We do not know when Shaul Rogowoj began writing about his family and their life in Russia and Poland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; we only know that he never completed his work. After his death in 1961, his son William found a hand-written document in Yiddish, which he could not read. Almost ten years later he and his sister decided to have it translated into English. Only now is this memoir being published. It is an unearthed gem in the tradition of wonderful Yiddish storytelling.
When the Russian-born Rogowoj family move from the Pale of Settlement to Chelm, they face the long-standing prejudice of the Chelmites against better-educated Russians and their life is a constant battle. Shaul recounts the story of how his father, Berel, skilfully negotiates his way through the many trials the family faces in a style worthy of Sholom Aleichem, with instantly recognisable characters and much skull-duggery. Faced with the town’s open aggression towards his family, as well as its snobbishness towards simple workers, Berel founds the Butcher’s Synagogue, with a well-known Chassid, Avram Wolfson, as the rabbi.
When Berel dies at a young age, his nine-year-old son Shaul and his brother take over the business in order to support the large family. The child is as clever, cunning, hard-working and as just and true as his father could have wished him to be. Rabbi Wolfson becomes his mentor and his wisdom and kindness guide the young Shaul through many hardships. When Shaul helps organise the first strike for workers’ rights in Chelm, Rabbi Wolfson advises him to leave for Warsaw, where he makes his way in life and work, and where the memoir ends.
We know that he migrated to Australia in 1926 with his wife and two children. The captain of the ship declared his name unpronounceable and renamed him Stanley Rogers. He went on to found Stanley Rogers and Son, cutlers and silversmiths, which manufactured Australia’s most recognised brand of cutlery. His memoir reveals the intelligence and strength of character that made him such a successful and influential member of the Melbourne Jewish community.