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[Page 120]

Memories

 

The Knocker

by Shloime Weinberg

Translated by Moe Milstein

I was not born in Bilgoraj, although my father was from there. He himself was present at this event that occurred about 70 years ago.

There was a small house on Lubliner street where R' Lipeh Shochet lived. In that same house, up until the war, also lived Ben Zion Eilbert (Yechezkel Leml's son–in–law) who was the proofreader in R' Nuteh Kronenberg's printing shop.

One evening, when R' Lipeh Shochet was at the besmedresh for minche–maariv, his wife heard a knock at the window of their house. She thought to herself that it was probably a woman who, not wanting to enter the house, was knocking at the window so someone should come outside. But when she went outside, she was startled to see that there was no one there. She thought maybe the neighbor woman had knocked and left, or some child was playing a joke, so she went back inside.

No sooner had she entered the house, than she heard the same knocking on the same window. So she went outside again to see who was knocking, but again there was no one there. This happened a few more times until she became really frightened. She went to the besmedresh, called out her husband, R' Lipeh Shochet, and told him the whole story. She wanted him to know that the knocking was upsetting her.

R' Lipeh Shochet was a smart man, a great scholar, and he laughed at the story. He told his wife it was probably some kid playing a joke on her, and running away when she went outside. She obeyed her husband and went back home.

But, upon entering the house, she was stunned to hear the knocking again at the same window. In the meantime, R' Lipeh Shochet returned from the besmedresh. On hearing the knocking,

[Page 121]

he told his wife to stay indoors while he went out, and she would see that the knocking would stop.

But he saw no one at the window, and he was astounded that the knocking could still be heard. He came to the conclusion that this was not an ordinary thing, and a great fear fell on him.

At that time, R' Nuteleh Berliner was the rav in Bilgoraj. R' Nuteh went to see him and told him what had happened. The rav immediately went over and heard the same knocking. So the rav ordered that a minyan should be gathered there every day for minche–maariv. (Because there was no noise during the day). But it did not help.

Every evening, the whole town would assemble there to witness the strange knocking. When someone yelled out it should knock louder, the knocking became stronger.

At this time, Y. L. Peretz was living in Zamosc, and R' Yakov Reifman was in Shebreshin[1]. When they first heard about this, they laughed it off. But when they began to hear the story of this mysterious knocking from a great many people, they both went to Bilgoraj. They searched all the places the noise could be coming from, but could find no clues. And this went on for a long time, people coming from all over the region to see this mysterious thing.

One day, R' Lipeh Shochet went to visit his rebbe (if I'm not mistaken it was Haadmor R' Abraham Hamalach). R' Lipeh Shochet told him about the knocking. The rebbe gave him some amulets, and the knocking stopped. And what caused this knocking is still a mystery to this day.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Szczebrzeszin Return


[Page 122]

The Horrible Murder in Bilgoraj

by Yehudeh Leifman

Translated by Moe Milstein

I, Yehudeh Leifman of Bilgoraj, (in Bilgoraj I was called Yudeh the singer's) am here to describe a horrible tragedy that happened in Bilgoraj to the Brandwein family 55 years ago.

There was a neighborhood in Bilgoraj called “the sands.” It was on the road that led to the mill that then belonged to R' Leibtshe Worman, a big philanthropist. The mill was later bought by Hershele Sheinwald. Cossacks were billeted there.

In 1900, when Bilgoraj belonged to Russia, R' Yekel Brandwein was living in “the sands.” He also had a food provision store there. He was the son–in–law of R' Yoneh Chaim Kronenberg.

R' Yekel had a family of four souls: He; his wife, Esther, R' Yoneh Chaim's daughter; a baby one year old; and a three year old boy, Shmuel Eliahu.

It happened Tishe–Bov….When people were on their way to the mill, they noticed that R' Yekel Brandwein's shutters were closed. Since it was already 10 o'clock, people began to fear that something had happened, and they called for the police.

When the police arrived, they broke open the door, and entered the house, and were confronted with a horrible scene.

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R' Yekel was lying dead near the door. The baby in its crib had been strangled. They found his wife, Esther, lying in bed unconscious, her face, her lips, her whole body lacerated. With great effort, they managed to revive her. Little Shmuel Eliyahu was nowhere to be seen.

As a large crowd was gathering, little Shmuel Eliahu crawled out of the clothes closet looking scared to death. Wailing loudly, he told them that during the night, three Cossacks broke in, and killed his father with an iron bar. They asked him how he had got into the closet, and he told them that an old Jew had come and put him in the closet, and warned him not to leave the closet until the next morning, and he told him he was his grandfather, Yoneh Chaim.

After little Shmuel Eliahu had calmed down, he told them that he would be able to identify the three Cossacks who killed his father.

When the colonel was informed, he immediately ordered the entire regiment of Cossacks to appear in formation. The colonel took Shmuel Eliahu, and together they walked through each row. Finally, little Shmuel Eliahu pointed to three Cossacks and said that these were the three who killed his father.

In order to be sure that little Shmuel Eliahu had not made a mistake, the colonel ordered the regiment to change its positions. They went through the ranks again, and for the

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second time, little Shmuel Eliahu identified the same three Cossacks.

The three Cossacks were immediately arrested. The trial took place the following day. The three were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

That same year, Czar Nikolai went on a tour of his estate in Tomaszow–Lubelski. Along the way, travelling on his estate, the widow Esther's brother, Nuteh Kronenberg, submitted a plea to the Czar.

After a while, the widow Esther received a letter from the czarina containing 5 gold rubles. It was the czarina's duty to deal with welfare matters. She wrote that there had been many tragic occurrences that year, and that the treasury was empty.


[Page 125]

The Wedding in the Bilgoraj Cemetery

by A. Katari

Translated by Moe Milstein

During the First World War, Cholera raged through Bilgoraj, and people fell like flies. Every day so many people died that the chevreh kedishe[1] could not keep up with the burials.

The rebbe, old, and gray–haired, was constantly immersed in his books, searching for a remedy to stop the cholera. They tried writing; “There is no one here,” in large letters, on every door, in order to fool the angel of death. When nothing seemed to be helping, the community decided to try the well–known remedy–celebrating a wedding in the cemetery.

In no time, the women charity workers, Gitl Moishe Itzi's, at the head, began preparations for the marriage of Mattl the Mute[2], who was getting on in years, and Yechezkeleh Viotch, the water–carrier.

They went around gathering clothing for the bride and groom. People gave their best. What wouldn't you do in order to halt the terrible plague?

On a given evening, in the small street behind the Rudniker shtibl where Mattl the Mute lived, the machetunim appeared, dressed in their finest, and with candles in their hands, led the bride and groom to the chuppah.

Yechezkeleh the groom went along happily in his fine clothes.

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The crowd grew from minute to minute. The cholera raging in town was forgotten for the time being. Old women with black shawls on their heads wailed continuously, considering the wedding not only a big mitzvah, but also a good remedy for an end to the plague.

At the cemetery, there was complete quiet. The chuppah was raised, the bride was led under it, the groom was made to circle seven times, and was placed next to the bride.

The rebbe took the ring, gave it to Yechezkel, and made him repeat word for word, “Harei at mekudeshet li b'taba'at zo kedat Moshe v'Israel.”[3]

Yechezkel had trouble with the “Harei et”, and was so confused that he was unaware that a glass had been placed under his foot. He brought his foot down hard on the glass, and from everyone's mouth burst, “Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!”

Leaving the chuppah, Gitl Moishe Itzi's danced with the koiletch, and the cemetery emptied out.

After the wedding, the plague gradually disappeared. Mattl the Mute continued to live in her hovel behind the Rudniker shtibl, Yechezkeleh continued to carry water for the tradesmen, and to live in the city poorhouse.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Jewish burial society Return
  2. Die Shtumme Mattl Return
  3. With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel. Return


[Page 127]

Dream

by Shmuel Ben Artzi (Han)

Translated by Sara Mages

In memory of Bilgoraj my hometown

Tonight I was in my hometown
In a landscape that is dear to my heart in its glory. –
In my childhood well a reflection is still trembling,
My father's house is still standing.

The chestnut trees are already blazing red
Such is the nature of autumn in Poland.
My brother and I walk slowly as before,
We carry thatch for our sukkah.

The wind chases a cloud in the sky,
This evening the rain will not dare to come.
Soon we will be home
And we will quickly adorn our sukkah as prescribed.

We approached the house; - gentiles in our nest!
In vain I was looking for the Sukkah of Peace.
My brother left me his burden – and he is gone!
Alone there I cried to the end of the dream.


[Page 128]

At the Markets

by Rechl Kronenberg

Translated by Moe Milstein

The markets, which took place in all the surrounding communities, were the major source of income for the small merchants and tradesmen in Bilgoraj.

Throughout the week, Bilgoraj shoemakers, old–clothes tailors, hat makers, notions sellers, would travel around to the various markets: Monday, in Frampol; Tuesday, in Tarnogrod; Wednesday, in Jozefow; and Thursday, in Bilgoraj itself.

Before daylight, the market goers had their packs of merchandise, and tables ready, and waited for the peasant carts that were headed for the market.

Up until a few years before the Second World War, the roads that led to Tarnograd, Frampol, and Jozefow, were unpaved. On many occasions, the heavily laden wagons became stuck in the mud. The passengers had to get off the wagons, and walk through the deep mud, and more than one lost his shoes.

Worse yet, a wagon loaded with merchandise and people sometimes fell into the mud and overturned. Their screams could be heard for miles. It was painful to see them gathering their belongings in the muck.

The worst was the return trip late at night.

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The dark roads that snaked through the dense forest were frightening. It was not uncommon for bandits to ambush the wagons, and steal the entire income earned from the day's sale of merchandise.

Such an event did, in fact, occur in 1922. Two horse traders, Chaim Blutman, and Leibish Gerstenman were returning from the market in Majdan–Kojbaszewski when they were befallen by bandits. Having both been soldiers, they threw themselves on the bandits. After a hard struggle, they were both shot.

In spite of the danger, people continued, week in and week out, in the heat of summer, or the cold of winter, to travel to the markets in order to make a living.


[Page 130]

A Visit to my Shtetl, Bilgoraj

by M. Rapaport (Australia)

Translated by Moses Milstein

I can never forget my shteteleh, Bilgoraj, and her dear Jews who I remember with such reverence. Many were goodhearted people, who would readily sacrifice themselves for other Jews and for Yiddishkeit.

It is worth remembering Jews like R' Levi Stern, a”h, who was beloved and revered by everyone. He was not a rich man. He was a baker, a strong man who worked very hard. When he wasn't working, he was studying, or helping the poor and the sick. He was the gabai in the Rudniker shtibl, gabai in the chevreh keddishe[1], dozor[2] in the Jewish community, chairman of Bikur Cholim[3]. He was a machnes oirech,[4] a generous contributor to charity, and saw to it that others gave too.

During the war, after Bilgoraj was destroyed by fire, he went to Tarnogrod and baked bread in secret, helping the poor and the hungry.

In the month of Elul, 1942, he and hundreds of others from Bilgoraj and Tarnogrod were taken to Belzec and murdered in the gas chambers.

His son, Isrulke, who was a big scholar, was shot in Puszcza on the way to Belzec when he got off the truck to relieve himself.

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As the Jews were being driven through Bilgoraj, Levi, the strong one, jumped off the truck and with a mournful tone cried, “Yidden, where are they taking us?”

It is worth remembering a man like my uncle, Abraham Harman, a big philanthropist and machnes oirech. He had a special book for gemiles chesed[5]. If someone had to marry off somebody, or was in difficult straits, and came to him, he turned no one away. He died in Tarnogrod a short time after the aktion. He was buried in the Bilgoraj cemetery as per his request in his will.

It is also worth remembering such noble people, scholars, goodhearted Jews, like Nuteh Kronenberg; my uncle, Yosele, and my father, Shmuel Eliahu Rapaport; Hersh Weissman; Henoch Hochman; Isrulke Stern; Hersh Yechazkel Harman; Avrumele Hochman; Shmultche Shreiber; Motl Harman, and others. It is hard to list all these dear people who perished at the hands of the German murderers.

Soon after liberation, before Rosh Hashanah, I came to Lublin with the Polish army. The day after Rosh Hashanah, I went to Bilgoraj on foot. There was no train yet.

Arriving in the city, I felt its gloom pervade me. I was born in Bilgoraj, and lived there until the war. I walked around in the middle of the day, and hardly recognized a thing. Lubelski street, the large square where the shul was, the big besmedresh, the small besmedresh, the bath house,

[Page 132]

the slaughterhouse, the Zichron Yakov cheder, the old cemetery, the old rabbi's house, the new house of the Belzer rabbi's son, R'Mordechai, the Trisker shtibl, the Rudniker shtibl.–everything was one vast empty square where no living soul was to be seen.

The streets, paved with tombstones bearing Jewish writing, filled me with fear. It looked like one big graveyard.

I went into a store to get a bit of butter. I stood there in shock as I watched the grocer wrap the butter in paper, in pages from the Vilna Talmud. I remembered how hard it was for a Jew to be able to afford a Vilna Talmud, for example, for his son–in–law's studies. It seemed to me I could hear the ringing melody of “amar Abaye v'Rava.” I threw the butter away when I left, and put the precious words in my pocket.

The new cemetery was a wasteland, the trees chopped down, the tombstones toppled, the walls demolished. The cemetery by Laizer Kigel was unrecognizable. Barracks had been erected there, and a paved road ran through it.

My erstwhile brothers–in–law survived the war in an attic over a pig sty at a certain Skako of the Boyars. They were Baruch Wermut, and Hersh Silberfein and a daughter; and Benny Hochman, and a son. Moishe Boim died in the bunker.

This is what became of my shteteleh Bilgoraj after the great destruction. I left with tears in my eyes, the echoes of yitkadal v'yitkaddash ringing in my ears.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Burial society Return
  2. Member of synagogue council Return
  3. Visiting the sick Return
  4. Person who regularly invites the poor to his home Return
  5. Society providing interest free loans Return


[Page 133]

Churban Bilgoraj

by I. D. Mittlepunkt

Translated by Moses Milstein

Va'yehie, and it came to pass, in the days of the
dark twilight,

In Hitler's era of death factories, concentration camps, bayonets,
When the enemy's wrath began more terribly
to roar, to seethe
And Bilgoraj was struck too, there are
no more Jews there.

With their last strength and breath,
To the clouded sky, high…high…
A prayer was torn from Jewish hearts,
Ya'aleh tachanuneinu” from Yom Kippur night, and “Gates of Heaven open”
on Neilah.

The heartrending words, interrupted,
The devil of slaughter, burning, shooting,
Fire, rifle and sword,
Draped in black—mother earth…

Gone are the besmedreshim, shtiblach,
Organisations, unions, gone is Jewish splendor,
Shadows of Jewish destruction float in the air,
Over which the devil's dance is celebrated.

You won't see our beloved amcho[1]
On the bridge street, the Jewish sieve building,
You see other people going by—
Uninvited heirs of Jewish blood, need, and pain…

And the forest? Which echoed with
Joy, laughter and Yiddish sounds,
Shabbatim, yom Toivim and years of happiness,
No Jewish feet stride there now, there are
no more Jews…

And the little besmedresh'l,
Where our amcho got in a little borchu, a chapter of t'hilim
Heard a good word from yalkut, midrash and other holy texts
Everything is gone…no memory, no monument, no graves…

There is no more beloved idyll,
Of Jewish porters, decent, broad-shouldered men,
Who used to sit in the besmedresh at a table off to the side,
Or comfortably chatted behind the city hall.

In Bilgoraj there are no more Sorelach, Motelach,
The beloved boys and girls,
In little cloth kapotkelach[2]
And in checked little dresses…

And no longer are there children walking winter nights,
With lanterns from the cheders,
A horrible power,
Hurled them away somewhere…no tombstones, no graves…

Future generations will someday read,
A sorrowful tale of death factories, bayonets,
barbed wire,
Bilgoraj will also be remembered,
A Jewish city destroyed…


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Our Jewish people Return
  2. Long black coats Return


[Page 136]

A Jewish Teacher in Bilgoraj

by Y. Hodess

Translated by Sara Mages

My town, Bilgoraj.

As was the fate of tens of thousands of Jews, in every place the Nazi's boot stepped on, so was the fate of the Jews of my town, Bilgoraj. The enemy plotted to erase the name and the memory of the Jews, their towns and villages, but they did not succeed.

The surviving Jews, from every village and town, gather to establish a memorial to the extinct towns and the exterminated Jews. We, the Jews of Bilgoraj, will also raise the memory of our town, the memory of its Jews and its landscape.

We will re–weave the canvas of bustling Jewish life in the Diaspora of Poland and for this chapter, the chapter of Bilgoraj, and I also want to weave in my thread.

* *
*

I was born in 1915, at the height of the First World War, to my parents Mordechai and Leah Hodess – merchants in Bilgoraj. Four days after my birth, the war arrived at the border of our town, and I was taken by cart to Lublin – until the hostilities ended.

When I grew up, I began my studies at the general state school in Bilgoraj. It was a public school, for Jews and gentiles, and boys and girls attended it together. Most of the students were Jews, and so were most of the town's residents. Out of twelve thousand residents, the number of Jews reached 65%. Such a ratio, between gentiles and Jews, also existed at school.

I finished seven grades at this school, and contrary to what was customary at the time, I chose the teaching profession for myself. Since there was no teachers seminary in Bilgoraj I was forced to leave my home. Without my parents' knowledge, I made my way by bicycle, a distance of fifty kilometers, to the city of Szczebrzeszyn where I was accepted at the teachers seminary.

Those days were the days of the “Numerus Clausus” law[1]. It was not easy for a Jew to be admitted to a Polish school for higher education and therefore, even after I was accepted – my life was not easy within the institution's walls.

[Page 137]

Also, the subjects I chose for myself were not very typical for a Jew from a town in the Diaspora: nature and geography. As mentioned, my life in that institution was not easy, and at the end of two years of study I was caught “in a serious offense” – smoking a cigarette in secret – and was transferred to Lesna–Podlaska near Biala. There, I continued my studies for another three years, and in 1934 I finished my studies, and received a graduation certificate. That year, I returned home to Bilgoraj and was accepted to teach at the same school I had attended as a child. As was customary, I had to teach a trial year without pay, but I received a partial pay for my work.

I was the only Jewish teacher in the general state school, the rest of the teachers were gentiles. This fact gave me special roles. In addition to teaching, I had to serve as an instructor, I had to protect and encourage the Jewish students who were often persecuted by gentile teachers who were not completely free from the anti–Semitic complex. I had to serve as a deciding factor between the teachers' pressure on one hand, and the Jewish students' complaints on the other.

In addition to the two special subjects that I taught, geography and nature, I was instructed to teach the Jewish students the history of the Jewish people. I took advantage of the opportunity that we were Jews among Jews, and taught the history of Zionism. I told them about Eretz Yisrael and its construction, and to my joy the seed I had sown bore fruit. Of course, I also devoted time to the teaching of general Jewish history that, in any case, was integrated with the aspiration of the Jews for a homeland in Eretz Yisrael.

The close contact with the Jewish youth in the town, the sight of the terrible poverty in which they lived, their poverty and their distress, gave me another role: a broad action to raise funds and other help, to allow a minimum portion of food for the children, and some warm clothing.

I organized the few rich people in the town, and we did our best to improve the nutrition and clothing of the children who were, for the most part, in appalling poverty.

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In this manner, I taught at school until the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War. Anti–Semitism, which received a lot of encouragement across the border, had begun long before the outbreak of the war. My situation at school was very difficult in this last year, and I was offered a move to a Jewish school in Otwock near Warsaw. Before I started the new school year in my new place, I left for a regular school vacation. But it was no longer possible to start teaching: the first German bombs fell on Polish soil even before the start of the school year – the Second World War had begun. My fate was no different from the fate of hundreds of thousands of other Jews persecuted by the Nazi predators. But our town holds no special place in this story. The fate of a Jew born by chance in Bilgoraj was like the fate of a Jew born elsewhere throughout Poland.

* *
*

A large and extensive Jewry was destroyed, but despite the suffering, killing and persecutions, the Jews shook themselves from their disaster and created, right after the great disaster, their wonderful creation – the State of Israel.

Among the founders of the country, its builders and defenders, it is also possible to meet those Jewish children, the students of the general school in Bilgoraj. The seed sown then bears fruit, and this serves a source of encouragement and consolation. The people of Bilgoraj in Eretz Yisrael erect a monument in memory of the town of Bilgoraj and its Jews.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Laws limiting the number of Jewish students allowed to attend an educational institution Return


[Page 139]

The Bilgoraj Feldsher[1]

by A. Kronenberg (Katari)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Up until WWI, there was only one doctor in Bilgoraj. He was called Sawicki. Jews rarely went to see him, because not everyone had the means to use a doctor.

In those days almost everybody used various folk cures and remedies.

When someone fell sick, the first thing they tried was “opleshen koilen.” They took a cup of hot water, and threw it on the burning coals. If the coals fell down, it was a sign that the patient was the victim of an evil eye. So they quickly called for a boy, gave him the name of the sick person, and his mother's name, and sent him to Sholom Hershele's or Itzi Meir Melamed who were specialists in exorcising the evil eye.

After exorcising the evil eye, they paid close attention to see if the patient yawned. If he yawned, it was a sign that the he had been affected by the evil eye, and that the exorcism had helped.

If the patient did not get better, they interrogated the kid to see if maybe he had not forgotten the victim's name, or mixed it up, which would then be the reason the treatment hadn't worked.

In the case of someone who was paralyzed,

[Page 140]

word was immediately sent to Sarah Mordechai Yosef's. She would pour water on the victim's head, and interpret the signs of what had frightened him.

If someone had a rash, Sarah would take a bundle of flax, light it, and heat the rash while reciting various incantations, continuously repeating, “Black rash, into the fields with you, into the fields.” After, she would take a handkerchief, smear honey on it, and apply it to the rash.

When a serious sickness struck, and the folk remedies hadn't helped, they sent for Shloime Roife the feldsher.

Three brass trays hung at the feldsher's door. (That was the sign). In truth, a feldsher then did not have a medical degree. Shloime Roife had served in the Russian army as an orderly, and after his service, he became a feldsher. He wore a black top hat, had a pointy beard, and was the only Jew in town who wore a short jacket. Women would whisper that he washed with scented soap, and ate tomatoes, which were then considered treyf in Bigoraj.

When he attended the sick, he was greeted with great respect, and attention given to his every word. He asked the patient where it hurt, checked his pulse, opened the little bag he used to carry with him, chose several instruments, examined the throat, and prescribed aspirin. (They could not, and were not allowed, to write prescriptions).

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He could administer “gehakte bankes,” “piafkes,” paint the throat, or make “klizmes.” If someone had a toothache, he went to Shloime Roife. He would seat him on a stool, grab the tooth, and before he had a chance to yell, the tooth would be out.

He was the only barber in town.

In later years, his son would accompany him, and then take over the business through inheritance.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Unlicensed medical practitioner Return

 

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