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[Page 161]

The Great Flood

by D. Kleinbaum-Grosman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The flood occurred on a summer day, at two o'clock, in 1927. Kalman Krosman[1] (several years later, my husband) was busy with his work every day in the chocolate factory of his brother-in-law and sister Sura (or, as she was called in the city, Surake). Both Kalman and his brother-in-law Zaduk were busy pouring out the liquid chocolate into the forms. This work had to be done very quickly and nimbly because the chocolate immediately cooled and nothing more could be made with it. It could not be warmed again because it lost its form and taste.

While so engrossed in the work, the heaven suddenly clouded over. It became dark, actually impenetrable darkness. Lightning and thunder began.

Rain suddenly flowed from heaven – a real flood. They looked outside and saw before them only water and water. An ocean! The water began to flow into the factory. They did not think of ending their work. Now there were important things to do. They had to save whatever they could. The poured and finished chocolate lay high up, on shelves, but there was a large amount of goods lying on the floor. But the water was flowing wildly into the factory. There could no longer be any talk of saving anything. Now they had to save their own lives and very quickly because it could be too late.

The factory then was in Tseli's son Shmuel's house that stood near the river. Therefore, the factory was the first to experience the flooding and was ruined.

When the rains stopped and the water receded, we could look at the factory. Here we saw the ruin that the flood had created. Surake and Zaduk Lewengrub, who had worked their way up a bit, were poor people after the flood, because a warehouse full of goods and raw materials worth thousands of zlotes had gone with the water.

It is clear that this flood in Krasnik more than 40 years ago brought the collapse of the entire city, particularly in the quarter that was closest to the river or lay in the lower areas. For many years, the Jewish as well as the Christian residents of the city spoke of this catastrophe and repeated again the details of this event.

 

kra014.jpg
On one of the streets of the shtetl

 

Translator's note:
  1. The author's surname is spelled both as Grosman and Krosman in the text of this article. return


[Page 162]

Memories and Images from the Town

by Eli Perlson

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Dedicated to the sacred memory of my dear father, Shlomo ben [son of] Moshe Perlson, who perished al kiddish haShem [in the sanctity of God's name – as martyrs] with his family:
Grina bas [daughter of] Yehezkiel Perlson and my dear brothers – Ahron and Moshe, may God avenge their blood. Moshe was the first victim of the murderous Germans in our shtetl [town], Krasnik.

 

The Strikers

Krasnik was a strongly orthodox shtetl [town]. However, in 1905, when a revolutionary spirit enveloped all of Russia, it also moved us. The workers demanded an eight-hour workday because the tailors, the shoemakers and the harness makers worked from seven in the morning until 10 at night. They even had to work on the evening of Shabbos so that their boss would not have a loss in his business because they did not work on Shabbos. A committee was created then (they were called the strikers) of the brothers Anshel and Getsl Krumhalc, Tova Shmuel, Yitzhak's son, Shual, Beka's son (I do not remember his family name) and a brother of Meir Lamkut (Trik), who the Russians shot in 1914 when the war broke out. Several master craftsmen immediately gave in after other committee members, whose names no one can remember, demanded an eight-hour workday. In contrast, fights took place with those who did not give in and the journeymen were forced to stop all work – until they achieved better conditions for the workers. However, this did not last long. When the reaction increased and the first Duma was dissolved, the czarist regime began to attack the leaders of the workers' movement and began to arrest everyone who fell under suspicion. Many escaped to America and other nations and many were arrested.

Anshel Krumhalc sat for a time in jail as did Fayga, the polisher's daughter. Later they got married.

Thus the shtetl again fell asleep and the mothers still hoped that their sons would grow up to be great men of learning. And thus it was. When one passed the house of prayer, it was filled the entire day with young men who sat at very large tables and studied. The shtiblekh [small one-room houses of prayer] also were full of young men oyf kest [the expenses of a young man who was engaged in religious study were paid by his father-in-law]: in Lubliner shtibl, in the Modzitzer [from Modrzyce], in the Gerer, as well as the Markuszower shtibl.

We remember my grandfather Moshe, son of Eli, may he rest in peace, who taught Ein Yakov [compilation of Talmudic commentaries and ethical teachings] every Shabbos in the large house of prayer for a large group. Fraydele's son, Reb Avrahamli Leibush, of blessed memory, also studied on Shabbos with a large group in the new house of prayer. Thus, the shtetl lived its strictly religious life. There was no modern education. Josele Lerer [teacher], Borukh Shreiber [writer][1] as well as Yakov Hirsh taught writing. They taught the boys and girls to write Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian and German. Thanks to the teachers many boys and girls perfected their worldly education and later helped to create the various organizations in the shtetl. This is how life went on until the First World War.

 

The Year of Crisis

1914 was a year of crisis in our shtetl. When the war broke out, many young men left in the Russian army. Women and children were left without their husbands and fathers. Thanks to the charitable organizations the shtetl helped them greatly. From Russia, the Jewish

[Page 163]

committee sent in flour and other products that alleviated the need a little.

Our shtetl survived one of the greatest tragedies when the Russian government carried out strongly anti-Semitic agitation: The Austrians occupied Krasnik immediately at the outbreak of the war. The Russians returned after 17 days and immediately took six Jews and five Poles and shot them in Majdan. (Of the five Jews I remember only the name Meir Lamhut). This was too little; they then took the rabbi of the city, Reb Motil, of blessed memory, and Reb Ayzyk Fishl Ciesler, of blessed memory, as well as Reb Hirshl the butcher and his son, Reb Shmuel – and they were all hung. One can imagine the fear that fell on the shtetl. A Jew simply was afraid to appear in the street. They remained in fear until the middle of 1915 when our shtetl was rid of the cruel czarist regime. Austria occupied Poland. Many young people in the Austrian army brought a new life to the Krasnik young.

 

Participation in Communal Life

The building and organization of a workers movement began, as well as a Jewish people's library with many Yiddish books. A drama circle was founded at the library that produced plays. I will remember several names of those who took part in the founding of the library: Yitzhak Perlson, Hirsh Gryner, Shmilik Brafman, Yehiel Moshe and Yisroel-Avraham Blada, Shlomo Licht, Yakov Wagner, Anshel Krimholc, Yakov Ayzyk's son, Levi Butner, Avraham Szafran, Royza Wagner, Zajnwel Diament, Eli Perlson, Yehezkiel Gerereich and many others whose names I do not remember. Thus began the widespread cultural work and communal life. The Zionist winds began to blow with the proclamation of the Balfour Declaration. The first Zionist organization was founded in Krasnik. The mentors were the first 13 young people who publicly declared themselves as open Zionists, which was a daring step because at that time the Zionist idea was a great heresy for the Orthodox Jews. However, the young people already had been infected with the national ideal. They were persecuted in the shtetl. But they did not stop for anything and carried on campaigning for Zionism. In a short time a divided Zionist family developed: general Zionists, Revisionists, Gordynia, Poalei-Zion, Tseiri-Zion and others.

The Bund arose later as well as a communist organization. Just as it was a “sleepy” shtetl earlier, it now became progressive and cultural.

It is worth remembering the names of the first young people: Avraham Hercl, Avraham Baumfeld, Mordekhai Buchbinder, Chaim Kliczewski, Yitzhak Buchbinder, Eli Perlson, Yosef Helman, Avraham Mandelblat, Moshe Lang, Shlomo Nusan Licht, Kopl Kamaznmacher, Borukh Foygl.

Change came with the rise of an independent Poland. Many young people left for the Polish military; for many there arose the problem of survival because the anti-Semitic government killed Jewish income and the duties (taxes) grew heavier. The class-conscious young people realized that there were no economic opportunites and began to think of emigrating.

 

Tashlikh[2]

The shtetl prepared itself for the God-fearing day! Berl Szulklaper [one who bangs on the shutters of houses to rouse men for prayer] called sleeping Jews in the morning to wake up for prayer, particularly during the holy Selikhot [days on which prayers of repentance are recited before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] days, when those in the houses of prayer learned [to blow] the shofar [ram's horn] and every Jew was imbued with a feeling of regret for the sins committed during the entire year.

Jews woke up for Selikhot. It was light in all of the houses of prayer at three in the morning

[Page 164]

from the extra bright oil lamps. Leibush Fintali, the shamas [sexton], made sure that there was enough light and provided more tallow candles so that Jews could pray for a healthy, happy year. This is the way it was in the large synagogue as well as in all of the shtiblekh [small one-room synagogues]. Reb Shlomo Eiger, of blessed memory, then still came to the Lubliner shtibl for the first penitential prayers.

The entire shtetl went to Rebbe, Reb Yakov Wajsbrot, who was the head of the rabbinical court and the grandson of the Yid Hakodosh [“The Holy Jew” – Yakob Yitzhak Rabinowicz, founder of the Peshischa Hasidim] on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, to receive a blessing for a Shona Tovah [happy new year]. Everyone was certain that he would have a good year because on the first night of Rosh Hashanah the rebbe presided over a meal and [provided new interpretations].

However, the most important experience was when the Jews went to Tashlik. Every minyon [group of ten men needed for prayer] went to the river near Meir Szapiro's [house] and threw away their sins. The shtetl looked like a purely Jewish one, particularly when the rebbe left for Tashlikh. All of the Jews joined the holy rebbe on the way from Rachiwer Road to the mill and sang for the entire time. There was so much joy and faith among the Hasidim and ordinary Jews that we were sure that in merit of the holy rebbe we were sure of a healthy year and we would be forgiven for all of our sins thanks to the emptying of our pockets and throwing our sins in the water. Even a Christian, Janek Patocki, a fervent Hasid [follower, used ironically here] of the rebbe, was among the group. On Rosh Hashanah, when the rebbe walked with his Hasidim, the majority of whom were shoemakers, tailors and simple Jews, Janek walked in front, dancing with all of the Jews and thus made sure that they would not be attacked by any of the anti-Semites…

 

The Fire

On Jamy Street, stooped, small houses stood for hundreds of years. Moss was growing on their roofs for a long time. It could no longer be distinguished if a roof was made of shingles or of straw. Jews lived through a difficult winter every year, but fortunately spring appeared and the snow had melted by Purim. It became warm in the shtetl. The great mud on Jamy Street began to dry. Passover arrived. Jews whitewashed their old, half fallen down houses and Passover was celebrated according to Jewish law.

At the end of Passover, on Friday, the Jews still ate matzoh because there was no time to bake challahs [braided bread served at Sabbath meals] for Shabbos. Old Mordekhai-Yehiel, who bought and sold wheat near the synagogue with windows facing the old cemetery, had a basement full of wheat that he had recorded as khometz [unfit for use on Passover]. He lit a kerosene lamp at night so the cat would be able to see and to catch the mice. When Mordekhai-Yehiel began to say the blessing, he was warned that smoke was coming from the warehouse. His answer was: “No need to stop.” In the course of five minutes, the entire house was enveloped in flames. It is possible that one could still have saved something. I think it was Shabbos and Jews were not permitted to take any water to stop the fire. In an hour, the fire encompassed 400 old, dried up houses and devoured the entire little bit of poverty – from Moshe-Ahron Malamed [the religious teacher] to Leizer Muncik-Hersh. When Reb Shlomole Eiger, who later became the Lubliner rebbe, came running from the farm and called, “Jews, help, why are you standing? It is to save a mortal life!” And to Motl Zemelman (Bulak) who was then a water carrier, he said: “Why are you standing? Harness the horses!” And when Motl did not want to, Shlomole Eiger led the horses out of the stall himself. Then Motl finally moved toward the horses and Jews, after working the entire night put out the fire…

 

Translator's notes:
  1. The words “Lerer” and “Shreiber” could either be additions to the given names identifying the person's occupation or they could be surnames. “Shreiber” would then be transliterated as Szrajber. return
  2. tashlikh takes place on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The sins from the past year are cast symbolically – often using breadcrumbs – into a flowing body of water while reciting a section from the Book of Micah, including the words, “…and you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” return


[Page 165]

The Reason for Emigrating

by Ezriel Rochman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

The reason that I was forced to leave my birthplace, Krasnik, (in 1925) was thus:

I owned a confectionary shop and also traveled to yearly fairs. The last time, I went to Mendrewic with a cousin, Chaim Dovid Wajnsztok. Arriving, I saw an attack against the cloth goods merchants. When I went to see what was happening, a terrible picture was revealed before my eyes: the peasants were robbing and beating the Jews who were not allowing their goods to be taken. All of the goods were taken from Mendl Mushl and, in addition, he was beaten terribly.

At that time the priests preached in the churches that the Jews be persecuted and their possessions taken. My cousin and I quickly went home. My wife asked why I had come home so early from the fair, was the income that good? I answered that there was no lack of anything, that we came without goods, without money and in addition with broken heads. I told her what had happened there.

We immediately telephoned Lublin for help. However, there was not yet an autobus in Mendrewic. It was more than two hours before the police came riding from Lublin and meanwhile they fought there. With luck, there were such Jews as Gecel and Anshel who took a bit of revenge against the violent ones.

That evening I said to my wife: – I am leaving for Paris in the morning. Because of what I saw today, I no longer want to be in anti-Semitic Poland.

As good as my word, I traveled to Warsaw the next day. As I did not have any money and no passport, I worked in Warsaw for eight days for expenses to be able to travel to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, where I arrived Friday. At night I went to pray in the Polish synagogue. There I met a young man who arranged for a room for me to sleep in. In the morning I left for the synagogue and met an older Jew. One word led to another – and I worked for him for six months – and with luck, could travel to Paris.

After my departure from Krasnik, the real immigration began. My three cousins and many others emigrated to Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and to other countries. Thanks to emigration, a few Jews from our Krasnik remained alive.

 

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