My name is Isadore Deckelbaum. My father's name was Gedalia (George)
Deckelbaum, and my mother's name was Bessie. I was born on February
3, 1899 in the small town of Rafalovka, population about 1500.
There were about 200 Jewish families in the town. We had two
synagogues, one public bath and a mikvah
for the Jewish
women. We had a shoeman and a tailor, an iron works, one bakery
and a few grocery stores. In the grocery stores a person could
go and buy for two cents, a herring and for two cents more, sugar.
Also, kerosene to light the lamps and candles for the Sabbath.
We had a nice house with a garden where we used to raise potatoes,
cucumbers, tobacco, and tomato beans. My grandfather tended the
garden and the tobacco. He used the tobacco for himself. He
had a liolke (a pipe) and he smoked the tobacco. His name
was Joseff. He was about 75 years old and he suffered a lot from
rheumatism. Our house consisted of one bedroom, one big dining
room, a kitchen, and a big ribe where in wintertime we
used to burn wood in order to keep warm and also a brick oven
where my mother used to bake bread and cook. In the dining room
we had a big table with two long benches to sit and eat. A baby
crib was hanging from the ceiling and we used to swing the babies
in that crib. The floor was a dirt floor. For Shavout we used
to pick green lepads and put them on the floor just for
that holiday. We also had chickens. The chickens used to lay
their eggs under the brick stove and my job was to crawl inside
and bring the eggs out every day. Was also had a cow. My mother
used to milk the cow once a day, and she made her own butter and
We were six brothers and one sister. I was the oldest and my
sister, Ida, was the youngest. Every Friday morning my mother
would get up early in the morning whether it was still dark or
getting light. She would start baking latkes (pancakes)
for all seven of us. The faster she made the pancakes, the faster
we ate them. We had no bathroom, so we had to go outside to dispose
of our waste. My mother had a big wooden tub, and gave each of
us a bath. We didn't have any water in the house, so my older
brothers and I had to go to a stream and bring buckets of water
back for cooking, baking and washing.
I remember that one day my brother, Louis, came home and he was
crying. Some boy had beaten him up and my grandfather told him
to show him who the boy was and he would fix him. So Louis went
with our Zaddie, and showed him who the boy was. My Zaddie hit
Louis in the stomach by mistake (he couldn't see very well).
My brother said, "Zaddie, you beat me instead of the boy."
Our Zaddie started to cry and apologized to Louis.
Life was not rosy for us. My poor mother had her hands full,
taking care of a house and seven children. We were not allowed
to go to public school, instead we had Rabbis. The Rabbis used
to teach us how to read and write and also taught us how to pray
or davin. Lots of children became well-learned. Some
of them even became Rabbis.
In the summertime, we used to go bathing. We had no bathing suits,
so the men wore their pants, and the women wore their nightgowns.
Everybody was happy with their lives. We all had weddings with
music from a violin and a clarinet, plenty to eat, and especially,
vodka to drink. After the wedding ceremony, the parents of the
bride and groom used to take the young couple to their rooms and
closed the door so they would celebrate their honeymoon. They
had the bed fancily dressed up and that was their honeymoon.
Now about my father's profession. He owned a ferry that transports
people and animals across the river. It was just like two boats
nailed together, and it wasn't much of a business. My father
had to be on it day and night.
When the war broke out with Russia and Japan, my father had to
go into the army. When you became 21 years old, a man had to
go into the army for four years. When he came out, the war broke
out with Japan, and my father didn't want to go to the army again.
He made up his mind to go to America. He hired an agent to take
him over the border. In other words, he ran away to America and
left his wife and 5 children.
Note: The passenger arrival record for the Port of
Philadelphia shows that Gedalia arrived on December 13, 1904, and was going to
stay with his brother-in-law Benjamin Kolker in Baltimore. Benjamin was
married to Gedalia's wife's sister (Hannah Melomedick).
He arrived in Baltimore and got
himself a job with Sonnabonn Factory, where he was a tailor, and
stayed with a wonderful family, Mr. and Mrs. Carpel. He was making
$3/week. Out of that money, he lived and saved some of it. Those
days when you walked into a saloon to buy a glass of beer, the
bartender would give a person herring and bread enough to eat
for 5¢. He would send my mother $25 every three months.
After working in America for three years, my father managed to
save $700 in cash. My father received a letter from his brother,
telling him that a water ground mill was for sell. He suggested
that he come back, buy the mill, and be with his family. My father
decided to come back home. On the way home, he got caught at
the border. A trial was held because he refused to go to war.
He sent a cablegram to my mother, telling her that he was caught
on the border, and she should come and see what she could do to
get him out of jail. My mother got dressed in her best clothing,
and left for the town called Radziavid. When she arrived in that
town, she went to see the commander, but he refused to see her.
My mother could not do anything to help my father. My father's
fine was that they transported him by foot from town to town with
police until he arrived home. It take many weeks until he finally
arrived back home. He was all played out and it was good to see
my father back home with his family. After a short rest, everybody
came to greet my father, and he was glad to see everyone.
My uncle Abraham, told my father to buy the mill. He bought it
and took possession of the mill. In consisted of one house with
a place to eat and a place to sleep. My father spent most of
his days in the mill. My mother used to cook meals for my dad
and my brother Freddy and I used to take it to him. My mother
used to make pickled herring whenever he got hungry. One time,
my mother cooked some rice with milk, and Freddy and I took it
over to him. On our way, we had to cross a ridge of water. There
was a small boat standing there in order for us to go across,
but we were young. We didn't go into the boat, but we walked
on the side of the boat, and we fell in. The bucket of rice spilled
in the boat. So with our bare hands, we got up all the rice we
could, and we brought it to my father. When he tried to eat it,
he couldn't understand why the rice in milk was dirty, but he
ate it anyway.
The mill business was a bad life for my parents, and one day,
my father made up his mind to return to America. We children
didn't know anything. One morning, he said to me, "Son,
you take care of the business, and I am going home." I said
"Ok, Dad. You go home and I will take care of everything."
I was about 12 years old. One day had passed, and my father
didn't come back to the mill. On the second day, rumors came
out that my father had run away to America. When I heard that,
I asked my mother. She said it was true. He arrived in Baltimore,
and went into the rag business on Pratt Street, and he made a
Note: The passenger arrival record for the Port of
Baltimore shows that Gedalia arrived on June 29, 1913, and was going to
stay with his nephew S. Deckelbaum in Washington DC.
I was hired out as a teacher in a small village to teach children
Hebrew, reading, and writing. My pay was room and board and a
couple of chickens for the holiday. I was in Suberchitz, a small
village. Finally, when I got a bit bigger, I went with my brother,
Louis, to the big city of Kiev. I found a job working in a grocery
store. The man I worked for was a very fine man, Mr. Diamond.
My brother got a job in a medal store.
In 1911 the Revolution broke out in Russia, and all hell broke
loose. People were marching in the streets and singing Russian
songs. Policeman would be killed if they were caught on the street.
That's when they executed the Czar and all his family, and Lenin
took over. That's when I decided to go back home with my brother.
During the war with Russia and Germany, my mother and the children
moved to the town Wladimerez. There I met a girl named Sylvia.
We used to go out with each other, and fell in love. My girlfriend
was a dressmaker, and she made good money repairing the clothes
of the soldiers. She lived with my aunt and uncle Shlome. She
used to come over to our house to help my mother. Nothing was
too much for her. We were very much in love with each other.