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{Pages 218-245}

Once There Was a Shtetl . . .

By Shlomo Zytnicki

Translated from the Yiddish by

Dr. Khane-Feygl (Anita) Turtletaub (pages 218-234)

and Gloria Berkenstat Freund (pages 234-245)

[with footnotes at end of chapter]

Edited by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

[with comments in brackets]

(Translation of pages 218-234 donated by Sharon and Samuel Shattan and Shmuel Shottan;
translation of pages 234-245 made possible by Jack and Jules Freeman.)

Here at five o'clock in the morning, at the same time the cocks crowed, one could hear the whistling of the factory chimneys accompanied by thick black smoke.

The sound of the church bells would interrupt the serenity of the shtetl [town]. If a car horn were heard, everyone ran out of the gates to look at this strange wonder, to see what had happened, who had gotten lost and wound up here?

“Stojkele,” the little gentile with the moustache, roused the town from its slumber with his noise, his reading aloud the various new “decrees” issued by the local city hall concerning the town's citizens.

Tsirl-Toybe, the butcher's wife from the old marketplace, also would disturb the peace of the town with her horrible hiccupping that echoed through the surrounding streets…

The Old Marketplace

The center of town was the old marketplace (“stary rynek”). The bus station was located here. From here cars left for Lodz, Piotrkow and Stertzev [Szczerców]. Groups of Jews gathered here, talked about “politics” and shared the news of the day. Yankl Mareyne's tavern was nearby. He was a young man with a broad back and a pair of wild eyes. Amazing stories were told about his strength, about how he had grabbed the strongest gentile and threw him out of the tavern. People even knew enough to say that the town police trembled before him. Everyone always wondered how this jewel became the son-in-law of such a fine Jew as Black Meyer, a Ger Chasid.

The old marketplace

The berze[1] was also here, the hangout of the playboys of the town, who were the owners of the buses and some wagon drivers. Yakov Hiler, an attractive, successful young man who always had a smile on his face, Dovid's son, Nute Hersz – always gloomy, the cake baker's son, Shimon Yudl (although from his appearance one would not put him in the category of “playboy”), Yankl Pachczasz, who spit whenever he said anything and accompanied that with a three-tiered curse. Itshe Grunen's son, Chaim Yankl, considered himself the hero of this “crowd.” Avraham Dziadek,[2] a Jew who wore a black frockcoat, who sent his wagons laden with merchandise to Lodz, was also no slouch. He spoke quietly; one barely heard him, as if he weighed every word. Chaim Leyb Drubczyk, whose fame in town was that he had danced a kozaczok [a Russian dance], and his brother Meyer. Avraham Alter Khmal was a tall, healthy young man, whose voice could be heard over the whole market place when he spoke. And his language was “colorful”; for example, “May you get gangrene. Get away from here; if not I'll slap your belly.” His brother-in-law, Beryl, was on the contrary more serene. He rarely answered questions, because he was stone deaf. The clown of this group of playboys was “Meylechl Kradnik.” His strength lay more in clever backtalk than in his arms. [His] every word was accompanied by clowning around. If a group of men were standing in the street arguing about world politics, Meylkhl would appear out of nowhere and cover them all [by throwing] a dirty sack over their heads, or he would push them, causing one to fall over the other and the group would break up. However, when it came to a contest of strength, his mouth was of little help to him. So it was no surprise to see him often sporting a black eye or with a bandage over his lip. This Meylech had a sweet, quiet boy, who was always reading. One of his daughters survived the present war and is now living in America. All of these playboys created a certain “caste,” and looked down on everyone else and considered themselves the elite. Their differences were not straightened out by means of a court, but by the use of their own fists.… They were also among the first to be killed by the Nazis.

One of the happiest of these fellows was the blond, Avrom Mendl. He did not much like his trade of shoemaking. He was drawn to the streets. He became a porter and could go where he pleased. [He] was full of life, a simple but devoted Bundist, loved by all.

Among the most famous love affairs that were carried out in the old marketplace, we must include that of the porter and Ester Tsirl, the chatterbox. They eventually got married and lived their last years in Lodz. They, too, died during the Nazi occupation.

Reb Itshe Meyer Gewertz's “kamenitze” (brick house), one of the oldest houses in the town, stood out from all the other neighboring low houses. This is where the Talmud Torah[3] was located, which was later moved to a building of its own. The teachers were: Avraham Cukerman, a good, quiet person, who never lost his patience; Herszl Poszladek, an angry Jew, with stern eyes, who made the children tremble [with fear]; Avroml Ponczner with his glasses on his forehead, who was never stingy with beatings; small Yitzchakl, whose knowledge came from Yiddish books – all of these teachers taught their students in this building from early in the morning until late at night.

There were also a whole series of stores in this house. Mordkhe Szpiglman's large hardware store: the Pole Mientkewicz's liquor store, a brother of Burmistzh, Shmuel Leyzer Szmulewicz's booth; [this Shmuel Leyzer] in later years became a big manufacturer.

Reb Itshe Meyer was a very rich Jew, but had a reputation in town for being very miserly, someone who watched every penny he gave his wife. Everyone was looking forward to that happy moment that he would have to pay something of a dowry for his two not-very-desirable daughters, who were always seen walking together. This is how the town wanted to have its revenge for his stinginess.

Did you want to snack on a piece of halva, a few fresh sprats, a smoked herring, not to mention if you could afford the luxury of buying a “blood” orange – then you simply had to go to Meyerl's little store. There you could also get a banana; that was one of the seldom [seen] fruits in town, and not everyone could afford to buy them. Reb Meyerl, a small Jew with a bit of a beard on his chin that looked as if it were pasted on, with a foolish gaze, was not himself comfortable in his own shop. His thoughts were more with the little chasidish synagogue. He looked like a character actor from the Yiddish stage. His wife, however, was very competent. Seeing how helpless he was, she would send him home to rock the baby, and she managed everything [in the store] herself. She would greet everyone by saying: “Why are you rushing so? You do not have time?”

If you wanted to snack on some good ice-cream, you had to go the old marketplace to Yankl Sztejn. People would actually lick their fingers from his ice-cream. The milk here was never scalded as it was at Meyerl's or salty as at Malkele Asher Bide's. And what kind of customers there would be? One could run into Leybish Fajner's son from the seltzer factory with Reb Berish the watchmaker's daughter. Yankl Klug's and Borukh Starowinski's daughters came here. Such guests were served in a special room. His wife, Shifra, and their daughter, Chava, would greet everyone with a smile. And Yankl himself would meander about as a conqueror, the only one who knew “the true secret” of making ice-cream. Friday evening, when the shops were closed, Reb Yankl donned his satin frockcoat and his velvet hat and rushed off to the Gerer shtibl [small Chasidic synagogue], which was just a step away from his apartment. A little further down was Reb Meyerl Gerer's fabric shop. [He was] an angry Jew, haughty about his Gerer pedigree. Day and night he pored over his religious books. His wife, Odl, ran the business, and his youngest daughter, Sortshe, helped out. Reb Meyerl was very stingy with words, and paid no attention at all to the common people; [he] did not even respond politely when greeted. The following anecdote is told about him: On Sabbath morning, when Reb Meyerl was going to the ritual baths, he encountered Yoynele Dreksler, a person who liked to clown around. Yoynele went over to him and said: “Reb Meyerl, kiss me . . . .”

–– “You scoundrel, get out of here!” Reb Meyerl answered angrily.

–– That was some answer! Yoynele Dreksler laughed and never tired of telling this to everyone. The town enjoyed it: that an angry Jew had been taught a lesson.

In the marketplace, there was also a haberdashery owned by Reb Yakov Hersz Sztatlender, of the most respected Jews in town. If something was needed from the authorities, everyone knew that the appropriate candidate for this was Reb Yakov Hersz. Lame Herszl was considered the best of the custom tailors. There was even an argument: some thought that Eidl Rozenblum's tailoring was more modern, was more chic; others, however, said that Meyer and Khaml, who had made a special trip to Warsaw to learn cutting, would surpass everyone. However, no one could take away “the crown” from Lame Herszl. His two sons, Mordekhai and Ezriel, were his steadfast apprentices.

Another business was owned by Henekhl Adler and his sons, Moyshe Shia, and Mendele, who had frittered away his dowry on tailoring, and his son-in-law, Yossl Piekno, who wanted to go from dealing in second rate clothing to being a custom tailor. Mordechai Granek had a shop nearby. There was no garment that he had measured that did not fit. He always spoke in a refined manner, nicely, and thus managed to confuse people, so that one never knew where one stood with him. Wewe Piula considered himself to be the wise man among tailors, although his work was somewhat bungled.

The old marketplace also had tailors who did alterations on second-hand clothes. First place was held by the widespread Binecki family. The father was a small Jew with a few hairs in his beard. During the afternoon and evening prayers on Sundays, the shopkeepers never let him near the reading desk, because they believed that if he led the prayers, it would rain the next day, and Monday's market would be ruined…

Nakhman's son, Shimshon, who in addition to being a tailor, was also a gravedigger; the Nowak's, or as they were called in town – the “little mites”[4] also belonged to the line of second-rate tailors (ready made clothes).

There were respectable representatives in the shoe business. Herszl Gorszkowicer thought of himself as the king of this line of business. A stout Jew with red cheeks, which did not speak of hunger, would always stand before his gate with his belly sticking out, his fingers folded over his vest. From his appearance, it was obvious that he enjoyed himself and was proud of his successful sons, who were running the business. The khilketa [combative shopkeeper] also had her business, or more accurately, her little business. Sharp Manya, her talented daughter, showed her abilities here. The shoemaker from Piotrkow and his business were strong competition here. His servant, “the crazy courier” brought him a lot of publicity. When a military orchestra from Piotrkow marched around town, the “crazy courier” was always at their head conducting them with a little stick.

Beyond the shoemaker lived Dovid, the son of the tall Moyshe, who in addition to shoemaking, was employed with burying the dead.

Yankele, the barber, also had his barbershop here. The chasidic Jews always gave him the evil eye and more than once threatened to excommunicate him. They said that on the Sabbath, his shop only looks closed in front, but in the back he was “shaving” beards.

There was also no lack of food shops in the old marketplace. Moyshe Hersz had his wholesale business, Moyshe Perets's, which provided all of his children with food stores: except for his son, Shimon, who was a tailor, and his youngest daughter, Soratshe, who married a laborer. Soratshe felt restricted in her poor parents' food shop. The shop was not to her liking, so she learned how to sew clothes and was proud of her new trade, although her parents were not pleased by her proletarian work.

Soratshe read a great deal and was always studying. She was very familiar with both Yiddish and Polish literature. She was also interested in painting and would paint posters for various events. Soratshe was very active in the leftist movement. Because of her serious involvement in communal work, she was well respected by all.

During the years of the occupation, Soratshe was one of the most courageous female fighters in town. She consoled and encouraged everyone believing in the [eventual] victory over the Nazis. At the beginning of the occupation, she received travel documents – papers from Argentina, but the Germans did not permit her to leave, and deported her to a concentration camp, where she perished not very long before the end of the war.


Soratshe
[diminutive name for Sarah]
[Additional information provided
by Dora Szczukocka Bornstein:
Last name is statlender.
She was married to Shlomo Zitnicki]

The [abovementioned] Moyshe Perets's tried to combine ordinariness with chasidus. He was delighted with his chasidic son-in-law, Yankl, who was married to his daughter, Dintshe.

Of the whole family, only his son, Perets, survived. (He now lives in Belgium).

The chasidim were envious of the blond-headed Yoyne, who provided room and board to his successful son-in-law while he studied. [Yoyne] was another food shop owner. His daughter, Blimele, gave birth to another child every year.

Herszl Plawner's son Shloyme and his stout wife, who was always out of breath, were also among the food store owners in the town. Reb Yosef Leybish owned another food shop that was run by his two daughters, who were not very lucky in getting married.

There were also hatmakers in the old marketplace. The first spot was occupied by Meylekh Galster, [then came] Itshe, the hat maker, and his sons, the Joabs, and also Chaim-Faywl Naparstek, the happy-go-lucky guy.

The town's feldsher [barber-surgeon] had his house here along with a small garden, which was a rarity in town. Yankl, the feldsher, was a sympathetic person with a serious face, a nicely combed beard. He commanded respect and was respected by all. After his death, his son, Avrom (a little emotionally troubled), who had for years lived in Germany, tried to take his place, but without success.

Bakeries in the old marketplace: Shie the baker, who was fined more than once for not keeping his bakery clean; Chaya, the baker lady; Shmuel Shneltsug,[5] were often cursed by the women because they either mixed up or burned their cholent [6] in their bakeries. Itsik's wife also baked large, old-fashioned, white bread, which everyone enjoyed. However, she was troubled by having a disturbed daughter – Libe, who always stood at the door with unkempt hair and created fear in everyone.

There was also no lack of butcher shops in the old marketplace. Hertske, the butcher was a respectable Jew in town, in spite of his trade as a butcher. Yitskhok Norszkewicer was one of the wealthiest butchers in town, who built himself a one-story brick house. Feyge Reyzl and her sons, Leyzer the butcher, the lame Sore, [and] Feygele of Radomsk, who spoke with a soft 'l,' all of these belonged to the abovementioned trade.

There was also a pharmacy in the old marketplace, and there was an “illegal” pharmacy as well, in the house of the Chasidish Jew, Reb Noyekhl Bekl[7] (because he was always seen with a bound up cheek). The indigent of the town would buy their prescriptions in his house, because it cost a lot less there. He would actually tremble lest he fail…

Y. L. Goldsztejn had his business in the marketplace, but his mind was more involved in reading and writing than in business. [He] was short and had a serious look. When he went for a stroll in the street, he walked slowly – as if he were measuring every step. He had a piano in his house, and that was no small matter in the town.

The dentist in the old marketplace, Michal Rezurnik, brought a son-in-law from Czestochowa. [He] set him up in a small shop, where one could also play dominos – but the book of debts grew as if with yeast. Things kept getting worse for him, even when he tried his luck at the shoe business. This gave [those in] the old marketplace something to joke about: “He had to import this kind of bargain?”

The paupers of the old marketplace were: Moyshele Bejrekh's, whose wife was always sick but was always having children: Moyshe, the dorfsgeyer [man bought products from village peasants], and his six sons: Asher fun hober [of oats], who sold horse feed: Binecki's wife, Ester, who provided the food for the home, although her husband was a tailor and many others. There were women, who had very good reputations, [for example] Beyle Ester, an old woman with a kupkele [bonnet worn by a pious woman] on her head, who would sit in the marketplace and sell fruit. When she learned of a house in which there was hunger, she would go there immediately, and never empty-handed. If a poor girl needed a dowry to get married, she was one of those who took care of it. Zelda's daughter, Perl can also be included among other women of note in the old marketplace. And why not mention the woman with five names: Leah-Heltshe-Foygl-Gitl-Manele's, whose name could only be remembered by heart by someone with the head of a [government] minister. The true woman of valor of the old marketplace was the wife of the bookseller, whose white rolls and filled pastries had people licking their fingers.

The old marketplace also produced child prodigies. The Langnas family was among the most solid citizens. [The family] had a small shop, which was mostly empty (empty boxes hid their poverty). He, Yeshaye Langnas, read a great deal, got along well with people. They had two good children: Riwtshe and Hetsush. Hetsush showed a great talent for painting. His parents, however, did not possess the means to permit him to study. Many houses had paintings Hetsush had done. He magically produced beautiful portraits from old worn-out photographs. When he found himself in a concentration camp in the current war, a Nazi learned that here was a talented painter and gave him a family photo to reproduce with an artistic out come. This helped Hetsush to have more to eat and drink, and, and therefore, he had enough to share with his hungry friends. Hetsush hoped that this would allow him to survive the hard times, but fate decided otherwise…

Our family also resided in the old marketplace. Our parents came from Lodz to Belchatow in great poverty during the time of the First World War. Our mother, a refined and deeply religious woman, was the reciter[8] in the women's section of the synagogue. She took it very much to heart that her children were veering away from the “straight path.” Once she grabbed a knife and threatened to commit suicide if we would not pray. Even while sick, she would go to the village, Koldeniw, to buy poultry, butter, cheese, eggs and later sell these things to the rich homemakers in Belchatow, and in this way help our father provide a livelihood.

Our father was a maker of boxes by trade, but he did not have much of this work to do in Belchatow, so he became a wedding jester and “played” the bass in the municipal band, pulling the bow up and down. He was always in a good mood, and despite his poverty never lost his sense of humor.

Our family lived in a small room in which the shoemaker's workshop of my step-brother, Yossl Rozental, was located. During the day, he patched shoes and at night he strummed tunelessly on his mandolin. During the winter, cotton hung around the room to dry, later to be wound by two spinning wheels, which were also located in the same room. There were only two beds, and everyone else slept on the ground.

Nevertheless, it was one of the happiest homes in the old marketplace. Groups of people would often stand under our windows and listen to my father's melodies and the playing of the instrument, which carried out to the street.

My brother, Moyshele, came from this house.

Moyshe made himself a fiddle of “dikt” [plywood] and taught himself to play. He was accepted into the municipal band. Everyone at home was very surprised, when Moyshele brought a new horn into the house. Everyone stood around astonished: [they wanted to know] “Where did you get the money for this?” He smiled: “I saved it up” he said, “penny by penny, carried a suitcase, churned ice-cream, and that's how I managed.” He stood himself in the middle of the room and played a lively tune on the horn. Our mother cried with joy. Moyshele now played his new saxophone in the band.

A child from this same impoverished family was one of the prize winners in a contest for the best young person's autobiography held in 1934 by “YIVO” of Vilna in which 300 young people from many different counties took part.

“Magicians” also often came to the old marketplace to showcase their talents. They pulled ribbons from their mouths, swallowed fire, did summersaults in the air, and the children of town accompanied them with [shouts of] “Hurrah!”

In the old marketplace, one could see a “Jew” walking around on the Sabbath, smoking a cigarette, something that the biggest heretic would seldom dare to do. Once, the policeman from Wojtashek was looking for a thief, and he decided to disguise himself as a Jew; he forgot that it was the Jewish Sabbath and smoked a cigarette. That was a happy time, because we were able to make fun of the police, whom we disliked.

During the day, the old marketplace had a certain appearance, but once night came and the small lamps were lit on the few poles, which threw a dull light, the marketplace took on the appearance of a cemetery, through which it seemed strange to walk.

Pabianicer Street

Actually, this street had two names: Pabianicer and Belchatowke. The paupers knew that they lived on Belchatowke, as if the name were suited to their poverty. The wealthy, on the other hand, considered themselves to be residents of Pabianicer Street. The street was paved with large stones. The relay wagons loaded with goods and with passengers sitting on top, created such a din as they rode through that the women of the street would shout that they were being deafened. After a struggle of many years, the street received its own pump, whose only activity was giving water. In the winter, when it was slippery, one had to be an acrobat to get to it. Therefore, those who lived on Belchatowke were proud when they saw that the citizens of the old marketplace had to make an effort to get to their pump, because that pump would often “play tricks” and go on “strike.” [How different] the pumping of today! More than one Jewish woman could barely catch her breath after such work.

Here one could count the “businesses” on one's fingers: Issachar Piaskosz and his food shop; the tall woman with the long chin, who sold mirrors, who was always complaining about the [other] women as to why they were fingering her shmalts herring; the bakeries owned by Makhl Kornaser, Stobiecki, and Chane Riwe, whose bread was renowned in town. Moyshe Gute's had a butcher store, and Hersz Eidl Szpigelman had a tavern, which was later transformed into an inn. If a stranger happened into town and needed a place to spend the night, he was taken to Hersz Eidl's.

The population of this street was diverse. The first spot was occupied by the weavers. It was rare to find a courtyard, in which the beating of the handlooms accompanied by song was not heard from dawn until late at night.

 
Pabianicer Street

The Jewish horse traders lived here, such as: Grunem's son, Itshe, Avraham Czuremure's, Moyshe Grocholicer and his pretty daughters, Tshotsh Meyer with the sick eyes, who spent more time in jail than he did out of jail. Here lived Jews who studied [Torah] day and night, such as: Reb Yidele, the rabbi's son; Reb Mikhalke's son-in-law; Shloyme Mendl Gowinski; Reb Yekheskl Lajbish; Shmuel Zanwel Boganski; Eliezer Szpigelman; Reb Mikhal's son, Shloyme; Reb Chaim-Ishe, the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], about whom everyone in the area would gossip that he does not get along too well with his workers, Avrom Faktor and others. The fishermen also lived on this street: Levi's son, Yume, who hit the women's hands, yelled and cursed; Hiler, the rope maker, who in addition to fishing also braided ropes. He mumbled nasally, so that one never [quite] knew what he was saying….

Here were the tanneries and the dyeing factories that gave the town a not so “impressive” aroma. [Among these were] Zakan Garber[9] and his sons, Perets, Sheya, and Dovid; Moyshe Zalman Puldupek, who was dissatisfied because his lovely daughter, Chava, had taken up with Welwel, the tailor's apprentice. The lame Menashele, with his horse and small carriage, was always arguing with the mare when she lay down exhausted and didn't move. . . . One time, when the horse was not joking and never again got up, he took it so to heart that he too died soon thereafter.

Koifman, the shoemaker, and his wife, Shprintse, who spoke with a thick tongue, also lived here. The “politicians” from Pabianicer Street gathered in that small shop that was both a workshop and a residence. Their ten-year-old daughter ran to the library and asked someone to read her Marx's “Kapital.”

Another shoemaker occupied a similar dwelling: Gershon, his wife Golda and their 5 children. This is where they ate, they worked and they slept, and more than once held political meetings there. This shoemaker, half illiterate, in time became a member of the City Council. Such a thing could happen on Pabianicer Street. There was also no lack of wagon drivers on Pabianicer Street. Mikhal Wigder Skorpis, [was] a tall, broad-shouldered Jew. He was tremendously proud of his son, Moyshe, in whom he saw a copy of himself. He did not have much confidence in his second son, Gabriel Gape – to be able to turn over the “reins” to him, and that is why he made him a tailor.

Moyshe Skorpis with the red neck bristled with good health. His sons, Yisroel-Yitzhok, Noyekh and Shmuel-Leyb carried on their father's work. Meyer-Ber was not overly delighted with his trade. He turned his children into artisans.

Who in town did not know Tsiml of Pabianicer Street, the mother of 5 daughters and 4 sons? Her son, Issachar, always wore his hair with a shiny part and considered himself to be the best dancer in town, even though younger Leybke tried to outdo him. Shmuel Kishke and Dovid's son, Rakhmiel Hersz, competed for the heart of her daughter, Manye. The other daughter, Chane, was one of the liveliest and, at the same time, prettiest girl in town. Chaye-Dine was one of the best known women in town. Her name was pronounced Khadine; she toiled from dawn until late at night. She was always traveling to Piotrkow with bundles for her children, Zalman and Perets, the “world upheavers,” who were more in jail than out of it. Makhl the wagon driver lived here in a low hut; he was a Jew with two red eyes which spoke of many sleepless nights. Wonders were told about his two sons, Yecheskel and Shame – that they had “great minds” and that they would move worlds.

In addition to the following used clothes dealers: Issachar Paplok, Dovid Pieknis, Mordekhai Morgensztern and others, Pabianicer Street also had tailors of good pedigree. Manela was not just anyone. He sewed for noblemen. He never trusted anyone else to iron the belt of a pair of pants. His greatest pleasure was grabbing hold of the water-carrier, setting him on the table, taking a full mouth of water and spraying him from head to toe – then throwing him out. If he needed something while he was sewing, he used to point a finger in the air: “Give me this!” without indicating what it was. Someone could hand him a scissor, chalk, thread, buttons, and when what he wanted was finally guessed and he was handed the measuring tape, he was very pleased and called out: “Now you please me!” This spectacle would constantly be repeated. He was completely different on the street. There he was approachable, eager to chat and had a weakness for talking about the Torah, in which he was not very well versed.

Deaf Luzer also lived here in great poverty – a Jew who went out into the villages, bent over from always carrying his sack over his shoulders. He never bothered a fly on the wall. Once when a Polish hooligan caught him, he gave him such a smack that the hooligan ran away in great shame.

Zanwel, the cigarette seller, rolled his own cigarettes and then sold them. Wawe, the oil presser, prepared oil for cooking and the enjoyment came principally from frying latkes [potato pancakes].

Herszl Tzine's [Herszl, the son of Tzine] was considered the “most popular” resident of Pabianicer Street, an old Jew with a white beard, the only Jewish strazak (fireman) in the shtetl. Early on Sunday when the firemen paraded through the streets with music, the children felt proud that there was also a Jew among them. Tzine's Herszl, in his uniform and fireman's hat, walked straight as a string. He was one of the first at a fire. He was a shoemaker by trade. He did not have to be begged for long to tell about his “service” with Russia where he made a pair of golden slippers for the Czarina. He was asked by a group of jokesters, “And how had he taken her measurements?” Herszl was waiting for the question. “Why do you not understand, imbeciles,” he answered them. “She placed her foot in the snow and that was how I took her measurements…”

Manish, with the large, red nose, was a porter. It was said that the redness came from drinking a great deal of aquavit, which he did gladly. His wife went around cursing him. “Whatever he earns, “ she said, “goes right into his bodnye (stomach), with overeating and guzzling…”

“Bright” Mashawas the letter writer for the shtetl. She always knew how to write to the children in the Americas, so that their pockets would open and they would remember their remaining poor relatives in the old home. Not much had to be said. Her letters would always begin in this style: “Dear children, we are healthy, may God grant that we always and forever hear the same from you.”

Yisroel Lenkower was a glazier. He lived in one room with seven children (five sons and two daughters); the children worked on hand-weaving in the same room.

Although not appropriate for Pabianicer Street, the manufacturers, Mendl Shmuel's [Shmuel's son Mendl], the Felds (Kradnikes), Beryl Rubinsztajn, among others, lived there. The contrast between their living space and the life of the weavers was too sharp, as it was, for example, for the deaf Emanuel or Shlomo Szelps. Of course, if someone rushed to greet them with an expansive “gut morgen [good morning], he had another wish in his heart. The wealthiest man in the shtetl, about whose wealth legends were woven, also lived here. This was Yankl Flakowicz. It was known that he employed no servants so no one would see how much he owned. Half of the town belonged to him, along with many factories and houses that he owned in other cities. He, himself, was a modest person, but his wife would always emphasize that they were assured of an income for their entire life. Only one son survived out of the entire family and he is now in Israel.

You could also meet Poles here who spoke Yiddish: Gotwald, Gaszewski – the shoemaker's son, who even threw in Hebrew verses from sacred books.

The Germans of Pabianicer Street – Walberg, Milbrandt, and so on – also spoke Yiddish well. At every opportunity, they stressed their “friendly” relations with Jews.

A rebbe also lived here on Pabianicer Street. A Jew with an old, wide hat and a worn out kapote [long, black coat worn by religious men] came and stated that he was descended from a line of great rabbis. He had his own shtibl in which he lived. His Chasidim were the simple Jews from the town. His name rapidly became famous and many stories were told of his miracles. One Shabbos, while praying, he approached a Jew and gave him a loud slap. Nu, if the rabbi slaps someone, he likely knows why? Later the Jews made an effort and asked: “Rebbe, what did your slap mean?” After long consideration, the Rebbe said, “Do you remember that you told me that your child was dangerously ill? They know that the slap redeemed the child.” The prestige of the rebbe grew greater from then on.

There was a kino [movie theater] on Pabianicer Street that showed movies twice a week, Shabbos and Sunday. Concerts and speeches would also occur in the movie hall. Here, our dear B. Ejsurowicz entranced the crowd with his stories about India.

However, Pabanicer Street was not important because of its residents, but because of the spiritual homes that were found there:

In the secular Jewish school – the Mizrachi's Yavne[10] school with its many children – the female teacher, Rozenband, was surrounded by small children who thought of her as a mother and would not move from her. Almost all the libraries in the town were like universities for the young. Here were the premises of various parties, such as the Bund, Mizrachi, Right Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion, a Marxist Zionist party], and Poalei Emunei Yisroel [orthodox group – Faithful Workers of Israel]. Here was the location of the needle workers union. Here was the textile union of the Jewish and Polish workers that gave instructions for the large strike that lasted six months and was the theme for many articles in the proletarian national press. At that time, Josef Khmurner[the pen name of Josef Lestchinsky] wrote, “Belchatow should be recorded in the golden book of the history.”

The socialist artisans had their home here. Here a siyum-hasefer[11] was held that was transformed into a holiday for the shtetl. Here secret meetings were held that often ended with the participants put in chains and led to the Piotrokow jail. At night choirboys formed a workers' chorus here and deafened the street with their song. Here young male and female workers prepared their gymnastic performances with which they called forth delight in the shtetl.

Children in their blue blouses and red ties marched in song from Pabianicer Street into the woods to their outings.

Here flying demonstrations took place where the police felt helpless. Here the May 1st demonstrations formed; here ordinary people received their first lessons in reading and writing. Frequent talks about the education of children, and also about communal questions, were held for women in the school premises. The women were organized and some, even though they were very religious, (wearing sheitlen [wigs] on their heads), carried red flags in the demonstrations on the First of May.

The Radziner and the Aleksanderer shtibl were also located here. For a large part of the population the above mentioned institutions was their first home, where they devoted their free time to make life interesting in the Jewish shtetl.

When a proposal to name a street after Y. L. Peretz [Yiddish writer of poems, plays and stories] was made at a city council meeting, it was clear to all that the most appropriate place to be considered was Pabianicer Street.

At this point, it is worth noting something interesting: when the Bundist City Council faction made the mentioned proposal, it naturally caused a storm among the reactionary circles. The Polish councilman Helwak (Helwik) demanded to have a say during the discussion and began his speech as follows:

–– “It is true that Mr. Peretz is a good person; he is my neighbor. I have nothing against him. Just the opposite, I even play cards with him. However, what is his patriotic worth that we should name a street after him – this I do not know. I might not demand to speak, he added. I only wonder why such a proposal should come from socialists…”

The curiosity consists of the fact that Helwak confused this with the name of his neighbor, who was also named Peretz – and this was the rich manufacturer, Peretz Frajtag.

[continued on next page]

 


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Berze usually means “the stock market” in Yiddish, but here it is used metaphorically to mean a gathering place. [K-FT] return
  2. This could be his last name or it could be a nickname, since the word means “grandfather.” [K-FT] return
  3. Hebrew elementary school. [K-FT] return
  4. Milblekh: This might also be translated as “little moths.” [K-FT] return
  5. Shneltsug means “fast train.” Sometimes it is difficult to know whether an appellation is a nickname or a valid family name, which derived from a long-ago nickname. [K-FT] return
  6. Traditional Sabbath stew that had to cook for 24 hours and was, therefore, placed on top of the baker's oven by the wives before the Sabbath and retrieved for the mid-day meal on the Sabbath. [K-FT] return
  7. Bekl means “cheek.” [K-FT] return
  8. Since not all the women could read, one who read well said the prayers out loud for the others. [K-FT] return
  9. Garber in Yiddish is a tanner. His last name reflects his profession. [K-FT] return
  10. Mizrachi was the religious Zionist movement. The Yavne school system stressed the importance of both a secular and religious education. [GBF] return
  11. Celebration at the conclusion of writing a Torah scroll. [GBF] return

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