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[Pages 337-341]

Traditions of Shabbos and Weekdays

by Devorah Grajinski

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Summer. On Friday evenings on the long street of the shtetl there is a crowded movement. It is only the train coming from Warsaw, the last train before candle lighting. People hurry home. Those are the Jewish passengers who are hurrying home, eager to be with their families before darkness arrives and the Shabbos Queen arrives.

Wolomin's Jews lived hurried lives. Rushing was a normal part of their existence. Life in the shtetl was bound up with the big city, Warsaw, which was only nineteen kilometers away. The merchant might travel several times a day, whether with a few zlotys to bring merchandise for his little store or to seek other business. The worker traveled every day to his job, there and back. The students studied in Warsaw, in the gymnasium or the trade schools. Others went to take care of various matters in government offices or institutions whose headquarters were in Warsaw.

In contrast to most Jewish settlements in Poland, Wolomin was a relatively new shtetl, and as a new settlement it grew around and focused on the train station. As time passed, the shtetl spread out, taking up a greater area, and new neighborhoods were formed, though they were settled by non–Jews.

Around the train station, on the long street and in the smaller streets such as Warshavski, Kosczcelne and others was the business district, where the Jewish merchants had established their businesses and shops.

Also to be found there were a few huge factories owned by Jews––the glassworks, the foundry, the factory for iron beds–which employed hundreds of people.

During the week, the area was in tumult and chaos. But on Friday evenings, the tumult quieted. The shops closed, the merchants and workers hurried to be home earlier in order to welcome the coming Shabbos.

From the homes wafted the aromas of cooking fish and other Shabbos delicacies. Through the open windows you could see the sparkling lights of the Shabbos candles, which conveyed that Jewish homes had thrown off the everyday world, the gestures and the tumult of making an income, along with all the weekday worries, and they put on instead their Shabbos comforts, their Shabbos souls, so that over the whole shtetl, covering everyone, floated the special rest of Shabbos.

The Jews of the shtetl kept Shabbos.

“Good Shabbos! Good Shabbos!” the Jews greeted each other.

Good Shabbos greetings filled the summer air like the fluttering of wings from the birds overhead.

Adults and children streamed toward the beis–hamedrash. All the Jews went, tall and short, thin and not–so–thin. They went slowly and quickly, old and young Jews with heads held high, long beards, with large and small deeply–sunk eyes, walking majestically. They were going to pray, and meanwhile they considered God's world.

Then in the beis–hamedrash Jews again wished, “Good Shabbos. Good Shabbos!” Bliss shone from their faces. Their voices mixed together like bees on a blossoming branch. The entrance way opened and closed. More and more Jews arrived, prayed. A mixture of voices like a disorganized choir filled the shul. The atmosphere became heavier. The heat became laden with the odor of God's name. The leader of the prayers stood by the prayer stand, and soon was heard the “Lechu neranena,” and the congregation responded enthusiastically. The contact between silk and fabric of the Shabbos garments rustled like corn stalks in the summer breeze. The Jews prayed, rocked back and forth, some with their heads and shoulders, others with their whole bodies, some silently and some in full voice.

Arriving back at his bright home, the father says a loud “Good Shabbos” and soon he strides across the room, with his hands behind his back, and begins to say “Shalom Aleichem, malachei hashares….” The father says this as though the angels should walk around his house. When he arrives at the wall, he stands still, sticks out both hands, and says, as if he is speaking to the angels, “Go out in peace.” He warmed himself up with the angels. Later he broke up the silence and began to sing “Ayshes chayil mi yimsta,” drawing out every word with his tune. Then he went to the table and poured the wine for Kiddush. The wine cup was a family heirloom, a gift for my parents' wedding. My father closed his eyes and said, “Yom hashishi, vayechulu hashamayim ve'ha'aretz v'chol tsva'am.” He said it word by word. The words filled the stillness with warmth and sanctity.

The children were already impatient, but they listened politely to Father's Kiddush as they sat around the table. My parents ate slowly. Between courses my father sang, “Kol m'kadesh shevi'I k'raui lo.” He sang a Chasidic tune, rocking back and forth as he sang. The house was full of music. Three–quarters of the Shabbos candles were already burnt out. One light began to drip. The wax dripped on the silver candlesticks. The children's faces beamed. We all sat bent over our plates and ate. Finally we sang again, “Menuchah v'simch or laye'hudim.” As the youngsters grew older, they became more impatient. They had no time. They ate quickly and went away, seeking to relieve the spiritual malaise that existed so strongly among Wolomin's young people, especially in the thirties. There were at that time intensive community activities. Some went to gatherings of Zionist organizations, like Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, Betar, Gordonia, and others, where the new type of young Jews were formed with pioneering spirit, where the dream of a Jewish renaissance was woven, of a national rebirth in a Jewish homeland. There they danced the hora and sang songs of national redemption. They could talk about how they would realize their intentions to make aliyah.

Others went to the Beis Yakov School on Leshne Street, in Kershne's house. There they studied and commented on the week's Torah portion . The beautiful Torah stories kindled their youthful imaginations. Calling forth feelings of pride in the glorious past, they awakened strength and hope for a better future.

In the Beis Yakov School many of Wolomin's young women received their traditional education. The organizers were the leaders of Agudas Yisroel: Moyshe Gradszitzki, Yitzchak Shtulman, Yehuda–Leib Baum, Shmuel–Eizik Klatkovski, and others. The teacher who ran the school was Chana Gilevska–Garfinkel, the daughter of the head of the Mir Yeshiva. She lives today in New York. Herself quite observant, she instilled in us a love and devotion to Jewish tradition and Jewish values in all of their aspects. After she left Wolomin, her position was taken by Leah Merzer, the daughter of a Chasidic family in Warsaw. She undertook the job with tremendous devotion, taught the young girls the principles of Jewish ethics, of human dignity. The last teacher was Sarah Borochovitsch from Zhelikhov, a gentle and refined soul. She was young enough that she also became our friend, someone in whom we could confider. Because of the strict educational methods, children also had a strong need for a warm friendship with their teacher. It is no wonder that we felt so close to this teacher, Sarahle. She earned our greatest respect, this beautiful person, and we give honor to our memory of this beloved friend, whose friendship had such an influence on me and on the other girls. Sadly, she shared in the fate of our martyrs.

Awakening the memories of the Beis Yakov School and the later B'nos Agudas Yisroel requires that I recall the students of that time, whose beautiful lives were cut short in their early years by the murderers. I always see before my eyes the honored Dinah Zilberberg, the sweet Fradl Boym, who had such a gorgeous voice; the refined Bluma Schwartz, Chaya Flotkowski, Chana–Golda Shtulman, Leatsche Taub, Rivka Filzman, Rivka Tzirl, and so many others whose names time has erased from my memory.

I should also remember the young people of Agudas Yisroel who made so many contributions to the activities in the Beis Yakov School. The organization of Agudas Yisroel Youth gathered in the modern Talmud Torah in the rebuilt wing of the beis–hamedrash, which people called “Der Binyan” [The Building]. This Talmud Torah was led by Moyshe–Feyvel Shtulman, who had studied for many years in a variety of yeshivas and who excelled thanks to his extraordinary dynamism. Friday nights were also joyous in the Peretz Library. People read, talked, and discussed, or they just spent time there. There also the revolutionaries gathered, those who believed that only a revolution could bring salvation. Observant Jews did not regard the Peretz Library favorably, regretting that their children were infected with enthusiasm for the ideas of socialist justice and brotherhood, for freedom, equality, and our highest ideals, that resonated so strongly among Wolomin's young people.

There were meetings and gatherings where people considered actual problems, and always these evenings were filled with song, with Jewish folksongs, with nostalgia and a hope for a better tomorrow, for a world of righteousness and justice.

Afterwards the young people would go for a walk around the shtetl. In the houses the Shabbos candles were burned down and the streets were slowly enveloped in a serene Shabbos sleep.

[Pages 342-343]


by Miriam Gradjitzki–Feinboym

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Like every shtetl, Wolomin had its own unique types and characters, who stood out for their specialness. One such figure was Zlateh, the wife of Shmuel–Eizik Plotkovski. She was a quiet and pious woman, an exemplar of goodness. She was always occupied, with a large family, eight children and a sick husband. By herself she ran a manufacturing business. When there were no customers, she sat and prayed from her siddur. She always thought about the neediness of the shtetl. She knew in which houses people went hungry and when to bring something to eat.

During the cold days of winter she worried about the women in the surrounding shops, bringing them a glass of hot tea to warm them up, sharing with each a kind word, whether of comfort or encouragement.

Poor people often arrived in the shtetl, and if it happened that there was nowhere for them to sleep or eat, there was always a place for another person at Zlateh's.

Thus it was for the whole week, but when Shabbos came, Zlateh's home was transformed into a tea house. It was the custom in the Jewish shtetls in Poland that on Shabbos a Christian woodsman would come early in the morning to light a fire in the oven, but not every home could afford to light a fire. But in every home they knew they could come to Zlateh for a glass of hot tea.

Please understand, this required boiling many kettles of water, and the water had to be brought from a distance, because people sought a well with the best water. Zlateh's tea was famous throughout the shtetl, because what she did came entirely from the goodness of her heart. Therefore, in the middle of the week people began to anticipate the Shabbos tea. They bought sugar and prepared glasses and cups and tea ingredients.

From early in the morning on Shabbos, people began to come to Zlateh for tea. Many were not satisfied with only one glass. These were passionate tea drinkers who would drink five or more glasses of tea at a time. Zloteh showed everyone great patience, calming down those who had to wait for a place until the earlier arrivals were all drunk out.

People didn't come just to drink a glass of tea at that spot, but they came with teapots to take tea home to their children. At Zlateh's, no one went without tea, and thus it proceeded for all of Shabbos. While others took their Shabbos nap, Zlateh remained on her feet. She had no time to rest while people went in and out, and she did it all with heartfelt warmth, as if every glass of tea that she served gave her great pleasure.

Such was Zlateh.

From her large family, only two daughters remain, Rachel Grossinger, who survived the war in Russia, and Hendl, who hid in a village with a shepherd. Both daughters now live in America.

[Pages 344-345]

Jewish Livelihoods

by Malkeh Grinberg–Yellen

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Between the two world wars, Jews in Wolomin, just like in all the other Yiddish shtetls in Poland, were mostly in business. In the later years, the war against Jewish businesses intensified. In addition to high taxes, a boycott was declared against Jewish businesses, and picketers were sent out. At that time the peasants and the workers liked shopping in Jewish businesses. The newly arrived Christian merchants were stiff, withdrawn, and showed no special courtesy.

The customers simply did not feel comfortable in the Christian businesses. They did not dare to touch any merchandise with their hands. They had to take off their hats, but most of all the prices in the Christian businesses were higher than in the Jewish ones. And they could not haggle. The prices were fixed.

In the Jewish businesses and shops, the Christian customers felt free. They could touch the merchandise as much as they wanted, go back and forth on the prices, get credit, and pay in monthly installments.

The Jewish merchants and shopkeepers were informal, familiar, not distant, took an interest in the private worries of their Christian patrons and understood their problems, their customs, and their habits in buying and business. The Jewish merchants also dealt in local products that the peasants brought to sell in the village.

The shops and stores were fairly primitive, often lacking even doors, so that the merchants used to suffer from the frost and wind during the long winters, and they would warm their frozen hands over firepots.

Such were the poor shops. There were, however, higher class merchants with better appointed stores who conducted business on a larger scale, though their number was small.

Jews in Wolomin were represented in the following professions:

Manufacturing: Shmuel–Eizik Flotkowski, Yoske Laskowski, Shprintze Boym, and others.

Leather and shoe accessories: Mottl Rubenshteyn and Abba Fromm. Shoe manufacturing: Listfogel, Yungerman.

Glassworks and kitchen containers: Mordechai and Chana Grodzhitski. Iron manufacturing: Nisn and Pesse Vagman. Coal storage: Mandberg. Bookseller: Shtatman.

I try as hard as I can to remember more names, but it is not easy. I remember the Radziminski food shops on Warsaw Street, Shmyentanke on Dluga, Shachna, and others whose names I have forgotten

[Pages 346-347]

Our Home–A Fortress of Goodness

by Yisroel Manne

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

I see before me my father, Chaim–Noach Manne, speaking to me his heartfelt and intelligent words. I see this scene constantly before my eyes. He rises from his unknown grave in the ghetto and reminds me of the goodness in the world.

He was down to earth and good not only with his wife, our mother, Chaya–Rachel, for whom he had such great love; with his children–four sons: Moyshe, Yechezkel, Yisroel, and Melechl–and two daughter: Freida and Dvorah–but also with his friends and acquaintances.

He was a great jokester, and there was a lot of laughter when people spoke with him and he shared jokes and witticisms that also contained much wisdom, an understanding of human weakness, and hopes for better times.

In 1930, when the handworkers' union was formed, he became the chairman until it was shut down, and everyone felt that he was a support in hard times.

Poor people who journeyed through Wolomin knew of him. Hungry people came to him with the assurance that he would provide them with something to eat. As a trustee in the “Welcome to Guests” fellowship, he worried about whether they would have a place to lay down their heads and rest from their travels.

I remember “Welcome to Guests” the way people remember emotional things from their childhood years. The office was found in the beis–hamedrash on Leshne Street.

On the upper floor there were two rooms. In one room was a Holy Ark, and a minyan prayed there every Shabbos. In the other room were several beds where every stranger could be an honored guest and could spend a night, or more, without paying.

He always stuck out his neck for others. Just as a year is divided into seasons, so for him it was divided into mitzvos Shabbos and weekday, by day and by night. The hardest were the ones at night, when, God forbid, something happened in the town and one had to run out in all conditions to advise or to help.

His favorite mitzvah was welcoming guests, which he did wholeheartedly, by day or by night. He used to write memos to this or that householder saying that he should take in a guest for Shabbos.

When the Germans burned the beis–hamedrash building, for my father it was a many–sided blow, because in the building were the guest rooms and he could no longer help the poor people who flooded into Wolomin.

I was not in the ghetto. I escaped and experienced Siberian labor camps. When, after the war, I returned to Poland and visited our shtetl, which was ruined and bare, people told me that also in the ghetto my father's house was a gathering place for people to pray, which meant risking their lives.

His fate was bound up with that of Wolomin's Jews, for ever and ever, and his home was always a fortress of goodness.

[Pages 348-350]

Our Glasswork Workers

by Xenia Katz–Manne

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

We were nine children when we were left alone with our mother Rachel because our father had been drafted into the Russian army.

The First World War had broken out.

Our mother tormented herself to feed her nine children, to clothe them and to educate them. She worked beyond her strength in order to pay teachers. When Matthis, Yankel, and Moyshe were young, she sent them to study at the Voldova Yeshiva.

When in Wolomin, as in the other shtetls, a typhus epidemic began to rage, it struck our overworked mother and she died.

We were orphans.

Our father was at the front, and we prayed day and night for his well–being. We hoped and waited for his return.

Meanwhile the older children assumed the roles of parents, cared for the younger ones, made sure that they ate and studied. But it was not long before our youngest brother, Berl, fell victim to typhus. Shortly after him, the oldest sister, Chanah, died. She had been married shortly before and left her husband, Sholem, with a two–year–old daughter, Kailtche. Later she came to live with us.

Later our oldest brother Yankel passed away. He also had a wife and a child.

Six of us remained, without means to live, without supervision, abandoned, lonely.

How I rack my brains trying to reconstruct how and with what powers we six orphans managed to sustain ourselves in such hard times.

But you should know that even in such sad times there were brighter moments of Jewish compassion and sympathy shown by the Jews of Wolomin. They helped us through those difficult times, until our father returned from the army.

The horrors that our father had encountered took a toll on his strength. The changes in him were obvious. He did not fall totally into despair, but the responsibilities of life and for his helpless children wearied him. From being a religious Jew with a beard, he became a “freethinker.”

Our father worked at the Vitrus Glassworks, where he held a position as a “puffer.” He was among the first Jewish workers in the glassworks; and later, when many young Jewish men and women wanted to work in the glassworks, my father did them many favors, helping them get hired and showing them how to excel in the work.

My father's help for these young people had great significance, because the leadership of the glassworks, even the Jews, often did not want to hire Jews, because that often caused antagonism among the Polish workers, and they did not want to cause conflicts. My father's ambition was to show that Jews could be outstanding workers.

My two brothers, Itzik and Sholem, also worked in the glassworks. Their jobs were to take the hot glass to the molds. They were apprentices and became masters. They were the only Jews in this trade, not only in Wolomin but in all of Poland, where at that time Jews were not hired for this difficult industry.

Wolomin was a successful place. Wolomin's Jews, young and middle–aged, had broken through the wall of prejudice not only among the Polish workers but also among the Jewish bosses, the higher–ups. The Jewish workers did not lag behind the Poles. They often surpassed them in their professional knowledge and qualifications.

The Jewish working people in Wolomin did their work conscientiously and with confidence. They conducted themselves with an attitude of reciprocity and courtesy.

In time, professional work also developed in Wolomin. Even the bosses organized a handworkers union.

Eventually the work became a contentious element. From time to time speakers came from Warsaw for readings and lectures. People started reading newspapers, brochures, and books.

The natural surroundings of the shtetl were gorgeous. Thick woods, fields, and a flowing river. Summer arrived, young men went walking with young women, they sang songs, some openly and some secretly so that their parents would not know.

Everywhere the young people were active, ebullient, full of life and energy, deeply convinced that there would be brighter future under the influence of high ideals, along with the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers.

From the distance of the years that have passed, I see these Jews in their full beauty. How much fairness, how much feeling for social justice these young people felt! What a holy sense they had of a fine working life, but it was so horribly cut off!

[Pages 351-352]

Jewish Youth in Heavy Industry

by Yakov Rosenblatt

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In 1927 I arrived in the shtetl of Wolomin, which lay by the train line that led from the Vilna Station in Warsaw. Through Wolomin, which was eighteen kilometers from Warsaw, ran about forty round–trip trains daily, both regular and express. On this line also ran a daily express train to the Soviet border shtetl of Nigarelyana.

Wolomin Jews made daily journeys to Warsaw and back: these were Jewish merchants and workers who either worked in Warsaw or sought work there. Warsaw was to Wolomin like a house was to an attic: one jump and one was in Warsaw, or back in Wolomin.

There were two glass factories in Wolomin: one, “Vitrum,” with its Jewish owner Flanzreich and his lpartner, the apostate Renglevski. There the director was Aharon Hersh Gortnkraut. Later his place was taken by a German. The Vitrum glassworks were always free of Jews. They wanted to hire no Jewish workers. Later on, two Jews came to work there. One, Yerachmiel Zbertchuk, a cousin of the poet, became general overseer and chief sorter of faceted glass. The other, Ephraim Katz, had worked in the warehouse. These two Jews did a lot to pave the way for other Jewish men and women to work in the glassworks. How much more did these two help the Jewish workers in the factory.

Ephraim Katz's two sons, while they were still young, helped to tend the fires in the ovens. They were the only such Jewish workers in the factory: over time, Itzik and Sholem became masters. It was very rare in all of Poland to see Jewish glassworkers in such positions.

Another Jew, Likerman, was overseer over other kinds of glass. In the warehouse worked Zanvel Gortnkraut, the former director's brother. At the iron molds worked Dudtsche Latke with his younger brother, Aharon Latke. The poet worked as a sorter. Both of Katz's daughters also worked in the glassworks. Zashe worked at painting glass, while Zhenia had a number of jobs. My two sisters, Zelda and Dvorah Rosenblatt, along with Malkeh Zitzbank and Beila Demski, worked at wrapping the glass in paper and bags. Beila Fiasetzka worked at a variety of jobs, like shaping the glass. Malkeh Yelyen had earlier worked at fusing glass and later as a sorter. Other workers were Zhenia Asman, several Trosterman sisters, Chaim Veynrib, Hershel and other Jewish workers whose names I cannot remember. Thus Jews entered the Vitrum glassworkds and became a good support for their elders.

There was another glassworks, a cooperative, called Fratza. Only Poles worked there. Two steel plants, one bed factory owned by, I think, Veynman. A Jew was the bookkeeper there. There were also several Jewish workers, among them Moyshe Fostalski. In another steel plant worked Leon Buden. I don't know whether other Jews worked there.

From those days, when Jewish youth from the town and the shtetl had little employment, because even the big Jewish–owned factories did not want to hire Jewish workers, was the achievement of Zbertchuk and Katz noteworthy, for they helped many young men and women from Wolomin at a time when most Jewish young people struggled with making a living and had to travel to neighboring Warsaw to find jobs, which was like splitting the Red Sea.

[Pages 353-357]

My Home Shtetl

by Helle Goldvasser–Budni

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Wolomin was still a small settlement in the midst of woods and swamps that were teeming with all kinds of creatures. The elders of the shtetl used to tell stories and legends about how people lived in earlier times in the surrounding areas, carrying axes out of the fears that threatened them, so that people called the place “Woleh–amin,” which means, “Chase away the fear with axes.”

My grandfather, Mottl Griziak, with his wife and children, was among the first inhabitants of Wolomin. Wolomin at that time bore little resemblance to the Wolomin in which my sisters and I entered the world. Our childhood years passed by in a Wolomin which had grown with time and changed its appearance. There were two glass factories, two iron factories, two tanneries, and many workshops.

The owners and partners in the factories were Jews. All around were large living quarters for the workers. The population in Wolomin grew quickly. A portion of the young people found employment in the established factories.

Among the Jewish population in Wolomin, the greatest majority were handworkers in the old Jewish crafts: shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, brushmakers, tinsmiths, and textile workers.

But there was no lack of poor people in Wolomin's Jewish population. Many Jewish families lacked even bread and potatoes.

The Budni family, Dovid and Rivkah, were also among the first Jewish inhabitants of Wolomin. He had a tailor shop from which he earned a living for his growing family.

In our home, all the holidays were strictly observed, according to tradition and law. Yom Kippur is most deeply etched in my memory. Even today it remains so vividly in my mind, and I cannot free myself from the great terror that befell us in the evening before we went to the Kol Nidrei service. My father wrapped himself in his tallis. ready to go to shul. He called each of his children individually, laid his hands on their heads and blessed them. These were very moving moments, and with loud voices we wished each other a good year.

Later on my parents went with my brothers to shul while we, the girls, stayed at home. We sat by the burning candles and waited, with fear in our hearts, for our parents to return from their prayers.

In general, people in Wolomin took pride in the arrival of the High Holidays, those fearsome and holy days. The preparations were different, more spiritual than those for other holidays, For certain people, the season of trembling and fear began on the fifteenth of Av. Chasidic Jews stayed in their study houses through the night. Already if one parted from someone from another town, he wished him a year sealed for good.

When the month of Elul arrived with its shofar blowing and psalm recitations early every morning in the beis–hamedrash, even we girls felt that the days of self–examination and purification, forgiveness and repentance, good deeds of righteousness and charity had arrived.

It appeared that every day the people of the shtetl became more careful with their words. People spoke more quietly, in more refined ways, and I believe that also in business dealings people behaved in more seemly ways.

The first selichos services began in the middle of the night. Young and old felt it. In the dark streets people made their way to the beis–hamdedrash, and even though I was sleeping at home, it seemed to me that I could hear the voices of those praying dries to the Throne of Glory, begging for themselves and for all Israel.

In my childish heart I could feel the awakening of Erev Rosh Hashanah and when the Jews in the shul recited Psalms and went to visit the cemetery, but the culmination of the season was Erev Yom Kippur.

My pencil is too feeble to record the mood, the drama, and the feelings of Erev Yom Kippur. That mood dominated every year until the Disaster, even when a large part of the Jewish young people became more worldly and some of them had abandoned their faith.

Almost all of the Jews in Wolomin on Erev Yom Kippur were pervaded by that fearful mood. Some people went three times that day to the mikveh, before morning prayers, before afternoon prayers, and after the concluding meal. The women also immersed themselves.

On that day Jews gave charity generously. Several hours before candle–lighting time, the whole Jewish population was dressed for the holiday. The women wore mostly white headscarves or shawls on their heads. Everyone went to neighbors, friends, and acquaintances to wish them a good year, that they might be inscribed for good.

We, the young girls and boys, were affected by the mood of our parents, so that we also asked forgiveness from each other for whatever offenses we might have committed, for angry or incorrect conduct.

From many homes came sounds of lamentation, indications of broken hearts. Jewish mothers lamented the fate that awaited their children and with tears wished for a divine decree..

Children clung to their mothers. Men went through the streets with tear–stained eyes. Even those who did not cry had tears in their voices.

The mood was sincere, holy, and fearful.

With broken hearts, full of fear and trembling for the great day of judgment, people went early to the beis–hamedrash, to the prayer houses and Chasidic prayer houses to say the special prayers and the confession to the Master of Miracles, before the chazzan began Kol Nidrei.

We hear so many tunes and melodies throughout our lives, but no melody is etched so deeply in our memories as the melody of Kol Nidrei.

The melody echoed through the stillness of Wolomin's streets, entered our house, where we, the girls, remained alone by the light of the burning candles. We did not then grasp the meaning and did not understand the sense of the words, but we felt, in this still and deep night, that the melody expressed the prayer of all the Jews in the world, from all places and all generations.

As I write about this small aspect of our home, the memory tugs at me of our grandfather and grandmother, my zayde and bubbe: Mottl and Friveh Griziak, z”l; our parents, Rivkah and Dovid Budni, who were killed in Treblinka, my sister Dara, who was at the war's outbreak the miother of two daughters. With her husband and children, she was killed at Treblinka.

My brother Noach, who was an active member of Gordonia, in 1939 went illegally to Eretz Yisroel. He was a member of the Mishmar–Hasharon Kibbutz. In 1940 he died tragically. He drowned in the Sea of Tiberias. My brother Leon also died suddenly in 1963 in Israel. My aunt Esther and uncle Shoyme and my cousin Darkeh Schultz.

From our large family, the only survivors are the authors of this article: Helle Goldvassero–Budni and Fellah Indershteyn–Budni.

[Page 358]

Noah Bodni's Grave

by Shmuel Zucker

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In the woods at Mishmar-HaSharon
Stands a stone among the stones
Engraved with words in memory of
Young Noah Bondi's bones.

Early on you left your home
To lead the way for those who stayed,
But then the Jordan swallowed you
Before your words could be conveyed.

You dreamed about a clear blue sky
While on your lips was borne
A song of sprouting fields
And flourishing corn.

And then the flowers blossomed
That you sowed with loving care,
But faithfully they wait for you,
Though you can't return from there.

Of your family there is no one left,
No parents, wife, or child,
And your grave in hams, rain, and wind
Is subject to elements wild.

In the woods at Mishmar-HaSharon
Stands a stone among the stones
Engraved with words in memory of
Young Noah Bondi's bones.

[Pages 360-361]

Ulla the Water Porter

by Rachtshe Asch

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Everyone called him The Matchmaker, though no one knew whether in his whole life he had actually arranged a match. People knew that he was extremely poor. Together with his wife and two sons he lived in a dark hole where poverty shrieked from every corner.

Both sons, Shloyme and Ulla, grew up free and wild, showed no fear of their father, were always hungry, and went around in torn clothing.

Their mother used search among old discarded clothing for something for them to wear. She sat with a bowed head and searched, listening while her husband taught us girls how to pray. After a while she would start to hum under her breath one of the prayer tunes.

There was great sadness in that tune, a plea that sent a cry to the Master of the Universe asking why He had forgotten her. I heard her murmur, “People live, they have apartments, enough bread to eat…”

My friend Doveh Budny and I learned to pray with The Matchmaker. When I remember the poverty of his home, I get very sad. In my home I used to lie with open eyes and wonder why people were afflicted with such povetrty.

When Ulla grew up, he became a water porter, carrying water to Jewish homes. When I would see him go by with his pails and mutter to himself–I would think of his mother, how she would sit in a corner of the room where her husband taught girls to pray and she would murmur about people who lived with apartments and enough bread to eat.

[Pages 362-364]

Our Home

by Esther Tayblum–Kornfeld

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

A thousand threads bind me to my home–shtetl Wolomin. My father, Shmuel Tayblum, was the very first of the Tayblums to settle in Wolomin. Right after him came his two brothers, Pinchas and Mendel. All three of the brothers were involved in the wood and building material trade.

Wolomin was still a small settlement with just a small number of Jews. At home I often heard stories about those early years, when the earth was slowly transformed from woods and swamp and started to be arable. Winter corn and spring grains. Houses sprung up in the town and the population grew.

Our family, too, grew. There were fourteen children in our house. I was eight years old when my father died, but his ways of acting are engraved in my memory, our religiously observed Shabboses, the bookish depths with which he approached everything. He was an observant Jew, an Alexander Chasid.

As was the custom among Chasidim, we made early matches for the children. But at my father's death, there were still eight unmarried children. They were still quite young, and it was difficult for my mother to raise them.

What was then a greater joy than for a mother to see her sons studying day and night? “For what,” my mother murmured with a sigh, “for what do I work if not so that my children will be fine Jews, to learn and to walk in God's paths?”

For that, day and night she prayed to God and praised him for His help in raising her children, and as they grew, things became easier for her. She derived so much nachas from them, and she made marriages for all of her children aside from Mina, who was the youngest and still awaited her intended.

Ah, Mama, how well you raised your children. In your quiet glances we could see the emotions in your motherly heart. You felt each child's pains and rejoiced in each child's happiness. For each of us you found the right words to comfort us in difficult times.

Always, dear Mother, you were with us, and your blessings washed over our heads with promises of plenty, with hopes for a life without sorrows.

With your fervent wishes and blessings, it was easier for us to go through life, surviving hard times and hoping for better.

You nourished us with heartfelt prayers when we were little–and when we were grown, as well.

It seems to me even today that I can feel your hand on my forehead when I had a high fever.

Your great worry was that we should, with God's help, be healthy, commit no sins, and always follow the laws of kashruth.

My dear mother, the bloody war put an end to all of your hopes. She was killed, together with her children and grandchildren, together with all of Wolomin's Jews who were sent to Treblinka.

From our large family, from all my brothers and sisters, I alone remain alive so that I may mourn their gruesome deaths.

My brother Moyshe was still a young man when the Second World War broke out. From his earliest years he demonstrated good–heartedness. He never refused to do a kindness or a good deed.

Early on, Moyshe began to think about Eretz Yisroel. He was a thoroughgoing Zionist, and he spent a great deal of money on Zionist causes. He always showed an open hand when it was time to collect money for Keren Hayisd and Keren Kayames.

My mother got great nachas from him. The lumber warehouse that he managed and the business in which he was a partner made him an influential man. In partnership with my brother Itshe he built houses and became like a true father to his sisters, and he always took care that his mother should lack nothing.

My brother Moyshe was fated to be the first victim that the Gestapo arrested in Wolomin. After seizing his business, they came looking for the boss. When they could not find him at home, they took his wife Chana and declared that when Moyshe appeared, they would free her.

Everyone knew that his appearance would not free Chana. The Germans and their deceptions were already well known. But Moyshe could not work at hiding while his wife sat in prison, so he turned himself in to the Gestapo, with only the slightest hope that they would release his wife, the mother of his children.

They immediately sent him to Dachau, to the well–known concentration camp, from which he never returned.

And the Germans never freed his wife Chana.

The two of them were the first victims among the people of Wolomin, already in 1939, even before the ghetto was created.

Already at that time our way of life was beginning to disappear and the way of death began, until it turned into the full catastrophe.

[Page 365]


by Esther Blumenkranz

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Not far from the big city of Warsaw, Wolomin had all the advantages of a shtetl, ringed around by villages, fields, and woods. All sorts of threads bound together the shtetl and the villages. Jews traded with peasants. They went to the villages, and on market days the peasants came to the shtetl with their wagons full of produce and greenery, with hens and ducks, cows and calves.

People were also bound up with Warsaw. There was mutual trade, marriages were made, family and social relationships. Our proximity to Warsaw gave our shtetl a big–city coloring, invigorated the activities of young organizers, who arranged readings and lectures on literary and political topics. People sang and danced and dreamed about a better life, the dream of exile.

With sorrow we remember the pulsing life in our shtetl and always will be carry in our hearts the love of idealism of our youth, the fine qualities of our parents, the great passing on of traditions of our scholars and teachers, the Jewish doctors and dentists who showed such consideration for the poor who became ill.

How wonderful were our older people who carried their age with dignity and love for the young, who showed their elders the traditional Jewish respect and learned from their rich experience. So, too, from their teachers and religious scholars and from everyday Jews whose humanity became apparent as people got to know them and see into their souls.

Unforgettable holy martyrs, your memory will always be engraved in our hearts.

[Pages 366-369]

The Young People of My Shtetl

by M. Fotograf

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

There was a shtetl in Poland called Wolomin with a thousand Jewish souls. The shtetl is now empty of Jews, without a single Jew. There were Jewish streets and alleys that were engraved with their distinctive life, with prayer, with learning, with work, with dreams, with songs, and with the struggle for a more beautiful and better Jewish life.

This was all once–upon–a–time, when Jews in Wolomin worked, traded, built, created, raised new generations, and hoped that better times would come.

Today, after the bitter storm of the Nazi murderers, all hopes are gone, together with the lives, and Wolomin remains without Jews.

Now I write for the Memory Book, which must serve as part of the inscription on the tombstone that we, the living, spread over the whole world, set up for the martyrs of our shtetl; a tombstone for all those Jews who are no more, although the heart will not admit it to be so.

The heart is joined to every heartbeat of those people before they were murdered.

The heart sees the shape of its near and dear, of friend and acquaintance–they are with me everywhere, when I wake and when I dream.

I see those from my early childhood and my early years, in our common dreams and aspirations, among which the first spot was taken by our yearning for a free Jewish homeland.

This was in 1924, when, on my way home from school, I would cross Lifshitz's courtyard, which went between Wilenska Street on one side and Pshechodnia on the other. The Ser, Markovyetzki, Groysband, and other families lived there. On one side was the Polish Folkshule, which was in Anshel Jagoda's house. On the other side were the houses of Shtreich and Bendler.

In this courtyard, the members of Hashomer Hatza'ir used to assemble in their plaid shirts, and I loved to watch them and to hear the commands: attention, forward, and so on. Occasionally they would go out into the town, marching or walking in rows, and we children would be jealous and dream of marching in such a way.

Finally the day came when with great pomp they accepted us into the ranks of the smallest members. Our leader was Tuvia Ratbard, who was, to our eyes, tall and slender, and quite an authority figure.

The middle rank was led by Yosef Shapiro. The top rank, by Leibl Sheynboym. The oldest rank, who did not wear neckerchiefs, was led by Mendel Sheynboym.

We would meet twice a week, and we were so proud of our membership, with marching in straight lines. We also had our own bugler, Yidl Feinerman. On summer evenings he would play a call at Veynman's place. That was a signal for a meeting. It could be heard throughout the town, in the streets: Dluga, Leshne, Ogradave, Koshtshelne. After a while we were required to buy yellow neckerchiefs.

On Lag B'Omer we put on shirts and short pants and went to Radzimin, marching through the streets in four groups. In the first row were the oldest young men with Mendel Sheynboym at their head. He was the leader of the whole group.

Before my eyes, I see, as though they were still living, the members of the first group: Vinagora, Laskovski, Feynerman, Sheynboym, Zammer, and many others whose names I have forgotten.

In the village of Tcharne we stopped for breakfast. We came to Radzimin before noon, gathering at the Rabbi's spot, where the Jewish residents greets us. On the way back to Wolomin, we sang. It was already dark when we marched back into town with torches in our hands, parading down Dluga Street to the Shill–Place and back and back to our starting point in Sheynboym's house.

I remember those times, when Dina Felder managed Hashomer. She organized a celebration, brought a Jewish band from Warsaw, and we marched through the streets and to the woods with blue and white banners to the sound of the band.

Carefree childhood years, filled with study and play, but simultaneously with longing for redemption. As we played soccer, we thought about the future, when we would be pioneers in Eretz Yisroel.

More than once we broke windows and the shammos, Topol, would ask us kindly that we should play elsewhere, where there were no buildings with windows and where we would not disturb the beis–hamedrash students in their studies.

I remember how we once went to Mandelberg's place, where there were stacks of baking supplies that the bakers used. There we organized our games. Once, on a Friday, while we were playing, R. Nechemiah Mandelberg arrived and we fled out of fear, leaving behind the balls we had been playing with.

R. Nechemiah Mandelberg picked them up and called after us: “Children, why are you running? Come and play. No one will do you harm.”

From that time on, that was our usual spot to play football, and R. Nechamiah Mandelberg was our guardian.

Several years passed. There had been an interruption in the activities of Hashomer Hatza'ir. With much effort, we decided to re–establish our organization with a new name: Mlodzi Stroj.

Again we conducted educational activities. After a while, Moyshe Flotkovski, Eliezer Bergazin, Moyshe Veynbrom, Golde Goldvasser, and Shloyme Tabakman, who had led the organization, went to pioneer training camp and younger members took over the leadership.

Several times we had to change our headquarters, going from Benders house near the depot to Tik's house on Agrodova and then to the Lastfogel's on Leshne Street.

We dreamed of making aliyah, but very few fulfilled that dream.

The great war destroyed Jewish life. The young people who survived the Nazi hell escaped to Soviet Siberia, or joined the partisans and are now with us in Israel.

[Pages 370-376]

My Last Day at Home

by Shmuel Zucker

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

It was a rainy day. There were dark clouds in the sky. There were thunder and lightning. It seemed as if nature was reflecting what went on in my mother's heart.

My mother was pale as she walked around the house. She could not stop her tears, which ran from her blue eyes down her sorrowful face. Our glances met silently, quiet glances that spoke more powerfully than words.

The sorrows of my mother's afflicted feelings screamed out from her face, the feelings of a mother at the moment that she loses her child.

I was also sorrowful, because it was difficult to part from my wonderful mother. At that moment I wished that I was once again a little boy falling asleep at the soft tune of my mother's lullabies.

My mother stood next to me, but her look seemed to focus on something far away. She stared into the unknown distances where her child would soon be going.

The house was still. The rain had ceased. Through the heavily laden clouds the sun shone, throwing out cold light, and then it again disappeared, as if it were playing with our emotions, a play of unknown fates. A little light and then darkness, twilight. Soon it would be completely dark. The day would be engulfed by darkest night.

That night, my mother could not sleep. She was searching, going through things and looking to be sure I had not forgotten anything, hoping to find something that I would need on my journey.

For a while she sat in a corner mending a sock or fixing an old garment. I felt my mother's stare, as if she wanted to bring me back and hold me close to her and to our home. She was silent, but I thought I could hear her whispering: “Who, my child, will protect you from stormy winds? Who will awaken at your footsteps? See, the chaos of night and danger–who will take you by the hand so that you do not fall?”

I went to her. I saw the unbounded sorrow in her eyes and the wrinkles on her forehead. For long minutes I stood in awful helplessness, with mixed feelings and a stormy heart. Poor Mama! My dear Mama! How much sorrow she had borne through her whole life. Now, too, I saw how she trembled at my light touch and from soft words:

“Mama, you are tired…Lie down for just a bit…”

The skin on my mother's noble, sorrowful face was as fine as silk. A thought arose in my mind, that I was being cruel by leaving her. I had tremendous pity for her. Oh, how happy I would be if I could take her with me.

Then I realized how senseless were such thoughts. I knew that I was going to Eretz Yisroel, which was not only far away but was not a land of milk and honey: that I would be going through cold and heat and that I was facing difficult days of hunger.

I felt an urge to embrace my mother, to grab onto and hold the waves of love. I was beset by fire, burning tortures–the suffering of my mother, who with great suffering brought me into the world, gave me life, raised me, and now I had to leave her, to go far, far away…

My mother heard me. She lay down on her sofa, with eyes looking at the ceiling. From time to time she cried. Then she sat there, bent over as if her heart would break into little pieces. She spoke haltingly because of her sobs:

“See, my son, I don't know how to hold on to luck…it is all tangled up…always such hardship…why does it desert us?…”

Her words inflicted more pain in my heart. The pain increased, and she could stop neither her words nor her tears.

Then my father awoke. Then my brother and sisters. They sat on their beds listening to my mother's imploring words. Their looks stopped me from responding.

I was so sad. I knew that anything I would say could not relieve my mother's sadness, but their glances tore these words out of me:

“My desire to make aliyah to Eretz Yisroel was not born yesterday. For years I have planned to make aliyah…The days and nights when I was not at home I was helping to prepare myself and others to make aliyah, to lead a new life in our own land, a healthy Jewish life…”

I saw how they all devoured my words, which encouraged me to tell them more about Eretz Yisroel, which for two thousand years lay forlorn and wasted. Jews around the world have not stopped longing for Zion, to rebuild and bring life to the wasted land. From everywhere aliyah was being undertaken, despite the interference of enemies of the Jews, and people were setting an example for how to overcome obstacles. I am one of those who has taught young people about the holiness of Eretz Yisroel. I have clarified for them the great pioneering work that needs to be done in Eretz Yisroel, and every Jew must help in this holy work.

Absorbed in my own enthusiasm, I assured them that when I had settled in I would not forget my dearest ones and I would bring them to Eretz Yisroel.

My mother's face, covered with tears, shone. My dear mother smiled a happy smile. My father got up from his bed, came to me, and hugged and kissed me. Then he turned to my mother and said,

“Rivkah, stop crying. You shouldn't cry. Our Shmuel isn't travelling to the ends of the world. He's going to Eretz Yisroel…You'll see that with God's help he will be a trailblazer, a leader for aliyah.”

It seemed to me that my father had abandoned all his reservations that had earlier disturbed his rest. They were all gone. It was as if he would now assume all the responsibilities of a higher purpose. He soon murmured the prayer, “And our eyes will see your return to Zion…”

Through the cracks in the window shades the dawn began to show. I started to pack furiously and get ready for my trip. My mother had arisen from her bed and followed me with tiny steps, helping me to pack and close my suitcase.

I began to say my farewells to my brothers Moyshe, Yoel, Yisroelik and my sisters Leah and Freida. My father held my hand for a long time and pressed it, trying to give me his strength, his trust. My mother embraced me, kissed me, held me, and caressed me.

It was difficult for me to ask my mother not to accompany me. She understood. I took a last look at the house, at our things. In that moment, everything became dear to me and it was hard to leave.

As I started on my way, I could hardly see where I was going. My eyes were blinded by tears.

At the station, the other young people were waiting, those who were going to be pioneers, with whom I had spent so many years, so many musical evenings, learning with them to have love for Eretz Yisroel and to strive for the actualization of the Zionist ideals.

Soon a song broke out on the platform: “Who will build the Galilee? Who will build…” The song came from the deliriously happy group of young people, who lifted their heads in great ecstasy, danced the hora, and seemed to want to assure me that they would continue on the road that I had showed them.

Finally I boarded the train. On the steps I looked around once again at my friends, and I saw my mother as she stood in the crowd of travelers. She held her hands out to me. They shook in the air, like white birds who try to protect their fledglings from danger.

Years, many years later I write these lines, in moving remembrance of my nearest and dearest.

Where are they now, the souls of my dear parents, my brothers and sisters? Where are the sacred souls of the millions who were gassed and burned, the immortal Jewish martyrs.

The pages of this Yiskor Book accuse, and the accusation falls on all of Poland's bloody earth, on all of it, smeared with generations of Jewish blood and with a world drowned in tears.


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