• U.S.

NEW YORK: A Man with a Narrow Face

3 minute read

The battered slums of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn are full of transplanted memories. Ever since the end of World War II, refugees from European concentration camps have been filtering in, bringing the dress, customs and fears of the Old World’s Orthodox Jews. Synagogues stand on almost every corner; the streets are full of men with long beards and skullcaps; store signs are written in Hebrew, and their clerks speak Yiddish. Wig salons thrive—many women shave their heads, according to Orthodox custom.

Dark, stubby Benjamin Krieger is a man who nurses his share of memories. He now lives in a roomy apartment; he has a job in a fish market, just as he had back in Nowogrod, Poland before Hitler’s soldiers came, and now he does not have to fear the police. But he has not forgotten the past—the horrors of war and the concentration camp where his wife and four children were killed in a crematorium.

Auschwitz, Dachau . . . One morning last week, Benjamin Krieger saw something which started his heart pounding: a man with a dark, narrow face passing the fish market. He ran out and cried:

“Were you at Auschwitz?”

The man turned and said, “Yes.”

“At Dachau . . . Mühldorf?” “Yes.”

“Were you a block leader at Mühldorf?”

“Yes,” the man said.

Benjamin Krieger screamed: “Is your name Meyer?”

The man seemed to nod and Benjamin Krieger shrieked: “Then you are the man who killed my brother!” His anguished voice shattered the peaceful pattern of the street. Bearded men turned on the sidewalk and ran back; others rushed out from shops. Benjamin Krieger swung wildly with his fist, and the narrow-faced stranger ran. A yelling crowd of 50 people followed him. The stranger ducked into a religious bookshop and his pursuers began calling, “Lynch him. . . let us have him . . .”

When the police arrived, Benjamin Krieger half-sobbed his accusation: the narrow-faced man had been a “block leader” or trusty at Auschwitz. Benjamin and his brother Zelman had pleaded with him for food. The trusty had killed Zelman with a savage swing of an iron pot.

No Witnesses. The narrow-faced man told the police his name was Meyer Mittelman and that he was studying to become a rabbi. He admitted that he had been at Mühldorf, but he denied Benjamin Krieger’s accusation and swore that he had never seen him before. The police took both men to a station house, jotted down their stories and sent them home. There were no facts to be examined, no witnesses to be questioned. No U.S. court had jurisdiction over a crime committed by a German slave in a Nazi concentration camp. Though the men in the long beards and skullcaps argued in the streets for hours, there seemed no sure way of deciding whether it was a case of mistaken identity or of a murderer beyond the reach of the law.

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