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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Abyss of Despair

Rabbi Nathan Hanover

Bloch Publishing Company
New York, 5710‑1950

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please
let me know!


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Chapter 13

 p83  XII

The massacres in the capital city of Lwow

And it came to pass after these things1 that Chmiel, may his name be blotted out, and his army, proceeded to besiege the holy community of Lwow, one of the four largest communities in the Kingdom of Poland.2 It was a godly community, renowned for its sages and scribes. When the enemies arrived they encamped in the valley facing the tall fort which was outside the city of Lwow. A burst of fire from the fort killed thousands of Ukrainians and Tartars. Because of the lack of water, however, the Poles were compelled to leave the fort and go to the city of Lwow. The inhabitants then set fire to all the homes which surrounded the wall so that the enemies would not be able to hide in them. Nevertheless, the enemies succeeded in capturing the fort, and afterwards they encircled the city. The people were fearful of leaving their houses because of the shell fire which continued to come from the fort. As a result of this, famine and plague spread in the city. "Without shall the sword bereave and in the chambers, terror." Some ten thousand souls perished of starvation and disease.

After a long siege by the enemies the city could still not be over­powered. Then they stopped up the reservoirs  p84 outside the city which supplied the people with drinking water and the people had no water to drink. And all the people said: "Wherefore shall we die of hunger and thirst? Let us inform the enemies that we will give them all our possessions as a ransom for our lives." And the people of the city sent messages to Chmiel to offer a compromise: they would give him all their silver and gold as a ransom for their lives.

And the offer found favor in his eyes and he said to his followers: "What profit is it that we slay them? Let us take their money in ransom for their lives." And he sent his captain Glowacki, a former Polish officer who had rebelled against the Kingdom of Poland and vowed allegiance to him, into the city to discuss the terms of compromise. The city also sent forth several reputable nobles together with Reb Simeon, Shtadlan3 of Lwow, to visit Chmiel, and to discuss the matter with him. They agreed to the following compromise: two hundred fifty thousand gold pieces should be raised from amongst Jews and the nobles in the entire city as a ransom for their lives. But this exorbitant sum could not be raised from among them, so they surrendered their silver and gold and other valuables, at a rate of exchange below the current value. They weighed the gold and silver with weights as heavy as lead and half was given away for a mere pittance. And the Cossacks drained the city as one drains a fishpond. Were it not for God's compassion upon his people Israel, who were there in the thousands and in the tens of thousands, all of them renowned sages who did great  p85 penance until their cry reached on High, and the Lord, blessed be He, inclined the heart of the scoundrels to compromise with them; had they been under siege but one more week, all the people of the city would have died of hunger and thirst.

From there they journeyed and besieged the city of Zolkiew. They attempted to approach the wall in order to place ladders on it, but the defenders poured scalding water on them forcing them to retreat. The gunners then shot at them with cannon and killed many of them. And the scoundrels took counsel together and said: "Behold, it is better for us to inform the people that we want to negotiate a compromise similar to the one we negotiated in Lwow." And they sent a message to the people of the city, and they said to them: "You are not stronger than the defenders of Lwow who were unable to stand up against us, and we were forced to make a compromise. Consequently, if you will compromise with us it will be well. If not, all of us will besiege you and we shall execute great judgments, and inflict terrible deaths on you, as we have done in other places." And the thing found favor in the eyes of the people of the city (that the scoundrels were willing to compromise) and they sent a priest, a nobleman and a Jew who hailed from Czernigow, in [Little] Russia, to negotiate the compromise with them. And they agreed that the people of the city should pay twenty thousand gold pieces, six thousand to the aforementioned Captain Glowacki. They departed from there, leaving several thousand Cossacks to guard the city so that other Cossacks might not attack  p86 it again. They followed the same procedure with all the fortresses in the kingdoms of Little Poland, Russia, Podolia and Lithuania, bringing upon the people distress and suffering.

[image ALT: An engraving or lithogravure of a square building with a tall ground floor having three tall arched windows on each side, and a balustraded rooftop; next to it, a frame house with a steeply pitched roof. The two buildings sit on the same side of a dirt road, on which can also be seen a wagon, its one horse grazing. It is a synagogue in Zolkiew, Ukraine.]

[image ALT: An engraving or lithogravure, maybe even based on a photograph, of a roughly square building with a tall ground floor having three arched windows on the side facing the viewer, and four on the right side receding to the distant horizon. The building also has a balustraded rooftop; abutting it are two low lean-tos, one on either side, with gently sloping roofs. The building appears to sit in full countryside, although a very small house can be seen on the viewer's far left. It is a synagogue in Szaragrod, Ukraine.]

UpperSynagogue in Zolkiew
LowerSynagogue in Szaragrod

In the strong and fortified city of Kamieniec-Podolski, and in the cities of Jazlowice, Buczacz, Komarno, Belz and in Sokal in the Monastery, the nobles and the Jews defended themselves and fired upon the enemies with the big cannons, inflicting heavy losses upon them so that the hooligans were unable to capture even one of the forts. They retreated from them in embarrassment, and did not even offer a settlement for money, nor were they given a token compensation. But disease and starvation in those places brought death to many thousands and tens of thousands of Jews.

Przemysl, a city famed for its scholars and scribes, was also besieged, and the city was almost captured, but the Lord in heaven had mercy on them, and a general by the name of Korniakt, together with six hundred troops, came to their aid and with ingenuity rescued the city. However, all the cities and villages up to the River San were destroyed.

The Editor's Notes:

 (p126)  1 October 1648.

2 Cracow, Poznan (Posen), Lublin and Lwow (Lemberg).

3 The function of the Shtadlan was to act as intermediary and to intercede on behalf of the Jewish community before the government.

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Page updated: 25 Dec 22