by Efraim Auerbach
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
According to people, especially those connected to the fields of book binding and writing there are Jubilees or anniversaries which are absolutely a private domain. No one celebrates these specific jubilees which do not have the usual meaning, except for the person whose thoughts are filled with the past, memories to which the public has no attachment. They are held deep in the heart of the individual.
For himself, in his own experiences, the writer of On the Balance celebrates the anniversary of half a century with a just a little bit more. Soon the writer will raise the curtain on the half century as well as the little bit more.
The half century marks his trip to the Land of Israel, and the extra bit marks the date until when he lived in Warsaw. At this time the memories of the extra bit are churning in him. Over half a century since he left Warsaw when Peretz, Hillel Zeitlin, Yakov Dinezon and Mordkhai Spektor still lived there, not to mention the plead of young writers. More importantly, the Warsaw which was still the light of the Jewish world, and for me. The Warsaw which I hungered for in my youth, and this hunger was satisfied with so much love, even with joy.
How does a young man come from Bessarabia to Warsaw, and what did he actually think he would do in Warsaw; everyone strove to go to Warsaw I mean everyone who carried in him the dream of becoming a Yiddish writer. This provincial boy believed that one could not become a Yiddish writer without Warsaw. How could one write Yiddish poems without ever having seen Peretz? And who would even heed a poem if the poet did not breathe the air of Yiddish literary Warsaw?
Efraim Oyerbakh one of the best known Yiddish poets, the author of tens of collections of poems and essays. He was born in 1892 in Beltz, Bessarabia. He lived in Warsaw from 19111912, later in the Land of Israel and since 1915 in America. In 1941 he won the Louis Lamed prize for his poetry book: Purity in the Old Spring.
Truthfully, by then I had published a few poems, one in Vilna which Yakov [Jacob] Fichman of blessed memory presented to the editor Lipman Levin. I had also published a few Hebrew stories in a children's journal which was edited by M. Ben Eliezer, actually in Warsaw. I then published a few stories in the newspaper Good Morning, which was published in Odessa, and I published stories in Russian which were published in a news paper in our own city. But what was a writer until he received the stamp of Warsaw. The boys and girls in my town regarded me as a complete writer, but I felt this was nothing, I hadn't even begun, Warsaw was the literary palace.
My poor father managed to pull together a few rubles and said to his boy: You want Warsaw? Take this and go to Warsaw. Truthfully, my father, Eliezer the ritual slaughterer would not have rushed to borrow a hundred ruble in order for his son to be able to go to Warsaw, but Yakov Fichman was by then a recognized Hebrew writer and he, Fichman, gave me my ordination. The ritual slaughterer from Belz said: if Yankl Elye, Pesye's son could become a writer, his son certainly can…
But what will I do in Warsaw? Who even thought about that? What do you mean, what will I do? I will become a writer…in those years, it seems to me, the desire of the youth who felt the literary passion burning was so strong that no material concerns held them back.
I don't want to discuss here my personal struggles, my days of hunger and great loneliness, longing for the warmth of home and good meals and the familiar surroundings where I grew up. I will tell you about Warsaw fifty years ago and the impression it made on this young man who came from a far away city in the south.
It is irrelevant to say that Warsaw for me was just a city. It was a Jewish empire. Understandably, there were fancy streets where the wealthy Poles lived, but I hardly ever went there. The Jewish streets were, God forbid, not a ghetto. They were filled with Jews and Jewishness. They breathed Jewish air, it seemed to me they had their own Jewish climate. What happened outside was as if crossing the borders to a foreign land. Who even cared what was going on in a foreign land?
Of course I know I am not saying anything new. But even in repeating what others before me said, I am adding my own flavour.
It is the flavour that I tasted myself. A flavour that cannot be perceived with a foreign tongue or gums. The flavour of Warsaw was hearing Yiddish spoken over large stretches, large areas where Yiddish ears of corn grew. Of course this may sound like simple words, but this was over fifty years ago when a young man from a city in Bessarabia came to Warsaw with to sole purpose to experience Yiddish words and to taste them.
Prior to this I was in Odessa. I already knew of the greats of Odessa like Reb Mendele, Bialik, Yitzkhak Yoel Linetsky and Levinsky. However, Odessa was not a Jewish city like Warsaw. It seemed to me that Odessa had its pack of Yiddish and Hebrew writers who created their own island which had no connection to rest of the city. Warsaw was bound together and grew together with the writers and they grew within Warsaw, in her Jewish climate.
I remember one Sunday, Peretz gave a reading in a giant hall, I believe in the philharmonic which held over three thousand people. The hall was full, thousands came to hear Peretz read his At Night at the Old Marketplace. This dramatic poem, even when you read it on your own, is very difficult. Today, when you hear it you don't have the time to stop at a line or a thought? However the crowd came, young Jews, still wearing their Polish Jewish garb, the small caps and the long narrow coats. The point was not to understand, the point was Peretz. The poem was not the essence, the essence was merely hearing the Yiddish word.
The Polish Yiddish dialect was new for me. Polish Jews did not come to us in Bessarabia. Perhaps merchants came from Poland, but since our house had nothing to do with them, I only knew that Jews from Poland spoke warmly, but I never actually heard. My impression was that Jews in Poland did not speak, they sang. As strange as their Yiddish sounded, I felt it; Polish Yiddish came to me from its own empire. Here in Bessarabia we spoke with long a and o vowels. This was my dialect but never left an impression on me as something different or apart. The Polish dialect sounded to me as if it grew out of its own Jewish world, blossoming in its own Jewish colour.
When I look back at Warsaw of fifty years ago and live once again in the days of dense Jewishness, every stone was covered with Jewish grass. You certainly heard Polish spoken in the Jewish streets,
but it seemed to me, the Polish language spoken in Warsaw, in the Jewish streets of Warsaw, was only to show, that our own Yiddish language is the fullest Jewish expression.
Of course I arrived in Warsaw filled with Jewishness, but it was in Warsaw where I really first felt my full taste of Jewishness really matured.
These are not memories of Warsaw, but a fresh breeze of memories.
by Rokhl Auerbach
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
This was exactly 20 years ago during the interim days of Passover 1925.This was the first time in my life I came to Warsaw and went to my friends Yudis and Yenkl Mayzel. I did not yet have any connection to Yiddish press or literature. This happened to fall on the tenth anniversary of the death of Peretz and a walk to his grave was organized. A half hour after my arrival we went down to the street. The whole neighbourhood was already flooded with Jews, and we were immediately in a stream of a giant demonstration.
I later lived in Warsaw and saw more than one Jewish mass demonstration. I saw the Jewish working class, Jewish school youth on May 1st and other events, but this was the first time for me and I was totally astounded and shocked.
The various delegations and delegates disappeared and poured into the giant group of everyday Jews in caps, hats, and fedoras, young and old, businessmen and labourers, a wandering forest of people. In my eyes it appeared as a piece of Asia. I had never seen anything like this in Lemberg [Lviv]. All the surrounding streets were black from those who were awaiting the arrival of the mass train.
Rokhl Auerbach essayist, story teller, memoirist, Holocaust researcher was born in a small town in eastern Galicia arrived in Warsaw in 1925. It was her destiny to become one of the witnesses of the Holocaust. She survived on the so called Aryan Side. Soon after liberation she became active in the tragic field of Holocaust research. Since 1949 she has lived in Israel and is a regular worker at Yad Va Shem. Until this time she published six books about the Holocaust in Yiddish and Hebrew, as well as a book of reportages In the Land of Israel. From her first article published after the Holocaust, in the first volume of Dos Naye Lebn (The New Life) Lodz we took out Rokhl Auerbach's authentic memoir of the walk to Peretz' grave in the Genshe Cemetery.
Others promptly found places in the cemetery and those who tried running ahead to find a place among the tombstones were bitterly disappointed. All the monuments and all the trees along the writers' alley were filled with people from very early in the morning. Now new groups were shoving their way in destroying tombstones. There were casualties among the throngs.
The most important speech was delivered by Sholem Asch. He stood on a small hill and for a moment we got a glimpse of this tall, strong personality, his large face and something brown, perhaps it was his suit or a woman's cape, who everyone pointed to respectfully with a finger and whispered: Madame Asch, Matilda Asch.
My hope to hear anything Asch said was fruitless. The humming of the crowd sounded like rushing water during a flood which drowned out his voice.
This was Yiddish Warsaw and this is how they expressed their relationship to a spiritual leader. Poland no longer has the number of Jews that came to Genshe cemetery on that day, including the Jews who returned from Russia.
by Menashe Unger
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
After the Russian government totally suppressed the Polish uprising against the Czarist government in 1831, the Rebbe Reb Mendele of Kotsk and Reb Itche Meir returned from Lemberg[Lviv] to Poland. They changed their family names in the event they may have their rabbinic authority taken away for supporting the uprising. This way they will not be bothered.
The Kotsk Rebbe changed his name from Halpern to Morgnshtern and Reb Itche Meir changed his name from Rotenberg as was his name then, to Alter.
The Kotsk Rebbe returned to Kotsk and Reb Itche Meirl to Warsaw.
Back in Warsaw Reb Itche Meirl reopened his Yeshiva and recruited students from Kotsk, but suddenly a fight broke out between the Hasidim and the Jewish enlighteners due to the arrival of the Dignitary Moshe Montefiore in Warsaw.
The enlighteners wanted to present the Dignitary with a memorandum about introducing secular subjects in the curriculum of the religious schools and to completely reform Jewish education.
The Hasidim, with the Vork Rebbe, Kotsk Rebbe and Itche Meirl at the head were against all reforms, which according to their beliefs would lead to assimilation creating an open road to conversion.
In order to better understand the strong opposition of the Hasidim
Menashe Unger came from distinguished rabbinic pedigree was born in Zhabne, Galicia in 1899. He spent some years in the Land of Israel and from 19221934 lived in Warsaw. Since then he has lived in New York. He is an authority on Hasidic lore and has authored many books on this subject. This chapter about Moshe Montefiore's visit to Warsaw in 1846 gives a life like picture of the relationship between Hasidim and Jewish enlighteners in Poland's capital at that time.
to introducing reforms or anything new into Jewish life, it is necessary to closely examine the economic and cultural situation of Jews in Poland at that time:
After the November uprising in 1830 the relationship between Jews and Poles in Poland did not improve. The sounds of weapons had not yet been silenced when fights began in Warsaw about such important matters such as, if houses were situated on certain intersections that lead to streets where Jews were not permitted to live (the Jews were concentrated then in and around Gzhibov), should they not be permitted if the entrance led to a street where Jews were forbidden to live, or should there be an exception if the entrance was on a permitted Jewish street. But what if the windows faced the forbidden street?
The Jews of Warsaw had to begin, according to old standards, to study with perseverance the plan of Polish residency in cities in order to understand which streets are permitted and which were not.
In 1832 a declaration was put forth by the government which said that Jews who live in houses at the end of the street must place their exit doors on permitted streets, and for that reason they did not make any supplementary laws for the stores in those houses.
Subsequently a group of Jews, calling themselves: Deputies of the Jews of the Kingdom of Poland, approached the Governor General Paskevitch Erivansky in 1832 with a request to broaden their civil rights.
Paskevitch reacted kindly to the Jew's request and sent it to Czar Nicholas with a comment that they should pay close attention to the Jewish request because among the residents of Poland they are mostly loyal to the legitimate government however nothing came of this.
Instead the Jews were equalized with the general population a few years later when they were given the difficult obligation to serve in the military.
At the beginning, because of the sad state of the Polish government's budget they initiated a small solution, that instead of Jews actually having to serve in the military, they would continue to collect a recruitment tax, however this law was never passed.
The introduction of obligatory military service caused great worry among the religious Jews as the age of military service was twelve years old. The Hasidim and other religious Jews feared that if they take the children at such a young age, they will be completely torn away from Judaism, and when they will return after
having served, they will be ignorant people, far from the Jewish path.
Reb Itche Meirl together with a group of members from the Synagogue Council in Warsaw approached Paskevitch with a request to take into account the peculiar Jewish circumstances and not take young Jewish children into the military.
Thanks to the interceding by the Hasidic council members headed by Reb Itche Meirl, they were successful. Jews would not be taken into the military until age 20.
This is how the Jews of Warsaw managed to exert influence to ensure the Cantonist system would not affect the Polish Jews as it had so cruelly poisoned the lives of Jews in Russia.
The Jews had to continue to pay the Kosher Tax, which claimed the Jews were still not citizens even though were to taken into the military.
Moshe Montefiore was interested in the question of how to improve the situation of the Jews in Poland and all of Russia. On March 1st 1846 Montefiore visited Petersburg, then Vilna and Warsaw.
The Dignitary and interceder Moshe Montefiore had a separate memorandum for the government which at the time described the tragic living conditions of the Jews in Poland.
He showed a list of cities where Jews are absolutely forbidden to live: in other cities, Jews had the right to live only on certain streets, and were forbidden to live on the border line. Jewish artisans were strongly restricted in their work as they were not permitted to use journeymen and day workers. They were also forbidden to learn from Christian trade masters. And a heavy burden was placed on the Jewish population with the kosher tax on meat and poultry as well as a tax they had to pay to enter Warsaw. In fact the Jews found themselves in many matters excluded from the law, for example a Jew was forbidden to testify against a Christian.
In government circles they made an effort, in Russia and Poland, to accuse Jews of avoiding productive work and only involving themselves in retail, claiming they have an aversion to farming; they also do not want to take part in handiwork, only contraband; they separate themselves from the Christian population by their clothing and are in general a dark, distant mass.
The Dignitary Montefiore illustrated in his memorandum that there were many artisans among the Jews, in fact a larger percentage compared to the surrounding population and that Jews take on the hardest work. Among other things, Montefiore showed that among the Jew there were many masons, blacksmiths and other difficult trades, and the amount of Jews who would like to do productive work (farming) would without a doubt increase if they were not without rights and did not face obstacles at every step. The biggest proof was the Dignitary wrote in his memorandum is when Alexander the First's government demanded the Jews work the land, they willingly responded. However because the authorities placed such difficult obstacles, the results were never achieved.
As for the different clothing the Dignitary wrote the Polish government themselves forced this on the Jews three hundred years earlier. Be that as it may, because of the fact that custom to wear different clothing cannot be supported by rules in the Jewish religion, Jews will gradually abandon this on their own.
The Dignitary Montefiore wanted to meet with large groups of Jews in Poland and that is why he visited Vilna and Warsaw.
When the Jews of Warsaw learned the Dignitary would be visiting their city they arranged a most honourable reception. A quiet struggle ensued between the enlightened Jews and the Hasidim. Each one wanted the Dignitary on their side. The enlighteners wanted to please the Dignitary and the Hasidim knew the Dignitary was a pious Jew, although he didn't know what Hasidism was. In honour of his arrival the Hasidim composed a song of praise.
In those days the Hasidim looked at the Enlighteners as Missionaries, who wanted to bring down Judaism, because then, according to existing relations it should have been clear that while striving to spread education among the Jewish masses they would simultaneously respect the holiness of the Jewish religion. Therefore they had to avoid any struggle even against old customs and misconceptions which had no connection to true Jewish belief, believing that the enlightenment alone would change a lot of the long standing customs. The road would be longer but therefore surer.
However the Jewish enlightened intelligentsia wanted to celebrate easy victories and immediately wanted to befriend the government even though they knew very well the government was not favourably inclined toward the Jews
and the Jewish moral rebirth which the enlighteners regularly preached, don't misunderstand, in order to bear the burden of Judaism in general or better said as a means to lead the Jews to a predominant belief.
It also began to appear at the time the tendency of the authorities to convert the Jews to Catholicism.
At this time there was even a Biblical Society founded in Warsaw with the goal to spread Christianity among the Jews. They brought distinguished Jewish missionaries from London who received various privileges and rights.
These Jewish converts were welcomed with open arms by the highest levels in Polish society and were given special honours. These Jewish converts married into the Polish nobility and were bestowed various noble titles. It is enough to say the daughters of the well known Yehudis Yakubovitch, after they converted, married delegates from the highest levels of the Polish and French aristocracy.
Many Jewish enlighteners were not embarrassed to openly admit that in the word assimilation they understood real Jewish Polonizing was through conversion. Therefore it was no surprise that all their undertakings and acts were looked upon by the Jewish masses, particularly the Hasidim with distrust. Even more, because of this, even the institutions that were still useful and necessary for the Jewish population, under their influence, received such a character that did not completely correspond to their original goal, for example the Rabiner school in Warsaw which educated a generation of assimilationists who were foreign to the Jews and who hated Jewish faith.
Therefore there was great fear among the Hasidim when they heard the great Dignitary Montefiore was coming to Warsaw and the enlighteners wanted to submit a petition.
Just as the Dignitary received all the government authorities in Warsaw that came to see him, the enlighteners announced they wanted to speak with him about the situation of Jews in Poland.
However the Hasidim also were not asleep.
Reb Itche Meirl called a meeting at his father in law Reb Moishe Khalfn's house to decide what to do.
The Vork Rebbe came to the meeting as well as a special representative from the Kotsk court.
They sat all night and thought: should they come out against the Enlightened Jews with all their might, or should they first
talk it over with them, since the Dignitary does not understand Hasidism.
The Vork Rebbe [Warka] who was always a defender of the Jews, held back this time and said they should go speak with the Dignitary.
At that meeting he said to the Hasidim: Once again I am puzzled by the explanation from the Passover Haggadah: Had He brought us to Mount Sinai, and not given us the Torah it would have been enough for us Dayenu… and here is the question: without receiving Torah would we have, that they lead us to Mount Sinai, and what is the meaning of this Dayenu? only the importance of Mount Sinai is, except for receiving Torah, as it is the first time He created unity among Jews, as it is written: Israel camped opposite the mountain (Exodus 19:2) all as one! This in itself is very important, and because of this it is already enough, Dayenu, but in his many sins the Vork Rebbe let out, unity among Jews no longer exists, especially among the lost who no longer want to be counted among the Jewish people and whose numbers increase daily. So again we ask the question, what good is the Dayenu?
A decision was made at the meeting that the Vork Rebbe together with Reb Itche Meirl would visit the Dignitary Moshe Montefiore and explain to him what Hasidism is and try to convince him not to reform all the religious Jewish schools in Poland.
Before Reb Itche Meirl went with the Vork Rebbe to meet the Dignitary Moshe Montefiore, Reb Itche Meirl went to visit the Jewish enlightener Matisyau Rozen. He asked him not to demand of the Dignitary to reform the religious schools. However he did not convince him.
Matisyau Rozen let it be known to Reb Itche Meirl that the enlighteners were the true Jews and only they had the right to speak on behalf of the people.
After Reb Itche Meirl's visit with the enlightened Jew Matisyahu Rozen, Reb Itche Meirl wrote a letter about it to the wealthy Jew Reb Avrom Yanover.
This is what Reb Itche Meirl wrote in his letter: Rozen believes he is a righteous man, although he is a transgressor of the entire Torah. He wants the others to be a righteous as himself, what can a say? Woe is to us that this is happening in our lifetime. It is not enough for them that they are open transgressors of the Torah
and no one says a word to them, but they all have thorns in their eyes for Jews in the world who still live by God's Torah.
The Dignitary had heard long before that in Poland there exists a Hasidic sect that embraced the majority of the masses, particularly among the poor. However the Dignitary could not exactly conceive what Hasidism was.
He knew from history Hasidism arose after the Frankist movement, according to the weak reverberations among Jews in Western Europe. The Dignitary assumed the Hasidim were a kind of secret mystic sect which was led by Tzadikim (Saints) who were false prophets or sorcerers who use dark rejected elements for their own interests.
When the two enlighteners from Warsaw, two wealthy men, Matisyauh Rozen and Epshteyn came to the Dignitary they described the situation of Jews in Poland and told him about the Hasidic sect.
I would be very interested to see the representatives of this sect the Dignitary said during their conversation Everything I hear about them from you is very interesting, however I would like to talk with them myself, to meet their leader face to face. Are they really interesting people? He asked the two enlighteners and at the same time added: perhaps you can explain to me who the founder of this sect was and are they really heretics of the holy Torah.
The founder of the sect replied Rozen with contempt and began teaching the Dignitary a chapter of Hasidism was some sort of village Jew with the name Yisroel Mezhibezh who healed women with a variety of medicinal herbs. An ignoramus. However he had within him a power of attraction and attracted a group of ignoramuses, the simplest from among the masses. He called them Hasidim and bestowed upon himself the modest name and with a mocking smile said Ba'al Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name) or Besht as they refer to him today. Since then various leaders have emerged, or better said, corrupters, who called themselves Tzadik (Saint) or Rabbis, but they were all, spare us, ignorant boors who taught superstitions to the adherents to their sects.
Yesterday a Polish count came to see me said Montefiore who holds a respected place in the government.
When we began a discussion about the Jews he told me that his father had told him that somewhere in a small town, I think he said it was called Koznitz or Ko ze netz, there was a Tzadik, a leader of a sect, and his father, the count would often go to him to ask his advice on various subjects. He did everything the Tzadik told him to do as the Tzadik was a bit of a prophet, recounted the count.
That was a rabbi who was known as the Kozhenitz preacher [Kozienice] answered the enlightener Epshteyn with disagreement he was by chance very smart and could teach a lot and he was able to fool the Polish nobility. Counts and dukes actually went to see him and using many tricks he managed to lure them with all kinds of business advice which he himself knew nothing about.
And who is the Wonder Rabbi from Kotsk that a Polish count told me about yesterday? He sounds like a very interesting person.
A really disturbed person Epshtytn replied quickly he gathered a large group of people and performed his bizarre pranks for them.
I would be very interested to see them when do I have a free day? He quickly turned to his secretary Dr. Levy I would like to travel to Kotsk and talk to the Wonder Rabbi. I will immediately see what type of person he is.
The two enlightened Jews got nervous. They were afraid that if the Kotsk Rebbe would use his sharp words and fiery way of speech, he may make a good impression on the Dignitary. Their mouths dropped as they waited to Dr. Levy's response.
Dr. Levy himself was somewhat of an Enlightener and he already had a repulsion toward the Hasidim and their Rebbes. So he took out his secretary's notebook and began to read: tomorrow such and such a count is coming and in the evening we are visiting a special institution for a visit with the president of the city.
He went through an entire list of visits and concluded: It seems to me we will not have time to travel to Kotsk.
A pity, what a pity! The Dignitary replied. He took out his ivory tobacco pouch and brought it slowly to his nose. He gently passed the pouch back and forth under his nose,
stood up, went to the window lost in thought.
Suddenly the Dignitary called out: Dr. Levy! Come here, take a look at the stampede on the street. Are they beating Jews, God forbid? Send a messenger immediately to the governor to find out what's going on the Dignitary said in fear.
All three, Dr. Levy and the two enlighteners ran to the window and saw:
A mass of men in black were pushing to get close to a coach which was going very slowly. There were three Jews sitting in the coach, two sitting up high and one facing them. Hundreds of Jews and youngsters were hanging around the coach being shoved in all directions. Among the crowd were about ten policemen directing the mass cruel way.
The men in the coach were the Vork Rebbe and Reb Itche Meirl coming to visit the Dignitary Montefiore. All the old Pshsikh, Volk and Kotsk Hasidim that lived in Warsaw were on the street to see the Vork Rebbe.
The Hasidim ran after the coach hanging on to the wheels with the police running after them as there was an order not to allow Jewish demonstrations in the streets while the Dignitary Montefiore was in town.
The police were beating and chasing the crowd but the Hasidim payed no attention, as if they didn't feel the punches they received. Their eyes were all on the coach where the Vork Rebbe was sitting.
When the coach approached the house where the Dignitary was staying the two enlighteners recognized the Vork Rebbe and Reb Itche Meirl and calmed the Dignitary.
These are the two leaders of the Hasidim, two Tzadikim. This is what the Hasidim look like. This is how they embarrass us and make us look bad in the eyes of Christians. They run after their Rebbes like a gang of wild people.
But they must be great personalities if they have such a great following running after them with such great enthusiasm. These people don't even feel the beatings from the police, and why are the police beating them? The Dignitary asked. It is the task of the police to keep order, not to beat calm citizens. This is a barbaric country with barbaric customs said the Dignitary to himself. He then turned to Dr. Levy and said if these Tzadilkim came here to see me, let them in.
In front of the house where the Dignitary Montefiore was living stood various princely coaches. From time to time another countess exited who had come to visit Montefiore's wife Yehudis. Servants in white wigs and white gloves stood beside the coaches and opened the gold doors of the coaches and led the countesses and court ladies.
The Vork Rebbe and Reb Itche Meirl were practically carried by the large crowd of Hasidim, but only the two were permitted to enter the gate of the house where Montefiore lived. The large crowd of Hasidim remained standing on the street.
The anteroom of the house was filled with Jews from Warsaw and the surrounding towns. They came to see the Jewish Dignitary and pour out their bitter hearts. His secretary Dr. Levy had the same answer fro everyone: Your Dignitary Montefiore is not at home! When the secretary saw the Vork Rebbe he asked him to wait a bit, and then told him quietly that he will soon be called in.
It upset the Rebbe that the other Jews were being fooled and he said with a bitter smile:
Now, said the Vork Rebbe to the secretary, Dr. Levy, I will offer a solution from the Gemarra: The receiving of guests is greater than the receiving of the Divine Presence (Shabbat, 127 B ) . When Moses saw the Divine Presence, it is written: And Moses hid his face (Exodus 3:6). He just hid his face, but when rich men see the poor, they hide themselves!
Dr. Levy felt the insult. A gave a forced smile and disappeared into the room where the Dignitary was sitting.
Let them in! ordered the Dignitary to his secretary, Dr. Levy.
The two enlighteners wanted to remain in the room while the Hasidic delegation met with the Dignitary, but Dr. Levy, with a wink told them to wait in the next room as the Dignitary does not like others around when he receives guests.
The two enlighteners went into the next room and wanted to wait there until the Rebbes left in order to be able to undo all their complaints.
Dr. Levy led three Jews into the room and announced: These are the Rebbes, and left.
When the Dignitary saw the strange appearance of these Jews in their long satin coats, out of respect he stood up and invited them to sit.
The Vork Rebbe stood in front of the Dignitary. He was small and thin with a dark face and an even darker thick beard which was weaved with silver strands of hair and grey eyebrows. He wore a large hat and a wide satin belt tied around his silk fur lined coat. Beside him stood his assistant Moishe a tall Jew with and angry face and a yellow brushed beard and two long arms that could strike at any moment if someone would dishonour his Rebbe: on his right stood Reb Itche Meirl whose stature demanded respect from everyone.
Are you all Rabbi's? asked the Dignitary when everyone was seated. No replied Reb Itche Meirl, only this Jew, as he pointed to the Vork Rebbe. He is a Rebbe, the other is his assistant and I am merely a Hasid.
According to what the Dignitary had previously heard, he now saw a different picture. These are not ordinary charlatans that deceive ignorant people he thought No! These are deeply thoughtful people. These are not the faces or eyes of swindlers.
How can I serve you? asked the Dignitary.
We heard about your greatness and devotion to Jews began the Vork Rebbe. We heard you went to Russia and met the Czar to intervene on behalf of the Jewish people. We have prayed to God great Dignitary, that you would find favour in the eyes of the Czar and all his ministers that surround him. We came to you to ask you to annul the edict which introduces new customs into our religious schools, which had been the only base of existence until now.
What? Asked Montefiore with an angry tone you want to continue not to allow the people to learn in order to hold them back in the darkness and spread your sectarian teaching, Hasidism, which goes against the Torah?
On the contrary replied Reb Itche Meirl calmly, in order to calm him down we don't want them to introduce reforms so that we can guard the Torah and all the good deeds just as our forefathers have done.
And you and all your Hasidim really observe the laws of the Torah? Are you not transgressors of the laws of the holy Torah? asked the Dignitary, repeating what he had heard from the two enlighteners who were there earlier.
We strive to carry out and fulfill the Torah replied the Vork Rebbe humbly.
And can you teach? The Dignitary continued to ask.
We strive to, replied the Vork Rebbe.
And here the Vork Rebbe and Reb Meirl began to present their complaints to the Dignitary. The Dignitary had difficulty understanding their Yiddish. He finally asked his secretary Dr. Levy to come in and translate. The Vork Rebbe ended the discussion: it's not us that want to keep the Jews in exile, to the contrary, we want to feel the Divine Presence and the Jewish people in exile. As our Rebbe Reb Bunem from Pshiskhe explained: I will take you away from your forced labour in Egypt (Exodus 6:6). The worst exile is when you stop feeling the exile, when you get used to slavery and surrender. If you are already in the situation when can suffer the exile and nothing bothers you then we should no longer wait, this is the time, as God says, to leave this place!
Dr. Levy translated these teachings for the Dignitary whose eyes were filled with joy. The Dignitary said to Dr. Levy: call in the two guests who were here earlier. Let them also hear what is being said here and let's hear how they respond to this.
At first Reb Itche Meirl was frightened when he saw the two enlighteners, but he quickly calmed down and they began to present his grievances to the Dignitary:
The Dignitary did not listen to the whole discussion between Reb Itche Meirl and the enlighteners, but he watched the movements of the Vork Rebbe. He saw a person who lives in another world, mystical and secretive which was foreign to him however he respected him.
When the enlighteners continued to shout that the Hasidim were transgressors of Torah teaching the Vork Rebbe responded:
There are two important mountains: Mount Sinai where Jews received the Torah and Mount Moriah where Abraham brought Isaac to sacrifice. At first glance here is the question: why was the Holy Temple built on Mount Moriah and not on Mount Sinai, on the mountain where we received Torah? The answer to this difficult question is: the place where a Jew was prepared to stretch out his neck for the Almighty makes the place more important for the Master of the Universe than giving Torah…Torah or learning is of course good, but the main thing is to have devotion and show selfsacrifice for Judaism!
The Dignitary really enjoyed the Vork Rebbe's teachings. When they parted one felt the Vork Rebbe was victorious over the enlighteners with the Dignitary siding with the Hasidim.
But Hasidism was foreign to the Dignitary. He himself could not unravel the struggle between the Hasidim and the enlighteners. When the Dignitary submitted his i memorandum about the State of Jewish Education in Russia and Poland he did not take into account the requests of the Hasidic delegation.
Vork=Warka according to various spellings and pronunciations
by Zvi Eyznman
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Only a few residents remember when she arrived at the grey four cornered house with the peeling walls.
It was a hot Tamuz day when suddenly a wagon filled with bizarre furniture passed by, magnificent or not, nobody on Tvarde Street had ever seen anything like it before.
Curious double chins were peering through the doors of the food shop. In the newly opened hat store two pale female milliners moved the curtains slightly and stole a glance at the mysterious wagon. The shoemaker, whose workshop blackened the street with muddy window panes and a crooked sign, straightened his bent back for a while and looked out at this ominous marvel, thoughtfully rubbing his nose with his smeared hands.
At the end of the street three copper trays which hung over the entrance to the medic's reflected the sun. There was a nervous ringing of a bell, and at the open door to the hairdresser the medic himself was standing with his twisted whiskers: two of his assistants were looking over his arms with their combs stuck behind their ears.
It was common on Tvarde to see the medic run out of his hairdresser in anger, chasing rascals who would run by and open his door just to hear the bell ring. But today he stood their calmly. As he twisted his whiskers in curiosity they stuck out more.
Zvi Eyznman born in 1920 in Warsaw. 19391946 lived in Russia. Wandered from 19461949 and came to Israel in 1949. Storyteller. Irena reflects, through the soul of a Jewish child the almost mystical estrangement between Poles and Jews in Warsaw.
The wagon stood in front of one of the gates and they began to unload the heavy oak wardrobe decorated with garlands and flowers, a wide bed with strange birds on the half rounded headboard, and a shiny black piano with heavy legs with carved edges.
Children ran from the yard and with mouths agape watched as they carried in the dark leather arm chairs, a couch with two stiff covers and high arms covered in plush and bordered with dark wood and a cornice where porcelain figurines and vases were placed, as well as a wide credenza with polished little glass doors.
Soon adults joined the children. The shrugged their shoulders: who is moving in? Who would choose to live in such a cramped court yard? They wondered and continued to watch.
A Jewish woman straightened her wig and said loudly with a raised hand: they couldn't find another place in Warsaw except here?
The furniture caught everyone's attention with a wave a strangeness and fear. When they realized the furniture was being carried to the three rooms on the second floor which had been empty for a long time, the crowd scattered and snuck away. Some secretly spit.
The last tenant was a Jewish magnate, a businessman from deep in Russia, who was found hanging one morning. Jews avoided this place, something was hidden there they implied rather than actually saying, but everyone knew what they meant. This apartment stood empty, the heavy doors were blocked and children would tremble when they descended the stairs. Even adults would not go near the blocked doors at night. And now suddenly, someone is moving in.
She arrived in the evening. A blond woman with smooth combed hair tied up in a bun. She wore a long black dress with many clasps. Two brown sad eyes emerged from her young face. She wore a large gold brooch around her neck decorated with ivory. The brooch hung from a black silk ribbon. Her long arms in the puffy sleeves were pale and delicate.
She called the janitor and in half Polish half Russian asked for the key. Her voice was deep. She slowly climbed the stairs with inaudible steps. It was as if she was floating through the air.
From the cellar to the fourth floor frightened glances followed the slow floating of the woman with the sad eyes…
She is a Christian… one door entrusted to the other. People whispered out their windows and a star twinkled from the sky with wonder a Christian woman in a Jewish courtyard.
Not knowing where she came from the entire courtyard was talking about Miss Irena (the woman from the food store spread her name throughout the floors) a bizarre story than not only the residents of Tvarde were talking about but also on Tchepele, Krochmalna and other streets. When the figure in the black dress would appear every morning as she walked to the closest tramway station to wait for the segregated tramway harnessed to a few horses, heads appeared in windows, one with a washtub of steaming laundry, one with a knife in hand peeling a potato. However Miss Irena was always the same. The same long black dress and her eyes as sad as always…
The children in the courtyard were afraid of her and their mothers increased their fear. When a child misbehaved he would be threatened with Miss Irena with her black boxes. In the evening they would hear strange sounds coming from her dark rooms.
A light emerged from her rooms late at night from her green gas light. From other windows one barely saw a weak flame for a kerosene lamp, but in the darkness of night Miss Irena's rooms were always lit with the green light.
Once, a Jewish woman from the food store swore she heard strange laughter and spasms coming from Miss Irena's apartment, they were so strong, but she was so frightened she couldn't say a word. She wanted to shout for help bur her mouth would not open. With great difficulty she barely stretched out her hand to her husband's blanket, but half asleep he brushed her away with his hand: What the devil? Let me sleep! She jumped out of bed and made such a fuss that everyone in their home, half asleep jumped out of bed. Her husband, pale, asked for quiet and listened to the courtyard but it was sunken in deep silence. You were just imagining it, my wife. Go back to sleep. But she was sticking to her story. She heard something. Before going back to sleep her husband examined the mezuzah and extinguished the light.
After a difficult winter a typhus epidemic broke out and everyone claimed all their troubles came form there. It went so far that the residents in the courtyard wrote to the regional police superintendent asking this Person be removed from their courtyard. Nothing came of this. The nights continued to be cut by the green light
which emanated from Miss Irena's window. Miss Irena continued to float through the yard in the morning on her way to the tramway harnessed to the horses and again everyone once again had to listen to the sounds of her piano, where every chord sounded strange and inappropriate within the peeling walls and drowned in the deep well of the courtyard.
Slowly they learned to live with the floating creature in the black dress, but the fear remained.
It appeared that Miss Irena knew no one. However in the hungry winter of 1916, the second year of the war, when on Tvarde, Ychepel and Krochmalna streets people were dying of cold and hunger and a piece of bread or a frozen potato was a dream within the frosted silvery walls of the unheated houses, she suddenly appeared, in her black dress, in the cellar apartment of the tailor whose wife lay sick in bed.
The children cried from fear. The tailor just sat there and the cat which was keeping him warm jumped out of his arms. His sick wife used her weak hand to remove the rags covering her, exposing her head, she looked…
Miss Irena laid two round white breads beside her, which shone like two suns. Silently, she stroked her with a soft warm hand. There were two large tears in her brown sad eyes…
Everyone spoke about this incident until late that night, but the fear still remained.
There were those who did not agree and went to the tailor warning him not to eat the bread. Who knows what's in it? But even before the tailor could say a word in her defense, the smallest child already licked the crumbs off the chair.
It was the eve of Passover. The sun shone playfully over Tvarde. There was a holy feeling. At night the cats cried in the attics like small children. The mud, out of nowhere began to disappear. The courtyard became more crowded and noisier than before. However the exhausted yellow faces of the residents (a reminder of the horrible winter months) appeared longer and more worried.
It is Passover and they didn't have the necessities to prepare for the holiday. They also could not see an end to the war. As soon as day broke
the men ran to the committee and the women, no matter what, dragged their old squeaky beds out to the courtyard, stripping them and scalding them with hot water. Others were beating blankets and pillows as feathers flew. Others were polishing the crooked wardrobes without doors and broken feet.
The courtyard was more crowded and noisier than ever. As they washed and scrubbed they poured out their hearts. Only the children ran around carefree. It does not bother them that it is so crowded. On the contrary. They found the wardrobes and other broken paraphernalia interesting. Many of them had not been out all winter as they did not have shoes. Others had been waiting a long time for this day and stood near the garbage cans which were in the middle of the yard and spread a sweetnauseating smell that makes your head spin, but they didn't notice. In the garbage one can find shiny buttons, beads, small boxes and other useless things thrown away on Passover.
Some mothers ask their children to help, but who thinks about that when there are so many treasures in the garbage to play with.
The embittered mothers let out their bad moods on these bastards, on their heads, and their stomachs swollen from potatoes and water and their crooked feet from the English disease (rickets).
In the noise one can hear, from time to time, a drawn out tired voice to mend, to fix! Buy old clothes, give me your rags! Or a beggar singing out to the starving homes Jewish hearts, throw something down, give me something for Passover!
All the windows were wide open as if they were spitting out all the smells of the whole winter. Only Miss Irena's windows were shut and mute. All the women, embittered and over worked threw scary glances up. It is already almost a week that her windows have been covered and she hasn't been seen.
During the first days of Passover everyone on every floor knew that Miss Irena is very sick. The janitor shared the news and the tailor's wife who just a few days earlier got up from her sick bed where she had spent the winter understood she must, with her weak legs, slowly climb to the second floor, to the heavy door of Miss Irena's rooms.
Her husband made her swear she would not dare go there. She just had to me a mother to her own children and anyway, she would not be able to climb the stairs. She would need help. But it was no use. She pulled her torn Turkish shawl over her head, which still remained
from the years when she still had rosy cheeks, black curly hair and rounded breasts which protruded from her outgrown dress. In those days, the young, the now harnessed, the impressive hotshot, did not leave her alone. He brought her sweets, took her walking in the Praga woods, and once even took her in a coach to her job where she worked as a servant. The whole street talked about it and the other servant girls envied her, and not to mention when she received the Turkish shawl from him…
Wrapped in the shawl she slowly began to climb the steps. From her cellar home she heard the cries of her fearful children. However she did not stop. With one hand she pulled the shawl tighter around her and with the other hand hung on to the railing of the stairs. The thought hammered in her head: go back, go back…but her weak heart whispered to her: she is sick, she needs help, I must, I must…
Each step felt like an eternity. The steps were dancing one over the other. She remained standing and embarrassed closed her eyes, and then, with an inner strength managed to climb the remaining steps…
After she left Miss Irena's rooms and descended to her blackened walls she was attacked by her husband and neighbours.
What do you want from her? She replied with her bloodless lips. She is a person like all other people, just maybe unhappier than most!…
A month after this incident the tailor's wife suddenly and quietly passed away. There was fear coming through every slot of the fence around the courtyard and people still said something was planted there and anyone who crossed the threshold would God forbid end up like like the tailor's wife…among those at the funeral was Miss Irena in her black dress. People began to move away from her. It appeared as if she did not notice. Her sad eyes were focused on the black door of the coffin where the tailor's wife lay.
When Shimele and his parents moved into one of the cellar lairs of the courtyard Miss Irena's face was already wrinkled and her hair was white. Her dragged tired feet no long gave the impression of floating. Even Tvarde had changed a lot. The coaches totally disappeared, there were even fewer horse drawn carriages. They were now replaced by electric tramways, truck and cars. Where the gas lamps used to be there were now long electric lanterns with bright faces.
Also the courtyard was no longer so backward even though the walls were still peeling and grey and a piece of sky clung to sooty chimneys and sloping roofs. The residents changed. The poverty went down in the cellar dwellings and was relegated to the bent attic holes, and the other floors now had fresh arrivals of wealthy people, businessmen from Gzhibov, and stock brokers from Krulevske. Lots had changed.
The heavy curtains from Miss Irena's rooms seemed casual compared to the neighbours' and the light from her green gas lamp was fighting with the electric spears that came from the electric lights from the wealthy floors like wild wolves…also Miss Irena's clothing did not change. The same black dress with the puffy sleeves and many clasps. However it appeared longer on her shrunken skin. Her eyes maintained their same brown colour, but the sadness was deeper, becoming denser…the fear remained surrounding her and her rooms.
Children continued to stop playing when she walked by and tight corsets glanced through the tulle curtains with the same curiosity existed concerning that window, like twenty years earlier the overworked Jewish woman with the greasy wig. When Shimele went out to the courtyard for the first time the other children warned him not to look up at that window because if he did he would stop growing and remain a fool for the rest of his life. One must not dare to take a candy from her. Shimele looked at his new friends with a wounded glance and his black eyes became sadder.
When he was lying in bed and could not fall asleep due to hunger and bedbugs, he heard music which fluttered between the crowded walls. He had never heard anything like it before. The deep chords anxiously tilted toward the foggy cellar windows. They penetrated deeper into the cellar darkness, lightly came close to the bench where Shimele was lying. Shimele had not yet seen her but knew she was playing this music.
In the morning he saw her.
The children ran away but he did not budge. She was astounded and stopped, drowning her brown sadness in his black melancholy.
Irena laid her gentle hand on his little head. This great emotional experience made her shiver and red spots appeared on her pale face.
You are not afraid of me, my little dove? She mumbled half in Polish half in Russian.
From that day on the other children called Shimele little dove. The name did not bother him, but why would they mispronounce this incomprehensible word for him, a word which when she said it sounded so gentle and soft like the tones of the piano which were so incomprehensible yet so lovely and comforting.
However the music became rarer. He would lie in bed until late at night radiating with anticipation, with his ears perked on his hard bench believing she would come. But instead of her soft flowing piano sounds he heard his mother's, the bagel seller from Yanush's court, snoring, his father's coughing and the children's muffled cries in their sleep.
Often unexpectedly, on a Sunday, the tones would arrive. They were now quieter and disappeared as quickly as they came.
Shimele's heart trembled like the sounds, and when they were torn away it seemed to him that his heart stopped as well…
Shimele never heard the musical chords again. His waiting for Sundays was in vain. Another Sunday passed. During the day his uneasy twinkling eyes glanced up at Miss Irena's windows but the covering curtains said nothing. He even stood by her heavy oak door, he could in no way knock or go in. On one of the days he heard her cat meow from inside and by evening the meowing became loud spasms, and everyone in the courtyard hid their children indoors, Shimele did not leave the yard. His pale face grew paler. He fluttered around like a lost soul.
The next morning a quiet black and silver wagon pulled up.
Through the slits in the curtains everyone saw how they carried down the coffin. Lanterns hung on both sides of the wagon. A young man carrying a black cross walked in front. The priest walked behind with a silver prayer book from which he quietly mumbles some lines.
Tvarde was frightened and confused as they watched the black silver wagon slowly roll over the bridge. But a small pale boy, barefoot, wearing torn pants, walked after them and disappeared with the wagon…
by Zvi Eyznman
Translated by Janie Respitz
The markets were the place in Warsaw where you could see Jewish destitution, especially the markets on the following streets: Smocza, Mila, Stawky and Volinske. However the poorest market was at Nowolipie 35. The Nowolipie market stretched out until Leshne 40. The male and female merchants were composed of two groups: poor in general and extremely poor. The poor female merchants took over half the bazar which came out to Leshne Street, number 40. Old sacks were spread over the stone bridge in the yard and all the various cheap articles were displayed there, such as combs, yarn for knitting, coloured ribbons, mirrors for children and many other small items. The merchants barely managed to earn a living. It used to happen that a child would ask his mother for a candy and his mother would quickly dismiss the request saying that they had to be thankful for every piece of bread and then wipe her own eyes in order not to have to see her child's sorrow as he did not receive a candy. The really poor took over the area that came out at Nowolipie 35-37. Their goods consisted of the cheapest fruits, vegetables and certain baked goods that poor people ate. The majority were older women whose husbands had lost their jobs. There was so much light in this part that you could feel the darkness. The customers were
Yehoshua Albert was an established merchant and manufacturer in Warsaw until the third destruction (the Holocaust). He was a representative of large companies in the manufacturing line. He was born in 1885 in Grodzisk, during the Czarist expulsion of Jews from the small towns around the capital pf Poland in 1915 came to Warsaw and remained there until the years of the third destruction. He wandered through the ghetto and hiding places and fortuitously survived. He lived in Lodz from 1944 until 1948 and since then in Buenos Aires. He wrote about his Holocaust experiences in his book of 500 pages: Jewish Warsaw Through Suffering, Blood and Death, Buenos Aires 1958. He also write memoires reportages about Warsaw back in the day.
among the poorest people in the region. It often happened that the market was completely empty. The poor people did not come to as they had they no money. That is when a feeling of horror took over, looking at the faces of the merchants - it felt to them that the sky was falling on their heads.
Nowolipie 35-37 was the market of destitution. The adversity was written on the faces of all the merchants and customers. Looking how they dressed you could see the wealth of the customers. Both buyers and sellers were always hungry. Their children were scrawny and pale. The scene was even worse during the cold winter days. Most of the merchants made peace with their fate except on whose name was Rayzl and nicknamed the screamer, did not want to accept that this is how things should be. All day she would shout what's going to be? and she had one complaint: where would she get the money to maintain her poor house? her complaints were meant for the rich ladies who ran around with full purses in the other market and they could not be bothered to help the poor merchants a little. She would look at her basket of apples, take one in her hand and shout that only the enemies of the Jews should have rotten hearts, like the apples in my basket.Rayzl shouted enough for everyone. The others just sighed and moaned accompanied by a painful Oy. Others would complain about where they would find the money to reimburse Shloime Vayntroyb, the benefactor of the market, the giver of interest free loans. But Shloime Vayntroyb would appear and calm them down. Don't worry, forget your past debts. Come to my office tomorrow afternoon, you will receive a new loan, and with God's help this week will be a good one, you will earn some money and will be able to easily repay both interest free loans. He repeated this almost every Friday. Shloime Vayntryb and his wife Dobtche constantly comforted the worried merchants encouraging them that the beloved Friday is arriving and offered the consolation that there would be enough earning for the entire week.
Let the beloved Friday come already, - the merchants would say. Friday should compensate the money for the rest of the week and was also an omen that that the beloved holy Sabbath was approaching, when you can sit with your children at the table and rest your weary bones. The Sabbath table was a poor one, but it calmed the soul.
Friday the market came alive. They brought their saved pennies from the week to buy something in order to welcome the Sabbath as a beloved guest. It was not easy to decide how to spend their few saved pennies.
Often you would see men and women counting their change deep in thought: what to buy first? it was not an easy task, which is why the merchants shouted and made noise. Their voices could be heard throughout the market. Why are you just standing there they shouted, the day is almost over. You could hear Rayzl's shouts above all others. Maybe we should just deliver it to your home, cook and then serve you!
The real Jewish suffering could be seen Friday afternoon. Two young people stand at the gate and beg, they have nothing for the Sabbath. These two youngsters were not beggars. They were unemployed, could not find work. What could they do? Die of hunger? Poverty filled their house. Children want a piece of bread. Nu, if only there was something small for the Sabbath. One could not beg from the merchants as they too were impoverished there were many shoppers at the market, most came in the afternoon, they waited for the men to come from the street and bring the few zlotys not knowing what to buy first as there was barely enough to buy anything. The female merchants continue to make a racket, and Rayzl the screamer shouted louder than the rest. We hear these words: what do you want from my life? Nadir[the lowest rung on the ladder], everyone comes without money and wants to buy something. Should I just give things away, the little I have, and remain only with my problems?...
Fridays the market was filled with poor people who came simply to beg. Friday was the best day for beggars as no one should be allowed to be hungry on the Sabbath. Throughout the market you could hear the same moan: Alms for the Sabbath. Jewish hearts should no let an entire household starve. The poor people felt more assured at the poor bazar, they felt bolder to beg there. They were well acquainted with the poor Jewish women who came there to shop for the Sabbath. They had so little money for themselves, they broke their heads deciding what to buy, and nevertheless they managed to give a small amount to a poor man. They were poor, but their hearts were good.
There were poor people that did not want to receive alms. They could be found in the above mentioned bazar one had an accordion. One played a flute, another had a nice singing voice while others made up rhymes. Among them there were also magicians. They all wanted to earn a piece of bread for their hard Kosherwork.
One Friday it happened we were standing near a wall. A scene played out that could only happen in Jewish Warsaw. As we were talking we saw a young boy lead the well-known blind Leyzer into the bazar.
He carried a large accordion under his arm and the boy carried a small stool. The boy led the blind man to the wall and sat him on the stool. Leyzer the blind man took off his cap with the shiny peak and appeared ready to start work.
Leyzer the blind man was short and stout. He was seventy years old. His face was round, shaven with a thick mustache. There were two holes where his eyes should be. He had a full head of grey hair combed down the nape of his neck like an actor. He was very proud of his strong baritone. He knew everyone loved to hear him sing as he accompanied himself on the accordion. When he knew there were no a lot of people around, he did not like to sing. The bazar was his regular place. All those who passed by would throw some coins into his hat. Every time he came there to play he would look around with his closed eyes as if he could see, turn his head in all directions and try to figure out if there were many or few people. He would remain like that for a few minutes deep in thought, then suddenly let out a sigh and ask the boy if there were people in the bazar. Leyzer would mumble quietly to himself that they are all beggars. Then he would lift his accordion with his two hands and begin to play and sing in his baritone. His singing was sad. He could be heard throughout the bazar, more crying than singing, this song that he himself composed:
I was born blind,He would sing about the fact his punishment was neve to see the light, but od not know how he had sinned. When the beggars would hear his singing they would stop shouting Alms for the poor. The female merchants would cross their arms, some over their hearts and others behind an apron if they had one and they would wipe away a tear as they watched blind Leyzer. What was strange; Leyzer would feel their stares and then really belt out a song about how he was born from a stone. Even Rayzl the screamer who had a big mouth remained silent, looked down at her apron and said: Leyzer's voice sounded like someone crying and wailing in a cellar.
I never saw the world.
I will soon lose,
Me, Leyzer, always the blind hero.
But the most important thing had not yet begun. Soon the mob of beggars will arrive. They will come from all the other bazars, as this bazar was like a passage. Each Jew that passed through gave out alms. There was a man who was thirty years old standing at the entrance
with a white handkerchief tied around his head. This made him look sick and demanded pity so that people would give him money. However he will bring people great joy. He takes out some pages from his pocket and begins to read:
Women, give money,The women loved his rhymes. They gave him a lot. The older women stood around blind Leyzer, wiped tears from their eyes as they listened to him sing and threw donations into his hat. Leyzer could not complain. The female merchants said that Leyzer and the young man's performances at the bazar were good for business. They were able to sell more things for the Sabbath. Buy lovely red apples, buy live fish just out of the water, others shouted alms for the Sabbath, don't forget that a poor man also has a soul, -all this was mixed with blind Leyzer's songs and the young man's rhymes. In the midst of all this a gang of small children, pranksters appeared because they could see the artists arriving.
You will live well with your husbands.
And if you run away,
You won't have anything to buy for the Sabbath.
Street performers in Warsaw were a nation unto themselves. They did not want handouts. They wanted to earn a living pleasing their audience. The bazar was an appropriated place for their work. They always drew a large crowd. This group of magicians was comprised of four people. The first would show the organ which he carried on his back with a leather belt around his neck. At the bazar he would take down his instrument and start playing. The second was a giant Pole with a colourful bed sheet in his hand. He would spread the cloth on the ground and perform some acrobatic tricks accompanied by the music of the organ. And finally: an older Jew with a dark girl who was very charming. She held a small tambourine in her hand with bells attached. When she shook it, it made nice sounds. They all wore striped pants. The female merchants were not happy that this girl was wearing boy's pants and tried to chase her out of the bazar. Rayzl the screamer would begin shouting. A real concert of shout music. Rayzl was superstitious and shouted that because of the Jewish debauched woman, everyone would have a bitter Friday and a
disturbed Sabbath. But these performers hardly listened to the shouting, even when they were threatened by the police. They knew the police would not do anything and they continued with their tricks. The giant Pole spread his sheet and immediately the old Jew would jump onto his outstretched arms. Then the girl would jump on him and the crowd would be amazed. Rayzl the screamer would also wonder but would say that only a witch can do these things. The three would make a pyramid and the crowd would applaud.
But it did not end there. When the girl stood with her pretty feet on the Jew's shoulders, she raised one leg grabbed it with her right hand and greeted the crowd at the bazar. Then she would jump in the air, twist like a bagel and land on the sheet, do a few pirouettes, take the tambourine in her hand and walk through the crowd. Coins began to fall while the Pole and the Jew performed more tricks. The organ player continued to play the organ and a parrot would shout in pure Yiddish: Ladies, buy a ticket, and what woman does not want to know what luck awaits her? Even Rayzl the screamer could not just stand by and resist temptation and bought a ticket which cost a few cents. Once when she took a ticket she burst out laughing so hard that everyone around laughed too. The ticket told her that a huge inheritance awaits her. Rayzl was not able to read so she had to ask someone to read her fortune.
The day comes to an end. Friday will soon be replaced by the Sabbath. The noise in the bazar is dissipating. It is an autumn day and the sky looked like the merchant's hearts dark. No one wanted to enter the Sabbath. They hurry to pack up their goods which they did not manage to sell and with a sigh left their stalls and ran home. Servant girls and poor women carry their Sabbath stew (Cholent) through the bazar to the baker, - this will be their Sabbath feast he next day. There may still be a beggar, who arrived a bit late, with and outstretched hand, perhaps one more person will toss him some coins. On the side a poor Jew stands and shouts lovely honey cookies, beautiful apples and navy beans for the holy Sabbath. But then the Sabbath guards come and he must gather his goods and leave as the Sabbath guards do not spare anyone. On of the Sabbath guards stands in the middle of the bazar and call out: Jewish men and women, go home. It is the holy Sabbath and it is a great sin to desecrate the Sabbath. If you observe the Sabbath you will have earnings and you will have the honour to hear
the Messiah blow the Shofar (ram's horn) and you will welcome him. However Rayzl the screamer could not bear injustice and said to the Sabbath guard: Sir, I cannot greet the Messiah in this dress and I have no other, and this is my Sabbath as it is anyone else's the Sabbath guard replied that the Messiah does not require a pretty dress, only observation of the Sabbath and all the Sabbath guards began to drive everyone from the bazar. The merchants quickly cover their stalls with old sacks, and the bazar remains empty. It is suddenly quiet like a cemetery. Somewhere in a far off corner you could hear a sad voice calling into the night: honey cookies. Perhaps the night and the newly arrived Sabbath would soften the hearts and someone will buy from him
by Borukh Olitsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
By the gate a singer stands
With a mood, like a blue radiant lanterns,
Sounds are hurling mixed with the shine,
While his grey begging hand swings
Like an autumn branch
With ten dead sparrows, -
This is me.
An unemployed man falls onto the sidewalk
A neighbour without a roof, with the leftover luggage from his life
Someone threw a saucepan on the telegraph wire, -
Borukh Olitsky poet was born in Trisk, Volhynia, in 1907. He lived in Warsaw from 1934 until 1938. He was killed in the town of Lakhovitz in 1941. He was one of the Polish Jewish pleiad of poets from the generation of the abyss. His poems display a hyper modernistic influence, as well as a lot of original talent. Ideologically his orientation was radical left.
by Borukh Olitsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
|They come on their own to visit in the evening
To the seven gates of my mood
With dusk and bagel in a basket
They whisper quietly
Without a mouth:
Her own children
Do not want to eat their mother's heart,
We give away the street piece by piece
To the rhythm of orchestras and tramways
I examine my hands
And an astonishing astonishment:
They are not holding a scissors
And are not shearing the wool of lambs,
But my head is bent low
To the dust of the earth,
And my conscience hangs over the city's roofs,
Like a publicity banner,
With spots of sin
What to do with the mothers of Dzike and Pave?
|From the book: My Blood is Mixed. New York, 1951|
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