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Community Life

 

Community Life

by Chaim Kopetch (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Pamela Russ

On the right bank of the river, where the Bug and the Narew meet and pour into the Wis³oka (Vistula) River, all of them merge and empty into the Baltic Sea. There, on the high, mountainous shore, was spread out our little town of Serock – short houses, rarely with two levels, and with a four-cornered market. From each corner, in every direction, there were inhabited and uninhabited little streets, and a highway with little houses and shops on either side that come from somewhere and go off into somewhere… As you enter the town, there is a non-Jewish cemetery, and as you leave the town there is a Jewish cemetery. Depends from which direction you arrive. So, in the area of the water, there are cemeteries, broad, plowed fields, and blooming orchards, where for generations Jews and non-Jews have lived and died.

A long, long time ago, before the time of highways and trains, the old folks used to say that our little town played an important role in the communications for the country. It was a common transit point for boats, ships, and rafts that came through the Bug and Narew rivers with lumber, wheat, and many other types of materials for the European markets. This was their last stop before going onto the Vistula and then moving directly into Danzig. Here, the materials were examined and inventoried, rated and measured, sold and resold, calculated for profits and losses. Because of this, there were always guests in our town: merchants, brokers, measurers, appraisers, and experts.

This was a long time ago, a long time ago. The 20th century found our town fallen – a shrunken place, a poor place, with an impression of no today and no tomorrow. The stormy and angry events of wars, pogroms, strikes, and revolutions, were also …

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…riled up in the still-standing and half-asleep state of life in the town's settlement.

For those of us who were children in those times, there remain undefined and unclear memories of the events and happenings of the things we lived through, but at that time, they were beyond our strength to understand and withstand. Now, shreds and indistinct memories are coming up that were protected during those stormy times: the Russo-Japanese War, strikes, the Kishinev pogroms, Borukh Shulman's attempted assassination of the Warsaw governor. The songs about the events and heroes carried from the Warsaw courtyards to our town and were sung there. We also had our own heroes. Areh'le the revolutionary had to flee to America, then committed suicide for political reasons; a young woman poisoned herself; a pharmacist's son shot himself; and other incidents – some maybe of lesser importance, like personal arguments about shokhtim or just regular arguments.

The outbreak of World War One, with its horror and …

A Youth Group

From right to left: Khaim Vaynkrantz, Khaim Kapetch, Yantshe Kuzhinski,
Schmerl Aschenmill, Yakov Borenshtayn

 

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…destruction, also did its portion in loosening the restraints that for years contained the hovering youth energy.

Some of the youths looked around in their new conditions, and saw that they were naked as Adam, without any preparation for daily life and its problems. So, they threw themselves into their books with all their youthful fire, and with everything they had, in order to find something that would give them substance as support and response to a lot of questions that life presented to them.

That's when the “Progress” library was born. A private library also existed before that distributed books as payback for bail. Mottel Tzukerman, a dry-goods merchant, who tried to improve his downtrodden lot and his earnings, thought of this idea for a livelihood. This library was only for use by select individuals, for the better class of youths who had better material opportunities and who were also under the influence of the nearby big city of Warsaw. But it did not reach the large masses of the youth.

The new library “Progress” was established as a community library, and early on sought out the reader who felt that it was “his” library with which he was a partner. Therefore, he sought her out to help her evolve. Hard to remember exactly when the library was established and all the names of the founders. It was probably in the beginning of 1915, and among the founders were: Schmerl Aschenmill, Esther Leah Schlyakhtus, Aron Korngold. I found the library behind the city, on the Warsaw highway, amongst the non-Jews (there were no Jews living there) in one room, with the requisite political books, a few chairs, and a table.

The youth met every Friday night and Shabbos during the day, sat around the table, read something from a book or sang all types of Yiddish songs that were timely then, sang it all with the crowd, with heart and feeling, and most importantly, with the fire of youth. The older generation struggled at home against the new way of the youth, against reading that which was “treif ” (not kosher or acceptable), etc. One Friday night, it happened that a father came to the library and slapped his daughter for having the chutzpa to be sitting there and …

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… singing songs. This had the reverse effect on the youth, and with love they surrounded her and helped the library grow.

The second period begins with the moving from the small room behind the city to the marketplace at Glovackin's into two rooms. The rooms were large – one was for the library and the other was a reading room. This gave the library more importance and helped spread the culture for the youth. The institution also began helping with the community kitchen that used to distribute lunches to the poor and hungry people and helped ration the American products that arrived. At approximately that time, there was an effort made to establish two Zionist organizations: for women it was called “Bnos Tzion (daughters of Zion), headed by Esther Leah Schlyakhtus, her sister Krongold, and Dvoira Granyewicz; for the men it was called “Kadimah” (Forward!), with Aron Krongold, Tzvi Kleinman, and so on. Neither organization really had long life in the lives of the young masses. There was also an attempt to move the library “Progress” to the Party center, but that never really happened.


Founders of the county newspaper “Unzer Vort

 

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The activities of the library were concentrated around distributing books to the homes, conducting discussions on timely themes, question / answer evenings, a drama circle, and they even tried to establish evening courses and other similar institutions. One of the other initiatives was to bring in writers for lectures. The first writer and speaker that was brought in was the well known staff writer of Der Moment newspaper, Hillel Zeitlin. Also, they elected to put up opposition to the circles for the very religious. But after Zeitlin's visit to the elderly Rav Yosef Levinshtayn, where they discussed Torah, the youth was appeased and things worked out well.

The second speaker that the library invited to speak was Yosef Heftman, also a staff member at Der Moment (under the pseudonym 'Emanuel'). His visit was also a great coup, both in terms of morale and materialism. And here I would like to tell a small anecdote: When we were saying our good-byes to him, we asked him, Heftman, to leave us with a valuable final word. After much back and forth, at the last minute, he said: “From today forward, let's write Serock with a 'yud' (so that it would become 'Syerock'), that would give it the initials for:

סעראסק יוגנט עמאנציפירט רופט אלעמען צו קולטור
meaning: The Emancipated Youth of Serock Invites Everyone for Culture (Cultural Events)

Our guest was escorted out with cheers, enthusiastically looking forward to future presentations.

There was a great event that happened in our town when our very first acting troupe presented from our own drama circle. This happened approximately at the end of the seventeenth year. From mid-summer, the drama group was already preparing and rehearsing to present an entire piece. When everything was already prepared, the most important things was still missing – an appropriate room (hall) for the performance. After a long search, the location of a government school became available during the days of Sukkos. The teacher there was Khaim Jurkewicz. The teacher's first warning was that he would leave the key on Erev Sukkos before leaving the building, when he would no longer have to fear an inspection. They had to remove the school chairs to put in a stage, put out benches for the audience, get decorations, a curtain, and other things that were relevant to the event.

Soon the whole activity was mobilized. Yakov Aryeh Stolyer…

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In memory of the election day gathering for the YFLB
The elected and the participants
…30th, 1929

 

…quickly brought boards from his warehouse, and his carpenters – familiar with this type of work – became busy right away. Opening was scheduled for motzei yom tov, at the end of Sukkos. And, even though all this was at the border where the Jews lived, the news that there was going to be a performance spread like a spark that falls on dry hay. On the second day of Sukkos during the services in the big shul, the usually quiet and elderly Rav asked Lozer Shamash to announce a ban on the theater. The troupe decided to send a delegation to the Rav requesting that he remove the ban.

The select people in the delegation were: the author of the script and Schmerl Aschenmill. After much arguing with the Rav, he agreed to remove the ban in order that peace reign in the town, but only if he would be coerced to do so by government powers.

In the end, he sent Lozer Shamash, and during Mincha reneged on the ban. But Lozer Shamash prepared a new surprise for us. He went up to the podium and announced: He is making this announcement in the name of the Rav, that the ban should remain in effect, but because the Rav was forced to remove it, it will be removed. The fate for the performance was already sealed. The performance actually took place, but before …

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… a room of empty benches. The audience comprised mainly those who were involved in the theater.

That's what it was like, and so it was with other happenings. That's how the young town lived its life and filled its time until November 1918 when the Austro-German army left occupied Poland and was replaced by the Polish independent rule.

In the month of November, when the new Polish rule began to take its first steps, a new chapter opened in the community life of the Jewish youth in the Polish towns. If until now the struggle was to bring in worldliness and culture into their own settings, a new front now opened with the establishment of an independent Poland: a fight for the rights of Jewish citizens to live and exist independently – culturally, economically, and politically.

The youth in our town was more or less prepared for the struggle at that time. It was the end of November, beginning December, when a general day of mourning was declared protesting the first pogrom that the newly organized Polish army had organized on their first entry into the city of Lemberg.

In just a few hours, the youth organized and mobilized themselves, preparing themselves for all types of eventualities. The big shuls and their arks were decorated with black and white crךpe paper that was brought in for this cause especially from Warsaw. In the entranceway to the shul from the street, there stood two big flags made of black and white crךpe, and the youth wore colored armbands on their sleeves and flowers in their lapels. The entranceway was guarded as were several surrounding streets. Other groups of youths went to different parts of the city saying that the Jews should shut down their businesses and gather at the central place in the shul, and some would stay in the streets to protect against the reactions from the Polish anti-Semitic population.

Probably, the concentration of people, and the closing of the businesses in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, along with the organized presence of the youth in the streets had the desired effect. The non-Jewish…

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A Youth Group

Seated in the first row from right to left: Yosef Faynboim, Gavriel Gal, Shlomo Ostrovski, Faivel Barab, Pyenik
Second row: Temeh Shtelang, Khave Shtelang
The picture and the frame are from Volf Gerwer, of blessed memory

 

…. element, began to consider what was going on and went to the police. The unsettled police appeared in the streets, and soon reserve reinforcements arrived. There was also an attempt by the officials to frighten the storeowners into opening their shops and businesses, but the power of the youth and the general voice of protest that ruled the area quashed all attempts for counteractions. The day of protest actually passed calmly, but the youth left an incredible effect, and the “profit” of this should be calculated as part of the youth library, “Progress.”

In those times, the “Progress” library, with her multi-faceted activities, were feeling tight in the two rooms they occupied at Glovacki's. The library also needed a room with a stage for the activities of the drama circle, where they would also be able to have elections and other events. They found such a place…

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… neighboring Vallash – an entire floor was rented. According to an agreement with the landlord, some walls were removed, and a large room with a stage was designed, another room for the library, and so on.

With love and devotion, the committed boys and girls threw themselves into the work and gave all their free time to build furniture, paint the walls, wash, sweep, polish, and decorate their own place.

While painting the walls and the stage, the young shoemaker – Khaim Mintz -- came to the foreground as a talented painter and artist, and for the acting, Leibel Blumberg presented as a fine comedian with talented ideas. All of these have vanished into the past.

Meanwhile, the new standing Polish regime began to form its huge army to get Poland back to her glory that once was in Central Europe, and realize Pilsudski's wild mania to establish a Poland “from wherever possible, to wherever possible.” The youth, aged 20-26, were drafted into the army. Even though this absorbed many young people, the activities of the library were not disturbed. First, when the Bolshevik army marched to the gates of Poland, the library was requisitioned as quarters for the military. The books were thrown into the streets as useless items and the furniture destroyed. Some of the young people came to the town and tried to save some of the things. At that time, Schmerl Aschenmill, Melekh Pyenik, Mottel Vyernik, and Yisroel Kohn were arrested and sent away to Dom-Pulaski, Krakow, where there was a concentration camp for political criminals. On top of that, other than Schmerl Aschenmill, no one had any connection – not even remotely – to community life in the town, not cultural nor political.

Two weeks later, when the Polish army took back our town, the writer of a series (then serving in the military in a town nearby) got himself home, and finding the destruction, went along with Baila Pyenik from house to house for two days, and wherever possible, collected funds in order to be able …

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to reopen the library. But the police and administrative powers did not permit the library to open again.

In February 1922, when I returned home from military service, I found a new Jewish institution had opened under the name “Professional Union for Unskilled Laborers,” with the main office in Warsaw and was a product of the right-wing Poalei-Zion party (movement of Marxist Zionist workers). To us in the town, this name was lost, because this was one of the legitimate means of opening a youth library. The Professional Union was located on the highway near Baila Merker, and that was the central meeting place of the working youth – both for those that worked in town as tailors, shoemakers, spat makers, and carpenters, and for those that worked all week in Warsaw in all sorts of businesses and then came home for Shabbos.

In the town, the union was feeling a shortage, and thought it should consider those youth that were not working as well as those who were better off. A union of this sort was established at a meeting at the home of teacher Khaim Yurkewicz. This was the Zionist group “Kadima” wth Tzvi Kleinman as chairman. They used a room in the home of the fisherman Makhlewski on Radziminski Street, an area generally of only non-Jewish fishermen.

At that time, there were also activities of a particular division whose goal was the fight against extravagance (or overindulgent behaviors) amongst the youth. These activities received a vociferous reaction from the progressive circles of the youth, lots of arguing and fighting, and as a result of that, and for other economic reasons, a portion of these youths left for Argentina.

The activities of the youth, organized in the Professional Union, began to expand and deepen. Every week, there were literary discussions, question / answer evenings, literary debates, and conferences with lecturers from Warsaw. Because the residence that the union had became too small, a new place was rented on the Warsaw highway at Shmuelke Rosenberg's that was in a large place with two…

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… large rooms and a stage for small theaters and other activities.

At that time, the Polish reactionaries began to gain strength and put greater pressure on the almost completely right-wing Jewish population, and placed the burden of the economic crisis on their poor, weak shoulders. This strengthened the yearning for emigration, particularly amongst the youth that had no opportunities or prospects to fulfill their aspirations. But the countries to which they would go were restricted, and the means to reach them – few.

The management of the Prof. Union made an agreement with the representatives of “ICA” in Warsaw (Jewish Colonization Association) that promised it would donate $15 to each person who wanted to go to Argentina, and would arrive there with their certification. Then began a greater emigration from our town to Argentina, with the discount and ship's boarding pass as the basis for the agreement to leave. Not everyone was able to settle into their new home, and some had to come back; but the majority stayed and planted the roots, forming the kernels of the Serocker Jewish community in Argentina.

The Prof. Union, that was in fact a youth's institution, occupied themselves primarily with cultural and social rights activities, and developed much importance amongst the entire population of the town.

The multi-faceted activities always extended the field of action. It was like that when the town separated from the registered municipality and received status as an independent city. They had to elect 24 councilmen, a mayor, aldermen, and magistrates. It was the Prof. Union that cemented the unity of the Jewish population. Since the membership comprised almost all of those younger than the voting age, and some even younger than that, but included those who had the right to be elected according to the election rules, it happened that the author of the series was elected councilman. Not having completed his full term, he was later discharged because he had meddled too much in the town's issues.

The Prof. Union was not really professional in the exact sense…

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… of the word. For everyone it was the nerve center for the town's cultural life, and as such, was completely apolitical. The Union's infiltration into other disciplines of life belonged totally to the local character and was affected by the circumstances. Any type of person was able to be a member – anyone that wanted, regardless of orientation or direction. But the youth, a distinct number of the population that takes on and feels the current problems as their own, worked through these problems amongst each other. Their energy and vitality pushed these problems out, finding ways for a resolution. The youth also noticed the wrongdoings and injustices that she found en route in her life. So, the youth is reacting to everything and her voice can be heard everywhere; in fact, sometimes too hasty and irrational, but always truthful and committed. This youth, that experienced World War I, Poland's liberation and mania to become a superpower while suppressing her minorities, also had problems of its own regarding life-situations, and therefore became ready to take up the slogans that that era produced. That's how it happened, that internally, everything was dealt with in the youth institution that was relevant to that time. In that fashion, they had both support and opposition, but in general, they were a united body under the name of Professional Union of Unskilled Workers.

Because of that, it is no wonder that this happened on January 25, 1925, that was designated as the next election date for the Prof. Union – a day that vanished into eternity, just as the library. This is what happened: January 25 fell on a freezing Friday. On market day, two young members of the Prof. Union and the Communist Party (Hershel Mendzelewski and Simkha Esterowicz) were strolling around the market, touching the merchandise in the wagons (the merchandise was brought by the peasants). They bought nothing but certainly left something behind. In each wagon that they had touched, they left a propaganda leaflet from the Communist Party. They kept doing that until one peasant accused them and grabbed Mendzelewski's hand; Esterowicz managed to run away. The peasant handed Mendzelewski over to the police …

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… who spread out over the city to find the fugitive and anyone else who needed to be caught. When the police went into Yontshe Kuzhnicki's house, they found him in a minute, as he prepared to throw a package of papers into the fiery oven.

The Friday and Shabbos after that, were two black, cloudy days in the community life of the city's youth.

The regular evening strolls, particularly on the Shabbos days, were completely paralyzed. If they did meet, the discussion was only about what was happening in the police stations, how they were holding the two arrested people, judged and severely punished. On Monday, the two arrested ones were taken to the prison in Pultusk. And the consequence was that the Prof. Union was shut down.

However, life didn't stop. The youth did not want to give in to the administration's will, and they took up their own struggle to forge their own path.

Soon, another permit was given to open a new institution under the name “Jewish People's Education League” that was administered under the deputyship of Noakh Prilutcki and his People's Party.

The cultural events were renewed with more zeal and diligence. A lodging was rented right in the center of the marketplace, and a library and reading room were once again established. Discussions were reopened, with literary lectures and guest speakers from Warsaw. Get-togethers on Shabbos and Yom Tov days in a warm and homey atmosphere became a set thing in the city, and almost an obligation for every young person.

At that time, there was also the establishment of a wind orchestra under the direction of the shoemaker Hershel Borenshtayn (Shustak), who, in the Czar's times, played in the people's orchestra. He probably had his skill, got the orchestra on its feet, and they blew and jingled not too badly. It goes without say that the initiative for this came from the People's Education League. And in general, the activities of …

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…the wind orchestra bore fruit and gave a glow and life to the youth element in the town.

There were also other initiatives, both before and after, but they left little influence and had a brief life. That's how it was with the “Shomer Hatzair” (a Socialist Zionist Youth [Guard] movement), that was established and directed by the “guard” Leonke Goldman. The same thing happened with the football club that even went to play a match with the Wyszkower football team. But none of these teams took root. One of the main reasons for this was the emigration of the youth.

For many years, there was a dream of an organized youth unit for the cultural activities for their own, their near ones, the town's youth – a unit that would understand the town's youth, to show and help them deepen their acquired knowledge. A sort of division and strangeness opened towards those who used to come from Warsaw, the large city, and plead for a “culture” donation in a rehearsed speech. They were hungry for intimacy and warmth between teacher and student, lecturer, and audience. This very concept, along with its provincialism and naןvetי, was at that particular moment ripe for its time and acquired more supporters also among some of the Pultusker youth, amongst whom was the poet Simkha Dan, some of the teachers of the schools, and other authorities such as the director of the Polish-Jewish Gymnasium, Dr. Lipman. It was decided to try to assemble the representatives of the institutions that had libraries and partake in cultural events without a distinct direction, but [to join with those] whose problems were basically the same. They tried to create a united committee.

From there, they sent out invitations to all the institutions in Pultusk. Serock, Nasielsk, Wyszkow, Rozan, and Krasnosielc. That means, from the Pultusker to the Makowier counties. The only response came from the Leftists of the Poalei Tzion in Pultusk, Serock, and the YFBL (yiddisher folks bildung liege) of Nasielsk, the Bundist library in Krasnosielc, and the other library there; Makow took a wait-and-see position and said they would send observers; and Wyszkow and Rozan didn't respond at all.

At the end of the winter of 1926, the meeting took place in Pultusk, and …

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… lasted for a Shabbos and a Sunday. Right from the start, the meeting didn't go smoothly, and the first obstacle already met with failure. This is what happened: In order to receive a permit, the police required a list of the participants. On that list was the name of the writer of the series and Yosef Feynboim. They were both classified as staunch Communists. The conference did receive the permit, but the political representative of the police, a former spy, came to the meetings in “all his glory,” to take notes for himself. The identified Pultuskers and their organizers, when they saw the great “honor” that was bestowed upon them with the presence of such a distinguished “personality,” wanted to withdraw unnoticed. It took a lot of energy to hold them back, but the program had to be changed. Not all the speakers were now willing to speak. And, after all that, what resulted was that a committee to publish a local newspaper would be set up for cultural issues that would be the forerunner for a larger conference.

The first issue of the newspaper was issued under the name “Unzer Vort,” in which the Serocker participated with materials and administration. The newspaper did not have much funding to succeed, and all the plans ran dry.

From Wronki, where Yonche Kuzhnicki and Hershel Mendzelewski were sent for two and a half years, sad news began to arrive. After experiencing much hunger, Mendzelewski became terribly weakened, and one evening had a stroke that went on all night without any medical attention. His friends in the cell saved him from certain death. It became urgent to mobilize anyone who was able to do anything in order to remove him from there and rush him into freedom [and help]. After many and persistent interventions from the appropriate legal rights organizations for appeals, and visiting important personalities and the head prosecutor Kyernik, the sentence was put on hold for one year. After one year, he was imprisoned again, in the Mokotower prison (in the hospital unit).

Meanwhile, one of our healthiest and most talented friends became sick, Volf Gerwer, secretary of the YFBL, no one….

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…could have imagined Gerwer as ever being sick. It soon became urgent to operate on him. He was operated on twice in the Jewish hospital. The second operation did not help him. He died, as far as I know, on September 27, 1927 (Rosh Hashana). I immediately notified our friends by telephone, and everyone gathered at the YFBL, had a meeting, conferred, and decided to go to Warsaw and give our friend his last respects.

After long negotiations with the administration of the undertakers in the Jewish division, with the active intervention of the gabbai of the synagogue Leo Finkelshtayn, we managed to get a burial plot in the cemetery in Warsaw. Because of that, the funeral took place late at night, and even here, the escorts of the deceased showed piety and love. A few neighborhoods before the cemetery, the casket was removed from the wagon, and in rows, they carried him, with a group at the head, heading into the cemetery. The burial took place late, by the light of lanterns.

April 27, 1928, a second loss upset the town. On that day, the town's active youth escorted the activist and role model Yonche Kuzhnicki to his final resting place. Up until the final minute of his tragic life, he actively maintained his position; always ready to help, although everyone knew from before that his lot was set because of his illness; nonetheless, his death unsettled everyone and they found it difficult. He, too, was escorted by the youth with great respect, as he warranted. Both of these men were given appropriate tombstones. Notwithstanding these terrible losses, the community's cultural life in the town did not cease.


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The Economy Life
(Work and Rest in the Town)

Moshe Kanarek (Azur, [Israel])

Translated by Pamela Russ

How did the Jews occupy themselves in Serock, and from what did they eke out some earnings?

The Carriers

Why was it necessarily they, the elderly Jews, who had to labor in this type of work? In general, no one complained about any type of work. The carriers worked very hard, in order to sustain their families. They carried heavy bolts of material on their shoulders, and dried themselves from sweat with their already wet scarf. When they worked in the streets, they wore torn clothing: an old jacket, a pair of torn trousers, old worn-out boots, and even the hat on his head was half torn, because while carrying the sack of wheat on his shoulders, the body was hunched over, and the burden rested on his head and tore his hat. They used to work in the streets, in the cold, rain, and heat – dirty, harried, and always tired. After unloading a shipment of flour, their clothing used to be white as snow – or black, after unloading a shipment of coal. And yet, the carriers were happy that they had work, did not have many demands in life, were happy with the daily work whenever they had that, although that was not always, because there were also critical times because of unemployment.

Shoemakers

In this profession, in Serock, scores of Jews occupied themselves. The shoemakers divided themselves into several groups, according to their quality. There were shoemakers who occupied themselves only with fixing…

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…old shoes, because they were unable to make new shoes. Also, the majority of their fathers, by whom they learned the trade, were also unable to make new shoes. Often, the work had to be done on time because there wasn't a second pair of shoes with which to change.

As soon as one entered the shoemaker's place, on the side of the window was a small, low table with the necessary work tools. Around the table – a few old wooden forms; near the table was a shoemaker's bench with three legs, and on the seat were a few rags. This was the “earnings” corner. On the other side of the room – a stove with four flames for cooking, a table, three or more beds, an old bureau and old fashioned pictures, mainly of deceased parents or other relatives.

Life looked different for the shoemakers who were “professionals” (experts). They lived in better conditions, worked with their own materials, made new shoes, and earned a better living. The work place was already in a separate area, in somewhat of an alcove. A small kitchen – and from the kitchen, a door to a more or less furnished room. The workplace itself looked like a small shop.

There were also Jews who had shoe stores.

Tailors

The needle trade in Serock held a respected position. A large portion of Jews took on the profession of tailoring. The tailor of the cheaper materials had to work very hard until he completed his daily earnings. They used to work 15 to 16 hours per day. Their work consisted only of stitching on the machine. They also didn't live in the best of means. The home based tailors who did better quality manufacturing, also worked hard. There were also “made to order” tailors, who worked according to specific measurements. With the made to measure work, there was a lot to iron. The apprentice became very upset many times before he was allowed even to heat up the iron, and the presser also sweated plenty while ironing collars and lapels from the overcoats or jackets. In tailoring…

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… the wife or grown child were also able to help (with sewing) by putting protections on seams and taking out the basting (stitches), etc.

Fruit Traders (Lessees of Fruit Orchards)

There were Jews who rented orchards from non-Jews while the fruit was being taken down and their contracts ended. At the beginning of the summer, these lessees used to drive out to the villages with their families to the rented orchards, and spend the entire summer there. Often, they would stay over until after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These fruit traders would borrow a Torah scroll, hire someone to lead the prayers, and have a quorum on the spot. The work in the orchard supported the entire family. When the fruit began to ripen, they had to protect it from thieves or ordinary harm from those who threw stones at the trees. The children used to gather the fallen apples and pears (called “spuds”).

Ripe fruit were taken off the trees, packed in boxes with straw, and put into a cellar for the winter. It's understood that even during the winter there had to be some control over the fruit, to make sure there were no rotten ones. Before Passover, the fruit traders took their merchandise to Warsaw, and after their sales, made a total calculation.

Carpenters

The Serocker carpenters made beautiful furniture. For example, Yosl Mendzelevski (Mendzelewski) made beautiful furniture and sent it to Warsaw. There were also construction carpenters who built windows and doors for houses. They often also used to take on work in the village.

Blacksmiths (Smiths)

They did ironworks on wagons, putting tires on the wheels, and blacksmithing for the horses. The season for blacksmithing for the horses was winter when the roads were slippery. The blacksmiths were big men with strong muscles from using heavy hammers to forge the iron. I remember…

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…even today the clang of the hammer on the anvil as I was going to school, and the boys used to run and look into the smithy of Reb Abba Leib Koval.

Butchers

Most of the butchers had wagons with horses. They would ride to the fairs to buy animals (cattle), slaughter them, clean them (according to the laws of kashrut), de-bone them, cut, chop, and sell the meat. It was difficult and unclean work. One had also to rise up early in the morning, be en route carrying a side of meat on his back.

Grain Merchants

They would go the market and buy up the wheat, corn, oats, barley, and later sell them with set earnings.

Village Travelers and Store Owners

These Jews used to travel to the surrounding villages buying all kinds of things from the non-Jewish residents, and from that they earned a living. There were small groceries, or other small stores. Many Jews had manufacturing places. The earnings from manufacturing were not too bad, because the non-Jewish villagers provided lots of business. There were stores of iron, lumber warehouses, and so on. Two large mills were also Jewish owned.

Shabbos (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (Holidays)

After the hard bustle of the whole week, the restfulness of Shabbos came to the town. Friday afternoon, everything would become quiet. The street prepared itself for Shabbos. Soon, Reb Lazar the beadle, may his memory be blessed, would go into the street, and belt out his beautiful melody that still rings in my ears, and say, “Jews, it's time to light the candles.” When it was only…

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…beginning to get dark, the Jews would go to the synagogue to pray – each one, beautiful, clean, dressed well – Jewish hats, long coats, with the feel of Shabbos and Yom Tov.

In Poland there were Jews, famous for being persecuted, but they kept up the traditions nonetheless.

The traditions in Serock – as in all other Jewish settlements in Poland – were strictly followed, starting with making the dishes kosher, getting rid of all the leavened food for Passover, conducting a beautiful seder, buying greenery for the holiday of Shavuot in order to beautify the house, baking cheese cakes, and generally following all the holidays throughout the year. Particularly memorable is Yom Kippur, the mood in the house before Kol Nidre [prayer for Yom Kippur evening], when our parents would bless us and wish that we have only good health and that nothing bad befall us. The big synagogue is filled with congregants, hundreds of candles are lit, and a holy silence reigns.

The Zionist Youth in Serock

In Serock, there was a well developed youth. In conjunction with the fact that in Poland great anti-Semitism ruled, some of us saw that in Poland there was no great future. The goal for a great number of youth in Poland was (to move to) the Land of Israel. The Zionist organizations had a great effect. In Serock, there was a center (nest) for the Beitar movement, which totaled about 200 youths. The director of the center was Avraham Shpilke (Spilka). He was a young man, soaked in Torah and wisdom. There was also Shomer Hatzair, with a fine group of youth. Hashomer Haleumi, an organization of religious youth, and Hekhalutz Hamizrakhi.

The youth would come to these organizations and there would immerse themselves in the Yiddish-Zionist ideology. There were meetings, readings, discussions. They learned about Jewish and Zionist history.

There were several youths who left their homes, and went on “Hakhshara,” a preparation for a certain type of people to do farm work. After two years of Hakhshara, this youth was ready for Aliyah [moving, Heb. “rising up”] to the Land of Israel. There was a certain number of certificates distributed. There were also youths from Serock who left to Israel.

Each organization had a library where one received…

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…books to read, and a wall-newspaper where one could write articles. The youth in Serock knew that he was part of a large camp that should and must bring an end to the exile.

On Lag b'Omer [holiday marking 33rd day from second day of Passover], there was a tradition that all the youth in the city went on an excursion a few kilometers outside the city. At 5 a.m., they all assembled in a large place, dressed in their uniforms, and each bearing the flag of their own organization. Each group had its own flag. Nicely and appropriately dressed, we stood at the head, with a Jewish orchestra and with song, and we left for the entire day. When we arrived at the place, we set up camp, and spent the entire day with games and contests.

What an exceptional impression it made when approximately 1000 youths arrived back in the town. Really, like an army. People and uniforms. With song, everyone marched proudly in rhythmic step. Each one of us felt like a fighter for our own home.

In Serock, there was also a football team and orchestra. We learned to swim, took part in many sport activities, etc. There was also a drama circle that produced many different plays, with the direction of Avrohom Yezumbeck, Sabina Tik, Aharon Tz'esner (Czesner), etc.

A Stroll Through the Serocker Marketplace and the Surrounding Area

At the beginning of the marketplace, (there was) a yard with a few families. Hillel Katzav, Tuvia Barnshtayn (Barnstein), Avrohom Vellner, Yisroel Barnshtayn (Barnstein). More: Khatzkel Mendzelevski and his family, Yaakov Aryeh Temess, Khaim Rosenberg, and Itche Meir the Mohel (circumciser). At the end, Brakha Malka's daughter had a grocer. Opposite that was the family Novogrodski (the kasha maker), the Pupaver baker Hershel Grossman, the spats stitcher and the leader of the prayers. At the other end, there was the family Leviner, Baila Shmeunz with her good shutters, Brakha Malka and her crockery store, Menakhem Kronenberg, a fine Jewish man and his family, Itche Meir Solyarzh, Yankel Yonish, Meir Pshikorski (the tinsmith), Borukh Yosef and his dairy store, and the family Shpilke. At the edge near the main road, the grocery…

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… of Leviner, in the basement Kalina's bakery, and a storehouse for wood. Opposite that, was the family Kaluski, the family Varshavski (Warszawski), past the bakery was Veinshtok (Weinstock), the poor barber. There was a monopoly, a liquor store, that was in Jewish hands, with family Kuperboim. Farther at the end was the coal warehouse of a religious family, Yaakov Dovid Millshtayn (Millstein). His son, Yehuda Millshtayn (Millstein), with his partisan history (is now in Israel). On “the other side,” as it was called, was the large mill of Moshe Rosenberg, the cabinets of Khana Margolis, and near them the Faskovitzes (Faskowiczs). At the end of that, on the other side, lived my grandmother, Khaim Kiva's Esther Rokhel, with the grandchildren Shmuel Shimon Shifman, and his sister Khana Yitl.

On the second side, beyond the non-Jewish cemetery, was the beautiful house of the Granyevitzes (Graniewiczs). Farther down, the new house, that Hoffman built, and Vishnyevitz's (Wisniewcz's) butcher shop. At the end, was a soda shop. I remember from there Khavale, the cousin of Pinyevski (Pniewski), and the rats, the parents of Yosef Pinyevski (Masha was my sister's friend), and Yankel Stelmakh's family with the name Konkol. Farther, the familiar yard of Yankel Rosenberg. It was homey there. That was the location of the Hashomer Hatzair and Hashomer HaLeumi organizations. The shoe and tailoring store of Itche Shvartz (Schwartz). The businesses: Leibel Liss, Yaakov Zlotogorski, Moshe and Pesakh Shneider, Shimon Mendzelevski, Yosl the cabinetmaker, Khaim Mintz. In the market: Yaakov Aryeh the cabinetmaker, Roiza the laundress, Rabbi Morgenshtern (Morgenstern), Motl the butcher and his sons, and Faige's Mala Baila. Jewish fishermen lived by the Narov (Narew) River: the Kanareks, Khaim the fisherman, Alter the fisherman, Yankel the fisherman, Hershel the fisherman, Yekhiel the fisherman. There also lived a family Khaim Melnik, and Baila Leah Linker.


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Serock city of my youth

Aharon Czesner/Tz'esner (Haifa)

Transalted by Sara Mages

A typical Jewish town located in the heart of Poland where Jews lived for many generations. Most of the Jews were Hassidim and men of action who loved the “Jewish community” and devoted their hearts and souls to the Torah and tradition. Among them were scholars who studied the Torah day and night, and were ready at all times to give their lives on the sanctification of God's name.

There were few affluent rich Jews. The Jews of the middle class were engaged, as in most of the towns in Poland, in lumber, grain and livestock trading. Many were shopkeepers and craftsmen who worked between twelve to fourteen hours a day to find bread and clothing for their families. The rest were the poor whose livelihood came from the “fair” – the regular weekly market day. There were quite a few craftsmen who didn't have the means to build a workshop to support their family members – they wandered around the villages with their few tools every day of the week, and return on Friday afternoon to bring the meager income needed to support their families. They were called “village peddlers.” There were also two mechanical flour mills – one belonged to R' Moshe Rosenberg and the other to my father-in-law, R' Brill Itzcowicz, May they rest in peace. They employed many Jews and supported them with dignity.

The city of Serock is located between the Polish capital Warsaw and the district city of Pu³tusk besides to two beautiful rivers, the Narew and the Bug. The city's residents were proud of the beautiful landscapes and the rivers, and pointed to the “water line” which passed in the middle and separates the two rivers that united not far from the city, as if each one keeps its own independence. They saw it as the symbol of both nations – the Jews and the Poles – who lived together in the city of Serock, keeping their own independence and culture. The wooded green hills that adorned the city infused a special charm and served as a place for trips and recreation for the Jewish youth who was healthy and developed in body and spirit, and like all teenagers - was inclined to romance.

Over the years, the influence of city of Warsaw increased. The Polish government wanted to spread its culture among the national minorities, and accelerate their assimilation within the Polish people.

The children and youth who studied in the Polish schools, and the adults who read Polish newspapers and books, knew, of course, about the Polish national heroes, its kings,

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poets and authors – but the heroes of ancient Israel and Jewish figures from the national revival period were strangers to them. They didn't know about Herzl the founder of Political Zionism, and didn't hear about Ahad Ha'am [Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg]. They didn't see the “Auto-Emancipation” of Leon [Yehudah Leib] Pinsker, and didn't read the poems of Bialik and Tchernichovsky - also Brenner and Borochov were strangers to most of the youth and adults.

But, there was a core of “Hahalutz Hale'umi” [national pioneers] in the city who didn't come to terms with the current situation - he knew that this wasn't the way and was anxious for the fate of the Jewish youth and the future of Jewish children.

Meanwhile, the ground began to “burn” right under our feet. The Polish anti-Semitism, which was passive during the first years of Poland's revival and was mostly satisfied with the distribution of newspaper articles and books – became aggressive and endangered the lives of the Jews, their economy and spirit. Over time, stores and workshops were founded by anti-Semitic Poles who placed gangs of hooligans at the entrances of Jewish shops and workshops. They incited them by force and deprived them of their livelihood. Matters reached came to attacks on Jews in public gardens, in the universities, and also on Jewish children who were studying in the states elementary and high-schools. We, the youth group of

 

A group of Zionist activities

From right to left:
Standing: Yehiel Jonisz, Aharon Paskowicz, Yehiel Meir Warszawski-Weridman, Yehoshua David Bobek
Sitting: Bluma Rosenberg-Markus, Chaya Jonisz-Godes, Dr. Chaim Inwentarz, Chana Feinbaum-Paskoricz, the visitor Dr. Lipman, Bila Buber.
Sitting: Sara Wolinski, Leah Warszawski, Tova Wierniky

 

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“Hahalutz Hale'umi” aspired to bring the Jewish children and precious youth closer to the source of our origin, to instill in them a national pride, to teach them the values of Jewish culture and saved them from assimilation and idleness in the presence of the arrogant Poles. We aspired to educate the Jewish youth in the spirit of national revival, train them for immigration to Israel and for productive life in the Diaspora and in Israel. In meetings and gatherings, at parties and conversations with individuals, we managed to conquer a large portion of our good youth. We planted in them a belief in their future in Israel, the aspiration for Israel, and we wanted them to walk straight and not to be afraid from the anti-Semites and the hooligans.

Members of “Hanoar Hatzioni” [Zionist Youth] excited the hearts and devoted themselves to “Keren HaKayemet LeYisrael” [The National Fund], “Keren Hayesod” [United Israel Appeal], “Hakhshara” [pioneer training] kibbutzim, and the distribution of Jewish culture among the assimilated. Unfortunately, many of them perished during the days of the Holocaust and didn't realize their aspirations. And these are some of my dear friends whose memory will always stay with me. I will always see them alive before my eyes each time I think about them - and it is impossible not to think about them – and they are: Avraham Rosenberg, Aharon Paskowicz, Yehezkel Friedman, Simcha Friedman, Meir Muszkatenblit, Leah Warszawska, Henia

 

The Zionist Youth Flower Day for “Keren HaKayemet LeYisrael”

From right to left: Bracha Pienik, Rivka Kuligowski, Eliezer Erenbaum, Rivka Rosenberg, Yisrael Pienik, Hana Charmilaz, Shmuel-Shalom Borenstein, Yente Szpilka.
Sitting: Yosef Tykolski, Yehiel Meir Warszawski-Vardimon, Yitzchak Friedman.
Sitting: Meir Kronenberg, Yosef Sterdiner

 

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Rosenberg, the other young women who collaborated with us, and the dear gentle souls who were plucked at the prime of their lives: Regina Rosenberg, Mania Barab, Regina Kuperbaum, Ester Kuperbaum, Nechama Katz – the fine group which was affectionately called - the “package”; and, May they live long: Genya Lewiner and my wife Rachel Itzcowicz who were rewarded to fulfill their dream and aspiration. They immigrated to Israel to build and be built.

I'm happy when I see the activists from our association who were rewarded to fulfill their oath and realize the dream of their youth in our country, and they are- the brothers Hanoch and Yehiel Meir Warszawski. Hanoch (who changed his surname to Vardi), enlisted in the “Haganah” and the Jewish Brigade to rescue the survivors and avenge our enemies. Yehiel Meir (who changed his surname to Vardimon), a cultural Zionist since his youth who was rewarded to realize his pioneering aspiration and settled as a farmer in Kfar Vitkin. I will also mention our friend Eliezer Hasman, a veteran Zionist who underwent pioneer training, immigrated to Israel and was rewarded to establish a family there and live the life of toil and respect.

Many of the youth that followed us went to “Hakhshara” kibbutzim, and didn't submit to their wealthy parents who urged them to emigrate to America and Australia. They immigrated to Israel, joined the camp of builders and fighters and together with thousands others, who were loyal to the ideology of their youth, laid the foundations for Israel's independence and the State of Israel. I see before my eyes the emotional sights when we accompanied our friends who immigrated to Israel. The warm hand shakes, the eyes shining from tears, and the stormy Hora [Israeli folk dance] in our city's train station. And I will never forget our beloved friends who stayed behind and weren't rewarded to realize their aspiration and dream. Their names will be remembered for eternity!

I was in Serock for eight years during my beautiful and vibrant youth. I was influenced by the city's beautiful scenery and the splendor of its nature. I convinced my girlfriend to leave her rich parents - the home of Brill Itzcowicz – who was respected by the people.
She followed me and joined the circle of activists, at first she became a pioneer and then my wife. We immigrated together to Israel and built our home at the foot of Mount Carmel.

I'm asking for forgiveness from my friends that I didn't mention because of lack of space…

With sacred emotion I bring up the memory of my wife's family: the father Brill Itzcowicz, the mother Biltza, May they rest in peace; my wife's brother, Meir, a member of “Hanoar Hatzioni” who stubbornly refused to obey the Germans and didn't want to be a Kapo and beat the workers. He suffered severe beatings but stood the test of a martyr. When he was transferred in a closed railway car along with thousands of other tortured Jews, he jumped off the moving train and was shot and killed. The uncle Moshe Silberstein, his wife Shifra, and their only daughter Alti'le who were killed by the hands of impure villains. May their memory be blessed!


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Memories of Our Childhood Years

Sh. Rozental (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Pamela Russ

It was in the 1920s. I remember the day well, it was a Friday. The door was thrown open and Dube'le, our neighbor, stood there wringing her hands and called out to my mother: “Dvoire, my crown! Dvoire, my life! The town is burning! It's a fire, a terrible tragedy has befallen us!” Motel the shamash arrived from the marketplace, exhausted, carrying the fish in his red kerchief. In his hoarse voice, he hurriedly told us the entire story, saying that some young shkutzim (non-Jewish troublemakers): the oil maker's son, the grain merchant's son, and another lunatic, decided to throw treife (non-kosher) leaflets into the wagons in the marketplace. The police noticed this going on, and with their whips, they invited all those troublemakers to really partake in this spectacle. The entire road of the marketplace and the surrounding area was covered with blood. The oil maker's son suffered most – the tall foreman packed him into his garret, both of his hands loaded with the “golden material” ….

After the neighbor left our house, I asked my mother what had happened. I received the answer that one cannot run away from kheder (school) and whoever does so will be caught by the police. That summer my mother brought me to the kheder, to Avrohom Leyb the teacher. The Rebbe sat me at a long table where two rows of boys were seated. A wooden stick stood in one corner where the Rebbe would “send” those who committed a misdemeanor, after twisting their ears. Every day, the Rebbetzen Tchortel (the Rebbe's wife) would put a bowl of hot water onto the Rebbe's table, and then bring thin, old pieces of bread. The Rebbe ate and learned with us. Every Friday we would be free after learning for half a day.

Once my mother gave me a small, white sack and asked me to take it to my father at the mill. There I saw what looked like a circus of wagons, going in and going out, weighing, and pouring out grains. The first one to …

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… notice me there was the boss himself, Moishe Rozenberg. He looked at me quickly with two kind eyes, and called out: “Eliyahu Aron! Your son is here!” My father had no time for me, so Moishe Rozenberg came over to me, pinched my cheek, asked me about my kheder, took me by the hand, and led me into the mill. I came back to my mother with great effort, all sweaty and white from the scattered flour because the sack was old and weak. That's how every Friday I was a comfortable visitor to Moishe Rozenberg's mill. The boss's wife would be upset with her youngest son Khono (today in Israel) because he didn't want to go to kheder, and because he was covered in tar from bathing in the water vapor near the mill. And here comes Khono'le with a piece of dry, rye bread in his mouth. My father would always mention this to us at home and complain that he is a bigger spender [was more generous] than his boss. We were careful with our monies all the years, but not for ourselves. Some fine people already sensed this, came to my father “by chance” with a serious face, did some sort of business from which my father always came away a “shaved one,”and with that he was even well beaten up. That reckoning day, for which my father was always afraid, and he wondered how he would ever be free of his boss, finally came. One frosty Shabbos at dawn in the year 1926 the mill burned down, and with the smoke his job disappeared as well.

I came to the kheder to Yehuda Leyb the teacher. His wife and my father were sister and brother. I did not have any special privileges with my uncle. Not only once did I receive a smack. But I did have a little bit of good fortune in that my father did test me on the portion of the khumash (sedra) only once a week – Thursday afternoons. I had to review well until that time. My uncle Yehuda Leyb, of blessed memory, was a kohein. He had a sharp eye, saw everything, and woe to the one that tried to whisper or help out his friend. My current Rebbe always suffered from heartburn. Summers and winters he would drink soda and eat farina with milk. Whichever of the students would …

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… make trouble, would receive – other than smacks – also a load of curses with rich, but soft whippings. This didn't mean that he wasn't beloved by the whole family and everyone was proud of his fables and stories. Because of her small stature, my aunt was called Sheine Rukhe'le. She would never sleep, but would nap sitting up, as a hen lehavdil (to differentiate) at night. At night she would strip the tallow and make soap from it, and then late at night she would go by wagon to the neighboring towns to sell it.

With my other uncle, Dovid Berl, my mother's brother, we were not as friendly because of his wife, Aunt Miriam, who was very stern. Whatever she said, you had to agree, otherwise she would become angry. She had a nature to give examples and descriptions: “this thing,” and “that thing” – words from the intelligent one. In the family she had the name “Santa Maria.” My father's brother, Dovid Berl, was the opposite of my father, he was a man strongly in this world. He trimmed his beard into a Van Dyke, and his clothes shone on him. His black patent leather boots lit up the cobblestones, and he had a majestic walk, with an adorned stick in his hand. In this house, no one would dishonor the father's chair (by sitting on it), and every Shabbos or Yom Tov after the meal, it would be very quiet because the father was sleeping. My uncles prayed with my father in the same place, the Mizrachi shtiebel, in Yekel Rozenberg's house, where his partner Yekhiel Rozenberg set the tone. Yekhiel Rozenberg, temperamental by nature, loved festive occasions, feasts with many people. He loved when the community celebrated on an ordinary Shabbos, let alone on a Yom Tov. For Hershel Grossman the spat maker's reciting the prayer of “omar rab elozor” or an “ovinu malkeinu” he would pledge a keg of beer, a shtof (one tenth of a vedro [A Russian liquid measure, equal to 3.249 gallons of a U.S. standard measure]) of whiskey or wine, and others would follow his example but in a lesser manner. The tall Tzalke was the waiter and brought beer, wine, and so on. The gabbai Khaim Hersh, the painter, was always in a good mood. There were plenty of baalei tefilos (those who led the prayers): Alter the grain producer, Yehoshua Hofman the glazier, and my father Dovid Berl, who prayed loudly in the Sirota style [Gershon Sirota was a famous cantor in Europe, 1874-1943]. My uncle Yehuda Leyb was responsible for the “Linat Hazedek” (medical assistance society) that the entire town used for a tabernacle/dwelling place, for hot water bottles, cupping, and so on.

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There was a Jewish “doctor”who practiced for many years in Serock, his name was Yisroel Shmuel. He was a shoemaker by profession, and he would stitch up shoes until late into the night in order to be able to earn his lowly livelihood. If someone would fall ill in town, he would quickly remove his shoemaker apron, and as quick as an arrow leaves its bow, he would run to the patient. Yisroel Shmuel would treat by cupping, alcohol compresses, massages, guinea pigs[1], leeches, and all kinds of herbs. He would never take any payment for this, would throw back the few coins, and would become angry at anyone who tried to give him anything. Even the non-Jews would wake him up in the middle of the night to take care of their sick ones.

Other than shoemakers, tailors, fishers, blacksmiths, orchard lessees, and teachers, the Jews in town had a strength behind them – the Didaks. These were three brothers with sons and daughters. All of them were blessed by God with physical strength, and so with that they would protect the lives and honor of all the Jews in the entire town. The oldest one, Shia Didak, was then in his fifties – tall, broad-shouldered, an absolute giant. He worked with horses, and not once did he end up in an argument with the Polaks at a fair. He would win all the arguments simply because of his strength – basically, as they grabbed a swingletree from the wagons, he would beat them on the right and left. He had a slow gait. All his life, he and his son would carry heavy sacks. Yankel Didak's sons were the wagon drivers. Exceptionally thin, but the entire town would tremble before them. The third brother, Moishe Didak, and his sons, were breakers of bones. By nature, they were pretty calm as long as you didn't step on their skin, and they would fight until “wet,” that means that with knives and daggers they would show respect for parents [meaning, they would really show what they could do]. Aside from that, they had great respect and would go through fire for their enlightened small-town sister of whom the entire family was very proud, who was active in the Peretz Library that was in the marketplace next door to the shoemaker Shtajnski. Here, all the workers' sons, those who “were caught up in the issue” (of the enlightenment) would gather. But, even those sons of the wealthier families would come – those such as Volf Gerwer, the Kapecz brothers, Yancze Kuznicki, Yosel Fajnboim, Feivel Borob, and so on.

This youth was lively and dynamic. Almost every week there was a reading on a political or literary theme. …

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… In the Peretz Library, there was also a drama circle that would perform in City Hall on the Pultusk main road. The lively, spirited person there was Shloime, Baila Shim'es (Ostrowski), a strongly built and always happy person. With sacrifice and talent, he would play a main part in the theater; he loved football. During the entire match, like a little boy, he would chase the ball with the players, and work himself hard, hands and feet, and shout “Pass it to him! Go get him!” Many times it happened innocently that people would get a shove in the side or a kick in the leg. Matches with teams from other cities began with parades through the entire town with a band at its head, where all the different layers of the Jewish population were represented.

The soul of the orchestra was Hershel the carpenter. He gathered in his house all the youth who played the wind instruments …

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… as a livelihood. In the evenings after work, he taught them to play until he was proud of them. Not waiting for the Polaks and for their Polish holiday of November 11, he appeared in the streets of Serock at the head of a Jewish orchestra. The Polaks clenched their teeth out of envy and humiliation, but it didn't help. When they played the Polish anthem “Jeszcze Polska,” they removed the hats from their heads. In that way, they unwillingly gave respect to the Jews (Zhides) and their orchestra.

As was mentioned, the Mizrachi shul was located in Yekel Rozenberg's house. All the Jewish Zionist organizations were there: Hashomer Haleumi, Beitar, and Hashomer Hatzair, where it was always humming with youth in scouts', colorful clothes. The exercises in the Napoleon mountains, at the foot of the Narew, the Hora dances and singing deafened the Warsaw road. Children of the people yearned for Zion but didn't live to see it: Zishe Zukor, Shakhne Fridman, Khaskele Fridman, Yehoshua Hofman. Everyone carried a deep faith in his heart and was tolerant. When the Peretz Library organized a “Flower Day,” the Zionists also participated, and even came to their readings. From time to time, they would organize debates in town. I remember one day, the first to go to the podium was the Rav and he called the people to repent (teshuva), and the second person was Khanokh Warsawski (today in Israel), and he told everyone to leave the exile and return to Zion (Israel). The last to step forward was Khaim Kapecz. He always spoke like a philosopher. We said at that time that his Rebbe was Bakunin [Mikhael Bakunin, famous Russian revolutionary]. Understandably, he called for everyone to remain and to fight for a “better tomorrow.”

I was ten years old and I was privileged to have my father as my teacher. This was not the first school where my father taught. As I remember, my father taught in a school and in a kindergarten in 1922 in the house of Hendzhe then in Yankel Zadik's house on the mountain, and in the old Rav's house. The students called my father “Moreh.” My father was fair with the students, never lifting a hand to them. The rascals would not always use this behavior properly. Boys would also learn to write Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew, and to do bookkeeping. Aside from all these shortcomings that my father …

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A walk through the town.
Among them are Yenta Szpilke, Soro Kohn, and Soro Szpilke

… had his whole life, which they would tease him about, and that all his businesses went up in smoke, my father defined himself as an enlightened person in those times. Later his students became the backbone of the entire socialist life. When they would meet their former “Moreh,” they would treat him the greatest respect.

When my father received the news that I too was “caught up in the issue,” he took me for a walk behind the town, told me to rethink all this, and advised me to learn what would give me Paradise in my lifetime. I was deaf to his truthful words, unfortunately.

One Friday, Jancze Kuznicki and his friends were arrested. After a few years in prison, he was freed, but he coughed up blood. He looked at his friends benevolently, as if they would have said: “Yeah, personally I've done my time for the 'holy cause,' now it's your turn to pull the wagon.” In the middle of one Thursday night, his soul left him. The funeral was the following day. A tombstone was placed on his grave where a tree was etched with the familiar cut off branches as a symbol of his being cut off early from this earth.

 


Translator's Footnote

  1. Guinea pigs (yam khazerlech): Folk doctors [in the Andes] employ the black guinea pig to determine the cause of illness—pressed against an ailing body. The animal reportedly squeals when it finds the source of disease. http://polymer.chph.ras.ru/asavin/swinki/gvp.pdf Return


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The Shtetl until WW II

Yakov Brukhanski (New York)

Translated by Pamela Russ

At the foot of a mountain range called “Napoleon Mountains,” right beneath, flowed the Narew River, where in the center it joined and flowed together with the larger Bug River. Above that, the town of Serock spread itself out comfortably. With the glow of the water, it [Serock] appeared as if it were the landscape of a master painter. Once, when we came out of there after a summer swim, through the mountains, the first thing that greeted you was the warm, homey, four-cornered built-up marketplace, and from there to the town's center – the Kosciuszki and May Third streets that were inhabited by more than 95% Jewish residents, approximately 600 families. The town was about 800 years old, and was always a Jewish settlement that drew its earnings from small businesses, such with basic needs, workers, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, wagon drivers, and others who lived off the Jewish townspeople and the Polish city and village population.

There were almost no large factories in the town of Serock. Because there was no railroad line, larger industry was unable to develop. The nearest train was 7 kilometers behind the town near Port Zegrze. For the same reason, many of the young adults left to Warsaw to find work, or to the closer town, Legionowo. By far, most of them stayed at home in Serock where they found businesses.

The children received their basic schooling primarily in Cheder [a traditional Jewish school], and also in the more modern Agudah or public cheder, and with the private Hebrew teachers or religious teachers. For the last 10 years before World War II, more Jewish children started to study in the new Polish Povshechner school [Polish public school]. A large part of the intellectual spirit of the youth was taken over by the Zionist organizations and other cultural organizations, and also the People's Education League with a…

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…large library, sports club, and drama circle. Altogether, this resulted in an intelligent, well-known group of youth, with a good name in the area.

For a large part of sport and entertainment, the young people used the river and the so-called Napoleon Hills; starting with the cheder children's Lag b'Omer celebration with fireworks, to the “Shomer” groups [These are the Leftist groups, such as the Shomer Hatzair, etc.] and “Bais” groups [These are the more Right groups, such as Bais Yaakov, etc.], gymnastic exercises and drills, to secret gatherings and meetings. In a span of many generations, have these mountains absorbed much joy, love, and fantasy from these spirited Jewish Serocker youth.

The Warsaw highway or May Third Street was always the most beloved place for the strollers on Shabbos and Yom Tov [holidays]. The density of numbers grew when guests arrived from the big towns for Yom Tov so that they could cozy up to their homes in the small towns that always drew them and tied them with thousands of strings.

With the arrival of a new Catholic priest to Serock, a new Nationalist Democratic [known as the ND Party] anti-Semitic party was established, that quickly became settled in. As in the other Polish cities, the plague spread quickly and gave rise to many hooligan ambushes and boycotts of Jewish stores, in order that the perpetrators become beloved to their Nazi neighbors who were first to demonstrate how this is done. Thanks to the well-prepared town's Jewish self-defense of the youth and the strong hand of the butchers and wagon drivers, heroism was demonstrated on several occasions as they gave back strong beatings to the village peasants who instigated fights.

 

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