by Hadassa Kopel
Modesty, cleanliness and beauty characterized the daily life in our old Jewish shtetl (town let) of Przedborz. Weddings were celebrated with Klezmers (popular musicians) and ceremonial dances; with the hupa (ritual canopy) set near the synagogue; with the processions to-and-from the hupa accompanied by multi-coloured havdala candles. Everything was imbued with real Jewish charm imprinted with Jewish custom and practice. Sounds of learning and prayer emanated from the synagogues. The Hassidic oratories were full of Hassidic rejoicing and enthusiasm. Both the home and the street were Jewish; there was a Jewish atmosphere and a Jewish way of life.
How heart-warming and pleasant were the long winter nights when I listened to my father learning Talmud; to his devotedly drawn-out Gemara melody. My grandfather was himself the Melamed (=heder=teacher) who had instructed many pupils whom he had brought up to be faithful Jewish sons after having absorbed his love for our people and for the Tora.
The summer in our shtetl was particularly beautiful with the breezes carrying the first fragrance of gardens in blossom. The Jews felt as if they had awakened from a deep slumber. They began to breathe deeply, their nostrils distended and their eyes lit up. Among them were Jews who had leased gardens for the duration of the summer from a squire or a peasant. The gardens extended over a large area and the Jews had managed to estimate by the blossoming alone how much fruit every tree would yield, deducting the damages that could be caused by storms and hail storms, or insects that could affect the produce. You never can tell. While making these calculations, they inhaled deeply to smell the aroma of the baskets full of fruit that the garden would yield.
The greatest pleasure was derived from bathing in the river and then running about on the bank or hiding among the tall grass and inhaling the fragrance of the water-reeds, and the blossoming of cherry gardens of the nearby forest. When lying on my back facing the sky and following the movement of the clouds, it seemed to me that I was riding on them far away to the most distant of places. The aroma of spring and summer penetrated my system and I began to dream. I dreamt that I had been one of the daughters of Judea and heard the lute-playing of King David and the singing of the Levites in the Temple. When the month of Elul came and cold winds began blowing, scattering the first dry leaves over the lanes of the shtetl, a god-fearing awe from the heavens began stirring in the hearts of children and grown-ups alike.
Occasionally a Magid (preacher) used to come to the Beth Hamidrash (house of learning) or to the synagogue to hold a sermon. When as a child I happened to pass near the windows of the Beth Hamidrash at the time when the Magid was delivering his melodious sermon, I used to stop and listen, spellbound. I could not make out his words; only the melody which I felt was going to make me cry. I became frightened of the passing of the dark clouds in the sky, of the wild unclean powers that drive one to sin. I approached the window closer, gazed at the shrunk, short Magid with his yellow
Beard and his waving side-curls, which he incessantly wound around his fingers, and the melody held me captive. After these passages, the Magid began to sing in Yiddish: oy, oy, Almighty God, each one of us, sinners that we are, has got two souls. One of them is on the part of the impure spirit let every one of us be guarded and protected from his soul, oy, vey, vey
My childish heart contracted with fright but I still did not want to forego the Magid's words and the low melody accompanying these words, both of which have stuck in my memory to this very day. and the other soul is a part of the heavens, a Godly one. This is the real soul of the Jew
Several decades have passed since and the melodious words of the Magid never cease to vibrate in me; during all those years I never ceased to yearn for the other soul, the real one, the Godlike that comes from heaven.
My father had told me that on the eve of the High Holidays, Satan places himself before the Throne of God and hands the Almighty a list comprising of all the names of those he has led astray in the year which is drawing to its end. At that time the Good inclination jumps up and says to Satan:
But what about Rabbi Ephroiml Rabbi Ephroiml ?All people in our shtetl knew that Rabbi Ephroiml is completely divorced from this world. He has never ceased learning the Tora. Every leisure moment seemed to him to be a crack from which a slippery route might lead to Gehenna where Satan waits in ambush.
Everybody, even we little girls, were aware of the fact that Satan was unable to overcome Rabbi Ephroiml, that he could not make him sin and I used to see in my mind's eye how small and shrivelled the Satan became when the Good inclination teased him by mentioning Rabbi Ephroiml's name. I understood that the Dark Satan spied on everything Rabbi Ephroiml does, on his heart and brain. He knew his patterns of behaviour day and night by heart and looked for some weak spot in the shield of Tora and Good Deeds, which Rabbi
Ephroiml forged for himself, but in no way was he able to penetrate his soul and make it perform the slightest sin.
Rabbi Ephroiml's image always stood before my eyes as the personification of kindness, of noble qualities and humility toward his Creator. He did not enjoy worldly pleasures; ate only to keep body and soul together; was never properly clad even in the winter and never made his knowledge of Tora a means for gaining livelihood. He was far from being conceited, even in the least. When I was a child I used to look at him as if he were a Lamed-Vovnik (one of the 36 righteous men believed always to exist secretly in the world), but even today, I still see in him a symbol of abstention and gentle piety.
With the advance of the month of Elul, the atmosphere became cooler. In the nearby gardens the crop of winter apples was gathered. Following the cool Elul breezes, the forthcoming High Holidays, the nearness of the Days of Awe, the sound of the shofar that was then heard after every Shaharit (morning) prayer, a soul-searching meditation came over all and sundry. Jews thought not only about wood and potatoes and warm clothing for the winter; they also thought about the other world, about how to secure a piece of it for themselves. The days of Sliches (penitential prayers) had arrived.
On Rosh Hashone, the ten days of repentance, and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), all Jews in the shtetl, men and women alike, stood in trepidation before the oncoming Day of Judgement. It seemed as if one left the material world altogether. One somehow thought differently, felt differently and even the appearance of people seemed to have changed. The pious Jews were all a-tremble and they prayed with a premonition that justice would prevail. Even the small boy who studied at the Heder and the small girl at home were aware of the fact that prayer by means of good deeds is the most effective prayer.
These were times when justice was not, in Jewish eyes, an abstract ideal. With Kol-Nidre prayer, the world began climbing up to the high heavens. After the Ne'ile prayer (closing the Day of
Atonement) the world lowered itself back to earth but the spirit of the Day of Atonement remained in the soul.
One day, I learned that Beth Ya'akov school was being organized in our town let. Together with my sister Eidl, we breathlessly counted the days which separated us from the opening of the school. Impatiently, we waited for the arrival of the Jewish teacher.
Finally, opening day arrived and we all donned our Shabbath best dresses. It was a holiday for us to hear the new teacher speaking Yiddish to us and explaining the beauties of the Tora and the Jewish way of life. We listened to her with the utmost respect. She introduced us into the hidden recesses of the Jewish thought about time, history and eternity. She explained to us the motives of holiness and the idea of Shabbath; the unique character of the Jewish Shabbath that is different from the days-of-rest of other peoples. She explained that the Shabbath holiness calls for non-speaking and non-thinking about weekday affairs and about daily worries. We began to grasp the idea of Shabbath and of other commandments; the uniqueness of the Jewish people, of the Jewish confidence and belief in redemption, and with this belief, the Jews in our shtetl accompanied the Shabbath with religious hymns. The Shabbath lent importance to the Jew in our town and upheld his consciousness of human pride.
Much joy was caused by the tidings that Mrs. Sarah Shenirer, founder of Beth Ya'akov schools and teachers' seminars, was due to come to us from Krakov. I can still see, with my mind's eye, the festive appearance assumed by our shtetl. It was no trifling matter to see such a personage who was already famous in the Jewish world on account of her great actions and her rich Jewish lore that she tried to impart to her pupils, who had grown to become teachers and educators in the Beth-Ya'akov schools all over Poland.
This gentle woman made an indelible impression on me and deeply penetrated my whole being and thought.
The approaching Hanukka holiday enlivened our shtetl to the highest degree. At that time we already knew that Hanukkah was particularly the holiday of the Jewish women and that the Jewish women
play a very important role in the Hanukkah tradition. An old Jewish legend relates the heroism of Judith, who killed the Greek General Holophernes. We had learned the wonderful story about Hanna and her seven children which so strongly expressed the heroism of the Jewish woman, and began to prepare a play depicting the tragic drama played by this heroic woman. Our shtetl bubbled with excitement. The heroes of the day were the participants in the play but other girls also showed a lively interest in the preparations for the play and the playing of various parts. Those who survived the Holocaust must surely still remember the festive atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the Jewish children for those heroic images of the Jewish history.
I did not have the privilege of staying long with my parents, those noble and dear people from whom I learnt so much. I don't consider myself worthy to write about them; to hand them the praises they earned by their honesty, piety and worldly wisdom. I feel myself attached to them by thousands of threads. By body and soul I was attached to the people of our shtetl, to traditional Judaism, to the Jewish ethic and the virtues of the Jews in our shtetl; to the routine of weekday life, to the holy Shabbath and the merry holidays.
It was a wonderful life which held until the terrible Hitlerite destruction which has no equal in human history. Day and night the satanic ovens of Majdanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz burnt and among the long convoys of the Ghetto inhabitants, the Jews of Przedborz were also transported to the death factories. The Polish earth was covered with the ashes of Jewish lives and the Polish sky was covered by choking clouds of smoke which emanated from the crematoria incinerators and polluted the air. This smoke poisoned the souls of the Poles. The Hitlerite poison penetrated everywhere and our Polish neighbours cooperated and helped the brown henchmen ferret out the Jews who took cover.
The Hitlerite nightmare cost us six million martyrs and among them, hundreds of Jewish families from our shtetl. Thus, the Jewish community of Przedborz was eradicated from the face of the earth.
by Bronia Davner-Kesselman
Although I have lived in the United States for some tens of years now, I have not, for a single day, forgotten my native shtetl (town-let) Przedborz, the home of my father, the Talmudist and Hassid of Rospsha; of my mother who was a woman of valour, who, by her honesty and kindness, was beloved by everyone who knew her. They, together with my three brothers, perished. Of the whole family, only my sister Tova, now residing in Israel, survived.
There are many things from my childhood and adolescence in our shtetl that linger in my memory: the Hassidim and the Tora students; the intelligent labourers and the common folk. The Jews there were like one big happy family, friendly and hearty. They lived quietly in poverty, but pleasantly, imbued with the confidence and belief that better times would come, that they would derive satisfaction from their children and that their wishes for a better livelihood and an easier life would come true. These were the wishes of the Przedborzer Jews, in which they included not only themselves but also other the Jewish people as a whole.
Generally speaking, the Przedborzer Jews had developed a sense of reciprocal help which expressed itself by not letting anyone perish from hunger; by helping a pauper to celebrate the wedding of a spinster daughter, etc.
When I think about those times, I can see how strong the desire was among the Jews in our town-let to help others and the readiness to do favours. I remember the tens of poor shopkeepers who had no money to buy the small amount of merchandize they needed for the forthcoming fair, but there were always people who lent them the money.
My memory carries me back to the former youth of Przedborz and it seems to me that it was different from other town-lets.
Something beloved and warm-hearted emanated from its people and they had a very great desire for knowledge. I am speaking about those I knew from close quarters whose friendliness and consideration for their parents I witnessed. My friends respected their mothers and fathers highly, although many of these parents still belonged to another world with other concepts. The parents too frequently showed their understanding, even if they did not agree with everything.
There are many interesting stories about what happened in Przedborz and it is worthwhile relating them. It seems to me that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to perpetuate them for future generations. I, therefore, found the work entailed by the publishing of a Yizkor-Book particularly attractive and have undertaken the burden of assuming the function of protocol secretary of the Przedborzer Society in the United States, and at the same time, of the Relief Committee to help find compatriots the world over a post I have been holding for over thirty years now.
Deep in my heart, I swore that as long as I lived, Przedborz would live in me as well. This is the way all our compatriots in America think. The executive of the Society has, therefore, wholeheartedly taken up the task of perpetuating our martyrs and the beauty of the former Jewish life in the shtetl where we spent our adolescence, participated in the cultural and social life and, steeped in high ideals, conducted our discussions.
Then a vile storm devastated our town-let, killed our dearest and most beloved, burned our wonderful synagogue and even desecrated our cemetery.
We shall never forget our martyrs and never cease to lament them. Let this book be a perpetual light to their memory.
by Moshe Tsahi
A king for a single day for Shabbath. On this day, distinguished from all other days, he looked as a respectful and dignified resident of the townlet. Had I known him, I would not believe that this is the same person I have seen the day before on Friday; clothes elegantly in a high quality and smart, black woollen mantle, sewn to measure, spotless, shining; on his head, a Jewish hat also black upright, ironed and creaseless, without a trace of dust or crumbs of feathers as was customary with many prominent Baalei Batim of the townlet. His feet were enveloped in first-class leather shining jackboots and looked as if they had left this very minute the bootmaker's shop. His face was radiant, his beard cultivated and combed. And so he walks delightfully at small pace, his jackboots squeaking-singing with each step. Full of dignity and self-assurance, he walks past the naughty kids, his steps conducting him towards the Beth Midrash; will he pass in peace? Will they not anger or tease him, causing him shame before the festive gathering? No, not day because today is Shabbath. Yes, Shabbath is today and when one of the children opens his mouth to greet him, Motel gets alarmed and panicky; his heart begins to beat violently. Will it happen also today? Even on Shabbath, will they give him no rest, even on Shabbath will they nickname him Motel with the G? But no, he was scared in vain Gut Shabbes, Motel calls a brat gut Shabbes, Motel and Motel's face radiates with a joyful and bright smile. Gut Shabbes he answers happily. Not Motel with the G he thinks but just Motel, like any other Jew whose name happens to be Motel, because today is Shabbes and on Shabbes there is no Motel Gollem. No .
You can't give a true description of Przedborz without mentioning Motel Gollem. He was not just a picturesque and interesting figure.
Motel was a part of the public assets in the townlet without which you can't get on. And who knows how the Shabbes in Przedborz would look like if Motel had stopped working on Shabbes eves ?
Two occupations had Motel Gollem: one was water-pumping and the second; bath-attendance in the local Mikve and in both, he excelled and was a first-class expert. He had competitors but they were no match for him. Five days Motel pumped water but on Friday, he dedicated himself completely to the Mikve.
Motel was excellent in pumping water a real artist: the pails were in his hands like a fiddle and the stretcher like a violin-bow He didn't walk in the usual manner, slowly, like the other water
pumpers he ran with the pails without spilling a single drop of water. He was very quick, worked fast, well and clean and the housewives of the townlet knew to appreciate it well enough. Here he left with empty pails to the Pilica River and was already back with the pails filled to the brim though the distance was quite substantial; and see the wonder the pails arrived full, the floor remained dry and around the barrel, there was no trace that water was brought in. On the other hand, his competitors, those weaklings when they leave, they forget to return. The housewives are waiting there is not a drop of water in the house and here they trudge along slowly, quietly, not caring about anything. And even if you live to see them back, their pails are half empty, the floor in the kitchen is wet and around the barrel, it looks like around the bucket of Toibe Rive, when she sell live carps in the market for Shabbes. No wonder, therefore, that Motel is preferred to all the other water pumpers.
As said, Motel was also a bath-attendant in the Mikve and excelled especially on the upper bench of the steam-bath. Here, also, he was a great expert and when he massaged you with the short brush, made of soft leaves, until your whole body became red like cock's comb and then finished with a ewer of cold water, you felt as though a heavy load had been removed from your shoulders and your movements became wonderfully light. Here, also, there was nobody to compete with Motel. He was the champion and when he entered the Mikve on Friday morning, he left it only short before Shabbes and even then he was short of satisfying all his clients.
To tell the truth, Motel had another occupation too, though not on a full basis he was a beggar, namely, not a door-to-door beggar, but a kind of a deluxe beggar and only on special occasions: on a Brith-Mila; weddings (God forbid on funerals!) and on any other due occasion; if he met you by chance, he turned to you by hints, in initials and with negative arguments approximately like this: go, go, you don't want to give , to give with the 'Z' and with the 'G' . With the 'Z' and with the 'G' (namely: 'Zehn Gorshen' ten cents) and if this didn't work, he would immediately add: go, go, Moishe
with the G (i.e. Gollem), doesn't want to give doesn't want to give, etc., etc. To his credit, it should be said that he discriminated nobody, neither man or woman, old or young; a Torah-scholar or an ignoramus, all of them were granted the same honourable title with the G even the local rabbi, Reb Nossele
With all his urge and eagerness for money, Motel would not permute the stretcher and the beloved pails for a wretched bowl of a beggar but only on special and extraordinary events, would he devote some of his time to this wasteful habit. When there was a rejoicing in the townlet or suddenly a group of foreign people, out of place, appeared in it. If you have seen Motel putting down the pails all of a sudden, in the middle of the street, and begin to run, running amok westward in the direction of the Beth Hakneset, you can rest assured that a group of tourists have arrived. They came to see the ancient synagogue and Motel should not miss the opportunity to be photographed with Beth Haknesset as a background and to receive a nice coin because such an opportunity does not happen too often.
Motel had his life organized properly, having a sort of a permanent time-table in regard to his work and one which he strictly observed all of his days. First thing in the morning, immediately after rising, his permanent clients, those who paid regularly and generously, were to be supplied with water; afterwards the irregular meaning those misers who sometimes provided the water themselves depriving him from his 'parnuse'; and only at the end to those who could not be trusted at all and they would have to pay ahead. By the way, in the Mikve as well he had such crooks who wanted him to be served for nothing. What did he do? He was smart and demanded to be paid on the spot, before his work began. Where did he keep the money? Don't worry he kept the coins in his mouth and so he safeguarded them until he was done with the client
Motel's time-table was divided into three parts: the first part in the morning until the prayer; the second part, the prayer itself which was also a very hard work; and then the third part until the evening. Until he finished the first part, the sun was already high in the Heaven and Motel would run to the Beth Midrash to pray the Morning Prayer; he
would lay the Talith and Tefilim and the service would begin, a very hard labour.
Usually Motel was not stammering, on the contrary, he talked fluently and quick; quicker than most people but where prayers were concerned, God forbid! Here, as if the devil, cursed be he! was stuck in his throat and he could not pronounce a word without stammering heavily. And so, wrapped in his Talith and Tefilim, he stands firm and steady, like towards a bayonet fight, his left leg forward, the right one backwards and the upper part of his body slightly bowed. He moves like on hinges, to-and-fro and his mouth is fighting all the time with the cursed Satan who disturbs him in his prayer .as if with giant pliers he extricates the fractionated syllables from his mouth and you shall never know what was the real reason for this wrestling. Is it because of the will to pronounce the full and right word, and he is not sure of himself to have pronounced it correctly, or are these the strange thoughts that are confusing him and he tries will all his might to drive them away as far as possible? One thing is for sure, in order that he not be disturbed in his prayers, he comes so late, when the Beth Midrash is almost empty. But the devil's deed, there is always some urchin and sometimes even a group-up but childish person, who teases him and then he is in a double state of struggle, with the devil and the man a situation absolutely above his strength And you could see him with the end of each psalm sitting down heavily on the nearest bench, completely exhausted, as if after hard labour, resting a little and then continuing to pray, and so on and so forth. This is also the reason that his prayer in the Beth Midrash was short one and a half hour only and he didn't make more than the recitation of 'Shema', two benedictions before and one after it and the Shmone-Esre. All the rest he finished under way, trotting with the pails to and fro, and isn't the day long enough, isn't it?
Motel enters the Beth Midrash for the morning prayers only. Minha and Ma'ariv he prays whilst working where nobody teases or nags him. He simply trots and prays all the time and when he reaches Shmone Esre, he leaves the stretcher and pails on the river edge, steps into the water which is usually shallow a
certain distance from the shore in order not to be disturbed, turn towards the east (and towards the pails ) and begins to pray. Mostly it passes quickly but it happened sometimes that the 'gang' tried to pull his pails away, for fun, and then without delay, he interrupts his prayer and run towards those 'villains' cursing: all the sins on your heads
Motel has no home of his own. Once, most probably, he was married the witness being the Talith with which he was praying, but in our times, he was lonely, living with a distant relative, sleeping there on the oven. Motel was saving all his life and put away each farthing he earned. He never spent a cent on food but was given by his clients, here and now, something to eat. Also on clothing for everyday he spent no money. Here he was given a pair of old pants and there a tattered shirt, patched all over, and this was enough. For shoes he had not much need either as from the start of spring and until the end of fall, he walked around barefoot. His main expenses were spent, therefore, on Shabbes clothes. Here he wasn't stingy for the Shabbes clothes there was nothing too expensive everything and only the best of quality. And so a farthing joined a farthing, a cent to a cent, a zloty to a zloty until a big amount accumulated and then was gone! Somebody 'had pity' with the bulgy bag full of coins and stole it. Motel lamented, cried bitterly and desperately: thieves, thieves they stole all my money, the thieves but to no avail. The money disappeared is no more and nothing can be done and that was the end of it. The same procedure repeated itself each time when the bag was full and bulgy. Motel cried, wept, plucked hairs from his head and began everything anew.
Motel died while on duty, close the World War II. He died a tragic death in the middle of his Shmone Esre prayer. He suffered all his years from epilepsy, though not seriously. Once, on an early summer evening, he left his pails on the beach, entered the water and began to pray. In the middle of the Shmone Esre prayer, he collapsed and fell. It was his tragic fate that nobody saw him falling though the spot between the Beth Haknesset and the Beth
Midrash was always full of life, especially on warm summer evenings. After a few minutes when they saw the pails on the river's edge, they jumped into the water but it was too late. Motel had drowned no deeper than half a meter.
So disappeared from Przedborz landscape a picturesque and interesting figure named Motel Gollem. May his soul be bound up in the bound of everlasting life.
by Malke Fridman-Mashlak, Bethlehem, New Hampshire
With all my being I want to describe a picture of my life in Przedborz as far as I can remember.
I was born in the year 1900, the date I do not know except that my mother told me Sliches. My father was Mendl Shoichet in Przedbora Rudimer Gubernia. I remember that we were eight children; four sons and four daughters. My father was a handsome man with a long black beard, large black eyebrows and a long nose. He resembled Dr. Herzl. My mother was a small blond with blue eyes, religious looking and with a lovely smile always on her face.
As much as I can remember, my father worked hard. He walked very far to his place of work at night. He was very serious preparing and sharpening his chaleff.
On Saturdays, instead of resting, he used to teach poor children. He was also a cantor in the synagogue as he had a beautiful voice. Friday nights when he used to sing at supper, many non-Jews were listening from behind his windows. My mother took care of the house. She never had a servant to help her. She never protested. My oldest brother, Abram, was married to another Shoichet's daughter at the age of 14. He was living with his in laws ofkest.
My sister Pesil, at the age of 15, was married to the best student of a Yeshiva. He was a grandson of the Tomashover Rabbi. His name was Shloimele. The entire town of Przedborz envied us.
My sister Shaindel, a beautiful tall girl, dark complexion, blue eyes, lively and always singing used to walk in the street and she liked it very much when everybody admired her. She once walked into a soda store and a boy also came in. This coincidence was the talk of the town and my father, decided that he must marry her off, the sooner the better. Soon enough, a young boy was found and the wedding took place in not time.
Once, my father went to the Gerer Rabbi. There he drank a lot of cold water while he was dancing. He became sick on his lungs. From then on, he suffered. About that time, my brother-in-law, Shloimele, became ill with tuberculosis and died. My sister Pesil became a widow at the age of 18. She had to wait 13 years for Chalitza because they had no children.
My father died in 1912, 15 days of Elul.
We were four unmarried children and the widow Pesil with our mother who had not means whatsoever to feed us. We were living in great poverty and need.
My oldest brother Abram became Shoichet and he wanted to take our father's position but couldn't because he did not have the money to pay the Jewish City Administration for the privilege. He took a Shoichet position in Nicklon near Kinsk.
The new Shoichet in my father's place was obliged to pay my mother a few zlotys weekly and so the time went on. I felt that I had to do something to help. My brother took me to a cousin of ours in Kelce. She had a shirt business. My mother packed my bags and left a prayer book within. Our cousin, a very rich and modern woman, cried when she saw me and promised to take care of me. I remember when my brother parted from me in Kelce. I followed him and cried. I felt some sort of fear from these people. They scared me.
The first lesson that my cousin gave me was an order not to
mingle with the cook that worked in her house because it was not becoming for her kind.
Friday nights, everybody ate together in the dining room. She ate in the kitchen all by herself. I did not like this sort of treatment and in spite of my cousin's orders; I mingled with the cook and wanted to eat with her.
My cousin then placed me in the bedroom and gave me underwear and stockings to repair. I was in that bedroom all day and hungry. I asked the servant for a piece of bread. It is locked, the servant told me. This hurt me very much: bread locked?
Once, I noticed that my cousin's son was reading Jewish books. I asked him to bring me some books. He brought me Mendele's and Sholem Aleichem books. Saturday, after dinner, I read to the servant some stories from these books because she could not read or write.
My cousin used to give us for our evening meal a piece of bread, a lump of sugar and tea which we were supposed to make ourselves in a very big oven. One evening when we received our portion, I placed it on the table in the dining room. I protested against the small portion of bread. I told her that we needed more bread and we would not eat at all if we didn't get it. After this, she gave us one pound of bread and six lumps of sugar. She hated me from then on but she still delivered work for me. It hurt me very much for the 'favour' she was doing and at the same time exploiting me worse than a stranger. I suffered this for about 5 months.
It was before Easter when I felt an urge to leave my cousin and go home. One day, I left all my belongings in my cousin's house and left for home without a goodbye. I went with the Lapishner Road. A wagon with flour on its way to Minin picked me up and brought me to my sister Sheindl. I stayed over for one night. The next day, I left for home, Przedborz. When I came in our house my mother got very frightened. She thought that I might be sick. I explained to my mother than I was not sick. My mother did not ask any more questions. The bread in our poor house was never locked and this made me feel good thinking that poor people kept their bread unlocked and rich
people locked their bread. Easter holiday someone by the name of Wishinsky promised me a job as a salesgirl in a candy store in Lodz. When I got there, they put me in charge of minding a baby instead of selling candy; doing housekeeping and carrying a crippled child to the park each day. It was bad but I did not want to go home. At that time my brother Chaim's friend, Yankel Shantovsky, was very interested in me. He came to Lodz to beg me to come home but I did not care for him and I wanted to be independent. I picked up my courage and asked the Madam why I wasn't working in the store but as a nanny? She answered: in a store, I can work myself! Hearing this, I packed my things and went out to search for relatives in Lodz and found a distant relative. I told him about my predicament. They told me that in this family there was a boy who was a stocking knitter and perhaps he could teach me that type of work. In the interim, I took a job in a cheap clothing line. I worked with several other women from early morning until late at night, ate some burnt soup and in this manner I held out a week. We slept 3 girls in a bed. The shop was on the fifth floor. I was weak and rundown and again, I packed up and left. I found the boy who made stockings. He took me to Posnansky's factory, introduced me to several men and begged them permission to teach me the trade. The men felt sorry for me and decided to tell the foreman that I was a worker. Every day, everyone put several finished stockings into my basked until it amounted to several dozen. I quietly turned the wheel on the machine until I learned the work.
I can remember that a lunch time the workers brunched together, ate bread and herring and discussed working-class conditions. Henechel was the name of my young relative who helped me to learn this work. He was a religious man but he liked me with a gentle sort of feeling. He used to call for me in the morning and bring me home in the evening. I earned 3 rubbles during my first week, thanks to him. I was very happy over this. I didn't eat but I bought myself a mandolin. This was my dream learning how to
came to take me home. Henechel cried hard when he said goodbye to me. In my mother's house, bread was still not under lock, probably because she was still poor. Soon, World War I broke out. Many went to war. From my mother's house no one left. The young widow had a job to mend the rabbi's socks, gratis! She was given a job in the Chevre Kadishe (funeral service). She didn't like it but she could not decline because the community paid her a weekly support. I found a job in a low-priced sewing factory earning 5 gulden weekly. My brother Chaim worked in the woods where he earned something. The three younger children went to Chaider and so it was not too bad. I worked gladly. I used to sing while working. I had a nice voice. I read many books and dreamed ..
At this time, we organized a library with some boys and girls. We picked books and found readers, got together every evening, reading, reciting, singing and it was a good life but right away, the mobilization came and boys came from Warsaw, Lodz, Pietrkof, Chenstechov, and Radomsk to avoid the draft. A certain dentist, Dr. Weifsheetz, a live-wire, became acquainted with our group. He rented a large hall, organized a choir, a drama section and a reading group, a writing group and a political group. He taught us the Bund Hymn. We gravitated toward learning. Soon, a Yankel Greitzer, a polizionist, started organizing his group. We had discussions and it was very lively and interesting. We soon had the room tightly packed and hired 3 large rooms and instituted lectures. My brother Henech was in the library and gave out books. He worked diligently. There started to be a shortage in money. We needed wood, kerosene and rent. Someone suggested that we give a play and in that way we could pay our debts. We decided to play Barkochve. All the parts were handed out but 'Dina' was still not filled. My heart really broke for want to play 'Dina' but my brother didn't want me to around a lot of young men. He was very apprehensive.
In 1915, Barkochve was presented with my friend in the lead. I remember at the performance of 'Barkochve', he wore a wreath that I had made from white flowers picked in the woods. He gave a speech about the flowers and I was ecstatic. After the
play, there was a pogrom in the town. The parents of the actors and actresses were boycotted. There was a terrible fight but the money had already been paid, wood bought for the winter and kerosene as well. The poor became poorer the rich became richer from speculation. A terrible epidemic of typhoid spread through the town. It took from us our best young people. The rabbi with the 'Cahilolah' began to raise a rumpus saying that the city was hexed because of the sins of the young boys and girls. It became an earnest battle between the city and the 'Kultur Ferein'. We organized a Week Bank Plague Theatre and helped our friends with the money.
At our house, there was a war. The 'Kulture' stopped giving my mother the accustomed small sum because my brother Henech and I were active in the 'Ferein'. A Saturday passed and we fasted because there was no bread in the house. I went to rabbi Kalmish and explained that it wasn't my mother's fault that we were in the 'Ferein'. I told him that it was cold in the house and warm in the 'Ferein'. We had no food at home and were hungry, whereas at the 'Ferein' we forgot about hunger while we sang, read or wrote, but it didn't help. I talked it over with my sister the widow and older brother Chaim and we went to the town Philtsts not far from Rodishitz. We rented a room and asked for a permit to sell cigarettes. The night before we left, a friend of mine was sitting in our house downhearted because he couldn't help financially. He lived on what his mother gave him. After a few months, we received the permit to sell cigarettes. It was before Pesach. We went home to clean our house and give it a painting. We prepared some Pesach food on account of our future cigarette business.
The group that I was very close to were Yosele Krakoske (Bundist), Yankel Greitzer (Zionist), Gedalie Wagman (Polizionist), Leibel Weinman (Revolutionist), Leibel Brown (Bundist), Shmiel Lubelski (Zionist), Ruchel Heller, Sonia and Esther Miedzinski, Feigel Krakoski and the Pravers as well as Yidel Zimberg.
At the time of the typhoid epidemic, our group worked very diligently to establish some kind of help for the poor people who could not pay a doctor or for that matter, had no hospital facilities. We helped
build a hospital in Przedborz. Of course, when you have a hospital, you must have doctors and nurses. The first nurse was Gitel Mashiak, who later became my sister-in-law. She was a very fine nurse and helped take care of all the sick as much as she could.
My wonderful mother allowed us to meet in her house because she felt that we were doing good things for the poor. She was very proud of us. She always was present at our meetings in her house and so the years went by.
by Gussie Emansky
My thoughts take me back to the time of my first meeting with my father. The year was 1921. It is very tragic not to know your father until you become a young lady of 7 years of age. Those years from 1905 on were the years when anyone and everyone who saw the opportunity to escape the pogroms that our Jewish brothers were always the culprits of, left. Everyone who had the opportunity to go to the Gold Land America thought they were very fortunate to get into the land of opportunity.
When our Jewish brothers and sisters reached the golden land, they suffered many hardships. They worked long hours in sweat shops and skilled workers like my father, who was a very good baker, worked long hours for very little pay. As it turned out, I did not know my father until he came for me to Przedborz. I was very lucky that my father was a very responsible and honourable man who remembered that he had left a wife and child of 6 months. It took 7 years for my father to return to his place of birth. He spent one and a half years reliving his boyhood environment in his hometown and we came to the United States in September 1922. We left behind
all our loved ones my wonderful grandfather Shaya Mashlak, my natural mother and aunts and uncles on both sides and many cousins whom I never forgot.
Sixteen years later, in 1938, I went back to Przedborz. When I got there the town made me feel like there was no one my equal. How wonderful it was to be surrounded by all my loved ones. How good it is to be loved with so much feeling. To be pampered by my family. However, the situation in the town and the neighbouring cities was bad. One could see the Nazi flags atop one room bungalow type houses as one rode on the International Train from France to Poland. The worst disappointment I experienced was the sign on a fence which said Zidi do Palestine and the boycott of the Polish people by not buying the goods from the small Jewish merchants.
There were those Polish people who defied their peers by going through a side-door to buy a little something from the Jew. I spent three months drinking in the familiar surroundings of my childhood. A typical day in Przedborz was quite different from a day in New York City. For instance, whereas you have three meals in the United States, every day you have six small ones in Przedborz and who can forget the love of the children to their parents and grandparents.
It is unheard of that an elderly person should be put in an old-age home. In the old home when a child got married, she or he settled near the parents Families always stuck close together. No one was ever too old to keep in a son's or daughter's home, no matter how rich or how poor they were. The generation gap did not exist in our town. The older the person, the wiser in experience. The day in Przedborz started early and ended early by this I mean as soon as it got dark the shutters on the windows were closed. There was a lot of togetherness of families. What a luxury it was for me to go swimming in the Pilice River and have my dinner brought to me with so much love from my wonderful family. The thoughtfulness is beyond anything any one can imagine.
I left Przedborz for the second time in September 1938. Little did I know that all my loved ones would have such a bitter end. In
October 1942, all the townspeople were herded into whatever conveyance Hitler and his henchmen could muster up and taken to concentration camps, never to return again.
As I write this short account, I hope and pray that Jews all over the world won't ever forget what Hitler and his cohorts did to our brothers and sisters. We must make sure that this atrocity will never happen again.
The world's people must see in print all the inhuman treatment that was committed against the human race. I know that the people who lived through all kinds of torture in the concentration camps don't like to be reminded of what they went through. However, there is no other way than to record the grave injustice done to the Jewish people. Yes, this little story is about Nathan Mashiak's daughter, Shaya Mashiak's grandchild.
by Gershon Pesslson
Six weeks, forty two terrible days, each one more dreadful that its predecessor and every today worse than the passing yesterday; all of them dragging heavily, full of incessant pain, torment and humiliation.
The long nights were even worse than the days. They commenced a five o'clock in the evening and went on until four a.m. It was impossible to sleep. The experiences of the preceding day, the terror, the hunger and thirst tormented the Jews, irritated the nerves and gave no respite.
During the whole time, the yells and abuses of the German soldiers were heard as well as the frequent shouts that came from the street. Tensely, we expected the voices of the German soldiers
saying: Jews out, Jews down halt quicker into the line. Their voices cut into the brain like knives; they poisoned the blood and degraded the human being into a frightened animal, surrounded by enemies, without any chance of freedom.
The day burst on us with savage yells: Jews, get down, quicker, quicker! Then followed the abuses and the 'explanations: Do you know who you are? Where do you come from? Where are you going? You are a fool, a fool.
Why do you yell? Why did the Germans cut off half of Baruch Hersh's beard when he dared to walk a few steps away from the house in which he lived? His beard was very precious to him and the Germans went into fits of laughter when they ordered him to look into a mirror to see how they have beautified him?
Baruch-Hersh turned back and began to walk in the direction of his house. He was very frightened and his legs scarcely carried him, although in his mind, he congratulated himself that he had left the murderers' hands alive. When he finally dragged himself back into his home, he began to cry. The tears that flowed from his eyes mingled with the blood flowing from his face. His wife Zisi and his children silently wiped their eyes and, overcoming their own grief, tried to comfort him.
From somewhere on Constantin Street, the Germans commandeered a steamroller and harnessing four Jews to it, they drove it aimlessly. The two Germans, who followed from behind, carried sub-machine guns on their shoulders and held whips in their hands with which they dealt blows and goaded the harnessed Jews, all the while abusing them with the filthiest of words.
To the centre of Freedom Square, the Germans hauled various explosives and explosive equipment with the intention of blowing up the monumental figure of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the historic Polish freedom fighter. In his place, they proposed setting a statue of some criminal of the exalted race a hero of robbery and murder.
A those moments, I thought about those Ridz-Smiglys, the Beks and other Polish leaders who had, for many years, repressed their
own people, setting up prisons and concentration camps and had constantly plied the masses with chauvinist mottoes, calling on them to crucify Lithuania and had set up semi or fully fascistic organizations in order to assault trade unions, Jewish cultural institutions and organize persecutions of the populace. Thus, they prepared the ground for the German storm-bands that now were obliterating every trace of former Poland. The Polish army was totally devastated, the population confused and disoriented. The leaders had flown abroad on the third day of the war.
The terror was directed also against the Polish populace but it was particularly acute and relentless against the Jews who had already clearly seen the terrible misfortune that was approaching them.
Heavy clouds hung over the Jewish population. The Jews were cautious of going into the street and when they had to go, they pressed along the walls doing everything possible not to be observed by the Germans. The Germans were particularly hard on the young people who, indeed, began to leave town by stealth despite the fact that the roads were full of dangers. They hoped to survive the German horror in some faraway place and then return home. They realized that in foreign places life wouldn't be easy and that there they would come across new difficulties, new torments but they still did their best to flee. One wanted to be as far as possible from the German plague.
It was a Friday afternoon when the Jews were ordered to wear yellow patches in the form of a Magen-David, sewn to the upper garments. The mood became even more depressed. From the Balut market wafted the smell of hanged people. On their bodies were stuck slogans saying that they had been Jewish communists and undisciplined Poles.
The wearing of the yellow patch showed unmistakably that terrible times were approaching, but still no one could imagine how far the German atrocities would reach.
From day-to-day, the situation became more difficult. There were new restrictions and new persecutions. A wave of suicides broke out.
To leave Lodz by train was not an easy matter. One had to resort to various stratagems and tricks in order to get a ticket. For men, it was nearly impossible. In women, it was harder to detect their Jewish origin and thus they could buy the ticket for the train more easily.
Pinhas and Sarah bade farewell to their parents in a sombre mood. David and Hanna-Pesl could not hold back their tears. They were overwhelmed by a sentiment that this would be the last they would see each other. The young people, on the other hand, tried to convince them that the parting was only for a short time because very soon the free world would vanquish the Germans and they would be able to return home.
The satchel was nearly full but Hanna-Pesl still succeeded in putting another few pieces of bread and butter into it. Later, she recalled the white half-quart pot which she wiped and put into Pinhas's hand saying: take this little pot with you it will prove useful to you on the way, you will see. In those difficult moments, Pinhas could not refuse his mother's wish. For the last time, he hugged his mother and left his parents for good.
Dear father and mother, could we, in that difficult moment, imagine that we would not see you any more for you would perish with such a terrible death?
The Kalish terminal was dimly lit and on entering the platform the Germans sharply scanned everybody's face, lighting it with a pocket torch and inquiring: Aren't you a Jew? Whoever succeeded in making the Germans believe his or her denial by a shake of the head, passed and boarded the train.
The trains were in a great hurry. The compartments were unlit and this somewhat reassured the Jewish passengers. But at the same time, their hearts were in their mouths. One could never know who one's neighbour was and what could be expected from him. The Jews kept silent and tried not to breathe aloud. From time-to-time, a ray of light burst into the compartment and made the rounds over the walls and the faces. Jewish hearts became petrified with fear.
From time-to-time the train halted. Someone opened the door of the compartment and out of the darkness of night came a save yell: Are you Jews? Someone quickly replied: No and the train got into motion again. There were however other compartments from which the murderers dragged out young men and women and led them away to suffering, torture and death.
All through the way to the east, death lurked threatening young Jews trying to extricate themselves from the German blood-bath.
Those who succeeded in reaching the opposite bank of the River Bug breathed with relief. They expected a new future, new wanderings into the unknown.
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