by Yankev Vronski, Kibbutz Elon
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
The town of Nowy Dwor lay like an island between the Narew and the Vistula. It was said that the land on which the town stood had in olden times also been covered with water, but the Narew withdrew and a settlement grew up on the dry land left behind. People some poor, some rich settled and lived there for generations, under various political regimes.
The Narew would occasionally overflow its banks, flooding the town, washing away low lying houses and causing enormous destruction. But as soon as the water receded, people repaired and rebuilt and continued to live. These conditions produced stubborn, stiffnecked Jews who knew how to handle all kinds of trouble.
My father, a scholar who spent more time studying than making a living, told me how the town also suffered from fires, how when he was a child, the town was wiped out by a fire, but that they stubbornly rebuilt it and Jews continued in their way of life.
In the small, poor houses Jews created a life over the generations and despite all the expulsions during every war, when the Nowy Dwor Jews had to leave home and live on charity from the Joint [American Jewish Joint Relief Committee] , when they returned they continued with their lives. They worked, did business, studied Torah, and all the different groups scholars, Hasidim, secularists, freethinkers lived within the framework of the Jewish community.
The market place played a central role in the realm of earning a living. The soldiers from the nearby military fortresses would come there to buy. There were weekly market days and a fair once a month. Peasants from surrounding villages would drive in with their loaded wagons, and all the storekeepers and artisans were busy on those days.
The women and girls, in addition to shopping in the market, would go out looking for bargains in the villages, where they would inspect chickens, sniff the butter and other dairy products, and bargain about prices, finally making a deal, having employed their charms to buy something for their own use or to resell.
Among the wagons on the marketplace you could always see the graindealers Moyshe Borekh Guzshik, Hershl Kashemakher, Frayman, Opatovski, and Avraham Gap. Each of them had his own way of doing business, according to his way of life. Moyshe Borekh was a Hasid, a devoted scholar who would study out loud so that you could hear him from the other end of the street; because of this he was a poor man. In contrast, Hershl Kashemakher was a poor scholar, rushed through his prayers and thought only about money; so he was rich.
At the fairs, Jewish small shopkeepers and artisans drove in from all over the region to sell their products and wares. They would bring along their junior apprentices and journeymen. They would come the night before to grab a spot and lay out their goods in advance. Fights would break out over the right of possession to a certain spot. Everyone boasted of their credentials, and people from one town made fun of those from another, and there was a lot of scolding and cursing.
In winter, the outoftowners lit fires to keep warm and in the morning would make a quick stop at the besmedresh [house of study used also for worship] borrowing prayer shawls and phylacteries from the local Jews,
and managing to finish their prayers before the market opened.
The day was always busy and noisy. There were horses and wagons with cattle tied to them, and among the wagons, people on foot, leading a cow or pig on a rope, and in their wake, various beggars bedecked with colorful beads and shining crosses, and Christian women with baskets full of chickens and eggs. All around were the sounds of buying and selling, cows mooing, horses neighing, pigs squealing and from the shops and stalls the cries summoning customers.
That's how the day began, and continued on, with bargaining, hand slapping when a deal was closed, the raising and lowering of prices. And at the end of the day all the peasants from out of town would go off to the Jewishrun taverns to get drunk and let themselves go.
Russians, Poles and Germans lived around Nowy Dwor, but only the Jews ran taverns. The taverns around the market were all run by Jews, and I want to mention some of them.
Avraham Kohn was a pious Hasidic Jew who had a black beard, but no peyes [sidecurls] because that was bad for business. On the Sabbath he would get dressed up in a silk caftan and velvet hat. On a weekday he was always ready to help someone out with a low cost loan.
Dovid Ezraim had a monopoly and a good business selling whiskey. He was a modern Hasid, with a small beard, as the times demanded.
Itshe Meyer Safir was an oldstyle tavern keeper, a very religious and wrinkled Hasid who was always running his fingers through his tangled beard to comb it.
On the corner, near the dealers in readymade cheap clothing, the carpenters, shoemakers, and tailors, was the tavern of Pesakh Izbetses Vermus. He had a family of strong, powerful children. His pretty, well dressed daughters ran the business. The children didn't resemble at all their small father with his little blond beard.
On the side of the market at Zakrotshiner Street in Khaim Zlotikamien's building, Henekh Tik, a very different kind of tavern keeper, ran his business in partnership with his aged mother, a very pious woman, and their third partner, the cat. As Henekh's friend, I witnessed the quarrels between him and his mother. They came from two different worlds. The mother would always complain to me that her son didn't do what he needed to for the business and that he didn't behave properly. From her point of view, she was right; everything was neglected. The cat, the third partner, did what it wanted where it wanted to and ate with them.
But Henekh had his own way of doing things. Every day friends and acquaintances would drop in. People would converse, discuss and enjoy themselves. Those who had the time, spent all day there and he, happy and smiling, served them all.
These were all places of Jewish life, where people made a living and led a social life in the market and around it, on the streets and lanes of our Nowy Dwor, the town between two rivers.
by Yosef Top, Ramat Gan
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
My childhood was full of suffering. My mother died when I was six months old, and I never knew the feeling of a mother's love. At 15, I had already moved to Warsaw to look for work. Yet I cannot forget my hometown, Nowy Dwor.
I was raised by my dear, unforgettable sister Yekhoved Zavierukha (killed by the Nazis.) It was she who helped me take my first steps, at her home in Vishegrod. When I got older, I returned to the house of my father, Geler [redheaded] Meyer in Nowy Dwor, and there I experienced joy for the first time.
My father was a happy poor man. He sparkled with humor, and would cheer people up with his jokes and aphorisms. He liked to make fun of various Nowy Dwor types, playing up their nicknames and imitating their gestures. When I think about my father, he seems to me to be the Hershele Ostropolier of Nowy Dwor.
In summer, my father and I would wander like gypsies over the orchards of the German colony Kazan and feel the taste of freedom. In winter, I made my home with the Karstovitsh family in Piekelik or with the two baker women my aunt Brayne and Ester Sime. There near the warm ovens I would lie entire days and nights playing on my harmonica the songs beloved by Nowy Dwor.
I would also always find a place in the house of my uncle Hershl Top. I was always received with love and I experienced much joy there watching them rehearsing the performances of the drama circle. The room was alive with acting, dance and song.
My childhood passed quickly and a new chapter my youth began. I began to understand that I had to find work, and started to learn the trade of hairdressing at Yankev Rotshteyn's on Zakrotshiner Street. I stayed for three years and they were years in hell. The method of teaching was the administration of slaps and blows. The two journeymen, Shloyme Papier and Yokhanen Eydlsberg, did not defend me. The other pupil, Mendl Papier, didn't get hit as much as I, because he had parents and a brother, but I was an orphan, so it was a mitzvah [religious obligation] to hit me.
Still, I found defenders Beyle Kupershteyn (the master's wife), Leybl Yanovski (who worked for Dovid Tshizh), also Blind Motye and Avigdor Garber, who lived across from the barbershopwho would stand up for the abused orphan.
In addition to the burdens of learning the trade and the constant fear of being hit, I also had to do various tasks and chores rock a baby, carry out garbage, deliver something, like an errand boy, and always be ready to carry out the master's orders. Those were the conditions for all pupils in those days in all trades, and I had no choice but to be a pupil. You had to adapt or else you'd be fired.
After this, there followed years of games and fights on the Piasek, [lit. sands, a poor neighborhood] where I was born. There, on the burning sands where I went barefoot in my childhood, it became a place to get together with my schoolmates, and fight with the Christian boys. We would watch with curiosity as they dug up and delivered sand to sprinkle on floors after they were washed. In the winter, as soon as the sands of Piasek were
covered with snow, we began a new chapter of skating, and of sledding down the Piasek, from Efraim Bonk's barracks to the church, which frightened us with its strong, monsterlike frozenness on moonlit nights.
Those winter days and nights on the Piasek were for us boys a great pleasure. Our faces burned with cold, which bit our ears and noses, but our souls felt warm. Everything was alive and breathing and even the dirty streets had a festive appearance when we ran excitedly in the snow.
They were my streets. There I played for hours with gangs of kids my age. There, near the walls of the unfinished synagogue, I followed with fear and curiosity all the stories about demons and spirits in cellars and attics.
I still miss the personalities on those streets Avraham Moysh Drotshkazh [carriage driver]; Yosl Khush, the wagon driver who would flick at me with his whip; Yenkl Kishke; Fishl Shpitske, the teacher who used his pointer to introduce me to the world of learning; Crazy Shmuel; and many other types and personalities without whom our town would have been a lot poorer and have lost its luster.
I am still drawn to the Narew, on whose banks I would lie for hours looking at the fish in the river. Every quiver in the water was full of mystery and it was good to feel the town and its streets behind me.
Yes, the town of Nowy Dwor lives in our hearts and mind. No matter where we find ourselves, we are still there. We are bound to it with eternal bonds of memory and blood, the town of our birth and childhood remains the most beautiful in the world.
There, in the cemetery, rested the bones of our ancestors. Today, empty winds blow. The Nazis used the gravestones to pave the streets and no trace remains. Yet our thoughts and feelings are drawn to it, with honor to the souls of all our near and dear.
by Anshel Frid, Chicago
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
I am one of the people who can trace their pedigree to the Piasek. I lived in the well known building on the corner of Zhelazne and Piaskove Streets, at #7, which in the Nowy Dwor was known as Fat Rokhl's house.
Who could forget Fat Rokhl's house, which had about 40 tenants and subtenants, who paid rent to 15 landlords and sublessors. And the things people said about the building: Where's the fire? At Fat Rokhl's; Where's the fight? At Fat Rokhl's; Where is the building half fallen down? At Fat Rokhl's. Everything happened there. It was truly a place of miracles and wonders, and that's where I grew up, amid the whole tribe of Nowy Dwor shoemakers, tailors and barbers.
I remember the building fondly and I'm proud of my Piasek. There, too people read Sholem Aleichem and Dostoevshy, Peretz and Emil Zola. There, too, people like to see Shakespeare's Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice and knew who Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh were.
Just like Zakrotshiner and Warsaw Streets, the Piasek had its own aristocrats and common people. My family may not have been considered aristocratic on Zakrotshiner or Warsaw streets, or even on the Polish Market, but it did belong to the aristocracy of #7. My father had lived on the Piasek for 20 years, 12 or 13 of them at Fat Rokhl's building, and he was never given a nickname. Everyone else had a nickname, but not my father, and that was because of his elevated status, because he was the grammarian of the house, a knowledgeable person, a writer.
If someone had run away to American leaving behind alas! three little children, my father would write a letter in Yiddish. If a woman's husband was lost in Russia during World War I, [i.e. whose death could not be ascertained, leaving her unable to remarry], my father would conduct a correspondence with the Russian authorities in Russian. If someone lost their right to conduct some kind of business my father would write a petition to the municipal government in Polish.
In addition, my father was very knowledgeable about politics and the news. I still remember how during Pilsudski's coup d'etat in 1926, they called my father downstairs, sat him on a chair, and handed him a Polish newspaper so that he could read the latest news to an audience of Jews and Poles.
People addressed my father as Panye [respectful form of address in Polish] Frid. His aristocratic status also derived from the fact that we were privileged to have the only balcony on the Piasek. Our balcony was visible to the entire neighborhood. How the children envied us our balcony! From it you could see the train lines and also the meadows and property of the German Yantz on the banks of the Vistula. From the other side, you could see the barracks where the poorest people in town lived. You could also see the Christian cemetery and the china factory.
Old and young alike were drawn to the balcony, and even the town authorities took an interest in it. When in 1926 the murdered [in a May Day demonstration] Lapukh was carried to his eternal rest along our street, a police officer
came to tell my father that for reasons of public safety it was forbidden to observe the demonstration of mourning from the balcony.
The firefighters would also make use of our balcony. As soon as there was a sign of fire anywhere in Fat Rokhl's large building, they would install ladders on our balcony and use it a place from which to fight the fire. In the years of floods, they would use the balcony to keep watch over the Vistula to see if it threatened to flood the railroad line.
Every Sukkos we would put up a sukkah on the balcony. The Christian boys would soon start throwing stones at it. Happy were the neighbors whom my father would permit to spend Saturday afternoons on the balcony and look out over the Piasek and into the distance.
Fat Rokhl the landlady was well aware of the advantages the balcony possessed. Every time he paid the rent my father had to pay a supplement of several zlotys. If he objected, Fat Rokhl would retort: What do you mean! It's the best apartment in the whole building, and with the only balcony on the Piasek. Then she would threaten to sell her share in the building then we would learn to appreciate what it meant to have such an apartment with such a balcony. As already mentioned, the building was owned in partnership with about 15 landlords and sublessors, who were always in court, litigating their respective percentage rights in the property.
Fat Rokhl was proud of her share of the large courtyard area in the shape of the letter daled between the building and the street. There 120 of us little Khaveles, Yoseles, Dovidls, Roshkeles, Melekhls and Ansheles [all names are in the diminutive], delighted in the treasures that our courtyard possessed. I am sure that when that great lover of children [Polish Jewish progressive educator and Holocaust martyr] Janusz Korczak wrote his renowned Moski, Joski, i Srule he had seen these children playing in Fat Rokhl's courtyard.
When I returned to Nowy Dwor in 1945, after the war, I did not find Fat Rokhl's house. The house with the balcony over the Piasek was no longer there, nor the courtyard full of children. The Nazi beasts destroyed it all on their march toward the Thousand Year Reich.
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