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[Page 267]

The Village of Serafince

Nachman Bergman

Translated by Yehudis Fishman

Images and Types of Horodenka Personalities

Near Horodenka, at a distance of about an hour's walk, nestled the village of Serafince. There I spent a substantial part of my childhood with my aunt and uncle, Fishel and Roise Rosenroykh, of blessed memories. This was a typical Ukrainian village. One of its residents was a representative in the Landstag in Lvov during the period of the Austrian rule. In a later period, most of the Ukrainian intelligencia moved from this village to the center of Horodenka. The dress of these villagers was different from those of the other neighboring villagers. In the seventeenth century the Turks conquered the village, and a remnant of those times remained in the garments of the villagers. Most pronounced was especially the Turkish turban that women would wear under their headscarves. The daughters of this village stood out in their beauty. When a group of women villagers were sent to a dance festival in Vienna, most came from this village. The residents of Serafince were very well off. Their land was fertile and very productive. The relationship of these villagers to Jews was very good, and they were also friendly to those in other villages. Anti-Semitism was not openly felt, but it happened more than once that the village troublemakers threw rocks at the Jews who crossed their paths.

As in the most of the neighboring villages, here too there was a Jewish landowner, Yossel Zeidman. He had many fields and he hired some disabled villagers to work them. Because of this, he was to a certain extent a ruler in the village. His fields were operated according to modern methods, in contrast to the primitive methods that were widespread in the villages. There, farmers often used the same equipment that had been used forty earlier. The estate was like a miniature palace and was surrounded by a large courtyard that contained buildings for the machinery, as well as a big yard with fruit trees. The relationship of the farmers to the landowner was one of honor and respect, and even love. Only through the younger generation and the Ukrainian intelligencia did a feeling of jealousy develop, and thus a lack of respect.

The landowner, Yossel Zeidman, was a handsome man and had a demeanor that aroused respect. He had two sons. One of them, Alter, who studied in Vienna was a scholarly person and if I recall, also had an academic demeanor. He was greatly beloved by his father. When he came home each year for his summer vacation, Yossel would walk through the fields without getting involved in the management of the farm. The other son, Moshe, was the manager of the farm. He was a popular person who was plain in his ways and got along well with people.

All the managerial positions in Zeidman's estate were in the hands of Jews, and from them I will mention just three: Gershon Veitzling, Leibish Hoffman, and Hirsh Giniger, of blessed memories. There were others whose names I don't recall. They served him faithfully and earned his complete trust. The villagers also related to him in an honorable way. Besides the Jews who were managing the estate, many other Jews were supported by buying and selling its produce and serving in other ways as middlemen.

My uncle Fishel Rosenroykh enjoyed a special relationship with Yossel Zeidman. They studied together in cheder and remained friends all the days of their lives. When I came to visit my uncle when I was still a young boy, I would also spend time on the estate and would often arrive there riding on the big dog Hector, the landowner's dog.

The Jews of the village lived among the Ukrainians, far apart from each other. They supported themselves by selling produce, including eggs and other products of the farm. Some of them made a living from small supply stores. On holidays and Sabbaths, they would gather for a minyan in the estate home. Aaron Leib Lagshteyn, a modern Jew and a scholar, would serve as the cantor. His prayers were burned into my memory because of his pleasant voice and his beautiful pronunciation of the words. From among the Jews of the village, I remember the families: Giniger, Yurman, Hoffman, Bergman, Rosenreich, Vitzling, and Shechter. They were all killed at the hands of the enemy. Before the Holocaust, only a few of the young villagers went to Israel or fled to America and thereby survived.

[Pages 268 & 240]

Laughter and Tears

Kuka Iskar-Greif

Translated by Dalya Yohai

It doesn't hurt

My father and Berl Shpierer, a wealthy man from Horodenka, were in Vienna listening to a lecture by the socialist Adler. After the lecture, my father asked Berl, “Tell me, how do you feel after a socialist lecture?”

“I'll confess, Hersehel, maybe it is a little shameful to be so rich nowadays. But believe me, it doesn't hurt, even now!!”

Luck follows him

During World War One, Berl Shpierer and other wealthy people were exiled to Siberia. Our dance teacher started talking to us about going to Siberia. When we asked him why, he said, “Shpierer has had luck following him all his life. We have to go to Siberia like him because maybe then luck will follow us as well!

Better Vienna at home

Avraham Cohen, the blacksmith, lived in Horodenka where he was born, but his family remained in Vienna after World War One. He came back because he could make a good living. When his children begged him to come and be with them in Vienna and wondered how he could prefer Horodenka to beautiful Vienna, he responded, “It's better to live in Horodenka and long for Vienna than to live in Vienna and longing for home in Horodenka.”

Isn't a man allowed to talk at home?

The grain merchants used to give their money to the rich people to invest during the quiet season. One of the rich men gave them trouble and they had a hard time getting the money back. When they complained he used to say, “It's not my fault, it's all because of Yoske, my son.”

Once when one of the merchants came to ask for his money, Yoske said to his father, in the presence of the merchant, “Promise him, but don't keep your promise.” The merchant lost his temper and started yelling, “Who do you think I am, that you can treat me like that. Every day you promise to pay me tomorrow and you never keep your promise.” The rich man replied, “What's the problem? Why do you yell? Can't I talk in my house and say whatever I want?”

He is not going to be involved

About the same person there was another story: When Yoske was five the rich man used to sign his name on bills that came from Lvov. When he didn't pay his debts for a while his creditor came to Horodenka personally. When he came to his house he asked for Yoske. The father called for his son and yelled at him, “Come here, you brat. This man says he has bills and checks signed by you! I want you to know that I'm not gong to intervene and help you out with even one dime!”

The healthy simpleton

A pale and poor scholar came once to our town and told people in the synagogue that he was sick, but a scholar. One of the citizens, a scholar himself and full of compassion, invited him to his home and told him, “You'll sit in my house until you get better and we will be able to study in the meantime.” When they sat to study and he saw the extent of the stranger's knowledge, he exclaimed, “You are not a sick scholar, but a healthy simpleton!!”

A Despite'nik in heaven

A resident of our town ( I can't remember his name), a wise and devout man, prayed every morning. One day a secular Jew asked him, “Wise man, you're known to a be smart man, do you really believe that the supreme judge us in Heaven?” Answered the devout Jew, “I'll admit, I don't know if there is God up there, but I know there is a despit'nik there that I have to worry about and my prayer, if it doesn't help, can't harm me!”

Doesn't look like a Jew

In 1920 the Ukrainians entered Horodenka, and as usual, started harassing the Jewish population and took their clothes and shoes. When they attacked Lipa, the shoemaker, he stood up straight, combed his hair, trimmed his mustache and asked them in juicy Ukrainian, “And do I look like a Jew to you?” They apologized and left him alone!

He gave his “assets” to everybody

When Lipa the shoemaker died it was a day of laughter and sadness. This is how he wanted it. It was really a day of mourning because he died quite young and left a widow and children. He was also a very personable man, liked by all. But we all laughed when we heard about his will. He wrote it the last minute before his death, in front of witnesses. He had a sense of humor until the end. The will read: “My two sets of underwear, I give to Tomkoviz, the Mayor; the ripped socks to the president of the community, and the good pair to my children….” It went on and on in this manner.

It's not the same Antshel

Antschel Riechman, the head of a big and vast family, was not a rich man. Before World War One, when he tried to get into the Rabbi's yard, the gabay would raise his hand and signal to him: There is no place for somebody like you here. After the war he became rich. When he came to the Rabbi's yard and saw the gabay standing at the door he yelled to him: “Gabay, gabay, it's not the same Antschel.”

A specialist for addresses

My grandpa Zeide Breithchess was one of the first to let his son (my father) go to the Baron Hirsch School. When the Chassidim asked him why, he said laughingly, “I decided that my son will say my kaddish with an Ashkenazi accent.” When my father got to the second or third grade the Chassidim were not upset with him anymore because he was well known and even respected. They said, “When this kid writes an address, the letter gets even to America.”

This is honesty

Meir Shlam was known for his wisdom, his Torah knowledge and even his high mathematical ability. But he couldn't provide for his family. At the end he became an accountant for a wealthy man, but that didn't make use of his vast knowledge. Some people asked him, “Where is the justice here, you know so much and are so devout, yet you hardly make a living and your employer, the rich man, is a simple man and benefiting from your knowledge.” Shlam replied, “That's right and that's as it should be. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for him if he was in my place, with his knowledge?!”

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