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My town, Sierpc (Sheps) {Cont.}

The Streets: Zhavia, New Market, Third of May

We will continue our stroll, and tour the streets of Zhavia, New Market, and Third of May. In the mid 1930s, when the Town Council changed the names of the streets, Zhavia Street became the First of May Street, in honor of the international workers day celebrated on that date.

* * *

The second house from the start of Zhavia Street was a one-story house that belonged to Biniatzki (a Pole). Yakov Shimon Rosenfeld's store was in this house. He sold flour and all kinds of grits there; he was called “Yakov Shimon Mel-shenker” (Yakov Shimon the Flour Store Owner). Yakov Shimon was a dedicated public figure and faithfully served the community. He was a treasurer in the Welcome Guests Society and the Funeral Society (Hevra Kadisha).

After the Biniatzki house there was a small street called Zhalona. This street extended to the New Market, and to the large lot that was used for the pig market.

* * *

At the end of this small street, near the pig market, was the small house of Zalman Friedman (who was called Zalman Berias, after his father-in-law Beria Oberfeld) and inside the house was his small grocery store.

Zalman Beria was a great scholar. His wife, Gitel, took care of the store, and he sat and studied Torah all the time. He wrote a book called Rimzai Shlomo (Hints of Shlomo) named after Shlomo Zalman (founder of Hasidism) that explains “many of the legends told by the wise men in all of the tractates by hints and implications” (as stated on the cover page). The first volume of the series is on the tractates Brachot, Shabat, Eiruvin, Pesachim, and Shekalim and was published in Bulgaria in the year 5695. The first part contained 239 pages, including a two-page summary and a nine-page introduction. Apparently, none of the other volumes ever appeared in print. The dedication that appeared opposite the cover page stated “And remember for her goodness my partner Madame Gitel, may she live a long life, who helped me with all her power to have this book printed, and her virtue will stand with her forever”.

Zalman Friedman initiated and carried out a great and important undertaking, an undertaking that had the elegance of truth, but not just the elegance of truth. Because, by this deed, he performed an act of charity for both the dead and the living. During the period that he was the treasurer of the Funeral Society, Zalman reformed the cemetery. He marked the rows of graves in alphabetical order, a different letter for each row, and numbered the graves in each row, and put up a sign next to every row with its letter and the grave numbers. He also prepared a notebook with the names of all those laid to rest in the cemetery listed alphabetically, with the row and grave number listed next to each name. In addition, he prepared a plan of the cemetery, with every lane and path, every row and grave noted, and on each grave, its letter and number. Using the notebook and the plan, it was simple to locate any grave. And the Jews of Sierpc who went to visit the graves of their ancestors were helped enormously and praised Zalman for this.

David Noah Zilberberg, who had an apt hand for these matters, did the laborious scripting of the notebook and drafting of the plan.

* * *

The house where Yisrael Vasolak lived, a two-story house, was on the other corner of this street. His textile store was in this house, with an entrance from the New Market. Yisrael was once a shochet (ritual slaughterer) in the village of Osvaka, and so was called Osveker Shoichet.

* * *

Yosef Karpa lived on the second floor of the same house. His origins were in Dobrzyn, and he settled in Sierpc when he married Hezkel (Yehezkel) Izikovitch's daughter, Nehama (who was called Hama), after he had lived for a few years in the nearby towns working as a clerk. Yosef Karpa was a handsome and pleasant man. He was a wise Jew and an interesting conversationalist. He was popular and well liked by his acquaintances. During the 1920s, Yosef Karpa was a member of the community council. (He was elected on the Aguda list as the representative of the Alexander shtibl.)

* * *

We return to Zhaba (Zhavia) Street. The restaurant and hotel of Lazer (Eliezer) Burstein was in the second house from the corner, a one-story house with an attic. For many years, until the 1930s, this was the only Jewish restaurant and hotel in town (not counting the inns of Zelig Richgut and the Shlisharken. During the 1930's, Mendel Licht opened his hotel.

* * *

Yeshaya Mordecaye Kaliski lived in the attic of that house. He taught little children, so obviously his heder (one-room school) was in his “large and spacious” apartment. In addition to his official occupation, teaching, Shaya Mordecaye had a side occupation, which was the sale of lottery tickets. More to the point, the sale of shares in tickets, quarters, or eighths of tickets, for what Jew in Sierpc would buy a complete, or half ticket? From his two callings combined, he lived a life of harsh poverty.

His second occupation didn't always bring in profits. Sometimes, when he could not sell all the parts of the ticket, he would have to cover the cost of the remainder from the “generous” income from his official occupation. This would occur from time to time, and each time, Shaya Mordecaye would regret the shirim (remainders) that he was left with. But Shaya was a Hasid (of Gur) and he believed that “remainders” held a special charm. But these were remainders from the table of the Rebbe, not heaven forbid, remainders of lottery tickets.

But once there was a miracle. A lottery ticket, three quarters of which had been sold by Shaya Mordecaye, and one quarter of which he was not able to get rid of, won the grand prize. The news that Sierpc had the grand prize hit the town like a bolt of lightning on a clear day. And who were the winners? Four Jews who were very poor. (One of them immediately returned money that had been collected for him a few days earlier.) And who was the agent? Shaya Mordecaye! And he was also among the winners! The winning of the lottery caused a great commotion in town, with joy and jealousy mixed together. People said that the Master of the Universe had performed a great mitzvah for these Jews by letting them win the grand prize. Many people saved from their pittance to buy a quarter or at least an eighth of a ticket.

Everyone talked about the “grand prize.” Actually, the amount was only 12,000 rubles (the real grand prize was 75,000 rubles). This meant that they each won 3,000 rubles, but this was also a huge amount in those days.

After this event, Shaya Mordecaye left pedagogy, and developed his occupation as an “agent.” He took on other businesses, married off his daughters, who had been of marriageable age for some time, and had a little satisfaction from life. The Gentiles called Shaya Mordecaye “Stchaneshlivi Jid” (the Happy Jew).

* * *

Zhaba Street (Zhavia ? First of May) extended to Pirogova Street. This street, Pirogova, went to Fara Street to the right, and to the New Market to the left. The town council changed the street names in the mid-1930s, and the name Pirogova was changed to Piaretzki, in honor of the Polish minister of the interior of the same name, who was assassinated by a political rival.

* * *

The house at the corner of Zhaba and Pirogova Streets (the house in which Yosef Meir Kuda lived) and the two houses next to it, all three of them two-story houses, belonged to Avraham Melave (Melave did not live in them himself).

In the first house (above Kuda's shoe store) lived Hershel Yosef Gotglas. The family name has an interesting story behind it. Hershel Yosef, who was usually called by the family name Gotglas, sometimes was called Dobroshklinka (the Polish translation of Gotglas ? good glass). His brother was called Yakir Dobroshklinka and his son was called Leibush Dobroshklinka, and his daughter ? Dvora Gotglas.

Hershel Yosef was one of the elders of the town, and one of the important Gur Hasidim. (In this too he differed from his brother, who prayed in the Alexander shtibl.)

Yisrael Yakov Cohen lived in the middle house, which was made of brick. Cohen was a partner of Volkoviski in the drugstore (skaled aptchani), and in the evening he tutored mathematics, languages, and other subjects. Cohen was a Zionist and a member of the committee of Agudat Tzion. Later he became a member of Poalei Tzion (before the schism). Cohen was not originally from Sierpc. He came to our town from Plonsk (Plinsk). After the war, he lived in Plock, where he was a teacher in the Jewish High School.

After the three houses of Melave, there stood the two-story brick house of Kabiatkovski (a Pole). This was the corner house of Pirogova and New Market streets. When the town council gave the streets new names, in the mid-1930s, the New Market was named The Plaza of the Sixth of Sharpian in honor of the date when Pilsudski's Polish Legion left Krakow for the front at the beginning of the First World War (6 August 1914) to fight the Russians.

* * *

The Butchers' House (Di Yotkes) was at the start of the New Market. This was a U-shaped red brick house, without plaster. The open side faced the market and was divided into cells. The building belonged to the town council, which rented the cells to the butchers. Almost all the cells (there were about 14 of them) were rented to Jews, and only about two or three to Gentiles.[16] At the front of the Butchers' House, facing the street, were two stores, Liechtenstein's grocery store and a store that sold eggs and butter run by Shepsel (Shabtai) Visroza. Between them was a passageway to the butcher stores.

* * *

Behind the Butchers' House lay the New Market. This was a large, paved square. On most days of the week, the New Market was empty, and you could, as the saying goes, “Sleep in the middle of the market.” But on market days, especially on Tuesday, this market would be packed with carts full of grain, since the New Market was intended for grain sales. The carpenters also displayed their wares here: tables, chairs, cabinets, beds, and cradles. Rope was also sold here. It was hung in stalls that resembled those of the shoemakers: two tall posts, with a beam between them.

There were almost no stores in the New Market, and there were few houses there. One side, to the left, was occupied almost completely by lumberyards, and tall wooden fences, with gates, separated the yards from the New Market. The rear of the market was an open, unpaved lot, which was the pig market. Only at the rear were there two houses: one owned by a Pole, which had a tavern, and the second owned by Moshe Aharon Nachfin. The Poles lived on the right side of the New Market. Their houses were inside yards, and in the front were gardens and trees. Between these gardens there was a narrow, unpaved lane that reached the municipal slaughterhouse. From here on, lived the Jews.

* * *

One of the houses, a one-story house, belonged to Binyamin Neiman, and his lumberyard was in the yard. Avigdor Greenberg, from Mlawa, lived in the same house. He lived in town until the middle of the First World War.

In those days, the means of transportation between Sierpc and towns of the region were the cart, the faubuz (an enclosed carriage), and the omnibus, yoked to horses. A few years before the First World War, a bus line had a daily route Rypin-Sierpc-Plock. This was a huge innovation in the life of the town, and a sign of development and progress. Approximately at six o'clock, the bus would arrive in Sierpc on its way from Plock to Rypin, and stop for an hour at the Magistrats (town hall). For months, many people ? men, women, and children ? would gather in this part of the market, before the bus arrived, while it was parked, and after it left, amazed at this great wonder (such a large bus, and it moves without horses!), discussing and arguing about it, and about technology in general.

A few partners owned the bus, and Greenberg was one of them, the only partner from Sierpc. The ticket seller on the bus was Jewish, and he worked on Saturday as well. When he was asked why he rode on the Sabbath, he would answer “Why, is the Sabbath a bear?” (Vos iz Shabos a ber?) The answer would amaze and irritate all the listeners. Before the First World War, Avigdor Greenberg was a member of the community council.

* * *

A little further on stood the one-story house of Itzik Rosen, also with lumber stored in his yard. Itzik Rosen was one of the important Gur Hasidim. He was a wise and respected Jew, and was considered one of town's rich men. Before the First World War, Itzik Rosen was a member of the community council.

* * *

Itzik Rosen's son, Zelig, was an active Zionist. He was also an active library supporter. Zelig Rosen was a member of the first town council during the period of Polish independence, representing the Zionist party list.

* * *

After Itzik Rosen's death, the house was sold to Leibush Dobroshklinka and Yeshiayahu Friedman. In 1934, Leibush Dobroshklinka and all his family moved to Eretz-Israel. He passed away in 5716 (1955).

* * *

A little further on was the brick two-story house of Elkana Bukat. One of the daughters of the Bukat family, Rebcha (Rivka), was a teacher in the government elementary school for Jewish children.

Berish Loite lived in the same house, and his ironware store was there. Berish Loite, Shmualtia Vilk, and Avraham Fried (Yerushalmi) were a special group in the Alexander shtibl. They were considered a little heretical (actually, the first two were considered a little heretical, and the third, more than just a little). The Hasidim called them “The Trio” (di Troike). They always stood together, talked to each other, and left the shtibl after prayers together. For years, every Saturday, Avraham Fried would “buy” a maftir [the last blessing on the reading of the Torah) and honor one of the Trio members with it.

* * *

The kleismer (musician at weddings) Haim Liechtenstein lived on the second floor of the same house. In the yard lived Haim Yosef Garlitz (a tall, old Jew who was called “Der Hoicher Malauch” ? the Tall Angel) and his son Avraham the kleismer (also tall, who was called “Malauch der Kleismer” ? the Angel Musician).

* * *

Until the First World War, in the period of Russian rule in Poland, it was accepted in the Jewish communities that the candidates for army induction would get together in the prayer house every night for a few weeks before the date of induction. These gathering had two official purposes, and an unofficial one. The official purposes were: a) to say the Psalms and pray to be rescued from the Gentiles; and b) to inflict oneself with sleeplessness, to lose weight, and thereby, in combination with other torments, to become exempt from army service, or get a green card, i.e. deferment for a year. The unofficial purpose was the once-in-a-lifetime chance, on the eve of army service, for complete abandonment, boisterousness, and mischief.

In Sierpc, the candidates for induction would gather in the Old House of Prayer. The induction date was in the month of Heshvon, when the nights are already cold. In order to heat the prayer house, the group would pull up fences, take apart steps near stores, and confiscate wooden crates that it found. With this wood, they would heat the place, using the two big stoves in the prayer house, until they almost exploded from the heat. The pranksters among them would pull off various shenanigans. They would move items from one yard to another, and from one street to another. They would shut the door of a store, or an apartment, or a shutter, so that it would be very difficult to open in the morning. They would wake people up and inform them about burglaries or fires that happened to their relatives, and so forth.

Sometimes, there would be among the candidates for induction a pampered lad, the son of a wealthy family, or just plain lazy, who would not come to the house of prayer to “sing Psalms.” When the group would hear of a shirker like this, a large delegation would go to wake him up and invite him to the house of prayer. The delegation would awaken not only him and his family, but all of his neighbors, and all the tenants of the nearby houses as well. When at last the slacker came out, after various excuses by his parents, that the lad wais not at home or in town, etc, the group would welcome him with great rejoicing, and accompany him with “all the honors” to the prayer house. After this “honor”, the boy would not try to malinger any more.

Of course, there were boys who recited the Psalms. And there were boys, that didn't want to participate in all the mischief. But peer pressure forced them to take part in all the activities.

Before dawn, when the morning prayers were not yet required, they would go to a nearby bakery and buy fresh, hot rolls. They would also wake Zelig Richgut or the slisharkhe and buy tea and salted herring, and dine as befits a night of sleeplessness and revelry.

I heard the following story from our respected townsman, Shmuel Itchia Lanter: His peer, Avraham Garlitz (the kleismer who was called Avraham Malauch or Malauch der Kleismer) did not come to the House of Prayer to “sing Psalms”. Of course, the gang came to wake him up, and of course, the whole neighborhood woke up with him. Near the house of the Garlitz family there was a Catholic Church, with a Catholic priest who lived in the yard. The priest woke up in the “general awakening.” He went out to the “revelers”, scolded them, and lectured to them on morals. The words of the priest convinced the group, and they retreated without accomplishing their mission. After that, a saying became widespread “Oz moves dem Malauch, kapt zich oif der galauch” (When the Angel is aroused, so is the priest).

* * *

Sierpc had what many other towns of similar character and size did not ? it had a kleismer group. The group had four members: three Jews and a Gentile. And these are the members and their instruments: Avraham Garlitz ? fiddle, Haim Liechtenstein ? viola, Haim Krupiazh ? horn, and the Gentile Franek ? double bass. The group played at weddings in town, and also in neighboring towns that did not have their own group. Sometimes the group would play at a Polish wedding in town, or in the region. An inseparable member of the group was the comedian Avraham Futter (the brother in law of Yermia the bookseller), who would appear together with them at weddings (of course, not at Polish weddings). The “artistry” of the musicians was at a higher level than that of the comedian. And there were rich Jews who would invite a comedian from the big city to their children's weddings. But still, they would not withhold payment to the local comedian.

All the members of the kleismer group also had other jobs. The comedian also taught Torah to little children. And in spite of the two professions, he was a pauper. Garlitz, whose musical abilities were greater than that of his companions, would give music lessons. Krupiazh milled grits and sold them in a store on Zhaba Street (he was called Kasha Macher ? Maker of Grits). More characteristic was the second calling of Liechtenstein, which was the complete opposite of his main occupation. It was chiseling inscriptions on gravestones (he was called Matzeva Kritzer ? Gravestone Writer). I don't know anything about Franek's other job (if drinking can't be considered a job), but I do know of his second language. He spoke Yiddish almost like a Jew, with all the Hebrew expressions in Yiddish. When he was drunk ? and it happened fairly often ? Franek would say “Ich Franek ehrlicher man” (I, Franek, am an honest man). And possibly this hints at his other job?

* * *

A Catholic church called Shabianti Duch (Holy Spirit) stood next to the Bukat house (it was the smallest of the three Catholic churches in town), and next to it, the priest's residence. The church was built in 1519, destroyed in a fire in 1614, and rebuilt in 1850. (The dates are from the book Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego, Warsaw, 1880.)

Apparently, this spot was beyond the Jewish area in olden days, and the church was built here because of this. In our times, the church here, among Jewish houses, was like a baby held prisoner…

* * *

Beyond the church there was an unpaved lane. The lane was called Tzhalpin. When the town council, in the mid-1930s, changed the street names, this lane was called Zharomski after the Polish author, Stefan Zharomski.

There were few houses in this lane. At a certain time, starting in 1916 or 1917, the library was in one of the houses in this lane. (At the time, there was just one Jewish library in Sierpc, under Zionist management.) The lane continued to the village of Boborova, which was about one kilometer from town. The Sierpianitza River passed through the village, and many young people would go there to bathe in the river. There were Jews who knew how to swim, who on Friday, instead of going to the mikveh, would go to Boborova (in the summer of course) for a dip in the river.

* * *

We called New Market both the market square and the streets surrounding the market. The continuation of the street behind Tzhalpin Lane was called Klashturna, after the monastery (klashtur) that was there. In later years, this street was called Third of May, in honor of the Polish constitution, which was adopted on May 3, 1793.

* * *

The house that stood on the corner of Zharomski Lane and Third of May Street was a two-story brick house that belonged to Aharon Czernoczepka. Aharon

Czernoczepka, who owned a lumberyard, was considered one of the rich men in town. He was a respected Gur Hasid. At the start of the German conquest (during the First World War), Aharon Czernoczepka was appointed to the town council by the occupation authorities. He was a councilman after the war as well, and for a while, he was a lavnik (advisor to the mayor). Later on, the house was sold to Mendel Karpa.

The school of Mordecai Hertz Mintz was on the first floor. Previously, it had been on the small street near the Kamnitza (near the Jewish Street).

* * *

Czernoczepka house was near the bridge over the Sierpianitza. This part of the street had a rural air: gardens, trees, and houses in yards with greenery and flowers, and green fences at the front. Only Poles lived here.

* * *

There was a pavilion with three statues near the bridge, a Catholic holy place. When they passed, they would doff their hats and cross themselves. Jews called the place “Menashe and His Three Sons” (Menashe mit di 3 zihen) and when they passed by, they would try not to look at it.[17]

* * *

The bridge over the Zhika (the Sierpianitza River) was a link between the town and some busy roads, and therefore was built to last. It was also built high over the river, so that the light floods that would occur from time to time at the end of the winter wouldn't submerge it. The Zhika that flowed here was very deep, and its two banks were covered with a multitude of greenery: grass, flowers, and trees.

* * *

On the other side of the bridge there is a wonderful and charming vista: the street continues and climbs up, and to the right, a hill. Steps hewn into the side of the hill lead to a Catholic church at the top, and the hillside, tall and steep, separates the street from the church. To the left, a wide and beautiful valley unfolds, gladdening the heart with its colors and vegetation. These are the famous “valleys” (Dolinki) of the town and its surroundings. These are the valleys that, during the rule of the Tsar, were used for illegal meetings of the revolutionary parties of the Sierpc young people; these are the valleys where the Sierpc youth strolled on Saturdays and holidays, breathed their fresh air, lay on the soft grass, and bathed in the clean river, the Sierpc river, Sierpianitza, that flowed in those valleys.

* * *

The church, which stood on the summit of the hill, was put up in 1483 to house the picture of the Mother of God that had been miraculously discovered. The name of the church was The Ascension to Heaven of the Mother of God. In spite of modifications of the church building in 1787 and 1801, and a fire that broke out in 1794, the old building lines remained.

In 1620, a Benedictine convent was put up next to the church. When the wooden building of the convent burnt down in 1703, a brick building was put up in its place, and remains there to this day.

* * *

Beyond the church, there is a road with branches to the right and left. To the right, the road continues until the end of the Vloka (Vlikes), a suburb that was later incorporated into the town. From there it descends to the right, to the Jewish Street, or to travel, to the left, to Biezun (Bezvin). To the left the road continues to Rypin and to Lipno (it is called Rypin Road).

During the German occupation in the First World War, the Germans built a narrow gauge railway track for a small train (kolaika) that went between Lowicz and Nasielsk. This train also passed Sierpc, and the station was in this area, on the way to Lipano. Because of this, the area developed, some buildings were put up, and a few Jewish families lived here (the brothers Itcha Meir and Hershel Motil, Yosef Applebaum).

On the left side of this road were three adjacent Christian cemeteries (only brick walls separated them): Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical.

In the mid-1930's, when the town council changed the street names, the road to Lipano (the part close to town) was named Lipnovaska. The road from Lipnovaska Street to the right that goes to Rypin was called Rypinskaya. And the road that leads from the church to the right (and continues to the Vloka) was called Biazhonska. We have come to the end of town. We will go back on the other side of the street.

We mentioned the church that stood at the top of the hill. During the German occupation of the First World War, the Germans build a jail behind the church, and transferred the koza (prison for petty crimes) and the vanzhnia (prison for major crimes) from Pirogova Street, near Garfinkel's house.

* * *

There were a few houses in front of the bridge. Among the few Jewish families that lived there was the Mendel Gurfinkel family. He and his ancestors were men of the woods, expert workers who were clerks and cashiers in various forests. When the First World War broke out, Mendel Gurfinkel lived in the forests of Chomsk, 18 kilometers from Sierpc on the way to Rypin. A Gentile, who had been fired from his job by Mendel Gurfinkel because of theft, falsely informed on him to the Russians, saying that he had sold horses to the Germans. Cossacks arrested Mendel Gurfinkel, and took him into the forest in order to kill him. Peasants from the area came to his aid and pleaded with the Cossacks not to kill this Jew, that he was an honest and good man and helpful to the forestry workers and all the peasants of the area. The Cossacks heeded the importuning of the peasants and decided to bring Mendel Gurfinkel to their headquarters in Sierpc. When the Cossacks marched Mendel Gurfinkel through the streets of Sierpc, he managed to inform Meir Tzafris of his arrest. The report spread throughout the town, and Jews tried to save him. Aharon Tchernotchepka and Isaac Rosen testified to his honesty, and gave their houses as a guarantee for him. The soltis (village chief) of Chomsk testified for him, and proved, using the village ledgers, that the peasant who had been fired by Mendel had threatened to get even (at the time, Mendel Gurfinkel had made sure that the threat was recorded in the village ledger). Thanks to the efforts of Jews and Gentiles, Mendel Gurfinkel was saved from death.

Mendel Gurfinkel was a respected Gur Hasid, and he was the representative of the Aguda from Sierpc to the Great Assembly of Agudat Israel in Vienna in approximately 1928. For a certain period, Mendel Gurfinkel was a member of the town council and a member of the community council, representing Agudat Israel.

* * *

Across the bridge there were houses of Poles, surrounded by trees, flowers, and greenery.

A little further on, across from Tchernotchepka's house was a one-story house that belonged to the German, Fatlick. The teacher, Mordecai Hirsh Mintz, lived in this house (previously he lived in the narrow street near the Kamnitza). A small room in Mintz's apartment was the first office of Agudat Tzion, in the years 1916-1917.

* * *

After the Fatlick house there was a small street named Shkolna (School Street), because of the government school there. This street continued until Para (Farska) Street. In the mid-1930's the street was called Shpitalna (Hospital Street), after the hospital there. (The hospital was later moved to Piastovska Street.)

* * *

Binyamin Sherpherz lived on this street, and if my memory serves me correctly, he was the only Jew that lived on this street. Binyamin Sherpherz was not from Sierpc. He was clerk in a forest near Sierpc (he was also called “Binyamin Volyar” after his previous place of residence ? Volya) and from there he came to live in Sierpc. He was in the lumber business. He had a small cart and horse, and he would go every day to a village or to the woods, on business. But this business was not enough to maintain his household (he had a few intelligent daughters, Polish speaking, and well dressed) and he was supported by his son Yisrael (Yisraelke), a rich lumber merchant, who opened a sawmill (and next to it a lumberyard) at the edge of town, on the Vloka, on the road to Biezun, and later, at the end of Plotzki Street, behind the big park.

Binyamin Sherpherz was an Alexander Hasid. His younger son, David, studied at the Gur yeshiva, in one of the upper grades, and was one of the outstanding students there. He would come home only for the holidays. At the start of World War I, when the classes at the yeshiva were cancelled, David Sherpherz came back to Sierpc and remained in town.

David Sherpherz was an exception among the young men of Sierpc with regard to his Hasidic behavior. He grew a beard, and wore an Atlas kapota (long coat) on Sabbath. He prayed fervently, deliberately, and with a great many movements. In later years, when David Sherpherz entered the world of business ? the lumber business ? he shortened his beard and his clothes. In the end, he dressed in regular clothes, and the beard vanished entirely…

* * *

After Shkolna-Shpitalna Street, we again enter the New Market (Sixth of Sharpian Place). The first house, a one-story house, was that of Yakir Dobroshklinka. He was an Alexander Hasid. He would pray Kol Nidre and Neila in the Alexander shtibl.

* * *

Berish Sosnovski lived in the yard of the same house. He was from Lipno (37 kilometers from Sierpc) and he came to Sierpc as the son-in-law of Isaac Rosen. Berish Sosnovski was a quiet and serious man, and very particular about his appearance. His beard was always combed, and his clothes were clean. He was an Alexander Hasid, and he was always reading a book in the shtibl.

* * *

A little further on was the one-story house of Isaac Neiman, who owned the grocery store in the same house. Isaac Neiman was an enthusiastic Zionist, completely faithful and devoted. He was one of the founders of Mizrachi in Sierpc.

* * *

A bit further, opposite the Butchers' House, stood the house of Haim Itche Neiman (later sold to Avraham Lushinski). This was a big, handsome, two-story house. The owner was also a handsome Jew. Itche Neiman was a student of the Torah, a Hasid (Gur Hasid), and in spite of this, also a little Enlightened. He spoke Polish and Russian, knew how to prepare requests to the authorities and institutions, and knew some of the laws of the land.

I heard the following story from my Rabbi Moisheye Karmelkeies (Danziger). Haim Itche Neiman was known in the offices of the municipal authorities, the government, and the courts, where he would sometimes visit because of his own affairs, or representing others. Once a Polish clerk (this was during Russian rule, before the First World War) gave him an answer that was not to the point. I will tell you what Haim Itche said to him:

“During the Povstania (the Polish rebellion against the Russians in 1863), a povstaniatz (rebel) was looking for shelter after a defeat suffered by his regiment in a battle with the Cossacks. He came to the house of a Jew in a village, and asked to be hidden there. The Jew pointed to the baking oven as the safest hiding place. The soldier agreed, and with no other alternative, crawled in and lay there. A short time later, an officer of the rebels came running to the same house, with the same request: to hide him. He showed him the baking oven as well, and the officer crawled in and lay there also. After he calmed down a little from the flight and the fear, he sensed that someone else was in the oven, and asked, ?Who are you?' The soldier identified himself, and then the officer said, ?What, you are a plain soldier, and don't show proper respect to an officer next to you?' And the soldier answered, ?But sir, now we are both in an oven.'”

The clerk took the hint and changed his answer.

* * *

All of Haim Itche Neiman's sons had an artistic bent. Their contemporaries said that when they were still students in the heder, Neiman's sons would be drawing pictures of the Rabbi and the students under the desk, during the lesson. The drawings were very good. One of the sons, Avraham Neiman, took up art, and became a famous painter in Poland and abroad. Most of his pictures are of the Carpathian Mountains.

Avraham Neiman visited Sierpc two or three times when he was already a famous artist. He had long hair, which came down to his shoulders, and the children would yell at him “Galauch” (priest). Once he went onto the bridge on Jewish Street dressed casually, with a satchel on his back, leggings on his feet, paint brushes in his hand, and started drawing the Zhika (river) and the surrounding scenery. Of course, all the passers by, and especially the children, stopped to stare at the strange person and his strange preoccupation.

I heard from our respected townsman, Shmuel Itcha Lanter, that he studied with a Gemara tutor called Itzhak Malchas (his family name was Prager). A few years earlier, Mendel Neiman studied with the same tutor. (His name was Avraham Mendel, and when he was a child he was called just Mendel.) The tutor told his pupils that Mendel once ran away from the heder in the middle of a lesson. When the children left the heder in the middle of the school day, they saw that a large picture of the Rabbi had been drawn in chalk on the outside door, with his beard hanging down and the lulke (pipe) in his mouth. They called the Rabbi and he saw it and liked the picture, which closely resembled him. That was the work of Avraham (Mendel) Neiman.

I also heard from Mr. Lanter (whose house was near the Neiman house) that Haim Itche Neiman greatly interfered with his son's attempts at drawing. He saw them as childish and mischievous acts that on the one hand lead to a disregard for the Torah, and on the other hand, have no practical outcome. It got to a point that once when he came home, after he had been out of town for a few months, the father demanded rent from his son for the room where he had left his pictures. But the sons of Lipa Cahana (the owner of the neighboring house) came to the artist's aid. Even then they were considered Enlightened, and saw artistic value in their young neighbor's pictures. They let him use a hut in their yard for his work. And Avraham Neiman stayed there and pursued his holy work during the time he lived in Sierpc, until he went abroad to study art.

Avraham Neiman was born in 1873. He studied painting at the Academy of Art in Krakow. During the First World War he was in Vienna (his wife was Viennese, the daughter of the famous publisher, Fisher) and in 1918 settled in New York. He came to Eretz-Israel from America, and then returned to Europe and lived in Krakow. During the Holocaust he was in the Krakow Ghetto, and was killed during the deportation of some of the Jews in the Ghetto, in 1942.

In the General Encyclopedia published by Masada, it states: “Neiman, Avraham: A Jewish landscape painter in Poland, born 1873. Became famous for his winter scenes of Zakopane and the Tatat Mountains. Visited Eretz-Israel at the beginning of this century, and also in the years 1925-27, and drew landscapes.”

In Davar of 5 Sivan 5719 (2 February, 1949) there was an article by the poet Meir Busak titled “Avraham Neiman and Mordecai Gvirtik in Krakow Ghetto (Seven Years After their Death).” We include an excerpt from this article:

“In his search for a solution to the secrets of colors and their composition, to arrange them in harmonies and contrasts, his pursuit of the joy and splendor of the purified gold, green and white, Avraham Neiman wandered all over the world. He painted and exhibited in Poland, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, England, America, and Eretz-Israel. When the Second World War broke out, he was in Krakow.

“With all the other ?lucky ones' who received residence permits in the Ghetto, he did not have to leave the city, and stayed in the new Jewish Quarter. He shaved his beard, and only when he started walking bare headed, a little humiliated, did his magnificent head of hair turn white. Tall and haggard, in a black suit, he was always in a hurry (God knows why), roaming through the Ghetto and giving the impression of a caged animal.

“He who was used to a life of luxury in Western Europe, a painter whose pictures were worth hundreds of dollars in America, lived in a damp, dark narrow room at the corner of Yanova and Vela, and starved.

(Here the article discusses Gvirtik)

“Avraham Neiman, when he was in the Ghetto, was absorbed in the world of art. He was rooted in nationhood and art. He always tied these two concepts together: nationhood (in terms of tens of thousands and millions) and art. Once, during an exhibition, he pointed at one of his pictures and said that it had received the First Prize ? the prize of the Jewish people. After a moment he added ?I saw that every Jew who came to my exhibition stood looking at this picture for a while. That is my prize.'

“He starved in the Ghetto. He had to make do with the spoon of sauce he received from the Judenrat, and his giant, strong, and healthy frame demanded food. He would earn a little money from drawing pictures for Ghetto dwellers. The hunger would leech his blood and nibble at his flesh, and he was immersed in a world of art. Once I met him in the street and his face was beaming with happiness. ?Some professors from the Art Academy visited me. They saw my new pictures and all of them said that Neiman is advancing with giant steps.' He was then 69.

“Everyone wondered where he got the money for paints and canvas. He hung his pictures in the display window of a tinsmith's workshop, above jugs and faucets. Since he had been accustomed to an environment of admirers and devotees of art, he couldn't get used to the fact that there had been changes in his life, that the struggle for existence had taken on a new, more brutal form. That the strong pushed away the weak, and that the despicable had taken over the supervision of the Ghetto and saw an artist as a superfluous being.

“Once, when he was refused support at some aid agency, Neiman threatened, ?You'll see what I'll do to you, you'll see!' he yelled, all rage and temper.

“What?” asked the agency official.

?I will stand at the entrance to the Judenrat and scream until the whole world will hear that the Krakow Judenrat stands by while the greatest of Jewish painters starves to death.'

“In spite of his ties to world painting, Neiman was all Jewish. He lived and painted for many years in Eretz-Israel, and his memories of that country filled his life in the Ghetto. Near his house there was a garden with a few trees. He would assemble the tenants of the house in this garden, and tell them:

'Do you see these trees? Well, listen to this. There, in that land, there is the greenery of spring; the trees are green like emeralds. And if you saw the heavens of that land… and the sun… There, it is not the glow of the sun that pours out, but the sun itself…'

“Very often he would read and interpret the Bible, which he kept reading, in an up-to-date way. There was a young man living in Neiman's house, a servant of the Gestapo (killed later by the Germans), who always tormented Neiman. From his second floor window he would yell out at the garden, ?Again that foolish old man is jabbering, a crazy man… I'll show you. I know people in Judenrat, and they'll throw you out of your apartment…'

“Neiman, with his temper, wouldn't back down. He would raise his clenched fists, spit out insults and curses, and finally turn to the tenants of the house:

“? ?I'm not afraid of him. I know the Bible.'

“Of course the tenants didn't understand the connection between knowledge of the Bible and fear of the Gestapo. But Neiman explained it to them:

“'What can he do to me? The principles of justice and integrity in our Bible will in the end be victorious. In any case, all the victories of these thieves amount to nothing. They will fail, and lose, even if they kill me. The ideals sown in the world are eternal, and they will win. What is this servant of the Gestapo compared to our Bible?'

“On June 4, 1942, when the rumor spread that among the 200 dead in the shipment from Krakow were both Neiman and Gvirtik, the words of the former came to mind: ?What can he do to me?' and the echo of the poem of the latter:

“'The scents of spring are in space, the world is in depression, and receding.'”

* * *

The grocery store and apartment of Beinam Veismal were in this house. He was one of the important and outstanding Gur Hasidim. He was the right hand man of Yakov Moshe Teitlebaum, but was not as strict as him. Beinam Veismal was a kind man, pleasant and easy in all his conversations with other people.

* * *

The ironworks store of Haim Mintz was in the same house. He had no sons, and brought up Yeshiayahu Friedman, whose parents died when he was a child. He brought him up and educated him as if he were his own son, and also had great fulfillment from him. With the passage of time, he let Yeshiayahu manage the store, and at the end of his life, signed it over to him. Yeshiayahu Friedman was a devoted and outstanding Zionist activist. He was active in all the Zionist institutions and funds, and also cultural and educational institutions. In the 1930s Yeshiayahu Friedman was a member of the town council and the community council. He visited Eretz-Israel in 1934, bought land in Yokenam, and returned to Poland.

* * *

We again find ourselves in Pirogova (Piaretzki) Street, which continues until Para (Parska) Street. The first house, a two-story house, belonged to Shimshon Mordecai Visroza (who was called “Shimshe Mortke”).

Shimshon Mordecai's business was eggs, butter, and chickens. Before the market-days (which were on Tuesdays and Fridays), he would give money to poor people, and they would buy eggs, butter and chickens for him on market day. Shimshon Mordecai and his sons, Yakov Yosef, Shepsel (Shabtai) and Yehuda, would do the same. After the market days he would get the goods from his buyers, arrange the accounts with them, prepare the merchandise, and send it on to Warsaw.

Yehoshua (Shia) Visroza, Shimshon Mordecai's younger brother, who lived in the market in Pinchas Malave's house, traded in the same merchandise, but on a smaller scale. His main occupation was his grocery store, which was situated in the house in which he lived.

The two brothers were Alexander Hasidim, and not only were they not famous cantors, or much praised prayer leaders, but they also couldn't sing a single clear on-key note. As is well known, it is customary that someone who has a yahrzeit (the day of memorial for the death of a parent) stands in front of the Ark to lead the prayer. And as if it were the devil's work, the memorial days for their parents almost always were on the Sabbath. So what did Shimshon Mordecai and Yehoshua do? They would relinquish ahead of time those parts of the service that Hasidim would sing (the prayers of Sabbath eve with “Lecha Dodi” and the morning prayer with “El Adon”), and they would divide the rest of the prayers between themselves: Shimshon Mordecai would stand before the Ark on Sabbath Eve starting with “Barchu” and on Saturday morning with the Musaf, and Yehoshua would stand before the ark for the morning prayer until “Shochen Ad.” But the brothers were unable even to reproduce the familiar melodies of these prayers. Shimshon Mordecai would pray in a tone that seemingly always became higher, and Yehoshua, in a tone that always went lower.

The Hasidim would make fun of them, “Shimshe Mortke asks, and Shia answers.”

* * *

Meir Yisrael Iszajewicz (who was called “Shma Yisrael”) lived in the same house. Meir Yisrael was a shpiliter[18] who brought merchandise from Lodz. There were a few shpiliters who brought merchandise from Warsaw: Yischar Bergson (and later, his son David), Shmuel Itzhak Tatz, Wolfe Nazhmaski, Elia Fish (a Jew from Warsaw who settled in Sierpc during the First World War), and others. But Lodz didn't have a shpiliter. Meir Yisrael was the first and only one who did this. He would bring from Lodz, usually on order, but sometimes without an order, one type of merchandise: stockings. Stockings of all kinds, types, and sizes. Previously, stockings had been brought, like other merchandise, from Warsaw, but because they were made in Lodz, it was cheaper to buy them in Lodz.

After a while, Meir Yisrael began to bring a new product of that type of merchandise, and this was stoppes (a kind of sole for a stocking) for repairing stockings. This product had a lot of buyers, because it made life easier for the housewives, and also saved money. Meir Yisrael's mother would sell the stoppes to store owners and to pushcart peddlers in the market.

Meir Yisrael Iszajewicz mother, Toona, was a simple and honest woman, good hearted, and innocent. When we once asked her (she would bring stoppes to our store, too) about the merchandise she sold on credit, Toona answered in a high and annoyed tone, with a quick motion of the hand. “Ch'veis az z'machen mer an, nor zolen z'zech onessen gesinterheit” (“I know that they're cheating me, but they should have a long life.”) Toona was unable to utter anything more severe than that.

* * *

The second house, a two story building, was that of the lawyer Eliezer Garfinkel. A lawyer or doctor in a small town in those days was a great honor, and a Jewish lawyer or doctor then was usually assimilated, and distant from Jews and Judaism, but the Lawyer Garfinkel was not condescending, and not remote from the “people.” He was a good Jew, and Jewish values were close to his heart. Garfinkel prayed in the New House of Prayer, and he came there every Saturday (except when he was occupied with a court case). He had a wide knowledge of the holy texts, and on occasion he would take time off to study a page of Gemara.

* * *

In those days, there were practically no Jewish natives of Sierpc who had a university education. Garfinkel came from Suvlak, and the dentist Lib Heler was also not from Sierpc. There were, however, Jewish doctors in Sierpc. There was Dr. Shapiro (he was in Sierpc a few years before the First World War); there was Dr. Kaddish Hirsh (he was in Sierpc for approximately the last half of the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s); there was Dr. Mintz Zigmund (he was in Sierpc from the beginning of the 1930s until the expulsion of the Jews from the town); and there was Dr. Komorovsky (he was in Sierpc in approximately the years 1936-39). There was also a Jewish lawyer named Dr. Tuch (for approximately the last two years before the war). But they were not natives of Sierpc. Only in Warsaw there was Dr. Zbikalski, and in New York, Dr. Etta (Esther) Grobard-Fox, a dentist, both of them born in Sierpc.

In the period between the two world wars, some Sierpc natives received a higher education, had academic degrees, and worked in various places at their profession. These were:

Dr Yoel (Yulik) Garfinkel (the son of the above mentioned lawyer, now in Israel); Dr. Azriel Shempan (lived before the war in Rypin, now in Israel); Dr. Yeshiayahu Kurte (studied in France, and died there shortly after finishing his studies); Dr. Eliezer Kurte, a dentist, (lived before World War I in Wierzbinik, near Radom, perished in the Holocaust); the lawyer Yehoshua Podskotch (lived in Warsaw before the war, and was active both before the war and in the Ghetto in the Tzentas society, an important group that took care of orphans, ejected from the Ghetto in the great expulsion of August 1942); the lawyer Yehoshua Tzafris (lived in Warsaw before the war, today in South America); the lawyer Yosel Farshnitzki (lived in Warsaw before the war, and perished in France during the Holocaust); Doctor of Chemistry Avraham Bluman (Kcholi) (lived in Warsaw before the war, today in Israel); and the Master of Liberal Arts Yitzhak Blachman (a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem).

* * *

The koza (prison for minor offenders) was in Garfinkel's yard. This was an ordinary house, with bars on the windows, and a guard at the entrance.

* * *

The vanzhnia (prison for major criminals) was behind Garfinkel's house. This was a low building with small windows barred with iron bars, surrounded by a large yard, and the yard was enclosed by a high fence, with a guard patrolling the yard.

We already mentioned that during the time of the German occupation in the First World War, the Germans moved both prisons, the koza and the vanzhnia to Third of May Street (Tzhechko Maya), to the hill behind the Catholic church.

In the large yard of the vanzhnia the Germans put up cylindrical corrugated tin huts and arranged them into a military hospital. Both the huts and the corrugated tin were novelties for Sierpc.

Before the Butchers' House was put up in the New Market, meat was sold in small stalls (boodkes) that stood on the wide sidewalk in front of the vanzhnia.

* * *

After the vanzhnia there stood a Catholic church that was called The Ascension to Heaven of the Mother of God. (See below, for a survey of Fara Street.)

We return to Zhavia Street (Zhavia ? First of May).

In the first house, a small one-story house that belonged to Lebogashavski (a Pole) there was a small store for textiles, that belonged to Dudi Beinam (Simcha Beinam) Sandrovitch. Before that, he had sold these goods from his apartment, which was in Plotzki Street, in Shperling's house.

It is interesting to note that in those days, when a trip to America was considered, especially among Hasidic families, a very strange act, and a relative who was in America was thought of as “unfit” for the family, Dudi Beinam went to America, stayed there for a few years, and came back--apparently, because of his business, which was not too successful there.

* * *

The second house, a long one-story home, was the house of Azriel Yehuda Kotcholk.

Some of the Gur Hasidim, the better-off ones, who were also more progressive, split from the rest of the Hasidim and founded their own shtibl. The new shtibl, which was called “Shtibl of the Rich Gur,” (S'rache Gerer Shtibl) was in the yard of Azriel Yehuda Kotcholk (after a few years, the two shtibls united). The same room later housed the Alexander shtibl. Azriel would sit in the shtibl all day long, and study. Sometimes, when he found a worthy enough opponent, he would play chess in the shtibl. He was among the best chess players in town. Sometimes he would play with the Russian commissar, who was also an excellent chess player.

* * *

The ironworks store in that house belonged to Berish Poznanski.

The Jews of Sierpc suffered greatly under the oppressive enemy in the two months (8 September to 8 November, 1939) prior to the expulsion. The cruel foe tortured them physically and spiritually, and abused them. But the accursed Germans reached the peak of cruelty and violence in the tortures they inflicted on Berish Poznanski. He was jailed along with other Jews in the municipal prison house. They were tortured there with cruel and brutal torments. One day they were ordered to dig a trench in the yard, and when they finished digging, the accursed ones buried Berish Poznanski, in the presence of a doctor, up to his neck in the ground. Only when the doctor said he was in danger of dying, did they take him out. The Germans repeated this “game” several times.

During a period in the 1930s, Berish Poznanski was a member of the town council, representing Agudat Israel.

* * *

The second house, two stories high, belonged to Leib Mintz.

Leib Mintz both moved and talked slowly. He was a tailor by trade, and a little bit of a heretic in his outlook. He was among those of little faith, and looked skeptically at the world.

Leib Mintz would make fun of doctors and their knowledge. This is what he used to say: “When I don't feel well, I go to a doctor for advice. The doctor writes a prescription and I pay him. I don't believe him, or in his prescriptions, but he's a human being and needs to make a living. From the doctor, I go to the drugstore. I give them the prescription, receive the medicine, and pay, because the druggist is also a human being and needs to make a living. When I leave the drugstore, I pour out the medicine and throw away the bottle, because I'm also a human being, and I also have to live.”

* * *

The next house, a brick one-story house, was that of Frilinski (a Pole). The only store in this house was the barbershop of Moshe Zomer, who was a medical aide. Behind the barbershop was a small apartment that was barely enough for Zomer's family. He would say, “The extent of my Hasidism is greater than that of all the Hasidim in town. It is the custom of Hasidim to put one bed next to one wall, and a second bed next to the second wall. And I put one bed in my room and the second one ? in the storeroom of Baruch Mendel Gotlibovski…”

Zomer was among the veterans of the Enlightenment in Sierpc, and well versed in the Bible.

* * *

Leibush Asher (who was called “Chaver Asher”) lived in the yard of this house. He was from Plock, and he settled in Sierpc when he married Melech Tzina's daughter. The two of them, father-in-law and son-in-law, were tailors.

Asher was an outstanding Bundist activist, and was also a good public speaker. He was active in all the institutions of the Bund in town. For a time he was a member of the community council, and also a member of the town council.

 

Fara Street

We go on to our survey of Fara Street.

The first house, a big two-story house with a cellar belonging to Grabovski (a Pole) was the textile goods store of David Sochaczewski. His wife, Madam Yetta, took care of the store, doing both the buying and the selling. David himself worked in grains when he was younger, and when he was old, sat in the Gur shtibl, prayed, said the Psalms, and studied the Mishna or the Ein Yaakov. The jokesters call him “Radak,” an acronym for Reb David Kraviatz (kraviatz in Polish is tailor).

* * *

The barbershop of Haim Kolski was in the same house. People would say about Kolski's work that, when many peasants entered his barbershop at the same time, on Sunday, or on market day, he would sit them all down and lather their beards, and explain that if the beard is lathered for a long time, it becomes softer and easier to shave. Once, when many lathered peasants sat in his store, the alarm bells rang because a fire had broken out in one of the villages. All the peasants dashed out of the barbershop, ran to their carts, and rushed to their villages with lather on their faces.

Kolski was also “half a medical aide.” The medical fields in which he specialized were cupping glasses, leeches, and enemas.

* * *

The shpiliter Shmuel Yitzhak Tatz lived on the second floor of the house. His father, Avraham had been a shochet (ritual slaughterer) during the 1880s in the villages around Sierpc.

* * *

The next house, a small single-story one, was the house of the tailor Nuchia Pukatch. In the yard lived Mendel Tatz, who had a povaz (enclosed carriage) and a pair of horses, and would take travelers to Plock, on their way to Warsaw. After the railway reached Sierpc, Mendel Tatz traded in his povaz for a droshky (open carriage) and brought riders to and from the railway station.

Jokesters used to tell that once Mendel Tatz fell asleep in the middle of the seder. In his dream he saw his horse moving very slowly, and in order to speed him up he called “Vyo!” and gave hard pull to the reins. That's what was in his dream, but in reality he pulled the tablecloth off the table and sent everything on it crashing to the floor…

* * *

Anshel (Entzel) Mash lived in the same yard. He was short, with a short beard, and very lazy. In the Alexander shtibl (he was an Alexander Hasid), he was like an unofficial caretaker. Everyone used him and gave him orders (not for personal gain, perish the thought) and he did as everyone told him. Without Anshel, there couldn't be a kiddush or a Melave Malke feast, not a party, nor any gathering of Hasidim. He was the first and also the last in every festivity or Hasidic get-together. He helped to prepare every celebration, to bring and set up the tables, the benches, the bottles, glasses, and all kinds of utensils. If there was no water for the ritual washing of hands, a glass, a cup, a corkscrew, anything, someone would immediately yell, “Anshel, bring water! Bring a glass!” etc. And Anshel went to one neighbor, and then another neighbor, and brought it. And even when they overdid using him and it annoyed him, he still didn't refuse. He would grumble into his mustache, complain about the injustices being done to him, quietly, to himself, but he followed orders and brought whatever had been asked for.

Anshel was a melamed (teacher). He taught the alphabet to little boys. And his wife, Sara Dvora, was a rabanit (rebetzin) not just through her husband, but also by her own doing. She taught the alphabet to little girls. Apparently, Anshel's income was not enough to cover his “large” household expenses.

* * *

The nearby house, a single story one, belonged to Vova (Wolfe) Shlezinger. The paint store in the same house was also his, and it was the only store of its kind.

Vova had a kind heart, and he would dispense charity very generously and support everyone who asked it of him.

Vova Shlezinger was among the worshipers at the New Prayer House, and one of the veteran Hovevei-Tzion in town. He would say, “If every Jew would give a package of butter (a asle puter) a week, it would be possible to redeem Eretz-Israel.”

A little further on stood the small one-story house, of Yakov Moshe Teitlebaum. Inside his apartment in this house, Yakov Moshe had a large shop for leather and shoemakers' goods.

Yakov Moshe was a Gur Hasid, and not just a plain Hasid, but also an outstanding one, enthusiastic, a Hasid with a capital H. Even the Gentiles, the shoemakers who bought from him, called him “Husid.” Both in his own behavior and in his demands of others, Yakov Moshe was harsh, extreme, and strict, with no compromises. But because of his innocence and honesty, both in matters of Hasidism, and in trade, even the freethinkers would treat him with respect and politeness.

In the summer of 1910, there was an outbreak of typhus in Sierpc. Among the dead was the twelve-year-old daughter of Yakov Moshe Teitlebaum. In the summer of 1916, on the day his daughter would have been eighteen, Yakov Moshe and his wife Madam Rivka Toltza, held a grand and extravagant “wedding” for their daughter. They had a Torah scroll written in honor of the daughter, and on the day of the “wedding” they arranged for the ceremony of “the Completion of the Scroll” and the accompaniment of the scroll with great ceremony to the synagogue. For the “wedding” they invited all the Jews in town, and many from the neighboring towns. These were relatives, notables, and people who had ties of friendship or business with Yakov Moshe. Also invited (and they came) were the German authorities in town (this was during the German occupation during the First World War). The “father-in-law” Yakov Moshe carried the Torah scroll under the canopy, and sang and danced the whole time. With the accompaniment of a great congregation of Hasidim, and just plain Jews, and with kleismerim, the procession moved from the house of the “in-laws” to the synagogue with music and song and dancing. After the ceremony of bringing the scroll into the temple, there was the “wedding” feast. First a feast for the poor, with a generous gift for each pauper, as is customary at rich weddings, and then a feast for the invited and for “whoever is hungry” ? for the whole town. The feast was like the feast of Solomon in its time, everything that was wanted and good, generous and munificent. It went on until very late at night.

* * *

The wide part of Fara (Farska) Street ended at the square in front of the Catholic Church. There was then a narrow extension to the street to the right. Pirogova (Piaretzki) Street began to the left, and continued until the New Market.

* * *

The church that was situated here was the oldest, largest, and most important of the three Catholic churches in town. This church was named after the saints Vita, Modesta, and Kraschanchi. According to tradition, this church was put up in the eleventh century in place of a pagan temple on the spot. In 1569, the church was repaired, and apparently the steeple was added then. In 1630 and 1648 fires broke out there. The repairs made after the fires and repairs made in following years not only spoiled the earlier building lines, but also the later additions.

The church was enclosed by a brick fence, and near the fence, inside, were tall and wide chestnut trees. There was a widespread legend in town that the church and the fence were sinking at the rate of the size of one pea every day. Of course, we did not doubt, heaven forbid, the truth of this legend. But we, the children, still wanted visible proof of this wonder and miracle. We also wanted to see the downfall of the Gentiles, and the sinking of their “contamination.” But we couldn't prove the sinking of the church, because we weren't allowed to enter the grounds and, because of its height, it was impossible to discern a change in height of one pea a day. But the sinking of the fence could be determined: we measured it with respect to our own heights, and made various marks. But to our disappointment, we could not prove the point, and we were not satisfied that we had actually seen with our own eyes and felt with our own hands this great miracle, and extracted pleasure from the sinking of the “contamination.”

Jewish children came to the fence of the church for another reason, because of the chestnuts. In the fall, when the chestnuts fell, the children would come to gather the chestnuts and fill their pockets. At home we would crack open the green shell with a rock (this would blacken our hands such that they became very difficult to clean) and we would use the pits for various games, in place of nuts, or stones. Others would make a hole in the chestnut with a nail, thread a fine cord through them, and make a harness for a game of cart and horse for a little brother, or beads for a little sister.

* * *

As mentioned, there was a narrow extension to Fara Street between the church fence and the houses on the right of the street. Beyond the church was a street called Shkolna (School Street) after the only public school in town, which was on this street. As stated above, the street's name was changed in the mid-1930s to Shpitalna after the hospital that was there. The street continued from Fara Street to the left until the start of Third of May Street (Tazhchego Maia). Outside of school hours and prayer times at the church, the street was very quiet, because there were very few houses there. The church took up a large area on the left of the street; the school and the park next to it took up a large area to the right. And the remaining areas on both sides of the street were taken up by large gardens, with small houses in them. As mentioned previously, only one Jew lived on this street, and he was Binyamin Sherpherz.

* * *

In the book “Noach Prilotzkis Zamelbicher far Yidishen Folklor, Filologia un Kultur Geshichten” (A collection of Folklore, Philology, and Annals of the Culture of the Jews), Volume 1, page 72, the following phrase appears: “Shepser Rebetzin geit mit di soldaten, di kupke untern orem, in der shkole gas.” (The Rabanit from Sierpc walks with the soldiers, her headdress under her arm, on the School Street.) I don't know the source of this saying.

* * *

Beyond the church, Fara Street continues downhill until the bridge over the Sierpianitza River. This was the lowest and weakest of the bridges in Sierpc, because it served only occasional light traffic. This was not an exit from town, and there was no road on the other side of the bridge, just a dirt path, that lay between wide fields of hay and vegetables. And only a few carts, loaded with hay or vegetables, passed over this bridge.

* * *

On the other side of the bridge there was a magnificent vista, with green fields producing perfumed scents, and good, clean air. There was also a small grove on the bank of the river. In the summer, the young people would stroll here in the evenings and on Saturdays. Also adults, the sick and the weak, would come here to spend a few hours during the day, in the shade of the grove, to breathe some fresh air. They would bring food and eat at this pleasant spot, in the fine air that would revive their poor appetite.

I was about five or six when the doctor decided that I needed convalescence. What did convalescence mean? It was to sit in the woods (zitsen in veldie as they used to say) and breath fresh air. And I remember that for a few Saturdays, my father woke up early, took provisions for me for the trip, and went to walk with me in the grove. After I sat, ate, played, and strolled there, we went home, and only then would father go the shtibl to pray (because of my weakness, I stayed at home).

Leib, the son of Dudi Moshe Sandrovitch, was already then among the boys who would get into trouble. He already had a trade (he sewed for Akiva Offenbach), visited the library, made friends with the “strikers” (revolutionaries), and instead of going to the afternoon and evening prayers, would go strolling in the evening. He would usually stroll with Avramie Horovitz, his neighbor and friend. On those evenings that they strolled in the grove and its vicinity, they would take me along. Thus I would convalesce, as per doctor's orders…

* * *

The path beyond the bridge continued until the foot of the hill. There stood a small, round pavilion (it was built like an octagon). There were narrow windows with colored glass all around the walls of the pavilion. Near the pavilion was a small, low well, that was called by the Jews the “conversion well” (s'shmad). It was said that the waters of the well were holy to the Christians, and were used to spray on babies during baptism.

The path stopped at the foot of the hill. From here there was a trail up the hill that met the road that I mentioned above, and continued to the right until the Vloka (Vlikes), and from the other side, until the Rypin Road.

* * *

We return to Fara Street. In 1916, during the German occupation, there was an outbreak of typhus in Sierpc (as in many other towns) that caused a high death toll. The German authorities opened a hospital on this street, opposite the church, in the house of Kulashinski (a Pole), and military doctors attended the sick. (There was also a branch of the hospital in Shkolna Street, behind the church, in the school building.) After a few years, the hospital was moved to Piastovska Street.

* * *

A little bit further was the one-story house of Elia Ber Tchernotchepka. A terrible tragedy occurred in the family of Elia Ber. Within a few years, his three children died. After the disasters happened, Elia Ber started to be active in public life, in the field of aid to the poor and suffering. In particular he did outstanding work in the Gmilut Hasidim Society(aid to the poor) fund. This fund loaned money to the general public: small merchants and tradesmen. He did not skimp on his efforts or money to maintain and strengthen this fund, and also gave a room in his apartment, with no compensation, as an office for the fund.

* * *

Further on was the single story house of Moshe Lerer. Moshe Gutshtat lived in this house. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Poalei-Tzion, and was a member of the town council from his party.

In 1925, the police searched Moshe Gutshtat's apartment and “found” illegal posters in the mattress in his bed. Gutshtat was arrested and was in jail in Plock for nine months. The concierge of the house, who was present during the search, testified at the trial, and said that he saw the policemen shaking the mattress, and the posters falling out of it. In answer to the judge's question, “In what state were the posters when they fell out of the mattress?” The concierge answered that they were rolled up and not folded or wrinkled. On the basis of this testimony (which showed that the posters had been inserted into the mattress on the spot), the judge freed Moshe Gutshtat. After a similar search on the same day, Gutshtat's party comrade, Abba Licht, was also arrested. He was in jail in Plock for six months. Later, Moshe Gutshtat changed his affiliation from Poalei Tzion Left to Poalei Tzion Right.

* * *

Further on was the small one-story brick house of Baruch Gotlibovski. Gotlibovski was a member of the community council in the 1930s, representing the Zionists.

* * *

Nahum Frankel lived in the same house. Nahum's original family name was Sochaczewski. But by changing his name, he “became” an only son, and according to Russian law, an only son was exempt from military service…

* * *

The house near the market, a small one-story brick house, belonged to the tailor, Melech Tzina. His store was in the same house. The store sold the ready-made underwear, vests, and tricot white goods of Shmuel Tatz (who was called “Shmeltia Beias,” after his mother Baia). After his brother, Natan Wolfe Tatz, moved his store from Bloom's house to his new house, Shmuel Tatz moved his store to Bloom's house. Shmuel Tatz belonged to the Enlightened group in Sierpc. In the 1930s Shmuel Tatz was a member of the town council representing the Zionists. He also filled some other important public positions: he was chairman of the Merchants Association and chairman of the merchants' Bank Odzialovi (The Stock Bank).

* * *

Reb Eliezer Vasolak lived in the yard of this house. He owned the textile store in the drugstore building, (on the side of the Jewish street) which his wife managed. Reb Eliezer Vasolak was a great scholar of the Talmud and its interpreters, and an expert in the Bible and an exegesist. He was a leader of the Enlightened Group, and the Enlightened Mitnagdim (anti-Hasidism) that broke away from the community and was called Kolhekot (see the chapter “History of Sierpc”). He was also among the first Hovevei Tzion.

Reb Eliezer Vasolak left many manuscripts about Jewish religious law (Halacha) and legends, Bible research, and Judaism, and also wrote poetry. In accordance with his will, the manuscripts were sent to his sons in America for publication.

* * *

We have finished our stroll and review of Fara (Farska) Street.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Gentile butcher stores were in various parts of town, but Jewish butcher stores were only in the Butchers' House. In time the restriction was lifted and three Jewish butcher stores opened in different streets: a} In Zhaba Street in Vinitzky's (a Pole) house by Zalman Yakobovitch; b) On the Jewish Street, in Prashnitzki's house (used to be Tarkltov's house) by Haimel Kishilvitz; and c) On the Vloka (Vlikes) near the house of Baruchia Zashutke by the two partners, Zisia and David. Return
  2. In the book “A Velt in Flamen” (“A Word in Flames”) by our townsman, Y. Weingarten, in the chapter “Mein Charuv Shtetele Sierpc” (My Destroyed Village Sierpc) it is written that there was a legend in town that a rich Jew named Menashe who had three sons and wanted to be aloof from Jewish life, and away from their neighborhood, settled in this spot. Later on the sons converted, and all the Jews of Sierpc ripped their clothes and sat “Shiva”. Before the end of the seven days of mourning, the three converts died, and the Gentiles put up the pavilion in their honor. But there are doubts about this legend. Neither I nor other people from Sierpc that I asked about this remember the legend. I think that this legend is the literary creation of this respected author. Two of the senior Sierpc townsman, Reb Shmuel Itcha and Mr. Yitzhak Yakov Boda, told me, each of them on his own, that the name “Menashe Mit di Drei Zihen” for the statues is from a different Menashe: Menashe Liechtenstein and his three sons who were all “Kleismer” (his fourth son was a tailor) and lived not far way. And I can think of a different explanation: In the book In the Forests of Poland, by Y. Opatoshu (translated by M. Lipson), page 27, there appears the following: “ ? He won't go ? shouted Avraham. Hinted to the watchman not to wait, and turned to Mordecai: I told you, from the day that they put up “Menashe and his seven daughters” (a statue at a road intersection) at the base of the forest, I will not go there. And you keep out of there too, do you understand me?” This quotation shows that the name of the statues “Menashe and his Three Sons” is not an original Sierpc name. But different statues in different places were called by similar names. Let me also ponder on another legend that Mr. Weingarten mentions in the same chapter of the same book, about the origin of the names “Sheps ? Sierpc”. According to Mr. Weingarten, the town elders told a legend that the name of the town Sheps came from Jews who fled persecution in Germanic countries, like sheep fleeing from wolves, found a place to rest, and called it “Sheps” (sheep, in Yiddish sheps), and because of this there was picture of a sheep in the old great seal of the town. But out of shame that they were being compared to wolves, the Gentiles canceled this seal, and called the town “Sierpc”. Neither I, nor any of the Sierpc natives that I talked to were familiar with this legend. Return
  3. “Shpiliter” ? Small merchants, who were not able to who were not able to travel themselves to get merchandise, or bigger merchants, who needed, between trips, a small amount of goods, would place an order with the “Shpiliter” who would go to Warsaw once a week, for a percentage of the price of the merchandise. As, a joke, people would say instead of “Shpiliter”, “Shpil mir Ae'er” (Play for me here). Return

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