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No secondary school, no vocational school, and neither a Yeshivah existed In David-Horodok. A graduate of public school, like me, who wished to proceed with secondary school studies, had to travel out of town. The closest schools were in Pinsk, at a distance of about 120 kilometers from our town, and transportation was on a steamboat. Or in Vilna, at a distance of 350 kilometers, of which 23 kilometers one had to travel on a horse and carriage and the rest on a train. Not all Jewish boys could afford continuation of their studies out of our hometown. Studying in the big city cost a lot of money, both for tuition and for accommodation, and only the wealthy could afford sending their children to study out of our town. From my age group there were those who chose to continue their studies in Pinsk, some of them in the Hebrew secondary school "Tarbus" (Issar Mishalov, Reuven Lieberman, my cousin Litman Gotlieb and others) others went to vocational schools - tailors, locksmiths, etc. Other members of my age group traveled to Vilna and studied in various secondary schools (Begoon, Koppel and Haim Moravczik), in the Hebrew secondary school and in the Jewish technion in which the studies were in Yiddish, (Yaakov Slomyansky - currently a member of the David-Horodok organization). My father wanted his children to study in the big city, and I preferred Vilna, maybe because my sister Bella studied there.
Since I was an excellent student in public school and my parents were very busy with their work, from early morning to late in the evening, they were not too much involved with my studying. I was sure that they trust me and will let me independently choose the school and the fields of study. There were two options before me: The Hebrew secondary school in Vilna, in which the language of study was Hebrew; or a Polish secondary school, in which the study language was Polish and in which only Jews studied. In both, tuition had to be paid. By the way, the best secondary school in Vilna was the secondary school of science trend, in which the studying was in Yiddish. Of course, there was also the governmental Polish secondary school, that was financed by the government and the students studied free. But, these schools hardly accepted Jewish students. Finally, I decided to choose the Hebrew secondary school, mainly because my command of the Polish language was poor and I could not compete with students who spoke Polish fluently, also my Zionist background must have had its impact on my decision.
But one day, my father, of blessed memory, informed me that I would study in a Polish secondary school. The reason for this was clear and logic - the fact that graduates of Hebrew secondary schools, like the "Tarbus" secondary school in Pinsk and the "Tarbus" secondary school in Vilna, were not allowed, by the authorities, to continue their studies in Polish universities, and they were forced to travel abroad for academic studies. Some of them were accepted at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Others traveled to Belgium, Czech, and France.
A few Jewish youngsters from our town were already studying, at that time, in the Polish secondary school (Kaplinsky,Ratner, Kushnir). It was not easy to be admitted to the Polish secondary school. It turned out that I have to pass admittance exams. I was quite calm with regards to mathematics, but I was certain that I lack a few studying years in Latin and German, and what worried me most was my limited knowledge of Polish, which was the studying language in the secondary school.
I vigorously started to prepare for the exams. I took private lessons in Latin with Begoon, a 12th grade student of the Hebrew secondary school in Vilna, who later on became the director of Arkia Airlines in Israel. During the summer months, July and August, I completed all the requirements in Latin. Now there were three more problems - Polish, German, and natural sciences. In the public school in our town, there weren't good natural sciences teachers, and Polish we learned only as a foreign language. By the way, gymnastic, painting and singing were considered not important. My sister Bella managed to teach me some German and Polish. But to my luck, with my mother's influence, we stayed in our town for the entire period of the High Holidays, till the end of Yom Kippur, and when I returned with Bella to Vilna, I realized that the exams were already finished and the studies had commenced.
The secondary school principal agreed to accept me, if I would pass the exams within the studies in class. As of my first day at school, I studied in diligence and consistently, and in December, at the end of the first trimester, I already gained very good marks in many subjects, including the German language. Here too my luck played for me and, since I have been considered one of the best students, and since I came from the province, the principal and the teaching staff granted me special consideration. Altbauer, the Polish language teacher, later on an Israel Prize laureate for research of the "Scriptures" at St. Catherine, in Sinai, told me that I would be accepted into the fifth grade, even though I will have one E mark. He had promised me that if I get an E in German, he will give me a pass mark in Polish, and if I get in German a pass mark, he will give me an E mark in Polish, but in no way will he obstruct my acceptance to the fifth grade in the secondary school. Indeed, I failed both exams, but the Polish language teacher kept his promise and made it possible for me to be accepted in the fifth grade. Practically it meant that I "skipped" one class, because, according to the Polish Ministry of Education regulations, I should have been accepted to the forth grade, not to the fifth. By the way, except for the anatomy teacher, who was a Christian, all other teachers were Jews from the Galicia district in south Poland.
A few words about Vilna, in the thirties: Vilna was the largest city in eastern Poland. It held about 200 thousand inhabitants; about 50% of them were Jews. The language that the Jews used was Yiddish, but, during the thirties, the influence of the Polish culture became stronger on Jewish youth and they began speaking Polish.
In the city, there were many educational and cultural institutions: Secondary schools, Yeshivas, vocational schools, and a university. There was a Yiddish theatre, which was famous with its excellent actors. Vilna was, basically, a city of pupils and students. In almost every second house, there were rooms for rent; usually the landlords were elder people whose children had left their home.
On my first year in the secondary school in Vilna, I lived together with my sister Bella, who was 7 years older than me, in one room, at corner Zavalna and Novogroozka No. 4. Bella was in the fifth and last year in the teachers' seminary in Vilna, after which she was to become a certified teacher.
During my first year in the secondary school, I witnessed a pogrom for the first time in my life. In November 1931, riots broke out in the medicine faculty. The reason was the lack of Jewish corpses for post mortem dissections, for learning anatomy. The Polish students tried to forcefully chase out the Jewish students from the operating theatre where the corpses were operated on. Following the incident at the medicine faculty, the riots spread to all other faculties, among them the faculty for natural sciences, which was close to where I lived. At the nearby street corner, there was always a gathering of Jewish porters and carriage owners, whom we used to call "Die Shtarke", meaning "the strong ones". At evening, when the riots broke out, I stood near the window in my room, at the fourth floor, and saw an angry mob hitting Jewish pedestrians, going wild and smashing shop windows of Jewish stores. Naturally, the Jewish porters and carriage owners came to the rescue of the Jewish students. On the following day, a Polish student, by the name Vatzlavsky, was injured in his head and died on his way to the hospital. As of that year on, in memory of this student, riots and incidents between Christian and Jewish students would breakout on November.
I successfully passed all subjects, and in mathematics, I was the best in my class. I also integrated quite quickly in the anatomy studies. I still remember the skeleton, a real human skeleton that stood in our classroom. But, in spite of the fact that I lived together with my sister and in spite of my success in studies, I missed home very much. I was only fourteen, the first time in my life in the big city without father and mother, I was homesick. Only on the Hannukkah holiday (which coincided with the Christmas holiday), did I travel home for the first time. It was very hard for me to get used to living out of home, and I hardly made it to the next holiday, the Passover holiday (which coincided with the Easter holiday). Following the Passover holiday, I had stomach problems and suffered from diarrhea. I was treated at Ozeh, a Jewish clinic that was supported by the Joint. But nothing helped, and about one month before the end of the school year, following the recommendation of one of the doctors, I was released from school and returned home. I got well immediately and all aches and symptoms were gone as if they never existed. I returned to Vilna, for my second school year, on September 1932. I returned alone, since my sister had completed her studies. This aroused the problem of my accommodation. For saving money, it was customary to rent a room together with another student. If you had no partner you had a problem, and I had no partner and no money for hiring a room for myself alone. Luckily, I found a family that let me rent a sofa in their living room, which functioned also as dining room and was used as passage. The payment also included two glasses of tea per day and warm water for a shower once a week. Of course, during the day it was impossible for me to rest, so as not to disturb the landlady. My homework I did at the corner of the living room. Every evening, at 7, the landlords used to drink tea from a samovar that stood on the dining table, and after 9 in the evening the sofa was opened and turned into a bed for me. Naturally, all this was not convenient, but since I didn't have a partner, I was forced to settle with what I got. Breakfast and supper, I ate in the living room. The menu consisted of half a kilo bread and 50 grams butter per day. I had my two tea glasses for which I was entitled, according to the agreement. The landlady provided the essence, and we used to call it jokingly "Bialistok Tea", meaning white tea. Indeed, it was a very bright tea because they used the same essence again and again. Sometimes I would allow myself to eat smoked sardines or hard cheese for supper.
We used to eat lunch at Jewish private homes, for which this was the means of support. It was called home meals. The price was similar to that of restaurants in the city, but the food was fresh and better. In general, the food at Jewish homes seemed safer to us from the sanitation aspect. This was quite a cheap meal. Several times every month, I skipped lunch to spare some money for entertainment: a movie, theatre, and a coffee house.
The polish secondary school was a private school and the tuition was high. As a good student from the periphery, I was granted a large discount on tuition. But, even after this discount, the tuition "robbed" more than 30% off my budget. The monthly expense was about 65 Zlotty (Polish currency), per month; a third of this was for tuition, another third for accommodation and a third for food and all the rest. Occasionally I would receive, by mail, 50 Zlotty, from my family (The US Dollar was worth about 5 Polish Zlotty, at that time).
My socks and warm foot coverings I washed and mended by myself, crisscross with needle and thread. There were no nylon stockings on those days. When I traveled home for vacations (three times a year), I used to bring all my dirty laundry. Indeed, there was a laundry in the city, but the cost of the service was high, and I preferred to spend the money on a movie or theatre instead of spending it on laundry. Before returning to Vilna, from vacations, I used to take along with me durable food, like sausage or homemade cocoa spread (cocoa mixed with butter). When returning home for vacation, I used to submit to my father a full report of all my expenses.
During the entire period of my studies in Vilna, I used to teach private lessons in mathematics and chemistry. My first watch I bought with money I gained from these lessons. I did not purchase textbooks, and used books that I borrowed from my classmates. I remember taking an arithmetic book from a friend, solving all the exercises and return the book with the answers to the friend. In the seventh grade, I gave private lessons to my schoolmate Rabinovitz (whom I met later in Israel). He used to get pocket money from his mother, but she didn't know that his mark in chemistry was E. I asked him to pay me 30 guilders per month for two lessons per week. He wanted to pay only 25 guilders, so we reached a compromise: Should he get a D at the exam, he will pay 25 guilders, but should he manage to get a C, he will pay 30 guilders. I worked hard with him and it paid off, his final annual mark was C and I got 30 guilders per month, as agreed. What a pity that my teaching him lasted only two months.
I enjoyed my studying in the secondary school; the teachers were good. The methodology differed from that in public school. I fondly remember Gershtein the math teacher, Henzelberg the German language teacher, Gold the physics teacher, Landau the Latin teacher and Anisfeld the history teacher.
I received my matriculation certificate in 1935. As expected, in realistic subjects my marks were excellent and in humanistic subjects, they were less good. The matriculation exams consisted four major subjects: mathematics, history, Polish and Latin or German instead. We had many bluffing methods. At the mathematics exam, a part of the students "hired" for money the services of math students, and these stood outside the school, got the exam questions through the window and delivered the answers by means of a thread that stretched along to the toilet.
The exams in history or in Polish included writing essays. On those days, the method of questions and answers or the American method did not exist in Poland. For these exams, a part of the students equipped themselves with scores of essays on a variety of subjects, all written densely in tiny letters on a narrow long paper strip of paper, that was folded as a concertina which we called "Shpargal" The "Shpargals" we hid in our belt around our belly. When one of the exam subjects could be answered by one of the Shpargals, the suitable Shpargal would be pulled out of its hiding place and copied into the exam copybook. This method was, of course, quite costly.
To the misfortune of these students, the Ministry of Education inspector on that year, Ribitzky, succeeded in identifying all copiers and out of 37 examinees only 17 were granted the matriculation certificate, to my joy I was among them.
Announcement published by the National Party in Grodna.
"Do not buy from Jews!". "Polish support only Polish".
"Boycott the Jews and buy only from Christians".
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