Ulanów by Tadeusz Kumik

Ulanów by Tadeusz Kumik
Chapter V / Jews in Ulanów:  Pp. 241-259
Summary, Critique and Excerpts by George Alexander
Editing by Melody Katz

This material is from a chapter in a book dealing with the small town of Ulanów [pronounced Oo-lan-oof] in Southeastern Poland.  Ulanów is located off the main highway from Rzeszow [ pronounced Zhe’shoof ] to Lublin, at the point where the river Tanew joins the San, a major tributary of the Vistula.

From the text, it is surmised that the author is a Polish Catholic, quite knowledgeable about Jewish customs.  He is trying very hard to appear sympathetic and understanding of Jewish problems, but also appears quite naive and , at times, cannot avoid showing belief in negative antisemitic stereotypes common among Poles.

The chapter is quite long, and is not translated in toto.  The first few pages are freely translated and then some interesting tidbits from the rest of the chapter are added.

It is difficult to establish a date for the Jewish settlement in Ulanów.  For centuries they intermingled with the Catholic population of the township, forming a tight group with a separate cultural and religious identity.  With the Catholics they spoke Polish, among themselves they used Yiddish.

The flowering of Ulanów in the 17th and 18th century helped  the Jewish inhabitants.  The decrease in fortunes of the town and its Catholic population later, was also mirrored in the fate of the Jews, this being particularly obvious during the period between the First and Second World War.

On the average, Jews constituted approximately 40% of the inhabitants of Ulanów.

The Jews had various occupations.  Of these, commerce occupied the first rank.  There were also many craftsmen, such as tailors, hat makers, shoemakers, jewelers, rope makers, barbers, etc.  There were even bargemen.

Appearance and dress separated the Jews from Catholics.  Older and elderly Jews usually wore black jackets and black large coats, on their heads they wore tiny, round, black caps or black hats with wide fur rims.  In particular, they wore these hats for their Sabbath or holidays.  To pray, they wore white covers with appropriate strings.  All had large, majestic beards and whiskers as well as strongly curled peyes [sidecurls].   Youngsters, from the earliest age, cultivated long peyes and would not move a step without a cap on their heads.

Middle-age Jews tried to appear like the rest of the population.  Without beards and peyes, they entered town and village society, trying to do as well as possible in commerce to earn a living.  Toward the end of the period between the Wars this class of the Jewish society formed more emotional bonds with the catholic population, being invited to the church for some weddings and funerals, not refusing to partake in pork dishes.  Also, Catholics began to attend funerals of Jewish celebrities.

The main Jewish occupation was commerce.  Suffices to say that almost all buildings around town square were in Jewish hands.  Only four were owned by Catholics.  Main streets, like the Swierczewski Street, and partly the Third-of-May Street, were also occupied by Jews.

From page 246:  The Jews excelled in commerce, they had in this respect a great deal of talent and cunning...A special group was constituted by Jews dealing in lumber with Gdansk [Translator’s note:  German name for Gdansk is Danzig, a port at the mouth of the Vistula]...with Germans, Dutch and other merchants from Northwestern Europe; thanks to this they became very rich... To this privileged group belonged Nathan Schaller, born in Ulanów on 22 Jan 1901, now living in Tel Aviv... Hersch Efraim Koller...

Also, among the Jews were some highly educated, for ex.:  Miss A. Silberman, a teacher; Rappoport and Klemens Weber, lawyers; Izzak Goldfus and others, physicians...

From page 247:  In addition to their own school, the Jews benefited from the public school in Ulanów.  They attended classes for five days a week, skipping Saturdays and Sundays.  During the first and last class, when students said their [Roman-Catholic] prayers, the Jews just sat on their benches, sometimes wearing round caps on their heads.  Almost all cultivated long sidecurls.  This bothered the Roman-Catholic students, and after classes there were frequent bitter fighting with the Jewish student.  In spite of comments from the school principal, the fights did not stop and often became brutal.

From page 249:  The Jews fervently pray morning and evening, donning special costumes and cords.  The sabbath starts on Friday evening at sunset with lighting of candles, which is done by the family matriarch.  Sabbath ends on Saturday evening also at sunset.  For Sabbath, it is absolutely necessary to have challah and fish.  During sabbath it is forbidden to perform almost any work; for example, to light a fire or even open a letter.

From page 250:  In Ulanów there was an elaborate Jewish ritual bath.  Only men used this bath.  An interesting feature of this bath was a well, 20 meters [approximately 60 feet] deep, with a staircase entrance to the water level.

From page 253:  In the early phase of the German occupation during WWII, Ulanów became full of Jews.  They were herded there from neighboring towns and villages...Rudnik on the San, Nisko, and Rozwadow.  Ulanów became like a ghetto for oppressed Jews.

In the fall of 1941, the Germans burned down the beautiful synagogue, which glowed for several days.  Pages from thick Hebrew texts, along with sparks and smoke, rose high... Blackened walls were taken apart, brick by brick, for various needs of local inhabitants of Ulanów and neighboring villages.

From page 254:  Eventually came the day of wrath, 4 October 1942- when, on the order of the Gestapo office in Janow Lubelski, all Jews had to leave Ulanów.  “The night of October 3-4 1942 was a veritable day of Final Judgement...I shall never forget as long as Iive...above everything the sound of crying and lamentations of petrified mothers and children, also of men...and together with them also cried the neighbors, Catholics, suspecting what will be the fate of the expelees.  Nobody slept that night in Ulanów.”

From page 259:  There are no Jews now in Ulanów.  They left behind a monument in the form of a cemetery, showing that they had lived here.  The cemetery is fenced in as a cultural monument, and is protected by the government and the entire community of Ulanów. For a long time this cemetery was neglected... The local priest, Jozef Lisak, called from his pulpit for the respect for the cemetery.  He then said a prayer in the Jewish cemetery for the peaceful rest of the dead and the martyred.

Editors Note:  The above article was reproduced by the generous permission of Richard Schwarzstein and George Alexander.  Mr. Alexander was born in Krakow, Poland and survived WWII in Schindler's work camp near Krakow.  He now lives in New York.


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