Buczacz Jews in Vienna

Yehezkiel Adrer, Translated by Norbert Porile and Alejandro Landman

Many Jewish Buchachers abandoned their town on August 21, 1914, in face of the advancing Russian army. They fled in all directions: to Hungary, Western Galicia, Silesia, and Moravia. However, a large fraction of them made an effort to reach Vienna, with the hope of finding a safe haven in the imperial capital. While the refugees who reached Vienna were able to secure decent living conditions, the others suffered hunger, abuse, and poverty, particularly in the 1916-18 period. Even though they received a government subsidy of money and food, they had to make a real effort to get an amount that was barely adequate to live on. This was the situation in Moravia, where many younger refugees were forced to live in shacks in various refugee camps. Many Buchach Jews wrote me about their desperate situation. I visited Nikelsberg and Bagei in Moravia and saw with my own eyes how difficult their lives in the shacks were. Many men, women, and children were squeezed into a single large shack, built by the government according to standard specifications that made no provision for any sanitary facilities. Drinking water and food were contaminated by sewage, leading to the outbreak of epidemics in which many refugees died.

The government instructed us to determine the needs of the refugees with respect to food, clothing, and shelter. However, our reports fell into the hands of the local officials, who were more interested in enriching themselves at the cost of the refugees than in providing adequate services. I met with Dr. Rudolf Shvartz-Hiler, the chief of the refugee center, to discuss the situation of the refugees. He explained that he was powerless to do anything and that any change had to be initiated by the government in Vienna. At the death of the Emperor Franz Josef in 1916 the young Emperor Karl took over and was introduced to the Parliament. The Galician representatives, Braiter and Raizes, asked for his help in improving the living conditions of the refugees in the Moravian camps. After a vigorous discussion, a parliamentary commission was chosen and given the task of studying the conditions in the refugee camps and make public their recommendations. The decision of the Parliament was all that one could hope for. The Parliament resolved to close the refugee camps immediately and house the refugees in available private housing. So was this sad affair brought to an end. While many of the refugees stayed on in various Moravian towns, the majority opted to settle in Vienna.

In November, 1918, after the end of the War and the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the new Czech government suddenly, and without any public discussion, evicted all the Jews who had settled in Moravia and sent them to the Polish border in order to return them to that country. The Austrian government, which had just been reorganized under a social democratic majority, also took action to settle the question of war refugees. The leader of the socialist government, Albert Lever, issued a decree requiring that refugees who had arrived in Vienna after July, 1914, and who wished to stay in the city, had to submit a petition requesting permission to stay on.

All the petitions were delayed, of course, and eventually turned over to the police, who summoned all the petitioners and informed them that, because of security and civil order considerations, they could not stay in Vienna for at least 10 years. They were given 2 weeks to leave the city without any possibility of appeal. This was the beginning of a difficult time. Jewish refugee families were evicted from their homes, taken to the police station, and then, by train, to the border town of Lindenburg. Since the Czech authorities didn't allow them to pass through, these unfortunates had to return to Vienna. There they were grabbed by the police and accused of entering the country without permission.

The efforts of Dr. Robert Shtraiker, a Jewish Parliament member, were to no avail, especially after Chancellor Karl Rener declared that the new Austria was not responsible for the decision of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire to admit the refugees in the first place. The Galician Jews were in a terrible situation. In order to help themselves, they formed an Organization the purpose of which was to plan for an orderly return to Poland. This Organization included Dr. J. Halraih and Yacob Feldman, my fellow Buchachers, and me. In a meeting with the police chief arranged by Robert Shtraiker we reached the following agreement: those war refugees who indicated to the Organization that they wished to leave Vienna and return to Poland received permission from the police to do so and were not bothered further.

Actually, several families, and among them some from Buchach, really did want to return to Poland. However this was not possible because they lacked the economic means to do so. The Austrian government refused their request for help arguing that this was the business of the Polish government. However, the Polish representative in Vienna told us that there were enough poor Jews in Poland and that there was no interest in increasing their number. While the majority of poor Jewish families wanted to return, Jews who were well off were interested in staying in Vienna.

Many months passed until Robert Shtraiker ended his involvement in the refugee question. Thereafter, JOINT (Jewish American Organization for Help and Settlement of Refugees) took over this problem and so ended the affair of the refugees.

Some 1500 to 1800 Buchachers stayed in Austria after the War, 95% of them in Vienna. After overcoming many difficulties, for example in obtaining citizenship, the refugees were able to establish themselves on the basis of the St. Germain accord, which benefited refugees throughout Austria. Many were able to establish successful businesses. However, a significant number of refugees were stuck in marginal business activities and could not set roots in the community. Their small shops or other businesses eventually folded and many of these Buchachers were left without adequate means of support.

The "Viennese" Jews, particularly those who established themselves in Vienna years before the Polish Jews, regarded the latter as undesirable competitors. Thus, the Polish Jews were steered into specific districts of Vienna and there was little contact between them and the more established Jews. There was also little contact between Buchachers – little sharing of either happy or sad occasions. There was even little social contact between family members and friends, to the point that few in the community heard about it when a Buchacher died or became ill. (Translator's note: this was not true for all families, in particular not so for the translator's (N.P.) family). In spite of these problems, the Jews from Eastern Europe played an important role in the politics of the Viennese Kehila, where they strongly supported the Zionist party with their votes.

In order to improve conditions, I invited some of my Buchach friends and discussed with them the possibility of forming an association of Jewish former residents of Buchach. They concurred with this idea. I began by gathering names and then went to the police to obtain the corresponding addresses. When I had put together a list of some 200 families I advertised the formation of the group and prepared for a general meeting.

The first meeting of the Association took place in 1929, following government approval. Several hundred Buchachers attended and it was a very successful meeting. A directorate was elected and began to function. The name given to the group was "Association of Buchach Jews in Vienna". Its mission was to work on community, educational, and primarily, social welfare issues. We organized meetings on various topics, as well as recitals, theatrical performances, and visits to the sick. Many of these activities were designed to attract the younger people. The income derived from these functions was used to help the needy. In time we were able to hold a Minian at "Iamim Noarim". The services were attended by Jews from Buchach and its surroundings and were very successful.

Some twenty families asked for our help, which we gave within the limits of the available funds. There were others who suffered hardships but were too ashamed to ask for help. They constituted our biggest problem because we had to give them substantial help, but both in secret and indirectly. Eventually we were able to set up a charitable fund that was used for both gifts and loans. This permitted us to help members of the community to establish or improve their businesses. We also sent funds to Buchach at Passover time to be distributed to the poor Jews remaining there. Our Association also participated in the communal life of the city, and helped mark the passage of both happy and sad occasions.

The Jewish Kehila of Vienna joined us in many social welfare projects. Our Association and its effective work were frequently mentioned in "Der Shtime" and "Olam Hadash", the Jewish newspapers of Vienna. My job was not an easy one as the Buchachers did not have much faith in our efforts and left us the most difficult tasks. However, I derived great pleasure when I could help the needy. In praise of my fellow Buchachers I do have to say that they always helped me and contributed funds when asked. I was the president of the organization from 1929 until 1938, as no one else was willing to assume this office. All the work was done in my office and the help I was able to provide was my only reward.

In March of 1938, when Hitler annexed Austria, there were several hundred Shillings in our account, and as it was just before Passover, I distributed them to the needy. I was summoned by the Gestapo and directed to turn over the records and funds of the association and, finally, to dissolve it. Thus ended our charitable association. The directorate consisted of Leon (Leibush) Frid, honorary president, Yehezkiel Adrer, Yakob Kraminer, Aprim Alpenbein, and Matitiahu Waiser, vicepresidents, Egon Maiziger and A. Ginsberg, treasurers, M. Jugendorf, M. Weiser, Abrim Levi Fridman, members of the financial committee. Other members were Zelman Neiman, Aron Anderman, Ing. M. Shainberg, Dr. David Pohorille, Shaul Weiner, Paul Adelshtain, Sh. Wildman, and M. Torten. Mrs. Cila Gancer and Mrs. Ofner served as secretaries.

After the war between Germany and Poland started in September, 1939, a number of Buchachers who had remained in Vienna were arrested and sent to Dachau. Among those who perished on "Kidush Hashem"were Moshe Jugendorf, Hirsh Preminger, Moshe Hofman, Mendel Jurman, and Josef Rozenfeld. Blessed be their memory.

Yehezkiel Adrer
New York City