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[Col. 433]

The Jewish Fire Brigade Prevented a Pogrom

Abrasha Bak

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub




When I was still a child, I was drawn to the Fire Brigade when I saw my father taking part in their exercises. I could hardly wait until I was 17, when I was finally accepted as a member in the Fire Brigade (only because I had a lot of pull), and I could don the blue uniform with the red stripes and every Sunday take part in the exercises with the ladders and ropes.

It once happened that on a Monday night a fire broke out on Pashmener Street at Tevye's, the maker of felt boots. He had oxygen that had exploded and fed the flames. We threw ourselves into the work, and with the water from the Kune River we put out the fire. In addition, we were successful in containing the blaze and protecting all the surrounding wooden houses. This made us even prouder.

At that time, fires were not an infrequent occurrence. The bells often rang calling the [town's] population to gather in the courtyard of the firehouse. It sometimes happened that strong winds prevented the sounding of the bells to be heard, and the people did not hear the alarm.

It was only when Zalman Bikson and ________[1] took over as managers that we organized events [such as] flower days, and took out loans. For the money we [made], we erected sirens and became motorized, [that is] we bought a car and other necessary appliances.
This helped us tremendously. We got rid of the horses that panicked at every fire and trembled as they were harnessed to the [water] barrels, [and even] at the sight of our shiny hats and burning torches. The bell that indicated to all to clear the road for us, caused the horses to become very

[Col. 434]

fearful, and it was sometimes impossible to prevent them from galloping wildly away.

The Fire Brigade was located on Kaznatseyshter Street (Pilsudskiega)[2]. As soon as the siren sounded, the first ones [to arrive] were from Lintuper and Pilsudski Streets: Yoyel (the wigmaker), Vilkomirski, Meyer Shapiro, Bere Leyb Grinfeld, Dovid Kavarski, Lulinski and others. From the marketplace and the synagogue courtyard [came]: Moyshe Hirsh Bushkanyets, Bikson, Yoysef Goron, Leyzer Gordon, Zalman Matskin, Leyb Matskin, Henekh Sorski, Yitskhak Bak, Avram Bak, Menke Gurvitsh, Yankev Kramnik, Dovid Gurvitsh, Gershon Gurvitsh, Alter Kaltun, Dovid Rokhin, Nakhum Rokhin, Vermes, Yankiv Leas, Shayke Liberman, Avram Gurvitsh, Motl Kil and others.


The Fire Fighters of the city


When the war broke out and the Poles were running away, they abandoned everything. We, the fire fighters took over and prevented a pogrom. We took control of the weapons that we found in the police station. We took the caches of whisky and alcohol over to the hospital and kept order until the Red Army arrived.

  1. The name of the person who helped him is missing in the original. [Trans.] Return
  2. I think that this means that the firehouse was on the corner of Kaznatseyshter Street and Pilsudski Street or that Kaznatseyshter Street was originally named Pilsudski Street. [Trans.] Return

[Cols. 435-436]

Tin Names[1]

(From the poem 'Mason[2] Hirsh')

M. Natish




Gray Sabbath, piously-despondent Elul –
Locks threaten – iron fists –of closed thresholds;
Arms of bars –
Spread on shutters, doors:
--In any case, there is nothing to touch! …[3]
Yellow paper with bleeding, calligraphied
Letters on black doors:
“These stores for rent”…
Rubbed out signs,
Tin names of the tattered
Business-trade-swindle scribe that remained…
Meat stalls. A red cow – looks from the rusted tin [sign]:
Large eyes – measured with compasses;
The gentle eyes of a child …
The cow holds an ax in its teeth,
[And] smiles sadly to itself…
A small sack of flour, a loaf of bread –
A black knife sticks out of the middle…
A glass of tea, a slice of lemon
Boiled with it…
Iron, plow, saw, miter, a pair of oxen …
A long stocking, a child's dress with short little sleeves spread out:
Shows a hand
A dressed up dandy:
Second-hand clothes…
Black boots for work…
Wig-maker, brush and comb in hands held up
Over the swelled [?] head of his client…

[Cols. 437-438]

The mirror opposite him, a glance – behind him!
That is how the wigmaker looks in the mirror…
An eagle with a crown; a crooked beak held high –
A monopoly; tobacco, cigarettes…
Golden letters on black marble: the apothecary;
A green snake wound around a lifted cup – thin –
Doctor of medicine…
A finger points to a yard: a midwife, in there…
Dentist from ten to four –
The door of the glassed-in porch stands open…
Lawyer – defends in court. A Jew. A black countenance.
Piles of money pressed into fists. A curse sticks in the heart –
Shouts to the neighbor:
“Pay the taxes!”…
Taxes, taxes, taxes –contributions! …
“Public School – Culture,” Star of David, a palm in the middle…
Pioneers. “Hora Dance.” Scream –
A gathering…
A Jewish secular school with 7 grades
(the sign dangling [?] in the wind,
Window panes – stained with ink.)
The movie theater. Only plays once a week – full…
“Educational Society” fallen in ruins,
Youth – progressive, out of pranks…
Wind orchestra, hoarse brasses, marches resound
On the Sabbath…
The library, dark, quiet.
Books – moldy, dusty – –
Rehearsal: Bergelson's “The Bread Mill”…
“Pasterunek, F. F.” from flogging on the roof – a whip…
Electric – heavy sobbing, like a goose…
High fences, rusted barbed wire…
The yellow painted train station:
A small train, like a rat, runs quickly by –
Position, gymnasia, seminar,
The fire fighter's tower, like a giant
Lurks with bells sounding in the distance for certain danger…
The Magistrate, an emblem with two little fish.
A watch bricked into the lime tower,
Hands, frozen fingers point in black at ten…
A small orchard – fenced in,
Opposite the white church – up high
(The church with a reputation);

[Cols. 439-440]

Three little trees. Flowers all mixed up among the weeds.
(The Magistrate plowed up a stretch of the marketplace to make a park.)
The priest's house on church grounds:
White letters scream from the red roof
To the peasants in the marketplace and at the fairs:
      “Here we drink tea! . .
      “Here we buy inexpensive bread!…
      “Here we avoid Jews!”
A reading room dedicated to “Holy Theresa” –
So that the Lord's word not be forgotten! …
Horses unharnessed, sacks of wheat on heads.
Penitents [?] pray opposite the church.
Crows pick at steaming dung on the stones near the park. . .


  1. This is a selection of a larger poem and is printed as one column in the middle of the page. [Trans.] Return
  2. Meaning a bricklayer, not a first name. [Trans.] Return
  3. The ellipses mean that part of the poem has been omitted. [Trans.] Return


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