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[Page 289]

Doctors, Feldshers, and Royfers[1]

by D. Ben Sore

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Doctors

At the beginning of this century Nowy Dwor – a town with a Jewish majority – did not have a single Jewish doctor. The reasons for this included, first of all, that in general there were few Jewish doctors because of the quota in Tsarist higher education. Those who did manage to graduate from medical school and become doctors were mainly those who could afford to pay a bribe, that is, mostly the children of the rich. And if such a lucky doctor was about to settle down, his rich parents were also able to support his establishing himself in a big city, where in addition to a good cliental and clinical practice, one could more readily establish a career and then make a good marriage. So Jewish doctors weren't showing up in Nowy Dwor and from that time period I remember only Polish doctors.

Dr.Brokhotski. I remember him from my early childhood. He lived in Grinberg's lane in a ruined house set off by itself. He was a tall man with an aristocratic mustache, a long, actually Jewish–looking, nose with a pince–nez that was attached by a black ribbon to his dark bohemian bow tie. In his wide, fly–away cape, holding in one hand a thick gnarled cane and in the other a bulging bag containing all kinds of instruments, he would drop into a Jewish home and would frighten the worried family as well as the patient. His manner was not that of a doctor, but rather like that of some sorcerer or the angel of death, come to take away one's soul. Angry and muttering, he would put his fee into his deep pocket and with a clumsy, jagged handwriting would write out a prescription for “acqua de pompe.” Then, like a whirlwind, without saying goodbye, he would disappear into the narrow Jewish streets, spreading fear. People turned their eyes away from him, as if from the devil, and they called him “the crazy doctor.”

Dr. Karbovski. When the Russians began construction on the Nova Georgievesk “krepost” (the Modlin fortress) the income of town Jews began to grow and many of them became wealthy, especially the “Litvaks,” the military contractors. These Jewish newcomers began to think about bringing in their “own” Jewish doctor. Froy Khaske Roznshteyn, a tactful and refined woman helped to arrange this. She was the wife of Khaimush Roznshteyn (a son of the rich Nowy Dworer Reb Itshe Roznshteyn). Froy Khaske was originally from Lodz and she helped a townsman of hers, a young doctor, to settle in Nowy Dwor. So in due course New Dwor had its own Jewish doctor –and a Kohen [descendant of priestly class] to boot –with the nice–sounding Aryan name “Karbovski.”

Dr. Karbovski was a confirmed bachelor by choice. He was middle aged, handsome, tall, elegant, and his thick black hair graying at the temples lent him a special charm. Of course he spoke Polish, as is appropriate for a doctor. But he also spoke quite a flavorful Yiddish with his Jewish patients and Jews began to feel more comfortable with the medical profession and acquired an understanding of illness.

His first office was in Bakman's building and he later moved to Blat's building (and then Fayvl Kamien's) at the Polish market, opposite the town

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gardens. There he set up a lovely, modern office. With his refined and elegant manner Dr. Karbovski developed a large practice not only among Jews, but also among the Christian population in town and in the surrounding villages. In time he became the doctor for the wives of the officers in the Nova Giorski fortress. In cases of serious illness, he was also called in to the nearby town Zakrotshin, which didn't yet have its own doctor, Jewish or Christian.

When World War I broke out Dr. Karbovski left for Warsaw along with all the other Jews in Nowy Dwor and he never returned, having died before his time in the course of undergoing surgery. The Jews of Nowy Dwor mourned his passing but many of the religious Jews said that it was a punishment from God, because in Warsaw he had married a divorced woman and he was a koheyn [forbidden by religious law to marry a divorcee.]

Dr. Danyel was a Christian doctor. I remember him from the time of the German occupation during World War I. My parents were his neighbors in Lentsh's building near the highway. He was essentially an anti–Semite, even though most of his patients were Jewish. He was also the head of the town hospital on the highway past the tollgate. In that hospital many Jewish patients, infected in the various epidemics which then raged in the town, passed through his hands. And to his credit it must be said that in his medical practice he was correct and decent in his dealings with all the patients he treated, regardless of their religion or social status.

 

Feldshers

Pienkovski. During the German occupation in World War I, there appeared in Nowy Dwor a likeable young Jewish man with the nice Polish sounding name Pienkovski. He presented himself as a feldsher and actually was in charge of the steam machine used to steam and disinfect anything possible in order to beat back the typhus epidemic. The steam machine was an absolute necessity, but it caused a lot of problems for the Jews, and they hated Pienkovski for that. This didn't, however, prevent him from making an advantageous marriage with the daughter of Holtsman, who had a lovely house on Warsaw Street, across from the pump in the market place. After the Germans were driven out of Poland at the end of World War I, Pienkovski left for Warsaw and worked as a feldsher in the Jewish hospital on Tshiste Street.

Zhurovski. A Christian, the strong, sturdy son of peasants, he appeared in Nowy Dwor as a feldsher during the period of epidemics at the time of the German occupation in World War I. With a good humored smile he soon found a field of medical practice among the poor Jews and quickly grew fat on the small but frequent fees. He later became so popular among the Jews that they trusted him more than the most prominent doctors. He was a tolerant and pleasant person and took good care to remain in the good graces of his Jewish clients.

As the Jewish survivors of Nowy Dwor relate, in the time of the Nazi occupation he retained his humanity and as much as possible provided medical help to the Jews confined to the Nowy Dwor ghetto.

Eli Meyer Grabman. I remember him from my early childhood. He wasn't like the feldshers in other towns who “understood an illness,” took a pulse, knew about symptoms and anatomy. My mother would take me to his frizure [combination barbershop/medical office]. There he would first cut my hair, then treat my throat to protect against colds, after which I had a kind of saccharine taste in my mouth. He also gave me a kind of chocolate to combat worms, and all this for a fat Russian

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ten–cent copper coin, which he put into his vest pocket with the elegance of a doctor.

 

Dentists

Shmuel Grabman

The most prominent and popular dentist in Nowy Dwor, he began his career as a feldsher. But because of persecution by the Polish doctor Brokhatski and the anti–Semitic pharmacist Konarski, he gave up that work, studied in Warsaw for several years and became the first and best dentist in town. His office was in the nice brick building on Warsaw Street that belonged to Mrs. Zdanovitsch, the widow of an old Russian pensioner. Later he moved to his own house, which he purchased from his brother–in– law, Levin, a former watchmaker in Nowy Dwor and later a wealthy man in Warsaw.

Elsewhere in this book are descriptions of Shmuel Grabman the community activist, the admirer of Yiddish literature, etc. Here, I address myself to Shmuel Gorbman the dentist. His bent for medicine and dentistry was seen in his children as well. He sent his daughter Teme to study dentistry. Later, she practiced in his office and then became an experienced dentist in Warsaw. His talented son Leon, about whom there is much written in this book, studied medicine. His younger daughter Andzhe and her husband Benek were dental technicians. Two of his children inherited their father's artistic talent: his son Heniek became a dancer and his youngest daughter Halinka became a music teacher.

Brokhe Mundlak

She came from a family that had lived in Nowy Dwor for generations. She worked as a dentist in Nowy Dwor and was later a well known dentist in Warsaw. She was the wife of Ahron Aynhorn, the journalist and editor of the [Yiddish language] Zionist newspaper, “Haynt” [Tomorrow]. She is mentioned in the memoirs of the old Nowy Dwor Socialist veterans, as an active disseminator of culture and knowledge among the poor Jewish classes in Nowy Dwor at the beginning of this century. She was killed by the Nazis. Her husband, the refined Ahron Aynhorn, killed himself in 1942.

 

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The dentist Brokhe Mundlak, wife of Ahron Aynhorn (editor of Haynt), a cultural activist among the Nowy Dwor working class, 1905–1909

 

Not wanting to fall into the hands of the Nazis, he and his friend in Otvotsk, Nestrin, took poison and set fire to the house where they lived. (Binyomin Ornshteyn, “Destruction of Otvotsk”). The youngest son of the Aynhorns was shot by the Germans while working at forced labor at the Warsaw airfield Pulenti (Dr. Yosef Kermish, “Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora,” Warsaw Volume, Part Two.

 

Midwives

There were three midwives during my time in Nowy Dwor.

Manye Abramovitsh was a neighbor of my family in Grabman's building for many years. She would always tell my mother about her job. She had a large Christian cliental and was involved in doing “forbidden operations” [abortions] mostly for Christian women from nearby villages. Many would die as a result.

Khane the midwife. She had a frizure on Zakrotshiner Street, where her three sons worked. She worked as a midwife for Jewish women

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who lived in the poor Piasek neighborhood. And since poor people gave birth frequently, she was always busy and in demand and ran around with her medical bag from one pregnant Jewish woman to another.

Blume Grabman was the sister of the dentist Shmuel Grabman and wife of the above–mentioned feldsher Eli Meyer. She was a midwife for the richer women. With her tall figure and her broad, educated invective, she had a way of talking to the young pampered women that made it easier for them to push out their little ones, and she became an intimate in the rich households for weeks before and months after the birth. She was beloved by her clients, knew all the gossip, everything that was going on in town. She could put things right, and all in a juicy Yiddish with nice narrative style, which was very popular among the womenfolk.

 

More About Doctors

Here I will tell about those doctors who only began in Nowy Dwor or merely came from Nowy Dwor and practiced elsewhere.

Dr. Zigmund Nakhtman was my uncle, the husband of my mother's youngest sister Zoshe. He practiced in Nowy Dwor for several years after the establishment of independent Poland. He was a young gynecologist, but since at the time there was no Jewish doctor in town, he became a general practitioner. The community activist Reb Zishe Turkltoyb took it upon himself to find him a respectable house. He set him up in Junker's building next to the Sholem Aleichem Library (once the home of the long– time librarian and devoted Zionist activist Elke Pinshtevkia, now living with her family in Israel.)

This young doctor was beloved by the Jewish population but as a member of a family that had lived in Warsaw for generations, he was drawn back to the big city. There he was a well known gynecologist until he was sent to his death with his family by the Germans. (His sole surviving daughter lives in Israel, the wife of Natan Gurdus, a journalist on the staff of Yediot Aharonot [Latest News] and of the foreign press.)

Dr. Pavel Goldshteyn. The son of the well known Nowy Dwor resident Kalman Kopl Goldshteyn, he was a student of the renowned Warsaw surgeon, Dr. Ahron Soloveitshik, and himself later became one of the best known Warsaw surgeons, with his own large clinic. Warsaw Jews called him “Golden Hands.” In later years, before the [Second World] War, his contact with Nowy Dwor was more attenuated. He would just drop in for a few hours to see his aged parents and the town Jews would point out the great doctor. When Nowy Dwor Jews came to see him in Warsaw and mentioned his parents, he would charge them half price.

Dr. Leon Roznshteyn. A grandson of Reb Itshe and son of Avraham, from a generations–old Nowy Dwor family. He had little to do with the town. He was a good looking man. His failed romance with the oldest daughter of Akive Bakman distanced him even more from Nowy Dwor. He was for many years a doctor in the Polish Army. In the 1920's, he fell ill and died young. His last wish was to be buried in Nowy Dwor, where his many–branched family lived. This wish was carried out by his colleagues, Polish officers who brought him to Nowy Dwor, where he had one of the biggest funerals and was eulogized by the town rabbi.

Dr. Mietshislav Bakman. The son of the well–off Akiva Bakman of Nowy Dwor, he finished his medical studies just before World War I broke out. During

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the German occupation he lived in Nowy Dwor, where he conducted his practice in his father's spacious home. Later, He went to Warsaw where he became a successful doctor. He was a kind, quiet, refined person with a nice smile. After World War II he again practiced in Warsaw.

 

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A part of Warsaw Street

 


Translator's footnote

  1. Feldsher, a Russian word derived from the German Feldscher, for “field surgeon.” In the shtetl, the feldsher was a kind of paraprofessional, not certified as a doctor, but working in a quasi–medical capacity, equivalent to a “barber–surgeon.” Royfer, from the Hebrew word for doctor, is also a Yiddish word for a paraprofessional of a more traditional kind. Although “royfers” are included in the article's title, no mention is made of any person called a royfer. Return


[Page 294]

At My Grandfather's in Nowy Dwor

by Yankev Litman, New Jersey

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

My mother Khane, the oldest daughter of Reb [respectful term of address] Avraham Zaltsman, would often sing a sad Yiddish folksong:

Childhood years not yet forgotten
I can still hear their sounds

And when my memory sometimes brings me back to my childhood, I see endless pictures of my mother's town Nowy Dwor, where I would run around all summer barefoot and carefree, through the streets and lanes, around the street stalls and carriages on the market place, among the shops on Warsawer and Zakrotshin streets, around the butcher shops near the town hall, in the courtyards of the besmesdresh [house of study, also used for worship], and the synagogue, near the pump at the Piaskes where ducks would bathe in muddy puddles, in the town gardens across the street from the white Polish church, on the sand on the road to the cemetery, around the barracks on both sides of the road over which the carriages would rush to the train station, around Junker's theater and the street with the canal that led to the Narews,, around the marketplace by the booths of the watchmen, on the edge of town on the road to Modlin, all the way to the bride. There wasn't a place in Nowy Dwor to which my young legs didn't take me, because Nowy Dwor was very interesting to me, a lot more interesting than Warsaw, where I lived and where I walked around in patent leather shoes, holding my mother's hand.

In Nowy Dwor I could leap from threshold to threshold, even barefoot, and I could poke my head curiously into all the dry goods stores on Zakrotshiner Street, and into the butcher shops where huge livers hung over the doors and you could see the butcher wielding his sharp cleaver over the pieces of meat and bones.

In Nowy Dwor there were a lot of things I could do: sit near the perforated tin window of the jail at the city hall and listen in on the conversations of the jail “residents.”; stick my feet into the mud on the road to the Piaske, where the women would deftly empty out their waste water; chase the calves in Zaydenberg's courtyard; look in on the tinsmith, the shoemaker, the shoe stitcher; on Friday morning take a look at the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] to make sure he was carrying out his job with the chickens according to the religious law.

I didn't, God forbid, fail to visit the renowned civilian and military tailors, or shop at the bakeries of Zakariah, Fayvish Shokoran and mostly Shmerl Vaynshtok, where I had special family privileges. I was quite a frequent guest in Itshe Shmukler's workshop, where my Uncle Noakh was a manager, and I could handle anything I wanted without asking. I would enter the workshop through a window and when Zalmen Shmukler would return, in his polished boots, from meeting with his customers in Modlin and see me there, he would smile and say, “So you're here again?”

I would also frequent certain taverns and shops: Kalvoriski's, with its stacked shelves and piles of sacks; Geler Mendl's with varied wares; and of course, my uncle Leybl Lipman's store, where I was the pet. If I needed a couple of pennies to buy sweets, I'd head directly to uncle Leybl where my aunt also treated me well.

The best neighbor was Zishe Turkltaub. I'd sit n his shop for hours, and they would talk to me, the young whippersnapper, and when “helping out” in the store

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I would often break a glass or plate.

I'd go to the Narew with Dalek Turkltaub, and watch from the slabs of lumber at the sawmill as Dalek swam in the water, as if I were keeping guard but really thinking, “When will I be able to swim like that?”

But I wasn't always so free and carefree. One summer, I recall, someone in my grandfather's family, I think my uncle Yehiel, took me to Soretshe Srebrenik's [Hebrew language] kindergarten. They took me to a room with two long, low tables and benches, and told me that my name was Yenkele Hakatan [Heb.”little one”]; the other Yenkele was called Yenkele Hagodl [”big one”]. They also told me that I had to say “shalom” when entering. In fact Soretshe Srebrenik took me out and brought me back into the room so I could correctly greet my classmates, who were, it seems, more expert in the language than I. The next day, when I came home from kindergarten I could already sing a Hebrew song: On the window a little bird stood
Run to the window, little lad
The bird is flying away.

And to this day, my love for Hebrew is unchanged.[1]

At my grandfather's everyone was very happy that day, and years later when I was a student in the Hebrew school in Warsaw, whenever I would come to Nowy Dwor my uncle Yehiel would drag me to see Shimshen Note Srebrenik, his teacher, to proudly show off his nephew. When I got older and studied in Poznanski's teachers seminary in Warsaw and no longer wanted to accompany my uncle, he would grab some of my books so he could show Shimshen Note what I was reading and studying.

*

One summer, as soon as I arrived from Warsaw, my aunt Yente took me to a store and bought me a scout uniform with all the accessories so I could march with all the boys and girls in the newly–founded Hashomir Haleumi [“Guardians of the Nation,” a Zionist youth group]. They marched through the streets in rows like soldiers and sang a song with odd words, like “tshiri–biri–bom–hu ha,” to the beat of a drum being enthusiastically struck by a kid in the front row.

The entire battalion would march during exercises in the courtyard of Junker's building. The leader of our group, Ben Tsion Shimanovski, would issue commands with great solemnity: “Attention! At ease! Right! Left! About face!” and we turned like screws in response to his orders. Following the orders of the chief, Yosef Shimkovitsh, we set off into the town, filling the streets. Shopkeepers and customers would come out of the stores to take a look at the new generation that wanted to throw off the yoke of the diaspora. I was sure that among the proudest were those standing outside Avraham Zaltsman's shop, where Yente, Golde, Yehiel, my grandmother and even my grandfather were swelling with pride.

I myself was not entirely satisfied. I didn't think my uniform was correct in all its details. I still needed a nicely woven ribbon, with a whistle attached, to hang from my shoulder. They sent me to Zishe Turtltaub and he finally unearthed “just the thing” among all the items on the shelf.

Every summer, I was a devoted member of Hashomer Haleumi.

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I rushed to all the meetings, danced the hora, sang Hebrew songs, played soccer and just hung out with the other Guardians. Moyshe Kolvariski several times called me into his shop to tell me that Betar [revisionist Zionist youth group] was a better organization, but he didn't convince me. Even though I was always checking out the chocolate in his store, he never used this as an organizing tool.

After all these “important activities,” I found time to drop in at my grandfather's store. My grandmother Beyle Rive would sit on a chair behind the buffet, and as soon as a customer entered, she knew immediately whether she needed to take down a couple of cigarettes from the shelf, or pull out from under her apron her own handmade cigarettes.

My grandmother was very busy with the customers, especially the Poles and even more so with the German colonists, with whom she spoke excellent German. Skinny and small as she was, she did her work quickly and energetically in the shop and also at home, where she would run a couple of times a day, in the morning, to prepare lunch, koshering the meat; and in the afternoon to make sure everyone got their allotted portion at the table. No one except she was allowed to dole out the food.

My Aunt Golde brought the food to the table and washed the dishes, scoured the pots and polished and cleaned everything, until it shone like a mirror. Her fastidiousness caused me a lot of trouble. I wasn't allowed to touch anything. As soon as I opened the door to enter the kitchen, I

 

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The Zaltsman family
From right to left, first row: Reb Avraham Zaltsman, his wife Beyle Rive, youngest daughter Golde and her two children, Yenkl and Shifrele
Second row: Yehiel Zaltsman, his sister Yente, brother Note and his wife Rokhl (Shmerl Vaynshtok's daughter), Yehuda Meyer Litman and his wife Khane (Avraham Zaltsman's oldest daughter), the parents of Yankev Litman

 

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knew that she would receive me with the same “greeting” – “You're here again to make work for me? Just look at you, all overheated and filthy. Don't you dare touch anything with your muddy hands.” She was always ready with this kind of welcome, and at the same time she would hug and kiss me, play with me, and sing me dozens of songs that I remember to this day.

My grandmother knew that her home was in good hands and so she could devote herself to the store. My Aunt Yente would do the shopping in the market, or my mother would do it when she came from Warsaw in the summer.

On market days and at the fairs, I would follow after my Aunt Yente, run about among the wagons and stalls, watch as the women felt the hens and blew into their tail feathers, selected the largest eggs, appraised the balls of butter wrapped in green leaves, and looked at and poked the various fruits and vegetables, haggling over the prices, weights and measures.

I would follow my aunt from the main market to the place where the peasant women sat on benches with large cans of milk and sour cream. If you had bought raspberries or wild strawberries at the market, you of course had to buy sour cream to go with them. Aunt Yente knew exactly which foods I liked and for her nothing was too expensive for me. To me, Aunt Yente was the best person in the whole family. She never yelled, never teased or criticized, but always saw to it that I had whatever I wanted. She was good to all the members of her family, whom she supported when times got bad, and also to the family of Noakh Shmukler, whom she loyally took care of, like a true sister.

My uncle Yehiel also worked in my grandmother's store. He would sit on a small box near the door so he could see what was happening on the street, and would read “Haynt” [Yiddish language newspaper] or latch on to various people to have a conversation. He was a good conversationalist, skilled in mockery and good natured barbs. For him, joking was a craft, and he knew how to choose the people to joke with. If he had finished reading “Haynt” and didn't have anyone to talk to, he'd turn to me, find fault, make a critical comment, and start discussing all kinds of topics with me.

When I got older, he had more respect for me, and didn't dare to tease me or tell me what to do, but discussed serious topics with me. He deeply hated “the leftists.” It greatly offended him that many of the younger generation were serving foreign gods and cultivating the vineyards of others, instead of devoting themselves entirely to Zionism and to the redemption of the Jewish people. He would attack them with sarcasm and arguments as piercing as arrows.

My uncle Note was also a Zionist but not as active as Yehiel or Aunt Yente, who was a member of Poalei Zion [Workers of Zion] in Nowy Dwor. I was told that my mother had also been active in Poalei Zion before I was born. From childhood on, I felt the influence of Zionism in my entire family, and my upbringing in school and in the home, also followed that direction.

When times got worse, my Uncle Note the purchasing agent provided me with everything I needed, writing supplies and clothing, in truth, without the help of Note and Yente I would never have been able to finish the teacher's seminary.

*

In later years, closer to World War II, I would visit Nowy Dwor less frequently. My grandfather's home was no longer what it had been; there reigned a quiet, genteel poverty. My grandfather suddenly aged greatly, got sick and

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they notified me that I should come at once to Nowy Dwor, Reb Avraham Zaltsman was already unconscious, breathing heavily and lifting his arms toward heaven. Late at night, he breathed his last.

Now, when he appears before me, I see him as he was before, in my childhood: a man of dignified appearance, with a high forehead and dark brown, kindly eyes, which would emit from under his bushy brows sparks of joy and sometimes anger. He had a beard more black than white, which graced his face with honor. His entire appearance evoked respect. He was a bit taller than average, always strode with his head held high, looking before him with the air of a man who knew who he was.

An Aleksander Hasid, dressed in a long coat like all Hasidim, he stood out for his tidiness and prosperous appearance, as was fitting for a pious Jew and religious scholar. In Nowy Dwor he was known as Reb Avraham Zaltsman, without a nickname (very rare in the town where a nickname was more important than one's real name.)

He was a Jew who observed all the mitsves [religious obligations] and yet he was not a fanatic. He was very tolerant in his relationships with people. He would get up very early, summer and winter, and right after washing would light the fire in the kitchen, saying the blessings. As soon as the water had come to a boil, he'd sit down at the table and drink 8–9 cups of hot strong tea, holding in his mouth very small pieces of sugar, and sipping contentedly would study a few pages of Gemore [Talmud]. If he saw that I was up, he would also give me a glass of tea with milk and tell me to go back to sleep.

Usually he studied for two hours in the morning and then went to the besmedresh to pray. When he came home, Golde would give him breakfast, fresh rolls with butter, a piece of schmaltz herring, and coffee. By this time my grandmother was already in her store, and Yehiel would sit at another table in the kitchen and roll cigarettes, his fingers working with the speed and precision of a machine. In the blink of an eye he would fill the cigarette papers with tobacco, which he had first mixed well and sprinkled with water. They always said at home that Yehiel was an artist at making cigarettes and a great expert on the various tobaccos; he knew how to achieve the right taste and aroma for smoking.

I never saw my grandfather get involved in making cigarettes. After breakfast he went to the store. There he would mainly read the newspaper or devote himself to matters involving the Aleksander shtibl [small Hasidic synagogue], where he was in full charge. Often women would come in and ask him to write out an address. He had a wonderful handwriting and could write in Russian, Polish, German and of course Yiddish and Hebrew. He would often upon request write an entire letter to America. Right after lunch he would take a nap and anyone who was home had to keep quiet.

Mostly I remember Fridays and Saturdays. Friday after lunch (almost always liver and potatoes), as soon as they had taken the berry cookies out of the oven at Shmerl Vaynsthok's bakery, they told me to run quickly with the pot of cholent [Sabbath stew to be baked in the oven overnight] and I was given a freshly baked cookie in return. By that time grandfather was already at the mikvah [ritual bath] and later, when I got home, the house was already ready for the Sabbath: the table covered with a white tablecloth, and on the tablecloth the Sabbath candlesticks. Grandmother was preparing to bless the candles and grandfather in his silk Sabbath caftan was waiting for me to go with him to the shitbl. Every time I returned home on Friday

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from the baker's, I knew that I would find the home ready for Sabbath and also that I would have to hurry to get washed and dressed in my Sabbath clothes.

The way they greeted the Sabbath and said the evening prayers in the Aleksander shtibl always had an enchanting effect on me. In the shtibl they prayed and sang with feeling and ardor and small children like me felt a certain indescribable warmth and contentment.

At home, the room with the big, white–covered table was bright and shone with a holy cleanliness. Grandfather would make kidush, his head held high, his eyes closed, his voice loud and dramatically quivering and with a melody I will never forget. We all stood around the table, not daring to sing along. After washing his hands and saying the blessings, grandfather would cut a piece of challah for each person and with the same ceremonial solemnity with which he made the kidush. And not until we started eating did the solemnity turn into a familial warmth with expressions of satisfaction and cheerful singing.

On Saturday mornings, grandfather, as usual, got up before everyone else to read the weekly Torah portion, and they would rush me through breakfast (challah with butter and sweetened hot milk with water) so that grandfather wouldn't have to wait for me. But he never left until I had finished eating. I was allowed to eat before praying.

I still remember the walks with my grandfather to and from praying. The quiet streets with the closed shops, the clean–swept market place without the noise of horses, cows and masses of people; the Sabbath peace which was felt everywhere and which was reflected in my grandfather's proud face; his slow steps, full of confidence, and the Hasidic melody which we both hummed with pleasure – a melody without words which was filled with Jewish meaning and faith.

At my grandfather's shtibl there was a bal tfile [one who leads the prayers] with a lovely, pure voice and with a feeling for music. Even today I can picture him with his prayer shawl over his head, his right hand on his cheek and his left hand holding both sides of the prayer shawl under his chin, his head looking up to heaven, his eyes fixed and half closed and his entire body shaking toward and away from the lectern and from left to right, devoted in body and soul to the Creator with joy and ecstasy.

At home in Warsaw, I would also go to pray as a child. My father would always have to look for me outdoors. But in my grandfather's shtibl I would go outside only when they read the Torah. In the shtibl I wanted to pray with focus, with feeling. My grandfather was very pleased that I prayed with him. I would stand at the lectern, near the bal tfile, and with enthusiasm sing along with all the melodies. Even when I got older, and was free and independent, I would still go with grandfather to the shtibl every time I came to Nowy Dwor.

Even though grandfather knew what kind of heretic I had become, he would honor me with the privilege of reading the last part of the Torah portion. I remember that a fight once broke out over this with a very respectable man, interrupting the reading. Grandfather, however, straightened things out. He was after all the gabe [administrator] and man of importance among the Aleksander Hasidim. I, the heretic, who conducted myself ‘like a non–Jew”, was as important to him as any of the pious Hasidim. Grandfather knew about my studies and learning and knowledge and when people told him about me he was not ashamed of me or of my behavior.

As a student at the teachers' seminary in Warsaw, I would visit my grandfather, and I would bring with me certain Hebrew books to read. It often happened, especially on Saturday after a nap, that my grandfather would take one of my free–thinking, heretical books and read it with great interest. I remember how he read

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Berditshevski's “Sefer Hasidim” and even that author's novel “Miriam.” I always thought my grandfather well understood modern times, its social changes and national aspirations, even though he himself was bound to the old way of Jewish life. All of his children to a great degree freed themselves from the old ways and yet, as far as I can remember, he didn't make a fuss over this. On the contrary, he related to all the changes in a very realistic manner, at the same time looking at the Jewish future with a religious faith.

Reb Avraham Zaltsman died two years before the war and didn't live to see the Holocaust. But his children and his entire family in Nowy Dwor became holy martyrs. Their memory must remain with those who survived and with the entire Jewish people forever.


Footnote

  1. Footnote in the original: The author, the son of Khane and Yehude Meyer Lipman, who lived through great suffering in the Nazi camps and in the forest, where he was wounded twice, has lived since 1949 in America, where he has always been active in the field of Hebrew education. As a pedagogue he continued his studies at New York University, studying pedagogy, Hebrew literature, and problems of the Near East, and is currently pursuing his doctoral degree. –Editor of Pinkes Nowy Dwor. Return


The Melody of a Jewish Family

by Ben Khaim, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

In memory of my brother Rabbi Avraham Simkhe First, his two heroic murdered children, of blessed memory,
and with wishes for a long life to those who survived him –– his wife, my sister–in–law Sorele, and their daughter Khayele.

Our entire family was among the residents of Nowy Dwor who came to live there at the beginning of this century, acclimated well to the town and contributed something of their own to communal life.

Our father came from Sokhatshev, an old center of Jewish learning. There he had been a star pupil of the gaon [brilliant scholar] Reb [respectful form of address] Eliezer Kohen, who in his day was a student of Rabbi Binyomen of Pshiskhe. Our grandfather's name was Isakhar Dov Berish. His pious father named him after the Radoshitser rebe [Hasidic rabbi], the student of the “Prophet of Lublin” [the Hasidic rabbi Yankev Itsik Horvitz].

My grandfather Isakhar Dov Berish was a great religious scholar and was among the students of the great original Talmud interpreter. He died young in his forties. Up to the last minute we in the family preserved his book on new interpretations of Talmud, a slim manuscript on yellow paper, which my scholarly brother had once promised to have published. This book met the same fate as all the religious books in my brother's book cupboard, including my brother's works, all turned to ash by the flames of Nazi torches.

Our mother, Miriam Sore, was from a completely different background. She was born in Zakrotshin, the eldest daughter of our grandfather Meyer Noekh Holtsberg, a prosperous, well established burgher with his own house and granaries. He was a frequent visitor in the homes of the local nobility from whom he bought grain. He was a gabe [administrator] of the big synagogue and also of the burial society. His father was called Itsik Beder because he apparently had once been the leaseholder of the baths and our grandfather's father–in–law was from Kukhar near Plonsk, where he had a piece of land on the estate of Reb Shloyme Zalmen Poyzner, who was one of the innovative pioneers in settling Jews on the land.

This is how the two families met: In Zakrotshin, a lovely brunette grew up in the home of her rich father, Reb Meyer Noekh. In faraway Sokhatshev, all the way on the other side of the Vistula, in the home of his mother, the widow Leye Brayne who was not rich but had an illustrious pedigree,

[Page 301]

there grew up a jewel of a lad who liked to study. Like the hero of I.L. Peretz's poem, Monish:

He liked to read the Gemora,
To reason from such texts as
Shor shenoygakh es hapora [“If an ox should gore a cow…” a passage from the Talmud]

The rest was taken care of by the excitable Zakrotshin shadkhen [matchmaker] Reb Shmuel Zaynvel Milkhediker. (He was also the shadkhen who brought together Nokhem Sokolov [Zionist leader and author] and his wife from Mokov. People always talked about how the shadkhen would encourage Sokolov: “Nokhem, Nokhem, return to your religious studies. You could become the rabbi of Warsaw.”)

One frosty morning, the Zakrotshin shadkhen set out on his sleigh to Sokhatshev and drove back with our garrulous grandmother, Leye, dressed in a big fur cloak left over from the trousseau that she had brought with her from her prosperous prominent family, the Graubards. Grandmother Leye, with her commanding air, took on grandfather Meyer Nokhem, extracted from him a fine dowry and a promise of five years support for the young couple and agreed to an engagement with her gifted only son.

That same night, she heartily congratulated her gifted only son, throwing in the bonus of a piece of the cake she had baked in Zakrotshin, saying to him, “Khaiml, I've picked out a pretty bride for you.” Grandmother was telling the truth; our mother was a true beauty.

All of these family events, dating back as far as 100 years, were always fresh in our home, where we small fry grew up. We were three brothers – the grown–up Mendl, a fine young man; the second, the gifted student Avraham Simkhe; and then there was me, the child of my parent's old age, Itsik Dov Berish, who inherited the names of both grandfathers, Berish from my father's side and Itsik from my mother's great grandfather. Here, I want to focus on my murdered brother, Avraham Simkhe.

My brother Avraham Simkhe studied Torah in the Sokhatshever yeshiva with the renowned religious scholar and Hasidic rebe Reb Avraham Sokhatshever [Avraham Bronshteyn, first rebe of the Sokhatshover Hasidic dynasty.] After finishing yeshiva he returned to Zakrotshin, where he studied with the later well known Gombiner rabbi, Reb Leybele Zlotnik and with the Zakrotshin rabbi, Yonah Zlotnik. These were the two main sources of inspiration for my brother's life: Torah and Hasidism from the Sokhatshever

 

now301.jpg
Rabbi Reb Avrahma Simkhe First,
of blessed memory

 

gaon and love of Zion and Zionism from Rabbi Yoyne Zlotkin, one of the first pioneers of Mizrachi [religious Zionist movement].

My brother Avraham Simkhe came to Nowy Dwor when he was already a grown young man. There he completed his knowledge of Torah learning with the two most important Torah scholars of that time, the unofficial rabbi Reb Avramele Hers Bers (Tik) and Reb Shloyme Leyzers (Fridman). Both were ardent Hasidim, the former a Pilever Hasid, the latter a Radziminer. And both of them

[Page 302]

loyally served the Nowy Dwor congregations for decades without monetary compensation.

My brother was a devoted scholar. From dawn's early light to late at night, he would study with other young men in the Gerer shtibl [small Hasidic synagogue] under the informal supervision of the elderly scholars there – Reb Elihu HaKohen, Reb Moyshe Elkane, Reb Yekusiel Masimovitsh et. al. –– who held him in high regard and praised him to everyone and especially to his own father, seeing him as a young man who would grow to be a chief rabbi or religious judge. And that was what my pious father wished for.

When the period of five years of support from his father–in–law (with an additional many more years) had expired, my father gave up his religious studies for business, and my family began a period of wandering – first to Plotsk, where my father had his first business failure; then to Warsaw, where his failure was even greater; and finally, back to Nowy Dwor. It was no wonder that after all the businesses, they wanted more studying, and sought that for their intellectually gifted son Avraham Simkhe.

My father spent a tidy sum to buy my brother's freedom from “Christian hands” [military service], and obtained for him a “blue card” [exemption]. It was then time to find his son a suitable wife. Matchmakers descended in droves and finally they found him his life's companion, Sorele Prager [lives today in Melbourne, Australia], the oldest daughter of Reb Ruvn Prager, a rich man from Warsaw and an ardent Gerer Hasid and pious Jew. The two fathers–in–law were longtime close friends from the time they both lived in Zakrotshin.

In this match my father saw the realization of his dream that his son become a rabbi, by first acquiring a rich father–in–law who could support his studies for a long time. So my father Reb Yisroel Khaim thought. But Reb Ruvn Prager thought otherwise. He wanted and quickly turned his gifted son–in–law into a merchant. He didn't even let him complete the period of support he had promised him [in the engagement contract] and quickly opened a store for him in the very midst of bustling Franzishkaner Street in Warsaw. By 1939, before the outbreak of the war, my brother was already a prominent, prosperous man with his own house in Praga [district of Warsaw.]

And, as was the custom, this house became one of the “centers” for Nowy Dworers in Warsaw. For all Nowy Dwor Jews, but especially the small shopkeepers, purchasing agents and expediters who would travel to Warsaw two or three times a week, these “centers' were a kind of home away from home. They would rush through Pzshebieg, a lane off busy Boniparte Street, raising their eyes to the fine five–story house of the former president of the Jewish community in Novy Dwor, Reb Binyomen Yungrits. Entering Boniprat [Street] they would find the always cheerful Itshe Meyer standing by his store, stopping every Nowy Dworer who passed by, to get a greeting from his hometown. When they got to Tseyakhter Frantzishkane Streeet, they'd go into Reb Avraham's store, drop off a package, leave an order then borrow some money for few hours until they made a deal.

After leaving my brother's place, they'd be on busy Nalevkes [Jewish name for Nalewki Street] and wouldn't omit to have a look at the big dry goods store of Simkhele Kotik's (Tshekhanowski) sons. And the young folk, the enlightened, modern ones, since they were already in the big city, wanted to search out a newly published book or journal in a half–story house, along the Nalevkes, across from Krashinki's Garden, which was the location of the well–known book publisher Elihu Gitlin, who had married a woman from Nowy Dwor, Khave Roznshteyn. There they'd inquire about the price of books, bargain, browse, get offered a big discount as Nowy Dwor insiders, but didn't buy anything.

Amidst all these Nowy Dwor “centers”

[Page 303]

my brother conducted his business, instead of occupying a rabbinical post. My father's dream, however, was ultimately realized, although delayed by 50 years.

My brother, who spent the years of Nazi rule in hiding in Praga was one of the few religious Jews to return to Warsaw after the war. He was among the first organizers of the renewed Jewish community in Warsaw, and it should be noted that, to the honor and glory of Nowy Dwor, her long time resident was the first to become the head of the renewed Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] in Warsaw, as is testified to in the letter from Rabbi Doctor Kahana [reproduced on the bottom of p.304]

My brother returned to Warsaw, there where he had lost his most precious two children. His son Meyer Noakh (Marek) had been a student in the Mizrachi gymnasium [academic high school] Takh Kamoni and then a graduate student in the Hebrew gymnasium Askola. In the ghetto he was involved with the Jewish underground into which he drew his younger sister Leyele (Lola). Before Pesach 1943, just before the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the two of them arranged for my brother, his wife and their oldest daughter to get out of the ghetto and hide out with Christians they knew in Praga, promising to join them there. They were killed during the uprising, suffocated by German gas attacks on the bunker on Maranovska in which they were hiding.

My brother learned about this upon his return to Warsaw after the war from a person who had survived by a miracle in a neighboring bunker. In the ruins of Muranovska neighborhood the pious, believing father lamented his two heroic murdered children with the words of the kaddish prayer, yisgodel v'yiskadosh shmey raba. Then he set forth to do the work of establishing a new Jewish community.

But my brother could not long remain in Warsaw. His religious work among the few surviving Jews was a thorn in the side of the Jewish Communists. With his wandering stick in hand, he travelled through Rumania and Austria to Italy. In 1946–47, he lived in Rome, devoted body and soul to his work in the field of religion and

 

now303a.jpg
now303b.jpg
Meyer [Marek] and Lola First

 

[Page 304]

carried out all the religious rites among the survivors –– weddings, circumcisions, bar mitsves –– and was active in educating the young people in the spirit of B'nai Akiva [children of of Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement]. He gave passionate talks about Torah v'Avoda [Torah and Work, a religious Zionist movement] and Zionism. The religious Jews crowned this modest and self–effacing scholar with the title “Rabbi First” and when they called him up to the Torah addressed him as “our teacher and rabbi.”

From Rome he went to Eretz Yisroel. He made heroic efforts to obtain a certificate permitting entry to the land he longed for. He appealed to Dovid Ben Gurian and to Mizrachi activists. With their help, and most important, with the help of Minister Brod, who knew him from Rome, he finally obtained the certificate and arrived in Israel, which was still occupied by the British.

He settled in Haifa and worked in the rabbinate there, supervising kashrut. He was very respected by the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Kaniel. He was very active in Mizrachi circles, appeared at meetings of Torah V'Avoda and wrote from time to time in the Mizrachi newspaper Hazofeh [The Watcher]. And was very friendly with Rabbi Maimon and Rabbi Herzog.

In 1949 he visited Melbourne as an emissary for Mifal haTorah. There he found wide scope for his Mizrachi work and delivered passionate speeches at several Zionist gatherings. He also worked for the local Jewish papers –The Jewish Post, Australian Jewish News –– where he wrote on topics of the day, and articles in the spirit of traditional Judaism.

But fate intervened. On May 13, 1959, on the way to the Mizrachi center in Melbourne, where he was supposed to give a speech about Yom Haatzmaut [Israeli Independence Day], my brother died in an automobile accident. This misfortune suddenly ended a rich and glorious life of a Jew, a scholar, a devotee of the state of Israel, who was the incarnation of the melody of his generations–old, widespread family.


[Page 305]

Three Generations of the Yures Family

by D. Ben Yisroel, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

In the early years of this century, Old Man Yures was brought to Nowy Dwor from somewhere on the Polish border by several newly rich military contractors to teach Russian and Hebrew to their growing children. “Old Man Yures” was also known as Reb [respectful term of address] Note Yures and, as I recall from my early childhood, also bore the name Shperling.” He very quickly freed himself from this kind of teaching. Knowing Russian very well he first became a writer of petitions and later a “corner lawyer,” a kind of paralegal with the right to appear before the Russian court.

He belonged to the generation of maskilim [followers of the Jewish Enlightenment] who had a great love for Hebrew and Yiddish literature. In the years prior to World War I he was very active in Jewish life in Nowy Dwor. He was a representative in the kehile [organized Jewish community] and on the City Council. He was an active supporter of Eretz Yisroel, and a member of Bnei Moshe [Sons of Moses}, the first sprout of the Labor Zionist movement. His son, the Zionist social activist Yankev Yures, known as “Young Yures,” was raised in his respectable Zionist home.

I was very close friend with Yankev Yures. I remember him from my earliest childhood. We lived in the same building owned by Yankev's best friend, the dentist Shmuel Grabman. We lived in the front, “Old Man Yures” lived above us, and “Young Yures” lived in the annex, where he also had his photography studio.

He was very handsome. Today, we would say he looked like a film star – tall, slender, with a head of black hair, big brown eyes, neat and elegant, a bit reserved, and a big admirer of foreign manners. In short, he was a Jewish aristocrat who stood out in a small, gray town.

Although the town Jews addressed his father with the familiar “Reb Note,” the son was only called Pani [Polish respectful term of address] Yures. He held himself apart, even from those close to him. He was attracted by the new and modern, and that is what I think brought him to his profession of photography, which in those days was quite a complicated business. There was the apparatus, with its four wobbly feet and its black cover, like some sort of evil creature ready to swallow you up. Then there were the decorations – the enchanted castles, gardens and woods that served as backdrops. And then there was the long series of adjustments and manipulations to the curtains on the glass roof to capture just the right kind of light. And most important, there was the arrangement of the subject in the right pose, with just the right kind of subtle smile, so that the portrait would be lifelike. It wasn't like it is today, where with a click of the camera, you're done. Those were different times, everything had to be done just right.

Yankev Yures was also the first in town to ride a bicycle. When he would set out for a ride along the road to get a bit of fresh air on a summer evening, I, with a child's intuition, already understood that the girls and women were envious of the quiet and modest Soltshe, Yekhetskl Zeygermakher's daughter, who had done so well in “catching” such a handsome and talented man.

When The Yures' moved to the house newly built by The Warsaw Jew Roznfeld on the spot where there had previously been a small house belong to the family of Motel Peretz, Yankev also moved his expanded photography studio there. In the back wing, in a long enlarged space, he opened a new business – a movie house where on Saturday nights and Sunday you could see “living pictures” and stamp your feet as much as you wanted when the film broke down every few minutes. I liked to watch as Yankev, with his long fingers, their nails yellowed by the photographic chemicals, would tinker with the machine until he got it to work. I had the impression he did this more as a hobby than to make money.

This was how I knew and saw him in my boyhood, before World War I. In the years of the German occupation during that war, Yankev Yures was very socially active and in a very organized manner restored the kehile, which had fallen apart. The quiet, intelligent Yekhetskl Berman became president of the kehile and Yankev Yures was the secretary and the life of the organization. The pharmacist Hildebrand was the treasurer, Reb Meyer Likhtenshteyn the representative of the religious circles and Reb Hershl Boym, son of the rich man, Reb Yehoyesh Boym, was the representative of the ordinary, middle class Jews. For two years, until I left Nowy Dwor, I was the secretary, an official of the kehile and I visited Yankev Yures home daily. The office of the kehile was in Akive Bosman's building, next to Roznfeld's house, where Yankev Yures lived, and I had the opportunity to see everything he did for the kehile.

In conformance with the directive governing Jewish kehiles issue by General Von Beseler, the German governor of occupied Poland, and thanks to the skill and energy of Yankev Yures, the kehile administration became a legal institution for the Jews of Nowy Dwor, conducted in a modern manner in all respects, and it earned the respect and admiration of the Jews as well as the general municipal institutions with which it was connected.

During that period, Yankev Yures was also an alderman in the municipal government and together with Reb Shimen Note Srebrenik created the first Zionist council, of which the following were members: Note Zaltsman, Lipa Mundlak, Rokhele Neufeld, Rivtshe Yerozalimski and this writer. In sum, Yankev Yures was a social activist in all areas.

I later heard that Yankev took over his father's legal practice after death. I am sure he was adept at that, too, because he always liked the law and liked to refer to legal sources.

The true heir of the legal profession in the family was Yankev's oldest son Yosef, or as he was called at home, Yosek. He had already completed his legal studies. Before the last war, I would run into him in the courts in Warsaw, tall and slender in his official black lawyer's robe, and I often thought that this was the fulfillment of the dream of his grandfather Note, the prototype of the family of lawyers.

And this was the ending for that socially active Nowy Dwor family. Yankev Yures; his refined wife, Soltshe; their son Yosef and his lovely wife, the daughter of the prominent and wealthy Moyshe Berman; their little child; and Yankev's younger son – all were killed by the Nazis. The sole surviving daughter of Yankev Yures, Dorke, lives in faraway Venezuela with her husband Meyer Mundlak, a scion of the prominent Nowy Dwor Mundlak family.

 

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