The Project to Restore the
Przerosl Jewish Cemetery

Student Essay:
They Can't Hear Us
by Sebastian Pietkiewicz and Mariusz Pupel

Would you like to see the small Polish town of Przerosl in 1935?

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and come with us for a long walk. You will get to know some Jewish people. Forget about all the facilities you have in your house and about all the political changes. Forget about the war, too. Welcome to THE PAST.

The sun is shining, the trees are green, and the ground under our feet is dry.

Can you see this big house? It is Mr. Wierzbowski's house. He's a Jewish farmer. At the moment he's going to harness his horses and put some sacks of grain onto his cart. He's smiling. Maybe he'll get a lot of money for the grain. We are walking a little further and we can see Mr. Rakowski sitting next to his slaughterhouse. Some women are talking and buying raw meat at his butcher shop. They will probably cook dinner for their families. An older man is counting silver coins just around the corner from Rakowski's shop. He's going to buy a young horse here. The price is good today. As we are walking, we see some children running out from Mr. Sloma's shop. There are two Jewish boys, a girl, and three Polish kids, too. They're about 10 years old. Sloma is following them. He's shouting angrily, "I'll get all of you one day! You'll see what Sloma can do with naughty children!" The children are laughing at Sloma, because they have just put a dead rat into the barrel with herrings. A young, disgusted woman is screaming – maybe she has just bought some herrings here...

A young man and his a little daughter, Marianna, are going to meet Bysiek Bialostocki. The girl is six, and her parents have decided to ask Bysiek to make a nice, long, sheepskin coat with brown buttons for her. The winters in Poland are severe, and she will not be cold wearing such a warm sheepskin. He makes the most beautiful and quite inexpensive sheepskins in Przerosl.

After that we can see them going to Berk Abramtys, a tailor. The girl needs a dress, and her father needs a pair of trousers. Then they will do some shopping. They will go to the best shop in Przerosl. Nysko Abramski is the owner. Everyone likes going there. Nysko is a very talkative and good man. He always knows all the latest gossip. Sometimes, when his customers have too little money, he agrees to give them the goods and wait for the money until the next week. Nysko gets various goods from Germany or even France. There are colorful boxes and fragrant spices on the shelves.

There is a big jar with delicious raisin rolls. When someone does a lot of shopping here and spends a lot of money, Nysko gives sweet rolls to their children. Sometimes you can buy bitter chocolate or coffee in round cans, but these are very expensive, and only the richest people can afford them. Mr. Abramski asks us what we want to buy, and he gives us a small can of caramel candies.

Let's go a little further.

We can hear loud hammering. Buslawski and Chackiel are making a cupboard together. It's for a rich doctor from Suwalki. Buslawski is a rich carpenter, and Chackiel is an ironworker. They do very precise work together. Buslawski is often hired abroad to make wooden floors, doors, or furniture.

We can hear some young girls singing. They are sitting on a wooden bench in front of the shop. They are very beautiful, with dark eyes and hair. All the Jewish girls are nice but their parents don't allow them to go out with Polish boys. According to their tradition, they prefer Jewish husbands for their daughters. It is said that there once was Stasiek, a Polish boy, and Salcia, a Jewish girl, who fell in love with each other. They escaped from the town because Salcia's father did not accept their love. Salcia died two years later, and her face appeared in her father's dreams until he went mad.

If someone falls ill, Jankiel Szapiro is the right man to go to. He has a lot of herbs and drugs at his small shop. People respect him as a doctor. He's stirring a kind of mixture in a porcelain bowl. It is for David Zelman. He has a terrible pain in his back because he has to be bent over all the time, making shoes.

The smell of beer and the sound of clinking glasses invite us to a small taproom where several men are playing cards are smoking their pipes. Peltyn, an old Jewish man wearing a brown apron, is taking sour cucumbers from an oak barrel. He looks tired, but he is moving quickly, and he is smiling. The tobacco smoke gets into our eyes and nostrils. We're taking a seat inside and ordering fresh brewed tea. Peltyn's grandsons are chasing around our table. They're laughing... They're so innocent... We want to tell Peltyn something important, we feel a strong need to warn his family. They will be taken far away within four years, they will lose their house and their laughter...

They can't hear us.

Photo courtesy Carl Lankowski


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