Podu Turcului, Romania
Coordinates: 46.204°N 27.386°E
The following are extracts of material about Podu Turcului from memoirs written by Jay Sage’s cousins that were prepared for a 1993 reunion of the Rigler and Halpern families from Podu Turcului. The following items are included (click on them to jump to that story).
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In 1886, I was born in the little town of Podu Turculu, Rumania. It was a picturesque town—lots of trees, bushes and the river. Some of the village people did their washing at the river bank; with no wash board; just washing the garment from one hand to the other. The clothes came out surprisingly clean. As a young child, I enjoyed watching them do it until the washing was done. After the water settled in the river, the cows and sheep were brought for a drink.
The town of Podu Turculu was small; it had two streets. One lane was called the Crooked Street. We had a nice river, also the central market place for buying and selling. Once—my sister Anna was then only ten days old—the whole town burned down, and all the people went down to the river with their scant belongings. We were very fortunate that the wheat elevator, which my father owned, was undamaged, but our home was gone. Luckily, no lives were lost. But in the terrible excitement during the fire, Anna, the baby, was dragged with her head down, feet up, until our place was found. Looking back, it seems a touch of comedy.
The country there was very interesting, as it raised much fruit, especially grapes. Then again in European countries, where various nationalities live so close to one another, we used to have people from all the other countries visit us. The Bulgarians especially are wonderful gardeners; the Turks with their good coffee, made in coppermills, wore red fezzes and white belts at the waistlines. There were lots of gypsies from throughout the Balkan countries; the superstitiousness of our people has always been evident in their turning to the gypsies for guidance. The climate in Rumania is quite mild, lots of heavy snow, but less frost. On some holiday celebrations, we used to go into the woods and there we would roast young lamb over a charcoal flame. As children we loved it. The scent and the taste of that time still seem to be with me. Of course, we were given all the wine we wished—even the children drank wine as we drink water. It was an area for wineries. Wine was used as a medicinal protector, since our water was polluted, unclean.
I went to school four grades there—about the same in standard as the eight grades here. For extra languages, tutors were necessary to learn German, French, and English. I had a few German lessons and learned some nursery songs and poems. By the time I was twelve, the family had grown bigger in size and poorer in money; I was the eldest of seven children. Now came the time to think of moving to America. My father did not want his sons to do military training—compulsory in Rumania—so his only longing and wishing was to go to America, a free land for everyone. The relatives who had preceded us had encouraging tales of opportunities here—plus all the hardships the newcomer must face. By that time, however, we were so many. One of my mother’s brothers lent the money needed for tickets—for steerage class—for all of us. This uncle lent the money without his wife’s knowledge, but he was repaid later with good interest. All we took along was the bedding, the silver, and our few clothes. Some of my mother’s earliest housekeeping tools, such as old brass and copper pieces, candelabra, and coffee mills are our prizes today.
From our village, we had to go to Berlad, where we boarded the third class section of the Orient Express (wooden seats; and we carried our own sacks of food) via Vienna and Germany to Rotterdam, Holland—all this in October, 1901.
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Our great grandfather Baruch Rigler was married to Charna. He was a prominent, well off store keeper in Podu Turcului, Romania. He owned a dry goods store that attracted many non-Jewish as well as Jewish Patrons from the surrounding areas. Together with Avrom Schwartz, another well off member of the community, they founded the synagogue in the town. Later Mr. Schwartz’s’ son, Sholem married Baruch’s daughter, Pearl. Baruch and Charna lived a very good life. They liked good food, jewelry and furs. Baruch bought his wife sterling silver from Vienna.
After the Congress of Berlin in 1878, when the Turks were driven out of Romania and the Hohenzalerin regime came into power, the economic welfare of the Jews declined. Hard times set in due to the various types of discrimination. Baruch and Charna had three children, Israel, Pearl and Meyer. Charna was a very strong minded woman. Everyone in town admired her courage. She continued their business together with their younger son Meyer long after Baruch’s death. She lived until she was 104 years old.
Aunt Pearl, grandpa Israel’s sister, doted on his oldest daughter, Chia Sura. Chia Sura, my mother, was a very beautiful girl and a very warm hearted person. When she fell in love with Jacob Halpern, the family did not approve of him. They did not regard him sufficiently polished gentleman for Chia Sura but they finally relented because he was a keen, strong, vigorous and a very good provider. Jacob Halpern was a self made man, a diamond in the rough.
My father, Jacob Halpern was the youngest of three children born to Rifka and Chaim Zalek Halpern in February of 1859, in Podu Turcului. He had an older brother, Moishe and a sister Chaya Mensa. His mother, Rifka died when he was eleven years old. Later, his father, Chaim Zalek married Grandma Sura Leah and they in turn had three children, Joseph, Israel (Srul), and Devorah. My father worked very hard as an apprentice to a storekeeper and learned several trades. His father died soon after he became engaged to my mother, Chia Sura Rigler and he had to assume responsibility of helping to support the family.
My parents were married in Podu Turcului in September 1885. Dad was 26 and mother 20 years old. Their wedding was a very festive affair lasting a whole week. Dad was already established in a flourishing grain and fish business. He was so humiliated when Bessie was born, because she was a girl, he didn’t open his store for a whole day. She was named for his mother, Rebecca. In 1887 their first son, Charlie was born. Ben followed two years later. Then, they lost a son, Echeal at the age of three weeks. Next came Sam and then Anna followed two years later. At that time there was a devastating fire that destroyed most of the town. Everyone ran toward the river and mother found herself holding Anna, an infant, feet up and head down. After Anna, came two more daughters, Esther and Ruth. By that time mother’s parents, her sisters and brothers were leaving for America and the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Mother’s uncle, Aaron Goldberg had pioneered and established himself in business. In 1900 my parents became concerned that Charlie might be drafted into the army. He was a big, tall, broad shouldered boy for his age.
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In my early days—when most young people would be interested in boys and girls—we had a few social parties in our house in Podu Turk [Rumania]. The young men and girls of the neighborhood—everyone lived close to each other in this small village—would go to each others’ houses—listening to someone play a violin, talking, playing some old-time games. Then the Mother would usually serve some refreshments—wine or tea, with something sweet, and of course, grapes and other fruits. We didn’t have any birthday parties of anything like that special, but just small house gatherings. That was how I met my husband, Yonkel. He was a hard working young man and came from a “ groshartig” family.
I was a “kalla” for two years before being married when I was 19½ years old. I remember my own wedding—all the parties and celebrations lasted eight days. My dress was light tan trimmed in lace and I had a veil too. Bridesmaids? I don’t remember any—except “ Interfirkers”—a nice man and woman. My own father didn’t have any money—he had never worked in his life, was always supported by his Father. So my grandfather had about $500 that he spent for my wedding and all the guests. We had something like an out-door patio of today—all covered with grape vines—that is where I was married and the dinners and dancing took place. It was in the fall of the year—the end of August or early September, so the weather was “ shane.” We started off on a Friday afternoon—then went to the synagogue. On Saturday, there were parties for the relatives and friends. Cake and wine and fruit was served. Sunday nothing was happening. I suppose we rested. We had been dancing to violin music for many hours the day before. The following Friday, we had the wedding. Then the next day, on Saturday morning, we went to the synagogue. Then came the large dinner for everyone out-of-doors. Dancing. The aunts cooked. This was in Podu Turk.
After the wedding, we lived for four or five weeks in one room. Then we rented a house next door to my parents. My husband at first had a fish and grocery store in the front of the house. During these early years, I was often the nursemaid for my sisters, Annie and Fannie. My own father did nothing all his life but he had eight children and a pair of twins that died early in infancy. One winter—all year, in fact, my own Mother who had to try to get a little money to live on—rented out a room in their house. That meant that Annie and Fannie had not a place to stay, so they came and stayed with Yonkel and myself. One slept on top of a trunk to make enough room. Also a brother and his wife came to stay with us—we had three beds and two–three baby cradles in this one large room—and divided the sleeping sections with long curtains.
I never went to many places—no theaters, no dances, no meetings. I was too busy, one baby after another. And we were so crowded at first with different family coming to stay with us. Later on, we had a nice house, but that was many years later in my life. So I started the habit of being at home, and people came to us to visit and exchange news of the world. I used to serve coffee, tea and baked stuff. I did the same thing in my years in Minneapolis.
In Europe—I had three brothers who were apprentices to merchants; that is how they earned a small living. Hirsh had a shoe store. When Vol Sholum was getting ready to go to his wedding at a near-by town—we went on a wagon with two horses. I had been invited down there too. I didn’t have any money—so Yonkel, who was not yet my husband—gave me some spending money in a small purse. I can still remember that purse—because at first I lost it. Then we found the empty purse—and also found out that the bridegroom, Vol Sholum, my brother, had taken the money because he needed it. I felt very bad to come back and tell that to Yonkel. And worst of all, this same brother and his wife came to live with us—and we had to divide up the room for them. I don’t suppose Yonkel like it very much—but there didn’t seem anything else to do.
I had eight children before coming to America—and Saul was born soon after we came here. No doctors were called in my small town in Podu Turk—only midwives—and we didn’t pay them much, and everything went along just fine. For Saul I did get a doctor but a midwife was also called—and the doctor and midwife had a quarrel, with the doctor walking out, and the midwife taking over. The midwives were paid very little—I don’t remember how much. I know Dr. Gordon who took most the rest of the babies got only $10–$15 for each. And I guess I was pretty lucky to come through so well each time. Of course, with each child there were sicknesses, fevers, falls, burns and crying and crying. Sometimes nights would be I would never got to bed—and many times we were so crowded that Yonkel and I slept with two children in a bed, and the others—two to three in a bed.
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During the last few decades of the nineteenth century, the vast numbers of Ashenazi Jews (East European) began the emigration to America. Discrimination in various forms was the impetus for the long hard journey to the new world. The pogroms of the Czars (deliberate brute force resulting in rape, slaughter, and destruction) against the helpless Jews gave many reason to come. Denial of ownership of land, residence in the major cities, and the opportunity for advanced training spurred others into making the decision to leave their homes.
For the Halpern family, the law regarding conscription into the military, was the moving force in making the big decision. Each district of the country was responsible for providing their quota for the army. Army service meant twenty-five years for a tour of duty and Jewish boys were subject to much abuse. More often than not, they never came home again. Joseph Halpern walked with a limp the rest of his life because as a child, his leg was deliberately broken so he would be unfit for military duty. Jacob Halpern’s oldest son Charles at twelve years of age was the size of a man. Not wanting his sons to be cannon fodder, Jacob decided to come to America with his wife, Chai Sura (Clara) and their seven children.
In August 1900 Jacob and Chai Sura packed up their belongings, readied the children for the long trip and said good by to his older brother Moishe and sister Chai Mensa (Lazar) who later came to Minneapolis. His step-mother Sara and brother Joe and sister Devora (Faingold) were also making plans to come. Brother Srul (Isadore) joined Jacob and family as did a young boy (name unknown) who needed to accompanied by adults to make the trip.
Some of the items they took with them were pillows, embroidery, some dishes, turkish coffee grinder and a china tea-pot, a gift from brother Moishe. Several of these items are still in tact and can be viewed today.
They left Podu Turcului, Romania by horse drawn cart to the nearest railroad stop (Birlad). A train took them to Rotterdam where they transferred to a ship to cross the English Channel.
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