by Aharon Shrift
Translated by Moses Milstein
Shia Poitek was a man of average-size. He had a black beard, longer at the sides and shorter in the middle. He wore a dirty kapote, boots with many patches, and a Yiddish hitl on his head.
He was supposedly a timber seller, but as I understood it, he was only a broker. He would wander around the villages buying wood from the goyim, and give them a down payment. The rest would be paid by the buyer to whom he would quickly sell the wood. The next day he would run back to the village. He never had the money to pay for the timber himself. That's how he wheeled-and-dealed.
He had a wife and children. His wife, Iteh, was a good wife and a good mother. Because she was tall, much taller than her husband, she was given the nickname, Hosh. I used to visit them because their son went to cheder with me.
Iteh Hosh was very nearsighted. I noticed that everything she picked up, she held up close to her eyes. I would laugh seeing how, on Fridays, when she was chopping the fish for Shabes, she would bring the chopping board and the chopping blade so close to her face that she sometimes struck her nose. There was a story going around that, once, when she was preparing cholent for Shabes, and stuffing the kishke, one of the children began crying. She stopped to quiet the child. When she returned she continued to sew up the kishke not noticing that a cat had got into it, until the kishke began to dance…I myself did not see this.
Every couple of years a new baby arrived and Iteh gave each child no fewer than three names. I accompanied my father to one bris. Pinchas Shochet was the mohl. And I heard how he called him no less than four names-Israel Abraham Yacov Laizer. My father, Reuben, told Shia that he shouldn't scatter so many names about lest he run out of names.
Shia Poitek was always ready to help someone out. Whenever something happened, he was ready with advice. But, his advice wasn't always followed.
I remember when the bailiff came to take some things-and he was a frequent guest at our place-someone threw a dirty sack on his head from the attic, and he was almost blinded. He took us to court. We needed a witness to say that the sack fell out of the attic by itself.
So who do you think was the witness? Shia Poitek. When he received the summons to go to court, he came to ask us what he should say. My father discussed it with him, and his testimony turned out successfully.
The bailiff came to Shia often demanding money, but Shia had more important uses for his money. But how do you get rid of this goy? Shia had an idea. He closed off the damper from the oven and smoke filled the house. The bailiff could not withstand the smoke. His eyes burned and his nose ran. He left with nothing. He would try again with Shia, from time to time, but he never managed to accomplish anything.
A game on Shabes
At that time, the Zionist movement was very popular in S, and Jews tried to find ways to leave for Israel. The antisemites were aroused and frequently you heard, Zhidi, do Palestini! We enrolled in various organizations: Betar, Ha'chalutz, Bund, from a young age. And we were filled with all kinds of ideologies.
But the young people were more interested in sport. Teams were established: football, swimming. We would march around town singing. Little children would run after us, parents were filled with pride.
The best football players were chosen and a team was established headed by Shimon Diamant. I was also on the team. Uniforms like today, we couldn't afford, because they cost a lot of money. My father used to say that, for one shirt, nine people could have a good meal. So, what's more important? We had no choice, and everyone played with what he had. We tried for an effect that was more or less acceptable.
No one should know
We competed against all the teams in S., and always won. We received invitations from other shtetlach and succeeded there as well. It went so far that our captain, Shimon Ariks accepted a challenge to play against a Christian team from Bilgoraj, thirty kilometers from S. The game was to take place on a Shabes. This is impossible! we all cried, It will cause a riot in the shtetl!
But to no avail. The temptation was too great, and we decided to play. How can we make it so no one will find out? We chose four teammates to hire two wagons with high sides filled with straw, and arranged for them to be waiting for us Shabes after noon, about two km outside town.
We reasoned that, after prayers, after lunch, after zmires, it would be 12:30. Then a half hour to get there, and we would meet at 1:00 o'clock at the wagons. The thinking was that, every Shabes, winter or summer, kids would always leave the house, the parents would be left alone, and we wouldn't return until after dark.
All the players, and the fans, arrived punctually. There were about forty youngsters. We got into the wagons and the horses, like eagles, pulled away. The excitement was high. It was a beautiful day, the sky was blue, the fields covered in yellow corn stalks being harvested by the farmers. Green orchards full of juicy apples, pears and plums stretched along both sides of the road. The air was full of the scent of flowers.
We were enchanted by the whole scene and so overwhelmed we started singing Hebrew songs. Our voices carried far. In this way we covered eight kilometers.
Suddenly, I saw a Jew on the road. Who was it? Shia Poitek! He hid behind a fence and saw everyone traveling in the wagons. I quickly understood that this would not end well.
We lost the game. Almost everyone came back with black and blue eyes, swollen feet, bruised ribs, and worst of all, a heavy heart. We realized that this would not be the only problem. Back home we would have to answer for it, and this is what actually happened.
Shia Poitek, upon seeing the two wagons stuffed with kids, most of whom he knew, quickly returned to town and went straight to the bet hamidrash. There were already people there come to study pirkei avot, to daven minche-maariv and to celebrate sholes sides. He went straight to the shulchan, banged on it, and cried out with a tearful voice, Yidden, a terrible tragedy, heaven help us, will befall the shtetl! I saw with my own eyes two wagons full of youngsters traveling on Shabes, desecrating the Sabbath. I can swear by my peyes and beard that what I say is true! And he proceeded to name all those he recognized.
The mood among the parents was very dark. Each felt the burden of guilt for their sinning sons. They decided that the boys must be punished. Every father was to do as he saw fit.
A riot in shtetl
We arrived back in town in the dark. From a distance, we could see the shtetl was bubbling. We descended from the wagons and approached the crowd. Some people were shouting, others were crying. The town was in an uproar. Some of the mothers also came because they didn't trust their husbands not to punish the boys too severely. When one of the fathers grabbed his son and was about to beat him, his mother leapt into the fray to protect him. Finally, everyone took his son and went home.
Nobody was waiting for me. I knew my father would punish me without mercy. And that's how it was. But in the meantime, I went to spend the night at my friend, Ephraim Farber's (Kliski) house. They had a loft filled with hay cut in their fields. It was a pleasure to sleep there in ordinary times, but not now, when I knew what was hanging over me. I also had to worry about food, because I had an appetite like a wolf.
In the morning, I went out to see what the situation was, and also to grab a bite. I waited until my father left the house, and then I went in. While my mother fed me she said, Is that how one behaves, desecrating the Sabbath? How are you going to end up? I, your mother, won't do anything to you, but your father will not let you get away with it.
I stayed in Ephraim's loft for three nights coming home in the morning to eat. My father knew that this cat and mouse game would not last long. He knew that I was hiding behind the wall waiting for him to leave. On the third day,I watched him leave, and soon after, I went into the house. I didn't have time to look around before I heard the door shut. I turned around and saw my father standing by the door, slowly removing his belt. He said to me cold-bloodedly, Lie down on the bench.
Nothing helped. My father laid into me with the belt until my backside was black and blue. I couldn't sit down for days. My screams carried to the farthest streets. My mother fled from the house unable to withstand the sight of her husband beating her son. Her heart was breaking. She is a mother, after all. And that was how the competition ended.
Until today I can not understand what Shia Poitek was doing eight kilometers from town.
It didn't occur to anyone to ask him-What he was he looking for on Shabes, after lunch, in a village outside the techum Shabbat?
by Yankel Lam
Translated by Moses Milstein
There were some tough, strong men in Shebreshin. They did not stand idly by when Polish hooligans attacked the Jews. They were ready to fight back to defend their honor.
This took place a few years before the Second World War. One night, a number of wagon-loads of Polish recruits arrived from Zamosc. They rushed wildly out of the train, scaring everyone, and creating a commotion. Jewish taverns closed. People hurried to get off the streets and into their homes.
A group of Jewish porters assembled at Groisse Shloime's budke, wooden clubs in hand
The first of those running riot saw them and gave a signal to the othersand, straight-away, the recruits left town.
Reb Rokeach from Bilgoraj (from the Belz court) came to visit the Belzer Chasidim for Shabes. Friday evening, leaving Shloime Maimon's house on the way to the Great Shul, accompanied by about twenty Chasidim, the group was attacked, without warning, by a bunch of Polish hooligans. The Jews energetically repulsed them accompanied by angry oaths from R. Menashe Katzenelboigen, and R. Berish Katzenelboigen, and Shimon Nickselberg. The hooligans took off.
Hertz, a Pole from Zwierzyniec, used to come to town on Tuesdays, after the horse market closed, to get drunk. Immediately, the Jewish beer stores would close up shop.
One evening, he was strolling along the sidewalk surround by a gang of shkootzim. In front of Shloime's budke he was greeted in a hearty manner by the porters, Aaron Yankel, Moshke Milstein, and Shimshon Garfinkel. They got him into a conversation about horse trading, and distracted him skillfully while they dispersed the gang of shkootzim. The bus from Zamosc to Zwierzyniec arrived and they put the drunk on the bus.
Summer, 1937. Several days before the Khage was to take place, the Jewish community received a letter from the magistrat that no Jews should dare to show themselves on the streets during the procession.
The community decided: Not to go out. But the youth decided against. And, like any other time, they went out in the streets, the procession went on, and nothing, thank goodness, happened.
Shabes, summer, 1937, ten am. I go out. Near the well, on the trottoir, a group of young people are gathered directing angry looks at the Rathaus. They point to the wall in front of the Rathaus which is covered with anti-Semitic posters decorated with art work.
I call out, Let's go and tear them down. I don't wait for a response but start to tear down the rows from right to left. I finish and manage to get away without injury.
Yom Kippur, 1937, about 1:00 pm. Jewish youth are strolling on the trottoir. The well-known Polish hooligan of the town, Shustak, appears in the company of a Polish corporal, and both are trying to start fights with the Jews.
Moshke Milstein is standing near Shloime's budke. The two heroes are drawing close to him. He stands his ground, unafraid. The corporal asks Shustak, So, this is a Jew? Shustak throws a glance at Moshke, and begins to drag the corporal away.
The corporal is insulted by the chutzpah of the Jew, and attacks Moshke. Moshke rains blows on both, and beats them up good and proper A bunch of guys grab Shustak to keep him from running away, and rough him up some more. Shustak is not seen in town for a good while after.
1938. Berish Katzenelboigen's wife travels, like most Wednesdays, to the Zwierzyniec market with some goods. There, Polish pickets are preventing customers from shopping at the Jewish stalls. The secretary of the sond grochki is standing watch in front of her store. She musters her courage and pushes him away.
The patriots lodge a complaint against her according to the generally accepted style of the time: calling a Pole parszywy [vile ]. The Jewish community paid for a lawyer, and she was sentenced to six months in jail. They appealed and, it seems, that the appeal was still pending at the start of the war.
Yom Kippur, 1939, 4:00 pm. The Germans are retreating. Slowly, Jewish youth are reappearing in the streets. A group of Poles break into Leml Hochgelernter's cellar and steal about ten barrels of herring belonging to Chana Reiz.
At that moment, I find myself on the trottoir across from Heni Yorpest's house. I observe from a distance the Goyishe chutzpah. They get to the well, rolling the barrels with laughter and bravado.
My patience explodes. I call out to the group of young people near-by. Let's stop the robbery! We fall on them and tear the stolen goods from them. We quickly bring them to the potchene , and roll them into Azriel Zirer's house.
A German military truck stands in the corner near Nicklesberg's house while one of its tires is being repaired. Some of the Poles try to salvage the situation by running to the Germans for help. Luckily, the soldiers did not want to mix in.
Brooklyn, New York.
by Moshe Messinger
Translated by Moses Milstein
In economic terms, Shebreshin was backward. People made do with little.
Tradesmen [ba'alei meluches] played a large role in economic life, especially tailors, shoemakers, and wood-workers. All week, the Jewish and Christian artisans employed workers to prepare clothing and shoes for the farmers of the surrounding area who came once a week on Tuesday, market day, to sell their produce, and to buy the necessities for their families.
The Jewish artisans sold their handiwork to the farmers. The farmers sold their produce, and the Jewish businessmen distributed it to the whole country.
A lot of Jews pinned their hopes on a big Tuesday. They would lay out their poor wares on almost empty shelves. The markets did not lead to great expectations. They earned pennies, and almost every one failed to earn enough for shabes. There were many who had to be helped, or who helped themselves, by visiting homes and asking for alms. In the years before the First World War, there was always a great need among both the middle classes and the craftsmen.
In those days, there was a priest, Jan Grobowski, who helped many, particularly the poor Jewish population. He knew who was poor and helped them provide for shabes. He would employ many Jewish artisans and help them make a living. In summer, he would lend money to the sadovnikes [orchard keepers] to help them lease the orchards.
If a Jew had to marry off a child and had no money, he would go to the priest, and he would receive a nice wedding present which covered the wedding expenses.
His sister, who was called Pani Treletzka, was an eye doctor. She would treat Jewish children for free and would also not charge for prescriptions.
The entire Jewish community attended his funeral and brought a bouquet of flowers to his grave.
A large role in economic life was played by the Jewish sadovnikes who leased orchards from the farmers of the surrounding area before the growing season. Dozens of Jewish families depended on it.
Economic life was especially enriched by the timber trade. The first pioneer in the field was R. Mordechai Fleischer and his family. It later passed to many Jewish hands. This Jewish enterprising ability allowed for respectable employment.
There were also a few factories in S. which helped ameliorate the economic problems for Jews and Christians.
Most prominent was the sugar factory which belonged to Hrabia Zamoyski. In recent times, before the outbreak of W.W.II, business conditions were disrupted by the anti-Semitic organizations such as N.D. and H.D., which took away the livelihoods of many Jewish businessmen.
A second was Tsebrik's factory which manufactured various wood products which were distributed by Jews throughout Poland. The Messinger family, especially their sons, Yosel, and Moishe profited from this.
The third factory, built just before the Second World War, was the turpentine factory, Alpha. The Groiser family was mostly involved with it.
But this very factory left sorrowful memories for the survivors of Hitler's devastation. The turpentine factory served as a concentration point for those taken from the villages, and mostly from S., and transported to Belzec and Majdanek. They spent the night in the fortified factory and waited for the death-trains.
So life went on until the shtetl tore itself out of its economic straitjacket. Youth began to learn trades. After the First World War, Jewish youth enrolled in government schools in great numbers. Many dared to openly study in the wider worldin Zamosc, Lublin and Warsaw. In the last years, Jewish students began to attend teacher seminaries. A Hebrew and a Yiddish school were founded where Jewish students studied in the afternoons.
by Zvi Treger (Tal)
Translated by Moses Milstein
More than anything, I remember how my mother, Chana-Tshele, zl, struggled hard and bitterly to support the family. She ran our tailor business, traveled to markets, bought goods in Warsaw, and did the cutting herself for the workers that worked for us in our house. And she still managed the house-hold. Later, following bankruptcy, things became harder. We were forced to try everything to support our family.
Father, Mordechai, was a fisher-sadovnick, and was always away in the villages. Summer, he would bring fish, which we would sell in large tubs near the market hall. Winter, when there were few fish, he would bring geese and ducks. But the main business was in renting orchards. At the beginning of summer, we would lock up the house and move to the orchards to tend the fruit trees and bring the fruit to town to sell. The winter fruit, we would bring back home, store it in the cellar, and select some from time to time for sale. We tried to make it last as long as possible in order to get higher prices.
From all these businesses, we barely made a living. As it is said: a lot of work and few rewards. Nevertheless, we managed quite well. Erev shabos, the neighbors would bring us pots of cholent and bottles of milk-coffee. My mother would consider it a mitzvah to put the pots in the oven, and the coffee with milk in the wall-oven. All the neighbors were very grateful to my mother and wished her many blessings.
I can't forget the chaos in our house when we were getting ready for the lad, that is, to bake matzes. The whole family worked long and hard, because everything had to be done in the two weeks before yom tov. Erev yom tov, everything had to be ready to bring Pesach into the home. Mother worked harder than anyone. Nothing was too hard for her so that no one would go hungry in our house.
My mother was blessed with good-looking children, one better-looking than the other. We were proud of our oldest brother, Eli-Moishe, who did not live at home but studied in the yeshives.
During the examination in shul, there was a competition between him and the rabbi's son, Meier. Each wanted to show that he knew more pages of Gemorrah off by heart. The examination stimulated a lot of interest. All the participants were dressed in their best and listened attentively to the competition. My mother and father, sitting in their places, thought themselves the luckiest in the world to have such a son. Many people were envious of them for having raised such a Torah-bucher.
Being young, I didn't understand this. I just remember my mother's beaming face and her tears when she spoke of her children and especially of her oldest son.
Eli-Moishe was a rabbi in Tomaszow-Mazowiecki until the war. I never visited him. He had five beautiful girls. He perished with his family early on in the occupation of Poland.
Since we lived on the shul street, I used to hear the singing of the yeshiva boys every Saturday and holiday as they danced their Chasidic dances. Their ecstatic voices would echo through the streets.
I remember the Friday evenings when every youngster would go somewhere-to Zionist or Bundist meetings where lectures, and discussions were held. Others gathered in private houses to enjoy cultural events.
Similar evenings were held in our house due to the initiative of my brothers and sisters. I also remember my neighbor, Berl Koil, who took part in the evenings. He was very talented and full of ideas. He used to read and act out the characters from Sholom Aleichem, from the Dybbuk, and from other authors and works. He did much for the cultural life of the working youth. There were many like Berl Koil in our shtetl. Shebreshin could be proud of their cultural activities.
by Yankel Itche Treger and Leibl Akerflug
Translated by Moses Milstein
We lived in a shtetl without electricity, running water, or in-door bathrooms, with no future for our youth, sometimes with little to eat, or without a shirt to cover our backs. A piece of cloth to sew clothes for children was considered a big fortune.
We could become tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, barbers, or engage in other trades. But, to go on to study in a gymnasium or university was, for the Jewish youth, a utopian dream, an impossibility. The Poles did not permit it.
We worked under masters who exploited us, although among them were capitalists who didn't have enough for shabes themselves. However, there were other masters who could afford to pay their workers, but were only concerned for themselves. So we, the executive committee members of the trade union, had to send a few tough comrades to the masters, and only then did they find the money to pay the impoverished workers three to four weeks of back pay.
On one occasion, the trade union had to fight for its very existence. A strike was declared against a wealthy tailor, Kalman Kalfeld, who had a prosperous shop. He vowed that he would break the union, and one of his workers was a strike-breaker. It was a difficult time: either we win, or we lose and the union breaks up.
We agonized over the issue along with the head of the Bund, Yosel Springer. What should we do? There was a proposal to destroy Kalman's goods with vitriol. Another proposal was to smash his fine, big shop window. We, the activist youth, immediately took it on and carried it out. In short order, the strike was won.
After this the union committee had a meeting. Yosel Springer, the leader of the Bund, said, Blessed are the hands that did this.
One must ask: How did we have the courage to carry this out? The answer is: our strong belief in a better tomorrow, and the loyalty of our comrades. (They were later murdered by the Nazis with the help of the Poles and Ukrainians.)
We, the authors, enthusiastically fought for this idea of a better future for mankind, and were ready to sacrifice our young lives. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by our experiences in Russia during the war where we witnessed the anti-Semitic policies of Russians against Jews in general, and, later, towards Israel.
Shebreshiner youth were among the most progressive in the area. When we met with comrades from neighboring shtetlach and even from larger places, we found ourselves to be among the most conscious of our cause. Not only the socialists and the Zionists, but even the religious youth were activists.
We remember a shabes, or a yom tov, or the beautiful days of May, when our young fit people went out for walks, talking about, and hoping for, a better tomorrow. We would walk together to the bloine and the mountains, enjoying the fine Polish climate.
But the society around us was antagonistic and hateful towards us. We were afraid to walk in the Christian streets. We were often attacked going to the bloine, to the vigon.
We lived with our Polish neighbors for hundreds of years, but, in truth, they were always distant from us. Nevertheless, we hoped that we would achieve a better life.
by Yankel Frost
Translated by Moses Milstein
In the shul court-yard, near the large bet hamidrash, among the jumble of dwellings, stood half-sunken huts, their windows close to the ground, twisted like a joker's smile. The stench from the large Optrit could be smelled from afar. The road to the city cemetery passed by the court-yard, and funerals went by this shambles and the big bet hamidrash.
In the huts, lived honest, hard-working Jews and their families. Among them were the families of Binyamin Frost and David Frost. Both extended families worked hard to make a living.
Binyamin Frost, with thick ropes bound around him, carried heavy sacks of flour from the wagons of the ba'al hagoles. He was lucky if there were enough sacks for him to unload. More than once, he waited entire, fruitless, days without anything to unload from the wagons. On many of those days he dragged himself around without earning a groschen for his purse.
He never complained to anyone. He always had a smile on his gentle face. He was happy with his lot, a Lamed Vovnik. For his hard work, the bosses paid him pennies. He never bargained for his fee. A Bontche Schweig.
And when the holy Sabbath comes, Jews with reddened faces, wet beards and payes, come from the mikvah, Binyamin Frost among them. They hurry to the shul in order to welcome the revered guest, Shabes, with shining, holy fervor, dressed in Shabes robes and Shabes hats, the children with hair washed clean. The Sabbath queen presides over the Sabbath table. Pleasing songs and hymns release us from our daily worries.
Binyamin liked people and people liked him. He was esteemed by everyone because of his simplicity, friendliness and manner. He shone with a special Jewish charm.
The years flew by until the great sorrow of the devastation of the Jews and Yiddishkeit. Satan the Destroyer got the upper hand and his demons, the Nazis, destroyed the thousand-year existence of the Jews in Poland. With beastly cruelty they killed and annihilated with all kinds of incomprehensible methods. And these two extended families were also wiped from the earth through the hands of the German murderers.
May these words serve as a memorial, for there is no gravestone to mark their deaths.
by Avigdor Rieder
Translated by Moses Milstein
My father was a baker. We had our own bakery, not mechanized of course. We worked with primitive methods, everything was done by hand. We worked day and night, mostly at night, by the light of a flickering naphtha lamp. We looked forward to Pesach so we could finally get some sleep, and rest our weary bones.
My father stood with tired, sticky eyes at the flour bin, sleeves rolled up, his fingers in the dough. At first the wet dough sticks to the fingers and it seems like you will never get rid of it. You keep kneading the dough and slowly the moisture disappears and the dough becomes smoother. Little pockets of air form and whistle until the dough is ready.
During the holidays, the smell of cinnamon and raisins carried for kilometers. The baked goods were not only tasty but esthetically appealing. The braided challahs, glistened on the table and were beautifully symmetrical. They were not just challahs, they were beautiful jewelry.
In our small, crowded house dwelt our whole family, father, mother, and twelve children-four sons, and eight daughters.
After I finished cheder, I was forced, at the age of fifteen, to begin working. I traveled to Lublin to look for work. I found work at a bakery. But the wages were so small that I couldn't afford to buy a pair of shoes or a suit of clothing. I worked there for two years for a piece of bread and sometimes, not even that.
My landsleit Yehoshua Waks, and Shalom Walwish's son found me there, tattered and poverty stricken. They immediately found me a better job at a pastry bakery. I think about them on Shabes, and still today, I am grateful for their good heartedness in my time of need.
In 1914, after my father died, I returned home to work.
In 1926, I opened a bakery in Ephraim Shtil's house. He was Shimon Geld's son-in-law. But things were made difficult for me by the sanitation commission on one side, and Zalman Stern, the landlord, on the other. One Friday, while I was in Zamosc to buy flour, the commission came to shut me down. So my wife, zl, ran to Koszel, a Christian, to beg him to rent us a rooms for a bakery. She paid him 1,500 Zl without signing a contract.
When I returned from Zamosc, I went to see Koszel in order to conclude the contract. He told me to come back Saturday night. When I returned, he presented me with a ready contract and asked me to sign. When I read the contract, I was stunned, because the terms were so awful. I demanded that he return my money, but he laughed at me.
So I went to Zamosc to see Yehoshua Peretz (Y.L. Peretz's brother), and he wrote a request for me to the komornik for the return of my money. When the komornik came to the landlord, he argued that he would not return the money. So I sued him in court, hired a lawyer, and gave Zelig Berger as a witness. On the first occasion, I lost. So Yosel Lerner (Yehoshua Lerner's son) advised me to appeal to the court in Lublin and attach a poverty certificate from the magistrat. Abraham Itche Weinreib procured the certificate for me with the signature of the mayor. I won the appeal and some additional costs as well.
Then the landlord sold the house and my debt became part of the mortgage. Isaac Weisfeld and his son-in-law bought the house, paid me the amount owing, and I was saved from goyishe hands.
But one does not live by bread alone. There was also interest in quality of life and neshome yese'yre.
But, in time, new winds began to blow. The younger generation began to frequent various organizations where we learned to read, and take part in lectures, discussions, and cultural evenings.
Understandably, the older generation looked askance at all these things. They were very pious and believed deeply. We inherited the ardor and beliefs of our parents, but replaced the Meshiach Ben David with a socialist redeemer, and waited for a brighter tomorrow, or for a national home in Palestine.
I pray God to carry me and my longing soul to my shtetl, to my old home with its good and bad characters, to the working man and the rich man, to the water carrier and the scholar, to the bet hamidrash and the old organizations and life-sustaining institutions, to the close relatives and the warm neighbors.
by Abraham Becher
Translated by Moses Milstein
We were still young after the First World War. Just finished cheder. Shaul Zisbrenner and I went to study at the Radziner shtibl.
Every evening our older friends would get out of studying and leave the shtibl. We never knew where they disappeared to, and this interested us greatly. We looked into it and were amazed and excited to discover that they were engaging in clandestine activities and attending Poalei Zion party meetings.
One night, my friend, Shaul Zisbrenner, and I, quietly followed them to their destination. To our chagrin, we were not allowed to enter the place. On the way back, we met Abraham Chaim Nus, and Shmuel Ber Klieger. We walked ahead for a little and then they called us back. We noticed that earlier they had been whispering to each other. Shmuel Ber Klieger (Der Veisser Kop) suddenly asked us, Where are you coming from, chevreh? We told them that we were prevented from getting into the Poalei Zion club. They looked at each other and said, They won't let us in either.
The four of us went to the center of town where we met Lutshe Kandel. He shared some seeds with us-and we waited. For what?-I didn't know myself. But it turned out that Kandel and Klieger did know, because a short time later, when I asked, What are we waiting for? one of them replied, Wait a while, what are you afraid of?
It didn't take long, and Mendl Boim appeared. We called him the Belzer dreilock, because he had long peyes. He looked us over and said, Come, but one at a time! It was a time when youth organizations like Hashomer, Football Youth, were founded in our shtetl, and we were also eager to join an organization like our older classmates in the shtibl.
We followed him quietly, one at a time, almost at a run. we got as far as Lame Shmuel's and went into Pinchas Bibel's. The Belzer dreilock took a brochure out of his coat and read to us about Joseph Trumpledor. That same evening we founded HeChalutz.
We would meet every evening. I remember one night Abraham Chaim Nus asked, Nu, Belzer Dreilock, where are we going today? And so Belzer Dreilock would lead us out-sometimes to Pinchas Bibel, in Shoshele's shtibl where an oren kodesh stood against a wall, sometimes to Asher Shapira in a multistory house, sometimes to Shaul Moishe Pinieh in a small alcove. We followed him everywhere.
Founding the HeChalutz
We were almost eighteen years old. Mendl Boim is at the head of HeChalutz, HeChalutz HaTzair. New male and female members join. We enroll a large part of the youth from the shtetl. Mendl Boim organizes lectures on political and economic topics, on Bogdanov, Borochov's class interests, and the nationalist question. Most of the time we held the lectures in nature's lap, among the beautiful mountains.
No matter how big HeChalutz became, the six of us remained together. Lutshe Kandel was always elected treasurer, and Mendl Boim as secretary along with Shmuel Ber Klieger. We four friends named them the couple. At each event, either Mendl Boim spoke or Shmuel Ber. Even after marriage-and I was the first-my house was always open to the six.
As fate would have it, Shmuel Ber Krieger, Abraham Chaim Nus, and Shaul Zisbrenner, perished at Hitler's hand.
If you want to stay alive
The economic situation in Poland deteriorated. Existence became difficult.
Once, sitting in our house discussing solutions, Mendl remarked, Whoever builds a life in Poland will come to a bad end. This was after an evening when we had selected members of the HeChalutz to make aliyah. Coming to us tired and wrung out, he, like a prophet, laid out the prospects of Polish Jewry.
Then Lutshe said, Everyone else you provide for, but us you don't consider and provide us with a certificate. We sat for a long time in silence. Then Mendl said, There are only three of us friends left. Shmuel Ber got married and left. Abrham Chaim got married and went away. The same with Shaul Zisbrenner. They strived for a dowry and as a result got closer to death. My friends, for ten years we have worked for one thing, for the idea. I have had enough. I am leaving for Eretz Israel, and if you want to stay alive, come with me!
In our hearts, we felt he was right. We kept silent. I remember, as if it were yesterday, Mendl and his manner, how he began to speak loudly. The children were sleeping in another room. Rivke, my wife, was serving tea. We listened attentively to Mendl's prognosis on the political situation in Poland and on the Jewish minority in Poland.
He was silent again. My wife broke the silence and said, You've been leaving for Eretz Israel for the last ten years and you're never going to go!
A little while later he stood up and said, Listen my friends, Lutshe and Abraham! I am leaving at the end of 1932 or the beginning of 1933. If you want, I will organize passes for you and you can come with me. If you don't come now, you will-whether you want to or not-perish . But remember, take care you do not miss the train!
At the beginning of February 1933, Mendl and Rechtshe Alerhand left for Eretz-Israel.
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