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[Pages 231/232]

Institutions and Economy

 

The Municipality - The Community Committee

by S. B”R

Translated by Sara Mages

When we come to talk about the public institutions of our town we must mention, in one breath, the joint municipal authority for Jews and non-Jews and the community committee which was, of course, purely Jewish.

The special circumstances of the separation of the Gentile part of the town into a independent municipal unit under the name Oziranka, caused that also the municipality - or as it was called “Gemeinda” since the days of the Austrians - was like a Jewish institution. This name remained also after the exchange of regimes and kingdoms. The Jews served as mayors (“Birger-Mayster”) during the last generation, at least from the period that we remember, namely, from the end of the 19th century to the first years of the Polish regime. For this reason there was of a division of roles among the municipality leaders. Some had “power” over the activities of the municipality, that is to say, the mayor (“Birger-Mayster”), and some over the Jewish activities, that is to say, the community leader. There was no trespass and one authority didn't intervene in the affairs of the second.

The two institutions were under the supervision of the Starosta [county administrator] in Borszczów, and the two leaders tried to please him.

Since the two institutions were in Jewish hands we'll talk first about municipality and its areas of operation.

 

The Municipality

The municipality's main areas of activity, in addition to enforcing law and order, were: drilling wells, paving roads and sidewalks, installation of street lights, the organization of fairs, night watch and the collection of municipal and government taxes by the decree of the Starosta.

Three officials, according to their ranks, filled these roles: The first was the Bürgermeister [mayor] (usually a Jew), who was elected and in some cases was also replaced. The second in rank was the secretary, who during our generation was a Ukrainian Gentile named Luptinski. He assimilated during the Austrian-Polish regime and became a Pole, but during the last years of the Ukrainian regime he returned to be a Ukrainian. He was able to do everything. If you wanted to be released from the army it was enough to meet him over a beer (it was said about him that he was able to drink a barrel of “ Okocim” beer without getting drunk), and drop through his pocket a few hundred Groschen for the “Commissioner.” Then, you were guaranteed that the military doctor will find you “unfit” without the need to bend a finger or break it. The third in rank was the the “Police Chief” who was also the jailor. The three of them together with the city council, which was part Jewish and part Gentile, managed the town.

It seems that at the end of the 19th century and the begining of the 20th century, in the years that Mendel Cohen served as the mayor, there was no demand for “innovations” like roads, sidewalks, street lights, drinking water, etc. When we were children we trampled through mud that came up to our knees, and the only road was the main road that led from Chortkov to Borszczów. The “main street” was the only street that was illuminated at night by oil lamps, and there were no sidewalks in the town.

The most painful question of the town was the shortage of safe drinking water. Although Ozeryany was located next to a number of lakes it was necessary to bring drinking water from the village of

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Zashilinatz, which was a few kilometers away, and so was created another source of livelihood for the Jews - the transport of water barrels.

There were a number of open wells from which water was drawn by buckets tied to a rope - and in the elaborate wells by a wheel. The best and most famous wells belonged to Duvid Odiches, Moshe Shlomos,and Chanina Cohen. But they only added a bit of romance when we went to bring “our water” for the baking of the matzot. I still remember the two huge wooden barrels, which were full of stagnant water, one in the grain market and the other next to the Great Synagouge. They stood there “just in case” a fire broke out.

When Yossi Mendel Cohen died a non-Jewish mayor, who also didn't improve the conditions in the town, served for many years. In 1906 Aba Bergman was elected in his place.

Aba Bergman was the great “innovator” of our town and there were considerable changes during his tenure. The first sidewalk was paved in the “Ring, trees were planted along the sidewalk and roads were paved inside the town. He built the “Town Hall” building, the “Community” building and the large slaughterhouse. The highlight was the drilling of deep water wells and the installation of hand pumps. Thus he caused a radical reform - the water transporters class was eliminated and the water porters - “Wassertrager”- class was created.

In 1912, during the great crisis to the Jewish merchants in Galicia, he went bankrupt and left the job and the town. Mendel Mayberger, who was a respected farmer, replaced him. Most of his daily activities were for the benefit of the Jewish residents with the authorities.

At the outbreak of the First World War and with the entrance of the Russians to our area, he was removed from his chair and the Russians appointed a Gentile in his place. He returned to his position as mayor after the World War and served until 1924.

With the establishment of the Polish regime, the Poles opposed that a Jew will head the town. They dismissed him and appointed their “loyal” - a Gentile by the name of Bleshow. He narrowed the Jews' footsteps, mainly in the commerce, and for that purpose he established Christian cooperatives.

To prevent, once and for all, the nomination of a Jew as mayor, they annexed the village of Ozirzanka to the town, and as a result the Jews became a minority.

Since they were a minority with weight, the Jews made sure that a Gentile will be “good to the Jews” will be elected as mayor. During the struggle between the Ukrainians and the Poles they voted in favor of the Pole Sohatski, the former school principal.

Sohatski acted in favor of the town's residents without discrimination and also improved the services in the town.

Jews weren't elected as mayors during the Polish rule and until the Holocaust. There is no point to mention the names of the oppressors because it's better that - “The name of the wicked shall rot.”

 

The Community Committee

Also here we'll start at the end of the 19th century - the way things were etched in our memory and as we've heard them from the generation that preceded us. We must begin by saying, that the activities of the community committee were always related to events and to the relationship between the various “religious ministrants.”

We'll open with the community leader, Moshe Shlomo Bezber, who served as the head of the community during the days of the town's rabbi, R' Mordechali Zeidman.

In those years there were still no “sides” in the town, and Rabbi Mordechali was the only rabbi in town. Later, the aforementioned community leader, married off his daughter to a Yeshivah student who was ordained as a rabbi. By the end of the days of R' Mordechali he made sure that his son-in-law would be the successor of the Rabbinate chair.

After the passing of Rabbi Mordechali he placed his son-in-law on the Rabbinate chair. R' Velvale, who was the town's rabbi in the eyes of many Jews, didnt agree to this nomination and brought another rabbi from the town of Magerove in Western Galicia. The “Mageriver” was an eminent Torah scholar, but he was far from world affairs. Then, the “sides” were created and formed.

During all these years the leadership of the community was in the hands of the of the supporters of HaRav R' Yechiel. Shemuel Pohorils was elected as the community leader after the passing of Moshe Shlomo Bezner, and the public officials were: Avraho Leib Tipper, Itzi Pilstiner and Yehudah Ber Zeidman.

In 1903, after the death of the rabbi from Magerove, the supporters of R' Velvale brought R' Eliezr Shpira and nominated him as the town's rabbi. R' Eliezr was the husband of the granddaughter of R' Velvale - and the controversy intensified. The generation's clowns called the dispute “foygel” [bird] because of the picture of a bird on the community's seal.

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In 1906 elections were held for the community committee. The supporters of R' Eliezer won this election and Moshe Gold was elected as the community leader. The public officials were - Shlomo Heler (Chaimes) and Aba Steinig - who served until after the First World War. During the years of the war Moshe Gold greatly helped the refugees who found a shelter in Ozeryany. He died of typhus when the epidemic broke out in the town during the war.

The dispute eased in the years following the First World War, and gradually passed from the world. It happened after R' Eliezer was called to the city of £añcut and sat there on the Rabbinate chair.

The young generation, which arose after the First World War, saw the matters from a different perspective and devoted its energy to constructive matters. During those years there was also a peace agreement between the community's rabbis. R' Fishle Arik who was a refugees from Zalishchyky and R' Yechiel Peffer settled in Ozeryany. Both of them served as the town's rabbis and R' Mordechi'li, the son of the “Mageriver,” served as a judge.

In the 1922 elections to the community committee, Shemuel Pohoriles was elected again as the community leader. Mendel Mayberger replaced him after he immigrated to Israel. Mendel was the community leader until the Second World war and served as the head of the Judenrat during the war.

In his article about the Holocaust, our friend, Tzvi Penster, writes about his actions and his superior stand during the years of tribulations.

The last two community leaders were accepted by all. They conducted the community's affairs in the spirit of the time, and gave a helping hand to every Zionist and national project.

After R' Fishel left the town and moved to Vienna, and after the death of R' Yehichal, R' Fener (a native of Przemyœl), who was the son-in-law of Mordechi'li the “Mageriver,” served as an active rabbi. He was a well educated man and was accepted by the authorities.

The committee's areas of operation were: The maintenance of the rabbis, slaughterers, beadles, synagogues, Beit HaMidrash and the cemetery.

In early years the community existed from: candle tax, salt tax and other taxes. After the reform its sources of income were: community tax, slaughtering tax and burial fees.

I gave my words briefly, with their lights and shadows and without additions, so the major public institutions of our town,who were lowered into the abyss along with the town by the Nazi murderers and their Slavic helpers, will be listed in our book.


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The Economic Situation
During the First World War

by Eliyahu Goldenberg

Translated by Sara Mages

 

A. 1914 - 1917

With the outbreak of the war the economy of Ozeryany - like the economy of most of the surrounding towns - was almost paralyzed. Even though only some of the men were drafted into the Austrian army due to the rapid Russian invasion, most of the labor force left the town and the number of women and the elderly increased. On the other hand, the town was flooded with Jewish refugees from Zalishchyky, Skala and other locations. A family of refugees, and sometimes two, stayed in almost every Jewish home. In addition to that, the soldiers of the invading Russian army were housed in the municipality buildings. The density was great and the sanitary conditions were very poor. Epidemics of Typhus and Cholera broke out and caused quite a few casualties to the town's residents and the refugees alike.

Yet, how did they live, and how the town's residents earned their livelihood during this period? The most important source of income, maybe the only one - was the Russian Army. Indeed, when they entered and left (because of the withdrawal from the front) they stole everything in sight, burned, beat and raped. However, during their long stay in the town they developed a relationship with their Jewish “hosts.” The soldiers gave the Jews: flour,

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sugar and other foodstuffs, clothes, boots, blankets, tobacco and more, at times by way of trade and mostly as gifts. Indeed, the soldiers - under the order of their commanders - took the Jews out of the synagogues and led them wrapped in their tallitot to dig pits and clear the snow, but together with that they uprooted the Gentiles' fences to provide the Jews with firewood during the harsh winter days, and gave them any other help.

At that time the most important source of income was the baking. All the supplies for the army were divided between the Jewish homes. A lot of women were engaged in baking, sometimes for 24 hours a day and they were aided, of course, by their neighbors. In return, they received bread and flour, which were used as means of exchange for oil, sugar, wood etc.

 

B. 1917-1920

The situation changed for the worst after the departure of the Russians, and after the great fire and the pillaging that marked their retreat. The town was destroyed and plundered, and only the remnants of buildings, which served as a hiding place for the children, remained in the market. After the armistice the recruited men returned home (the losses in Ozeryany were insignificant), and the “transition period” started. Indeed the war ended, but here and there the national minorities got organized, and independent Ukraine was established in Eastern Galicia. It was a period of chaos without a foothold. The Jews earned their living by transferring goods or by smuggling those from a place of abundance to a place of shortage like: kerosene and salt to Russia, and from there, tobacco and sugar etc. It was a period of “organized” robbery from the Jews, like the looting in Ozeryany on 5 March, 1919.

During this period a group of young people - who haven't reached the age of recruitment - got together and organized a self-defense unit in the town. Its purpose was to guard during the hours of the night from the infiltration of “reptiles” that came to rob and loot. They also had weapons that they inherited from the retreating armies. The guarding was conducted in shifts also during the day, and everyone was aware of what was happening. Thanks to them, the town was saved from attacks because they cast fear on those who dared to raise a hand on the Jews.

This situation continued until the arrival of the Bolsheviks. Some Jews saw them as the saviors of the generation and welcomed them with bread and salt. Very soon it became clear that it was a period of relative security, but - without any a source of income.

From the early hours of the morning you could see the town's breadwinners standing in groups in the market, leaning against the twisted railings, engaged in a small talk (politics, etc.) and looking forward to a new savior to come. Many young people went to work for the local farmers in harvest, collecting potatoes etc. in order to bring home something to eat. At that time the Gentiles stopped bringing their produce to the town because the trade ceased. This situation lasted for about a year, throughout the period of the Bolshevik regime, and then came a period which was even worse - the period of Petliura.

After the Bolsheviks left a band of bandits from Petliura's camp took charge of the town and “ruled” it for an interim period of three months. The bandits cast fear and terror on all the residents and extorted, by threats and punishments, the rest of their possessions. The only concern that pulsated in the hearts was - how to stay alive. As we know, this period ended with the pogroms of “Shabbat Shuvah” [The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur].

With the entry of the Poles, the town started to recover and strengthen itself from its weakness. People slowly returned to their profession and to their trading industry. Generally, they tried to adapt their businesses to the requirements of the hour and to the needs of the time. New shops, taverns and kiosks appeared every day. Many took the wandering stick in their hands and wandered from fair to fair to trade in grain, cattle, fur and shoes. The fairs also resumed in the town and were held twice a week - Wednesday and Friday - as they were held before the war.

For a few years the Gentiles from the immediate and the distant environment flocked to the fairs and brought all their agricultural produce: grain, cows, poultry, eggs, vegetables etc. The horse trading, that Ozeryany was considered to be one of its centers, was held in the Targowica (cattle market).

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The town was abuzz with the sound of loud bargaining. Shopkeepers and stall owners announced their best and cheapest goods in a loud voice. At the end of the day the taverns, grocery stores and fabric stores were full with groups of shoppers - farmers who came to spend their profit. Also the boys of the Heder and the school children wandered around the market with a scale in their hands, and bought fruit and beans from the farmers. Before sunset, after they've sold their merchandise, they counted their profit and boasted to each other. The prosperity impacted the development of the town, and they started to rebuild the ruins and add new buildings.

As long as the fairs existed there was plenty of income. However, slowly slowly the number of fairs was reduced and the people of Ozeryany, especially the traders of horses, cattle, fur, and shoes, were forced to leave for distant fairs. They lived away from home all the days of the week - until Sabbath Eve. The sources of income diminished and weakened. The tax burden weighed more and more. The consumer cooperative shops of the Ukrainians and the Poles drove the Jews out and took their places. A “bankruptcy” period began. Quite often it was possible to see how the sign above the business was replaced with a sign that carried the name of another family member. There were those who engaged in foreign exchange, a business that was tied to the ups and downs of the stock exchange and resulted in heavy losses.

The residents of the town went through a difficult time during the economic depression. They wandered without any source of income - hunger and poverty prevailed in most of the homes, and the immigration started. Few managed to come to the United States, many emigrated to South America and Canada, and only a few returned to Poland. Most of them remained across the sea to this day.

This was the course of events until the end of the 1920s. It's worth adding, that the large annual fairs in Chortkov and Lashkewitz [U³aszkowce] constituted an important source of income for the residents of our town. The preparations for the fairs began in early July and everyone found a suitable place for his stall. The fair lasted for about two weeks and the whole family stayed there until the end. In good times the profits from these fairs supported the family for a few months.

The composition of the craftsmen in our town was mostly like this:

Tailors and seamstresses - provided the local needs.

Furriers - engaged in the processing of the furs and sewing them into coats, hats and more - their production was intended primarily for the “outside.”

There was an industry of “Polkies” (overalls) from black or gray fabric for the urban Gentiles and also for export to the nearby cities. The overalls were stuffed with cotton-wool and sewn in squares so it won't shift from its place. At the head of this industry, which employed young women who also worked at their homes, were R' Andzil and his son Zusie Weisbrot.

The shoemakers - made shoes and boots for the “outside” (for retail sale at the fairs) and also provided the needs of the local market.

 

oze240
Shoes stall in Lashkewitz (David Shindler)

 

Carpenters - mostly made furniture because the construction was minimal. They also made doors and windows. Like them, all the glaziers were Jews and also those who made wooden shingles.

It was impossible to build a future from these livelihoods, but they lived a very modest life and raised glorious generations - until the arrival of the Holocaust.


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Tradesmen in our Town

by M. B”G - Kvutzat Shiller, 5717 [1956]

Translated by Sara Mages

When I bring before my eyes the image of the town and the Jewish life in it, I recall that most of the Jews were tied to one source of income - the small trade with the Gentiles, and to one source of education - the “Heder.” Most of the Jews were interwoven to each other by family ties, and it seems to me that the slogan “All Jews are responsible for one another” suited them.

However, according to the custom of the world, there was also a ladder in our Ozeryany, and this ladder had three steps: The privileged men of means sat on the upper step. The simple men of means sat on the second and on the last - the third- the tradesmen. When the troubles of the time hit those who sat on the upper two steps, they went up and down and changed their social status, but the status of the common folks was much more stable and lasted for generations. Later, many blessings awaited them and to the rest of the town's residents, Jews and non-Jews.

At that period, twenty five years ago, when I left the town and immigrated to Israel, there were about two thousand Jews in the town. Close to twenty percent of them were tradesmen who earned their living from the labor of their hands. There were about three thousand Christians who mostly lived from agriculture. Only a small percentage of them were craftsmen, and those who engaged in a craft only saw it as a supplement to their agricultural income and not a real source of income. The Jews worked and created, and provided all the needs of the population in the town and in the surrounding villages, in clothing, footwear, household goods, and construction. The farmers came to the town to sell their produce and with the money that they've earned they purchased all their needs.. Jewish tradesmen also traveled to the villages to do their work there. They brought a number of products to the fairs in the neighboring towns, and even traveled to distant places especially with the famous Ozeryany's furs. The number of tradesmen in this business was the larges, and the nickname “Ozeryanyer furs” was given to the town. The furrier profession was associated with the first processing of the skins which produced an unpleasant odor. The last phase of this industry was the trade, and those who engaged in it were more affluent than other tradesmen.

The fate of the other tradesmen wasn't the same. They worked and created together with their sons, from early morning until late at night to the light of a lantern and a lamp. Their sons started to work at a young age to earn their modest existence.

Despite it all, happiness prevailed in their homes and the saying “Work makes life sweet,” which was said with a little sarcasm (their perspective not ours), was true. Those who entered the home of a craftsman on a weekday heard and saw how they worked and sang, and the house was warm and full of joy of creation. On the other hand, they weren't organized in a professional or economic association because they dominated a large number of professions, about twenty in number. Maybe the saying - “many crafts and few blessings…” - was suitable for them. There was a general organization for Jews and Christians, which was called “The Association of Artisans,” but its goal was to keep the level of the profession. To be accepted it was necessary to pass a test and receive an artisan certificate.

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However, only a few had a certificate and most of the craftsmen broke the law. They opened workshops to the eyes of everyone and nobody asked or intervened.

It's necessary to note the fact, that the association's chairman was always a Gentile even though it contained only a few Christian artisans. It turns out that it was a relic from the times when there were a few Christian members in the association and it was under the wings of the Church, who blocked the road to the Jews who wanted to learn a trade and live from it. The Church cast a decree that every member of the association had to bring candles to the church and light them, and also other Christian religious duties. The Jews, of course, never filled them and always found a way around the law. The various crafts remained in the hands of the Jews, and the Christians remained in their “holy” duty.

There was also a social association by the name of “Yad Harutzim” [hand of the diligent], but it was weak and its activities weren't known to the public. Its members were all the tradesmen and a few poor merchants who were related to them. In our time the chairman was R' Moshe Schissler z”l (Mahaler), and the secretary and treasurer was R' Lipa Melamed z”l (Apfelbaum).

The association didn't have a special meeting hall and the few meetings were held at the home of Lipa Melamed and always at the conclusion of the Sabbath. The sign - “The Association of Yad Harutzim” - hung on the wall of the Heder where we studied. I don't know the association's set of rules, but I was a neighbor of R' Lipa Melamed z”l and his student. Not once I entered to listen to their discussion and once I was their benefactor. The association's goal was to provide “mutual aid” as much as possible. It was reflected with a visit to a sick member, night shifts by the bedside of a seriously ill member, supporting those in need, participation in celebrations and, God forbid, in mourning. The association also participated in communal affairs such as sending one of its members as a representative to the community.

However, the financial aid to the needy was minimal because it came from donations that were collected from among the members. Even though the association's activities were very modest, it had a value because it encouraged its members as much as possible.

The young generation established “Peretz Ferein.” Most of its members were the children of the artisans, but also the sons and daughters of the merchant class belonged to it. In its cultural activities it was the second largest organization after the “Hitachdut.” The members built a beautiful library, mostly in Yiddish, and also organized parties, banquets, games, lectures and debates. The organization's official goal was to the desire to learn, to strengthen and dedicate the Yiddish language as the language of the people, and to define themselves as a working class. However, there were also signs of anti-Zionism that they have sucked, bit by bit, from the Bund's school. It's possible to say, in their credit, that they didn't fight against the Zionist movement. Some of them contributed to various Zionist funds, but they didn't cooperate in the work and stayed away from the Zionist-pioneering movement even though many of them had social relationship with the members of “Hitachdut” and “Gordonia.” The hatred between the “Perez” organization and the Zionist movement, which prevailed at that time in other cities, wasn't felt in our town. It can be said about them “like father like son.”

From the generation of old craftsmen, who worked diligently and were honest in their lifestyle, two are especially engraved in my memory even though their work and their personality were completely different. Yet, each one of them can be a fine example to us and to our children here in Israel.

 

oze244
Moshe (Mahaler)

 

One of them was R' Moshe Schissler z”l (Mahaler). He was a large and tall Jew, his bright eyes expressed kindness, and he had a wide beard that gray hairs were thrown in it. Every morning he left for work with a ladder on his shoulder, a bucket of paint in his hand and samples of his work under his arm. He greeted every friend who came towards him' and also every person - young or old.


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His “Good morning” was said from a distance in a loud and hearty voice. He was one of the few craftsmen who knew some of the small letters and not only a Parasha from the Chumash and RASHI. He also knew to read and write in Yiddish and German. He was considered to be a scholar and was the chairman of the “Association of Yad Harutzim” for many years.

As such a person we turned to him on behalf of the “Hitachdut” to hold a joint tea ball that half of its revenue will be dedicated to their organization. Our intention was to bring them closer to our Zionist activities, and they responded positively. Their organization was represented by R' Wali Goldenberg z”l (Eliyahu's father) and he - R' Moshe himself. The ball took place at the conclusion of the Sabbath, and he opened and said “A good week to you brothers and sisters,” and continued in a traditional juicy language. Every word that came out of his mouth penetrated the heart and made a deep impression on everyone, especially on the younger generation, which was accustomed to the openings of “dear gathering” or “dear public,” with all kinds of flowery quotes and expressions in a foreign language that were spoken from the lip out and without any feelings. To this day I haven't forgotten his manner of speech and his confident and passionate voice.

R' Chaim Kowel (the blacksmith) was the grandfather of Menachem A. and Tzvi M.

We were neighbors and relatives. Since I opened my eye and knew how to distinguish between people, and until I left the town 25 years later, I remember him almost without changes to his external image despite his laborious work. He was short, had broad shoulders and his large head was attached to them by a short neck. A rusted color beard adorned his face and he looked like a solid block of iron. He was the only Jewish blacksmith in town, an expert in his profession and his hands were always full of work.

I saw him every day as he was standing by the bellows. Sparks of fire fell on his hairy chest and penetrated his beard. He looked like a real “Minister of Fire,” and I always wondered why he wasn't burned. Here he is standing by the anvil holding a hammer in his right hand and an iron bar in his left. His son, or one of his workers, is standing next to him and they beat the iron bar with their big hammers Hach! Hach! The red-hot iron bar is turning into a horseshoe or a wheel hoop. And so he stood, more than fifty years ago, and did his work with holiness, and the sound of the hammers sounded in the street from morning till night.

One day - when he was old and close to the age of eighty - I saw him walking from the iron shop, which was a distance of about half a kilometer from his workshop. He walked and on his shoulder was a long bundle of iron that trailed behind his back. I approached him, and helped him to get home. For a few days I felt the pressure of the iron on my shoulder, and he carried the iron alone, without a slight resentment, all the days on his life.

 

oze246
Jewish laborers in the sawmill

 

It was told about him that he finished a 3 kilograms loaf of bread for breakfast, and that he dunked it in a 3 log [Talmudic liquid measure] pot of sour milk. He was a simple honest man, quiet and good, and never hurt anyone. With his heavy hammer he turned his strength to sweat, and earned his living from his sweat. May his memory be blessed.

 

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