a geographical-political region consisting of the Southeastern region
of Poland, and the Northwestern portion of the Ukraine, was the
area where the most impoverished East European Jews lived. Ansky
spent from 1914-1916 traveling through the area, arranging relief
efforts for these Jews, who suffered greatly during World War I.
The invading Russian army had committed unspeakable and deliberate
atrocities, driving them from their homes, and stealing what they
left behind. The following entries from Ansky's report on his mission
reveal both his shock and his empathy for his fellow Jews, as well
as his awe and fascination with the history and culture of the Galician
Jews; they also demonstrate how much he had changed from the Ansky
who, earlier in life, had turned his back on Jewish religion and
population was in a state of shock, incapable of defending itself against
the brutality and the murders and powerless to repudiate even the most
shameful libels. The people resorted to the old Jewish method of finding
strength and comfort in weaving tales out of their sighs and tears. It
was whispered that "the rebbe is writing a megillah on the
war which will surpass everything that has been written until now, and
when he finishes it, redemption will come to the Jews." Others said
that the end of the Jewish exile would surely come soon; they had studied
the ancient tomes and calculated that the days of the Messiah were at
But mostly they spun
tales about accusations of espionage which, in the popular mind, recalled
the blood libels of old and were retold in exactly the same way. In both
types of stories, it was assumed that these were not fictional crimes
but actual crimes perpetrated by others in order to frame the Jews. Like
all folktales, they were suffused with a deep-rooted optimism, with the
belief that in the end the truth will win out. The most widespread libel
had to do with secret telephones that the Jews purportedly used to pass
information to the enemy. This inspired a whole string of tales in which
the town of Zamosc was often the chosen setting.
June, 1915 Torczyn
On the morning after
I came from Luck I traveled to the shtetl of Torczyn, to which
many refugees from Horochov and other places had come. It was an old,
poor shtetl that had only one long street and a few small, wretched shops.
Women and children were outside, as if the overcrowded houses couldn't
contain them. And it was very nearly true. Every household had taken in
at least one newly arrived family and some had taken several. All the
granaries and the animal stalls had been turned into living quarters for
the refugees, too.
There had been about
two thousand Jews out of a total population of four thousand in the shtetl
before the war. They made their living by selling produce abroad. Now
with trade at a standstill, the loan company no longer functioned and
even the agricultural school was closed. All the wealthier residents had
Poryck had suffered
a pogrom the week before, and the local residents were frightened to death
that it would reach them. The mood was a bit calmer now but the underlying
fear persisted that the Cossacks might come. They were not much reassured
by the military's rumored directive to the Cossacks: "Whatever happened
in Galicia happened. But we must not behave the same way with the Jews
of Russia. No robbing!"
We suggested that
a committee be set up to register the homeless in Torczyn and to help
the neediest among them. I gave the committee four hundred rubles to help
the many refugees who could not find housing and who slept in storehouses
and even under the open sky.
1916-March 1917 Sadigure
Sadigure had long
been the residence of a hasidic family stemming from Reb Ber of Miedzyczec,
the Baal Shem Tov's most outstanding student. The founder of the Sadigure
dynasty was Reb Ber's grandson, Reb Sholem Shakhne of Pogrebishtsh
a great kabbalist and a unique personality. He dressed in European clothes
and enjoyed the aristocratic life of the Polish magnates of the time.
His son, the well-known Reb Yisroel of Rizhin, was the first of the dynasty
to settle in Sadigure and is said to have surpassed his father both in
his personal qualities and in his lifestyle. Many legends about the Rizhiner
Rebbe claim that he was given the Baal Shem's soul, and his rich and expansive
lifestyle is a never-ending source of wonder in the legends. His court
was like that of an emperor: a band of twenty-four musicians played at
his table, and his carriage was driven by a team of six horses in tandem.
His son and grandson adopted the same lifestyle, and the court of Sadigure
achieved renown as the richest and most genteel of the rabbinical courts.
The war, which destroyed
so many Jewish treasures, also annihilated the court of Sadigure
its unique way of life as well as its antiquities. It brought to an end
the material and spiritual wealth of generations of believers.
Before the war there
were about ten thousand people living in Sadigure, three-quarters of whom
were Jewish. They suffered a horrible pogrom when the Russian army occupied
Sadigure for the first time, in September 1914; all the Jewish houses
and shops were robbed and many Jews were murdered or wounded. The chairman
of the local Jewish community, a rich and respected man, and three other
Jews were killed for shielding their wives and daughters from rapists.
Except for one hundred Jewish women who were hidden by the pharmacist
in his cellar, where they remained for three days without food and water,
all the women in the town, young and old alike, were raped. . . .
The scene of a town
laid waste appeared from a distance as soon as I left Czernowitz. An entire
field of tall, smoking chimneys, skeletons of burned houses, caved-in
walls and holes for windows and doors, mountains of bricks, pieces of
clay and burned, twisted metal. Sadigure itself was unrecognizable
it was even impossible to tell where the streets had once been located.
Everything seemed to have melted together into one large ruin.
I went through the
entire town without seeing one Jew. The few Jewish houses which had not
been entirely destroyed and the shops in the market place had been taken
over by local and newly arrived Christians who didn't allow any Jews into
the town. The shops, on which the Jewish names still appeared, were open
and run by Christian women; a tailor shop had been turned into a bakery
and a dress store was selling pork.
David G. Roskies, ed. The Dybbuk and Other Writings. Copyright
© 1992 The Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature (New
York: Schocken Books), pp. 173-4, 195-6, 202-204. Reprinted by permission
of The Fund.