ZALMAN

ZALMAN

Cheers!
Zalman? Well, probably the very same.
I did not know him personally. But I remember the name.
I remember it because my grandmother told me something about it.
The guy was rich.
He had several tenement houses here in the town before the war.
And what a miser he was! He was collecting the rent himself. To hire and pay an administrator was too much for him. If someone was behind with the rent for more than two months, he sent a bailiff or something. Several times the people were evicted if they did not want to move out by themselves.
No. He did not make a difference there. Jew, not Jew. Pole not Pole. No payment, leave the premises. Period.
When the Germans came, some tenants became even happy. That they would at last became free for Zalman and nobody would bother them about the rent anymore.
But that bastard hired Limpy. No. Not the last name. They called him so because he limped a little on one leg.
That Limpy was even worse. The flats after those Jews, who moved to the ghetto, he looted for everything. But he charged the rent as for the furnished one.
At first, Zalman could stay by paying off the police chief.
He was so rich that he succeeded with this for some time.
The Germans, you know, without our help had difficulties distinguishing who was a Jew and who was not. Especially, those who lived in the town. Without looking into the pants, they had to rely on us.
When they began to empty the ghetto for people and send Jews away, Zalman disappeared.
But this Limpy still came to collect the rent.
When people began to protest, he showed a legal act of ownership!
Zalman ceded to him everything!
If I want one more? I would not refuse! Thanks!
What I was talking about? Oh! Yes! All this I know from my grandmother.
Zalman did not appear until 1946. Limpy hid him and his family. But only for a short time.
Then he threatened that if they did not go away, he would denounce them.
So they left. They were hiding in the forest.
How do I know it? By an accident.
I found once a newspaper from 1946 and there was an article about it.
Of course without names. But my grandmother could remember.
The new regime's security forces searched the forest nearby, they found a moonshine distillery plant next to the forester's lodge. When they searched it a little closer, they found a kind of shelter or a dugout. And there were some Jews! Scrawny and exhausted. They were without food or drink for the last 4 days.
Because the forester who kept them there escaped when the security forces started the action in the forests.
Why did he keep them hidden so long time after the war?
Maybe because they had still some money to pay for hiding and food?
Grandmother said that in our area the warfare moved very quickly away.
One day there were Germans, the other day came Russians, and on the third day, they went onward. So those Jews in the dugout did not notice anything.
Yes! It was Zalman with his family. They returned to the town to get their property back.
But Limpy showed them the door. He had the papers!
And he told Zalman that that handwritten agreement that it was just a loan, he could put in his ..., you know.
Zalman went to the authorities with a complaint, but with his reputation, they told him to go to hell.
Not just him. Several other Jews had survived. But they have been told to go away because they were not wanted here. Some guys even threatened that if these Jews will start to assert their rights, it could end very badly for them.
Grandmother said that the atmosphere in the town became very unpleasant when the Jews returned.
None of them stayed here. OK. Some people pitied them. But no one pitied Zalman.
Limpy? He had a quarrel with the head of the local security police.
No. It was not about real estate. The quarrel was about a woman. They accused Limpy of collaborating with the regime's enemies. He got 15 years jail sentence and forfeiture of property. People were happy because nobody charged the rent for more than a year. Until the buildings were taken under state management.
No. None of these Jews or their relatives ever came back here.
Does anyone remember them? Probably not!
If it was not for my grandmother, I would not know anything either.
What? Do you have to leave now?
No problem. I will stay and finish your drinks.

Alex Wieseltier
April 2020