Translations by Pamela Russ
Local speech and life and celebration and laughter and worries and teasing each other at home and in the street, in the shtiebel [informal synagogue], in the Study Hall, theater, alone, in public for all the time Pultusk existed.
A city is as personal as a living individual: Only he does things that way and no on else; only he lives and laughs that way and no one else; only he laughs and cries that way and no one else. He can imitate or mimic strangers, but his personal joy or worry is his alone to work through in his own way. No one can take his place.
Parties, or for example charity or financial institutions can be their own in all corners of the world, but levels, style, soul cannot be the same.
Whoever senses nuances can immediately grasp in the place of speech, talk or gestures, which are like fine music of a specific instrument which person from which area or city was speaking in such and such a manner, laughing in such and such a manner, was joking in such and such a manner, cried and complained, especially when the cry and joke and complaint came from the same well: the person. He, the resident, is connected to his hometown or region as a child is to a mother's breast. His place of birth shines out from him with body and soul, with all its landscape, streets and deeply rooted homes.
He reveals himself and his place of origin through thousands of mannerisms.
Through all these above-mentioned forms of expression, the resident transmits his soul and personality of this city, which is not less personal than the body itself.
Noach Prilutzki, in his book of collections Folklore and Cultural History (1912), presents a large list of nicknames for various cities in Poland.
About our town Pultusk, there were the following nicknames:
Pultusk Converts (under number 704). This was an added name because of a certain scribe who converted. He really should have the Hebrew words Ma tovu… [How goodly are your tents] etched out on the church over there.
Pultusk Lawyers (705).
Pultusk Animals (706).
Pultusk Shoemakers left off (707).
Among the youth of the Poalei Tziyon and the youth of the Bund and Reds, discussions were always ongoing. Each wanted to show that only his youth and his party were the right ones. Very often it would be that one or another was convinced about the justice of his opponent. It happened that a Poalei Tziyon youth once changed the mind of a comrade from the Youth Bund Future.
Yes, but the Hebrew name of Poalei Tziyon smells of bourgeoisie, even when you are striving for Palestine the Bund Youth cannot assume that upon itself.
But does the program itself please you?
Yes, I am all right with the program but the mindset of the Poalei Tziyon shocks me.
You know what, says the young Poalei Tziyonist, I have a solution for you. Become a Poalei Tziyonist without a head…
They owned one of the large blocks of houses in Pultusk. But the charity collectors already knew that there was no point in approaching them.
It happened once that a poor man was lost at exactly lunch time. When he received a negative reply [to his request for money], he asked at least for a bit of food.
Today I have not yet had anything in my mouth either, replied the matron of the house.
He left, and in a few minutes he returned. He put a piece of black bread and some herring on the table.
Take and eat, matron of the house. Sadly, you have not yet had anything in your mouth today… And he left.
The medic from Janowa Moshe Chaim Visznia no one in town knew his name, and no one ever called him by his right name in the First World War he became a resident of Pultusk.
In town, he was a total doctor. He wrote prescriptions, actually made correct diagnoses, and in the pharmacies, they accepted his written cures as if from a licensed doctor. Where he learned the field of medicine, only one God in heaven knew. In Janowa, they say, other than a medic, he was also a teacher and even a watchmaker.
With time, his reputation as a good healer spread even into the Christian courts, and among the actual Christian doctors themselves.
The city knew to tell of his successes during those German times of the epidemics, how he healed the sick crowds of people so they did not have to be hospitalized according to the German requirements of that time, since the trip back home from the hospital was very unsure.
This is a story they tell. There was a certain priest in Janowa, a great hater of Jews, and he took pleasure in rousing the Christian residents against the Jews. Imagine what kind of trickery [trouble] he used to cause. The initiative to create a Spoldzielnia (cooperative) against the Jewish merchants was also one of his anti-Semitic games.
He suddenly became sick with a difficult illness and no doctor was able to help him, until one of the Christian doctors advised him to go see the medic from Janowa. Without any other option, he gathered his courage and the medic from Janowa actually cured him…
From that time on, the priest threw off his anti-Semitic nonsense and repented, becoming a new believer. From then on the priest defended the Jews and protected them from any anti-Semitic incidents.
This is what happened to the evil priest a good angel.
There was a Jew in Pultusk, who evidently was not called by his real name, and was a person of comfortable earnings, but appeared to be a pauper, as stingy as possible, and always eager to have the other person's things.
Once, they played a trick on him to teach him a lesson.
Other than his regular activities, the correct ones, he would also raise a few chickens, geese, etc., so that it should be a little exciting in the court, and more so, in his pocket …
One day, this Jew met with another Jew who was of the same character, and since they were Jewish, and also chassidim from the same shtiebel, one suggested to the other that the following Shabbath evening, he should make a melave malka [festive meal after the conclusion of Shabbath] in his home, and who do you think was the one who suggested this our Jew, yes, the stingy Korach [rebellious leader against Moses, reference to the Book of Numbers], himself.
And since our Jew, other than his indescribable stinginess, absolutely loved the meal idea, the other Jew found out from him [our first Jew] that a piece of goose meat was always so absolutely delicious for him, that he was going out of his mind to have that…
The second Jew took the suggestion, but with an edge that immediately put a lightening bolt in his head…
During the melave malka, that was celebrated with excitement in the second Jew's house, our first Jew so eagerly actually swallowed and chewed up in both cheeks the succulent …
… portion of goose that they gave him, so that the large porcelain plate trembled in his hand. The other chassidim who were part of the festive meal, chuckled with laughter at this. Our Jew was eating from his own goose which the second Jew had, the night before, snuck out from our Jew's barn. When our Jew later returned to his own barn, he smacked his head, as to why one goose was missing…
A Pultusk young man, who already a long time back became part of the perverse culture, would nonetheless still, from time to time, appear in the Study Hall and catch up with some prayers (on Yom Kippur or on a memorial day for a deceased), as if there was still a Jewish spark burning inside him. Once, when he had already removed his tallis, after completing his prayers, he stuffed it into his tallis bag under his jacket, and that's how he went into the street.
A religious Jew who happened to notice him, carefully commented to him:
What's wrong? Are you ashamed of your tallis? But you are a Jew!
No, I am ashamed for my tallis, he replied on the spot.
Just to Have a Little Fun
Rachtshe, the butcher's wife, when they married her off still as a young girl, not even twelve years old yet, suddenly, on the day after the wedding, she threw off the traditional head covering and ran outside. When they made her aware of what she had done [with the head covering], she said that all she wanted was to go play with the girls in the courtyard.
A Son Is a Cholent [bean stew]
and a Daughter Is a Broth
This is a familiar phrase from Rachtshe the butcher's wife, that circulated around town.
She explained this as a phrase she used to choose fine yeshiva boys as matches for her daughters, as such: You can put the fattest kishke [stuffed intestine] and the best pieces of meat into a cholent, but on Shabbath afternoon, when you take it out of the oven, it could be burnt and only a few hard pieces will remain. But a broth, totally depends on what you put into the pot. If you put in a good piece of meat and some fine morsels, then the soup will always be delicious. You can pay a generous tuition amount and get the best teachers for your sons, but that is still no guarantee that they will grow to be Torah scholars. But if you want your daughters to run a real Jewish, chassidic home, then you just have to add good morsels: Take out a fine young man from yeshiva, give him a large dowry and many years of boarding, then the soup will be something special, I guarantee…
Shir Hamaalot [Song of Ascents, Psalm 21,
placed where there is a newborn], by Newborn Girls
Rachtshe used to be quite indifferent when a baby boy was born to one of her children. A new cholent, she used to say, has been born. But when it was a baby girl that was born into the family her eyes really lit up and shone with much joy. She quickly got to work, and distributed candy and boiled chickpeas to the girls in the neighborhood.
Rachtshe Pretends to Be Dead
She prepared burial shrouds for when she would be older, and when no one else was in the house, she would often remove the shrouds from the wooden cupboard, try them on, lie down on the ground, shut one eye, and with the open eye she would look into the mirror at the opposite end, and imagine … that this was not her but someone else, a stranger, a dead person, who was preparing for G-d's day of judgement.
Once, it happened that at that very moment, when she was laying with the death garb on the floor,
… her daughter walked in, stopped, and caught her in the act. The daughter screamed at the mother, asking why she was doing this. You are frightening me, the daughter said to her mother. Rachtshe replied that she was doing this because she wanted to see how she would look in the next world.
When there would be talk about a stingy, wealthy man, Reb Chaim Engelman, a sharp-minded and straightshooter (a son-in-law of the great, wealthy city resident Reb Moshe Shafran, may he rest in peace), would say:
The Talmud refers to a stingy wealthy person in Aramaic as ‘a mouse that lays on gold coins.’ Why would a wealthy person be compared to a mouse?
Because, he said, there are three types of mice. That is: a mouse that crawls into a sack of flour, eats well and sleeps well; if it crawls into a sack of chickpeas, it eats well but does not sleep well; but if it crawls into a sack of golden coins, then it eats badly and sleeps badly.
The lesson learned: A wealthy man who earns a living and also gives money to charity, eats well and sleeps well, having pleasure from his fine acts; if he makes a nice living but does not do anything good, then he eats well but he cannot sleep, he dreams about the stretched out hand that he passed over; but a wealthy person who is stingy both for himself and for the other person sleeps only on his money he not only eats poorly but sleeps badly as well…
Goroshpotkaya a nickname of a Pultusker young man, a member in a youth organization, who, in his young years, did not want to taste the flavor of a cheder [religious elementary school] or a school, so that the letters of a prayer book or an ordinary book remained totally foreign to him for a long time… until suddenly, as if taken over by a strong desire, he took strongly to his studies of reading and writing. It was with a desire that for fifteen years had been dormant and had suddenly awoken with a fire…
Along with the help of the young people [from his youth], whom he approached with great pleading and determination to receive from them some direction with the small, black letters he actually broke the ice with his alphabetism (likely having the intention to grab back the lost years of cheder or school).
Every word that he read, left his mouth with great struggle and comedy. The group laughed at his mistakes and upside down read words, and he would laugh along with them as if from a spoken joke and as if they meant someone else.
The familiar phrase, Call me a fool but give me the opportunities, meaning, laugh as much as you want, but still give me a chance to learn and to know was a phrase that he used in these instances.
This Goroshpotkaya nickname, actually became his due to a misread title of a certain book.
Even though he later knew how to read a book and how to write a letter, this merit of the skill did not cause the nickname to be dropped. It remained with him for the rest of his life.
They tell that in the times of the Haskalah [Enlightenment], and party uprisings on the Jewish street, there were chassidic homes, where war among fathers and sons …
… reached until the heavens. It would very often happen that in chassidic, very religious homes, their children, boys and girls, were connected to all kinds of parties and efforts. In one and the same house, for example, where there were many children, it could have been that each child was connected to a different party and he went his own way. Once, when asked about the situation of his children, who were known in the city, a chassidic Pultusker father replied with humor, which contained a lot of pain:
Yes, I do have children, he answered, but these are not my children.
What does that mean? asked the second person, quite puzzled.
They do not belong to me. One belongs to the Bund, the other to Poalei Tziyon, the third to the communists, the fourth to the Shomer Hatzair, and so on, and so on.
Not one of them belongs to me, the father continued to explain, and then sighed.
Moshe Domb, a great lumber merchant and a biting joker when things went well for him, he conducted his life on a large scale. After that, when the wheel of fortune turned in the other direction, and he was not such a great earner, on Rosh Hashanah during the prayers in the synagogue, he would cry out: Creator of the Universe! Make me a treasurer again. I will know how to manage the money…
Hershel the water carrier (the small Hershele), with the boots, used to put three pairs of soles on top of each other, and smear the boots with tar only in the front, not in the back. Once, when a city resident asked him what was the thinking behind smearing the boots only in the front and not in the back, he answered: For your sake, I do not spend any money if I see in the front that it is enough.
… that Nachum Sokolov's wedding took place in Pultusk and that he took a woman from Makowa, near to Pultusk; that Leibke Klezmer [the musician] played at that wedding, and that Noach Badchan [entertainer, jester] sang for the bride; that behind Makowa Noach Sokolov had an estate [worth fortune of money] by the name of Podesh [sole], and his partners were: Engelman, Avraham Shafran, and Yitzchak Friedland all pure Pultuskers.
He was from Pinsk. One of those refugees who was chased out of his city during the First World War, he settled in Pultusk and then remained settled there (he lived in in the Radzymin shtiebel), so they knew him in town as Mordechai the Pinsker, and this Jew was also a bit of a jester.
In that same courtyard there was Avraham Shafran, a wealthy man, and a poor cobbler also lived there, who sadly did not even have any food to eat.
As it happened, on the same night, Avraham Shafran's wife and the shoemaker's wife each had a baby. Mordechai the Pinsker asked to be shown Shafran's newborn little girl and promised the little baby the following: You are a very smart child. When he was asked how he knew that, since the child was only a few days old, he replied: This is certainly a smart child, since she knew to be born in the home of a wealthy man, not in the home of a poor cobbler.
The Pultuskers would all say the same thing:
Pultusk is different from any other city in three ways:
First, all the other cities are on a mountain, while Pultusk lies in a valley.
Second, everywhere else the Study Hall is in the front, and the mikvah [ritual bath] is in the back, while in Pultusk it is the opposite.
Third, in the entire world, when the rabbi gives a speech, the crowd weeps and the rabbi laughs; here, by us, the crowd laughs and the rabbi weeps…
He was an older, unmarried man. He mingled among the Polish landowners and officials. They called him Moshe Hole, because for everything that he said he always added that this is a hole. He would always boast in front of the city's Jews, when he would stroll through the streets with the mayor [chief administrator of the region]. In town, they would tease him with the words: Moshe, have you spoken to the mayor yet today?
They called him Chay'kel Kurnik. A Jew, strong, tall, and wide as an oak tree. He used to have epileptic incidents. When that happened, it was scary to stand near him. They used to see him standing in the middle of the marketplace with a singletree from a wagon, all bloodied, dishing out beatings to the right and to the left. In that situation, no one was able to calm him down, even the police were afraid to start up with him. At that point, they would summon his wife from their home. She was a small, thin, woman.
When she arrived and said: Chay'kel, come home, the big man would throw away the singletree, and as a schoolboy, he followed her home.
Henoch Melamed was the best teacher in town. He was an old, worn out, Russian soldier. He was a great scholar. He would always bemoan: I have to struggle with these kinds of boors and hardly have anything to eat, and Moshe Yekel Shteinberg is wandering around the confectionary, patting his beard, and filling up a complete bag of golden coins. When he found out that a Pultusk student left for an hour to learn how to write, he would say to him, in these words: Do you have to learn how to write this nonsense? And if a Pultusker wealthy person does not know how to write, does that mean he is not a wealthy person? You take a bookkeeper for a few pennies and he writes it for you!
Itche Shafran, the owner of a house that bordered three streets: Rinek, Shv. Yanska, and Piotr Skragi, he was also a chassidic Jew with a respectable beard and was quite wealthy, because in those Tzarist times, they valued him at a total of 100,000 ruble.
Itche Chacham, as the town called him, because of his jokes and clever words, was also a chassid, but a man burdened with many children, and in great [financial] need, as he stretched out his daily earnings. He, Heaven forbid, never complained, accepted everything with a joke, with a smile. On the contrary, he would lift he spirits of other unhappy people. There was always a circle of Jews around him, and they would liven up with his wit, and if by chance once he was able to save up one, but only one ruble, he felt like Rothchild.
Itche Chacham used to pray in the same shtiebel as Itche Shafran. When it was the holiday of Simchas Torah and time for the hakafos [dancing with the Torah scrolls], with hands on the others' shoulders, they would dance together, and Itche Chacham would shout out with great passion: Both of us are earning 100,001 rubles!
Shmuelke Don was a successful merchant. He did his business outside of the Polish borders. His crops and lumber extended to Danzig, east Prussia, deep into Germany and Austria. His stone wall was famous in town. The doors of his house had polished glass, the walls of the corridors and staircases with all kinds of murals and mirrors, on the floors were flowery divans in many different colors. His courtyard led into a field with statues and benches, almost like the Garden of Eden.
Black Moshe worked very hard …
… for his earnings, and in no way did he become successful. Once he actually deprived himself of food and bought a lottery ticket. This time, his luck played well, and he won 5,000 rubles. The town was on wheels [very excited]. They were talking about this everywhere. The subject was that Black Moshe's fate merited him winning this big victory.
Once, in an afternoon, when Shmuelke Don, who was estimated in town to have 200,000 rubles, was sitting on the balcony of his house on May 3rd St., and was comfortably drinking his glass of tea, he saw the Black Moshe walking by. He called out to him, and sat him down on a woven chair, and treated him to a glass of tea and some preserves.
I heard that you have earned a mazal tov, Shmuelke said to the Black Moshe. You won the big prize, they say. May this be with joy, it's not always a bad thing. You've likely won 20,000 rubles, or maybe more?
Black Moshe replied without giving this thought. My dear Reb Shmuelke, we should both earn that which is still missing towards 15,000…
As is known, the people of the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society] were serious whisky drinkers, and primarily drink only 96'ers [i.e., 96% pure grain alcohol], and that, they explained, was because of their profession and type of work.
Once, it happened that one member of the Pultusk Burial Society, a real jester and a pure 96' drinker, became sick with pneumonia and got water on one of the sides [of his lungs]. When his friends came to visit him, he complained that they were guilty of him becoming sick, because of late, they had started to dilute the spirit with water, and when he began to drink, then the water went on his side…
From that time on, they stopped adding water to the spirits, but this was just repeated as hearsay…
A Pultusk man, head of a large house, but not a particularly learned person in the finer points of reading, once poured out his heart to a Pultusk scholar, bemoaned his situation about his wife, whom he wished he could be rid of, and under no circumstances wanted to divorce him, even though she was broken hearted.
And the rabbis were unable to do anything about this. The Pultusk scholar explained to the man that according to religious law, there are two ways one could be rid of a wife: through a divorce or through the death of her husband. When the man asked the scholar what he meant by the death of the husband, since he knew what divorce meant; the scholar answered: It is something that reveals itself with time.
When the Pultusk man heard this, he was filled with joy. If it is not to be a divorce, then let it be the death of the husband, as long as he would get rid of her.
With that explanation, he ran to each of the community people, saying that he would soon be rid of his wife. But later, when he found out the real meaning of the phrase, he became depressed for a while, but he was not upset at the scholar at all, and repeated to himself: Let it stay with the old one.
He would jump off the bridge into the water and swim fully dressed. He kept himself under water for some time.
Every summer, in the month of Tammuz [July], he would lose his mind. He had an amazing memory. He came from a very fine Pultusk family and had a warm nature.
He would wander in the streets all night and sing. They say that his father once went to the Pultusk Rav [chief rabbi],
Reb Simcha'le, with a shout (because of a disagreement that he had with someone claiming that the Rav did not judge the situation properly). For how much longer will you be the Rav in Pultusk? Reb Simcha'le replied that he would have trouble with himself…
My cars! My airplanes! This is what he would shout in the streets when he would become angry.
Bik [bull], Blinder [blind one], Greishel [tripe], Gritchok, Hofos, Hoiker [hunchback], Zhabe [frog], Toiter [dead one], Maskal [Russian soldier], Meshugener [crazy person], Malpe [monkey], Smolik [worker with tar], Parech [steam], Krzhok [bush], Koke, Kishke [intestine], Ketzele [kitten], Keksel, Smolik [works with tar], Parech [steam], Kramtchik [store owner], Shvartzer [black one], Sheina Mareina [pretty girl], Shpitz [edge], Keke.
Boks [box], Blitz [lightning], Dzhotz [old beggar], Ventke [fishing rod], Tchaave [boaster], Cholem nuz [straight nost], Tchetver [a quarter], Nizhe [very smsll], Pareniarz, Pomp, Lo Lonu [not us], Plomb [seal], Dos Kind [the child], Di Yidene [the woman], Moshiach [messiah], Kafer [trunk], Kaptaniazh [captain], Ketz Leigen Eier [cats lay eggs], Tzlop [nickname of chassid], Shchav [sorrel soup], Ponie [mister], Yolushke [little Yoel], Matchek [softy], Poier [peasant], Pyutak [poet], Mazik [painter], Oger [stallion], Komendant [commander], Pulkovnik [colonel], Yavnik [youth], Strazhnik [old man], and so on.
Kop Kop [heady], Megele [idler], Chasidel [small chassid], Rebbetzen [rabbi's wife], Kupke [woman's head scarf], Yorish [inheritor], Meidel [girl], Montik [Monday], Ein un Tzwantzig [twenty-one], Himel Kiker [sky watcher], Katchkele [duckling], Meshugene oifes [crazy birds], Ketzel [kitten], Fishele [little fish], Borsch [beet juice], Kasztan [chestnut], Kezel [little cheese], Zemele [small roll], Ferfele [small farfel], Spudnik [artificial potato], Kvetch [complain], Pika [small rabbit-like], Tchvok [nail], Shkap [walking stick], Shtekele [small stick], Chalele [small challah], Loksh [noodle], Kaiser, Potchtar [mailman], Bokele [he goat], Tzhadekel [old beggar], Boczan [stork], Zombal, Papierosnitchke [cigarette smoker], Kozele [small goat], Nezel [small nose], Hoiker [hunchback], Goy [non-Jew], Kelbas [sausage], Nilo'o, Pitzele [tiny], Bodele, Paluch [stubby finger], Smoluch [toddler], and so on.
||The letters, the lines they cry,
Put on a tallis [prayer shawl] for reading this!
Each of your stones, each street and door,
Is in my blood, inside of me.
I bemoan your sanctified walls,
Your Study Halls, your courtyards.
Your Shabbaths and business weeks,
With their community beadles and sextons.
With your alef bais [Hebrew alphabet] and learned religious schools,
The minyanim [quora of men for prayers] from the small groups and small schools,
All the passionate chassidic shteibels [small, informal shuls],
Every satin and silk touch,
Is in my blood inside of me.
I still carry inside of me the terror of that Shabbath,
You are no longer here, hometown!
The Friday before candle lighting Jews, who announced the imminent
The black-eyed, thick eyebrowed beadle of the Burial Society, who used to,
The songs of prayer of your heartfelt singers and leaders of prayers;
Because to uproot the Nazi-destruction of the Jewish
Pushed to the long painful bridge, the Wyszkower
All this still mourns inside me and grieves
You are no longer here, hometown!
At winter fairs among peasants and horses
Who always thought they fooled Pultusk Jews,
Then rode to the smaller towns all satisfied.
Oh, that satin and silk;
Our father's proud chain, mother's jewelry on her Shabbat dress,
The grandmother who recited the Techina [prayer recited by women] all day long,
And a forehead glancing through the window,
The righteous man who was tied to the Creator,
As if he was always connected to Him,
The delicate balladeer who believed in man so completely
And composed tomorrow's song for him;
Your righteous women who crowned all their years with charity
Discretely righteous women who, in total anonymity,
Upheld the old pride of the respected fallen ones.
Who could have chased off and slaughtered such blood,
Who could have thought of this,
These Christian streets today, which have completely overtaken and
You are no longer here, my hometown.
(In the footsteps of B.V.)
The garden around the county building; here the Nazis forced together all the Pultusk Jews and with cruelty, chased them forever out of their town;
There, in the background, to the right, in the small building, the Jews were stripped naked and beaten, searched, and forced to hand over their possessions, such as: money, gold, jewelry, and so on.
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