I was twelve years old when my grandfather Kopel died. My older brother Shimon was already fourteen, the age when a boy began to be concerned about learning a trade. At that time the choice was limited: shoemaker, tailor or carpenter. A ladies' tailor offered to teach my brother the basics of the trade. Shimon was still in the Polish school, so his days rapidly became too crowded: school in the morning and his apprenticeship in the afternoon. Furthermore, as the new year approached, the work was plentiful, so his boss made him work at night in order to recuperate the lost hours caused by his absence in the morning. It soon became evident that my brother couldn't tolerate such a pace. His studies were suffering, and my mother had to make him leave school so that he could devote his full time to his apprenticeship.
But even that didn't seem to be enough. His days of toil became harder and harder. Yet, my brother accepted this regime in the hope of rapidly acquiring a skill which, in the end, would assure him of financial independence. He was even resigned to coming home every evening with no money for his efforts, although he badly needed it. At the end of a few months, Shimon should have logically advanced to the next stage by becoming a qualified worker with a decent wage. Alas! His employer chose that time to fire him, claiming that he didn't need him any more.
It is true, in defence of the employers, that at that time many of them lived as poorly as their workers. Nonetheless, my brother was unemployed, so he was very happy, after several weeks, to accept the offer of a new tradesman. In exchange for a paltry salary, he was offered a job with a men's tailor, and this at least allowed him to complete his training.
In 1935, it became my turn to leave school. I was 15 and the prospects of starting a trade in Ozarow were hardly more promising for me than for my brother: shoemaker, tailor or carpenter..... nothing had changed.
One day my Aunt Brandele, the sister of my deceased father, arrived from Ostrowiec. She had come for her annual visit to the graves of my grandparents, as was the custom. My mother confided to her how worried she was about my situation.
As for me, I dreamed of becoming an electrician, mechanic or accountant. I believed I was perfectly capable of taking a course at a vocational school and obtaining a diploma. But there were no vocational schools in
Ozarow, so my aunt agreed to bring me to Ostrowiec where she would give me room and board while I took a commercial course. I was in paradise! And my mother wept for joy and gratitude. Alas, once I got to my aunt's, I had to face facts. She had eight children of her own, so that even with the best intentions in the world, she could not possibly cover my expenses: tuition, text books, incidentals, clothes and the school uniform. Of course, my poor mother shared the cost, but it was far too great for us. In the end, I had no choice but to return to Ozarow.
I then made a survey of all the tradesmen who might possibly employ me and I cast my hopes on Shya Ingberman, the cap-maker. Full of enthusiasm, I introduced myself and suffered my first rejection. Gershon, the owner's son even jeered at me: My father has no intention of training a future competitor who will be raiding his turf in a few years!
The following week, my mother took me to Laizer the Sewer who agreed to take me on but only on his conditions, which were, no contract and an unpaid trial period of indefinite duration. That was the practice in those days. So I started out, one week after Succoth, with a verbal undertaking for six months.
It was on a Tuesday, a lucky day, they say. The next day, Ethel, the wife of my new boss, asked me to empty her bucket of dirty water. I replied by telling her that her husband hadn't hired me for that kind of job.......Truthfully, I instantly regretted my excessive sensitivity, but lucky for me, Laizer was understanding, and my juvenile impetuousness caused no further escalation.
After six months of work, I felt a little more sure of myself. With aplomb, I asked my boss if I could soon expect a salary. He explained that his financial situation did not permit him to pay more than two workers. At Passover, maybe....
Passover came, but still nothing.
While this was going on, another sewer named Cudyk contacted me. He offered to hire me for a half-year at no pay (counting the fact that there was an extra month that year of Ve-Adar), in exchange for which, he promised that I would attain the status of a qualified workman. I told him firmly that I could no longer permit myself to work without a salary. Cudyk and my mother then engaged in an intense negotiation which ended on their agreeing to 30 zlotys for the half-year.
Thus, I began my job with my new employer, under the tutelage of Chaim Sherman, one of his workers. This fellow advised me to accept
Cudyk's conditions and also assured me of his support toward a rapid promotion. I immediately took my place at the sewing machine, and false modesty aside, I believe that by the end of 15 days, the value of my work greatly exceeded my salary.
My friend Chaim had to go to the hospital on account of a bad knee. To avoid having the boss replace him, I doubled my usual output. One day, I asked Cudyk if he planned to take account of my diligence. I drew his attention to the fact that I was, after all, replacing Chaim, who earned ten zlotys a week!
With a falsely candid air, he stated that he couldn't understand my discontent. I was only sixteen and a half, but convinced of my rights, I demanded a salary of 50 zlotys for the half-year and his promise to take back Chaim once he got out of the hospital. I even insisted on a straight answer by the following day. Boldness is often an attribute of youth!
The next day, I entered the shop, and strange to tell, the boss wasn't there! I asked his wife, Where is Cudyk?
Her answer was well-rehearsed: My husband has gone out on an errand and will come back later.
But I was insistent. Didn't he ask you to give me an answer?
I know nothing about it..., she replied.
So I settled myself in a chair, determined to wait until the boss got back. The other apprentices kept quiet, but I sensed that they backed me up.
All of a sudden, the trap door to the basement half opened, and Cudyk's head popped out. He cast a flabbergasted look around, looking like an actor thrown on stage, facing his audience without knowing a word of his part. Unquestionably, this was a first act with bite!
His wife wisely led off the discussion. After that, she called on my mother. New negotiations transpired. Finally, the two women agreed: 60 zlotys, more than I had asked for myself.
From then on, I received a salary every Friday, which I proudly handed over to my mother.
At a young age, David lost his father. His grandfather Kopel took charge of him and sent him to cheder.
Jewish notables regularly came to the cheder classes to assess the quality of teaching. One winter night, on his return from synagogue, Yankele Nomberg knocked on Kopel's door to congratulate him on the talent of his little grandson David. News of this visit quickly spread through the town.
When it came time to enter the Polish school, David divided his time between that school and the cheder. In spite of the poverty of his household, this little boy diligently pursued his studies in both schools. His case was not unique in Ozarow.
In the year of David's bar mitzvah, Grandfather Kopel died. A neighbour, Ksyl Frydland, offered to accompany David to synagogue on the occasion of his bar mitzvah for the first laying of tefillen. To mark the celebration, cigarettes were distributed to the congregants.
One day, Krukow's neighbour, Leah, asked David if he wanted to earn a little money by giving lessons to her children. The lessons took place over several weeks, but the children hardly wished to study and made no progress. Disappointed with the results, Leah refused to pay the young man.
After the formal announcement of an engagement, it was customary to organize an engagement celebration for the young people on the following Saturday. Since printed invitations didn't exist in Ozarow, everyone would write them as best they could and distribute them by a message boy. When Antchel Daches got engaged, he asked David to deliver the invitations, for which he was decently paid.
The Struza woods became a vacation spot and people came there with increasing frequency for the fresh air. For the youth of Ozarow this forest became a place for daily walks. In the summer during school vacations, David would go to the forest every day to sell myrtle cakes which his mother would bake.
On the eve of Succoth, one of Reb Shachne's chassids came to David and asked if he would bring the lulaf and the etrog around to the families who attended his prayer house in order for them to be blessed. In fact, it was necessary for women and children to recite the blessing of the lulaf and the etrog in the morning before they were permitted to eat. For David this was a good occasion to earn a little money, but he had to get
up early every morning because the women and children were waiting for him so that they could eat.
According to popular belief, the lulaf and the etrog had several virtues. So Sarah, the wife of the chassid Reuven Rochwerg, asked David what he did with them once the two days of Succoth were over. He replied that he gave them back to Reb Shachne. Carefully, she then made her request.
Well, I'd like you to bring me the lulaf on the last day of Hol- Hamoed after everyone has blessed it. I'd like to munch the pistil.... In the face of the young man's incredulity, she continued, I'm expecting my sixth child.
It's a way, with God's help, to give birth without pain and to bring happiness to the mother and the child. On the last day of the blessing of the lulaf and the etrog, Sarah ate her pistil, and David was so pleased with her generosity and that of the other chassidic families of Reb Shachne, that he was able to buy himself a pair of new shoes for the winter.
David, tired of living in poverty, left the cheder after his bar mitzvah. He also planned to quit the Polish school so that he would be able to make a living. But his mother convinced him not to leave school, as long as he remained a good pupil. It's for your future, she said. When you get older, you'll forget your present misery, but school will be with you all your life.
David didn't leave school after all. Today, half a century later, he gratefully remembers his mother's advice.
Bakers and butchers
Many activities were traditionally carried on by entire families. For example, a baker would work all night to be able to bake the next day's bread. In the morning, his wife and children would continue the relay by selling the bread, often until ten o'clock at night. There were 15 bakers in Ozarow, and there were about ten butchers who would scour the countryside in search of cattle. They would make their deals with the farmers, then lead the animals to the slaughterhouse. The following morning, the butcher shop would teem with activity. It was necessary to meticulously separate the consumable parts from those unkosher parts which were destined for sale to the gentile customers. It was also necessary to put aside the offal for the poorest customers, with the bones being much desired for soup. The butchers wore white smocks and wrapped the meat in large pieces of paper as immaculate as their work clothes.
In Ozarow very few families could afford to eat meat every day. Unkosher meat was always cheaper than kosher. But the Jews would still never eat impure meat.
In 1938 a deputy, Madame Prystorowa, introduced a bill in the National Assembly intended to prohibit the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals. By all appearances, she was reacting to the alleged cruelty of this practice. But in fact, her initiative tended to purely and simply exclude all Jewish butchers from their trade. The stakes were serious because there were a number of Jewish suppliers to the army. Protection of animals, or thinly disguised anti-Semitic measure? The bill got bogged down somewhere in its procedural meandering between the National Assembly and the Senate before being relegated to secondary status in view of the imminence of the war.
Ozarow had no less than 60 Jewish groceries, kept mostly by women, and each selling its own specialties. This number may appear huge, but in truth, barely ten of these provided a real living for the families that owned them. The others hardly survived, providing a source of odd money or a temporary job for a husband involuntarily unemployed. This was the case for Berel Goldstein, who would ship his eggs to the larger
centres, for Israel Zelcer, who sold his oats to the teamsters, and for Mordechai Gryner, a partner in the Ozarow mill.
One of the daughters of Shmariye the Baker married a renowned Talmudist. It was she who looked after their grocery store while her husband studied from morning till night. When she was about to give birth, she asked him to replace her behind the counter because she needed more rest; so he took up his position there, opened his Gemora and immersed himself in it, now and then casting an absentminded look over the store. Before long, a Catholic customer entered and asked, How much is this box of matches? Our scholar spoke no Polish and had no idea of the prices. These were earthly concerns having nothing to do with him. He vaguely jabbered one of the only words appropriate to the circumstances that he knew: Zloty! Zloty!
Furious, the customer raised his cane, as if to hit him. What! You dare to charge one zloty for only a box of matches! I'm going to tan your hide!
Embarrassed and rattled, the young husband tried to get him to calm down, then drew the curtain and asked his wife, Tell me, I have a customer here in a black rage. I happened to tell him we charge one zloty for a box of matches. Do you think if we handle him right, he would give us a few groszy more?
There were several Studer families, all of them grain handlers and grocers. Moishe-Idel, the grandfather, a little man with a white goatee, lived with his eldest son Lipa in a big house, with three windows overlooking the cheder and the synagogue. There was a passage between his house and the fire engine shed which also served as access for the farmers who came with their carts on market days to drop off their wheat. Lipa's wife looked after the grocery store with the grandchildren.
It was a tradition of Moishe-Idel's children to name the first daughter Perele and the first son Chil-Meyer. Chaim-Yoissef, the second son of Moishe-Idel, who lived with his family at number 4 Main Street, was a grain merchant and also kept a little grocery store which his wife Rivka, in the family tradition, looked after.
The third son, Itzchak, emigrated to France, leaving behind his wife Shyra and three sons living in the house of Kotek. This small two-storey building was located between the town hall and the Polish public school.
On the town hall side lived Psach'ye Kotek, a deaf-mute shoemaker. In front of his window, a little staircase of a few wooden steps led to the dwelling of Tobale, the sister of Psach'ye, who lived there with her daughter Roisele Bromberg.
In the same building, on the side of the public school, up one step, was the grocery store of Shyfra Studer, who lived there with his three children. In this store you could also find pencils, notebooks and sweet rolls which the children would come to buy at recess.
One day I entered Shyfra's grocery to buy some school supplies. His two little girls were playing with their dolls. Chilek'l, the younger of the two, was crying. To calm her, her mother placed her on the counter. Before a customer could be served, Chilek'l fell to the floor and bloodied her nose.
The joyful day came when Shyfra and her three children could join their father in France. A new life began, but then the war came, and Auschwitz, from which Itzchak would never return.
When I reached France, I had the pleasure of telling Charlie Studer about his childhood in Ozarow.
The milkmen Yankele lived on the Station Street, formerly Wyszomontow Street.
So he was nicknamed Yankele Wyszomontower. Every morning he departed with his cart, loaded with cans, for the neighbouring farms in order to collect his milk. Jewish customers closely followed all dairy operations, especially the milking of the cows. If ever the milk was poured into unkosher cans or pails, it became unfit for consumption. So to sell his milk or butter, Yankele had to take every precaution to scrupulously follow the ritual requirements.
Many poor women plied the thankless trade of milk porters. From dawn, they would show up at their customers at the exact hour of breakfast. They were paid by the week. It was useless to keep accounts. A simple scrawl with white chalk on a customer's door recorded the delivery. At that time people were honest enough not to think of erasing the markings.
Slouvale the Washerwoman
Slouvale found herself raising her little son Chilale alone after her husband abandoned her to return to his native Galicia. She was robust
and brave, and work never frightened her. To make a living and feed her only son, Slouvale rolled up her sleeves and washed the laundry in Jewish households, enduring thankless, miserable work and endless days. Often she would skimp on her own meagre meals in order to leave more for her little boy. Chilale grew up and his mother continued to wear herself out on the job. A single thought kept her going: her son's future. She would never stop repeating to herself: Yes, I toil from morning till night, but not for nothing! My son will one day become a tailor and I'll set him up in his own business. Finally, Chilale, when he reached adolescence, became an apprentice in Leibish-Meyer's establishment. At the beginning of the war, Chilale headed east and was never heard from again.
The pressing machine
Mendele Rochwerg the Shoemaker lived on Dluga Street, just facing the Iron Well. He lived in a mean little house together with his wife and their 12 children. Like other poor Jews of Ozarow, Mendele had numerous offspring. Twelve children! (Not counting those who died at birth.) He set up his workshop in the main room, near the window. His two oldest sons worked with him. In the attic, there were several little beds, all in a row, for the use of a part of his progeny. The rest of them squeezed themselves as best they could into a kind of cabin adjoining the house.
One day, an extraordinary machine made its appearance in Ozarow. It was an ingenious device made up of rolls between which you could feed laundry, sheets and shirts. In a word, it was a mangle. The last word in technological innovation! We had never seen anything like it: a pressing machine! It was the two daughters of Chaim-Berish the school teacher who introduced this fabulous apparatus, where from, no one knew. They put a little order into the cabin dormitory of Mendele and installed the machine there. Then they got it running, making sure not to crease the clothes as they passed through. In short, thanks to them, a kind of precursor to our modern dry cleaning service was born in Ozarow. And the two sisters gladly went there amidst the comings and goings of Mendele's children, who continued all the while to sleep in the cabin.
They scarcely had any emulators in the village because the work was miserable and the pay negligible. Nevertheless, for two daughters of a
school teacher not yet ready to learn a trade or brave parental authority to leave for the big city, this could pass for a living as well as any other!
But best of all, their little business allowed them, as was their wish, to make themselves scarce. Thus, they were able to avoid the tiresome matchmakers who knocked at their parents' door seeking to impose unappealing husbands on them. They could in some measure live semi-independently.
Cobbling and tailoring were the most developed craft trades in Ozarow. There were hundreds of tailors and shoemakers, exactly how many, nobody knew. Their number far exceeded the capacity of the local market to absorb them. Nevertheless, it was a matter of course for young people to enter these trades after completing Jewish or Polish primary school. Their parents preferred this option to their falling into a life of sloth, the mother of all vices.
All streets, down to the least alley, resounded with the clicking of sewing machines or the hiss of steam presses fired by charcoal. The shoemakers gaily hammered away at their wooden toe points. Whenever they paused to position or prepare their work or sew something with the aid of a special thread called the dratva, they would sing lustily. Each of them made his own little musical contribution to this general concert. All of this different music gave an imprint to a trade, to a social class, and often to a political affiliation.
Very often, the choice of a trade would depend on a family's origin. In general, each child of working age would find a place in the framework of that family's business activity. Thus in the Mintz household, all four sons became custom tailors. The sons of Deaf David became tailors, as well as pedlars, in order to provide a channel of sale for their own production. Those of Ephraim Sherman were harnessmakers. As for Yossel G.'s two sons, they chose to become shoemakers, while their two sisters married what else? shoemakers!
There was a story that went around Ozarow about Yossel G. It was said that he had grown rich in the 1920's. After the First War, he was supposed to have bought a bag of counterfeit bank notes and to get rid of them, he had made lavish purchases of merchandise and various supplies. He would thus have been able to sell all of his output of boots and shoes for payment in good money. But on the other hand, it must be said of him that whenever an Ozarow Jew needed a loan, Yossel would receive him with open arms. Someone would ask him, What are your terms?, and Yossel would reply, My money will bring you happiness, and you will pay it back to me when you can, and don't worry about interest, I'm not a usurer! To each of his children he gave a house right in the centre of Ozarow.
But as for himself, every Sabbath after the afternoon prayers, he was content with the innocent pleasure of leading his goats to graze in the Jewish cemetery.
The Tyschler family built wooden houses, frameworks and roof supports. The Adlers were masons, with sidewalks, flagstone pavements and tiles as their line of work. The Lustigs branched off their activities: some were musicians, while the others were hairdressers or cosmeticians. The Rochwergs were teamsters, while the Kaplans and the Kleinmintzes were tavernkeepers and restaurateurs. The Ledermans were harnessmakers, the Basovitches shoemakers, the Mintzes tailors, the Goldblums beadles, the Cukiermans wheat merchants, the Melmans and Studers grocers, the Fuks and Rapoports teachers, and the Goldsteins and Gryners feather and egg dealers.
Many families made shirts and sold them in the markets. But always, the most common trades remained, tailor or shoemaker. Even here, it was necessary to draw distinctions! In the first rank, were those tailors or shoemakers capable of producing made-to-measure work. After them, came those who sold their output at the markets of Ozarow and its surroundings. In the bottom rank, were the repairers.
As for the pedlars, they began their work week on Sunday morning. Their shops would hum with activity all through the day, and even until late at night, in order to prepare the merchandise to be sold on Monday at the Tarlow market. On Tuesday they returned to Ozarow, and on Wednesday they were off again to Zwiechost, and on Thursday it was Annopol-Rachov-by-the-Bridge, on the other side of the Vistula.
Some contractors worked for these pedlars, especially for the shoemakers. As you can readily imagine, the life of a pedlar was hardly easy. All week long, he would ply the roads on his cart, enduring the hammering sun in summer and the bitter winter cold, which was scarcely relieved by the heat of a charcoal brazier. The shoemakers would carry their wares in chests and the clothiers would cover their merchandise with waterproof canvas. The dealers in novelties were often young. They would go up and down the aisles of the market, baskets under arm, pitching all kind of knick-knacks ties, cufflinks, shoe polish, combs and mirrors to satisfy the desires of the elegant boys and the stylish girls, all this for only five groszy!
On Tuesday, market day in Ozarow, the dealers from Ostrowiec would set up their stalls and lay out clothes for men and women. Those from Opatow would offer furs and ladies' coats. This was a great novelty for Ozarow, since only Itchale Warszawski manufactured this kind of garment there, and only of the highest and most expensive quality. His clientele was therefore limited, but he enjoyed a great reputation in the village and its surroundings. The bakers from Tarlow sold salt griddle cakes, while on the shelves of those from Zawiechost, you could find egg pretzels, light and puffy. Lined up by the dozen on strings, they enhanced the colour of the market place like pearl necklaces. The Jews of Annopol would bring in their barrels of salt pickles which they would sell at tempting prices. If you bought two pickles, they offered you a third for free. They also sold salt herrings the uliki at ten groszy apiece.
Here we are on the dawn of a summer Tuesday. The day promises to be hot, but the waning night still gives off a bit of freshness. The farmers from the neighbouring hamlets are flowing in. They are coming to the Ozarow market to sell the produce they have harvested: fruits, potatoes and onions. On their backs the women carry enormous baskets overflowing with myrtle and wild strawberries. They set up on the perimeter of the market place, near the houses of Mendel Edelstein and Moishe the Moaner.
The farmers park their carts right in the middle of the square and begin to lay out their produce. Among them a few Jewish farmers yes, there are some bring in chickens, geese, butter and cheese, all strictly kosher of course. They supply the merchants in all seasons throughout the week so that the Jewish customers will lack for nothing for the next Sabbath. All year the merchants mostly women faithfully show up to do business.
Let us now leave the market place and head eastward. At the edge of the village we find the livestock market, on an esplanade which the young people of Ozarow know well. Outside market days, this place becomes a football field and resounds with the tumult of the matches which pit our team against those from neighbouring villages.
The horse and cattle business is active in Ozarow. Several master harnessmakers ply their trade there. Elsewhere, Jewish wholesalers buy up lots of eggs for distribution in the large cities. Thus, Velvale, the son of Moishe-El'ye Gryner ships first quality eggs, protected by straw in wooden boxes, while selling damaged eggs at reduced prices to the local clientele. Others, like Panye Shmuel, are in the fruit and vegetable business; Hershel Hartzkes Orenstein, the goose trade, and Benda Rolnicki, onions. In the Gamnylox family, Mendel and Elale Gryner, with their brother-in-law Shloime the Lasociner, sell down and feathers. As for the Weinrybs, as far back as we could remember, they dealt in grain.
The farmers whom we have left at the market place have by now sold their produce. Here they are now, buying various manufactured articles from the Jewish craftsmen and shopkeepers of Ozarow, and bread from the bakers. Then they will go to have lunch at one of the inns, where they will savour a fat piece of roast goose, washed down with a few glasses of vodka.
Sometimes, through the workings of the calendar, Tuesday would fall on a Jewish holy day. In that event, no market! That was, for example, the case one year when market day coincided with Yom Kippur. Then silence reigned in Ozarow. Even Jews who neglected going to services all year long made it a point to go to synagogue at least to recite the prayers for their dead. Now we see a Polish farmer crossing town on his cart, laden with fruits and vegetables. As is his habit, he goes to the market place.
To his great surprise, he finds himself in a place deserted. He then asks a village resident the reason for this bizarre situation. The other is merciless in his jeering: Poor peasant! Don't you know that today is the Jews' holiday? You may as well reload your goods and go back where you came from!
Libale was the third daughter of Itz'chekel Berel's. Unfortunately, her energetic temperament wasn't enough to let her forget her physical disfigurement. Smallpox had left her imprinted with a pock-marked face. So you can just imagine how she suffered when her younger sister got married before her.
Yet, never say die, in due time a young widower from Krasnik a shoemaker by trade came knocking on her door to ask for her hand. And so, Libale quickly got married. There was no shortage of shoemakers in Ozarow, and so to make ends meet, Libale hawked fish in the market place on Thursdays and Fridays.
One day there alighted a dealer from Rahow a village on the other side of the Vistula who set up two large barrels of fish beside Libale's spot in the market. Libale thought this was unfair competition, contrary to all usage!
Inevitably, a fight broke out. One of those memorable disputes replete with the insults and picturesque crudeness of unrestrained language; one which quickly attracted a gathering of amused rubbernecks.
Truth to tell, Libale was not a model of dignity. A toothless fury, she spat heaps of insults. And God knows, but her reserves in this area were inexhaustible! Still, her adversary was not lacking himself. Noticing that her right eye had a dark spot, he mocked this anomaly mercilessly. Enraged, Libale shot back, You won't take that to Heaven! You'll soon see what kind of wood keeps me warm! And with that she ran to fetch her brothers real hulks and her brother-in-law, Wolf the Redhead. Once on the scene, these giants managed to stay cool enough to avoid a general free-for-all, but they still made it a point to pour the contents of the two offending barrels on the market place.
As a warning!
Jewish businessmen and tradesmen were subjected to heavy taxes, augmented by an annual license fee. If they didn't pay, they invited the arrival of a Sekwestrator, who as his name indicates, had the power to place their goods under sequestration. Usually, he would arrive on market day, with the certainty of finding the cash boxes of the offenders well-filled.
Of course, the solidarity of the Ozarowers would then come into play. As soon as he alighted from the bus, they spotted him and spread the news quickly. Thus warned, the merchants could hide away the few zlotys comprising their day's receipts. This great fear of the Sekwestrator sometimes gave rise to mistakes.
Thus, one day there appeared an unknown functionary getting off the bus from Ostrowiec. He was carrying a leather briefcase ..... and yet, it wasn't a market day! The rumour spread Without question, a new Sekwestrator! He has changed the day of his visit as a ruse to be better able to collect his tax! We worried, we panicked .... but all this was a tempest in a teapot! It turned out to be only a harmless little health insurance inspector.
The agitation of the Ozarow merchants is easily understood. Most of them, despite strenuous work, remained poor. In these conditions, the burden of the license fee was a curse. Furthermore, the attitude of the authorities toward the Polish merchants was very different. They were far more understanding and tolerant of them and only rarely inspected them.
Jewish tradesmen would also resort to all kinds of subterfuges to escape investigations by the tax authorities. For example, a business would be declared in the name of relatives who had been dead for years. The administration would at times take a very long time to discover this error, thus giving a respite of several years. And even if the Sekwestrator came looking, what could he seize from the empty drawers of a family which had no property of any kind?
Sometimes a business would be registered in the name of young children, little girls best of all, because their names changed when they married. The authorities would get lost in a maze of successive family names.
In this connection, Gitche Goldblum (who died in 1970) told an anecdote about the license of her father Shyale-Rochmes-Kleinmintz,
who owned a little restaurant in Ozarow, and also bought and sold wheat on the side. After several run-ins with the tax authorities, he decided to put the license in the name of his daughter Gitche to escape these meddlers. At the time, she was just a very little girl. Several years later, she married Yechiel, who left for France in order to prepare for their emigration there.
When Gitche applied for her passport, everything was spoiled, since it was only then that the tax authorities were able to trace her, and force her to pay up several years of arrears!
But how could she afford such a sum? Fortunately, her grandfather, Moishe Shloch and Chenoch, his brother, managed to calm the zeal of
|Yechiel Chil Goldblum (died at Auschwitz) and his wife Gitche, daughter of Shya Kleinmintz. She survived Auschwitz and died in Paris in 1970.|
the officials and procure the passport which allowed her to join her husband in France.
|Mechel Flicker (front left), proudly posing with his two partners in front of the two taxicabs which they owned and operated. Ozarow, May 16, 1937.|
At the little Liberty Square, in front of the Tyszlers' houses, two bus lines, Ostrowiec-Lublin and Kielce-Radom, intersected. This was a vital crossroads and all those whose livelihood depended to any degree on transport were to be found there. Of course, there were among them many Jewish porters and carters.
Already before 1939, two taxicabs served the neighbouring towns of Ozarow from morning to night. To be a taxi driver was no slight matter. You had to have a driver's permit, a professional license. Furthermore, you had to know how to improvise as a mechanic. Not to mention money! A car, even used, cost a fortune. Then, it was necessary to pay for the services of a chauffeur's assistant who started the motor, changed the tires or repaired them in case of a flat, a frequent occurrence in view of the pitiful condition of the roads. And all the more so since the tires were invariably used until they burst.
The first bus appeared in Ozarow in the 1930's. It was nicknamed the Jaskolka or Swallow. Several partners, Jewish and Catholic, ran it. A few years later, the Swallow became the property of a company out of Lublin which debaptized it. Still, the nickname stuck to Wolvale, the ex-Jewish partner, whom everyone called Jaskolka.
As for Shmuel-Aaron, he carried his customers on board a cart drawn by a white horse, and his rig was not uncomfortable. Later, in order to compete with the taxis, he acquired a resora, a kind of cart equipped with spring suspension and softer seats, and protected from the weather by a tarpaulin roof.
Two brothers, Abush and Chil-Yankel Boksenbaum, ran a general cartage business to Cmielow and Ostrowiec. On the return trip, they carried goods to supply Ozarow merchants.
Itzchak Berel's was one of the oldest coachmen around Ozarow. His sons Berele and Abraham owned the best horses in the village. Their specialty was taking passengers to the train station at Jasice. They also would undertake journeys to places that were very far, trips that would sometimes last an entire week.
The local carters were very numerous: Leib Kolejowa, Good Weather Rachmil, Cagey Shloimele Weiberg, Chil Apelbaum and many others would unload their sacks of wheat at the mill and return with flour for the Jewish grocers and bakers.
The loading and unloading of the wagons was left to the Jewish porters, who would work in teams of partners. At the time only one Polish Catholic was a member of the porters' association. This was Wicek Prush, one of five brothers, who hardly belonged to what could be called the cream of society! Nevertheless, there was never the slightest incident with him or his brothers.
The undisputed chief of all the porters of Ozarow was Yisruel Grynbaum, who was called the Mask. He had plied this trade most of his life and he would never hesitate to tell anyone who would listen about his captivity in Germany during the First World War. It was he who when night came, would distribute the earnings from their day's labour among all the porters.
One of them was Shya the Idiot. He was the father of at least ten children. All of this numerous family could not have subsisted without the aid of his family who had emigrated to Canada.
Many households in Ozarow found themselves in the same precarious position. In September 1939, the war broke out. No more money orders from overseas! Less and less flour and wheat to carry. Shya, his wife and their children perished from hunger, epidemic and bad treatment, even before that fatal final day in 1942.
All Jewish painters anxious to show the atmosphere and the daily life of the shtetl have portrayed the water carrier in their works. There is nothing surprising in that, since it represents the life of these hamlets and of the miserable toil for paltry wages.
Ilex Beller, the painter and writer, has devoted beautiful passages to the memory of his native village and he has, of course, painted the portrait of Itche the Water Carrier.
Curiously, in Ozarow, of about a dozen water carriers, half were women. Each carrier had his (or her) own district well and proprietary clientele. For example, Wolvale filled up at the Kobrzycki well located at the edge of the village on the way to Sadzawka. He hauled up his pails with a rope and then headed toward the district of the ritual slaughterers.
Louzer took his water from Hillel's well at the little crossroads of Ostrowiecka and Wysoka Streets, aided by a crank in hauling it up. It was necessary for two people to turn the crank at full speed in order to avoid the water dropping back to the bottom of the well. He stowed a fat barrel on his cart, which a little horse drew to the Kaal district. His wife Malka, his son Naftule and his two married daughters helped him on his rounds. All five of them went through the tiniest alleys, bearing a yoke and overflowing pails on their shoulders. Thus, they kept their customers, bakers mostly, in supply.
All of the children of Louzer and Malka went into the family trade.
All, except Yisruel, the eldest son. Instead he became a cap-maker, working with his sons Isaac and Chil-Moishe. Making a subtle distinction, the townsfolk nicknamed him the wodziarz or water carrier in Polish, while the rest of the family were called wassertregers, the Yiddish word for the same trade.
On Fridays, after reciting the blessing over the candles, Malka was exhausted with fatigue. But by Saturday night, after the havdalah prayers signalling the end of the Sabbath, all of her ailments had miraculously disappeared, and she left with her husband on the first of the weekly rounds. Once the yoke no longer bruised her shoulders, she fell sick. It was in thinking of her that people took to making fun of all those who suffered from the Saturday sickness, i.e. a lack of work.
As for Rachmil Biniok, he drew his water from the town hall well, or the chancellory well. His wife, Zlata, his son Mendele and his granddaughter D'voira helped him out. This little team filled the barrel perched
on their tiny cart, which was pulled by a panting, half-starved horse, a poor beast which could hardly stand on its hooves. Rachmil never ceased to complain, This old nag never has enough. She eats away all of my week's profits in feed! Finally, he fed the poor beast so many blows of his stick that she collapsed in a heap, dead in the middle of the street. Thanks to the charity of the people of his neighbourhood, Rachmil was able to buy another horse, but this time he had learned his lesson, for every morning before swallowing his own meagre breakfast, he took care to feed the horse first.
In general, the water carriers did not deliver their pails one at a time, since with fatigue, there was a risk that they would lose their balance, whereas the use of the yoke distributed the load more evenly.
Water was always a precious commodity, and there was no lack of ways to store it. Thus we would collect rain water, that gift from the skies, in barrels. The water would then be used to do the laundry or to scrub the floors before the Sabbath. This water, so pure and soft, was favoured by the women, who would use it to rinse their hair.
In 1936, the municipality of Ozarow installed a well in the little Kaal square. This well was a new model. No more crank, but this time a pump, which allowed you to raise the water without effort, while increasing the flow. Running water didn't exist in the village, no one ever having had the idea of fitting the water barrels with taps so as to permit transfer of their contents into pails. The filling was done the old-fashioned way, into the upper part which was protected by a cover, while a hole pierced through the bottom permitted the filling of the pails.
On Wednesday, September 5, 1939, the fifth day of the war, German aviators bombarded Ozarow. Could they have taken the opening of the new well for the mouth of an anti-aircraft gun? In any case they demolished it with their bombs. Among the thirty victims there were many water carriers. Thus perished Louzer and his entire family, as well as Zlata, the wife of Rachmil Biniok, without counting all the brave horses who accompanied their masters to their final destination.
The Polish columnist, H. Czechowski, devotes a beautiful passage to the musicians of Ozarow.
In the 19th century, the orchestra of Jewish musicians played at Jewish weddings and for the great Polish estate owners. He recalls the participation of this orchestra in a military parade to the synagogue, where led by the Ozarow rabbi, there took place a ceremony in honour of Polish Constitution Day.
Famous for generations, the Ozarow musicians lived in the centre of town, at the beginning of Main Street. When not practicing their art, they usually worked as hairdressers, healers and more rarely, as tailors. Thus, the salon of Nousha Lustig was so busy that it spilled over on to the sidewalk. The women in the family set up benches there where for hours on end, they would chatter and joyfully make fun of passersby.
Our musicians did not dress in the traditional manner. The men wore three-quarter overcoats in winter and beautiful suits when the weather turned fine. They wore Russian-style caps, except for Yoskele, who was firmly partial to caps with lacquered visors.
On Sabbath and holy days, the musicians would show up at the synagogue, with their heads topped by hats. Their women never wore the traditional wig, but they were impeccably coiffed. At services they would cover their shoulders with shawls which they would pull over their heads during the prayers.
Completely at their ease in their elegant topcoats, the musicians would liven up the weddings in the region. If the young couple were poor, the musicians provided their music without charge, accompanying bride and groom to the wedding canopy with as much gaiety as for a well-off couple. The orchestra leader, Laibele Boulok, would lift his violin bow and the celebration would begin! The first chords resounded and the procession got under away to the sound of the fiddles, with children running behind crying ear-splittingly: Everyone join the chorus! It was a virtual military parade!
Later, it was the same orchestra which set in rhythm the traditional dances: the Mitzvah and the fiery Kozak which carried the celebrants to the point of exhaustion. Then came the turn of the waltzers and those adept at the tango, who would hand out the music to the musicians so that they could dance to their favourite pieces.
One of the violinists, Laizer Bourrage, also acted as master of ceremonies, livening up the evening with his sketches and jokes. As expected of him, Laizer Bourrage was also a hairdresser. He always had a razor and a pair of scissors handy in his jacket pocket. His clientele also included women who wore wigs, and orthodox Jews who would come to have their sidelocks trimmed. His wife Brontche also set hair of girls and young women, making house calls to do so. She was a stylish woman, always adorned with four hair combs in her blond curly hair, and even rouging her lips on occasion.
One day a rumour went through Ozarow that Laizer and Brontche were divorcing. A rumour soon confirmed. After a reasonable interval, Laizer started to look for another woman. He found one in another town and brought her back to Ozarow. But the new wife didn't know how to do hair and hadn't the slightest interest in music. She was so boring that she wasn't even worth being livened up with a nickname!
Under pressure from his family, Laizer began new divorce proceedings, and it was thus that he came to be married a third time...... to his first wife!
As was the case with other big families in Ozarow, those of the musicians were constantly on the increase. Stables were transformed into dwellings and attics were remodelled. It was necessary to find housing for everyone in this milieu.
Among the musicians, very strange first names were handed down from generation to generation which were not to be found in any other family. So that whenever you met someone in Ozarow named Urish'l, Yoskele, Leibale, Yentale, Foitche, Marme-Nah or Gittele-Mindge's, you could bet your life it was one of the musicians.
Moishe Lustig was a member of this glorious family. While he was still a teenager, he fell in love with Yocheved Hirshenhorn. The two youngsters became active in the ranks of Poale-Zion. Their courtship evolved sure enough into a more solid and enduring love. Without being a real professional, Moishe devoted hours to music, while his Yocheved would listen with pleasure for hours. This young couple contributed to raising the level of culture in Ozarow. They created an amateur Yiddish theatre troupe. They became so popular that the mere appearance of their name on a poster was enough to fill the fire engine shed where the shows were presented.
The beauty salon of Moishe Lustig and his wife, right in the centre of Main Street, had a radio which he connected to a loudspeaker at the entrance, thus allowing passersby to hear music or the news. Jews who possessed wireless receivers at that time were very rare. As the war approached, everyone became eager for news. People would crowd on the sidewalk around Moishe's radio. One week before the tragedy began, Ozarowers could listen to Jan Kiepura and Marta Egert sing an operetta. For the occasion, Moishe positioned his loudspeaker right in the middle of the street.
The next Saturday, it was by the same radio that we learned the German army had attacked.
On the way out of Ozarow, at the intersection with the Sandomierz Road, the last house on Main Street was a two-storey building with two entrances belonging to the family of Israel-Leib. This family formed part of the old generation of Ozarow musicians, and besides being hairdressers, they were often feltchers or healers. Israel-Leib was the first health officer in Ozarow. He first set up in 1850 and served in that capacity until the 1920's.
My grandfather often spoke to me about the genius of Israel-Leib, the miraculous healer of the population of Ozarow. He knew how to create handicaps which would make you unfit for the draft examination, so you could avoid serving in the Czar's army. It was to him that my grandfather owed his twisted trigger finger and my father, his missing toe, not to mention the cauliflower ears or pierced eardrums of their neighbours.
We can recall only one doctor who came to settle in Ozarow. This was in the 1920's just after Polish independence. This doctor, named Pokrzywka, moved in with a peasant family in Sobow, a neighbouring suburb. In spite of his good reputation and the fine care he brought to the population, at the end of a few years, he left the region.
On the outskirts of Ozarow, near the Kobzycki well, you could read on a sign at the entrance to Shmuel Shpilman's house, Experienced Health Officer. Shpilman had acquired this experience during the First World War in a military hospital.
Originally from a big city in Poland, he often received friends and family during the summer. Among these, in 1937, was one of the most prestigious violinists, Mauricio Lewak, who gave the Ozarow people the great honour of performing a concert. It was the first time a violinist of such renown appeared in our town. In 1940, the Lewak family returned to Ozarow. Mauricio Lewak's two sons formed part of our convoy to the camp at Skarzysko.
One of the Lewak brothers would survive the war to become the conductor of the Lodz National Orchestra after the liberation.
Klapper, a feltcher, married a daughter of the Fudym-Gewandschneider family, one of Ozarow's oldest. He settled on the Post Office
Road where he lived, on good terms, with Shloime-Isaac Cukierman. Klapper administered injections, applied cups, and in the most difficult cases, leeches.
In the decade before the war, three Jewish doctors settled in Ozarow. They were Dr. Helena Boborowa at the edge of town toward the road to Tarlow, Dr. Bass on the Town Hall Street, and on the market place in Mendel Eidelstein's house, Dr. Drach.
This was great progress for our village, but to go get treatment was another problem. Often by the time the doctor was summoned, it was already too late.
A married couple who were dentists set up shop in Aarele Rochwerg's house, facing the synagogue. But they got divorced, and only Teresa Pipikowa remained in Ozarow, setting up her practice near the town hall.
On the other hand, a denturologist, Meyer Fraiman, came specially from Opatow to practice his profession. He got married to Lola, the daughter of Basia Nissenbaum. They survived the war with their daughter Hela, born just before the war, and of whom it can be said that she was among the youngest Jewish survivors born in Ozarow.
Our neighbour, Motel the Glazier, had six boys and girls. One of the sons, Meyer, cut his finger while slicing a piece of bread. He was bleeding profusely, so his father led him to the attic where he made him a bandage out of a spider's web, and with that, the bleeding stopped.
Srulek'l came home from cheder and began to yawn. His mother, aware that her son was unusually handsome and intelligent, feared this could be a case of the evil eye, so she immediately put him to bed while waiting to prepare the antidote. But only one man, the eldest in the family, could attempt to cure the evil eye. So her husband went to fetch the boy's uncle, his oldest brother, while she dropped a few pieces of burning charcoal into a glass of water, which turned it black. Once he arrived, the older brother wet the fingers of his right hand and passed them around little Srulek'l's head three times, all the while repeating the same blessing. But that night, all the same, Srulek'l's little head burned with fever. So his mother concluded that he did not have the evil eye after all, and sent for a doctor.
Most of the time, sick people could not get treatment because they lacked the means. And if a doctor was called in by a family, he was not often asked to prescribe for the same reason. When a child or adult
caught cold, he was cupped and his back massaged with camphor. In Ozarow, there were two cupping specialists, a professional named Miriam Moshke's and a volunteer, Black Malka. To treat headache, people would buy a kogut (the name of the medicine) at Shloime Mandel's and for toothache, a fig from Sura'le Donditchke.
For a poor family to call in a doctor when someone was sick wasn't always easy, but in this, solidarity sometimes came into play. For example, in 1934 Yossel Tcheresnia had an attack of appendicitis. To operate on him, it was necessary to take him by train to Warsaw, but we were five kilometres from the station. Furthermore, the road was in terrible shape. So Laibel Shnold, the carpenter, had the idea of building a stretcher. Four men then carried it, with Yossele on it, on their shoulders to the station in Jasice. From there, they accompanied him to Warsaw, where they carried him off the train and to the Jewish hospital Czysta, where the operation was successfully performed. While social security existed by that time, very few people had signed up. In 1938, a certain Tomaszeski obtained his medical diploma. He opened an office on Spacerowa Street and became the official social security representative for Ozarow and the surrounding townships.
In 1938, I registered at social security after a hammer fell on my foot in the shop where I worked. I went to Dr. Tomaszewski's clinic, where he gave me a little bottle of tincture of iodine, and advised me to apply it with a clean rag in place of cotton. On an another occasion, I had a toothache. Dr. Tomaszewski gave me a note to present to social security in Ostrowiec, where they yanked out the tooth without freezing. Then they had me go to the cashier where I collected three zlotys, the cost of return bus fare from Ozarow.
During the years of the Ozarow ghetto (1939-42), the large Jewish population was afflicted by illness. In 1940, a hospital was set up in the synagogue building. All of the Jewish doctors became volunteers in this ghetto hospital, but in spite of their valiant efforts, there were deaths every day.
Motel the Tailor
Motel, the new tailor, had just settled near the musicians' neighbourhood. He married Gitche, the daughter of Baille Flouder, and a young divorced mother of a little boy called Nathan.
This little household lived in a two-room dwelling overlooking two different streets, a legacy from Baille Flouder. The family grew very quickly, which of course increased its financial difficulties.
Motel worked day and night for his employer Moishe Sherman. Never could he dream of slowing down, since he was the only breadwinner for his family. At dawn the light on his sewing machine was already on, and the rumbling of the pedal resonated till the middle of the night. To make ends meet, he rented one of his two rooms to Moishe the Watchmaker, with the assurance of getting it back once Nathan was old enough to work as a hairdresser, which he was training to become. Meanwhile, parents, mother-in-law and children squeezed together and lived in Motel's workshop amid the piles of pants.
The oldest son of Motel and Gitche, Srul-Yoine, would go off to the bakers at an early age to fetch the charcoal needed to light his father's
|Hersh-El'ye and Chava Adler with their three children, Ozarow 1936. None would survive.|
pressing iron. Every day you could see this little boy stir up the embers and clean the iron, surrounded by a cloud of dust.
Sometimes, passersby would take pity on his lot and ask his parents, Why would you allow your little boy to breathe in all that dirt? Look at how pale he is! For sure he'll get sick! Distraught, Gitche could only reply, What do you want? My Motel is only a poor tailor who toils day and night for a miserable wage; one day we eat potatoes and spuds, and the next we eat spuds and potatoes! And meat, sometimes we eat that too in our dreams!
Hersh-El'ye the Mason
Hersh-El'ye was a mason who also did interior renovations. Unfortunately, his was a trade that he could carry on full-time only a few months, during the fine weather. Chava, his wife, kept a little shop where she sold sweets, mineral water and ice cream. That may have been an improvement on the ordinary, but in her business there was a crucial problem: ice. It was the custom during the winter to go to cut large ice blocks in the Sadzawka, a frozen pond which, during the rest of the year, served as a watering hole for cattle. Hersh-El'ye put up a building in his garden intended to keep ice. Full of initiative, he even found a partner, Leibke, to finance the stocking and transport. Thus, it was easier to sell cold drinks.
Who would have thought that with such an enterprising spirit, Hersh-El'ye wouldn't even be able to feed his family? That, however, was unfortunately the case.
In 1937 Hersh-El'ye, at the end of his rope, attempted to make a fresh start in Paris, with the firm intention of eventually bringing the rest of his family there. He went so far as to sell a field of four thousand square metres to cover the cost of the trip. In vain! Good fortune absolutely refused to smile upon him. He was forced to return to Ozarow, with death in his soul.
Chil-Youmes the Carpenter
In going up the Church Street, you couldn't have failed to notice, on the left side, a large house, the one belonging to the carpenter Chil Rosenblum and his family. But it's strange, if you had asked passersby where he lived, they would have looked at you in surprise and professed ignorance. On the other hand, if you had bothered to ask for Chil- Youmes, then everyone, big and small, Jew and Catholic, would have unhesitatingly pointed to his house.
In that family carpentry was a father-to-son tradition, one continued by Chil-Youmes Rosenblum's three sons, who formed an excellent team, specializing mainly in furniture making. So great was Chil-Youmes' reputation that he did not even have to display his production in the market place. His customers would come directly to his shop to seek him out.
He was a serious man, a good father, and perhaps even a little austere. The work day in his establishment began very early, but he would get up even before everyone else so that he could go to the day's
first services. His prayers over, he would return to his house on the run, out of fear that his sons would be at their work before him, take off his long coat in great haste, unbutton his jacket and settle down to his daily labour.
Very astute, Chil-Youmes had the idea of designing a kind of chaiselongue the hammag intended for rental in the woods of Struza for the summer months. Thus for the first time ever, it became possible to stretch out on a relaxation chair worthy of the name.
Chil-Youmes' wife Perele and his daughter Leah were actively involved in domestic chores and saw to it that their four workmen lacked for nothing.
In sum, this family well represented what in Ozarow were called comfortable people, who could eat whenever they were hungry and taste a nice plate of meat, even during the week.
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