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Personalities

 

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Anuszka Adler

by L. Frydman of Melbourne

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Anna Adler, or Anuszka Adler as she was called, takes a special place among the personalities of bygone Mezritsh, both because of her unique personality as well as her activities in the cultural and social realms, which left a strong mark upon the life of our city. I will try to give over a few memories about this remarkable woman to perpetuate her memory, which is dear to every Mezritsher who remembers “Madame Adler” from the old hometown.

She was of average height, wide shouldered, with a wide, not especially pretty face. A pair of wise eyes peered out from under the short brow, with black, short cut hair. Two opposing character features could be seen in her countenance – friendliness and decisiveness. That woman possessed a source of exceptional energy, as well as an inner drive to constantly be active and creative.

She stemmed from the Bromberg family – a well–pedigreed, merchant family, which was engaged in the fur business. Her two brothers had already moved to Leipzig before the First World War, and ran a large–scale fur business there.

The story is told that she was matched up with an Orthodox boy when she was a young girl. However, she did not live long with him. She left him and demanded a get [bill of divorce] after a few days. She received her get due to her persistence. Later, she married the dentist Shepka Adler, who was greatly beloved in the city. He served for a long time as the commander of the Jewish voluntary fire–fighters' society, which played a significant role in Mezritsh life. Her life with Shepka Adler was happy, and filled her with great joy.

Anuszka Adler received a worldly education, primarily through private teachers, but she also learned a great deal on her own. Her ventures in life and her activities were very progressive. In full benefit of hindsight, they were beyond the times in which she lived. Therefore, people

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often did not understand her and considered her as eccentric, as a non–practical woman. On the other hand, they had great respect for her, and spoke about her with appreciation.

Even before the First World War, she contributed a great deal toward the first Yiddish library and reading hall. The library was known as the city library. It held Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian books, and was well attended.

During that time, she also founded the first Russian school in Mezritsh, which was attended by Jewish children.

At the time of the German occupation during the First World War, when poverty was great and Mezritsh suffered from various epidemics, Anuszka Adler headed the sanitation committee, which had the task of ensuring cleanliness in the houses. She carried out that unpleasant task with great tact, but with decisiveness.

At that time, she set up the first Yiddish school in Mezritsh. She gathered together the small number of intelligentsia in the city, designated them as teachers, and with the help of some outside forces, including Feineberja, the teacher from Brisk, directed a high–level school. Her pedagogical methods were very progressive. She did not believe that students could be unsuccessful. It was simply the realtionship between the pedagogue and the student that was not successful. She would say that a bad mark was the fault of the teacher alone, and not the child.

She was very warm toward the children, and at the same time strict when there were issues of discipline and hygiene. The children had great respect and esteem for her.

A certain female student from that school, who is today a mother of several children, told me the following story: When she was studying at the school at that time, she had scabies on her head, and the children in the class would mock her and call her various names. This often brought her to tears. Madame Adler entered the class at one such time. She went over to her and kissed her on the head. That noble gesture had a colossal effect on the children in the class. The woman who told me the story cannot forget it to this day.

Anuszka Adler was also one of the founders of the Yiddish gymnasja in Mezritsh, and directed it at its inception. She did not direct the school for long, however. They took on a director

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“with full qualifications.” When this teacher from Galicia came, she [Anuszka Adler] left the school. She did not agree with the pedagogical methods which were accepted there, or with the program of the school. She also demanded that the picture of her, that was hanging in the school, be removed.

During the 1920s, Anuszka Adler became involved with the Jewish Children's Home. As with everything in which she was involved, she imbued her heart and soul into the Children's Home. The home, which housed Jewish orphans and children of poor parents, became an exemplary institution under her supervision. The representatives of the Children's Home were well–known in the city, and supervised the home very well. Many of the former children of the Home who today are found throughout the entire world (mostly in Canada and the United States) remember Madame Adler and her activities on behalf of the Home very well.

The sudden death of her husband, Shepka Adler, affected her deeply. She became disconnected from Mezritsh. First, she went to her brother in Leipzig, and later to her son in Paris, who became involved with various philosophical pursuits after graduating from the Faculty of Philosophy at the Sorbonne.

A misfortune overtook Mrs. Adler in Leipzig, while in a state of depression over the death of her husband. She fell off a moving tram, and became severely ill. She did not give up, though. In Paris, she studied French and French literature at the Sorbonne. Not wanting to be a burden on her family, she started studying in an institute for physical culture, from which she graduated with excellence. Then, she herself opened a school for physical culture. She wanted to earn her own living. However, as always, with every endeavor in which she was involved, it became an ideal for her. [Helping to shape] physically and spiritually strong women now became an ideal for her, into which she imbued her entire soul and heart. Her school grew, but she had to give up that work for health reasons. She then graduated from a school of cosmetics, and became involved with the ideal of making women prettier and fresher, thereby giving them more joy in life. She offered a course in cosmetics.

During one of her frequent visits to Mezritsh, she set up a course in cosmetics for a group of Mezritsh women. When one of her close acquaintances asked her to limit the course to two or three women, so that they could later earn a living, she

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became offended and angry. She did not understand how people could be so small as to consider only the business viewpoint.

She was in Paris when the Second World War broke out. When the German Army approached Paris, she left for southern France with other refugees, where she was hidden by Christians. She could not bear the constant tension. The oppression that she endured as a human being and a Jew especially affected her. That proud and brave women exhausted her energy to endure oppression. On September 10, 1943, when she was captured by the Gestapo at the time of the “destruction of Nice,” she took poison before she was taken in for interrogation. Thus tragically ended the life of that remarkable, spirited woman, who did so much for her city, and in general for people she both knew and did not know.


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Moshe Gedalia Sajeta

by Yaakov Blank

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie679.jpg
Moshe Gedalia Sajeta

 

This is not a full biography of our late fellow town native, Moshe Gedalia Sajeta. I wish to only note the good deeds of a remarkable man, who was born in our warmly beloved city of Mezritsh, and who died as a Mezritsher in the great world–class city of New York.

Moshe Gedalia Sajeta was born in the year 1877. His father owned a tailor shop. Later, there was also a tavern in that house. The house was always joyous and full of song. Moshe Gedalia loved his mother more than his father. He did not learn too much in cheder, for the rebbe would administer beatings… and at home, his father would administer beatings… So at the age of 12, he became an assistant of a carriage driver.

Sajeta left for London in 1897. His brother and sister were already in London, and he traveled to them. A few years later, Moshe Gedalia left London for America, and got a job as a presser in a shop. He quickly became a member of the tailors' union, and was elected to the executive of the union after a short time. He did not remain at that job for long. He became a shoe salesman, and became acquainted with that business together with another Mezritsher, Charles Stein. They became attached to each other, and became true, lifelong friends. Charles Stein brought Moshe Gedalia into his large, multi–branched family, where Sajeta met Stein's sister Yetta, whom he later married.

In 1920, immediately after the First World War, when many

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Jews in America felt a pull to see the towns from where they came, that pull also affected Moshe Gedalia Sajeta. There was a great danger in traveling to Europe at that time, but Sajeta could not wait any longer. Through his own means, with nobody's help, he set out on a ship and traveled to Mezritsh. He traveled on the same ship as our fellow native Goldstein.

Arriving in Mezritsh, Moshe Gedalia immediately began to gather together the war orphans. He then purchased the known house at Czachowicz, and with some help from the Mezritshers in America, the first Jewish orphanage in Poland was opened in Mezritsh. It must be stated here that the most significant of the initiators in New York was Sajeta's faithful friend Charles Stein. Later, Eliahu Greenblatt became involved in the project.

Looking at the tragic situation in which the Mezritsher Jews found themselves, Sajeta understood that they must do something practical for the city itself. He immediately organized a loan fund from which every Mezritsher could obtain an interest free loan.

Sajeta had a remarkable innate ability to understand situations and reach decisions that [time] would later confirm. Already at that time, when he returned to New York, he declared to his fellow Mezritshers in America that the Polish Jews were sentenced to annihilation, and that one must save as many as possible in a timely fashion. At that time, he already sensed the arrival of Hitlerism – much earlier than the professional politicians.

He came to Mezritsh once again with his wife Yetta in 1925. His chief concern was the orphanage, but at the same time he also renovated the old age home and strengthened the loan fund. He travelled around Poland for about two months, and then returned home. Sajeta did all these things with his own money.

Moshe Gedalia made his third trip, together with his wife, in 1927. He visited all the Mezritsh institutions, stayed in the Mezritsh hotel, and distributed money to all Mezritshers, men and women, who stretched out their hands. Once again, this was all from his own pocket.

Sajeta made his fourth trip to Mezritsh with his wife in 1929. Then, Moshe Gedalia took it upon himself to deal with the most important

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need that was greatly required by our city of Mezritsh. That year, the Sajetas remained in Mezritsh for four months, and built the Mezritsh hospital. The permit to build the hospital was obtained from the Polish authorities with great difficulty. There were also great difficulties in obtaining good doctors and a good surgeon. To our great sorrow, we know today what happened to everything…

The Sajetas made their fifth and final journey to Mezritsh in 1936. The Jews of Mezritsh, as in all other Polish towns, were already living their last bit of time. Moshe Gedalia Sajeta returned to New York broken and sick with sure signs of developing asthma. With the establishment of the State of Israel, Moshe Gedalia Sajeta was willing to live an impoverished life with his wife in a cellar in order to give everything toward the Sate of Israel. Golda Meir, who liked Moshe Gedalia very much, did not allow him to do this.

Sajeta was not tall in stature, but he possessed an innate intelligence. He learned how to read and understand fine literature. The late writers Chaim Greenberg and Daniel Tsharni[1] were his personal friends, and very often consulted his opinion regarding literature.

There was a great similarity between the good deeds of Moshe Gedalia Sajeta and Nachmanke of Zbarazh, whom Y. Y. Peretz accuses in his “At the Head of the Bed of the Dying Person.” Evil tongues accused Sajeta in various matters. The Black Angel also accused Nachmanke for not cutting his nails close enough. Sajeta did not daven mincha[2], and Nachmanke also on occasion forgot to daven mincha… Both, however, never had a single moment left for themselves. Rather, they dedicated their time to the weak and the sick, to widows and orphans, to the darkened, lost, and weary people. Moshe Gedalia Sajeta did not hope to have any contentment from his children, for he did everything for others, as he believed that others took precedence over himself.

At the beginning of October 1948, I returned from a visit to our Mezritshers in Toronto, Canada. I went to see Moshe Gedalia, and gave him a greeting from the Mezritshers in Toronto. However, I found him in a hopeless state in the Montefiore Hospital. He could no longer talk. I believe he did recognize me, as he did not take his eyes off me.

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I talked to him, telling him about the former children of the Mezritsh orphanage who always talk about him with great respect and love.

I do not know if he understood me, but I cannot forget his steady gaze at me, and his holding of my hand in his. Moshe Gedalia Sajeta passed away on October 8, 1948, at the age of 71.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayim_Greenberg and http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Tsharni_Daniel return
  2. i.e he did not recite the afternoon service regularly – a way of saying he was not meticulous in his religious observance. return


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About the Character of Reb Baruch Meir Rozenblum
(Additions and complements)

by M. R. Slodki

Translated by Jerrold Landau

[Reb Baruch Meir Rozenblum] hated ignorance from his early youth. His desire was that every person should know and understand G–d's requirements. Therefore, he founded groups for the study of Torah, and he himself taught them. In the morning, before services, he would teach “The Abridged Code of Jewish Law”[1]. After services, he participated in the Talmud study group. In the afternoon, between Mincha and Maariv, he would teach “Mishna Berurah[2] to those gathered. After Maariv, he would teach Mishnah. He knew the entire Tanach [Bible] by heart and made efforts for others to be able to do so. Everybody gave him honor, as if a rabbi was coming.

He was an enthusiastic person, full of ardor. Everything that he did, he did with his heart, unlike those who learn by rote. For him it was etched in the depths of his soul.

He served as the prayer leader on the High Holy Days. He shed oceans of tears during his prayers. People came from many places to listen to his prayers. When he came to the section of “and therefore, grant honor to Your nation”[3] he reached the highest [spiritual] level. In performing these deeds, his soul was transformed into something not of this world.

For him, love of his fellow Jew was not full of complexities, but rather simple and childlike. When he recited the [festival] prayer “on account of our sins”,[4] he resembled a child who had committed a transgression before his father. He stood before our Father in Heaven with a broken heart and pleaded for mercy for those who had appointed him as their representative, and for the entire Nation of Israel.

His religiosity did not stem from his intellect, but rather from his heart. He served G–d with full integrity. I recall a situation from 1905, the year of the Russian Revolution[5]. A small brochure entitled “The Plague of Religion” appeared on the Jewish street, published by the English anarchists. I was still young, and fell upon it as though it were a marvellous find. I immediately took it to Reb Baruch Meir Rozenblum. We looked through it together, and read it carefully, not superficially. Someone else in

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his place would have immediately thrown it away. He, however, read it with interest, and decided to write a response to its author. I advised him that it was not worthwhile to debate with those who were driving the youth to turn away from the straight path. He, however, decided to [try to] influence the local youth. At his initiative, a meeting of the youth was called in the women's gallery of the large synagogue and a debate was held with the revolutionary leaders of our city. Of course, many people were curious to hear the debate. Reb Baruch Meir stood at the entrance to the doorstep and called out: “For those who believe in G–d, entry is forbidden! For we will be hearing here from youthful upstarts.” And that is what happened. Reb Baruch Meir, with his natural enthusiasm, greatly influenced the youth with his speech. After this, the “Okhrana[6] summoned him in to give an accounting of his suspicious deeds…

Reb Baruch Meir Rozenblum did not satisfy himself merely with prayers and supplications. He understood that true Judaism requires practical deeds. Therefore, he was involved in volunteer work: he concerned himself with the sick, the poor, and especially with downtrodden, unfortunate individuals. Every day before services, he made the rounds to the city's Batei Midrash [the houses of study/worship] to collect donations for anonymous needy people. Because of this, he was given the nickname “Reb Baruch Meir of the outstretched arm.” There were those who asked, “To whom is he giving?” Nobody expressed any concern about his secret giving, which took on the highest form with him.[7] I myself am a living testimony to this: Once, on the eve of Passover, he came to me, called me out to the street, and requested: “You know, your friend has nothing for the festival?” I was prepared to give him [money], but he did not want to take it from me. He said, “I will give you money, so that you can go to him and give him a loan…” Of course, I carried out the plan. That Jew was able to celebrate the festival in an ample fashion, and did not know that this was from Reb Baruch Meir's hand. This was not the only such case.

Reb Baruch Meir was a Jew in all its fullness. He did not know of half–way measures or inner indecisiveness. His Zionism also did not come to him from the outside, but rather from within his soul which yearned for renewal and redemption.

I wish here to relate an interesting story that characterizes the personality of B. M. Rozenblum.

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When the First World War ended, the Poles in our city dealt with the German occupiers, took their weapons, and stripped their clothing on the street, leaving them naked as Adam, as [naked as] the day they were born. The Germans left the city and the Poles grabbed all the offices. Two days later, Polish legionnaires from Lublin arrived and took over the leadership. We believed that the Germans would never return to Mezritsh.

On Friday night, we were surprised by powerful shooting of machine guns and explosions of hand grenades. The Germans had decided to take revenge against the Poles. That night, every Pole who was found on the streets was killed, and all the legionnaires in the Palace of Count Potocki were burnt.

The Jews did not know of the change that had taken place, and were afraid to appear on the street. On the Sabbath morning, Reb Baruch Meir gathered the neighbors close to his house and prepared to conduct services. Suddenly, a loud knock on the door was heard, and someone's terrified voice was heard, begging in Polish, “Save me, the Germans have attacked the city!”

The neighbors, the worshippers, hesitated to open the door. Reb Baruch Meir, however, clarified to them that one may violate the Sabbath to save a person's life, and he opened the door. Standing before him, he saw the [Polish] gentile who used to sweep the streets. He brought the gentile into the house. The gentile explained that the Germans were pursuing him, and they might break into the house at any moment to snatch him. Reb Baruch Meir immediately found a solution: he dressed the gentile in a tallis. At that very moment, a German soldier entered the home and asked if any Pole had entered the house. Reb Baruch Meir showed him that the only people present were Jews who were in the middle of their prayers. Furthermore, he asked the German to help him bring a Torah scroll from the nearby Beis Midrash. The German responded affirmatively. After bringing the Torah scroll, the German showed everyone a white ribbon on his arm, a sign indicating that he was a Jew. He [the German] permitted them to go home after services.

After services, Reb Baruch Meir dressed the gentile in a long kapote [a long coat typical of Jews of Eastern Europe], a Jewish hat, and a white ribbon on his arm. Thus, the gentile was able to go home in peace. Reb Baruch Meir was happy that he was able to save a living soul.

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. This tome of Jewish Law is known as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, from early 20th Century Poland. For more information, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shlomo_Ganzfried#Kitzur_Shulchan_Aruch return
  2. This tome of Jewish Law (Halacha) is known as the Mishnah Berurah, written in the mid 19th Century in what was the Kingdom of Hungary. For more information, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishnah_Berurah return
  3. In Hebrew, “Uvchen ten kavod le–amecha”. From the High Holy Day liturgy. return
  4. In Hebrew, “Umipnei chataeinu galinu me'artzeinu”. From the Festival liturgy. return
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1905_Russian_Revolution return
  6. The Okhrana was the secret police of the Russian Empire. For more information, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okhrana return
  7. Maimonides created a list, “Levels of Charity” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity 10:7–14), in which types of charitable giving are ranked according to righteousness. Giving anonymously is a higher level of charity than giving publicly. For more information on the Rambam's Levels of Charity, please see https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/45907/jewish/Eight–Levels–of–Charity.htm return


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Lajzer Kloc

by Litman Geltman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On a grey, autumn dawn, he passed away, and within a few hours, he was brought to burial…

It was a quiet funeral of a single man. There were no loud sighs, not one tear. Only the heavens dripped rain. A wind thundered mournfully over the rooftops. A few friends wanted to say something over the open grave, but the words were stuck in their throats…

What words can there be are there for such deep pain!

Mutely and silently, people left, taking along with them the searing grief into their own rooms.

– Lajzer Kloc was a friend – he got sick and died!…

He was short and thin with long, yellow, pale face, and black, fervent eyes, which at times were flecked with strong humor and sarcasm, and at times reflected deep agony. He studied in the Beis Midrash until he was 15, and was known as a genius. Later, he demonstrated the same qualities in studying languages and secular studies. He began to write in 1913, at first Hassidic stories, and later poems. He was already a goldsmith at that time. During the day, he formed and polished the hard, metallic gold in the workshop; and at night, in the same workshop, he burnished the bloodied gold of his own heart. Every poem contained fresh agony, and every word deep feeling. He suffered for everybody, and nobody [suffered] for him. He saw everything and everybody, and was noticed by nobody.

“The Life of Some Person,” a personal diary, is the title of his book of poems. Nothing characterizes the artist more than the title, “The Life of Some Person,” that brings his days to an open grave. Every day, he set himself [to write as if he were] in a dark grave, and returned from the cemetery with a hollow heart. “Today I have brought something large to the grave, and I sighed quietly. I left it in the grave, and am now sad to the point of craziness,” he writes in one of his poems, and asks his heart for the reason he is sad. “Do you have enough, will you still bury more…” Lajzer Kloc convulses with agony and does not weep. There are no tears with him in his writing. Everything is silent pain. He is not surprised, and he states regarding life: “If my knee presses against my heart every hour, and if

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every day a fresh shovel of earth falls upon my head, with what more can you surprise me!…”

He once went to the trees in the field with his silent agony, and talked to the grass, to the wind. When he felt the loneliness of the withering trees in the autumn, he became so helpless and said in despair: “Seek protection with me, near someone for whom the spring has never blossomed, near someone for whom the spring has not even left the tree trunk – near he who waits like your leaves at the foot, scattered by every tiny gust of wind – but wait! My heart absorbs like a mushroom the great sadness, and above all is not satisfied – so, look here, my heart will also absorb your sadness!…” And also: “My heart is big enough; my heart can bear generations of nights!…”

*

To this day, Kloc remains an original among the poets. He was unique in his style and form. His expressions were new and fresh. He was the first to depart from the old forms. Since then, no youth has dared tamper with poems without rhymes: “Rhymes, these are the golden link from the hands of a poet, and a link always remains a link, whether of gold or of iron” – he used to say.

He was very careful with every expression. He would often spend many days with a poem. He privately thought through everything deeply and at great length before he would start to write. He felt and believed in his talent: “A poet who does not believe in his own creations is exactly like someone who brings his own children to the burning altar of Moloch.” – he would say.

He did not pursue any honors. He did not seek to be published, like all the young ones. His friends would push him to do so, and he would respond with a smile: “Have no fear, no true talent is ever lost, and therefore it is not necessary to swim through the press [and be published]. True talent propels itself through mountains and cliffs, and must come to expression.”

*

Painful is the fate of orphans who remain in a stranger's hands. And painful is the fate of poetic song that remains behind after death.

If someone dies as a poor person, as long as the grave is open and the wound

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remains fresh, there are still good, merciful people who have pity on the orphans. Neighbors seek out a place of rest for them, relatives seek out a purpose. People do this for the deceased, who cannot find peace in the grave because of this [the fate of their surviving children]; and also for the surviving, unfortunate orphans, whose hearts are choked with their helpless tears and pitiful appearance.

Who will, however, concern himself with the orphans of a poet, which take the form of living, resonating poems? To whom will it occur that on account of such orphans the deceased will not have rest in the grave? Such orphans too demand a purpose, a rectification. They too have a living language that expects and demands [to be cared for, to be heard].


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Sh. Frajlach Litman

by Yaakov Bataszanski of Buenos Aires

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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Sh. Frajlach (Litman Geltman)

 

In Argentina, Sh. Frajlach was the most popular Yiddish feuilletonist[1] and a beloved Yiddish children's writer – one of the best and most recognized Yiddish children's writers in general. We worked together for over twenty years on the same editorial board. In his final years, Frajlach was one of my closest friends, and possibly more than that, in that since we were not different in character we became as one. Together we wrote theatrical reviews. Together we wrote the text of the third act of “Moshe Hess” Center[2]. Together we conducted a battle for national Jewry, and for Zionism. Together we went against the stream. Frajlach's death affected me more than any of the other local Yiddish writers. I remained alone on the battlefield…

About a month before his death, we were both sitting in the Kioto Café on Reg Castelli and Corrientes. We were planning a cooperative effort to extricate ourselves from a difficult situation. We agonized together. I told him, this, and he answered me:

“I do not know which of us is suffering more pain!”

At that moment, it was clear that he was a person who suffered from constant physical pain, and therefore was constantly embittered with melancholy. I thought: like most humorists, he himself is personally melancholy and ill, and he writes humor to drive away his own pain and sadness. In order to assuage the gloominess that his statement evoked, I made a joke and said:

“What sort of a “Cayaf[3] are you?! You do not even allow others to have pain, you must always be first…”

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He wanted to laugh but could not. Two days after that conversation, someone told me that he was taken to the hospital, and that he would have to undergo an operation shortly. After the operation, the surgeon, Dr. A. Kaplan, told me.

“He suffered from intestinal gangrene. He was left with just as much intestine as is necessary for life. If the illness spreads, he will die.”

I understood that this was fatal. This type of illness could not usually be controlled, but spread like fire and like water…

Death did come. It was a winter night, at 5:30 a.m. In half an hour I would have to get up, and I was enjoying the last bit of my brief slumber. The telephone rang, and my wife immediately said:

“I am afraid that this will be bad news about Frajlach.”

She was unfortunately correct. An unknown voice told me laconically, “Frajlach… No more…”

Half an hour later, in great agony, I set out for the hospital. It seemed to me as if the entire hospital, in its own darkness, was nestled in the terror of death.

I felt the grief that one feels when someone [beloved] is taken away from life; there was a spiritual grief as well as physical, exactly as if one cut the heart with a dull knife…

I went around for a long time as if orphaned. We had spent a meager 20 years as humorist columnists of “La Prensa” – “Amcha”[4]. I now had to produce the page myself, and I cried the first time I had to sit down and put “Amcha” together [on my own]. I had to make others happy, while I myself was crying. And when I had to produce the text for the third installment, about ¾ of a year later, I cried again.

And after that… Oh, I do not need to tell everything. Life brought us a great deal of sorrow, and for him (yes, him too!) even when he was no longer among the living. The heart is torn with thoughts even until today.

… At birth, he was called Litman Geltman. It is not hard to realize that he did not stem from wealthy folk. Very often, those who are named Reicher or Reichman stem from paupers[5]. Many Kleiners are tall, and many Hoichmans are short. Not everyone

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named “Geltman” has money. He threw away the name Geltman, changing it to Frajlach. It was not because he was a jovial person, but rather became it made him happy to be connected to happiness. He did not want to change his first name: Litman – as a sign: when he wrote children's works, he signed as Litman.

Why is it Sh. Frajlach, and not L. Frajlach?

He would respond that, indeed, he first signed with the “L.”, but in his handwriting, the “lamed” [which is the starting letter of Litman] was similar to [the letter] “shin,” [with which Sh. begins]. He signed Sh. Frajlach, and thus it remained. Nobody realized that this is a pseudonym. With time, he added the name Litman. He became two personas, he signed his feuilletons and humor articles as Sh. Frajlach, and his children's works as Litman.

Sh. Frajlach was a lucky person regarding readership. His feuilletons and humor articles were read individually, in groups, and even publicly. He was the only Yiddish writer in Argentina whose plays were hits, and ran for weeks. His plays “Once There Was a Shtetl,” “The Rambam,” and “The Baal Shem” were the most successful. However, his fame as a children's writer overtook his success as a writer for adults, and Litman became known throughout the world. Litman's articles from the children's corner in the “La Prensa” were republished in any publication that included a Yiddish children's corner. When his first children's book, “From All Good Seven Things” was published, we saw in actuality how Frajlach–Litman's own creativity developed. First, he published his items in the children's corner in “La Prensa” and then they appeared in books: “A Bright World,” “Uncle Simcha's Jokes,” and “Stories.”

At that time, I said and wrote: Litman's children's works were not written from [the viewpoint of] a single person, but rather from [that of] nature and from life itself. It was as if they literally sprung up from the ground, and from the trees.

One of the primary motives of Litman's children's works was forging a connection with the old country, and with the grandparents who remained there. [In Frajlach's view], children should be driven not only by curiosity to know their grandparents, but also organically [to know them as full complex human beings]. Our children here for the most part do not know what it means to have a grandparent. Litman united our children

[Page 692]

with their parents' parents. So many sacks were filled with letters to grandparents. This is a thoroughly American motif. It seems that it is also Jewish, and indeed also universal. A significant portion of children in America have never seen their own grandparents… In his “Cradle Song,” Sholom Aleichim had a mother singing to a child about his father whom he did not know, because he was in America. The child [eventually] did come to the father, but he left his grandparents behind forever.

Litman, the children's storyteller, has not yet been appreciated appropriately. He wrote with such a mixture of fantasy and humor, which was certainly a joy for children. In the tale “When I Will Be Healthy,” which is in the book “Uncle Simcha's Jokes” a sick child states that a doctor had visited him and told his mother that he would soon be healthy, and they can now throw away the prescriptions. Uncle Simcha threw away all the prescriptions, and said with a melody:

“For the drink
Which was sour
One must, to the phamacist,
Throw an egg.
For the powders
That were bitter
One must, to the doctor,
Whip, like a knight.[6]
And regarding the cupping glasses
Which you do not need
You must, to Uncle Simcha
Tell the story.”

“Then Uncle Simcha told me that the sun in very uncomfortable today. It comes out for a moment, casts a glance at the street and disappears. It shines, and then hides. This is why I am sick and have no one to play with.”

We should collect all of Litman's children's works along with a monograph about the author. Unfortunately, to this day, this has not been done.

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. feuilletonist – refers to an author or illustrator whose contributions are placed in a supplement to a larger publication. For more information, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuilleton return
  2. “Moshe Hess” Center – It is not clear why “Moshe Hess” is in quotation marks, while “Center” is not – the quotation marks in the translation are as they appear in the original. One possibility is that there was a typographical error in the original and the quotation marks should surround all three words. Another possibility is that the word “Center” is altogether superfluous. In any event, we have kept the original. return
  3. Cayaf” – This is not, as far as we know, a Yiddish word. It is not a Mexican Spanish word either. It may be a reference particular to Argentina in that time. return
  4. La Prensa” is a daily newspaper in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Amcha” appears to be the name of the author's humor column/feuilleton. The word “Amcha” in Hebrew literally means “your people, and here can be understood to mean something like “the masses”. return
  5. Geltman means ‘money man’. Reichman means ‘rich man. ’ Reicher means ‘rich one’. In the next sentence, Kleiner means ‘short one’, and ‘Hoichman’ means ‘tall man’. Frajlach (or Freilach), means ‘joyous’. return
  6. Seemingly a reference to knights on horseback, who would whip their horses. Note: In Yiddish this poem rhymes and sounds much sweeter than in translation. return


[Page 693]

Yoel Mastbaum

by D. T.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie693.jpg
Yoel Mastbaum

 

He was born in Mezritsh in 1884, and died in Tel Aviv in 1958. His father Yitzchak was a representative of a glass factory and a brick kiln. His mother, Ita Glezer, came from Siedlce.

Like all children from that time, he received a traditional education. As a child, he moved to Siedlce with his parents.

He began his political activity at the age of 15, when he collaborated with his brother in the Jewish section of the Socialist Workers Party P.P.S. This was one year before the Russian revolution of 1905.

From Siedlce, he moved to Warsaw, where he began his literary career. He wrote “Yerachmielke the Shamash” in “Der Veg,” which was published in Warsaw and was edited by Tzvi Prilucki. Hillel Zeitlin[1], David Friszman[2], and Y. L. Peretz[3] noticed his literary talent and drew him near.

At that time, he also began his work in “Reshafim,” “Haboker,” and “Hayom,” and later in “Heint,” “Moment,” and other publications. He joined “Di Yunge” (the Young One), to which Moshe Stawski, Menachem Boriszo, Y. M. Weisenberg, and others also belonged. They all gathered around Hillel Zeitlin.

In 1912, Mastbaum published his book “Sketches and Portraits,” and the dramatic poem “Without a Melody,” in which the influence of Wyspiański's “Wedding”[4] and Y. L. Peretz' “At Night in the Old Market” are noticeable.

Between 1919 and 1922, he was in London, where he worked with “Di Zeit,” edited by Morris Meyer. There, he was also active in Poalei Zion. He returned to Poland, where he published a series of his works: “Nachumke's Wanderings,” “Three Generations,” “Perele's Dream,”

[Page 694]

and others. He also participated in the Yiddish press: “Heint,” “Moment,” “Hatzefira,” “Hayom,” “Nasz Przeglond,” “Cwyla,” and “Nowy Dziennik.” Mastbaum published his “Salamandera” and other stories in “Shriftn.”

He made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1933, and settled in Tel Aviv. There, he wrote for [the newspaper] “Davar” and published a series of books, under the imprints “Dvir” and “Mosad Bialik.”

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Hillel Zeitlin – For more information, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_Zeitlin return
  2. David Frishman – For more information, please see http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Frishman_David return
  3. Y.L. Peretz – For more information, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I._L._Peretz return
  4. Stanislaw_Wyspiański – For more information, please see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanis%C5%82aw_Wyspia%C5%84ski return


 

Avraham Rejnwejn
(known in Canada as Abraham Rhinewine
[1])

Translated by Jerrold Landau

He was born in Mezritsh in 1887, and died in Toronto, Canada in 1932. He studied in the Slobodka Yeshiva during his youth, where he excelled in his studies with great sharpness and expertise. After leaving the Yeshiva, he became involved in the Zionist Workers Party (S.S.) movement[2]. On account of this, he had to move to London, where he worked for a time at physical labor while simultaneously studying. He moved to Canada from London. He again immersed himself in his studies, and later became involved in the Yiddish Journal. He eventually became its chief editor. He also set up the Poalei Zion Party, which delegated him to the Zionist Congress in Basel in 1927. That year, he also visited his old home – Mezritsh.

Aside from his daily journalistic work, he also published several large works, such as “The Land of Israel in the Old and New Jewish Literature,” “The History of Jews in Canada,” “The History of Canada,” etc.

In the last year before his death, he edited the “Kanader Trybuna” weekly publication. He was also involved with the Keren HaYesod campaign in Canada.

(“Mezritsher Trybuna,” June 17, 1932)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Rhinewine return
  2. For more information on the Zionist Socialist Workers Party, known as the S.S.(not to be confused with the Nazi usage of the initials). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zionist_Socialist_Workers_Party return


[Page 695]

Lejb Lew

by Fajwel Fiterman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie695.jpg
Lejb Lew

 

Like his father, Reb Meir the rabbi, Lejb Lew's mother also came from a finely pedigreed family. We know about his maternal grandfather, Reb Yaakov Shapira from Lew's own brief introduction to his grandfather's historical notes “The Mezritsh Blood Libel”[1].

Lew writes, “My grandfather, my mother's father of blessed memory, was one of the great local scholars. He published many books. He was also well educated [secularly] and very accomplished.”

Like the entire family, Lew received a strictly religious education. He studied in Beis Midrash during his youth. I did not hear a great deal about his formal education. What I do know is that in his time he received the rights of a rabbi[2].

 

Lejb Lew as a Writer

Lew did not participate in the single edition literary publication “Blihung,” published in Mezritsh in 1913 by a group of Mezritsh youth who were aspiring to become writers. This indicates that [at that point] nobody yet knew about Lew as a writer. Lew became known as a writer a bit later. He began to write in the “Canadian Jewish Journal” in which his childhood friend and family friend Abraham (Akiva) Rhinewine participated and later became an editor. His first contributions were love songs in

[Page 696]

prose, dedicated to Dvora, his fiancée. Immediately thereafter, Lew became known for his sketches and stories, both short and long. He also was published in the “Kanader Adler,” “Der Freund,” the Warsaw “Express,” “Velt–Spigel,” “Mezeritsher Wachenblatt,” and others.

Lew also wrote in Hebrew. Some of his Yiddish works were translated into Hebrew. He was published in “Hakochav,” “Hakochav LaTzeirim,”, “Baderech,” and others.

Lew completed his greatest literary work, the novel “Der Boltik”, during the 1930s. If I recall correctly, Lew also published several chapters of that novel in the “Yiddisher Journal” or the “Kanader Adler.”

It is interesting that it was specifically he, the son of a pious, learned family, who was seldom inspired by the surroundings of his former environment – Jewish clergy or ordinary Beis Midrash Jews (his story “The Shofar Blasts” is an exception). Lew dealt more with characters among the simple masses, such as Tzv'sh the shoemaker's apprentice in his story “Beyem Brunem” (published in “Velt–Spigel”), the coarse wagon drivers in his novel “Der Boltik”, or other peripheral characters vastly different from his own experience.

Lew is mentioned in Zalman Reisen's “Lexicon of the New Yiddish Literature.” The fact that Reisen did not ignore him is an indicator that Lew's entry into Yiddish literature did not go unnoticed.

 

The Exception

Immediately after the First World War, we again find Lew as a member of the recently formed Young Zion [Tzeirei Tzion] party in Mezritsh. The Hebrew Folks School, or, as it was later called, the Tarbut School, was set up at that time in our city. Leib Lew was one of its first teachers. The students loved their teacher Lew very much, and had exceptional respect for him.

He was a rare personality, with a splendid visage. Already at that time, Lew demonstrated his remarkableness and his respect for every person.

As I later got to know him well, Lew himself never acted in a haughty fashion, and never tried to present himself as greater than another. One could see this in his interactions with people, in the way he strove to understand each person. Lew's ideal manners would have seemed exaggerated in another person, but regarding Lew, it seemed natural.

[Page 697]

Lew was known in the city as the Tarbut School teacher who loved Yiddish. In truth, Lew did indeed love Yiddish. He was delighted with the growth of Yiddish literature. Lew, however, was not a Yiddishist[3], or at least not in the way that one understood it at that time.

Lew never participated in the kulturkampf that was taking place regarding the question of Yiddish vs. Hebrew, which led to nothing less than blood. Lew was by nature not a zealot. He did not bear zeal for either Hebrew or for Yiddish. Above all, Lew detested fanaticism from any quarters – even from his own side.

And Regarding a Zionist:

During the years 1929–30, Lew, a Zionist in his heart and soul, was responsible for the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] in Mezritsh. Lew, however, avoided becoming involved in the battles between the Zionist factions that often led to personal accusations and invective in town.

In 1928, when the Zionists could no longer get along with the Folkists, and therefore left their partnership in the “Mezritsher Wachenblatt” and formed their own newspaper called “Mezritsher Trybuna,” Lew no longer participated in the “Mezritsher Wachenblatt,” but he also did not participate in the “Mezritsh Trybuna.” Lew hated controversy, even for the sake of Heaven[4]. Lew was therefore indeed an exception. Lew was also noted for his punctuality. The general attitude toward Jewish punctuality is well known. Punctuality was one of the foundations of Lew's character. When we refer to punctuality, we are also referring to orderliness and accuracy, as with an educator and teacher, as well as with regard to general interpersonal relationships. This was one of his fine traits.

 

In Lew's Home

I often visited Lew during the last few years before my aliya to the Land of Israel. I was not the only one – other came as well. One of them was Leibel Glozsnajder – Lew's best and closest friend – an extremely idealistic and interesting young man, one of the distinguished members of Hitachdut [Zionist Labor Party] in his time, and one of the first teachers of the Tarbut School in our city. He later worked in the central office of the Keren Kayemet in Warsaw. He would come to Mezritsh on occasion for the Sabbath. On such Sabbath afternoons, one would find him at Lew's home. We would all sit around the table: Lew and his cordial wife

[Page 698]

next to him. (Their beloved, bright son, Yankele was six or seven years old at the time, same as my son.) Leibel Glozsnajder and other guests would sit around them. Lew loved to read out loud. He would hold a “Literary Pages” [event] every week, at which he would often read poems that he especially enjoyed. Above all, Lew had a wonderful reverence for a good, authentic poem. At that time, Baruch Olecki took part in the “Literary Pages” with his wonderful, powerful pastoral poems. This was in 1929 or 1930. At that time, Baruch Olecki was a teacher in Mezritsh, along with his elder brother, the poet and raconteur Leib Olecki. At that time, or a bit later, Zalman Shneur published in “Moment” (in the Sabbath newspaper) “Noach Pandera”, his extensive work about the Jews of Shklov; as well as his novel “The Rabbi and the Czar,” etc. Lew was greatly impressed with that work, and would read it with exceptional pleasure. At times, others would read. When Lew wrote a story or completed a new chapter of his novel “Der Boltik,” he would read it to us. At times, to draw me near [closer to his inner circle], he would call me over and virtually force me to read something from my first [literary] attempts…

Despite the great difference in age (I was then 18 or 19 years old), I nevertheless felt very good among the older, more experienced group. Lew was very close to me. Of course, my respect for Lew was like that of a student to his teacher.

 

One Must also Learn Yiddish

During those years, a great deal was done to Yiddishize the German component[ of the Yiddish language], which stems from – as we know – Old High German from seven or eight hundred years ago, if not longer. Lew was very interested in the accomplishments of the Yiddish scholars. Lew himself was involved with Yiddish linguistics. He corresponded with the well–known Yiddish scholars of that time: Max Weinreich[5], Noach Prylucki[6], and others. Lew contributed no small amount to their work, for which they expressed their gratitude and strong love. I must not neglect to state that everything that he undertook was appropriate and acknowledged, and many of his linguistic undertakings belong today to the former and currently accepted principles of modern Yiddish.

[Page 699]

In the “Mezritsher Wachenblatt” where he was a contributing editor, and in the rules of Yiddish – he was the final decisor. Lew, like many thinkers, at time published congratulations on the wedding of a young couple. Instead of a happy future [tzukumft], he wished a happy “tzukum[7]. Mezritsher readers would smile… If a person wrote “arbetsloiz” instead of “arbetsloz” [unemployed] – it would have been laughable. But if Lew wrote it that way – Mezritshers would say that he must certainly know. Others held by the opinion that Yiddish could be written as one pleased, that rules of language did not apply to Yiddish. Lew wanted to put an end to that accepted opinion. He, the teacher and educator – in the house, on the street, and everywhere – would make efforts to speak as he wrote. Through this, many people learned that Yiddish could not be self–taught, that Yiddish must also be studied. Here we are not talking about spelling in accordance with YIVO. Mezritsher Jews could not distinguish at the time of reading, and it was probably even more difficult at the time of writing – between an aleph and a heh. Lew's manner of speaking stressed the difference [between the two relatively silent letters]. This is only one example of many (he followed this theory, too, in his lectures in Hebrew). All of Mezritsh, even Jews from the street, learnt from Lew the teacher and educator – and not only his students.

 

His Final Journey

Regarding the murder of Leib Lew, a story which reminds us of Janusz Korczak, was told to me by Berl Manperl of blessed memory. It took place when the Nazis locked several thousand Jews in the synagogue, holding them for three days and nights under conditions of terrible crowding, without food or drink, until they were sent to Treblinka and Majdanek. Lew was among those locked in the synagogue. The Judenrat made every effort to free him, and they succeeded in obtaining a permit for him. From the outside, they called out and informed Lew that he was free, and that he could leave. A messenger from the Judenrat was let in. He stood before him and begged him to leave the synagogue. All the pleading was to no avail. “I do not want to go,” Lew said, “I do not want to leave everyone and save myself alone.”

When they later led the Jews from the synagogue to the train along the Bridge Road, they saw him: his face with the round beard – flaming red; his figure not bent, standing tall, one pant leg torn…

He marched forward.

[Page 700]

He was the first in the front row of the long train – taller than everyone!

Thus, together with the entire community, did the teacher and educator make his final journey.

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the original text as follows: “Rabbi Yaakov Shapira sent those historical notes to Dubnow in 1893. There were published in the Russian–Yiddish journal “Yevreyaskaya Starina.” Lew translated them into Yiddish and published them in installments in “Mezritsher Wachenblatt” in 1927. P.P. “ return
  2. “the rights of a rabbi” – This is a literal translation of the Yiddish, but difficult to understand. The implication seems to be that he was ordained as a rabbi, but did not use this training professionally. return
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yiddishist_movement return
  4. “for the sake of Heaven” – An argument for the sake of heaven is a term from Pirke Avot referring to controversy for the sake of ultimate good. return
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Weinreich return
  6. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noach_Pry%C5%82ucki return
  7. Evidently one of Lew's linguistic emendations. return


Avraham Gelman

by Yaakov Bojgenman of Jerusalem

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie700.jpg
Avraham Gelman

 

Avraham Gelman received his education in cheders and Yeshivas, as did most of the Jewish youth during those years. Even during his younger years, he excelled among the students in his sharpness and expertise. Among the lads in the Beis Midrash, with whom he studied, he was known by the name “Avrahamele the Scholar and Modest Person.” He had already attained rabbinic ordination at the age of 16.

He was a teacher in the Talmud Torah in Mezritsh, and he also gave private lessons. He was very dedicated to his students. He never answered them with anger, and when certain students vexed him extensively, it cost him his health. He was a man of average height with a Vandyke beard. He had a weak appearance. He wore glasses over his nose, held by a chain, as was the style of the intelligentsia of that time.

He was always seen on the street holding a cane with a silver handle. He walked at a leisurely pace, always with his head lowered.

In Mezritsh, he was one of the first who demonstrated his talents as a writer. In the one–time “Blihung” publication,

[Page 701]

published in Mezritsh in 1913, he included poems, and took the most prominent position. After that, Avraham Gelman contributed humorous articles to the newspapers “Heint” and “Moment,” for which he received royalties. His jokes later appeared in the calendars, which became the inheritance of the public, like a folksy creation.

With his sense of focus, and all his worries expressed on his face, it might not occur to anybody that there was so much popularity and ebullient humor within him. He did not earn his reputation, however, through his jokes, but rather through his serious compositions. Avraham was one of the contributors to the “Mezritsher Wachenblatt,” which began publication in 1926. There, he published his stories of “Old Mezritsh.” His works also appeared in other provincial publications. At that time, he also was published in the “Yiddish Journal,” “Kanader Adler,” and other newspapers. When the “Mezritsher Trybuna” began publication, he published his poems and stories there. Gelman also wrote in Hebrew, and was published in “Hatzefira,” “Haolam,” “Hakochav,” “Baderech,” and others. He also wrote poems and stories for children. Some of them were published in “Kochav Katan Latzeirim.”

Avraham Gelman also translated from Russian into Yiddish and Hebrew. He maintained a correspondence with the writer and literary critic Aharon Bekerman, who was his cousin and lived in Paris. They wrote to each other about literature and writers. A. Gelman translated many of Bekerman's works into Yiddish – among others, Bekerman's great treatise on the Russian writer Dostoyevsky.

A. Gelman died in Brisk in the year 1937.


[Page 702]

Berl

by Leahka (Cukierman) of Tel Aviv[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie702.jpg
Berl Manperl

 

He was a man who could never die, who remains alive not only in the hearts of his close family, but also in the memory of friends and all who knew him and lived in his neighborhood. His face always glowed with a loving smile for everybody, with faith in tomorrow. Along with it, he never forgot yesterday, and never allowed it to be forgotten. At every opportunity, he mentioned and relived the tragedies, to the point of reopening the wounds.

His white hair became even whiter as he mentioned what the Jewish people, he among them, had endured. He was filled with hatred toward the German murderers until the end of his life.

I recall the year 1945, when I returned from the camps. Berl's name was upon the lips of every Jew from our city Mezritsh, and also of Jews who had traveled to Mezritsh from the area.

Berl concerned himself with the people returning from the camps, bunkers, etc., ensuring that they had work and a dwelling. Anyone with a heavy heart (and who did not have any pain in their heart?) would come to Berl.

I met Berl at the Jewish Committee where he worked without pay. When I proposed that he be given a stipend, he gave it over to the returning concentration camp survivors. He claimed, “Why do I need money? I have what to eat at the Committee, and a nail on the wall upon which to hang my clothes. This is enough for me. The coffers are empty, from where will we get the funds for those returning from the camps?”

His only comfort was his child, one of his three children. The other two were killed along with his wife.

The post–war period was a completely different chapter. The people who remained alive began to rebuild. It was

[Page 703]

a struggle, a chase after money, but not for Berl. He had one aim: to send as many people as possible to Israel, and also to go there together with his child.

This was not particularly easy to accomplish. The U.B.[2] worked efficiently in Poland with the help of the Yevsektsiya[3], and Berl was more than once in danger of being sent to prison. People warned him (his own friends, who worked with him at the Committee, the Communists), that he would be sent to the white bears[4]….

I recall that he told me about the following episode: In the Praga[5] section of Warsaw, there was an abandoned house that was greatly damaged by bombs, on the verge of collapse. People were afraid of living there. People were warned to not enter that house, but the housing shortage in Warsaw after the war was very acute. Those who returned from the camps, desperate and sick, did not heed the warning, and settled there. One night, the house collapsed, and many people were killed. This was an indescribable tragedy. A commission of military officers, Russian polkovniks [colonels], majors, and others arrived in connection with the tragedy. A meeting of the Committee was called. Berl was a representative of Poalei Zion. Later, when the Russians conducted an investigation, one of them asked, “Why do you keep Jews here? Why do you not send them away?” Then something took place which Berl would never forget. When the representative of the Communists attempted to answer that they wanted to send the Jews to Silesia, the Russian major stated, “Palestine!” Berl was full of joy, and the Communist was left speechless. After that, Berl accelerated his work. There are many people in Israel who have Berl to thank for their existence there.

He himself could not leave. He was needed locally. It was at that time that I met Berl. I myself had returned from Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruk, and Berlin. I had endured the death march. I returned sick and broken, having lost my entire family – parents, brothers, child, and husband. I was depressed, with great pain in my heart, and with a question on my lips: Should I remain alive? Why? I found the answer with Berl. When I got to know him better, I understood that it was worthwhile to remain alive for that man; our fates were bound together, as we were bound with the past – the tribulations, the pain, the hometown. Because we understood it, we would never ask one another:

[Page 704]

“Why are you sad? Why are you crying? Why are our holidays spoiled? Why can our happy occasions not be full? Why can we not celebrate joyous events, such as a ten or twenty–year wedding anniversary?” For between us stand our martyrs, and neither of us wants to drive them away. We live with them, and they with us.

The path to Israel was not simple. It was not undertaken as one undertakes a pleasure trip today. Berl received a certificate[6] in his name only. With sadness he had to refuse to accept it, because he did not want to leave me alone in Warsaw. We thought of a way to leave Poland more quickly, however. We would go to France for the time being. Berl would travel to Israel, and I would find an illegal way to go. We parted in Paris, but not for long. I went to Marseilles and looked for an opportunity to board a ship. My uncle Yaakov Wysznia helped me (he had accompanied me to Marseilles). He struck up a conversation with the captain of a ship, and asked for permission to go aboard to take a closer look at it. The captain could not permit this, and they began to argue. They exchanged strong words. I took the opportunity [provided by this distraction] to board the ship and hide in a cabin until we had traveled a significant distance from the shore.

When I met my uncle many years later, it became clear that he had deliberately “argued” with the captain, so that I could board the ship.

 

Berl in the Ghetto

Berl's eyes and ears were open to everyone who came to him with a request. He was a member of the underground organization and was in touch with the central headquarters in Warsaw. He looked for those who were very ill and hungry. He comforted them with a good word and helped them with the small amounts of assistance that were at his disposal. He did not sit with idle hands waiting for death, even though he knew that death was inevitable. The strong will to live – or as he called it, to witness the defeat of the enemy – helped him endure the Bialer camp[7]. He experienced the tragic death of his young son Simchale, who was an exceptionally intelligent child. Though he himself endured a difficult case of typhus, he was able to save one of his children. He endured the final liquidation (the fifth aktion) under terrible conditions. With a broken heart, he heard how the Jews were rounded up at the gathering place, from where

[Page 705]

they were deported, singing the song “Where Shall I Go?” With his last strength, he snuck out at night through the deathly silent alleyways, via Lanke and Zelazna, into a hiding place at the home of a Christian, where he began another period of suffering.

Berl spent 16 months under a brick wall, without light and almost without air, in winter next to a wall of ice which froze his clothing while he slept; in terror of every loud word, for every shout of the wild beasts on the street affected the mood of those who hid him (of course for a large payment). His young child Avivale gave him the energy to hide. The cries of his child as she begged for bread echoed throughout Berl's entire life. He would sneak out at night when it seemed to him that the child was shouting: “chleb!” [bread].

After 16 months, when the Russians took the city and while the bombs were still falling, Berl and his child left that bunker, sick, broken, with a cane, bent over, literally on all fours. He looked around and immediately realized where he must go: He did not want to begin anew in Poland. He had built enough for the gentiles. He got in touch with his friends, and set out for Warsaw.

 

Berl Engaged in Social Work

It is remarkable how nobody ever spoke against the man, and nobody ever spoke against his activity on behalf of the [Poalei Zion] party or Israel. Berl gave all his free time to his social work, at times neglecting his work in the factory. On more than one occasion, when the coffers were empty, Berl gave of his own money for the party, for the party represented the Land of Israel, and this for him was the first priority.

When a drama club was created in Mezritsh, he was one of the first to participate. Berl performed in various plays, together with Marewsky in the “Dybbuk” and others. The performances were very successful not only in Mezritsh, but also in the surrounding towns such as Biala, Siedlce, Radzyn, and others.

When a guest would come from Israel, whether it was Leib Yaffa of blessed memory, D.B Malkin of blessed memory, or Eng. E. Reis, it was a festival for him. He and his friend Sapoznikow went to work, organizing gatherings and providing the guests with all their needs.

Berl had a way of speaking that enabled listeners to hear him, and could generate interest with

[Page 706]

his speaking, holding people in suspense. Every one of his words was weighed and measured, with a joke, with an example, with a successful comparison. Until his final day, he did not lose his sense of humor. Shortly before his death, he told me a joke, which I wish to repeat here.

It was difficult for him to eat, as he could not digest anything, and manna[8] was especially loathsome to him. I tried to convince him, however, that it was rice. He told me a joke: Once there was a Jew who converted from Judaism; a priest caught him eating meat on Friday (gentiles are forbidden from eating meat on Friday[9]). The priest asked the Jew: What are you doing? It is Friday, and you are eating meat? The apostate responded: I converted the meat, I turned it into fish, just like you turned me into a gentile… And then Berl added, “My wife converted the manna, she turned it into rice.”

 

Berl Saved the Child

After the first aktion, when the men were allowed to return home from the factory so that their families could escape, Berl found his 10–month–old child Aviva with the superintendent. He then used all his energy to save his child. When everyone left the ghetto to hide, he remained sitting by the cradle of his child the entire night, for one could not enter a hiding place with children. Realizing that he would be killed together with his child, he sat and waited for the murderers. Fate had it, however, that the murderers did not come that night.

He hid the child in various ways, whether it was in the factory under a barrel of pig hair, or whether bundled in a pack of bedding, until he found a place with a Christian to give over the child. He also succeeded in hiding himself with the same Christian, as I have mentioned previously.

Berl never forgot all the things he and others had endured, and he did not let others forget. He mentioned them at every opportunity, and thereby relived everything anew. His face would become white as lime, and his heart would pound from terror and pain, as it had in those times. Berl would be immersed in thoughts about the victims for days after a gathering. More than once he asked with a deep sigh: Why are we worse than the gentiles?

[Page 707]

Berl in Israel

Berl in Israel – this is an indescribable experience. I was not present when he arrived by ship. I was told that he was so moved that people were afraid for his health, that it might be an overwhelming experience for him. They told me how moving his first encounter with his friend Pesach Sapoznikow of blessed memory had been. Berl was like a son to him and his wife Sarake of blessed memory. They did not part until the last days of his life, until death overtook them both within two weeks: “In their life and death they were not parted.”[10]

Berl was happy with every house that was built. He could not help but wonder: “Jews will build it, and Jews will live here! Can there be a greater joy for me than to experience this?”

Every joyous occasion, every festival was accompanied by a feeling of “How did it come to me to experience all this, and those who were murdered – did not.” He lived with the upbuilding of the land, with the love of the Land. Every loss, whether at the borders[11] or within the party affected him deeply… When he was very uncomfortable or upset, the only thing that could calm him was a book.

As has been said, Berl was a “man of the book.” During the final eight days of his life, when he knew that he would not survive the illness and his days were numbered, he asked his friend Baruch Goldstein to bring him a book that had just been published, a book that was connected with the Germans: “Paris is Burning.” When he thanked his friend for the book, and parted from him, he was the only one to whom he said, “Goodbye, be well, I will not see you again.”

He was unable to finish that book. He did not complain about the suffering that his illness had caused. He endured everything without a shedding a tear in order to avoid distressing his family. When he was asked if it hurts, he always responded, “No.” Throughout the entire time of his illness, he did not want to express the thought that he was leaving us. He was always conducting an accounting of the soul: “What do I want? I was actually dead already in 1939. It was only a coincidence that I lived until now, another 24 years. I have lived in a Jewish country, I have witnessed the wedding of my daughter, I have seen grandchildren from her. What can one do? It seems that I cannot have any complaints. It is difficult. I wish to live still. Thinking this way makes the suffering more bearable. And it is easier to die.”

[Page 708]

Berl the Man of the Book

The written word was holy to him. Every scrap of paper, even an old newspaper – anything was lifted up from the ground and read thoroughly. I told him more than once that he should not do this: perhaps the newspaper was dirty. He had the same answer every time: “The newspaper might be dirty, but I must see whatever is written in it.” More than once, he found things that interested him – whether it was connected to the Land, to the party, or especially to the city of Mezritsh. This tendency of his also caused a great deal of anguish. When I took him to Dr. Stein at the clinic for the first time, he suddenly saw a newspaper on the ground, and picked it up as usual. This was an old “Amar.” As luck would have it, there was an article in that newspaper about a new department of Hadassah Hospital, under the supervision of Dr. Stein, for diagnosing and treating an illness called “cancer.” Berl turned pale and asked me, “Why are you taking me there?” I was confounded, and, as at many times in my life, I found the answer in my subconscious. I succeeded in convincing him that [in that department] they dealt with other illnesses too. Whether he believed me – this remains a mystery for me. But he did not talk to me anymore about it. That was the last time Berl would bend down to pick up a written word.

*

His illness overtook us like thunder on a fair day. Berl was healthy and looked very well when he was examined. He had some minor difficulty in swallowing his food, but the “minor difficulty” turned out to be so fatal. This was the beginning of the illness that sucked the last drop of blood from him. We saw the man became weaker day by day. He accepted everything calmly, suffered in silence, and hid it from those around him. He had a good word and a smile for everybody. He lived so calmly, and he died so calmly, as if he had gone to sleep.

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. It is not stated explicitly here, but is hinted at strongly in the text – the author is Berl's second wife. This can be verified on various genealogical sites. They married in 1946. return
  2. “U.B” – Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (Office, or Department of Security). For more information, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Public_Security_(Poland) return
  3. “Yevsektsiya” – The Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party. return
  4. “The white bears” – This probably a reference to “polar bears”, and the cold areas of Siberia. return
  5. Praga is a suburb of Warsaw, across the Wisla River. return
  6. A “certificate” – This refers to a certificate for aliyah, a document from the British Mandate in Palestine allowing immigration into Palestine. return
  7. The “Bialer camp” – This reference is not completely clear. It could be a reference to the ghetto in nearby Biala Podlaska. For more information, see https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol7_00084.html and http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/bialapodlaska.html return
  8. “Manna” – It is not clear what the meaning of this is in this case, but it is evidently a food richer than rice. return
  9. Gentiles here would refer to Polish Catholic gentiles. return
  10. Paraphrased from David's lament for King Saul and Jonathan, 2Samuel 1:23 return
  11. Referring to military losses of the Israeli Defense Forces. return


[Page 709]

Pesach Sapoznikow

by Shlomo Rogoznik of Givatayim

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie709.jpg
Pesach Sapoznikow

 

In the course of my party work, I had the merit of finding myself alongside our friend Pesach Sapoznikow. He had already become a family man in Mezritsh. He was active in every arena of political and cultural–societal life during all the years he lived in Mezritsh. He was greatly beloved by everyone. His house was open to all. Actors, artists, writers, members of the renown Mezritsh “Amateur Group” to which he himself belonged were constant visitors to him in his home. They felt welcome and good there. Above all, his house was the meeting point for many of the Jewish worker intelligentsia in Mezritsh.

When the first weekly newspaper began publication in Mezritsh, Sapoznikow was one of the well–known members of the editorial board. In the first edition of the “Mezritsher Wachenblatt,” Sapoznikow's article began with “To our twelve.” He greeted the first graduates of the Jewish Gymnazju and with the following words: “I will [one day] meet you on crowded Jewish alleyways, with pale appearances, worn out from work. you will not be able avoid this. You, as the truest portion of the Jewish student body, your knowledge broadened in the crowded alleyways, spirits joined together by oppression, boldness shared with the oppressed. I will meet you on your way, and you too will find your own true calling.”

As a man of culture through and through, he strove to improve and raise the cultural level of the poor, oppressed class.

When Sapoznikow decided to return to his native city of Kobrin together with

[Page 710]

his family, we, the members of Poalei Zion, organized a gala farewell banquet for him, as he was the leading member and spokesman of the party. When an old member stood up to greet him and to bid farewell, he broke down weeping and kissed him. He was so beloved by us. We remained in contact with him until he made aliya to the Land of Israel.

In 1934, when I met him in the Land, he greeted me with joy. He shook my hand, “Finally we meet again in our own Land.” Here too, he was active and loved by everybody who knew him and his family. Sapoznikow was very devoted to his family. Regarding his son Emanuel (Emik) who had brought them here, he would always say, “I sent him to the Land as my precious child. I found him in the Land as a working man. It is in his merit that we all remained alive.”

Pesach Sapoznikow died in 1966. In his memory, his fellow townsfolk from Kobrin in Israel [sought to] publish a book of his journalistic work after his death. His literary legacy was given over to someone who was to manage the [publication]. That man died a short time later. For this and other reasons, the [publication] plan did not come to fruition.

Pesach Sapoznikow was one of the more prominent personalities in our city from the time after the First World War. We Mezritshers, like his fellow townsfolk from Kobrin, remember him with honor.

 

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