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The New Neighbors

by Mietek Weintraub

At last somebody bought the empty lot next door. Now I'd have neighbors on both sides of my house. The construction progressed rapidly. The single family home was much too large for our neighborhood with its two levels and an impressive mansard-like roof. People were coming from all around to admire the fast rising dwelling, which was supposed to be inhabited by an elderly couple whose unmarried son lived by himself in another oversized house down the street.

One beautiful late spring day the new proprietress came to watch the progress on her sprouting property. She had a little boy with her, a grandson, no doubt, to whom she spoke in an accented Polish, my native language. She was obviously born in the USA or came here as a little girl so that her Polish lost its native flair. She warned the little boy not to go near the construction workers.

"I'm thirsty," he said in English.

I came out of my house to offer her a cold drink for the boy. She consented and I went inside to get it. With the soda for the boy, I also brought out a chair for her. She thanked me for both and sat down to watch the progress of the construction.

The first encounter boded an auspicious relation with my new neighbors which, for the last six years, I've also shared with my neighbors on the other side. This feeling was reinforced a few months later when the new house was near completion and the old woman's son from down the block beamed at me:

"Isn't this a great house?! Wait 'til it's all finished inside and my parents will have you over."

But it's been six years now and my new neighbors never did have me over. Why not? What happened? Did I do something that spoiled such a cordial introduction?

Once I mentioned my bafflement to a visiting friend who wondered if I had ever been inside the impressive house. When I said no, he suggested that the new neighbors might have resented the fact that I, upon meeting them, didn't tell them that I was a Jew.

"Why was I supposed to tell them that at a brief first meeting? How?! Like maybe: How do you do? I am a Jew? Like that?"

"Well, you know they're funny that way. If you talk to them in Polish they assume that you are a Pole. And if you don't tell them you are a Jew, they may feel that you're trying to put one over on them."

"But the subject never came up. Why would they even assume that I am? They never speak with me."

"Well, I did mention it to your other Polish friends who live in this neighborhood. I even had to convince them, they were so surprised and disbelieving. Well, the word might have gotten around to your new neighbors as well."

There were no more talks with them. Except one. It happened a few months after they had moved in, on a Sunday morning. As I was picking up my Sunday paper lying in the long driveway, my new neighbors were just pulling out of theirs. They seemed to be smiling in my direction as they waved and spoke to me. I raised my cupped hand to my ear and, returning their smiles, came nearer their car. From closer up their expressions seemed less sincere.

"Doesn't look like you're goin' to church today, are you?" the husband said and, seeing me somewhat taken aback, pulled away without waiting for my answer.

The old nightmare of our eviction from Lodz to Auschwitz is now visiting me again, 60 years later. Will I, the sole survivor of a large family, ever find favor in my new neighbors' eyes? Enough to be accepted without going to church on Sundays?


Mietek Weintraub is a linguist, interpreter, and retired teacher and professor who spent his adolescence in Auschwitz and now lives north of Chicago in Glenview, IL.

~~~~~~~

from the July 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

 

 

 

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