organization had very little success. From time to time they awakened and renewed their activity but it soon cooled off again. Something was amiss and nobody could figure out why. Maybe it was lack of a goal or idealism, or because the opposed Zionism?
The majority of the people in Strzyzow were religious anyway and did not need an organization for that purpose. Even the Zionists were all religious people and there was no need for religious propaganda.
The Zionists and the Agudat Israel had a very peaceful coexistence. The relationship became strained only once in 1921 when the Zionists began a fundraising campaign for the just-established Jewish National Fund in which they tried to include the entire population of the town. The Agudat Israel did not succeed in their opposition and the campaign was very successful.
In most elections to the Polish Parliament, the Zionists were in coalition with the Agudat Israel. But in local politics, and in the rabbinical disputes, there were people from both parties aligned on both sides. Normally, in time of elections to the city government, the Jews always split their support between the opposing non-Jewish candidates.
Once, at the beginning of this century, all the Jews united to fight the Priest Jablecinski who was an outspoken anti-Semite. At that time, the Jews were still fifty percent of the population and with a little support from some non-Jews, they succeeded in their opposition and a more liberal mayor was elected. Every time when a candidate for mayor wanted to be elected, he had to make a promise not to discriminate against the Jews.
For many years, a fight for the mayoral chair was going on between
two aristocratic Polish families the Konieczkowskis and the Patryns. Konieczkowski was patronized by the church which was very anti-Jewish. Of course, the Jews gave their support to Dr. Patryn and he ruled the town for many years.
Dr Joseph Patryn, the son of a big family, was an interesting figure. The origin of the Patryn family was Swedish. Their ancestor was a Swedish soldier who remained in Strzyzow after the Swedish-Polish War at the time when King Casimir ruled Poland. The Patryn family were very rich, well-rooted in the area and Dr. Patryn was in our time the patriarch of the family. He was a good doctor and a shrewd politician which is why he had so many opponents in Strzyzow. He was devoted to his allies whether Jews or gentiles and was helpful whenever necessary.
When Dr. Patryn died, Reb Joseph Diamand eulogized him with these words: Since I am older than he, I wish I would have died instead. This was said with true sincerity. Although Dr. Patryn himself attended church very rarely, the Patryn family were good Catholics. They even built a little chapel on a hill overlooking the city. This man had no bigotry in him and when he disliked somebody it was purely politics.
As mayor, Dr. Patryn did many favours. He had four brothers and each had big families. They owned almost all the land around Strzyzow. They had many Jewish business associates and helped the Jewish needy with farm produce. Many times they set an example to other Polish families. All the Jews in Strzyzow attended his funeral and the stores were closed for the day. Even after his death, Jews continued to support his friends in local politics.
The Zionist ideal and its movement which had spread worldwide finally reached Strzyzow also. There were a few lovers of Zion before but they were not organized. The first Zionists in Strzyzow when Dr. Herzl, the founder of political Zionism was still alive, was Reb Moshe Meir Seidman. He spread the Zionist ideal in Strzyzow but did not organize anything. Following Seidman was a young man by the name of Shalom Flaumenhaft. He dwelt in Beit HaMidrash studying Torah but nevertheless, was active in spreading the Zionist ideal without much success.
A man by the name of Simcha Feingold who came to Strzyzow as a representative of a lumber company and remained in Strzyzow for a long time, was a real lover of Zion. His grandson, Ben Ami Feingold, wrote an article in this book about his activities in Strzyzow.
Before the Feingold family immigrated from Strzyzow, their oldest son, Moshe met with a group of young men, the most intelligent young men in Strzyzow, and explained to them the importance of political Zionism. Their names were: Mordechai Brav; Joel Greenblatt; Aryah Diamand; Tzvi Elazar Sternberg and Itzhok Tenzer. During this meeting, he asked to serve on the first Zionist committee and the first Zionist organization was established. The Feingolds left Strzyzow in 1907.
As presiding officer, they elected Mordechai Brav who was elected for two reasons: because he was the community leader's son and most importantly, he was the only young man with a secular education. The rest of
the committee were pious young men who dwelt in Beit HaMidrash studying Torah and secretly reading secular books. The treasurer in the committee was Itzhok Tenzer who held this office until the outbreak of World War I. During the war, everything fell apart.
After the war, a new generation of young people grew up. A group of self-educated boys and girls took upon themselves to restore the organization. They named as leader the prestigious Reb Tzvi Pfeffer who came to Strzyzow after the war and opened the only printing shop in the entire area. He was very intelligent and a capable leader.
In general, the people in Strzyzow did not oppose the establishment of a Zionist organization as long as it did not interfere with the religious upbringing of the younger generation and they continued to observe the religious code. Only once during the first Jewish National Fund campaign in 1921 did the Zionist meet a strong opposition from the extreme Hassidim. The Zionists tried to recruit donors on a permanent basis but afterwards, the opposition weakened and the Zionists continued to be active in the community life and in local politics. There were no extremists in Strzyzow from either side.
One of the first important acts by the Zionists was the establishment of a library. After contacting the Zionist headquarters in Lwow, the organization received the first shipment of books. They rented a small room and a Jewish library came into existence. The library was used as a home for the Zionists. The Zionist committee frequently held their meetings in the library. Now having a home of their own, they organized campaigns for the Jewish National Fund by distributing the blue and white collection boxes and the sale of shkalim, which was equivalent to buying a membership card.
On Simchat Torah, the Zionists borrowed a Torah scroll from the shul and all the members worshipped in the library and donations went partly to the library and partly to the Jewish National Fund. This tradition lasted until the outbreak of the war in 1939.
At the beginning, the Zionist movement was an entity unlike today. There were no different groups aiming at different social directions. There was only one general Zionist Party. The library gained popularity among the boys and girls, the young and old, because everybody was anxious to read books, to get acquainted with Bialik, Sholem Alsichem, Peretz and others and many began to learn Hebrew. For the boys it was not hard to learn Hebrew but for the girls it was more complicated because they did not attend the cheder.
In 1910, the committee in Strzyzow was asked to help the Zionists from the nearby shtetl of Frysztak to establish a library. But their library did not last for very long. This little shtetl was ultra-Hassidic with many extremists who opposed such progress like a library. One night, they broke into the place where the borrowed books from our library in Strzyzow were kept and made a bonfire destroying all the books. After this shameful act, the Zionists from Strzyzow wanted to press charges and take them to court for destroying their property. However, when the storm calmed down, they realized that it would not be dignified for Jews to fight in a non-Jewish court. Therefore, the Zionists dropped the whole matter.
Under the Austro-Hungarian rule, the Zionists in Strzyzow always supported Zionist candidates to Parliament. In 1911, the Zionists had as their candidate, Dr. Tzvi Syrup from Sandz who ran against a Pole, Dr. Leopold Jaworski. Because of Dr. Syrup's Zionism, the Orthodox Jewry decided to support Dr. Jaworski. When Reb Moshe Deutchar from Krakow, a representative of the Orthodox Jewry came to campaign for Jaworski, he received such a reception from the Zionists that he had to leave town under police protection. However, our candidate was not elected because the majority of rabbis and the Orthodox Jewry in Galicia were against Zionist candidates.
During the war, between 1914-1918, the Zionist activity stopped completely because many young people were in the war fighting and many were evacuated from the town. Strzyzow was twice occupied by the Russians. After the war when life returned to normality, the former Zionist committee, with the help of a few younger members, reactivated the Zionist committee with renewed energy. The first task was to restore the library because during the war, all the books had been destroyed. There were many teenagers who during the war grew up to be conscientious young men, eager to participate in all Zionist activities. Tzvi Elazar Sternberg taught Hebrew to the boys and the girls organized a girls' club named Ruth. The programme included studying Jewish history, Hebrew and current events relating to Jewish life in the Diaspora.
When the Central Committee of the Zionists relocated to Krakow, Dr. Itzhok Schwarzbarc was elected leader. He visited several times Strzyzow and his visits were very inspirational.
In the 1919 elections to the new Polish Parliament, the Zionists worked very hard, campaigning for their candidates. This time, the hard work paid off because the majority of the Jews in Galicia supported them and every Zionist candidate won.
The success of the elections caused rivalry among the Zionist leadership. The younger generation was growing up and they demanded to share the leadership. In Strzyzow this dispute had settled by itself after most of the adult Zionists immigrated and the few who remained got saddled with families and withdrew from activism. The younger leaders were very intelligent, self-educated and devoted to the Zionist cause.
Avigdor Diamand was elected as leader of the Zionist organization. He took over the leadership from his older brother Aryeh. Abraham Brav took over the treasury from his older brother Mordechai and also the responsibility of the library. There was an outstanding group of girls including Hana Nechemiah, Feiga Greenblatt, Feiga Weinberg, Eta Dembitzar, Sarah Zilber and Vita Loos. All these girls played a very important role in the Zionist activities in Strzyzow. Later, I, the writer of these memoirs, took over the leadership and served as the secretary of the Zionists in Strzyzow.
In 1921, the World Zionist Organization proclaimed a fund-raising campaign for the Jewish National Fund with a goal to raising twenty-five million pounds sterling. The money was needed to help the first pioneers who began to redeem the land and settle in Eretz Israel. We the Zionists in Strzyzow began this campaign with the slogan: Every Jew in Strzyzow
helps build a Jewish Homeland. We influenced and inspired the majority of the people in Strzyzow by organizing a mass meeting in shul. However, at the last minute, the Polish authorities withdrew their permit, under the pretext that this shul was designated only for worshipping. By the withdrawal of the permit, the Polish authorities helped us in the success of the campaign. The meeting was held in a small room adjacent to the main sanctuary of the shul. Everyone in Strzyzow, even non-Zionists contributed to this campaign. There were people who pledged their jewellery. Even though these pieces of jewellery had no big monetary value, the act itself had a tremendous moral uplift.
After this huge campaign, the Zionists realized that funds would be continuously needed so we organized a monthly membership contribution to the Jewish National Fund. These contributions continued until September, 1939. Of course, faces in the organization's leadership and the membership kept changing. The most active in collecting funds in the thirties were: Yacov keh, Vita Loos, Sarah Rabhun, Naphtali Roth and Peretz Pinsel from the Mizrachi, a very active Zionist.
At the beginning of each year, the Zionist activists asked for pledges and during the year, these pledges were paid off.
I was the leader until 1938. Not only were we active in fund raising for the Zionist causes but we took an active role in the community life and the Kehillah. In time of elections to local and central government, we always made sure that the right candidate got the deserved Jewish support. We also helped chalutzim who were leaving for Eretz Israel, most of whom had no means to pay for their passage. We even helped the well-known anti-Zionist, Reb Shalom Schwartzman who went to the Holy Land and joined the Netursi Xarta. We saw to it that he got a certificate from the British authorities permitting his emigration. The Zionists used to organize all kinds of festivities for fund raising purposes. The first time we organized such an affair in 1919, when we used an egg packing plant belonging to one of our friend's father. The news about the party reached the worshippers in the Beit HaMidrash. A group of older people came to pay us a visit to see with their own eyes what the Zionists were up to. But to their consternation, their attitude changed when they did not see anything extraordinary. From then on, these parties were well accepted. In the later years, the Zionists celebrated every Tub B'Shvat with a big party in the Polish club hall. Tzvi Shapiro, a local resident who spent some years in Eretz Israel, was the spiritual leader of these affairs.
The relationship along the different Zionist group and between the rest of the population was very good.
In 1925, a group of young men organized the first religious youth group under the sponsorship of the Mizrachi. They began to spread the idea of "Aliya to Eretz Israel, and this idea never ceased to inspire the young generation in Strzyzow. In a village not far from Strzyzow lived a Jewish landowner, Reb Yechezkiel Wallach with his son-in-law, Reb Israel Wilner. They were ardent Zionists and enabled the young people of Strzyzow to establish a Hachshara where the chalutzim could obtain agricultural training by working in the fields. Many young people
from Galicia came there to be trained before leaving for Eretz Israel. Generally, it was hard to find a place for the Zionist groups to obtain agricultural training before fulfilling their dream to make Aliyah. Eretz Israel had just begun to develop as a Jewish Homeland. Aktiva Diamand, a farmer's son, was the first chalutz to emigrate to Eretz Israel and after him, many followed. Many young people had to emigrate illegally because it was almost impossible to obtain a certificate from the British rulers.
After the Nazi came to power in 1933, many who immigrated from Strzyzow to Germany were forced to leave so they immigrated to Eretz Israel. People, who escaped the Nazi in 1939 and spent their war-years in Russia, when they returned, most of them also settled in Israel. This is the reason why we have such a big concentration of people from Strzyzow in Israel.
In the late thirties, the Zionists in Strzyzow were active in illegal Aliyah. After the death of Reb Hersch Mohrer, who was the official registrar of the Jewish population in Strzyzow, his son Chaim a member of the Zionist-Revisionist Party and his friend, Nahtali Diamand, took a stack of blank birth certificates and gave them to the Central Zionist Office which used them as they were needed.
Joseph Diamand, a young man from Krakow who came to work as a clerk in Strzyzow, organized the Revisionist group Menorah and the affiliate youth group Beiter. This group, under the leadership of Eliezer Gruber, Feivel Schacher, Baruch Nuremberg and Joseph Deutch, attracted many youngsters to the organization. The leader of the youth group was Tzvi Schefler and the coordinators were: Chaim and Eta Mohrer, Pesha Roth, Chava Gruber and Leah Kracher. They did tremendous propaganda work for the Zionist cause and especially by inspiring the young people to make Aliyah, whether legally or illegally. Joseph Diamand later went to Krakow ad became the economical editor for the Zionist Polish newspaper.
The desertion of the Revisionists from the mainstream of the Zionist organization caused shock to the local Zionists which were soon overcome, after recruiting more members into the Zionist organization. They organized two youth organizations: Akiba and Hanoar Hazioni. These young people worked feverishly to spread the Zionist idea and urged their members to leave Poland before it was too late. Their leaders were
Joseph Schiff, Naphtali Diamand and Naphtali Roth.
More and more youth groups were organized under the auspices of the Zionist organization. The boys' group was called Bar Kochba and the girls' group Shoshana. These groups were very energetic in their work, helping young people to leave Poland and immigrate to Eretz Israel. They had Hebrew classes and many other cultural activities. On the library was closed by the authorities for no reason at all except that it was a Jewish library. After an appeal to the higher authorities, the library which was named Hatikva reopened with a special section for younger readers.
The Mizrachi organized a religious group under the leadership of Elimelech Waldman, Reuven Zelig Mandel, Moshe Dym and Yacov Adest. Waldman was a graduate from a Hebrew teachers' seminary. He taught Hebrew in a nearby city but lived in Strzyzow and helped with teaching Hebrew locally. Moshe Dym was later recruited to work for the head office of
the Mizrachi in Krakow where he helped many from Strzyzow to obtain certificates for Aliyah.
In general, the dominant atmosphere in Strzyzow was Zionism. All the young people in Strzyzow found their way to Zionist youth groups except the extreme Orthodox and those who joined the Agudat Israel.
There were no leftists in town. People who came from places where the leftists and influence, changed their attitudes and became active in the Zionist movement.
There was a lumber mill in Strzyzow which belonged to Jewish owners Reb Moshe Johannes and Reb Tzvi Kracher. They had a foreman, Reb Yacov Eisner who was very intelligent and a devoted Zionist although he was strictly orthodox. Eisner had a very good voice and always chanted in the Beit HaMidrash. He organized a Hachshara in the lumber mill for chalutzim who were getting ready to immigrate to Ertez Israel. There they gained experience and were introduced to manual labour in order to be ready for the hardship in the Jewish Homeland. In those times, very few young people learned a so-called non-Jewish trade like cabinet making, mechanical work, etc.
In 1936, the Zionists in Strzyzow did the most daring thing considering the financial situation in town. They added a few classes to the existing kindergarten and turned it into a regular Hebrew school for which they hired a qualified Hebrew teacher a graduate from the religious teacher's seminary Yavneh.
A committee of devoted mothers was elected to provide all the assistance the school needed. Women like Nechama Gertner, my wife, Sarah Berglass, Rachel Feit and Sarah Shapiro, who, with the help of the entire Zionist movement, overcame all the hardships and thanks to their commitment and devotion, the school lasted until the outbreak of war in September, 1939.
In 1938, I resigned from the leadership of the Zionist organization and my successor was Dr. Acht, a young lawyer who just settled in Strzyzow. He was a very active Zionist and he continued to be the leader until the outbreak of the war. The last summer before the war started, a big campaign was proclaimed by the World Zionist Movement for the redemption of the Galil. A general meeting was called in the shul where Dr. Poretzky, a special emissary from Eretz Israel spoke. In his speech he warned the people to wake up from apathy and immigrate to Eretz Israel legally, if possible or illegally because Europe was not safe anymore. Who could have imagined at that time that the disaster was so close and the end of European Jewry so imminent? On September 1, 1939 war broke out and on 10th September, the Germans occupied Strzyzow. And the destruction of the Jewish community of Strzyzow, Poland and the rest of Europe began.
All the professionals who resided in Strzyzow in the last fifty years were all out-of-towners who settled in Strzyzow to practice their profession. There were doctors, lawyers, dentists and a few clerks. The majority of them did not socialize with the gentiles and neither were they too close with the Jews. They were isolated in their own circle. A few supported the Zionist movement but they were not active members. They also participated in local charities. During the High Holidays they worshipped in shul. They were the only Jews in town who dared to violate the Jewish tradition by not wearing hats and not observing the Sabbath and their behaviour was reluctantly accepted. When the Hebrew school was established, only a few agreed to send their children to study Hebrew.
There were a few bad characters among the Jews in Strzyzow. However, types like professional informers who would report to the authorities about violations of certain government rules when they contradicted the Jewish traditions were unknown. The widow of one custom official, whose record was not without blemish, lived a long life and suffered for her husband's misdeeds. There were no Jewish thieves or swindlers and when business or inheritance disputes occurred, it was always settled by the rabbi or by arbitration through a third party. Jews did not like to bring their problems before the non-Jewish court. There were one or two men who continuously had litigations in court but they were considered disreputable although, in no other way, were they different from the rest of the Jews. When it came to support charitable causes, they supported it wholeheartedly. Generally, the Jewish people in Strzyzow lived like one big family.
Strzyzow had its converts too, though very few. A story circulated that a few generations earlier, a rabbi with a few of his followers from Grzybow, a city sixty miles from Strzyzow, were brought by the church to Strzyzow for the baptism ceremony at a well on the outskirts of the town. Later, a statue was erected in their honour. We all remember the statue because it was located in a pine grove where we used to stroll on a Sabbath afternoon. Nobody was sure about the authenticity of the story.
Once, two girls who were cousins fell in love with two gentile boys and converted to get married. Their relatives lived in town but no one carried a grudge against them knowing that they could not prevent it.
After World War I, when Poland won her independence, a railroad station manager, for the sake of preserving his job converted to Catholicism as well as his family. The conversion ceremony took place in the church with a big fanfare. His oldest son who studied in Rzeszow refused at first because of his association with a Zionist group but later relented. This Jewish official apparently had a traditional Jewish
upbringing. He knew a lot about Jewish traditions and rituals. After his conversion, he kept his job and continued his friendly relationship with the Jewish people in Strzyzow. Apologetically, he used to remark to his Jewish friends that Moses did not lose anything and that Jesus did not gain much by his conversion, meaning that he had not been a good Jew and was not a good Catholic either. But still, after the conversion, he never missed the Sunday mass. However, before the conversion, he rarely attended services in shul. His conversion helped him and his family to survive the Holocaust. Long before the war, he was transferred to another place where no one knew his origins. The latest convert was a lawyer's daughter whom no one paid attention to because her father was much assimilated and had nothing to do with the Jews and nor did the girl.
Regarding the inter-relationship between the Poles and the Jews, or rather, the behaviour of the Poles towards the Jews in the past, I do not know. They probably were the same as those towards the rest of the Jews who lived all over Poland. In the last generations, the Jews resided in Strzyzow and nearby villages among Poles and conducted their business relations as good neighbours and off-times, even very friendly. But there was no danger of being assimilated except in a few rare cases. The Jews knew everything about the Polish history because they had studied it in the secular school. As for the Poles, the Jews were like a closed book. Neither one of the two nationalities ever socialized with each other. There were Jewish representatives in the city hall who worked with the Poles but that is all. No Jew ever attended a Polish wedding or another family affair and neither did the Poles attend Jewish affairs.
But even in the good times, the Jews knew and felt who the ruler of the country was. In the restless times when anti-Semitic propaganda strengthened its influence among the Poles, the hatred appeared openly. In the pogroms of the years 1898-1918 and 1919, the most active participants were the peasants and the illiterates but the city people just stood by, not reacting one way or another.
Before the turn of the century, one Jew was killed in a mysterious way near a crossing and nobody ever found out who killed him.
The Ritter story which shook the Jews in Strzyzow and vicinity happened at the end of the nineteenth century.
It happened in spring just before Passover when a body was found at the time when Reb Itzhok Ritter's manure was spread on the fields. Ritter was a farmer who lived in a nearby village. The body was identified as the daughter of a Ukrainian farmer from a nearby village who was a servant in the house of a local priest. A few months before, she disappeared and no one knew her whereabouts. Ritter was a simple, religious, seventy year-old-man. Soon after the discovery of the body, he was arrested, tried and sentenced to death even though there was no evidence that he
had anything to do with this murder, and the body was found in a pile of manure in an open field. After appealing the sentence, his death sentence was commuted and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, his family, being sure of his innocence, did not rest. With the help of influential Jewish leaders in Galicia, including Rabbi Leib Broide from Lwow, Rabbi Gedalyahu Shmelkis from Przemysl, they succeeded in getting an audience with Kaiser Franz Joseph, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the audience, Ritter's daughter, two lawyers, the above-mentioned rabbis and Reb Mordechai Wilner, a family friend who stood by during their ordeal, were present. At the short audience with the Emperor, he told them not to worry. Soon after, Ritter was pardoned and freed. The Kaiser was well-informed about the case.
A short time later, a relative of the village priest confessed on his death-bed that he had killed the girl as a favour to the priest after the priest had made her pregnant. He was also the person who hid her in the pile of manure.
A few years after the Ritter affair, pogroms broke out all over Galicia. Under the influence of the anti-Semitic priest Stoilowski, Jews were beaten, store windows broken and Jewish goods looted. The Austrian governor was forced to call in a military unit to restore order. The soldiers acted very reluctantly and, of course, nobody was arrested. On the contrary, two Jews in Strzyzow were arrested. Reb Yacov Hagel was arrested for refusing to let the military use the shul for a stable. He not only refused but even dared to ask the officer why there were not using their Catholic church. The other Jew was arrested because he dared to call the mob 'robbers'.
Luckily, Strzyzow was spared the bloodshed during the pogrom. On Sunday after mass, a big crowd gathered near the church waiting for a signal to begin the assault and start looting again even though the military unit was still in town. The officer ordered the soldiers to load their rifles and get ready to fire. Still, the mob refused to retreat. It was a matter of seconds before the officer was ready to give the order to fire when the old priest Jablocinski appeared in front of the church and spoke to the mob. He told them that this was the wrong way to get rid of the Jews. The proper way, he said, would be to stop dealing with them, not to buy anything from them and that would make the Jews leave the country. Subsequently, the mob dispersed.
In Frysztak, a nearby town, the mob was not that lucky. The soldiers were forced to open fire and a few Poles were killed.
Right after the pogrom, the preaching of the priest Jablocinski began to materialize. He urged a few Poles to open a cooperative which would compete with the Jews.
They made a big opening ceremony with the priest consecrating the store and held anti-Jewish speeches. In his opening speech, the priest urged all Christians to boycott the Jews and only buy in the Christian
stores. The priest made a remark to the peasants that those who intended to steal should continue their visits in the Jewish stores. He knew well his flock. However, Jews being forced to be merchants for generations knew much better the trade than the Christians. They knew how to be flexible and reduce prices by lowering profit margins. Therefore, the Christian cooperatives which mushroomed all over Galicia, did not succeed in pushing out the Jews from businesses. The simple village people upon whom the Polish aristocrats always looked down on preferred to buy in Jewish stores. Therefore, no matter how much the priest kept preaching each Sunday to support the Christian cooperatives, they did not succeed in doing much damage. In Strzyzow, after the Christians opened two stores, one for groceries and hardware and the other for agricultural supplies, they were soon forced to close the agricultural supply store. The grocery department existed only because the government granted them a licence to sell monopolized items which nobody else was allowed to sell, neither wholesale or retail. The government controlled items were: salt, sugar, tobacco and matches.
After the 1898 pogroms, the situation improved somewhat. Liberal winds were blowing from higher up and inter-relationship between the two nationalities Jews and Poles were cordial. Both respected each other. They fully cooperated in the city government. A Jewish section in the slaughter house was provided for kosher slaughtering and whenever a Jewish holiday fell on a Tuesday the weekly market day it was postponed to another day. The attitude toward the Jewish students changed drastically for the better. Whenever Polish students tried to harass the Jews, they were protected by the teachers. Nevertheless, the Jews had to occupy the seats in the last rows. No Jewish child dared to leave the perimeter of the town. If he did, he was always attacked by the Polish youngsters.
During World War I, anti-Semitism rose to an all- time high, notwithstanding the fact that many Jews served in the army on the front lines and many gave their lives for the country. Many more were wounded and remained invalids for life. The hatred went so far that a member of the Austrian Parliament dared to question the government about why Jews did not fulfil their obligations when it concerned the army. This Parliament member happened to be elected from our district, representing the farmers' party and they pretended to be liberal-minded.
In the last year of the war, more and more anti-Semitic incidents occurred. In Krakow, one Jewish father on his way to a hospital to visit his injured son, a soldier, was thrown out of the train and killed. In 1918 at a protest meeting in Strzyzow against the just-concluded peace treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Poles did not blame Germany for the treaty but the Jews. After the meeting, they went on a rampage and began looting Jewish stores and homes.
By Tzvi Elazar Sternberg
In the second half of 1898, the skies over the children of Israel became gloomy with dark clouds. Wicked winds began to blow and a pogrom atmosphere was felt in Strzyzow. The enemies of the Jews raised their heads and spread all kinds of lies and falsehoods using it to their advantage. The clergy from their church pulpits preached that the Jews were to be blamed for all their tribulations. Father Stoilowski, known for his obloquy, travelled from village-to-village and incited to riot against the Jews. No wonder then that the peasants attacked, murdered, robbed and looted our brothers. In addition to the anti-Jewish campaign, this was also a year of drought and the Austrian government did not extend any help to the farmers. Consequently, the time was ripe for the anti-Semites to blame their misfortune on the Jews the eternal scapegoats.
After the first pogrom in the vicinity, the band-leaders declared that Sunday, August 18th would be the day of pilferage and murder in our town. Bad news about robberies and beatings had already reached Strzyzow from nearby towns such as Frysztak, Niebylec, Czudec and the surrounding villages. The Jews in Strzyzow trembled with fear, worrying about what was going to happen to them. Delegation after delegation ran to the mayor of the town asking him to take preventive actions. The mayor promised that with his intercession, everything would pass peacefully. The old man Wyzikowski, a venerable citizen and the head of the fire brigade, had put on his uniform which was decorated with medals from the 1866 war as well as his fancy hat and his rusty sword that dangled from his belt. He came out into the street assuring the Jews that he would see to it that no harm would come to them. Whoever saw him in his outfit and did not know him could have believed that this man was a powerful personality and could do anything he wanted to do.
My father, of blessed memory, made shutters for windows from such thin boards that the lightest breeze could have blown them down in a second. Friday morning, units of infantry and cavalry which consisted of Hungarians, Germans and Ukrainians, arrived in town. They came from Easter Galicia. There were also a few Jews among them. The Jewish people of Strzyzow breathed a sigh of relief. Everybody invited the Jewish soldiers for the Sabbath to their homes for two reasons: to fulfil the commandment of hospitality and to feel more secure in their homes.
The cavalry stationed their horses in the front yard of the shul. Reb Yacov Hagel, the shul treasurer, refused to allow the horses to station near the shul. He went to the commanding officer and after a heated discussion; he was arrested for insulting the Christian religion and was kept in prison until the trial. At the trial he was sentenced to a year and a half imprisonment. Handcuffed, he was led away to Rzeszow to spend his jail term. During the trial, we found out what constituted an insult to the Christian religion: he had asked the officer why he did not put the horses in front of the Catholic Church!
My father invited two soldiers for the Sabbath. They happened to be
from Sieniawa, his birthplace, and he knew the soldier's parents. They told us not to be frightened, that with the presence of the soldiers in the house, nobody would dare harm us. Nevertheless, my mother cried bitterly during the Sabbath candle lighting. We, my dad, the soldiers and I, went to the services in the Beit HaMidrash where many worshippers were missing and Jewish soldiers took their places. It just so happened that a son was born to my uncle Reb Joseph Hersh, his third son, Joel, but out of fear, nobody showed up to the traditional welcome to the male party which usually took place on a Friday night. Whatever food Reb Joseph Hersh had prepared was given away to the soldiers. We ate together and sang Sabbath songs when a sudden knock at the door was heard. We were startled and afraid to open the door until a soldier grabbed his bayonet and in a ready-to-fight position, slowly opened the door. Then, Reb Menashe from Lutcza, a nearby village, burst in breathlessly. After my father poured him a drink, he pulled himself together and began to tell his story.
He told us that his neighbours attacked him and looted his house. They robbed him of everything. He hid behind the door with a board in his hands. After they departed with the loot, he attacked the last few who were still in the house. He beat them until they were bleeding and then ran away to Strzyzow.
We knew Menashe. He used to sell us eggs from time to time. He was a pious peasant Jew who spoke Yiddish like a gentile.
On Sunday, August 18th, the day the anti-Semites had designated to pogrom the town; peasants came from the surrounding villages, some with carts and some on foot with sacks ready for looting. The market place was swarming with peasants. Again, Wyzikowski came out all spruced up in his uniform. He went around in the crowd and scolded loudly the peasants, urging them to disperse. But no one paid any attention to him. Then the infantry and the cavalry soldiers arrived. They attacked the mob that started to run toward the churchyard with the soldiers chasing after them. Then, the old priest Jablocinski came out and pleaded with the soldiers, promising them that he would see to it that the crow would leave peacefully. The crowd dispersed and the Jews sighed a breath of relief.
In November, 1918, after the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart and Poland became independent, the demobilized Jewish soldiers who had just returned from the battle fields organized a self-defence group because the Jews felt insecure and needed protection. They were armed by the temporary Polish authorities. When the Polish authorities found out that the Polish mob was planning to attack the Jews, they called in all the guns and the Jews remained defenceless. The pogrom began during an anti-Jewish meeting which was called by Jew haters and agitators. While the meeting was in progress in the local clubhouse, another group of hooligans did not even bother to attend the meeting. They began looting
and destroying Jewish stores and homes. They started looting the grocery store of the partners Feit and Tenzer and continued to rob all the stores on the south side and west side of the market place, stopping at our store.
When the leaders of the meeting heard about the looting, they interrupted the meeting and asked the people to disperse, claiming that this was not the way to get rid of the Jews. The same spiel that we had heard twenty years earlier from the priest Jablocinski. Now another priest, Bulok, was his name. He was the leader and the main speaker for the anti-Semites. He also claimed that by looting Jewish property, they were doing a disservice to the Polish government which had just won her independence and were defaming Poland's reputation as a democracy. The pilfering stopped. However, on the side street, out of sight of the authorities, looting continued. The material damage to the Jews was tremendous, particularly the wine merchant Reb Israel Kanner. He was ruined forever. He lost his wife and a son just before the pogrom and after the pilferers became drunk, they broke the wine barrels in the wine cellar. One Pole died on the spot from drunkenness.
Winter of 1918-19 was very depressing for the Jews in Poland in general and for the people in Strzyzow in particular. The Polish soldiers, under the command of General Haller and on their way from the western front to the Easter front, went berserk. Beating and pilfering the Jews was the order of the day. Jews were thrown out of trains and in Strzyzow, a man by the name of Margolis, was beaten and kicked off the train. In the city of Lwow, after the Poles won back the city from the Ukrainian rebels, they organized a pogrom in which many Jews were killed. Demobilized army personnel instead of going home and returning to civilian life, were roaming around in villages and cities, destroying and looting Jewish property. The Polish authorities were weak and also not anxious to stop these excesses whenever it affected the Jewish population.
These pogroms caused many young Jewish men to leave Poland in search of a better future in Western Europe or in the U.S. But for the remaining Jews, there was uncertainty in their future.
It happened in the spring of 1919 on a Monday, the seventh day of Passover. It was the second day of the Easter holiday. (In Europe, the Christians celebrate Easter for two days). Before noon during the morning services, two Polish women one in her middle age and the other a young woman, burst into the Beit HaMidrash which was filled with worshippers. The women demanded vociferously the return of the older woman's fourteen-year old daughter. They searched everywhere, under tables, benches and when they had finished searching, they left. Some people ignored it but some took it very seriously knowing that such incidents could cause a tragedy for the entire community.
The same afternoon, the Chief of the Police appeared in the house of Reb Levi Itzhok Schiff accompanied by the older woman who earlier had searched the Beit HaMidrash, and a little girl of about fourteen years of age.
asked the little girl if she recognized the Jew who had locked her up in the basement of this house, from which she claimed to have managed to escape through a small window.
The Chief of Police ordered the Schiff family to line up and asked the girl to identify the man who had dragged her into the basement. When the girl hesitated to identify anybody, the Chief of Police tried to persuade her to point at Reb Levi Itzhok Schiff. Luckily, the police could not convince the girl and they left. On their way out they saw the woman, Golda Horowitz, sitting on the stoop of her father's house. Suddenly the girl pointed at the redhead woman that she recognized as the person who had dragged her into the basement. This woman suffered a lot during the war. She was struggling to bring up two small children on her own because her husband was in the U.S. and could not help her being on the opposite side of the warring countries. On this holiday, she had come to visit her father, Reb Joshua Selligman. Her father was asleep and she had decided to wait until he woke up. Next door lived the milkman, Reb Israel Aaron Berger. When he heard the commotion outside, he came out to see what was going on. He too was read-headed and the girl pointed at him as well claiming that Berger and Gold Horowitz were the two people, both red-headed, that had abducted her and dragged her into the basement. According to the girl, she was called into the Horowiz family house to remove the candlesticks from the table. The plotters of the blood libel did not know that there was a difference between a regular Sabbath and a holiday which fell on a weekday. On a Sabbath, Jews are forbidden to handle candlesticks but not so on a holiday. After she did what she was asked to do, she said the woman fed her with milk and matzo and afterwards she was dragged by the red-headed woman with the help of the red-headed man into the basement. When she screamed, they gagged her.
Both Golda Horowitz and Israel Berger were arrested. Soon the police produced an eyewitness, a semi-retarded man, who used to sleep in the Jewish bath-house. The witness claimed that he just happened to be sitting nearby and saw the entire episode.
Within hours, a mob gathered in the market place and began to terrorize Jewish homes, attacking the Jews who were on their way to the evening services. Most of those who suffered were those in the Beit HaMidrash because they were an easy target. The mob just burst into the sanctuary and began to hit everyone indiscriminately. But the young Jews did not surrender meekly. They fought back and repulsed the attackers. They pushed them out of the Beit HaMidrash. Meanwhile, the news of the libel spread to villages around Strzyzow and the peasants joined the city hooligans who quietly surrounded the Beit HaMidrash, blocked the exits and some went up to the women's gallery. Simultaneously, they started a rock throwing attack at the people inside. The beating and looting went on until midnight when the mob got tired and went home.
Early the next morning, my sister Chaya Berglass and Aryi Diamand secretly slipped out of town and went to Rzeszow, a large city nearby, to appeal for help. Their appearance caused fear and frightened the local Jews so they decided that a delegation of Jewish representatives with Rabbi Nathan Levin would turn to the Polish authorities and ask for help.
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