A JEWISH BOYHOOD IN POLAND: Remembering Kolbuszowa by Norman with Richard Skolnik Salsitz
Kirkus Star

A JEWISH BOYHOOD IN POLAND: Remembering Kolbuszowa

Email this review


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--that might 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.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1992
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Syracuse Univ. Press