3. Tomaschev

 

Thirty miles southwest of Hrubiechev is the smaller village of Tomaschev. Tomaschev (Modern Polish spelling: Tomaszów) has a few thousand inhabitants and sits at the edge of the Russian Empire, about ten miles from the Austrian frontier. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire is at its peak and extends well into this region of Eastern Europe.

The region’s ethnic makeup is Polish, Jewish, Russian and Ukrainian, and the traditional regional center is Lemberg, a city of seven hundred thousand people on the Austrian side of the border. Like other large cities, Lemberg is industrializing and attracting people from the countryside. The city was once Polish and named Lvov. But over a hundred years earlier Austria annexed Poland’s Province of Galicia, including Lvov, its capital city. The Austrians renamed the city Lemberg.

Two or three related Brustman families live in Tomaschev. The one we are interested in is headed by Abraham Brustman, born in 1849 and married to Rivka Bodenstein in 1876. They have about ten children, including Ariyah Leib, probably the fourth, born in 1883. He calls himself Leib, but his friends use the affectionate Leibish. He is self-consciously tall, having to stoop when passing through some of the village’s smaller doorways. Around 1900 Leib is married to a cousin whose maiden name is also Brustman. They have two daughters, Ethel and Frieda.

About 1904 Leib is a man on the run. He fears the Tsar’s police will eventually catch him for his recent crime, desertion from the army. He pleads with his wife that they and their small daughters must flee to America, leaving Russia forever. She, however, will not consider leaving because Tomaschev is everything to her. The village and her relatives comprise a world she will not and cannot leave. There is arguing to no avail and soon divorce remains the only option. So Leib and his wife seek a rabbi to dissolve their marriage.

Unmarried again, Leib Brustman is free to escape Russia, but because of the divorce settlement he cannot afford the fare to America. Instead, he goes to Lemberg, which is fairly close but, importantly, not in Russia. Lemberg has a large Jewish population where Leib can be anonymous, retain a Jewish way of life, and be relatively safe while he seeks the means to reach America.

Life in Lemberg will be much different from the previous two years. Those years were spent in the Russian army as a draftee in a compulsory five-year term. They were miserable years; Jewish conscripts suffered the notoriously cruel and sadistic abuse of their anti-Semitic officers. Leib barely managed to endure this hateful life but one day, after a particularly vicious beating, this good-natured and mild, maybe even meek, man decided he could take no more. The beating itself provided the opportunity — it was so severe he was left in the snow for dead. A Polish peasant found Leib barely alive and saved him in hope of being paid a reward by his family. Being left for dead created an opportunity to desert the army and he took it.

Leib’s travel from Tomaschev to Lemberg is dangerous. He cannot take roads since they enter Austria at points where his papers would be checked. Leib has to pay one of the local farmers who smuggle people out of Russia as a sideline. The farmer will guide him for miles through the woods and fields that straddle the border. There are rumors that deep in the woods guides often kill their customers for the money that must be in their satchels; no one would know there was a murder. This risk adds to the journey’s danger.

During the next five years or so Leib works as a waiter at the “Joint Jewish Worker’s Committee Cooperative” restaurant. This very large kosher establishment is a mainstay of Lemberg’s Jewish workers. It is probably here on Grudeka Street, during a typical crowded and chaotic lunchtime that Leib first speaks to a young woman. This modestly handsome, clean-shaven waiter takes the order of the seamstress who works nearby in a tailor shop. Her name is Perl D’vorah Krakauer.

Continue to Part Four

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