The center of town – a large open circular area – was packed on market days. Jews and Poles came, three times a week. They set up tables and sold their produce and wares – flea-market style. All around the center, there was permanence – a large Synagogue, homes and shops. All kinds of shops – grocery stores, clothing stores and butcher shops. Then there was Feivel Goldfarb’s favorite – the bakery. Chana the baker, Feivel recalls, “had a shop in the first house on the left side of the street.” The bakery was at the intersection of the circle road that outlined the town center and one of many streets that emanated out of the center, like spokes on a bicycle wheel. This bicycle wheel structure created the town of Stoczek (Stok).
Once you were at the bakery, it was an easy walk down to Shlomo Zalman Wisnia’s home. It was just down the street – 7 or 8 houses– on the left side – right where the street ended. Feivel remembers it well. He was a boy of 8 years old when he attended cheder (Jewish elementary school) in this home – learning alef-beis (to read Hebrew) and how to pray – from Esther’s father – Shlomo Zalman, the melamed (teacher).
The Wisnia home was a small wooden structure – only two rooms. The front door opened to the larger room, which served as the school. Tables were pushed against the wall; benches awaited the students. Each day as Feivel walked to cheder, he passed Chana’s bakery and the smell of baking rolls and cakes floated to his nostrils.
But Feivel was from a poor family and he could not afford to buy what Chana sold. He was friends with Chana’s son – Moishele – he called him Moynik. One day, they were together and Moynik was eating a roll with butter. Feivel looked longingly at the roll – he had never in his life had a roll with butter. Moynik had his fill of the roll and offered the rest to Feivel. Feivel’s father taught him never to take charity. So he turned down the offer. Moynik threw the remainder of the roll over the fence. Quickly, Feivel said he had to go home. They parted and Feivel ran to the other side of the fence to retrieve the precious roll. It was gone – most likely eaten by a dog. “I will never forget that roll,” Feivel lamented 77 years later, as he sat in his home in Marboro, New Jersey.
Feivel lived on the other side of the town center – 4 houses down from the Church. Even though Stoczek was 90% Jewish, there were Non-Jews and they had a big church. The Church and Feivel’s house were both close – one and half blocks – to the Kwiatek soda factory. His mother sent him there to buy soda. Some Stoczek homes combined living and business quarters, such as Neiman’s grocery store. “The grocery was in the basement of the house,” Feivel said. “My mother also sent me to Neiman’s. It was a couple houses away from the soda factory.”
The Kwiateks were not one of these families. Their soda factory was separate from their home. The factory was a warehouse and a store. It was very well known in the town and the surrounding areas. It was through the Kwiatek soda factory that Esther first came to know the righteous Stys family. “As children, we used to visit the Kwiatek soda factory every Sunday after Church,” recalled Jan and Eugeniusz – children of Wadislawa and Stanislaw Stys – and Janina – the daughter of Helena and Aleksander Stys. “It was a special thing for us to do.” During the war, Esther and her first husband Moishe Kwiatek took their horse and buggy that they bought in Slonim and made soda deliveries to the outlying farms, including the two Stys families.
The Kwiateks were so well known that even Grzgorz’s grandfather, on the Maleszewski side– who is 101 years old and lives a life like the grandparents in Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory – never getting out of bed – remembers them. Though he never met Esther or Sam, he did business with the Kwiateks before the war. We had the honor of meeting him (and his wife) on our way to the family reunion.
The next day, we visited Stoczek and as we stood in the empty, grass-covered lot that was the Kwiatek soda factory, I imagined coming there on a hot summer day, just like the one we were experiencing – a good 89 degrees – buying a cold soda. That sounded really nice.
But the permanence that was found in the homes, the shops, the factories, and the Synagogues, was deceptive. The Germans arrived in September of 1939 ordering all the Jews they could find to stand in the open market area. Fieval was with his Uncle, holding his hand, as he stood with about 1,500 other Stoczek Jews. The Nazis screamed at them as they began burning down shops and homes. Then, the Nazi screamed “rouse” – “get out.” Everyone began running at once. As they ran, the Nazis began to shoot. “Half of them were shot dead,” Feivel said. “I saw one man I knew on the ground and I shook him and said ‘get up, they are shooting people.’ But then I saw that his eyes were turned up in his head. He couldn’t get up. I ran back home and found my parents.”
Like Esther’s family home, Feivel’s house was burnt to the ground. And like Esther’s family, they crossed over the border to the Russian-controlled area – to Bialystok. From there the Goldfarbs had a different experience that the Wisnia family -the Soviets sent them East – to Siberia. It was a horrible existence, but their family survived the war.
I looked around Stoczek – the soda factory is gone, Esther and Fievel’s houses are gone, the Jewish shops and Synagogues are gone, the open market area is gone, but the Church remains, standing where it was in 1939 – 4 houses from where Fievel lived and a block and a half from the empty lot that once housed the famous Kwiatek soda factory.
Stay tuned for more about Stoczek in my next blog.
This piece is part of Karen’s blog, “So You Want to Write a Holocaust Book?”. An introduction to the blog can be found here.