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We the Jews of Borylaw


[Pages 82-88]

They Rose above their Circumstances

Translated by Chris Wozniak

Debra, L\oziny, Nowy S'wiat, Moczary - the names of these sections (of Boryslaw) were synonyms for poverty, backwardness and superstition. Any sign of progress, even a tiny one, in the younger generation met with condemnation and hostility in those quarters of Boryslaw.

On both sides of the Tys'mienica river, small cottages were scattered around Debra, bent down by merciless time. It would be easy to enter them through their windows whose sills were mere centimeters above the ground but there was no mezuzah [1]on the sills ...such an entry was forbidden... The roofs of these hovels were patched with sheets of old tar paper, odd planks of wood, bits of roof iron, but all that didn't prevent the rain from leaking in and filling bowls, pots, buckets or any other container with water.

Next to Debra was the city bathhouse and mykvah (the ritual bath). Itwass in the most prominent building, where, on the first floor were the chambers of the kahal [2], the center of administration of the Jewish community (gmina) [3]with the only telephone in the quarter. The Jews tried to learn its number, 1672, by heart, just in case....one never knows.

In Debra lived the journeymen, mainly the “washers”, who were occupied with washing the ozokerite,[4]extracted in the nearby mine. They even had their separate synagogue (Hevra Veshers).

At home there was not always enough to eat, but everybody owned a “library”[5]. For everyday reading there were Sidur [6]and Humash [7]for the holy days - Mahzor, [8]for Passover, - Hagadah, [9]and of course the Book of Psalms, Thilim for all occasions. Those prayer books were also used as the textbooks for children studying in theheder.

In those surroundings Mordecai Langerman[10]was born and grew up. He started his education in the heder when he was three. When he was six years old, his father enrolled him in the primary school on Pan'ska Street, not far from home. Father worked as a night watchman at the oil wells and, after some discussions with his fellow workers came to the conclusion that times were changing and it was necessary to ensure a different future for his son, better than the one typical for Debra. He wasn't swayed by the protestations of the mother, called Haye rebetzin [11]in the neighbourhood. That nickname came from her adherence, much stricter than others, to the word of the Scriptures.

Motal\y brought home books that filled his mother with a fear of calamity:

“Those letters are not at all like the alef-bejs.....[12]

Mordecai, the student, spent his holidays at home trying to ease the financial burden on his parents with the money he saved, earned by tutoring other students. He paid off their debts at Henia Mal\ky's grocery stall. "Grocery stall” - Merciful Lord!, its stock consisted of a barrel of sauerkraut, a few packets of chicory “coffee”, half a bag of flour, baker's yeast, some lollipops and that's all.

Markus Langerman, formerly little Motal\y, regretted the sad atmosphere of his birthplace, where most of the inhabitants were illiterate and full of superstition; where the barber, Pynie Royfe[13]was the only available “physician”. He applied cups[14]leeches and treated cuts and bruises with poultices from plantain leaves.

Markus Langerman successfully completed tertiary education without any financial assistance and came back to his native Boryslaw to a teaching position in the Polish private high school. He taught religion to Jewish students. During the breaks he could be seen strolling around with Father Adam Chlebin'ski[15], a Catholic priest, who taught religion to the gentile students. Father Chlebin'ski was a good hearted man, a great friend and (when necessary) the protector of students of all religious persuasions. Perhaps the smoke from Nazi crematoriums met again somewhere in heaven when those two were burned.

House painter, Strauss, and his son, Bumek[16]were renovating the apartment of Kurz, the baker, on a spring day before Passover. Through the open window came the sounds of a piano. Bumek slowed down and listened to the music. Father's admonition awakened him as from a dream and the spatula fell out of his hand.

Next morning, after a night full of dreams of the sound of the piano he came back to work with his father. Bumek filled the cracks and whistled the tune he heard yesterday. As he worked, he hoped for a repeat of the musical performance.

Suddenly the door opened and a woman entered and asked Bumek:

“Where did you learn the tune you're whistling?”

“I heard it only yesterday, someone played it on the piano.”

“Are you sure you haven't heard it before ? That's the piano concerto in G-minor by Felix Mendelssohn.”

“I'm sure, why?”

“That boy has got perfect pitch,” thought the pianist.

“Please come and see me tonight at eight o'clock, at my place. My name is Miss Theman,[17]I live in the flat next door.”

Bumek accepted the invitation, certain that he'd get a painting job. Instead he met Józef Malz,[18]a violinist, who was very well known in town. On his way home, after he had a chat with both musicians and listened to their performance, he felt as if he had wings.

Never before had he rushed in home as on this occasion, greatly surprising his parents:

“Dad! Mum! I am going to study violin,” he said, panting, “with Malz, for free!”

Every day from then on he practiced for hours on a borrowed instrument. He became familiar with scales and etudes. Malz commented jokingly on the surprising progress of his pupil:

“It's nothing strange, after all his name is Strauss!"

It's difficult to say exactly how much time had passed since Bumek's first musical experience, but there he was, by the kerosene lamp, filling the music score with notes and marking the rhythm with his hand. And the lyrics, the lyrics came rushing out of thin air while Bumek composed romantic tango music.

One Friday evening he came home in a sad mood, stood up by a girl. He sat down and jotted down the tune and words:

“All the neighbours are celebrating Sabbath but I won't light the candles on this sad night....”

The song became a big hit in the town.

On another Friday evening Bumek left home with his violin, but never came back. It was 1942.

Moczary (swamps), the name itself sounds threatening, evoking memories of dark tales and ballads about the bottomless mud where the ghosts of drowned girls pull in passers by as if in revenge for their tragic loves.

In spite of that quite a few people lived in Moczary. There one could hear the ringing sounds coming from the smithy belonging to Hersz Al\ter Doerfler,[19]called Al\ter Kowal (blacksmith). Close by, Maurer,[20]better known as Mechl\ Szister by had his cobbler's shop. He had to work really hard to feed his large family. Seldom was there enough bread for all of them. Maurer had a son, Josio[21], highly praised by the melamed[22]in the heder for good progress and beautiful singing. When Purim came, Josio had the most ingenious costume of all.

When the Jewish amateur theatrical club was first organized in town, Josio, now an adult, immediately became a very active member.

In the mid nineteen twenties the Vilnius Troupe arrived in Boryslaw. The manager, Meisels,[23]employed Josio as an extra. That decided his future career: the theatre! Hard work and ambition made him one of the best performers in the Anskitheatrical club. He became the favorite of aficionados of Jewish theatre. He captivated Boryslaw's public in the title role in the play by Gordin,[24]Derwilder mensch,[25]The song he sang could be heard in every Jewish house in town:

Was I born from a stone ?
Or did a mother bear me ?
Was this world created only for the wise....?
God have mercy on us...

About that time Zygmunt Lew,[26]former member of Habima,[27]who was organizing the Jewish theatre in Lwo'w, arrived in Boryslaw. Josio let himself be persuaded to go to Lwo'w but came back after a few weeks and later, in 1927, emigrated to Argentina. He made a career in Buenos Aires as an outstanding actor and a supporter of theatre. He held the position of secretary and then  chairman of Jewish Actors Equity. He appeared in numerous movies and theatrical plays, not only Jewish ones.

In 1963 he came to Israel with his family, where he took an active part in theatrical life. Merciless death snatched him away five years later.

Dolek Seifert[28]and his younger brother Avrumko[29]were sons of the barber from Wolanka,[30]known as Berl Royfe. He successfully performed some minor medical operations, including pulling of teeth. He enjoyed fame as the best medical assistant in town. The father's abilities were inherited by his sons but in the altogether different areas. The neighbours were envious : “Look how lucky he is!”

Dolek early on displayed a great talent for painting, which developed further as he grew older. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. His paintings graced the walls of prosperous industrialists and collectors of art.

After a trip to Zakopane,[31]where his paintings enjoyed great success at the art exhibition, Dolek was invited by Karol Katz,[32]the co-owner of a drilling rig factory and offered a grant to study art in Paris. What greater fortune could a young artist from a provincial town dream of?

Avrumko saw his future in violin playing. The flat of his parents was so small, that he could practice only in the evenings, after the barber shop has been closed for the night. Sometimes the more prosperous neighbours invited him to practice for a few hours in their homes.

Years went by and the musical talent of the barber's son earned the admiration of teachers of the Music Conservatory in Krakow. He worked there during the nineteen thirties as an assistant violin teacher, until the second world war. The town was very proud of its two greatly talented sons who shared the fate of their compatriots in the cruel period of genocide.

Izak Sternbach[33]obtained a Master of Arts degree in classical philology from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. His studies were financed by his mother, whose means were more than modest. After returning to Boryslaw he soon became a known as an eccentric and because of that had trouble finding a job. He used to walk the streets talking to himself, often in Latin or Greek. When tormented by street urchins he yelled hodie mihi, cras tibi (me today, you tomorrow), causing roars of laughter.

The work of his life was the translation of the Polish national epic,Pan Tadeusz,[34]into Latin. He couldn't find a publisher for his work. He didn't bother to copy his manuscript but sent the original to Vatican, to Pope Pius XI, who had been the Papal Nuncio in Poland from 1918 to 1921. Rumor had it that in reply he received a letter of thanks and a medal.

The translator himself perished in one of the first “actions” during the Nazi occupation. It's possible, that Sternbach's manuscript remains to this day in the Vatican library.

Bumek Strauss

Sabbath Tango

All my neighbours celebrate Sabbath
All their windows twinkle with lights
Even though dusk has now fallen
I won't light my candles tonight

I won't circle the flame with my hands
and I won't bless those candles
Deserted and betrayed
what else can I say


I love only you, it's only you I want
but you don't want to know me at all,
for the charm of your lovely smile
I'd give a treasure of gold

My heart cries over lost happiness,
All was so much different in the past,
I love only you, come and see for yourself,
give me back my happiness....

[Pages 89-92]

In High School and Already an Inventor

Translated by Chris Wozniak

In an euphoric mood I sent a telegram to my parents to advise them that their son had obtained a university degree. There was a list of job offers on the university's bulletin board. So began my wanderings....

“Do you have a work visa ?”

I had only the student visa.

The year was 1932. The French President had been assassinated by the Bulgarian “green” communist Gorguloff.[35]The result: far stricter adherence to the law forbidding employment of foreigners without work visas.

From selling lingerie through hundreds of staircases in the city suburbs and advertising coal for the winter in apartment buildings, I finally arrived at one of the Paris railway stations to work as a porter, loading bags and boxes into the carriages. However, they discovered that I was an “illegal”. I had to return to my native Boryslaw. I realized that the world-wide economic depression had also reached this place.

I managed to get some casual tutoring jobs, earning enough for cigarettes. I learned that the Vacuum Oil Company was looking for a chemical engineer. However, during the interview the chief engineer said: “Sorry, no vacancies.”

“Please Sir, I'll take anything, perhaps you need a watchman, or a labourer...”

“I couldn't allow a colleague to work so hard.”

Finally, after two years I got lucky. Thanks to “connections”, I started working at the Kellog well as the third drilling assistant. For eight hours every day on the drilling platform I fastened the bore extensions to the drill, singing loudly “Hi, I'm ready”. It was the signal that the drill can be lowered into the drill hole. And so on, every ten minutes on the average.

One day the supervisor called me:

“Hey you, engineer, take this drill head to the Ringler's workshop”.

It was heavy as hell, but I had to lug it there. That's how I started my acquaintance with Engineer Maurycy Ringler.[36]
I'll try to describe the atmosphere of those days, when groups of people with graduate diplomas of all kinds walked for hours down and up Pan'ska Street. Perhaps someone would pass a cigarette..... Maybe some odd job would be found....

Ringler's workshop was humming with work. It was one of the few places unaffected by the crisis. Its clients were the big oil companies, Fanto, Mal\opolska, Vacuum Oil Company, Silva Plana, and also some smaller outfits that managed to stay afloat.

Ringler's workshop was doing not only the maintenance jobs but also implementing new designs of different kinds of machinery. The big hall was filled with noise from all sorts of machines, lathes, grinders, drills, etc. The owner/manager walked from one machine to another and checked the measurements with the nonius.[37] While many other enterprises retrained workers, Ringler's workshop kept hiring young people, giving them a chance to acquire valuable skills. I remember some names:

- Dead these last twenty years, L\ajbko (Arie) Henefeld,[38]who emigrated to Israel (then Palestine) in the '30's and established a factory in Herzliya which exists to this day, producing cranes for export.

- Szymek Nadler,[39]whose mechanic shop in Ramat enjoys well earned fame.

- Herman Glaser,[40]who spent the years of the second World War in Kazakhstan working in a mechanic shop and was promoted after just a few weeks to the position of supervisor. In the '50's he arrived in Israel and established a prosperous mechanic shop in Kiriat Gat.

- Józek Samueli, [41]who had to retire early for health reasons, became a valued expert in the workshops of Afula. He lives in Nazareth, where they say that he can make anything.

And many, many others, who learned a good profession and obtained experience thanks to their time at Ringler's.

Maurycy Ringler himself was interested in tinkering from an early age. He was only eighteen when he invented a knife (tool) for cutting pipes. His invention established his career after the Premier company (later Mal\opolska) tested it and judged it excellent.

Not much later, Boryslaw again heard the name of the young inventor. His second invention was a detachable drill head, a very valuable instrument for the oil industry. And after that... many more. Among them, a very popular implement, a clamp for extracting the pipes from the well, after it was exhausted.

Interest in Maurycy Ringler's inventions grew not only in Poland. And not only in Europe. His patents are registered even in the USA and Soviet Union.

The worst possible failure in the oil industry is a blockage (jamming) of the well. It means that during the drilling, the drill link breaks off and .... it's the end. In many countries various ways were tried to unblock such wells. In most cases it didn't work. Often the efforts take years, if the company can afford it and if the oil well is considered worth the trouble.

Engineer Ringler spent many months on designs and projects to find a way to repair a blocked well, to avoid losing it for good. Finally..... Eureka!

A few years went by with a few successful rescues. Dead wells were resurrected. The news of Maurycy Ringler's successes came to the attention of the Soviet Oil Ministry. It should be mentioned here that Boryslaw had then been under the Soviet occupation, since September, 1939. The chief engineer of the petroleum trust brought to Ringler a letter from the Minister, inviting him to Moscow to discuss means for rescuing a blocked well in one fo their oilfields. Apparently the Soviet engineers were unable to do it. Engineer Ringler and his wife were handsomely rewarded. The fee for unblocking the well was equal to the so-called Stalin Prize”[42]. Quite a lot of money.

During the Nazi occupation the Germans recognized Ringler's expertise and talent. Their administration issued him a letter of “safe conduct” protecting him from persecution. In his workshops he employed more and more Jews. Thanks to him they wore on their sleeves the letter “R” (Ruestungsindustrie), meaning armament industry worker.

In 1957 our compatriot arrived in Israel with his family. The oil deposits here aren't all that significant, but it's necessary to drill for water. In the opinion of our compatriot though, there is oil here too.

With help from the government. a workshop, or rather factory of drilling equipment, was established in Ashkelon for production, but also for design and maintenance.

M. Ringler Oil Drilling Engineer, 
Manager of Drilling Equipment Factory, Ashkelon 

This is the business card of the talented inventor, owner of approximately fifty patents in many countries.

[Pages 93-96]

The Schiff Family Saga

Translated by Chris Wozniak

“June, 1977 is the date of birth of this book. With great pleasure I offer it to my compatriot, Leopold Held with warm greetings - Meilech Schiff[43]. Montreal, July 1980.”

Lost Boryslaw (Utracony Borysl\aw in Polish) is the title of this valuable document, illustrated with family photos, containing many memories. It's difficult to put it down. In its 160 pages the author guides us through the alleyways and nooks of slum quarters, inhabited almost exclusively by Jewish families, forsaken by God and other people. We read of sorrow and misfortune and sometimes we can afford a half smile. In the introduction to his book, Schiff charted a map of the town: streets and squares, not forgetting the Tys'mienica. That river on one hand was the source of parnasa[44]for l\ebaks; on the other hand, during the spring floods its water spilled out of the river bed into the residential quarters, swamping the poor houses and hovels.

One of the few that fate smiled upon was Meilech Schiff. He was thirty-two when he emigrated to Canada. Fifty years later he wrote: “It's a great gift to be able to remember the past and pass it on to future generations”.

The father's name was Icyk Seeman[45]. He was employed as a night watchman in the oil company owned by prosperous Jews - Suchestow and Schreier. It often happened that he worked two shifts to earn just a little bit more. From time to time he managed to skim some oil from the Tys'mienica and scrounge some sawdust from the lumber mill. He mixed those two ingredients together, pressed the mixture into balls and sold them as fire-starters. He had a stable clientele among the housewives. Sometimes he brought home on a wooden yoke two large buckets of salt water drawn from the mine pit. When the water evaporated in a bowl it left clean, white salt that he would sell to the peasants in the neighbouring villages - Popiele, Bania Kotowska, Ratoczyn, etc. All these earnings taken together were still not enough to feed his family. Mother Surele bore her husband seven children. “That” - she used to say - “was God's will”. And so, three daughters and four sons. The eighth child, a boy, was sickly and lived only three and a half years.

Surele was widely respected and popular among the neighbours. She was always there when help was needed. People from L\oziny, Debra, from Nowy S'wiat, from Dolny Potok knew her well. From that whole area of slums and poverty. She always found some time to pray for the health of this or that neighbour. She was well known to the rabbis, whom she pestered and nagged to seek the Creator's intervention. When their prayers failed she used to go to the cemetery, to beg long dead rabbis to help and intercede with the Omnipotent.

“Today I can see it all clearly, all that happened seventy years ago. I see the poverty and dirt, diseases and lice, hunger and tattered clothing” the author wrote in his old age.

On the pages of Lost Boryslaw, we meet Meilech as a soldier of Austro-Hungarian Army in the Great War. We accompany him to his dates with Rajzele Leiner[46]or Brucha Bander.[47]Meilech sighed deeply when he recollected the Academy of Salon Dancing of Moty Kuszer[48]who would cheerfully organize mazurkas, lancers and quadrilles in his funny Polish. Lipe,[49]Meilech's older brother, talked him into joining the Vorwaerts Verein. There, in their offices he saw for the first time pictures of Karl Marx and Ferdinand Lasalle,[50]hanging on the walls. Heroes of those days, his heroes as well, were Rosa Luxemburg[51]and Karl Liebknecht.[52]He learned his profession in the furniture workshops of Jankel Gersten,[53]Nisim Reif [54]and others.
And later.... later we'll accompany the author of this book to Canada. He was invited to Canada by his eldest sister, Matilda,[55]who emigrated to America in 1912.

Before the outbreak of the second world war Matilda and Meilech managed to bring their parents to Canada and a little later, two sisters.

His joy knew no bounds. The dream of his life came true. He was happy that - even though late in their lives - his parents would not want for anything. If they lacked anything - it would be “birds milk”. Parents don't live forever. Father died in 1942, mother in 1957.

In 1975, fifty years of Canadian life had ticked on. Meilech Schiff sat at his desk and wrote a letter:

“To Mr Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Prime Minister, in Ottawa”[56]

In his letter Meilech expressed heartfelt thanks to Canada for the help and friendliness he met with from its people, often strangers, starting from his first day on Canadian soil, so that he was able to establish a family, settle down, start up a furniture factory and raise three sons, one of whom is a lawyer, another a lecturer in a college and the third a doctor. “I've been retired for twelve years, and I'm getting a pension that allows me to live in the style I like”.

In the finishing chapter of the letter we can read: “Oh Canada,[57]if I were a sculptor I would create the tallest and most beautiful monument to you, if I were a poet I would compose the most wonderful poem about you.”. The last words of the letter read: “Canada, I love you like a young man loves his sweetheart”.

In February 1975 Meilech Schiff received a letter:

“Dear Mr Schiff, your feelings for Canada are shared by many, but are seldom declared . Many people arrived here as you have, from various countries, to build a better life for themselves and their children. Canadians, both immigrants and native born, together built this Canada, that stirs in us those feelings. You don't need to create a work of art, like a picture, or a poem to praise Canada. It's far more significant, that for half a century you participated in building it. Your letter has given me a great pleasure, thank you very much,

E. Trudeau.

In 1983 we visited the Schiff family in Montreal. As it happened, at their home we met their neighbours who came from Boryslaw as well: Cesia Backenroth-Scheiner[58]and her husband Kalman. It's not surprising that the conversation centered on our place of origin. Meilech's wife participated in it, even though she came from Vilnius; as her husband said, she had caught the Boryslaw fever. Our host took my arm and led me to his study, where, as he told me, the book Lost Boryslaw was written. With a smile on his face he said that in the next four years he'll write another one about the town on Tys'mienica. He pointed to the wall, where, nicely framed, the two earlier mentioned letters were hung, alongside the third, a very impressive one. Meilech himself was very surprised, when he received it, on the Prime Minister's letterhead, with its warm congratulations for his nintieth birthday. Signed by E. Trudeau..[59]

I wasn't surprised by the proud expression on Meilech's face.


AN: Author's note in the original edition. All other notes are supplied by the editor or the translators.
AI: Author's index. At the end of the printed book is an index of names and a glossary. For the purpose of publication on the Internet, these entries have been put into the footnotes for each chapter.

All other notes have been supplied by the editor, the translators or consultants to the editor.

A roll of parchment in a small frame (box), nailed to the right hand side of the house entrance door. Pious Jews entering or exiting touch it with their fingers and then kiss them. AI Back
Kahal is the Yiddish word for the Hebrew word kehilla which means the Jewish religious community.Back
Gmina (Polish): the word used in the Polish text is the Polish word for “parish” or “religious community”. This is the expression for the smallest administrative division, originally associated with Church administration. Gmina Zydowska: Jewish Community.Back
As a natural hydrocarbon, ozokerite, known popularly as “natural wax” has been known to humanity since antiquity. It is found only in a few places on earth. According to Prof. Fahri Goodarzi, director of the Geological Survey of Canada, it was used in ancient Egypt for the embalming of mummies. The discovery of ozokerite in the Boryslaw/Drohobycz area was the main reason for the establishment of candle factories in the nineteenth century. Back
There is some irony in Mr. Held's description of this “library”, the collection of the standard religious books in every Jewish home. Back
Prayer book for everyday use.AI Back
Prayer book for everyday use.AI Back
Prayer book for the most holy occasions, i.e. Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur. AI Back
Text read during the Passover supper, describing the Exodus of Jews from Egypt AI Back
10  Langerman, Mordecai: Teacher of religious studies at the Boryslaw gymasium (high school). AI Back
11  Haye rebetzin: Haye, the rabbi's wife. Back
12  Alef-bejs: the Yiddish alphabet or “ABC's”. Back
13  Royfe: Literally a doctor (physician). Term used in Boryslaw for the medical assistants and barbers who applied cups and leeches, and extracted teeth. Back
14  Cups: glass cups which when heated and applied to the skin would draw the blood to the surface. Back
15  Chlebin'ski, Adam: Catholic priest, teacher of religion in the Boryslaw High School. AI Back
16  Strauss, Bumek: musician, composer and author of musical hits. AI Back
17  Theman, Miss: pianist.. AI Back
18  Malz, Józek: musician, violin teacher. AI Back
19  Doerfler, Hersz: called Alter Kowal (blacksmith) Back
20  Mauer, Mechl\: called Mechl\ Szister (cobbler). AI Back
21  Maurer, Josi: actor, had a successful career in Buenos Aires. AI Back
22  Melamed: teacher Back
23  Meisels: the manager of the Vilnius Theatrical Ensemble. AI Back
24  Gordin, Jacob. (1853-1909): Born in Ukraine, Gordin studied Russian literature and worked as a writer in St. Petersburg. In 1880, he founded the Bible Brotherhood, a reform movement of Judaism. After the movement was suppressed in 1891, he left Russia for the United States. In New York City he found the Yiddish stage in need of good plays, and for the rest of his life he wrote over seventy original plays, translated, and adapted plays in the vernacular. Jacob Gordin is credited with bringing new material and new life into the American Yiddish theatre with free adaptations of the works of major European dramatists, such as The Jewish King Lear. Other successes were: Siberia;God, Man, and the Devil; The Jewish Sappho; and The Kreutzer Sonata. (http://www.yap.cat.nyu.edu/Hires/Biography.asp?ID=68) (http://www.bartleby.com/228/0852.html)Back
25  The Wild Man. Back
26  Lew, Zygmunt: actor of Habima, organised a Jewish theatrical ensemble in Lwów. AI Back
27  Habima (Hebrew) “scene”, It was the name of the Jewish National Theatre, in eastern Europe and today is the name of the Israeli National Theatre located in Tel Aviv. Back
28  Seifert, Dolek: painter, graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts, sent by Boryslaw entrepreneur to Paris. AI Back
29  Seifert, Avrumko: violinist, an assistant teacher in the Kracow Conservatory of Music. AI Back
30  Wolanka: suburb of Boryslaw.Back
31  Zakopane: Polish town in the Tatra mountains popular as a ski resort since the 1860's. Back
32  Katz, Karol: co-owner of the drilling equipment factory, sponsor of the young painter, Dolek Seifert.AI Back
33 Sternbach, Izak: classical philologist, translated the epic Pan Tadeusz into Latin and offered it to Pope Pius XI. Back
34  Pan Tadeusz: Epic poem in twelve parts written by the celebrated Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz in Paris between the years 1832-1834 which tells the story of a feud between two families in Poland during the Napoleonic period. Back
35  Gorguloff, Paul: a White Russian émigré. He shot Paul Doumer, elected President of the Republic of France on the eve of the 1932 election. The fatal shot was fired while Doumer was presiding at the opening a Paris book fair. Back
36  Ringler, Maurycy: engineer, inventor. Author of a diary describing, among the other things, the role played by Berthold Beitz in saving the Boryslaw Jews. AI Back
37  The owner used a vernier to check the dimensional accuracy of the machined product Back
38  Henefeld, Alka: gymnast in Z*KS KADIMAH. AI Back
39  Nadler, Szymek: lived in Podwórze, survived the war in Boryslaw. AI Back
40  Glaser, Herman: worked for the petroleum industry in Kazahstan in 1941-1945. AI Back
41  Samueli, Józek: learned his trade in workshop of Engineer M. Ringler. After arriving in Israel, he was a highly valued expert in the factories of Afula. He lives in Nazareth, where it is said that he can make anything. AI Back
42 Stalin Prize: This was the highest peace time honor in the USSR. It was presented to people from the all walks of life (literature, arts, industry, etc). Besides being awarded the Prize the recipient also received a substantial amount of money. Following Stalin's death in 1953, the honor was changed to the Lenin Award. Back
43  Schiff, Meilech: author of the book about his younger years, Lost Boryslaw, published in New York in 1977. AI Back
44  Parnas: income, earnings, wage. The Ashkenazy word was parnasa, the Sephardic word parnusy.AI Back
45 In those days very few Jews had “civil” marriages. Usually marriages were performed by a rabbi. Consequently the children were given the mother's surname. (Author's note) Back
46 Leiner, Rajsele: appears in Meilech Schiff's book about Boryslaw. AI Back
47  Bander, Brucha: a Boryslaw girl, mentioned by Meilech Schiff in his book. AI Back
48  Kuszer, Moty: owner of the Boryslaw school of dancing. AI Back
49  Schiff, Lipa: brother of Meilech.AI Back
50  Lasalle, Ferdinand (1825-1864): A socialist writer and politician founded the General German Association of Workers in 1863, the first organization of the Workers Movement. He was a friend of Karl Marx. Back
51 Luxenburg, Rosa (1871?1919): Born in Zamosc' in Congress Poland, she was one of the founders of the Polish Socialist Party (1892). In 1894, she formed a splinter group (later known as the Social Democratic party of Poland and Lithuania). Acquiring German citizenship through marriage, after 1898 she was a leader in the German Social Democratic party (SPD). Opposing the SPD's support for the war, she formed the German Spartacus party with Karl Liebknecht. In protective custody during much of the war and released in 1918 upon the outbreak of the German revolution, she aided in the transformation of the Spartacists into the German Communist party and edited its organ, Rote Fahne. For their part in the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, she and Liebknecht were arrested in January, 1919. While being taken to prison they were killed by soldiers. Back
52 Liebknecht, Karl (1871?1919): German socialist, leader, member of the extreme left wing of the Social Democratic party, he refused to support the government during World War I. See Note 51. Back
53  Gersten, Jankel: owner of a carpentry shop. AI Back
54  Reif, Nissim: owner of a carpentry shop in Boryslaw. AI Back
55  Schiff Matylda: eldest sister of Meilech, Schiff. She sponsored his emigration to Canada. AI Back
56  Trudeau, Pierre Elliot: Prime Minister of Canada, 1968-1984 AI Back
57  These are the first two words of the first verse of Canadian National Anthem. AI Back
58  Backenroth, Cesia: a gymnast in Z*KS KADIMAH (Jewish Sport Club). The author mentions her in connection with Meilech Schiff's book Lost Boryslaw. AI Back
59  Meilech Schiff died on May 13, 1987, aged 94. AI Back

[Pages 97-100]

Books: The Love of Icyk Miller's Life

Translated by Chris Wozniak

Edited by Alex Sharon

“No place like home,” the title of a TV sitcom, brought to my mind the remarks of Icyk Miller ten years ago. Saying “farewell” after a walk he said, “Well, it's time to go home.”

A couple of days later he telephoned me, - “I'm feeling a bit off colour. Why don't you pop in to see me?”

I used the occasion to return his last two issues of the monthly journal, Kultura [1]. After arriving in Israel, he subscribed to it from Paris.. The climb to the fourth floor left me puffing. Before ringing the doorbell I stopped for a while to catch my breath. I was trying to remember if fifty years before I puffed as much after climbing the Howerla mountain, about 2,000 meters high.
We sat at the low coffee table covered with books. Icyk returned to that last conversation two days before and repeated the phrase, “It's time to go home”.

   How many times did we repeat that, “to go home”. And every time it referred to a different place.... And after what we suffered in the last few years.... It's not “unzer haim” [2] any more...

In every conversation after he became ill, Icyk went back to his memories of that home where his father, Mordecai Miller [3]worked as a bricklayer in summer and winter carting the residue from the oil wells onto the tailing heap. One of his three sisters, the eldest, became sick. Neither medicines nor prayers could help. Tuberculosis was stronger. Mother, Fajge Myndl, together with the two remaining daughters took to sewing and mended and patched linen to help with parnusy. [4]They were called drei neiturns [5]in the neighbourhood (as in the title of the poem by L. Peretz) [6]Such was that patched up life. It wasn't surprising that, at the age of twelve, as the eldest of three brothers, Icyk started working as a courier in the Premier oil company.

I befriended Icyk Miller in the 1920's in the Jewish Trade Union of Building Workers. Leftist and left leaning Jewish youth from all professions visited the Union office. The evening discussions drew in young people. From time to time one could see a few students there from the local high school; they risked a great deal to attend. Among them were Marek Rattner[7], Belo Gartenberg[8]and myself.

Icyk Miller worked already as an electrician in the oil refinery Galicia in Drohobycz. I can't recollect that I ever saw him without a book and we met quite often. He wanted books and knew how to live with them. His appetite for them never slackened.

Living with books had its ups and downs and could cause trouble, sometimes even serious trouble. We could see Icyk at work, on the watch, in front of the instrument panel. Instead of watching the dials, he was totally immersed in the book he was reading - Romantic Years by Segalowicz, in Yiddish. He was caught by the engineer on duty. He tried excuses and was saved from the dismissal by his intelligence and quick thinking. “I haven't had the time to pray in the morning, so I'm doing it now....” The engineer glanced at the book, saw the unfamiliar letters and believed him: “Well OK, Miller, but you better watch out, or else.....” and he wagged his finger without malice.

It was a rainy Saturday evening, but that didn't put off the usual Union office crowd. The room filled up with young people, eager to hear Miller's essay, “Martin Eden[9]- An Example for Us”.

“Those who haven't read this book missed a wonderful experience” began Icyk in his hoarse voice. “Jack London described the hero as a man from the social margins who, through his perseverance, was able to reach higher levels of knowledge. The more books he read the more he wanted”.

After a brief summary of the book Miller stressed, that even though Martin Eden is a book that's difficult to put down, it is necessary to separate things we agree on with the author from those the we can't approve of, as ideologically repugnant. We certainly should agree with London on the merciless struggle of science with superstition and religion.

What a discussion started after that. It lasted until late at night.

 People sometimes live by paradoxes. The very man who was said to be “in love with books” could sometimes be their victim. It happened before May 1st. During the night the apartment was invaded by agents of the secret police. In their search for suspicious literature they turned everything inside out. Like wild beasts they pounced on a book, lying on the floor next to the Icyk's couch. They arrested Icyk and took him, together with that “proof of crime” to the police station. An inspector took the book from an agent and read aloud, in German: Bukharin [10] and Preobrazhenski [11] : ABC der Kommunismus.[12] Foaming at the mouth he yelled, “I'll give you ABC, you won't survive to Z!” In the article, “Three Generations of Oil Well wWorkers”, that appeared in Yiddish in Folkshimme in Warsaw (Sept. 11, 1956) Fiszel Sidor mentions Icyk Miller as the representative of the third generation: “Icyk Miller tied his aims and aspirations to the working class struggle and the triumph of socialism (...). Arrested many times, he spent time in prisons in Borislaw, Drohobycz, and Sambor”.

In June, 1941, he shared the fate of thousands of Jews; he went to the USSR. His younger brother Moszko [13] ended up in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazahstan. Both brothers searched for each other for a long time. By a lucky chance Moszko learnt that Icyk was in Ufa, capital of Bashkiria. The attempts to bring his brother to Alma-Ata were successful. Icyk found in Alma-Ata what he called “a microscopic piece of Boryslaw": consisting of his brother, Szmilek Kneppel[14]  Jonek Kleiner, Milek Russ[15]with wife, Kreisberg[16]and Hesio Kerner[17]. All of them worked in the factories evacuated from the areas threatened by the war. In 1945 all of that “microscopic piece of Boryslaw" left for Poland. They took with them a lot of work and life experiences.

I often met Icyk in Wal\brzych. He worked in the Karol steelworks as a highly qualified electrician. He pursued his social and cultural interests in the Jewish Social and Cultural Society.

The years went by and we met again in Tel Aviv. The year was 1969. A few days after his arrival Icyk came to visit us.

“It's hard to believe,” he said, “simply hard to believe. I told them the whole truth. I hid nothing, neither in my written application nor during the interviews..... that I was a Communist, a member of PZPR,[18] convicted for Communist activities.... I was sure that I would not get a place to live and a job..... Imagine I'm working in my profession and for the defense industry, can you believe this?”

He was a dedicated worker. He was unable to behave differently.... After eleven years came the first heart attack. He came back from the hospital after three weeks and at the age of seventy-two he began, as he put it, “to vegetate as a pensioner”. He decided to “vegetate” in a nursing home. He didn't want to be a burden to his brother and his family.

He lived on the third floor of the building at the corner of Brodecki and Einstein Streets in Ramat Aviv. Whenever I went to visit he complained that his roommate wanted to sleep and didn't let him keep the light on in the evenings.

“I take the book then and go downstairs to the common room, but they turn off the lights there too early. That leaves me too much time for thinking.....”

The next time he had the most severe heart attack. He was taken away unconscious by an ambulance...... Left behind, on the night table were his spectacles, a volume of verses, The Wolf's Prayers by Eliah Razjman [19], a ballpoint pen and a piece of paper with writing and a few nitroglycerine tablets on top of it.

He had copied Rajzman's poem:

Over your pillow
like a candle for the dead
You're falling low, you're setting,
so the long morning
can shine in your former space
He didn't have enough heart to finish copying.


AI author's index
TN translator's note

1 Kultura was the literary and political monthly on Central and East European issues published in Polish in Paris by the Polish emigré, Jerzy Giedroy. It was strictly prohibited in Communist Poland.TN Back
2 undzer heim (Yid): our homeAI Back
3 Miller, Mordechai: bricklayer, Icyk's father. AI Back
4 Parnusy: income, earnings, wage. The Ashkenazi version was parnasa , the Sephardi version parnus. AIBack
5Drei neinturns (Yid): Three Seamstresses , the title of a poem by I.L. Peretz. AI Back
6 Isaac Loeb Peretz: (1852-1915): Jewish poet, novelist, playwright, and lawyer, born in Zamosc, Poland. Mainly self-educated, Peretz studied law but, because of a false accuation against him, had to give up his career. He eventually became the official in charge of the Jewish cemeteries of Warsaw, a post which allowed him to write, encourage young writers and pursue his political interests. Influenced by the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, Peretz was also a socialist . His stories and plays illustrate his radical ideas and his compassion for the unfortunate in society. In the early part of his career he wrote in Hebrew and later in Yiddish. Among his best works are his hassidic sketches, such as Stories and Pictures (1900-1901, tr. 1906). Selections from his works were published (1947) in Yiddish and English. Back
7 Rattner, Marek: author of the never published novel about Boryslaw, pupil of Edmund Semil. AI Back
8 Gartenberg, Belo: Boryslaw High School student, participant in the discussions in the Jewish Trade Union of Building Workers.AI Back
9Martin Eden: a novelby Jack London, Back
10 Bukharin, Nikolai Ivanovich (1888-1938): Russian revolutionary, author.
  See: www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/2/0,5716,18242+1+17985,00.html Back

11 Preobrazhensky, E.A. (188S-1937): Russian economist and writer. Back
12 Bukharin, N., and E. Preobrazhensky.The ABC of Communism, 1919: a commentary on the newly agreed program of the Communist Party, it was a best-seller among the communists of many countries. Back
13 Miller, Moszko: Icyk's younger brother. During the war they were reunited in Alma-Ata. AI Back
14 Kneppel, Szmil: belonged to the “microscopic fragment of Boryslaw” in Alma-Ata.AI. Back
15 Russ, Milek: secretary of the Borislaw section of the “Do Not Forget” in Tel Aviv, shot dead by an Arab while walking with his family.AIBack
16 Kreisberg, Max: goalkeeper in Z*KS KADIMAH. AI Back
17 Kerner, Hesio: during the war he belonged to the “microscopic fragment of Boryslaw” in Alma-Ata. AI Back
18 PZPR (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza): Polish United Workers Party, Communist Party, which held power in Poland from 1948 - 1989 TN Back
19 Rajzman, Eliasz: poet. AI Back


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