Life in Kolomyya, story 2
Excerpts from Sam Weiser’s autobiography, Sam’s Legacy
IN THE BEGINNING
I’m going to try and tell you a little bit about myself. I know you always asked me to tell you what I did and what my past is. I’m gonna try and do something about it. First I think I’m gonna tell you about my childhood as far back as I can remember the usual children things you remember more in later years. As you know I was born in 1903 (ed. see birth certificate on right). I had a very poor childhood. By my poor childhood I mean, I didn’t have any toys. I didn’t have any recreation, aggravation yes, but recreation, no. You know as a child there’s always something special that you use on long winter days. A lot of kids had sleds and I had to make a sled for myself. As a child you can imagine what it looked like and what it felt like. We had steep hills and it was hard to tie the sled. I use to go sliding down the hills and I was always the first one down, without the sled of course. But I didn’t give up so quick and after a while you get tired of it, getting all banged up, rolling down the hill.
In those days we use to have horseshoes; what looked like horseshoes on our heels and I was trying to skate on my heels where there was ice. Of course, before you get use to it you go down quite a few times and you bang your behind up and it is not long before you get some results. I wasn’t one to give up because I wanted to have something to play, and I used to even before you know it, stoop and I use to skate on my heels. Before you know, I could figure skate and all that stuff. I was pretty good at it. No kids could catch me because I use to turn over to the left and most of the kids could turn over to the right. I couldn’t turn over to the right, so they use to have a lot of fun trying to catch me.
Before you know,Pesach turned. Of course for Pesach we always use to get new clothes from top to bottom; everything was made to oreder. At that time making to order was cheaper than buying. We use to get dressed up from top to bottom. We went out in the morning of Pesach. One kid use to look at another because no one recognized the other with all the new suits and new shoes and new hats. Everything you could thing off you had on, like a Christmas tree. The only way we could recognize one another was by our voices. No one was running and no one was fighting because that suit had to be taken care of because that suit had to last for the year. You might get minor things during the summer but no suits ad no new shoes. The new shoes and new suits, afterPesach, when it got a little warm, had to be taken off and saved for the winter time, for Shabbesand for Yontiff. Of course, during the year they bought you little minor things like a pair of pants or soething like that but not much more. When I say we, I mean all the kids in the neighborhood because I didn’t go anyplace else. I’m sure the rest of the city was the same way. (Editor’s Note:The city in reference is probably Kolomea, the neighborhood perhaps is centered about ulica Jablonowskich, the street on which his mother last lived circa 1935, and the timeframe is probably between 1906 and 1909.)
When it came summer time I had a job to do. That was all before I started going to school. I wanted to play. I wanted to do anything because at that point I didn’t have any toys so I had to take something from the other kids. Taking something from the other kids wasn’t so easy because they wanted them. For instance they used those toys, they’re called hoops over here (Editor’s Note: Here means America). Over there they used to get them in different sizes and hit it with a stick and run with it. So if I wanted to get something like this, I had to take it from another kid and I use to run away with it. I never had one of my own. Most of the time I use to get a beating either from their mothers or fathers, whichever one was around. I used to get it. I use to go home to complain and tell my father and mother that someone beat me up. I’d ask, Why should they beat me up? I brought the stuff back to them and sometimes they take something from me when I don’t even have much to take. My parents never took my part for me. They said,Well if you didn’t do it they wouldn’t beat you up. You see for a man here, I had to take care of myself.
I started to go to school when I was seven. I don’t know why I started at seven of age because they usually start at six. Maybe I was too smart to start at six so they started me at seven. I found out later that was not the reason. In going from my house to school I would walk approximately three miles back and forth. My father use to go out very early in the morning, about 5am to go to work, I had to bring him his lunch after I came home from schol and I would say that was approximately another three miles back and forth. Of course as you know in Europe at that time the mothers did all the baking-bread, pastry, and whatever you had to have. It was always baked at home and my mother, rest-in-peace, was very good at it. One of my father’s bosses tasted the bread my mother baked and liked it very much. Before you know it, the wholemeshpoka, tasted it and they all like it and my mother had to bake for them and I was the first one to be on the list to deliver to them. Believe me that was no easy job.
I used to get a tip. The tip was a penny and I didn’t get it too often. With a penny you could buy a big bag of peanuts or maybe a few pears a few things like that or a few pieces of candy. I used to get a penny from my parents too, so i was a rich guy in a way. Many times a beggar use to come over and beg for something to eat and I used to give it to them. They used to pinch me a lot and they use to pray for me a lot. I really use to get a kick out of it.
FIRST EXODUS FROM KOLOMEA
As time went on in 1914, if you all remember, World War I came on. I don’t remember if my sister, Anna, left for this country in 1913 or 1914. I don’t remember exactly. (Editor’s Note:His sister Anna immigrated to America in 1913 at about age 15). I had another sister, an older sister than Anna and I had a brother that was six years older than I. (Editor’s Note:Sam’s sister mentioned here was Marion born around 1892 and last heard from in Kolomyja in 1939. Sam’s brother mentioned here was Mihael born in 1897, he relocated to Yugoslavia and was last heard from around 1938.) I don’t know if I told you that my mother was 46 years of age when I was born. That didn’t do too good for me. You know that age. When I was 5 or 6 yeas old they were in their fifties and I was no playtoy for them anymore. My borther was 6 years older. I was no playtoy for him either. He didn’t want to bother with me too much. he was older, he wanted to go out with the bigger boys. he didn’t have it too easy. When he was 13 he had to go to work. In going to work he signed up to be a cabinetman apprentice. (Editor’s Note:His borther Mihael ended up owning a cabintemaker shop in Bijeljina, Yugoslavia. According to a letter from him to my father in America, Mihael had submitted an application for a patent for a device for adding a service shelf to a dinning room table. Mihael had four children as of 1938. No word has ever been received as to their fate.)
The last I remember what happened was in 1914. This was the time of the year that the war started. We were only about 10 miles away from the Russian front and of course right away there was talk of what the Russians did to the Jewish people, so we were refugees. Soon we were at that time where they were coming closer to our city. We packed up and we went. When I say we, that was my mother and I and my sister, that is my married sister and I don’t remember if she had 1 or 2 children. (Editor’s Note: The sister is Marion. She did have two children, Yhilik the older and a daughter Regina, but it is unknown whether she had both at that time.) We packed up as much as we could carry and we left. If you remember, if you saw the North Vietnamese or South Vietnamese refugees walking on the streets with bundles, we did the very same thing. We never knew from one day to the other where we were gonna be, what we were gonna eat or what we were gonna do. The only thing was we use to ask a lot of questions to whomever we could, either soldiers, officers or private civilians, what was happening. Were the enemies coming closer or not? Many a time we heard cannon fire and many times at night we saw flares go up. I don’t know if it was our flares or the Russian flares, but by those flares they could see a lot of times the army movements during the night. We left my father and brother next to me behind. We figured they could take are of the property, their own house and other things the men might bother. So they were left there to work. We kept walking for weeks, from one day to the other, so far that we didn’t know what we were going to eat or where we were going to sleep. We slept in ditches, we slept in barns, and we slept in pigpens. We kept moving because the Russians had moved quite a bit.
Of course we weren’t the only ones moving. The further we went, the more the streets were clogged with refugeses. Before you know, they put us in a train, in freight cars. About 40 or 50 freight cars. The talk was they were going to take us somewhere far w\away from the fighting. So when they opened the freigh cars we went in. Everyone wanted to be first one, so they pulled them up and packed them in like sardines. Each one had a bundle and some had little children. I was one of the big boys. (Editor’s Note: He was 11 years old at the time.) There was smaller ones, younger ones than I was and there was nothig we could do about it. They wouldn’t tell us where we wanted to go or where they were going to take us. On the way, the train use to stop once in awhile but at every city we passed the train use to stop and people notified that trains were coming with refugees. If they had any food of any kind to bring it over to the trainand give it to us. A lot of people did, Christians or Jews, there was no difference. They also asked for a lot of water. We didn’t have any water to drink because water is not like water over here. (Editor’s Note:In America.) They had small lakes and there was a lot of horses. Manyy times we had ta take dishes full of water and let it sit overnight. If we had a chance to boil it we did. If not, we took a spoon or a little cup and dipped out what we could and we used it either for drinking or for cooking. If we could cook outside in the field. Many times, travelling on the train, they left us in the middle of nowhere miles from a town for some reason which we didn’t know. They left us sometimes for 2 or 3 days just surrounded by mountains, nothing else. No people, nobody else, just us that were there.
Of course food we had very little of and what we had we shared. We were afraid to leave the train. If they wanted to pull away they wouldn’t wait for anybody. We found out the reason they left us there was that they wanted to find out just where they could take us and where people would accept us. When we came into a province, they went into homes and said, there’s refugees coming. Will you take in a family of 2 or 3 to stay with you for awhile until we can make room for them? They had to go and do that. Of course that wasn’t the only rain. There were a lots besides our train and finally after a couple of weeks we got into Austria. Of course where I lived is now Czechoslavakia. When we got there we went to a good home and they took us and gave a room. One room for me, my mother, my sister Marion and her child or children, can’t remember if one or two. They gave us as much food as they could. There were Jewish people but mist Jewish peoplearond there were reformed Jews. (Editor’s Note:It is believed that my father’s family were Orthodox Jews and in fact may have been of the Hasidic sect.)They had pigs and they killed pigs just like a goy. You never knew they were Jews unless they told you. They knew that.
If I remeber, there was a farm where we were. We were about 20 families that they dropped off there. To each one of these people they gave a room to live in. I still had mypeyas and a haircut given by my mother. You can imagine what a cute boy I was with the peyas and the plan scissors giving me a haircut. When the kids saw me on the street, they used to look at me like I came from another world. They never saw anything like that before. I never saw anything like they were. To make a long story short, the farms and houses were very close to one another, almost touching. In back of the houses were the barns. I’m talking about the little farmers, not the big ones. They had pigs and cows. Whatever they could afford to have was in back of the house. There might have been a couple of acres of land in back of the house without those barns with the chickens, pigs and geese and al that stuff. So when it came to Sunday all the kids use to be like one.
When the kids got a hold of a guy like me with peyas I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me. I was talking in Jewish to them and Jewish they couldn’t understand. They use to get together and torture me. I couldn’t do much about it. Each one of them had a stone in their hand. If I started running they were gonna throw it and they were not going to miss. When they came during the week, I’d catch them one by one, jump on them and knock them down. Of course at my age kids din’t jump the big ones and I talked to them in Jewish and said, meshugge. They looked at me and got scared and didn’t know what I was going to do to them. I was hold them by the throat at the same time so they wouldn’t hit me back. I ponted my finge at them so they shouldn’t bother me anymore becauase I am Jewish. In a few weeks I started to learn their language fast. (Editor’s Note:Without any formal training in languages my father was able to pick up enough to communicate in several languages including, Yiddish, German, Polish, Czechoslavakian, Portugese, and English. In a few weeks I cut off my peyas because that was something the kids could pull on if they wanted to. Before you know it I became one of them. I could go to anybody’s house with any kid just like one of them. They weren’t too bad of kids. We looked like different people. They wanted to know who we are, what we are, the language from our head.
The best part I forgot to tell you. The house where we lived, it came Saturday and we called in the missus from the house to light the fire for us so we coudld warm up the child’s milk. They were very very hurt that they gave us everything they could possibly give us and we still wanted their service to light our fire for us and all those things. There was no way we could explain to them so they could understand why we did that. That we are such Jews, that we cannot light the fire on the Sabbath. Then we rented a room somewhere else. I don’t recall who paid for it, the government? I don’t think we paid for the rent. I don’t remember, although I was eleven years old at the time.
At first I worked for one of the farmers there but they couldn’t pay enough. There was avery big farm. The landowner hired from all the small farms where there was people left over. They use to work for this big farmer there. Of course they paid a little bit more, so I went to work for them. To work for them I had to get up every morning at about 5am because it took me an hour to walk and I had to start at 6am and came home at 8pm. I aet whatever I had. Sometimes I used to get some milk there. They had some cows so they used to sneak and give me a little milk. They couldn’t spare it because they were watched by the government. The government use to take it away from them for the army and for the refugees where there weren’t bags where they needed different foods. They didn’t give too much but they gave something for people to live on. Of course, I wanted to tell you all about myself, all about those thuings about the refugees and the life I went through. When I say went through, I meant the whole bunch of us.
I lived on those big farms until 1916. In 1916 they chased the Russians back past our city and claimed it was secure to go home and we would be all right, so we went back in 1916 and that’s the time I got my Bar Mitzvah, just in time to go back there. (Editor’s Note:a transit pass from Wien to Kolomea shows Zalman at 13 years old and his mother, then about 59 years old.) My father, rest in peace, took me to shule, just him and me. We took a pint of liquor and a dozen pastries and that was my Bar Mitzvah.
FINAL EXODUS FROM KOLOMEA
Not much longer after that we had to leave the country again, but this time our father and mother (ed.: Chaim and Chaje on left) weren’t with us. My brother, sister, and I went. This time we had a horse and buggy and we took a little more belongings with us. We had the same treatment as before. I don’t remember what could be worse. We landed back where we came from before. Of course when we got there, the people knew us and we rented our room right away. Of course I wanted to go to work. I was liked and I got my job back. I was always like that where I worked. It started all oer again for me just as before. Of course my father, rest in peace, couldn’t get a job. he could do the work so I had to be the sole earner. As time went on and the war was over in 1918 there started a new life for me. The new life was very very simple. Each one started to take a piece of country for themselves. Czechlslavakia belonged to Austria, Hungary belonged to Austria, part of Poland belonged to Austria, Yugoslavia belonged to Austria and each one took a piece for themselves. Of course at that time where we lived was Austria and as soon as the war stopped it turned out to be Czechoslavakia. (Editor’s Note:My father ended up living in Bratislava, Czechoslavakia for several years and working in a grocery store before coming to America in 1922.)
Prepared January 6, 2001
Copyright © 2000 Alan Weiser