Translated by Renee Miller
Edited by Fay Bussgang I want to rekindle here my memories of Brzezin, the town that is so engraved in my heart, as if I had been born there. But first I want to write a bit about my childhood years and how it was that I came to Brzezin.
I was born in a small town called Bialy, Piotrkow province. Of course, we know that in a small town in Poland, when a youngster became twelve years of age, one had to start thinking of a practical occupation for him. What should he be? Make him a craftsman? My father, olevasholem [may he rest in peace], said a tailor. I said, if a tailor, then a custom tailor, not an ordinary one. They looked for a good tailor, and they turned me over to him for three years to learn. After three years I received a vest as supplementary payment.
Everyone knows well what an apprentice had to put up with. He had to carry wood and carry water; he had to do everything he was told to do. And if with the help of God you lasted the three years, you came out half a tailor. That meant you could work with a full craftsman, helping to sew pants or a jacket or an overcoat. Making a piece of work alone this you could not do yet. You had to go and work at least three terms three half years until you became a full tailor.
So I went to a tailor who did work for local landowners, that is, the well-to-do, and I worked for him three half years. I earned twenty rubles the first half year and thirty rubles the second half year, and the last half year, I already earned forty rubles. This was a lot of money at that time, and I became an expert tailor.
Now came the proper time to think about where one should go to work. In a big city? Someone called Abraham Polewinczyk happened to live in Brzezin. He was married to a woman from Biala. I decided to go to Brzezin. Brzezin had many tailors. They actually produced cheap magazine [clothing factory] goods, but they themselves liked to wear good custom-made clothing.
I did not think about it a long time. I took a ride with the first wagon driver who was going to Skierniewice, to the railroad station. I arrived in Koluszki [station near Brzezin] and there indeed found the Brzezin coaches. One was Tuszynski's, and the other was Lemel Lefkowicz's. They called him Lemel Byk [bull], and you knew right away who he was. I went over to the wagon driver Lemel and told him to whom I was going, and he, of course, drove me to the right family.
I introduced myself and said why I had come. I explained to him that I was a custom tailor. He at once pointed out five tailors the best ones, Hazkel Szmuel Bentkewe [Bendkower?] and Syna Szmuel Bentkewe and a Gritser tailor [from Gritse/Grojec]. And then he said to me that there were two brothers called the Soseks [pacifiers], named Majerowicz. One was named Berysz and the other was named Abraham, but in Brzezin, if you did not use their nickname, nobody would know who they were. That is how I came to work for Berysz. He lived on Optek-Gas [Pharmacy Street]. Opposite them lived a family by the name of Fuks; they were called Malarz [house painter]. A very fine family. They had four sons, very fine young men. I still remember, as if it were today, that they were already daytchish geklayt [dressed like Germans, i.e., modern]. One son was named Lajbus, the others Icie, Syna, and Abraham. Abraham was the youngest. They had a sister named Ester. She was very beautiful and very charming a true Ester haMalke [the Queen]. If she ever looked out of the window, and if we, the workers, happened to notice it, we immediately set aside our work to take a look at her. She was that beautiful.
In this way I worked for Berysz a short time until I went to work for his brother, Abraham, because with him, you worked with a larger volume.
Abraham Sosek lived on Hoyf-Gas [Courtyard Street]. The house [apartment building] was called Mojsze Kopel's house. There were actually lots of tailors in that house. Mordechai Winter and Joel Lajfer and the tall Jankiel, as well as a family called Jaskolkes [swallows], all lived there. As I said before, nobody in Brzezin knew them without their nicknames. Another family called Hayvens [yeast/midwives] also lived there. They had several daughters who sewed pants.
We worked by the piece. The price was two rubles for a piece of work. I worked in partnership with another worker. We both needed to make twelve pieces of work during the week, and in addition, we made two extra pieces of work. As you can imagine, the work hours were very short, from six in the morning until twelve at night, and Thursday, all night, since on Fridays we worked only until four in the afternoon.
Once it happened that the kerosene in the lamp ran out at eleven o'clock. My master tailor and I went around looking for kerosene. In Brzezin, in the middle of the market was an eating place, where all the carts that came from the small towns and were traveling to Lodz would pause and give the horses something to eat, and they, the wagon drivers, also grabbed a bite. Therefore, you could get kerosene there. Since we had gone to bed earlier, we got up earlier, at four in the morning. That is how we evened out the hours.…
The boss lived in three rooms. One large room was the workshop; in the second room slept the workers, and in the third slept the boss and his wife. We were five workers, and the boss was the sixth. The workshop contained only two machines, since we sewed a lot by hand. We worked it out so that each one sewed what he needed on the machine and after that sewed by hand.
The eagerness to work was so great that we used to sneak into the workshop before daybreak in order to get more work done. We used to leave the hand sewing to be done before daybreak, since making fourteen pieces of work a week by machine was a lot.
One had to pay the master craftsman for food but not for sleeping. A housewife who was not a very strong person would never have been able to cook the midday meal on time. When it reached two o'clock, we used to get hungry, like wolves. She used to put out a herring with bread; it was finished in a minute. We decided to look for a place to eat at midday.
In Brzezin a shoemaker lived in the middle of the marketplace. His wife was called Blume the stolerkes [carpenter's daughter?]. She used to cook for strangers. That is how we began to eat at Blume's. At two o'clock, on the dot, we used to go there to eat at midday. This was very good for us, since in the meantime we got a little rest, because to walk from Mojsze Kopel's house to the market and back was very pleasant.
Then later organizers began to arrive from Lodz, and they used to call meetings of all the parties, about what touched everyone's interests to improve the situation and shorten working hours.
It did not take long until one time a man arrived from Lodz called Baruch Hoyker [hunchback]. He really was a hunchback. He was a very capable and intelligent person. He was sent by the Lodzer worker movement, and he actually stayed in Brzezin long enough to organize all the workers. A strike committee with a secretary was appointed. Everyone had to pay twenty-five kopeks [100 kopeks = 1 ruble] a week.
That is how the work went for a few weeks until they called a strike.
Now I will describe for you the strike in Brzezin. The union group has rebelled. That's how the bosses spoke among themselves. We have to see about doing something. Mordechai Winter called together a committee of the workers and bosses, and they began to confer. We had struck for shorter working hours. It took a few weeks, but we won the strike.
Since my boss, Abraham, loved me, and he saw how hard I had worked during the strike, he sent my parents a letter that they should take me home to rest up a little since I had worked very hard during the time of the strike.
When my parents heard this, my father, eh, immediately came to Brzezin and took me home to the small village Bialy to rest up a bit. When I was at home a week, a letter arrived at my parents saying that I should not dare to return to Brzezin, because they had arrested all the workers. Cossacks had gone through all the homes in which it was known just that someone who had helped carry out the strike was living there. One certainly could no longer talk about going back to Brzezin. That is how my loyal boss, Abraham Majerowicz, saved me from a lot of tsores [trouble].
I traveled to America through Russia, since it cost less. I went to Libava, where I boarded the ship called Smolensk. It took three weeks, and we arrived safely in America. When we arrived at Castle Garden [prior to Ellis Island], they asked me how much money I had. I told them I had two rubles. The man made a gesture with his hand that I could go. I took my basket and began to leave. At once a man came over to me and said that he was from a Jewish organization and I should go with him; he would take me wherever I wanted to go.
I came through an organization that at that time was called Hakhnoses Orkhim [hospitality to guests]. Today the organization is called HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society], which does wonders for newly arrived immigrants.
It was a practice that every Shabbos the landsmanshaftn (societies of people from the same town) would look for people who had come from their towns. The Brzeziner landsleyt [fellow townsmen] also used to come and look for their acquaintances. The Brzeziners, if they found anyone who had just worked in Brzezin, he was already counted as a Brzeziner.
The first landsman I found in New York, I recall, was the Glowner [from Glowno] melamed's [teacher's] son. He was named Luzer. He immediately took me home and treated me to a fine meal. Later he took me to the landsleyt and introduced me. There they provided me at once with a job to work and a place to live.
At that time, the landsleyt lived in a certain neighborhood. This was Eleventh Street. There you could find out about everyone. It was a sort of birzhe [central office]. A family that we called Brashes [??] also lived there. They had a delicatessen where one could eat something, and it was also a meeting place where you could learn something about friends and acquaintances.
By this time, the Brzeziners already had a society, and they stuck together. I became a member of the society at once. We used to hold meetings twice a month. Every meeting was a yontov [holiday] for me. It was a great pleasure to get together because you were with your own landsleyt. You felt at home; we believed and felt as if we had found ourselves in Brzezin. That is why a lot of landsleyt who only worked in Brzezin became members of the society.
Since I was already a member of the Brzeziner society, the landsleyt made a match for me with a girl with Brzeziner parents. She was Menes Shveyger's [dairyman's] daughter. Her name was Fajgele. We got married and have, thank God, a lovely family. We brought up three sons they should be healthy all well married.
For me, born in Bialy, Brzezin is as dear to me as my own hometown. I actually plead with the Brzeziner landsleyt to instill in their children an affection for Brzezin and to keep the memory of the love of Brzezin alive, so that it will remain in memory for generations.
The picture was taken on the way to the Szymonickis, to the football
[soccer] field. Herszel Mlynarzewski is also there among the families
Translated by Renee Miller
Edited by Fay Bussgang For many years in Brzezin a story circulated about a young man, Gedalia Fiszel Frajnd, son of Reb Szlama Frajnd, who left home, lived a tumultuous life, and achieved distinction in the court of the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid.
Israel Kahn, the murdered Jewish journalist from Lodz, who before the war was editor of Lodzer Togblat [Lodz Daily Newspaper], wrote a marvelous story before World War II about Gedalia Fiszel Frajnd in a series of articles in the Warsaw Moment [Yiddish newspaper]. We print here a condensed version of Israel Kahn's longer description.
It happened after the Polish Insurrection of 1830. In the small Jewish towns that had suffered so much, both from the Uprising and later also from the Cossacks, the memory of the bloody events was still fresh. They had had many years to give accounts of various stories and experiences about that turbulent time. Fiszel Frajnd, the hero of our story (born 1828 in Brzezin), holding his breath, had always listened to these stories that his father, Reb Szlama Frajnd, a respected leader in town, told with such passion. His imagination was sparked. He lost his interest in learning. He would go around like a person in a trance. In his young mind serious plans began spinning and weaving, and in his fantasy he began to imagine different scenes about wars, battles, awards, and heroics.
His father, Reb Szlama, strove to make his youngest son Fiszel into an adult. He was hot-headed, with a lot of ability, but he did not want to learn in kheder [Jewish elementary school]. His father did not have any other choice, and after his bar-mitsve [ceremony on becoming thirteen], the father turned him over to a watchmaker as an apprentice.
Since Fiszel was to be a secular person, Reb Szlama also hired a teacher to teach him a little Polish and German.
The thirteen-year-old Frajnd really loved to learn languages, for which he possessed many distinct abilities. It did not take long before the student outpaced the Brzeziner professor in knowledge of language.
The young Fiszel, however, did not at all feel suited to the task of spending entire days at the tedious craft [watchmaking], and his head was always full of plans how to launch himself into the wide world to satisfy his thirst for passionate experiences and adventurous journeys.
An opportunity to realize his goals arose sooner than his imagination had pictured for him.
a Grand Vizier to the Turkish Sultan.
died in Beirut (Turkey) [now Lebanon] in 1885.
His father, who was a deputy collector of lottery tickets, played a part in his luck. One of the tickets that happened to have been left unsold was the grand prize winner.
Fiszel became prosperous. Not thinking about it very long, he immediately as soon as his father received the prize money seized an opportune moment, got at his father's hoard, grabbed a considerable sum of money, and took to his heels.
He wandered around for some time through Germany, was left without a farthing in his pocket from all his fortune, and arrived in Hungary starving. In Budapest, Fiszel-Ferdinand (that is what he was called then) obtained work in a wine business. There his luck began to turn.
His liveliness, nimbleness, and very careful attention to even the smallest detail that came to him to take care of attracted the attention of one of the frequent visitors to the wine business. This was a Hungarian high officer, an old cavalry man. He became interested in the solitary young man, in whom he recognized uncommon abilities. He took the little Polish Jew home, made him an orderly, and at the same time set about to educate him in earnest.
The military man came to love his Ferdinand like his child. Seeing that he could not accomplish anything more for him, he decided to send him with warmest recommendations to his friend, the famous Hungarian folk hero, Kossuth [Lajos Kossuth, the "Father of Hungarian Democracy].
At that time, Hungary was on the eve of the Magyar Revolution of 1848.
The Brzeziner youth threw himself into the fight for freedom at the side of Kossuth himself.
The young fighter quickly advanced to the level of officer and received a long list of distinctions.
But Kossuth's fight for the freedom of his people was not crowned with success. Austria defeated the Hungarian Revolution, and vicious persecutions of Hungarian Jews also began because of their participation in the insurrection.
Fiszel-Ferdinand left for Turkey at that point, and there he really had a marvelous career that sounds like a fantastic story from A Thousand and One Nights.
At that time, Turkey had to contend with partisan warfare. In the Sultan's empire, the insurrections multiplied among the dissatisfied portions of the population. Fiszel-Ferdinand put on the fez (in later years that is how he would express his conversion and his adoption of the Mohammedan belief) and joined the Turkish Army.
He distinguished himself greatly in the fight against the insurrectionists, and his military career advanced with fantastic speed.
When the year 1853 arrived the Crimean War broke out between Turkey and Russia. Fiszel-Ferdinand strove to get into the war and demonstrate his heroism. However, enemies denounced him as a former Russian citizen. They concocted the claim that he was a Russian spy and that he had received a keg of gold from the Czar. The result was that he was exiled to the Isle of Rhodes for the entire war period.
During that difficult time Fiszel-Ferdinand got a completely unexpected defender the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz.
When in 1853 Mickiewicz came to Constantinople to create a Polish legion in Turkey and heard the story about Fiszel-Ferdinand from Brzezin, he became deeply interested in the fate of his unlucky fellow countryman.
Mickiewicz, by persuading the Sultan, assured that a new investigation would be conducted concerning Fiszel-Ferdinand. The investigation actually determined that the guilty verdict was false, and the Brzeziner hero was brought back from Rhodes to Constantinople, where the Sultan himself later protected him.
Turkey rapidly got into a second war with Montenegro. Fiszel Frajnd, or, as he now called himself by his Mohammedan name, Makhmed-Hamid, experienced a great deal of combat in the war. In one of the battles he had a difficult struggle with the commander of his division, a Turkish general. Fiszel-Ferdinand had a suspicion that the general wanted to surrender to the enemy, so at a certain moment so the story goes he cut off the head of the general. The story reached the Sultan, who summoned Fiszel-Ferdinand (Makhmed-Hamid) to him.
The hero from Brzezin gave his account to the Sultan, and as a result, the Sultan was very pleased with Makhmed-Hamid's action and immediately, on the spot, raised him to the rank of general, also giving him the title Pasha.
That is how the youth from Brzezin, Reb Szlama Frajnd's youngest son, came to be a Turkish Pasha.
In the meantime, the war became complicated. The attempt at peace negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia which was also in the battle fell through. And it came about that Russia again declared war against Turkey in 1877. England was on the side of Turkey.
Fiszel-Ferdinand Frajnd now already Hamid-Pasha took part in the new war as a commanding general, and thanks to his heroism, achieved the title of Field Marshall. He received many high military awards, among them, also, one from the English Queen Victoria.
During this Turkish-Russian War, a serious situation arose in Syria, which was a Turkish province at that time. The Sultan needed an efficient, faithful Governor-General for Syria and selected Hamid-Pasha for the post.
While in Syria the Jewish heart awoke in the Brzeziner hero who had so greatly achieved distinction, and he did many favors for Jews there. In general, he had great success in that post, and he also came to be beloved by the entire population.
After the end of the war, in 1878, the new Sultan, Abdul-Hamid, appointed Fiszel-Ferdinand-Hamid-Pasha as his closest counselor with the title of Grand Vizier.
This was the first and only time that a Jew even a former Jew was elevated to such a high office in the Turkish Empire.
The story continues that upon rising to the highest level of power, influence, and honor, Hamid-Pasha, the Grand Vizier, completely befriended his fellow Jews in Turkey. He succeeded in getting a government salary for the Khokhem-Bashi (Chief Rabbi) Mojsze Levi in Constantinople. Thanks to Hamid-Pasha the Sultan introduced the custom of sending to the khokhem-bashi before every Passover eight thousand francs so that he could distribute alms for Passover needs to the poor Jews in Constantinople.
When a great fire destroyed the Jewish quarter of Constantinople, Hamid-Pasha succeeded in getting the Sultan to send aid for those who suffered the great loss. At that time, thanks to the Brzeziner Jew, a number of Turkish Jews also received high government posts.
Gedalia Fiszel Frajnd that is how he was listed in the registration book of birth certificates in Brzezin Town Hall achieved such grandeur but also did not forget his family in the old country.
The Pasha sent money to be divided among his relatives in Brzezin separately, however, for his sister, the wife of Brzeziner resident Reb Izrael Kriger. She was later supported by him during her entire life.
Then Reb Izrael Kriger, who had until that time drawn his livelihood from a small haberdashery and dry-goods business, decided to make a trip to Constantinople to visit his brother-in-law and see what had truly happened to him. He took off his long garments, dressed himself in the German manner [modern dress], and went on his way.
This difficult journey took place under very trying conditions, but Kriger absolutely did not regret his pains. Aside from the many gifts and curious greetings he brought with him from Constantinople, he returned with the title Pan [Sir]!
Sir Izrael Kriger!
The Grand Vizier did not forget to also send with Kriger a gift for the then Brzeziner rov [town rabbi], Harovgaon [rabbi and eminent scholar] Reb Syna Sapir (author of Seyfer Olas Khodesh [book of sermons about the new moon]) a beautiful, carved little tobacco box.
Upon parting the Pasha asked his brother-in-law to come and visit him again very soon, this time together with his sister (Kriger's wife). That also came to pass.
Kriger's second visit to Turkey was very poignant and solemn this time with his wife and also with their son-in-law, Sorkin.
They spoke of this trip among the family in Brzezin for many years and of the way Fiszel-Ferdinand-Hamid-Pasha had received his own in his palace.
Fiszel-Ferdinand-Hamid-Pasha, toward the end of his extraordinarily tumultuous life, allegedly was even preparing to come for a visit to his people in Brzezin. However, he became seriously ill with malaria. His relatives in Brzezin stopped getting letters from him and became very anxious. Finally, Kriger sent off an inquiry to the Russian ambassador in Constantinople.
The ambassador answered with a sad letter. In the letter, written to Herr Pan Kriger in Brzezin, Piotrkower Gubernia, the First Secretary of the Consul reported the news that Hamid-Pasha had died on 15/27 [Julian/Gregorian calendar] August 1885, and on the order of the Sultan, a mausoleum would be erected over his grave. Hamid-Pasha died in Beirut, where shortly before his death he had once again taken over the office of Governor-General for Syria.
That is how the wonderful story is told about the Brzeziner Jewish young man who ran away from home and became a Grand Vizier under the Turkish Sultan.
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