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[Pages 40 – 43]

Brzeziner Tailors

brz040a.jpg - David Lencicki

by David Lencicki [Leczycki] (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

Aksler's house [apartment house], which was built in the summer of 1902, was then the first and largest tailors' blockhouse. Mojsze Kopel's house was ready a year and a half later. The place where Stawian's great house later stood was then Emanuel Winter's (Mshumak) lumberyard, and a circus also played there.

Of the fifteen tenants who lived in Aksler's house, twelve were tailors. I would like to recall here the inhabitants of the first tailors' blockhouse in Brzezin.

Reb Eliezer Rajchman (the ample Lozer) was a virtuous, observant Jew, a Grodzisker Hasid. He fastidiously fulfilled the custom of praying with his whole being. He actually danced while davening [praying]. He had a right to say zkhoyr bris ["remember the convenant"], recited in shul [synagogue] on Rosh Hashanah eve. Right after praying, he would travel for the Days of Awe [between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] to Grodzisk, where he was in charge of the morning prayer. On the morning after Yom Kippur he would return home and attend to the suke [booth erected for Succos, the Feast of Tabernacles].

Although the suke was a usual one and fourteen families ate in it, Reb Eliezer, with great fervor and with his Hasidic generosity, almost singlehandedly took on himself the obligation of the mitsve [commandment]. His kiddush [benediction over wine], his zmires [Shabbos songs], and his Hasidic stories had us young people occupied in the suke for hours.

The simkhes [joyful celebrations] that were held when he married off a daughter, the singing, the dancing, the sheve brokhes [seven blessings given at a wedding], deafened the entire town. One has to add that the generosity was Hasidic, not that of a rich man, since in summary he was a Jew, a poor man, and maybe that explains the great celebration when he married off a daughter. He died in 1915 at a very advanced age.

The second tenant – Jankel Zapalki-makher [maker of matches] (grandfather) – lived on the second side of the ground floor; Reb Natan Leczycki [Wenchitski] and Abraham Aronowicz (Aron Szuster's [son]), on the first floor. Aron Waldman (Pajger), A. Liskiewiczer (later left for America), Henoch Milech, a brother of Wolf Ikka, Mojsze Dawid Hasid, a son of Pinkus Job (left for America), and the sallow Abraham Mojsze (Hochszpiegel) – were in Brzezin until the end. On the second floor – Jozef Gotek (Krel), a son-in-law of Peretz Piotrkowski; Lajbus Hentshke-makher [glove maker] (Borkowski), a shvoger [brother-in-law] of Peretz Piotrkowski (left for America), and Szmuel Rabinowicz, a Poddebicer [from Poddebice].

Incidentally, Reb Mojsze'l Chazen came to Brzezin from Poddebice [Podembitse], where he had been khasen and shoykhet [cantor and ritual slaughterer]. In an annex in the courtyard lived the mesershmidt [knife smith] and the deaf Mojsze, son-in-law of old Pinele.

The apartments in Aksler's house consisted of two rooms, both of equal size, approximately four by four [meters]. The first shtub [room], where there was a walled-in stove, was a workshop room that had kitchen fixtures. Two to three large machines stood there – to make the work easier and to iron – also a small table for the hand-stitchers and a half dozen stools. The "living inventory" in the room consisted most of the time of ten persons – the master, the master's wife, a journeyman, a seasoned apprentice, a female hand-stitcher, a new apprentice or two, and the children of the family. The second room consisted of: two beds, a wardrobe or two, a table and stools, a sofa, and packets of cut work – as well as a little already pressed work that waited in the cradle until delivery. The cradle itself actually did not have a set place. It depended on the child. If it was a quiet child, it lay in the room. However, if it was a crier or a screamer, the apprentice, who had not yet had his bar mitzvah, took the child into the kitchen, that is, into the workshop, and rocked the child, placing one foot on the runner. Meanwhile, with his hands, he withdrew the basting stitches in order to give the presser a clean marinarke [man's jacket].

Generally the apprentice was between hammer and anvil, that is, between the journeymen and the master's wife.The master's wife did not do it from meanness but only because the work was beyond her strength. She needed someone to help her and actually someone onto whom she could unload her bitter heart.

 

brz040b.jpg - A group of Poale-Zionists from Brzezin at a meeting
A group of Poale-Zionists from Brzezin at a meeting

 

And what is the wonder? Among these ten persons was the first hand-stitcher, who contracted herself out without food, since hand-stitchers were mostly young girls who ate and slept at their parents' home. For the others, one needed to cook pots of food twice a day. They wanted to keep the workshop operating, so the food had to be tasty and plentiful.

The lodgers in Aksler's house were young people, grown children not yet with families. The work of the master's wife was hard. She had to stand on her feet from six in the morning until eleven to twelve o'clock at night. She had to buy food for the meals, cook, worry about cleanliness, and carry out all women's functions – such as pregnancy and having and raising children in crowded quarters. In summer the flies burrowed, and in winter there was smoke from the press irons – one had to seriously worry about cleanliness. It must be said to their credit that all the tailors' wives from Aksler's house in the years 1902–5 were great homemakers. You have to add that the wives also often had to go to the magaziners [owners of small clothing factories] late at night, after the hand-stitchers had left, to do a little handsewing in order for the journeymen and the assistant machine workers to have something to do in the morning.

The work consisted of padded winter jackets and overcoats, suits of clothing, and separate pants. Preparation for the winter season lasted approximately seven months – from Purim [in early spring] until after Succos [in autumn]. The winter season was strong, since ninety percent of the production went to the Russian market, as far as Irkutsk, Vladivostok, and Arkhangelsk. Transportation was very primitive. It took three months before the merchandise arrived at its destination. The merchants came after Shavuos [in late spring], when they bought merchandise in stock and ordered merchandise that was to be sent later by a set deadline.

The workers were generally divided into three groups. The third group participated in the winter work. There was a significant group of tailors who did not participate just in the winter work; they worked the entire year, making men's jackets and porlekh [sets] (pants-vests). These were of the highest rank. They were called the "silken fingers." I will mention some highly skilled workers in this category – Mordechai Winter, Godel Grajcer, Abraham Jonas (Opoczynski), Mojsze Aron Szuster's (Aronowicz), Abraham Pakrels and Fiszel Eksztajn. From the best tailors of sets (pants-vests) – Aszer Fride, Szlama Lajb Krulik (Kalisz), Pine Tabes (Fuks), Jekiel Dawid Dzik (Dymant) and Lajbel Lichtel (Rozenblat). Good vest sewers – Chaim Ber Pytel and Hersz Wolf Celcer. Of the good [pants sewers] I mention only one – Eli Ber Miller.

I do not want to shame those in the third category, and I mention several of them – sewers of shmateh marinarkes [jackets of poor quality] – Mojsze Moc [strong], Abraham Aronowicz, Natan Radoszycer, Jozef Ruwen Fabisiak with his son, Mordechai Icek. The ordinary sets (pants-vests) sewers were Eli Szajber (Goldberg), Chaiml Zgiwer, Chanina Cwern and Jankel Zapalki (Zajde). Aksler's house had the honor of having two from the top category – Abraham Mojsze Hochszpiegel and Szmuel Rabinowicz.

Crowding was not as great at the better tailors. As one could notice, two sacks of charcoal stood in the corner of the home the entire year, an iron cot, two heated pressing irons and still other things that did not have a set place. During the summer two stacks of black cotton were also brought to the workshop. There also were tailors who used white cotton, such as Reb Majer Poliwoda, Berl Szaferman, Mojsze Josel Tryber, and Natan Wald, but they did not live in Aksler's house. The cotton blocked the windows of the house through which could have come a little air in the hot summer months. Therefore, when [work for] the winter season ended, and they took out the goat, one breathed freer.

The work-times? In general it is hard to write definitively about it, and in particular because the organization of the workshop played a role. First of all, it required that the master should be fast so that the chief journeymen should not have to help him with his work. Mainly, it was necessary for the workshop to be well organized. This required taking a lot of time so that the workshop could be correctly organized when the apprentice became a journeyman – and this took several years. I will try to describe the development of the tailor workshops in the years 1900–1905.

It has to be said that regardless of the self-enslavement and the self-exploitation of the Brzeziner master tailors, whose working hours had reached in those days eighteen to twenty hours in a twenty-four hour period, they introduced a nice custom – the intersession (maybe they got it from the teachers?). Although both Pesach [in spring] and Succos [in fall] were the busiest season, they indulged in a two-week break from work. They had to make arrangements with the magazine owners, deliver the machines to the machine operators, and mainly add people to do the work.

Immediately on the first day of the period between the first and last two days of Pesach and Succos, boys between eleven and thirteen arrived – some with parents, some without. The bolder ones came alone from the surrounding cities and towns – Strykow, Glowno, Jezow, Rawa, Neustadtel, Skierniewice, Ujazd, Tomaszow, Laskowice, Lowicz [Wovich], Sulejow, Bielawy, Sobota, Piatka [Piontka], and so forth.

The apprentice who had finished his apprenticeship in these towns contracted himself for a year or for a specified time. A small number of qualified workers who worked for the made-to-order tailors in their town also did this.

The masters came to the market dressed up with new black hats on their heads, their zupica [caftan] unbuttoned, from which a little watch with a watch chain could be seen in the vest pocket, and usually carrying a special small cane. They would begin looking over the apprentices and qualified workers who had come. Of course, the older and more physically developed were grabbed up. This may have played a bigger role for the master's wife, since the youth had to bring up as many as two buckets of water at a time and pour out the wastewater. Once a month they took in a washerwoman, and water had to be brought in continuously. Afterwards they had to help carry the wash to the attic [to hang to dry], later help turn the mangle [machine in which sheets and tableclothes were pressed by passing through two rollers], go on an errand for the master's wife, who remembered something else every time, and pick up the child who was bellowing – having gotten under the treadle of the machines and hurt itself.

And the master? He certainly had something to say! The work had to be brought from and carried back to the magazine owner; he had to go to the buttonhole maker and to the accessories store to bring cotton wadding. This reminds me of the two-meter pack of wadding that was so large that the little porters disappeared under the mass. Is it any wonder that they looked for a youth who would be physically fit for such a heavy task? Many masters really did not leave things to miracles and immediately took two apprentices so they could divide the side-work and have time to learn the trade.

As a rule a youth was taken on for two or three years, with eating and sleeping, a suit of clothes for Pesach, and twenty-five rubles when the apprenticeship was over. But the apprenticeship rarely ended in a set term. When the parents came with a younger brother, they took him on and extended the time for the older one another half year. The apprenticeship having fortunately ended, he could actually work anywhere he wanted, but generally, the apprentices remained with their old masters. They were used to one another; they forgave old offenses, came to terms for a year or a set time and then stayed in the workshop until they became head masters themselves.

Hand-stitchers were generally from good Hasidic families or were tailors' daughters who worked in the home until the younger daughters grew up and took the older one's place.

Those workshops that developed in such a way that the apprentice could become a journeyman hummed along, and the working hours there were like other workshops, so that the normal (or abnormal) workday was, in the summer, from six in the morning until eight at night. Later a program began of pressing twice a week and doing floor-work. There was no midday lunch hour. One ate at the pressing table or at the [sewing] machine.

 

brz042.jpg - A group of young men from the scout organization 'Gordonia.'
A group of young men from the scout organization "Gordonia."

 

If one subtracts the four meal times of the day that took an hour and a half, the workday lasted thirteen hours. But this did not really apply to the master.

For the master, the workweek began Shabbos-tsu-nakhts [Saturday night]. Well-rested after Shabbos – it was quiet in the house, restful, no one disturbed him – he could calmly work until after midnight. The master actually stood at the table with big scissors in hand, humming a tune to himself. On Sunday at five in the morning he arose, and he woke the group. First of all the apprentices, who slept on the sleep benches that served as ironing boards. At night the plank was removed and inside was a hay mattress, a pillow, and a cotton blanket. Then he awoke the journeymen who slept on the iron cots that stood in the corner of the house. It took an hour until the people climbed out of the "nest" and the mess was cleaned away. If he was able to, the master got in a little davening, and they went to work.

On Sunday the work did not proceed at the usual tempo. The journeymen were worn out, having done a lot of dancing the entire Shabbos night and having downed a couple of beers; they feel tired on Sunday. Perhaps the apprentice fought with a gang from another town and came home with a lame foot. Well, the master had to complete the day with an additional two hours of work, but on Sunday this did not bother him. He still had reserves from the Shabbos day. In the second half of the week, generally Thursday, when they worked the entire night, it happened that the master, always at the table, took a little chair and laid his head on the table, and the personnel helped him out and work slowed down. But this lasted about a quarter of an hour. The master would jump up with a start, wipe his eyes, and notice that the group was dreaming. He would yell out, "Get moving!" and begin to tell a story:

"In the land of the pyramids, there was a king, angry and evil."

The journeymen helped him:

"You have suffered uselessly so that Manchuriashould remain yours. Give a look at whose flag flies there, and who is in there. Russian, you should bury yourself, your head bowed with shame; you will still have tsurelekh [little troubles], your heroicness diminishes."

The hand-stitchers helped a little:

"I loved a girl who was from Vienna, I loved a girl who was from Vienna."

And the assistant machine worker does not want to be left out (incidentally, the "birzhe" [office] of the Bund had already been established), and began to sing:

"Oh, you foolish Zionists with your clogged up minds, the Turks cheated you and will not give you the land!"

One hears again the soprano of the apprentice, "Come, come home Isroelik! Come home to your own land…!"

Again the work went full steam ahead until four in the morning. Then they sent the apprentice to Majer the baker to buy two dozen warm bagels. It was warm in the house from the press irons and the bright lights that illuminate Court Street and Goat Lane. Thursday night must substitute for the short winter Friday. In practice, it seemed different. For the journeymen the night stretched until nine to ten in the morning, but the master and the apprentices were also seen late into the dusk in the Brzeziner streets with little packets of pressed work when tall Bobes had already shouted, "Candle lighting!" [signifying beginning of Sabbath]

 

brz043.jpg - Three generations of the Kochberg family (picture is from 1912)
Three generations of the Kochberg family (picture is from 1912)

Top row from right to left: Syma Kochberg (Herszel Litwak's daughter) – perished
in the annihilation, Szmuel-Dawid Kochberg (Toronto, Canada), Chaja-Sura Ranis (Los
Angeles), Jakob-Szlama Kochberg (Toronto), Sura Kochberg (Toronto), Elka Milner
(Toronto), and Aszer-Zelig Kochberg (Toronto).
Second row: Aron-Lajb Kochberg (perished in the annihilation), Icek-Majer Kochberg
(perished in Lodz Ghetto), Hersz-Mendel Kochberg (died in 1924), Jerachmiel Kochberg
(Toronto), Ita Kochberg (died in 1937 in Toronto).
Third row: Rutcia Kochberg (perished in the annihilation), Abraham Kochberg (Toronto),
Ester Szafman (Toronto)

 

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