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Bruce Drake

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: If you are not familiar with the JewishGen Yizkor Book Project, please click on this link:
To take a walk along the length of “Warsaw Street,” a chapter from the Yizkor book of Mlawa (Poland), is to journey among all the characters, sights and ways of life that evoked the richness of life in the shtetls. Many Yizkor books have chapters devoted to the main streets of their town, but this one is remarkable in the stories it tells.
The street started off as a corridor to the Old Market with its trade in fish, fruit and vegetables. “Haim the Red” could be seen sitting on the fruit stalls with his daughter Rifka, who went crazy two weeks out of every four. “Rifka the Black,” the most veteran huckster there, wore a warm coat in winter she and held a pot full of glowing embers between her knees in order to keep warm.
Further on, one came upon little houses, mostly made of wood. The street's inhabitants filled the air with noise. It was here that the organ grinders lived, the rag pickers, the drivers, coachmen and itinerant peddlers as well as artisans and storekeepers.
Then stood the tall iron pump in the middle of the street to provide water for people and animals. Every day it creaked and groaned with each pull of its bent iron handle as it sluggishly went up and down. Sometimes two or three people had to hang on to it in order to draw some water. In the winter, a mountain of ice would cloak the pump and the water-carriers had to put glowing embers on the ice to melt it.
There was a store that also served as a delicatessen where one could eat a piece of herring and polish it off with a slice of sponge cake, drink a glass of tea or a glass of soda with syrup which was measured out in small wine-glasses made of white metal.
And beyond that, a “warm and open Hassidic home” erected on what had been the street’s largest courtyard. From morning until late at night, the doors never closed. People came to discuss matters of Hassidim, to ask for advice, to drink a glass of tea, and to play chess. “If the walls could speak, they would tell how Zisa-Reizel, with the aid of other housewives, wisely and gracefully conducted the complex and secret work of bringing money and bundles of food and clothing to respectable families that had fallen on bad times.”
There was much more after that along Warsaw Street until it reached the cemetery where Mlawan Jews found their final resting-place.

Bruce Drake
Silver Spring, MD

Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel