This week's Yizkor book excerpt on the JewishGen Facebook page #JewishGenUpdates #yizkorbooks #poland

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:
Many chapters of Yizkor books are accounts of events and Jewish life after the turn of the 20th century, particularly the memories of those who survived the brutal years that began with the rise of Nazism. So, “Belchatow in the Year 1898” from the Yizkor book of that Polish town caught my eye because it promised a snapshot of an earlier time when it was under the thumb of the Russian Empire.
Belchatow was mostly populated by Jews with the few Christians being Shabbos-goyim. It was a town of small wood and brick houses, low with pointy roofs, covered with grey wooden shingles, on which grew moss. Others were covered with tar paper.
It was a cloistered place: “The shtetl was open on all sides, but the world did not enter.” People did not know of books, of newspapers, of periodicals. The six weekdays were filled with work, which took up all of the people’s interest and all of their enjoyment in life. Eating, sleeping were in order to be able to work.
When people became sick, the shtetl Jew did not immediately run for the doctor. First, they used their own remedies: a wet handkerchief for a headache; wolfberry for vomiting; fennel tea and castor oil for stomach aches; garlic and pepper and ground horse teeth on burned coals – for toothaches. If that didn’t work, they went to the apothecary. When leeches and cupping glasses needed to be applied or a tooth had to be pulled, they called the feldsher [barber-surgeon]. Finally, after a remedy against the evil eye had been said and the women prayed in the synagogue for a cure, the doctor was called.
The shtetl did not know of childhood. Boys went at a young age to the kheder where they often suffered the tyranny of the teacher. It was “a prison in which the child was held from the morning until night” and learned only the “Holy Language” and not writing, arithmetic, history, science or geography. Later, the young ones left for an apprenticeship.
The teaching of the trade began with the boy as an apprentice, usually 13 years old when he was rented out for four years — years of “pure slavery.” Afterwards, he became a journeyman, hoping to marry and become a boss.
The translation of the Belchatow book is also available for purchase in print. Details are here:

Bruce Drake
Silver Spring, MD

Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel