MEMOIRS OF SHERESHEV
By MOISHE KANTOROWITZ
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
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
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
At that time my father
was still in the
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
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