NEW YORK, October 24, 2013 — We were waiting for the jitney to take us to the train station after a day and a night of gambling in Atlantic City. I had not done too well with the horses at Caesars, but there is nothing new about this. There were a few of us standing around. The lady with the white hair stepped up and said, “I know who you are and perhaps you can explain.”
I asked her how she knew me and she said that there are pictures of me on my books, and she had read my books, some of them.
“The one I liked best,” she said, “you know, something about Moriah. How you and your family managed to escape and survive the Nazis.”
She was 88 – told me this proudly and frankly – and she worked as a librarian in some small town in New Jersey. She liked to play the slots, but mostly she came to Atlantic City for the frivolity, the bright lights and occasional good company.
She liked being around young people and laughter.
People always say they have read your books, but that is seldom true. But she was legit, this lady, a tiny woman, elderly yes, but lively with young eyes. She even quoted from that book.
“But you are mistaken,” she said.
Okay. Everybody is a critic.
“No,” she said. “I liked your book very much.”
“So how am I mistaken?”
“You say you survived.”
“My dear – nobody survived.”
I asked her to tell me something about herself. She laughed. “How much time do you have?”
As it was, the jitney was scheduled to pull up in five minutes. So that was about all the time we had. Five minutes.
She was born and raised in Poland, in a town that I forget. Lodz, perhaps. She worked as a nurse. “I had beautiful blonde hair,” she said, “and I looked like them, so they kept me. The others, the Jewish ones, they let go, the nurses and the doctors. So I did not tell them I was Jewish and I saw.”
She spoke matter-of-factly, without emotion.
“What did you see?”
“The nurses that came over from Germany to run the hospital, they went row after row looking for newborn Jewish babies.”
“And they took these babies by the heels and slammed their heads against the walls. The nurses did this.”
The jitney was just beginning to make its turn from Pacific Avenue, so it was on time.
“What happened to you?”
“I spoke up, and I paid.” She showed me the death camp tattoo, but still unemotional.
“One day,” she said, “I will tell you how I came to America. This is a wonderful country. Why do they hate us so much?”
“Maybe,” I said, “because we are a wonderful country.”
“Why do people hate Israel so much? You are a writer. You should know.”
“The best of us only ask questions. We leave the answers to people who know nothing.”
The jitney arrived but had to wait for some stragglers from Trump Plaza.
“We have given so much to the world and still they hate us. I have just read another article, in The New York Times, I think, where these people want another solution. I know about solutions. Hitler – may his name be erased – had his own solution. Today the solution is to do away with Israel and replace it with an Arab country, replace it with people who hate us and even kill each other by the thousands. These people should rule Israel, the way the Nazis ruled. Intellectuals are demanding this. Journalists are saying this. Can you imagine and do you have an answer?”
“Yes I can imagine but I do not have an answer.”
I told her that she should not read The New York Times if she wants to stay healthy.
“This is like it was back then, when I was young, and then they started with boycotts, then beatings, and then they came for my father and mother.”
“I know how it was.”
“But it is also how it is. It is happening again. The signs are everywhere. No. We did not survive.”
We boarded the jitney and she disappeared into the crowd.
New from Jack Engelhard, the 25th anniversary edition of the international bestselling novel, Indecent Proposal
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