The Man Who Never Spoke
by Levi Bookin:
He was a thin old man. He knew what was going on around him, and nodded and shook his head, but he never spoke. He was always alone. He did not seem to have any family.
I used to see him three times a day at the synagogue and three times a week at a study session. It was an accomplishment for him to find the page, but I suspect that he was mainly there for the company.
One day, we were both waiting before a service, when he pulled out his wallet and took out a creased black and white photograph. There were three rows of men and women with antique rifles.
"Partisans," he said and pointed to one of them, "That's me."
All the words he had never said came flowing out, like blood from a wound. He told me that he had been the leader of the Vilna Symphony Orchestra in Lithuania. When the Germans came, he joined the partisans, and he was captured.
They moved him from camp to camp. He survived because they liked to hear him play the violin. Of course, he did not have a violin with him. They had stolen the violins and everything else from the Jews they had murdered.
As the Russians came closer, the Germans started moving their prisoners towards Germany, thousands of kilometers on foot, starving, tormented by lice. Anyone who lagged behind was clubbed on the back of his head and left to die.
But he made it to Dachau. He played the violin for the Commandant, who kept him alive. He was there when the war finished, and waited for a visa for the States.
In the meantime, he organized a post-war Dachau Symphony Orchestra, and put notices up announcing a concert. Leonard Bernstein saw the notice, which blew his mind. He found him and told him that when he arrived in the States there would be a job waiting for him.
When he made it to the States, Bernstein invited him to dinner and offered him the job of librarian to his orchestra. In addition, he was to stand in for any violinist unable to play. As he left, Bernstein slipped something in his pocket, which later found to be a $100 dollar bill (worth a lot more then).
He moved to Israel in about 1970, and eventually found that he could no longer play.
I do not know why he suddenly told me his story. That was the last he said. He was once more the man who never spoke. I used to see him three times a day. He was always alone. He did not seem to have any family.
But when he died, soon afterwards, it seemed that all the men of the neighborhood accompanied the hearse.
He lies in peace in Jerusalem.