Thank you for your invitation which has given me the opportunity and the honor of directing my thoughts to the past, and of our shtetl Goniondz, where I was born and spent my youthful years until the year nineteen hundred and twenty three. I was born during the festival of Hannukah, the second candle, in December nineteen hundred and five. I regret that many of my good friends have gone on to eternity and are no longer able to speak of our little shtetl, which since then has been destroyed. So many of them were slaughtered by the Germans and then the Polish, may the names of their assassins be blotted out! Poland is the land where our people lived and labored for a thousand years. I would like to create a portrait of my shtetl Goniondz, to whatever extent my memory and ability will allow.
There were four streets. The first one was Meissim Gessel (Dead Man's Alley), through which the dead were transported to the cemetery. Then there was Tifle Gasse (Church Street) on which the large church was located. Also there was the old marketplace where landowners from the neighboring villages would bring horses, cattle, calves and sheep to sell. The last was Dolistover Gasse (Dolistover Street), which led to the village of Dolistov. In the middle, between the four streets, was a great broad and beautiful market street with very beautiful homes and shops.
On every Monday, which was market day, farmers from the neighboring regions would arrive with their horses and wagons laden with produce: potatoes, chickens, eggs, peat for burning in the stoves, and many other things. There were also small businessmen selling the harvest from the fruit orchards and from gardens such as pears, plums, and cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and strawberries. Tailors would set up booths in which they hung suits for sale. Everything was ready-made and very inexpensively put together. There also were shoemakers with shoes and boots to sell. There were also sellers of caps and some of hats, of homemade wagon grease, and of horseshoes. Business was very brisk on market days. The farmers also brought food: white challah, herring, meat, and salt. Then they would drink a lot in Rudsky's tavern. The whole spectacle was a great source of wonder and enjoyment for us children. Sundays, the peasants would come to church with their boots slung over their shoulders, to avoid wear and tear on the boot soles.
Everyone had to work hard to make a living. Water for drinking and washing had to be fetched either from the river or from the spring. The two water carriers were Chatzkel and Fievele. When Chatzkel became elderly, his work was taken over by his son Yankel. They had one horse, and one wagon with a large barrel. They sold the water for two groschen a bucket. At that time we had no wells and no plumbing. People didn't accumulate water but bought as needed. There was no gas or electricity, only kerosene lamps. Wood was used for cooking, baking, and warming the house in winter. Bakers would bake black bread, pumpernickel, which stayed good for three weeks, and also rye bread. Christians used to enjoy a special kind of white bread with their herring. Pious Jews would bake their own sabbath challah on Thursday, which stayed good until the following Tuesday. Also people would bake huge loaves of black bread on their own. They were good to eat, and lasted for three weeks. A piece of bread was good with sugar, or with goose fat and a glass of tea. We had to be contented with that, because the poverty was great. Some earned more and some earned less, but no one lacked food. People would help each other when there was need. There were no big differences in Goniondz, only small ones: small shops, one shoemaker, one tailor, and a cap maker. There was one barber, and a wagoneer who transported people and merchandise to Bialystok. He earned more than the wagoneers who took people to the Goniondz train station.
Now I would like to tell you about our education. At that time there were no schools, only melandim with their chedorim. In nineteen hundred and sixteen, during the First World War, one school was opened where Hebrew and Yiddish was taught, as well as other languages. This was operated by Moishke the melamud, may his memory be for a blessing, along with Ephriam's son Gedalke, may his memory be for a blessing. I studied with them, and the chedorim were still maintained. There was one teacher for aleph and beis, old Krisinok. The second, Doke the melamud, was for learning prayer and chumash. The limping melamud was the third. He taught Rashi, Gemara, and a little more. He was very strict and always had a cat o' nine tails laying on the table to intimidate the children. Once he pulled my ear, and I complained to my father when I got home. Father answered me, "Maybe you had it coming." The second time, I didn't go to my father to complain. There was also Hanoch the melamud and Koppel the melamud, both of whom taught Gemara. My mother had wanted me to be a rabbi. I studied Gemara with the melamdim. There was no electricity; we would go about at night with lanterns. At night we would study with a little candle stuck in a block of wood. We also studied at home with a lamp, at times. In Goniondz, there were some Jews who had more substantial means, and would send their children to study in the Bialystok gymnasium, where they studied secular subjects. Those children used to come back from Bialystok very arrogant. We called them "baton twirlers". They had their own circle of friends, and I had mine - Klenke Laizer's and Ruchel's Leibel, Golde's son of Avramel, the son of Yehude the capmaker. I also had a couple of friends who were girls- Osne-Malke, Ote-Geische, and Chaya (Byers). The latter used to go around with Malke Yosske's the wagoneer's daughter. There were other boys, too, like Mushke Dolke and Berel-Leib's son who was considered a little better off. He was a grain merchant, and dealt in wheat and alfalfa.
When the First World War broke out, the Russian's were thrown out of Goniondz. We were too near to the fort, and we Jews weren't trusted to live there. My family went to live in the shtetl of Yashinovke, which was a distance of twenty viorsts away. Some went to Kniesin, and some to Suchovole, Sokolke and some to Bialystok. Bialystok was a distance of forty Russian viorsts. The reason was that the Russian military commander Nikolai didn't trust the Jews to live too near to the fort, which was five viorsts away from our shtetl. They were afraid that us Jews would pass over secrets to the Germans. In nineteen hundred and fifteen, the Germans came into Goniondz and a lot of us Jewish families came back to our homes. A Yiddish folk school was opened up and a Zionist organization got started, with a little library. We were able to live more in peace until nineteen hundred and eighteen, when the First World War ended, and the Germans lost the war and had to go back. The Poles took over the government. The Poles started to cut off the beards of the Jews and throw us on the trains, and yell, "Jew! Go back to Palestine!" Jewish immigration out of Poland speeded up at that time. Young people started to run away wherever they could, wherever a door was open -America, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Eretz Yisroel (Palestine). You needed a certificate to get into Yisroel, the British didn't want to let too many Jews in. Those of whom could get a certificate went to be chalutzim (pioneers). The situation became harder and harder for the young people who stayed in Poland and had no future there under the Polish regime. Soldiers of the Russian General Allers were in Goniondz for a time. We called them Allergikes. They were terrible anti-semites, and it was scary to go out in the streets at that time. I remember one day when a Jew was on his way to go to pray, a soldier stopped him and made him cut off his beard. The man was humiliated, and after that went around with his face covered over with a handkerchief.
I remember how in our shtetl neighbors used to help each other; between them they would prepare one chulent at the house of Dobe the soldier's wife. She was seventy years old, and I remember that she used to bake good kugels. She cooked challah too, and made a living. I remember that her husband helped her. They had two daughters, Chane Bobe's, who got married to Moishe Yunach's, and Ruchel, who was married to Velvel the schochet (ritual slaughterer). Years later I met Chane and Moishe in Detroit and stayed with them. They brought a bunch of Goniondzer landsleit, to visit on a Sunday. I enjoyed very much being with them, since I had been gone from Goniondz since nineteen hundred and twenty three. In Goniondz we didn't speak of people using their family name, but would say Reb Moishe, Reb Velvel, Reb Motke, Reb Rachmiel, Malke's father, and so on.
Yerachmiel the shoemaker lived through a terrible tragedy. In nineteen hundred and fourteen, and nineteen hundred and sixteen, there was a very serious illness in Goniondz. There was no doctor in town and only one doctor, Yankel. Malke, Yerachmiel's daughter had three older brothers who died one after the other. In a short time, Malke was left alone with her parents. The shtetl of Goniondz regretted what had happened and were sad for Yerachmiel the shoemaker and his wife who lost three sons, grown men, and remained with only one child, their daughter Malke. Perhaps they couldn't hold their children. The Goniondz rabbi gave them some advice. He suggested that they sell Malke to a pious Jew who has children. And they sold Malke to Laizer-Gershon, who was a pious Jew. Laizer and Ruchel brought her with them to Canada as if she was their own child. The Byers and the Pincheuks became one family.
My father's name was Nissan, and my mother's name was Chaya-Itke. This is how I remember my neighbors, not by their family names: Berel-Leib, the son of Nochum the blacksmith and his wife Feigel. He used to go to the villages and buy grain from the farmers- wheat, oats, etc. He would bring it to town and store it in his silo. When his silo was full, merchants would come from Goniondz and buy the entire lot. My parents had a red brick house, and a Jew named Avrom lived next door. Berel-Leib who lived in the next house to him, was a very good friend of my father's, and his wife Feigel was a very good friend of my mother. They had four children: Moshke, Chaya, Arkye, and Yochevet. Moshke went away to Canada before the first war. He had a farm outside of Montreal. Berel-Leib and Feigel also lived through a horrible tragedy. Their oldest daughter Chaya got married, and when she was in labor pains there was no midwife in Goniondz. She was in very hard labor. The family was very frightened. They ran into the House of Study, opened up the Sefer Toras (Torah scrolls), Chaya's screams while she was in labor were terrible to hear out in the street. Chaya died in childbirth, and only Yochevet and Arkye remained. Both of them studied in the Gymnasium in Bialystok. Arkye was a bookkeeper, and worked for Chayim Polack's, who was a military supplier for the Osoviec Fort. Chayim delivered meat for the soldiers in the fort. Yochevet was a quiet girl who used to spend a lot of time sitting on her porch reading a book and also worrying about all the suffering her parents had gone through. Moshke brought them both over to Montreal, after a short time Arkye went back and Yochevet returned to Goniondz soon after him. When she was in Montreal, Yochevet stayed with my Aunt Krinke. She was about the same age as my oldest sister, eight years older than me. When she was in Goniondz, Yochevet used to go around with Moishke Dolker, from the watermill. Moishke went to Chicago. When Yochevet returned to Goniondz, she met Meilach-Maggid, and they got married. Then the two of them came back to Montreal. They had two daughters. One of them married a doctor, the other went to live in Rochester, New York. I remember, when I was getting ready to leave Goniondz, Feigel (Berel-Leib's), came to me to say good-bye. She asked me to look for Moshke when I got to Montreal and see if he was still alive since they hadn't received any letters from him. I promised I would write and let them know whether he was still living or not. When I got to Montreal I met Moshke and told him everything. Then I wrote to my parents and told them that I had found him and talked with him, and told them about Feigel and Berel-Leib's worry.
My dear Goniondz landsleiter and your children, I hope you don't mind my giving all these practical details. When I bring all these memories to life and write them down I feel full of love and affection. I feel as if I am living out my youthful years in Goniondz again. I want to write everything out for you, as far as I can remember, being sixty-five years away from Goniondz.
There was one Christian pharmacist and one feldscher, Yankel the doctor. There was one synagogue, where you only prayed on Sabbath. There was one House of Study, where you prayed every day. Also, there were a number of minyans where people would pray in private houses only on Sabbath. Mordchai the shamash (synagogue sexton) was in the House of Study. Friday afternoons before it was time to light the Sabbath candles, he would stand at the corner of each of the four streets in the shtetl and cry out, "In schul areim! In schul areim! (Come to Synagogue! Come to Synagogue!)" All the shops would immediately close down and people would go right home to wash up and put on their Sabbath clothes. Then they would go to pray either in the synagogue, the House of Study, or in one of the minyans. Mordchai the shamash was very good to us children. In winter, we would always bring a few potatoes from home and Mordchai would cook them up for us in the wood-burning oven in the House of Study. For us children, life was a cheder and the House of Study. In later years, there were organizations through which we ran away from Poland. Benjamin the shamash was in the synagogue, and he was also called Benjamin the scribe. He studied the Sefer Toras, and he sold books, siddurs, chamoshim and Gemaras. Before the First World War, Benjamin left Goniondz and moved to Brooklyn, New York. I met him there. He was the mohel for my son Irving. There were two ritual slaughterers in Goniondz. The first was Velvel the schochet (ritual slaughterer), and I don't remember the name of the second one. There was one rabbi, Reb Volf, who was very much respected. His wife died of the great sickness around nineteen hundred and eighteen. He had a son Laizer who I met later in Chicago and one daughter who married Yehudo the capmaker's son. It was a little improper for a rabbi to have a cap maker for an in-law and the young couple went to live in Bialystok. His name was Laizer Ocks and he made a living from cutting and chopping wood. His wife Vinche repaired clay pots with wires. Whatever she charged it was good because it was cheaper and people didn't have much money.
At that time, children were a little bashful. Boys played with boys, and girls played with girls. I remember one Pesach when we children dug up a big hole and filled it with wood, and everyone brought their chumetz there to burn. Everyone had taken it from their house the night before, and brought it with a wooden spoon and a goose feather. We made the hole in an empty garden which belonged to a gentile. It was behind Mottel Beilichke's (now Pinchuk) also a neighbor to Laizer Ruchel's and Leizer-Gershon the orchard owner. He was a member of the town council and helped to arrange for the street watchmen for every night. Two men had to walk around all night to guard the town, watching out for thieves or for fires until six o'clock in the morning.
I remember one Pesach when a bunch of rascals had a lot of fun. They picked out a rich house, and when the door was opened for Elijah the Prophet they pushed a sheep in the door. You can imagine the yelling and the commotion in the house when the young folk ran away. There was a fellow in town named Yankel Shurak, who like to tell stories. One time he told a story about two men who were night watchmen. One night they went to the house of some older people who were a little richer and knocked on their window about three o'clock in the morning, while the people were still sleeping. The people got scared and yelled, "Who is knocking there?" The answer was, "We're telling you to go outside and eliminate!" The older people yelled out in anger. "Schkotzim! How dare you do things like that!" and the guards ran away.
When there was a wedding in town everyone would rejoice along with the bride and bridegroom. After the ceremony people would go to their house. Benches and tables would be laid out and everyone would enjoy the festivities. The badchun (master of ceremonies) would make the bride cry a little bit with his songs. Afterwards he would announce the gifts- what was given and who the donor was. Wine was offered to everyone, and if it was a wealthier family they would offer whiskey. Moishe-Gershon was a shoemaker in town, and a very pleasant and likable person. His son Avramel was a tailor. He made suits and long three quarter coats for the Christians.
We had a market day every Monday, and a country fair one time every six months. At a wedding for one of the poorer families in town, Moishe-Gershon wanted to take the leadership. He told the family to buy only one bottle of whiskey and that he would provide the rest. When everyone was seated at the table, he went to one, a second and a third with his bottle and asked them all, "Don't you want some whiskey?" The people were embarrassed about accepting and Moishe-Gershon remained with all of the intact bottles. My parents told me this story about Moishe-Gershon. He was very friendly with my grandfather, who was a fur cutter. He hand sewed sheepskins into long coats. The farmers used to bring the sheepskins to a tannery and, after they were prepared, they would bring them to Zayde (grandfather) to sew. Grandfather used to go to the House of Study to pray early in the morning. He would come at eight o'clock and wake us up and would say, "Children you can't still be sleeping. The roosters are crowing!" Zayde lived with his daughter Frume, who was my mother's older sister. Binke, my mother's sister, lived in the next building. Moishe Dobe's, my mother's brother, lived not far from Zayde, across from Yehudo the capmaker. My uncle Moishe lost a son and a daughter in the great illness. Yehude the cap maker lost his older daughter Chaya. She died in the delivery, as I had explained to you earlier.
Our neighbor Dobe had one room in her house which she used as a little shop. She sold salt, sugar, herring, candy, cigarettes and tobacco. She had to have a permit to sell all of those items, and a special one for the cigarettes and the tobacco. Since the Russian police were able to read and write very little, one year they would require a green ticket, and another year a blue ticket. Dobe used to use the first year's coupon for the second year, the Russian policemen just looked at the color. Goniondz had a lot of customers who were Christians from the villages, who would come in and buy whatever they needed. If they didn't have enough money at the time, they would borrow, and Ruchel would write it down. They would come back the next week and pay. One time, the daughter Ruchel wasn't in the house, and a Christian came to buy. When her mother came home she asked Ruchel, "You sold it to him without any money?" she responded, "It was the Christian man with the big hat." Ruchel answered her mother, "Mama, next week another man could come with a big hat." Years later they told me that story and I laughed about it with them. (note from editor: the above story was transcribed as translated by Dr. Fine. However, it does appear to be somewhat confused.)
Yerachmiel the shoemaker lived in the next house to Dobe. Malke's father told me a story that Yerachmiel had told him. Christians from the villages used to bring boots to him for repair. They were made of cheap leather. One Christian fellow wanted expensive leather but he wanted to pay a low price for it. Yerachmiel had repaired his shoes with the cheap leather, and guaranteed him that they would last well. A few weeks later, the man came back to Yerachmiel complaining that the boots had slipped, and that he couldn't wear them. "You guaranteed them," he said. Yerachmeil answered, "I guaranteed them if you should stay in bed for two years with the boots laying under the bed." We laughed a lot about this story.
Hatzkel the water carrier lived in the same street and his son Yankel. Avron Kirshke's the wagoneer lived in the same street. Yosske the wagoneer also lived on that street. He used to pray on Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur from the lectern. He used to fill his wagon with merchandise and carry it to Bialystok. He used to travel all night. I think it was a distance of around sixty kilometers. The wagoneers used to stand around the old marketplace with their horse and wagons, waiting for customers. Who wanted to travel to Grayve, or to the train station to go to Bialystok? Some businessmen would buy merchandise in Varshe, and the wagoneers would bring it in from the train station, which was around five viorsts from the shtetl. The trip took an hour with horse and wagon.
There were also blacksmiths such as Yankel-Berel and his son. Yankel knew how to pray very well before the community in the House of Study. He lived on Church Street, and had his own smithy. He used to shoe horses and make wagons to sell. Laizer the smith lived in the old marketplace. Eli the smith lived on Dolistover Street. Sore, the sister of Berel-Leib, also suffered a horrible tragedy. Her husband, son, and older daughter all died in a short time period. The older daughter was brought over to Canada, and a few years later Sore herself came to Montreal. I greeted her when she got here; she had been a friend of my mother. A short time afterward, she got married with Mr. Deckelbaum.
In Goniondz we also had hardware shops and yardgoods shops. Scheine-Belke had a hardware shop, and Motke had a yardgoods business. Pesche the baker used to make bagels, and Gelle baked black bread. There was one bathhouse. The man who ran it used to heat up the water and watch the place. His name was Gedalke. He knew all the rituals which had to be taken care of when a person died. He was a member of the Chevre Kadishe (burial society). When the corpses were carried through Dead Man's Alley, Gedalke used to cry out, "Charity saves from death!" At those times he carried a big collection box in his hand, and everyone he passed by would put whatever he could in the collection box. There were two watermills and a windmill where people used to bring grain for milling, so that they could prepare bread and also challah for Sabbath.
There were a lot of Jewish soldiers at the fort. On the Days of Awe, they used to let them out. Their homes were very far away, and they would come into town. They would come to the House of Study and the synagogue. The rabbi called out that everyone should take in a soldier for the High Holy Days. I remember how my father took a soldier home; he ate and slept with us for the entire High Holy Day time. From time to time soldiers would come into the shtetl for Saturday and Sunday. After praying, they would be taken home for Friday night until Sunday. My father always used to take a guest in for the High Holy Days and for Sabbath. Sometimes an itinerant teacher-preacher (maggid) would come into town to give a lecture about being a pious and observing Jew. They would announce at all four corners of the town that a maggid had come to town to give a talk at the synagogue or the House of Study. On Sabbath after minyan father and mother used to take a nap after eating chulent, while us children played with nuts. Sometimes beggars would come from other towns to ask for a nedove. People would take turns providing for their food, and they would sleep in the House of Study. We didn't have any hotels or restaurants.
After a great fire, people would help each other in rebuilding homes which had been ruined. We didn't need engineers to lay out the rooms. We would call in the rabbi and a few sensible businessmen, clever people, to help with the plans. The houses were more or less small. A person would hire some Christian men to help in the construction. Sometimes it took a year to build a wooden house. A brick house took a little longer. Winter was very cold, snow and frost. People hired a bricklayer to build the oven. The ovens were heated up with wood and peat.
Goniondz was like a good close family. There were poorer people and wealthier people. Among the wealthier ones were the Rudskys. Yankel had a beer factory, and his brother Berel had a tavern. Beilke, ran the hardware shop business while her husband studied Gemara in the House of Study. Motke had a yardgoods shop and lived near Church Street. Chaim Pollack's lived near the old marketplace. He was a supplier of meat for the soldiers. There was a lady in the old marketplace who was a baker, and who also sold meat to the fortress. Feivel-Schmerl Tsachuk's worked for them. When I lived in Goniondz, I didn't know that Feivel's family name was Kravitz. In Montreal, Feivel and Osne became my good friends.
Also in Montreal, I by accident became a neighbor of Yossel Pinchuk, in Cote St. Luc. It was a great pleasure for me to talk with Yossel and his wife about Goniondz in the past. After I had already settled in Montreal, Mottel Pinchuk came with Malke and the children, including Moishe, Mottel's older son. Malke was a good and a smart person. Mottel and Malke were in Montreal with their two sons Archik and Yossel. One time Malke took me aside. She was worried, and said to me, "Zeidke, I owe your father ten dollars for meat, and I couldn't pay him. Your father told me, 'Malke, give the money to my son in Montreal.'" I told her, "Don't worry Malke, I'll send my father the ten dollars right now and write him that you paid me. You pay me when you can." A while later, she paid me back the money. We became connected one to the other and I became like a member of the Pinchuk family, and was invited to every happy occasion. It was a joy for me to come and visit often, and eat Malke's Goniondzer latkes (potato pancakes). On Henri Julian Boulevard, and later on Esplanade. I lived across from Laizer and Ruchel Byer, with their children. It was pleasant to meet them, haimischer Goniondzer landsleit. Being with them awakened in me a longing for my family and my shtetl, which I had been away from since I was eighteen years old. I lost my family so young. I never saw them again. I brought over my brother Dave, and together we brought over my sister Ruchel. My brother, Menashe, with his wife and children, and Dobke with her husband and children. My father was killed by the Poles.
It was terrible living under the Polish regime. They thought of us as "dirty Jews." When I would go with my father or my brother Menashe to the villages and knock on the doors to ask if they had anything to sell, they would ask us, "Are you people or are you Jews?" To them, a Jew was not considered a human being. In nineteen hundred and forty, a lot of Jews in Goniondz were killed. My mother died in nineteen hundred and thirty one. It was terrible for me to realize that my mother wasn't there any more. My life here in Canada wasn't spread out with flowers. In my life I lived through some terrible tragedies. The years have passed by. I thank Itshe and Malke's children for helping me to bring these memories back to life. I'm going to end my writing now. I want to let you know that it's taken me days and nights to put down all of these memories - to think, to make a note, and then to write down. This is what I, Zeidke, Chaya-Itke's, and Nissel the capmaker's son from Goniondz, in Montreal. Shalom.
 Feast of Dedication, Kislev 25
 braided loaf of white bread
 a penny
 plural of melamed, a teacher of elementary Hebrew
 plural of cheder, a room or school where Hebrew taught
 Hebrew "abc's"
 Hebrew-literal meaning "five"-refers to the Five Books Of Moses
 a specific commentary on the Talmud
 one of two parts of the Talmud (the other is Mishna)
 The nicknames used in shtetls often refer to the name one of the parents. In this translation, we have attempted to use the possessive to indicate a parent’s name. For example, the name Rochul Maishe’s can be understood to mean Maishe’s daughter, Rochul. We have attempted to be consistent in this usage, even when it may be grammatically incorrect, but the names cannot be considered definitive of parentage due to the possible inaccuracy of the translation. – editor
 possibly a Yiddish word for versta, an old Russian measure of distance equivalent to about one kilometer
 refers to the left over vegetables and meat from the week which was left to simmer on a low heat in a shtetl home Friday before sundown and on through the Sabbath so they could have a hot meal without having to turn on the oven
 pudding of noodles or potatoes
 people who come from the same home town
 an honorific used for a learned man who is highly esteemed in his community
 physician's assistant
 the group of ten male Jews required for religious services
 daily and Sabbath prayer book
 plural of chumash, see footnote 5
 man who circumcizes the male baby eight days after birth in the ritual Bris Milah
 the word kirshener can be translated to mean a furrier and hatmaker, since winter hat’s were made of fur. Dr. Fine chose to translate this as capmaker.
 Passover, Nisan 15-21
 leavened bread which is removed from the home in preparation for Passover
 male gentiles
 High Holy Days or Days of Repentance; The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur.
 a charitable contribution, given on a face-to-face basis, for example, money to a beggar
 informal, cozy, warm, friendly rapport between people