THE FISH SHANTY AND THE JEWISH MEN OF THE ROUND TABLE
Every Tuesday Evening at seven pm, a group of Jewish men and their wives got together in Hollywood, Florida to go to The Sea Shanty. It was a middling to nice restaurant with a certain Florida aesthetic.
All the couples loved the food and the ambience of The Sea Shanty as everything was relaxed and comfortable. The owner ‘’Sam’’ always sent over a plate of something special for them to try, and this helped foster a true sense of loyalty.
Jeffrey Spring adored his parents, and when he came down to Florida to visit and escape the bitter cold of Toronto, he always enjoyed every second with them. They always insisted he join them with their friends at the Sea Shanty and while Jeffrey found it awkward, his parents absolutely loved it when he came with.
Mr. Sping had made his fortune by being very smart. He had discovered that when cattle became ready for insemination their blood would get hot and their body temperatures would rise. Noticing this he developed a device that you put on the back of cows and when they were ready to be bred, it would shine green.
Mr. Lowell was in the wholsesale Beef business and bought hundred of thousands of beef cattle weekly in Dodge City.
Mr. Birnbaum and Mr. Finter were partners in the Wholesale Fish business, and Mr. Otten owned a very successful high end deli in Manhatten.
When the guys and their wives got together the camaraderie was evident and they always shared bad jokes and lots of laughs. They were businessmen and understood each other and what they had been through to become successful. The women shared stories about their children and Grandchildren.
As Jeffrey was eating a beautiful piece of Grouper, Mr. Otten and Mr. Lowell started talking about a guy who went to their Synagogue who had just passed away. He was a Holocaust survivor who had worked very hard to build a great life in America, but there wasn’t one day that went by that he didn’t talk about how much he missed his family who were murdered by the Nazis.
Mr. Finter looked at Mr. Birnbaum while the two men were talking and he cleared his throat when they finished. ‘’There’s something none of you know, but in memory of Yehuda Horwitz, I think I should tell you. Sam Birbaum helped avenge the deaths of Yehuda’s family. He never told him and I think he should have, but Sam did what was right, and until right now nobody but me ever knew, and the only reason I know, is I was with Sam in the Army.”
Goldie Birnbaum glanced over at her husband. ‘’Sammy, What’s he talking about.’’
Every Tuesday evening when this group got together there was a wall of noise, they were always talking, but now at the round table of Jewish men and women at the Sea Shanty, the silence was so strong, a person could have heard a pin drop.
‘’After my family escaped Germany, I joined the army as soon as I legally could. I wanted to fight Nazis. They had destroyed my family, my friends, and all the Jews in our village. The Horowitz family lived three houses away from us. They were kind and decent people. Mr. Horowitz owned a mill, and he employed half the people in our town.’’
Mr. Birnbaum stopped and took a sip of water, his face was bright red. His friends who were always needling him about something said nothing and were listening intensley.
‘’The Army assigned me to a unit and that where I met Finter. Because we spoke German we went into different villages, trying to find locals who would identify the Nazis who arranged deportation of the Jews in the area. We had some success, but most of the locals refused to point out local Nazis because for the most part they were all related and had benefited by getting rid of the Jews.’’
Finter broke into the conversation. ‘’You have to understand Sammy and I were going into places that were once the homes of Jewish life and there was not one Jewish family around. We were surprised when we were assigned to our own village to investigate what took place during the Holocaust.’’ Birnbaum rejoined the discussion. ‘’Arnie and I went to our village and we knew who had been active in Hitler youth. There was one guy named Peter Meuller who took great pleasure in grabbing a Jewish kid of nine or ten and with his group of fifteen year old buddies beating the little boy or girl to a pulp while yelling anti-Semitic slurs. We went looking for him. Meuller was operating the mill which belonged to the Horowitz family. We pretended we didn’t know him or the Mill’s history and he didn’t recognize us.’’
At this point more food was delivered to the table, but nobody was interested. Everybody was hanging on Birnbaum’s words. ‘’ So we said, we were from the US Army and wanted to introduce ourselves. Meuller was delighted, he treated us like old friends and invited us to his house for dinner, where he promised to tell us all about the war, he gave his home address and we accepted.’’ His address was the Horwitz house.’’
The faces of the people at the table had gone pale. Birnbaum and Finter had met the devil. That night they arrived at dinner with a case of beer. Meuller was drinking the second they walked in the door. Birnbaum remembered how nicely Mrs. Horowitz kept the house and her prized art was still hanging on the walls.
The food served looked horrible but neither Birnbaum or Finter cared. ‘’So, we said to Meuller off the record, and you don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to but how did you deal with those fucking Jews in the village.’’ Meuller’s eyes lit up. ‘’ If I tell you, you promise to say nothing. I was in charge of round up. I got together with Fritz Wokshmidt, Karl Lingen, Pontius Alsong, Werner Lople, Henrick Fershlagen and Alfred Rishchmidt. We knew who the Jews were. We were all together in the Hitler Youth League. We knew what they owned, we knew the vermin they were. So, for three days we found them. Young and old and we took them to the woods and there was no more Jewish problem, and you know what, everyone in the village was happy. We did them a favour. Old man Horowitz owned the mill. He paid us to work for him. I took his daughter and wife and I had pleasure with them before we made them go with the other in the woods and we finished them. Shot them dead like the dogs that they were.’’
Finter’s eyes filled with tears. ‘’I wanted to shoot him at the table, but Birnbaum had other ideas.’’ ‘’I told them that maybe we could help smuggle him and his Nazi Youth friends into the United States as we needed Aryans like him to fight against the Jews and Blacks. The more stupid it sounded the more he was buying it. He said that maybe someday the Nazis would run the United States like they did in Germany.’’
The waiter brought by a pitcher of ice water. ‘’I told him I would get a truck and to get his friends, the ones he had mentioned. Fritz Wokshmidt, Karl Lingen, Pontius Alsong, Werner Lople, Henrick Fershlagen and Alfred Rishchmidt. We would meet in two days and I’d drive them to US Army base and say they were refugees and that they wanted to get away from Germany and live in the United States.’’
‘’They were at the appointed rendezvous point two days later. When they got into the truck, I explained that they could not take weapons to a US base and they handed over their revolvers. I drove them not to a US base but into the woods. They wondered where we were going but I told them they would find out in a short time. When we stopped, they were in the middle of nowhere facing the partisans from all the villages we had been in. These were the Jewish fighters who existed in the bushes away from town and had to fight for their survival daily. The Nazis would stand trial for their crimes, not by a formal tribunal but by those who had been victimized by them.’’
Once again there was a stunned look on the faces of their friends. ‘’The trial lasted for six days, each Nazi was given one full day to defend himself. In the end they all blamed Peter Meuller and said they were unwilling executioners, but the Jews had to be killed because they were after all Jew. After deliberation all the Nazis were found guilty of murder and five were hung from the trees. The sixth Peter Meuller, the murderer of the Horowitz family was found guilty and his sentence was to watch his friends hang, and then join them. Meuller tried everything from bribes to revealing the location of ‘’hidden Jew Gold’’ but nothing worked. Before Meuller was hung Birnbaum revealed to him who he really was and he told him that he was there to avenge his family and the Horowitz family and he was sure Meuller would spend eternity in hell for his crimes, those were the last words Meuller ever heard.’’
Jeff Spring was stunned, it was not what he expected when he agreed to go for dinner with his parents and their friends. He had no moral ambiguity about what Finter and Birnbaum had done. There was no vigilante action, there was a trial and justice for people who had admitted to murdering innocents. They had been hung for their crimes against humanity. It was just weird to know his parents friends had been so involved.
For Finter and Birnbaum it was like a load had been lifted off their shoulders. Everybody echoed their support and then ordered dessert. Soon the kibbitzing began again the story returned to history.
When everybody left they agreed to meet at the Sea Shanty again the following Tuesday for their weekly dinner and hugs were given all around. As Birnbaum got into his car he looked up at the sky and thought, ’’Horowitz, now you know the truth, you can rest easy, we avenged the murder of your family.’’