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[Page 104]

Sextons[1] and Sub–Sextons
According to the Small–Synagogues/Houses–of Studies[2]
in Which They Held Their Positions:

Avrum–Ber the sexton, second name Vrone, he was the sexton in the new small–synagogue/house–of–prayer, and yet he was the official town sexton for the rabbi and the community.

If it was necessary to summon someone to a Jewish Religious Court[3], it was Avrum–Ber who would do it. If it was necessary to invite someone to a first Friday night[4] after the birth of a boy celebration or to a ritual circumcision[5], or to distribute invitations to a wedding Avrum Ber would do it. He knew who was to be invited to the celebration and who was not. He never made a mistake. When there was a yohrtsayt[6] Avrum Ber would indicate with his finger, where the grave was located. He would summon attendance in the synagogue every evening. He would stand in the middle of the market and in his thin, but ringing voice shout: “To the synagogue” and then continued on. Avrum Ber would accompany the rabbi to the synagogue well as to the bathhouse on Friday. He was the rabbi's consultant. He was a very clever person with a good sense of humour.

Shepsl Katsev came to the rabbi to complain, that Efraim–Kiva the butcher had beat him up. Avrum–Ber said to the rabbi: “Rabbi, we need to go see how Efraim–Kiva is.” His wages were small, a sickly amount, he had other sources of income, he was a tombstone engraver.

Avrum–Ber's grandchildren and great–grandchildren live in America, Argentina and Palestine. Sam Baker, the most important active member of the Bransk Relief, who today lives in Atlanta, is Avrum–Ber's grandchild.

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Following his death, the position in the new small–synagogue/house–of–study is filled by Markel, although he was not suited for the work, he probably had a good side. When he went to collect Khannukah gelt[7], he would spend hours in each house, so that he barely completed this until just before Pesakh. After his death, Mikhl Dovid Granitze follows as sexton. His distinction is, that he is Avrum Ber's son–in–law, but a too quiet Jew. He was a forest (timber ) merchant, he could not ask for contributions. He felt remote from everyone, .and Bransk Jews do not give easily, if they are not strongly urged. After his death the position of sexton is filled by Reb Nakhum Skornik.[8] He too, was a former patron of the –saloonkeeper, not suited to being a sexton. However, he did have one good trait, he excelled with liquor. He simply had a delightful time at any celebration. The people would urge him on: Reb Nakhum, have some more liquor. He was assisted in his duties by Khaim Leybl Shayne's son–in–law. Reb Nakhum permitted him to do this.

These were the beadles of the new small–baiz Medresh.


In the old baiz–Medresh (small–house–of–prayers/house–of–studies):

Maishe–Yehuda the sexton. Who did not know him? And whom did he not know? He knew everyone's problems, all the death anniversaries. The day, the place, where, by whom each was buried and next to whom, Maishe Yehuda kept all this information in his head. He was the sexton for the Jewish Religious Court after Avrum–Ber's death. He did not curry favour from anyone. His summons to synagogue was also magnificent. He knew everyone, even a father's name. He never had to ask anyone. On Rosh Khodesh Elul[9] at the cemetery, Maishe Yehuda was a necessity. Women and many men, poor things, wailed over the graves of strangers. He made certain to pray El Male Rakhamim[10] for those deceased whose children were already in America, and he did not do this for the money. He was a wonderful prayer leader. And in addition a clever Jew. He had a smile for everyone. He was sexton for about 55 years. At a ritual circumcision he would quiten the assembled children, warning them that something would be done to them. They would run out hanging on to their pants. In 1937, the good–natured Maishe Yehuda was attacked by a band of Poles,

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beaten and battered. Maishe Yehuda was sick and suffered for a long time, going about with a bandaged head. Maishe Yehuda at the age of 87 and along with the rabbi and all the other Bransk Jews dies a martyr in the Treblinka gas ovens on November 7th, 1942.

Sub–Sextons in the old small Beis Medresh were: Antchele Bagreber, followed by Hershl Pontz. They were both good at ritual circumcisions and weddings. They both kept careful track of the holiday–money and Khannukah gelt. They swept out the –bez Medresh every Friday, cleaned the lamps, and on Mondays, after the market swept around near the Beis Medresh. During the winter they heated the large oven. This they did very well because otherwise there would have been much criticism from the regular oven sitters, if ever they did not do this.


In the third Beis Medresh:

Zalman the sexton, Avrum–Ber's son–in–law, was a great scholar and also a good prayer leader. He was not too well liked for his performance as a sexton by the rich leaders of the third Beis Medresh. Zalman the sexton died at a relatively young age.

Zalman sexton's place is taken by Maishe Aron Vasser. He did not depend solely on being a sexton. He was a teacher and also a kliyektar, that is, he sold tickets for the lotteries, and yet he was one of the poorest people. There were always scholars gathered around him. After his death, Shmuel Kruk, Pinye Shteper becomes the sexton. Shmuel Kruk was a preacher, calling himself Rabbi Shmuel of Bransk. He stooped down to the wealthy members of the third Beis Medresh. He was also not too poor. He had a family of eight children. He called them tartars He was a small, thin Jew wearing a stiff hat. He was liked in town. There were others who were angry at him because the town had to pay for his operation in the hospital where he remained for a couple of months.

In 1939, when the Soviets occupy Bransk, Shmuel

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Kruk finds himself without a roof over his head, nowhere to live. He leaves with his family and goes to Russia.

To this very day, no one has heard from him.

The sub–sextons Yoel'ke the Nikolayevsker soldat (Tsar Nikolay's soldier) was an angry Jew, he never permitted any children to warm themselves even a little. He kept the Beis Medresh very clean. The lamps always shone. He did not have too much love for the Beis Medresh leaders. They called him the Russian. Following him Avrum Henekh the Kominyar [chimney sweep (?)] his family name was Katz, a very thin soldier from Denenburg. He was married in Bransk. He was a very good person. He kept the Beis Medresh clean. He had many stories to tell, was always looking for someone to tell them to. Everyone said: “Avrum–Henekh, we already heard the story.” He was taken to the gas–chambers of Treblinka on November 7th, 1942.


Tailors' Beis Medresh:

The first was Maishe Velvl the sexton, Mushanski the sexton. He was quiet, sickly, a slow–moving Jew who lived in a room in the Beis Medresh. He had little work and even less income. When he dies, there is no sexton to take his place. Aryeh Kratz and later Alter Kopelikhe are both gaboyim and sextons.


Poale Tsedek Beis Medresh:

The first sexton was Maishe Ber. He was Hershl the carpenter's father. His name was Maishe Ber Rutzki, According to what elderly Jews relate, this Maishe Ber was a very honest Jew. He did not benefit from being the sexton. All he had to do was sweep out the Beis Medresh every Friday.

Zelig the sexton used to be called Zelig Kutshmirer [coachman (?) ] His family name was Kaplansky. Zelig was a Jew with a stately appearance. People said that Zelig Kutchmirer, years before, had travelled about the Volin area as a khasidic rebbe, writing good luck charms. His gabai was Leybe Alyentzke. The appearance of both of them was suited to this.

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He was perfectly suited for what was now called the shoemakers' Beis Medresh.

Zelig Kutshmirer was a good natured person. When those who were skating on the frozen river were chilled to the bone and looking for somewhere to warm themselves, all the Beis Medreshim were closed to them. However, not by Zelig. He went about his duties slowly, beginning mid–week. He had good bosses, good payers.

His sub–sexton was Yosl the porter. He was a good little Jew, kept the Beis Medreshim clean. After the death of Zelig Kutchmirer, Yosl the porter becomes the sexton in his place. It turns out that Yosl the porter's his family name is Kaplan, he is a good sexton, not lazy. He takes over the work of delivering invitations to weddings and ritual circumcisions. Yosl the porter's life ends in the gas–chambers of Treblinka along with all the other Bransk Jews on November 7th, 1942.

There were no sextons in the khasidic shtibl. Those who prayed there themselves did all the work of sextons and sub–sextons.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. shammes Return
  2. Beis Medresh Return
  3. Din Torah or Beis Din Return
  4. Ben Zakhor Return
  5. Bris Return
  6. Anniversary of a death Return
  7. Wikipedia – The tradition of giving money (Khannukah gelt) to children is of long standing. The custom had its origins in 17th–century practice of Polish Jewry to give money to their small children for distribution to their teachers. According to popular legend, it is linked to the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the ancient Greeks. To celebrate their freedom, the Hasmoneans minted national coins. It may also have begun in 18th–century Eastern Europe As a token of gratitude toward religious teachers. Return
  8. Akiva Skornik was the grandfather of Rubin Roy Cobb, perhaps this was his father, uncle, brother or cousin? Return
  9. Wikipedia – The twelfth month of the Jewish civil year. During the month of Elul it is customary to blow the shofar every morning from Rosh Khodesh Elul (the first day of the month) until the day before Rosh Hashanah. Many Jews also visit the graves of loved ones throughout the month in order to remember and honour those people in our past who inspire us to live more fully in the future. Return
  10. Wikipedia – God full of mercy. A funeral prayer used by the Ashkenazi Jewish community. The cantor recites it, for the ascension of the souls of the dead, during the funeral, going up to the grave of the departed, remembrance days, and other occasions on which the memory of the dead is recalled. Return

[Page 109]

Women Synagogue Wardens/Trustees
– Women Who Read Prayers in The Women's Section
of the Synagogue, for Other Women to Repeat

These were special types of women, who did their work to help the poor families in town with anything they could. We must make the acquaintance of the women in order for the picture of all their activities to be understood. Most especially, these women are worthy of having their work on behalf of the poor be documented for future generations.

Frumele the gabai'ete, was the wife of Mr Noakh Berman. On Fridays, Frumele goes to the housewives to get from everyone a khale[1], a roll or several little cakes. Frumele does her work even during the worst frosts and storms. She collects Shabbos baked goods. In case Frumele comes a little late, the housewives know and they save a portion for her. Frumele has her steady customers. Without fanfare, she leaves the khales and rolls in the homes. She does this so skillfully that nobody notices where Frumele has been and to whom she gave her festive Shabbos baked goods. But you may be certain that in no house was there ever nothing for Shabbos because Frumele knew about everyone and everything. Frumele was also the gabai'ete of the Khevrah Kadisha. In the Shul[2] she was the main prayer leader as all the women listen to her and pray with her. Frumele was one of the true righteous women. She dies alone, childless. There is a virtuous funeral with a eulogy that she truly earned.


Khaye Esther the Gabai'ete/Trustee

Her husband was Nokhum the hat maker. She too, was the same sort of woman like Frumele. Whenever there was someone who was sick, hungry or

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barefoot, Khaye–Esther knew and immediately became interested. Many times Rabbi Itskhak Ziev or Rabbi Tsukerman would call her and make her aware of certain instances that required her help. Khaye –Esther always knew where to obtain a quarter chicken. She marches in to Aron Velvelikhen's


Khaye Esther the Gabai'ete


bakery, Manye Goldvaser or to Reizl Blume Patinke, Sore the Baker or goes from house to house an says: “Poor thing, a poor, sick woman who just gave birth.” She is given a couple of groshen and whatever is necessary. In case she falls ill and cannot go herself, it does not matter. She buys with her own money. She has trust in her steady customers that they will not do this. The housewives know that if Khaye–Esther needs money it must have been necessary. Therefore she pays no attention to anyone's protestations. If someone was not so religious, Khaye–Esther pretended not to notice: “It is a pity, poor thing, sick,” she says. Her home was always open, whether it was for some to share a secret with Khaye–Esther about another or just to have a glass of tea. Peshke the crazy woman was well aware that at Khaye–Esther's she could always come in, have a glass of tea or lie down in her bed to take a nap. Khaye–Esther would only remark: “It is time to change the bed–linen.” Zalman the ‘Rabbi’. is a steady visitor to her

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house. He drinks a glass of tea and Khaye–Esther mends his pants and jacket. On Fridays, Zalman finds a fresh shirt and soap for him when he goes to the bathhouse.

Erev Shabbos, Khaye Esther, carrying a large basket, goes around from house to house for baked rolls. She now has enough food for an entire week for all her customers. She is also one of the gabai'etes of the Khevrah Kadisha, busy with work for a ritual cleansing of a body. She cleans the house and cooks something so the children when they come from a funeral, will have something warm to eat.

She is also the prayer leader in the synagogue. You will find Khaye–Esther wearing her spectacles and the women praying near the window of the women's section in the old bez Ha'medresh. Should she become ill, her only concern is who will now pray for the poor and sick? She was alone, Fayvl the shoemaker did not visit her often, but my (Alter Trus) father and mother did visit her often. When she died, the rabbi delivered a eulogy which she truly deserved.

Kalman–Maishke's takes over the work. She does her work with excellence, but she talks a little too much. She tells who gave her a burnt baked roll and to whom she gave the burnt baked rolls – certainly to one who doesn't pray. Khaike the butcher likes this a lot saying: “You did well, may you live a long time. However these ”goyim[3] make their bed, so that they may sleep in it.” She is very active at a ritual cleansing of a body, not only with the work but also with her mouth. She carries a terrible hatred towards those who do not pray. At a Khevrah Kadisha seuda she always finds someone to blame for not doing the work properly: “You stay at home during a ritual cleansing of a body but you come to a seuda. ”

Kalman–Maishe's also dies alone. Her children and grandchildren are somewhere in Chicago.

The tall Feyge: She was not a collector of baked rolls. Her main work was as a prayer leader in the Shul. There are always a couple of dozen women gathered around her and Feyge causes them to cry with bitter tears. The tall Feyge is however, a very happy woman, has a wealth of sayings and jokes. There were whisperings that

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she only came to a ritual cleansing of a body of a distinguished woman, the first of the month of Elul[4], when the women come to the cemetery. The tall Feyge was at the cemetery directly after the first prayers. Without her, the women could not know where their dearest ones were buried. Feyge knew everything. She did not begin to pray without Maishe–Yehuda the shammes because he had to make the eulogy. After the eulogy the tall Feyge becomes overwhelmed with pleas and tears. She knew of everyone's problems, and in these pleas included them, asking exactly what the women wanted to ask. She knew who, poor thing, needs a complete recovery, who needs to marry off a daughter or whose son must report for conscription. It was not necessary to tell her anything. She knew everything.

She was always prepared with a joke, when she saw a woman, not waiting for her, began meanwhile to weep over a grave. She would say to Maishe–Yehuda: “Just look, Maishe–Yehuda, how she cries over a stranger's grave.” There was not a yohrtsayt at which the tall Feyge was not present.

Her source of income was from a brick house which was her inheritance. Asher Tikochski lived in this brick house. Instead of paying rent money, he gives her a list of expenses for repairs, and when she gets a bit angry, Asher says that the brick house is after all, Mendl–Maishe Hitzl, and she keeps quiet. She too, dies alone. Maishe–Yehuda provides a nice place and a fine funeral but without a eulogy.

The Bocki teacher collects baked goods for Shabbos, has her customers and does not participate in the Khevrah Kadisha work. She excelled in that during the summer she went about on market–day carrying cold water, giving everyone some to refresh themselves with a drink. She would remind the Jews only to make a reckoning.

The last two woman gabai'etes were Alterke the odishaver's (?) wife, and Frumke Yenkl Brezhnitzer's second wife. Poor strangers often spent the night at Frumke's. She never took money from them for this. Both participated in helping anyone who was in need, and also went about to collect

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baked rolls and had their customers to whom to distribute them. Both women were led to the gas chambers together with everyone on the 7th November 1942.

There must still be mention made of the following women: Bayle Eyge, Hershl Shuster's wife. Her house was one from where anyone who was hungry would emerge completely satisfied. The Kadluvbovker rimerke's life ended along with her husband's and children's in the gas chambers together with all the other Jews.

There were other prayer leaders. The women's gabai'ete Rokhl Shloymeh Ma'aleskher who was not only a prayer leader, but a truly righteous woman. She helped with everything. However, she is turned in with seventy two Jews. She is shot on November 15th 1942, and is buried on the Bransk cemetery in an adjoining grave.

Zise'le Yenkl Zalman Avrum's and Rokhke from Bendige are also well–known as good prayer leaders. Women said pearls flowed from their lips.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. A twisted white bread eaten on the Sabbath and festivals Return
  2. Synagogue Return
  3. Non–Jews, gentiles – here in a derogatory sense. Return
  4. Wikipedia – Elul, the 12th month in the Jewish calendar when the shofar is blown every morning from the first day of Elul until Rosh Hashanah (except on Shabbat). Return

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The reasons that propelled the Bransk Jews to emigrate were varied. Bransk was developing into a town with a significant Jewish population.

Yet there were always specific reasons that led Branskers to emigrate to faraway places.

The first thrust, that led to this was during the times of the Kontanistn edict. There were in Bransk young, courageous boys. They were very afraid of being caught to become Nikolayevske (Tsar) soldiers. In the main, they were poor youths with no protection. They were uncertain of their safety in town. So they simply tore themselves away from Bransk and fled.

Such youths dragged themselves on foot to Brisk[1]. Volin[2] merchants would come there with their horses and wagons. The youths would sign on as drivers in the hope that upon arriving somewhere in Volin they would be able to reach the Austrian border.

Brod[3] was then very popular as the border town between Russia and Austria. But not everyone was successful in carrying out their plans, because in Volin these strangers would be caught for their own town recruits, or these same merchants would turn them in to the catchers, thereby freeing their own young boys from conscription.

Others however, were successful in crossing the border and then,

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after much difficulty, arrived at the shores of America or other distant lands.

In 1851, there was talk in Bransk that someone by the name Falik is in (I)stanbul, Turkey.

There were other reasons that pushed people to emigrate. In case certain people sinned before God and man, there was only one way open for them – emigration.

The following story will give you a sense of such emigrants.

In 1937, a delegate from the Warsaw –Palestine office arrives. He introduced himself as a judicial representative from the Palestinian legal inheritance office. He explained to the Bransk population that in 1930 a woman by the name of Liebe Adeser died in Jerusalem. She comes from Bransk. She left Bransk in 1861, had given birth to an illegitimate child. Her relatives then sent her to Palestine to cover their family's shame.

The woman died in an old–age home in Jerusalem. She had no survivors. She was a rich woman, had a large orchard. In her will she left everything to her relatives in Bransk, Grodno province.

He therefore came here to find the relatives of this Liebe Adeser. Nobody in Bransk in 1937 knew or remembered who she was or who her relatives were in Bransk or in other countries. There were those who did report for the inheritance, however without any positive documentation. For three days we in Bransk carried out an investigation, asked and asked again, most especially the older people in town.

The eldest in Bransk at that time was Liebe Silberstein, Yenkl the water–carrier's wife, 93 years old. The old Liebe however, was in no condition to remember such an occurrence. She stammered, wrinkled

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her 93 year old forehead which was already wrinkled from age, but no definite conclusion could be reached as to who this woman was.

After a thorough investigation the representative of the Palestinian legal inheritance office judicial administration left with nothing.

This shows that in 1861 they were already aware in Bransk of emigration and made use of it at various opportunities.

It is known that in 1867 the Milkhiger tailor's uncle left Bransk. Years later – in 1873 a letter arrived from him from America.

During the years of 1875 until 1880 many Branskers left for America. Shloymeh Bolbor had already brought over several of his relatives.

Avrume the hat–maker and Dovid Prager were among the Bransk emigrants at that time.


A Bransk Immigrant in New York in Shabbos Clothes in the 1890s
Alter–Yokl Itshike's


1880 is the beginning of a larger emigration, especially from the tailoring trade. Possibly times were not good for the tailoring trade.

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During this emigration we find Shimon Vilk, Yenkl Mordekhay the Khasid's brother, Avrume Yenkl Sanke's, Avrume Kartoflye, Alter Yokl Itchikhe's, Yashe Hersh Branski, the children of Zavl Fuks, Hertzke Fuks and his brother Yenkl Fuks. In the ten years up to 1890 there are in New York a large number of Bransker landslayt. There is already a Bransk colony somewhere on the east side of New York.

In 1894, there are now in New York two Bransk societies. The first is named the Old Bransker Society.

The number of emigrants who leave Bransk grows. New emigrants and families of earlier emigrants go to America to their men.

The character of the emigration up to 1905 was only an economic one. There was virtually no bread, so they set out for faraway lands and through hard work to earn a living for themselves and for their families.

Political emigration:–

A new stream of Bransk Jews leave their home, and not because of earning a living, but for political reasons.

It begins in 1904 when the Russo–Japanese War is at its peak and is followed by the Revolution of 1905.

Among the emigrants of 1905 we no longer find workers but young men from all classes, children of small merchants, intelligent, educated children for whom it becomes uncomfortable in Russia because of the political connections. Among these emigrants we find Alter the writer, Moshe–Hitzl Rose, Blume Mishurek, Yosl Mishlibovski, Khaim Baker, Shmuel Leyb Berl Leybishe's, Khaim Gold, Itche Rutker, Yudl Shloyme Hersh's, Binyomin Zelvin, the Moskver's son, Binyomke the protzenitzke's [percent?] and many others.

Even Borukh Cohen, Borukh the Rabbi's, is already in America at that time. In 1901. Children of the Maydener (?) leave and settle in Chicago.

In 1906 after the hopes for a free Russia were

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shattered, Bransk was almost empty.

The youth had already left.

From 1906 until the First World War many Branskers left, especially the youth who having grown up in the interim, left Bransk in masses. Among them were William Cohen, Shaul'ke Kashtan, Avrum Moshe Bertche's, Yankl the cart man's [?] and his brother Alter Itskhak the cart man's [?] son. Several from Domenive, Shloyme Wolfke's two sons, Lazer the cantor's, the Plonever's two sons, Sam Verp and his brother Louis Verp.

The youth who arrived in New York during this period established the third Bransk group by the name Bransker Young Men's, and the previous group was now called the “Old.” The very first Bransk group is now called “The Very Old.”

The last emigration of Bransk Jews that took place after the First World War had now ended.

The emigration consisted mostly of relatives of American citizens[4], who obtained visas for them, because the opportunity for a large emigration was no longer available. Only certain privileged persons were then permitted to travel. Among the first were Nosn Zelvin, the Moskver, who came to his children, Yenkl Baker's, from the Shmultchike's two sons, Zaydl Zalefski, Noske Katsev's son, Shaye the harness maker children, Aryeh Leyb the hat maker's wife and children, Hershl the carpenter's son, Fishl Rutzki, Noakh Shtaynberg and many others. A number of these new arrivals brought their own relatives over shortly thereafter. Others helped their relatives to go to Argentina or Africa[5] where there was no quota. It must be mentioned that many of the emigrants did little to take their families out of Bransk. In this way many more would have been saved from the gas–chambers.

Others went to Johannesburg, Africa[5], where we find Hinde Sashin, Brakha Vainer, Khone Smurzshik, Jospa Skornik[6], Piekucki.[7]

In Buenos Aires, Argentina there are Khaim Kestin, Shmuelke

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Tsukhtlyer, Goldings, Zagel and Hershel Stolyer's children, the Rutski's and many other Branskers.

In Cuba we find a few Branskers.

In Palestine there are many landslayt from Bransk. A large portion were from the Polish kibbutzim, where they prepared for pioneer work. Other older folk also went there. There we find Yosef Khaim Heftman, Ginsberg the teacher and his children, Khanna Kashan's daughter, Esther Yentchman and many others.

The emigration lasted eighteen years until the beginning of 1939. Branskers made use of every opportunity that was available for emigration. Little by–little all the possibilities were narrowed. The emigration to America became an impossibility. There also developed difficulties in leaving Poland, and yet there were landslayt who managed to get through and go to various countries.

By the beginning of the war all doors were closed to emigration.

There was only one door that remained open – the door that led to Treblinka to the gas–chambers, to the crematoriums, to the complete demise of everything and everyone that remained in Bransk.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Brisk d'lita (Hebrew), until 1921 Brest–Litovsk; from 1921 until 1939 Brzesc nad Bugiem; after 1939 Brest – capital of Brest district, Belarus. Return
  2. Wikipedia – Volin (Yiddish) is called Volin Oblast (province) in present day north–western Ukraine; it was adjacent to Galicia (Galysye in Yiddish), the largest and most populous, and northernmost province of the Austrian Empire, where it remained until the dissolution of Austria–Hungary at the end of World War I in 1918. Return
  3. Wikipedia – Brod (Yiddish), Brody in Ukrainian. In 1869 there were15,138 Jews out of a total population of 18,700 = 80.9%; 1880 15,316 / 20,000 = 76.3%; 1890 n.a. / n.a. = n.a. Return
  4. The United States is referred to as America Return
  5. South Africa is referred to as Africa. Return
  6. Jospa Cobb (Kobylanski) (nee Skornik) is the mother of Rubin Roy Cobb. Her picture as well as of other Branskers in Johannesburg can be seen on page 417 – she is on the right of the second front row. Return
  7. Shortened their name to Peck – cousins of Jospa Cobb Return

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Epidemics and Fires
in Bransk

Life in Bransk was very poor. The population lived in cramped conditions. Homes were not cleaned from Passover to Passover, so is it a wonder that from time–to–time there were epidemics? In 1844, in the month of Adar (March), an epidemic began. The largest number of victims were the young and grown children. Most children were kept hidden in their homes because of fear that they would be caught as recruits. They were actually the first to become victims. The community emptied out, the cemetery – filled in the six months until Elul–(September) time. The methods the town adopted in an attempt to stem the spread of the epidemic consisted of fasting, reciting Psalms, burning old names in the street and recital of hymns[1]. It is told that the waters of the river were halted by the sluice of the windmill and were responsible for the epidemic, but they did not allow the sluice gate to open because of the mills that would have to stop. Eventually they opened it, and the water flowed in the village of Karpye, but the epidemic arrived with the water in Tchekhenovtze. It is told that Rabbi Yudl Kharif announced on Yom Kippur at Kol Nidrey that nobody should fast this Yom Kippur because of the weakened condition of the population.

In 1852 an epidemic affected mostly small children. According to what is told, there was hunger. They ate corn mush. They did not know how to cook the flour, so they used it raw, resulting in many stomach ailments and many deaths. The epidemic lasted

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until 1854. There was then issued a warning in town not to eat corn mush. Understandably, the greatest number of child victims was from the poorer population. The more affluent had other food to eat, so they were in less danger from the epidemic. The first epidemic did not make much of a distinction between poor and rich. Everyone suffered equally from this.

In 1852, due to the epidemic, it became necessary to purchase a second cemetery. And so the cemetery was purchased on Brezshnitzer Road from the Christian Marushevski. In 1892, another epidemic – diphtheria – arrived. They knew that any child who contacted diphtheria would die of this. It was terrifying. They conducted the funerals at night, not telling who had died. Sometime later, the epidemic carries over to older people. It became necessary to help the affected, to rub spirits on them.

The founders of this help group were Shay'ke and his brother Kesilke Mulyer. The Voluntary Burial Society then issues a manifest to include ordinary Jews to help do the work of burying the deceased. In this way just plain folk became part of the Voluntary Burial Society, remaining there as Burial Society members. A hospital[2] is set up in the new House of Study although no one ever leaves there alive. They cover the canals with starch (?) (or ?) crabs (or a misspelt Yiddish word ?). They opened the sluice gates everywhere, allowing the water to flow in Tchekhenoftse[3], in Symyatitch[4] and Botke[5].

The fourth epidemic occurred in 1915 when the German soldiers entered the town. Dead horses lay in the streets. Bloodied clothing from dead soldiers and dead bodies were everywhere. Flies and worms did their work. The word comes that there were already victims of the epidemic in Bielsk[6] The first victim in Bransk is a little girl, Yisroel'kales daughter. Alter, Leybl Styelmakh's son, Leyzer Godzshiber's wife, a mother of four children and tens of other people also died.

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The German fights; he isolates, gives no aid but he poisons the affected. No one says anything, they are afraid of the German soldiers with the poison. It becomes quiet in town. All these epidemics will remain in the memories of the Bransk Jews.



Of the largest fires in town we must mention the following: In 1868 during the month of Shevat (January), when everything was frozen solid, a fire broke out at Nokhum Iteld's, Alter Iteld's father. The fire wiped out the entire street up to the Poor House. There was no way to stop it as all the water was frozen, even the wells. The unfortunate people were somehow helped by the town. Many, over a period of several years, were able to recover. The local administration donated wood free of charge. Five years later, a fire broke out at Leyzer Gedalye Shnaider's. Blame fell upon the Kvites, an underworld group, because Leyzer Gedalye's had told that they had burned the houses of Nokhum Iteld because their brother was caught to be a soldier. The community collected signatures and the Kvites were sent to Siberia.

On Lag B'omer[7], precisely at 12 noon in 1876, a fire started at Mordekhay Fuhrman's in a shed. This small fire ignited the entire circle of houses up to Khaim Burak's house resulting in almost half the town being wiped out. Fortunately there were no human victims. Neighboring towns reacted warmly, bringing wagonloads of old clothing, bread and potatoes. They later helped all those who wanted to rebuild. Fights broke out during the rebuilding over the amount of ground and distance between houses.ke They would kill over a piece of ground. Day and night there were court cases brought to the rabbi. Avrum Ber the sexton became exhausted from summoning all the homeowners to the rabbi.

In 1909 Valkostovski's factory burnt down, and about three dozen young women become jobless. There was great fear at the fire at Yankl Shimon's house. The situation was serious. A row of

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wooden houses stood next to one another. There was danger that the town would be destroyed. Jews exhibited heroism, most especially Rabbi Shimon Shkop, who brings all of his yeshiva boys together and the danger is averted. In addition, there were already hoses at that time, although not everyone had the ability to pump, so they used pails of water.

When there was a fire at Mendl Toker or at Itche Orlyarnik's, the hoses did not work somehow. It was said that anti–Semitism was already at work, but they did not depend entirely on the hoses.

On the 16th September 1939, Bransk is bombarded with fire–bombs dropped from German airplanes. All ends of the town are enveloped in fire. 32 people fell victim in these fires.

It is remarkable how the fire did not affect any Christian neighbourhoods, only the Jewish ones. This was the first indication of the fate of the Jewish population.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Hoshayne – during Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles); willow twig, one of the four species used in Sukkot ritual; willow twig that is beaten during the hymns of the seventh day of Sukkot. Return
  2. In Polish Ciechanowiec Return
  3. See map over page Return
  4. in Polish Siemiatytze Return
  5. In Polish Bocki – a shtetl near Bransk where the maternal grandfather of came from Return
  6. In Polish Bielsk Podlaski . A shtetl near Bransk where the father of originated from. Return
  7. Spring holiday on the 33rd day after Passover, celebrated with excursions to the countryside Return

[Page 124]

Bransk in 1905 – The Beginning
of the Collapse of Tsarism

In 1905 there was already a revolution in Russia. In all the big towns there were significant workers' battles. Terrorist acts against autonomous police rule were carried out in the towns. The same fate was suffered by the governors, and even ministers like Stolypin were blown up by bombs. (I don't know if he is referring specifically to Stolypin being blows up or using him as an example, because Stolypin died in 1911.)[1]

In Bransk they learned about these happenings through the newspapers that were already being read by such as Avrum Pulshansky and Yoshe Liboshitz. Fishele Bag claimed to be the first to read “Hatsfira” (The Siren).[2] Everybody read the daily newspapers, in the Houses–of Prayer and Study, in the home, in the streets, on the open porches, and especially at Avrume Gold's, there were always groups of people, who read the newspapers. The newspapers circulated from hand–to–hand until they became tattered.

They read in them what was happening in the large towns. Strange news was reported there, about demonstrations against the state, about strikes in large factories. Bransk read the news and thought that this would not happen there. There are no factories in town. There are no workers in Bransk, only in Valkastavski's jacket factory. There only girls worked. The tailors, shoemakers and carpenters were mostly apprentice boys who worked for a specific period of time. In Yerukhim's tile factory there were only peasants who were employed. What do they know about such things? However, the tailors' employers somehow became aware that their boys were disappearing in the middle of the day and who knew where they went?

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Strikes are now happening in Bransk. Workers from the small flour (?) stop doing their work, want more money. They let them strike and do the work themselves, working all night to complete the work that had been started. People become restless, approach the bosses threatening beatings and winning small amounts.

The intelligent youth arranged a library in Moshe (or Maishe) Hitzl Mendel's attic. Young boys and girls come there to take out books to read. The organizers of this library are Yosl Shimon Rimer's, Moshe (or Maishe) Hitzl, Khaim Baker, Shmuel Leyb Berl Leybishe's, Yudl the teacher, Itche the ru(o)tker(?), also a teacher, and mostly not workmen's children.

The Bund develops among the workers. Speakers from the big towns come to Bransk only to small clubs. At Bashe Sime's daughter, in the attic, there often take place small gatherings and secret meetings to which workers and intelligentsia come.

There is formed an anarchist circle led by Dovid–Yoke's – actually one of the rich children, Alter Snop, Shloymeh Ok's son, Meir Shlom Aharon Velvl's who are already well–known as anarchists. Hershl the weaver also joins the anarchists.

The Zionist movement was also significant. Yoshe Liboshitz, Alter–Itche Shapira's, Moshe Khaikin, Moshe (or Maishe) Hertzke were the most active Zionists, with some even becoming Uganda[3] patriots.

The various parties preach their ideals. The Bund group preaches cultural autonomy. (Such a strange word in Bransk.) Socialism preaches equal, secret and direct elections. There are class battles. The anarchists believe in expropriation. They do not preach, but they actually practice this. They are armed and attack and take what they can– this is called expropriation. The Bund says they should not be given a grosh because they do not believe in expropriation. The anarchists come, but always with weapons in their hands. If they are not given, they take it themselves. Scenes occur between the followers of both sides and grew in size.

A new and strange Yiddish newspaper makes an appearance – “Der Veker” (The Awakener).[4]

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– an odd language is used there. A strange language, not understandable to the Bransk Jews. It speaks of cultural Yiddish autonomy, of secret and direct elections. They wonder that the state permits such newspapers, yet they allow them to read the “Veker.”

The workers cannot wait for the “Veker.” The intelligent youth read the “Veker” with interest, and teach the workers to understand the difficult words, the strange and new ideas.

Speakers come to secret venues. A while later, the workers take over the Poale Tsedek, lock the doors and there, in the house of study and prayer, hold a gathering. There are fiery speeches, boys and girls shout: “The Proletariat lives, the Russian Revolution lives.” All demand the freeing of the working class, demanding an eight–hour workday. After the gathering, there is a demonstration in the street. New songs are sung in the street.

The following day, don't ask what went on in Bransk. Each person told a different story about what he had heard yesterday from the strange speakers in the black shirts.

Zelig Kuktshmirer, the sexton of Poale Tsedek, was accused by everyone that because he had not thrown these people out, trouble came to the town.

Yosl Stoyler shouts: “Eight sicknesses I will give them, not eight hours of work.” Shaye Tsalke's the kvasnik[5] cannot sleep. His heart tells him no good will come of this. He would like to see these people get their correct lashing and then there would be an end to this new nuisance.

There is no end to the nuisance. The movement grows. The town is flooded with illegal literature, brochure–leaflets, proclamations, calls to strike, to battle against the Tsar, against reaction, for freedom, and equality, for eight–hours [a day] of work. The legal library is turned into an illegal one where there are supplies of books, brochures and even a revolver is hidden somewhere. Gatherings in the houses of study and prayers are arranged more

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often. There are big demonstrations, massive gatherings in the forest, at the Kumant (?), beneath the windmill. They begin to prepare self–defense. They raise money for this purpose. If people don't give voluntarily, they take it anyway. There are others who oppose this and they are beaten up or have their windows broken. There are those who receive a warning not to show themselves in the street – in a word, the revolution had reached Bransk. Twelve policemen with bayonets on their swords like nails make an appearance in Bransk. For this reason they named these policemen ‘tshvekes’[6]. People run to the police to denounce them and they receive even worse beatings and are now afraid to speak. The reaction becomes stronger. They now hear about pogroms in Bialystok[7] and other cities.

A new regional police superintendent[8] Andreyev comes to Bransk. They catch and arrest. A group of anarchists travels to Wishonk to do its work and someone reports them, and Dovid Yoke's, Hershl, the weaver, Meir Shlom, Aharon Velvl's, receive a prison sentence. The quiet Bransk streets are strongly watched by the ‘tshvekes’.

The day of the famous constitution arrives. Everybody is happy. The older folk say that it will not end well. They were correct. The reaction worsens. There are masses of arrests. There is no alternative. They must pull back. Yosl Shimon the harness maker, Maishe the hot–headed, Alter Snop have already left. Nobody wants to remain. There begins a mass emigration. Visas are not necessary. Also no affidavits. They speak with Sannen or Fishl Spishiner's. They bake sucares (?) dipped in beer. The old mothers, red–eyed, beg their children: ‘At least write a letter once in a while.’

The revolutionary enthusiasts soften at their mothers' tears and their throats constrict and with a tear in their eyes they leave. Very soon they send for their friends. At the end of 1906, Bransk is emptied. There is no longer any youth presence. There is no more the lively and joyous youth. Bransk yearns for its children. The library closes as there is no one who would read a book. People like Shepsl Katsev and Shaye Tsalke's are happy. They and others like them are now free.

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However, this did not last long. Avrum Baker was right: “It is like an illness. It will have to come. We cannot avoid it.”

Among the well–known youth in the movement were the following: the Moskver's children, Khane Shayne, Noske Katsev's daughter , Khaye Yentitshike's, Avrum Beker's son, the Markanerker's son, Noske, Kalman –Maishe's son, Gavriyel'ke the blacksmith, Shepsl–Itche Alyarnik's, Fraiche Shaye Mulyer's, Avrum Kratz, the chatterbox, Burake's two sons, Belke Alte Katsev's, Keyle Mordekhay Fuhrman's, Berl Aryeh's son, Count Keller's son, Alter Kapelikhe's, Kolyendik's, Shaulke Patoker and many others, whom I find difficult to remember.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Wikipedia – Pyotr Arkadyecvich Stolypin served as Prime Minister and leader of the third Duma, from 1906 to 1911. His tenure was marked by efforts to counter revolutionary groups and by the implementation of noteworthy agrarian reforms. Stolypin's reforms aimed to stem peasant unrest by creating a class of market–oriented smallholding landowners. He is considered one of the last major statesmen of Imperial Russia with clearly defined public policies and the determination to undertake major reforms. In 1889 Stolypin was elected Marshall of the Kovno Governorate. In n1902 Stolypin was appointed governor of Grodno (where Bransk is located). He became known for suppressing the peasant unrest in 1905.He was the first governor to use effective police methods. In 1911 Stolypin was assassinated by Dmitri Bogrov (born Mordekhai Gershkovich). In a 2008 television poll to select “the greatest Russian”, Stolypin placed second, behind Alexander Nevsky and followed by Joseph Stalin. Return
  2. Jewishgen – Yizkor Book – Dabrowa – “Hatsfira” [The Siren} was a newspaper established by Zionists that was read openly by some while others surreptitiously Return
  3. Wikipedia – The Uganda Scheme was a plan in the early 1900s to give a portion of British East Africa to the Jewish people as a homeland. It drew support from prominent Zionist Theodor Herzl as a temporary means of refuge for Russian Jews facing anti–Semitism. The idea was brought to the Zionist Congress at its sixth meeting in 1903 in Basel. Before the vote on the matter, the Russian (where Bransk was located at the time) delegation stormed out in opposition. It was ultimately defeated. Return
  4. YIVO – A. Litvak (Khaim Yankl Helfand) wrote regularly for the Bund's legal daily press: Der Veker (1905–1906). Return
  5. Kvass maker – a drink made by fermenting rye and barley on sour fruits Return
  6. Nails Return
  7. See map overleaf Return
  8. Prystav – so called in tsarist Russia Return

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Jewish Employment in Bransk
Up to the First World War

Up to the time of the Polish uprising, and a little beyond that, there was a significant number of Jewish families living in the villages around Bransk. These village residents earned a living from the land–owners. They held leases as shepherds and innkeepers. These Jews were beholden to the land–owner because for the smallest infraction the land–owner could throw the Jewish lessee out, leaving him without means of earning a living.

The Jews, in order to hang on to their employment, had to be subservient to the land–owner, always trying to please him and suffering various foolish and wild tricks. They were what was called Mayofes Jews (‘;how fair thou art’, title of a Sabbath hymn sung on Friday nights – fig., cringe, be servile)[1]. This is the reason they received various favors from the land–owner.

Mele from Alekshon was especially loved by the Hodishaver priest “Burte”, so he received from him his worn–out long coats. Meli'khe narrowed the priest's wide coat– sleeves and Mele, proud of this beautiful priestly coat, wore the clothes every Sabbath.

Many had employment from the innkeepers and trades and lived quietly. They hired teachers to teach their children Jewishness[2], married off children, gave good dowries such as did Nosn Leyzer from Zaluske, Itzel Daminover, Yakutia Marvinker, the Myenier, (?) Elye Nosn Glazer. When the families grew larger its new members no longer had possibilities for employment and they moved into Bransk. They began to work at various ways of earning a living. This is how innkeepers came to Bransk. Menukhe's,

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Dvora's, Leyzer Sotnik, Hertzke Velvl's Bier breweries, Yosl Benye, Marem Leye, Yekhiel Leyb's tannery, Leyzer Shepsl's watermill, Dovid Gimpl's vyetrak[?]. Hershl Iteld opened a dry–goods store. Of the workers there were tailors: Bishke, Binyomin the tailor, Yankev Yosl, Alye. [?] Dovid the ladies' tailor, Shimon Dovid the carpenter. Later on there were more tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, glaziers. Most of them were young folk who had learned the work as former apprentices and who became independent workers working for themselves.

There were some who took up trade, earning a living from markets every Monday when peasants brought various village products for sale. Others did not wait until the peasant brought these products to the market. They always went to the villages and there bought the products from the peasants. Workers also went to the villages and there got work from the richer peasants. For their work they received products as payment which they brought back to town and sold. The number of stores increased. There was a store everywhere. There are now dry–goods stores, hardware stores – Velvl–Daniel's and Gotlieb's. There are wholesale merchants like Ezra Goldberg factory and cotton by Elye Vatnik.

The tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, turners, blacksmiths, hat makers make their articles for the entire area around Bransk. They carry the merchandise to the fairs of other towns. It was usual to notice how the workers packed clothes, shoes, little wheels, tables and wheels for wagons to take to the fairs.

The painting business had grown in Bransk. This way of earning a living was handed down from father to children. Motke Farber, Alter Farber, Shimon Farber, Yenkl Shimon's, Khan'le Farber, Avrum Meir, Elke Riva, Ayzikl from Benduge.

There were kasha makers, Khaim Fishl Melamed and later his son

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Yitskhak Kashnik and Motye. Remarkably, both Kashnikes of Bransk also had the necessary implements for baking matzo for Passover.

Later on, when the trains were built, it was necessary to provide the entrepreneurs with blocks of wood that were to be placed beneath the rails. They were called “voyitkes” and a business developed – Itche Rozenboym, Shmuelke Sloyve's, Shloyme Hitzl Rose. Bentsl the shoemaker also took to dealing with voyitkes. He would always ride carry in his pocket a folded pocket–knife and conducted business. This business suddenly crashed. Bentsl deserts the voyitkes and goes to America. The others cannot pay their debts.

There were those who earned a living by walking or riding to the villages. Shloyme Makher, his son Moshe Yosl. There are others like Berl Zavl's, Shloyme Wolfke's who buy everything in the village and bring it to town to sell.

Earlier on there were also women who walked to the villages, leaving at dawn, on foot, walking about ten kilometers. They would return at night, bringing something to sell. Other women would set up small tables in the market. Early in the morning these tables would already be covered with various types of merchandise. They sold soap, kerchiefs and even earthen pots.

The danger for these village–walkers and riders was great. Many times such Jews, while riding from the villages or from fairs, would be attacked by bandits who robbed and murdered them. This is how Dovid Khasid, who used to carry handkerchiefs, combs, laces and needles to the villages was near the village of Kurtshin was robbed and murdered.

Elber Shuster was robbed and murdered riding from the fair in Petchanke; Gutman Katsev is murdered and robbed on a back road in 1901. Shame Vatnik is murdered early in the morning coming back from Bialystok through the Pyetkever forest. Notche Kalnitser during this same attack becomes a permanent cripple.

Orchard workers – the first in Bransk, Yeshaye Patz, buys the entire fruit crop of the orchard of the land owners, pays for it at the beginning of summer and waits

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for it to be successful. In addition, he himself must keep watch over the ripe fruit so that no one will steal it at night.

Hentche rents the gardens and sells a little bit of radishes in town, but the cucumbers vanish during the night.

Manufacturing – There was a small number of factories in Bransk. However, they did not call themselves factories. They were recognized as such, even though they were large, sending their merchandise throughout all of Russia.

Khane Zabludofsky had a weaving factory in Avrum Shkop's attic. She employed several workers there in addition to her own family. Hershl the weaver, was the master craftsman there in the factory. In 1905 Hershl Vever the weaver carried out a large strike in this factory. Why did the factory carry a woman's name? I don't know, but Khane was in charge along with her daughter who had returned from England and was called The English Horse.

Leybl, the belt–maker, that is what they called him in Bransk. There was a large factory in his big house where they manufactured leather belts. The belts Pasikmakher were sent throughout Russia. All the children were employed there. His brother, Lazer the belt–maker, was in charge of this business. Leybl, a decent merchant and a clever Jew, did not enter into town affairs, even though everyone sought his advice. He was, however, always busy riding around.

Later on, when Leybl's children became older, were learned and intelligent, they helped in running the business. Lazer opens his own business and there are now in Bransk two belt manufacturers. Laser's sons, especially Yosl, a very capable young man, helped in his father's business. Yosl was already a modern young man, interested in town affairs. He later pays for his activities with his life.

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Volkostafsky's jacket factory. Niske Broyde, (Niske with the embroidering frame ) married off a daughter, brought his son–in–law Alter into Bransk. Alter brings a machine for manufacturing jackets or warm shirts. Bransk runs to look through the windows where they see a machine covered in what looks like a long shirt, spinning but remaining in the same spot, but the shirt becomes larger and larger.

Little–by–little, Alter Volkostafsky brings more machines. The demand for the merchandise is great. The place at Leyzer Katsev becomes too small for this undertaking. He opens up an entire building where there are employed 30 or 40 young women. They earn good wages, are pleased that they do not have to serve somewhere far from their home, which most would have had to do. Moshe Hertzke becomes the bookkeeper.

Alter Volkostafsky now becomes known in Bransk as the manufacturer. His business is recognized as a factory. However, the factory is totally burned down and forty lose their ability to earn a few rubles. This adds to the worsening of the Jewish economic situation.

There was a tile factory in Bransk. Yerukhim Kokhlyarnik was the owner of the factory. He employed Christians there, and only one worker was a Jew, this was Khaim– Gershon's son. He had to go to America, presumably because he had not met with too much success working for Yerukhim Kokhlyarnik.

Commerce – It is known that there was a store in every house. However, a permit was needed to have a store. There was no money for a permit, so no one had one. They either did not buy one or they bought a permit for a small store when they really needed a permit for a larger business.

These Bransk storekeepers sustained much trouble relative to these permits. From time–to–time Grodno sent someone to check on the permit situation. He was called the examiner. When the examiner was still ion his way to Bransk, the entire town already knew

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that he was coming. Shopkeepers would hide their merchandise under their neighbors' beds.

Binyomke Melamed had an English scale. One needed a permit to have such a scale. I don't know why Binyomke Melamed needed a scale like this. When the examiner was coming to Bransk, the boys that attended the traditional Jewish school took the English scale on its wheels and hid it in the bath–house.

The examiner is accompanied by the town administrator and Zalman–Yeshaye as supervisor, along with Avrum Hershken the flour merchant as merchandise expert. Permits were to be bought at Avrum– Hersh'ke's from which sales he realized a certain percentage.

Avrum Hershke, God forbid, never did anyone any harm. When the examiner would shout that the merchandise is woolen and a more expensive permit was required, Avrum Hershke, with his Yiddish–Russian, would demonstrate that this is cotton cloth of low quality. The storekeeper, Zalman Yeshaye and Avrum Hershke stood before the examiner without a hat in great fear. The town administrator did not say a word because they had spoken with him earlier…

There were certain families who were characteristic of the Following Means Of Earning A Living: selling fish, raising and slaughtering geese, selling the meat, the fat rendered for Passover and sold, pickling herring, buying up all kinds of grain in the market and selling it to the largest merchants. After the market all the beans that had been bought from the peasants had to be picked through and separated by type. On Monday night all the children in the house did this work, because if Zalman Kots the merchant, God forbid found the beans mixed up, he no longer wanted to pay the full price. However, all of this did not afford enough of a living for the large family, so Khane Shloyme Hershl's, Julius Cohen's mother, baked bread, every day a bread, kneading the dough herself, and poor Yudl had to bring a large loaf of bread to the teacher Khaim Gershon in order to pay him, because there was no other way

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of paying the teacher. Beer Stores – There were several such stores. Little–by–little there were more of these stores than drinkers. The storekeepers especially suffered from the inspectors (?) who always looked to see if liquor was sold in the beer stores.

Teachers – There were a significant number of teachers whose profession was teaching.

A certain number of young men or Bransk sons–in–law who, in the first couple of years had used up the dowry and their fathers–in–law could not or would not give them a second dowry, had nothing to do. They were not artisans, were not suited for business, so these young men found a solution, ten young boys got together, forming a traditional Jewish school and teaching, and in this way became permanent teachers.

Almost all the teachers were poor. Teaching did not offer them enough to sustain a family, so their wives stepped in and helped out with whatever they could in order to earn a couple of groshen. These wives, conducted business in the market, standing behind their tables, making candies.

None of these teachers were suited to their calling. Most of them were embittered, burdened with worries about making a living. In addition, the women nagged the men, calling them ne'er–do–wells. The children of such parents suffered a lot because the teachers were only able to pour their bitter hearts out to the younger children. The children learned to suffer, to receive blows, to become debased and to keep silent because protestations did not help. The parents always considered the teacher[3] right.

Possibly, thanks to such an education, Jews had the ability and the strength to survive so much trouble, so much debasement and silence, carrying the burden from generation to generation.

Raising Geese – This was a means of earning a living that only a few people

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could realize a wage. The business with geese consisted of buying out the flock that the peasants had brought to Monday's market or gathering the geese from the villages and chasing the flocks across town. One little Christian boy chased a flock of hundreds of geese that were later taken to Warsaw to provide the Warsaw taverns with the delicious geese and navels. This all belonged to one family and possibly was a trust. The head of the trust was Itche Rashke's. When his sons grew up, they carried on this business together. They were assured an honour on the Festival of the Torah[4] because when they sold the right to conclude the reading of the Torah[5] or the right to begin the reading of the Torah[6] no one could buy these honours from Itche Roshke's. His sons, Hershl, Yosl and Maishe Aron threw themselves into the business and played a significant role in it. Later Shtsiyopke became a big competitor. The end of this business came when Itche Roshke's sons emigrated to America.

There were a couple of families who lent money to small land–owners so they could pay their peasants for working the entire winter and summer until the grain was harvested and sold.

Most of the poor but well–connected land–owners however, when the grain was sold, did not use the money to pay the debts that they had incurred. The Jews were forced to take grain or other field products in payment for these debts.

At the New Year, the proud Pan or Panye (Mr or Mrs) would come to the Jews for new notes, go to Warsaw or abroad and spend it.

Meir Khilikhe's and his family were such financiers to the land–owners. About their end – see the last chapters.

Carpentry/Cabinet Making – Carpentry in Bransk was taken to be a decent trade. This trade consisted of custom and ready–made work. Yosl Stoyler worked mostly for fairs. Within a short

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time Yosl Stoyler completed tables and on Monday was already in the market with them or was taking them to the fairs.

Hershl Stoyler was the artist of this trade. He took orders to make a couple of beds or a chest of draws. He only began to dry the oak boards after receiving such an order. When three years later, Hershl was asked when the beds would be finished. He would answer that the boards were still wet. They waited until Hershl completed the work. Therefore, when a customer finally received his piece of furniture from Hershl, this furniture lived forever. So Hershl was actually very poor. His family was large, so Henye took part in the work herself and touted the best furniture and went about with a little box of glass to install a window somewhere, because Hershl could not drag any heavy weight.

The apprentice boys who had studied the work with Hershl themselves became good mechanics. Later on when his boys became bigger, they helped and Hershl felt a little less burdened. His children quickly took to this trade. Now they are spread throughout the world, three in Argentina where one of them is a well–known furniture manufacturer whose work is sent over all of South America. One is in New York and his firm is known as the best in New York.

It is characteristic that Hershl's children in Argentina are interested and active in all the Bransk relief happenings. Hershl's two sons–in–law in Bransk were famous for their activity in town. Rabbi Khaim Leyb Lyev as the orthodox social worker in town and Elye Yentchman as the well–known Poale Tsiyon leader in town. About Elye's activities, his flight from the gas–chambers, his life in the forest and later demise – in subsequent chapters.

When the emigration to America grew, other means of earning a living emerged – Agents. Sane, Nyome, Froytche, Shmulye, Pyetrasker, were all

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agents. They would escort emigrants across the Prussian border, mostly through waters and mud. Sometimes they were captured at the border mostly because of a coincidence or someone turning them in. Then the agents and their passengers had great trouble until it was smoothed over.

Pesakh the storekeeper – This was a special institution in Bransk. The New York five and dime stores apparently knew about this Bransk store and about its famous Pesakh the storekeeper. Pesakh's store measured four feet by four feet and yet one could buy anything one wanted. It was virtually a wonder how Pesakh was able to remember all of the merchandise that was to be found there in his store. One could buy there several different items for a total cost of a groshen.

When Pesakh made a sale that amounted to two groshen, Pesakh'shikhe was also involved in helping her husband with the big wealth. Pesakh would cut a pencil into four parts, each one the same size. The best customer for these pencil pieces at Pesakh the storekeeper was the editor of this book. For a grosh, he would also receive two or three other items along with the pencil pieces.

Horse Traders – This was a large business in Bransk. Several families made a living from this business that was carried out mostly with notes. The merchant needed to ask G–d that the peasant should have be successful to be able to pay off the note, or he had to ask G–d for the horse not to die, G–d forbid before the note would be paid.

Land–Owner Stores – Menukh'ke Gotlieb –near her store one would always see a land–owner's carriage with four horses in tandem. A land–owner was shopping in Menukh'ke's store. Menukh'ke's “excuse me please” had a special ring to it. These stores slowly weakened because the land–owners did not have the money or did not want to pay their debts.

Turners – Binyomin the turner. Yankev–Itskhak the turner, Mendel Toker,

[Page 139]

Yudl Toker, Alter–Maishe Gusikhes. This was a means of earning a living at the market and fairs. If the season was not a good one, they remained in debt until the next year.

Wagon Drivers – Pinye Gale's, Yosl Gales, Mordekhay Furman, Fishke Furman, Sholem Smurzhik, Leybl Furman, Yenkl Zavl's, Khaim Glaser.

This means of earning a living was divided. Some traveled to Bielsk, others to Shepetove to the train. There were those who went to Tchekhenoftse and still others to Bialystok or to the fairs. There were some who transported freight to the neighbouring towns.

These were the main means of earning a living in Bransk. More storekeepers were added all the time, more artisans who devoted themselves to work. The competition among them was strong and constantly grew.

In 1910 the police chief Sosnovski chased out almost all the Jews from the villages around Bransk. There remained only several in Rutke, Alyekshin, Kalnitser, etc. These new additional village residents settled into the town, built houses, now in the Christian quarters of the towns Benduge and Pshetmyesta. The competition became even more fierce. There were six wagon driver businesses in Bransk, 9 hat makers, 40 shoemakers, nine blacksmiths, five carpenters, 17 bakers, four cutters of linens for comforters, four glaziers, four wheelwrights, fourteen painters, 5 kvass–makers, butchers in every home. Food stores in every second house, six dry goods stores, hardware stores, one large and three smaller ones, five village riders and a number of village walkers, dealers in the market – every Jew and Jewish woman.

This resulted in many being pushed out and emigrating. According to the trades emigration, the following turners – Binyomin Toker's children, Yudl Toker, Yankev–Itskhok's children, of the hat makers, Maishe the blind's children, Motke the hat maker, RR Aryeh Leyb, Nokhman the hat maker's children. Motye Abe was also in America, but he came back.

Of the Shoemakers, Maishe –Yudl, Khaim Yoels, Aryeh Shuster's children, Berl Aryeh's children, Avrum Broder and his children. Of the Tailors, Shmini, Yenkl Kartoflye, Meir, Yenkl Meir's, Shrait, Dovid–Yosl, the Shmultchikes,

[Page 140]

Bere Leybishe's children, Alter Yokl Itchikhe's and many others. Of the Tailors there emigrated Noakh Shnaider's children, Kopke's children, Hershl Schmidt's children, Pesakh Stoyler. Of the bakers, Penzer the baker, the American baker Itchke, Aron–Velvl's. Of the butchers, Shloyme'le Shepsl Katsev's, Arke Katsev's children. Of the Painters, Motke Farber, Itchke–Shaul'ke Farber's, Alter Farber's children, Tchopke About the people without trades or small storekeepers who left we cannot write because they consisted of a large number.

The only solution for all of these was emigration. Why? Because there was no institution in Bransk to help the Jews, such as a folks–bank or interest–free loan bank, If they did not sell their merchandise at the fair or in the store or at the market, they had to come to the usury lender in order to be able to sustain life. They received from him twenty or twenty five rubles to be paid back in weekly installments.

There were two such in Bransk. The first Shmuel Kestale. He was also called Shmuel B'. The second Khaim Leyb Golding. He was called the “the white head.”

Shmuel B' would lend twenty rubles to be paid back one ruble and forty groshen a week. One had to wait for ten days until Shmuel B' completed his investigation as to whether the borrower would be able to repay. They had to bring something as collateral. He accepted items of gold, and in addition they had to sign a note with two witnesses. But Shmuel B' was afraid of G–d and the next world, so he demanded a contract. In this way, Shmuel B' was certain of this world and the world to come. On the other hand, Khaim Leybl was a more liberal lender, but Bransk Jews already had enough troubles. The only solution was to emigrate. This is what they actually did, leaving everything that was dear and beloved, wife and children, mother and father, sister and brother and left for America.

In 1910, things lightened a bit because all the small tradesmen, tailors and others, began to do business in notes. They

[Page 141]

no longer needed money. They signed a note and received merchandise. The notes were held in Tsuker's bank in Bielsk. In 1912, during the world crisis, Bransk becomes the equal of all the other towns. Credit came to an end. Notes fly back, contested. Bransk notes are also contested. We must declare that Bransk small business and artisans, with their last groshens, did not pay their debts. It was actually the bigger merchants and businessmen who did not do this.

This is how the economic life of Bransk looked at the time of the First World War in 1914.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Mayo'fsenik – person, especially a Jew, showing servility towards non–Jews. Return
  2. Yiddishkayt. Return
  3. Rebbe – also meaning a teacher as does Melamed Return
  4. Simkhas Torah Return
  5. Khosn Torah Return
  6. Khosn Breyshis Return

[Page 142]

Political Life in Bransk
up to the Outbreak Of War in 1914

In general, it can be said that Jews did not participate nor were they interested in politics, but suffered from politics in all eras.

This was born out following the political uprising, when Russia placed mandatory contributions on the Polish towns as a punishment for rebelling against Russia. Bransk's contribution was 900 rubles. The Christian population promptly placed a large portion of this upon the Jews, even though they had certainly not participated in the uprising. They promptly accused the Jews of supporting Russia. When the time came to pay the contribution, they demanded it from the Jews. Fortunately, Maishe –Hitzl Mendel's was successful in having this punishment discharged due to his friendship with the officials.

In 1888 there were already monthly newspapers and then dailies, e.g. “Hatsofe” from Petersburg. Yosl Benye and Yoke were of the first to receive newspapers. By 1897 there were already daily newspapers at Leybl Vayn's and Yoshe Bashitz's. In 1902 there were now Yiddish newspapers with many readers. However, they were not interested in any community matters and worldly politics was foreign to them.

There were several licensed community workers such as Lamshl Yoke, Elye Gotlieb, Itche Gimpel's, Avrume Beker. They knew that the time had come to be active and to do something for the town.

[Page 143]

In 1905 as a result of the political developments, Bransk Jews became more politically astute.

The youth developed political parties, and then the older people made use of the political growth, most especially by the time of the elections to the first “Duma”[1]. The electoral district was in Bielsk. Approximately sixty people in Bransk had voting rights. They had to travel to Bielsk to vote. Fifty four Jews did so, going to Bielsk to vote, with the remaining six staying at home. It is possible they were afraid of this new system, developed cold feet and did not go, although the transportation by wagon was free, arranged by Elye Khomsky, Yoshe Lybshitz, Yerukhim Goldberg, Itche Rozenboym and others, understandably Jews. The Bielsker banker, Tsuker, was elected. When the voters returned to Bransk, Aharon Velvl the baker reported about everything.

At the elections for the last Duma, the Warsaw Jews elected Yagelo, a bit of an Anti–Semite. Because of the politics which divided the Warsaw Jews, there was later a boycott and Jews already felt that they were becoming political victims. In this way, Bransk Jews learned the meaning of politics.

Footnote (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Parliament Return


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