Germany Attacks - Under Soviet Rule
German troops attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. When the German army entered Stryj, Ukrainian Peasants from the surrounding villages came in a crowd to greet them, dressed in their finest clothes. A triumphal arch was set up in Droboycka street, with the proclamation, "We shall pave the way of victory for the German soldiers with Jewish skulls". In the city, Jews hid in attics and lofts and cellars.
Soon it began to be rumored that Galicia had been divided between the Soviets and the Germans. On the 22nd of August 1939, Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, its chief purpose was to ensure that Germany would not fight on two fronts. The treaty had ensured Hitler freedom of action in the West and other parts of Europe and Africa, without any fear of being attacked from the East. On the third day after the Germans entered the city, army commanders from both sides met on the Bolechow Bridge crossing the river Stryj. They decided that the Germans should withdraw to the River San, and that Stryj should be included in the Soviet Occupation Zone. The joy of the Jews when they saw the Germans leaving the town was beyond description. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, 1939, Soviet forces entered the city.
Under Soviet rule, the Jewish population suffered from want as compared to the ample living of prewar Poland but not because they were Jews. The Jews suffered together with all the other people of Soviet Russia during the emergency; but not more than they did. The Soviets fed the people the doctrines of Marx and Lenin, and ordered them to obey the Stalinist Constitution in accordance with which he who does not work shall not eat.
The Front moved west and people seemed to be safe. The people felt that it was fortunate to live in peace under the protective wings of the Soviets, and would find shelter in the shadow of the Red Flag. There seemed to be reason for these feelings. An obvious proof of the friendly relationship between the Germans and the Soviets, were railroad cars full of wheat seen passing through the railroad station in Stryj en route from the Ukraine to Germany.
A Soviet Commissar came to the farm at Gaje-Nizne and informed my grandfather and his partner that the farm was being collectivized, and that they and their families must leave. The only things they could take were personal possessions and furniture. My grandfather and his family took up temporary residence with my Great-grandmother Clara Gross in the lower one room apartment of her property. They later moved into an apartment on Dojozdowa Street, on the outskirts of Stryj. My grandfather found a job to support the family and my father and his sister went into the Soviet school system. Also, living on the same street was a widow named Helena Bilinska, who had two daughters, Irena and Jadwiga. Jadwiga was a classmate of my Aunt Lillian. Mrs. Bilinska lived on a small widow's pension from the railroad and earned extra money helping the Gross and Edelstein families sell some of their belongings. She became a close friend of my grandparents.