Krinik During The Week (The Weekday Krinik): Shmuel Geler
Dark gray smoke, in the early morning, rising from the houses into the still half-dark sky, announces that in Krinik a new workday has begun.
Jewish mothers put out three legged stools and plates then prepared breakfast for their husbands and children who are about to leave for work.
The night had still not managed to depart with the coming of day and Krinik streets were already lively. Alone and in groups the leather workers walk with heavy steps up Garbarska Street, Gmina Street and other streets to the leather works, mills and other work places.
They quickly put on their work aprons and roll up their sleeves. They quietly get down to work. The steam is already puffing, the transmitter buzzes, the drums are turning, the utensils are shiny. Diligently the tradesmen's hands work to create the famous Krinik leather.
Seven o'clock in the morning and already the Krinik street and alleys are even more lively. Loud shouts, the sound of youngsters' laughing rings from everywhere. Krinik's Mosheles and Shlomoles, Chanales and Racheles are on their way to school. With knapsacks on their shoulders, binders in their hands, some with patched pants, others with newer pants, all of them with sparkling eyes and mischievous looks they hurry into the public school and heder. There are a lot of schoolrooms: in the Tarbut [Zionist Hebrew school] School, Jewish secular school and Public Heder. A new school day begins. With curiosity and thirst the children soak up general and Jewish knowledge. The sound of their voices singing Jewish and Hebrew children's songs rises up from the small schoolrooms and spreads throughout the nearby area. In secular and religious schools, in Yiddish and Hebrew, Krinik children study the Torah and wisdom.
Now that the husbands and children have been dispatched from the house, the wives attend to their daily work. They clean house, do the laundry, mend shirts and clothes. They go to the food store, the baker and butcher. The fortunate ones use money, the others buy on credit. Loaded with baskets and bags, the wives return home to cook lunch. The fire is started in the oven. In cast iron pots they cook meat or dairy lunches. Some of the wives are ashamed of their daily fare. They cook with nothing no meat and no dairy, only with water.
The Krinik streets become livelier still. The factory workers are eating lunch, children return home from school filling the streets with mischievous shouts, trying to outdo each other with their childish pranks. It is raining and everyone is wearing rubber galoshes. During the winter people slide on runners, a local product (a cut piece of wood with a wire underneath), allowing people to slide on the ice and use sniezhkes
Men, women and children went about their work, children doing their lessons, waiting impatiently for the time when they could run off into the streets to play and have fun. Wives, like busy bees, were working at home. How were our mothers able to get all that work done?
On a market day
Its only morning and the Krinik market is already lively. Food and flour stores, dry goods and iron stores all waiting for customers. A whole week to realize a sale. Rich merchants are financially secure with their business. The small, poor ones run around fainting trying to find a loan, a loan without interest: the need to pay a promissory note, in order to settle the revenue duties.. If not, the bailiff will seize what little he has.
In the middle of the market place, opposite the gate sits, during summer and winter, the market women surrounded by loaded baskets and wooden boxes of vegetables and fruit. In the heat, cold and rain, they never leave their work places. During the summer people bake in the sun; during the winter, they warm up at the chafing pan. Loud quarrels between merchants break out over perspective clients, but they speak softly to their customers. It is a hard struggle to make a living.
At the end of the day there are constantly groups of unemployed, ordinary idlers - and such - wandering around the market place discussing world politics and town news. Some are waiting for the distributor, perhaps a letter with a couple of dollars will arrive for them from America; others search for a little work, looking to earn a living. They all wait impatiently at the market place on Thursday. And here it is, and already before daylight there are dozens of booths, market stalls and tables, large and small put up on the market place with a variety of hats with shiny peaks in a variety of colors. Leather merchants laid out their goods: tongues, uppers, soles. Harness makers hung out horse collars, reins, and breeching, which had a strong odor of lime and tar. Turners put out foot wheels, on the ground, to make flax threads. Bakers prepared loaves of soft white bread and rye bread, stacks of bagels, round breads, cakes, stritzlelkh and all kinds of baked goods.
Small tables with all kinds of candy, caramels and sweet things, with various articles for the house - were put out everywhere. The beer halls and restaurants were loaded with sausage, all kinds of herring, liquor, lemonade and small bottles of beer. Everything was ready and geared up for the market.
On loaded peasant wagons and on foot, in groups and alone, streamed the peasants to the market, from Poretch, Lapitch, Nietupe, Makaritze, Spodvil and a lot of other villages near and far. Clever housewives wait for the peasants beyond the shtetl in order to purchase something at a bargain. They felt the fowl and blew under the feathers to see if a hen was fat. The women worked hard at haggling. They talked to the peasants using half Yiddish and a kind of gentile language until they managed to buy a fowl for the Sabbath, a few dozen eggs, a piece of fresh butter wrapped in a piece of white peasant linen or in a green sheet of paper. Loaded down with good things, the Jewish housewives returned home.
Meanwhile at the market place there is already a tumult, a commotion, Jews walk around among the densely placed wagons. They rummage in the sacks, look at the peasants' packs and they haggle. They slap the gentiles' hands, a sign that they have come to an agreement. The peasants' wallets and pockets will be full, the wagons empty. Jewish butchers buy a cow, calves and sheep. Horse dealers try out the horses. They look at the horses' teeth. Their neighing and the mooing of the cows mix with the shouts of the buyers and sellers.
Surrounded on all sides by a mass of villagers, a young gentile stands up on a wagon and calls out at the top of his voice about his merchandise and bargains. For only one zloty he offers a spoon, fork, small comb and a mirror. But this is still not enough, so he also adds for the same zloty a needle with a spool of thread. And he yells more he also throws in a pair of buttons and a ribbon. The peasant women move toward the gentile and grab the bargains.
All the stores, booths and stalls are besieged. The peasants buy various utensils and articles that are needed for the home and housekeeping. Peasant women buy calico clothes and the girls colored pieces of cloth and strings of beads. The piles of breads, rolls and various baked goods become smaller and smaller. Wealthy villagers are able to eat, even during the week, white bread and wheat rolls.
In the restaurant owned by the Pole Snarski, at Chaikl's, at Lieder's and in many other eating houses, treats and beer are consumed with joy.
Peasants sit with companions, treating themselves to vodka. They snack on herring and sausage. They talk loudly. With each glass emptied, their voices rise. Their faces are already red, their eyes half closed from drunkenness. Some embrace and kiss. One of them starts humming a melody, and half-drunk voices join in. From Chaikl's restaurant a loud noise is heard from the automatic street organ. A peasant puts ten groschen in and out comes a march in all its detail.
Suddenly a cry for help, a tumult, a peasant treated his drinking buddy to a bottle over the head, having remembered an old loss.
Little by little people are leaving the market place. Long lines of wagons stretch from the shtetl to the roads to the dozens of surrounding villages.
Jewish storekeepers add up the cash: thank God, there will be enough to repay the loans, money for tuition and enough to make the Sabbath.
The market place looks like the aftermath of a battle, the entire, large area, that not two minutes ago shone with various colorful articles, lively and noisy is wrapped in silence, the market place quickly caught its breath and rests.
The dear Sabbath comes
Friday all morning, the Sabbath can already be felt in Krinki. From Jewish houses the smells of fresh baked challah [bread made with eggs and braided, served on the Sabbath], cooked fish and other Sabbath foods drift in the air. Jewish housewives, like busy bees, cleaned the house, polished the floors, cleaned and ironed the Sabbath garments. Artisans, storekeepers, workers and manufacturers everyone prepared for the Holy Sabbath.
The greatest joy belonged to the children. They would wait impatiently for school to end. With a great rush and happiness, like free birds, the children would leave the schools. Each in his own way prepared for the Sabbath.
One of the great commandments for young and old was to bathe in honor of the Sabbath. Children fulfilled the commandment in the river off Garbarska Street at the nashielnitza, at Vigon. The water there reaches a little higher than the heel of a foot. They would crawl on all fours and get sprayed. There is great joy here.
Off of Mill Street, in the pond at the mill, the water is somewhat deeper. There they can swim a little in water as well as mud. It was difficult to stand here because of the mud. Some of the youngsters would go to bathe outside the shtetl at the new mill, in Slusker-mill. There was real water, where one could come out of the water clean!
The real bathing was in the Lishker River. The wagon drivers loaded their wagons and drove there. Only some could afford to pay an entire zloty to drive there and back. Friday afternoon, alone and in groups, the Krinki youth went the six kilometers to the winding, calm flowing river, among fields and grass.
The deep river is full of people. There one must know how to swim. The swimmers do all kinds of tricks: they dive, some can only swim a single stroke, others swim like frogs. The water there is clear and cool and everyone feels in seventh heaven. After bathing everyone rolled naked in the cool, fragrant grass (when I was young, nobody in Krinki knew about bathing suits!).
The women go elsewhere, further than the men. Some youngsters, good swimmers, would quietly steal away and go near the women, to catch a glimpse of a half-naked daughter of Eve.
Fresh and rested, everyone would go sprightly back to the shtetl. On the way they would become covered with dust, tired out - yet they came home happy. The feel of swimming, the cool, clean water stayed in their bones.
The night before the Sabbath the shtetl bathhouse was also full. Aronchik, the attendant, ruled there. He treated them to a good bucket and a small broom to hit themselves with. In the first room they would wash with soap and rinse off. But the true pleasure of the Sabbath was felt in the steam bath. Workmen, artisans and manufacturers sat or lay on long wooden steps. There everybody was equal. Once in a while a shout was heard steam, steam! and several pails of cold water would be thrown onto the stones in the oven and steam billowed up, filling the steam bath, refreshing them with the heat, even though they could hardly catch their breath. And they shout again: steam, steam!. Sitting on the stairs, they rub themselves and beat themselves with the little brooms. One treats the other with an invigorating rub down.
That is the only place where a common person can beat a bossor a rich man and still earn merit. With beaming, red faces, everyone returns home.
The mothers have already sent the cholent [a slow cooking stew made for Sabbath lunch, kept warm overnight at the bakery] to the baker's oven. Now they are washing the children's hair in the wash tub. The child wriggles out from the mother's hands. They scream and cry, their eyes burning from the lather. Thick combs are used on the children's hair always one can find there
Calmly and leisurely Jewish daughters wash their hair. (A remedy for the hair is rainwater.) The mothers braid their daughters' hair with love. In the houses it is sparkling clean. Old and young everyone is ready to welcome the Sabbath.
One after another the Sabbath candles are lit in the houses, in some there are silver candlesticks, in others brass and some are only a pair of potatoes!
Mothers with scarves and shawls on their heads bless the Sabbath candles and whisper a quiet prayer. With a tremor in the heart, with a tear in the eye, they accompany the men and children to the botei medroshim [houses of study].
Barely waiting for the end of the Sabbath dinner, the Krinki youth stream in from all corners of the shtetl to the market place. In couples and in groups they walk around - make a half turn at the watchman's house and from Chaikl's brick house return to the watchman's house. There is loud talking, yelling and laughter. The market place bubbled with happiness. At the edge of the sidewalk stand speakers. They direct discussions. All of them defend their positions with fervor
Little by little the people at the market place scatter. Couples and groups go off to Mill Street in Viryian's courtyard, some go off on the side streets and on balconies. Most of them walk down Shishlevitzer Street, through Chestnut Tree Alley at the hospital, past the povshekhneh. They are already at Yente's woods that is as large as a yawn, but dear and is embedded in the hearts of every Krinker.
Songs resound from everywhere in the woods. Who is able to sing as beautifully as the Krinker youth? Krinkers sang with zest and feeling. Somebody started a melody a second joined in and took the second part. And here comes a third, a fourth to sing and the harmony echoes around:
Sings Krinker revolutionary youth about their belief in a new, free world
The red tomorrow in front of us, the young guard of the proletariat sings a group from Tzukunft the youth from the Bund From Warsaw to Paris From London to Canton Moscow has sent out a red flag
From a corner of the woods is heard a beautiful, tender girl's voice singing a Hebrew song that was interrupted by a stormy hora [Zionist folk dance, danced in a circle], danced by the young Krinki pioneer youth.
Bundists, Communists, Zionists were singing. Different songs and lyrics, but they were all united as a wonderful tribe of Krinki youth who fought for and believed in a better tomorrow in a more beautiful world
Protected by the dark night, couples cuddle together weaving dreams. The trees in Yente's woods imbibed a lot of sweet secrets.
Late at night, tired and with happy faces, they return home. They steal quietly in the house, not to wake up their sleeping parents.
A Sabbath quietness spreads over the shtetl.
Baruch Vladek Visits The Eternal Light: Daniel Charney
(The prominent journalist and noted leader of the Jewish Workers Movement, first in Russia (in the Zionist Socialists, then in the Bund) and later in America B. Vladek (Baruch Nachman Charney) once sat in prison together with the Krinker Eternal Light (Abraham Shmuel Zutz). They became very good comrades there. Visiting Poland in August 1936, Vladek traveled to Krynki, with his brother the poet Daniel Charney, especially to visit his one time prison mate.)
In the morning the entire Krynki Bund gathered at the library with the Eternal Light and waited and waited until they decided to go to the highway to meet us. In front were two young women from the public school with two large bouquets of flowers from the Krinki Bund and from the library. Between the young women was blind Abraham Shmuel. Behind them marched the entire Bund from the shtetl, large and small.
That Sunday was a fair day in Krynki with all the Jewish population outside. When the people saw the curious procession, lead by the blind Eternal Light with two young women carrying bouquets, all the idlers in the shtetl began joining the procession and the highway was soon black with people
When the peasants at the market place saw that among the Zhids a large movement was taking place, they immediately began to harness their horses to the wagons and quickly left the shtetl. The market place emptied in a matter of minutes. Then the storekeepers and traders also closed their businesses and went to meet the famous American (Vladek).
When our machine was a couple of kilometers from Krynki, the highway was already besieged with people. We were surrounded on all sides by the Krynki welcoming committee, but not one of them knew Vladek personally besides the totally blind Abraham Shmuel Zutz.
But Vladek recognized him and after the representative of the Krynki Bund had managed to start his welcoming speech, Vladek threw himself on Abraham Shmuel and both embraced and kissed for a long time until they began to cry.
This meeting in the middle of the highway touched us deeply and nobody's eyes were dry.
I was deeply moved by the moment when Abraham Shmuel used his finger to see by moving it all around Vladek's face, as if he wanted to see how much Vladek had aged during the several dozen years they had not seen each other.
Later, after the official welcome in the only hotel in Krynki, we went to take a look at the library where Abraham Shmuel blindly filled the position of librarian.
That Sunday the library was full of young people who came to borrow books. In truth they only wanted to have a look at the guest from America
It was really marvelous how blind Abraham Shmuel quickly got hold of the right book that he had been asked for, by using his finger. He ran it over the spine of the books, like a proficient musician over a piano keyboard.
Here is Peretz's Popular History, here Sholem Ash's Shtetl, here Sholom Aleichem's Tevye the Dairyman, here is Maxim Gorki's Mother and here is Dostoeyevsky's Crime and Punishment.
During the time we spent in the children's library, Abraham Shmuel did not make any mistakes getting a book. He read the depressed letters and numbers with his finger from the spines of the books, like a sighted person.
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Updated 6 Dec 2003 by LA