by D. Kleinbaum-Grosman
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The flood occurred on a summer day, at two o'clock, in 1927. Kalman Krosman (several years later, my husband) was busy with his work every day in the chocolate factory of his brother-in-law and sister Sura (or, as she was called in the city, Surake). Both Kalman and his brother-in-law Zaduk were busy pouring out the liquid chocolate into the forms. This work had to be done very quickly and nimbly because the chocolate immediately cooled and nothing more could be made with it. It could not be warmed again because it lost its form and taste.
While so engrossed in the work, the heaven suddenly clouded over. It became dark, actually impenetrable darkness. Lightning and thunder began.
Rain suddenly flowed from heaven a real flood. They looked outside and saw before them only water and water. An ocean! The water began to flow into the factory. They did not think of ending their work. Now there were important things to do. They had to save whatever they could. The poured and finished chocolate lay high up, on shelves, but there was a large amount of goods lying on the floor. But the water was flowing wildly into the factory. There could no longer be any talk of saving anything. Now they had to save their own lives and very quickly because it could be too late.
The factory then was in Tseli's son Shmuel's house that stood near the river. Therefore, the factory was the first to experience the flooding and was ruined.
When the rains stopped and the water receded, we could look at the factory. Here we saw the ruin that the flood had created. Surake and Zaduk Lewengrub, who had worked their way up a bit, were poor people after the flood, because a warehouse full of goods and raw materials worth thousands of zlotes had gone with the water.
It is clear that this flood in Krasnik more than 40 years ago brought the collapse of the entire city, particularly in the quarter that was closest to the river or lay in the lower areas. For many years, the Jewish as well as the Christian residents of the city spoke of this catastrophe and repeated again the details of this event.
|On one of the streets of the shtetl|
by Eli Perlson
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Dedicated to the sacred memory of my dear father, Shlomo ben [son of] Moshe Perlson, who perished al kiddish haShem [in the sanctity of God's name as martyrs] with his family:
Grina bas [daughter of] Yehezkiel Perlson and my dear brothers Ahron and Moshe, may God avenge their blood. Moshe was the first victim of the murderous Germans in our shtetl [town], Krasnik.
Krasnik was a strongly orthodox shtetl [town]. However, in 1905, when a revolutionary spirit enveloped all of Russia, it also moved us. The workers demanded an eight-hour workday because the tailors, the shoemakers and the harness makers worked from seven in the morning until 10 at night. They even had to work on the evening of Shabbos so that their boss would not have a loss in his business because they did not work on Shabbos. A committee was created then (they were called the strikers) of the brothers Anshel and Getsl Krumhalc, Tova Shmuel, Yitzhak's son, Shual, Beka's son (I do not remember his family name) and a brother of Meir Lamkut (Trik), who the Russians shot in 1914 when the war broke out. Several master craftsmen immediately gave in after other committee members, whose names no one can remember, demanded an eight-hour workday. In contrast, fights took place with those who did not give in and the journeymen were forced to stop all work until they achieved better conditions for the workers. However, this did not last long. When the reaction increased and the first Duma was dissolved, the czarist regime began to attack the leaders of the workers' movement and began to arrest everyone who fell under suspicion. Many escaped to America and other nations and many were arrested.
Anshel Krumhalc sat for a time in jail as did Fayga, the polisher's daughter. Later they got married.
Thus the shtetl again fell asleep and the mothers still hoped that their sons would grow up to be great men of learning. And thus it was. When one passed the house of prayer, it was filled the entire day with young men who sat at very large tables and studied. The shtiblekh [small one-room houses of prayer] also were full of young men oyf kest [the expenses of a young man who was engaged in religious study were paid by his father-in-law]: in Lubliner shtibl, in the Modzitzer [from Modrzyce], in the Gerer, as well as the Markuszower shtibl.
We remember my grandfather Moshe, son of Eli, may he rest in peace, who taught Ein Yakov [compilation of Talmudic commentaries and ethical teachings] every Shabbos in the large house of prayer for a large group. Fraydele's son, Reb Avrahamli Leibush, of blessed memory, also studied on Shabbos with a large group in the new house of prayer. Thus, the shtetl lived its strictly religious life. There was no modern education. Josele Lerer [teacher], Borukh Shreiber [writer] as well as Yakov Hirsh taught writing. They taught the boys and girls to write Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian and German. Thanks to the teachers many boys and girls perfected their worldly education and later helped to create the various organizations in the shtetl. This is how life went on until the First World War.
The Year of Crisis
1914 was a year of crisis in our shtetl. When the war broke out, many young men left in the Russian army. Women and children were left without their husbands and fathers. Thanks to the charitable organizations the shtetl helped them greatly. From Russia, the Jewish
committee sent in flour and other products that alleviated the need a little.
Our shtetl survived one of the greatest tragedies when the Russian government carried out strongly anti-Semitic agitation: The Austrians occupied Krasnik immediately at the outbreak of the war. The Russians returned after 17 days and immediately took six Jews and five Poles and shot them in Majdan. (Of the five Jews I remember only the name Meir Lamhut). This was too little; they then took the rabbi of the city, Reb Motil, of blessed memory, and Reb Ayzyk Fishl Ciesler, of blessed memory, as well as Reb Hirshl the butcher and his son, Reb Shmuel and they were all hung. One can imagine the fear that fell on the shtetl. A Jew simply was afraid to appear in the street. They remained in fear until the middle of 1915 when our shtetl was rid of the cruel czarist regime. Austria occupied Poland. Many young people in the Austrian army brought a new life to the Krasnik young.
Participation in Communal Life
The building and organization of a workers movement began, as well as a Jewish people's library with many Yiddish books. A drama circle was founded at the library that produced plays. I will remember several names of those who took part in the founding of the library: Yitzhak Perlson, Hirsh Gryner, Shmilik Brafman, Yehiel Moshe and Yisroel-Avraham Blada, Shlomo Licht, Yakov Wagner, Anshel Krimholc, Yakov Ayzyk's son, Levi Butner, Avraham Szafran, Royza Wagner, Zajnwel Diament, Eli Perlson, Yehezkiel Gerereich and many others whose names I do not remember. Thus began the widespread cultural work and communal life. The Zionist winds began to blow with the proclamation of the Balfour Declaration. The first Zionist organization was founded in Krasnik. The mentors were the first 13 young people who publicly declared themselves as open Zionists, which was a daring step because at that time the Zionist idea was a great heresy for the Orthodox Jews. However, the young people already had been infected with the national ideal. They were persecuted in the shtetl. But they did not stop for anything and carried on campaigning for Zionism. In a short time a divided Zionist family developed: general Zionists, Revisionists, Gordynia, Poalei-Zion, Tseiri-Zion and others.
The Bund arose later as well as a communist organization. Just as it was a sleepy shtetl earlier, it now became progressive and cultural.
It is worth remembering the names of the first young people: Avraham Hercl, Avraham Baumfeld, Mordekhai Buchbinder, Chaim Kliczewski, Yitzhak Buchbinder, Eli Perlson, Yosef Helman, Avraham Mandelblat, Moshe Lang, Shlomo Nusan Licht, Kopl Kamaznmacher, Borukh Foygl.
Change came with the rise of an independent Poland. Many young people left for the Polish military; for many there arose the problem of survival because the anti-Semitic government killed Jewish income and the duties (taxes) grew heavier. The class-conscious young people realized that there were no economic opportunites and began to think of emigrating.
The shtetl prepared itself for the God-fearing day! Berl Szulklaper [one who bangs on the shutters of houses to rouse men for prayer] called sleeping Jews in the morning to wake up for prayer, particularly during the holy Selikhot [days on which prayers of repentance are recited before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] days, when those in the houses of prayer learned [to blow] the shofar [ram's horn] and every Jew was imbued with a feeling of regret for the sins committed during the entire year.
Jews woke up for Selikhot. It was light in all of the houses of prayer at three in the morning
from the extra bright oil lamps. Leibush Fintali, the shamas [sexton], made sure that there was enough light and provided more tallow candles so that Jews could pray for a healthy, happy year. This is the way it was in the large synagogue as well as in all of the shtiblekh [small one-room synagogues]. Reb Shlomo Eiger, of blessed memory, then still came to the Lubliner shtibl for the first penitential prayers.
The entire shtetl went to Rebbe, Reb Yakov Wajsbrot, who was the head of the rabbinical court and the grandson of the Yid Hakodosh [The Holy Jew Yakob Yitzhak Rabinowicz, founder of the Peshischa Hasidim] on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, to receive a blessing for a Shona Tovah [happy new year]. Everyone was certain that he would have a good year because on the first night of Rosh Hashanah the rebbe presided over a meal and [provided new interpretations].
However, the most important experience was when the Jews went to Tashlik. Every minyon [group of ten men needed for prayer] went to the river near Meir Szapiro's [house] and threw away their sins. The shtetl looked like a purely Jewish one, particularly when the rebbe left for Tashlikh. All of the Jews joined the holy rebbe on the way from Rachiwer Road to the mill and sang for the entire time. There was so much joy and faith among the Hasidim and ordinary Jews that we were sure that in merit of the holy rebbe we were sure of a healthy year and we would be forgiven for all of our sins thanks to the emptying of our pockets and throwing our sins in the water. Even a Christian, Janek Patocki, a fervent Hasid [follower, used ironically here] of the rebbe, was among the group. On Rosh Hashanah, when the rebbe walked with his Hasidim, the majority of whom were shoemakers, tailors and simple Jews, Janek walked in front, dancing with all of the Jews and thus made sure that they would not be attacked by any of the anti-Semites
On Jamy Street, stooped, small houses stood for hundreds of years. Moss was growing on their roofs for a long time. It could no longer be distinguished if a roof was made of shingles or of straw. Jews lived through a difficult winter every year, but fortunately spring appeared and the snow had melted by Purim. It became warm in the shtetl. The great mud on Jamy Street began to dry. Passover arrived. Jews whitewashed their old, half fallen down houses and Passover was celebrated according to Jewish law.
At the end of Passover, on Friday, the Jews still ate matzoh because there was no time to bake challahs [braided bread served at Sabbath meals] for Shabbos. Old Mordekhai-Yehiel, who bought and sold wheat near the synagogue with windows facing the old cemetery, had a basement full of wheat that he had recorded as khometz [unfit for use on Passover]. He lit a kerosene lamp at night so the cat would be able to see and to catch the mice. When Mordekhai-Yehiel began to say the blessing, he was warned that smoke was coming from the warehouse. His answer was: No need to stop. In the course of five minutes, the entire house was enveloped in flames. It is possible that one could still have saved something. I think it was Shabbos and Jews were not permitted to take any water to stop the fire. In an hour, the fire encompassed 400 old, dried up houses and devoured the entire little bit of poverty from Moshe-Ahron Malamed [the religious teacher] to Leizer Muncik-Hersh. When Reb Shlomole Eiger, who later became the Lubliner rebbe, came running from the farm and called, Jews, help, why are you standing? It is to save a mortal life! And to Motl Zemelman (Bulak) who was then a water carrier, he said: Why are you standing? Harness the horses! And when Motl did not want to, Shlomole Eiger led the horses out of the stall himself. Then Motl finally moved toward the horses and Jews, after working the entire night put out the fire
by Ezriel Rochman
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The reason that I was forced to leave my birthplace, Krasnik, (in 1925) was thus:
I owned a confectionary shop and also traveled to yearly fairs. The last time, I went to Mendrewic with a cousin, Chaim Dovid Wajnsztok. Arriving, I saw an attack against the cloth goods merchants. When I went to see what was happening, a terrible picture was revealed before my eyes: the peasants were robbing and beating the Jews who were not allowing their goods to be taken. All of the goods were taken from Mendl Mushl and, in addition, he was beaten terribly.
At that time the priests preached in the churches that the Jews be persecuted and their possessions taken. My cousin and I quickly went home. My wife asked why I had come home so early from the fair, was the income that good? I answered that there was no lack of anything, that we came without goods, without money and in addition with broken heads. I told her what had happened there.
We immediately telephoned Lublin for help. However, there was not yet an autobus in Mendrewic. It was more than two hours before the police came riding from Lublin and meanwhile they fought there. With luck, there were such Jews as Gecel and Anshel who took a bit of revenge against the violent ones.
That evening I said to my wife: I am leaving for Paris in the morning. Because of what I saw today, I no longer want to be in anti-Semitic Poland.
As good as my word, I traveled to Warsaw the next day. As I did not have any money and no passport, I worked in Warsaw for eight days for expenses to be able to travel to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, where I arrived Friday. At night I went to pray in the Polish synagogue. There I met a young man who arranged for a room for me to sleep in. In the morning I left for the synagogue and met an older Jew. One word led to another and I worked for him for six months and with luck, could travel to Paris.
After my departure from Krasnik, the real immigration began. My three cousins and many others emigrated to Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and to other countries. Thanks to emigration, a few Jews from our Krasnik remained alive.
by Bela Lederfein New York
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
A Story of a Dowry
This happened when I was 12 years old. At that time, when parents had daughters, they also had to have dowries. This was a big problem for poor parents.
I will not mention the names of people; they have been in the other world for a long time. The young man was from another shtetl [town]. A matchmaker made the match. We wrote a contract of engagement. The time of the wedding was chosen and my father promised a dowry of 75 rubles that would be deposited with Reb Leibish, Nata's son, with the provision that the money would be given to the groom on the day of the wedding.
Time passed. The day of the wedding arrived.
A Sunday. Leibish Nata's son would usually travel to Lublin to buy goods for the Krasnik merchants twice a week (Sunday and Tuesday). Meanwhile, the [guests] came to the wedding. The klezmer [musicians] were playing. They were preparing for the khupah [the wedding canopy signifying the wedding ceremony]. The groom asked: Where is the dowry? They went to Leibish who had left. The groom said: I am not going to the khupah if I do not receive the dowry. The bride's brother came running to our house and said the groom does not want to go to the khupah without the dowry. My mother did not know what to do. I said to my mother: I will go to Dovid Khohan. He does business with my father. His children know me well. I would buy things there. Said is done. I went to Reb Dovid Khohan and told him what had happened and I asked him for help. Dovid Khohan looked at me and said: You truly are a smart girl. However, I cannot give you any money… I will give you a written paper for the groom to come tomorrow. I will give him the money and when your father comes from Lublin, he will give it back to me.
…the groom went to the khupah!
A Fire in the Shtetl
This happened in 1907 when I already was a young wife and my husband had emigrated to America. It was the last day of Passover. A Friday. It should be understood that we were preparing the holiday cholent [stew cooked overnight for eating on Shabbos] for Shabbos. Mordekhai Yehiel, the grain merchant, lived on Yami Street. He kept the grains in a small room as well as a cat to guard against mice and rats. A kerosene lamp burned in the room. It happened that the cat threw over the lamp and a fire began to burn. Just then Yankl the tailor walked by and he saw the fire through the window. He entered the room to put out the fire. However, the fire spread through the wooden houses. I was with my motherinlaw, a little distance from the fire. I ran over to my parents. My father sat with the boys and sang Shabbos melodies. I said: father, the fire is near our house already. He and other people pulled out the beds, table and benches and they left for the street. An hour later, my father's house and everything around it had burned. The fire began to approach nearer to the synagogue. Reb Shlomola Eiger, Dovid Khonen and several other Jews crawled on the roof of the synagogue and put out the fire with pots of water and wet rags. They actually saved the synagogue. The great ruins first were seen when the fire ended. People lay on the old cemetery, in front of the hill; they had run there from the fire. Parents searched for children; children looked for parents. A daughter cried: Mama where are you?' The mother answered: I am here, at the cemetery. The daughter cried: Lay there, Mama!
People wandered around the entire night, crying. There was no place to lay their heads. It also was a great miracle that the fire began before nightfall. If it had happened two hours later, God forbid, hundreds of people would have been burned together with their houses. In addition, Shlomole Eiger, Dovid Khonen and others did not say, It is Shabbos, but rushed to save the shtetl.
It was a sad Shabbos. The poor were broken. Several families were stuffed into one apartment. I was with my inlaws. A year later, I already was in the golden land, where at first I also did not have a place to lay my head.
I Travel to America
My husband had to appear for the Russian draft in 1906. He would have certainly been taken because he was healthy. But my fatherinlaw was acquainted with the authorities. He greased their palms with 50 rubles. [My husband] was given a green card until next year. I already had a daughter over two years old. Meanwhile, a year passed; my husband had to appear again… My fatherinlaw
again paid a bribe; [my husband] again received a green card. However, there are people who begrudge: of course, that my son was taken and Shmuel Lederfeld, such a healthy man, was freed? So he was denounced. An official of the authorities was supposed to tell my fatherinlaw immediately and my husband had to escape. He left for Zawichost in the middle of the night. His family hid him for a while; then they made sure that he sneaked across the border and he left for America. He arrived in 1907, during the greatest crisis in the country. And my husband without money, without a trade, took advice and did various work to earn a little bit of dry bread.
Now began the hardships as is said among the Jews if hardship is fated, it enters the house. A year passed. 1908. My husband earned little, barely supporting himself, so he could not send anything to me. True, we lacked for nothing. I went to work with a seamstress and earned enough for myself. I lived with my fatherlaw and motherinlaw. God helped and my husband's cousin in Zawichost, whose husband already had been in America for several years, was sent ship tickets to come with her sixyear old son. She came to Krasnik to say goodbye to my father and motherinlaw and said to my fatherinlaw: Uncle, Baylele should travel with me to America. My fatherinlaw answered: How can she go; she does not have any money! The cousin said: If she has 100 rubles, I will lend her what is lacking.
When I heard this, I was as happy as an old girl who had lived for the day when she put on a wedding dress. I began to kiss her in joy because who could think of such good fortune that I was going to travel to America to my husband, to be together with our child. Of course, I did not give a thought to whether my husband already was earning a living, to whether he could rent an [apartment].
The cousin said goodbye. We agreed to meet in two weeks in the border city. She went back to Zawichost and I began to sell all of my things for half price. I already had more than 100 rubles. The two weeks were like two years to me. However, the day arrived; I began to say goodbye to friends, sisters and brothers, my parents and I sent a telegram to the cousin. My father took me to the train. We said goodbye with kisses and tears.
I finally left. I arrived in the shtetl, entered the office and asked, where is Mrs. Rotman? They answered me that she already had been here and had left for Myslowice, from where one travels to the ship. I stood there desperate; what do I do? The man told me: Take the train and travel there, perhaps you will still meet her. I went to the train and we go. A gendarme sat near me. We stopped at the station; the gendarme said to me: Come with me. He led me to a long table; many men were sitting there. One said: Mrs. Lederfein, she needs to pay two rubles. He answered, For what? He answered that I had not traveled on the correct train. I cried and pleaded, scarcely having borrowed a ruble. They showed me the correct train. I traveled to Myslowice. People in the thousands ran. Young, old, with children and packages.
Suddenly I saw the cousin's son. I ran to him and asked: Motele, where is your mother. He answered: She will be here soon. She did arrive. I thought that an angel had appeared. But before I said a word, she immediately said, Bayele, I suffer badly that I cannot help you. I had to pay for many things and have no money. And she climbed into the train that led to the ship.
I remained standing, embittered, but I accepted it with courage and returned to Oswiecim. I entered the office and asked: how much would a ship ticket cost? The answer was that I needed 38 rubles more. What would I do?
The man said to me: You have parents at home; write a letter to them. Tell them
what your cousin did to you. They will probably help you.
I wrote the letter to my father, not with ink, but with bloody tears: I do not know what I will do if the money is not sent to me… I do not want to return home. I have sold everything; I would be ashamed to lift my head.
The truth was that my father could not help me. But I thought a father is a father. However, until the letter arrived there and an answer could be returned would take a little time.
Meanwhile, I still needed to buy something for me and my child to eat… and my husband did not know if I was on my way or if I was still in Krasnik. When the letter arrived [from my father] with the 38 rubles, I went to the office to pay and I was short two rubles. I remained speechless. The official said to me Go to the city. You will go to the rabbi; tell him everything and he will help you with the two rubles.
I took my child and trudged through the streets, hills and ditches. I was finally in the city. I entered the rabbi's house; he was not there. I went to the shamas [synagogue sexton] and told him that I needed two rubles to pay for a ship ticket. He gave me several groshn. I thanked him and dragged myself back to the office hungry and weary. I laid down everything I had. The man looked at me with such pity and said that I still needed 30 more kopikes. Tears began to pour from my eyes like water. I went out; I stood leaning against the wall. A man came out, a stuffed German. He looked at me with a smile and asked why I appeared so thoughtful? I told him my troubles that, I lacked 30 kopikes to pay for the ship ticket. He answered that such a beautiful young woman does not need to worry about such a small sum and he made a proposal to me… When I heard this, I screamed and broke into heartrending tears. My child looked at me and cried, too. The German saw that he had touched a very fragile string and he apologized, gave me his card I should go into the city and to his business. I would be helped. I took my child, trudged there, showed the card and I was given several coins.
I went back to the office and I paid thank God I had a ship ticket.
In the Golden Land
My husband already knew that I was coming to America. My cousin had told him. But he did not rejoice because he still did not have enough to support himself. I was sitting at the station and waiting for the train that would take me to the ship. I remembered that when I was a young girl, my mother sent me to the poor houses to bring them fish and a challah for Shabbos. Now I was a wife with a girl at my side and again I went to the houses to ask for donations for myself. How a life can play comedies and tragedies…
Finally, the train arrived and we traveled to the ship. When the train stopped at the station, women came out with baskets of rolls and bottles of milk asking everyone if they wanted something. Of course, I immediately took rolls and milk and my child and I quieted our hunger.
So we were finally on the boat that began to rock and shake. People lay passed out, but my child and I just felt good. It was our luck that people gave me bread and wurst because I just ate roasted potatoes and herring on the boat. A storm began several days later. I took my large Korban Minkhah Siddur [a prayer book often given to a bride as a gift by her groom] and recited Psalms. I asked God that after so much torment, I be allowed to live to arrive in America.
Thank God, we already were on Ellis Island I did not think that new troubles would first start. They let my husband know that he should come for us. He did not
not possess a penny. He borrowed a dollar from a landsman [someone from the same town]. When he came, he stood at the gates and I and our child were on the other side.
I said to my child: You see, the man who is standing there is your father… She answered: He is not a father; he does not have a beard… Finally we came together with kisses and tears.
We arrived at a house. My husband bought a bread, shmaltz [chicken fat], herring and a piece of butter. He led me into the room of a landsman. I stood there unable to speak: three small rooms, three children and a poverty that looked out from every corner.
The woman had prepared a little food for her children; alas, they were very hungry. We drank a glass of tea, talked a little and we went to sleep.
The woman and her husband and child [went to sleep] in the small bedroom; they put up an iron bed for my husband and me.
The night passed; it was day. My husband did not have a job, did not earn money. We did not have a home. What could we do?
I said to my husband: Let us go to Brooklyn. A cousin of mine lives there. She has been here several years. Perhaps she will help in some way?
The cousin rejoiced with us. Her husband worked; they had a beautiful home. She prepared a fine Shabbos. We said the blessing over the candles, ate fish, noodles and soup, meat, a good tzimmes [a sweet carrotbased stew]. We talked a little and it was time to go to sleep. My cousin's husband went to the Shabbos candles and extinguished them. I became very unhappy when I saw this. I could not sleep the entire night. Shabbos morning I said to my husband: Shmuel, I do not want to stay here; let us go back to New York. He said: Wait until night, when we will be able to travel. However, I did not want to wait. We left on foot.
We were in New York; my husband led me to his cousin. She had a beautiful home while we did not have a place to lay our heads. There, we sat for a time, had something to eat. It was getting late. We had to leave and return to the landsman where we slept over for another night.
Sunday morning my cousin came to give me 10 dollars. We rented a residence (seven dollars) and I bought a few old things for the remaining three dollars and we moved into our own place of rest. My husband looked for some way to earn [money] and a week later he came home with the news that he was working. We felt fortunate.
Shabbos morning, he took his tallis [prayer shawl] and went to the synagogue; he came home, ate and was leaving. I asked where he was going? He said to me that he needed to meet a landsman in the street.
Shabbos passed. On Sunday we went together to visit landsleit [people from the same town]. Monday, he went to work. The week passed. It was Shabbos again. My husband went to the synagogue, came home, we ate and again went out to the street. Finally the secret came out my husband told me that where he was working one must work on Shabbos. He searched and searched alas, he could not find another job.
When I heard that my husband was working on Shabbos, I said that I would do various kinds of work until God helped and he got a job at which he would not have to desecrate Shabbos. As I knew how to be a seamstress, I began to work, not earning very much, but we coped.
In 1909 I gave birth to another girl. The poverty was great. My husband already was doing various kinds of work just to earn a living, until he learned how to be a presser of women's dresses and earned a living. We were again satisfied, until 1910 arrived. Strikes began. Whoever had a little bit of money could strike; we did not have, so with two children, we again began to suffer from hunger. I had a cousin; he sold bread that I received for free…
These are my experiences up to 1910.
by Meir Zylberberg, Paris
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Krasnik was a Jewish city about which little was heard before the war [World War One]. But our shtetl [town] occupied a respected spot on military maps.
Krasnik is located not far from the Vistula [River] and was close to the then Austrian border.
Jewish Victims in the First World War
It was in the month of August 1914 when the First World War broke out. A red, fiery sky stretched over Europe. Bullets flew over our heads on the first day of the war, until the Austrian military occupied Krasnik.
Everything that belonged to the old Tsarist regime disappeared. However, the Tsar's Cossacks did not forget to loot the Jewish houses and to make a ruin of businesses, to trample with their feet everything they could not take with them.
Krasnik breathed freely with the entry of the Austrian troops. Order was maintained by the firemen, led by the mayor, a teacher and Christian tailor. On the other hand, the rebbe and the Krasnik rabbis worked to represent Jewish interests in relation to the Austrian occupier.
To our great misfortune, the Austrians were unable to hold Krasnik in their possession for more than 27 days. The population awaited the return of the Tsarist military with trembling and fear.
It was the Friday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The four-sided market place suddenly seemed to grimace from inner pain. A patrol and an officer on a horse appeared at Zanwil Leib Szor's open gate. They stopped in the middle of the market and the officer stopped every Jew he met and questioned him.
Thus, six Jews from Krasnik were arrested: Chaim Tapel, Leibish Sukman, Dowid Szustak, Krumholc, Lamhut and a tailor. The officer also arrested the mayor, the teacher and the Christian tailor. This was on Friday, at 10 o'clock in the morning. All of those held were taken away to the Olbięcin fields, a few kilometers from Krasnik. Several hours later they were found shot, without a trial.
They were unable to bury the first victims and three days later Reb Motele from Pruszkow, the rebbe from Krasnik, Ayzyk Fishl the Kaczone Rabbi and Hershele Zajler and his son were arrested. They were taken away to prison and they were hung several days later. Honor their memory!
Krasnik became known for such a calamity and such a sad chapter during the First World War, 1914-1918.
During the 1920s
The first years after the rise of independent Poland were years of tempest and turmoil in Jewish life. The Jewish shtetl that existed for generations in the old Jewish traditional form was shaken economically, politically and spiritually to its foundation. Old and new powers woke up. The flames, which after the 1905 revolution were seen as having been extinguished forever, flared up anew. New strengths, ideas and strivings appeared together in the communal arena.
Krasnik did not avoid the storms that shook the old world. It especially hit the young. New problems arose for them and with them the attempts to find a solution through all kinds of parties, groups, leaders. Old and new ideas bubbled as if in a kettle. The
traditional Jewish circles supported the religious way for many generations and they did not want to lose their influence and answered everything by saying there should be no [earthly] interference. Help could only come from heaven. However, this no longer made an impression on the young who looked for their own ways in the various parties.
And all kinds of parties arose; various Zionist organization, right and left, even the religious Mizrakhi. Later, a group of Revisionists was also created, led by Yisroel Szliszes and others. The Bund, for its part, developed great activities, mainly in the area of creating Jewish professional unions that were under its influence. The unions helped a great deal in bettering conditions for the Jewish workers.
The so-called middle class children grouped themselves around the right Poalei-Zion [workers of Zion, Marxist-Zionist party] and was led by Falek Broner, a young, thin man, a little stooped. He always walked around wearing a large pair of glasses, preoccupied, engrossed. Shiale Markewicz and Zeduk the junkman led the left Poalei-Zion. A group of haHalutz [pioneers preparing to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel] also arose, led by Ruchl Brajer. Young people from middle class homes could be seen dressed as halutzim [pioneers], proudly marching through the Krasnik streets. A Gordynia [pioneer youth] organization also existed. Simkha (I do not remember his family name) led the general Zionists, Mordekhai and Yitzhak Bichbinder Mizrakhi [religious Zionists].
It should be understood that the old traditional Jewish societies gmiles khesed [interest free loans]; hakhnasat kalla [fund to aid for poor brides]; bikur kholim [visiting and aiding the sick] existed alongside the newly arising parties, as well as a tenant's society and a khevre kadisha [burial society].
At some times a great deal was going on in the city. On a beautiful day, if I am not mistaken, this was in the spring of 1924, we learned in Krasnik at 12 at night that a train of emigrants for Eretz-Yisroel was passing through. It was four kilometers from the city to the train station. All the boys and girls left to dress up in holiday clothes, even a few older people a weekday holiday. Everyone left on foot for the station, singing Hebrew songs. Those with more conviction sang louder, the others quieter and still others who went along did not open their mouths. Of course, they did not believe that three million Jews could leave Poland and go to Eretz-Yisroel.
Memories of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, when the Red Army reached Lublin, still influenced the Jewish young, at least the larger number of them. We saw then the turmoil with our own anti-Semites in Krasnik, such as for example, Kendere the shoemaker and his comrades: Dambrowski, Czerwinski and others. At that time they ran around as if crazy and cursed the Jews and communists. This was a great lesson for we young people.
We already have mentioned the professional unions. Most of them were created in 1920. At the same time an artisans' union was created as well as Tsukunft [future], a Bund group for the young. Simultaneously, an organization of the communist young arose and the beginning of its work consisted mainly of education. There was much discussion about the ways of fighting for socialism. The work with the Polish workers expanded little by little. Then, robust Jewish activists emerged from the various Jewish organizations.
I will mention several personalities:
I remember the young Lemer, leader of the Bund youth group Tsukunft. [He] was from a family of Jewish traders in Krasnik. He threw himself into defending his comrades in his trade with all his youthful fervor. He himself was the secretary of the gaiter-stitchers' union and he was a capable organizer and would do everything for the Bund youth group Tsukunft. Alas, the capable communal activist died at age 18 in the Lublin hospital and his funeral took place in Lublin in February 1927.[Page 172]
Several hundred workers from all of the trades took part [in the funeral], as well as a large delegation from Krasnik.
Active with him in Tsukunft were: Yisroel Fuksman, Yisroel Goldfarb, Zelig Garfinkl. Two well-known older Bundists worked with them: Yankele Cyngiser, who later perished during a deportation, a tailor a true encyclopedia. His specialty consisted of recognizing the names of all of the great personalities and, therefore, he always quoted Marx or . [Beynish] Michalewicz [a Bundist leader]. The second older Bundist was Yankl Zajdenband. He had a bakery in Krasnik a tall, broad, well developed person. He believed that he knew everything, even how the Russian revolution was carried out. Therefore, we had special respect for him. I remember also Zaynwel Diamand who, because of his literary work, never declared publically that he belonged to the Bund. This permitted him to enter a middle class environment, as, for example, the Folks-Bibliotek [the people's library] that was led by Hersh Griner, the Szafrans, Brofmans and others.
I remember with particular pride and pleasure that almost all of the young people in Krasnik belonged to the various groups. Few among them were excluded or remained indifferent.
A large number of Jewish workers and young people created a communist party group in Krasnik during the 1920s. In 1924 the group made an official connection with the Communist Party of Poland. Bright images of party comrades of that time pass me by: the proud, robust figure of the tailor, Manasha Wajsman. He was honest, persuaded that the Jewish worker and the Polish worker would find an answer together to all of their questions. Therefore, he was the first of the 11 people who were shot by the Hitlerists in Krasnik right after the start of the war.
Noakh Reger was a tall, straight man, also a tailor. The fight against the anti-Semites lay in his blood because when he was very young his father was killed in a terrible way.
The misfortune with his father, Chaim Reger, made a terrible impression in the city then. He
|The teacher Blat's First Jewish School [1921-22]|
was a trader in the villages. Once he arrived too late at a house. Night fell fast. He had to spend the night in one of the villages where he was well known. They worried [about him] at home when the father and husband did not come home as usual. Early the next morning, the city was shocked when he was found stabbed. The misfortune planted a hate in the heart of his son, the young worker, a will to fight against the hooligans murdering and agitating against the Jews. He decided that only active communist activity would thwart the anti-Semitic venom.
We all particularly admired Khayale Gutwilig. She was born into a poor family, the oldest of five children. The father, Ahrele, a shoemaker, could barely provide for his family and in her early years, Khayale had to work with a seamstress in order to help with the income. The young girl did not cease studying and reading in these difficult conditions. In time she was one of the most beautiful figures, an example of a woman's participation in the struggle for her ideals.
I also want to remember the two Feldhendler brothers Leibl and Chaim. They came to the big city of Krasnik from a shtetl. We did not know their family. They themselves created their names: Leibl der shneyder [the tailor] and Chaim der rimer [the harness maker], two healthy proletarians, dedicated idealists. They were arrested after a successful action and sentenced to long years in jail. Leibl Feldhendler later fought for the Spanish Republic. He fell there in the battle against fascism.
The communist idea even penetrated among the yeshiva students. I remember my comrade Yankl, who studied in a beis-medrash [house of study and prayer]. When he was arrested and sentenced to several years in jail for communist activity, his mother, poor thing, wrung her hands and constantly repeated:
My son a red? I never noticed him in a red shirt We also must not forget Nukhl and Yankel Zajler and still others.
I remember with special pleasure the first contact that we the communist youth had with the gymnazie [secondary school] in Krasnik.
We had the contact through Shlomole Kalchmacher's daughter. Malkhale. [She was] a girl of average height, dressed in a gymnazie uniform that evoked even more respect for her; one of those who dared break open the religious ghetto and go to the gymnazie on Shabbos. However, for us the contact with the gymnazie had a great significance. This confirmed that the working class was not alone in its struggle for better conditions and freedom. Malkhale later grew up into a splendid dedicated worker-activist. When she was very young she had to leave Poland. She arrived in France, where she continued her studies, but this did not hinder her from connecting to the working class here.
In 1934 I again had the good fortune to be with Malkhale in the creation in Paris of a so-called Krasniker Patronacz (Patronet [organization to aid Jewish political prisoners]), whose task was to help the young Jews who suffered from hunger in the Polish jails. Our work consisted of collecting money and sending it to Krasnik to those who were free, so that they could provide food packages to the political prisoners.
Malkhale played an important role in the illegal struggle against the occupier during the Hitlerist occupation. When she was arrested, the Gestapo attempted to break the dedicated worker-fighter with all physical means and [attempts to break her] morale but without success. Sure of the correctness of her ideas, she always stood in the first ranks in helping the tortured despite her difficult personal situation. Thanks to her medical knowledge (she was pharmacist), she saved dozens of women from certain death in Auschwitz. She helped in every way she could, this one with an aspirin, this one with her own piece of bread and this one with a word of consolation. I
remember this with full reverence for Malkhale and with pride that she came from the Jewish communist organization in Krasnik.
After the Pilsudski coup in 1926, we, the progressive part of the Krasnik Jewish youth, again continued our work. At the time of the coup, we and still other friends, whose names I do not remember, subdivided to appeal to the Polish people and to appeal to the military.
In 1928, we appealed for votes for a parliamentary election candidate who fought against fascism with life and body.
This was essentially our only way out and it was not for no reason that our numbers in Krasnik constantly grew. At that moment, when I left Krasnik in 1928, the Jewish communists were an important factor in the communal life of the shtetl.
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