The last Yiddish writer


For years after the war and after the camps, Chava Rosenfarb woke up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to write. She’d open her eyes in the darkness and slip out of bed without waking her husband, make herself a cup of coffee, and sit down in her study, still wearing her nightgown. The study was even smaller than her kitchen—barely large enough for the table she had bought from a doctor’s office for ten dollars. On it she kept her notebooks. Sipping coffee, she’d start with the one on top, and by the light of a table lamp, beneath a portrait of the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz, she’d review yesterday’s stories. Re-reading drew her back like a current, not into her pages but into the world to which she wanted to return. When she felt that world thickening around her, she’d skip ahead to where she’d left off the night before, pick up a pencil, and begin to write, slipping from her apartment in Montreal back to the last days of the Lodz ghetto. First to greet her there was always her favorite creation, Samuel Zuckerman. Born of Chava’s memories of the rich men of Lodz, Samuel was a “salon Zionist” and heir to a fortune, a Polish patriot who dreamed of Israel for other, poorer people; he couldn’t bear to think of leaving of Lodz, the Manchester of Poland. His passion was writing—a history of the Jews of Lodz, 250,000 of them, living in a city then known as the Manchester of Poland for its forest of smokestacks. But Samuel never got to tell the story.

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