This is story published a few years ago on the old version of our website. Together with Mary Bier Wilson we decided that it is important for the interview with her grandfather to be published here for even more people to have chance to read it. A few years ago Mary, her late husband John and one of our guides Zen had chance to visit “Sukoluff” Austria, which is actually Sokołów Małopolski and Trzeboś, and step the same ground he once was stepping every day before leaving for his long journey.
We hope that it can also inspire some of your to interview your parents and grandparents as long as they are still among us. You can always wait with your research, but you shouldn’t wait with talking with your ancestors about their life…
The interview, which follows, was taped on a reel-to-reel tape by an older first cousin of mine who had lived with our grandfather for a number of years after our grandmother died in 1937. The interview was conducted in about 1956 when Grandpa was 86 and I did not know this tape existed until about 10 years ago, which was about 10 years after I began doing my family’s research.
Thankfully, my cousin had the foresight to do this interview long before most of us had been encouraged to do so by the genesis in the popularity of genealogy research that I think is due to the advent of the home computer and wonderful software programs that are easy for almost anyone to manage.
My cousin finally was able to make a cassette of the tape and, happily, shared it with me and I then transcribed it and gave it to ALL our cousins. I knew none of the information it contained other than Grandpa saying he was born in “Sukoluff” Austria. I knew Grandpa but did not have the opportunity to see him often nor was I interested in that “stuff” at the time.
Let me just say, it answered a great many questions but it also posed many new ones whose answers I am still seeking.
Mary Bier Wilson
A transcript of a taped interview.
Born: September 9, 1870
Died: December 27, 1963
INTERVIEWER: Gerald Frolow-Julius Bier’s grandson
TRANSCRIBER: Mary Bier Wilson-Julius Bier’s granddaughter
Transcriber’s note: Some of the verbatim text has been edited for clarity.
Gerald Frolow – his questions and comments in italics
Julius Bier – his commentary in regular font
What’s your name?
What’s your name in Hebraic?
Ellah Bier (Elihuie)
Elihuie Ben what?
Elihuie Ben Itzak.
That’s right. My name is Julius Bier. My Jewish name is Elihuie Ben Itzak.
Fine. What we are going to do today is that I want to get the whole story of what you’ve been telling me all along. The story about when you first came here and what happened when you got here.
I’ll tell you the whole story.
All right you start. Tell me first about what you remember when you were a little boy. Tell me first about your mother and father.
I remember that I was since 3 ½ years and when my father died, I got left with my mother and two brothers.
What was your father’s name?
My father’s name was Icha (Itzak).
What kind of work did he do?
We had a little house-about 4 rooms and we had ground and we were working in the ground and we were making a living from it.
Was it a farm?
A little farm. Did he do any other kind of work?
Well, he used to go to buy stuff and sell it. He used to make a living.
You mean like a peddlar or blacksmith?
No he used to go to like to towns when people used to bring stuff and sell the stuff. He used to buy it and sell it and make a few dollars.
You mean at the marketplace?
At the marketplace.
Tell me what you remember about him.
Since the time I was working with my mother all the time. Helping her out.
You tell me what you remember about your father.
That’s all that I remember about my father. I never remember my father.
You were telling me some stories about him. What stories were you telling me?
Well, I come to it.
So, I know that people used to say that my father was very strong. Very strong. He wasn’t afraid of 50 people. And, he had a father and mother. And they were living not very far from us.
Do you remember their names?
What were their names.
My grandfather was Rubin (Rieven). Rieven, they called him in Europe.
And your father–his names were Itzak ben Rieven. What kind of work did he do?
He had a saloon. A wholesale saloon. And my grandmother’s name was Leicha (Lya).
All right. Now you tell me more about your father. You said that he was very, very strong. You were telling me a story about…
One time he was going to his father and they just brought a big truck with 2 barrels of alcohol. They were supposed to take this off so there was in the place about 10 men. And the 10 men went to take off the 2 barrels of alcohol but it was very slow and my father just came and he took one on his shoulders and brought it in the cellar and then that wasn’t enough, he went again and took the other barrel and put it in the cellar. And when he went down to lay it down, he broke a vein in his back. But he was so strong that he didn’t feel this till a year. When a year passed, he started to get cold, he started shivering so my mother sent for a big doctor and the doctor came and he looked him over and he said that it was too late. He is all poisoned. Because the vein, the blood went out and poisoned the whole body and he’s going to live about 3-4 days and he’d be dead.
And, what happened?
And that’s what it was.
Do you remember when that was?
I remember a little. Very little.
What was the date, do you know?
The date when he died? Easter. It was the second day of Easter. You know I got yahrzeit. The second day of Easter.
That’s what I want to know. All right then, you also told me some other stories about he and his brother.
Listen, so I tell you. After this, I was helping my mother and I stayed with my mother until I was 14 years old. My father and his two friends, they were very strong people. When they come to a place, everybody was afraid and everybody was running from them.
What were their names? Do you know the friends?
One friend’s name was Sura (?) Leib Schlanger.
He was a cousin, wasn’t he?
He was a stranger. But the other man was the same name as my father, Icha Bier. They were 2 cousins. He was the cousin. And, when they come together, they knew that no one could start any fights. They were the 3 strongest men in the whole around 50 years around.
Here is one thing else that I want you to tell me. Do you remember the name of the town?
Where was Sokołów?
It was three miles from Rzeszów. Rzeszów was a big town.
Where is that?
In Austria. Austria-Poland.
That was the old Austria-Poland.
Near Galicia. Yeah, it was Galicia.
With regard to Sokołów, was it a big town?
My town where we were living was Trzeboś.
You mean after your father died?
No, no the same thing because Sokołów was a town and this was a village.
I see, then you actually lived in the village.
Trzeboś (Chi bish!)by Sokołów
All right. Was that a big village or a small village?.
About how many people do you think?
Oh, about three thousand people, that’s all.
How big was Sokołów?
Sokołów was big like that.
How big was Trzeboś?
Trzeboś? Trzeboś was a town about three or four thousand people. It was like a village. Everybody had ground and were farmers, mostly.
Tell me about your mother. What was her name?
My mother’s name was Geitalah Bier.
Geitalah. My mother’s name before she got married was Geitalah Tseitalbach. She came from a big farm about 6 miles away from my father’s place.
Is this the same area of Trzeboś?
The same area of Poland. You know, the same place. She was 6 miles away, one from the other.
Do you remember or do you know how old they were when they were married?
Oh, my father was about 22 years and my mother was about 18.
How old was your father when he died? Do you remember that?
Twenty eight years.
Was there anybody else in the family? Brothers or sisters?
Only two brothers.
What were the names of your brothers?
One was Meilech.
You were the oldest…
I was the oldest.
Meilech was the second brother?
The second and Leibisch was the third one.
Now, Meilech was your next youngest brother.
How much older than he were you?
About a year and a half.
And how much younger was the little one?
Leibisch was another year and half or something like that and I was about a year and a half older. We were each about a year and a half.
What about Leibisch? You told me that he was a twin…
Yes, he was a twin.
What about the other twin?
She died when she was 18 months old.
Do you remember her name?
You don’t remember what she died from…
Now, you tell me what happened after your father died and before you went into the army.
I’ll tell you about that. When I was home and I was working, I was always thinking to go to America. I always was thinking to go to America.
Why was that?
Because everybody said America is very good. And when I was 14 years, now the story comes, listen! When I was 14 years of age, I said to my mother, “Mom, I can’t stay home anymore. I would like to see and to come to something. I won’t work here and I won’t stay here.” So my mother says, “what are you going to do?” So I told her that I’ll go to a big town and I’m going to see what I can do.
What were you doing up until this time? What kind of work were you doing?
On the farm–home. So, like every mother. She said, “all right, my kind [Yiddish-something to the effect of ‘all right, my child, if that’s what you want to do, it’s O.K., go with luck and be well and don’t forget about me’)” so I said goodbye and my mother gave me $10 and a little bundle with a little bread and butter, a piece of cheese and I was walking. So, I walked from one little place to the other and it took me about 8 days and I came to Przemysl [he pronounced it Premish but the correct pronunciation is PSHEH-mishl] a big town. It was a big town, a fancy town and when a little boy comes like that to a big town he first goes looking from one window to the other. So, I was looking in the windows and I came to a big, nice show window. There were all kinds of pictures. Pictures like Jesus and Mary. All Christian pictures. Religious pictures. And I looked at all the pictures. A man came out of the store, a nice man, nicely dressed and he said, “young man, you are a stranger here.” I said yes, I just came in. He said, “do you like those pictures?” and I said, ” yes, they’re very nice.” He said, “what are you going to do?” I said, “I’m looking for work–if I can get any work, I’m going to work.” He said, “I’m going to make you rich. I’ll give you work and make you rich. You’re going to have plenty of money.” I said, “how?” He said, “come on in the store.” So, I went in the store to look around. I saw that the store was full of pictures. He told me that he had boys and men who went around to peddle the pictures. He told me if I wanted to do the work, I would have a whole lot of money. So I asked him how to do it and he said that he would give me the pictures, put them on two straps on the back and go from one town to the other and from one house to the other and sell them. A picture will cost you 9 cents. You know, the pictures were oil pictures. He told me the other pictures that were the half size of it would cost 2 ½ cents. He said you can take for a picture a dollar, you can take a dollar and a half for one picture, you can take 75 cents–whatever you can get. But don’t you think when you come in a house you sell one picture–you sell five or six pictures. And, that’s a whole lot of money! He said you don’t need to rush, you don’t have any bosses, you don’t have nobody and you make money. He said you’re going to peddle around from now till fall and in the fall, you’ll come home. You’re going to see how much money you will make. When you come home, you stop in here and I’ll tell you how much business you made and you’re going to be all right. So, I said that’s going to be very good, but how will I get the pictures.
The man said, “when you come into a town and you see that you are low in pictures, drop me a postal to the next town you’re going to come in and I’ll send you the pictures by parcel mail. You go to the Post Office and you say that you have a package here, they’ll give you the package and you’ll pay c and d [COD?] and take the package out and that’s yours and the money comes to me. You won’t owe me anything and I won’t owe you anything until you go home.”
And that’s what I did. I bought myself a nice valise that fit on my back with two straps on my hands and I put in for $10 of pictures and I went. By foot I went. About two miles further up, I start to work and I worked and I sold a very good business. I used to sell to one house the woman came to the room and the daughter [?] and I used to sell 10, 15 pictures in one house and I made a very good business though the years. And the people didn’t have any money but they had a whole lot linen, very fine linen and I used to take the linen and used to save that linen and used to sent it to my boss but he used to send me the pictures and he used to keep that linen for me till the time comes when I come back again before Easter to that man at the store and he took me around and he kissed me. I said that I was the best salesman they ever had. I made over a thousand dollar business. Do you know what it means a thousand dollar business? And he took me around and he gave me a very good time. I was with him for 3 days and I bought myself a beautiful suit, I bought a nice ring and I bought a watch and chain and I had about fifteen or sixteen hundred dollars with me alone that I made. So, I took the linen and I told him that he should send it home to my place and I got dressed nice and I went home. When I came home, everybody was running. They were thinking that I was dead! (Ooooh, I see). For six months I didn’t write, I did nothing so that everybody was running to see me and see that I was dressed so well, I had a gold watch and chain, I had a ring on my finger, a beautiful ring…everybody started to ask me questions and I told them that I had been working and that I had a very good boss and the boss sent me home a big looking glass [mirror] from the top to the bottom for a present and it was very nice. Till the time after Easter, I said to my mother, I gave my mother a thousand dollars money when I came home and she told everybody I brought money, I brought a whole lot of linen and linen was very dear in our place–it was fine linen. She used to get a whole lot of money for that linen. She used to sell it by the yard–I used to get 5 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards in one strip. And after this, I said to my that now I was going again after Easter and I’m going away again. And we had a neighbor, a Jewish neighbor, his name was Yankel Greenfeld, and he was a man who had a son and that son was about my age and he used to go around with me and the father wanted me to take him along. And I said that I don’t take anybody along. I’m going by myself, I work by myself and I’m going to work by myself. He said, “you’re going to be sorry.” And I said, “why” and he said, “you’ll see.” So, I said to myself, all right.
So, I went by myself and I was gone all summer till fall and I made not so good as I had the first road. I took another road like to Hungarian and it wasn’t so good, but I made money. I didn’t make as much but I made plenty of money. I came home and my mother took me in the next room and she told me that we had trouble. I asked her what kind of trouble and she said you didn’t take Mark (?)along so he now they’re going to make you be a soldier. They’re going to report you that you’re going to America and you know how it is that in Europe they don’t want to send boys to America.
To be continued…