Jewish history








The front of the house faced a large street, an important artery running through the town.  I remember soldiers marching through it.  And Jewish funerals -- a black cloth-covered stretcher, each end resting on a man's shoulder, and dim recollections of mourners following the "hearse".  But best of all I recall the street during winter.  Horse-drawn sleds with tinkling bells, carrying furred, elegant riders.  I loved watching them through the window.  Several years ago I saw the movies of Tolstoy's War and Peace.  The scenes of the gay riders on sleighs brought back childhood memories.


All week [my mother] worked at her dressmaking.  Friday, at noon she put her work away, to help prepare for the Sabbath.  The chore which I shared with her and enjoyed, was filling the water barrel,  It was huge,  I imagine about 40 gallons; and it had a permanent place in the kitchen.  To fill the barrel, [my mother] used wooden water buckets.  They were strung on each end of a pole and were carried, coolie-wise, across the shoulders.  We would go to the well which was about a half block away and shared by the immediate neighbors.  [My mother] made numerous trips back and forth from the well to the water barrel, carrying those heavy buckets.  As I look back it seems as if it had been a monstrous feat of labor.  But it didn't seem so at the time.  [My mother] did it cheerfully, as did other women, and we both enjoyed the pretense that I was helping her.


I don't know when the Revolution started, when the war started, nor when the pogroms started.  But I remember the period when the Russian soldiers were around.  When a troop came into our town, houses were commandeered as quarters for the soldiers.  It seem to me that we had better behaved soldiers staying at our house than most people had.  And although we were not happy about extending them living quarters, there was some security in having them around, for the peasants would not come in to loot and pillage whole there were soldiers at our house.


The most colorful of the soldiers were the Cossacks.  They were so dashing, riding their spirited horses, wearing the long grey fur-trimmed coats and fur hats.  They looked just as they are presently portrayed in the movies. 
One afternoon a Cossack family moved into our house.  They took the largest, sunniest room.  The family consisted of an officer, his plump, lively wife and baby boy.  They had a constant stream of company and their life appeared very festive to me.  I was in awe of them and couldn't picture them as villainous.  They moved after a couple of weeks and left a treasury of luxuries; all kinds of knick-knacks we had never seen before, but most of all I remember the ribbons.  There were drawersful of luxurious satin and velvet ribbons in gay colors.  [My mother] put them to good use in her dressmaking.


Following those days, came the pogroms.  People hid in cellars for days.  The cellars were not under house, as they are here, but about 200 feet from the houses.  (They were built primarily as summer cold-storage areas for food).  People were slaughtered, women were ravished.  Parents hid daughters in privies.
One particular night [my mother] and I were hiding under a bed.  Some soldiers had come into the room and she had her hand over my mouth so I would not make any sound.  We heard one soldier strike a match, and say, "Let's go.  Nothing but old hags in here."  At that tie I didn't know what they meant nor why [my mother] had her hand over my mouth, but I realized the reasons for it when I was older.

My Russian Childhood
By Marion Feinstein Goldfus
Born Manya Feinberstein,  Zvenigorodka, 1913                                                                                        

Emigrated from Zvenigorodka in 1921
Written in 1968  


Compiled by Arlene Goldfus Lutz
Last updated May 18, 2012
Copyright © 2012 Arlene Goldfus Lutz

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