Eta Hofman (Los Angeles)
Translated by Tina Lunson
The little town Kamenbrod, on the Zvhil River, had a population of almost one thousand people because of Zusman's factory. The whole industry was comprised of a large factory where they manufactured crockery, plates, bowls of all sizes and many other household goods. And also artistically painted works
that were shipped all over the region. The whole population of the town was maintained by the factory, except for a few families that had settled there, craftsmen who earned barely enough to eat.
But that little town, for all its being small and poor, was still more cultural than other, larger towns around it. However they called it a derevnye, village, and it did not have a post office. The post office was in the nearby town Ratshev and the mail was brought from there to the factory office.
A few workers the lucky ones who had someone of the family in the Golden Land would often go to Ratshev by foot in order to receive their letters sooner.
The town also possessed a beautiful, healthy forest of pine trees that perfumed the whole area every spring and blessed the town with guest dachaniks. Some of them came for the good climate for their suffering lungs and others because of the pleasure of enjoying the healthy air and the beauty of the nature; they liked to live it up in a rich manner and that revived the town. The town also had an oldfashioned doctor who was adept in all areas, even in pulling teeth. One had to travel thirty miles to Zvhil for a doctor. More than one person died before his time because they could not reach a doctor in time. The town also had a shul with an anteroom underneath, a bath of course with a difference for rich and poor but brooms and pails and a mikve that were for all equally. Under the bath there was a room where poor people were provided for; they came mostly from the surrounding areas. As poor as the town was the Jews there had good hearts and gave away their last bite to the poor. So the room was usually full and every Friday night all the Jews from the shul took few guests home for shabes and gave them what they had. That happened in my own family. I remember an episode: my mother was known in town as very honest. Everyone called her Mama. She really was like a mother for everyone, especially for those even poorer than we were. There was an occasion when a poor man who begged from door to door owned a large estate. He used the opportunity of my mother's honesty and brought her the money that he had with him to hide for him because it was shabes and one is forbidden to carry anything. My honest mother hid it without even looking to see how much was there. But we children could not rest until we had found the little sack and how surprised we were to count out eight hundred rubles. There were many such poor people who would take your last bite.
The poverty of our town was limitless. The salary for a factory worker was from five to eight rubles a week. Thus children as young as eight had to work in the factory with their parents in order to support the family. And
that small earning was soon taken back by the administration. The earnings for a worker were really hungerwages and those in the management, the cashier, director, bookkeeper and so on, all lived at the expense of the hungry. My father was one of the more lucky ones because he had more children who brought in a lager portion. We all together made ten rubles a week. And in order maintain life my mother with little children had to make something by putting up strangers who came to work in the factory.
The exploitation was terrible. We worked from six in the morning until six in the evening. The three whistles that came out of the big chimney whose height almost reached the sky, inspired fear in the workers. The first whistle call was to wake up the workers; the next meant to be ready at the gate; at the third one had to be at their workstation. If someone was late by one minute the gate was closed right under the worker's nose and he lost a day's work which he very much missed.
As I child of eight years I already grasped the unfairness against the poor masses and I asked my mother why the director's children, who have the best of everything, do not have to work and the poor children who work so hard do not have enough food? My wise mother sighed and answered briefly, don't ask any questions my child, it's how it's destined to be. But in her heart she felt differently. And time demonstrated that. In the first uprising against the dark system she was first in the ranks in the fight for a better life for her children. That system and the poverty of my town shocked me and drove me at an early age into the wider world to seek something nicer, better, and I achieved it.
Later, when I was already in the Golden Land we realized that the situation in my town had changed for the better, thanks to the turmoil of the masses and their rebellion against the system.
And just when the population could catch its breath and begin to enjoy their victory, the skies suddenly opened and out gushed a dark wave of pogroms on the Jewish towns and village. The serious catastrophe wave of pogroms was carried out on my town Kamenbrod. The Petliuria followers, our own goyim and other neighbors with whom we had worked in the factory, united and took all the Jews, the men, and made a general slaughter of them, shot every one of them. And the women who bore that horror were left alive but woe to their lives.
by Mina Sumliar (Los Angeles)
Translated by Tina Lunson
A long dreamedof region of thick primeval forests, spongy peat fields and clay swamps. Because of the fuel source and the clayey soil, Fishl Zusman constructed a factory there, for fine porcelain dishes.
The factory began at the end of the long street and extended in breadth and occupied three quarters of the area of the town. It was surrounded by a high fence made of tall pointed planks. People worked twelve hours a day in the factory and although all workers in the factory were wage earners, certain trades formed certain class divisions of higher and lower levels. The painters who decorated the factory dishes were the highest paid piecework workers. The painters were the crowned aristocrats of the town who were already of course the leaders of all community affairs in the town. They had permanent seats by the eastern wall of the shul.
To the secondranking trade belonged those who worked with the articles from the raw mass of prepared clay.
The thirdranking trade consisted of those who worked with the dried, raw articles and at the baking ovens. For that one needed robust shoulders and strong hands. The town had one tailor, two shoemakers, three menders a father and two sons. For whom the observant wives of shul trustees collected shabes provisions every Thursday.
The frequent funerals wiped away arrogance and position for a while. The majority of the victims were those who worked the articles from the raw material. Besides the thick clay dust, the wet clay contained a certain chemical that constricted the lungs in a very short period of time. If the deceased was only 38 years old these sad words were always said: No one so young should die.
With the rise of the revolutionary movement the factory went through three strikes under the direction of the Bund. At the same time the youth threw themselves into education. There were 1,200 workers in the factory. Half of that number were peasants from the poor villages around.
During the time of the revolution a few days before the Bolsheviks arrived in town troops from Denikin's gang come into town with a stern decree: all men from eighteen to old age must gather in the forest, where the Ataman would read an important declaration to them. Anyone who stayed at home would be shot.
Wives, mothers, sisters, ran around and searched out every one of their dear ones and sent them on, in order to save their lives. Then only the women and children remained in town. And soon they heard hundreds
of shots being fired. With insanely wild voices the women and children ran to the forest, and line of guards on horseback stopped them at the edge of the forest; and when the shooting and the horrible cries from the forest had ended, one of the guards ordered all the women to dig graves and bury their dead.
The Kamenbrod Feldsher
The old unlicensed doctor Motl the rofe faithfully served the director, cashier and all the other employees of the factory, but he considered the workers as a nuisance foisted on him. When you called him to a patient he arrived two days later. From Friday night through shabes he did not go to see any patients, unless you ran screaming into the shul that a patient was dying he would get up angrily, take off his tales and not quicken his pace. The town carried a quiet resentment toward him. But they also had a good word for him because of his observance. He kept a kosher house, his wife Eti wore a wig, and they spoke Yiddish at home. And when he was dismissed no one knew why.
When they brought in a new Feldsher (we had learned his name from the cantor) and when we saw him, we understood: the name rofe did not suit him. We soon realized that his wife was named Vera and they spoke Russian in their house. The town felt tricked and aggrieved. Who knows? The Russian might pamper his people the elite and about the others would not be any more attentive.
And when a group of Jews talked among themselves and the topic of the Feldsher came up, there was a short expression: They've done it to us this time, eh? You mustn't ask anything of a new ruler. And all that they felt on the first day, was that they would have to speak Russian and could not.
But in a while, as if over night, a miracle happened. The Feldsher began to visit patients, he came as soon as he was called and spoke a rich Litvak Yiddish with a homey tone. And when you called him pani rofe [Mister Doctor] he quickly corrected you My name is Kiselhoyf, please call me that. Women now stood by their doors and in a satisfied tone of voice told about their surprise the new doctor spent a long time with the patient, treated him like his own brother, inquired what he ate and told what he should eat. Day after day there were new surprises, and the Feldsher brought in the doctor from Ratshev. Here he threw in a half or quarter ruble to buy more milk for the patient. And the biggest surprise: you did not have to call him even one time, he already knew where he should go each day. He was the talk of the town an angel, he had golden hands words failed. Soon there was a rumor going around town that they were beginning to build a new wing onto the doctor's house that would serve as a hospital.
Little groups of people stood and watched as full wagons of wood were unloaded and silently observed with approving glances. It was now an open secret that Kiselhoyf had managed to convince the administration that they should build a small facility for just a few beds, for those ill who would become more sick in their own stuffy households. Five beds were installed and they gleamed with white bed linens. Under his supervision, a group of young townswomen were organized into a committee and each was assigned a day of the week to serve the sick.
Soon after that the news reach us that the doctor had open a library in one of his rooms, with new books in Yiddish and Russian, with oversight by the Youth Committee and a monthly fee of ten kopeks. Until I could come up with the ten kopeks it was not suitable for me to ask for a free book.
The Bund carried out three strikes at the factory and also took an active part in cultural work. Bund theatricals often visited and carried out discussions in fullpacked houses, on shabes after prayers in the great shul with Kiselhoyf who opposed full Zionism. The debates were hot and sharp. The lines were divided in a clandestine way. And although the activities were carried out in secret the conflicts were known all over the town, and that the doctor was an ideological opponent who had to be fought: that was the slogan of the Bundist youth. The older generation shrugged their shoulders and could not take it in what could you have against a person with such a good heart?! There was a case during a heated debate in the great shul where kheyderboys jumped in and picked up the slogan that the doctor was an opponent, an enemy; in the morning two of the boys passed Kiselhoyf in the street and threw a stick a him that hit his leg. He dragged himself home, limping. The town leaders of the Bund quickly found out and went to him with an explanation that this was not an inciteful act, and that none of them was guilty. And Kiselhoyf answered cheerfully, The hit on the leg doesn't bother me, it has passed; but this pain is deep in my soul that there is no education, and the children here grow like wild grass.
I left Kamenbrod in 1912. This is all that I remember from that time. The overall picture is before me, complete, and I especially remember the childhood experiences more vividly than a current yesterday. When I was so involved in that life. I started work in the factory when I was nine years old and soon belonged to the professional union. About the other details of the pogrom and Kiselhoyf's bravery I know only what is related in this yiskerbukh. Since the murder of all the men was carried out by the local peasants who had worked all those years alongside the Jews in
the factory, the Jews who were taken to their slaughter did not dare to suspect what was happening, or they would have been able to brace themselves against them and escape. I believe that those facts are correct.
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