“In the Polish School: A Story by a Jewish Student”
by Leib Rashkin
(nom de plume for Szoel Frydman)
in Yiddish cir 1930s, and published in Minsk in 1940 by the Yiddish
This short story was translated into Hebrew in Israel, and
subsequently translated from Hebrew into English
by his grand niece Hadas Gorodetzky, with comments from Szoel's
daughter Tamar Frydman Yaacobi.
The Jewish school where
I had been studying fell apart. Suffering from famine, the teachers
went to other places to get bread. I moved to a Polish elementary
school that was attended by very few Jewish children. I was accepted
due to the efforts of my mother, who sorely wanted me to attend a
Catholic school. She had made great efforts for my admittance. She
petitioned the school's principal and the church priest--who was also
the homeroom teacher--until both agreed to accept me.
My new school was located inside the yard of a church named after St.
Anna, and was surrounded by thick moist walls with windows of colored
glass. On the classroom wall, behind the teacher's desk, hung a map,
with two circles illustrating the world. One half was east, the other
The teacher's gaze caused a chill that ran throughout my body, so it
was hard to remain seated for the entire hour. But when the bell rang
for break time, my heart became lighter because we could then run to
The yard, enclosed by St. Anna’s church, was small, but children still
packed in. Not all children were equal. The Polish children were in
charge during the break, while the Jewish children stood by the walls,
a bit frightened. I realized that the Poles were looking for
opportunities to pick on the Jewish children--to trip, slap, or hit us
while at the same time cursing and insulting us, all depending on
their whim since no one prevented these deeds. Neither the teacher nor
the priest took any action.
I had no problems though. I didn’t get hit like the other Jewish
students. Perhaps it was my non-Jewish appearance--bright complexion,
blond braids, and a tiny nose. Or maybe it was because I faced them
without fear. Either way, they didn’t give me any trouble.
Because I didn’t get picked on, they hated me even more. I felt it,
and they let me feel it. One time I stood between a Polish bully and
the little, frightened, poor Jewish boy he raised his hands to. At
first I thought he would give up, but then he slowly raised his arm
back up again, looked at me with a murderer’s eyes, and mumbled “Zashidova!”
A few Polish boys watched the scene unfold, but did nothing. At that
moment I felt the hate grow and become even harsher.
A cold breeze, followed by heavy rains, had kept us inside for the
second break that day. Despite the poor weather, the Polish students
said to us, “The priest is about to come and give a lesson in
religion, so you will have to leave the class.” All the Jewish
students left except me. I told the Poles that I would leave the class
when the priest arrived and began class. When the priest did not show
after half an hour, I took out my books and started doing my homework
for the next day. I hunched over a notebook and began to write.
However, I felt something was amiss. They didn’t touch me, but behind
me in the corner of the room, I heard someone shout what seemed like
an order “Jidoba!” And then, from another corner, someone replied “Biliska!”
Gradually, the voices multiplied and became more heated. Curses, in a
fast beat, became louder and louder until the tones were deafening.
I avoided looking around me, acting as if I were concentrating deeply
on my homework. I understood that they wouldn’t listen to any of my
responses, so the best thing was to stay quiet and avoid eye contact.
However, I then felt that a gang was forming behind my back,
approaching me step by step. My silence had annoyed and teased them,
causing their voices to become louder and louder. Their hatred was
strident and loud. Some of the Poles shouted the insults into my ears,
I sat still, writing as if I were by myself, the classroom completely
empty, with neither people nor voices.
However, the “gang” didn’t restrain themselves for long. First, they
stole my notebook and crumpled it. I only responded by trying to
straighten it. When they ripped up the book, I paid no attention. As
they poured out my ink, I merely took pieces of paper and cleaned up
But they didn’t stop. Indeed, my serenity only upset them more. They
started handling me personally. They pulled on my apron, pushed me
around, and danced and made noise all around me.
That’s when my patience ran out. I turned back and shouted at them:
“You can bark, just like the dogs!”
Then the priest came in. He welcomed us as usual and went straight to
the cathedra. I collected my books and notebooks by myself, deciding
that I should leave. As I approached the door, I heard the priest's
voice: “My child, where are you going? We are about to begin the
religion class.” I turned around and raised my head slowly, explaining
to him that I was Jewish. But the Polish students interrupted, telling
him his mistake. The priest nodded and said in a soft voice, “What a
shame… she looks so Polish!”
I left the classroom, walking through a bypass so that I wouldn’t have
to look into the eyes of the other Jewish children. I’m not sure why,
but I felt ashamed to look into their eyes, because I was different.
In the meantime, the rain had stopped and the sun shone from between
the clouds. I had about an hour until the next class, and I thought
about running home until then. But I felt as if my face was burning,
and I didn’t want to talk about what had just happened. I knew
questions would come up immediately: “How and why did this happen?
Don’t you know that you are a Jewish girl? A Jewish girl should keep
her mouth shut!” I hated that annoying principle of my parents more
than anything. I didn’t want to shut up.
Instead of going home, I went to the fields outside of town. It was
past the rye harvest, but the wheat was still there, its grain in full
blossom. I took a narrow path between the wheat fields. I picked wild
flowers, which were slightly withered, and made a necklace from them.
However, I quickly unfolded it and threw the flowers away. I am
not sure why, but I got very upset with myself. Such poor flowers
weren’t guilty of anything. After a while I settled down. The air felt
clean after the rain. The wheat stalks bowed before me, covering the
path on one side while caressing my bare knee on the other.
I would have rather stayed there, letting my anger out slowly,
allowing it to melt away like salt down a river as I walked along the
open fields. However, by the time I reached the railroad tracks, a
passing train reminded me that it was getting late, and that I had to
attend my geography class.
I immediately turned back, walking hastily towards school for fear of
being late. The insulting incident was almost forgotten. At that
moment, of all times, I wanted to get to class on time, only so I
wouldn’t be punished. In a hurry, I ran faster and faster, until I
couldn’t breathe. However, I guessed that I was already late since I
saw none of the other students by the school gate. They were probably
all in class by then.
With my heart pounding, I reached for the door handle and opened the
classroom door. All eyes turned to me. First I saw my teacher’s eyes,
Miss Maria -- they had no evil in them, but they always looked sad.
Everyone knew she was suffering due to her love for a Polish teacher
I probably would have kept my mouth shut if I had been late for
another teacher’s class. I would have bowed my head in silence. But
since it was Miss Maria, I wanted to apologize and justify myself. I
began stuttering: “I…I am late.”
“Indeed, I see you are late,” she said in an unusually strict voice.
I tried to explain: “I was late without being noticed.”
“With or without being noticed,” she interjected, "is not the point.
You little girl, are not so naive as you pretend to be. And about
being late, we shall talk about that later. There’s an issue that is
far more important. I would like to know who taught you to say …” Then
she immediately stopped. She felt uncomfortable, but she said it
anyway: “the Polish …they are dogs”?
Surprised, I raised my head and looked straight into the teacher’s
eyes. She was furious. I turned away to one side, and than the other.
The Polish students tried not to look at me. I felt abandoned and
I replied, “I didn’t say that," my voice cracking up with tears.
“You didn’t say that? So who did? Maybe I did? Maybe the Polish
children? Maybe they made up the insult?”
As much as my heart burdened me only a moment earlier, I thought that
by crying the teacher would ease up on me. After hearing her response,
however, my tears ceased all together. I didn’t feel like crying at
I replied stubbornly: "I don't know."
“You don’t know, huh? So who does know? If YOU don’t know, please,
children, tell her to her face. What did Zimmerman say?”
The students fidgeted in their chairs. One of them, a tall one, stood
up and said explicitly, “All polish people – are dogs!” I could see
the other children standing behind her as if they were a wall,
agreeing with her without uttering a single word.
“Well?” The teacher said angrily, looking triumphant.
I scanned the class again, glancing between the children and the
teacher’s eyes. Everywhere I saw nothing but a stubborn wall of
“Libel” I thought to myself, remembering the “blood libel” on Jews, of
the Beilis trial that my father had told me about. All of these
nightmares were coming to life before my very eyes. But I didn't lose
my senses. I didn't break. Suddenly I felt an aversive emotion, one of
absolute fear and persecution. I wanted one thing and one thing only
then – to escape. In an instant, I bent over, grabbed my notebooks and
my books from my table and headed for the door.
The teacher anticipated my exit, moving closer to me and telling me in
an extremely modest voice, “Not now Zimmerman. Remain in class for
now, but after this class, go home and return here with your mother.”
While she was speaking, the classroom door swung open, and there
promptly stood the principal, all tall and harsh, looking very
conceited. Apparently, she had already been informed of what had
happened earlier. Without taking notice of anyone, she stepped into
the cathedra, eclipsing the teacher with her tall form, turning a
dominant scowl at the whole class before resting her gaze upon me.
“Zimmerman, come here!”
I approached her without rushing, as she barked maneuvers at me,
turning in all directions: “Not here! Not here! Here! To the
center of the cathedra!”
I turned here and there or stood still as she pleased, but to look at
her – no! I humbled my eyes and head.
“Look at that look-how shy she is...” The principal called out again:
“As if she can’t count to two. Keep your head up high! Look at me!”
When I had disobeyed her last order, she pushed two cold fingers under
my chin and tried to force me to meet her eyes, but I resisted. I
stared at her double chin instead.
I hated that fat, double chin most of all. It swung like a
hot-tempered person, seeming to say, “You are guilty! If you weren’t
guilty, I wouldn’t have been mad! I’m too important to listen to you,
and if I am mad, that’s the best indication that you are guilty!”
"Guilty! Guilty!" The principal repeated her indictment, giving a long
speech to me and everyone else. Shudders went through me every time
she spoke, her snakelike fingers stuck under my chin. My eyes filled
with tears, and fog covered my eyes. Except for her swinging chin, I
saw nothing. But to cry – no! Not even one tear! All I could hear were
her disrupted words and parts of her speech:
“The teacher told you to stay or leave. You won’t stay! Not only in
our school you won’t, but no school in Poland will accept you… I will
notify every school about what you said. Maybe after all, these
weren’t your words? Is it possible that you heard them at home? You
probably do speak like that in your home… And you have the nerve to
come to a Polish school? Do your people only want that we will come to
buy from you? No! No one will come! You – won’t go to any school, and
no Pole will let your mother and the rest of the Jews pass through
their doorstep. I will form a boycott of your merchandise. Your
parents and the rest of the Jews are all haters of Poland, and you
will die from hunger! You Bolshevik! I will take your parents to
court! You will go to jail! To the Polish prison, you Bolshevik!”
She didn’t speak but thunder-spitting sparks of fire, and I didn’t
want to know why. The more she spit fire, the more I calmed down, grew
stronger. I didn’t even dare to raise my gaze to see how the
twenty-odd Polish girls trembled, as if the speech wasn’t only
directed towards me, but to them as well. Not just did the principal
threaten my parents and me with hunger and prison, but them also.
And even then, after I had already picked up my notebook and my books
and left school, as I continued thinking about it, even then I didn’t
feel the fury of the incident. My fingers trembled when I packed my
notebooks and books into my bag only because I became scared when I
had heard the principal offer a compromise, and say: “Well Zimmerman,
do you regret what you have done?” This was the only thing I was
scared about, and also because of one other thing--that the soft,
sudden voice of the principal wouldn’t get to me and soften my heart,
that my eyes wouldn’t become wet, that my tears wouldn’t trickle. I
didn’t want to cry!
Only later, on my way back home, and even later than that, when I
sneaked into the bedroom of our apartment and threw myself on the bed
with my dress and everything, only then did I see the principal's
furious, burning face before my eyes, the swinging chin, the
threatening look. All stood before me, in my memory, as if I was in
I didn’t feel regret about the lost school day, but the letters that
the principal promised to send afterwards, made me think of a pack of
sniffing dogs, wolf-dogs, that would hunt me, attack me, and rip off
I didn’t feel regret that we might not now make money from our
merchandise, one penny of ink, and two for choc(?). I always
hated that livelihood, which didn’t satisfy us anyway. However, I was
very afraid of the legal charges that the principal threatened to
bring upon my parents, and began thinking of the jail with its damp
walls, that the court would send us to…
Until then, I had never been to court. I had no idea what happened
there--what the prosecutor looked like in his black gown, and the
judge with his hat, just like a cantor…
In my childish imagination, the “trial” for me was like the stories my
father used to tell me about--the Inquisition, the tortures, the blood
libels and the Beilis trial.
With these thoughts in my head, I laid half asleep on my bed, and
didn’t even notice that the day had already passed. The light from the
lamp sneaked onto my bed and reminded me that evening had come.
I saw that my mother had come in from the street, taken off her coat,
and entered the kitchen. My father, sitting by the table, was hunched
over a notebook, doing calculus, and humming a tune.
My mother was fixing her hair, and all of a sudden she shouted out: “A
My father raised his head slowly from the notebook and asked,
Mother was still fixing her stubborn hair, busy in the kitchen. She
filled a plate with porridge, poured milk on top of it, and served it
at the kitchen table.
“Well, the meeting…”she started in conversation, “Where is Tzila?
Tzila!” (that’s me) and my father answered, “Hush! She is asleep!”
“That’s a girl?” mother started again. “I’m telling you that we need
to envy the boys and the girls. Do you know what she did today at
school? And here – she dropped herself down on bed to go to sleep –
and it’s him!”
“It seems to me,” my father replied, “that something is wrong with
“Maybe she has a fever!” My mother panicked and was going to get up
from where she was seated.
“It’s better that you don’t go to her,” father said, “You might wake
her up if she is sleeping. Let her sleep! If she sleeps a bit, she
will feel better. What happened in school?”
“A meeting! I met the principal on the street—‘Good morning, ma'am’ I
said to her, and she didn’t answer me. I hardly know her, but she was
always nice and polite. Now she was "fire and sulfur" and referred to
us as Communists, Bolsheviks. ‘Ma'am,’ I said, ‘it’s a libel! Somebody
wants to libel us! Maybe those who can’t stand that we can earn some
pennies for madam.’"
‘Earn?’ she yells – and I realize that it’s all about our profits –
‘You dare to hope to make money from your merchandise? No way! Your
merchandise won’t be found in our school anymore. And not only in our
school, no Polish person will ever buy from you! Everyone will avoid
you as if you were a plague. You belong in prison, you Bolsheviks!’
“She screamed so hard that her voice began to choke. I noticed how
her chin was touching her neck. She blushed and turned blue
alternately from yelling. ‘Calm down, madam’ I began saying, ‘What is
"‘Go and ask your daughter!’ She had a hard time breathing. ‘Who
taught her to call the Polish children "despicable dogs"'? (Parshiva
hint) Was it I who educated her to act this way? Or maybe she heard
that at home, from her mother?’"
“My eyesight was already pitch black.” – I listened to my mother
continue to speak – “I felt like an abyss was opening beneath me, and
that I was sinking. Libel, I pondered, but then I took it back. Tzila,
Tzilika, probably a Polish girl said a bad word to her and she,
Tzilika, she answered back…”
“I cannot believe it,” my father said all of a sudden, as he rose up
from his chair, “ I cannot believe that she would say such words!”
“You don’t believe it?” – Mother says – “I also didn't want to believe
it. I wish that this was a lie. You may not believe one or two people,
but what about a whole class, twenty-three girls claiming the same
thing? Believe me, I didn’t want to believe it either. But what can
one do? Everyone has their own defects. I know my Tzilika. She always
keep things to herself. Is she like other girls? Other children tell
their mother what they are feeling. If their mothers yell at them,
they cry, and sometimes they dare to reply back. I could have dealt
with those things with love, but her? She bites her lips and – it’s
like talking to a wall. The principal claimed this, 'If only she
wanted to express regret and show tears in her eyes?' “How come a girl
with all the trouble she went through there, doesn't cry?” I will say
what you said, “It’s a libel, it’s a lie, but how come the girl won’t
I heard my parents' conversation and saw Father placing his hands in
his pockets, humbling his head, and starting to pace back and forth in
the room. This kind of walk, going back and forth with his head
humbled, means anger, wrath, and rumination.
“You hear and you claim that you are a mother. I’m telling you that
you are not a mother. A mother should know her child, and you don’t.
You have something in for her. She hides things from you and doesn’t
speak to you from her heart. How many times did she approach you and
you dismissed her, saying “Don’t drive me up the wall!”
“How many times did she complain that the Polish children bother her
and curse her? Pick on Jewish children? Instead of counseling her,
encouraging her and putting some bravery into her, you always have one
answer, ‘Other Jewish children can, and only our privileged Tzilika
can’t?’ Open your heart to her, and remember how many times you got
upset with her for no reason. You might have just been upset at that
time about something else.”
“It’s true, often you have a good reason to be upset, thinking at
night about doing good business, and during the daytime, about ink for
one penny… Believe me, I know all about it. Your husband is working in
‘gold profits.’ Do you think that I’m not an expert myself? However, I
ask you, how is our child at fault? I ask you this. How many times
after you get upset with her, do you feel that you have been unfair?
And what would you rather have happen, that she should speak against
you, G-d forbid? She doesn’t wish to be disrespectful, so would you
rather she cries? She has character, and she is not willing to cry
just like that.”
Without knowing why or how, my father's words moved me. My throat
became choked with tears, and immediately flowed like a river quietly
onto my pillow, where I had buried my face so that my parents wouldn’t
hear me. I felt better right away, so I was able to continue listening
to my parents.
My father stopped talking as he began to pace the room again, filled
with both tension and rumination. My mother sat near the table with
her arms in her lap, and after doing some thinking said, “You might be
right. I am not ashamed of my children. They are not liars unlike some
other children. No, they are not. What good days do they have? A
small, dry piece of bread until four in the afternoon, the porridge
that has too much water in it, and some milk in the evening?”
My father’s face glowed all of a sudden, and he began singing, “On
Sunday we serve potatoes, on Monday we serve potatoes, on Tuesday
potatoes, on Wednesday potatoes, on Thursday potatoes and so on…”
By myself, on my bed, I had almost forgotten about my troubles. I was
up in the clouds. This had always happened to me, when my father sang
cheerfully, getting my mother in a good mood, especially when they
were talking about me. I loved my father, for his reason and good
heart, and my mother for always believing and cherishing my father.
However, after a few moments my mother sighed again, a deep sigh, and
said “What are we going to do about school then? Surely there was a
nasty incident here, so perhaps you should talk to the little one?”
“Okay,” my father replied, “You can wake her up already. She has had
nothing to eat since this morning.”
Finally they “woke me up” and let me eat. My mother kept looking into
my eyes, as if I had arisen from some sickness, as my father paced
back and forth around me. He sliced the bread and asked me whether I
wanted butter and was I still hungry. Do I want something to drink?
And immediately, he got water with milk for me. That’s all. Both of my
parents were looking into my eyes with great love, without worry. I
thought to myself that I didn’t deserve this. After I finished eating,
I felt that something was about to come, something that would be
neither easy nor pleasant.
After the meal was over, my father asked me in a casual manner, “When
will you do your homework? Tonight? Or maybe you would like us to wake
you up at sunrise?”
I didn’t reply back immediately. I didn’t like my father beating
around the bush. After hearing my mother and father's discussion while
I was in my bed, my father’s question seemed devious to me. I expected
him to be honest and open. I replied back, “I have no reason to do my
homework. I won’t go to school anymore!”
Mother interfered with our conversation: “What are you talking about?
What else happened?”
And father asked, “What happened, Tzilika?”
It made me feel sad that they pretended as if they didn’t know, as if
they were ashamed of me. I lowered my head, “Don’t you know what has
happened?” I said in a simple manner. Father and mother looked at each
other. They didn’t seem to be ashamed of me. Instead, they seemed to
“How will all of this end?” my father asked, and I felt like all of
his hair turned white at that very moment. I felt like I should feel
pity for him, my mother and myself.
“What is it that you want from me?” I started, “I told you that I
hadn’t the energy anymore, more than once!”
“But what are you talking about, Tzilika?” Mother spoke softly, and
our troubles were reflected in her eyes. “What are you talking about,
little one? You are going to quit school, just like that, in the
middle of the year?”
“I have been sent home.”
“Who sent you home?”
“And you had nothing to say? Say to her ’I am sorry ma’am, but I am
I didn’t answer.
“Why are you so stubborn?”
I persisted. I bit my lip and remained silent. Father came over me and
grasped my hand softly. “Tell me Tzilika, what was it like?”
I stubbornly remained silent. I didn’t look them in the eyes,
and kept quiet.
“I asked you…” my father said.
I could not hold it in anymore, so I answered them.
“They yelled at me: ‘Jizova Biliska.’”
“Who were they?”
“The Polish girls.”
“And what did you told them?”
“I told them they can bark like dogs.”
“Aha!” mother shouted out in a sense of victory, “Was I right or not?
What did I say? Will Tzilika keep quiet?”
“Leave it alone now!” My father wasn’t pleased with my mother's
intervention. “Right away I can see that she is right!”
And to me he said, “You, Tzilika, are not stupid, you know that Jewish
people would get treated this way!”
“But it’s a libel!”
“So you should be more careful, you should submit!”
“I didn’t start it!”
My mother couldn’t control herself. “Come on! Talk to her. Does she
feel something? Does she know anything? All she knows is how to
insist. Does she know how difficult it is for us to accept that penny
so we could make money? If only she was a little girl that understood
how we make a living…”
‘You think that you are lucky, that you won’t have to go to school.
You will play again in the yard, in the sand…What will I do with all
of the merchandise? Will anyone buy it? How will we make a living?”
“Livelihood” was a word I had heard often in our house, usually from
my mother. I knew that the word "livelihood" meant bread, milk, dress,
and money for paying rent, and for giving some money to the paramedic
so he will check up on my sick father.
In spite of all that, the word “livelihood” was until now, an empty
word. More than that, in my opinion, it was a word meant only for
children, so that they will act as Jews and get serious, so that they
wouldn’t feel that they had to hide their pennies when they felt like
buying candy with that money. So that little children should start to
work and think like grown-ups…
This is how it was until now, and now I wasn't sure. Maybe I have
outgrown myself and have become a grown girl. And maybe this time, the
word “livelihood” came out of my mother’s mouth, aching and angry more
Whatever the case, I felt as if a heavy load had been placed upon my
young shoulders, because of my mother’s concern for our livelihood,
and this had subdued me to the ground. Suddenly I remembered the
principal's words: “You will die from hunger!” Then I had this picture
in my mind of a cold chimney, my father with gray hair, my mother in a
weakened condition, her hands sloping, near the empty store shelves.
Hunger! Anxiety took over me, and I began to cry quietly.
All of a sudden, Mother said, “You see now, she can cry! What if she
had cried in school? She can say whatever she likes, but only the
stubborn no one likes. Had she said, ’Please ma'am, I am begging you,
I won’t speak like that again.’ Or had she shed a tear, or shown
regret, she wouldn’t have caused her mother and father such trouble.
Huh! You can see for yourself that she can cry. It’s as if a river of
tears broke out from a dam…”
I was sobbing this whole time. I wanted with all of my strength to
stop, but I couldn’t control this ocean of tears. I wanted to respond,
to say something, but I immediately choked and couldn’t, for I was
drowning in a new outburst of tears.
“Shah! Shah!” Father interrupted my mother's words, “Leave it
alone already. Why are you attacking her again?”
I didn’t get any sleep that night. For me it was like the last night
after a trial of death penalties. It had never happened to me before,
that my life had lacked so much peace, that I was so ill at ease.
Suddenly, a heavy burden had been thrust upon me.
I lay close to my bed, upset. The burning tears went dry. I felt like
I had a fever, who knows how many degrees. I was hoping that I was
becoming ill, seriously ill, and maybe I was about to die for real. I
wanted them to cry. I wanted the whole town to cry, for me dying at
such an early age. And my father, who will have gray hair and get old,
will sit “shiv’ha” on a stool, and my mother will pull her hairs out
just like I watched her do when her father, my grandfather, passed
Indeed, I wanted to do something cruel to my parents, and I also
wanted a way out myself. I couldn’t achieve my goal in any other way,
except through death. Before I went to sleep, my parents had
managed--by my father by his silence and my mother by her endless
words--to tell me that tomorrow morning I am going with my mother to
the school principal to ask for forgiveness.
Who will I apologize to? Why do I need to apologize? How come I need
to humiliate myself? I really didn’t understand that, but I knew that
without it, nothing would be possible. If I don’t ask for forgiveness
from the principal, my father will get older from hour to hour, and
will become grayer. His liver will become aggravated once again, my
mother will sit down angry, the merchandise in the store won’t get
sold, and we won’t have a livelihood.
My mother managed to get something else out of me, something that I
didn’t quite understand why she needed it. It was that, when I will
stand before the principal, I will cry. And the excuse that I can’t
cry won’t help, because I had just cried an hour ago and tears burst
out of my eyes like a spring.
Nevertheless, even though I promised, and in spite of the fact that I
was able to cry, I felt that in front of the principal, I could not
cry! Before I had all this trouble, I didn’t think about the different
reasons for people to cry--tears from joy? tears from distress? tears
that bring relief? fake tears? However, one thing I knew for sure. No
matter what, when I will have to face the principal with her fat
swinging chin, the spring of tears will go dry. I might die, but I
will never cry, no!
Whatever the case, in spite of all these troubles, I fell asleep until
dawn, and my mother could hardly wake me from my deep, healthy sleep.
The next morning it was Saturday, and I got dressed slowly. My mother
gave me a piece of bread and a glass of water with milk. I didn’t eat
the entire piece of bread, and I didn’t drink either. My mother was in
a hurry. “It’s getting late. We need to get to school before it
starts.” I listened to my mother and hurried as well, but my life
wasn’t the same anyway.
We went through our street, but I noticed nothing, neither the morning
sunlight, nor the people passing by us in the street. I had already
given up completely. When I came to the school hall, life came back to
me, as if to upset me. The cold walls of the monastery were my enemies
and they challenged me to a fight. I had almost forgotten about my
promise to cry. However, there’s no use talking about that, the whole
issue of livelihood had vanished from my mind. After leaving home, I
was convinced that I was right. Against everybody's opinion I was
right, thinking that I was filled with feelings of burning anger. They
are all big, smart and strong, but I am right! Let them talk. Let them
want to hit me and tear me apart. I won’t give in!
A moment before entering the classroom, I told my mother without any
introduction, “I won’t cry!”
“Stop talking nonsense!” my mother, who was filled with fear, said to
“I don’t want to.”
Then Mother saw the principal, and we hurried to the class. Everything
happened as if we were talking between us or with her. The principal
sat on the cathedra, underneath the map of the world and said,
“Zimmerman, to the center of the table!”
Mother pushed me gently until I reached where I was supposed to go.
“And now,” the teacher said to the children who were sitting on the
benches, “speak openly. Don’t be shy. It’s Zimmerman's mother, so say
openly what Zimmerman said about you.”
No one moved.
“Be brave! Don’t be shy!” she told them openly. On one bench, some
children began to whisper. One girl got up, but another one tugged on
her sleeve and pulled her down to her seat.
“She said…” The girl managed to say this, then immediately became
silent and looked around.
“Don’t be shy! Say what you have to say.” The principal tried to
encourage her. “It’s Zimmerman mother and she wants to know the
The girl ceased and humbled her look.
“Okay, sit down,” the principal told her impatiently. “Someone else
will get up, someone more courageous!”
Again, students whispered from one of the benches. A girl with a big
nose and nostrils and small forehead got up and said,
“Madame principal, she insulted us. She insulted all Poles…”
“But how did she insult you? What did she say?” the principal asked.
“She said…” The girl started and stopped as well.
“Sit down!” the principal ordered her.
There was a feeling of panic on the benches. One girl pushed the
other, and there was noise and fuss without any words.
The teacher searched with her eyes throughout the girls’ benches for
someone daring and courageous who knew and would be willing to tell.
Mother used this break. She didn’t consider whether it was okay or
not, and she didn’t ask permission from the principal, but she stood
in front of the cathedra and turned to the children.
“You have to tell the truth, and the whole truth! You will be required
to take a vow in court or near the crucifix!”
The principal turned red like root beer. She probably wanted to spill
her fury onto my mother, but instead she got upset with the children.
“You are weak! You are cowards! Girls, why don’t you speak up?”
There was silence on the benches. The children were pressed up against
each other, looking all around, and they didn’t move. Not one girl was
willing to speak up.
Then however, I spoke. I didn’t turn towards my mother or the
principal. I was talking and pointing with my finger to the girls in
“There you go! Do you see what liars you are? You nasty liars!”
My mother grabbed my hand and shut my mouth with her hand.
“Hush, hush, you child!”
Then the principal, who was by then very confused, realized she had
gone too far, and instead of a harsh reaction, tried to get us to
reconcile. “Come on, Zimmerman. Reconcile with your friends…”
“You want me to reconcile with them?” I yelled. “It’s not
enough that they libeled me and could have brought a disaster upon me,
I also need to reconcile with them? They yelled at me ‘despicable
Jew'! And what are they? What are they?”
My mother shut my mouth. The principal gave up and tried to justify
her actions to my mother. “You see what a big mouth she has? It’s not
for no reason…”
Mother added, “Oh, ma'am...you have no idea ma'am, how much I suffer
because of her and her big mouth. Such a disgrace! Believe me, ma'am…”
thus, in a simple and not so tragic way, the tremendous fear of my
younger years ended. The Polish children were never questioned about
the truth, as I had wished. What remained the issue was my big
mouth. I was allowed to continue in this school under the
condition that I would be better behaved. I did not "correct" my
behavior. I did not brood over the injustices, and I simply
learned to think and react appropriately. I learned this from my
broken-hearted father and not from my depressed mother.
My teachers were young, brave, and daring. They looked with open eyes
to the future. They were printing flyers secretly with a
typewriter and a copier. They distributed them with love to people of
the underground, and
they hated those who hated them. We also received the flyers.
They learned how to how to fight and how to survive.
Shaul Frydman, z. l.
father, Szoel Frydman, who wrote his works under the pen name of Leib
Rashkin, was born in 1905 in the town of Kazimierz Dolny, Poland. He
began to write in Yiddish at an early age. In the early thirties, he
published the novel "The People of Godlhozhtz" (a town in Poland). For
this book he received the important Y. L. Peretz literary prize. What
is remarkable about this story is that it was published during the
Second World War, when Poland was already occupied by the Nazis.
My father was then in Brisk, which was still under Soviet rule.
It appeared in the bimonthly magazine "Shtern" in Minsk, in Sept.-Oct.
1940. The last news of my father was on Nov. 13, 1941, when he was on
the list of the inhabitants of the Brisk ghetto. He was killed in the
Holocaust, like most of his large family.
Special thanks to Prof. Leonard Prager of Haifa University for
uncovering the story through his work, and for his intention to add my
father's name to the Encyclopedia Judaica. Thanks also to Yosef Stern
of Kibbutz Megiddo for the translation into Hebrew, and to his wife
Ruth for her help.
His daughter, Tamar Frydman Yaacobi