Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)
Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)
When I am reminded of Wyszków, where for generations our near and dear lived, those various types and personages waft before my eyes, those who helped build Jewish national, political-social and cultural life.
Jews from all walks of life who conducted their daily struggle for survival – some by work, some by trade, some… despite lack of work, it was difficult, especially for Jews. In quasi-Fascistic and anti-Semitic Poland, Jews were not able to hold government or municipal positions, or work in factories. They had to find their living within specifically Jewish trades and lines of business. In the last years before the second Word War, this boycott ruined the Jewish trade.
Early in the morning, when it was still half dark, the Wyszkover Jews would get up for morning prayers in response to the call of Hershinke the bahelfer (the helper). He was a dear simple Jew, who didn't have a mean bone in his body, always happy with his destiny. Whether to the big or to the small house of worship (Synagogue), Jews hurried thither, got through their prayers, whether as part of a minyan, or individually, and someone here and there managed to squeeze in the daily portion of Psalms. Those who arrived a little late had to pray at the second minyan - and rush home for their daily work.
The day began with getting water from the town pump. The clattering of the pails against the carts of the Jewish water-carriers would wake the surrounding inhabitants. Summer for one groshn, and winter for two (a couple of pails), the water-carrier would bring the water to the richer households, who could permit themselves this luxury. But most of the inhabitants had to drag the water home themselves.
From the Bug River bank Jews returned, from daily immersion in the river – be it summer or winter. Here goes ‘der Shvartzer Yitzkhok’ (the dark haired Isaac) with his sons into the Niegrower forest, to get lumber for Shkarlat's sawmill. They are in a big hurry in order to earn two yazdes (short trip/s) for the day - to earn sustenance for themselves - and the horses.
People are rushing to Hershl Holtzman/Holcman who has the concession to take passengers on the Highway from Pultusk in Powiat, in order for them to complete a variety of official business in starosta or in the tax office - personally or through the town representative Haim-Nosn Vengrov. On Dovche´s wagon with white horses, they take slaughterhouse' butchers
cart sides of meat to the butcher shops in order to quarter them there, remove the forbidden fat and prepare them for sale.
Some to school, some to the gymnasium (Polish high school), some to the kheiders – boys and girls are in a hurry –some to ‘Geln’ Hershl and some to Shimon the Melamed, the G-d-fearing prodigy.
Jewishly-clad boys, go to the house of worship to study a page of Gemoreh.
The merchants open the shops. The jitnies (shpiliters) hurry to the people who have the concession to conduct passengers to the train for Warsaw, - so they can buy various goods for the shtetl (town) and bring them to the wholesale merchants.
Among the retailers and merchants one can notice the worry concerned with carrying the means of livelihood. They must often seek help from a Gmilas-Khesed (an interest-free loan association) and return the funds in a timely manner. There are philanthropists who help them in the mitzveh of feeding the hungry.
In the pre-noon hours, one already sees Jewish youth with nothing to do, strolling over the Wyzskower streets, without any idea of their future existence. They speak of emigration as the only solution – but where? As long as they are out of there, wherever their eyes carry them. Khalutzim (pioneers) dream of traveling to training camps and then, to Eretz-Izrael. Others, on the other hand, - to North or to South America. Thus the Wyzskowers were scattered over the whole world. But this is said of the fortunate ones who possessed the necessary papers and money. The rest would continue to loiter on the streets of Wyszkow - from the Bug River bank to Pzedmiesztze/Przedmiescie (Street) and later, tired and dispirited/ashamed, they returned home to their parents, in order to eat their suppers.
So lived a part of Wyszkover Jewish youth.
True, there were in Wyszków many houses of worship, shtibelakh and - - - churches, but these did not impede a free life. Who does not remember the Hasidic study houses (Radziminer, Otwotzker, Aleksander, Amshnihover and foremost the Gerer Hasidim – and more and more)? The communal institutions, unions, parties of all directions and shades and at the head – the Zionist movement, the largest, richest and most active party?
Who does not remember the houses of worship with the old, yellowed Holy Books, from which they studied day and night?
Wyszków also possessed its own dramatic sections or amateur troupes, which produced various plays and actually very serious ones.
The town also had anti-Semitic parties, that always wanted to do us harm. In mostly cases they did not succeed, because of organized resistance from Jews, mostly - the Workers'-Movement, which fought against the Dmowskis, Skladkowskis and other enemies of Israel.
Wyszkow also lived through various invasions during the two World Wars – Russians, Germans, Bolsheviks and lastly - the Nazi beasts. These all invasions always brought always trouble for the Jews, until the last Hitlerite flood that annihilated everyone.
And also the Poles of the shtetl demonstrated, that in the trade of spilling Jewish blood they were no better than the German murderers. One remembers a fact from the year 1920, when they brought to Wyszków Jews who had run away and also from the surrounding shtetlakh. They gathered them in the Senator's park, near the firemen's hall. Two long lines of tens of Poles, armed with sticks, laid out - and Jews had to pass through this obstacle. With sadistic pleasure these hooligans beat the unfortunate Jews. Some became permanent invalids and others took days and weeks to recover …
* Note: According to Frida Cielak, her aunt, Feige Marcuschamer, is standing on the right side, in front of the vertical beam.
Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)
Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)
Wishkov/Wyszków didn't have any places where the local population could go to relax and enjoy themselves after a hard day's work. The Jewish young people who were aspiring to a new and better life used the bridge over the River Bug to stroll along with their friends. The bridge was the meeting place. It was there that one could hear various discussions. Or if one preferred, simply chat or even do some singing.
However, there was another spot in Wyszków where one could go to soak up the fresh air and enjoy views of the pretty surrounding countryside and that was -- the railroad station.
The lovely and sweet memories of our shtetl are concentrated around that station. It was there that the rendezvous between the boys and girls took place. But it was at the bridge that each one of us felt truly comfortable, just as if we were in our own homes.
As opposed to that feeling, the stroll to the train station brought forth a more refined character and a sort of proper behavior. It was at the station that our youthful dreams appeared to have the possibility of breaking through the daily routine drudgery. There, we felt, even for a short time, that it was possible to rise to a higher level in our dreams of a better tomorrow.
One can't say that our shtetl didn't present signs of better times to come for our young people, even though the older generation appeared to be anchored to its place, unable to move from it. The young people who were already finished the kheyder and away from the study from Beis-Hamedrash, had a broader outlook on life. They felt that their position in the shtetl was like being trapped in an immobile situation. This feeling drew them all the more to struggle to become emancipated from the suffocating small shtetl atmosphere.
And so, those strolls to the railroad station really satisfied a sort of far off yearning, even if it were only for a few hours. The young people were freed from their daily grind and were able to shake off depressing moods. There, at the station, in the fresh air-- they could look through a window to the wide world.
The Wyszków train-station was to be found not far from the shtetl's main-street, Pultusk Boulevard. The way to the station was through a small, narrow garden, which ran between two espaliered, or trellised walkways. This walkway served as both an entrance and exit to the station.
At the sides of the walkway stood wooden benches with armrests, deeply embedded in the ground. These benches were painted green and served as resting places for the train station personnel, when they were off duty, and their friends. These benches were also not off limits to the shtetl's inhabitants and so they used them to sit and enjoy the fresh air on the walkway. One could also frequently encounter people using these station benches to catch little catnaps.
In general, the station house made a good impression. It looked like a church, but without a bell tower or bell. Stone steps led to wide entrance doors with large glass panes. This area gave the impression that one was standing in a princely palace.
The way to the station was not terribly long and so provided a fine place for a stroll. It also provided a living for about ten families of Dorozhkozhes (cab operators, jitneys), who would drive you to the station. They had skinny, old horses harnessed to wagons, at the ready, in the middle of the market place, which were for hire at a moment's notice. The pathetic look of these horses cried out with a thousand mouths the poverty of their owners.
These Dorozhkozhes would frequently go days on end without earning anything. The horses stood and whinnied pleading for some hay while their owners wandered about the shtetl looking for some way to earn money. They were ready to take on any trip, no matter how far they would have to travel. Without any work, they had time on their hands and would always fool around and tell jokes. If a fare or a passenger should suddenly appear there would be such shouting from all sides from the Dorozhkozhes, that the passenger would get completely confused. Their best times for earning money came when the merchants and suppliers returned from Warsaw and the surrounding cities and towns. These business folk brought their packs full of merchandise and boxes wrapped around with iron bands and needed the services of the jitneys. All the wagons were then full and busy delivering goods and people.
The station looked very different at daybreak. The local important agencies had prevailed to have the train wait for passengers all night long. When a train arrived in the evening, the locomotive would stop belching smoke from its chimney and would rest over-night. It would be restocked and powered up the next day.
In the early mornings, the passengers traveling to Warsaw or other destinations would start to gather. The Polish passengers stood out with their pleasant and polite behavior. They arrived early and waited calmly for the time to board the train. On the other hand, the Jewish (Yiddish) passengers always arrived in a great hurry. They always seemed to be a minute late for the departure. The Jewish men and women would rush in, breathing hard, barely managing to shove their way to the ticket counter to purchase the needed ticket.
At the same time, the ticket agent, nattily dressed and thoroughly rested would slowly and phlegmatically sit himself down behind his barred window and get to work. It was as if the train were miles away and not at the station ready to depart. The agent would very deliberately open the ticket window at a very precise minute. And then would begin the pushing and shoving at the window as people tried to buy their tickets. Finally, with tickets in hand, the Jews would grab their packs and bundles and willy-nilly run to the train which had already begun to belch fire and smoke, ready for departure.
In the afternoon hours the Wishkever train station was full of Jewish young people. They would be waiting for someone to arrive by train from Warsaw. Some hours before the train was to arrive, the young people would congregate around the station and amuse themselves in various ways.
I also remember times when the stroll to the station was full of danger. These were times when there were anti-Semitic waves surging in Poland. However, our Wishkever young fellows didn't walk away from a fight with the anti-Semites. In fact, they gave their attackers a good drubbing and even broke some bones. And all this fighting was done in a way that the police wouldn't catch us Jewish young people. We were not the guilty ones - it was the anti-Semites who were heroes attacking our young girls and boys, as well as older Jews. But, there was the constant fear that the police would arrest the ones attacked and not the attackers, so we Jewish young fellows developed a tactic. We would beat the anti-Semites up well and then - simply disappear into the populace.
The times were constantly getting worse. After some time of indecisiveness, I decided to leave my hometown Poremba. After Sukes, I went by foot over two unpaved, muddy little streets to the one avenue in our community in order to get to the autobus. This bus ran on the Bialystok-Warsaw line.
I waited on that avenue a good two hours. Overhead the stars twinkled in the night sky. A cool autumn wind was blowing that could be felt in ones bones… My waiting for that autobus was in vain - it never arrived. I decided that I had better get myself to the Wishkever train station from Wyszków, quickly. So I went directly to a peasant named Loyek that I knew, who used to make yazdes(voyages) for a few zlotes, or (sell) a cigar, or a herring with a fresh roll. I asked him to harness his horse and take me to the train station in Wyszków.
The trip from the avenue in Poremba to the station took a good bit of time. We had to travel about 20 kilometers. I and Loyek(Łojek) got frozen through and through. We hoped to warm ourselves up at the Wyszków train station. But to our great disappointment, when we got to the station, everything was sort of in half darkness. In one corner of the station there was a peasant on a bench sleeping cozily. It was cold in the big hall of the station and we had to warm ourselves by running briskly back and forth and slapping our hands to keep the blood flowing. Loyek(Łojek) was cursing his fate and the world.
Bit by bit, the station started to fill up with people. It really became somewhat warmer. For the last time I was a witness to the Jewish crowd hurrying to the train. These Jews were half asleep dragging their huge packs. In their haste, they seemed to be tripping or falling into the brightness of the lit station. For the last time I parted with the beloved and well-known places of my youth and went forth into the wide unknown.
I had left Poland forever !
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