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Anna Weinstein Recalls Life in Kelem (Kelme)

An interview Nov 6, 1997
By Bob Weiss, November 2003

On November 6, 1997, Philadelphia, PA resident Anna Levin Weinstein, a daughter of Leib and Basia Levin, was interviewed by Bob Weiss (with her son Jack Weinstein This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it in attendance) about her early childhood in the shtetl of Kelem (Kelme), Lithuania, her immigration to America, and her family’s first years in America. Mrs.Weinstein was 97 years old when she passed away on July 4, 1998.

About this picture, (click to enlarge) Jack Weinstein writes, "It was taken in Kelem, Lithuania, around 1908. In it are my grandparents, Leib and Basia Levin, my mother, Henna Guta (Anna) and her baby sister, Tema Devora (Dora). My mother is on the far left."


B.W. What do you remember about Kelem? Do you remember your girlfriends?

A.W. I remember my girlfriend, Minka. She is the daughter of Zunda Luntz. He was a wealthy man. He had a business.

B.W. What kind of business did he have?

A.W. He had...he was selling feed for animals. I know he had a scale and he also had boards that he would make tables, chairs,

B.W. Lumber?

A.W. Lumber. Now I can tell you that I wasn’t allowed to go in there, but I used to creep underneath and creep around in the lumber. That’s what I remember. But Zunda Luntz, he had a big house. In the middle room there was a big table with a samovar in the middle. And the people of this town...everybody came to visit Zunda Luntz. I know now what they were talking about...not that I know it but that was what my parent’s told me. They were discussing the war. I used to go with Minka, with the kids. She has a gray room on the side from the table and I would go with her and play with her and then I would hear the men talking, hollering a little bit, I would run out to my father and then hold his hand, things like that. And then there’ that square house there are three families.

B.W. All Luntz families.

A.W. Yes, there was the brother and his wife was on the other side and the ovens, I remember. It was a big, big house of what I can remember.

B.W. What kind of ovens did they have? Did they have ceramic ovens in the wall?

A.W. In the wall there was a big, big oven and the oven was for the business of Zunda Luntz. The son’s room was on the other side and on the other side was also a room, a kitchen, a bedroom. All around the houses, and I had another girlfriend,...not the girlfriend, she was the maid, but my girlfriend, because when I was leaving to go to America everybody was crying, everybody was... I was scared, I was a child so I ran away, and I got into the wagon. She was running over to me and she said, "You’re going to America without saying good-bye to me." Not special things, but this is what I remember... where the shore was... I remember where the church was. I remember.

B.W. Where did you live with respect to the Shul? There is Shulhoif and then there was the market. Where did you live with respect to all of that?

A.W. We lived near the church, the regular church. We lived here and the church was across the street there. We would always hear them singing.

B.W. Is that in the direction of Shavle, Shavel?

A.W. I don’t remember where Shavel was, but I can tell you where the shasay (road) was. That was at the center of the city. In the center of city was the shasay, it connected with this city and with that city, but which I don’t know.

B.W. You don’t know.

A.W. But I do remember this, that they said that tomorrow or next week or whenever it is, there is going to go through the shasay a wagon without a horse. The wagon will go ride without a horse.

B.W. Oh, a car.

A.W. Yeah, but they said it was going to drive without a horse, so I as a kid, I ran, too.

B.W. What year was that? Was that 1920 or ....

A.W. I don’t know. I came to this country when I was 12-years old so that is before that.

B.W. Okay. The Luntz house you described, were they Kosher? Were they religious?

A.W. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Everybody was religious I learned from Minka, that was the sister’s daughter. She went to school. What’s it called... the Russian school, and I didn’t go to school, but I played with her, she read the books, so I read the book. [At this point, A.W. starts to speak Russian.] Do you know what I’m saying?

B.W. [Laughing] No, no.

A.W. There was a picture in the book. The bubba, the zayda, they’re trying to pull the radish from the ground and they’re all pulling, pulling, pulling, pulling, and as they’re pulling they all fall down. It’s a childish thing, but nevertheless I learned from her......

B.W. Russian?

A.W. Yes, yes.

B.W. What other languages? You say this was in the 1920’s?

A.W. 1920?

B.W. Well let’s see.

A.W. No, it wasn’t the 20’s. We came to this country in 1913.

B.W. 1913?

A.W. Yeah.

B.W. Oh, okay.

A.W. That was way back.

B.W. So this is before World War I?

A.W. I don’t know, but I know that the men were discussing war.

B.W. So it must have been the first war?

A.W. Yes, yes. See as I say, I didn’t know what it was. The people were talking; my father was talking and everything. They were talking and my father wanted to go, that was later, he wanted to go to Africa, to take the family to Africa. So he tried to go. My mother had eight children, two years between each child, but my youngest sister was four years between because my father was traveling around to go to Africa and he couldn’t get there, so my sister was four years younger instead of two.

B.W. What was your name then? What was your maiden name then?

A.W. My maiden name was Jewish.

B.W. Yeah.

A.W. Henka, Henka

B.W. Henna....

A.W. Henna Guta

B.W. Henna Guta?

A.W. Henna Gutka. In this way everything ended with a "ka."

B.W. Ka [laughing].

B.W. My mother-in-law was Henya, same name. [Her mother-in-law’s name was Rochel.]

A.W. Henna. But see it ended with a ka, Henna Gutka, that’s her name.

B.W. So let’s see...

A.W. I can picture those things that I remember. I played with my little girls, we played store. Things like that I remember, but actually I remember the Shul was on this side. [Laughing] The Shul was on this side. The Shul was downstairs and the women were upstairs, so I remember. I was standing there with my mother and my mother would say, "There is your father."

B.W. Now which Shul was this? Was this the Groyseh Shul?

A.W. Yes, Yes. The Groyseh Shul and another little Shul, I don’t know what it was called, in back of that one.

B.W. Is that the Ayn Yaakov? Is that the name of the little Shul?

A.W. I don’t remember. It’s a different name. I can’t recall it.

B.W. Do you remember any other Shul? There was another Shul that was separate, that was a merchant Shul for the rich people and then there was a shoemaker Shul.

A.W. That I don’t know.

B.W. You don’t remember those?

A.W. No, but they say when my mother took me to...

B.W. You went here?

A.W. ...and I saw...a tailor...a kloyzel...something like that. There was the smaller one.

B.W. Oh, the Kloyzel. [laughing]

A.W. You know I didn’t talk of these words for years. How can I remember although they say at nighttime, I know everything.

B.W. Now, on Thursday’s there was a market. Do you remember the market?

A.W. Oh, yeah. My parents had a store and when the market was, the people would stop at my mother’s and she would cut-up herrings and give them herrings to eat. That I remember.

B.W. So what kind of a store was this?

A.W. I don’t know [laughing]. I’ll tell you what I don’t know. There were shelves and I stood under the shelf, and I spilled something, and I got my hair pinched up at night with with my mother wanted to cut my hair. My mother didn’t like my hair anyway because I had red hair. She didn’t like my hair. So, my oldest sister came, my oldest sister was working in Shaval already, but she came home for, I don’t know, so she took me between her knees and she took every hair in my head and combed it and combed it and combed it, and she didn’t let my mother cut my hair.

B.W. Oh.

A.W. [Laughing] It is nonsensible thing.

B.W. No, it’s a wonderful story.

A.W. And that store that they had, you had to go up a step and under the step is like this here, and I would creep underneath and every once in a while a groshen would fall through, and I was rich. I found a groshen and another groshen; that’s half a penny.

B.W. Was the store right on the market place?

A.W. No, no, no.

B.W. It was on another street?

A.W. No, that was all the way...and the market street was all the way up and we were all the way down.

B.W. Did you live in the same building that the store was in?

A.W. The store was there and we were here.

B.W. The same building?

J.W. The same building?

A.W. The store that we had was across the street from Zunda Luntz..

J.W And you lived next door to Zunda Luntz?

A.W. Yeah, but.... we lived in an alley like and he lived in the whole thing.

J.W. Can you describe the house, the rooms? The samovar in the middle there?

A.W. Yeah, I told him. I told him the men used to talk and talk. You can listen too. I remember the night, I told him that the men were talking and I was in the room across next to it, and I heard the men talking loud, loud, and my father was in the room. I was with Minka in the room playing, so I would run out and grab my father’s hand and just...I didn’t know why.

B.W. Can you describe the inside of your house? The chicken coop there?

A.W. The chickens?

B.W. Tell him about the way the inside of your house looks.

B.W. How many rooms did you have in your house?

A.W. We had without boards, plain dirt. I forget what that’s called.

B.W. Dirt floor?

A.W. I’m talking about where we lived the last place. The last house that we were in, and then there was a kitchen like this and there was two rooms, and in the big room, my three brothers slept in one bed. My brother slept in the other bed with another child, and my father was in one bed, and my mother was in another bed.

B.W. Was there a curtain, a curtain across the room?

A.W. Yeah.

B.W. And the cooking was done in the same room?

A.W. No. At Zunda Luntz was a big oven..

B.W. No, your house.

A.W. No, no. In their house, in our house was a little oven with brick with, what’s it called...

B.W. A grate?

A.W. Yeah. Yeah.

B.W. And was that in the middle of the room or on the side?

A.W. No. That was in back of the other big oven. The big oven was here and the small oven was here in back of it.

B.W. But the big oven was from Zunda Luntz’s house?

A.W. Yeah, because the room was a big room and from that building this place can be ____?____ . It was never the mother and father. They had a zaal (parlor). A zaal is like we are here now.

B.W. Oh, a drawing room.

A.W. For fun, and off of that it was their bedroom.

J.W. Did you have chickens in the room too?

A.W. Well that’s ridiculous. We had chickens in the house. We had a couple of chickens. Where were we going to put them? We didn’t have no gardens, so the chickens had just, what’s the word, a hole over there, and underneath, they would sleep, underneath. And I, as a kid, would sleep under there and get all messed up’ [laughing]

B.W. You had to get the eggs right?

A.W. Yeah, yes. And I do remember that my mother used to wash the floor with a broom, not the broom like we had, a besom. I would have a shmata (cloth) in my hand, and I would pull the shmata back to wipe it. You couldn’t wipe it. My mother...even though I was a child, whatever my mother did, I wanted to do. And then after we would straighten up the room, wash the room and everything, then we would take sand, because the chickens would walk around in the room and they left their poop. In my mind I can see these things but ..

J.W. Did you tell Bob about when Zayda would take you into the woods, when he would go to work?

A.W. Shpatzeer Shabbos, walking in the woods (on the Sabbath). I remember that.

J.W. Bubby would pack you lunch.

A.W. This what you are talking about, this was years later. My father was a _?___. He took care of trees. He used to tell the goyim (non-Jews) to cut this tree or to cut this tree, and my father was the one that told them which to cut, so that was out of town. And my father...I must have been a terrible nosy kid, I wanted to go with my father, so my father took me with him.

B.W. That’s great.

A.W. And I remember this, that after they would cut the tree, they have a, now I know what it was, but at that time I didn’t know, the saw and they put the tree through to cut it into boards. My father put me on the end and [laughing]

B.W. Oh, on the conveyor belts, or whatever it is.

A.W. Yes, right. They were giving me a ride as a kid. I don’t know. They could have cut me in half, but my father was there naturally. So, I remember all these here things but I followed my father all of his life. My mother, God rest her soul, my mother taught me whatever I knew. My mother taught me how to read, how to write. I can see that she took my little hand, and she would say that this is a Alef, this is a Bet, this is a Gimel; that’s how I learned. I used to be jealous of my brothers. My brothers, they would go to cheder, and certain days they would daven (pray) in the house, and they stood by, like a buffet or something, and they would wear the Tefillin, and what’s the thing on the head.

B.W. That’s the Tefillin also. The rosh..

A.W. Whatever you call it and they were holding the siddur and davening, and I was so jealous that I wanted, too. So, my mother taught me these here things, so she taught me how to read. There are lots and lots of things that I can remember, but I mean it’s children’s things.

B.W. But that’s all right.

A.W. I remember there was, like a small street like and on that street was selling merchandise, whatever. So my father would take me there, and the storekeeper would take out bolts of material and show it to my father, and my father would say to me, "Du vilst dos?" (Do you want this?). What did I know? But I pointed to one that I wanted, and the man measured me, and he knew how much material I would need for a dress. I remember that, and I remember as a kid also I would run there with my girlfriend. We would run there just to look.

B.W. Who made the dress for you?

A.W. The dress [laughing], the dress, this is funny. There was a dressmaker and my father, let him rest in peace, said that the boys have to learn to tailor; they have to be in business But a girl, a woman doesn’t need to know. All she needs is to hold a needle in her hand. If she will hold a needle in her hand, she will be able to make a living. My mother, oleva ha sholem (may she rest in peace), took me into the dressmaker, and the first thing she said, this woman, the dressmaker, "You have to learn to put a thimble on, otherwise you cannot sew." To this day when I sew, I put a thimble on first. [Laughing] Is that something to wonder about? Is that something? I cannot make one stitch.

B.W. Without a thimble?

A.W. Without a thimble.

B.W. That’s a lesson to learn.

A.W. And I’ll tell you what my sewing was. She gave me a piece of material..."here". I’m holding the tissue, and she put a thimble, gave me the needle, and she told me I put the needle this way and pull the thread and put the needle this way and pull the thread. That was not interesting for me. I stayed there for a couple of days, and I said to my mother, "I don’t want to go no more." [Laughing]

B.W. You were what, 11-years-old then?

A.W. Yeah. I think I must have been 8 or 9.

B.W. Oh, 8 or 9.

A.W. And then when I came to this country, then I learned how to sew but with the thimble.

J.W. Did you tell Bob about when you first saw the automobile?

A.W. I told him that, yeah. The automobile that was driving without horses and everybody ran to go to see and wonder how can the wagon go without horses, so I and I guess other kids we ran, we ran to look, too, and we saw it and it went to the shasay , the center of the town.

B.W. Where was the river? Did you go to the river for anything?

A.W. The taich (river)...

A.W. The taich was down a hill and the gahlech (priest) lived across from the church and that was the taich. And we would go also sometimes on shabbos for a walk, but I was thrilled. I ran down the hill and my father walked after me.

B.W And everybody would wash their clothes? Do you remember...

A.W. I don’t know if it was that river, but it was a river, and no, the clothes we washed was not a river, like a stream, and back then they would take the clothes to wash with a stick to bang their clothes. Then after we spread it out on the grass and it would dry. And that’s the way the clothes were washed.

B.W. Now where was the cemetery? Was it on the other side from the Church?

A.W. The cemetery, I don’t know, because my parents would not let us go because you know they would say if you take a menchen (person), so take a menchen. I don’t know. I didn’t go too much.

J.W. Isn’t there a story about a child that died in your family?

A.W. The story, I told him about the store.

J.W. No, a child that died.

A.W. I don’t hear you

J.W. Didn’t a baby die?

A.W. Oh, Jackie don’t say that stuff. I had an aunt that she had, like I guess every other woman did, there was children every two years, every year, and I used to also watch them, how she dressed the baby. At that time they did not wear no clothes. They wrapped them. So I would watch my aunt, and a child died. I didn’t know what it was, but they wrapped the child, and somebody took the child and took her out to bury her. I didn’t know what it was but I remember my aunt was crying, but where he took her, what they did with her, I didn’t know.

B.W. What was your aunt’s name? Do you remember?

A.W. Huda.

B.W. Huda. Last name?

A.W. Huda Levin

B.W. Levin.

A.W. Yeah.

B.W. Huda married a man named Simcha Leib who took the surname Levin.

B.W. You know it’s very interesting that we visited Norma yesterday and she said that she also wakes up at night and she thinks about the old town. She thinks about, you know, her childhood.

A.W. In fact, I do that many times. I come there, and I’m walking where I knew it was, but it’s not the same. How come it’s not the same? I’m so glad that you talked to Norma, because I remember that Norma, she gets tired and she don’t want to talk.

B.W. Let’s what other memories do you have? Any special things happen either during holidays or did special visitors come?

A.W. I remember the way they used to bake matzo for Pesach back in that big oven that I was telling you.

B.W. The Luntz’s oven?

A.W. Right. They used to bake matzo.

B.W. Did they bake matzo for the whole town or just for their own?

A.W. That I don’t know. I do remember watching them when they took that roller and go like this here to make it. You know, I remember that, and then I remember my mother for Pesach, she used to clean the house like everybody, but she had what was called a holbeh (rolling pin???) to knead flour for bread. So she would take the rolling pin outside and scrub it and scrub it and scrub it and scrub it to make it Pesach, but as I say I must have been a nosy....

J.W. Tell him about how when you left Kelem, and you had to jump across the ditch and fell in because you were so little.

A.W. Oh, my God, you remember that! My goodness. When we were leaving the country you had to cross the border at the grenetz (border), so there is like a ditch and first let me tell me that you slept at night in a barn, where the cows would stay. We slept in this thing, in the barn where the cows were and then at nighttime you squeeze across at the grenetz.. I’m a little kid, and we went across and then we were on the German side.

B.W. So you had a physical ditch at the border?

A.W. Yeah.

B.W. That’s interesting.

BW. Didn’t you say they had a private guard? You had to give the guard money or something, and he would look the other way while you were passing.

A.W. Yes.

B.W. Do you remember...was there a camp in Prussia that you stayed at while you waited for a boat?

A.W. Yes.

B.W. Do you remember the camp?

A.W. I don’t remember. I remember that we came to England, I think. That we stayed in a hotel, or I don’t know what it was.

B.W. Yeah, they have a temporary Jewish shelter that I think a lot of Jews stayed at on their way from Lithuania to either South Africa or England.

A.W. Yeah, right, right.

B.W. So, there is probably a record there, by the way, of your family’s stay, and that is on line now. That is one of the things that just went on line. A South African put a database on line which has the records of the people who stayed at the temporary poor Jews shelter.

J.W. Oh, yeah. I checked that.

B.W. And nothing there?

J.W. No. It goes by year.

A.W. Everything was destroyed afterwards.

B.W. No, not everything. There are a lot of records that exist.

J.W. Didn’t you go through the town of Tilset? Do you remember that?

A.W. I know we were going from one place to another; we were being taken from one place to another, but where and why I don’t remember.

B.W. Do you remember the boat trip?

A.W. Oh, don’t mention that. [Laughing] I’ll tell you, first of all everybody got sick. There were levels down on the second and the third, and I was on the third. And everybody was throwing up, and then they made us go out in the boat, and they would put us on the deck, and they would clean out the mess, but that was terrible. We were all sick three days. I think it was three days that we were sick, but I crossed the ocean twice. We were rejected; my sister, my little sister was rejected, and because you can’t send a child by herself ...because the mother had to go, they took me along, too. So we went across, and then, the second time we came back first class. On first class, we were treated like queens, and as I said, I must have been a terrible kid. I see a button on the wall and I pushed the button. I don’t know what it is, we were in a little room. "Vos villen sie "Madame""? What do you want madam? I did it; I pushed the button.

B.W. What boat was it? Do you remember?

A.W. The Graf Waldersee, that was it. [The Hanover]

J.W. That was the second boat?

A.W. The second one?

B.W. How about the first one?

J.W. That was The Hanover.

A.W. I don’t remember, but the second one I remember.

B.W. Now your sister who was rejected...did she eventually come back to America?

A.W. Do you know why she was rejected?

B.W. No, tell me.

A.W. I hate to tell you...because she was lousy, and so was I. I was lousy.

B.W. So couldn’t they just...

A.W. Well, when we took the second boat, we had somebody, I guess, from those who sell the tickets. What are they called?

B.W. What, from the shipping company?

A.W. Yeah. So this woman she took me and my sister into ’ now I know what it is ’ into a department store. She bought us dresses; she bought us hats; she bought us pocketbooks. We looked like little ladies. The second time we came, they didn’t look under the hat, they didn’t look, they saw two little girls [Laughing].

A.W. Jackie, everybody was lousy. You know, I said that I think that woman said this to me in the Nuemann Center. She used to also know European words. She would come over and she said, "Speaks Russian." Now would you know what that is? You go like this here when you get up because you’re lousy. She would say "Speaks Russian."

B.W. [Laughing].

A.W. She would also say, this woman...what did she say? Oh, it was a funny word. I can’t recall that funny word, but it meant covered with lice.

B.W. Where did you live? Did you come into New York or Philadelphia?

A.W. We came first, I think, to Baltimore and then we came to Philadelphia. I remember that we came, and we were supposed to get off. There was a train there and I thought that’s America.

B.W. So what was your father’s trade? What did he do for a living?

A.W. My father, let him rest in peace, did everything. My father made bricks.

J.W. I thought he was in the lumber business?

A.W. Well, yes, that’s what he did. My father did several things but the last one he was at the __?_, the one that cut the trees, but my father made bricks and my mother used to put this grass between each brick. How they did it I don’t know. And there is something else that he did I can’t recall, but the last job was with the trees.

B.W. Did he make the bricks at the house?

A.W. No, no, no. That was made in a hole someplace.

J.W. Bubby and Zaydah went somewhere to make the bricks. Did they work together?

A.W. Yeah. There was something else that he made, I don’t remember.

B.W. Did he then sell the bricks or did he ....?

A.W. No, no. He must have sold them, yeah. He must have made the bricks and sold them. He didn’t need it for himself.

B.W. No, no. I mean did he sell them to people personally or did he sell them to somebody, like a Zunda Luntz, who then marketed them?

A.W. That I don’t know.

B.W. Because there were a number of merchants in a town who would take the products and then actually sell them. And then what did he do when he came to this country?

A.W. My father did nothing. My father built a Schul and my family...we were eight people. My mother had to cook and bake and did this and my father helped her with everything that she did. I remember they went shopping, my mother had a basket on her arm and my father would go and help her carry all the things that she had to buy, but he helped in the house. I remember when my brothers used to go to work and my father used to make sandwiches to take with. My father did the baking,making the sandwiches, and he helped her, but he did not work physically. He was the shammes (sexton) in the Schul, but he built the Schul.

B.W. What Schul was that? Was that in Baltimore?

J.W. Philadelphia

A.W. That was in Morris Street.

B.W. Was that Baltimore or Philadelphia?

A.W. Philadelphia, Philadelphia.

B.W. Morris Street?

A.W. Morris Street.

J.W. Congregation Kehilath Israel

A.W. The bath house was next to the Schul.

B.W. Were there Luntz men at the Schul? Did you have Lithuanians from the same town in the Schul?

A.W. I think yeah, because the name is on the tip of my tongue but I can’t remember it, but a man that was from the town and my father didn’t like him because he used to drink, a shicker. [Laughing] You’re learning some Jewish now.

B.W. So then did your mother...let’s see, you say your brothers worked and then your mother, did she work also?

A.W. No, no, no. My mother...

B.W. She just took care of the house and took care of the children and family.

J.W. The children, when they got paid, gave to the parents. Tell Bob about when you had to work on Saturday.

A.W. [Laughing] That was funny, that was. I went to school till the eighth grade, and at that time, the war was on, and one of my brother’s was drafted, and the other one was supposed to be drafted, so my father said, "My God where I am going to get enough to make a living, where I am going to get this and that? So I went, and I quit school. What did you just say?

J.W. About Saturday, working on Saturdays.

A.W. Oh yeah. So I’ll get a job. I’ll get a job. So, I went to Lit Brothers and I was a messenger, and the job was to take this piece of paper and bring it here and this piece of paper and bring it there and this and that. Then came Saturday. Saturday, my father said, "You’re not going to schul?" So I didn’t go to work on Saturday. Come Monday to work...why didn’t you come to work on Saturday? I said because that’s my Sabbath. I can’t work on Sabbath. So they told me if you can’t work on Sabbath then we don’t need you.

B.W. So what did you do?

A.W. So what did I do? The next Saturday, I got up early, and I went downstairs, got dressed, stood out in the yard and when it got a little lighter, I went to work.

J.W. On Shabbos?

A.W. On Shabbos. But, I thought I was fooling my father and my mother. The minute I must have gone out of the bed, they must have known, but I thought I fooled them. And I used to work on Saturday. We worked a half a day, so everybody is buying things, and I bought something for myself. I wasn’t allowed to bring it into the house. I have a frying pan that I bought. I didn’t know for what, so I gave it to my mother. [I remember mommy telling me that she bought this with her first pay check.] I still use it. [Laughing] I was buying nonsensical things. There are lots of things I remember, young years.

B.W. Now, back in the Old Country, back in Kelem...Was there electric lights in Kelem?

A.W. There was. I remember that they made lights also near our streets, in the church, in between the gollach. Everybody all saw them. They used to say they put a light in the sky. There was a light, one light.

B.W. One light.

A.W. I don’t know further back. I don’t know, but near us I remember there was a light.

B.W. You didn’t have electricity in the house, did you?

A.W. No, no, we didn’t have any electricity. A lamp with candles that’s all.

B.W. Now the drains were in the streets when you, you know, from the sinks and...

A.W. In the house there was a big tub where there was clean water and dirty water. We would take the clean water, and my sister still has a candle, and we would wash our hands and throw out the dirty water.

B.W. Now where would the dirty water go?

A.W. They would pick up that whole tub and spill it outside.

B.W. Outside. Was there a trench like, or a ...

A.W. Yeah, Yeah.

B.W. .... that ran in the street?

A.W. There was no toilet. You had to go outside in back of the house.

B.W. Where did that run?

A.W. When a cousin of mine went back to Europe to see his parents, that was Julius... Jackie remember me telling you? And he was there, I don’t know how many months, and then he left. He came back to America. If you had to go to the bathroom, you went to the back of the house. And it was still the same way. I don’t know how the people lived, but they did live.

B.W. Well you know if they didn’t know anything to be different, then...

A.W. It wasn’t that I did it, everybody did it.

B.W. Everybody did it. Was there a lot of traffic going through the town? The town was like halfway between Shavel and Taurage and it was a main road.

A.W. I think Taurage was on the right and to the left was another town.

B.W. Rasein?

A.W. I can’t recall. Taurage is familiar to me, I’ll tell you why. My father had a cousin there, so my father would go to visit her or whatever, I remember the name Taurage and Shavel.

B.W. Do you remember your cousin’s name?

A.W. No.

B.W. No. But now you know where to look.

A.W. Norma could give you all that information. She would know everything.

B.W. The district town there was Rasein, Rasein. Does that sound familiar to you?

A.W. No, no.

B.W. You know, if Shavel is here and Taurage is here, Rasein was off to the side, you know, it was in the other direction.

A.W. I don’t remember.

B.W. I don’t know where the fourth road went, you know, sort of a North/South. It wasn’t due North/South, but that was the Shavel/Taurage route, and then Rasein was off to the South/Southeast, but I don’t know what went out... the road went out to the Northwest but I think Rupina was out there and Telz was in that direction.

A.W. Telz is familiar but where it is, and what it is I don’t know.

B.W. Well, Telz is in one of the towns, maybe they had a big yeshiva there.

B.W. In fact, you know there is a big Musar academy in Kelem. Kelem was made famous for this, probably because of Rabbi Bruder Zvi Musar Academy, and he came from Telz and that’s where he learned.

A.W. Well, at that time, as I say I don’t know, but I heard since then that Kelem was populated with educated people, rabbis from Kelem.

B.W. I think that that academy probably put Kelem on the map.

B.W. You see, being on the main road is just a stopover, you know what I mean, but with the academy there, people would come there for that specific purpose, you know, and....

A.W. To learn?

B.W. learn.

A.W. To learn there? Yeah.

B.W. I’m not sure when that was established. I should know, but I don’t.

A.W. So what are you looking for?

B.W. Well I’m looking to recreate the city because my grandparents came from there, and my family comes from that town, and I’m trying to locate records from the town, trying to, you know, understand and picture how the people lived and how my grandparents might have lived.

A.W. And then what will you do?

B.W. It just gives me knowledge of my roots, you know, it gives me a rudiment, because, because you know...

A.W. You know that your father or your grandfather wasn’t a horse thief.

B.W. No, he was a store owner. He might have been a horse thief, too. I don’t know.

A.W. There is a song you know [singing song??] Is that what you want to know?

B.W. Well, I’ll tell you. I heard that my grandfather was a real ladies man. He really chased the ladies. That I heard.

A.W. I know that there is a song, you know, that this is your father, was this your grandfather, was this your mom-
[singing a song]

B.W. Is there a couple of songs you remember?

A.W. Very little.

B.W. You used to sing a couple of songs to Yossie, Yiddish, Russian.

A.W. I do have some little things but [singing]. Do you know what I said?

B.W. No.

A.W. I was here, and I was there, and I was wonderful, and I never saw such a wonderful thing. A rooster. I was here, and I was there and never saw such a wonderful thing like a rooster sit on the fence and crow. It just don’t come to me that fast.

B.W. What was the snow like there? The weather?

A.W. The snow. Now I can tell you about the snow. The snow...You see how big I am now? When I was 8 and 9 years old, it was up to my head. They used to cut a rut, but the snow was higher than me.

B.W. What did people do when it snowed? Did all the life come to a halt? People couldn’t cut trees, they couldn’t make bricks, they couldn’t do their washing.

A.W. I guess so. In the wintertime....

B.W. Everything came to a halt.

A.W. I guess so.

B.W. They didn’t have snow plows.

A.W. The wagon was....maybe the food or whatever. Maybe they went from place to place with a horse and wagon.

B.W. Did they have sleds?

A.W. The kids had sleds.

B.W. No, I mean instead of wagons with wheels, did they have sleighs? Did they use those?

A.W. Yeah, Yeah.

B.W. Where did you get your milk?

A.W. My mother had a cow.

B.W. She did have a cow? Did everybody have a cow there?

A.W. They had a cow, and on Shabbos you are not allowed to milk the cow. So the goyim had to come and milk the cow. And I remember that my mother would give me a tub, some kind of tub to go to bring it to this woman, and my mother, God rest her, she would bake a challah. So, she would bake another challah, and she would give it to me and cover it and "Don’t tell your father!" and send it to somebody that doesn’t have anything. I remember those things. I remember another thing. She would send me to do the milk, so I gave the milk to the woman, and I would come back and I pass trees and there are apples on the ground. So I crept under there and took some apples, and I am playing with them. My mother wants me to come back, and when I come back, "Where were you?" So I told her that I took the apple from under the fence. So my mother says "You’re not allowed to steal."

B.W. Stealing?

A.W. I stole it. I must have been a devil, but I do remember these things...and I would give the challah to the woman.

B.W. I guess if you have...that’s a real charity if you have extra for Shabbos, you just put it on somebody’s door and they don’t know who the person is who donated it?

A.W. Well, that’s just it... And I remember that Friday evening, like for instance today, my mother would give me a groshen and we had a pushke (alms box) on the wall, and my mother would tell me for Shabbos put something in the pushke and do you know that I still put money in every Friday night. I guess things will come to me, you know, in a short time. I cannot remember all the things. In my mind I see it.

B.W. So you had a cow and a few chickens so you got eggs from the chickens. Did you kill the chickens for Shabbos?

A.W. No, Shabbos was chicken soup.

B.W. Where do you get the chicken for the chicken soup?

A.W. From the chickens.

B.W. From the chickens you had?

A.W. They would trade with a goy. The goy would give them flour, let’s say, and you would give them a chicken. You know they would trade food with certain things.

B.W. You must have had a lot of chickens though, you know. If you are going to have chicken soup for Shabbos, you are going to need a lot of chickens.

A.W. Well for Shabbos I remember we would have chicken soup. I don’t know what else. We didn’t have no fancy food. I’m sure a matzo we used to have like nowadays. My father would cut the challah, get a slice for himself and matzo for each one of us and that’s all you got. You didn’t get no more. But the main food was potatoes.

B.W. Did you grow your own?

A.W. No I don’t remember growing. I remember there used to be a, as soon as you went in, like I told you, the earth they dug a hole, and there they would store potatoes, and that’s where they would store them for the wintertime.

B.W. Potatoes, carrots and beets?

A.W. Yeah, yeah, things like that, yeah. It was a hard life. I remember my mother gave me a piece of bread for lunch and for whatever, she gave me a piece of bread. Then I came over and I asked her for another piece of bread. She said, "Gay aveck," go away because the bread was needed for today and tomorrow and after tomorrow. She would give me a piece of bread, maybe that was the meal with a little bit of sugar on the top. We did not have no jelly, but...

B.W. I remember my grandfather used to of my memories of him...he died in ’44 so I was about 10 years old at the time...but, I have one memory of my grandfather. He used to have a little pearl handled knife and he would take this big black bread, and he would cut a piece off with this pearl handled knife, and he would put shmaltz on it and gribbeneh (fried chicken skin), you know, and then he would eat shmaltz and gribbeneh on black bread. I remember, that’s my Lithuanian grandfather, you know.

A.W. You know, I did it a year to two years ago...remember Jackie? I rendered chicken fat and the gribbeneh, and I told my children to take it. I would just give it to them for them to....

B.W. Oh, that’s poison. It’s just absolute poison, you know, but it’s delicious. I remember eating it when I was a boy.

J.W. When we lived on 52nd street you used to make it a lot.

A.W. Yeah. I used to have big bottles and containers with shmaltz. A piece of bread with shmaltz is a delicious thing, and then everything that I fried was with schmaltz.

about the author
Bob Weiss