On that same night the best horse from Yiz Federkiv's stable disappeared. She was a three-year-old mare. The town was in turmoil. Then at a horse market Yiz Federkiv recognized his mare, now in the possession of Mendel Shpierer. A quarrel ensued. Mendel swore he had purchased the horse from one of Granach's sons, who was going to bring the dealer the proper papers.
Without them, you do not have a right to the horse, Federkiv complained. And so a new battle began. Our elder brother, Schachne, who was probably trying to maintain the honor of our family, went to a tavern with the horse dealer and Yiz Federkiv. After several glasses of beer they agreed that all three should share in the loss, and so Federkiv was given back his mare.
Years passed. We were now living in Horodenka and the story of the mare was long forgotten. Then Schmuel suddenly appeared. He was now twenty-one years old and was obliged to appear for his military service. He was dressed in a fine fur coat with a slanted collar and wore creased pants and brown boots, just like a cavalry officer. On Shabbos he put on a black tie and shiny shoes and he carried his leather gloves in his hands so that all could see the rings on his fingers. He would not go out into the street without his braided riding crop. He wore his green officer's cap a bit to the side so that his long, blond ringlets would show. He would not let a Yiddish word escape from his lips, speaking only German, breaking it up into two syllables (Dai-atch). Mother begged him to at least speak Yiddish to her, so that she could understand what he was saying.
No, Mother, he complained, no Yiddish. I come from Mislovitz where they speak only Jehr -man.
On Saturday night we all waited for Schmuel to come back home. It was dark in the house, but no one dared put on a light. Father didn't stand on ceremony and tore into Schmuel right away:
Listen up, Mr. Know-it-all: I didn't say a thing while you ranted and raved in that stupid German of yours. I didn't say a word when you tried to cheat everyone with your crooked schemes, saying that you're a millionaire. I never even asked you about you being a horse thief. But if you think that you can go about in red trousers and a fur coat and shiny shoes, thinking that you have the world by the tail, you're making one huge mistake! I'll go ahead and beat the daylights out of you with your braided crop so that you'll stop babbling in German about forget about your counterfeit millions. And now I'm about to get your Aunt Henia and you'll immediately ask forgiveness for what you did to her daughter.
Schmuel started to make a howling sound. He threw his head about every which way, beat himself on the chest, even tied to pull his tongue out of his mouth and his hair from his head. Then he became speechless. We became transfixed watching him. Someone put on a light; father gave him a piece of paper and a fountain pen. With a shaking hand Schmuel wrote that he had had become mute and that they should immediately send for a doctor. In an instant, we forgot about our aunt Henia with her daughter and what had happened in the wheat field, and we sent for the doctor to come.
Dr. Kanafas poked him here and there, stuck something or other into his mouth, and massaged his temples. Meanwhile, outside a crowd was pushing and shoving. They all wanted to see the fine-looking Schmuel, the millionaire, the one who God had just paid, punishing him by turning him into a mute. The doctor asked for two gulden in payment and declared that because Schmuel was a wealthy man, no harm would come to him. Nevertheless, he visited every day and said he would write to an important professor in Vienna about him to find out what he would advise in this case. It's possible there was a blockage in his throat. The doctor came back the next day. This time he said Schmuel should stay in bed and drink schnapps and pepper, so that he would perspire heavily. Then he broke through the crowd and went off.
Schmuel groaned and tossed and turned the entire night. He was burning up. It was a pity to look at him. The next morning he was ashen-gray. We dressed him and we took off with him to see the Rabbi.
The Rabbi's house was packed with people. Father told the Rabbi what had happened; he stared fixedly at Schmuel. Finally, he had something to say: Schmuel ben Ahron: As God is my witness, my task is to make sure that our prayers for you will succeed.
Tears appeared in Schmuel's eyes.
I see tears in your eyes, the Rabbi said. This is a sign that you have taken our words to heart. I now know that you have once again become pious and true. Folks, it's time to begin: let us pray with a full heart so that our prayers will reach the Lord of Mercy.
The people began to pray fervently, and when they came to Shma-Israel, they suddenly heard Schmuel's voice. Shma Israel Adenoi Elahanu Adenoi Ehad.
Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov. The Rabbi interrupted the praying and told the folks to remove their tallis and tfillim.
Schmuel became totally confused and acted as if he was still mute. But the Rabbi said: My son, we have all just heard that you know how to talk. But if you want to try to convince yourself and everyone standing here that you are still mute, well, let it be. The fact of the matter is that your parents and the entire community which has always been behind you, now knows, that Thanks to God, you can now speak and that you are out of peril.
We all sat around the table filled with honey cake, glasses of whiskey, and egg kichlech. The Rabbi gave a glass to Schmuel and they made a blessing: May the Lord God give your tongue the power to serve you as it serves every good and pious Jew.
Amen, Rabbi, Schmuel exploded with joy. Everyone else drank up.
Years passed. I was already in Berlin. Schmuel, on his way to America, went out of his way to see me. He didn't know even a single word of German.
So, the German? What's with that, I asked him. You used to be a complete German.
I was a Milovitzer German, he answered with a smile.
I was considered a good laborer. I quietly kept the thought in my head of running away from home. On the holidays, many young workers came back home from their jobs in different cities. They were all nicely dressed, and they told us that everywhere else was nicer and better than in Horodenka. My friend, Rosenkrantz's brother, came back from Czernovitz. He was dressed in a blue striped suit jacket with flowing collar (Stoyantzer) and a colorful necktie. And he wore shoes of soft calf leather, with rubber soles. This made him quite an attraction in Horodenka. You didn't just walk about in rubber soles; rather; you waltzed upon them. They were both beautiful and practical. And when you wore them down, you could buy brand new soles for a few coins and your shoes are like new again! My friend and I always followed him around. I was jealous of him not only because of his shoes, but for everything else: his wonderful good looks, the way he which he charmed the girls, the locks of hair that dropped onto his forehead, and of course, his great smile which he brought back from Czernovitz. All Horodenka was in love with him.
After the holidays were over, he went back to Czernovitz. But I couldn't put his rubber-soled shoes out of my mind. They seemed to wink at me; they beckoned to me. Make up your mind! You too can have a pair of shoes equal to his! But this won't happen here in Horodenka!
One Shabbos, after the evening meal was over, my buddy Rosenkrantz and I put on our Shabbos clothes on top of our weekday clothes, and we took off, walking to Kalomjya. Our hearts were pounding like hammers. As it began to get dark, we passed the village of Verbivtzi, and we decided to spend the night with our aunt Feigeh. I was afraid to approach my older brother and ask for a place to stay because I knew he would get angry and tell us to go back home.
We rose at dawn, packed our pockets with green cucumbers, and continued to make our way. We continued on for perhaps a half hour, when we suddenly heard my Aunt Feigeh call out to us.
My Aunt Feigeh never smiled. She was totally without emotion, and bereft of personality, resembling the soup she used to cook warmed up, I should say, not cooked. She prepared soups from everything imaginable. We conjured up the thought that she even concocted soup from the wash and from old rags. And she always had something to heat up from yesterday, or from the day before. When did she really prepare anything fresh? We gave her the nickname, The Leftover Aunt because her leftovers were served up again and again. Now she was chasing us, taking our baskets and turning them upside down. She was convinced that we had stolen eggs from her. I was so embarrassed in front of my friend, that I was not able to forgive her for that, and I feel this way even now.
After a half-day walk, we arrived at the town of Gvatadzetz, which was quite a bit smaller than Horodenka. Our morning was free. So we sold our Shabbos clothes and bought some bread and cheese, some milk and butter. With our hunger satisfied, we went further on until we reached Kolomyja. I went directly to one bakery, then on to another, and for the first time in my life I had occasion to use the code word Oisschitz to which the young workers responded with Lemschitz. The bakery workers used to move about constantly, especially in the summertime. They barely got by in the winter. But in springtime they all seemed to come out of the woodwork. The delivery wagons were full of young bakery workers who greeted one another with Oisschitz and Lemschitz and that showed how kindly they felt toward one another.
The bakery lads treated me like I was one of them. They fed us and put us on the road to the village of Yablanov, where they were in need of a young bakery worker such as me. They hired me for twenty gulden a year, with food and lodging. This meant you slept on the sacks of grain, ate twice a day, and got two extra coins each day to buy something to put on a piece of bread, for a snack. I was more concerned with being able to buy all the nice things I wanted for Pesach, first and foremost the rubber-soled shoes.
My friend Rosenkrantz was hired in Kolomyja as a komi (probably a metal-finisher or polisher) in a metal shop. He wasn't paid as well as I was, which was a higher-status job.
Yablanov is not far from Kolomyja, right near the Carpathian Mountains. The peasants who live in that area are called Chutzulez. After working for a night, I went into the marketplace to buy a snack. I spied a man with broad shoulders getting down from the driver seat. He turned around and I realized it was my father! I rushed up to him and he took my hand and said to me in a quiet voice, Go, my, son, finish what you have to do. I'll be here waiting for you.
I was done in five minutes. Together we sat down on the wagon, which he had borrowed from a neighbor, and we rode back home. Father knew I was happy being with him. We spent the entire time talking about the Carpathian Mountains, about my uncle, about the rich black earth in this place, about the poverty of our town, and about the wonderful children my brother Schachne had. Father even told me that he was planning to travel to Chortkov to see the rabbi. He talked about everything, but not about my running away from home.
Once I came home, I immediately went to work for Yashe Baness. He had once worked for us, and then we both worked for Wolf Becker. As a baker, he was in a class by himself. He married and became an independent person. He was a dependable man, and we liked one another. He paid me a gulden each week, including food and lodging. I gave all of my earnings back to the family.
A lad from the town of Obertyn worked alongside me. No one knew his real name, so they called him the Obertyn Rat. He was older and a bit bigger than me a skinny guy with a leathery, brown-green face that was wrinkled, like that of an old man. He had a tiny little mouth, like that of a mouse. He drooled when he ate and when he spoke, and he was truly sallow looking, like a rodent that had become sickly. He would never laugh, and he had no use for anything in our town, not the houses, not the people living there. He found fault with me, and would always tattle on me to the boss. He would sidle up to the wife of the head baker and volunteer to clean house, to help out in any way possible, even to watch after her children. She would listen to every word of gossip he spread and would thoroughly enjoy hearing how I, the son of her husband's former boss, must now work for him.
Once, in the late afternoon, we finished our work and went to doze behind the oven. The Rat began to annoy me with accusations that I over-dressed and acted like someone important and that I chased after the girls. I kept still. He started to tease me, saying that I'd never grow up, that I'd remain small forever. I become angry:
Listen, Obertyn Rat, if you don't cut it our and let me be, you'll get it!I didn't wait any longer. I delivered the first blow right into his jaw.
What can you do to me, you fat kid. I can bash in you ratty chin!
Your hands will dry up before that ever happens!
And I'll make your miserable face spin round!
Your old man will have to do it because you can't!
He knew how much I loved my father and that I had attacked someone with an axe when he was beating up my father. So he didn't dare hit me back, but said in a cold-blooded voice: Let the Devil take your father!
Another vile curse was waiting to leave his lips. He went on: May the Devil take both your father and his father!
And so I hit him again and it started all over, this time faster, mechanically. First came a blow, then came a cry of pain.
Me - a blow to his jaw.I became tired of hitting him, but he kept it up: Your old man. And I hit him again. Would he let me keep hitting him all day long? I wished it would stop. But I was thinking that he's also hitting me back, but with words. His words seem to give him strength. They became his weapons.
Him - Your old man.
I became so impatient that I would have let my fists have their way into his sticky, filthy flesh, which was like a mess of worms. But suddenly, I had a change of heart; I felt remorse. How would I have felt, if I was all by myself in a strange city with a face like his with its mouth so distorted and somebody was hitting me again and again without letting up as I was hitting him.
I stopped hitting him. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it would feel like to be a stranger in this town, so alone and unfortunate and helpless.
My hands were dirty and moist from his saliva. I began to quiver as if I had a fever. I turned my face to the wall and cried endlessly.
Once I had a chance to still my emotions, I began to feel deeply ashamed. The Obertyn Rat still lay perfectly still, his eyes wide open, expressionless. I picked myself up, left the bakery, and never returned to Yashe Baness.
For an entire week my right hand felt stiff from the beating I had given him. I had the notion that I would never be able to get his saliva off my skin, no matter how many times I washed. And all that time I kept thinking about a six year-old orphan boy who used to follow us around begging. All of us kids would beat him up. If you keep beating me up, he would whine in his childish voice, my father will come and strangle all of you. We let him be for a few days, and when his dead father didn't come, we returned to beating him up. My father was a schoichet (ritual slaughterer), he would cry, and if you keep beating me up, he'll come back from the Other World with his killing knife and rip our your guts. We didn't bother him for several more days, but then we went right back to it. This time the orphan sternly warned us, When you hit me, I'll do awful something to you. And you had to somehow believe him. If he wanted to do something particularly evil, we felt he could do it, because we felt that he could really hurt us.
For sure, everyone arms himself with his own weapons.
But they were as eager to help out anyone else in the town who was in need as they were to come to one another's aid. S'rol-Kuneh was the one who was the ringleader. He made friends with handyman-types, the paupers, horse-handlers, and draymen, (carriers) who would follow him blindly. He and his friends would poke their noses into the homes of the poorest people in the town and then threaten the rich folks to fork over money to help them out. The rich folk detested him and told malicious tales about him to the municipality, but the paupers adored him. On Thursdays, the poor people would go from house to house asking for charity. S'rol-Kuneh and his buddies would follow them from a distance and ask them who had given charity and who had not. Once, the rich miser Herr Ofenberger dared to chase the rabble of poor folk from his home, shouting at them as they fled, that he had no fear of the vagabond S'rol-Kuneh, and that he was through giving charity. This happened on a Thursday. The whole town was abuzz! On Friday night, quite by accident, Herr Ofenberger's house caught fire and disappeared in the smoke. Everyone knew this was the work of S'rol-Kuneh and they were all very happy, even though it wasn't talked about.
On Saturday morning a crowd gathered around the burnt-down house. S'rol- Kuneh and his buddies also stopped to look. This is like a sacrifice to The Almighty, S'rol-Kuneh roared, with just a hint of a smile on his face, knowing that this really wasn't an appropriate remark to make on Shabbos. He felt that God Almighty had given him permission to do this in order to punish Herr Ofenberger's hard-heartedness against poor people.
Ofenberger was insured for the fire, but from that time on, he began to give charity again, and in amounts larger than before. He started making pleas to the municipality to send more new and better-trained police to Horodenka. Among them was a patrolman with a turned-up mustache that stretched almost to his eyes. When he glared at someone with a stare that beamed through the mustache, people lowered their gaze in fear. He loved to arrest anyone he didn't like and he then proceeded to beat the living daylights out of him. He was a frequent visitor at Ofenberger's. After he had a glass of whiskey, he would purchase several items and say, Herr Ofenberger, now there will be law and order here. Oenberger would usually reply, God has granted it, Herr 'Order-bringer.' And because of that, the entire town called the patrolman Herr Order-bringer.
Once in the marketplace, S'rol-Kuneh started a brawl with someone and Herr Order-bringer arrested him. S'rol-Kuneh's buddies wanted him released immediately, but he himself didn't want it to happen. Instead, he calmly stretched out his hands so that the handcuffs could be put on, and said, You're doing the right thing. There's got to be order in Horodenka, and there will be order! So they took him off and the entire town broke into such an uproar, that they were forced to release him on the second day. And as usual, no one talked about it afterwards.
One night, two weeks later they took away Herr Order-bringer's gun, tied him up, snipped off one side of his long mustache, and deposited him, as they would a large sack of trash, on the hospital grounds. His rifle with the polished stock, his knife and sheath, his handcuffs and his metal hat with the large bluish-black feathers were all brought to the municipality, with the following message attached:
To the Royal Municipality of Horodenka: Last night we encountered this patrolman drunk in a ditch. Admittedly, he besmirched the reputation of the Kaiser's authorities. We have taken the patrolmen to the hospital grounds. And his weapons and his helmet are being sent to the municipality. Long live the Kaiser! -S'rol-Kuneh Glager and Friends.
Efraim Glager, from whom we rented the bakery, had a son who was older than me named Moishe-Mendel. We attended cheder and then regular school together, stole cherries, hunted for horseshoes, and schemed in thousands of ways. We confided in one another, shared our thoughts about what we knew, what we liked and disliked, and what we were interested in finding out. And we indeed wanted to know everything. The thing we wanted more than anything was to become very strong. As naturally as we would eat a piece of rye bread and butter, we would flex our muscles to see if they had grown bigger. If we had a chance to enjoy a good marrowbone, we became convinced that our own bones would overflow with marrow. If we ate a chicken-neck, beef kidneys, or liver we never had any doubt whatsoever that our own hearts, kidneys and livers would become stronger. We also realized that strength without knowledge and understanding is not enough. So we started to go to restaurants to buy cows-brains, either boiled or stewed, in order to increase our intelligence.
Back in those days in Horodenka we had a park complete with trees, flowers, shrubs and bushes; with fountains and benches and bowers and all the things that a park should have. We used to call it the Strolling Garden. On Saturday and Sunday, and on afternoons and evenings, you could find young men and young women strolling about. At first, groups of young men or groups of young women walked about, distantly exchanging greetings or jokes. Then couples started to walk about, so that we started saying, So-and-so is going with so-and-so, or He and she are speaking to one another. And when he and she went around speaking to one another for some time, people in the town would say they are going out together or playing at love.
Most of the going out was done on Saturday. On Shabbos most of the employed men went to shul, not because they were so fond of davenning, but to meet up with one another. Afterwards, they would go to a small tavern and grab a bite to eat and toast one another's health. Everyone would enjoy himself and talk about things, throwing in a word or two about a certain young lady, and then they made their way to the Strolling Garden. There they awaited the young girls who used to make clothing or worked as house servants and such; they quickly broke up into strolling pairs. There the plots of novels and lines of poetry were brought to life. Even new lines and lyrics were created about the apron maid or about yearning love.
And there were also some minor tragedies. It could happen that a girl from the better part of town, from a better element had let herself be taken down or let false love get the better of her by a good-looking young artisan.
Immediately the parents would get involved and start building the chuppah, sometimes so quickly that there were scandals.
All of this was new in Horodenka. The old-timers could only shake their heads. In the good old days we didn't carry on like this: everything had its proper place. This was really the first generation that had forgone the use of a matchmaker. If a young man wanted to be considered for a marriage, he would have to go out with a girl, speak to her or even play at love. So, in the Strolling Garden sighs and moans of love always were whispered, as if they were the players in a melancholy drama.
And stories of love were indeed played out so that it could make you roll your
eyes! One was the well-known tale about the lovesick young man whose rival locked him up in a dark castle. And in his misery, he threw himself from the tower, only to land at the feet of his beloved. They fled together, shedding tears of joy.
A second story tells about a young baron, who in spite of his high status falls in love with his own housemaid, which causes them to be driven from the ancestral home. They run off and live as beggars through days of terrible weather, until they fall down in a storm and cannot even get up. And at the very last moment as they are about to breathe their final breaths, a postman revives them and tells them the good news that the baron's grandfather has died and left his entire inheritance to him. In the end, they return home and the poor, downtrodden servant maid becomes a baroness.
The house servant for Herr Kofler was a smallish, pretty young girl named Rebecca who came from the town of Oistzeaschke. She was poor, simply attired, but very lively. Her dress drooped loosely over her thin, fourteen-year-old body, but also enhanced a soon-to-be shapely young woman. She had skin as white as snow, silky brown hair, large black shiny eyes, big round cheeks and two small loaves in her blouse.
I made my early delivery of bread to the house wearing my usual delivery-boy outfit that consisted of white pants and an apron with my sleeves rolled up, and on my head my torn cap that contained my flour-sprinkled hair. She would greet me with her laughing voice: Look, Mr. Torn-cap had delivered some might tasty rugelach, or fluffy rolls, or crusty Kaiser rolls! This is what I heard every morning, Mr. Torn-cap, Mr. Torn-cap and if I were to hear anything different, it would have broken my heart.
I began to really keep my eye on her, and even followed her around, from a distance. Her friend, Herr Kofler's other house servant, once led me to believe that they had talked about how I followed her around, and so I figured I might as well be seen by coincidence walking past their house. She and her friend would coyly look back at me from the open window. This is how it went for some weeks, without words, but with the beating of my heart. Once I said for all to hear to my friend, You know what this is a great time to take a walk in the Strolling Garden. And then Rebecca said, loud enough for all to hear, I think I'll rest for a while, and then let's take a walk in the park, okay?
And both of them disappeared from the window. And so we waited. Finally they both left the house and went straight to the Strolling Garden. Once there, we walked in a circle, but in opposite directions. As we passed one another, we looked at each other coyly, but never said a word to one another. My friend said that it I needed to break the ice with her, and he was right. But every time I passed her, I became tongue-tied and couldn't open up my mouth!
After a few hours of this she said loud enough for me to hear that it was time to go back home. We also went back. We got there after they arrived, all the time listening to the drum roll of our hearts. The girls appeared in the window, and a dialog of sorts developed. We didn't even make eye contact. I spoke to my friend and she spoke to hers.
When you show that you're interested in a girl, I say to my friend, even if you never speak a word to her, she should understand your intentions.
If it's that obvious to you, she told her friend, why be so secretive about it?
It no secret, as everyone can see. It's obvious to everybody that I'm in love with someone.
It's not enough that everyone can see it. Sometimes you have to say it. My heart is warmed by her response.
You will hear from me very soon. Someone will have to speed it up, she laughingly says to her friend, because next week we're off to Zaleshchiki, and there just might be a different someone under a different window.
Both girls burst out laughing. As for me, my throat is dry; my heart is beating like a drum. I shout to my friend, If someone is going to go to Zaleshchiki, that's where I'm going! There, I'll prove my intentions.
That's good. We're leaving on Wednesday. That's when we'll see if men keep their word or not. I felt like my head would explode.
Good. I'll follow you there on Saturday.
We all became quiet. I began to think about Wednesday, and about how she said men. I gazed up at her, and took in her long, white neck, her silky reddish-brown hair and her two coal-black eyes, which were twinkling in the dark. For the first time we gazed at it others eyes, and for the first time I saw that she had a tear in her eye. I also felt like crying, but I wasn't sure why.
I still have so much to do, she pointed out to her friend, and then looking at me once again, but this time with a bit of anger in her voice, said, Good night, Mr. Torn-cap.
She disappeared from sight. I felt like a cripple, not able to move from the spot. But all at once she opened the window. She was now wearing a sleeveless nightshirt, without an apron.
I hope, she said with a cute little laugh, that I didn't insult anyone by calling him Mr. Torn-cap, even if it's rather appropriate. Good night.
Good night, I answered her, with thanks in my heart, Good night.
She had already closed the window and I went back home very contented. That night I dreamed that Rebecca and I were strolling in the park. We were going far away, all the way to Zaleshchiki. She was wearing a sleeveless blouse, and I could spy upon her bare, shapely arms. Her blouse was also low-cut so that I could make out the blooming roundness of her young breasts. We were playing with my torn cap, until we became hungry, at which time we ate the crusty, seeded rugelach and the salted bagels which I had baked, and we laughed, laughed all the way until we arrived.
On Wednesday, Rebecca left for Zaleshchiki. On Friday, when my father sent me off to buy postcards, I took the money, and after dinner I left home. My friend accompanied me to the outskirts of town. The sky was very cloudy. I sat down by the ditch and laced up my shoes. My friend gave me his best fountain pen as a going away present and then we swore eternal friendship and made our last goodbye.
I was more than a half hour on my way when it started to rain, and it was raining hard! But a piece of iron in your hand could stop the rain! So I swore to myself that if I could find a piece of iron on the way, it would be a good sign; if not it would be a sign that I should go back home. And right there in front of me was a half horseshoe, as if someone had placed it there for me to find. It was truly a good sign, and I hurried along.
By nightfall I arrived in Serafinitz, a village in between Horodenka and Zaleshchiki. I went into a tavern that was full of Ukrainian peasants. They immediately started to question me: How old am I? How long have I been on the road? What do I think of the world situation? Why do the Turks wear red fez? And if it's true that Chinese men have one long braid, and if others have one eye in the middle of their forehead. I was able to figure out an answer to each of their questions and they were so pleased, that one of them invited me to supper. But how was I supposed to go eat with him, if they didn't keep kosher? He treated me in the tavern to four rolls and a piece of herring and a pint of beer. My head started spinning and I slept it off right there.
It was cold that night. I got up at dawn and started out again. The birds were singing their morning praises to God and I, a twelve year-old, small, and scared, was wondering alone in the big, wide world. God only knows what they were thinking back home. I really should have said goodbye to my father, but how could I have told him about Rebecca? And what would Rebecca say when she laid her eyes upon me? I kne what I would tell her: Men are loyal, and they would not stand under another window with a different girl. Suddenly I heard someone call to me. I stared into the distance and I saw a tall man who beckoned to me with a cane. I became alarmed and started to walk away faster, but he was on my trail! I realized that this was not good, and I broke into a trot. But he ran after me. I was going so fast that I felt my heart was going to burst! I as dripping perspiration and I felt dizzy. Who knew how much longer he would be after me until he came up and killed me. Thousands of stars were blinking in my eyes. I could not run any longer, and I fell down.
I lay there quite a while. When I came to, a tall, sweaty gentile with an agreeable face was standing over me.
You can run like the devil, you little pigeon, he said with a smile, wiping the sweat from his brow.
He picked up his pack that he had carried on a long stick. My fear returned. He took out a loaf of black peasant bread and started chatting with me. I started to eat, half from hunger; half from fear.
It's a pity, he said with a grin, that we can't enjoy a good bit of booze right now.
I kept quiet.
Why were you running? he finally inquired.
Why were you chasing me? I asked him back.
I was chasing you because you were running. Aren't you going to Zaeshchiki?
Of course I'm going to Zaleshchiki.
I already know that. I heard that last night in the tavern, and so 1 figured that
because I'm going to the market there, that we could travel together.
We finished our meal and returned to the road. The shaigetz spun many lively stories, and I told him some of my own, and so together, laughing and a bit weary, arrived at noon in Dzeaneschke, a town on the outskirts of Zaleshchiki in which a brand new iron bridge was built over the Dniester River in the middle of the town. There we said goodbye to one another as if we were good old friends.
I really liked this beautiful, clean town that the Dneister surrounded like a ribbon. The folks there looked like us, and spoke like us as well. I planted myself in front of a bakery window in which wonderful pastries were displayed. A skinny guy with a blond beard and a smile on his face came up to me and said, I see you're not from around here. I've never laid eyes on you before.
I explained to him that I'm a bakery lad and that I'm from Horodenka and that I was looking for a job.
Welcome, welcome, he said and gave me his hand. He said, good-naturedly, By your looks, 1 can see you're more than a half-way capable lad.
He led me to a tavern where he bought me a bagel and a schnapps. 1 would rather have had a glass of milk, but why argue with him about it if he wants to give me a job! He asked me how long I had worked and what jobs I was able to do.
Try me out for a night, and you'll see what 1 can do, I answered. He liked me.
You're not a boastful one, that 1 can see, he said and led me into his bakery.
Four lads worked for him: the seventy year-old gentile Antush; a middle-aged guy with a long beard, named Rafael; and two not-very-friendly young lads. I was the fifth one. The boss remained there overnight to help out, but in truth he wanted to see how I would perform the various jobs that he had given me: preparing a Russia-style braided bread; shaping the loaves; making dough to the right consistency. When I made the Kaiser rolls and the rugelach, he beamed with pleasure. Back home I was a genius at this. In the morning, when I brought samples of my baking into the store, he said to me: Let's have a drink and we'll get to know one another better. We went off.
I know, he says to me in the tavern, that I can hire you very cheaply until Pesach begins. But I won't even bother asking you what you think you deserve. I'll give you what I pay Rafael, the one with the long beard, and he's the father of three children. You will get a gulden and a half per week, including food and lodging, until Pesach. Agreed? I gave him my hand, feeling like I was the luckiest person in the world.
I imagined what Pesach would be like back home. Me, all dressed up in blue striped suit, new shoes with rubber soles, and with lots of presents for my brothers and sisters since I was a big brother to them a grown-up man living in a strange city, where I had gone to chase the girl of my dreams.
I became lost in thought. My new boss, Menasche Strum asked me, So, what are you thinking about?
About my home, I answered a bit shyly.
Go ahead, get a good day's rest so that you begin to feel at home here, okay? And truthfully, I began to feel at home here.
And ponder this: the 18 years which you spent in the shtetl, the years that determined the course of your development, the place you received your education, as both a Jew and as a mensch you cannot ever renounce its profound effect upon you. And even if you forget actua1 events that today you would look upon differently, you strive to not allow your thought processes to alter that memory. And so the following question comes about: Are you not committing an injustice (to yourself) by forgetting about those beautiful times? Is the thread that connects the past and the present indeed that fragile? And so you come to the conclusion that you must not dismiss, in spite of all that has passed, that little bit that you still retain in your memory.
And now, as our compatriots have taken it upon themselves to create a monument in tribute to our long-ago home in the form of a yizchor book which will bring to mind all that we once had and what we have since left, each one of us feels the obligation to re-tell, a task very much like the obligation to recite kaddish in tribute to the lost loved ones, those in the mass graves.
The first and most pressing duty falls to those who were witnesses to the barbaric torture and death that brought down our people. Upon them lies the obligation to tell the upcoming generation what the kulturmenschen (Nazis), who were worse than wild beasts, did to our parents' generation. And if that is told in the book, then it becomes the most important part of the Book of Memory. But at the same time, a reconstruction must be made of our town and of the Jewish life it contained and the way a town its fullness of life and its history is woven into the history of Galician Jewry: the way in which that creation formed the lexicon that portrays Jewish life.
I do not know if the memories I will present will adequately portray the history and folklore of Horodenka Jewish life in the era between 1914, when the First World War broke out, and 1925, when I left for Eretz Israel. However, I hope that the Memory Book will generally contain descriptions and sketches that will give an accurate picture of Horodenka of long ago. Keeping in mind the duty and despair to do my part to fulfill my obligation to the anthology of the Book of Memory , I will do my best to share my memories of that time.
The childhood years of a Jewish boy were certainly no different from those of a Jewish boy in other towns or areas. The first schooling he received was in the cheder and in the Baron Hirsh School. Jewish education was essentially traditional, and from the beginning, Chumash, Bar mitzvah preparation and various other areas of study were taken up by the cheder and upper-school students. After each term, and during the semester itself, we had to be tested. On Shabbos, usually late in the afternoon, the family would come together and the rebbe would have the young boy recite the Torah portions he had learned from the rebbe.
After the age of ten, a boy would have to begin to wrestle with the problem of where to continue his studies. He may have wanted to go to the gimnasia like so many of his friends, but his parents might not have wanted that for him, mainly for religious reasons. But little by little, with the example set by others, the parents usually changed their minds.
As time went on, the cheder's role was diminished. Children were sent instead to the Hebrew-language school. Generally speaking, the rise of a Jewish national consciousness brought about a diversity of viewpoints concerning the best way to educate children following the First World War.
In the First World War, the evacuation by the military of children and the elderly to places unknown, far from their neighbors, made a deep impression in my memory, as well as the memory of the first airplanes flying over our town during the Rusisian invasion.
The first Russian invasion lasted about half a year, after which the Kaiser's army returned. The Jews were very happy, but not for long. The Russians re- mobilized and the Austrians suffered one defeat after another. They soon realized that war was more than an idle diversion, and so they began to draft both older and younger men, so that fathers and their sons, age 17 and over, were taken to the front. The younger children were forced into making a living and became the lifeline of the family. And then came the second and then the third Russian invasion. The Russians broke through the Dniester River front, took over Eastern Galicia, and made their way to Pshemishl. With the capture of Pshemishl, they were hoping to bring the war to a close.
At the time of the second and then the third invasion, Jews, almost without exception, retreated with the Austrian army. Those who were lucky enough were able to get hold of a horse and wagon and loaded their baggage, the barest necessities. The others struggled with packs on their backs, to the roar of the artillery.
No one who was part of that awful pilgrimage will ever forget it. Children lost their parents and parents their children, and not until weeks later searched them out in one of the camps in Tschien or Merrn. I recall how we traveled at night from Olomay to Hungary in a fully packed open wagon, and suddenly it began to rain! It rained the entire night and only in the morning did the autumn sun shine and defrost the icy wheels. At our first stop in Hungary, representatives from the government and the Jewish community began to assist the poor refugees and to give some hot food to the children.
As we progressed, caring people saw to our needs, until we came to our place of rest, where we would remain for the harsh years of the war. The three years we stayed in Behmann, not far from the German border, need to be told in a separate chapter. At first it was hard, but then we became accustomed to the strange environment. But with time, the living conditions became normal and when the time came to go back home, many families were in no great rush and were not anxious to be the first to return home.
The Jews in the towns and villages neighboring Behmann gave a fine and warm welcome to the refugees. The heads of the Jewish community did a lot to lighten the load of the refugees and this made quite an impression upon the gentile community. The Jewish community helped us to enroll in school, in arranging for Bar Mitzvahs, and inviting Shabbos and festival synogogue goers to their homes. All of this was essential to our well-being, as most of the families had their fathers in the military and the community workers were deeply concerned that the children's education would suffer from neglect.
b. Boyhood Years
The refugees who returned found the town totally destroyed. The houses and shops that remained standing were without windows and doors and everything that was once inside was now gone. Several of our Christian neighbors hid our household goods and they later returned them to us; for others, help from the police was needed to bring about their return. The Polish government started a fund to rebuild the town and provided supplies and money, and so the town was rebuilt and things returned to normal.
With the rebuilding of the town, a new era began. Young men now became free of the burden of supporting their families and were able to lead their own lives once again. Several retuned to their studies; others attended school in the evenings. There were several students in town who had completed the matureh (basic course of study) but hadn't decided what to do with their lives and worked at refurbishing public buildings.
The activity of the youth then took on a new form that had been unknown in Horodenka before the war: the beginning of youth organizations. They had a Zionist flavor, but they tried to give their members a general education as well. They showed them what subjects to study, how to prepare themselves, and they formed different clubs and circles, such as literary societies, clubs for sports, and a drama society. The drama society was formed thanks to the generosity of our fellow townsman, the great stage performer Alexander Granach, whose magnificent talent awakened the ardor of the town's youth. He gave first-hand instruction to the first group of young actors in the drama society.
I certainly cannot give a complete description here, in a few sentences, of the role Hershel Sucher played in the Zionist life of Horodenka. I will only say that he was the embodiment of a through-and-through Zionist, and was a model for all of us on how to achieve the Zionist ideal. He also set an example by personally doing the tasks that he had called upon others to perform; thus he came with his family to Eretz Israel. He also was active in the Horodenka landsmanshaft society there. He died in Herzliah in 1959, to the sorrow of all of us for whom he served as an example through his activity and single-mindedness to the cause.
The youth organizations were very active in their various groups for the cause of Keren Kayemet and Keren Hasyod. They distributed coin boxes (pushkes) for Keren
Kaimus, collected funds by hosting many festivities, and presented evening
events and programs whose proceeds were targeted for the Jewish National Fund. Concerning political orientation, most of the youth adhered to the Zionist-Socialist view which also had the largest following in the Halutz (pioneer) Organization. The older Zionists were all Tzoanim Holaim, or as we would call them, shtam Zionists. The first group of Halutzim came together in 1919. They hired themselves out to be fieldworkers for the Jewish estate-managers in Galicia and thus prepared themselves for work in Eretz Israel. It wasn't easy to acquire work, because the idea of young Jewish boys from the city taking on the rigors of field work was preposterous. Finally, the managers were persuaded and they took us in. The days we worked in the field became a profound experience for us. But it also spelled failure for some of us: those who were unable to do the back-breaking work were forced to return home, and this left a bad feeling in all of us.
The first group of settlers (olim), all of whom were gimnasia graduates, left Horodenka in 1920. In the summer of 1920, the second group, of which I was a member, departed. By just pure bad luck, we were delayed in Pressburg, where we had to secure visas from the English consul; the Society to Aid Emigrants to Eretz Israel had the job of assisting us in this regard. At that time, the Society was heavily influenced by the extremely religious Shalumi Amuni Israel and our group did not take kindly to them. We went round and round for a while, and finally they had their way and they convinced the English Consul to refuse to grant us the visas. Somehow we made it to Vienna, with hopes of getting our visas there, but at the same time there was Arab unrest in Eretz Israel and the Mandate government temporarily halted aliyah to the land. A few of our comrades then remained in Vienna and learned a trade; they came to Eretz Israel a few years later; others talked themselves into turning around and they consequently returned to Horodenka.
It should be understood that our aliyah was temporary halted; that is, until the political situation could be resolved. Meanwhile, other catastrophes befell us. We were considered military draftees. To receive an exemption, you had to get an exemption certificate from the military. This was not easy and full of red tape. Finally, it all cleared up, and in 1925 I left for Eretz Israel with one of the largest groups that had ever left Poland.
I will not write about the difficulties of adjusting to the new environment, which challenged everyone, not only those from Horodenka. I only want to say that in coming here, our goal was to become one with the community in Eretz Israel and not call unnecessary attention to our Horodenka origins. This feeling sustained us until 1945, the year in which we could do no less than organize a landsmanshaft society for the purpose of helping our remaining landsheit who had saved themselves from the devastating Holocaust.
c. My final visit to Horodenka
My final visit to Horodenka, a visit to family members, was in February 1929. Together with me on the ship were a few Jews who had abandoned Eretz Israel and were making poor excuses for leaving by blaming the land, not themselves. A few years later I ran across them again. They had returned to Eretz Israel after having searched and failed to discover the easy life away from the land.
I was not the only one awaiting passage in the port of Constantinople. During the endless wait, we realized how far we had distanced ourselves from Diaspora life and how difficult it would now be to return to our former lives. There, it was very hard for us to convince the young people to leave behind the good things of Horodenka for Eretz Israel. At that time, many of them could have come here. They would have removed themselves from the tragic end that befell them.
Europe at that time was enduring a harsh winter and the voyage from Constantinople took four days, instead of the usual two. It was scarcely possible to go from Olomay to Horodenka and I had to travel on Shabbos to Zabldov where my brother Chaim lived. Finally on Sunday night we both landed in Horodenka.
In Horodenka I saw many changes for the good. New buildings were erected, and now there were more markets, automobiles and busses. The economic conditions in the town had also improved with the fine work of Finance Minister Grobski. During the short time I was in town, I attended a few meetings, mostly about Zionism and conducted in Hebrew. I still remember how the Zionist circles were surprised that I had participated in the May Day Norodny Dam demonstration, which was staged by the Bund. They were unable to understand, "how does a Zionist become involved in May Day?"
As I have previously stated, the purpose of the visit was a personal one. It was to be with my family and to celebrate my wedding with Pepi Berman, to whom I had been engaged. Her extended family, mainly her mother (from the well-known Tschermovitzeh family, Brenner) could not come to terms with the idea of not only allowing their daughter to travel alone to Eretz Israel, but also for her to be if she would be brought under the chuppah. My sister's wedding was also to be performed at the same time, and this was the result of my promise to go back to Horodenka and "make a peace treaty" with the entire family primarily my parents, for whom this would be the great and everlasting event of their lives. The ten weeks of my visit were, looking back, one extended yom tov.
But the holiday ended and the day of my departure arrived. All the relatives came to this solemn event. Aside from my beloved parents were my brother Chaim and his wife and relatives from my mother's side, the Latner family. From my wife's family were her sister Dusieh and her husband, and also all the relatives from both their families who had lost all of their wealth in the first Grozamer stock crash of 1941. And I will forever bear the heartache of not being able to influence all of them to come to Eretz Israel and consequently save themselves. In truth, I was not the only one who tried unsuccessfully to get relatives to make aliyah; but as I reflect upon it, it is a poor consolation.
Five months following my departure from Horodenka my contact with my wife became very tenuous. During this time she received documents allowing her to join me in Eretz Israel. In the five years of World War II, our contact with Horodenka was completely cut off, and we were constantly distressed about the state of our relatives who were left in the Nazi hell-fires. But no one could possibly imagine the extent of the tragedy, its awful reality.
The deeply-held commitment we had to help the few remaining persons who had saved themselves brought to the fore all the landsheit from the towns large and small in Eretz Israel. Thus was formed our Argun Yotsai Horodenka Ve-Ha- Gviveh, whose activities will be described in a separate chapter.
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