He bought the steamship tickets from an agent and everything was arranged and we took a train and at Hamburg, Germany, on a steamship known as the Prima, a German boat. And from there we went right straight to Baltimore, Maryland and I came from Baltimore, Maryland where my father took us to a department store and got us all dressed up in American clothes and I became, and I came off over here at the Union Station.
The year when I came back from the Yeshiva, my mother got me a Polish, a teacher who taught me Polish.
He used to come into the house. She got this Polish tutor to come into the house to teach me Polish because the Polish alphabet is Latin alphabet, the same as the English, whereas the Russian, I also had a Russian teacher begin to teach me Russian. This is how I got. Schwartz: Right. That simply means that students were assigned different days for different families. And since my uncle had already been there, he already had a certain number of homes that he was regularly assigned to eat. I was assigned also to go for the first time away from home to a home for a day and so.
Schwartz: No, no. That would be too much of a burden for one family, one student. Any- way, I was assigned among for different days to different families and most of the families that I had to go out to were in Kovno, not in Slobodka. So when I learned a little bit how to get around, all I had to do was go across a bridge, the river. By the way the city of Kovno was actually where two rivers joined.
It was a river called Vilya and another river called the Nieman. The Nieman is a familiar word. The Vilya was a small river and I had to go across that small river to eat on certain assigned days, to eat dinner, just late afternoon meal. In the morning there was no problem. A woman would come by every morning to where we roomed and she would come by, have a large basket of rolls. Frankly I never ate any bagels. So we had that but for the main meal, we had to go out. Unless you were able, you know, to self, you know, to have financial support yourself.
The first few Saturdays when we arrived, when I arrived as a new student, I was sent to a little community in Kovno on a hill known as the grinner bard, the green hill. As a youngster already 10 or 11 years old with a few weeks in a big city, I was already beginning to find, you know, my way around. By the way in recent years I found out that Seiferas who is, you know, is related to Godofsky. Schwartz: Ben Seiferas comes from that town. So I was assigned to a home on the grinnen bard in the city of Kovno for Shabbos, for the Sabbath.
Which meant that I would have to stay overnight because I would, you know, have to go across at night, to go home. I mean go back to my rooming house in Slobodka.
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And then Saturday; night I would go back to Kovno, to Slobodka. I came in. I was told to come to a little shul on the grinner bard and there my balibuss, the man who was going to be my host, was going to pick me up and take me to his home for the Sabbath meals, Friday night and Saturday. So I went to the little shul. And a little shul like that, picture that.
And I came there and all I remember is right after the service this man with a white beard comes over and like I thought he was whispering to me.
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But in later, I found out and after my uncle explained to me that this man had a throat in which he had a, the larynx was. Schwartz: removed. And he had a kind of a whistle. And he always kept his hand when he was talking under his beard and you could hear him. And I ate my meal and everything else and figuring that I was going to have to sleep overnight. The man tells me that I have to go to the little shul to stay overnight in the little synagogue. And he sent me to that little shul. So I went.
I came in, nobody in the shul. The only lights in the shul were the candlelights. And we used to have an old Mima Raisie, Tante Raisie who was known as the village storyteller for little children. And I remember scenes where a group of us would stand around her. She would knit, or in the wintertime she would be picking feathers for the feather beds or she would be shelling beans or peas or what have you because we were an agricultural village, a shtetl.
This woman was telling us all kinds of stories, beautiful stories for children. She had all kinds. She also had some stories, scary stories.
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The story that my age in my shtetl, the super- stitious environment, one of the stories that I knew already as a child was that if you are in a synagogue by yourself, which was probably pretty common in those days for people, you know, roaming around, I was sitting in that shul all alone and the story comes to me that if you are ever caught where you would have to live, have to spend time in a synagogue, the story is that midnight, , the shaddim come in. Schwartz: Now I used the wrong word. You go up to the. Schwartz: bima, make the brocha as if you were in the shul and nothing is going to happen to you.
I was sitting there.
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You can imagine how scared I got at that moment. But I also knew the remedy to survive and I was getting ready to rehearse in my own mind the brocha for the Torah. Of course, pretty soon another person comes in, the beggars were always coming in to shul to warm up. Schwartz: This same story that I just got through telling you what happened to me in that little synagogue. Years later when I was in the United States, already a practicing attorney, an active Zionist and we were going to New York, I was going to New York to some sort of a convention, and we got a cab and it happened to be Herman Katz and Sam Melton and I were in a cab.
By the time I got through with the story we were already at the Taft Hotel. Interviewer: Laughs You were saying that you saw the shadows and the beggars and whatnot were starting to. Schwartz: They started coming in.
That of course relieved all my fears. Later on I surmised that what was happening was a fly was crawling around close to the candle.
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The reflection on the wall of the fly was like a big airplane coming down, you know, one of those big, big shadows looming. And that, so they came in of course and I laid down on the hard bench, fell asleep, got up in the morning and the next day I spent the day for the next Shabbos meal after the service and before the evening, before the Saturday after the Havdalah, I took a street car to Slobodka to my rooming house. Interviewer: You skipped one part. Did you ever get the aliyah?
Did they ever call your name to come up? Schwartz: No but you see, this was, I thought about it, see. This was the thoughts that came to me and all these superstitious stories that go around scare, the ones that would tend to scare little children. They did not want any sad endings. Schwartz: Even I knew, living in these small villages surrounded by forests.
In the village that we lived in, in my home town where I was born, we were surrounded by forests within just a matter of maybe like from here to James Road. You were in solid forest all the way around if you put a radius of that around the shtetl, you were in forest. And by the way our forest around there was the Radziwill Forest. In case you remember the Kennedy family. Schwartz: The Radziwill, or related to the Radziwill. So what happened in the, I just lost the train of thought here.
Interviewer: You were talking about the forest being so close, from here to James Road. I want to tell you one more little story that they used to tell. They would tell stories that children got lost in the forest, children got lost.