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[Pages 132-144]

Within the Town

 

By Yehoshua Spiegel

Translated by Binyamin Weiner

 

The Rohaytn Fair

Wednesday was market day in our town.

It was known all around as the day on which all variety of merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and thousands of others, from towns and villages in the district, gathered in Rohatyn. It all began on Tuesday night, with the preparation of market stalls, called “shtelehs,” and special tents. Of course, this did not proceed without tremendous fights over the more strategic positions. The buyers and sellers were for the most part farmers, who never came to town on any other day of the week. But on Wednesday, market day, they came en masse, until it was difficult to pass through the sidewalks and streets, for all the press and tumult.

Everyone was a merchant on market day, even the schoolteachers, who would take off from work in order to help their wives hawk the daily wares. Those who did not speak the language of the “uncircumcised” got their points across through winks and sign language and the clowns of the town always found much to laugh at.

Now we see a wagon, driven by a middle-aged farmer, his rough-skinned wife beside him and on her knees two great baskets of butter and cheese, and an even larger basket of eggs. Four sacks of grain rest in the wagon, and in back an enormous pig, over two hundred kilograms, is bound. The farmer whips his two fine horses. The wagon nears the first houses of the town. Coming out of a granary, Yechezkel Bratshfis shouts to the farmer:

Shoda for!”

“How much will you give for the wheat?” asks the farmer, without stopping his wagon.

“Thirty-three.”

“How about forty-four?”

“A few more groschen,” shouts Yechezkel, “you won't get more in town. Stop and come in a minute.”

But the farmer does not listen, whipping his horse on quickly, and muttering:

“Viyo! Ah, ah! I'll go to little Israel Zilber, one of our Jews…”

But he gets no further, finding himself suddenly surrounded by all manner of merchants. They handle his butter, cheese, and eggs. They ask the price and they haggle and bargain. Again the farmer raises his whip and drives the horses on, despite the merchants. But they climb into the wagon, tempt the farmer with their ready money, and do not let up until he finally tires and gives in to them.

Farmers and their wives, miserably poor Jews, wander in on foot, selling their wares. Here poultry is sold. Buyers grab the chickens by their wings, stroke them, and blow through their plumage. Feathers fly as the farmer's wife snatches a turkey away, not pleased with the offered price. They will go to the fair and figure out the going rate.

The marketplace fills with animals: cows, bulls, pigs, goats, and horses. Neighing and mooing mixes with the shouting of the farmers.

Here comes a farmer leading a young horse. Somebody slaps it and it takes off running, forcing the farmer to chase after it. He runs, only to find a “connoisseur” sitting on its back, wanting to buy. The only problem is the price: the buyer wants to close the sale with a “handshake,” but the seller is unmoved and will not lower the price. Finally, a mediator intervenes, and with a “compromise” the deal is done. A long line of healthy looking calves comes plodding along from another direction. There are potatoes, greens, radishes, green onions, fruit just plucked from the tree, and dried fruit as well. The clanging of metal tools is heard in another corner: ploughshares, scythes, axes, hammers, and saws. Farmers test the scythes, judging the quality of metal by the tone it makes when struck, and again the two sides haggle over the price. The same is true for the wide variety of pots and pans to be found in the marketplace, from earthenware to aluminum to brass frying pans. Buyers try them with their fingers and raise them up to check for possible holes. In front of the Polish church, cheap little rings and ornaments are sold to farmers. In another place, leather straps are sold for whips. Beside the well is a table laden with furs and skins. The neighboring stall is offering woven, ready-made suits, called “tzayg,” similar to our khaki suits.

A Jew, tall as Og king of Bashan, with a black curly coiffure, stands on a chair and calls out, without stopping: “My friends, everything must go!” His fingers sift through combs, mirrors, and other “finds,” and the farmers stretch out their hands and buy whatever comes into them. And here is a table of eyeglasses and shoes. A Gentile finds a pair here, a pair there, and the second seller lowers the price so as to win a customer.

The sun tends westward. The day draws to a close and with it the fair. Most people go off to taverns and parties, to taste the “bitter drop” and get drunk. Later on, the first “swayers” and staggerers will be seen by the roadside. Often quarrels broke out between drunks, and ended in bloodshed. Sometimes knives were drawn, forcing the police to intervene and take the quarrelers to jail.

 

The Wagon Drivers

They walked among us, strong men of great height, known by name: Nahum Fingerhut, a man with open eyes; Dovid Puks (Sini,) who was once stabbed, but returned to strength and continued in his hard labor; Zalman and his brothers—Dudzi, Vebi, Dovidl, and Neftali (they also had a sister, named Brani); Alter Fiakernik, a man beset by daughters; and other “charioteers,” all of whom maintained the “transportation system” of our town, in winter and summer carrying passengers to and from the train station.

This was a very unique society, which guarded its professional interests jealously. If from time to time a fight broke out among them, over a “pilfered” fare, or a “ride” that one had “stolen” from another, thereby cheapening the going rate, it was normally resolved with a handshake over a glass of brandy.

On the Sabbath, they remained at their stands and from the heights of their coaches and cabs look out over the proceedings of the town. A Jewish spark continued to pulse in their hearts, and if ever a fight broke out on market day, between Jews and Gentiles, their strong hands were ready to strike fear and panic into Gentile heartsso that they would not dare to assail Jewish honor.

[Photo #1, p. 134: “Marketplace and coaches”]

[Photo #1, p. 135: “From the right: Polish house, Polish middle-school, house of Boitsuk, house of Zlatkis, Ukrainian house”]

[Photo #2, p. 135: “The marketplace: The first house, with the balcony, belonged to the Bronstein family, and the second to the Shnaps family”]

[Photo #1, p. 136: “Formerly the community hall on Shebtsenko street, now a movie theater”]

[Photo #2, p. 136: “Formerly the Rohatyn post office (the house of Tsukhuzer.) Behind, on the right side, are the windows of the Principal, the teacher Mrs. Shwartz”]

 

The Bath Houses

[Photo #1, p. 137: “Bath house with steam room on Tserkavna street, in front of the houses of Tzvi Reis and Baruch Weinreich, of blessed memory. On the right side, where the three open windows are, there was, years ago, a Hebrew school and an assembly hall”]

The benefit to health of immersion in a bath was an accepted fact to Jews and Gentiles alike, and both visited the bathhouse frequently. As can be seen in the photograph, our bathhouse still stands in it place.

But this building was not only used for bathing. On weekdays, apart from Thursdays and Fridays, its hall was used as a Hebrew school, a place of assembly, a site for public lectures, weddings, and the various parties of the Zionist youth organizations.

It must be noted that even by today's standards this was a modern bathhouse. Its separate bathing compartments were each equipped with hot and cold running water. The “sweat room” was a large hall with many concrete benches, one above the other. The veterans of the sauna would stretch out on the highest shelves and enjoy the steam that rose when water was poured on the red-hot rocks.

Jewish beverage-vendors would pass among the sweating and reclining clientele, distributing cold drinks to all who asked. Skilled bath-attendants would circulate in the bathhouse, one Gentile among them, earning their living on those two days of the week, Thursday night and the following Friday.

Women bathed only on Thursdays, at the hours set be Yosef Zilber, the superintendent.

Of the three mikvehs (ritual-baths) their were two cold-water ones located in the general bathhouse. The third (called “di kasherer mikveh”—“the kosher mikveh”) was heated on cold days.

This enterprise was established thanks to Reb Alter Weidman, of blessed memory, (the head of the community,) before World War One. After the war, Rabbi Avraham-David Spiegel returned and invested a great deal of energy and initiative in the bathhouse, making its large proceeds into a source of revenue for the community.

 

The Military (shtelers, conscripts)

[Photo #1, p. 138: “A group of Jewish conscripts from Rohatyn. The two standing, from the right: “Feffer, Uri Drucks. The three sitting, from the right: “Zvi Schwartz, Zvi Zunnenstein (Dr. Zvi Zohar,) and Zev Barban (Ohel actor)]

21-year-olds, whose turn had come to report to the army, knew beforehand under what conditions they would be found fit to serve, and to which companies they would be assigned. Many sought to evade military service at all costs, each for their own reason: whether so as not to waste two years in the barracks, or to prevent an interruption of studies, or so as not to hurt their business. More than anyone else, those observant of religious obligations sought to be released, firstly because they abhorred the work of spilling blood, and secondly so as not to be absent from the Talmud-Torah and not, God forbid, to be corrupted by forbidden food.

During World War One, Jewish young men would even inflict wounds on themselves, so as to be deemed unfit for the army. Even in my time, they would put themselves through all kinds of tortures so as to lower their weight, and be released on this count.

Some weeks before the time appointed for reporting, they would gather at a late hour of night and march through the night (after a hard day of labor, or other occupation) from one end of the city to the other. [There was a communal spirit in this, raised toward a fixed goal in the mentality of the participants, who changed from year to year.] If it were cold outside, they would drop into one of the Jewish taverns and warm their hearts with brandy or other drink. And woe unto the barkeeper who made fun of them, and refused to satisfy their thirst.

[Photo #1, p. 139: “Zvi Blank (a Polish soldier.) The image of the family of Moshele Blank is evident in its son.”]

“Secret gifts” and “protekcia” worked much better than these tortures. The young men would bribe there way out of the “physical,” when a doctor from a regional city was appointed by command from the military examiners. Eliyahu Messing, Yehuda Mesing, Michael Zucker, and others like them, of blessed memory, escaped in this way.

But was had no cause to be ashamed of those who were taken into the army. Who does not recall those dear boys upon their return home on leave? They stood straight and tall, powerful and broad-shouldered, their faces flushed with health, when they appeared in public with their parents at prayer services. There were those who rose in the ranks, merited high posts, and also received prized for distinguished service. There were none like the Jewish soldiers for devotion during the Polish war for independence. But in the days of Pshistik and Pristorova, the era of boycotts on Jewish stores, [endekim] onslaughts on Jewish centers, this passion faded, and the conscripts began to ask themselves if it were still worthwhile to fight for this Poland.

 

The Jewish Orchestra

[Photo #1, p. 140: “Seated in the center: Moshe Faust, Wolf Zimbler (Shwartz.) Standing from the left: Mordechai-Shmuel Faust, Mendel Bass, Yankel Faust, Alter Marshalnik, Itsik-Hersh Faust, and David Faust.]

There was not a person in our city that did not know the musicians of our orchestra. And in none of the other towns was there such a unique group as this father and his four sons—the well-known members of the Faust family. After the father's death, the four sons remained. David Faust, the eldest, was the fiddle player, and also used to call the tune at anybody's wedding. The second son, Itsik-Hersh, a small and delicate man, played the flute, and his lips seemed to have been molded to fit his instrument. The third, Yaakov Faust, stout and powerful, was the trumpeter, and as his cheeks were always puffed up from trumpeting, he was a quite man, with an endearing smile. When he had time, between festivities, he earned a living selling “tsayg” suits (similar to our khaki suits.” The fourth, Mordechai-Shmuel, a young, bearded, bespectacled man with a cultivated demeanor, could read music and conducted and led the orchestra on his instrument—the clarinet. He earned his living on the side giving private music lessons. He pounced on every new and modern melody and incorporated it into the program of his orchestra, and fit his melody to the tastes of each individual. In short, it may be said of them (from Psalm 119): “Thy statutues have been my song, in the house of my pilgrimage.”

 

The Butchers

The butchers in our city were concentrated in an area not far from Reb Nataniel's synagogue. Like those of their generation, most of them were very pious, genuinely sincere people, including: Reb Yitschok Hersh, Reb Nusi Chaimbuts, Reb Avraham-Chaim Ayzen, Reb Yaakov-Yonah Shnekraut, three brothers together with their large families—Reb Kalman Glutser, Reb Reuven Glutser, and Reb Yisrael Glutser—and others. Their trades were inherited by their offspring. Some continue in the profession to this day. Two sons of the Shnekraut family are in America, Yehoshua Glutser is in Argentina, and David Blaustein is here in Israel. Even Reb Zushe Springer and his wife Rachel can be counted among those who passed their business on. Being childless, they adopted Shlomo Zisser, who continues to practice his art in Netanya.

Representatives from the board of Rabbis often came to visit the aforementioned butcher shops, to check on their kashrut (adherence to Jewish dietary law.)

Matza was baked in the shop of the butcher Reb Avraham-Chaim, and on most Shabbat eves, the cholent was placed in his oven. In his final years he was somewhat paralyzed, but his sons kept up the chain, until one by one they left our city and immigrated to America. If I am not mistaken, Chaim Ayzen, and even perhaps young David, tall as a cypress, can also be found in America.

I remember an event having to do with Reb Nusi Chaimbuts, after he was found liable in some matter of religious law. Being learned, and of the opinion that he was not guilty, he let fall from his lips an improper comment against my father the rabbi, of blessed memory. From then on, over the course of a whole year, he ceased coming to our house almost entirely, contrary to prior custom. On the eve of Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness of sins, he appeared at our house, at the Turteltaub house, and asked for my father, of blessed memory. He was told that my father had gone to the mikveh. He waited, and when he heard my father's steps on the stairs, he took of his shoes and fell on his face at my father's feet, crying bitterly and asking my father's forgiveness. Of course, my father, of blessed memory, would not accept this self-abnegation from him, and commanded him to rise, and so forth. On us, the children, the event made an indelible impression.

Often the butchers would come to the rabbi's house to ask questions, having to do, for instance, with the laws concerning lungs and stomachs in which holes have been found, and so forth. It was not for nothing that these questions raised such emotion in the poor butchers. Money would be lost if slaughtered meat were judged to be unclean. There was, as there is today, suspicion cast on the shochet (ritual slaughterer.) Perhaps the fault lay in his lack of proficiency in the art? They would hold up the lung of a cow, inflate it, listen for any air expiring through the hole, check the hole itself, and so forth.

“Rabbi, do you know how much this cow costs?” they argued. It seemed that the butchers knew something of the laws of Israel themselves, and in case of doubt, they would rule leniently. In such cases, there was no reason to envy the religious

 

The Slaughter House

Four men walked around the slaughter-room, keeping watch: Tuvya the shochet, faithful overseer of the butchering knives, who received the compensation for their services; Reb Moshe the shochet; his brother Reb Motsi the shochet; and with them Reb Leys the shochet.

Two tall concrete tubs stood at the entrance to the slaugter-room. There were iron bars with hooks upon them, from which hung chickens, tied by their legs with rope, their necks dripping blood. The room was deeply stained red. There was a constant noise and tumult, beginning on Wednesday evening, at its height on Thursday, and even more intense on the eve of Yom Kippur. But this tumult did not prevent Reb Tuvya the chochet from sitting in his adjoining room and studying Torah with great dilligence…

And then came the German angel of death and slaughtered…

May the memory of these meat-handlers be blessed forever in the hearts of all survivors of Rohatyn. Woe unto the evil one who slaughtered the slaughterers, and spilled innocent blood…

[Photo #1, p. 142: “In the center: Moshe Schechter, the schochet, his wife Sarah, and their grandchild between them. On the right: Monish and Pearl. On the left, Aharon and Leah. Above from the right: Rachel, Bracha, and Blima. The children below: Shlomo and Zvi.]

 

The Melamdim of our City

Our parents were of the opinion that the only good for a Jewish boy was to study in cheder. This well-known system of education was in the hands of the melamdim (religious instructors,) who did not make our childhood overly pleasant, and seldom spared the us the rod. But the students gave them no great pleasure either. They would take revenge on their teachers, gluing their beards to the table as they dozed, and so forth. But after having to learn all morning in a different school, under a different authority, how could the heart of a Jewish boy yearn for the “cheder” in the hours of the afternoon? It is now wonder that the most heartening news of the day came when the melamed announced that it was time to go home. Yet despite all this, these melamdim still managed to implant their Torah in our hearts, as it is said: “I gained wisdom from all my instructors.” May God remember them for good!

I will list those among the melamdim whose images are etched in my memory:

The first: Yehuda Ber, of blessed memory, who taught in the women's section of the large Beit-Midrash. He was a widower. His son was known to all of us as Itsikl “the dancer.” This “Rabbi” served to the end of his days in this office, and most of the Jews of Rohatyn studied with him.

The second: Moshe-Gershon (the tall.) At first he taught in a hut beside the “bath-house,” and later in the neighborhood of the shochtim. He was a sickly man, also widowed, and burdened with children. He was well-versed in his trade, though not clear in his manner of instruction. He was one of the Hasidim of Reb Eliezerl, of blessed memory.

The third: Reb Nahum Milstein. He also taught in the large Beit-Midrash, in the women's section, and afterwards in his own house, opposite the house of Natan Skolnick (the carpenter.) He was stepped in Torah, and was the regular Torah reader at the Chesed Elyon, meticulous in the performance of this task. He taught Chumash (the five books of the Torah,) according to Rashi and Ibn Ezra, was strict about purity of speech, and was devoted to Zionism, the revival of the Hebrew language, and such things. Though blind in one eye, he watched over his students with seven… His daughter Pearl was married to Yaakov Strulicht. Two of their sons survived—Zvi Milstein and Anshel Milstein, who has taken root here with us, the survivors of Rohatyn in Israel.

The fourth: Noach Milstein, the brother of Nahum, who taught in the large Beit-Midrash. He had few students. He was survived only by two daughters, who went to America following the death of their children.

The fifth: Reb Michal the blind, a meek and small man, married to his second wife, Malkah. Gedalia, the eldest son of his first marriage, broke away from his father and settled in Pzemishal. Reb Michal remained with his other two children, Moshe and Tovah.

This Reb Michal was quite sharp, and raised up many students. I still recall a certain midrash (Torah commentary) that we would review in the traditional melody: “And when Nebuzadin drives the Jews into exile, they will pass by the tomb of Rachel, weeping, and mother Rachel will rise up from the grave and weep with them and beseech God, as it is written: “Rochel mivacho al boneyha”…”Rachel weeps over her children.” And the Holy One, blessed be He, will answer: “There is reward for your deed, the children will return to dwell within their borders…”

The sixth: Reb Nechamya Roich (the lame,) the son of Reb Mordechai Roich, of blessed memory. He was a widower. All his life, as far as I can recall, he lived with his father, Reb Mordechai, and his son Reb Orich Roich. Nechemya taught in his house, in the courtyard of Dr. Yuzi Weidmann (attorney.) He was not as learned in Torah as his father, buthe knew enough to teach “Chumash with Rashi,” with the help of his father and son. He was also a Torah reader and prayer leader in the shoemaker's synagogue, and on the High Holidays he went out to the countryside to serve as a leader of the shacharit (morning) and musaf (additional) prayer services. Despite his disability, he was a [gever-aylim]. Uri Roich was already able to teach according to more progressive and intellectual methods.

The seventh: Reb Shlomo Wohl (formerly Fiakernik) a preliminary-melamed, taught in the large Beit-Midrash. He vented his spleen on his students, treating them with such a strong hand that parents would be compelled to deliver their children from his hands. He was a powerful man, straight and severe, though what little he knew of Torah came from his brother, the tall Reb Moshe Gershon…

The eighth: Reb Shmuel Unterman, a melamed and shamash (caretaker) in the synagogue of Reb Nataniel and his wife Yuta. Before that, he had taught in the apartment of Mrs. Malkah Landau, of blessed memory, where his two children, Sorel and Tziporah, were also born, He was a straight and simple Jew, and a guardian of tradition. He was made shamash because he could not earn a living as a melamed after his hearing was damaged by disease.


[Page 144-145]

The Image that I Loved

by Avraham Cohen

Translated by Rabbi Mordecai Goldzweig

My cheder teacher was called Gershon Hamelamed [the teacher]. His pupils called him “Gershon the Straw.” Reb Moshe Gershon's house was located on a side street that had no pavement and was sunken into the ground and made of clay. It had tiny glass windows, most of them broken, with wooden shutters made of unfinished boards hanging clumsily on rusty hinges. Attached to the front of the house was a kind of low railing where the family sat on summer evenings. From the outside the house looked sad and abandoned. However, when a person came close he could see that the inside was brimming with life. In the large single room, with an earthen floor, we would sit around a dilapidated table - approximately twenty small children - and repeat out loud the words of Reb Gershon. He would sit at the head of the table and follow what we were saying with his eyes half closed. We called him Gershon the Straw because he was tall and thin. His thin yellowish beard and hair shook at the slightest breeze. He had a wife and an only daughter of marriageable age. Despite the large number of pupils, he earned a very meager living, and the signs of poverty could be seen by his worn coat, his wife's patched sweater, and particularly by his aging daughter who sat at home with no chance of getting married. Despite all of this, Reb Gershon did not become angry and accepted his fate. “If this is the will of the Creator,” he would say, “then it is forbidden to complain.”

He was very strict about studies, and woe to any child who did not know the weekly portion of the Torah by Wednesday, for how would he be able to appear before the dayan [judge] with his pupils. (The custom was to go every Sabbath afternoon to the dayan, Rabbi Avraham David Spiegel, of-blessed memory, and be tested there, and every boy who did well received as a prize “a pinch on the cheek” and some special Sabbath fruits.)

One Tuesday Reb Gershon turned to me and asked me to read the weekly portion of Torah with the Targum [Aramaic commentary by Onkeles]. But what could I do? I hadn't learned anything during the preceding two days for the very simple reason that we had all decided to enjoy the winter weather and play with snowballs. Reb Gershon said this was a pastime for urchins, and there was no greater sin than to waste time and not learn Torah. In order to get us back into class, he had to make use of his long stick. In theory we gave in but not in practice. Each boy hid a snowball in his pocket, and since we learned by candlelight, each boy took some of the snow and put it on the candle nearest to him. The candles soon began to go out one by one, and the Rebbe had no means at hand of replacing them. Because of this I did not pass the test, and did not know the portion of the week. I received the combined punishment due to both me and my friends so that “they all would know and be warned.”

However, neither Reb Gershon nor I expected the serious consequences of this beating that would leave me in bed for a week. What is more, my mother even justified Reb Gershon's behavior. After I had been lying in bed five days, I was surprised to see Reb Gershon arrive at our house and, in his unique way, begin to calm the situation indirectly by saying to my mother, “This time he has learned his lesson; he will behave differently from now on.” I felt guilty and tears came to my eyes. I could see in Reb Gershon's eyes that he too felt guilty and regretted what he had done. I was sorry for the grief I had caused him but did not know how to express my feelings. Within me there was a desire to repay him for this visit, and at that moment I knew that I truly admired him.

My mother broke the ice by taking out her purse and paying Reb Gershon for the week that I was absent from cheder, saying, “We were all mischievous when we were young; there is still hope for making a Jew out of him.”

[1 photo, page 145]
(Caption states)
Chaim Weiler, Shalom Banner, Yehuda Bratspiess, Lipa Freiwald, Naftali Gira

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