Skin and Bones
"Yes, a young man lived in this shtetl, who it is passed on, made his way to Ireland. He was not a good man. He was a traitor to his fellow Jews. He caused the deaths of many Jews here because of his obstinacies and his trade.
"The man who lived here was a tailor who specialized in fur - a furrier. He made only for the rich - there was no Jew in the shtetl who could afford fur coat and hat, fur mittens, fur-lined boots. We were lucky to have mittens from rags, or boots that did not let in water. With his sewing machines, he would repair boots so they did not leak, sew leather uppers to a sole of rubber from old tires. This he would do for his people - but only for many shekels or in trade for bread and potatoes. He was shrewd - he would bargain with trappers and traders for skins of all animals, and he had skins of mink, sable, fox, deer, which he kept hidden in his house on Chlemba Street.
"His work was good, and he had a reputation for that. But he was known also to ask the highest prices for his work. The wealthy from cities would come to see him, to buy the skins and order coats, or fur-lined boots or fur hats. Some would bring skins with them, and he would keep the trimmings and piece them together to make other garments which he sold. He was well paid for these garments, but he did not know the meaning of tzedakah.
"Do you know tzedakah? It means righteousness, justice and fairness, all in one word. In the shtetl, there were many, many poor; to share with them is an act of justice and righteousness. Before each Shabbat, shtetl women would make a route to collect meat, bread or potatoes, anything to prepare and deliver to the poor. Those with nothing to give gave something. It is not charity; it is Judaism. But not the furrier, the warmest person here, who slept under a mink blanket. He gave bupkis."
Hershl smiled, "You know what is bupkis?"
"Goat shit. Worthless. This was the tzedakah of the furrier. The lowest kind of tzedakah is to give begrudgingly. Even this he would not do."
"How and when did he come to leave the village?" asked Greco.
"He left in 1941 with death in his pocket. There is not a Jew left here that would welcome him. Less than fifty of six thousand survived the war. Most of the fifty are dead now; there are twelve Jews left here, barely a minyan. I remember him, and perhaps someone else would but he is not welcome to come here. When word arrived that he was alive in Ireland, people spat on the ground. This furrier was not a good man to his shtetl."
While he listened, Greco cared nothing for the fact that Shaina Jaantje was waiting in Shannon International Airport to scout modeling locations with him; that she no doubt had called Biscotti and Seiko-san to blast him for being a no-show; that his career at Buyers & Sellers was in jeopardy, if he hadn't been fired already.
He did care that Helene thought he was in Ireland - for this he felt guilty and fearful that he could not be reached if she needed him. By an eerie twist of circumstance, he was transported to a place and time that sat in the horror of modern history. Luboml was a village, not unique in any way, but a quintessential microcosm of The Final Solution.
Greco said to Hershl Chosid, "I am greatly in your debt if you could tell me more about this furrier and his dismissal from the village. I am not related to him, but it is possible that his family - the wife he married in Ireland - later emigrated to the U.S. and had children there. These children know nothing of their father or grandfather."
"They are better for not knowing."
"Perhaps. Even so, I need to know." The incomplete FPQ was in Greco's attaché case, heavy as a cannon ball.
Greco and Hershl were talking in the village square on Rynek Street, near the Hotel Wiktorja. Hershl said, "It is a short walk to Chlemba Street. We will pass his house -