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This week's Yizkor book excerpt on the JewishGen Facebook page #yizkorbooks #poland #JewishGenUpdates
At the end of each week, we have been featuring excerpts from Yizkor books in JewishGen’s archive. You can find the archive of past Yizkor book excerpts here: https://bit.ly/3aCH1ak. If you are not familiar with the JewishGen Yizkor Book Project, please click on this link: https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/faq.html
“As It Happened Yesterday” differs from most other books in the JewishGen Yizkor book collection. Rather than being comprised of chapters contributed by multiple authors, it is the work of one writer, the Yiddish poet Yosl Cohen, who wrote this book to memorialize his family and the people in Krynki, Poland where he was raised.
The book contains vivid portraits of five generations of his family as well as other characters in the town and how all of them lived their lives. “To the New, Strange World”, a chapter that recounts his emigration to New York around 1911 stood out to me because some parts reminded me of my grandfather’s journey — the train ride to the border, being smuggled across it and arriving at Antwerp where he boarded the ship for the 23-day voyage.
Conditions on the trip were not pleasant for Cohen and fellow immigrants crowded into the “tween” deck: “Food was procured in a feeding trough, just as for animals. A sailor brought the trough and threw the food (on tin plates) with a big wooden cooking spoon. Every day there was the same food: A piece of herring in dirty soup, mashed potatoes, and sometimes a piece of black meat that looked like it had been rolled in mud.” They were treated badly by the sailors, and by the time they “saw the shore of America, our joy was not only to have arrived in the new land, but also to know that we would now be delivered from this ship.”
But there is a happy ending. His father, who had emigrated a couple of years earlier, greets Yosl after he and others pass through immigration and head for the boat to Manhattan. (Cohn writes in the chapter that he landed at Castle Garden, but the translator says he actually came through Ellis Island):
“Joy pulsates around me and beside me, people hold each other, nestle together, talk with understanding and love. The buildings Papa has led me out of are moving farther and farther away.
“’The ship,” Dad says to me, ‘is about to take us to New York!’”
Silver Spring, MD
Researching: DRACH, EBERT, KIMMEL, ZLOTNICK
Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel
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