Dictated by Ary
Upon my graduation from the school in Slutzk,
the Director told me to come to see him sometime in September,
the early part of September, and he would have prepared for
me all the necessary things for me to go to Vilna and enter
the Imperial School of Art.
With the prospect of going to Vilna, a problem presented itself.
The problem of lodgings and food had been solved during these
years by staying with the Rabbiner. However there were other
needs, books for school, clothes. The servant washed my few
pieces of underwear and my couple of shirts, and the Rabbiner'
s wife mended my one suit until it was a criss-cross of patches.
Now with the prospect of going to Vilna there was the necessity
of having a new suit made. Gradually I had been saving my kopeks
for that after school, when my work on the Rabbiner's
books was over, I gave lessons to some of the less bright pupils
at school, especially when examination time approached, to coach
them for their examinations. Each coin so laboriously earned
was put away in a safe place, and bit-by-bit the pile grew until
it was big enough to make possible the new suit. What a major
undertaking it was, to select material and bring it to the tailor.
The father of a school-mate owned the largest store in town,
and to this boy I confided my problem of buying material. The
boy said he would be glad to bring me to his father, who would
give me a special price. The store owner professed much interest
in this school-mate of his son and assured me he would do as
well by me as if I were his very own son. So finally, the precious
material under my arm, I made my way to the tailor. The latter
was bent over his work in his tiny little shop. He looked up
at me and then at the material and shook his head, muttering
something unintelligible. It was only later, in Vilna, that
I understood, when after a few wearings and being exposed to
the rain, holes began to appear in the seat of the trousers.
I took them to a tailor, who said the material was worthless
and would soon be in shreds. At first I solved the problem by
wearing another, older pair of trousers under the ones that
were tearing. Finally I had to give up and dip into the precious
store of rubles, which I carried, tied around my neck, to buy
material for another pair of pants.
I passed the summer months waiting impatiently, and the early
part of September went to see the Director. He gave me some
letters to his old friends in Vilna, and a little money, the
amount I believe was about 70 rubles. He told me: "I have
been in charge as Director of the school for quite a number
of years. I had promising students and I tried to encourage
them, whatever I was able to do, but they disappointed me. I
do hope that you are not going to disappoint me like the previous
ones. I have confidence that you will make good." And with
some more remarks about the hardships a young man has to go
through to accomplish things, he bade me goodbye and good luck.
That 70 rubles wasn't a great deal of money but to me it represented
Shortly afterwards I was on my way to Vilna. I
had to go for about 12 hours in a diligence before reaching
the station at Rokwich where the main train would take me to
Vilna. Early in the morning the Rabbiner and his wife took me
to the station. There were tears in the eyes of the Rabbiner's
wife and the Rabbiner also was much touched. He wished me courage
and said they were sure that I would succeed in my ambition.
I think I was embraced by both of them before taking my seat
in the diligence, and slowly the horses began to pull out and
I was on the way to the big city.
It took about 12 hours from Slutzk to Rokwich. Then we reached
Rokwich it was night. The station was filled with people. There
was a very poor light at the station. I had never seen a train
before. I went out on the platform and in the dim light I saw
the tracks. I put one leg down to feel if it was really what
it seemed to be. Standing on the platform waiting for the train.
Suddenly the bell rang and from far away you could hear the
pouf, pouf, pouf and the train pulled in.
My ticket was for 4th Class and when I got in the compartment
it was crowded, stuffy and very noisy. They were lying there
on the wooden benches smoking and talking a terrible
noise. I was really scared. I managed to get a corner and sat
there until the train pulled into Baronovitch (?), a big station
where this train was to meet another one. There I saw a brightly
illuminated station with big crowds, and more passengers crowded
into our compartment. After half an hour or so the train pulled
out and we were on our way. I couldn't sleep all night in the
corner where I sat and I was disturbed. I was afraid. Then the
daylight began to break and I could see how crowded the compartment
was and the types who filled it up. I was really scared. The
train was beginning to approach Vilna, there was a station stop
and then it was the gates. Slowly, slowly, and then the train
stopped and it was announced "Vilna." Everybody with
their luggage (I had a small bag) came out from the compartment
and started to walk in a certain direction. Somehow I was afraid
to follow where the people went. I went in the opposite direction,
kept walking back on the tracks, I was afraid to go where the
station was. I realized I was going the wrong way, retrieved
my way, and found the enormous station, crowded and noisy, a
noise that was deafening.
I had two addresses; one was to a student who
had graduated from school in Slutzk and like myself had been
sent by the school to go and study at the Institute for Teachers
in Vilna. The other was Mother's sister, a woman who was separated
from her husband and who continued to live by herself. Between
the two I thought it was better to go and see the student. I
had heard that he too had received a small bourse to help him
continue his studies. I don't remember how I succeeded to get
to the place where the fellow lived. Undoubtedly I walked all
the way carrying my little bag with me, and when I came to his
place, which was in the heart of the ghetto, I had to wait quite
a while before he came home. My first disappointment was when
I met that fellow. He had been in Vilna over a year struggling
to get into the Institute for Teachers, and he had failed and
his disappointment was immediately made known to me in order
to discourage me from even thinking of staying in Vilna. "Run
as fast as you can and go home any place but here."
I told him that I had promised the Director that I would continue
my studies. He shrugged his shoulders and asked me if I had
any plans, if I have a place to stay, etc. When I told him I
didn't, he told me that since he is leaving, probably I could
take his place. This was easily arranged and I remained in that
house. A few days later he left.
Now about the house. It was situated in the heart of the ghetto,
near the synagogues; a dilapidated house which belonged to three
or four owners, the first floor to one, the second floor to
another, and I was on the third. With three families, the house
was falling to pieces. My job was to help children with their
lessons. When I met them I was scared. The boy was bigger than
I and I was afraid he would beat me up. I was shy. But I was
happy because I had a place to sleep. It wasn't exactly a room;
it was just the back of something I can't remember, but
it was a place where I could sleep. And I had one meal a day
the evening meal. The house was very crowded and a constant
warfare going on between the children of the man's first wife
and those of his second wife. That warfare took on a menacing
character from time to time, and then the best thing for me
was to keep away from the house, just to come home and eat my
meal and to sleep.
I went to look up my aunt. There the picture was different.
My aunt lived in a house in the most modern section of Vilna.
She was getting alimony from her ex-husband, evidently sufficient
to live a fair kind of existence, and her life was devoted to
saying her prayers. All day sessions of saying prayers. She
had no children and was for a long time separated from everyone
in the family. She didn't even know that I was supposed to come
to Vilna and she was surprised that I had a place and a school.
She vaguely knew the kind of school and was proud that her nephew
would be studying there. I left my aunt with the promise that
I would come every Saturday to visit her and to eat with her,
so I had the assurance of the Saturday meal.
I had to wait some time yet before the school
opened. Then I had to pass the examination by making a drawing
from a cast, a Greek god. A week later I went to see posted
on the bulletin board all the names of those who were accepted.
My name was there. So now I was settled in Vilna, with a place
to sleep, one meal a day, I was a student in the art school,
and Saturday I would go to visit my aunt and after saying the
prayer I would have my Saturday meal, and I began to feel happy
in my environment. But there was trouble brewing. There was
trouble among the students that was in the year 1905
and in the month of October I heard there were strikes.
I heard students from other schools were demonstrating and one
student in our school tried to pull me to some secret meetings.
Note: Ary didn't finish this, but I heard snatches of the
story from him at various times, and in my own notes later I
will fill in as much as possible.