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[Page 975]

This Is How I Saw Kurow

by Sura Ajzensztadt

Translated for the Yizkor Book from English into Yiddish by Yaakov Goldfein[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by Toba Ajzenstat

in Memory of My Mother, Sura Ajzensztadt (Sarah Ajzenstat)

 

I Left Only By Train and By Ship But Not With My Heart

In Novemer 1935 I left Poland and traveled to Canada. I was then all of 17 years old. My father, Sender Zisha, my mother, Toba, my sister, Fotsha,[2] my brothers, Shmuel and Yosef, my friend, Etel Bajer, came to the station to see me off.

Three years before this my family had relocated from Kurow to Warsaw.

The train moved. I didn't realize what was happening to me. I didn't understand the seriousness of the moment. Once more I threw myself to the window to catch a glimpse of the disappearing faces of those most dear to me.

The train carried me with the greatest speed farther and farther from my old world.

There remained, however, memories engraved in my mind. I rescued the memories from the fire. They have strengthened me and comforted me in my loneliness, in my isolation. They have lifted my spirits and awakened faith in me in moments of despair and pain, in moments when I heard from the distance as if truly with my own ears the thunder of German cannons, when it was as if the boots of the murderers were truly treading on my heart, on my brain.

For long years I have led an independent life, in new surroundings; new faces are all around me, new voices sound in my ears, but…I will never free myself from those other faces, from that other world and its sounds. I don't want to free myself from them!

 

My Father. Father!

My father's voice! Sender Zisha's voice. I hear in my mind the sweet soft melodiousness of his voice when he sang together with his students and when they davened mincha-maariv.

The quiet and calming sound of his voice when he spoke with people. A voice of wisdom, of integrity. I know that not just I but also others felt and thought this way about him. It was not without reason that he was an official and secretary of the Jewish community in Kurow for many years. It was not without reason that people of different characters gathered around him. He was beloved in the town, by his students (he was a teacher of Gemurah and taught older children), by his family, friends and acquaintances. Everyone felt a warmth toward him, a trust.

[Page 976]

photo caption: Sender Ajzensztadt and his wife Toba Elenbojgen and children: Tovia, Shmuel Simcha, Yosef Aron, and Feige the parents, sister and brothers of Sura. All perished.[3]

He himself was not from Kurow; he was born in Jozefow nad Wisla.[4] He married a Kurow girl (Toba Chanas, Simcha Elenbojgen's daughter)[5] my mother, may she rest in peace and chose the town as his dwelling place because the town and its people entered his heart. In time he came to love it and was thought of as one of its own. It was a mutual love.

I can't tell of his having done great deeds, I do know, however, that his mind was often occupied with higher thoughts. Greatness of spirit surpasses other, more worldly, greatness. Wealth, prominence, and importance did not turn their backs on my father. On the contrary, he could have achieved them! However, he distanced himself from them because he didn't want to sacrifice his inborn simplicity, his modesty.

Thanks to his simplicity he found a common language by which to communicate with great and small, with the poor and the rich. Among his friends there were people of various attitudes and of opposing views such as Hershel Rapoport and the freethinking Yosel Lerman, Yosef Leib Grosman, who was his learning partner for Shabbes study, and a Yankel Wajnrib, Shulim Goldberg.

A few of his acquaintances, close ones, had the inclination to distinguish themselves; they wanted to outdo others in wisdom, in wealth, but my father dealt with them by giving them the benefit of the doubt, with patience and understanding. But in fact it was the unsophisticated, the simple, quiet

[Page 977]

people who were his best company because he felt himself to be one of them. Spending time with them, getting to know their concerns, was a pleasure for his spirit. He often said that there were not any entirely ugly people in the world. Every human being, even the most obese, the most detestable-looking, has a beautiful face when smiling. He always used to instruct me: “Laugh, Sura, you should always laugh!” And I listened to him.

This was how Sender Zisha went through life, with a lovely smile, if not on his lips then in his spirit. With a smile and trust in every person, an innocent and naïve faith in the goodness of human nature.

And that faith of his held him fast in his place, in his world. Faith strengthened my father as it did thousands of other simple, devout Jews and then it led them into the deepest despair when the great world tragedy came.

He did not believe in war. His deep belief in the Creator distanced him from the thought that such savage things can even be imagined.

What became of his dreams and ideals when he beheld the last stark moments in their full horror? That for certain must have been much more painful for him than his physical suffering.

 

The Natural Joy of Youth

My Kurow, which has been preserved in my thoughts, was a town of youth and life. I spent my years of blossoming and maturing there. The years from 7 to 14 are especially engraved in my memory.[6]

At that time I could not yet see the shadows of life, the need and the want, the evil and the hatred which pressed in from all sides. The little town has remained in my imagination as a bright place, full of sun and laughter. I remember no unusual troubles, no struggles. For me Kurow was and has remained to this day a paradise for young people. I lived and grew and that alone transformed the everyday and gray routine of life into a romantic adventure.

The girls of my age, my circle, had to find by themselves ways and means to get amusement in life. We had to invent pastimes for ourselves. There was no radio in town, no movie theater, but we enjoyed ourselves in especially interesting ways.

We took pleasure in “Shabbes achim,” enjoying being together, laughing and singing out our energy, our joy in life and our youth.

Those moments have remained in my soul like a reservoir of light and spring from which I am still nourished to this day. It seems that nature, the joy of our growth, protected us from worries, from thinking too much about serious matters.

The avenue of tall linden trees near the German cemetery, the not always sweet-smelling pond in the meadow, the open fields they blocked out all sad moods and feelings. We were part of the open and wide world of nature, simple and unpretentious,

[Page 978]

photo caption: Tovia, the brother of Sura. He traveled from Eretz-Yisrael [to Poland] to visit his parents in 1939 and perished there.

and in our own youthful and naïve way we grasped the meaning of life. We had an innocent happiness.

I rememer how, on a hot summer day, we used to go swimming in the little stream, the Kurowka. A group of boys, just at that time, would find an excuse to pass by and we made comical efforts to hide ourselves in the shallow water because we didn't have bathing suits.

Often we would go for long walks in the woods. It was wonderful to hike through the fields and woods together with a cheerful group of young people. But when there wasn't anyone to go with me I would go walking by myself.

 

“Kurow Creepers”

For example, there was the Lubliner Way. With my girlfriends at my side I used to stroll along this road numerous times back and forth. We used to parade between two boundaries the town hall in town and the well-known “yellow house” near the linden trees.

My devoted girlfriends, Chavale Rozenzon, Freidele Lipsman, and others. They were always active, always vivacious with them things were never boring.

The step of a Kurow person, the tempo of life, was slow and measured. We had enough time and everything in the end got done. It was not without reason that we were called by the unpleasant name “Kurow creepers! ”

The certainty that there was enough time to do everything enabled us to benefit more from the surrounding beauty. In the winter time we often used to go sledding on the “hills” around the town. How much joy and laughter were then carried on the wind!

 

Overcrowded and Yet Comfortable Dwellings

I also remember, however, the poverty of our dwellings. On average a whole family lived in a dwelling consisting of just one room. But a group of young girls didn't want to relinquish their youth and we got together at one of the girls' places to spend time together. I remember my friend's dwelling. In one corner stood my friend's father at his work-

[Page 979]

photo caption: Etel Bajer, daughter of Moishe Aron [Bajer] and Shifra Kawa, and grandchild of Hersh Mechel [Kawa.] Perished.

bench. In a second corner stood the beds. And in another corner the housewife was busy at the large oven, magically bringing forth delicacies from the rusty pots.

Somewhere else, in yet another corner, stood the large barrel of water and in the narrow passageway the group of girls used to gather, singing, rehearsing skits, or simply talking about other girls and boys… When parents were there to see, a boy was not supposed to be anywhere near their daughter.

At our frequent get-togethers at the house of any of the girls we sometimes used to start a dance a little polka or a hora. Then the gifted Ruchel Szildkrojt would accompany us on her violin.

At the time I attended the Beis Yaakov school we would often put on plays. Our plays were based on themes from the Tanach, such as the megillah of Esther, Ruth, or Chana and Her Seven Sons. The roles of the sons were played of course by girls. We performed with such enthusiasm, with such sincere feeling, that we were hardly aware of our awkward acting, our silly make-up, our odd decorations…

[Page 980]

photo caption: Blima Elenbojgen. Perished.

photo caption: Avraham Leib Wajda. Perished.

 

A Last Word

In particular, Feige Gitel Wajnberg excelled in acting ability playing a variety of characters with grace and talent.

Feige Gitel Wajnberg, sadly, played her last role in the liquidation of 1942. May God avenge her blood!

Feige Gitel's[7] face will never be erased from my memory. Together with her there will always live in my thoughts the dear images of all my other girlfriends: Chavale Rozenzon, Blimale Elenbojgen, Ruchel Szildkrojt, Etel Bajer, Chana Toba Grosman and many, many others.

Of what were you guilty that they murdered you in such a beastly fashion? You live in me, in my mind, in my feelings. I think of you often together with my saintly father, mother, sister, brothers, and my whole family.

For all of you I write these few inadequate and childish words.

You all are my essence, my being, my soul. You will always remain in my memory!

 

Translator's notes:
  1. Although Sura Ajzensztadt was fully literate in Yiddish, she submitted her article for the Kurow Yizkor Book in English. Yaakov Goldfein edited her article, shortening it and making various other changes, and he translated the edited version into Yiddish. I have translated the Yizkor Book text as it stands but have been able to consult the English article originally submitted by my mother to correct a few errors. Return
  2. Sura Ajzensztadt's sister, Feige, was often called “Fotsha” by family and friends. Return
  3. Sura Ajzensztadt also appears in this photo at the far right. Return
  4. Jozefow nad Wisla is a town in Lublin Province. The Yizkor Book text mistakenly gives Sender Zisha's town of birth as Tzozmir [Sandomierz.] Return
  5. “Toba Chanas” means “Toba, the daughter of Chana. ” Her surname appears in the text as “Elenbogen” and in the photo captions (p. 976 and p. 980) as “Elenbojgn, ” but in Kurow this name was pronounced “Elenbojgn” (“Elenbojgen”) and so I have used the spelling “Elenbojgen” throughout. Return
  6. The text mistakenly gives the years as from 14 to 17. Sura Ajzensztadt's original version gives the years as being from 7 to 14. Return
  7. The text here mistakenly gives the name as “Feige Etel. ” The correct name is “Feige Gitel.” Return

 

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