Note to My Readers:
I am on my way to Poland to visit the home towns of Esther and Sam, Stozcek and Bagatelle, to pilgrimage to the site of the Death Camp Treblinka, to meet the children and grandchildren of the Stys family, and to encounter the new Jewish community of Poland.
Suspending all this, I begin my journey in Minsk, Belarus where I will visit my grandmother, Rose Steinberg Treiger’s home of Samke (Shamki), 170 kilometers from Minsk. Among the Seattle and Montreal families of Steinberg, Rossman, Lawson, and Brodkin, the lore of Samke looms large. So before I dive head first in into the Bug River in Poland (a feat which I literally hope to execute) and meet members of the holy Stys family, I report here on my detour to Minsk/Samke. Off we go.
Dateline: 1900-1905. Minsk Belarus.
“Minsk was the big city and very grand,” described Aunt Reva Steinberg. “It had concrete sidewalks and paved streets. At night the streets were lit up brightly by gaslight, a pinkish gas, very, very bright; and they were filled with bicycles, tricycles, horses and carriages. . .. there were many beautiful stores in Minsk, fur stores, jewelry stores. The stores were in brick buildings. The residences in the good neighborhoods were built of brick, and there were some apartments. All the buildings, businesses or residential, were only two or three stories high, walk-up. There were no elevators. . .. Minsk had factories. . .. [I] visited a glass factory where a cousin worked and where window panes were manufactured.” (Interview with Reva Lawson Brodkin Steinberg in Nizkor, Washington State Jewish Historical Society Newsletter, July 1986)
This glimpse at Minsk is from the eyes of my teenage Aunt Reva (then Reva Lawson). She lived in the small Shtetl of Samke (Shamki) and once traveled to the nearby town of Borisov (by horse and buggy) and then on to Minsk (by train) with her father – Yisroel Pesach Lawson. This was a different time, before two world wars, before Soviet control, before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Before, before, before.
Dateline: June 15, 2016. Minsk, Belarus.
Although I just arrived today, it does not take long to realize that Minsk is no Paris. The Soviet style architecture and bland store fronts would not enchant the young Reva if she were to walk the streets of Minsk today. The building in the picture above is and was the KGB office. During the Soviet era, you can only imagine what went on inside this building. Now, despite retaining the fear-inspiring title of the KGB, our tour guide assured us it is just a regular spy agency. There are other buildings more aesthetically pleasing than this behemoth, but not many. When the Soviets rebuilt Minsk after World War II, they did not see Aunt Reva’s postcards.
Tomorrow morning : off to Samke.