Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Izio's Zamek

Our dear Aussie friend Jack Fields, who started life as Przemysler Izio Felder, has been kind enough to share another recollection of pre-Shoah Przemysl. What follows is his homage to the Zamek - the Castle and its grounds - that to this day dominates the hillside of our city.

His story holds special meaning for me. I remember my grandmother, Fannie Metzger Silberman, telling me about the Zamek park one night in Miami when I was about 20 years old. She talked longingly about the smell of the flowers, the "pfennig arcades," and most of all of the constant live music from "Gypsies" to Choirs to Austrian and Hungarian Army bands.
The Zamek in the centre of the city of Przemysl??? Whats that???

How well I remember the Zamek (castle) in the centre of Przemysl but what is more interesting is the huge very green park attached to it.

This is my family at the gate of the Zamek a few years before WW2. I am at the left next is my younger brother Munio and my younger sister Dziunia. My father Herman Felder and my mother, Dina Unger.

Our family and many other families particularly Jewish have walked to the Zamek every Saturday morning before WW2 when the air there was fresher and cleaner and cooler. This was the holiday place for those who did not travel to spa resorts.

We always used the entrance from the Rynek, the city square. After about 30 minutes of walking along the steep Grodzka street, we arrived at the Zamek, the meeting place for a lot of Jewish families on shabbos.

This is a photo of the entry to the Zamek from Grodzka street. Please note the difference between the gray city and the very green and leafy trees and plants. It was like entering a paradise...

In that part of the Zamek there was a permanent gardeners cottage. Next to his house was a cieplarnia- a plant nursery in a glassed-in hothouse. The gardener worked there every day, raising many different exotic plants and flowers that were then planted all over the park grounds. The aroma was great.

On the left in the back is the gardeners cottage. To the right is a small zoo. Next to the right is the glass covered plant and flowers nursery. Out of the picture to the right was the Ciurek. In front to the left was a tennis court. During the Soviet occupation the tennis court was dismantled because it was considered by the Soviet authorities that tennis was a capitalist sport... and not for the working class.

In the same area was the ciurek - a concrete cave structure - and inside there was a spigot with very cold spring water running nonstop.

This photo is from before WW1. Inside the concrete structure was a pipe and cold water was running summer and winter. It was said that this water is from the mountains and is full of minerals, and very healthy ...young and old were drinking it and enjoyed it. In front was a man with a basket selling pretzels salty and crispy and soft with poppy seeds. I nagged my mother to get me one and she said I would not eat it after nagging she bought me a pretzel and after 2 bites I would not eat it Today the ciurek does not exist and the water in the Zamek is polluted.

A second entrance to the park was via Katedralna street, so named because half way up there was a big church called The Kathedra.

Entry to the Zamek from Katedralna street. Jewish families very seldom used this approach.

From this approach, a narrow path lead to the highest peak in the valley, the Tatarska gora - the tartars hill. From there the whole of the city of Przemysl and near by villages could be seen. Also near there there were ruins of a part of the stronghold which was build during WW1 by the Austrian army, the Przemysl festung - Fortress Przemysl - the biggest fort in Europe after Verdun.

Only the strongest went all the way up. Usually my father and I made it there!


Tatarska gora was so named because in the middle ages Przemysl was attacked and occupied by the Mongol Tartars from Asia under Genghis Khan. There is a legend that in the hill was buried a Tartar chief, but as far as I know no evidence has ever been found.

The Zamek itself was situated in the centre on a hill 800 meters above the city, generally a 30 minute climb from our homes, depending which of the three entrances we took.


In 1939, control of the city was divided by the San, with the Przemysl side under the Soviets and the Zasanie side run by the Germans. War broke out on September 7 in Przemysl.

My family and many others were in the Zamek that afternoon, listening to a Soviet army band playing beautifully. People were singing and dancing - it was a very happy afternoon which lasted late into the evening. That night, the Nazis started the bombardment of our side of Przemysl. It was completely unexpected - people in the street said that something had exploded in the railway station and thought it was just an accident.

During the German occupation of Przemysl, even before the ghetto was established, a sign was placed on the iron gate leading to the Grodzka street garden entrance that read: FUR JUDEN UND HUNDE EINTRIT VERBOTEN - Entry for Jews and dogs is forbidden.

Many people who visit Przemysl these days are not told how very important the Zamek was for the Jewish people in pre-WW2 years. I suppose it is because the guides were born after WW2 and they simply don't know. Today the walk up to the Zamek is neglected - people go for excursions in their cars - not the same.

The Zamek now belongs to history - one I have bittersweet memories of.

- - Izio Felder

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