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Sefer Vladimirets

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Once There was a Shtetl

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Elhanan Burko

** Webmaster Note: The following translation was generously provided by Lior Mordechai Burko.  We have presented it here exactly as it was translated for us.  Notes for clarity or explanation have been provided in brackets.

ONCE THERE WAS A SHTETL

Once there was a small shtetl in Poland called Vladimirets. This is how we can start our story. This is how we can start the story of any shtetl: Once there was… Several thousand Jews lived in it, making a living through commerce with the area’s farmers. On Market Days the farmers would come to town to sell their produce, and to buy what they needed. Some of the retailers would travel to other towns for their Market Days. Those were the lion’s share of the shtetl: Our people were get-goers, busy from dawn till dusk  with their livelihood – and with their strong spirits they were able to win their bread.

 There were also craftsmen, who lived off their labor: cobblers, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths. Those were the common trades in our Shtetl. And we also had those whose trade was their Torah: Shuls, Chassidim, Misnagdim (Chassidic adversaries), synagogue officers. Each synagogue had its own following.  

The shtetl was divided in two. In its greater part – the southern – lived the merchants, the retailers, and the religious officers. Most of the shuls were in that part of town. In the smaller part – the northern – lived the craftsmen, and that is where their shul, the “Schneider Shul” (The Tailors’ Synagogue) used to be. As a partition between the two parts of town were the two Christian churches and the wide fields and the large parks around them.  [This is the Provo-Slavic church and the Catholic church, #11 & #12 on the streetmap. T. ] 

Every now and then there were “wars” among the children of the two parts of town. There was no Jewish school. Kids went either to a Cheder or studied with a tutor. Some, mostly the girls, went to the Polish public school. Few went to a distant Yeshiva. The community leaders were unable to finish the construction of the school. A large wooden skeleton of a building, intended to become the school, used to stand. It had stood for years until the marks of time started to be visible.  

We had two amateur companies in town. One was a band playing at weddings, whose revenue was dedicated to finishing the construction of the school. The other company was that of the actors, who used to put up various plays at the Firefighters hall, whose revenue was also dedicated to finishing the construction of the school. And the school was never established.  

Most of the youth was eager to study, but did not have the privilege to continue their schooling. Some learned a trade, some went into commerce – worked in a store etc. There was a Zionist movement. A Keren Kayemet donation box was in every house. Jews prayed for a Return to Zion, and waited for the redemption. In the synagogue of the Stolin Hassidim, on Simchat Torah they sang “Ha’Tikva” enthusiastically – a Nathan Tsherniak’s initiative.  

For years and years the Jews of Vladimirets had lived on with their troubles and their joyous occasions, but the young people walked a narrow world, a world with no prospects or future. 

The Ha’shomer was established, and the youth united around it, organized, got fascinated with the shomeric customs, the Hebrew singing. The Hebrew language broke out of the books and exited to the streets. The structure of Organization was erected – and the winds of youthfulness were blowing. Barriers fell down. Sons of the richer merchants hang out with the sons of laborers. Hebrew singing could be heard from the gathering places, the narrow circle was disbanded. The yearning and longing for Zion materialized with a crust of skin and tendons.   

The “Ha’Khalutz” was established. The first members went out to train for making Aliya. A Khalutz youth movement was also established, So was Betar, but most of the youth was in the Shomer. The existence of the Shomer was not accepted with indifference by the town’s citizenry. It had many adversaries. Parents did not want to separate from their children. They were not used to being disobeyed by their children, and not having them follow in their footsteps. For we wrote on our banners new slogans our forefathers knew not. A war was waged between parents and children. There were zealous parents who fought with their children.  

I recall one winter day – snow covered the ground and the hall was far too small to contain all the members of the Shomer. A company of Shomer members went out to the forest. The squeaking of snow underneath our feet, our faces burning with excitement, we arrived at the forest. In the forest we got wild, we made snowballs, we danced, we held the world with our arms: a Shomer group in nature. And there in the distance, we saw someone approaching, one of the parents. A distinguished Jew, his eyes threw brimstone and fire with fury as he forcefully took away his daughter. This incident and other incidents like it even enhanced the fervor and unity in the Shomer offices.

Even the Police pursued us. We had to move from one venue to another, from house to house, and the Police were confiscating the letters and pamphlets we received from Headquarters.   

We found shelter in Henda Mauzero’s house. That small house served as our warm gathering place before going out for parties and campfires. On days of happiness and on days of trouble we could find a haven with Mother Henda.  

On summer days we were free from the sight of Police, as we held our activities in the fields or in the forest. I recall Lag Be’Omer, when the entire membership went out to the forest. The very same day a big fire started, called “The Big Fire,” that nearly consumed the town. We had nowhere to go back to. The houses were burnt down. Many of the older members went out to training to prepare for making Aliya.

In Skladkowski’s Poland anti-Semitism was rampant. [Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski  - the last Polish Prime Minister before WWII. LMB.] The world was in turmoil. We felt the ground falling from under us. Even parents came to terms with their children’s “mischief.” Many sought ways to make Aliya, but the gates of Eretz Israel were locked. A few were able to break through and make Aliya. Most Khalutz and Shomer members stayed behind, among them Bracha Zamedweiss and Shifra Lizeroff, who were in training with us but weren’t fortunate enough to make Aliya.

Once there was a small shtetl, and there is no more. And the heart most surely cries.


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