Chapter 5: Life in Wloszczowa
Life in the city of Wloszczowa was quite relaxed. The neighborly relations with the Catholic inhabitants were good, with the exception of a few disputes among the peasants, brought about because of competition. On market days, the Jewish buyers preferred to buy from Jewish peddlers, both because of the rabbinic seal of approval and due to competitive prices. The Catholic peasants, whose products were better and fresher, got very upset and viewed the Jewish buying practices as a boycott against them. All in all, however, friendly relations existed among the residents in the city, and there were even a few cases of mixed marriages.
The Jews in the surrounding villages were mostly orthodox who spoke mainly Yiddish and hardly any Polish. They looked different from the rest of the population, sporting beards and side curls and always wearing long black coats and black hats. Poverty was rampant, as each family had many children. Instead of schools, the children were sent to a private house where a rabbi taught them Torah. These were not like government schools, where children studied history, math, science, Polish and even French as a second language.
When they came from the outlying “shtetel” (small Jewish villages established around a large city) to Wloszczowa with their horse or mule-drawn cart, the Jews were often the recipients of stones that the Catholic children threw at them. Insults and curses were also a regular occurrence; at times they did not even understand the insults screamed at them.
The Jews who lived in the town who were not religious distanced themselves from the orthodox Jews and treated them disrespectfully. Many despised them outright .They saw themselves as Poles of the Mosaic faith, and not as Jews living in Poland.
Every morning, Wolf would leave his house, neatly and elegantly dressed in a plaid jacket, bow tie, and white cotton trousers with a leather briefcase.
Since the cost of living in Wloszczowa was rather high, his government salary was barely enough to cover his expenses, so he took upon himself additional work. He was hired as a financial advisor to Count Jan Sosnowski, a rich Polish nobleman who lived on a large estate approximately thirty kilometers away in the town of Maluszyn. The count was a hearty man who loved women, playing cards and drinking. In Wolf he found two things; a consultant who helped him streamline his business and make it more profitable and a companion for a good game of bridge.
Along with his job, Wolf received a car to travel to work. It was a Fiat 520 Cabriolet with gas lamps. On the weekends he would ride around the neighborhood on his Ariel model English motorcycle that he purchased for four thousand zloty.
Thursday of every week was market day. The peddlers would arrive at the crack of dawn with their goods in carts drawn by horses or donkeys and begin setting up their stalls in the Rynek Square marketplace. Some even harnessed themselves to smaller wagons with two wooden wheels, while another person stood in the back and pushed. Even on rainy days, when they were exposed to storms that struck the region, they could not give up, because of the need to bring money home to support the family.
One morning, as every morning, Ida took Davidek, who had just turned twelve, to school. That day Lilly decided she did not want to go to school because she claimed that she was bored. She already knew how to read and write, for she studied the material from her brother’s books. Izio, who had a cold, stayed home with his grandmother.
Since that day was market day, Ida and her daughter Lilly walked from home to the square as the distance was not that great. Ida allowed Lilly to run ahead and back again, as she wanted her to release some energy and calm down a bit.
As they got closer to the market the sight of the bearded peddlers wearing long black costs frightened Lilly and she clung tightly to her mother.
“Mamushka,” she asked, “Who are these people?”
“Orthodox Jews from the surrounding areas,” Ida answered.
“We are also Jews,” she stated. “Why do they look different?”
“They are religious Jews who belong the Hasidic movement, while we are not religious and belong to a different movement,” Ida replied.
“Why do they speak German and not Polish?” Lilly asked.
“They are speaking Yiddish, the language of the Eastern European Jews,” her mother replied.
“Why do we do not speak Yiddish?” Lilly asked inquisitively.
Ida tried to give her nine-year-old daughter an answer that she could understand. “We are more modern and open-minded Jews who believe that we must move forward and live in Poland, like Poles. We are first Poles and then Jews.”
“Mamushka, I am so glad that we do not belong to the Hasidic movement,” Lilly said while hugging her mother.
“They are good, hard-working people with large families. We must respect all human beings, regardless of religion or ethnic origin,” Ida replied.
Little Lilly did not answer. She stared at the children who were approximately the same age as she was, working very hard helping their parents. Some carried heavy sacks on their backs while some stood on boxes, loudly announcing the nature of their goods in order to arouse the curiosity of the buyers and attract them to their stand. They wore old patched clothes, worn-out shoes and large caps on their heads.
After buying some potatoes and carrots, Ida finally arrived at the butcher’s stand to buy a chicken. The butcher took out a fat chicken from the coop, showed it to her and waited for her agreement. When Ida nodded her head in agreement, the butcher took the chicken by its neck and swung it in a forward motion. With its head dangling, the chicken continued to shriek and flap its wings. After a few minutes the chicken died and the butcher’s wife immediately began plucking its feathers.
“I will not eat this chicken nor will I eat the soup that it was cooked in,” Lilly announced in an angry voice.
Ida looked at her daughter and said, “So you will remain hungry,” she said.
She then added, “I cannot buy at the Jewish butcher, indeed his whole chickens are already dead and headless, however they are salted and father may not eat any salt. Also, his chickens may not be fresh.”
“Nevertheless, I will not eat the chicken after I saw it was killed ,” Lilly responded.
After Ida took the chicken wrapped in newspaper and put it into her shopping bag, the two started walking home.
“I must go into Bitoft’s pharmacy for a minute to get something,” Ida said and crossed Rynek Square, with Lilly reluctantly in tow.
Bitoft, who was tall, solidly built with a black mustache adorning his face, stood behind the counter, looked at her and asked, “How can I help you madam?”
I need cough medicine. Izio is constantly coughing. I am sure that he has bronchitis,” Ida said to him.
How old is he?” the pharmacist asked.
“Two years old,” she replied.
“Wait a few minutes and I will prepare an appropriate syrup,” he said as he walked off into his laboratory.
Ida and Lilly sat on the bench waiting. A cute boy, neatly dressed with golden curls and a smiling face sat next to them. The boy looked at Lilly and did not take his eyes off her.
“Why are you looking at me all the time?” she protested.
The boy’s face reddened as he looked down to the floor. He did not open his mouth.
Ida, who felt his embarrassment tried to straighten things out.
“Why are you hurting the boy, he did nothing to offend you?” she scolded Lilly.
“Never mind,” the boy said “She did not hurt me.”
“Ho, ho, he knows how to talk,” Lilly teased him.
Ida once again scolded Lilly and shoved her to shut up.
“Are you waiting for somebody?” Ida asked the boy.
“No, I am the son of a pharmacist, and I am waiting for my father to close the pharmacy and go home,” he answered.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Lolek,” he replied. “That is what everybody calls me.”
“How old are you,” Ida inquired.
“Twelve,” he replied shyly.
Lilly listened attentively to the conversation, but did not interfere. She let her mother do the investigating.
“You are the same age as my Davidek. You might want to come play with him sometime,” she said to him.
While Ida was explaining to Lolek where they lived, the pharmacist entered.
“I see you’ve introduced yourself to the ladies. You do not waste any time,” he said with a smile.
Lolek blushed and looked down.
“He is very shy,” Bitoft said winking at Lilly.
Lilly remained silent, but occasionally stole a glance at Lolek; whether out of curiosity, or to embarrass him more, only she knew. She relished seeing him embarrassed and red-faced.
Before leaving the pharmacy, Ida turned to Lolek and said, “The invitation still stands.”