Donated by Yetta Goldman Plotnick
Translated by Sarah Shapiro
Edited by Renata Singer We have nothing to add to the memories of our landsman Gershon-Meyer Shmetanke, alav hashalom, who chronicled our town up to the eve of the First World War. On the contrary, in his chapter our dear landsman has erected a fitting memorial to our hometown at the turn from the 19th to the 20th centuries and perpetuated his memory with this work.
Our memories begin before the interruption of World War I. Viskit lives in our memories from the eve of the world war of 1914 through until the middle of the 30's, when we lost our unforgettable parents and the village where we were born and raised.
The beginning of the First World War is engraved in our memory by a tragic occurrence in our family. Our father Fayvl always leased an orchard, which was his livelihood. The orchard was in the town of Vola Pinkushevska. One day, with our older brother Lipeh, he came into the village driving a wagon. On the way, the horse kicked and the wagon overturned. Father broke a leg, and was brought home wounded. We lived in Raver Lane, between two Christians, the Oshinskys, one poor, the other rich.
It was wartime. The front ran by our town. The region changed several times from the Russians to the Germans and was then taken back by the Russians. At the time when the Russians were back in Viskit, a Christian informed the Cossacks that Germans were being hidden in our house. The Cossacks came and searched for the Germans. Father was forced, with his broken leg, to climb up to the attic to show them whether any Germans could be found. It was really a tight situation for Father at a time when the Russians were harassing the Jews and accusing them of espionage. Thanks to the testimony given by the poor Oshinsky, Father was saved from a sure death.
It is interesting to add an odd circumstance that Jews considered a miracle. A week later the Christian informer passed by the probostvo [home of the Orthodox priest]. It was winter. His horse dragged him, in his wagon, into a pond, and the informer was drowned. This incident made a big impression, and not just on us. The bitter end of this particular enemy of Israel was commented on by both Jews and Christians.
The Russians issued an order that all Jews must leave Viskit. They exiled us to Warsaw. A while before this the Jews from Skernyevitz had arrived in Viskit. They had been driven from their homes. At first, they thought that they would remain in Viskit, but then everyone was chased out. Losing our home, we gave our household effects to our neighbor, the poor Oshinsky, to keep for us. When we came back we had everything returned in good order, to the last hair,.
Besides our parents, our family consisted of seven children, six sons and one daughter. One of our brothers (the oldest, Yekhiel) was already in Argentina.
A whole night the caravan of driven-out exiles moved slowly until we all arrived in Warsaw. Warsaw was already flooded with refugees from many other villages. Everywhere, there were homeless, as they were called. We were taken to a landsman, Moyshe-Ber Peltznmakher (who died in the Warsaw Ghetto). We were there only a few days and soon rented an apartment at 56 Gzhibovska. Life was bitter. No work, no wages, and enormous shortages. Generally, it was hard to get the most necessary products.
We stayed in Warsaw until the Germans occupied the region and established their authority. Finally, the policy of the occupiers was to clean out the capital, which was packed with people. Getting provisions was hard. There was great overcrowding. Epidemics broke out. On all sides people began to feel that it was best to go back to their hometowns at the first opportunity.
In 1915 we were already back in Vistik. The center itself was almost untouched. But around the town, the gardens and fields had been dug up where the fighting armies had dug trenches.
Around the town were the graves of fallen soldiers. Some of the dead were spread about practically uncovered, where there were trenches.
At once, the shtetl began to make a living from this situation. The old livelihoods were almost useless. Storekeepers did not open their shops - there was nowhere to get merchandise. Craftsmen had no work. No one was sewing new clothes, they just darned and recycled. In general, no one paid any attention to clothing. The priority for everyone was to survive each day. Then, the peasants from the surrounding villages started coming to town with all kinds of clothing and footwear - boots, which they had removed from the fallen soldiers. They brought in the materials stolen in their marauding activities, to sell. It was possible to get completely outfitted.
A very important commodity was the metal left strewn from the used and unused ammunition. Brass from the decorations of the rifles and artillery cannons was a very precious product, as was lead. These particular metals were purchased by the brothers Shimshon and Elye Feldman (formerly rag handlers). They had their warehouse for this scrap in the former home of the Blatshtayns, which was purchased from Meyer Shtiglitz (Meyer Peretz's)
Several other Jews participated in collecting these metals. In this activity some disasters occurred - some of the bullets had not been detonated. The gunpowder exploded in the attempt to separate the lead bullets and the brass decoration. In this endeavor, Borukh Funtovitsh, a solid citizen [a balabatish Jew] was killed. He was the guard of the community. (He was known around town as Khulyeh.) One young boy, Itshe Indik (known by the nickname Tateh Zazeh) had the fingers of one hand ripped off.
Our father took up his livelihood, orchards. In that same year, we had orchards in the villages of Kaventzin and Shimanov. Both orchards belonged to the Polish Prince Bzhezhinski. That was the last time that Bzhezhinski leased his orchards to Jews. He was an enemy of Israel, a bitter anti-Semite. When the Endecjas started their anti-Jewish campaigns in the towns, he was one of the most conspicuous enemies of Israel. However, our father had a very interesting case with him. When he came, a bit later, asking him about leasing the orchards, Bzhezhinski said, Don't you know that I will not rent my orchards to Jews? Why are you coming here? Our father was well thought of, and what happened was an unbelievable story. Listen, Fayvke, Bzhezhinski said, I myself will not rent you my orchards, but I will give you a recommendation to someone who will contract with you for his orchard. He sat down and actually wrote a very fine recommendation to Prince Henrik Susk, who had his orchard in Khaslava Biskup. Our father went with that very letter to Susk. He was very impressed that the well-known enemy of Israel was recommending that a Jew should be rented an orchard.
In the shtetl, a new livelihood blossomed - smuggling. The big city, Warsaw, was overflowing with people and the legal importation of goods was almost non-existent. What could be obtained from the official food office was far from enough, while the food markets themselves had nothing. In the province, there was produce. However, the peasants were holding out. The official prices which the German military force paid was next to nothing. Secretly, people used to pay the peasants groshn [pennies] for products (flour, butter, eggs, chickens, cheese, barley, and so on) and they smuggled them into Warsaw. This work was risky. Most of the local guards were partners in the smuggling. Scenes of these deals were masterfully portrayed in Smugglers, written by Ozer Varshavsky from our neighboring shtetl, Amshinov.
In general, it can be said that our shtetl did not suffer a severe famine. However, we did not avoid the typhus epidemic which raged all over Poland. The Germans, for their part, fought against the same scourge. They instituted a program of enforced hygiene. They would drag Jews into the bathhouse to delouse their clothing. This had more to do with punishing the Jews rather than true hygiene prophylaxis, and they used to cut the hair off their heads and shave their beards, and throw them into the mikveh. The death rate in those days was greater than in the normal years.
They took Jews to all sorts of forced labor, essentially for the military.
Not withstanding the Occupation and the war's upheaval, the domestic life of the Jews in the shtetl was not disrupted. Jews davened [prayed], worried about the rearing of their children, they got married - true, not with as much joy and involvement as before - and whoever needed help, if he was in need, they got it.
In education, the inevitable outcome occurred. Whereas until the war there were separate heders, each with their own melamed, afterwards there was one large school called the United School. All the teachers from the shtetl taught there and all the boys were sent there (no girls studied in this heder, or generally anywhere else either).
We remember the long-ago teachers: Asher Viskitski, (the Lomer Asher); Shaul Aron Pintshevski (Shokeh); Yekel Pipek - he was also the shamas and shul-klapper who woke the congregation at dawn by banging a hammer on the shutters. On Friday, when it was time to make shabbes, he went around and cried, Go to shul! Avrom Somokhodl a proper Jew; Yosef Smulevitsh, ("little Yosele") and his brother, "little Avele"; Moyshe Leyb Paytsher.
The United School was located in Blatshtayn's stone home. It existed up to the end of the first German Occupation. After the war, by which time there was a link with the world, a kitchen was installed in the school that provided lunch for the children. The produce came from American aid, which was doled out by the Joint. A Service Committee was established in the shtetl, responsible for the distribution of various types of aid that came from that organization.
Aside from all that, it was lively among the youth. During these hard times, the first Jewish Youth Circles were founded, which produced the later leaders of local cultural and educational organizations.
Precisely when these organizational activities of the youth got going, what stimulated them, and who was the initiator, cannot be exactly determined. Perhaps the most important initiator was Yitskhok Pintshevski, the son of Shaul Aron, the melamed, who came from Lodz, where he had worked, with a lot of important organizational materials [lit., baggage]. Besides him, we remember that among the first to organize the Youth Circle were: Leybush Lifshitz (Leybush Meyer's), Shimon Reikhert, Noyekh Funtovitsh, Ayzik Indik, the brothers Yosl and Meyer Lifshitz, the brothers Mendl and Berish Fridman, Shimon Zinger, our brothers Shloyme and Gedaliah Goldman, Moyshe Beker, Leybush Gotgenader and Ruven Levkovitsh. It is entirely possible that we have here, as elsewhere, omitted names, which have escaped our memories.
Girls also belonged to these pioneering groups. These were: Shayne-Gitl Varem, Yente Yeshenovitsh, Beyltshe Miller. This certainly was a real upheaval for our shtetl - boys and girls together!
From this group came the initiative to organize the first Jewish library. It was a general library. It had no specific political color. True, among the active members of the library were those who belonged to, or were sympathetic to, different political persuasions. In those early years in our shtetl, there were not yet such things as parties.
The library was initially in the home of Khaneh Ekman (Gershon's). It was a very nice house, a comfortable one, where one could really conduct the work of the library and other activities. She didn't take any money for this. Moreover, if she had demanded money, there would have been none to pay her. She gave her apartment for the library, because her daughters Leah, Shifra, Rokhl, Rivke, and Hagar were members of this institution.
The first books in the library were those that members donated. Later, they bought books using the money that came in from activities such as the performances put on by the Drama Circle of the library. Almost all the active members of the library belonged to the Drama Circle. The prima-donna was the previously mentioned Shayne-Gitl Varem.
In the beginning, the Drama Circle played in the library, in the house of Khaneh Gershon's daughter. Later, the performances were in the firehouse.
This first Jewish library was the core municipal cultural institution during those years.
It took a few years for the situation to stabilize in the shtetl, both economically and organizationally. Jews were not quick to get used to the changes the war had brought to the world. In general, it was not clear who was the boss in the land. Although the war had in fact ended, there wasn't really peace. The German occupiers left and no Russian force remained, so it was really a new Polish country, but they had not yet learned to live with it. There was still war with the Russians, true, this time, with the Reds, with the Bolshevik Russians, but, still and all, war. Jews were not at all delighted with the new Polish rule in the early honeymoon months. They got to know the new Polish military through the raids of these hooligans who tore into the shtetl, robbing, beating, grabbing Jews and cutting off their beards.
Understandably, when the new Polish rulers began to mobilize the Jewish young men, a large number of these youth hid themselves, or as we called it they hid [Polish word]. From our shtetl they mobilized young men of 17 and up. Four of our brothers were in the new Polish army: Mordkhe, Shloyme, Gedaliah, and Lipeh - the last only 17 years old. A darkness fell over our house, particularly as the frightening situation became known, that the Jewish soldiers were separated so that they would be interned in special camps, including the one at Yavloneh, from where Jewish soldiers were taken out to be shot. One of our brothers, Mordkhe, found himself in that very horror-camp.
So it's not surprising that Jews hid. We knew of a case of one who hid for over a year. This was Yekhiel Kirnberg, or as we called him in town, Yekhiel Manos's son.
After that an order came that all who were hidden would be pardoned, provided they voluntarily enlisted. After the designated time, anyone caught would be executed. Then, almost everyone came out of hiding.
After the war with the Russians ended, and life under the open regime in Poland was established, normality returned to the shtetl.
Everyone went back to his former occupation. The shtetl made its living from craftsmanship and small businesses. For both, the customers were the peasants from the villages. The Jews attempted to open their stores again. They brought merchandise from Warsaw. The peasants began little by little to buy clothes.
But something new came to the shtetl, a new industry - a stocking factory. It was around the year 1925. The founder of this new well of prosperity was Yitzkhok Pintshevski, who had worked in stockings in Lodz. He tried using his experience and skill from his birthplace. He brought machines. In the beginning, he worked alone, and later, he taught a few girls the trade. Following his example, stocking factories began to grow in Viskit like mushrooms after a rain.
After a few years there was hardly a house from which could not be heard the hum of a stocking machine. They were hand-cranked; there were no power machines. The majority of the Jewish girls and also young boys were drawn into this golden enterprise. They gave up their former occcupations such as tailoring, shoemaking, quilt-making, and qualified themselves in stocking-making, which took no great learning, and the merchandise sold well.
Everyone worked for a factory - for those from whom he got yarn and to whom he had to give the finished merchandise. The great majority were really home workers, khalupnikes. There were just a few bigger little factories, where one worked on a few machines. These were the factories of the previously mentioned Yitzkhok Pintshevski, Shiya Lanpert, Shayeh Nashelevitz, Vaynshtayn (the Litvak) and Khayim-Leyzer Funtovitsh. They worked by the piece, really by the dozen. Even those who worked for the factory owners got their wages not for the day or the week, but by the dozen. The majority in this trade were girls. The occupation was 100% Jewish.
The goods were sent to Warsaw. It was significant that the cost of labor in Viskit was much cheaper, because Viskit stockings conquered the other towns.
New problems arose in the shtetl. The factory owners wanted to make money and became interested in less expensive work-hands. The workers demanded what was theirs. A professional organization of stocking makers was established in the shtetl, a trade union. The union was legalized and they allied with the central union of the textile workers, located in Lodz.
The first organizers of this trade union were: Shmuel-ItsheYashinovitsh, Avrom-Shmuel Fishelevitsh, the brothers Toivye and Yosl Grizshak, Khayim-Yankl Varshavski, Mikhl Nelson, the brothers Saneh and Borukh-Yankl Vaynshtok, Nokhum Lifshitz, Moshe Lifshitz, Bunem Rusak, Shifrah Hershkovitsh, Dvorah Yeshinovitsh, Yenta Lifshitz, (maybe we've left some out).
As you can see, there were more men involved in the organizing, although more women were employed in the trade.
The union took up its role of solving all the problems of work, wages, and earnings. On these same grounds, disputes developed. It came to strikes, even to sharp collisions.
Although the union was supposed to be a professional organization involved only with the economic interests and trade demands, it was soon transformed into a prominent political organization and came under the influence of the radical elements, with the Communists at the head.
There began to be disagreements in the union; discussions that led to assaults between opposing workers from the same branch, and not rarely even between workers from the same factory. The management of the union brought speakers whom they thought suitable and they were always lefties.
So it came to this, that certain parts of the union membership couldn't be housed under one roof. The Communist road did not suit the non-aligned, and even more opposed were the anti-Communist elements among the stocking workers, the Zionist-inclined and the religious. A second union was founded where the non-Communists began to gather.
At that time, politically inclinations really began to crystallize in Viskit. On one side was the Textile Union, which was thought of more as a professional organization, and on the other, the activities of Culture [Tarbut] began to gain strength. This very competition among the Jewish groups in Viskit brought about great social and cultural-political activity.
The Culture was already in existence. Around this institution were grouped Zionist sympathizers who from time to time used to do Zionist work: selling shekels , collecting for Keren-Kayemes and Keren-Hayisud. From time to time, a Zionist delegate or speaker came. Among the competing political groups, the Zionist elements were the most active, and their numbers strengthened.
Just like Culture, the Jewish library, established at the time of the first German occupation, now began to function better.
The Culture also sponsored a course for learning Hebrew in the evening. The lessons were given by a foreign teacher. An even greater service in this undertaking of Culture was made by the teacher, Altman, who came from Zyrardow (he is now in Israel), and later, the teachers Levi and Drebyatzki.
We must say here, that the Jewish youth of Viskit was in this period almost 100% organized,
whether in one organization or in the second. To bring even larger numbers under its influence each organization competed with lectures, cultural evenings, talks, community discussions, performances.
Even the Orthodox, the religious youth, did not remain on the side. They could not find a place in the previously described organizations. Wanting to be organized and recognizing that there was a crisis for the youth in their situation, they founded a religious Beis-Yakov school for girls. A teacher came from out-of-town who had graduated from the religious seminary of Soreh Shenirer in Krakow. The shtibelshe Jews, the religious, helped the Beis-Yakov school.
The local of the textile union was on Yatke Street.
The Culture changed its venue a few times. At first, it was on Raver Street, in the house of the Christian Ruzhanski; later it was in Gizever Street, in the house of the Christian Shmigiera; later still in Khrabiye's home [lit., brick house]; and, finally, in the home of Dovid-Hersh Goldberg.
The Beis-Yakov was located in the marketplace.
The venues of these groups were always full of young people. Just as in the old days, when the religious adults filled time between minkha and maariv in the shtiblakh, catching a verse of Mishna, a page of Ayin-Yakov or a chapter of Psalms, so were these places filled with young people night after night, especially on Friday nights and Saturday nights. In place of the scholar or rabbi was the lecturer, instead of the holy books, they studied new Yiddish literature. Before, they used to tell tales of Messianic times and miracles and the wonders of holy men, whereas now the youth spoke of modern messiahs and whether redemption would come from a Jewish homeland or those who predicted redemption for the whole world.
Instead of the hasidic melodies, which used to be heard from the shtiblakh and Jewish homes, new songs were carried from these places, with new melodies. From one place sang out The International, the Tshervoni Standard [Red Flag], and How Long, Oh How Long, Will You Remain Slaves. From a second place were heard the songs Hatikvah, S'u Tziona Nes v Degel [Rise Up Toward Zion, Flag and Banner], and There Where the Cedar Blooms.
The Beis-Yakov had a certain compromise - although they too had new songs, the past was still strongly felt. Together with a hasidic nigun, new melodies were heard from old-new songs, Avinu Malkeinu [the prayer: Our father, our king], Ani Ma'amin [I Believe], Shabbos Holy-Song.
Speaking of the new industry in the shtetl - the stocking-business - doesn't mean that it replaced the old economic base of the shtetl. The older generation for the most part kept to their livelihoods. The participants in the new trade were the young people, who would normally have gone away to other places, and this kept them in the shtetl. As far as our memories permit, we'll recreate a picture of the employment of the Jews in our shtetl as it was in the 1930's, when we left Viskit.
In our years, there were no exalted big-wigs in Viskit. There were upstanding families who were prosperous, those who had it easier, and some who struggled to make a living. The main source of income was commerce and trade. However, there were also families in town who had to come to others for help. A few were well known house-to-house-goers (from Friday to Friday). The larger category of poor people, were those to whom we brought the dole to their homes. Then there the people who sporadically or suddenly fell on bad luck or on bad times. If someone in a poor family became ill, he had to be taken to a doctor or to a hospital elsewhere; if a wagon driver's horse died, we had to help so that he could get another horse; and other similar situations.
There were no established charitable organizations. We heard that before the outbreak of the Second World War, a soup kitchen was started. There were individuals who occupied themselves in the business of helping, who soon had a monopoly, a stronghold. Among them were: the blind Yekhiel, a tailor; Zelig Zimler, and our father, Fayvl Goldman, who was known in Viskit by the name Fayvl Moyshe-Borukh's son.
We noted earlier that the main livelihood was commerce and trade. It must be added that many Viskiters had several occupations. Either they used to have one employment for summer and the second for winter, or both together at the same time.
In general, retail business lay in Jewish hands. True, in the 1920's under the influence of antisemitic tendencies a Polish union was established, a sort of cooperative, that was known in town under the name Spulkah. With the slogan Svoy do Svego (Each to One's Own), this union wanted to take the Christian customers away from the Jews. The Christians, both townspeople and countryfolk, continued to buy from the Jews. There they could select from more merchandise, they could choose, bargain, and, especially, buy on credit and make payments over time. This they could not do with their 'Brother-Polaks. In the end, the competition fell apart.
It is appropriate to add as a curiosity that this particular anti-semitic competition-business was taken over by a Jew, Itshe Puntavitsh, who opened a grocery store there. (Among us, such a little store had a name, Bosem and Krom. Had anyone said grocery store no one would have known what he meant by that.
Jews had stores with every kind of merchandise. We will try to account for the Jewish storekeepers we remember from our time, according to their merchandise:
Manufacturing-shops: Bunem Gostgenoder (son of Leybish the kosher slaughterer); Borukh Binental (Borukh seller of cropped grain); Maneleh Khaytshe's son; Tall Pinkhas; Avrom Albert (the healer).
Iron-workshops: Shmuel-Aron Liberman, Dovid Lifshitz, Noyekh Zand (the mohel), Lozer Lifshitz. In these shops one could get all kinds of ironwork, either for building or rural agricultural uses.
Produce-merchants: Meyer Kaner, Dovid Kaner, Avrom Goldberg (Avrom the redhead), Laybush Zinger (Laybush kasiazh); Khayim'l Kirnberg (the tall young Khayim), Meyer-Yekhiel Goldberg (Meyer-Yekhiel Elye's son), Itshe Vargas (Itshe Kasha's son - he had a buckwheat mill and milled groats). They used to buy the grain from the peasants who brought the grain to the fairs in the marketplaces, or they traveled through the towns and villages and bought the grain there. Some resold it as grain, some used to have it milled and sold it to bakers.
In this group must be included the only ones who lived in the village of Orshev: Yekhiel and Elye Orshever. Their family-name was Zhulkovski. The village was at most three kilometers from Viskit, and they behaved just like townspeople, particularly on holidays in town; they would put up an eruv, so that they would not violate the Sabbath.
Leather-workshops: There was merchandise for shoemakers, for sewing machine operators. The Funtovitshes (heirs of Fayvl Funtovitsh); Vigdor Grinberg, Motl Varshavski, Avrom Miller (or Gritzer); Fayvl and Gedaliah Goldman.
Grocery stores (Bosem-shops, Shpayz stores): Motl Grunvald (he also had the monopoly; Yisroilke Funtovitsh (he also had a second business buying the hide of slaughtered cattle from the butchers in the slaughterhouses, both in Viskit and in Zyrardow, and selling them in the Zyrardow tanneries); Rokhel Granatovitsh (the bearish woman); Itl Kirnberg (the widow of Yankl the son of black-haired Leybush); Asher Kirnberg (Asher the son of black-haired Leybush), who was the only pin merchant and used to bring merchandise from Warsaw for the other merchants; Yankl Zukerkorn (black-haired Yankl); Mordkhe-Leyb Kaner.
Peddlers (village-goers): These were the Jews with many ways of making a living - they did business in everything. For them everything was merchandise; hides of cows and calves; chickens, eggs, fish, smoked foods; pig bristles, horse tails, flax, rags, and so forth. Among them were foot-peddlers and some who owned a horse-and-wagon. They used to buy merchandise or exchange for town merchandise. Among these were: the brothers Yankl and Fayvl Groyna, Leybele Naydorf and his son Abbe, Mordkhe Goldman, Yitskhok Haberman (Yaitzazh) - he dealt in eggs); Yankl Beker (little Yankele) and Shloyme; Avrom Goldberg (Bibik); his brother Khayim Goldberg (Oytzietz); Yankl Zuker; Shloyme Shlyepak and others. There were also women among them, such as: Sheva-Rokhel, Betke's daughter and Hinda-Ester Markovitsh.
Butchers and Fishmongers:This particular profession was a monopoly-business which went from father to son and grandchildren. During our time there were: Yankl Bideh with his sons Shloyme and Gedaliah, Binyomin Ekman and his sons Volf, Noyekh, Elye, and Avrom; Natan Rotshtayn and his sons Itshe and Avrom, Mordkhe Alek Goldberg and his sons Khayim'l, Shayeh, Itshe, and Hershl; Dovid-Yosl Goldberg and his sons Abbe, Leyzer, Moyshe-Elye, and Avrom; Dovid-Hersh Goldberg and his sons Elye, Manasheh, and Shayeh. Khayim'l Goldberg; Avrom-Itshe Grober (Peasant), Mordkhe Krakov; Yankl Krakov (Yanek); Yankl Naydorf; Meyer-Yekhiel Peytsher and others. There was also a woman in the midst - Perl-Leah Gelbshtayn, the goose lady, who sold mostly chickens.
As we said, this particular profession was family-owned. They were thus organized and heavily involved in all the Jewish community's issues. At one particular time, they made an alliance with Illiver the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] and raised the slaughtering fee. The town then went on strike; for six months no one ate any meat. There was really a big battle in town between the two sides.
Shoykhtim [ritual slaughterers]: Naturally together with the butchers, there must be slaughterers. During our time there were Yosl the shoykhet; his son-in-law Toivye the shoykhet; Shloyme the shoykhet and the [above-mentioned] Illiver the khazan-shoykhet [cantor and ritual slaughterer].
Horse-merchants: This profession was connected to the butchers and fish-handlers. They used to buy their animals at the fairs and markets in Viskit and surrounding towns and in traveling around the villages. They bought, sold, and exhanged horses. From this group we remember: Moyshe Vaytzer (Betke's son) and his sons Khavye, Bendet; Melekh Krakov; Leybtshe Goldberg, Hershl Gdanski, Shmuel Yonah's son.
Drivers: We must connect them with the horse-merchants. We had two categories, those who used to travel to Warsaw for merchandise for our stores and others who used to take passengers to and from the train station in Zyrardow.
The merchandise drivers would collect from the storekeepers lists of needed products and they already knew with whom and in what the storekeepers did business in Warsaw. Usually, they even sent the money with the drivers for the Warsaw wholesalers. In this particular group in our years were: Moyshe Levkovitsh (Hersh's son) - his father did business in pots and pans and had other livelihoods besides); Fishl Yeshonovitsh (Fishl Zanvl'son).
The passenger drivers were: Yehudah Lifshitz (Yehudah son of Nakhum-Leyzer, or the Tall Yehudah), Meyer Lifshitz (Meyer Nakhum Leyzer'son, a brother of the earlier one); Moyshe Yeshinovitsh (Moyshe Kikhe); Shmuel Yacobovitsh (Shmuel Bartek); the brothers Avraham and Ben-Tzion Indik; the brothers Elye and Menasheh Goldberg (the sons of Leybush Koval); Khavye Vaytzer (Betke's son); Yoel Yacobovitsh (who also had a chaff-cutter, cutting straw for the horse feed) and Leybtshte the Driver.
With the drivers we are reminded of the porters (tregers). Their work was to carry the merchandise which the drivers brought to the stores. At the fairs, taking the sacks of grain from the village wagoners; loading them up to take to the mill for milling; in the winter, taking wood from the sleds and creating wood piles. There were: Dovidl Treger, Leybele Viskitski and Ben-Tzion Treger. We also had a water-carrier, Meyer, who carried water to the well-run homes.
Bakeries: In general, neither Jews or Christians baked their own bread, but bought it in bakeries. Only on the Sabbath and holidays did Jews prepare their own baked goods. Jewish bakeries were run by: Meyer Shtiglitz (Meyer son of Peretz); Mendele Mendelovitsh (Mendl Smokh); Shayeh Mendelovitsh (his son); Avrom Goldberg (Avromele Beker); Dovid Ditman (Dovid Kaftan); Moyshe Friedman with his sons Berish, Mendl, and Zalman.
In order to finish the occupations having to do with foodstuffs we remember the soda-water-factory which was run by Mrs. Hannah Granatovitsh, who was known as Itshelikhe from the name of her husband Itshe. She ran the undertaking with her sons Moyshe, Khayim, and Yankl. There we obtained soda-water in syphons and big brass cylinders, and also kvass.
The largest number of Jewish tradespeople were in the garment business. They worked for Jews and Christians from the town and surrounding villages. We will now detail the various professions.
Tailors: There were only custom tailors, no ready-made clothiers. They rarely made new clothes; more often they reused garments that were shabby on one side, turning them inside out or remaking clothes from an older son for a younger. Of course, rich men did not need to do this, but we did not have a lot of rich men. New clothes were sewn only for holidays, for weddings, or other celebrations. During our time these had tailor workshops: Moyshe Beker (Moyshe son of little Yankele); Hershl Lifshitz (the Big Little Hersh) with his sons Yosl and Meyer; Ruven Levkovitsh (Ruven son of Hershl the pot and pan maker). He was also one of the founders of the local Culture; Hersh Danziger (Hersh son of Mekhl) with his son Saneh; Yankov Shnebele [little beak]; Moyshe-Borukh Kirnberg; Yekhiel Fishlevitz (the blind Yekhiel) with sons Itshe, Avrom-Shmuel and Nakhman; Hershl Preger (the little Hershele) with sons Yankov and Dovid; Shimon Koss (Moyshe-Ber the furrier's son-in-law); Avrom Vaynshtock.
In this profession, women were also employed as tailors, designers, and laundry-seamstresses: the sisters Soreh, Royze, and Tzvetl Zimler (Zelig's daughters); Blumeh Volkevitsh; Sitrinboym (Shloimeh Zalman's daughter).
Furriers: Moyshe-Ber Hoffman (Moyshe the redhead); Moyshe-Ber Berg (son of Khaval) with his son Yankov (the tall Yankov).
Shoemakers: Moyshe-Lozer Groyne; Yekhezkiel Shmyetaneh (Haskel's Petshtshatsher) with sons Yankl and Yosl; Zelig Ettinger; Yankov-Lozer Funtovitsh with his son Mendele; Moyshe Beker (the little Moyshele); the brothers Yosl, Pinya, Shloimeh, and Mordkhe Grizshak; Noyekh Indik; B'tsalel Starishevski; Elye son of Ozer; Toyveleh Bzhezinski; Menashehkele Shuster (he was the shamas, the mikvehnik, and gravedigger); Yankov-Dovid Nelson with his sons; Shloimeh Zanvl Sitrinboym; Avrom Krakov (the blind Hershl's) with his sons; Leybishl Kirnberg; Nosl Shmetanke (Noseleh Shpilet); Avrom Shumakher (Smokh) with his sons Mendl and Bendet; Moteh, Perl-Leah's son-in-law; Moysheleh Gelbshtayn (Moysheleh Klim); Moyshe Vaynshtok (the blackhaired Moyshe) with his sons Hershl and Borukh-Yankl; Yitskhok Koyavski; Ber'l Indik with his sons Ayzik, Itshe, Zalman; Yankl Hofman (the redhead Yankl); Binyomin Zhelekhover; Yankl Loyfer (Yankl Shaps).
Glaziers: They would go to the villages with a crate of glass, prepared putty, and glaze the windows of a whole village. In our time, they were: Mekhl Danziger (Mekhl Glazier); Manis Kirnberg with his son, Yekhiel; Hershl Levkovitsh (also a maker of pots and pans).
There was a tinsmith, Yidl Filtz, who was called the Mashenik (Mesonzhik), an artist in the trade, who could make the most complicated metal parts for machines. He also had a laundry-mangle, to which people brought their laundry.
Viskit had two hairdressers: Lipeh Goldman and Zekhariah Zimler. Both Jews and Christians used to go to them for haircuts; men and women. The hair salons were meeting places where one could grab a chat in politics, in world news. Clients were from various circles and there was a real opportunity to share news, rumors, a bit of community or personal gossip. Also, newspapers were delivered there, so the clients wouldn't be bored while they waited. Basically it was an unofficial reading-room for young people who did not come for a haircut or a shave.
We had a medical family: Yozef Felznshvalb, a paramedic; his sister Dina, a dentist; and a second sister, Manya, who was a midwife. They were immigrants.
As we have seen, our little shtetl was full of plain Jews, hard-working Jewish laborers, who struggled to make a living. A lot of them had several jobs. In the winter they had one profession, and in the summer a second livelihood. These other livelihoods were orchardry, leasing the fruit orchards in the area. In our times, the orchard workers were: our father, Fayvl Goldman (Fayvl son of Moyshe-Borukh) with his married son and his other sons; Hershl Krakov (the blind Hershl); Shmuel Davidson and his brother Eliyahu (Eliyahu Khelem); the brothers Yankl and Shloyme Zuker (known by the name of their mother as the sons of Beyla-Golda); Hershl Levkovitsh (who was also a pot-maker); Noseleh Shmetanke (Shpilet).
These orchard workers rented the orchards in the winter, or in bloom, when the trees had already blossomed. Acquisitions were made on chance, however the luck fell. Not infrequently, a mistake was made in the calculation - there were storms that knocked off the blossom; worms could ruin the fruit; and a good year would play havoc with the prices for the harvest.
We used to go out to the orchards with family, with the grown sons, because we had to protect the trees from several angles: protect them from crawling worms; put props underneath when the trees were loaded with fruit; and, of course, protect them from those who didn't honor Thou shalt not covet and Thou shalt not steal. In the orchard, we used to build a booth from straw. There, we managed a household. Sabbath and dietary laws were observed. It wasn't the easiest thing. Among the requisites for the booth there had to be a dog.
The orchard workers had their own horse and wagon with which to deliver their harvest to Warsaw or other cities. In Viskit, there were cellars and attics to store the fruit. Later harvests were laid down on straw to ripen.
In the orchard itself there were several seasons, light and heavy harvests. We took the entire orchard and there would be apples, pears, cherries, plums, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, grapes, and so forth.
We have told about our Viskit, about how it looked, its Jews with their occupations of more than twenty-five years ago. We have been away from our hometown since about a decade before the Holocaust. During these last years before the Holocaust, life in the shtetl did not change. That's how it looked later as well, until 1939, when Hitler's army invaded Poland. A town full of working class Jews, productive Jews, who really lived by the sweat of their shoulders.
Perhaps, we may have left out details, simply because they slipped from our memories. We went in our memories from street to street, from house to house, and attempted to account for everyone. The great majority perished, they were martyrs, they shared the fate of our six million tortured during the Nazi murders.
May our lines therefore also be a memory for our dear and beloved who perished with all the terrible deaths at the despicable Hitlerite hands.
The Jews in our town were bound together by thousands of threads with the surrounding non-Jewish element. They worked for the town and village peasants; made clothes and shoes for them; they sold them merchandise and they bought their agricultural products. They leased their orchards; they bought their cattle and horses. They lived as good neighbors for a long time.
But when the evil times of Nazi decrees came, they remained equally guilty for our pain. The small remnant of survivors told about them. Only a few examples of humanity (certainly, at danger to their own existence) were shown by our Christian neighbors.
Now the shtetl is Judenrein. A town that is robbed of Jewish energy, of Jewish initiative, of the intellect and strength of Jewish people.
Viskit became like the other hundreds and hundreds of communities that were cruelly erased from our Jewish lives.
We, the still-living, by our testimony, won't allow our hometown and its Jews, our near and dear ones, to be forgotten. May they really live forever in our memories and in the memories of coming generations.
As well as telling about our shtetl, Viskit, which the Nazi murderers destroyed together with its resident Jews, we want to dedicate these additional lines to our close relatives, who for generations were rooted in Viskit from which their family tree branched out strongly.
We will begin with our great grandfather Fayvele Kabtzan (Pauper), after whom our father Fayvl son of Moyshe-Borukh was named.
Now, the name Reb Fayvele Kabtzan has behind it a family story, which was often told in our family, and telling it always gave us bragging rights. The story is this:
Our great-grandfather, the aforementioned Fayvl, was a Mogelnitze khosid, a very close relative of the rabbin of Mogelnitze, Reb Khayim-Meyer-Yekhiel Shapiro, who was known as the
SRF.* Great-grandfather was very often at the rabbin's house for holidays. He very often went there on foot. One time, when he was at the rabbin's house on a holiday, it happened to be Simkhas Torah, he danced with the rabbin. During the dance, the rabbin said to great-grandfather,
Fayvl, this is a suitable time to ask what you desire - do you want riches or god-fearing children?Great-grandfather chose the second. The rebbe responded:
Fayvl, you will remain a poor man, nakhes from your children will you therefore have.From that time on, his name remained Fayvl Kabtzan (Fayvl Pauper).
Great-grandfather had three sons and one daughter: our grandfather, Moyshe-Borukh, and his brothers Shama and Shloyme, and a daughter Miriam. The rabbin's blessing came true. They were all god-fearing and, in addition, his son-in-law, Miriam's husband, was studious. He came from Skierniewice and was considered very knowledgeable, not just by us, but in the entire region.
Great-grandfather died very young, seeing in all only 45 years. Around his death, a great story was woven, which was told as a fable of the Mogelnitzer rabbin.
It was told, that once upon a time, when Fayvl Kabtzan as was his habit, came to the rabbin on Shabbes, he went, as is customary, to greet the rebbe. But the rebbe on greeting him told him to go home immediately. It was just before the sabbath and it was necessary to hurry, so the rebbe gave him his coach and sent him from Mogelnitze to Viskit. He gave him a hand-written note, a kind of bill. Great-grandfather instantly understood that the matter was not simple, and asked the rebbe, Will we see each other again? The rebbe answered, Yes, this year we will meet again.
Great-grandfather came home. The whole sabbath day went by in good order, as always. Saturday night, after havdalah, he suddenly died. When the document that the rebbe had given him was opened, they saw, that it foretold what would happen.
Likewise the rebbe's answer that they would meet again this year came true. The Mogelnitzer rabbin actually died the same year.
Seeing as how great-grandfather was a poor man, he couldn't buy off his sons when it came time for them to serve in the military. Two of his sons - our grandfather Moyshe-Borukh and his brother Shloyme - were Nicholas's soldiers; they served for 25 years somewhere in Russia. We still remember that they called grandfather's brother Shloyme Zelner (Solomon Soldier).
The family used to tell how the wives of the men in Nicholas's army traveled around Russia to be together.
Grandfather Moyshe-Borukh married Toyve, from the hometown of Naydorf, which grew out of the village of Old-Viskit. From this union came our father Avrom-Fayvl and his sister Ester-Mindl.
Our father, as an only son, avoided military service. At a very young age, ten years old, he yoked himself into the strictures of his livelihood, going into an apprenticeship with a shoemaker. He married Shifra Viskitski, a descendant from the village of Vrenska, beyond Mogelnitze. She was orphaned young and was raised by her mother Ita in Viskit.
After the wedding, father was self-employed in shoemaking and mother had a food store. The food store didn't go as well as expected, so she took up sewing women's kupkes (a type of headcovering). In those years it was the only headcovering for the Jewish women. Wearing a wig seemed a bit wanton, enlightened. Later, when it became stylish to wear wigs and the religious people had made peace with it, the specialty of making kupkes came to an end.
In time, our parents bought a house, built a proper household, and brought into the world new generations.
All in all, we were eight living children - seven brothers and one sister. Supporting such a family was tough going. Initially, father actually had two livelihoods - in winter he worked in shoemaking and in summer he managed orchards.
When the children were grown, the oldest sons - Yekhiel and Gedaliah - were sent to be apprenticed in gaiter-and-spat making [the upper parts of boots ](with Fayvl Funtovitsh). When they had already learned the trade a little, Yekhiel emigrated to Argentina and Gedaliah came back to work at home with Father. They bought machines and liquidated the shoemaking. We then had a business in gaiter-and-spat making, in which we dealt in leather goods.
Aside from the two earlier-mentioned brothers, later, we two emigrated to Argentina and our brother Shloyme to the United States. Three children remained at home: Soreh, Mordkhe and Lipeh.
Our brother Mordkhe married Soreh Vaytzer (Betke's daughter); they had five children.
Our brother Gedaliah married Nekhama Rozenholtz from Zyrardow, where they lived and had two children: Moysheleh and Italeh.
Our brother Lipeh got married in Zyrardow to Khanah-Khaya, daughter of Yosl Beker, and had one little boy.
They all perished at murderous Nazi hands.
Our father was involved in the dynamic matters in town. He was active in all the town organizations: In the Khevra Kadisha [burial society], in the Bes-Lekhem [poor house]; in town issues regarding rabbis, slaughterers, cantors - nothing was done without him. Here and there, he tried to avoid being in charge. He was like a good soldier faithfully carrying out his duties.
Although he was a craftsman, he was considered the most talented at smoothing controversies. He found a way out of the most knotty arguments. Even in the most convoluted arguments, where a rabbi or a judge could not come up with a resolution, Fayvl, Moyshe-Borukh's son, found a solution acceptable to all sides.
In addition to common sense, he was blessed with a good nature and shrewdness. Often, with an analogy, an example, or a joke, he would reconcile and smooth over really difficult situations.
In our house, we were not surprised when someone knocked at the door in the middle of the night. It could be a terrible blizzardy winter night. Father did not think for long; he got dressed and went where he had to go. They also frequently came in summertime, when we were in the orchards. They knew that the response I don't have time would not be heard from him.
We must say that he was a lucky person in these particular matters. He undertook to unravel knotty matters; he truly took risks and it worked out for him.
When the Nazis took Viskit and drove the Jews out of town and into the Warsaw Ghetto, the whole family went there. From the Warsaw Ghetto, we received a series of letters and cards, stamped with Hitler's swastika and censored.
In some letters there was already news of who in the family had been sent away to work. Now we know that this meant they were sent to the death camps.
We heard the news about our brother Gedaliah that when the Nazis came to take him to the cursing out, he threw himself from a high floor and was killed.
This is sum total of our family, grown from the broad root which occupied such a place in our hometown, Viskit.
So too is this the sum total of our hometown, which was cut down by the Nazi murderers.
|Page 432, left:||Shama Goldman|
|Page 433:||Avrom-Fayvl Goldman with his wife Shifra (Viskit). Perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.|
|Page 435:||A group of youths from Viskit in the 1920's.
From right to left: Zalman Fridman, Saneh Vaynshtock, Nakhman Fishlevitz, Yosl Tzitrinboym, Saneh Danziger, Avrom Yoel Hofman. Only Zalman Fridman survives; all the others perished.
|Page 436:||A group of young friends from Viskit in the 1920's.
From right to left, seated, Mordkhe Volkevitsh, Saneh Vaynstok, Borukh-Yankl Vaynshtok
Standing, Meyer Lifshitz, Toivye Goldman, Hershl Slod, Avrom Altman, Saneh Danzinger.
Except for Borukh-Yankl and Toivye Goldman, they all perished.
|Page 437:||Gedaliah Goldman and Itshe Funtovitsh, as soldiers in the Polish army. They perished because of the Nazis.|
|Page 438:||The management of Maccaby in Viskit in October 1932.
From right to left, on the ground: Mordkhe Beker, Zalman Fridman, Leybl Nashilevitsh.
Seated: Khayim-Leyb Stiglitz, Zalman Levkovitsh, Rivke Liberman, Ruven Levkovitsh, Ruzhke Grinvald, Toivye Haberman, Dovid Preger.
Standing: Menasheh Goldberg, Dovid Funtovitsh, Moshel Vaynshtayn, Toivye Goldman, Borukh Zhulkovski, Yisroel-Leyb Haberman, Leybush Gottesgnader. The majority perished.
|Page 440, top:||A group of youth activists from Tarbut (Culture) in Viskit.
From right to left. Sitting: Lipeh Goldman, Ester-Feyge Fishlevitz, Rivke Liberman, Ruven Levkovitsh (chairman), Ruzshke Grinvald, Soreh-Rokhel Levkovitsh, Tovtshe Levkovitsh. Standing: Dovid Preger, Sheva Hofman, Leybush Gottesgnader, Zalman Levkovitsh, Moysh'l Vaynshtayn, Grinvald, Borukh Zulkovski, Toivye Goldman, Freydl Indik, Khayim-Leyb Shtigler. The majority perished.
|Page 440, bottom:||A group of active Tarbut members in Viskit.
From right to left. Sitting: Zalman Levkovitsh, Beyla-Mindl Goldberg, Elye Goldberg.
Standing: Ruven Levkovitsh, Zisl Ayziks, Toivye Haberman, Golda Funtovitsh, Ester-Feyge Fishlevitsh, Khayim-Leyb Haberman, Leah Goldberg, Yashke Ayziks. The majority perished.
|Page 442:||A group of friends from Viskit.
Sitting: Mindl Goldberg, Toyva-Gitl Goldberg, Perl Funtovitsh.
Standing: Yitskhok Zinger's youngest daughter. All perished.
|Page 445:||Nekhama Rosenholtz-Goldman, the daughter of Simkhele Becker (Viskit-Zyrardow, perished.|
|Page 446:||Soreh Goldman with her children Toyve and Nikhe (Viskit). They perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.|
|Page 447, right:||Lipeh Goldman and his wife Khaneh-Khaya and child, from Viskit. Perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.|
|Page 447, left:||Gedaliah Goldman (Viskit) (Perished in the Warsaw Ghetto)|
There was great poverty in the Jewish cities and towns of Poland. To alleviate this poverty, various associations were formed, each trying in its own way to help the needy. As a rule, these philanthropic mutual aid societies received contributions and often the major part of their income from townspeople who had emigrated overseas.
Presented here are portions of a letter, sent in 1929 by the House of Bread in Viskit to the former townspeople Mordkhe Viskitski and his wife, Sore-Dvore in Argentina. These lines describe the difficult economic situation of the Jewish community in Viskit. The names mentioned here are no longer simply names, but a list of tortured martyrs, which will here be preserved for eternity.
Viskit, 22 June, 1929
We, the undersigned, appeal to you with a very urgent and serious request. We very earnestly beg you to give very serious consideration to this letter . As you know, Viskit is a respectable but poor town, and it grows poorer day by day, its material circumstances worsening hour by hour. 80 per cent of its people have no means of support. It's not a question of lacking luxury items; but not having enough to buy bread, or, God forbid, even to sustain life.
Thus, several months ago, your father and father-in-law initiated the founding of an institution called The House of Bread. The leadership of this institution consists of the following individuals: resident Reb Yehiel Pishlevitsh; Fayvl Goldman, Zelig Zimler, Isaac Indik, Yeshue Frenkel, Elimelekh Puntavitsh, Shmuel Raykhert, Yeshaye Binenthau, Elimelekh Fraydenraykh.
The purpose of this institution is to distribute help to poor people. Raw products are distributed weekly. We derive our income by collecting a weekly contribution from each person in town. Unfortunately, we are unable to meet our expenses. Instead of a weekly distribution, we now give out the products once every few weeks, and even that is difficult, because the weekly contributions we collect provide only about 10 per cent of what we need. We provide help to the most needy, whose immediate survival is actually in danger. They appeal to us for a piece of bread, and we have to send them away empty-handed. We look upon their hunger with great heartbreak and internal suffering, and can do nothing .
Thus, yesterday, June 21, the administration met, and your father, the president, reported on the institution's activities from its beginning until the present. There was also a report on the growing, horrible poverty in Viskit. We passed a number of resolutions, and among others, we resolved to appeal to our brothers overseas, in America and in Argentina, where there are townspeople from Viskit, to help as much as they can, and immediately.
We have omitted from the letter a number of places where the appeal is made stronger, with very powerful, even heartrending words. The letter is signed by the administrators of The House of Bread in Viskit, President, Yehiel Fishlevitsh and Secretary, Yeshaye Binenthau. Following this is a certification affirming the contents of the letter, signed by the rabbi of Viskit, Yehetskl Duberish Tenenboym, and the leaders of the kehile, the organized Jewish community, Arye Altman and Dovid Ditman, along with the stamps of the rabbi and the kehile.
|Yehiel Pishlevitsh (Viskit). Murdered.|
|Page 449||Photostat of the end of the letter from the Viskit House of Bread, with the signatures of the rabbi and the representatives of the kehile, with their stamps.|
|Page 450||Top right: Moyshe Vaynshtok (left) of Viskit as a Russian soldier in German captivity in the First World War, shown with a comrade. Murdered.
Top left: Itshe Pishlevitsh (Viskit). Murdered.
Bottom right: The family of Moyshe and Khave Vaynshtok (Viskit) except for one member (Borekh-Mendl). All murdered.
Bottom left: Avrum Shmuel Pishlevitsh (Viskit). Murdered.
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