Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Esther Feldman Icikson - October 23 & 29, November 5 & 12, 2001

Relations with Non-Jews

When did you speak which?

I don't remember. My dad was a tailor and customers would come to our house. So I think that we might have spoken Polish when the strangers were there, because I remember that there--they used to laugh because I would always say that my dad is so tall that he reaches the ceiling. But I would say that in Polish.

So he had non-Jewish customers.

Oh yeah, yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Do you think there was any anti-Semitism in Chelm?

I don't know. I don't remember that. I really can't tell you.

You know it's a very famous city. Of course Chelm ???.

Oh, my people were born there. No, it's uh, I must tell you that I had really pleasant experiences because of being born in Chelm because when I tell somebody it never misses putting a smile on somebody's

Yeah, of course.

...face. And I had once an experience where a woman says, "You were born in Chelm, really?" I said, "Yes." She says, "May I touch you?" Because she was very familiar with the stories.


So she was very impressed. And my son, when he was in Hillel--uh, you know, Hillel uh, day school...


...uh, they were studying about literature and they came upon Sholem Aleichem and his stories about Chelm. And uh, needless to say he was very proud to tell the teacher that his mom was born in Chelm. And so she was telling him you know, how these stories are perceived and accepted. Supposedly they're funny stories. And he came home, he says, "You have to take me to the bookstore." Why? Because he wants to buy the book. He stood--he didn't go to sleep that night. He had to read the book right away.

Of course it's a mixed reaction, with all the jokes about it.

Yes, yes, yes.

Were you aware that there had been Jews there since the twelfth century?

Really, yes.

One of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe.

It was a beautiful community. I know that there was a, a, a large community in, in Chelm.

Fifty percent of the population.

Was, was....

Fifteen thousand.

Yeah, fifteen thousand. That's what I thought. About twelve, fifteen.

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