Tales of a Traveling Salesman
Several months ago Russ Maurer contacted me, inquiring whether I would be interested in translating a Yiddish monograph of humorous stories and poems that is roughly 80 pages and was printed in Tarnow, Poland, in 1925. The author, Salomon Maurer (1873-1942), had been a second cousin of Russ’ grandfather. According to Russ, “Salomon had the reputation within the family as a funny guy.” However, until very recently, Russ had not been aware that Salomon had actually published some of his original stories. As it turned out, Salomon had, in fact, published his stories in Yiddish in the book, “Zay nisht keyn voyler yung” (“Don’t Be a Good Young Man”), which Russ was now asking me to render into English. In Russ’ words, “Salomon perished in the Holocaust, so translating this work is a way to bring him to life.”
The manner in which Russ had learned of his relative’s book is in itself a compelling and inspiring – albeit, round about story. Given his genealogical proclivities and roots in the Tarnow region, Russ belongs to a Facebook group of people interested in Jewish Tarnow. Following up on a group member’s suggestion, Russ began to read a book entitled, “A Typical, Extraordinary Jew: from Tarnow to Jerusalem” (Hamilton, 2011) by Calvin Goldscheider and Jeffrey M. Green. The book is based on the recollections of Shmuel Braw (1906-1992), a Holocaust survivor who hailed from Tarnow and had a keen memory for the various personalities in his pre-World War II Galician Jewish community. Among the professions he recalled was that of the “frachters of Tarnow, messengers, men who took letters and packages from Tarnow to Krakow, sometimes money to be deposited in a bank or paid to a creditor” (Goldscheider and Green, p. 33). According to Shmuel, one of these “frachters,” a said Zalman Maurer, wrote a book, “Sei Nisht Zee Gut Yingle (Don’t be too good, lad)” (p. 33). Granted, Shmuel’s recollection of the book’s title was slightly “off.” But considering that he had most likely not seen a copy of this volume for several decades, he was actually not so far off the mark.
When Russ read this reference to Zalman Maurer, he found the book’s correct title in WorldCat, an international library database. This led him to the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. Catherine Madsen, the Yiddish Book Center’s bibliographer, located a citation for the book in the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s online catalogue. YIVO’s catalogue characterized the work as that of Yiddish wit and humor, a point of special interest to Russ, since this sounded entirely consistent with the family lore surrounding Salomon. In addition, according to genealogical notes made by Russ’ own father, 25 years earlier, Salomon was “an itinerant salesman who went into the countryside to sell his wares and returned on weekends to Tarnow.” Again, this additional piece of information sounded very much consistent with the description made by Shmuel Braw regarding Zalman Maurer, one of the “frachters” from Tarnow.
An image of the book’s title page may be viewed below:
The book’s complete title and publication information translates as:
Don’t Be a Good Young Man! An Entirely True Tale, Peppered with Humor. As Well As a Poem, an Illustration-of-Life of a Traveler. Separate Addenda of All the Farmers’ Markets in Galicia.
The Storyteller Who Is Renowned Everywhere: Zalmen Moyrer [Salomon Maurer], Tarnow.
Published by O. M. Wolf, Tarnow, 1925
YIVO possesses the only copy of Salomon’s book that has thus far come to light. Knowing the book was at YIVO, Russ contacted his brother, Ed, who lives in the New York metropolitan area, and asked him to go to YIVO and scan the volume. Once that task was complete, I would then be able to begin the actual translation work on the Yiddish text, about which I was now more than a little bit curious and quite eager to read.
When Ed Maurer requested the book from the YIVO librarian, he was handed two copies. As it turns out, Salomon had also authored another book in 1911 with the same title, but slightly different subtitle and different publication information. The image of the 1911 book’s cover page, may likewise be viewed here, as can the translated title, subtitle, and publication information:
Don’t Be a Good Young Man! An Entirely True Tale, Peppered with Humor. As Well As a Poem, an Illustration-of-Life of a Traveling Salesman. Separate Addenda of All the Farmers’ Markets in Galicia and Bukovina.
The Storyteller Who Is Renowned Everywhere:
Zalmen Moyrer [Salomon Maurer], Tarnow.
Series I. Riglitz [Ryglice]
Price 60 Heller
Through the transmission of 70 Heller in postage stamps, one may receive this book delivered free of postage
Property and publication of the publishers:
Salomon Maurer, Tarnow, Zdrojowagasse Nr. 11.
Published by S. L. Deutscher, Podgorze
The two volumes – one (the 1925 publication) being a collection of stories and the other (the 1911 publication), a single storyline – were clearly different in terms of their content. Nonetheless, both were amusing, witty, charming, captivating – and at times, even racy and bawdy – in their own right. In addition, both incorporated numerous elements of Jewish religious and ritual practices and terminology stemming from Jewish textual sources such as the Torah, Psalms, the Talmud, and various other rabbinic texts. On my part, this required researching expressions and terms in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Aramaic – not to mention in a few Slavic languages, German, and in French – all thrown in for good measure. Suffice it to say that my years of Jewish day school education proved exceptionally invaluable in translating Salomon Maurer’s texts.
Yet at the same time, these works were also a satire on and a critique of society – Jewish small-town society, in particular, as well as of the so-called high society life of the big city. Furthermore, they demonstrate the changing ways of the world, both in the pre-World War I era and in the interwar period in Central-Eastern Europe, the region in which these stories are set. Hence, we encounter, for example, in the 1925 volume, a few pages that go into painstaking detail about the latest styles and modes of women’s fashion – many of them imported from France – especially, as suited a specific bride-to-be on and shortly after her wedding day. In this instance, the big-city is Tarnow, the nearest urban center, to which the said bride-to-be and her mother plan to make a four-week-long shopping spree.
In a similar vein, we encounter in the 1911 text, the vast distinction between provincial Galician life and sophisticated Austrian life as it played out within the first few years of the former century. This may be seen through the eyes of the naïve schlemiel protagonist, Shmuel of Ryglice, Poland (a town situated near Tarnow), as he travels to the urban metropolis of Vienna, Austria. There, Shmuel is accompanied by somebody named Gabriel in the following scene, where his insularity and parochialism are perhaps most evident:
9 o’clock in the morning Gabriel and Shmuel begin to stride across the streets of Vienna.
On the streets there is a commotion, a tumult, a fuss, a noise, a racket, a bang, a ruckus; the fiacre [drivers] with their whips, automobiles sound/ring and crash, people run, rush, grab, clamor, make a commotion, a racket; at the same time, commuter merchants – I beg your pardon – without any time to blow their nose. Every minute, our Shmuel receives a blow to the ribs from the front and from behind, such that his eyes betray him. Shmuel asks Gabriel: “Why are they running about so, why don’t they have any time; perhaps they are running to Tashlich?” In the middle of everything an automobile comes running with a beeping, and dogs run after it. So Shmuel asks: “Good-hearted Gabriel, may you be well and strong; what type of animal is this and who are these gentlemen with glasses on their faces, like my `Grandma Tsaytel,’ may peace be upon her?” Answers him Gabriel: “Those are au-to-mo-biles!” “I understand, hee, hee,” cackles Shmuel – “those are, of course, German dog beaters, and woe, how they bark!” (Salomon Maurer, 1911 text, p. 11).
What a contrast this description bears when compared to the humble and lowly, yet homey Ryglice, seen in the following excerpt. Indeed, the community must have been familiar to Salomon Maurer, a native of Tarnow, whose own family hailed from a village seven miles east of Ryglice named Jodlowa. As Russ informed me, this is where all the Maurers of one or two generations earlier had originated.
Not far from Tarnow is a small town and it is called Riglitz [Ryglice]. It is a town, just like all other small towns, not to complain, with all the accoutrements: with a rabbi who has a patent and a concession on begging, with a rabbi’s wife, a Tkhine-reciter, Havdoles braider, a Good Eye prodder, [candle] wick placer, grave measurer, [and] foresayer – everything [rolled] into one. There was also no shortage of [female] telegraphists, a bathhouse attendant, a synagogue clapper, a [synagogue] beadle who speaks through the nose, a town crier, jugs for Matzoh water, a Chalitzah shoe, a town madman, a social welfare organization, a police officer with a wooden sword … the water carrier, bathhouse heater, Sabbath Gentile, [and] chimney sweeper. A blessed town with waiters, plate lickers, matchmakers, [foot] corn cutters, cooks, teachers of young pupils, rabbis’ assistants, teachers’ assistants, town abortionists, the community leader – everything and anything [one might need], the entire kit and caboodle is here: a large, broad, muddy, crude marketplace, lined with noodle pins, Cholent pots, slop pails, hens, pigs, ducks, fertilizer, troughs, mounds of garbage, shovels, spools, rolling pins, [and] fire extinguishers. And shops you have of all types, [all] together in one: with Turkish pepper, spreads, kosher thread, tallow candles, buckwheat groats, horseshoes, storybooks, wicks, soap, prayer books; bread and scrap metal, sugar and Tzitzit, kosher oil and cans, rock oil and licorice. In a word, a blessed town of His “beloved name” [i.e., most likely a reference to God].
Only, slow down with that wagon shaft! You are not yet done! The small town, as little as it may be, has within it a great power, an amazing strength, as though drawn unto itself from a magnetic force, such that one stops for at least a minute in the middle of the marketplace to “marvel at the beauty of the buildings”: little chimneys, garrets, verandas; and with all the good things, yet. And try to tear yourself away. It is to no avail; the Riglitz mud has such a magnetic force, that a galosh or slipper must die a violent death in the mud… (Salomon Maurer, 1911 text, pp. 3-4).
There is much more that could be related here about the various accounts – fictional works that were presumably steeped in reality – conveyed by Salomon Maurer in his tongue-in-cheek manner in his 1911 and 1925 publications. But in the interest of space, I will conclude here. I hope that these excerpts have provided a tempting forshpayz (literally, an “appetizer”) for the broader literary talents and repertoire of our author.
I also hope that Russ – as he shared with me a few weeks ago – will soon have the opportunity to present some of his late relative’s writings in an adapted public reading before a high school audience, so that Salomon Maurer’s genius can ultimately have its day in the limelight and be shared with yet another, younger generation of literary recipients. Somehow, this seems to be a very befitting way of memorializing our author – one that I trust would bring him much inner satisfaction and nakhes (personal joy or pride).
Salomon Maurer and three of his sisters: Yetta Maurer Kupferman (?) (kneeling in front); Regina Maurer Trieger (to Salomon’s rear); and Marumcha (Mary) Maurer Stechler (opposite of Salomon and to Yetta’s rear), surrounding the headstone of their late father, Rabbi Jacob Maurer (1844-1917) and Jacob’s father-in-law, Shlomo Zalman Feldman (died 1856), Tarnow, Poland, c. 1931 (Thanks to Russ Maurer for providing this photograph.)