Chapter 1.A



To the best of my ability I'll try to look back into the farthest corners of my memory to recall the earliest years of my childhood. As unbelievable as it sounds, I recall I wasn't much more than two years old when we lived, that is my parents, my sister Sheva and I, in my grandparent's, my mother's parent's, Laizer-Bear and Freida-Leah Auerbuch's house on Ostrowiecka street. It was a long low-lying house built from the standard 6 by 12 inch thick timber of which the houses in Shereshev were built.


The wooden floor, because of the age of the house was almost lying on the ground. The floors of the bedrooms, however, were higher than in the rest of the house, thus forming an elevation at the entrance to the bedrooms of some half a dozen inches. I can see myself as a child of no more than two years old sitting on that elevation, with my feet resting on the lower part of the floor singing a children's song about a little room containing a hammer, a metal bowl and other things. I can still hear the melody of a couple lullabies and remember some of the words that my mother sang to me putting me to bed. The first one was a story of a maiden who was forced to marry the king and leave her true love behind. The song was a sad one and more so the melody, which always succeeded in making me sad. The other song was about a young maiden in whose garden was a well to which her lover used to come every evening to get his fill of the cool quenching drink. As a child I took it literally to mean "the cool water".


My mother used to sing to me in Yiddish, it was some years later that I learned that it was a translation from Hebrew, written by the great Hebrew poet Bialik and is known in Hebrew literature under the name "Yesh-Le-Gan".  Still later I realized that the poet didn't refer to the cool water literally.


I also remember a morning before Pesach (Passover.) The garden behind the kitchen window looked neglected. The snow has recently melted exposing the unkempt garden-beds left from the previous fall and the strewn around potato stems. It is too early yet to plow. My grandfather (mother's father) Laizer-Bear put down a large copper boiler on the ground in the middle of the garden, making sure it's not close to the house and elevates the boiler with the help of three stones placed underneath. Carrying two pails at a time he makes a couple of trips to the well filling up the boiler with water. He starts a fire under the boiler and shoves the end of a long metal rod into the fire.


After a long while the water in the boiler starts to bubble. At the same time the end of the metal rod in the fire becomes flaming red. My grandfather with the help of a rug picks up the cooler end of the rod sticking the red-hot other end of the rod into the boiler. The water explodes with a geyser of hissing steam and bubbles furiously. By then there is a circle of neighbors around, each with a bundle of cutlery in their hands, tied together on the same cord, but each utensil separate, a couple of inches apart, like a long gigantic jewels string. My grandfather takes from each of them a string at a time dipping it three times in the boiling water. After the cutlery comes all sorts of other dishes. Several years past before I learned that my grandfather was making kosher for Passover (designated as clean and proper by Jewish dietary law) our and the neighbors cutlery and dishes for Pesach (Passover).


As far as I remember my grandparents (my mothers parents) lived already by then in their other house almost across the street in the house of my mother's grandfather, Nathan-Shepsl Goldfarb, after whom I am named. (As one of my two middle names is Nathan, the other is Aaron.)


Because my father was a war invalid, the Polish government in 1924 gave him a "concession". That is, a permit to run a restaurant in which alcoholic drinks could be served as well a retail sale of unopened bottles of alcoholic drinks. The sale of liquor was under strict government supervision in Poland and whoever had such a permit was assured a reasonable livelihood. Every district had an allocated number of such permits and affixed places, so that one had to accept the permit in the assigned place. My father received his permit valid for a place called "Wierchy" in the district of Volinia, a large village between the towns of Kowel and Kamien-Koszyrsk. The village existed mainly from employment in the two large sawmills there. Thanks to those sawmills many farmers from the surrounding villages found employment in the off-season months.


My father therefore had to move to that village Wierchy. As there were only a handful of Jewish families in that village, my mother preferred to remain with me and my one and a half years older sister Sheva in Shereshev and live with my grandparents, my mother's parents house which was almost across the street from where we lived. The house in which my grandparents lived did not differ much from the one we lived in, just a bit smaller. Behind the house was a shed in which my grandparents kept firewood for the winter and behind it was a stable, which served as a storage place for all kinds of odds and ends. Why it was called a stable I never knew, for my great-grandfather was a tailor by trade and I doubt if he ever had a horse, unless a cow.


That house like the one we lived in, stood back from the street some 20 meters and the space between the house and the street was taken up by a well looked after garden, at which end near the road grew two big maple trees whose leaves in the fall the neighbors used to collect, using them to put under the loaves of bread while they were being baked. A much larger garden extended behind the house, which had a large pear tree at it's left side.


I was three years old when we moved in with my grandparents, my mother's parents. As they had no more use for the house we used to live in, my grandparents sold it. A few months later I got sick with pneumonia. My grandparent's house was an old house that was built in a time when people were more concerned with preserving heat than overhead space, nor was there much concern or belief in the theory of fresh air. As a result there wasn't much air for a three and a half year old boy with a bad case of pneumonia to breathe, and I had just about stopped. In desperation my mother sent for her only brother still in Shereshev (the other two left for the U.S. before the first world war) my uncle Shloime (Solomon) AUERBUCH. He, having come in, immediately noticed the closed air in the house, opened a window and picked me up and he took me over to the opened window and fresh air. His action, at least according to my mother saved my life, for I began to breathe regularly and freely.


That very day a doctor was brought in from the neighboring town, Pruzany, her name was Ola Goldfeine and she immediately suggested that I should be moved to a larger and roomier place. My mother then decided to move to my other grandparents, my father's parents, Yaakov-Kopl and Chinkah Kantorowicz. My grandfather Kopl as he was usually called was the mayor of the Shtetl, a very respectable member of the community of Shereshev and vicinity. Of medium height, broad shouldered with a little protruding stomach, a rosy healthy looking face and a red beard, which, despite his age, showed very few gray hair.


My grandmother Chinkah was a tall slim woman who had absolute authority in the house. Even my grandfather Kopl, accustomed to giving orders, used to submit to all my grandmothers decisions. At least that is how it seemed to me as a child.


My grandparents from my father's side were part of the few rich members of the community. They had a big house on the main street called "Mostowa" (bridge street) because of the bridge crossing the street. Indeed, only four houses down the street was that wooden bridge over the river. Behind the house was a building constructed from the same heavy six inch thick timber that the houses were built of. That building served all kinds of purposes at given times. During the First World War my grandfather kept horses, a wagon and certain farm machinery there. As I found out later my grandfather used to farm during the First World War, having to feed a wife and nine children. Those four years were very lean years in our part of the world. However my grandparents from my fathers side faired much better than those of my mother side, because of the grown-up children like my father and his older brother Shevach, who were both of military age. My father's older brother never returned home after the first world war, buried somewhere in the vast expansions of Russia. My grandparent's other children, although teenagers, could already put in a days work and contribute to the feeding and the survival of the younger members, and that is what they did.


Through all those fifty or more years my grandfather had a hardware store, which gave him a comfortable living. For my time that building behind the house served not only as a wood shed but more importantly as a warehouse for the store.