by K. W.
It is unnecessary to describe the miserable position of the Jewish small merchant. There is no exaggeration in the Talmudic saying: A poor man might as well be dead. This applies to the petty merchants, the market hawkers and the poor persecuted and tormented travellers to fairs. These three types, or more precisely the single type for the petty merchant is also a market hawker and a traveller to fairs are struggling for their lives and their very food, exhausting themselves with toil and all gateways to help are locked before them.
We have already had occasion to write more than once about the distressing conditions and trouble which the fair travellers have had to face in their daily struggle for bread, particularly in the fairs and markets of the Poznan District. There, they cannot even be sure of the small stock of goods they have with them nor of their lives either. But the trouble they have recently faced in Grodzisk passes all imagination. Last Thursday there was a fair in Grodzisk. As usual, Jewish merchants went there each one with his handful of goods. They all arrived at midnight.
Thirteen lorry-loads arrived in all containing what little Jewish property there was. When the first lorry arrived there were cries of: Out with the Jews! When the other lorries arrived they were met by a large gang of ruffians armed with knives, bayonets and bludgeons. A few ruffians kept guard over the lorries to make sure they could not get away while the rest attacked the Jews, murderously beating and stabbing men and women alike. The shrieks and cries of the helpless people are indescribable but there was not even a sign of a policeman.
It should be noted that the Police Station remained locked up all night long. The ruffians rioted until the morning by order of their leader.
One of the Jews named Feivish Messer who lives at 14, Dobrzecka Street and is the father of six little children was very savagely stabbed. The depth of one of the wounds in his head is 20 millimetres. He is now lying in hospital in a grave condition.
When the ruffians attacked them, the Jews fled in all directions men and women alike abandoning their goods and seeking a hiding place in a cellar. But when the scoundrels found that they were hiding, they hurried there and began to beat them with sticks and stab them. Several people from Kalish were gravely wounded. The ruffians tore the women's clothes and beat them savagely.
There was a Kalish girl among them. The scoundrels tore off her clothes and wanted to drag her away. By chance, a Jew from Kalish named Getreuman was nearby. The girl shrieked: Jew, save me! He risked his life and got her away from them, emerging only with slight wounds.
The ruffians caught one Jew and began beating him murderously. When the Jew saw that his end was near, he fell on purpose and pretended to be dead.
The ruffians took him and flung him into the water which, luckily for him, was shallow. After they had gone away he emerged and was saved.
The ruffians now approached several of the lorries, claiming that the Jews were hiding in them. The Polish drivers were afraid that they might actually find the few who had hidden in the lorries which would be very bad for them too. So they told the ruffians that they were Christians and would they possibly permit Jews to hide themselves among them? The ruffians inspected their papers to make sure that they really were Christians and that saved several Jews from a beating.
The market-dealers all came together in one restaurant when they ran away. The ruffians went in and demanded that the owners should expel the Jews in order that they should settle their accounts. But in the restaurant there were also some brave fellows from Lodz who were not cowards at all. There were also a number of Christian merchants whose goods, which were displayed in the market, also began to be looted. All those in the restaurant united, charged very noisily out onto the street and began to defend themselves in lively fashion. They caught the leader of the gang and kept him until the morning when the first policeman appeared.
When the police station opened at 7 a.m. a delegation of merchants marched in and a file was opened. It turned out that 162 people were injured in the riots. There were many wounded; two of them gravely. These were Feivish Messer who was wounded in the head and Moscovitch whose leg was broken. Among those slightly wounded were the following: Abraham Weger, Moshe Tamberg, Shechter, Brenner, Jacob Shapiro, Rosenblum, Katz, Mera, Shlomo Lifshitz, Mr. Wolf Getreuman, Sadalski, Mrs. Tsadek and Levi.
by A. Avenavitz
The world-wide economic crisis that has shaken the position of entire nations has particularly affected the Jews who, even in normal times, made their living from the air, facing all kinds of distress and disturbance, wandering here and there, staff in hand and earning their bread with much toil.
This hopeless crisis affects everybody: millionaires, industrialists, large banks which go bankrupt overnight, etc. In this confusion, the Jews go out to their bitter daily struggle, using all his senses, exerting all his limbs, doing every kind of hard work for the sake of his bread of affliction.
There are heavy clouds on the horizon. The life of the small Jewish merchant is particularly gloomy. These petty merchants, these market dealers and fair travellers live in a kind of hell. Most of them live in tiny crowded, airless dwellings with many children who grow up under unhygienic conditions. On
one wall is a shelf for goods. Some keep their goods in boxes, crumpled and scattered about. There is always noise and dashing hither-and-thither at home. Here the wife goes off to Lodz there the husband hurries to an acquaintance to obtain security on a bill of exchange so that he can get a loan of several zloty without interest at the Gemillut Hassadim. When the sun rises all the family including the children come out to load the handful of wares on a handcart. The peddler places himself between the shafts, the children push and the wife orders: start! and off he goes to market.
They fix the cart-cover, spread out the handful of goods and stand there all day long looking at the neighbouring stalls and yawning. Towards evening, they go back home. The cart is not particularly light and there has been no turnover.
And so it goes on, day-after-day. The Treasury sends orders for payment. The husbands run out to Joseph Moshe of the Small Merchants' Society and the wife runs after. First they tell Tsomber what they want. A long time passes. He pushes them in and he pushes them out. He tells them to come tomorrow as the director is at a meeting in the Kehilla now. In short, you get sick and tired of everything. The handful of goods is sold at a public auction and the peddler goes out penniless.
While the poverty at home is shrieking in every corner, the family gather together and decide: the brother-in-law will be a guarantor on a bill they will borrow some money they will go to Lodz to buy some goods and henceforward, the former merchant will be a fair-goer. And they begin to prepare for the journey.
About ten such travelling merchants hire a cart. The wife orders: Pack the goods properly so that they don't get wet! They all climb onto the wagon and off they go.
They travel along the high road, uphill and down dale, through the forests and past the fields. They pass through hamlets and villages. They are weary and exhausted. Every hour of the journey feels like a whole day. At length, in the middle of the night, they come to a fair somewhere in the Pozen District. And you can already hear the noise and tumult. The merchants from other towns have already arrived and there are also ruffians who have discovered a new living for themselves. They block the approach to the market place and the merchants have to pay them a tax or compensation.
And then, a while later: Hurrah! Out with the Jews! They use knives, beat them with heavy sticks, break their bones and run riot. Sweat mingles with blood; the cries mount to the skies. There is no salvation. They run off and hide in dark cellars. The goods are abandoned. Yet, they wish to save their lives which are just as hopeless and free for the first murderer.
That is how the small merchant lives the man who travels off to fairs. His is a bitter life of anguish and distress.
by M. Warshawski
One of our biggest roubles is the plague of Bills of Exchange and promissory notes. We are well aware of the great capital and the disposal of the Jewish shopkeeper. We are quite familiar with the ample credit that the Jewish merchant enjoys. The reliability of the Jewish merchant is generally recognized and in this situation, the system of Bills of Exchange becomes a very harmful phenomenon. Half of the trouble is in the branch of ready-made clothing, clothing and drapery where the shopkeeper gives his note of hand to the wholesaler yet that as well is at a considerable risk which exceeds profit. For no one can be sure that the Bills will be met when they are due, particularly when the term set for payment is 9 or 10 months in the future.
Yet, the gradual infiltration of the system of payment by promissory note in the food and grocery branch is a graver and entirely abnormal development.
This branch operates almost exclusively for cash. Sugar, flour and baked goods are all paid for in ready money since the profit on these commodities is a minimal one so that the wholesaler has to be paid in ready money. To our regret, however, the purchasers are also beginning to settle their debts with the shopkeepers by bills.
In the past, cases were known where the shopkeeper bought the Bills of Exchange and sold for cash. Nowadays, it is just the opposite. The shopkeeper has to pay cash while the individual customer, who has already been buying on credit for many weeks, settles his debt with a Bill that is due in several months' time.
This harmful method of trade was introduced by two or three of the local grocery dealers whose situation enabled them to grant such credits to the customer. The trouble is that the system is taking root in the entire branch and can undermine the existence of hundreds of grocery shops.
This unhealthy development must be considered by the Grocery sections of the two Merchants' Societies in town. They must both take joint measures to eradicate the evil and make an end of the unparalleled and disgraceful competition.
When we survey the economic position of the Jews with open eyes, we feel very sad at heart. Not a single Jew can count on the passing day and he does not know what awaits him tomorrow. In the past, we used to be described as Luftmenschen people who live on and from air but the truth was that we knew how to make a living from it for everything around us was firm and secure.
Ever since the War began, our situation has deteriorated completely. The property that had accumulated for generations lost its value and vanished within a few years. The speculation times began. Everybody made a great profit and there was so much profit that the actual capital began growing less and less. When the profits reached their peak people also began to sober up. Everybody suddenly saw that actually there was nothing left for them.
Then came a time when it seemed as though life was becoming normal again. We all began working energetically and trading energetically. But the good time did not last. A major crisis was on its way.
The reason for the crisis was the loss of the Russian market. In Poland, trade and industry had chiefly been directed eastwards. When this market was closed to us all the Polish wares were flung on the local market. Every industrialist, every merchant began hunting for customers and offered the best possible terms. Yet, business was at ebb because of the lack of turnover. How were people to make a living? They ate up other people's property. Bills of exchange solved the problems that arose from the financial crisis. There was an inflation of promissory notes and almost everybody went bankrupt since nobody had as much as a shoelace of his own. Here I see a man who is still regarded as well-to-do in his own town. He is going to hunt for a loan hoping to keep up his 'position' in that way. His poverty is not yet generally known. He lives in a fine apartment and is well dressed in public, yet at home, everything is black.
Every able-bodied young man delivers himself by stealing across the frontier and going to Belgium where he does any kind of hard work that the Belgians themselves are not prepared to do. But very few are fortunate enough to improve their position in that way.
The situation in the little towns is far, far worse. People wander about like ghosts their faces dark and their eyes extinguished. You can no longer recognize the shtetel which Shalom Ash described with so much artistry. In the past the young people went to the big towns where they found work but now there is no point in going there. Cooperative stores have been opened in the villages. The peasants come to town only in order to sell their produce and they take their money back with them to the village where they buy all they need in the Cooperatives. The shopkeeper in town has no turnover but he has to pay his taxes even when he is unable to pay. The Treasury squeezes and makes its demands and where does it bring us? Where is this development leading us?
It is unnecessary to say that this state of affairs leads to certain collapse from which we can see no salvation.
There are many who say that we have already seen bad times and we have survived them. To this I answer: 'read the history of Israel in exile and you will see that we have chiefly been oppressed in the spiritual land. The various nations set out to break our spirit but were unsuccessful because our spiritual level was higher than theirs. But we did not face problems of livelihood for we always made a living. Trade was largely in the hands of Jews. It may have been hard to make a living, true! When they closed us away in ghettoes, we waited patiently for better times and preserved our strength.
But nowadays, we are not suffering from spiritual oppression. The authorities permit us to develop both religiously and nationally. Yet, is that enough when our wives and children want to eat? When our sources of livelihood dry up, our bodies follow? No evasion will help us now. We are in a state of despair. All our other requirements fade away. Man is transformed into a wild beast that wishes only to stop being hungry and does not care about tomorrow. That is why the danger we now face is greater than it was in the Middle Ages. Then we were victorious thanks to our spiritual superiority. But now, we are very weak economically and, therefore, we are bound to collapse.
Yet, the will to live, the struggle for existence, is part of human nature. Every man is entitled to live and make a living and we Jews are also living beings who do not wish to give in and leave the stage of life. We wish to continue to exist. There is only one way out: we must help ourselves!
The days have passed when the Jew was ashamed to do any kind of work because it did not befit him. Nowadays, everything befits him and Jews do everything. Therefore, let the Jew do any work he is capable of doing and he is capable of doing anything and without any excuses. Anybody who gives his work not to his Jewish brethren but to others is sinning against his people and himself.
Let the stamp of treason towards their people be set on all those who claim to be honoured and respected Jews while their factories are working on the Sabbath; and whose brethren hunger for bread while they sit at ease on their balconies during the Sabbath day. We face the danger that the Jewish Sabbath of which we have sung so much is going to be profaned in the course of time whether we wish it or not, for hunger is stronger than death.
Nor is it a matter of factory workers alone. It applies to the household help, to the watchman of the house. Let Jews do all these kinds of work. You have no people in the world who employ the members of another people for such work. Is this the practice of the Germans, the English and the French even though their situation is far better than ours? Why, they certainly prefer to give work to their brethren and they do not look for any special other people to do so.
It is our duty to give preference to the Jewish worker for that is the demand of our will to exist. It is time to forget the old saying that: it's good to go to the Synagogue with a Jew, but that is all for otherwise there will not be any one with whom to go to the Synagogue before long. The Jewish People are being destroyed and we have to rescue what we can before it is too late.
We Have to Wait
Well, well, everybody knows how the official institutions rush to fix something up when the applicant is a Jew. You might suppose that if the Jew has certain rights and privileges in the country his affairs will be attended to as swiftly as possible. After all, he has his rights because he sacrificed his health for the country! But nothing like it is the case, it turns out, most§ certainly NOT. Whether he has rights and privileges or doesn't have any, the Jew is always treated the same way let him be patient and wait!
A poor war invalid (it stands to reason that only a pauper has the 'luck' to be an invalid) who lives in Chopin Street was granted a concession to sell cigarettes. By dint of much toil, he managed to hire himself half a shop. The invalid submitted an application to the Excise Department. Since so-and-so is renting him half his shop for the sale of cigarettes, he requests the Excise Office to send a Committee to the said shop in order to decide whether the spot is suitable for the purpose in accordance with regulations.
After he submitted his application the poor fellow began to wait. (After all, did he have any choice?) In due course he reached the conclusion that he was waiting too long. Meanwhile he was paying rent to the shop-owner and the man had to make a living after all. He thought it over and went off to the Office to ask why the matter was dragging on like that. They told him: It will take some time yet and you will have to wait.
Gentlemen, maybe you know how long?
I was strolling about in the New Market (and how long is it going to remain new?) thinking about Jewish livings which have as much reality as snow in July and the good luck of Jews in general and of the fair hawkers in particular. I surveyed the 'tables' which were loaded with 'goods' that were worth, say four times fourteen farthings, and out of which 'the Jew extracts a living' and from which the authorities milk any amount of taxes, turnover tax, income tax and what's the name of all the other taxes?
Surely, I said to myself, the miracles that are happening nowadays are far greater than those that happened to our forefathers in the days of long ago?
Such were my golden meditations at the sight of the 'exhibition of goods' which is called the New Market and suddenly, as though a bomb had gone off, the air was rent apart by the chorus: 'Lemon! Lemon! Lemon! Lovely wares! Ten farthings a piece
I woke up from my thoughts and turned towards the voices, startled. The 'merchants' thinking that I wanted to buy something, swooped upon me from every side with their lemons in their hands. In particular, there was one pretty girl who would not let me be. She had a white peasant kerchief around her head out of which peeped a pile of pale yellow curls and dimples in her
cheeks. She pushed a fine big lemon at me and said: Buy some good wares. Nobody has goods like mine. Buy cheap. Ten farthings each.
When I had long left all those lively lemon sellers behind, I could still see in my mind's eye the young dealer with dimples in her cheeks. In my ears echoed her voice: Lemon! Lemon! Lemon! Lovely fruit! Ten farthings
When I heard that there was a novelty in Kalish, I dashed off to have a look at it. My imagination worked feverishly for I wanted to guess what it could be. I tried to imagine something fresh. A communal worker who had some kind of Jewish education A wealthy Jew who contributed to Jewish needs or, maybe one of the local preachers of morality who had decided to behave in a moral fashion or, maybe a nationally conscious Kalish Jew who was not ashamed to speak Yiddish! , and other extravagances of this kind occurred to me.
When I reached the spot I saw a large placard which proclaimed in huge letters: Novelty. I pushed my way through the crowd surrounding the plate glass window of the new shop, my heart throbbing. Behold, said I, I have reached my destination and I shall now see the novelty
And now imagine what I saw there? Stuffed fish Fish well peppered Fish cooked at home Just fish!
There is a novelty for you.
by S. Rubin
Kalish, you are indeed a city of cities! Your boundaries are steadily spreading, the ruined streets are being rebuilt and are improving too 'skyscrapers' are appearing, late-glass windows are flashing, there are large and many-coloured electric signs. The map of Poland has no reason at all to be ashamed of you. So I always think to myself when I go for a walk. Yet, in spite of all the efforts to make our city look like a metropolis, in spite of the development and the appearance, our city lacks the melodious dynamism, the rhythm and tumult of the streets and squares of the big city.
It is almost impossible to believe that in these multi-storeyed buildings scattered over such a large area there is a population of 70,000 souls. There is little movement in the streets. Everything is slumberous and apathetic, no less than in the little country towns.
In our city there are public halls, cafés, fine cinemas and other places where people can enjoy their leisure in the evenings. But all of these places are empty and everything is boring.
The public are not alive. They waste their time. They spend their evenings alone with their own selves out of the natural habit of people whose time has passed, of young men from country towns who have nothing to do in the evenings except to play dominoes. The difficult economic situation has set its stamp on everything when some money is still to be found in their pockets. All the week round there are few who go there. Don't we have some better and more pleasant ways of spending time after work during an ordinary weekday?
I sit in a fine well-lit café. The marble top tables stand like silent witnesses of the hard times. Here we miss the regular visitors who used to fill the place with a friendly and comfortable atmosphere. No, the public is not alive today. Patiently it consumes the difficult hours of its evenings waiting for better days which may possible come with the spring.
It is 10 o'clock in the evening. Where can everybody be? Is it possible that the centre of the city can empty itself so completely and so early? What has happened to the regular strollers taking their ease along the Pilsudski Boulevard?
My friend offers me a philosophical explanation. This is a characteristic result of the crisis we are experiencing. The porters of the houses lock the entries at 10 o'clock so people hurry home in order to save the few farthings they might otherwise need to pay for having the door opened. I laugh aloud but he insists: And you have to laugh. It's a very miserable joke. I know many people like that.
There is ample light from gas and electricity in the street shining on the dead and empty pavements. At long intervals, a noisy car dashes past with a resounding blare of the horn, reminiscent of the existence of what was once called life. It comes from who knows where and must doubtless be hurrying to some place or other.
Like passengers whose ship has sunk at sea, the carriages wait at the street corners. But there is not a person to be seen. The drivers yawn widely, gaping aloft at the cloudy skies and tease one another from time-to-time in their own special driver's slang.
One young fellow whose blood is hot within him cannot bear to remain on his seat. Down he comes and starts dancing with some old josser as much as to say: Well, my lads, if there aren't a customer, then to hell with them and let's dance at least!
Their boots beat hollow on the pavement. It is 11 o'clock at night. A taxi passes by and the carriages look even poorer than before. The drivers must really envy the motorized magnate very much indeed.
A couple of drivers spread their arms and beat themselves over the shoulders to warm up. They are cold and miserable and give the impression of trying to beat the melancholy out of themselves. They must surely be longing for the days when they used to drive faster than eagles to the railway station, there and back.
I stand on the Zlota Street Bridge looking down on the Prosna and I see a vision: How good if the municipality were to widen and deepen the river here, strengthen the banks with concrete, build arched marble bridges, pave Babina Street and Nadwodne Street and cover the walls of the houses with marble. How enchanting it would be when the sunshine would be reflected from here by day and the moon by night? Why, this would be a little Venice!
Or another scene: A fine Saturday evening with the moon shining bright. Young Hassidim coming out of the Shtieblech after their Melave Malka (Speeding-the-Sabbath festivities). They go to the bank, sit down in gondolas, row the length of the streets and sing one melody after another; the tunes spreading all over town. Pious women light Close-of-Sabbath tapers in the windows. The gondolas are also lit up and the lights are reflected on the hill and in the water under the shining moon.
Gradually, Jews gather on both banks of the Prosna. Their happy mood rises high. Everything is well arranged thanks to their municipal representative who is here among the musicians. The chief player holds a little Psalm book and sings: They that go down to the sea in ships - - - The sea saw and it fled; and Then Moses sang. And the choir sings songs of the departing Sabbath and the songs and conversation go on till after midnight and the proud parting with a final: a good week.
So my vision went. Suddenly I remembered that the municipality intends to block the branch of the Prosna that runs along Babina. In general, it has more important budgetary worries. And back I come to the grave Jewish situation.
Across the bridge Jews scurry about with worried faces. One is hurrying to pay a bill that has already protested, another looks for a loan without interest and a third begs for an execution order to be deferred. Nearby, Jewish porters stand beside hand-carts and coils of rope, waiting for work. Jewish drivers stand by their broken-down carriages with their lean and hungry horses, waiting for a journey or someone. Beside them stand Jews buying and selling old clothes, worn shoes, and a broken alarm clock. A little further along sits a Jewess selling soda water and peas. Opposite stands a Jew shouting: Buy bagels, chocolate and sweets!
My eyes survey the scene and I feel like asking: Is the stream of history going to sweep all this away sooner or later? And what will remain here then?
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Kalisz, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 31 May 2016 by MGH