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[Page 23 - Hebrew] [Page 29 - Yiddish]

Everyday life

 

The Desire to Acquire Knowledge

by Moshe Messinger

Translated by Moses Milstein

During my childhood, as far as I can remember, the shtetl was economically and culturally quite backward. Very few people could read or write, or possessed worldly knowledge. Nevertheless, there were some young people who strived to acquire any ray of knowledge which managed to come their way, often in secret, against the wishes of their parents.

Some of the Jewish youth-I among them-began to conduct educational activities such as teaching others to read and write. The circle was composed mostly of “shtibl[1]” youth. There was no one from the trades. On any street in shtetl there might be one person who could write an address in Russian.

We worked hard to find instructional books on reading and writing. These were the so-called “brivnshteller”.[2]

I studied in the Russian school, before the First World War, with another Jewish friend and six Jewish girls. We were very envied.

The desire to acquire knowledge was just beginning. I remember that several shtibl boys began to be interested in what and how we studied. We would often pass on to them our lectures from the Russian school.

It went so far that some went out “in the wider world”, to the big cities, to acquire an education. Preparation for the journey took place in secret. No one was supposed to know, especially not the parents. Not until the person crossed the Russian-Austrian border did we reveal the secret.

For the parents of that era, it constituted a great shame. The family was embarrassed to let anyone know. That's how it was until the First World War.

 

Secretly organized

The first ones to begin to actively help in the cultural development of Jewish youth were: Baruch Bibel, Abraham Itzhak Becher, Nechamia Feiler, and I. We had received some brochures from the Zionist movement, and we decided to organize the first lecture. We hid the brochures with Shaul Yosef Feiler. During the Czarist years, fear was great. The lecture, therefore, took place in great secrecy.

We had decided to found a Zionist organization, but the plan did not come to fruition because World War I broke out. My friends and I went off to war, and all plans were postponed.

On my return from the war, I found things had changed. Youth were striving for something without knowing what that something was. We got together again, this time in larger numbers. Among the assembled were: Mordechai Behagen, Baruch Bibel, Hersh Geld, David Hersh Messinger, Yosel Springer, Ephraim Boim and many others.

 

Founding a library

Our first task was to establish a city library. Others who helped were: Henik Bronstein, Ruzhe Bronstein, and the Schnitser family. We went from house to house, and everyone greeted our endeavors enthusiastically. A large number of books and journals were donated by Yosel Schnitser, Mordechai Behagen, Nechemiah Feiler, and Yechiel Weinberg.

In order to enrich the library with more books, much money was needed. To that end, we established a drama club which consisted of the following people: Yosef Schnitser, H. Bronstein, Leib Schnitser, Ruzhe Bronstein, A. Y. Becher, and Maleh Oberferscht. The registrar was Moshe Messinger, prompter-Abraham Itzhak Weinrib, set design-Niche Schnitser and Chaia Boim.

Thanks to the drama presentation we were able to raise the required sums of money. Thus, we were able to create a significant contribution to education and knowledge-the library named for Mendele Mocher Sforim, in Shebreshin.

 

Founding of the Zionist organization

At the same time, we founded the Zionist organization located at Chaim Moishe Vasser's. Then the most interesting work began: awakening the consciousness of Jewish youth in the shtetl.

With the passage of time, the youth evolved and ideas crystallized-opinions on world problems, especially about Jewish national-social questions.

Coming to our circle were: Yosel Merzel, Shmuel Klieger, Abraham Bernstein, (who came from “the outside world,” Warsaw), Henech Becher, and David Merzel. The new members helped greatly with our work, and thanks to their intellectual efforts, we advanced hugely and expanded our reach.

Worker-Zionist thinking entered for the first time. Up to then, youth were affiliated with the General Zionist organizations. Later, in larger numbers in the Worker-Zionist circle-Polae Zion, Tzeirei Zion.

 

Rise of the Bund

Then Epharaim Boim, and Yosel Nar arrived (Laizer Papieroshnik's son and Gretzker's son). Both had been yeshive boys, very spiritually evolved, with a broad understanding of the world, people, nation and class. They began to conduct special educational work and founded a Leftist, for its time, workers union, the Bund. The union consolidated, and with time, attracted a large part of the working class in S. The leaders were: Ephraim Boim, Abraham Itzhak Weinrib, Yosel Springer, Leib Springer, David Weiss, Itzhak Gall, Esther Tulkop and others.

Thus, Jewish youth was split in its way of thinking and understanding into two camps. One camp-Worker-Zionist. The other, a larger part-under the leadership of the Bund.

The general cultural endeavors, especially with regard to the library, were carried out by the two workers parties-Poalei Zion-Tzeirei Zion and the Bund. The management were-librarian, Moshe Messinger-chairman, Yosef Schnitser-secretaries, Henik Bronstein, Mordechai Behagen, Abraham Bernstein-board of directors, Abraham Itche Becher, Yosel Springer, Hersh Geld, Abraham Itche Weinrib.

The Mendele Mocher Sforim library grew from day to day. Every month saw new arrivals of books in Polish, Hebrew and, above all, in Yiddish.

 

Intensive cultural activities

A broad educational work was carried out by the two yeshive boys, Ephraim Boim and Yosel Nar. They paid special attention to the boys studying at the Radziner shtibl. One of the boys, Yacov Gerstenblit (today in America) helped us secretly, until the day when the Chasidim found out about the clandestine educational activities carried out in the shtibl.

It led to an open strike. Due to the intense educational work of the library directors on one side, and the open strike which broke out in the Radziner shtibl on the other, the cultural corpus of S. was enriched by the fruitful, new, cultural talents of: Moishe Bub, Moishe Tzvi Berger, Pesach Berger, Hersh Getsl Hochboim, and his two brothers Abraham and Nachum Hochboim, and Yankel Honigman.

At that time, the two Zionist-socialist parties united-Poalei Zion and Tzeirei Zion and blossomed into the large Zionist-socialist movement Pielei Zion.

In spite of the growth of the library, and the even greater growth of the enlightened youth, cultural activities did not solve all the problems and needs of the previously backward youth who had so yearned for knowledge. The courses in reading and writing through the Poalei Zion party were not sufficient.

Thanks to the work of the Bund leadership, a second, splendid, cultural organization, the[3]א שׁ י צ school, was established which took in the illiterate among the older youth, and also, to a greater degree, the poorer children of the worker class who did not have the means to pay fees for cheder.

The א שׁ י צ school was established with the help of the members of Poalei Zion who emphasized Yiddish, such as Shmuel Klieger and Yankel Honigman. Later, the school went entirely under the aegis of the Bund.

Parallel to this, the two drama circles developed and expanded. One was from Poalei Zion under the direction of Moshe Messinger; the second, under the management of Berl Koil, Zanvl Ashenberg, and Yehuda Kelner. Both filled , to a great extent, the cultural needs of both workers parties.

 

The “gang”

We mustn't forget the bet hamidrash youth who served as a reservoir for intellectual talent in cultural social, political endeavors, above all for the Poalei Zion camp. But the Bund did not ignore the well of intellectual yeshive boys.

Thus, we later attracted, and dragged out of the bet hamidrash, Asher Shapiro, and Shmuel Ber Klieger, Abraham Chaim Nus and Mendl Boim. Both parties fought over Mendl Boim. He had an “open mind.” Providing books in secret for the boys in the bet hamidrash, just as we had done in the Radziner shtible, we noticed that Mendl did not study at the same time as the others. We followed him once, and discovered that he got up at three in the morning, and he and Shmuel Ber Klieger went to the bet hamidrash where each sat in a different corner and studied his Gemorrah.

One evening, one of the older members, Leibl Sheiner, who still studied in the bet hamidrash and was a secret “underground member”, spent the night there. At three am, when Mendl Boim and his friend Klieger arrived, he noticed that instead of opening the Gemorrah, Mendl pulled out a forbidden object from his bosom-Marx's “Kapital.”

We smuggled Borochov's “Platform”, and “Class Interests and the National Question” to him. He became, along with others, followers of the Worker-Zionist ideology, and founder of the HeChalutz and HeChalutz Hatzair in S.

Before the “gang” from the bet hamidrash took over the management of party work, there was another group who faithfully helped us spread socialist-Zionist ideas. Mendl Messinger, Yehoshua Zisbrenner, Yerachmiel Ginzberg, and Yankel Lam. Most responsible for bringing the “gang” into the movement were Mendl Messinger who founded Hashomer, and later, Yehoshua Zisbrenner, Henech Becher and Shmuel Ber Klieger.

*

A group of members from both parties were successful in taking the helm of “dozor” and “parnes.”[4] The Jewish population was given the right to elect their representatives in municipal elections. For years, the group fought for the social-political interests of the laboring masses in the shtetl. In certain cases, it was with the help of progressive representatives like Moishe Hersh Berger and Hersh Getzl Hochboim.

The struggle in city hall was mostly carried out by the chaverim: Yosel Springer, Abraham Itche Weinrib, Itzhak Gall, and Abraham Springer-from the Bund, Moshe Messinger and others, and from Poalei Zion, and from other representatives of other affiliations like Leibl Licht and Shia Lerner.

 

Social Aid

Aside from the cultural activities of the broadly developed workers unions, there were also wide-ranging and intensive social aid projects, especially at the beginning of winter to provide the needy poor with clothing. Before Pesach, when Jews could not obtain matzohs, “collective bakeries” were established where volunteer members contributed two to three days of work. These “collective bakeries”, also called “laden”, were run by both parties.

There were also public kitchens with hot mid-day meals, for the poor, and especially for children, financed by American Jewry. Besides this, there was a committee for social aid that I had the honor of heading. For years, it was supported by our expatriate brothers in America.

In later years, before World War II, the “Tropen Milch”[5], institution arose under the leadership of Devorah Fleischer, Hindele Briks, Sheva Macharovski and others. This was one of the most magnificent institutions in the social realm. The two workers parties helped out by getting subsidies from city hall.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Hasidic house of prayer Return
  2. Handbook of sample letters. Return
  3. Possibly the Zionistishe Yiddishe Shule Organizatzieh. MM Return
  4. Synagogue and community councils Return
  5. Milk Drops Return


[Page 36 - Hebrew] [Page 39 - Yiddish]

How the Young Generation Flourished

by David Fuks

Translated by Moses Milstein

In 1926, as a 12 year old boy, I began to learn the trade of tailor at Mordechai Leib Lerner's, where I met an older worker, Chaim Berger. He immediately took me up to the trade union and registered me in the youth section.

It was located at Yosel Kulpe's. There was a library in the union named for Esther Tolkop. The librarian was Shlomo Bendler (“Der Langer Shloime”). I was given books to read.

A little while later, I became a member of the youth wing of the Bund-“Tzukunft”. Young people would gather there. The youth section, “Yugent Bund Tzukunft”, grew steadily. The lecturers at the time were: Abraham Itche Weinreib, Yosel Springer, Yechiel Borenstein, Zanvl Ashenberg, Itzhak Gall, Moishe Leib Mitlpunkt, and others.

The older members, seeing how the youth flocked to us, constantly looked for ways to broaden the frame of our work. They established the “Yiddishe Shul Organizatzieh” for which they found another location at Wolf Gedacht's. A drama circle was established which included: Ettl Litvak, Abraham Springer, Chaia Berger, Balche Blei, Aharon Frieling, Berl Koil, and others. Young people became activists.

The youth coming to us were from the poorer class, lacking in elementary education, some illiterate, their poverty preventing them from acquiring an education. As a result, our representatives established night courses where the young tailors, shoemakers, and domestics learned to read and write. They also taught Jewish history, natural history and other subjects. In that way, the impoverished Jewish youth educated themselves until they we able to take part in the social-political life of the shtetl.

Our trade union carried out a very active social-economic agenda. In the early days, a worker in the shtetl had to work twelve to fourteen hours a day. Thanks to the intensive work of the union, the work day was shortened, at first to ten hours and, later, after a short strike of all the trade workers, to eight hours.

Workers achieved better working conditions and higher wages. Thanks to the trade union, the oppressive burden of the workers was lightened. A big role in this was played by the leaders of the Bund.

During that period, the Yiddishe Folks Shule was established aided greatly by the work of the Poalei Zion party especially: Shmuel Klieger, Yosef Merzel, Henich Becher and others. But later, for a variety of reasons, the work was carried out almost exclusively by the Bund leadership. Noteworthy in the development of Jewish education were the members Yankel Honigman, and Isaac Weisfeld.

The school was hard to maintain. But thanks to the help of almost the entire Jewish population, including the religious Jews, and our brethren in America, the school flourished. The school consisted of five grades. The teachers came from the Jewish seminary in Vilna. From time to time, the pupils put on plays attended by the whole Jewish population.

Thus, our Jewish youth flourished and became an integral part of social and political life without distinction as to political orientation be it the Bund, HeChalutz, Betar or the Communist movement.

*

With the coming of May, on a Saturday morning, you could see young Jewish people, flushed, breathless, excited, running through the streets of town in various directions-marching in formation or in groups. Coming to the “Vigon[1], or the Frampol road, you could see groups of youngsters sitting on the grass, listening to one of their own holding forth on existing social questions.

Our youth lived a free and beautiful life. They were seen everywhere-in organizational locales, at Groise Shloime's budke, on the new promenade. They gathered everywhere and talked about the Bund, Zionism, pioneering.

I remember when we, the youth wing ,“Zukunft”, were leading a recruitment drive and organized a youth meeting to that effect. Moishe Tenenboim and I took part. Moishele Zisbrenner (who fell in battle in Eretz Israel), Shmuel Zilberlicht, and other pioneers came to debate with us.

In general, Jewish youth was politically and socially very evolved.

Kibutzei hachshara[2] from HeChalutz and Betar were established in S. The kibbutzniks were seen in every corner of the shtetl going out to chop wood. I remember how the Betar youth would march out from Mordechai Fleischer's street under the leadership of Yosel Boim.

After the youth of the Bund grew, and with the rise of the Jewish school, a location was rented at the Grules. Across from there, the Poalei Zion had their locale and songs of the striving for life and struggle, started by one group and picked up by the other, continued on.

Montreal, Canada


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A park-like area in S. Return
  2. Preparatory training for prospective agricultural immigrants to Israel. Weinreich Return


[Pages 43-44]

The Struggle for Cultural Progress

by Yehoshua Zisbrenner

Translated by Moses Milstein

In 1915-1916, during the opposition to Czarist oppression in Poland, Jewish youth were captivated and inspired by the burning currents of “Geyn Zum Folk”.

The beginning was very difficult. Many had to endure a hard battle at home with their Hasidic parents. In spite of this, we pursued our struggle even in the Radziner shtibl[1]. It was a battle whose purpose was to show that the tradition of waiting for the meshiach was unrealistic: We had to find our own way to free the Jewish people, and that was through Zionism.

A large segment of Jewish youth did, in fact, come over to us. The work of organizing for Zionist parties, and the joint committees of the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod, was undertaken. In a short time, we managed to draw the majority of the youth, who had belonged to the General Zionists, to the Worker Zionist parties.

Educational work in shtetl was undertaken by: Abraham Itche Becher, Moshe Messinger, Baruch Bibel, and others. Secret activities in the Radziner shtibl were conducted by some older chaverim: David Merzel, Abraham Bernstein, and Shmulke Gerenreich.

Among the above-named were the founders of the Mendele Mocher Sforim library. Every evening found chaverim studying to learn to read and write in the library.

In 1920, the new Polish government accused us of Communist sympathies and confiscated the library. The entire inventory of several thousand books was in jeopardy. Several chaverim were arrested.

A few years later, permission to reopen the library was granted, and we got to work again. Some of the books were damaged, a large number were missing.

A struggle for control of the library was waged between both workers parties-Poalei Zion and the Bund. The Poalei Zion party fought to keep it a city library, non-party, freely available to everyone, so that everyone could benefit from Jewish literature. After long and hard work, the library was transformed into a cultural institution for the entire Jewish population.

The library had an active drama club which successfully put on plays from “Moshe Chait” to Ansky's “The Dybbuk.” The plays were put on in the fire-hall.

The drama club consisted of the following people: Esther Stern, Nechama Lerner, Shia Zisbrenner, Isrulke Lerner, Mendl Boim, Mordechai Mintz, Rivke Weinstock, Yacov Lam, Yosef Lerner, Sarah and Chaia Boim, Peshe Hochgelernter, Leah Groiser, Tile Schwarzberg, and others. The “Dybbuk” was replayed at the reopening of the library. It was a colossal hit.

People came from the surrounding shtetlach and from Zamosc to see the play. It resulted in significant income which was dedicated for the library, and helped to acquire newly published books of Jewish literature.

The cultural activities gave our shtetl much inspiration and a big push forward. Many young people joined the activities, and we progressed in social and political domains.


Translator's Footnote

  1. A park-like area in S. Return


[Pages 45-46]

How we have thrown away the long Kapotas[1]

by Yehuda Kelner

Translated by Moses Milstein

A new wind began to blow in the shtetl. In 1914, with the beginning of World War I, a new society was beginning. Parties were founded, workers organizations and trade unions arose. Calls for equality, brotherhood and national revival were heard.

An uprising occurred among the youth. Seeing a new way of life in the shtetl, the youth abandoned the bet hamidrash and the shtibl,[2] threw off the long kapote and the “Yiddish hitl[3], and put on a suit and hat.

At first, there was opposition from the parents, mostly expressed on Shabes in the bet hamidrash. One could hear the arguments, “Where is it heard that girls and boys should get together, light lamps on Shabes, play the comedian in theatre? There will, God forbid, come a punishment on the shtetl for its sins.”

Shebreshiner youth, with its social and political work, acquired a reputation in the whole Lublin area. At the Zionist, or Bundist, or Communist gatherings, if you said you were from S., you were immediately given a seat of honor.

I remember that, every Saturday, when we went out for a walk, the Bundists walked in one group singing the “Shvueh[4], and the Zionists, in another group singing Zionist songs. When the two groups encountered each other, they quickly separated, as if they were enemy armies.

About making a living, the youth did not concern themselves. Their mothers and fathers fed them, and there were few opportunities for work. Jews worked as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters. The city had no heavy industry. In Graf Zamoisky's sugar factory, only Polish workers were employed. Jews were not allowed.

*

That is how Jewish youth lived and acted. Parents could not accept the new spirit of the times and rejected the new directions.

Nevertheless, disregarding all that, I still miss those times, those battles, and I can't believe that it is all in the irretrievable past.

Buenos Aires


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Hasidic garment Return
  2. Hasidic prayer house Return
  3. A characteristically Jewish hat Return
  4. “The Oath.” Anthem of the Bund Return


[Pages 47-48]

You Need to See a Psychiatrist

by Baruch Bibel

Translated by Moses Milstein

A terrible darkness pervaded S. when I arrived there from studying in the Brikser yeshiva in Chelm. Young people knew nothing and wanted to know nothing other than how to get out of being conscripted into the Czar's army.

I felt suffocated by the Chasidic society I found myself in. I yearned for a ray, just one ray of light. Today, in San Francisco, among the assimilated, I can feel better and appreciate better the sanctity of our Jewish people in general, and Chasidism in particular, and I miss it.

I became acquainted with Wolf Klotser, a bit of a Maskil[1], in those days. The first thing I discussed with him was the idea of founding a Jewish library in S. I still see before my eyes the sharp look he gave me when I uttered the word, library, and he suggested I should see a psychiatrist, because my thoughts were disordered.

But when I repeated the idea again and again, he said, “Maybe?” and we sent off a request for permission.

Yes, the truth is that it came to nothing, but even to dare it was a great achievement in those days. One can truthfully say that I planted a seed from which, years later, a Shebreshiner library grew.

I became aqauainted with Abraham Itche Becher, a man full of energy and strength whose like is hard to find. I truly loved him. I also became acquainted with Nechemiah Feiler, Yechiel Weinrib, Mordechai Behagen, and Itzhak Hersh, my neighbor. With each one, I argued that it was a big crime not to do something for Zionism. I succeeded, during a holiday, to bring them together in the Gorajec mountains, and there Weinberg delivered a talk from a paper about Zionism that he had almost certainly sweated over for weeks.

There, we founded the first Shebreshiner Zionist organization. We determined to establish Zionist memberships and National Fund “pushkes.” But we had a problem: what do we do with this paper so that it shouldn't fall into the hands of some Jew. We decided to bury it. When the paper was lying in its grave, someone suggested we should burn it, and we did so. The poor paper suffered such an end.

*

The First World War broke out. The Austrians brought a more cultured approach to Poland, and something of it, also to S. I brought together the youth at Yosel Springer's house, and there it was determined that we would found a Jewish library.

San Francisco


Translator's Footnote

  1. Proponent of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment Return


[Pages 49-55]

Memories of a Non-Shebreshiner

by Luba Gall

Translated by Moses Milstein

Do you wonder why I, a non Shebreshiner, write about S and not about other shtetlach? The reason: as a non-observant Jew, I felt free from my first day in S. I quickly felt at home, a part of her. The people became my brothers. my best years and fondest dreams are bound up with her. S was dear and beloved by me, and that is why I claim the right, together with you others, to lament the destruction of this shtetl, so holy to me.

 

Without personal enemies

A shtetl like any other in the Lublin region, you might think, the courthouse in the middle of the muddy market, surrounded by rows of shops, and tables with various goods. Women, preoccupied men, grimy, hurrying in the morning to the kloiz[1] and later to work. Like any other place, only not the same.

S in my time had this characteristic-that anyone could freely live according to his convictions. There were pious Jews, honest, sincere, who completely believed, but did not want to force anyone to believe as they did. Or, perhaps, in their naďve honest way they thought that no one could believe in any other way. Above all, the two camps of religious and free[2] did not wage open war. Everyone lived their own life, went their own way. This was the uniqueness of S.

There were all sorts of parties. On the extreme Right and extreme Left, there wee strikes along party lines-often heated strikes. There were even instances of violence and fighting. But although the Shebreshiner people were faithful to their party struggle, they did not carry any personal bitterness against each other. After the most heated conflict in the library, or after an election, or a city council meeting (because there were always differences of opinions) you could see, strolling together in the street, cordially talking, Moishe Hersh Berger (Zionist) and Yosel Springer (Bundist) and in like manner others. Shebreshiners always displayed the greatest care for their fellow-man, even if he was from an opposing party.

 

Fruitful activities of the Bund

There has been much written already about Shebreshin and Shebreshiners. I, however, as someone from a different direction, would like, in my modest way, and with my modest skills, to write a few words about the Bund, in particular about certain Bundists.

When I arrived in S in 1921, I encountered a good number of Bundists, who carried out some modest programs: an illegal trade union, evening classes for workers, and party related discussions. Yet these modest works developed deep roots in the poorest social classes. Later, when the union was legalized, and in the city elections, the strength of the Bund was seen among the workers and masses.

Of the total of 24 aldermen (Jews and Christians), we received eight mandates (out of 11 Jewish). On paper, that is, because the Polish reactionary powers had only provided four places (the remainder were invalidated) and it was here that the Bund first began its activities. The battle in city hall was twofold-as Jews and as socialists. There was no question, God forbid, of overthrowing the powers.

The issues were ordinary ones, mostly economic. Onerous taxes were imposed on Jewish artisans and businessmen. Incidentally, even the big merchants were not such big capitalists. With the exception of a small group, most of the shtetl struggled to make a living. There were worries about taxes, various ordinances, and social aid which consisted of a free hospital bed (if there was place), a doctor's house-call and medicine (up to two Zl) for those who couldn't pay and mostly suffered.

To a certain extent, the activities were political: bringing protests and resolutions against the savage anti-Semitic provocations in the country and in our shtetl. The Bundist work in city council went on from the beginning until Hitler ended it all.

And here, I would like to mention two aldermen-Yosel Springer and Abraham Itche Weinrib (Now in Brazil, he was a city councilman). Not only did they have to wage the battle in city hall (along with others, but perhaps more so), but they gave much time and energy when elections neared preparing our candidates for the examinations. According to Polish law, a candidate had to be able to read Polish, and sign his name in Polish, and had to have a certain number of signatures to be eligible.

 

Polish harassment

But the situation of Jewish candidates in general, and the Bund in particular, was different. No matter how many times a candidate was elected, he still had to take the exam, and a hard one it was. Not only were they not ashamed to examine certain council men, among them Yosel Springer and Abraham Itche Weinrib (a trade school teacher), but they were even not ashamed to examine Yosel Blei, a student in the faculty of law. So a working man, after a hard day of work, had to set himself to learn Polish grammar and history. The group of potential candidates had to be ever larger because one never knew who would be invalidated. So they, Yosel Springer and A.I. Weinrib, had to, after their own work day, work again, without payment, teaching grown men, most of whom had not attended school. But they did it.

Our group of alderman consisted almost always of: Yosel Springer, A.Y. Weinrib, Itzhak Gall, Leb Springer, Abraham Springer, Yosel Blei, Yakov Yehoshua Feder, and my humble self. I was elected three times in a period of eleven years. And that is why I am acquainted more or less with the details of the persecutions undergone by the council men, especially me.

In spite of the presence at every session of the police chief and his staff who could arrest us for any wrong word, our aldermen, with the help of other Jewish aldermen, repelled the dirtiest attacks, delved into all the corners of municipal life, examined, searched, scrutinized, and prevented misappropriation of municipal funds. (Yosel Springer was exceptionally effective at this) We showed that, in a time when funds for social aid were so limited, the money for balls and banquets and church renovations were unlimited. As a woman, I was always given the honor of reading the political resolutions, for which I was often “sent to Russia.”

We couldn't always achieve our goals, because the Poles held power. But it was not easy for them, because they were wary of the Bund. That's why they never failed to take revenge on our people where and when they could: creating protocols for sins that had not occurred, sentencing to jail, or paying fines which was worse than sitting in jail. We were, however, not deterred.

 

Not for personal goals

For Shebreshiner people in general and for Bundists in particular, ideals were more important than life. A few examples:

Yosel Springer's father-in-law was a shochet and Yosel was a dozor[3] in the Jewish community. The shochets were paid by the Jewish community and paid well. The community had to impose taxes on meat, so that the poor could not afford meat even for Shabes. When the pressure became too great, a resolution was brought in-to divorce the shochets from the community. Let them be paid by those who use their services. They didn't like it, they protested, but when it came to a vote, Yosel was the first to vote for it. Nu? Afterwards at home, a scene: His wife cried for her father's livelihood. But Yosel paid no attention.

A second example: The Bund decided to open a secular school. So, among the initiators of the school committee we find three names whose families are again at stake: again Sprnger, Weinrib, Gall. They had to choose: themselves or the ideals. Springer and Weinrib were Jewish teachers in a trade school, and Gall was the son of a Jewish religion teacher. The families asked: “A Jewish school? And what will happen to you? How will you make a living?” (They could not be teachers in the school). Shloime Gall asked, “A school that's anti-cheder? Is that how you treat a father in his old age?” Itzhak was a good son, he loved his father, but.It was decided to open the school. Personal interests were not considered-the principle, that the masses should not suffer, mattered.

The Bund accomplished a lot in the area of educating the poorest youngsters whose parents could not afford to pay. For years they led classes, organized lectures, and from this work an educated youth grew up. When I was in Montreal, Canda, an erstwhile Zukunfunftist, now a grown man with children, no longer a Bundist, explained to me with the greatest respect, that were it not for the Bund he would not know the little he now knows. And this man knows quite a lot.

 

A talented working-class intellectual

Of all the youth growing up in our shtetl, I want to highlight one: Berl Koil. His father, Batchmak was a treger[4]. He was a simple, uneducated, honest and poverty-stricken man. Not only were his parents unable to provide an education for him, but struggled even to keep him properly nourished. As a result, he had to learn a trade from his earliest years-shoemaker.

At the time, the youth organization, Zukunft, was already in existence. Berl, along with Yosel Blei, Zainvel Ashenberg, Moishe Leib Mitlpunkt and others joined Zukunft, and there, began receiving their first education. Berl lapped it up like a man dying of thirst. He learned to read and write, especially to read. He read voraciously, he had a wonderful memory, and exceptional receptiveness. In a very short time he developed into a wonderful debater, a shining public-speaker with an extraordinary understanding of art and literature, a gifted actor on the stage, an occasional song writer. Berl “Bantchmak”, became Berl Koil, a working class intellectual, a conscientious party worker, but remained a very naďve and honest man.

He married and had two children whom he loved more than his own life. But when the Second World War broke out, he was the first to enlist to fight against Hitler. He knew he could not accomplish much, but he wanted, he said, to at least direct a few bullets into the fascist beasts. He fell into German captivity where he underwent the worst agonies. In March, 1940, Hitler decided to liquidate the Jewish prisoners of war, and they were sent to Lublin where I also found myself at this time. They arrived half-naked. The Jewish community received an order: If any of the prisoners wanted to be liberated,, he must be claimed by a someone near to him within two days. They must also provide clothing. If not, they would be shot. Those not liberated were, in fact, all shot.

On one of those days, Mirl Zeidl, (Gershon Shuster's) came to see me to tell me that Berl Koil was among the prisoners. We immediately went to the camp, and after a whole day's efforts, we were able to bring Berl out. With him was Ephraim Farber, (Mendl Kliske's son). Berl was sick and swollen from starvation, in a state that I can never forget. I took them both to my place where they washed and changed clothes. Berl took to bed and a doctor was called. He was given medication, but he suffered a lot. He said, “Luba, I don't know if I will survive this war, but Hitler will be defeated, and I am lucky to have participated in the war. Oy, did I shoot at them!” And he smiled in such a childlike way. I will never forget that smile. He got a little better and he left for S. What happened to him? The same as to all the other dear, holy Jews.

 

Never forget

And so, writing this, I would like these lines to be inscribed on the hearts of all Shebreshiner, their children and grandchildren. And in the days of our greatest joy, of the rise of the Jewish state, our great tragedy must not be forgotten, the fate of a third of our people, and our dear shtetl Shebreshin. And may we, like in days of old at the rivers of Babylon say, “May my tongue cleave to my mouth and my right hand wither,” at every simcha, if we forget this, because the world wants to and has already forgotten.

Jewish blood is again ignored. If an injustice is committed against a state, the whole world is upset and it is remembered. But our holy victims are being forgotten even among Jews. The survivors of hell want to forget in order not to awaken their wounds: too much have they suffered. Our brothers who were lucky to have lived far from the tragedy do not want to bring the darkness into their lives. Conscience is appeased with a few dollars. We perform acts of ablution and we are certain our sins will be forgiven.

But no matter how strong the pain is, we must not forget. It is the greatest holocaust and we must write about it with the very blood of our hearts for the coming generations, etched into the hearts of our children and grandchildren so that such a time will never come again.

Winnipeg, Canada.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Small synagogue whose worshippers were often from the same trade Return
  2. non-observant Jew Return
  3. Member of the Jewsih community council Return
  4. Porter Return


[Pages 56-58]

A Street in Szczebrzeszyn

by Emanuel Chmielash

Translated by Moses Milstein

On the street where we lived, Green Street, there were many Jewish tradesmen: shoemakers, shtepers, tailors, carpenters, bakers, water-carriers, gardeners, carriage drivers, shochets. There were all kinds of stores including food stores. There were merchants handling wheat, animals, fruit from the orchards, dairy products, etc. There was even a factory for cigarette products.

The nicest house in S. was on Green Street, and belonged to Mordechai Fleischer the richest man in S. His cellars were used to store apples from the sadovnickes[1] in winter. In the house there was a closet which opened to a set of stairs leading to a water well.

At one end of the house stood a permanent succah, beautifully decorated inside with paintings of Jewish holy images, and passages of scripture.

On one side of Green Street, there was a door with concrete stairs leading to the house of Estherishe, Mordechai Fleischer's daughter. Upstairs, the daughters and their husbands and children lived. The husband of his daughter, Feigele, was R' Yermiah Rabinovitch, a son of the Bialobrzeg rabbinical dynasty. Feigele and her sister, Matche, had a large shared kitchen.

In another dwelling lived Chanake and her husband Reuben Minzberg and their children. Below, with windows facing Green Street, lived Mordechai Fleischer's only son, Dantshe, and his wife, Dvoirele, and young son, Siomek.

 

Mordechai Fleischer's “imperium.”

All the sons-in-law and daughters-in-law stemmed from important families. As long as Mordechai Fleischer was alive, all his sons-in-law were employed in his “imperium”—his mill and sawmill.

Summer, Friday evening, his children sat outside on the front stairs, and neighbors came over to chat. Mordechai himself sat in the entrance on a feather-stool, and rested until candle lighting. He handed out money to his grandchildren who ran to Shimon Goldman's candy store to buy nashvarg.

The Fleischers also established a little bet hamidrash, and he and his sons-in-law and some neighbors prayed there. Every shabos they celebrated sholesh sides there sponsored by the Fleischers. R' Yermiah Rabinovitch read Torah and sang zmires.

His son-in-law, Yankele Minzberg, lived in Lublin and often came to S. On shabos he davened for the congregation. The prayers took on a special flavor as he had a beautiful voice. Friday evening or Saturday morning, many people gathered at the windows and listened to his singing.

After Mordeschai's death his businesses suffered. His “imperium” fell apart and finances deteriorated. After a while, R' Yermiah Rabinovitch left S. It was said that he went to Belz to ask the rabbi for advice as to whether he should become a rabbi. The Belzer rabbi gave him his blessing, and he returned to his family as a rabbi. After a short while, he moved to Warsaw and established his rabbinate there.

When I went to Warsaw to look for work, he helped me find my first job at a halvah factory.

 

The good-hearted carriage driver[2]

In Mordecahi Fleischer's courtyard there was a grain elevator where my father, a wheat merchant, used to store his wheat. Afterwards, it became home to Chana Balagule. He lived there with his wife, Menuche, and his children. Nearby was the stall for his horse.

He furnished the loft of the stall with straw, and provided a place for the poor of other towns to spend the night, when they came to S. to seek alms,.

Jews from surrounding villages who came to town would stable their horses and wagons in the large courtyard.

 

The rabbi's prescription

In a new, wooden, one story building lived Israel David Shochet and his family. He was a Gerer Chasid known as “the Vonvonitser shochet”. One of his children, Binyimale, fell ill with encephalitis. Three doctor's “attended”—Klukowski, Kozicki, and a doctor from Zamosc. A prescription from the Sokolover rabbi, R' Zelig Morgenstern, arrived. The doctors were astonished—the child was cured.

Montreal, Canada 1980


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A sadovnick was the term for someone who rented orchards from a landowner in order to grow and sell the fruit. Return
  2. Ba'al agala, in Hebrew, Bal a gule in Yiddish Return

 

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