by Moishe Farbshteyn
Translated by Sylvia Schildt (Baltimore MD)
Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)
Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)
When I am reminded of Wyszków, where for generations our near and dear lived, those various types and personages waft before my eyes, those who helped build Jewish national, politicalsocial and cultural life.
Jews from all walks of life who conducted their daily struggle for survival some by work, some by trade, some… despite lack of work, it was difficult, especially for Jews. In quasiFascistic and antiSemitic Poland, Jews were not able to hold government or municipal positions, or work in factories. They had to find their living within specifically Jewish trades and lines of business. In the last years before the second Word War, this boycott ruined the Jewish trade.
Early in the morning, when it was still half dark, the Wyszkover Jews would get up for morning prayers in response to the call of Hershinke the bahelfer (the helper). He was a dear simple Jew, who didn't have a mean bone in his body, always happy with his destiny. Whether to the big or to the small house of worship (Synagogue), Jews hurried thither, got through their prayers, whether as part of a minyan, or individually, and someone here and there managed to squeeze in the daily portion of Psalms. Those who arrived a little late had to pray at the second minyan and rush home for their daily work.
The day began with getting water from the town pump. The clattering of the pails against the carts of the Jewish watercarriers would wake the surrounding inhabitants. Summer for one groshn, and winter for two (a couple of pails), the watercarrier would bring the water to the richer households, who could permit themselves this luxury. But most of the inhabitants had to drag the water home themselves.
From the Bug River bank Jews returned, from daily immersion in the river be it summer or winter. Here goes ‘der Shvartzer Yitzkhok’ (the dark haired Isaac) with his sons into the Niegrower forest, to get lumber for Shkarlat's sawmill. They are in a big hurry in order to earn two yazdes (short trip/s) for the day to earn sustenance for themselves and the horses.
People are rushing to Hershl Holtzman/Holcman who has the concession to take passengers on the Highway from Pultusk in Powiat, in order for them to complete a variety of official business in starosta or in the tax office personally or through the town representative HaimNosn Vengrov. On Dovche´s wagon with white horses, they take slaughterhouse' butchers
cart sides of meat to the butcher shops in order to quarter them there, remove the forbidden fat and prepare them for sale.
Some to school, some to the gymnasium (Polish high school), some to the kheiders boys and girls are in a hurry some to ‘Geln’ Hershl and some to Shimon the Melamed, the Gdfearing prodigy.
Jewishlyclad boys, go to the house of worship to study a page of Gemoreh.
The merchants open the shops. The jitnies (shpiliters) hurry to the people who have the concession to conduct passengers to the train for Warsaw, so they can buy various goods for the shtetl (town) and bring them to the wholesale merchants.
Among the retailers and merchants one can notice the worry concerned with carrying the means of livelihood. They must often seek help from a GmilasKhesed (an interestfree loan association) and return the funds in a timely manner. There are philanthropists who help them in the mitzveh of feeding the hungry.
In the prenoon hours, one already sees Jewish youth with nothing to do, strolling over the Wyzskower streets, without any idea of their future existence. They speak of emigration as the only solution but where? As long as they are out of there, wherever their eyes carry them. Khalutzim (pioneers) dream of traveling to training camps and then, to EretzIzrael. Others, on the other hand, to North or to South America. Thus the Wyzskowers were scattered over the whole world. But this is said of the fortunate ones who possessed the necessary papers and money. The rest would continue to loiter on the streets of Wyszkow from the Bug River bank to Pzedmiesztze/Przedmiescie (Street) and later, tired and dispirited/ashamed, they returned home to their parents, in order to eat their suppers.
So lived a part of Wyszkover Jewish youth.
True, there were in Wyszków many houses of worship, shtibelakh and churches, but these did not impede a free life. Who does not remember the Hasidic study houses (Radziminer, Otwotzker, Aleksander, Amshnihover and foremost the Gerer Hasidim and more and more)? The communal institutions, unions, parties of all directions and shades and at the head the Zionist movement, the largest, richest and most active party?
Who does not remember the houses of worship with the old, yellowed Holy Books, from which they studied day and night?
Wyszków also possessed its own dramatic sections or amateur troupes, which produced various plays and actually very serious ones.
The town also had antiSemitic parties, that always wanted to do us harm. In mostly cases they did not succeed, because of organized resistance from Jews, mostly the Workers'Movement, which fought against the Dmowskis, Skladkowskis and other enemies of Israel.
Wyszkow also lived through various invasions during the two World Wars Russians, Germans, Bolsheviks and lastly the Nazi beasts. These all invasions always brought always trouble for the Jews, until the last Hitlerite flood that annihilated everyone.
And also the Poles of the shtetl demonstrated, that in the trade of spilling Jewish blood they were no better than the German murderers. One remembers a fact from the year 1920, when they brought to Wyszków Jews who had run away and also from the surrounding shtetlakh. They gathered them in the Senator's park, near the firemen's hall. Two long lines of tens of Poles, armed with sticks, laid out and Jews had to pass through this obstacle. With sadistic pleasure these hooligans beat the unfortunate Jews. Some became permanent invalids and others took days and weeks to recover …
* Note: According to Frida Cielak, her aunt, Feige Marcuschamer, is standing on the right side, in front of the vertical beam.
by Shmuel Niestenpover (Montevideo)
Translated by Hershl Hartman (Los Angeles, CA)
Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)
Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)
Dzhigan And Shumakher ReelUp A Film In Vishkov/Wyszków
I lived on the fisherman's street (Koscielna Street) at my wife's grandfather, Zelik Fisher's place.
Once, I recall, there was a tumult in the little street. Rokhl, Yosl Binduski (the shoemaker)'s wife, came up to my window and shouted:
Shmuel, are you sitting at home? The marketplace is lively, the whole shtetl is there. They're making a film with Yiddish actors…
I went quickly to the marketplace and saw, Dzhigan and Shumakher emerging from Khaytche Shlizoner's restaurant, feigning drunkenness. The cinematographer keeps cranking the camera and every movement of these two Yiddish comedians becomes eternalized in a filmcamera.
At the bridge stood Ester Zelik's with Avreml Farentyazh, Ele Shtoyb, Khayim the fisherman (Khayim Rozenberg), ElyeMayer/EliMayer the baker and his wife, ElkeShoshe the wagondriverin, Knaster the shipping agent, and the old, voiceless baker who smiled contentedly, knowing that his Wyszków had been selected for the reelingup of a Yiddish film…
Wolerek the Pole Plays Yiddish Melodies
Even before the start of the Second World War, worry and unease were felt among the Jewish population, a foretelling of the oncoming storm. The Jews of Wyszków, as in other towns and shtetlekh in Poland, suffered from antiSemitism, economic boycotts and persecution.
The reservists of the Polish military were mobilized a few days before September 1, 1939. I, too, was ordered to report to the 13th Division in Pultusk. Along with many Vishkover, I arrived in the nearby city where we were immediately assigned to dig antitank ditches and trenches. We worked from 5:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night.
On the 23rd of August we were issued new uniforms and weapons. Companies are assembled on the large parade ground. At the fence on Chenstojov (Czestochower) Street many Pultusk residents gathered to bid farewell to the soldiers marching off to the front lines. The First Battalion, to which I belonged, marched through the gate toward the railroad station, accompanied by the music of a military band. The streets were full of people. No smiles, no joy just sorrow and tears on everyone's faces. An old Polish woman approaches me and says:
Beat the Hitlerites. If you let them go through, they will slaughter everyone…
The Jewish Wyszkower youth fought well. They fell on the fields of Mlave while mounting resistance to the Hitlerite army. I specially remember Shloyme Burshteyn/ Burshtin, Pepke the cobbler's son.
Among the Wyszków Poles who were in the First Battalion with us, he was the musician Valerek. His family was wellknown in the shtetl because they played at the local moviehouse until the advent of sound in films. Now, while at the front, Wolerek had brought his fiddle.
Once, sitting in the trenches, he took out the fiddle and began to play… Yiddish melodies. It was so heartwarming, hearing those homey Yiddish tunes. The Jewish and Polish soldiers who listened to those beautiful sounds, momentarily forgot, that death threatened them at any moment. And truly: at the ecstatic moment of that unique concert in the trenches, a squadron of German planes appeared and bombed our positions. Many fell in battle then.
When things calmed down, Wolerek began to play again. This time Chopin's funeral march…
Another time Wolerek began to play special melodies for… the Wyszkower. Who knows, he said, it may be that our town has been destroyed and its inhabitants buried under the ruins. Everyone's blood ran cold. We tightened the grip on our rifles…
At evening the soldiers were called to register themselves in the Death Book. So that in the event of death, the proper family member might be notified. I put down the name of Nekhe ZilbermanNiestenpover.
Since I have been on Uruguayan soil (following the end of the war), Valerek's melodies accompany me and remind me of fallen comrades, of the destroyed Jewish population, and of the shtetl where I was born and raised.
Shimon Dżigan (born,1905 in Lodz died, April 14, 1980 in TelAviv). His father was a soldier in the Russian military. After the outbreak of the first world war Dzigan was apprenticed to a tailor to help the family, but he could realy do so when he became a succesful comedian.
Izrael Shumacher or Szumacher (born, 1908 in Lodz died, May 21, 1961) He met Dzigan at Ararat literary cabaret company and then in Warsaw with the troupe Yidishe Bande, their succes was impresive and become then the famous Yiddish comedy pair Dzigan & Shumacher. After the outbreak of WWII the duo Dzigan & Shumacher were in Bialystok, in 1941 they were evacuated to Tashkent, where they were performing in the socalled artistic brigades of the Red Army. They were trying to reach the Anders Army but they were arrested on charge of desertion from the Red Army and exiled to Kazakhstan. They returned to Poland in 1947. They were performing in a variety theatre in Lodz. They moved to Israel in 1949. In 1952 they stopped performing as a duo and 9 years later, in 1961, at age 53, Izrael Shumacher died in Israel. They 2 were the last masters of Yiddish comedy created for a Yiddishspeaking audience. Return
by Yankev/Yakov Palukh (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)
Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)
Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)
Wishkov/Wyszków didn't have any places where the local population could go to relax and enjoy themselves after a hard day's work. The Jewish young people who were aspiring to a new and better life used the bridge over the River Bug to stroll along with their friends. The bridge was the meeting place. It was there that one could hear various discussions. Or if one preferred, simply chat or even do some singing.
However, there was another spot in Wyszków where one could go to soak up the fresh air and enjoy views of the pretty surrounding countryside and that was the railroad station.
The lovely and sweet memories of our shtetl are concentrated around that station. It was there that the rendezvous between the boys and girls took place. But it was at the bridge that each one of us felt truly comfortable, just as if we were in our own homes.
As opposed to that feeling, the stroll to the train station brought forth a more refined character and a sort of proper behavior. It was at the station that our youthful dreams appeared to have the possibility of breaking through the daily routine drudgery. There, we felt, even for a short time, that it was possible to rise to a higher level in our dreams of a better tomorrow.
One can't say that our shtetl didn't present signs of better times to come for our young people, even though the older generation appeared to be anchored to its place, unable to move from it. The young people who were already finished the kheyder and away from the study from BeisHamedrash, had a broader outlook on life. They felt that their position in the shtetl was like being trapped in an immobile situation. This feeling drew them all the more to struggle to become emancipated from the suffocating small shtetl atmosphere.
And so, those strolls to the railroad station really satisfied a sort of far off yearning, even if it were only for a few hours. The young people were freed from their daily grind and were able to shake off depressing moods. There, at the station, in the fresh air they could look through a window to the wide world.
The Wyszków trainstation was to be found not far from the shtetl's mainstreet, Pultusk Boulevard. The way to the station was through a small, narrow garden, which ran between two espaliered, or trellised walkways. This walkway served as both an entrance and exit to the station.
At the sides of the walkway stood wooden benches with armrests, deeply embedded in the ground. These benches were painted green and served as resting places for the train station personnel, when they were off duty, and their friends. These benches were also not off limits to the shtetl's inhabitants and so they used them to sit and enjoy the fresh air on the walkway. One could also frequently encounter people using these station benches to catch little catnaps.
In general, the station house made a good impression. It looked like a church, but without a bell tower or bell. Stone steps led to wide entrance doors with large glass panes. This area gave the impression that one was standing in a princely palace.
The way to the station was not terribly long and so provided a fine place for a stroll. It also provided a living for about ten families of Dorozhkozhes (cab operators, jitneys), who would drive you to the station. They had skinny, old horses harnessed to wagons, at the ready, in the middle of the market place, which were for hire at a moment's notice. The pathetic look of these horses cried out with a thousand mouths the poverty of their owners.
These Dorozhkozhes would frequently go days on end without earning anything. The horses stood and whinnied pleading for some hay while their owners wandered about the shtetl looking for some way to earn money. They were ready to take on any trip, no matter how far they would have to travel. Without any work, they had time on their hands and would always fool around and tell jokes. If a fare or a passenger should suddenly appear there would be such shouting from all sides from the Dorozhkozhes, that the passenger would get completely confused. Their best times for earning money came when the merchants and suppliers returned from Warsaw and the surrounding cities and towns. These business folk brought their packs full of merchandise and boxes wrapped around with iron bands and needed the services of the jitneys. All the wagons were then full and busy delivering goods and people.
The station looked very different at daybreak. The local important agencies had prevailed to have the train wait for passengers all night long. When a train arrived in the evening, the locomotive would stop belching smoke from its chimney and would rest overnight. It would be restocked and powered up the next day.
In the early mornings, the passengers traveling to Warsaw or other destinations would start to gather. The Polish passengers stood out with their pleasant and polite behavior. They arrived early and waited calmly for the time to board the train. On the other hand, the Jewish (Yiddish) passengers always arrived in a great hurry. They always seemed to be a minute late for the departure. The Jewish men and women would rush in, breathing hard, barely managing to shove their way to the ticket counter to purchase the needed ticket.
At the same time, the ticket agent, nattily dressed and thoroughly rested would slowly and phlegmatically sit himself down behind his barred window and get to work. It was as if the train were miles away and not at the station ready to depart. The agent would very deliberately open the ticket window at a very precise minute. And then would begin the pushing and shoving at the window as people tried to buy their tickets. Finally, with tickets in hand, the Jews would grab their packs and bundles and willynilly run to the train which had already begun to belch fire and smoke, ready for departure.
In the afternoon hours the Wishkever train station was full of Jewish young people. They would be waiting for someone to arrive by train from Warsaw. Some hours before the train was to arrive, the young people would congregate around the station and amuse themselves in various ways.
I also remember times when the stroll to the station was full of danger. These were times when there were antiSemitic waves surging in Poland. However, our Wishkever young fellows didn't walk away from a fight with the antiSemites. In fact, they gave their attackers a good drubbing and even broke some bones. And all this fighting was done in a way that the police wouldn't catch us Jewish young people. We were not the guilty ones it was the antiSemites who were heroes attacking our young girls and boys, as well as older Jews. But, there was the constant fear that the police would arrest the ones attacked and not the attackers, so we Jewish young fellows developed a tactic. We would beat the antiSemites up well and then simply disappear into the populace.
The times were constantly getting worse. After some time of indecisiveness, I decided to leave my hometown Poremba. After Sukes, I went by foot over two unpaved, muddy little streets to the one avenue in our community in order to get to the autobus. This bus ran on the BialystokWarsaw line.
I waited on that avenue a good two hours. Overhead the stars twinkled in the night sky. A cool autumn wind was blowing that could be felt in ones bones… My waiting for that autobus was in vain it never arrived. I decided that I had better get myself to the Wishkever train station from Wyszków, quickly. So I went directly to a peasant named Loyek that I knew, who used to make yazdes(voyages) for a few zlotes, or (sell) a cigar, or a herring with a fresh roll. I asked him to harness his horse and take me to the train station in Wyszków.
The trip from the avenue in Poremba to the station took a good bit of time. We had to travel about 20 kilometers. I and Loyek(Łojek) got frozen through and through. We hoped to warm ourselves up at the Wyszków train station. But to our great disappointment, when we got to the station, everything was sort of in half darkness. In one corner of the station there was a peasant on a bench sleeping cozily. It was cold in the big hall of the station and we had to warm ourselves by running briskly back and forth and slapping our hands to keep the blood flowing. Loyek(Łojek) was cursing his fate and the world.
Bit by bit, the station started to fill up with people. It really became somewhat warmer. For the last time I was a witness to the Jewish crowd hurrying to the train. These Jews were half asleep dragging their huge packs. In their haste, they seemed to be tripping or falling into the brightness of the lit station. For the last time I parted with the beloved and wellknown places of my youth and went forth into the wide unknown.
I had left Poland forever !
by Yankev/Yakov Palukh
Translated by Pamela Russ
A rich, social, Jewish life flourished not only in the larger Jewish settlements in Poland, but also in the smaller and even very small areas, practically in all districts.
The stamp on the town came primarily from the religious sector. The small and more significant rabbis had spiritual influence, each in his own stiebel [small place of prayer], that bore the name of the city where the holy tzaddik [righteous man] conducted his tisch [literally table, but also referring to the gathering place (at a table) of the followers around their Rebbe (rabbi or spiritual leader)]. Suffice it to remember the Holy Shabbath, when the Jews discarded their weekday essence [physical lives] and devoted themselves to the spiritual, accompanied with passionate dance and song that reached great distances, first with the third Shabbath meal, and then with the melave malkes [literally: escorting the [Shabbath] Queen, referring to the festive meal that takes place after Shabbath has ended; hence escorting out the Queen]… No one wanted to part from the Shabbat Queen and return to the weekday grayness and its problems and worries.
Jews were busy some on the shoemaker's stool, some at the tailor's machine, some as blacksmiths, and some as small merchants. Everyone worked hard to earn a living, but not always with success. Everyone celebrated Shabbath and yom tov [Jewish holidays] in his own way.
In our town, there was also the younger, more enlightened generation, along with their organizations, factions, and parties that wanted to save Poland, the world, and the Land of Israel. We also had periods when we forgot about the daily worries, being busy with community issues. These were the times of community elections, or Sejm [Polish parliamentary] elections, or arguments about the gabbai [beadle] in the shul, or in the stiebel [small place of prayer], or if there was an issue of importing a new shochet [ritual slaughterer] or Rav [rabbi].
Did anyone hear of such small towns? Was anyone interested in these small settlements around Wyszkow, such as: Poremba, Dlugosiodl, and others, with their residents and flowering Jewish life?
Or even, Jewish villages such as: Kamienczyk, Branszczyk, Szczonka, and many, many others, where some Jewish families lived?
And who heard of such places as Back and Ostrowieck, where Jewish life flowed a play of general Jewish life in Poland? It was enough to observe the local youth on a Shabbath day when we were free from the daily tasks and so had the opportunity to dedicate ourselves to organizational life within the four walls of the party's location, that was either one of two political directions: Under one common roof, there were discussions around the same problems that were listed on the daily roster. Discussions stormy, that more than once ended in arguments.
Now I want to mention the town of my place of birth, Poremba, and remark on some interesting details:
There were about 60 Jewish families living there. The only Jewish main street, not paved, was intersected in the middle
by a half stone, half steel cross, that stood on the fork [dividing road] that led to several villages (also with the same name), where there was also a small number of Jewish families. The town boasted a beautiful, large Beis Medrash [House of Study], that was also a place for all kinds of squabbles because of private or community issues. There were also two individual stieblach [plural of stiebel, small synagogues], that did not have any designated rabbi. The teachers did not have real livelihood from the two cheders [elementary religious schools]. Poremba had its Rav, a shochet, and a ritual bath. There were sharp discussions around whether the local shochet should be relieved from his position and be replaced by a younger shochet who could also be a baal tefila [lead the prayers].
The town also had a large church with sometimes a good and sometimes a bad priest. In the post office, often, they took out from the letters that Jews would receive from their relatives from America, some of the dollars that would be sent from time to time to save them from their difficult financial situation. There was a telephone connection, a pharmacist who would dispense medicine without a doctor; two barbersurgeons who did not get along with each other, both had to help themselves [augment their incomes] with haircutting. There was a Polish municipal office, a local prison, where, along with the drunks, there were also honest homeowners who had to do their time there for not having kept clean their places in the courtyards; there was a police commission and a commandant who was easily bribed. This commandant was friendly with everyone. He used to remove the lint from the beards of Jews who would pass by. There was a fire brigade that did not hire any Jews, but would often sound their alarm to frighten the local Jews. There was also a fair once a month, a very special event in the whole region. Here, as in the other areas in Poland, there were antiJewish activities and picketing in front of the Jewish shops. Understandably, the friendly police commandant went into hiding [at that is time]. There was also a Polish spulke [cooperative] that urged the local farmers not to purchase from the Jews.
And in spite of all this, one lived anyway, raised children, married them off, and lived to reap some joys from them… There were also times of sadness among the Jews: a mourner in a Jewish home, or just a tragic event. There was an energetic youth with a lot, a lot of hope for a more beautiful world, a better world, and a world that was friendlier to the Jews.
My small settlement had the same good and bad features as every other settlement in Poland. We actively participated in all events large and small ones, important and unimportant ones, which from time to time stirred up the general and Jewish open minds. We excitedly followed all the important events, read with interest the reports of the Sejm [Polish parliament] meetings, as they addressed Jewish issues.
At the time of the Beilis trial, in the year 1911, we were all under the strong influence of the publicity of both sides. In the Beis Medrash [House of Study], in the streets, in the baths, in the homes everywhere that Jews gathered, this trial was the central topic, and in the year 1913, when Beilis was freed, the joy among the Jews was boundless. We received weighty ammunition against our enemies.
At the same time, the incident with the priest Mateusz took place. He was sentenced by the courts for having stolen the bejeweled eyes of the holy icons in the church. The Christian young boys would shout after us: Beilis! And we would reply: Beilis is alive and Mateusz is rotting!
Our joy was great at the time of the Balfour Declaration. Jews were prepared to leave everything and go to the Land of Israel. The youth was prepared to leave their warm homes in order to build up the oldnew home.
There was a library of several hundred books in Poremba. This serviced the youth from all directions in the town and the surrounding villages. Very frequently, there were literary evenings, informal talks, concerts, discussions, and science lectures. Also, the writer of these lines was one of the speakers. This useful institution was later split by the members of the socalled leftists.
With the establishment of Hashomer Hatzair [socialist Zionist group], our youth was caught up in the new way of thinking. We spent every night in song, dancing the Hora [Israeli dance], while listening to speakers. The site was decorated in blue and white, and on the walls were pictures of the prominent Zionist leaders.
Many books have already been published describing our last destruction. But, in general, these types of small towns, such as Poremba, were wronged [in their omission]. In truth, even in these small towns, Jewish nationalist life also sprouted, thanks to which we were able to withstand such a long road of exile. There, in the small settlements, a significant number of the Jewish kibbutz in Poland, was concentrated. There is insufficient energy to describe the history of the heroism of the Jewish youth in the small settlements, and their battles with Hitler's murderers. How much collective heroism revealed itself in the times of the destruction of the third temple [referring to the Jewish people themselves as the temple] and particularly in these small settlements?
Chaval al deavdin [Aramaic: We long after the great people who are unfortunately lost to us], you small settlements, with the thousands and thousands of Jews. Remember, who will eternalize the story for you?
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