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The Human Touch

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I had received a letter from St. Paul folks who bear the name I do. Did I, they asked, know anything of the whereabouts of a newspaperman of that town of whom nothing had been heard for years? His name was Salpeter. Was I not, by chance, the very person for whom they were seeking?

Never having been in St. Paul, never having met a newspaperman by the name of Salpeter who hails from that town, it is unfortunately beyond my power to set at rest the minds of harassed people. But I have been asking among the people I know for the person answering the description of the newspaperman who left St. Paul, and the moment I receive a clue as to his whereabouts, possibly through one of the readers of this column—I hope there are a few readers—I shall communicate the clue to St. Paul. Readers in the South, to which part of the country the sought-for Salpeter travelled upon leaving Minnesota, are particularly requested to send along any information they may have.

I happened to mention the nature of this appeal to a dinner companion the other night, a grey and grizzled man who has lived an incredibly varied and chequered life. He has been everywhere, or almost everywhere. He is a linguist and translator, perhaps a rebel, but not a renegade. He is one of those people who has lived so strange a life that ten minutes after he has begun telling you some casual anecdotes, you wonder why in thunder he hasn’t written his autobiography—and had it published, too. And when he has told you these amazing anecdotes, a mutual companion will tell you: “Wait, you haven’t heard anything yet!” Which, of course primes you for a second meeting.

It was in 1910. He had been working in the International Institute of Agriculture, as editor and translator. There were at that time, he tells me, three Jews in the Cabinet of the Italian Government. So the presence of Guido Jung in the cabinet of Mussolini should surprise no one. It was at that time. I believe, that a Jew was Mayor of Rome. One of the Jewish Cabinet Ministers was Luigi Luzzatti, Minister of the Interior. One evening, Luzzatti called up the source of this story and asked him to come over to his dwelling, which was on the fifth floor of an apartment house, and no flunkey at the door to answer the bell either.

The Minister explained the problem which he desired solved. He had received a letter in a language which was unknown to him and to the official translators at the office of the Ministry. It wasn’t Arabic, or any other Asiatic language, it wasn’t Russian, it wasn’t any form of Latin or Greek. My informant looked at it and found that it was in Yiddish script, sufficiently different from Hebrew to have set an official translator off the track.

It came from a small Russian village. It was addressed to “My dear cousin Luzzatti.” It informed the “dear cousin” that the writer’s name was also Luzzatti and maybe they were relatives—and remote relatives they might have been, perhaps a little less remote than the Berlin Hitler to the Jewish Hitlers of Brooklyn. And the presumptive, if not presumptuous, cousin from the Russian village told the Italian Minister of the Interior that he was running a kerosene store, and that his daughter was soon to marry a young man who had a wood store—an unusual combination of stores. And would not “dear cousin Luzzatti” be good enough to send along his genealogy so that the Russian Jew Luzzatti could discover at what point they were related.

“And what,” I asked, “did the Italian Minister of the Interior do about it?”

“Nothing,” replied my informant. “He forgot about it.” Which goes to show—if this report is true—that either Luzzatti lacked a sense of humor, or else that he was very, very busy.


I discovered the other evening that not all the Jews who failed to move to the Bronx migrated to Brooklyn. I know that there are quite a number of Jews in each borough. I discovered, in other words, that there are even more Jews on the East Side today than I recall when I lived there. For some reason or other I had ben led to believe that most of the Jews on the East Side moved north to the Bronx or south to Brooklyn, about the same time that we took the northward trek, on “L” and moving van, across the Harlem River, shortly after the streets were cleared of the snows of the blizzard of 1888.

I made my re-discovery of the East Side in the rumble seat of a roadster. A friend took me driving the other evening, up and down and across New York. We covered the water front, so to speak, without ###ing about it, along New York’s South Street, after having “done” the Hudson River front. And from South Street, we drove into what seemed like an extremely abject and vicious quarter of the city. And a few more blocks later, I sensed vaguely that I was on familiar ground. I was at Rivington and Goercke and we were travelling westward. I looked at the lights, the signs, the pushcarts, the motley crowds on the streets. I looked for the old landmarks, and could find none. I was in a strange place. Crawling between the traffic lane left by the lines of carts, and with darting children always a few feet ahead of us, I felt something like an intruder. No, I am sure I did not feel like a rubber-wagon slummer in a foreign quarter because I did not feel patronizing enough. But I did awake with a start to the realization that there are still a number of Jews on the East Side—rather more than are good for their own comfort—and then I remembered that I had heard that many had been compelled to return from the Bronx to their old haunts. It also seems to me that the creation of a broad highway in the heart of the East Side has simply forced tens of thousands more into the houses on remaining streets.


The story is told of a young peasant woman who had given birth to twin boys, one of whom she called Adolf, for Hitler; and the other Paul, for von Hindenburg. The pastor of the parish called to congratulate her, and asked, laughingly, “Well, how do you keep them apart?” “That’s easy,” replied the radiant mother; “Adolf shrieks all day and Paul sleeps.”

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