Memories of Sarah Fortgang Halpern

Memories of 67 years ago, when I was 10.

By Sarah Fortgang Halpern.

March 2002


I was born in Grębów and lived there until 1934. My mother died from pneumonia in January 1925 when I was three weeks old and my grandparents brought me up for 10 years, helped by a hired "wet nurse" for the first year. We lived a very simple life, centered around the need to earn a living by working too many hours a day, 6 days a week, the religious activities, my schooling and our family visits. Almost all my "social" activities were visiting my relatives in town to enjoy their hospitalities and nasherai.

My grandparents had a tavern in Grębów in the front half of a large house in the middle of the town. The building housed my grandparent's tavern, their living quarters and upstairs, my parent's flat. I received a photo of the house taken in 1995 by a girl in Grębów whom I contacted via the Grębów town council and who sent it to us. This large, long, stone house was owned by a relative of ours. It was taken over by the Germans in 1942 or 3 when they deported all the Jews and they converted it into a warehouse. It changed appearance considerably. It now barely resembles my home in 1934. It now doesn't give a "picture" of life in Grębów ~70 years ago. I see that all the external woodwork is missing. There was a large porch in front of the tavern with a balcony over it, accessible through a door (now a window) from my parents flat inside, on the second floor. There were also large windows on either side of the door. On the side of the building, there was also a porch and a pergola over the entrance to the residential part of the building - my grandparent's flat and via a stairway, up to my parent's flat. There were also two gabled side windows in the roof on each side.

Grandpa had to travel occasionally to arrange the purchase the weekly supply of barrels of beer, bottles of vodka, barrels of salted fish, cigarettes etc. This he did by a hiring horse-drawn "taxi" and traveling to Tarnow. There were almost no motorized vehicles in town then. He sometimes took me along, especially when he wanted to buy other things also, like clothes for me for my birthday or to dress me up in something special for the Jewish holidays. He also traveled to shop by "taxi" in a small nearby town Tarnobrzeg. By popular demand, the tavern was also opened on Saturday, then, our housemaid, a Christian, was in charge. The rest of the week, she cooked and cleaned and washed clothes etc. and looked after my needs, including curling my long blond hair into 7 "bottles". These she cut off when I was 8, to make me look more modern and grown up, to the horror of my grandparents.

My father had a shoe store in Grębów and he used to shop for goods for his store in the same way. My father Shabbtai Fortgang-Vestreich ~1888-1943 was married to my mother Hellena Shifra Goldwasser 1898-1925 for just one year. His father had a very large horse-raising ranch just outside of Grębów.

The religious activities were centered around the large wooden synagogue where prayers were held every morning and evening by a few, and on Friday evenings and Saturdays and on holidays, when all the Jews in town attended. The women were in curtained-off areas on both sides of the main hall, but I was always with my grandfather from the age of 3, in the main hall because I was an orphan. I also said "Yizkor" for my mother. The synagogue also was used as the "Cheder". The children, including the girls, went to the Cheder from the ages 3 to 5 and then went to the "state" school and learned the Polish curriculum. We were scorned by the Christian pupils because we were Jewish. The boys (but not the girls) went to the Cheder after school to continue their Jewish education. Jewish holidays were all very actively celebrated with festive meals, family visits, special events at the shul including guest speakers and singers, and everyone dressed up in special clothes. All the Jewish traditions were very enthusiastically practiced even though the Jews were not fanatically religious. Most of the older men were Chassidim and used to visit their rabbi before major holidays or to consult with him over some pressing problem or to try to find a shiduch for an unmarried daughter.

There was no high school in Grębów. There was one in a nearby town Tarnobrzeg and my mother went there.

Many relatives and my mother's grandmother Frieda Birnhack, the clan's matriarch, lived in Krakow and at least once a year my grandparents and I visited them. She was very clever. Everyone in the family consulted with her before making any important decisions. We stayed with her for several days in her very large flat with very many small rooms. We traveled there and back by train from Grębów. It was far and since my grandparent didn't own a horse drawn buggy, hiring a "taxi" with its driver for a few days would be too expensive. We also traveled to Klimontow nearby where we also had many relatives.

When I was 10, I traveled to Krakow by train and stayed with my mother's grandmother Frieda Birnhack for 4 days and then traveled by train with a cousin to Trieste and from there by boat to the port city of Jaffo in the British mandated Palestine, where my mother's brother Shlomo Birnhack received us - this in December 1934. My uncle and myself were two of maybe a dozen of our family who escaped being murdered by the nazis in the Holocaust in 1942-3, the other 99% perished. I've been in Israel since. I met my husband here in 1954, we soon married and we have 3 sons and (in 2002) 3 grandchildren.


[Photos of the house/tavern can be seen under Photos and Postcards]

[Photos of some of the people mentioned above can be seen under Faces]


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