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[Pages 525-542]

Goniadz's Youth Consider the Exile…

by Dovid Bachrach

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

After the rise of the Polish nation in November 1918, the life of the Jews in Poland became very uncomfortable. The hatred of Jews that had been hidden until then, earlier with the Russians and in the end during the time of the German occupation, had now come out in public. The government in Warsaw set the tone and the priests in the churches spread hatred of Jews. The Hallertichikes[1] and Poznantichikes[2] threw Jews from moving trains, cut Jewish beards and there was no one to turn to for help.

America gave its large stocks of ammunition, which it had brought for its army in France, as a gift to the rising Poland. Now, after the war, it had no more need of them. Their worth reached many tens of millions of dollars. Poland permitted itself to serve as a barrier against communism and the entire capitalist world supported her and tended to overlook her “nice” deeds against the Jews. Poland celebrated its liberation. It organized a volunteer Polish army and began to expand.

We, in Goniadz, forgot the general troubles because a typhus epidemic broke out here during the winter. The first patient was Heikl Jewrejski. Later, I became ill. It was said in the shtetl that I caught it from Heikl at the Linas[3]. Yankl the rufah[4] had diagnosed me as having stomach typhus. He told me that Shimeon Halpern also had typhus. Two months later, when I went out into the street, I learned that it was a long time that Shimeon was no longer here. Josl Gopsztajn, Yehuda the furrier's son-in-law, was ill. He was a good friend of mine; I went to him and spent the day and night. When he recovered, my sister, Keyla, became sick. At that time there was a kind of hospital in Goniadz at the old market, where Wajntraub's house was once located. I tended to my sister and others who were ill. Zalman, the old rabbi's son, lay in a nearby room. I also tended to him. He died. Many people left the world in a very short time.

When the typhus epidemic ceased, a new affliction started. The Polish government began to mobilize the young people. They needed a great number of soldiers to pry loose even more land from Russia. From our family, my brother, Moshe'ke had to be recruited. The only way out for him was to escape to Germany. Shmuel Ber's son, Moshe, agreed with him. In Kolnya, neither Moshe was successful in smuggling himself across the border; we tried Raczki, a shtetl near Jagustow[5] and here they succeeded. It did not take long and my brother, Kalman, was called. He was all of 16 years old, but he was tall and looked large to Tovya-Motl. Tovya-Motl was the scribe at the city hall and was a very influential person. Perhaps, if my father were alive, he would have been ashamed to do this. They were good friends. Now my mother was a widow and we had no strong “shoulders” to support us – Kalman had to run away. The road to Raczki was broken up. We met Moshe-Chaim Burak and Yonatan Neyman in Jagustow; they came out of their hiding place and gravitated towards the German side. We all traveled to Raczki; they went across the border safely. We were calm for a time. But then I received a notice; I was being called to the military. It is true that I had wanted to leave exile-Poland for a long time, particularly after the wild Poles murdered a large part of the Tzeirei-Zion[6] in Pinsk, creating a blood libel about them, that they were “Bolsheviks.” But my mother did not permit it. An iron business is a difficult business. It demands physical work. She said that without me, they would not be able to maintain the business. I remained at home. It cost us 100 dollars, a huge sum of money for us. For it I received a swiadetstwo[7](certificate) that I was much older than those being called to the military. I was nervous because I was concerned that someone would denounce me. Several months before, Leibl Rejne's son went from house to house with the police with a list seeking those in hiding. He said, “What do you mean, I will go to serve the Poles and they not?” There was turmoil in the shtetl and whoever could ran away; others reported for service.

The Poles captured Vilna, although the city was promised to Lithuania. She also occupied White Russia[8] and then tore off a piece of Ukraine and occupied Kiev. [Jozef] Pilsudski, the field marshal of the Polish army, stuck his sword in the earth in the center of the city of Kiev and solemnly swore that they would not move from there. He said, “It was ours and ours it will remain.” (Before Chielmnicki's Rebellion, it had belonged to Poland.)

Russia was weak. Four White Russian armies with the aid of the Entente fought against the Bolsheviks. But when Trotsky conquered all of them, he turned to the Poles. The Poles retreated from Kiev with Pilsudski at the head. It was not long before Vilna was taken by the Bolsheviks. The goal was Warsaw. The Poles resisted near Grodno, but the Russians overcame them. The Polish army withdrew; the highway that passed Goniadz did not rest day and night. Soldiers and baggage trains went from Grodno to the fortress and farther to Lomza. When the police left Goniadz, we knew that the Russians were very close. We did not sleep that night. All of the young, around 50-60 young people, were on watch and protected the city. We wore white ribbons with a stamp from city hall that meant that we were policemen. In the middle of the night three Polish riders came running from Dolistower Street. They said that the Bolsheviks were near and that we could expect them in a few hours.

The night passed quietly. When it became light, I went to Tzalel's son Leibl's to rest in the attic. Tzalel's son Leibl lived on Tifle Street, not far from us. His house was on a courtyard away from the street. He had a large stall and a great deal of hay in the attic. I had just lain down; I heard that there was running and shouting: “The Bolsheviks are here.” When I awoke from sleep several hours later, there were many soldiers in the city. I learned that I was late for a very important speech. Henokh, the tailor, the son of the mute Itshe, was giving a fiery speech on Chaya-Ruchl Lurie's small bridge. He said, “We have freed ourselves from anti-Semitic Poland. In Russia, there are not Russians, but people.” He described the happy future that waited for us under Bolshevik leadership and ended by saying that today is a bright day for us. Henokh was then crowned with the nickname, “the bright day.”

The Russian army was dressed very badly, simply in rags. Russia was greatly impoverished by six years of war. Several wore the clothing of prisoners or murdered Polish soldiers.

Hunger strode in with the Bolsheviks. They did not carry any food with them. Whatever food there was in the shtetl was used. The fruits in the orchards that were half ripe (it was 15 days into the month of Av – July or August) were ripped from the trees and eaten. They looked to buy watches, but there were none; everyone had sold their pocketknives. They paid in rubles, a ruble for a mark. We knew that their money had no worth, but it should be understood, we had to take it. One bit of luck was that they quickly moved farther and left in the direction of Lomza.

The revkom (revolutionary committee) built a sort of city hall in the shtetl to keep order and carry out the administration of the shtetl. The revkom was quartered at Chaya-Ruchl Lurie's on the second story. The commissar was Josef Winer, a son of Moshe the sotnik[9]. Moshe was a shoemaker and lived up on Dol [Dolistower Street] where one went to the bath. His wife, Teme Rayzl, Josef's mother, sold fruit at the market. Josef, himself, was a tailor. That is, he was a man with a pedigree, a proletariat ben[10] proletariat. Even more, he also had a certificate that he was a comrade in the Communist Party from when they were under Polish rule. So he was chosen as commissar. He aides were: Henokh, the son of Itshe the mute. He spoke very well, also for his father, for whom speaking was very difficult; Leizer the baker, himself from Szczuczyn, a son-in-law of Yitzhak Czejnku; Zelig, the son of Moshe-Mendl of the old market, a tailor; Leizer the son of Rywka-Dwoyra of the old market, a former Russian soldier who survived the World War. Leizer received a sword from the Bolsheviks. He rode on a horse like a Cossack, with the saber at his side and galloped through the streets like an arrow from a bow. Josef carried a revolver, but no one knew where or for what. He was some sort of commissar. There were also two Polish comrades in revkom. One of them, Bochenko the woodchopper and the other, a shoemaker, a tall gentile with blond hair.

There were two policemen: Ruwin Drak's son, Zeydke, and Moshe-Feywl the shoemaker. Zeydke held a rifle naturally. He was a former soldier. But with Moshe-Feywl it was like an ornament. Moshe-Feywl's son of around 10 years old danced in the street and sang: “Father is an engineer! Father is a gendarme.” During the German occupation [during the First World War], they dreaded the gendarmes like a fire. Now, his father was a gendarme. Some kind of trifle?...

There was no income; the peasants did not come to the city. It was very difficult to get bread. They did not take Russian rubles in the villages. Give them dollars, but where did one get this? Merchants took Polish marks, although the Polish government had escaped and who knew what would happen. Salt was very important. But where could we get salt? Girls came on foot from Trestine to buy a few kilos of salt and they were happy if they got it. Moshe-Feywl, the policeman, lurked near the cemetery and caught five girls with illegal goods. They cried and they pleaded; they were poor and they would get a piece of bread for the salt. But he did not listen and took them to the revkom. There the salt was taken from them.

A sapper division arrived; their baggage stood at the old market until they built the bridge over the river. They had no wood. They went through the courtyards and searched. I brought several wagons of wood to our courtyard from Bojdener Woods. I was afraid that it would be taken. I brought Bochenko, the woodchopper to cut it. After cutting it, I asked that he split it later. The bridge was finished without our wood. The Bolsheviks built the bridge on the same spot that the Russian army had built it in 1914, not far from Moshe'ke's son, Chatskl's mill.

Bochenko was no longer a comrade in revkom because of an occurrence. Wagons from the surrounding villages were brought together for the military. The Bolsheviks did not have any military wagons. The civilian population had to provide them. He, Bochenko, told a peasant that for a sum of money he would be freed [of providing his wagon]. This information was brought to the revkom. A military division had just arrived. Lev Kopian embraced the officer. He knew him from Russia. When the officer heard the story of the bribe, he ruled on the spot: “Dwad-tsat liet.”[11]; Not more and not less than 20 years in jail. Bochenko was placed in reshyotka[12] and, as soon as the soldiers departed, he was let out. Now, he sawed our wood with great eagerness.

A transport of the wounded from the Lomza front arrived. They said that the fighting was very heavy there. Their arrival was entirely unexpected. The Hebrew school was above Chaya Josl's. They threw out the crude benches (skamejkes), brought straw from Guze, spread it on the floor and lay the wounded there on the floor. Girls went to the gentiles to gather a little milk and they gave it to the wounded. There were no instruments to treat the sick and nothing with which to bind the lightly wounded. As the air there was not very fresh, the soldiers who could, dragged themselves to the surrounding neighbors, opened a door and crawled into a room and lay down on the ground. Two crawled to us. I served them, got a little milk and did whatever was possible for them. Early in the morning, wagons were brought and they were taken to Grodno. More transports of the wounded arrived, but they were not taken down from the wagons. They were given milk; the lightly wounded were wrapped up with swojske[13] linens that were collected from gentiles. The horses rested and then went farther to Grodno. Once, a transport of the wounded stopped opposite our store. I went onto the wagons and with difficulty gave a half glass of tea with milk to a very sick soldier. The three Lenczewskis from the pharmacy, the mother and both of her daughters, who lived next to us, stood in front of the pharmacy and watched how we were busy with the sick. Their eyes burned with hate.

The Bolsheviks were already here for three weeks. They had conquered Lomza and they were going to Warsaw. There were no newspapers and we had no exact information. An important man in the Red government arrived during the fourth week. He came from Moscow through Vilna, Grodno and was traveling to Warsaw. He was enraged at seeing that the stores were open. He went to the revkom and created a tumult. “What is this,” he said, “permitting the businesses to operate!” Do you not know that in the Soviet Union free trade is forbidden? They should go out immediately and requisition the goods in all of the businesses. He left and the comrades from revkom began to transfer the goods. We read in a Bialystok leaflet that a new Polish Red Army had to be formed immediately to fight against the lords, the bloodsuckers and so on, according to the well known formula. We saw that we faced a mobilization.

Saturday night when we were in the synagogue for Ma'ariv[14], Leyzer, the rabbi's son, came in from the street with news. An officer of a very high rank was lodged at Chaya-Ruchl Lurie's. He was lodged with her on the first day when the Red Army entered. Now he came from outside Warsaw. We understood from his words that something was fishy. But we were not allowed to ask him. All sorts of suppositions were created. Sunday, early in the morning, the highway in Dolko was already full of wagons. They were moving in the direction of Grodno. It seems the Poles were returning… Our skin began to tremble. The local Poles would betray us and in that fiery minute we would pay. During the day several automobiles with officers came and looked for quarters. Several came into us. They sat at the table resting and the driver prepared food for them. My mother worried that they were making our pots and pans unkosher. It seemed that here was the headquarters of the Fourth Army. They came from the revkom with the announcement that they had found a good headquarters at the Christian clergyman; they left for there, moved in telephones and began to work. They would only come to us to sleep. One automobile stood in front of the house and the driver did not leave. We recognized that he was a Jew, but he did not say so. He spoke and many people stood around him and listened. He said that the Jews were guilty in that they were going back [to Poland]… the capitalists supported the Poles with money and weapons. Who were the capitalists if not the American Jews who had all of the wealth. Consequently, revenge needed to be taken against the Jews. Terrible, where is Henokh, “the bright day” who needs to hear this!...

Everyone was very troubled and frightened and decided to escape. I packed several pieces of underwear, my tefilin[15], a sack, took a piece of bread and went to Dolko to the highway. There I would go until Suchowola by wagon and from there to Jagustow, Suwalk and Lithuania. It was dangerous to go through Raczki; the Poles could catch up with us. Before I began to descend from the mountain to the highway in Dolko I heard voices and loud shouting. As I came to the highway I saw what was happening there. If three wagons would have gone in the width, they would have moved forward, but the wagons took the entire width of the highway, ensnared each other and remained standing. Go and stop. This one shouted, the other raged; all screamed and cursed and we did not move, only crept. And thus along the entire highway as far as the eye could see, a wagon train extended without an end… We crept. Suddenly a bang was heard, a wagon broke. The baggage was laid in other wagons. The wheel with the broken axle was thrown onto the side of the highway and we moved farther. Gentiles stood by the side of the highway and one grabbed a wheel, one an axle, one a board. They stood thus from very early and waited for something to be thrown down. I decided to go back home. No good could come from such tumult. But then I saw how the artillery was running along Monker Road, six horses hitched to each cannon. They came to the highway and stopped. The officer of the artillery shouted: “Stop the wagon train, the artillery is more important; I will give you to the court!” But no one heard him. The thick mass moved slowly forward with the voices and shouts as earlier. I took my sack and went back home.

My mother was very happy about my return. It was Sunday night. It was dark in the house; we turned on a small lamp. I went out to look for bread. The soldiers from the highway had emptied all of the bakeries. Gershon's son, Motke, entrusted me with a secret that his sister, Merke, had just taken a baked bread from the oven. I immediately ran there and she weighed out a very large piece for me. Merke lived at the old market on the street that led to Moshe'ke's son, Chatskl's mill. It was an out-of the-way place and no soldiers came there. There was no water in the house. The water carriers were afraid to appear in the street with horses. I took a pail and went to the well. Motke's daughter, Beylke, and her small sister, Grunye, also came with a pail. On the way we met many Jews with containers. The well water was cold and fresh, straight from the well. Summer, on the hot Shabbosim[16] we would go there to drink cold water.

I woke up with the day and went to the synagogue to pray. There I heard that all of the young were leaving the shtetl. I came home and told my mother that I had decided to go away. Everyone was going; I wanted to go, too.

I went to the highway through Dolistower Street. My mother accompanied me to the end of Krutka Ulica[17].There were no longer wagon trains on the highway, only walkers, 25 of them from Goniadz. Young men and girls from Ostrowa, Ostrolenka and still other shtetlekh were walking. Individual Russian soldiers went like us, with a gun, without a gun – we went. A soldier came close to me, tapped my sack and asked me in Russian: “What do you have there, bread?” I did not need anything clearer. I would immediately have scores of soldiers around me. I told him to be quiet. I went down with him among the bushes, opened the sack, showed him how much bread I had, divided it with him and done. I went back to the highway and he followed me. I wanted to be farther from him, but then we heard shouting in the bushes: “Govjandinu, govjandinu!” (meat). A few soldiers had caught a cow; killed it and they were dividing the meat. All of the soldiers on the highway ran to grab a piece of meat and I was rid of my companion.

About halfway to Suchowola we met a Jew who was sitting and crying by the side of the highway. We stopped near him. He told us that he was from Wizna. The Bolsheviks had dragged him to Grodno and abandoned him, but they took his boots; he was going home barefooted. His feet had received a drubbing and he could not go farther, so he sat and cried. Hearing the name, Wizna, interested me. I spent my first year of yeshiva study there in 1909. I looked closely and recognized him: this was Dovid the fisherman; I had eaten with him on Shabbos. I did not want him to recognize me; this would take too much time. I advised him that he should use all of his strength and go to a nearby village for a few days and then to go farther. He should not remain on the highway because the Polish Army was very near and his life was in danger.

Wagon trains stood in all of the villages along the highway. Riders ran back and forth, leading one wagon onto the highway, then another.

We arrived in Suchowola around one o'clock in the afternoon, went to a Jew and there received a glass of tea. We did not hear any good news in Suchowola. For the few weeks that the Bolsheviks were there, the revkom, which consisted of a Jewish majority, sentenced a gentile to death and shot him. Now the gentiles were saying very often: “If other brothers come in we will take revenge.” We immediately decided to go farther to Sztabin. Mikhal, the husband of Feyge-Ruchl's daughter Tsirl, came with me. We were again on the highway. The wagon trains went without end, but only individual wagons. A young officer, of my age, invited me to go with him to Grodno, but I said no thank you. We left the highway on the left and went to Sztabin. We arrived there at night, but the shtetl, Sztabin, was a ruin. The houses had been burned five years ago during the war and had not been rebuilt. An older gentile stood by the side of the road, saw that we had arrived and screamed: Zydkes[18], communists, let our Poles come and we will slaughter you all! He cursed and berated us. We did not answer him. We went to the only Jew who lived there. We received enough dairy foods from him and a piece of bread. We ate; we went up to the loft to rest.

We slept for about an hour. I said to my neighbor, Mikhal: I think it is dangerous to stay here; if the Poles come they will burn us together with the barn. We must go farther to Jagustow. We immediately all went down from the loft. The Jew showed us the way to go. We tried to go very quietly, particularly when we went through a village. We were afraid that the Poles were already in Jagustow, from the Rajgrod side and then we would be lost. It was already light; we saw four riders coming towards us. Our hearts beat. Poles, maybe? No, they were Russians and they asked us where the Poles were. We told them that last night the Russians were still in Suchowola. They rode on farther. We now went with a light heart. Arriving in the city we separated. Mikhal and I went to Meir Grabower.

Years ago, this Meir was a melamed[19] in Goniadz. Then he rented the farm in Klewianka and sold dairy products. Now he had a farm in the village of Grabowa, so he was called Grabower. He was a relative of Feyge-Ruchl from Tifle Street and was pleased to know someone connected to her son-in-law.

The retreat of the Russian Army stretched through Grodner Street. Meir's house was on Suwalker Street; it was calm here. Meir came in from the street and related that a Cossack had broken in a door in a shop, murdered the shopkeeper and took whatever he wanted. We sat in the house and shook. In the morning Meir came in from the street and said that a company of Lithuanian soldiers had marched in from Sulwak and taken Jagustow. That is, Lithuania had come to us…

Jagustower Jews went out to the streets. The Bolsheviks left; the Poles were not here, let only the Lithuanians remain. We Goniadzers wanted to go deeper into Lithuania. We sent in Zeydka Sidranski (Chaya Wikhne's son) to the Lithuanian commandant, a former officer in the Russian Army who spoke Russian. Zeydka came back with nothing; he was not giving permits and without them the group would not go farther. On the third day, Friday, with great difficulty I found a wagon driver who agreed to drive without a permit. But none of the other Goniadzers wanted to go with me. Having no choice, I went alone. The road to Sulwak stretched to the forest and no people were seen. It rained very hard. [Water] ran from my head as from a roof and I became entirely soaked through. I had to change my underwear and clothes in a hotel in Sulwak.

I went to the synagogue to pray Shabbos morning. I knew that the khazan[20] was Ruwen Rosher (Rosh is a shtetl near Grodno) who had studied skhite[21] in Goniadz with the khazan, Reb Nuchem, and led the choir after prayers. I went to him, but he did not recognize me. I told him that in 1908, 12 years ago, I was a choir boy with the khazan, Reb Nuchem, and he and Reb Nuchem had sung with us choir boys from Purim to Passover. On the first day of the holiday, in the beis-medrash[22], I was ashamed to go to sing in the choir. All of the Goniadz young boys had run after me and laughed at me. On the second day of the holiday, in the synagogue, I stood on the steps of the aron-kodesh[23] and sang. Yes, he remembered this incident, but he did not remember me.

Sunday, I hired a wagon and went to Kalvaria, Lithuania. The road also passed through a thick forest. There was an inn half way to Kalvaria. We stopped to rest the horses and to eat something ourselves. There we met people from Lithuania who were returning to Poland. They said that it was very bad in Lithuania; there was no place to earn money, the police did not register people and if someone arrived with a horse and wagon from Poland, it was requisitioned. My wagon driver was afraid and returned to Sulwak, leaving me at the inn. It was night; I did not want to go into the woods alone. There I saw a wagon with passengers was starting to go. They were traveling to Kalvaria. Under no circumstances did the wagon driver want to take me. I hopped onto the back of the open-sided wagon and went along. The wagon driver did not know about this. The passengers smiled. It was very difficult for me to stay on the wagon, but getting off and remaining in the forest was less pleasurable… The wagon went very fast and when we went on to the wooden bridge, we were in Kalvaria. I came down off the wagon. The lamplight was homey in the windows and I was happy seeing it. On the bridge I met young men strolling. They were from Sulwak and I brought them fresh greetings from there. They took me away to a hotel to spend the night. I would be registered in the morning. I slept on the ground and my neighbor was Henokh Hirszfeld, Sholem Hirszfeld's brother. I remembered him from home when he studied watch making with his brother-in-law, Chaim Leshkes. Henokh opened a watch business in Jagustow and lived there. He asked me for a favor. He had a great deal of money with him, so I should take a few packages of Polish marks from him until the morning. He would sleep easier. In the morning, the owner [of the hotel] registered me with the police. Now, I went out to the street calmly. There I learned that the Poles had taken Sulwak.

I met a young man of my acquaintance from Grajewo. He was here for three months. He said that I do not have to pay any money for the bed. He slept on hay; it did not cost him any money. He also had arranged for his food. That night I slept on the hay and was satisfied. It was Tuesday morning. I stood in front of the house and saw how [people] were going to the market. Today was market day here. There had not been a market in Goniadz for a long time and here life was going on as before in the quiet years. I truly envied the Lithuanian Jews. I saw a wagon going with young men and after the wagon went another young man holding his hand to his face. His name was Chaim Arya Pekarski, but I did not recognize him at first because he was very covered with dust and his red hair was now sand colored. I shouted: Chaim Arya! He turned around to me. Yes, this was him! He came from Janova, Lithuania. On the road to Kalvaria, his nose started to bleed. Now in Kalvaria on the bridge, he could not sit in the shaking wagon; so he went on foot. He said that going through the border with the entire group was very difficult. I invited him to come with me, but he said he had an uncle named Bash in Kalvaria. We went to him. His relatives welcomed him very warmly and I left him there.

I traveled farther to the German border and stopped in Wierzbołowo[24]. The border was five kilometers from there. I went to the border, gave the soldier who was standing on guard 50 German marks and he let me go through. I was already in Aydkunen[25], Germany, but when I traveled farther, a gendarme stopped me because I did not have any certificate.

At the gendarmerie I was searched very thoroughly. It was a miracle that I had left my 20 dollars and 250 francs with an honest Jew in Aydkunen. I was arrested in the county town, Stalavka. There was very little food; the jail overseer only bought a piece of bread for the German marks that I had with me. He said to me, if I could give bail he would free me until the tribunal. I asked him to telephone a relative of mine in Lik, an escapee from Grajewo and I knew his address.

It was the first day of Rosh-Hashanah; I lay on the plank cot and prayed from memory. I did not have a Siddur[26] and there was no Makhzor[27]. I prayed and thought: it is now Musaf time; at home, my Uncle Lazer stood before the reading desk and sang the prayers with his strong voice. I was moved emotionally from longing and the door opened and the jail overseer called out: Bachrach, bail had arrived.

Twenty minutes later I was free.

Translator's Footnotes
  1. The army of General Haller, a Pole who lived in America. He came from there with many young Poles to help liberate Poland. Return
  2. The Poznantichikes were Poles from Posen [Poznan] (German Poland) and who now had liberated themselves from the German regime. Return
  3. Linas haTzedek a charitable organization caring for the sick Return
  4. old time doctor Return
  5. Augustow Return
  6. Young Zionists Return
  7. witness in Polish Return
  8. Belarus Return
  9. Russian military rank Return
  10. son of Return
  11. 20 years Return
  12. locked up Return
  13. homemade Return
  14. evening prayers Return
  15. phylacteries Return
  16. Sabbaths Return
  17. street Return
  18. Jews Return
  19. teacher in a religious school Return
  20. cantor Return
  21. ritual slaughter of animals Return
  22. synagogue or house of prayer Return
  23. ark or cabinet holding the Torah scrolls Return
  24. Virbalis Return
  25. now Chemyshevskoye, Russia; Eitkunai in Lithuanian Return
  26. prayer book Return
  27. prayer book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Return

[Pages 543-544]

As I Remember It

By Meirim Rubin, New York

Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine

The Great Schism

In Goniondz, in the 1880's, a great schism occurred between the Chassidim and the misnagdim . Older folk in town used to reckon time using this event as a benchmark. This was one of the rare and extraordinary crises, which took place in the shtetl, such as the cholera or the great fire. During that time period, there was a Reb Berele who was very staunchly supported by the poorer folk in town. The successful Chassidic merchants in town, however, were not pleased with him, and brought in Rabbi Gedaliah Kaminetzky. A sharp division soon broke out between the two rival factions. The Chassidim persecuted Reb Berele. They broke his windows and didn't provide him with an income, since the local government franchise was in their hands.

The misnagdim mounted a counter attack. They went to the little Chassidic shtibl , which at that time was located in Chatzkel Babniak's house. They pulled out the Sefer Toras and other books, and broke the benches and tables. From time to time, a fist fight would break out in the House of Study. Once, after the Sabbath prayers, the Chassids fell on Yehuda the butcher. When the other butchers found that Yehuda was being beaten, they all ran to the House of Study to defend him. At the end, the Chassids won the battle and Reb Berele had to leave town. When he was leaving the shtetl, his allies went along to accompany him. The Chassid, Zelig-Isaac's' was standing in the street at the time, and yelled out at him, “Tsedokasakoh tatzil memoves”, like at a funeral. Reb Berele yelled back at him, “Soon they should say it to you!” Two weeks later, Zelig Isaac's' only daughter died.

[Page 544]

The Dybbuk

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This happened in 1926.

The water-carrier's wife suddenly became melancholy and began speaking strangely. This happened after she gave birth. The doctor in the shtetl [town] could find no remedy for her, so her husband traveled with his wife to Bialystok to a specialist, a nerve doctor, but no doctor could help.

A Hasidic rabbi travelled through Goniadz at that time and many women went to him for a blessing. When they learned of the case of the woman they went to the water-carrier with the good advice that he go to the rabbi and ask him for a remedy. The water-carrier grasped at this and immediately went to the rabbi with his sick wife.

– Dear rabbi! Save my wife from the melancholy! He pleaded with tears in his eyes.
The rabbi observed the woman, spoke a few words to her and then said:
– A dybbuk has entered the woman.
He asked the husband to find a minyon [10 men needed for prayer] of older Jews who were truly God-fearing. They should all immerse themselves in the mikvah [ritual bath] and fast and then come at 12 noon with their talisim and tefilin [prayer shawls and phylacteries].

[Page 545]

And they did as the rabbi asked. The rabbi ordered that no one except the woman and the minyon be in the house. My father, may he rest in peace, was among the 10 virtuous Jews. At around 12 noon a curious crowd that had learned that a dybbuk was going to be driven out assembled around the house. However, the rabbi asked that the shutters be closed and the windows covered with curtains so that no one outside would see what was happening inside the house. No matter how much I asked and begged my father to tell me about what had happened, he did not

[Page 546]

tell me because the rabbi had sworn them in their talisim and tefilin to keep the entire matter very secret.

For a time afterwards the water-carrier's wife remained in the same condition, but the melancholy ended two months later as if on its own and the woman became normal.

I believe that it is worth recording the fact that such a case could happen in our Goniadz, which was progressive in every respect in 1926.

Translator's Footnote
  1. a dybbuk is a mythological evil spirit that enters a living person, taking control of the person's soul, speaking through the person and thought to be the cause of mental illness. Return

[Pages 545-546]

The Penitent

By Moshe Bachrach

Translated by Marvin Galper

On a winter evening of 1913, between the afternoon and the evening service, a Russian peasant walked into the House of Study dressed in a heavy coat with a fur hat on his head. He grabbed Mordechai the sexton and cried like a child. In broken Yiddish, he then asked aloud about many Goniondz folk from twenty years earlier. A commotion arose in the House of Study. The students arose from their long tables. The mischievous children ended their mischief. A circle of conversation formed around him. All formed in a great circle around this very odd Russian peasant. It was then discovered that he had been born in Goniondz. He had been a member of the notorious bandit gang which had operated in Goniondz twenty years ago. The they had terrorized both Jews and Christians in all the region. The gang had been composed primarily of Jewish young men. For us children, they were a legend. For the adults, they were a terrible memory. Later they were sentenced to Siberia for their “good deeds.” Then they became lost, even to their own families.

The peasant introduced himself. Some of the older men recognized him. They embraced him like a long lost brother who has been found again. We all had the feeling that a “repentant one” was among us, and that he had paid a heavy price for the sins of his youth. He was treated with great tenderness. For us children, he was almost like a storybook hero whom our town had been worthy enough to produce.

After the evening service, the “good time fellows” invited him for a dinner at Chanon's house. There he told them that he had been living like a Russian peasant in Siberia. He had his own family there. In his older years he had felt powerfully drawn to see his hometown and his roots, which he still remembered from his childhood. Some of those present cried to hear him. A child captured by the nations, they felt, especially since he has now repented. They made one toast after another to him until late in the night and offered him their very best wishes. Soon after “the repentant one” had gone forth on his way, his secret was made known to them. He was traveling through the land selling counterfeit hundred ruble paper notes. He had stopped on this occasion in Goniondz.

[Pages 547-548]

A Goniondzer[1] Remains a Goniondzer

By Dovid Bachrach

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Tishre[2] 5687, 1926, I crossed into the United States from Canada and received employment there as a Hebrew teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, a city in the Deep South. The change from the cold, far west of Canada to the warm South was very physically difficult for me and spiritually even more difficult.

Birmingham is a large city with many factories and iron foundries, where many thousands of workers, white and black, work. The local Jews are, as usual, merchants, and commerce is concentrated in their hands. Jewish young people born there are doctors, lawyers, dentists and so on. The tempo of life is very quick; one runs and chases after the dollar with one's entire strength, day in and day out, until one falls down. The life in the Canadian cities, such as Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto is much calmer and more leisurely.

Yiddishkeit[3] there was at a low ebb. The fathers with their best intentions could not devote themselves to the education of their children; life demanded much of them, they had to work a great deal. There was no quiet hour before work; they closed very late at night. The main educators were the mothers. The mother who brought something with her from the old home had a kosher kitchen, the recognition of the Shabbos with a white tablecloth and lit candles; she also saw that her son went to the Talmud Torah[4]. But as soon as he finished with his Bar-mitzvah-maftir[5], he is seen no more. A girl ends with her confirmation at age 12.p> Three days a year, Rosh Hashanah[6] and Yom-Kippur[7] the Jews close their businesses and come to the synagogue. If Yom-Kippur falls on a Sunday, the synagogue is full. Only a few Jews come to the synagogue on Shabbos, but they rush from the synagogue to their businesses because this is the day for earning money. During the week, a minyon[8] of several Jews assembles with great difficulty. Therefore, it was a great wonder for me on one occasion to see the synagogue open in the afternoon on a regular day.

Entering the synagogue I saw a very old Jew sitting over a sefer[9] (his son had persuaded the Shamas – sexton – to open the synagogue for his old father, because he was bored in the house). I wanted to leave immediately, but the old man noticed me and called me to him. He asked me to sit near him and carried out a conversation with me. Mainly, he wanted me to tell him how Yehosha ben Nun[10] had brought the Jews across the Jordan. Because of his deep age he did not hear well and I had to shout into his ear. I cited the verse from the Book of Joshua to him, “…the waters descending from upstream stood still and they rose up in one column …”[11] that is, the water of the Jordan that flows to the Dead Sea remained calm, and appeared in its full height as a pillar and did not flow farther, but the lowest water flowed into the Dead Sea, as a matter of course, the spot became dry land and the Jews went through. This was a miraculous place like the Red Sea, as we learned in kheder[12].

This old man did not agree with my translation and explained to me that everything had happened in a natural way. I was very impatient. The entire conversation was a nuisance and I would have willingly left him, but this was not proper to me. He stopped for several minutes and asked if I understood the explanation. When he had at last finished, he again asked me if I had understood everything; if not, he was prepared to begin again… I thanked him and wanted to be underway. He asked me where I was from. I said: from Bialystok. He asked me: from Bialystok itself? I answered: from a nearby shtetl. However, he demanded that I tell him the name of the shtetl[13]. As Knyszyn is as near to Bialystok as Goniadz, I told him: Knyszyn. To this he said to me: you are not from Knyszyn, you are from Goniadz. I remained as if stupefied and asked him how he knew. He said to me: You do not speak like a Knyszyner, you speak like a Goniondzer. I asked him where he was from; he said that he came from Sapockin near Grodno, but he would happen to visit Goniondz very often. To my question of how long he had been here from his old home, he answered that he was in America for 40 plus years.

I calculated in my head that he had left our area 15 years before I was born. He had spent so many bitter years among the Blacks in the South and yet he recognized by my speech that I was certainly from Goniadz and not from Knyszyn. A rare occurrence.

I learned a moral from this - that a person cannot deny his origin and he needs to remain what he was.

A Goniondzer remains a Goniondzer.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Goniadz is the spelling of the town in Polish and the spelling used now. Goniondz is Russian; Goniondzh is Yiddish Return
  2. usually September Return
  3. Jewish way of life Return
  4. in Poland, a religious elementary school for poor boys Return
  5. The maftir is the concluding portion of the Torah reading at the Shabbos service, preceding the reading of the Haftarah a reading from the Prophets linked in its theme to the weekly Torah portion. At a Bar-mitzvah the religious rite at which a boy of 13 takes on the religious obligations of a man the Bar-mitzvah boy follows his role as maftir with the reading of the the Haftarah. Return
  6. the Jewish new year Return
  7. the Day of Atonement Return
  8. 10 men necessary for communal prayer Return
  9. religious book Return
  10. Joshua son of Nun Return
  11. Joshua 3:16 Return
  12. religious elementary school for boys Return
  13. town Return

[Page 550]

A Mother of Goniadz

by Alter Rozen

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Dedicated to the memory of my mother, Ruchl-Leah, may she rest in peace, born in Goniadz.
Died in Brooklyn on the 26th of Tishrei 5717 [1 October 1956].

Filled like silver cups
With sweet, frothy Kiddush[1] wine;
Like a gold plated picture,
[Covered] with a gentle, loving glow –
As then, once, kindled thus,
In death as in life,
Doubled many times a hundred –
My mother floats before me.

Like the heart without God,
Like a dead city,
So bare-naked remained
The walls of our house;
As in a grave, a dark pit
Had grieving secluded one in the house.

No Shabbas [Sabbath] rest, no holiday joy,
No sacred enthusiasm
Since my mother separated from me –
A person's joy, a person's glory,
The endless treasures
Sail away from my shore…

The heavens fall on me
Every day like a heavy stone.
Oh, how lonely I am, alone,
How the mountain of sadness presses my tired head
And the wounds burn in my heart –
Since my mother disappeared from me!

____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____

My mother calls to me,
I hear her voice from there –
She says: “Throw open the door with courage,
Be free! Run from the valley of tears,
Sever yourself from the grey earth!”
My mother, I have heard your voice!

Alter Rozen, New York

Translator's Footnote
  1. the blessing of wine before a meal. Return
Goniadz Synagogue building on the right, Bober River in the background


[Pages 560-561]

To My Mother
(Chaya-Bayla, may she rest in peace)

by M. Sh. Ben-Meir, of blessed memory

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

You are, Mama, over 80, gray and old,
And like an esrog [citron] after its time – your face is shrunken, dry,
And just like it – your golden quality is hidden,
Your back is bent in the yoke of Yidishkeit [the Jewish way of life].

The parchment hands are wrinkled, yellow and feeble,
Like your sacred, faithful holy book-brothers:
The prayers and the Tkhine in its sweet translation and meaning,
The Tsenerene and Korbn Minkhe prayer books.[1]

An old person's vision requires rest.
From too much prayer, and crying, too,
One must take care of her – the doctor warns –
You could lose her, God forbid, he says.

Do you not understand, you royfe [a doctor, usually without medical training], you clever man,
You answered with a smiling face,
There is a brightness in the Korbn Minkhe,
And the Tkhine makes my eyes clearer.

The day is short and the prayer is long,
For me, for my son who does not carry the yoke of prayer,
And the heart has such regret for the Jewish people,
For Jewish calamity – heaven even cries.

No respect for all the good advice,
Did not listen to what the children ask, argue,
You have brought a korbn [sacrifice] to your Korbn Minkhe,
The light from both of your eyes.

And when the sad hour tore the bond,
Of your combined family,
My face touched your trembling hand,
Like Father Yitzhak's hand at Yakov's blessing.

Crying, you blessed me and told me to go,
Today we part – distant days and heavy storms,
Yet I hear your quiet crying in the night
And I always hear you calling my by my name.

I see you sitting alone silent and blind,
Hunched over the Siddur [prayer book] with a beaming face.

Translator's Footnote
  1. A Tkhine is a woman's book of Yiddish prayers; a Tsenerene is a Yiddish translation of the Torah and legends and commentaries; and a Korbn Minkhe is a woman's prayer book translated or written in Yiddish Return


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