Chapter 3.A



            Among the peculiarities of Shereshev I’ll mention a story of 2 young gypsy brothers who came to settle in Shereshev shortly before World War One.  The older one by a couple of years, Vavrus, and the younger Jan, by the family name of TSHUBREVITCH.  They married local peasant girls and began to raise families.  The small parcels of land they received as dowry fell far short of supporting a family, so they resorted to their traditional trading in horses, which wasn’t always fair or honest.   In fact, they were not particular if the horse was honestly acquired or outright stolen.  It was well known that this kind of horse-dealers could travel a long distance away, steal a horse, bring it home and sell it at a bargain price with the hope that the true owner will never come to these parts of the land and recognize his horse, claim it and send the thief to jail.  It also worked the other way around.  They could steal a horse nearby, take it a far distance away and sell it there.  Of course, the government took precautions against horse stealing.  Each owner of a horse had to have a booklet called “A Horse Passport”, in which the horse was described in every minute detail, so that each horse could be identified, thus creating a black market on horse passports.  The passport of dead horses was useless and did not have to be turned in to the authorities.  If a farmer’s horse died they quite often used to sell the passport to dishonest horse dealers that used to collect them for shady transactions.


The older of the two gypsy brothers had at least a dozen sons.  By my time most of them were grown men.  They, the sons, went in the footsteps of their father.  Because of their numbers the local people feared them.  There was hardly a Sunday when those young gypsies didn’t get together with some farmers, local or from nearby villages, to drink vodka, get drunk, and finish the drinking-bout with a fight.  The gypsies always came out on top, and if they didn’t, they carried the grudge for a long time.  Eventually, a week a month or even 6 months later, they would gang up on that particular peasant or small group of peasants, and beat them up savagely.


The easiest and most effective way to scare or take revenge on a peasant was to set his buildings on fire.  That is, his house, barn and stable.  All farm buildings in our area including the farmhouses were built of wood and had thatched roofs and all it took was one match to set them ablaze.   Due to the nearness of the buildings on the farmsteads, it was a foregone conclusion that if one building caught fire, the rest on the farm would follow suit immediately and most of the time not giving the farmer a chance to save the animals.  To a farmer it was a catastrophe, for none of them could afford insurance.  It was not beyond those gypsies to do it and everyone in the Shtetl and surrounding villages knew it and feared them. 


It happened on a Thursday, on market day, which used to take place on every Mondays and Thursdays, when the patriarch Vavrus was driving through the marketplace sitting in a buggy, pulled by a horse. A farmer recognized this horse, which was stolen from him some months earlier.  By chance, there was a policeman nearby and the farmer alerted him immediately.  When the policeman stopped Vavrus and demanded to see the horse’s passport, Vavrus calmly gave a jerk on the reins, and pulled away.   The policeman, irate, incensed, outraged or shamed, fired, killing Vavrus instantly.  The Shtetl was thrown into confusion.  The market place, the center of the Shtetl, became a place of panic.  The farmers in terror began to harness the horses, leaving town in a hurry.  The storekeepers shut their stores and stands and ran home.  It was only a matter of minutes before Vavrus’s sons found out what happened and in blind rage began looking for the policeman who fired the shot, but who had the good sense to disappear immediately.  They burst into the police station ready to kill.   Not finding him there, they looked for him at home.  Unable to find him, they threatened to set the whole Shtetl on fire.  The remaining 4 policemen felt helpless against the 2 gypsy families who were known criminals and in such a moment were capable of anything.  Having no other recourse, they called for help from the neighboring town of Pruzany.  Within half an hour, over 20 policeman arrived and together with the local ones started arresting the men of the 2 gypsy families.   To understand the fear that people of the region had of the gypsies it will be suffice to point out that despite the fact that there were 3 policeman to every arrested gypsy male, as they were being led in a procession towards the police station, they were followed by the volunteer fire brigade pulling their equipment in case, though in chains, the gypsies could still set fire to some of the houses.


My mother made my sister, Sheva, and me put on our overcoats in case we had to run out of the house.  We were looking out of the drape drawn windows, as they were being led surrounded by a cordon of police.  It was the first time, I saw men in chain and leg irons so it was very scary to a six-year-old boy.  A couple of days later my mother took my sister and me to the town square, where we could still see the blood stains of the killed gypsy.   The end of the story was that after a few days in jail, the gypsies cooled off and returned home to continue their way of life.  The policeman was never again seen in Shereshev, transferred supposedly far away. 


To the gypsy story, I will come back with a few more lines later on.  That very night my father arrived from the village of Wierchy to stay in Shereshev for good, having concluded a deal with a Pole who had a license for a retail sale of liquor in Shereshev in exchange for my father’s license in Wierchy.


          After the Shavuot holidays I was enrolled into the Kindergarten that was under the Hebrew school supervision for the duration of the summer vacations, to prepare me for the first grade Hebrew school.  I attended the kindergarten or “Gan” as it was called in Hebrew six days a week except for Saturdays, 4 hours a day from 8-12 noon. The rest of the days I used to spend between my grandparents AUERBUCH’S house and my uncle Shloime’s.   He, my uncle, was then already in the U.S. having gone there a year earlier. Many of the nights I used to sleep over at my grandparent’s AUERBUCH where in the early morning or in the afternoons I used to watch my grandfather attending the vegetable gardens, both in front and in back of the house.  For me he was opening a new world, which I was seeing for the first time with the eyes of a 6 year old. Vistas I can still remember.


            That summer of 1929 my mother gave birth to my only brother Leibl, whom my father soon after changed to the Russian name of “Liova”.  Weeks before his birth my grandmother Freida-Leah, used to spend a fair amount of time with us, especially when my mother was pregnant, she used to speak with apprehension and concern about the upcoming birth.  It should be mentioned that in those days a birth was a serious event, and complications even death was not uncommon. There was no hospital in Shereshev and the only one to turn to was a midwife. True she looked distinguished and professional. A Polish young woman from western Poland, well spoken and of elegant bearing, yet she did not look like a miracle worker.


At that time my father was still in the village of Wierchy. My mother went into labor. As only the three of us, that is my mother, sister Sheva and I, lived alone in that large rented house, my grandmother Freida-Leah spent all that time with us, not letting my mother out of her sight.  As soon as the labor pain started my grandmother sent a neighbour for the midwife. However before the midwife showed up, my brother was born in front of my grandmother, my sister and me.  I can still recall my feelings of panic as well as marvel, looking at the new life my mother just brought into the world. It is difficult to recall or describe the impressions of a six year old when he sees a newborn little soul that just came out of its mother’s womb.  The little new born baby looked beautiful and came into the world with loud cries as if to say why did you bring me into this world to die so young and so mercilessly. My grandparents called my father who came the next day to Shereshev.


The local Moyel (circumciser), Shmuel TZEMACHOWITCH, who made a living from not only the slaughter of fowl and animals but also by buying up the hides of the animals he slaughtered and selling them to the tanneries and who also performed circumcision on at least a generation of Jewish males in Shereshev, performed the circumcision on my brother and it was there that he gave him the name of “Leibl”.  On the day of circumcision many children from the neighborhood came around, uninvited guests, asking me to bring them out what was then called “Nashary,” that consisted of “Bob”,  (large soft beans). “Nahit”, (a kind of pea), and “Yodern”(a kind of pumpkin kernels).  It made me feel good in the role of a generous giver, particularly in front of the older boys.


The new business was much easier on my father.  No more long hours and catering at times to drunks.  Now it was a regular store from 8 in the morning to 6 in the evening and dealing with a much nicer clientele.  To the store came people who did not want to be seen entering a place frequented by drunks where, at best, the conversation was loud and crude.  They came to us, bought the drink and put it in a bag or pocket and went home.  We, the children, my sister and I were delighted to have our father home every evening.  We did not have to wait for a holiday in order for him to come, nor did we have to undertake an overnight tiring trip to Wierchy for our summer visits with him.   It must have been a treat for him too, for he used to spend a fair amount of time with the 2 of us children. 


My father rented a store on the main street called Mostowa, not far from where we lived.  The store could easily be attended by one person.  If my father had to leave the store for an hour or two, my grandfather, mother’s father, Laizer-Bear, used to stay in the store to help him out, as he was already retired.  My grandfather from my father’s side, Yaakov-Kopel was running his own business, a hardware store.  Besides the store, he held the office of the mayor of the Shtetl.  This office was shared between him and a Christian named SZLYKIEWICZ.  It used to alternate between the two of them every other year. 


One evening, after my father returned to Shereshev he gave my sister and I a stack of receipt booklets which he brought from Wierchy.  The pages were sticky on one side.  My sister and I, not knowing what to do with it, would make designs on the wall with them.   Once we made a pattern of a large house on the wall and my father jokingly said it is as big as the Bet-Hamikdash (The Temple).  We children, not knowing what it meant, asked for an explanation, which turned into a lengthy conversation.   One of us noted the unused sheets had a date of the year 192.....  The conversation turned to the following decades of 193.....194.... until we reached the year 2000.  One of us wondered aloud what it would look like to see a figure 2 and then followed by 3 zeroes.  To this my parents answered that there is no reason why we children should not live to see it.   How wrong they were regarding my sister Sheva, and my then infant brother Laibl, not to mention my 2 later born sisters, Sarah and Lieba.


A few weeks later a son was born to my father’s brother, Joshua and his wife Mushka nee LESZCZYNSKY, who were living in the nearby district Shtetl Pruzany, 18 kilometers away.  My father wanted to attend the circumcision of their first-born child and decided to take me along.  As of recently, a bus owned in partnership by 6 Shereshev community members was commuting between Shereshev and Pruzany 3 times daily.  We took the early one at 7 in the morning for that half an hour trip on the cobblestone road.  That was my first trip on a Shereshev owned bus.  Besides the driver, there was also a conductor whose job it was to sell the tickets, tie down the luggage on the roof of the bus, and help the driver in repairing the flats that used to occur quite often on those rough roads.  The conductor’s name was Moishe SHOCHERMAN, whose name I will mention in an event that took place some years later.


Besides his married brother Joshua, my father had a married sister in Pruzany.  She was the older of the 2 sisters my father had.  Her name was Sheindl (Shainah), she was married to a Laibl PINSKY, who hailed from Shereshev too.  They had 2 children, the older Lisa (Leah), my sister Sheva’s age, and a son Shalom (Sioma), who was born in 1927.  He was a sturdy boy whose destiny wronged him from a very early age.  He was not a year old when the maid left him in his carriage alone for a minute in front of their house.  It happened a group of boys passed by, playfully or mischievously, one of them pushed the carriage, which tipped over throwing the baby on the cement sidewalk, banging his head on it. It took the parents and doctor some time to realize that the baby lost his hearing.  No effort was too great to help him.  The child was seen by the best doctors in Poland and was taken a couple of times to Vienna, at that time considered the center of the medical world.  To no avail, his hearing could not be restored and he remained deaf until the end of his 15 years life span that ended in Auschwitz.   While alive, his impediment was compensated by other virtues.  Like comprehension, natural wisdom, consideration, perception, and physical strength. 


In the fall, I enrolled into the first grade Hebrew school and right away had 3 friends there.  One was Eli AUERBACH, my Uncle Shloime´s youngest son, despite the fact that I was almost a year older than he; we ended up in the same grade being born in the same year 1923, I in February and he in December.  The second friend was a little girl, Sarah LEIMAN, the daughter of  Fyvel and Tzynah.  Tzynah was my Aunt Esther-Lieba AUERBACH’s sister.  So we had a mutual aunt in Esther-Liebe.  The third was Avreml WINOGRAD, whose father was a brother to my Aunt Esther-Lieba.  The two of them, Avreml and Sara, perished in the slaughter of Drohyczyn. There were 2 more boys I became friends with in grade 1 that lasted until Auschwitz.  Unfortunately those 2 never came out alive.  One was Hershel SNIDER, and the second Tevye KRUGMAN, whose father was the originator and main driving force behind the building of the Hebrew school in Shereshev, that was opened in 1925.