The House Vanished with
All Its Inhabitants
TOLD BY LEON ALTMAN TO NATHAN MARK
My father, Yosef Ephraim, son of Ḥayyim Altman, was drafted into the Eighth Cavalry Regiment in the town of Roman. Soon after, in 1877, the war broke out—the Romanian War of Independence. My father and his entire unit were dispatched to the Dobruja front.
The captain who commanded the unit was a very fair man and took my father under his wing. The sergeant major was a Jew from Romania named Bercu. My father, who was a yeshivah* student in his youth, did not want to eat at the company mess. The captain let him prepare his own food.
The unit was bivouacked on a wide and barren plain, without a single house or living soul.
Passover approached. On the eve of the festival, my father reported to the captain and asked for an eight-day furlough so he could celebrate the holiday properly. The captain agreed but warned him that the nearest settlement was thirty miles away. "How will you manage that?" he asked. My father replied that his faith was firm, and he was certain that God would help him reach the town safely.
Soon after that, he left the camp and headed for the road that led to the town. He spied a small, dilapidated house in the distance. He quickened his pace. When he reached it, he saw that a dyed hunk of wool** was hanging above the lintel and a mezuzah§ was nailed to the doorpost. My father entered the house and was received cordially by the couple who lived there. Even though the house gave an impression of poverty, they persuaded him to spend the entire festival with them, because the road to
*Jewish school of higher learning.
**In some communities it was the custom to hang a piece of wool above the mezuzah that women
kissed as they entered the house.
§A small case contatining passages from the Torah.