Memories from the First World War
by Rabbi Avraham Shmeltzstein
When the First World War started, our city, which was adjacent to the fortress,
was full of soldiers; we saw danger around the corner, in the houses, in the
fields and everywhere.
On the second day of the Succoth holiday, there was a horrible message,
Jews get out of the city within four hours Nobody is allowed to
stay. Fear and anxiety spread among us. It rained heavily outside and it
was impossible to rent carriages. Those who had carriages only took care of
themselves and the police hurried the inhabitants to leave the city because the
enemy was close to the fortress. We left our houses and the rest of our
property behind. We only took our immediate belongings and started to walk out
of the city. Some people requested to rest a little bit but the road was very
muddy from the non stop rain. There was no place to rest.
We suddenly saw a gentile farmer passing by. We stopped him and promised him
three rubles if he promised to carry the kids on the carriage. Damn you
Jews, cried the farmer. You Jews helped the Germans with money and
you asked for the War. Go to them and they will help you now. We finally
arrived at another empty city and we visited the house of one of my relatives.
We took our wet clothing off and sat down to eat the holiday dinner unhappily.
However, even in this city we couldn't find rest. Within a few days the police
ordered us to leave the city since it was also too close to the fortress. We
finally managed to rent carriages and started our move to the more remote city
On the way we suffered a lot from the Russians and Poles. We were stopped by
two soldiers on the way out who angrily said, You damned Jews, why do you
reveal all our government secrets to the enemies? We replied, These
are all lies, look, we are exactly like you, standing shoulder to shoulder in
battle, and many of us Jews end up killing each other in order to save our
They finally left us alone and as we traveled we eventually arrived at a
Cossack camp. They stopped us and ordered us to get off the carriages because
the horses could not pull cruel, bad Jews. We ended up walking by foot for
quite a distance, we passed by Polish workers who threw stones at us and pieces
of soil. We finally arrived at a city and found that it was even more difficult
to live there. The city was full of refugees from nearby towns and the prices
were very high. Everything was very expensive. We could not find places to live
or any available apartments, even though we were willing to pay full price. We
ended up sleeping on the floors. One morning we woke up to a horrible message
that in our town Demblin many houses were robbed and burned. We immediately
rented carriages and drove all the way to Demblin to check out the situation.
By evening we arrived in the city as the explosions and the lightning of the
guns sounded in the background. We hurried to hide in one of the houses of one
of the Jews who had a license to stay in the city. But we immediately were
stopped by two soldiers who stood on guard and called a higher officer. The
higher officer turned to us and asked us in a rough voice, How do you
dare come to this city in war time? Don't you know that Jews are forbidden to
enter any city close to the fortress? But as soon as we handed him all
our documents showing that we were house owners who had come back to rescue the
little that we had left, he left us alone.
I entered my house and it was empty of the merchandise from the grocery store
that we had there. Even the furniture had disappeared and only a few clothes
and pillows were left behind. Even the book cabinet in our library was
destroyed. I then started to cry and felt very depressed about the loss of the
most precious manuscripts and books that I had enjoyed reading and looking at,
including five books I wrote. I immediately gathered the few remaining and
escaped from this hell.
A month later the enemy was defeated and many of the Jews were allowed to
return to their towns. We stayed in the city until the end of the year.
Many Jews suffered a lot from the treatment by the Russian soldiers and their
clerks. They slaughtered and hanged many of the innocents without inquiring
about their involvement in the cause. In one of the villages nearby the city,
Stashov, they attacked a synagogue on Yom Kippur. On that day 11 innocent Jews
were hanged who were accused of setting fire to a Polish farmer's house.
In many cases we were exposed to the danger of death. One day a clerk entered
my store and bought three stacks of wheat and paid me by credit. Half an hour
later he returned with soldiers and claimed that by mistake he overpaid me by
15 rubles and he wanted his money back. I showed him the credit documents and
asked him to leave me alone. Even my wife started to cry in front of him and
said, Here you are about to go to a war, is that the time to steal and
loot from us? But he insisted, You're either going to give me your
money or death. His soldiers immediately pulled out their swords and
threatened us. My wife called the high officer to judge the situation, however,
he replied, This guy is about to go to a war and I don't have
jurisdiction over him. If he and his soldiers end up hurting you, it is your
responsibility. I ended up paying him my money against my will, so as to
keep away the death threat from my wife and me.
One day a Cossack bought sugar from me. After a little while, the Cossack
appeared claiming that I gave him very low quality sugar. He screamed and
yelled that all the Jews are liars and immediately pulled out his sword
threatening to stab me. My wife cried in front of him and said, Here is
your sugar and here is some money, just get out of here. However, he was
still very mad and insisted on stabbing me. To my fortune, he looked outside
for a moment and I took advantage of the situation and ran away.
In another situation, I took a train ride from Warsaw to my town. I sat on a
bench and read a newspaper. In front of me sat a bunch of young Poles arguing
about the War. They got into a heated argument and screamed that only the Jews
were to blame for the War because they send money and funds to the enemies and
reveal the secret of our government. They also said the Jews run away from the
War claiming that they are sick.
When I heard all of this I got really hurt and I couldn't hold it in anymore. I
told them, These are all lies and have no proof. We Jews always try to
seek the support and peace of our government and we never send money to the
enemies, let alone telling any secrets to the enemies. Also if you look you can
see that our sons are standing shoulder to shoulder with your sons in the
front. So why do you blame us about things we never did? They all of a
sudden turned back to me and said, Sir, you are under arrest, we are
secret police from the government, here are our certifications. I
immediately replied that I did not talk against our government and they could
not arrest me. You will explain all of this in court, they replied.
I tried to beg them to leave me alone and have mercy on me, my wife and my sons
but it was useless. They did not listen to me, however, one of them whispered
in my ear, For 100 rubles you can save your soul, and if not I'll tell in
court that you cursed the King, and you know what the results will be, I
felt very scared and depressed and I started to put together the 100 rubles.
But then immediately one of them who looked beaten up and had a bandage on his
head turned to me and said, Hear are your certificates and you are free
to go. I blessed him for saving me from these hoodlums and I ended up
arriving home peacefully.
At the end of the year there was another order from the Russian government to
get out of the city. However, we had enough time to rent carriages and take our
belongings with us. We drove to the city Lublin and we stayed at my wife's
sister's house. A month later we found out that the cities Demblin and Lublin
were conquered by the Austrians and Warsaw was conquered by the Germans.
Later, we happily returned to our city. We realized that the houses were not
burned down and everybody was greeting everybody with Mazel Tov
since we got rid of the cruel Russians. The new rulers, although they were not
as wild and cruel as the Russians, since they were more educated and polite,
they made new laws that very few could stand and survive those tough laws. They
restricted and stopped trade completely and caused hunger around the
countryside. At the same time they put together new laws to keep the cities
from theft and murder. During the rules of the Austrians and the Germans, there
were not so many reports about an Austrian soldier killing a Jew as there were
so readily during the Russian rule.
The kings of the coalition decided to revive the small nations that were
conquered under the superpowers and tried to return the lands. On November 2,
1917 the British government came up with the Balfour Declaration that said,
The government of his majesty is looking toward the establishment of a
national home in the land of Israel, on the condition that they will not harm
the rights of the citizens and the religion of the non-Jewish minority in the
land of Israel.
(Recorded by Andjza Shmeltzstein-Tishman)
What I remember of my Home Town
by Andzja Shmeltzstein-Tishman / Tel Aviv
Dedicated to the holy memory of my dear family,
beloved friends and
The memories of our beloved town Demblin, the life of her Jewish inhabitants
and the activity and society there, are both at the same time sweet memories of
my youth and also bring forth bitter tears when I think about the destruction.
Who can write about Demblin and not think that the town was destroyed, wiped
out, in the Second World War?
There was a town, Demblin, once upon a time, with an idealistic youth, with a
beautiful Jewish life, Jewish mothers took great care and were very tender with
their children. Jewish fathers worked very hard for a little bit of bread and
Jewish men and young women carried in their hearts great concern for the fate
of the world.
When I start to tell this story, I remember the youth of Demblin and the tears
begin to flow for our own who in the most terrible kinds of suffering ended
their lives, who fell during death marches, when the whole mass of Jews from
Demblin were driven by the Nazi dogs, and others who were burned in gas
Forced Labor 1914 Version
The year 1914 came. At the threshold of the little Zionist synagogue, where my
father prayed, Russian police showed up and led away all the men from 17 years
old to 50 years old. It should be understood, of course, that everybody was
extremely frightened not knowing what was going to happen to them. But what
could you do? When they told you to walk, you had to walk. Do you think they
had a choice?
They led them on the road to Ryki to guard the highway, bridges and the
telegraph lines, so that a spy or saboteur shouldn't be able to damage them.
Everybody was given a certain responsibility and they had to stand watch for 12
hours. They were covered with sweat. What were they supposed to do if somebody
showed up and started to rip away at the telegraph wires? But, as Jews say, God
is a father and creates miracles.
Of course, since they didn't get a chance to close their eyes for 12 hours
marching back and forth as they had to, at the end of that time they were
finally all worn out and squeezed dry, went home, ate a little bit and napped.
But it didn't take more than two hours before they started banging on the door.
My father was very weak, he was barely able to stand on his feet. We had a
little place under the roof, where one person could fit and be hidden and we
were able to stick our father in there.
The soldiers came into the house, looked everywhere, until they found my
father. They smacked him around until they led him to the Vistula. They put a
pick and shovel in his hands and ordered him to dig trenches.
A number of the younger people escaped when it got dark, but my father decide
that a Jew shouldn't do such a thing because if he did, they would accuse all
the Jews of being spies.
Heavy rain began to soak everybody, but this didn't stop the soldiers from
having a good time at the Jews' expense. Finally they let him go from this back
breaking labor. My father decided that in the future he was going to forego his
patriotism for the country and instead concentrate on saving his own skin.
For another week my father hid out in the attic, but he got very sick because
of that. They brought a famous doctor from Warsaw because, among us, Zalman
Feltcher-Vanapol [folk doctor] and Dr. Zochatsky, were the only ones available.
When you wanted a good doctor, you had to travel to Warsaw.
I remember the peasants, the hens and the roosters, the pigs and rabbits in
cages in the Demblin market place. We lived in the market place. We had a snack
bar. The peasants from the surrounding countryside came and bought stuff from
us, and they also used to come in and eat a little something and drink and eat
some sausage. My father always told them they should not give me anything, but
they always took pleasure in giving me a little bit of schnapps and watching me
start coughing like crazy.
Once, when the Czar ruled Poland, an officer came into our store, started
screaming that my father had not given him five rubles of change that he was
entitled to. He pulled out his sword and was about to go for my father. The
children started to cry and my mother begged him, We'll give you 50
rubles, 100 rubbles, just leave my husband alone.
The officer didn't want to hear anything and he ordered my father to go with
him. We knew that to go with him meant that you'd never come back.
Acquaintances among the peasants who were hanging around began to beg the
officer as well and tell him that they knew my father and that they were
absolutely sure that he had no intention of cheating him. They told the officer
to check his pockets one more time. After a great deal of effort they succeeded
in calming him down and the officer left.
When the First World War broke out and the Russians began to suffer great
defeats at the front, a Czarist officer, a notorious anti-Semite, was
transferred from the front to our region. The first order that he gave was that
all of the Demblin Jews (Modzjitz / Ivangorod) had to leave the town because it
was close to the fortress and the Jews would give out all of the secrets of the
When the enemy was driven away again, he let the Jews come back. This happened
on three occasions. The third time around, the biggest part of the group of
Jews went to Ryki because it was close to Demblin.
We stored Abelah Brownshpigel's stuff in our cellar. My father hid all of his
religious books because for him they were a treasure. Some of them he'd written
himself and had them printed. We secured the house with iron bars and hit the
road. We weren't able to find any wagons.
When they drove the Jews out, it was always raining, just as if God himself
wanted to accompany us with tears.
We were still small children then, I and my sister Rivka, now in New York, and
my brother Velvel, who lives in Brazil.
My brother was six months old and my mother carried him in a sheet tied to her
back. The unpaved roads were very, very slippery, and we'd fall often, get
smeared with mud, and get up and go on. My mother slipped and fell into a deep
ditch. The sheet came loose, but my little brother fell on the grass and we
lifted him up as if nothing had happened.
We continued walking. Our little hands were red with cold. We arrived in Ryki
and there wasn't any place for us there because there were so many people who
had fled and gathered there. When we were finally able to get a hold of a wagon
we went to Zjelechov, my mother's hometown. That was a little better. My mother
had acquaintances there and rented a place to stay. We arrived on Friday
evening. My mother quickly blessed the candles and very, very tired, we all lay
down on the earth. On the Sabbath my father went to synagogue and good people
brought us something to eat.
New Rulers Austrians and Poles
When the Austrians took Demblin, Jews came back. Lots of houses had been
burned. There was enormous destruction in the town. In the neighborhoods where
we lived, houses remained intact, but everything was smashed up and robbed.
From our house they stole windows and doors. It looked like they'd used the
place for a horse stall. Also from the cellar, everything had been taken out.
The religious books were covered with all kinds of colors because they really
didn't have any use for them. It seems that while they were leaving Demblin,
the Russians had very, very rarely left the houses intact.
Little by little, everything got re-established. We rebuilt the houses, did
business, but people lived in fear that the regime would change hands again.
In all of the dwellings soldiers were put up. At our house there were two
soldiers. We got along with them all right. They made sure that the other
soldiers would leave us alone.
Once, on a particular occasion at night, we heard shooting not far from us. Our
soldiers, the guys that stayed with us, weren't there at that time. They were
off on a watch. In the morning we found out that our two soldiers decided that
they wanted to rob the store of Nach Seigelman. When he discovered them he
began to scream. His daughter Sarah came out on the balcony and started to
scream too. One of the soldiers, as he was leaving, saw her there and shot her.
The bullet hit her in the stomach.
In 1919, when the Bolsheviks attacked Poland, Demblin was in a panic. People
walked around fearing for their lives. My parents were afraid for their young
[See Photo A2 at he end of Section A]
My sister Rivkala was 13 years old then. She only read Polish books. She
finished her elementary school and wasn't able to study any more because there
wasn't any high school in Demblin. But she really wanted to study and to
continue her education.
When the Jews became upset and felt insecure, my parents decided that they
wanted to save their oldest child. At that time it wasn't difficult to go to
America. I had two brothers there, Yitzhak and Chaim. They wrote that Rivkala
should come to America. And using that letter as a guide, my parents sent her
away from Poland. My mother took her to Danzig and put her on a ship.
When my mother came back there was a tremendous commotion in the town. They
were taking people to forced labor. But she managed to make it home. We all
went at that point to Lublin, where my mother had a sister. We were there for 6
months and we sold soap in the streets. When things got quieter we traveled
back to Demblin.
My father was born in Palaw, not far from Demblin. His parents were very
religious, but very poor. My father was very intent on learning and he was
smart and he studied alone on his own, day and night.
As time went by, my father became acquainted with various Zionists who had come
from other towns and cities and countries to agitate and organize. My father
was a passionate supporter of Zionism. After he got married, he came to Demblin
and had a food store. During all of theses years, he worked and agitated for
Zionism. In those times it wasn't so easy to be a Zionist in a shtetl [town]
like Demblin. The Jews were fanatical Hasidim and they didn't permit any
Zionist thoughts or activities.
My father was a very pious man but not a fanatic. He corresponded with great
personalities in the world and he entertained various delegates at the Zionist
conferences and he himself became famous and well known and popular in the
Little by little his influence in the town grew stronger and he was the guide
for both young people and adults. When parents learned that their children had
been ruined because of my father they wanted to excommunicate him.
He also had to endure quite a bit of trouble from his own pious family. They
did what they could to interfere with his work, the Zionism and Israel.
He began to write his first book about Zionism. He spent whole nights writing.
The fanatical parents of his wife told her to turn out his kerosene lamp so
that he shouldn't be able to write and she did it. He suffered from all
directions, but he never gave up. He had a lot of pupils and supporters and he
imparted to them much wisdom and knowledge and love and idealism for Israel.
His first wife died and he remained with four sons, Yankel, Chaim, Yitzhak and
Shmuel, none of whom are alive.
He married another woman, Krusa, my mother. The number of detractors shrank and
the ranks of his supporters grew. The town gave into him.
My father became a delegate to the Zionist Congress in Bassel, along with Dr.
Herzl. He had a lot of friends there and acquaintances and a lot of people
already knew him from having heard him, others from correspondence.
My father raised money for Israel, he founded a little Zionist synagogue in
Demblin where all those who had nationalist points of view could come and pray
and run into each other. They were active together in the Zionist circles,
together with my father, his best friend, Yosef Gilibter and Hershel Nisenboim,
who was my father's pupil and great supporter.
My father published several books in Hebrew in Demblin. When the doors of
Israel opened he began to think about settling in Israel, in the land for which
he'd fought so much and given so much effort to sustain. They used to say to
him, Rev Avromele, half of Israel has to be yours, since you've already
raised so much money for it.
In 1925, my father decided to sell everything and leave. But we didn't have
enough money. At that time pioneers were allowed to travel who had already
received certificates, or capitalists. We did not have the 500 pounds to travel
With the help of the Rabbi of Kozjenitz, a society was founded which sold land
in Israel. A lot of people contributed. There was money in a safe and with that
money they sent the first people who had paid a specific sum. And the rest was
paid by the society.
My father was very happy. He was one of the first four families. We began to
prepare to leave. I, however, felt very bad about it. I wanted to stay in town
with my good friends and acquaintances. I was very tied up in the Union which
had been founded not too long before. (In the directorship of the Union were
Avigdor Berkowitz, Shmuel Kotsky, Michael and Avram Abramowitz.) There was a
reading hall there. Each evening people came together to talk and we had the
little box evenings.
The Professional Union
Once when there were 20 of us in the Union Hall, the police came and arrested
everybody. They led us through the streets to the police station. Some of us
had political material with us and they confiscated it while we were walking.
They took us into a separate room and interrogated and searched everybody, but
they didn't find anything. We stayed there the whole night. In the morning they
let us go home.
Of course, my parents thought that I was pursuing a dangerous and bad path in
my life. All they dreamed of was going to Israel. But I was stubborn, I argued
about it, I said I wasn't going to go. Of course they didn't want to leave me
there either. Anyway I had to begin to learn a trade, to sew and wash, from
Faiga Rozenberg. After that I was able to support myself.
We had relations with the Union in Gniveshov. When there was a question evening
or a performance, we would rent a wagon and travel there then come back late at
night. They also used to come to us and we had a great time. We lived well and
we weren't worried about things. That was my best time.
But materially, the conditions in the town were very bad. I remember on Friday
before it got dark, Ruchela Bines used to send me out with another girl to get
pieces of bread and challah which they would then divide up among the poor and
I knew the whole town, which numbered 3,200 Jews. I knew where everybody lived.
We were all very intimate and comfortable with each other and liked each other.
There wasn't electricity. On winter nights the streets were covered with snow.
The young people would go out in the streets and have snowball fights. In the
early years, when we wanted to see a movie picture, we had to go into the
fortress which was pretty far away.
On Sabbath after eating, I and my pals like Pesah Buckshpan and Faiga Wochman,
used to walk over to the fortress to see a film. There were films which they
wouldn't let us in to because we were too young. In order to seem older and
taller we stood on our tiptoes and that helped. Afterwards they built in
Demblin a platform in the middle of the street where people performed little
plays on their own and they also showed movies there. Several drama circles
were founded which often performed on this stage. They became famous for their
plays. These were some of the people who made a reputation for their ability to
act, Chana Goldberg, Ruchtsia Beigelman, Rafel Beigelman, Malka Beitshman,
Chana-Gitel Wasserman and Andzja. The Vilna troop also used to come sometimes
and perform plays there.
Afterwards, electric lights were installed but only in the streets. In the
houses people still used kerosene lamps.
On the Sabbath, people used to walk out to the big Demblin forest, with tall
pine trees. Young and old used to meet each other there in order to breath in
the fresh air, sing, or listen to a lecture. Nobody interfered with us. People
would lie down on a blanket. A lot of people didn't bother to do that. They'd
take a little pillow with them and make themselves comfortable reading a book.
After that we'd walk a little bit further to the orchards with all kinds of
fruits where you could buy fresh fruit just picked. When the night began to
fall, the roads, which led to Demblin, were black with people walking back.
The Burial Society
I remember the role that the Burial Society played in our town. The people who
directed this organization were well to do, people of wealth and substance.
When somebody died they would quickly have a get together until midnight and
calculate how much money had to be charged the family of the person who had
died. The sums of money for this purpose were extremely great. But if the
family didn't want to pay that much, they let the dead body lie around for
three days. After that, somebody or other would put in the required money. The
corpse was put on a wagon with a little horse and the family and friends were
allowed to go as far as the crooked tree. That's exactly half way on the road
to the cemetery. Only the closest men to the dead person were allowed to
accompany the person the second half of the way with another wagon to
Bobrownik, to the cemetery.
Once a year, the Burial Society balanced their books and figured out what they
had left and then had a big feast for the members. The women worked in the
kitchen over fish and meat the whole day. They baked all kinds of goodies.
Often the feast was held at Abelah Brownshpigel's house. He lived two doors
from us. I was very young then. I use to like to go over ad see this big ball.
They didn't let any outsiders in. They really didn't want anyone to see what
was going on in there. People ate and in a very elegant way, drank booze.
Afterwards, people would, in an inebriated state, dance until the white of day.
This was, of course, with the money which they collected from the town during
the course of the year. They were very powerful and everybody was afraid of
getting involved with them because, what would happen to them at the
[See PHOTO-A3 at he end of Section A]
The majority of the Jews from Demblin spent their Sabbaths and the long winter
nights in the synagogue. The yeshiva men who were studying sat around all day.
As one walked by, one could hear sweet melodies through the windows. By the
oven, poor people sat with their hands and their backs to the oven and they
listened to the holy word of the young men who were yeshiva students. They
themselves weren't able to study because even as children they'd had to work in
order to help their parents make a living. During a pause in their studying, a
little bit of commotion erupted. People got quite heated and there would be
gossip spread around and talk about people who had converted.
Once, a rich man from our town came to the Rabbi of Demblin, and asked him to
choose from among the yeshiva students, a groom for his daughter. He wanted to
take this son-in-law as a groom. The Rabbi chose the oldest yeshiva student,
who was not quite 18 years old yet, and said, Here he is. And
that's the way it was.
Poor people used to come to town who would travel from one place to another,
begging alms. Once a year they would travel home to their families and give
them the little bit of money that hey were able to get along the way. After
that they picked up their pack and hit the road again. When guests like these
hadn't left the town before the Sabbath, they remained and they waited at the
door of the synagogue for a householder to take them home to their meal on
They slept in the synagogue. Very often there was conflict among them about who
got to sleep close to the oven, because that's where it was warmer. They put a
little sack with a couple of rags under their head, stretched out on the hard
bench, and went to sleep, snoring away.
My father prayed in a little Zionist synagogue. There these wandering people
did not show up. When he passed the main synagogue and saw these wanderers who
nobody had come to take home with them, my father invited them to our house, or
he led them to somebody else's house so they could eat on the Sabbath.
The poor people knew that in Demblin, nobody was allowed to go hungry on the
Sabbath. And they came from other towns to us on the Sabbath. They were often
treated by the same families. They told about the news of the region and what
was happening in the wide world.
Purim in the Town
The streets and the homes were joyful and lively. Workers and yeshiva students
used to disguise themselves and in their disguises gather money for different
kinds of charitable projects. Some of them were poor people who had been people
of wealth once upon a time and who themselves were ashamed to ask for a hand
out. During Purim people raised a little bit of money for them so that they
could have a descent Purim. The people who were disguised in costumes were
impossible to identify. They danced, they sang, they put on Purim plays and
they went about collecting what money they could.
At our house, the whole family sat at the table. A plate with money sat on the
table. People went in and out and everybody divided it up. Everybody was happy
and content. It was a very joyful time.
The Purim players went the breadth and length of the town. It was a really
beautiful and happy holiday. People talked about Purim gifts. In this way
children would make a living. We'd carry good things to friends and relatives
in dishes, little candies, underneath a very clean, white cloth. For their
trouble the children were given little pieces of fruit cake or a coin. The
children's wish was that Purim would never end.
Late at night, the whole family sat down at the table to eat a feast, raisin
challah, stuffed bread, hamantashen, honey cakes, everything so sweet. We ate
and we drank and we got drunk.
We lived in the center of town. We had a food store. Our door was always open
for anybody to come in and out. All of the wagon drivers and the porters stood
by our door. They were there in the winter and they liked it there because they
could keep warm. Whenever anybody needed a wagon driver and a wagon, they knew
already that they had to come to our place to find them. My father was like a
father not only to his own children, but to all the Jewish people. Many of the
porters had families in America and they didn't know how to write. They used to
come to me so that I would write Yiddish letters for them. They didn't know
what to write. I had to know and find out and understand what they wanted to
say in their letters.
The neighboring house came right up on our courtyard. This was a two story
house. People said that ghosts ran around in the house at night in the attic on
the stairs. We heard sounds on the stairs that sounded like goats. Once a man
was seen, wrapped in a sheet, as he left the house.
During the day I often use to go into that house, but when it would start to
get dark, I was afraid to go home and would ask anybody to go with me. Even
when I got older and started to go to the Union meetings which took place in
the neighboring courtyard of Simchela, the black one, and I came home late at
night, I was still frightened and would always ask for somebody to accompany me
to the door, not turning my head around to that house. I'd reach my house and
go inside out of breath. I personally never saw or heard the person who was
running up and down the stairs during the night. But people said that they did
see ghosts. The people talked about that quite a bit and people really believed
The story behind all this apparently was that once upon a time there lived a
fairly wealthy woman there. She rented out several houses and she had a food
store. A widow with several children came to her and asked her for alms, but
she didn't want to give her anything. Once a poor man came into her store and
asked for alms. When she didn't want to give him anything, he cursed her and
said she should only trade in ghosts. People even said that at night little
candles were seen burning in the store.
The Teacher and the Angel of Death
There was an old teacher in our town. He had a dog in his house, which at that
time wasn't something that Jews did. His children spoke only Polish. You never
saw him in the synagogue. He even ate pig meat. Of course people looked at him
askance and didn't want to talk to him. People avoided him all together. He
gave Polish lessons in his house.
Once, when he became sick and wrestled with death for three days, as the story
goes, the angel of death came in to have a little chat with him, Angel of
death, what do you want from me? There's nothing for you here. Leave me alone.
I'm not going to go and pray, I'm not rich, so what do you want from me? I have
an idea, go to Mendeleh, he is a fine man, he's pious and he has a lot of
money. In him you have everything that you want. So go, and take his soul.
Once upon a time the teacher had a feud with Mendeleh but the teacher did not
succeed. The same day he died.
They called us little boys
Every Friday evening and Sabbath, my father use to take me and my sister, who
is now in America, to the Zionist synagogue. We were still very small. Zalman
Feltcher [the folk doctor] also prayed there. We always used to walk home
together from the synagogue with him. On the way there were a lot of potholes
and ones where we'd have to hop over, especially little kids. Feltcher would
grab me by the arm and pick me up in order to get me over the ditch. On this
particular occasion he really hurt my arm, he sprained it. I screamed and cried
from the pain. Oh, don't cry, I'm a doctor. I'll set your arm right
again. You don't have to pay me any money.
On the Sabbath after a nap, my father taught Chumish and Hebrew to me and my
sister. When we came to the passage where Joseph's brothers throw him into a
hole, we would always cry. In the town, only boys studied Chumish. We were
embarrassed and we didn't want anybody to hear we were studying it because they
would call us boys.
All of the children went to Zaydelah [grandfather] who ran a heder [religious
school]. I never got smacked with the whip once. When we began to cry the Rabbi
threw down a little candy from above and said that the good angel threw that
down. We also had to help the Rabbi's wife with different chores.
Near us lived a military tailor. All the officers from the fortress got heir
clothes sewed by him. He had two daughters and one son. It was very warm there
during the winter. I used to go over there and play around with the children.
Once an officer came to order a uniform. All of the clients used to kid around
with us children and he was talking to us also. Before going away he gave us
money. He gave me a 10 cent coin and the tailor's daughter a 6 cent coin. When
the officer left, the tailor said to me, Show me how much the officer
gave you. And I gave him the coin. He also took the 6 cent coin from his
own child and afterward gave me back the 6 cent coin and his daughter the 10
cent coin. I didn't say anything because thanks to him I was able to get the
couple pennies I got anyway.
Who in town didn't have a nickname? Sometimes they were comical, sometimes they
were malicious. The nicknames remained from generation to generation, they were
passed down from grandfather to grandson. When we were called by a family name,
we didn't even know what was going on, because we were so used to our
nicknames. I myself, when I went into somebody's house and somebody asked me,
who's are you, I just said my nickname, because the family name, I didn't even
know. That's the way we were use to doing things. Everybody had a nickname.
There were people called Sourcream, the Botschen, the Purim-salesman, the
Flame, the Sniffer, Kliske, Shener the Wind (he got that because there was a
fire and he cane and said, it's goodthatthere's no wind). The
Petticoat (they called this person that because in the middle of the night
there was a fire, and in his great hurry to get away he grabbed a woman's
petticoat and ran through the streets that way).
And others: Rotzer, Dejzwein, Bandit, the Shtomt, and Motesh, Flock, Smack,
Little Grandfather, Little Head, Teapot, Frozen, Little Daddy and others. Most
of the time, people weren't ashamed of these names.
If anyone is offended or insulted by my recording these nicknames, please
We make Aliyah to Israel
In 1925 my father seriously began to prepare to travel to Israel. We sold
All of the porters and wagon drivers were standing around our house. They felt
really sorry to see us go. They used to have a warm corner where they could go,
especially in the winter, in the store which we ran. Every one of them loved my
father because he always had a good word for everybody. He would lend money to
people, especially the people who were really in need. He really helped anybody
who stretched out their hand in need.
In the same way after Passover we traveled finally to Israel. The whole town
came to our house to say good-bye, all of my acquaintances and friends from
Demblin and from Gniveshov to say good-bye to us and to accompany us to the
train. With a lot of feeling I said good-bye to them and promised never to
In Israel our house was open to all the people who arrived from Demblin and
made it to Israel. My father was always interested in them and their pilgrimage
as if they were his own children. I received many letters from my friends in
Demblin. Each Sabbath, Landsmen, people from the old home, used to come by and
eat with us and we'd swap news about what was going on in the old hometown. It
was always possible to meet somebody or other who had just arrived at our house
and from whom we always would receive greetings from the people who were close
to us back home.
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