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The Ancestry of Wishkov/Wyszków[1]
(To the history of the Shtetl)[2]

by D. Shtokfish (Ramat–Gan in 1946)

Translated in 2009 by Sylvia Schildt z”l[3]

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

and thanks to Pamela Russ (Montreal, Canada)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

How long has Wyszków existed? How did the history of the shtetl take shape?

Not hard to answer both questions. Polish historic literature, also encyclopedias and lexicons of great European nations, have dedicated much space to this little town on the Bug River (Widłach Bugu in Polish[4], along with researches and greater studies. The existing materials in the National Library in Warsaw specifically detail the history of Wyszków. However not much space is devoted to the history of the Jews in that shtetl. And also from the scant reports there is not much to glean, of how long Jews lived here, just as in other towns and little town, rooted in centuries but, not so much that one cannot dredge up the various tribulations, persecutions and pogroms[5]. The Jews of Poland did not have the power to withstand these on Polish soil, and Wyszków was no exception.

 

The First Mention of Wyszków

Wyszków is mentioned for the first time in Conrad's Document from the year 1302. Among the reckoned possessions of the Bishops[6] he mentions: Tuchlin/Tuczyn[7], Gura, Belina and Turina/Toruń and there, one that can be found is – Wyszków. (Info from “The Town of Wyszków”, Geographic Dictionary of Crown–Poland. 14th Volume, Warsaw, 1895 (Pages 147–148) by Bronislav Chlebowski)

Therein, it is related:
Wyszków, a municipal entity, earlier – a small village on the right bank of the River Bug, in the Pultusk Powiat (District, county or prefecture), away to the northeast 27 kilometers[8] from Serotzk/Serock and 45 kms[9] (from Jablone/Jablon. Several kilometers below Kamientchik / /Kamieńczyk[10] the train station on the left bank of the Bug. It has a property (or a holding??) of a gated cloister[11] belonging to the parish[12]; an elementary school; a community office and a post office. It has over 150 houses and more than 3000 inhabitants, the majority – Jews. In the year 1827 there were 102 houses and 1283 inhabitants. In 1864 – 108 houses, among them – a gated one; 2354 inhabitants – among them – 543 Jews; It sits along the highway that leads from Warsaw to Bialystok; A railroad iron–line is being built that will connect Warsaw with Ostrolenka and will pass through the Wyszków station; Over the Bug, an iron bridge will be build.

Wyszków is an old–fashioned region and has always belonged to the Plotzker Church (Evangelical Church in Plotzk).

The Maczowsher Duke/Duke of Masovia, Treydom/Trojden[13] captured Wyszków with the cloister on the Bug River, and from Kamion on the Waisl/Vistula River/Wisła in Polish), as well as Targovna/Targowa (near Kamion which is located behind Warsaw).

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The sons of Treydom/Trojden: – Zhemovit//Siemowit and Kazhimiesz/Casimir I, returned all these properties to the Bishops.

This is why the latter returned the town of Wyszków to the Duke for 8 years (according to the act of the year 1347. Composed in Czerwinsk) and committed them to return the town after that time back to the Church (Locatat et Informatam), according to the Maczow Codex 58 and 59.

The Bishops from Plotzk/Płock had long since built their palace here and often had a good time there.

In the year 1502 the Bishop Wincenty Przerębski ceded the area with municipal rights that freed the inhabitants of any conscription (A.G. Chelminske).

King Zygmunt[14] the First allowed the Wyzskovers/citizens of Wyszków to build a bridge over the Bug and collect a toll for passing over the bridge. Zygmunt the Third/Sigismund III in the year 1599 gave rights to the local guilds (unions).

(Then), The son of that king, Karl Ferdinand (who was the Plotzker Bishop) built a comfortable palace here and settled in permanently. He died in the year 1655.

In the year 1657 the Swedes destroyed the shtetl. The flood that broke out completed the destruction.

Stanislaw August[15] complied with the request of Plrtzker Bishop Michal Poniatowsi, and severed the dependence of Wyzków on the bishops and in the year 1781 created markets and fairs. The Mieshtanes/Miesztanes(mixed unions), defending their recently acquired privileges, no longer wanted to overthrow the bishops. At the frequent disputes that broke out between the bishops and the Miesztanes commissars determined by the king, arbitrated them.

The “Tigodnik Ilustrowani” (Illustrated Week) of the year 1876 relates that Wyszków with community and parish comprised a space of 16.628 morgs[16] and 7,693 inhabitants, among them 6 prawoslavni (probably refers to orthodox worshipers), 21 protestants and 2,682 Jews, mainly in the town itself.

The area of Wyszków, which belongs to the government, comprised a distance of 1,280 morgs: forest – 20.654 mórg.

Gmina Wyszkow borders with the gmines/gmina (communes or municipalities or administrative districts) of[17] and Grembkow/Grebkow, Usawna(probably Olszanka), Boczeh (probably Gmina Brańszczyk or the shtetl Brzoza) and Rzasnik/Rząśnik. Surrounding (the gminas), this are the other components (other villages and settlements) in the area: Dombrowe(Yiddish)/Dabrowa(Polish); Grodzisk/Grodzisko; Mrotszk/Mrozyvc; Ozstczecze/Oszczerze; Pyeczkali/Pierzchaly; Falkow/Polkow; Fruszhew/Proszew; Pruczewska–Wiulka/Przetycz Wloscianska; Sukhodoly/Suchodoly; Wytanki(Y&P); Vishkow/Wyszkow; Zaleczhe/Zalecze and Zhomaki/Ziemaki.

 

A Memorial Whose Meaning Nobody Knows

In the year 1886 the same “Tigodnik Ilustrowani” (Illustrated Week) relates (Volume 13, page 232) about a obelisk with the insignia of the Vazas[18] in Wyszków.

Karl Ferdinand[19]) the 4th son of King Zygmunt/Sigismund the III (Vaza/Waza). Bishop of Plock, was on his later years a melancholic. (Julian Bartashevitch –Princes–Bishops, Warsaw, 1851). Traveling around his holdings he was pleased by the forested region along the River Bug, the shtetl Wyszków situated not far from Warsaw. There he built and settled into a very comfortable residence. There he died in the year 1655. His dead body was first transferred to Warsaw and then – to Cracow/Kraków, to the royal graves along the Wawel[20].

When the Swedish King Gustav Adolf occupied Poland, Wyszków was completely burned to the ground, despite the fact that it had a defense gate and guard towers.

Not far from the shtetl near the former tract that led from Warsaw to Lithuania, on a sufficiently formed foundation, stands a not–large obelisk of grey local marble. There is no inscription on it except the royal Vasa's/Wasa's insignia: a bundle of wheat on all four sides of the memorial. Cut out with a crude chisel, a second similar obelisk, also with the Vasa's insignia, stood on the opposite side of Wyszków. The stonecutter, carved on it the Vasa's insignia, unified wheat in a strange fashion, perhaps inadvertently, so that it looks more like a pitcher with two ears, than a bundle of wheat[21].

About 40 years ago (at abt. 1906), the inspector placed on the pedestal just a pyramidal tip and in the middle placed a compass with the royal insignia.

Along with the shtetl they, (the Swedish army of King Gustav Adolph), also burned all the Acts and the written reports in memory of the memorials that were set up.

The obelisks and inscriptions are silent and say nothing. Only from the insignias can one ascertain that the Princely Bishop of the Vasa/Wasa family put them up. A local legend relates that this is a remembrance of the coming together of two brothers, royal sons, one from Warsaw and the other from Lithuania of that period. They know to tell also about fantastic treasures that are entombed in the obelisks and are guarded by evil spirits. This was also the cause of dismantling one of the memorials. But they did not find – any treasures or documents. It seems that the great wealth that the Kingly Bishop possessed and held in one place until the end of his life, played to the fantasy of buried treasures.

Severin's[22] writing of Wyszków about this, in his historic sketches of the town Wyszków, (published through Hyppolyte Tchimbarovitch in the year 1841, pages 13–6, 32–35, 50–52) thusly assessed the meaning of both obelisks in the shtetl:

A bit behind the town, near the former Warsaw tract, stands a memorial in the form of an obelisk, 18 meters tall, of grey marble, without any inscriptions, only with the insignia of the Vasa's. The upper part is destroyed by

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time. A second memorial with another insignia of the Vasa's, stood on the other side of town. But it was destroyed in barbaric fashion by an unknown hand and its fragments lie around still in the cloister cemetery. By whom and when these memorials were installed – no one knows. No Acts in the Cloister and Municipal Entities – have ever been found.
But the legend relates that these memorials were put up after the two big epidemics, and this seems to be highly possible because of the double crosses found on their tops
”.

 

“Constant Influx of the Population”

The above mentioned Severin, begins his historic overview of Wyszków with a citation from a poem:

Under my feet, with silvered pearl/ swims the old Bug,/
around and around, with smiling greens/
have overgrown the bridge. (“Pshetland Warsaw”, 10th band
, 1890)

And further:

In the Pultusk Circle, on Lithuanian soil, on a height, at whose feet wraps his currents the Old Bug – the Ganges of the Ancient Slavs, lies the shtetl Wyszków, which with one arm reaches the actual river”…

(Bishop) Wincenty Przerębski[23] with the insignia “Novene”, the Crown–Chancellor and Bishop of Plotzk/Płock, on a Friday in the week of “Judica” in the year 1502, raised the village Wyszków, which had belonged to the Bishops, to the status of a town and granted it the following privileges:

  1. The town's name should be no other than Wyszków.
  2. Liberate the minorities from all the forced labor and obligations. They only have to pay taxes.
  3. The council gave the magistrate the right to control the public size and weight with the possibility of punishment for counterfeiting, by the Chelmno (Kulm) Law – and the income from them appointed for some needs.
  4. A free access to the burghers in Bishop's forests; to get timber for their urban needs.
  5. Assignment of the state lawns.
  6. From the income of the bath; of clothing–businesses around or in the hall; from sharp drinks or goods (merchindice); every 3rd penny must be appointed for the State.
  7. Allow the urban population to start with small nets to fish in the Bug River.
  8. He compensated the State of Wyszkow with the rights of the city of Pultusk, iliving up the right to determine alone the mayor and the council–men.
The original acts of the privileges were burned up, but the copies were found at the Bishops Archives.

The privileges of King Zygmunt the First[24] were given to the town of Wyszków at the Piatrokow Council in 1533, as equally endowed with all other start–up towns, was formally recognized on the 6th of January 1557 in Warsaw by King Zygmunt August[25].

In the year 1528, in the time of the Piatrkow Council, the town of Wyszków received from King Zygmunt the First permission to build a bridge across the Bug with the right to collect a toll for the benefit of the Plotzker Bishops.

The extent of the earlier Wyszków including its boundaries, are not known.

First the decree from a “committee for good order” in the year 1775 permanently reserved 3 plow fields measuring 12 wlach according to Chelminska measurement, as well as 73 places to 73 morg.(See again[16]).

The size of Wyszków it seems was rather spacious, because among the surrounding fields you can even today come upon foundations of gates and defense–towers. Legend says that Wyszków had reached as far as the village of Rybienko[26].

In the year 1841– Wyszków was a little town of 95 wooden and 8–gated houses in which there lived 1149 “heads” – more than half Jews. The insignia was in the form of a village rake.

Once the town possessed a council house built of wood, which was taken down in the year 1806 in order to place there a bridge for military use over the Bug. But then the bridge was burned down.

The shtetl has no factories of any kind (in 1946). A highway cuts through the middle of Wyszków that leads from Warsaw to Bialystok. The whole town is cobbled, but this does not prevent mud. At night it is lit with several lanterns.

A little river, which has two bridges, divides Wyszków from the village of Nadgozhe/ Nadgorze. Right after the bridge, just where the river flows into the Bug River, stands on a mountain, one of the oldest cloisters in all Poland, from the time of Boleslav Chrobry[27], or his follower, and has already been restored twice. The current, gated cloister was begun in the year 1790 and finished in 1793, with money from Krzysztof Hilary Szembek, the Plotzker Bishop[28].

The Cholera (epidemic of infectious gastroenteritis), which emptied the Polish provinces in the years 1581, 1634, 1708 and 1710, did not omit Wyszków. The last epidemic in the time of Ludwik Zaluski, the Plotzker Bishop (1722) entirely eliminated the population of people and animals.

And here the historian, allows himself an ugly anti–Semitic outburst, blaming the Jews for the plague, which has broken out:

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The cholera of the year 1831” – writes Severin about Wyszków – “was a very mild one – but in the year 1837, a panic happened, especially in a town full of Jews, who were not noted for their cleanliness. When the last of them were driven into the forests, the plague ceased”.

The main sustenance of the inhabitants was agriculture, which existed on a very low niveau. Next to the River Bug, which was arable, sizable income was derived from lumber from the surrounding forests – all the way to Dantzik (Danzig[29]). But even this was not able to lift their impoverished lifestyle.

There was nothing special to distinguish the character of the inhabitants, because of the constant influx of population, which consisted of various armies. The frequent change of government in the past and current centuries left no remarkable impressions on the town.

Below Folwark[30], there is a big salt–mine, built during the Prussian government, full of brlne (salt) carriages that haul (transport) salt from (the salt mines) from Wyelitczke(Wieliczkaand Czestochowa/Częstochowa, which is now such an important product for everybody.

In the spring, the river looks very welcoming with thousands of little boats swimming through filled with golden wheat from Wolin[31] and barges with wood rushing to the Baltic Sea …

 

Wyszków in other sources

Thus is portrayed the history of the shtetl in Polish historic literature. But also serious scientific publications in various lands have not overlooked Wyszków and revealed an array of statistical publications in various times. In Meyer's Lexicon, which appeared in the year 1930 in Leipzig (12th volume, p. 1631), it is stated: Wyszków, a town in the Polish province of Warsaw, Pultusk Circle, in the year, 1921 – 9,084 inhabitants, half of them – Jews. Located on the Bug (River)and train line Tlushtesh/Tlutszcz– Ostrolenka, glass industry.

In the Parisian “Larousse” (1939, volume 6, page 1631) the number of inhabitants is given as 10,050 with factories and agricultural implements and machines. In Ritter's Geographic–Statistical Lexicon published in Leipzig a hundred years ago, (page 883, 5th edition), Wyszków still belonged to Russia, situated in the Plotzker Gubernye (political subdivision in Plock). The number of inhabitants – 1,290, and in the same lexicon, but published in the year 1910, (ninth edition, band 2,page 865, St. Petersburg), Wyszków belonged to the Lomzher Gubernye/Łomża gubernia.

More information about Jews is given in the Jewish Encyclopedia (5th volume, page 865, St. Petersburg): Wyszków – a settlement in the Pultusker gubernye/Pułtusk gubernia. Jews experienced no difficulties settling here. In the year 1856: – 1,023 Jews, 512 Christians. In the year 1897: – 5,038 inhabitants, of them, 3,207 Jews.

 

Our Memorial

A so–so lineage–letter (yikhes–briv) for the ancestry of a shtetl. But unfortunately the history of Jewish Wyszków was brutally and gruesomely chopped away in September 1939, with the outbreak of the 2nd World War. Since that date, it is no longer for Jews the history of a settlement, but lamentation for the murder of an entire Jewish community. The historic memorial of Wyszków is no longer like the obelisks on both sides of town, for which they do not in whose memory they were erected. Now in the year 1964, in the biggest city of the Jewish land, in Tel–Aviv – we have erected another “obelisk”: – Sefer Wyszków – in memory of an active creative Jewish community, that distinguished itself with both Hassidism and worldliness; with Zionism and Socialism; with folkloric and communal activities.

Let this Book–Gravestone (Sefer Wyszków), serve as remembrance for the Survivors, calling up in them memories and feelings, with mourning and a hidden tear over the fate of a Jewish settlement that is no longer here……


Footnotes

  1. Wyszków = neither Wishkov nor Vishkov, the correct Polish spelling is Wyszków. Return
  2. shtetl = A shtetl(inYiddish) refers a small town with a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe, before the Pogroms and the Holocaust. Return
  3. The translator, Sylvia Schildt(z”l 2010) aided some time ago, by Frida Grapa–Cielak, Wyszków researcher for Dr. Enrique Krauze's Wyszków Project, tried as much as possible, to translate from the Yiddish text the correct spelling of the Polish and the non–Yiddish words with the best intention to have them correctly written, which in some cases was more than an impossible task. (But, Frida CIELAK, reviewed and added the names in their original Polish spelling. Return
  4. Bug River = In Polish the correct name is Widłach Bugu Return
  5. pogroms (pogrom in sing.) = A pogrom is a violent massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews. Return
  6. Bishops = (Bishop in sing.) is the title of an ecclesiastical dignitary or clergyman who possesses the fullness of the priesthood to rule a diocese as its chief–pastor, primacy of the pope in due submission of the pope. Return
  7. Tuchlin/Tuczyn = This presentation of 2 names with a diagonal line in between them, denotes that the first word is in the way it was pronounced and written in the original Yiddish texts, while the 2nd word after the diagonal, is the correct Polish spelling (alike to the following presentations: Turina/Toruń; Serotzk/Serock; Jablone/; Kamientchik/Kamienczyk; etc). Be aware that this similar presentation is to be found in most of the translated texts). Return
  8. 27 kilometers (kms) = are abt. 16 miles. Return
  9. 45 kms = are abt. 27 miles. Return
  10. Kamientchik/Kamienczyk = Was a train–station 5 km east of Wyszków (3.18 mi). Return
  11. cloister = A place, especially a monastery or convent, devoted to religious seclusion. Return
  12. parish = A church territorial–unit under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of a parish priest. Return
  13. Treydom/Trojden, The Duke of Masovia = He was better known under his Belarusian name Trojden, but also as: Traidenis in Polish and in Yiddish he was called: Treydom! Trojden, the Grand Duke of Lithuania in the 13th century was the one who inherited parts of Warsaw and Liw, captured Wyszków with the cloister on the Bug River, from Kamion on to the Waisl (probably Vistula River (Polish=Wisła;), as well as Targovna (near Kamion which is located behind Warsaw). Return
  14. Zygmunt the First = Zygmunt, in Polish; Sigismund I in English: (1467–1548, King of Poland. Return
  15. Stanislaw August = He was Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last king of Poland. Return
  16. mórg. = (mórgs, in plural) A unit of Polish land–measurement;(per Gerald Ortell's book on Polish parish records). Return
  17. and *Not all the gmina names and the names of the surrounding villages, cities or settlements could be found in the correct Polish spelling, but for each found, the distance between it and Wyszkow was determined in order to have a better idea of what the author wanted to transmit. He wrote: ……
    Gmina Wyszków borders the gmines/gminas (communes or municipalities or administrative districts) of: Grembkow(Yiddish)/Gmina Grębków(Polish) and the village Grebkow is 8.78 kms/5.46 miles from Wyszkow; ; Uzawna(Y)&(no gmina starts in Polish with a U, so it could probably be Olszanka); Boszeh (Y)& (in Polish the gmina found is Gmina Brańszczyk and as a village or shtetl: Brzoza) and finally, the gmina mentioned as Ruczna(Y)/gmina Rząśnik (in Polish)
    The villages and settlements of the gminas in the area, (close to Wyszkow) are:
    Dombrowe(Yiddish)/Dabrowa(Polish) or Dabrowa Chotomowska 79 kms/49 miles); Grodzisk(Y)/Grodzisko(P) (3.4kms=2.11 miles from Wyszkow); Mrotszky(Y)/Mrozyvc(22.3 kms=13.84 mil.); Ozstczecze(Y)/Oszczerze(P)(2.2kms=1.36 miles); Pyeczkali(Y)/Pierzchaly(P) (1.13 kms=0.7 miles); Falkow(Y)/Polkow(P) (3.7 kms=2.5 mi); Fruszhew(Y)/Proszew(P)(5.7 kms=3.6 miles); Pruczewska–Wiulka(Y)/Przetycz Wloscianska(P)/Przetycz(57.6 km=35.8 miles).; Sukhodoly(Y)/Suchodoly(P) (5.7 kms=abt. 3 miles); Wytanki(Y&P)(4 kms=/abt. 3 miles); Vishkow/Wyszkow(0.0); Zaleczhe(Y)/Zalecze(P)/Zalesie Miasto(74.5 kms=46 miles) and Zhomaki(Y)/Ziemaki(P)(12.2 kms=7.6 miles). Return
  18. Vazas or Wasas(plural) = It refers to the the Vaza/Wasa family of Polish Bishops. Return
  19. Karl Ferdinand Vasa (in Polish: Karol Ferdynand Waza) = known also as Charles Ferdinand Vasa, was the Prince–Bishop, born October 13, 1613 in Warsaw, the 4th son of Zygmunt/Sigismund Vasa the III and Habsburżanki Constance, brother to John Casimir, half–brother of Wladyslaw Vasa the IV. Bishop of Wroclaw–1625, Bishop of Plock–1640 who died May 9, 1655 in his palace in Wyszkow, and for whom, a marble obelisk was build up in Wyszkow in his memory in 1655. Return
  20. Wawel = is a fortified architectural complex erected over many centuries atop a limestone outcrop on the left bank of the Vistula River in Kraków/Craców, Poland. Return
  21. Vasa's or Wasa's Royal insignia = A bundle of wheat, the Royal Wasa Insignia was on all four sides of the memorial. (This shield picture was not included in the original version in “Sefer Wyszkow”, it was added here, for explanatory purposes only. Return
  22. Severin = Timothy “Tim” Severin (born 1940) is a British explorer, historian and writer noted for his work in retracing the legendary journeys of historical figures. Return
  23. Wincenty Przerębski = Vincent Przerębski, Bishop of Plock, obtained in March of 1502 the consent of the King John I Albert (in Polish: Jan I Olbracht) to broadcast the municipal rights in Wyszków, privileges established by the “Sejm” (the Prussian state parliament) The Bishop of Plóck was the representative of Polish Kings in the Prussian state parliament called “Sejm”. Return
  24. King Zygmunt the First. (1467–1548); He was also known as King Zygmunt I the Old King of Poland (Sigismund in English). Return
  25. Zygmunt August II = was the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1522; and the nominally King of Poland from 1529; in fact King of Poland from 1548 as King Sigismund II Augustus (1520 – 1572). Return
  26. Rybienko Nowe (today) = A village in the administrative district of Gmina Wyszków, within Wyszków County, (in a distance of almost 2 km, 1.30 miles). Return
  27. Boleslav Chrobry = He was nicknamed: “the Brave” or “Valiant,” ruled as Duke of Poland from 992–1025 as the first King of Poland in 1025. Return
  28. Krzysztof Hilary Szembek = (in English: Christopher), was Bishop of Plóck (born 1722 in White, Poland– died Sept. 5th, 1797 in Kraków) Was for 12 years, Bishop of Plóck (1785. 1797) was immersed in a disciple of the Jesuits in the years (1783–1784) served as a proxy functions Nuncio in Poland, and was the doctor's crown in the general confederation Targowica. Return
  29. Dantzik/Dantzig = An older Dutch and German spelling variant of Danzig is Gdańsk. Return
  30. Folwark mines = The mines produce iron; amber, and, mined at one time Folwark, near Rogoźno had salt deposits and springs medical baths. Return
  31. Wolin, Poland = This name is shared by 2: An island in the Baltic Sea, located just of the Polish coast and a Polish town located on the southern tip on that island. Return


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My Memories of Wyszkow

by Menachem Kaspi (Srebrenik), Kfar Auno

Translated by Chava Eisenstein

My hometown Wyszkow was not an exceptional town. She didn't stand out with her history, and no remarkable individuals originated from her. She was always engrossed in problems that arise in a provincial town's life. The central pivot in the town's life was the Rabbi, the Shokhet (Kosher slaughterer), or their “Rivalry in the name of Holiness.” The Rosh HaKahal, the dominant leader of the congregation, and the youth, who began awakening to the fact that they are missing something to hold onto and are hanging on to thin string.

When I sink into thought and bring up her figure from the bottom of the past, I try to remember and bring everything back to life, slowly the fog fades off, the town itself begins to appear as it was, with all its alleys, people, their problems, their difficult battles and struggles for life. Here is so–and–so; all week long he does not try to voice any opinion when ordinary Jews are schmoozing about current affairs or busy making jokes. He only bends down his head and nods with his beard to show he agrees to everything. Nevertheless, on Market Day, his eyes spurt sparks of fire and he is all tangled up, his feet are in constant heavy motion with his hands clapping in the effort of convincing one or another, like a gallant battling a heavy war.

 

With Sunrise

I awake early on a spring morning. The trees are at the peak of blossom, the whole town is enveloped in silence, except for the occasional passing wagons with their noisy iron wheels

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bumping their way over the stony pavement.

I am pacing the street inhaling the pure and fresh air, the apple garden is so appealing. I jump over to a line of half cut–down trees. The planks of the fence around the apple garden are fastened one to another. I am searching for a breach so I can enjoy the smell and the sights, until I get to a stand where the fruit is for sale and I enjoy peeking on them. Behind is one of the “Fishers” who bought this garden, his lengthy beard twisting down to his clothes, with his fleshy nose he approaches me, he grabs my ears with the tips of his fingers.

“Yingel,” what are you trying to smell around here. Go learn your Gemara. Moshe the blacksmith is banging with a sledgehammer, the sparks are reaching far and together with the ricochets – his cunning gaze. His face covered with soot and in his eyelashes are beginning to show a mysterious gloss, as though a black oven was opened and a flame is coming out. Fast go to Kheyder! Otherwise, you will be like me, and he picks up the heavy mallet and hammers even stronger. I feel so lucky that I am learning and will not have to work that hard.

I pass swiftly the red brick house, where the Police and the Post office are. Whenever I pass this place, fear mixed with curiosity overcomes me. I want to peek into the arched gate, and see all the secrets that are hiding there. Only once did I make it to look inside, when they brought the dead body of a gentile that committed suicide. Many people gathered around and I too pushed my way into the crowd, but I was chased away immediately and now I am not curious anymore. To learn I want!

The wagons with the meat from the slaughterhouse just arrived, and the butchers open their shops causing great commotion. “Yossel Butcher” the tall guy, his thin pale face with red veins protruding from under his skin in a crisscross design, each time he passes with a chunk of meat he knocks into something. “Yuta Zivia's son” the athlete, as if his body operates by springs, his face half laughing half–mad, but his eyes know no rest, and he roars at him: Hello! Of course you don't have sense! Each time you bump into the doorframe you knock your head until it losses its sense…you are laughing! Today they wanted to slaughter in the abattoir. I bought a nice cow, a real “Golden Bargain.” They wanted to announce her as non–kosher, they found something in the lung, they didn't agree to puff it up, only I, the Shokhtim and the Rabbi were shaking like by the long–prayer. If it would be non–kosher I would have slayed them myself. They barely made it Kosher. And they pointed to me with their finger: “My Yeshiva Bokhur.” My precious jewel, you study from the huge Gemara. Say, what are they stupefying our brains “these lovely Yidden” those predicated faces, Kosher – Glatt Kosher. For heaven's sake, I can't figure them out, if it is Kosher – so it is kosher for all, and if it is non–kosher, so what? Am I a Goy? I barely slip away from them and rush to the “Rinek” (town's square). Only my side curls blow backwards.

The “Rinek” is swarming with people, wagons and merchandize, a mixture of everything. The horses, their heads in the wagons, are lashing their pony (tails?) and are not stopping to eat. The gentile coachmen, their whips in hand, are busy curling their mustaches and trying to smell around if they can make some good deal with the “z'hidek” (Jew). Chaya is clasping her hands. Her abrasive face full with all sorts of blots and spots is turning red.

The scarf on her head is moving independently as she watches her short, stout husband approach. His pale face glittering as his praying shawl is tucked under his arm. Couldn't you make today's prayer shorter and chat some less? You forgot it's market day today? Will you keep an eye at this “taker”? He utters not a single word and comes closer, he pushes his way into the crowd of clients while his mouth is muttering: “cheaper than dirt, finest quality, real bargains” – as though he is still praying.

 

The “Rinek”

I try to perceive with one glance the “Rinek” the town's square, it is a wide huge square, with paved stones only at its ledges and all around there are many, many stores. On a regular day it's a pleasure to walk around here, with one glance you can surround all the various types of stores and the people standing on their threshold, their wide open mouth ready to catch any event, every word, eager to begin a conversation, even Kupchick, the Goy, will offer you to sniff tobacco . Today's “market” – everything is in great upheaval. The square filled with stalls and tables, crates, hanging clothes. Shiny boots, weird hats, and every moment someone else emerges, almost collapses under the heavy freight on his shoulder, as he rushes by he almost sweeps you along. All you see is a scrunched face, blown up face–muscles, hands and feet in constant motion continuously ready to jump, distorted tongue and jabbered language. I hardly break my way through to the wooden bridge, to breathe fresh air, that's where I remain, leaning onto the banister bent towards the Bug River, which is flowing in an endless stream. A slight wind comes sneaking from behind, and smooth/s my burning face from the hot sunrays that burst through the heavy clouds and mingle with the silver glimmer of the water flow.

New water streams pass in a torrent only to return. The Bug's waters come from afar carrying a silent yearning of wishes. Arms are held high and are carried afar, ligaments are drawn as a polished mirror,

 

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Lag Baomer “Maccabi” and “Hashomer Hatzaeir” March – on the bridge over the Bug

 

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…. and I, the bridge, and everything is swished away, swept and taken by the endless stream like my heart's yearnings. Suddenly a lash twists on my neck and leaves me with scorching pain accompanied by a screeching voice: “Hey, Z'hidek! You and your side locks, get away from here, go to your Palestine.” Yes, I should go away from here to My Palestine, to the Beit Midrash, to learn. Yes, I erred.

 

“Go, Go”

The small synagogue was already empty of people, the sun flooded the place, everything is seen in its bright light. The clock on the wall with its Hebrew letters on its face, the pride of the synagogue. The heavy long tables that are attached to the floor. The sunrays, like beams of fire, light up the white wall and like a torrent of light directed on the black letters on the white background – “Law of Israel Association.” When night falls, this corner looks like the darkest part here. You can only see people bent over the huge volumes nodding their head in approval to each word that comes from the Rabbi's mouth with a pleasure and enthusiasm. The wall isn't seen, nor the house, only a knot of people gathered together, and the inspiring Rabbi. The words circle around into the space of this nook. The light walls integrate in the emptiness of the synagogue. The electric bulbs in the seven–branched chandelier that hangs over the prayer page appear as pale sticks. Even the death wagon and the cleansing board that stand behind the synagogue, they, that always throw one into fear, at night, together with its shadow, make it seem, as if the dead souls are still hanging on to the wagon, they are coming to catch the holy prayer “Kedusha” and the “Shema,” for the benefit of their souls. By day – the light of the sun slides off the black walls of the square wagon with its big white lettering “Justice Walks before Him” and I look for the footsteps of the praying people. The small synagogue (the small “Beit Medrash”), its outside lines are simple straight and clear, engraved altogether in white. This was the synagogue of the craftsmen: tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters, the nearing footsteps of heavy boots that are on battle for sustainment are heard. They fight the day, the praying. They leave at sunrise, to a day of arduous labor. The place is shrouded in lonesome mystery, you look for the heavy footsteps of those who implanted sorrow and sadness with their silent prayers, but there are no impressions left.

The open Gemara winks me: “please, come cry out your heart”: “Avayei says, Rava says.” A yearning voice and a rumbly heart fill the whole atmosphere of the synagogue. The echoes swirl their way up. The evil inclination is prompting and instigating: The synagogue is right here before you, the tables, benches are available, you can leap and jump on them without being disturbed, you can jump and spin from one table to the other to no end. Here goes Zelig Fischer, he comes on Market Day – how is it? And he yells to me: it's my “Shmedresh” (prayer house), my table, my clock, my synagogue, the tables are mine, the clock, and you are here to destroy! Get out of here! Again, I have to leave, I am a failure and a sinner.

I sneak to the “Ger'r Shtiebel.” It's only across the street, sort of a dead alley divides between the small synagogue and the Khassidic Ger'r Shtiebel. Peeling walls, pieces of plaster caught within the many cob webs and on the feeble steps, not sure whether they are steps or plain slabs of earth, and in the dark hall are by now heard clearly the voices coming from inside. The worshipers are pacing back and forth, from time to time they scream out words, and go figure out if they are ending or only beginning the prayers. The tumult here is great. All those who finished praying and those that are still in the midst, their yelps ring high in the air, even the stones on the walls are shouting, everything is voicing and expressing.

 

Everyday Talk

Mendel Zrumber is sitting, his face all wrinkled, his thin beard and his direct inspecting eyes tell, that he is clever and good–hearted. He is learning with his son Torah, but he knows that it is in vain. The little brain of the youth is not doing any intake. Shmuel the purger, forever restless, reels his hands to his back and gives them a sudden jerk in conjunction with his feet. He manages to visit every corner and finger each book. From the corner of his eye he is reading something, his hands are holding a “Tanya” (practical and mystical fundamentals of Khabad) that was standing at the end of the bookcase, he leafs through it and through the heavy “Sfas Emes” besides the Talmud volume and a booklet of tales, turning its pages from cover to cover not finding interest in anything. His face is narrow but full, nature was ungenerous with his beard, therefore it is hard to tell its direction or color, his eyes show cleverness and inattentiveness, energy but no ambition, he wishes to hold on to something but he has so much to say that he becomes mixed up. Somehow, he approaches the table of Reb. Mendel. Reb. Mendel lets out a relieved breath. Nu, so you are watching the Torah penetrating my jewel's little head, it is a bit hard he says, with his characteristic hoarse voice. The tale goes about a Jewish farmer that came across the verse “shemesh bayoim lo yakekah” he screamed – eek! Such a horrible word in prayer just cannot be: it must be “lo yabebah.” Hearing this treasure of a word makes Shmuel the purger jump: I know “Hebrew masters” that instead of saying “Lamenatzeakh” they say “Latzmaneakh” and many more samples like these with endless stories. He stood there with his foot on bench and hand on knee, his fingertips engrossed in his straggly beard. The young lads were always exchanging secret language with the Tefillin tied around their arms. They derived special pleasure of schmoozing with one sleeve raised and half of their cloak sloped over a shoulder with the Tefillin sticking out from an arm, like great adventurers. What a variety of words, always ready for further inspiration. When Shmuel and Reb Mendel got together, it always called for attention from these lads who would gather about and the talk would begin to liven up. Shmuel, out of contentment, would muster up new energy. I, too, would push through to be present. Shmuel used his strong hands and granted me an appropriate pinch on my cheek, which was never hard to tell if it is from affection or hate.

 

The Ger Khassidic Shtiebel as center of focus in town

On the outside, the Khassidic shtiebel of Ger appeared to be rundown, two neglected rooms, the second room was almost dark in spite of its windows, the sun never really came in, in the center stood four bare wooden poles. Still it contained a distinct charm. Here, didn't stand out any distinct characters with strong

 

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The Young Pioneer

 

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influential or social charisma. The shtiebel had its cut of alert merchants with a vague Torah knowledge, but they were men of action, they always sensed the reality and were aware of all happenings in town. From them emerged the town leaders, and they made the essential decisions. The activity in the shtiebel served as a ray of light for the youth in town.

 

Agudat Yisrael

When I entered this always–dim hall, I was drawn to the acrobatic steps that lead to the upper room. The two low–ceilinged rooms were filled with rows of books, secular books. How curious I am and wish to know what is going on in the big world, beyond the one, which surrounds me. And there I can peek into it. So I climb the stairs, perhaps the door is open. A meeting is being held now. The chairman is reciting some foreign language paragraphs, young lads that crave for breaking barriers are talking about a new movement – Torah garbed in orderliness and organization, to cast the Torah in new utensils. With burning eyes fused with enthusiasm, they talk about it. The library is open, long lines of shiny books are facing me, I swallow Marcus Lehman's books, with the pure love, nature in itself, the green fields. There are Chassidic movements that are against the idea, its boundary breaching! The youth is going to be consumed in fire!

 

Conflict between Ger and Alexander Khassidim

The Alexander Khassidim are poor, their means are meager, but they are affluent in Torah. They weren't even able to afford a special room for praying, and they were forced to wander around from one place to another until they found a place near the Bug River. A small narrow room, but its pleasantness for the soul mingled with the idyll, a human friendship reigned there of people deprived physically but free in their spirit. This Khassidic Home was a haven to escape life's sufferings. Here, mental tranquility was found. The praying went on quietly, with a reserved and soft spirituality. The prayers hovered all over the “shtiebel,” they caressed, soothed and blended harmoniously in all hearts. On Shabbat morning, the shtiebel was veiled by the pleasant spirit of Gemara learning before prayers, and especially the prayers from Berish Cohen, that was a special silent melody, not the skyrocketing type, nor sadness of the soul, only natural accords of the essence of life and spiritual pleasure. Berish Cohen was busy all week long with commerce, but it didn't leave any mark on him, like raised voices or hand motions, mild, pleasant, quite and natural speech. His appearance brought niceness, his facial wrinkles flowed together with his straight beard, where all the hair found places neatly without getting tangled one another. He would come every Shabbat morning prior to prayers and learn Gemara. His gentle melody mixing with the rumbling of the river that was seen through the window, and created a wonderful combination of man and universe. He was one of those, destined to stand against the opening breaches and reclaim the insult of the Torah, of which the youth is dismantling. Sin leads to more sins and the young lads will “peek and get damaged.”. If there are no kid–goats there will be no goats, and we will remain without Torah and without etiquette. The more famous amongst them is Reb Shimon, since two in the morning, and father is exerting his mind in study, he paces back and forth, hands in his belt, his face looks tired but his lips are still mumbling phrases and parts of sayings of the sacred secret “Zohar.” “vekholho almin hukhrevoo mai taama m'shum d'adam lo huskan” ( man failed to amend himself in the form of the almighty's image.) And they are continuing to corrupt. Woe to that son that is placed at the doorstep of immorality. What can the son do and not sin?! That's how he decided to go and devote himself against this verdict. And dissension developed.

 

The youth breaks loose into the street

It is hard to determine what came first: the awakening prior to the fight or the fighting prior to the awakening. The broken rickety steps always trembled under the constant running feet of the boys from the “Ger'r shtiebel” upstairs to the “Agudas Yisroel” offices and back. There were gatherings, meetings, a secretary was elected, disputes on secretarial issues and “Melave Malka” (end of Shabbat) meals. The low–ceilinged pitiable rooms were booming with action and traffic, young energy and enthusiasm. All of a sudden, the noise ceased, the Ger'r Shtiebel, that housed usually many tattered books, was now empty. The youth went somewhere far. Where are they? The youth was drawn to the outer edge. On Friday nights the section from Koshzushko street till the bridge that leads to the boardwalk, stores, houses, cannot be seen, only boys and girls. The streetlights throw a dim light over their radiating faces. Every now and then outbursts of girlish laughter or loud talk is heard. There is a pause and then they continue strolling back and forth, endless. Where are they walking to? “Out on the street,” they reach the bridge, and look down on the dark cleft and continue to roam.

On Shabbat, the bridge sways along with the steps of the youth like a baby cradle. Some hold on to the benches along the bridge and enjoy the river's splendor, but usually the bridge is passed quickly, the forests charms are more attractive. With my heart pounding my brother Yossel pulls at my sleeve, how much longer will you stare at the unending water that makes its way through the pillars of the bridge. Fast, we have to reach the other end because of the “Eiruv” (ritual enclosure) poles that we laid under the bridge prior to the Shabbat. We pause to rest a bit, rifts of clouds hang over us as they grow wider. The sunrays fall on a white sky and return back to us. Eyes open widely, one can't help gazing at the faraway continuous fields all along the river. The fields and the river blend into thousands of colors. The forest is intoxicating, it awakens suppressed desires. Here go a couple, embracing each other, I always saw them. She – daughter of the blacksmith, she once looked like a gypsy: he – short and fat. They would walk together in an indifferent silence, in the forest their faces come to life. Hugging and heading to the thickness of the forest. In all directions of the forest, gatherings are taking place…meetings…and I am laying on the loose earth under the Conifer trees. The erect trees rise even higher, their branches tangled one in another. A silent wind sweeps over them and they move, echoing till afar. A sunray slides through leaving over fragments of sunlight, and I, am craving to join society that is hiding within the shadowy trees. Soon they will all come out from hiding and will gather here, me too.

 

Sports indorse us

Sport groups get together, the children try to get pennies from their mothers, they want to join and buy a ball and they come home without shoes and patience. They can't wait for Shabbat afternoon when they will run straight to the football ground near the Polish school. We climbed over the fence regardless the danger. The Jews are playing against the Poles. “Laizer Mesing” the painter, all hunched over, is watching his son getting into trouble with “Karp” the gentile, he squints his lips and waves his hand as though he is still holding the paintbrush. Avrem'l the janitor, hands on hips, face uptight, all ready to pounce and catch the ball. Avrem'l the son of Yaakov the Shokhet, his father tried all the methods that Torah should enter his mind, but in vain. In no time, he became the town's idol: all black, his masculine face conveyed skillfulness. His eyes rolling fast after the ball, everyone is watching him, praying that the gentiles

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Will – G–d forbid – not win. He caught the ball, everyone is thanking him with admiring glances. I look into his eyes so he should look back at me, after all – a neighbor. He does not notice me, as though I am non–existent. I wish they would get a “Goal” into him and he will explode, than he will not be so arrogant. Again, the gentiles come storming in, expressing derision, they want to kick “Moshke,” Avrem'l goes out of the gate, and I follow him fearful, praying. I forgive him. Nothing is wrong, he should only be successful…

 

A Short Illusion

On the road leading to Srotzk, after the Polish school, near the train bridge, stood alone a house, the last house of the city. It was stuck between rows of bushy trees and apple gardens. That is where they gathered to get ready for the march on the road. The boys stood in a row absorbed in thought, all of a sudden they straightened up like poles, all ready for self–sacrifice, physical and mental alike. A blue and white flag appeared. The faces didn't show any personal signs but a strong unity. The flag enwrapped them and transferred them to concepts of different galaxies. They sang with passion “Hatikva” – for the Land Of Israel. And in front of my eyes I discovered a different Land Of Israel, not one of the world to come, of Mashiakh, but one of hope and anticipation, the actual Land Of Israel. Apparently, they were preparing for the May 3 march, Poland's Constitution Day.

This day brought great commotion. Dr. Laykher donated 100 zloty for decorating the big synagogue and the community gave something too. The great synagogue was a spacious building that occupied the whole corner of the street. Three entrances it had. Inside, two artisan lions stood upwards, upon entering, one would think they are alive and can swallow everything. The windows were arched in Gothic style. The synagogue was pleasant and when you came in you felt at liberty. You would always find you have a quorum of ten with which to pray. It gave a homely feeling. The big synagogue served as the central artery of the city and was now decorated with paper flags in all colors, chains connected between the huge chandelier and its glass tassels hanging down. Greenery and papers decorated the stage pillars, interwoven with red and white flags. The main entrance, the one opposite the Police, was always closed, probably from fear of unfavorable eyes of the neighbors across. This time was decorated with leaves in a gate shape and on top was the Polish Eagle. Around it – a Magen David with multi–colored electric bulbs. It seems as the Jewish Teaching: “You shall be light as an Eagle” – is trying to compete with the rude and rapacious Polish Eagle. One eyeing the other with weird terrifying glances; slowly they accustom to each other and spread their wings creating a peaceful canopy, as if communal understanding was found between us and the gentiles.

 

The Celebration and its results

The main entrance to the synagogue was open, the street was crowded with people, and the schoolchildren of “Powoschechna School” were lined up to six in a row. Everyone was happy, the friendly May–sun infused in all, joy and liveliness. There never was such a deep longing to the big synagogue, and when entrance was denied, I pushed my way through the Polish school kids. Inside the synagogue there was great noise and commotion, Dr. Laykher spoke Polish, his fleshy hands were pressed to his body as if he was a soldier. His voice rang as if coming from a record, he was stocky, and around his eyes was swelling. His whole appearance spoke of arrogance. Our Rabbi also showed up, tall and straight, his beard going down to his chest, thus adding dignity to his appearance. With his wide and banal speech, not forgetting to add “not to be counted,”, that Poland shall grow and expand to all dimensions, as if there were no pogroms. He surpassed from his speech topic, and the crowds didn't like his words, when he finished with “Yidden, Fieldmarshal Pilsudski shall live,” the Polish anthem “Jeszcze Polska” (“Even Poland”) burst out of the school children's mouths, and it united with the praise and prayers from the synagogue, creating a queer combination.

Outside the parade, the fire department musical band played military march melodies. At the head of the firemen stood Pavlowski the Burmistrz (Mayor), the priest, the Gymnasia and after them the “Sokol” with red shirts, a twisted cord going through one of the sleeves passing through the arm. Their gaze is one of Polish insolence and pride. We feel uneasy, where are the Jewish delegates? They were trailing at the end of the parade, the Shikses are laughing “Zhidek,” look on! Our flag, blue and white didn't awake my enthusiasm, it was embarrassed, we need it held up high, with our own strength.

 

“Let's over–smart them”

Anti–Semitic and national slogans showed up like truffles and mushrooms on the fences and walls in big letters: “Przez Zhidami” – “Don't buy by Jews”. The Polish children harass the Jewish children at school, they come back crying, a drunkard chases the youth off the bridge. We are anxious and wondering, why didn't they protest? We walk a little on the avenue, to savor the scent of the chestnuts that are spread on both sides of the boulevard, they sway softly in accordance with the wind which touches their tops, and scatters shadows between the lines of light that penetrate the twigs and create sort of a game of light n' shadow and sooth the yearning of their soul, the disagreement that's hidden within them. Suddenly – a gentile knocks with a stick on my brother Zadok's head, blood is gushing, gone is the taste for life, it hurts me and I am aggravated that I don't know the language of this gentile, I would turn to him with a question: why do you hit someone whom you don't know, and didn't do you any harm? At the sound of horse galloping and wheels rolling from afar we would push aside, to stay away from his reach, but the gentile stands there alert with his whip “Batam go” (“Beat him up”). At night, I dreamt a nightmare – many gentiles, each with whip in hand, I am in the center, and they are screaming: “Batam go, batam go, batam go.”

The streets begin to empty, they're lurking for us in all ways, there are many gatherings at the “Rinek”, whispers pass from mouth to ear, each has only half of a story, sort of an unfinished pain, that he had some dispute with a gentile, what the gentile told him and what the Jew answered and how he gave him a decent “Stab” of sharp words. The revenge of the persecuted from their pursuers. Their imagination is busy weaving the resistance. The income decreases. “Pickets” appear, they descend into our lives. A non–Jew that buys by a Jew is related as if he is doing a crime or – a favor. The Jews have the feeling that they are being ostracized and if they are treated differently, it is as if receiving a kindness. Stories about how the “Endeks” (fascist anti–Semitic National Democrats) came into Jewish stores from the back door, and they tell about it in great length with much satisfaction. The masses at the “Rinek” starts thinning, every time another one of the stands liquidates and turns into a real pauper. Reb Itsche, a tall and upright Jew, his lengthy straight beard looks as entwined with iron threads, he gathers all the merchandise in one rag, to transfer it to the stand for market day. He always was in need of help from his sons to take out the merchandise of the market, and he himself would sink under the heavy merchandise, but now there is no need for his shoulder. His shut fist keeps the bundle on the shoulder and his next hand is holding a hotplate of coal to warm up his hands. In any case, he does not have anything to do. As he is

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chewing a piece of bread his glance falls on the merchandise and his mouth turns tasteless, as though he is eating a piece of cloth and is consuming it. The goods are becoming less and soon finishing. The gymnast “Piketnik” shows up, his hat with its angles is pressed on his head but tilted sideways, hands in pockets, and coat huddled to his body – an act of courage and energy. “Look,” he shows with his finger in coat pocket together with coat, this “Zhidek” is displaying a little goods to deceive us, so we will think of him as poor, and we will buy by him. All his merchandize is under the table, that is why they are filled with money, because they cheat our brothers, he's warming his hands and doing nothing. And our brothers have to labor in the fields and sweat for “These Zhideks.” His sons, seeing the gathering want to pounce on him, but their father stops them. That sleek face of the “Endek” didn't show any human expression. His tiny gray eyes blinking to all directions like a wild animal. When his mouth opened – laughter came rolling out turning his face to red, his bright head–cap was sprinkled with white snowflakes and mixed with his reddish face resembling the white and red Polish flag, the symbol of freedom. “Not a sound,” Itsche cautions his sons, they are liable to accuse us with insulting the Polish nation, so to speak. The people sit near the stalls, warming their hands in the embers of the coals and staring at the inanimate hangers of clothes, shoes, hats, awaiting someone to purchase them. The snow falls slowly and covers the market. The stands, the merchants the gentiles, the “Piketniks.”. The atmosphere is befouled, everything is holding its breath, and from time to time a crow passes with its prey. Lets out a shriek – kra kra kra, and casts a black shadow.

 

Effervescence and Rebellion

The young generation is bitter and disappointed. Hollowness, no activity and zero hope for something beneficial. Some try to lay hope on a change of the regime and on Socialism, they go underground, new cells are created and members go over the villages making propaganda. Terror in the Jewish streets increases, every Jewish youth is considered a Communist, at night they are seized from their beds straight to “Kartuze Breze” (a Jewish Ghetto during the Holocaust located in Eastern Poland). When Yankel Burstyn was mistakenly taken to jail there was great stimulation. Yankel Burstyn, the cobblers son, the pride of his family, was a Torah Director, was the “Torah Reader” at the “Khok” society, which was a division of the great synagogue. When they undressed him and saw his “Talis Katan” (tzitzit) they said that even a religious Jew with a Talis Katan can be a Communist! We helpless people found a broken stem of support in the Communists; we viewed them as people who are fighting for a better future.

A very anxious commotion occurred before May 1. Upon morning, one would ask the other: who was arrested? Fear was on everyone, and on May 1 the whole city turned into a battlefield. People with clenched fists, deprived of life, waves of people came spilling into the city and into the “Rinek,” a box was put, shouts of “Niech Dzie” (“let it be”), and “Przez” (“thus”) echoing over the whole city. Some eye–glassed man walked up to the podium and gave a speech and police from all angles (started) “taking” men to jail.

 

Smells of Pogrom in the air

Waves of hatred carried the Polish nation, destroying every bit of worthiness. The Jews of the town are surrounded with an ocean of blind hatred, they stand alone in their hopeless war, the ability of making a living has dwindled drastically. Their spirit is dry, gone was the fighting between the two dynasties Ger and Alexander, or the Shomrei Shabbat Society and the political parties. Everyone realized how close the danger has come to one and all, there are no exceptions. The memory day of the “Miracle on the Wisla,” the triumph over the Bolsheviks near the Wisla River in 1920 when the full war was near the town, rumors spread that they are preparing something “Joyful” for the Jews, at the “Rinek” the gathering has to raise the suspense with a little Jewish blood. “Hurra na Zhidov”(“hurray for the Jews”) I came home from Warsaw and found everyone panicky in fear, like the bird that found herself in a narrow place with an eagle loitering above, about to leap on her, suck her blood, crack her bones, and the bird is fluttering her wings. Who are we, what can we do in this ocean of axes and scythes and a lust for blood and lots of loot. Bialik's song comes to my mind: “Heaven, plead mercy on me! If you have a G–d, and G–d has a path, I – my heart is dead and no more prayer on my lips.” I see my father, all bent over and immersed in the Khabad (Lubavitch) books, his pale face, exhausted, his creased forehead is like a stormy ocean with waves coming one after the other. And yes, he is looking for the path to G–d.

 

Slight Comfort

Chaim Meir Lis the baker, makes a living doing manual labor, he is from the noblemen amongst the Khabad men (Lubavitch Khassidim), more than once he organized a “Tanya” (practical and mystical fundamentals of Khabad) class and each time it dispersed, but his influence didn't vanish and he gained adherents. Tall, a bit bent, his long hands embracing the universe and all its contents, an introspect; he speaks slowly, sort of a string sound that opens human hearts. His face is one of a philosopher, he doesn't preach, doesn't rebuke. He shares his ideas with you, brings up intellectual thoughts from his hearts depths. No wrath nor emotion, only an all–containing eloquence. His ideas are irrefutable no matter who tries. Encouraging infusions of both, body and spirit, that do their job unnoticed. With this gloominess we got near him and he inspired us with a fresh source of faith. On the Shabbat nights, we would gather by him, not for loud singing and not for blurring bitter reality, but we derived a sense of calm and satisfaction. On those nights, the big synagogue was full with people that drew to your heart and soothed their broken torn soul by saying the psalms of the Great Psalmist of Israel. Still a fearful feeling and uneasiness is there, kind of premonition of what is to come.

 

The Last Sukkah

After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the tension lessened. Heightened spirits and preparation for dealing with the Almighty, the thought of what lays ahead brings the shivers. Now, after the intensive effort of prayer and fast, the tension loosens, shuffling their way home trying to avoid one another after meeting so many times and exchanging greetings for the new year and for Yom Kippur. If their eyes do meet at the entrance to the house, they nod their heads in automatic fashion.

 

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The “Maccabi” Orchestra

 

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Reb Yankel the Shokhet, stepping fast, focusing – as always – on the same span. As he reaches the house, he pushes through fast as if he doesn't notice what's going on around him. His face expresses segregation: Please, I won't interfere with you and you don't interfere with me. Now with Sukkos approaching there is an artificial smile on his face, as if saying: it is Sukkot on the world, but it says: “Seven days you shall sit in your Sukkos” in plural form. However, I won't refrain of contact and one must adjust to his fate. Therefore, a Sukkah has to be made but there aren't any boards, and there is no place, and time is short. But, he murmurs to himself, and when boards they will have, will they have sense to manage? Do they know where to begin? Every year they make a Sukkah, but every year the same problems; Running around, arguing. When one takes some boards or something alike, to construct, immediately everyone crowds together, one grabs away from the other and they begin to fight. And suddenly everyone leaves and nothing gets moving until I lend a hand. I made once an experiment and left them by themselves; let them break their heads alone. They are always grumpy about me having the best place in the Sukkah and they grouch: here goes the VIP that takes the preeminent place and has the key and doesn't allow free entrance, so that their children won't come in and break everything. And what? If my wife occasionally brings geese into the Sukkah prior the slaughter on one of the weekdays following Sukkot? And Reb Nata, despite the fact that he doesn't lift a finger when we finish putting up the skhakh, he jumps in displaying his brass candlesticks intentionally in front of me. They are all like that. After everything is done, they arise with great commotion, what do you people see – for heaven's sake – in this Sukkah? Look how they pasted the boards crookedly, good–for–nothings like these – I have never seen. One time I decided not to interfere; why argue with them, is it in my interest? What do I have with them? But that turned out to be a mess and we almost remained without a Sukkah. And when I didn't watch them, they banged on the wall of Yosske the gardener – the Milkman's house, and they knocked over all his ceramic pots which he hangs on the other side of the wall. And to whom did they come? To Reb Yankel the Shokhet, and demanded from me to cover the damage. I was forced to roll up my sleeves and start working. The newly wed yeshivah student, the son–in–law of the “Amerikanke” digging the holes for the boards and Reb Yisroel and Zundel helped along, and so, after much effort I got them in and we finally finished. Should we start? What do you say Reb Shimon? We will start processing with the Sukkah. Concerning the boards – you will obtain them from our wealthy Reb Dovid Gurni, he prays at your “Shtiebel.” And place for the Sukkah? Again arguments, a little effort with Reb Moshe Zuzel the smith, so he should allow the place for the Sukkah.

The house we lived in belonged to Yitzkhak Epstein, and is made out of layers of wood, it stands at the length of the narrow lot, like a salami. This was a courtyard – passage from one street to another, full of activity also of the children that attended the school, which was within the building. When Yankel Shokhet's daughters take out an easy–chair, and begin to laugh high and lively, showing a yearning and craving for something, their hinting damp eye glances – fill the whole yard with life and motion. In the past, a huge ground was here, and the children had space for play, until one bright day, when a fence was put up and started to move; going forward with the pushing of Reb Yitzkhak Epstein, and back from the pushing of Reb Moshe Zuzel, until the landlords came out – one pushed forward and the other pushed backwards and then the landlords came out, pushing one another, until fire sparks began to fly in the air, like the sparks that flickered from the smith's workshop. And since then the fence was set to the ruling of Moshe Zuzel, and the Sukkah, however you might think – was to be a must only in his plot.

Every year they would elect representatives, dignified men that should convince Reb Moshe to let build the Sukkah in his territory. They had to muster lots of patience and negotiating skill, for Reb Moshe was blessed with a great ability to bargain – out of habit, of bargaining daily with the peasants over the price for the wagons and bicycles and the hand clapping – to sign the agreement. Also, the Sukkah dispute brought out the best of his argumentative skill. He was overflowing with legends and stories, tales from the Midrash and from Ein Yaakov (compilation of Jewish lore from non–legal part of Talmud), which he heard nightly at the small synagogue, and here was a wonderful opportunity to prove his knowledge of Talmudic phrases and dictums. Now was the time that Reb Moshe will teach them – and they will listen, those “Sheine Yidden.” And he always won. The dispute never ended at once. They had to come and come again until he felt they were tired enough, or he finally became disgusted and the long awaited approval was given, at the last moment.

The last year was very different, there was an indifference. A wishful thought crossed each one's mind; we wish we would be able to postpone the Sukkah matter for an unlimited time. Where is the awakening? The will, the joy of the Mitzvah? But time was very pressing, and there was no time to think, the necessity overpowered, and a Sukkah must be in the courtyard no matter what. With Reb Shimon and with the boards we managed – Reb Yankel with his thin nice voice, added. All the thoughts about the Mitzvah of Sukkah and its particular details is not viable as long as the Sukkah is not standing yet, and time is running short. We still didn't talk to Reb Moshe Zuzel like every year, this time Reb Yankel Shochet forgoes one ounce of his pride, of which he is normally very strict about…Reb Yisroel will contribute a hand, he has boards in advance in the corner, and maybe Moshe will give the place, like those times when they were successful at the end. The boards are laying already by the wooden fence of Reb Moshe's plot. Reb Moshe passes by,

 

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Kuschtshushka (Kosciuszko) Street

 

[Page 21]

…with his hat tilted to the side hiding part of his face. His slanted look crosses eyes on the boards that are leaning on the fence, and makes himself as if he doesn't see and it isn't related to him.

The tenant representatives are heading to Reb Moshe. Nu, Reb Moshe, in heaven, you will sit with the righteous people and great scholars, your plot is as holy as Jerusalem itself, absorbed with Torah and Mitzvos. Reb Moshe as if you didn't hear. Reb Moshe, the boards and everything are ready for putting up the Sukkah, just give us the place. What do you want from me? Do you pay me rent? Go to Reb Yitzkhak Epstein, he is your proprietor, he should supply you with a Sukkah, leave me alone! I didn't let all the years, and this year too, not. Nothing doing. As much as they tried to convince and reprimand him, it didn't help. The tenants came running, it is an emergency, what will we do without a Sukkah? They whispered and scurried around. The more pious ones suggested making it at the place of Reb Yankel the smith; he is plain and unassuming and won't get into trouble with Talmud students, at the best place on his lot, the Sukkah should be made, but that's not a solution, because there is no exit to the lot, but for exiting through the windows, and the food has to be brought with ropes like by Rahav, the whore. Reb Yitzkhak Epstein – the landlord – rubs his hands, measures each one sideways, his tenants are so lost and he is delighted, let them suffer a bit, these takers, let them feel what I felt sweating over this house.

He takes a minor glance at the house that is as long like the Jewish Exile, they keep sitting motionless. Until he will see money from them, one can pass out. You could have become a little rich. Bad luck. He talks to them about expenses and rent and they roll their eyes upwards, like begging for mercy. But what can be done? There are the tenant's protection rules, and I am yet “Prezes” (“chairman”) of the “community.”

Reb Yitzchak, tall, high, a wide big black beard, assertive and energetic is fast to settle affairs without being disturbed of what others will say. Thanks to these traits, he was elected chairman of the community. As a member, he would go in and out of the council. His tenants were mostly G–d fearing Jews and almost all of them were engaged in sacred Jewish matters. Their faces displayed emotion and suffering, but they knew to rise above and not to breakdown. He despised their unconcerned stance. The apartment he lived in was always further away from his tenants. Now he energetically turned to put up his small Sukkah that was permanently on the roof with only small changes. He put the boards in an outstanding form, so they should be noticeable, and he laughed to himself – let them remain without a Sukkah once. Slowly, the day was passing, darkness began to prevail, everyone stood there numb and openmouthed, not having a choice they tried everything to appease Reb Moshe, but to no avail. Many of them turned to the smith's workshop, darkness spread over the place, the people and the workshop. Only sparks flew in all directions and drew an illuminated line that came and went and appeared again.

Reb Shimon, deep in thought, his heart directed to heaven, scrutinizing his own actions – what made Reb Moshe's heart more hardened than any other year. He got closer to Reb Moshe when the latter raised a hammer, but it slipped out of his hands, he panicked from the glorious gaze of Rabbi Shimon, who called out. Reb Moshe, did you learn the Mishna? Yes, Reb Shimon, I know, the smith replied. Well, there is a Mishna in the tractate of Bikurim: Reb Shimon said, when a Jew brought First Fruits to the Temple, a heavenly voice declared that he will merit to do so next year too. The question arises, what happens when a Jew is to die? – An insane thought enters his mind that year, and tells him not to bring his First Fruit. Reb Moshe, every year you permitted us to put up the Sukkah and we declared that so you shall do, next year too. Now, who knows what will happen? Reb Moshe, shaking with fear, instantly stopped the work and called with all his might: “Jews, good neighbors! Come here! Let us put up the Sukkah. Do you need wood? Come! Together, let's put up the Sukkah!….

And that was the last Sukkah. Hitler and his troops destroyed, burned, murdered and annihilated.

 

Communal prayer in face of the Nazi horrors

It was Election Day for the German parliament, May 1933, right before Hitler arose to power. The Rabbinate dedicated the day for communal devoted prayer. The big Synagogue in Wyszkow was full to capacity, everyone let go of all their doings, the shops, the stores were shut, everyone shared the common feeling, that today is to be sealed not only the fate of Germany, but first and foremost, of all Jewish people.

The community looked for one, who should lead the prayers, one that should express all the heaviness that hung in the air. And all eyes were pointed to the left corner, near the holy ark, that's where Reb Shimon Serevnik sat and learned and prayed daily, from early in the morning on. Also the Shamash, who was standing on the podium, was searching: who should be honored and called to read in the Torah

His eyes never approached this corner, where my father prayed, for the man did not await any honor. He was a humble unyielding soul, and no real results of any aspect can possibly come out of him.

This time honor was not in anyone's mind, but for, who will shake up the whole crowd, and will arouse the human conscience and emotion to shout bitterly to high–heavens.

My father got up and stood facing the public, he looked around with sad, sad eyes, his soul outpouring, he made his way with small steps towards the prayer pillar, his pale hands clutching the pillar when a silent yell came spilling out of the depths of his heart: “O, why are the nations astir”.

Hearts shook, walls wavered.

People were inspired.

They burst out in a bitter cry:

“O why, why, why are the nations arising?!.…”

 

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“Morgenstern” Sport–Club

 

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