The husband of Madame X was a tyrant. He made her wash dishes. The fact that he provided the wherewithal to fill them first mattered little to the lady, and indignantly she left her Avenue A residence, bound for the world and a career. Two months later, through the agency of the National Desertion Bureau, she was found in a cafeteria washing dishes.
That was a comparatively simple nut for this branch of the Federation to crack. Usually it is the woman who is deserted, according to Charles Zunser, chief counsel and secretary to the bureau. In his outer office sit “grass widows,” coaching their glum offspring in a recital of how bad things are “since papa went away,” belligerent couples who are presently to be reconciled, and pathetic women who have been duped by matrimonial ads in their favorite journals.
The last are victims of the greatest injustices, says Mr. Zunser. He is emphatically opposed to the professional marrier. One aged Don Juan, for example, was recently arraigned in Kings County Court for grand larceny, bigamy, perjury in application for a marriage license and a Federal offense in having a woman other than his wife travel on his passport.
To celebrate his sixty-fourth birthday in 1928, he advertised as a widower with a large business, seeking a middle-aged mate with some means for investment in his thriving industry. Response was immediate, and there ensued four months of courtship, during which the swain insisted in his letters that the chosen woman must not talk of money. Five thousand, two thousand, threeâ€”it was all the same to him; for she was the one to bring him luck.
And she did. On their wedding day the bride presented $4,000 to her groom and went home to prepare the dinner. That was the last she saw of him until they met in court last month. A few days later, it was discovered, he sailed for Europe on the Bremen with another woman and the dowry.
The deserted bride, with the help of the bureau, began to disinter her husband’s past. After eliminating difficulties presented by an alias, they located another wife and seven children in Brooklyn, none of whom had seen the pater familias for fifteen years. This evidence, however, was still not enough to convince the cavalier that he must plead guilty. It was only after the Vienna police records containing pictures of the man and a third “wife” had been produced that he succumbed to the pressure of the law.
There are countless other talesâ€”really pathetic ones, wherein the victims are sent to institutions affiliated with Federation until some adjustment has been made. In the case of children, the dependence is usually permanent. Statistics show that more than twenty-five per cent of the inmates of orphan asylums are not orphans at all, but victims of desertion.
In its field, says Mr. Zunser, this bureau augments the work of the old-time synagogue. It was first conceived in 1901 at a conference of Jewish social workers. Nothing was done about it until the legislature declared the abandonment of a minor child to be a felony five years later. Subsequently Morris Waldman, head of the United Hebrew Charities, started the movement for a national clearing house for Jewish organizations dealing with problems of desertion.