Hrubiechev is a typical large village within the Pale. The village (pronounced Ruh-beh-shev. Modern Polish spelling: Hrubieszów), lies on the west bank of the muddy Bug River (pronounced Boo’g). Only one or two streets have cobblestones and the rest become wagon-miring mud whenever it rains. A large town square serves as a meeting place, market and civic center.
About half Hrubiechev’s 10,000 inhabitants are Jewish. Jews have lived in the village since 1400. Yiddish, Polish, Ukrainian and Russian are the principal village languages. Hassidism, founded during the 1700’s, influences Jewish religious life in the Pale, and many of Hrubiechev’s Jews belong to its various sects. The others are orthodox. Froy’m Krakauer is one of Hrubiechev’s Orthodox Jews.
In 1910 Froy’m (Ephraim in English) lives with his family in a three-room apartment, one of thirty or forty apartments in a sprawling three-story brick building. It has many wings arranged about a central courtyard and is one of the tallest buildings in Hrubiechev. In the Krakauer apartment the floors are dirt and there is only a fireplace, no water or toilet facilities. They live better than most people in the village, even enjoying the luxury of chicken once a week.
Froy’m married Tovah Ginsberg in 1878, probably a match arranged by their parents. Like nearly everyone in Hrubiechev, he and Tovah must toil constantly to eke out their living. They have six children, not a particularly large family for this time and place.
Like most of the people in the village, Froy’m is coarse and peasant-like. He is also intelligent and controlling. Froy’m wears a full beard, as do all devout Jews of the Pale. Though he and Tovah are deeply religious, Froy’m reads and cherishes secular books and so regards himself a bit more worldly than his coreligionists. This little streak of independence manifests itself in his children, most of who are strong-minded. Managing six children is difficult enough, but strong-minded ones make the task particularly exasperating. He is sharp with his children.
The first child, Moishe Mechel (Moses Michael in English), is a tough and likable schemer. He works for Froy’m in the family store and has two daughters from a prior marriage, Helen and Lena. Helen’s nickname is Hinda. Moishe brought scandal to the family with an extramarital affair that left a young villager pregnant. The rabbis advised him to divorce his wife to marry the pregnant teenager “So the baby would have a name.” Lena now lives with Moishe’s first wife, and Hinda lives with Froy’m and Tovah, in effect the couple’s seventh child.
The second son also brought scandal. He abandoned Orthodox ways, adopted modern dress and, according to his father “Acted like the goyim.” He went to work for a lawyer, maybe in Warsaw, and severed all family connections.
The third child, Perl D’vorah (Pearl Deborah), is tall, heavyset, strong willed, short-tempered but dutiful. Born in 1884, she married a tall, fair-haired boy named Y’shayeh (Joshua) in 1898. Several years into this marriage she became increasingly bored and unhappy. Eventually they divorced. Now in her twenties, Perl D’vorah regards herself too worldly and modern for Hrubiechev and its religious ways.
The other three children are Chaiya, Ella and Solomon. Solly, the youngest is called “the baby” and everyone adores him. Ella is suspected to be retarded, possibly because Froy’m and Tovah are first cousins. Marriage between cousins is quite common in the Pale and for that matter for both Jews and Gentiles throughout Europe.Photo: Tovah