** Webmaster Note: The following
is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov
as sponsored by George Zilbergeld.
Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).
WITH A CHEERFUL COUNTENANCE
reason, many people think that in the small town there grew only
pallid-faced, tender-hearted children, with the signs of the
exile recognizable in their appearance and manners.There may be a certain amount of truth in that, but not
the entire truth.I
remember my childhood, in general, with a cheerful countenance,
from which I arrive at other conclusions.Indeed, my childhood in Vladimirets, and that of many
other children who were my age, already was confronted with the
signs of revival and the return to Zion.The renewal of the Land of Israel
became a source of awakening and change of values for us, and
its signs were felt also in our daily lives.The surrounding nature drew our hearts.We saw beautiful trees and ploughed fields, and we knew
not only that their beauty did not endanger us and because of it
we were not incurring the death penalty, but also that it was an
important factor in forming our spirit and independence.The Bible was also already a factor of new life for us.In it, we found signs and examples of people who were
healthy in body and spirit.
example, I had a great love for pigeons, because of which I knew
parents regarded this negatively, along with other Jews, who
would say that it was not appropriate for a Jewish boy to be
occupied with such things.But when I wanted to find justification for this love of
mine, I remembered the dove in the Bible, which the righteous
and innocent Noah sent from the ark to see if the waters of the
Flood had dried up.
I remembered the hero Shimshon [Samson], who trapped 300 foxes
and tied torches to their tails and sent them out into the
fields of the Philistines.Was there such a great difference between dogs and foxes?
I wondered.And why
did my parents regard with resentment the dog that I bred in our
this animal I saw an important weapon in our war with the
non-Jewish children, who bothered us and embittered our lives.These thoughts certainly were shared by other children,
whether a few or many.
began these occupations with the best intentions, and who can
estimate how much we suffered because of them.To set up a dove-cote in the yard, in a high place on the
white doves would fly out into the skies of Vladimirets, was an
idea that greatly fascinated meand drew my heart from the time I was a young boy.But the matter never materialized.My parents and older brothers had the upper hand.After many attempts to arrive at my purpose, and after
many failures, I was forbidden to do so and I was forced to
cancel my opinion in favor of that of my elders and to be
satisfied with sending wishful, longing looks at the roofs of
the gentiles, or at Leibel Lopata's roof next to the gralnia
[whiskey factory], above which the lovely pigeons flew.I would look at them with hopeless yearning.Once, I disappeared from home for hours.I went to the yard of the guard of the gmina
(township), who also had a dove-cote.
In a short
time I began to beg my parents to allow me, nevertheless, to buy
a pair of pigeons.
I would beg them, in my heart relying on the Bible, as I already
besides the basic objection, the price of a pair of pigeons was
relatively high – about two and a half gold coins, a not
insignificant amount.I began to save small coins, until I accumulated the
required amount, and finally I bought a pair of white doves from
the guard of the gmina.At first, this project was conducted in secrecy.I hid the doves in a crate in the yard, so that the
family wouldn't find out, but the secret was revealed and a
series of moral rebukes and explanations began.
something for shgatzim [non-Jews] and not for a Jewish
boy," my father would rebuke and reprimand me.From time to time, my parents would tell me about the
dangers involved in breeding pigeons or dogs:
takes care of pigeons and dogs, his brain becomes stupid and
cannot absorb his learning."
by little, the family became used to my hobby, and with the help
of my good friends Yankele Kaufman, Benjamin Sharfstein and
Hershel Smoliar, we began to prepare the attic as a home for my
Sometimes Shmulik Shostak, Avrahamel Beider, Michael Wischnia,
and others, also came to enjoy the delightful and lovely birds.
time, we began to build a real dove-cote.We took apart crates in the yard and gathered building
apart and built, built and took apart, until the dove-cote was
the birds multiplied and I already had five or six pairs in the
attic, but this multiplication was limited and hindered, because
our fondness for the pigeons was so great that we frequently
would touch their eggs and chicks, thereby causing their deaths.The cats also contributed more than a little help in
angel of destruction existed in the skies of Vladimirets – a
predatory bird that the goyim called a shulak.I would fearfully look at the skies of the town and see
this bird of prey sailing and hovering very high in the heavens,
and suddenly it would dive downward in a straight line, falling
like a stone, not a living thing.It would fall on one of the doves, grab it in its claws
and carry its booty with it on high.So the dangers were many, and I was obligated to stand
guard and find means of protection against them.
was to fill what was lacking by buying new pigeons.But we also had another way – we would go, I and a few
friends, outside the town with a few pigeons in our hands.We were sure that these pigeons were accustomed to us and
their home, and if we freed them they would return home, even
from far away.
field, we would approach the place where the goyim kept
their flocks of pigeons.We would throw a rock at them and confuse them, and at
the same time, we also freed our own pigeons, which, of course,
this way, one or two of the pigeons belonging to the
would accompany them and would remain in our dove-cote.
It was not in vain that my parents taught me that these birds
would interfere with my studies.Indeed, they were right in reprimanding me.Not only that – the pigeons also caused us actual damage.My parents were crop merchants.More than once, the pigeons finished off many seeds that
were in the sacks, causing us a significant loss.I now must confess my sins.When I saw them doing that, I did not try to move them
contrary, I would contentedly look and see how they ate and
I wanted to move the dove-cote from the attic of the house to
the attic of the stable, and that brought about the end of my
flock, all because of bloodthirsty cats.The roof of our house was covered with tin, and the cats
were unable to climb it.But the roof of the stable was covered with wooden
shingles, and the cats easily walked over them to the dove-cote.Many of the pigeons were strangled to death, and many of
them scattered in fright, even deserting the eggs that they were
pigeons that remained alive no longer entered the dove-cote, and
only sat on the edges of the roof, always on guard against
summer, my flock was completely eliminated.And this is what happened:Among the remaining pigeons, there was in the flock one
rare homing pigeon that I bought from a Pole.All of the pigeons were afraid of people, and whenever
someone would approach them, they flew away.But this pigeon – it was a dove of kindness, intelligent,
kind of heart and of eye, and it was very friendly to humans.It even came into our house.It would stand on my head or my shoulder and peck its
food from my hand.
And thus I would walk around with it in the streets of
Vladimirets, and the children would gather around me and look at
the wonder with shining, curious eyes.
morning, that same summer, I wanted to see the pigeons flying on
something at them to disturb their rest, and they rose from
them was the homing pigeon, my favorite.They flew higher and higher.At that moment, I suddenly saw the predatory shulak
appear high in the sky.Amazed, I looked at him from afar, and my heart predicted
that he was plotting to harm one of the pigeons.
my heart was not wrong.The bird of prey was trying to harm the homing pigeon,
and it, with its great awareness, escaped with various
acrobatics in flight.But the shulak closed the paths to safety, until
the homing pigeon disappeared on the horizon, the bird of prey
waited half an hour and longer, and my pigeon did not return.I understood that its fate had been determined.I didn't know what to do.My heart was pained, and I found no comfort.
"If only I
had trained the pigeons to rest?!" I rebuked myself.If only…
of the homing pigeon caused me deep sorrow and I did not have
the strength to take care of the flock again.Thus, their end arrived.
The fear of
the shgatzim, the children of the goyim who lived
at the ends of the streets and blocked off to us the way out of
town to the fields and forest – this was a uniting factor among
the lads, children of
Israel.We knew that we could overcome the children of the
goyim only with our combined strengths.Indeed, this danger did not lie in wait for us on every
example, it was possible to walk in the direction of the
Sucha Wald and the Barg Wald with almost no concern,
and also to the train station, but not toward the Viyezha.You must know that the matter of the Viyezha
was not trivial.
This was the tall tower that the Polish regime built, at a
distance of several kilometers from the town.It was a wooden tower that was several tens of meters
stairs in the tower, up which it was possible to climb to the
one could look over the entire area and be up in the heavens for
a short time – at a height where only birds can reach.And who could waive such enjoyment
All of the
youths were drawn here.But the trouble was – in order to reach the tower we had
to pass through the most dangerous street of the
goyim.The head of
the rioters, whose name will be remembered here in defamation,
was the youngest son of the Polturak family, who lived next to
always threatened us and called out to us:
"Ya, Hitler na vas," in other words, "May Hitler come upon you."
This was in 1932-1933, during the rise of Hitler.He would gather other gentile youths and incite them
against us, and they would block the road to the tower from us.Our wars with them involved throwing sticks and stones
and no more…
I possessed enmity toward the Polturak boy, toward this little
oppressor of Jews.
More than once, I had thoughts of revenge against him, how I
would surprise him with my hard blows, beat him and rout him.As is written [in the Bible].And behold, once such an opportunity was given to me, and
indeed, I did not neglect it.
One day, I saw that the little Amalekite[Little Evil One] was walking past our
late in the afternoon, while I was sitting outside near the
house.I let him go
a short distance away and began to follow him, until I caught up
with him next to the pool of rainwater that served as a washing
place for domestic animals.I saw that at the moment he saw me, all of the strength
and bravery he wore on the street of the goyim
left him.I jumped
toward him and rained several punches upon him, on his head and
face, and I was not satisfied with that.I pushed him into the dirty water and went a short
distance away from there, but I could see very well how he got
out of this "bath," wet and weeping.
I knew that he would not let this pass quietly, and that he
would take revenge not only upon me, but also on the rest of the
boys, with the help of his goyish
friends and their watchdogs.We also had a dog in our yard and I used to take him
outside the premises of our house.I could, therefore, protect myself from them, but the
other children suffered greatly from this youngster.
Indeed, my dog was a weapon in my war with the shgatzim,
our sworn enemies.
And just as I suffered a great deal because of the pigeons, so I
suffered because of the dog.I could not understand why people regarded me so
for example, was the advantage of a horse over a dog?I looked for reasons to justify it, and remembered a fact
from my studies, that when the Jews left
Egypt, no dog barked.In that I found proof that the bad attitude toward these
animals was not justified, and when I heard from someone that
when dogs cry, it is a sign that the Angel of Death is coming to
the city, and when dogs laugh, it is a sign that Eliyahu Hanavi
[Elijah the Prophet] is coming to the city, for me it was proof
that this animal was blessed with sense and sensitivity and love
for the people close to him, and that we were ungrateful.In general, a creature that is able to cry and to laugh
deserves a different attitude.If I requested to tell how many difficulties I
experienced because of this love of mine for animals, I would
not be able to do so.I didn't always know how to answer the rebukes of those
who contradicted me, but in my heart I felt that I was not doing
this matter, just like the matter of the homing pigeon, finished
with an ending that wasn't good.
Since there had already been instances of robbery in our yard,
and I had proved with signs and wonders that a dog would guard
the yard and would be a benefit to the house, the silent
agreement of the family was given.At that time, I received a small puppy from Yehoshua Bik,
who also had a dog in his yard.The puppy was very small, but in a short time he grew to
be a huge animal – his head was like the head of a fox, narrow
and long, and his neck was thicker than his head.He indeed was a good watchdog.With pride, I saw how the goyim
were afraid to come to the yard, and I had to tie him to a chain
to protect them.
Because of the build of the dog's head and neck, I had to order
a special harness that was composed of several straps that were
worn on the dog's entire body, and tying this harness was a
special operation that only I knew.
But I did not intend the dog only for guarding the yard.The guarding was only a means for getting the agreement
of the family.Like
Shimshon the hero in his time, I also wanted to send the fire of
my revenge on our Philistines, in other words:the goyim
– and I wanted to do this with the assistance of my "fox."
I remember one incident that ended in misfortune.I had a friend whom we called, for some reason, "Yankele
in other words, "Yankele the turtle."To this very day, I do not understand how they attached
the name "turtle," which symbolizes slowness, to this Yankele.Yankele was a symbol of agility and courage.He would accompany me wherever I went, and he was a
wonderful advisor as to how to fight against the shgatzim.That day, we decided that it was worth it for us to begin
an offensive attack and bring it into their territory.Of course, the dog was also a partner in this operation.When we arrived at the street of the goyim,
Yankele began to excite the dog to attack them, and because
Yankele was brave, he ran ahead, first in battle, toward the
by doing so, he drew the dog after him.The war was at its peak.The shgatzim
threw rocks and I threw rocks back at them.And meanwhile, in the heat of the battle, Yankele tripped
and fell, and the dog certainly became confused and saw the
fallen as one of our enemies – he leaped on my friend and sank
his teeth behind his ear, causing a deep wound…
Indeed, the shgatzim
ran away.But I and
my friend, our hearts were no longer given to war, but to the
wounded.We had to
hide the matter from Yankele's parents, and first of all, to run
to the Bas' pharmacy.There, I bought a small bottle of iodine, and we secretly
gave first aid to Yankele.
I had many friends in the town.We had many occupations and games.On Chanuka, we played with dreidels
we played with nuts.We collected stamps, and traded them – in these two
occupations, my dear friends from school, Zelig Kaplan and Musia
Grushko, were very, very close to me.Zelig excelled in his beautiful handwriting.I loved his handwriting, his rounded letters, which I
regarded as being actual works of art.Musia Grushko excelled in mathematics, and knew how to
solve the most complicated problems.
Occasionally, there were quarrels and arguments among the
children, after which came the berogez
[anger], but in the end, we reconciled; we were merciful,
children of the merciful.
In the winter, we would gather on the Poplaw,
and the Krimovka,
three small ponds at the edge of the town, whose waters were
we enjoyed skating on the ice on home-made skates.These skates were made from wood with a metal bar
underneath and a rope threaded through the wood that tied the
device to one's shoes.The skates were an indispensable product that was sold by
the children of the goyim.They assembled them themselves and sold them to the
The price varied between half a zloty to one and one-half
zlotys, according to the quality.In comparison, there were a few children who bought
skates made of steel, with a nickel coating.These were brought from the big cities.
Every afternoon, many children would come to skate on the ice.At the beginning of the winter, on the first days of
frost, we already waited impatiently for one of the ponds to
freeze and be covered with ice.Here, the water had frozen and was covered by a first
layer of ice.The
layer of ice was not thick enough, but we already had no
patience, and we had no strength to continue waiting.We went out already to skate on the ice.The ice would groan and squeak under our feet.There was some worry that in a little while the ice would
break, but nevertheless, we continued to run around on it.Some years, we were lucky, but I remember one winter when
we went out to skate on the Sazhilka
and suddenly, the ice broke in one place and two children who
had been skating together holding hands, fell into the cold
water.The crack in
the ice was large and it got bigger and widened, and many other
children also fell in, myself among them.The ice continued to break – crack after crack, until the
entire pond looked like a broken window.The other children, who were luckier, stood around the
pond and laughed, while we were shivering.Not a single one of us came down with a bad cold, or even
a chill, after that game.
If, in the winter, our game was connected to the ground, to the
ice and snow, in the summer months, our direction was upward –
that is, toward the sky.Now, we would go out of the town to fly colorful kites.Why out of town?Very simply, because inside the town the kites would be
caught on the telephone wires or the roofs, and outside, there
were only wide open spaces without any barriers.On the other hand, flying the kites outside the town was
subject to the danger that the shgatzim
would cut the kite strings.
I remember one summer afternoon – I went out on the road to
Dolgovolya with my colorful kite.This road was wide, without any telephone poles or wires.I took with me, from my parents' store, two balls of No.
10 thread for hand sewing, which was thicker.I lay down comfortably in the fresh grass, and amused
myself by sending "letters" to my kite, which was already flying
"letter" of this type was a piece of paper with one hole punched
in it.Through this
hole, we threaded the piece of paper on the kite string, and it
would be lifted all the way up to the kite.Meanwhile, the day was ending and the shepherds began to
return with their flocks from the fields and the nearby forest.I was alone, and I knew that they would not pass by me
without doing anything.I hurried to gather the long strings into a ball and to
get out of there, but they caught up with me before I finished
didn't harm me, they only wanted the strings.These strings were a precious commodity in the eyes of
the wives of the goyim,
who couldn't afford to buy them in a shop.
The loss was not so great, because I could get other strings.But the humiliation was not easy.Again, the problem –
among the nations, and even a valueless matter like kite strings
became a cause.
In the summer, the children of the town played dodge ball.Later, the game of soccer became naturalized, and we
played it in empty fields.We spent many hours playing these games.When we grew up and joined the various youth movements,
we would go on hikes outside the town, and even to the villages
Ozero, Kanonicze and Pechenki.
I remember that the parents of my friend Musia Grushko had a
farm and a large orchard in Dolgovolya village.Musia would try to convince us to go there with him, a
distance of five or six kilometers.He would coax us and told a lot about the wonders of the
place, to entice us to go there.
We were enticed, and we went, and indeed, we were not
would come between the trees loaded with fruit – all kinds of
pears and apples, to a guard hut.The taste of those fruits is with me to this very day,
especially the special taste of the light plums…
Memories, memories – all of them prove that our childhood was
not oppressed – a magical light shone on all of our games and
deeds.It is true
that at the edges of the town, in the gentile neighborhoods,
hatred bubbled against us, but it also aroused us to stand up to
it and defend ourselves, until the days came when the
threatening storm rose and flooded…