I was born in 1898
in a village in Poland called Wyszomierz, [which
was in] Lomza
Gubernia, not far from a Jewish community named
Szumowo. Wyszomierz is located between Zembrowa
[Zambrow] and Ostrowa [Ostrow], a road on which
many people traveled.
My father was a very hard-working man, a
blacksmith, in a small area known as a shop or
kushna. My oldest brother Zalman helped
him at his work. As a young child and being
too young to go to cheder, I liked to watch
the bright flames as the fire burned in the
blacksmith shop where always a peasant would
come with his horse and wagon. There my father
would shoe the horse and repair the wagons.
Actually, he didn’t even earn enough to live on.
After all, how much did a peasant pay for that
work? Perhaps with a few potatoes.
On one bright morning my father came into the
house with a letter in his hand, very excited
and joyful. What had happened? He was going to
America. His brother had sent him a paid ticket
In a short a time as possible, my father closed
his blacksmith shop and left for America. He
sent letters and money back to us, and our
living became easier.
I was already going to cheder, or to explain it
better, the boys who were learning came to our
house for cheder. In our village at that time
there were about ten Jewish families, and
whoever had a boy (son) divided the study time
equally, several weeks in each one’s home. A rebbe
(teacher) was hired for one semester at a time —
from Pesach to Sukkos, and from Sukkos to
Pesach. Usually he was an older man with a long
beard. Since he would cough so often, he always
carried a little pack of rock candy with him.
When he held a piece in his mouth, this made him
As he taught us the alphabet, we also learned
how to write. Within one year I learned to write
letters from a book that contained many
different forms of letters known in Yiddish as a
brienel-shtetter. The following year, I
was already writing letters to America. In our
village there were several women whose husbands
were also in America, so I wrote letters for
them in the same style as the examples shown in
the book, such as:
”My dear husband, I miss you so. When will you
send for me?”
I had to help keep up the romance in the letters
from the women to their husbands.
As I and all the other children became older,
the same rebbe (teacher) didn’t seem good enough
for us any longer. They now hired a young man
who began to teach us a little Russian and
Polish as well. He was already considered to be
more modern. In the summertime, he conducted
cheder in a barn — in the hay and the straw.
the barn he fixed up a sort of a room with tables and
benches, and there we held class and studied. Before the
holiday of Shavuos, he taught us the prayers for this
holiday (akdamus), with such a beautiful melody that the
people from the area all came together to listen.
barn was very close to the road, and one time we heard a
peculiar noise that sounded like “tra-tra-tra.” We all
ran out from the cheder and we watched as this thing
came closer and closer. One person hollered, “This is an
automobile (samochód) without horses.” This was
the first time we had ever seen this. They rode slowly
and then stopped. Officers got out of the auto. Others
said a general was also with them, and still others said
that it was the Czar’s family. They went over to the
well, took a pail of water, and poured it into some part
of the automobile and then drove away.
The following week, another automobile drove by again;
not only one, but several. They did not stop here again.
We ran out and they threw candy at us, and then we ran
after the auto and picked up the candy.
During this time, my father brought my two brothers and
two sisters to America. My mother, my older sister, a
younger brother and I remained here, hoping that one day
soon we would also go to America.
In our house lived a neighbor who was a shoemaker, and
in the same place he had a store where he sold food
products. His wife conducted this part of the business
that consisted of bread, herring, salt, sugar, etc. In
addition to that they also used their home as a
kretchma, a place for travelers to stop and rest and
have some food and drink.
Not far from our village were the German colonies. In
the wintertime they brought the wooden logs to the river
Boog. They would stop at the inn. Our neighbor and the
housewife would make a meal for them — a pot of hardboiled
eggs, herring, bread, and vodka to drink. I could hear
them say, “It is good to eat at the Jews,” or, “Ach, es
ist gut bei die Juden zu essen!” Aside from all of this,
the minyan also took place in their home on
Friday nights, Saturdays and holidays. On Saturday
mornings before the services began, each one told of
some news from around the world.
One person said that he had been in Ostrowa, where he
had heard very bad news about beatings and killings of
people in Russia. There were pogroms. They all
became very frightened. One person related that during
one night he had a vision of a stick of fire in the sky.
Others said, “This is a bad omen, a sign of war or
The following week this is what happened. Two gendarmes
came riding in from the shtetl Szumowo. They took
the mayor (starosta), or head of our village, and
went with him from house to house, registering
everyone’s name. They told us if a stranger should come
to our village, we should immediately inform them.
weeks later, a cousin of mine from Ostrowa arrived here.
Actually, he didn’t come from Ostrowa, but from Suvalk [Suwalki].
There he worked as a tailor. He was dressed in black
pants and a black shirt. He also had green and red
shirts with him. He told us that he had to hide out for
a few weeks and that later he would return to Ostrowa.
At the present time they were looking for him, as he was
involved in revolutionary activities. My rebbe was a
student and understood exactly what was taking place. So
he had him change his clothing to help disguise him. He
remained here one week and then returned to Ostrowa.
A while later we received a letter from our father,
telling us to get ready. We would soon be leaving for
America. He had already sent us (ship’s cards) tickets
to travel. My mother started to make preparations to
leave. Since there would be no kosher food available on
the ship, she started to bake black breads, cut them
into small pieces, and dip them in vinegar and sugar.
This was then dried in the oven and was called
sucharas. It could be kept this way for months, so
our food (for the trip) was taken care of.
An agent from Szumowo came with his horse and wagon to
bring us across the border. He drove us through several
villages until we arrived at the border. The agent gave
us a paper with our names written on it. At the border
they checked us thoroughly, found everything in order,
and then we were allowed to pass through. We drove into
a German (shtetl) town called Yulova, where the
railroad station was located, and from there all the
trains left. We had to travel to Bremen, as our ship was
to sail from there.
In Yulova, we were taken into a big house, which was a
bathhouse. There were doctors there who examined each
one of us. First we had to undress completely, men and
women separately. Our clothes were put into a steam oven
to be cleaned thoroughly. Later, each one of us had to
find their own clothes in order to get dressed. The
noise and the tumult were very great. Then we were
called in to be inspected by the doctor. We were all
cleared through except for my mother, who was held back
because of her eyes. The doctor claimed that she had
trachoma of the eyes, and with this condition one was
not allowed to enter into America. The agent asked if
anyone of us wanted to go without our mother. We could
have gone, but we all said no. This meant that we had to
go back to our home. Not wanting to return to our home,
we went to Ostrowa where we had family. We stayed with
our aunt until we were able to find a place of our own
in which to live. My sister went with my mother and
together they found living quarters. So now we already
had a home.
The ship’s cards or tickets we sent back to our father
in America. We wrote to him saying we would take mother
to Bialystok, to a well-known eye doctor, a Doctor Pyrus.
This we did. I went with my mother. She received
treatment for several weeks but she didn’t improve any.
We returned home. Mother’s eyes became worse and she
began to lose her eyesight. Fortunately for us, my
sister was already a grown girl. She did everything for
us. She cooked, baked, and became the mother of the
My father sent money back to us in his letters and so
life continued on. My younger brother Yitzchak went to
Lomza to study at the Yeshiva. I began to learn to
become a tailor, and for that I had to return to the
little town of Szumowo. I was then about twelve years of
age (c. 1906.)
they gave me food, a place to sleep, and taught me to
sew. In return I had to take care of the children and do
much work in the house until I learned to sew a little.
I remained there (a szman) for six months, and
then I returned home to Ostrowa. Now I was considered a
“tailor-boy.” During the intermediate days of the
holiday of Sukkos, known as Chol Hamoed, I went
to the market to find work. I already became a paid
worker, but I cannot remember how much (money) I
received. It could have been twenty-five rubles for (a
szman), with food and a place to sleep, and the promise
of shoes and clothing from the tailor. For this work I
had to go to a small town named Goworowo. So it was, and
I went (there) for the whole winter. I already knew how
to work, so my employer took me with him to the villages
to sew (peltzes) heavy coats. Before evening, we
were brought back to the town (to a kretchme) where we
were given something to eat. The peasant for whom we
worked paid for our food. This is the way the early part
of the winter went, and after that we worked in the
tailor’s home. The tailor had a daughter, and young men
came to their home to spend time. They sang songs — one of
the songs was about the ship Titanic that sank at that
time (ed: 1912). As a young boy, I loved the
songs written by Abraham Reisen. At that time, I had no
idea who he was — only that I heard the young people talk
about books and writers (authors).
my six-month stay, I came home to Ostrowa. I now knew
the tailor trade, so I remained here (in Ostrowa) and
worked. I worked from morning to Mincha (afternoon)
service davening. My boss took me with him to the (Bet
Medrash) house of prayer, and after the prayers (davening),
we went back to work. One time, while in the Bet Medrash, a tumult and discussions started. The workers
complained that they were working too hard and too many
hours. In Warsaw and in the surrounding towns they were
organizing unions. They predicted that a revolutionary
would come to Ostrowa to organize a union also. In the
meantime, no one had come yet. I myself was already
working fewer hours.
The Jewish newspaper called “The Moment” (“Der
Moment”) arrived once a week. I was not pleased or
satisfied with just one paper. I wanted to read more. I
was told about a library where I could obtain books to
read by paying five kopecks a month. I immediately went
there —it was upstairs in an attic, a large room with
shelves filled with books.
The first book I took was a short-story book called the
“Yeshiva Bokhur,” a story about a young, dark-looking,
studious Yeshiva boy. Later I read Tannenbaum’s book of
traveling stories. This book was very helpful to me
later on. One time when I arrived at the library, the
boy in charge of the books told me that I had to sign up
or register in the organization Bikur Cholim for
visiting the sick. This is a very worthy and necessary
organization. They immediately sent me to visit and stay
with a sick friend (chaulr) for an entire night. I did
everything I was told to do because I felt this was
right and good. The next time I was in the library, a
friend, a young man who had another weekly newspaper
sent to him from Petersburg, offered it to me to read
after he had read it himself. And so each week I had
this newspaper to read also. I believe the name of this
paper was “Der Tsayt,” or “The Time.” This paper
I read and learned much from.
At the tailors where I worked, we sewed clothes for the
civilians and for the army. There was a store on
Kimrover Street. Next door to the tailor shop was a
hardware store, owned by one of the most respected men
in the community. At one time, one of his sons arrived
here from Warsaw. He was dressed in a black suit, black
hat, and carried a cane in his hand. People said that he
was a revolutionary. His father did not like to hear
that, but after all, he was his father, so what could he
came into the shop where I worked and we noticed that he
was coughing a great deal and was not well. In a few
short weeks he passed away. A large group of friends, or
comrades, came to attend his funeral. All work ceased,
the shops closed, and we too went to his funeral. They
sang many sad songs and gave speeches at the gravesite
in Russian, Polish and Yiddish. It was said that he was
one of the greatest workers for justice, and that
today’s society needed to be changed. Months later,
these same friends, or “chaverim” as they were
called, came again. They erected a monument to his
memory, sang sad songs, revolutionary hymns, held talks,
and left in a hurry. They didn’t want the police to
question and arrest them.
1914, just a few weeks before Purim, we received a
letter from my father, that he was returning back home.
Since we were not able to go to America, he was coming
back to us. He arrived back home and we were all joyful
and filled with tears at the same time. We saw our
father leave home when we were all small children, and
now we were fully-grown. In the second week after his
arrival, I went with him to the little town of Szumowo
where we lived at one time, and where I learned to be a
tailor. My father wanted to see everyone. On our way
home, my father said that there was no reason for me to
remain. I should go to America, because in America a
person who sews with a needle and does tailoring can
earn ten times as much as here. “I will write to the
children in America and ask them to send a ticket for
you. But before you go to America, you should go to a
large city and work for a while, either in Warsaw or
Bialystok.” All this conversation took place on our way
Everyday my father went to the Beth Medrash (house of
worship) to daven (pray), and everyone welcomed him with
open arms. He was an excellent Torah reader. My father
could read and write well in Yiddish, Polish and
Russian. He told us that he had served eight years in
the Russian Army where he had assisted a doctor. He
helped give vaccinations, and when we were small he had
even vaccinated us children.
soon after this I left for Bialystok to work. I can even
remember the name of the person I worked for, a Mr.
Willinchick. Many people worked for him. I earned very
well. I dressed like an American — with a hat and a
walking stick or cane in my hand. This was fashionable
at that time. A few months had passed, and I wrote home
to my family that I was ready to go to America. This was
in early August in 1914.