Chapter the twentieth.
The Russian-Turkish war. - The patriotic mood among Jews. - "We want to win the war! - Alexander the Second. - Good expectations. - It's bad without an income. - The shelves are getting empty. - Storitski - Bakery business. - Thefts. - Too honest. - Russia's victory. - Jewish joys. - What next?. - Regrets once more. - On the road again. - Charkov.
The Russian-Turkish war broke out11. The government was looking for contractors and didn't discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. There was a glimmer of hope for Jews to make some money. In Kiev dozens of Jews took on contracts, big or small.
The contractors went off with the military, following the military wherever they went. The General-Staff was stationed in Kishinev and also the czar was quartered there.
The attitude of the Jews in those days, in relation to the war, was quite interesting. They were in a very patriotic mood and I don't think it is an exaggeration to state that every Jew would readily have gone through fire and water for the sake of the victory of the fatherland, just as if it had been a Jewish war with Jewish generals and a Jewish cabinet and as if Jews had full civil rights in the country. This sentiment was certainly due to the fact that during Alexander the Second's reign the government had taken a somewhat softer, better and milder stance towards Jews.
It seemed as if there would come an end to the heavy yoke of the Diaspora with its "obloves", the "tsherta" [R. boundary > restrictions of settlement], with all its catastrophes [kol hapuronyes] and that Jews would get some breathing room. Jews were dreaming of Russia's victory and trembled at the thought of the Turks occupying the tiniest speck of land.
Many Jewish daughters signed up as nurses and lots of intelligent young men patriotically volunteered to go into the war.
I remember that when the Russian army crossed the Danube without much effort, without blood-shed, the joy of many a Jew was so great that they danced in the streets; there was jubilation and celebration and people said to each other: "We will conquer! Ours will be the victory!".
In the 'Kreshtshatik' [Hark. kreshtshen - 1. to baptise; 2. to cross>Christian neighborhood?], on the Jewish bourse, on the sidewalks of the livelier streets, everywhere it was bustling with Jews, - merchants, brokers, manufacturers, shopkeepers, workers and paupers -, all discussing the war with great enthusiasm. This went together with taking great pride in the czar and delighting in his goodness, the mildness of his heart. People praised and glorified him and carried on enthusiastic discussions about all the reforms he had carried out and would carry out yet.
Jews would delight in enumerating all the good things the emperor had introduced since his accession to the throne: He brought back the military service from twenty five years to fifteen, he had forbidden corporal punishment in the military, liberated the farmers from serfdom, reformed the courts, done many concessions to Jews and other nationalities and so on.
It was a time that no one who personally experienced it will ever forget.
I still hadn't found a way to earn money and I kept searching for a job.
The returns from the shop became steadily less. I had connections, some big important people, rich ones, who would have supported me with their clientele, but for that I would have needed a lot of merchandise and a bigger shop and I didn't have the money for that.
As you know, I never knew how to be a swindler; I can't cheat, steeal or think up all kinds of constructions like all business people do. For this very reason I also hadn't become a real lessee-farmer like all other members of my family. They had all taken on farms that were beyond their means and swindled and lived well. [gelebt oyf Gots velt].
I couldn't swindle, but then, I never was very ambitious [eynraisn a velt]. I only wanted a quiet life. Quiet, modest, without unnecessary luxury, allowing me to read a book, to make myself useful to society, to be intellectually active. To put it stronger: I hated people who dedicated themselves body and soul to their business, misers, scraping and raking in money, caring about nothing but their business, their profits.
I have to admit in a soft voice, so my wife can't hear it, that deep in my heart I laugh at that great millionaire Mr. Yisroel Brodski with his sugar refineries, his big business deals, all that hustle and bustle. What is the good of wealth and the hubbub that goes with it? Isn't it better to live a modest life, to do a bit of good for the community, to have a quiet place and cordial relationships with dear and good people? What good is money? Why all this 'trareram', this fuss, killing heart and soul? If one had to make a living anyway I preferred, as explained, a quiet bit of income.
But this was not to be. The shelves grew emptier all the time. I started to be short of money and didn't have the wherewithal to buy merchandise and the situation with the rent became ... pretty bad.
A Ruski [fonye - Hark. nick-name of a Russian.>probably from Ivan, Vanya; also used to indicate the czar: fonye-ganef] named Storitski happened to take on a contract for the delivery to the government of half a million Russian pounds of biscuits [sukhares - R. sukhar - rusk] for the military on the front. Besides flour and a bakery they needed an overseer to supervise the production and to receive the transports of flour, to be sent from Byela-Tserkov2. I got a recommendation and was given the job.
The first transport arrived: two thousand 'pud' of flour. When I put the flour on the scales in the bakery it was two thousand and twenty 'pud'. When I got the consignment-note from the person who had made the delivery to the bakery it said black on white that it wasn't two thousand and twenty 'pud', but two thousand two hundred and twenty 'pud'.
I told the man that he had made a mistake, that there was only two thousand and twenty 'pud'. He answered that I had made a mistake and became abusive, saying that I was a worthless person, making such a big mistake at the first delivery. I maintained that I was right and said he could weigh it again.
But he didn't want to argue with me anymore.
In the end, realizing that he could not get anywhere with me, he angrily grumbled: "What's the matter with you? It's none of your business. Let your boss worry about it."
A few days later the sub-contractor of the flour arrived, a Christian. So I acted like everything was on the up and up and told him about the "mistake", saying that I had been given a loading-bill with two hundred 'pud' too much on it. I told him I had an argument with the man and that he had told me it was not my concern if a higher amount was written.
The flour-contractor heard me out and ... had me fired me from the job, because I couldn't count.
I told my story to the person who had recommended me to the contractor. He informed me straight away that the flour-contractor had bitterly complained about me, telling him that that Jew, Kotik, was quite an impossible person. He had no idea that such people existed. He had always thought that you could do straight business with Jews. Now it turns out that this Jew is too honest, too naive. When someone writes too high a weight of flour on a loading bill he starts fighting it and refuses to accept the receipt. He insist on the correct weight... Well!
So, I was out of a job again. The flour contractor had a German appointed in my place, also on "recommendation". They started working with might and main. Lots of flour were sent and enormous thefts were perpetrated. The receipts were for huge amounts, sometimes twice the amount of flour delivered.
It took the contractor Storitski several weeks before he caught on to the big scale theft committed by the flour-contractor, the man in charge. Storitski didn't sue him in court, but he dismissed the flour-contractor from his job.
This Storitski thoroughly investigated the matter and soon found out [hot zikh far eynvegs dervust] that the first man who had been in charge of the flour had been a been a very decent Jew who had refused to accept the first falsified receipt and that he had been fired because of it
Soon after Storitski came to visit me and putting the whole business in my charge he offered me a good salary.
Storitski also offered me great prospects for the future: later, when the war was over, he would give me a position in his business. In short, my problems were over.
But Storitski went bankrupt four weeks later; no doubt because of the big scale thievery of the flour-contractor. Even before this bankruptcy the bakery went up in flames, a fact clearly heralding the bankruptcy and the end of my employment.
Storitski cashed sixty thousand rubles insurance payments and left Kiev altogether.
And I was once again a poor shop-keeper with empty shelves.
As the reader knows the war ended in a victory for the Russians. Plevna fell and everybody was so pleased with the good news that Jews would bring out toasts as if they were at a merry, high-class circumcision ceremony
On the exchange bourse, where the enthusiasm came to a head, there was talk of sending the czar a congratulatory telegram, in which he wouldn't only be addressed as "meylekh shel khesed", "King of Good", but also as "Alexander the Great".
The Jews of Kiev liked this expression "Alexander the Great" a lot and it became a byword in the city, passing from house to house.
For all kinds of reasons this telegram was never sent in name of the whole Jewish community, but only by individuals belonging to certain circles and a reply never came. Everybody was in an exalted mood, as if the world had received a blood-transfusion. Even long after the war was over people remained excited.
During all this public excitement I had forgotten about my situation. When things had calmed down a bit I realised that I still didn't have enough to eat. What next?
I had a relative in Charkov, Mr. Hilel Fried. His father, Mr. Zalmen and my grandmother [on mother's side], Rivke-Khayene, the wife of the Rov of Grodno, had been brother and sister3. I knew this relative to be very rich. He was a contractor of rail-roads and bridges and he employed about forty clerks.
Having such a cousin, what else could someone in my miserable condition do but to pay him a visit? I had no other option.
But leaving Kiev was not easy, not easy at all. I knew so many nice people there, good people that were close to me, people I had got to know well. Here I was about to leave everything behind, on my way to a rich relative, looking for work. There was no way of telling how he would receive me, whether I would have any success.
But I had to go, hunger was at our doorstep. And so I boarded the steamship cruising the Dnjepr and was on my way to Charkov.
I was in low spirits and in deep thoughts during the whole trip. My heart longed for Kiev. It was crowded on the ship. People everywhere, talking, laughing, having fun - but I remained silent.
It kept going through my head that my parents had been better off. They stuck to one place, raised their children, lived a calm life, no roaming about, no wandering and knowing nothing about the bad experiences that I couldn't put from my mind here on the ship.
I was so deep in thoughts that during the whole twenty four hours of the journey I couldn't have told whether I was aboard a ship or somewhere in a room. I didn't eat either.
But I arrived in Charkov just the same. It was during the day of Tishebov4. I went straight to Fried where I happened to arrive right during a funeral: The book-keeper had died; such an auspicious encounter. Everybody was terribly busy all day long and only in the late afternoon did I succeed in speaking to someone.
I felt as if ants were jumping around on my back.
[bay mir oyfn rukn zenen umgehprungen murashkes]
11877-8 Russo-Turk. War After fighting over an occupation of the Shipka Pass and the seizure of Plevna, the Russians advanced on Constantinople and into the Caucasus. March 1878: Peace of San Stefano.
2Belaya Tserkov, a town about 100km south of Kiev
3In Chapter XXI we will learn that the name of r' Hilel Fried's father was Simkhe-Zalmen, who was a grandson of r' Khaim of Volozhin. r' Hilel Fried married a daughter of Tseytlin of Mohilev.
The sister of Mr. Zalmen Fried, Rivke-Khayene was the wife of r' Eliezer Halevi of Grodno. She was I. Kotiks maternal grandmother.
4Tishebov - the ninth day of Av (July/August), holiday commemorating the destruction of the first temple in 586 before C.E. and of the second temple in 70 C.E.
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