Street
              Scene in Nesvizh, Minsk Gubernyia, Belarus


Nesvizh Study Group

 

An Autobiography
by William Mosher

 


This portion of an autobiography, written by William Mosher, was sent to Michael Meshenberg in October, 1998, by Claire Oppenheim.
She did all the retyping, retaining all the original spelling.  Brackets were placed around anything of which she was unsure. It was recently learned that Mr. Mosher's name was originally Mossier, and was changed to Mosher about 1890, probably in Chicago.  It is through Claire Oppenheim's generosity that we are able to share this wonderful document.



The people mentioned are:

William Mossier's family members:                          Father - Joseph, son of Hirsh
                                                                          Mother - Eve, daughter of Solomon
                                                                         Siblings - Samuel, Yenta and Feiga
William's teachers in Neswish:                               Gershon Billiger
                                                                         Geldalie
                                                                         Selig
                                                                         Aaron Solomon
School friend who emigrated to US:                        Dr.Caspee

Places mentioned are:                                            Homel (Gomel)
                                                                          Minsk
                                                                          Mir
                                                                          Moscow
                                                                          Newtown, a "suburb" of Neswish

 


"I hope William's writing is of some use to other people, and would appreciate hearing from anyone who learns of other residents within the Minsk or Slutz districts that have the names FEIN or COHEN."
                                                                                                                         Claire Oppenheim, British Columbia, Canada
                                                                                                                              oppenhei@online.bc.ca


I have now reached that time of life when memory offers a far wider range of incidents to recall than those which I can yet hope to see.   I shall devote the short leisure of my every day tasks to recounting my recollections. These unconsidered jottings of my memory have no literary purpose and will certainly aim at no studied form, and when I am gone, they will have little interest to any, outside of my family and my intimate friends.

I was born in 1864, on the 20th of April, the day before Passover. My father's name was Joseph, the son of Hirsh, my mother's name was Eva, the daughter of Solomon.  I was born into a family of two sisters and one brother, who were older then I by ages ranging from two and one half to twelve years. There were originally eleven children - seven died in infancy, and I have no recollection of them.

The name of the town of my birth is Neswish, County of Slutzk, Province of Minsk, then a part of the Russian Empire but since the World War, a part of Poland.  The town of Neswish is situated on the [W]eil[e]ika River, a tributary of the Nieman River. The river is more like a small lake of a rectangular shape.   The town of Neswish has existed since the Thirteenth Century and belonged to the Duchy of Radzville. The castle was located on the west bank of the river on a high hill. On the east bank was a dam with locks and was used as motive power for a flour mill located on the opposite side of the dam. On the north bank was the suburb called Newtown.   On the south bank were barracks of a squadron of cavalry.  All the buildings of the barracks were of massive brick construction, two stories in height, with numerous windows. 

The town had a population of about [3000] souls, of which [750] were Jews and [2500] Gentiles, Poles and Russians.  The market place formed a square with two story brick buildings, the ground floors of which were used for stores and saloons and the second floors occupied as living apartments. In the middle of the market square was a solid square of one story brick stores. There were no windows in the stores, not even any show windows, and the light came in only from the open doors. 

The market place was paved with cobble stones but there were no sidewalks. All other principal streets were likewise paved with cobble stones, the rest of the streets were mud streets.  Sidewalks were not known in the town.  Most of the dwelling houses were log houses. No gas or sewers were in the town, no system of street lighting.   Lanterns were carried by pedestrians after dark.  There were no water works, but a few scattered wells. Water was delivered by water carriers at one cent per pail and was kept in wooden tubs. Rain and snow water was utilized by housewives for washing and cleaning.

There were two or three large Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the town, also a large Catholic convent, which was confiscated by the Russian Government and converted into a seminary.  There were over a dozen Synagogues, mostly grouped together and called "Shulhauf".

The principal Synagogue, a very imposing structure of stone and brick, was called the   "Big Synagogue''. It had large stained windoes [sic]; the ceiling was arched and on it was a large painting of a Leviathan holding its tail in its mouth. This Synagogue was not heated and for this reason was sometimes called the "Cold Synagogue."  In this as well as other Synagogues, there was a balcony for women worshipers. This Synagogue was only open for daily morning and evening, as well as Sabbath prayers. We children were afraid to pass this Synagogue after dark because of the belief that souls of the dead gathered there for prayers.  The other Synagogues were some of brick and some of wood construction and were open day and night for they were used not only for worship but also for studying the "Law". As the Synagogues had no church bells, a man called "Shul Clapper" or Synagogue Crier, would walk from street to street every morning, knocking at the windows with a mallet, calling "To the Synagogue! To the Synagogue".

The town also had a public bath house of the Russian style, where on Fridays my father would take my brother and me for a weekly cleansing for the Sabbath. I did not like the bath and avoided it whenever possible.  The bath house, a large wooden structure, had an anteroom for undressing.  There was no privacy, all undressed putting clothing in a bundle on a bench.  Water was pumped in from a well by a man drawing the water with a bucket, emptying the water into a trough leading to the bath house and filling a large wooden tank built not far from a large brick oven filled with stones which were made red hot by burning logs underneath. Steam was generated by throwing buckets full of water on the red hot stones. In the center of the bath house, wide shelves were built in the shape of steps up to a couple of feet of the ceiling.  The higher up one went, the more steam was had and the hotter it became. When the top is reached we were stretched on the shelf and rubbed down with a broom made of twigs bound together. There was also a pool, (Mikwah) of water for the pious Jews and Jewesses to cleanse themselves by immersion.

In this town I lived until I was thirteen years of age.

My Father

My father was a kind and loving man. He loved his children tenderly and intensely. There was no sacrifice he would not and did not gladly make for them.  He was never harsh or tyranical [sic], particularly in his domestic relations.   I do not remember him ever using the rod on any of us children. It was not necessary - we feared, loved and revered him. He was a good, brave and honest man. I loved him living and I love him dead. I never said an unkind word to him and in my heart there never was an unkind thought of him.

He was a very pious man and observed all the rules and regulations of the Jewish orthodox faith. He was well learned in the religious laws and had a fair knowledge of the Talmud. He was ambitious to lead the prayers in the Synagogue where he worshiped and his services were sought by the congregations. By profession he was a merchant and as such he belonged to the higher casts of our little town. Financially he was a failure; he worked hard to make a poor living for his family, but in spite of that, he wore good clothes, was clean and of the appearance of an aristocrat. 

My Mother

My mother must have been beautiful in her youth, for even at the age of fifty-seven, when she died, she was still very good looking, in spite of the fact that at the age of thirty-five she already had borne eleven children and was in ill health for many years.  She married my father at the age of seventeen or eighteen, never having seen him until after their engagement. (In those days, the parents were the matchmakers.) She did not like my father's looks, I often heard her say with a smile, but she married him anyway for "Marriages are made in heaven," she would say.

She was exceedingly pious and superstitious, also illiterate. Women of pious parents in that generation were not suppose to learn anything, simply bear children and run the household. This she did credibly. She had a hard life, always struggling to make ends meet on the little money my father was able to provide here [sic] with. She hardly ever complained for to complain was it sin.  She died young and lonely. Only my younger sister was at her death bed. My father and the rest of us were in different cities far away from home.

My Brother

My only brother, Samuel, two and one-half years older than myself, was from early childhood of a quiet and peaceful disposition. He was not strong physically and I remember he used to complain of pains in his sides. We got along nicely although fought and quarelled [sic] when he tried to avoid my company, which is natural for older brothers and sisters at tender ages. In all fistic fights, I was the aggressor and when he would strike back in self defence, I would scream murder. Being the baby, my mother would take my part.

When we grew older and the disparity of our ages lessened, we were inseparable.  On one occasion he saved me from drowning. He was a good swimmer for a youngster of fourteen. We went swimming and I followed him. Soon my strength gave out and I began to sink. Fortunately, he turned around to look for me and seeing my predicament, he brought me safely to shore.

He was a willing and conscientious student but slow to comprehend, besides he was very near sighted which was a handicap in his studies. He was my mother's favorite because he gave promise of growing up to be a learned man in the Torah and Talmud with possibilities of becoming a Rabbi. He was noble and good, always ready and willing to help the needy. He died young, at the age of forty-seven.

He left a good name behind him and is survived by his wife and three lovely children, two sons and a daughter. His untimely demise was a great shock to me and I often miss him.

My Sisters

My oldest sister, Yenta, who was twelve years my senior, married when I was only seven years old and left immediately with her husband to live in another town. She would visit us occasionally and we children would visit her about once a year. So she had no influence upon my life. As I am writing these memoirs, she is living with her son and daughter not far from us. I love her and see her frequently.

My other sister, Feiga, who is about six or seven years my senior, had considerable influence upon the lives of my brother and myself. She practically shaped my future life and was instrumental to the education I received, as I shall narrate at the proper time. 

Of all the memories of my early childhood which imbedded in my brain and remain fresh in my memory, in spite of the years which have since passed, is the first day I was taken to school. At the age of four and one half, my father wrapped me up in a "Tallitk" (a prayer shawl) and carried me to the private school, "Cheder". The "Cheder", a room in a small old log house, had one small window and a dirt floor. On the side nearer to the window stood a long pine table with a backless wood bench at each side. Such was the academy. 

The Master was a very old man, about seventy, but looking much older. He had a long white beard that had never been touched by a comb or scissors, also long side-curls. His back was bent. He wore a long coat with a belt, white stockings and slippers and on his heads a skull cap that had seen better days.  His spectacles were bowless, held fast by a string tied around his head. His name was Gershon Billiger.

Five children, somewhat older than myself, were already seated around the table and I was placed in an empty seat reserved for me. Immediately the first lesson began. A soiled alphabet was spread in front of me and the master, with a wooden pointer, pointed to the first letter and called "Aleph". He instructed me to look at it carefully and repeat after him and I howelled [sic] its name with all my might. At the same time, coins were falling from the ceiling on to the alphabet, presumably dropped by the Angel Gabriel as a reward for studying dilligently [sic] and being a good boy.

The highest ideal of old and young of that generation was the study of the law, (Torah). The first lesson was short; my father took me home. The following days an assistant of the teacher called for me at 9 A.M. and delivered me home   at 1 P.M. I soon began to dislike the school and the old master. One day I took a "French Leave", unnoticed by the master, [...] lesson, the teacher helped me down from my seat as usual, and laid me across his knees and gave me a hard dozen with a cat o' nine tails. This naturally made me hate the teacher and school still more. I shall never in all my life forget my first school experience.

Three great disappointments occured [sic] in my early childhood. When I was five years of age, my father brought me a pair of little boots with red patent leather trimmings. They were too small for me and could not be exchanged. The first pair of woolen cloth pants made for me out of my savings when I was about ten years of age, was the second really great disappointment. Until then I wore coats and pants made of jeans cloth. My ambition was a pair of woolen cloth pants with top pockets then in style. For six months I saved my pennies given to me by my mother to buy a roll for breakfast. Instead I ate black bread and saved the pennies and when I had saved up ninty [sic] pennies, a remnant of wool cloth was bought for me for a pair of pants. Alas, there was not sufficient cloth to have it cut for the covetted [sic] top pockets and it was necessary to have side pockets like the kind now in use, but at that time out of style. The third disappointment was when I was thirteen years of age and a pair of real large second-hand tephillin was given to me instead of a new small ones. 

As I look back upon the days of my childhood with the poverty and surroundings, it seems incredible that we could be happy. Yet my childhood days were the happiest. With the exception of a few disappointments, there was nothing to mar my happiness.

Imagine a family of six living in one room on $4.00 a week. Most of the time, to my recollection, we lived in one room which served as dining, living and bedroom. The kitchen was used in common with the landlord. The rent was $24.00 a year and one half the cost of fuel. The room was about 18' x 14'. The furniture consisted of a square pine table painted red, placed in front of the window. On one side of the table was a large wooden sofa used as such by day and as a bed for my brother and me. On the other side of the table, against a board partition, was a wide bench used as a bed for my sisters. In front of the table, two chairs, painted red. At the rear of the room were two wooden twin beds for my parents, and in front of the beds, a screen.   There were two ovens in an adjoining room, one for heating the other for cooking and baking purposes. The bake oven was  large and square; at the base next to the floor was an opening where a couple of chickens were kept during the winter. I always liked to sleep on the top of the oven in the winter time.

Our food was poor and malnutritious. Breakfast consisted of a roll and a cup of tea or chicory; for lunch a piece of rye bread with salted herring or cheese. Butter was a luxury, used only when we were sick. Supper was the principal meal, had about 8 P. M. when we returned from school and when father came from his place of business. This meal consisted of an entree of chopped liver or herring, and a small piece of beef. We always looked forward to Friday and Saturday for on Friday, we had a half day of school and on Saturday, no school at all. Also special meals on Saturday which we enjoyed immensely.

My brother and I would wake up very early on Saturday and go to the Synagogue for the early morning prayers, so as to have the  opportunity to watch the soldiers maneuver, or walk the streets. 

Now to go back to my early school training. For two years I went to the first Cheder where I learned to read Hebrew without translation. After that I was placed in another Cheder where we were taught to translate the bible from Hebrew into Yiddish. This teacher was a younger man, named [Ge]dalie]. After two years at this school, I was sent to a still higher school of learning. The name of this teacher was Selig. Here we studied the bible with commentaries on it, also how to sing it according to the notes as it is done in the Synagogue at Saturday morning services.

While at this school, something happened which awakened in me for the first time, the sense of remorse. In these days, very few houses had even an outdoor toilet. In order to go to the toilet, we had to walk to the public toilet, several blocks away. On one occasion, another pupil and I went together. On the way we passed a Synagogue and stepped into the entrance to play hide and seek.  A large heavy door was resting against the wall and in some way fell on my friend's leg, breaking it in two places. The poor boy was laid up for several weeks. During all that time, I was in mental pain and extreme anguish. I could not sleep and often dreamed of the poor boy.

At the age of ten, I was placed in a still higher private institution.   This school was conducted by a man named, Aaron Solomon, young, and known as an up to date teacher. There I began the study of the Talmud, also the Hebrew Grammer [sic]. In all of these schools, nothing but Hebrew books were taught. We did not learn to read or write Russian, nor did we learn arithmetic. For this purpose, there were two teachers in our town to whom richer children were sent for an hour each day.  My parents were too poor and besides did not consider it necessary.  Thanks to my sister, Feiga, who recognized the necessity of secular education, my brother and I went to one of those teachers and Feiga paid him from money she earned selling rags, bones and potato peals (sic).

I learned penmanship and reading of the Russian language. I was good at penmanship and my father was very proud of my accomplishment. I remember him carrying a specimen of my writing in his pocket to show to his friends. Steel pens were not in general use then and we learned to make our own quill pens. 

At the age of twelve, I entered the local Eshibah [sic] where nothing but the Talmud was studied, with all the commentaries. I remained there until I became thirteen years of age, "Bar Mitzva". The age of thirteen is one of the greatest events in the life of a Jewish boy. At that age, he becomes personally responsible to God for his actions, while up to that age he is a minor and the responsibility rests upon his father. At the age of thirteen years and one day, he begins to wear Tefillim, "Phylacteries" for the   morning prayers.

Phylacteries consist of two leathern boxes, one worn on the left arm and the other on the head. They are made of the skin of a  clean animal. The boxes must be square, their height may be more or less than the length or the width.    They are painted black.  The boxes are fastened on the underside with a square piece of thick leather by means of twelve stitches made with thread prepared from the veins of a clean animal, and are provided with loops at the ends through which are passed leathern straps made of the skin of clean animals and blackened on the outside. The strap which is passed through the head phylactery should be long enough to encircle the head and allow for the knot and the two ends to fall over either shoulder and reach the naval or somewhat above it. The strap that is passed through the hand phylactery should be long enough to circle around the arm seven times and to be wound three times around the middle finger. Inside the boxes are placed several passages of the Bible, written on parchment by qualified scribes.

When I reached that age, I felt big and important and I felt that I was old enough to leave home, go to a large city and enter a really large Yeshivah (Rabbinical School).  There was no opposition on the part of my parents, in fact they readily consented, for was I not destined to become a Rabbi?  The city of Minsk, the capitol of the province of the same name was selected for this purpose.   Unable to finance me, my parents resorted to the custom of assigning free board and lodging amongst friends, each day of the week with a different family. 

I arrived at Minsk and after making application to the head of the Yeshivah I was accepted after passing a satisfactory examination. The Yeshivah was supported by the Congregation of the "Water Carriers" and was located in their Synagogue.  There were many students of various ages and from many different towns and cities. 

The city of Minsk is a beautiful city with a population then of 90,000, half of which were Jews. It could boast of beautiful government buildings, churches and synagogues.   Several market places, called the "High Market Place" were located on the Heights of the city.  The streets were paved with cobble stones and had wooden sidewalks.  The streets were equipped with water works to accommodate [sic] the richer residents, and were lighted by artificial gas. There were many up to date stores   with large plate glass windows, such as may be found on Fifth Ave, N.Y. 

I located the seven families with whom I was to board and began the life of a full fledged Yeshivah Bocher, (Rabbinical Student).  I soon grew tired of the Yeshivah, the outdoors was too tempting for a country boy.  The beautiful store windows, fine buildings, boulevards, meant more to me then the stuffy synagogues with the many students, poor as myself, unkempt, sitting or standing over their big volumes of the Talmud, swaying to and fro, jesticulating [sic] with their hands and fingers.  I had to come there every morning, do some studying to be able to pass the weekly examinations.  The rest of the time I was out roaming the streets, going to the railway station, watching the trains arrive and depart, watching the arrival and billeting of the Turkish war prisoners.

This was in the summer of 1877, during the Russo-Turkish War.  Meantime, my father lost his position and went to Moscow to find work there. The longer I stayed in the Yeshivah, the more I disliked it.  I actually became disgusted with the arrangement to eat in a different household every day, to be looked upon as a beggar and live on charity. But what was I to do?  As soon as I learned that my father had found work in Moscow, I began to bombard him with letters requesting him to find some clerical position for me.   It was not easy for me to persuade him but I think that sooner or later he would have taken me to Moscow and placed me in some mercantile establishment had not my sister Feiga learned of my desire and vetoed it. She requested me to come home, which I did after remaining in the Yeshivah just one year. This was in the spring of 1878.

After my sister, Yenta, was married and left our home, sister Feiga took full charge of my brother and myself. She was just like a mother to us, watching every step we made, particularly me because I was the baby and at times, very mischievous. We  were afraid of her; of course, she never punished us but she threatened to report any misconduct to Father. Now that Father  was away, she became the absolute ruler.  By nature she was vain, proud and conceited. She mingled with the richer class of girls and the young intelligencia. She was ambitious and she wished that I become a professional man, a doctor or lawyer,  instead of a store clerk.    With that end in view, she hired a teacher to prepare me for the first grade of the county secular school.

In the Autumn of that year, I went to the town of Mir, about twenty miles from home, where the nearest county school was  located.  I passed the entrance examination and was admitted. I rented a lodging place for seventy five cents a month, which also included boiling water for tea and cooking of the meals when the ingredients were furnished.   I had no bed to sleep on but a bench was furnished.  I brought a pillow, straw sack and quilt from home.  My food consisted mostly of bread and cheese or herring, which was sent to me from home every Monday, together with a few cents for pocket-money.  

I studied hard. The subjects were Russian language, writing, arithmetic, geography.   In the spring of that year I met with a painful accident. While playing ball, I fell and sprained my ankle. For several weeks I remained in bed, worried by the possibility that I would fail in my studies. I studied hard at home and went to the examinations on crutches and passed with "Magno Cum Laudo" [sic] into the second and only higher grade of the school.

My mother was not altogether satisfied with the change I had made from a Yeshibah to a secular school. She often said that the accident to my ankle was a punishment from God.   I came home for the summer vacation and it was decided that I should not go back to the county school as the course lead to nothing but a primary education. I must enter Gymnasium, spend eight years there, in order to qualify for the University. The city of Homel was selected because I had a cousin living there, which would give me some place to stay for a few weeks without pay. 

It was quite an undertaking from a financial standpoint. The tuition, uniform, books, room and board were items to be considered. My parents were apposed [sic] to it, moreover they had no means to support me. My sister Feiga, however, promised to see to it that $4.00 weekly would be sent to me for my maintenance. I was fifteen and a half years old, three and a half years older than the prescribed age limit for entrance. So it was necessary to falsify my birth certificate.

In the Autumn of 1879 I went to Homel, passed the entrance examination, paid six month's tuition and was enrolled as a "Gymnasist". I bought a second-hand uniform, second-hand books, secured cheap lodgings in a private family and was all set to become an M. D., in twelve years, which would make me about twenty eight, which age was not considered too old. But it was not to be as you will see from the following pages.

The first three years in Gymnasium were the hardest for me to get along on the funds sent to me by my parents. I often went hungry, but I lost no courage.   My morale was high. I studied hard and passed from one grade to another with high marks. I would go home to Neswish for the summer vacations. Sister Feiga was the proudest girl in town when we took walks together or visited friends.  The student's uniform was attractive and greatly admired. To be a student was a distinction, as very few boys in our little town were students. 

From the fourth grade on, my financial condition greatly improved as permission was given me by the school authorities to give private lessons.  I earned enough to not only keep myself but was also able to assist my brother, who was in dire need of help.   While my financial condition improved, however, the student's life in general and that of the Jewish student in particular, became more and more intolerable.

The discipline of the student, which was always strict, became stricter in the early eighties after the assassination of the Emperor Alexander the 2nd, by the terrorist branch of the Nihilist party to which the majority of students secretly belonged.  Alexander the 2nd, was succeeded by his Son, Alexander the 3rd. After he mounted the throne, the reactionary leaders such as Ivan Aksakov, the Slavophil, Mikail Katkof and Constantine [Pobredonazev] became all powerful and the ship of state was steered into the vortex of extreme reaction. The severity towards everything which was suspected of association with a revolutionary  propaganda, was increased. The maintenance of order by an extraordinarily elaborate system of espionage and by police  methods which have had no parallel in Western Europe except during periods of religious persecutions, inevitably has [sic] exceedingly ugly concomitants, and among these was [sic] cruel popular persecution of the Jews in the shape of pogroms,  which was encouraged instead of checked by the government.

The school authorities, the secret service police and the spies were always after us. Nightly raids were made on our lodgings,  our belongings searched, suspicious books confiscated and for the slightest violation of the student regulations, one was liable to expulsion and arrest. New laws effecting Jewish students were enacted; Jewish students were not permitted to tutor Christians, the percentage of Jewish students to enter universities was reduced to five per cents. The teachers openly showed their hatred toward Jewish students. On one occasion I was discovered tutoring a poor Christian boy and was severely punished. Another time it was reported to authorities that I was collecting funds for poor students. I did not deny the charge and I was threatened with expulsion unless I resign. I resigned at the end of the sixth year.

For two years after my resignation I remained in the city of Homel, following the occupation of a private tutor among the richer people, and at the same time studying in the hope of being able to enter a University. The condition of the Jews became worse; Pogroms became more frequent. To add to my plight, I was subject to military service which had been delayed by virtue of my being a student. It could not be delayed much longer and I was determined not to serve the country of our persecution and began to [look] for ways and means of avoiding it and remaining in Russia.

While a great wave of emigration of Jews swept all over Russia, the emigrants were mostly of the artisan and the small trader class who were expelled from Russian cities, not within the pale. Few educated young men were willing to leave the country of their birth and education. Moreover, my father and the rest of the family were loathe to part with me. The notion then was that once gone to America, you were gone forever. 

My mind was now made up to go to America.  The false notion about the United States concerning its democratic life, its  freedom and liberty, its equality, were a great incentive for me to go to America. We were told that anyone with a trade need not worry about making a living in America so I learned the bookbinding trade to be prepared for any eventuality.

On the [20]th of December, 1887, I left Homel for Moscow, where my father and my brother Samuel, who was now married, lived. I went there for a conference and for a final decision. I had no passport and had no right to reside in Moscow. Fortunately one was not molested on the streets but nightly raids were made of the Jewish quarters and if caught without a passport, you were expelled. To avoid a possible raid, I changed my quarters nightly. One night I slept at my father's lodging and another at my brothers'. In my ten days of residence in Moscow, I saw enough of the persecution of our brethren so that I decided to leave Moscow at once and return to the little town of my birth and arrange a way of avoiding military service and remain in Russia. 

I returned home, Jan. 2nd, 1888 and remained there until Feb. 20th, during which time I tried to find a way of avoiding being drafted into the army. But all effort failed so I started on my way to this glorious U. S. A. The last few days I visited with my sister, Yenta. From her home, I hired a peasant to drive me to the railway station. 

I was unable to obtain a passport so it was necessary for me to be smuggled out of Russia. I carried a letter of introduction to a steamship agent residing near the German border. This agent sold me transportation, including the services of smugglers. At night we fugitives gathered in a small hotel located about a quarter of a mile from the border line. Our baggage was sent ahead of us. At three o'clock in the morning we were instructed to make a run for the German side. The border at that point was a small stream which was frozen over and covered with snow. We made a leap and soon were on the German side in safety.

We soon reached the town of Servint, where an Inn was kept for the accomodation [sic] of Russian fugitives. It was Friday morning, a heavy snow was falling. Several orthodox Jews came along with me; they could not travel until sundown, Saturday. I was eager to get away as far and as quickly as possible from the Russian border so I left the same day by sleigh for the city of Stallopin, the nearest railroad station, where I boarded a train for Hamburg.

Due to a heavy snow storm, we were delayed at the city of Thorn for twelve hours and we did not arrive at Hamburg until Monday. We had to wait two days for our steamer. Free lodging was furnished by the ticket agency. In one large room there were huddled together a dozen or more emigrants, men, women and children.  My ticket was for steerage on a British ship. It was suggested that by paying a little more, my ticket could be exchanged for passage on a German boat which would arrive at New York several days sooner. I had no more money left but I was eager to get to New York as fast as possible so I exchanged my fine watch for a cheap one, receiving enough money to pay the difference.

The name of the boat was the "Australia". The boat rocked like a shell. The noise of falling tin utensils, boxes and trunks was terrific. The poor ignorant Poles and Hungarians would fall on their knees offering prayers to their God. The Jews read psalms. A pathetic scene it was indeed.  We left Hamburg, March 7th and arrived at Castle Garden, New York City, March 28th, being on the ocean just three weeks. The sea was rough most of the time, the food was very poor and the sleeping quarters, wretched. Salted herrings were a luxury, drinking water was scarce, but I had a supply of cigarettes and dried cheese which my sister Yenta, gave me, and I was satisfied. 

The trip was very interesting to me. I kept a diary but lost it somewhere.  I did not have a cent left but I was not worried, in fact, I was happy.   Most of the passengers in steerage were Poles and Huns, contract laborers, and poor Jews like myself, mostly orthodox. There were two berths to a section and two passengers on the upper and two on the lower. I was elected foreman because I was young and spoke German. My duties were to call for food for my section.   For the last seven days of our voyage, we were on half rations, even bread was scarce.   We were still on the ocean the first day of Passover. My three Jewish friends were orthodox and would not eat bread that day. They were given baked potatoes instead, so I appropriated their portion of bread and sold it to other passengers. The sale netted me two American dimes, which I spent for a telegram to my cousin, Alex, who was in New York a year at this time. 

It appeared to us that we would never reach the "Promised Land". On the 28th day of March, however, we came with in sight of the Statue of Liberty.  Columbus was hardly happier than we were when we at last saw land and came nearer and nearer to our goal. The freedom of this country manifested itself right from the start at Castle Garden. No passports were required, (there were no immigration laws and no quotas then) everybody was welcome. You were asked your name, nativity and occupation just as a matter of record.   The first persons to greet us outside of the gate were Missionariers [sic] handing out new testaments in Hebrew or Yiddish to the Jewish immigrants. I considered it a joke.

My cousin called for me and took me to the Elevated Railroad (The L). The train was drawn by a small locomotive then. Everything was strange to me, I looked around bewildered. At the proper station, Rivington St., we got out and walked to 9 Norfolk St., where my cousin kept a small cigar store, in front of which was a painted wooden Indian which served as a cigar store sign in those days. Along the curb were many pushcarts loaded with notions, fruits and vegetables. Some were loaded with bananas, a fruit I had never seen before and which I thought were sausages.  In the rear of the store were two small rooms, one was used as a kitchen and dining room, the other a bedroom. In these two rooms, my cousin, his partner and I,  also two cousins of his partner, a boy and a girl, lived.   My clothes were saturated with the odor of the steerage and people for blocks could tell that I was a "greenhorn", a name applied to the new immigrant. 

I was full of ambition, full of courage and pep. I immediately began to talk about work. My cousin advised me to rest up for a few days. Moreover, the city was just digging itself out of the snow for I arrived just two weeks after the memorable blizzard of 1888. The streets were still piled up with snow; snow shovelers even then earned $3.00 a day (six rubles in Russian money). I was tempted to pitch in and earn some money for I had no money left and did not want to impose upon my cousin. But he would not let me.

A few days passed - I was rested and became restless. I wanted to work.  I have often been asked by my friends why I did not continue my studies in this country, enter a medical college and become an M. D. My answer is this: I had no means to support myself, no outside assistance. After twenty years of study in cheders, Jeshivahs [sic] and Gymnasium, I grew tired of books and lectures and finally I observed that the medical profession in this country was commercialized and any idea of commercialism was distasteful to me. I was saturated with Nihilism, Socialism, Communism and other Isms. The teachings of Karl Marx, Lasalle and others were too fresh in my mind, so nothing but manual labor would satisfy me. And had I not learned bookbinding for this very reason?

After I had rested sufficiently, I went to look for a job in a book-bindery. Alas! I discovered that all the binding was being done by machinery and the antiquated methods of the Russian book-binder would not do in America. I was greatly disappointed but not discouraged. I had a friend, Dr.Caspee, a schoolmate of mine, who left Russia several years before, graduated from a  Medical College in New York, but who did not practice medicine at that time, having a position in the banking house of  Seligman. He advised me to forget the Isms and engage in some mercantile business, even if no more than peddling.

He pointed  out to me that in political economy, democratic America was not much ahead of autocratic Russia, that the working classes in this country were not much better treated than at home, excepting, that the pay was a little higher for which they worked harder than at home. Many were compelled to work in sweat shops sixteen hours a day. Workers were being exploited by the employers here the same as in Russia.    Socially the workers were being looked down upon the same as they were at home.  He painted a very black picture.  I was amazed; I would not believe him. "Well," he said, "You shall find out for yourself."  I insisted that becoming a peddlar, going around from house to house, knocking at peoples doors, was out of the question for me.  To satisfy me, he gave me a letter of introduction to a hat manufacturer, asking him to give me some kind of employment.  The reception I got, the insulting looks and remarks the manufacturer made, formed a terrible impression on me, but I was not licked.  I must try and try again before sacrificing my principles and convictions. I must find work. I began to read the "Want Ads" in the Staatzeitung.

One advertisement read as follows: "Young man wanted, strong and not afraid of work.  Apply at 45th St. and East River at 7 A. M. sharp".   "That's me", I thought.   I arose at five in the morning.  It was a long ways from Norfolk St.  Horse cars were the only means of communication in New York at that time. The fare was a nickel. I had no nickel so I walked to the address.

It was a bottling works. About a dozen young men were waiting for the office to open.  The foreman looked me over from head to foot.   I was twenty-four years old, five feet seven and one half inches tall, broad shouldered, and weighed one hundred and sixty five pounds.  My face looked too intelligent for a laborer and the foreman wanted to know if I was used to hard work.    I answered in the affirmative, and as proof, I exhibited the palms of my hands which were calloused, not from hard work, however, but from gymnastics.  I was accepted. 

The pay was $l.00 a day. I quickly figured up the weekly, monthly and annual earnings. Figuring $3.00 a week for board and room, it would leave me at least $125.00 a year, figuring $25.00 for clothes and incidentals. A goodly sum I thought.  I was immediately sent to the stable to curry-comb and brush a pair of powerful, large horses, (The brewery horse variety). I was scared stiff. I was afraid to go near them. The driver, my boss, a German, saw my predicament and good naturedly assured me that the horses would not hurt me, but I did not know how to go about it. I confessed to him that I had never been around horses so he did it himself.  This done, we were to load the large truck with various cases of drinks, such as strawberry, lemon, sarsaparilla drinks.

We delivered the stuff to the saloons. I was to hand him the kind he called for. Not being familiar with the names of the various drinks, I had to read the markings on the cases. My boss was at times impatient because I was slow and scolded me occasionally. At noon we would have all the beer we wanted and free lunch in whichever saloon we chanced to be in at that hour. At 4 P. M., we were through with our delivery route and drove back to the bottling works where we unhitched the horses, unloaded the truck and went home. 

When I returned home I was very tired. I had my supper and went early to bed. I slept like a log. Early the next morning, I went to work. On the third day I went to work as usual. We returned to the bottling works rather late. I was about ready to go  home when we were ordered to go to the pier to unload a barge of sugar. I remonstrated; I told the foreman that I had done  my day's work, besides I was not hired for that kind of work. I was not going to be exploited. I was invited to the office and then and there was paid up and discharged. 

My hopes of saving up $150. that year were blasted. I had $3.00, the first money  earned in this country by manual, hard labor. I was down-hearted but I had defended my rights. My cousin, Alex, noticed that I was disturbed and I told him what had happened. He did not seem to approve of my conduct. Thus ended my first job.

I again began to read Want Ads in the New York Staatzeitung and after a few days I found an advertisement for a strong, young man on a truck farm near New York City. What could be more ideal than a job on a farm? I called on the agency. The pay was $15.00 a month and keep. Not so bad, I thought. I was given a letter of introduction and my fare. It was noon when I arrived at the farm. The proprietor was not there so I presented myself to the Superintendant [sic]. He looked me over and asked me whether I had ever worked on a farm before. I could not lie for he would soon discover the truth, so I admitted that I never had but that I was confident that I could learn the work.

After a lunch of coffee, bread and butter, I was sent to work on a patch with a hoe. I worked at it until sundown. I felt as if my back was broken in two. Then I was sent to the barn to unload a wagon full of manure. I was slow at this work. The stars were out and I was not finished with the job. My stomach was empty. Finally the boss came along, laughed at me and showed me  how the work should be done. In a very short time the wagon was empty. I gave a sigh of relief. Supper was served and immediately afterwards, I went to my [sleeping] quarters, dead tired. Promptly at sunrise the following morning, I was awakened and sent to clean the stable and curry-comb the horses. At seven, breakfast was served and after the scanty meal, I went back with my hoe to finish my patch. It was noon when the owner came. He observed my work, shrugged his shoulders, came up to me, looked me over and said: "The man who sent you here must be stupid. You do not look like a farmer to me.  You look more like a school teacher or a University student. Sorry, but I cannot use you." With this he turned his back, and did not even offer me my return railroad fare. I went back to New York, heart-broken and disappointed. Thus ended my second job.

A few days afterwards, a young men who lived in the same tenement house, offered to secure a job for me in a tannery where they paid $9.00 a week or piece work if desired. The wages offered were certainly attractive. I did not hesitate to take advantage of the golden opportunity which "knocks but once in a life time." On Monday morning, my neighbor took me along with him to the tannery.  I was turned over to a burly Hungarian Jew, who was to be my instructor.  This man worked on a piece work basis and received credit for all the pieces his apprentice produced for a certain number of days. The work, was the dirtiest and the most stinking I ever imagined. I did not like it from the start but the $9.00 a week were tempting, and I began to work. The Hungarian Jew wished to make the most out of my labor and rushed and hurried me to the limit. I did my best. When, however, he called me names, I could not endure the humiliation of such a beast. I became infuriated and hurled a bucket full of hot chemicals used to remove the hair from the hides. There was a great deal of commotion, the foreman of the shop came running and after listening to both sides, sided with me and was ready to hand me over to another man. I went to lunch, as the noon whistle blew, and never went back. Thus the end of my third job.

I came home and was ill for several days. 

I thought of Dr. Caspe [sic] and began to reflect upon the conversation we had on my first visit. I began to think that perhaps he had good cause to advise me the way he did. Yet I was not quite ready to shake off my prejudice against peddling. I must try some more "legitimate" occupations. 


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