« Previous Page Table of Contents

[page 92]

Memories of Wloclawek and Beyond (Cont'd)

we took off in a rush. It took only a few minutes, it seemed, and we were at his house. We were warmly greeted by his wife and small daughter. I was led into a room and told that this would be mine as long as I wanted to stay. It was small but clean and very warm. I could see that these were truly very rich people. I took a warm bath and shower and after putting on clean clothes and finding myself once again in such a warm atmosphere, felt that I had been reborn. The table was already set with fine foods and we sat down to eat. The man told me that because of me he had decided not to go into his business. He said there were 12 Jewish families in town and that I was the first person to visit who had lived through the war in Europe. All of them knew that I had arrived and it had been decided that the next night, all of them, together with all their families would get together and I would describe the events that had occurred. From the way he spoke, it seemed that all were very wealthy and owned factories or businesses. Their main problem, as we talked, seemed to be that they were afraid they were becoming assimilated. It was not so much for them that they worried but rather for their children. There had already been occasions where young Jewish boys and girls had married non-Jews, but they were deeply entrenched in the town and it is difficult to tear up ones roots and leave. There was a lot of room for many more families to move in, but it was far removed from the larger cities and others seldom came to this area. From time to time Jewish salesmen came from New York or Chicago, and this was really the only contact they had with the other larger Jewish communities. The next day, I think that it was a Tuesday, they took me with the same sled which had brought me from the station, to a large beautiful house. There was a large store next door that was packed with all kinds of goods. It was a large department store. The owner greeted me in very good Yiddish and told me that because of the gathering, all the Jewish stores and businesses were closing early, and he was just closing his. We went upstairs to a well lit room, set up with tables and chairs and there we found that many people had already arrived. They greeted me with a lot of handshaking and inspection, as if I really came "from another world". Within a half hour the total Jewish population of the town was present. There were over 50 people in the room. All 12 families were very well represented. The only ones who were not there were the very young children. After all the introductions were completed, the food was brought to the tables. I was stunned at the lavishness of the meal. The service and the food made the impression on me as if it were a large wedding. My eyes still measured everything according to the poverty and need of war-torn Poland. All eyes were on me, and they wanted me to eat more and more. When the meal was finished, we went into another room. Here it was the middle of December and we were served fresh summer fruits like apples, pears and cherries. They saw my astonishment and explained that in America there was a state called California. The climate there allowed the growing of these items at this time of the year. The trip across the United States only took several days by train and we could eat and enjoy everything. A rich and dear land America.

We sat ourselves down and the New York salesman who was in town, sat next to me. He explained that these families came together like this almost every week, at someone else's house each time. After eating and discussing business, they usually started a card game. Today they would not play cards, but they had come to hear of the several war years I had lived through in Poland. To be sure I

[page 93]

had a lot to talk about, mostly about the problems the Jews had to live through, starting with the years under the Russian tsar, about the Germans who were our "liberators" but brought war, death, destruction and hunger to the country, finally about the Poles who were originally the oppressed and the first thing they did when the Russians were forced out was let all the frustrations of the previous years out on the Jewish heads. I spoke of the pogroms which took place in the largest cities as well as the small towns and the wretchedness of the people in the entire land. The group sat as if they were glued to their chairs. I was the first to bring them descriptions of my first hand experiences of the war years as well as those of the entire Jewish population from Russia-Poland. They showed me great thankfulness and appreciation for my talk and gave me immediate opportunities to remain in town. The salesman helped them by painting the darkest pictures of New York, that one was afraid to go into the streets, bandits and gangsters were all over. Garbage was thrown from the windows onto ones head, it was hard to get a job as no one wanted to hire a "greener" and the pay was very low if one did get a job. In general they gave me to understand that if I wanted to remain in Caribou, I would get a lot of help and be able to make a good living. They explained some of the work I could do while I was getting used to living in the United States and learning English. I would be able to teach their children a little bit of "Yidishkiet". They had built a small shule but there was no one to act as cantor or to lead the prayers. I would be able to do this for them at least once a month. The entire population would have a place to gather. Now if they wanted meat or chicken, they had to go to the Christian butcher. For this they were prepared to provide me with a house and pay a weekly salary of $ 20.00. In addition there would be money coming to me for special services that I could render them individually. This way, I would be able to save some money and in a short while would be able to think about going into some kind of business for myself. There I would also be helped and my future was assured. It was very hard for me to refuse these kind people. They had good plans the way they saw it and they were really concerned about me. But I told them that I did not know anything about teaching children, could not act as a cantor and certainly would not be able to lead them in prayers. To be a butcher, a "shochet" was not something that could be done by anybody, it required a lot of training, even if they only wanted someone who was Jewish to do the slaughtering instead of the Christian butcher.

We gave up on the plans but they insisted I remain with them for at least another week. Each night I went to another family for dinner and a discussion. During the daytime I went to a business. The man with whom I was staying owned a large shoe store and next door he had a shop which repaired shoes. There were several workers there who were doing various jobs. They did not know I was a shoemaker, as no one had asked what I did for a living while in Poland. As I was sitting in this store waiting, I saw that one of the tables had several pairs of boots that had to be sewn together. I sat down at the machine and started to sew them up. The workers started to talk amongst themselves but of course I did not understand what they were saying. One of them ran out and got the owner from next door who came in screaming at me, that I was ruining his work and should stop right away. But he saw that I was smiling and that I was sewing with authority as if I did know something and he came over and looked at the work I had already done. He was astonished at what I had done in

[page 94]

joining the various parts of the shoes together. He did not have anyone who could sew as neat and fine a stitch and have the work come out looking so well. He could not get another tradesman who could work so well. He embraced me and took me into the show-room to show the others how good the work was. Besides that I was a "greener" and could do such fine work. So he made me another proposition, that in addition to the $20.00 that I would get for acting as a shochet-cantor-rabbi, he would pay me another $30.00 to work in his shop. It was with great difficulty that I could make him understand that my heart was set on going to New York. My family was there, my friends were waiting for me and even though my wife had not arrived yet, that was where we had decided to go. With sorrow he accepted the fact that nothing was going to deter me from my goal. The few days I stayed with him and the other fine people began to work on me and I felt that I had to leave soon or it would soon be impossible. Several days later, on a Sunday, they prepared a dinner as a farewell gathering for me. The different families came throughout the day and I embraced and kissed all of them, the young and the old. It was as if I had become part of the community and family. That night, my host took me to the train and bought a ticket to Boston on the Pullman. He spoke to one of the porters he knew and gave him a tip to take good care of me, see that I got a good bed and did not want for anything during the ride. The porter was told that I had just arrived into the country and that I only spoke Russian. It seems that at this time the newly arrived Russians were looked upon with great favor. They were almost all the "white Russians" who had fought the "Reds" and had been lucky to have escaped with their lives. My friend came aboard to wish me a safe trip and success in my future life and left with tears in his eyes. It is over 30 years since I spent those few days with these people and I still can, see the goodness and kindness that was in their faces and eyes and the sorrow that showed when I left. In the morning as I was trying to get dressed in the small area, the porter saw my problem and helped me. He gave me my shoes, which had been polished and showed surprise, through gestures, at the "women's" shoes I was wearing. At that time it was the style in Europe for men to wear high heels, so to him, my shoes looked like women's.

We finally arrived in Boston after a very long ride. In Caribou it was t he middle of winter with deep snows, but here was warm and nice, like a summer's day. I was dressed for the coldest weather and sweated profusely. Again I was in a strange place and did not know anybody or know my way around. I looked at the faces of the passers-by to see if I could find a Jewish face that I could talk to and would be able to help me. Going through the streets like this I happened to see a sign on the wall showing where the offices of the "Jewish Daily" were located. I went up and was of course able to communicate easily with them. They greeted me nicely and after a few words of introduction, they wanted me to relate the life we had in Poland during the war years. This they would make into an article and print. But this was not on my mind, I just wanted them to take me to a friend of my friend Jaffe. I had a letter of introduction from the Jaffe's to this friend that lived in Boston. In it they had asked that I be helped during my stay in Boston.

By this time I had spent almost all of my money and did not have enough for the ticket to New York. I told them at the paper that I would stay at Jaffe's friends house until my friends in New York sent

[page 95]

me some money. They called a man in from the other room and told him to take me to the streetcar that passed that house and to tell the conductor to let me off at the right place. They also warned me that now that I was in America I should be very careful. Especially not to read the wrong newspapers, like the "Forward", Since this would lead me in wrong directions and get me into trouble. That other papers were like poison and that I should not listen to anyone who did not read the " Forward". By reading only their paper I would remain a good and honest Jew. I promised them that I would try to be a good and honest Jew and would not be misled by the wrong people. I was escorted to the streetcar and after a short while the conductor, who happened to be Jewish too, let me off and directed me to the correct house. I rang the bell and it was answered by a girl of about 6 years of age. Since we did not understand each other, I went in and closed the door. A woman of about 30 came from the other room and I explained that I brought regards to her from her friend in Montreal, the Jaffe's. I told her to read the letter I had brought with me and that would explain everything. She took me into the kitchen and two more small children came over to see the stranger. Meanwhile the woman was reading the letter and when she finished with the several pages, turned it over to see if there was anything more, I saw the puzzled expression on her face and said that since she had read the letter she knew who I was and my circumstances of my being there. She thanked me for bringing the letter from her friend, but that there was nothing in it that, referred to me. I said that this was impossible. the reason that the letter had been written was to explain my situation. She gave me the letter and told me to read it for myself. I read the letter and it horrified me ("got dark before my eyes"). The letter covered pages with the fact that they had not seen each other in ten years and then went on to tell all the things which had happened to the family since then. But she had gotten so involved with writing about all this news she had forgotten that the real purpose was to introduce me. Either that or she had written on another page and then had forgotten to include it.

I realized that I was now in a very bad situation, in a strange city, without money or friends, an illegal immigrant and without knowledge of the language. What to do? I did not have a place to lay my head and I would have to remain here until I could get some money from my friends. I pleaded with the woman that Jaffe must have left the page describing me on the table and that she should let me stay the night. But she was adamant, that there were strange and bad people roaming the city, making "hold-ups" and doing other terrible things. She was afraid and did not want to have any strangers staying under her roof. She showed me the door and told me to go. But I was thinking that I dared not leave this house. If I left I did not know what would happen to me. If I were caught for the slightest thing, I could be sent back to Poland. Because I did not move, the woman became more afraid and said that possibly I was a crook and started to yell and scream. I told her to calm herself and asked when her husband, who was a tailor, would be home from work. She answered he would be home by 7 o'clock. I told her I would leave my suitcase with her and would wait for him in the street and when he came home, I would speak with him. She agreed to this and I left the house. I was very hungry but did not dare to leave this spot to find a place to eat. She might not have told the truth and he would come home sooner and possibly might not let me into the house. So I stood in the street near the door. It was a one family house and he had to come this way to go in. I decided that

[page 96]

when I saw someone turn in here, I would go right in with him. The short wait stretched into a long time but 7 o'clock came and I saw a man approaching. I greeted him and he asked me who I was as he opened the door. As he entered, I went through with him. I told him that he did not know me but I would soon explain everything. We sat down in a small side room and I apologized for inconveniencing him, but I was in desperate straits and that I needed his help. I described the entire story and said that I wanted him to address several postcards to my friends in New York and that they would immediately send me the money to go there. I needed a place to stay until then and also someplace for the money to come to. Meanwhile the woman was listening in and she said that she was alone with three small children all day and did not want to have a strange man staying in the house, that I should find someone else to go to. That she did not want to go around in fear all day wondering what kind of person I really was. But she saw that her husband was starting to sympathize with me and she started screaming in English at him. I did not understand the words, but I certainly understood the intent. I appealed to the man saying that as a fellow worker, he had often heard that, someone had been falsely accused and only after great damage was done was the truth found out. That I was also a worker and that we should help each other out. She continued screaming and I saw that my efforts were in vain, so I screamed out that I was desperate, that they should lock me into this small room at night and in the morning I would leave when the husband left and would stay outside and not return until he did. Then they could lock me up again but that I need only a few days. I don't know what worked on the woman, but she turned to her husband and said that he could do whatever he wanted, that she would not say another word and left to prepare dinner for her husband. The husband agreed to my plan and I sat and wrote out two postcards that he gave me, one to Schwartz and the other to Lefkowitz, explaining in a few words the situation that I found myself in.

The man went in to eat and in a few minutes came back and asked that I join them at the table. I was hungry after this days work but more nervous and discouraged and did not want to join them. I asked that he address the letters and after he ate he said that I should come with him to mail the cards. He explained as we walked that his wife was a very good woman, but there was a lot of trouble in Boston, there were many robberies and that recently there had been a lot of murders committed in the city. I told him that I understood the situation very well but that my position was desperate. I was not a criminal, but would be treated like one if I were caught. In any case I was willing to leave on Saturday regardless if I had an answer or not, but I needed these few days with him. The man was understanding and sympathetic and also confused as to the right thing to do.

While we were walking, I gave him a few cents to buy me something to eat. He did not want to take anything, but I told him that if he did not use the money that I had, I would not eat anything. We went over to a store and he bought some salami and bread and I had it on the street. He was sorry I had not eaten with them, but I did not feel that it would have been right for his wife. When we came back into the house I told him to lock me in the room and in the morning when he went to work, I would leave with him. I lay down on the sofa and fell asleep right away. But in a few hours I woke up and began to worry about all the things that could go wrong. What if the postcards did not arrive?

[page 97]

And if the money did not arrive by Saturday, what should I do? Remain here or leave? By seven o'clock in the morning, it was a Wednesday I remember, I heard the key in the door turning and the husband came in and told me that he had calmed his wife down and that it would be all right for me to remain in the house rather than walk the streets. But I did not want to do this and left when he did. I wandered around the streets of Boston, always being sure that I would be able to return, and in this way found a Jewish section of town where I could use my Yiddish. I bought a paper, not the Jewish Daily but the Forward and spent the day in that area. The day stretched out with nothing to do but wait and eventually 6 o'clock came and I returned to the house where I was staying. One of the children saw me through the window and called her mother. The woman told me to come into the house but I replied that I would wait for her husband to return, since that, was our agreement. When he did come, I went into the house with him and directly to the room that I had taken over and told him to lock the door before he went to sleep. Meanwhile the children were getting used to me being there and they came in to play with me until it was time for them to go to bed. After eating, the husband and wife came into the room and began talking to me about Europe and Poland. They had come from a small town in the Lublin district. They were very much interested in what I could tell them and I read some articles from the paper. They were not good readers and were quit impressed with the way I read and could explain the articles to them. That night they would under no circumstances close the door and the next morning, would not let me leave so early. After the husband went to work, the wife called me into the kitchen to have something to eat, but I did not want to go. I could see though that she was very calm and not disturbed by my being there so I gave in. When I went into the kitchen, the children greeted me with a nice "good morning" in Yiddish. I realized that they understood what I was saying and seeing a book on the table, which happened to be English, I asked if they wanted to hear a story. Of course, they cried out and so I took the book and started to tell them a story that I made up as I went along. The woman was surprised that I could so easily read a story in English and translate it into Yiddish, until she looked and saw that I did not even know how to hold the book correctly. With this I began to take on a different character in her eyes.

Before I had a chance to leave the house the bell rang and it was a telegram for me. I asked the woman to read it and she said that there was money waiting for me at the telegraph office. The impression that this made on her was one of complete astonishment. She was ashamed to lift her eyes and I could see that there was a small storm brewing within her. The woman kept apologizing for the way she had mistrusted me and had acted towards me. I reassured her that there was nothing for her to be ashamed of, that she had acted perfectly correct. There were 3 small children involved in addition to herself and in view of the present conditions in Boston, she had a right to be worried. I was a stranger to her and the letter from her friend Jaffe did not explain the situation, which would have prevented the entire episode from happening. My explanations helped a little but she still felt badly that she had acted as she did. Now there was no reason for me to leave the house and I stayed there all day rather than go out and possibly end up in trouble. When the husband returned from work and did not see me waiting outside, he immediately thought I had found another place to go to. He

[page 98]

entered and his wife fell on him, crying and told him about the telegram that had come. He was very pleased and kept repeating "I knew that we were dealing with an honest person". Now when they invited me to join them at the table, I could not refuse. I told them that when I arrived in New York, I would be able to send them $ 10.00 to pay for the food. The woman argued that this was too much, that $ 5.00 was more than enough since I did not eat so much. But I told them that I wanted to do this as a gesture for the aggravation and worry that I had caused them. The next day I also stayed in the house and spent the time resting and playing with the children. Saturday the husband did not go to work, but went with me to get the money and to buy the ticket to New York. We sent a telegram to Levien to tell him what time I would be arriving and then went back to the house. There were several hours before the train left and the wife set the table with all the best they had and the children were so used to me that they were calling me their good uncle. The time came for me to leave and so I again said good-by to kind people who had helped me in this adventure and the husband again took me to the train. When I arrived in New York, I immediately sent them the money I had promised. These simple and generous people could not get over the feeling that they had not handled the situation correctly and they returned the money-order. I sent it back with a letter that if they did not want to take it for themselves, that they should buy some toys for the children with it. We corresponded for some time after that but eventually the letters came farther and farther apart until contact was entirely lost. I do not remember their names, but the simple, honest faces remain in my memory.

While I was riding to New York, where I arrived at night, I began to wonder how I would be able to find my friend's address, or if I might not get lost in the world's largest city. But my fears were without foundation. For there were Levien and Leo Lefkowitz waiting for me. After our hearty greetings, they took me to 14th Street, where the family Ossoffsky lived and there they had arranged for a room for me with some people who lived above them. The first night in New York seemed to last but a minute. After all the troubles and worries of getting here I was so worn out that as soon as my head hit the pillow, I fell asleep and it seemed but a moment until I awoke. But it was already 9 o'clock and I quickly washed and dressed, as if I were going to miss something. I went downstairs to David Ossoffsky's and found that Levien was there. The first thing I wanted to see was the Forward building. I knew that the Jewish Socialist Party had their headquarters there. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning and we took a nice walk over to the building. I immediately saw the great poverty that existed in the largest and richest city in the world. I knew that there were many other areas that were richer, but this first sight made a very strong impression on me. I was wondering already how I would be able to accustom myself to living in this country. I made up my mind, as most immigrants did before me, that as soon as the situation got better in Europe and Poland, I would go back. I figured I would remain here only several years. The Forward building had a good affect on me. It seemed as if the building had been put up in the midst of all this poverty of the Jewish masses as an inspiration. For this fine building to serve as an example to the people of the type of home that they should hope to live in, not the poor, ugly dirty and cramped quarters that they were occupying now. Whether those who had a hand in designing and building this structure had these same ideas I do not

[page 99]

know. I asked where the Jewish Socialist Party was located and they took me up to their rooms. I believe that it was then called "The Jewish Socialist Federation". This was the only Jewish Socialist organization. The Communist Party did not exist at that time. I met the secretary, although I do not now remember his name, and introduced myself. We started talking and then I gave him a report on the current political situation in Poland and especially of the work of the Bund. We had hopes and ideas that the recent revolution in Russia would spread to Poland and from there throughout Europe and the rest of the world. I also voiced a complaint about the weakness of the Socialist movement in America. The professional organizations had to be Socialistic to the core and the Party must have full power and influence over them without question. As I was talking and explaining my ideas, I saw that the comrade was smiling a little bit and I asked if he were laughing at me or thought that I was crazy. He said no, that he was just remembering that when he had come here ten years ago, the party was even weaker than it is now and that he had the same complaints and had said the same things that I was saying now. He said that after I had been here several years, I would become more familiar with the way life was lived here That I would have a different understanding and would see how different is the way of life in America. When we would meet then I would tell him that his words now were true and that I would better understand the naiveté and honesty that I was now showing. It certainly did not take me years to understand what America was like, but rather several weeks. I now understood that Europe could not be taken as a measure of the way life is lived here. Entirely different means and methods must be employed here. I left feeling very depressed and as I was walking around the East Side, thought about our talk and still could not understand why in such an industrialized land, the Socialist Party and movement were so backward and weak.

I was also thinking very earnestly about getting a job. I wanted to have Ryva come here as quickly as possible. I wanted to see my Uncle Mottle Silberstein and repay him the money that made my coming possible. I would also need money to live on, as I did not have anything left. My uncle had a factory on Canal Street and that same day I went over to see him. He was understandably very happy to finally see me after my many escapes and introduced me to his son Joe, who worked in the office and several other family members who also worked there. This was a fairly large factory where they made handkerchiefs and the factory occupied an entire floor in the building. He told me that his shop was open on Sunday and closed on Saturdays, as he was very religious. I told him that this would be impossible in Poland as all places of business were closed there on Sunday. That even the Jewish shops were closed on Sunday and that in general the Jewish owners were not that happy to employ Jewish workers. And so it went, I was amazed that with everything the answer was always "This is America". Here there are all kinds of freedom. Here you simply had to be a good person and all kinds of opportunities were available to you. It did not matter how poor or low class you were, there was always the opportunity for you to become rich and famous. The same thing that my new friend the Socialist had said, " When you are here a while and you will see things with different eyes". In this they were both correct. Almost all the workers were women and I could see that they were all rushing with the work and that no one even picked up a head to see who was walking among them. I asked a women why she was rushing so, that she would ruin her health and she looked at me as if I were not

[page 100]

a normal person. She recognized that I was a "greener" and asked how long I had been in America. When I told her that I had arrived last night, she replied, "Oh really a Greener. Wait until you have been here a little longer and then you will understand why we rush so. If you did not rush then there would not be anything to put on the table to eat." My uncle saw from a distance that I was talking to one of the workers and called me over. I asked him what was the need for all this rushing was, that it looked like a hell with people not stopping for a minute. He smiled nicely and told me to write these words down and in a year we would again discuss it. I did not have to wait a year to find out about life in the shop and to understand why we had to rush so with the work. For when I left, my heart was heavy already and I began to understand why the workers' movement was so weak in America. The struggle and fight to make a living was so hard that it took the spirit and hope away from a person. And everyone wanted to live better than they had in Europe, with more and nicer clothing, living quarters and many more comforts. All this he could only get with his blood and sweat, there was no other way than to rush as much as possible on the job. It was all piece work and if he did not hurry then he could not earn even enough for himself to live on.

That night we did a little sightseeing, going to Times Square and Broadway and of course these made a fantastic impression on me. The events of the day and now all these lights, the noise and all the activity ran through my mind. There was so much light and that called up feelings of happiness. Yet here was the richest land in the world and there was so much exploitation of the workers. Why should this be? Why should so few have so much and so many have to struggle to make a living to have enough to eat? Would those that had so little some day understand that this could not be permitted to continue? And would they then unite to fight for a free and just world? In the European countries the fight for a Socialist order seemed so close and here in this large, industrialized country it seemed to be so far away. I had trouble sleeping that night because of the thoughts running through my mind. We had read and discussed so much about "Workers and Capitalistic Exploitation" and here in a highly industrialized world it looked so different. I was overcome with the feeling of why I had ever come here. Everything was so different, so strange. I would have been able to hide in Poland and there fight for a free and democratic land. I felt that I would remain here a short while and then return to Poland. But that remained an illusion as it did for so many other thousands of immigrants. For the saying "There where you eat meat, that is where you will leave your bones" is certainly true. The next morning was the time for me to start to work, or at least to look. David Ossoffsky went with me to Brooklyn where there was a shoe factory. As it happened at that time there was a lot of work in the trade. Otherwise as a "greener" they would not look at me. In a very bad Yiddish, the boss asked me what I could do. I told him I was a shoemaker from Poland and that I had apprenticed the full term and I could do all of the work required to make shoes. He replied that in that case I could do nothing. I insisted that any work that he gave me I would be able to do because I knew how already. He took me into the shop and called the foreman. As I went along I saw there were at least 100 men with their heads bent over the machines. Again, no one even looked up to see who was coming in. He took me over to a table, not one with machines and showed me what he wanted done. The work was a little different than what I was used to doing "at home" but I did not

[page 101]

have any difficulty with it. When I finished the first pair, the foreman ran over with it to the boss. I thought that the work was not good and that I would be told to leave. But just the opposite, the boss came over and told me the work was very good and that I would be "all right". Meanwhile I had a chance to look at the work that some of the men were doing and I saw that mine was better and nicer, but that they were working much faster. In a short time I became accustomed to working faster and exceeded the pace that they set.

The first full week that I worked there I was paid $ 25.00 and the second week I received $ 35.00. I saw that the others were working piece-work and felt that I should too. The boss agreed to this and the next week I earned $ 70.00. I had figured out how much a person needed to live on and now I saw that if it were possible to earn so much more then that, it might be one of the reason why it was so difficult to organize the workers. I did not yet know about "busy" and "slack" seasons. That the "slack" season ate up whatever was left over from the "busy" season. This came later. In a few more weeks I was earning over $ 100.00 a week and was becoming familiar with many of the workers. I told them that in Europe the workers were already at work to overthrow the capitalistic system and were bringing about a world of freedom and justice. Here in America the workers should begin to learn about it and to organize against the capitalists, who did not do anything and were living in great luxury. Some of the workers listened to me and felt that I was right but most of them laughed and said "All that is good for Europe. Here in America we have freedom and justice. You are a new arrival and when you lose your "green nose" you will talk differently." I also wondered how come there was not any kind of union in a shop that had over 200 people working,. I was told that they had a union come in some time ago and that they had gone on strike for 14 weeks and then had to beg the boss to take them back to work. My feelings were low that the strike had been lost and that the union and the leaders were being blamed and cursed for what had happened. For it was said that the leaders "sold out" the strikers. But I said that this was not right and that they should try again and not lose their courage. That workers had to be organized. One day as I was leaving the shop after work, I was called aside and went into the office. There I saw two of the bosses and the foreman and they asked me "what is this talking so much in the shop and what is the talk about a union. Better that I do not talk and do more work and stop trying to make trouble for the workers." I understood that it was some worker that had told them and demanded to be told who was telling such tales about me. I tried to get out of these statements that they knew to be true but did not succeed. They said that here they had given a "greener" a chance and now he was earning as much as any of the others, if not more, and all I wanted to do was make trouble in the shop". I decided then that I would leave this shop and look for another job. I went back to my work-bench and packed my hammer, shears and other tools. The foreman saw this and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was leaving and was going to look for a job in another shop. That I could not stay in a place where they spoke unkindly to me and that I wanted to know who it was that had "ratted". All the other workers had left and the bosses were also on the way out. They were amazed that I would be willing to leave a job and not wait to be fired at the end of the season. But I was adamant and they eventually told me the name of the worker that I wanted and they took the tools from my hands and put them back on the table. The next day I could

[page 102]

not look this traitor in the face. During lunch when I was telling some of the others what had happened, this man came over and all I could do was spit in his face. This created a commotion and if we had not been forced apart, I am certain I would have tried to kill him. I worked in this shop for several years and won the respect of the workers. The bosses would bring guests and visitors over and say that I was their best and fastest worker and that I earned more than anyone else and besides "I was a greener and only in America several months. The ship he came on is still in port...".
My concern now was to bring Ryva, my wife, from Poland. I did not have enough money, but I was working steadily. So one day I asked my Uncle Silberstein where I could borrow the two hundred dollars I needed to get started with this project. I did not want to borrow more from him. One Sunday we went to Second Avenue to a Chasidic bank. He guaranteed that amount for me and I was able to get the money based on the condition that I would pay it back in the next two years. I immediately sent the money to Ryva and as I was working steady, I was able to repay the entire amount in three months and still have several hundred dollars left over. When I went to my uncle and returned the notes with his signature, he was amazed that I was able to repay the money in such a short time. I also told him that I was able to send $ 20.00 each month to my parents and that I would be sending Ryva money each month so that she would be able to come that much sooner. He was very happy to hear that I was able to maintain such a tight financial schedule. Every time that I went to see him we would discuss different topics. My uncle was a very religious man but not narrow minded. He was intelligent and understanding and the hours I was able to spend in his house were genuinely times of enjoyment and happiness.

The entire time, at work and also on my free time, I spent in thinking about the wonderful land of America. I could not get used to the idea that in a land where technology was so well developed, where there were so many workers in large shops, there would not also be developed a large organized worker's movement. In addition, the Socialist Party was so very weak. I often had the idea that I would save up a little bit of money and then pack my suitcase and return to Poland. But with time, these ideas dissolved and I began to get accustomed to the life here. The great freedom that each individual had, not to have to carry a pass and identification card, being able to speak and think freely and not to worry about the anti-Semitism were things that were of great advantage. So I decided I must live with the present and with the conditions here and not those that were left over from the Old Country. I began to become active in the Socialist Party and the union, even though I was not satisfied with the way that they were run here. But I took it as it was. I began to learn the language and it did not come too easy to me since I really did not have the patience for it nor the free time to study. We were a group of Wloclawek men, like Levien, Max ,Sender and others, who always were together in our free time and always spoke Yiddish amongst ourselves. In addition, in the shop almost everyone spoke Yiddish, so there were not too many opportunities to learn the new language. Time alone helped with my understanding of the language. My ear began to get used to the sounds of the speech patterns and soon I recognized the sounds that were used between people and then began to understand, words. Speech itself came after that as well as reading and writing. I found out that as much as the average person needs, he will with time understand what he must.

[page 103]

On the first of April in 1922, when I went to the restaurant on 14th Street, where I ate dinner right after work, I was told that Ryva had arrived in America and she was already waiting in my room. I figured that since this was April Fool's Day in America, my friends were making a joke. I was soon assured this was no joke but the real thing and I ran helter-skelter home to greet her. Well, you can just imagine the great joy and happiness that was ours. We could not even begin to tell each other all the things that had happened to us while we were apart. In the beginning we had to live in the one room since the shortage of rooms was still great. In our spare time we went visiting friends and relatives. A short while after Ryva's arrival, Max's aunt and uncle went to live in California and we bought their furniture and took over the apartment they had. It was a 6 room apartment at 811 Dawson Street in the Bronx. This was shared by Levien and Chella Schwartz, Sender and Rachel Rosenthal and us. Max and his wife Blanche lived on the floor above, in a small apartment of their own. We were always together as a group, living and going out to meetings and having friends come to us. It was only after the first child was born in the group that we thought of separating our living quarters. This was our son, Samuel who was born on June 4, 1923. Several months later it was easier to get rooms and we broke up the cooperative apartment and each of us moved into apartments of our own, but still we remained in the same neighborhood.

I spent the greatest part of my life in America, but I do not feel like writing about this in detail, enumerating each small thing that happened here. We had many years that were very hard and bitter, both physically and mentally. There were also many times of "nachas" and great pleasures. The community and socialist life were not as strong and earnest as what we had in our younger years in Poland. This does not mean that we were free from all responsibilities to the community and social activities. As dear as living the family life was, we could not live only in and for the house and home. We had to add to the practical family side a spiritual side. I was gradually drawn into the community activities and life. First with the Socialist movement, then the unions and the Workmen's Circle. The Bund Club, that I had helped to organize in America was always on the top of our list. I was keeping my promise to the comrades I had left behind that I would never forget them. One of the functions was to help the Bund in Poland financially. We also had to fight off the attacks from the so-called "friends" that centered around the "Forward and the "Socialist Farband". There were many attacks and experiences that we lived through. The struggles of the unions against their enemies, the hard and bitter strikes we lived through with the heavy repressive laws that the capitalistic judges passed against the strikers and the unions. There was also the struggle that we had with the Communists and their continuous shouting and propaganda that they were the only saviors of the working man. Actually, they suppressed any free thought someone had or any idea expressed that had not been previously agreed to by their executive committee. There was also the struggle that we had against the unions that were controlled by the Communists. There was great fear to have open and free discussions because of the reprisals that would be taken against anyone who stood up. and did not agree with them. Twice I had occasion to go through long strikes, the first lasted 22 weeks and the second one was 26 weeks. In those days, during the, 1920's and the 1930's, there was no assistance

[page 104]

given to strikers, no unemployment insurance existed. The striking worker was entirely on his own. Sometimes the union would be able to help, but usually there was not enough money for everyone.

When there was work, I did not make out badly at all. We made an effort for a good upbringing for our son and he did grow up to be a fine person who was always devoted to us. We tried to save enough money when there was work, to cover all the expenses when the "slack" times came, for in those days there was no unemployment insurance, and there was also the need to put something aside as a fund in case there was a strike. But when a strike broke out, in a very short time there was a shortage of cash as the savings were soon used up. We had to borrow money and did not want the "outsiders" to know that we were living on "borrowed" funds. There was a time when we were already in debt for a thousand dollars. We simply could not sleep nights due to the worries and aggravation this caused. We could hardly imagine when we would be able to repay this huge debt. But even in the worst times there was an obligation that we could not forget and that was to support our parents in Poland. Often with borrowed money we would send them the $ 20.00 each month. In addition to the hard economic life during the time of a strike we were often beaten by the police and arrested when the owners had prevailed upon the judges to give out injunctions against the picketing. Because of these tactics we often lost the strike and had to plead with the bosses to rehire us. Very often they refused to do that and we had to look elsewhere for work. Those who were the stronger supporters of the unions and stayed out on strike longer were usually those who were not rehired. I was one of those that felt that there was always a chance to yet win and often suffered much more than the others.

I remember one episode which happened, although it was not during a period of a strike, that left a strong impression upon my wife Ryva and me. Our son, Samuel was attending a Jewish school run by the I.W.O. (International Worker's Order which was a fraternal organization formed by the Communist Party) that was in the Cooperative Houses located on Allerton Avenue in the Bronx. We lived in these cooperatives and were amongst the first to sign up and move in. The idea that workers could provide their own shelter and manage it for themselves was one of our ideals. What happened to it later on is a story by itself. Anyway, one day he came home crying because the teacher had stated in class, as part of the day's lesson, that all Socialists were gangsters, strikebreakers and were not really concerned for the workers. Our son gave out a cry that this was not so, that his father was a Socialist and that he had been on many a strike and for long periods of time already. He came running home all upset and it took us a long time to quiet him down. But our hearts were saddened to see what kind of propaganda was used to poison the minds of these young children. At a parents meeting we protested the methods used and the instruction that was given and in the middle of my protest, I was accused of being sent by the "Forward" to destroy this school. At the time we were really in a bad position, as we were both working and there was no other place to leave him. We had to teach him that not everything that was said in this school could be taken as the truth and we had talks in the evening about his lessons. It is not good to tell a child he is not to believe everything that is taught in class but I feel it was a great help to him in later years and helped in his development. At

[page 105]

the time we felt there were no alternatives. Our words had great influence on the child and often after that he opposed the teacher on those points that he felt were not politically correct. Several years later we moved from the cooperative, which was then controlled by the Communists and we felt a spiritual uplifting and a release of many tensions. It is very depressing to be living in a free and democratic land and still be under the influence of a political party that is controlled by a foreign country. That was trying by any means, often not very nice and sometimes even criminal, to force their opinions and ideas upon others who were not in agreement with them.

We let our son attend a Workmen's Circle School after that, even though we were also not in full agreement with all their teachings. We also became active in the work around the shule and our son did not come home with tears in his eyes like he did from the "Left" shule. He later attended the Workmen's Circle Mittle-Shule (high school) and graduated from it. Now at this period of his life he does not use the Yiddish language, but he can still read, write and speak it fairly well. In addition to this, there remains within him, as with all children who have received a Jewish education in the secular schools, a certain amount of love and devotion to Jewish life and the Jewish people. These feelings have an affect, I believe, on their intellect.

I will now make a large jump in my remembrances. Possibly I will return and continue from the above period at some later date. Now I will go to the year 1939, when the Second World War broke out, officially.

Even before that, when Hitler became dictator over Germany in 1933, a shudder passed through all of us as we listened to his voice over the radio. Now that the war had actually broken out, we could foretell that some devastation that would be created among our Jewish people in Poland and throughout Europe, wherever the bloody German hands would reach. We could not imagine, as others also could not, that the tragedy and destruction would be so great, with such a systematic and determined will to kill over 6 million Jews. The more and deeper we think of what happened, how all of our closest and dearest were destroyed by such horrible means, the stronger I feel that those who performed such crimes must have been born from a stone. Every day and even every hour we followed the war news. It hurt us deeply to hear of the Nazi victories. We had in mind our son, who was attending college. We knew that if America entered the war, he and millions of other young men, would have to go into the army to fight the Germans. After several months, there was the knowledge that America should and would get involved. We felt that without the direct intervention of the American forces, there would not be any way of stopping the Germans. It did not take too long and the war came, but from a different direction.

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, America declared war on Japan and then entered the war officially against Germany and Italy. On December 4, 1942 our son volunteered and enlisted into the army. We knew that if he did not enlist, he would have been called up soon anyway. Rather than wait, by volunteering, he was able to select the branch of service and went into the Air Force. The

[page 106]

fears and pains that went through us during the next three hard and difficult years, while he was in the service, left my wife and me with nervous reactions. We feel that these years weakened our hearts and we remained with thoughts of those times for the rest of our lives. After a year and a half of training he was sent out to the Pacific to fight in the South Pacific against the Japanese. He had some terrible experiences and went through many dangerous war situations. He wrote to us almost every day that he was on the overseas and we were in constant mail contact with him, except for the times that he was being sent from one island to another and there was no mail contact allowed. Even though they were not permitted to tell exactly where they were, we were able to decipher where he was stationed at any one time. Following the war communiqués, we saw one day that in the taking of the island of Layte in the Philippines, a Japanese Kamikaze plane had crashed into a ship in a convoy. My heart immediately told me that our son was on this ship. After this incident we did not receive any letters from him for two weeks. The fear and worry that we went through during this time is hard to describe. When we finally did receive a letter, we were able to read between the lines that he had been on this ship and it had been sunk. He was saved then through a miracle and came out with only a small wound on his hand. It will take up too much room and time to relate all the experiences that he went through and told us about. I am certain there were many that he did not tell us. Every moment of those years was taken up with worry and fears for our son and others that we knew that were in the war areas. We lived to see the time in May 1945 when the Germans received their resounding defeat. The happiness of everyone with the defeat of the Germans and the cessation of hostilities in Europe was very great. But those that still had children and loved ones in the Pacific theater of operations, could not fully share in this great event. The Japanese were not ready to admit defeat until the month of August when the tremendous blasts of the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed the new war power of the United States and the hostilities came to an end. With great longing and heavy hearts we still had to wait until late November 1945 until we received the long awaited telegram that our son was on his way back through Seattle, Washington and that he would soon be with us and we would be able to see him.

In the month of December, exactly three years after he left to go into the army, our son returned in good health. Our good luck was tremendous, but it was mixed with sorrow when we remembered how many such children, young fine boys, did not have the opportunity to come home like this. And the sad parents who did not have the chance to have their children with them again. Several of our friends had lost their sons or they had been severely wounded on the battle-fields. When we met with them in future years, we simply did not have any words which would comfort them in their tragic loss.

[pages 107-108]


Alexandrovitch 19, 37
Alter, Alex 40, 43, 85
Alter, Berish 3, 4
Alter, Etia 11
Alter, Itsaak Leib 49
Alter, Meyer David 1, 34, 109
Alter, Moishe 49
Alter, Moishe Hersh 37
Alter, Rasia 11, 31, 40, 72
Alter, Samuel 1, 37, 38, 49, 52, 58, 103, 104, 109
Alter, Shmuel 49, 50, 51, 52
Alter, Victor 49, 51, 74
America 3, 26, 41, 42, 46, 49, 74, 79, 81, 83, 84, 85, 92, 95, 99, 101, 102, 103, 105, 109
Ander, General 57
Anders 67
Artur 67
Ash, Sholem 53
Azaov 27
Bartcivkosk, Doctor 80
Ben Tsipir see Sternman 53
Berlin 42, 60, 84, 85
Bernstein 61, 62
Boston, Massachusetts 94, 96, 97
Bramberg 81
Brest-Litovsk 14
Buks, Hersh 79, 81
Bund 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 24, 25, 26, 37, 40, 41, 44, 45, 46, 47, 50, 53, 59, 61, 62, 63, 64, 66, 68, 69, 71, 76, 78, 79, 81, 83, 99, 103
Caribou, Maine 91, 93, 94
Chenstechove Church 30
Chiamovitch 81
Communist 99, 104
Danzig 81, 82, 83
Dzelenkov, Kalman 5, 7, 8, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 25, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 45, 47, 52, 53, 55, 62, 64, 65, 66, 72, 75, 79, 81, 82, 84
Evinska, Esther 49, 51, 72, 79
Farein, Professional Groups 44, 77
Fleecberg 69
Foche, General 77
Folks-Tsaitung 7
Forward 42, 95, 97, 98, 103, 104
Gottlieb 71
Grampion 85
Gurer, Rabbi 41
Hiller, Chella 79, 81
Hiller, Shlomo 24, 28
Hitler 105
Ishievitch, Ryva 69, 71, 79, 80, 81, 83, 84, 86, 99, 102, 103, 104
Izbitski 84
Jaffe 86, 90, 94, 95, 97
Jewish Daily 90, 94, 97
Jewish Socialist Party 98
Kahn, Moishe 62
Kaltan, Doctor 38, 48, 49
Kaltman, Doctor 43
Kelovitch, Janick 68
Koenig, Aaron & Henig 50
Kovoleh 38, 39
Kovolski, Rabbi 53
Kutna 53, 54, 55
Kviet 84
Lange Trink 40
Layte 106
Lefkowitz, Leo 96, 98
Leipzig Social Democratic Folks Tsaitung 60
library 44
Liechtenstein, Israel 67
Lipno 5, 11, 12, 14, 22, 40, 43, 45, 71, 72, 78
Lodz 18, 21
Lublin 59, 66, 67, 72, 97
Lubrenietsky 47, 48
Magdenberg 84
Mairovitch, Manya 64
Maruz 38
Matzek 30
Medem, Vladimir 59
Montreal 86, 88, 95
Nachman 8, 9, 14, 15, 62
New York City 87, 88, 92, 94, 96, 98
Ossoffsky, David 98, 100
P.P.S. 5, 23, 24, 25, 63, 75, 76
P.S.D. 5
Paysechson 67
Pearl Harbor, 105
Peretz, I. L. 52
Plattsberg, New York 87
Plotsker 69, 70
Poli-Zionist 5, 17, 19, 61, 62
Pomerantz 17, 44
Prilutska, Paula 62
Quebec 85
Rosen, Mania 79
Rosenthal, Max 80
Rosenthal, Sender 81
Rupine 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73
Samanov, General 57
Schwartz, Levien 79, 85
Schwartz, Paula 83
Schwartz, Samuel 58
Schwartzman, Leon 68, 73
Scotelski 71
Silberstein, Mottle 89, 99
Smoller 40
Social-Democratic Party 14
Socialist- Democratic Party, German 41
Socialist Farband 103
Socialist Party 99, 102
Sokolov, Nathan 16
Sternman, Doctor see Ben Tsipir 53
Svinemunda 84
Tarentchick, Abraham 60, 72, 84
Tendler 82
Tzerenovitch, Anja 84
Tzukunft 59, 61, 63, 72, 73, 74, 76, 77
Vilna 7, 8, 21, 22, 69
Vilna News 69
Volesh 45, 84
Warsaw 7, 12, 16, 18, 21, 25, 27, 34, 36, 39, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52, 53, 57, 59, 64, 65, 66, 68, 69, 71, 72, 74, 76, 77, 78, 82, 84
Weiss 89
Wishogradski 81
Wloclawek 1, 4, 5, 7, 14, 15, 19, 24, 34, 38, 49, 52, 53, 57, 59, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 72, 76, 77, 80, 81, 83, 84, 86, 102, 109
Wolfstone 81, 83
Yiddish Togen Blat 90
Zavtcha 85
Zeramin 71
Zionist 5, 7, 15, 16, 17, 19, 52, 59, 61, 63, 79

[page 109]

Translator's Note

I have translated the work from the Yiddish, and dedicate it to my parents, who taught me, by example and discussion, how a “mensh” should think and act.

Some time after his death on October 9, 1970 (Yom Kippur eve), while closing his apartment, I found a 3 ring binder with 144 pages in Yiddish script, that he had written. There is a pencil notation on the first page indicating that my father had started this in 1950. There is no indication of when he finished the manuscript, or how long it had taken him.

My father's ideals never wavered. He believed in and fought for the rights of the working man here in America as he did in Poland.

My father was very interested in keeping the memory of his family, as well as the Jewish population who were annihilated in the Holocaust alive. He was editor of the A Jubilee Book of Branch 611, Workmen's Circle, which was published in 1951 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their founding. While the major part pertains to the remembrances, thoughts and ideals of the members of the Branch, a portion is dedicated to those who did not survive.

He also acted as one of the editors for the Yizkor Book of the city of Wloclawek, which was printed both in Israel and the United States in 1967. The former is in Yiddish and Hebrew, while the latter has an added section in English.

I started translating the manuscript about 1975 but only did about 5 pages and put the work aside. After moving to Florida in 1980 I was able to complete the translation after about 10 years. I did the entire translation myself and am responsible for any errors. Names have been translated into English or orthographic equivalent. I have translated the pages in the sequence they were written and have tried to keep the tone in which my father wrote.

Samuel Alter
Boca Raton, Florida, U.S.A.
May 2001

« Previous Page Table of Contents

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Wloclawek, Poland
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 Aug 2005 by LA