I Shall Live

I Shall Live by Henry Orenstein Read Free Book Online

Book: I Shall Live by Henry Orenstein Read Free Book Online
Authors: Henry Orenstein
right: Bienkiewicz was ludicrously clumsy. Every time I feinted with my left he covered with both hands, and I punched him from the right at will. For the first few minutes all the Polish kids were on his side, egging him on with cries of “Hit the Jew in the gut,” “Punch him all the way to Jerusalem,” but Bienkiewicz was such a poor fighter that no amount of encouragement could help him. He could do nothing but cover himself, while I must have hit him forty or fifty times, receiving back from him just a few glancing blows.
    I was exhilarated. I punched him so many times my knuckles were hurting; I showed him no mercy. At last I was having my moment of revenge for all the weeks of humiliation, and it was sweet. Even the Polish kids were beginning to enjoy the show, which had become almost comical. When Bienkiewicz’s nose started to bleed badly, I decided he’d had enough. Chaim shook my hand, and even a few of the Poles came over and congratulated me. I was so happy I didn’t even notice when our gym teacher came in. The crowd immediately dispersed, and to his credit, Bienkiewicz, when the teacher asked about his bloody nose, made some excuse and didn’t complain about me. But he never spoke to me or even looked me in the eyes again during the remaining two and a half years we spent together in the same class.
    One day while I was standing outside our shop with a couple of my friends, a droshka drove up and stopped in front of it. A man in his early forties wearing a striped suit and shiny leather shoes stepped down and paid the driver. He was clearly a stranger in town, and asked me in broken Polish, “Is this the Orenstein building?” I told him it was, and he asked, “Is Mr. Orenstein here?” By chance Father was in the shop, and I told the man to wait and I would get him. When Father came out, he took one look at the man and shouted, “Moshe!”
    It was indeed my uncle Morris from America. He and Father had not seen each other for twenty-four years. In 1912 Morris, then sixteen, had committed an unpardonable sin. He was observed by several Jews holding hands with a
shiksa
in a little park behind the church in Łęczna, where his family lived. On Saturday the rabbi reported the shameful event to his congregation, and Jankel, Morris’s father, was so humiliated that he slapped the youthful offender in front of everyone.
    That night Morris took whatever money he could find in thehouse and ran away from home. He arrived in Hrubieszów and told my parents he wanted to go to America. Father hesitated to help him for fear of antagonizing Jankel, but Mother was on Morris’s side. To Morris this was a momentous event in his life, and when he was a very old man the details were still as vivid as ever: “Your mother, Golda, was so beautiful. She had the face of an angel. She told me, ‘Moshe, this country is not for you; you belong in America. Don’t be afraid. You have your two hands to work with; you won’t get lost in America.’” Mother helped him get the papers he needed to emigrate, and Morris was on his way to start a new life in the New World.
    He never saw his father again; Jankel died a few years after World War I. Morris wrote letters home for a couple of years, but after the outbreak of the war the family heard no more from him until his return in 1936. He had married Minnie, a girl from Poland whom he met in New York, and had two sons, Seymour and Danny, and a daughter, Annette. When he arrived back in Poland he first went to visit his mother and the rest of his family in Lublin, where they had moved after Jankel’s death. Always a practical joker, Morris put on a pair of sunglasses and pretended to be “Morris’s friend” from America. No one recognized him until he told them who he was; Father was the only one Morris couldn’t fool. His visit caused great excitement among us. I remember sitting on his

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