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[Pages 475-476]

My Town Long Ago

By Yitzhak Ellen, New York

Translated from Yiddish to English by Sherry Warman

When I close my eyes, I see before me Goniondz with her old-new market. I see the constant mud of Dead Man's Alley, that never dried itself out and the deep mud in the other streets after every rain. I remember the Zdroi and the Dolke (streams-ed.), where we used to go to refresh ourselves with cold water every Sabbath afternoon, and the fear that the gentiles would beat us.

I remember, also, the great historical argument that continued in the city for many years. When “Amcha” (“one of ours”-ed.) or as we called him, Buzi, wanted only Mr. Shmuel Kantor (who now lives in New York) as cantor-ritual slaughterer and the synagogue elders, with Zelig-Isaac at their head, didn't want him. I remember also how that argument led to the formation of a gang, in Goniondz, led by Yehuda Katz and his brother Shimon, of whom it was said, “He is so strong, that he has metal bands for muscles.” I also remember that the same gang held the gentiles around the adjacent towns in fear, and when, on a Sunday, a tall, healthy gentile from the village Guzi, pushed him around, little Aaron Puzman knocked him down with one blow. And I saw the same Puzman years later here in New York, where he had been punched about the eyes by an American bum and had not even had the chance to return one blow.

I remember, also, the old priest who, on Sabbath afternoon, would gather Jewish boys near the gate of his orchard and would learn Ethics of the Fathers with them. Later, they said he was one of the true righteous gentiles. It reminds me of a fire on a Sabbath that burned a lot of gentile shacks around the town, and Jewish houses escaped, and even the windmill that stood exactly in the way of the fire wasn't singed. Being mere children then, we believed the fire listened to the Jews.

I recall many, many things that awaken in me a memory of the town where I rarely had enough bread to eat, but where I dreamed my unfulfilled childhood dreams. I remember the synagogue hill, and the other hill (with its charming name), where we would dig yellow sand to spread on the wooden floors in honor of the Sabbath, and the Bober River, and the lawns and fields, and the soldiers who would muster in the market and the slaps they used to get from the under-officer or from Diodka - all these things implanted in that generation a feeling of nature's beauty, a love of Torah and culture, a hatred of tyranny and despotism, and a pioneering spirit that tore us out of that corner and brought us to a new free land where we became a part of its life and raised our children.

Yes, our children probably didn't hear too much about Goniondz, but for us, whose cradles were in that town, it remains, the town, with its synagogue-hill, river, fields and woods, a part of our dearest memories.


[Pages 485-492 - Yiddish] [Pages 477-484 - Hebrew]

The Great Fire in Goniondz
and the Pogrom in Bialystok

By Avraham Yaffe, Tel-Aviv, Israel

Translated from Hebrew to Yiddish by M. Goelman

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

Our shtetl Goniondz, like all other shtetl in Russia, suffered from a special summer plague: Fires! Every fire placed the entire town in danger since the houses were mostly made of wood, although a few dwellings in the marketplace were brick homes with shingled roofs. The majority of dwellings had roofs either of shingle or of straw, a light material which burned easily.

In those days articles would frequently appear in the press from correspondents from smaller towns with the title “The Red Rooster Is Back Again!” Towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, a fire battalion was organized in Goniondz founded by a Jew named Bulbe, who was a spice shop owner, and later an industrialist. He lived in the second house from Dovid Shilevsky.

A wooden building stood in the center of the new marketplace, in which the fire equipment was quartered. The equipment consisted of a large barrel with wheels on both sides. The barrel had one pole on each side, with which to pump the water through a rubber hose, which would be attached. When a fire broke out somewhere, the leader of the fireman group would immediately appear with his horse, open the building's doors, connect up the horse to the fire machine - which unfortunately was not always filled with water. Young men would run along its side as he moved out in the direction of the conflagration. The runners would accompany him with noise and shouts which brought to mind a quote from the prophet Nochum, “A snapping of the whip, noise of the wheels, galloping horses, and lunging chariots.”

Arriving at the place, they would attach the rubber hose to the barrel. Then they would place the wooden poles in position on both sides of the barrel. One group of boys and young men would push down on the pole from one side, while another group would pull up on it from the other side. In this manner they would pump the water out through the pipe and the water would then be poured out over the fire. Unfortunately, they were not always successful. At times the barrel was empty, and on such occasions there might be a considerable delay until such time as it was filled; sometimes the hose was not operating properly and it would require time for repair. Meanwhile the fire would be blazing with full power.

There were times when, in the middle of the night, one would hear the outcry “Fire!” The residents of town would run out into the streets half dressed. Seeing the red skies, they would immediately run to the place of the fire. One would bring a bucket, another an iron pole. For the most part, they would stand helplessly in front of the flames which, by this time, usually would have reached up to the roof of the house. The roof would fall with a crash; the walls would break and crumble. The tongues of smoke and sparks of fire would be carried by the wind to all of the houses in the shtetl. People would then run home as quickly as they could to save whatever was possible.

Goniondz was fortunate in that the Osoviec Fort was only seven kilometers from town. As soon as the commander became aware of the fire, the military fire battalion would come into town. With their modern equipment and special uniforms, which included bronze hats, they would extinguish the fire with rapid and expert hands (“The hands are the hands of Esau”), and the domestic fire battalion would assist them with supportive shouts (“The voice is the voice of Jacob”). So Goniondz was very fortunate in that this work was effectively done by means of others.

In the first years of this century, when the Zionist ideal and the associated self awareness became powerful among our youth, the young men formed a modern voluntary fireman's group, well organized and trained, and equipped with sophisticated equipment. From that point forward, when a fire would break out in the shtetl, the sound of the bell and the trumpet was heard and we felt as if there was someone there to rely upon.

Of all the fires in my times, I particularly remember two. The first one took place at the lumberyard which was attached to Chatzkel Bialitotsky's steam mill, and it destroyed all of the nearby houses and structures. Even more vividly etched in my memory is the blaze which destroyed a large portion of town - the fire which took place on Sabbath evening Hol Hamoed of Pesach in the year 1906.

That fire broke out in the afternoon hours. The town-square was full of businessmen and of buyers and sellers. Suddenly, an anguished cry was heard, “Fire! Fire!” Everyone ran out from the shops. From behind Dead Man's Alley, in the direction of the windmill, a cloud of black smoke was seen rising to the heavens. The wind carried the sparks to the center of town. Smoke arose from the barns and the great silos which were in the rear of Zorach Miltzchan's great brick house, and from the houses which stood in the corner of the square - Dead Man's Alley, Berel-Leib Nochum the smith's house, and Yitzhok Yoske's the leather merchant's house. At first they tried to extinguish the fire but when it began to spread in various directions, the town folk were helpless and despairing. We ran home to save whatever we could, that is, whatever was possible to take from the houses, silos, and shops.

The fire raged for four hours and moved from place to place and from house to house. Everything was in flames from the corner of Dead Man's Alley to Church Street and from the old marketplace alley to the Vigotsky's house. The military fire battalion arrived from the fort, and first of all attempted to save the church, under orders from their commander, and they succeeded. Returning to the marketplace, they met Zorach-Chaya Yossel's and his neighbor Litman. Zorach and Litman gave the military commander a substantial donation and asked him to save their homes. And indeed, their homes were rescued. But the homes which were further out, from Moishe Kramkovkers' house to the alley leading to the old marketplace, and the Vigotsky's house were caught up in the fire. Yankel Rudsky went to the commandant and notified him that there were inflammatory materials in Vigotsky's cellar (Vigotsky was a military supplier to the fortress), which endangered the entire town and human lives. Hearing this, the commandant immediately centered all of his men's activities at Vigotsky's house. The house itself could not be saved, but the cellar, and all that was within it, remained intact.

When the fire had diminished somewhat, the homeowners whose houses had not burned, began to return home and bring back the possessions which they had earlier removed. It was just a few hours before sundown and only two hours remained before the lighting of the Sabbath candles. The situation of the fire victims was terrible. For example, Moishe Kramkovker, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the shtetl (and owner of a great house in the town-square with smaller houses in the rear) went to the marketplace crying over his new-found poverty. He went to sleep in a stable of a Christian in a corner of town.

Friday night arrived. The Sabbath candles were twinkling from the windows of the homes which remained intact. On the far side of the marketplace, the fire was smoldering, emerging from under the ruins. In the morning, the fire was still rising from the piles of ashes, which remained from the burned out homes. All of the homeowners gathered in the square to think about the destruction and the situation in which they now found themselves. At that time, the commander of the construction battalion from the fort arrived and offered to have his troops build barracks for the fire victims in the town-square. They rejected his proposal, stating that they would make housing arrangements for the unfortunate on their own. They had a suspected that the town council might later use the barracks to establish Christian shops, which would be competition for those of the Jews.

Later in the afternoon, the fire battalion returned again to totally extinguish the remains of the fire, which were still burning under the ruins. They remained quite a few hours, pouring out water until the embers were completely stilled. The fire was so great and destructive that the high commander of the fort came to town, himself, to secure a report from the fire battalion commander regarding the extent to which the blaze had been localized and extinguished.

A few months later the fire victims began to get themselves together and to seek to rebuild their destroyed homes. The first were those who owned fire insurance. Also, those who had saved a little money were able to begin a little reconstruction with the assistance of loans. Construction activity began in all corners of town. Learning from their bitter lesson, they built brick homes only and no longer wooden structures. To accomplish this, they brought down laborers and bricklayers from Bialystok.

(note from editor: this last section appears to be the second part of “Yehuda the capmaker”, from the article “Goniondz Natives in Israel” and was placed here for continuity by the translator.)

After the great fire, the Goniondz police chief did not permit residents to rebuild their homes without first submitting an official construction plan. One day, Yehuda the capmaker went to Grodno in the hope of resolving this problem. He was able to arrange a personal meeting with the provincial governor. During the course of a brief conversation, the governor granted his request (to eliminate the need for official plans - ed.). Even before Yehuda had arrived back in Goniondz, the police chief received a telegram from Grodno stating that all the townsfolk were given blanket permission to rebuild their houses. Pinchas Kaminetzky, the son of Reb Gedaliah, also helped the victims of this catastrophe. He was able to secure a ten-year loan at modest interest rates for the impoverished town-folk so that they could rebuild their houses and have a roof over their heads.

[Pages 491-493]

[continuation]

Translated from Yiddish to English by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

June 1906, in the middle of a clear day, in the very fervor of the building work, the shtetl[1] became terrified by the news that a pogrom had broken out in Bialystok with the participation of katsapes[2], who were brought from distant Russia for various government work near the Bialystok train lines. The Bialystok brick-layers and artisans immediately interrupted their work and ran to the train station, went to Bialystok to protect their own (Jewish self defense groups were organized in various cities of the Pale of Settlement after the Kishinev pogrom). They did not know, poor things, that the pogrom was mixed in with the Russian military regime and as soon as the Jewish workers went out into the streets in defense (in Bialystok there were large textile factories in which thousands of Jewish workers were employed, organized in unions: Bund[3] and Poalei-Zion[4], the troops would come to help the hooligans and open fire on the Jewish self defense group.

When they arrived in the Bialystok train station they were attacked by hooligans who killed and wounded many before the eyes of the soldiers who stood there, ostensibly to protect those attacked. But two of them were saved by various circumstances. One, who had an award from the Russo-Japanese War, put on his medal before leaving the wagon[5]. The army commandant noticed him and immediately ordered the soldiers to protect the “Georgievsky[6] Cavalier.” The soldiers removed him from the hands of the hooligans and saved him.

The second, a middle aged Jew with a long grey beard, traveled in a wagon with a podpolkovnik (lieutenant colonel) from the polk (regiment) that camped in Monki and entered the wagon at this station. The lieutenant colonel, seeing what was happening in the train station, placed the Jew in a wagon, locked it and ordered two soldiers to guard the wagon until the train departed. Thus he was saved.

When the news reached the shtetl, a fear fell on everyone, particularly the families whose own had left this morning on the train to Bialystok or who had traveled there earlier. Many telegrams were sent and replies received. The telegram carrier of the shtetl, a non-Jew, had a cheerful day. He was paid very well for bringing a telegram. My mother, may she rest in peace, who had that day traveled to my sister in Warsaw, successfully passed through the Bialystok train station an hour before the pogrom began.

Several weeks later, when the construction work in the shtetl had resumed, a horse cab once stopped in the market and that lieutenant colonel and his wife got out of it and inquired about the worker whom he had saved. The worker fell to their feet and thanked them with tears in his eyes. The lieutenant colonel and his wife were also moved and had eyes filled with tears.

*

For a long time, the fear from the Bialystok pogrom reigned over all of the shtetlekh in the area. At that time a Christian religious precession was supposed to pass through our shtetl in which many gentiles from the surrounding area would take part. Such a march could end in a pogrom. They turned to the regime and a military division was sent that day which met the procession outside the city. The shtetl Jews took comfort: now after the large fire that had wiped out Jewish property, it did not pay the pogromshtshikes[7] to carry out a pogrom here!... As Sholem Alecheim's Motl Peyse the Khazan's[8] says: “Lucky me, I am an orphan”…

A short time after the pogrom the commander of the Bialystok military was shot by a Bundist and the police chief was seriously wounded in the lower part of his body and had to walk with crutches.

Yona'khe's son, Moshe Khatskl, who lived across from the synagogue, was denounced as belonging to the group, Kramolnikes[9]. A search was made of his home and a small Bund library was found there. He was lucky; he was sentenced to only a few months in jail in Bialystok.

When he was freed, he told me with joy how he had seen in court the police chief, who was called as a witness there in a trial of revolutionaries, how he stood resting on his crutches. The police chief, who was the terror of the Bialystoker revolutionary party, now looked so wretched and pitiful that Moshe had forgotten his troubles and rejoiced at the defeat of this “hero.”

In the bitter end of the two tyrants, the organizers of the Bialystoker pogrom, the Jewish workers found consolation after the casualties and encouragement to continue to struggle against the Czar and his devoted servants.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. town Return
  2. derogatory name for Russians Return
  3. secular, Jewish socialists Return
  4. Workers of Zion, Marxist Zionists Return
  5. train car Return
  6. Georgievsky refers to the Cross of St. George, a medal awarded by the Czar for bravery in battle Return
  7. those carrying out a pogrom Return
  8. cantor's son Return
  9. revolutionaries Return


[Pages 493-500]

Goniondz's Firemen

By Moshe Bachrach

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

Every Jewish town in Europe experienced fires to some extent. Our shtetl Goniondz, however, was known for its great conflagrations. We were much admired by neighboring towns such as Trestine, Yashinovke and Sochovole. Their jealousy arose from the fact that Goniondz became more modern and more beautiful after every fire. Impressive brick homes took the place of wooden dwellings, and shops with showcases appeared. Due to this reconstruction, Goniondz took on a distinctly urban appearance near to the time of the First World War.

A few of the surrounding communities had their own fire battalions. Goniondz had two of them, one civilian and the other military. The military fire battalion was stationed in the Osoviec fort, several viorsts from the shtetl. They put out fires in Goniondz as well. It was an alliance. Goniondz provided the fires, and the Tsarist government provided the fire battalion.

You might ask, why two fire battalions? There is an explanation. The domestic firemen provided the town with entertainment in the interim periods between fires. The military battalion brought drama and color on the occasion of an actual blaze. The potency of the domestic firemen was centered in their shiny bronze hats. Their helmets with sharp edges in front conveyed the impression of fantastic heroes. The soldier-firemen were pure heroism, from head to foot. The domestic firemen drills consisted primarily of various acrobatics. They quickly climbed up a ladder and immediately climbed back down. They would pull themselves up with a rope, and slowly let themselves down again. Also they climbed the underside of a ladder which stood against the wall, and practiced other similar arts. To this day, I am not entirely clear as to how these fascinating activities could help extinguish a blaze.

The equipment of the domestic fire battalion consisted of several red colored barrels, each attached to an axle with two wheels; a small pump placed on low wheels, together with a hose; also, a long wagon on which was placed ladders spades, and axes. The domestic firemen were responsible for transporting the water barrels and the pump to the scene of the fire, like an arrow shot from a bow. A pair of horses were needed to move the long wagon. However usually there were no horses near to hand when needed. Half the boys in town would push the wagon to the location of the fire, while a few firemen would sit on top. On route, some water usually spilled out of the barrels. When they got there, the rusted pump pushed out the water through the dried up hose.

The military fire battalion from Osoviec, by contrast, was the real thing. They, too, had bronze hats, but under the hats were soldiers. They were heroic Russians who worked under military discipline under the direction of the fire commander, who wore a two-tiered bronze hat. Their equipment was the most modern available, and their horses were really horses.

The domestic fire crew brought entertainment to town with their brass band, which was active until a few years just prior to World War I. The bandleader from the Fort would come to town just to train them, and after the rehearsal he'd get drunk. One of the most popular numbers in the brass band repertoire was a military march, during which the public, at a certain moment, would join in with, “One! Two! Three!” in unison with the drum which was given three raps. The most colorful figure in the domestic fire battalion was “Mr. Commander”, Tevye the chimney sweeper. Every performance was a spectacle. Tevye was decked out in a uniform with bronze buttons and epaulets. His chest was decorated with many medals. The medals were given to him by Mayer the watch repairman, and added to the distinction of his overall appearance. When he marched in at the beginning of a concert, his chest would protrude so all could have a view of the medals. When someone in town asked him if he had earned the medals serving in the “prisoner battalion” of the Russian Army he answered, “Certainly, the Tsarina sent them to me!”

Once, Natschalstva gave a big party in Tiebe's orchard, which later became the property of Motke Kliap. They had a buffet with ice cream. They also had a high pole, bets to win a prize, and paper tickets to sell. The military orchestra was brought in from Osoviec especially for the occasion, and they played the most beautiful melodies Goniondz had ever heard. The pole climb, however, was a big swindle. The pole was high and very smooth. To make it even more slick, the party organizers coated it with soap so that climbing it with bare hands would be very difficult. What did that roughneck Pesache-Schmuel Leizer do? Before the betting actually started, he quickly pulled himself up to the top of the pole. When the organizers found out that he had already done this, they canceled the entire event.

Fires were always, of course, a surprise. Because of the speed the domestic firemen displayed in their practice drills, we school boys were convinced that they were ready to move very fast when needed and that they were only waiting for the signal to move into action. This was the sequence of events when a fire broke out in Goniondz. When a blaze broke out somewhere, everyone would shout, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” After, when we arrived to where it was burning, men would run to the fire while the women packed bedding, books and other moveable property. Those who were close to the fire would carry the full packs to the center of the marketplace. For the children it was fun. Every family had its own pile of possessions in the street. The kids would sit on the bundles and between the bundles. Before too long, we would be playing hide and seek among the bundles. The bedding was just the beginning. Soon afterwards, they would be carrying everything out of the house, tables, beds, noodle boards, kneading troughs, and the utensils for Passover - if there was enough time. Everyone helped each other in taking merchandise out of the shops.

We had a hardware shop. Our merchandise was the most difficult to save, not only because the hardware is heavy in weight, but also because metal bends and breaks. We were always dead broke after a fire, even when the fire passed us by, if only from the damage we used to suffer from the “rescuing”. When the confusion is so great, how are you going to teach friends and relatives to tell the difference between an article which you can throw and another one, which has to be handled as delicately as an esrog ? One time, my uncle Schloime, the son of Moishe-Shimon, ran from his burning apartment carrying a pot of beets. He ran with it onto the synagogue hill. He didn't save anything except the pot with beets.

Where is the local fire battalion when a real fire breaks out? They also were rescuers. Their skills were acquired entirely through practice sessions. They hadn't learned from actual fires, and the equipment of the local fire brigade were really no more than toys. The local fire brigade would also shout “Fire”, and carried out bundles from houses which the fire had not yet reached. Someone sends a telegram to the Fort, sending for the military firemen to come and extinguish the blaze. But why do they delay so long? Half the shtetl is already in flames!

Quiet! Can't you hear the clattering of their wagon wheels on the cobblestones of the road from Guzi, leading into town? And don't you hear from nearby the clanging of the bell on their wagons? They're here! They gallop in! And right to the fire! No one needs to tell them where the flames are. The horses are like wizards! And they bring with them wondrous equipment: iron barrels with water, a giant pump with endless coils of hose, and tools with which one could demolish a house to the count of one and then two. The soldiers themselves are remarkable, all giants, warriors, and fast as deer.

The military fire commander takes over and puts all the manpower of town under his orders, even school-boys, and the domestic fire brigade as well. One works the pump while another runs on foot with a barrel to the well in the priest's courtyard. Some help the soldiers demolish burning houses. The bundles of the fire victims are meanwhile transported by powerful horses galloping back and forth, to the ringing of the bell. We small children used to jump back on one side when someone pulled on the pump from the other side. That was a lot of fun for us. This would last a whole day until we all were tired, and the fire too.

When the firemen were all finished with a blaze in Goniondz, half the shtetl was burned down and the other half had provided help for those affected by the catastrophe. Then the military fire commander would arrange to have his battalion's own fire extinguished with vodka; and their hunger too, with delicious Jewish dishes. After that they would receive a hundred rubles for their efforts. Then they would slowly head back to the fort. Before returning, their custom was to give the shtetl a salute by making a circuit around the marketplace, slowly and with a sense of majesty. Then, their bells would ring very slowly.


[Pages 501-502]

A Wedding in the Shtetl

By Avraham Yaffe, Tel Aviv, Israel

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

A wedding was one of those joyous happenings which caused a great stirring in the shtetl and brought everyone to his feet, young and old, little and big. It would be announced in town by the sounds of the klezmers' (musicians') instruments. At these special festive occasions, the group of musicians from Trestine, the neighboring village, were brought in. One heard the drummer with his clanging brass cymbals, and the fiddler at the front of the group. At the wedding of a wealthy family, the klezmers from Stuchin were brought in. They were better caliber musicians, and had finer instruments.

The wedding hall was usually located in Chaya Yossel's' brick house located in the corner of the main market place, in Kliap's house, or in the first brick house on the corner of Church Street, which belonged to Moishe Gershon, the shoe repairman. The bridal chair was white velvet and there was always the master of ceremonies (badchun) with his jokes, rhymes, and song. He also had plenty of predictions to offer about the life which lay ahead for the new married couple. The melodies and lyrics of the badchun used to bring forth tears from the assembled guests, especially when the bride happened to be an orphan. On such occasions, the tears could become quite apparent and the singer's voice might become transformed from a wedding tune to a tune of the eve of the Yom Kippur . Such a bride could even fall into a melancholy mood from which her girlfriends and relatives would revive her. The bride and her coterie would dance - polkas, mazurkas, waltzes, and various others. At the same time, a welcoming would be arranged for the bridegroom, by the men, at another home distant from the wedding hall. Then, the bridegroom would be led to the bride, wearing a white robe and his new wedding clothes while the musicians played a march or a happy song. When the bridegroom arrived in the wedding hall, everyone would shout, “Make way, here comes the bridegroom!” He would be covered totally with confetti, thrown at him in fistfuls, like a many colored snow. In this way, the assembled crowd would make the bridegroom feel like royalty.

The waiting badchun would greet him with a song about how he should appreciate the great joy of the occasion since life is fleeting and one's time on earth passes rapidly. As it is written in Psalms, “Man is like the grass that fades, like the smoke that vanishes.” He therefore needs to be an observant and honorable man, leading a life of worthy actions. The musical accompaniment during this song would create somewhat of a sad mood among the assembled group temporarily, and then the bride and bridegroom would be led forward to the bridal canopy. They were surrounded by lit candles to symbolize that the couple should have glowing good fortune in the years that lie before them. Then the musicians would strike up a march and the whole wedding procession would move forward along the road which led to the great synagogue. In snowy winter weather, the wedding canopy would be set up near the House of Study (Beys Hamedresh), and friends of the couple, very often, would throw snowballs at them. Led by the in-laws, from both sides, the whole shtetl would accompany the bride and bridegroom to the wedding place with an atmosphere as if the entire shtetl were their friends. The main “in-laws” were children of many ages, who moved forward in front of the band of musicians, very excitedly, keeping pace with the rhythm of the music. There's a wedding in shtetl, joy and gladness to the Jewish world.


[Pages 503-506]

Reb Gershon Boruch and the Senate Decision

By Khatzkl Peretz Tsherniak

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

Reb Gershon Boruch lived in poverty and misery with his sister Faygel and son in law Yankel Tschudak, who was a wedding cake baker. He himself, though, never partook of these cakes.

They lived on the old town square, next door to Moishe Mendel the tailor on one side and old Yankel Laibkes the wagonner on the other side. Reb Gershon Boruch was a scholar. He was quite competent in the Russian language. He had memorized the entire Russian law code as a result of solitary study. Mr. Gershon Boruch had a tremor in both hands and could not write. He dictated his petitions to a scribe, one of the young men with excellent handwriting who came to his home for this purpose.

He would buy the Senate Journal with the few pennies he earned. This was a periodical which he received on a monthly basis. In each journal issue, there was a section that reported unresolved legal cases in which the Senate had not been able to arrive at a final judgment. This section contained the opinions of legal experts from throughout the breadth of the Russian Empire. The submitted opinion which eventually was viewed as the best resolution of the problem would then become the Senate judgment. Mr. Gershon Boruch took part in these controversies and forwarded his opinions to the Senate.

About sixty years ago, on a summer day, the town was astonished when the Provincial Attorney General from Bialystok arrived in Goniondz. It was an extraordinary occasion, and everyone speculated about the reason for his visit to town. People began to clean their courtyards, the shop merchandise and the streets out of concern that something might be criticized. The police and the constable ran around like poisoned mice. Everyone began to examine his deeds. There was plenty to examine. In the afternoon, a carriage arrived led by two horses, approaching from the direction of the village Guzi. The Attorney General and his secretary were seated in the carriage. Another carriage followed them carrying the mayor and the police chief. A crowd of children and very curious people accompanied them as they approached.

Arriving in the old town square, the Attorney General turned towards the mayor and asked, “Where does Gershon Boruch live?” The crowd led them to Tschudaks' house. The Attorney General opened the door and asked, “Where is Gershon Boruch Kravitz?” Faygele was frightened and stammered, “Gershon Boruch? He's in the House Of Study. Where else should he be, if not there?” The secretary conveyed this response to the Attorney General. He had the carriage turned around and proceeded with his train through the town to Deadman's Alley. When they arrived at the House Of Study, the Attorney General entered alone and called out “Reb Gershon Kravitz, please!” The frightened Gershon Boruch, accompanied by the curious, went out from the House Of Study, not understanding what was wanted of him.

The Attorney General gave him a wink as if to say that Gershon Boruch should approach closer. He had expected to find a distinguished person. Gershon Boruch, however, was a short little Jew with a small beard. The Attorney General asked, “Who is Gershon Boruch Kravitz?” The mayor gave Gershon Boruch a wink that he should approach nearer. At the same time he pointed at Gershon Boruch and said to the Attorney Gener, “This is him!”

The Attorney General smiled. He turned to Gershon Boruch and asked, “You are Gershon Boruch?” He answered, “It's me, Your Excellency.” The Attorney General turned to his secretary standing at his side and directed this man to hand over his attache case. He removed a document from his attache case and turned again to Mr. Gershon Boruch, who all the while stood there in fear. He asked, “Did you forward a legal opinion to the Senate Journal?” “Yes, I did.” answered the frightened Gershon Boruch. “I have been given a document from the Senate conveying their appreciation for your opinion in the Senate Journal. Your opinion was considered the best solution for the problem and will be the final judgment in that case. In addition to the letter of appreciation, I have also been told to ask in their behalf if there is anything you wish from them. It is also their wish that you continue to send your opinions on unsolved matters published in the journal.”

Gershon Boruch did not delay long in answering. He said that, since he is a poor man, he would appreciate it if they would send him the monthly Senate Journal on a gratis basis. The Attorney General smiled and had this request written down. Then he asked, “Where did you learn the law, in which university?” Gershon Boruch answered with a stammer, “I learned by myself, from books.” The Attorney General shrugged his shoulders. He repeated again that he would convey this request to the Senate, and bid farewell with “Goodbye, Mr. Kravitz.” He then ascended his carriage and left town.

From that time forward, Gershon Boruch received issues of the Senate Journal each month on a regular basis. The town of Goniondz had been a little frightened on this occasion. At the same time, however, as a result of this event, Gershon's prestige had been firmly established with all.


[Pages 507-512]

Silhouettes from the Old Home

By D.B.

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine and Marvin Galper

Koppel The Teacher

A year before his death, Isher-Leib became ill and was no longer able to carry out his duties. He was, however, not a particularly good shamash even before he became ill. He developed a vision problem, and could hardly see. As long as he could stand on his feet, he carried out his responsibilities with the help of Mordechai, the assistant shamash. After his death, the seeking for a new chief shamash for the House of Study (Beys Hamedresh) began. Mordechai was a simple Jew and was accustomed to simple work - cleaning the floor, fueling the oven, and going around town on Friday evenings announcing the arrival of Sabbath to the community. When he would call out “In Schul Arien” (“Come to the synagogue”) through the streets of the town, the women would light the Sabbath candles and the men would, soon after, walk through the House of Study. Nonetheless, when Isher-Leib became ill, the situation was quite difficult since Mordechai did not want to allow a replacement. When it was necessary for Mordechai to make a public announcement, he had a ritualized manner for doing so: “It is announced and told ...”. The community would hear him and smile good-naturedly. Also, he had stage fright, and his right leg would tremble from fear when he spoke in front of the congregation. When it was time for him to announce the New Moon, he had a great deal of difficulty. When it was time for the shamash to announce a new month, it was expected that Mordechai would announce the exact day and time of this occurrence, thirty-six hours in advance of when the New Moon was born. He couldn't remember, even when he read from the calendar. He would repeat the time information for the new month to himself for four weeks in advance in order to get it right.

Once, a Jew from Kniesin appeared in the House of Study between the afternoon and evening services. He was about forty years of age, and had a golden beard. He had traveled the road from Kniesin on foot. He sat down wearily, and gave everyone a little of the snuff from his pocket. There was quite a commotion around him. Some Jews, who had been in Kniesin during the war and had prayed in the new House of Study on Grodno Street in the summer of 1914, recognized him. He was a shamash and a leader of prayer in Kniesin. Since he had not been economically successful in Kniesin, he was interested in securing the position as shamash in Goniondz. The congregation whispered that there was a better candidate - more specifically, Koppel the teacher. He had fled from Goniondz, settled in Dubrove and had not returned. A few days later, Koppel arrived and expressed his interest in the position as shamash. Until the war, Koppel had been a Bible teacher. His little classroom had been on Dead Man's Alley. He was a good prayer leader and studied throughout the year in the House of Study. He participated regularly in the morning prayers and on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur he led the first Sliches . He had an impressive appearance and a long, gray beard, a Jew with all of the virtues. Each Sabbath, during reading of the Torah portion of the week, the gabbai was expected to stand up in the altar and call out those who would come up for an aliyah . In actuality, however, Koppel was the person who called up members of the congregation for the aliyahs. He knew the entire community. He could distribute first class, second class, and ordinary aliyahs. An important, substantial citizen would be called up by him for the third or the sixth reading. A congregation member, of lesser but some substance in the community, would receive the last reading. When there is no obligation to call up a particular individual on a specific Saturday, the Maftir , reading from the Prophets, is also a very fine aliyah. The fourth and the fifth aliyahs would go to the average person. The one just before the last would go to a commoner. The successful Jews in town would receive aliyahs quite often. Some simple townspeople, who sat on the back benches, might get an aliyah only once a year -on Simchas Torah . Once, Koppel called up Avramel the cobbler. He read three sentences, and that was it. He was very angry, said “Such a little section!” and went down from the altar without making a second blessing. Koppel was not disconcerted, he ran the show. He said, “This is the way it's always been, and this is the way it will stay.” One Sabbath morning, there was a new face in the congregation, the bridegroom of Beryl, Gedaliah Lampert's daughter. It was the custom to give Maftir reading to a bridegroom, but somehow Koppel overlooked this and did not call him up. With Benjamin (the gabbai of the synagogue), this would not have happened. I was offended. I talked with Avrom-Yitzhok, son of Yeshua the shoemaker, and we decided to make a remark to Koppel about this after the service. When all the congregants had left for home and Koppel was rearranging the prayer books, which had been left about in disarray, we approached him and said, “Mr. Koppel, we know that there was a bridegroom in the House of Study today. He is married to Beryl, the shoemaker's daughter. He should have been given Maftir or least an aliyah. But you overlooked him. Is it proper to put a man to shame in that way?” Koppel began to shout at us with a voice which was not his own, “How dare you! To tell me how to give out the aliyahs! What a nerve you have - to mix into my business!” We didn't answer him, and quietly left the House of Study.

 

Tsatchuk The Orphan

Bobke Yehuda's had confided a secret to us: that Tsatchuk the orphan wanted to travel to Germany only he was lacking sufficient funds. The boy was sixteen years old, a son of Meilach Tsatchuk, who had died quite some time earlier. Meilach's wife also died, and left four sons behind. The oldest had been in Paris, since 1908, and the other two were somewhere outside of Goniondz. He wanted to reach his brother in Paris, but he did not have enough money to do so. He was staying with the cousin who lived next to the brick home of Leibel Schanes. Bobke lived there too. We were living in the brick home of Motke Gershon's.

In meeting the young man, I asked him if what I had heard was true, and he answered - yes. I told him that I was prepared to help him. I would loan him five hundred Polish marks, which was at that time a substantial sum. He thanked me very much, and told me that he would repay the loan when he arrived at his brother's. I also gave him a letter to my aunt in Grayve, asking her to find him a reliable person to escort him across the border at a reasonable cost, since he was very poor and also an orphan on both sides.

Several days later, I received a letter from my aunt. She wrote that the young man had been with her, stayed overnight, and the next day had crossed the border. All had been taken care of properly as I had asked.

A month passed, then two and then three, and I didn't hear from him. Then, I received a letter from him from France. Within the envelope was a photograph of his oldest brother. It was a photograph of Karasik, who had lived in Goniondz until the First World War in Veintraub's house, in the direction of the train station. In the letter he wrote that I should look at the photograph carefully on both sides. I looked at it carefully, as he had suggested, and found that it was a little “swollen”, on the back side. I withdrew two hundred and fifty francs from the back of the photograph.

The money had been very useful to him in his immigration from Goniondz.

 

Avraham Yitzhok The Shoemaker

Starting from the summer of 1915, when the Russians left our region, the fortress was no longer a battle site. German soldiers and a commander were stationed there, but only for ordinary purposes such as carrying out orders in the area and requisitioning food from the villagers.

Avrom Rudski had befriended the German commander. He got permission from him to collect materials in the fortress such as copper, lead, etc., as well as all kinds of iron which lay around everywhere. Germany had always been accustomed to importing raw materials from other countries. Now, in wartime, when they were cut off from the rest of the world, they were in dire need of such supplies. Avrom employed many men in this project. He sent many wagons of merchandise to Germany. He made a lot of money as a result of this enterprise, and became rich.

At the end of the summer of 1917, Avrom bought wood from all the trenches which the Russians had constructed during the first year of the war. He assigned the labor of carrying the wood out of the ditches, cutting it up, and selling it to my uncle Yisroel Yitzhak. Yisroel had been a lumber merchant all his life. My uncle took my brother Moishe and me to supervise the work. We hired only Jews.

The work was very hard. A lot of digging was necessary before one could remove the boards. Realizing the economic hardship of Yehoshua the shoemaker, I recruited his son Avraham Yitzhok for the project. Yehoshua the shoemaker lived near the House of Study at the end of Dead Men's Alley. He was not an extraordinary workman, and made peasant boots only. This was the only type of work which came to him. He had weak eyes and poor vision.

His wife Chashke was a pathetic woman who looked for ways to make money. Between Purim and Passover we would see her completely speckled with lime. She would lime a cake for someone, and in that way earn something. It was a very strenuous life. They didn't have to pay tuition for their children. The Talmud Torah charitable agency covered their tuition expenses. This was an institution, like Visiting The Poor and Hospice For The Poor. On Sabbath in the House of Study, the collection box was passed. A little money would fall in for charitable donations for these purposes.

Only Bible teachers who did not have enough students would accept these children on scholarship. This was because the Talmud Torah paid very little, and they paid on an irregular basis. The teachers were, however, willing to accept Avraham Yitzhok's children since they had keen intellects. The Kuliaver teacher and also Schlomo the teacher were both very pleased with them.

We studied together in the Hebrew elementary school with my uncle Schlomo. He was in a lower class, because he was a few years younger than I. The teachers advised his mother to send him to study in the yeshiva. They predicted that he would develop into a distinguished scholar. She sent him to the Grajewo yeshiva. I always felt close to him, and for that reason I hired him for this project.

The project was located in the fortress, which was at a distance. It was quite a trip from home, particularly since we traveled back and forth by foot every day. One evening when the work was finished, Avraham Yitzhok took a thick piece of wood three meters long with him to bring home. Avrom Rudski had warned us strictly not to take anything. However, so be it, it's not the end of the world if he should have one less piece of wood. We laughed at Avraham Yitzhok because he couldn't carry it home even though he had decided to do so. During the entire trip home, he moved the board from one shoulder to another. He would rest, and then moved on until he finally got home. The joy that would be felt in his house when they had something to cook supper with gave him the courage and the strength to carry the board such a long distance.

Avraham Yitzhok now lives in Detroit, Michigan and is a wealthy man.


[Pages 513-520]

Passages and Episodes from World War I

By D.B.

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

After the assassination of the Austrian Crown Prince, the political situation in Europe became very tenuous. We read that a world war might break out. However, Nachum Sokolov, the editor of the periodical Hatzfirah , had written in political articles that war will not come, and that the world is not so foolish that people will slaughter one another. The Hatzfirah was read in our house, and my father had agreed with Nachum Sokolov.

Only on Sunday afternoon of the ninth of the month of Av, we knew that war had broken out. A terror fell upon all of us. The German border is near, and also the Russian fort of Osoviec. We were in the first line of fire. The Monker Regiment of the Russian Army had been garrisoned in Goniondz for the last two weeks. They dug trenches on Beile Itche's' hill, on the synagogue hill, and on every hill which overhung the river. They had commandeered the houses which stood on the lower ground by the bank of the river, such as Mordechai the sexton's new house and the big house of Chatzkel, the son of Moishe, so that they might have a clear view from the trenches over the marshes which lay on the far side of the river. Many families fled to the nearby towns of Yashinovke or Kniesin, in order to be a little further from the front. Men and older children remained on their property in order to guard their possessions. The situation deteriorated in general, and no one knew what tomorrow would bring. To alleviate the situation, the Russian governmental authorities had ordered a moratorium that no payment should be made on debt on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile, we became acclimated to the situation. This was especially the case when the Russian Army was within East Prussia, and we were at that time far behind the front. The families returned then, and life took on a normal character. Many troops arrived in the shtetl from deep Russia and even Siberia, on the way to the front. Once, several riders on horseback arrived passing through Dolistover Street and requisitioned quarters to prepare them for officer housing. They told us that a regiment of troops was arriving on foot from Grodno. The latter regiment had been mobilized in the Tzernigover district. Among them there were many Jewish men. Hearing the news, women of Goniondz began to prepare a kosher meal for the Jewish soldiers. The leaders were Mary, the daughter of Yetzel Issac's and Chaya Yerachmiel of the Bruztzak family. They bought a lamb, had it slaughtered in the correct ritual fashion, and cooked a great kettle of food. After noontime, when the regiment had arrived, all of the Jewish soldiers received a good warm lunch. They certainly had not expected such a welcome. The regiment then moved forward to the fort and remained garrisoned there.

Before Rosh Hashana , the situation worsened. The Russians suffered their first major defeat in East Prussia, and fell back. The remainder of the beaten army arrived in town. Jews from the town of Grayve had fled from their homes and also arrived in Goniondz. We received them warmly and provided each one with food and lodgings. They remained only briefly in town, and soon after moved on. The customary road from Grayve to Goniondz passes the fort, but now they were required to travel through the fields and marshes. The Russians had constructed a bridge over the river, not far from the mill of Chatzkel, the son of Moishe. Strict orders had been issued from the fort that Jews would not be permitted to cross over the bridge. It was distressing for us to see the Christians cross over the bridge back and forth freely while we had to hire the service of Michel the barge owner in order to cross by boat.

The situation deteriorated. We heard the sounds of bombardment of Osoviec. But we did not expect to discover that the army and the Polish peasantry had been exchanging rumors that we Jews were German spies, and that we had hidden telegraphs via which we were passing information to the Germans. We lived through difficult days. We also had the “privilege” of seeing the notorious anti-Semite, Nikolai Nikolavietsich, General Commander of the Russian Army and uncle of the Tsar, on the synagogue hill during the first week of the war.

On Rosh Hashana we all prayed in the House of Study. We didn't dare approach the synagogue. Soldiers were on the synagogue hill scrutinizing the marshes across the river with binoculars to detect any possible advancement of German infantry. Rabbi Volf, may his memory be for a blessing, had ordered that the shofar should not be blown. He didn't want the Poles to tell the Russians that these were secret signals sent by us Jews to the German Army. We said tashlich near Sake's place, which is near the synagogue hill. We could see the river from there. Since blowing the shofar is a great blessing, we took the risk. The shofar was quietly blown in the house of Yankel the old healer in the old marketplace. When my father came to his house with us three kids, the place was full. The Cantor Nochum quietly took the shofar out from his bosom and blew three blasts.

The second day of Rosh Hashana something happened in the House of Study which was totally new in our experience. When the congregation was saying afternoon prayers, a soldier entered and stepped up to the Holy Ark. He opened it, buried his head in the Sefer Toras , and wept aloud. All those present were also moved to tears. After he had quieted himself he told us this story: he had just come to us from the fort. He had very recently been in a spying expedition with his squadron. Arriving in Tschemnasye, a village on the road to Grayve, the sergeant had ordered him and a fellow soldier to climb the roof of a barn in order to scrutinize the surrounding area. At that moment, a piece of shrapnel fell in the straw of the barn roof and it began to burn. His friend fell from the roof and was burned, while he jumped from the roof and saved himself. He had come to the House of Study to thank God for the miracle.

The situation deteriorated even further. The Germans drew near to the fort. The Russians burned down the villages of Osoviec and Biyelogrande. On Shabbos Tshuvah during the day, the Russians began artillery fire from trenches on Dolistover Street, in a garden by the post office, towards the direction of the Germans who were on the far side of the river. We were very frightened. If the Germans advance we are lost. Sunday night we didn't sleep, and stayed with our Aunt Rivke on Dolistover Street, which was considered slightly safer. Early in the morning, when the bombardment of the fort became extraordinarily fierce, we left the shtetl and headed out for Yashinovke. We had an acquaintance there. It was raining heavily. People were saying that the fire from the front had disturbed the atmosphere and brought the rain.

In the evening before Yom Kippur in the House of Study, before Kol Nidrei , we heard happy news. A Yashinovke resident had arrived from Bialystok. He brought an announcement from the General Staff, that the Russians had defeated the Germans starting from the area of Yagustov, and that the Germans had been thrust back across the entire front. Hearing this, the fasting of the holy day became easier to bear for us. At the end of Yom Kippur, we hired a wagon to travel to Goniondz and find out what was happening there. We got started early in the morning. The road was very muddy.

When we were passing by Kusharke, a distance of about six viorsts from Goniondz, we saw a little bent over Jew from a distance, his hands in his sleeves. When he drew near to us, I recognized Dudschneilor, the teacher. He told us that he was on his way to inform the Goniondz Jews in Yashinovke that the Germans had been thrown back, and that we now can come home. I assured him that this news is already well known, and that he can turn around and come back to Goniondz with us.

Arriving back in Goniondz, a fear fell upon me: we had not seen a single living soul. The doors and gates were shut. Here and there, the Christians had broken a window, torn down a door, and plundered. The stillness was terrifying. Drawing near to the house of Tzerel, the son of Gittel Abe's, we saw a group of Poles. Seeing us three Jews they began to laugh loudly, which frightened me even further. I ran home through the interconnecting streets. At that time, we had been living near Yehudah the capmaker . I found our little home and shop completely intact. Yehudah, himself, had stayed at home, guarding his dwelling and ours. I met his son Yossel there, who in the morning had replaced him as guard. I stayed in Goniondz all of the month of Succos , and our entire family returned from Yashinovke.

The first evening of Succos, there were several minyans in the House of Study for the evening service, but Cantor Nochum had not wanted to ascend to the altar. At the beginning, his voice was not heard there. But after a Kaddish of Aleinu , he sang “Adon Olam” in a vigorous voice, with a festive holiday melody, and that was the last time that I heard his voice. Three months later, the Cantor died.

On the night of Simchas Torah between afternoon and evening services, we were sitting and eating in the House of Study at a long table, by the western wall. A soldier came from the fort. He told us an interesting story.

In the Russo-Japanese War, ten years earlier, a Jewish soldier had lost his left hand in the battle for Fort Arthur. When he recovered, he wrote a letter to the Commandant of the Russian military installation at Fort Arthur, General Stoessel, asking permission to return to the front. He didn't want to be considered an invalid. His request was accepted. He was issued a revolver, since he could not use a rifle with just one remaining hand. The General made the heroism of the Jewish soldier known throughout the Russian garrison. When the Russian military installation at Fort Arthur fell, and the troops were taken into Japanese captivity, he did not remain idle in the prison camp. He organized classes in reading and writing for the illiterate soldiers. He remained involved with this project until the end of the war. Later, he was invited to Tsarskoya Selo, the residence of the Tsar, where the Tsarina herself awarded him the “St. George's Cross”, the greatest distinction in the Russian Army. At the same time, he was also promoted to the rank of officer. In 1911, he arrived at Tschernigover District for a visit. He had become a very good friend of the soldier telling us the story in the House of Study. The young hero was the son of a cantonist in Kafkaz, far from the Jewish communities. Nonetheless, a nationalist feeling had been awakened in him and he had decided to travel to Eretz Yisroel (Palestine). He wanted to learn plowing and his friend's family owned a great deal of farmland. Despite the fact that he had only one hand, he learned to plow and migrated to Eretz Yisroel. When we asked the soldier the young man's name, he answered Josef Trumpeldor.

During the period of Shuvos , when we were refugees again, this time in Kniesin, we read that Josef Trumpeldor and Vladimir Jabotronsky had organized a battalion of Jewish soldiers in Kahir, in Egypt, to join in the warfare against Turkey and free Eretz Yisroel. Trumpeldor's life story was in the newspaper article. But we in Goniondz already knew the story from earlier. In Petach Tikva, where I now live, my neighbor is from Tschernigover District. When we talked, I found out that he had been in the regiment garrisoned in our shtetl. To this day, he can't forget the friendly welcome and warm greeting he received from the Goniondz Jews. During his long years of wandering, he stated, he had not received such a reception in any place.


[Pages 521-524]

The First Bolshevik Regime in Goniohdz

By Meirim Rubin, New York

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

The Red Army captured Goniondz during the Russian-Polish War of 1920. During the second day of occupation, the Russians formed a revolutionary committee with the abbreviated title of “Revkam.” Only laborers were members of “Revkam”, primarily Bundists . Josef, the son of Teme-Raizel, was the committee chairman. Hanoch, the son of Itsche the water carrier was the education commissar. Moishe-Feivel, the son of Chaya Vitzes, was put in charge of sanitation. He was given the title “Minister”. Several Christians and Zeidke Rubin constituted the militia. Hanoch used to give talks in conjunction with the Bolshevik commissar.

The “Revkam” had the authority to issue severe sentences and even the death penalty. None of them, however, could read or write Russian. They appointed Eli Dlugolensky as secretary. He exploited the ignorance of “Revkam” and issued documents as he wished. The commissar would sign each and every one. Eli would arrange for a farmer to come for a written acknowledgment that he had sold his horse. In actuality, the document would be a permit for someone from Grayve to transport several sacks of sugar and a few barrels of kerosene into town. Such an act was considered “speculation,” and was punishable by the death penalty. A Jew from Bialystok had been shot for a similar violation.

The “Revkam” established a cooperative which would give notes to the grain merchants with which to purchase grain. Instead of one hundred thousand pounds of corn, the secretary would give a note for three hundred thousand pounds. The remaining two hundred thousand pounds he would sell in Bialystok for three times the price permitted by the cooperative. The farmers, naturally, charged higher prices, but it was worth it.

Once, transporting two wagons of grain from the village of Dolistover, the local commissar seized the horses and wagons as well as the merchandise. We rushed with protest to our “Revkam,” which provided us with assistance, specifically Zeidke-Rubin Droks and his rifle. The Dolistover “Revkam” was not frightened. They maintained that, despite our permit, they had the right to confiscate the grain for consumption by the Red Army, who had priority over the civilian population. They confiscated not only the horses and wagon but also Rubin Droks' broken rifle.

Later on, the cooperative was disbanded. The Bolsheviks had actually confiscated very little in the shtetl. Mainly they made speeches in which they threatened they would confiscate the property of the wealthy and distribute it among the poor. But, since they were relatively few wealthy people in Goniondz, the town-folk had little to fear. Yoshua, the tinsmith, who lived in the valley next door to Chayim Kobrinsky (Chayim Polak's), took the Bolshevik speeches seriously. He came to Chayim Kobrinsky with the demand that he should make an exchange. Chayim would give him his brick house, and Kobrinsky should take Yoshua's little shack in the valley in its place. Yoshua went to the “Revkam” and asked their assistance in facilitating this revolutionary justice. The Russian commissar responded that there were higher priorities to arrange at the time, such as provision of medicine and food supplies to the Red Army at the Front. Later, he said, we will arrange redistribution of lodgings.

Yoshua, the tinsmith, was enormously disappointed when the Bolsheviks were defeated. He lost his mental balance. He ran over the hills in a confused mental state. A few weeks later, he was dead. His son Nochum was away with the Bolsheviks in Russia. He became an officer in the Red Army, and later fell at the front.

When the Red Army withdrew, all the participants in “Revkam” fled. Hanoch, the son of the water carrier, was captured by the Polish in Kniesin, and they beat him severely. Thanks to the Jews of Kniesin, who collected a substantial sum of ransom money, he was freed.

Then a great terror fell upon all of the Jews who had cooperated with the Bolsheviks. All the young men of military age fled to Lithuania and from there traveled to America and Canada.

When the Polish Army returned to Goniondz, the priest blocked their way with crosses. He asked the soldiers not to treat the Jews harshly because they had treated him well during the Bolshevik regime. The Jews put up large posters announcing that they were going to distribute bread without cost to the Polish military. The old Polish mayor established a new town council. He included some young Jewish men in the new council, who were provided with staffs for purposes of guard duty. There were four guards assigned to each street to prevent attacks and robbery. During that period the Polish had shot many Jews, for example two in Sochovole. In Goniondz, however, the critical transition took place without loss of life. In our shtetl, the Jews were subjected only to several robberies and assaults.


[Pages 543-544]

As I Remember It

By Meirim Rubin, New York

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

The Great Schism

(This is the only translated part of this article)

In Goniondz, in the 1880's, a great schism occurred between the Chassidim and the misnagdim . Older folk in town used to reckon time using this event as a benchmark. This was one of the rare and extraordinary crises, which took place in the shtetl, such as the cholera or the great fire. During that time period, there was a Reb Berele who was very staunchly supported by the poorer folk in town. The successful Chassidic merchants in town, however, were not pleased with him, and brought in Rabbi Gedaliah Kaminetzky. A sharp division soon broke out between the two rival factions. The Chassidim persecuted Reb Berele. They broke his windows and didn't provide him with an income, since the local government franchise was in their hands.

The misnagdim mounted a counter attack. They went to the little Chassidic shtibl , which at that time was located in Chatzkel Babniak's house. They pulled out the Sefer Toras and other books, and broke the benches and tables. From time to time, a fist fight would break out in the House of Study. Once, after the Sabbath prayers, the Chassids fell on Yehuda the butcher. When the other butchers found that Yehuda was being beaten, they all ran to the House of Study to defend him. At the end, the Chassids won the battle and Reb Berele had to leave town. When he was leaving the shtetl, his allies went along to accompany him. The Chassid, Zelig-Isaac's' was standing in the street at the time, and yelled out at him, “Tsedokasakoh tatzil memoves”, like at a funeral. Reb Berele yelled back at him, “Soon they should say it to you!” Two weeks later, Zelig Isaac's' only daughter died.


[Pages 545-546]

The Penitent

By Moshe Bachrach

Translated by Marvin Galper

On a winter evening of 1913, between the afternoon and the evening service, a Russian peasant walked into the House of Study dressed in a heavy coat with a fur hat on his head. He grabbed Mordechai the sexton and cried like a child. In broken Yiddish, he then asked aloud about many Goniondz folk from twenty years earlier. A commotion arose in the House of Study. The students arose from their long tables. The mischievous children ended their mischief. A circle of conversation formed around him. All formed in a great circle around this very odd Russian peasant. It was then discovered that he had been born in Goniondz. He had been a member of the notorious bandit gang which had operated in Goniondz twenty years ago. The they had terrorized both Jews and Christians in all the region. The gang had been composed primarily of Jewish young men. For us children, they were a legend. For the adults, they were a terrible memory. Later they were sentenced to Siberia for their “good deeds.” Then they became lost, even to their own families.

The peasant introduced himself. Some of the older men recognized him. They embraced him like a long lost brother who has been found again. We all had the feeling that a “repentant one” was among us, and that he had paid a heavy price for the sins of his youth. He was treated with great tenderness. For us children, he was almost like a storybook hero whom our town had been worthy enough to produce.

After the evening service, the “good time fellows” invited him for a dinner at Chanon's house. There he told them that he had been living like a Russian peasant in Siberia. He had his own family there. In his older years he had felt powerfully drawn to see his hometown and his roots, which he still remembered from his childhood. Some of those present cried to hear him. A child captured by the nations, they felt, especially since he has now repented. They made one toast after another to him until late in the night and offered him their very best wishes. Soon after “the repentant one” had gone forth on his way, his secret was made known to them. He was traveling through the land selling counterfeit hundred ruble paper notes. He had stopped on this occasion in Goniondz.


[Pages 547-548]

A Goniondzer[1] Remains a Goniondzer

By Dovid Bachrach

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Tishre[2] 5687, 1926, I crossed into the United States from Canada and received employment there as a Hebrew teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, a city in the Deep South. The change from the cold, far west of Canada to the warm South was very physically difficult for me and spiritually even more difficult.

Birmingham is a large city with many factories and iron foundries, where many thousands of workers, white and black, work. The local Jews are, as usual, merchants, and commerce is concentrated in their hands. Jewish young people born there are doctors, lawyers, dentists and so on. The tempo of life is very quick; one runs and chases after the dollar with one's entire strength, day in and day out, until one falls down. The life in the Canadian cities, such as Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto is much calmer and more leisurely.

Yiddishkeit[3] there was at a low ebb. The fathers with their best intentions could not devote themselves to the education of their children; life demanded much of them, they had to work a great deal. There was no quiet hour before work; they closed very late at night. The main educators were the mothers. The mother who brought something with her from the old home had a kosher kitchen, the recognition of the Shabbos with a white tablecloth and lit candles; she also saw that her son went to the Talmud Torah[4]. But as soon as he finished with his Bar-mitzvah-maftir[5], he is seen no more. A girl ends with her confirmation at age 12.p> Three days a year, Rosh Hashanah[6] and Yom-Kippur[7] the Jews close their businesses and come to the synagogue. If Yom-Kippur falls on a Sunday, the synagogue is full. Only a few Jews come to the synagogue on Shabbos, but they rush from the synagogue to their businesses because this is the day for earning money. During the week, a minyon[8] of several Jews assembles with great difficulty. Therefore, it was a great wonder for me on one occasion to see the synagogue open in the afternoon on a regular day.

Entering the synagogue I saw a very old Jew sitting over a sefer[9] (his son had persuaded the Shamas – sexton – to open the synagogue for his old father, because he was bored in the house). I wanted to leave immediately, but the old man noticed me and called me to him. He asked me to sit near him and carried out a conversation with me. Mainly, he wanted me to tell him how Yehosha ben Nun[10] had brought the Jews across the Jordan. Because of his deep age he did not hear well and I had to shout into his ear. I cited the verse from the Book of Joshua to him, “…the waters descending from upstream stood still and they rose up in one column …”[11] that is, the water of the Jordan that flows to the Dead Sea remained calm, and appeared in its full height as a pillar and did not flow farther, but the lowest water flowed into the Dead Sea, as a matter of course, the spot became dry land and the Jews went through. This was a miraculous place like the Red Sea, as we learned in kheder[12].

This old man did not agree with my translation and explained to me that everything had happened in a natural way. I was very impatient. The entire conversation was a nuisance and I would have willingly left him, but this was not proper to me. He stopped for several minutes and asked if I understood the explanation. When he had at last finished, he again asked me if I had understood everything; if not, he was prepared to begin again… I thanked him and wanted to be underway. He asked me where I was from. I said: from Bialystok. He asked me: from Bialystok itself? I answered: from a nearby shtetl. However, he demanded that I tell him the name of the shtetl[13]. As Knyszyn is as near to Bialystok as Goniadz, I told him: Knyszyn. To this he said to me: you are not from Knyszyn, you are from Goniadz. I remained as if stupefied and asked him how he knew. He said to me: You do not speak like a Knyszyner, you speak like a Goniondzer. I asked him where he was from; he said that he came from Sapockin near Grodno, but he would happen to visit Goniondz very often. To my question of how long he had been here from his old home, he answered that he was in America for 40 plus years.

I calculated in my head that he had left our area 15 years before I was born. He had spent so many bitter years among the Blacks in the South and yet he recognized by my speech that I was certainly from Goniadz and not from Knyszyn. A rare occurrence.

I learned a moral from this - that a person cannot deny his origin and he needs to remain what he was.

A Goniondzer remains a Goniondzer.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Goniadz is the spelling of the town in Polish and the spelling used now. Goniondz is Russian; Goniondzh is Yiddish Return
  2. usually September Return
  3. Jewish way of life Return
  4. in Poland, a religious elementary school for poor boys Return
  5. The maftir is the concluding portion of the Torah reading at the Shabbos service, preceding the reading of the Haftarah a reading from the Prophets linked in its theme to the weekly Torah portion. At a Bar-mitzvah the religious rite at which a boy of 13 takes on the religious obligations of a man the Bar-mitzvah boy follows his role as maftir with the reading of the the Haftarah. Return
  6. the Jewish new year Return
  7. the Day of Atonement Return
  8. 10 men necessary for communal prayer Return
  9. religious book Return
  10. Joshua son of Nun Return
  11. Joshua 3:16 Return
  12. religious elementary school for boys Return
  13. town Return
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