Kock, My Town
Translation by Helen Mintz
Motl Siemiatycki, the author of this excerpt from the Kock Yizkor Book,11 was born in 1906 in Kock,22 Poland. He attended a Polish gymnasium, married, and had two children, a son and a daughter. He and his daughter Henia (now Helen Neudorf), born in 1935, survived the Holocaust in Warsaw, passing as Christian Poles. Siemiatycki’s first wife and son did not survive. After the war, Motl Siemiatycki remarried and moved to Montreal, Quebec, where he and his second wife had five children, one of whom died at the age of two.
The Kock Yizkor Book, published in Israel in 1961, includes both a poem and a short memoir by Motl Siemiatycki. The short memoir, translated here, is entitled Mayn shtetl kotsk. Using a third person narrator, Siemiatycki conveys the experiences of a young boy from a Hasidic family, both at home and in the community. Starting in the first decade of the twentieth century, the memoir covers the period up to the end of World War I. Siemiatycki’s writing is suffused with affectionate humor and a writer’s eye for intimate and vivid sensory detail. Moving from the experiences of one little boy to the experiences of the entire community, the memoir details the huge changes that took place in Jewish life in Kock as a result of the First World War.
The picture of Hasidism that Siemiatycki paints is particularly interesting. We find Hasidic men playing an active role in various modernist trends in the shtetl including the Haskalah and the Zionist movement.
Both Helen Neudorf and Myer Siemiatycki said their father read Yiddish literature voraciously. He wrote in the basement of their Chomedey (suburban Montreal) home, filling Hilroy notebooks with his Yiddish literary output. Included in Motl Siemiatycki’s writing is a book length memoir about his experiences in Warsaw during World War II with his young daughter. Myer Siemiatycki’s final words to me about his father’s life as a writer were, “He often spoke about his frustration in getting his work translated into English.”
Motl Siemiatycki died in 1997 in Montreal, Quebec.
Thank you to the following for help with this translation and introduction: Ken Hiebert, Rachel Mines, Helen Neudorf, Rabbi Marna Sapsowitz, Myer Siemiatycki, and Paul Slodovnick.