The Project to Restore the
A cold day. We don't really think that people we want to visit will refuse to talk to us. We have a positive attitude. There are five of us. A small house with a nice garden. We can smell a strong scent of flowers. An old woman is looking at the sun. Her slim face is covered with wrinkles. Shall we start?... Hesitation...
"Good morning. We would like you to talk to us about the past. Do you have some time? We would really appreciate it... and..."
"Well, I don't know... What for?"
We don't know what to say. We didn't expect it. But suddenly she breaks the silence with her harsh laughter. "What exactly do you want to know?"
"We are participating in a contest connected with restoration of the Jewish cemetery. We are going to write some essays."
"I see... would you come in? Er.... are you recording me? (laughing) Well, er... I don't remember a lot from those times, but for me Jews were always associated with trade."
"Did you buy at their shops?"
"Yes, not only me. My father bought cattle and horses from Wiktor Rakowski. He was a tall man. He had two daughters. One of them, Rufka was a beautiful girl. Er... I guess she lives in Israel at the moment. He had also a slaughterhouse. His sister, Sara helped him. Then she left for the US."
"Is she still alive?"
"I don't know... Oh, there was Szymko, too."
"What did he do?"
"Er... he sold pots, bowls, and very good, fat herrings. (silence) He lived on Wielka Street. Nysko Abramski and Melszko lived there, too. Melszko was a baker."
"What did you buy from them?"
"As I mentioned, herrings. But there were also exercise books, coffee, salt, bread, and sugar. Sugar was very expensive. (laughing) It's not much cheaper now."
"What kind of person was Nysko?"
"Not very generous, but fair and honest .He had three sons: Smulko, Hank, and Ajska. They went to Palestine before the war. On Zabia Street, you know where Mr. Sadowski lives, David Zelman lived. He was a shoemaker. He made the best shoes. I guess you wouldn't like to wear them nowadays. (laughing) But back then, everyone wanted to buy them. They were quite expensive and made of goat and cow leather. And... Sloma ran a shop. He sold herrings."
"Again, herrings? You like them, don't you?"
"They were delicious. You can't buy such herrings now. Yes... but mainly you could buy stationery there: pencils, pens, notebooks..."
"Things for school?"
"Yes. Children liked going there. Sometimes he had some candies for them. (silence) There was a man, I guess... Wilkenstein. He sold a house to Izydor Zawojski. He'll tell you a lot about him."
"Do you remember the synagogue?"
"It was opposite the school. It had beautiful carvings and ornaments inside... But it's sad the cemetery was almost destroyed. The Jews who lived here took care of it. Later the headstones were used to build barns or pavement. I can't understand how irresponsible people are. Mr. Zawojski saved some of the headstones. He also has the Torah. He didn't let the German soldiers destroy it. It's his treasure."
"Is it in his house?"
"Yes... But he doesn't show it to anyone. He respects it too much, although he's not Jewish... There wasn't any socializing between Jews and Polish people. They didn't go to any parties together. They just lived in a different way. But their children played together. There weren't any serious conflicts between them, but Jewish parents were careful about the food their kids ate."
"As you know, they don't eat pork, and sometimes Polish kids ate sausages and gave some to the Jewish kids when they played. Of course, they weren't aware that they couldn't eat them. (laughing) The Jews didn't really trust us and we probably didn't trust them very much. But we respected each other. The war changed a lot. They disappeared from the town, from our lives. Did we miss them? We did... They were our neighbors... I wondered: Where are they? Do they suffer? Or are they safe? Some went to America, some to Palestine... some to Auschwitz..."
We can see tears in her eyes. We decide to leave her with her memories. The flowers in the garden are probably as beautiful as they were sixty years ago...
Why are the roses so blood-red?
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