MICHAŁ KAZIMIERZ OGIŃSKI'S LETTER TO RABBI ABRAHAM FRĘKLIN FROM 1797
To the Orthodox Abraham Fręklin,
the Siedlce Rabbi
Source: D. Michalec, Aleksandra Ogińska I jej czasy (Siedlce, 1999), pp. 58, 156.
|1. Borycz Jan (Christian)
2. Bursztain Bluma, age 40
3. Cencel Stanisław, age 45
4. Diament Zalman Mosze, age 45
5. Feder Szalom Dow, age 76
6. Gersz Szyja, age 22
7. Goldberg Mordka, age 30
8. Goldstein Josef, age 30
9. Izrael Abram, age 25
10. Liberman Jakow Chaim, age 30
11. Libhaber Chana, age 52
12. Liuk Hanna, age 50
13. Lipszyc Jehuda, age 18
14. Macieliński Dow, age 25
15. Milczak Abraham, age 19
16. Miller Josef Mordechaj, age 40
17. Rafał Abraham, age 22
|18. Ratyniewicz Szraga, age 32
19. Rozen Jehoszua, age 3
20. Słuszny Nachum, age 18
21. Solarz Meir, age 18
22. Solarz Sara, age 70
23. Stachowski Jehoszua, age 19
25. Szklarz Dow, age 30
26. Szklarz Berek, age 40
27. Szreder Szmul Berek, age 65
28. Świecący Kamień Hanna, age 18
29. Tajblum Mendel, age 34
30. Tajgenbojm Debora, age 17
31. Winberg Icchak, age 45
32. Winsztain Szajdla, age 34
33. Wolf Meir
34. Zonszein Gabriel, age 20
Source: Archiwum Państwowe w Siedlcach, Siedlecki Gubernialny Zarząd Żandarmerii, sig. 158, p. 28; Kaspi, History of the Jews in Siedlce, in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community(Buenos Aires, 1956), pp. 112113.
LIST OF THE OLDEST SURNAMES OF JEWISH FAMILIES
IN SIEDLCE FROM THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Anyż, Altan, Ajzenberg, Aronowicz, Arman, Ajzakowicz, Ajzensztadt, Angelczyk, Akierman, Agresbaum, Amsterdamski,
Baran, Blumsztejm, Berenbaum, Bobek, Blady, Białyłew, Białepole, Bromberg, Brukarz, Brzezina, Białytist, Białobroda, Biały, Bursztyn, Bachrach, Brener, Bronstejn, Boruchowicz, Borensztejn,
Cukiersztejn, Cynamon, Cynowagóra, Celnikier, Cybula, Cerenfeld, Cybulski, Cymbalista, Cymerman, Celnik, Cik, Całkowicz, Cukier, Cukierfeld, Cygielsztejn, Cwangman, Ciszyński, Ciemny, Cacko,
Drewno, Drewniany, Drzewo, Dudaszek, Dobreserce, Dua, Dozorca, Dąb, Dąbrowa, Damski, Dawidowicz, Dajen, Delman, Dolina, Dobryrybak, Dobrowolny, Dobrzyński, Dobrezłoto, Drogikamień, Dystelman, Dziewulski,
Eplewicz, Epelbaum, Edelman, Edelsztejn, Edelbaum, Elfant, Erlich, Esseryk, Elman,
Farbiarz, Fajnholc, Fejganbaum, Fajnsztadt, Fajer, Fajn, Fajwełowicz, Feldman, Felszer, Federman, Frydman, Figowy, Finkelsztejn, Firsztenberg, Fiszman, Fisz, Forman, Fogelfeld, Frajman, Frymerman, Frydrych,
Gałąska, Garncarz, Gaik, Grający, Garbarz, Grynberg, Galicki, Gertner, Głowina, Goldshmidt, Goldman, Goldwirt, Goldsztejn, Goldfeder, Gildblat, Goldfarb, Groch, Grzywacz, Gryner, Grynszpan, Gruszka, Grzebieniarz, Gurfinkiel, Guterman, Gutgold, Gurszmidt,
Handlarz, Herszkowicz, Himelszajn, Husyd, Herszenzon,
Izraelski, Ickowicz, Iserowicz,
Jubiler, Judkowic, Jungerman, Jabłko, Jabłonka, Jabłoń, Jasnagwiazda, Jasnagóra, Jadowski, Jakóbowski, Janklowicz, Jawerbaum, Jerzmowski, Jedwab, Jadło,
Kapłan, Kawe, Karsz, Kamienny, Kapura, Kamiński, Kanarek, Kant, Kafowicz, Kahan, Kania, Kadysz, Kamień, Kawecki, Kapelusznik, Kenigsberg, Kelmanowicz, Kejzman, Kopytowski, Korona, Konewka, Koński, Konopny, Kowal, Kozienicki, Kon, Kogen, Kotuński, Kamar, Kornicki,
Laska, Las, Laufman, Laksfisz, Lewin, Lew, Lewit, Lejbowicz, Lewita, Lebengilk, Liwerant, Lis, Linka, Lipiec, Lipecki, Lichtenberg, Libfrajd, Litmanowicz, Lipszyc, Lubelczyk, Lubelski, Leśniczy, Lonka,
Łęczycki, Ławnicki, Łazowski, Łosicki, Łagowski, Ławecki,
Markusfeld, Makobodski, Mendelson, Mocny, Mrożnicki, Miedziany, Minc, Matysowicz, Mandelbaum, Międzyrzecki, Mąciarz, Młynarz, Murawa, Malin, Moszkowicz, Mandelcwajg, Makówka, Mydlarz, Milgrom, Mączny, Miler, Masło, Marchewka, Mróz, Mosiążnik, Mordski, Miły, Morgenstejn, Majorowicz, Mordowicz, Morgensztern, Mak, Miska, Manna,
Nejman, Niski, Nerkowagóra, Niebieskikamień, Nadworny, Nusbaum, Nauczyciel, Niwka, Niebieskafarba, Nisenholc, Niebieski, Nutkowiec, Nuchymowicz, Niemieckafarba, Norman, Nelkenbaum, Nowack, Niewczyński, Nusynowicz,
Ogórek, Orzeł, Orzechowicz, Ogrodnik, Ospały, Osiński, Orensztejn, Opolski, Ogórkowedrzewo, Orzech, Osina,
Rynecki, Rubinsztejn, Rafał, Rubinkowy, Różowagóra, Rak, Rozenbaum, Ryba, Rybak, Rowek, Rychter, Rajzman, Rozenberg, Różowykwiat, Rydel, Rakowski, Rozenwaser, Robak, Rzetelny, Rozenblit, Rodzącedrzewo, Rogowykamień, Ryza, Rozengarten, Rogowicz, Rossenberg, Rozenfeld, Rozen,
Stołowy, Skórnik, Srebrnykamień, Światły, Silny, Srebrnykąt, Świecącykamień, Srebrnagóra, Suchożebrski, Szklarz, Sokołowski, Sukiennik, Sercha, Segal, Sarisztejn, Srebrnik, Smoła, Słuszny, Salamander, Senderowicz, Skórzecki, Sobol, Szafir, Solarz, Sektor, Szielman, Szmulowicz, Szenkman, Szmuklarz, Szumacher, Szwarc, Szczupak, Szczecina,
Tabak, Tenenbaum, Tabakman, Tykocki, Tejblum, Tejtelblum, Tejwes, Tęcza, Topor, Trzmielina, Towjowicz, Turban, Tajer, Twardagóra,
Ubogi, Uczony, Uberman, Ujrzanowski, Urman, Uczeń, Urwicz, Unger, Urch, Uterhaus,
Wilk, Wysoki, Wyrobnik, Wodnykamień, Wynograd, Wajnsztejn, Wrona, Węgrowski, Wyszkowski, Waksman, Wiernik, Wróbel, Wólfowicz, Wesoły, Włodawski, Woskowy, Wielki, Wolnicki, Winogron, Wajnszelbaum,
Zielonofarba, Złotykamień, Zając, Zonszejn, Złotowaga, Zylbersztejn, Zuck, Zysmanowicz, Zysman, Złotagóra, Zielechowski, Żelaznagóra, Zręczny, Żelazny, Zbuczyński, Żebrak, Zalcman, Zylberman, Zanwelew[i]cz, Złotabroda, Zys, Zylberberg, Zylberfuden, Zebrowicz, Zynger.
Source: Shedletser Wochenblat, no. 19 (1937).
Translator's Note: Among the surnames in this list, there are those that are quite Polish sounding: Jerzmowski, Ciszyński, Dziewulski, Niewczyński, Kawecki, Sokołowski, Dobrowolny, and so on. Some clearly have a Jewish reference, many with the -owicz suffix that means son of: Ickowicz, Izraelski, Lewin, Dawidowicz, Matysowicz, Kahan, Manna, Aronowicz, Janklowicz, and others. Some are adjectives: Zręczny [skillful], Konopny [hempen], Blady [pale], Drewniany [wooden], Ciemny [dark], Kamienny [stone], Niski [short], Uczony [learned], Niebieski [blue], and so forth. Others name professions: Celnik [customs official], Farbiarz [dyer], Jubiler [jeweler], Kapłan [priest], Kapelusznik [hatter], Ogrodnik [gardener], Handlarz [merchant], Nauczyciel [teacher], and so forth. Still others are the names of fruits, animals, birds, or objects: Baran [sheep], Cacko [bauble], Drewno [wood], Gałązka [branch], Konewka [watering can], Lis [fox], Smoła [tar], Masło [butter], Ogórek [cucumber], Korona [crown], Szczupak [pike], Gruszka [pear], Wilk [wolf], Zając [hare], Rak [crayfish], Tęcza [rainbow], Marchewka [carrot], and others. Many are compounds: Białylew [white lion], Cynowagóra [tin mountain], Jasnagwiazda [bright star], Niebieskikamień [blue stone], Ogórkowedrzewo [cucumber tree (!)], Srebrnykąt [silver corner], Złotabroda [gold beard], Rodzącedrzewo [fertile tree], and others. Some of these compounds are clearly direct translations from German (such as Białepole = Weissfeld = white field), and some even have both a translated form and a Polonized spelling of the German surname: the German Eisenberg is both Żelaznagóra and Ajzenberg, the German Gutgold is both Dobrezłoto and Gutgold, the German Goldstein is both Złotykamień and Goldsztejn, Rozenberg is both Różowagóra and Rozenberg, and so forth. There are even combinations of Polish and German spellings: Cukierfeld = Polish cukier [sugar, although phonetically similar to the German Zucker] and German feld [field]. The diversity in these surnames gives a vivid picture of the nature of the Jewish community, its background, its professions and trades, its appearance, and in many cases its distinctiveness from or similarity to the surrounding Polish community.
LIST OF DROSHKY DRIVERS IN THE CITY OF SIEDLCE AS OF 19 OCTOBER 1919
|1. Lew Lejbko
2. Pięknedrzewo Moszko
3. Lew Moszko
4. Liberman Berko
5. Kopyść Karol
6. Bursztyn Aron
7. Lew Szapsia
8. Staręga Antoni
9. Szmielina Jankiel
10. Bibersztejn Bjuma
|11. Bursztyn Szaja
12. Lewin Gecel
13. Jerzymanowski Icko Abram
14. Sikorski Franciszek
15. Gruszka Herszko
16. Dębowicz Szlama
17. Federman Abram
18. Staręga Jan
19. Bursztyn Moszko
20. Bursztyn Lejbko
Source: Archiwum Państwowe w Siedlcach, Komenda Powiatowej Policji Państwowej w Siedlcach, sig. 116.
Out of 20 droshky drivers, 16 were Jews. They mostly drove their own vehicles. The surname Szmielina appears in other records as Trzmielina. Worthy of attention is the Polonized entry of the surname Pięknedrzewo [beautiful treetrans.] and also the entry Dębowicz Szlamaa Polish-sounding surname and a Jewish first name.
MAP OF THE GHETTO IN SIEDLCE
Source: Determinations of the author on the basis of material from Beit Lohamei Hagetaot in Israel.
TEACHERS OF JEWISH NATIONALITY CONNECTED WITH SIEDLCE
WHO WERE MURDERED OR MISSING DURING WORLD WAR II
Source: Działalność Tajnej Organizacji Nauczycielskiej na terenie obecnego woj. Siedleckiego w latach 19391944 (Siedlce, 1992), p. 175. [The plaque in memory of Siedlce teachers who perished during WWII includes many of these names; see http://www.siedlce-zwiedzanie.pl/pomnik012.htm.ed.]
ASSURANCE IN PLACE OF AN OATH
Document from the time of World War II that one is not a Jew. Whom the German occupiers considered a Jew is clearly stated in the text.
Assurance in Place of an Oath.
After careful examination, I know of no circumstances that would justify the assumption that I am a Jew in accordance with §§ 1 and 2 of the decree on the meaning of the concept Jew in the General Government dated 24.7.1940 (Depart. of Decr. of the G. G. I, p. 231).
The content of referenced §§ 1 and 2 is as follows:
§ 1. To the extent that the concept Jew is in use in the legal and administrative regulations of the General Government, this should be understood as,
Source: From the author's collection.
FRITZ HOEFT'S INFORMATION ON THE SUBJECT OF TAKING
PHOTOGRAPHS DURING THE LIQUIDATION OF THE GHETTO
Source: Yad Vashem archive in Israel.
Munich, 24 August 1946
Information concerning the Leica film handed over to the Historical Committee
In my work as a higher commander of the Trott Organization [reference is to the Todt Organization1author's note], the Center for the Use of Fuels in Berlin, I was on a business trip in the General Government in August 1942 in order to inspect the gasoline stations located there.
While traveling through Siedlce (150 kilometers east of Warsaw), I put up in the barracks of the Red Cross at the railroad station. Almost all night one could hear individual gun shots, which forced me to rise at 5 in the morning and take a walk through the city. On my way to the market square, I saw dead Jews lying about 100 meters apart. Most often these were elderly men and women. I could photograph only one elderly Jewish woman because I could be undetected on the embankment at a distance of about 100 meters from the station. When I approached the center of the city, I walked past a cordon of Polish police, because, being in the uniform of the German Trott Organization, I could move about without a problem. The square in the center of the city was surrounded by the SS, and I saw 12,000 Jews there who had squatted on the ground with their bundles. A command was given that they may not raise their heads, so they had to sit hunched on the ground in the terrible heat of that day (it was already 10 or 11). If some person, no matter whether a child or an adult, raised his head, then one of the SS men, who were sitting in chairs 20 meters away from the crowd and were armed, two with infantry weapons and one with a machine gun, would shoot at the Jew. Since I had my Leica camera hung over my shoulder, one of the SS men, he could have been a non-commissioned officer, told me that I could take pictures, but that it would not be desirable for them to find their way into the press. I took about 10 pictures, which I handed over to the above-mentioned committee. When after several hours I was walking past the freight station, I saw Jews on one street next to the station as they waited to be loaded. The SS men were running along the rows armed with whips, and they were randomly beating the Jews standing in the heat. I also have several pictures from that spot.
A few days earlier, during my inspection of fuel depots in [the town of] Ujazd next to Tomaszów, I visited the ghetto there. There I even saw a Berlin family of Jews I knew, who were living there in primitive conditions. I also handed over to the committee a few pictures of the Jewish police, starving people, and abandoned children, as well as the process of delousing.
I testify under oath that everything corresponds to the truth and that I have added nothing.
INTERVIEW WITH HUBERT PFOCH
Hubert Pfoch, geboren 1920, war während des Krieges Soldat und danach Funktionär der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Österreichs. Nach dem Krieg engagierte er sich sehr für den Wiederaufbau Wiens; zeitweilig war er Präsident des Wiener Landtages.
Herr Pfoch, als junger Soldat der Wehrmacht haben Sie einmal einen Deportationszug gesehen. Was haben Sie da beobachtet?
Ja, ich bin damals mit hundert anderen Soldaten von Wien an die Front nach Rußland abkommandiert worden. Und am 22. und 23. August 1942 bin ich in Siedlce oder Sielce in Polen einem Transport begegnet und habe mit angesehen, wie die deutsche Polizei, SS, aber wie sich später herausgestellt hat, ukrainische Hilfswillige
In SS-Uniform in ganz grausamer Weise Hunderte Juden, die zuerst auf einem Perron saßen, in die Waggons hineingeprügelt haben, mit Schlagen und Stoßen, mit Schießen und Schreien.
Haben Sie auch einen Mordfall erlebt?
Ja. Zuerst habe ich noch probiert, unseren Zugkommandanten zu einer Intervention zu überreden unter dem Vorwand, wir seien deutsche Soldaten, sogenannte Front, und unsere Kampfmoral würde ja nicht gerade gestärkt, wenn man Zeuge solcher Grausamkeiten würde. Ein SS-Offizier, es war aber ein Deutscher oder ein Österreicher mit einem Wolfshund, hat uns beteuert, wir sollten schauen, daß wir wegkommen, sonst ließe er einen Waggon anhängen und wir könnten uns Treblinka von innen anschauen.
Sie haben doch den Mord an einer Mutter und einem Kind gesehen.
Ja, ich habe mit anschauen müssen, wie ein ukrainischer Hilfswilliger eine junge Frau mit Kind, die sich zu Boden geworfen hat, so gerichtet hat, daß der Kopf des Kindes auf dem Kopf der Mutter lag, und mit einem Schuß beide tötete.
Und er hat gelacht dabei
Ich habe dann versucht, das zu dokumentieren. Und ich habe ja im Krieg immer auch ein Tagebuch geführt. Das besitze ich noch. Ich habe mir vom Waggon meinen Fotoapparat geholt und habe unter großer Gefahr vier Aufnahmen von diesen Szenen gemacht.
Ich habe sie auch damals dem Staatsanwalt im Prozeß gegen die Lagermannschaft von Treblinka zur Verfügung gestellt, und sie sind 1965 mit als Material, als Zeugenmaterial, verwendet worden.
(Abb. 1) Das ist der Perron des Bahnhofes von Sielce [Siedlce], und hier sind Angehörige von jüdischen Hilfstruppen, die schon mehrmals in diesen Autos gekommen sind, um die Toten abzutransportieren, die in der Nacht von ukrainischen Hilfswilligen erschossen wurden. Sooft einer aufgestanden ist, hat er auf die Gruppe geschossen, und es hat eine große Zahl von Toten gegeben oder Erschöpften, die von diesen Leuten wie Mehlsäcke auf das Auto geworfen worden sind. Bei der Verladeszene habe ich dann dieses Bild fotografiert (Abb. 2), nachdem die Soldaten, die mit mir unterwegs nach Rußland waren, zu dem Transport hingegangen sind. Dort lagen die, die nicht schnell genug gelaufen und von der SS erschossen worden sind. Hier sieht man zwei dieser Toten. Der eine Mann hat einen Gehirnaustritt gehabt und über den ist der Waggon drübergefahren und hat ihm die Hand abgedrückt. Und dann gibt es noch diese schreckliche Szene (Abb. 3), wo die Gruppen für den Transport in den Waggon hineingeprügelt werden, und zwar auch so, daß die Familien zerrissen wurden. Der Vater in einem Waggon, Mutter und Kind woanders, und man sieht ja die Ärmlichkeit dieser Leute, die angeblich aus dem Warschauer Ghetto gekommen sind und nach Treblinka in dieses Vernichtungslager gebracht worden sind, wie ich spater erfahren habe. (Abb. 4) Dieser Soldat, ein Ukrainerder, der dann diese Mordszene mit Frau und Kind gemacht hat und andere haben mit ihren Gewehrkolben so reingeschlagen, daß die Kolben gebrochen sind und sie nur mehr den Lauf mit dem Schloß in der Hand gehabt haben. Rechts im Bild sieht man noch einige Deutsche, die das mit anschauen, aber natürlich nichts dagegen tun konnten. Ich habe das alles notiert, also zum Zeitpunkt des Geschehens.
Mir war schrecklich übel. Aus dem Lager in Trehlinka, wo wir vorbeigefahren sind, ist ein penetranter Leichengeruch in der Luft gewesen, und ich habe mich bei der ersten Station hingesetzt, und das alles, was ich gesehen habe, aufgeschrieben und dokumentiert, wie ich auch sonst immer wahrend der Kriegsgeschehen liier Eintragungen gemacht habe wo wir uns aurhalten, wer verwundet, wer gefallen ist. Und ich habe auch politische Kommentare in das Tagebuch mit entsprechender Vorsicht aufgenommen.
Source: Michel Alexandre, Der Judenmord. Deutsche und Österreicher berichten [(Cologne, 1998)], pp. 3336.
Hubert Pfoch, born in 1920, was a soldier during the war and then an activist of the Social-Democratic Party of Austria. After the war he was very involved in the rebuilding of Vienna; for a time he was also the chairman of the Viennese Landtag [Parliament].
Mr. Pfoch, as a young soldier of the Wehrmacht you saw the deportation train. What exactly did you see?
Yes, at that time I was sent from Vienna to the eastern front. From 22 to 23 August 1942 I encountered in the town of Siedlce or Sielce in Poland a transport and I saw the German police, the SS, or, as it later turned out, Ukrainian helpers . . .
In SS uniforms?
In SS uniforms . . . drive hundreds of Jews, who had been sitting on the platform, into freight cars in a very brutal way, with beating, shooting, and shouting.
Did you witness the killing?
Yes, first I still tried to convince the commander of the transport to intervene. I used the pretext that we are German front-line soldiers, and morale would not be strengthened by being witnesses to such cruelty. The SS officer, he was either a German or an Austrian with a German Shepherd dog, assured us that if we refused to be witnesses to the killing, he would order another car to be attached to the transport, and we would be able to have a view of Treblinka from the inside.
Did you see the killing of a mother and child?
I had to watch as a Ukrainian helper picked up a young woman and child, who had earlier thrown themselves onto the ground, and stood them up in such a way that the child's head was resting on its mother head, and he killed them both with one shot.
And he was laughing . . .
I tried to document all of this. And during the war I also kept a diary, which I still have. I also pulled my camera out of the train car and, being in great danger, took four pictures of those events.
I was also as the disposition of the prosecutor during the trial against the staff of the camp in Treblinka in 1965. My pictures were used as evidentiary material. This is the platform of the train station in the town of Sieice [sic], and here are the members of the Jewish auxiliary units, who often came in these cars to take away the bodies of those who had been shot to death during the night by the Ukrainian helpers. As soon as one of the reclining people rose, the Ukrainians would shoot at the whole group. There were a lot of dead and exhausted people, who were thrown onto trucks like sacks of flour. I photographed a loading scene [see photograph 125author's note] while the soldiers who were with me going to Russia were walking toward the [military] transport. Lying on the ground were those who couldn't run fast enough and so were shot to death by the SS. Here we see two of those who were killed. You can see the brains leaking out of one of them; moreover, a passing train cut off his hand [see photograph 124author's note]. Then there is this terrible scene [see photograph 122author's note] in which we see a group of people being driven into a freight car in such a way that families were separated. The father into one car and the mother and child into another; and we can also see the misery of these people, who were supposedly from the Warsaw ghetto and were taken to the death camp in Treblinka, as I later found out. This soldier [see photograph 123author's note], a Ukrainian, who was the perpetrator of the killing of the mother and child, and others were hitting so hard with the butts of their rifles that these would crack. On the right we can see several Germans, who see this but of course can do nothing. I noted all this as it happened.
I felt terribly ill. An intense stench of bodies was being exuded from the camp in Treblinka, past which we were riding. I sat down at the first station and wrote down what I had seen. I took quite thorough notes from the time of the warwhere we stopped, who was injured, who died. I also wrote down political commentary in my diary, with appropriate caution.
THE ACCOUNT OF SISTER OF THE SACRED HEART BENEDYKTA
(APOLONIA KRET) WRITTEN DOWN BY PIOTR KOMAR
In looking through the convent chronicle with Sister Benedykta, I found an entry dedicated to Barbara Piechotka. It related that it was a commander of the navy-blue police that asked the Sisters of the Sacred Heart to take into their care one of two girls he found in the woods. The older one was taken by a local farmer's wife to work, while the younger one was to be taken care of by the sisters. As we can conclude from the entry in the chronicle, the girl was about 4 years old, was sick, and was terribly neglected.
Yet Sister Benedykta asserts that it happened differently. In spite of her advanced age (90 years old), she remembers those times fairly well. It was 1944. According to the sister, one of the nuns once went to the local, Skórzec, township offices in order to take care of some clerical matters; as far as she remembers, it was December and there was snow on the ground [an error either in the month or the year, since in December 1944 the Red Army was already in this areaauthor's note]. While she was in the township offices, a farmer burst in and started to shout that he had been left an orphan who was louse ridden, neglected, and on top of that sick. When she returned to the convent, the sister immediately told this whole incident to the mother superior, who ordered the farmer to be found immediately and the child to be taken from him and brought without delay to the convent. It was painful to look at the child; it had lice everywhere. The sisters cleaned her up and dressed her in new clothes because the others were only worth burning. As the sister says, she swept the lice from her cut hair with a broom since they were scampering away from the flames that were coming out of the oven. Then the sisters rubbed the girl with an ointment for over a dozen days until all the lice were gone.
She was a very nice child who loved to sing love songs and who was in fact about 4 when she was found. During the first stage of her upbringing, no one, not even the mother superior, knew that she was Jewish. Taking into account that at that time, if it had come out, it would have meant death.
Sister Stanisława, along with the local priest, prepared her and her older sister, Jadzia, for First Holy Communion. The sister let the girls know that in order to take First Holy Communion they have to be christened. To which both in unison answered that they were Catholics and both had been christened in Warsaw. It was after the fact that Sister Stanisława went to Warsaw to check if they were indeed telling the truth, and that's when it all came out. These people didn't exist; they had themselves adopted the name Górska, and they had made up the whole story of the christening. They claimed that that's what their parents had taught them. They also said there had been three of them, but they didn't know the fate of their sister; they didn't know who had taken her. They also admitted to the worst for those times: that they were Jewish. Their parents and brother had died during the escape from the Warsaw ghetto. The girls had escaped from the ghetto and walked as far as Czerniejew, from which an unknown man had driven them in his wagon to Skórzec.
Sister Stanisława thought through the whole situation and decided to christen the girls. First she went to the local priest, who along with her had been preparing the girls for First Holy Communion. The priest, outraged by the whole thing, yelled at her that he would not christen the girls. No one at the convent knew about the whole matter yet. After this, the sister, under the pretext that she was taking them to the doctorclaiming that one of the girls has a polyps in her noserode with the girls on horseback to the Kotuń priest, who christened them. Considering the times then, he did not write up a certificate of christening for the girls, undoubtedly in fear of punishment, even by death.
Only after the fact did the convent sisters find out about the true ancestry of the girls. This did not, however, change their attitude toward them. They continued their upbringing. The girls were accompanied to and from school, since there was a fear that the Jews would kidnap the girls. After a time, the Jews indeed came for the girls in a horse-drawn droshky, as Sister Benedykta recalls. They said that, through kindness or by force, they would still take the girls. They wanted to pay the mother superior for taking care of them, but she pushed the money aside, stating that it was not for this that she had raised the girls. The year was 1946, but the sister was not entirely sure.
After the girls had been taken, the mother superior could not rest, since she had heard rumors of trade in children. Only when Basia sent a letter from Zabrze that she calmed down and sighed with relief. She wrote in it that all her things were taken when she was leaving for Israel.
Until this day, Basia keeps in touch with the convent, not only by mail but also visiting the convent in person. She visited the convent for the last time in 2002, as the entry of 12.09.2002 in the chronicle testifies. She at that time came to Poland with an attorney, who went with her even to Kotuń in order to find her certificate of christening. However, there was none, since as I already mentioned above, the priest had not issued one out of fear for his own life. She did not hide her disappointment over this fact, since, as she said, a Polish citizenship was important to her, for reasons not further clarified.
Basia more than once invited the sisters to Tel Aviv, where she now lives. Some of them accepted her invitation, and she, of course, covered all the travel costs. She sent packages and Christmas cards. As Sister Benedykta recalls, she even sent 50 dollars several times. The point was not about the money itself, the sister states emotionally, but about the very fact of remembering. Sister Benedykta was awarded a medal. As she says with a smile, Smashing those lice was worth it.
Basia's fate after being taken from Skórzec varied. She finished her studies, was a Hebrew language teacher, got married, and changed her real name, Faktor, to Piechotka. Then she was divorced; as she stated, she was too delicate for her husband. Now she is retired. She even wrote several books about her time in Poland. She wrote about her story, representing the Poles in too rosy a light, which was the reason the books were not accepted for publication.a She considers the years spent in Skórzec as the happiest in her life.
At this point it is worth mentioning that the headquarters of the Gestapo, where people were tortured and many died, was also located in the convent of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The sisters also helped many orphans from the Zamość region.
Editor's Note, Appendix 10
AGNIESZKA BUDNA JADZIA
She was born in 1909 or 1916 in Aleksandrów Kujawski, in a Catholic family. She lived in Gdynia until the war. After the occupation of the city by the Germans, she was displaced as a Pole. She spent several weeks in a transition camp in Częstochowa. Then, at the end of September 1939, she ended up in Siedlce via Warsaw with Helena Górska and her two children. The German Labor Office referred her to the Siedlce Criminal Police Department, Kripo, as a cleaning lady. At that time, the department was headed by an officer named Zulauf. The station was still being set up at the time, and the painting and carpentry work was being done by Jewish workers. Budna became acquainted with and befriended them. When the first liquidation of the ghetto took place, that is, 2224 August 1942, the Germans still left Jewish labor detachments behind. When they started preparations for complete liquidation, Budna, in October 1942, hid six people: Motl Galicki; Lipa Galicki, Motl's teenaged brother, whom she brought from the camp on the so-called Bauzug train; the Halber brothers, Izaak, who escaped from a labor detachment at the airport, and Abraham, employed as a mechanic at Kripo; Melech, who escaped from a transport to Treblinka; and Dawid Grünberg. Budna took up residence with the fugitives in a modest two-room apartment in the garret at 43 May 1st Street (currently Bishop I. Świrski Steet; the building from that time has been partially rebuilt). The apartment contained an alcove used as a storeroom for coal, wood, and potatoes. This space had a double wall, behind which the fugitives could hide when necessary. There was very little space there, and they only went there in the event of a threat; otherwise they spent the whole time in the room. While Jadzia was at work, there had to be absolute silence in the room. Love developed between Budna and Motl Galicki. Motl always impatiently awaited Jadzia's return, and opened the door for her. A neighbor noticed this, and pointing at Jadzia in the market square accused her of hiding a Jew. Budna reacted decisively with a denial. She called her a vicious gossip, explaining that this was not a Jew but her man. In order to remove suspicion from herself, she invited Commander Zulauf and several policemen for dinner the next day. A roast goose and some alcohol created the right atmosphere. The Germans were loud, which all the neighbors noticed. That removed suspicion form Jadzia, who bought three rabbits and kept them in the storeroom. Any knocking sounds in the apartment during the tenant's absence could be explained in this way.
And so all lived to see the arrival of the Red Army, after which Agnieszka Budna and Motl Galicki were officially married. In September 1945 they had a daughter whom they named Bela. They left for Munich with her husband's family. They soon returned, however. Motl died in January 1946, and Agnieszka returned to Gdynia. Then she worked in a hat cooperative in Legnica. Here she met Szymon Widerschal, whom she married. Unfortunately, her daughter, Bela, fell under a train and died. This was a horrible event for the mother, who blamed other children for the accident. She left for Israel in 1958 with her husband, and in 1987, at the application of Izaak Halber, she was awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations of the World. Her photograph along with an interview appeared in the prestigious album Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust by Gay Block and Malka Drucker. She died in Israel in 2004.
Source: Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Testimony of Agnieszka Widerschal, sig. 2222/119/ (03.2555); W. Stefanoff, Jedna na milion, in Gazeta Stołeczna, 30.1001.11.1993; from the recollections of Izaak Halber and his letter to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem dated 10 March 1986, in the author's possession.
LETTER FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF THE UNION OF SIEDLCE JEWS
IN THE UNITED STATES TO THE COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR IN SIEDLCE
WITH THANKS FOR HELP DURING THE EXHUMATION OF JEWS
MURDERED BY THE GERMANS DURING WORLD WAR II
To the County Offices in Siedlce
|Union of Siedlce Jews in Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Siedlce Relief Society
7543 Broadway Ave., Cleveland, Ohio
|We hereby have the honor of expressing our sincerest thanks to the County Offices in Siedlce for the disinterested help offered to our compatriots remaining in Siedlce during the exhumation and provisions of last rites to the dear remains of our martyrs.God bless you!|
|[STAMP]Siedlce Relief Society
|[STAMP]Siedlce County Offices
22 V 1948
|[HANDWRITTEN] Chairman J. Gongolewicz
Source: Archiwum Państwowe w Siedlcach.
STATEMENT CONCERNING THE POLICY OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES
REGARDING THE PROTECTION OF LANDMARKS AND RESPECT
FOR PLACES OF NATIONAL REMEMBRANCE IN SIEDLCE
Reprehensible events have taken place in Siedlce in recent years regarding the protection of landmarks and places of national remembrance. They have shaken public opinion. They consist of the following:
the demolition of nineteenth-century buildings and wooden houses in the center of the city;
the removal of the landmark memorializing the historical place of execution of Poles during World War II as well as the stone and tablet in honor of the Home Army on Piłsudski Street;
the demolition of the Jewish prayer house on Asłanowicz Street;
the demolition of the Jewish hospital on Armia Krajowa Street;
the destruction of the historic nature of Duchess Aleksandra Ogińska's seventeenth-century park;
the destruction of the historic nature of several Siedlce streets.
In 1995, an opinion titled Siedlce. A Study in Cultural Significance was commissioned by the Siedlce City Offices in the matter of preparing detailed plans for the spatial development of Siedlce. On several hundred pages, the authors describe the urban value of historic buildings and present concrete recommendations about putting them under conservation protection. In spite of the opinion of specialists, many buildings and places important for the history of Siedlce are disappearing from the panorama of the city. Local authorities are ignoring the recommendations of experts.
The most disturbing recent example of the destruction of buildings important to the cultural space of the city and arousing protests among sympathizers of Siedlce is this year's demolition of the building of the old Jewish Hospital on Armia Krajowa Street. This building had an over 130-year-long history and was one of the few Jewish structures that survived the Second World War. In the professional literature it was noted as a landmark and as a unique building. It also existed as a landmark in the consciousness of Siedlce natives. As a religious hospital, it was exceptional on a national scale. It was probably the only surviving Jewish hospital in Poland. The property of the hospital was bordered by the old Jewish cemetery, destroyed only during World War II. According to some sources, it also included the hospital property.
In 1906, the hospital was one of the main places in which the tsarist pogrom of the Jews took place. It went down in history as the great Siedlce pogrom. People were murdered in the shelled building, in which the wounded were hospitalized. Many were killed on their way to the hospital. The Russian extermination of the Siedlce Jews was reported on in the largest newspapers in Europe and the United States: Time, Die Welt, Arar, Berliner Tageblat, Der Neuer Weg, Forwerts, and many others. The pogrom outraged the opinion of the whole world. Half of the population of Siedlce before the war was of the Jewish faith, and 17,000 Jews were murdered in the city's ghetto during the Nazi occupation. Now the last reminders of them are being liquidated.
Those who have an interest in the history of Siedlce as well as in the development in Poland of research on the history of local societies are outraged by the liquidation of reminders and proof of the 400-year-long presence of Jews in Podlasie. A federative understanding of culture, one of the fundamental characteristics of which is openness, requires us to take care of the history of our society in its multinational dimension. Father J. Bocheński, a Polish-Swiss philosopher, once said about this openness, The idea of a homogeneous state [. . .] is in direct opposition to the ideology of classical Poland. In Poland, everyone had a place.
The liquidation of the building of the Jewish Hospital is also the destruction of the legacy of Polish culture, an open and multifaceted culture. Jewish culture is not something that is isolated from and indifferent to our culture but is its historical element that derives from the tolerance that is rooted in our history. Those signed below express their surprise at the transfer to a private investor of the building, reclaimed by the Jewish Council in the 1990s, that was the last of the places of martyrdom of the Jewish nation from the times of the tsarist holocaust preserved in Siedlce.
In light of the above-mentioned facts, those who love Siedlce are expressing their disapprobation of the policy of the local authorities concerning the preservation of landmarks as well as respect for places of martyrdom of the Polish nation leading to a loss of the architectural and historical identity of the city. They are expressing their indignation at the institution responsible for the preservation of the Polish cultural tradition. They are proposing that immediate steps be taken to protect all structures that are unique in Siedlce architecture from liquidation and well as the initiation of procedures for the bestowal of the legal status of landmarks of art to buildings that are important for the architectural tradition and history of Siedlce. They are also proposing that particular protection be given to places of national remembrance. These places are designated by history for all time.
[Following are the signatures of 246 residents of Siedlceauthor's note.]
Source: Text of the Statement in the author's possession.
MAP OF THE CENTER OF THE CITY
Source: Drawn by the author.
ANNE SAFRANWANDERING AROUND SIEDLCE
I wander around Siedlce seeking a face I may know.
Here's Jatkowa Street, there Długa . . . But no, you I don't recall!
My grandfather's house destroyed, the deep well boarded up . . .
How everything has been washed away by bloody, cruel years!
In the city park I hear weeping trees.
Source: Fragment from the collection Will to Live (New York, 1968). Translated from Yiddish into Polish by Michael Halber.
STORIES BY BRACHA KAHAN (BEATRICE STOLOVY)
The Jewish stories written in Yiddish by Bracha Kahan (Stolovy) were translated for the first time into Polish by Maria Halber and edited by Edward Kopówka in consultation with Michael Halber.
Bracha Kahan was born in Siedlce in 1899. Her father, Abraham Hersz Kahan, was a butcher, the co-owner of a butcher shop. Her mother, Rojza née Osina, was occupied with raising five children: Bracha, Chana (Anna), Chaim Lejb, Aaron, and Sara. The family lived at 8 Jatkowa Street.
Bracha's formal education was limited to three grades of the Russian public school, which was free. Her parents were financially unable to provide further education for their daughter, although her mother had ambitions to give her children an education. Bracha received private lessons in Polish and Yiddish. In 19151916, she took part in the classes of the drama section of the Yiddishe Kunst club (the so-called Hazomir) and attended classes in Hebrew. She immigrated to America in 1916 with her sister Anna, who was two years younger than she.
After arriving in the United States, Bracha worked hard in New York confectionary workshops, studying the English language at night. Some of the money she earned she sent back to Siedlce to her family, whose financial circumstances were dire. In 1920, her parents and the rest of her siblings immigrated to America. In that same year, Bracha married Izaak Stołowy, who had emigrated from Siedlce to Chicago a few years previously. Two children were born of this union: Alexander and Edith, who later took the name Semiatin.
Bracha Stołowy published poems in the Jewish press in the United States (Der Tog and Forverts). She also published three books in Yiddish: Mayn velt (My world), 1952; Verter un verlekh fun yidishn folklor (Proverbs and sayings from Jewish folklore), 1976; and Fun fargengene teg ( From bygone days), 1978. This last publication contains mostly poems and recollections. Bracha Stołowy died in 1983.
1. The Wench
Long, long ago, in my Polish city of Siedlce, where I was born and raised, one often saw people who were not in their right minds running around the streets. At that time these people were not placed in institutions, as they are now. They walked around freely, as long as they did no one any harm. I have not forgotten those characters, which have engraved themselves in my memory, even though I came here as a young girl.2 The demented paupers wandering about the streets were sick, ragged, and hungry. No one took an interest in them. Only the children noticed them, ran after them, taunted them, and teased them. We all know how cruel children can be in relation to handicapped people if the proper attitude toward them is not explained to them. One of these unfortunate figures was The Wench. That's what they called her. No one knew her real name. It was said in the city that she had come from afar and from a pious family. She went mad because her parents forced her to marry someone they had sought out themselves and did not allow her to marry her beloved, who was a tailor. Every spring The Wench would appear on the streets of the city. She was a tall, slim woman with beautiful eyes. She walked around clad in a black shawl. In her arms she carried a child wrapped in rags. She talked to herself, constantly rocked the child, comforted it, and kissed it constantly. And so she wandered about with the child for days and weeks. And then one day, a terrible scream was heard throughout the city: Where is my child! she called in a terrible voice. Help! Give me back my child!
No one even looked at her. No one was interested in the woman's fate. Just as before, when she was walking around with the child. Everyone was indifferent to her screams. Only the rascals ran after her and mimicked her.
You want a child? Here! they yelled and pelted her with stones and rag balls.3
In the city they said that The Wench lived in the ruins outside town in the winter. She was kept by irresponsible youths,4 who took advantage of her in exchange for food. No one in the city wanted to look after her. Everyone said, Let someone else take care of her.
And so it was repeated from year to year. Until the following spring. With its arrival, The Wench would again appear on the streets with a newborn child wrapped in rags in her arms.
2. Candies, Chocolates, Jellies
When I recall the shops in the old days in Siedlce, A. Liessin's peom Der Kramer (The shopkeeper)5 immediately comes to mind. In it, the poet so authentically described that life, that hunger, that cold, and those meager earnings. He showed how a poor shopkeeper, waiting hopelessly for a customer to whom he could sell a herring for two kopecks, would become engrossed in the meantime in musings about the Holy Land and the Messiah. This poem reminds me of the story of a little stall belonging to my relative in Siedlce. Her husband was a room painter and a good craftsman. He painted the walls for rich customers, and his favorite theme was beautiful green meadows, trees, and even birds. In spite of his honest labor, he could not earn enough for bread and rent. His wife, our relative, decided to open a stall. She borrowed a few rubles and made a special box with compartments according to her own concept. She put into it candies, chocolates, jellies, and other goodies. She also bought a few seltzer siphons, and she displayed all this, along with a few colorful glasses, in one of the windows of her apartment, which was located facing the street. And so she became a merchant! One day passed, then another, a third, and no one came to make a purchase. The saleswoman was forced to leave her stall to buy some potatoes and kasha herself.
And what if a customer comes and I'm not here? she thought. And she had a brilliant idea: I'll engage my six-year-old sister, who is being raised in my home.
As she thought, so she did.
Esther, she called. I'm going shopping, and you pay attention to the children and the stall. I'll show you how to open this box if a customer should come. Remember, you must take a kopeck for each piece, a two-kopeck coin for two pieces, and don't forget to close the box right away and put it back in the window.
Yes, Esther nodded her pretty little head.
My relative obviously forgot that you don't send the cat for milk. Little Esther could not resist opening the box. At first she only wanted to have a look at all these delicious treats. But she could not resist, took a candy into her hand, and carefully bit off a piece from one side. She also took a chocolate and delicately nibbled on it. She placed the nibbled-on sweets back into the box in such a way that no one would notice. Then my relative came back home, checked that the box was closed, and calmly started to prepare dinner. Little Esther watched the stall every time my relative had to leave the house. And she always nibbled on a piece of the goody. This lasted until a customer came and bought a few candies. When my relative counted out the candies, she noticed a misfortune. All the sweets had been nibbled on at one side. I can imagine what a scolding little Esther got. I well remember the frightened eyes of the six-year-old big girl when our relative brought her to my mother for judgment.
I don't want to see her in my house anymore, she said. She has brought misfortune to me. If she had taken a few chocolates, I could understand. But she nibbled off a piece of all the sweets. How can I sell them now?
My mother gave Esther a proper talking to and my relative a few guldens, and the trial ended there . . .
3. Great-Grandmother Matl
My maternal great-grandmother lived to be almost 100. She outlived all her children. I have remembered her as a slim, tall, straight-backed woman dressed in a black silk dress. She wore a bonnet6 on her head that matched her dress and was decorated with silk flowers and velvet bows. She never wore glasses, although her vision was poor in the last years of her life. She often visited her daughter Rojza, my mother, who was brought up in her home until her wedding.7 Grandma Matl, as we all called her, was perfect in everything: dressing, cooking, as well as running a home, which was a rarity in those times, that is, in 1910. She never ate roasted or cooked food prepared by another's hands. She cooked and baked herself until the last days of her life. She did not trust another's hands.8 I remember her cleanly maintained apartment, a living room and kitchen. I was then 9 years old,9 and Mother would send me to her to invite her for the holidays. I would run the two streets to her house, cheerful and glad, for I knew that Grandma would treat me to home-baked cookies.
To this day I remember the impression her little apartment had on me. The first thing that struck you after entering the room was her bed, which shone with cleanliness and whiteness. It was covered by a hand-made bedspread. Two big, down pillows lay on it in embroidered white pillowcases. The table was also set with an embroidered tablecloth. There was always a carafe of wine and challah in the room as well as silver candlesticks with candles ready to light when Shabbat came.
Grandma offered me her cookies, as usual, waited until I ate them, then, elegantly dressed, followed me to our house.
Once my mother sent me to Grandma's to bring her to a Siedlce photographer. She very much wanted to have her picture. I knew that very pious Jews did not allow themselves to be photographed because they considered this a sin: Man, they would say, was created in the image of God.10
I walked and wondered if Grandma would allow herself to be photographed. When I arrived, I politely asked, Grandma Matl, do you want to be photographed?
Why not? she answered. Let all my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have my photograph. When they look at my picture, then they will not forget me.
Mother was already waiting for us at the photographer's studio to bring Grandma Matl inside. Grandma hesitated a moment: Wait, Rojzele, she said. I think my collar is not even. One corner is longer, and the other is shorter, Grandma said.
It's even, it's even, everything is fine, Mother answered.
And the photographer took Grandma's picture.
When I now look at Grandma's picture, I see with surprise that, indeed, one corner of her collar is shorter than the other.
Written May 1977.
[Editor's Note: The photograph described in this story is reproduced as Photograph 52A in the photographs section.]
I spent my childhood years in the skheda.11 That's what my mother and father would call our apartment, which our grandfather, rest his soul, left to his children as an inheritance. This was a small wooden house with four tiny apartments and three little stalls. The seven siblings split this among them after our grandfather's death. Some got apartments, others stalls. When I got older and was 6,12 the skheda got too tight for us because of the arrival of several siblings. These three cramped little rooms became filled with additional beds, little beds, and cradles. My father decided to move to a larger apartment and to rent our part of the skheda. He calculated that, although it will be hard for him to pay rent, at least the family would not suffer by living in such a cramped space.
We will live like human beings, he said. When I get the rent for the skheda, I'll add a few rubles, and we'll manage somehow.
This idea was a good one, but anxiety crept in at the very beginning. The man who had rented the apartment, a cheder teacher, a poor beggar, did not have the money for the rent in the very first quarter. In those times, rent was paid quarterly, that is, for three months. The tenant came to my father, made excuses, and asked my father to wait a little.
As soon as I get the tuition money from a few tenement-house owners whose sons I teach, I'll immediately bring it with thanks, he said.
But he didn't have it to pay in the second quarter either, and he didn't even come to make excuses. My mother started to nag my father, claiming that this so-called teacher would bring us grief. She had hoped that the rent from this apartment would buy new shoes for the children since they were walking around in shoes with torn soles. But my father justified the tenant. But he's a pauper. As soon as he gets the money, he'll bring it to us. Don't worry, he's a decent Jew. Trust me.
And that was the first time we children heard our parents arguing. We marveled. What could have happened?
What is he thinking! my mother yelled and started to cry. We have to get the apartment back. My children are dearer to me than this tenant. Let the rich Jews in the city support him. Go to him again and tell him you need the apartment back for yourself and he should just move out.
My father came to the conclusion that my mother was right, and with a heavy heart he went to his tenant. This was before Sukkot. Cold winds were already blowing, and a light rain was falling. Mother sat and waited for the money that my father was supposed to bring. The thought out loud, Bruchele needs a new coat because she has started going to school. Chana should get a new dress because she's grown out of the old one. The boys need new shoes and yarmulkes for when they go to the synagogue.
My father returned. He didn't say anything. He took the Talmud book13 and immersed himself in contemplation. My mother tried to talk to him a few times, but my father didn't listen to her at all and just mumbled verses. At a certain point, my mother lost her patience. You went to take care of something, she said loudly. Tell me what you accomplished, she added.
My father kept rocking back and forth over the book,14 as though he were looking for help there and started talking as if to himself. He is a pauper, and he's supporting a bunch of hungry children. He even wanted to give me a few rubles, said my father and became thoughtful for a moment.
And you gave them back to him? my mother cut in angrily.
How could I take them from him after I found out that he had borrowed these few rubles from Szymon to pay back his loan in the grocery store? They wouldn't give him anything more on credit. You should see those hungry children, how they threw themselves at the bread and herring he had brought home! Oh, well, my father said with tears in his eyes, I didn't want those children on my conscience. I did not want them to die because of me.
My mother was moved by what my father had said, and tears glistened in her eyes as well. They didn't talk about this anymore. In the meantime, winter came with its gales and freezes. There was not much joy in our house either. We spent our last saved rubles for the rent. There was no income; there was nothing to buy coal with to heat the apartment. My father and mother walked around the house in their winter coats, and we children lay in our beds covered with our featherbeds and kept warm that way. Suddenly the door opened. The wind blew, and it became even colder in the room. The melamed came in,15 stooped and embarrassed. After looking around the apartment and seeing our situation, he took off his coat and said, Take this, Mr. Hersz, this is my entire fortune. This is a good fur; my father-in-law gave it to me as a wedding gift. This is what I have left from better times. What can I do when I have nothing to pay with? I am a melamed; many students have left me lately, and new ones aren't coming. You know what? Throw me out into the street with everything I have. Maybe someone will take pity and take me under their roof. I know you are not rich. So what am I to do? My wife even tried her hand at peddling, but instead of making money she put money into the business! It didn't work out. One could just tear oneself to pieces! Take my fur, please, and he shoved the coat into my father's hands. My father shuddered. What are you doing, Mr. Dawid. For God's sake. In such freezing weather, how can I let a person out without a coat? Put it on, this second!
He walked the teacher to the door, and said in parting, Be well, and may God help you!
5. A Jewish Home16
Rajzla sits in a rocking chair, lost in thought and memories. Her whole life swims before her eyes, ever since her Michał went into eternity. She lives in her dreams and memories of the past. She had an intense life. She sees herself in a small town in Poland, where she was born in a very religious home, and she recalls the festive holiday celebration, the table beautifully set by her mother, the Shabbat candles, and she hears her father's prayers. All this has stuck forever in her memory. Then she thinks of daily life in her country [the United Statesauthor's note], she is tormented by loneliness and abandonment, a longing for those close to her. Her face shines as she remembers Michał's proposing to her, but she was still too young, he was older and experienced. They decide to wait until her parents arrive here [the United Statesauthor's note]. The beautiful days have passed. Love, theaters, concerts, operasshe visited them all. Dear children. Much joy. Her husband, Michał, also came from an Orthodox home. But he had long since walked away from that atmosphere. Travel in distant countries and eating in other people's houses moved him away from religion. He was an avid Zionist, and he loved his nation. He worked socially, but he wasn't religious. Religion, he would say, is an impediment in normal life.
What Michał said had an enormous influence on Rajzla. She was very young and slowly succumbed to Michał's influence. After the wedding, everything was kosher in her house at first, but Michał laughed at her. All these rules17 had arisen in bygone, primitive times, even though they were invented by wise people. There were no sanitary conditions in those times. Jews were taught then to wash their hands before eating, to go to the mikveh, to use certain dishes18 according to religion. All that was fine once, but now what do we need these superstitions for when we have hot water and soap? Well, understandably the rabbi didn't agree with him, but Rajzla nodded and worked out her own principles. For example, she bought meat at a kosher store, but she didn't soak and salt it.19 She didn't mix meat and butter, and pork never appeared in the house. Michał also compromised. He pleased his wife, and he also respected her parents. He did not go to the bethel on Shabbat, but he came on holidays. He also went with Rajzla on Yom Kippur after the service to meet her parents by the synagogue to wish them a happy new year. The whole family gathered for the meal on Passover, and sometimes on Saturday evenings or on other holidays. That was the whole of his Jewishness.
Time flew, and children were born. Heated times ensued; Rajzla didn't complain but became active. She worked in Jewish organizations, studied, took classes, and read a lot of books. Often after hard work she would fall asleep with the children out of great fatigue. But she did not give up, thanks to Michał, who never refused to look after the children even though he got up very early for work. They spent Sundays all together. They took the children for a walk in the park; sometimes they went visiting, and sometimes they invited guests to their house. Rajzla grew spiritually and exceeded Michał. She was active in organizations, sent the children to school and to declamatory classes. She herself studied a lot. Bitter years came, unemployment, crisis. Michał lost his job. It seemed that dollars had been saved. You had to eat, and there wasn't even money for the rent. Winter came, shoes needed to be bought for the children, and a doctor needed to be paid for. Michał would become despondent, anxious. But Rajzla kept comforting him. She repaired and remade old things. She borrowed here and there, and life improved again. Through the whole time her house was the most cultured in the whole neighborhood. Time did not stand still. Michał has not been among the living for a long time. He suddenly got a heart attack, and Rajzla had to manage on her own. The children left home, and then she missed Michał all the more. But by the end of the week the house would revive anew with laughter and conversations with the children, who came to visit their mother. The children often brought their guests, Jewish and Polish friends. The young people fell in love, and many of them married; that is when Rajzla noticed the mixed marriages among her children's friends. She became frightened. Her national feeling was revived. What will happen to my children now? This was during the time of Hitler. Her heart bled at what the Germans did to her nation. She saw and felt the indifference of non-Jews, their silence. A Jewish misfortune in a Christian world. She only then realized that she should have brought her children up differently. She wanted to consult Michał, she walked around shaken, and her lips murmured, Rabunu shel el.20 She asked God for these children not to walk away from her nation. Her prayer was answered. Was it coincidence that her children married Jews and keep Jewish homes?
Around the year 1912, maybe 1913, my father became a subcontractor. He would supply the Russian garrison with food, mainly flour, sugar, fish, meat, and other products. I remember that my father would arrange the fish, ready to eat, in packages. They were seasoned with various seasonings and fried in oil. I still remember the taste of that fish, they were crispy and dry. My father once brought some fish home, because a barrel had broken open during transport and he could no longer sell them. But the main merchandise that my father provided was meat. In those times, one would buy cows directly from farmers and take them to the slaughterhouse. Those huge slaughterhouses in which meat was bought by the pood [a Russian measure of weight equivalent to about 35 poundstrans.] did not exist yet. A Jewish butcher22 had to buy a cow for his use at a butcher shop or buy kosher meat from my father. That's why my father would have his cows slaughtered at a Jewish slaughterhouse, at a ritual slaughterer's, and asked God that the meat was kosher.23 For only then, when the meat was kosher, could my father exchange it with Jewish butchers. That's when he made money, when the butchers paid more for every kilogram of kosher meat, and my father would use the nonkosher meat for the army. The whole impoverished family benefited from the fact that the meat was kosher. In those days, a dish with a piece of meat was a rarity on the table. When my father happened on several pieces that were deemed kosher, he would bring all the offal home in a sack. The lungs, liver, intestines, heart, feet, and suet were all additional profit for my father. Doing something with them was a task that belonged to my mother, who placed many treasures on the table. She prepared bigger and smaller packages out of them right away.
Bruchele, take this big package to Chana's. Her poor children will be glad, she would say, seemingly to herself. And take this package across the street to Chaja's, she also has a room full of little children. A now you, Chaim, take this package to Leja's, and there's a package for you, Aronek, too. Run across and put this into Rachela's own hands.
We would already be on our way when we would hear our mother's voice, And don't dawdle, children, but come right back! I still have packages to be delivered!
And so my mother sent everyone out until the sack was empty. To this day I remember the children's joy when I would appear on their threshold. I remember the smiles, the clapping of little hands, when they saw me carrying a package. The children knew well that their mother would make tasty dishes from this package that they couldn't afford in those gloomy times. Even a piece of beef lard for frying kasha with sautéed onions made a heavenly dish. The children already knew that for Shabbat their mother would make cholent not with potatoes alone but with lungs, liver, intestines. A finger-licking delight. Oy! Then their mother would work miracles with that package. And I was wished all the best, and the big girl, the one that was ten, thanked me very much. I felt that I was doing something good and bringing joy.
7. What I Remember
I remember Siedlce as a clean, beautiful city with paved streets, asphalt sidewalks, boulevards, trees, and a beautiful park, the streets with stores and display windows. But most important were the cultural institutions and schools. The Russian Elementary School, the Russian Seven-Grade Secondary School, the Polish Seven-Grade Secondary Business School. Jews constituted the majority of the population (almost all the Christians lived at the edges of the city), and the educational institutions and cheders surpassed the Christian schools in the variety of subjects taught in Yiddish and Hebrew. Evening classes were held for adults in both languages. Literature lectures were given. The Hazomir Society was very active. It had sessions in singing, as well as literature, and a library. Many talks were given and discussions held, which attracted many university students and secondary-school pupils not only from Siedlce. In those times Jews were subject to a quota.24Pupils from other parts of Russia and Vilnius took advantage of the fact that the Jewish residents of Siedlce and its environs did not fill the quota, and they came to the city to study. This was a great win for the city. The intelligentsia came mostly from Hazomir. A certain number of workers were joined to it, and classes were given so that they would not be exploited by their employers. Poor workers were taught, and special courses were created for them. From among them later came Zionists, socialists, and anarchists. They hid and held discussions secretly, relentlessly, with animated gesturing. Some were for, others against. The Jewish population at that time, during the German occupation in August 1915, numbered about 18,000, that is, about two-thirds of the population of the city.
Siedlce did not have any industry, but it had a pipe factory in which large sewer pipes were produced. I also remember a stamp factory. My husband, who was older than I, taught die engraving in this factory. He helped the revolutionaries when he was a young boy. He provided them with printing dies for their appeals. He was in prison for a while for this reason. Then he fled to Denmark and from there to America.
Shoemakers worked in Siedlce and made footwear that was sent to the depths of Russia. There was a certain group of gaiter makers, tailors, a few brokers who traded with the landowners, and two or three subcontractors (suppliers for the military). The majority were, however, small storeowners with low-priced merchandise. I also remember an iron warehouse, a mill, a hat shop, a photographer's studio, and so forth. There were also a certain number of carpenters, house painters, construction workers, upholsterers. They mostly lived in poverty. An interesting and real Jewish life pulsed in the city.
8. My Father's Family25
From my father's side, I don't remember Grandfather Chaim Lejb and Grandmother Necha. But I know that my grandfather was a Talmudist butcher, and my grandmother kept house. She sold poultry and offal, fruit and goats. Sometimes grandfather helped her, but he didn't have a head for it; he only studied his books. They both earned only enough for water and kasha, only enough to maintain body and soul. They had a house full of children, three daughters and three sons. My father, Abram Hersz, called Herszke, was the fourth child. After the first three girls, my father was an unexpected guest. He was tall and had dark-blue eyes, blond hair, and delicate hands with long, slim fingers. He was a warm-hearted person, not only for his loved ones but also for strangers. When something had to be resolved, he decided and stuck with it. It always turned out that he was right. He studied until he was eighteen, but he couldn't look at the poverty in his house and the difficult life of his mother. He decided to act on his own. This was the first decision in his life that he made without the consent of his parents. He rented a large store in the Christian part of Siedlce. There he opened a modern butcher shop with non-kosher meat. He hired a worker who quartered the meat, put it on white paper surrounded by ice, and placed the whole thing into a white glass case. The merchandise prepared in this way awaited customers, who were looking at the clean and neat store with interest. In 1885 it looked not like a butcher shop but like a drugstore. Cleanliness and beauty, on top of a young salesman, drew the gazes of customers. Buyers increased by the day, so my father had to hire another helper. At first my grandfather and grandmother were shocked when they found out what my father had done. To abandon studying the sacred books and become a ritually unclean salesman was something that was revolting. But they slowly became convinced that he had done the right thing. My father was a good son; he gave all his earnings to his mother and studied the Torah and Talmud with my grandfather at night. He closed the shop on Saturdays and went to the synagogue to pray. The business prospered more and more, and the house revived. My grandmother stopped buying and selling, and my grandfather devoted more time to studying the holy books. The children grew like trees. After a time, they started saving. Now my father decided to hire a few workers and open a kosher butcher shop in the Jewish neighborhood. And this kosher butchery was also run in a hygienic way. It made a profit and brought prosperity. My grandfather slowly began to build a house. He finally built a house with four apartments and three shops. Now my father personally worked with several workers in the kosher butchery. Later he started working as a subcontractor, a supplier for the army, and he did only this. That took place when my father met my mother. Now I will describe their meeting.
My mother, the beautiful Rojzele (Róża), as they called her in the city, was being looked after for a few years by her grandmother Matl and grandfather Szamaj [Lubelski] in Stara Wieś outside Siedlce. One day, her grandmother sent Róża, fifteen years old at the time, to the city to buy some meat for the house. She reminded her to buy it at the clean butchery that Herszke had just opened. My mother was a girl of exceptional beauty. When she appeared in the city, all the young boys turned to look at her. She came to the butchery her grandmother had told her about. My father recounted this episode to us children, and my mother always nodded in agreement. When he saw her, my father was so stunned that he injured several fingers while he was cutting the meat. He tried to keep her in the shop as long as possible and asked her about everything. Who she was, where she lived, and so forth. She answered all his questions. She was not shy. He, on the other hand, did not sleep all night after this meeting. On the next day he sent a matchmaker to my great-grandmother. And that's how it happened.
My father married my mother and didn't take a penny as a dowry. A beautiful wedding was arranged, and the young couple decided to live with my father's family. They took over the bedroom, and the whole family ate meals together at one table. This harmony did not last long, and disagreements arose between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law wanted more privacy, and the mother-in-law wanted to be the only lady of the house as before. She told her daughter-in-law what to do, where to go, and so on. My father came home once and found the beautiful Róża in tears. He asked his mother what had happened. His mother took him aside and said that her daughter-in-law was bad and that he had really been taken in, since she slept too long, didn't help enough around the house, and so on and so forth. My father interrupted her and asked, Tell me, mother, did you bring a daughter or a maid into your house?
After these words, she was stunned, and he left the house. He came home earlier than usual the next day and said, Start packing, Rózia. We're moving out.
What are you saying? his mother asked in surprise.
I've rented an apartment with everything we need, he answered with a smile.
And what will happen to your parents? she asked, worried.
I have worked for them long enough. Now they have big, grown-up children. Let them help.
IDA JOM-TOW TENENBAUMTHE WORST OF TIMES
Some of the Jews [in Siedlce] were doctors, some were lawyers, and a few had large stores and were well-to-do. The great majority of Jews were poor; they were tailors or shoemakers or had little grocery stores.
The Jewish community had a great sense of unity. People knew each other so if somebody was in need people would get together to help. There was a special bank in which rich people deposited money that poor people could borrow without interest. These loans were not large but sometimes even fifty dollars helped. Poor people would go there and borrow money and pay it back when they could. One group of Jews was devoted to marrying off poor girls. They would assemble trousseaus and find husbands. Another group would walk around on Saturday mornings with a big basket and stand in the courtyards and call for people to donate bread. They would take this bread and distribute it to the poor. Another group organized a summer camp for children. There was a little Jewish hospital but only the poor went there because it wasn't great. If people really needed medical care they went to Warsaw. Some women would go there and bring chicken soup and food, or preserves to put into hot tea. There were a lot of groups like this. Sometimes they didn't even have formal names - people would just get together to help someone in need.
In 1918, when Poland came into existence, it inherited a lot of equipment from the Russian army which people didn't know how to use. Among these things were ropes of nautical thickness, mountains of them. These ropes were about six inches in diameter. Poland had no navy to use these ropes, but the army needed a lot of strong ropes because it used horses to pull cannons and in the cavalry. My father thought that the sisal or flax in the nautical ropes could be reworked, so he got the ropes from the government and hired some poor people to cut them into pieces with axes. He closed off some little streets and laid out the long ropes and the people cut them into shorter pieces. [...]
He also made backpacks for soldiers. The army needed hundreds of thousands of these so he opened a factory and hired a lot of people. When the workload got very heavy, they decided to use prisoners. The prisoners wanted to work because they got bored sitting doing nothing. The government allowed him to go into the prison and use the prisoners [from the Siedlce prisonauthor's note] as workers. Eventually he had several hundred prisoners working at his factory making ski shoes, running shoes with spikessprinting shoes they were calledboxing gloves, and other sporting goods.
In the 1930's some people at Astra, a company which made sport articles, contacted my father about making espadrilles. [...] Since people had to wear the soft espadrilles to play tennis there was a great demand for them. [...] The factory made ten to twenty thousand pairs of them each year.
When the prison factory got big, the union started opposing it because they didn't think that the prisoners should have the jobs. They figured that if my father employed several hundred prisoners, several hundred fewer people outside had work. The Sejm passed a special law allowing him to employ the prisoners. Prisoners would look to prison to learn a trade. They would go in as country boys and come out knowing how to make shoes or tennis nets. He rehabilitated many people, and he became very well known. He never wore a gun in the prison. The guards wore guns and suggested that he wear one, but he never did. He trusted those prisoners and he was never afraid to go in the prison. No one ever did anything to him.
I used to go to the prison a lot too. I helped in the prison office, and I learned to type there. The prison had a big theater and once a year, around Christmas, the prisoners would put on a play. I always went to the play, and my father would introduce me to everyone. We never had a problem. Before the war they voted to give him a medal for rehabilitating so many people. There was even a book written about him by a government official who was once sent to this prison for embezzling a lot of money. He got friendly with my father, and when he was released he wrote a book about his experiences in the prison. He devoted several chapters to my father. We had a copy of the book, but it was lost in the war.
My father was not really an ordinary man. He was a friend to the prisoners and they loved working for him. Twice a year at holidays he gave them packages. He would order lots of kielbasaPolish sausageand cakes and cigarettes and have them delivered to our house. We would make packages and wrap them and bring them to the factory for the prisoners. During the rest of the year he would give them premiums and they also earned money.
In the Jewish community there was a lot of cultural activity. We had two weekly Yiddish newspapers and a Jewish club with a small orchestra, an amateur theater and a big library. This club was supposed to be a cultural club; the only game was supposed to be dominos, but a few men got in who were card players and they turned it into a gambling club. People played a lot of poker there, and a lot of people lost money but the club kept functioning. The younger people didn't care too much about all this though, especially the educated ones.
I went to a government school for girls, the Queen Jadwiga School. It was a very fancy school but for a Jewish girl to get in was very hard. I got in because my father had friends in the Justice Department because of his work in the prison. My brothers went to the equivalent boys school. There were only two Jewish girls allowed in each class - that was the limit. [...]
The career situation for Jews was almost hopeless. It was very hard for a Jew to make himself a place if he did not want to do what his father did, which meant have a little grocery or shop, and the feeling was that if you separated yourself and tried to mix in with the Poles your chances were better. Jews seldom converted, but they became reform Jews. My father, even then, didn't wear a beard. Poland had numerus clausus and numerus nullus in its schools. Numerus clausus meant that there was a certain quota or number of Jews allowed. Numerus null us meant that no Jews were allowed at all. Some universities had one rule, some the other.
So there were a lot of young people with nothing to do. There were young men who graduated from law school who didn't have the money to buy a cigarette. The father might have strained to send the son to school, and after years of work the son couldn't do anything, couldn't earn a dollar. It was a sad situation.
Source: I. Jom-Tow (Tenenbaum), The Worst of Times (New Orleans, 2002), pp. 3839, 4448, 7374, 8889. After consulting Helen Yomtov Herman, Ida's daughter, Tadeusz Kaźmierak selected and translated the fragments (Ida's surname in Polish documents is written Jom-Tow, but Helen uses the anglicized spelling Yomtovauthor's note). [The text provided here is from Helen Herman's original work in English and is used with her permission.ed.]
MARIAN TRZEBIŃSKIDIARY OF A PAINTER
I was awoken by a loud hammering at the doorsomeone apparently wanted to enter my studio. When I went out to open the door, I saw two Jews, an old one and a young one. They were both dressed ritually, that is, in gaberdines, and they wanted to see me. I asked them in and got back under my quilt; after indicating some chairs for them to sit on, I waited for an explanation of this rather odd visit. The old man started, reminding me that he knew me when I was still a young boy, that he often sewed me new shirts and uniforms or remade old ones.
I remember, he said, how your mother would complain to me that her older son is a good student and will turn out well, but her younger only draws and draws and doesn't even think about studying. I laughed then, because no one knew that God would inflict the same punishment upon me.
I started to remember the popular school tailor Rynecki, who sewed and mended for half the secondary school. He had a chestnut beard and was always running somewhere, holding some clothing in his hands. I hadn't seen him in about 20 years. Now I had before me a sprightly old man with a grey beard who, pointing to his son, started spinning his woes to me:
What trouble I've had with him! I've beaten him, I've starved him, but all he does is draw. He studied a little in Siedlce with Gajewski, but what could he have learned there? So I brought him to Warsaw, to Gerson.a And he asks me if the boy has finished any school. Maybe he doesn't even know how to read and write? He does know, I tell him, but in Yiddish. Then this Mr. Gerson says to me, 'You look like a smart man, mister merchant, and you don't know that nowadays even a tradesman must finish school, and you would have your son become an artist without any education?' How wisely he spoke to me, like a rabbi! So I sent my son to Międzyrzecz [should be Międzyrzec; perhaps a Russian/Yiddish mispronunciationtrans.] to study.
To the Myezhiryecheskoye tryokhklasnoye gorodskoye uchilishche [Russian: Międzyrzec Three-Grade City Schooltrans.], explained the young man, who until that point had been sitting quietly looking at my paintings.
Then the old man, wanting to find out about the material aspect of painting, started out by excusing himself for his boldness, justifying it by our old acquaintanceship.
After all, I've know you since you were a just a boy this little (and he indicated with his hand about a foot above the floor). Please be so kind as to tell us in truth, how much you get for this business.
More or less about 100 rubles a month, I answered.
And nothing more? Rynecki inquired futher. So I see that this is no business. You studied in Kraków, in München, in Paris, and you earn barely 25 rubles a week. This is no business, the old man repeated several times.
But I heard that if you study a few years in München, you can get a thousand rubles for a portrait, the young man interjected into the conversation.
Then they went on to the subject of artistic ability. He can do anything for you that you ask for.
I pointed at a note pad and pencils lying on the table, which the young Rynecki picked up and asked boldly, So, what should I draw?
Why don't you draw Jews arguing.
He went into the other room, returned after fifteen minutes, and said, Why should they be arguing? I've drawn Jews praying.
The new painter-to-be gave the impression of a timid person; his face was in part that of a child, surrounded by brown fuzz, and he spoke with a slight Russian accentafter all, he'd studied in Myezhiryechiye.
When my guests left me, walking down the covered stone staircase, they had the following conversation: There you have your painting, said the old man. Have you ever walked on a worse staircase? Did you see how that man lived? In a garret and without servants. He has to open the door himself! Did you see how he sleeps? Under a thin little quilt, doesn't even have a featherbed. Did you hear how much he earns? 25 rubles a week, what one of my senior apprentices makes. And how many years has he studied? And where has he not traveled? Listen, Moshele, I'll tell you this, this is no occupation, this is no trade, this is misfortune . . . You drop this abomination. I'll set up a paper store for you like the one Celnik has in Siedlce.b He already has eleven houses . . . He's not doing well? You will also be rich, drop this painting, it's for stupid goyim, not for a smart Jew.
But poor Moshele did not want to listen to any persuasions and only begged his father to sign him up to the School for Drawing.
All right, the old man said, but first I have to see what kind of business this is, this school for drawing.
And they went to Theater Square, where at the time Miłosz Kotarbiński was professor, a polite, cultured man.c In response to the request of his visitors, he showed them around the whole school, explaining that here one draws from patterns, there from plaster, and finally here the young people draw from real life. On the table at that time was a still life: old books and a large brass candlestick. The Ryneckis thanked him for his kindness, went out onto the street, and the old man again tried to discourage his son from painting.
Listen, Moshele, I'm telling you this is no business. You drew patterns in Siedlce, plaster with Gajewski too. And that they finally toward the end show you how to paint a candlestick, this is no business. You already painted Napoleon in Siedlce, the one I sold to Dr. Frumkin for 12 rubles, and now they're going to teach you how to paint a candlestick.
A good couple of months passed when I was once again visited by the misters Rynecki around ten in the morning, and again they found me under my quilt. The old man was excited, and the young man was somehow sad and depressed.
I've gotten rid of the whole bother, the old man started the conversation. He didn't want to listen to me, so I married him offlet his wife take care of it.
The young man looked at his father with reproach and winced as though he was about to start crying. And what will I do now? Why did you do this to me?
The old man just stroked his grey beard and repeated, Let his wife take care of it, and they won't have to live off the painting because I bought them a paper store on Krucza Street. His wife is from a merchant family, they'll do well. Why don't you visit them sometime?
Poor Moshele's life did not turn out the way his practical father thought it would. The store did not do badly, but its owner did not give up painting and sat behind the counter in the store, painting. When his wife was minding the store, he'd go to the Jewish neighborhood with a thick notebook in one pocket and about a dozen sharpened pencils in the other. And he made sketches, from which he later made paintings sitting behind the counter in the store. He most liked to go to houses of prayer where he drew in his notebook, which was framed in an old prayer book, so he could pretend to be in prayer. He was once caught and almost beaten because it was suspected that he was doing this to make fun of them for the Red Courier.d
Rynecki had no foundations, he was undereducated, but he was a good observer with a certain comic dash. He rendered small Jewish weaving or lathing workshops or small children's toy factories. Here a hunchbacked Jew is finishing a cannon; there a Jewish woman is gluing feathers onto the tail of a wooden rooster. Rynecki developed a great observational sense, but he had a minimal fund of knowledge, so his works have little depth.
His father squandered him, for if he had allowed him even a year's stay in school and later facilitated his independent work, Rynecki would have been unrivalled as a ghetto painter and would have certainly become famous outside the country.26
Source: Marian Trzebiński, Pamiętnik malarza (Wrocław, 1958), pp. 170173.
Editor's and Translator's Notes, Appendix 18
Up to present times, four folk stories have survived among local Jews, passed on by word of mouth. One of them, The Devils, was written down in Yiddish by Jehoszua Goldberg. The rest, that is, Treif Fish, The Pious Preacher, and The Convert, were written down in Yiddish by Icchak Nachum Weintraub. These stories survived only because they were published in the Jewish press before the war. Adam Bielecki, an employee of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, provided a literal translation from Yiddish [into Polish for the first two stories], commissioned by the Society of Supporters of Podlasie in Siedlce. The remaining two stories are literal translations made by a group of students studying Yiddish. Paweł Śmieciuch made a substantial contribution to the endeavor. The author edited and annotated the Polish-language versions of these stories.
The story The Water-Carrier comes from Witold Duniłłowicz's (William Dunwill's) book Three Colors of My Life published by the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw in 2000 (pp. 1213) [and in English in Melbourne, Australia (2004), translated by his son Julian Dunwill and reprinted here by his permission. The title was provided by Edward Kopówka.trans.]. The water-carrier is presented in it as a real person. The story Lewin's Torah was written by Witold Duniłłowicz in a letter to the author. The title was provided by Edward Kopówka.
1. Icchak Nachum WeintraubThe Convert
The story I am telling here is, unfortunately, like many of the stories of old Siedlce, not written down anywhere. It was told by the elderly, who memorized it.
It was right after the 1863 uprising.27 In the village of Wymysły28 outside Siedlce there lived the Jew Icchak Josel, who leased a mill. Icchak Josel was a simple Jew and was considered to be a decent person. One day, the mill was damaged, and Icchak Josel brought a repairman from Germany, who fixed it. An argument arose between Icchak and the repairman, caused by the payment for the repair. During the exchange of views, the German said to Icchak Josel, Just wait! You will remember me forever!
From that time Icchak became a different person. He wandered off the upright path, started to drink and to do other improper things. Of course, he no longer paid proper attention to his business. But he made sure that his wife, who was very decent and virtuous, did not find out the truth. But Icchak Josel had a Jewish maid, who noticed the change that had taken place in her master and told her mistress about it. Icchak's wife did not know what to do, so she wrote a letter to her husband's family in Węgrów asking them to visit her and advise her about what to do to turn Icchak back onto the right path. Soon after, Icchak's two brothers arrived in Wymysły. Seeing that Icchak was moving away from the Jewish faith and crossing himself at every opportunity, they thought he had lost his mind. They tied his hands and left him in a separate room, believing that this behavior would pass after a time. No improvement was noted, however, quite the opposite. Josel, even with his hands tied, made the sign of the cross with his tongue on various books. It was with great difficulty that the brothers managed to convince Icchak Josel to go with them to Rabbi Icchak Neschiż.29 The brothers told the rabbi about Josel's behavior. He listened to them attentively and answered that there was no longer any salvation for Icchak. They therefore returned depressed and left Josel in Wymysły. Several weeks later, Icchak changed his faith and adopted Eastern Orthodoxy. He had two sonsthe older was 10 and the younger was 4. He took the older one with him and converted him. But his wife fled to Siedlce with the younger one. His wife's behavior enraged the convert. He went to Warsaw to the general governor, Count Berg,30 and told him everything. The general governor gave strict orders to the Siedlce governor, Gromeka,31 and the police chief, Madrach,32 to take the boy from his mother and raise him in the spirit of Eastern Orthodoxy. Within a short period of time, the police chief, with the aid of threats, found the mother and forcibly took the child away from her. With the consent of the governor, the police chief adopted the child. But, since he was childless, he didn't have any experience in bringing up children, so he handed the boy over to the senior military medic. The medic lived at 11 Piękna Street33 in Icchak Gad Kornblum's house. The child missed his mother and could not become accustomed to his new caregivers. His mother visited at Icchak Gad's every day to see the boy surreptitiously. The medic watched over the boy, however, and did not let his mother near him, although she had with great difficulty managed to receive permission to kiss her child at least once a day. After a time, the boy became accustomed to his new environment and started speaking Russian. And a hatred of Jews was instilled in him. The boy no longer wanted to speak Yiddish with his mother.34 She, however, did not slacken in her efforts to take the child away from the goyim. At that time, the rabbi in Siedlce was Izrael Meisels.35 The distraught mother came to see him every day and begged him to have the child returned to her. Rabbi Izrael Meisels gave her a letter to his father, Warsaw rabbi Berisz,36 with a request for him to do something about this matter. Rabbi Berisz said, however, that he could do nothing. As we know, Berisz had taken an active part in the 1863 uprising. After the uprising was crushed, he was persecuted by the tsarist authorities, and for this reason he could do nothing. Rabbi Berisz did give the mother one piece of advice. Since she could not assure her rights through administrative channels, she should demand to get her child through the courts. The courts were Polish at that time. The mother indeed took the matter to court. As she had been advised, she claimed that her husband was not the father of the child, and so he did not have the right to convert the child. There was even someone who came in front of the court as the boy's father. Police chief Madrach claimed, however, that the child was Eastern Orthodox and no one besides him had any right to him. The mother lost the case due to lack of evidence. The child remained with the Eastern Orthodox medic. Seeing that all her efforts so far were for naught, the mother went for advice to Rabbi Dawid from Omszynów, the son of Icchak from Warka and a friend of Mendel from Kock. Rabbi Dawid was a great social activist and had a good heart. After hearing out the mother's sorrows, he promised her that he would come to Siedlce and that together they would consider what to do next.
Rabbi Dawid arrived in Siedlce so as to consider the solution to the problem along with Rabbi Izrael Meisels. Together they concluded that goodness wouldl not accomplish anything. Cunning subterfuge was the only way to save the child. During that time, the Jew Kalman Grajoncy lived in Siedlce. This was a very energetic and bold Jew for whom no matter was odious. Both rabbis, Dawid and Izrael, came to the conclusion that Kalman was capable of implementing the action they had planned. They therefore sent for Kalman and explained their intent to him, promising him good fortune in the next life if he concluded the matter successfully. Kalman promised them that he would not tell anyone anything. His task was to save the boy by breaking into the medic's house and kidnapping the boy. Grajoncy gathered his pals, divulged the matter, and swore them to silence. Then he introduced them to Rabbi Dawid, who instructed them in how to proceed. The conspirators started to observe the medic's house regularly. Once, when they noticed that he had gone to Warsaw for some medicine and only his wife and the child were at home, they decided to act. At night, they posted a guard around the medic's house, closed all the neighbors' windows and shutters so that they could not be opened from the inside. Then they did the same with the medic's doors and windows. They left only one window open, and through this they got into the apartment. The medic's wife, seeing an attack in the middle of the night, started to yell and resist. The attackers had no choice; they bound her, gagged her, and took the child. They left through the open window, which they closed behind them. The screams of the medic's wife could be heard in the apartment of Icchak Gad, who lived in the same building. Icchak Gad's household could not go out and check what had happened because the windows and doors were locked. The sounds of knocking and yelling brought the police, who opened the doors and windows.
On the basis of the police chief's order, Icchak Gad and his wife were put in jail because they were suspected of organizing this incident. Other respected citizens were also arrested then. Among them was Szymon Grynberg, about whom the old medic said that he had wanted to give him 1,000 rubles to enable the child's kidnapping. The Jews in Siedlce lived through difficult days. Governor Gromeka and police chief Madrach were the worst representatives of authority in Siedlce. And even though pogroms were not yet in fashion then, the Jews lived through much fear. An energetic investigation was launched against the arrestees, but in the end all but Icchak Gad were released. Every day an investigator would come to him and beat him, demanding information about the people who had kidnapped the child. Rabbi Berisz Meisels initiated efforts to free Icchak Gad since there was no evidence against him. These efforts were successful, and he was finally released.
You wish to know the further fate of the kidnapped boy? When the police found out that the child had been kidnapped, they surrounded all the toll gates of the city. Everyone leaving the city was thoroughly searched. He was hidden in a safe place. When the guards were removed from the toll gates, the boy was taken to Omszanów to Rabbi Dawid. There he was brought up in conformity with the dictates of the Jewish faith. Only a few people knew of this.
After many years, Icchak Gad received an invitation to a wedding in Brześć. On the invitation, on the fiancé's side, was the signature Dawid Momszanow [Hebrew, meaning from Omszanówed.]. At first Icchak Gad did not know who the fiancé was, but then he surmised that it was the boy who had once been saved from conversion. The Omszanów rabbi wanted in this way to reward the suffering that had been inflicted on Icchak Gad. He was the one who had suffered the most from this whole incident.
Kalman Grajoncy and his pals kept the secret, and not one of them said anything. When after many years it came out who had kidnapped the boy, it was said that even the common people who are among us are full of good deeds.
You are curious what end was met by the convert Icchak Josel? Well, in his old age he became a beggar and came to Jewish homes for alms.
2. Icchak Nachum WeintraubTreif Fish
This was in the time when Eliazar Szalom was rabbi in Siedlce. The rabbi, along with the officers of the Jewish community council Nusbaum, Zalcman, and Zibercwajg created a committee that took care of buying arrestees out of the tsarist prison and of collecting money for social goals. The committee also imposed additional fees on yeast and salt since only the community council had a license for their sale.
Rabbi Eliazar often collected taxes from his faithful himself. One time, he came to a wealthy townsman whose name was Orzeł. He asked him for a large sum of money. He wanted to use it to buy out Jews who were in prison. Orzeł, however, started haggling with the rabbi and did not want to give him such a large sum. Then the angered rabbi walked up to the bookcase containing the Holy Books, took out the Gemara,37 and started to read it. A rabbi contemplating this book could not be disturbed. The rabbi's contemplation dragged on.
Why are you treating me like this, Rabbi? the impatient Orzeł finally asked.
Because your egoism is so great that it has disturbed the hierarchy of values! You place your own interest above the interests of your neighbors, which destroys internal order, replied the rabbi.
Orzeł gave Eliazar the appropriate amount of money and started thinking about the meaning of his words.
The rabbi didn't like the tradesmen who raised the price of fish before Shabbat. They sold their wares in the little square next to the synagogue of Przejazd Street.38 One day, a new tradesman, hailing from Sokołów Podlaski, joined the local Jewish ones. The Siedlce tradesmen cursed the new arrival, and when that didn't help, they threw his wares onto the street. The distraught tradesman went to the rabbi with a complaint. The rabbi heard him out and went to the little square.
These fish are treif! he said to the leader of the dishonest tradesmen.
These fish are treif! he repeated loudly so that all the shoppers could hear.
The fish are treif? the tradesman asked in surprise. Rabbi, what are you saying? How is that possible?
Your fish are treif because they have worms in them! the rabbi replied angrily.
This news spread quickly throughout the city, and no one wanted to buy from these tradesmen. This situation lasted a few weeks. Finally the dishonest tradesmen were forced to apologize to their competitor for their shameful deed. When they did this, the rabbi publicly took back his words. A healthy competition prevailed in the little square.
Rabbi Eliazar Szalom had to leave Siedlce, however, because of . . . yeast!? Well, the merchant who held the license, signed by the rabbi, to sell it increased its weight dishonestly. For this reason the challah baked for Shabbat did not turn out well.39 This was the cause of many marital arguments. Complaints were addressed to the city authorities requesting intervention. Finally, the rabbi was dismissed, and he went to Piotrków. From that time he started to be called Eliazar Szalom Piotrkower.
3. Icchak Nachum WeintraubThe saintly Preacher
Magid40 Manis lived in Siedlce before Eliazar Szalom Piotrkower was rabbi here. The city synagogue was made of wood then, but the prayer house was already brick and was located where the community council's office is now. It was in this Beit Hamidrash that Manis, the city magid at the time, spent day and night. He was a great scholar and also a great pauper. He received 80 groszy a week for his sermons, not in cash but in goods: from the baker he received bread, and from the shop he received kasha and candles. In addition to sermons, Manis also wrote his own Torah commentaries. Because he didn't have the money to buy a notebook, pieces of paper in which his food came wrapped were used for this purpose. His notes were collected, and the manuscript is held by Manis's grandson, Reb Goldberg. This collection, in addition to the commentaries, also contains a list of household expenses, which the magid wrote on these slips of paper. From this we know that his budget exceeded 80 groszy a week. The scholar, wanting to make up this deficit, very often fasted, and on occasion he would refrain from eating meat from Saturday to Saturday.41 However, for all his poverty, he observed the principle of eating fish on Shabbat. The manner of buying fish for Shabbat was not what it is today, when everyone can buy them in a store. In those times in Siedlce, two inn owners would sell ready-to-eat fish for 510 groszy a portion. But not everyone could afford such a luxury. One of the two inns belonged to Etka Kawa, the mother of the later social activist Rachela Etkes. She was the one from whom the preacher usually bought fish for Shabbat, paying 5 groszy. Etka, being a pious Jew, was accustomed to give the learned magid the fish for free, thereby doing a good deed. With this goal, through her daughter, she would send fish over to him for Shabbat. It was not easy, however, to convince Manis to accept free fish, so as a mark of his gratitude he would bless the girl each time, since at that time Manis was considered to be endowed in some special way by the Holy Spirit. It was believed that he was capable of seeing into the depths of a person's soul.
The seer from Lublin, Jakub Icchak,42 exerted a certain influence on Manis, advising him to open his soul and pass the grace on to others. Among the many stories that were passed on about Manis, it was said that Reb Wajnszenker and his wife, Róża, lived in Siedlce in those days. One day their daughter, who was already of marriageable age, came down with typhus. Her fiancé's parents sent for the magid so that he would pray for the girl's recovery. When Manis, who had just returned from the prayer house to rest, found out about the whole story, he advised him to place the engagement certificate at the patient's headboard, but he added that the girl would not live long. A while after this incident, the girl died.
It was also said that Reb Naftali Zejman, the fiancé whose beloved had earlier died of typhus, was to marry another. Before the wedding, he went to the magid for advice. The magid asked Naftali to write down his fiancée's name. When the reluctant young man did as he was instructed, Manis, after reading the name, immediately told him everything about his fiancée, including what dress she wore.
The pious preacher was an opponent of the Chassidim. They, however, told many stories that praised him. Among others, they passed on this story: Once the rabbi from Kock was traveling through Siedlce, and when he stopped on Warszawska Street, he went into the prayer house. Manis, who was engrossed in studying the Holy Scripture, didn't even notice him. Only after the tzadik left the prayer house did the magid sense that a great fervor of faith remained in the temple. When a while later he found out who had been there, he ran out of the prayer house. When after a few versts he caught up with the carriage in which the rabbi from Kock was traveling, he bowed to him. Magid Manis died in 1835 and was buried in the local cemetery.
4. Alter DrojanowCollection of Anecdotes
A well-known tzadik once came to Siedlce. As was the custom, the Chassidim started bringing him gifts, requesting his blessing, and asking his advice. The next day, Rabbi Baruch Mordechaj Lipszyc went to see the tzadik. When the tzadik saw what a distinguished guest was visiting, he said to him, Why did you trouble to come to me?
Baruch Mordechaj answered, I wanted to see how such a pious Jew could take money for nothing!
5. Jehoszua GoldbergDevils
A family lived in Siedlce called Devils. These were not bad people before whom everyone in the city would tremble. On the contrary, these were very quiet people who wouldn't harm even a fly. They got the nickname as a legacy from their father, who had an extraordinary experience.
His name was simply Josel. He was called Josel Piekarz [Baker] because he owned a pancake and peasant challah stall right in the middle of the market square. Every Tuesday and Friday would be market days, and the peasants from the area would come and bring potatoes and vegetables.43 They would stop in at Josel's stall to buy a pancake or a piece of peasant challah, which was baked in large pans, oiled, and browned with onions.
Josel was a Jew of fifty or so with small, sharp eyes. Because his beard was always covered in flour, there was no way of telling whether it was grey or black. The peasants liked him a lot because he was a smart Jew and liked to have a friendly chat with them, pat them on the back, and give them good advice on various matters. He would be visited by Antoni, a tall, robust individual with watery-grey eyes and light blond hair. Antoni made himself at home at Josel's, and after the end of trading in the market he would come, unfasten his sheepskin coat, and shake all his takings out of his pocket onto the bed next to the drying noodles. He would count through the money he made and not be able to figure out if it all tallied. Josel would help him calculate his profit. After these operations, Antoni would calm down and buy a pancake and tea with sugar from Josel.
Once Antoni was very saddened sitting in Josel's alcove.44 He stretched his hands out and rested them on his knees, eyes fixed to the floor, hat atilt.
Why are you so sad, Antoni?
He received no answer. Josel walked up to him, placed his hand on the peasant's shoulder, and asked quietly, What's going on, Antoni? I see that you are very out of sorts. Are you out of money, were you robbed?
Antoni slowly raised his watery eyes, looked ahead of him first, and finally said to Josel, Disaster, my dear Josek!
And he told him the whole story. Well, devils appear to him, they have been tormenting him for some time, they are ruining his property, his sheep and horses are dropping dead, milk from his cows is curdling. Hearing this, Josel thought it would be good to become a great and just man. And so he decided to do something so that Antoni would knock those devils out of his head.
From what I see, he said to the frightened peasant, you, Antoni, have news. I myself have more than once had to deal with this company, and thank God I've gotten rid of them. But you must know, Antoni, that their nature is such that if they settle in somewhere and become comfortable, there is no way to chase them out with stick or shovel. You should not neglect this but try to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
These words stuck in the peasant's head, and he asked Josel for some wise advice against devils. Josel advised Antoni, first of all, to apologize to the devils because maybe someone offended them unfairly with a word or a curse and that's why they're coming to seek vengeance. In order to apologize to the devils, you have to prepare a bottle of 96 percent alcohol, almonds, two eggs, two geese, and a black rooster. All this has to be placed in the ruins next to the old mill.
This advice very much appealed to Antoni. He sincerely shook Josel's hand and promised to do everything as he had been told. The appointed day arrived. Josel prepared a lantern wrapped in black paper, leaving only two openings with red paper taped over them. He placed a candle inside. He put on a sheepskin coat with long torn hair, a large cap, a hooded greatcoat, and went to the ruins by the old mill. He sat there and waited. And then he suddenly saw Antoni driving from a distance with a loaded wagon. So he quickly hid in a corner. Antoni stood waiting for the sun to drop lower in the west. Slowly he took everything off the wagon, entered the ruins from the back, and placed everything on the ground. He didn't even dare turn around. Then he got onto the wagon and waited for midnight. He fell asleep sitting on the wagon that way. Suddenly he heard wild murmurs, started awake bewildered, and almost fell off the wagon with fear. A phantom was standing in the ruins in front of him with a tall, pointed head and a pair of bloody red eyes. This being was not walking but jumping. Antoni took fright, his hands and legs started to shake, his teeth to chatter, and his eyes rolled in various directions. Suddenly he heard the call: Antoni! Antoni! And the muttering voice asked, Did you bring the mother, the fiery water?
Mobilizing all his strength to understand what was being demanded of him, Antoni answered, with beating heart and rapid breath, Yes, yes, I brought it.
From the 96th hell?
I guess so.
And two birds that don't fly, you brought those?
I brought them.
And three yellow-white almonds that live in peace and do not meddle?
I brought them.
And everything is holy without a drop of blood?
Here Antoni, confused, did not know how to answer. He was afraid to lie, and he himself didn't know the truth. The phantom came closer. Antoni became very frightened and began to scream in a wild, faltering voice, Oh my God! Oh my God!
People came running in response to these screams and found Antoni lying on the ground unconscious. They barely managed to revive him. Breathing heavily, Antoni kept pointing with his hand in the direction of the ruins in front of him. The people went inside. They looked, examined, and were all ready to leave with nothing, when suddenly one of them saw something moving in the corner. When they came closer, they saw a large bundle with two long belts. They themselves became frightened. When they recovered, they once again moved closer. They pulled the bundle toward them, stood it up, pulled off the sheepskin coat turned fur side out, and took off the head covering. Josel Piekarz appeared before them, mightily embarrassed.
He had much explaining to do for this trick. He had serious problems as a result, including a court appearance, and the nickname Devils stuck with him and his children.
6. Witold DuniłłowiczThe Water-Carrier
The water-carrier was a small, thin man dressed in old but always clean clothes. He wore old clothes given to him by his clients, who were sympathetic to his plight. He had no family. Someone generous allowed him to live in some cubbyhole for free. He seemed to be an example of condensed, intense, unmitigated misery and poverty. Everyone attempted to help him in some way. He became a recipient of the collective compassion of the neighbgorhood. He was fed by anyone who was able to do it. He was clothed by anyone who chose to do it.
His occupation was to supply the neighborhood with water from the local street pump. He made it his business to know when his customers were home, how much water they required, and when it should be delivered. He carried his merchandise in two large sheet-metal buckets hanging from each end of a wooden yoke, which was balanced on his shoulders. A delivery of two such buckets was counted as one delivery and was worth fifteen grosz. My grandmother and other clients usually recorded the tally on small blackboards or pieces of paper.
His income from such hard work was rather small, but sufficient for his daily needs. The neighbors often discussed the plight and poverty of the water-carrier, wondering about his continuing misery in spite of the fact that he did not have any family to support.
My grandmother was the only person who knew the real state of the water-carrier's finances. She was fed up with the situation, because Idel (such was his name) was depositing all his earnings in trust with her, yet living upon the generosity of the neighborhood. From a story that Grandma later told my mum, it was clear that this very poor man owned over two thousand zloty, all saved from his earnings. Such a sum coupled with a steady jobeven a very basic onewas considered in those times to be a satisfactory financial situation. However, he was frequently heard complaining about his hard work and the hunger he frequently had to endure. As a result, he was fed by several people, who gave him any leftovers they could spare.
One day Grandma and some other tenants of Browarna Street hatched a cunning plan. When Idel delivered water and complained about his hard life, Grandma invited him into the kitchen, where in the presence of two other neighbors she suggested that he rest and eat a meal. Idel did not require lengthy enticement. He was surprised and delighted to see a large plate of chicken soup with noodles, followed by a half-chicken on a plate with a large piece of bread.
The food disappeared very quickly, accompanied by expressions of gratitude and deep sighs of pleasure. All three women observed this kitchen spectacle in silence. When the feast was finished, a very contented Idel thanked Grandma again for her generosity. Then the shocking news was broken to him: he was told that he might eat like this more often, since he could afford it! The women explained to him that he could afford such food and that the meal he had just consumed had been paid for with his money.
Poor Idel. He understood that he had eaten food bought with his own money! He did not want to accept the terrible fact that his hard-earned money had been spent on such an unworthy cause as his own food!
The shock was too great. Within a few days, he had moved out of Browarna Street. He was never seen there again. Browarna Street had a new water merchant very soon after, a businessperson who after a relatively short period swapped his water buckets for a small shop.
There are numerous career paths, and as many ways to save money.
7. Witold DuniłłowiczLewin's Torah
The house at 30 Asłanowicz Street was incorporated by the Germans into the area of the Siedlce ghetto and its occupants, Mr. and Mrs. Wierzejski, traded their house for that of the family of Julian Lewin at 58 Sienkiewicz Street on the third floor at the corner of Sienkiewicz Street and Świętojańska Street. Mr. Olszakowski's drug store was located in this house. Julian Lewin moved into the house on Asłanowicz Street with his wife, Anna, his daughter Rena [who later married Witold Duniłłowiczauthor's note], his son, Jakub, and his younger daughter Marysia. They took up residence in two rooms with a kitchen. Lewin owned the motorized mill at 10 Luty Street. This mill was built at the end of the nineteenth century by the Lewin progenitor, Ischai Lewin, who began his milling career in the village of Paplin. He was an enterprising man, one who was progressive for those times. He was born in Paplin and felt a tie to the place, so to speak. The local farmers gladly brought their grain to Ischai, with whom they got along and whom they trusted, which was very important in times of scarcity and crop failure. Young Lewin did not go the way of his orthodox predecessors. He carried himself the way all the residents of the village did and thought the same as they. The only way he differed from his contemporaries was in his desire and striving for higher achievements. Paplin seemed cramped to him. For him, Siedlce at that time was high society, so that's where he decided to move. He did so when he was already of mature years, when he had a wife and two young sons. He approached his objective in a very organized fashion. His objective was to build a modern, motorized mill. He implemented his dream very methodically. While still in Paplin, he bought property outside the city for a mill and an area in front of it. He brought an expert over from abroad as a consultant and an inspector to supervise the construction. With the help of contracted professionals and bank credit, he built what was for the times a large motorized mill that was the expression of the latest milling technology. The mill was at the time the largest establishment of this kind in Podlasie and remained one of the most modern up to the outbreak of the war in 1939. The direction of the mill after Ischai Lewin's death was taken over by his son Julian in the early 1930s. The establishment was run as a family business. Besides Julian, his three brothers worked there; his sisters were only shareholders.
The builder of the mill was aware of his achievement and felt very happy. An expression of this was his desire to help people, for which he was well known in the city, especially among the Jewish community. Siedlce at that time was starting to acquire a city look. As I have already mentioned, Lewin was not an active religious adherent, but he felt, how shall I say, indebted to the Lord God for his achievements. He therefore decided to set aside a space for a local bethel in the building of the mill, in which the family apartment was also located. He saw to the furnishing of the interior and decided to fund a Torah for his bethel, which was a large expense and needed the permission of the religious authorities. One has to realize that writing a Torah was a very complicated enterprise, since the preparation of the parchment, the selection of an authorized writerand they were not numerousand the preparation of the ink according to a strict biblical formula required tremendous preparations. And the writing itself took more than a year, after which the confirmation of the text and its verification took who knows how long. Bringing this intention to fruition took over two years in all. The confirmation of the Torah and its introduction into the bethel was a great holiday for the local Jewish faithful, and the bethel itself acquired a higher level of religious respect. Ischai Lewin took on this enterprise and was proud of doing so.
The Torah is one of the oldest lists of religious and secular laws and rules in the world; it is the model for the great religions of this world: Christianity and Islam. It is the list of the laws and precepts of the Pentateuch. This document is honored by all worldly chaplains of serious faiths and is respected by the people. One does not need to be a believing or practicing person in order to treat these scrolls written in an ancient script with respect.
The bethel in the mill, as it was popularly called, functioned without a problem, serving the local pious Jews for whom the city's Main Synagogue on Piłsudski Street, opposite the municipal building, was too far.
In 1939, the Germans moved Treuhander into the mill, requisitioning all the grain and flour for the Wehrmacht. They also made the two mills in the cityRomański's mill on Kiliński Street by the railroad station and Lewin's millinto delivery points for peasant levies. Of course, they simply chased all the Lewin brothers working there out without mercy. Julian Lewin tried to save what he could from the mill. He did not save much, but he did manage to carry the Torah out of the bethel.
Julian knew that the Germans brutally and sacrilegiously desecrated objects of Jewish religious worship. As I have already mentioned, one did not need to be a practicing person to respect the Torah scrolls. He managed to carry the Torah out of the mill, but he did not really have anywhere to hide it. And then he decided to hide it in plain sight of the barbarians who continuously robbed Jewish homes in the ghetto: he glued the scrolls to the wall and covered them with plaster and wallpaper. Unfortunately, Julian Lewin died in December 1941. His surviving wife and three children were occupied simply with the daily concern for a piece of bread. In August 1942, I was on the Umschlagplatz in front of the burned-down synagogue in Siedlce, where the entire Jewish population of the city had been herded before its mass murder and dispatch to Treblinka. I saw how SS and Ukrainian bullets killed religious Jews who were defending their Torah scrolls.
On 26 August 1942, at 11 AM, Julian's oldest daughter, the eighteen-year-old Irena, left her hiding place in some tiny cell behind the kitchen, got through the barbed wire surrounding the ghetto, and entered the apartment of the Wierzejskis, who let her wash. She rested a moment and went on to the fate that would allow her to survive this hell, passing through Pawiak and the concentration camps in Ravensbrück and Flossenburg. Her mother, Anna Lewin, born Botwińska, along with her son Jakub and her daughter Marysia, was discovered by the SS at 6 PM on that same day. Along with the other people who were in hiding, they were taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot to death. The mother and sister covered the brother, Jakub, with their bodies, and, although wounded, he survived the execution. He later died in 1944 in Lublin as a soldier of the Home Army using the name Jan Myrcha. My wife did not know about the Torah scrolls in the walls of the house on Asłanowicz Street. This was done in secret, and I suspect that only Julian and Anna knew about it.45
8. Apolinary HarglasMilgram
Shortly after settling in Siedlce, I experiences two humorous incidents, the second of which cost me 30 rubles. I had been living in Siedlce over a month already, when suddenly, at 4 PM, a young, handsome Jew comes to me dressed in a short coat [that is, in modern clothes, not the traditional long Jewish gabardine coattrans.] and asks me if I'm the lawyer Hartglas. I answered that I was. Then he tells me that he was sent by police chief Sciepuro. I knew that the last name of the police chief was Sciepuro, but I didn't know him. Then my guest continues:
My last name is Milgram, Dawid Milgram. You don't know what it is in Siedlce to be a Milgram? We do not have a good reputation. We are robbers. I was also a robber and was sentenced to several years in prison. I was in the Chełm prison. One time, the prison Orthodox priest asks me, Milgram, would you like to go free? Why not? I replied. Okay, you'll go free, but first you have to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. Why not? I say. And you won't be able to stay here; you'll have to leave, go somewhere far into Siberia. I had always dreamed of being able to live in the Far East, so I was glad and said, Done. And in a few weeks I was already Eastern Orthodox, free, and settled in Nikolsk-Ussuriysky. I was happy there, made a lot of money. One day, I lost my passport [a domestic identification document, not a document for foreign traveltrans.]. So I go to the police to get a replacement, but at the station they say, Eh, you're lying, buddy, you're a Jew. I tell them that, no, I'm Eastern Orthodox, and they say, Where's your ID? And where am I supposed to get and ID if I lost my passport? So they detain me and put me on a slow train to Siedlce. It has taken me about two months, I just got here at 1 o'clock, and I go straight to the police chief to register. The police chief wasn't in, and they tell be that he went to lunch and would be back at 3. So I come at 3, and the police chief knows me and asks, How are you, Milgram? What's new? I told him everything, and he asks, Milgram, do you carry a cross? So I says, What the hell do I need a cross for? I need a passport. And then he says, You know what, Milgram? You'd best return to Judaism. There's now a lawyer here, a Jew named Hartglas. He'll take care of it for you. So I came straight from the police chief to you.
Just last year, a statute about religious tolerance was passed, allowing christened Jews to return to Judaism. I advised Milgram to bring me his birth certificate, I took the matter onfor free, of courseand in six weeks Milgram was a Jew again. I doubt that this way a gain for my nation.
Source: Apolinary Hartglas, Na pograniczu dwóch światów (Warsaw, 1996), pp. 112113. Title provided by E. Kopówka.
9. Apolinary HartglasThe Persian Rug and 30 Rubles;
One day, at 8 AM, before I had left for court, a sergeant of the so-called convoy command, that is, the military unit serving to watch over and convey prisoners, appeared at my house. This personage was of a distinctly eastern type, with an impeccable uniform and an official book under his arm. He asked me with a clearly Georgian accent if I was an attorney and if he could entrust his case to me. I answered that I first wanted to know what the case was.
Then he told me that he was transporting by train a group of political prisoners from the prison in Wilno to the Siedlce prison. In this group was the assistant of a sworn attorney in Wilno, Mojżesz Wysocki, whom he knew from court. On the way, Wysocki told him that he had sent out a certain sum before his departure to be deposited at the Siedlce prison and asked him to feed the whole group of prisoners, about 30 people, on the trip and credit it to the deposit. Knowing that Wysocki was a decent person, he trusted him and spent the official travel funds he had with him, being sure that upon arrival Wysocki would use his deposit and reimburse him the money he had expended. They arrived in Siedlce around midnight, and it turned out that Wysocki's deposit had not yet arrived, but he had to submit an expense report for the monies that had been issued to him no later than noon that day. He would be 30 rubles short, so he'd have to be arrested and face criminal liability. So he wants to give me a retainer so that I could defend his case from the outset. He himself considers his case to be a good one, because Wysocki will testify that the embezzlement had taken place unintentionally at his, Wysocki's, request, and in the meantime the deposit would arrive, and it will become evident that Wysocki, too, was acting in good faith and that what had happened was simply an unforeseen and unfortunate coincidence. As for the honorarium, I could write to his brother-in-law, the examining magistrate of the fourth circuit in Wilno, Dżanibekow, as well as to his brother, the sworn attorney in Tyflis [Tbilisiauthor's note], Eugeniusz Melikow, and they will pay.
During his narration, I casually looked over his official log, which was the convoy log for the transport of the prisoners. All the dates and stamps were in order, and I indeed found the name Wysocki among the names of the prisoners. I thought to myself that among the responsibilities of an attorney was not only to protect a client after the commission of a crime but to prevent one if that was possible. In the present instance it was possible, since the offence of embezzlement was a formal offence, and if the guilty party covers the shortfall, then the offence is considered not to have occurred. So it was only a matter of Melikow's having the 30 rubles. I decided to lend them to him, but since this sum was for me at the time a rather considerable one, I did not want to act too precipitously. I told him I would have to go out and check if something can be done for his case, so would he come back at 10 and I would accept the retainer then. He agreed and left. I then hurried to the district court and told everything to the clerk of the Civil Division, Nowacki, my university friend, a few years older than I, a clever and prudent man and quite a good lawyer. I suggested that we first check all the names and addresses Melikow had given in the court registry. Everything turned out to be completely in order regarding Wysocki, and regarding examining magistrate Dżanibekow, and regarding attorney Melikow in Tyflis. Nowacki suggested to me that he would make a business call to the prison office and ask if a group of political prisoners from Wilno had arrived during the night. He received a negative response. Then he expressed the opinion that the sergeant was probably a swindler, so I should not worry too much about his story. I went home. Melikow was already waiting at the door. I asked him in. Once inside, I turned to him with the following speech: Sir, I believe that my conscience and my responsibility as an attorney dictate to me that I prevent your commission of a crime, that is, that I lend you 30 rubles. Thirty rubles is for me, an attorney just starting out, a considerable sum. So I went to the court to check if the story you told was true. The names and addresses checked out, but the prison responded that no group had arrived. I therefore suspect that you are a swindler. Here are 30 rubles, but I appeal to your conscienceif what you told me is not true, please tell me to ease my conscience and do not take these 30 rubles.
Hearing this, Melikow immediately exploded: Who gave you right to butt into by business and my conscience? Did I ask you for money? I asked you to accept my retainer. And do you know that moving political prisoners from place to place is an official secret and the prison office may not confirm this? But now they will figure out that no one but I could have told you about this, and now they will have another, worse case against me: revealing an official secret. Now I don't want your defense, and I bid you farewell. He grabbed his log book and wanted to leave. I then ran to the door, locked it, and started to demand that he accept the money. I know you are a swindler, I said, but I want to have a clear conscience, because if it turns out that I was wrong and you are arrested, I won't be able to sleep because I failed to protect you from prison. So please take the 30 rubles. Melikow continued to protest for a long time, but finally he took the money and left. I went to court.
At 12:30, the court clerk came to me with the information that a certain soldier was asking for me and was waiting in the lobby. It turned out to be Melikow. He informed me that he had turned in the accounting in order, that he was leaving in half an hour, that he felt it was his responsibility to inform me before his departure that he had taken care of the matter and to thank me, and that the very next day, after his arrival, Dżanibekow would telegraph me the 30 rubles and an honorarium, which he would be able to determine more generously than I would, and that he would write about all this to his old father in Tyflis, and the father would send me a beautiful Persian rug as a souvenir. We said goodbye, and he left. As for the 30 rubles, honorarium, and Persian rugI am waiting in vain for them to this day.
Source: Apolinary Hartglas, Na pograniczu dwóch światów (Warsaw, 1996), pp. 113115. Title of the story provided by E. Kopówka.
MARIAN PIETRZAKTHE JEWISH LEGION OF 1920
At the beginning of August 1920, the Bolshevik army marched into Siedlce. Its main forces pressed toward the capital of Poland. They marched not only to establish a new system in the conquered country. The leaders promised the soldiers that there was a street of gold in Warsaw, after the conquest of which everyone would take an appropriate amount of bullion. It was also said that there was lots of chocolate in this city and even more pretty ladies with whom the conquerors would be able to have fun.
The Bolshevik proclamations also maintained that the new government embraced the Jewish poor. In response to this slogan, the Jews of Siedlce started to form their own legion.46 It was to join the Bolsheviks in fighting against the Polish army led by Józef Piłsudski. Jewish volunteers started to flow into the legion from neighboring cities: Sokołów, Węgrów, Łuków, Łosice, and others conquered by the Bolsheviks. Within a week there were over a thousand of them. And one local Jew, a shoemaker by the name of Komar, living close to my grandma, said to the neighboring Poles, Now I goes to army! I knows what I fighting for! I be walking on your heads like on pavement. [Komar's statement, although made in imperfect Polish, does play on the popular Polish term for cobblestones, which is cats' heads (kocie łby).trans.] Well, and he joined this legion.
For several days the Jewish volunteers underwent light training with weapons and helped in establishing the new system and order. A week later the Bolshevik offensive broke apart outside Warsaw, and they started on a disorderly retreat.
My mother, born Bukowska, was at that time 16 years old. She was living with her parents in Siedlce on Floriańska Street close to the intersection with Brzeska Street, which led eastward. She watched the infantry and cavalry divisions of fleeing Bolsheviks until late in the evening. Then they all ate dinner and went to bed. Around midnight, Bukowska woke her daughter, that is, my mother, and said, Zosia, do you hear? Her daughter listened. From outside the window some kind of loud rustling and whooshing that sounded like running watera swift rivercould be heard. Given that it was night, it was quite light both in the apartment and outside because there was a large gas lamp on a pole in front of the house. After a brief conversation, the mother and daughter, troubled by the strange sounds, decided to get up and see what was going on. When they carefully approached the window, they noticed that the whole width of the street was filled with Jews marching east, dressed in long, dark gabardines to their ankles, and that was what was making such a loud whooshing sound.
During the crossing of the Bug River near Brześć, the legion was attacked by Polish forces chasing the Bolsheviks. Most of the volunteers were killed and drowned. A few days after the pogrom of the Bolsheviks, the wife of that shoemaker Komar, when meeting her neighbors on the street, wailed in a tearful voice, Ay, how stupid was my husband! What he need this legion for? What he need go for this Bolshevik!? Complaining, she turned to her neighbors and offered to have their shoes fixed for free. She explained right away that she would take them to a certain shoemaker she knew, who will fix them for free. There were those who gave her their shoes to be repaired. As it later turned out, the shoemaker did not die during the crossing of the Bug River. After several days, he returned at night to Siedlce. Then he stayed quietly in the attic of his house and repaired his neighbors' shoes for free in order in this way to apologize to them for insulting them and betraying the country. And in this he was successful.
Source: Marian Pietrzak, Żydowski Legion z 1920 roku, in Sokołów Podlaski dawniej i dziś oraz opowiadania podlaskie z lat 18631945 (Sokołów Podlaski, 2002), pp. 123124.
The several-hundred-strong legion was crushed by the 7th and 8th companies of the First Infantry Regiment of the Legions commanded by Władysław Broniewski, a second lieutenant and poet.a He was awarded the Virtuti Militari Cross [cross of military virtue, the highest Polish military award, equivalent to the American Medal of Honor.trans.] for the battle of Drohiczyn. (See W. Broniewski, Pamiętnik 19181922 [Warsaw, 1984 and 1987]; unfortunately, they were not published in their entirety). The creation of the Jewish legion composed of volunteers was widely exploited by radical nationalist propaganda.
Editor's Note, Appendix 20
Author's Notes, Appentices
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