They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust

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maylakh

Maylekh inflating cow bladders


Maylekh's father would buy cow hides and cure them with salt in a huge cellar under the house where they lived. Whenever someone tried to compete with his business he would take them in as a partner. The hides came mainly from the butchers and occasionally from Sculz, the hitsl, who was both a dog catcher and animal breeder. When hides would arrive, they were taken down to the cellar, where Maylakh's brother and a helper would salt them. Then they would fold them in such a way that the tail was tucked in and the horns showed. They stacked the hides, one on top of the other, like bricks. When they had accumulated enough hides, they shipped them to a tannery. They hired porters to bring the hides up from the cellar at night because the hides were smelly and wet. They leaked brine and blood. After the hides were loaded, they would throw a few buckets of water on the sidewalk to wash the effluent down the gutters and into the river.

Maylakh's specialty was bladders and skinning small animals. Farmers used to bring hares, foxes, minks, and other animals. I saw Maylakh skin them. He began at the rectum, made a cut, and pulled the skin off. Then he stretched the skin on an A-frame to dry. Maylakh bought the bladders from the butchers. The bladders were wet. To preserve them until they were to be used, the bladders had to be dried out. Maylakh would insert a little quill into the bladder, blow the bladder up until it was inflated like a balloon, and tie the opening so the air would not escape. When a bladder had dried out, it was very thin and transparent, like parchment. He would flatten the bladders, bundle them together, and sell them to the Christian butchers, who used them for making headcheese.