** Webmaster Note: The following
is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov
as sponsored by George Zilbergeld.
Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).
A LITTLE FROM
during peace time, our family knew spilled blood that afterwards
became a flood of blood.This blood suddenly hung like a red cloud, predicting
evil, in the heavens of our innocent childhood.The event was in 1922.It became clear that we were living among murderers also
during peace time.
And from this it will be understood that the Nazi oppressor
found faithful servants in the lands of his conquest an
abundance of men of violence.
That Became Darkened
Then, I was
a child.It was
springtime, days when everything was awakening to life and
filling itself with pleasant hopes.It was a Thursday.Abba [father] had gone out a
few days earlier to the Dombrowica area on his business as a
cattle trader with my mother's uncle.And here, that evening a strange message reached us
Abba became ill on the road and his condition was very serious.The message was wrapped in mystery and secrecy.The news was brought by Eliyahu from Ostrowiec, who was
known as "Eliyahu der Ostrowiecer," and he received it from the
manager of the post office.Ima [mother] sensed that a
tragedy had occurred.But we did not know of anything confirming this.
entire family, immediately went out on the road.Even I, the little boy, went with them.We travelled in the wagon all night, until we reached
Dombrowica, where my mother's parents lived my grandfather and
grandmother and here, we found out the terrible truth Abba
and my uncle had been murdered in the forest.
took place that same day.I remember that they were covered with sacks and buried
in their clothes, which were soaked with blood.The funeral was large with many participants.The entire city was darkened by the tragedy.Here, we found out details of the murder:it happened in the forest next to the village Slishetz.Four goyim participated in the murder.They attacked them with axes.Abba was murdered on the spot, and my uncle was seriously
to escape and reach Slishetz, a distance of three kilometers.Wounded, he ran until he reached the house of a Jew who
lived in the village.He lived for seven hours longer, until his soul left him.He suffered greatly, and during his bitter struggle
against death, he said:
much more righteous than I am, and that is why he died
immediately and it has been decreed that I will die with great
to tell who the goyim the murderers were, but no
legal steps were taken against them.
home to Vladimirets a bereaved family, and my grandfather, my
father's father, said:
I am old, I am fated to be not only a grandfather, but also a
Saba [Grandfather] fulfilled this position with all
his might and all his soul, and it was as if we were actually
greatly inspired our darkened childhood with his brightness and
There was a
"Tehillim [Psalms] club" in Vladimirets, whose members would
wake up early on the Sabbath and go to the synagogue to recite
wrapped me in his fur, hugged me to his heart and carried me to
the synagogue so that I would have the merit of saying
Kaddish [the prayer for the dead recited by mourners] after
the recital of the Psalms.
was a short man, and his beard was very white.At that time, he was already extremely old, certainly
eighty.He tried to
fulfill the position he took upon himself as best as he could.One of the wonderful things that remain in my memory is
the stories he would tell us.
In spite of
his extreme age, Saba also had
received clay pots from a manufacturer for sale.But they were not sold for money to the goyim,
rather they were exchanged for rye or wheat seeds.I remember
that the goy would fill two pots with wheat, and the
third pot full of seeds he would receive free of charge that
was approximately his method of trade.This method had its own rules, but I do not remember the
children would help our grandfather.He kept the pots in the attic, and we helped him bring
them up there many times.The entire space in the attic was filled with these pots,
and this also had another advantage when it rained, because
the roof of his house leaked a bit, the water would fall into
the pots and did not drip down into the house.
prayed in the synagogue of the Stepan Chassidim, and later he
switched to the large synagogue.On the Sabbath, all of his grandchildren were obligated
to present themselves to him, so that he would see proof that
they all were in synagogue.At first, we came to this "muster" willingly, but over
time we became freer and the matter caused us a certain amount
of bitterness even so, we tried to recompense
with kindness for all of the good he had done for us.
that Saba told us wonderful
stories, and even though it is clear to me that I will not know
how to transmit them with the same charm that his whispering
voice produced, I will nevertheless try to present them.
And here is
one of the stories this happened in those distant days when
Saba was still young so he told us in his quiet voice, with a
special movement of his hands that would actualize and shape his
words, so to speak.
"It was a
dark night, and I was travelling past the cemetery, a place that
always awakened fears and stopped one's breath.And here, no more and no less, I see that a very huge
flock of white doves flew down from the trees in the cemetery,
and the entire flock arranged itself and stood on the road,
until one would not be able to turn either right or left.What should I do?My heart didn't allow me to continue travelling over the
doves, but even if my heart did let me do so, I wouldn't
succeed, because our horses also had apparently become confused
and they suddenly stood still, as if they had turned to stone.I sat in the wagon, looking at the doves and sensing that
they were not ordinary doves.So all that remained for me to do was to recite a holy
verse, the strength of which is always good in an hour of fear
see, what a miracle after I recited the verse, the doves flew
upward, the entire flock as one.They left the road and returned up into the trees from
which they had come down at first.Now, I understood that I had not seen doves, but souls,
that took the images of doves and came down at night in order to
only of white doves, which nevertheless have something endearing
about them his stories of "nisht gut," in other words,
"not good," called "clowns," also activated our imaginations.Now, I remember one of those stories, which also took
place during a journey on the road.In general, the road was a place designed for trouble,
and many dangers lurked there.Indeed, he had something to depend upon for this
attitude; it was as if the murder of Abba and my uncle confirmed
the truth of this assumption.I would therefore hear these things with fear and
trembling, as if it were my life that they were taking.
long journey on the road, and again, a dark night.And within this night, a lone Jew rides in his wagon.This Jew is not someone strange and distant, but it is
Again, it is a story that happened to him.And perhaps it didn't happen to Saba, but originated with somebody else, and it only seems
to me that it happened to him?Either way, it happened at night, near the forest and
as to what happened that night, we all were listening tensely
suddenly, a ram jumped out from between the trees, went up into
the wagon and sat in his lap.And again, as in all of these stories, the horse pulling
the wagon, who always symbolized strength and bravery, was now
as if he were no longer a horse, because his strength and
bravery had been taken from him.He tried to pull the wagon but for nothing.The wagon didn't move.Saba's heart pounded
within him and he was overtaken by a great fear.But nevertheless, he somehow managed to whisper the
wonderful verse, or it was sufficient to say the combination of
words "Shema Yisrael" [Hear, O
Israel] and again, the miracle happened the ram left his seat,
rubbed one foot against another, let out a laugh, and
a short story, but it contains somewhat of a moral.There is no need to explain it; it is apparent in itself.Even I, the little lad, understood it; there is Someone
Who directs what happens in the world.Because if not, the "nisht gut" would rule over
discovered in the world always contains a hint of the scepter
and benevolence everything goes according to the will and
intention of the Director, and therefore pure white doves can
also cause harm and not necessarily a ram with horns who emits
laughter and claps his hooves but there is a benevolent eye
watching, and therefore everything finishes for the good.
thoughts were not only of things regarding Heaven from the
area of mystery and wonders, but also of matters in the area of
establishment of the Zionist youth movements in the town,
activities against them branched out, in other words, the
activities of the anti-Zionists, such as the Communists.Left-wing groups established a separate Yiddish library.The library was located in the house of Uncle Ber
Blizniok, a tall, thin Jew with a pointy beard.Uncle Ber was a religious Jew.His wife was Saba's daughter, in other words, my aunt.They set aside a corner of their small house, which
consisted of only one room, for the library not only as a
library for distributing books, but the tiny house also served
as a "reading hall" all for their oldest son, who was a
was uncomfortable with the library and the "reading hall," and
in general, with the "kichelach" and "mehaknishkes,"
as he called them ["little nothings" and
"stuffed little nothings"].Even more so, he had no satisfaction from his grandson,
who was busy with Communist affairs.So he complained, warning:
telling you that you must throw this library out of the house
because whoever starts reading these books is destined to finish
in the prison of his master."
there were arrests in the town and Uncle Ber's eldest son was
also arrested and was sentenced to eight years in prison.Saba, whose prediction
had come true, found no rest he cried and in the bitterness of
his heart, he told himself:
"I told him
that this would be the end.What difference would it make if he were a Zionist like
the rest of my grandchildren?Woe to me, that my prediction came true."
of Av the fast and the mourning are well recognized in the
o'clock in the afternoon, all work in the town is halted.Trade is stopped; the stores are closed.After the lamentations in the synagogue, everyone would
go to the cemetery, to prostrate themselves on the graves of
family members who had died.The cemetery was ancient; everything we saw there was
cemetery was surrounded by a wooden fence, and it threw fear
over us children.
Saba always warned me that I should be very, very
careful not to walk, G-d forbid, over any graves.In everything there, we saw a transmigration of souls: in
the bushes and their fruit, which we were forbidden to touch or
to eat; and in the tall, lofty trees, which also were exceptions
to ordinary trees and appeared in our eyes as souls that had
transmigrated to become trees everything here was out of the
frame of mind also had a source in Saba's stories, which were always spiced with wondrous and
But that day, the children found their own occupation.These were children who were not sunken into dreams and
visions and had a sense of reality.And so, they found themselves a livelihood they brought
cigarettes to those who were fasting, to revive them and they
received payment afterwards.
was a member of the Burial Society, and he bought himself a
gravesite in the cemetery a place where he would rest in peace
after 120 years
somebody came and told him that they had buried someone in his
on a Saturday night.Saba was very upset by
this news, and he got up and hurried to the cemetery in order to
see with his own eyes whether the rumor was true.One the way, a sled belonging to a goy that was
passing down the street ran into him and he was injured.The goy lifted him into the sled and brought him
home.Saba felt very bad, and he worried that his end had come.He requested that Jews would come into his room, because
he wanted to say the confession.Of those who came in at that time, I mainly remember his
neighbor, Meir Weiner.He was the one who watched over him and sat next to his
flush of freshness came up on Saba's face, and he felt better.He lived on until 1931.Before he died, Savta [Grandmother] said to us, "Gather,
children, and Saba will bless
All of us
gathered together, and he put his hands on each child's head to
his lifetime, he was careful not to be photographed, but before
his death, a picture of him was taken without his knowledge.The photographer was Akiva Roich.All of us stood next to his bed.Suddenly, Savta said:
der Baal-Davar ken nisht tsugaien tsu eit.Dariber feinigt er zich azoy.Geit avek fun eim, kinderlach."["Children, the Angel of Death cannot approach him, that
is why he is suffering so much.Go away from him, children."]
stand at the chapter of my childhood, it is impossible for me
not to bring up here the memory of my dear Aunt Rachel,
Chayale's mother, who was like a second mother to us.She worked hard and acted modestly, with a kind smile on
kindness extended not only to us, but to whoever needed help.Her love for others was a characteristic that influenced
everyone who knew her, Jews and non-Jews alike.
Once, we, a
group of youngsters, walked, singing, down the street.Among the hikers was Chayale.As we walked, we passed the police station.The singing angered the police, and one of them came out
and said:"You are
lucky that Rachel's daughter is with you, because if she wasn't,
I would arrest all of you."
remember the time that Berel Frimer, who came to lecture, was
Rachel made such an effort and ran to Yaakov Eisenberg to tell
him what happened and all with modesty, simplicity and in good
Merit of Perceptions
also very elderly, and if Saba's
strength was in his stories, Savta also had some magic of her
own, but not in stories, rather in spells.There were several charmers in our town, and Savta was
one of them.She
knew how to mutter incantations over a wound, over toothache,
and mainly against the Evil Eye.At night, when all of us were sunken in sleep, we would
suddenly hear knocks on the window.These were not burglars or robbers, but the knocking of a
woman, one of whose children was ill, and she was worried,
because the cause was the Evil Eye.Savta would ask the name of the injured one, and because
she had been awakened from her sleep, she would begin to yawn.That is how I now explain the matter.But Savta had her own explanation.According to her explanation, the interrupted sleep was
not the reason.
Because her yawn was an absolute sign that the Evil Eye was
ruling over the child.And now, after she determined the "reason," she would
begin to mutter an incantation, and when she finished, she would
tell the mother of the child to go home, and that she hoped that
the One Above would send a complete recovery to the child, and
just as the illness had come, so it would suddenly vanish.In the early hours of the morning, it happened that the
woman would come to our house, her mouth filled with a sea of
my dear, I will never forget.You were a rescuing angel for my child.May you be blessed, Goldanya, and may your name be
blessed, because you saved my child."
Savta extended her assistance, not with healing drugs, but with
oral incantations and heartfelt feelings.Why, then, doctors in their white gowns, and for what,
treatments in bottles?
wonderful handicraft, Nissel, the expert in dislocations, worked
in our town without plaster and without bandages.And if Savta's strength was in the incantations she
whispered, Nissel's strength was in the perceptions of his
fingers A child, whose leg had become dislocated and came out
of its socket it was enough for Nissel to feel the place, and
the bone was already back in place.I remember what happened to me.
One day, I
was playing soccer. I made an unusual movement and my leg became
limped toward home, and here was Nissel, the expert, coming
toward me.When he
saw my measured steps, he understood what had happened.He was not satisfied simply by understanding, but he took
the trouble to ask me what had happened:
happened to you, Mr. Jewel?"That was what he was accustomed to call every young lad.
him, and he immediately laid me down on the sidewalk.He directed his fingers, gave a turn here and a turn
there, and what a miracle the dislocation was gone, and my
legs were whole, as if nothing had happened.
wages were not determined according to the seriousness of the
injury, but according to the financial situation of the injured.But most of the time, he was satisfied with a box of
example, from me he took only 10 cigarettes.It was told that once, a woman fell into the well and her
head was turned and became crooked.In that case also, Nissel succeeded in returning her head
to its previous position.
in those days the strength of one's frame of mind was great, and
great was the merit of special perceptions.I remember, for example, an incident that happened to me
with the tailor, Reb Yeshayahu Smola.In matters of tailoring,we were connected to Reb Yeshayahu, and before every
Passover holiday, my mother would bring fabric to him so that he
could make me a suit for the holiday.One day, some time after the fabric had already been
given to the tailor, I came to him for measurements.And how great was my amazement when Reb Yeshayahu
preceded me with his good smile, saying:
there is no need to measure, your suit is already prepared."
"How can it
be prepared," I asked in surprise "You didn't take any
measurements, and how did you know to make it so it will fit
simple, " Yeshayahu answered."Simple, absolutely simple.Because I have a measurement from last year and since I
have a natural eye and I know how much you grew during the year,
I added a bit here and a bit there, in precisely the amount that
you grew.And that
is how I sewed the suit."
I was very
worried about the fate of my suit but this worry vanished
after I tried it on now, I knew that Reb Yeshayahu indeed had
a natural eye, because the suit was an absolutely exact fit.
Kippur, Savta and other women would prepare wax candles for the
the custom of preparing two large candles one, she stood in
the house, for the people who were alive, and one in the
synagogue, in memory of those who had departed.The wicks of the candles were twisted of many thin
threads, and while they were being twisted, there was a
complete, deep silence in the house.This silence was accompanied by sighs that could not be
thread was dedicated to one of the souls of the family.Many women would gather in Savta's house.One of them would read a techina [special prayer]
and weeping rose up from every direction.
A suit was
only one item of the holiday preparations, and each holiday was
different, each holiday with its own character.I loved the character of the Passover holiday very much.These preparations already began on the day after Purim
[a month before Passover].Special bakeries were opened in private homes, and in
these homes they began to make the ovens kosher for baking
matzot and to install all of the necessary equipment.Reb Yehoshua Zhuk, who was known as "Miriam-Devorah's
Yehoshua," had a special habit.He owned a barley mill.Toward Passover, he would make the mill kosher for
grinding wheat for shmura matzo.How much hard work he and his two sons, Sender and Zelig,
invested, so that the mill would be strictly kosher and so that
there would not be found, G-d forbid, any defect, when the
Rabbi, together with the town elders, would come to inspect it
before the grinding began.
was located in the yard of Reb Yehoshua's house.Two horses went back and forth, moving the large wheel.During those days, this was the main motor for operating
The elders of the town would come, each one with his sack of
wheat, to Reb Yehoshua's house, and here, each of them would
wait patiently until it was his turn to grind his wheat.
imagine that they just sat and waited.When the grindstone began to grind the wheat of one of
the Chassidim, the Chassid would hold on to the stones and begin
a Chassidic tune.
Of course, all the rest of the Chassidim would join in after
him.Several of the
elders of the city, whom I would meet at this mill when I came
with Saba to help him grind his wheat, appear in my memory:Reb Zelig Tscherniak, Reb Meir Weiner, Reb Chaim Pinchuk,
and more.When the
grinding was done, they would pour the flour into a white sack,
and the sack would be wrapped in a white sheet.Now, the flour was ready to be baked.
families opened matzo bakeries in their homes.Many of the residents of the town participated in these
bakeries as workers.The jobs were varied.
in the home of Reb Avraham Yaakov Oller, known as "der
staresta," had a special character.All year long, Avraham-Yaakov waited for this day.He was very proud of his operation, and he told those who
came to him to bake their matzot:
like Avraham-Yaakov's you will not find in the entire town,
because you have to know how to prepare a matza oven "
especially praise the one who put the matzot into the oven, who
we called the "sheiber."This was Dov-Ber Blizniok.Dov-Ber was blessed with an important attribute:he was very thin, and the heat of the oven did not affect
turn to bake the matzo of the commandment [to eat matzo at the
Seder] on Passover eve arrived this was the job of the men
was accompanied by the recital of the Hallel prayer, and the men
now filled all of the jobs in the bakery, including kneading the
dough and rolling it out into matzos.
still young lads, but we already were obligated to take care of
ourselves and bear the yoke of earning a living.Our occupation was buying and selling.We would travel and bring merchandise to Dombrowica, and
on the way back we brought tobacco, kerosene and oil.The distance was 40 kilometers.This trip took 10 hours.The main part of the journey was at night, and it was
planned ahead of time, so that we could conduct our purchases
during the day.
where we stayed on our return from Dombrowica was in the village
arrive here at 2 o'clock in the morning.A light knock on the window, and Reb Hershel would get
out of bed, calmly open the door of his house, and receive us
with a loud and hearty "Welcome."I made the trip every week, and each time I would rest
here with other people who travelled with me.Reb Hershel was always cheerful.In the middle of the night, he would make the effort to
prepare a hot drink for us, and he took care of all our needs
was in the village Nebczyk (Nova Ushytsya).The owner of the inn was Reb Yudel of Nebczyk.A stay in his house was free of charge.Reb Yudel regarded the giving of these accommodations as
a commandment, and his wages were not money, only the reward for
doing a commandment.One evening, I arrived in the village at 10 o'clock.Outside, it was cold and rainy the old woman in the
house, when she saw me, expressed a great deal of concern, and
she encouraged me to climb up on the large stove to warm myself.It was customary to keep clay pots of milk on these
stoves, so that they would sour from the heat.Once, when I was lying on this stove, sunk in a deep
sleep because of great weariness, I made some kind of a movement
and bumped into several of these pots.The pots overturned, and the milk was spilled on me.I got down from the stove covered with white, as if I had
been painted with whitewash.But Reb Yudel, who was a Jew with a golden heart, began
to comfort and encourage me.
worry, my dear.My
house is always open to guests and G-d will return double the
amount of milk, in the merit of my hospitality."