Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
World War 1 (1914-18) – the Border Austria vs. Russia
The war between Austria and Serbia began on August 8, 1914. The politicians had anticipated this war. The spark caused a fire and most of the armies of Europe joined in the war. Business declined until it became critical. Everyone knew of the coming disaster and people tried to save their property and themselves by leaving the area as quickly as possible. I stayed with an empty business. My property was in the hands of the wood merchants who had to pay with paper that had no value.
I approached my uncle, R’Shmaryahu Metlter, from Scala to cover the cost of the wagonload of roofing wood. He sent me 800 Keter which was only part of my property.
The town hoped that the enemy would not get close. The ministers promised peace in their declarations. On September 9, there was a proclamation that the enemy was coming close. Anyone who chose to leave the town and save himself would find passenger trains at the Stanislau station. People would be transported without pay to safe western areas far from the war front. I and my family decided to leave.
In the panic, we put together bundles of things that we thought we needed, (panic causing us to take some unnecessary things) and we ran to the station. We found thousands of people, women and children standing in the trains. People battled and pushed to find a place to stand in cars that had no roofs. The train, overflowing with people, was the last one to leave Stanislau from the area of Haradanka. When I saw the danger of this trip and the difficulty of finding room to stand, my wife and I decided to return home with the small children, Joseph, David and Jacob. Nathan, Aaron and my daughter, Taube, went on the train and I gave them 150 Keter, keeping 350 Keter for us.With broken hearts and tears we parted and returned home.
On the way home we already heard cries and screams, fear of the approaching enemy. We heard the thunder of artillery; we saw fires and there was looting. Government and private stores of food were emptied in a few hours. The looting continued the following day and night. The artillery, fires and looting did not stop on the 2nd of September and when a company of soldiers on horseback saw what was happening in town they left. Other Austrian soldiers were retreating and the Russian enemy appeared chasing them on horses, followed by companies of thousands of soldiers riding and walking. Most of them were Cossacks. Everything in town was closed. No one was in the streets. People were hiding in the basements and on roofs. Those of the city counsel that remained greeted the Russians conquerors and handed them the keys of the city. Three days after the conquest, there was a proclamation to open all houses, stores and businesses as usual until 6 o’clock in the evening.
Since these orders were given with promises that no one would be injured, we left our hiding places and went to the merchant market to look for a way to earn a living. On the following day, I met someone I knew, from the town of Butchatch. He came for business and advised me to come to his town where prospects were better. The trip was dangerous. Moshe Tzeuderer, someone I knew, suggested that we both try and buy merchandise as partners. That same night we arrived safely in Butchatch. I and Tzeuderer had 300 Keter each and with this sum, we bought ten Etrogim (one of the kinds used for Succoth). There were none in town. We also bought fifty sacks of high grade wheat which we sold at a good price immediately upon arrival in Stanislau.
The first day of Chol HaMoed Succoth, when I was in the market, a wagon driver called out “Who is traveling in Kolomyea?” I approached and ask if the road was dangerous. He answered, “If we have a few coins to bribe the soldier on guard and we have the proper papers all will be fine.”
In Kolomyea, I went to visit my nephew, Isaac Schrenzl whose mother, my sister, Gittel, was in his house. She came from Scala before the beginning of the war. She knew the Russians, who were right across the river Zisvutitz and was afraid of them.. She told me that her daughter Chaya Tova, wife of Israel Leib Freifelder died at the outset of the war when she was only 30 years old. She left an only daughter, Zissel. My nephew, Isaac Schrenzl, bought a large amount of all kinds of candles for me, as well as ten sacks of sugar. We loaded up two big wagons. I earned a nice sum and gave half to Isaac.
After the holidays, my wife’s brother, Chaim Zvi Meltzer, came to live in Stanislau. He brought some merchandise that he was able to save from his store, asked me to be his partner and I agreed. He knew his business and knew where to buy merchandise and what would sell. We rented four wagons and went to the towns on the border of Rumania and bought merchandise. Rumania had everything we needed.
In Zablotov I went to visit my brother, Naftali, who was in mourning over the death of his son, Zvi who was a learned man. He left the wife of his youth, sick and depressed and on the verge of death תנצבה. Naftali was earning a good living. His younger son, Nathan, was taken to the army. I came to where my sister, Tova, and her family lived in Grapena, which was near the city of Sarta.
Everytime we met, there was stealing, breaking and destruction. My brother-in-law, Israel, his partners, his father and brothers, played their game. In Grapena they managed to steal from the enemy, the Russians. In Sarta, they loaded four wagons of merchandise. Two of the wagons were under my supervision for the long trip. Two were under the supervision of my brother-in-law, Chaim Zvi. I managed to bring the merchandise to its destination.
On the way from Sutzava, Radovitch my brother-in-law ran into trouble and was attacked by a gentile robber. He was transporting the more expensive goods in his two wagons. The robber took the merchandise to his house and sent the empty wagons back. Chaim Zvi appealed to the town’s leader and the police to get back the merchandise. It was to no avail. Meanwhile the Austrian troops advanced and reoccupied this area. Chaim Zvi remained in the area and hoped to appeal to the Austrian Captain.
At the beginning of May 1914, I moved from the apartment of Gras on Zasina-Vola St. and move to the apartment of Goldschlag, Halir, 35 Sapeshinski St. There were two rooms and facilities on the first floor on the side of the road. I paid an annual rent of 600 Keter on a monthly basis.
On 30 October 1914, it was almost dark when my brothers-in-law, Chaim Elimelach Schechter and Feibush Meltzer, both from Bratshani, came to my house with their families. They ran from the Cossacks that raided and attacked the people. They stole and plundered, killed and raped the women. These families escaped without any property without even a shoelace. Obviously we received them with open arms and love and they stayed with us a month. We found them places to live and a source of income in Stanislau until the storm would pass.
After my brother-in-law Chaim Zvi was taken into the army, I found several new partners: Isaac Ficher, M. Feller and Francis Spair. On February 15, 1915, fate took a hand with me and my partner Francis. We had two wagons loaded with merchandise to sell in Lvov. When we reached Kalush, I found an opportunity. The train to Lvov was leaving that day and we decided that I would go by train to sell our merchandise and he would go with the wagons. That evening I came to Lvov. The city was packed with people and merchandise that came from Russia. I found no place to stay. I came to the house of the Widow Miriam Suchar at 20 Zilana St. and was welcomed. Two days later, my partner and the two wagons came. He told me of all that happened on the way and all the money he laid out to save himself and the merchandise. Since we didn’t find a proper buyer that day, we decided that I would return home and he would remain to sell. He sold all the merchandise and did not return home.
In order to return home, I got up at dawn on my way to Halitch. From there it was a three to four hour ride on a wagon to Stanislau. On the train, I found people from Stanislau that I knew, Joseph Bleiman and N. Shepsis. The train was delayed for many hours. They had to clear the tracks between Kalush and Stanislau from soldiers escaping the front. For that reason, we arrived at Halitch after sundown. We managed to cross the bridge over the Dniester River, from the station to the city. This was before the flood of wagons and soldiers escaping from the front line, when some of the roads to the bridge were closed. When we reached the town, we found no place to stay; the Russian soldiers occupied all the houses. Afterwards we found someone who Bleiman and Shepsis knew, R’Joseph Shine. He received us in his room filled from corner to corner with soldiers. Bleiman found us a place to stay in his brother-in-law’s house. We celebrated Shabbat in a corner of a room. Our Shabbat meal consisted of dry, hard rolls. There were other refugees who were Russians. Despite the hunger of not eating a whole day, R’Shine found us a place to lie down among the stinking Russian animal soldiers. Without a pillow and covering how was it possible to sleep?
The following day at dawn, we hurried to run away and find safety in the Beit Knesset. We heard a rumor that Jews were being taken to dig trenches where it was dangerous. There was no one in the Beit Knesset. The windows were broken and it was freezing and snowing. After a few hours, some people came to pray. They did not understand that the Cossacks were coming to take young people to work. We ran from the Beit Midrash with the fear of being trapped near the rubble on the way to the house of Shine. R’Moshe Shur came toward us and cried out in a bitter voice, Dudi Pen ran away but the Russians will find him and send him to the Russian prison together with ten other people of the town who are now going to prison. We circled the town going through all the destruction and came to the house of Fish, who was Bleiman’s brother-in-law. He lived on the edge of town.
We were welcomed to the Shabbat meal by the family and our friend Bleiman. We were in constant fear of the evil forces that would come to the house and take us away.
We spent a restless night hiding in the basement, with someone on guard outside. We debated what to do, and decided to leave the town before sunrise. Bleiman who was born in the town knew all the roads in the area and pointed out the way to walk in paths that people did not usually go. We wanted to get to the town of Vachtarav and from there to Stanislau. God willing, we will arrive safely and be there in the morning to meet the train.
Sunday before dawn, the sixth of Adar, we left the Fish residence understandably not by the main road. The way was difficult, it was snowing and cold and I had a heavy load on my shoulders and a small suitcase. After about six hours of walking, we reached Vachtarav, even though it was only six or seven kilometers from Alitch. We came to the Inn of Aaron Silver, went in to pray and find breakfast. The owner and his family greeted us with open arms like Abraham our father in his time. We had bread, butter, cheese and a cup of coffee. Aaron Silver heard the reason we came and our decision to go to Stanislau. “You are out of your mind” he said. “There is heavy fighting for three to four miles between the Russian enemy and the Austrians who are on the other side of the river close to Kalush. If you manage to survive the cannons and the guns, the enemy will grab you as a spy and in the end you will be shot. I suggest that you remain in my house which is open to for food, drink and sleep. You should wait until the fighting ends and then go on your way.” We appreciated and admired all that he said and the humanitarianism of this village person. We accepted his offer.
The first night, we had barely fallen asleep, when a voice called out that the Cossack kidnappers, who came to the village, were looking for people to dig trenches. R’Silver moved us up to the roof and covered us. This was just like the whore that Joshua sent to spy in Jericho. The ladder that went up to the roof was easy to move and so it was taken away. The Cossacks came, surrounded the house and called to send out the three people that were in the house. After several hours, they were given a bribe and left the house. R’Silver climbed the roof and told us what happened and we descended. We were cold, stiff and tired and had not slept all night.
For eight days we sat waiting in the house of Silver, being cared for with food and lodging. Despite this care, we found no rest. The Cossacks came and went, plundering and damaging everything they found. There was no appeal or protest. They found the three of us in the entrance to the house and there was no escape without bribery. Most of the days, we spent in the house of a gentile neighbor. We were in the barn with the cows or in the basement. We crept into Silver’s house to eat and sleep. On the 12th of Adar, before dawn, a company of cavalry with a captain in command surrounded the house. He ordered that all the rooms and buildings be occupied by him and his soldiers. His order was fulfilled immediately. He chose for himself the room we used for prayers, the Torah was in that room. Friday night turned into a spiritual disaster. The soldiers looted everything they could find even the food for Friday night, in the name of the holy captain. They left us nothing to eat and no place to lie down. We stood in the corner that night and part of the next day. Riders rode back and forth with orders for the captain. Saturday morning, a rider came with orders that all the solders retreat. They were followed by two Austrian officers chasing them. Soon after, we heard the Austrian artillery firing after the retreating Russians in Alitch. There we were, right in the middle, here in the town of Vachtarav. We ran and hid in the basement of the house.
We lay on the ground in the basement hungry and thirsty for a day and a half. We feared for our lives. My friend Shepsis and I decided to run away that same night since the road before us was in the hands of the Austrians. We would have no trouble with our knowledge of the German language and there would be no question of our being spies. A third sleepless night and we departed from Silver’s house giving thanks and blessings. I offered to pay for our stay with him and he refused. He said his pay was the caring for his guests. After Austria lost the war and Galicia became part of Poland I had a grocery store and was then able to repay Mr. Silver for all that he did. I gave him everything he needed with special prices.
I and Shepsis were on our way and met German and Austrian soldiers not far from the house of Silver. They stopped and took us to their commander. He asked for all the details of what we saw and knew in Vachtarav the day the Russians ran away. He demanded to see our Austrian documents and found them in order. By noon we reached the town of Praltshi after walking about 12 kilometers and found a Jewish Inn. I had my talith and tfillim and prayed but did not find a Magillah which was obligatory to read. We found some food and rest and with the help of this good Jew, we found a wagon to travel to Stanislau. On the way before we came to our destination, we saw dead soldiers on both sides of the road and no one to bury them.
After sunset, I came home and found all in order with my wife and children. They told me that two or three days after I left, the Austrian soldiers came and captured the town. They were worried that I was under the whip of the Russians in Lvov. The night of Purim, March 1st 1915, we were eating our meager Purim meal when we heard a rumor that in the area Kalush Halitch, the Russians had overrun the German-Austrian lines and they were advancing toward Stanislau. Once again we had a new problem. The people from the villages were on their way in loaded wagons and by foot with bundles headed to the east of Kolomyea or south to Nadvorna-Dalatin. The mud and frost made the roads difficult. Government proclamations declared that the populous should not leave. Who was going to believe them? We tried to determine what to do. There were no wagons to be found at any price. I was exhausted from all the adventures of the past number of days. R’Pinchas Shapira Bar Orion from the family of Rabbis, his family, wife and three children came to my door. He came to ask my advice whether to stay or to leave. He had no money and I advised him to stay in my house with his family and gave him a loan of forty Keter. The Austrians left the city and the Russian Cossacks came. The German commanding officer treated us fairly, not because he loved Jews but because the Jews from the eastern part of Podalcha told us that when he gave orders, he said “Thank God there are Jews here that understand me.”
Thousands of Cossacks and soldiers entered Stanislau, bringing with them captured Austrian soldiers, many of them were wounded. As war prisoners, they were treated without pity. The commanding Cossack officer gave his troops permission for three days to plunder. They opened houses and stores and took whatever was there. The looting was near the house where I stayed. The house of my neighbor, who ran away, was emptied of everything and the furniture broken. I securely locked my house so that it would be difficult to open. My good neighbor, a German non-Jew made it difficult for the looters and he was paid. There were three days of looting and stealing and some Jews were killed. Then an order was issued by the commander that there would be “punishment of death for all looting and stealing”. Thunder, waves of trouble and days of blackness were poured on the Jews who remained. From the beginning of the occupation of our city, the Russians looked at us suspiciously.
Our local enemies, the Ukrainians, informed on us and said, “How nicely we had received the Austrian soldiers and how warm we were to them.” Some Jews were suspected of being spies and the Ukrainians had them arrested. It was like in Pharaoh’s time. The military governor ordered to take hundred’s of people from their beds at night for unnecessary humiliating work. They did this just because they had the power. Day after day they took people from their houses, from the Beit Knesset, on Shabbat, on weekdays, on holidays, without deferring to personal status. They took the Chief Rabbi, R’David Horovitz and the head of the Rabbinical Court (ראבר'), Yechiel Nebenzahl, both old and weak men, just to humiliate them. There was a proclamation that no one could leave the city without special permission. It is understood that the Jew could not get special permission even if a trip was necessary. Commerce and industry which had been in the hands of Jews was halted for most of the inhabitants. The non-Jews got the permission to travel and so bought and sold their merchandise.
The money we had saved in the good days, I invested in general merchandise in order to bring to the wholesale market. I found an opportunity to rent a store where I was able to hide from the soldiers who kidnapped people for labor. This brought me no profit. The government determined prices which didn’t let one live or die. The sellers who brought the merchandise were mostly gentiles and some Russian Jews. They determined the wholesale prices and for them, everything was permitted and they became rich. We were under the whip.
(*note-The borders between the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire and Russia cut through the entire Jewish area of Galicia and Bukovina. Sometimes even through the same districts and towns. The picture we have here was common on the whole eastern front during World War I. RDK)
Because of the terrible situation, the rich people fled. The poor and middle class could not find work. The soldiers, like vultures, stood on the road and forced any one they could grab for humiliating work without pay. People hid in their homes as much as possible. Necessity forced them from their hiding places. They went out at night looking for any kind of work to earn a crust of bread to satisfy their hunger. They knocked on our door begging for bread or any kind of help. Those organizations in town that had helped people were closed. The small number of established people that remained was sent to prison. Who would help the hungry and oppressed? The few known leaders that stayed and were not in prison, Pinchas Derman and Rabbi Horowitz, appealed to the Jewish leaders in the Russian towns and they sent some money but there was no end to the need.
In addition to the trouble that the Jews of our town had, the Russian enemy daily brought in Jews from neighboring towns of Nizinov, Atania, Tlumtch, etc. They brought them as prisoners from Russia. There were men, women and children that were beaten by the Cossacks. They were hungry and thirsty and it was a mitzvah and obligation to aid them. With great efforts by the town leaders, permission was received to feed and keep them. With the approach of Pessach, the leaders organized for them.
The Pessach of 1915 was celebrated without any spark of light or joy. There were limited amounts of food, especially matzoth and wine. The story of leaving Egypt was told behind closed doors and the tradition of opening the door in honor of the prophet Elijah was left out. It was feared that the enemy, the gentile Cossack, would come in instead of the prophet Elijah, and empty the wine, empty the pockets and destroy all that was there. השפך חמתך וכו' This was poured on our heads. The situation was terrible and continued until June. On the 3rd of June 1915, the Russian guards (many of them had opened stores) left the town.
Some time ago my neighbor, Shtreichmach, found a job with a Russian gentile helping in a grocery store, in our neighborhood. When the Russians retreated, the store and its merchandise were offered for sale to my neighbor. Shtreichmach had no money, came to me and we agreed to be partners. It was a good deal.
Before the Russians retreated, they went on a rampage in Stanislau and destroyed everything they could. The war was in full force, houses and stores closed and we were again hiding in the basements. Everything was stolen. The house and the store of my neighbor Shtreichmach was saved as before from this destruction.
This difficult battle continued until June 14 when the Germans and Austrians captured the town. When we, the hidden Jews, saw this multitude of soldiers in our town, we were filled with joy. We expected deliverance and that justice would rule from now on. There would be freedom for business and for movement from town to town and all the obstacles would be removed. We suffered terribly for a long time under the evil Russians.
Our illusions were quickly destroyed. In the early days of the army rule of the town there was no difference between peoples and even Jews participated. When the civil administration was composed mainly of Poles we immediately felt the difference. We felt their anti-Semitism. There were obstacles everywhere. If a Jew went for permission to travel, the clerk treated him with loathing and nasty questions. “Why do you need to travel? You made all your riches by lying together with our hated Russians, and you are one of them.” It was done to make the Jew angry and gave the clerk a reason for refusing his request. “Between the shepherd and the wolf, we will split the lamb”. בין הרועה והזאב נבקע השה The Russians removed from us the fear of enemies as did the Poles. It is obvious that my fate would be the same as all the others who asked permission to travel. I did not receive permission from the chief clerk to whom I appealed.
From the day that the war started in August 1914 until today, June 26, 1915, the post offices were closed. I didn’t get any news from my children, Nathan and Taube. Today I received a letter from them. After weeks of wandering, traveling by train, wagon and even walking, being hungry and thirsty, they got to Vienna. With difficulty and effort, they found my younger son, Aaron. He worked as an expert in wood at an important firm, as a clerk in a wood cutting mill. His salary was able to support the three siblings. To my sorrow, after several months, my son Aaron, 18 years old, was taken into the army. He was sent to a far distant village, Mahar, in Hungary and given hard work taking care of horses. My son, Nathan, took the army test twice, and he passed. He was afraid of horses and he didn’t want to care for them.
(*note My father, Nathan, told us the story of when he was kicked in the head by a horse when he was a boy and his father hit him for being stupid enough to be kicked by the horse. He had a scar behind his right ear. DK)
Nathan had no work in Vienna and left Vienna for The Hague in Holland. He hoped for the opportunity to go from there to New York and find a place to live and work with the help of my brothers Gershon and David. In The Hague he found a place to stay with a friend he knew, Zerabovel. (*note-Zerabovel was a well known leader of Poale Zion and was a good friend of my Aunt Riesel and Uncle Amkraut on my mother’s side. RDK)
My daughter, Taube, remained alone, without backing of family, no work and no money in order to live. At this bad time, I appealed with all my effort to the government to receive a travel permit to Vienna, so that I could help my children in trouble. It was impossible to send anything by mail. I did not receive permission from the nasty clerks.
Content last updated Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 09:10 PM Mountain Daylight Time