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[Page 310]

Memories

 

A Wintery Friday Night

(The Jewish Military Cadets in Ostrowa)

By Henoch Zatorski, Buenos Aires

Translated by Renée Saltzberg Paton

Sanctifying the holy memory of my unforgettable father – a wholly uncompromising Jew, Reb Abraham Soyfer st”m z”l. He died around the18th of Tevet [December] 1943 in Kamy, USSR, in the far north, near Archangel, Russia. My sister brought me part of a Sefer-Torah (Genesis) in my father's hand, which ended with the words “I die: but G-d will surely remember you…and you shall carry up my bones from here[1] …blessed forever and ever!..”.

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Even without examining the stove in the Amszynower shtibl, it was clear that it was twice as hot as normal, because it is Shabes. The warmth did not manage to melt the fantastically beautiful pictures the frost had so wondrously drawn on all the windows of the shtibl.

Abraham der soyfer [the scribe; nickname of Abraham Zatorski] was tall, well built, with the handsome face of a G-d fearing man surrounded by a downy black beard and ear locks. A pair of long eyebrows over his earnest eyes warned everyone around with a strong glance that their owner was ready to martyr himself before giving up even one iota of Yiddishkeit. It will be understood that such a Jew did not notice what happened around him, particularly such foolishness as “flowery patterns” on the frosted panes…

His son, Henoch, a youth of about thirteen to fourteen years old, short, with lively eyes illuminating his already bright face, sat near the hot oven constantly biting his hands. He looked thoughtfully at the frosty flowered panes. He thought that if his father were not there he would be able to draw on the panes. A pair of kopecks as well as fours and sixes on both sides and in the twinkling of an eye his meager wealth would increase greatly (he possessed all told three coins…)

But his father was there and besides he had already recited “Song of Songs” in such an ecstatic melody, that Henoch immediately forgot his thoughts. Abraham'ke der soyfer sang the Amszynower rebbe's melody to the verse “Water Cannot Extinguish Love And Lit Candles Do Not Rest”. Quick as lightening, Henoch thought of his neighbour Aaron Dęb and he imagined sitting with Aron's family at the Shabes table and singing the MisnagedTsur Mishelo” and from all the voices of those at the table that of the blond Sara stood out like a bell.

Suddenly the shtibl door opened and through the steam cloud there appeared the ungainly shape of Jankiel, the rabbi's shamas, who without even saying “Gut Shabes” [greeting, meaning “A Good Sabbath”], he immediately turned to Abrahamke der soyfer with the words, “The rabbi asked that Henoch come make kiddush.

His father had barely glanced at Henoch before and the youngster was already on his feet. Without even considering the light clothing he was wearing, he immediately ran to carry out his father's unspoken but categorical order.

As soon as Henoch stepped outside, a wild blizzard, like a devil's dance grabbed him from all sides. But the intensity of his father's glance conquered all obstacles and within a few minutes Henoch already stood panting heavily but respectfully in front of the rabbi. Because the rabbi was short, he sat with his entire head buried in a midrash and studied with a melody that resounded in the stillness like an echo from a higher, mysterious world.

Feeling the icy current of air Henoch had brought in with him, the rabbi lifted his head from the midrash and peered at him with a short sighted look. He said, “Gut Shabes” like a late answer to the quiet guest's respectful greeting.

“So Henoch, make kiddush so I can eat something. You know that one must not fast on shabes, and I still have a lot to study before I can go to the dinner table”. The rabbi turned to him like to an older boy, although he was the youngest in the class in which the rabbi taught the section of the shulkhan arukh entitled “The Breast-Plate of Judgment”. Henoch had grasped the complicated arguments with lightening speed, which not even one gentile judge could understand.

From observing the rabbi's “comings and goings”, Henoch as his student, knew that during the week the rabbi had no time for himself. He was completely occupied with the Law, religious questions and even community affairs and therefore left his study of the zohar and midrash until Friday night.

Henoch freed the rabbi from the duty of saying kiddush. The rabbi snacked on a piece of cake and drank a glass of tea, telling Henoch that he should return with his father after eating to say Grace after Meals.

Returning to the shtibl, Henoch found his father absorbed in the zohar. After a short time, he signalled to Henoch with a sideways glance that he should learn several paragraphs of the shulkhan arukh pertaining to the laws of Shabes.

Mendl czesler [Carpenter; a nickname], the broad shouldered labourer who had already eaten his Shabes meal, entered from the neighbouring house and sat down on the broad bench near the oven, leaving no space for anyone else to sit.

Suddenly he said: “Abraham'ke, how long will you torment your son with hunger? It is already after six o'clock. Several people have already had a nap after eating and you regularly feed your son with Torah from three o'clock on.”

Abraham der soyfer did not even move an eyebrow, but simply raised his voice, while noticing that Henoch trembled slightly on hearing czesler's impudence. Henoch was vexed that Mendl had dared to speak like that to his father who was so respected that the rabbi even consulted him about scribal matters. Henoch was certain that his father would answer czesler because on Shabes father did not think about secular things.

Chana di soyferte [the scribe's wife], sat in the narrow apartment all Friday evening. The floor was spread with light sand and on the table the candles were already half-burned in the polished, shiny, copper candlesticks. The slow-burning paraffin lamp shone brightly as Abraham'ke der soyfer had cleaned the glass with extra diligence in honour of Shabes. Underneath a starched white napkin were two modest loaves of challah, which Chana had baked that Friday morning. On the clean, white tablecloth was an old heirloom flask with raisin wine for kiddush. Near it stood a crystal kiddush glass like a respectful grandchild before an elderly grandfather. Over the whole room wafted the unique pleasant smell of Shabes fish, which Chana had so cleverly prepared from a bargain roach (small fish) bought from Zalman the fishmonger. Zalman had stood for a long time in the wintery dawn and then went to the tavern for a drink to warm up. He haggled with the women over the price of the fish, which he carried back from Brok. He earned very little because the fishermen were barely able to spread out their fishing nets in the burning frost…

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Shabes

 

Chana di soyferte had already finished reading the entire week's portion of the tzenna urenna and since Abraham'ke had not yet returned from the shtibl, she picked up the “Menoyres-Hamoer” [a well-known book on morals].

Meanwhile, the neightbour's daughter, blond-plaited Sara entered and shyly said “Gut Shabes”. She sat down at the edge of a bench and asked quietly, “Has your husband not yet returned from prayers? It has already been dark for four hours and isn't Henoch hungry after all this time?”

“He's used to it” Chana answered, keeping up appearances and then began to recite a speech of reproach from “Menoyres-Hamoer” in a mournful tone. But after sitting in silence for a while Sara, unable to contain herself, suddenly asked, “is it true that after Pesach Henoch will go to the Łomża Yeshiva?”

Chana modestly raised her warm eyes to the girl who began to redden under the mother's glance and in order to make the girl happy said, “we have yet to reach Pesach, my darling. I do not believe his father would permit Henoch to go to Łomża” (as he plans to send him to his grandfather in Węgrów, which she did not say in order not to make the child sad…).

Abraham'ke der soyfer and Henoch entered the house with a cheerful “Gut Shabes”. Sara hastily left the table and ran back to the kitchen and out the door.

Abraham'ke took out the “wedding clock” from its panel box and observing that it was ten minutes to seven, when the planet Mars was still in ascendancy; slowly began to sing. He sang “Sholom Aleichem” with the rabbi's melody, then “Eyshes Khayel” [“A Pious Woman”] and finally “Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy”.

After reciting kiddush and taking a bit of challah, Abraham'ke began singing zmiros. Following the song “Azmir Bishuvkhin” [“Song of Praise”] he was ready to eat the Shabes fish. But even before tasting it, he took the largest piece of fish from his plate and winking told Henoch to take it to Kadisz, a poor porter, so that he would not be shamed in front of his brother-in-law who was visiting from Ostrołęka. Abraham'ke knew that Kadisz was very poor and had only black bread and herring for the Shabes meal.

After he had helped a poor Jew to celebrate Shabes, Abraham'ke was finally able to enjoy his “portion” of fish…and therefore his saintliness was a little more hasty than usual. After calves' broth with a few thin noodles they sang another song, “Rest And Joy”. Then they snacked on several raisins, which remained from the raisin wine and finished with the song “Lord G-d” before going to pray at the rabbi's house.

There, in the room of the rabbinical court, a minyan had gathered consisting of Hasidim, several shoykhtim and ordinary men as well.

The rabbi was just coming to the end of “Sholom Aleichem”. At this point the door leading to the dining room opened and there stood the rebbetzin, a pleasant looking woman with eyes modestly downcast, surrounded by a half-dozen daughters. (The younger children, three boys and an equal number of girls were perhaps already asleep). Behind the family stood the two servants. All were politely listening to the rabbi's kiddush.

Immediately after that, the door closed and Jankiel the shames handed round the Shabes food, The rabbi sang “Azmir Bishuvkhin” [Song of Praise] alone. He regaled the group with songs, the same songs Abraham'ke and Henoch had sung together earlier.

The rabbi recited the Torah in the Hasidic [using Sephardic pronunciation] manner. His followers talked, asked questions and requested explanations of passages that were not clear in the Five Books of Moses [the Bible], Rashi and the midrash. By the time they arrived home, the night was half over.

Abraham'ke woke Henoch at five o'clock in the morning so that they could spend an hour learning gemore. More than once he had to tear Henoch away from studying to send him outside to catch a little fresh air as the undigested meal kept repeating due to a lack of sleep.

Like a good Jewish woman, Chana never protested and Henoch grew up to be a learned man, whom G-d and people blessed. He brought honour to the name of Abraham soyfer.

 


[Page 315]

The Psalms Awakener
[Der t'hilim veker]

(In memory of Lejzor Kuczer)

By Rabbi Szmuel Eliezer Dan, New York

Translated by Leah Krikus

A simple Jew, about forty years old, who kept his holy vow - and never ceased his “holy work” which he performed with his hoarse voice (thus the name Kuczer [rooster]). He also liked to speak in rhyme. Old people said that when Lejzor was called to military service he said a prayer to G-d in his simple language:

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Der T'hilim Veker

“Liberate me, G-d, from soldier's clothing
And I will awaken Jews to your Torah.
With all my heart I vow
For as long as I live and have the strength.”

The Vow

He seeks neither rabbis nor scribes
To free him from promises
Seeks no release from vows
Does not want his words desecrated.

Two o'clock Friday night
The town was sweetly sleeping
Doors, gates - locked, closed
Lejzor ran to perform his divine service.

He went like a whirlwind
Over streets, small yards
With the firm belief
That angels helped him run.

To t'hilim! To t'hilim [Psalms]!
Children cried in their cribs
Frightened dogs barked
The wind also was not silent
Nothing stopped Lejzor's voice.

Bodies wrapped up
Tired, dreaming
Angry weather reigns
And Lejzor walks in the night.

Joy running through his bones
Drops, drops like old wine
Only Kuczer, only Kuczer
Wakes and calls people to shul. To t'hilim, to t'hilim!
Lejzor goes like the devil
Dark skies are striking, storming!
White snow is falling
Closing in whole courtyards.

To t'hilim, to G-d's work!
The voice begins to disturb
Sweet sleep under the roofs
Is this a voice from a distant star?
Or from even higher!

From the body, thin as a stick
A voice emerges, roars hysteria
And the awakening is prophetic
It calls to Psalms a mystery.

To t'hilim, to t'hilim!
The hoarse notes vibrate
They call, awaken and beg
Through gates, closed doors
Penetrating into the beds.

The holy Psalms book waits open
In the new besmedresh, in the old one
Arise, Jews! No more sleeping,
Lest the evil one take over.

He did not forget one street
He did not lose his voice
Even if he was totally soaked
Even when frozen like ice.

When he was almost done
By the Piaskes he remembered
And went to the old cemetery
With the last of his strength.

Grotesque little houses and figures:
The rabble with Reb Gerszon the Scholar
Forced their way in, hiding
In the cemetery's sand.

To t'hilim, to t'hilim!
Words struck
In the cemetery's naked trees
Standing bent as though saddened
Over graves like old dreamers.

Not leaves, whole branches,
Small plants, mostly crooked
Like the dead, they are silent
Like the headstones' cold voices.

Arise for Holy work!
The echo of Lejzor's ringing voice
Reaches headstones, old stones
Deep into the graves the voice penetrated
Fear invades the dry bones.

Who is calling there?
Why frighten the dead
What do you want from the dead
Why awaken them?

Resurrection, a sky?
It seemed to me
On a stone, asleep
And overflowing when awoken.

Look, he is by the fence
Frightening the dead, a great sin
He becomes light as a feather
Goes, disappears.

The sun was still asleep
Still far from the morning star
Jacob's tents open easily
The holy sounds allowed to be heard.

When Lejzor arrived, tired
From his route, at the besmedresh
A holy joy enveloped him
Holiness rested on him.

- - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - -

There is no congregation, the awakener has been stilled
The Jewish tumult, the fire, the noises
The gentile remained, the prayer bells
And a Jewish mass grave, a mound of ash.

Yisgadal Ve-Yiskadash Shmey Raba!! [opening line of the mourner's kaddish].

 


[Page 319]

Shabes In The Shtetl

By Rabbi Szmul Eliezer Dan

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Shabes and the Ordinary Jews

Not only Hasidim
In silk caftans
Not only rich men
Who stand at the “eastern” wall.

Not only serge kapotes
Shoes and white socks,
Also boots with mud
Hammers, saws and stains.

Simple Jews
Honest artisans:
Tailors, shoemakers, smiths,
From ordinary families.

Jews with calluses
Fed by muscles and sweat,
Thrashing wagon drivers
All, on Shabes are in shul.

There is Jankiel Nianak
Before him drivers tremble.
An odd-ball, a maniac
Horses not fed.

His two young horses
As dear to him as his two eyes,
The pride of the wagon driver,
Run swift as arrows from the bow.

On Friday morning they fly
A swift stride, like an elf
To arrive in the shtetl
Before the candles are blessed in the shtetl.

Quickly to the bathhouse to bathe
Beard and ear locks combed
Clean, full of joy
Forgetting horse and wagon.

In boots smeared with oil
To greet the Sabbath princess,
Seated on the throne,
With kiddush, songs and good food.

Meet the bride – welcome the Sabbath Queen
Simple Jewish wagon drivers
Have Sunday already in mind:
In the end they think first
About Friday at dawn.

Shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths,
First inside to bring out
Shabes, joyful Jews
No moans, no lamentations

Mnucha and Symcha without shame
Cry out about still being poor
Shabes without tears
Shabes is like a mother.

Calm and sedate:
Welcome G-d's angels
Holy Sabbath, no school
Masters and servants.

The Jews have not forgotten
Their additional soul, a little later
Around the synagogue table they sit
Bowed over old pages.

And there, the Kosower shoemaker
A tall man, well respected;
A master of politeness –
Sitting in mid-row.

A nice beard, rabbi like forehead.
Had stopped and said –
He would explain the midrash:
Words that reach the heart.

In the dark a dim light
Stands like a demon at the cantor's desk.
The multitude say Psalms
By the glow of the eternal light.

They cannot understand anything
From the melody and words,
Is that singing
Or just so much noise.

The small voice of the Jew
Creeps into the bones and becomes
A lament, vibrating like a fiddle –
Languishes and pinches like a flute.

Reached in Psalms to the end
With the coming of the star.
The Sabbath Queen is leaving –
Concerns about making a living take over.

The shamas, Natan Zelig,
A pious man, who relies on G_d,
Holds up the cup
With certain triumph.

Louder, say it louder:
“Behold G-d is my salvation
I will trust and be not afraid”.[2]

 


[Page 321]

A Pious Woman

By Josef Leszcz

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Shabes in Ostrowa. Everyone is at prayer. The District Official had come up with a new evil decree. Jews are forbidden to wear silk hats, and the women cannot wear wigs or head coverings.

He placed watchmen in the streets – without prior warning – to carry out his order. They forcibly took the silk hats from the men and the wigs from the women.

A lot of men and women still in the botei medrashim and shtiblakh were afraid to go home with bare heads.

I was running home to fetch my father's “everyday” hat and I heard about an event that had taken place in the street. The official, that malicious person, had torn the scarf off my grandmother, pious Jutkele.

This old woman was not frightened and told him that he would not live much longer. Not long afterwards, everyone was talking about his sudden death.

 


[Page 322]

When The Mortar Makes Noise

By Jechezkiel Frejlich, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Besides hanging around town and his house, Icze Itke's [son] had the habit of bringing home a guest for Shabes and Yontef. He also saw to it that all the Jews, living together with him in Mosze Wasermacher's [water maker's] courtyard, would have haroses for the seder on erev Pesach, which he made.

With great love, as if he were creating a work of art, he made haroses for the Jews of the courtyard. With a generous hand he divided up the haroses for the neighbours and believed: “Jews must enjoy Passover”. Icze's haroses was famous in town. Nobody could find out the secret of how Icze seasoned his haroses and it had such a special flavour. Erev Pesach during the day, after preparing the haroses he put on his yontef embroidered kapote and combed his beard just right so that every silver hair majestically lay on his chest. Then he opened a window, stuck out his G-d-fearing head and with a solemn voice called to the Jews of the courtyard that the tasty seder morsel is ready and they can come to get haroses.

So the years went by, as the trees bloomed and lost their leaves, as seders were celebrated and week days came and went – and Icze year in and year out with love and diligence prepared haroses every erev Pesach for the Jews who lived in Mosze Wasermacher's courtyard.

Then came the dark, difficult war days, ruining the joyous holiday spirit in Jewish homes. Children went around with stomachs swollen from a constant diet of potatoes and water; faces like yellow parchment, and dull eyes. Seeing what the hunger was doing to their children, parents were disheartened.

As every year, with spring the fair weather arrived and poured warm light on the earth. But the light did not wash away the fear that lay everywhere, heavy as lead, on the spirit of the Jews this night before Passover.

As they did every year in Jewish houses, they scoured and koshered, cleaned and washed, dusted and aired and prepared to receive the Passover guest. But strangely scrubbing did not help: the dishes did not have any luster. The platters did not shine and the floor could not be kept clean. The weekday feeling stubbornly hung on and would not allow yontef into Jewish homes.

It is already the day of the first Seder. Icze, Itke's came from the Amszynower shtibl carrying a small package. He unwrapped the package and with joy said to his wife, “here is, thanks be to G-d, the shmura matzah that was baked in the shtibl oven”. He carefully lay down the two matzos, took two strides into the large kitchen and said, as he had always done in the good years: “well, Hoida-Dana, (this is what he called his wife when he was happy) well, come on, where are the nuts?” The “come on” was a term he used when things were not as they should be. Leja Dina stared at her husband, and said nothing. She looked at her Icze as if he were insane. Icze stood there waiting for an answer. He stroked his silver beard and with more intensity asked again: “well, come on, the nuts, where are they?”

A bitter grin was on Leja Dina's face. “A black dream on my enemies heads!” she stammered and then added: “Where would I find nuts?” With anger and pain she returned to her cooking.

Icze stood there as if paralyzed, silently stroking his silver beard. It became clear to him why Leja Dina did not have any nuts ready for him. He turned around and went to the salon and thought and said to himself: “Jews must have haroses for the seder.”

Back and forth Icze Itke's paced over the soft carpet in his salon. He wrinkled his forehead. He stood at the window. He looked out over the courtyard and said to himself: “I cannot, I cannot allow Jews to remain without haroses!”

He felt terrible. He went by the large mirror and saw himself. He suddenly realized that he had gotten old. His silver beard had once been blond. With a hurried step, old age had crashed into him. He tore himself away from the mirror and started pacing back and forth again.

Thank goodness an idea came to him. He went to the store and ran his eyes over things, through the glass doors. Then he opened the store, looked on the first shelf, on the second and said to himself: “the candlesticks, no! The spice box? The pitcher? No, no!” His gaze moved on to other shelves and then he had it: “yes, this is good!” he called out joyously.

In his hand Icze had a faded alms-box. He caressed and stroked it and whispered to himself: “G-d willing before Sukes, G-d will help!” With the pushkele in hand he ran out and went into to the kitchen to Leja Dina and radiant he called out: “Hoida-Dana, run out to Tuwia in the delicatessen and get a couple of pounds of nuts, like every year!” He held out the pushkele and gave it to her: “give him this”. He quietly said, “G-d will help”.

“Icze!” – Leja Dina said on seeing the pushkele… “Icze, G-d be with you, the esrog pushkele, are you going to pawn your inheritance from your grand-father?”

“Well, come on!” Icze answered: “Leja Dina, we have a G-d in heaven, by the time Sukes comes he could bring salvation to all Israel! Meanwhile, Leja Dina, Jews must not be without haroses at the seder. Go, bring back nuts, it will soon be too late!”

Icze had called his wife Leja Dina twice. By his voice and his manner of speaking, Leja Dina understood that this is what he wanted to do. She took the pushkele and left the house.

Impatiently Icze waited for his wife. It seemed to be taking longer than usual. He was afraid that Tuwia would not want to give the nuts for the pushkele. He began to wonder if the pushkele was worth two pounds of nuts, but as he saw Leja Dina with a bag in her hand, a sea of joy flooded his heart.

With a childlike playfulness he threw the nuts from the bag, grabbed a nutcracker and went to work. The pile of nuts was growing under his hand. Jumping up, he took out the mortar and pestle. Never had he felt as strong as his did this erev Pesach. His hand was not tired from the grating, chopping and pushing. Like music from a heavenly choir – the noise of the mortar and pestle filled him with joy. He put the nuts in a flowered bowl. Like a master of his trade, he began to prepare the haroses. He poured in a little wine, put in a cut-up apple, then he mixed a little, put in a little cinnamon, and a little salt. He tasted it, poured a little, stirred and a platter of haroses was ready.

Now that Icze was done working, he quickly combed his beard, put on his embroidered kapote, opened the window to the courtyard, stuck out his silver beard and announced that the neighbours should come by. With childlike happiness he said: “Jews, haroses! Come and get haroses!”

In amazement the neighbours looked out to see Icze dressed for yontef. They could not believe their ears, as it had been a long time since Icze had received any help from his children because they lived in want, that this Pesach would be like all the others with haroses ready for everyone. Only once they saw Icze's beaming face did they go into the house.

Icze was standing at the table in the kitchen and doling out haroses. The neighbours came with small platters, with cups, with glasses and with ladles. Icze gave each one a portion and kept a little for himself and a little for another who was late or would need it for the second Seder. He gave everyone of them haroses with the following wish: “you should have a koshern seder un a gut yohr”. With gratitude the neighbours answered: “Ir zolt biz iberayohr derlebn and vider teyln haroses!” [“you should live another year to prepare haroses!”].

 


[Page 325]

The Amshynower Shtibl

By Matti Rozen

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

The Amshynower shtibl was on ulica Komorowo where about five minyonim of Hasidim prayed. The shitbl had a nice piece of land and in summer everyone would lie on the grass and discuss various matters. On a hot day, in the afternoon after mincha, everyone is at ease, sitting on a bench in the courtyard and chatting.

The youngsters played; running and pushing as if they were on a playing field. It was a certain kind of Jew who had the ability and the talent to tell good stories and a couple of Jews had lain down near the narrator. As it was already Friday night, during the break until the inauguration of Shabes, the children were in the courtyard playing all kinds of games: tag, hide and seek, etc.

From the shtibl were heard lovely melodies from the “Song of Songs”, that people have been saying eternally during mincha inaugurating the Sabbath. Everyone came into the shtibl from the courtyard to pray. The fathers, who noticed that their children are not in the shtibl but still playing in the courtyard, have called them in to pray.

L'chah Dodi [“Come My Beloved”] is sung to greet Shabes by everyone together, big and small were transformed into a choir.

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Progressive young men in the Amshynower shtibl
Standing from right: Jakob Arja Trejster, Benjamin Maslo, Henoch Zatorski, J.D. Ptakes
Sitting: Icchok Abramczyk, Lejbl Margolis and Pinie Koczkowicz

 

After praying everyone happily greeted each other with a “Gut Shabes”. It is worthwhile to remember that visitors and poor men would come for Shabes and all were supplied with a place to eat on Shabes.

All of this, the Nazis destroyed, may their names be erased.

 


[Page 326]

The Strykower Shtibl

By A.M. A.

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Exactly opposite Mieczkowski's wall, a long courtyard with pointed stones led to the shtibl. Mosze the Caretaker, who prayed at the Strykower lived in the front of the courtyard.

Josef Mendel, used to drive around with glassware, owned his own horse and wagon and always kept the horse near the entrance to the shtibl. Only the horse did not have to listen to the Strykowers.

In front of the entrance or anteroom, was a bench that was always full of youngsters who did not want to go in “the door” because there in the anteroom they were able to talk and joke a little. These youngsters were already dressed in Germanic style [short jackets as opposed to the Orthodox Kapote]. The half-religious sons-in-law would come out and envy these youngsters in the anteroom. The extremely religious fathers would drag their sons away from the “heretics” and force them back into the shtibl.

The “gentlemen” sat on the eastern side, at the window. Aron Welwel Rubin the printer, with his long, yellow beard, appeared very serious and dignified in white robes - he used to blow the shofar and everyone would tingle, especially when once the shofar…stuck. The gabaim, the serious Icchok Jakob Podbielewicz; Eliahu Jankiel the “gardener”; Chaim Sokolower; Eliezer Rotman and Szlama Goldberg were almost on their feet.

Zawel Gutman with his nice beard, used to lead Shachris on Rosheshoneh, and the bal musaf and bal korah Szlama Bajger-Kwiatek would bewitch and frighten everyone with his Unesaneh Tokef.

Who does not remember Eliezer Frenkel, or Abraham Tyk? The latter used to stand up to cough. Alter Gęsior the melamed used to comment on the news from “Moment”. The elders Jakob Stoliar and the merchants Berel Orzycer, both from Rożan, always stayed close together. Icek, the teacher at Mizrahi and Szlamele Jurkewicz with his sarcastic “eulogies” on Simchas Torah after the double drinks at the Strykower shtibl… Mendel Lerman with his sons in the “shkotzevater”, Hersz Jankiel Jabke, Moisze Icchok Melamed's son-in-law also liked to keep the youngsters company in the anteroom.

Rich, middle-class, poor Hasidim, merchants, labourers and brokers - all different kinds of people, with different temperaments, from various towns - arrived and were brought together in Ostrowa.

The Strykowers did not get excited or as noisy as the Gerers or Amshynowers. They were quiet, modest Jews and some even – had modern beliefs. Only a few of them and their family members were lucky enough to survive. I would like the young generation of Strykower Hasidim to remember to watch over their holy memory.

 


[Page 327]

Ostrowa In “Fonyes' ” Times

By Eliezer Kacew, Buenos Aires

Translated by Leah Krikun

Ostrowa, when the Fonyes ruled, was known as a quiet town, where people seldom argued. Ostrowa was a town of small businesses, artisans, grain and lumber merchants and contractors. The latter made their living providing goods to the Russian soldiers, whose barracks were in Komorowo - three kilometers from Ostrowa. In Ostrowa there were also several large mills. Worthy of mention is Masej's Mill on ulica Malkinia and Kagan-Trejster's huge electric mill. One should also mention Hersz Tejtel's and Nutkiewicz's sawmills and Tejtel's “saloon” (in the latter beer was made for the entire area). There were also Jewish bankers, Reb Nachman Goldberg – who had a white beard and his son-in-law Reb Abraham Jakob Frydman who was the regular bal korah in the new besmedresh.

Life in town proceeded in a normal fashion. Each morning the Jews went to pray, some in the old besmedresh on ulica Komorowo, some in the new besmedresh which was located on a back street near the mikveh and still others in Hasidic shtiblakh.

The women were busy preparing good, hot groat soup in winter and cold, red beet soup [borscht] in summer. After breakfast everyone went to work. The day thus passed quickly.

In the evening, these same Jews could again be seen in the botei medrashim. Some studied a page of gemore, some a chapter of mishnah and some just a bit of philosophy. There were those who stood near the two large coal ovens (in the new besmedresh) keeping warm and telling each other stories from bygone days.

 

Soldiers Marching

During the monotonous days throughout the year the quiet tedium of the town was sometimes disturbed. On occasion the following picture could be seen: men dressed in vests with four tassels hanging down from their prayer shawls, wearing skullcaps; women with wigs or scarves on their heads; suddenly they would run out the door, look around and ask what had happened. There was some kind of noise and singing.

Nothing really unusual had occurred. The noise and singing came from the soldiers, who marched through the town marketplace to the bathhouse. Their happy singing and whistling woke up the town. For a while people had something to talk about…

Well, well, he (the bathhouse keeper) will be in great demand today as he takes a “sixer” from every soldier and “three” for a little broom. They like to hit themselves with this while on the benches.

And thus, envious of the bathhouse keeper who would be raking it in, the people returned to their homes, thinking well it's not long until erev Shabes and then we will also be going to the bathhouse.

Sometimes the town was woken not by happy singing, but by crying and the shaking or rattling of collection tins. The shakers would shout aloud every time a coin was thrown into the tin: “charity will save you from death”. And the Jews truly did throw coins in to ensure the purchase of their freedom from the Angel of Death. People did not stand around doing nothing; everyone sought a way to earn a good deed, accompanying funerals, etc. - some went part of the way, some all the way to the holy site. This depended on who had passed away.

 

Live Fish

On Fridays, a different and fresh life style was noticeable in town. Thursdays the weekly marketing was done when farmers from nearby areas came to sell their produce and purchase items they needed in their villages. These farmers, with their horses and carts, left behind not only a good deal of money, but also a lot of garbage…

Religious Jews were particularly pleased when on Friday morning the streets were immediately swept free of the garbage. For them this signified that in honour of Shabes the streets would be really clean.

The fishermen, Icze and Izak, brought their wares and poured them into the barrels of water and immediately started to call out: “Over here, come here, ladies! Live fish! Pike, roach, flounder.

And the women scurried to buy the live fish, which were swimming around, unaware of the fate awaiting them in a few hours' time. Often, when Icze the fisherman had a large crowd, his two daughters, Fej'cze and Ryw'cze came to help. Both were tall and slim and many of the women would forget about the live fish - and look at the two beauties. Icze the fisherman who noticed this, would scowl and get angry: “Well old lady, are you buying or not, what are you staring at?”

 

When the Town Sleeps

On Friday evenings, when the sun began to set “under the roofs”, the town took on a different appearance. The shopkeepers began to close up. The women hurried to get the cholent into the oven. Jews, soaked from the ritual bath, ran home quickly to change their clothes. A little later they could be seen in their black, belted satin kapotes, their bearing upright and their beards combed. They went leisurely to welcome Shabes.

In the windows of all the Jewish homes, small fires were visible as our mothers were lighting (and blessing) the candles. The real Shabes celebration began when the men returned from shul, with the special Shabes feast. Mosze Chaim, or his competitor Aron Ber, were the providers of wine.

When the Sabbath meal was finished, when the entire town was on the point of dreaming in their sweet, Shabes sleep, young boys quietly stole out of their homes and began walking out of town, on ulica Warszawska, to the moon and stars. And sitting on the grass, they would begin to sing their Shabes songs until the cocks began to crow…

 

Beloved Shabes Ends

When Shabes approached its end and as it became darker, people became sadder. Especially sad was the Russian Church which stood on ulica Warszawska, near the sadzawke, with its huge bells which rang out on Saturday evening, reminding everyone that tomorrow was Sunday - a day of leisure.

Passing the Orthodox Church we remembered Abraham Reisen's famous song about the church bells, and we all began to hum it together…

Returning home we found our mothers sitting by the window, looking at the sky to see if a star had already appeared, a sign that one could turn on the lamp, and say the T'chinah [suppplication] “God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob”.

After lighting the lamps and father saying havdalah the work-a-day week began again, with its burden of making a living, making a living, making a living…

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Mama says the T'chinah
– “God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob”

 


[Page 330]

Once Upon A Time
(Splintered Memories)

By Aaron, Toronto

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

A. An Autumn Day in Brok Forest 1918

During a gray, autumn afternoon the town was wrapped in a depressed quiet, like everyday during the week, since the German occupation. The stores around the market place were open, watching for customers. My mother asked me to do an errand for her – to take some food to my brother, a seventeen year-old young man. He was away from the “yeshiva” bench with other Jewish young men in Brok forest cutting down huge trees that fell onto the road with a loud echo.

At that time, since the Germans began their occupation, they feverishly cut down the trees in the forest, sent the trees to the sawmills and then sent the wood to Germany.

Arriving in the forest, where the workers were, shots were heard in the distance and suddenly the mood became spirited and passionate. Discussions started up, but being nine years old, I could not understand. However, I had a feeling that something of great importance was taking place.

I remained in the forest until evening when the workday ended and together with the group of Jewish workers marched to the highway, about two kilometers from the centre of town.

On leaving the forest, what had occurred became clear. Suddenly a droshky had arrived with the German Forest Ranger (nadlesznik) who was guarded by armed civilians. The importance of this matter was being played out in the streets: Now the powerful, daring “Huns” and their police chief (because of his deep voice, he was called “greps” [Burp]) were unarmed. Their abominable leather straps had been torn from them publicly in the middle of the street. Such a pity to see yesterday's rulers, whose first step into Ostrowa was marked by grabbing Jews, young and old, and forcing them to do various jobs, while shouting: “Jew work!” Everyone was happy to see their downfall.

And this was to become the independent, “free” Poland. The country quickly distinguished itself with Halerites who cut off Jewish beards and threw Jews from moving trains; with Przytyk, Brysk, Bereza-Kartuska and with inquisition like torture of political prisoners in the overfilled prisons throughout the country, especially in the sadly renown Łuck.

 

B. The 1st of May Demonstration in Ostrowa

A holiday quiet ruled over the streets (the first of May 1919 fell on Shavues). The stores around the market place were closed and locked. A golden spring sun radiates and warms the sleepy houses. Something new, waiting to happen, is in the air…

Suddenly, unexpectedly from the Przedmieszcze (ulica 3go Maja) appeared a red flag, waving at the head of a group of marching Jewish workers, lead by Poalei Zion, which at that time was the dominant force among the Jewish working class in Ostrowa. The violent noise of the International was heard, which carried over the houses and streets, bringing everyone out to see what was going on.

Although I was still a child at the time, the singing and enthusiasm of the marchers fascinated me. I felt that Shavues was more of a holiday than all the other holidays and along with other people joined the demonstrators.

The talk was that the march was going to Brok forest, where there would be a meeting. From there they would march back to town, where the Polish workers from Nutkiewicz's sawmill were expected to join the demonstration. Arriving at the “Promenade Garden”, where Tejtel's brick brewery was located, Legionnaires (the F.K.O.) surrounded us. The demonstrators turned around in the garden and marched back on the same road on which they had come. At the meeting that was held at Poalei Zion headquarters, Ajz'sze Gęsior, the leader at that time, gave a speech and the demonstration ended.

Since I was still a child at the time, I did not fully understand what was happening. The speeches made me feel a part of this great holiday that, to a great extent, influenced my future choices, years later around 1927 to 1929.

 

C. The Jewish Library of the “Education” Society

The Jewish library of the “Education” Society was the centre of intellectual-cultural activity in Ostrowa. There were thousands of books in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and also Russian. The latest and best of Yiddish and secular literature was found on its shelves: philosophy, history, science and sociology. There one could find books from the Yiddish classics through Marx and Engels. This library had the second largest number of books in the entire Białystok Province. Not even a Polish library had the amount and variety of books as our Jewish library. A lot of Polish students from the gymnasia came to borrow books.

Around 1919 (if I'm not mistaken), the library moved to a new, larger location in Jukel Tejtel's house on ulica Miodowa, where there was a brighter, larger reading room. There were always readers sitting around the tables, who in a quiet, meditative calm leafed through newspapers, literary publications and books. This was a wonderful room.

A group of Jewish intellectuals, the majority of them so-called yeshiva students directed activities and took part in discussions and lectures. They brought the best and highly esteemed lecturers to speak on various subjects concerning literature and philosophy. There in the reading room, as in the town theatre, appeared among others: Leja Finkielsztejn, Dr. Jozef Kruk, Aron Zajtlin and Ejsurowicz. They always attracted all the Jewish youth. The library was the intellectual home for all the Jewish youngsters without regard to party or belief.

Among the leaders of the “Education” Society were the following: Poliakiewicz, Rozenberg, Ajz'sze Gęsior, Zatorski, Chrust and Holcman who was a teacher from the public school, as well as others.

A little bit about teacher Holcman. He arrived in Ostrowa around 1918-1919. He was an assimilated Jew, but under the influence of the Jewish intellectuals, he learned Yiddish and also became one of its most productive leaders.

I must also mention the devoted librarian – Kohn, who day in and day out (until 1928 when he went to live in Brazil) took care of the books and remembered where each book could be found on the shelves.

 

D. The Polish Russian War 1920 – My Father and Older Brother in Mortal Danger

In 1920, times were difficult. The Polish army was retreating from the front. Everything was at a standstill. Hunger and need became the daily guest in the poor and labourers' homes. I remember the night when the last division of the retreating Polish army left Ostrowa. Doors and gates were locked and barricaded. All the families from our courtyard – from Rynek [the marketplace] to ulica Miodowa– gathered in one attic: in the dark and barely breathing, we heard the retreating groups invading Jewish houses, robbing the last little bit of people's belongings.

And when the night of fear and terror had passed, with the coming of day we heard shooting from the arriving Red Army. When the first “Red” arrived in town, everyone opened the barricaded doors and gates and went out into the streets. Soon the regular units of the Russian Army arrived and began installing the administration in town. The Jewish worker organizations (especially Poalei Zion) began their work.

After two weeks the Red Army had to retreat and left Ostrowa. The young Jewish comrades were full of dread. Everyone was afraid that when the Poles came back everyone would be arrested. A lot left with the retreating Red army, among them was my eldest brother Ajz'sze. They went as far as Białystok. Seeing that there was no end to the ruckus, they remained in Białystok for a while with relatives and then decided to return home. On the road home, they were stopped. Instead of being killed, they were brought back to Białystok where they were imprisoned with hardened criminals. In the end, it was decided that they should be sent back to Ostrowa for a court martial.

The homes, of those arrested and who were now in mortal danger, were dark and bitter. Petitions were presented and influential people intervened on their behalf and finally they were freed.

At the same time terrible news arrived about my father who was in Szumowo where he was the head of a heder. The returning Polish Army had arrested him under the pretext that he was a spy. They inflicted barbarous tortures and once in the middle of the night they tied him to a horse's tail and dragged him at a gallop through the streets and fields and as if that was not enough, when he regained consciousness, he was in a stall with dogs.

When we learned this cruel news, my mother went on foot, braving the roads filled with returning soldiers, to save my father. She left us children at home in G-d's hands. Again, she was fighting for a loved one. Even the village priest testified that my father was innocent – in the end he was freed.

My father was always watchful on the anniversary of that terrible night. But that dreadful event had undermined his health and shortened his life. Sixteen years later he died.

 

E. The Culture Union A.N. Y.L. Perec

During the years 1920 to 1927 there was also a Culture-Union in Ostrowa which was founded and led by the Left and its sympathizers. The activities were always organized talks and lectures about literary and sociological subjects. One of the lectures was about political economy and historic materialism – lead by Jidel Lewkowicz. They also began collecting money to buy books in order to have their own library.

At the beginning the work went normally. The leftist workers and youngsters would pack the headquarters and do the necessary union work. Over time, however, the leftists became a thorn in the side of the government and suddenly there was trouble and persecution. Some of the members, unable to find work in the Jewish trades in Ostrowa, left for Warszawa.

Members of the committee and leaders of the union were: Alter Ostrow, Chaim, Pejsach and Jidel Slomka, Gerszon Frydman, Aron Gęsior, et al. I must also mention Nachman Imbier (until the war he lived in Warszawa and was murdered there by the Nazis). From time to time he would return to Ostrowa and participate in community work. I remember 1933, when after a five-year absence I returned to Ostrowa and met him. He came from a poor family. He, his father and his brother were all shoemakers. He was always actively working among the Jewish leather workers and he was head of the trade commission for shoemakers in the Warszawa leather union. A true example of an honest worker – always ready to help to another individual, he would share his last bit of bread.

 


[Page 334]

Ostrow Fifty Years Ago

By Mosze Aron Hoffman, New York

Translated by Leah Krikun

During the Russian revolution our Ostrowa also became infected by the winds of revolution. Many Ostrowers were working in Warszawa and in Białystok. It was a custom to come home to your parents for Yontef, these were days for homecoming. Fresh faces, fresh idealists and everyone intended to bring something home to their birthplace, and this they did - they brought the revolutionary storm.

I remember when Sonja Ber came back for Yontef. Proclamations immediately appeared in the streets. It is worthwhile mentioning the Ber family: The father, Mosze Aron belonged to the progressive religious group, and Sonja led the youth in political propaganda. She influenced everyone. She was a Bundist. I was under the influence of her brother Nakh'ke and later I was asked to attend meetings, led by his sister Manja. These meetings were held in his parents' home. Sonja's parents, although they knew these activities were dangerous and could lead to imprisonment, permitted them to take place. Mosze Aron Lerner was also an active, dedicated, intellectual anarchist. When he appeared at the “exchange” everyone loved to hear him speak. He was never at a loss for a reply to any question. He also did not stand around with his arms folded. He always had a revolver in his pocket. An incident occurred: the Browning went off and shot him. Sonja Ber and other friends took him to Warszawa for an operation. Following his recovery he returned to Ostrowa and later went to America.

 

The “Strikers”

We organized strikes, first in the glass factory. Ostrowa at that time had no large factories. The glass factory was the largest. The others were small businesses with a few workers. But we led strikes in the small businesses as well. Everyone knew that after work they had to meet at the “exchange” as all the plans were made there. The movement grew, and Ostrowa occupied a prominent place in revolutionary circles.

Later everyone left the hideouts and a blood bath began. I was also injured and I hurried to the doctor to have my wounds bound. Thus the action ended.

I recall several other incidents from those times, during the pogroms in Białystok and Siedlce. The population, in other parts of Russia too, were upset by what was happening and we, the Ostrowers, from various parties: Bund, Poalei Zion, Socialist Zionists and others had one name: “Strikers”. Opponents appeared. One “fine” Jew, Nachman Goldberg, the owner of the “District” brick house also had connections with a bank and in addition to all of the above, he was very proud of his beautiful beard. He would make speeches in the synagogue where he prayed and as an opponent of the strikers, he caused us a lot of trouble. At that time a dentist, A. Bundowicz, moved to Ostrowa. He suggested that half of Goldberg's beard be cut off, so he would stop speaking out against the strikers, but this never happened.

The other group, the fishermen (who were called “grintzes”) considered themselves to be powerful and they also disturbed us - until we quieted them down. The Ostrower butchers and the fishermen argued and fought at that time. The butchers were also thought of as strong but they did not cause us any problems. The fishermen did, so we joined forces with the butchers in order to teach the fishermen a lesson.

While the storm was taking place in Russia, Ostrowa did not stand aside. As mentioned, the Ostrowa youth did not stand around with their hands folded. We led the first strike in the glass factory. The factory owner had several sons, one of them strongly opposed us and threatened us with police action, but we quieted him down as well.

My parents learned that I was one of the strikers, and they did not like it. I was then dependent upon them. As soon as I came in the door of my parents' home, I got a lecture that made me feel really terrible. I therefore decided to leave home.

 


[Page 336]

Moods And Reminiscing

A.M. Orzycer, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

I was young when I left home. I left my parents and four sisters behind in Ostrowa, my hometown. My Hasidic parents wanted their only son to study and perhaps become a rabbi, but I did not go down that road. I was fascinated with books at an early age and I left to see the world. First of all I went to the contemporary centre – Paris. But it was difficult for a Hasidic, young man, educated in Jewish tradition, to find appropriate work in Paris.

Arriving in France as a tourist and student, I fell in with a number of foreigners, who at that time, the beginning of the 1930's, had no right to earn their bread in the land of “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality”.

I met several ex-Ostrowers, young, unemployed immigrants, even though we were in another environment, still there was a little warmth and comfort among them. They advised me to give up being quiet and shy. None of them had a socialist background, but even those from secular homes longed to go back home and some of them did go back to Ostrowa.

It was difficult living only among several newly arrived ex-Ostrowers and a minyan of old-timers. The police were constantly harassing me about papers. When a nightmare about a baguette [a small French bread] happened frequently and I no longer had enough money for a hotel room, I left. I took the risk of going through Ireland to arrive illegally in England in order to enjoy a few calm, satisfying days in a new country.

I found more calm and satisfaction in London. True - the French are friendlier and livelier than the English, but the English are more serious, better behaved and mainly the English police never bothered me about papers.

But there were no fellow townspeople, as the gates of England were closed to Ostrowers.

Here and there I would meet an Ostrower or a Rożaner who remembered my grandfather, a great, learned man in Rożan. But how can one live with a zeyde's yiches among cold Englishmen, with no friends and no news from home, like there was in Paris.

My homesickness would not leave me in peace. I had a wonderful dream of arriving home and telling my parents and sisters about Europe, about the world; clearing up why I could not be like my father or grandfather and needed to seek a better, freer world. The dream would come to me in bed and leave me troubled. Later, I managed to travel to Paris using false papers, to visit some fellow Ostrowers.

My arrival from England was news. They wanted me to stay with them again and stroll along the lovely Paris boulevards in freedom…

But even this was not enough to quiet my homesickness for family and friends. I dreamed of tiny ulica Solna in Ostrowa, which was more interesting than the entire world. The Parisian boulevards could not compete with ulica Brok, the new besmedresh and the street where the Strykower shtibl is located…so I headed back to Poland. With a fluttering heart I visited the “Workers Home” on Karmelicka, also Bund headquarters on Prziejarzd, 9 in Warszawa. This was the warm, fresh, full-blooded Jewish city where I had been living before I left Poland, sleeping in an attic on Nowolipki without even enough money to buy bread for the evening.

It was only eighty kilometers to Ostrowa, a road full of anti-Semitism and Jewish pain on Polish earth!

In this same country where everything is so dear to me, a stranger screamed at me: Polish land, although the landscape and Polish neighbours had lived side by side with our parents and grandparents, for generations.

So I set off for my hometown, where I took my first steps and learned the alphabet. The sadzawke beckoned, where we caught fish and skated on the ice; where my youngest sister would call me when Mama had prepared food…our own wonderful world.

The library told stories about people and the world, but I had seen only a little. My comrades always had to keep an eye out for the police who would come in the middle of the night and take young men and women off to prison in Łomża.

Ostrowa in August 1939…my parents shout: Run! I barely had time to slip out of town, see a few friends in Warszawa, as I caught the last train to Latvia. For several weeks I roamed around Scandinavia and later arrived in England to dark, blacked out London streets. Now my fears were doubled, for myself, but more so for my hometown. There was nobody in London to tell about my longing and fears for my town and my family.

A little while later a friend from Ostrowa arrived in London out of the blue. Aron's story is that he left Poland before the war as a political refugee and sought asylum in France. The French government sent him to Africa and he enlisted in the British army there and then he knocked on my door in London.

“I came to see if you are still alive, because those of us in Paris thought that you had been caught by the war in Poland…”

Aron had also left behind family in Ostrowa and longed for those streets.

Wars must end at some point and even Hitler's war came to an end and then we learned of the destruction.

I began a search for my surviving family in camps where the remnant of Jews from Poland and other countries gathered. I finally found them in the murderers' country – in Germany!

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Wetslar, Germany – D.P. camp gate

 


[Page 339]

Ostrowa The Town Of Peculiarities

By Abraham Majmudes, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Ostrowa, city of my birth, childhood and youth - you educated me and made a man of me. True, I left you when I was 19, but not because I wanted to… it was fate. It was my destiny to live, so that I could tell about the wonderful years, when you Ostrowa bubbled with the noise and uproar of life among your mixed population – Jews and Poles. Generations came and generations went and Ostrowa grew; until the Nazi plague cut you, my hometown down.

Your sky is covered in a dark veil as a sign of sorrow, especially for your Jewish population, who were among the six million Jews murdered by the Nazi Germans. There is a dark veil over your sky Ostrowa, a sign of “never forgiving”, as if it was a symbol of the holy martyrs of the Warszawa ghetto.

Ostrowa had a peculiar place on the map of Poland. The town was on the wide paved road between Białystok and Warszawa, not far from the German border. Various factions influenced the Jewish population. There were Misnagdim who ruled the old and new botei medrashim. The Hasidim in the shtiblakh, (Kocker, Warker, Gerer, Amszynower, etc.). They all lived side by side with worldly Jews involved in the enlightened movement, who read Hebrew literature and with ordinary Jews, who were involved with school and spent their evenings talking “politics” and wringing their hands over a map of the world.

Jewish scholars spent their nights studying by the light of tallow candles in the botei-medrashim and sang; simple Jews on Shabes nights enjoyed themselves reading a chapter of mishnah. The intellectual Jews were also well read – they read secular Yiddish literature.

Ostrowa was surrounded with densely populated villages that provided bread, potatoes, dairy products and fruit. There were also two train stations: Malkinia and Lubiejewska and a large military centre in Komorowo. Because of this, Ostrowa was an important commercial centre. There were also two sawmills and for a long time there were shoe polish and glass factories as well.

There were also powerful, rich Jews (especially those who had business dealings with the army, such as Mendel Zindel's [son] and others) and Jews who lived in squalor. Jewish merchants, large and small; brokers and labourers, various artisans with their own workshops and a number of salaried workers organized in a trade union, who led the fight for shorter work days and higher wages. The fairs every Thursday at the market place were full of booths and people. The peasants from the surrounding villages would come to town to sell their products and buy what they needed for the week.

This is how the Jews and Poles lived for many years and managed to make a living from each other.

Ostrowa you are a part of me. I need only close my eyes, to bring back the memory of your beautiful panorama and your wonderful summertime landscape– surrounded by orchards, green gardens, green meadows, rye fields as far as the eye could see, oats and wheat. When one's heart was heavy with worries, a walk outside town was the best way of calming down. Your forests: Zambrower, Broker and Warszawer, only poets and painters can describe them. Is it possible to forget everything?!

Ostrowa did not have a river, only the mikveh used by kosher Jews. For youngsters to cool-off during the summer there was a “Promenade Garden” and the sadzawka (a natural pond) where the water was always overgrown with moss. During the winter the children skated there, the ice never broke and nobody ever drowned. During the summer, the forests were used to escape the heat. There you could hear singing and laughter from the children, and grown-ups, especially Shabes and Yontoivim. There we were free. Heder students escaped from the teacher's whip because in the forest freedom ruled. Lag B'omer all the students marched in the forest, the children wearing wooden swords to fight against the imaginary Philistines. The revolutionary workers held their meetings there. The shady, dense forest served as a resort for those sick with consumption; for poor housewives to pick berries, mushrooms and sorrel, in summer, to sell in town. And during the winter – for poor peasants to gather some wood to trade for salt and kerosene. Also, one must not forget the Jewish wood merchants.

Ostrowa was no different from anywhere else at that time and “where there were seven Jews – there were ten opinions”. There were political parties in town: Zionist, Mizrahi, Orthodox, Tsarai-Zion, and workers parties: Poalei Zion, trade union (Z. S.) and “Bund”. The workers' parties had a great influence on the poor and the labourers and also presented rich cultural activities.

The city was full of spirit because the younger generation, especially those from the labour parties, led modern Jewish lives and often abandoned religious rites. One Shabes (at the beginning of the German occupation) when cholera was rampant in town, the rabbi, (later – the Amszynower Rabbi) ran from one synagogue to the other, to the Hasidic shtiblakh - there is an emergency, “a terrible thing is happening in Ostrowa”. Housewives are going out in their own hair [without wigs or scarves to cover their hair] and will not appear in Jewish court. And in the evening an old Jew (known as “lopsided head”) would walk around with a stick and beat couples walking together arm in arm on the sidewalk.

Then the superstitious wedding took place in the cemetery, between a hunchbacked woman and Szepsel Vasertreger [water carrier] (naturally they were poor people) as a means of expelling the plague that raged in town.

I also remember, during the First World War, when the Germans exiled the merchants from town and confiscated everything. Hunger raged in the homes of the poor and unemployed. The trade union set up a kitchen for the needy and the town “bosses” contributed to the kitchen fund. When the town's rich men refused to give their weekly donation for food, one Shabes afternoon the unemployed in town organized an ambush of the rich men's cholent that had been sitting in neighbourhood bakeries since Friday. Shabes was spoiled for the rich men, but for once the unemployed knew what a rich man's meal tasted like. This episode ended with the cholent thieves being penalized in some way and the rich men had to resume payments to the kitchen fund.

Jewish life in Ostrowa was rich in community social services and cultural activities. The civil and labour parties branched out to include the youngsters. The party organizations of the Z.S., “Bund” and P.Z organized special youth clubs. The writer of this article participated in Herzlia, unofficially affiliated with the Z.S. and officially a national independent youth organization. In the Ostrowa organizations that existed during 1919 to 1920, the membership was made up of labourers and young students between the ages of fourteen to eighteen.

Leafing through the record book from Herzlia, that is at the writer's, is to see that the leadership, as well as the general membership of the organization, was mature and directed rich cultural activities in the spirit of those stormy years in Poland.

The activities of the organizations sometimes provoked trouble from the ultra-religious fanatics, who called for a special meeting at the yeshiva, in order to discuss how to fight the “straying” youngsters.

Ostrowa, my hometown annihilated by Hitler's brown plague, I will “never forget and never forgive”.

 


[Page 342]

Memories of My Youth

By Fejwel Frydman, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

In memory of my mother Rachel Leja,
sisters Sara and Doba and brother Mosze
killed in Ostrowa by Hitler's murderers ym”sh.

1919 - Teenagers between the ages of fifteen to eighteen gathered together in a room at Mosze Fejwel Jagodnik's and organized a group under the name Herzlia HaTsair [Zionist youth club] in Ostrowa (influenced by the Warszawa magazine “HaDor HaTsair” with Herzl's picture). We were about forty comrades and held discussions in the evening about Zionism and other subjects. Unfortunately, this did not last long as many of the comrades wanted to join the Tsarei Zion organization in town. During a stormy meeting we decided that we were still too young to participate in a political party. After the meeting, the group split up and the younger comrades, about twenty all together, created a new organization by the name of Kibutza Evri [Hebrew Kibbutz]. On the membership cards was written the name of the comrade and then: Kibbutz to develop the Hebrew language “Hebrew in Ostrowa”.

ost342.jpg
From right: Graniewicz, Siedlecki, Niska, Jakob Leszcz, Mostowicz, Epsztejn and Jeruchem

 

Jechezkiel Frejlich was chairman, Perec – secretary, Fejwel Frydman – treasurer. Active members were Awiezer Tejtel, Jakob Leszcz, Mendel Nyska, Ezra Jeruchem, Chaim Epsztejn, etc. We organized lectures with the teacher Kagan and worked on behalf of Keren Kayemet. At the time, Michel Tejtel was the deputy for Keren Kayemet in Ostrowa. We negotiated with him for the right to work on behalf of the fund and Drozdowski emptied the first pushke. In April 1921, the Zionist Organization organized a lecture – Szwarc spoke about “The Role of Jewish Women in Building Palestine”. Frenkel was the chairman for the organization and Jasiñski – secretary. We wanted to attend the lecture, but the Zionists would not allow us into the hall. We quarelled about the evening and Szwarc never lectured again. We called for a debate with Frenkel. Our contention was that we had shares in the General Zionist organization, so we should have the right to become members of the organization. After the debate it was decided that we could become members of the Zionist organization and then our work began in earnest. First, we organized a Keren Kayemet commission. I was the deputy. We also organized an active group to collect money at all the simchas in town and we were often chased away by those against Zionist ideals. We called meetings in the old besmedresh which were often disrupted by the Gerer Hasidim. Some of the Hasidic shtiblakh expelled our fathers. We put up posters in all the public places. The persecution by the Hasidim had gone so far that we chose to make our own minyan in the Shaarei Zion Shul.

ost343.jpg
Distributing Ticket 16 for the Sejm election

 

The Zionists became involved in politics and in 1922 elected a Senator to the Polish government, Rabbi Rubinsztejn, from Wilno.

We were active in the election campaigns, directed by all the national minorities (number 16). The Folkists [People's Party], with Noyech Prilucki went under number 20; the “Bund” – number 4. There were often conflicts among family members. At that time we began to work with Lejb Margolis, who was very active in national campaigns. We organized a collection in the fire station hall (Shabes during the day) with a woman from Łomża, a speaker for Keren-HaZhav; people donated their jewellery.

In Poland there were three Zionist organization branches. El-HaMishmar was led by Icchok Grynbaum and opposed the top Zionists, especially on the question of extending the Jewish Agency. The Revisionists demanded a complete change in Zionist politics and the General Zionists, who got together around the times of the moon, under the leadership of Dr. Lewita, were supporters of enlarging the Agency. I was a member of the El-HaMishmar. At that time Glynka was the chairman of the organization. Then we organized Hashomer-Haleumi. A lot of our comrades left to live in Israel and other countries, because there was no future in Poland for young people. Due to the terrible economic conditions, a lot of people emigrated. Grabski's hearse would take everything from the houses for taxes. A cooperative bank was formed to help out families with loans.

In 1928 I left Poland. Ostrowa, the town where I was born, I am homesick for you and for my comrades from that time.

ost344.jpg
A Zionist group during a walk in the woods

 

Footnotes
  1. From Genesis 590, verses 24 and 25 Return
  2. First line of the Havdalah prayer. Return

 

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