The pioneering movement in Rachov began with a handful of boys, 12-13 years old, brought together by the Zionist Organization, which had been in the town for several years. Its clubhouse served us as our first meeting place, and its members were our counselors. For half a year we attended evening classes in Hebrew, organized by Shmuel and, on his departure for study, by Hershl Diamant. These were the first buds of extensive youth activities which came into being, one after another.
Our meetings were in themselves a new world. Our concepts broadened, and we clung to the ideas and life modes of the movement, which were in complete contradiction with our education at home. Each of us kept his membership in the movement secret from his parents. Our clothes remained as they were. During the day we attended the general school and the heder, and in the evenings we came together for a variety of activities, chiefly learning Hebrew.
We drew near to sport circles. The town already had soccer teams consisting of the older men from the trade unions. The young Poles had a team which played ours. However, the club we founded was for getting together rather than playing. Shimek Rosenberg was our coach.
When Shmuel returned from his studies, the Hechalutz Hatzair took quarters of its own. Zionist activities drew members from all levels. Hechalutz existed until the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Zionist youth movements reached their peak with the opening of the Tarbut Hebrew School. This was the level at which old and young met. The school was the strongest unifying factor in the town.
On Lag Baomer of 1930, the year when Shmuel organized the first grade in the
Tarbut School, we had our first hike to the forest, dressed in the uniform of
the movement. This was a triumphal march, a demonstration of our existence.
Everyone talked about it, and we drew enough inspiration from the event to
energize the movement for many years.
The growth of Tarbut drew many people to the Zionist movement and its youth. First, the parents and relatives of the pupils. We also had to equip the school for teaching the higher grades. The teaching staff as well as the movement stalwarts had to look for financial sources to cover the costs, since the tuition fees paid by the parents were wholly insufficient.
This spurred the community to further activity. A Drama Circle was formed an old time tradition of amateur artists. Yudl Bornstein and his friends put on stage shows as far back as the turn of the century, followed by Manis Brafman and his group. The proceeds of the shows were used to cover the school deficit. Attendance at rehearsals and the participation of the audience drew many into our camp.
The teachers contributed to this program by giving weekly lectures on general subjects; public debates were held on current issues, and "Question Evenings" were highly popular. Each teacher enriched the cultural life of the community to the extent of his ability, and the townspeople as well as the students regarded him as a pillar of education. This came to the fore particularly during elections to the Zionist Congress or the Seym (Polish Parliament). The number of votes given to the Zionist lists was always larger than the numbers registered in the Zionist movements. This also reflected positively on the fundraising campaigns.
Gradually the parents came around to understanding their children better, but they could have been more helpful and thereby perhaps led to their own exodus from the Nazi hell.
The constant yearning for the realization of the Zionist ideal aliya to Eretz-Yisrael was an invaluable incentive. It gave us physical and emotional strength to hold out during all the trials and tribulations of the war years and the havoc which they created.
The Summer Colony
In 1932 several of our Hechalutz branch members were in training. The "Hechalutz Hatzair" was also organized into its components; it even had a library of its own.
We were also asked to send two young members from the "Youth" group to the summer camp organized in Yozefov, about 18 kilometers away from us. We had some difficulty when it came to selecting the candidates for the camp. Actually everyone wanted to go, but not everyone was willing or able to withstand the pressure of the parents, who opposed these activities and were now stricken with the "calamity" of not having us at home for three solid weeks. This really called for daring. Finally it was unanimously decided that Zev and I go to the camp. We left secretly, on foot (there was no regular transportation). The steamboat which plied the river on Sundays from Annopol to Warsaw was of no use to us. The camp had already opened two days earlier, and we were already late.
The camp was in an isolated house, outside the town. It had quarters for sleeping and studying. We felt the spirit of fellowship, and we enjoyed meeting young people from other towns. The counselors were Hayim Freid of Kibbutz Kiletz and A. Pialkov from the "Hechalutz Hatzair" headquarters.
Half a day at work paid for all our expenses. We worked in one of the famous
apple orchards in the area. We also picked large plums, which were packed and
shipped to the large cities (perhaps even abroad). The other half-day we spent
studying, as set by the counselors, mainly Hebrew and chapters in the history
of Zionism and the labor-movement in Eretz-Israel and abroad. Every day was
important to us. We were afraid that the parents would come and haul us home
before the summer camp was over.
My parents apparently accepted the fact that they couldn't stop my activity in the movement, but Zev's folks vehemently demanded that he come back home, a week before the end. To our sorrow he had to leave, so as not to worsen the conflict with his parents. The same happened in other cases.
In this summer camp, the first in our region, we didn't waste time, as on such occasions in general. We used the time for work and study. Every hour we could spare from work was spent in studying and talking. On the last evening only did we live it up. The atmosphere was generally inspiring. We were looked upon to continue the instructive work in the branches. The movement was in its infancy, and instructors were scarce. We couldn't expect others to do this for us. Adolescent boys became counselors to the younger groups. It was quite a burdensome task; the counselor had to bear it at home and in the branch. But the fact that the counselors and their charges were only a few years apart in age engendered an atmosphere of harmony and effervescence. It drew many young people to our ranks; those were our most beautiful years in the town. We exchanged opinions about the world around us, at times going into hot debate, which did not impair good relations. Everyone had ample opportunity to be active in the branch and share in its problems. Everything was done with devotion, motivated as we were by the prospects of a better future and the realization of our dreams for a new life.
In Kibbutz Borochov in Bendin
After years of fervent activity in our movements, particularly the pioneers, there came a letdown because of the curtailment of aliya. Fellows left the training kibbutzim and went home. The older among them married and settled down. The contact with the branch was broken. Others joined other movements. Most of them came together for social occasions, to pass the time away. Most of the fellows who were reared in "Hechalutz", "Hechalutz Hatzair", "Betar" and the Zionist Organization now gathered about the Tarbut School, which had already graduated four classes. The school became the center of Zionist activity; it served the school children during the day, and we took over in the evenings, Saturdays and holidays. The teachers contributed greatly to the consolidation of the community around the pioneering movement in Zionism.
This was the situation in June 1935 when I left for training in Bendin. Few went in for hachshara only those who intended going into regular kibbutz living, once they attained aliya. Kibbutz life became more solid. We lived in a wooden hut outside the town, subject to the attacks of the Endeks in the area. At one time they threw a bomb at the building; by a miracle no one was hurt. Our girls never ventured forth without male escort.
Conditions economics, living quarters and sanitation improved with the arrival of Efrati, from Kfar Giladi, the emissary sent by the kibbutz, a man with many years of sound kibbutz experience. With his help we wrought radical changes in our mode of living all of them for the better.
Life went on as if this was the reason for our coming. No one spoke about aliya. During the three years I spent in the Bendin kibbutz, none of us made his aliya. But in 1938 they began disappearing, mysteriously. Three were sent to establish a new group in Gdynia. Another received a telegram telling him that his mother was ill, and he went back home. This was the time that Aliya Bet came into being. Later I learned that most of my comrades in the Bendin camp were able to reach Eretz-Israel before the outbreak of the war.
Rachov had always maintained deep consciousness and genuine concern for the growing generation. As far back as the 18th Century, Rachov's Jewish community leaders, with the strong support of all its members, attempted to consummate this concern with a plea to the authorities to allow "the existence of schools and teachers" for all the children in the region. This petition, embodied in an official document of the period, was signed by 76 Jews... the 20 Christians whose names appear on the document, as well, refused to sign the petition" (except for the nobleman Josef Grabovski, then the proprietor of the estate). This attempt failed, but the Jewish children of Rachov didn't stop their schooling.
Certainly every Jewish child in our town, even in the period of want and impoverishment in the 1930's, was to be found in some framework of education. The community had a variety of schools, where secular subjects were also taught, as well as the hadorim. One document mentions that R. Aharon Burstein applied to the authorities for permission to teach reading and writing in his school; many of his colleagues were doing this "on the sly". In the mid-1920's the "modern school" (Beth Jacob) for boys was established (not to be confused with the girls' School network of the same name founded by the pious), with a full-day program of studies and a variegated curriculum of general studies and Modern Hebrew; the school was given recognition by the authorities.
In the mid-1930's, a few years before the Holocaust, the community chose Rabbi Shmarva Finzterbush. a graduate of the famous Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin, to be its spiritual leader. Rabbi Finzterbush accomplished much in his efforts to develop a network of institutions for religious education: a general Talmud Torah; Beth Jacob school (for girls); a preparatory-school for Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin, this being his crowning achievement and an attraction to students from the outside, as well. Enrolment reached 500. Incoming students were lodged in a dormitory. Because of budgetary limitations, only a few of the applicants could be accommodated.
The General "Government" School
In November 1918, when Poland gained its independence, a compulsory system of education was introduced as part of the state program. Rachov set up a general school of four grades. In the 12 schools of the municipality there were 1049 pupils, of which only six were Jewish.
When the Rachov authorities registered all the children under the compulsory education law, they found that the Jewish children would comprise a large majority of the pupil population, since 80% of the town's inhabitants were Jews. This, they realized, would give the parents the right to demand certain rights, such as school sessions on Sunday instead of the Sabbath, the appointment of Jewish teachers, and Judaica studies. The authorities thereupon used a stratagem, flooding the schools with children from the surrounding villages, forcing some of them to travel 8 to 10 kilometers by wagon, each way.
The small number of Jewish pupils did not induce many of the townspeople to send their children to the "Gentile school". As far as the pious Jews in Rachov were concerned, the compulsory schooling was an evil decree, designed to lead Jewish children to the baptismal font. From the outset, there were certain conditions which kept pious Jewish families and these were the majority in Rachov from sending their youngsters to the "general" school: Attendance on Sabbaths and holidays and at "lessons in religion", taught by the Catholic priest, was compulsory. The few Jewish children who did enroll in the general school felt the hostility of the non-Jewish youngsters, who received their inspiration from their home and school atmosphere, where no love for the Jews abounded...
When the first week school ended, and all the children (including those of the "Mosaic faith") had to attend school on Saturday, the community seethed with the uproar caused by the objectors. The principal of the school tried to convince the parents that the Jewish children would not be forced to write, only to sit and listen to no avail... Due to the intervention of the Jewish representatives in the Seym a solution was found: children attending another school recognized by the state, with a curriculum which provided a certain number of hours devoted to secular studies, taught in the language of the land, would be exempt from attending the general school.
The Beth Jacob School
In order to release the boys from compulsory attendance of the general state school, the Community Council, supported by the dignitaries of the town, opened the heder metukan, (pedagogically) advanced school, in the summer of 1923. The inaugural of the school was attended by many dignitaries, the appointed principal, R. Moshe Altman of Ostrovtze, and several teachers on the general school faculty. The building was erected in the yard of the synagogue through the generosity of R. Jacob-Leib Rosenberg, a contributor to all worthy public causes. He also paid for the furnishings and maintenance, hence the school Beth Jacob was named for him.
"Beth Jacob" School, 1926
If you think about it you will reach the conclusion that cultural needs are no less important than the material. You should know, that in Rachov the Tarbut School is the sole agency for culture and schooling; there is none other. It has received State recognition. But we must not let it stagnate. It must grow with the needs. All of us must respond to these needs, now and together.
I want to tell you, with much gratification, that our brethren in New York have already adopted this stand and have given expression to it by providing a regular subsidy for our school, which keeps increasing from year to year. Last year it was 75 dollars; this year it is 150, recently sent to us. I want to hope that you too will consider the matter with due gravity and make available to our budget appropriate aid from Canada.
With the help of the more affluent, a Talmud Torah was established (six classes of boys, four to ten years of age). We also founded a Yeshiva for lads of 14 to 17, as a preparatory school for the Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin. This was my crowning achievement in the field of education.
The name of the renowned Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin is probably well known to all. It was founded by the Rabbi of Lublin, that creative sage and scholar, Rabbi Meir Shapiro, of blessed memory. Lublin's great spiritual leader understood that attention should be given to young men in various towns and cities who did not have the opportunity to receive adequate schooling to prepare them for admission to that great Yeshiva. It therefore came to his mind to establish "preparatory academies", intended for boys who wished to acquire advanced Torah learning and would be worthy of attending Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin.
The directorate of the Yeshiva continued with the noble enterprise of the sainted Rabbi and undertook the task of implementing the idea of the preparatory schools. Our town was privileged to have one, thanks to the fact that the rabbi of the town was one of the first students of Rabbi Shapiro and Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin.
The Yeshiva directorate put considerable funds into the building of the preparatory school in our town, but the burden of its maintenance must be borne by the school itself; the result: a constant annual deficit in our budget, regardless of the income. We are therefore taking the liberty of appealing to you to show your goodwill toward us and to send us your participation, by way of a substantial contribution, so that we may further maintain our sacred and honorable enterprise, have our school grow and expand, to the credit of Jewry in general and our own community in particular.
We trust that you will appreciate the importance of this sacred undertaking and will respond to our plea generously...
We founded this school two years ago, in order to enable 14 to 17-year-old boys with a desire for advanced Torah studies to have their wish, without having to undergo hunger, privation and no roof over their heads.
Thanks to this important institution of ours, Rachov has been attracting scores of boys from all over Poland. Here the boys absorb much general Torah and Jewish knowledge, moral and spiritual values; they leave the institution as proud and conscious Jews, exemplary in their devotion to tradition. The most promising and outstanding among them go on to the renowned Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin and are ordained there.
In our school, the boys live in a dormitory, which is part of the school and is housed in a fine building, which has a study hall, kitchen and dining room, five large and airy bedrooms and a beautiful garden. The school is under my personal supervision and is administered by a principal. It is also supervised by the Yeshivat Hachmey Lublin, and is regarded as one of its branches.
Since the monthly budget amounts to 1,500 zlotys, the school is always in dire economic situations. Five of its students are too poor to pay anything for their subsistence. We must therefore appeal to you to do what you can for this worthy institution. Do your best to arouse our townsmen to take interest in the school. We began with eight local boys and fourteen from elsewhere. Today we have scores of Rachov boys, as a separate unit, plus fifty from various towns in Poland; one is even from Vienna. Some pay no tuition fees whatsoever, and others pay only half the tuition and subsistence costs. Very few pay the entire amount. This adds to the critical situation.
It is of vital importance, in these days of physical and moral hardship, that such schools be established, in order to provide young Jews with an education worthy of the name, to imbue them with the spirit which will prepare them for bearing, with honor and pride, the burden of the struggle resting on their people. Just as it is important to bolster the economic base of Jewish existence and survival, it is no less important to maintain our spiritual fortress, such as this school. Now all of us are familiar with the folk kitchens where a poor child can get a bite to eat; we are also aware of the institutions, which teach these children. Our school combines the two. On the one hand, the studies form the Jewish spirit of the younger generation and fortify its soul; the fine dormitory and the wholesome food build a healthy body."
(Excerpts from letters to Rachov townspeople in America, dated 22 Iyyar 5697  and 2 7 Adar 11, 5698)
The town especially respected its sages and scholars, the humble Jews who assumed the burden of communal problems, friendly, gracious, always contented with what they had, always ready to listen to an anecdote or tell one. No generation gap, no class-consciousness, no stubborn adherence to outdated habits and behavior. In general, the patriarchal structure prevailed in the family, but in quite a few families the patriarch had to take staff in hand and head for lands across the sea.
The first cracks in the protective wall around the old way of life appeared here and there even before the First World War, at the beginning of the present century. Some of the young people felt themselves being choked by the atmosphere in the town, which they had outgrown. They wanted to study, to broaden their horizons. Some tried to effect it in the town itself, whether on their own or with the help of teachers, and they encountered bitter opposition on the part of their parents and family friends. The bolder young people, driven by the desire to study, broke away and left home for the big city, where intellect and education flourished. Here they had to find lodging and work to sustain them, and the quest for the "flour" forced them to delay their search for "Torah".
The few who were able to find work and lead a humble existence remained in Warsaw or in one of the other major cities. They returned to Rachov only for a holiday or some important family affair. The town gaped at their attire and city manners. The guests also gave vivid accounts of their successes and the achievements of others, of the revolutionaries dedicated to the overthrow of the Czarist regime and the establishment of a new world of liberty and justice for all. After every such visit, there was increased determination on the part of young people to break away from the small town and try their fortune in the big city.
"Rachov isn't a city and Poland isn't a state," they used to say in our town. In fact, however, Rachov was a town long before Poland became an independent state, tossed about as it was between Russia, Germany and Austria. During this particular period, our town was under Russian rule.
After the First World War, when Poland won its independence and became a sovereign state, our town became impoverished. Several adjacent villages were chopped away from Rachov, turning it into a small town. But those who left the town nevertheless carried away with them memories of their childhood days, the heart-warming surroundings and the people.
In 1895 a plague broke out in Rachov and its environs. The authorities ordered all afflicted premises to be fumigated. The "walek", an old abandoned building, which served as a town latrine, was given a thorough fumigation. By the home of Leiser Vachaj, Eliyahu the rag-picker, a barricade was put up to isolate the plague and prevent its spreading.
At that time the spiritual leader of the Jewish community was Rabbi Elimelech Rubinstein. The community leaders gathered in the Rabbi's home and decided to do something which (according to a belief then prevalent) would ward off the danger: to marry off two impoverished young people, in the cemetery. The two, the son of Saneh the fisherman and the daughter of the cemetery caretaker, were married in the new cemetery. All the Jews in town were there. After the ceremony, everyone went to the market place, where a sumptuous "cocktail party" had been set up, with whisky and delicacies. The people ate and drank and enjoyed themselves; even the abstainers partook freely.
Shortly afterwards the plague was gone.
It was the custom in Rachov, that when the groom was from another town, the wedding would be performed in the bride's home, in Rachov. People drove in carriages to welcome the groom. Baruch Friestier, the owner of the estate (and Y. L. Rosenberg after him) supplied the carriages.
Rachov had a musician, Yoneh, but no orchestra of its own, and we had to import one of sorts from Ozharov. There was a well at the market place and another near the distillery. The groom and his entourage circled the wells seven times, the orchestra played, and everyone had a good time.
If the groom was a townsman of Zaklikov, he was greeted on the Yanishov road. If the groom was an outstanding scholar, his fellow-scholars came along with him.
On the night of the wedding, the residents fashioned some kind of illumination lamps, lanterns or candles, which they put in their windows, so that when the groom and bride walked to the wedding canopy, their path would be strewn with light. Leibush Rosenberg the tinsmith made a special standard lit with twelve lamps. During the wedding procession, two strong lads carried the light standard aloft in front of the musicians.
The old rabbi performed the marriage ceremony. It was the custom that as the rabbi left the Bet Hamidrash to go to the wedding, the musicians went to the Beth Hamidrash to play for the students. Once they refused, and the youths felt deeply insulted. If the musicians won't play in the Beth Hamidrash, they said, we will smash their fiddles. "A custom takes priority over a legal verdict," shouted the people, and the musicians had to yield.
This was Rachov, some 70 or 80 years ago.
The heavy military movement and thick front-line fighting, on both sides of the Wisla in the vicinity of Rachov, are described in Sh. Ansky's book, Destruction of the Jews in Poland, Galicia and Bucovina, Part 1. The horrors caused by the fighting are intimated by a survivor of the annihilation of Yosepov (Lublin District), Yitzhak Rosenberg:
Suddenly loud cannon fire came from the other side of the Wisla. Soon a detachment of Cossacks appeared. All the townspeople were ordered to go down to the river and release all the rafts. As the townspeople were carrying out the order, a sudden commotion was heard coming from the town itself. The people stopped the work and ran back to see what was happening. They found that Austrian cavalry had ridden through the town on its way to Rachov.
On August 21, troops and artillery began retreating from Rachov. When they reached the Wisla, they were met by rifle fire. The Austrians tore out all telephone communications and blew up the bridge across the river.
Caught in this crossfire, many Jews took their wives and children and headed for the villages in which Jews were living. There was no question of hiding out with non-Jews, who even prevented the refugees from seeking shelter in Jewish homes, threatening to set fire to any house which would harbor them. The refugees were driven off with shouts of Zhid and Beylis (Ansky, pp. 50-54).
The Jews in the Polish towns near the front were made the scapegoats for treason perpetrated by senior officers, like Miyasvayadov. As it was learned later, most of their accusers and the witnesses were spies and provocateurs. This was the case in the Krashnik libel, the Gershonovitz trial, the Lomze trial and others. Miasvayadov himself, to cover up, hanged 200 Jews.
Every company commander or regimental head guilty of any form of misconduct could blame the work of some 'Jewish spy' who had laid a trap for him.
In Radom, nine Jews were hanged for having 'welcomed' the Germans. In Zamoscz, seven Jews were hanged for the same 'crime'. In Krashnik, one of the four Jews hanged was the community rabbi, (ibid., pp. 9-10).
The violence to which Jews were subjected in the days of the First World War did not spare my family. The Czar's minions brutally murdered my father, Yaacov Goldner.
My father was managing a small farm in the village of Kashin, near Rachov. The farm, owned by Yaacov Wallerstein of Krashnik, covered an area of 25 hectares of sandy soil. My father also kept the books of a firm, which manufactured wooden rafts, which were sent down the Wisla to Danzig. He was fluent in Russian and German, oral and written. Our family, the only Jewish one in the village, was made up of seven souls: my mother Sarah Rivke'le, my two sisters Tove'le and Gute'le, my small brother Shmuel and Grandfather Yitzhak Brafman.
In 1914 fierce battles were fought between the Czarist army and the Austrian forces over the crossing of the Wisla, then a strategic point. Because our village was so near the river, it was hit by shells. We abandoned our house and sought shelter in the stone building of the Kashin jail.
When the Cossacks entered the village they set themselves up near the jail. They saw my father standing at the entrance to the jail, and ordered him to draw near. One of them drew his sword, grabbed my father by the beard, and made ready to behead him. He was saved only by the quick intervention of the village secretary, Wadubiak, with whom he was on friendly terms.
A few hours later (it was a bleak, drizzly Friday) we heard the Cossacks yelling loudly, shouting hurrahs interspersed with the word yevrei ('Jew'). My grandfather was greatly worried by what was going on, and advised that we all go to Rachov, where there were Jews. On the next day, the Sabbath, my father was taken by a Cossack guard and placed under a tree, not far from our house. My grandfather understood that my father was about to be brutally murdered. He begged the Cossacks to kill him instead. One of them assured him that he would be killed anyway. The officer added: "He's old, let him die by himself".
The cold-blooded murderers tied a noose around my father's neck and hanged him on a branch of the tree. My father was tall and solidly built; the branch broke and my father fell to the ground, still alive. He said nothing, but his lips moved in prayer.
The officer yelled to his men to kill "the Jewish spy". They aimed at his head and fired, killing him instantly. The body was buried on a hillock and a slab of wood was thrust into the earth to mark the grave.
When we returned to our house, we found that it had been thoroughly pillaged. On the way a horseman came galloping toward us, flag in hand. He had learned that the Cossacks were going to execute a "Jewish spy", and he came to halt the act. When we told him that my father had already been killed, he was much depressed. He told us that his name was Sh. Ansky, and that he was empowered to save Jews. He hurried back to Krashnik, where the Cossacks were about to perpetrate the same crime. Later we learned that the Krashnik , 'spies' had been brutally murdered.
Late at night we crossed the Wisla by boat and reached the home of a Jewish miller in Yanishov, thence we went on, with great difficulty, to Yanov Lubelsky, to my mother's sister. My mother was then pregnant and gave birth there.
A year and a half later the Austrians permitted the transfer of my father's remains to the cemetery in Rachov. Yanche Brafman, Yosele Perls, Yankel Hochman and Isaac Heshels opened the frozen grave with pickaxes, removed my father's body and took it in a tin box to Rachov, where it was interred in the new cemetery.
My family settled in Rachov when my mother (born in Opatov.) and my father (born in Yanov) were married and decided to make their home in Rachov. My two grandfathers died before my oldest brother, Itche Maness, was born (he was named for both of them). I remember my grandmothers as if they were still alive: Bobbe Chaya, my paternal grandmother, and Bobbe Teme, my mother's mother. They lived with us all their days.
We had a large three-room home. One was my father's workroom; he was a scribe and wrote scrolls of the Torah. The second, called alkej , was shared by the two grandmothers. The front room was the bakery (bread, bagel and cookies). In the attic we kept several geese, for fattening. My father also dealt with herring. Eventually the fattened geese went the way of all flesh; their feathers were plucked, the fat was melted down and the skin made into gribenes . This was done by my father, but my mother worked even harder baking and raising eight children (6 sons and 2 daughters). The grandmothers helped as much as they could.
When my father wrote on the parchment, he was incommunicado no one was to talk to him. When Mother did come to him with an urgent problem, he would either make no answer or, when he did, he would go to the mikve for immersion. He was one of the foremost Torah scribes in the country. He used to write smaller scrolls for the itinerant rabbis. Among his clients and his prices were high were the rabbis of Kazimir and Cracow (he himself was a follower of the Hassidic rebbe of Kazimir), but whenever he had a question to ask, he addressed it to the Rabbi of Ostrovtze, on general matters as well as those concerning his craft. I wanted to be an artisan, but my father wanted me to continue studying. We agreed to leave the decision to the Ostrovtzer Rebbe. The Rebbe decided that I should be a shoe designer.
Life in Rachov was not easy. People worked hard all week and were happy if they were able to prepare properly for the Sabbath. If not, they made the best of it.
With all our sources of income, it was good that Grandma Teme was able to contribute. She used to go to the villages with kerchiefs and the like, and would come back with food flour, a few potatoes. My parents tried to dissuade her, but she was in good health and insisted on helping out. Grandma Chaya was older and ailing, yet she outlived Grandma Teme.
Grandma Teme died when we fled from Rachov to Krashnik, during the First World War. My father alone remained in Rachov, to take care of Grandma Chaya. The Krashniks helped us tremendously. They gave us food and shelter. The same happened when people from Ozerov fled to Rachov, as the front shifted. Krashnik was located three or four miles away from the Wisla, Rachov was the nearest to the river and Ozerov lay between them. The bridges were bombed. Rachov changed hands time and again, from Russian to Austrian.
Cultural life in Rachov began in 1904, as I recall. Jewish young people of those days were politically mature. Those who sought political careers went to the largest communities. After the turn of the century people began looking for something, which would stir and stimulate them to think on worldly levels. This was particularly true of the Jews.
The traditional 'house of study', the Beth Hamidrash, continued in its role, but more and more young men began wearing high collars and ties, and the Star of David was worn as an ornament, particularly by members in Zionist organizations. My own jacket was of a shorter cut, but when I entered the shtibl wearing a Star of David I earned a resounding whack from my father; some of his Hassidic friends said that the Star of David was worse than a crucifix...
"Sheindl the Righteous" was the name by which Grandmother Sheindl Borenstein was known. She helped the sick and the needy. For Pesach she and Rivele, the wife of Leiser Rutzky baked matzot. In her seventy-first year, as she stood by the hearth and baked matzot she caught a cold. On the following day she summoned Rivele to her bedside and made her promise that she wouldn't say anything to her children and cause them anxiety. "By Pesach," she told Rivele, "I won't be here." When a doctor was brought to her bedside, she quipped, "You want to know if the fiddle is still playing, eh?" She ordered her grandchildren to take the fowl to the shohet. "Prepare for the holiday."
In her final days she took all her finery and distributed it among the children. Before she died she asked to see Yankele, the son of Aunt Bashe (he was an only son). Then she asked to have her undergarments changed. This done, she asked for a man to come and attend her recitation of the Confessional. She gave us a look of farewell and died, two days before Pesach. Peace be on her soul.
People in town called their newborn children by her name. I remember that whenever the townspeople went to the cemetery to visit the graves of their relatives, they always stopped by Grandma Sheindl's grave. On the way back they would stop at our house and say to my mother, "Regards from your departed mother." Her tombstone stood out prominently among the others. When Uncle Moshke was in Rachov he gathered the entire family around the grave and took photographs. "I envy you", he said to the family. "Whenever you want to visit the grave, you can do it."
My Mother, Chayeh Dinneh
She used to be of great help even when she was still in her father's home. Many times she told the story of the Rachov fire, which sent the whole town up in flames. People took everything they could carry and went to the cemetery. The wind was blowing in that direction, and everything was consumed. As mother tells it the family put up a shack and turned it into a restaurant for passersby. Slowly they recovered from the disaster.
For quite a few years after his marriage, my father worked for my grandfather Velvel Fishman, one of the foremost merchants in Poland. He often went down to Danzig by barge, and was rarely home. At that time we were living in a small house, next to Moshe Kleinman. My mother dealt in illicit trade of tobacco, cigarettes and liquor. The liquor she kept hidden in Moshe Kleinman's home, with Urish and Rivka Yozefs. Whenever the tax collector was seen approaching the house, immediately she was surrounded by her sisters Chana Reisel, Bashe Gittle, Toive Rivke, and her brother, Avrohom Mendl, some inside the house, some outside.
On one occasion the tax collector caught everyone unawares. In the closet he found tobacco and a supply of cigarettes. He took everything out and placed the contraband on the table. In an instant, my mother smashed the windowpane and heaved everything on the table outside, where her sisters picked it up and fled. Nothing was left on the table.
On another occasion the tax collector came when several peasants were having liquor. Mother was taken to court. No lawyer could be found who would handle the case. The peasants had testified under oath that they had gotten whisky and paid for it. She was sentenced to two months in prison. She appealed, and went to Lublin to see Levinson, the most prominent lawyer. He refused to take the case; the peasants had testified under oath. "Two months in prison and six little children in the house," my mother insisted, but to no purpose. A month later she was back again, but Levinson remained adamant. While she was in his office, people came to him for a donation to marry off an impoverished bride. He took out 300 zlotys and gave it to them. "if you can afford to give 300 zlotys for a poor bride, you should do something to keep a mother of six from going to prison," she said. The lawyer said: "Very well. Let me have 30 zlotys." To put it briefly, the lawyer appeared before the court, and her sentence was reduced to ten days' detention. As they left the courtroom, the lawyer said: "If I could do this, I should be able to revive the dead." Said my mother: "By me you've earned the whole hereafter. Maybe only half, because you refused to undertake the defense right away and you caused me a month of sleepless nights. Now please give me back five zlotys, to pay for my trip back home."
There was another Chayeh-Dinneh'le in town. She worked in Yeshayahu Gottlieb's house for many years. She was the daughter of Moishe the water-carrier. My mother matched her with Eliezer Genoi. He was not the finest among the fellows. When they were already engaged he was sentenced to half a year in jail. That was a situation jail instead of the wedding canopy. She took him to Lublin to "her" lawyer. She hadn't been dealing in whisky for some time, but when he saw her, he cried, "What? Again you are dealing in liquor?" She replied, "No, I've come with a father of four and a sick wife. You're the only one who can save him." And Levinson did indeed obtain his release. The couple were married, bore children, and often visited us, never forgetting to thank my mother. The young man turned out to be an upright fellow and a good husband. They were very happy together. My mother saw to it that the bridegroom had a new suit. She also collected feathers and down for blankets, and prepared the whole wedding. That's how she was, always concerned with the needy. She also collected money for the synagogue. Despite the work she did in the house, she always managed to have time for the less fortunate.
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