With the outbreak of WWII on September
1, 1939, young Jewish men were enlisted to the Polish Army. However,
because of the rapid disintegration of the Polish Administration,
most of them did not reach active service. Jewish refugees from
Western Poland arrived in Borszczow and received the assistance of
the local community. Units of the Red Army occupied Borszczow on
September 17, 1939. Jewish public life of a nationalist character
ended but the religious life continued without disturbance. Many
Jews filled important positions in the town's administration.
In 1940 most craftsmen organized
cooperatives, but continued to work unofficially for the private
market. A school whose teaching language was Yiddish, opened in town
and had some 200 students. A number of Jewish estate-owners were
exiled to the Soviet Union.
When the German invasion started on
June 22, 1941, groups of Jews tried to cross the border to the
Soviet Union, but the Soviet guards posted at the border prevented
it. Only the front's collapse and the evacuation of town by the
Soviet administration at the end of June, enabled small groups of
Jews to move east.
On July 6, 1941, after the Soviet
evacuation, the local Ukrainians took over the town's
administration, causing tension between them and the Jewish
population. A moderate local Ukrainian leader, who was in good terms
with the Jewish leadership, interceded and aggressions were
prevented. Units of the Hungarian Army allied with the Germans
arrived in town on July 7, 1941. On July 8, the Hungarian soldiers,
together with the Ukrainian police, confiscated all the radio sets
from Jewish homes.
By the same time a Jewish committee
was organized in Borszczow, headed by Wolf Hess, to take care of the
vital needs of the community. Hundreds of Jewish refugees exiled
from Carpatho- Ruthenia were brought to Borszczow in July 1941. The
local Jewish committee organized the provision of food and clothing
and, during the few days that they stayed in Borszczow, they were
also given a roof over their heads. During the Hungarian military
administration in Borszczow, there were no cases of physical
aggression against Jews, but from time to time the Hungarian
soldiers plundered Jewish homes.
In September 1941, the town's
administration was handed over to the Germans. A number of
restrictions were imposed on Jews: to wear a white band with a blue
Maggen David; all Jewish men aged 14 to 60 were subjected to forced
labor; there was night curfew for Jews; Jews were not allowed on the
main street; they were not allowed to leave town without a permit;
purchase of provisions at the market was limited to one hour per
day, from noon to 1:00 PM.
The existing Jewish committee became
the Judenrat, and Wolf Hess was appointed to head it. The other
council members were Hersch Taiber (deputy), Meir Gottesman, Shalom
Rosenblatt, Shachner (treasurer), Friedrich Lubliner, Shpigel, S.
Neiringer, Meshulam Blumenthal, Meir Latkovtzer, Mordechai
Rosenstock and Rabbi Shlomo Hertz.
Within the frame of the Judenrat there
was a labor department to supply men for forced labor, a welfare
department that organized a public kitchen and aid to the needy, a
special department to provide valuable effects to the Germans on
demand, a public health department to deal with hygiene and
prevention of disease, a food department in charge of official
rationing. These rations could not sustain the community – they were
insufficient and their supply was irregular.
Side by side with the Judenrat, there
was a Jewish police. Hess did his best to make the Judenrat work on
sound foundations, to have it clean from corruption, and he
initiated various activities to ease the hardships of the communtiy.
Towards the Germans he presented a proud and respectable stand,
while he strived to deter them from carrying forth different edicts.
This attitude towards the Germans, combined with Jewish informers
who were not satisfied with his policy, resulted in Hess' arrest; he
was sent to Belzec for extermination on July 27, 1942. On his death,
the Judenrat's standing in the eyes of the community succumbed. A
refugee from Vienna, Oscar Hessing, was appointed to head the
Judenrat. His line was total obeyance to the Germans. He placed his
brother Shimon as head of the Jewish police and they both ignored
the needs of the community.
A branch of the J.S.S. acted in
Borszczow headed by Isaac Beidof. Its members extended aid to the
hungry and the sick. In the autumn of 1941 the Germans demanded a
contribution of gold and silver from the community as well as large
quantities of coffee, tea and valuable wares.
By the winter of 1941-1942 groups of
youths were abducted to labor camps in the environs of Ternopol:
Stupki, Kamionka, Borki-Wielkie. They were engaged in quarries and
other forced labor, and the inmates were gradually exterminated.
The ghetto of Borszczow was created on
April 1st, 1942. It enclosed a number of overpopulated streets with
rundown houses. In time, it had to absorb also Jews from Mielnica,
Skala Podolskaya, Ozeryany, Korolevka and Krzywcze Gorne as well as
Jews from Zloczow and Czortkow. The ghetto was not closed but it was
forbidden to leave it without a permit. Hunger and typhus killed
many. Yet, in spite of the difficult situation, the Jewish children
continued to gather in small groups and to learn with the help of
local teachers and educators. Songs were written and a 16-year-old
youngster, Meshulam Meisel, left a collection of drawings depicting
the grim reality of those days.
In April of 1942 some of the Jews of
Borszczow were murdered but the first big aktsia took place
on September 26, 1942. About 100 people – mainly sick and old – were
killed on the spot. 800 Jews were sent by train to Belzec for
extermination. A group of youths were sent to Janowska in Lvov,
where they died later on. By the same time there were aktsias
in nearby towns. The survivors of those communities (Mielnica, Skala
and Korolevka) were taken over to the Borszczow ghetto. Together
with the local Jews they suffered hunger and epidemics during the
winter of 1942-1943, and were prey to murders. During those months,
the Jews started to prepare hiding places inside the ghetto and in
the surrounding forests. From time to time, families or small groups
would disappear and hide away in those “bunkers”. Some of the hiding
places were discovered and their occupants killed.
On March 13, 1943, close to 400 people
were sent away to Belzec. On the eve of Pessach, April 19, 1943, a
roundup of the German and Ukrainian police gathered 800 Jews, took
them to the cemetery and killed them the following day.
On June 5, 1943, some 700 Jews were
murdered at the Jewish cemetery. The massive wave of aktsias
resulted in more attempts to flee from the ghetto. But the odds of
finding refuge among the local population were limited.
The aktsia that broke out on 9
June 1943 lasted 5 days. By the time it ended, 1,800 additional Jews
were killed at the Borszczow cemetery. The town was officially
declared “Judenrein”. A group of 60 people, the last remainder of
this community, was concentrated in three houses next to the
Vizhnitz Hassidim synagogue and were engaged in sorting out the
Jewish assets. The Germans used various ploys to discover the Jews
in hiding. They proclaimed that those leaving their hideouts would
be concentrated in a work camp and would come out unharmed. With
this artifice, some 360 people were caught and executed on August
14, 1943. After that, every Jew discovered was shot on the spot. The
Jew hunting continued until the last days of the Nazi occupation.
Some of the Jews hiding in the “bunkers” physically resisted their
As early as the spring of 1942, a
group of youngsters of the Borszczow ghetto became organized and
started to plan resistance actions. The group grew especially after
the first aktsia in September 1942 and reached tens of
members. Their leaders were Wolf Ashendorf, Joel Weintraub, Kalman
Schwartz and a Jewish soldier of the Red Army named Lyoba who had
escaped the Germans. The underground managed to acquire a small
number of arms; a few days before the end of the ghetto, they
smuggled a small group of members to the forests. This group of
fighters became known as the “Borszczower Band”. For a few months
since the summer of 1943, they made several attacks on Ukrainian
policemen and on “Bandera” Ukrainian nationalist groups. On November
17, 1943 they boldly released all 50 inmates of the Borszczow jail,
among them 20 Jews. Further acquisition of arms became difficult and
they were faced with the hostility of the local population. On
December 6, 1943, a large force of Germans attacked them. After a
battle that lasted a few hours, in the course of which a few Germans
fell, the Jewish fighters suffered many casualties and had to
disperse. Some put an end to their lives to avoid being caught by
the Germans and some joined the partisans passing by.
Borszczow was liberated on July 21,
1944, and only a few survivors gathered in town. Not long afterwards
they emigrated to Poland and from there to Eretz Israel and other