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From the Past

A. Anecdotes from the Town

 

Ya'acov Spiegel Recounts

Recorded by Moshe Spiegel

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Elimelech Spiegel, the ritual slaughterer and his wife Gila were among the first ten Jewish settlers in Miechów. These Jews arrived in the town in the 60's of the 19th Century together with Yisroel Kupchik, Bonham Feigenboim, Kalman Rabinowitz, Michael Borgestein, Yehoshua Posluszny, Shlomo Waciarz, Moshe Yosef Weill, and others.

Miechów's first synagogue burnt to the ground in 1898. The tragedy occurred on the evening of Hoshanah Rabbah, when one of the praying women accidently upset a lighted candle – one among hundreds memorializing the dead – on a pile of pages of old prayer–books. The congregation was in the middle of the “Amidah” prayer (which may not be interrupted by speech or movement) and the incident remained unattended for a few minutes and within those few minutes, the fire took hold not only on the dry, old pages and books but spread very quickly to the entire wooden building and the building became an inferno and the synagogue burnt to the ground.

A short time later two of the town's community leaders of the time, Rabbi Simcha Varoslowski and Rabbi Eliezer Siwirski erected a new elegant synagogue that was renowned throughout the district for its decorative paintings and colors. The decorations of the synagogue were executed by Shmuel Blum, the son of Rabbi Yermiyahu Blum, now living in Paris. It is said that the building still stands today and is being used as a municipal store–room.

 

The water drawer

In those days there was no installed water system in Miechów's houses but at some distance in Dziluczitza Street, behind the hospital and the municipal park there was a potable well known locally as “Stok”. The well was used by our water drawers; they would fill a large barrel transfer it to a horse–drawn cart and distribute buckets of water to all the houses in town. One of the water drawers was an immense man nearly two meters tall whose feet were so large he was forced to order specially made boots. Compared to him his wife, Gitla was tiny gaunt and slim – a real “dried up fig” but for all that a treasure of a woman, righteous and generous. In that respect it should be mentioned that Rabbi Yesheyahu, who had never delivered a eulogy for anyone, even the most respected people in the community, eulogized Gitla on her passing and praised her many qualities for over an hour.

She kept about twenty mattresses in her home ready for any chance guests, beggars and wayfarers who passed by, moving from town to town, looking for alms, and delegates from seminaries donating money for all types of charitable foundations. There were even occasions when Gitla ran from house to house seeking an additional mattress for a lodger.

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There was no single sick person in town for which Gitla did not prepare food or support. She carried about a dozen cups on a tray which she filled with soup from other house–wives and distributed to “her” sick patients. On market days she would take buckets of water to give the farmers' cattle and horses to drink. approaching Passover she bought beets and pickled them to provide for the poor and needy.

 

The Fire

In 1905, there were two uprisings in Polish towns, which were bonded to Tsarist Russia: A general revolt against the Tsar and a workers' revolt to establish a socialist regime. The Russian authorities in Miechów arrested a number of people in the county offices whom they considered the ringleaders. The county offices were then in Karkobaska Street, facing the banqueting hall of A. Gerstenfeld. Quite quickly and spontaneously a crowd gathered of local Polish farmers armed with axes shouting in loud voices and demanding the immediate release of the arrested leaders. In reply the authorities brought in a Cossack platoon to protect the municipal buildings; neither had the Poles been standing idle: they set fire to the home of Shmuel Shenker thinking that would somehow cause the release of the leaders.

Ya'acov Spiegel, who was then a young boy, saw the blaze from the window of his house. His father stopped him from leaving the house but he somehow managed to sneak out to watch from close up what was going on.

In the meantime, Haye'leh, the daughter of Rabbi Yosef, the teacher, was giving birth. When he saw the flames approaching his house, he took the new–born baby from her arms while she, at a loss what to do, ran directly towards the flames. Then, the young Ya'acov grabbed her and ushered her purposefully into the home of Rabbi Yesheyahu, thus saving her life.

 

An Argument in Town

Recalling a dispute that once broke out in town at Rosh Hashanah 1910

It happened in the synagogue after the finish of the morning and additional morning prayers which concluded at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Two respected members of the community, Rabbi Yisroel David Spiegel and Rabbi Haim Levitt, suggested an immediate start to the afternoon prayer leading on to the evening prayer without the necessity of going home for a short break and then having to return. Two others, Rabbi Simcha Varoslowski and Rabbi Mordecai Milstein were strongly opposed to the proposal: “No! No, we will not pray now. We'll go home and return later.” Physical violence broke out between the two groups and blood was actually drawn.

Virtually the entire congregation of the synagogue, with very few exceptions, was drawn into the affray in that Holy place, and it eventually spread out into the street, from the water–well as far as the market place. It was impossible to separate the opposing groups until darkness fell and shrouded the street and the conflicting Jews; with torn caftans and broken limbs the exhausted participants were forced to return to the synagogue for the evening prayer.

For many years afterwards fathers told their children about the argument and pointed to it as a prime example of unfounded hatred or “a storm in a tea–cup”.


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The First Personalities

by Ya'acov Levitt

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The first Jews settled in Miechów in the 60's of the 19th Century although community life only started at the end of the 80's. In those days the community leader was Rabbi Simcha Varoslowski a respected Jew and multi–faceted businessman. All the formal arrangements, like ritual slaughtering, registrations in the municipality records, wedding formalities and ceremonies, divorces, were carried out in the home of the first Rabbi of Miechów, Rabbi Yesheyahu Sheinfrucht. It was during that period that the first synagogue was burnt down; it was rebuilt on the initiative of Rabbi Simcha Varoslowski in 1898 and the new synagogue, bigger and beautiful still stands today.

The cost to the community was quite large: the community numbered nearly two hundred souls and they were obliged to levy a tax per Jewish family to cover the cost. There were direct taxes, and the community leader appointed a special agent to collect them; there were other taxes that were collected and they financed items like slaughtering, grants for weddings, ritual baths, rabbinical arbitrators of disputes and other peripheral community services.

Some years later, my father, Rabbi Haim Levitt (Z”L), brought to our town the ritual slaughterer Rabbi Yisroel David Burstein (Z”L) from Iłża in the county of Radom, known in Yiddish as Driltch. Rabbi Yisroel David immediately made friends, and was liked by everyone in town by his generous nature, his distinguished learning and straightforward honesty. He settled into an apartment close to the synagogue and in the yard built a small wooden hut for slaughtering the chickens. He delighted the congregation with his renderings of the prayers accompanied by his sons who were also competent vocalists, with deep, rich voices.

The first banker, who helped the city merchants by granting loans and credit – was Rabbi Schmelke Katzengold (Z”L). They say that one fine day it became generally known that he had become wealthy and decided to open a bank in town to help small businessmen that began to flourish and expand. There was also another bank in Miechów with its center in Sosnowiec, founded by the Bergman Company and Partners (or Landau and Partners). In the same bank the chief clerk was Rabbi Moshe Sukenik, who arrived in town Miechów from Sosnowiec dressed in modern clothes like any non–Jew; nevertheless after he met the beautiful widow, Rey'leh, the daughter of Rabbi Nathan Bornstein and proposed to her, he repented and promised his in–laws to follow all 613 commandments and become a faithful G–d–fearing Jew. And indeed from that time Moshe Sukenik was a good, G–d–fearing Jew. His children were raised according to the Torah in addition to their secular education.

Also living in Miechów was Rabbi Mendel Kurland, owner of a large house in the Market Square. The house was later sold to Avraham Rosen (Holoschitzer) and Aharon Reinstein (the baker). Rabbi Mendel Kurland was associated with the Righteous of Kutchak and smoked a long pipe. He didn't have much pleasure from his son Noah because he didn't love the Torah. After he went missing from his lessons with his Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Schwarzer, the Rabbi himself met him in the street and asked why he hadn't come to the lesson and this – by all accounts – was his reply: “I heard bells ringing in town and supposed it was because the Rabbi had died, so with no Rabbi, there was a holiday from classes…!”

Noah Kurland would travel from place to place, hither and thither and found different ways of amusing people and getting up to all sorts of mischief. When his father received complaints about him at one place, he simply moved him to another until he returned to Miechów. Here he stayed for a short while and when he got up to his old tricks and the seminary in town got fed up with him, he simply went wandering off again all over Poland's towns and villages.

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Rabbi Ya'acov Lewit studied under the learned instructor and rabbinical judge, Rabbi Yosseleh Kleinfeltz. Jewish farmers would come to him to announce the birth–date of new–born calves so that they could slaughter the animals ritually after seven days in compliance with Jewish law. A Jewish villager once came to him with a question: his wife had borrowed a saucepan from a non–Jew Mr. Maczik, and had cooked a stew in it for lunch. What is the status of the saucepan…?

Rabbi Yermiyahu Blum (Z”L), when he was young, would mingle with the Polish “intelligentsia” in town and make friends with the secretaries. When he needed to try and mitigate or cancel any punishment that might have been incurred, Rabbi Yermiyahu would go into the offices of the authorities and very often succeed in getting the judgement set aside.


March of the Generations

by Meyer Goldberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

A town: its homes, its lanes, hills and its valleys. In this town people passed their half–forgotten childhood, in it they dreamed the dreams of youth and adolescence, here they matured and grew old.

A chain of generations, and here and there ghosts and stormy rattle their chains. She has many components: the first Jews who settled in Miechów; the magnificent synagogue erected here as if asserting “I am here!”; the assembly of members who gathered to found the local branch of “Ha–Mizrachi”; or the Jewish “Zionist Youth” movement, sworn for some reason to be faithful and true to the principles of Baden–Powell.

Two structures were established, as if symbolizing the conduct of the two streams of life existing at their feet: the one– the sanctuary of Jewish prayer and life and opposite it rising in pride, the round dome of the church.

I, a Jewish child, in passing by “there” in broad day–light, would slant my eyes towards to the mysterious dome with fear. The windows of the church glittered, green and red with pride, and I imagined to myself I could sense the burning hatred inside. Its yard was fenced in, steeped in trees and greenery, while around it reared the buildings of the government: the court–house, the government house, the Municipality and the town gaol. The incumbent military priest – I met him a few times on the street. He was always in a hurry, red–faced, his black, tight–fitting robes rustling in his haste as if to an unfinished burial ceremony. Tens of exciting stories, the fruit of youth's wildest imagination accompanied him to his house.

A few paces from there – is the “movie–house”, the “house of dreams”; it was the fire–brigade's earlier base. If you're looking for a quick way to grow up then this is it; to sit inside on creaky chairs and feed your eyes on the heroes and dream to the background music.

For the likes of us, we were prohibited from entering but by bribing the usher we could sit quietly on the floor in the first rows and peek between the legs of those seated in front. In fact, most of the movies I saw were through a hole in the exit door. I was the lucky one because my house was quite close to the hut. I could sneak out of the house and if lucky find the slit “unoccupied”; there was no one happier than I: I clung to the hole like a lover.

Not far from there was the Starostrova: The building seemed very much out of place and a stranger to my eyes, what little we knew of it. I recall, at home, where very little use was made of alcohol, my father boasted “Me and the Starostrova are very busy today…”, and closing the side of the square was the government building, and next to it the church, with the sun's rays shining on its walls. That side seemed to me cheery with its colors perhaps because

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my friend Dziasek(?) lived close–by. I was unusual among my friends because of that friendly connection but I was not mistaken in my judgement of him. Later on I heard many stories about how he had helped the Jews during the dark days of the Holocaust and there are those who say he was eventually killed for protecting Jews.

Not far away – but for all that far enough to be as if in another area – stood the synagogue, not as high as the church but wider with high, tall windows. The Star of David over the entrance caught everyone's eye. Inside was so much light on Saturdays and the eve of festivals, but gloomy and barren during the weekdays. Row after row of pews all facing east with the Rabbi's special alcove slightly hidden from sight. I remember how they refurbished and painted the synagogue and how we gazed, dumbstruck at the inscription over the entrance; there the names of Shmuel Blum and the non–Jewish artist were inscribed.

The faces of everyone were illuminated on Fridays, Saturdays and festivals with the colors, reminding me – in my eyes – like the smile of greeting my mother (Z”L), would bestow on guests arriving at our home. On the Day of Atonement, come the shadows of anxiety, and the majestic prayer of the Rabbi, permitting us to pray together with sinners and transgressors. For some reason I always searched for Buchner at that time: Ya'acov Buchner the erudite, the respected, the Epicurean. On the Day of Atonement the walls of the synagogue enclose the congregation in their warm embrace and who among us would be absent for Morning Prayer recital at the moment of the “The King”, when one faces east and the heart begins to pound. There from his prayer–shawl–enshrouded face comes one of the finest voices filling the sanctuary with sweetness and glory: “The King….” – It is the ritual slaughterer, that wonderful personality. With rolling eyes I am huddled against my father's prayer–shawl as if seeking support.

And what is that great wind that rushes through the streets during the closing prayer of “Ne'ilah”? Not a soul is to be seen in the street, as if all existence, Jewish and non–Jewish in the town has come to an end.

And the joyful festivals, everyone between the walls of the synagogue was joyously happy with smiles, and there was mischief everywhere. One's eyes are turned secretly upwards seeking the eyes of your heart's desire in the women's gallery…

Voices. The voice of the cantor Rabbi Yisroel David the slaughterer, and the voice of my father (Z”L) during Friday evening prayers.

There was not a lot of magnificence in the Rabbinical seminary or close to the lectern of the synagogue – but here, too, there were great moments: twilight at the end of Shabbat, the “Third Meal”, “Escorting the Queen” (Shabbat), or when the Rabbi came to his disciples; but above all, especially when ordinary weekdays came to the Study House: the attractive warmth in the small house, the learned preacher with his dissertation, the orthodox wedding; all added to the walls of the synagogue and the Study House a sort of Jewish overseer: the “Mizrachi” school and above it “Agudat Yisroel”…and so on. An effervescent life in such a small area, always full of movement, as if nothing ever comes to rest in the house and its rooms…children, youths, young men, old men fading away, and even the dead – all are tied together by the umbilical cord of the four embracing walls of the house.

And who were these Jews of my town from the generation before mine?

Well, it was like this, they always walked as a family group to and from the synagogue, each man with his wife. And didn't the stride of Avraham Sercaz, resemble the elegance of his father, perhaps without the secular nature of the former, the fruit of his generation and his public standing; thus strode the father of Avraham Friedrich in his traditional appearance; thus strode the father of the ritual slaughterer Burstein, or the newly–wed Abrahamowitz, twirling his silver–decorated walking stick, or Rabbi Av'czi the match–maker – warm hearted and hot tempered. Thus strode the tribes: the Czajkowski's, the Pulaski's, the Pinczowski's, the Blum's, the Fogel's, the Feigenboim's, the Lewit's, the Goldberg's, the Spiegel's, Abrahmowicz's…where is the pen that will record these offspring, this proof that they are all part of one body, that is the character, the personality of the town…let the man, Polish or otherwise, come and weave together the tapestry as its witness, that it will be seen: A Jewish town, her sons and daughters.

Thus strode our fathers and thus they stride in our hearts and we accompany them in our loving memory.


The District-City Miechow
Powiat [district] Miechow

by Yosl Charif (Astri)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

An association with the district-city Miechow is engraved in my memories of my deepest childhood years. I always remember in my deep old age the district city when I browse in my memories of my childhood years. They stand living before me and ask for restoration, and, although I already was a young boy of 10 when I saw Miechow for the first time, I had seen many pictures of it in my imagination many years before.

The wagons from Miechow would pass before our windows in the village of Piotrkowice Wielkie that led to the highway, a dusty Polish road from Slomnik to Proszowice and back. And on such roads, my brother, Feywl, a young man, left to become a trade employee in Reb Betsalel Grinbaum's business in Miechow. How did our mother, of blessed memory, say it? When the wings grow, one has to leave. We were the only family “on the road” and what serious opportunity could there be for the children in the village?

The “Days of Awe” and the losowania [drawing of lots] – appearing for the draft in Miechow – are very differently engraved in my memory. Hartske, the oldest brother, arrived from Bendin where he worked to appear for the draft. He hated Russia, was a revolutionary and yet he went to serve.

Another year cheerfully arrived. The old one was discarded. The first thing he did was throw his hat in the fire: “Burn Fonya [contemptuous Yiddish name for Russia],” he said and his hat with red stripes around the visor flamed in the fire. I understood that in the Miechow district] things were being done with which my brother Hartske did not agree.

That the lottery was not [a thing] for Jews I knew. I also understood from this what Jews would say, that non-Jewish recruits would get drunk and throw empty bottles at the heads of Jews, particularly doing this when they were [reporting] to their regiment. Jews on the roads were not very secure with their heads. Many emptied bottles of spirits were broken over them.

The customs duty official, who had a post in the village that was not far from the Austrian border, would also travel to the district city; the Russian Orthodox families also traveled for their holidays because there was a Russian Orthodox Church there. From time to time, the Blum family's daughters, whom my mother taught to knit and to embroider, came. They carried a sort of city manner into the village.

However, the image of Reb Yosef Soyfer [scribe], a Jew with a parchment-like face, is mainly engraved in my memories;

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a wide grey beard, a thin nose and sad, dark eyes that sat under his forehead in which the grooves undulated on him like a sea of sorrow. He, Reb Yosef Soyfer, would come to the village of Waganowice, where a minyon [10 men needed for prayer] of village Jews would come together in Rozenblat's and Shlomo Szajntajl's mill. He would come for all of the Days of Awe because the village minyon did not have a Kohen [member of the priestly caste]. There he had to give the priestly blessing, bless the congregation. Before Musaf [additional prayers on Shabbosim and holidays] on the Days of Awe, he would immerse himself, dive under the cutting white water, even in a downpour. His body was actually transparent and his skin seemed to put together with sheets of parchment, such a strange gentleness. His figure gave the impression of a trembling leaf. Despite his poverty and difficult life, a peaceful smile always floated on his thin lips; it can be said a satisfied smile of one who was content with his lot [in life].

The first time I saw Miechow was on a Friday morning, when I was put in a wagon filled with Polakoshkes [baskets made of small branches soaked in water and woven in the small villages] in which Jendrusz, our friend, took us. We had left the village at midnight. This was right after Passover. Miechow, in its slumber, was revealed to me, a 10-year old boy, as a sleeping giant, the church, the Russian Orthodox Church not far [along], with the larger market, with the country inn and when the sun became lower over the roofs, we left Miechow on the road to the Charsznica station.

Incidentally, I am reminded of a story about a hare that had run before us on the road. Jendrusz said that we would have to come back. He was correct…

We settled in Slomnik [Słomniki]. In later years when I worked and lived in Sosnowiec, I would travel through Miechow to Slomnik to my parents for the holidays or just for a quick visit. After the First World War, it occurred many times that I spent the night in Miechow and I spent the night in Bunim's son Dovid's guesthouse. I remember the heavy, yellow, wooden beds, the small iron beds that took up an entire room, stuffed with bedding, large dark rooms.

Reb Bunim's son Dovid was a Jew with a friendly smile. The breath came from him with a certainty; he looked like a Jew who makes a good living, who himself came here to stay overnight. He actually spoke of Eretz-Yisroel, of Jerusalem and a longing flashed in his eyes. He finally went to the land [of Israel] and lived here for a while and found his eternal rest here.

Our venerable teacher, Maks Erik (Zalman Merkin), the great literary-historian and Jewish researcher from Sosnowiec, also did his military service in Miechow. Later he would remember his days in Miechow where he infected the young with Labor-Zionism…

Many years separate us from those days and it is hard to believe that Jews no longer travel to Krakow, not with the local train that goes to Dzialoszyce, which is almost complete empty of Jews. One does not travel through Slomnik and certainly not through my birth village

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of Piotrkowice Wielkie. The inns are no longer in Jewish hands; there is no one even to ask to be protected from gentile hands…

The nearby Keshionz [Książ Jews] were called the Keshionzer corpses, a strange nickname. Today there is no one living and no corpses.


High Holidays in My Parents' Home

by Getzl Levitt

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Jewish heart quivered with the first sound of the shofar [ram's horn], the first day of Elul [Hebrew calendar month, late August to September]. An unending fear showed in everyone's eyes; this was the fear for the coming Day of Judgment. They ran to the cemetery, traveled to the rebbes for Rosh Hashanah and they got up early every day on the Days of Repentance for Selikhos [prayers of repentance recited before Rosh Hashanah]. They shouted, poured out tears, lamented – actually would have done anything. All in order to awaken favor from the God in heaven.

The approach of the Day of Judgment was felt in every corner of our home. Our parents tried to prevail on the children, each in their way. Our father, may he rest in peace, strongly demanded that we pray with fervor, arise every day for Selikhos and read a sacred book; our mother changed completely. Her gentle nature became gentler, quieter. Her voice had an echo of an internal tremble. She asked the children sincerely and quietly to remember how we behave in the world. We should plead and pray to prepare for the Day of Judgment.

Shabbos [Sabbath] at Minkhah [afternoon prayers] in the synagogue. The artisans, the ordinary Jews, not students, recited the psalms, chapter after chapter. They were those who regularly recited [the psalms] for the public. Each one recited a day [it is traditional to recite specific psalms on different days of the week]. Moshe Kasher, Kalman Szuster and others whose names have left my memory spoke quickly, full of errors with earnest faces. Although they understood almost no words, they knew they were reciting the holy psalms and they stood before the Master of the Universe for the congregation of Jews. The words rang more sincerely, particularly for the days of Selikhos. The voices shouted louder. The recitations came out even more incomprehensible because more often the words were swallowed by tears. However, I am sure that they reached the Divine Throne. When the recitation of psalms ended, Moshele Melamed [teacher], a small, agile Jew with lively eyes, stood and recited the Minkhah prayer, a sad prayer said with longing and sadness at the departing Holy Shabbos. It became dark outside; the week approached; the heavy toil for a piece of bread. It simply cut the heart to see how the Jews had changed. They went home for the third Shabbos meal. My father wanted all of his sons at the table. The house became full of mysterious shadows. That day, during the month of Elul, the shadows were frightening, full of secrets. We washed [for the prayers before the meal], the haMotzi [prayer over the bread] was said and we immediately began to sing Shabbos songs, sad

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moving melodies. My mother, may she rest in peace, secretly wiped her eyes and quietly murmured: God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. The words flowed with such melancholy; a plea to God for mercy for the family and for all of the Jewish people was heard, that the incoming week should be a healthy one and with income. Her lips only whispered, no voice was heard. Therefore, her tears flowed quietly over her face and hands.

My father came back from Maariv [evening prayers] He poured the glasses of wine for Havdalah [ceremony concluding Shabbos]. The Hine el Yeshuati [Behold, God is my salvation] sounded quieter than usual. We sang Hamavdil [He who separates] after Havdalah.

My father took off his silk caftan and put on his bathrobe. His face was covered with a dark cloud for the entire time. His head bent a little, his eyes turned to the ground, he smoked a cigarette and inhaled. My mother with nervous movements busied herself lighting the lamps. Someone pushed the door and with a clear “Good week, Chaiml, good week, Miriam,” Shmuel Pravda (Fridenberg) came in. He shook his broad, long beard, did not say a word, sat down at the table, moved toward the lead box of tobacco, filled the small [cigarette rolling] machine, took a rolling paper and filled a cigarette. Then he tore off the tobacco that remained on the cigarette, banged it on the table several times, smoked near the Shabbos evening light and inhaled deeply after a smokeless Shabbos day. He was a quiet man, mainly listened to another talk and his only reaction was a downward shake of his head as a sign that he agreed with the other one's talk or from right to left – a sign that he did not [agree]. And in both cases the shake was vigorous, energetic and his impressive beard also shook vigorously. He was an honest man, very truthful, did not tolerate any falseness, any lies. Therefore, he had the nickname Pravda [truth in Russian]. Visiting after him was Liber Brener, a very clever Jew, more than a wise man, a small face with a Mephisto–like beard, a Mephisto–like smile with small sly eyes one of which looked east and the other west and his running, floating gaze looked across, over you, to the side, but never directly and straight in your face as if he was afraid to meet your gaze. He spoke with a smile on his face and with a crooked mouth. His words were cynical and always aimed at someone, not God forbid, to insult someone or to hurt someone, but just to give a jab for his own great pleasure and for the pleasure of everyone around him. He was just the opposite of Reb Shmuel Pravda; he entered with a satisfied, laughing face, said a loud, “Good week, Reb Chaiml, good week, Miriam, good week, Reb Shmuel!” And he sat down at the table. He did not smoke – he immediately began to tell stories, usually about the village, of his trips during the week through the villages, of the male and female peasants, their bastards, about his transactions with them. [He] listed many names of villages and tens of names of gentiles with whom he traded. He knew the most

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intimate details of their lives. He told with exact [details] about the constant struggle that he had to carry on against the Jewish competitors who wanted to snatch away his little bit of goods, grains and sweets.

And this he said: “I discussed the matter with Picze from Komorów, that God willing, I would come very early on Thursday and take the wheat from him. I woke up at two in the morning, hitched up Spayard and drove to Komorów. I knocked on every shutter and waited. Nothing. I knocked again – a little harder – quiet. I knocked even harder. Something moved inside. Picze came out. He asked [in Polish], “What do you want, Liber?” I looked at him and my heart beat quickly.

– What do you mean what do I want? Have you forgotten that I have to take the wheat today? That Amo had agreed upon it with us? – I was shouting.

– Do not shout, you will awaken my household – he answered quietly – Judka will take the wheat. He is a more honest Jew than you. He gave an entire zloty more per measure than you.

– Is this proper for you to do, Panie [Mr.] Picze? You do such a thing? You have deceived me. You had agreed with me and you sold the same goods again to Judka?

– And you are permitted to deceive me? – Everything was boiling in me. However, it was not the gentile's fault, but Judka, may his name be erased. He can expect the devil from me. Thus I thought and I will keep my word.

– He gave a zloty more, but he will cheat you with five zlotes along the way. I know him well. Come in to the room and we will reweigh [the wheat]; you will see yourself. He did not want to go, but he went, took a candle and entered the room. The sacks stood full of aromatic wheat. I grabbed a sack, placed it on the scale, put a foot underneath and lowered the trigger of the scale. The scale sprang up, 110 kilos instead of 100.

– See, Panie Picze, that I am correct?

– The gentile asked, And you want to take the sacks at 110 kilos?

– Yes, of course! I answered. I will even lose money, but let someone else – never!

Throughout Liber's story, my father sat with his head down and his head sunk even further. However, when he began to bestow curses, he shook his head as if wanting to reject an ugly thing. He moved his hand nervously, indicating that he should stop his story. Reb Shmuel Pravda roared angrily. You have to bring out your stories for the first Selikhos? You chose [this] time to curse a Jew!” Meanwhile, other Jews came in; these were our customary Shabbos night visitors: wheat traders who traveled through the villages, bought

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sweets and provided them for us. They came Shabbos night to settle accounts for the entire week. Acquaintances also came to visit for a conversation along with a glass of tea.

Everyone took a place around the table. The Mameshi [mother] served tea with snacks. They sat, talked, sipped the tea and ate the cookies. And in the middle they smoked a cigarette. The Mameshi constantly poured tea as soon as someone had emptied his glass. What did they talk about? They usually lamented that era's sinning world. About the young people who had entirely left the road that God had commanded. It is any wonder then that there are such calamities here? That there is no income and the gentiles want to tear out the last bite of bread from their mouths, that almost no beard is seen, also no sheitl [wig worn be pious woman] and, we should not mention this, [no use of] a mikvah [ritual bath] – so how is this a wonder [that they were being persecuted]?

Yitzhak Zalcberg, the jajczaz (egg seller), spread his hands and said with his quiet, but penetrating voice: “Go to the market, you will see what is happening outside. Young men with girls walk together without shame, a disgrace.” Reb Shmuel Pravda said: And we are better? Are we the same as our fathers?

We managed to leave the completely packed room that was filled with thick cigarette smoke. In the street I breathed deeper. At line A–B[1] at the market I met all of my comrades: Moniek Kocengold, Shimkha Zibenberg, Wolf Bladi and so on. They stood and exchanged gossip. I wanted to walk, not stand. Moniek left with me to march around the market. We spoke about literature and art. Our pace became faster, more impulsive. We forgot the entire world around us. We became more deeply involved in our conversation. The moon shown and covered the houses, the trees, the strollers with a muffled, intimate light. We floated to a higher world; we were torn away from the earth. Suddenly we stopped. We looked around. The young men continued to stroll. Young girls passing by threw thirsty looks at us. We retuned to earth. We were young. Our blood flowed in our veins. We sent passionate glances accompanied by suitable words – Selikhos with its crying and prayer was forgotten. Life goes on! Yet I instinctively looked at the city clock. It was already 11. My parents would be aggravated. I quickly went home and quietly entered the house. Because I wanted to do so more quietly, I imagined that the door had never scraped as loud as this time. The group already had dispersed. I took a few steps and got entangled in a chair and it fell. My father gave me an angry glance and said:

– Of course, if one, long may he live, comes late, is it a surprise?

I felt strong regret.

We began to prepare for Selikhos. There was a solemn mood in the emptiness of the house. The Mameshi rearranged her sheitl [wig worn by pious women]. Her eyes

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expressed complete optimism and goodness. She prayed with her soul, without words, and asked for mercy. Her eyes seemed to be covered by fog; these were the tears that she had tried to hold in. She searched the holiday prayer book and the woman's prayer book and the will of God for what to say and for what to ask. The Tateshi [father], his forehead wrinkled, put on his silk kaftan with the gartl [belt made of strings worn during prayer to separate the upper and lower parts of a man's body]. Meanwhile, he thought. A person needs to look inside himself, in his own heart, in the sense: “And purify our hearts to serve You in truth.” One must purify his own heart so that he can reach the true level and be worthy and to attain the true taste of repentance and, thinking this, he already felt elevated. The clouds that had covered his forehead for the entire evening left; his look became clear.

– Children, we have to go to Selikhos – his voice rang quietly, solemnly. The Mameshi could not control herself. The tears were stronger than her will. –

There already was a considerable crowd in the synagogue. The entire synagogue was brightly lit. The light covered everyone's face with a holiness and solemnity. This time it was another light, as if it had flowed and come from other worlds. And this created a holy, serious mood. The Jews, rested after Shabbos and dressed in their Shabbos clothing, talked among themselves with half muffled voices, as if afraid to disturb the holy atmosphere of the synagogue. –

The synagogue filled. All of the seats were taken. The passageways were full of worshippers. Young and old, several generations. The same for the women's synagogue [section]. A buzz as if from a beehive was heard from above. –

Twelve [o'clock] neared. Shmuel Khazan [the cantor], or Shmuel Szenker, already had come from the mikvah [ritual bathhouse] with his hair washed, with wet peyes [side curls]. [He] entered the synagogue with quick steps, with his large booted feet, his face in concentration, his eyes nervously squeezed together and did not see what was happening around him. Yosl Shamas [the sexton], or Yosl Shuster [the shoemaker], with his two–meter [6 foot 5 inches] height, stood and waited at the reading desk. Shmuel Khazan went to the cantor's reading desk and began to put on his talis [prayer shawl] and with open eyes looked at his assistants, the “choir,” the Rozenkranc brothers, Kalman Shuster's sons. Yosl the Shamas banged the table. He said something with his toothless mouth. It was supposed to be: “A beautiful silence during prayer.” But a strange roar came out. It became so quiet that the flying of a bird could be heard. It even became quiet in the woman's synagogue. The women prepared their handkerchiefs, ready for the struggle [with their tears]. As soon as Shmuel Khazan began to prayer, they would turn to the Master of the Universe; they would attack with so many tears and pleas that He would have no other recourse and would have to provide a good year. What then – would they let [a bad year happen]? They would be quiet? And Shmuel Khazan did immediately begin his Yisgadal v'yiskadash [Magnified and sanctified… the opening words of Kaddish – the mourner's prayer] with feeling and fervor, like an electrical storm had gone

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through the fully packed synagogue. The congregation moved like a cradle; a shout came out of everyone's mouth. Voices, high and still higher carried from their hearts straight to heaven. Shmuel Khazan had to wait until the congregation calmed itself to be able to end the prayer: “Oh, the soul is Yours and the body is Your handiwork” – so alas what is a person? So, forgive us, God, and [do not punish us] with suffering. “May God save us.” Shmuel Khazan prayed with great rapture and religious ecstasy. His feet did not stay on the ground; his body moved from left to right and his hands were not still for a second. He brought new melodies of his own composition to the first Selikhos [prayers of repentance recited before Rosh Hashanah] and the congregation prayed heartily, with feeling and with tears like a river that flows downstream with noise and like a storm, without interruption, until little by little the storm was quieted. The congregation groaned deeply and a smile appeared on their faces. The first battle had ended and they were sure of a victory. Things would be good! The One in heaven would take pity on them and give them a good year. The congregation dispersed with this good feeling.

In the morning: a Sunday like every Sunday of the year. The shops were closed; it was quiet and calm in the street. The gajes [gentiles] were in the Catholic Church, in the “tumah” [pejorative word for church, also meaning impure]. Groups of Jews, the so–called “shtekelekh Yidn” [Jews with canes or walking sticks] were in the streets walking back and forth.[2] They told stories or jokes and waited for their clients to leave the Catholic Church. The wild clang of a bell was heard at 12 o'clock. All at once, dozens of bells, coarse baritones, middle–altos and very thin sopranos, each alone, poured out their sounds into the void. And with the flood of ringing bells that filled the hearts of the Jews, particularly the Jewish children, with fear, a flood of people began to leave the Catholic Church. Hundreds and thousands of peasants in their peasant clothing that gleamed with dozens of colors, bright, shouting men in their long white [hooded] smocks – the sukmanes – of coarse wool with wide, brown leather belts. The women [were] in very wide, colorful dresses sewn with encircling colorful ribbons. The shops threw open their doors and windows. The village gentiles and their wives and children began to buy. A few gentiles from the villages also would come to us to receive payment for sweets they had delivered the previous week, entering, sitting comfortably in the kitchen until it will filled with them. One of them usually asked: How are you? And a conversation began to develop about real, political themes, mainly about wars. Meanwhile, my father brought in a bottle of whisky and small glasses, poured, offered it and my mother carried in cookies and snacks. Each [emptied] the small glass right into his throat and took a cookie. Thus a half–hour passed. My father sighed after their departure: “Even on the holy days of Selikhos [s [prayers of repentance recited before Rosh Hashanah] we have to

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to deal with the gentiles who come immediately from church. Everything for a livelihood! We are still in exile.”

And thus passed the days of Selikhos. During the day, ordinarily, there was the chase after income. At night in the synagogue and in the morning awakening from the best sleep, springing from a warm bed, rapidly and tremblingly they threw on their clothes and walked in the cool night through the dark streets to the synagogue.

Erev Rosh Hashanah [the eve of the New Year] arrived. Our hearts were full of expectation. People's heads were bent deeper in humility. The children tried not to laugh too loud and not to fool around too much. A cloud covered every face. My mother and sisters were busy in the kitchen. [They] busied themselves, cleaned, washed and prepared the traditional foods. {They] cooked carrots, worked so that there would be a fish head for each male, a fruit for Shekheyonu.[3] My mother, as usual, hurried and rushed us not to be late. Fear of the Day of Judgment was recognizable in all of her movements. All of the rooms were cleaned by nightfall; all of the foods were cooked, all of the children had had their hair washed and were dressed for the holiday. Everything was ready to welcome the distinguished and holy guest: the arriving New Year. It was solemn and earnest; it was not only a New Year that was coming, it also was the Day of Judgment!

My mother dressed in white, began to bless the candles. She lit the candles and all of the candlesticks and simultaneously the tears ran from her eyes. Everyone stood around the table and watched intently. A holy quiet reigned. We heard the candles tremble until they flared up. The candles did not look like simple candles this time, but like holy creatures, souls that shine with a secret flame. The Mameshi [mother] spread her hands and covered her eyes with them. The candles whispered quietly and through her fingers, quickly and quietly, flowed her tears, many, many tears, warm, erev Rosh Hashanah tears from a real, sincere Jewish mother. We all stood quietly and cried with her. We went to pray; at the door our father turned around and wished: You all should pray for a good year! Tears rang in his voice. It was clear, bright in the synagogue. There was a short pause after Minkhah [afternoon prayers]. The congregation heartfully recited the prayer [in Hebrew], “May the old year with its ordeals end and the new year with its blessings begin.” And finally, may the old year with its ordeals end and may the New Year with its blessing begin. We began the Maariv [evening prayers]. We prayed with heart [in Hebrew]. “(O God) cast your fear upon” – God, cast your fear on all of your creations, and rule over the entire world – [in Hebrew] “King, You alone [rule] over the entire world and let there be an end to all suffering!” – And let cruelty dissipate like smoke.

Having finished praying, they exchanged best wishes. There was a tumult, a clamor, everyone pushed and stuck out their hands: A good year and may you be inscribed [in the Book of Life]! A good year Reb Chaiml, Moshe, Shlomoh! Health, income and pleasure from the children! The children should be freed from gentile hands! They wished for everything, for every possible and impossible blessing. They entered the house with a wide “Gut yom–tov!” [good holiday] and again wished the Mameshi and

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one a good year and may you be inscribed [in the Book of Life]. We made the Kiddush [blessing over wine] loudly and solemnly. We sat down for the meal. My father loved to give his opinion of the holiday foods. Mainly, he praised the carrots and, perhaps for the thousandth time, said that in Karlsbad a doctor told him that if the peasant knew how much health is stuffed into each carrot, he would ask for 100 a piece. The cheerful mood that had reigned over the eating changed at the blessing [at the end of the meal]. They said the blessing with religious fervor; then their eyes began to stick together [from their tears]. The earlier tears, then the fat meal and wine had an effect. The children fell asleep at the table. The Tateshi [father] sat studying Mishnius [Oral Torah] – the Rosh Hashanah tractate. Despite being tired, the Mameshi sat and listened to my father's studying. –

In the morning, the Mameshi woke up everyone. The congregation in the synagogue recited Psalms before the prayers. Mordekhai Mulsztajn began the blessing and recited verses from the Book of Psalms. Yisroel–Dovid the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] called out HaMeylekh [The King] with heart and feeling and prayed Shakharis [morning prayers]. His sons, Elimelekh and Rafael, helped him and he prayed as the women had specified; it broke their hearts. “V'yeasu kulam agudah akhat” [“May we bound together in one bond”] – and everyone should be bound together – he asked in his falsetto voice. “La'asot ritzonkha b'levav shalem” [“To do the Divine will with a full heart”] – we should do your desire with our whole heart. After reading – a pause. It was a custom that many acquaintances came to us on both days of Rosh Hashanah between Shakharis and Musaf to drink coffee. The Mameshi cooked a large kettle of aromatic coffee for this purpose and served everyone however much one wanted and, in addition, she pleaded again: Drink another glass. The kettle stood on the stove and was warmed. –

The pause ended. The blowing of the shofar [ram's horn]! The congregation hurried and began to run back to the synagogue. A shiver went through the body. The congregation covered their heads with their talisim [prayer shawls]. The Shamas banged the table loudly: Lamnatseysekh [For the song master]! The congregation swayed and sang, enraptured. After the Tkies [blowing of the shofar], Shmuel the Khazan prayed Musaf with fervor, with passion, as was his habit. He sang many new melodies. After praying, there again were good wishes. They returned to the synagogue right after eating to pray Minkhah and for Tashlikh [usually the casting of crumbs, symbolizing one's sins, into running water as a symbol of atonement]. Everyone left for Chasznicer Street to the river. They recited prayers and shook out their pockets. Gentile boys stood opposite them, mocking and ridiculing the Jews and their customs. It was already dark on the way back. One must not sleep on Rosh Hashanah, so the majority of the congregation returned to the synagogue to wait for Maariv. Coming home from Maariv, they again wished Lashanah Tovah, made Kiddush and sat at the table. The mood was not as serious on the second evening, more of a holiday than like the Day of Judgment. After eating, my father went out for a short stroll. As usual there was no moon, and every time he said to me: “See, the moon is hidden because it does not want to be a witness against the Jews. The second day of Rosh Hashanah passed in the same way as the first. However, the ardor and fervor was a little weaker, cooler during the prayers. My mother

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repeated this fact every year during mealtime and, contented, she was covered in tears at the blessing, as support for the weak prayers of the congregation at the synagogue. After eating, my father said that we should not sleep on Rosh Hashanah, but instead of occupying ourselves with foolishness and speaking nonsense, it was better to sleep. But do not commit any transgressions.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were outwardly similar to the rest of the days of the year. People worked. But it was still different. Jews protected themselves from arguing, stopped using curses and the like. “One should not open one's mouth for the devil.” Even the teachers hit and cursed their kheder–yinglekh [religious primary school students] less. We would have compassion for one another and, in merit of this, may God have compassion for us. The days were mostly beautiful, bright, sunny. The heat had gone; the weather was warm and mild. It affected the mood and gave a person a moral lesson: it had just been the burning summer and now cool winds had been blowing. Everything in the world was ephemeral! Therefore, people reflected and did as much repentance as they could!

The congregation really did try to repent in their thoughts with prayers and also with deeds. They gave charity generously and with desire. Various Jews appeared with unknown faces, with long beards and peyes [side curls]. They entered with serious faces, loaded with various pamphlets with letters of recommendation, displaying their goods with a certain pride. They had [the goods] to sell! These were the pamphlets from various Yeshivus [religious secondary schools], societies, such as Hakhnoses Kalah [assistance for poor brides], and others. The goods were in demand then. The Tateshi gave to everyone, but it did not conceal a certain worry on his face. Every evening he would say to my mother: “God protect us from the evil eye, I separated myself [from them] as the Vistula [River] does from the entire world, and however much one gives they want more. Go and tell everyone that these are difficult times. Will they believe me? They think I am a rich man.”

My mother consoled him: “Do not worry. Is what you give yours? One does not become poor from giving. God will send more.

– Yes, it is easy for you to say, [ignoring] everyday promissory notes and payments. There are worries about everything.

There were Jews who were lively and joyful as they were the rest of the year despite the 10 days [between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur]. When they entered, it became cheerful for the children. They were offered something [to eat]. Someone spoke. For a small glass of whisky they told beautiful stories and sang a cheerful song. My mother was not happy. – [They] found time for a foolish song. Yet it was erev [the eve of] Yom Kippur in the world! However, the children had not abandoned [foolish things]… Kalman the shoemaker was such a cheerful type. A Jew in his 80s, but lively, with a smiling face and full of humor. He came in, sat down, and after refreshments, he told stories about his long years of military service with the Russians. He played in a folk orchestra.

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Then he sang the children's favorite song. He sang with a hoarse voice, half Russian, half Polish and broke both languages:

Avram, Avram, Avram, Avram our father
Why do you not walk, why do you not fight, why, Pan [master or mister], do you not ask [to get us out of military service]?
Headquarters called us
Headquarters [sent] us
To where? Our country!

Finally, the song [turned to] Yitzhak and to Yakov Avinu [our father]. And he told a story woven with a song about Reb Ruvin Ber. The Jew was a respected businessman in the shtetl and a learned man. In his later years, sad to say, he became impoverished. For the lack of a choice, he bought a horse and a wagon, hired a young gentile boy who carried passengers from the train, from Charsznica to Miechow and supported himself with this. On the cold, frosty Shabbosim [Sabbaths], on the short days, it was necessary to leave a little before night to be there for the arrival of the train. The gentile boy was too lazy. It was warm for him in his boss's room. He could not just tell the gentile boy to go. It was Shabbos! But night was arriving and it was getting late. The gentile boy stood near the oven and warmed himself. The frost burned – but one had to earn a few groshn for oneself, for the gentile boy and mainly for the income provider, for the horse. It already was past Minkhah at Ruwin Ber's; he washed for the third Shabbos meal and instead of the Shabbos song Bnei Heikhala [The Sons of the Palace], he sang a song to the gentile boy in peasant Polish so that he [the boy] would understand what he (Ruwin] was talking about:

Kiedy Antek mandri bal
Tabi konia zapszangal
Na Stacie bi paiechal
Pare groszy i zarabial
Prędzej, prędzej ba puczna da paczangu.[4]

And in Yiddish it is:

If Antek would have had sense
He would have harnessed the horse
He would have gone to the station
And earned a few groshn.
Quicker, quicker, because it is late to go to the train.

We children laughed heartily at the story of the song. The time now came for [reading] letters with good wishes. These were not messages printed with three words that had been printed in advance years ago; they were letters that flowed right from the heart, from relatives, acquaintances, in–laws, usually short as opposed to detailed, with

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details about the worries and joys of the children who lived in various cities in Poland. Sometimes a postscript from a grandchild also appeared in a letter. My father would sit peacefully to read the letter, put on his glasses and comfortably read it aloud. My mother and the younger children listened. These were intimate letters, warm, with stories about various trivialities of daily life, but for us everything was interesting, real and spoke to the heart. Each letter ended with a request that my parents should [take a] few days and come to them and see the new grandchild who had entered the world, how beautifully it was developing. My mother, as usual, wiped her eyes. My father said to her – “Why are you crying, Miriam? Praise God that we have pleasure and we have good news from afar. Do you remember what I would say when the children were small? When we are old, if we live, I will not [be able to] take off the silk jacket with the satin hat. Here one child will invite me to a bris [ritual circumcision], a second to an engagement, a wedding. See, it is beginning to come true.”

Then they began to answer all the letters from the children with many details, with devotion, with motherly sincerity and fatherly thoroughness. [He] gave advice and instructions. [He] thought over every inquiry with his brain and heart and answered. No tears fell. It was erev Yom Kippur and what could be better at such a moment than a warm blessing from parents?

A separate chapter in my home was the best kind. How alive the radiant faces of my parents appear before my eyes when they did someone a favor and not just during the ten days of repentance but every day of the year. They were even ready at night to help everyone with an interest–free loan, a donation, advice, an intercession with the Jewish community where my father was a parnes [elected member of the community council] as well as with the head of the community where my father was a councilman (I think). Arbitration between spoiled partners – the trials took place at our home with force and cursing, conflicts between married couples for dozens of important and unimportant reasons. Mostly, the wives were victims of maltreatment by their heartless husbands. My father almost always decided for the women in the conflicts between husband and wife. He would say that she was the weaker one [and] needed to be supported. Even when the woman was not completely correct. Mainly, [he] tried to make peace between the couple. When he achieved this, he concluded by adding some strong words to the man!

I still remember my early childhood. This was in Tsarist times. My father was young then, full of courage, mature, carried on a great deal of foreign business, possessed a large mill and an estate. [He] was an eminent man and a community worker. And people sneaked past my eyes like a dream, deep, bizarre, detached, with a deep fear in their eyes. [On] dark,

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moonless nights, they came to us through the kitchen entrance. Many times – young women carrying tiny children in their arms. I later learned who they were, namely, he Jews were preparing to escape to Krakow, which then belonged to Austria. They were persecuted at the Tsarist–Austrian border. The path of the unfortunate ones led them into our house. They were given help. My father, as councilman in the city hall, issued false passports (they were called przepustkas) with false names, on his personal responsibility, and the Jews were sent to Krakow. There they were beyond every danger and could travel to work. My father hired a smuggler of renown, paid him and he [the smuggler] smuggled the person over to the Austrian side. My mother, wringing her hands, would beg my father: “Chaim, you are causing misfortune. Have mercy on your small children.” My father considered this for a moment: It was hopeless; after a short deliberation, he said, “We must have mercy on them, they are Jews.” My mother did not let it go, “And I and the children and you?” But it did not help at all. Telling them to go would have meant sending them back right into the mouth of the animal and the joy in the house was great when the agreed to sign was received that they had crossed the border and had successfully arrived. Eh, documents? Money? Such Chaim Lewits, Jews with warm hearts, who also cared, also were in Krakow. When we boys were grown up, our house was a meeting place for the young, mainly for the students and more advanced young people. Door and gate always stood open. Whoever left his home without a designated purpose came to us. He met someone here, a conversation started. They forgot when they came, why and when they needed to go home. Sometimes they went out for a stroll. During the day they went to Kamadower Road. Everything here was green and smelled of the freshness of a meadow, with rich earth, wheat and field flowers. It was a splendid landscape. We absorbed the amazing aroma of the singing and swaying around us and carried on discussions. What was there that we did not wrangle about and debate? About Kellerman's book that had just been published or about Ernberg who had just then written his anti–communist creations, or about other writers, looked all over for ideals, mainly those that were close to our own ideals. Everything interested us, every new idea, every new political direction and painting, art, philosophy grabbed us.

A well of memories bubbles up in me. My heart is full; in my head is a desire to share it all. My desire is mirrored here, although in a small amount – the atmosphere that then reigned in our home and in thousands, thousands of Jewish houses in Poland 25–30 years before the annihilation.

I turn to the Ten Days of Repentance. We kept preparing for the real Day of Judgment.

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The heart was enveloped in a stronger fear on erev Yom Kippur: we had to stand before a court. We took part in malkos [the symbolic flagellation on the eve of Yom Kippur], we lay on the steps of the synagogue altar and the Shamas counted 39 small blows with a rod, counting up three times the verse Vehu Rakhum [He, the merciful one].

The women in the family were busy in the kitchen. They had so much to prepare. Two meals for today, erev Yom Kippur, and for the children who did not fast in the morning, and for the evening for the entire family after the fast they made kreplakh [small dumplings usually filled with meat]. I shaped them; this was my most beloved work.

We sat for the first meal. We ate quietly, without conversation. There was a nervous mood, a mood of waiting. After eating, my father went to the mikhvah [ritual bath], a cold [water] mikhvah. I loved to go along, without heat was without sweat. We soaped ourselves and poured buckets of cold water over ourselves – a delight!

After the mikhvah we went to the synagogue for Minkhah. Poor men of all kinds and all sorts of the world's cripples stood arranged in front of the synagogue and they demanded donations with pleas, crying, insolence, prayers and curses. This was the moment and they had to make use of it and all means were legitimate. In the synagogue the mood was one of half holy place and half market. Jews busily ran back and forth, exchanged money, borrowed, ran up to the dozens of plates, kayres [plates at the synagogue entrance for contributions on the eve of Yom Kippur] – for all kinds of charity institutions, for private people. shamosim [sextons] and among all of them, the plate for the community in Eretz–Yisroel – without an end. It was hard to put together a minyon [10 men required for prayer] for Minkhah. With the Minkhah prayers we were entering Yom Kippur. At the end of Shemoneh Esrei [18 benedictions recited three times a day], we recited al khet [Yom Kippur prayer of confession of one's sins]. People hit their hearts with enthusiasm and began the first Yom Kippur tears.

My mother, as usual, hurried and was afraid that she would be late, although there still was time. We sat at the table for the second meal. My mother pleaded: “Eat children, it is a mitzvah [commandment, more commonly translated as good deed] to eat today. The food today is counted as fasting.” My mother ate very little and her mood was soaked in tears. Before the blessing after eating, we said that we should be permitted to drink right after the blessing. We recited the blessing and after the blessing we drank black coffee – a means so that we would not be thirsty at night – and my mother stood reciting the blessing on the candles. She recited the blessing enraptured, with the entire fervor of a deeply believing soul. Her tears quietly flowed; she prayed with ardor and poured out her heart to God and pleaded for her children and grandchildren, for her husband and for the Jewish people. This lasted a considerable time. The children stood in awe and waited, like one waits for the Khazan leading the collective prayer, for him to end the prayer. My father already was dressed in his kitl [white, linen robe worn by men on Yom–Kippur] over his silk kaftan and the white yarmulke [skull cap] on his head. When my mother finished lighting the candles, my father began to bless the children. One after the other approached, my father laid

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his hands on the children's heads and whispered, “May you be like [Ephraim and Menashe]”… and his eyes became full of tears.

Everyone was ready to go to pray. Here Jews began to arrive with good wishes. Even before the blessing, Uncle Yekutiel arrived; [he was] my mother's brother, a tall and broad Jew with a pair of large and wide hands that rose in the air like a pair of oars. At the same time he turned on his seat with such power that we always thought he had broken it. He sat at the table for a while, said: “May it happen!” He stuck his giant hand in my father's and said in a coarse voice: “So, may you have a good year, G'mar Hatima Tova [May you be sealed in the Book of Life], a gut yom–tov [a good holiday]!” And he left. Then Yarme Blum, my mother's nephew, a short one, came in, came in with quick steps, his head a bit forward. On his face, a sort of doubtful cry, doubtful laugh; he went immediately to my father, said, “Uncle Chaiml! May you have a healthy year, Aunt Miriam! Have a good year.” More relatives and acquaintances came. Everyone gave quick, good wishes and everyone left for the synagogue. Walked and gave good wishes.

The synagogue was almost full. Everyone in kitlen [white, linen robes worn by men on Yom–Kippur], white yarmulkes, talisim [prayer shawls] – everything white, even socks. On the synagogue altar and on the windows stood long and small boxes filled with sand and stuck with burning memorial candles. They gave off an eerie luster, holy and secretive, something not of this world. The majority already were reciting the confessional prayer, not reciting, but crying out and moaning it deeply, singing with great fervor. They saw and felt as if the soul were squirming in great sorrow and regretted the sins they had done; [they] made a spiritual appraisal, a calculation of their body and limbs and the pain in the body and pain in the soul that was in the body! Then they asked one another for forgiveness for insults, for dishonest business, for each sin. There were Jews who cried in asking for forgiveness from someone. He must forgive him so that God would forgive him. – Yosl the Shamas [sexton] banged sharply on the table. Quiet. The respected ones in the synagogue went up to the Ark, taking out the Torah scrolls from the Ark, circled the reading platform with slow steps and the first one said and repeated the verse: “Light is sown for the righteous and for the upright of heart, gladness.” The Ark remained open until they returned. Shmuel the Khazan and the choirboys stood at the lectern. They began to sing the Kol Nidre [Aramaic prayer recited preceeding the Yom Kippur eve service]. A suffocating cry went across the congregation. An echoing lament was heard from the women's section. Shmuel the Khazan sang louder and louder. The men sang in an undertone with the same notes, each in his own way. And all of the voices blended together and created a powerful shout to heaven. There were not only pleas for mercy, but also shouts of pain from a tortured and persecuted people, a protest against constant insults and humiliations, for suffering, pains. Everything found an expression in these shouts and cries, the entire embitteredness

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of the tortured souls in the past and of the fear for the future. After Kol Nidre, everything was silent: Maariv was prayed more quietly, more calmly. After the silent Shemoneh Esrei [recitation of the 18 blessings], the Khazan [cantor] again presented his melodies for the liturgical poems. He created a fresh march for the Yeyles [Yom Kippur prayer – “Shall ascend”] and sang Ki Hinei [Behold] with courage with his choirboys. Then Ki Hinei Kakhomer Beyad Hayotzeir [“As clay in the hand of a potter”] crying and touchingly – Thus we are in Your hands, God, make of us whatever you wish. After Maariv, they wished each other a good year. Some went home, but most remained to recite Shir HaYikhud [Song of Unity], a long poem in stanzas that is especially dedicated to sing of the greatness, the powerfulness, the beauty and goodness of the Creator of the world. The mood at the crescendo of saying this was mild, excited, elevated. They did not ask for mercy, they did not lament about hardships. They sang a song of praise, an ode to the Creator – and why should they, too, not be elevated – when He is our Ruler? It was a mild, tender mood, an idyll between a couple, between the Creator of the World and his people, Israel.

After Shir HaYikhud my father went home. My mother was waiting, sitting and smiling comfortably. Her eyes were still damp from her tears, but she felt like a victor after a struggle, although the struggle had not yet ended, but she was sure of final victory. He is still a merciful and gracious God.

In the morning, we again had to appear for the attack. We strode again. My mother hurried: “Children, time does not stand still.” Everyone was in the synagogue. They again shouted, pleaded, said prayers of confession while beating their chests and the women's section with their weapon: a well of tears. And it flowed to heaven in self–accusation: we have sinned with eating, with drinking, sinned in watching, in walking, in speaking and with what [did we not sin]? But You, God, remember that we are weak creatures. We have come from the earth and to the earth we will return. We risk our lives for a piece of bread, we are compared to a shadow that disappears, to a dream that flies away and to a wind that blows.

Time moved slowly. Heads hurt from hunger, the eyes from tears. Small bottles of smelling salts appeared in the synagogue. One sniffed such a bottle; there was a strong twist in the nose and one woke up. The fathers told the small children to go home to eat. Although they were very hungry, they did not want to give in, but to strengthen themselves, and remain for a little while longer in the synagogue. They wanted to show that they already were big and would fast an entire day! Although they themselves did not believe this, they dreamed of the heroism with which they would have been able to boast to all of their friends. And with what pride they would have come home in the evening and sat at the table with all of the adults to “have breakfast” after the difficult fast! However, little by little they all went home and returned [to the synagogue] sated, but unsatisfied with their own weakness, disappointed.

It already was after the reading; they were praying Musaf [additional prayers for Shabbos and holidays], the spoken Shemoneh Esrei. The congregation

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proceeded with the greatest determination; we began to say Unsane–toykef [“Let us speak of the awesomeness…”]. We were hungry, we were thirsty, but who felt weak? Unsane–toykef flowed so that the walls shook; the day was frightening and terrifying; how could we calm ourselves when the angels in heaven were trembling and a fear enveloped them when the quiet call, “Here is the Day of Judgment!” was heard? Everything was being judged there, all living creatures: who would live and who would die; who in fire and who in water. But repentance, prayer and charity could save a person from the grave decree… Shadows began to appear in the synagogue. The candles lit for the dead began to tremble and flare and added a fear and otherworldly strangeness. The congregation sat weakened. Minkhah. My father prayed at the lectern. [He had a] claim on it. He said that every year before Minkhah he felt very weak, but when he went to the lectern, he felt an influx of fresh strength over his entire body – Neilah [the concluding Yom Kippur prayer]! The congregation woke up. They prepared with renewed strength. The last phase of the journey. They must obtain a good year through prayer!

Yisgadal! {Glorified – the first word of the Kaddish prayer, in Aramaic.] Everyone jumped up from his seat; the special Neilah melody awoke and demanded its due: strengthen and gird your loins! The silent Shemoneh Esrei was transformed little by little into a shout – thus the quiet prayer flowed stronger and more powerful with rapture, fervor and loud shouts. They said the spoken Shemoneh Esrei, the congregation stood on their feet and thundered: [in Hebrew] “Open the gate for us now when the gates are closing!” Open, God, the gates of prayer, of mercy and grace; open them wide, before you close them. And thus continued the encounter without a break, without interruption, with tears, shouts and pleas, until the tekiah [the longest sound made by a shofar or ram's horn] and the Divine Presence departed. Hurrying through the Maariv [evening prayers] they again gave each other good wishes; they already had prayed for a good year, but were not yet home! They recited the blessing for the new moon! Finished, having reveled under the moon, they rushed home.

The table already was set with all kinds of good things. My mother had run home and prepared everything: wine, preserves, butter cookies and other baked goods. The coffee already was placed on the oven and was cooking and waiting for those fasting. They made Havdalah [prayer recited ending Shabbosim and holidays] and sat to have a quick snack; the hot coffee and baked goods smelled good. They had a little to eat and went out to the sukkah [booth or tabernacle, a temporary structure in which the meals for the Sukkos holiday – the Feast of Tabernacles – are eaten]. Even after such a fast! They hammered in a peg. They sat back down at the table. My mother's face beamed. They spoke about the problems of the past day, cheerful, in an elevated mood. Who had fainted; who had to leave right in the middle of praying because of weakness; about the Bale–Tefilus [readers of prayers on holidays] and their praying. This occurred at the close of every Yom Kippur. My mother, the great intercessor for the Jewish people, talking about Yom Kippur, always cried, saying: Looking down from the women's synagogue [section] one sees from above the Jews, all wrapped in talisim [prayer shawls], kitlen [white, linen robes worn by men on Yom–Kippur], white yarmulkes [skullcaps], standing in hunger and thirst, praying, crying and shouting. They look like angels. Could another people want to and do so, besides Jews? And why should not the Master of the Universe finally take pity on us and

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redeem us from bitter exile? And why should there not be an end to our troubles? Why is He silent and for what is He waiting? – thus she argued with the Master of the Universe after every Yom–Kippur.

Thus were the Days of Awe for us and thus was celebrated the holy Yom Kippur that is exclusively and particularly for our people. The Yidishkeit [Jewish way of life] was not only a way of life, a form. It was a deep feeling, a holy flame that burned and warmed hearts and souls, flared up in a giant fire when the moment was suitable or drew in, but always smoldered and never was extinguished.

All of this no longer exists. A bloody flood erased everything. May these words, written with longing, sorrow and anger, be a bit of a matzevah [headstone] for that which has disappeared.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Line A–B refers to the designation of buildings about the perimeter of the market. Return
  2. A man should not carry a cane or walking stick on the Sabbath under Jewish religious law. Shtekelekh Yidn were more assimilated and did so. Return
  3. Shekheyonu is a blessing recited at each major holiday when tasting a fruit for the first time in the season in which the holiday falls. Return
  4. The above is a transliteration from Yiddish of the song's broken, error–filled Polish lyrics.Return


Memories from Before the First World War

by Chaim Zalcberg

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

As was related by the esteemed elders of the shtetl [town], the first Jews in the 1870's were the following: 1) Naftali Hertsl Zalcberg, 2) Mendl Kurland, 3) Kupczik, 4) Lewit, 5) Bunem Fajgenbaum, 6) Milsztajn, 7) Moshe Josef Wejl, 8) Ruwin the watchmaker, 9) Mekhl Bornsztajn, 10) Yoal Zalcman. At that time there was no kohen [member of the priestly class] and when a kohen was needed he was brought from Kshoynzh [Ksiaz Wielki], where there was an old Jewish community. It should be understood that the kohen was brought on the holidays, when the priestly blessing was needed and he received his meals and a place to sleep from one of the Jews in Miechow.

There was a pogrom in Miechow in 1919 and my father, Naftali Hertsl, was severely wounded in his residence then and he died a week later. The entire shtetl mourned for a long time for this innocent Jew.

There was a district commandant, Arlof, in the earlier years, who was descended from a tsarist family and his line extended to Tsar Nicholai. It happened that this Arlof took the beautification of the shtetl as his purpose, that it would have a European appearance. He ordered that the statue of the Holy Mary, which had stood there for dozens of years, be taken from the market and he arranged to plant trees in all corners of the marketplace. He also decided to pave the remaining area of the market with stones.

The statue of Mary was brought to a special building, which had been built then in a side street, which extended past the small hill, and the Christians and peasants from all of the villages marched in their processions at the time of their holidays.

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In addition, the commandant, Arlof, built a church at the new market that was to serve as a gathering place for the Pravoslavna [Orthodox church] for the entire area.

Over many years Reb Natan Borensztajn, Reb Yitzhak Zalcberg, Reb Chaim Lewit, Reb Avrahamthse Fridrich, Reb Avraham Sercacz [and] Reb Moshe Olszewski were well–known members of the community council.

The author left Miechow in 1913 and emigrated to America. After the rise of the land [of Israel], he settled in Israel.

 

mie079.jpg
Miechow – general view from the northwest

 

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