Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
Austrian Army at age 18
When I was nineteen, I was tested for the army. It was a tradition of the Torah that three months before any torture, my body and soul had to be ready for these difficult tasks; I had to limit my eating and drinking, I had to go into the Beit Hamidrash every day after work, I asked all the readers to dance and spin around at night, I had to complete the book of prayers from the books of אגדתא (legends), I had to drink hard liquor and salty liquids that caused me diarrhea, take drugs that would clean the stomach and heal the body and the when I fell asleep in my house or the Beit Hamidrash it should be on a hard seat in my clothes without a pillow. We decided to listen to those who had money and experience with the military. I filled all aspects of this Mitzvah and then some. Eight of my friends decided two weeks before the induction date, March 27, 1886, to go to Kosov and from there to the town Tchartkov. The Righteous Rabbis lived there and we wanted to receive their blessings. The journey was a long walk that took eight days without food or drink. Our redemption was through torture. The road was through mud by way of Kosov on the way to Rosnov, about twenty kilometers. We chose the long way near Kolomyea. We left the town at noon and came to Kolomyea in the evening. The leaders of Kolomyea received us as important guests and that night in the Beit Hamidrash there was dancing and drinking. After morning prayers, we left and arrived at Meshen, which is close to the town of Tapshat. We found the crossing over the River Katon. The wooden handrails were old and proved not strong enough for eight heroes. They broke and we fell together about four meters. The waters were freezing. Lots of snow covered the ice. Most of the friends came out of the water in shock and fear. I broke my glasses and the glass pieces cut me. Tzvi Toyah had a bad wound in his cheek, a broken bone and was bleeding heavily. We quickly rented a wagon and I and two friends brought him to my sister’s house in Kolomyea. The doctor took care of him. As a result of this incident, we returned to Zablotov and my friends returned from Kosov and Tchartkov.
I acquired a friend that would spend a night with me on the way to Tchartkov. On the 11th of Adar 1886, both of us were on way to Gvadvitch, on the way to Haradanka. The sun shone, sending its warm rays and the snow was melting. Spring was on the way and made our trip easier and pleasant. In the evening, we came to Haradanka to the house of my family, R’Yaacob Seltzer. His son, Feibush, accompanied us to spend the night in the Beit Hamidrash as was customary.
My friend regretted going to Tchartkov and returned to Zablotov. Early in the morning I was alone on my way to Usishtchiki, which was two kilometers away. At noon I arrived at the town after a short rest. “Jacob went on his way” I hoped that by evening I would arrive to the town of Toist. As I left Usishtchiki it started to snow with a cold wind that burned your face. The traveling was very difficult and the snow and the cold hurt my eyes. The telegraph poles that stood on the side of the road led to the town Tlusta and I got lost. The storm got worse and waves of snow made it more difficult to walk. I thought I would fall and be buried under the snow. Contradictory thoughts and despair started to enter my head. It’s getting dark and there is not a living soul around. There is no shelter or cave or fence anywhere. Will I be buried here without a grave? “Even a sharp sword rests etc” My redemption appeared when I saw a wagon with three horses, a man and his driver approaching. He saw my terrible situation, came down to help, pulled me out of the snow, and helped me on to the wagon. This angel of a man took off his warm cloak and put it around me. My freezing, shaking body began to warm itself. After about two kilometers over the hills of snow, we came to a tavern. People took care of me until the bitter cold left my body. My redeeming angel was a judge in Tlusta. I offered to pay him and his driver for rescuing me. God would compensate him for the good deed and everything he wanted would be successful.
That night at the tavern, I fell into a deep sleep on a narrow, hard bench and slept until eight in the morning. The storm continued until the tavern was covered with snow up to edge of the roof. No one could come or go. I stayed there through Shabbat. There was enough food and drink for the visitors. There was no way to go out for a Shabbat meal. Saturday night the storm ended. Sunday morning, a gentile came in and told us that several people had fallen victim to the snow. One of them was a postal driver and another was an armed policeman. I prayed “גומל” (blessing of deliverance) for my rescue. In the afternoon, a Jewish driver found a wagon with three horses. After several hours of travel over the hills of snow, about five kilometers, we came to the town of Tlusta. With blessings and kisses we parted from the people who saved me. I rested that night without sleep. I was not able to go to the court of the Tzadik in Tchartkov. Time was short and the following morning I went home. I traveled from town to town by wagon and by foot until I came home the evening before my induction date, March 27. My parents and grandfather listened to my tale of danger. They were upset that I did not get the blessing of the Tzadikim. Their hearts were full of fear of the troubles that might befall me.
The morning of March 27, my friends and I traveled to the town of Snatyn. The road was filled with mounds of frozen snow. For some reason neither of my parents accompanied me and I found myself all alone before the army officer. The army doctor and the officer in charge of physical examination found that I was near-sighted. This cancelled “forever”, that means I was excused from examination for the army for the next three years. Someone like me had no luck. The district doctor of Snatyn also examined me and accused me of trying to fool them. He cancelled the previous decision. He ordered to put me in jail.
I was brought to prison by an armed policeman to the house of the magistrate. I was among thieves, drunks and pickpockets. My mother came quickly and got the help of Benjamin Ben Jacob Meltzer, who lived opposite the prison. He sent me food and drink the days I was in prison and would not accept any payment. May his name and memory be blessed.
After eight days, the armed policeman appeared and ordered us to go with him to Zablotov on foot, which was twenty-five kilometers away. We hired a wagon with two horses with the agreement of the officer. In Zablotov we were delivered to the jailer and each one of us was arrested and place in a cell with three gentile prisoners. On the following morning, I was called in front of the investigating judge, Karetnitchki, who was new at the job. He read the accusation that I had purposely injured myself to avoid army service. He asked if I accepted it and I denied the accusation and all its implications. From my childhood on, I have been thin and have had bad eyesight and I have witnesses who can confirm this. I did nothing to cheat and lie. The witnesses were called and swore to the truth. Fourteen days after the start of the investigation, the judge gave his verdict. The judge blamed me and said that I injured myself and he sentenced me to fourteen days in jail. In addition I was to serve five years in the army instead of three. I had to fulfill the punishment according to Midrash. Those who have weaknesses pay a 100 times over. Because of my poor physical condition and my near-sightedness, I paid a severe penalty. Righteous and fair judges had not yet been appointed. We approached R’Shlomo Hirsch Wisselberg, an expert in criminal law. He was learned in גפת and a legal expert. He appealed to the high court in Kolomyea and the trial was set for the first of May. Our defense attorney was Doctor Dembitski who was a Polish expert. The judgment was in my favor in that I was not fit to serve in the army. This was in May 1886.
In March 1887, I was again called to the army. I hoped that I would not have to go repeat this torture. My near-sightedness and my poor physical condition remained and I hoped to get out without problems. As happened before, the doctor and the army captain examined me and failed me. I was reexamined by Doctor Werner, the regional doctor, and found healthy. I was given the right to take another test before a higher officer, on his responsibility. I had another test in the month of May, in Kolomyea before higher officers.
The sum to buy myself out of service was exorbitant. Without an examination they accepted the ruling of Dr. Werner and determined I would be inducted the following autumn. I was hoping for rescue with the blessing of the Admor Hatzadik R’Moshe David from Tchartkov. My uncle Joseph Shatner, from Koti, had a friend of his youth who was the secretary of operations in the 24th regiment under the officer Meizner. He was in charge of the military in the district of Kolomyea-Snatyn. My uncle asked him to help me. He promised to help and he arranged that the induction would be in Vienna where there was a good chance that I would get out. We were happy with the promise and my early release seemed assured. I, my mother, my uncle R’Shmaryahu Meltzer from Scala (one of the admirers and a relative of the Tzadik of Tchartkov) were astonished to be brought into the Tzadik’s special court yard and to be received for his advice and blessing. The Tzadik advised us that nothing could help except God’s help and only in Kolomyea. Our hope was that my release would come through in Kolomyea.
I was disappointed a second time. My date of induction was October 1, 1888 which was the first day of Rosh Hashanah.
I had to appear before the officer in Kolomyea to be tested. My mother accompanied me.
I thought that this was the end of my life. The officer didn’t look at me and announce that I was satisfactory and I was assigned to the 24th regiment, which had three battalions, part was in Vienna and part in Kolomea in Camp 12.
After being checked we were brought under armed guard to four barracks. We entered the first room on the 2nd floor where there was room for twenty-four of us.The room was about twenty meters long and six meters wide. There were twelve beds on each side. I was given a bed close to the window. We were taken to the big supply room, ordered to undress and put on army uniforms, “Army rags, hats without linings, and shoes that were patches on patches”. We had no rest all day, hungry from fasting, and now we were ordered to clean the room, the outside yard and the bathrooms. This cleaning took until the sun went down. At seven we received food, black coffee (colored water without any taste or smell of coffee) and a piece of cheese. I was satisfied because of the food I brought from home after having fulfilled the Fast of Gedalia. After we ate, we were ordered to the supply room to receive weapons and supplies, a belt and sword, a gun and ammunition, utensils for eating, cleaning material for our clothes, gun and a back pack. We also carried two heavy woolen blankets to cover us in the winter. The room was very big without a stove to heat on in winter. At nine o’clock we received the signal to go to sleep. Even though I was tired I did not sleep well.
The following morning with the rising sun, the trumpet called us to get up. The temperature was several degrees below zero. After washing and dressing we were ordered out to the courtyard for morning drill. On this day it was without guns. On the following days we had to appear with gun and sword. This was difficult for me to move for they weighed about five kilos. At seven there was breakfast, which was similar to last night’s supper, black coffee, bread and cheese. At that hour I found a corner to pray, put on Tfillin, say the “Shmai”, Tehillim, eat breakfast as all the soldiers and not break any regulations. After half an hour we were once again outside and we drilled until lunch. Every soldier went to the kitchen, cup in hand, and received his portion of meat, soup, cereal and a potato. My dear mother had brought me a kosher meal. After an hours rest we were back to work in the drill yard. There were days that before lunch, we took hikes with all our equipment. These hikes were walking and at times running for ten to twelve kilometers back and forth until lunch.
In the evening after the sunset we studied “Torah and Wisdom” in the room. The donkey of a soldier who was our corporal, after finishing compulsory service of three years, stayed in the army in order to receive the prize of food, clothing and a salary of about five ruch a month. He was called by a nickname “Zopnik”. That is to say that he sold himself for a pot of beans. After ten years of service, he was able to sign his name, read from the bulletin board, knew the numbers from one to a hundred and was able to read the names of those who served in the 24th regiment. He was also able to read the fifteen titles of Kaiser Franz Joseph. These donkeys from the Carpathian Mountains had no idea of any language but Ukrainian and here it was demanded of them to learn names and numbers in German. After ten years they knew nothing.
On the fourth day of being a soldier, there arose a problem with shoes. The patches on one of my shoes tore because of overuse in walking, drills and stones in the yard.
I went to the shoemaker to repair the shoes. I knocked on his door and he would not let anyone enter until he called “come in”. This gentile was not my friend. I knew him as I did other shoemakers with whom I did business. I gave him the shoe and he hit me in the face until my face was swollen and bleeding and I was crying. He opened the door and threw me outside. At that moment the “Oberlieutenant” saw me and I told him what happened. He entered the room and hit the shoemaker in the face. He was put on trial and severely punished.
The Oberlieutenant was born in Germany and served in the Austrian Army in Vienna. Even though the captain was Polish and his subordinates were Polish Ukainians, the higher officers were German. The language used was German. Antisemitism had not yet influenced the Germans and this was especially true of those in the service of Franz Joseph. I remember the Oberlieutenant and his humanity towards me. After the officer left the room the “Feldvebelt” (a lower officer) admonished me that it was forbidden for a new recruit to complain to an officer. A complaint must be made to a “Gefreiter” (an even lower official) and he would pass it on. This time I was forgiven but the next time I would be punished. If there had been a trial before the Oberlieutenant, the shoemaker would have been exonerated “because a Jew did not respect and honor the shoemaker, the injured party”.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, I was surprised when R’Joseph Meltzer זל and his small daughter came to visit me in Kasarktin. He had good news for me. He succeeded in getting from the captain a pass for Yom Kippur and I went to his house for the evening meal. They had a special place for me so that I could pray facing the Eastern Wall in the evening and the following day. יא תשרי in the morning I returned to Kasarktin. In some way he had managed to get me a pass and I will always remember him. May his name and his family be blessed.
The second and third week passed as usual. Saturday afternoons there was general cleaning of the room in which we lived. We also cleaned the entrance to the second floor, the stairs, the yard and the bathrooms which were full of mud and dirt. To my regret I had to participate in these honorable activities. In addition to desecrating the Shabbat, it lowered my self esteem.
In the morning of the fourth week, we were ordered to take all our heavy equipment including the bayonet attached to the rifle, which added two kilos to our load. The orders were for the battalion and the officer in command to march and run ten to twelve kilometers. This hike started at eight in the morning. After a long hour of walking and running, step after step, “feet marching straight”, I was one of the weak ones and I fainted. The Captain stopped the march and sent the Oberlieutenant to check what was wrong. The same officer who saved me from the shoemaker asked why they enlisted weaklings like me. He ordered a wagon to take me to the base in Kasarktin and let me rest until I regained my strength.
The name of the Oberlieuntant was Pashik. Surprisingly, from our first meeting there seemed to be some kind of empathy between us. This might have been because the Germans had a tendency to hate the Poles and Ukrainians who do not understand their language. This tendency of understanding toward the Jews was not because they loved “Mordecai” but because they could exchange ideas in the German language.
The next day the Oberlieutenant Pashik sent me to the army hospital near Kasarktin. After the examination, the doctor kept me there and I remained fourteen days carefully refraining from eating the treif food. My wonderful mother brought me kosher food despite the difficulties. Strangers were not allowed, but she paid off the guards.
When I returned to duty, I had to make up what I had missed. A corporal was appointed to teach me in the mornings to make up a number of difficult lessons that required a great amount of energy. I had to learn to shoot. In the room was a stand with a target in the middle and I had to hit the target from fifteen meters away. It was my fate that one day I had to shoot with the heavy rifle at a target five meters away. For someone with bad eyes it was not possible to see the target. With the first shot I missed the target and the bullet hit the glass window which broke. My teacher, the Gefreiter, slapped me in the face. This punishment was not enough and I was placed on report before the Captain. My punishment was to be tied hand and foot for six hours. This was after studies, in the corridor, in the evening, despite the fierce cold. The inhumanity and the night’s rest that I lost were worse than the cold that I suffered.
In my sorrow and in my soul it hurts me to see the depravity of these wild animals that would beat someone to death. These are gentiles, body and soul. One day the whole battalion went on parade, the Captain was in front leading his officers, marched before the battalion’s Oberstlieutenant (he had a gold star). In our barracks there was a Gentile from the Carpathian Mountains. He was an idiot and dumb. In our eyes he could not do anything correctly. In the past he was an important person. Because of him, the captain received a rebuke. When we returned to the barracks he was furious at all his officers for what happened. The officers informed the Captain that they would remove this idiot from the base in the most disgraceful manner. What did these animals do that night? They jumped on him, beat him mercilessly, sent him to the hospital and after several days, he died. In this way the captain found his rest. This is a horrible example of how these wild animals dishonor and disrespect human life.
At nine o’clock, we went to bed after a hard day’s work. There were twenty-four men in the room and we all fell away from exhaustion. Suddenly one night at twelve midnight, there was a loud voice yelling for us to get up and get our equipment ready for inspection.
This outcry came from the nasty “Tsangasfehurer” and his helper who just returned drunk from the bar and the whorehouse. We all stood naked in our night shirts with our teeth chattering from cold and anger and the inspection started at the first bed. It was understood that the ragged clothes and the patched shoes did not pass inspection. The buttons and the patches were not properly sewn on. The rifles and the bayonets were not clean and shiny, all the other nonsense was found wanting from every one and we all had to bend over on our hands and knees and move all the beds in the room from one end to the other. The two brutes stood with sticks in their hands and hit every one on the behind. I do not remember if I was one of those who failed the inspection. I may have called their attention to the paragraph in the army regulations that cruel acts were forbidden during periods of sleep and rest. If these were really forbidden I don’t really remember.
Before I was inducted, I acquired a book in German on the rules and regulations of the army. I studied carefully to understand how one could appeal unjust punishment. I also wanted to understand and learn of all the activities of basic training as well as the meanings of bugle calls and drum beats, etc.
After a while, things got a little easier for me. 1) The oppressors got a gift. 2) A corporal who was a writer came to the base and influenced his staff to go easy on me. 3) Every soldier who was inducted had a file opened with his documents. It also listed his identity; his name, his father’s name, his ancestors, his profession and education, etc. I was listed as someone who knew Hebrew and numbers in all the languages. I let them write this up because I overheard them say the 24th battalion was a bunch of animals.
This batallion was populated by boors from the Carpathian Mountains and a small number of Jews. The Jews who were inducted knew how to read and write and had some knowledge of language. They found it difficult not to be labeled as regular army boors, “am haaretz”. The “knowledgeable teacher” was from the Carpathian Mountains who remained in the army after required service and received a salary. After several years of study he knew numbers and could read the names of the officers in his unit and the Kaiser’s titles. This was the man chosen to teach us and I was one of them. We were two Jews who knew a little of Ukrainian but we were still his students. After a day or two listening to this “teacher” we knew all that he was capable of teaching us. The teacher was amazed that after a day or two, I knew all the information that he had to give, except for the titles of the Kaiser. He announced that after ten years of service he still needed a chart to read the titles.
I invented a joke by telling them a story. In the land of Egypt there was one king and the king’s adviser who knew seventy languages. Joseph the wise, after he analyzed Pharaoh’s dream, became second to the king. On the same night, the angel Gabriel came and taught Joseph seventy languages. I hoped to move a step up to be an officer, Gefreiter. I continued the joke by telling everyone that that night an angel came to me and taught me. From then onward, all the other soldiers treated me, not with respect but not with derision. Two of my fellow soldiers wanted to learn from me. My fee for this was that they would fill the chores that were difficult for me, like cleaning clothes, toilets and weapons. After this, things were easier. The captain received the information that I was bright and one day he called me into his office. He told me that for the first time he saw in me an inner cultural strength. The captain thought that I had used “Jewish Tricks” to get out of the army. Now he planned to promote me up to the rank of “Feldvebelt”. He would arrange work for me in his office. I thanked him for his praise and the intended offer. I couldn’t see the work given to me because of my poor eyesight. I was sent to the hospital to be examined. If they found that my eyesight could not be repaired to do the work, I would be out of the army. He fulfilled his word. The change in the attitude of the captain was not because of love of “Mordechai” but in doing the right thing. I then had to go thru the procedure of being released.
In the hospital, the doctor tried several treatments. After about a month, he found eyeglasses (number 6) that he thought would be appropriate for me. That same day I was sent to buy glasses. On the way back to Kasarktin, I met the captain of the battalion, Oberstlieutenant. I didn’t salute him. My name and unit was taken and on Tuesday I stood trial and was asked, “Didn’t you know that a soldier who did not salute an officer would be severely punished?” “I certainly know respect, your honor. The doctor gave me glasses which made my sight worse and I do not see anything with them.” “So, I will send you to a higher level doctor. If I find you are lying to get out of the army, instead of three year’s service, you will serve and do hard labor for five years.” In accordance to the command, I went to see a more professional doctor at the hospital. A relative of R’Chaim Meyer Ehrlich זל was in good relations with him.The doctor found that eyeglasses number four were the only ones appropriate for me. According to regulations, with this level of sight, I should not be in the army. The report was sent to the office of the “Army Commander” in order to determine the time of my release.
With great joy I left the hospital to bring the doctor’s conclusions to the camp office. I gave the papers to the clerk and asked him to give me the release papers so I could go home that day. He looked at me with a smile and advised that such matters are not carried out in hours, weeks, and sometimes months. It will be some time before your release.
The doctor’s conclusions with the confirmation of the captain were sent to the office of the Army Commander in Vienna. They would then be sent to the General Staff and if they did not accept the certificate, they could determine a date for an even higher doctor, “Uberstaats-artzt”. The General-Major will determine your fate, to release you or to remain in the army. The Feldvebelt, the drill officer, was in the office and told me that until that time, I was obligated to fill all the functions of a soldier and make up what I had missed. This information upset me and I went back to hard work.
The special corporal taught about weapons in the morning and in the afternoon there was shooting practice as usual. One day the Polish Oberlieutenant came to test the marksmanship of the new faces in the base. As mentioned earlier, the Oberlieutenant was the one who took action against the shoemaker. Lieutenant Passek treated me well. This was not because of love of Israel, but because Austrian Germans knew no Ukrainian or Polish and the Jews spoke to them in their language and I was one of them. All communications and bills in the office were in German. The Jews who worked there understood their contents and translated them for which the officers were grateful. The Polish officer called on me to shoot and of course I missed the target. He slapped me hard in the face. I had to bend down, hold the rifle, attach the bayonet (about nine kilo) and hold the position for an hour. After a few minutes, the captain came into the room, found me and asked what happened. He ordered me to get up and rest. If I am not mistaken, he rebuked the officer who treated me so cruelly.
In the beginning of March 1888, the order came from the Viennese General Staff to the office of Captain Stapshinski. The contents called for the release of the soldier A. Keusch from army service until such time as he is called to another test next April.
After five months of being among gentiles, strange spirits, far from loved ones, I am again with my loved ones, parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends that received me with loving, open arms.
In April of the same year, I was called to be tested in front of the high Generals. I stood in a big room in Kolomyea while all my papers and documents were read. They were from the doctors and the captain who wrote about me and my situation. They had to determine if I had to serve in the army with my poor vision. After a short consultation, I heard a voice call out that “he is not suitable to serve” and the decision was unanimous. After battling for three years, I was saved from the Moloch of Militarism and I prayed at the Torah ברכת הגומל (Birkat Gomel).
My happiness of getting out of being among strangers was short lived. I came back to find my beloved grandfather sick in bed. About ten days before I left the “snake pit” Kasarktin in Kolomyea, Grandfather came to Kolomyea for business. He was going to buy soft and dry leather. He found the time to visit me at the base despite the difficulties of an older person to get into such a place. When he came, all the soldiers were eating lunch. They were eating with appetite meat and soup, etc. I was in uniform and sat in a corner eating dry bread and salted vegetables. When he saw me, he exclaimed “Oy Vey that I should see you in this way.” We didn’t manage to exchange many words just tears and sighs. We parted grandfather and grandson with kisses and tears. I found out afterwards that he had to bribe his way in to see me. When he saw me, his beloved grandson, his Jewish soul rejoiced and he hugged and kissed me. From that day on, I was at his bed side as much as possible. I dressed his wounds and at night I was on duty. To my sorrow, about three weeks from the day I returned, he did not leave his bed until he died.
(Grandfather writes that he lost a page or two from his memoirs. After many years, he wrote that he still remembered to enter what was missing.)
I raise a question, whether a Jew who follows all the Mitzvot and has reached the age of army service, could swear full allegiance to king and country. The law of the land (דינא דמלכיתא) calls upon one to eat at the kings table where all the cooked foods; meat, soup, etc are served. I raised this question to the chief Rabbi of Kolomyea, Hagaon Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein זצל. Everything is allowed but not to break the bone. In a long conversation with the Rabbi, this was his advice. A Jew takes upon himself the total rule of God and he cannot serve two masters. All of the Admorim, the geniuses of the people, agree to this belief. It would be better to cut off a finger of the right hand or damage his eye in order to save his soul from falling into the pit of militarism. The parents have an obligation to save their sons from this oppression, suffering from hard physical labor and damage to their religious feelings. They should raise the maximum amount of money to buy off such service. Parents who had no means asked for help from close family. That is what my dear mother did with all her strength. אשת חיל (a woman of valor), until she succeeded in getting me out of the pit of scorpions and snakes.
My mother, my uncle R’Shmaryahu Meltzer זל, and I went to the Admor from Tchartkov, Rabbi Dovid Moshe זצל for advice before I was inducted into the army. He advised not to do anything with gentiles to save me. Only in Kolomyea would God do his miracle to save me. That is where I did my service. The blessings of Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein, the chief Rabbi of Kolomyea, were fulfilled. “You received the burden of the kingdom of heaven” and no one serves two kingdoms and I was saved.
In the month of May of this year, I was called up for the last time to be tested for the army. This was on the basis of all my records. I was found not suitable and I was finally released after three years of suffering and a large outlay of money. With this, I blessed ברכת פטורים (blessing of departure).
Without doubt most Jews, those who observe the Commandments and those who are secular, are against serving in the army. This is even in the country of the sympathetic and liberal Kaiser Franz Joseph. We bring money sacrifices and mutilation to save the souls from falling into the pit of Moloch-Militarism. Those who serve the Commandments, suffer for three years from the non-kosher (treif) food and the non-observance of the Shabbat. This happens to the majority of the prisoners of our generation. Repetition leads to habit. After three years of army control, I returned home to full observance. The poison of being a prisoner for three years never left my heart. After all these many years, I am still angry.
Those who are secular defend serving in the army and these are their reasons. A) The nature of man is to compare all living thing as equal. They can move to any place they wish but in the army they cannot request to move and have no rights. B) Who knows arithmetic, names of the army officers and the titles of the Kaiser? The free “noble” gentile after serving ten years in the army still cannot sign his name correctly. (While in the army, I never learned anything of culture, knowledge or war tactics from any of the officers) C) What is the main thing that one learns in the army? One learns how to kill, spill blood and kill inhabitants for the country that is not yours. The Torah demands that all Bnei-Israel has a duty to learn קשת (bow and arrow). King David said, teach the sons of Judah to put their hand to battle and fingers to war in order to fight the neighboring evil enemy who was out to destroy the people and country of Israel. Go out against your enemy with one hand holding “The Book” Torah, knowledge that you learned in school and in the second hand the latest technical army equipment. With the help of God, the brave army will win the war. For your people and your country you are obligated to hold the sword and you should not interfere in conflicts that do not concern you.
One must learn and take from one’s experience in the army. I learned many good things from the short time I was in the army. I learned to move, to clean and to respect those who were in a position above me especially anyone educated in culture and knowledge. “To move” means to get up at five in the morning before daybreak from a deep tired sleep after a hard day’s work. This means to go half dressed outside, wash in cold, freezing water, the body the mouth and the teeth. After dressing, we had to drill the whole day in the clean air with the smell of the vegetable gardens and trees. Opposite us, there was a city park about a kilometer long that was full of trees and flowers, pools to wash and a place for children to play. “To clean” means to clean one’s clothes and one’s room that makes the body healthy, hands strong and your face and spirit full of courage.
I bless and remember Joseph, son of my Uncle David, and Bayla Meltzer זל. Uncle David was my mother Devorah’s brother and Joseph was her nephew. I also remember and bless the wife of R’Joseph, Ethel, and their daughter Adina, for all the good and generous deeds they performed for me and my mother while I served for five months in the city of Kolomyea. On the fast day of Gedalia, after my induction, I was taken to Kasarktin which was not close to their home. Joseph knew that a new recruit was forbidden to leave the base not even to visit a relative. He knew that the importance of prayers and fasting of Yom Kippur were part of my life. My uncle had a business relationship, having to do with the sale of leather goods, with the captain of my unit. On the day before the Holy Day, he approached this captain under whom I served and asked for a special pass for me to leave before erev Yom Kippur until the morning after the Holy Day. After Joseph got the pass from the captain, he decided to take me to lunch but he was detained. Just before sunset; with his shtreimal (fur hat) on his head, his silk coat and his little daughter Adina with him, he ran to Kasarktin with the pass in his hand. He still found time to invite me to a good meal and a glass of wine in the company of his family. They brought me to the Beit Midrash of R’Itsikil where he prayed. He found place for me near the Eastern Wall. After the day of fast and prayers, there was a big meal and a good night’s sleep. My mother stayed in their home during the time that I served in the army, bringing me kosher food. She was received with open arms and love. May God bless their goodness and memory.
R’Joseph lived in the house of his father-in-law, Rabbi Itzikel Yashahus (Freifertig) זל. He was Chared, learned in the Torah and a fervent follower of Ziditchov. He went up to the ark with that title. He had a walled house of two stories, a store in the town market and dealt with treated leather, wholesale and retail and any other business opportunity. He was in a very good financial situation. Grandfather Nathan זל and my parents did business with R’Itzikel and his son-in-law, R’Joseph.
Many years later Adina told me about the various good deeds that she did for me during the time I served in the army in Kolomyea. The family had a Polish servant girl who was the sister of the servant girl of the captain of the unit under which I served. Adina was friendly with that servant girl and together they touched the heart of the captain’s wife, requesting mercy for me from her husband. Their request was accepted by the captain who praised me for my service and then gave me my freedom.
If my memories are questionable, Adina told me about the close relationship of the house of the Captain Staptzinski. Adina had a teacher who taught her Polish for two hours each day in her parent’s house. This teacher also taught the sons of the captain in their house. In this way the teacher had an ear with the Captain’s wife and so my request was granted. Whether it was this story or that story; may their memories be blessed.
After the death of R’Itzikel Freifertig זל, R’Joseph inherited part of his house, the store and all the merchandise in it. R’Joseph was considered one of the important residents of Kolomyea. He was an honest man and was a follower of Tartkover and Bianer and one of the most important Chasidim among them. He educated his only daughter Adina and his only son, Michael in the Torah and a little in general subjects. They both got engaged, married well and had property and their sons had happiness and wealth.
At the beginning of March 1888, I came home from army service. I found my parents house the same as when I left and that was comforting. Grandfather Nathan was in bed, seriously ill. A few days previously he returned from his business trip to Kolomyea as well as the visit to me at the base, Kasarktin and became sick. What a joy it was for him to see his grandson in front of him. Several days previously this grandson was a soldier in trouble among gentiles and now he was a free Jew and the spirit of God was upon his face. From that day on I did not leave his bedside, cared for him in his troubles and pain until his last day, Saturday night, 20 אדר his soul left his body at the age of 73. All the people of Zablotov accompanied him on the way to Beth El cemetery on Saturday night. Part of all his activities and good deeds are recorded in the Book of Memories קובץ זכרונות on page 8 and 9. May his name and memory be blessed forever.
Two or three days before he died, Grandfather called his friend, the mayor of the city, R’Meir Rota, and gave him instructions about his will. Grandfather owed 600 Reinish (Austrian Money) that he had borrowed from R’Shmuel Tau, his neighbor and R’Meir should be sure that the money went to the inheritor, his son, Aaron. Grandfather left the key to the store that contains leather goods and material that is worth more than the money owed. The key would remain in R’Meir’s hands until his son will take care of the debt and give him a receipt. Then R’Meir would return the key. This is the way of a righteous man goes to the next world without any stain on his body or soul. R’Meir knew my father did not follow those instructions. After the Shivah, he gave my father the key in order to take out the merchandise and pay the debt.
Addition to Page 28 (Memories of the Army in relation to setting up the State)
One does not take lightly what one learned from the various bugle calls most of the day from morning until late in the evening. Every one of them has its own meaning and special information. There were also the various drum beats when we took our long hikes. All this learning gave the soldier the spirit, bravery and knowledge to deal with in battle. Here was the sting of the army and still there was a drop of honey on the heart of a young man like me. A few months of the army school, according to my outlook, was a blessing for a lazy young man like me and most of the young Jews from the small towns, that were filled with dirt and unclean air and who had never seen green grass or a planted tree.
The houses they came from were lacking in light and air. The smells of the bathroom permeated the houses. The behavior of the young toward the young was without manners of respect. This was especially toward those who had a little more knowledge. Schools like this are positive for young Jews to open themselves up to new things as it did for me.
Content last updated Thursday, March 07, 2013 at 09:44 PM Mountain Daylight Time