A Jewish Boyhood in Poland: Remembering Kolbuszowa

A Jewish Boyhood in Poland: Remembering Kolbuszowa

by Norman Salsitz
     
 

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Kolbuszowa is gone now. Before World War II it was a thriving, small Polish town of 4,000 people, half Polish Catholics, half Jews, where family and the traditional ways of life were strong. It was the town where Norman Salsitz was born, in 1920, the last of nine children. It was the town he helped to destroy, forced by the Nazis in 1941 to assist in the…  See more details below

Overview

Kolbuszowa is gone now. Before World War II it was a thriving, small Polish town of 4,000 people, half Polish Catholics, half Jews, where family and the traditional ways of life were strong. It was the town where Norman Salsitz was born, in 1920, the last of nine children. It was the town he helped to destroy, forced by the Nazis in 1941 to assist in the brick-by-brick destruction of the Jewish ghetto in which his family lived. Salsitz was later sent to a German work camp, but escaped into the woods to live and later to tell his story of Kolbuszowa to Richard Skolnik. Salsitz speaks to us both as an exceptional witness to everyday events in the town and as a shrewd observer of the broader landscape. Colorful details bring the people, the customs and habits, both religious and secular, back to life. He conveys how painful it often was to be Jewish in Poland even before the war. Despite the persecution, he evokes the dignity and strength of the Jewish way of life among the peasant and professional classes alike. This memoir is also a vivid portrait of childhood and adolescence. Engaging if not always well-behaved, Salsitz was an entrepreneur from an early age. Among his many business ventures was the planting of peach trees to have fruit to sell. His youthful dreams ended abruptly, forever, with the arrival of the German troops. He was never to taste the fruit of his own trees.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
The former Naftali Saleschutz vividly recalls his 1920s childhood, capturing in all its savor the life of Hasidic Jews in the Polish shtetl . There is Cheder and Talmud Torah for Naftali, his earlocks falling onto his prayerbook; there are trips to the farm to drink milk fresh from cow or goat; observance of the Sabbath and all holidays in a large orthodox family. The Kolbuszowa marketplace evokes a long chapter replete with the taste of sour pickles and the aroma of horse droppings. But then come the ominous days and weeks of 1941, when the Jews of Kolbuszowa are ordered to destroy their homes, businesses, synagogue, and all their revered and invaluable books. After that, they themselves are killed. Norman, a lone survivor, made a new life for himself in America. Recommended.-- Gerda Haas, Holocaust Human Rights Ctr. of Maine
Booknews
One man's vivid recollections (as told to and gracefully recorded by historian/writer Richard Skolnick) of life in the Polish town of 4,000 where he spent the first 22 years of his life, from 1920 to 1942. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Salsitz was born in 1920 in the Polish town of Kolbuszowa, population 4000, half Jewish, half Polish. He would grow up to dismantle, brick by brick, the ghetto where the Nazis herded his community in 1941. Then he escaped into the forest, the Polish army, and, later, the US. This memoir, written by Skolnik (History/CUNY; Money Talks, 1986) on the basis of taped interviews, recalls the life of the town in the 1920's and 30's. There's too much about the economics of rural Poland and not enough about Salsitz's mother and sisters—but Salsitz does serve up enough wonderful stories about tensions between Poles and Jews, Zionists and Orthodox, God and man (and even sometimes woman) to earn this book a place on the shelf with Isaac Bashevis Singer and Isaac Babel. Salsitz's anti-Semitic public-school teacher, for example, invited the author to sing a solo on Marshal Pilsudski's saint day. The Hasidic child arrived at the recital and found that a screen would hide him from view of the audience, who might find his long coat and curls offensive. A local rebbe claimed that when the Messiah returned he would make Kolbuszowa one of his first stops: Salsitz's accounts of activist piety and charity make it plausible. The local scribe, when copying the Torah, plunged into the ritual bath to purify himself before each writing of God's name, sometimes taking several baths per sentence. The community not only provided for the indigent but organized to spare beggars the embarrassment of waiting on line for handouts. Chapters on America and Palestine, the two dream destinations that had already drawn many from the town, suggest the centrifugal forces—Zionism and modern prosperity—thatmight have dissolved the tight little community within a generation. A final chapter tells how it was destroyed instead, within months of the Nazi invasion: bitter stories, briefly and forcefully told. On special occasions, the Jews of Kolbuszowa purified themselves in a bath set deep in the earth, with freezing water. Reading this memoir is a bit like that—you come out shivering but cleansed. (Thirty-four photographs.)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780815605812
Publisher:
Syracuse University Press
Publication date:
02/28/1999
Pages:
212
Product dimensions:
6.18(w) x 8.92(h) x 0.85(d)

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