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For Those Who Passed Away

by Chemda

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Yisrael Eli Shapira of blessed memory

        Yisrael Eli Shapira of blessed memory was an exceptional personality. He had great capabilities and a sharp intellect. He was pleasant in his ways, and pleasant in his conversation. He would analyze any topic with great clarity and ironclad logic. He lived in the home of his father, Menashe Shapira of blessed memory, near the road. His father, who was a widower, lived in the attic, and took his meals at his son's table. The “Young Chalutz” group had its headquarters in one of the rooms of the attic for a certain time.

        Yisrael Eli was a member of the town council. No small amount of civic matters were decided by him. As P. Kaplan pointed out in one of his articles, he was set to be elected as the mayor, however the rabbi dissuaded him since serving in this position would lead on occasion to the desecration of the Sabbath. The gentile mayor was narrow-minded, and enjoyed to tipple. He was not chosen for this position due to his capabilities or his plans, but rather because he was the lesser of the evils, for he was the least anti-Semitic of the candidates for that position. Even though the Jewish vote was assured to him from the outset, prior to the election he would stand next the his office window, invite Jewish passers by in for a friendly chat, and give them a good quality cigarette. This was his way of insuring the Jewish vote.

        Yisrael Eli Shapira prepared the financial accounting for the mayor. He knew Polish very well, and wrote with a fine style. He would often help Jews with their written requests to the authorities in Warsaw regarding the many weighty taxes that the Polish regime imposed upon them. He would chain smoke as he worked at his desk. As he said, this sharpened his mind, and he was then able to produce good and clean work with his hands.

        His only daughter Salcha was a pretty brunette. Here eyes were like plums, decorated with black eyebrows and eyelashes, displaying a silent melancholy. She inherited her grace from her mother and her exceptional abilities from her father. When I was already living in Israel I heard that she had completed the Polish gymnasia in Lomza with excellent grades.

        Yisrael Eli's brother-in-law was the landowner Denenberg, who was married to his wife's sister. His brother was a pharmacist in one of the towns. This was quite rare in Poland, for there was a “numerus nullus” clause in effect in the faculties of medicine, that is to say that for the most part, Jews were not accepted to those faculties.

        Yisrael Eli served for many years as the secretary of the communal council, and he headed the popular bank that was founded in Stawiski. He was an enthusiastic Zionist. He participated in all the events that were connected to the Land of Israel. When the opening of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925 was celebrated in the city, he marched at the head of the large parade, as he carried with pride the large banner of the university building. He saw in the establishment of this institution of higher learning one of the wonderful manifestations of the spiritual life of the nation on the land of the fathers. He desired to make aliya to the Land with his family, but he did not have the necessary means to overcome the difficulties of aliya during that time period.

        Yisrael Eli Shapira did not merit arriving at his desired destination, and he was torn up by the human beasts. As Yisrael Eli once said when a splendid automobile passed through quickly, and left smoke and a bad smell in its wake: “Thus is civilization…”

{Photo page 289: Yizkor Meetings (Trans Note: 6 photographs, no names given, location probably in Israel).}


Chaim Kadysz Kolinski of blessed memory

        Chaim Kolinski, the eldest son of Reb Avraham Ber of blessed memory, was a tailor by profession. He serviced the farmers primarily, and he would travel with his sons to the fairs in order to sell his merchandise. If a gentile measured the coat and the sleeves were too short – Chaim Kolinski would tell the gentile that he is guilty, for his arms were too long; and if the sleeves were too long – he would claim that the arms of the gentile were too short.

        Chaim Kolinski was a good person, with a warm Jewish heart. He lived with his extended family in the second floor of the large house of Hershel Mark, may G-d avenge his blood. His economic situation was tight, however one never heard him complain. He always found a reason to joke. He was also always prepared to help his fellow. On Purim, he would dress up in the clothes of a Russian captain, with “golden” shoulders, wear an army cap on his head, cover his face with a mask, and go from door to door to collect “mishloach manos” for the poor of the city[1].]. They greeted him with joy and friendliness everywhere. During my childhood, I was afraid to look at the mask on his face, and when I saw him from afar, I would hide “until the trouble passed”. Chaim K. knew my weakness, and did not let me be. He searched after me until he found me, and he forced me to look at his masked face. Later, in order to calm me, he would remove his mask so that I can see his real face, that it was the same face as yesterday, and he would laugh with his usual hearty laughter.

        At the end of the First World War, when postal service was renewed with the outside world, he was appointed as the postmaster. This was the first and only time that a Jew from our city was appointed to that position, and even that was for a short period only. One day he came to us with a letter from my brother Nechemia: “Your son is the first one of our townsfolk in the United States, who 'broke through' the path from New York to Stawiski” – he said half jokingly, half seriously, full of reverence for the dedicated son.

        His oldest daughter was quite talented. She studied everything that came her way. She swallowed up books ravenously. She eventually moved to Vilna to study and work. She saved her money until she succeeded in bringing her younger sister with her, and she helped her acquire Torah and knowledge. When she visited me once during her vacation, I was surprised at what I saw – before me was a beautiful girl full of grace and delicacy.

(Note: an article by Chaya Kolinski on Stawiski is included in this book.)


Solarczyk of blessed memory

        Solarczyk arrived to town one day, and was hired as a Hebrew teacher for the daughters of the miller in nearby Rutki. He came into town for the Sabbaths and festivals. Our home was always filled with the tumult of youths, friends of my brother. A day that Solarczyk came would be an especially joyous day. He was an intelligent young man, happy and full of humor. He knew how to tell stories and jokes with grace and good taste. He also sang nicely, and once participated as a soloist at one of our evenings of song, readings and dance, which we would organize from time to time for the benefit of the library. That evening, he sang with great feeling his beloved song: “My L-rd, my L-rd, why have You forsaken me?” [2]..

        He had an artificial leg. I heard him tell with great agony that he was wild during his childhood. Once, as he was climbing a tall tree, he fell to the ground, was seriously injured, and it was necessary to amputate his leg. He never forgave himself for being handicapped, and he saw in this the source of his difficulties and setbacks in life. He often thought that if it were not for his injury, he might have a future as an actor in the theater -–a childhood dream of his. Indeed, he had such talents. Nevertheless, this did not detract from his joyfulness, and he was always a pleasant guest.

        One winter day, he sat in our house with a number of friends, including another guest who was a competitor with Solarczyk in the realm of jokes and humor. That guest told about his period of study in Berlin, and the life of deprivation that he lived due to the lack of means. In order to “ease” his situation somewhat, he switched his room every month, and told the new landlady about this “birthday” that falls in that month. As was customary, the landlady would bake cakes in honor of the “birthday” and give him presents – which would benefit him for several days.

        Story continued after story, and joke after joke, until suddenly a group of Germans approached in order to conscript the young men for paving roads among the high piles of snow that were heaped up in the streets. The youths were alert to the situation, and disappeared into the yard via the back door. Solarczyk fled to a nearby room and hid in the clothes closet.

        Once, Solarczyk told about the stinginess of K., even though he was a man of means. K. had two daughters. As usual, the daughters supervised the household. One Sabbath, Solarczyk along with a number of friends visited the house of K., and the girls served them tea. The father made haste and divided the sugar cubes into four smaller pieces. Usually, one would sweeten a glass of tea with two sugar cubes. Unsweetened tea would be drunk with a half a cube, or at most one cube, placed in the mouth. Solarczyk, who understood the motives of the stingy father, decided to teach him a lesson. He placed a sugar cube in his mouth, crushed it with his cheek, and swallowed it with each sip of tea. Thus did he use up many sugar cubes with one glass of tea. K. saw this and begged him to sweeten the tea. “I don't like sweet tea” – answered Solarczyk, and continued doing what he was doing.

        From that time on, whenever Solarczyk came to K.'s house, the homeowner would slink into another room so that he would not witness Solarczyk's gluttony.

        Solarczyk studied in the Hebrew teachers' seminary in Vilna, and then served as a teacher in one of the nearby villages. He got married there. Every Friday, a satire page would appear in the Jewish newspaper of Vilna entitled “Di Bomba” (“The Bomb”). This page was given that name after a frightening incident that took place in one of the Polish gymnasia of Vilna. Several students, who were angry because the failed a test, tossed a bomb at their teachers. Two professors and three students were killed. As a result of this event, a decision was made to make the matriculation exams easier in all of the gymnasia, including the Hebrew “Tarbut” gymnasia. His column was very successful, and it appeared in the newspaper for many years. Solarczyk did not sever his connection with Stawiski, and he visited on specific occasions.


Fishel Cybulski of blessed memory

        Fishel Cybulski of blessed memory was one of the youths of our town who was successful at his endeavors. He was a pork merchant, and owned a brush factory. Even though he was successful and entrepreneurial, the town was too small for him, and he went out to the outside world. Within a few years, he became one of the largest merchants of valuable pelts. Fishel settled in the free city of Danzig, and from there he conducted his flourishing business endeavors in the lands of Europe, and particularly in Germany. After some time, he brought his two younger brothers to him and involved them in his business.

        His elderly mother, as well as his sister who was married to the teacher Gedalia Rubinsztejn, remained in the town. The family lived on meager means for many years. Rubinsztejn had difficulty supporting his family from his teaching salary. They had four sons and one daughter. The youngest son, Yoel, was a hunchback. As he became older, his condition worsened, and he became a dwarf. Yoel was blessed with a clear, sweet, and exceptional voice. When he would sing, his melodies would pour out like the sounds of a violin. His rich uncle spent a fortune to cure him. He brought him to the expert physicians in the country, however all the effort was for naught. To augment to the anguish, Fishel did not have satisfaction from his two younger brothers as well.

        After he attained greatness, Fishel decided to do something for his family. He purchased a two-story home from the widow Naszelski, and renovated it beyond recognition. One day, trucks laden with modern furniture came to the home. Within one night, the area was turned into a palace. He settled his mother in that house. He settled his married sister into the upper floor, and looked after their livelihood. He would come to Stawiski for the festivals, to celebrate among his family.

        After all of the renovations in the house, he opened the doors wide, and the townsfolk came to see the wonders – new and splendid furniture. A large chandelier decorated with crystal candleholders hung from the ceiling of the large guestroom. A large lion skin, with regal eyes sparkling from the head, covered the floor of the room, and softly cushioned the footsteps of those who trod upon it. The kitchen was embellished with vessels of porcelain and expensive glass. The beautiful beds with their soft, springy mattresses caught everyone's eyes. Who ever saw a springy mattress, and who ever felt its flexibility? A mattress in Stawiski was a wide sack filled with straw, which would be changed once a year on the eve of Passover, resting on a sodden box. Sleep on such a mattress was not particularly restful. Often, one would arise from sleep with “streaked”, aching ribs[3].. If one of the wooden planks would break in the middle of the night, the straw mattress would sag, and the noise of the broken planks would wake up all the family members in a startle.

        Fishel Cybulski honored his elderly mother greatly, and did the best he could to insure that she would be able to enjoy of her good fortune in her old age. He gave her every good thing, and protected her to the best of his ability. Once she took severely ill, and they thought that the end had come. They called Fishel from Danzig, and he brought the best doctors with him. She regained her health – one can even bribe the Angel of Death with money.

        Fishel also did not forget his native town of Stawiski. He paid for the repair of the leaky roof of the Beis Midrash, and for the installation of beautiful electric chandeliers. Thus, the light in the house of prayer and the joy in the hearts of the worshippers increased. His hand was open to charitable needs.

        Fishel was a friend of my brother Yitzchak of blessed memory. Fishel would visit us when he came to Stawiski even after my brother immigrated to the United States, for he enjoyed father's company, and loved to chat with him.

        As the Holocaust drew near, he looked for ways to escape from Danzig. He attempted to reach the United States with the help of friends, but he was not successful. Fishel perished in the great conflagration that engulfed the House of Israel in Europe.

Nissel of blessed memory

        Nissel was a great good-for-nothing. Pity was aroused for him also for his short stature, which on occasion served as a pretext for all sorts of pranks and jokes. Nevertheless, Nissel was a clean boy, who dressed nicely.

        He was not fit for any work, and he had no work in the town. He also understood that he had no future in Stawiski, and since at that time America enchanted anyone who was concerned about his future, Nissel thought that he should immigrate to the land of endless opportunity. It is not known how he found his way to the United States.

        As was customary, all of the arrivals to the borders of the United States disembarked at Ellis Island, and there the destiny of each immigrant was decided – who would merit to remain, and who would be sent back to the land from whence he came. The officials examined the case of Nissel and decided to send him back to Poland. For Nissel, this was too much to bear. He could not understand why the Americans invalidated him. Broken and crushed, he returned to his mother's house.

        The scoffers in the group, who accosted him on occasion, did not leave him alone, and they would often mention the incident of the United States to him. Poor Nissel poured out stream of invective against the Americans.

        One day, they decided to put him to a test. They told him that he would not succeed in carrying a sack of flour from one corner of the room to another. Nissel could not tolerate the embarrassment, and he assured them that he could do so. The youths loaded a sack of flour on his shoulder – not one of the smaller ones – and he carried it on his back, although he was bent over so much that he almost fell down. However, he succeeded in the test. After this exercise, they treated him to some food, however Nissel was also week with regard to the act of eating. “He ate like a bird” they would say about him.

        Indeed, the lot of Nissel did not improve in the world of G-d.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. On the festival of Purim, it is customary to dress up. Gifts of food “mishloach manos” are delivered to friends, and charity or food is distributed to the poor. Return

  2. A verse from Psalm 22, which is quite well known for its Christological connotations, obviously not intended here. Return

  3. Referring to the red rashes that occur when pressure is placed on various parts of the body for prolonged periods. Return


Those of Ill Fate

by Bat Menachem

        As in every city and town, in Stawiski there were also people who were not of full mind. One of them was a young lad, Alter the orphan, who lived at the home of his grandmother. People called him “Alter-Keili Yomtov”, on account of the song that was always on his lips, with his own special melody, with the nonsensical words “Eini Keili Shabbas Tadi-Risa-Bom; Eini Keili Yomtov, Tadi-Risa-Bom”. The meaning of these words was “Enjoyable Sabbath, Enjoyable Yomtov (Festival)”.

        A little older than him was someone they called Zelig Bonk. Nobody knew why he had such a strange nickname. He would wander around the streets aimlessly, with his hat hanging over his forehead, its visor pointing to the side.

        Among the not completely sane girls was one who would spend the entire summer at her parents' home, swaying endlessly without saying anything. Her picture, with her hand outstretched to receive charity, was perpetuated by the Germans during the First World War on one of the many pamphlets that were printed regarding the happenings of the town.

A. B. was different than the rest. It was related that she was a very pretty girl during her youth. Many rumors circulated as to the reason for her insanity, however nobody knew the real reason. When her family moved to a nearby city, A. B. would maintain her connections with Stawiski, and she would visit it at sent times, primarily on Passover and the High Holy Days.

She knew the prayers like an experienced elder. She grew up in an observant household and thoroughly knew the customs of the Sabbaths and festivals. She would usually carry a regular prayer book (Siddur) or festival prayer book (Machzor) with her, and she would study them. At times, she would go up to the women's gallery of the Beis Midrash on festivals, look out through one of the windows and shout loudly to the worshippers. The women were not able to quiet her. Without any other choice, several men would have to go up and forcibly remove her.

Chana Zelda was a righteous woman. She sufficed herself with a morsel of bread and a small measure of water. She was always satisfied with her lot. She never uttered a complaint about her ill fate. Thus was the will of the Master of the World, and who was she to complain about it? She spoke reasonably, with a pleasant voice and sparkling eyes, and a smile on her face.

        Kind hearted Chana Zelda could not accept the fact that A. B. was wandering around outside, especially on cold and rainy days. She worried about how she could wander about without a blanket to warm her body, and without a pillow for her head. Chana Zelda brought her to her home, put a roof over her head and shared her meager morsels with her. However, a person such as A. B. was not happy with a permanent place, and she also did not want Chana Zelda to share her meager morsels with her. Her spiritual unrest did not permit her to live and rest in the house of her benefactress. She continued to wander on the streets of the town for most of the hours of the day and the night. She would sometimes begin to run, and then suddenly stop. On the Sabbath she would often sit on the bench in front of the pharmacy in the center of the city. She would pray quietly, talk to her herself, or lose herself in her thoughts. She generally avoided conversation. As was often the case, the children did not leave her be, and if they tormented her too much she would chase after them in anger.

        On occasion, she would peer through the windows of our house at night. People would say that she was searching for her beloved in the hiding places. She would come to our house on festivals before my parents returned from the Beis Midrash. With difficulty, we urged her to eat something. Once she engaged me in a conversation for a longer time than usual, and I was surprised at her intelligence and lucidity. It seemed to me at that time that if she only had the will, she could become healthy like a normal person. I told her that. She was silent for several moments as she tried to find the words.

        “My daughter, you should not know from this agony”, she answered with sadness, and then she was silent.

        One Sabbath eve, I visited with my cousin Devora some acquaintances who lived near the Beis Midrash. The sounds of the worshippers could be heard from all of the houses of prayer. As we were conversing with each other, we did not realize that time was passing, and when we left, we saw to our fright that the houses of prayer were all dark, and there was no living soul on the streets. This meant that the prayers had already concluded some time ago, and they were waiting for us at home for the Sabbath meal. We hurried home.

        As we passed the dark synagogue, a strange voice broke out from it. In the silence and stillness of the night, the mysterious voice instilled fear in us. We ran with all our might due to our fear, as the echo of the mysterious voice chased after us. We reached our home out of breath. When I told my parents what had happened to us along the way, the told us that this was a vain fear, and they attempted to placate me. I did not calm down for some time. I remembered the frightening stories that we children would whisper to each other. According to one of those stories, at night the souls of the dead would enter the women's gallery to worship together, with one of them serving as the cantor. Before dawn they would disappear and return to from where they came. There was no doubt that this frightful voice from the synagogue was the voice of that cantor, with the souls of the dead surrounding him…

        Years passed. When we, the group of gymnasia students, returned to Stawiski at the end of the study term, we organized courses to teach Hebrew and Jewish history to youth groups. The courses were conducted at night, three times a week, in the cheders that were close to the synagogue, after the time that the students finished their studies. Once I arrived at the cheder before the students entered, and I waited outside for their arrival. It was a dark night, and silence pervaded everywhere. Suddenly a black figure approached from afar, ran quickly, and with one sharp turn approached the entrance to the great synagogue. Even in the darkness, I recognized that the mad running was that of A. B., and I figured out that she used to sleep there.

        After many years, when I met Dr. Leibele Remigolski of blessed memory in Israel, she told me that A. B. ended up in the hospital that was under his direction, after she caught a severe cold. He took care of her with great dedication, but could not cure her. Thus did A. B. return her disturbed soul to her Creator.

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