Hospital and Old Age Home in Buczacz

Khaye Roll, Translated by Jessica Cohen

When you walked up the steps next to the synagogue, then passed the “leitze stiebl” and turned right, you were immediately faced with a serious looking white building, two stories high, with large windows with three window panes in each, a low fence on both sides, and a few steps in the middle which lead to a strong, heavy door, which was usually closed. On the front wall, between the two stories, large letters read: “Szpital Izraelicki.” On each side of the entrance were plaques bearing the names of the founders, Yisrael Moshe Stern and Yisrael Moshe Preminger. This was the most popular building in town, respected and beloved by all strata of the residents and interwoven in their lives. The hospital was involved in any happy event or sad occasion, and always contributed to alleviating the pain or increasing the joy.

In the hospital yard was a large ice storehouse, almost the only one in town, which served the residents. At times of sickness, not only patients who were being treated in the hospital itself benefited from it, but also any people who needed it. There was no celebration in town, in which the celebrator would not remember the hospital and contribute a small or large sum to it. A lovely custom took roots during the last years among the residents: before every important event they would donate meals to the hospital and to the old age home. Whether it was a bar-mitzvah or a wedding, a birthday or a yarzheit, the lady of the household would take pains to appear in the hospital office to consult with the manager of the institute with regards to which items were needed and how much she should prepare, and she herself would enjoy the act of giving, more than the elderly people and the patients enjoyed the dishes she prepared.

The hospital had one more interaction with the public. Every year a minyan was arranged on the top floor of the building for the High Holydays. Anyone who did not wish to pray in the synagogues, whether because of their crowded conditions or for any other reason, reserved a place there. Aliyas[11] were purchased for small sums and were not used, and their places were taken by patients or elderly people from the institution. Of course, the number of women was significantly greater than the number of men registered at the services. This minyan generated a decent income for the hospital fund, particularly since all the organizers and the service leaders were volunteers. I would like to mention Mr. Gdaliyahu Duchovny, of blessed memory, who led the Mussaf prayer. He was a God-fearing Jew, with a most pleasant voice.

There was also a traditional ball held during the winter months for several years, to benefit the hospital. The ball was held in the large hall in the town, in the “Sokol” building, and almost all the townspeople took part in it, both Jews and non-Jews. All the Polish aristocracy with the “starostwa” at the head, took part in the ball.

The hospital began to operate even before the great fire of 1866; in that fire, the hospital building was burnt along with a large part of the town. Only the walls remained, which were temporarily repaired. It was a neglected building, which the townspeople used to call “a poor-house.” This poor-house served as a shelter for the poor, the sick and the maimed, who could not afford to rent their own apartments. The house was managed by an old man who lived there, who was referred to as “der hekdesh-man” [the poor-house man]. The residents of the poor-house survived on money they begged for, and on meals sent to them by the townspeople.

In 1891 some of the Buczacz residents established a committee for the renewal of the hospital. Among them were Yisrael Moshe Stern (whose mother, Fiegeh Waksler, donated a large sum of money for this purpose), Yisrael Moshe Preminger, Yitzhak Seidman, Isaac Nacht, Yoel and Nathan Neiman, Reuven Leib Pohorile, and others. They gave their own contributions for this purpose, and raised other donations. They renovated the building and set up a modern hospital on the first floor for the community of Buczacz and the surrounding areas. The late Y.M. Preminger was president of the hospital for many years, and the late Y. M. Stern was its director. The latter devoted most of his life to directing and maintaining the hospital and also tried to ensure a future existence for the institution. For this purpose, he built and renovated a few houses left by various estates, including the house of the Margolis family, where the community committee was later located; the stores adjacent to this house; the lot opposite the community house including its stores; the chicken slaughterhouse; the stores and mainly the butcher shops and the “folks-kich” above them. Some of the income from these buildings was devoted to maintaining the hospital, and some to the Talmud Torah. In addition to all this, many of the townspeople agreed to give monthly donations to the institution.

For a few years, the hospital building was rented out to the Baron Hirsch's school, and the folks-kich (public kitchen) was also located in it for a while, and in this way it was possible to furnish and arrange the top floor of the institution.

Dr. Fabian Nacht was appointed medical director of the hospital from its first day, and he served in this capacity for over thirty years.

In 1908, an old age home was set up on the first floor of the building, with room for 15 people. Among the founders of this institution were Yisrael Moshe Preminger, Yisrael Moshe Stern, Avish Stern, Yitzhak Seidman, Leibish Fried and David Neiman, who was for many years a voluntary secretary. Moshe Farb donated the first ten beds for the opening of the old age home. In order to enable the maintenance of the old age home, the community committee donated the right to collect payment for tombstones, for this purpose.

In this way, the two institutions were conducted until 1914.

When the First World War broke out, almost all the Jewish residents left the town and the building became ownerless. Between 1914 and 1920, following the various occupations of the town, the building served periodically as a hospital for the war casualties of the various sides. It should be noted that the only patient who remained there during that whole period, was Leah (Abenstein) with her sister “Baba,” who was lame. They later moved to the old age home and remained there until all the residents and employees of both the institutions were killed by the Nazis in 1942.

When the war was over in 1920, a general assembly was held to elect a new board for the two institutions. The following were elected: David Neumann – Chairman; Zigmunt Cook – Assistant Chairman; Leib Roll – Vice Chairman and Administrator; Monish Frankel – Treasurer; Tzvi Nirenberg – Secretary. Other members chosen were Ms. Shnitzi Herzes, Ms. Paula Marengel, Ms. Frieda Rosen, Julius Tzeler, Fischel Skalka, David Shechner, Moshe Wolftal, Pinchas Weinstock, Yosef Knobler, Haim Frankel, Yehuda Pitzel, Fischel Kittenflon, Alter Goldberg and Itzik Wolf Yorman.

The new board found the hospital and the old age home in a terrible condition. The building was decrepit, there was no linen, the few pieces of furniture had been tossed in the corners of the rooms, and the patients used dirty rags to dry themselves instead of towels. The nutrition was very poor, and only saccharine was used to sweeten the food, and even that only a little. The patients were literally starving. It was winter, and of course there was nothing to fuel the heaters with.

The board immediately conducted a once-off fundraising campaign, to raise money, food and linen. They fixed the building and organized the rooms and the yard. All the rooms were thoroughly cleaned, linen was purchased, the kitchen was improved and dinnerware was purchased. As we have mentioned, the head physician was Dr. Nacht. At the same time, the board requested assistance from the Joint and was given a number of beds, sheets, linen, medicine, surgical and medical devices, and a large amount of soap, tooth powder, toothbrushes and more.

The institutions had five sources of income at the time:

  1. The rent from the houses and stores mentioned previously;
  2. The right to collect payment from erection of tombstones, which was estimated and assessed according to the individual's financial situation;
  3. Annual support from the community committee (which was never given in full);
  4. Monthly payments from some of the townspeople, which the new board obtained for the two institutions;
  5. Pledges and donations to benefit the institutions on any occasion such as weddings, balls, etc.
The patients were taken in free of charge, as were the elderly people. A clinic was organized for poor patients outside the institution, and they were also given free medication. The condition improved from one year to the next, thanks to the dedicated work of the administration members. Ms. Adella Pines was the manager of the hospital at that time, and she was tireless in her efforts to improve the health and nutrition conditions in the institution.

In 1923, Leib Roll was elected as Chairman of the institution, and he served in this capacity until the end of 1934, at which time he made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. From that time until the hospital ceased to exist, Monish Frankel was the Chairman, and Paula Marangel and Yosef Knobler were Assistant Chairs. At first, there were 16 beds in the hospital and 15-16 elderly residents. More improvements were introduced, including electric lighting and running water in the building. A pretty garden was arranged around the building, a hut for infectious patients, a morgue, a laundry room and an ice storehouse.

In 1925, after more than thirty years of dedicated and fruitful activity in the hospital, Dr. Nacht stepped down as head physician, due to his age, and was replaced by Dr. Mordechai Hirschorn, who remained in this capacity until the hospital was transferred to the authority of the Soviet government.

Over the course of time, the hospital's character changed, and their was a need to expand it and add more beds, and therefore the old age home was moved to a new building which was acquired from the Talmud Torah committee, and four additional spaces were added in it for elderly patients. Since this was the only hospital in the entire district – there was no governmental hospital – the workrooms and storage areas had to be expanded. The expanded hospital included a delivery room, two quarantine rooms, a surgery room, and a bathroom with hot water. The situation in the hospital, both medically and organizationally, improved so much that even patients from the wealthier classes of town endeavored to be accepted as patients, in return for pay of course.

In 1929, due to the economic crisis and the impoverishment of the Jewish population, the hospital's external sources of income decreased and the institution was forced to become self-supporting. Only after a number of years was there an interest in this public institution on the part of the Buczacz Landsmannschaft in America, and they supported it with considerable donations. At the same time, in 1936, a new physician was hired by the hospital, Dr. Tzvi Rosenman, and more nurses were also hired. That same year, a medical laboratory was also organized in the hospital, where Dr. Yoachim Gottfried (who is now in Israel) worked. The number of beds in the hospital was increased to 40.

Much of the improvement in the situation and in the internal conditions, must be credited to the managers, the first of whom was Ms. Adella Pines, who worked until 1932. After her, the management was given to Ms. Esther Besner (Eisenberg), who remained in this capacity until she moved to Israel in 1935. The final manager was Ms. Betty Medwinska, who worked until 1942, when she was transferred along with part of the townspeople to the gas chambers in Belzec.

From the beginning of the war, in September 1939, the hospital served as a military hospital, where all the war casualties during that time were treated. After a few weeks, the hospital was moved to the governmental buildings (in Podlesie), where Dr. Avraham Khalfan worked as director of the internal and X-ray department, and Dr. Blottreich and Dr. Gottfried also worked there. The abandoned hospital buildings, and the old age home buildings, became a governmental old age home for both Jews and Christians. This old age home was under the medical supervision of Dr. Hirschorn, and was managed by Ms. Medwinska. Of course, the Jewish character of the institution was completely eradicated, and the elderly residents went hungry as they could not eat the non-kosher food.

During the Nazi period, the hospital was managed by a Jewish doctor, whose name it would be best not to mention.

It should be noted that all the physicians who worked at the hospital in Buczacz during the final period, whether full-time or part-time, are all still alive, including all the nurses who worked there during that time.

Today, the building is in ruins, the doors and windows are broken, the roof and some of the internal walls are destroyed. It is a ruin, in which such beautiful Jewish life once flourished.

(compiled by Khaye Roll, of blessed memory)


11. This refers to the honor of being called up during the reading of the Torah to recite a blessing. Back