Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
End of WW1 – Polish and Ukrainian Pogroms and Massacres
The Jews that lived in eastern Galicia, in the three big towns of Lvov, Stryj and Stanislau, decided that they would not get involved in the Polish-Ukrainian conflict. They would be neutral in this situation. In November 11, 1918 there was a large general assembly from all the inhabitants of eastern Galicia. Special representatives came from all the cities and towns. They decided to form a National Council that would be in touch with the government that ruled eastern Galicia. There would be branches based in the three big cities with representatives chosen from each of the cities and they would be in contact with the Council in Lvov. In Stanislau, the majority of those chosen were Zionists. The members of the committee were Philip Lieberman, the owner of a yeast factory, the leader, Dr. Karl Alperin, the president of the community, who owned a large piece of land, Dr. Reuben Yanis, a member of the Polish Sejm (parliament) and me.
At that same general assembly meeting, it was decided to establish in all the town of eastern Galicia, an independent self-defense militia. It would consist of our people who were in the army at the front together with the Austrians and the Germans. We also would have officers and many soldiers who were in the Russian army. We had ex-soldiers of all ranks as well as those who were in the reserve. They all had personal weapons that they kept when everything fell apart and the soldiers ran to save their lives. A high ranking officer was chosen to be in charge under him were officers in each of the cities who would follow orders and they would be ready to fight.
(Note* Grandfather wrote about the “small Ukraine”. Throughout history, Galicia and the area around it was known as “Red Russia” really the Small Ukraine and the large area east of it, was the Ukraine with Kiev as the capital. RDK)
The Polish people, outside of being at war with the Small Ukraine, were also at war with the Bolsheviks that had set up their government in Russia. The battle lines reached Polish Warsaw. After the Russian Revolution at the end of 1917, Kerensky, an army man of great experience, established a democratic government in all areas of Russia. He will be well remembered by the Jews. He let them set up a National Council and gave them commercial freedom. His government did not last long. A heroic soldier sets up a dream and what is left is dead. Big Russia set up an independent country. The Poles came out victorious against the Bolsheviks who had come as far as Warsaw. They set up a government in all of White Russia. A government was set up in the big Ukraine which had many Jews. The capitol was Kiev where the president and the chosen government officials ruled. The conflict between Poland and Small Ukraine came to an end when west Galicia was taken over by the Poles, and east Galicia was taken by the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians made their capitol Stanislau choosing as the president, Lev Batchinsky, who was the head of the court. The vice-president was a former member of the Sejm and a general doctor of the hospital from the town of Dobritzki. They chose ministers for all purposes from their own group. They looked favorably on our National Council, (that had been set up for self-defense) and stayed in contact with it in regard to Jewish matters.
Small Ukraine was under the influence of the Big Ukraine in dealing with national and defense issues. Some of the officials in the government were Jews. In the honeymoon period of the two Ukraines, the Jews and the inhabitants of Galicia were given freedom according to the understanding of cultural people. The border between the two countries was open, commerce developed and merchants traveled freely.
For 500 Keter, I bought a license for three months to sell tobacco in my store. I traveled to the Big Ukraine to trade. The train was controlled by Ukrainian gangsters. In spite of this, commerce of all kinds prospered.
The government of the Big Ukraine allowed the Jewish National Counsel independence and permission to deal with laws, courts as well as freedom to deal with everyday life and business. They also chose a Jewish minister, to whom they gave official authority to defend the Jews in Big and Little Ukraine and protect their interests. The activities were granted and justice was provided by government officials. The spirit of freedom was felt in all the Jewish communities. With all this, nothing is perfect and lasts.
The democratic government of Kerensky in Russia fell as well as all those who ruled as he did. The new rulers were murderers in the spirit and image of Petlura. The various Ukrainian leaders grabbed whatever land they could. All the Ukrainians who had been under the heel of strangers and Tsars for generations took over the land and destroyed what had been established. They wiped out law, order and justice. They wiped out the laws of the previous government, eliminated the ministers and abolished the Jewish National Council. The Jews lost their freedom and now were hunted, arrested and killed in every area. Chaos reigned. It was Bolsheviks against the Poles against the Ukrainians and against each other with the Jews attacked by all. The Ukrainian leaders, Petlura and others, killed and destroyed the Jews as in the day of the murderer Chmelnitski ימ"ש may his memory be erased. Hundred of thousands of homes were robbed and destroyed. With blood, sword and fire, the Ukrainians left a tomb stone on our world. The Small Ukraine was jealous of her sister and she opened her mouth and ravished her Jewish neighbors. At the beginning of their government, the relationship between Ukrainian and Jew was as man to man, political and commercial. In the case of a disagreement, they approached the Jewish minister who was appointed by the Big and Small Ukrainian Government.
(Note*-The Ukraine was large and had an eastern and western area. Galicia was in the west. Galicia in turn had an eastern and a western section. There is confusion and then chaos. RDK)
Israel Waldman who had good connections with the Ukrainians for many years was chosen by the Jewish National Council as a minister. He was approved by the Ukrainian government. The Poles sentenced him to death and he fled. He worked for the benefit of the Jews from eastern Galicia through the government of the western Ukraine. In the east a government was set up under the leadership of Lev Batshinski who had seven of his friends as ministers. The head was Dr. Dobristki. The government was in the capitol, Stanislau. At that time the Jewish National Council had fifty members including myself, Dr. Karl Halperin, the head of the community, Dr. Reuben Yanis, a lawyer, a member of the Sejm was the president of the Council. They approached the head of the government and the ministers, in the name of the president of the Council and in the name of all the Jewish residents, that they receive equal rights like all other citizens of the country.
In reality the promises of the government were not fulfilled. All the restrictions of the past that were part of Jewish life were applied again. This affected their existence and their economics everywhere. Most of the Jewish inhabitants of the small villages went to live in the cities because they were concerned for their lives and the lives of their small children. When the small children went out to play, the children of the neighbors hit them. The non-Jewish neighbor stole everything that was in the house as well as what was produced from the fields. In the city it was the same. The soldiers destroyed and plundered the stalls and stores in the market, which was opposite my store.
The government clerks in the towns and in the capitol extorted money by means of the courts. Near my store there was a small dark corner that was used by the children to urinate. One day when I had not yet reached the corner, an armed soldier ran and grabbed my hand and said Come with me or I will beat you. He took me to the court at the citizen’s council building. I found there another ten sinners like myself. For an hour or two I heard the court and the sentences. It was not a real court but a kangaroo court. When it was my turn, I approached the judge. No question was asked. “Three days in jail or pay the jailer about ten dollars.” With no choice I paid.
Who was the judge, who judged harshly on the spilling of blood? He was a non-Jewish drunk that came from a whore house, who took pleasure in the flesh of women and wine, and sat in the judge’s seat. If a Jew was found dead in his house, his neighbor would steal all his property in spite of the police, the court or the authorities. The thief did not sleep in jail. At the end of the trial, the honorable judge would find there was not enough proof against an innocent man. There were attacks on Jews everywhere, everyday. Jewish businesses stopped because of the lack of security on the roads and stealing that went on during the day. I had a license to sell tobacco. Twice I traveled with cartons of tobacco that I bought in Scala on the border of the Ukraine. On the train, three of them were stolen.
An army officer from the town of Breshan came to my store to buy tobacco. He chose seven cartons of the best and most expensive tobacco. After a long negotiation about the price, he loaded the merchandise on to his wagon. In stead of paying me with hard currency, dollars, he took out a fistful of “Kerenskys” that were no longer of value. (Note*We assume this was money put out during the Kerensky period and was worthless after the November Revolution.) I went to court protesting this theft. I had been before this judge previously. This contemptible non-Jew determined that I was paid in legally recognized money.
This evil government did not last long. At the beginning of 1919 the cities of Petshenishin, Lvov and Halle fell under the rule of General Haller ימ"ש may his memory be wiped. His followers were called “Halleritzkim”, police investigators (they were Polish). The Ukrainian army began to leave Stanislau. On May 25th the head of the government and the government left the city and went to the Big Ukraine. This was after the army failed totally. That day Dr.Israel Waldman escaped to Vienna.
(Note* The battles among the two Ukraines and Poland from 1917/8 onward are confusing. We found information on the whole situation in the newspaper “Haynt” on the internet.)
(Note* The pogroms of 1648 and 1678 were carried out by wandering groups of anti-Semitic Ukrainian peasants called “Haidamakim”.)
The army of General Haller and the known Haidamakim entered Stanislau and began attacking the Jews. They looted, stole, burglarized and kidnapped Jews and arrested them every day. The period of Polish independence had begun. Jewish refugees from Alitch and Alshebetz told about the Polish soldiers who went through their towns. In addition to the stealing, they cut the hair and peyas from any Jew they found.
They took off their cloths and shoes. There were also reports of women being raped in front of their husbands and family. In Stanislau they made old people do humiliating work just to aggravate and annoy them. An armed soldier pulled me out of my store and forced me to go with him. I was brought to Kasarktin where there were about thirty people, most of them were old. They had hoes and brooms in order to clean the garbage left by the Ukrainian soldiers.
We worked at this mortifying labor from morning to sunset. When the Ukrainians were here, I was able to arrange matters with bribery. With the Polish it did not work because they took our money and valuables when we entered the army camp. We hoped that when the Ukrainians left, there would be something better. This was not to be. There was no help from the right and nothing from the left.
(Note* Quote page 844, volume 5, “History of the Jews” by Simon Dubnov-“The grand total of the third Haidamak period revealed shocking figures. During the period of Dec. 1918 to April 1921, there were 887 pogroms of great dimension and 349 of small, in the Ukraine.----Approximately 60,000 Jews were killed, with many general casualties.”)
We heard from people who came from Lvov that the Polish army was killing and burning. The stealing and plunder was still continuing in Stanislau and the surroundings while the government paid no attention to the cries that came from the Jewish National Council. At one of the meetings of the Council, it was decided to send a delegation to Vienna. In Vienna there were Zionists that had participated in the Peace Conference in Paris; Dr. Leon Reich, Dr. Ringel, Stand and others like Israel Waldman. They appealed to the Allies, the winning governments of the war, and cried out about the fate of the Jewish people, their persecution and terror in Galicia. The Allied governments sent a delegation, including Samuel, to investigate the reasons for the pogroms. From that time, order was restored. The delegation demanded, investigated and found that the government was not guilty of these pogroms which began with the Haidamakim. General Haller was given a reprimand but the Jews were also to blame.
At the same time, I once again opened my store and hoped that I would earn a living again. The store was not only a grocery. When I was in Vienna, I bought paper to be used for printing. In the town of Gablitz, I bought ornaments for women (costume jewelry, etc).
I received a letter from my son Nathan in New York describing everything that happened to him since he left Vienna. After he ran away from the snake-biting, locust-stinging militarists, he came to The Hague in Holland. He found a friend who agreed with his ideas and was able to live in his house. He had no work and no money and suffered from hunger. He stayed in his friend Zerubavel’s house for about six months. (Note* Zerubavel was an important Labor Zionist leader.) With great effort, he found work as a seaman on a merchant ship that brought him to Argentina. His luck followed him and he found work as a seaman on another ship going to New York. He stayed at my brother David’s house for several months. During this time he enlisted in the American battalion of the “Jewish Legion”.
The Jewish Legion battled together with the English in WWI against the Turks. My son may have joined the legion because of lack of work or because chaverim of his party, Poale Zion, joined. (*Note-I know that my father Nathan as an ideological Zionist went especially to America to join this Jewish Legion. DK) His American battalion was sent to Gallipoli in the Mediterranean. For about fifteen months, he was on the front under the rain of artillery shells. The war against the Germans and the Turks in Eretz Israel was carried on with hope of the participation of the Jews. With the conquest of the land, the payment would be that Jews could settle the land. The country was taken and the Legion came to Israel. As with all hopes, those of the Legion were illusory. This was because of the English government’s conquest and the leadership of the Zionists in the country. There was no real effort made to settle the legionnaires in the country and there was no means of survival. They returned to their countries of origin except for a few who remained in the country.
(Note* I believe that something is incorrect about Nathan’s army service. According to the book written in Yiddish by Z. Weinper (a family friend) מיטן אידישן ליגיון “With the Legion”, Nathan joined the Legion in 1917. He was in the same unit as Weinper. Their battalion traveled from New York to Halifax, Canada, then England, Egypt, Sinai and Palestine. How could he be in any fighting in Gallipoli which is in Turkey, not far from the Dardanelles? DK)
My son Aaron returned from the army at the end of 1919 תל' thank God he was not hurt. His body was worn from digging trenches on the Italian front and he suffered physically from hunger and spoiled food. I gave him a certain amount of money to do business. He bought and sold merchandise and profited. Most of the selling was in the exchange of various currencies which many Jews did. Each one of the areas had their own currency. On his last trip from Lvov with merchandise, which was Kerensky Bills, he was robbed. He lost a large sum of money, about 100,000 Kerenskys. He was depressed by the loss and his business failed.
My brother Naftali came to visit me at that time. He was sick with trouble urinating. We brought him to a doctor to relieve him by means of a catheter. The next day I and Aaron took him to Lvov to a specialist. The specialist took an x-ray (rengtinshtrallen-x-rays were discovered in 1895). In addition to the sickness of the urinary tract, he had cancer. His fate was sealed and he was dying. Aaron stayed with Naftali in Lvov for a few days and returned with him to my house. From there Naftali returned to his home in Zablotov and Aaron took care of him for a few days. When Aaron returned home, I sent my daughter Taube to take care of Naftali. She did not leave his bed side. She was an angel in time of trouble and she had learned to take care of the sick from her experience in the hospital in Parlitz. Naftali’s only son Nathan was busy every day with business. He asked me to send Taube to take care of his sick father. Nathan and Naftali were grateful to me and especially to Taube, who with all her efforts took care of the sick man.
On the 10th day of the month of Av, I received a telegram from my daughter to come immediately to Zablotov. I got there that same evening. To my sorrow, I came to the grieving family at the death of the husband and father, Naftali זל who died two days previously. The diagnosis of the expert, Doctor Maher from Lvov, was correct. When we saw him, he said there is no way of saving Naftali. There is no cure for cancer of the prostate.
Naftali died at the age of 62 and most of his life was not easy. He was educated like most of the Jewish children in small towns, in a Cheder of young children. He learned Chumish, Rashi, Prophets and a little Gamora. He learned under R’Mendele Bloch and with R’Ephraim Fund. He learned to be in awe of the verses of the Tanach from our father R’Aaron זל. They influenced him to be an innocent and honest man. He went along with the concept that one should not study foreign languages, attend a government school and learn to read, write and arithmetic. He was a mischievous youth among his friends and enjoyed all kinds of pranks. He was not particularly bright or clever.
My mother זל used to tell about him. His Cheder stood on the banks of the canal of the River Pruth. They built a bridge that was five/six meters above the canal that had a railing with a width of about twenty centimeters. The students were ready to give a prize to the “hero” who would walk on the full length of the railing. The hero Naftali was one of the first ones to accept this important challenge. After the first step, he fell into the water. The depth was only about a half a meter and falling on the stones, broke his bones. They took him out of the water. The doctors treated him and he was bedridden for a few weeks. If he wasn’t a hero in his youth, he succeeded in his old age. A few hours before he died, he got up from his bed, dressed and ran to the Mikvah. He immersed himself fulfilling the commandment of holy cleansing and died that afternoon.
He finished his studies at the age of fifteen and went to work for Grandfather Nathan זל. At the age of eighteen he married the daughter of Berl Bichler, a Jew from a village on the other side of the Tsarmush River in Zalinef, Bukovina. Naftali and his wife stayed at her parent’s house for about a year. He then rented a tavern in the town of Arshanitz but was unhappy serving the wild gentiles. He returned to the town of his birth, inherited our father’s house and business and made a living. His wife Bracha gave birth to three sons. The oldest was David who went to America. The second was Tzvi, a sickly man who died after he married. The third son was Nathan who inherited his house and business. He and his wife, son and daughter were killed by the Nazis.
As I mentioned, my brother Naftali was straight and innocent. He gave to paupers even when his income was limited. When I visited him during the days of the war, he took out 4,000 Keter from his pocket 4,000 Keter and gave them to me. This was to remedy our past quarrels. I did not want to take the money but because of his insistence, I accepted. This action remained a secret between us. The people of the town Zablotov treated him with great respect. The house was open for a week for the Shiva. Most of the town honored him by following him to the grave. תנצבה' May his soul be written in the book of life.
I received a telegram from my son Nathan from New York with good news. On כ שבט תרפא 20 Shvat 1921 he married the girl Rivka, daughter of David Leib and Fruma Hager. I was happy for two reasons. 1) He listened to my suggestion and went to my family to take a wife. He found a good woman. 2) She was a daughter of good people and Nathan’s father-in-law was the grandson of the Tzadik, Rabbi Levi Itzchak from Berditchev. Fruma was also a relative born in Zablotov. R’David Leib was married in the house of the Tzadik, Rabbi Jacob Shimshon זצל' the Admor of Kosov. On Shabbat, we celebrated the good news with glasses of wine and delicacies. May they have good luck in all their ventures. (Note* Rivka’s grandfather, Abraham Lieb Sperber and Nathan’s great Grandmother and Grandfather Freide and Nathan Keusch were first cousins.)
The family store business failed because of the heavy taxes imposed by Grabsky, the Polish Minister of Finance that was imposed on all the Jews. I returned to my previous occupation which was dealing in wood. I bought a large amount from people I knew, Shlomo Greenfield and Meir Eliezer Sheshrezer and I hoped for success.
I succeeded in finding a match for Taube. This was after several years and two candidates that did not work out. Thank God, I found her a suitable partner appropriate to me and my daughter. He was from the family of Yeshua Bloch, a merchant of trees and forests who was an upstanding man. He was a grandson of David R’Chaim Zeev and his wife Kenia Blaustein זל who I remember with great affection. A son remained of this family, whose name was Benjamin who grew up in his father’s house in Zalana. He was educated with a little Torah. He knew some Polish and German and finished learning bookkeeping and accounting. For a few years he worked as a professional in a big sawmill in Czechia and saved some money. The rest of Yeshua’s family lived in Stanislau. My daughter taught German and Hebrew to his young sons. The parents and the son asked for her hand and I sealed it with my agreement. It was a very suitable match in every way. Benjamin was to marry my daughter Taube למזל טוב. I was not asked for a dowry but on my own I gave $300. I saved the money from a deal I made last year when I bought a small house on Deluga Street. I paid 15,000,000 Polish Marks that was about $250.dollars. The clothing, the linens and all the preparations for the wedding cost about $200. In October 1923, I brought my daughter to the Chupah.
It was an expensive wedding celebration in the house of M. I. Velzer, on 14 Batarga Street. My family and many friends came to join us in the festivities. Among the guests were I.L. Freifelder, his wife Leah, the daughter of M.D. Meltzer from Scala, Shalom Kahane and wife from Sambar and the daughter of a friend, Moshe Gras from Kolomyea. There was excellent food, drink and dancing until the third part of the night. As is written in the Talmud, the bride danced with the father, father-in-law and all the family with a handkerchief in her hand.
In the cup of joy over my daughter’s marriage some drops of concern. I became dangerously sick. While I was traveling on my way from Sambar, I could not urinate. When I reached home, I hurried to see the doctor. He removed urine by a catheter. The next morning, I went to see a specialist who suggested I enter the hospital for surgery. I went to Lvov to a known specialist, Dr.Mahrer. He confirmed what the other doctors had found. My prostate had become enlarged and interfered with my urinating. It was necessary to operate and remove the prostate. He advised me to enter the hospital and he would operate. Since this was dangerous surgery, Shalom Shatner from Kuti, advised me not use a Galicianer doctor but to come to Vienna. He contacted Mordechai Shatner, a doctor in a hospital in Vienna, to find the best surgeon for this operation. With the agreement of my family, it was decided to travel to Vienna, even though it was a difficult for me. Before the trip, I wrote a will. I had about $1,200, trees and debts. The will was written in my daily note book page 107 to 109. On October 30, I went by myself by train to Vienna. Aaron wanted to go with me but I didn’t agree. On October 31 after a hard trip I arrived in Vienna. I went to the house of Itzchak and Frima Greenberg, 59 Taber Street. They arranged for me to have a place to stay while in the city. On November 1, I went to the Rothschild Hospital where I was received at once due to the efforts of Dr. Shucher. I paid according to the regular price with a small discount.
That same afternoon I was in a room with ten other sick people. The head of this department was Dr. Schwartzwald and his assistants Dr. Glass and Dr. Lemberger. I was examined by Dr. Glass and Dr. Karnitzer with all kinds of instruments. From their faces, I understood that this was life threatening. I was examined every day until the 13th when we found a doctor suitable for this surgery. I was required to agree to the operation. I knew the danger of death was in front of my eyes. My neighbor in the room was a Jew from Saloniki in Greece and he also suffered from prostate. Another neighbor had a different sickness. They were both operated on the 12th, the day earlier, and they both died.
It was difficult for me to agree to the surgery after seeing the fear of the Saloniki Jew. I gave my soul with a heavy heart and tears into the hands of God. I agreed to the surgery after my relative Abraham Shatner urged me to agree without delay. I couldn’t sleep and prayed the whole night. In the morning of November 13, 1923 I was taken into the operating room. I was lying on the table with my arms and legs tied down. The main surgeon Schwartzwald had not begun when I asked permission to speak. When our father’s fathers were obligated to do down to Egypt because of the great famine, the prophets saw what the enemies of Israel would do to their sons every generation. They were afraid to go because they feared persecutions. God said to them that he would protect them. אל תירא אנכי מגן לך The Midrash tells that what happens to us affects all future generations. The defenders of God appeared in all generations, judges, kings, heroes that fought the enemies of Israel and saved them. The defenders were men of science, writers, wise men, doctors that saved the people from plagues. The Jew, who goes to bed at night, prays “I put my spirit in your hands.” Doctors, I put my body and soul in your hands. Save this father of six children and God will stand by your side. Amen.
The emotional words made an impression and worked on those that heard them. Dr. Schwartzwald pressed my hand and replied with feeling, strength and sympathy “Don’t be afraid, God will be there to help us.” Dr. Schwartzwald and his assistants prepared the operating room. Dr. Sucher came but normally strangers were not permitted in the operating room Dr. Schwartzwald said, “Mr. Keusch, your close relative came to see that we succeed in our work.” In my imagination I saw with my own eyes, my wife’s father, R’Avraham Itschak, her mother Miriam, Grandfather Chaim Zeev and Grandmother Kenia זל'. They all accompanied her and approached me. I heard a clear voice from their mouths, God will send his angel to save and repair you. (We think this imaginary scene during surgery, was his first wife and her family but it is not clear. RDK) Dr. Sucher asked the pertinent question and Dr. Schwartzwald replied that the situation was very good and that this was to the credit and thanks to the patient. I have never seen such a heroic person whose friends also had an important part to play. The patient is a nice, learned man and it is a mitzvah to save him. Dr. Sucher with his gentle hand patted my head and whispered comforting words in my ear. “Soon the danger will pass and you will be saved.” His sweet words were like the narcotic of life to my body and soul and soothed my heart. I believed the visions of my imagination that her family that I knew and loved came to give me their blessings.
After the surgery and the stitches which took 45 minutes, I fainted. I left my memory, I didn’t feel and I didn’t remember. After six hours I was put into room number four. Dr. Schwartwald brought in some of my family who I did not recognize and then the terrible pain began. For twenty days I laid in my bed without moving to the left or right. These were orders from the doctor so that the wound would heal. I was taken care of by the doctors and nurses for a month after the operation. At that time the catheter was removed. I recall the family and friends that came to visit me in the hospital. There was Abraham Shatner, my cousin Joseph from Kuti, his wife and children who came every day and brought me food and drink. On alternate days Itzchak and Frima Greenberg brought me food that I had ordered. Mordechai and his wife, Taube and her husband, my brother-in-law Itzchak Freilich, Mordechai Yishiyahu, Malke Shatner, Iacob and Bayle Meltzer were the relatives that visited. Among the friends were Meshullem Schecter, Dov Bloch, Anshel Haber, Peretz Zussman from Zablotov and now Vienna, Moshe Teitelbaum from Atania, Menachim Friedman from Stanislau. The food in the hospital, even if it was kosher, was not to my taste and I couldn’t eat it. The food and drink that I most enjoyed was from Abraham Shatner and Frima Greenberg. (Note* In the book “City of the Dead”, Getzel Kressel in the introduction claims that Grandfather in his genius, never forgot a name. RDK)
On December 12, 1923, after I was able to urinate properly, I left the hospital. I gave a parting blessing to all the doctors and nurses that cared for me, may their names be remembered forever. This was especially for Dr. Schwartzwald and the sick friends in my room. I returned to the house of Itzchak and Frima Greenberg where I was warmly received. I accepted the suggestion of the Greenbergs and my family that I remain in their house, 59 Taber St. I found total rest in their house. She served me all kinds of good food to help me regain my strength. I paid her rent but it was less than the food she served me. Itzchak and his wife were fine people and did me a big service in the hospital and the time I spent in their home. May their memories be remembered and blessed.
Before I left Vienna, I went to visit all my family and friends and to thank them for all that they did for me during the time I was in the Rothchild Hospital. I visited my ex-brother-in-law Itzchak Freilich in his house. He told me of his troubles of making a living and that he didn’t have enough food. When I entered the hospital, I gave a deposit to cover the costs. When I left the hospital after paying all the bills, I had a certain amount left over. This amount I gave to my brother-in-law. He is a good man and visited me many times when I was hospitalized.
At the end of December 1923, I left Vienna by express train to return home. When I reached the border at Lindendorf, I was stopped by the Austrian Border Police. I made an error and overstayed my visa in Vienna. In a short time, I found someone I knew to borrow some money and paid the fine and continued on my way in a different train.
I arrived home on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, 1924 physically and mentally depressed. I did not find the rest that I badly needed. A bad wind passed over this house. There was discord between the step-mother and my sons over minor matters. I was angry with my wife before I left and when I returned, depressed from Vienna, our relationship was very cold. She found a reason to be angry with me. Why did I sell the store that was ours in the market? You took money from Max Anber for the rights of passing over the store and for the merchandise. You didn’t give me the money. This woman did not understand about the money I needed to marry off my daughter. Selling the store was a necessary thing and I had to do it quickly as sales went down day by day. I was losing money and expenses were more than the income and the future looked black. The sales of wood dropped. I lost all the money. The reason was that the Polish rulers changed the regulations. There was uncertainty, pogroms on Jews, unrestrained hooliganism, cutting hair and payot of the old people and beating of any Jew that came along after they took his money.
They found a new way, a more modern way how to oppress the Jews. They did this by destroying the sources of their income. They used the forces of money and government. The Polish government set up new regulations that were difficult to fulfill. They sucked the blood of Jews with taxes. They created a tax system of all kinds: tax on profits, head tax, tax on name changing, council tax, etc. They no longer needed pogroms and beatings to suppress the Jews. The Polish government system called for businesses and stores to keep detailed books. Without warning inspectors would come to check the books for several days. Any discrepancy, the books would be taken by order of the government and the business would be closed. Despite the high taxes there would then be a penalty of thousands. Small businesses had no legal appeal. They were assessed high taxes and penalties worth more than the merchandise in the store. The Finance Minister Grabski sucked the blood of the Jews. His people spread out everywhere to check all levels of commerce. When even a small tax or penalty was not paid, they took everything of value.
How was a man weak in body, like me, taking medicine in this period, able to overcome this evil and take care of a store and business? How was a short sighted woman able to understand my terrible situation?
A woman who is not a business woman has to yell. She doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to know that it was necessary to sell and pass over the store because I had no alternative. I needed this money to marry off my daughter who was already 28 years old. Despite the income of $300, I had other expenses. Where was I going to get the large amount of money needed to save me from this illness and great danger of prostate surgery?
These reasons plus the difficult times made my pain unbearable. Worst of all with this situation, there was no שלום בית peace in the house and her sharp words hurt me. The woman lives with bitterness that is not justified. What could I do? I decided to leave her, this house, this Polish land. Change your place, change your luck.
Two difficult questions faced me. Where was I to get the money to travel and to set up a new business? Where would I go? To America? To my son Nathan or my brother David? That would mean that one of them had to send me an entrance visa into the country; that was impossible. The financial situation of Nathan, according to information that David sent me, was not good. I could not ask for the expenses needed. In addition, the government demanded a large sum of money as security for anyone leaving the country. Secondly, it was doubtful that my son Nathan would be able to help me with the two sets of expenses in getting the proper government papers. Five years previously, we had all the authorized papers from the consul after paying $10 twice, but we didn’t go. How could a woman demand so much from me when the whole situation is doubtful at best?
It was unrealistic to approach my brother David, who was an American citizen for many years, to help me come to the country. Some time ago, I received a bitter letter from him describing his bad situation. He had been defrauded of $10,000 dollars. This was money that he had saved from two jobs and bought a big house. He had to make large payments which he didn’t have, sold the house at public auction and lost everything.
With the option of America closed to me, I decided to follow my dream of many years and make Aliyah to Eretz Israel. Even though the gates were closed to the Jew longing to reach the land. We hoped that with the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Agreement (The imperial powers of Great Britain and France divided the Middle East) the gates would be open. This would reaffirm the announcement of Cyrus, the Persian King, encouraging the Jews to return to their land. To our regret, it required a large amount of money for a Jew to get an English visa to enter the country. Many people that I knew made a great effort to get the English visa and they did not succeed.
After all the difficulties, doubts and disappointments, I decided with the agreement of my children to settle in Eretz Israel. I was sure that a person with a healthy body, capabilities in business and in bookkeeping, not hungry, would find a source of income.
In the month of February 1924 שבת תצפד' I was invited to a meeting of the Mizrachi Committee in Lvov (Lemberg) having been a member for years. At that meeting, three active members were chosen to travel to Eretz Israel for Pessach. They would try to find a place that was suitable to set up a Mizrachi Moshava (settlement).
They were required to search for a piece of land that could be bought at a reasonable price. I accepted this mission and will do my best to fill it. These are the three that were chosen. R’Shimon Bernstein from Petshenishin, an honorable man with a big house, two wood cutting factories and a forest of pine trees for his factories. The second was Dr.R’Shimon Federbush, who was a learned writer with a good education from Warsaw. His father owned a large piece of land close to Lvov. The third one was me. We decided to meet, with God’s help, Chol HaMoad Pessach, in the Mizrachi office in Jerusalem and there try to work out a plan for buying land.
I heard that the Eretz Israel office in Lvov was organizing a special train for several hundred pioneers that were traveling to Eretz Israel that would go through Lvov straight to the port of Constanta, Romania. I asked to be registered among the passengers of this train. I also gave them a sum of money to cover all papers needed to enter Eretz Israel.
I arranged everything that was possible. I gave my son Aaron a legal Power of Attorney. He had the power to sell all the trees that are still in the wood cutting factory of Eckstein in Zalutza and to collect the debts. The surplus, when collected, should be sent to R’Shmuel Shieber, Prosin Bukovina in payment for the trees that I bought from him for Eretz Israel.
On March 21, 1924, I left Stanislau to go to Chernovitz and places in Bukovina to try to find contacts to buy wood to send to Eretz Israel. I met S. Shieber who agreed to send me a quantity of wood. He requested that I check into buying land for him. It was also agreed that R’Moshe Katz from Petshenishin would send me a large shipment of pine wood to sell in Eretz Israel.
On April 4th, when I finished all my business in Bukovina, I returned to Chernovitz to wait for the special train that will leave Lvov at night. In the afternoon I boarded the train and joined the company of pioneers. The train was filled with the young people. I found a suitable seat and the passengers treated me with respect and honor as one of them. The train traveled without any stops and on the following day we came to the Romanian sea shore of Constanta. We were brought to barracks that had been set up for us to spend the night till we boarded the ship on the next day.
On April 6th in the morning, the clerks from the Lvov Eretz Israel office told us to hand over the papers and the tickets for the ship. To my sorrow, I forgot the ticket for whatever reason. I had to buy another ticket and this would leave me with only a small amount of money. I bought a fourth class ticket. In the evening we boarded the ship “Madina”. This was a French ship that traveled back and forth from America to the Balkan countries and Eretz Israel. There were many people from these countries. Even though I was fourth class, I had a nice bed with air and light. The boat sailed after the sunset and after it left the Constanta coast, a strong wind arose and the sea became stormy. The passengers moved as if drunk, the head spun, one could not walk, just lie there, throw up, not eat or rest (seasick).
After a stormy week in the Black Sea, we spent a wonderful time with a calm sea, marveling at nature and the city of Kushta and its surroundings. There were 1200 passengers on the ship including 500 pioneers and many foreigners who left at Kushta.
After not eating for a day and night, we relished eating our noon meal. There was a meat meal eaten by the pioneers, from the kosher kitchen which had a Jewish supervisor. I ate non-cooked food like sardines, eggs, potatoes roasted on coals and wine that was served many times during the day. On the ship I found my friend, Mr. Bernstein who introduced me to his friend from Petshenishin, a building contractor. Mr. Dov Schwarz, with the recommendation of Bernstein, made a partnership contract with me on the condition that he invests $1,000, to be passed over to my son Aaron by his wife. This contract was to buy Polish pine wood to be brought to Eretz Israel. He wrote to his wife from the ship that Aaron would come and pick up the $1,000. Aaron was to buy a large quantity of the best quality pine wood and send it immediately on my name to Eretz Israel by way of Constanta.
Content last updated Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 08:10 PM Mountain Standard Time