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[Page 195]

The Medem Sanatorium

by Shloymo Gilinski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Edited by Janie Respitz

The life-story of the Medem Sanatorium in Miedzeszyn, near Warsaw, begins on January 18, 1926 when its doors were officially opened for a group of 14 Jewish children from the Yiddish school system in Warsaw. We had long prepared for this day, its roots can be traced to earlier TSYSHO summer colonies, where counselors often noted the poor health of children from urban working-class families. The day was solemn but it was an eventful occasion for friends, parents and teachers from the Yiddish schools.

The Medem Sanatorium was first founded as a healing sanctuary for children with tuberculosis. The toll after the First World War was great and in all of Poland there was no way to heal these sick Jewish children. This was the biggest worry for their urban working-class parents not to have any treatment for their small children. Teachers, together with community workers, admitted to this worry and determined the need: in this time of need the Jewish child had to abandon his studies and evidently his shortfall would stunt his development.

* * *

Shloyme Gilinski was born in a small town of Lingmian, in Lithuania in 1888. He studied in Khadorim yeshives, gymnasiums and the university. A God blessed pedagogue-his entire life was devoted to his community service. Since 1910 he was in Warsaw, he was deeply devoted on a daily basis to all things involving Yiddish, school programs and organizations. One time a councilman in the Warsaw municipality, another time a representative for the Jewish community in Warsaw, author of Jewish schoolbooks, particularly in mathematics. It became appointed as the crown of Jewish public hygiene in all of Europe, known as the “Medem Sanatorium” and took root in 1926-Gilinski became the supervisor until 1939. The end came with the Nazi invasion, and via Japan Gilinski arrived in New York. Here he was the executive-secretary of General Encyclopedia in Yiddish. He died September 1961. We are presenting an outline of the authentic and first hand accounts of one of the most important institutions of Warsaw.

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The home was not only a study-institute but also a home for the child; a home that fed, clothed, and looked after his body and soul. Bringing the children to the summer camp was difficult. The doctors had to meet strict protocols. The children who needed it the most could not partake.

Many different means were sought to help the children. In 1921 the Medem-Dinezon-Reichman school (at that time the committee for the Yiddish schools) with the help of the “Peoples Relief” and the “Joint” established a camp for children with tuberculosis in Otwock, near Warsaw. Those officials chosen were, Dr. Ana Broida-Heller, Dr. A. Kruk, David Mayer, Abramsohn, Dr. B. Eizenstadt, and S. Gilinski; who became the permanent staff of this institution. Due to insufficient funds this dream didn't realize. In a similar manner another camp of this kind was also abandoned in Michalin. Only at the end of 1922 when our devoted friend of the Yiddish child, Vladamir Medem (already in America at that time) provided several thousand dollars, the TYSHO stepped in to build, in the wooded area Miedeszyn outside Warsaw, a sanatorium for children afflicted by tuberculosis. Due to limited funds again, the work took over 3 years, and only on January 18, 1926, the dream of a healing-clinic for the unfortunate children became a reality. A symbol for outstanding care in the Jewish life of Poland.

The Medem Sanatorium became renowned throughout Poland and Europe, not only as a medical clinic-but for its principles-as a healing-educational institute for children [with educational reforms]. The educational character was based on the TSYSHO school system and summer camp; here it was also broadened to become an institute. The Medem –Sanatorium's organization and leadership was led by a teacher (the writer of these lines), together with the close collaboration with a doctors' committee( Ana Broida-Heller, N. Spielfogel-Lichtenboim, T, Simkovitch, A. Kruk) who instituted a strict medical regime so as not to be known only for its hospital-spirit.

The approach to the child was educational, one could separate the body from the soul. As we heal the body, the soul also need nourishment. Other qualifications and an understanding of the child. The healing-clinic together with our other protocols produced an atmosphere of mutual trust.

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So its popularity grew from day to day. The children arrived here with sad, lifeless eyes and pale faces. In a short-time they began to bloom physically and spiritually. The celebrity of the sanatorium was passed from child to child. From mother to mother, from teacher to teacher. Thousands of Jewish children from cities and villages across Poland dreamed to “sneak” into the Medem Sanatorium., in this “Paradise for Children”. Even healthy children dreamed of the Medem Sanatorium. Children asked the writer of these lines (Shloyme Gilinski):..when will they build a sanatorium for healthy children?

Considering the amount of the children in Poland who needed the medical clinic, the space in the beginning at the sanatorium was limited. From 70 in the beginning, the amount in the last years went to 140 and in the winter months to 350-in the summer months. The children who had the luck to get in often waited months and even up to a year for an opening. The sanatorium began to expand and grow. But due to endless lack of funds the work went slowly. Children remained here from 2 to 6 months, in some cases a year or more. Some children came for a second or third and even a fifth time. Their stay in the sanatorium healed them. The old “Sanatorialists” as we called them, were the backbone of the basic management that would shape their life. And here the children, or better-young adults, later under the Nazis, became the teachers and directors of the sanatorium.

The love for the child became the foundation of life in the Medem-Sanatorium, the love for the child was the supreme pedagogical commandment for every teacher, educator and associate. Doctors, teachers, sanatorium and technical associates, which were endowed by their nature for their devotion, love for the child, where drawn to this institution. Everyone, without exception had one goal: creating conditions, that that child would attain the very best the sanatorium has to offer. The joy and the happiness of the child was the joy and the happiness of the teacher, the doctor and all the personnel. A celebration for the child was the biggest celebration for all the doctors. Every success of an individual was the success for the institution. The love for the child and to his success, was connected to the satisfaction of each and every person. Love was the foundation and the secret for this great creativity, and for all its goals for its pedagogical and cultural foundation.

The self-management program provided the child the best way to grow up

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to become independent, responsible, and social adults.

Ethical concepts stressing humanity, brotherhood, and solidarity were stressed instead of religious practice. which pertain to the livelihood of the children of the sanatorium and some functionaries, all directed by the children. All the children took part in this self-government, only those 8 years and younger did not. The Children's Council elected organizers, representatives, committees, and other things. Library-committee, co-operative, lectures, cultural-committees and others.

Personal responsibility, a collective spirit, a work ethic, and self-discipline were taught in ways tailored to children. Nature and fresh air played an important role. Gardening, tending to animals, and natural history lessons were part of the daily routine; the patients were both observers and active participants. Games, creativity, and artistic talents were fostered in a variety of ways.

In the area of language, together with the teacher, doctor, gardener, the children were encouraged to search for new words and existing words for things they had not seen before arriving at the sanatorium or things that they used in Polish words for… On the wall, biological charts were written in Polish: wandering branches (insects which resembled branches), water-dragonflies, star-fish, octopus, Eidel-weiss, pedergrass,..?. The children made up nicknames for the various sanatorium departments: the correspondents of the daily newspaper “Our Radio”, for example, was called: sharp-ear, pencil-tip,, air-catcher among others. The streets and alleys in the Sanatorium were given the following names: Good appetite Place,(care to be outside), Chatter Corner, Friendship Street, Forgotten Corner, Longing Alley(where children could wait for their parents' visits). They would often organize competitions to choose names for various areas of work.

The Sanatorium demanded full tolerance to different ideologies particularly for the few religious children. After a few days they felt entirely free. When distributing tasks they made sure religious children would not have to work on the Sabbath and not early in the morning when pious boys had to pray. Thanks to this tolerance and freedom the religious children quickly assimilated with the other children.

A fragment from “Teacher-Memorial-Book”, New York, 1952-1954

[Page 204]

The first year of the First World War

by Vladimir Grossman

Translated by Janie Respitz

That which the Poles strongly wished for, that the entire world would become interested in their struggle for national independence and participate tin their aspirations, became reality. The despised Tsarism was forced to capitulate; Russia proclaimed national autonomy for Poland and it became clear that the war would bring Poland full independence. Polish nationalism was ablaze. The Russian military flattered them. The entire Russian press bowed to them and danced around them and they only smiled, barely responding to the flattery. They felt this would not last long, they felt they would become the sovereign rulers of Poland, and rule over the three and a half million Polish Jews…the Russians led a systematic pogrom against the Jews, the Poles merely had to sit back and enjoy. Masses of Jews chased out of all corners of Poland flocked to Warsaw two months after the war broke out. Within two months there were more than eighty thousand refugees in Warsaw. Children were dying like flies and one could no longer find locations to open orphanages.

The streets of Warsaw were flooded with Russian soldiers, patrols and military carts, military columns, with ammunition and produce for

* * *

Vladimir Grossman was born in 1884 in a small town in northern Caucasus. He studied at universities in Berlin, Odessa and St. Petersburg. A journalist and author in Yiddish, Russian, Danish and French. A community worker, particularly for ORT. He lived and was active in communal work in many cities in Europe and America. As a medic for the Red Cross and correspondent for Russian newspapers he spent the first years of the First World War in Warsaw. He was a regular visitor at Peretz's house. Please see the contributions by D. Flinker, Theo Artzishevsko and Sh. Ansky in this anthology about these fateful years in Warsaw. Grossman resides in Switzerland.

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the army, and at the same time, from all the suburbs, there were wagons filled with beds, all kinds of paraphernalia and rags and old people who did not have the strength to walk on their own two feet.

It was hard to recognize Warsaw. The headquarters of a few armies were situated in the magnificent “Bristol Hotel”. A few important leaders, generals and other high-ranking officers, Russian correspondents and important guests also lived in the hotel. Every hour, every minute, important news arrived there from the front. They knew the Germans were gaining strength and the Russian losses were immensely great.

On Gzhibovsky Street, in another part of town the Jewish Communal Council was situated. All the homeless refugees from the provinces flocked there. The large courtyard was stuffed with wagons, overloaded with possessions and the various old objects. In a large hall in the Jewish communal building a committee of well-established men sat trying to save as many people as possible.

On all roads leading to Warsaw there were masses of Jews, often entire communities, caravans, which were chased by the pitiless enemy. There was no one to appeal to. The governments of England and France, Russian allies in the war, perhaps had an idea of the drama that was playing out behind the Russian front, however, they would not yet dare to warn the leaders of the powerful empire. It quickly became clear; the large Russian army was presenting a clay giant and the Germans would capture all of Poland. The pogrom against Polish Jewry continued.

I just mentioned the Jewish Communal Council, and before my eyes a totally separate figure stands out from the sea of people we found there during those dark days, a central personality in Jewish public life in Warsaw: our great poet Y.L. Peretz.

At a window which looked onto the courtyard from his room, where for a dozen years he was employed by the Jewish Communal Council, he stood for hours and silently observed the noise and bustle of the persecuted Jews who had arrived. Words were lacking to describe the sorrow felt while observing such horrible scenes. The large expressive eyes of Peretz mirrored what he was feeling inwardly. The days I came from the front to Warsaw, I visited him in that room and often accompanied him home. It was hard for him to speak. The catastrophe and suffering of innocent people were too great.

Before the war Warsaw became the centre of a quickly developing Yiddish press. “Haynt”, “Moment”, “Lebns Frage” had mass circulations of hundreds of thousand copies. The day

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the war broke out, “Haynt” in which I worked as a correspondent from St. Petersburg, published more than 120 thousand copies. This huge amount of pro Yiddish newspaper work of the day was suddenly cut off and liquidated. The trains were now used to transport troops and they could no longer distribute the newspapers. The Jewish population which had received all of its information from these newspapers remained an isolated lost mass. Instead of news from newspapers they were fed rumours. The wild Russian army spread fear and said factually, the sooner the Germans destroy the beast, the sooner the redemption will come. The Germans played on these Jewish sentiments and German – Jewish propaganda spread among Polish Jews in support of Germany. Hundreds of workers in the Yiddish press were left without work, without means of support and without any hope for a quick end to this terrible situation. To the contrary, it became clear the war would last a long time and the future was filled with surprises for the entire world and Polish Jewry would face difficult times…

* * *

A short time before the World War broke out, Y. L. Peretz began to write for the Warsaw newspaper “Haynt”. These were very short articles in a separate column called “In My Corner”. How could it happen, that in the same newspaper where Dovid Frishman strongly attacked the poet, his articles suddenly appeared? This was not clear to me. However, I was witness to how they took a long manuscript by the poet, erased and cut most of what he wrote and threw it in the waste paper basket. This was done with a certain amount of sadism. They wanted to show that the greatest poet appeared in their paper but he should not think they could not survive without him…

“In My Corner” was the right name to characterize the position of Y.L. Peretz in Yiddish Warsaw in the last years of his life. He distanced himself from the family of writers and the family did not want to and could not tolerate the way he held himself in such high esteem. They were completely torn.

It is without a doubt that Y. L. Peretz suffered from loneliness at a time when the entire community was caught up in a panic and the fire was spreading on all sides. He stood right in the middle of the unfortunate masses. Every day, every hour, he witnessed their suffering, heard their cries and laments. However, in his loneliness he found enough strength to devote to his literary work.

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He spent all his free time at his desk, the same desk where a few months later he took his last breath. His mind was clear and fresh.

I had the privilege of being a regular guest at one of the poet's closest friends, Dr. Mintz, a well – known specialist of stomach diseases and a Hebrew writer.

For me these were unforgettable evenings when Dr. Mintz and his wife would sit around the poet's table and listen to him read from his neat and clean hand-written papers, the newly translated portions of biblical chapters from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Ruth and others. Peretz would rewrite his manuscripts dozens of times, always “cleaning” and improving.

I would bring the news from the front which was received with great interest. However, in Warsaw, I also had a “Front”, the front of the well-known rabbis who came to Warsaw from their cities when the expulsion began. Dr. Mintz took me to the red – bearded rabbi from Radzimin who was his patient and I quickly had the distinct good fortune of being received by the Ger Rebbe himself. The great Hasid of Ger, Reb Yoel Vagmeister, who arranged this audience for me and was present during the conversation took out his watch and solemnly declared: “You were born wearing a silk shirt, the Rebbe spoke to you for 29 minutes…”

However, my meetings with the older rabbis who arrived with the entire population from the small towns were much more interesting. They often arrived on foot having walked a distance of tens of miles. Their devotion to their small congregations and their concerns were truly moving. The rabbis taught their own circles, gathered often and worked out their plans and their work. Sitting at meetings with these rabbis I had to recall Rembrandt's paintings of past rabbis. The Divine Presence rested upon them.

The situation of all these refugees flooding Warsaw was terrible. There were rumours floating that the military headquarters was considering evacuating the entire Jewish population from the capital city. Taking into the account the wildness and brutality of the criminal band which occupied the general headquarters, one could assume they were capable of doing this. The fact was, that such an evacuation was physically impossible to carry out: half a year after the outbreak of the war there was complete chaos behind the front lines. They mobilized so many people and dragged them to the front unable to prepare clothing, shoes or guns for them.

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In the midst of the chaos and panic a children's drama played out among the refugees: Everyone wanted to “save” the children, however everyone wanted to make political deals. There is no other word to use here. The group of religious council members of the Jewish communal council led by Farbshteyn organized strictly Hebrew orphanages. The assimilationists, led by the consul Yeger's wife, founded strictly Polish orphanages. A true pursuit of the souls of Jewish children ensued. There were tens of thousands of homeless Jewish children and anyone who had the desire was able to buy a group of children and make a deal. People were not ashamed, not before God or other people.

This intolerable wanton situation resulted in the most important cultural workers led by Y.L. Peretz finally coming forward with a demand to immediately create a secular school for Jewish children. The first informal meetings took place in Peretz's house. The call to save Jewish children not just from hunger and disease but from our own soul grabbers required authority. This work demanded clean hands and a fair approach to the problem of educating Jewish children, especially during these problematic times. Warsaw did not have a greater spiritual authority than the poet. This call led to great results.

An unfortunate coincidence, the illness and premature death of my sister forced me to suddenly leave Warsaw for a few days. When I arrived in St. Petersburg I received the news that Y.L. Peretz died of a heart attack. Only a few days earlier we walked home together from the Jewish community centre, past the Warsaw – Vienna train station to Y. L. Peretz's house, on Jerusalem Alley. Masses of Jews were emerging from the train station. They had just arrived from a far off evacuated Jewish town. It was a scene of deep lamentation. Jews, loaded with baskets and packs, women, children and the elderly. Peretz stood there as if he received a shock to his foot. He could not move. A few minutes later he resumed walking, but his heart could no longer take it…

From the book: The Past and Today; Paris 1955.

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Moishe Kerner

by Yitzkhak Grinboym

Translated by Janie Respitz

The first years of the 20th century are etched in my mind as the most beautiful years in Poland, which was at the time part of Russia. These were pure springtime years. Perhaps it seems this way to me because these were the years of my youth as well as the youthful years of the Jewish national and socialist movements. Zionism was just making its first conquests. Jewish socialism, was just beginning to send working masses into the streets teaching them about the revolutionary struggle.

At the time we were a small group of students from the university and Polytechnic Institute in Warsaw, filled with life and energy. With expectations and unending suspense, we would walk through the streets of the city looking for signs of tomorrow, the wonders that would occur, the wonders for which we fought, demanded and dreamed. A few of our members died young, a few, even before the first Russian Revolution and the First World War. They did not see the bloody deluge. Others died during the war. They died filled with hope that he world would emerge from the war rebuilt, better and more just, and the Jewish people would

* * *

Yitzkhak Grinboym – one of the leaders of Polish Jewry, was born in Warsaw in 1879, studied law but devoted his life to Zionist politics. Until 1933, when he settled in the Land of Israel, besides Warsaw he also lived for a year or two in Vilna, Paris, St. Petersburg, He served for many years as a deputy on the Polish Sejm. A dynamic personality, an individualist, a militant speaker, a writer in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and Russian. Author of numerous books in Hebrew and Yiddish. A regular contributor to “Letste Nayes” and “El Hamishmar” in Tel Aviv. Editor of a volume about Warsaw for the “Encyclopedia of the Diaspora”. From Grinboym's book “My Generation”, eighty essays about great personalities, many for Warsaw, we took this essay about Moishe Kerner, one of the most popular, constructive and beloved leaders of Zionism in Warsaw.

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have the honour to help bring about these ideals. Those who left us were Jan Kirshrat, Noyakh Davidson, Nokhem Syrkin. They were among the first to lead the movement and show the way. Those who remained alive did not stop their journey toward struggle and renewal, did not notice all the disappointments, destroyed illusions in the rivers of blood and suffering of the Jewish masses even before the war. The were not ashamed of their youth and they did not remain disloyal to the pure and idealistic feeling which illuminated those early spring years.

* * *

Moishe Kerner was one of the older students in our group which raised the flag for national independence and began energetic Zionist activity.

Kerner was a man with a calm temperament, neither loud nor bubbly, neither searching nor digging. He did not try to escape his surroundings nor his regular lifestyle. He succeeded in combining his private and professional life with his Zionist activity. He was more of an architect and manager than a fighter or leader. Being an engineer by profession, a person of deed and practicality he was also carried away by great aspirations but was able to leave the noise, go into his corner and quietly do his daily work. At that time his friends knew that somewhere in a factory in Biala-Podlosk or Lida near Vilna, Kerner, one of them, sat, and from afar lived with their struggles.

These were important times. The years after Herzl's death and the failure of the Russian revolution, the high waves of the Jewish and non-Jewish movements fell low and deep, everyone ended up retreating to the private life of their own world. Everyone who remained in his position did everything to prevent the fire from extinguishing and tried to ensure that things would flicker once again at the first opportunity.

* * *

The First World War scattered our group. A few remained in Poland, some were forced to go to Russia to earn a living. Kerner belonged to the latter. In Russia he felt he was in exile. He did not participate in any work. He returned to Poland on the first repatriation train where his wife and two children had remained.

A large working field opened for him in independent Poland. It turned out the war years were not lost. We acquired the confidence of the other Zionist groups which were leading Jewish society. Many of our dreams

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which we had discussed for hours became reality. We had to show how far we were prepared to go to realize our theories and dreams in this given reality. This was the role that Kerner, together with the rest of us, accomplished on the Warsaw City Council and later at City Hall and the Polish senate.

His ability to comprehend every matter from the constructive side was manifested in his respectability. His prestige grew not only among his own but also among strangers and opponents. Kerner always distinguished himself with fairness and honest intentions. He had no flair for political “games”, and did not possess any talent for political schemes or intrigue. He was always afraid and made sure his reputation would not be blemished.

When Kerner turned 60, difficult times arrived for Jews in Poland, for Zionism and for himself. He could not find his place among the leaders, who perhaps their only quality was talent for mediation and maneuvering in order to remain where they were. During that period, Kerner stood aside.

In liberated Poland Kerner carried out various assignments where he displayed talent, diligence and devotion.

Even the enemies of the Jews, the Polish National Democrats (Endeks), treated him with respect. He soon occupied an important place in the Polish senate. He kept a watchful eye defending Jewish interests.

In Jewish communal work, he devoted himself to actual construction. He built the Jewish Academic House, the Central Library which also served as an educational centre and the Institute of Jewish Research.

Both buildings are still standing today however the library was given to the Jews. It is now the Institute for Study the Extermination of the Jews as well as The Centre for the Study of the History of the Jews of Poland.

Kerner had good luck. He left Poland in the first months of the Second World War and emigrated to the Land of Israel.

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Berek Yoselevitch and his Jewish Regiment

By Shimon Dubnov

Translated by Janie Respitz

Poland was on its deathbed. The conservative opponents of the May Constitution unified with the Russian government which blocked the road to liberalism. It became the Targowica Confederation, it sparked a civil war (summer 1792). Jews were in general far removed from politics, yet they sided with those fighting for a new constitution in Poland. The May Constitution really did not offer anything to the Jews, but many progressive Jews sympathized with it and placed a lot of hope that this may result in their emancipation. On the first anniversary of the adoption of the constitution, May 3rd 1792, special prayers of celebration were said in schools in Warsaw and a few provincial towns. In Warsaw a hymn emerged in four languages (Hebrew, Polish, German and French) in honour of the King Stanislav August, as the defender of freedom and the protector of the oppressed. Praising the “smart and good” king, the “deputies of the Jewish community in Warsaw” expressed hope that he was also concerned about the “House of Jacob” and improving “the sad fate of those who, in this dark century.

* * *

Professor Shimon Dubnov, one of the greatest Jewish historians of all time, was born in Mstilav, White Russian in 1860. He is the author of the large ten volume “World History of the Jewish People”. He wrote it in Russian and it was translated into many languages. The Yiddish translation was done by: Y.Rappaport, L. Hodes, Z. Kalmanovitch, N. Shtiff, Yudl Mark, Kh. Sh. Kazdan. Dubnov lived over the course of time in Odessa, Vilna, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Kovno and Riga. He came to Warsaw occasionally to visit his daughter Sofia Dubnov Erlich and his son in law Henrik Erlich. Historical facts about the Jews of Warsaw were published in Dubnov's World History of the Jewish People. It is from there that we took this fragment for our anthology, (translated by Nokhem Shtiff and Yudl Mark). Shimon Dubnov was shot by the Nazis in Riga on December 1st 1941. He was buried in a mass grave with dozens of martyrs the day after he was murdered.

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were trampled on with feet, completely forgotten they were human beings.”

It is possible that the “deputies” who organized the patriotic demonstrations were from the same group that organized negotiations with the king for him to influence the Sejm and draw from them favourable answers to the Jewish question.

An appeal came from this same group for patriotic gifts for the Polish Army. Jewish tailors in Vilna began to sew hundreds of uniforms for the Freedom Army at no charge. The Jewish communities of Sochotchev and Pulov donated money toward patriotic goals. Jews from Berditchev accompanied the delegation of local merchants that welcomed the leader of the Polish Army Yuzef Poniatovsky and lent instruments to the regiment's orchestra. Jewish communities in Volhynia and Podolia suffered greatly from the military operations. The Jewish community of Ostro survived the bombardment of the city by the Russian Army (July 1792). However, the country was not rescued. In 1793 a second partition of Poland took place dividing the land between Russia and Prussia. Russia captured Volhynia and a portion of the Kiev region, Podolia and Minsk province. Prussia captured the rest of Greater Poland (Kalisch and Plotsk) as well as Danzig and Torn. Once again, a large portion of the land that was captured was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Jews. The insulted Polish nation felt great pain from this new rip. This ignited the revolution of 1794.

Kostyushko, the leader of the uprising, who had been influenced by two large revolutions, the American and the French, had many higher ideals about political and civil freedom than the Polish nobility which had fought for freedom. He understood, there could not be a free kingdom, when peasants are enslaved by the bourgeois without equal rights. The leader's democratic aspirations at times flared in the fire of the fight to free the Fatherland. The oppressed classes felt that something more was happening than a bourgeois revolution. They felt the War of Liberation would result in personal civil freedom.

The excitement concerning freedom also captured a portion of the Jews. This was displayed when Warsaw, for a short time, (summer and autumn 1794) was besieged by the Russian – Prussian Army and the entire population was called upon to defend the capital. The same Jews who previously had been attacked in the streets and were chased out of Warsaw by the administration were now standing guard as equals beside their former tormentors. Together they dug trenches and ditches to protect the city. Often these volunteers would arrive at the first sign of unrest with weapons in hand to offer resistance against the siege. Under fire of bullets and

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grenades they would oppose the enemy together with all people of Warsaw who were killed or wounded. Among the Jews of Warsaw who defended the town the thought emerged to create a separate Jewish legion to defend the Fatherland. The leader of this group of patriots was Berek Yoselevitch.

Berek Yoselevitch was born around 1765 in the town Kretinge in the Zamet region. He lived a very difficult life as all boys of his time: first the Heder and then went to work as a jobber for the landowner. He landed a job with Masalsky, the Bishop of Vilna and this is where his unusual career began. Masalsky would often travel abroad, mainly to Paris, always taking his loyal jobber. Berek learned French and had the opportunity to observe the salons of Paris which his boss would frequent from the sidelines. Here he observed a completely different world. He felt the new ideas that were emerging in this cosmopolitan city on the eve of the revolution. At the time of the four-year Sejm, Berek, who was already a family man, left his position with Masalsky and lived in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw. There, in the atmosphere of patriotic excitement, the political influences Berek acquired when observing the nobility while visiting foreign countries ripened.

The appearance of the hero Kostyushko and the siege of Warsaw embodied Berek's foggy political thoughts into a concrete idea: One must fight to free Poland, save the capital where the enemy caused grief for Jews as well as Christians; we must show them that the Fatherland's step-children could also fight alongside its sons and they too deserve better conditions. In September 1794, while defending Warsaw, Berek Yoselevitch made a request to the head commander Kostyushko, asking for permission to create a separate light cavalry division comprised of Jewish volunteers. Kostyushko gladly agreed and announced it in a special order on September 17th. In this order he praised the patriotic passion of the volunteers who remembered the country from the period they were born and understood they would also benefit from Poland's freedom along with everyone else. Berek was made commander of the Jewish regiment. He began to recruit volunteers and collect money for weapons.

On October 1st, in the Warsaw “Government's Newspaper”, Berek's appeal to Jews was published in Polish, but in an old Hebrew style: “Listen children of the People of Israel, you who have the great God in your hearts, you, who want to help protect the Fatherland!...You should know the time has come to serve with all your might… Many landowners, nobility, children and adults are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the Fatherland.

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Why shouldn't we, the persecuted not take up arms when we are tormented more that everyone else in the world?...Why should we not pick up a slingshot and reach out for freedom which was promised to us as strongly and as honestly as to everyone else?...But first we must earn our freedom… My luck is that I was chosen to be a colonel. Wake up and free the afflicted country Poland! Dear brothers, let us go to war for the Fatherland until our last drop of blood! If we do not survive to see liberation, at least our children will live freely and calmly, and not wander like wild animals. Awaken like lions and leopards!...”

Berek's language is very naïve, his political ideas as well. He calls on Jews to shed blood for freedom alongside “the great nobility” and forgets that the nobleman's freedom does not yet mean Jewish freedom as very few noblemen were as humanistic as Kostyushko. He lived at a time when Western Jews strove to show they were loyal citizens. Apparently, Jewish personalities swept through his mind who in 1789 served in the Paris National Guard…Berek's enthusiasm brought him many volunteers. Within a short time, there was a regiment of 500 men. The Jewish military division, quickly armed with scant means from the revolutionary government's treasury and donations. It quickly looked like the People's Militia, however the feelings of duty were firm, even though they were holding guns for the very first time. The Jewish regiment displayed its talent for sacrifice on that unfortunate day, the fourth of November, when Svuoros' army stormed Praga. Among the 15 thousand Poles killed on the walls of Praga, on the streets of Warsaw and in the waves of the Vistula, was the Jewish regiment. The majority were killed on the fortresses by bullets and spears. Berek succeed in escaping abroad with other leaders of the Polish army. After a number of adventures in Austrian- Galicia (Berek Yoselevitch suggested the Austrian government organize a Jewish division to fight the French), Berek ended up in Italy and entered the ranks of the Polish – French Legionnaires under Napoleon's flag.

The day after the battle in the suburb of Praga, when negotiations were taking place about handing over the city to Svuoros, the battlefield was still covered with corpses, fallen Jewish soldiers and wounded Jews who they had not yet managed to help. A rich Jew from Praga, Shmuel Zbitkover, a supplier for the Russian army, placed two casks in his courtyard: one cask was filled with gold ducats and the second with silver rubles. He announced that anyone who brings a wounded Jew will receive a gold ducat and anyone who brings a corpse for burial will receive a silver ruble. They quickly gathered

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all the wounded and buried the dead. However, the patriotism which Jews displayed and sacrifices they made did not impact the embittered Jew haters. Warsaw City Hall asked the leader of the Russian Occupation Army Buxhevdn to remove the Jews from the capital on the basis of the old privilege of the cities. Buxhevdn rejected this bizarre demand. At first, he established a separate tax for Jews for the right to reside in Warsaw, but then he allowed everyone who had lived there before the war to live there freely.

From: The World History of the Jewish People, Volume 8.
Buenos Aires – New York, 1954.

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A Letter to S. Ansky

by Yakov Dinezon

Translated by Janie Respitz

Warsaw, April 26th, 1915

My dear beloved and after our soulful Peretz, my one and only friend S. Anski!

I had no words to describe my pain and sorrow. I still have none. However, what more can words say? Ones emotions speak louder than words.

I am ashamed before you, as for everyone who knows as well as you do, how tightly I was attached to him. I am ashamed that I am still alive while he, who was the source of my life for twenty-eight years, is no longer alive and no longer animates my spirit and soul as he had previously done when he was alive.

But my life would actually be a disgrace if I would be as bad as the others and believe as they do that our, and especially my Peretz, really died!

I cannot begin to believe this. All the obvious signs that continue to remind me of his death are too weak to convince my heart of the reality of the interminable tragedy!

Yakov Dinezon, one of the best known and popular sentimental Yiddish folk – novelists was born in Nay -Zager near Kovno in 1856. Already the author of a novel “The Black Young Man”, which was published in 1877 in tens of thousands of copies, he arrived in Warsaw in 1885. He became Y.L Peretz's closest friend, truly a matter of life and death. In later years S. Ansky joined this friendship. Although he lived in Warsaw for more than thirty years, the Warsaw Jewish folk and landscape are rarely found in Dinezon's work. By the way, he wrote very little in the last fifteen years of his life, dedicating all of his talent, energy and time to Peretz. He died in August 1919. He is buried with Peretz and Ansky in “Ohel Peretz”. Dinezon's letter which is presented here is a document of the most noble Yiddish literary friendship.

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My heart, which was filled with love and devotion and so much emotion which pulsated for him, still feels he is alive and longs for him as if he were alive…especially when I stand beside his grave, he stands alive beside me and reads the small temporary inscription on the wooden board: “Here lies Yitzkhak Leybush Peretz, of blessed memory, who died on the 19th day of Nissan, in the year 5675, may his soul be bound up in bond of everlasting life.” As a warm tear rolls from my eye he notices immediately and with his encouraging smile laughs at me as I have the nature of a woman to cry.

“Nu, why are you crying?” he asks. “What do these few words on the wooden tombstone say to you? Silly man, the one who wrote this knows about life and death as does a corpse! For him perhaps, Yitzkhak Leybush Peretz has died, but for you he is still alive. Here I am standing beside you! Do you not feel me? Or can you, or do you want to forget me as one forgets the deceased?”

And as I shudder hearing the word “forget”, I seems to me I hear him comfort me: “Do not be angry, my beloved Reb Yakov, you do not want to, nor can you forget me for even one moment of your life. I know this and I have never doubted it”.

And as I hear his sweet words with a voice from my own heart, I feel comforted and I leave his grave with this promise: I will return tomorrow. This was the same promise I made to him each time we parted over the past twenty-eight years.

My dear Ansky! It is not at the Jewish cemetery at his grave with the temporary wooden tombstone where it is written “here lies Yitzkhak Leybush Peretz” that I feel lonely and orphaned, but at 89 Jerusalem Street, where I still go every day, as was my habit for many years. This is where my heart mourns and grieves, this is where the Divine Presence is missing which always lit up all four corners. This is where, from the large illuminated Peretz, all that has remained is a dark sad cloud, a devastation… this is where I feel what I lost so suddenly. With each day the sadness of my soul becomes heavier and sadder. Only a few days ago his study was complete and tidy. Now and incidental neighbour is living there paying a few rubles rent. On Peretz's chair beside his desk, the alter of art and divine service for his people and his literature sits a Christian student, sometimes with a cockade, whistling an insolent melody, an echo from a certain café – song…

Observing all of this, my heart dies from pain and animosity and I cannot bear the sacrilege…

Peretz has a son, an heir, but nothing more than an heir who has the rights

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for everything that belonged to his great father, which he, the heir did not want to understand or get to know, not in his lifetime and even less after he died…

And this my dear friend, what I am witnessing is the most painful, bitter and sad. I am writing to you personally, only to you, and I want to ask you, is it not possible, as often occurs, to bring Peretz's study with all his belongings which were dear to him to a Jewish museum in perhaps St. Petersburg or Vilna? I would like to see Peretz's study, where he created such beautiful and priceless treasures for the Jewish people, so dear and honoured in the works of Yiddish literature, to remain the people's property, a folk relic.

I ask you to think about this seriously and if you would like to provide me with at least a bit of comfort, help me to realize this passionate wish of mine.

I can not write anything more to you now, but you should know I have written to you more than to others. You must however, firstly, let me know if you have been receiving my letters and explain to me, secondly, your true reason for not writing me a single word this whole time, even though you know I long for your words of consolation now, especially now, your words are important for my soul. Give me your hand, dear friend, and let me squeeze it as my warm tears flow.

I am feeling so very lonely now, thinking, perhaps, you are no longer who you were before we lost him. May God forgive your silence.

With heartfelt kisses,
Y. Dinezon

From the book: Yosele, the Crisis, Buenos Aires, 1959

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The First Time at the Theatre…

by B. Demblin

Translated by Janie Respitz

Every Saturday after lunch, uncle Shmuel's shop was filled with young people, male and female friends of aunt Golda's two younger brothers, Aron and Shmulik, and sister Blima. The all gathered here to have fun, sing songs and dance.

Shmulik, the younger of aunt Golda's two brothers, was a bachelor not yet twenty, thin, gaunt, with blackish -yellowish bags under his eyes like an old man. Although a simple shoemaker, he dressed elegantly in lacquered shoes, and a silk hanky in the breast pocket of his well fitted suit. He was one of the best in Warsaw's dance halls and on Saturday afternoons, he led the dancing in uncle Shmuel's shop, waving his silk hanky:

“One and two!” and the rows of couples, carried away, happily followed him in a Hungarian Czardas, or Patisban, with complicated moves.

Between dances the young women would powder their noses and fan their red sweaty faces with large feather fans, painted like spread out peacock tails. The cavaliers were without jackets, and rolled up sleeves.

B. Demblin, a pseudonym of Yosef Binyomin Teitlboym, was born in 1897 in Modzhitz -Demblin. In his early years he worked as a hat maker in Rodem, and later, from 1913 until 1919, lived in Warsaw. In 1921, after one year in Paris, he came to America. He wrote short stories and novels and was the author of many prose collections. He received the Louis Lamed Prize in 1954 for his novel “The Eve of Night”. He was knowledgeable and authentically creative in the language of the Warsaw proletarian poverty. “The First Time at the Theatre” is the 23rd chapter of the second volume of his autobiographical novel “The Eve of Night”, published under the name “On One's Own”. It is an artistic picture of everyday life of the densely populated Jewish Warsaw from Smotche Street, just a few years before the outbreak of the First World War.

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Although they were also sweaty, they fussed over their dance partners with cold drinks: a glass of soda water with raspberry juice, a glass of frothy beer, just drawn from a wooden barrel. In the evening, especially in winter, just as the lights were turned on, hot sausages with mustard were sent from the Jewish Smotche street, as well as cold cuts and pickles and brown bread. They would sit around a long table, close together, warming each other's hearts, while playing dominos, checkers or card games.

Today however, Saturday after lunch, when the two brothers arrived at the summery open doors of uncle Shmuel's shop, no one was dancing. The male suitors, were dressed in light suits with yellow squeaky shoes on their feet and hard straw hats, flat, like upside-down plates on their heads, and the girls were gaudily dressed in rustling taffeta dresses, or mohair, fitted around their high bosoms, tight around their fat waists and long, reaching above their high heels. They were all ready to depart, but while waiting, the girls were combing their hair, twisting it like a pretzel into a bun, tipping their straw hats a bit to the right. All the hats had wide brims piled high with a bunch of decorative flowers, cherries and sour cherries, and from every brim hung a ribbon, red, green or blue, which gave a certain slyness, even appeal to their dropped eyes and so gently eclipsed the red, sweaty, chubby faces of these girls.

Instead of dancing, today, these young people were going to see “Dos Pintele Yid” (“The Essence of the Jew”). They gathered here in order take the aunt and uncle with them. They were treating them to the theatre tickets in appreciation for providing a meeting place for all to gather on Saturdays to have fun, dance and sing songs.

The aunt and uncle, he was approaching forty and she was two or three years younger, were the parents of six children. The eldest Temele was already engaged to be married at age 15. They would dance and enjoy themselves with the young folks as if they were the same age, and now they were both busy getting ready to go to the theatre. She, the aunt, stood in front of the mirror, still in her petticoat, her bare arms lifted fixing her hair, blond, soft hair into a bun in the middle of her head. The uncle, among the noisy youngsters in the middle of the room, blindly, without looking in the mirror, leaned on the back of the chair, buttoning his shirt with the tight stiff collar with two bent points under his clean-shaven chin.

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When the boys appeared on the stoop of the open door, both the uncle and aunt felt embarrassed, in a dilemma. What should they do now? Go out and leave the boys when even Temele was going to the theatre? How would this look?

“Good Sabbath” greeted the uncle. “So, how's it going?”

“Very well” replied Avrom Yankl proudly. Why should he spell out his problems? Why would this concern the uncle? The uncle had already made it clear that he, Avrom Yankl was lawless!

“And you?” asked the uncle turning to Nosn Khaiml.

“Me?' the young nephew responded with a question shrugging his shoulders, “How should I be?”

Then the aunt arrived. She was carrying Sabbath refreshments for her guests. Two glasses of soda water with raspberry juice.

“Thank you” said Avrom Yankl, “I'm not thirsty. Nosn Khaiml also thanked her:

“What did he need soda water for?”

The aunt understood the formalities and shoved the glasses of water into their hands:

“First drink, then thank me”.

The two brothers, Aron and Shmulik apparently noticed the dilemma of their sister and brother in law concerning the two unjust guests. They winked at each other, whispered and then Aron turned to Avrom Yankl:

“Have you been to the theatre before?”

“Who me?” he asked back. “Not yet”.

“And you?” Aron asked Nosn Khaim.

“Today we are going to the theatre”.

The two brothers exchanged glances. Something was so unjust. They were confused, not because they did not want to go to the theatre. To the contrary, they were both dying to see what the theatre was all about, to see what went on there, and how people for months after sing and repeat what they saw. But it is not acceptable to be considered a mooch and say yes right away, especially, since standing right in front of them were Yerme Dovid's sons who observed the Sabbath causing Nosn Khaim to hesitate about desecrating the Sabbath. However, they did not have the strength to totally refuse to go.

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The desire to go was too strong. They simply and foolishly asked:

“Go to the theatre? What for? What does one see there?”

“You'll see that later” the uncle interrupted, happy his brothers in law solved his dilemma.

Ordinarily the youngsters, even with uncle Shmuel, would leave the Okapwa district from Leshne Street and take a tramway on Muranov to Voyna Place where Kompanietz's Theatre was located. However, now that aunt Golda was with them, the group which numbered ten or eleven couples began to walk over to Zhelne Street. Couple by couple walked arm in arm with parasols open over their heads providing a bit of shade from the hot shining sun.

Behind the youngsters, uncle Shmuel walked in a black jacket, short, above the knee, and a yellowed Panama hat. Aunt Golda held on to his right arm wearing a black Turkish shawl over the bun in her hair, over her white blouse. On his left arm, his daughter Temele, a fifteen-year-old young lady with black eyes and black braids hanging over her white dress and a straw hat with a wide brim on her head. The two brothers followed slowly behind them:

“See the girls?” whispered Avrom Yankl in his brother's ear and with a wink showed him the rows in front of them.

“See them? Talk to them. They are all seamstresses, underwear sewers, hat decorators, in truth they are all cooks, each and every one!”

“Why do they lie?” asked Nosn Khaim quietly and innocently.

“You are a foo! They all like to boast, to make an impression”.

Nosn Khaim happily listened to his brother's gossip, even asking the intentions, but his thoughts were not there at all. He was thinking how aunt Golda brought him refreshments and invited him and Avrom Yankl to the theatre. This is what he was struggling with. That his brother, while they were still at home, was stirring up in him anger toward uncle Shmuel and mainly aunt Golda, for not being kind to him, Avrom Yankl, a real nephew and not offering a place to sleep, or a meal before he found a place to work.

That uncle Shmuel was not a rich man, Nosn Khaim figured out last Sunday on his way over. A wealthy man does live so far from the city, so close to the Gensher cemetery. He, Nosn Khaim, would not live there if you payed him! Near the dead? And besides that, in an old wooden hut, with a shingled roof covered with green moss. This is Warsaw? How can he, Avrom Yankl, even compare

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Aunt Golda's shop/house with Shayndele's house in Rodem? That one, may it not be disturbed, is bathed in luxury, with a lovely apartment. This one has one room for her and six children! How can they have another bed for a guest? The same goes for entertaining. How can aunt Golda invite anyone to her table, since uncle Shmuel sews patches with his own ten fingers on old shoes. Uncle Shmuel has eight mouths to feed, may he be spared the evil eye!

Avrom Yankl walked beside his brother, listened to his complaints with an innocent look, as if he were ready to set him straight. As soon as Nosn Khaim fell silent he hurled himself at him:

“Is that so? They can't? how can our father do it when uncle Shmuel comes to Modzhitz, even with our aunt, and sometimes a child, and mother takes care of them like the king. The same goes for entertaining. Father is less well off than our uncle, and he manages to serve refreshments, offers a bottle of brandy while mother slices herring with onions and vinegar as an appetizer before the meal. And then the main meal! And what's wrong with our uncle's home? Avrom Yankl was now really angry. It's a room like a field, with a window and a door which leads outside. In the summer they place chairs outside where they sit in the evening to get some fresh air. And they are right near the cemetery. Every Jew should be so lucky as to live near such a large cemetery with such deep grass and trees for shade. Wait, wait, he said, as if threatening his brother. I didn't want to take you to show you where I sleep. Today, after the theatre I will show you my boss's dwelling, also a couple with six children. One corner of our uncle's house is larger than my boss's entire shop. Imagine, this small shop is divided in two halves and the back half is again divided by height. They built a floor in the middle and made a first level which you can reach with a ladder. It is so low that even the forewoman, a tiny woman, cannot stand up straight without banging her head on the ceiling. This is the bedroom. There are two beds for the couple and a cradle for the child, a nine-month-old girl and a wardrobe for clothes. A bigger girl who is three years old sleeps in the bed with her father and the eldest who is five, sleeps with her mother. Below, under the built-up floor, there is a hanging blanket as a curtain, where the customers come to have their shoes repaired, but they can't see beyond the curtain. In that dark hole, lit by kerosene lamp blackened with smoke, is the entire dwelling. This is where the kitchen is, the “dining room”, and a room to receive guests, to have a conversation. The small space in front is the entire shop. This is where the shoemaker's workshop is. At night,

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Avrom Yankl goes to sleep on the asphalt floor, among the old shoes and junk, on a wide bed of old rags for him and the boss's three older boys ages seven, nine and eleven.

Well, Avrom Yankl did not want to talk about the fodder at his boss's house anymore. At Berele Yoske's in Rodem he received nothing on his plate. Here he doesn't get much more. But he does speak about sleeping here, especially now, around Shavuot, in the spring, when the hot weather is beginning. How can he, Nosn Khaiml, compare such a hole, as his boss's shop, to uncle Shmuel's spacious dwelling? At his boss's there is no window, and at night, before lying down, you have to close the door and pull down the blinds close the steel door, and everyone remains without a drop of air!

* * *

The row of couples, all under parasols, apparently walked quickly, because before they looked to the right, the two brothers had turned on Nalevke, were soon at Muranov and were already at Voyne Place, near Kompamiyetxe's Theatre.

The theatre, a wooden structure, a shed for firefighters, stood in the middle of a field, sandy, without a single shrub, no sign of a tree, surrounded by a wooden fence, like a closed courtyard.

On Saturdays, summer and winter, they performed hits, successes. Long before the daytime performance, the fenced area was filled with theatre fans, coachmen and water carriers from Stavke and Nizke, pimps with their “brides” from the new Karmelitza and Ostrovska, thieves and dealers in stolen goods from Dzhike and Mila, apprentices and seamstresses from Genshe and Paveh, from Zhelne and Novolipka. The all walked around for hours before the show arm in arm with their wives and lovers around the long fenced in field which was bare and dusty. The younger ones who were impatient, showed their boldness and showed off in front of their girl friends, pushing each other, a free for all, a mob, and perhaps a colleague would be able to carry out some work and pick a pocket of some sucker there.

Between acts the audience would go out to cool off and once again, walk around the fenced in field. Women fanned themselves with wide open feather fans and the men fussed over them, treating them to a glass of cold lemonade, a yellowish drink with little pieces of lemon and orange-peel swimming around, poured from a barrel with brass, shiny rims, carried on the shoulders a short person wearing white, with the faucet near his right hand and a basket of glasses hanging from a leather strap around his neck. He poured the drink into the glasses and never stopped shouting:

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“Cold and good! Cold and Good!”

While refreshing themselves with a cold drink many of the fans were already repeating songs they just heard and tried to imitate the comedians and began to critique:

“Oy, did he ever perform well, that bastard. What's his name? Wiener?”

“And what's the matter with the soubrette? What a dame!”

“If she were only mine!”

“Hey you, shut your dirty mouth” shouted one fan who suddenly became modest.

“And if I don't?”

“I'll shut it for you!”

These two fans, both with black, shiny greased mustaches, turned around like question marks ready to fight, but suddenly the bell on the barn doors rang and someone and called out:

“Act two!”

The two brothers, Nosn Khaim and Avrom Yankl did not allow themselves to go out between acts. They sat on the balcony rivetted to their chairs, intoxicated, carried away, as if in another world. Youngsters around them shouted out to the stage. When a man in love took his lover in his arms, a young guy from the balcony shouted:

“Hey there! Not so strong, you'll crush her!”

Then someone shouted in the darkness:

“Hey you roasted smart ass, close your big mouth”!

Nosn Khaim sat bewildered in the midst of this noise, stretched out, as if he was preparing to fly over the sea of people, headed toward the darkness, to the stage. He constantly watched as some of the people laughed, then someone started to cry, and then they were kissing and someone began to sing in the midst of talking:

“It is precious to be a Jew, it is good to be a Jew!”

He gazed with his mouth open wanting to know what was going on. How could Jews with beards, silk caps on their heads, and slippers and white socks on their feet, get tangled up with sluts, with low cut dresses, bare arms and shameless, while carrying holy books, and both the women and the men in the socks, hop and dance around, and the women kiss the men! What is this, a brothel? How could men in silk slippers carrying bibles come to this place? Is it still a holy place? And where did all these wild, half naked sluts come from?

“What's going on here?” he mumbled more to himself than to his brother

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who was sitting to his right. “Today is not Simchat – Torah. Why are they dancing around in circles with the Torah? And what are so many provocative women doing here?”

“Silly boy” whispered Avrom Yankl quietly in his ear. “These are not really Torah scrolls. It is just pretend.”

Nosn Khaim became furious. Earlier, you told me the girls that came to uncle Shmuel's, were Just pretending. Now, we shouldn't compare, but you say the Torah scrolls are just pretend. He jumped out of his chair with anger:

“Is everything in Warsaw just make believe?”. He wanted to run away from the theatre.

“Sit down!” someone behind him shouted and he soon felt that person's hand on his neck, a large hand, like a paw, which pushed him down in his chair with such force, that long after the act was over and the lights came on, he was still afraid to stand, as if paralyzed be fear.

A chapter from the novel “On One's Own”, New York, 1961.

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The Marketplace

By Yekhiel Hofer

Translated by Janie Respitz

The Muranov was short and wide, like a bridge between Muranov Place, where the market was and a large piece of “living place”, where previously there had been a park and now the wooden building of Kompanietse's Theatre stood there.

Muranov Place was surrounded by high, solid, brick houses, and looked more like a large estate than a plaza with open streets. It was quadrangular and flat like a platter. It was paved with steel grey stones. The plaza was densely filled with blue huts, like the old wells in the former small Jewish towns. Jewish women and girls stood in these huts and sold a variety of good: foods, sewing notions, fashion, iron pots, dishes and glassware.

Summer days were the most joyful at the marketplace. The young girls in the huts, with swift movements and playful eyes, spread out the coloured fabrics which blinded the eyes of the Christian servant girls, non-Jewish girls from the villages who worked in Jewish homes in The Muranov neighbourhood. The girls would wrap the colourful seersucker and cambric, even when no one was buying them. It would appear they were not even doing business however they would satisfy customers with the variety of colours of their fabrics.

The silk ribbons caught their eyes to make rosettes in their hair and make waistbands for their dresses.

Yekhiel Hofer was born in 1906 in Warsaw. He was a poet, story teller, novelist, memoirist and essayist. He spent the years of the Holocaust in Russia. In 1948 he went to Paris. He has been living in Israel since 1951. He is a medical doctor but only works on his writing. He is the author of five books, around 1,500 pages, broadly occupied by Jewish Warsaw, the people, streets, markets, episodes, with deep observations and thorough descriptions. We have brought fragments of these writings. Actually, Hofer's works are a unique anthology of past Jewish life in Warsaw.

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The various silk mohair shimmered and played a concealed role with their colours.

In winter, Thursday evenings is when the plaza swarmed with people. The blue huts were covered and surrounding by white snow furs. The women, dressed in cotton jackets or lambskin coats, with heads wrapped in wool kerchiefs stood by fire pots. The young girls stood with faces reddened from the cold and loudly clapped their thin long hands just like storks flapping their wings when they prepare to fly away.

Winter evenings, the covered wagons were lit up with lanterns in which tallow candles were lit. This bit of poor, red light, carried in its gentle slenderness, thick, wide, vaulted shadows, like a heavy load. Everything now was thick and heavy. The light, colourful fabrics were replaced by thick flannel, cotton wool, and dark, large shawls. Black iron pots and milk pails were shoved in a corner with light blue dishes. In place of fresh vegetables there was herring.

The young girls, the vendors, were just as joyful in winter as in summer. Although they also wore fur pelts embroidered with colourful thread, lilac boots and wool gloves, they were light and agile. Actually, at this time, they took strange pleasure in the inner warmth of their hot blood, of young life, which trickled through their fresh skin. They dragged the large thick pieces of flannel with the same lightness as the thin cambric. There was mischievous laughter in their eyes when they praised the older women for the pleasurable warm fabrics they bought for winter underwear.

* * *

On Thursday evenings in the winter women stood around the walls of the brick houses with baskets of dead frozen fish. The baskets leaned against the walls padded with straw, hemmed with snow and covered with ice. They attached a lit candle to the flat cheek bone of a large fish which lit up the whole basket. The light repelled the glazed eyes of the fish and lit up the bloody, gentle, small triangular heads, silver stomachs and dark backs of the giant pikes and bream brought from the depths of Russia.

High above the marketplace hovered a dark blue sky with a silvery moon; at foot, a deep, white, downy snow, and in between, the barely lit blue huts with thick shadows of people, who were acting out strange pantomimes. Surrounding the huts was a chain of

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lit up baskets. There was something attractive and scary about this strange picture, of these wintery, snowy surroundings with baskets of fish for the Jewish Sabbath. Jewish women stood bent over the fish with smaller baskets in their hands. The light from the candles lit up their constricted, serious faces. Their hunched, large bodies, dressed in heavy overcoats, threw scary shadows on the white walls of the houses where the baskets of fish stood spread apart.

The fish ladies wore grey, woolen jackets and grey kerchiefs around their heads and faces. They had hasty movements. With their thumbs, they tore out the frozen cheek bones from the fish and quickly brought them close to customer's nose. They would throw the fish onto the wagons and cut them into pieces with sharp knives. Then they would throw them onto the scale, then throw the weighed fish into the customer's basket. If the customer would try too forcefully to bargain, the fish lady would quickly remove the fish and toss it into her own basket.

During the cold winters, the fish ladies would not shout out praise for their goods or their prices, with load hoarse voices as they would in summer. In the winter their mouths were covered by their grey woolen kerchiefs which they wrapped around their heads. They breathed into the wool kerchiefs and warmed the cold air which tore into their dry, chapped lips and mouths.

The enthusiasm which may have gone to their shouting now was directed toward their hasty movements and throwing fish. More than one customer was hit by a fish being tossed into her basket. Such a customer would be insulted and would go to another fish vendor. When this occurred, the fish lady would remove the kerchief from her mouth, try to apologize to the woman she insulted, speak to her piety, and if all this did not work, she would curse her…

* * *

The wealthier women from Muranov did not buy fish in the marketplace. They bought from Manya the fish lady, who had a fish shop in one of the buildings on Muranov. Her husband wore a small Jewish cap, a fine gaberdine coat, and had a small trimmed grey beard, like a waiter. She also had a few grown daughters who dressed according to the latest fashion.

You could buy fish from Manya all week, not only on Thursdays.

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Live fish swam in tin basins. They were mainly Hungarian carp with dark – velvety golden fins. She also sold live crucian carp for the sick and especially for rich pregnant women.

They would remove the fish from the basins with something that resembled a large spoon made of wire. The water would drain out and the carp would be placed on their tiny heads, stretching their silver tummies like a bow, breathing quickly from great surprise and too much air.

No one bargained with Manya. They fish were not thrown, they tossed themselves arounds. Manya only carried live fish, therefore they did not have to be shoved under someone's nose. Manya had loyal customers. If it ever happened that the fish were sick with smallpox she would return all the money and assume all damages. Sometimes the fishermen joined forces and for no good reason raised their prices so the poor could not permit themselves to buy any. In connection to this, the Rabbinate put out a proclamation with a ban, forbidding people to buy fish, not even for the Sabbath. One could only buy fish for a celebration. Manya sided with the poor. During the period of the ban she closed her shop.

* * *

On the Sabbath the Muranov marketplace rested. It lay tidy and washed and the blue huts dreamed blue dreams under the blue sky. At one end of the bazar, right beside Muranov, one shop remained open on the Sabbath. There sat a woman with a tall round coiffure, like a large, deep wig, and sold bread. Customers on the Sabbath were rare and the woman sat practically all day without movement. She was pensive and sad. When a customer finally showed up she sat and cut the bread and still seated put it on the scale and after she received the money she put out her hand holding a tablet so she would not have to stand up. She was a Christian, however, due to her hairdo and clothing which were exactly like all the other female vendors and the marketplace, she looked like a Jewish woman. When the Jews happily returned from the Houses of Prayer, many stopped and looked at the hut that was open on the Sabbath. I never really knew if she was sad because she sat alone all day in the marketplace, or because she was a Christian and had to 'desecrate the Sabbath”…

[Page 232]


by Yekhiel Hofer

Translated by Janie Respitz

Zelman Khaykin was one of the best-known manufacturing brokers in Warsaw. He arrived with the first dry-goods merchants who opened their shops on Nalevky, Genshe and Fransisco Streets and from there the future, large and wide spread Jewish manufacturing centre emerged. The Jewish merchants brought their industry, productivity and money. They rented large storefronts, broke and rebuilt walls, surrounded themselves with wide, open closets and high shelves which reached all the up to the ceiling. They broke open doors, shop windows and regular windows. Above the doors and windows, they hung long sheet metal signs with golden letters, which in Russian and Polish briefly described what businesses existed in these deep dark rooms. Smaller signs were hung between the windows with descriptions in Yiddish: “Goods made from wool, fabric and various manufactured materials”. The dry goods stores brought with them the scent of cloth and the scent of fresh dye was carried out through the open bales of flowery calico. A dampness emanated from the thick bundles of checkered fabrics and a quiet, far off, half-sweet fragrance of sheep could be felt from the woolen goods and above all else, carried the scent of canvas bags, like the intoxicating smell of dry hay.

In the shops one could hear the heavy thud of the solid, thick fabrics, one could hear the breaking of the stiff, white comforters in which the expensive fabrics were wrapped while the gentle, quiet rustle of the genuine French silk did not stop. Softly stroking one's eyes were the satins and velvets and the gold and silver brocade which glowed with richness. Jewish merchants, regular good people and Hasidic Jews did not only travel for merchandise to Lodz and Tomashov, but through Berlin they reached Paris as well as Lyon, where they purchased, for their wealthy clientele from Warsaw and the large provincial towns, satin and silk, embroidery, points and brocade.

There was always a swarm around the manufacture shops of Jewish merchants and small shopkeepers from the Polish provinces. At the height of season, early spring and early fall, you could not pass through the crowds on Nalevke and Genshe streets. Provincial merchants, men and woman dressed in their Sabbath best, filled the sidewalks with their baskets and valises, walking with hurried steps, deep in thought with a plan. Porters carried heavy loads on their shoulders,

[Page 233]

canvas bags filled with goods, and the names of who they belonged to written in black ink.

The porters carried these sacks to “inns” on Bonifrat Street, where tall covered wagons with round awnings awaited them. Short, broad-boned Jews, in cotton jackets, sun tanned faces, thick yellow beards to their chins, blue non-Jewish eyes and Jewish respect for the wealthy, first and foremost, sat in the deep in their wagons, at the very best spots, unloading the large parcels of manufactured goods for the rich provincial merchants. Then they took the parcels from the middlemen and finally from the petty merchants.

* * *

After the High Holidays, especially Sukkot, the time to prepare for weddings, carriages rode by with elegant woman and the young future brides going shopping. The older women wore capes made from satin or cloth, either black or dark green, trimmed with the best, finest fur. A piece of their dresses could be seen under the cape, which were lined with silk or satin. The silk stripes were covered with silver sparkles. The capes also had collars made from fine fur. The women wore necklaces of rose-coloured pearls around their necks, or thick, gold chains with diamond necklaces. Through the tips of their black gloves one could see their white fingers and they wore feathered hats on their heads.

The brides to be were dressed in coats made from colourful fabrics, high shoes and hats with flowers. As soon as one of these carriages passed a dry goods shop, the manager or the head sales clerk would run to receive the customers. A few clerks would immediately begin to present pieces of silk, boxes of rolled pieces of satin and velvet, silver and gold brocades which the women, with great pleasure, caressed with their long, tender fingers. Sometimes, an older woman would examine the pleats of the coats through her golden spectacles which hung on a delicate chain, holding the enameled handle with grace, placing it near her eyes, and with a glance filled with distinction and uniqueness, glanced toward the merchandise, barely looking at the clerks.

When everything was chosen, put aside and calculated, the manager or the head clerk brought the recorded notes to a podium, which was above the table, and sat beside a high office table, like at a pulpit. He was an older man with gold glasses

[Page 234]

hanging on a black satin string. Beside him his ledger lay open, slightly to this right on a wooden counter. As soon as the bill was brought to the office the women pretended to be insulted. They slowly rose from the chairs where they had been sitting the whole time and turned their faces deep into the shop, just as pious Jews turn toward the east to pray and bow their heads gently. They quickly left the shop, accompanied by the manager and older clerks.

If after they left the store they still had to buy white fabrics and underwear, they sent the brides to be and the eldest woman home. Only the older women bought the intimate portion of the bride's trousseau: underwear, cambric and bed cover.

* * *

Sometimes, wagons with rubber wheels would pass by the shops, from which women would disembark wearing sea otter coats and their heads wrapped in long, heavy, black satin shawls. Soon after the rubber wheeled wagons came to a stop, carriages would arrive with one or two Jewish men wearing long black coats, and large black fabric or satin hats and high boots. The women were the wives of the well-known Polish rabbis, the wives of the wealthy Rebbes and their relatives. The men were assistants or beadles who were sent to help the women shop. The women did not only come to buy the bride's trousseaus, but the groom's trousseaus as well, since the Rabbis nor their sons did not take part is such activities. When the women sat down, they unbuttoned the bottom button of their coats, pushed back their coattails so one could see their wide hips, which with great pleasure, spread over the small chairs. From the piles of merchandise, and the great possibilities of buying everything their hearts desired, the young servants who were nearby were so helpful and smiled with their young faces, as these women were intoxicated with warmth. They unwrapped their shawls and wore them loosely around their full, alabaster necks. They unbuttoned the top button of their coats, and from the décolletage of their silk dresses, light pink skin gushed out, filled with calmness and satiety, with a certain appeal of desire and caution. These were mostly young women, young mothers, who were preparing to marry off their young children. These were women, who from a young age knew the secret of life.

[Page 235]

This made them smart and filled common sense. Due to early maturity, and early revealed secrets, they carried within them a special sweetness. They understood a lot, were accommodating and as a result, they were proud and predominant. They wore the finest pomp and on their shaved heads, headdresses with brooches and silk ribbons, which they now hid under a thick veil of black shawls.

Once the rabbi's wives chose their goods, the gabbais took care of the money with the agents in the shops and the women would leave in their rubber wheeled wagons which waited for them outside.

Slowly, with graceful steps, middle aged Jewish men would walk into the shops, with nice trimmed beards, dressed in their Sabbath best. Beside them would be a small young man, with sprouting whiskers and with a scant omen of a blond or black beard on his pale cheeks. This was a father with his son, a bridegroom, and an experienced uncle, who came to buy a trousseau for the groom. There was not a lot to choose from. The “version” was well known. Fabric for a satin long coat and a silk or satin one (ribbed), black fabric for a shortened coat with silk lapels, worsted with satin for an everyday coat, striped wool fabric for a few pair of pants, silk fabric for a housecoat and satin or velvet for a winter housecoat.

They sat at a table, or near the high chair where they merchandise was laid out. They smoked strong cigarettes and chatted. The uncle, the expert, from time to time, pulled out a thread from the presented goods and twisted it around his finger, or lit a match and put the flame to the woolen thread to see if it burned and then smelled the burnt piece. Often, such an uncle, the expert, while trying to test the thread, would furtively give the store manager a hand with five fingers outstretched, which was supposed to mean, that he wanted to make five percent…

From the books: “A Courtyard in Muranov”, and “A Courtyard in Pokorne”.

Tel Aviv, 1959 and 1962.


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