Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


NN Theatre

A story by Stefania Bajuk

A story told by Stefania Bajuk (2003)

The Oral History Programme, The "Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre

A story by Stefania Bajuk

Jews in Włodawa

All Jews were merchants. Alberówna's father had a sawmill. He imported timber. Lestykmanówna's father worked in a mill, he was a brother–in–law of Czerwonogór. He lived there with his business partner. They were the rich Jews, while the poor ones made a living by trading. They had their shops and stands. There were even those, who came to a landlord, rented a garden, and Poles came and tended it for them, planted seeds, pulled weeds, all that, and the grown plants were tied in bunches, and then sold on the market square. It never happened, that, say, a Jewish woman would come and pull weeds, not a chance. Everything was tied in bunches, and she came, explained what's what. And that's it. On Saturday, a Jewish woman wouldn't light a fire in her kitchen, nor in a furnace in winter. Jews had tile furnaces, and in them there was a sort of an inner oven [called "dochówka" in Polish], which in Jewish they called ejbełe. When they lit the fire in the oven, in this dochówka you could cook anything. The actual igniting was done by a woman from the countryside, who could barely support herself out of her farm, because she was poor. So she would come to light the fires, to earn some money for bread or something like that. She wouldn't just come for one host, she always visited multiple ones. Lit fires in furnaces here and there. On Thursdays there was a market. And on Fridays, after Thursday, a Jew went from shop to shop, collected however much people would give him, so that he could give to the poor Jews for their Saturday, so that they'd have some fish and meat, because on Saturday they never cooked anything, only on Friday they did, prepared all the things. And on Friday evening, but before the sunset, an old Jew would come out, in glasses, shout "a szila chajm", but I don't know what it meant. At that time, the shops, the blinds were already closed. "Szila chajm" he shouted. My father–in–law had a shop with meat, one time. He said that one gave a grosz, because the people would come every day, and in the synagogue they divided between the poor, they bought things, cooked things, so that they'd have something for Saturday. When on Friday evening they lit the candles, you knew they'd sell you nothing, that the shop is closed. They didn't want to sell anything, nor to take money in their hands. We had Jews on our street, one of them was Abrum. He had a shop where you went to buy sugar, to buy kerosene, when you had no light, and he'd give you. "Take it, but bring money tomorrow. I won't take money today" – he said, because that's what the holiday demanded of him. On Saturday evening they had no problem taking money again. When a girl was born in a Jewish house, they wept terribly. They covered the windows, Jewish women wept a lot. And when a boy was born, they sang, bound nice bundles, there was a candy, some snap peas, a cookie. And they'd give it to all the children on the street. I remember, because at our neighbour’s house a son was born to Jankielowa. And they were wed [na śmieciu?]. In a veil, very nice. There were no spinsters or confirmed bachelors, the weddings were arranged by matchmakers until they happened.

But in general we lived well. Men traded in Włodawa, they sowed hemp and flax. Then you had to cleanse it, a Jew would come, weighed it all, took it to the factory. And brought back fabric. Even milk, which mum would gather, a Jewish woman already waited at the door, mum measured it with a cup, you didn't have to filter it at all. She measured it with a cup, a Jewish woman came, took this milk, paid immediately, a grosz cheaper then normal, but she did come and take it. And she also had her own cow, so she'd milk hers, and still walk around to the rich people. And she had a cup that could hold a litre, and she measured with this cup, and earned money this way. They only ever busied themselves with trade. There were only two landlords of sorts. Chęcie and Wincewicze they were called. There were two Jewish landlords. There were fabric factories. They bought glass. They bought scrap. They bough rags, and a rag merchant would ride the streets. "Rags, rags! Give you needles!". All craftsmen were Jews, a tailor, and shoemaker, all of them. When happened, that mum did not have time to fix a shirt, long johns or something, she'd gather it, a Jewish woman would come, take it all, fix it all, and iron it, too, brought it back. "How much for it?" "Oh, I'll just take some beans, oh, and some milk". And everything was in perfect order. They baked matzo on open flame, we saw it, but once holiday came, they even had different pots. These weren't the pots they used everyday, but some other ones. And this furnace they scrubbed hard, they cleaned everything nice, the breadboards, the tables were cleaned so hard, they were. Because when we went, there was a school up there on a hill, they built a new one, because the old one crumbled, and on the other side, to the left, they baked that matzo. Later on they brought it to school, we ate it together, it was good!

They had their own crouch, and they stayed crouching like that. They had silver shot glasses. They drank spirit in them, and they sang. They prayed a lot in their synagogue. And before Easter they went to the river, they shook their sins out [symbolically shook out their pockets, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah], they shook it all out of their pockets, yes. I saw it, because the river was near us, and so it was that sometimes even a young Jew would undress and went into this water. But he just did like – once, twice, thrice, and he came out. He submerged himself three times and then came ashore.

Włodawa before the war

Out here, where nowadays there is the [Kijowska Aldony??] there are shoes, I think, there used to be a beer–house. Not a restaurant, but a beer–house. So on Thursdays, around the rectangle there were carts set up, and "farniarze" would come, as they called them. They brought hot ham, farmers bought it, and went for a beer at Jankiel's. There was another one, of Kurobejka's, but he was a Catholic. There were many shops, shop upon shop, there was. In a rectangle they were all set up, the shops and materials. And you could come, take things without paying, the Jew would give like that, but if you didn't pay once, you could never take anything like that again. And there were both good and bad materials. Somebody said that they wanted a good material, so he brought it, and told at once how much it would cost. Even before the war one man from Podzamcze set up shop, and went bankrupt, because a Jew bought only from a Jew. In Łódź he'd take a deficient items and sell it here as the best sort. And when there was slack, he'd cut it off, give it to another Jew, and he'd sew a hat out of it.