My father was born in the town of Gotz, not far from Lomza. In later years he would gather all of us children and tell us about Poland, when it was still an independent country; when he was very young and had to work for the Puritz - owner of big stretches of land -- in Gotz. Then war broke out between Poland and Russia. My father worked for them [the Puritz] and was sent to Lomza to exchange Notes for cash, but my father sent me instead. The horse was the only means of transportation, and on the way, when the Russians occupied Lomza, they would stop me to try to find out about conditions in Poland. If a person would refuse to answer, they would hang him on the spot. Every day you could see Polacks hanging on the trees. By the same token when you returned, the Polacks would start asking what was going on on the Russian side, until Russia won the war and it quieted down a bit.
It was not for long, as Russia decided to grab all the Jewish boys from eight years and older and send them away to deep Russia, converting them to goyim, Christianity. My father was caught, but the Puritz from Gotz, who by now was dealing with the Russians, said that he needed my father to help with the production of the things that they were buying from him. They let my father go and left him in the hands of the Puritz.
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In the meantime the Russian Tzar died. His son was crowned. Wanting to show his authority, he gave amnesty to all prisoners and let them go. As I said before, between Lomza and Lomzatze there was a prison. The prisoners were wild. The first thing they did was come to the market, screaming "Kill the Yids [Jews]." We had to protect ourselves; so we gathered a bunch of very strong butcher boys. We also used every means, picks, shovels, etc. to protect ourselves. We also had three boys that were studying at the Yeshiva. I will never forget this. They were from Odessa and they were tremendously strong. Together we really licked the goyim and finally towards evening they ran away.
The trouble did not cease. It was just the beginning. They started to close the Jewish Wine Cellars. They killed my mother's brother and this is how it happened. When they let the prisoners out, there were two Polacks that were jailed for stealing wood from my uncle. But upon release, wanting to take revenge, they watched when he would go to the forest to bring some wood back. That's how he made a living -- and the forest was left to him by his father. They then killed him. This was the first devastating blow to our family. He left a wife, three girls and a son.
One Friday night, my father and I were coming home from shul (Synagogue). The night was dark, the sky real red. Suddenly my father turned towards me and said: "Do you see the sky? I predict some real bad times are upon us. There will be war and the people that are alive will envy the dead. I personally do not wish to see it all." Not very long after, the war with the Japanese broke out. All the soldiers from out town were sent off to war. In the meantime, a cholera epidemic broke out and people were dying like flies. The hospital in Lomza was full to capacity. In Lomzatze, the Synagogue was full. They were laid out on benches. My oldest brother was caught by the epidemic. No one wanted to come near him, but I went to a Jewish man whose son helped bring my brother to Lomza to the hospital. He was one of the few that survived. As I crossed the bridge on the way back, they poured alcohol over me.
My father was getting older and weaker and I had to take care of the little business that was left. The only help that I had was from my sister who was a year older than I. Her husband was already in the Army for three years. After that he left for Chicago to join his brother. So she was staying with us. One Friday, my father asked me to go to the next town to buy wine for Sabbath Kiddush. On the way, I met a boy, who was the son of the tailor. They called him "Meyer." His last name I didn't know. Everyone was called by the first name -- my father was called "Avremel the Packter." As we were coming home, and as we were standing on the bridge from which we could see the whole town, we suddenly saw three soldiers in front of my house. We were within a few blocks; so we started to run there. What happened was, the soldiers were supposed to leave the next day for the front, so they gave them off for the evening. As I came to the house, I saw the soldiers pulling my sister , who was cooking for the Sabbath. My mother was in tears, begging them to let her go; my father was in bed very sick.. They wouldn't let her go. My friend and I started to beg them they should not molest her. They started to fight us. They were three and we were only two. They were drunk and screaming, "Give us the girl; we want the girl." They wouldn't let go, so my friend, who was a very strong boy, and I went at them with every means available until they couldn't fight any more and we tossed them out on the dirty street. It was a real sight. It is important to note that one of them was an officer, one a sergeant.
Not far from us was a wine cellar where many soldiers were drinking. Upon seeing what had happened to the three they all started to approach our house. We were scared. My friend and I had to hide in a barn. The three were hospitalized in Lomza for three months. Some [of the other soldiers] went off to war and the few that remained were after us. They would come every day to look for us and we could not go out on the street. My mother was extremely worried. On our block lived a high officer from the Russian Army, who was a nice man. She told him the whole story. He promised us some protection. Every morning he would send some of his men to see that nothing happened to us. It was deep fall and it was getting cold and rainy. Then the rest of the soldiers were sent to fight. The only ones that remained were the three that were still in the hospital. Upon release, they came to us, apologizing for what they did to us, saying that they were drunk and that they didn't know what they were doing; that we saved their lives, because all those that went to war never returned.
But the officials were still looking for me, so when the Sabbath came around and I went to the Synagogue, they came and arrested me. Upon coming to the station, I encountered a full court and they were ready to give me the works. But when they heard my story, they said I had every right to protect myself, my sister and my family. They asked me how old I was. I said 20 years. They let me go, with the understanding that I would report every month until I was eligible for the Army.
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