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[Page 305]

Fourth Chapter:

Characters and Figures

 

Dr. Yitzhok Shmuel Fiertog (Biography)[1]

by A.K.

Translated by Odelia Alroy

Dr. Yitzhok-Shmuel Fiertog was born in the year 1843 in Mitvi [Mitau?], Courlander Gubernia. His father, a poor teacher, naturally was unable to give his children a broad education and little Yitzhok went straight from cheder into a fancy-goods store, where he served as an ordinary salesclerk. But he did not remain in the business long. The atmosphere in the store was burdensome for him and at 17 he left his work and energetically began to prepare for examination for the gymnasium. At 18 he began in the fourth class and ignoring the laughter of his friends, he studied hard and after finishing the gymnasium he enrolled at Derplan [unclear; perhaps Dorpat, now Tartu] University.

Understandably, as in the gymnasium, so in the university, Yitzhok had to take care of himself and later—also to support his family. Regardless, he studied diligently and learned much and his doctoral dissertation which he presented when he finished the university showed great expertise.

In 1875 Yitzhok brilliantly finished at the university and in about a year he was appointed as a military doctor in the Bobruisk hospital.

Seeing, face to face, for the first time the Jewish need, the young doctor began to feel an unbounded love for his poor brothers and decided never to part from them, to be near them for his entire life. And importantly, when in 1882 they wanted to transfer him to Finland, to a higher position, he declined and left his military post altogether.

From then on he devoted himself to the Jewish poor.

When in 1877 war broke out between Russia and Turkey, Dr. Fiertog was one of the first military doctors and he showed much bravery and boundless love for mankind. He received many medals for his service in the war. There are many interesting memories from important military people about his dedication in that time.

When he returned from the war, Dr. Fiertog again devoted himself to his poor neighbors and his name became known and respected by the broadest segment of the people in Bobruisk and its surroundings.

In 1892, Dr. Fiertog was associated with the Jewish Hospital and he worked there until 1904.

The beloved doctor showed much devotion to the volunteer firemen. He worked with them from the founding until his death—26 years in all.

Dr. Fiertog put much effort and energy into other pursuits. He was president of the local medical society, treasurer of the Jewish handworkers’ shul, shul doctor for all the Jewish free schools.

Not here, in a newspaper article, is the place to praise the personality and dedication of the late man—that would require a separate work and a special person.

After the thirty days of mourning of Dr. Fiertog’s death, we wanted to note some of the highlights of this man’s life, hoping that we will return to this topic at another time.


Footnote

  1. From the Bobruisk Weekly Return


[Page 306]

The Last Days

by Dr. A. Paperno

Translated by Odelia Alroy

Dr. Fiertog and “death” are two issues which indeed rule out one another. Even today, already a month after his death, I still don’t believe that Dr. Fiertog died.

All his colleagues always knew him as a vital person: he was busy nonstop, always running and always hurrying: here to those who were sick, there because of private matters for people. Just how much he did, which his energy and love of life allowed, in one day before his death—I can’t even imagine.

The day before his death his nephew, a renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Shenfeld, came from Riga.[1]

The atmosphere in the house was very heavy, sad. Everyone sat quietly in corners, and we, a group of doctors, together with Dr. Shenfeld, sat next to Fiertog’s sickbed.

In the room where we sat, the atmosphere was terrible: At night, the patient is almost unconscious, his breathing is heavy and rapid, he tosses, cannot find a comfortable place, and with everyone sitting helplessly and watching how death steals quietly to opposite of death—to the vital Fiertog.

The light which burned on the table, and the shadows, which fell on the floor and walls, made the atmosphere terrible: it felt as though something was in the room….

Suddenly, Fiertog regained consciousness for a short while and saw Dr. Shenfeld.

With joy he received his guest, thanked him for coming, asked how he was and soon he lost consciousness again.

Everyone sat quietly, not saying a word. And what could one say, what was there to say. All hope was lost.

It was apparent that Fiertog is trying to remember something, that he wants to say something, but his thoughts are jumbled and he can’t tie them together.

But he pulled himself together and directed himself to Dr. Shenfeld with a question:

“What’s happening with your trip abroad?”

Dr. Shenfeld traveled abroad to noted professors of psychiatry, in order to listen and answer them about the question of ritual murder, which they allege to Russian Jews. He was impelled to this undertaking because of the answer that Professor Sikorsky had given to this issue. Sikorsky had almost agreed that Jews use Christian blood for religious purposes.

Dr. Fiertog knew that Shenfeld went out of the country on this mission because the question interested him.

Dr. Shenfeld was happy when Fiertog questioned him about this: He wanted to change the atmosphere by this conversation. He began to tell about the first events in this matter.

One needed to see how Fiertog’s eyes became alive, with what energy he listened and asked questions: How happy he was, when he knew that learned men laughed at Professor Sikorsky and they ridiculed the shameful blood nonsense!

And all this in the last hours before his death, when his understanding was already weakened, when breathing was difficult.

Not a moment for himself, for his personal interests, for his own house and family—only for others, for those near and oppressed—even lying on his death-bed!

This could only happen with an unusual soul, with an extraordinary person, with a great humanist!

Soon after, Fiertog lost consciousness and this time forever. Dr. Fiertog died.

An unusual person left us. He had a big Jewish heart, that was full of pity for all those who suffer and are oppressed.

A few days after Fiertog’s death, I was called to a sick person in a village, pretty far from Bobruisk. When I got there, they already knew about the sad end and they came for me to tell them about Fiertog’s last moments.

From among a large group of people, who came, and asked me:

“Is it true doctor, as we were told that when Fiertog was already sick, some poor patients came to him. Fiertog, ailing, came out and said: those of you who came with money should go to the right, and those who have no money go to the left. The sick people wondered, but obeyed. Then the doctor said: those of you standing on the right go to other doctors, because any doctor will take you on; And those of you who have no money, remain: and so he took on all the charity cases, when he was already sick. On the next day, he was himself bed-ridden in a terrible condition.

What could I answer, who had asked so earnestly? If it happened, I don’t know. I answered—generally it was true—because Dr. Fiertog felt everyone’s pain, even when he was sick. In that was his greatness, which will never be forgotten.


Footnote

  1. Later Dr. Shenfeld became world-famous. Ed. Return


[Page 308]

Remembrances

by Mendel Elkin

Translated by Odelia Alroy

I will tell about Dr. Fiertog and how he saved my mother.

We then lived in a village, not far from Bobruisk.

My mother had given birth to a daughter and she became ill. She had fever and was ill for more than three weeks.

My mother had been very healthy and could therefore wrangle along with such a terrible sickness.

The village medicine could help her very little and she became sicker and sicker.

It was a crisis.

The local village healer tried everything to save mother from death, but he was helpless. He couldn’t do anything.

And on the 22nd or 23rd, at about one at night, my mother had a temperature of 40 C [about 104? F.] and began to die.

It was a winter night. It was very cold, a wind howled in the street and it was snowing. The roar of the wind mixed with the sad moans and cries of my brothers and sisters at the bed of our dying mother.

Suddenly, I heard the ring of a bell. Someone came to the house.

I stole out of the house and facing me, wrapped in a big fur coat was Dr. Fiertog.

Is it a dream or what? How did Dr. Fiertog come here? Did God in heaven send him to us, to save our mother? I was overwhelmed…until he came into the house.

Not saying a word, he took off his coat and jacket and he went over to mother’s bed.

Mother was covered with cupping glasses. Dr. Fiertog impatiently tore them off and called out: “Get me ice and cold sour milk.”

We gave him everything and he began to work.

He didn’t leave the bed until 6 o’clock the next morning, until my dying mother began to breathe.

—“So, children, now you have a mother! Guard her properly!”—he said and without another word, he put on his coat and went to another sick person in a village, 20 verst [about 13 miles] from us.

We ran after him, wanting to pay him, to thank him, but he didn’t even want to look at us and told the driver to go faster….

In about two days, on his return, when my mother was already feeling better, Dr. Fiertog came to us again, with his lovely smile, he looked at my mother, us, all the children, and with a laugh said: “Nu—youngsters, when and with what will you pay me for your mother? I don’t need any money, and in winter there is no sour milk! So how will you pay me?” He kissed us all and like a meteor, disappeared….

That is how Dr. Fiertog saved our mother for another 22 years.

For this honorable manner, for his quiet courage and for his love of people, I say at his death: “Thank you, beloved Dr. Fiertog! I will long remember you! In my childhood you set me an example of brotherly love and I will remember it my whole life! Thank you dear Fiertog! May the heavy, cold earth be easy for you.”


[Page 309]

From the Bobruisk Weekly

Translated by Odelia Alroy

The Memorial Service

To honor the memory of the late Dr. Fiertog, Friday, May 18, at the Bobruisk Firefighters depot there was an open gathering of the local Medical Society. In the evening a delegation from the Minsk doctors came: Dr. Poliack, Dr. Yachnin, Dr. Ulianov, Dr. Zuckerman and Dr. Fiertog’s daughter.

In the hall was assembled a great crowd. The President of the Medical Society, Dr. Reigrodsky, opened the service.

Dr. Poliack said in his remarks, that the Minsk doctors came, not only to crown the grave of the deceased—“We were sent to honor our colleague and to strengthen our bond, which was established between the Minsk and Bobruisk doctors thanks to the deceased…”

Dr. Yachnin characterized Dr. Fiertog in short and strong language: “The deceased was not a worldly or sophisticated man, and yet the Minsk Medical Society chose him as a member, he the provincial doctor, because his name, as an exceptional doctor and human being, was known far beyond the boundaries of Bobruisk. The Bobruisk inhabitants had the good fortune to live at the same time and benefit from his spirit and his love of mankind….”

Dr. Reigrodsky in his beautiful talk, noted the deceased as a gentle, unassuming spiritual nature: “Dr. Fiertog came to us 37 years ago. A poor, isolated Jewish town was the Bobruisk of that time. Dr. Fiertog gave his help to this Jewish spot and until the last minute of his life he didn’t part from his poor patients. He had a special quality of helping people and going unnoticed, so the one being helped would not be diminished. The poor people of Bobruisk have lost a close friend and benefactor.”

Speaking about the dedicated manner of the deceased, Dr. Reigrodsky remarked that Dr. Fiertog was not remarkable in initiative and organizational talents, although he was an important, diligent activist. When a group was founded, Dr. Fiertog participated and became the soul of the organization. Even his volunteer activities seemed professional.

The dedication of the deceased as a doctor was so strong and useful, that it could not go unnoticed. For us, young and old doctors, he was full of knowledge and not once, in various circumstances, we would ask ourselves: How would Dr. Fiertog handle this situation….

Certain character traits of the deceased were described by Dr. Paperno:

“…I remember his waiting room. I met poor and rich there. To the rich, he would say: “Wait, first I have to take the earls and the princes.” That was how the Jewish doctor would call, with good humor, the workers and the farmers. He broke through the walls which did not allow the poor to use medical help. He was the father of folk medicine in our town and environs. Regarding his ability, Dr. Fiertog would say: “I did what I could: Do better if you can.”

Dr. Katz nelson told a parable in his speech about doctors of the old and new generation:

“Doctors of the old generation were known for their humanism and idealism. When a young student would come to the medical faculty, he would already dream of helping people. But not so the doctors of the new generation. They are only professionals. They seek to fulfill themselves in their work and prove their skill. Dr. Fiertog was one of the first and therefore it is no wonder that he was so loved and to us, because a second Dr. Fiertog, among the current practitioners, we will not have.”

The military doctor, Dr. Aronshtam now speaks. He mentions certain historical documents, which concern Dr. Fiertog’s skill in the time of the Russian-Turkish War. He was exceptional in the battlefield as a doctor and a human being, his courage and manner with the wounded soldiers, evoked gratitude and recognition from the military.

At the end, Dr. Karolkov, the secretary of the Medical Society, spoke about the services of the deceased as President and member of the society. He mentioned the many accomplishments of Dr. Fiertog, about his exactness of his work and his dedication.

The President thanked the guests from Minsk and the daughter of the deceased and the meeting was ended.

 

Facts

One evening, Dr. Fiertog came to Sliozberg (a rich, stingy man in Bobruisk) and invited him to go for a ride with him. To Sliozberg’s question—“Where?”—the doctor answered, that he would soon see. Without a choice, Sliozberg sat down in the doctor’s carriage and they rode away. In about a half hour they were at a little, low half-broken down house, somewhere on the “new plans.”

“Here, Mr. Sliozberg, I’d like you to come in for a little while… It’s alright, it will suit you and it won’t harm you,” Dr. Fiertog said, pointing to the little house.

Bending over, they just about were able to enter. The floor and walls were wet, on the table glimmered a small lamp and in the midst, on a bed, that had a tendency to “sing,” was lying an older woman with a jaundiced face and sunken cheeks. She breathed hard. In the beds were a number of children. Half asleep, half awake and looking with fright at their mother. Sliozberg stood at a distance, not knowing what to do….

Fiertog noticed and went over to him.— “What do you think, Mr. Sliozberg, is it okay to stay here a while? This is a widow who has nine children, she deals in ‘poverty’—that’s her business. That’s how she earns a living—So, trouble yourself and give 15 rubles for the household.”

Sliozberg gave 15 rubles and Fiertog, noticing his impatience, offered to take him home, telling him meanwhile that “for this time, it’s enough,” but he would have him as a guest again….

Dr. Fiertog once healed a poor man. As usual, he took no money from him. The poverty of the sick one was so great, all he had was a goat.

Once, sitting near the patient, Fiertog yelled in anger:

—“What do you mean, I’ll always cure you for nothing? Am I also not owed something? Tomorrow, when I come, prepare some money for me, because if not, I won’t come.”

The next day, Fiertog received 40 kopitkes [kopeks] for recompense.

—“Where did he get the money?” the doctor asked.

“We sold the goat”—the patient answered.

“Do me a favor and pay me for the other visits too, you owe no more than 40 kopitkes.”

They gave the doctor the rest of the money. Without a word, he took the money and left.

In two days, they brought the patient a good cow and a wagon of hay and it was thought: this was sent by Dr. Fiertog.

Dr. Fiertog went to visit a man who had fallen on hard times. He wasn’t poor, he still had enough to pay the doctor, but Fiertog didn’t want to take any money from him. One time the doctor announced that he would not come anymore without payment. From that time on, the patient began to pay 50 kopitkes per visit. The illness was lengthy.

When the patient got better and began to leave his bed, Fiertog told him to take care of himself: drink milk, eat eggs, poultry, drink wine and then the doctor said quietly:

—“Since you have no money, you now are due all the money which you paid me. Since I knew that this would be the case, I saved all the money that you gave me. For my part, all the money that I saved, you should put to good providing for yourself….”

And Fiertog gave the Jew back all the money that he received for curing him.

Once, when the author of these tales was sitting in Dr. Fiertog’s waiting room, a small, poor girl entered:

“Reb Fiertog, my mother has asked for four rubles.”—“Let your mother come by herself” answered the doctor—“you will lose it”—“you only get 5 kopitkes for your effort”—and he gave her 5 kopitkes.

The little girl went away and soon returned:

—“I’m here with a little sister—give my sister 5 kopitkes too.”

The doctor gave it to her.

The little girl came back a second time and asked for a pair of shoes.

“If I were a shoemaker”—answered Fiertog—“then I would give you shoes.”

When the little girl left, Dr. Fiertog told me that several years ago he visited a sick widow. It was Pesach. The poverty in the house made such a terrible impression—except for matzo and potatoes there was nothing in the house. From that day on, he pays the widow 4 rubles a month and the little girl came for these 4 rubles.

Dr. Fiertog came early one Friday to a poor sick man. The entire household was in one room. On a broken sofa next to the wall lay the patient. At the other wall, on a stool were some salted calves feet.

The doctor examined the patient and left. When the housewife wanted to get the calves feet to wash them, she could not find them—someone had stolen them.

A sorrow, a turmoil, a disturbed Sabbath.

In a few hours, Fiertog’s coachman enters and says, that the doctor has sent for the housewife.

The housewife was anxious. Certainly there is something terrible about her husband, God knows what….

The doctor met her and told her to take the basket that was standing in the corner. The woman wanted to take the basket—but she couldn’t lift it, it was too heavy for her.

“Volodya”—called Fiertog to his coachman—“carry the basket!”

The coachman took the basket and left. The woman after him. At home, they slowly began to unpack the basket. On top were the calves feet, underneath meat, challah, tea, sugar and underclothes and a small note from Dr. Fiertog:

“With bare calves feet, one can’t live: one needs meat too.”

Dr. Fiertog once met a man who had become impoverished. He immediately understood with whom he was dealing. And with his own humor he went to his small house.

“You think that I am only a doctor? I could be a carpenter.” And seeing the patient, he suggested, that the bed could be repaired. And while near the bed, when no one noticed, he put 45 rubles under the pillow and went off.

On the next day, when the householders found the money, they immediately understood where it came from. They brought the money back and not finding the doctor, they gave it to his wife. In a few hours, the doctor came running to the sick man with a tale:

“Thieves, why are you making trouble for me with my wife. She will believe that I lose 45 rubles everywhere. It’s not my money. What do you want from me?” He put down the money and left.

Once Fiertog saw a woman fall in the middle of the street and unable to get up. The doctor got out of his carriage, picked her up and looking into her face with a smile said “Good morning, Auntie!”

The woman did not understand what the doctor meant and she blushed and was embarrassed.

“Why are you looking at me so,” asked Fiertog—“you just got up so I said ‘Good morning’.”

The woman laughed and thanked Fiertog for his help. The doctor laughed too and was on his way.

In Bobruisk there was a very rich man. As rich as he was, that’s how stingy he was. They told legends about his stinginess. Once the stingy rich man got sick with rheumatism in his hands and he traveled out of the country for a cure. When he returned home, Dr. Fiertog met him in the street and stopped him to say “Mazel-Tov.”

“What you don’t understand”—explained the doctor—“it was said that you died but since you are alive only with ‘closed hands’—you deserve a “Mazel-Tov.” Now when you don’t want to give a poor man a groschen [a coin of negligible value]—everyone knows it’s because your hand is closed.”

Fiertog once went to the outskirts of town to a sick person. His carriage was outside while he went into the courtyard to find the person’s dwelling.

The courtyard was packed with small houses, and the doctor could not find the patient. He stood in the middle of the courtyard and didn’t know which way to go. A little while later he began to call.

“Pots repaired; pots repaired.”

When they heard his calls, everyone ran out of their houses with troughs and vessels.

On seeing the doctor in the role of a cooper everyone laughed. Dr. Fiertog laughed as well and first then did he ask where the sick person lived.

 

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