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[Page 341]

Memories of Chanukah from my Town of Sierpc

by Matel Rajczyk

Translated by Jerrold Landau


From my early childhood and onward, I remember Chanukah as the lovely “weekday festival.” Businesses were open. I did not get any new clothes. I had to attend cheder and look at the face of my rebbe Chaim Yosef. Still, I felt the festivity. Something mysterious hung in the air. The white snow covered the holes and the mud on the Jewish streets. One could not make out the mountain around the Vlokes, or the area from the mountain to the synagogue and Mendel Gerlic's workshop. All the windowpanes were covered with snow and

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the frost covered flowers sparkled in the cold.

The most important part of that Chanukah festivity was that I did not have to return to cheder after supper. My heart used to pound when I used to go to cheder in the dark nights with my homemade paper lantern. Precisely at the moment when the lantern was needed due to a vicious dog, a drunk who was sleeping on the streets and was ready to beat a Jewish child who was in his way, or just an ordinary gentile who threw snowballs and shouted “Jew to Palestine” – exactly at that critical moment, the paper lantern went out. I threw down the burning paper, which went out, and I remained standing in the darkness.

The heart pounded like a drum. Like stones, my feet did not lift themselves off the ground, and the street had been dark for some time. That is why I felt so festive on the week of Chanukah, because for a full eight days I did not need to endure these tribulations. I used to beg G-d that more miracles would take place, and it would be Chanukah for the entire winter.

As the eldest son, on the eve of Chanukah, I had the good deed of cleaning the Chanukah menorah. I removed every speck and cleaned it. The two lions engraved on the menorah sparkled strongly. When the candles burned, one could see the red tongues that hung from their mouths. When my father and I returned home from the old beis midrash after maariv, the house was lit up. Light shone from every corner. My father held the lit shamash high up as he recited the blessings. As he lit the first candle, we children put our hands on his hand so that we could take part in the commandment of lighting the Chanukah candle. We all sang together Haneirot Halalu, Maoz Tzur, and Mizmor Shir Chanukat. Mother looked on and quietly wiped away a tear.

The Chanukah dinner was tastier than all others dinners of the year, for mother was preparing the animal fat for Passover and for the winter. At this time, the animal fat was more plentiful. Every spoonful of food was accompanied by grivn[1] with large or small fat globules. After the meat, we would have a course of latkes. Throughout the day, my mother with the help of my sisters would peel and grind the largest potatoes. My mother sifted off the white starch, collected it for a week, and put it in a Passover vessel so that it could be used for cakes on Passover. The amount of latkes that mother brought to the table was not enough. We sprinkled white sugar on the latkes, and ate them along with tea.

After dinner, Father gave us children Chanukah gelt [money], and we sat on the floor with the neighboring children to play lotteries, dominoes and dreidel. The men sat in the dining room and played “Oko” (a card game). The following men were sitting there: Yosef Koperman (Lipie's brother-in-law), the Cantor Danielke (Sheike's), and Avraham Shochet, the bird shochet [ritual slaughterer] (Burgand). Yehoshua Goldman sat at the side and constantly shouted “Oy vey, a waste of time!” The kibitzer was Lipia (the

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“Hershele Ostropoler”[2] of Sierpc). When the cantor played a “stake” and was angry, Lipie would sing to the tune of Tal[3], “Cantor, cantor, if you cannot, do not undertake.”

At that time, the house became very hot from the frying latkes and from the clouds of smoke from the cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. My father smoked the pipe that he had inherited from his father, Shlomo Meir Shu”b, the Nasielsker shochet. When my father was occupied with “Tehiliml” (cards in the vernacular)[4], I snuck a puff of the pipe. We children, tired and choking from the stinky, smoky air, fell asleep one after the other on the floor.



When the Agudas Yisroel set up the Tvuna youth organization in our town, all of the bar mitzvah aged lads who studied in the shtibel or the beis midrash became members. The organization set up evening courses where we studied Hebrew grammar and Jewish history. The teacher was Mr. Kohn. His helper, if I am not mistaken, was Mendel Yonatan's (Lifschitz). David, Avraham Aharon Melamed's, also helped.

Yossel Blachman, one of the chief organizers of Tvuna, a lover of song, organized a concert in honor of Chanukah with a choir performance. I remember only a few names of the choir members: Itche David Sznitzer, Moshe Aharon and Nisan Rajchgot, Moshe Nipomoszcz, Menachem Grosman, the lame Yossel, Yossel Goldman, Aba Licht, and the writer of these lines. Berl Pliata played the fiddle.

Rehearsals took place between mincha and maariv, and on the Sabbath during the third meal [shalosh seudos] at the Gerrer Shtibel that was located in the courtyard of Aharon Lipka. The Chanukah concert took place in the Gerrer Shtibel. Yossel Blachman held his left hand over his ear and used his tuning fork and directed with his left hand. We sang cantorial compositions, Hanerot Halalu, Mizmor Shir Chanukat, and a few Hebrew songs.

After the concert when all the guests went home, we singers received some refreshments. Zelig Rajchgot sent sufficient marinated herring. Moshe Grosman sent soda water and kvass, and Nachum Tac sent several flasks of wine. We brought kichels from home. The concert was successful, and the evening will never be forgotten.



When I got older and already studied myself in the old beis midrash, I still felt the festivity of Chanukah. The Gerrer Hassid Binyamin Yehuda's (Yehuda Beker's brother-in-law) would always reprove us youths when we were sitting with open gemaras and chatting about worldly matters. However, in the week of Chanukah, he turned his head and looked away.

In the evenings, instead of sitting at the class, we played chess and a card game called Twenty One. Binyamin looked away and did not reprove us. Even the two large, tiled ovens in the old beis midrash knew that it was Chanukah.

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Throughout the entire winter when the frost was biting in the street, the ovens were cold. They were almost like a piece of ice. However, in the week of Chanukah, they were hot. Indeed, this was a Chanukah miracle. The wood was dry and the flames were crackling higher and higher toward the chimney.

On the side of the oven, near the copper sink, a few old Jews were sitting and playing cards. I recall only one name of the players: Itzik Kvetcher. The kibitzer on the side, or as we used to call him, Shcaria with the Pipe, smoked the tobacco that he purchased from Shlomo Chaya's and snatched glances at the cards.

The Chanukah candles burnt festively in the windows on all the streets where Jews lived. The warmth of the candles melted the snow with the frost flowers on the window panes. The clear flames told about the legends of generations ago, the heroism of the Maccabees.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Cracklings made out of skin of fowl. Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hershele_Ostropoler Return
  3. The Prayer for Dew recited with a unique melody on the first day of Passover. Return
  4. I suspect that this is a euphemism, referring to a card game by a holy term. Return

Images and Memories from my Hometown

by Gershon Bergson

Translated by Jerrold Landau

From my earliest childhood years, I recall Wolf Chazan's cheder with the broken steps and dark corridor. It was located behind the bridge. My heart pounded from terror when I went to cheder alone for the first time, and had to go up the broken steps in the dark.

The place of Torah of Avraham Aharon, a cheder in the middle of the market, was the opposite of that cheder. Avraham Aharon was a gemara teacher, a scholarly Jew and a fearer of Heaven. I mention his name with trembling and respectful awe. He served as the example of faith and belief for me and for tens of other children in town.

Later came Mintz's modern cheder with “lawkes[1] instead of tables. The teacher wore a short jacket, was partly shaved, and wore pince-nez glasses like a professor. Only the progressive maskilim allowed themselves to give their children over to his hands. To Nachum Tac, Mendel Tajtelbaum and other Orthodox Jews, he was like a gentile[2].

In a later period, Litwinski's cheder modernized with a “principal,” Eliahu Meir, who taught secular subjects for an hour a day. Turkeltaub was a teacher there. A clean-shaven person, may G-d protect us, Asher Watman taught Hebrew.

The modern cheder had to represent the striving for knowledge and education that tore through the town, and simultaneously protected the Jewish children from entering the “Szabaszowka”[3] with the director Eichel, a complete gentile[2], and even worse, with female teachers. There, one sits with a bare head… and girls learn together with boys. A Jew does not send his children to the “schools.” A Jew is a Jew.

However, the striving for Jewish worldly education grew and now I can see before

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my eyes the first classes of the Tarbut School. It was two rooms, and neighbored the gristmill that belonged to Licht, close to the riverbank. “Woe unto us, what will be, if, Heaven forbid, suddenly a flood comes and the children cannot go home. They will then say that the ‘ ;gentiles’ are guilty, the teacher of the Tarbut School.” This is what the school activists frequently thought.

Fortunately, no flood came, and the first kindergarten teacher, the “aunt” as one called her, and the first principal Rubel laid the foundation of the exemplary school in Sierpc where today's citizens of Israel received their education.

The Tarbut School grew high, wide and deep. It was already located in the building opposite the Polish government gymnasium. The Jewish children specifically learned in their own language in that Polish region. Later the Tarbut School building came with its nice classrooms and a hall for performances – for spite, specifically in a Polish area.

The dedicated activists invested energy and thought in order to set up the building. Yeshayahu Frydman, David Bergson, Feivush Lipka, Wajsroza, Berl Czarka, and a great many others – some with money, some with energy – all of them did everything possible in order to establish the Jewish culture center in Sierpc, that served as an example for the towns in the district: Rypin, Lipno, Raciaz, and others, which were jealous of Sierpc on account of its fine Jewish school.


Sabbath in the Town

The synagogue, the new beis midrash, the old beis midrash, and the shtibels were all full of worshippers. Jews worshipped one G-d in many places.

People went to services. Here goes Yaakov Moshe Tajtelbaum. He walks step by step, majestically, with his tallis laying atop his coat. Women stood in the windows and watched where the crowds were going for kiddush. Everything was quiet in the town. For Jews in general the Sabbath was infused with holiness. The shopkeepers, the large and small businessmen, who were seeking an endorsement for a promissory note, the entire weekday tumult and brouhaha, the concerns of livelihood – everything stopped. It was the Sabbath in Sierpc.

When I went to cheder, a ban was put on me because… my brother went out with girls on the Sabbath. I was embarrassed. I put down my eyes and was quiet… I then gave my word that when I will grow up, I will not do so… I must admit – I broke my promise…

When I became an older lad, people were no longer placed under a ban for going out with girls on the Sabbath in Sierpc. We would walk on Plocker Street from here to there. Groups of boys and groups of girls, one group opposite the other – they glanced at each other, with a smile on their lips, passing by embarrassed and quickly, in order to repeat the same pattern five minutes later.

Later, a bit later when the sun set and the holy Sabbath ended as it got dark – we walked in the same direction. The girls were in front of us, and we were behind them. We simply walked back and forth, when suddenly we were walking in

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pairs – two boys, two girls, and so on until we reached the “Fundeven Ice creams.” One of us would purchase ice creams and bring them to the girls, still silent. Then we would continue walking back and forth.

Those restrained, awkward meetings between boys and girls continued until the youth movements were established, where the boys and girls joined together in the ideals of societal activity, feelings and striving, which throughout the generations had been concealed in the hearts of the Jewish youth, and now were spurting forth and coming to normal human expression.


The Beginning of Societal and Cultural Activity

Michel Kopolowicz lived in the old market not far from the magistrate building. There was a large yard there, which bordered on other yards and places until Niemciewsko's yard. There, there were all sorts of things for the Jewish boys and girls who were growing up: stables with horses, carriages, wagons, and most important – Kaminski the mechanic had his workshop there.

We saw the fire that sizzled as he blew the air sack, the red hot iron, large hammers and various wheels. We heard the banging on the anvil and the squeaking of the file. My brother worked with the gentile locksmith as a journeyman. My grandmother cried before Father – can it be, a tradesman in the family?

The most important things in the yard were the bicycles that could be borrowed. One could borrow a bicycle from Kaminski for a half an hour or an hour. Who would not want to learn how to ride a bicycle? Everyone, the entire town: children, cheder youths, school gentiles, and beis midrash youths. I recall that Chaim Shlomo Licht with his kapote [Hassidic cloak] and Jewish hat came there to learn how to ride.

Thus, the yard turned into a club for culture and sport. Youth played cops and robbers, tennis, buttons, chess, and they ran around and made noise. People “conducted business,” acted foolishly, requested a ride from the bicycle riders, played games such as football with hats stuffed with rags, and when we were tired, we went up to an attic of a barn and spent pleasant time there.

Slowly, we got tired of the barn attic. I do not know how the word “club” came to us – we began to think about a place. A club… where could we get it? We searched and we found… A widow with two children lived inn Shlomo Glazer's courtyard. She and her family began to make cigarettes, that is, they used to purchase tobacco and paper, rolled the cigarettes and sold them, ten in a package. This house was an illegal factory. The widow tricked the Polish regime and did not pay any “banderole”[4]. She had two rooms. The “factory” was in the kitchen, and the “warehouse” for the merchandise was under the pillows.

We looked for a place, and the widow looked for a livelihood – we negotiated, and this became the “club.” We went to the club every evening and

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played dominoes or chess. We had to pay monthly dues, and that is how we obtained our own premises. This was in the year 1924-25.

We secretly spent time at the club for approximately a year and a half. Aside from our group of youths, nobody knew. However, the club at the widow's house soon became too crowded for us. It did not satisfy our cultural needs and did not calm the fermenting striving of the maturing youth to meet with the opposite sex. We again began to think and search for ways of bringing a change to our lives.

The town slowly began to come under the influence of the new aspirations of the Zionist movement. The youth slowly began to understand the need for freedom from the foreign yoke and began to aspire toward an independent life in their own homeland.

The first bold steps toward Aliya had already begun in Sierpc. The following people went to the Land of Israel: Avraham Frid, my brother Yitzchak, Efraim Wloke, and Mordechai Rozen. Youth began to study Hebrew and founded libraries. Two libraries already existed: a large library and a second one for the Herzliya youth organization. Hersh Malowanczyk, Leibel Horn and Mordechai Rzejsotko were the popular Hebrew teachers.

We decided to emulate the adults and found our own library. It was indeed simple; we purchased a few books, put together a box, and exchanged the books. We talked and we acted.

Our member Fishel Dobroszklanka had parents who already at that time displayed great understanding for the modern aspirations of their children. Dobroszklana had a home with two entrances. The small room with its own entrance was placed at our disposal. There, we opened our library under the name of the Hatechiya youth library. My brother David provided books on credit. We had up to 30 subscribers, including several girls.

With time, the library became a cultural club. On Friday nights, we would gather together in the little room to chat and sing.

We sung hymns as well as small pieces, which we used to sing with Yosel Shochet. The girls taught us Polish songs from school. Thus, a choir was formed, thereby expressing our aspirations and strivings through song.


Zionist and Cultural Activity

In the years 1927-1928, the Hashomer Haleumi youth organization (Later Hanoar Hatzioni) was formed. This entirely changed the way of life of our youth group, and also had its effect upon the wider circles of Jewish youth of Sierpc. Our activities grew broader. The evening hours were no longer sufficient for us. At six in the morning, they knocked at the doors – Yaakov Meir, Yosel, Shoshana… a “Zwiurke”[5]. We had to gather together, also in the early hours of the day, to study, read, and conduct practices.

We read everything that was new for us: Zionist writers: Herzl, Pinsker, Nordau, etc.; world literature:

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Tolstoi, Dostoyevski, Shenkevitch, Reimont, Kelerman, Mafason; Jewish writers: Asch, Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, Mendele, Tshernikovsky, Bistricki, and scores of others. Of course, “The hands were full of work”: cleaning the clubhouse, the sports place, sports practices, the library, collecting money for the funds, performances, excursions, demonstrations, elections. We were everywhere.

For the most part, our gatherings took place in the meadows, in open nature. We would go there on Friday nights, even on frosty evenings. On the hot days in the summer, we would go to the river. There we would have meetings of the groups and the brigades, marches, listening to reports, singing, dancing, and playing.

Gentiles often attacked and threw stones, but we courageously held our stand. We felt secure when Yosel David Jaszwicz accompanied us. At that time, he was the strongest of us, and even the gentiles were careful about beating him. The gentiles finally came to the conclusion that it did not pay to start up with us. The Jews occupied the meadows, and there was a truce. We would sit there and study, have discussions, sing and dance the hora.

Our cultural work was expressed in various forms. We conducted “trials” at our headquarters. We “tried” “Bonche Shweig” and the fire guardian from Y. L. Peretz' allegories, Josephus Flavius and the Bund. Nobody left our hands without a proper verdict. Our national celebrations were celebrations for the town. First of all, we distributed pictures from the Jewish National Fund and pasted them to the windows. Then we marched through the streets with blue and white flags, dressed in festive uniforms: white shirts, green pants with drums and trumpets, with the Maccabee orchestra in the front.

The procession departed: Moshe Smolenski with the shining barrels over the wheels, and following him were the group leaders A. Bergson, Y. Kurta, N. Czarnoczapka. The heads of the sections were at the sides: Y. Kurta, P. Lanenter, Tz. Sendrowicz, Sh. Klajn, and others. The Hebrew language resonated through the streets. Songs and commands were in Hebrew. The Zionists were proud. The mothers, the pious mothers who were not so happy with the gentile demeanor of their children, blessed them nevertheless – “Let your walking be in peace” – a mother is a mother.

We traveled to conventions – at first with wagons. Meir Klajn had a pair of horses. We rented the wagon and traveled to Źuromin and Raciaz. The trip took three or four hours, from 4:00 a.m. until 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. When we arrived in the town, we arranged ourselves in rows and marched along with songs, which aroused everyone's admiration.

We also went on excursions by foot for a day or two in duration to Studzieniec, Susk, and other villages. It was not so easy for us to arrange transportation for the excursions. We had to wage a “war” with our parents. The parents did not give any money, and they did not permit the trips at all. We battled with tears, we threatened to escape from the home – “I will go out to hachsharah and will never come back.” Father was angry, mother became soft, the child was crying, “The child may indeed run away – how can I remain without him?” – a mother would think.

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There are six children in the house – if one of them is missing, the house will be empty…

At the end, they permitted us to travel. Having endured the battle, we were victorious. We traveled to Skwilna, Masczisk and other places, in the forests and the fields. We breathed the air of the field and the manure, as we sang the song “and the smell of the manure.” We dreamed at night about our own country in the Land of Israel.


The Dream of the Land of Israel Took on Wings

Avraham Schultz, Yaakov Meir Pukacz, Zalman Nazemski, S. Sendrowicz, and Tzipora Rozinek – sons and daughters of Aguda members – went to hachshara. The exile was difficult: in town it was crowded, the taxes were higher, the boycott of the Falangist anti-Semites was stronger, there was nothing to look forward to. “One must go to the Land of Israel. At first the children, and then later we too will follow after them .” the parents were already saying.

In the meantime, Jews had to remain in the town. We could not travel to the desired Land. The British did not let people in. Jews must wait for a good market; perhaps one could earn a few zlotys. Then tomorrow and the day after, we would travel to fairs in the surrounding towns or in far-off Pomerania, where one could load up a wagon and earn a few zlotys. It did not always succeed. Often, the fair was called off, or a heavy rain fell – one packed up the merchandise, turned the wagon shaft, and set out for home.

However, Jews are not pessimists. The following week we again traveled. We tried our luck, as we must indeed live. The town does indeed live: one lights candles on Friday night, on Chanukah one places Chanukah candles on the windows and fries grivn [cracklings] with festive animal fat, one builds houses, one erects sukkot [tabernacles] in the yards and on the balconies in front of the houses on Sukkot. One is not afraid of the gentiles.

Zelda the midwife wakes up at night and runs to a woman in childbirth. She “takes” out children. One purchases “shir hamaaloses[6] and children run to study how to read the Shema. Jews run to exorcise the evil eye, to recite psalms, to supplicate at graves. People make weddings in town – Gerlitz-Malach with the fiddle and Kropasz with the trumpet – were busy, very busy – for they were the only musicians in town. On Passover one was a king, on Lag Baomer one marched to the fields, and on Shavuot, one brought the aroma of the forest and the field into the house.

Thus did Jews live in Sierpc, as in all the towns in Poland, as they awaited the speedy final redemption. Instead, the great destruction came.

In the autumn of 1932, the thought of leaving the town was ripe with me. My destination was Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania. I left my home on a frosty pre-dawn. My mother kissed me and shed a tear. My beloved father accompanied me to the “Darozhka” and parted from me with two words “Be successful.”

His blessing, the blessing from a sincere father, came true, and I was indeed successful in the path that I had set out. My inner desire to meet my beloved parents once again, borne in my heart but not expressed on my lips – unfortunately never came true. I never saw my warm home again, and never again met my dearests.

Let these lines of mine serve as a monument for the unknown grave of my parents and for the martyrs of Sierpc who were tortured by the Germans.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. I could not find a definition, but I believe it means student desks. Return
  2. The word here ‘goy‘ is not literal, and refers to a Jew that 7;comports himself like a gentile. Return
  3. A state run Polish school for Jewish children where the language of instruction was Polish and there were minimal Jewish studies, but which was closed on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Return
  4. The tax for the official paper stamps to be placed on such packages. Return
  5. I am unsure what this means. Return
  6. The Shir Hamaalot psalms are a series of 15 psalms (120-134) beginning with “A song of ascents.” In this context it is used as an amulet or sign of good fortune. Return

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My Girlhood Years in Sierpc

by Hena Oberfeld Lewin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Today, after I have already swum to shore after many difficult wanderings through the world, I will attempt to bring to memory the life in my hometown of Sierpc.

I return with memories to the days of my childhood. I see a small girl. I run quickly in the morning to my first teacher Anshel Mesz, who taught me the aleph beit. All the girls from the surrounding streets learned with him. There, we played under the tables with his own Zundele, who passed away very early, while still a child.

I still remember the smell of tobacco that emanated from my rebbe as he frequently stuffed tobacco in his nose. His wife Sara Devora, a tall, slender woman, was the director of the cheder. The tuition arrangements and payments went through her. She was strict with us, and the rebbe Anshel at times grabbed our faces to scold us or hit us.

While still a young girl, happy and carefree, I was sent to the “Pension” of Mrs. Reich, who was called in Polish Reichowna. There, I took part in excursions to the two mills and the Dolinkes (valleys) -- the seven lovely Dolinkes with the Kakasza Mountain. This made us seem so grown up next to our friends from the surrounding towns, who were unable to do so. There, we spent time, went to the beach with the white sand, and took pictures.

My mother bore the entire burden of livelihood and raising the children. My beloved father, a quiet, honest, pious Jew, was not involved in our upbringing. He had other businesses, such as: on Purim he would gather all the neighbors and read the megilla with his lovely voice, as all the children banged for Haman with what was permitted – with graggers [noisemakers], rolling pins, and other such things. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my father conducted services. He started to prepare and rehearse the prayers and shofar blowing a few weeks before the High Holy Days.

As we got older, our home became a club for discussions. I – a Zionist; my two brothers – left leaning Poale Zion; and my younger sister Dvora – a pious Beis Yaakov student. She always reported to my parents that my brothers had eaten on Yom Kippur. My parents held me responsible for the missing food, and I was silent… All four of us participated in various performances that were conducted by the drama circles of the parties to which we belonged. In general, all four of us, my brothers and my sister, lived in peace.

The town of Sierpc was a typical Jewish town. On Friday afternoon, when the market with all of the business being conducted with the gentiles ended, and the cholent[1] pots were already placed in the bakeries, Yaakov Moshe Teitelbaum would appear, washing his

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silk cloak that covered his wide tallis kattan. He already came all combed out and steamed up from the hot mikva [ritual bath], and went to the shtibel for services. Then, the iron shutters of his block of stores on the market place were shut. Shortly thereafter, all of the shops, other than the gentile pharmacy, were locked. The Sabbath asserted its power.

In the market, as well as in other Jewish streets, only guards were Polish. In the Jewish quarter, they had important tasks, such as: putting out the candles and putting away the candelabrums on Friday nights, lighting the ovens during the winter, and purchasing the chometz on the eve of Passover.

When my male and female friends and I ended school, we simply had nothing to accomplish. Youths from our group such as Yosef Meir Podskoc , Naftali Czarnoczapka, Pesach Grosman and others became independent because their fathers had died early and they had to take upon themselves the yoke of livelihood for their homes. Others became involved in Zionist party work, which was a tolerable livelihood, just as it is here in Israel. My girlfriends and I began to study hand embroidery with Beila Ajzenstat. However, this was no solution for us, and did not give us a livelihood.

In the evenings, we would get together at Marina Gurfinkel's photography shop, where we spent good times. We often danced, flirted, discussed, and played cards to the light of the moon that came through the glass roof. Mendel Gurfinkel, the observant Jew with the fine, black beard, who traveled to the rebbe for every festival, at times took the camera in his hands and photographed us, so that his Miriam[2] would be included in the photograph.

On Sabbath afternoons we would get together at Gutka Frenkel's when the old Yaakov Ber was asleep in the second room. However, our situation was sad when he suddenly woke up and heard combined voices of boys and girls. He then chased us away in all directions.

I began to go to the Herzliya society where I was chosen for the management committee, and was active in the library in which I invested a great deal of energy and effort. I worked together with Naftali Czarnoczapka. He was the president of the small library. I was the secretary and cashier.

I always had troubles with the cash. I lent all the money from my neighbors Rachele Brin and Shmuel Henech Dragon. A few times a week, they traveled to fairs in the surrounding towns, and always were free with money. When the time came to pay a debt, I really did not want to make demands on them, and I was embarrassed to remind them. My father always threatened that I would end up in jail on account of the library.

On one occasion, the electric company took me to court for stealing current for the library. We did not have money to pay for the electricity, and the electric company cut off the power. We set things in order. I came out just barely exonerated due to the assistance of a lawyer who was engaged by the library committee.

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When I was already in Warsaw, I still underwrote promissory notes and sent books to the library.

I was also active in the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] committee in the city. The following people belonged to that committee: Yeshaya Frydman, Hershel Kristal, Mordechai Rzejsotko, Tzvi Malowanczyk, Ber Czarka, Izak Najman, Leibel Horn, and others. We collected money for the Land of Israel.

My parents and my friends' parents did not have the means to meet the growing needs of already grown girls. We had to concern ourselves with setting ourselves up in life. In 1934, my best friend Reizel Sendrowicz and I decided to travel to the Land of Israel. We presented our requests to the Palestine Office, and received our confirmations a few months later that we were accepted as candidates to travel. My friend then traveled. Unfortunately, I did not possess the material means to do so.

A year later, I went out on hachshara in Warsaw under the auspices of WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization]. I concluded hachshara a year later and was registered on the list to obtain a certificate. The number of certificates was minimal, however, and I was not able to travel.

When the war broke out, I went to Russia. My sole goal was to survive the war at any price and begin anew.

After my return from Russia, my first desire was to look at my town of Sierpc, which still appeared as before in my memory. I traveled to Sierpc after spending a brief time in Stettin. I got off the train with a palpitating heart, and saw what the cruel Germans had perpetrated. I saw a strange, unrecognizable town. When I arrived at the market, I stood still like a stone. Later, I ran like a crazy person to the house where we lived and to other houses in which Jews lived. A field with grass occupied the place of the Jewish houses, and horses were grazing. I did not say a word to anybody, nor was there anyone to whom to ask questions. I stood for a while next to the shop which used to belong to my father Wolf Margel the clockmaker, and I wept bitterly.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The cholent [stew for the Sabbath daytime meal] would be left cooking from Friday afternoon. To avoid the oven having to be left on in every house, the bakeries would often leave on their ovens so that everyone could put their cholent pots into the common oven. Return
  2. Miriam would be the Hebrew name of Marina. Return

Jewish Livelihoods in Sierpc

by Tzvi Malowanczyk

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Fishermen and Butchers

The fish business in Sierpc was entirely in Jewish hands. The fish merchants who were called “fishers” in fact had no connection with the fish catchers. They went to the true, gentile fishermen in the villages, purchased their merchandise and sold it to the Jewish people.

Let us recall one of those fish merchants: Moshe Kszarsz, a short man with a thin beard, who was only a little involved in the fish business.

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He was a cobblestone layer, who placed stones on the roads. His wife Chana Golda, a woman with red cheeks, round, black, burning eyes, and a healthy high voice, was the true fisherwoman. She conducted the fish business.

Moshe's brother Zelik Kszarsz was involved in the fish business together with his wife and some of his children. The business was given over to them by their father Meir, who was known by his nickname Meir Moreinu (Meir our Teacher).

Another family of fishermen was the Berlinski family who earned their livelihood from the fish business. In general, the fish business in Sierpc was transferred from parents to children.

The Jewish butcher trade was also in the hands of specific families. The four brothers Yitzchak (Itche), Yechezkel, Meir and Mendel Dorfman were separate butchers. They were four brothers with their own families who worked in the butcher shops with the assistance of their wives.

The Grajna family was another family of butchers. I do not recall their first names. They were also a considerable number of brothers with wives and children, each of whom had their own butcher shop. The Brodacz family and others were also butchers.

The Jewish butcher shops were located in a civic building in the new market. There were also non-kosher, Christian butcher shops there. In general, the butchers in Sierpc did not live badly. They were generous and had an appreciation for Jewish cultural and Zionistic activity. Like the fishermen, the meat business was passed down as an inheritance to the children.


Fruit and Vegetable Dealers

The fruit and vegetable business also held a place in the spectrum of Jewish sources of livelihood in Sierpc. There were pomiculturalists who in early spring leased orchards from the landowners, agriculturalists, farmers, and the like. In the summertime when the fruit ripened, the pomiculturalists left the city and went out to the orchards with their families to harvest the apples, pears, and plums from the trees and sell them in the city.

The vegetable business consisted of the professional occupiers of stalls in the market, who stood in the market for the entire year and sold potatoes, carrots, beets, chickpeas, horseradish, radishes, parsley, apples, pears, plums, raspberries, strawberries, etc. The market sitters were involved in their business throughout the entire year. In summer they sat with their merchandise under an umbrella to protect against the sun and the rain, and in the winter with a pot of live coals to warm their hands during the time of intense cold.

The fruit and vegetable dealers did not earn their livelihood in abundance. They lived under meager circumstances.


Glassmakers and Clockmakers

Several Jewish families earned their livelihoods from glassmaking. This trade was easy, and did not require any physical exertion or special learning. It was sufficient to purchase a diamond to cut glass, and the livelihood was already assured. The following glassmakeres were known to us in town: Yisrael Yitzchak, Shmuel Sarna – a witty Jew and a joker, Pinchas Mekler and others. Glassmakers earned a good livelihood. On Tuesday and Fridays, the farmers from the villages would come and

[Page 354]

bring the windows to the glassmaker to fix the glass and cement it. They would invite the glassmaker to come to the village for larger jobs.

On ordinary days, the glassmakers would go out to the streets. Anyone who needed them would summon them for various jobs that were taking place. Later on, Christian glassmakers came on the scene, taking away a portion of the livelihood of the Jews.

The clockmaking trade was entirely in Jewish hands. The following Jews were involved in that trade: Moshe Szperling – a tall Jew with a hoary, grey, fine long beard, Menachem Szpido, Wolf Margel – an enlightened Jew, and Michael Smolenski – the son of the cantor of Sierpc who had a sense of music and song.

Aside from repairs, the clockmakers were also involved with the sale of new clocks, wall and standing clocks, wedding canopy hoops as they were called in the trade lingo, ordinary bracelets, tie hooks, and other silver and gold jewelry. For the most part, they had their own houses, and were of reasonable means or even wealthy. Aside from their work in earning a livelihood, they were also involved in societal activity in the bank, charitable fund, beis midrash, and the like. Until 1939, this trade was given over from parents to children, and was exclusively in Jewish hands.


Tailors and Shoemakers

In Sierpc as everywhere, the primary sources of livelihood of the Jews were the tailoring and shoemaking trades. The tailors manufactured men's and women's clothing including overcoats, pants, men's jackets, women's dresses, etc. There were two categories of tailors: those who purchased merchandise and sewed clothing to sell to the purchasers; and confectioners who conducted business with ready-made clothing which they sold in their stores. The primary confectioners were Nachum Koniec, Kalman Blum, Elimelech Cyna, Kalman Kalmanowicz, and others. The merchants were of significant means, even wealthy. For the most part, they purchased ready-made clothing and resold them. However, each one of them knew their work, and even had a small tailoring workshop next to their business.

Aside from the public businesses, there were many home businesses where people worked in their homes. On the market days of Tuesday and Friday, they would stand on the street with a covered wagon and sell their manufactured merchandise to the farmers who came to the city.

The confectioners also sold their wares in the markets in other cities and towns, such as Wednesday in Skepe – 24 kilometers from Sierpc, Thursday in Srwilno – 18 kilometers from Sierpc, and the like. Such trips were made in the following manner: three or four tailors hired a farmer with a wagon. They loaded the merchandise before dawn and traveled to the fair. They came home late in the evening. The livelihood was tight, but Jews continued on until 1939, when the Germans annihilated everything.

The shoemaking trade was set up along the same lines, and had the same categories. Some of the shoemakers manufactured boots and footware, whereas others were professional shoe merchants with their own shops. There were also home workers who went out onto the streets on the market days of Tuesdays and Fridays to sell

[Page 355]

their merchandise, or traveled to the market in other cities and towns. The merchants of ready-made shoes also were not badly off materially. Some of them even owned their own houses, such as, for example: Pinchas Mlawa, Avraham Mlawa, Baruch Atlas, and others.

The stitchers were a different branch of the shoemakers trade: Yosef Pundek, a Jew from the world of maskilim, a prayer leader in the synagogue, who took part in societal institutions; Avraham Yitzchak Grodka – a Torah leader, a regular donor to Keren Hayesod, Keren Kayemet (Jewish national fund) and other Zionist funds, an owner of a small, wooden house; Yechezkel Kadecki who was active in the chevra kadisha [burial society], a gabbai [trustee] in the synagogue, and a prayer leader. The stitchers' trade later spread among the former beis midrash youths who wished to learn a trade.

The hat makers trade was also considered to be one of the honorable professions. The following people were involved in that trade: Betzalel Eliezer Gongola, a maskil, a shofar blower, a Torah reader and a prayer leader not for reasons of livelihood. He was a jolly Jew who enjoyed telling a joke. He gave over his profession to his children, especially to his oldest son Moshe Gongola, who partly inherited his father's humor. The younger Gongola was active in the Handworkers' Union, and, despite his difficult situation, he was active in volunteer institutions. When his children grew up, his material situation improved and he did not live badly. Aside from hats, which Moshe manufactured himself with the assistance of his brother Shlomo, he also imported ready-made merchandise such as fancy hats, fur hats, and other such items, and resold them. This trade as well was especially Jewish until 1939.

The Germans put an end to all the Jews and their workshops, warehouses, and shops.

May their memories be a blessing.


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