Translated by Irving Lumerman
Edite by Lorraine Rosengarten
Tarnogrod Jews have always kept the fasts such as: Seventeen Tammuz, Tisha B'Av, Yom Kippur, Fast of Gedaliah, Fast of Esther, Monday and Thurday, and the Tenth of Tevet, etc. However, when it came to the evening before Passover, and the Fast of the Firstborn, who would fast in memory of the plague in Egypt and would thank G-d because the Jewish firstborn sons were saved, the Jews of Tarnogrod found a way not to fast.
The evening before Passover, every firstborn son came into the bet hamidrash where the teachers were waiting for them having prepared a siyum [completion of a tractate of the Talmud, followed by a celebratory meal], that they learned all year and left the last page with the Hadran alakh [prayer recited at the end of each tractate] for the evening before Passover, and would finish together with the firstborn of the town.
The happiness from the siyum and finishing the tractate required a small meal and the firstborn did not have to fast. Thus all firstborn had a gift.
On the day before Passover the scholars had true satisfaction from their study. Those who persisted and studied a lot could, on that day, serve a great number of firstborn and so received more money.
I remember when it came to Hanukkah, in the beit midrash, the boys studied small tractates such as Masechet Megilla, Ta'anit and Horayot that had only twelve pages. This was done so that on the evening before Passover they would be able to complete more tractates.
It was strange to observe, in those days, when every Jew had so much to do in the house by cleaning and bringing in the Passover dishes and cutlery and various other erev yom tov [evening before holiday] duties, the beit midrash boys all sat at their tables with the Gemorahs and taught the unlearned Jews: Hersh-Meir and Itche Jokim Galis, Shmuel-Itskik-Hersh, Meir Bershis, Leizer and Yekhezkel Mosheles, Alter Itsiks, Shiala the Biala-Vans (Schlechterman), Hershele-Yossel Retczyks, etc. The money that they received brought them great joy, but this was not the only important thing they gained on this day.
I also remember something else. My grandfather, Reb Avraham, may his name be blessed, was a firstborn son, and I remember that he left a page of the Gemorah to finish on the evening before Passover.
Removing the Evil-Eye
There was a time when Doctor Libely left Tarnogrod and the town was left without a doctor. However, the Tarnogroder Jews were not afraid. At any rate, people did not go to the doctor immediately with each little thing. First they tried other things among themselves. First they went to get rid of the evil-eye. Three learned people in the town did this: Shmuel Zeiss, Yentche Melamed and Avraham Moshe Melamed.
From about the age of 7 years I studied at the house of Yentche Melamed. I remember that on the first day of heder [small Jewish elementary school], a woman came in with a shawl around her neck, stood by the door and waited until the Rabbi finished his lesson. He already knew why she came to him, went to her and asked the name of the sick person, the name of the sick father. He had all of it written down and when the woman left, the Rabbi washed his hands, put on his gartl [cloth belt worn around the waist, either at all times or while praying], took down a small book that was hanging on the wall and turned to the eastern wall and murmured something with his lips. When he was finished, he put the book back in its place. We children were in awe of the book; there were the names of the angles, which the Rabbi used to help against the evil-eye.
First, if it was determined that removing the evil-eye did not help, then they called Yankele the doctor. He received the name doctor from his father, Yossel the doctor. Neither one of them were doctors. They could only make enemas, set leeches, do cupping and other measures.
Yankele the doctor was a tall man, very skinny, with a pointed beard. He dressed in new clothing, including a coat lined with fur and deep galoshes, like a prince. Upon entering, he carried himself as a doctor. He took the temperature with a thermometer, prescribed medicine that had to be bought in the pharmacy, made enemas, and prescribed cupping, which they did in those days.
In general, these measures were enough for the sick in Tarnogrod. After several days, the sick got better. But, if the condition did not improve, the women of Tarnogrod would move heaven and earth. They would get together with the neighbors of the sick man and go to the beit- hamidrash. As soon as they approached the door, they broke out in powerful lamenting, up until they approached the ark, where they parted the curtain, opened the doors of the arc, told of all the virtues of the sick person and what would happen to his wife and children if he did not recover.
While the women wept and cried, the worshipers stopped their prayers. The learners were left sitting and listening to the women cry.
After the wailing, the women turned to those in attendance in the beit-hamidrash and thought that all should say prayers and study for the sick. After the women begged G-d, the men put together a minyan and said prayers for the ill person. Because of this, the Jews of Tarnogrod were able to have long periods without a doctor.
In 1916, in the middle of the war, Tarnogrod had a break out of an epidemic of cholera. The Jews created their own committee with it's own powers and resources to save the people.
There was no doctor in Tarnogrod. Among the measures used against the epidemic was a note, affixed to the door, with the following inscription: Nobody is here and whoever is here should remain as is.
People said that it helped.
* * *
The Tarnogrod Jews were sincere and religiously observant. Therefore, their memory has been written down by the remnants of their people.
Today, their whole lives are but a vanished story, but the nostalgia, great beauty and goodness, which they carried and left behind as our surviving inheritance, will never be forgotten.
We are not able to describe everything. However, we do know of some usual events from dates, from ordinary happenings and from words spoken by restrained voices, once concealed and now a living spring.
This is the spring that was left to the Jews of Tarnogrod. We draw from the river, full of nostalgia, the everlasting-benevolent Jewish kindness.
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
On Fridays, the whole town took on a different appearance. From dawn, the narrow streets were filled with the aromas of fresh baked goods to be eaten on the Sabbath and the rest of the week. Among these were varenikes [dumplings] filled with blackberries. The berries grew mostly in the Lakhower woods, and peasants from the surrounding villages brought them to town on Thursdays in large earthenware pots and sold them in the market for a few pennies. Boys and girls from the town also enjoyed going into the woods to pick berries and filled baskets to bring home. The blackberry varenikes left their traces on the faces of the children, who by Friday were already wandering around with stained mouths and teeth.
The children ran off to kheder [religious school for young children] happily, because they knew the school day was a short one on Friday. In summer, right after eating their midday porridge, they would run off to the streams and ponds. They longed for a big river to swim in, but the mothers thought it was a lucky thing that Tarnogrod did not have a large river and that they were therefore spared the possibility of a drowning.
When the sun began to cool off a bit, Jewish men would emerge on their way to the steam baths, little whisks in their hands. The bath was on the left side of the synagogue courtyard and was reached by descending a few steps. At those times a black smoke rose from the bathhouse and through the windows you could hear the voices of the overheated men sweating on the highest benches [where it was the hottest].
But the men did not indulge themselves in this pleasure for a long time. The approaching Sabbath hurried them along. When they had finished with the steam bath they still had to immerse themselves in the mikve [ritual bath] three times in honor of the Sabbath. Only then would they put on their clean underwear and with their beards and side locks combed, and panting heavily, slowly set out for home, ready for the Sabbath.
Meanwhile, the women, clad in their greasy aprons, were carrying their Sabbath stews in claysealed pots to the baker [to be baked in the ovens overnight]. They rushed to get back home as quickly as possible. It would soon be time to go to the synagogue and there was so much left to do to get ready. They had to wash themselves and the children, and polish the silver candlesticks for the blessing of the candles.
A few Jews were still arriving from travelling, from business, from the villages and fairs. And then Reb [respectful form of address] Kalmele Shamesh [beadle of the synagogue] appeared, walking with measured steps, knocking on doors and shutters with a special hammer to announce that the Sabbath was arriving.
The sun began to set in the west and the Jews closed their shops. A Jew would run past with a bottle of wine for the Kiddush [blessing of the wine.] A wagon driver who was running late would whip his horse to speed their arrival home.
Quickly the house filled with Sabbath and a beautiful feeling of holiness spread over everything. On the table lay two fine challah breads covered with a cloth. Candles sat in the polished silver candlesticks and Mother stood gently bent over them, tender and pale, covering her face with her hands as she blessed the candles.
Her lips quietly murmured the prayer. She prayed on behalf of her husband and children, of every Jew. Her hands, like the wings of the Shekhinah [divine presence] hovered over the candles, full of compassion, faith and trust, and from her eyes, made holy by sorrow and suffering, a tear fell upon the white cloth.
The vision of mother's gentle dovelike eyes, so holy in the glow of the blessed candles on a Friday night, still accompanies me wherever I go.
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Who in Tarnogrod did not know Yakov and Zalken? Tarnogrod business owners made much use of their services. They would carry out commissions on behalf of the kasha makers, the oil processors, the soda water factories and the hat makers. It was a special treat to hear Zalke tell his stories about Abyssinia, about wars and fires and other catastrophes.
Once Zalke attacked the Polish official Staronievski and beat him badly, because Staronievski had rummaged through the drawer in Ite MosheSheindel's store, looking for the money she owed in taxes. Zalke was arrested and beaten so badly that he was sick for several days.
Yakov worked as a watchman for Aron, the manager of the hekdesh [shelter for poor and sick Jews] and people called him [Yakov] KuniLemel [a fictional character typifying an awkward simpleton].
When Aron died, Dr. Kratskevits came to issue a declaration of death, permitting burial. While filling out the declaration he asked Yakov if he knew the name of Aron's mother. Yakov replied [jokingly] that it was either AsoroB'Teves or Ester Ta'anit [both names of Jewish fast days that can be read as puns on women's names].
About Shlomo Marshelik A Few Added Words
Others will probably also write about this wonderful character, whom I knew from the time when he and I prayed in the same minyan [prayer group], that was called the polzhidkes [Polish; halfJews]. May I therefore be permitted to add a few words about him.
He was always bustling about industriously, with the energy of a young man, even when he had grown old. Always happy, cheerful, every Purim he would make the rounds of the households holding a stuffed hen, which he had fashioned by removing the skin with the feathers of real hen, and then skillfully stuffing it, providing much jollity among the people he visited.
He once told us how in his younger years, every Passover, he would, after celebrating the seder, gather several cheerful young people who would hide outside the windows of certain householders and eavesdrop. Listening to how the householders conducted their own seders and recited the haggadahs, they would burst into laughter. Sometimes they would push a goat into the house, just at the moment in the seder when the door is opened and they recite the verse that begins, Pour out your wrath.
Once, they went to listen in on the seder of a householder who was expecting them, and when Shlomo Marshelik set foot on the step in the darkness, he stepped into a bucket full of whitewash. He didn't lose his wits, however, and directed and all of his companions to take a dip in the whitewash as well. And all of them had a good laugh at themselves.
Translated in His Memory by His Great Nephew Yaakov Willner
My father Moishela shochet [ritual slaughterer] was born in 1893 in Tarnogrod. He became orphaned at a very young age and was left with a brother and two sisters. His grandfather, Reb Levi Yitzchak, who had taken over responsibility for him, taught him shechita [kosher butchering] so that he should be able to support his younger brother and sisters.
He was doing this divine work for some time, and when a few years later the town needed a mohel [person trained to perform ritual circumcision], he accepted upon himself the additional job of mohel, in which he served Tarnogrod and the surrounding neighborhoods as well.
For this job he didn't take any payment. He had done it with great devotion. When it was necessary to do a bris in an outlying village, nothing could prevent him from traveling there, even it meant traveling by foot, in the worst weather, in freezing temperatures and in blizzards.
There were times that he had to travel away from his town for a Shabbos, or a Yom Tov [holiday], or even a Passover Seder, and spend them at the tables of strangers, at strange lodgings. However he never complained, he did it with the full understanding of the tremendous mitzvah.
Not only didn't he take money for this mitzvah, but also, often, when he knew that he was going to a poor family, he would take along money to give them, and a chicken for the mother's recovery period.
He was loved by the people of the whole town, regardless of occupation, by merchants and tradesmen.
In the last years before the war he was also the baal tefillah [prayer leader]. As a child he had helped Reb ItsikYeshaya, who was from the prominent baalei tefillah in the town. Everyone would say that it was the biggest delight to hear my father pray. On Yom Kippur they would forget that they were fasting.
People from the town would often speak of my father's praying. When he used to sing out his malchuyot, zichronot and shofarot, [three unique blessings said during Rosh Hashana] it would melt into our very beings. The words entered the heart and awakened our spiritual uplifting.
His life flowed along this way, peacefully, and quietly, filled with beautiful deeds and elevated character. Every year before the High Holy Days he would study over the prayers and sing with the children the High Holy Day melodies.
I remember the last year 1939, three weeks before Rosh Hashanah like every year, we would get ready by reviewing the prayers, but in the air there was already a feeling of suspense over the coming war.
Late at night we would run to hear the radio, and with trembling hearts we would return with feelings full of fear for the coming war.
It came September 1, 1939, five o'clock in the morning, when the Germans crossed the Polish border, and the same day Jews started escaping. They did not know where to run.
Exactly on Rosh Hashana Hitler's troops came into the town. My brother, Efraim, who now lives in America, was at the time crossing the street called Lachover Street, together with Hyman, son of Avrahamle Shoichet, and Yossel, son of Pinie Itzikel, when the murderers opened fire on them. Pinie Itzikel's son fell dead on the spot.
He was the first victim of Hitler's murderers in Tarnogrod.
The Friday night of Shabbos Teshuva is forever etched in my memory.
By us at home it was packed with people, fugitives, who had escaped from Galicia. In the middle of the night, 2 AM, we heard a terrible gunfire of heavy machine artillery. The windowpanes were trembling, and the men who were lying on the floor raised their heads and the fright was showing in their eyes. This lasted until daybreak. We heard yelling Jews Out! We heard running footsteps. Soon after we heard people yelling that there was a fire.
When I looked out of the crack, I saw flames that were shooting to the heavens.
The people from our house fled. Myself, my father and my mother went down into the valley. On the fields we already met up with a lot of people but no one knew what was going on, where there was a fire, and what had happened.
Women said that the murderers had, at daybreak, taken away their husbands and children.
It was only after a few hours, that someone came from the group that the Germans had taken away in the morning. He was extremely frightened and due to his tremendous fright he was unable to answer the questions that were pouring at him from all sides.
It went by an hour until he became calm and was able to say that in the marketplace, near the City Hall, he saw Jews that had been shot, men, women and children. Others, the Germans had forced to dig a grave in which to bury the murdered.
Suddenly, there came a command that they should halt the digging and throw the bodies into one of the houses near the City Hall. Afterwards the Germans doused the house in benzine and lit it. The fire then caught on to the neighboring houses.
When we heard this, our fright grew minute by minute. People were afraid to return to the town. People began running to the surrounding villages. We ran to the town called Majdan Sieniawski.
On the way we encountered German battalions. All this time they would stop anyone they saw. They were saying that Jews from Tarnogrod had shot at them.
It was dark already when we were getting closer to the courtyard of the lame Leibush. There we saw set up a German military kitchen. There were soldiers on horses wandering about.
We felt terribly afraid. It became bitter on the heart but we had no choice, we could not turn around. Soon, as we feared, the soldiers spotted us and surrounded us. Again, they were yelling that Jews from Tarnogrod shot at them. One of them aimed his revolver at us and the others searched us to see if we were carrying arms.
We felt that these were our last minutes. I saw how my father's lips were murmuring. I understood that he was saying Vidui [prayer recited at the deathbed].
His eyes looked at us with tremendous warmth, in such a way that he wanted to encourage us, and strengthen our hearts. There wasn't a trace of fear on his face.
At that moment Leibush's wife approached the German officer and with a cry of despair and began pleading with him that they should let us go. Her cry was so emotional and with so much beseeching, that it moved the murderer's heart and he told the soldiers that they should let us go.
They allowed us to stay there overnight, and on the second day we returned to Tarnogrod and met everybody with a lot of concern and uncertainty.
The Germans wandered about with their revolvers in their hands and tread with death in every footstep.
That's how we lived in deathly fear until Sukkot.
On the evening beginning Sukkot, people in the town started murmuring that the Soviet army had crossed the Polish border and was marching through Polish territory. They were saying that they would come to Tarnogrod.
On the third day the predictions began to happen. From the side of a street called Kuchever Bram there appeared a Russian tank and behind it were full military services.
The Jews in the town were enveloped in an indescribable joy. We allowed ourselves out of our houses, from our hiding places, and began to stroll in groups through the marketplace. We greeted each other, falling on each other's necks from great joy. It, the fear of death, was evaporated in a moment and we saw ourselves released from their murderous hands.
Several days went by and again rumors began spreading, this time that the Russians were leaving Tarnogrod and the Germans were coming back to the town.
As soon as the rumors reached my father he declared that we were not allowed to wait for the murderers to arrive, but rather we should leave with the Russians.
He went out into the street and called out to every Jew that he met not to stay with the Germans, but rather as soon as possible to leave the town in the direction of the Soviet border.
We went through several difficult years of wandering over the wide expansive Russia. In even the most difficult days my father did not lose his hope. With tremendous selfsacrifice, in the bitterest of circumstances, he watched himself not to pass even the slightest judgment.
Occasionally, his lips would move in a manner of one who would whisper a secret in the ear;
Master of the Universe, enlighten my eyes how I should act in a hard time such as this…
His words and his way of living, gave us encouragement and consolation, and breathed into us new powers, to be able to withstand the hard time.
Finally, it came to the end of the war, and we traveled from Russia and settled in Shtetshin.
The information that my father was in Shtetshin also reached Wroclaw, where Weli Shprung was then the president of the kehilla [Jewish community], and he invited him to come to Wroclaw.
The city needed a shochet and my father was therefore welcomed with a lot of kavod [honor, dignity, respect]. He wasn't only a shochet and mohel there, but also a hazzan [cantor].
Unforgettable is the day when the news reached us that a Jewish country had been set up. Hot tears flowed from my father's eyes, and he began preparing himself to be immigrated to Eretz Yisroel.
Just like by a lot of others, the aliya was accompanied by more than a bit of trouble. But he accepted everything with love and finally in 1950 he arrived in the land.
The Tarnogrod Jews and all those who knew him showed him a lot of heartfelt warmth, and in the first year of his arrival he was already accepted as a shochet in Haifa.
Not for a minute did my father forget the old home. That world of Jewish joy and happiness, of tears and longing, the pain of yesterday and the hope for a better tomorrow. Every year he took part in the memorial for the Tarnogroder kedoshim [martyrs]. Making the Yizkor was for him a great and sacred charge.
5 Adar 5722, my father passed away in Haifa.
Blessed is his memory!
|Eliezer Teicher and Fajwel Kenigsberg
at the Tarnogrod synagogue
Both live in Israel
Translated by Martin Jacobs
All silent heavens reflect your glances,
All winds bear your ash and dust,
All lands become your dispersed graves,
Souls flutter in space like dove's wings.
All birds sing a mournful kaddish.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Tarnogrod for me was my own homey Jewish world. But after the hellish fires of the greatest destroying Satan of all times, not even graves or ruins of that world remain. Yet, in my memory, sparks of that dear and loving world still glow. As I imagine once again my parents' house, the sparks are encouraged to a merry little fire that warms my heart day and night.
I can never forget the sweet faith that my parents' hearts were so full of, although need so often looked in on us. What did one have to worry about? The Master of the Universe is a father, everything would work out . And my father went off to the beit midrash [house of study] for the afternoon prayers.
More than once as my father worried about his livelihood, he had headaches and went around in a heavy mood as he watched the children in his house chewing on bread with nothing on it.
Our fathers and mothers are no more. No more the dear souls who used to cuddle and kiss each of our limbs, who trembled with our every step. No more those in whose eyes glimmered tears of joy when we were happy, tears of pain and suffering when we suffered.
No more our brothers and sisters, or all the dear friends with whom we went through our best childhood and youthful years, days in high or in low spirits, dreams and hopes of a better life.
Dear and Holy Figures
They all, our dearest and closest, who we will never forget, perished in the most outrageous death.
I am sitting today in my beautifully arranged apartment, where a television set sits in a corner and on the screen is seen all of the particulars about the flights of the American astronauts in distant space; another room, the kitchen, is full of electrical appliances that save time so my wife need not toil, so that we have time to amuse ourselves, to rest. In this life, where luxury has become a daily phenomenon, the past years in Tarnogrod would seem not to be important to remember, describe and immortalize. However, for me, Tarnogrod, my family and all our closest people remain dear and sacred.
The years of my childhood and youth live in my memory: the heder [small Jewish elementary school] where we spent mornings until later at night. We would go home in the dark. Over us was a sky of sparkling stars and we lit the way with lanterns, which we, ourselves, made out of cardboard and colored paper.
When we studied the Humash [Five Books of Moses], we lived along with the Biblical figures and with the stories: felt like a part of Eliezer's retinue, wandered with him to Mesopotamia to search for a bride for Yitzhak, crawled into the water up to our neck before Moses split the sea; we welcomed the Torah at Mount Sinai and said, We will obey and we will listen.
There were also other games, where everyone could show their dexterity and physical power. Today the Passover game with walnuts, the daily game with buttons, because we could win a great deal of buttons, all kinds, sizes, forms and color - a vast sum!
When the heat of the month of Tammuz [tenth month in the Jewish calendar, it falls in June or July] arrived, we paddled around near the stream, jumped into the water, paddled, and chased each other with joyful noise. This small river was changed to a large ocean in our imagination and we were creatures who were found in its depths.
Common economic, cultural and family cares and joys bound the young people together in Tarnogrod. In the most difficult times, when the Jewish young did not have a place to go and ran wherever their eyes carried them, there were obstinate people who, in the time of scholars and Psalm readers, forged the golden chain for being Jewish, hoped and longed for redemption and did not stop demanding from themselves an account of the day that must give a sense and an explanation to their own lives.
Thus the years passed for the Jewish children in Tarnogrod. I was then already a Gemara-Yingl [boy studying the rabbinical commentaries on the Torah] and I also read a chapter of Kings and Prophets. Then I saw the way my teacher shook and rocked with his thin body, with a mournful, sweet melody he sang out the legends of the destruction of Jerusalem and we saw the violent manifestations of the flames of the burning Temple.
Ideal of Building Zion
At that time, a deep respect took root in me for the great scholars who swam the sea of Talmud so expertly. Later came the break; my friends and I began to think about the great and interesting world. We matured and began to be interested in national Jewish events and problems.
There were times when everything appeared without prospect and without hope. There were also times of joy and good fortune. Our young were always active, always searched. Our pious Jews were truly God-fearing; we could truly envy their constant this, too, is for the best. Our Zionists were devoted heart and soul to the ideal of Zion rebuilt and we, survivors, will never forget them.
There are no words that can express our heavy spirit and grief at their death. We stand mute in regard to remembrance of our dear Tarnogrod Jews, the martyrs, and will remain their mourners.
Moshe Naftali Mantel
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Tarnogrod, the shtetl [little town] of my childhood years, lies in a mountain of ash, ruins and devastation.
It is hard to imagine that Tarnogrod is now a city without Shabbosim [pleural of Shabbos: Jewish Sabbath] and without Yomim-Tovim [religious holidays on which work is not permitted], that our Jews no longer hurry to prayer, that there are no longer houses full of Shabbos and grace and sanctity.
There are no longer tables with two beautiful challahs [braided egg bread eaten on Shabbos], covered with a tablecloth; there are no mothers who lit the candles in polished silver candlesticks and quietly and softly murmured a prayer.
What did our mothers desire then, when they stood with hands spread, slightly bent over the Shabbos candles?
Their children who were growing up and those who had left for distant places stood before their eyes and they asked God to guard their way, so that they would remain good, dear Jews.
It is difficult to believe that all of this is no longer here; that the lives of our dear ones were so horribly extinguished.
Our former Jewish Tarnogrod is dead and devoured. Only we, the remnant, remain, those who left the shtetl long before the destruction of Poland, settled in Israel and in other nations, as well as those who miraculously saved themselves from the Hitler pestilence and are with us in Israel.
We are now writing the history of our shtetl, about the scholars and simple Jews during the course of a year, about the merchants and artisans, about the difficult struggle that they carried out for their existence.
This was a difficult existence. Poor and miserable in the material sense, but with a great deal of spiritual elevation, with a great deal of longing and love, with dreams about a beautiful land, with high moral worth.
The past swims in my memory of when we were very small boys and our father brought us to the teachers of the youngest children and they began to teach us the first little bit of Hebrew.
When we became a little older, grew up, our fathers delivered us to Reb Chaim Tsibelkale, with whom we studied Humash [Five Books of Moses] and Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, regarded as one of Judaism's greatest commentators of Talmud], Gemara [rabbinic legal and ethical commentary] and although his inefficiency was evident in his bearing, he, however, had a very good comprehension of the matter and that which he said was intelligible to us.
The melamedim [religious school teachers] had assistants who every day brought the children to heder [small Jewish elementary school]. No matter how poor the houses were, each child wanted to stay at home rather than go to the heder. Therefore, the assistant was not much loved by the children, although during the winter days, when it was slippery, he carried them on his shoulders, under his arms, four at a time.
The functions of the assistant also included saying the blessings with the children as they entered the heder and 50 to 60 children were already assembled.
The belfer [assistant teacher], like the melamed, was exalted in Tarnogrod for his entire life, was a very poor man, but like the majority of Jews in the shtetl, he was full of hope. If one would suddenly stop such a Jew and ask him: from where and how do you support yourself? At first he would be confused, not knowing what answer to give. Then a little later he would recover and innocently answer:
What kind of question is this? There is a Lord of the Universe present who does not leave His creations; He sent and He will probably again send income.There was the type of Jew who, like worms who lie in horseradish, thought that the world ended on the other side of Tarnogrod. There was no sweet, no better life than here.
A small bench stood in the heder for the belfer, on which he sat and taught the first lesson to the youngest children and later they went to the Gemara teacher himself for the second lesson.
He was a user of snuff and the rebbetzin [wife of a rabbi] shouted about the tobacco he was spending all of the money.
The melamed had a daughter in Bilgoraj, a nearby shtetl, and when, with luck, she gave birth to a son, the melamed traveled out of the shtetl for the first time.
The distance was eight kilometers, but for him it was a distant trip and he possessed no words to describe and to tell of the wonders that he saw in Bilgoraj.
He saw a train there that was, all told, a small railroad, but he did not stop speaking about the wonder after wonder of its great strength. A blackened man sits at an oven like a chimneysweeper. Smoke comes out of a small chimney and water pours underneath and this pulls 20 railroad cars with people, with goods. All his life he had not met a wagon driver who was so fit with such strength.
We children would be enthusiastic about these wonderful, beautiful stories.
The Kreszówer Tzadik [righteous one]
Tarnogrod was proud of the great spiritual credit (it received) because this was where the Sanzer Rebbe, the author of Divrei Chaim [Words of Life] was born. His parents lived in the village of Borowicz, eight kilometers from Tarnogrod. They had a house in Tarnogrod and the mother came here when Chaim, whose genius later was spread over the world, was ready to be born.
At that time the rabbi in Tarnogrod was Reb Yakov Taumim. When he died, Reb Chaim Halberstam was already the rabbi in Sanz.
For a short time Tarnogrod was without a local rabbi. When Chaim Halberstam came to visit his father, the prominent residents turned to him, asking that he search for a respected rabbi, a great Torah sage. The Sanzer Rabbi answered them:
If the Kreszówer Tzadik would want to be your rabbi, you would have a magnificent rabbi.The Kreszówer Tzadik, Reb Moshe Naftali Katzenelenbogen, who then lived in the small town of Krzeszów, was a great man of moral character and a scholarly luminary in Torah and in wisdom.
The Sanzer Rabbi added:
I am not confident that his relatives will let him go; they love him very muchÉ But I would happily see him with you. Tarnogrod would have a great rabbi.Being very receptive to new ideas when one is already capable of influencing people through reasoning is not only a good trait, a sign of humility, but also shows with this strength a great mind. And the Sanzer Rabbi was blessed with this strength. Therefore he spoke with such enthusiasm about the Kreszówer Tzadik, said that he corresponded with him often and advised the esteemed city residents [that they should send a delegation of scholars who would travel to Krzeszów and offer him the rabbinical seat in Tarnogrod.
Therefore, he added in passing:
He will probably write about this; I will urge him to become your rabbi.And the day came and Rebbe Moshe-Naftali Katzenelenbogen with luck became the rabbi in Tarnogrod where he was called the Kreszówer Tzadik for all his days.
In addition to his becoming rabbi and a Torah giant, he also was the rebbe, took kwitlekh, [notes requesting the rabbi's intervention with God for a marriage for a child, a child for a barren woman, etc.] worked hard over them and there were tales in Tarnogrod about him and the great things, miracles, how he became great in the doctrine of what is manifest, as well as in esoteric doctrine.
It was said about him, that while still in Krzeszów, a Jew came to him with a kwitl and cried greatly that he ran a mill that belonged to the landowner, near Krzeszów and now the landowner did not want to renew the contract with him because he intended to transfer the mill to a Christian and throw out him and his six children into the street.
The Kreszówer Tzadik told his shammes [synagogue caretaker] to hang the Jew's kwitl on a nail and he led home the distressed Jew and assured him that the landowner's wife would again rent the mill to him.
When the Jew came home, he heard that the landowner had hung himself and it did happen that the landowner's wife rented the mill to the Jew for the coming years.
It cannot be concealed: Hasidism is drenched in miracles and magical signs and it was also true of the Kreszówer Tzadik, who demonstrated things beyond the usual.
Reb Pinkhesl, the Konsker Rabbi, as he was called, was the son-in-law of the Kreszówer. Reb Hershele Taumim, the Vlodawar [Włodawa] Rabbi, one of the greatest rabbis at that time, was also his in-law.
Several rabbis, who wished to receive rabbinical ordination, would always be studying with him. Each of them was sure with this of his standing in life because rabbinical ordination from him was so widely respected in the rabbinical world.
The Kreszówer Tzadik was the rabbi in Tarnogrod for 20 years and died in 5627 (1867).
At his death, there was a consultation of three doctors at his bed and, when they said that his hours were numbered, the Tzadik called over his two sons: my grandfather, Reb Saul-Joel, and his second son, Avrahamle. He asked the doctors to leave and he blessed his sons.
He asked the shammes to bring water for washing, his tallis [prayer shawl] and kitel [long white linen robe, worn by rabbis and other prayer leaders on important occasions which also serves as a burial garment]. He put it on and got off the bed and stood to daven [pray] Mincha [afternoon prayer service].
He recited the Shemoneh-Esrei [Literally, eighteen. A silent prayer said while standing that had eighteen benedictions until an additional one was added. Also known as the Amidah] for Yom Kippur with all of the Al Het [Yom Kippur prayer of repentance] and the doctors could not get over their great amazement; they said that the strength that the rabbi had with which to stand was incomprehensible.
After finishing his praying, the rabbi returned to his bed, recited the Shema Yisroel [central prayer of Jewish liturgy, which expresses the concept of monotheism and declares faith in God] and breathed out his soul when saying echad [one, the last word of the Shema].
His son, Reb Saul-Joel my grandfather, was a homebody; he was the son-in-law of Reb Hershele Taumim, the Vlodawar Rabbi, and studied his entire life.
The other son, Reb Avraham Katzenelenbogen, was a merchant in Danzig, and exported wood abroad.
A grandchild was chosen as rabbi of the city, a son of his daughter, Reb Arie-Leib Teicher.
His grandson was more skillful in worldly affairs but perhaps Reb Saul-Joel was a scholar. Therefore, the kehila [Jewish community] pledged itself to provide Reb Saul-Joel with income and he actually lived every day with Torah and worship until the end of his life.
I was already 17 years old at the outbreak of the First World War. I then left the beit-hamidrash [house of study] and began to do business.
A great deal will certainly be written about those violent years, about the particular troubles that the Jews in the village went through. But there were also quiet days and young people began to become interested in what was happening in the wider world. We began to subscribe to Jewish newspapers, bought books and discussed important problems.
We, the youth, organized a group in the village, Supporters of the Poor. Everyone gave a certain amount. A minyan [minimum gathering of 10 men necessary for a communal religious service] came to pray every Shabbos and we also attracted several older men.
The communal energy was used not only for social purpose, but also to bring basic information, education and knowledge to the population.
Conflicts also took place, particularly at the sale of Passover flour. We did not want the poor to pay the same expensive prices that were demanded from the rich men. I then appeared in the beit-hamidrash with a speech in which I called on the group to take to heart the situation of the poor Jews.
Tewel Nachum immediately appeared after me and began to thunder against me, that I need to be thrown out of the beit-hamidrash because this is not a group of Supporters of the Poor, but a band of heretics.
This was our first great victory. Our activity won the sympathy of the population and we were approached to create a Hebrew school.
We brought a Hebrew teacher from Bialystok, a Vilna Jew, and despite the fact that the rabbi in the shtetl issued a call that children should not be sent to Hebrew school because children were being led there to conversion, we were successful in acquiring a certain number of students who received a nationalist education in the school.
I was then chosen as a member of the trustees of the school and with everyone we gave all of our energy to it. A longing for a Jewish national home lived in our hearts. Our aspirations for Zion became more earnest and stronger.
by P. Lumerman
Translated by Irving Lumerman and Chesky Wertman
Translated and Edited by Martin Jacobs
What didn't we have in our town? From grain, flax, and lumber merchants to cobblers and tailors, saddlers and blacksmiths, carpenters and glaziers, traveling merchants, who for entire weeks wandered about among the farmers, buying and selling, rushed and overworked, until, with the coming of Friday evening, they returned to the town, to their Shabbos home.
On the Tanew River, between Tarngorod and Bilgoraj, a rafting river, the Jews used to send the lumber cut from the nearby forests, which used to go as far as Danzig [present day Gdańsk] and from there on to Germany, England, and other countries.
On the river stood the village of Kneshpol. There, there was great activity in the summer time: Jews were there sorting and binding the logs to send them out on the river. In that village, among several Jewish families, lived our family, the Lumermans, tall, slender, handsome people. The men, Chaim's three sons, were like oak trees, and they worked extremely hard. The girls, six sisters, blossomed with all the Jewish charms. The village resounded with their clear ringing laughter and their sweet singing. The eldest of the sisters, Gnendl, married a Tarnogrod lad, Shmuel Shorer, who was called Black Shmuel, although he had sky-blue eyes, from which shone kindness.
Shmuel was not tall, but his beard was that of a giant. He was taught how to bind the timber as part of his dowry. This is what is called being a “kusher”, a wood binder. It was hard work. It started in early spring, just as the ice on the river was starting to break up, and lasted until autumn. With their trousers rolled up and in high boots, they bound logs into rafts from the grey of dawn to late evening.
When it became light they put on tefillin right where they worked, wrapped themselves in their prayer shawls, and said their prayers. At that point the Gentiles began to speak more quietly, showed themselves to be above the noisy commotion, and looked upon the praying Jews with great respect.
All week long they lived on a bit of dry bread dipped in water. They saved their pennies to pay tuition for the children's studies. Their passionate desire was that their children might study and grow up to be honest Jews and good people.
Mother at home was filled with worry. With tears in her eyes and a song on her lips she entreated the Master of the Universe for a little kindness: “You have prepared so many beautiful things and provided the world with everything good, bless us too that we may never be punished. As the fruits bloom on the trees, as grass is luxuriant on the earth, as [the stars are many in heaven, so may it be with my sons and daughters.”]
by Meir Ringer
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
|Meir Ringer with Moshe Lemer zl shortly before his death|
Born in the village of Plis near Tarngorod, where his father, Reb Yakov, held the lease for milk production for the Polish estate owner, Moshe spoke Polish from childhood. When he got older, his father brought him to Tarnogrod to study in kheder, [religious school for young children] where he distinguished himself with his abilities, fluency and comprehension.
After completing kheder he continued his studies in the besmedresh, [house of study also used for worship] immersed day and night in the Talmud and Talmudic interpretations. He was one of the ablest scholars, possessing a sharp intellect, while enjoying the love and friendship of the other students.
He was all of 17 years old when his mother came to see him one day, summoned him outside and announced that he had become engaged to marry. That's how they did things in those days. The parents of both parties agreed to a match and to the conditions of the engagement and then later informed the children that they were engaged.
A year passed and Moshe Lemer, 18 years old, immersed in scholarship, married a village girl. He lived with his father in law, who provided room and board to the couple so that Moshe could continue his religious studies.
As part of the dowry, his father in law had promised to support Moshe as long as he wished so that he could continue to study without having to concern himself with earning a living.
His father in law made his living by running a small shop in the village, which was patronized by the peasants and landowners. It was also patronized by teachers from the village school, and they were struck by the young man who sat there poring over books all day, every day. He aroused their curiosity and they began to engage with him.
He impressed the Russian teachers as an outstanding scholar and they were therefore surprised to find out after several conversations with him that this young man was entirely cut off from the life around him and that all his thoughts were focused on the problems of Jewish religion.
This was at a time when the Russian and Polish intelligentsia was dominated by liberal ideology and the teachers, seeing that they had before them a young man of exceptional intelligence, proposed to teach him Russian and to introduce him to Russian and European literature.
The young Moshe Lemer nervously accepted their offer. The teachers brought him newspapers and books, and somewhere obtained literary and journalistic publications on Jewish topics in the Russian language.
Lemer's eyes were opened and he began to see the world and himself completely differently. His thirst for books grew stronger every day and he began to buy his own books with money from his dowry. These publications in Yiddish and Hebrew captured his burning imagination and caused an upheaval in his mind. He could no longer conceal his thoughts.
He was on fire and he had to share his ideas with others, and he earned notoriety as an apikoros [heretic]. The news reached his father in law, who was extremely upset, and withdrew his offer to support him. What sense does it make, he said, to support a heretic who will bring non-kosher books into my house?
Lemer left the village for Tarnogrod, where he opened a kiosk selling drinks and sweets. He didn't earn much. The town Jews learned of his heresy and many of them avoided patronizing his business, despite the fact that he was very friendly.
Actually, Lemer had every prospect of being among the most promising young people in town. He was a very good student and was considered an expert in Talmudic law. In addition, he was able to write well in Russian and Polish and people were often obliged to turn to him for help [in writing letters and documents]. But he wasn't a very practical person and didn't try to enhance his status. He was completely absorbed with helping young people acquaint themselves with Zionism, with knowledge and education, and he helped to create a new era in the life of the town. He paid a heavy price for this, obliged to lead a life of poverty and suffering.
There came a time when his ideals began to bear fruit, with the establishment of the first Zionist association, a Hebrew school, a library, and so forth. The Hasidim viewed him as the source of everything bad and excommunicated him. Not until several years later did their fury abate and religious people began to have social contact with him. He was even elected to the administration of the kehillah [organized Jewish community] but his material circumstances did not improve and he continued to live in poverty.
It became clear to Lemer that there was nothing for him to do in Tarnogrod, and having nothing to lose, he went to Berlin. A friend of his advised him to deal in furs, and this went well for him. He brought over his parents and his brothers and their families and they established a substantial fur business.
In 1935 the Nazis forced him to return to Poland where he again had to begin anew. His business did well. In 1939 he travelled to America on business and when the war broke out he could not return to Poland and rejoin his family -- his wife, children and grandchildren from his married daughter. They were all killed in Tarnogrod. He went to London where his brother lived with his family.
The first years in London were difficult and painful, but he did not succumb to despair. He participated in the civilian resistance, served various tours of duty, stood guard all night over the rooftops and carried out his duties diligently.
Sometimes Lemer would find himself conversing with English professors and despite the fact that he hadn't yet mastered the English language, they sensed his exceptional intelligence. During a conversation on Biblical themes he was asked where and in which university he had studied. Lemer, with his sharp sense of humor answered that his professors were Khaim Tsibelkele and Avrom Melamed, etc. [humorous shtetl nicknames denoting humble people] but they took him seriously. They were certain that these were renowned scholars from Eastern Europe and that Lemer was one of their best students.
This reputation spread among the other English professionals and when they later met Lemer they treated him with great respect, taking what he said as the authoritative interpretation of a recognized scholar.
His expansive knowledge and brilliance helped to elevate the reputation of the shtetl scholars Khaim Tsiblekele and Avrom Melamed.
Lemer struggled his whole life over the problems of Zionism. He burned with love for Israel and its problems occupied the most prominent place in his conversations and thoughts that he conveyed in his letters to friends and his personal writings, always deeply thoughtful and often enthusiastic.
Lemer was suffused with love for Tarnogrod and its Jews, for all that was so horribly destroyed.
His letters to me were always interwoven with memories of the Jewish life of the past. He warmly remembered the various personalities, both ordinary and prominent. In one of his letters, he wrote about Getsl Vaserman's father, Aron Itstik, who used to repair roofs in town. He was a pious Jew who had the habit of seeking a simple explanation for the fantastic feats described in weekly Torah portion, which he taught to a small study group.
Aron Itsik held certain primitive philosophical beliefs. He did not care for dry laws and said the miracles were supernatural things which are possible if God wills them, that anyone should be able to understand them as such.
Once on Yom Kippur he fell asleep in the middle of praying. Someone woke him up and asked, Don't you know you're not supposed to sleep on Yom Kippur? Don't worry, he answered. In Heaven the first to be judged are the big shotsthe rabbis, the prominent men, gabaiim [religious administrators], Hasidim, rich men. Only at the end, late at night, do they consider the little people, the paupers. God doesn't take great formalities with them; they are paupers and will remain paupers. Let the rich and prominent people rush to complete their prayers. They mustn't fall asleep even for a minute, but we paupers can take our time.
Godl Vetsher's Letter to Moshe Lemer in London
Here are portions from Godl Vetsher's letter to Lemer which provides a picture of the living conditions in Tarnogrod:.
I can't turn to Reb Moshele for help in answering these questions. I know in advance that he will rule that everything is in violation of religious law. The matter of the beard is the result of people like him.
Believe me, Moshe, when I heard the news about the beard, I was struck with terror because it affects me too, because my beard would not pass muster [as religiously correct].
I began to inquire discretely because it wouldn't have been wise to let on that I was strongly interested in the matter. What should I do? How could I go to vote? What if I myself were to be elected?
I couldn't rest day or night. Suddenly, I got the idea to sneak into the anteroom of the Belzer shtibl late at night. That's where the young people from the Aguda [ultra Orthodox organization] gather. Maybe I could get some information from them.
Listen to what I learned from them. For them, this was a great joy, the day they were waiting for. They had figured out, provisionally, who would be allowed to vote and who wouldn't, and I have to tell you under the seal of secrecy, that my name was specifically mentioned.
There were even some people who gave me the seal of approval, but others declared me non-kosher. They had not come to any definitive decision.
|Godl and Leah Vetsher|
Then someone sprang up and said that the matter could only be decided by reference to [religious] law and authority; only then would it be correct. Someone brought in the relevant book of religious authority and after paging through it they found the applicable portion. Based on the first citation they read, it appeared I was kosher. That was a relief. But wait, they then found a citation according to which I was not kosher. But that wasn't the end of it.
Up sprang a strict interpreter or simply an ass who invoked the example of the red heifer in the Bible, which according to a Talmudic ruling is rendered non-kosher by the presence of two black hairs. From that he concluded that anyone who shaves off two hairs from his beard is disqualified to vote, let alone to be elected. As for those who remove their beard for reasons of health, they must provide an attestation from the local rabbinical court to prove it is a matter of necessity.
The strict constructionist went on to consider the case of someone who is physically unable to grow a beard. He reasoned from the example of the bastard, who is not at fault for his status as a bastard, since it was God who made him so, but who is nevertheless deemed non-kosher.
So, too, the man who cannot grow a beard is not kosher even though it is not his fault.
The strict constructionist was also a bit of a doctor; he knew about illnesses and he declared that anyone who lacks a beard has an illness of the sex glands and can, God forbid, eventually turn into a female and a female is after all ineligible to vote in the elections.
They continued to debate at length the Talmudic requirements for the length and other physical features of a beard to qualify it as kosher.
I sat in the anteroom of the Belzer shtibl and listened to the debate and was terrified. I barely dragged myself home. I hope to God that the decree about beards will be annulled, that a miracle will occur, like the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt.
|The Vetsher brothers. Godl Vetsher's son selling soap at the market place in Tarnogrod|
The Jewish community is now located in the house of Reb Alter Zilberman (Leib Gerson's son). Previously, the pol zhidkes [half Jews i.e., not fully observant Jews] prayed there. After them came the Zhitomir Hasidim; who knows who else will pray there in the future.
Regarding your questions, I could only ask them of a selected few individuals because your father asked me not to raise them in public. It really isn't appropriate for the son of the gabai of the besmedresh to pose such questions.
Yours, Godl Vetsher
* * *
When I met up with Lemer in London a year before his death he was filled with enthusiasm over our yizkor book, the eternalization of the life and death of the martyrs of Tarnogrod.
In the midst of a discussion about various subjects, he suddenly returned to the theme of the Holocaust, and said How sad that the world caused almost 8 million murders in Europe in order to wipe out an insignificant people, resulting in the most horrific crime in history. After all that, the world turns around and proceeds to preach about democracy; and there are even some who help the Arabs, make deals with them, send them weapons.
Lemer wanted the pain and horror of the Holocaust to serve as a source of moral strength. He wanted to find light, consolation and hope in the future for the continued existence of the Jewish people. From that came his unbounded love for Israeli children; no enemy on earth was capable of destroying them.
He was a proud Jew and an honorable man, one of those people who carry their stubbornness across generations and who ignite the fire of a high moral truth and simple human love.
For that reason, he is among those in whom the survivors of Tarnogrod take pride and all of his friends stand at his freshly dug grave with heads bowed in sorrow,
It is a pity for those who are gone!
by A. Dror
Translated by Sara Mages
In the last years he used to sit in the big fur shop on London's glorious commercial street.At the back of the sales hall, in a small room, he could be seen bent over, reading a Hebrew book. Occasionally he looked up, surveyed the shoppers who entered the shop, and immediately returned to read Agnon, Haza, or one of the young writers.
A person must have a lot of imagination to believe that the owner of a large fur shop, on London's main street, reads the best of Hebrew literature every day. It is highly doubtful that in the whole of the Britain there are many traders who read modern Hebrew in their store and thereby neglect their trade.
Whoever knew Moshe Lemer in the days of his adolescence and adulthood, knew that he had always loved the Hebrew word, the Hebrew culture and the special folklore of the people, that he so wanted, in his own way, to belong to it. Those who knew him were not surprised that he read and wrote Hebrew so well, even though he had never been to Israel for more than a few weeks. It was enough to watch him when he met an Israeli child in London. The elderly man, with short stature and noble facial expression, looked at the child behind glasses in a gilded frame, and endlessly enjoyed his Hebrew speech and the very fact that he was an Israeli child. He found in every Israeli child only virtues, and any attempt to find a flaw in him, he would encounter quite convincing explanations and interpretations of Moshe Lemer.
A Victim and a Symbol
After he passed away at the age of 76, dozens of articles were also found in his estate, all of them written in Hebrew, and in them book reviews, reactions and thoughts about the Jewish people, its fate and struggles.
Moshe Lemer himself is, at one and the same time, a victim and a symbol of the Jew's suffering. He was born in 1890 in Tarnogrod. From an early age he observed the life of the Jews in his environment, saw their suffering, understood the lack of future in the meager trading life and sought a solution. Even though he never received a regular education, he believed that the Jewish child must, first of all, to learn, to know his culture and past.
In the photograph, which remained from those days, he is seen together with the first students in Tarnogrod, on the day he founded the first Hebrew School. In the town everyone saw him as a scholar, sometimes called him a rabbi, but he himself was a heretic, and believed that in the reality of the Diaspora, as it was then understood, the religion stood as an obstacle in the way of the Zionist movement that several of its members later immigrated to Israel.
In 1928, Moshe Lemer left his hometown and moved to Germany. There, he began to organize, for the first time, the family businesses which flourished until 1935 when, as a Jew, he was forced to leave Germany and return to Poland. Here he had to start from the beginning, the businesses prospered but, once again, fell victim in the hands of the Nazis.
In 1939, while on a business tour of the United States, the Second World War broke out. Moshe joined his brother, son and nephew in London, while his family members, including his wife, a married daughter, two sons and grandchildren, perished in the Holocaust.
From then on, Moshe did not forget for a moment his private disaster, and the national lesson. Often, he would remember and mention the Holocaust. And when he remembered his loved ones - the tears choked him. For nine years he could not free himself from the disaster, and in the ninth year he married a woman again. He saw her son as his son, was anxious for his successes and failures, and later identified him with his beloved son, Amnon, who was murdered with the other children of Tarnogrod and his corpse was on display, with the other children of the city, in the main square.
In his last years, Moshe Lemer lived, despite his excellent financial situation, a modest and routine life. People who knew him and passed by his store, enjoyed entering to his small room at the back of the store, to have a short conversation with him in good Hebrew, to see him smile nobly, and especially, whenever he mentioned his unforgettable visit to Eretz Israel.
In the last months, when he lay on his deathbed, terminally ill, childhood memories suddenly came in him, and always recited proverbs and verses from the Bible and the disciple, the Gemara and the Mishnah, and did not stop reciting them to his last day.
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