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

Demons in the ruins of the printing house

From Jewish Majses. Stories from Józefów based on the Yizkor-Buch – a commemoration book of Józefów Jews. Shortened, improved and commented by Yaron Karol Becker.


Dom podcieniowy w Józefowie Biłgorajskim
Dom podcieniowy w Józefowie Biłgorajskim (Author: Świeży, J.)

Well, and now as I have already promised one more piece from “wonderful” majses – a funny story about demons’ tricks in the ruins of the printing house (expressly for skeptics).

It happened in 1926. Gmina [a unit of administrative division of Poland as “Municipality”] issued a new directive aiming at improving appearance of the town. Nowadays, we would rather name it differently, for instance, procedures of urban lifting or town revitalization, but it is not to the point. The old printing house that was the property of Zecer and Rener family had become an utter wreck over the years. It was believed in the town that the place was haunted. Local inhabitants suspected that demons were raving there at nights. Though by means of education superstitious beliefs in evil spirits was minimized in those days, the authorities, probably just to be on the safe side and not to cast an evil spell, decided to tear the ruins of the printing house down. Maybe, there were elections looming ahead? No one knows. Anyway, the owner of the place did not rush to execute Gmina’s instructions. Decision to hire constructors to demolish the building was made only when she had ignored the official notification for the third time. According to their plan, the owner of the wreck would be the one to foot the bill for that work. How high the retribution had to be became known due to local “female intelligence service” (also known as word of mouth), that launched an active whispering campaign. I would kindly ask you not to laugh, because the fished out information was extremely detailed and true-to-fact. Some miraculous chance – mind you, it had its reasons – brought the chosen contractor just before commencement of works to the door of a Jewish house that was neighbouring the ruins of the publishing house. It happened to be a tavern, whose keeper – making the matters worse – happened to be a friend of the neighbor of the ruin’s owner… Contractor, presumably, was of the opinion, that a hearty portion of cheap booze would enable him to see the object of his work more clearly. The sharpness of the image, no doubt, was becoming sharper with every glass as he was diving deeper and deeper in the depths of the decanter and started to boast to the tavern keeper about the money he would get as soon as he finished one task. The sum of 500 zl was at stake! That piece of news given the a.m. connections travelled the distance at a head-spinning speed and landed at the lap of the publishing house owner. Proprietress, smart enough to notice that situation became potentially dangerous, hired a man named Efraim, who promised to pull the building down for 200 zl, which was obviously a much smaller sum.

Soon, sometime after midnight, Efraim got down to work. It was very dark in the ruins, but he preferred it that way, not wanting to light the lantern and draw the unwanted attention. Having thrown down a heap of tile he made a “window” in the roof and carried on in the bright of the full moon.

However, all the romance of working in the moonlight suddenly disappeared into thin air, when a loud shriek cut through the silence of the night. The source of the screaming was another resident of Józefów, Kremer, who, while passing by the ruins in a cart, saw tiles flying out from nowhere onto his head, and started to yell at the top of his voice: “Heeeelp! Heeeelp! Demons, demons!” At that point dumbfounded Kremer, witnessed a genuine wonder: instead of evil spirits, who should have wrenched themselves free from the ruins known as a devil’s nest, he saw his townsman marching out of the darkness. Yet it turned out to be a tall order requiring a lot of effort to come down hysterical Kramer and persuade him, that it was Efraim, a kosher Jew from Józefów and not the demons, hurling the roof tile.

In fact, that is the end of the story about evil spirits in the old Józefów printing house as well as of the legend about demons. Perhaps, there is one more thing worth mentioning. Before the sunrise several other workers arrived. They were Jews, who had previously agreed to give Efraim a hand. With joint forces they managed to tear the building down leaving only a bare foundation. When Gmina’s contractors came in the morning, “the game was over”. Needless to say, that Jews executed the work better and faster than goys. Hence, local authorities could do no harm anymore. There was no point even to count on evil spirits.