Strzyzow and its inhabitants
But soon the Jews realized that no help would be forthcoming. The delegation immediately departed by train to Krakow to intervene with the regional authorities with the help of Dr. Schwarzbart, the Chief Secretary of the Zionist Central Committee.
While the search for help was going on, in Strzyzow the pogrom continued into the second and third day. On the third day, a military unit arrived in town and order was restored.
During these three days, two hundred people, men, women and children were wounded and one man killed. Reb Alexander Kimmel, of blessed memory, was killed. A Polish neighbour had a grudge against him over a fence dispute so he took advantage of the situation and killed him.
The blood libel was planned in advance, preparing the alleged victim as a live witness and a second witness who claimed he saw the crime was committed. Who the plotters were was never found out. A short time later, the stepfather of the girl was killed and rumours were that he knew too much and had been opposed to putting his girl through such an ordeal. The facts were that the Police Chief and the local priest with the local politicians were involved.
It was evident from the first moment by the way the Chief behaved in the house of the Schiff family when he tried to coax the girl to pointing at Reb Levi Itzhok as the man who took her to the basement. The police never bothered to investigate who the plotters were and the Jews were troubled with the upcoming trial. The local non-Jewish population was inclined to believe in the whole story fanatically that the Jews were using Christian blood to prepare matzos for Passover. It was remarkable how far this belief penetrated their minds. Even a person like the mayor, Dr. Patryn, when approached to do something about the pogrom, responded: Why did you need the whole problem? meaning that he believed the story and he was considered to be a liberal and an intelligent man.
After the pogrom was suppressed, the city was calm but tense. The Jews were afraid that the smallest disturbance would bring back another pogrom. Another delegation went to Krakow, representatives of the Kehillah, Reb Abraham Tenzer, and Reb Chaim Yehuda Horowitz on behalf of his father, Reb Alter Zev and my sister Chaya Berglass, who spoke Polish very well. In Krakow, they recruited Dr. Itzhok Schwarzbart, the Zionist leader, to intervene with the authorities about the plot and expressed their fear of another bloodbath. And the delegation's anxiety was justified as you will read later on.
A few weeks after the pogrom, a Jewish self-defence group which was active in Krakow and its vicinity, came to Strzyzow to support and protect the Jews. At the same time, a Polish military unit arrived in town. Their arrival had no connection with the Jewish group. Apparently, the Polish authorities knew that something was brewing. The local Polish authorities did not allow the Jewish defence group to act, claiming that they would cause anger among the Polish people seeing armed Jews.
On Tuesday, the market day in Strzyzow, an unusually large crowd arrived from near and far. Since this was springtime, the Visloka River was over flowing and the passage into the town was limited to only two narrow bridges from the east and south. The roads from the north and the
west were impassable. Therefore, the Polish officer ordered his soldiers to block the bridges and prevent the crowd from coming to town. When the mob tried to push their way into town, the officer warned them that he had orders to shoot and begged them to avoid bloodshed. That is how the town was fortunate enough to have escaped another pogrom.
Other cities in the area did suffer. In Kolbuszow, a nearby town, ten Jewish people were killed and hundreds wounded.
Mrs. Golda Horowitz and Reb Aaron Berger were put on trial for attempted murder but the religious aspect of the story was not mentioned by the prosecution. It would have looked ridiculous to mention that the Jews were using Christian blood for matzos. The Jews were represented by the most famous criminal lawyer in Poland, Dr. Leib Landau from Przemysl. Although the two witnesses for the prosecution testified against the accused, the two were freed for lack of evidence. The two Poles who were tried for murdering Reb Alexander Kimmel during the pogrom were also freed. The Pole who killed Kimmel died in a mental hospital and the witness who testified in the blood libel was around for many years. He kept coming into Jewish homes begging for food, and as usual, people soon forgot what he had done to the Jews. The pogroms and the blood libel left an impression on the town for many years to come. After a Jewish delegate to the Polish Parliament protested about this incident, a commission was nominated to investigate the pogroms and the blood libel. The commission came to Strzyzow and questioned some witnesses but nothing was resolved.
Reb Alexander Kimmel's widow, who was left with small children and without any means of support, immigrated to the U.S. Golda Horowitz also immigrated to the U.S. and Reb Israel Aaron Berger moved with his family to another town.
Soon people in Strzyzow forgot the Austrian government and began to adjust to life under Polish rule. In the first years of the Polish independence, Jews had their own elected delegates to the Polish Parliament. In the local government, Jews always supported someone who pretended to be friendly with them. Culturally, Jews did not mix with the Poles.
The situation of the Jews in Poland between the two World Wars was not too bad. Politically, the Zionists strengthened their influence among the Polish Jewry. Economically, the Jews may have been better off than under the Austrian rule until the beginning of the thirties. Then, anti-Semitism swept through Poland, an anti-Jewish campaign started again in which the Poles were urged to boycott the Jewish businesses. The Polish government tolerated it and did nothing to stop the campaign. In Strzyzow, a few Christian stores were opened as a result of that campaign.
The Jewish farmers in the villages were forced out and many of them moved to the cities, economically ruined. The mood among the Poles was anti-Jewish and wherever they could, they demonstrated their feelings. In Strzyzow, the people liked to spend their Sabbath afternoons in the woods which belonged to Count Wolkowitzki. Suddenly, a sign appeared: Entrance to Jews forbidden! After my intervention, the sign was removed. The market day used to be postponed whenever it fell on a Jewish holiday but suddenly an ordinance was issued by the city that it would not be postponed anymore. After a few market days with the Jews, they relented
to the postponement again because the farmers did not come to town. Some Poles threatened the Jews by saying: Wait Hitler is coming soon and that will be the end of you. In school, the Jewish students felt the hatred and were defenceless.
The majority of the Poles continued the formal relationship until the outbreak of World War II.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
In memory of the young students and teachers who dwelt in the Beit HaMidrash and studied the Torah.
The synagogues in the cities of Poland, Galicia and the Lithuanian Yeshivot were the creators of the Jewish soul. Between the walls of these institutions you could find people of all ages and walks of life the poor and the rich. Everybody studied Torah, the holy books of the Bible with all its commentaries, day and night without interruption. There were some young men who considered studying the Torah as a permanent occupation and they were supported by their families. The less fortunate could study only in the morning and evening hours because during the day they had to struggle for their daily bread. Some students studied individually and some in groups. The younger boys never hesitated to bother their elders with questions and asking for help. In Strzyzow, as in all other cities in Galicia, the Beit HaMidrash was always full of people learning on their own or teaching others. The long rectangular tables were always cluttered with open books and around these books; people were discussing various religious problems and response. There were young men who studied all night. The majority came at four in the morning to take up their holy studies. They studied everything that was written from the early sages to the latest rabbinical geniuses. The young men who studied in the Beit HaMidrash or kloyz were obligated to take care of the books and also to obtain funds for new books. Every Friday, all the books were shelved by category.
It is impossible to list all the names of the students and scholars who spent time in the Beit HaMidrash or kloyz in Strzyzow, from the early rabbis, generations ago, to the latest generation who perished in the Holocaust. The geniuses and religious people, who dwelt in the synagogues and later graduated to become famous rabbis, would make a very long list. I will only mention a few starting with rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum the author of the book Yismach Moshe; rabbi Aryeh Leib the author of Otot Hahamayim; rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro whose most important book was the Beni Yisoschor and several other books. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Shapiro author of Darkei Tshuva; Reb Naphtali Nutman, author of Toldot Noahand many more famous rabbis from the early centuries. There were scholars who studied just to fulfil their own thirst for knowledge without the desire to win fame such as: Reb Moshe Krym; Reb Mendel Mannis Friedman, the son of Reb Moshe Samuel, the teacher who taught pupils for many years.
He was a righteous man, gentle, with a wonderful disposition and patience to explain the most complicated passages in the Talmud to his students. Reb Mendel Mannis Friedman's son survived and is now a member in kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, one of the biggest religious kibbutzim in Israel. Another son of Reb Moshe Samuel was Reb Pinchos Friedman who married the daughter of the Assistant Rabbi from Frysztak. He authored the book Meah Kshita. In an introduction to this book, Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro wrote that the author is a young man who knows the Torah by heart. Reb Pinchos authored a second book by the name of Divrei Yehonathan a commentary on the Five Books of Moses. I would also like to mention Reb Moshe Nuremberg who left Strzyzow to be assistant rabbi in Keln, a city with the biggest Jewish community in Germany.
A few of the young men in the class before us who spent time and studied G-d's teachings in the synagogues of Strzyzow were: Reb Mendel Groskopf, a scholar, a G-d fearing man, and humble, who gave charity discretely without fanfare. After his marriage, he moved to a nearby town, Brzostek. When the Nazi occupied his town, they selected him to be the Jewish community leader. Soon the Nazi Chief ordered him to prepare a list of all Jews who were physically able to work. He made a list with only one name his own and was executed on the spot. (The translator of this memorial book visited Reb Mendel Groskopf in his home during the Nazi occupation when he was on his way to Strzyzow to take farewell from his father, of blessed memory, before his escape to Russia. It was Hoshana Raba, the seventh day of Sukkoth, 1939. He arrived early in the morning before the services which were held illegally in his house with barely a minyan. The tears of the worshippers were so heart-breaking that the scene will never be forgotten and will follow him all his life. They needed an Etrog and a Lulav to recite the Hoshanot but there was none. There was only a dry Lulav from the previous year which reminded them of better times). I wish also to commemorate Reb Mendel Sturm, the son of Yacov. A humble and righteous man, a Talmudist and knowledgeable in all religious strictures. After he married a girl from another town, he moved there where he shared the fate of all his brethren.
The brothers Yacov and Mendel Rosen who never became angry at anyone and were always in good spirits, always hoped for better times to come. They were sincere G-d fearing people. Further on in this book, more will be said about them.
Reb Wolf Mandel, one of the finest young men, knowledgeable in the depths of Torah and all the commentaries, always shared his knowledge with others. He was friendly and smiling to everybody. He loved singing Hassidic melodies, especially the happy ones.
Reb Moshe Yacov Schwartzman, the leader of the Agudat Israel, was a devoted Jew who gave much of his spare time for the organization. He was an intelligent young man, always willing to give a helping hand when Torah education was concerned, especially for the girls' education. He helped to open the Bais Yacov School for girls.
Reb Chaim Friedman, one of my closest friends, was the grandson of Reb Joseph Mordechai the Assistant Rabbi in Strzyzow for many years. Reb Chaim made his grandfather proud of having a grandson like him. He learned
to be a shochet and later became a shochet after his father, Reb Leib Friedman, retired. Pinchos, his brother, was also a G-d fearing, sharp-minded individual.
Wolf Zilberman who dwelt in the Beit HaMidrash day and night always discussed the Talmud and defended his position fiercely.
Aaron Samuel Beitler was a fledgling Hebrew poet with a gentle soul. The brothers Itzhok, Mendel, Tzvi Elimelech and Yacov Goldman, the sons of Avrehmale Goldman were all dear and likeable. Itzhok was a mathematician who could put together a Jewish calendar for hundreds of years ahead. He once met the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik and after a conversation with Itzhok, Bialik was overwhelmed about Itzhok's knowledge and intelligence in many subjects, besides the teachings of the holy books. All of the Goldman brothers secretly read Yiddish and world literature.
Yacov Landesman who, although he lost his father as a child, grew up to be one of the best young men. His home environment was not of the best because of his mother's second marriage. Still, he was able to overcome all of the hardships and turned out to be a Talmudic genius.
Elazar Loos, a very humble but smart, soft-speaking and straight-forward young man, survived the Holocaust physically but was mentally impaired. A few months after liberation from the concentration camps, he put an end to his life. His sister in Eretz Israel never had a chance to stretch out her helping arm to him.
Meir Schiff, Samuel Schreiber, Pinchos Kracher, Israel Hauben, Motel Weitman, Paltiel Kneller and his brothers Itzhok and Eisik, Mordechai and Hersh Tenzer, Shimon Hochdorf, David Bernstein, Joseph Mordechai and David Hersh Schiff and Meir Mordechai Schwartzman were young men, the best that Strzyzow had. A promising young generation which was capable and ready to follow their elders to continue the Jewish community life were all so untimely cut-down in the prime of their lives and in the cruellest way. May G-d avenge their untainted blood.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Almost all the adults in Strzyzow, no matter how busy they were making a living, found time to study Torah. Whoever did not know how to study at least recited a few chapters of King David's psalms daily. About twenty or thirty people regularly took part in learning Mishanyoth every evening. Reb Shalom Schwartzman, the teacher, possessed a unique talent to teach and explain the most complicated subjects in a way that simple people would understand. Every Sabbath afternoon, Reb Chaim Yacov Nuremberg taught Midrash, the chapter of the week with its commentaries and books of ethics. He was a master teacher. He used to tell all kinds of interesting stories related to his teachings and the simple folk loved him for it. On Friday nights, people used to gather in groups and study Torah and Chassidic books. The teacher of this study-group was the writer of these lines. Afterwards, tales about Hassidic rabbis followed to which the participants listened with great enthusiasm.
All this took place in the Beit HaMidrash. The best people in town, whether rich or poor, took part in these studies. People like Reb David Wiener, Reb Chaim Mandel, Reb Ephraim Kneller, the
brothers Yacov and Mendel Rosen and even a man like Reb Baruch Berglass, who was one of the wealthiest people in town, spent every day until noon studying the Scriptures. These were the inhabitants of the town.
Of course, the list is not complete. We can go on and on. We did not mention Reb Abraham Tenzer who studied religious philosophy, Reb Shalom Schwartzman who studied the Zohar every day and last but not least, the town's most famous intellectual, Reb Alter Nechemiah who studied and knew the Prophets and the commentaries on them.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
In 1930, by the initiative of a few young men, a small Yeshiva was established in Strzyzow. Even though the Yeshiva was under the auspices of the Agudat Israel, it succeeded in enrolling students from Hassidic families, followers of rabbis from Bobow, Belz and Munkatch, and also from the religious group Mizrachi. They taught Talmud with daily commentaries and on Friday nights or Sabbath afternoons, the Pentateuch was taught. The Assistant Rabbi, Yacov Shpalter, Reb Chaim Mandel, Reb Mendel Rosen and the writer of these memoirs, were the teachers. Every Thursday, the students were examined in the presence of the fathers and supporters. The Yeshiva did not last long because the enthusiasm of the students and the teachers which at the beginning was strong soon faded. Only a few students survived the Holocaust.
Besides the Yeshiva, there was a Talmud Torah Society which provided religious education for the children of the poor. Funds for this purpose had to be raised continuously year-round. Collections were made at weddings and other family celebrations. The Talmud Torah Society members kept a watchful eye on the quality of the teachings and examined the students from time-to-time. The outstanding students were awarded small symbolic prizes such as a prayer book or a four-cornered ritual garment with tzitziyot. The Society also urged the melamdim to hand out report cards. Boys who were supported by the Talmud Torah Society had to obey to certain rules and ways of behaviour. These rules were mentioned earlier in this book in the chapter on education in Strzyzow.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Many used to criticize the cheders of the earlier generations. Even now, there are plenty of critics. The complaints were that the teachers had no pedagogic experience and the cheders were not sufficiently clean. However, even though part of the criticism was justified, it has to be pointed out that, although the teachers had not studied in teacher's seminaries or universities, they did have a wonderful way of interpretation and exceeded the professionals of today with their skills. There were also cheders which were immaculate. It is a fact that no one can deny that the alumni of cheders turned out to be scholars and educated men. Therefore, the teachers deserve a monument for their achievements. A few of them have already been mentioned and I will tell about a few more teachers that taught me or were close to me personally.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
They called him Reb Mordechai melamed. His silver beard and the look in his eyes gave the impression of a very strict teacher, and he was. He did not spare the whip. In his cheder the children learned to read in a prayer book and as soon as a child knew how to read, he was immediately transferred to another teacher. His wife Basha helped him with the children in a very energetic way. From his entire family, only one daughter with her family survived because they had immigrated before the Holocaust.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
He taught the Five Books of Moses with Rashi's commentary and the beginning of Talmud. Gorgil was his nickname and very few in Strzyzow knew his last name. He was also called Yechezkiel Godower because he came to Strzyzow from the village Godowa. He was a teacher par excellence. His method of explanation was remarkable especially when he taught the children about how the Israelites on their way from Egypt built the Tabernacle and about the breast-plate which the High Priests wore. He drew a blueprint and explained it to the children in such detail that it undoubtedly remained in the children's minds even after they grew up. I still remember a little speech he used to make before he began to teach the Talmud.
Dear Children. Have no fear for the studying that we are about to begin. Nobody knows before he learns and he never regrets it afterwards. Illiterate people, he used to say, are like dry wood ready for burning. Of course, he did not spare the whip either. When somebody did something unbecoming to a Jewish boy, he would call him over with a melodic voice and tell him the following:
If you voluntarily remove your pants and lay down like a nice little boy, you will get only two lashes but if I will have to use force, you will get five lashes over your behind
On one occasion, I too almost got to be a victim of such a lashing. It happened when we decided to play a game of imitating a gentile funeral. We picked on student who would pretend that he was dead. We dug a shallow grave and buried him. Next, we covered him with boards exactly according to the rules. After a few seconds, the deceased panicked and began to scream. Neighbours hearing his screaming came out to the rescue. And because I was the ring-leader of this action, the teacher was going to give me a lashing ceremony, but my friend the deceased begged Reb Yechezkiel not to punish me because he forgave me. And that is how I escaped the punishing ordeal.
Reb Yechezkiel was a Hassid of the rabbi from Sadigora and he had the support of the Hassidim of that rabbi. All of his offspring perished in the Holocaust but he died years before. After he passed away, his son-in-law took over the cheder.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Reb Yosl the teacher from Brzozow was one of the best Strzyzow ever had. He taught Talmud only to the best students in town. Reb Yosl was well respected not only because he was an out-of-town teacher but also because he taught the students the principles of mathematics and other secular subjects. He also had a wonderful singing voice. He knew all the liturgical music and songs from famous cantors around the world. Reb Yosl knew how to read music which he taught his students. Whenever he was invited to a wedding, he was always asked to entertain with his sweet voice and the chorus of his students.
Reb Yosl was a pious Jew and a good teacher. One of his many daughters survived the Holocaust and lives in Israel.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
Reb Israel was a teacher without any outstanding qualifications. He himself did not know too much but just enough to teach the eight to ten year-olds. But he did teach the children all the ritual rules and customs which other teachers ignored. He was poor but a Hassid of the rabbi from Sadigora so the Hassidim of that rabbi made him a melamed. Reb Israel Leib was a soft-spoken man, never raising his voice to a child. Therefore, the discipline in cheder was weak. However, in the rare occasion when he did get angry, he slapped on the face with such a force that the child never forgot. Reb Israel Leib was a G-d fearing man and tried very hard to teach the children and to satisfy the parents. There were a few other teachers who taught in Strzyzow but they did not leave any strong impression on those whom they taught.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
The Agudat Israel was founded in Strzyzow in 1922. It was not easy for the organizers to overcome all the obstacles and hardships in establishing the party in town. There was opposition from every direction. To begin with, the majority in Strzyzow were followers of the rabbi from Munkatch who opposed any party or organization whether Zionist or Orthodox. The plain religious people claimed that they had no need for a religious party because everyone was religious anyway.
The Orthodox activists realized that the Zionist idea kept making inroads rapidly among the youth and they did not want to lose their chance to influence the religious youth.
The Agudat Israel did succeed in influencing the strictly orthodox Hassidic youth, contrary to the opinion of the writer of this article who thought it was wrong to engage the Beit HaMidrash boys in party politics. In the late thirties, I realized that I was wrong when I found out that many of these Beit HaMidrash dwellers belonged already to the Zionist religious organization.
At the helm of the party was Reb Yacov Itzhok Bernstein, a Hassid of the famous rabbi Tzvi Elimelech from Blazow, a very religious man and the devoted leaders were: Reb Naphtali Chaim Halberstam, the son-in-law
|The Bais Yacov School for girls in Strzyzow
The girl with the X over her head is Gitl Feldmaus, the translator's cousin
of Rabbi Later Zev Horowitz, a very pleasant man who acted quietly but decisively; Reb Moshe Schwartzman the secretary and a capable, talented young man who was the moving spirit of the party and Reb Joel Glickman, a scholar and a G-d fearing man who was a noted leader of the party. He and Reb Yacov Itzhok Bernstein acted with devotion. Their goal was to keep the Jewish youths strictly religious.
The Agudat Israel in Strzyzow helped to obtain qualified teachers for the Bais Yacov, a girls' school. They also kept a watchful eye on the melamdim and tried to modernize the teaching system in Strzyzow.
by Shlomo Yahalomi
The two opposing parties in Strzyzow had a correct relationship without animosity. They opposed each other ideologically but in a peaceful way, unlike in other cities in Galicia. Both the Zionists and the Agudat Israel were strictly observant Orthodox Jews. The only difference between them was that the Zionists strove §to build and to settle immediately in the Jewish Homeland in Eretz Israel and the Agudat Israel wanted to wait for the Messiah to come. The only issue that really split the community into two camps was the rabbinical dispute.
There were families where fathers supported Rabbi Alter Zev and the sons Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro, or vice-versa. Women had no influence in the rabbinical dispute. This was strictly a man's world in those days. Many times during the elections to the Kehillah, a father who supported one rabbi would run against his son who supported the other rabbi.
by Moshe Mussler
It is hard for me to imagine how our shtetl looks now without the Jews. It seems to me that if the Jews have gone then there is no justification for Strzyzow's existence. Our roots were there for generations. We built it. We developed it. The non-Jewish inhabitants looked like outsiders when they were in the centre of town. The air in the streets and in the alleys was breathing with Yiddishkeit.
Friday at sunset when the shutters of the stores came down and the Jewish stores were closed, you could feel the holiness of the Sabbath had arrived. It came down from heaven. In all my wanderings in this world, I never had such feelings similar to those I felt on the Sabbath day in Strzyzow.
Reb Eisik, the old sexton, started his stroll from door-to-door equipped with a wooden mallet in his hand knocking on every door and announcing that the holy Sabbath had arrived. He called out loudly. Let's go to G-d's house to welcome the Sabbath Queen. Everyone hurried not to be late, Heaven forbid, and not to desecrate the Sabbath.
The peasants from the villages who parked their carts in the market place were also rushing home not wanting to disturb the holiness of the Jewish Sabbath. The polish government clerks who, at the end of the day were returning home from their offices were also rushing through the Jewish centre. Even though they were the rulers of the land, nevertheless, at this time of the day, they felt out of place among the Jews.
Those who were late finishing their attendance in the bath-house were rushing home while others were already on their way to the synagogues all spruced up in their best clothes. Many wore silk frocks and the traditional shtreimel worn by almost everyone on the Sabbath in Galicia. The simple people, tailors, cobblers and village peddlers all worshipped in shul where Reb Mordechai, the tailor, led the services and Reb Leib Sternberg pleasantly sang the L'cha Dodi welcoming the Sabbath Queen. The services in shul did not take very long because the worshippers were tired from the labour they had done all week and they were more than happy to hurry home to a festive meal with a little schnapps which their wives had prepared.
In Beit HaMidrash, the pace was slower. Everybody recited the Songs-of-Songs. The words came out from their depths of heart with a sigh and happiness simultaneously. The congregation waited for the Rabbi's arrival. But he was not in a hurry either. When the rabbi finally arrived, everybody rose from his seat and the entire congregation began to chant the evening prayers.
From the open windows of the kloyz the sweet voice of Reb Samuel Moshe was heard singing the Sabbath song L'cha Dodi. The sound of his voice penetrated deeply into everyone's soul. These are the unforgettable memories which I remember from my childhood about a Sabbath in my shtetl.
And what happened to this town? To my shtetl?
The shul turned into a warehouse, the Beid HaMidrash where our parents
spilled their tears begging and praying before the Almighty was levelled to the ground. From the gravestones, sidewalks were built. The streets and alleys were orphaned no more Jewish children playing in these places. Teachers are not teaching anymore. Strzyzow share the fate of many thousands of other cities in Galicia.
May their memory never be forgotten by her sons.
by Moshe Mussler
When we were young, none of us cared about the historical past of Strzyzow as a Jewish town. To my best knowledge, the Kehillah never had a Pinkas which is a sort of diary and nothing was ever recorded. The only information we could gather at the time when we planned to write these memoirs came from different books authored by different Rabbis in Galicia who, in their correspondence and response, mentioned Strzyzow on different occasions. From several remarks in these books, we learned more or less when the Jews settled in Strzyzow. We assume that much valuable data was destroyed during the big fire in 1895, in which more than half of the town burnt down including the Kehillah house and the Beit HaMidrash. Not too many of us ever bothered to record anything important about Strzyzow, a fact which we now regret. However, we will try our best.
There were not many Jews who were interested in historical research to supply us with data about when and how Jewish life began in Strzyzow. In a Hebrew quarterly magazine Zion we found a map of Jewish communities in Galicia in which Strzyzow was included. This magazine was printed at the end of the seventeenth century. My father, who liked to study the past, found a gravestone dated 1650. The most convincing proof about the time of the establishment of the Jewish community in Strzyzow is the shul which is still intact. If, to judge by the style, the shul was built in the year 1600, in those years every public building was built like a fortress to protect the inhabitants from outside invaders such as the Tatars and the Swedes. The thickness of the walls is about two metres and is all built in solid rock.
There were repairs made at the end of the nineteenth century after the big fire in which the roof, tables, benches and the Holy Ark were burnt. Except for the walls, only the big menorah which weighed over two hundred kilos and a few smaller candelabras which were hanging from the vaulted ceiling, survived.
At the right side entrance door into the shul, an iron ring extended from the wall at the level of a man's height. Apparently, the ring was used to tie up the violators of the Jewish customs and all who passed them had to spit on them.
When entering, you had to descend a few steps to fulfil a quotation from the Psalms: Out of the depths I call to thee O Lord. The bimah was at the centre of the shul to which you had to ascend seven steps. The acoustics were excellent even though the ceiling was very high. During the High Holidays when the shul was packed with worshippers and they raised their voices to pray, the prayers were heard outside like the roar of the sea.
The first and second cemetery was close to each other but the third cemetery was about two hundred metres away. They were all ancient
cemeteries from earlier centuries and were not used in our time.
In my youth, I would have been able to read the inscriptions and dates on the gravestones but there was a superstitious belief that reading from the gravestones would cause forgetfulness.
In the month before the High Holidays, it is customary to visit the graves of relatives so I used to go out with a collection box to collect charity from people who were visiting their relatives' graves. But I never say anybody visiting these three cemeteries. Only once was I approached by someone from another city to help locate her mother's grave. This woman was only ten years old when her mother died years ago which meant the first half of the nineteenth century.
All the houses surrounding the market place were almost new, rebuilt after the big fire in the nineteenth century. In contrast, the houses in the alley where most of the melamdim lived were old shacks. The oldest one was Reb Yehuda Nosen's house which, to this day, I cannot understand how this house did not collapse. Apparently, there were miracles in those days. The cheder of Reb Eli Dovid was very old and I think it was built at the time when Queen Maria Theresa was sitting on her throne.
The conclusion to all of this is: It is very hard for me to establish the exact date of the establishment of the Jewish community in Strzyzow.
It breaks my heart that we do not know exactly when the Jews settled in Strzyzow but the sorrow is even greater in that Strzyzow ceased to exist in our time and shared the fate of the rest of the Jewish communities in Europe. The earth is saturated with the blood of our parents, brothers and sisters.
Earth! Do not conceal their blood to prevent from hearing their voice of lamentations.
by Moshe Mussler
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when enlightenment and progress reached our town. Even a researcher in history would not have been able to establish the exact date. In any case, it did not happen before the end of the nineteenth century. When the twentieth century began, a wave of enlightenment spread all over Galicia including our shtetl Strzyzow. This wave caused a cultural revolution in Strzyzow's quiet life.
Like many other cities in Galicia, Strzyzow was very conservative, religious and family-oriented. People never travelled and had little knowledge of the wide-world which existed outside of the town. Echoes from the outside world did begin to filer in at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The dwellers of the Beit HaMidrash began to neglect their studying of the Torah. These studies did not satisfy their thirst for secular knowledge which was not available on the bookshelves of the Beit HaMidrash. As a result, they began to read stealthily Yiddish and modern Hebrew books.
The knowledge of Polish and German was also very important for those who decided to obtain secular education.
In a very short time, without the help of any teachers, we began our
secular education. Most of the young people in town participated in this so-called Haskalah movement. Only a few sons of very Hassidic families remained outside the wave of enlightenment for fear of their parents.
One of the first steps by a few bold young men was to establish a library. The library contained Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and German books. Polish books were introduced to pacify the local authorities and German books were there to assure the licence from the Central Austrian Government, knowing that they would not dare to hinder the opening of a library in the official language.
I have to confess that the anxiety of the Hassidic segment demonstrated by their opposition to the opening of a library as well as the Zionist movement was justified. Many of us, after learning certain things in the secular books, started to ignore a few traditions. Of course, we did not turn atheists right away.
There were a few among us who progressed in their secular knowledge so much so that the books available in our library were not enough to satisfy our hunger for more education. Therefore, they left town. But even so, I do not know of anyone who reached any fame in the literary or educational field.
When the Zionist movement first began in Strzyzow and the first lecturers from out of town were invited, we could never find a place for them to speak. Once we had to force our way into a locked Beit HaMidrash when Dr. Frenkel came to Strzyzow from the Central Zionist Committee. Dr. Frenkel was later a teacher in a Tel Aviv High School. When the speaker began to speak, little by little, people gathered out of curiosity and what they heard was surprisingly satisfactory. This was the first time in Strzyzow that progress won over extremism and from there on, things went easier. The ice was broken.
The thirst for secular education and knowledge about the world of literature was so strong that a peculiar incident which happened to me comes to mind. My friend, Itzhok Berglass was the only person who could afford to buy his own books. For this reason, everybody treasured books so much that nobody would even think of loaning a book to another person. Itzhok Berglass had in his possession a book of Chaim Nachman Bialik's poems. I wanted to read it so much that when I found out that he gave this book to the bookbinder for repair, I stealthily went into the workshop and spent the better part of the night reading the whole book. I was so happy and enjoyed so much Bialik's poems that I could not fall asleep until morning. How can we forget those long winter nights sitting around the hot stove, or the summer Friday nights when a group of young men enjoyed having what is now called an Oneg Shabbath?
We used to sing all the songs we knew about Zion and Jerusalem and we then discussed the latest editorials in the Hebrew papers to which one of us had subscribed to in secret. Who could imagine that some of us would live to see an established Jewish Homeland called Israel? If one of the readers of these lines is interested in knowing in greater detail about how renaissance of Hebrew and the Zionist movement began, let him read the book of Shalom Yacov Agnon Young and Old.
There were rumours in town that a few young men had some modern ideas and progressive thinking but would not dare to share these with others
such as Reb Alter Nechemiah and Hersh Pfeffer. Also, the son of the assistant rabbi, Reb Alter Ezra Seidman, because of his progressiveness, was forced to leave Strzyzow when his father found out that he was skipping prayer services and somebody saw him reading a forbidden book. Still, progress made its inroads in Strzyzow. The writer of the memoirs was also swept away with the waves and left Strzyzow. I never saw my shtetl gain but it always remained in my memories.
by Moshe Mussler
Although more than sixty years have passed since that time, still, jitters go through my body when I recall one spring evening when I was sitting on my father's lap in our store when suddenly a rock flew in through the display window. My father hurriedly dropped the shutters and went into the backroom for safety.
The sound of smashed windows and the screaming of the mob were accompanied by looting and beating of Jews until midnight.
The only policeman who served the town disappeared somewhere in a tavern. And no authority was in sight as though the earth had suddenly swallowed them.
That night, nobody slept in his bed. Clothed, we sat in apprehension that at any moment, the mob would attack us.
Such waiting was unnerving and one does not forget it for the rest of one's life.
The next day was market day in a nearby shtetl called Frysztak. All the local Jews whose livelihood depended on these market days could not afford to stay at home and not travel to the market.
After a few hours, they returned with bandaged heads and other wounds. The pogrom had reached them there too. Peasants who usually came to the market to do their shopping at this time did not shop but looted the Jewish stalls and beat the Jews. The Jews were defenceless.
Days of fear and anxiety went through our shtetl until a military unit came and restored order.
Although I was a little boy at the time, right there and then I made up my mind that I would not live in Strzyzow anymore, or for that matter, in Galicia. I realized then that there was no future in Poland for the Jews.
When World War I ended, I was a war prisoner in Italy. Returning home after Poland won her independence, I could not recognize my little town. Everybody was depressed. Sad faces walked around and very few of my contemporaries were present. I could not take it anymore, such sadness and helplessness so one dark night, I turned around and left Strzyzow my birthplace never to return. I never missed it because it was not my motherland to me it was my step-motherland.
by Pinchos Klotz Aloni
When I decided to write a bundle of memories about my childhood which I spent in Strzyzow, I faced a difficult dilemma. How to describe the years of my childhood? Should the impressions be written the way I saw them as a child or the way I see them in the present? I left Strzyzow thirtytwo years ago. I might not have become wiser but I became more experienced than before. Therefore, my memories might seem childish and naïve.
I believe that writing about what I have gone through might, in a certain way, reflect the lives of others from the same town because life in a little shtetl was monotonous, eventless whether small or large. Whatever happened, it happened more or less the same to everyone with minor variations.
Today, for instance, if I reminisce about how we spent our Friday nights, it seems a bit oldfashioned. But then, we all were deeply impressed and could not forget those nights so soon.
I recall when we used to gather on wintery Friday nights in the warm Beit HaMidrash by the weak light of two or three flickering candles which were on the verge of expiring. Or, on the summer nights, on the lawn in front of the shul, telling stories about the righteous, the rabbis and miracle performers, or stories about ghosts and spirits which the childish souls absorbed with jitters, believing every word. We visualized all kinds of imaginations and scary things. We looked out of the corner of our eyes toward the old cemetery and it seemed we saw or heard something. Even though we were sure that it was only a night bird, still we were afraid that it might be the soul of a sinner in the image of a bird which was complaining that she could not get emendation. Fright was imposed upon us by the stories of children who fell asleep during the evening services and later woke up when the deceased came to their night services.
I still remember the dusk hours of Saturday evening before the candles were lit and the old Beit HaMidrash was full of mysterious shadows while the sounds of songs were heard from the people who gathered for the Sabbath's third meal.
I also recall the early mornings of the Slichot days when, looking through the windows, I noticed the night becoming paler and the stars expiring and disappearing one after another and the day began. Such a scene I did not see during the year, only during the Slichot services.
Today, when I think about all these things, they seem childish to me. But then they possessed so much charm and I was strongly affected by them.
Since there was no entertainment in a small shtetl, we had to invent our own. One of the entertainments was to go to the railroad station to meet the trains, especially on Chol Hamoed. Even though we did not see anybody off and did not meet anyone, it was still worthwhile to walk three kilometres to see who was coming and who was leaving.
An important event in the shtetl was a wedding. Everyone took part in it and we, the children, were the happiest. We mingled with the musicians and I was proud when they hung a big drum on my neck. I marched in the
streets and the musician banged with his sticks. From time to time, he laughingly would bang on my head. My back hurt for several days after that, but it still made me happy.
Another important occurrence was the rabbinical dispute and when something happened in connection with it. Also, when the famous rabbis came to visit, for instance, the rabbi from Munkatch Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro who came every year for a visit, Jews and nonJews all went to see him and the whole town was in an uproar.
When a fire broke out this was a holiday for us children. Even a fight among drunks on a Sunday or on market day was a happy occasion for us.
The town came to life when it was visited by a cantor, with or without a choir, preachers and homilists who preached in the Beit HaMidrash, a weeding jester or a Zionist speaker.
A major adventure was the required appearance of the boys before the military draft board. All the recruits changed their normal lives and these quiet, tranquil Beit HaMidrash dwellers almost went berserk. The pious young men from the Beit HaMidrash neglected their studies, the serious idealistic Zionists, their books, the apprentices of all trades left their work benches and the helpers in the stores did not come to work. They all spent the nights in the Beit HaMidrash reciting Psalms, singing songs and melodies, telling stories and sometimes also played cards. In addition, they busied themselves with all kinds of mischiefs. They burnt the oven with the wood that they had brought from Jewish yards, ate everything they found in the pantries and also did all kinds of despicable deeds. In the morning, many of the merchants found their signs on somebody else's store and some had to go and look for them altogether. Door knobs were smeared with tar and the owners stood and polished them clean. Many fences also disappeared. I and other youngsters who were not even of military age dragged along and participated in these activities.
On the day when the recruits had to report to the draft board, many peasant boys from the villages came to town drunkenly singing even though they were still sober! It was dangerous for a Jew to encounter these groups. In contrast, the Jewish recruits who had gone wild days before became serious, realizing that the decision of the draft board would decide their destiny for several years or sometimes for their entire lives.
It seems funny now but then, for twelve, thirteen yearold boys, it was especially and primitively charming.
The years that I spent in cheder belong to another period. For me, they were difficult years. I happened to be a very good student but my grandfather, Reb Moshe Samuel Friedman, was my teacher. I always sat at his right and another grandson from Dynov at his left. We both were beaten for others. My grandfather was seventy years old and it was hard for him to get up and walk over to the other students. So he yelled at them and hit us!
Therefore, I took advantage of every free moment and ran to the river for a swim. It was a beautiful river with beautiful surroundings forests, mountains, refreshing air and wells about which were believed to cure eye and skin diseases. On the way to one well, there was a portrait of a
Catholic Saint about whom a legend circulated that he was the rabbi from Grzybow who came to Strzyzow for conversion. I am not sure about the truthfulness of this story. Nobody thought about doing any research. The grownups had plenty of other worries and the children thought only about playing and having fun.
People who were dong folklore research would have found a very rich field for their research. They would have even found the source of the wonderful language which the children used during their play and was passed on from generation to generation. En ten tina, sovoroka bena and others. The researchers could also have found the source of everyone's nickname which traditionally everyone possessed besides his given name and last name. Until this day, people are more remembered for their nicknames than their last names. But, alas, the childhood years were gone and then the real hardship began. For me too, my fight with my parents had begun. It is the eternal dispute between the parents and their offspring and it was particularly sharp in the later years in the little towns of Galicia. The children strove to go forward into the big world and towards broader horizons. Those who became influenced by the Zionist ideal strove to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel, but the parents wanted to keep their children within crowded space, fearing that, Heaven forbid, they might forfeit Judaism. The tragedy was that both sides were right.
I also belonged among those who began to dream of Eretz Israel. The first step was to learn a trade and join the Zionist organization. It was then that my parents demonstrated the strongest opposition. If you learn a trade you automatically stop learning Torah and, if you join the organization, you will read books and you will also congregate with the opposite sex.
However, parents were not able to stop life's progress. The stream was too strong. The Jewish youth saw that Poland held no future for them. AntiSemitism was growing, Jews were pushed out of their livelihood and there were no jobs. Ultimately, the parents realized that they could not stop the children.
Only then was I permitted to learn cabinetmaking in Strzyzow. For lack of a Jewish cabinetmaker, I learned the trade from a gentile. Later, I moved to Rzeszow and to a training camp where I made Aliyah to Eretz Israel. There I went through a lot but I do not want to write about that.
Now, our shtetl, like a thousand other cities and towns in Poland and generally in Europe, does not exist anymore. Our shtetl was not better than other shtetls. However, to us, this shtetl was dear because it was ours. We were born, brought up and lived through sad and happy occasions here. That is where our parents lived, our sisters and brothers and now they are all gone. They are no longer alive. My dear father and mother struggled all their lives, like all the other Jews and, in the end, the murderers exterminated a third of these tortured people and put an end to my dear shtetl.
May these few pages serve as an eternal Kaddish for my shtetl, for my parents who were truly Mentchen and toiled hard to make ends meet.
We shall not dare to forget our martyrs. It is everybody's duty to
remember and not to forget. Remember what the Amalekites did to you.
S omewhere there was a shtetl, charming, beyond dispute;
T though it was little and minute
R ooted in my heart, forever engrained;
Z ionists, devoted to a Homeland to restore;
Y year in year out, tranquil it always remained;
Z estful Hassidim, lively people. I sadly remember,
O ffspring with parents killed by the world's worst murderer;
W while all of them, literally all, perished.
W e will not forget you dear shtetl, we will not.
by YechezkielHarry Langsam
In the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, surrounded by groves, in a valley of lush greenery, at the banks of the Visloka River, there was a charming little Jewish shtetl Strzyzow.
This shtetl has never gained worldwide fame for its personalities but all its inhabitants were one big personality. The people from Strzyzow participated in every national or religious activity of the Polish Jewry. The Jewish youths in Strzyzow were a group of highly intelligent, national conscious boys and girls. They were members in all national and religious parties from Agudat Israel to the leftist, Hashomer Hatzair. (In the last elections to the Zionist Congress, for the first time in Strzyzow, there were five votes for the leftists).
The centre of the town was the market place. A big square, surrounded by houses most of which belonged to Jews. On the southwestern corner of the market a little bit into an alley, the Catholic Church stood the tallest building in town. The building resembled a guard who was guarding the city from approaching enemies.
Regrettably, it was the source of hatred toward the Jews. The southeast corner of the market place served as an exit gate which led to the Jewish bathhouse and further on, to the railroad bridge, to the cattle market and slaughterhouse. The same road also led to the Visloka River.
It quietly flowed the Visloka River with weeping willow trees on both sides of its banks whose twigs were used for hoshanot on Hoshana Raba. Not only happiness and childish laughter did the river absorb but also a lot of pain and sorrow when somebody drowned.
It was a paradise on earth to take a stroll on a Sabbath afternoon on the narrow road on the other side of the river to which we had to cross upstream behind the church on a narrow, single plank. Crossing the river on that plank was an ordeal. We had to hold on to a cable, and our
young hearts trembled with fear and mixed with joy.
Wintertime, the hills that led to the bathhouse was used for sledding and it was one of the greatest pleasures. This road also witnessed another pleasant event: On Friday afternoons, men trudging downhill after the bathhouse keeper blew his pipe that simulated a bugle and repeatedly yelled: To the bathhouse!
To the northeast corner of the market place simulated an entrance gate into town. Coming from Rzeszow, you arrived there by descending from the Zarnowo Hill. Right there at the entrance there was a mud puddle which never dried out. Two or three houses into the market place, there was the alley that led to the Beit HaMidrash and the kloyz of the rabbi from Sassov. Further on, on the same side, was the shul with a lush green lawn in front of it. It was the second biggest building in town.
Strzyzow was surrounded with charming mountains, forests and meadows. The scenery and natural beauty around Strzyzow was eyecatching and the clear air was overwhelming.
The older generation included every segment of Hassidim from Belz to Munkatch, from the Sadigora Dynasty to the small rabbis from the nearby small towns. As tiny as this shtetl was, it had a larger number of institutions whose main goal was the education of the younger generation. There was a Hebrew kindergarten, a Bais Yacov school for girls, a Yeshiva for boys and in addition, everyone studied at home too. Among the charity institutions there were the Free Loan Society, the Talmud Torah Society to support the education of poor children and two societies taking care of the repair and obtaining books for the Beit HaMidrash and the kloyz. Also, there was a welfare society for the poor wanderers to save them from being forced to traverse the town and going from doortodoor asking for alms.
A major part of the youth joined the Zionist pioneer movement and left their homes for the hard life in Eretz Israel.
Of the young people who immigrated to other countries and those who escaped to Russia, these are now the remnants of Strzyzow.
With the devastation of European Jewry in general and particularly the Polish Jewry, our shtetl of many hundreds of years was destroyed together with her customs and traditions, the poor and the wealthy, the scholars and the simple Jews. Hassidim, Zionists, the prayer houses and the cemeteries are all gone now. It does not exist anymore. Not a trace remains of all the things that were so dear to us.
Cursed and forsaken shall be those who caused such destruction, such a disaster. Gd shall avenge the innocent and untainted blood.
by Gold MillerLangsam
It pains the heart when you stop for a moment and reminisce about the past. The nice and good things are unforgettable. It was once upon a time…. What is left for us? Only memories!!! A few single people, spread and strew all over the world remained. But the shtetl does not exist anymore. Everyone's heart smoulders from the memories. They cannot
Please remember the martyrs and the untainted!
With a few simple words, I would like to commemorate the children of our shtetl. The pure, holy souls who are hovering above us. They were young and beautiful, full of life, filled with devotion to Gd, Torah and the people of Israel. They wanted to be the builders of the Jewish nation, of the Jewish future, but they did not live to reach their goal. They were torn away from their fathers and mothers, from their people and were thrown into one grave.
Such dear and beloved children of our shtetl!
Earth! Please do not cover their innocent blood!
Children from all segments of the town, boys from the cheder, youths from Agudat Israel, girls from the Bais Yacov School, the Zionists youth movement they all contributed so much for the children of the town. They aroused feelings, love and responsibility for our nation in the children, reverence for everything that was theirs, respect for the Jewish culture, for Jewish Sabbaths and holidays, for Jewish songs and dance and for our own society.
The Bais Yacov School added to this entire programme a Judaic consciousness and a Jewish culture according to the Torah.
The devoted teacher of the Bais Yacov School in Strzyzow was my good friend Breindl Wasserman, of blessed memory. She was a role model of devotion, attachment to the children and sacrifice for Jewish religious education. Let me remember the young man Moshe Schwartzman, the active public servant, the founder of the school. He worked wholeheartedly and devotedly for the existence of the school. Especially outstanding was the student Seryl Friedman who later became a teacher in the nearby city of Wielopole where she herself established a Bais Yacov School under the supervision of the teacher Wasserman from Strzyzow. Actually, I was only a guest in town but when I used to come home for the holidays, I frequented the streets and observed a fresh, growing young generation. I prided myself and saw them as a promising future for our suffering people.
I still see before my eyes the big dancing circles, handinhand, poor and rich, small and large, their sparkling eyes against the setting sun hiding behind the surrounding hills. Those heartwarming words still ring in my ears.
Yes, children, you really were the flowers in the field. You blossomed, you were affectionate, and you were the hope for the nation's future.
To our sorrow, you were plucked during the most beautiful blossoming together with the rest of the nation, you perished by the defiled murderous hands.
Gd! Avenge their untainted blood.
by Mordechai Schiff
When my thoughts take me back to the days before the big and bitter destruction, I remember my place of birth, Strzyzow, with its dear people.
Our town stood out with her colourful population. There were simple people, hearty Jews, scholars, intellectuals and the majority were Hassidim of different rabbis: Fiery Hassidim of the rabbi from Belz like Reb Shalom Schwartzman, Reb Yacov Schiff, Reb Leib Friedman, the shochet and also devoted Hassidim of the rabbi from Munkatch: Reb Yeshayahu and Reb Chaim Mandel, Reb Chaim Yacov Nuremberg, Reb Samuel Moshe Groskopf and many more simple Jews. These people still remembered Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro the rabbi from Strzyzow. There were also Hassidim of the rabbi from Blazow, the Tenzer family, the Feit family and others with their leader Reb Itzhok Berstein, and many more Hassidim of the rabbi from Sadigora.
About the latter, to which my whole family belonged and among whom I grew up, I would like to write in a broader form because of their extraordinary character.
Among the Sadigora Hassidim were several groups: The Boyan, Chortkow and the Husiatin group. They all emerged from the Ryzin dynasty. In Strzyzow there were about thirty or forty people who belonged to the socalled People of the clan. They had a special, brotherly relationship, like one big family. On every occasion they got together with a bottle of vodka on the table. They drank L'chaim, spoke about rabbis and Hassidism, became enthusiastic and began to dance, even on a simple weekday. They always found a reason for a gettogether, a Yahrzeit, or a small unimportant holiday. They celebrated the anniversaries of the departures of all the rabbis of the dynasty, starting with rabbi Reb Israel from Ryzin. On every holiday, they sat around a table, drank beer, told about rabbinical miracles and, if they received a new commentary spoken by their rabbi on a verse in the Bible, this would really call for a celebration. They mediated and thought about every word or meaning that they had just heard from their rabbi's mouth and they derived great pleasure from it. These new expressions and commentaries were sent to my grandfather, Reb Hersh, of blessed memory, who was called endearingly: Reb Hershale B'li Neder because to every sentence he pronounced, he added the words B'li Neder which meant, not to consider it a vow (just a precaution in case it could not be fulfilled, it might not become a broke promise).
I still remember the hearty late Saturday night Melaveh Malka meals, especially on the long winter nights in my father's Reb Levi Itzhok Schiff's house, which my mother, the graceful Ryvka, nee Horowitz, of blessed memory, prepared for the Hassidim. There was a hot borsht, potatoes and leftovers from the Sabbath kugel. The Hassidim sat together until after midnight, chatting about the rabbis and their greatness, or repeating the rabbi's teachings.
My mother was very hospitable and we were familiar with her expression
whenever a wayfarer showed up. Reb Yid, go wash your hands, which meant to come to the table and eat. She also provided lodging. It was for her a privilege to cater to and serve Hassidim and scholars.
I remember when we were young, we always listened to the Hassidic tales breathlessly and stared at the flushed faces of the older Hassidim like Reb Baruch Diller, Reb Hersh Gelander, Reb Jonah Freiwirth, Reb Yechezkiel Gorgel, Reb Zalman Brauner and my grandfather. Some of these Hassidic veterans had visited the old rabbi from Ryzin and they repeated what they had personally heard from the rabbi's holy mouth. What a joy it was when preparing for a trip to visit the rabbi on a holiday. It was a preparation for a holy deed. The Hassidim who did not go, sent messages to give to the rabbi and asked those who went to bring back the rabbi's blessings. When the Hassidim returned home, their faces shone with a spiritual glow. They came back with an inner solemnity and peacefulness as though they had achieved the most important achievement, to have merited have sitting at the rabbi's table and listening to the teachings from the rabbi's holy mouth. Their enthusiasm and belief in the rabbi had inspired them in their daily struggle for existence.
Of thee I cry, and bitterly my heart is saddened, of all those dear, faultless, innocent martyrs who so brutally perished at the hands of the Nazi murderers whose names shall be erased forever.
by Eliezer Gruber
When I wrote these few memories about the town of my birth, I remembered the beautiful nature that surrounded her, the mountains, forests, waterfalls and the lovely river, which in some places flowed tranquil and in some with strong rapids. There we strolled, enjoyed the fresh air and grew up into maturity. I also remember the comrades from the older generation who implanted into the young hearts the ideal of Eretz Israel, Jewish culture, the Hebrew language which was then called: Lashon Hakodesh and pioneering. At the head of these comrades was Itzhok Berglass with his coworker Avigdor Diamand, Abraham Brav, Sarah Zilber, Feiga Greenblatt, Eta Dembitzer, Vita Loos, Hena Nechemiah and others. Also, Zeinvel Greenblatt who taught us Hebrew. They all met that horrible fate together with our six million brothers.
Thanks to the influence of the abovementioned leadership, the youth in Strzyzow were different from the youth of the nearby town of Frysztak. The youth of Strzyzow were Jewish, progressive and Zionists.
We, the younger ones, cooperated with the older comrades in all Zionist activities. We learned Hebrew and prepared for Aliyah to Eretz Israel. Later, we taught the younger boys and girls and continued to teach them the same ideals. We now enjoy the fruits, here in our land of the State of Israel.
In 1925, we the youngsters under the leadership of Chaim Weinberg and Pinchos Zilber organized a spiritual centre in which the entire Zionist groups were included. With the help of Baruch Nuremberg, Feivel Schacher, Joseph Deutch, Joseph Weinberg, Joshua Sturm, Mordechai Schiff and the girls: Beila Auerhun (who later became my wife), Mishkit Mandel, Rachel
Leah Deutch (the wife of Mordechai Schiff), Ronie (Ruth Russ, BatSheva Russ, Chana and Sarah Fleisher and others. We divided the youngsters into groups, taught them Hebrew, Jewish history, etc. The centre was the first to organize the practical pioneer movement and later became the foundation of the Revisionist organization: Menorah.
The Revisionist Organization was organized by the young man, Joseph Diamand from Krakow who later became the chief of the economic department of the Zionist newspaper in the Polish language Nowy Dziennink. He befriended me and, through me, became acquainted with a wider circle of young men. He contributed strongly to the youth of Strzyzow, both culturally and organizationally and he also influenced the youth not to wait for legal certificates but to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel illegally.
From the Menorah, the Beitar branched out which Yacov Presser helped to organize. Yacov Presser came from Rzeszow to study in the gymnasium of Strzyzow. The commander of the Beitar was Tzvi Schefler and the activists were: Chaim and Eta Mohrer, my sister Eva Gruber, Leah Kracher, Pesl Roth, Chana Auerhun, Feiga Springer, Hagel and others. They were active until the outbreak of the war.
Besides the Zionist youth, I would also like to mention a few people from our town who stood out with their good deeds.
Everyone knew Joseph Schacher. However, few knew that before each holiday, he secretly mailed checks to the needy that were happy to receive money unexpectedly in order to be able to prepare food for the holiday. Rizhi Rosenbluth was well known in Strzyzow for her good deeds. I remember as a boy I once collected money for charity together with Abraham Mintz and when she saw us, she was so overwhelmed that we were active in charity, that she gave us more than anybody else and wished us to continue doing good deeds.
I would like to mention Joseph Klotz, the city sexton who in winter, on Sabbath mornings, collected all the strangers and the poor from the Beit HaMidrash and took them home for a hot coffee or tea. Chana Rachel, the wife of Reb Zalman Diamand from Wysoka, never allowed a poor man to pass her house without giving him a meal and a few coins. When the poor wayfarers came to town on horse and buggy, they always had a place in Reb Fishel Goldberg and his wife, Feiga's barn.
Feigale'h, as she was called with endearment, treated the wayfarers properly and charitably. During the last war, the Goldberg resided in Lwow. Even though they were themselves refugees, all the lone refugees from Strzyzow who were without their families, found a home in their house. They ate there, washed their laundry and felt as though they were at home. She was helped by her daughterinlaw Leah, the daughter of Reb Feivel Diamand. Later, the Goldberg sent packages to those people who were exiled to Siberia.
All these people were before my eyes when I wrote these lines. Let this be my small contribution to their memory in this book.
by Tzvi Elazar Sternberg
I would like to tell a story which, when it happened, was known in the entire region and made a tremendous impression. It is worthwhile that the younger generation should know about it and see how the Jews of the past, simple, uneducated Jews, were willing to sacrifice for others. It happened in the year 1860. The cholera had spread its black wings over the town and had torn away many inhabitants, men, women and children. The deceased were given a Jewish burial in a mass grave on the field that belonged to Mr. Kociela and it called, until this day, the Cholera Hill.
At that time the town rabbi as Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro who, in 1882, became rabbi of Munkatch. The rabbi was sitting at his table and was deeply enmeshed in studying the Talmud. From time to time he heaved a heavy sigh for the misfortune that befell his shtetl. Suddenly, his personal assistant, Reb Berish Weinberg (fatherinlaw of Reb Chaim Nuremberg) came running and bitterly sobbing turned to the rabbi and said: Rabbi, have mercy! We already did everything possible. We measured the cemetery, we married off Zerach the crazy in the cemetery** and there is no let up from the cholera epidemic! Reb Pinchos Kanner, Reb Hersh Yacov and others have fallen ill. The sadness is horrendous and it is a great danger. Save us Rabbi. Rabbi Shlomo lifted his large eyebrows and with his swollen eyes from crying, looked mercifully at Reb Berish and said: Go quickly to Mordechai Goldberg and tell him in my name to help the Jews from Strzyzow…. Reb Berish did not believe his ears. But there was nothing he could do. The rabbi's request had to be obeyed.
Mordechai Goldberg, Mordechai the horse trader as he used to be called, lived in an old brokendown shack behind Yechiel Rosen's house which consisted of two little chambers. In one chamber he lived with his wife Sarah and the second chamber was occupied by Reb Nachum Teitelbaum where he also had a study and taught little children. On the left side of that house was a barn with straw which served as a lodging place for the poor. On the right side was a stable with a few old sick horses Mordechai's merchandize. Every day, Mordechai carried a pot with barley and a loaf of bread which his wife Sarah had prepared for the poor. Reb Berish arrived with the message from the rabbi and approached Mordechai thinking: from this simpleton is expected help? Maybe he is one of the thirtysix righteous in this world…? He almost addressed him as Holy Rabbi but restrained himself from doing it. He just said: The rabbi has sent me to you and said that you ought to help the shtetl. Mordechai burst out in laughter. You are mistaken. It is not me the rabbi meant. I am a simple Jew. I was orphaned when I was a child and was raised by my sister Chaya, Reb Samuel Rosen's wife. As soon as I grew up, I was inducted into the military and served the Kaiser. I cannot help. Go tell this to the rabbi. After Reb Berish returned to
**There was a belief that marrying off retarded people in the cemetery or measuring the cemetery would end the epidemic**
the rabbi with his response, the rabbi explained that what he meant was that Mordechai should cheer up the people and help them to get rid of their depression and sadness because sadness is one of the main causes that increase the cholera. After Reb Berish went and explained to Mordechai Goldberg what the rabbi wanted from him, Mordechai promised to fulfil the rabbi's request. The next morning, Mordechai walked in the street on wooden stilts, his face blackened and the klezmorim played the instruments, sang Polish songs accompanied by the singing of the children of the town and he made the town merry. Everybody came out into the streets to see Mordechai play and dance on his stilts. He changed the words of the Polish songs to words from the Sabbath prayers. Mordechai continued his stunts for quite a while until the cholera disappeared. Rabbi Shlomo later said that a reward awaited Mordechai in the hereafter. However, first he promised him and his children a long life in this world and that his children would become heroes and would impose fear in the hearts of the gentiles. The blessing materialized. Reb Mordechai with his sons, Fishl and David as well as his grandchildren, have always defended Jews from gentile hands. The gentiles were afraid of them. In 1898 when Father Stoylowski and his party incited the peasants to make pogroms in our part of Galicia and also in Strzyzow, Mordechai's sons saved many Jews from being beaten and from having their properties looted. In 1918, when Poland became independent and the blood libel in Strzyzow occurred, the Goldbergs heroically fought off the mob.
by Leah Loos
I confess! I never liked you, my shtetl! I did not like the place where I was born and grew up. Where my family lived for centuries. I left you many many years ago and went to Eretz Israel. Why didn't I like you? I stopped loving you the day I started to feel how restricted I was, how limited my freedom was and how everybody interfered in my personal life.
I never appreciated your beauty, never felt the positive in you but only the negative. Like a healthy person never appreciates health until he becomes sick, so am I. Now, after the horrible catastrophe when all my dear ones are gone and murdered, I now begin to feel the loss and all my complaints against you have ceased to exist. My heart is filled with love toward you my shtetl and to your Jews. I feel now like a little girl who suddenly realizes how big a family she has lost. I regret that I am not blessed with the talent of a singer and cannot sing an ode of praise which I feel inside me. If only I were a sculptor and could present the most interesting individuals of my Jewish shtetl the way I see them in the eyes of my soul. If only I were an historian and could write the history of my mother's family. Only by the many heirlooms which were locked up in the bottom drawer of our antique chest could I describe each personality. Each item contained a story about spiritual personalities, geniuses and leaders of many communities going back hundreds of years.
I am sorry that I am not blessed with any artistic talents in order
to express what I visualize. Therefore, I will try to retrieve some memories about the daily life in the shtetl as remembered by one of her orphaned daughters. And this should be a monument to my dear ones.
I feel like the peasant boy in the story of J.L. Peretz who came to shul on Yom Kippur. When he saw how the Jews prayed with reverence but not knowing how to pray, he was unable to participate. He too wanted to express his feelings before the Almighty so he did it with a whistle.
Now everyone in Strzyzow is dear to me, not only my immediate family. My heart is bleeding for them. Even the hotheaded, redbearded man who threatened that if I continued to attend secular high school he would spill a pail of filthy dishwater over my head. I hated him then but I miss him now because he was the one who guarded us and kept a watchful eye on the children of Israel not to deviate from our customs and traditions. He was alarmed that our involvement with other cultures would be detrimental to our existence.
I did not bear a grudge against him now, on the contrary, I am begging forgiveness from his soul.
With deep love and admiration, I remember our distant relative, the Rebetzin with her matriarchal face. She always carried safety pins in her pocket and when she noticed a little overexposure in a girl's dress, she would ask her to close it with a pin.
And my teacher, Reb Eli Dovid who, when he found out that I considered enrolling in a secular high school, chased me out from his cheder even though teaching was his profession and his livelihood depended on teaching. I still remember that he lived on bread and potatoes which I always saw him eat. Notwithstanding his poverty, he refused to teach me. I still visualize the rectangular shape of the dark room as well as his wife Nechama with her highpitched voice. She was his second wife and they married not for love but for convenience. After Reb Eli Dovid lost his first wife, he needed a housekeeper and she was a widow who needed a breadwinner. She was always complaining that he did not provide her with all her needs for the household.
My memories are still fresh on how Reb Eli Dovid, dressed in his Sabbath cloak, used to appear in our house on the Sabbath afternoons to examine my brother Elazar. He wanted to show off to my father how well his son was doing in his studies. A treat for the teacher always followed which, for us children, was an enjoyable experience.
The Sabbath in our shtetl. The preparations for the Sabbath began on Thursday evening. The first thing that everybody had to do was buy a ticket for the slaughtering of a chicken. Without a ticket the shochet would not slaughter chicken. The slaughtering itself was for us children an unforgettable experience.
Next came the scrubbing of the wooden floors in the house which had to be done every Sabbath. Baking the challahs, a smooth one for Friday night and a twisted one for the Sabbath day was done at the bakery of Malka Rosa, and this was an ordeal. She was always angry and hollering but she had a heart of gold. Any hungry person who came into her house was fed, Jew or nonJew. Yasha Kopitchuk, the town idiot who was the star witness for the prosecution at the blood libel trial, even he found shelter in her house.
Friday afternoon: The men were hurrying to the bathhouse and the women were carrying pots of cholent to the bakeries where they were kept warm in the ovens for the Sabbath midday meal. The stores were closed. In each house, tables were covered with white tablecloths, freshly polished antique candlesticks with candles burning, one for each member of the family. The challahs on the table, the wine cups and the wine next to the challahs. All the men were on their way to the synagogues. And while the men were at the synagogues, weather permitting, women sat on the stoops in front of the houses dressed in their best, waiting for their husbands and sons to return home, always accompanied by a poor stranger who would be a guest for the Sabbath meal.
Of course, not every table in Strzyzow had the same delicious food. In general, Strzyzow was not rich but nobody missed having a challah, fish and a chicken for the Sabbath meal. There were many righteous women who knew who needed help and provided it. And if it happened that a Jew was jailed, he too was not forgotten.
Strzyzow, like many other cities in Galicia, consisted of a square market place surrounded with onestory houses. Only a few were twostories high. All the houses belonged to the Jews. One main street led to the railroad station. The rest of the alleys and narrow streets were mud puddles most of the year. The houses were built from bricks not because of wealth but because of the fire which had destroyed wooden structures years ago. Tuesday was the market day when the farmers came to town. They brought their products for sale and bought necessities for their households.
The Jews in town waited anxiously for market day because their livelihood depended on it. Sunday was a day of rest that was forced upon the Jews by law. On this day, the only policeman in town showed up in the market place to see that all the stores were closed. Notwithstanding the fact that Sunday was Sabbath for the Christians, they all tried to shop after Sunday mass. They used to sneak in through the back doors of the Jewish stores and the owners played catandmouse with the policeman. When the policeman showed up at the back door, he collected his bribe and left.
Strzyzow was a quiet town. The only time it was noisy was when the Count, who lived in a nearby estate, showed up in in 1927 Model T Ford. Everyone came out to see this devilish wagon which drove without horses and roared like a lion as though a devil or a ghost was pushing it.
On the eastern side of the market place, in front of the nicer homes in town, women and fruit peddlers were sitting and displaying their produce. They sold fruit of the season which they had bought from the farmers on market day. Their business was not very good but the location was in such a strategic point that they saw and heard everything that went on in the shtetl.
These women had plenty of time to gossip. Whenever a marriage candidate arrived for a prearranged meeting with a bride, they had the first look and also gave their approval or disapproval. They also had a talent for nicknaming everybody in town.
The railroad station was located about a mile from the centre of the
town, and we had two coach drivers who drove the passengers back and forth from the station. They also transported freight which arrived by train. One of the coach drivers was killed during the pogrom in 1919 and another man took his place.
Rzeszow was a bigger city about twenty miles from Strzyzow. This was a commercial centre for the entire area. Regrettably, there are no Jews left in this town either. In the late twenties, a bus line connected Strzyzow with Rzeszow which hurt the coach drivers. They were the victims of progress. They hardly made a living before but the bus line reduced their livelihood even further. The coach drivers in Strzyzow were a happy bunch and liked to play tricks on the people in town, especially on the Sabbath before Passover, which is called Shabbat Hagadol. I remember once on such a Sabbath afternoon after a restful nap which followed the cholent, when my mother proudly approached the borsht barrel, removed the white cloth wrapping and removed the wooden cover. Then, she took a wooden spoon and stirred the borsht and after tasting a little, she had a satisfied expression on her face. She also gave us some to taste and to our father, of blessed memory. After my father expressed enthusiastically that the borsht tasted like the finest wine, my mother put the covers back and told us to leave. We suddenly heard a commotion outside. What happened?
The gentile boy who worked for one of the coach drivers brought his coach to a very respectable baldheaded citizen and delivered to him an invitation for a free trip to Egypt. There was a superstitious belief that somehow baldness was connected with the sixth plague in Egypt. The Boils'. Every year for as long as I remember, this joke was played on the baldheaded people in town. We, the children, used to gather around and even made up a special song for this occasion: Shabbat Hagadol is a hot day so all the bald ones go by train. Of course, it rhymes better in Yiddish. Some bald men took this joke lightly and laughed with the crowd but some became very angry.
The preparations for the Passover holiday actually took place all year. As soon as the first fruit of the season appeared, the women began preparing all kinds of preserves and fruit wine for Passover.
At Hanukkah time, my mother prepared chicken and goose fat for Passover. She stored the fat in earthenware pots and the cracklings which remained after cooking (grivenenss) belonged to the children.
We always baked our own matzoth on a Sunday when the store was closed. Our whole family participated in this endeavour and everybody had an assignment. We, the girls, had to put on cotton dresses which could be washed and cleaned before Passover to be sure that none of the dough stuck to our dresses. When I was a little girl, my job was to pour water for the mixing of the dough. When I got older, I was given a roller to roll out the matzoth. Every Pesach, men only baked shmura matzoth made out of flour especially preserved and watched over since the day of harvesting. We, the children, enjoyed these matzoth very much because they had a special flavour. There was always a mystery surrounding these matzoth and we considered them a delicacy although they were very hard to chew.
I never saw a queen on her throne. But a real queen was my mother
on the Seder night. Tired from the backbreaking work preparing for the holiday, weariness showing on her face but still her wig was perfectly combed. She wore the most expensive earrings, a golden chain around her neck and her fingers were adorned with diamond rings. She wore her black silk dress in which she resembled a real queen after coronation. Those experiences were renewed every year on the Seder nights.
Of course, the reading of the Haggadah was a little boring because we did not understand what we were reading except when my father translated some passages from time to time. When time came to fill Elijah's cup, I watched the cup and convinced that he took a few sips from the cup.
Even Tisha B'Av, which is a day of mourning, was sort of a happy day for us children. We could not wait to be twelve years old and to be able to fast. Fasting was an adventure for us. Even though we went into the woods frolicking and all around us the underbrush was full of all kinds of berries, none of us dared to pick a single one.
When Rosh Hashanah came along, we could not wait to go to the shul to hear the shofar. When the sound of the shofar reached us, we got goose bumps from fear and we were sure that the whole word was trembling. The women's balcony was packed like sardines. I remember once I fainted from lack of air. There was a woman who said that the reason I fainted was that I spoke a sentence in Polish to another girl which, in her opinion, was blasphemy. And I foolishly agreed.
On Yom Kippur, before I was old enough to fast, I used to enjoy this holiday tremendously by eating a lot when others were forbidden to eat. I just could not understand why the neighbours had to ask each other's forgiveness even though they were friendly to each other all year round. We went to shul to hear Kol Nidrei with fear in our young hearts and tears in our eyes. We joined the older people in their cries without knowing the reason therefor. My mother always prepared treats for the children to eat during the day so that kept us busy running home every now and then. It seems to me that we ate more on this day than on a regular day. My mother was suffering from migraine headaches after fasting and this destroyed my fun from the day's eating.
Soon after Yom Kippur, we helped the adults in building the Sukkah. But running back and forth from the house with the food was no fun. We were rewarded when Simchat Torah came along as, with flags in our hands, we were dragged in by the grownups to dance with them and everybody gave us candy.
These are the memories from my shtetl which probably all Jewish daughters from other cities share. Such a rich life came suddenly to a stop and in such a cruel way.
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