Chapter 6.A



The first vegetable to appear was Shallot. The local farmers used to pinch off the green long stems and sell it by the bunch. The stems had to be open to make sure there are no little green worms in them, washed, cut into one centimetre long pieces, mixed thick with water, vinegar and sugar and were served as the first salad of the season to go with meat.  Next in vegetables came lettuce, a week or two later small round radishes and one after another cucumbers, cauliflowers, still later the first carrots, tomatoes, beets and others.


The first fruit of the season were the early cherries, a yellow cherry with no particular taste.  A couple weeks later the real cherries appeared, dark red and sweet.  There were no real coolers or freezers in Shereshev in those days, yet people had to keep those perishables for as long as possible.  As soon as the fruits appeared on the market brought in by farmers from the surrounding villages my mother started to provide and to store for the winter, beginning with cherries.  We had at home a little wooden barrel of some 30-35 centimetres in diameter and 60-65 centimeters in length lying on its side.  It was given to us by my grandmother AUERBACH when she sold her house after the death of her husband.   To my recollection it was always full with fermenting cherries in sugar and vodka.  It had a faucet on one side to let some of the delicious cherry-brandy out with which my grandmother Freida-Leah used to treat some of her special visitors.  Through the large opening on the side, which was always plugged up with a large cork, my grandmother used to fish out with a spoon a few cherries and give it to my sister Sheva and me.  This barrel of cherries and brandy was never empty.  As soon as the new cherries appeared, my father used to buy a pail full. My mother with the help of the maid used to wash and pit the cherries and pour them through the opening of the barrel, which was partly full with last year’s cherries.  On top of it my mother used to pour in a couple kilograms of sugar, adding to it a bottle of vodka.  This brew used to ferment for a couple of weeks and turn into a real cherry brandy which privileged guests used to relish more then the well known in Poland "Baczewski” liquor that my father used to sell in our store.  This little almost full barrel was left behind with everything else when we were expelled from Shereshev. 


After the cherries, the strawberries came, which farmers used to bring by the wagon full and sell by the quart or kilo, if the farmer owned a scale.   During the strawberry season we ate it in different ways, as plain strawberries with sour cream and buttered bread as a snack or as a dessert I used to add sugar having a sweet tooth.  Once in season, my father used to buy 10-15 kilo at once, my mother and the maid used to pick it over, wash it, put it into a large copper basin, cover it with a thick layer of sugar, and let it stay for 48 hours. By then the sugar was absorbed by the strawberry juice and vice-versa.  The entire copper container was then placed on the stove covering all burners and cooked for a couple of hours.  While cooking the foam that used to form was taken off with a spoon and was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. 


And so we used to start the season of preparing preserves and jams for the year.  Next came the raspberries that used to be prepared in 2 ways. One, the same as the strawberries, the other used to be strained after cooking through a piece of linen and only the syrup or rather the liquid was saved.  After staying in the cool cellar for a day or two, it used to jell and turn into a raspberry jelly of the purest quality.  The same was done with cherries and plums.  Blueberry preserving had an additional purpose.  It was preserved as we used to say in Shereshev, “It should not be needed”, that is just in case, for it was believed, that blueberries were a great medicine for stomach ailments, particularly for dysentery.  Last in fall to be preserved were the cranberries, which are as a rule very sour.  In order to make them palatable, they had to be boiled kilo for kilo with sugar.  For me, with a sweet tooth, it was never too sweet, but I ate it as my mother served it with meat for dinner.  For the winter, my mother used to fill up a shelf full of large earthen jars with cranberry jam, it was also used on bread as a snack.  We would also dry apples and pears particularly pears as they required less work.  They had to be washed, cut in half and strung on a fine cord with a large needle and put in the heated bake oven for 24 hours.   Apples on the other hand had to be peeled and sliced into thin slices, which required more time and were not much in demand for us youngsters as they were not as sweet as pears. 


Although there was no shortage of cucumbers in Shereshev proper, produced by the local farmers, most of the cucumbers came from the nearby village of “Waszki”, 2 kilometers away.  This village was unique for it represented a classical as well as a characteristic village of my province Polesie that one can only read about or dream about now, but they were plentiful in Polesie and the entire Prypec basin.


The village of Waszki was sitting in the middle of a swamp and it had one connection with the world through Shereshev by a connecting row of wooden planks suspended by poles stuck in the swamp. This walkway continued for almost the entire 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).  In order to sell their produce, the inhabitants of the village, carried it on their backs to the market in Shereshev, including cucumbers.  They too had to be washed and put into a large wooden barrel spiced with dill, garlic, bay leaves and other spices.  The barrel was then topped up with water and left in the cellar to sour.  A similar process took place during the making of sauerkraut, except that it was done on the living room table and the whole family took part in chopping up the cabbage.  While filling up the barrel now and then, some cranberries were added; it used to give the sauerkraut a nice appearance in the barrel and on the plate.  Both items, the sour pickles and the sauerkraut, used to last all winter in the cellar, together with the sacks of potatoes, beets, carrots, not to mention the preserves.


The last few weeks of school year 1933-34, went by fast, but with a touch of apprehension, for my father decided to do with me as he did with my sister Sheva, namely to transfer me to the Polish school.  Because of my poor knowledge of the Polish language, I, too, like my sister, had to lose an entire school year.  Having just finished the 4th grade Hebrew school, I was accepted in the 4th grade of the public Polish school.  Never the less I considered myself lucky, for the boys that had at the same time graduated from grade 7 Hebrew school were accepted to grade 5 Polish school, thus losing 3 years while I lost only one. All due to the lack of the Polish language, for it is my opinion that the level of education in the Hebrew school of the other subjects was somewhat higher than in the Polish.  A phenomenon that is applicable even today between public schools and private ones.


The summer vacation was as pleasant as always, yet one could feel uneasiness among the Jews of Shereshev.  People began reading the newspapers more thoroughly, but nobody shared the reason with us 10 year olds.  I recall one day as the newspapers arrived carrying the headlines announcing the death of the most popular Hebrew poet. It read, “Chaim NACHMEN BIALIK is Dead”.  I believe that it made a greater impact on us youngsters than on the grown-ups, for we had just begun to study and memorize his beautiful and moving poetry.


Predominantly 2 Jewish papers were read in Shereshev, the rightist “Der moment” and the leftist “Der Haint”. Both of those papers were printed in Warsaw at midnight, arrived to Pruzany in the morning and to Shereshev at noon.  The franchise for the papers in Shereshev belonged to a man by the name of Moshe BIKSHTEIN.  His function was to wait for the arrival of the bus with the papers at noon and distribute them to his subscribers.


To subscribe to a newspaper for one person was too expensive, so people used to pair up in 2 or 4 thus creating a partnership to one paper.  My father and grandfather were partners to one paper.  When one was finished with it, the other got it.  If there were 4 partners to a paper, the paper was in use all day.  Some partners used to get it the following morning.  


Three kilometers (1.8 miles) from Pruzany, in the direction of Shereshev and a kilometer (.6 miles) off the main road, was a village called “Shubitch,” whose inhabitants were farmers.  Next to their fields, was an estate belonging to a Jewish man by the name of BRZYZYNSKI, a decent respectable humane and committed Jew.  The estate consisted of the main building, a big house with many rooms, and a couple smaller buildings for the help, a couple long buildings with individual rooms and kitchens, a few separate cabins and some stables and barns for the few dozen cows and horses, as well as some sheds for farm machinery.  All this was surrounded by many hectares of land and pastures.  But the main attraction of this estate was its forest, which was divided in half by a road leading from the estate to the main road of Pruzany to Bialowieza via Shereshev.  One half of the forest close to the village was on low ground and consisted of leafy trees.  The other half was on higher sandy ground overgrown with pine trees.  It was this part of the forest that attracted many wives and their children from Pruzany and a few from Shereshev for the summer.  With the increase in our family my mother had to give up our yearly summer vacations in Domaczewo which was over 100 kilometers (60 miles) away and a strain on my mother and my little brother Liova as well as my two little sisters Sonia and Liba, still an infant and she had to settle for the much closer “Shubitch”.  There at BRZYZYNSKIs my mother could rent a large room and a kitchen where she could cook meals for the family.  My father used to stay at home to keep the store open and come out on Friday afternoons with the bus that was commuting between Shereshev and Pruzany returning the same way on Saturday night. 


It was stylish in those days to put on weight and this was the purpose of going to the country.  So my mother used to spend entire days making us delicacies so we should eat more.  The requisite was two eggs and a glass of milk 3 times a day.  In order to drink the milk, my mother used to bribe me with a piece of chocolate.  After this we were suppose to eat a regular meal. Not surprising that we did not want to eat and even my mother’s bribes did not help.  My mother’s entire effort of those hot days remained untouched on the table.  Is it then surprising that those laden tables with all sorts of good foods, that I refused to eat, haunted me throughout the dark and hungry days of Auschwitz giving no respite to my regrets.  The other 2 families from Shereshev that used to spend the summers with us in Shubitch were my uncles Rubin KANTOROWITZ and Avram KOLODZICKY.  They, the men just like my father, used to come to the country for the Sabbath.


As far as I remember, the owner of the estate had 4 sons and 1 daughter.  The oldest Label some dozen years older than I, built like a wrestler, left for the land of Israel in 1931-32.  The, second Peipe, was a tall handsome young man, like the movie stars of old.  The third, 3 or 4 years older than I, was called “Moniek” (Moishe), and the youngest Yoshpe (Joseph), my age.  The daughter “Minah”, some 8 or 9 years older than I, used to entertain us children with songs.  Her voice as it used to be said in those days, “of a nightingale” kept on flowing from her mouth adorned with the most beautiful teeth I have ever seen.  I heard that she got married before the war and perished in Auschwitz with all the inhabitants of Pruzany including her husband, child and youngest brother Yoshpe.  Fortunately, the 2 middle brothers, Peipe and Moniek, managed to join their older brother Leibl in the land of Israel shortly before the war.  It happened, by chance, that I met all the BRZYZYNSKI brothers at a memorial service for the ghetto Pruzany some 15 years later that was held in Tel-Aviv at “Bet Hachalutz”.


It seems that for my mother, one month of such a “rest” in the country was enough, and she and the children used to return home.  I continued to stay on for a week or two with my Aunt Chashkah, my father’s brother, Rubin’s wife and children.  I returned with him on a Saturday night by bus for I did not enjoy a return trip home by horse and buggy, a buggy full of bags, baggage, bedding, dishes, and other things that women used to take along for the summer.   In order for my uncle and me to catch the 10:00 o’clock bus going from Pruzany to Shereshev, we had to leave Shubitch and walk along a field road for a kilometer (.6 miles) to the main road.  We gave ourselves enough time and got to the road early.  Having nothing to do, I stretched myself out on the grass and looked up to the dark blue sky, strewn with countless stars.  It was a dark night and it seems that one could count them all.  I think that it was the first time and maybe the only time I ever saw such a starry sky.  It was good to come back home to mom and dad, and my older sister, Sheva who always acted towards me like a devoted big sister and guardian.  She followed my mother’s actions, pampering me and giving in to my every whim, also to my little brother Liova (Label), almost 7 years younger than I, who used to look up to his older brother with love and admiration, as well as to my little 2 sisters, Sonia, then 3 years old, and the little one, Liba, just 1 and half years old.  Our family, like many others in Shereshev those days, was very tightly knit and raised closely, dependent and devoted to each other.  I can recall that already in 1934, my parents used to go out once in a while to visit family or friends for the evening, leaving me and my sister to look after the little ones.  My sister Sheva was not 13 years old and I only 11.  If it happened that one of the little ones woke up, my sister and I used to take turns holding them in our arms and walking with them back and forth until they used to fall asleep, never running to our parents for help.


With the end of the summer vacation 1934, I went back to school.  Unlike other years however, instead of finding myself amongst my last year’s classmates, I found myself in an entirely new and strange environment.  Gone were the familiar friendly faces of my playmates and peers, the common interests, the familiar layout of the school.  Instead, I found myself amongst school children who spoke a hardly familiar language and who knew each other but ignored me.  They seemed to be rougher in conduct and language.  Their dress was somewhat different and so was even their smell.  The school was situated in the court lane which was over half a kilometer farther from our house, than the Hebrew school.  It had many more rooms, 2 of each from grade 1 to grade 4, grades 5, 6, and 7 had single rooms, due to the attrition and grade failure.  Grade 5 was usually the largest class, but by the time it reached grade 7, it had shrunk to the customary 40 pupils in class.


Being a much larger school than the Hebrew one, it had a much larger yard, partly surrounded by a fence, a large space between the school and the road, was planted with osier(?) that was used by the students for art and craft lessons.  A sturdy fence was separating the schoolyard from the street, along and behind the fence in the yard, was a long ditch of a hundred meters (325 feet) which used to be full of stagnate water all year long.  In an exceptional hot summer the water used to dry out for a few weeks and the dead tadpoles and frogs could smelt for quite a distance.  The ditch was overgrown with trees on either side.  The most noticeable were a couple of huge oak trees whose branches covered not only the ditch, but reached over the fence and the other side of the road.  In the end of August an unusual amount of acorns used to fall off those oak trees and cover the road almost ankle deep as nobody bothered to pick them up. 


There were around 450 students in that school as compared to 125 in the Hebrew School. Amongst those 450, there were 100 Jewish children, mostly girls.  Jewish parents wanted to give their sons a Jewish education.  What it meant was to be able to pray and know some of the Torah.  This they could only get in the Hebrew school or in “Heder” and most of the Jewish boys were there.  Other Jewish boys, sons of tradesmen used to start learning the trade of their fathers at the age of 12 or 13, thus quitting school.  It was not considered absolutely necessary for a girl to know the Torah, as long as she knew the laws, so many attended the Polish school as education there was free.  The school building itself was the largest wooden structure in the Shetl and included in it were also the living quarters of the principal.  A tall man by the name of FALSHEWSKY, who was about forty, with his wife of a noticeably younger age and exceptional beauty.  They had no children. He hailed from deep inside Poland, and was a former Pilsudsky legionaire, a fanatical nationalist, patriot and anti-Semite.  His outlook was the same as all the other stranger-migrant Poles, that were sent to reclaim back the Poliesie territories for Poland at the same time alienating the local population by looking at them from above with the air of masters.  The school had a large room especially for arts and crafts and an adjoining room for the tools.  There was also a kitchen for poor and needy children who used to get a bowl of soup during the long break.  Understandably Jewish kids did not eat there for 2 reasons.  Firstly, the school executive would refer the Jewish kids to Jewish welfare organization to look after them.  Secondly, Jewish children would not eat in a kitchen run by non-Jews without ritual supervision. 


The school office took up a large room having to accommodate a dozen teachers, two of them local men.  One of them, was a single middle aged man who lived with his middle aged single sister and their mother in a huge wooden house that served once as a rich landowner’s mansion.  In fact, his ancestral home, for unknown to me reasons, in the last one or two generations, had lost its glitter.  The financial situation turned bad and the house that once served as the seat of a rich and powerful Polish landowner took on the form of a shabby thread bare, almost haunted relic of former glory.  Even the large yard the fallen fences and neglected orchard added to its ghostly presence.  The whole place seemed to be haunted and people avoided it.  Even youngsters from the neighboring houses did not dare run in and grab some ripe appetizing apples or other fruit.  So they lay there rotting in the weed overgrown orchard. 


I recall as an eight or ten year old boy, I was taken along by my Uncle Hershel, on a Saturday afternoon, when he and his group of young men and girls went to visit their former teacher, the sister of my teacher WUJTKOWSKY.   I vaguely remember the inside of that house, the large rooms full with furniture for which I could not see a purpose, the carpets on the floor and more on the walls depicting all kinds of exotic places and fantasies.  It had countless couches and heavily padded chairs and a large black grand piano in the middle of one room.  The windows were heavily draped and did not let in much daylight.  One detail all those things had in common that did not escape even the notice of a 10 year old boy was the old and worn out look of everything. 


This teacher, WUJTKOWSKY, whose family lived under Russian rule for almost 2 centuries, retained their Polish identity and language.  He did not feel bitter or hurt and remained a decent man who fulfilled his job exemplarily as a teacher. 


The second local teacher was a man of about fifty by the name of LEONCZUK, who graduated from a Teacher’s Seminary during the Czar’s reign.  When the Poles took over the territories of western Bialorussia and Ukraine in 1920 he remained in his birthplace Shereshev.  Although a Russian Orthodox, or, as they were called, Pravoslavny by faith, the Poles retained him as a teacher with his slightly Russian accented Polish.  It could have been the shortage of Polish teachers in our part of Poland.  Outwardly and in general he made a very good impression on the population and on the students and could certainly not be accused of anti-Semitism.  He had two daughters, one my sister Sheva’s age who was a classmate and, the second my age and in my class. Both well behaved girls to whom it made little difference in associating with Christian or Jewish classmates.  The teacher LEONCHUK’s only weakness was the desire to drink.  As a government employee and particularly as a teacher, it would not be becoming to do it in public like in a tavern of which there were four in shtetl.  But there was only one retail store, ours, wherein it was strictly forbidden to drink or even to unseal a bottle.  Every day this teacher on his way to school and back had to pass the market square where most of the stores were, among them, ours.  Quite often on his way back from school, this teacher could not withstand the temptation and used to come in to our store for a bottle of vodka.  It seems that his wife forbade him to do it.  After persistent nagging and pestering, he succeeded in getting my father’s permission to buy a small hundred gram little bottle of vodka, go behind the shelves where the space served as the warehouse and with one swing, he used to pour it down his throat.  Those two local teachers were the only two that were and remained permanently employed  in Shereshev up to the war.  All others were rotated every few years. 


The language of instruction in school was, of course, Polish but, among ourselves, we, the Jewish children spoke Yiddish.  The Christians spoke a white Russian dialect as in their home.  Conversation among Jews and non-Jews was conducted in the local white Russian dialect.  There might have been in the school of 450 students, a dozen or fewer students that spoke Polish.  They were the children of the government employees that came from Poland proper to run things.  I would like to mention that there was one Jewish family in Shereshev where only Polish was spoken.  It was a family of the pharmacist BAUMRITTER in whose house Russian was spoken up to 1930 and suddenly they switched to Polish.  They had two daughters, the younger one Lola who was in my class and an older one by ten years, Mira.  The younger one Lola at the age of fifteen, just before the start of the war was already renown for her beauty in the entire district.  The pharmacist’s sister was the dentist in shtetl.  She married in the early 1930´s, when she was in her 40’s.  Her husband was a tooth technician.   Never the less they all accommodated their customers and patients in the necessary language; with Jews in Yiddish, locals in white Russian and Poles in Polish. 


The first year in the Polish school was a very difficult one for me.  I had trouble communicating with my teachers as well as with the non-Jewish students.  Fortunately some of the Jewish students had the same problem, and as the saying goes, “Troubles shared in common are endurable”.  However, my father used to make sure that after school I came to the store and he used to go over with me all I learned in school and made sure that the homework was in order. 


I still cannot understand where and when my father learned Polish, for his background was Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian.  Yet he spoke and wrote a perfect Polish to such an extent that when a Jewish man had a problem or was in trouble with the government and had to explain himself in writing, be it a petition or an application and forward it to the higher authorities in the nearby district town of Pruzany, they used to come to my father to write it for them and not to the local barrister.  One of the reasons being that my father did it as, we say in Hebrew, “L’shem Mitzvah”, (for the sake of a good deed and not for pay). 


For a non-explainable reason I developed a taste for  Polish history and my father made sure that I memorized each lesson, to such an extent that in every term I used to get the  highest mark in it despite the language problem.  My other highest mark in class was for mathematics, which I continued to receive up to graduation.  The only challenger in math used to be the other Jewish boy in class Leizer EISENSHTEIN.  This EISENSHTEIN’s father Yaakol-Berl who was considered a progressive Melamed   (private teacher-instructor), started giving private Hebrew lessons to my sister Sheva as soon as she transferred to the Polish school, and the same happened to me.  So every day he used to come to us at six o’clock for an hour to give us private lessons. 


The order of school days changed for me, too.  In the Hebrew school we attended six days a week, excluding Saturday (the Sabbath), while Sunday was an ordinary school day.  In the Polish school we had to attend Saturday under the threat of expulsion in case of absence.  However, Jewish children were not obliged to write on Saturday, which they would not do in any case, even under the penalty of expulsion. So we Jewish children sat on Saturdays in school, without having touched a pen, pencil or chalk.  In that school I came for the first time face to face with outright Anti-Semitism.  Of course, I had heard about it, but really did not understand it.  There were two teachers, a married couple by the name of GULAWSKY.  They lived on a short little street called Kapielica at the end of Ostrowiecka Street leading to the village of Zaretche.  She, that is, his wife, a tall partly aristocratic looking woman, who kept herself aloof even towards the other teachers, was teaching us drawing.  She indeed had a talent for drawing which we children could already appreciate.  Her husband, a shorter man, was always seen with his inseparable walking cane, which was in fact a mountain climbing stick with a sharp metal point at the bottom and a metal elongated head on top which ended at one end in an ax like shape and the other end with a pick ax point.  A story was going around  in shtetl that when he was asked by an acquaintance to what use is such a cane when there is no mountain for five hundred kilometers around, he replied that it would come in handy to split Jewish heads.  When I passed the following year to grade five, he became our gym teacher. One time he took the class for a walk to a nearby forest, by the name of Kupiczer Woods.  The forest terrain was covered with conifer cones and the classmates started throwing them at us, the two Jewish boys.  At first we ignored it, but instead of stopping the throwing intensified.  The teachers pretended not to see it.  Finally, we protested to him.  He then turned to the students with those words ; “one should not deal with Jews in such an obvious way, one should approach it in a more civilized way like not giving work to Jewish craftsmen or artisans, and more important, not to buy from Jewish stores.  This was said by a teacher in a so-called democratic Poland even before the Nurenberg Laws appeared in Nazi Germany.  Who could have foreseen what the future held for Europe in general and the Jews in particular. 


Shortly after the Sukkoth holidays (Tabernacle holidays), my grandmother Freida-Leah AUERBACH began to feel weaker and started to spend more and more time in bed.  My mother had to make every meal for her, if and when my grandmother felt like eating.  My sister Sheva and I used to go see our grandmother as soon as we got back from school.  Despite the fact that our grandmother was only one house away from us, my mother preferred to have her with us.  Right before Chanukah (the Eight-Day holiday commemorating the purification of the Temple), we took our grandmother over to us, where she spent the whole winter already in bed.  Her situation kept on getting worse.  The doctor used to come and write prescriptions which didn’t seem to do much good.  With medicine so far advanced now there are still so few guarantees.  One can imagine what it was like seventy years ago.  As it was the manner in those days, the doctor ascribed it to old age.  Old and not so old friends and acquaintances of my grandmother and of ours used to come constantly to visit my grandmother.  I cannot recall an evening when we were left alone.  Not to mention the members of the “Linat-Hatzedek” (Benevolent Association). They were volunteers who sat up all night with the sick to give a nights rest to the members of the family.