« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 341]

Memories of Chanukah from my Town of Sierpc

by Matel Rajczyk

Translated by Jerrold Landau

a.

From my early childhood and onward, I remember Chanukah as the lovely “weekday festival.” Businesses were open. I did not get any new clothes. I had to attend cheder and look at the face of my rebbe Chaim Yosef. Still, I felt the festivity. Something mysterious hung in the air. The white snow covered the holes and the mud on the Jewish streets. One could not make out the mountain around the Vlokes, or the area from the mountain to the synagogue and Mendel Gerlic's workshop. All the windowpanes were covered with snow and

[Page 342]

the frost covered flowers sparkled in the cold.

The most important part of that Chanukah festivity was that I did not have to return to cheder after supper. My heart used to pound when I used to go to cheder in the dark nights with my homemade paper lantern. Precisely at the moment when the lantern was needed due to a vicious dog, a drunk who was sleeping on the streets and was ready to beat a Jewish child who was in his way, or just an ordinary gentile who threw snowballs and shouted “Jew to Palestine” – exactly at that critical moment, the paper lantern went out. I threw down the burning paper, which went out, and I remained standing in the darkness.

The heart pounded like a drum. Like stones, my feet did not lift themselves off the ground, and the street had been dark for some time. That is why I felt so festive on the week of Chanukah, because for a full eight days I did not need to endure these tribulations. I used to beg G-d that more miracles would take place, and it would be Chanukah for the entire winter.

As the eldest son, on the eve of Chanukah, I had the good deed of cleaning the Chanukah menorah. I removed every speck and cleaned it. The two lions engraved on the menorah sparkled strongly. When the candles burned, one could see the red tongues that hung from their mouths. When my father and I returned home from the old beis midrash after maariv, the house was lit up. Light shone from every corner. My father held the lit shamash high up as he recited the blessings. As he lit the first candle, we children put our hands on his hand so that we could take part in the commandment of lighting the Chanukah candle. We all sang together Haneirot Halalu, Maoz Tzur, and Mizmor Shir Chanukat. Mother looked on and quietly wiped away a tear.

The Chanukah dinner was tastier than all others dinners of the year, for mother was preparing the animal fat for Passover and for the winter. At this time, the animal fat was more plentiful. Every spoonful of food was accompanied by grivn[1] with large or small fat globules. After the meat, we would have a course of latkes. Throughout the day, my mother with the help of my sisters would peel and grind the largest potatoes. My mother sifted off the white starch, collected it for a week, and put it in a Passover vessel so that it could be used for cakes on Passover. The amount of latkes that mother brought to the table was not enough. We sprinkled white sugar on the latkes, and ate them along with tea.

After dinner, Father gave us children Chanukah gelt [money], and we sat on the floor with the neighboring children to play lotteries, dominoes and dreidel. The men sat in the dining room and played “Oko” (a card game). The following men were sitting there: Yosef Koperman (Lipie's brother-in-law), the Cantor Danielke (Sheike's), and Avraham Shochet, the bird shochet [ritual slaughterer] (Burgand). Yehoshua Goldman sat at the side and constantly shouted “Oy vey, a waste of time!” The kibitzer was Lipia (the

[Page 343]

“Hershele Ostropoler”[2] of Sierpc). When the cantor played a “stake” and was angry, Lipie would sing to the tune of Tal[3], “Cantor, cantor, if you cannot, do not undertake.”

At that time, the house became very hot from the frying latkes and from the clouds of smoke from the cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. My father smoked the pipe that he had inherited from his father, Shlomo Meir Shu”b, the Nasielsker shochet. When my father was occupied with “Tehiliml” (cards in the vernacular)[4], I snuck a puff of the pipe. We children, tired and choking from the stinky, smoky air, fell asleep one after the other on the floor.

 

b.

When the Agudas Yisroel set up the Tvuna youth organization in our town, all of the bar mitzvah aged lads who studied in the shtibel or the beis midrash became members. The organization set up evening courses where we studied Hebrew grammar and Jewish history. The teacher was Mr. Kohn. His helper, if I am not mistaken, was Mendel Yonatan's (Lifschitz). David, Avraham Aharon Melamed's, also helped.

Yossel Blachman, one of the chief organizers of Tvuna, a lover of song, organized a concert in honor of Chanukah with a choir performance. I remember only a few names of the choir members: Itche David Sznitzer, Moshe Aharon and Nisan Rajchgot, Moshe Nipomoszcz, Menachem Grosman, the lame Yossel, Yossel Goldman, Aba Licht, and the writer of these lines. Berl Pliata played the fiddle.

Rehearsals took place between mincha and maariv, and on the Sabbath during the third meal [shalosh seudos] at the Gerrer Shtibel that was located in the courtyard of Aharon Lipka. The Chanukah concert took place in the Gerrer Shtibel. Yossel Blachman held his left hand over his ear and used his tuning fork and directed with his left hand. We sang cantorial compositions, Hanerot Halalu, Mizmor Shir Chanukat, and a few Hebrew songs.

After the concert when all the guests went home, we singers received some refreshments. Zelig Rajchgot sent sufficient marinated herring. Moshe Grosman sent soda water and kvass, and Nachum Tac sent several flasks of wine. We brought kichels from home. The concert was successful, and the evening will never be forgotten.

 

c.

When I got older and already studied myself in the old beis midrash, I still felt the festivity of Chanukah. The Gerrer Hassid Binyamin Yehuda's (Yehuda Beker's brother-in-law) would always reprove us youths when we were sitting with open gemaras and chatting about worldly matters. However, in the week of Chanukah, he turned his head and looked away.

In the evenings, instead of sitting at the class, we played chess and a card game called Twenty One. Binyamin looked away and did not reprove us. Even the two large, tiled ovens in the old beis midrash knew that it was Chanukah.

[Page 344]

Throughout the entire winter when the frost was biting in the street, the ovens were cold. They were almost like a piece of ice. However, in the week of Chanukah, they were hot. Indeed, this was a Chanukah miracle. The wood was dry and the flames were crackling higher and higher toward the chimney.

On the side of the oven, near the copper sink, a few old Jews were sitting and playing cards. I recall only one name of the players: Itzik Kvetcher. The kibitzer on the side, or as we used to call him, Shcaria with the Pipe, smoked the tobacco that he purchased from Shlomo Chaya's and snatched glances at the cards.

The Chanukah candles burnt festively in the windows on all the streets where Jews lived. The warmth of the candles melted the snow with the frost flowers on the window panes. The clear flames told about the legends of generations ago, the heroism of the Maccabees.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Cracklings made out of skin of fowl. Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hershele_Ostropoler Return
  3. The Prayer for Dew recited with a unique melody on the first day of Passover. Return
  4. I suspect that this is a euphemism, referring to a card game by a holy term. Return


Images and Memories from my Hometown

by Gershon Bergson

Translated by Jerrold Landau

From my earliest childhood years, I recall Wolf Chazan's cheder with the broken steps and dark corridor. It was located behind the bridge. My heart pounded from terror when I went to cheder alone for the first time, and had to go up the broken steps in the dark.

The place of Torah of Avraham Aharon, a cheder in the middle of the market, was the opposite of that cheder. Avraham Aharon was a gemara teacher, a scholarly Jew and a fearer of Heaven. I mention his name with trembling and respectful awe. He served as the example of faith and belief for me and for tens of other children in town.

Later came Mintz's modern cheder with “lawkes[1] instead of tables. The teacher wore a short jacket, was partly shaved, and wore pince-nez glasses like a professor. Only the progressive maskilim allowed themselves to give their children over to his hands. To Nachum Tac, Mendel Tajtelbaum and other Orthodox Jews, he was like a gentile[2].

In a later period, Litwinski's cheder modernized with a “principal,” Eliahu Meir, who taught secular subjects for an hour a day. Turkeltaub was a teacher there. A clean-shaven person, may G-d protect us, Asher Watman taught Hebrew.

The modern cheder had to represent the striving for knowledge and education that tore through the town, and simultaneously protected the Jewish children from entering the “Szabaszowka”[3] with the director Eichel, a complete gentile[2], and even worse, with female teachers. There, one sits with a bare head… and girls learn together with boys. A Jew does not send his children to the “schools.” A Jew is a Jew.

However, the striving for Jewish worldly education grew and now I can see before

[Page 345]

my eyes the first classes of the Tarbut School. It was two rooms, and neighbored the gristmill that belonged to Licht, close to the riverbank. “Woe unto us, what will be, if, Heaven forbid, suddenly a flood comes and the children cannot go home. They will then say that the ‘ ;gentiles’ are guilty, the teacher of the Tarbut School.” This is what the school activists frequently thought.

Fortunately, no flood came, and the first kindergarten teacher, the “aunt” as one called her, and the first principal Rubel laid the foundation of the exemplary school in Sierpc where today's citizens of Israel received their education.

The Tarbut School grew high, wide and deep. It was already located in the building opposite the Polish government gymnasium. The Jewish children specifically learned in their own language in that Polish region. Later the Tarbut School building came with its nice classrooms and a hall for performances – for spite, specifically in a Polish area.

The dedicated activists invested energy and thought in order to set up the building. Yeshayahu Frydman, David Bergson, Feivush Lipka, Wajsroza, Berl Czarka, and a great many others – some with money, some with energy – all of them did everything possible in order to establish the Jewish culture center in Sierpc, that served as an example for the towns in the district: Rypin, Lipno, Raciaz, and others, which were jealous of Sierpc on account of its fine Jewish school.

 

Sabbath in the Town

The synagogue, the new beis midrash, the old beis midrash, and the shtibels were all full of worshippers. Jews worshipped one G-d in many places.

People went to services. Here goes Yaakov Moshe Tajtelbaum. He walks step by step, majestically, with his tallis laying atop his coat. Women stood in the windows and watched where the crowds were going for kiddush. Everything was quiet in the town. For Jews in general the Sabbath was infused with holiness. The shopkeepers, the large and small businessmen, who were seeking an endorsement for a promissory note, the entire weekday tumult and brouhaha, the concerns of livelihood – everything stopped. It was the Sabbath in Sierpc.

When I went to cheder, a ban was put on me because… my brother went out with girls on the Sabbath. I was embarrassed. I put down my eyes and was quiet… I then gave my word that when I will grow up, I will not do so… I must admit – I broke my promise…

When I became an older lad, people were no longer placed under a ban for going out with girls on the Sabbath in Sierpc. We would walk on Plocker Street from here to there. Groups of boys and groups of girls, one group opposite the other – they glanced at each other, with a smile on their lips, passing by embarrassed and quickly, in order to repeat the same pattern five minutes later.

Later, a bit later when the sun set and the holy Sabbath ended as it got dark – we walked in the same direction. The girls were in front of us, and we were behind them. We simply walked back and forth, when suddenly we were walking in

[Page 346]

pairs – two boys, two girls, and so on until we reached the “Fundeven Ice creams.” One of us would purchase ice creams and bring them to the girls, still silent. Then we would continue walking back and forth.

Those restrained, awkward meetings between boys and girls continued until the youth movements were established, where the boys and girls joined together in the ideals of societal activity, feelings and striving, which throughout the generations had been concealed in the hearts of the Jewish youth, and now were spurting forth and coming to normal human expression.

 

The Beginning of Societal and Cultural Activity

Michel Kopolowicz lived in the old market not far from the magistrate building. There was a large yard there, which bordered on other yards and places until Niemciewsko's yard. There, there were all sorts of things for the Jewish boys and girls who were growing up: stables with horses, carriages, wagons, and most important – Kaminski the mechanic had his workshop there.

We saw the fire that sizzled as he blew the air sack, the red hot iron, large hammers and various wheels. We heard the banging on the anvil and the squeaking of the file. My brother worked with the gentile locksmith as a journeyman. My grandmother cried before Father – can it be, a tradesman in the family?

The most important things in the yard were the bicycles that could be borrowed. One could borrow a bicycle from Kaminski for a half an hour or an hour. Who would not want to learn how to ride a bicycle? Everyone, the entire town: children, cheder youths, school gentiles, and beis midrash youths. I recall that Chaim Shlomo Licht with his kapote [Hassidic cloak] and Jewish hat came there to learn how to ride.

Thus, the yard turned into a club for culture and sport. Youth played cops and robbers, tennis, buttons, chess, and they ran around and made noise. People “conducted business,” acted foolishly, requested a ride from the bicycle riders, played games such as football with hats stuffed with rags, and when we were tired, we went up to an attic of a barn and spent pleasant time there.

Slowly, we got tired of the barn attic. I do not know how the word “club” came to us – we began to think about a place. A club… where could we get it? We searched and we found… A widow with two children lived inn Shlomo Glazer's courtyard. She and her family began to make cigarettes, that is, they used to purchase tobacco and paper, rolled the cigarettes and sold them, ten in a package. This house was an illegal factory. The widow tricked the Polish regime and did not pay any “banderole”[4]. She had two rooms. The “factory” was in the kitchen, and the “warehouse” for the merchandise was under the pillows.

We looked for a place, and the widow looked for a livelihood – we negotiated, and this became the “club.” We went to the club every evening and

[Page 347]

played dominoes or chess. We had to pay monthly dues, and that is how we obtained our own premises. This was in the year 1924-25.

We secretly spent time at the club for approximately a year and a half. Aside from our group of youths, nobody knew. However, the club at the widow's house soon became too crowded for us. It did not satisfy our cultural needs and did not calm the fermenting striving of the maturing youth to meet with the opposite sex. We again began to think and search for ways of bringing a change to our lives.

The town slowly began to come under the influence of the new aspirations of the Zionist movement. The youth slowly began to understand the need for freedom from the foreign yoke and began to aspire toward an independent life in their own homeland.

The first bold steps toward Aliya had already begun in Sierpc. The following people went to the Land of Israel: Avraham Frid, my brother Yitzchak, Efraim Wloke, and Mordechai Rozen. Youth began to study Hebrew and founded libraries. Two libraries already existed: a large library and a second one for the Herzliya youth organization. Hersh Malowanczyk, Leibel Horn and Mordechai Rzejsotko were the popular Hebrew teachers.

We decided to emulate the adults and found our own library. It was indeed simple; we purchased a few books, put together a box, and exchanged the books. We talked and we acted.

Our member Fishel Dobroszklanka had parents who already at that time displayed great understanding for the modern aspirations of their children. Dobroszklana had a home with two entrances. The small room with its own entrance was placed at our disposal. There, we opened our library under the name of the Hatechiya youth library. My brother David provided books on credit. We had up to 30 subscribers, including several girls.

With time, the library became a cultural club. On Friday nights, we would gather together in the little room to chat and sing.

We sung hymns as well as small pieces, which we used to sing with Yosel Shochet. The girls taught us Polish songs from school. Thus, a choir was formed, thereby expressing our aspirations and strivings through song.

 

Zionist and Cultural Activity

In the years 1927-1928, the Hashomer Haleumi youth organization (Later Hanoar Hatzioni) was formed. This entirely changed the way of life of our youth group, and also had its effect upon the wider circles of Jewish youth of Sierpc. Our activities grew broader. The evening hours were no longer sufficient for us. At six in the morning, they knocked at the doors – Yaakov Meir, Yosel, Shoshana… a “Zwiurke”[5]. We had to gather together, also in the early hours of the day, to study, read, and conduct practices.

We read everything that was new for us: Zionist writers: Herzl, Pinsker, Nordau, etc.; world literature:

[Page 348]

Tolstoi, Dostoyevski, Shenkevitch, Reimont, Kelerman, Mafason; Jewish writers: Asch, Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, Mendele, Tshernikovsky, Bistricki, and scores of others. Of course, “The hands were full of work”: cleaning the clubhouse, the sports place, sports practices, the library, collecting money for the funds, performances, excursions, demonstrations, elections. We were everywhere.

For the most part, our gatherings took place in the meadows, in open nature. We would go there on Friday nights, even on frosty evenings. On the hot days in the summer, we would go to the river. There we would have meetings of the groups and the brigades, marches, listening to reports, singing, dancing, and playing.

Gentiles often attacked and threw stones, but we courageously held our stand. We felt secure when Yosel David Jaszwicz accompanied us. At that time, he was the strongest of us, and even the gentiles were careful about beating him. The gentiles finally came to the conclusion that it did not pay to start up with us. The Jews occupied the meadows, and there was a truce. We would sit there and study, have discussions, sing and dance the hora.

Our cultural work was expressed in various forms. We conducted “trials” at our headquarters. We “tried” “Bonche Shweig” and the fire guardian from Y. L. Peretz' allegories, Josephus Flavius and the Bund. Nobody left our hands without a proper verdict. Our national celebrations were celebrations for the town. First of all, we distributed pictures from the Jewish National Fund and pasted them to the windows. Then we marched through the streets with blue and white flags, dressed in festive uniforms: white shirts, green pants with drums and trumpets, with the Maccabee orchestra in the front.

The procession departed: Moshe Smolenski with the shining barrels over the wheels, and following him were the group leaders A. Bergson, Y. Kurta, N. Czarnoczapka. The heads of the sections were at the sides: Y. Kurta, P. Lanenter, Tz. Sendrowicz, Sh. Klajn, and others. The Hebrew language resonated through the streets. Songs and commands were in Hebrew. The Zionists were proud. The mothers, the pious mothers who were not so happy with the gentile demeanor of their children, blessed them nevertheless – “Let your walking be in peace” – a mother is a mother.

We traveled to conventions – at first with wagons. Meir Klajn had a pair of horses. We rented the wagon and traveled to Źuromin and Raciaz. The trip took three or four hours, from 4:00 a.m. until 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. When we arrived in the town, we arranged ourselves in rows and marched along with songs, which aroused everyone's admiration.

We also went on excursions by foot for a day or two in duration to Studzieniec, Susk, and other villages. It was not so easy for us to arrange transportation for the excursions. We had to wage a “war” with our parents. The parents did not give any money, and they did not permit the trips at all. We battled with tears, we threatened to escape from the home – “I will go out to hachsharah and will never come back.” Father was angry, mother became soft, the child was crying, “The child may indeed run away – how can I remain without him?” – a mother would think.

[Page 349]

There are six children in the house – if one of them is missing, the house will be empty…

At the end, they permitted us to travel. Having endured the battle, we were victorious. We traveled to Skwilna, Masczisk and other places, in the forests and the fields. We breathed the air of the field and the manure, as we sang the song “and the smell of the manure.” We dreamed at night about our own country in the Land of Israel.

 

The Dream of the Land of Israel Took on Wings

Avraham Schultz, Yaakov Meir Pukacz, Zalman Nazemski, S. Sendrowicz, and Tzipora Rozinek – sons and daughters of Aguda members – went to hachshara. The exile was difficult: in town it was crowded, the taxes were higher, the boycott of the Falangist anti-Semites was stronger, there was nothing to look forward to. “One must go to the Land of Israel. At first the children, and then later we too will follow after them .” the parents were already saying.

In the meantime, Jews had to remain in the town. We could not travel to the desired Land. The British did not let people in. Jews must wait for a good market; perhaps one could earn a few zlotys. Then tomorrow and the day after, we would travel to fairs in the surrounding towns or in far-off Pomerania, where one could load up a wagon and earn a few zlotys. It did not always succeed. Often, the fair was called off, or a heavy rain fell – one packed up the merchandise, turned the wagon shaft, and set out for home.

However, Jews are not pessimists. The following week we again traveled. We tried our luck, as we must indeed live. The town does indeed live: one lights candles on Friday night, on Chanukah one places Chanukah candles on the windows and fries grivn [cracklings] with festive animal fat, one builds houses, one erects sukkot [tabernacles] in the yards and on the balconies in front of the houses on Sukkot. One is not afraid of the gentiles.

Zelda the midwife wakes up at night and runs to a woman in childbirth. She “takes” out children. One purchases “shir hamaaloses[6] and children run to study how to read the Shema. Jews run to exorcise the evil eye, to recite psalms, to supplicate at graves. People make weddings in town – Gerlitz-Malach with the fiddle and Kropasz with the trumpet – were busy, very busy – for they were the only musicians in town. On Passover one was a king, on Lag Baomer one marched to the fields, and on Shavuot, one brought the aroma of the forest and the field into the house.

Thus did Jews live in Sierpc, as in all the towns in Poland, as they awaited the speedy final redemption. Instead, the great destruction came.

In the autumn of 1932, the thought of leaving the town was ripe with me. My destination was Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania. I left my home on a frosty pre-dawn. My mother kissed me and shed a tear. My beloved father accompanied me to the “Darozhka” and parted from me with two words “Be successful.”

His blessing, the blessing from a sincere father, came true, and I was indeed successful in the path that I had set out. My inner desire to meet my beloved parents once again, borne in my heart but not expressed on my lips – unfortunately never came true. I never saw my warm home again, and never again met my dearests.

Let these lines of mine serve as a monument for the unknown grave of my parents and for the martyrs of Sierpc who were tortured by the Germans.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. I could not find a definition, but I believe it means student desks. Return
  2. The word here ‘goy‘ is not literal, and refers to a Jew that 7;comports himself like a gentile. Return
  3. A state run Polish school for Jewish children where the language of instruction was Polish and there were minimal Jewish studies, but which was closed on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Return
  4. The tax for the official paper stamps to be placed on such packages. Return
  5. I am unsure what this means. Return
  6. The Shir Hamaalot psalms are a series of 15 psalms (120-134) beginning with “A song of ascents.” In this context it is used as an amulet or sign of good fortune. Return


[Page 350]

My Girlhood Years in Sierpc

by Hena Oberfeld Lewin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Today, after I have already swum to shore after many difficult wanderings through the world, I will attempt to bring to memory the life in my hometown of Sierpc.

I return with memories to the days of my childhood. I see a small girl. I run quickly in the morning to my first teacher Anshel Mesz, who taught me the aleph beit. All the girls from the surrounding streets learned with him. There, we played under the tables with his own Zundele, who passed away very early, while still a child.

I still remember the smell of tobacco that emanated from my rebbe as he frequently stuffed tobacco in his nose. His wife Sara Devora, a tall, slender woman, was the director of the cheder. The tuition arrangements and payments went through her. She was strict with us, and the rebbe Anshel at times grabbed our faces to scold us or hit us.

While still a young girl, happy and carefree, I was sent to the “Pension” of Mrs. Reich, who was called in Polish Reichowna. There, I took part in excursions to the two mills and the Dolinkes (valleys) -- the seven lovely Dolinkes with the Kakasza Mountain. This made us seem so grown up next to our friends from the surrounding towns, who were unable to do so. There, we spent time, went to the beach with the white sand, and took pictures.

My mother bore the entire burden of livelihood and raising the children. My beloved father, a quiet, honest, pious Jew, was not involved in our upbringing. He had other businesses, such as: on Purim he would gather all the neighbors and read the megilla with his lovely voice, as all the children banged for Haman with what was permitted – with graggers [noisemakers], rolling pins, and other such things. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my father conducted services. He started to prepare and rehearse the prayers and shofar blowing a few weeks before the High Holy Days.

As we got older, our home became a club for discussions. I – a Zionist; my two brothers – left leaning Poale Zion; and my younger sister Dvora – a pious Beis Yaakov student. She always reported to my parents that my brothers had eaten on Yom Kippur. My parents held me responsible for the missing food, and I was silent… All four of us participated in various performances that were conducted by the drama circles of the parties to which we belonged. In general, all four of us, my brothers and my sister, lived in peace.

The town of Sierpc was a typical Jewish town. On Friday afternoon, when the market with all of the business being conducted with the gentiles ended, and the cholent[1] pots were already placed in the bakeries, Yaakov Moshe Teitelbaum would appear, washing his

[Page 351]

silk cloak that covered his wide tallis kattan. He already came all combed out and steamed up from the hot mikva [ritual bath], and went to the shtibel for services. Then, the iron shutters of his block of stores on the market place were shut. Shortly thereafter, all of the shops, other than the gentile pharmacy, were locked. The Sabbath asserted its power.

In the market, as well as in other Jewish streets, only guards were Polish. In the Jewish quarter, they had important tasks, such as: putting out the candles and putting away the candelabrums on Friday nights, lighting the ovens during the winter, and purchasing the chometz on the eve of Passover.

When my male and female friends and I ended school, we simply had nothing to accomplish. Youths from our group such as Yosef Meir Podskoc , Naftali Czarnoczapka, Pesach Grosman and others became independent because their fathers had died early and they had to take upon themselves the yoke of livelihood for their homes. Others became involved in Zionist party work, which was a tolerable livelihood, just as it is here in Israel. My girlfriends and I began to study hand embroidery with Beila Ajzenstat. However, this was no solution for us, and did not give us a livelihood.

In the evenings, we would get together at Marina Gurfinkel's photography shop, where we spent good times. We often danced, flirted, discussed, and played cards to the light of the moon that came through the glass roof. Mendel Gurfinkel, the observant Jew with the fine, black beard, who traveled to the rebbe for every festival, at times took the camera in his hands and photographed us, so that his Miriam[2] would be included in the photograph.

On Sabbath afternoons we would get together at Gutka Frenkel's when the old Yaakov Ber was asleep in the second room. However, our situation was sad when he suddenly woke up and heard combined voices of boys and girls. He then chased us away in all directions.

I began to go to the Herzliya society where I was chosen for the management committee, and was active in the library in which I invested a great deal of energy and effort. I worked together with Naftali Czarnoczapka. He was the president of the small library. I was the secretary and cashier.

I always had troubles with the cash. I lent all the money from my neighbors Rachele Brin and Shmuel Henech Dragon. A few times a week, they traveled to fairs in the surrounding towns, and always were free with money. When the time came to pay a debt, I really did not want to make demands on them, and I was embarrassed to remind them. My father always threatened that I would end up in jail on account of the library.

On one occasion, the electric company took me to court for stealing current for the library. We did not have money to pay for the electricity, and the electric company cut off the power. We set things in order. I came out just barely exonerated due to the assistance of a lawyer who was engaged by the library committee.

[Page 352]

When I was already in Warsaw, I still underwrote promissory notes and sent books to the library.

I was also active in the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] committee in the city. The following people belonged to that committee: Yeshaya Frydman, Hershel Kristal, Mordechai Rzejsotko, Tzvi Malowanczyk, Ber Czarka, Izak Najman, Leibel Horn, and others. We collected money for the Land of Israel.

My parents and my friends' parents did not have the means to meet the growing needs of already grown girls. We had to concern ourselves with setting ourselves up in life. In 1934, my best friend Reizel Sendrowicz and I decided to travel to the Land of Israel. We presented our requests to the Palestine Office, and received our confirmations a few months later that we were accepted as candidates to travel. My friend then traveled. Unfortunately, I did not possess the material means to do so.

A year later, I went out on hachshara in Warsaw under the auspices of WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization]. I concluded hachshara a year later and was registered on the list to obtain a certificate. The number of certificates was minimal, however, and I was not able to travel.

When the war broke out, I went to Russia. My sole goal was to survive the war at any price and begin anew.

After my return from Russia, my first desire was to look at my town of Sierpc, which still appeared as before in my memory. I traveled to Sierpc after spending a brief time in Stettin. I got off the train with a palpitating heart, and saw what the cruel Germans had perpetrated. I saw a strange, unrecognizable town. When I arrived at the market, I stood still like a stone. Later, I ran like a crazy person to the house where we lived and to other houses in which Jews lived. A field with grass occupied the place of the Jewish houses, and horses were grazing. I did not say a word to anybody, nor was there anyone to whom to ask questions. I stood for a while next to the shop which used to belong to my father Wolf Margel the clockmaker, and I wept bitterly.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The cholent [stew for the Sabbath daytime meal] would be left cooking from Friday afternoon. To avoid the oven having to be left on in every house, the bakeries would often leave on their ovens so that everyone could put their cholent pots into the common oven. Return
  2. Miriam would be the Hebrew name of Marina. Return


Jewish Livelihoods in Sierpc

by Tzvi Malowanczyk

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Fishermen and Butchers

The fish business in Sierpc was entirely in Jewish hands. The fish merchants who were called “fishers” in fact had no connection with the fish catchers. They went to the true, gentile fishermen in the villages, purchased their merchandise and sold it to the Jewish people.

Let us recall one of those fish merchants: Moshe Kszarsz, a short man with a thin beard, who was only a little involved in the fish business.

[Page 353]

He was a cobblestone layer, who placed stones on the roads. His wife Chana Golda, a woman with red cheeks, round, black, burning eyes, and a healthy high voice, was the true fisherwoman. She conducted the fish business.

Moshe's brother Zelik Kszarsz was involved in the fish business together with his wife and some of his children. The business was given over to them by their father Meir, who was known by his nickname Meir Moreinu (Meir our Teacher).

Another family of fishermen was the Berlinski family who earned their livelihood from the fish business. In general, the fish business in Sierpc was transferred from parents to children.

The Jewish butcher trade was also in the hands of specific families. The four brothers Yitzchak (Itche), Yechezkel, Meir and Mendel Dorfman were separate butchers. They were four brothers with their own families who worked in the butcher shops with the assistance of their wives.

The Grajna family was another family of butchers. I do not recall their first names. They were also a considerable number of brothers with wives and children, each of whom had their own butcher shop. The Brodacz family and others were also butchers.

The Jewish butcher shops were located in a civic building in the new market. There were also non-kosher, Christian butcher shops there. In general, the butchers in Sierpc did not live badly. They were generous and had an appreciation for Jewish cultural and Zionistic activity. Like the fishermen, the meat business was passed down as an inheritance to the children.

 

Fruit and Vegetable Dealers

The fruit and vegetable business also held a place in the spectrum of Jewish sources of livelihood in Sierpc. There were pomiculturalists who in early spring leased orchards from the landowners, agriculturalists, farmers, and the like. In the summertime when the fruit ripened, the pomiculturalists left the city and went out to the orchards with their families to harvest the apples, pears, and plums from the trees and sell them in the city.

The vegetable business consisted of the professional occupiers of stalls in the market, who stood in the market for the entire year and sold potatoes, carrots, beets, chickpeas, horseradish, radishes, parsley, apples, pears, plums, raspberries, strawberries, etc. The market sitters were involved in their business throughout the entire year. In summer they sat with their merchandise under an umbrella to protect against the sun and the rain, and in the winter with a pot of live coals to warm their hands during the time of intense cold.

The fruit and vegetable dealers did not earn their livelihood in abundance. They lived under meager circumstances.

 

Glassmakers and Clockmakers

Several Jewish families earned their livelihoods from glassmaking. This trade was easy, and did not require any physical exertion or special learning. It was sufficient to purchase a diamond to cut glass, and the livelihood was already assured. The following glassmakeres were known to us in town: Yisrael Yitzchak, Shmuel Sarna – a witty Jew and a joker, Pinchas Mekler and others. Glassmakers earned a good livelihood. On Tuesday and Fridays, the farmers from the villages would come and

[Page 354]

bring the windows to the glassmaker to fix the glass and cement it. They would invite the glassmaker to come to the village for larger jobs.

On ordinary days, the glassmakers would go out to the streets. Anyone who needed them would summon them for various jobs that were taking place. Later on, Christian glassmakers came on the scene, taking away a portion of the livelihood of the Jews.

The clockmaking trade was entirely in Jewish hands. The following Jews were involved in that trade: Moshe Szperling – a tall Jew with a hoary, grey, fine long beard, Menachem Szpido, Wolf Margel – an enlightened Jew, and Michael Smolenski – the son of the cantor of Sierpc who had a sense of music and song.

Aside from repairs, the clockmakers were also involved with the sale of new clocks, wall and standing clocks, wedding canopy hoops as they were called in the trade lingo, ordinary bracelets, tie hooks, and other silver and gold jewelry. For the most part, they had their own houses, and were of reasonable means or even wealthy. Aside from their work in earning a livelihood, they were also involved in societal activity in the bank, charitable fund, beis midrash, and the like. Until 1939, this trade was given over from parents to children, and was exclusively in Jewish hands.

 

Tailors and Shoemakers

In Sierpc as everywhere, the primary sources of livelihood of the Jews were the tailoring and shoemaking trades. The tailors manufactured men's and women's clothing including overcoats, pants, men's jackets, women's dresses, etc. There were two categories of tailors: those who purchased merchandise and sewed clothing to sell to the purchasers; and confectioners who conducted business with ready-made clothing which they sold in their stores. The primary confectioners were Nachum Koniec, Kalman Blum, Elimelech Cyna, Kalman Kalmanowicz, and others. The merchants were of significant means, even wealthy. For the most part, they purchased ready-made clothing and resold them. However, each one of them knew their work, and even had a small tailoring workshop next to their business.

Aside from the public businesses, there were many home businesses where people worked in their homes. On the market days of Tuesday and Friday, they would stand on the street with a covered wagon and sell their manufactured merchandise to the farmers who came to the city.

The confectioners also sold their wares in the markets in other cities and towns, such as Wednesday in Skepe – 24 kilometers from Sierpc, Thursday in Srwilno – 18 kilometers from Sierpc, and the like. Such trips were made in the following manner: three or four tailors hired a farmer with a wagon. They loaded the merchandise before dawn and traveled to the fair. They came home late in the evening. The livelihood was tight, but Jews continued on until 1939, when the Germans annihilated everything.

The shoemaking trade was set up along the same lines, and had the same categories. Some of the shoemakers manufactured boots and footware, whereas others were professional shoe merchants with their own shops. There were also home workers who went out onto the streets on the market days of Tuesdays and Fridays to sell

[Page 355]

their merchandise, or traveled to the market in other cities and towns. The merchants of ready-made shoes also were not badly off materially. Some of them even owned their own houses, such as, for example: Pinchas Mlawa, Avraham Mlawa, Baruch Atlas, and others.

The stitchers were a different branch of the shoemakers trade: Yosef Pundek, a Jew from the world of maskilim, a prayer leader in the synagogue, who took part in societal institutions; Avraham Yitzchak Grodka – a Torah leader, a regular donor to Keren Hayesod, Keren Kayemet (Jewish national fund) and other Zionist funds, an owner of a small, wooden house; Yechezkel Kadecki who was active in the chevra kadisha [burial society], a gabbai [trustee] in the synagogue, and a prayer leader. The stitchers' trade later spread among the former beis midrash youths who wished to learn a trade.

The hat makers trade was also considered to be one of the honorable professions. The following people were involved in that trade: Betzalel Eliezer Gongola, a maskil, a shofar blower, a Torah reader and a prayer leader not for reasons of livelihood. He was a jolly Jew who enjoyed telling a joke. He gave over his profession to his children, especially to his oldest son Moshe Gongola, who partly inherited his father's humor. The younger Gongola was active in the Handworkers' Union, and, despite his difficult situation, he was active in volunteer institutions. When his children grew up, his material situation improved and he did not live badly. Aside from hats, which Moshe manufactured himself with the assistance of his brother Shlomo, he also imported ready-made merchandise such as fancy hats, fur hats, and other such items, and resold them. This trade as well was especially Jewish until 1939.

The Germans put an end to all the Jews and their workshops, warehouses, and shops.

May their memories be a blessing.


[Page 356]

Memories

by Yaakov David Sendrowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In memory of my beloved father, mother, brothers and sisters:
Yitzchak Meir, Miriam Rachel, Chana Tova, Avraham Yosef, Eliezer, Aharon – of blessed memory.

A. The Pure and Straightforward Reb Moshe

He was a small, shriveled Jew with a large, wrinkled forehead. His eyes under the grayish blond brows peered toward the sky. His long, patriarchal beard covered three quarters of his face, which always had a thin, thin smile that would not lead, Heaven forbid, to frivolity.

At the table in the side of his semi–warped shop from which he earned his livelihood, one could always find books into which Reb Moshe would glance between customers. It was difficult for him to go with the orderly daily flow. He was always a bit short on time. He cast a glance at the Book of Psalms. He had barely recited one chapter when a customer appeared – a tailor looking for pant buttons, or a shoemaker looking for a few nails and metal horseshoes that were threaded over the wire.

In his little shop, Reb Moshe had a special item for the tailors of the town: “velvet collars” in three colors – brown, black and garnet. The following people purchased most of the collars: Kalman the tailor, Shlomke the tailor, and the mute tailor from Ferfl Street. When someone came to ask about the merchandise, Reb Moshe would lift up his pants, pucker all his wrinkles, fix his belt, and sigh deeply. He took a package stuffed with many papers down from the shelf, blew away the dust, opened it, got the merchandise, and discussed the price that must be paid. They quickly found out from Reb Moshe how much it had cost him, and they realized immediately that the pious shopkeeper was more afraid of overcharging than they were of overpaying.

Aside from collars, Reb Moshe had in his store a bit of haberdashery that would be purchased by village Gentiles. Reb Moshe treated them the same as his Jewish customers. He was very careful to never overcharge for the picayune merchandise such as buttons, collars and new yarn. He was always careful not to trick the purchaser. Reb Moshe would say, “In business, one must always withstand the test.” And tests are unfortunately common for sinful humans. The tailor girl comes to the store. She purchases buttons, yarn, and other such items. She sticks out her bare hand to Reb Moshe. With a worried face Reb Moshe quickly leaves the room through a door and goes into the workshop. His wife, Grandmother Rachel, deals with the business with the girl. She concludes the great “transaction” with the customer. Thus, in a very delicate fashion, he let the girl know about

[Page 357]

what had taken place[1]. One must retain a customer.

The home manufacturers who primarily sewed pants for the city tailors in the market and who made their purchases from Reb Moshe's shop all knew to put on a hat when they passed over the doorstep of the pious businessman. But one is only human, and one forgets oneself and comes to Reb Moshe in a frivolous mood. He sizes up the customer with a gruff glance and a clear smile. The tailor immediately understood what was going on here. He apologized several times: “Reb Moshe, forgive me, I forgot completely what was happening. The family members are urging me to finish the pants. I have not seen one coin from them, but my wife does not want to know about this. The children are driving me crazy. Reb Moshe, you will not have to bear more of this.”

This is the way everyone had respect for the small, thin, merchant, on account of his simplicity and honorableness. Everyone realized that he was G–d fearing with his whole heart.

Reb Moshe would also enjoy a bit of liquor, especially early every morning. As soon as he had washed his hands after getting out of bed, he would cast a glance at his bookshelf that stood at the head of his bed. There, on the side, one could find a small flask with a bit of liquor, to warm up the withered body a bit so that it could continue to serve its longtime master, the Master of the World. As long as he remains Reb Moshe, he must put his entire effort into maintaining and upholding the soul in the sinful body. Books were indeed housed in the bookshelf: the Bible, the gemara, halachic works, mishnas, and Hassidic works, which warm the Jewish soul; as well as liquor, which warms the body a bit to impart energy to serve the Creator with fervor and enthusiasm during his old age.

After tasting a bit of liquor, Reb Moshe's day began. He would return from the morning services, put his tallis and two pairs of tefillin (Rashi's and Rabbeinu Tam's) in the closet, and then take out the little flask with his beloved cup. He would pour a bit, recite the shehakol blessing, and enjoy it with two good kichels[2] that his wife had baked. His pale face took on a rosy color; his heart warmed up; his eyes became somewhat radiant. Now he had energy to serve the Master of the World. His wife soon called Reb Moshe to breakfast. That is how he spent day after day, in an honest fashion, with the same order of the day.

On Sunday afternoon, Reb Moshe would go to visit the teachers, while checking on how his grandchildren's studies were progressing. He would ask them some questions, to see what type of contentment he could have from his grandchildren. The teachers would treat him in a cordial fashion on account of his innocence, and say little. He never had a complaint against the teacher regarding a grandchild whose knowledge was weak. He would always blame the children for the weak learning, and not the teacher.

Reb Moshe was a good grandfather. The grandchildren would wait for the Sabbath to come, when their grandfather would test them about what they had studied. They would enjoy the Sabbath fruit and the kichels with tea that the grandmother prepared.

Reb Moshe had a special fondness for the mikva [ritual bath]. He would immerse himself for so

[Page 358]

long that he would faint. They would have to quickly pull him out by the arms and wash his face with cold water until he revived. Then they led him home. I would come to tend to Reb Moshe and take him home after a fainting spell at the mikva.

Reb Moshe's wife Rachel brought three sons and a daughter into the world. They grew up, and just as the pious father was the symbol of honesty, restraint, and simplicity in words and in deeds, they too displayed all the traits of their father. Itche Meir had his famous long beard and wide eyebrows. Hirsch Mechel was very similar to his younger brother, but somewhat more wide–boned. Chaim was the youngest and the tallest, with a fine, white, wide face, bedecked with a wide, combed beard. The only daughter, Beila, wore glasses with gilt rims. One would never meet her in an agitated frame of mind. She was always goodhearted. The poor people already knew that they would receive a 5 groszy donation from Beila, along with a few “nagrapkes[3] in addition.

On the Sabbath, the elder son Hirsch Mechel would often come to sit with his father a bit, and drink a glass of Sabbath tea brought from the “Shlisharkn[4]. They would sit there, looking at each other in silence. Both did not like to talk much. The silence continued until the mother finished reading “Tzena Urena[5]. Then, she began to ask, as usual, how the children were doing and about the grandchildren, thereby creating a theme for discussion. However, what can one talk about so much on the Sabbath? One must not mention secular matters. Therefore, Reb Moshe slept a great deal in order to avoid, Heaven forbid, falling into the trap of uttering a weekday word.

The grandchildren loved their grandfather very much. He would give them a weekly allowance of 10 groszy and kichels. Everything was prepared for when they came. Grandmother prepared the fine, clear Sabbath tea as if for important guests. The most important thing was testing the grandchildren on what they had learned throughout the week. However, Reb Moshe could not spend a long time with the grandchildren. As he began to recite the mishna along with his grandchildren from his little gemara, the Sabbath sleep overtook him, as his eyes closed. He struggled with sleep as he hummed the gemara tune with his grandchild. The grandmother prepared the bedding on the side, and Reb Moshe spread himself out.

*

On the festivals, the grandchildren knew that they would be going to their grandfather. All of the sons with their children gathered there. The son–in–law Binyamin rarely came to Reb Moshe. There were rumors that good relations did not exist between the father–in–law and the son–in–law. Something was kept in check under the beard. Like a German, he did not worship in the shtibel, but rather in the new beis midrash[6] – showing himself as spoiled. This caused Reb Moshe to look askance at his grandson – his daughter's son – especially because he did not have peyos or wear a long frock. The grandmother, however, overlooked the iniquity of her grandson, and delivered sweet kichels to him. Whenever he would come over, she would immediately take him into the dark kitchen and stuff his pockets with fruit. She would give a bit of fresh strawberries with sugar,

[Page 359]

give him a heartfelt kiss, and tell him that he should come again.

All of the sons with their children came for festivals. They sat around the table. The elderly father, facing Hirsch Mechel, was at the head of the table. All four of them had long beards; and, with their serious faces, had almost the same appearance. All three sons were wearing black beaver pelts, still from their weddings; black velvet collars, and black velvet Sabbath hats. The grandchildren received nuts from their grandmother, and everything felt homey. They sipped hot tea. After every sip, one could hear a loud “ah ah ah.” They dried their sweaty brows with the napkins.

The grandchildren were very busy in the yard playing with the nuts. The sons were engaged in a conversation about everything and anything other than business. They also did not directly talk about the holiday. Hirsch Mechel spoke a bit from the heart, saying that the children are not obedient. They do not want to go to cheder anymore. Chaim the youngest casts a compassionate glance toward his unfortunate elder brother. His heart is overflowing with contentment as he mentions his only son Mechel, who studies in the yeshiva, and of whom he is very proud. The middle son Itche Meir also has contentment from his four children, all with Jewish hats, kapotes, and peyos. They obeyed the rebbe cheerfully. Everyone in the shtibel was jealous of him due to his calm children.

In truth, the children were completely unruly and acted as brats in the house, but the teachers always boasted about them. The three girls were different: already not as religious as the boys. In truth, they did not read any Polish books at the table on the Sabbath. They recited the Shema every day, but not enough for Itche Meir. In their minds they had Zionist thoughts, which were completely non–kosher and invalid for Itche Meir.

Thus did they sit around the table and discuss the children and a bit about politics. Reb Moshe heard everything and said nothing. He cast a glance at a Hassidic book that was lying on the side, or in the Midrash Tanchuma[7]. He uttered brief sighs, mixed with hidden festive joy. He looked paternalistically in a heartfelt manner at his sons with his serious, patriarchal face. The old, hoary, grey father wants to say something, and asks what is going on in the world. Before a response comes from his sons, the old father nods off with a faint smile on his lips.

Dark clouds hovered over world Jewry. Sierpc Jews felt the hatred that came through from the Gentile streets. Reb Moshe began to feel the hands of the devil. Gentiles, who would never have previously dared to bully the “stara zakonni[8] – as they would refer in polite Polish to a Jew who was a long–time resident of the city, and an honest businessman – recently began to greet Reb Moshe with an ironic smile, as they mocked him behind his back. The pious shopkeeper, whose head was always occupied with Torah thoughts, began to think about things that were transpiring in the world, about bad times for Jews. Doctrines from the righteous men of the generation who had already gone to the World of Truth, about the End of Days, began to go through his mind. He attempted to make sense of the current times.

Then, the news arrived about the passing of the great giants of the generations. The author of the “Chofetz Chaim” of blessed memory[9] passed away.

[Page 360]

Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of blessed memory also passed away[10]. They were the two greatest Lithuanian gaonim and tzadikim[11]. The following people also passed away: Rabbi Chaim Sonnenfeld of Jerusalem of blessed memory, the Czortkower Rebbe of holy blessed memory, Rabbi Meir Shapira of blessed memory, Reb Yosha Dvinsker (the Rogotchover Genius) of blessed memory – rabbis, rebbes from all parts of the world were needed in Heaven. Something was summoning our protectors of the generation home. What was happening? We remain like sheep without a shepherd, thought Reb Moshe, as his eyes literally saw the dark clouds spreading over the Jewish skies.

Hassidim sent emissaries to their rebbes, searching for comfort, but alas, no clear responses came. The ground began to burn under the feet. The righteous of the generation were taken to Heaven. The earth was flowing with clouds of anti–Semitism and terrible decrees, with nobody realizing where things were leading.

Pickets were placed by the Jewish shops to prevent the Gentiles from purchasing, Heaven forbid, from Jewish shopkeepers. They also came to Reb Moshe, the epitome of honesty, to prevent him from bringing guilt upon the Gentile who purchased pant buttons or shoelaces. The Angel of Death was already located in Europe. The newspapers brought news of a new war that was about to come. This was nothing other than the “footsteps of the Messiah,” but must the birth pangs of the Messiah come to that village? What was going on?

The elderly Reb Moshe suspected everything that younger people did not want to believe. Nevertheless, he did not despair. One must always have hope. With the Master of the World, everything is possible. The Chofetz Chaim of blessed memory was a great lover of Israel. He will stir up the souls of the great tzadikim in the Garden of Eden, and all would intercede positively for the People of Israel. However, it seemed that the prosecutor was defeating the defender before the Throne of Glory, and therefore the great ones of the generation were taken away so they would not witness the birth pangs of the Messiah – this is what Reb Moshe thought when the Germans began to destroy the town of Sierpc.

The Great Synagogue had already been turned into a heap of coal. The vibrant Jewish life was paralyzed. Terror was present as people got up in the morning and went to sleep in the evening. Reb Moshe did not go out on the street so as to avoid being captured by the Germans, who cut off beards. The joy of the family was thwarted – from the grandchildren and sons, and from the old father. One was cut off from the other. The bandits wandered around all corners of the cities. Death hovered overhead. Uneasy thoughts fluttered through the mind of the old Reb Moshe, “Dear Father, and great God! Who knows if I will merit burial in a Jewish grave?” thought the pious Jew.

What could one think about when everything was already clear before everyone's eyes? Germans were driving people out of the houses. One must part forever from the town, from Sierpc, with which one was bound with thousands of strands. Every stone had a story to tell about Sierpc Jews. Every gravestone was a piece of history. And now, everything was lost. Everyone – young and old – had to go to the old marketplace.

Reb Moshe was standing immersed in his thoughts when his grandson brought him the sad news. Reb Moshe then recited Shema. It was 6:00 a.m., but the grandson asked that they set out already. The Germans were shooting. As he was going, Reb Moshe donned his tallis and tefillin. Meanwhile, the grandmother had prepared something to eat for

[Page 361]

the way. They put the Sabbath knife, the techina book[12], his tallis and tefillin in a basket. The elderly couple held each other by the arms, like young children who were afraid that the wind might blow them down, as they set out for the old marketplace with slow steps.

The Gentiles watched as Reb Moshe cast sad glances at the burnt synagogue and the lonely eis midrash, as their eyes moistened. His old Polish female security guard, who served him for decades, found it difficult to endure the experience.

Thus began the Jewish death march. Reb Moshe and his wife were behind the crowd. The German murderer had already taken hold of his gun, when suddenly Reb Moshe's only daughter, Beila, let out a pathetic cry and begged that they let her old father and mother return home. Something must have “moved” the stone heart. The German ordered the old couple to return. Reb Moshe turned his face toward the “train of sorrow” in order to part from his near ones. Unfortunately, however, they did not see anyone. Thus did they, the children and grandchildren part from their very beloved, honest and straightforward father and their dedicated mother – by glancing from afar.

G–d fulfilled her request. G–d heard the weeping of his elderly servant. Reb Moshe merited receiving a Jewish burial in Sierpc. He lies together with those near and dear to him, and waits until the birth pangs of the Messiah will end and the great day of complete redemption will arrive.

May his merit protect us!

 

B. Three Brothers–In–Law

A small house stood on the right side of Plocker Street, a bit in from the street, near the house of the head of the community, Shmuel Zeinwil. The little house contained two shops: On the left side there was a Gentile pork business. A porcelain piglet looked out the window. When we cheder youths ran by, we would spit three times and say, “You shall surely hold it detestable”[13]. In the grocery store on the right side, one could see the splendid face of Yosel Sznicer. He wished a hearty good morning to everyone who passed by his grocery store. Yosel's wife and their son, Itche David, who helped a bit with the business, were also always standing in the store.

Yosel Sznicer was from Plonsk. His father was Yitzchak Aharon Sznicer, and he was indeed a carver[14]. One could find various carved objects among his children's and grandchildren's jewelry. He earned his livelihood by carving various ornaments. He engaged in his craft during his free time between one customer and the next. The elderly Yitzchak Aharon was a very wealthy man, but he did not spend more than two hours a

[Page 362]

day in the store. For the rest of the time, in the morning and the evening, he studied with Jews in the beis midrash.

The Sznicers were a large and wide–branched family. They were well–known even in far–off Siberia. The following is an anecdote from my personal experience, which seems a bit fantastic.

I was in the Siberian taigas in the winter of 1940. The homesickness, the loneliness, and the hunger tormented me and reminded me of home. Coming home alone after a hard workday of wood chopping, I met two elderly people sitting on a cut down tree, whispering to each other in the ear. Broken, tired, homesick, and full of worry, I sat down beside them. We struck up a conversation, and one old man asked me, “From where do you come, young man?” “From Sheps,” I responded. When he figured out that Sheps meant Sierpc, a city in Poland, he began to speak Polish and said that he comes from Plonsk, and had already been in Russia for 30 years.

I told him that my family also came from Plonsk, and he asked me, “Do you come from the Sznicers… from the family of Chilek Sznicer, who was in the wheat business?” “Yes,” I responded.

It turned out that the old man, the camp doctor Nawicky, who had been sentenced to eight years in Siberia, knew the Sznicers.

Several branches from that extended family were in Sierpc. Among them were the three Sznicers: Yosel Sznicer, Meir Libson, and Yisrael Chaim.

Reb Yosel was a modest, honest, straightforward Jew who was pleasant to his fellowman. He was loved by both Jews and Gentiles on account of his modesty and honesty in business. He belonged to the “old guard” of the Kock Hassidim, who would tell over their old Torah thoughts and various stories. He was one of the rare people who avoided commotions, and it was this modesty that evoked the greatest honor and respect. Every year, Yosel served as the prayer leader for Shacharit on the High Holidays. He earned his livelihood from a small store, run mainly by his wife.

His son Itche David was not similar to his father in all ways. In his private life, he was completely like his father – honorable and refined. One would seldom hear a loud word from him. He loved communal work for the benefit of the community in various social institutions. He was a member of various organizations and charitable funds – the Bank Lodawy and the Zionist organization. He was a pillar of the Sierpc Tarbut School. He demanded something from the world as well as himself – everything was supposed to be exceptional.

I recall that in 1936, when the well–known tragic unrest broke out in the Land of Israel. A protest meeting was organized in the Great Synagogue. Various activists of the Zionist organization, including Itche David, spoke. During his speech, his voice turned into a powerful protest shout to the world. The entire gathering was bound to their seats and overcome with

[Page 363]

deep outrage against the murder of Jews in the Land of Israel.

In the old market, near Yonatan Lipszyc's house, there was a fine brick building (still standing today) with a balcony. The house belonged to Meir Libson, Yosel's brother–in–law. He lived a patrician life, and was considered as one of the wealthy Sierpc merchants. He ran a fine manufacturing business.

Meir Libson never forgot anyone – he was generous in every detail. An honorable poor person could always be found at his table at lunchtime. He was a typical Hassidic merchant. His wife Sara was the protector of everyone who was suffering or tormented. There was always a sensation of guilt in her eyes, as if she owed the world a debt. She felt that she had not fulfilled her obligation no matter how much charity she gave. She suffered from the pain of many orphans, widows, and poor people. Many honorable families discreetly received her goodhearted donations. No poor person ever left her house ashamed. Charity was the content of her day–to–day life.

Yisrael Chaim Szajewicz was almost always sitting on a bench near the entrance to his somewhat rickety shop near the bridge. From time to time, he coughed from all the cigarette smoking. In the springtime, when the snow melted causing an overflow of the Sierpc brook, Yisrael Chaim was the first victim. His shop literally floated. The canals were clogged up. Then, the entire street came out with buckets and iron implements to clear out the water from his shop.

Yisrael Chaim, with his tall, broad bones and his figure that was already stooped, gave off the impression of an elderly aristocrat who was already weary and weakened from his many years of communal activity. Yisrael Chaim was a member of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] from his childhood on. This was a directive from the Gerrer Rebbe of blessed memory, who called upon Yisrael Chaim's father Avrahamele to register his five year old child in the Chevra Kadisha, as a omen for a long life. In his old age, he was the veteran man of the Chevra Kadisha.

Reb Zalman, the gabbai [trustee] of the Chevra Kadisha, was happy when Yisrael Chaim arrived at the feast on the 7th of Adar, the yahrzeit of Moses[15]. Zalman and Yisrael Chaim, both old men, had what to talk about – things that the younger people had never known. They sat next to each other and shared memories of decades past.

On Rosh Hashanah, we grandchildren knew that we had to run to the old beis midrash to hear our grandfather Yisrael Chaim lead the services. However, when it was difficult for the old man to conduct services, he resigned from that holy mission. The congregants and the gabbaim did not want to forego his fine voice and sweet prayers. Two gabbaim, Hirsch Moshe Kanebrand and Shmuel Yitzchak Tac came to beg Yisrael Chaim, in the name of the entire congregation, to lead the Shacharit service and not give up his customary role. Yisrael Chaim, already weak, elderly, and in his eighties, after a while agreed to do what the gabbaim requested. With awe, they took Yisrael Chaim by his arms and led the old prayer leader to the

[Page 364]

beis midrash. The congregation was already waiting outside, and greeted Yisrael Chaim with a hearty Shana Tova.

His lovely prayers still ring in my ears. Despite his age, his voice was very young. Strongly etched in my mind is the “Ashrei Haam” recited after the shofar blowing, as he leaned against the podium on the Torah reading table. The cheerful shamash Yisraelke stood on one side of him, and Yosel the shochet stood on the other side, with his shofar under his kittel. The hoary, grey Yisrael Chaim stood in the middle.

I saw my grandfather in great splendor at the Purim feast, when all the children and grandchildren arrived with mishloach manot [Purim food gifts] to grace the old father's table and to partake of the feast together with him. Grandmother acted as if it was a wedding. She nimbly took out the two brass candlesticks from the meat shelf, lit the candles, and set things up like a festival. Everyone behaved with deep respect toward the old father. The father, sitting on his plush “father's stool,” was radiant with joy.

When our neighbor Asher Lewin came on the eve of Yom Kippur after the meal to extend good wishes to my father and mother, Mother reminded us that we must go to Grandfather for him to bless us. We four brothers set out to my grandfather's. As we went through the door, we immediately felt the dread and fear of the Day of Judgment. The large, wax candles were standing in an old pot filled with sand. We heard Grandmother weeping as she recited the techina at candle lighting before Yom Kippur. Grandfather put on his glasses, stood with his hands over his grandchild's head, and whispered a prayer.

With a wink from Grandfather, we approached him. He asked us to arrange ourselves in a semicircle. He placed his trembling hands over our heads and recited a silent prayer. We also trembled without knowing why. A solemn spirit overtook us. We stood there with bowed heads under his hands until tears began to fall from Grandfather's eyes. Then, our eyes moistened as well. When he concluded his prayer with the word Amen, we extended our hands to Grandfather and wished him that he be sealed in the Book of Life for the good. We ran quickly to Kol Nidre, and we ran well and spryly after the blessings from our good, pious grandfather.

The three brothers–in–law Yosel Sznicer, Meir Libson, and Yisrael Chaim, with their lives suffused with honesty and love of their fellow Jew, merited death before the destruction, and burial in a Jewish grave – this was a great merit in our times.

 

C. The Sabbath During My Childhood Years

The entire Friday was dedicated to preparing for the upcoming Sabbath. The mothers were rushing: to the bakery to knead the challahs and the strudels, to the fish seller so as not to be late for the fish, to the store to purchase something, and then to the stall to lay out the merchandise on the tables. The mothers

[Page 365]

helped earn the livelihoods. When it was a short Friday, one literally lived in fear of, Heaven Forbid, being late for the Sabbath, being late in cooking the fish and meat, and, most important, being late in making the cholent and kigel and taking it to the baker before he smeared the oven with lime.

The fathers and grandfathers prepared for the Sabbath in their own manner. They went to immerse in the mikva and took a steam bath in the bathhouse. Everyone loved the hot mikva. When the red Efraim came to immerse himself, we children immediately knew that we had nothing to do there, for it was going to be like fire – that is in the boiling mikva. Therefore, we nicknamed him “The brave man of the mikva.”

As the sun dropped lower, Yaakov Moshe ran back from the mikva. He was dressed in a long coat, and he lifted up the collar so as not to catch a cold, and held his underwear under the hem. All of the shopkeepers and passers–by immediately understood the purpose of his quick pace – the Holy Sabbath was arriving in Sierpc and one must lock the stores. His white, patriarchal beard and good deeds in daily life evoked the greatest respect from all circles of the population, even from the Gentiles, who called him Hassid. When Yaakov Moshe ordered someone to close the door of a shop, the owner immediately understood that there was no point in appealing. When Yaakov Moshe returned from the mikva, it was a sign that it was late and one must lock the store.

Ordinarily, the Satan knew what he had to do on late Friday afternoon. For an entire week, one remains in the store and asks the Master of the World to send a few good Gentiles, and one does not see them. However, just before candle lighting, as if in spite, they appear. This was indeed a great test for the shopkeeper. Yaakov Moshe, however, with his patriarchal, sharp voice, warned the shopkeeper that he must not make any compromises with the Torah. One should give away the merchandise to the customer at the base price, so as to avoid desecrating the Sabbath.

In our shtibel, we had a custom to not recite “Barchu” unless the poor guests had been taken care of for the meal by the householders. If the poor people were ever late and came at the end, they would remain in the beis midrash without food. The many efforts of the gabbai Mendel Elimelech did not help at all. Then, we children took the initiative and organized the dividing up of the guests in the following manner: each of the lads would take a guest and take him to the householder just when he was at the fish course and eating with gusto. He would then announce that the gabbai had sent a guest for the Sabbath.

We tricksters conducted this task in its entirety. We had a great victory. The next day, the guests came to services happy… Mendel Elimelech the gabbai was especially happy that a Jew did not miss the Sabbath.

Mendel Elimelech was our dedicated gabbai in the Gerrer shtibel. He turned, cleaned, and lit the ovens tens of times with a special love and dedication, so that Reb Avraham Aharon and his students who learned there would not freeze.

[Page 366]

Concern for the Gerrer shtibel took a major place in the day to day concerns of the gabbai. His presence pervaded everywhere. In all corners it was happy and joyous in accordance with the adage: worship G–d in joy. The sound of a melody and of practicing a recent tune was never missing from the shtibel.

It was Saturday morning. Everyone was running to the Great Synagogue, the old beis midrash and the new beis midrash. The city was in a Sabbath spirit.

I go quickly to the services in the shtibel. The gentle youth with their thick gartels [ritual belts] and fine silk cloaks were sitting by open midrash books on the weekly Torah portion. The older Jews, with boxes of tobacco in their hands, were peering into the Holy Zohar. The elderly Chaim Yosef was sitting at a corner of the table with his poplar cane by his side (for he limped a bit) peering into a book with his sleepy eyes, more dozing than awake. This was because when everyone else was lying in their warm beds dreaming their sweet dreams, it was the most peaceful time for Chaim Yosef as he united himself with the Creator by reciting his daily Psalms.

In Chaim Yosef's low house, located in the area of mikva, it was already light at 3:00 a.m. Chaim Yosef sat by the weak light of a lamp and conducted his daily Divine Service, for when the students arrived to learn, he must be finished with his service of the Master of the World.

In the same building of the Gerrer shtibel, there was a hotel that belonged to Mrs. Licht. The owners of the hotel had a certain connection with the shtibel. Throughout the entire week, Avraham Aharon, the tall, hoary, grey teacher, studied gemara with several youths. His place was in the last bookroom. The students sat at one side of the long table, and Avraham Aharon sat opposite them with his large gemara. Thus did he study with his students until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening.

A few times a week, one of the students came up from the hotel to bring a glass of tea to the rebbe. Mrs. Licht served the rebbe with great contentment and good heartedness. Often, she did not wait for the maid, but rather brought the clear glass of tea herself with the warm feeling of helping the pious Avraham Aharon, who was known in the city as a tzadik. Mrs. Licht would often send the rebbe a bit of chicken soup, and a good chicken wing for his sickly daughter, Chana, who suffered from a lung illness.

After a sweet glass of tea, the rebbe would utter a deep “ahhh,” as he wiped with his large, red handkerchief his forehead, nose, and face, and especially the wrinkles yellowed from many years of smoking tobacco. He would then tell us children, “I guarantee Mrs. Licht the World to Come, for she refreshed me with tea. I wish her all the best wishes in my name, and wish her that she should be well.”

We worshipped the service and then prepared for the reading of the Torah. It was a strong custom in the Gerrer shtibel that people would purchase honors during the Sabbath services[16]. When would this be, if not for the Torah reading? There was always something to purchase: one must pay rent. The gabbai had a complaint – people did not pay

[Page 367]

their pledges, and there was no order in the room. As always with Jews, there were forthright youths who believed that one must always state exactly the opposite. Then, they began to act with frivolity. The voices ascended to the heavens. For us children, we never understood how there could be a Sabbath without shouting and without raising a ruckus.

The final arbiter was always Yosel Pukacz. With his perpetually wise brow and smiling face, he would find a compromise, and a way out of the difficult problems. The shtibel was the second home for Yosel Pukacz. In his free moments, he would take a glance at the Yad Chazaka[17], his beloved book of study. The book of Maimonides always lay on the table at his seat. We students had the task of protecting the books. From time to time, we would collect the books from the tables, and put them in their correct places in the book room. In that manner, we knew which book each person was studying from.

After Musaf, the congregation prepared to go home. Every guest was already standing with his host, waiting to be taken to the host's home. I fulfilled my duty of helping my father put away his tallis after services. My older brother Avraham Yosef was already ready with Father's coat. This small act was a special expression of thanks from us brothers toward our beloved father Itche Meir for the education that he gave us and for the warm home that he created for us.

We went home. The old market was bustling with Jews returning from the synagogues and shtibels. Wishes of “Good Sabbath” could be heard from all sides. The mothers and grandmothers with their long, lace shawls wrapped around their necks, with the Korban Mincha prayer book and techina books in their hands, were hurrying home. Young women with children in carriages were walking along the street, near the Christian church, the old market and out onto Plocker Street. An idyllic Sabbath spirit pervaded the town. People were free from the weekday concerns about livelihood.

We came home. To our astonishment, our beloved mother was not yet home. We waited for Kiddush. Perhaps, Yosel Shochet conducted the services in the old beis midrash that day. We already knew that if the old shochet conducts the services on Shabbat Mevorchim in the beis midrash, our mother, along with all the women, would be in the women's section of the synagogue for longer than usual. She derived special enjoyment from his high and sincere prayers. With such prayers, one could cry out from the heart somewhat. And where is it more appropriate to cry than during petitions at the synagogue?

Finally, Mother arrives with her joyous Good Sabbath greeting. She then called to us with enthusiasm, “Children, since food has already been prepared for the entire Sabbath, I did not leave before the end of Yosel Shochet's prayers. In his blessing of Rosh Chodesh, one can sense that it is the Sabbath.”

We ate the first course of the Sabbath lunch, until the cholent. Father tested the children about what they had learned through the week. My brother Leizer, with his lovely blue eyes and constant smile on his face, was already standing near Father with his gemara in his hands, telling him what he knew. He was the top gemara student in cheder. Father derived enjoyment from

[Page 368]

his learning, and waited with great pride and perseverance for his son to be recognized as a genius and a scholar. Our youngest brother Aharele also had something to show – he already knew chumash. Father has brought him a new chumash from Warsaw to mark the beginning of his study of chumash.

One hurried to the baker for the cholent. Almost all of Jewish Sierpc was running: the mothers, the children, the school girls – all were running with hand towels to the basement of Malka, the baker woman. They went down to the cellar via the half broken and rotting steps. One had to be an acrobat in order to come back up with the hot cholent with all of one's limbs intact. However, in the merit of the holy Sabbath, Jewish children were not injured. In rare cases, one may have merely been burned a bit by the cholent pot. After coming home with the Sabbath food, the second course of the Sabbath meal proceeded with joy and enthusiasm. The kugel was prepared. Father and the children joyously sang the Sabbath hymns.

The songs from Mendel Elimelch's house resonated from the neighboring courtyard. The joyous Sabbath songs could be heard in the streets.

On Saturday afternoons, one began to see the first couples strolling along Plocker Street. The youth were making haste – some to the sporting match and others the party headquarters. The older Jews enjoyed the pleasures of the Sabbath. After drinking the Sabbath tea, they were overtaken by weariness, and they took a nap. In the winter they did so near the oven, with their hands lying underneath, and in the summer, at the table. We children also enjoyed the Sabbath calm. We told stories. We were free from the yoke of Torah and from the spankings that we would get from the teachers.

For the third Sabbath meal in the shtibel, Jews sat around the set tables. People discussed world politics a bit, mentioning old history and applying it to the current situation. Zalman Frajdman, the elder of the Chevra Kadisha, sat at the long table opposite the Holy Ark, looking into Tractate Chullin[18]. From time to time, he uttered a word about his Chevra Kadisha matters and told stories about American Jews who had come to visit their ancestral graves. It would take a great deal of effort to find the grave that had become overgrown with vegetation over many years. He, Zalman, had put together a map of the graves, which eased his work. However, he did not come out of this dry. The tourist had to pay a certain sum to the Chevra Kadisha for honey cake and liquor.

The shadows grew as the conversation continued. The sun set behind the houses of the town. Sierpc parted from the Sabbath. The streets bustled with the happily strolling Jewish crowd. Youth ran toward the sport place. People wanted to hold onto the Sabbath with all their power, they did not want to part from the pleasant day.

In the dark rooms of the shtibel, people set the table and partook of the third Sabbath meal. We children sat in a corner and conducted our quiet discussions in the dark. Menashe told fascinating stories that he had read in various Hassidic books. The adults at the table sang Bnei Heichala. We ran quickly to the table to sing together with Mendel Malach and his choir.

This is how we observed the Sabbath in Sierpc.

[Page 369]

D. Noach Pukacz and his Mangel[19]

Sierpc was a provincial town like all provincial towns. There were Jewish scholars, simple Jews, merchants, porters, and teachers. There were very important personalities, such as the mikva [ritual bath] attendant, and the guard of the cemetery, etc. There was another personality, who was called “Mangel.” This all formed the character of a homey town. People knew what was going on with their neighbors; they whispered secrets in the ears about everything that took place between the four walls of the family nest of Sierpc residents. This I discovered after seeing as a child when I went with my late mother to the mangel of Noachya Pukacz.

The small house of Noachya Pukacz was located on Foreh Street not far from our house. It was said that he was not far from being a centenarian, but when one asked him his age, he would have an immediate answer on his tongue: “What does it mean how old I am? Over 60.” His small house also did not appear all that young. It was a bit crooked on the side. The roof already had one patch atop another. The walls were already bent from rain, snow, and frost. Noachya's general appearance was appropriate for him. He was a short Jew, with a short cut beard, neat and tidy. He would walk on the patio between the mangel and his house. He would cast a glance through the door to see who had come with a package of freshly washed, starched, stiff clothes. However, the payment was meager throughout the day, because the main source of income was from the Jewish mothers who did not have the time because they had to help in the store or go to the fair in Skwylna–Skempa to purchase some merchandise, as well as conduct the housework. Is this a small thing? They would have to peel potatoes, roll blintzes, or knead dough for noodles. The latter was not one of the easy tasks. Not everyone's child was as fortunate as I, with my mother. She was an artist when it came to cutting the noodles very thin. They also had to wait for the precise moment when everyone's child arrived home from cheder, where he studied “chumash and verses” with Lomen Ajnbinder, aleph beit and Hebrew with Pinchas Hoiker or, if he was fortunate, a page of gemara with Avraham Aharon. The weak children had to eat something warm, to warm up their insides and have energy to study in cheder.

This is how all Sierpc mothers spent their days. Where would they have time to go iron the laundry that the Gentile woman had washed three days ago, which was now all washed, soaked in clear blue starch, and dried? The matter of the laundry and drying the laundry was no simple matter. To truly describe it, one must provide a special chapter, for example, about how the house appeared on the days that one did the laundry, about boiling the water in the middle of the day, about the righteous women, about the vapor that was created by boiling the water with non–kosher soap, about looking for attics of the neighbors to hang the laundry; about how in the winter, it would take one week to dry the wash; and then, with good fortune, everything was back

[Page 370]

in the house. Then one had to stretch out the large sheets to remove their stiffness, or prepare the Sabbath tablecloths to be pressed. Then there would still be time on the fine summer evenings or the long, cool winter nights to dedicate to the iron.

Now I wish to try to go back with the help of my memory to the town workshops, and go a bit to the iron, to where I had certainly been taken tens of time with my beloved mother or grandmother Krose of blessed memory.

This was in a long, wooden building. The old character sighed. The rain pelted down during the cloudy days and nights. During the winter, one had to push away the thick snow cover, until spring came and the pleasant sun melted the snow, and all sides were clear. However, the poor walls were weary from age and from bearing the heavy load of white snow. I was sometimes sent with cold drops on the neck[20] to put out the candle that lit up the iron, as I stood on the sill of the small window.

Inside, there were two long, shiny tables along both walls in order to prepare the laundry for ironing. Two round meter sticks stood on the sides, that were called valtzes in “iron terminology,” which were used to spin the laundry for ironing. When everything was ready, it was carried to the long machine and placed under it. The two machines were filled with large, heavy stones, to press upon the valtzes. As a child, I believed that the reason they were so heavy was because they were special ironing stones. It seemed that the sweat of our weary mothers and grandmothers from many decades was perhaps mixed with a few tears, as they wet the stones and placed them upon the heavy valtzes, forming a considerable portion of their weight. At the same time, the tears that moistened the aprons of the Jewish mothers came from the heavy burdens locked in their soft, warm, hearts.

Of course, when the calf turned around, the iron got mangled and the hand got scalded, the tongues also did their thing. One had to talk a bit, and one indeed did so – about nothing in particular, about weddings and divorces, about fights between husband and wife and who made peace between them until the next fight. What lunch was cooked today, and what would be cooked tomorrow. Whose daughter was set up with a boy, and whether it was appropriate or not based on family pedigree, and whose wife, may we not hear of such, purchased non–kosher cheese at the market. During such serious discussions, my grandmother Krose forgot that her hand was under the machine, and that her grandchild was playing near the calf. Fortunately, only the little finger of her right hand got burnt by the iron. What happens when a finger got ironed? It was bound up for a few months, and one spot remained on the finger as a souvenir.

Regarding these secrets that one whispered in the ear, I should not hear – it was only the stones of the iron that calmly heard year in and year out, and thereby added to their weight. Was it

[Page 371]

therefore a wonder that they seemed heavy?

This is how one spent the evenings at the iron. From time to time, one would eat a bit of a piece of bread with schmaltz and grivn [cracklings] that one took along. Then one would go play with the calf again.

I never heard any discussions about the price when Noachye's son came to collect. There was a long term connection between them, and the owner was content to obtain any payment, as long as they would come to use his dedicated, trustworthy iron that served the residents of Foreh Street in the old market for many years.

Thanks to the fact that the candles did what they customarily do, and went out one by one, one would be reminded that one had to shorten the iron–secrets somewhat and conclude them at the bakery, where the baker was smearing the challahs on Friday at dawn, or coming home from the synagogue on the Sabbath. They arranged towel after towel, blanket cover after blanket cover, tablecloth after tablecloth, wrapped them in a bed sheet and carried them home.

 

E. Yosha with the “Shandes[21] and Yosha Zelik's the Perpetual In–Law

Yosha the water carrier was never short of work. Summer or winter, he was never unemployed. He served his customers faithfully. He would even bring two pails of water up to the second story, hanging on his shandes. He was so dedicated to his shandes, that on the Sabbath when he did not work, he did not want to give a rest to his shoulders. The shandes had to rest on them.

His shoulders were made especially for water carrying, like a camel that was created with two humps with a ridge between in which to place the load. He did not always receive an invitation to be treated with a bit of barley soup in the kitchen near the smokestack. He already knew which women cooked tasty food. He could be seen on the street every morning, with round cheeks, red like fine apples, a rope tied around his belly, always prepared for work. Unfortunately, in the winter it was not so easy to carry.

In the winter, Yosha had to fetch water from the pump that was located in the middle of the market opposite the courthouse. He had to take care not to break his hips on the ice that the young “labuzes” – Simchale, Yankel and Meir – had made especially near the pump. They would pump a bit of water onto the frozen ice. They did this two or three times on the ice, and it was ready. When Yosha came to take water and saw the wedding, the “labuzes” made the true “Misheberach[22].

Yosha could not pronounce the letters gimel but rather daled. He would tell us children: “I will report to your father that you are not going to cheder”[23]. For the group of children, this was a great joy. To his good fortune, the Sierpc policeman

[Page 372]

Pasterunek was standing beside the pump. At Yosha's call for help, the policeman started staring at us. Of course, we left.

Yosha charged five groszy for a “parl”, that is two pails, of water from the pump. The wealthy people ordered “mikva water” from Yosha – that is, water from the well near the mikva, which was considered very good water. That water was colder and tastier – so thought the most important householders of Sierpc. It also seems that this was some sort of secret. Perhaps the old women of the city indeed knew the secret of the mikva water, but they never told it. Therefore, Yosha charged a double fee, 10 groszy to bring water one time from that well.

Yosha had a fellow–tradeswoman, Zishete from Ferfl Street. She wore a pair of large man's shoes, bound with wire so that they would not fall off. She had a rope around her belly, like all the water carriers. Yosha got along peacefully with his fellow–tradeswoman. She was ahead of Yosha with one thing – with curses. She always had a ready lexicon of curses, as if ready on order. It was possible that this was the reason that Yosha never fought with Zishete. Most of the time one could find her wandering around with her pail and turning the long rope with the bucket of water near the mikva. She never went to the pump, so as not to encroach on his territory.

Yosha with the shandes aroused the pity of everyone. He had a tough life. In the summer, he was thoroughly soaked with sweat, as if he had just come out of the water. In the winter, he was like a complete stick of ice. His clothes were as stiff as a window from ice. He himself was rigid. From the moisture of his nose, little frozen “candles” hung down. His eyebrows were white from the frozen vapor, and his hands were stiff with cracked skin. He did not worry about this, and felt that he was going to go quickly to the Creator. And who had it as good as Yosha? He had a perpetual source of livelihood, one must only beg for years.

On the long winter nights, Yosha would come to Sheina Leah in the cellar to drink tea. Sheina Lea lived in the old market in the cellar of Nachum Lewin's home. She had a food store in the front. A large kettle with brewed tea was always available at one side of her shop, for the Gentiles who would come to the city for purchases, and for Sabbath tea for the Jews. Yosha could be found there every evening. He would enter, sit at a bench, untie the string, and melt away the frost. There was always a puddle of water around him from the melted snow.

Sheina Lea knew well that Yosha would not drink from a glass. What was a glass of tea for Yosha? He could not hold it in his hands, which were swollen from cold. He was served the pot of tea, Yosha took out a piece of hard sugar from his pocket. It smelled like onions, because it was kept together with onions in his pocket. He sipped and sipped, until the children decided to have a bit of fun with him. Then he gathered up all the rags with a rope, tied them together, and went home to rest his tired bones. He was an important guest for Sheina Lea – and why not? If

[Page 373]

not for Yosha, from where would she get water to cook tea?

There was another Yosha in the city – Yosha Zelig's. Everyone knew him as well. Anyone who attended a joyous occasion in the city or who hosted a joyous occasion such as a bris, bar mitzvah, or a wedding must have met Yosha. He was considered as one of the members of the clergy in the city. He then arranged for the jester [badchan], and considered himself a relative. Both of them waited for weddings in the city. The jester, who lived under a roof near the slaughterhouse, awaited a few groszy for his services. Unfortunately, he was a poor man. He was blessed with several daughters and one son.

Yosha Zelig's was the first person in the city to know when a wedding was coming. He then immediately announced it to Avraham the jester. Without Yosha, there could not be a wedding in Sierpc. He ran to fetch benches from the beis midrash, and he summoned the waiters and cooks. He helped bring the water and looked for places where they could do some baking.

Yosha was the first to wish mazel tov to the bride and groom. He did so with great joy, as if they were his children. All of the in–laws called him Uncle. He dressed festively for all the weddings and rejoiced as if the occasion was his own. When the bride was ready for the chupa, he did everything to ensure that he would be the first to see her in the bridal gown. In the middle of the wedding, he whispered to everyone about what he had seen.

Yosha was also close with the musicians and with the tall Malach and his choir. When they began to lead the bride to the chupa, Yosha was the first to announce to the tall Malach that it was time to go.

Yosha was employed for several days after every wedding. He did not conclude until he had collected the last money from the uncles and the aunts. They knew that they could deposit the gifts with Yosha Zelig's.

He lived near the old beis midrash. He had lost his mother, and often came to services to recite Kaddish. He was unable to understand the small letters[24], so Yisraelke the Shamash always helped him with Jewish things. He helped him put on the tefillin and recited Shema with him. Yisraelke Shamash would recite a word, and Yosha would repeat after him, thereby reciting the Kaddish.

On account of his success with weddings in Sierpc, Yosha expanded his activity and went to weddings in the entire Sierpc region. Once, he was away from Sierpc for an entire week. His father went to search for him, and found him at weddings in Zuromin–Badzyn and Drobin.

How did one know that he was in the towns? They found out from Avraham the jester when he returned from the weddings in those places. Yosha had to remain a bit longer, for was there no shortage of work there? He accompanied the in–laws, received the last money, and brought the benches back from where he had taken them. Of course, there was no shortage of food at a Jewish wedding. Yosha was certainly eating well for eight days[25].


Translator's Footnotes

  1. I believe this means that he had religious compunctions about touching a woman. Instead of telling her outright, he transferred the transaction over to his wife. Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kichel Return
  3. Nagrapkes is likely a type of food. Return
  4. The name of a teahouse in Sierpc. See page 185. Return
  5. A Torah commentary in Yiddish customarily studied by women on the Sabbath. Return
  6. A hint that he may have had a more modern outlook than his father–in–law. German Jews would be more modern in outlook than Polish Jews. Return
  7. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanhuma Return
  8. Literally, “the old religious order.” Return
  9. This was in 1933. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Meir_Kagan Return
  10. This was in 1940. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Ozer_Grodzinski Return
  11. Gaon (plural Gaonim) – religious geniuses. Tzadik (plural Tzadikim) – Righteous people. Return
  12. A book of Yiddish petitions recited by women at candle lighting time. Return
  13. Deuteronomy 7:26. Return
  14. Schnitzer in Yiddish. Return
  15. One of the traditional dates for the annual Chevra Kadisha feast. Return
  16. Not with immediate payment, but rather with pledges. Return
  17. Maimonides' summary of Talmudic law. Return
  18. A Talmudic tractate dealing with the laws of kashruth and ritual slaughter [shechita]. Return
  19. An iron or clothing press. Return
  20. An obscure phrase. It likely means that he broke out in a cold sweat. Return
  21. I suspect that the term here refers to the water carrier's pole. Return
  22. This sentence is full of nuances, implying that the pranksters waited around to see the results of their prank, which would be Yosha slipping on the ice. Return
  23. The Yiddish version of this quote has the 'g' sound interchanged with 'd'. Return
  24. I.e., he was not overly literate Jewishly. Return
  25. Referring to the feasts during the Sheva Brachot week following a wedding. Return

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Sierpc, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 11 May 2014 by JH