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From the Book “Poland”

by Y. Y. Trunk

Dedicated to the Memory of:

Bernice Phyllis (Mann) Knee (nee Mittleman)
Beloved Sister of Sandra Mittleman Robinson,
Granddaughter of Sochotzover Society Member Charles Miller

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The two greatest Torah families in Poland were becoming linked by marriages. Righteous people in the Garden of Eden are drinking a toast. A postal coach is traveling through the marshes between Lowicz and Sochaczew. This is Uncle Yankel's victory. In an inn in Lowicz, Uncle Yankel makes sounds, and all are in bad luck. Jews push Yerachmiel into the coach. Uncle Yankel is as silent as a lamb. It is the fields at Purim time. Postal trumpets in the end of winter streets. Go, for it is only for a wedding. Uncle Yankel is again silent as a lamb. The Sochaczew marshes and the Sochaczew market. In-laws are traveling!

I was again in Lodz for the second winter. I still attended the cheder of Reb Aharon. I traveled home with the large cart of merchandise for the Wislickis. They discussed: the following winter, I would be given over to a teacher of Gemara. This filled me with pride. In Kutno, Aunt Itka was getting divorced from Berish.

We all traveled to a wedding at Purim time. Uncle Yitzchak, my aunt's brother – who self-assuredly held himself out as a genius – was getting married in Sochaczew. The bride was a granddaughter of the famous Sochaczewer Gaon Reb Avrahamele. It was said that this match was connecting two of the greatest and most well known Torah families in Poland. Reb Yehoshuale and Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer. Indeed, the groom was a grandson of Reb Yitzchak Waworker and the bride a granddaughter of the Kocker. Old Hassidim said that the heavenly hosts are rejoicing with such a match. The Tzadikim in the Garden of Eden are being given cups with wine that has been kept [1] in order to drink Lechayim.

People were indeed preparing for such an important wedding. Preparations were being made in all of the Rebbe's courts in Poland to travel to the “Sochaczewer wedding”. Reb Avrahamele was the greatest prince of Torah in Poland – a son-in-law of the Kocker, and a Rebbe of Hassidim.

We traveled by train from Lodz to Lowicz. Sochaczew was a small, remote town. A hicktown between marshes. No train went through it. One had to travel by covered wagon. That “extra post” also traveled in those marshes between Lowicz and Sochaczew. A large, yellow crate with a drawn Russian eagle, and with strange, tall wheels that knocked and moaned as they moved. From afar we heard that the “extra post” is traveling here. The wagon drivers of the “post” wore strange, circular hats. They also wore red, folded ropes from which hung twisted, brass trumpets. The coachmen blew these trumpets in the middle of the way, as they were going through Sochaczew. They blew strange, old-fashioned tunes that could be heard sharply and strangely from afar. When the “extra posts” went straight through a forest and the coachmen blew, the forest reverberated with loud, sharp echoes. Sochaczew was such a far-off hicktown that when one checked with the coachmen in Poland, one completely forgot about the old, yellow coach that was dragged through the marshes between Lowicz and Sochaczew. I did not know how Uncle Yankel in Kutno persuaded everybody to travel to Sochaczew not in an ordinary Jewish wagon, but rather in such a strange old-fashioned coach. Enough – Uncle Yankel persuaded. When we were about to travel to Lowicz in the train and stay in some inn behind the train, the entire Kutno family was already there. Uncle Yankel was very occupied with his son-in-law Yerachmiel, and argued with him. In a different room for men, Grandfather Reb Moshel sat around the table in a place of honor, dressed in a rabbinical raccoon fur and a sable kolpak on his head. He held the rabbinical scepter in his hand with the thought that as he was sitting in the Lowicz inn, he was really in Sochaczew at the wedding. The groom Yitzchak with the disheveled peyos of a genius sat next to him. He wore a large velvet hat and a new raccoon fur that gave him the proud aura of a rabbinical genius. All sorts of Jews of Lowicz – who were not connected to the relatives – wearing weekday hats, pushed themselves among the Kutno in-laws. The Jews approached the grandfather Reb Moshel and gave him a greeting. The wives from Kutno were sitting in another room, drinking tea. Yaakov Comber, Hershel Najman's son-in-law and the new assistant of the grandfather Reb Moshel, pushed among them and called out hoarsely. He was a small, lively, dark Jew with a pear of burning, passionate eyes.

In the meantime, we heard from the outside the old-fashioned blaring of trumpets and the screeching of wheels. Uncle Yankel sprung out of his place, ran to the wives, and called out loudly and triumphantly,

– The post!

Indeed, the two old-fashioned, yellow crates stood outside. Moustached gentiles wearing strange leather hats sat on the upper deck. The trumpets were tied up on the ropes, and long whips were in their hands. The gentiles cracked the whips, and thereby drove the passengers to the inn. We all went in. Uncle Yankel was in a festive mood, as if the coaches were his own. He battled with Yerachmiel even outside the coach. The steps of the coach were high, and entering was not simple. One could indeed hear shouting and laughter from the front of the coach, where the women were supposed to travel. The poor women could not ascend the coach. The shamash Yaakov Comber – even though he was dressed in a velvet jacket, a yarmulke and a Hassidic belt (gartel) wound around – stood near the wives and made all sorts of ambiguous jokes at the expense of the wives, who did not know how to descend from the yellow coach. He did the same near the men. This was very difficult for the elderly Jews, even though Uncle Yankel was standing near the steps shouting, and calling everyone a shlimazel [2]. When it came the turn of Yerachmiel, he unfortunately began to sigh loudly. He held on to his stomach with his hands, and was not even able to place one foot on the step. His wife Ratza cursed him from the women's coach. Uncle Yankel fumed and called unlucky Yerachmiel all sort of names. It did not work. At first, a few Jews of Lowicz who did not know him took Yerachmiel by the hands and dragged him onto the coach. Yerachmiel sighed loudly, and Uncle Yankel ranted and called cursed by the steps. When Uncle Yankel's turn finally came to go down the steps, he also was not able to reach the first step. Uncle Yankel suddenly became silent and coughed strongly. It did not help. The same Jews of Lowicz had to take him, Uncle Yankel, by the hands and pull him on the coach.

When all of the relatives were already sitting around, the old, yellow coaches quickly set out. The place shook, and all of the passengers fell one on top of the other. Uncle Yankel no longer shouted. The coaches sighed and shook, and it seemed as if all of Lowicz was shaking along with them. The wagon driver on the seat shouted “Na Bak!” and cracked the whips. Finally, the coaches passed the last houses of Lowicz, and continued on into the fields.

It was Purim time. The fields were still covered with deep snow. The roads that lead to Sochaczew, however, do not like snow. It was one long terrible bog full of pits and potholes. The mud percolated up and splattered under the tall, groaning wheels of the two coaches. Black crows flew and cawed over the white fields. The relatives inside the coaches merged into a cluster, and they had to maintain themselves without leaving anything, for life was not certain. The grandfather Reb Moshel even had an idea to discuss a matter of learning with the groom, however it was completely impossible to do the simplest thing – and speaking was impossible, even if one shouted loudly. Suddenly an unexpectedly, we heard a loud blast of trumpets. Both gentiles on the deck trumpeted loudly in the middle of the empty, snowy fields.

Poor Yerachmiel was sitting, stuffed between the relatives, holding tightly to his own stomach. All of his own frailties began to speak things. Yerachmiel was greatly startled by the sudden loud trumpet blast. He went to Uncle Yankel and whispered in his ear that they must – no more and no less – stop the coach in the middle of the marsh, since he has to make…

Uncle Yankel became red with anger.

“Go travel with a fool to a wedding” – he shouted in the middle of the shaking clump of relatives.

The grandfather Reb Moshel decided: it's no use. We cannot let a Jew transgress such a great sin as, “do not defile yourself” [3].

With great anguish and torment, he barely succeeded in informing the gentile on the deck that he must stop the coach. The coach finally stopped. The coach with the woman also stopped. It seemed as if the deep mud in which the yellow spattered coaches made their way through with difficulty – also rested. The crows cawed wildly over the snowy fields. When the doors of the coach opened, the fresh, end-of-winter air rushed in. All of the Jews in the coach had to help Yerachmiel descend. Yerachmiel went deep into the mud. Finally, they finally pulled Yerachmiel back onto the coach with great effort. When the gentile cracked his whip and tried to urge on the horses, it became clear that Uncle Yankel also had to relieve himself. They once again told the gentile that he had to wait. The difficult labor began, getting Uncle Yankel off and returning him to the coach.

Thus did we finally approach the first houses of Sochaczew, weary and broken. Then the real mud started. The town was completely swimming in mud. When our coaches noisily role between the small, wooden houses, it seemed that Sochaczew awoke from its lethargy. All of the windows opened. Various heads of women in sleeping caps and men in yarmulkes peered out of windows. Women called out to each other from several windows, announcing that the Kutner relatives. The gentiles on the deck began again to blow the trumpets. Thus did we travel through the Sochaczew market with noise and bellowing.

The market square was full of mud, in which gentiles and Jews trampled around. Jews stood together with farmers in front of the stores and chatted. All of them looked at the Kutner relatives. Our coaches traveled between the unhitched wagons of the farmers, which stood there almost sunken into the mud of Sochaczew. The horses of the farmers stood tied to the wagons, heartily munching on hay and fodder. Cows stood in the midst of the mud, looking foolishly upon the moving coaches and chewing their cud. A few goats wandered around the mud of the Sochaczew market, sticking their bearded heads into the doors of Jewish stores, as if they were seeking something. Finally, our coaches stopped. We were all slowly sent out to various Jews. Tired and pained from the long, difficult journey from Lowicz to Sochaczew, I immediately fell into a bed and slept like a corpse.

A wedding in Sochaczew. Go to it! A desert before a sinning body. They take me back to the Gemaras. Yaakov Comber is joining up with the Rebbetzin Tzina.

Sochaczew maintained the Kocker customs as much as possible. In the Kocker “court” a wedding never took place at night, as it did for all Jews, but rather in the midst of the day. Kocker children who were getting married often waited long hours until the Kocker came out of his little room to the chupa. It was not so sharp in Sochaczew, however, the Kocker custom of conducting a wedding during the day was kept with full strictness in Sochaczew. Therefore, there were no music players in Sochaczew, despite the fact that – alas – one must have musicians at a wedding. The musicians cursed the years. Hassidim pushed them aside like hand towels. As soon as they began to play, Reb Shmuel would call out: “Go away”, and Reb Avrahamele would start talking about learning with someone at the table. The jester – who had to be engaged at a Sochaczew wedding like an unavoidable misfortune – as soon as he opened his mouth, the Hassidim began to make a racket. Reb Avrahamele held that this was a denigration of Torah, and Reb Shmuel shouted out: “Enough”!. The rhymes literally remained sunken on the tongue of the unfortunate jester. He was pushed into a corner, and he was almost squeezed between the crowd of Hassidim, who had gathered around the table to hear Reb Avrahamele's words of Torah.

Thus did the wedding of Uncle Yankel take place in the middle of the day. It took place in the courtyard of Reb Avrahamele's Beis Midrash, in the midst of the veritable Sochaczew mud. Reb Shmuel's daughters were petite, dark, and pretty. Frumet, Uncle Yitzchak's [4] bride, was the prettiest in my opinion. She was petite and plump, with enthusiastic, laughing eyes. She did not wear a white wedding dress to the wedding. In Kock it was felt that women should not wear white dresses, as the ministering angels. This was restricted to the greatest Hassidim. Therefore, I recall, the bride Frumet was dressed in a yellow dress with a tam on the head and a yellow kerchief. All of the relatives in the impressive group of Hassidim stood in the mud around the chupa. The women stood a bit farther away, at the edge of the court, for those close to Reb Avrahamele must not see any woman. In the middle of the mud – when they led the bride and groom to the chupa – the musicians began to strum something, and Reb Shmuel shouted out from behind the chupa: “Enough”. The musicians were afraid and desisted. The marriage ceremony began under the chupa. Quick and to the point, without any long discourses and songs, everything was in accordance with the Kocker fashion.

Since the large wedding meal was to begin in the evening, the crowd went to their hosts or to the Beis Midrash immediately after the ceremony. Reb Avrahamele went to his customary class. Reb Shmuel sat and studied. The learned people of Sochaczew took their Gemaras, or began to engage in didactics and study. People forgot that a wedding took place moments before. The day in Reb Avrahamele's Beis Midrash took on its weekday learning appearance. In Sochaczew, they did not like to dwell on wedding ceremonies. Everyone returned to the Gemara. Meir Bornsztejn discussed business matters with a wealthy Sochaczew Hassid. The grandfather Reb Moshel also sat down to learn with the groom. The dressed up female relatives wandered around like lost souls. We were all hungry. Reb Avrahamele's Sochaczew was a desert for the sinning body. Reb Avrahamele's wife, Rebbetzin Tzina, the Kocker's daughter, kept the women away from wandering around the men, so as not to disturb the Jews who were studying Torah. The men of Kutno were driven to the Gemara. The attendant of Yaakov Comber who was hungry, went to the women relatives and asked for a piece of cake. He began to chat with the woman until Rebbetzin Tzina came and cut him off. All of the female relatives began to shout at him, “Sinner, troubler of Israel, get out of here, go sit with your Gemara”. Yaakov Comber lost his head, swallowed saliva, and took the deathly-hungry person into the Beis Midrash, where he sat down among learned Jews, and began to study Tractate Eruvin in a high, somewhat singsong voice.

It is the mealtime at a Sochaczewer wedding. People are engaged in didactics. The unfortunate jester! The Rebbetzin Tzina carries on with politeness toward the women.

A wedding meal in Sochaczew bears little resemblance to a normal wedding. It is simply a Rebbe's “tisch” (table celebration). The groom and Uncle Yitzchak sat in the place of honor next to Reb Avrahamele. When Reb Avrahamele opened his mouth, a silence pervaded amongst the Hassidim. The groom was almost pushed off into a corner. The food was meager. Even this was eaten hastily. They did play around with food. The most important thing was to discuss learning. Rev Avrahamele talked quietly and very nimbly, so that one could almost grab you with his eyes. Furthermore, Reb Shmuel hurried the Hassidic waiters and urged them not to waste time, and to serve what was there. Even before people touched the food, the servers removed the plates, and then the sharp didactical lecture began. Even in the great haste, Reb Avrahamele did not sit by the table. Since he was weak, Reb Shmuel led him back to his little room. Reb Avrahamele sat by himself with his Gemara. The didactical learning continued on at the wedding celebration with the remaining great scholars.

With the women, it was literally as if they were in a desert. An unholy silence pervaded. The Rebbetzin Tzina sat at the head of the table in her sharp Kocker austere style and instilled fear in everybody. If any of the women would have even tried to open her mouth, the Kocker's daughter would have cut her off at the moment, saying that one must not have any unnecessary conversation, for Reb Avrahamele is sitting not so far away with the Torah. One must be on guard, as if from fire, to not disturb him, and it is indeed better that one not speak any foolishness. After the meal and after the grace after meals, we went to our hosts to sleep. The women had no more to do after that. This was the manner in which Rebbetzin Tzina conducted the wedding meal.

Indeed, there was one woman from among the Kutno relatives whom, when Rebbetzin Tzina saw her, she relaxed her Kocker sharpness to some degree, and even displayed modesty and sentiment. Obviously, this was only to the extent that the Kocker daughter was able to display soft heartedness and sentiment.

This was Reb Yitzchak Waworker's daughter, Grandmother Blimele.



by Ozer Warszawski

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Chapters from the novel

{Note from translator: this section of excerpts from the novel extends from page 351-364. Due to the difficulty in translating the literary style, and the relative unimportance to the story of Sochaczew, only the first three pages have been translated here.}


Fantel Furman extended a hand, moves around under the deck, wanders from one side to the other, sits down and yawns. It is dark in the house. A week light penetrates through the two peepholes in the shutters.

“It is still very early”, he stammered, rubbing his eyes and looking over the house, which was completely enveloped in a cold and darkness. Seeing the frost flowers in the house, detecting a weirdness. He called over to the second bed:

“Glika, Glika!”

“Hey what?”, he grabs his wife strongly, and remains sitting with shut eyes and a wide-open mouth.

“Do you see, it is already another frost!” He points to the window and sticks both hands under his cotton undershirt in which he sleeps during the winter. He eagerly scratches his chest with the right hand, and around his shoulders with his left hand.

“What do you say?” he asks her again. She sits and rubs her closed eyelids with her moist finger.

She answers, “there is no money”.

She once heard this.

“Indeed we need to buy a bit of coal, and a piece of rosy bread…”

He once again utters, “It is a frost”, as if to drive something from her.

He quickly removes his hands from his undershirt, lies back down, and pulls up the blanket over his nose. His wife looks at him from the other bed. A vapor rises from her face and body.

“So, what will be? Huh?”, she asks. She certainly knows that he cannot give any answer to this.

From the first room, the kitchen, a boyish voice calls out:

“Move back from here! See how it is arranged. Others don't like you, only for the shoulders..”

“Close the “Zwaratnik”, Fuf,!” Answers a heavier voice.

“A cholera”…, we again hear the first, boyish voice.

“A cholera in their bones!” calls out Fantel. He has no peace during sleep.

“But what will be, what will be?”, repeats Glika in the eerie quiet, “The bakery will no longer give any cherry bread. A bit of coal will burn in the kitchen…”. As she repeats this, she begins to scratch both her head and her heart, grating at the sleepyhead as one grates horseradish.

Fantel was hot from lying covered up to the nose. He raises a tiny bit of the blanket, and the cold air blows over his skin. A refreshing wind blows over his entire sturdy body. He soon casts a glance over the freezing room, grabs it again over his hands, covers himself well with the blankets, and feels the refreshing warmth.

Soon, one hand started to sweat, and then the second, and then his entire body. The ends of the short, solid, dark hairs on his head and face glisten, as if covered in dew. He began to move with his short, sturdy legs. He gave them a twist, and then a stretch, exactly as would have done a horse in the meadow, and then another twist and another stretch.

“Go to hell, Fantel you thief!”, shouted his wife, 'Tear apart that piece of linen that barely holds together.”

But “Fantel the thief” does not hear anything now. He kicks in the bedding. He feels like a fish in the water, and perhaps he had some sort of idea… perhaps about livelihood….

“Would you like to have a new shpantzer [5]”, he suddenly calls out. His voice is so tender, as only Fantel's voice can be – it was completely broken…

Since she says nothing, he also is silent and engrossed in thoughts about good things: about a better life, and a more ample livelihood.

She indeed reminds him that it is indeed the proper time to do something, and not to sit… the train gives nothing today… water and groats… and here everything is plucked, torn… one has to have laundry, footwear, coal and wood.. and one needs, and one needs…

And Fantel has prepared a complete plan… “It is not hard, G-d will help”… And he springs out of bed, not bothered a bit by the cold.

He wraps his legs with long leggings, like towels. He puts on the boots, and goes immediately to the stall, where he gives water to the horses.


Koppel enters in the morning. It is cold in the room. The windowpanes are completely covered with frost. Glika looks at them and things: “it is a little bit of a dark garden” … both of Fantel's sons lie on the wooden sleeping bench. A few burners are on in the kitchen, and a metal pot is full of water. Koppel puts on one boot and then the other. He rubs his hands together and blows into his sleeve.

“Good morning”, he says. His voice in the cold room is like a barrel outside. “Aha, it is a little cold”. He approaches the table that stands near the window. He pulls out his ears from under his large, plush hat, and sits down on a bench.

“Did you not go to the train?” Fantel cannot interrupt to speak in the middle of his prayers.

Fantel walks around the room, enwrapped in a yellow, squalid tallis, as it feels as if Fantel's small, cramped body sprouts with vigor.

“And there is nobody with whom”, answers Koppel as he coughs. He pours a drink of liquor., “Who would indeed travel in such a chill?!”

Fantel hurries on with his prayers. He bows, spits quickly to both sides [6], whips of the tallis and tefillin, quickly rolls up his sleeve, tightens his peaked hat over the eyebrows, and takes a yarmulke out from his fur coat.


  1. A reference to the Midrash that, in the World to Come, the Tzadikim will be treated with 'wine that has been kept' from the time of Creation (for an explicit reference, see the Akdamut prayer of Shavuot). Return
  2. A half-derogatory, half-endearing term for someone of ill luck. Return
  3. It is a violation of Jewish law to restrain oneself from ones bodily functions. Return
  4. There may be an error here, as it was Yaakov (Yankel), who was getting married. Return
  5. A type of clothing. Return
  6. Some people have the custom of spitting discretely during the Aleinu prayer at the end of the morning services, as they recite the phrase, “And they bow to emptiness and nothingness, and pray to a god that does not save”. Return


Unkosher Merchandise

by Pinchas Graubard

A Purim Play

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Note from translator: this section is a Purim play that extends from page 365-369. A significant amount of it is written in transliterated Polish. Due to the difficulty in translating, and the relative unimportance to the story of Sochaczew, The play is about a contraband smuggler who seeks refuge in the home of another Jew, but is eventually found by the secret police. It ends with the entire cast wishing everybody a happy Purim.}

{Photo page 366: The players of “Unkosher Merchandise”}

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