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[Page 223]

Characters in the little town

Translated by Libby Raichman

 

The Name, The Profession

In the small towns in Galicia, one seldom heard that the name of a Jewish family would have the sound of a Slavic language; but the secret of where and why our surname was “Spivak”, lies with my great-great-grandfathers.

And as was said, our surname “Spivak” – the singer, the songbird, the cantor.

My father, Menashe-Yechezkiel, of blessed memory, was the cantor in the town's prayer house. The town's prayer house was regarded over time, as the substitute for the town's synagogue, that burned down in the fire that wiped out the largest part of the town, and after the fire, when the Jews of the town rebuilt their houses, they also rebuilt the synagogue, but did not manage to complete it. And so, for many, many years it stood with deserted walls and without a roof. Over time, the Jewish community used two rooms as a temporary measure. One room served as the office of the Jewish community. The secretary of the congregation was the son-in-law of Mr. Klapholtz. Klapholtz himself, was the head of the congregation for many years, until the arrival of the Doctor, Advocate Dyches, who replaced him. The second room was the “community prayer house”, where the ordinary people prayed. They were from Menashe Dines Street, from Kvuretz Street and some from the “Trotz”. The cantor in the community prayer house was the teacher from Krinitz. He had his elementary religious school for boys, in the cellar of the Shpielman's house, but as the government health department did not allow children to study in cellars, he received permission to transfer his school to the community prayer house, precisely because he was the cantor there.

Yisrael Mannes taught the older boys in the Wolf Loibs prayer house, where he was the cantor for many years. One should also note that there were many good prayer leaders in the town – the teachers, Betzalel Ya'akov Dovids, Mannes Ber, the Lobever, and many others who travelled to the surrounding villages of the town, to serve as cantors during the High Holy Days.

There were also many good singers among the younger generation: Zalman-Menashe Shochets – he sang with his father in the Chassidic prayer house.

One who was more talented and more important than him, was Mendele Shiff with his famous Bobbov rendition of “Ma ashiv Ladonai”[1] from “Hallel”. Even more proficient, and of a higher standard, was Hersh Yosef Landau. When he came home from the yeshivah for Passover, he went with his father to the Chassidic table of Reb Ephrayim'l, and on such a festive Passover occasion, a larger crowd than usual gathered, and Jews pledged tens of zlottes, they brought a few litres of mead, and the crowd rejoiced. Then Reb Ephrayim'l quoted and commented on words of Torah, and as he ended

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his citation, the crowd shouted out: Hersh Yosef! Hersh Yosef!… and now Hersh Yosef had the right to sing “Ki lo na'e, ki lo ya'e” from the Haggadah.

Moshe Briegler was an exceptional singer. In the town he was called Moshe Yenkel-Dovids, or better still – “The Red Moishe”, because that is what he was. His whole family moved to Tarnov and there he became a Bobbov Chassid, and they called him Moshe Briegler. He travelled to the Bobbov Chassidic Rabbi for a Jewish festival, as did all the other boys and young men.

It is worth noting that the Bobbov Rabbi was called, the Rabbi of the youth. It was a custom in Bobbov that on the eve of a festival, before nightfall, before the people went to welcome the festival, all those visiting Bobbov went to shake hands with the Rabbi, and while doing so, said their names and the town from which they came. And this Moshe said his name, as he was called, Moshe Briegler[2] – and that is how his name remained.

When he was still a small boy, he already excelled as an exceptional singer, and when he later came to Bobbov, he was one of the finest singers. He also helped to create the Chassidic tunes and prayers that spread among the Jewish population throughout Poland.

It is worth mentioning, the Bobbov Rabbi's exceptional memory. After each person shook the hand of the Rabbi, saying his name and the name of his town, the Rabbi displayed his phenomenal memory. When the Rabbi handed out ‘Shirayim’[3] remnants of food that he had blessed, he called out the name of each person and the name of their town. This made a great impression on the Chassidim, and they often spoke about this marvel.

I remember the folk singer, who was quite young and sang in Yiddish – in the town he was called Tuvia Tisste. When he sang, he evoked a strong feeling of tenderness in everyone who listened to him. He used to sing songs by Avrom Reisen, Moshe Nadir, Mordechai Gebirtig and many, many more. How did he come to all these songs and melodies? That remained his secret. His rendition of “Mai Ka Mashma Lan?”[4] is particularly noteworthy.

Last but not least: the world-famous cantor, Yossele Rozenblat. He was the son-in-law of Reb Yidl Shochet, one of the finest and most distinguished Jews in Briegl. And here in Briegl, there grew, as if from the earth, an enormous attraction: ‘Yossele Rozenblat is coming to Briegl’. When the day and time of his arrival in the town, became known, it created an atmosphere as on the eve of a festival; this was no small matter, Yossele Rozenblat was coming to Briegl.

Already, before evening, half the town had gathered, and waited until Mordchai'ele, the driver of the horse-drawn carriage of the Chassidim, brought him from the station. It was almost 11pm but no one left the place that they had occupied. Then the windows of Reb Yidl Shochet's house were opened, and Yossele Rozenblat stood in the window and sang his famous “Akavya ben M'hallel says”[5].

My memory takes me back home. We lived in Berek Yosselevitsh street. This was the only street in the town that bore a Yiddish name: “Berek Yosselevitsh” - he even merited

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having a street named after him, by the Poles. Amazing! He fought and sacrificed his life for the liberation of Poland in 1831, and the Jews in the town respected the street and acted with honour towards its name.

An “irony of fate” for a Jewish fighter for Polish liberation to be honored in this way, when there were many other fighters - there was no shortage of this kind of person on the Jewish street. Woe! The Jewish people had an understanding of all these fighters, but not for their own Jewish liberation.

Our house was across the street from the Chassidic prayer house, but my father never prayed there.

My memory takes me back home, and to this day, I see before my eyes, the scene in my home on a Friday evening. I see my father dressed in short pants over his knees, the ends of the pants that were covered with white socks, the ankle boots, his silken long coat lined with fur, the round hat edged with fur and the loose robe – ready to go and pray at the town's prayer house.

On the way from our street to the town's prayer house, one had to encounter the despicable – that is what the Jews in the town called the town's Catholic church: the despicable. As they passed the Catholic church, all the observant Jews said: “You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it”[6]

My brother, Moshe Menashe, son of Yechezkiel, earned the reputation of being the best swimmer in the town, even by the Gentiles. If the truth be told, his participation in sporting competitions for swimming, never materialized, yet his swimming aroused the admiration of both Jew and Gentile. He could dive under the water and surface after a distance of 8-9 meters, swim “a stool”, as if he were sitting on the water, and also “tread water” – as if he were standing in one spot for a long while, without going under water. At speed, he also swam on his back, on his stomach and on his side – and for this he was crowned the best swimmer in the town.

Details given by Yossel Spivak; written by Ch. Briegler.
6. 6. 75.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. “Ma ashiv Ladonai” – “what can I render to the Lord”. Quote from psalm 116, part of the Hallel prayers. Return
  2. Briegler – meaning, that he was from Briegl. Return
  3. Shirayim – food that is left over, after a Chassidic Rabbi has blessed and tasted it. The faithful share it and consider it a blessing. Return
  4. Mai Ka Mashma Lan? – A Yiddish song written by Avrom Reisen. It means: what does this mean? It is a monologue of an impoverished Yeshivah student who is searching for meaning in his life. Return
  5. “Akavya ben M'hallel says” – the words of this song are taken from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the fathers), chapter 3. (Ref: Rabbi Y. Javen, Fr.) Return
  6. A quote from Deuteronomy 7:26: In the Pentateuch it refers to an idolatrous image. Return


As One Born in Briegl

by Rivkah Shechter (Shullerer)[1]

2. 2. 78

As I was born in Briegl, and being Moshe Shullerer's daughter, I feel that it is my sacred duty to note my memories of the years that I lived there. I lived in a town, that was dominated by the Chassidim – suffice to mention that even wagon-drivers and butchers wore Chassidic round hats edged with fur, and long fur-lined coats. It was not important if they were able to learn or know something about being Jewish – it was enough that they could pray and recite the psalms; but, wearing a round Sabbath hat edged with fur, or a long fur-lined coat, was enough to be regarded as a full member of those who were characteristically in favor of this way of life in the small Jewish town.

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The Pogrom[2]

A year before my departure from the town, the anti-Semitic Poles, on a whim, crowned the rise of Poland in 1918, with a pogrom against the Jews of the town. I remember that an atmosphere of the impending pogrom, stretched over a period of a few weeks, during which representatives of the Jewish community engaged in negotiations with the mayor and the town-council. Unfortunately, on one hand, the Polish dignitaries spoke about avoiding the pogrom, and at the same time, prepared the pogrom. A Jewish self-defense organization was then established, particularly among the youth who had then completed their Austrian military service. Unfortunately, the Jewish self-defense consisted of only a small group; also, the aid that came from Krakow, consisted of no more than two instructors. From a practical point of view, it was a very poor assessment of the situation.

I do not remember the details, but we were deceived by the Poles, and the Jewish self-defense disarmed, and secretly hid at Dr. Kanuer, a Pole, an opponent of Dr. Bzsheski, the mayor of the town. The pogrom broke out quite early, at 5am, and Moshe Goldman was shot on his way to pray at Wolf Loibs prayer house, as it was called in the town. A little while later, a man named Rozen, one of the men who came from Krakow to help the self-defense organization, was shot. I remember how he was shot, by a sniper who was lying in wait in the tower of the Christian church, while the victim walked on the sidewalk close to the fence of the church. My older sister, Ettl, of blessed memory, ran with water to try to save him. Unfortunately, he lay dead at the spot. Another person was seriously wounded after being stabbed with knives. After long periods of suffering, the victims of the pogrom died in the Jewish hospital in Krakow. Many other Jews were bashed, and many Jewish shops were burned and looted.

 

The Deserter

At the beginning of 1920, my sister and I travelled to Germany. At the same time, our brother Shlayme was mobilized into the military. After three weeks he deserted the military. A few days later, he was caught in Briegl and a military policeman took him to Krakow, to the military court. He was even threatened with the death sentence. While he was travelling on the train, two Jews advised him to escape from the military policeman who was escorting him; then there would be commotion and after that, they would think of what to do. In this way, with the help of a few Briegl residents, he managed to flee. Three weeks later, he was smuggled over the border to Germany. In 1934, I arrived with my two brothers, Shlayme and Tuvia Shullerer, of blessed memory, in Palestine, that was later established as the State of Israel.

 

Shlomo Shullerer, Ettl Shullerer of blessed memory, Rivkah Shechter (Shullerer). To a long life. Tuvia Shullerer of blessed memory, of the house of Motl Shullerer.

 

Minah Tryber (Teller), Chaim Teller, with a photograph of their mother Rivkah Teller, the wife of Betzalel Shullerer.

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The Shullerers in the Town

Almost every fourth family was linked and tied to the Shullerer family, and this is how the family branched out into the town. There were various reasons for this, and I will mention some of them. One of these was that they married when they were young and became fathers and mothers with children. Their marital status served as a rationale for not being taken for military service. Over the years, it became accepted as custom among the Chassidic families, to marry in a marriage ceremony conducted only by a Rabbi, and this meant, not a legal marriage in terms of the law of the land. This led to an absurd phenomenon: in many families, children of one father, bore two names. And this is what happened - a tale of Yekel-Dovid Tentzer's children. Ten of them, called themselves Shullerers, their mother's surname, because their father married his second wife, only in a religious ceremony conducted by the Rabbi. The oldest son of his first wife, whom he married legally, called himself Yitzchak Tentzer. Years later, Yitzchak Tentzer, took his sister, Esther Rivkah Shullerer, to America.

I mentioned the Shullerer family and their father Yekel-Dovid Tentzer. This was one of the finest Chassidic families in the town. Reb Yekel-Dovid, as he was called in Briegl, together with Reb Naftali Teitlboim, led the Chassidic table in the Chassidic prayer house, every Sabbath in the evening, offering the third meal of the Sabbath. My father, Motl Shullerer, of blessed memory and my older brother Shlayme, of blessed memory, attended every Sabbath. As already mentioned, the Shullerers were tied to many other families – Shye Gastman, sister of my mother, was connected to the Teller, Templer, Zinger families, and many other family names.

 

Double Names

In those times, in Briegl, there were no other names except for: Rochl, Esther, Chanah, Leah, and each name was enriched with one other name – Rochl-Ettl, Esther-Rivkah, Chanah-Leah, Leah-Sarah, and it was even enriched with a third name such as: “Chasrah-Mirrels”, “Chatzerl-Chanahs” and this served as the criteria for the family's lineage.

When I think of the name Chasrah-Mirrels, it takes me back to those times: that was what my grandmother was called. She used to tell us extremely remarkable tales that happened to her in her youth. She had a food stall and when the Christians observed “Lent”, she brought two large barrels of herring that she sold to the Gentile women. It was an accepted custom among the Christians that three weeks before the birth of Christ, they do not eat meat, so they ate herring. On a particular day of the local fair, the market day, a Gentile woman came and bought five herrings, and when the woman wanted to pay, she

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put her hand into the small basket that was now emptied of the eggs that she had sold, but she could not find the handkerchief in which she had tied her money. She caused a commotion and said that my grandmother had stolen her money. Immediately, there were two witnesses who said that they had seen my grandmother stealing the money. The police came and took a statement. The trial took place ten days later. Understandably, my grandmother travelled to a “good Jew”, as they expressed themselves in those days. She travelled to the Shiniv Rabbi, and he intimated that nothing would become of the trial. During the trial, my grandmother approached the Gentile woman, clasped her dress to her heart, and asked: are you sure that I stole your money? To her unexpected question, the Gentile woman answered with a question: How can I be certain that you stole my money? I am certain that I had the money in my basket, and then it was missing. Then the judge annulled the trial, and my grandmother was exonerated. It is worth noting that on that market day, a few gentile women had their money stolen in a similar way.

 

A Tale of Rats

This story of the rats was also told to us by my grandmother. This was even before the great fire in 1904, when the greater part of the town burnt down. Her food stall was situated in a wooden structure. Almost the whole town had been built with wooden houses. In her shop, the rats multiplied countlessly and caused her much humiliation. Then she travelled to a Rabbi to ask for advice on how to get rid of the rats. He promised that the rats would run away from her shop. Three days later, after she returned from the Rabbi, many people told her that they saw the rats running from her shop, as well as from other shops to the grain warehouse of the church. People in the town laughed, saying that the rats went to pray in the Christian church.

On account of the tale of the rats, a joke was told, that a Jew wanted to get rid of the rats so he went to the Rabbi to take advice about what to do; the Rabbi told him to take the Passover afikomen and give it to the rats to eat and then they will stop eating. So, our Jew asked the Rabbi; how will the rats know that after eating the afikomen, they are not allowed to eat any more? The Rabbi answered him: they already know because they have devoured from my table.

 

The Dead of Briegl

The people of Briegl were called “The Dead of Briegl”. Why? This is what our grandmother told us: The first cemetery was filled 200 years earlier

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so, there was no place to bury the dead. Permission to bury in the new cemetery stretched for many years but people died, and it was not possible to wait until the new cemetery would be opened so the Briegl community received permission from the Jewish community in Vishnitze (a small town, not far from Briegl) to bury their dead in Vishnitze in the meantime. When a corpse was brought from Briegl, the people of Vishnitze asked: whose funeral is this? The answer they received was, that this was a dead person from Briegl. This is how the name “The dead of Briegl” came about.

This is however, one version; a second version says that the dead of Briegl, who were buried in Vishnitze, were not able to rest in their graves so they came to Briegl and requested that they remove their shame of not being buried in their own town. The beadle who woke the people early to worship God, saw them, and others who went to the prayer house before dawn, also met them on their way. The whole town went into panic and fear, so they gathered a few hundred men and women and went to Vishnitze, to the dead of Briegl, and with prayers from the psalms, they prayed fervently while grasping a gravestone, and asked the dead for forgiveness for burying them in Vishnitze, only because they had no choice. But this did not help either; then the town “moved heaven and earth” (as they expressed themselves then): they travelled to the great Rabbis and asked for advice. One of the Rabbis said that he himself would come to the town and chase out the dead. He actually came to the town and told the people to harness two horses to a wagon. The Rabbi and the wagon-driver seated themselves in the wagon, the Rabbi held his whip to beat his horse and the wagon-driver held his whip to beat his horse. The whole town gathered at the wagon in the middle of the night and in a flash, the Rabbi and the wagon-driver galloped away into all the lanes and streets and all the people of the town ran after the wagon to chase out the dead from the town. Since then, the people of Briegl were called the “Dead of Briegl”.

Told by Rivkah Shullerer
Motl Shullerer's daughter

Written by Chaim Briegler

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Shullerer – a shule-lerer means a schoolteacher. Probably the occupation of an ancestor. Return
  2. Pogrom – a anti-Semitic riot by the Gentiles against the Jews of the town. Return


The Street of Reb Menashele Din

by Tuvia Manglgrin[1]

This was one of the four neighborhoods that remained after the great fire that descended upon the town in 1904, a time when 80% of the small town was burned. Four neighborhoods that were not affected by the fire, remained,

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and that was thanks to the fact that they were at the ends of the town and were divided by large plots of ground from the center of the town. The town center was densely crowded around the marketplace, or the “mark”, as it was called in Yiddish, by the people of the town. So, the center of the town and the nearby streets were consumed by the fire that devoured the wooden houses, as the bull devours the grass of the field.

A stranger, who comes to visit the town, would encounter, particularly in these four neighborhoods, what remained of the wooden houses, broken, bent from old age and decomposition, that in part, lay sunken beneath them.

 

There I was Born, Raised and Lived, until I Emigrated to the Land of Israel

Each neighborhood and each street was characterized by its own population. It began with the large neighborhood that remained from before the fire, the “Shtzanka”[1]. After that came “Kvoretz” street, with Zebele the gravedigger of the town, and in third place, the street of Reb Menashele, that remained without any change, from the time of the fire, until the destruction of the people by the Nazis, may their names be erased.

I will mention the fourth neighborhood, that was the “fish-place”, as the people of the town called it in Yiddish. All those who sold fish were concentrated here – four families, as well as the “the maker of intestines”. They settled in this place because this was on the banks of the river that passed through the town, and for these people, that was an advantage. There were also a few other individual families, who, over the years, left their places because their houses were about to collapse. Yes, some rebuilt their houses and turned their rotting dwellings into houses built of bricks, and only three remained from before the fire.

As said, I was born in the street of Menashele Din. It seems, that people were in the habit of recounting the layout of the streets. This street started from the corner, that began to turn from the marketplace; but as it happens, this street actually began from the street that was called Reb Moshe Hillels Street, that divided the street into two. The upper section that began at the corner of the marketplace, as far as “Moshe Hillels Street”, had three houses in total. On the one side, there were two houses of whose residents, I only remember a few - they were the Inhorans, the Hanigs and the Hartmans. Over the years, the Hartmans left the town and went to Belgium. On the other side of the street were the Bernshtats. All these families did not associate with the residents in Reb Menashe Din's Street, except for the family of Shaya Pastovsky, who was known in the town, as Shaya Stoller, according to his profession, as a carpenter, who lived at that time in the house of the Borgnichts, or the Bernshtats. The entrance to his house, was at an incline next to an empty plot. He, his wife and his children were more strongly associated with “Reb Menashe Din's Street” and their entrance in Reb Menashe Din's Street, actually only began at Moshe Hillels Street, from the steep incline that sloped towards the open field.

 

The Sled of our Neighbourhood

As winter approached, we, the young children, took advantage of this sloping ramp. It was a time of frost and snow that came as compensation for the rainy, damp autumn days, that penetrated our bones to their marrow, and soaked our feet, as our shoes were filled with water and mud. In addition to this, during the wet days of autumn we were confined to our homes, and we became a hindrance to the rest of the occupants of the house, as well as to ourselves. Not so, were the days of winter; the frost froze the mud and the snow, and it was mostly dry and fun. More than that, by what other means could the appearance of the small town be transformed than by something as clean and bright

 

 
Miriam Shtranger
Family of Simchah Bernshtatter

See article on page 240
 
Rivkah Schechter
of the family of Moshe Shullerer

See article on pages 225-229

 

 
Merke Grinberger
(may the Lord avenge her blood)

See article dedicated to her on page 242
 
Yehoshua Ostreich
See article on page 245

 

 
Tuvia Minglgrin
See articles on pages 229, 238
 
Tzvi Leflholtz
See article

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glistening and radiating the colors of a rainbow and the colors of diamonds. We took advantage of this entire white, soft carpet that spread at our feet, and we created a special game where we walked in the snow leaving our footprints in it; but with this game our activities were not complete. Our main pleasure was sliding on our sleds. The first snowfalls that were mostly mixed with water or only a thin layer of snow that melted in a day or two, annoyed us and restricted us, but it heralded what was awaiting us in the coming days. With this there were preparations to be made to meet the snow that we were expecting and was about to come. Then we began to look for planks from all kinds of crates that were not needed, so that we could make use of them. We worked together in groups to make the sleds. The younger children were satisfied to make a sled with one seat and the older ones managed to make as many as three seats on the sled. It all depended on what they could find and their ability to build a sled after gathering the material: boards, planks, nails, strips of metal, to fit the side panels that glide on the snow. That is how we made the sled. The planks for the side panels were rounded on one side, and on the side that was not round, we bound short planks for seats. Inside the side panels we placed two planks to reinforce the structure so that it would not come apart. The sled looked like a narrow crate, low and long, closed on three sides, and on the side of the panel that was rounded and open to the snow, and in the front, we tied a rope to drag the sled. This work continued for days on end, and the snow surely came, and then we went out happily to our starting post that was in our street, where the two empty plots stood, in front of Moshe Hillels Street. It is interesting to note that no words were spoken between us when we went out to glide – as soon as one group left, everyone came immediately, just like birds who leave Europe close to the approaching winter, for warmer countries.

Many did not manage to complete their sleds but were not deprived of the joy at the beginning of the season because they all needed to participate in compacting the snow to make it suitable for gliding. Older and younger children participated in this activity, making their way step by step on the soft snow, back and forth and in this way, they compressed and flattened the whole area, so that the sleds would not encounter any obstacles. Only after the whole area had been prepared, we began to experience the gliding. Then we seated ourselves on the sled and had to push the sled to reach a high speed so that it would glide by itself. In the beginning, it was quite difficult, because the snow had not yet become slippery and smooth, but once the sled was gliding, the snow became smooth and clear. So, there was no shortage of children to push – those who had not managed to complete their sleds, and also those who did not make sleds at all. In exchange for two pushes, they earned the right to a glide and took turns alternating.

 

The Street of Moshe Hillels may the Lord avenge his blood

Thanks to the small children that he taught, and not by his own doing, this street was named after him. Moshe Hillels used to teach boys who had just finished beginners cheder and had reached the level where they could read from the “Chumash[2] without mistakes, and they had begun to learn the Chumash with Rashi's commentaries. And it was thanks to these mischievous little children, that the street was called “Moshe Hillels Street”. It is interesting that the house where Moshe Hillels lived, belonged to an elderly man, named Gintzik. It was a large two-storied house, built of bricks. Below lived the elderly Gintzik with his wife Tzutel, who sold eggs, and above lived Moshe Hillels and opposite him lived the “scribe” who was childless in his old age. When Moshe Hillels married off his only daughter, the scribe knew that he should give up one of the rooms in his two-roomed unit for the young couple who came to live in this house. Opposite this house, on the other side of the street, was the house of

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the “HaYatzkem”. To this day, I do not know why they did not call them by the name of owner, the head of the family, a name that would include all the members of the “Yatzkes” family. This house had very conspicuous identifying signs; these were: in front of the house there always stood two wagons, and wheels and parts of wagons, and crates and covers, etc. All these items were not simply discarded, for which there was no use, on the contrary, they were necessary items, used frequently. From time to time, this depended on the estimated size of the Fair and the expected sales, and for this purpose, they had another two wagons in the courtyard and all kinds of accessories for the purpose of packing kitchen utensils. Their specialty was pots made of stone (ceramics), and clay pots. In the courtyard there were large storerooms with all kinds of household implements as well as a stable with two pairs of horses that hauled the loaded wagons to all the Fairs in the small villages close to Briegl. This took place from Tuesdays to Fridays evenings, before the Sabbath, because they too observed the holiness of the Sabbath as did everyone in the village, although they were not regarded as very pious, especially the sons, but they did not publicly desecrate the sabbath. For us, Moshe Hillels' pupils, the two wagons and all the items around them, in front of the house of the “Yatzkes”, were important and invaluable. They provided us with a place to play hide-and-seek. Almost all of us would hide in these wagons or around them. It once happened to us, that one of the children hiding, went into a wagon and crawled into a sack among a pile of sacks, and fell asleep in the sack. After all those in hiding came out of their hiding places, he remained without answering, and all our calls and shouting, did not help. We then began to fear for his safety and were gripped by fear for his whereabouts. Some of us thought that he ran home without saying a word, but those who had been hiding with him in the wagon were certain that he did not leave his hiding place. Our concern for his safety therefore increased and worried us a lot. We climbed up on to the wagon where he had been hiding and began to burrow into the pile of sacks, and when we were already sure that we would not find him in the wagon, we began to be boisterous and were jumping on the sacks at the bottom of the wagon, and suddenly screams and terror, oh my goodness! And he crawled out screaming from a sack and we were all alarmed by this unusual revelation, and to our question: why did you not come out after we called you so many times? He answered simply by shrugging his shoulders. 'I did not hear a thing because I fell asleep in the sack'. And then we calmed down and were relieved that we found him. We no longer continued with our game, because anyhow, we were already late for lunch at home, and each one of us was expecting to be punished, so we ran home quickly.

 

The Seasonal Games

The games that we played were seasonal. Each season had its own games, or the games were linked to an event. At Moshe Hillels, we studied according to ‘periods’ – these were regarded as being from after the festival of Passover until the Feast of Tabernacles (booths), and after the Feast of Tabernacles, until the Great Sabbath before Passover. This was the way that it was customary to arrange “periods” by all the teachers in the village. If we began before the Sabbath of Genesis, something very important was imminent – that in the coming week, we would begin to learn in the evenings too and we had to prepare night lamps. This notification by our Rabbi Moshe Hillels, filled us with pride. He said that we were beginning to be “mature boys”, the sign being, that we were studying in the evenings too, so we had to prepare lanterns to light-up our way home. There were some who had electric pocket torches, and some who bought small tin squares from the tinsmith, with little doors on one side, to place a candle inside. The lamp was glazed with glass on all its four sides, and the light of the candle penetrated outwards and lit up the path. But there were those, for whom even the tin lantern, was a luxury beyond their reach. These boys made a lamp from wood similar to the tin lamp, and they saw, that particularly in a lamp like this, we appreciated

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how important they were. And in truth, we found an interest in copying their handiwork. By the time we were satisfied with our lanterns, the days of “Channukah” were already approaching and our Rabbi, Moshe Hillels, provided us with information about this festival. He explained to us, the “miracle” that happened to us with the tin can of oil that was found hidden in the Temple, whose content was only sufficient for one day, and then the miracle happened, and it burned for eight days. The uprising of the Maccabees and the Hasmoneans, its content and significance, were not included at all. We did, however, receive instruction to learn the Channukah prayer “Al Hanissim” by heart, and no more. But all this was beyond our comprehension. On the other hand, we found, a great interest in preparing the spinning top. To our joy, our activities in making the spinning top, received the full understanding, and even encouragement in forming the shape of our spinning tops, from the two main authorities, and they were: the home and the Rabbi at the “cheder”. And so, each one of us acquired a spare knife that was not used at home and ground it sharply on the edge of the sidewalk. Then we cut a piece, the length of 4cm from the stick of the broom. We turned that into squares and on one end we prepared a kind of dome with a point, that served as the foot that spins. We carved the other end until we had a very thin round stick, that served as the handle to spin the spinning-top. When the rough model was complete, we smoothed all the sides on the paving of the sidewalk. After smoothing the sides, we wrote with an indelible pencil on the four side panels, the letters ‘nun, gimmel, hay, shin’[3]. In our game, with each letter that appeared when the spinning top stopped, there was a task to perform - the ‘nun’ – ‘nem nisht’ (Yiddish) meant ‘do not take’ from the pool, and do not add. The letter ‘gimmel’ – ‘in gantzen’ (Yiddish), meant winning the ‘whole’ pool. The meaning of the letter ‘hay’ is ‘halb’ (Yiddish), meaning half, meant, take half of the pool, and the meaning of the letter ‘shin’ is ‘shit’, (Yiddish) means ‘pour’ – this meant, that we added as much as there was in the pool. Believe it or not, we, mischievous young boys, had no concept of the ‘nun’, ‘gimmel’, ‘hay’, ‘shin’ – the great ‘miracle’ that happened there. Firstly, the ‘there’ was a great distance away from us, and we had no explanation ‘that a great miracle happened there in the Temple’ – and this ‘there’ for us, we viewed as something hovering, or ‘there’ - in the heavens.

 

The Game of Kvitlech[4]

As this was a season of many games, in those days an extra game was added among the youth, that had been in existence for generations, called “the “Game of Notes”. We made the notes out of cardboard, mostly from shoe boxes or candy boxes, but these too, were difficult to acquire, so we made them of thick, rough, brown paper. On these notes we wrote the numbers to 11, and these were doubled, that is – 22, and the dealer mixed them, and held them in his hand. Each player drew one card at a time, and the combination of numbers was not allowed to exceed 21, because after 21, the player had lost; but most of those who made notes out of regular paper and listed the numbers and rolled up the notes, did not play correctly. They put these notes into a hat and drew out the notes roll by roll, based on the same principle of “21”. Many preferred the notes as it suited them but most of the players who did not play correctly, did so, because they made notes out of regular paper, made a list of the numbers, folded them and put them into a hat. From the hat, they drew them out one by one and recorded the notes on the same principle as 21. Many preferred the notes. At first, the notes announced the name of the game “Kvitlech”, secondly, they could be made on the spot, lasted for the duration of the game and we were free of punishment or of being subjected to confiscation by Moshe Hillels, who sometimes made searches in the pockets of our pants – but there is a snag – since the notes were placed in one of the children's hats, one person remained bare-headed and this was a grave transgression. If someone had found us in our shame [without a hat], woe to us

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– we would be seriously reprimanded, and worst of all, we would be insulted with the nickname “Shkotzim”[5], God forbid, for this was how Christian Polish boys were called. This grieved us more than all. Is it possible to call us “Shkotzim” at a time when for us, all these games were connected to the festival of Channukah? Generations of young people accepted that these games were an integral part of Channukah, and in these games we saw, something like “positive mitzvot”[6], but the adults did not appreciate our pastime. Despite everything, we did what we wanted, and for another three weeks before and after Channukah, the games were played intensely.

 

The 15th of Shvat (Tu Bishvat)

During the time that we played the games of ‘notes’ and ‘spinning tops’, a festival less known to us, approached. This was “The Fifteenth”. The explanation that we received was, that we needed to bring fruit to our “cheder” class, for the blessing “Shehecheyanu” – a blessing for fruit that we had not yet eaten, this year – and the fruit, so to speak, was fruit from the Land of Israel; but we all knew that this fruit was brought to Poland from Turkey and Greece. Despite this we had no doubt or suspicion that there was a need for this fruit because the main object was, the blessing, “Shehecheyanu”.[7] Indeed, there were whispers about the festival, that this was a festival when there were “discussions about trees” that it was actually connected to trees, that were waking from a deep winter sleep – the clear sign of this was, the blooming almond tree that in the Land of Israel, heralded the return of the spring. All of this was unknown to us, and not understood, but we were not in need of explanations. In effect, we knew that we had to give ourselves a taste of the festival, and with the approaching first days of the month of Shvat, each one of us bought carobs (Bokser, in Yiddish), from Chatzriel Dorf, with a few coins. There were small kernels, in the Bokser that we used for the game “Odds and Evens” (Drudim in Yiddish), and within a few days, every one of us was walking with pockets filled with carob kernels and they were for us, the gist of the festival, the essence of the flavor of this festival. The truth is, that we did not enjoy the carob very much – firstly they were mostly eaten by the worms, and even if the carob looked nice and perfect from the outside, after the first bite it was proven that they had been eaten by a worm. What disgusted us was, the thin grit, and strings of mold that remained from the worm, but the carobs themselves were not important to us, but what was inside – their kernels, is what we used to play “Odds and Evens”. This game was one of the games that we enjoyed. In this game, one could stand, sit, and even walk around and play, but this convenience caused us unpleasantness, punishment and even slaps. The story was like this: during the time that we sat around the study table, a time that stretched for hours, weariness and boredom consumed us, and then many of us put our hands in our pockets, took out a handful of carob kernels, turned to our neighbor next to us, or opposite us at the table, and said: “Odds and Evens?” and he had to guess; understandably, the handful of kernels were held secretly under the table, and if he guessed correctly, he received the handful of kernels. There was a mutual trust, that one would not deceive the other. In this way, we became more and more absorbed in the game than following in the Chumash, and the explanations of the “Rabbi”, Moshe Hillels. He felt that something was going on among us, and he then approached one of us who was known to him for his cunning, grabbed his ear, pulled it, twisted it “pizzer” - that is what we called the action of pulling the ear and twisting it. Well, it was still somehow possible to get over the insult, the pain, and the beatings that we received, but Moshe Hillels was not satisfied with that – he called his wife and asked her to bring a dish and ordered everyone to put the kernels in the dish and confiscated our kernels from us. We were very sorry about this, but worst of all, he repeated this, time and again.

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Purim

It seems to me that the festival of Purim was the one that we understood most of all, more than all the other festivals, and this was not because we learned more about it, or that the significance and the minute details of the festival were specifically explained – but very simply, we sensed this festival within us, and we did not need many explanations. Indeed, after all our learning from the Scroll of Esther, we did not understand Esther the queen, nor Mordechai the Jew. We were satisfied that they had the upper hand, and because of that there was “light and joy for the Jews”. In contrast to our two Jewish heroes, there was Ahasuerus and Haman who were well known to us, for we often encountered Ahasuerus, the Gentile, who was constantly intoxicated, and the evil Haman, that we felt physically. More than once we received beatings from “the Hamans”, the gentile Polish boys in our village. In general, the atmosphere of fear from these boys, reminded us of the “evil Haman”. In truth, we did not endure what the Jews of Persia and Mede endured, but in the synagogue, we had the opportunity to destroy him with a noise and an uproar that moved heaven and earth. And this allowed us to express how we felt, so we took advantage of the situation, and went into real action preparing graggers (graygers in Yiddish). We mostly made “Haman Clappers”, Haman beaters. For this we acquired thin boards, mostly from wooden boxes that were used for packing yeast for dough, or jam. We would cut three boards, that we adjusted to the length and width of the palms of our hands and prepared two round rods and drilled holes in them at the ends of the boards, the width of the two holes, and also in the rods. Through these holes we threaded a strong, thin rope, and we assembled “the Haman Clapper” as follows: we threaded the rope into the two holes at the two ends of the first board, after that, a round stick, threaded with the same string from the two ends, and again a board in the middle; after that another stick, and after that a board. And in this way, it turned out that the middle board appeared like a ‘moving tongue’. We threaded our hands into the ropes that emerged from the two sides of the external boards, and with two hands we moved the external boards, that moved the rods; in this way, the middle board pressed, once to the right and once to the left and knocked on the external boards, making a great noise. This is how we arrived, at the end of the Fast of Esther, to meet the reading of the “Scroll of Esther”, equipped with all kinds of graggers and “Haman Clappers” of various kinds.

 

“The Fast of Esther” and the Reading of the Scrolls

Our anticipation of the evening of this great victory that focused on the reading of the scrolls, whose central point was “the condemned Haman”, brought us into a state of tension, because we had been practicing for a long time, for weeks before Purim, with our tools of destruction - “the graggers” and the “Haman Clappers”, but the tension did not diminish. And here the day that we longed for, arrived. But to understand the mental process of our Jews, who only a few days earlier completed the fast of the 7th of Adar, traditionally, the date of the death of Moses our master, may he rest in peace, and here after a week, another fast day, that is the “Fast of Esther”. And when? On the eve of the great victory of Purim, and more than that, that the Jews of the village were weary, nervous, and sad. We could not grasp all of this, and we were enveloped by a dense fog, but as evening approached, the fog thinned out, and here, the hour is approaching, and soon the Jews will hastily rush through the evening prayers, and then our glorious moment will arrive. This is how we took control of our prayer house without any restrictions, and immediately, at the mention of Haman's name, during the reading of the scroll, roars of victory burst forth from all kinds of whistles, graggers and “Haman clappers”, and trumpets made from the trunk of the carob tree. All this bombarded the walls of the prayer house. It seemed to me that if this “Haman” once came to our prayer house in person, he would come

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to the conclusion that if people like these behave in this way, then he would say to all the “Hamans” that come after him, and apparently, will still come, that their end will not be good. But it seems that the Jews need a purpose for the “fast” before the festival of victory.

 

Time Out

After Purim, there was, to some extent, a definite decrease in the number of games we played, but dismissing them without anything? There never was, and there never will be anything like that! During these days, the first days of spring appeared intermittently, so we took advantage of them according to our needs. On semi-rainy days, we returned to the game of hide-and-seek, and on fine days, we played the game “catch me”. Since this was a game that required us to run at speed, we were compelled to run the distance from the “cheder” of Moshe Hillels, until we reached the street of Menashele Din. This street consisted of a row of wooden houses, on one side, wall to wall, almost touching, and only by the sloping roofs, was it possible to distinguish between one house and another. The row of houses reached the edges of the field where the cattle belonging to the Baron “Gatz”, were grazing. On the opposite side of the street, there were only two isolated houses – one house of a gentile, that was negligible compared to the number of Jewish houses, and the second, situated at the end of the street, was the house of “Chantche the midwife”, the only Jewish midwife in the village. I remember her from my childhood – all the years without a husband. She had two pretty daughters, and was a stout lady, upright, tall, and splendid, even in her old age.

 

In One House Together with Reb Menashele Din

We lived together with Reb Menashele Din, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, in one house, one door opposite the other. On days that were not cold, he would open the door of his home on the Sabbath to hear the Sabbath hymns that flowed from our apartment, because in our home it was customary to sing the hymns together, sung by my mother, of blessed memory, and her sisters. Our whole family was endowed with pleasant voices and song flowed from them all. We inherited this from our father, of blessed memory, who was a painter by profession, and the painters were known as singers. I remember how I once failed in the eyes of Reb Menashele Din, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed. I used to walk around the house whistling a tune not sensing that Reb Menashele was close by. He called me and said – “Tuvia, for years I have asked you to teach me to whistle and you have not yet answered me”. Embarrassed, I asked him to forgive me, and I promised him, that something like this would not happen again, because whistling was regarded as a type of “offense”. It was the custom of the “Gentile boys”, and a Jewish boy would not do something like that. And then I remained confined to my place in Reb Menashele's home and did not know what to do with myself. In those moments, his children brought a small table and a chair, Reb Menashele sat down at the table, bent over “the 4th part of the Shulchan Aruch”[8] and at that moment, a man arrived, elegantly dressed, equipped with a special tourist camera, and directed the camera lens towards Reb Menashele. In the blink of an eye, Reb Menashele turned his head to the visitor and said to him: “Excuse me, sir, why so abruptly? Wait a minute, let me organize myself, comb my beard, tidy my clothes, and then you can take a photograph”. His words amazed the visitor who was invited for the Sabbath, and I took advantage of the situation, and ran out of his house. By evening, we already knew in our house, that the visitor was a professor of theology at the Vienna university (in Austria), and that he was a friend of Reb Menashele's oldest son, from his first wife. This son was at that time, the “Rabinner”, that is, the chief Rabbi of the city of Vienna.

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I did not hear the content of the conversation between them, but we could imagine and appreciate that it was at a high level of knowledge, and proficiency in the Talmud.

I do not remember ever seeing him without a book in his hand – perhaps there was one occasion. It seemed to me that while he walked, he was also reciting the Mishnah. He was one of the Jews in the village with expertise as a Talmudist. He was regarded in the village as “the most intelligent”. He was a great scholar who earned himself a world of knowledge in the Talmud and in the scriptures, without having ancestral lineage, as was customary in those years, in the villages of Galicia and Poland, where the merits of lineage, preceded knowledge. On this issue, regarding Reb Menashele, it was clearly evident in his demeanor, his treatment of human beings, and even in his attire. He did not wear the clothes of the Rabbis, as was accepted by members of dynastical families, but as one of the people of the village. He was not haughty in any way, that could arouse the slightest suspicion in his appearance. Here is “the law” , here is the “arbiter”, here is the “the open proof” – on the contrary, Reb Menashele Din, with all his intelligence, wisdom and knowledge, always knew to turn to the youth around him, who were not discrete in the observance of the traditions, and he, with pleasant words and a motto filled with pedagogic wisdom, went straight to our hearts and our level of understanding. We knew how to respect him and be careful not to do the slightest thing in his presence, that might offend, God forbid, the religious and traditional feelings that were accepted by him.

 

Anecdotes that Point to his Greatness

I mentioned that he was the wise man in the village. Yes, that is who he was, not only in the eyes of the students of the sages, who knew and appreciated his knowledge and his wisdom, but also in the eyes of the “ordinary people” - that was because of his unpretentious manner; not only in the eyes of the Jews was he thought of, in this way, but also in the eyes of the Gentiles, he was regarded as “the wise man of the village”.

And here is one of the anecdotes about Reb Menashele. Year in and year out, a wagon with coal and potatoes was delivered to Reb Menashele before the days of winter, a gift from the Baron Gatz from Okotchim, who owned a factory that produced yeast and beer, that was the largest in Poland. And why? Well, here is the story that was repeated every year when the coal and the potatoes were brought to him. And this is what was told: it was still in the days of this Baron's father, who was involved in a difficult legal matter, and after he lost his case at all levels of the courts, all that remained for him, was an appeal before the supreme court in Warsaw. According to previous judgments, his appeal case was very weak, and all the legal advisors found that there was no chance of him winning or easing the situation in any way. Then, one of the lawyers, a Jew, advised that they turn to Reb Menashele. The statement of claim and the defense, as well as previous judgements, were translated into Yiddish, and according to these documents, Reb Menashele was required to advise and to find another interpretation and definition, according to Jewish arbiters. Not many days passed, and Reb Menashele presented his opinion and advice in writing. At first the lawyers did not heed his advice, and after two days of discussion, they felt that all is lost, but on the third day, before the summing up, it was the turn of the Jewish lawyer. He brought before the judges, Reb Menashele's interpretation of events and already on that same day, the judges issued a judgement according to the opinion of Reb Menashele. Baron Gatz won, on all counts. Reb Menashele's fee, I do not know, but I saw, with my own eyes, the coal and the potatoes that were brought to him year after year, at the same time.

There were other Gentiles in the village who sought arbitration with Reb Menashele, rather than be tried in a civil court. The one who stands out among them was Ravitzki, the great pig trader and the rich man of the village. He brought arbitration before Reb Menashele. He rewarded him generously for his arbitration,

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and more than once it happened that Reb Menashele ruled against him and he upheld the verdicts, without challenging them. Once a Jew, a friend of Ravitzki, turned to him and asked, why do you turn to Reb Menashele even though he has judged against you a few times? And to this Ravitzki answered in the broken Yiddish, that he liked to use when speaking to Jews – “if this is how Reb Menashele judges, that is how it must be”.

I will mention another unique situation. On a Sabbath, during the intermediate days of the festival of Sukkot, we sat with Reb Menashele Din in the Sukkah. When the noon meal was over, he would always pay respect to our father of blessed memory, who was present at the time, with the singing of traditional songs. This was an opportunity, to hear from him directly, the singing of the hymns, but this time, only we, the sons, were there to assist our father, because the women did not sit in the sukkah. Following the grace after the meal, Reb Menashele would remain and lead a light discussion. According to his custom, he would quote words from all kinds of verses and sayings from the Bible and the Talmud, and he explained them, so that all those present would understand. Among others, he mentioned the portion of the Law “Ki Tissa”[9] that is read on the Sabbath, on the intermediate days of Sukkot, and our father, of blessed memory, sighed heavily and said to Reb Menashele: “My arduous work does not allow me the time or the energy to go over the Torah portion of the week as required“; and this is how Reb Menashele answered him, with these words: “Is it not enough for you Reb Chaim, that you are not among the parasites, that you are living and providing for a Jewish family by the sweat of your brow? In addition, do you think that all those who run to the ritual bath to immerse themselves, to fulfil the commandments with all their hearts and all their souls and bodies, and immerse their bodies in the ritual bath, transcend your actions? – you are making a big mistake; every day, “you wholeheartedly fulfil the commandments because of the labor of your hands. You will eat the fruit of your labors and it will be good for you – for your happiness in this world and for goodness in the world to come”; people who toil, are worthy of the greatest and most important thing in life. And what more can you ask for Reb Chaim? After these words, each one returned to their homes.

Oh, how wonderful the Jews in the village were.
May their memories be forever and ever.

Told by Tuvia Manglgrin
Written by Chaim Batlan.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Shtzanka – the large quarter of the town whose Jewish residents numbered close to 20% of the Jewish population of the town. Return
  2. The Chumash – the Pentateuch, the 5 books of Moses. Return
  3. Nun, gimmel, hay, shin – these four letters n, g, h, sh, stand for “nes gadol hayah sham – ’a great miracle happened there’. Return
  4. Kvitlech – Yiddish word for notes, tabs or receipts. Return
  5. Shkotzim – means an unclean creature – a name given to Gentile Polish youth. Return
  6. Mitzvot – permissible deeds valid at a fixed time. Return
  7. Shehecheyanu – a blessing of thanksgiving for the first fruit of each season. Return
  8. Shulchan Aruch – is the authoritative code of Jewish laws written by Joseph Caro (1488 – 1575). Return
  9. The portion of the Law (parashah) “Ki Tissa” is taken from the book of Exodus in the Pentateuch. Return


Briegl Characters

by Tuvia Manglgrin

(What would one not do, for the sake of a stool? …) You seem to be very angry Reb Pinchas!

- Is it a surprise that I am angry? After all we are living in a topsy-turvy world, simply, in an upside-down world.

- What does that mean? Is everything the wrong way round for you?

- Woe, Reb Moshe, you are after all, most unworldly, that you are only asking now, don't you see, that the world is truly, no longer a world?

- ? ? ?

- If you really do not understand, I will explain. Listen to me. You know, I was not born today. I have lived through some experiences… Do you understand me, that when I am reminded of yester year, I feel heavy-hearted. That was a completely different life, people were different.

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- Come off it! I mean Reb Pinchas! Have people then changed?

- Yes, yes, actually changed! Indeed, you are from Briegl – don't you see this yourself? We Briegl Jews, have that kind of luck – we have always had to go through hard times, imposed by our rulers. How does one say it? – rather receive a slap from a clever person, than a kiss from a fool; and nowadays, even a slap from a fool. I really mean it, - formerly, the leaders of the town were distinguished, fine Jews, capable people – simply a pleasure to look at them … of imposing appearance and intelligent… Today, alas, I am ashamed to show my face! If I meet other people somewhere, and I am asked: Where are you from? I answer: from near Krakow… I am afraid, that if I should say, from Briegl, then the whole crowd will burst into laughter. Do you then think that the world is asleep? They take a clumsy fellow, a milkman, a ruffian and a beadle, and the paraphernalia about those active in the town, as it was in the good times.

- This incident happened to me, only a few days ago: by chance, I met an old acquaintance, whom I had not seen for a long time. We greet each other and the first question, as usual, where do you live today?

- On hearing this question, I immediately felt that my face began to blush. I steel myself and answer, ostensibly proud: I live in Briegl. He, hearing that I live in Briegl, my good brother, bursts into laughter, and says to me: I really thought that you had already grown horns …

- I look at him with a pair of foolish gleaming eyes, as one speaks: what do you mean by that? And my friend starts to explain that among his peers, they say, that Briegl has become a town of cattle [stupid people]. Therefore, they had to send a good veterinarian, actually a Jewish person, because a kind of plague had crept in, that the Gentile youths call “Zionism, democracy, sanctions“, and other such weird names that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, certainly did not know. They even say that your chief Rabbi, may he live long, was also infected, God help us!

- Now I ask you, Reb Moshe: Is this not a world turned upside down? I sometimes think: who knows, perhaps these are already Mashiach's times?

- See, Reb Pinchas, I regarded you as a clever person, an intelligent Jew who is on top of things, and now you speak as an unworldly person. Understand me, in the past they had a different approach, and there were therefore, other customs. The world of today, desires modern things, that is, denunciations to the nobleman - that someone is a Zionist, an unfaithful citizen, another pays a low tax … things like that. So, one must follow the trend and actually have leaders who have been gifted with modern talents.

- And today, that you actually have true leaders who do their “bit of work” with such devotion, that from time to time, a Sabbath or a festival is disrupted, does one still have a reason to denounce them? (Complain about them?).

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- Perhaps you are right Reb Moshe. You have opened my eyes a little; yet there is one thing that is not clear to me…

- What is that?

- Well, the matter of the modern, motley crowd that we discussed, has been answered, but where are the priests, the sinners, what do they call them? “Undytzes”, “Warsaw community crushers”, tails, and such? One should simply call for help, for the generation of the Tower of Babel. It is a complete hodge-podge: The Rabbi is not much of a Rabbi, the Chassid is not a Chassid, and even the sinner is not the same. It is after all, Mashiach's times!

- You see, now you have asked a difficult question for which your Rabbi would certainly have pinched your cheek when you were a boy. However, I must add, that in spite of everything, you are still of the old world, and you do not understand the issues, because that which you ask, is a type of sickness that the wicked, the Zionists call, in an alien tongue, “stool-searching”. And do you not know, what a Jew would not do for the sake of a stool?

- Well, and what do the crowd, I mean the voters say to this?

- They do not want you, after all.

- Which crowd, what crowd? Do we ask their advice? One shouts at the voters: What? Will you vote for Zionists? And if this does not help, they shout: this is what the nobleman says! The people are afraid, and the work is done …

- In conclusion, Reb Moshe, I must thank you for being a clever Jew, a “modern” one, and I agree with you, that you are capable of … going out to find a stool [Yiddish expression: capable of finding a solution to the confusion].

16. 4. 78


The Bernshtatters in the Village of Briegl

by Miriam Shtranger (Bernshtatter)

After the cruel war of physical destruction, that has no equal in its moral depravity, inflicted by the German Nazis, may their names be erased, it is difficult, very difficult, to raise biographical matters when everything behind you, remains destroyed and scorched, and there is no written memory of anyone; and it is my duty to remember only, what I heard as a child from my sacred parents and the rest of my family, who were killed in the accursed Holocaust, may the Lord avenge their blood. For this reason, I am forced to confine myself to my scant memories, that regretfully, do not make it possible for me to go into detail and describe the role of the Bernshtatters in the social life of the village and in general.

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A Prestigious Family Tree

I ascribe great importance to the family tree of the famous author from the period of Enlightenment – M. D. Bernshtatter, of blessed memory. I will rely on his help and all that he can offer for this article. Here I will also rely on biographical material and the writers and literary critics of that period and afterwards, and more recently, on Mr. Ben-Ami Fingold. They know how to confirm precise dates regarding the birth and death of M. D. Bernshtatter, and from what he wrote, we learn that the Bernshtatter family in the village of Briegl, represents a history of approximately 200 years.

Relying on the date of his birth in 1844, which means, that at least, one or two generations were residents of the village, if not more, and because of this, I allow myself to write about the Bernshtatters in the village. I am doing this, following the short autobiography of M. D. Bernshtatter, that appeared in the Hebrew newspaper “HaDo'ar”, published in New York in 1926, titled, “My Life Story”. In it, he indicates that he enjoyed the very happy life of the Chassidim, and this is the most truthful testimony, because these families lived according to the general spirit of the western Galicia village of Briegl (“Grillev”) as M. D. Bernshtatter named it, in two novels. We were Chassidim in every sense of the word. My parents, Simchah and Mendele Bernshtatter, were born in Briegl in the second half of the previous century, approximately 30 years after M. D. Bernshtatter. In the course of time, they became a family blessed with 9 children.

 

A New Style

Although they themselves were not Chassidim, as was then accepted in the village, I would not dare to indicate that this was due to the influence of M. D. Bernshtatter.

My parents lived a traditional Jewish life, even religious. Nevertheless, from an external point of view, they were not dressed in the style of the Chassidim of those days. The children were also not dressed in the archaic Chassidic style, that was observed with excessive strictness by the Chassidim in the village.

In our home, we were allowed to read and learn, what was then called, secular material. However, from a spiritual point of view, we were also drawn into the general atmosphere of the village.

 

A Unique event

I would like to record the unique event that happened to the village - that was the last great fire in 1904.

This fire consumed and destroyed about 90% of the houses in the village. It was rebuilt anew according to the modern structures of that time, and this time, the houses were built of bricks - that means that the village assumed a new external appearance, in the style of the big cities, but from the point of view of its content and style, the village remained conservative, without any change.

 

A Leap Forward

Everything remained frozen in those days, until we take a leap forward to 1919, when an unrest and a revival occurred among part of the youth, that created a gap in the wall of cohesion.

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The village of Briegl, or “Grillev”, as M. D. Bernshtatter named it, still remained in hibernation. Only after three years had passed – 1923 to 1926, a kind of rebellion took place among the youth.\

The youth movement ‘Hashomer HaTza'ir’ was the pioneer among the movements. It attracted many of the Chassidic youth, students of the prayer houses, and as well as girls from Chassidic homes whose parents were regarded as wealthy, and eminent in the town. That was very important in those days in the village because the principle was not whether they wanted or intended to join, but rather, to be seen in the right company. This predetermined the success of the organization.

 

A New Era

As I have mentioned above, in approximately 1919, winds of change began to blow among the youth. They then established a youth organization and set up a clubhouse that also housed a library with books in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish. This was the first institution established outside of the walls of the prayer house. A dramatic group was organized, and in the course of time, also a sporting organization “Yorden”, was created that later became “The Maccabee”, and another youth organization was founded called “Akivah”. However, all these elements, centered around only a part of the youth, because the seal of approval regarding the social life in the village, remained as it was. In its essence, Briegl remained “Grillev”. Only in the years1928-29-30, did the village change its social image. When the youth matured, they began to be an integral part of society in the village.

A group of workers led by Yehoshua Shnur, who lives with us in the Land of Israel, Ya'akov Post and Mendl Zelengut and others, whose names I cannot recall, may the Lord avenge their blood, drew the village in a new direction. They reached the peak of their activities with the establishment of “Bet HaAm” (“Dom Ludovye” in Polish), a magnificent hall that would not be eclipsed by any modern hall, in our days. The pity is only, that the energy and effort invested in establishing institutions in the village, lamentably remained for the use of our bitter enemies, and that the Jews of the village are not present, will not be present, and Briegl will never again be “Grillev”.

May the memory of the holy ones of the village, be preserved for eternity.


An Extract from my Life in the Village

Written by Chaim Batlan

Dedicated to Mendl Zelengut

What remains engraved in my memory, from the days of my youth in Briegl, something special that distinguished the village, is: the many names of the residents of the village, and not only the name and the family name, but most importantly the nickname - and not necessarily, a derogatory one, because to call a person only by his name, alone, was not acceptable; so for example they nicknamed “The Tall Shmil” – because he was tall, or “The disabled Shmil”, because he limped. Close to our place, lived “The Old Simchele”, and with her in the room, “The Witch”. The nickname for this woman was accepted by the children of this place, for many years. And why witch? Because of her distinctive appearance. She was old, with a tall body, with curly hair tangled to her waist, a long face, an unusually long forehead. Her eyes were narrow and long, her eyelids sunken and set very deep in their sockets, with long eyelashes, and her two large eyes, a shade of light brown, that bulged three quarters from her eyelids and cast a striking light.

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Her entire appearance indicated that she had once been very beautiful, perhaps she was an opera singer, or perhaps an actress in the theatre, but we, the children, were afraid of her protruding eyes and their beams of light. She sat in the room with the old Simchele who was concerned for all her needs, because “The witch” was hardly seen outdoors. The neighbors who had known her for many years said that she received financial support from America, but because of the poverty in her life, it is doubtful. On the contrary! I remember her wearing only one dress, a fact that testifies to her situation…. In front of the entrance to the witch's room, was a small passage that had two more doors – in one, opposite the witch's door, lived a young couple in two small rooms. In the middle, there was a door to a tiny living room, the home of “Ha'lomer Shmil”, whose entire area was filled with his furniture! – a wooden bunk, a small table, a chair, and a hot, round, iron stove, with a long tin pipe to extract the smoke from the stove. Around the living room, above the small window was a shelf with a prayer shawl on it, and phylacteries and a few religious books, as well as the personal items of the resident. In this room that measured three square meters, lived “Ha'lomer Shmil”, or as he was called, “The Hand Tailor”. Why this name? Because he was born with a deformity in both his legs. I always saw him wearing boots whose heels were wider than usual, and spreading from them, were straight edges, as if the sole of his foot ended with one big toe, like a sharp point. And both soles of his feet turned inwards between his legs, one opposite the other, so as he stepped on his heels, the rest of his sole barely touched the ground. When he walked, one toe passed over the second and this is how he advanced as he walked, clearly strange movements. With such legs, it was impossible for him to work a sewing machine, so he learned the art of sewing by hand and to see the wonder of the garment that he produced by hand, with no identifying sign of sewing – indeed a masterpiece!

He chose to sew mostly in the homes of his clients because he received good food from the “wealthy”, and their homes were filled with warmth and light, even electric light flooded the homes to which he was invited, and only from the less important people in the village, he took items home to sew, and this caused him much discomfort. Certainly wise….

 

The home of Leah Perl

In the yard of a plot of ground, stood a house - a very old, wooden booth with only one room. The booth was sunken into the ground, up to the windowsill, and the front door could only open inwards. The steps in front of the door were dug out of the earth, each step was earth, and only the front edge of the step was secured with wooden planks and wooden pegs. The greater part of the sole of one's foot, stepped on the planks of the earthen step, and only the toes touched the wooden edge that secured the soil of the step. There were five of these steps to go down to the door. In this dwelling, lived Leah Perl, or as her husband “Ha'lomer Shmil” nicknamed her, “Leah Pirgi”. This couple had two very successful children, with healthy minds and healthy bodies, wise, intelligent and beautiful but they had severe inferiority complexes, being the children of the couple “Ha'lomer Shmil” and “Leah Pirgi”. When they reached an age of maturity, the son left the village and only occasionally visited his mother. After some time, the daughter also left. “Leah Pirgi” had tenure to work in the homes of the “wealthy” who did not have regular servants to assist them. She would go to their homes to take poultry, ducks, geese, and turkeys to the slaughterer for slaughtering. She plucked the feathers, cleaned the poultry, and cut them into pieces. She would bring the goose feathers home from work, and from the plucked feathers she made cushions and duvets. In Yiddish, she was therefore called “Leah the plucker”. Aside from her work at home, she had other employment

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that actually began from the day of the fair, on market day, and on Wednesday and the next day, she was fully occupied; but there were a few days in the week that she remained at home and when she felt that her “Ha'lomer Shmil” remained in his room, she was happy. She stood still at the opening to the passage, opposite the door of his room and poured a heap of such curses, that the “rebuke” in the Pentateuch, and the curses of Sholem Aleichem, paled in comparison to her curses. She would continue like this for long hours but her “Ha'lomer Shmil”, did not open the door and did not answer her at all and if he happened to open the door, he stuck his tongue out, and spoke harshly to her “Leah Pirgi” and immediately closed the door. Then she was even more irate, and only then, she left the opening to the passage and returned to her place boiling with anger.

 

The Sh'tchankah

The Sh'tchankah, was the large Jewish neighborhood that survived the last big fire in 1904, together with another three Jewish neighborhoods situated at the edges of the village, after 80% of the village was completely burned. What is the reason for this name? This name has its source in the Polish language, from the word Sh'tzana, meaning a wall. The word Sh'tzana was jargonized to Sh'tchanka. The wooden houses in the neighborhood were built almost wall-to-wall, and at the edges of the roofs there was only a space for the huge amount of rainwater, to splash from the roofs on to the soil, that over time, became channels that led the rainwater out. It was not possible for a person to cross over these channels, even though they were covered with wooden boards. Despite all that, for us, girls in our mischievous early childhood, these “crossings”, that were called “liklech” in Yiddish, provided us with excellent hiding places, when we played hide-and-seek.

 

The Gathering of the Children at the Labubar

For the most part, the children of the Sh'tchanka neighborhood, knew how to create friendships and pastimes for themselves. And this is how they created gatherings at the home of the Labubar because the bubar himself, was away from his house most of the days of the week and only returned late in the evenings. On market days, in the villages close to Briegl, he traded in head scarves of all kinds, for the rural women of the small villages. There were many “shmuklers” in the Sh'tchanka. The main part of their trade was to transport slaughtered fowl, parts of the meat of cattle, eggs, butter, and cheese, to the big city of Krakow. Each one had his own customers and sold their merchandise to them. The Labubar took great pains to support his many children, each of whom had the nickname Labubar, because they came from a small village whose name was “Labubah”. They lived in a very large 7x6 meter room. There was no stove in the room, so a large metal oven was installed, in which there were two sections for baking. In front, towards the top, there was a cast iron can, and the inside was padded and lined with bitumen and clay. Inside, in the middle, there was a cast iron grid, through which the embers and ash of the tin can, fell into a metal tray that was connected to the oven, under the grid. I mention this oven because it filled an important role in the gathering of the children of the neighborhood. I remember Chamal and Mindl Tzallels who developed a true friendship with the Labubar children, from the time they came from the village of the Labubars. In this dwelling, on all 5 weekdays, on winter evenings, and rainy days, more than 20 children gathered and sat around this oven. Each child brought two or three potatoes, peeled them, and cut them into thin slices - in Yiddish they were called “pletzlech”. They put them on the white-hot tins. They were baked in a flash and eaten even faster. In this way the children satisfied themselves

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with slices of potato cooked on the metal trays of the oven. Then, the sister, Rachel Labubar, may the Lord avenge her blood, prepared a kind of pie, from frozen potatoes that was called in Yiddish “ilnik” or “bulbenik”. She peeled the potatoes and grated them on a grater, poured them into a large metal baking dish and baked it, in a section of the oven. That same evening, there was great joy in their dwelling. If you would ask me today – How come? Why this joy? I would not have an answer. I surely know that we were happy, because the joy of life was then engraved in our souls, because of the wonderful, unique quality that accompanied the lives of the Jews in our village.

The frozen potatoes were brought by their brother, Akiva Labubar, may the Lord avenge his blood. He accompanied his father and helped him to carry the baskets of merchandise, a distance of three kilometers to the train station, when they travelled at night, on their way to, and from Krakow. From there he brought half a sack of frozen potatoes that was a free gift from Yan Gatz, the owner of the large brewery in Poland, from Okatzim, that borders Briegl. At the train station there were a number of open wagons with potatoes like these, and many took them, fulfilling the saying: “Whoever is hungry, come and eat”[1], frozen potatoes.

Translator's footnote:

  1. This saying is taken from the Haggadah, that is read on the festival of Passover. Return


Yehoshua Ostreich, of blessed memory

Written by Chaim Batlan

I, the wife of Yehoshua, came across an article in the American newspaper “Mizrachi Women”, written by the journalist Naomi Greenberg who visited towns in Galicia, in Poland. Among others, she mentions the village Briegl (Brzesko), and points out that the village authorities are renovating the Jewish cemetery in the village:

In this article she writes that a Jewish woman of 91, whose name is not mentioned, was charged with taking care of the cemetery. She also recalls that one other Jew, Shimon Planter, remains in the village.

These are the two Jews that remained in the village of Briegl:

This was a Jewish village, whose Jews numbered 3,180, and constituted more than 75% of the entire population of the village, before their destruction by the sons of Asmodeus the German – may God destroy their memory.

When I read the article mentioned above, I was very deeply shocked by the tragedy that befell the Jews of Europe in general, that I personally experienced, and the village of Briegl in particular, of which my husband is counted as one of its emigrants. This imposed upon him, the duty to perpetuate the memory of the deceased who were so much part of the life of the village; it was his conviction. Every conversation about Briegl invigorated him and filled his heart with a longing for the past, so he responded seriously and positively to every public request to raise the memory of the martyrs of Briegl – there was no gathering or commemoration in which he did not participate, and he was always prepared to help and to do, no words, only actions. He was this kind of man in his private life and in public. His neighbours in the apartment building for example, praise him to this day, even after 14 years, with these words: if Yehoshua was still alive, the issues of the building would be organized and not neglected.

In our family life: when we married, I had a daughter from my first husband. The girl became a problem and created issues in our family life. To my joy and good fortune, we succeeded in building a family nest, above and beyond everything that is possible to expect under these conditions – and all this, thanks to his good and easy-going character. He knew how to rise above, when there were issues with her, and had a better relationship with her than I did. When our second daughter was born, he was particularly fastidious, not to hurt his stepdaughter. On the contrary! When they grew up, I,

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as a mother, saw fit to reprimand the adolescent girl – conversely, he always found something in her favor. He explained to me that everything should be done, so as not to evoke in her, God forbid, feelings of deprivation because her father was not with her: this is what Yehoshua was like – by Fay Ostreich.

* * *

I find it appropriate to add a commendation to my deceased friend Yehoshua, of blessed memory. I remember him after the arrival of the first survivors of Briegl, in 1948-49 when we began to think of an association for emigrants from Briegl. Yehoshua was among the first to respond to those who promoted the organization – among them, Yehoshua Shnur, Shimon Einhorn, may the Lord grant them long life; Chaim Sanditzer, Elisha Shternlicht, and the teacher Fierst, of blessed memory. With the latter, I had already begun planning to publish a memorial book, and together we started to write questions for the emigrants of Briegl, some of which remained in the archive of Mr. Yehoshua Shnur, whom we are celebrating in the book; but regretfully, the matter did not receive the required assistance in our time. I will indicate only that that we were among the first to initiate the association, and that Yehoshua Ostreich was the practical person in the group. There was no task that he took upon himself, that was not done to perfection, and many thanks to him that we acquired, almost free, the hall Bet HaEzrach, in Ramat Gan, where we held our first national commemoration. May his memory be eternally encrypted in our hearts!

Written by the co-ordinator of the book.

 

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