Life in Eastern Europe

The Works of Yiddish Writers

“In the Polish School: A Story by a Jewish Student”

by Leib Rashkin
(nom de plume for Szoel Frydman)

Originally written in Yiddish cir 1930s, and published in Minsk in 1940 by the Yiddish magazine "Shtern."
This short story was translated into Hebrew in Israel, and subsequently translated from Hebrew into English
by his grand niece Hadas Gorodetzky, with comments from Szoel's daughter Tamar Frydman Yaacobi.

The Jewish school where I had been studying fell apart. Suffering from famine, the teachers went to other places to get bread. I moved to a Polish elementary school that was attended by very few Jewish children. I was accepted due to the efforts of my mother, who sorely wanted me to attend a Catholic school. She had made great efforts for my admittance. She petitioned the school's principal and the church priest--who was also the homeroom teacher--until both agreed to accept me.

My new school was located inside the yard of a church named after St. Anna, and was surrounded by thick moist walls with windows of colored glass. On the classroom wall, behind the teacher's desk, hung a map, with two circles illustrating the world. One half was east, the other west.

The teacher's gaze caused a chill that ran throughout my body, so it was hard to remain seated for the entire hour. But when the bell rang for break time, my heart became lighter because we could then run to the schoolyard.

The yard, enclosed by St. Anna’s church, was small, but children still packed in. Not all children were equal. The Polish children were in charge during the break, while the Jewish children stood by the walls, a bit frightened. I realized that the Poles were looking for opportunities to pick on the Jewish children--to trip, slap, or hit us while at the same time cursing and insulting us, all depending on their whim since no one prevented these deeds. Neither the teacher nor the priest took any action.

I had no problems though. I didn’t get hit like the other Jewish students. Perhaps it was my non-Jewish appearance--bright complexion, blond braids, and a tiny nose. Or maybe it was because I faced them without fear. Either way, they didn’t give me any trouble.

Because I didn’t get picked on, they hated me even more. I felt it, and they let me feel it. One time I stood between a Polish bully and the little, frightened, poor Jewish boy he raised his hands to. At first I thought he would give up, but then he slowly raised his arm back up again, looked at me with a murderer’s eyes, and mumbled “Zashidova!” (Jewish)

A few Polish boys watched the scene unfold, but did nothing. At that moment I felt the hate grow and become even harsher.

A cold breeze, followed by heavy rains, had kept us inside for the second break that day. Despite the poor weather, the Polish students said to us, “The priest is about to come and give a lesson in religion, so you will have to leave the class.” All the Jewish students left except me. I told the Poles that I would leave the class when the priest arrived and began class. When the priest did not show after half an hour, I took out my books and started doing my homework for the next day. I hunched over a notebook and began to write. However, I felt something was amiss. They didn’t touch me, but behind me in the corner of the room, I heard someone shout what seemed like an order “Jidoba!” And then, from another corner, someone replied “Biliska!” Gradually, the voices multiplied and became more heated. Curses, in a fast beat, became louder and louder until the tones were deafening.

I avoided looking around me, acting as if I were concentrating deeply on my homework. I understood that they wouldn’t listen to any of my responses, so the best thing was to stay quiet and avoid eye contact. However, I then felt that a gang was forming behind my back, approaching me step by step. My silence had annoyed and teased them, causing their voices to become louder and louder. Their hatred was strident and loud. Some of the Poles shouted the insults into my ears, “Jidovka Biliska”.

I sat still, writing as if I were by myself, the classroom completely empty, with neither people nor voices.

However, the “gang” didn’t restrain themselves for long. First, they stole my notebook and crumpled it. I only responded by trying to straighten it. When they ripped up the book, I paid no attention. As they poured out my ink, I merely took pieces of paper and cleaned up the mess.

But they didn’t stop. Indeed, my serenity only upset them more. They started handling me personally. They pulled on my apron, pushed me around, and danced and made noise all around me.

That’s when my patience ran out. I turned back and shouted at them: “You can bark, just like the dogs!”

Then the priest came in. He welcomed us as usual and went straight to the cathedra. I collected my books and notebooks by myself, deciding that I should leave. As I approached the door, I heard the priest's voice: “My child, where are you going? We are about to begin the religion class.” I turned around and raised my head slowly, explaining to him that I was Jewish. But the Polish students interrupted, telling him his mistake. The priest nodded and said in a soft voice, “What a shame… she looks so Polish!”

I left the classroom, walking through a bypass so that I wouldn’t have to look into the eyes of the other Jewish children. I’m not sure why, but I felt ashamed to look into their eyes, because I was different.

In the meantime, the rain had stopped and the sun shone from between the clouds. I had about an hour until the next class, and I thought about running home until then. But I felt as if my face was burning, and I didn’t want to talk about what had just happened. I knew questions would come up immediately: “How and why did this happen? Don’t you know that you are a Jewish girl? A Jewish girl should keep her mouth shut!” I hated that annoying principle of my parents more than anything. I didn’t want to shut up.

Instead of going home, I went to the fields outside of town. It was past the rye harvest, but the wheat was still there, its grain in full blossom. I took a narrow path between the wheat fields. I picked wild flowers, which were slightly withered, and made a necklace from them. However, I quickly unfolded it and threw the flowers away.  I am not sure why, but I got very upset with myself. Such poor flowers weren’t guilty of anything. After a while I settled down. The air felt clean after the rain. The wheat stalks bowed before me, covering the path on one side while caressing my bare knee on the other.

I would have rather stayed there, letting my anger out slowly, allowing it to melt away like salt down a river as I walked along the open fields. However, by the time I reached the railroad tracks, a passing train reminded me that it was getting late, and that I had to attend my geography class.

I immediately turned back, walking hastily towards school for fear of being late. The insulting incident was almost forgotten. At that moment, of all times, I wanted to get to class on time, only so I wouldn’t be punished. In a hurry, I ran faster and faster, until I couldn’t breathe. However, I guessed that I was already late since I saw none of the other students by the school gate. They were probably all in class by then.

With my heart pounding, I reached for the door handle and opened the classroom door. All eyes turned to me. First I saw my teacher’s eyes, Miss Maria -- they had no evil in them, but they always looked sad. Everyone knew she was suffering due to her love for a Polish teacher named Vladimir.

I probably would have kept my mouth shut if I had been late for another teacher’s class. I would have bowed my head in silence. But since it was Miss Maria, I wanted to apologize and justify myself. I began stuttering: “I…I am late.”

“Indeed, I see you are late,” she said in an unusually strict voice.

I tried to explain: “I was late without being noticed.”

“With or without being noticed,” she interjected, "is not the point. You little girl, are not so naive as you pretend to be. And about being late, we shall talk about that later. There’s an issue that is far more important. I would like to know who taught you to say …” Then she immediately stopped. She felt uncomfortable, but she said it anyway: “the Polish …they are dogs”?

Surprised, I raised my head and looked straight into the teacher’s eyes. She was furious. I turned away to one side, and than the other. The Polish students tried not to look at me. I felt abandoned and tired.

I replied, “I didn’t say that," my voice cracking up with tears.

“You didn’t say that? So who did? Maybe I did? Maybe the Polish children? Maybe they made up the insult?”

As much as my heart burdened me only a moment earlier, I thought that by crying the teacher would ease up on me. After hearing her response, however, my tears ceased all together. I didn’t feel like crying at all.

I replied stubbornly: "I don't know."

“You don’t know, huh? So who does know? If YOU don’t know, please, children, tell her to her face. What did Zimmerman say?”

The students fidgeted in their chairs. One of them, a tall one, stood up and said explicitly, “All polish people – are dogs!” I could see the other children standing behind her as if they were a wall, agreeing with her without uttering a single word.

“Well?” The teacher said angrily, looking triumphant.

I scanned the class again, glancing between the children and the teacher’s eyes. Everywhere I saw nothing but a stubborn wall of hatred.

“Libel” I thought to myself, remembering the “blood libel” on Jews, of the Beilis trial that my father had told me about. All of these nightmares were coming to life before my very eyes. But I didn't lose my senses. I didn't break. Suddenly I felt an aversive emotion, one of absolute fear and persecution. I wanted one thing and one thing only then – to escape. In an instant, I bent over, grabbed my notebooks and my books from my table and headed for the door.

The teacher anticipated my exit, moving closer to me and telling me in an extremely modest voice, “Not now Zimmerman. Remain in class for now, but after this class, go home and return here with your mother.”

While she was speaking, the classroom door swung open, and there promptly stood the principal, all tall and harsh, looking very conceited. Apparently, she had already been informed of what had happened earlier. Without taking notice of anyone, she stepped into the cathedra, eclipsing the teacher with her tall form, turning a dominant scowl at the whole class before resting her gaze upon me.

“Zimmerman, come here!”

I approached her without rushing, as she barked maneuvers at me, turning in all directions: “Not here! Not here!  Here! To the center of the cathedra!”

I turned here and there or stood still as she pleased, but to look at her – no! I humbled my eyes and head.

“Look at that look-how shy she is...” The principal called out again: “As if she can’t count to two. Keep your head up high! Look at me!”

When I had disobeyed her last order, she pushed two cold fingers under my chin and tried to force me to meet her eyes, but I resisted. I stared at her double chin instead.

I hated that fat, double chin most of all. It swung like a hot-tempered person, seeming to say, “You are guilty! If you weren’t guilty, I wouldn’t have been mad! I’m too important to listen to you, and if I am mad, that’s the best indication that you are guilty!”

"Guilty! Guilty!" The principal repeated her indictment, giving a long speech to me and everyone else. Shudders went through me every time she spoke, her snakelike fingers stuck under my chin. My eyes filled with tears, and fog covered my eyes. Except for her swinging chin, I saw nothing. But to cry – no! Not even one tear! All I could hear were her disrupted words and parts of her speech:

“The teacher told you to stay or leave. You won’t stay! Not only in our school you won’t, but no school in Poland will accept you… I will notify every school about what you said. Maybe after all, these weren’t your words? Is it possible that you heard them at home? You probably do speak like that in your home… And you have the nerve to come to a Polish school? Do your people only want that we will come to buy from you? No! No one will come! You – won’t go to any school, and no Pole will let your mother and the rest of the Jews pass through their doorstep. I will form a boycott of your merchandise. Your parents and the rest of the Jews are all haters of Poland, and you will die from hunger! You Bolshevik! I will take your parents to court! You will go to jail! To the Polish prison, you Bolshevik!”

She didn’t speak but thunder-spitting sparks of fire, and I didn’t want to know why. The more she spit fire, the more I calmed down, grew stronger. I didn’t even dare to raise my gaze to see how the twenty-odd Polish girls trembled, as if the speech wasn’t only directed towards me, but to them as well. Not just did the principal threaten my parents and me with hunger and prison, but them also.

And even then, after I had already picked up my notebook and my books and left school, as I continued thinking about it, even then I didn’t feel the fury of the incident. My fingers trembled when I packed my notebooks and books into my bag only because I became scared when I had heard the principal offer a compromise, and say: “Well Zimmerman, do you regret what you have done?” This was the only thing I was scared about, and also because of one other thing--that the soft, sudden voice of the principal wouldn’t get to me and soften my heart, that my eyes wouldn’t become wet, that my tears wouldn’t trickle. I didn’t want to cry!

Only later, on my way back home, and even later than that, when I sneaked into the bedroom of our apartment and threw myself on the bed with my dress and everything, only then did I see the principal's furious, burning face before my eyes, the swinging chin, the threatening look. All stood before me, in my memory, as if I was in court.

I didn’t feel regret about the lost school day, but the letters that the principal promised to send afterwards, made me think of a pack of sniffing dogs, wolf-dogs, that would hunt me, attack me, and rip off my dress.

I didn’t feel regret that we might not now make money from our merchandise, one penny of ink, and two for choc(?).  I always hated that livelihood, which didn’t satisfy us anyway. However, I was very afraid of the legal charges that the principal threatened to bring upon my parents, and began thinking of the jail with its damp walls, that the court would send us to…

Until then, I had never been to court. I had no idea what happened there--what the prosecutor looked like in his black gown, and the judge with his hat, just like a cantor…

In my childish imagination, the “trial” for me was like the stories my father used to tell me about--the Inquisition, the tortures, the blood libels and the Beilis trial.

With these thoughts in my head, I laid half asleep on my bed, and didn’t even notice that the day had already passed. The light from the lamp sneaked onto my bed and reminded me that evening had come.

I saw that my mother had come in from the street, taken off her coat, and entered the kitchen. My father, sitting by the table, was hunched over a notebook, doing calculus, and humming a tune.

My mother was fixing her hair, and all of a sudden she shouted out: “A meeting!”

My father raised his head slowly from the notebook and asked,

“What, again?”                      

Mother was still fixing her stubborn hair, busy in the kitchen. She filled a plate with porridge, poured milk on top of it, and served it at the kitchen table.

“Well, the meeting…”she started in conversation, “Where is Tzila? Tzila!” (that’s me) and my father answered, “Hush! She is asleep!”
 “That’s a girl?” mother started again. “I’m telling you that we need to envy the boys and the girls. Do you know what she did today at school? And here – she dropped herself down on bed to go to sleep – and it’s him!”

“It seems to me,” my father replied, “that something is wrong with her.”

“Maybe she has a fever!” My mother panicked and was going to get up from where she was seated.

“It’s better that you don’t go to her,” father said, “You might wake her up if she is sleeping. Let her sleep! If she sleeps a bit, she will feel better. What happened in school?”

“A meeting! I met the principal on the street—‘Good morning, ma'am’ I said to her, and she didn’t answer me. I hardly know her, but she was always nice and polite. Now she was "fire and sulfur" and referred to us as Communists, Bolsheviks. ‘Ma'am,’ I said, ‘it’s a libel! Somebody wants to libel us! Maybe those who can’t stand that we can earn some pennies for madam.’"

 ‘Earn?’ she yells – and I realize that it’s all about our profits – ‘You dare to hope to make money from your merchandise? No way! Your merchandise won’t be found in our school anymore. And not only in our school, no Polish person will ever buy from you! Everyone will avoid you as if you were a plague. You belong in prison, you Bolsheviks!’

 “She screamed so hard that her voice began to choke. I noticed how her chin was touching her neck. She blushed and turned blue alternately from yelling. ‘Calm down, madam’ I began saying, ‘What is my sin?’"

 "‘Go and ask your daughter!’ She had a hard time breathing. ‘Who taught her to call the Polish children "despicable dogs"'? (Parshiva hint) Was it I who educated her to act this way? Or maybe she heard that at home, from her mother?’"

“My eyesight was already pitch black.” – I listened to my mother continue to speak – “I felt like an abyss was opening beneath me, and that I was sinking. Libel, I pondered, but then I took it back. Tzila, Tzilika, probably a Polish girl said a bad word to her and she, Tzilika, she answered back…”

“I cannot believe it,” my father said all of a sudden, as he rose up from his chair, “ I cannot believe that she would say such words!”

“You don’t believe it?” – Mother says – “I also didn't want to believe it. I wish that this was a lie. You may not believe one or two people, but what about a whole class, twenty-three girls claiming the same thing? Believe me, I didn’t want to believe it either. But what can one do? Everyone has their own defects. I know my Tzilika. She always keep things to herself. Is she like other girls? Other children tell their mother what they are feeling. If their mothers yell at them, they cry, and sometimes they dare to reply back. I could have dealt with those things with love, but her? She bites her lips and – it’s like talking to a wall. The principal claimed this, 'If only she wanted to express regret and show tears in her eyes?' “How come a girl with all the trouble she went through there, doesn't cry?” I will say what you said, “It’s a libel, it’s a lie, but how come the girl won’t cry?”

I heard my parents' conversation and saw Father placing his hands in his pockets, humbling his head, and starting to pace back and forth in the room. This kind of walk, going back and forth with his head humbled, means anger, wrath, and rumination.

“You hear and you claim that you are a mother. I’m telling you that you are not a mother. A mother should know her child, and you don’t. You have something in for her. She hides things from you and doesn’t speak to you from her heart. How many times did she approach you and you dismissed her, saying “Don’t drive me up the wall!”

“How many times did she complain that the Polish children bother her and curse her? Pick on Jewish children? Instead of counseling her, encouraging her and putting some bravery into her, you always have one answer, ‘Other Jewish children can, and only our privileged Tzilika can’t?’ Open your heart to her, and remember how many times you got upset with her for no reason. You might have just been upset at that time about something else.”

 “It’s true, often you have a good reason to be upset, thinking at night about doing good business, and during the daytime, about ink for one penny… Believe me, I know all about it. Your husband is working in ‘gold profits.’ Do you think that I’m not an expert myself? However, I ask you, how is our child at fault? I ask you this. How many times after you get upset with her, do you feel that you have been unfair? And what would you rather have happen, that she should speak against you, G-d forbid? She doesn’t wish to be disrespectful, so would you rather she cries? She has character, and she is not willing to cry just like that.”

Without knowing why or how, my father's words moved me. My throat became choked with tears, and immediately flowed like a river quietly onto my pillow, where I had buried my face so that my parents wouldn’t hear me. I felt better right away, so I was able to continue listening to my parents.

My father stopped talking as he began to pace the room again, filled with both tension and rumination. My mother sat near the table with her arms in her lap, and after doing some thinking said, “You might be right. I am not ashamed of my children. They are not liars unlike some other children. No, they are not. What good days do they have? A small, dry piece of bread until four in the afternoon, the porridge that has too much water in it, and some milk in the evening?”

My father’s face glowed all of a sudden, and he began singing, “On Sunday we serve potatoes, on Monday we serve potatoes, on Tuesday potatoes, on Wednesday potatoes, on Thursday potatoes and so on…”

By myself, on my bed, I had almost forgotten about my troubles. I was up in the clouds. This had always happened to me, when my father sang cheerfully, getting my mother in a good mood, especially when they were talking about me. I loved my father, for his reason and good heart, and my mother for always believing and cherishing my father.

However, after a few moments my mother sighed again, a deep sigh, and said “What are we going to do about school then? Surely there was a nasty incident here, so perhaps you should talk to the little one?” “Okay,” my father replied, “You can wake her up already. She has had nothing to eat since this morning.”

Finally they “woke me up” and let me eat. My mother kept looking into my eyes, as if I had arisen from some sickness, as my father paced back and forth around me. He sliced the bread and asked me whether I wanted butter and was I still hungry. Do I want something to drink? And immediately, he got water with milk for me. That’s all. Both of my parents were looking into my eyes with great love, without worry. I thought to myself that I didn’t deserve this. After I finished eating, I felt that something was about to come, something that would be neither easy nor pleasant. 

After the meal was over, my father asked me in a casual manner, “When will you do your homework? Tonight? Or maybe you would like us to wake you up at sunrise?”

I didn’t reply back immediately. I didn’t like my father beating around the bush. After hearing my mother and father's discussion while I was in my bed, my father’s question seemed devious to me. I expected him to be honest and open. I replied back, “I have no reason to do my homework. I won’t go to school anymore!”

Mother interfered with our conversation: “What are you talking about? What else happened?”

And father asked, “What happened, Tzilika?”

It made me feel sad that they pretended as if they didn’t know, as if they were ashamed of me. I lowered my head, “Don’t you know what has happened?” I said in a simple manner. Father and mother looked at each other. They didn’t seem to be ashamed of me. Instead, they seemed to understand me.

“How will all of this end?” my father asked, and I felt like all of his hair turned white at that very moment. I felt like I should feel pity for him, my mother and myself. 

“What is it that you want from me?” I started, “I told you that I hadn’t the energy anymore, more than once!”

“But what are you talking about, Tzilika?” Mother spoke softly, and our troubles were reflected in her eyes. “What are you talking about, little one? You are going to quit school, just like that, in the middle of the year?”

“I have been sent home.”

“Who sent you home?”

“The principal.”

“And you had nothing to say? Say to her ’I am sorry ma’am, but I am not guilty.’”

I didn’t answer.

“Why are you so stubborn?”

I persisted. I bit my lip and remained silent. Father came over me and grasped my hand softly. “Tell me Tzilika, what was it like?”

I stubbornly remained silent.  I didn’t look them in the eyes, and kept quiet.

“I asked you…” my father said.

I could not hold it in anymore, so I answered them.

“They yelled at me: ‘Jizova Biliska.’”

“Who were they?”

“The Polish girls.”

“And what did you told them?”

“I told them they can bark like dogs.”

“Aha!” mother shouted out in a sense of victory, “Was I right or not? What did I say? Will Tzilika keep quiet?”

“Leave it alone now!” My father wasn’t pleased with my mother's intervention. “Right away I can see that she is right!”

And to me he said, “You, Tzilika, are not stupid, you know that Jewish people would get treated this way!”

“But it’s a libel!”

“So you should be more careful, you should submit!”

“I didn’t start it!”

My mother couldn’t control herself. “Come on! Talk to her. Does she feel something? Does she know anything? All she knows is how to insist. Does she know how difficult it is for us to accept that penny so we could make money? If only she was a little girl that understood how we make a living…”

‘You think that you are lucky, that you won’t have to go to school. You will play again in the yard, in the sand…What will I do with all of the merchandise? Will anyone buy it? How will we make a living?”

“Livelihood” was a word I had heard often in our house, usually from my mother. I knew that the word "livelihood" meant bread, milk, dress, and money for paying rent, and for giving some money to the paramedic so he will check up on my sick father.

In spite of all that, the word “livelihood” was until now, an empty word. More than that, in my opinion, it was a word meant only for children, so that they will act as Jews and get serious, so that they wouldn’t feel that they had to hide their pennies when they felt like buying candy with that money. So that little children should start to work and think like grown-ups…

This is how it was until now, and now I wasn't sure. Maybe I have outgrown myself and have become a grown girl. And maybe this time, the word “livelihood” came out of my mother’s mouth, aching and angry more than ever.

Whatever the case, I felt as if a heavy load had been placed upon my young shoulders, because of my mother’s concern for our livelihood, and this had subdued me to the ground. Suddenly I remembered the principal's words: “You will die from hunger!” Then I had this picture in my mind of a cold chimney, my father with gray hair, my mother in a weakened condition, her hands sloping, near the empty store shelves. Hunger!  Anxiety took over me, and I began to cry quietly.

All of a sudden, Mother said, “You see now, she can cry! What if she had cried in school? She can say whatever she likes, but only the stubborn no one likes. Had she said, ’Please ma'am, I am begging you, I won’t speak like that again.’ Or had she shed a tear, or shown regret, she wouldn’t have caused her mother and father such trouble. Huh! You can see for yourself that she can cry. It’s as if a river of tears broke out from a dam…”

I was sobbing this whole time. I wanted with all of my strength to stop, but I couldn’t control this ocean of tears. I wanted to respond, to say something, but I immediately choked and couldn’t, for I was drowning in a new outburst of tears.

“Shah! Shah!”  Father interrupted my mother's words, “Leave it alone already. Why are you attacking her again?”

I didn’t get any sleep that night. For me it was like the last night after a trial of death penalties. It had never happened to me before, that my life had lacked so much peace, that I was so ill at ease. Suddenly, a heavy burden had been thrust upon me.

I lay close to my bed, upset. The burning tears went dry. I felt like I had a fever, who knows how many degrees. I was hoping that I was becoming ill, seriously ill, and maybe I was about to die for real. I wanted them to cry. I wanted the whole town to cry, for me dying at such an early age. And my father, who will have gray hair and get old, will sit “shiv’ha” on a stool, and my mother will pull her hairs out just like I watched her do when her father, my grandfather, passed away.

Indeed, I wanted to do something cruel to my parents, and I also wanted a way out myself. I couldn’t achieve my goal in any other way, except through death. Before I went to sleep, my parents had managed--by my father by his silence and my mother by her endless words--to tell me that tomorrow morning I am going with my mother to the school principal to ask for forgiveness.

Who will I apologize to? Why do I need to apologize? How come I need to humiliate myself? I really didn’t understand that, but I knew that without it, nothing would be possible. If I don’t ask for forgiveness from the principal, my father will get older from hour to hour, and will become grayer. His liver will become aggravated once again, my mother will sit down angry, the merchandise in the store won’t get sold, and we won’t have a livelihood.

My mother managed to get something else out of me, something that I didn’t quite understand why she needed it. It was that, when I will stand before the principal, I will cry. And the excuse that I can’t cry won’t help, because I had just cried an hour ago and tears burst out of my eyes like a spring.

Nevertheless, even though I promised, and in spite of the fact that I was able to cry, I felt that in front of the principal, I could not cry! Before I had all this trouble, I didn’t think about the different reasons for people to cry--tears from joy? tears from distress? tears that bring relief? fake tears? However, one thing I knew for sure. No matter what, when I will have to face the principal with her fat swinging chin, the spring of tears will go dry. I might die, but I will never cry, no!

Whatever the case, in spite of all these troubles, I fell asleep until dawn, and my mother could hardly wake me from my deep, healthy sleep. The next morning it was Saturday, and I got dressed slowly. My mother gave me a piece of bread and a glass of water with milk. I didn’t eat the entire piece of bread, and I didn’t drink either. My mother was in a hurry. “It’s getting late. We need to get to school before it starts.” I listened to my mother and hurried as well, but my life wasn’t the same anyway.

We went through our street, but I noticed nothing, neither the morning sunlight, nor the people passing by us in the street. I had already given up completely. When I came to the school hall, life came back to me, as if to upset me. The cold walls of the monastery were my enemies and they challenged me to a fight. I had almost forgotten about my promise to cry. However, there’s no use talking about that, the whole issue of livelihood had vanished from my mind. After leaving home, I was convinced that I was right. Against everybody's opinion I was right, thinking that I was filled with feelings of burning anger. They are all big, smart and strong, but I am right! Let them talk. Let them want to hit me and tear me apart. I won’t give in!

A moment before entering the classroom, I told my mother without any introduction, “I won’t cry!”

“Stop talking nonsense!” my mother, who was filled with fear, said to me.

“I don’t want to.”

Then Mother saw the principal, and we hurried to the class. Everything happened as if we were talking between us or with her. The principal sat on the cathedra, underneath the map of the world and said, “Zimmerman, to the center of the table!”

Mother pushed me gently until I reached where I was supposed to go.

“And now,” the teacher said to the children who were sitting on the benches, “speak openly. Don’t be shy. It’s Zimmerman's mother, so say openly what Zimmerman said about you.”

No one moved.

“Be brave! Don’t be shy!” she told them openly. On one bench, some children began to whisper. One girl got up, but another one tugged on her sleeve and pulled her down to her seat.

“She said…” The girl managed to say this, then immediately became silent and looked around.

 “Don’t be shy! Say what you have to say.” The principal tried to encourage her. “It’s Zimmerman mother and she wants to know the truth.”

The girl ceased and humbled her look.

“Okay, sit down,” the principal told her impatiently. “Someone else will get up, someone more courageous!”

Again, students whispered from one of the benches. A girl with a big nose and nostrils and small forehead got up and said,

 “Madame principal, she insulted us. She insulted all Poles…”

“But how did she insult you? What did she say?” the principal asked.

“She said…” The girl started and stopped as well.


“Everyone heard…”

“Sit down!” the principal ordered her.

There was a feeling of panic on the benches. One girl pushed the other, and there was noise and fuss without any words.

The teacher searched with her eyes throughout the girls’ benches for someone daring and courageous who knew and would be willing to tell.

Mother used this break. She didn’t consider whether it was okay or not, and she didn’t ask permission from the principal, but she stood in front of the cathedra and turned to the children.

“You have to tell the truth, and the whole truth! You will be required to take a vow in court or near the crucifix!”

The principal turned red like root beer. She probably wanted to spill her fury onto my mother, but instead she got upset with the children. “You are weak! You are cowards! Girls, why don’t you speak up?”

There was silence on the benches. The children were pressed up against each other, looking all around, and they didn’t move. Not one girl was willing to speak up.

Then however, I spoke. I didn’t turn towards my mother or the principal. I was talking and pointing with my finger to the girls in the class.

“There you go! Do you see what liars you are? You nasty liars!”

My mother grabbed my hand and shut my mouth with her hand.

“Hush, hush, you child!”

Then the principal, who was by then very confused, realized she had gone too far, and instead of a harsh reaction, tried to get us to reconcile. “Come on, Zimmerman. Reconcile with your friends…”

“You want me to reconcile with them?” I yelled.  “It’s not enough that they libeled me and could have brought a disaster upon me, I also need to reconcile with them? They yelled at me ‘despicable Jew'! And what are they? What are they?”

My mother shut my mouth. The principal gave up and tried to justify her actions to my mother. “You see what a big mouth she has? It’s not for no reason…”

Mother added, “Oh, ma' have no idea ma'am, how much I suffer because of her and her big mouth. Such a disgrace! Believe me, ma'am…”


And thus, in a simple and not so tragic way, the tremendous fear of my younger years ended. The Polish children were never questioned about the truth, as I had wished.  What remained the issue was my big mouth.  I was allowed to continue in this school under the condition that I would be better behaved.  I did not "correct" my behavior.  I did not brood over the injustices, and I simply learned to think and react appropriately.  I learned this from my broken-hearted father and not from my depressed mother.

My teachers were young, brave, and daring. They looked with open eyes to the future.  They were printing flyers secretly with a typewriter and a copier. They distributed them with love to people of the underground, and
they hated those who hated them.  We also received the flyers.  They learned how to how to fight and how to survive.

Shaul Frydman, z. l.


My father, Szoel Frydman, who wrote his works under the pen name of Leib Rashkin, was born in 1905 in the town of Kazimierz Dolny, Poland. He began to write in Yiddish at an early age. In the early thirties, he published the novel "The People of Godlhozhtz" (a town in Poland). For this book he received the important Y. L. Peretz literary prize. What is remarkable about this story is that it was published during the Second World War, when Poland was already occupied by the Nazis.  My father was then in Brisk, which was still under Soviet rule.  It appeared in the bimonthly magazine "Shtern" in Minsk, in Sept.-Oct. 1940. The last news of my father was on Nov. 13, 1941, when he was on the list of the inhabitants of the Brisk ghetto. He was killed in the Holocaust, like most of his large family.

Special thanks to Prof. Leonard Prager of Haifa University for uncovering the story through his work, and for his intention to add my father's name to the Encyclopedia Judaica. Thanks also to Yosef Stern of Kibbutz Megiddo for the translation into Hebrew, and to his wife Ruth for her help.

His daughter, Tamar Frydman Yaacobi
 June 2005


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