At the annual Purim party, Mendel sat at the head of the table covered with a white tablecloth and silver candelabras. Under the tablecloth were laid out half and whole silver guldens in two separate piles. Mendel reached under the cloth and took some coins and handed them to the needy. Nobody knew the extent of the gift except for the giver and the receiver. He distributed according to the needs as he saw them. Charity was important but modesty was even more important. This is the way he distributed the Purim gifts as I saw it. I do not know how he distributed charity throughout the year. Mendel also loved to grant anonymous charity so that the receiver did not know the source of the charity, this of course prevented embarrassment to both sides.Mendel opened the doors to his house each Sabbath afternoon for the traditional third meal or Shalosh Seudot to which he invited the neighbors and town residents. Following the meal and the blessings, the participants prayed maariv and terminated the Shabbath services.
Mendel was not a scholar but envied educated people. He was an orphan and had to support himself. That did not allow time for education, He chose a scholar for a son in law, Shaul Reich who married his daughter Bashe Welcze. He also stressed education for his son Fishale or Fishel. Fishel was the son of Mendel and Haya Schroit. She was the second wife. The first one died and left Mendel with a daughter, Bashe. Fishel Schroit continued his studies, never entered the family business. Even after he married, his parents supported him.
According to my memory, Mendel also dealt in linens in his apartment above the metal shop. Supposedly, Yehuda Hersh Axelrad that lived near Mendel, in the courtyard, behind the metal shop, conducted the business. Yehuda was the one that handled the correspondence and shipments of merchandise for Mendel. Supposedly the profits of this business went to Mendel who gave it to charity without the knowledge of his wife.
So lived a person that hardly knew how to open a religious book. He envied scholarship and tried in his own way to partake in the commandments of the torah to give charity. In a place like Korczyn Jews complimented each other in their religious ethical sense by granting each other the needed support. Blessed be his memory
I also heard that when my uncle received notice for the draft. He injured his eye and was rejected from military service. David was pleased since he did not want to serve three years in the Austrian Imperial Army. My father's younger brother Zalman left for the USA prior to the arrival of the military notice. The thought of appearing naked before gentile doctors repulsed him. After all he was not an animal in the market. Yet if he passed the medical examination, he would receive a uniform, a belt and a rifle with a bayonet. Then he would be told to fight a so-called enemy that he never met in his life and he might be killed. Who had time for such childish games. A Jew has to marry, raise a family and provide for them. The war games were more for young boys that played on the holiday of Lag Ba'omer [33 days in the count of the Omer when the plague stopped among the students of Rabbi Akkiba. Traditionally, young cheder boys play all kind of war games on that day] and not for grown men.
Fantasy of heroism left the Jews a long time ago. Jews lived with miracles and accepted the lot that was assigned to them and did not interfere with matters of state. Tradition and history taught the Jews to stay away from political matters and the Jews of Korczyn were no exception to the rule. This was the reason why my father and my uncles avoided the draft.
My father was the oldest son and expected the military notice. He visited the Zanzer rabbi and asked for advice. The latter told him to play sick and attract attention. He returned home and went to bed. The doctor was called and medications were prescribed. The medical visits continued and so did the prescriptions. Finally, the notice for the medical examination arrived. My father ignored it. The medical commission sent the doctor to inquire and he reported that my father was sick and testified to it. My father was rejected for military service. But there was an informer in town who also happened to be in competition with my father. He reported the entire event to the authorities that started to investigate the matter. The denunciation resulted in a great deal of trouble for all concerned parties. The Jewish community of Korczyn excommunicated the informer. A black candle was lit for him and no Jew related to him, he was branded for life in Korczyn. The investigation was hushed up and my father never became a soldier.
In view of these events, my uncles decided to follow different routes of escape from the draft. Besides the fear of non- kosher food, there was also the great fear of coming in contact with pork that is strictly forbidden in the torah. The Jew was also fearful of the commandment thou shall not kill, yet he was trained to become a possible killer. Young Jewish men were taken away from the marriage canopy to the army training bases and had to play soldier for three years. Many of them survived on black bread and sweetened black coffee, not a suitable diet for a field soldier. The soldiers were weakened physically but strengthened emotionally in their religious belief. Of course, Jewish soldiers that attended Shabbath services were always invited to Jewish homes for a warm meal. As a matter of fact, the shamash in each shul saw to it that each soldier should have place to eat since this was his only kosher meal in many days if not weeks. The feelings of the young pious soldiers at such tables can only be surmised. Their reflections took them back home to their family and to the warmth of their surroundings that they missed badly. The main objection to military service were the concepts developed through the ages such as who needs military service, is the living space so small that one has to fight for every inch. The Austrian Emperor treated the Jews better than the Russian Czar. Still the two capitals Vienna and St.Petersburg were constantly on the verge of war due to territorial claims. The interested parties always excited their supporters to action. Entire armies at the ready for war and the Jews on both sides must support their empire. They were told to kill other Jews simply be cause they were on the other side of the border. This certainly did not make sense to the Jew. Fathers and sons that never met each other, never looked at each other, would at a moment's notice go into action that will result in the killing and wounding of many people on both sides of the war in the name of patriotism. This was not in the Yiddish tradition. Even the simplest gentile on the other side was not a personal enemy. He had no reason to harm me. Yet two armies dressed in different uniforms were told in no uncertain terms that the other side will destroy them at the first opportunity unless they are defeated first. Frequently, Jewish soldiers attacked other Jewish soldiers and only in death did they discover that they were Jews when they uttered the words of Shema Israel. The most that could be done was to bury the soldiers and recite the kaddish for them. Perhaps it could have been avoided had the soldiers known in advance but the chances were slim. A confusion of borders that constantly changed resulted in constant conflicts. Land changed hands at all times and nothing was permanent for only the Messiah could bring permanency. Thus, our forefathers reached the conclusion that the best thing was to stay away from all military fights
When I studied with Zalkale, the cheder teacher, he always mentioned that he was my brother's Leibish friend. This was the story. My father was previously married and had nine children. His wife and all the children died. The last one was Leibish who died at the age of 28. He was a talented man, a good student and a capable artist. His design of the sign east was framed under a window in our house in his honor. When my father married for the second time, he was already an older man while my mother was still a young girl. She gave him four sons, the oldest was Shlomo who was aged 6 when my father died. The youngest was Shia who was one year old. Haim Hersh was the second son and I was the third. He died on the third day of Hol Hamoed Sukkoth.
I also heard that when the old rabbi of Korczyn, Rabbi Shmuel Aron died. My father sided with the Zanzer faction that supported Mendel Rubin as his successor. Mendel Rubin lost the battle and from what I understood there were some physical contacts between the parties. All of this was of course forgotten with time. Rabbi Mendel left Korczyn following his defeat and settled in Palestine where he headed the Rabbi Meir Baal Haness Kollel or study center. Years later, Rabbi Mendel visited Korczyn to see his mother. He wore a floral colored overcoat with a large band or gartel that gave him the appearance of the mystical east and endowed him with a great deal of reverence. Shabbath, the rabbi received the sixth aliyah that was usually reserved for the presiding rabbi.
Elderly Jews called my father Yidale Lembik and not Schnek that was his official name. I do not know which was the correct name. My father's brothers and all their descendants carried the name of Schnek. But I also know that my father had a cousin in Dembitz whose family name was Lembik. Thus, I revealed to you readers the past that was never recorded and presently everybody knows it.
The cheder for youngsters in Korczyn was in our street opposite my mother's home. The street was quiet without traffic so the children played safely in the street. The only traffic was when the neighbors brought a load of wood from the market for the residents. After the cheder was the house of Itzhak Treitik with a fenced garden. The entrance was in the next street. Then there was the cowshed of Yossel Shmaya where he kept his horse and bogey. On my mother's side of the street was the house of Steltzer and his garden. That was the extent of the street.
Yossel took his horse and bogey out in the morning after he prayed the morning prayers and returned home late in the evening. Thus, the children played during the cheder brakes. This cheder was for children aged three to six or seven. They studied the alphabet, reading and the torah. Children of different backgrounds and ages mingled in the study groups under different teachers. At the age of four, the children started to study a full day. Mothers packed a lunch for their children and some even brought warm food for the toddlers.
As time passed, they managed to organize their food schedule in accordance with their needs. The teacher observed each student and decided who needed special attention. Every child in Korczyn attended cheder. Two teachers were in the cheder. A long bench divided the room with seats on both sides. Each section had a long table as well as small tables surrounded with benches. The teachers sat next to the big tables where the instruction was done. The children reviewed their material at the small tables.
Gedalia Hopmeister, his real name was Davidowitz, had students from the wealthier homes and Baruch melamed, do not know his last name, had the poorer students. There was no competition between them and each taught according to his plan.
During the summer, the children also studied although a shorter period of time. They studied, ate and played in the street. It never dawned upon them to go home and take refreshments following the dry sandwiches or fruits that they ate during the study period. The cheder had a barrel of water with an attached cup for the use of the children to quench their thirst. Each day, water was added to the barrel from the well. But the barrel was exposed to the sun and the copper cup was already green and unappetizing. The water did not taste fresh and children preferred not to drink from the cup even when they were thirsty. They discovered a watering hole across the street, at my mother's house. The barrel stood in the shade and was filled each day with fresh water from the well behind the house. The cheder children came constantly and begged for a drink of water. The small children with their shirts hanging out of their pants, wearing the talit katan or fringes, peyot on the side of their head and a black kippa on top of it. Reisel, my mother, served personally all the water requests.
The entrance door was always open and some children even came with their noses running. My mother would take her apron and wipe the face clean and provided the youngster with a drink of water. Of course, the children never said thank you since this was not part of the lexicon of the cheder. Thus my mother was very busy tending to the thirst of the children, She never minded it and was rather pleased since she performed a good deed for the students who studied torah. [I would like to add that I was never known by my real name but always refereed as Moshe the son of Reisel, the daughter of Yidel]
I had the opportunity to meet my grandfather when I visited the village of Waltaszow and later in Rymanow, following the death of my grandmother. He was a simple and honest man. I heard that in the village where he used to buy eggs, animal skins, the Greek Orthodox population considered him somewhat of a saint. There was never a doubt about. Once he made a mistake and returned to the place with a pack of merchandise on his back to make good an unintentional error.
During these days, the apartment of my grandfather was rented to a Greek Orthodox. The flat consisted of one room that had two beds, a bench and a few chairs, a clothing closet and a cupboard for laundry. He kept there the talit, the tefilin, a siddur, a psalm book, high holiday prayer books, torah books with their commentaries, mishnayot with commentaries and Hebrew word books. The same room served as a kitchen where simple meals were prepared, halot were baked for Shabbath and holidays and bread was baked for the entire week.
Lea, the second daughter, a hunchback, was still at home. When a grandchild arrived unexpectedly, room was made. Grandfather always accepted visitors, grandmother expressed some resentment but accepted the fact. The taste of the black bread from the flour that was ground locally is still in my mouth.
When the Rabbi of Rymanow, Rabbi Yossef, married his grandchild to the Hassidic court of Rizin , the entire area talked for two weeks prior to the event and one week after the wedding. I was fascinated by the stories and decided to invite myself to the wedding. The distance was about 20 minutes by horse and buggy but I did not have the money so I had to walk the distance. I don't remember whether I received a lift along the road or walked the full distance. I do remember that I wore my black hat but left the boots home in order to save them. I was a bootless member of the wedding. Of course, my grandmother asked the usual question, why did you come. I did not want to tell her that I wanted to attend the wedding. I attended the affair but did not see the canupial ceremony. More important people than myself also missed the event. For the entire market area was packed with guests that celebrated the wedding. Including the present author.
I managed to assemble some facts about my grandfather based on bits and pieces of information that I collected from various sources. Prior or after his wedding, probably after, my grandfather was supposed to report for the draft. He played stupid and decided to move to another village or possibly more than one. He figured that the draft would forget about him if he moved about and changed his name. For everybody knew him in Waltaszow even the authorities. Finally he assumed the name of Zucker that was the maiden name of his wife. His own original name disappeared from all records. When I met him he was already past military age and I am certain that he would have made a poor soldier. For he was a gentle person that would have never mastered the martial arts.
The state lost nothing by the fact that he traded eggs or skins with the Greek Orthodox population. He provided an income for his family. He was not a rich person but made a living and did not need the support of family or strangers. My grandmother never complained, never egged him on but managed with the available means to run the house.
My grand parents had four children, Reisel, my mother, Lea, Mendel and Tzivia. All the children grew up, married and left except for Lea, who was a hunchback. She was the last to leave the home and married well. When my father died, my mother was left with four children. My grandfather took the youngest Shia who was one year old to his place and Lea practically became his mother.
When Shia was about four or five he used to go with my grandfather to the shul in Rymanow. Shia carried his talit bag and siddur on shabbat. Once he showed off by carrying the items on his pinky. The finger twisted and became lame. The doctors tried to restore the finger but the pinky on the right hand remained lame for the rest of his life. At the age of five or six, Shia returned to Korczyn and started to study at the cheder of the Jasznitzer melamed or teacher. The teacher stressed the written letters and Shia developed a beautiful script in spite of the lame finger. He and his wife were the only victims of Hitler amongst the brothers. His two daughters managed to escape in time, one to Israel and the other one to England. I would like to point out that two of his grandchildren, Mendel's children, were also saved and live in Israel. I sidetracked a bit from the main theme and am certain that my grandfather will forgive me. Now let us return to the main theme.
Grandmother died and grandfather moved to Rymanow where there was a large Jewish population. He rented a room with a bed and a small kitchenette to prepare his simple meals. The entire week he dealt with skins of animals that he sold at the market. On Saturday, he was a regular participant at the table of the Rabbi Yossef. Here he felt like a member of the family and not a guest.
My mother was a widow for 13 years. The children grew up, married and left the home. She then married Mordechai Elias from Rymanow. He was a well to do person and distributed charity. My grandfather rarely visited the home of his daughter for he did not want to take advantage of the situation. When I was still an apprentice, I used to come for the holidays of Passover and Sukkot and saw the lonely life of my grandfather and it affected me. I promised myself that when I will finish my stage and work, I will never forget my grandfather. The latter however did not wait for that day, he passed away before my graduation. This indeed was a great blow for me. He was a saintly soul. He refused to accept charity and lived a simple and honest life. He never accepted things from his children. His mishnayot book printed in 1888 in Warsaw was given to me by my brother, Haim Hersh Schnek.
According to the records, my last name should be Schnek like my brothers in the USA, Haim and Shlomo, and the cousins, children of uncle David and Zalman. The circumstances were such that I could not change the passport. The Austrian Empire did not recognize Jewish religious weddings and the children were registered under the mother's maiden name. Thus, I had the opportunity to record the life of my grandfather in the Korczyner yizkor book. Besides, the description showed another corner of the Jewish world and the daily struggles. This explanation I owed my landesman who may say that Mordechai Ballaczanker was a nice Jew but did he belong in our memorial book. Their complaints are justified. I urged and pushed the people to record the events but few participated. So we included everybody in order to have minyan or a quorum of ten so to speak.
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