First Volume: World War I
Yaacov-Hirsh is Returning Home to The Village (1918)
In the spring ,1918, Yaakov-Hirsh returned from his captivity
dressed in black and wearing black boots. A Red Cross was painted on the back of his shirt and on his boots.
One cannot describe our excitement. The whole family is finally together. The main thing is that the beloved two sons are with us and there is nothing to worry about. A great feeling of relief. Before the war Yaakov-Hirsh studied in Vilna at the
and became a teacher. Now he got a teaching job in Rosh, the nearby shtetl. He got a small salary and "Kest". This meant he was eating for a week with one student's family and the next week with another family. After one cycle of teaching he returned home. He was hurt by the fact that we did not know how to read and write. He began teaching us immediately by making us write words and sentences. We also learned from him some arithmetic, Torah and general knowledge. He and Leibl organized a fifteen men "choir" for Rosh Hashana. Among the participants were Meshke, Hirshl and Shalom-Berinke. Their musical instruments consisted of a broom, a rake, a saw and a hoe. This was really something special: the preparations, the excitement, the material selection, and finally the performance on Rosh Hashana. Very soon Yaakov-Hirsh got another teaching job in Yadlovska - a shtetl near Volkovisk. He worked there for a whole year for a low salary. He arrived home only for Passover and Sucot. After finishing the one year of teaching he found the family in a very difficult situation.
In Winter 1920 it was very cold in our house. I began visiting our gentile neighbors' home where it was warm and pleasant. Their three children invited me there. Their mother's name was Kasha. They had a lot of wool thread and good knitting needles. I sat and knitted new socks and fixed old socks for them. It is true that I was only a little girl, but I was creative and did a very good job. They loved me and I loved being with them. A Typhoid Plague errupted in the village area. Many people got sick and died. Suddenly, I got the contagious disease. Two "Felshers" thought that the wool that I used was contaminated with some louse that
bit me. What can I tell you; our whole household was sick. Everybody had high fever, stomach aches and weakness. Only Leibl stayed healthy. He took care of us and ran around to get a doctor and medicine.
Yaakov-Hirsh was in Yadlovka and did not know about it. Leibl walked six km to Rosh to get Valerian for pain relief and Lysol for washing the hands. Gitke was in critical condition. She had a high fever and we could not get a rubber "Precher" to put ice inside, to cool down her head. We filled the bladder of a calf with ice and put on her head. It was bad. The cold water was leaking. She got cold burns which made her look as if she was hit on her head. Rachel-Lea, Rivka and I recovered, while Father, Mother and Gitke were still very sick.
This happened a long time
before we got sick. It was common among the villagers to gather and talk. The first topic was always about dreams. One woman asked me, "And you girl, what did you dream about?" I answered, "The sky fell on earth and I am walking and screaming." She answered, "Your father will die……."
I can imagine my father lying ill in bed, suffering from a high fever and severe stomach pains. The Rosh Shtetl sent one time for a "Felsher". The "Felsher" gave "Romianek" (pain reliever) and that was all. People were scared of visiting us because the disease was very contagious. Only Leibl could help. During Father's last night I did not sleep at all. He asked all the time for cold water. His body was cramped with extreme pain. He lay on his side with one hand supporting his head. That was also how he looked when he finally died, and his body was removed from the bed to the floor. On early Shvat morning, the "Baalei Mitzvah" came. These were Gimpl and his son Yosele. They loaded the body on a snow sled and brought him for burial at the Rosh shtetl. In Judaism there is an expression "A Mitzvah Tzu Bagrobn" (it is a Mitzvah to bury), and the sooner the better. Mother was very sick. She was unable to leave her bed for three and a half months. Gitke was sick. The rest of us were "recovering" while Leibl was the one who was taking care of everything. We sat "Shiva". There were no candles. We lit little lights hanging on the walls. The truth is that there was nothing to sit on. There were folding beds which were called "A Floch". When all of us became healthy again, my mother and brothers went to the cemetery to pay respects to my Father. Unfortunately, nobody remembered where was he buried. "Where did you bury him?" they asked Gimpl and Yosele. We never knew where my Father's grave was.
I was told that my father died. I felt emptiness in my heart. As a child I accepted it with a great sadness. I felt guilty for Father's death, and for many years my conscience bothered me. They never said anything about it in our family. But I was consumed with fear. I was scared to sleep by myself and that caused a lot of problems. I was especially frightened of devils. They had the shape of humans but they had chicken feet. Those devils lived far away on the mountains. One has to beware of them and have nothing to do with them. Otherwise they will drag you to the mountains. When it was raining, water drops from the roof would create signs on the ground similar to chicken foot prints. It worried me that the devils had arrived. In the daytime nobody knew about my fears. Only at night I used to wake up and run from one bed to another. When we returned to Vishnive, this fear continued for several years until the mother of my sister-in-law died. The women who washed her body told me that if I held her legs my fear would be gone. I loved her a lot. I grabbed her legs. The legs were ice cold. This helped me a lot. I have had no fear since then.
Yaacov-Hirsh is Returning from Yadlovka
Yaakov-Hirsh, as I told you, finished his year of teaching in Yadlovka and was on his way back to the village. In Volkovisk he was told about Father's death. He bought fruits, among them oranges which were very expensive, and sweets. Upon arrival in the village, the family of Zalman Levin would not allow him to enter our house so that he would not get sick. He stayed with them and sent all the goodies home to us. Mother, who was very sick, asked who had sent so many good things, and blessed "Sheyihieh Bari" (may he be healthy). She did not know that he had arrived. She was not told because she would have been insulted that he did not come to see her. She did not realize how contagious the disease was. Mother was the last one to recover.
Let's Go Home! We recovered slowly. All of us became healthy and felt much better. We got stronger. Father was no more, and my brothers took charge of the family. Yaakov-Hirsh began applying pressure to leave the village and return to Vishnive. "I am tired of being a refugee," he said. "I want to return to the place where my forefathers have lived." He wanted to live only in Vishnive. Mother resisted. She claimed that Vishnive was in ruins, our house was burned, and there was nothing to return to. Volkovisk, she said, is a nice city. Yaakov-Hirsh's opinion prevailed, and we began our preparations for our return home to Vishnive.