|Jewish religion and culture in Berezhany |
Renowned Torah scholars lived in Berezhany. Rabbis went forth from here into all parts of the world. It is sufficient to mention - Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathanson, Rabbi Kluger, the magid (preacher) from Brody Rabbi Isaac Shmelkes and rabbi Shulem Mordechai Hacohen Shwadron. Also Rabbi of Florence Shmuel Hirsch Margolis, rabbi Jehuda Bergman and Rabbi Meirson studied and drank from the fountains of Torah in Berezhany. The Hassidic movement captured many hearts. Various currents of Hassidim impressed their stamps on the Jews of the town, among them were the house of Rishin, Belz, Stratyn, Zydaczow. The second half of the 19th century witnessed the period of enlightening, the search for new ways and ideas. It caused a complete change in the cultural life of the Jewish community. Some of the local Jews started reading monthly and weekly literary publications in Hebrew such as the "Halutz" (pioneer), the "Magid", the "Mevaser" and others. Part of the youth remained loyal to traditional Judaism, with the synagogue as their center, while others organized themselves into a various fractions of the Zionist movement, with the Hewbrew school as their center. The Hassidim centered their spiritual activity around ther "Klezalch" (small house of worship).
A decisive change took place in the days of the renewed Polish rue, following the First World War. The law decreed personal, secret and democratic elections. Every Jew in town, who reached the age 18 could participate. The last elections to the Jewish Community Council were in 1936. Eight persons were elected with Dr. KRAMER as its presiding officer. This administrative body became automatically active during the rule of the Nazis as the Council of the Jews, "Judenrat".
History of Berezhany Jews
The history of Jewish Community in Berezhany is closely connected to the history and development of the town. The townīs population reached 260 souls in the year 1570, including four Jewish families who were engaged in trade. One hudred years later the townīs population reached 500 families. Among these were one hundred Jewish families. Thus the number of Jews in Berezhany continued to increase throughout the years. Most of the commerce lay in the hand of the Jews in Berezhany later Jews also became doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges and officials, while commerce fell into the hands of the Polish and Ukrainians too. There were about forty lawyers thanks to the district court in Berezhany.
Photo above: The large synagouge in Berezhany. Picture taken by me in January 2001.
The large synagogue
The large synagogue was built on 1718 and was renovated at the end of the 19th century. It was an imposing, beautiful edifice. This was the central building around which the life of the entire Jewish community was centered. Laws, judgements, decrets, fines, holidays, births and deaths filled this holy place. So it was until the Soviet occupation of the town in 1939 when the synagogue was turned into a shelter for refugees. Afterwards it was turned by Soviets into a grain store-house. The Nazi opressors which came later did not change the functions of the structure. It continued to serve as a storage place even after the entry of the Red Army in 1944.
The newly built synagogue, stood close to the left side of the big synagogue. Jews who worshipped in this synagogoue were mostly from wealthy and middle class families. This house of worship was also damaged from the wars and under Soviets it served as a grain-store house.
The "Cantorīs synagogue"
The Cantorīs synagogue, in the corner of former Zygmuntowska and Skolna streets in which Rabbi Nathanson prayed and preached, remained completely desolate and forsaken.
Reb Yudels (Judels, Jidels) Synagogue
Reb Yudels Synagogue stood at the corner of Lvivska (former Lwowska) and Ternopilskaa (Tarnopolska) streets. This was a very popular synagogue. It was wide open for everyone. It never lacked a quorum for a prayer service. This house of worship was burned down and utterly destroyed.
The "Tschortkower Klois" synagogue
The "Chortkover Klois" belonged to Hassidim, followers of the Rabbi from Czortkow (Chortkiv). It was 2 story building. The upper floor contained the section for woman worshippers and stood near to the house of Rabbi Gaon Mordechai Hacohen Shwadron, the Rabbi of Berezhany. This synagogue was completely destroyed in the First World War. But of it was reconstructed, but it was eventually destroyed.
Large synagogue in Berezhany
Rabbi Mendele synagogue
Rabbi Mendele synagogue was located at former Strazacka street and was burned down during the bombardment of the Nazis.
The Jair Synagogue
The Jair synagogue, at Ternopilska Street was broken open and plundered, and thsu it remained.
The "Rozler Klois"
The Rozler Klois which was situated on the north west side of the Big Berezhany Synagogue became ruined and forsaken.
Picture above: Window of Berezhany Large Synagogue, Jan. 2001
The "Potiker Kleizel"
The Potiker Keizel which was housed in Reb Judels Synagogue was also destroyed and burned down during the Nazi bombardment. Also the Kleizel of the tailors, the porters worship place, the prayer quarters of Rabbi Seide Halperin, the prayer quarter of the Mizrachi and another synagogue called "Yad-Haruzim" were all destroyed and burnt during Nazi bombardment.
The Hebrew School in Berezhany
An important chapter in the history of Berezhany Jews, was the founding of a Hebrew School by the organization "SAFA-BRURA" (clear language) in May 1903. The actual founders were:
Mordechai Wolf Maiblum
and Jakob Bauer
The teaching staff included: Abuhav, Cohen, Rachowski, Zigel, Dlugach and Zvi Scharfstein. Adolf Horn was elected as a president of Safa Brura school. A club "Ivriyah" with a library and a reading hall were established at the same time. During the First World War and even later the teacher FELD served as a principal of the school. He left Berezhany in 1921. The Hebrew School was opened again in 1926 with two teachers: Isaac Biterman and Abraham Halperin. At the end of 1927 they brought a new teacher, Mr. Komorowski (Komorovski), a principal. In 1929 second Hebrew School was founded by the "Tarbut" organization. Mr. MANSFELD was its principal. Shortly after stilla nother Hebrew School was established by the Mizrachi oragnization.
The Soviet rule 1939 - 1941
When Soviets entered Berezhany, over night chaos broke loose, though without bloodshed. The uppermost were made lowly and the lowly became uppermost. The newly arrived Russians bought out everything there was to buy. The stores were emptied and closed down. Farmers stopped bringing their produce to town. Before long there was a shortage of foodstuffs and commodidities. The size of population in town grew from ady to day, due to the constant flow of refugees from the West and the arrival of the Soviet Government officials from the East. In a short time, the Jewish population increased from 3,500 to over 12,000. The population of the town reached 35,000. To solve the problem of dwelling the refugees used every vacant store, every synagogue and every hut and cabin. The poverty and shortage grew from ady to day.
HOLOCAUST IN BEREZHANY
In memoriam of those thousands of Berezhany Jews being cruely murdered by Nazis
1941 autumn, after Jewish New Year (Rosh-Hashanah) Germans murdered 510 Jews in Berezhany
"Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) arrived. Berezhany Jews held services in private homes. We poured out the hearts before the creator. In those moments death sentences were decreed for many of us. Eight more days passed. On the day of Yom Kippur an order from Kreishauptsmann reached the Judenrat. Tomorrow, the first of October, 1941, at 10 a.m., all Jews aged 20-30, headed by the Judenart, must apper at the Targowica square in Berezhany. The news spread in a second. We had the feeling that this order endangers our lives. We tried to clarifi real purpose but didnt suceed. No one new whether he should advise the people to obey the order or to ignore it..."
"We finished our sacred prayer of "Kol-Nidrei". This service will never be forgotten by those, who remained alive. The Yom Kippur morning service was completed at 9 a.am. Hand shaking tears and words of encouragement followed the service. At 10 a.am. Jews reported to the specified place. The Gestapo too, was not late in coming. With weapons in their hands they surrounded Targowice square. An order was issued: the Judenrat members should stand separetely, workers should stand on oposite side, the rest of people sucha s lawyers, teachers, accountants and merchants shoulda lso stand by themselves. After the assortment of the people was completed, they ordered the workers to go back to work and the members of the Judenart to leave. The rest were surrounded by Gestapo and led away to prsion. The following morning, after a meeting with Kreishauptman, we rushed to collect golden items as ransom for the lives of those Jews, who were put in jail. We collected 5 kilos of gold articles and brought it to Kreishauptsmann. He took the gold and put in his pocket, but didnīt release the Jews. Instead they were loaded on trucks and transported to an unknown destination. They disappeared, without leavng any trace. The peasants in the neighbourhood told later that these people were murdered.
A new order came from Kreishauptsmann. He could not stand so many Jews in Berezhany. He, therefore, decided to transport at least 100 weekly to naerby towns. The feeble, the old and the sick ahd to go first. The hunger and congestion affected the health of the Jewish population and epidemics began to spread. Gestapo was visiting town each week and shooting a number of persons, justifying their action by claiming that they were clearing the town from typhoid. Action such as these continued.
8 days before Hanukkah, the Kreishauptsmann called Judenat representatives to his office and told them in anger, that he will not stand for the disregard of his command to transfer Jews from Berezhany to neighbouring towns. Therefore he said "You are given eight days in which to select and prepare 1,000 Jews not one less and deport them to nearest town Pidhaytsi (Podhajce). The whole project was supervised by Sonderdienst and by Ukrainian militia. The march would take place during 15 - 16 Decembr. Thsi news spread throughout Berezhany with lightning speed. The Jewish inhabitants left their homes and scattered beyond their dweling places. The town was left empty...The Judenrat together with Ukrainian militia could not collect the required number of Jews to be transfered. After midnight they were joined in the search for Jews by Germans. Alltogether they collected 600 men. At three o'clock caravan moved in the direction of Podahajce. To this caravan were added the Judenrat officials, who were helpful in collecting the Jews. The tragic end of this story was that Gestapo was waiting for them The whole caravn was brought into a forest and all of its members were killed. One witness remained, as if by miracle, to tell what happened. Soon afterwards we hastened to taht spot. We found the massacred bodies buried in a mass-grave.
July 1942, the Germans for the first time instututed a searh for younf women to be sent to labor camps. They seized 60 girls and transported them to the camp Yagielnica (Yahelnytsya) near Chortkiv (Czortkow). After several months of body breaking work, the girls met their death.
"Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement 1942, was aproaching. We havenīt forgotten yet that last Atonement Year. The Germans, instead of starting their rounding up action before dawn, as we expected them to do so, they appeared suddenly at 7.30 a.m. and began their work with more cruelty than before. At the beginning they succeeded in gathering many Jews from the synagogues, and evading the Gestapo. They continued the "action" the following day intil the goal was attained. They took away from us 1,500 persons. The train made its way to the extermination camp in Belzec. On the way some of our people succeeded in breaking down doors of the wagons and those, who had strength and luck, jumped from the train and came back to town, to start anew. On the morrow of this "action" the Germans collected the Jewish belongings waht they "inherited" from the people they murdered the previous day, as if to fulfill the saying "Thou hast murdured and also taken possession!..."
"In order to make it easier for themselves in the future, the gestapo confined us into a much smaller and closed-in ghetto. They brought us into half ruined houses in the Jewish quarter..."
Photo above: Holocaust monument in Berezhany. Photo taken by me in January 2001.
Inscription in Yiddish and Ukrainian says: "To the victims of Fascism"
1943 Liquidation of the ghetto in Berezhany: 1,800 Jews killed
In March 1943 12 Jewish women received permission from Gestapo to go and purchase whatever they need in the market Novyi Rynok. There the German gendarmes were waiting for them. they arrested the women and brought them straight to the cemetery, where they shot and killed them.
Prior to the liquidation of the ghetto, there was one more "action", which lasted three days. It began several days before Passover. Unlike the previous "actions" this one was perfomed by local forces. In a matter of three days they succeded in gathering 300 people, men women and children into the yard of the prison. There Herman of the Gestapo made a selection. Some were asigned to a labour camp, while the rest were led away at the cemetery. The Germans were making the last preparations necessary for the liquidation of the ghetto. They were digging in the cemetery mass graves.
Photo above: Place of mass executions and mass graves at Berezhany Jewish Cemetery, the exact todays place where up to 2000 of Jews were shot in 1942 - 1943. Picture taken by me in January 2001.
All of a sudden Gestapo informed that it had the authority to exempt 200 men with required skills. These men would have to reside in army barracks under a heavy German guard. During the month of May 1943 the barracks were prepared for 400 Jewish men in the end, in the home of Dr Falk. The Germans constructed high wirefence around the house, so that no one could come in, or leave without the guards order. Everyone who had obtained a card had to come and reside there not later than the end of May. At dawn, on Saturday, June 12, the final "action" began. On that day the Germans finished off the ghetto, as well as the people in the barracks. Even this time Germans succeeded in deceiving those, who believed them. Under a heavy guard the barracks dwellers were brought to the cemetery. All Jews from the ghetto were led by four to the Jewish cemetery in Okopysko. Judenrat members were the last ones following the group. Everyone held his up hand behind the head. Mother carried children, sick were drawn on a cart. At the cemetery they were ordered to undress and then everyone stepped on side of the ditch and from a shot into the head was falling down. At the last moment Gestapo allowed doctor Pinkas Pomeranz to say last words. He said: "Fortune destinied us such an end. All we die for the faults of our fathers". He was the first, together with a wife and teenage children who were murdered. Only one witness of that event, MENACHEM KATZ, survived and told what happened. Approaching the cemetery he started running off of the group which was led to the cemetery, where four big ditches were digged out. He was 20 and could run fast in a wavy way through the wheat field. Germans started shooting but he succeeded though got wounded and fell down having covered himself with a hay. Two Germans just passed next looking for him but didnīt notice. So he was the only survivor from 1943 Berezhany ghetto liquidation. He hided in nearby village Kuropatnyky and some years later immigrated to Israel. Others who attempted to escape on the awy were all shot. 1,180 Jews were murdered during the liquidation of Berezhany ghetto in 1943. Germans being drunk perfomed the action. Later these Germans got 5 years imprisonement after the war at Hamburg Court, Germany.
In memoriam of Dr Falk:
Dr Falk was famous person in Berezhany, physician and Jewish community leader. In tragic year 1942, German serviceman of so called "sonderdienst" met an older person at one of the streets in Berezhany. That was doctor Falk, a Jew with a band on his arm. The German carried a goose under his arm from a bazaar. He called Dr Falk and ordered him to carry the goose. "I do not carry shoppings for my wife home, so I will not carry for you, young man!" - answered Dr Falk in a flegmatic way. "You, a ... Jew!" shouted gestapo German and hit the doctor at his face. Dr Falk hit the German in answer too and in a moment he fell dead from the bullet of this Gestapo man. All this was taking place on the eyes of other people, in a daytime next to the market in Berezhany....
In memoriam of 30 Jewish families discovred from hiding in Mechyshchiv (near Berezhany) and Ukrainian peasants deported to Auschwitz for hiding the Jews in 1944.
This happened in spring 1944, in Mechyshchiv (Mieczyszczow / Mechyshchev), village (where my great grandmother comes from a Polish family Cicierski) situated among forests, some 15 km south west from Berezhany. German authorities came to buy cattle to the village. At that moment German policeman noticed a definite Jew on a street, whom he arrested straight. That confessed that he was Jewish dentist Dynes (Dnes / Dines) and added that there are about 30 Jewish families are hiddedn besides him in the village. He even named the last names of Ukrainian peasants who hided the Jews. All were arrested. Together with the Jews, some Ukrainian peasants were taken to the prison in Berezhany. At the court procedure some of the hidden Jews had to witness against the peasents who hided them, saying that "We paid them for residence and food and gave some clothing..." After a court "comedy" and tragedy, the Jews were murdered and those Ukrainian peasants were deported to a death concentration camp in Auschwitz (Oswiecim)...
Jews and Ukrainians:
In a political life Jews kept together with the Poles, though there were excepetions - Jewish adherents of Ukrainians. During Polish Ukrainian war in 1918 - 1920, a few Jews from Berezhany, namely the son of Jewish lawyer HALPERN (Halperin), the son of wholesale dealer SIGAL (Segal) and a few other Jews served in Ukrainian Galician army (UGA). Some Jews, together with Ukrainians suffered in Polish prisons. Even yet before the Fisrt World War, there were many Jewish adherents of pro-Ukrainian orientation, as Dr WILHELM NAIMAN (Najman / Nayman), a physician from Pidhaytsi (Podhajce), former student of Berezhany Gymnasia as well as student of Lviv University and "Akademichna Hromada" (Academic Circle) Marko Bardach (Bardakh), who always and everywhere claimed that they are Ukrainians of Moses faith. There were a few other such people but these were a few. Berezhany Ukrainian Antin Czarniecki (Czarnecki/ Charnetskyy) in his book "Recollections from my life" at page 21 writes that..."on the occasion of pogrom in Kishinev, Berezhany Jewish Community arranged memorial sorrow services. As Ukrainian representatives gymnasia students Antin Czarniecki and Mykhaylo Rudnicky (Rudnytskyy) came there...".
Some Ukrainians hided the Jews. In village Olesyn near Berezhany, Ukarinian peasants were hiding Jewish families of GRAD (Hrad) and GUTENPLAN from Berezhany. Many Jews were in hiding at Ukrainian familis in Adamivka in Berezhany. Ukrainian family of Hrycak (Hrytsak, who were Evangelicals) hided Jewish family HAUSER in village Verkhnya Lypytsya (Lipica Gorna) between Berezhany and Rohatyn. Hrytsaks risqued their life since Germans were coming to them and stayed, while just
behind the wall the Jews were hided. One little noise and all would be dead but luckily all survived and consequently some of the Hausers emmigrated to Argentina. Other person I know is Prof Shimon Redlich who survived Holocaust hiding at Ukrainian family Kontsevych (now listed at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem) at village Ray (Raj)
near Berezhany. There were also many Ukrainians who were hostile to the Jews and many Jews who were hostile to Ukrainians. There were different people among all - kind and bad, compassionate and non compasionate, humans and "non humans" as everywhere it is among the human race. For more info on Jewish Ukrainian relations please read: "My Galician Jewry Page"