It is impossible to record the memoirs of our family without mentioning this most important event, namely the great fire that occurred in the capital city of our family. This fire was a milestone in the stories of the family, for it served as a reference for the time that events took place. Often, indeed, when we heard people telling of various happenings related to our family, they would set the time as "this event happened before the Great Fire... that event happened after the Great Fire," etc.
Another reason that the fire needs to be mentioned in the history of the family is that it caused major changes in the lives of the family members. Knowing the reason for these changes will enable us to understand better the changes themselves.
During the summer of 5628  there was a second great fire. The fire that broke out while the Tzemach Tzedek was still living is called the "First Fire" while that of 5628 was the "Second Fire." In the Second Fire, all the houses and the courtyard burned down. Nevertheless, the elder chassidim always referred to the First Fire as "the Great Fire," because in that one very many manuscripts were burned, as we shall see later. Certainly, this event deserves an important place in our family's history.
When the saintly Mitteler Rebbe was still living, the arrangements were that he and his small children lived together. Because of his poor health, they lived in a large extensive mansion. He needed good fresh air, for he suffered from emphysema caused by ailing lungs and a weak heart. Attached to his house was a very large building that served as an assembly hall. [Because this hall was extremely large,] the Mitteler Rebbe's chassidim would say as a witty remark that "In the Rebbe's assembly hall one can begin reciting Hodu at one end of the hall, and before he gets to the opposite end, he is already up to Aleinu."
He would say Chassidus in this hall. Those who remembered it said that two thousand people could stand there at ease. It was also very high. There was a garden in the back of his house and in summertime he would sometimes go there to sit for several hours. They would bring out a chair and a table for him, and he would study there.
All his sons-in-law lived in different streets. After the Mitteler Rebbe passed away, his house burned down. They then built a house of ordinary size, in which Rebbetzin Sheina and her son Reb Baruch lived. The Tzemach Tzedek continued living in his original home. His sons Reb Baruch Shalom, Reb Yehudah Leib, and Reb Chayim Schneur Zalman all lived in different places in town.
During the year 5594  the Tzemach Tzedek purchased a parcel of land to build a house for himself.
A certain elder chassid from Radomysil (who was present at the time) told me the traditional story that the house was completed at the beginning of Adar 5594 but the Rebbe was then not yet ready to move in. My great-grandmother Rebbetzin Chayah Mussia was then pregnant with her son, my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash. She went to see the house, and while she was there her labor began. There were still no furnishings of any sort in the house and so they borrowed a bench and some cushions from the neighbor, Reb Avraham, who lived just across the street to the north.
There, in the new house, she gave birth to my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash. The Rebbe then dedicated the house and moved in, and the bris was held there. There are many stories about these events, and they will (with G-d's help) be recorded in the biographical sketch of the Rebbe Maharash. He lived there from that day until the house burned down in the year 5616. He gave the house he had previously lived in to his son Reb Yehudah Leib.
One day during the month of Elul 5616, some wagon drivers arrived transporting merchandise, and they lodged in one of the local boarding houses. There was no room at the inn for their wagons and horses, and so the innkeeper asked either Reb [Menachem] Nachum or his son Reb Schneur to allow them to park their wagons and horses in his yard, where he had a large horse stable. He consented to this as a favor to the innkeeper, and so the wagon drivers also lodged there.
That night a very strong wind blew. One of the wagon drivers lit his pipe and he was careless with the match. The hay that was stored there caught fire and enormous flames broke out. Within minutes the walls of the barn were on fire, and they were barely able to rescue the owner's family. Within another few minutes, the wind had carried the fire to all corners of the city. The houses caught fire and almost the whole city burned down, resulting in great loss.
It was at that period that the Tzemach Tzedek was denounced in the Zalkind affair and he was reluctant to keep his manuscripts in his possession, for fear that the authorities would search his house and discover the manuscripts. He divided them for storage in three places: i) at the home of the Chief Rabbi Reb Avraham; ii) at the home of Reb Todros the butcher; iii) at the home of Reb Avraham Michel the bookbinder.
As soon as the fire broke out, my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash ran to his father's house. His mother the Rebbetzin was then ill, and so he procured a carriage to transport her away from the city. Meanwhile, he had left my grandmother the Rebbetzin alone with the small children and two servants. Thus, they were unable to save anything from their house and all his seforim and manuscripts were consumed along with everything else in the house. They were left without even a shirt, for everything had perished.
The Tzemach Tzedek ran to Reb Michel the bookbinder's home to see what had happened to his manuscripts, while the Maharash ran to the butcher's home. It did not occur to either of them to run to the Rav's home. On his way rushing back from the home of Reb Todros, the Maharash noticed that the Rav's house was on fire, and he was busy rescuing a large box. The idea that the box might contain anything other than the manuscripts did not enter his mind as he went over to assist him. But when he inquired whether all the manuscripts were accounted for, Reb Avraham cried out loud, "Oy vey! I completely forgot about the manuscripts."
Hearing this, the Maharash became agitated and upset, and came close to the fire, which had already engulfed the roof and the walls of the house. One of the young "sitters" who was present took no heed of the danger and sprang into the smoke-filled house. He searched until he located the box. By this time, the burning beams of the structure were beginning to collapse and it was only with great difficulty that the young scholar managed to save himself by jumping out of a second story window on the northern side of the house. All the windows on the southern side were already actively burning. Thus, the box perished in the fire, right next to the door.
When the Tzemach Tzedek heard the news, he shed many tears over it. He declared that his efforts and toil of eight years of his youth were now gone. He was quite incensed at the Chief Rabbi Reb Avraham for his negligence. He also dismissed his attendant Reb Chayim Dov because he had not come to the rescue when the fire first started.
- (Back to text) After the Tzemach Tzedek had passed away [in 5626].
- (Back to text) I.e., those who were still little boys and girls.
- (Back to text) [Lit., "Give praise..."; the opening passage of the main Shacharis service; Siddur, p. 27, 148.]
- (Back to text) I.e., the Tzemach Tzedek and the husbands of his other daughters.
- (Back to text) As mentioned earlier [in Ch. 5].
- (Back to text) These were already married at that time.
- (Back to text) Or possibly the end of 5593. [See supra, p. 1 referring to a fire in the year 5592: "The house of the Tzemach Tzedek was not touched by the fire of the year 5592. Nevertheless, after that fire he decided to purchase a plot of land on which to build a large house and beis hamedrash."]
- (Back to text) It was the place where the large study hall now stands, where the students of Tomchei Temimim study.
- (Back to text) The Chief Rabbi of the city.
- (Back to text) [See supra, pp. 1-2.]
- (Back to text) A son of the Mitteler Rebbe.
- (Back to text) A son-in-law of the Tzemach Tzedek.
- (Back to text) [See Toras Shalom, pp. 81-82.]
- (Back to text) [They were sure that the Rav would rescue the manuscripts before anything else].
- (Back to text) The box he was rescuing contained jars of honey!
- (Back to text) [In Toras Shalom, ibid., it states that he was Reb Tzvi "the Red-Haired," one of the Tzemach Tzedek's attendants.]
- (Back to text) Those windows faced the street in front of the Rebbe's house.
- (Back to text) More details of this will be related later [these details do not appear in the available portion of this manuscript].
- (Back to text) A highly-respected chassid.