Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
When I was still a child, I was drawn to the Fire Brigade when I saw my father taking part in their exercises. I could hardly wait until I was 17, when I was finally accepted as a member in the Fire Brigade (only because I had a lot of pull), and I could don the blue uniform with the red stripes and every Sunday take part in the exercises with the ladders and ropes.
It once happened that on a Monday night a fire broke out on Pashmener Street at Tevye's, the maker of felt boots. He had oxygen that had exploded and fed the flames. We threw ourselves into the work, and with the water from the Kune River we put out the fire. In addition, we were successful in containing the blaze and protecting all the surrounding wooden houses. This made us even prouder.
At that time, fires were not an infrequent occurrence. The bells often rang calling the [town's] population to gather in the courtyard of the firehouse. It sometimes happened that strong winds prevented the sounding of the bells to be heard, and the people did not hear the alarm.
It was only when Zalman Bikson and ________ took over as managers that we organized events [such as] flower days, and took out loans. For the money we [made], we erected sirens and became motorized, [that is] we bought a car and other necessary appliances.
This helped us tremendously. We got rid of the horses that panicked at every fire and trembled as they were harnessed to the [water] barrels, [and even] at the sight of our shiny hats and burning torches. The bell that indicated to all to clear the road for us, caused the horses to become very
fearful, and it was sometimes impossible to prevent them from galloping wildly away.
The Fire Brigade was located on Kaznatseyshter Street (Pilsudskiega). As soon as the siren sounded, the first ones [to arrive] were from Lintuper and Pilsudski Streets: Yoyel (the wigmaker), Vilkomirski, Meyer Shapiro, Bere Leyb Grinfeld, Dovid Kavarski, Lulinski and others. From the marketplace and the synagogue courtyard [came]: Moyshe Hirsh Bushkanyets, Bikson, Yoysef Goron, Leyzer Gordon, Zalman Matskin, Leyb Matskin, Henekh Sorski, Yitskhak Bak, Avram Bak, Menke Gurvitsh, Yankev Kramnik, Dovid Gurvitsh, Gershon Gurvitsh, Alter Kaltun, Dovid Rokhin, Nakhum Rokhin, Vermes, Yankiv Leas, Shayke Liberman, Avram Gurvitsh, Motl Kil and others.
The Fire Fighters of the city
When the war broke out and the Poles were running away, they abandoned everything. We, the fire fighters took over and prevented a pogrom. We took control of the weapons that we found in the police station. We took the caches of whisky and alcohol over to the hospital and kept order until the Red Army arrived.
(From the poem 'Mason Hirsh')
|Gray Sabbath, piously-despondent Elul
Locks threaten iron fists of closed thresholds;
Arms of bars
Spread on shutters, doors:
--In any case, there is nothing to touch! 
Yellow paper with bleeding, calligraphied
Letters on black doors:
These stores for rent
Rubbed out signs,
Tin names of the tattered
Business-trade-swindle scribe that remained
Meat stalls. A red cow looks from the rusted tin [sign]:
Large eyes measured with compasses;
The gentle eyes of a child
The cow holds an ax in its teeth,
[And] smiles sadly to itself
A small sack of flour, a loaf of bread
A black knife sticks out of the middle
A glass of tea, a slice of lemon
Boiled with it
Iron, plow, saw, miter, a pair of oxen
A long stocking, a child's dress with short little sleeves spread out:
Shows a hand
A dressed up dandy:
Black boots for work
Wig-maker, brush and comb in hands held up
Over the swelled [?] head of his client
|The mirror opposite him, a glance behind him!
That is how the wigmaker looks in the mirror
An eagle with a crown; a crooked beak held high
A monopoly; tobacco, cigarettes
Golden letters on black marble: the apothecary;
A green snake wound around a lifted cup thin
Doctor of medicine
A finger points to a yard: a midwife, in there
Dentist from ten to four
The door of the glassed-in porch stands open
Lawyer defends in court. A Jew. A black countenance.
Piles of money pressed into fists. A curse sticks in the heart
Shouts to the neighbor:
Pay the taxes!
Taxes, taxes, taxes contributions!
Public School Culture, Star of David, a palm in the middle
Pioneers. Hora Dance. Scream
A Jewish secular school with 7 grades
(the sign dangling [?] in the wind,
Window panes stained with ink.)
The movie theater. Only plays once a week full
Educational Society fallen in ruins,
Youth progressive, out of pranks
Wind orchestra, hoarse brasses, marches resound
On the Sabbath
The library, dark, quiet.
Books moldy, dusty
Rehearsal: Bergelson's The Bread Mill
Pasterunek, F. F. from flogging on the roof a whip
Electric heavy sobbing, like a goose
High fences, rusted barbed wire
The yellow painted train station:
A small train, like a rat, runs quickly by
Position, gymnasia, seminar,
The fire fighter's tower, like a giant
Lurks with bells sounding in the distance for certain danger
The Magistrate, an emblem with two little fish.
A watch bricked into the lime tower,
Hands, frozen fingers point in black at ten
A small orchard fenced in,
Opposite the white church up high
(The church with a reputation);
|Three little trees. Flowers all mixed up among the weeds.
(The Magistrate plowed up a stretch of the marketplace to make a park.)
The priest's house on church grounds:
White letters scream from the red roof
To the peasants in the marketplace and at the fairs:
Here we drink tea! . .
Here we buy inexpensive bread!
Here we avoid Jews!
A reading room dedicated to Holy Theresa
So that the Lord's word not be forgotten!
Horses unharnessed, sacks of wheat on heads.
Penitents [?] pray opposite the church.
Crows pick at steaming dung on the stones near the park. . .
The people of Sventzian did not write the life stories or biographies of famous Torah scholars and well-known pious rabbis in their burning desire to immortalize the close figures of their town. These are no more than brief life sketches of simple Jews, sincere and honest, whose virtues and comportment were like pieces of heaven on Sventzian land, and that is why they etched themselves so deeply in the memories of the surviving Sventsyaner Jews. They were sharp minded Torah scholars and G-d-fearing religious people, modest mothers and grandmothers. Lively merchants and artisans, old-time musicians and young workers, who sang of spring, of love, and in their Internationale one could hear the weeping of kol-nidre and the longing of the Bney Heykhala. Today, their whole lives would be considered no more than a tale that disappeared. But the yearning for beauty that they carried within themselves and left as a legacy for the survivors will never be silenced. And every indication [is important], even if it is no more than dry dates and [descriptions] of ordinary events recounted in quiet words issued from choking throats hidden deep in a living spring. This is the spring from which the surviving Jews of Sventzian draw their special individuality and the full rivers of longing for Jewish and ever-lasting human beauty. Just as we use wood to feed a fire, the Jews of Sventzian, now scattered to all corners of the world, use the memory of these extinguished and murdered figures to feed the burning fire in their hearts. The beauty of these figures, who are described here, did not derive from gold or silver, not from steel and iron, but from the deep humanity, from warm human actions, [that serve as] examples for future generations.
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