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[Pages 136-141]

Biała, My Shtetele [little town]

by Elihu Frajdenrajch

Translated from the Yiddish by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Michael Schoeman

[Page 137]

The entire shtetl [town - shtetele in the diminutive form] stands before my eyes as if I were first experiencing it now; 38 years have already passed and yet it is so fresh in my memory.

I spent the nicest, carefree years, my youth, there. Here I was raised and began my communal-Zionist work and the love of Israel was baked in me. All of this is unforgettable.

I do not long for the accursed land where from each corner is smelled the odor of anti-Semitism toward the shtetl of Jews, where the most people did not know how they would survive the next day. Thus generations lived and were raised for hundreds of years.

The houses, the bridges in all corners of the city were built of wood. Biala possessed few brick houses. Pumps were in the middle of the market that would often break down. In general, there is nothing to say about winter. If the blacksmith became ill, there was no one to repair [the pumps]. The pumps would supply the population with water. People who were more middle class paid a few pennies; the water was brought to their houses - the well known water carrier was - the mute Mote and, later, Khishi.

There was no electricity in the shtetl. If the city hall

bia137.jpg
A Jewish street, looted and grabbed by the Poles. The first house on the right: the fire fighters' hall, the butcher, Melekh's house, the bakery of “Michiokn” (Goldberg), Mendl Rozenperl's house, Tovya-Binem's house, Zelik-Benim's house and Berl-Binem's house.

[Page 138]

installed a gas lamp, the group of jokers would immediately break it because it disturbed the young in their romances.

The houses were heated with turf; the well-to-do with coal. The worry of how to provide for Shabbos began on Sunday. The only good day was the market day, every Thursday. Christians came from the villages, Jews from the surrounding cities - hatmakers, makers of inexpensive clothing, shoemakers. There was noticeable movement in the shtetl, buying-selling, dark dealings. Wagons with merchants, peasants began coming from all sides first thing in the morning from around the city. Drunkards, thieves were all seen here. At night everyone departed and it again became quiet.

There was also no means of communication. More often than not, we traveled with a horse and wagon. In the 1920s there was an automobile. Dmowski, the famous anti-Semite, was the owner and drove to Warsaw every day. There was also a small “local train” to Rowa Rogow. From Rogow, a large train went wherever one wanted to go.

The central point of the shtetl was the city hall in the middle of the street. The young gathered there.

Animated discussions were held about all of the most important problems at my father Pinkhas' kiosk.

Most of the young were jobless. [Some] worked in Lodz, Warsaw, as tailors in Brzeziny. On holidays they would come home from the large cities after a year of work, dressed nicely. It was said about such a person that he was respectable. Khol Ha-Moed [the intervening days during week-long religious holidays], they would stroll with canes in their hands to the Kolejke where the center promenade was located.

One of the means of earning a living among the Jews in the shtetl was renting a small orchard. They would have to pray all winter that the fruit not freeze. It would often happen that they lost their entire business. They lived the entire summer in a hut and did not eat and did not drink. They would come home for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, some with a loss and some with a little profit, and begin to think about the winter.

[Page 139]

Friday night, just as Dovid Shamas [assistant to the rabbi], later [it was] Josl Meir Pytel, would rap his hammer in the synagogue [indicating that Shabbos was coming], all of the merchants would close their businesses. The streets became empty; only wet Jews were seen coming from the mikvah [ritual bath] after the prayers in honor of Shabbos. After the candle lighting, the shtetl looked like a Shabbos queen. The windows were lit with Shabbos candles, the challahs [braided breads eaten on Shabbos] on the table covered with a beautiful cloth, wine for kiddush [prayer over the wine]. The Shabbos Jews dressed up in Shabbos clothing were seen going to pray like the Shabbos-Yom-Tovdike [Sabbath-holiday] Jews celebrated by Y. L. Peretz who did not want to observe havdalah [the conclusion of the Sabbath]; they were afraid of the daily worldliness, there should only be Shabbos. The children were dressed up with their fathers

bia139.jpg
Josl Mogelnicki's house [Ayzyk's son Josl]

for prayer - some in the synagogue and some in a Hasidic shtibl [one room prayer house]. The young were gathered around the synagogue.

At that moment it was felt that Jews have no worries, all troubles had ended, it was Shabbos.

I remember that Hershl Ksianzinicki, a pious Jews would keep Shabbos

[Page 140]

for the greatest rich man. The money lay under the pillow and he could not take it because of the holiness of Shabbos. I remember that as a youth I would go with my father to pray in the Gerer shtibl. Opening the door, there was a feeling of sanctity. Everything was so Shabbosdik [filled with the spirit of Shabbos] - the greetings and then the Lechu Neranena [Come Let Us Sing for Joy] of Avraham Erlich was so soulful then, with so much sincerity. And at the Shabbos table, after coming from prayer, the kiddush and the Shabbos songs, the invitation to go to the table, everything was so beautiful and with Jewish charm.

We children did not have any patience for the slow Shabbos

bia140.jpg
Jewish road pavers in Biala at work. Leib-Ber [with the push beam in his hands] and, on the left, sits Shmuel-Elya Frank with the grey beard

table. We wanted it to end quickly so that we could go out to friends, to the organizations.

We had a very good youth, as well as a cultural one, although we did not have a great education because we did not have the opportunity to study. Yet, there were young people among us who were stuffed with knowledge and this they acquired by themselves.

[Page 141]

How alive you stand before my eyes; as long as I live I will not forget you. You live in my heart and my soul. Your shadows accompany me everywhere, in sadness and in joy, I see you with outstretched hands; I hear your scream, take revenge! Our small infants, hungry and thirsty, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, you do not let me rest!

I see you as if you would ask mercy from us. No, we could not help you. Our conscience is clear; we survivors will not forget. We will never forgive the innocent blood.

May my description serve as a matseyvah [headstone] for my dear parents, brothers and sisters, my entire Jewish shtetl that perished in the ovens of Treblinka.


[Pages 142-144]

Memories

by Avraham Szuman (Ramat Hasharon)

Translated from the Yiddish by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Michael Schoeman


Until the First World War, a backward population, without or with very few schools, lived in Poland, particularly in the villages and in the shtetlekh [small towns]. The shtetl Biala was no an exception.

About 400 Jewish families lived in Biala. They were for the most part artisans. The workshop and the residence, the children's room, the room for eating and the room for sleeping were all one, all between the four walls of a small or a little larger room.

On Shabbos the workshop was covered with a white bed sheet and it became “balanced” in the house. Jews, who lived with “nothing” the entire week, made it through “somehow,” prepared fish and meat for Shabbos. On Shabbos, each Jews became the “son of a king,” in short, “Shabbos Jews.”

A very small percent of Jews were involved with small retail until the outbreak of the First World War and could live calmly and not worry about the next day.

After the outbreak of the war, the economic conditions changed a little for the better. Jews began to smuggle. The Germans occupied Poland and took control of everything. Food could not be brought to the large cities and Jews from the small shtetlekh made money. Self-evidently, they did not get rich, but they were satisfied with both the change and that they were freed from the Czarist boot.

The conditions for Jews greatly changed with the liberation of Poland. On one side, the Jews suffered from anti-Semitism, but on the

[Page 143]

other side, the renaissance movement began. It is evident that it entered Biala, too. The young people began to organize at a rapid pace. A cultural union opened - Bundists, Zionists, communists. Also Agudah [religious non-Zionists] and artisans. Thus, as a colorful cultural life arrived unexpectedly until the Nazi serpent entered Poland, annihilating the entire Polish Jewry, Biala was no exception.

I will dedicate a few words to three[1] people for our shtetl, Biala. May the three be a symbol of our shtetl.

The first, my neighbor, Reb Moshe Kotsker. A pious Jew, an honest man, a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer]. It is superfluous to describe the Jew, Reb Moshe Kotsker, for those from our city. What moved me to even write about him I will tell…

At a memorial evening, Leon Sztubert, a resident of the city who survived the Nazi bandits, said that Reb Moshe Kotsker bound his face for all of the years he was in the ghetto so that his beard would not be cut off. Despite the fact that he was threatened with annihilation every minute, he could not separate himself from his beard, the symbol of his Jewishness. How great must a man be in his faith that even during such savage events of fear and pain he upheld his customs.

Honor his memory!

The second one is Chaim, the son of Zelig the tailor. He perished in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He was one of the most active fighters in the ghetto. He fell with a weapon in his hand.

Honor his memory!

I will not draw any conclusions from this - who earned our respect more - those who served actively with weapons in their hands or those who struggled passively, but kept their human “I.” I am too poor to describe these heroes. If a Lord lived – he would designate the most beautiful places in Gan Eden [paradise] – and if not even higher… for these.

[Page 144]

 

bia144.jpg
A group of Bialer in Israel at the celebration of the
planting of a forest in the name of Moshe Frank and his family

From right to left: Hershl Artman and his wife, Chaya Londoner, Toba Frajndrajch, Leib Kuperszmidt, Dishke Herszkowicz, Gitl Sztubert, Bela Sztubert, Elihu Frajndrajch, Leon Sztubert and W. Szuman

 


Translator's note

  1. There are words dedicated to only two people in this text return

 

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