The First World War, 1914-1917
Josh: We are going to continue with what happened at the beginning of World War I.
Jacob: Yes. The whole family of us was caught in Dubel, at the Baltic seashore, that I told you. My father and older brother, Yossel, had a store for summer, and my mother and myself came to visit them and spend a few weeks together with my father. And when the First World War broke out, when the rumors and then the news started, we were caught in the middle, not knowing what to do. The vacationers fled each one to their home. People were from all parts of Russia-from Petersberg, now Leningrad, from Moscow, from wherever you want, from nearer places. What they bought in the store, the products were given on credit. They used to pay by the end of the month, or the end of two weeks, when their husband used to come for weekend. So all the money what we had was lost. Like flies, everyone fled, and we couldn't see them anymore. So we had to forget about getting back the money, and we had to go home, too.
But how to get home? The regular way would be to go home by railway from the nearest town, which is called Tukums, in Latvia. From Tukums and to go to Riga, and from Riga to go by railway to come to Ponevezh somehow. But that was unimaginable to do it. All the railways already were disorderly. We could go by boat, and the nearest river was called Aa, double A, Ah'-ah. But we couldn't, either. So the problem was how to get back home in Pumpyan. It was a problem. So I don't know details. My older brother was the specialist who organized. I remember first we went by the river Aa up to certain place, and from there we hired a wagon and horses and trying by the sideways and by the highway to go back home to Pumpyan.
It took a long time, more than a week and maybe two weeks. And we were anxious to go home and excited and nervous. I remember from my school in Shavel I had the certain uniform and a little hat, green,
white, and blue. A beautiful hat. I was proud of it, to come and to show it: Look, I am a student. So on the boat, the wind blew the hat off my head, and it got lost. So it was for me additional sorrow.
Anyway, somehow, after a couple of weeks, maybe, traveling to many towns-for me, it was a lot of excitement, I confess; for parents was just an ordeal-we came back to Pumpyan. We opened the store again, and we started to live the old way we lived before. But rumors spread. First the Russians advanced in the war, and then happened that the Germans started to push them back. I have to add that Ponevezh/Pumpyan is not too far from the German border. It was called the east front. No! I am sorry-the west front. It is on the border with West Germany. ForGermans it was the east front, and for us it was the west front.
So one day, we heard lot of rumors. The head of police-we call it in Russian oradnik-the oradnik called all the Jews to come to the synagogue, especially the men. He read for us an unkaz; in Russian, means an order or a decree. Briefly, all the Jewish people of the borderline has to leave their homes in twenty-four hours. Who will be caught after the twenty-four hours will be shot on the spot, arrested and shot. So you can imagine what kind of a cry started in shtetl, and in hundreds of other shtetlach around us the same picture. It was a decree for all Kovno Gubernia. Kovno Gubernia means the state of Kovno. Some people started packing at once, some people starting in confusion running from place to place, not knowing what to do. Some people said, We will stay. Let them shoot us. But when it came evening, everyone was packing.
We said, Who gave the decree?''
The commander of the front.
He was the uncle of the Tsar. The Tsar was Nicholas II at that time, and the uncle's name was Nikolai Nikolaiovich. So everyone knew the name Nikolai Nikolaiovich, that he was the commander of the front, and his order is irrevocable. We cannot do anything.
It is easy to say, Start packing. We started selling whatever we had in the store, and pretty soon word spread among the farmers, among the peasants around, and they started to come to the shtetl by the hundreds to buy bargains. You have to sell in a hurry, you have to realize, to have some cash. So we did it, and everyone did it, probably. Then we
started what to do with the house, the big house, the household. Nothing to take, only pillows and blankets and maybe some clothing. We blocked the windows outside, maybe inside. And who was in our family the main power? It was my brother Yossel. He was at that time about nineteen years, maybe twenty. He was the main power. My father was certainly still young, and he did a lot, and my mother. For me, it was in my heart I felt a holiday, so much excitement and so much to talk and to do.
The end was, to make it short, that we approached a farmer, a Lithuanian farmer, a friend of us, a good man, Nikolas Dominus. We sent over a great part of merchandise-hardware, mostly, what you couldn't sell at once-and he took it all to his home to his storage place. I remember he came two or three times to the town to take out the merchandise. He lives about six, seven kilometers away from Pumpyan, and he promised he will keep it until we come back. We were happy. Then when the time came to depart, he took us in his wagon. I think it was prolonged for forty-eight hours, because they understood and they saw that we cannot do it in twenty-four. He couldn't take us to Ponevezh, the nearest railroad, because we heard there are so many people waiting there that is impossible even to approach. So he took us to another place by name Kupishok, much farther, and he brought us, and we departed from him and from Pumpyan and from everything we possessed before. And we were set out somewhere with our little bebechas-bebechas in Yiddish means belongings, poor belongings, what we had-and waiting for a place in a freight wagon to take us deep into Russia.
There was no danger of killing us. There was no talk about killing the Jewish people or exterminating them. No, the opposite. We were sent deep into Russia in the farther gubernias and to stay there until we were able to come back home. Mter waiting for two, three days, probably, in Kupishok at the railroad station, we got a place in a freight wagon, crowded all together, hundreds of people with the little what they had with them, and we started moving eastward, away from the western front. And in Pumpyan, probably nobody was left of the Jewish people. Later on, we found that one young man was left over.
The same was certainly in the shtetl Abel [Obelai], where your
mother came from; also all people were expelled. And who was left behind? Do you know?
Jacob: Your uncle Shneier, Sidney. He was left behind. He was under the Germans left over somehow. So probably in each shtetl was one or two people left behind. Now I have to make a remark. Jewish people, probably their destiny was and is always to be a wandering people. And in Jewish people's hearts developed a deep feeling of helping each other, brotherly help. So the moment we started coming into Russia, out of the border of Lithuania-the nearest was Vitebsk Gubernia, state of Vitebsk; that was Russia, Byelorussia-there were already committees, Jewish committees, helping: helping with food, helping with information, helping with blankets, whatever they could. And generous helping, I am telling you. I grew older at that time, ten years older. I started to understand our destiny, the destiny ofJewish people and the destiny of our wanderings, being a wanderer.
So first of all, we wanted to stay as dose to Lithuania as possible, somewhere in Vitebsk Gubernia, but there was no places. Wherever we stopped here, they said, Already a week or two week, people are coming, and all places are taken. There is no place here. You have to go farther, deeper into Russia.
So we passed the Gubernia of Vitebsk, then we came to Mahilover Gubernia-state of Mahilov, another state, also White Russia. We tried to stay in one place, another place. We could not; I don't know exactly why. Finally, we came to Ukraine, and we came to the state of Chernigov, northern Ukraine. And here we settled. A committee took us out with brotherly help, I will tell you, in a place, a railroad station called Pochep, state of Chernigov. They took us off, and they gave us some room near the railroad. The town of Pochep was about three kilometers away from the railroad station. But temporarily, they gave us a room with a Jewish family near the railroad station. And we settled there.
So how to accommodate ourselves, how to live in a new place? We never heard the name. People speak Russian. We didn't know the Russian language at that time. And we stayed a day, two days. We were supplied with food; we were supplied with medicines. Some people were sick. I think we were in this place-hard to say, I wouldn't be surprised forty, fifty Jewish families were settled in this place.
And now we disliked the owner of the house, the baleboste. She was not polite enough to my mother. My mother was a proud person. You couldn't satisfy her with looking down upon her. She was proud of herself, and she was a great baleboste. Did I show you the picture of my mother? A great baleboste. Suddenly, she had to be set down so far, so to be commanded. See, this was my mother and my father, certainly. On her face you can see. She looks like at that time a great baleboste. It's not so easy to say the daughter of Zalman and Tsipa Hirshovitz. That was great yichas! You know what yichas is?
Josh: Great connections?
Jacob: Great connections. So suddenly, she had to live in one room and to be commanded by the owner of the place. She disliked it, and we were thinking, the parents were thinking and planning, how to get out of here and to have a place for ourselves. We applied to the committee. It took time, and suddenly in one day, a wagon came with two horses, and we settled. We put our belongings-I repeat again the word in Yiddish, bebechas, means poor belongings-on the wagon, and they took us to the town. That was three kilometers away. In the town, we get a little apartment of two rooms on our own. The committee paid the rent, or it was no rent at all, and we felt a little better.
The main worry of my parents, especially for Mother, was education for the children. What to do with the children was interrupted in the middle? As my mother used to express, Without education, du bist oystvaksen a goy un a grober yung.
You know the meaning? You can grow up a goy, and a grober yung
means a brute or an ignorant person. So when we settled a little bit, Mother approached the committee. I remember the head of committee was a man, a pharmacist, by name Itsikovich. What to do with the children? So after thinking over, they decided to send me to a yeshiva.
Pochep, although it was a small town, had a famous yeshiva. Later
on, I will tell you about Pochep, still in my memory as I see it before me like a picture, how we spent there four and a half years. The head of the yeshiva was a rov, a famous rov. I tell you his name later on; it slipped my mind. So they sent me to yeshiva, and I was accepted in the younger class, in the beginners. I knew a little bit Gomorrah, Talmud. In yeshiva, they learn Talmud only, Gomorrah. I learned a little bit in Shavel in the Hebrew-Russian school, but very little. So I was placed in the lower grade and with others, and I got acquainted with new friends ofPochep. They spoke Yiddish, but their Yiddish had a different accent. We called it a Russian accent, a goyishen accent. The resh, the R, was pronounced different. Anyway, the rov himself, Ganessin, the Rov Ganessin-it was
a famous name; he had a son who was a well-known poet and lived in Israel-the rov once a week gave a lesson with us, but the other days of
the week there was a helper who taught us in the yeshiva. So with me was settled.
One thing, what to do my older brother, Yossel? He was around nineteen, probably already around twenty. With him was a problem. The problem was he should have been in the military service. He should have been a soldier. But before, still in Lithuania, my parents tried to set him free. To set him free, there were some ways to do it. First, with a bribe to the doctor who had to say the final word. A bribe with the members of the committee, of the-how do you call it?-draft committee. Right? So they tried. It was postponed for a year, but not later. Now it came his time to be drafted, and he was hiding, so to say. The drafting in the beginning was up to the age of thirty-six. I remember perfectly. So my brother-certainly, he was hiding. He didn't register. So he started growing a beard to look older, and he looked maybe in the sixties. Once he was caught, and he was brought before the draft committee, so he is thirty-seven. He was nineteen, probably, or twenty, maybe.
Have you a document? That's important!
He is a man expelled from Lithuania. He lost all the documents. He has nothing.
So they postponed for a while to give him a chance to bring the documents. Probably also it was a bribe or somehow. It's not so easy. So he lived illegally, so to say. Finally, we found in Pochep another family from Pumpyan that settled there, too. A family by name Margolis. They had a son his age, and he has similar problem, also some kind of combinations to avoid being drafted. So they did all kind of work. Hard work. Loading and unloading logs, merchandise from the wagons. You know, during the war, hundreds and hundreds of trains, freight trains, were passing, had to be loaded, unloaded; so they worked on the railroad, hard work to supply the family. My father still couldn't do anything. It was very helpful.
Then we got acquainted longer, so it came to our mind, to my parents' mind, that we had a hardware store-that my brother had worked in the hardware store. So my brother was persuaded to approach a hardware store and to get employment. I don't know he was shy or unwilling, but finally, he approached them. And without any difficulties, he
was accepted in the hardware store. A week later, we heard from the people, Jewish people, that they were very pleased with him. He was a good worker, he knows, and he knows Russian.
He learned fast. He knew probably a little bit. They gave him higher salary, so with him was settled, too, for the time being.
My younger brother, Abba or Abel, was probably seven years, eight years old. I don't know too much, but we planned to send him in a cheder. And we found for him a place. So the children were more or less settled temporarily.
I emphasize it, we Jewish people always sent from place to place, expelled. We were not called in that time refugees. Refugee means a person who escapes a place or flees, to avoid. We were called in Russian weselentsee, expelled people, and that was not honorable. If you come and you say you are weselenetz, expelled, it means you did something wrong. Why should the government expel you from place to place? So go tell them that Nikolai Nikolaiovich considers us as spies?
Well, so the main worry of our parents was to find something to do. It passed already a couple of months. We were getting help, but that's not the tachlis, not good results, to be helped. We have to do by ourselves something. And amazing how Jewish people can adapt themselves. No other people can do it, only the Jewish people, having so much experience for generations, generations, hundreds of years, thousands of years.
So my father became in partnership again with Yehoshua Schindler. Remember who Schindler was? Our Aunt Goldie's husband. You know the Schindlers, the children of him in Boston?
Jacob: So they became partners, and they started-no, I'm sorry; that's not right. That came later. My father opened a little store in the marketplace, a little store where you sell dried fish. In that part of Ukraine, dried fish was one of main foods for the peasants. A certain kind of fish, not herrings; they called capchonka in Ukrainian language. They are dried, and they can stay for weeks or months. When you have to eat them, you put them in hot water, and you boil them or heat them
up, and that's a good food. Fish contains protein. The other product, the main product besides dried fish, was-how you call it? Shemlach in Yiddish. It grows in the dark place, in the forest around.
Jacob: Mushrooms! Some kind of mushrooms, a special kind, also dried, dried in long, long packages. So these two were the main products, selling it. We kept the store for, I don't remember, for a few months. It didn't do any good business, so we gave up, and my father became partners with Uncle Schindler. What did they do? Bringing merchandise from somewhere else, even from Moscow-it was a long way-and from the nearest towns, and bringing the merchandise and selling in Pochep for profit. That was a good business, made a living. So the family more or less was established in Pochep.
Now starts a new problem, a big problem. My older brother, Yossel, as all children are as teenagers, don't tell the parents everything what's going on in their mind and in their life. We knew it in our time, and the same was in the old time. In Pumpyan he had a girlfriend, a sweetheart, and probably they were planning sometime to get married. Now his main worry was to find out where his sweetheart was located. They departed separately. We knew that he had a sweetheart in Pumpyan. But my parents tried to ignore her and to ignore the family, because they were not of a high yichas as we were. They were of a lower yichas. The father was a small merchant selling dry goods somewhere, sometime going to the villages to sell and keeping at home, not having an open store. And we suspected that he's trying to find out where they are. There were many committees and some connections. So after a certain time, I don't know how long, a year or longer, he discovered where she was, and probably he decided to leave us and to join her, to join her family. Their family went far away to the state of Ufa-that was in the Urals; you heard Urals, the European part of the Urals-hard at the foot of the Urals. From Pochep, from Ukraine, was thousands of miles away.
One day, he came up. Mother, Father, I am leaving. I am leaving; I am going.
Where are you going?
I am going to be on my own.
He told or not, but we knew he is going to Ufa. My mother was heartbroken. Can you imagine? We are family and together, and he supports the family. He has a job. They tried persuading him. Look, you have a job, and what can be better?
It didn't help anything. You know how children do? They don't talk, that's all, and get excited. It didn't help anything. One day, he said goodbye, and he left us, on the way to Ufa. So the brother was away from us, and since then my parents haven't seen him. That was probably in 1916; they haven't seen him since then. They never saw him. Later on, he married, certainly.
Josh: The same woman?
Jacob: Yes! That's another story, tragedy and good news. He married, and they lived in Ufa, and he learned a trade-to manufacture clothing, simple work clothing, and to sell it somewhere-and they made a good living. So all together they worked, probably, he and his wife and the parents. Later on, after the 1917 revolution in Russia, he moved to Moscow. If you remember, in 1970 I went to Germany and Moscow. You know this?
Jacob: I visited him. I visited him before, too. That was the second time in Moscow. He never came back home, as we did. We came back home in 1920. He never came home. He stayed in Russia, and my mother was always with tears in her eyes. We lost Yossel, we never see him.
Two things at home when we came back already-I am running ahead-we were back in Lithuania. She didn't let me touch it, and she didn't let anyone. That is for Yossel when he'll come. That is for him. What was it? A fur coat of my father. It was an expensive fur coat. Only a gvir...do you know gvir?
Josh: A gentleman?
Jacob: A rich man, a gentleman, certainly. Only a rich man could afford to have it. It was made of some kind of expensive fur; I don't know what animal. Very expensive and with a very expensive collar. The collar was-how do you call this?
Jacob: Mink, yes. A collar of mink. It cost a fortune at that time, so Father had it for shabbas, for yontef,so that has to be for him. He didn't even let me even touch it. We didn't challenge her. I would never take it. And a fiddle. How you call it?
Josh: A violin?
Jacob: A fiddle, violin. My brother played violin. He played, and the violin was given him by Aunt Leah, who visited us, I told you before, from America. She bought it for him before she left. After-the violin, it was not the best, and he mentioned to her in a letter, I remember, later on, still in Pumpyan. So she sent him additional money: Buy the best violin possible. So he traded in, and he got a better one. So the violin belonged to him.
And these two things. How did we find it home? Our friend I told you, Nikolai Dominus, with whom was left part of our belongingshe kept it for us, and he returned it. He was an honest man. Maybe he didn't know he could sold it for many hundreds of rubles. He returned this back to us. So my mother kept it for Yossel, but the destiny was never to see him anymore. And the family in Pumpyan in the Second World War was exterminated. That will come later. And the fiddle, the violin, together with other things, with the fur coat and other things, was taken by the neighbors from us somehow.
I saw my brother later on. I saw him in 19-let me think-41. Before the Second World War, I was in Moscow. I visited with him and spent with him two weeks, and I saw him later, in 1970, going from
America. He died in 1973 or '74. He was old man. He was in the eighties. So my parents never saw him anymore, to make it short.
Now to finish it with my brother's story. You are a doctor, Josh, and you have your judgment. I said after the revolution in Russia, they went to live in Moscow. I don't know under what circumstances, but we were notified. He wrote letters to us from time to time. And he got education. He went to school at his age, and he became an electrical engineer. That was his profession, and he worked in the largest electrical manufacturing factory in Moscow, Dynamo; they called it in Russian Di-na'-mo. When I was with him in 1941, he took me to that place. He showed it to me. We spent there a whole day. With great respect, I remember, everyone who saw him: Oh, Rasein, YosefRasein, this is your brother? With great respect.
Now, in his family, they had two children in Moscow, a boy and a girl. After a certain time, when war broke out, after that, epidemic disease spread over. I don't know what to say, what disease. I don't know exactly; I don't want to say. Anyway, his two children died. Both of them. A tragedy. Now, he was considered an intelligent man, so some authorities approached him, asking him to allow to-how you call it? how you say it in English?-to open to see inside of the dead ones.
Jacob: Autopsy, yes. To allow autopsy of the children, and that can help thousands and thousands of other ones, to find out from autopsy. Certainly, his wife didn't want it. But my brother was hesitating, and finally, after family talking and probably quarrelling and so far, he decided to let it, to allow it, and they made autopsy-the doctors and then the authorities and what they find out or not. Anyway, he wrote to us in all details what happened. So it was double tragedy. They died, and the autopsy for the mother.
That was one thing. He had two other children, also a daughter and a son. He now has two children. I told you about them, or I showed you some photographs?
Jacob: So we won't go any farther in this. Now let's to go back what happened. Maybe I'm talking too much in details? Maybe it is not interesting?
Josh: No, no. Please continue.
Jacob: Let us go back what happened to the family in-what is the name of the town I told you? I'll examine you!
Jacob: Pochep, in northern Ukraine. It was not a great city. It was probably about fifty thousand or sixty thousand population, and it was in the heart of Ukraine. The soil was the best of Ukraine. Ukraine had a good soil. Black soil, they call it, and it gives the best crops.
But the dirt in the city was-you cannot describe it. It was not paved. There was sidewalks by the street; some are paved, some were not. So in the rain time, the rainy season, you are up to the knees in mud. And we didn't like it. Everyone, every people, had some kind of boots up to the knees. Without boots, it was not possible to walk, even. We didn't like it. But we stayed there; we made a living, but we were not satisfied.
I was not satisfied with the yeshiva. To become a yeshiva bocher, what can be? Parents were not satisfied. So started a new project: how to take me out from the yeshiva and to put me into the gymnasia.To put me into the gymnasia was a problem, too. I was not prepared. I skipped a year or a year and a half I was Jewish, and to be Jewish was not a bigyichas to be accepted in any gymnasia in that time. So finally, through the committee who accepted us-through the man as I mentioned, Itsikovich, the head of the committee-we approached a teacher of the gymnasia, who, for a certain amount of money, big money, started to prepare me, to teach me the Russian language a little better. I knew just a little bit. He was a shicker, a drunk. The main thing, he wanted my parents every
week to give him a bottle of good vodka and a certain amount of money. I was prepared, and I passed the exam. And I was accepted in the third grade. In the second grade I could have been prepared easily. But I saved a year, so I was prepared for the third grade-1 think I am right-in the gymnasia. I became a gymnasist, they call it, with a uniform, a little green hat, with a certain rubashka. Rubashka means an overshirt. It was brown, I think.
In the beginning, it was hard for me, but it didn't last long; only a couple of months, I became the best pupil in the class. Really, I don't brag. The best pupil in the class, especially in knowledge of the Russian language and Russian composition. They gave us from time to time to write compositions, in the classroom or to take it at home, and mine was always the best. So the teacher used to say, Look, here is the student who came from somewhere else, from Lithuania. He didn't know the Russian language at all, and look how he writes and how you are writing.
[Elisa sits next to Jacob.] Elisa, I am telling your father about my young days. He wanted me to say, so I am telling him. They used to read it for the class. Anyway, there was a class about thirty, and among the thirty, there were two Jewish pupils, myself and another one. I had quite often fights with the Russian boys. Sometimes I was beaten up and injured; sometimes I succeeded better. But always fights.
I remember one episode. If it interests you, I will tell you. We were learning history, and the teacher of history was the head of the school, the director of the school, Petrov- I think Alexander Petrov was his name. We learned the history of Egypt, and among other things, he mentioned the name of one of the gods of Egypt was Ah-id. Have you heard the name Ah-id?
Jacob: One of the gods was Ah-id. And he made a remark. By the way, Ah-id means 'a Jew.' Ah-id is a Jew. And can you imagine in the old times the god was by this name?
He brought it back in negative way, anti-Semitic way. So it hurt me, and I stood up, and I say, Mr. Petrov-or we call it Alexander and by father's name-what connection has saying about a Jew and
the Egyptian god Ah-id? Is there some connection? Why did you bring it out?
He became red and angry. How do you dare to talk to me, to the director of the gymnasia, in such a way?
I say, I require to answer me. I am a Jew myself He knew, probably; maybe he didn't know. And why did you bring it out in the negative way?
I don't know how it ended in the class; I don't remember. But after that, they called me to the teachers' room, and he was there, and his assistant said, You have to apologize before him. If not....
I said, Why should I apologize? I just asked the director, the teacher of history, why did he bring out Ah-id? A Jew is from quite different origin. That is two words. 'Id' is a Jew. 'Ah' is an additional word, and what connection? So why should I apologize? I just asked him to explain to us.
Blah-blah, blah-blah-he finished in this way.
So why I told you this? To bring out that I felt already like home in gymnasia, being a good student and fighting with the Russian boys.
The parents planned to send my younger brother, Abel, to the yeshiva, but under my influence, probably-I was already eleven or twelve years old, Jeremy's age-l influenced the parents not to do it and to try to prepare him for gymnasia. And they did so, and they prepared him for the first grade or maybe a grade lower. Before the first grade was a preparatory grade.
So that was the story, the beginning of our being in Russia. Anyway, for Jews, being expelled into a deep state of Russia was a great event. A new world opened for us. Up to that time, we knew Pumpyan and the big city Ponevezh, that's all. That was our world. Now we saw other places. It was forbidden for Jews to live in certain places of Russia. They call it in Russian cherta osedvasti, the border up to where Jewish people are allowed to settle. But now cherta osedvasti was destroyed during the war, and Jews could leave and could go any place they want. They learned a new language, Russian. New business opened.
In this time, I remember, my parents started a new kind of business or, so to say, buying a new kind of merchandise. They started buying some kind of vegetables that grew in the warmer places of Ukraine-in
Poltava, in Charkov-and to bringing these ones into the northern part of Ukraine. How you call it, the round, big....
Jacob: Melons. There are special kind of melons that grow in Ukraine, in the warmest state in Ukraine, sweet ones; they call it in Russian arbuzi or arbuz. So bringing by the wagons and selling it to the smaller storekeepers. It was a good business. They made a lot of money. One day, I remember, I brought three wagons of melons, and they sold it in a couple of days to merchants, to storekeepers.
It was the season, and that was on for a long time, until the end of summer or fall, until something happened. That's why I am telling you. What happened? On the railroad station was standing three or four wagons with melons, ready to open and to distribute to handlers and to storekeepers. So it happened this time, an echelon of soldiers passed by, going to the front, and they stopped in Pochep for a while. And suddenly, they discovered the melons in the wagons.
Oh, melons! Let's taste it.
Anyway, they opened the wagons, and in half an hour, an hour, nothing was left of the melons. Soldiers, an echelon of soldiers, is a couple of thousand people or more. And it was lost; everything was lost. It was a big loss for my father, and we stopped this business. We were afraid to bring any more. It could happen every day, because echelons were going day after day to the front, and soldiers-we can't stop them, we can't do anything, especially Russian soldiers.
A lot of things happened. Now, going back to life in Pochep, my father didn't feel happy going to synagogue. Why? Because the Jews in Pochep were Chasidim mostly. And the nicest and largest shuls, synagogues, were Chasidic. My father was a Misnaged, so he couldn't find himself a right place among the Chasidim, so he stopped it at all to go to synagogue. So my mother was unhappy. [The Chasidic and Misnaged traditions were the two main branches of religious practice in European Jewish worship, distinguished by their approach to prayer. The Chasidim were more joyful in their prayer, celebrating with dance and song; the Misnaged were more solemn in their reverence.]
How come shabbas you won't go to synagogue? You are froom or not froom, but shabbas a good Jew goes to synagogue!
So they could not find the way, I remember. A Chasidic shul doesn't fit for my father, and my mother insisted to go. So I don't know how they solved this problem. It's a big problem.
Now my school years were happy. I was starting to pay attention of some girls. This school was for boys only. Nearby, in the next building, was a school for girls, also a gymnasia, so I became a girl watcher at that time, watching them through the window or some other way. Then I improved my own income being a-how do you call it, teaching retarded boys?
Jacob: Yes, tutor. At one time, I had five, six pupils, so my personal income grew from day to day, being a tutor and having respect from others. Then I got new friends. Some friends were local people. Some friends were also people expelled from other places, and we established some kind of a gang. We called it the gang of the expelled people. As a gang, you had to fight other gangs. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes not. So I quite often came home bleeding and being helped, so that was part of life of youngsters.
So the life was smooth, I would say. And the family-amazing how Jews can adapt themselves, having an income, making a living. We switched to another apartment in the center of the city. Not a big one, but a convenient apartment. It had three rooms and the bedroom. I and my brother slept in the living room on the couch, until the revolutionthe Communist, Bolshevik, Revolution-broke out in 1917, and then started quite a new life.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
The Jacob Rassen Story Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 23 May 2018 by LA