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

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The Murder

I don't recall a murder in my seventeen years in Apt, with two exceptions: a police officer who was murdered on patrol in the countryside and the violent death of Khamele Malosh, the housepainter, during a dispute with Duvid Shabeyrishns, the carpenter. There were two types of carpenters in Apt. The Polish carpenters did rough carpentry on buildings and the Jewish carpenters did the finishing work, including the doors, sashes, frames, and all the inside trim. Jewish carpenters also made furniture. The Polish carpenters said the Jewish ones were cowards because they were afraid to climb up high to do the roofs. Khamele lived next door to Duvid. They shared a roof. One day, while working on the roof, they got into an argument. Whether the carpenter pushed the painter or the painter slipped and fell, nobody knows. The painter died. Duvid claimed that Khamele fell off the roof. Others said he was pushed.

Ordinarily, if two Jews had a civil dispute, they did not go to a municipal court. They went to a bezdin, a Jewish court, which consisted of the rabbi and a few prominent citizens. In this case, the carpenter was taken to another town because trials of such a serious nature had to go to a higher court. Also, because of the violent nature of Khamele's death, the government demanded an autopsy, even though autopsies are forbidden in the Jewish tradition.

They found Duvid guilty and sentenced him to hard labor. In the first painting you can see Khamele falling from the roof. In the second painting, you can see Duvid, wearing chains, being escorted to the wagon that took him to jail. He served a long sentence. That was a black mark on the family for the rest of their lives. This happened in my time.