Table of Contents

[Page 9]

At the outset of the book

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Marble plaque in the Holocaust Cellar on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem

[Page 11 + 12]


Thirty five years, more than a generation, have passed since our martyred community was annihilated, though the memory and the horror of those days will never fade and, to this day, continue to live in the hearts and souls of all the city's former residents. Proofs of this are the pages we are publishing today.

Our city numbered 6,000 people – six thousand Jews from amongst the six million martyrs of the most horrendous Holocaust that our people ever knew.

Only a few of us survived the annihilation; only a few hundred escaped from the Valley of Tears[1] in the country of Poland – today we are separated and dispersed around the world and others live here in Israel.

We, the mourners of the Holocaust, feel the greatest spiritual need to perform the last rights for our martyrs, who were not given a proper Jewish burial.

We are fulfilling this holy obligation with the publication of this book that includes a minor part of the life and deeds, the hardship and the destruction of our community that existed in the shadow of the glorious Warsaw Jewish community. Only a few documents, which survived the inferno, are presented here. Many events have been forgotten and lost, together with those who perished in the Holocaust or passed away in the years following it.

However, even this small quantity of information that we managed to save from oblivion came after great labor. Super-human efforts were required to present the material in the pages set out before you.

This book is a public “Kaddish” [2] in memory of all the people of our community. This is a manuscript that will remain the legacy of all of us, as a symbol and an eternal memorial for those who will follow after us, for our children to remember their origins, learn from the fateful experiences of their ancestors and continue the endless chain of generations for ever after.

Translator’s footnotes
  1. “Valley of Tears” – originally the name of a valley in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Return
  2. Prayer recited by mourners. Return

[Page 13]

Our city

by Lejb Rochman

translated by Lance Ackerfeld

We are children of this city. I was born, educated and grew up there. In Minsk's alleyways, we played together with other Jewish children from the city. From an earliest age, my body absorbed her air and drank from her water. My childhood dreams were entwined in each rock and paving stone; each house, fence, garden and flower are part of my life. I left them behind. There in Railway road, where both sides of the road are lined by young pines, stands a double storied house, which stands to this day, in which my baby basinet once stood. As if to irritate, the house remains, like the entire road. The shop with the display window in front in which the faces of my mother and sisters would be reflected, stands as it did then, though in it their place strange faces unveil from the past, casting terror on the memory of my childhood days. The road mourns and the shops look sadly down upon it. There are no longer boisterous, joyful Jewish children who would fill the air with the noise of their games and pranks. Now other children play different games there and their voices are not Jewish voices.

I visited the city several times following the blood bath that wiped all the former residents of the face of the earth. My heart trembled on seeing the familiar houses that I knew so well; it seemed that recognizable characters would appear in the portals of the houses; it seemed that well-known faces would appear and the shining of their smiles would herald me as I walked, as in former days. However in their place were unfamiliar faces, gloomy, cold, that followed me, the stranger, with prodding looks that caused me to shudder. I quickened my pace and ran for my life.

My city, that which during the Russian (Czarist period), was known as Novominsk, was later called Minsk-Zota and today is known as Minsk-Mazowiecki, is located 40 kilometers from the capital, Warsaw. Due to this fact, means of livelihood was available, the residents dealt mainly in light trade and would travel to Warsaw, several times a week, and would return in farm wagons with parcels bought on the streets; Nalbeki, Franciskanski and so on. They would fill the wagons with hides, knitted garments, junk and broken boxes – they would be blessed in whatever they did, and they weren't averse to working in mediation, crafts and teaching. The children grew up on these values, wedded and introduced into these professions, and thus [life] continued several hundred years. The Jews of Minsk resided peacefully, with their own lifestyle, with their own joys and sorrows, own worries, own celebrations, their own disputes with the rabbis, “shochatim” [ritual slaughterers] and “Admorim” [Hassidic rabbis”]. No-one harmed anyone else, no-one mocked, abused or were unruly, in the peaceful period, before the war – they were not caused despair. That's how it was – as noted – for hundreds of years, and thus this quiet life could have continued for another several hundred years.

My city was divided into “this city” and “that city”. The [river] Sarevarna ran and flowed between these two cities, and dropped after Otwock into the Szwajder. The young people would swim near Fritz's garden and enjoy themselves in the Szenitzi woods. On Saturday, all the city's residents would stream down to the woods – young and old, man, wife and child. Each family brought a blanket with them and laid it out on the grass, between the trees, and enjoyed the sitting and lying down and the pleasant scents. The children lowered the long rope with the bucket on it into the deep well near the train barrier and poured the water into bottles, from which they would drink straight out, enjoying the chilled drink in the heat of the day.

Through this, I now recall that a foreign axe chopped down the woods, and [in their place] new, closely packed houses stand that aren't familiar with the former residents who were cut down with this very axe.

I feel guilt towards my city: I left her for the big city looking for wisdom and knowledge. I imagined escaping the “provinciality”, the “backwardness”. I escaped from myself! I ran away from the source of my life! I forget about everything: the big city with its people and their wisdom, but I'll always remember you, my little city with your simplicity, your goodness, your cordiality. The civilization, the progress, and all that is related to the big city disappointed me. What I will gladly remember, my little town is your customs and life style, your bleak weekdays, your Saturdays and your holidays. I love you and will always remember the city of my earliest childhood and for all of my love for you, I flee to distant lands.

I well remember the mothers' sorrow as their children broke away and sailed overseas – how could the branch become so distant from the trunk!?

Poor dear mothers who were suddenly uprooted for eternity! The trunk was uprooted by defiled, murderous hands whilst the flowering branches were absorbed in distant lands and bloomed, but their nutrition they suckle from their recent past, from the little town. They now weep at the enormous destruction and they are the future hope of our tortured people!

[Page 259]

A Cup of Coffee at Froim Baker's

according to A. Shedletzky

translated by Yoseph Bar-Nur

It was the first Shavuot since I made aliyah to the new state of Israel. I took, with my host, a morning stroll around the silent streets of the new Shikunim [lodgings] of Bat-Yam. Suddenly a sharp smell of fresh coffee hit me and brought back memories of faraway days of a world that ceased to exist and vanished from the face of the world.

It is a “Purisover coffee,” I told my astonished host. “Impossible,” he said. “Then let's take a bet,” I proposed. A quick gaze revealed a young bearded man with a kippa (Kapgalle) pouring coffee into a china cup. “You are a Purisover Chosid, aren't you?”I asked. He nodded and asked, “And you?” “Yes,” I admitted. The bearded man sighed and said, “There is no Rabbi (the Purisover) and no Chasidim. Coffee is what is left, the Purisover coffee. Please come in and have a cup of coffee with me.” I took a deep sip from the heady coffee, and just like a dream the images of Froim Baker and his grandson Yankel Shifman appeared in front of me. It was Yankel who brought me to the Saturday morning coffee at Froim Baker's “Shtiebl.” Again as if I were in a time machine I was dragged back to those faraway days prior to World War II. Then just like now it was Shvuis. The "shtetl" was blooming with the seasonal flora of acacia flowers and the air was perfumed with the aroma of branches which grew on the stream bank, spreading the scent of mead and wine. But the smell of the coffee was stronger, sharper than the fields' heady flowers which filled the town's air. The Purisover coffee, a coffee that, as if G-d's finger had touched it, was coffee that had the "Mikve" [bathhouse] purity. The coffee that is the essence of the Chasidic tradition. Coffee that was disconnected from earthly or worldly affairs and was aimed to enhance the Chasidic spirit, to do G-d's work and for the heart. That was the smell at Froim Baker's “shtiebl.” Froim Baker, Ephraim Obfire, was an outstanding Jew, tall, impressive face, black beard with silver strings woven in it and intelligent eyes. He was a Chasid of the Purisover courtyard, which existed in Congress Poland.

Froim's close ties to the Rabbi's courtyard were well known. Froim himself baked the challas for Saturdays and holidays and sent them to the Rabbi's courtyard in Otwock or Warsaw. Many tales were told about Froim's close ties to the Rabbi. One of them is the tale of Rabbi Joshua Asher Rabinowitz , who stayed in Froim's house for a whole week due to a snowstorm that blocked the road to Kalushin. This fact was not forgotten for years to come. Talking about Ephraim Obfire, one should not forget his magnificent, good-looking family – a family which resembled a fruitful tree. The Obfire daughters were famous, successful and most desired. They managed to bring to the shtetl the most talented young "Torah" scholars (Talmid Chochem) as husbands.

Toibe passed away young and left behind a houseful of children and a good-looking great scholar husband,Yechiel Tapilowsky. Roisale's husband, Motel Shifman of Praga ,Warsaw, was a noble and outstanding person. Beautiful Devoirale, who resembled her father, got married to Motel Zieserman, the first-born son of a respectable family of corn merchants. The youngest daughter, Itka , did not leave Froim, according to his wishes, in order to manage his bakery. He wed Itka to a priceless young scholar, Avraham Hirsch Vischnia of Stock. Froims' sons and daughters lived in the same town with him except Roisale, who lived in Warsaw, and Issachar (Sucher Bear) Dov, who illegally emigrated to Palestine as a pioneer. The youngest, Bezalel, could not fullfil his desire to emigrate to Eretz (Israel) due to Hitler – Imach Shemo – [may his name be erased].

There were two open houses in the shtetl, one on each bank of the stream, which divided the town into two parts. One house was Shaie Pshitwasser's on the Rabbi's alley and the other one was Froim Baker's on the new side of the town. Two open houses but so different. In Shaie's home the Chasidim drank tea with sugar cubes and talked politics; in Froim Baker's home the Chasidim drank coffee and talked about the Torah all through the year and especially on Shavuot's night (Tikun Leil Shavuot), during which the Chasidim sat and learned the Torah. All through that night a real cup of Purisover coffee was always available to those who were learning there.

The secret of roasting, toasting and preparing the coffee where known only to the Purisov Chasidim. So on the night of Shavuot, Froim Baker by himself stands by the stove, pours the water that was heated in the bakery's samovar (which never stopped boiling). Froim pours the water in the proper measure on the coffee powder and then covers the pot with a white sheet of paper and presses a heavy piece of iron on the content of the pot, so that the large quantity of the coffee powder in the pot would dissolve in the water properly until a brown dense foam rises. Then and only then the coffee was ready to be poured into the cups and was drunk with great intent.

The aroma of the coffee spread inside the house and outside into the night, to faraway homes all over, in which Torah was learned. Then again the scent of the exceptional aromatic coffee for Shavuot mixed with the fragrance of the field and forest, penetrating through windows and even the rifts,in the walk. That was the smell, which hit my nose that first Shavuot in my homeland.

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