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[Page 593]

Streets and Alleyways

 

[Page 595]

Streets and Alleyways

by Y. Horn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

According to the city hall and post office the town had fifty–four streets. When a Jew would overhear that Mezritsh had so many streets, he would not believe it. The “Polowa”, the Field Street for example, had no more than one small house that belonged to Doctor Szepke Adler. A small sign with the word “street” was posted. On the other hand, the Jews of the town did not think very much about such streets. For the most part, Jews, old and young, did not pay attention to what the city council's registrar named the streets. The names of the streets were only important for the city council, the court, mortgages, and mail deliverers.

Jews knew about “the bridges,” Lulbiner Street, Warsaw Street, Brisker Street, the Broken Street, the Synagogue Street, Railway Street, Swiniaczer Lane (Pig Lane), and the New Path.

All those streets branched out to the highways that led outside the city. A step toward the “Wyatrakn” (windmills), for example, was the beginning of the road to Radzyn.

The “Kaszczarna,” the bone factory, was considered to be outside the city on the Warsaw Highway. If one took a few steps from the New Cemetery and went to the match factory, one was already on the road to Biała. A few steps from the city station, one was already in the hills that led to the Zahajk Forest.

The main street of the city was Lubliner Street, which had over 200 courtyards. It was the “mirror” of the city. The finest and most modern houses, with three or four stories, stood on that street. All of the city's population spread out from both sides of the bridge to Lubliner Street. The city walkway, the beautiful balconies with flowers – the wealthy area of the city – was there.

The Lubliner was a wide and long street, paved with small stones. On either side there were sidewalks three stones wide, with lovely, blooming trees along the entire way. The city dreamers would sometimes dream that Lubliner Street would once again have a tramway. The wagon drivers drove along Lubliner Street to the railway station twice a day. All of the

[Page 596]

workers' demonstrations took place along Lubliner Street. The Jewish firefighters of the city marched along Lubliner Street every Sunday evening accompanied by their own orchestra. Hundreds of children from all areas of the city accompanied them with song. Lubliner Street was the heart of the town.

 

mie596.jpg
A section of Bridge Street

 

The largest and finest stores were there: the banks, the bourse, the pharmacies, the city photographers, the high school, the taverns, and the soda water shops. And what was there not? Jewish porters sat at a corner, on a step, near a tavern waiting for a job. On hot evenings, the elder brush workers would sit on the steps of the shops to relax.

The city's river was at the end of Lubliner Street. The city cabins,[1] the mikveh, the bathhouse, the tanneries, and the place from where the water carriers would draw water for the houses of the wealthy people were on one side of the bridge. On the other side, one could see meadows, forests, and the small, whitewashed houses of neighboring villages.

While crossing the bridge, the [youngsters would] suddenly begin a race; sometimes, with a bit of “poetic license”, a son might “be on the verge of drowning in the [river's] waters…”

In the summer, Jewish housewives would wash their clothes and dishes at the bank of the river. Children would go swimming and jump from the cabins into the water.

[Page 597]

Others would stand with fishing rods to catch fish, or would play tricks in the water. The river seemed to beckon them in. The children would go into the river half naked. This is how the people of the city learned how to swim.

In the winter, when the river was frozen, the children of the city would go skating. Later, upper–class women who were gymnasts, would come with their teachers and perform tricks. On Sabbath afternoons, the bridge was full of Jews watching the members of the Sport Club skate.

Motke Fiszer was always among the crowd on the bridge. He would spread himself upon the railing with his heavy body and pointy beard, as he watched everyone racing toward in “his” river.

Motke's brother, nieces and nephews were all fishermen who earned their living from the river. They would go around in the winter with large hooks, cut through the ice, and catch live fish for the wealthy Jews for the Sabbath. In the spring, when the tide had receded, large “porcupines”[2] would come up along with the storm water; the Jewish fishermen used all means to attract the fish. They would spread white tin sheets on the riverbed, right next to the bridge, and when the “porcupines” would swim over the white sheets, Motke the fisherman would know that a fish would be nearby, and it would be caught.

On winter nights, the fishermen would go to the fishing holes with fire, attracting the fish to the warmth.

The priest's doves would fly around the city's river. One of them was a “potshtove[3] which would entice and take along a pair of Toviale Rimarsz' doves.

*

On Lubliner Street one might find a partner for a stroll or hear the news of the town. People gathered there from the market, from the market park, and from all ends of the city. The sidewalks of Lubliner Street were very crowded during the evenings, and especially on Sabbaths and festivals.

Large groups of boys and girls, the “young folk” walked along the long, narrow streets. They all strolled step after step, as if locked into formation.

There was no reason to run or hurry. Nobody took any quick steps. Everyone moved along at the same tempo back and forth. They all knew well the outsiders who were standing

[Page 598]

mie598a.jpg
At the bridge on the Bridge Street

 

mie598b.jpg
At home on furlough.
In the photo: Avraham Bornsztejn, Hershel Sajete, Velvel Goldberg, Elya Klimensberg, Lerner

 

mie598c.jpg
On a boat on the river

[Page 599]

near the gates, looking through the windows and even counting how many times people went back and forth.

Pertshe the widow, who had not been out for a stroll since her husband's death, would peer out her window the entire Sabbath day. By the next day she had figured out who had walked arm–in–arm with whom. Chana Yenta the shadchan [marriage broker] would stand by the gate of the alleyway where she lived. When the strolling began, she would watch the couples so that she could become involved in the match and earn a few zloty.

On summer evenings, one could often hear a piano playing from a “high window” on Lubliner Street, as a mother with her daughters played works from Chopin and Moniuszko from one of the houses.

There were many old, crooked, houses that stood amongst the newer, modern ones. They had been given as an inheritance, and exuded poverty.

On Friday evenings, the candles shining from brass candlesticks could be seen through the small linen curtains that hung from many windows.

Jewish tradesmen and poor folk, who toiled long and hard for their morsel of bread, lived in the courtyards and alleyways of Lubliner Street. A year later, when the poor became more numerous, and it became too crowded to live in the courtyards and alleyways of the wealthy, the tradesmen and workers departed to the “kingdom of night,” “Szmulowizna.”

Prior to the first World War in 1914, the writer A. Litwin resided in Mezritsh for a period of time. He described Szmulowizna as follows:

“Szmulowizna is an entire Jewish area in miniature with all its details and contextual signs. Those who wish to experience the quintessence of the mud patches of Minsk, the Butcher Lane [Yatkeve] of Vilna, Szmatsze Street of Warsaw, the Choniakes of Białystock, and the Balut of Łodz – could completely fulfill this wish by experiencing Szmulowizna.

Szmulowizna was a courtyard with old, crumbling homes lying one atop the other atop a swamp.

That same swamp served as a well for the tanners who soaked their hides in it; it also served the householders of Szmulowizna as a garbage can. There was no place even for an outhouse. It was fortunate that the old synagogue with its communal outhouse stood opposite, on the other side of the market. Everyone from Szmulowizna ran over there…

There were no yards or gates in Szmulowizna. There was room enough only

[Page 600]

mie600.jpg
Szmulowizna

[Page 601]

for the small houses. If one stuck one's hand outside of the house, one would touch the house on the opposite side of the alleyway.

It is superfluous to state that one could hop from one porch to the next with a single stride. Incidentally, a porch on Szmulowizna Street was a simple step that led right into the kitchen. The kitchen itself served as the dining room, the work room, and as a bedroom at night. A brush–maker's wife or daughter would scrape the pig hair, then turn around and check on how the dinner was cooking, as well as check on the kettle containing the pig hair waiting to be cleaned.

On Szmulowizna, as throughout Mezritsh, it was so dry and barren that there was barely any trace of a tree or grass. Only in one alleyway, were there a pair trees hiding in a corner, as though they were afraid of the evil eye. We do not know how they got there. [The residents of ] Szmulowizna were so impressed by that pair of trees that they proudly named the alleyway “Sadewe” – Garden Street.

When I said that there was no trace of a tree or grass in Mezritsh, I refer to the crowded area of the city itself. However, if one looked just outside the city, one could see broad meadows spreading out endlessly to the right and the left.”

*

Szmulowizna barely changed even in the later years. Nobody drained the swamps. The sewers [backed up], filling the crooked houses with mud. Dampness ate through the floorboards of every house, to the point where babies were placed, for the most part, in hanging cradles.

According to the magistrate, Szmulowizna was only a square, a wide, short street. The tens of small, long, alleyways surrounding it were not considered part of Szmulowizna.

The entire area was tightly interconnected and was similar in appearance. For the most part, there were small, crowded, wooden houses. These dwellings were transferred as inheritances, and some of them were given to daughters as dowries.

Szmulowizna with its alleyways was packed with Jews. The neighbors felt at home with each other, like close family. In the summer, the doors of the homes were open to each other. Housewives would borrow from each other

[Page 602]

a bit of salt, a couple of onions, potatoes, and at times even a small kugel made of “pearl groats.”

If a mother or father punished a child, everyone would hear and know about it. If a [prospective] groom visited a house, the entire alleyway would quickly find out, and curious women would come to borrow a glass or a pot in order to have a look at the groom. When a Jew recited Kiddush on Friday night, the entire alleyway would hear. One could even smell what was cooking or frying in everyone's kitchen. When there was a wedding, Szmulowizna would go topsy–turvy. The entire alleyway and all the neighbors were like in–laws. Since the home of the bride's parents would be too small, the guests would stay in the [neighbors'] houses along the entire alleyway. If a Jew from the alleyway had to find a place to sleep for a few nights, there was no shortage. The main thing was that there was full and complete joy.

The fathers with hats, long kapotes[4] and boots, danced with joy. The mothers of the alleyway, dressed up in semi–silk dresses with curled wigs on their heads, were very joyous. If a guest was not served a piece of cake or a glass of liquor, it was considered a great misfortune.

Mendel the musician, and later Yentshe with “Moshe Tzaritzener” offered the entertainment, and afterward led the dancing. Pesach Sokolower and “Matzele” would form a “gate” through the streets. Lemel, or the waiter “Moshe Klap” would distribute refreshments to the guests from “silver” trays.

People in disguises, from the Hachnasat Kalla organization, would come to collect money from every wedding using a silent language.[5] The masks on their faces would terrify the young children.

*

Szmulowizna, and the tens of other poor street and alleyways, looked very similar.

During the election period for the Sejm [the Polish Parliament], the city council or community elections, when proletariat parties conducted meetings on Szmulowizna under the open sky, the speakers had to crawl to stand atop a “wozewoda” (wide wagon), since there was not a single balcony in all of Szmulowizna. When Yisrael Chaim the Binder constructed a wooden balcony on his new house during the last years before the Second World War, the townspeople laughed and smiled.

[Page 603]

Mothers also entertained their children on the wozewodas. People would select a rope sack on which to sit at their front doors, and eat a bit of food.

The alleyways were full of young people. From all the houses, one could hear songs – love songs, revolutionary songs, and folk songs. Dedicated proletariat fighters came from those houses. When political battles came to town, the neighborhood's entire population, which consisted entirely of Jews, became involved.

Szmulowizna was crowded and heavily populated with children.

“Go outside of the house a bit,” many mothers requested of their children. The children were ordered outside because there was no place to move inside the house. There was actually no empty house on Szmulowizna, and there was rarely an empty living room. If someone did have a living room, it would often be occupied by a few barrels of prepared pig hair.

For the most part, people lived in one room with a small kitchen. Only a few people had a den where the parents' bed would be located. At night, iron beds would be set up for the older children, and “sofkes”[6] on armchairs for beds for girls of marriageable age.

Szmulowizna was, however, full of humor and witticisms “in joy and in suffering.” Only Yiddish was spoken there[7], and if a city officer or a policeman would come by, many people from the older generation, born and raised in the town, would have no idea what they were saying. Children would learn to speak and write in Polish in school, and therefore sending children to school became a necessity.

Szmulowizna was occupied with all kinds of work. The hundreds of girls who bundled pig hair would sing about their work:

I love work without bounds
I am a friend of it
And always cheerful
And always cheerful
Work makes my spirit healthier.

Every worker, however, led her own life and dreamed her own dreams.

[Page 604]

An old linen seamstress who sewed blankets for the brides in the town and sang, “Lyubchu, you remain in my thoughts.” Tzine “Bak” who supported her sick mother, used to stuff the coats, and never tired of singing:

And my life is similar
To a lamp with a bit of kerosene:
It will not extinguish
It has no energy to burn!…

Hundreds of Yiddish songs and folk songs were sung at the tables of the stuffers.

At the worktables, they would also talk about politics, unions, events of the town, who had married whom, and what sort of “proletariat lad” was going into the houses of the wealthy people. Neche the Baker's was prepared to pay a half week's salary in order to find out the ending of a novel that was published in a Warsaw newspaper.

Thousands upon thousands of Jews lived with their wives and children, and worked in Szmulowizna. However, during their free time on Sabbaths and festivals, they all crossed the bridge to Lubliner Street.

Bookshelves filled with books hung in almost all the houses. Yiddish books, brochures and newspapers, both legal and illegal, could be found in all the homes. When the Large Library was founded, Szmulowizna residents donated the largest number of Yiddish books. There was even a poor brush worker, Moshe Pechna, who rent his garments when Morris Rosenfeld[8] died; he donated several dozen books to the Workers Library in Morris Rosenfeld's memory.

Today, the street and the town are deserted and empty; the industrious, vital Jews were all murdered.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. The word ‘beidlech’ means cabins, huts or bungalows. This probably means some sort of low cabin near the river. return
  2. “Porcupine” was apparently a nickname for a type of spiny fish. return
  3. The exact meaning of this word is unclear, but from context, it probably refers to a postal dove or postal pigeon. return
  4. Kapotes – the traditional long jackets, of medieval origin, worn by men in Eastern Europe. return
  5. For more information on the Hachnasat Kalla organization, please see pp. 581–585 of this Yizkor Book. return
  6. The meaning of this word is unclear. return
  7. The original text reads, “No Yiddish was spoken there”, but in the context this was probably an error. return
  8. Morris Rosenfeld was a Yiddish poet. For more information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_Rosenfeld return


[Page 605]

Brisker Street

by Avraham Busztajn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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Brisker Street

 

Like all the other streets in Mezritsh, Brisker Street had its unique signposts. If one wished to direct someone to an exact place, or explain where to find a certain person, one did not state the address, but rather described the signposts.

One might begin [to describe Brisker Street] with Gedalja Bajcz the hairdresser, who lived for many years in Avrahamele Pinieche's (Likerman) house. If this was not sufficient, one would mention Chaim Menashke's tenant, or merely “Lazare's.” To this day, I do not know why the courtyard, where the Lodzerke had a small supermarket, was called “Lazare's”[1].

Near “Lazare's” there was a house that belonged to the Lichtenberg family. In my memory, this stands out as a house of a family in a difficult situation. Only the three sons, the Lichtenberg brothers, still had signs that they came from a well pedigreed family. One of those brothers studied medicine and practiced in Mezritsh until the destruction.

[Page 606]

Beyond the Lichtenbergs lived the family of Moshe Shochet (Tandeter). This was also a signpost on the Brisker Street, a house with culture and honor, infused with the old, treasured, Jewish tradition, as well as with the new, especially of the Return to Zion ideology.

In contrast to the calm and majesty there, opposite, one could hear the banging and noise of the tradesmen, Gershon Lejb Skura and Mordechile Stelmach, who were business partners. Farmers with their wagons would always be standing there, in order to fix a wheel or merely to sell a wagon. This was always the meeting point for the children of the area. The children would watch curiously to see how a wheel was made. Even adults were curious to see how the business of selling a wagon proceeded.

There were a few brick houses on Brisker Street. There were two and three story houses, among them the house of the “Opczyks” (Jawerbaum). This house was the only one that had a gate that could be locked so that one could not enter. To this day, the stomping of the retreating Russian soldiers in 1915 and the shouts of “Otviery” of the retreating Russian soldiers resonate in my ears – as well as the later retreat of the Polish soldiers, who robbed and beat many Jews.

Brisker Street was home to more tradesmen and warehouses (for building materials for farmers) than any other street in the city.

Fajwel Kowal was well–known. Everyone knew him as a healthy man with a big beard. He banged the red–hot iron with the heavy hammer that was constantly in his hands. He would seldom speak a word. He had a sister, Gitsha the Broker, who would talk on his behalf. Not only would she speak – she would also shout and curse.

Opposite, in a large yard, various beams and boards were spread out. Workers would cut the thick beams into boards. During the years when our family lived at the house of Yankel Kadisz, I would watch through the window as the workers stood a beam upright, and cut it up with the saw in their hands. The lumber workshop belonged to the Neusztejn family. The owner was called “Yosel from the Boards.”

The nearest neighbor was Chilkele Olearnik. They called him that on account of his occupation. He earned his livelihood from his oil workshop [olejarna]. The farmers stood in the yard with their wagons. They brought the linseed, and waited as the oil was extracted.

[Page 607]

In those days, the oil press had already been mechanized. The motor chugged day and night with a monotonous clang. The few neighbors, who lived opposite the clanging, suffered. The oil press was bordered on one side by the lumber workshop and on the other side by the old cemetery. The clanging did not bother either the boards or the dead.

Chilkele Olearnik was also known for his deep well, from which the neighbors enjoyed cold, tasty water.

At the time of the German occupation during the First World War, the Finkelsztejn brothers (the barge floaters) received a concession from the occupation authorities to set up an electric generator in Mezritsh. They used Brisker Street for that purpose. There was an appropriate place opposite the old cemetery. The electric generator was set up very quickly, and gave light to the town. It also graced the street with a new clanging. In the later years, a mechanical saw was set up next to the electric generator to saw boards, thereby destroying the livelihood of the Neustejns and the Altenberg family, whose house incidentally bordered the electric generator.

The Cytryniak family was large. They owned, among other business, an oil press further down Brisker Street, near the Christian area. The entire aforementioned section of the street was inhabited solely by Jews.

Sapir's milk business was located near the new cemetery. The old cemetery had long since been closed for burials. The gravestones were already overgrown with tall, wild grass. People did not even go to visit their ancestral graves anymore – a sure sign of antiquity. The children of Brisker Street engaged in a constant battle with the children of Przyanka for control over the area.

The old cemetery was separated from the houses by a large, low, swampy area that exuded bad odors during the summer. The source of the odor was the neighboring tanneries of the Goldman and Wielkopole families– better described as the ruins of the Rappaports and the Gutermans, which were inhabited by large, poor families.

When the city council and the Jewish community first planned to build the city slaughterhouse, it was certainly sited far from the residential center. However, as far back as I can remember, there were already many houses with residents around the slaughterhouse.

[Page 608]

As the city developed, especially during the 20th century, when there were no longer places to build within the city, they began to build outside the city. The pioneers were my own family, who built a house in partnership with the family of Mordechai Cytrynblum (Sztern) near the Christian cemetery. This was the last house on that side of the city.

The second side of the city housed the match factory. As the older generation would say, that was a serious undertaking under the circumstances of those times. The factory employed many tens of workers, mainly women. The factory belonged to the Rotenberg family.

For many years, the factory was the final inhabited place [at that end of the city]. During the 1930s, a few Jewish families purchased land and began to build beyond the factory.

Yankel Kadisz's (Silbersztejn) courtyard was a special place on Brisker Street, especially at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The courtyard began in front of Brisker Street, branched off to the meadows, and was inhabited by over 30 families. As the older people tell it, this area had been a military barracks for the Russian Army. When they quitted the military base in Mezritsh and moved it to Biała, Reb Yankel Kadisz's purchased all the houses and turned them into dwellings.

In the front stood a four– dwelling house. This must certainly have been the headquarters of the military base. Further on stood two long blocks that indeed had the appearance of barracks. The entire courtyard was settled by Jews, with the exception of Strusz, who purchased a small house at the end of the end of the courtyard.

It is not difficult to imagine that the more–than two hundred residents of the courtyard knew exactly what was cooking in the next person's pot. One could not hide one's intimate details.

The courtyard had tens of workshops, mainly located in the dwellings. There were also two shtibels for worship.

Our family lived in one of the four houses in the front, which also housed a brush factory was until the First World War. Our closest neighbor, the family of Fiszel Tandeter, remains etched in my memory. I spent a great deal of my free time with him.

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Fiszel Tandeter was involved with selling hides. He and his partner Nusband had a workshop in the cellar of the large Beis Midrash.

Fiszel Tandeter used all his free time to study Gemara. Despite her piety, his wife Chana read books of modern literature. Their three daughters were also educated in that spirit. The calm there was disturbed from time to time by the neighbors on the other side of the wall, the Price family, from where shouting and arguing was often heard.

A woman with five small children also lived in the same house. The father traveled to America on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War, and they remained separated during the difficult war years. The family went hungry and cold. The crying of the children, especially the youngest, Aharele, still resonates in my ears. The family was referred to by the nickname “Pletnikes.”[2]

There was a small house near the aforementioned house on the first long block. There was a horse stable on one side of that house, and the second side had the dwelling. The yellow comb–maker lived there with his family. A smell of burning horns always wafted from that house.

Their neighbor was the Streicher (Kandel) with his son. They were bricklayers, specializing in tiled ovens.

As was appropriate for an owner of 30 houses, Reb Yankel Kadisz's and his son Reb Nachum Silbersztejn occupied the finest two dwellings on the first block. Their soap factory was located in the second block. The bad odor of cooking fat, from which they made soap, wafted from there.

The families of Micheleh and Chona Droszkosz, Bentza Wysznia (the villager), the Tallis maker, the fiddle maker, Kalman the Shamash of the Szmulewyzner Beis Midrash, the tall broker, and the condemner (Borner) all lived on the first block.[3]

The family known as the fiddle makers ran a factory for cardboard fiddles in their dwelling. Sabbath services were conducted in the same dwelling.

The first residents of the second block were the Kamien family. They were called “the Janower,” apparently because they came from there. Almost the entire family was occupied in delivering milk to the houses. Every morning, before dawn, they would set out for the nearby villages to purchase fresh milk from the farmers.

[Page 610]

An uncle of mine, Moshe Hechtman, lived in that same entrance. He was a brother–in–law of the Janowers.

Yosel Grine's (Silbergleid) and his son Moshe ran a shoe factory on the same block.[4] They exported their products throughout Russia until the outbreak of the First World War.

The children of the courtyard were curious to see how the tradesmen banged the nails that they took from their mouths.

The Zelichower (Finkelstejn) had a rope–twisting factory. Aside from his children, he also had outside employees. In an empty place beyond the second block, opposite the row of stores that served the residents of the entire courtyard, they twisted and twisted hair strands for mattresses. The Hassidic Shtibel in which they worshipped every day was located in their dwelling.

Our uncle Isaac Hechtman also lived in the same entranceway, along with another family who left Mezritsh immediately after the First World War.

When I visited Mezritsh in April 1967, I found the street and Yankel Kadisz's courtyard, but unfortunately not one of the aforementioned families was there. The vast majority of them suffered the same fate as all the Jews of the city of Mezritsh.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. “Lodzerke/Lazare” seems to be a play on words. Lodzerke would be a nickname for a person from Łodz. return
  2. Pletnikes – The word “pletn” in Yiddish means to smash or crack. It is not clear if what relevance this might have to the description of this family. return
  3. The condemner – it is not clear what this refers to.perhaps a condemner of houses. return
  4. The shoe manufactured at this factory were made with some kind of decoration that used animal hair. return


[Page 611]

Jews of Mezritsh who Lived on Christian Streets

by Yosef Cepelinski of Buenos Aires

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Mezritsh was a Jewish city. This was especially apparent when one traveled from Mezritsh to another city, where the gentile population was so conspicuously visible.

One felt pride in the knowledge that our city of Mezritsh was 100% Jewish. One could not think otherwise, given the ebullience of all aspects of Jewish life [in Mezritsh]. One was more or less free from the fear of anti–Semitism, and other non–Jewish tribulations.

This was true in the center of town. The situation was otherwise at the periphery, in the regions near the city limits. Christians lived there, and the Jews were a minority.

The Christian area of the city began on Pilsudski Street (Przyanka), along with Zawadki, Zarowie, and other streets. That area was inhabited almost solely by Christians, with a few Jewish families.

It is specifically about the lives of those Jews who lived on the Christian streets that I wish to present a few facts and experiences, as far as I can recall, from the first decade of the century until after the First World War. As had been stated earlier, the Jews in the center of the city lived free of all the gentile caprices. Unfortunately, however, this could not be said about the Jews who lived in the Christian streets. There, the Poles directly displayed their true face. The situation of the Jewish residents of that area was not straightforward, or without difficulties, as it was for the Jews who lived in the city itself. At times, one would get the impression that one was not living in Mezritsh, but rather in some village amongst the gentiles, often malicious gentiles. It would often occur that when a gentile had suffered a setback in the city, and wished to bother Jewish youth and break their bones, he would take out his anger on the Jews who lived in the Christian district. Especially for a Jewish family living in a gentile's house, there was definitely nothing about which to be jealous. One such hooligan was an anti–Semitic agitator, who caused those Jews many tribulations. Jews did business and walked about, sewing clothes and making boots for them,

[Page 612]

but they were not friends of the Jews who had lived next door to them for hundreds of years. There was no lack of cases in which they [the gentiles] did things that a Jew would not have done. A few such episodes remain etched in my memory.

One very hot summer afternoon, clouds gathered and it began to rain; there was also lightning and thunder. A bolt of lightning struck a barn, belonging to a Christian, which contained the harvest. The barn had a straw roof and was dried out due to the heat. It ignited and quickly turned into a mountain of flames. The Jewish firefighters arrived quickly, but too late to save anything from the fire. They only succeeded in protecting the neighboring structures, so that they would not catch fire. The afflicted farmer said that the Jewish firefighters were guilty, for they arrived late. If this was not sufficient, gentile men and women came, saying that they themselves saw the firefighters strolling with their loved ones rather than hurrying to save the Christian property. A second fire broke out a short time later, and a house in which Jews lived was saved – which was apparently not fitting for them. The Christians believed that the Jewish firefighters arrived more quickly to this [second] fire, because Jewish property was at risk. The Christians could not endure this, and they incited against the voluntary Jewish firefighters organization. Then a fire broke out in the courtyard of Count Potocki on a Sabbath day, a time that was inopportune for a rapid mobilization and quick arrival to [combat] the fire. As a result, the count was not happy with the Jewish firefighters, and he expressed his anti–Semitic feelings.

There was a small segment of anti–Semitic Polish intelligentsia in Mezritsh. When the anti–Jewish hate strengthened, the Polish intelligentsia took the initiative of founding their own Polish firefighters organization. That meant that they would protect the Christians from the Jewish firefighters, upon whom they [believed they] could not depend.

Another episode: A Jewish family lived in a Christian house, and the Jewish wife gave birth to twins. Everything was fine when suddenly the door of the house burst open, and a Christian woman ran in shouting to the Jewish woman: “God has given you two, and He has taken two from me!” The Christian [woman] behaved as if she were crazy, and

[Page 613]

wanted to take the children. [Just before] the Jewish woman gave birth to the children, a lightning bolt had struck and killed the Christian woman's husband and son, who had been working in the field…

Here is another sad event that happened to another Jewish family, who lived together with a Christian family. The Christian mother was out in the field, having left her three year old daughter under the care of the Jewish woman. The child took some sort of a liquid and put it in her mouth. When the Jewish women realized what had happened, the child was already unconscious. It is easy to understand the situation of the Jewish woman. She was alone in the house. She did not leave the house, but rather tried various means to save the child, while simultaneously calling for help. Several people ran in, and the child was out of danger. They called the parents and took the child to a doctor, who was a Christian and a well–known anti–Semite. The anti–Semitic doctor told the parents of the child nothing more nor less than this – the Jews had tried to kill their child. The doctor further stated that his son had been beaten previously [by Jews]. Clearly, [the doctor implied, one could only surmise that there] must be a plan by the Jews to kill the Poles.

The story with the doctor's son was as follows: One Sabbath afternoon, he rode his bicycle along the Warsawer Highway, and wanted to run over Jews who were strolling, shouting that the Jews were crowding him and not letting the gentiles pass through the street. That anti–Semitic outburst by the son of the doctor angered a Jewish young man, who broke the bones of the gentile.

Incidentally, that same doctor caused difficulties for the Jewish recruits, for he sat on the medical recruiting commission of the Radzyner district, to which Mezritsh belonged. There was a great tumult, and the Jewish and Christian streets had to hear everything that was discussed about this situation.[1]

Here are a few words about the “golden”Polish youth. They wanted to completely drive out the Jews, if not from Mezritsh – for their hands were too short for that – then at least from the Christian streets.[2] To that end, they carried out incitement against the Jews, and simultaneously promoted propaganda among the Christians [advising them] that they should become shoemakers and hat makers [jobs traditionally held by Jews], that they should set up Christian orchards, etc. That band of anti–Semitic youth failed. In truth, a few Christians did start out to become tailors, shoemakers, and orchard keepers, but they quickly

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gave up their new trades and employment, especially when some Christian orchard keeper, whom the Christians had brought in from outside, did not produce anything nice. The anti–Semites saw that the struggle with the Jews did not get any easier, but they did not retreat from their deeds. The incitement against the Jews continued as previously.

The fight that the “golden”Polish youth conducted against Dr. Yosef Kaplan is also worth mentioning. Dr. Kaplan had a special status of popularity among the Christian population due to his honesty and his medical knowledge. This did not please the youth. At every visit of the Jewish doctor, they incited against him. On one occasion, when a patient died, the anti–Semitic youth expressed their gratitude by tossing sulphur and pitch at the Jews in general who, [they claimed,] pushed their way into Polish universities in order to poison the Poles.

The Jews on the Christian streets had to hear all this. The Jews waited, protested, laughed, brought counter–arguments, conducted activities to ward off the threats, but things did not get any easier.

This was the situation, more or less, of the Jews of Mezritsh who were designated by fate to live among the Christians. This was certainly the exception, as there were very few. The situation can best be illustrated by the sad fact that none of those Jews were rescued by their Christian fellow residents during the Nazi occupation. All were murdered, among them my mother, my sister, and my brother.


Editor's Footnotes

  1. The language here is ambiguous, but the impression is that this anti–Semitic doctor would give medical approval for Jews, who would otherwise be ineligible for the army, to be drafted. return
  2. “Their hands were too short for that”– a colloquial expression meaning that the Poles were simply unable to drive the Jews out of Christian areas. return

 

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