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[Page 50]

The Hebrew School

by Klara Spector

After the First World War, the teacher, Mordechai Spector, arrived in our town and started to establish the first Hebrew School in town. He earned his Jewish education in a “Yeshiva” where he dedicated himself to his religious and Jewish studies and, in addition, received a quick training to teach Hebrew. The first class was opened in his private apartment without any special furnishing. The benches and the tables were made of simple wood planks, and the school lacked the facilities that were customary in institutions of that sort. However, it was very successful and many students flocked to him to learn conversational Hebrew.

The people of “Agudat Yisrael” did not approve of the establishment of a Hebrew school in town. Immediately, they established a religious school by the name “Beit Yakov,” and, in addition, started to spread rumors and slander against the Hebrew School. Then, an incident happened that gave them the opportunity to bash the new school. During one of the school's trips to visit the Halutzim, who were in the Hakhshara [pioneer training camp] in Szerszeniowce, one of the students was inflicted with stupidity and went, without his teacher's knowledge, to buy pork meat. The matter became known in the city and the teacher was invited to the city's rabbi. The rabbi rebuked him that he was feeding his students with pork meat and using S.L. Gordon's inappropriate interpretation in his teachings. The teacher was able to dismiss the first claim, and as for Gordon's commentary, the teacher proved to the rabbi that the interpretation is clear and comprehensive, and there's nothing inappropriate with it. As a result, the rabbi was asked to announce in public, at the synagogues, that all the words of slander against the school were unfounded and baseless.

After this argument there was a short pause until the men of “Aguda” found a new subject with which to torture the school. They started to claim that the students were ignorant in matters of Judaism, and didn't even know how to wrap their Tefillin. Also this claim was immediately refuted. One of the parents, Izyo Herman, asked the teacher to teach the laws of Tefillin to his son, and the boy was so successful that everyone saw the lack of taste and logic of this claim. Since then, the school started to prosper and students who first studied in “Beit Yakov” also moved there.

It was Spector's great joy to see the school in bloom, to hear his students speaking the Hebrew language in the city's streets, and to receive the admiration of the city's residents. The school prospered and about ninety students studied there, in addition to the students who received special private classes.

One of Spector's exceptional students was Shimshon Meltzer, and the teacher dedicated special attention to him. When he was asked why he was so dedicated to this student, he said: a student who shows a strong will to study needs to be encouraged, and this student deserves all the encouragement that he is given.

 

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The Hebrew School with the teacher Mordechai Spector

 


[Pages 51-52]

The Hebrew Language in our Town

by Atalia Segev (Ettel Teiber)

A Hebrew school, and also a Hebrew kindergarten, existed in our little town, Tluste, even before the First World War. The teacher, Miriam Rosenbaum, daughter of the teacher Shneor, was a resident of our town. She's currently in the United States. The school was not just intended for a handful of educated people, but for the broad sectors of the town. Ordinary Jews – store keepers, small merchants and craftsmen – sent their children to the kindergarten and to the Hebrew school.

The Hebrew school, which consisted of three classrooms, and the kindergarten next to it, resided in a private home, the Guttesman home. The Hebrew language was taught in the Ashkenazy accent and efforts were made to speak Hebrew within the school premises. Even today I still remember the song, “We are Hebrews – we will speak in Hebrew,” that I learnt at the first Hebrew school. I remember with kindness the teacher Zilberhaber, who taught us the language in the “Hebrew in Hebrew” method with reading and music, and with the Hebrew songs that we became fond of. The kindergarten and the first grade constituted one class. It was decorated with pictures and maps which illustrated to the children the meaning of the Hebrew words with the help of pictures, just as is the case in today's schools. The curriculum and the songs that were sung – all of them were related to the Land of Israel and planted in the hearts of the young students the love to Zion and the longing to the Eretz–Yisrael, to immigrate and to live in it.

I remember the memorial service for Dr. Herzl that took place in our town, and I got to participate in it. The great preparation for the service was felt at school and in the kindergarten and we, the children, were taught to sing a Hebrew song which started with the words “Cry Yisrael!” On the day of the memorial service we were led to the Great Synagogue where eulogies have been read. At the end of the eulogies three children from our school, me included, climbed on the stage and recited the poem “Cry Yisrael!” in memory of the great leader.

I remember this experience from my days in the kindergarten, but because of my young age I was not able to go to school. Meanwhile, the First World War broke out. We were exiled from our town and wandered in the countries of the Austrian Empire. At the end of the war we returned to Tluste. The town, most of whose homes were destroyed or burnt, was rebuilt and life started to flow in their usual course.

As a result of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, many Russian refugees arrived to Poland. In this way the teacher, Spector, arrived in our town. He settled in Tluste and started to give lessons in Hebrew in the Sephardic accent. Among the first students of Spector the teacher were my friends: Michael Mesing z”l (died in Hulda), Beno Pfeffer z”l, Munia Haspel z”l and May he live – the poet, Shimshon Meltzer. (Of course, there were many others whose names I no longer remember). In time, my sister Zirel and I joined the Hebrew class that was taught by the modest and noble teacher, Spector. We were among the first girls who studied Hebrew in our town and the push to join the circle of students was given to us by our friends in the following circumstances:

The teacher Spector and his students decided to produce and present a Hebrew play named “The selling of Yosef.” When the roles were assigned it turned out that they were lacking the proper “sources” who knew Hebrew. Then, a few friends came to me, invited me to their teacher's apartment and presented me with the fact: they started with the rehearsal and gave me the part of Levi, Yosef's brother. My excuses that I can't speak the language, that I forgot the little that I've learnt before the war, did not help. At the end, I caved in to the teacher's pressure and my friends' insistent pleading and took the part. I repeated the teacher's words that he read to us without understanding the meaning of most of them. Indeed, the play was held and received many cheers from the audience most of whom did not know Hebrew and were satisfied to know the content of the play.

My participation in the play brought me closer to the teacher Spector and the group of his students and I joined the class together with my sister. The members of the class spoke only Hebrew among themselves.

Over time Mr. Spector opened a private Hebrew school (at the home of Rochtsi Manis Gartner). The interest to study Hebrew grew among the young people. Youth movements, such as “Acheva” and “Gordonia, ” were established and gathered the best Jewish youth in town. All of them strived to provide their members with the knowledge of the Hebrew language before they left for “Hakhshara” [pioneer training] and the emigration to Eretz–Yisrael. My sister and I also joined the “Halutz” movement.

In 1927 I emigrated to Eretz–Yisrael speaking the language and turned to agriculture. Today, I am active in teaching the Hebrew language and the value of Judaism to Jewish children who came from various countries in the Diaspora. In this manner I continued the thread that my teacher and rabbi, Spector z”l, started to weave. He also got to emigrate to Israel, but passed away a short time after he arrived here.

The seed that was sown in my hometown, Tluste, was not planted for nothing. It sprouted and grew, its stalks ripened and they are harvested in joy in the independent country of Israel, our liberated homeland.

 

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The Hebrew School with the teacher Meidman

 


[Page 52]

The “Gordonia” Branch in our Town

by Menachem Teiber

I do not know the exact date on which the branch of the “Gordonia<.i>” movement was established in our town. I only know that the preparation for the establishment of the branch started in 1926. The initiator was Bernard (Dov) Peffer, among the active members of the “Hitachdut” movement in our town and one of loyal and dedicated Zionists. In fact, his brother, Beno (Baruch) Pfeffer, was the organizer but for some reason he was disappointed with the movement and left it. Over time he grew closer to the extreme right and established a chapter of the Beitar movement in our town.

The activities of the branch were the same as the activities of other youth Zionist movements. We organized trips out of town and sang the songs that we studied at the Hebrew School from our teacher Mordechai Spector z”l. In 1927, I left for a Gordonia summer camp in Biltsha–Zlota [Bilcze Zolote] and brought from there the famous “Hora” of Bistritski. I was the only member from our town who participated in that summer camp.

The chapter received a great push when Michael Mesing joined its leadership. Michael was already a graduated Halutz, spent a number of years in the “Hakhshara” [pioneer training] and was a candidate for emigration to Israel. During that time there was a split in the Halutz movement and Michael joined “Gordonia” He directed our branch until the day of his emigration to Israel.

In 1929, when I was seventeen years old, I left for “Hakhshara” training in Lvov. My friend, Tevel Reinish (Arazi), who was the same age as me, left with me. I did not have any difficulties with my parents because our home was a Zionist home, but my friend left his home against his parents' wishes and after a difficult argument. A year later, in 1930, I emigrated to Israel.

When I visited our town in 1935 I found a magnificent “Gordonia” branch. A number of my friends finished their “Hakhshara” training and were getting ready to emigrate to Israel, but only a few of them succeeded in doing so.

 

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A group of members of Gordonia

 


[Pages 53-55]

The “Beitar” chapter in our town

by Natan Maimon

The Revisionist Zionist Movement, which was founded and started its activities in the 1920s, immediately found supporters in our town. That same year a chapter of “Brit HaTzionim HaRevizionisti” [“Union of Revisionist Zionists”], under the leadership of the lawyer Roth, was established in our town. The members of this new political party were mostly young people who were very enthusiastic about the Zionist idea. They also managed to excite many others, especially from circles that until the arrival of the revisionist faction were very far from the Zionist idea.

The plan of action of the branch of the Revisionist Zionists was not much different from the rest of the Zionist parties. Like the members of other parties, the members of “Brit HaTzohar” [acronym for HaTzionim HaRevizionistim] also engaged in cultural activities, distribution of the “Zionist Shekel” in preparation for the congresses, fundraising for various Zionist funds and stormy arguments on Zionist matters. At that time, the fulfillment of the Zionist idealism was only a distant dream because none of the members thought about immigration to Eretz–Yisrael in the near future. Therefore, they weren't different from the members of other Zionist parties of which only a few of them dared to immigrate to Eretz–Yisrael at that time.

The turning point came much later when the youngest members of “Brit HaTzohar” became impatient and started to ask questions along the lines of “Ma Nishtana?” [what has changed?] – “How is “Brit Hatzohar” different from other Zionist parties? Can we just preach others to immigrate to Eretz–Yisrael? How long can we admire the achievements of a few immigrants and at the same time sit idle in the Diaspora?” In this manner these members continued to grumble and be difficult until they drew the logical conclusion from their different stance. They got up, left “Brit Hatzohar,” and founded a chapter of “Beitar” (the alliance of Yosef Trumpeldor) in our town. The leader of the chapter was Herman Steinig z”l, who at that time was a law student. However, it was quickly discovered that he wasn't the right person for the position of the commander of “Beitar.” Indeed, he was a good and serious young man, but in his soul he was a “Brit Hatzohar” man. He dreamt of a legal career in the Diaspora and had no intention to immigrate to Eretz–Yisrael in the near future. Maybe we were wrong in our assessment of this man but, the fact is, we decided to replace him. We elected Beno Pfeffer z”l, who continued in this duty until the Holocaust period. This is the place to mention that there were no ideological differences between “Brit Hatzohar” and “Beitar.” and both worked in full collaboration.

A Hebrew class was founded in the period when Beno Pfeffer was the commander of the chapter of “Beitar.” The Hebrew teacher was Yosef Lechter z”l who dedicated a lot of time, effort, and unlimited love for this goal. “Beitar” rented a separate clubhouse (the first clubhouse was located at the home of Fishel Schor z”l). There, the members started their activities in order to prepare themselves for emigration. They “invaded” the large plot of land where R' Fishel Pfeffer's lumber yard stood and organized military exercises and sports games to the discontent of the “host. ” R' Fishel Pfeffer, Beno's father, always claimed that he was ready to give up his son's “customers” who disturbed his customers from buying lumber and coal. However, R' Fishel Pfeffer was a good Jew with a compassionate heart and never thought of banishing his unwanted guests. I'm afraid to say, that he even enjoyed watching the boys playing with “guns” and that his son was the “commandant• who commanded them. The exercises usually took place in the afternoon and on Saturday.

 

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Beno Pfeffer – the commander of “Beitar.

 

Immediately after its founding, the chapter of “Beitar” started to search for places in “Hakhshara” kibbutzim for its members, and a short time later three members left for a “Hakhshara” kibbutz in Klesów, Wolyn. The first three were: Yeshayahu Mozer z”l, and May they live a long life – Yakov Schechter and Natan Maimon. They were followed by Shlomo Heler, Ben–Zion Fink and many others. Several members of “Beitar,” who didn't want to wait until they were able to immigrate the usual way, skipped all the stages of pioneer training and emigrated illegally to Israel in various ways.

As far as I remember, the members of “Beitar” were the first to distribute products made in Israel among the town's Jews. They left in pairs in the evenings carrying fruits and products from Israel: oranges and grapefruits, wine and juices, halva and sweets. It is fitting to note that the chapter of “Beitar” in our town was not built on the account of other political parties, and only a few members from other parties joined it when it was established. Most of the members came from circles that were far from Zionism, and even did not dream of joining a Zionist party. The members of “Beitar” gained the respect of the town's people with their level–headed behavior and their good deeds. I wish to mention here two events that won a special respect from the residents of our town:

In 1933, “Beitar's” clubhouse received the news that Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the leader of the Zionist–Revisionists alliance and “Beitar,” would arrive in Chortkov for a visit and give a lecture on Saturday afternoon. It is understood that the young Beitarim, the students and the admirers of Jabotinsky, longed to hear the words of their leader, and more than that, they were craving to see him face to face. But how could you travel on a Sabbath from Tluste to Chortkov, a distance of twenty–five kilometers? Surely, the members of “Beitar” were taught to respect the holy values of our nation, and it is known that you can't desecrate the Sabbath in public and hurt the feelings of the town's Jews who were mostly pious. And on the other side – it is not describable, that the Beitarim wouldn't see, or hear, their teacher and master when he was so close to them. What did they do? They decided that whoever wanted to reach Chortkov and listen to Jabotinsky's lecture needed to walk to Chortkov. And who among the members of “Beitar” did not want to arrive?

And so, all the members of the “Beitar” chapter, dozens of teenage boys and girls, left on Saturday morning by foot for Chortkov. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day and a downpour accompanied them all the way. The heart was aching to the sight of these beloved teens who walked in the rain and got wet to their bones. But, they were happy, they sang and were joyful and their faces radiated from happiness.

This deed of strictly observing the holiness of the Sabbath (to be more precise – preventing the desecration of the Sabbath) by “those unruly teens”, found an echo in the hearts of all the town's residents, and increased their respect. Even those who treated the activities of “Beitar” as “childrens” games”, changed their minds and started to treat the “Beitar” chapter and its activities with great admiration.

The second event took place a few months before the 17th Zionist congress, when all the political parties in town started to get ready for the election war. First of all, they started to raise money for this target. It was customary to organize a fundraising campaign among the members and the supporters, and in that manner balance the election budget. The “Beitar” headquarters decided to take care of the matter its own way. They decided to raise the required money for the election fund not from the members and the supporters, but from the labor of their members.

But how can you make a living in Tluste which has no factories, clerical work is not known at all because nobody needs clerks, and all the agricultural work is done by Ukrainian farmers who do not stand and wait for Jewish teens to come and help them with their work. And if so – from where will salvation come? But, there is no need to worry. As we know, nothing is standing before the will, all the more so when it is guided by the desire for a lofty goal. And if those two join together – work would be found also in Tluste for Jewish teens.

There were many wheat merchants in our town who bought, among other things, ripened corncobs and stored them in their attics, or in special barns that were called in a foreign language “Koshnitzes.”

 

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Members of “Beitar” in a festive demonstration

 

There, the corn dried very well during the winter months and in the spring the kernels were “peeled” off the cobs and packed in sacks for shipment. Since the preparations for the election war started in the spring months, “Beitar's” headquarters eyed the job of “peeling” corn, a work that could be done by the Beitarim and the income would be dedicated to the election fund. It is understood, that on one side the Beitarim were ready to take the job offer wholeheartedly, but on the other side the merchants, who were giving the job, thought that the idea was very strange. Who saw and who heard that young Jewish children from “good homes” would take upon themselves such a hard work? And which merchant, who respected himself, would give such a job to Jewish teens? It is clear and known that they were not able to do the work properly. For sure they would play with the work for an hour or two, bring disorder to the warehouse, and leave. No, good boys, I can't give you such a work” – the Beitarim heard from each of the merchants that they approached for the job. Also R' Fishel Pfeffer, father of the chapter's commander, was one of the wheat merchants. Without a choice, Beno Pfeffer approached his father and asked him to give the job of peeling the corn to the Beitarim. Also Fishel Pfeffer did not want to hear about handing the job to the Beitarim. The matters reach the point that Beno threatened to go on a “hunger strike” if his father would not obey his wishes. The father was not influenced by the threat and excused his son with a forgiving smile. But, Mrs. Leah Pfeffer z”l, the mother of the chapter's commander, gave her husband a serious “ultimatum” and tipped the scale in favor of her son. In the end, Fishel Pfeffer gave the job of peeling the corn to the members of “Beitar.

The peeling work was not done by empty hands. Fishel Pfeffer had a hand operated machine that helped with the work and the machine was made available for the Beitarim to use. And these young teens worked diligently and performed the work seriously and with full responsibility. R' Fishel Pfeffer was greatly influenced by the positive attitude and the dedication that the teens showed, and he himself started to lobby for them. He walked from merchant to merchant and told each one of them about the “miracle” that the Beitarim instigated with their work, and so he influenced them to agree to hire them. After the work was done for R' Fishel Pfeffer, it was not difficult to get work from other wheat merchants. Everyone treated the Beitarim with trust and fondness, and willingly gave them the work of peeling the corn. The Beitarim's dedicated work, and the way they chose to collect the money for the election fund, granted them the admiration of the residents. Later it was expressed with the larger numbers of votes that were given to the Revisionist Zionist list, and it was greater than the optimist prediction of the Revisionists.

Such were the members of “Beitar” in Tluste, beloved teenage boys and girls. It's a pity that not all of them managed to reach their desired target – Israel. May this article be their memorial.

May their souls be bound in the bond of life.

 

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A group of members of “Brit Hatzohar” (Revisionist Zionists)

 


[Page 56]

Zionist activity and pioneer training

by Eliyaho Albin

Translated by Sara Mages

When I think about the Zionist activity in our town, I recall the days of the blood riots in Eretz–Yisrael in 1929. The Jewish press in the Diaspora announced them in bold letters and called the Diaspora Jewry to mobilize aid for the Jewish settlements in Israel. This news touched the heart of each of us. Every day a list of the settlements that were attacked, and the names of the victims, appeared in the newspapers. Also our town, Tłuste, which was one of the small towns in Poland, came to the rescue and greatly increased its contributions to Keren HaKayemet and Keren Hayesod. To this day I remember the meeting that took place then at the Great Synagogue. All the townspeople, from the youngest to the oldest, participated in it. HaRav, R' Shmuel Aba Chodorov, Tłuste's rabbi, spoke from the synagogue's Bimah and after him spoke director Pel and Dr. Albin. All of them called the town's Jews to help their brothers in Eretz–Yisrael and enable them to acquire the necessary weapons for self–defense. After the meeting, the town's dignitaries went from house to house and collected the contributions of the Jewish residents. At that time, director Pel, Dr. Albin, Mrs. Krasutski and Yakov Stekel participated in the collection of donations.

Seven years later, in the days of the riots of 1936, there were already a number of Zionist youth organizations in our town. They helped the adults to collect funds for the benefit of the national funds. The most common form was organizing a “flower day.” Usually, this activity took place on a Sunday when most of the residents were free from their business. That day various merchants and agents came to visit our town and the chances of success have increased considerably.

There were also two “points” for pioneer training in our town. One was on the Rozanowka [Różanówka] estate, with Stekel, where the pioneers engaged in agricultural work. The second was the Betar center in the town itself. There, they engaged in various “unskilled” jobs such as chopping wood, loading sacks of grain at the train station, and other such jobs. It turned out that it was very difficult to exist from these jobs. I remember that Fischel Pfeffer saw it his duty to invite the members of Betar to work: in the winter – unloading coal, in the summer – preparing wood crates, and in the spring – the work of “peeling” corn cobs. Also during the “dead” season, when they weren't able to find work, Fischel Pfeffer cared for them, gave them a few loaves of bread, a little flour, a little meat and wood for cooking the Sabbath meal. He always said to them: “take children, I am giving it to you as an advance payment for your work”… he was a kindhearted man and showed extreme devotion towards the young people who longed to emigrate to Israel. Also his youngest son, Baruch, behaved in the same way. The son gave without his father's knowledge, and the father gave without his son's knowledge. In this way, the training center of the Revisionists movement existed in Tłuste.

 

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The town's girls in a knitting class prior to their emigration to Israel


[Page 57]

A last visit to Tluste

by Dov Hendel

In 1937, I came from Eretz–Yisrael to visit my mother at her home in Bodzanów and also came for a few days to my brother David z”l, who got married and built his home in Tluste. I arrived in Chortkov [Czortków] from Bodzanów, and on top of the mountain in Chortkov I stopped a gentile with a calm expression. I climbed on his cart and came together with him to the town center, in the market place of Tluste, at the height of market day.

The shop of my brother David, which sold leather and shoes, stood in the market square. There, stood my brother with his wife, Feiga z”l, who came to help him for only a “short time.” She was in a hurry to return home to her two children, Yitzchak, age four, and Shlomo, age two, who were left under the care of their grandfather, Shmuel Meltzer z”l.

The loud voices of the “negotiators,” the sellers and the gentile buyers, filled the store. The selling was as difficult as parting the Red Sea because there was a great competition between the stores. There were also rumors that the Ukrainians were planning to open their own cooperative stores that, for sure, would deprive the livelihood of the Jewish merchants. In brief – it was difficult for the Jews to earn a living. My brother, who always felt it on his flesh and skin, muttered occasionally: God, if only I can get rid of all of this I would be able to reach Eretz–Yisrael.

Yes, everyone wanted to emigrate to Eretz–Yisrael. Many would have emigrated to Israel at that time if they were given the opportunity to do so. Before evening, on the way home from the store, I met a number of Jews who greeted me with a warmhearted, “Shalom Aleichem.” As a Jew who came from Eretz–Yisrael I was dear to them and my presence excited them and reinforced their longing. Most of the young people showed interest and many lowered their eyes with shame that they were still in the Diaspora, that they were not able to gather their courage to emigrate to Eretz–Yisrael.


[Page 58]

Tluste's Public Goat

by Shimshon Meltzer

Translated by Dave Horowitz-Larochette

Come, my yearning heart, let us dip our pen and sing,
About the public goat of Tluste, the firstling goat of Chana–Mira!

A goat had Chana–Mirl, first–born of a young nanny goat;
His horns both tall and frightening, and a beard of ornament and splendor!

Mornings, on your way to cheider, and going back home in the afternoon,
Remember and beware for your soul of meeting those horns!

A boy injuring the goat, this is desecration of a holy sacrificial animal!
If the goat gores the boy – only he, the injured, will be found guilty!

What is the commotion there at the market? What happened to that lady stall owner?
Why is she so tearfully weeping and her hands clasping?

Woe to her, the goat turned her fruit stand over!
He knows: he's not to be touched, in peace and quiet he left!

Who ripped Reb Itzik's kaftan from top to bottom?
The white lining peeks from the tear – never has an eye seen such a rip!

The goat's horn did this, for it is a complete and experienced ripper!
The man injuring it – sins, but were it to gore a man – exempt he is!

Why is the goat so angry and only destroys and brings havoc?
Because of his character in his [former] life – now he is just a reincarnation!

Do not speak of him in the morning, and please do not dwell on him at night!
Instead of speaking badly of him – better you shut your mouth…The sword [beware]!

Consecrated he is, consecrated is the goat, and sin all those who even touch him!
And none shall be absolved of those who disrespect him!

Throw to him bread from afar, so he bites and he chews to his fill!
Sway will the splendorous beard, the horns tall and frightening!

Obituary the same morning, as soon as the town heard the rumor,
That the horned one was dead, the one with a splendorous beard.

It was in the morning of a winter day, the frost tightly packed,
New and glowing the snow, and white the world, all alabaster.

Who has seen the goat? Chana Mira is looking for him.
He hasn't slept in his manger tonight, yesterday evening he left for the town.

So Chana Mirl said, and she took it a step further;
Into the study–hall she stumbled, to the women's section there upstairs.

Every day she prayed, this was her custom for ages…
Where has he disappeared to, this goat woe–to–me, Father, Oh merciful Father!

Thus groaned Chana Mira having made her climb up there.
Slowly she opened the door and – behold, oh, woe and alas to her!

Here he is! The goat is here! He's dumped with splayed legs,
And a wave of shemos [1] covers him from tail to head and horns!

He has no soul nor spirit, his eyes are closed shut!
She touched him – he is cold and frozen, his hoofs still and bloody!

The very same day they buried him, wrapped in a sheet and all as by custom.
And an appropriate grave was dug in the snowy gleaming earth.

Thus he was buried, this goat, respectfully although near the fence,
Springtime – and the buds scrambled up the tomb and blossomed grandly.

Thus he was buried, this goat, as is custom, by the Chevre Kadisha.
Not one eye wept for him, not one tear for him was dropped.

Not thus was our brother buried – Woe, my heart, woe my pen, do not remind!
This is a poem about Tluste's firstborn, the firstling goat of Chana Mira!


Translator's Footnote:

  1. Discarded holy scripts which are kept for burial, in or near synagogues Return


[Page 77]

A Short Walk through the Streets of Tłuste:
Our Town before the First World War

by Sosha Margules

Translated by Yael Chaver

There were no great, imposing buildings in our town. Nor could we boast of natural wonders that would delight the eye and arouse ecstasy in strangers or passing tourists. But even so, our town was blessed with thousands of charms and idyllic sights that would inspire even an artist like Chagall to create pictures of sloping alleys and small houses – a town so tiny you would miss it if you yawned. Other lovely sights were a small stream that flowed noisily along its route from faraway Svydova [Świdowa] and alongside the mill on its way to Tłuste village, Vorvolenets [Worwolińce] and other villages far away; the part of town that was known as “under the trees,” where the young men of Tłuste would go walking on Saturday afternoons in summer, and meet up with girls. The stream ran by the Polish church, where frogs croaked, and near “Malye's hill,” as well as other mounds and valleys… But let's walk slowly and methodically, the length and breadth of the town, as is proper, and describe the town's appearance.

 

“Kaiser's Road”

One should start, I believe, from the iron milepost marker located at the police post, on the road to Zalishtshyka [Zaleszczyki]. The spick–and–span Kaiser's Road leads downhill from there, through small houses, to the courthouse, the tax office, and then right into the city. The Tłuste village side street runs parallel to Kaiser's Road, near the houses of Reb Nusen Hikand, Shapse Lang, the Zaleszczyki kloyz, and turned towards the sloping house of Reb Meir Shuster and Reb Ahrn Boimayster, and reconnected with the main street. A wooden bridge across the road leads to a courtyard, which at that time belonged to the richest person in town, Reb Eli Albin. The courtyard included a large structure with beautiful rooms, nicely painted. It also contained small houses for the servants and stables for the horses and other farm animals. Every Simchas Toyre and Purim young folks and pranksters would come in to wish Reb Eli a good holiday, entertain him with joyous songs and tunes, and be rewarded with wonderful food and drink.

When we go back on the bridge to Glavno Street, we see another bridge across from the house of Reb Leyb Platzker (young girls hid under the bridge during the First World War, for fear of the rampaging Cossacks). Near the stream, on the left, was the fine house that the town rabbi, Reb Pinkhes Khodorover [Pinchas Chodorov], built, and whose completion he celebrated with great pomp. Opposite, across the water, the baker Reb Avrom (or Note) had a house that was almost sunken into the earth. Not only his own children, but goats and a ram belonging to Yevanitske [ed. Yevan or yovn was a derogatory term for a Russian soldier, and often extended to non–Jews in general] would climb the roof and rip it to shreds. They say that when the baker went to the police to complain, he told them, in Polish: “He has three goats, which rip strips off my roof, and when I complain to him he laughs at me.” Naturally, we children sided with Yevanitske and mocked the baker. We liked the non–Jew because of his ram, which we rode all across town. Sheva, the baker, lived two houses further along. She made the finest baked goods, but only for the wealthy; she spoke Polish hektus–perfektus (in Tłuste folklore, according to all the rules of grammar). Across the way, Reb Yosele Shternlib [Sternlieb] had built a two–floor brick building, and rented out the top floor to a female French teacher (the only one in town), who also gave piano lessons. When the Frenchwoman moved in, they had to drag her heavy piano up through the first–floor windows with heavy ropes and iron rods (for technical reasons), and everyone rushed to take a look at the “weird hauling,” and watch the strong goyim drag the colossal instrument as they yelled “God forbid” to make sure that the ropes would not tear or the iron rods break under the heavy load… Further along was the pub run by Rivke, Zaynvel's wife. The pig–merchants would go there after the Thursday market to get drunk and yell, “Rivke, give us grief (horivke)!” [ed. In this context, it likely refers to alcoholic drink.]

On the right was the Polish church, which was very full on Sundays or during their holidays, when they celebrated their rituals. Nearby was the large house of Malke Fiderer and the wholesale fabric store. Further along, there is a whole row of shops, up to the street where the school is located. In front of

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the shops, on the large square, the female market vendors sit, seeking customers or quarreling among themselves to pass the time. On the opposite side, there are shops around the town hall and a large square, where fairs are held every Thursday. The town hall itself was abandoned, with a dark interior, and surrounded by buildings. These buildings, with their shops, gave the town hall an imposing appearance.

Near Synagogue Street, across from Reb Yehoshua Halpern's hotel, there was another mile marker. This was followed by the trafika, the government tobacco shop, in Reb Khayim [Chaim] Langholz's house. Opposite that is the municipality building, where the deputy mayor, Avrile [Haryło] Bodnar, served, along with his Jewish secretary Yisro'el Krampf. Further along are the houses of Baruch–Itzik Vitashka, Mordkhe [Mordechai] Fiderer, and Itzik Fiderer. Here, you could already hear the terrible sounds made by animals waiting their turn at the ritual slaughterhouse. Apparently, at one time this marked the end of the Jewish part of Tłuste. Any Jewish home on the Svydova road was outside the community. This was as far as our town extended, along Kaiser Road. Now it's time to take a look at the narrow side streets and see what goes on there.

 

The side streets

Let's start with Rozanowka [Różanówka] road, which runs near the bridge to Reb Leybish Platzker's house. Immediately to the right, next to the Rabbi's house, there was a small house where the melamed Reb Shmuel Ne'eman [Neuman] lived with his family. He was a strange person: besides teaching, he tinkered day and night, mending furniture, hammering nails like a professional, and manufactured his own snuff tobacco from dried orange peels combined with chicory. He beat his pupils savagely, even the good ones, on the pretext that “good horses should be whipped more.” His in–laws Reb Mordkhe and righteous wife Sore (the daughter of Mordkhe–Hirsh) also lived there. Every Friday afternoon they would lug a heavy bag through the town, with challahs, rolls, and buns, collected from the wealthy folks for the poor people of Tłuste, for Shabbes. (My God! Did we really have that many poor people? The sight of that enormous sack of challahs was frightening…). Reb Mordkhe [Mordechai] Hirsh was the only Jew in Tłuste who had never ridden the train, either out of fear or principle. Who knows? Climbing further up, on the opposite side, was the spacious building housing the “Baron Hirsch School”, with a residence for Fel [Pel], the director – but that's a topic for a separate article. It's worth mentioning that one of the school's teachers, named Shayner, converted to Christianity with his family in a country church, shortly before the First World War. This was the only instance of conversion in our town. Further on, one street runs through the Rogatke [toll–gate] towards Rozanowka. Another street leads to the Targovitse [marketplace] (another topic in its own right), where a side street branches off to the home of Reb Itze, Pinye's son. This house had tall trees and an orchard full of sweet fruit. When we were children, sneaking into that yard on a beautiful summer's day was one of our greatest pleasures.

This was another boundary of Tłuste's Jewish territory. We need to return to Kaiser's Road, just before the Polish church. We walk downhill to Bathhouse Street. In winter, the hill was lively with sleds going up and down. Cheyder assistants accompanied small children to Reb Aba Melamed's cheyder, to learn the alphabet. In the summer the age–old tones of komets–alef–o floated sweetly through the open windows. The house of Reb Yosye Shuster rang with delightful folksongs from the shoemakers' apprentices and Reb Yosye's charming, blond–haired daughter. All these sounds, together with the murmur of the nearby stream, combined (according to the Baal Shem Tov's style) and sent a song of praise to the heavenly Father. Every day, the two water carriers would meet on their way to the spring. One (the “aristocrat,” as it were) had his own horse and a two–wheeled barrel, and thrived. The other, unlucky man, owned only two cans, which he carried on a kromisl [ed. Likely a shoulder–yoke], and thus barely made a living by his hard labor. This was also the site of the bath–house, with the Baal–Shem's mikveh, and the stone steps where people whipped their sweating bodies every Friday.

Returning to the hill and crossing over to the other side of the stream, we see below the Polish church the calm little river that the Poles comically called Tupa. People would catch fish in summer, and skate over the ice in winter on ice–skates, or wearing boots with iron horseshoes nailed on. The mill with its great wheel was on the right bank of the river; on hot summer days, people would splash in the wheel's miniature waterfalls. (Young folks would walk as far as Svydova to bathe and swim in the river there, but the river reeked from Moshe–Yankel's tannery and the foul–smelling animal pelts that he would wash in it.)

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It wasn't far from the mill to the green meadow, known as “under the trees.” Young men and girls would walk there on Shabbat in summer (usually with a book under one arm, to appear more “intellectual”) and make love. This is also where the German–Jewish writer Karl–Emil Franzos took walks and was inspired to write his novels, which were very popular at the time and were translated into many European languages. Apparently, his best novel, “The Jews of Baranovic [Barnow],” is based on characters from Tłuste.

We walk back to the small alley below the church, starting with the house of Shneyer the melamed, and come straight to Synagogue Street, location of almost all the prayer–houses in our town. The synagogue, the bes–medresh, the Hasidic kloyz, and even the cemetery itself, all deserve longer descriptions. From here, we make our way to the Ukrainian church, opposite Town Hall. Compared with the Polish church, it appears shabby and neglected. Now we turn towards the butcher shops, where butchers rendered the meat kosher. Further left there was the large “Star” [Gwiazda] building, where theatrical performances and meetings were held. Next was Railroad Street, where you would meet the local carriage drivers and their horses, decorated with bells, growling like lions. We find ourselves again on Kaiser Road, near the tobacco shop, and catch a glimpse of Reb Khayim Langholz, sitting in the shade and stroking his silken beard, while his wife (a heavy–set woman) reads a Polish newspaper and smokes a cigarette.

Here we end our short walk through Tłuste. That is enough for now. My memory is failing and my feet will not carry me further to rummage for reminiscences of all the narrow streets and houses of prayer where we spent our youth, dreamed our dreams, and where, finally, during the reign of Hitler (may his name be blotted out) the innocent blood of our nearest and dearest souls was spilled. May their memories be bound in the bond of everlasting life.


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Legends and Events

by Shmuel Fiderer-Margulies

Translated by Yael Chaver

“One leafs through the history of our town” – this is how a written memoir of the Tłuste Jewish community should begin, in flowery language. But does there already exist a printed, or written, history of our destroyed town, to provide information about the previous hundred years of its existence? There are rumors of a small historic booklet, by a Polish writer, titled “Tłuste on the Dupa” [ed. “Tłuste nad Dębną”] published about 80 years ago [ed. actually 1923] in Lemberg. Unfortunately, I could not obtain this small book, in spite of all my efforts. On the other hand, the handwritten Pinkes Tluste, which was housed in the house of my grandfather, the rabbi, contained much information about religious issues, synagogue managers and ritual slaughterers, prayer style, the cemetery, and houses of prayer, but almost no historical information. Thus, the question remains: How long has the town of Tłuste existed? Who were the first Jewish families in our town? What was their lifestyle? How did they make a living?

Reb Moyshe Zelig Kremer, may he rest in peace (an intelligent person, a history expert), said that at the beginning of the 16th century Tłuste was a market spot, a place for fairs, where the villagers from the region would gather to sell their products. One fine day, two Jewish families that had moved from Russian Ukraine or Podolia settled there and opened two small taverns to sell the villagers brandy and mead. These were the ancestors of Reb Itzik Shternlib of our time. They settled on the hill above the well, not far from the market. More families arrived later from the same region, built houses and opened shops. Thus, at the start of the 18th century, when the Ba'al Shem Tov was born, several hundred Jewish families were living in Tłuste and had developed a commercial life. The ruler of the entire area, Countess Poninska, was very interested in the commercial development of the town and decreed that Jews who wanted to build houses or storehouses would receive free plots for these buildings and gardens. They were allowed to get wood from the surrounding forests and graze their livestock without charge in the pastures. They enjoyed additional privileges. A written proclamation, sealed with the crest of the Count, elevated Tłuste to the status of a “free city”; it was the only such town in the entire area. According to legend, when the now elderly Countess came to Tłuste and saw the first manufactured textile shop in the town, she marveled, and went in to buy a few yards of calico for a dress, for which she paid a fortune of ten gold ducats.

This continued for years. Tluste remained a “free city,” while other towns and villages in the area had to pay the Countess taxes for everything and everyone. This continued even after the death of the Countess, because her will stated, for the benefit of her heirs, that Tłuste should remain a “free city.”

One fine day, a Jew from Tłuste arrived at the palace of the noble family, requesting an audience with the son of the deceased Countess. Once he entered the Count's presence, he bowed submissively, and told a strange tale: he had come as a messenger from the entire Tłuste Jewish community, and requested – on behalf of all the town's Jews – that all the privileges granted previously should be revoked, because the Jews of Tłuste did not want to be an exception. They wanted to bear the same responsibilities as the residents of other towns. The young man also placed a forged document on the table, signed by the consent of the Jewish community council and sealed with wax. The document stated explicitly that they did not want to be a “free city.” The Count considered for a while, and then said, “Well, if that's what the Jews want, I'll do it for them…” The rest went as smoothly as a chapter of Psalms: the Count called in his office manager and instructed him to change the entire procedure, in other words – to revoke all the privileges of the Jews of Tłuste, ending the “free city.” Of course, that young man became a constant visitor in the manager's office, advising him on how to go about the practical work of cheating the Jews of Tłuste. He manipulated it so that he would benefit from the new taxes the Jews had to pay.

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As a result of this cunning scheme, they started extorting money from everyone, rich and poor alike. Anyone who could not pay was jailed, or an enforcer was sent to his home. An armed cavalryman from Zaleszczyki would ride in on horseback and take up residence in the debtor's house (including bed and board) until he got the tax payment. Our friendly neighbor, Mr. M. Z. Kremer, told us this story and others.

No less interesting is the episode of the battle, and victory, of the Jews of Tłuste against the perpetrators of a pogrom by a band called the barabbers. Who were these barabbers? What were they doing in Tłuste? The incident was as follows:

In 1898, the Austrian state, under Emperor Franz Joseph, had not yet completed laying the rail line into Galitzia. The workers in our part of this gigantic project were called barabbers: tall, powerful non-Jews with wide shoulders, who spread fear with their wild behavior and constant drunkenness. They spoke an incomprehensible Polish dialect and provoked fights. Why were they tagged with the nickname barabbers? You never know, with our Tłuste Jews! The source of other nicknames is also hard to pinpoint. Were they tagged as barabbers because some likened them to Arabs? More reasonable is the opinion of others, who claimed that these were Polish Masurians. However, whatever their origin, these barabbers decided to attack the Jews of Tłuste, on the first day of Shevues, 1898, with a pogrom. The pretext was that our tavern-keepers had supposedly cheated them by charging high prices for brandy and serving small glasses of the alcoholic drink.

Our Jews did not know of the impending catastrophe. The town was at prayers, enjoying the holiday chants. However, the guardian of Israel never rests or sleeps. Franz Joseph's gendarmes knew what was coming. They entered the synagogue and bes medres in the middle of the service and sounded the alarm to the entire community, yelling, “Jews, save yourselves!” Everyone ran home, grabbed iron bars, axes, and other means of battle, placed themselves behind the gendarmes, and marched against the enemies. The strongest ones marched in the first rows: horse-traders, butchers, and the young people. With courage and decisiveness, they wanted to teach the barabbers a lesson, as an example. The first encounter was in Kaiser Street, outside town. The chief gendarme yelled out to the marauders, but with no result. They started throwing stones and stood facing us with their weapons: spades, picks, crowbars. The gendarmes responded with fire, immediately felling several of them. The barabbers started running back, and our guys followed them, gave them a good beating, and drove them back into their own neighborhoods. The entire attack only lasted several minutes, but the results for the barabbers were catastrophic: they had several fatalities. We, on the other hand, suffered only a few wounded. No one spoke openly about the outcome of the intended pogrom, only in whispers. People were afraid of what the gentiles would say, because the authorities wanted to investigate the deaths. However, everything calmed down eventually, and the barabbers never bothered anyone again. A few weeks later they left the town, after they had finished their work.

But from then on, the local non-Jews and those in the surroundings had respect for the Jews of Tłuste. This reputation lasted for many years. It was the only bit of satisfaction derived from the barabber adventure and the disrupted Shevues holiday of 1898.

Such were the events, these and others, sad, odd, as well as inspiring, that unfolded in our town, in which we were born and grew up, and where our nearest and dearest lived through joy and sorrow. They were later cruelly murdered, along with six million other innocent martyrs of our nation. We will never forget them. We will tell our children and their descendants down the generations about them and about the town that is so dear to our hearts.


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Tluste during the First World War
(a chapter from The Destruction of Jewish Galicia (1920))

by S. An–sky *

Translated by Yael Chaver

Jagielnica is the southernmost point in Galicia that remained in Russian possession until their final retreat, and was therefore undamaged. The area farther off had been deserted by the Russian army during their first retreat, in 1915, and was recaptured in June or July 1916 by Brusilov's army. This led to dreadful destruction.

Once you leave Jagielnica, the landscape changes abruptly. Every step yields fresh traces of military trenches, ripped barbed–wire fences, charred villages, and ruins, endless ruins.

I found the town of Tluste, several dozen versts from Jagielnica, in terrible condition (ed. “verst” is a unit of length, slightly over one kilometer; the actual distance between the two towns is only 12 km). Of its pre–war 516 houses, barely 32 remained, and even those were half–ruined. Those few structures served as packed quarters to the 134 families remaining of the previous 2000 households (numbering about 5000 people). One can only imagine their crowded living conditions!

The Russians entered the town for the first time in September 1914, at the outset of the war. Only 60 or 70 households left with the Austrian authorities. The town did not suffer from the battles, but a pogrom, forced labor, requisitions, and isolation created terrible famine. At the end of Tammuz [referring to the Jewish month occurring in June–July], a cholera epidemic broke out; 300 souls perished over six or seven weeks, among them the rabbi. The terrified populace started fleeing in all directions. Disregarding the severe prohibition against leaving the town, more than 100 households moved away. About a year later, just before Rosh Hashone [September 1915], the Russians left town, but not before they set it on fire. The Austrians arrived, stayed for one week, and withdrew. Almost all the Jews left with them. No more than ten families remained. When the Russians returned, they set fire to the town again. They tore down about fifty houses and carried away the wood.

A week after the Russians returned, 200 hundred Jewish families passed through, exiled from the town of Ustichka [Uścieczko] to Zbarazh. Fifty or sixty families stayed here, in the abandoned Jewish houses. Thirty or forty more families exiled from the surrounding villages also arrived. At the same time, about fifty of the households who had fled because of the cholera epidemic returned. Thus, about half of the population were new arrivals, unemployed, and suffered from hunger.

I arrived in Tluste in the evening, and stayed with a member of the Committee (ed. the Jewish Committee for the Relief of War Victims). I held the meeting in his house; the meeting went on until midnight, as an argument had broken out among us. The Committee requested additional funds for wood, and Homelski had told me that there would be no additional funds. When the meeting was over, I realized that I had nowhere to spend the night. It was bitterly cold and windy, and it would have been dangerous to set out on the road in such weather. The driver, who was already asleep, would certainly not have voted to travel. There was absolutely nowhere to stay here, in such crowded conditions. The Committee chairman, a local householder, who was considered wealthy, invited me to spend the night at his place, and I agreed. But when I got there I saw that he and his family of seven were living in one small room. The husband and wife talked quietly for a while, and she then began to prepare a bed for me on the one couch in the room.

“And where will you sleep?” I asked. “What do you care, what do you care, everything is in order,” the husband calmed me down.

When I got up the next morning, I found out that at midnight the husband had sent his wife and three daughters to stay with neighbors. He, his son, and his elderly father had spent the night on the floor. I was extremely uncomfortable, but there was nothing I could do, and I stayed the night.

The moment I lay down, I sensed very cold air coming from a window above the couch. I got up and saw that the window frame was much smaller than the window opening, and there were large gaps above and around the frame. Apparently, someone had inserted a window frame from a different, smaller building.

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I was barely able to stuff my cushion into the gaps, and lay down again. At dawn, I woke up with a terrible, bitter taste in my mouth and a dry tongue. I noticed that the walls and ceiling were covered with a thick layer of mold. The awful taste stayed in my mouth for several days. This is how even the richer people lived.

Before I left, I offered the wife money for the night's lodging. She refused. But the old man, the householder's father, looking greedily at the few rubles in my hand, shouted angrily at her, “Take it, take it! If they offer it - take it! Take it! Take it!”


Tluste has its relics. They say that this is where the Ba'al Shem Tov was revealed. In any case, his mother lived here and he spent his early years in this town. His mother's grave is pointed out in the cemetery. The location of the Ba'al Shem Tov's mikveh is shown at the edge of town. His mother was a wet–nurse, and he himself was nicknamed “Grandmother's Yisroel.”

I was told many stories about the Ba'al Shem Tov. In one of these tales, a local householder, Reb Hersh, opposed the Ba'al Shem Tov. The latter said, “He will remember me.” Reb Hersh was then cursed for ten generations. To this day, his descendants continue to suffer from misfortunes, and no spiritual leader can help them.

Once, the day before Passover, non–Jews “planted” a dead non–Jewish child at the Ba'al Shem Tov's house, as a blood libel. While the Seder was being celebrated, non–Jews and soldiers surrounded the house. The Ba'al Shem Tov saw the dead child, quickly dressed him in Jewish clothes and cap, and seated him at the table. The dead child sat there as though alive. The Ba'al Shem scolded him loudly, “You good–for–nothing! Sway during the service!” The dead child began to sway over the Haggada. When the non–Jews burst into the house, they searched everywhere but found nothing. They had no idea that the child sitting at the table and swaying over the Haggada was the one they were searching for. Later, after they left, the child reverted to a state of death, and the Ba'al Shem buried him in the yard.

I heard more stories, among them how the Ba'al Shem set fire to the river. But I have forgotten them.

* ed. Shloyme–Zanvl Rapoport (1863–1920), better known by his pseudonym S. Ansky (or An–sky), was a Belarusian Jewish author, researcher of Jewish folklore, polemicist, and cultural and political activist. He is best known for his play The Dybbuk or Between Two Worlds, of 1914.


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The Bet–Ha'am [Meeting House] that was never built

by Shmuel Fiderer (Ben–Moshe)

Translated by Yael Chaver

In 1930, Reb Nusen Hikand invited me to meet with him, and let me know that he was ready to donate a construction site if a meeting house would be built on it. I immediately asked him what compensation he required in return. He asked for only one thing: once the building was complete, he wanted a plaque with an inscription stating that Reb Nusen Hikand had donated the building site for a meeting house.

I soon convened the representatives of all the Zionist organizations: Union, General Zionists, Beitar, and “Grossmanites.” They all joyfully adopted the plan. Shortly afterwards, Reb Nusen Hikand officially registered the plot's ownership to the local Zionist parties, and we took physical possession of it. There is a photograph of the representatives on the occasion of taking over the property. Clearing, and preparations for construction, soon began.

However, it seems that we did not take into account the difficulties posed by the municipal authorities. As soon as we filed a request to build a meeting house – a “national house” – an uproar started up in the town. The Poles felt it would be competition for the Polish national house, the “Star,” and they began agitating against granting us a construction permit. After all, Poland was a democracy, and Jews were the majority of the town's population while Poles were a small minority – yet they had leverage against the Jews. Under Mayor Marcin Kobiernik, who was also a Sejm delegate on behalf of the non–affiliated bloc for cooperating with the government (throughout his term he made only one speech, consisting of two words: a friend of his sneezed during session, and he called out loudly “your health”), the matter dragged on for three and a half years. He finally decided that he was not authorized to issue a construction permit, as it was a social building; only the head of the local district could make that decision. Accordingly, he soon forwarded the documents to Zalyshchyki [Zaleszczyki]. The district head, Krzyszanawski, was strongly anti–Semitic, and procrastinated until the outbreak of World War Two. In this way, the construction of a meeting house in our town came to nothing.

 

tov090.jpg
Preparations to build the meeting house.
Center – Reb Nusen Hikand, who contributed the construction site

 


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How we performed hazzan

by Shloyme Trembovelski [Shlomo Trembowelski]

Translated by Yael Chaver

On Rosh HaShone, right after the afternoon prayer in the synagogue, the house of prayer, and the kloizen, the congregation members set out to go to hazzan. They waited outside the house of prayer's door, and the moment Yitzkhok the hazzan took his place at the head of the group, people started out. It was a short, straight route to the small river, directly to the bridge. Everyone walked heavily, as if carrying a heavy burden, each person with his own thoughts. We children used the opportunity to escape from the close supervision of our fathers. We had an important job ahead of us: preparing the “flotilla” that we launched on the river every year, where the town Jews “drowned” the sins of an entire year, unburdened themselves, and shook everything off their coattails.

In order to prepare the “flotilla,” we first had to gather all the candles we had pilfered, not only from our house of prayer but from the smaller locations and tiny synagogues… For several days after Rosh HaShone, Shmaya the sexton would roam the house of prayer looking for the candles; when he couldn't find them, he would sound angrily off about our fathers, and curse them to the fourth generation…However, we gave as good as we got, and “honored” him with a nickname that fitted him well: “bull.” We invented this nickname because at Hanukah, when the sexton lit the Hanukh candles and said the blessing, instead of chanting the last phrase of the blessing, we all yelled out in chorus, “Boo, Shmaya, boo!” We had to run away immediately to the tiny Vizhnitz kloiz and bar its door with several prayer stands…

In addition to bringing the candles, we had another important task: stealing wood from Leyb Shteyn's fenced wood storehouse. The storehouse was on the riverbank, and Leyb Shteyn [Leib Stein] kept dry wood there for his bakery. We would swipe dry boards, glue several candles to each, and let them float on the stream. The candles would float while people performed hazzan, until they reached the mill, where they dropped into the mill wheel's waterfall and were lost. Our childish joy was especially great when we noticed a satisfied smile on our fathers' faces. They must have been secure, knowing that they had gotten rid of an entire year's serious sins by throwing them into the water, where they would reach the mill wheel along with our candles, and be shredded until every trace was gone…

Their heads raised high, striding resolutely with shtraymls cocked to one side, they left the river's bank, accompanied by the joyful song of Yitzkhok the hazzan.

 

tov091.jpg
The main street before World War One
In the background – the Polish church


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Memories of a bygone home

by Walter Hoyzfeld [Hausfeld] (New York)

Translated by Yael Chaver

As a person who was born and grew up in Tłuste, I'd like to contribute to this memorial book some memories of my youthful days in the town. I want to mention a few of the events that caused me – as well as all young boys and girls – to mature quickly, compared with children of our age that I see here in America. These events turned us into adults, who have to forget their youth and start to work, strive, and ensure their existence and their future.

Our premature adulthood was the result of the general situation in which we lived, as well as fear of the future, which we understood so well and took into account. At the same time, we also reached full political maturity. Each of us belonged to a political organization, one of those that promised to move us out of Poland and bring us to the Land of Israel. Whether we were General Zionists, Revisionists, or Po'alei Zion and members of the Labor Federation, the goal was identical: get out of here!

We knew very well that we had no future in this town, and assessed the situation correctly.

There were constant conflicts between the party branches in our town, intrigues and “maneuvers,” mainly before elections to the World Zionist Congress. I remember the following incident: In advance of the Congress, I secured the votes of some people who were unaffiliated with my party, but wanted to support me. I bought “shekels” (ed. membership dues) for them and awaited the election results. However, it appeared that they had not voted for us at all. My comrades Borekh Kritzer [Baruch Kritzer] and Shtaynig [Steinig] confronted me, saying, “Well, Vove, where are the votes you were supposed to bring in?” I had no answer. I inquired of those people who they had voted for, and they na?vely explained: “Your brother Mendl (may he rest in Paradise) brought us a note and said that Vove wanted us to put this note in the ballot box, and return the note he gave you.” They thought that Mendl's instructions were sacred, because he was more important than me… This is how I found out what had happened to my votes. But I wasn't angry with him over it – I was even prouder of him. I knew we were all on the front line against a common enemy, who wanted to gobble us all down, regardless of party affiliation…

This is how we lived, and had no idea what youth was. Only now, living in America, do I see for the first time what a beautiful and good life young people have under normal conditions, conditions that none of us ever knew. It would have been worth it, if we would all have at least lived to see the great miracle of the State of Israel, of our own Jewish state, for which, unfortunately, we paid so dearly. To our great regret, only a few of us lived to see it.

I still remember our town Tłuste, and my experiences there, very well. I remember my good friend Shimshon Meltzer, from whom I learned a great deal – the bit of Hebrew that I remember. He would often explain something to me, and may have thought that what he was telling me was like “a voice in the wilderness,” but I saved it all in my memory. He also taught me

 

tov092.jpg
The Hoyzfeld family donates a Torah scroll to the synagogue

[Page 93]

how to draw monograms and paint signs. I shall be forever grateful to him for this, because when I came to America I had a “trade” in hand. When they asked me what I could do, I proudly replied that I was a sign–painter. When I was further asked in which school I had studied and who the director was, I said that I didn't remember the director's name, but that my teacher was Shimshon Meltzer. Actually, I didn't continue in this profession, because sign–painting is quite different here. But I had a trade when I came, thanks solely to Shimshon Meltzer who had taught me.

I did not travel to America so much as flee. I had had an American visa for three months before the war, but did not go because I didn't want to leave my dear mother (may she rest in peace). I tried to get a visa for her as well. I might have succeeded if the war had broken out two months later. But it wasn't meant to be…

I will never forget that day. It was a Wednesday morning, two days before the war that that person, may his name be blotted out (ed. the Yiddish phrase der yimakhshmoynik here refers to Hitler), brought upon the world. My dear mother came up to me and said, “My child, I swear by my life and beg you – flee! When, with God's help, things will calm down, I will follow you…” With broken hearts, my brother Meir (who is here in America with me) and I went to the railroad station, to travel to Lemberg on the express train. I met many young people at the station, among them some of my friends who were on their way to be drafted into the Polish army in order to defend the “fatherland.” Gedalia Gertner, may he rest in peace, travelled with us as far as Lemberg; he was a very sweet and sincere fellow. We parted there, a very tragic parting. My brother and I went to Warsaw, and from there to the Latvian border. I could write a book about our experiences until we saw the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Once I got to New York, I immediately wrote my mother, my brother, and my friends. I was able to write to them and receive answers until 1941. But all connections were cut off following the German invasion. During 1940 I got several letters from Hershele Gertner (Gedalia Gertner's brother), who was in a German prison. I mailed him many packages, but heard nothing more from him. I have kept his letters to this day.

 

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A group of Tłuste natives in America

 

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