Przemyśl at the Turn of the Century: From the Notes of Feliks Mantel

Below is a translation from Polish of the article Przemyśl na przełomie wieków …z zapisków Feliksa Mantela

Feliks Mantel (1906-1990) came from a family of Przemyśl Jews. His father, Józef Mantel (1875-1920), was a lawyer and a close associate of [lawуer and socialist politician] Herman Lieberman. Józef Piłsudski, who stayed in Przemyśl in 1912, visited the Mantel family for dinner. Six-year-old Feliks remembered that on that day his mother served roast beef. Young Feliks also remembered Colonel Radelmacher, who marched along Franciszkańcka Street every day to the Corps Headquarters, as well as almost all the inhabitants of his building at 20 Franciszkańska Street.

In 1980, Feliks Mantel’s A Range of Memories was published in Paris, in which he remembers his hometown and the times of his youth. A selection of fragments of these memories from the end of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century we quote below.

***

‘Little Vienna’

Let’s go back to the 1870s. By order of the most gracious ruler Emperor of Austria and Hungary Franz Joseph I and in agreement with the general staff, a special commission of military and technical experts came to our town to explore the possibility of transforming the city into a stronghold. The commission ruled that, given the city’s hilly location near the main Lwów-Kraków railroad and the planned connection to Hungary via the Dukla Pass to Mezi-Laborcze, this is the right place to organize a defense against a Russian offensive. […] The city was surrounded by a triple belt of brick, iron, and concrete forts approximately 20 km from the center. They were placed at strategic points (intersection of roads, fords, etc.). They were casemates with openings for rifles and medium-caliber cannons. Everything was covered with green grass to confuse the good Russians. […]

For the construction of forts, military facilities, residential buildings, and workshops for the army, a workforce was needed, which was made up of newcomers from nearby towns and villages who were in search of a living. Until then, these people lived in complete misery and backwardness. In addition, due to the city’s development, the number of officials and officers in need of housing increased immeasurably. […] The city grew “like yeast” and the number of inhabitants increased from 15,000 to 45,000, not counting the army. This growth continued uninterrupted until the outbreak of World War I, i.e., for around the 50 years, with short periods of recession, completely independent of the global economic situation. Here the construction was supervised by the corps, new fortifications were built, supplies were replenished, and the size of the military personnel increased. […]

Mr. Hirt, the owner of many apartment buildings, made a large fortune from army supplies. As a reward from the emperor, he received the title of K.K. (kaiserlich-königlich – Imperial-Royal) Hoflieferant (purveyor to the court), and was also awarded various distinctions.

He walked proud as a peacock, and counted the windows in his houses. Every year Hirt traveled to Karlsbad with his entire court. Meanwhile, the city become a small “Vienna.” There was still no water, gas, or electricity, but there were first-class restaurants, cafés, cabarets, known in the can-can era as Tingle-Tangle.

Electricity reached the city only in 1908. Water supply was introduced during the First World War. I remember the rituals of cleaning kerosene lamps, reinstalling the wick, and cleaning the soot-smoked glass. Then the light came, and tall kerosene lamps stood for years on the huge table in my father’s office as a monument to ancient lighting, or rather to darkness […].

The Officers

Meanwhile, the officers sat idle in the fortress. Regiments, as everywhere, were commanded by feldwebels (sergeants). The city had special regiments of cavalry, hussars, and lancers, commanded by archdukes, princes, and counts, surrounded by staff of aristocratic officers. The crème de la crème of the Austrian or even Hungarian army. They played cards, billiards, wandered the bars, stood for hours in front of Schwarz’s pharmacy and Rosiewicz’s confectionery (Erazma!), аnd in front of the Grand Coffee Shop; they drank and seduced local girls, whose hearts softened at the sight of the colorful and richly decorated forms, from the sound of names such as Hohenlohe, Esterhazy, Pallavicini, and others, as well as from the compliments whispered in their ears in all the languages ​​of the monarchy. Even the daughters of rabbis could not resist these charms, and often fled with the officers from under a pious roof into the wide world. One cannot imagine the great shame, disgrace, and moral suffering of the Orthodox community. Officers spent money, lost and borrowed, some could not return the money and committed suicide, others’ debts were paid by relatives, and the city and townspeople became rich.

Ochsenberg’s small handelek [establishment] and Stieber’s café were the favorite places for social gatherings. In the “breakfast room” a sea of Pilsner was drunk, at that time the “pure” drink was not known, if it was pure spirit, the so-called bongout, which was chased down with sandwiches with herring, Olomouc kvarg, or Roquefort sztangy, the wealthier would Jewish rolls, which instead of pulp were filled with Russian caviar.

The Grand Café, owned by Mr. Stieber, was then the largest and most elegant establishment of its kind in all of Austria. Billiards, a women’s lounge, great landscapes of historic Przemyśl, contemporary caricatures of officers and notables by Sichulski, excellent coffee, crispy rogaliki (croissants), and diligent service under the constant supervision of the owner brought the café a good reputation. Mr. Stieber, a former server, then moved to Vienna, opened Café Splendid in the center and became the president of Viennese coffee shops. […]

As for the soldiers, they were committed to three years of service. The training was exhausting, the food was poor, and the treatment by officers and sergeants was cruel. Slapping and whipping were commonplace. Worse, elaborate forms of torture such with the strappado or the shrew’s fiddle were often used. The number of suicides of soldiers increased. News of this continued to spread, and finally at the end of the nineteenth century, the local socialist body Głos Przemyski launched a campaign under the slogan “military blasphemy.” […]

Again that Lieberman

At that time, in the last years of the nineteenth century, the corps commander was General Galgoczyi, a Slovene, a favorite of the emperor, known for his trivial style and trousers folded like a multi-layered accordion. Głos Przemyski (Voice of Przemyśl) constantly published revelations about the torture and suicide of soldiers in the barracks. The public was agitated, the officers even more so. The latter not because of the torture, but because of the betrayal of military secrets. Is it possible that someone is sending messages from the barracks to the city? If so, who? To get an answer to this question, they sent a delegation to the Głos Przemyski editorial office, which was located on the premises of a hospital fund on the Market Square. In response, the officers are detained in the editorial office, kept under guard for hours, and released only late at night with a warning that the treatment could be worse if they turn up again demanding the author be revealed. The next day, the officers take revenge and publicly strike Lieberman. The workers and Jews are outraged, violent demonstrations against the army are held, and finally armed socialists shoot officers on the bridge and in Zasanie. […]

The entire Austro-Hungarian press, indeed the whole world, reports on these events in the stronghold. The authorities declare a state of emergency. They arrest Lieberman and other leaders and imprison them in Lwów. Daszyński, who is a member of parliament, makes a sharp interpellation and delivers a passionate speech against militarism, its practices and its consequences. The Lwów jury issues a unanimous verdict acquitting(!) the accused. The emperor dismisses Galgoczyi. The beatings and torture of soldiers ceases. […]

Workers’ House

While fighting in the Balkans, Lieberman had the idea of building a large and representative Workers’ House, the lack of which was really felt. “Measure strength by intentions, not intention by strength!” There was no money, no credit, but there was goodwill, the sacrifice of the workers, and the blackmail of Mr. Ambassador (in financial matters). These three factors allowed engineer Aleksander Malinowski to complete the work and build a magnificent building, the most magnificent Workers’ House in Galicia at that time.

It housed a great theater with a Wygrzywalski curtain. On the curtain, the workers pull a boat — from where, to where, and why, is unknown. There was also a club room, a trade union hall, a restaurant, a bakery, and a three-story living area. The equipment in the bakery was new, but the bread was bad. It was never clear why this was happening, nor was it possible to improve the quality of the bread and rolls. The club had a library and an amateur theater studio. Both worked very diligently. A posthumous portrait of my father also hung in the club. Deserving comrades settled in the residential wing: Burda, who later became a legionnaire major and an opponent of Lieberman, Bażowski, Siegman, and others.

The house really decorated the city. Tadeusz Wieniawa-Długoszowski, who during his family’s heyday came to give a reading, having seen the house, wrote: “Lieberman built a monument to himself during his lifetime!” But one had to pay for this monument. Revenues were meager, the restaurant did not work, the hall was boycotted by clergy and Endeks [members of the National Democratic party of Poland] who were defending their Sokoł society.  Payment deadlines were coming to an end, the ambassador’s blackmail was no longer working, and there was a risk that it would be sold at auction. And here the only candidate was Bishop Pelczar for Christian unions. One thought of this was feared by the socialists like holy water by the devil. And this alliance would have certainly happened had it not been for the outbreak of the war and the announcement of a moratorium. After the city was recaptured, the Austrian army rented the hall and restaurant. Films were screened every day, and on holidays there were theater performances, academies, and balls. […]

Colonel Radelmacher and Franciszkańska Street

Colonel Radelmacher lived in the Castle, that is, not in the Castle, but in a house located on a hill in the castle park. Later, this house belonged to the master chimney sweep Kropiwnicki and at that time my school friend Kucz lived there with his parents. They were a working class family.

Colonel Radelmacher worked at the corps headquarters and had a long way to go to the office. After leaving the house, he passed the long wall of the seminary, behind which was an orchard with wonderful White Transparent apples. The wall was high, but for those who wanted it, it was easy to sneak into the orchard for apples. I experienced this for myself when we spent one of our summer vacations at the colonel’s house.

Passing Casimir Castle on his left, the colonel descended the hill along the seminary building, which was crossed by two squares with figures of saints, then walked past the parish office and the old Orzechowski manor house, which was located opposite the cathedral. […]

Passing the tax office, the colonel strained and adjusted his rapcie [part of the military equipment]. He approached a soldier who was on guard and who saluted him. The Jesuit church, known as the military baroque Franciscan church, now separated it from Franciszkańska Street, already known to us because of Ochsenberg’s handelek and Szancer’s pharmacy. The colonel plunged into the crowd to reappear on Plac na Bramie, next to the tin urinal à la Clochemerle. Then he passed Rosiewicz’s confectionery, Martynowicz’s shop, and Stieber’s café […] and, walking along Mickiewicza Street, finally reached the Headquarters.

Colonel Radelmacher, in fact, did not get lost in the crowd. He stood out among his entourage with his military posture, tall stature, elongated, stern face, imperial sideburns, and polished boots. He was completely gray, and it was this gray hair that won him respect. His militarism was in good shape. Of course, he was not an ordinary officer, but an administrative officer who faithfully served the emperor for forty years.

Colonel Radelmacher walked this route four times a day. He did not have or did not want to have a car or a carriage. Neither rain nor frost could stop him from walking to the office. He was the epitome of punctuality and service.

At home he was strict. He had endless conflicts with his wife, his three sons Rajmund, Wiktor, and Erwin were afraid of him, and the dogs trembled before him. He often hunted and eagerly ate the slaughtered birds that did not belong to the noble game.

Passers-by and neighbors knew him, he was for them a clock and a manifestation of a stable life. When he retired just before the war, the era was over, the clock stopped, and turbulent times began. The heir to the throne had just been murdered in Sarajevo.

After the outbreak of the war […] his daily walks were no longer noticed. Maybe he changed the route, maybe he was consumed by the increased traffic.

During the war, he came to our house at ul. Franciszkańska 20. He had just received word that his son Wiktor had died at the front and did not have the courage to tell his wife this news. He sat down in the armchair and cried.

Colonel Radelmacher bent under the burden of personal tragedy. He was for me a symbol of order in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. When Colonel Radelmacher broke, the whole of Austria collapsed before my eyes.

The Fortress

After the assassination of the archduke, my parents went on holiday to Zakopane, taking me and my younger sister Frania. […] My parents rented a mountain cabin, and my mother ran a full-fledged farm there. They did not think about war at all. […]

The news of Serbia’s rejection of the ultimatum and of mobilization came overnight. I woke up to find my parents packing the trunks. […] Mother and the children were to wait out the war with the grandparents in Kraków, Father went to Przemyśl. […]

Meanwhile, civilians were quickly evacuated from Przemyśl for safety reasons. Those who were allowed to stay had to stock up on food for two months. Soon the Austrian army, led by Generals Dankel and Aufenberg, retreating under pressure from Russian troops, passed through the city and emptied the food warehouses. The siege began and lasted until March of the following year. In October, the circle of Russian troops was broken, but not for long. In the fortress there were over 100,000 soldiers under the command of General Kumanek, who were beginning to feel the effects of the march of the retreating armies. There were no provisions. […] The Russians decided to starve the fortress. […] Finally, the army became so hungry that the Hungarians ate all the dogs and cats. In this situation, Kumanek ordered bridges and ammunition depots to be blown up and surrendered to the Moskals [Russians]. […]

Soon the tsar arrived in the city and settled in the palace of the Jewish miller and captain Frankl. He came to see his prey. Jews were not allowed to live in the “krieposti” [fortress], so they were evacuated in a polite but firm manner. Not a hair on anyone’s head was touched.

The Russian rule was short-lived. In June, the Austrians, supported by the Germans, or rather the Germans with Austrian obstacles, launched a counteroffensive and liberated the city.

Henio Szancer

During the siege of Przemyśl, my father was ordered to go to Vienna to establish contact with the Austrian trade unions. […] After the liberation of Przemyśl, we quickly returned home. The apartment, left unattended, was intact. Some trifles taken by the Austrian officer who lived in the apartment during the siege were missing. My father opened a limited number of offices and party institutions due to the lack of people, many of whom had been drafted into the army.

After returning from Vienna, I still had a year of school ahead of me. I studied reluctantly, devoting my time to my first faithful friend, Henryk Szancer. Szancer’s parents came from Skole and took over the largest pharmacy in Przemyśl. That is why they remained in the city during the siege. Henio (as we called him) had to tell in detail what life was like during this period. Together we enjoyed the cinema, where we spent entire afternoons admiring the then stars Olaf Foenes, Aste Nielsen, Paweł Veit, Albert Wassermann, and Paweł Wegner. […] We collected (every boy had to collect something!) books, stamps, and photographs of film actors. I was overwhelmed by a passion for collecting prints and photographs from the time of the siege, it was the beginning of my archive.

Religion

My father’s death and funeral was a tragic experience for me and caused me to think long and hard about my attitude toward the Jewish people and religion, as well as toward the Polish people.

I was not used to religion, I did not see it at home, and at school I had teachers who did not try or know how to present it in an appropriate form. My father never went to the synagogue, except on the eve of Yom Kippur to listen to the beautiful melody of Kol Nidre. My father wanted me to study Hebrew, I even had teachers, but nothing came of it. Yet, even just entering a church or synagogue made a deep impression on me. […]

The old Renaissance synagogue, which had existed for centuries, was not very popular on Friday evenings. Not many pious people went there. Known as the old synagogue, it was run by Orthodox Jews. The more progressive had their own temple — the moderately pious Scheinbach synagogue — and the extremely religious Hasids prayed in private houses of prayer. The old synagogue, which no longer exists today, overlooked Plac Rybi, during the day full of bustle and street noise, on Friday evenings full of emptiness and gloom. The synagogue and the square were bathed in a special Przemyśl or Casimir light, at sunset, when it was time to start praying […]. Everything was immersed in great silence, seriousness, and austerity. The influence of tradition, history, and piety was still felt, despite the fact that few people prayed, the buildings were neglected, and the name was poorly lit.


Feliks Mantel (1906-1990) came from a family of Przemyśl Jews. His two uncles, Dr. Eliasz Mantel and Dr. Ozjasz Rast, were Endeks [members of the National Democratic party of Poland] before the war. Political views in the family differed so much that, as F. Mantel recalls, “the fathers belonged to different political camps and had such opposite beliefs that as far as I remember, they did not talk with each other, and the families did not maintain relations at all. Feliks’s father, Józef Mantel (1875-1920), was at one time the de facto leader of the Przemyśl Socialists. After Herman Lieberman, he took over the law firm and together with him and Witold Reger founded the Polish Social-Democratic Party in Przemyśl. 

Both Feliks and his father Józef belonged to the category of Jews for whom religion was quite foreign. “I did not profess the Jewish religion,” he wrote years later, “I knew neither Hebrew nor Yiddish, but I felt connected with the Jewish people when they were harmed and persecuted. The anti-Semitic antics hurt me.” After the outbreak of World War II, he was sentenced to two years in labor camps, then to six months in prison. In September 1944, Feliks Mantel arrived in Lublin to take up the post of Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Vienna. Upon the news of the forced incorporation of the PPS into the communist party, F. Mantel chooses to emigrate and settles permanently in Paris.

Source: Przemyskie Historie

1 thought on “Przemyśl at the Turn of the Century: From the Notes of Feliks Mantel

  1. Eagerly read these articles. My grandparents came from Galacia.
    My father from Lviv or possibly Przemul?
    Thank you

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