Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
Part 12

Grandfather in Austrian Army at Age 50

If I didn’t have enough problems, on July 1, 1915, there was a proclamation that people my age from 48-50 had to be tested for the army. On the 5th of July, it was posted that all those that had been scheduled for the army on January 16th, were to congregate not later than July 7th at Beit Kasarktin, close to the railroad station. (*Note The above dates are not clear. It is our assumption that there was another proclamation. We think he went into the army in January. RDK) Everyone who was called came there that evening. There were train cars for two legged animals and four legged animals. There were about twenty of us who knew each other from Stanislau. We were in the second class and grabbed seats. We had no idea where we were going. After the train headed south, through Dalatin, we understood we were traveling toward Hungary.

After traveling that night and the next day, we arrived at a small station Hava-Salva in the neighborhood of the station Karasmachi, the border of Poland-Hungary. We found a place in one of the large barracks but we could not get any rest that night lying on bare boards. There was a stove in every corner but they felt there was no need for fire in these cold days. There was a room for washing and a line for hanging cloths. We spent three days in these barracks. We were examined and given shots by the doctor. The Jews didn’t get any food or drink but they had some food from home. The gentiles got pieces of bread and a little black water, so called coffee. We slept on the hard boards and even though there were stoves, there was no heat and it was very cold.

After three days, we received orders to put the equipment on our shoulders and leave the barracks. It was five in the morning and the snow was up to our knees. We climbed a steep cliff following each other like a herd of pigs to slaughter. We came to these huts that were built like shepherds shacks. The sleeping quarters were shelves with the width like the branch of a large tree. In each shack was a small stove but there was no wood for heating. Outside were tiny cubicles for toilets, covered with branches and no place to sit. In this area there were sixty animals, so called humans. A soldier was lucky if he could grab a shelf for himself. The rest stood crowded, day and night. Most of us sixty animals were gentiles and the air was impossible to breath. Most of the hours, day and night, I remained outside despite the freezing snow and cold. The kitchen and the water well were down in the valley. In order to get to the kitchen and the water, it was necessary to descend thirty meters through the snow which was up to your knees. Some used a stick and some slid down on their hands and knees. The gentiles received cooked food from the small kitchen. We, the Jews, who would not eat treif (non kosher) got a small ration of bread for four days. Zvi Genger from Stanislau brought us tea twice a day. May God think of him and bless him. Twice we were permitted to see the doctor and nurse who came to give us shots and to throw out those who were unfit.

For eleven days we were confined to these huts. In the evening we received orders to pack and move out. We hoped to return to Hava-Salva which was about four kilometers away, but we made a mistake. Six hundred animals with packs on their backs chased by the cold and snow walked thirteen kilometers to the Karasmachi station. There was a sin on top of the crime. For whatever reason, we returned that night to the camp from which we came and arrived back there in the morning. (*note There is the right way, the wrong way and the army way. RDK) Some of us rebelled and refused to go back, because of exhaustion.

(Pages 76/77)

We found a more humane place to sleep. (Grandfather adds a repetition of the above movement of troops and questions the logic of it all. RDK) The second day after we came to Hava-Salva, the chief officer of the camp, who took care of these arrangements, gave us a long speech. “Being that we are now in a difficult period of war, you should know that life is difficult, especially for the soldier. You are to be praised and admired for fulfilling your duty as citizens. I tried to treat you with sympathy, make your work easier and find for you suitable quarters with food and rest. Did I fulfill my promises?” טרף זית בפיו (The wolf had an olive branch in his mouth) He tried to ease the discontent.

The following morning, the soldiers returned in the afternoon from the Carpathian Mountains to Karasmachi. We were in the village and found complete rest and sleep. We had food and drink according to our taste and I paid with my money. We rejoined the main group. After traveling on a train for 21 hours, we arrived some place in Hungary, a village Ragashi. We were brought to barracks and found a place to rest that was like Hava-Salva. We sat two weeks in this clean, comfortable place where the soldiers were divided into different regiments. It was my fate to be sent to the 13th Regiment which was to be stationed in what was once called Tarnapol and now called Aperis in Hungary. After traveling a few hours, we came to Aperis.

When I and some friends from Stanislau came to Aperis, we were brought to a camp which was outside of town. If we suffered those 28 days of moving back and forth, it was nothing compared to what we had in Aperis. The barracks where they sent us were literally the Plagues of Egypt, especially the third one. כנים (lice) They were in the cloths, in the beds and in you. It was a plague. We were hungry for bread. We received a loaf as a ration for four days at a time. What was the reason? The commander of the camp cooked and fed those that came from the camp, Rashega. They got the food from their funds. The commander of Rashega said that we were under their command and they are obligated to feed the next group. Between this and that, it was terrible and we suffered from hunger. There was not even a small kiosk in the camp for a cup of water. It was totally forbidden to leave the camp. If someone was caught, the punishment was for the whole camp. No one could leave the camp for three days. A drunken gentile from their camp sinned in a whorehouse and we were the sinners. On the third day we had an opportunity to send a message to Rabbi Damta to save us. He helped us and brought us an amount of bread. Like a pack of wild hungry animals, including gentiles, we fell on the gift. My friend, Eliezer Rice and I were lucky to have one loaf between us. Of course, we paid. Five days we suffered in this hell.

From the day that we left out city we wandered from exile to exile for 33 days. It reminded me of the day I went to the officer to be tested for the army. The head army doctor, Rapp, was a doctor for many years in Kolomyea. He was a relative of my friend, Yonah Ashkenazi. My daughter, Taube, brought a letter to Rapp with a recommendation. He found defects in my body and ordered to send me to the village of Nad-Sharsh. This was a center where sick people were sent home, to be cured and retested in the town of Kashoi. In Nad-Sharsh in the hospital at Kashoi I spent 33 days.

From the hospital in Kashoi I was sent to the 15th regiment that was in Aperis in Kasarkatin. I succeeded in getting permission to live outside the camp, rented a room and found kosher food. In this place I found time to rest and free time for spiritual activities with people I knew. With the help of the sons of R’Damta, I was satisfied for a short time.

(Pages 77/78/79)

I, Abraham, was going to travel. After three months that I spent in Aperis, I received an order to transfer to a camp for incompetent soldiers in the town of Bilitz-Bitla in western Galicia. Once again I was to be checked out for all that was physically flawed. All the tests were excellent. The Jewish Galicianer doctor found me fully fit to carry a gun. He did not check my eyes. I was sent to the nearby town of Lavnitz to practice the art of shooting and guarding. Again I found a place to live outside the camp, and got a limited amount of kosher food. After three months I moved to the town of Deitch-Libui in Moravia.

(Grandfather notes at the top of page 78 that he describes his experience in Nad-Sharsh in 1916 which he already wrote about.)

I spent about twenty day in the month of Adar, 1916, during Purim in the village of Nad-Sharsh. After I was examined by the army officer and then by Dr. Benjamin Rapp, I was found to be ill and was sent to the hospital to be cured. I was sent to a village where there were barracks for all the sick soldiers to be sent as a group to the hospital in Kashoi. The village was eight to ten kilometers from Aperis. This village had Slovaks and Hungarians. There were about thirty Jewish families who made their living from a tavern, selling all kinds of merchandise needed for life. The Jews built a small Beit Knesset where they prayed on Shabbat and holidays. The night and day of Purim, I came to the Beit Knesset and listened to the reading of the Megillah. One of the Jews, head of the village community committee in Aperis (I forgot his name, may he be remembered), invited the Jewish soldiers to a Purim feast. He also gave a long speech on the joy of the day and blessed us to remain safe. May his memory be blessed.

The Jews of Aperis treated the Jewish soldiers in the same manners for the Pesach holiday. The Rabbi and the community committee hosted almost 500 guests in a large hall. On the table there were matzoth and wine and all kinds of food for the eight day holiday. The Rabbi gave a speech on the first day before all the participants, who were traditionally leaning (מסובים), about the problems of the day. He blessed us and that our activities should succeed to the benefit of the country and we all should be saved from danger.

Most of the people of the town treated us very well. They sold bread cheaper to the soldiers. The quarter of a bread that we got from the government did not satisfy our hunger. One woman, whose name I forgot, took it upon herself to sell us bread everyday. There was also a Jewish merchant of cheese and butter, N. Leibovitz, who gave us a portion of kosher cheese and butter, at cost. There was a restaurant where some of the Jewish soldiers went for a light meal, coffee, tea and a roll. They wouldn’t take any money. May their names and memory be blessed. There is no doubt that they were all victims of the murdering Nazis. Amen תנצבה'

After three months of not doing too much in Lavnitz, those who were fit to stand on guard duty with a gun were sent to Deitch-Libui in Moravia. In this village there was a small army hospital and a small camp. The head of the hospital, Dr. Atlas and his helper N. Weinrab, were both known to me from Stanislau. I learned from them that there was no large army camp or prisoner of war camp at this place. We did not really know why we were here. The inhabitants of this town were German farmers. Each had a small house with a fruit and vegetable garden. In the village I enjoyed the fresh air and gardens full of fruit. On both sides of the main road there were apple, pear and plum trees and all who passed was allowed to enjoy and pick them. I found a room with a German, since there were no Jews in the area. I found food and drink according to my needs for which I paid. I had found total rest. Was it to find air and rest that I was sent here? I didn’t find a solution to this riddle. I approached Dr. Atlas for his help as to why we were in this village. He did not answer my question.

(Page 79)

After two weeks of rest, we were moved to the village of Sigmund-Hertzberg in Austria. In this village there was a large prisoner of war camp with about 30,000 prisoners from different countries. The officer in charge was the Ober-Lieutenant and a group of his helpers. On Monday, I was on guard duty day and night and after a few days I was relieved for a day of rest. In this place I did not find a room to stay. Getting food was difficult. I did not eat the non-kosher food and there was very little bread.

Rosh Hashanah' תרעז (Sept. 1916), about 30 Jews from our camp organized a place in Karsarktin for prayers without a shofar or a Torah. I didn’t finish one prayer when “Feldwebel, an evil Pole who was on duty” approached me. He gave me an order to immediately bring prisoners from one village to another village and then other prisoners to work in the fields to help the farmers. It didn’t help me that I asked to be released and not sin on this holy day. For several hours, I and three prisoners were on the train. By evening, I was on my way to the head of the village to hand over the prisoners. We came to a small stream where I let the prisoners sit and rest while I poured my heart out with the prayer Tashlich. תשליך with what I remembered. My eyes filled with tears of sorrow to add to the bitter cup of the Jewish People עם ישראל in all the lands of the Diaspora.

I handed over the prisoners to the head of the village and was invited to eat the evening meal at his table and sleep there. Since there was no hotel or restaurant, I gratefully accepted his invitation. After praying Mariv מעריב, with many tears, in a small corner, I sat down to eat. There were cooked potatoes with milk soup, enough for someone as I, who had not eaten all day. The following morning, the head of the village gave me three prisoners to return to the camp by train. I handed over the prisoners and still had time to participate in the prayers Mosach מוסך for the second day of Rosh Hashanah תרעז' 1916.

The guard work that I did caused me to suffer physically and spiritually. I requested to talk with the head of the post office in the camp, Oberlieutenant, a Viennese German, whose name was Linde. He was a Christian Socialist. They were known to hate Jews but were cultured people. I spilled out my heart to him of my being an older person with bad eyes who was doing hard work. My words found a sympathetic ear. He arranged work for me inside the post office, sorting the letters of the incoming mail and to deliver them to the peole in the camp. It was so good to work in this warm office every day with just a few hours on the outside.

(Pages 79/80)

This pleasant work did not last long. I was sentenced to constant travel in this bitter exile. I received sad news by telegram from my daughter, Taube, who was in the town of Parlitz in Moravia. She requested that I come to her immediately since my son Joseph was dangerously ill in the hospital. She needed my advice about the terrible situation. I showed the telegram to the officer in charge, Ober Lieutenant, and requested that he give me a week’s leave to travel. He agreed to my request. I came to Parlitz and found my son seriously ill. I stayed there three days and encouraged the doctors to continue their good work and I prayed for a healthy recovery. Taube was there with her two brothers and what I found there will be on the next page of the diary.

Since I was here, I took the opportunity to fulfill my holy duty to visit my son Aaron who was in the village of Mar in Hungary. He was eighteen and a soldier in the cavalry who took care of two horses, training and riding them. I was horrified to see him in this difficult situation. This was in addition to my troubles and the situation of my son in Parlitz. I approached the commanding officer of the camp to ease the work of my young and weak son. I suggested that my son was capable of working in an office with accounts and books. The officer promised me that he would fulfill my request. He did not notify my son and did not do anything. I left my son with tears and a pained heart. I left him as much money as I could.

I returned to my permanent camp, Sigmund Hertzberg, after my visit to my daughter Taube in Parlitz and my son Aaron in Mar. When I went to the post office to work, I was notified by the Ober Lieutenant Linde, that someone took my place while I was away and he could not remove him. This was despite the fact that he was satisfied with my work. He tried to find work that was suitable for me in another office. This German non-Jew did this even though he was not a Jew lover.

He followed through on what he said. After a month of guard duty, an order came from the Viennese General Commander with these words, “Ober Lieutenant Linde recommended that the soldier, A. Keusch, be given work connected to writing and numbers, and be sent immediately to the post office in the city of Knietalfeld, Tyrol”. On the same day I was on my way to Knietalfeld. When I arrived, I gave my orders to the Captain for the unit and his helper Feldwebel, a German from Vienna. He brought me to the manager of the post office who was born in Tyrol and was dressed as a civilian. I heard a sharp argument between them. The manager said that there was no place for me as a clerk. The Feldwebel and he came to a compromise. They would give me work suitable for the manager even if it was humiliating.

If I didn’t have enough problems, on July l, 1915, there was a proclamation that people my age from 48-50 had to be tested for the army. On the 5th of July, it was posted that all those that had been scheduled for the army on January 16th, were to congregate not later than July 7th at Beit Kasarktin, close to the railroad station. (*note The above dates are not clear. It is our assumption that there was another proclamation. We think he went into the army in January. RDK) Everyone who was called came there that evening. There were train cars for two legged animals and four legged animals. There were about twenty of us who knew each other from Stanislau. We were in the second class and grabbed seats. We had no idea where we were going. After the train headed south, through Dalatin, we understood we were traveling toward Hungary.

After traveling that night and the next day, we arrived at a small station Hava-Salva in the neighborhood of the station Karasmachi, the border of Poland-Hungary. We found a place in one of the large barracks but we could not get any rest that night lying on bare boards. There was a stove in every corner but they felt there was no need for fire in these cold days. There was a room for washing and a line for hanging cloths. We spent three days in these barracks. We were examined and given shots by the doctor. The Jews didn’t get any food or drink but they had some food from home. The gentiles got pieces of bread and a little black water, so called coffee. We slept on the hard boards and even though there were stoves, there was no heat and it was very cold.

After three days, we received orders to put the equipment on our shoulders and leave the barracks. It was five in the morning and the snow was up to our knees. We climbed a steep cliff following each other like a herd of pigs to slaughter. We came to these huts that were built like shepherds shacks. The sleeping quarters were shelves with the width like the branch of a large tree. In each shack was a small stove but there was no wood for heating. Outside were tiny cubicles for toilets, covered with branches and no place to sit. In this area there were sixty animals, so called humans. A soldier was lucky if he could grab a shelf for himself. The rest stood crowded, day and night. Most of us sixty animals were gentiles and the air was impossible to breath. Most of the hours, day and night, I remained outside despite the freezing snow and cold. The kitchen and the water well were down in the valley. In order to get to the kitchen and the water, it was necessary to descend thirty meters through the snow which was up to your knees. Some used a stick and some slid down on their hands and knees. The gentiles received cooked food from the small kitchen. We, the Jews, who would not eat treif (non kosher) got a small ration of bread for four days. Zvi Genger from Stanislau brought us tea twice a day. May God think of him and bless him. Twice we were permitted to see the doctor and nurse who came to give us shots and to throw out those who were unfit.

For eleven days we were confined to these huts. In the evening we received orders to pack and move out. We hoped to return to Hava-Salva which was about four kilometers away, but we made a mistake. Six hundred animals with packs on their backs chased by the cold and snow walked thirteen kilometers to the Karasmachi station. There was a sin on top of the crime. For whatever reason, we returned that night to the camp from which we came and arrived back there in the morning. (*note There is the right way, the wrong way and the army way. RDK) Some of us rebelled and refused to go back, because of exhaustion.

(Pages 76/77)

We found a more humane place to sleep. (Grandfather adds a repetition of the above movement of troops and questions the logic of it all. RDK) The second day after we came to Hava-Salva, the chief officer of the camp, who took care of these arrangements, gave us a long speech. “Being that we are now in a difficult period of war, you should know that life is difficult, especially for the soldier. You are to be praised and admired for fulfilling your duty as citizens. I tried to treat you with sympathy, make your work easier and find for you suitable quarters with food and rest. Did I fulfill my promises?” טרף זית בפיו (The wolf had an olive branch in his mouth) He tried to ease the discontent.

The following morning, the soldiers returned in the afternoon from the Carpathian Mountains to Karasmachi. We were in the village and found complete rest and sleep. We had food and drink according to our taste and I paid with my money. We rejoined the main group. After traveling on a train for 21 hours, we arrived some place in Hungary, a village Ragashi. We were brought to barracks and found a place to rest that was like Hava-Salva. We sat two weeks in this clean, comfortable place where the soldiers were divided into different regiments. It was my fate to be sent to the 13th Regiment which was to be stationed in what was once called Tarnapol and now called Aperis in Hungary. After traveling a few hours, we came to Aperis.

When I and some friends from Stanislau came to Aperis, we were brought to a camp which was outside of town. If we suffered those 28 days of moving back and forth, it was nothing compared to what we had in Aperis. The barracks where they sent us were literally the Plagues of Egypt, especially the third one. כנים (lice) They were in the cloths, in the beds and in you. It was a plague. We were hungry for bread. We received a loaf as a ration for four days at a time. What was the reason? The commander of the camp cooked and fed those that came from the camp, Rashega. They got the food from their funds. The commander of Rashega said that we were under their command and they are obligated to feed the next group. Between this and that, it was terrible and we suffered from hunger. There was not even a small kiosk in the camp for a cup of water. It was totally forbidden to leave the camp. If someone was caught, the punishment was for the whole camp. No one could leave the camp for three days. A drunken gentile from their camp sinned in a whorehouse and we were the sinners. On the third day we had an opportunity to send a message to Rabbi Damta to save us. He helped us and brought us an amount of bread. Like a pack of wild hungry animals, including gentiles, we fell on the gift. My friend, Eliezer Rice and I were lucky to have one loaf between us. Of course, we paid. Five days we suffered in this hell.

From the day that we left out city we wandered from exile to exile for 33 days. It reminded me of the day I went to the officer to be tested for the army. The head army doctor, Rapp, was a doctor for many years in Kolomyea. He was a relative of my friend, Yonah Ashkenazi. My daughter, Taube, brought a letter to Rapp with a recommendation. He found defects in my body and ordered to send me to the village of Nad-Sharsh. This was a center where sick people were sent home, to be cured and retested in the town of Kashoi. In Nad-Sharsh in the hospital at Kashoi I spent 33 days.

From the hospital in Kashoi I was sent to the 15th regiment that was in Aperis in Kasarkatin. I succeeded in getting permission to live outside the camp, rented a room and found kosher food. In this place I found time to rest and free time for spiritual activities with people I knew. With the help of the sons of R’Damta, I was satisfied for a short time.

(Pages 77/78/79)

I, Abraham, was going to travel. After three months that I spent in Aperis, I received an order to transfer to a camp for incompetent soldiers in the town of Bilitz-Bitla in western Galicia. Once again I was to be checked out for all that was physically flawed. All the tests were excellent. The Jewish Galicianer doctor found me fully fit to carry a gun. He did not check my eyes. I was sent to the nearby town of Lavnitz to practice the art of shooting and guarding. Again I found a place to live outside the camp, and got a limited amount of kosher food. After three months I moved to the town of Deitch-Libui in Moravia.

(Grandfather notes at the top of page 78 that he describes his experience in Nad-Sharsh in 1916 which he already wrote about.)

I spent about twenty day in the month of Adar, 1916, during Purim in the village of Nad-Sharsh. After I was examined by the army officer and then by Dr. Benjamin Rapp, I was found to be ill and was sent to the hospital to be cured. I was sent to a village where there were barracks for all the sick soldiers to be sent as a group to the hospital in Kashoi. The village was eight to ten kilometers from Aperis. This village had Slovaks and Hungarians. There were about thirty Jewish families who made their living from a tavern, selling all kinds of merchandise needed for life. The Jews built a small Beit Knesset where they prayed on Shabbat and holidays. The night and day of Purim, I came to the Beit Knesset and listened to the reading of the Megillah. One of the Jews, head of the village community committee in Aperis (I forgot his name, may he be remembered), invited the Jewish soldiers to a Purim feast. He also gave a long speech on the joy of the day and blessed us to remain safe. May his memory be blessed.

The Jews of Aperis treated the Jewish soldiers in the same manners for the Pesach holiday. The Rabbi and the community committee hosted almost 500 guests in a large hall. On the table there were matzoth and wine and all kinds of food for the eight day holiday. The Rabbi gave a speech on the first day before all the participants, who were traditionally leaning (מסובים), about the problems of the day. He blessed us and that our activities should succeed to the benefit of the country and we all should be saved from danger.

Most of the people of the town treated us very well. They sold bread cheaper to the soldiers. The quarter of a bread that we got from the government did not satisfy our hunger. One woman, whose name I forgot, took it upon herself to sell us bread everyday. There was also a Jewish merchant of cheese and butter, N. Leibovitz, who gave us a portion of kosher cheese and butter, at cost. There was a restaurant where some of the Jewish soldiers went for a light meal, coffee, tea and a roll. They wouldn’t take any money. May their names and memory be blessed. There is no doubt that they were all victims of the murdering Nazis. Amen תנצבה'

After three months of not doing too much in Lavnitz, those who were fit to stand on guard duty with a gun were sent to Deitch-Libui in Moravia. In this village there was a small army hospital and a small camp. The head of the hospital, Dr. Atlas and his helper N. Weinrab, were both known to me from Stanislau. I learned from them that there was no large army camp or prisoner of war camp at this place. We did not really know why we were here. The inhabitants of this town were German farmers. Each had a small house with a fruit and vegetable garden. In the village I enjoyed the fresh air and gardens full of fruit. On both sides of the main road there were apple, pear and plum trees and all who passed was allowed to enjoy and pick them. I found a room with a German, since there were no Jews in the area. I found food and drink according to my needs for which I paid. I had found total rest. Was it to find air and rest that I was sent here? I didn’t find a solution to this riddle. I approached Dr. Atlas for his help as to why we were in this village. He did not answer my question.

(Page 79)

After two weeks of rest, we were moved to the village of Sigmund-Hertzberg in Austria. In this village there was a large prisoner of war camp with about 30,000 prisoners from different countries. The officer in charge was the Ober-Lieutenant and a group of his helpers. On Monday, I was on guard duty day and night and after a few days I was relieved for a day of rest. In this place I did not find a room to stay. Getting food was difficult. I did not eat the non-kosher food and there was very little bread.

Rosh Hashanah' תרעז (Sept. 1916), about 30 Jews from our camp organized a place in Karsarktin for prayers without a shofar or a Torah. I didn’t finish one prayer when “Feldwebel, an evil Pole who was on duty” approached me. He gave me an order to immediately bring prisoners from one village to another village and then other prisoners to work in the fields to help the farmers. It didn’t help me that I asked to be released and not sin on this holy day. For several hours, I and three prisoners were on the train. By evening, I was on my way to the head of the village to hand over the prisoners. We came to a small stream where I let the prisoners sit and rest while I poured my heart out with the prayer Tashlich. תשליך with what I remembered. My eyes filled with tears of sorrow to add to the bitter cup of the Jewish People עם ישראל in all the lands of the Diaspora.

I handed over the prisoners to the head of the village and was invited to eat the evening meal at his table and sleep there. Since there was no hotel or restaurant, I gratefully accepted his invitation. After praying Mariv מעריב, with many tears, in a small corner, I sat down to eat. There were cooked potatoes with milk soup, enough for someone as I, who had not eaten all day. The following morning, the head of the village gave me three prisoners to return to the camp by train. I handed over the prisoners and still had time to participate in the prayers Mosach מוסך for the second day of Rosh Hashanah תרעז' 1916.

The guard work that I did caused me to suffer physically and spiritually. I requested to talk with the head of the post office in the camp, Oberlieutenant, a Viennese German, whose name was Linde. He was a Christian Socialist. They were known to hate Jews but were cultured people. I spilled out my heart to him of my being an older person with bad eyes who was doing hard work. My words found a sympathetic ear. He arranged work for me inside the post office, sorting the letters of the incoming mail and to deliver them to the peole in the camp. It was so good to work in this warm office every day with just a few hours on the outside.

(Pages 79/80)

This pleasant work did not last long. I was sentenced to constant travel in this bitter exile. I received sad news by telegram from my daughter, Taube, who was in the town of Parlitz in Moravia. She requested that I come to her immediately since my son Joseph was dangerously ill in the hospital. She needed my advice about the terrible situation. I showed the telegram to the officer in charge, Ober Lieutenant, and requested that he give me a week’s leave to travel. He agreed to my request. I came to Parlitz and found my son seriously ill. I stayed there three days and encouraged the doctors to continue their good work and I prayed for a healthy recovery. Taube was there with her two brothers and what I found there will be on the next page of the diary.

Since I was here, I took the opportunity to fulfill my holy duty to visit my son Aaron who was in the village of Mar in Hungary. He was eighteen and a soldier in the cavalry who took care of two horses, training and riding them. I was horrified to see him in this difficult situation. This was in addition to my troubles and the situation of my son in Parlitz. I approached the commanding officer of the camp to ease the work of my young and weak son. I suggested that my son was capable of working in an office with accounts and books. The officer promised me that he would fulfill my request. He did not notify my son and did not do anything. I left my son with tears and a pained heart. I left him as much money as I could.

I returned to my permanent camp, Sigmund Hertzberg, after my visit to my daughter Taube in Parlitz and my son Aaron in Mar. When I went to the post office to work, I was notified by the Ober Lieutenant Linde, that someone took my place while I was away and he could not remove him. This was despite the fact that he was satisfied with my work. He tried to find work that was suitable for me in another office. This German non-Jew did this even though he was not a Jew lover.

He followed through on what he said. After a month of guard duty, an order came from the Viennese General Commander with these words, “Ober Lieutenant Linde recommended that the soldier, A. Keusch, be given work connected to writing and numbers, and be sent immediately to the post office in the city of Knietalfeld, Tyrol”. On the same day I was on my way to Knietalfeld. When I arrived, I gave my orders to the Captain for the unit and his helper Feldwebel, a German from Vienna. He brought me to the manager of the post office who was born in Tyrol and was dressed as a civilian. I heard a sharp argument between them. The manager said that there was no place for me as a clerk. The Feldwebel and he came to a compromise. They would give me work suitable for the manager even if it was humiliating.

(Pages 80/81)

The Captain gave me permission to live outside and eat at my own expense. I rented a room and found friends who were refugees from the war, family Heisler from Kosov and Peretz Zussman from Zablotov. I visited them and found kosher food by Heisler. I took part in community prayers. I found Jews in the town who were born in Eretz Israel, most of them refugees. I also found a Beit HaKnesset.

My first week’s work at the post office was to receive letters and packages, arrange them and bring them to the train. The second week I worked outside delivering mail to the train, three or four times a day. I had to give it to the postal clerk on the train and receive a receipt. This was hard work. I often had to get up at three or four in the morning. I often came from the train at midnight bringing the mail and arranging it. Sometimes due to snow, the train would be late an hour or two and I would have to wait tired and exhausted. The third week I had to bring mail and sometimes large amounts of money to the main post office with help of two prisoners. We walked on the train tracks about two kilometers from the camp. There I had to deliver everything and get receipts. This took a half hour and sometimes more.

There were twelve clerks and some of them were slow at their work. The manager found that I was suitable to serve him. In spite of that, he wanted me to clean the post office. I refused this order. The Captain sent the Feldwebel to advise the post office manager that Keusch was sent to him as a clerk and he had no right to demand him to do janitorial work.

The week that I was in charge of the two prisoners, I took the mail from the camp to the main branch in town. I was busy inside taking and giving mail which took about an hour. I found satisfaction from this serious work even though it was difficult. This activity was important to the world, to good health and the situation in which we found ourselves. At the time I was in the post office, the two prisoners were outside without supervision. They took this opportunity to buy a few supplies in the general store to sell in the prisoner camp to those who were very hungry. At that day, an inspecting officer came to the post office and found this situation. Who is guilty of this sin, if not me, because I am responsible for these prisoners. The Ober Lieutenant came in to the post office to question me in a very sharp manner.

“You gave permission to criminals to do business and other underhanded things.”

On a sin like this there is no forgiveness. The end of a sin is punishment. The evil officer made a report to the officer in charge of the battalion and I was found guilty. If I did not succeed where I was, I had to return to my unit in Aperis. Grandfather reminds himself of a similar incident. On the way from Kneitalfeld, Tyrol to Aperis, I passed the city of Vienna where I spent three days.

(Page 81)

I visited the young girl, Taube Meltzer, daughter of Chaim (his mother was a Meltzer). She received me with open arms and took me to a good restaurant. I spent several pleasant days there . I was brought to Mordechai Keusch who worked in an army factory which dealt with wood. I requested the manager to take me in as a worker since I was an expert in the field. He apologized that he had no authority to take me from my unit without the permission of the officer in charge. He did give me a letter and a request to my battalion that I be sent to him when there was need for addition personnel. When I arrive in Aperis, I handed in the letter and was sent on guard duty. Guard duty was always the solution. How do I get out of this duty? How many sinners are in prison like the rotten mattresses that are useless? It is obvious this humiliating work saddened me. I felt physically exhausted. I approached the Jewish battalion doctor Unger. After I gave him a bribe of some money, he sent me for a check up on my eyesight and weak body and uncontrolled bladder. In stead of sending me to the hospital, he sent me to the camp in Nad-Sharsh where I was for fourteen days.

I was surprised by an order to appear before the head officer of the battalion, Ober Lieutenant. He demanded that I describe the purpose of the wood factory in Vienna. He was upset with the secretary of the battalion. Why was I not doing serious work for the glory of the country? There was now a request for me from the army officer in Vienna. I requested the right to wear a yellow strip on my shoulder, a sign of the intelligence section because I was a merchant of the first guild, a man of culture and vision and worthy of this mark. I should be released from all degrading work. He agreed to this and raised me to the rank of outstanding soldier. This put me in the ranks of writers with the right to go to school and the ability to raise my rank to corporal.

I hoped that words that came from the officer would be realized and that I would immediately be sent to Vienna. The manager in Vienna promised to pay me ten Keter a day for my work. Again I was disappointed. The lower level officer was angry with me because he received a complaint from his officer who was in charge. He changed the orders and instead of Vienna, he sent me to the town of Avnitz, which was a center for deploying soldiers to various places.

Avnitz was close to the town of Bilitz, and Bilitz-Biala. I arrived a few days before Pesach תרטז' 1917. I found five hundred Jews suffering from hunger. The commanding Captain, Bazrad, was a cruel and evil person who didn’t care that these troops were suffering. A few days before the holiday, we asked to arrange that the kitchen be koshered for Pesach for the Jews. He refused our request. We went to the community counsel of Bilitz and the Rabbi Dr. Stein, used all his connections in high places. He succeeded for the kitchen and food to be kosher for Pesach.

(Pages 81/82)

As with all promises, all the food came just as the sun set before the holiday. The food was sent from Bilitz by the government, potatoes, eggs, etc. and there was not enough time to cook before the Sabbath. The matzoth were divided so that each man was to receive five pieces of matzoth for all the days of the holiday. I and my friends that waited in line for about two hours to get our portion were not on the list and did not get any matzoth. Rabbi Dr. Stein organized the Seder for all the 1500 Jewish soldiers in the area of Biala and Bilitz. We invited the soldiers from Lavnitz. Due to the negligence in the apportioning of the matzoth, there was no matzoth left for the soldiers who came from Lavnitz and the Seder had ended.

With disappointment, 500 hungry and thirsty soldiers returned through the mud and rain which fell that night. “בהא לחמא עניא” There was food for all and they left with nothing. They left insulted and offended.

(Page 82 (An additional comment by grandfather))

I want to comment on the trial against me when I worked in the post office in the town of Kneitalfeld, Tyrol in 1916 or 1917. The trial was conducted according to standard operating procedure of the army when getting a request and report from the commanding officer. A specific time was set and those who were reported and the accusers waited in line. The Judge, a Captain and someone superior to him, went to the first person. The accused or the accuser gave his testimony and had to present it all in simple language. The decision was made at once. (Generally positive) If the decision is accepted by the accuser, the case is finished. If not accepted, this group waits until the end of the report.

At the trial, the Ober Lieutenant testified against me that he found two prisoners with food that they had bought while I delivered mail to the post office. I had not been brought before my Captain (a German, I think an honest man) but was called to his office in the presence of his secretary, Feldwebel, a German hater of Jews. I stood there like an ordinary soldier just like one stands before a civilian judge. The Captain read the accusation which covered a full page. I requested to speak. I spoke about three quarters of an hour. I had to pass over to the post office, valuables and a large sum of money. How could I watch the prisoners who didn’t do anything terrible except to buy food for the hungry? Another important matter: the Feldwebel passed me over to the post office manager to perform hard work. I explained that an old man like me, had to work all day and most of the night and still was accused and humiliated? When the Captain heard my testimony, he looked at the Feldwebel with a look of distain. He asked, wasn’t he sent from a higher authority to be a clerk for the post office and not a simple laborer? He put me back into the post office. The trial ended and I was acquitted.

(Pages 82/83)

After an hour the Feldwebel came to fulfill his orders. He angrily attacked me. “I made a mistake you nasty Jew.” You are not going to the post office. I’m sending you back to where you came, the 15th Regiment in Aperis. When I heard his sharp words, I answered him respectfully. I thanked him and apologized for my mistake and said I was happy to be returning to my family. The bad that I expected turned into a favor. This nasty person changed the order on his own. Who will tell him what to do? Nobody would notice that he changed the order. Power rules over Power and there is always one more Powerful. The next day at noon, I was on the way to Aperis.

(End of Grandfather’s comment)

I found a place for the days of Pesach with someone I knew well from Stanislau, R’Meir Kreiner, who now lives in Bila. A guest brings a guest which is acceptable during Pessach. With the agreement of Meir and his wife, I brought my friend, R’Yoel Ratstein who could not find a place for the Seder He was a friend from the Community Committee and owned a large farm in Tarnapol. We celebrated according to law; ritual matzot, red wine and cooked food. The guests were mostly Jewish soldiers from Stanislau. They were invited to celebrate the days of Pesach and fulfill the Mitzvot of having guests. The beautiful Seder finished after midnight. I and my friends stayed to rest several hours without any sleep. The Captain had given an order that no one was to leave the camp and there was to be an inspection on the morning of Pesach. Anyone not present would be seriously punished. We hurried to return in time. There was non stop rain and snow and we had towalk about eight kilometers. We arrived in the camp in Lavnitz feeling miserable on the night of Pesach. The rest of the camp was still in bed and the nasty Captain never showed. We returned to Bila for the festive lunch.

Two days after the holiday of Pesach we ran into a shocking situation. There were twenty Jewish soldiers who would not eat treif (non-kosher) food. A refugee from Galicia who came to live in Lavnitz was asked to prepare kosher food for us. That same day we were sitting at lunch eating a thin piece of bread and watery soup with some cooked prunes. Before we finished eating, the Captain and ten soldiers surrounded the house. The Captain came into the house and spoke harshly to the man and his wife. He told us to get out of the house because our sin was eating special food outside the camp. The soldiers took us to the guardhouse and we were arrested and there we found Rabbis Horovitz and Rotstein who were from Alitz, Galicia, who did not find a place for the Seder.

(Page 83)

How were we to find a solution and meaning of this arrest? The crime was eating outside the camp and paying for it. No crime can be punished without a trial which requires a penalty and jail. After three days there was a compromise. The complaint was sent to the General Commander in Bilitz-Biala. Of course we Jews were as usual in the middle. The complaint was that food had been sent for the 500 Jewish soldiers in Lavnitz for the eight days of the holiday. The Captain received an order to investigate the situation, in order to clear him and to catch the thieves. The non-Jew Feldwebel and others created a libel against the Jews who were eating a thin piece of bread and soup with some prunes in it, in a private house.

After eight days in jail, the prisoners were taken out under an armed guard to the office of the General Commander in Bilitz. The trial was held according to civilian law with three judges and the Head General as one of them. We were given freedom to defend ourselves. By chance, it was my fate to be the first defense witness. Afterwards there were two others who spoke at length on all the details and the hardship that we suffered. They spoke about the kosher meals that we received in the house of the Jewish refugee who performed a blessing of serving us some cooked food. After the judges consulted for less than an hour, we received the order to return to camp. The General expressed sorrow to us for what happened. We were found not guilty. If the investigation continued on the stolen food we don’t know. The Captain got a reprimand and retired from the army.

All the days of Pesach I ate at R’Meir, who is mentioned above, even before I asked them to be their guest, I offered to pay them. He and his wife were good people and agreed that I come but did not agree to take money. I found a good way to pay my debt to them. His brother in Stanislau had no work and I was able to give him a helping hand. Ratstein paid our debt by hiring the brother.

In Lavnitz, the camp of the misfits, they chose a group of eighty to work. Men who knew languages and how to write were sent to a school to learn arithmetic and bookkeeping, I was among them. This school had smart army officers and was in the town of Master in Herzegovina. After a few days of travel, we arrived in Master and were assigned to the Italian battalion number 22. They gave the eighty of us a barracks on the hill and the kitchen was in this barracks. The schedule of the school were exercises and drills with arms in the morning and in the afternoon, we studied. After about two months of study, we would be sent to the rear area, away from the front line.

(Pages 83/84)

I asked myself, “Is this what I prayed for? Why do I need this trouble?” I reported to the Ober Lieutenant, who I thought might be a Jew, and described my situation. I told him I was old with weak eyes, knew how to write in Yiddish, Hebrew and a foreign language that I learned in my youth. He said he would refer the case to the General Commander and in the mean time he would release me. I would now guard the barracks in order to pay for my meals.

I did not set my foot out of the barracks all day. I had a Talit, Tfillim, and Sefer Tihillim. I didn’t have another book so I occupied myself with them most of the day. It fed my soul with this spiritual activity. I found no Jewish house where I could find a Hebrew book. I didn’t find any kind of book among my friends. All the Jews that lived in Master were boors, עם הארץ, Sephardim, speaking Slavish. They had no Beit HaKnesset and not even the New Style Temple. They stood in the open to learn and pray. During Shavuot, even with three of us soldiers, they prayed without a Minyon. Neither the Rabbi nor the Shochat could reply to my questions with a word of Hebrew. They prayed in the Slavish or Spanish language which was prepared for them by non-Jews.

The weather in the summertime was very difficult, going up to 40 degrees centigrade. From ten in the morning until four in the afternoon no one was outside. I spent six weeks in this barracks without going out night or day. We were eighty Jewish comrades without anyone from home and only food from the army kitchen. They treated with respect and did not make me do hard or humiliating work. The officers of the battalion fulfilled my requests. I found rest and self-satisfaction. It is necessary to remember my relationship with the secretary of the battalion, the Feldwebel. On the day of the holiday Shavuot, the Kaiser ordered that all men who were fifty and older to be released from the army. That day while I was praying, the Feldwebel came to the Beit HaKnesset to tell me that I was being discharged. The following day, Isra Chag, I received all the necessary documents in my hand. I went on my way wearing an army uniform which I received as a gift.

On July 8, 1917 I left the town of Master. The way to Galicia was closed and the Russian enemy was still in control. I received a pass to go to Vienna. Expenses and travel on the train were free. On Tuesday, after a hard trip, I arrived in Vienna. The slave was free from the burden of strangers.

I thought about the reason and purpose of this army service. What work did I do that accomplished anything? Eighteen months of hard work, a year and half under the cruel hand and for what? Why did they take people to the army to work at children’s games that have no value or use? What was my job in this period of time? What did I do for the good of country or the government? Why didn’t these immoral officers use us for useful and appropriate work?

(Page 84)

The government spent huge sums of money to this useless end, for this way was no way? Man against man, crises after crises, brought tragedy on us and all peoples. Wave follows wave and drowns everyone. During these eighteen useless months in the army, our businesses and property disappeared. Our sons were brought to rest by these horrible armies the new ones and the old ones. They are lying in ditches and holes at the front. How many have fallen and how many will fall and how many will be prisoners after the war? How many crippled and broken bodies will there be for the rest of their lives? To answer these questions and to say “Woe is me and my house and where are my sons? Woe is me for this generation who has lost belief and spiritually.” Standing here with all these details bear witness to these deeds. There is no need to contemplate them since it is already written in a diary of 400 pages in Yiddish. That was put together in my house in Stanislau. (Note* this last sentence seems disconnected and don’t know how it fits in. We do not know of any such book. RDK)

(Note* We had no knowledge of what happened to Abraham’s family during the time he was in the army. He now explains some of it.)

I arrived in Vienna and found my daughter Taube and her two younger brothers. She came about a month ago from the diaspora “Parlitz” where the camp was wiped out. It is hard to imagine what Taube went through at that time.

At the end of June 1915, after the Austrian soldiers recaptured Galicia including Stanislau, Taube returned home. She returned to her studies, her job, taking care of the house and her two brothers. Whenever she was free she helped my wife selling in the store of Max Avner in the market. When I left Stanislau to go into the army in the beginning of 1916, Taube took upon herself the difficult burden to take my place in business, traveling alone to Hungary, the towns of Sigat, Satmar and others, bought merchandise for the store that was opened in the market during the days of the war. She once bought with her own initiative, two train cars of nuts that were sent with a promise of payment in goods. She needed a large sum of money and found a partner. They ended up making a good profit.

When I was in the army and I was in the town of Aperis the first time, I had a letter of recommendation from my friend R’Yonah Ashkenazi זל'. The letter was to his brother, Dr. Rabb, who one of those who were testing those capable of army service, I was one of them. I delivered the letter to Dr. Rabb in his house with a request for mercy. He promised he would do what he could and kept his promise. He found me not fit for the army and I should be sent to the hospital to check my sight and my weak body. The second time that I had to see him, I didn’t come empty handed but with cash.

(Page 85)

The war resumed in Galicia at the end of 1916, in the area of Stanislav. Taube and her two brothers, Joseph and David, left the town to find shelter. This time, the government arranged for the refugees from Galicia to travel to safe places in Moravia. My daughter and her two brothers found a place to stay in Parlitz in Moravia. There several large barracks were ready for the refugees. There was a hospital run by a professor from Chernovitz. He hired Taube to work as a nurse in the hospital and because of her position they found food and lodging. At that time the disease Typhus broke out in the Parlitz camp. People died on all sides because this was a communicable disease. My son Joseph became sick and he was hospitalized. His sister took good care of him and sent me a telegram to come at once. On the basis of this telegram, the head of my camp gave me a pass for eight days. In Parlitz, the doctors did not allow me to go in. My daughter with the help of her friends, the other nurses, got me into the hospital at night. I sat three nights next to my son’s bed. He did not recognize me or say a word. I left on the fourth day with hopes that with God’s help he would recover. My hopes were fulfilled and my daughter sent me a telegram with the good news.

I found a room in Vienna on Ogartinstrasse at the address that Taube gave me. She found work for the government and translated Polish letters, took care of accounts for refugee problems and made a limited income. The government took the boys from Parlitz and put them in an orphanage in Vienna where they suffered from hunger. I tried to help the boys and I arranged a letter so that they could study. I had very little money left from the amount that my wife sent me. How would I earn a living? I found someone I knew Isaac Hirsh Rotenberg. We had kept in touch through business for many years. We made a contract to go into business. The first step was that I would go to western Galicia where the sawmills were and the enemy was not. I would buy a large amount of wood and bring it to Vienna.

After several days, I was on my way. A discharged soldier had a right to travel on the trains without paying. The trip was difficult and was still dangerous. Instead of a trip of several hours, it took several days. When the train got close to eastern Galicia we heard that the Germans again captured Stanislau. I decided to go home to Stanislau. The train got close to the station of Alitch and stopped there. There was no possibility to continue. I started to walk and after a number of hours I reached a town close to Stanislau. I found and paid for a wagon that would take me and got home safely that night. I found my wife and son Jacob healthy and well.

She gave me the bad news that before the Russians left the city they robbed the homes and stores of everything. Nothing was left. The damages came to about 30,000 Keter. In the basement my wife managed to hide ten sacks of flour and three thousand Keter. After several weeks, with this money I opened the store. The post office and the trains resumed their operation. After a few months I traveled to Vienna to bring my daughter and her brothers home. I also returned the money I received from Rotenberg. He was sorry that we cancelled the contract.

The long horrible war came to an end. The winners, the Allies, announced that all peoples could return to their homes and families including the Russians, the Austrians and the Germans. Now there began the fight between the Poles and the Ukrainians. The Poles claimed all of Galicia while the Ukrainians claimed east Galicia as theirs. At least 70% of the people claimed the land. War broke out between them. They all wanted the Jews to join their side. The war started and the first casualties were the Jews. In Lvov, the army of General Halir, an anti-Semite, attacked the Jews. They burned houses, destroyed Beit Knessets and holy books and killed about 60 Jews from Lvov and the surrounding area.

Content last updated Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 08:10 PM Mountain Standard Time

Zabolotiv, Ukraine
זבולוטוב

This page is hosted at no cost to the public by JewishGen, Inc., a non-profit corporation. If you feel there is a benefit to you in accessing this site, your JewishGen-erosity is appreciated.

Compiled by Ruth and David Keusch
Updated March 2013
Copyright © 2013 Ruth and David Keusch
Web Design by Alan Raskin