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
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
"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 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
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
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
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
from the July 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine