Chapter Eight - Victor's History
Translation Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
Translations from Hebrew
Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
A Righteous Love
By Sarah Faiga Menkin - Published in Hebrew in Vilna 1880
"I was born in Rome, where my father was one of the wealthy. His name was Aaron Shonfeld."
"You are the son of Aaron Shonfeld?" said Albert. "My father told me much about him, that he spread about his money to improve a little the condition of the Jews in Rome. Evil has come upon him [Gen 44:34], because he sought to call the Jesuits to account [Jer 1:16]."
Victor groaned bitterly and said, "Many have heard about my father's house, yet you can know but a fraction of my father's good heart or of the troubles that befell him and his house. My father was a trader in notes, and many of the great men of the city, Jews and Christians alike, did business with my father's money. Eight people worked in his trading house and his success grew from day to day until 1853, the year war of Russians against the French and British began. Then an end came to all of our happiness and success, because the Granat brothers of Rome borrowed a half a million Liras from my father. They were supplying horses to the French army, and they signed their property to my father as security, and in the end they were forced to flee. My father went to the city clerk and showed him the mortgage note that he received from the Granat brothers, and requested him to support his claim so the property could become his. 'Today I can do nothing,' the city clerk told him, "But tomorrow I will go to the Holy Father and speak with him on your behalf, because they are Jesuits. Come back on Tuesday and you will know the results.' Heavy and displeased [1K. 20:43 and 21:4] my father came home and told my mother of this disaster. And he said, 'Know now, my dear Esther, that if the hand of the Pope is involved I won't salvage any of my fortune. The Jesuits will do everything in their power in order to take possession of the property.' Thus spoke my father, and he wept all night. The women also wept about the loss of the money, even more than the men, but despite this, my mother consoled my father in order to calm him. But my father refused to be comforted, saying there was no bandage for his wound. I sat with my father and wept with him. My sister didn't understand what was going on and asked my father, 'Why are you crying?' My father answered her, 'We lost a hundred in money today.' 'You're crying like this about a little money, dear father?' asked my sister in wonder. 'Surely you have so much money that to lose a hundred is nothing.' 'How do you know that I have so much money?' my father asked her. 'Zephia, the daughter of the quarter minister told me,' said my sister. 'Yesterday, many men gathered at her house and talked about you. They said that you have much money, and that your fortune surpasses two million Lira.' 'Don't believe what they say because I don't have great sums like that,' my father told my sister. But to us he said, 'Know that evil has come against us. It is the nature of the Jesuits that if they lay their eyes on a man's money, especially if that man is a Jew, than they won't stop until the money is in their possession.' So spoke my father in bitter complaint [Job. 23:2] all of the night. When morning came, it was my father's intention to go to the city clerk, saying that he wouldn't wait until Tuesday as he'd been instructed."
"But behold, a woman came and asked for my father. This woman had been my sister's nurse and had raised her until she was five. She wanted to remain in my father's house forever, but one day she returned from church on the first day of Easter and said, 'I am very distressed Shoshana (my sister's name) my beauty, but I must part from you forever. I swaddled you and raised you [Lam. 2:22], I bore you in my arms, at my breast you grew and on my knees you played. I said that I would never be parted from you, but things don't always go as we plan. A higher authority than us has put aside our wishes. He is the holy man who is elevated above all his people, who watches and numbers our steps, whom we go before for judgement on bended knee for every hidden thing, whether good or bad. His words are very holy to us. Now, honored mistress,' she said to my mother, 'Pay me my wages and I will leave your house, for I can't remain here even a moment.' 'What's the matter, Eva,' my mother asked, 'that you want to leave us now. If your salary is too small I will give you a raise.' 'Please, dear Eva, don't leave us,' said my sister and fell weeping on her neck.' 'And why are you in such a hurry to leave?' added my mother. 'Because the holy father spoke in the great church, "Pietro in Vaticana" and said that it would be considered a great sin for any of our faith to work in the house of a Jew. The money earned in a Jew's house is an abomination for us, and must go to the holy treasury.'"
"'If that's the case,' said father, 'I won't delay you even a moment,' but afterwards he said to her, 'What will you do now? Won't you die of hunger since the wages I paid you will be given to the holy treasury? You don't have another place to work yet, so what will you do?'"
"'I don't know,' she said, 'But can I rebel against the holy words?' 'This won't be the situation,' replied my father, 'I will give you fifty in silver as a present, aside from your wages, and this will support you until you find a situation with people of your own covenant.' He gave her the money, and my mother also gave her garments and leave to go. But before she parted from us, she said, 'Know that I will never forget the kindness you have done with me, and I will repay you for all the benefits you have rendered me [Ps. 116:12] in your time of sorrows. Because it is known to all that the Jesuits hate the Jews, especially the rich ones.' And she kissed my sister Shoshana and she left. Indeed, two years later, at the moment my father was ready to go to the city clerk, behold, she appeared. 'Eva,' cried my sister when she saw her, 'My dear Eva. Are you returning to be in our house like before, and to cheer me with your nice stories?' 'No, my dear Shoshana! I only came here at the last minute because I want to talk to your father.' My sister ran off like lightning to inform my father that Eva was here. When she told him that Eva wanted to speak with him, he was very frightened, because he knew that she served in the house of the city clerk. And he went to hear what she had to say."
"'Don't be upset, Mr. Shonfeld, that I am interrupting you from your business, but this matter is very urgent [1S. 21:9] for you. I have come to fulfil the oath that I swore two years ago that I would repay you for your beneficence to me. But don't let anybody know what I will tell you because it would mean my life.' 'Trust me,' he said, 'Your words will be hidden away [Dt. 32:34] with me forever.'"
"'Now, hearken me,' she said. 'Yesterday, my master said to me, 'Eva! Don't go running off until I return, because I must hasten off to the Holy Father, and surely I will be kept until midnight. If a man comes here and asks after me, tell him to wait for me and give him a place in my room.' So he spoke and he departed. At twelve o'clock, as I sat sewing a garment for myself, the door opened. In came a young man wrapped in a black robe that dragged on the ground and a black hat that covered his head and his face. From his dress I knew that he was an initiate, and it was a wonder to me that in the middle of the night an initiate should come to the house of somebody of such a different position in society. He asked after my master, and I told him that he wasn't there, and to wait for his return. After midnight my master returned, and he closed the door after them. I posted myself behind the door to hear what they would say. 'Were you just now in the papal audience?' asked the initiate. 'I was.' 'And did he say anything concerning the properties of the Granat brothers, for Shonfeld intends to take them in accordance with the laws of the state.'"
"'We also spoke of this there, but Antonolla (he is one of the Cardinals who stands at the right hand of the Pope) said in retort, 'What are the laws of the land to us? We will act according to the law we have legislated for ourselves, because this man, Shonfeld, acquired all of his wealth only from us, through multiplying the bite of interest. Therefore he will be made to vomit up which he has swallowed. If he wants to call us to account to bring the property into his possession by force, then we will give him what's coming to him [Ob. 15]. But we will also say that the church loaned them more than he, and holy money takes precedence over ordinary money, so the property will come under our hand. The brothers Granat wrote us from America that it was very distressing to them that their splendid houses should fall into the hands of a Jew who they hate in their souls, so to work according to our skills that the they will fall into possession [Ps. 16:6] of the church.' So spoke the Cardinal, and all gave approval to what he had said. Then they spoke to one another until the Pope arrived. The pope sat on the throne gilded with the purest gold and everyone stood before him, but none was bold enough to open his mouth. But the Cardinal, who always stood before him and who would fill his place after him, emboldened himself to break the silence. 'Holy father,' he said. 'Here is the city clerk who desires that you honor him by listening to a few matters which are very urgent to him,' and when he finished speaking, he pointed at me with his finger and gave me a sign to approach.'"
"'Terrified and laid open by fear at the splendor of his majesty, I approached before him. After I greeted him as befitting his honor, I said, 'Holy father. I request from your holy majesty to inform us what to do with the property of the Granat brothers. Yesterday, a rich Jew, Shonfeld, showed me a document which the brothers gave him as surety because he lent them a half million Lira, and he will take their property by force in accordance with the laws of the state, as it was written and sealed.' Silence ruled in all the great hall, and all eyes were fixed on me. The pope stared at me for a few moments, then he said, 'Bring the Jew here and we will see. If it is true, it is proper that he take the property for the money is his.' With faces blanched from fear and anger each man looked at his neighbor and was mute. 'Holy Father,' Antonolla cried trembling, 'Behold, the Granat brothers borrowed two million Lira from the church on their properties, then fled the country. Can the church suffer such damage as this?' 'Why did you loan them such a large sum?' asked the Pope. 'Because the were known to be amongst the faithful of the land.' 'How could you sign twice for one guarantee?' the Pope asked me, 'Without your seal no business is done.' Then I didn't know how to answer, but after a minute, I answered that I only signed one mortgage. 'If so, then one must be forged,' said the Pope, 'But tomorrow the sun will shine on the truth.' The Pope rose from his throne and the Cardinal went after him, but when I wanted to leave, the priests prevented me until the Cardinal returned. And he said to me, 'Know, my friend, that it is up to you to repair that which is crooked [Ecc. 7:13]. You must prevent the man Shonfeld from coming here, for it will do him no good.'' Now advise me what to do," my master said to the initiate, 'I am very sorry about this man Shonfeld, because he is a good man, but these were the instructions of the Cardinal.' I was also frightened because if you strive with them, what then! 'You don't have to do anything,' the initiate told him. 'If you aren't able to tell him that if he fights with them they will put an end to him, then just tell him this when he comes to you. That the Granats borrowed massively from the church, and so she has the senior right [Dt. 21:17].' This I heard from behind the door,' the woman concluded her tale. 'And now, Mr. Shonfeld. Be on guard lest you come to blows with them [Ps. 39:11], because it will mean your life. See you have been warned and see what you must do, because life is dearer than any fortune.' She called goodbye to all of us, kissed my sister, and left."
"My father stood in his place without moving for a long while, and we were silent for we saw how great his pain was. After this, he asked us our advice on what to do, and my mother and I both warned him not to set his heart on seeking justice from this order of Jesuit priests, for whom robbery and murder was a game. But my father said that he could neither be still nor rest until he retrieved what he earned by the sweat of his brow and they had gobbled up. Then he went to the city clerk who answered him that the Granats had loaned from the church more than they had from him, and therefore the church had the rights to take their property."
"'If so,' said my father, 'Then I will seek another way.' He went out, and the next day when he approached all of the rich Jesuits whom he had already loaned money, they all said they couldn't pay him even the interest now. Then my father knew that they were all conspiring against him to steal all of his wealth from him, including the residue [Ex. 10:5].In the end he decided to go to the Pope and petition before him and tell him about the robbery the priests had done with him, because according to Eva, he didn't know anything about it. Mother and I entreated him not to go, but he wouldn't be influenced by our words. On the day he had chosen, he dressed in his finest clothes, rehearsed what he would say to the pope, went out and never returned." Victor choked up here [Ez. 24:17] and wasn't able to go on. He turned his face from Finalia to hide his tears. When he was ready to continue, he saw that Finalia was melting in tears, and he said, "Forgive me, my dear, if I don't describe for you the riot and confusion that was in our house when we realized that my father wasn't coming back. We were terribly frightened and my heart was torn to shreds, but I will depend on your intelligence that you will be able to imagine and feel the pain that made a nest in our depressed hearts. Our dear beloved father was lost from his children who loved him like themselves, and a beloved and pleasant husband was lost from a wife who loved and honored him."
"If it is so, tell no more," Finalia cried.
"Despite this," said Victor, "Despite this, the spirit within constrains me [Job. 32:18] to tell you all that transpired, in order to pour out the anguish pressing on my heart. My mother went to all of the places she knew my father frequented, but she didn't find him. She went to the court house and he wasn't there. She wrote to all of his acquaintances in vain. For a whole month she didn't get out of bed, only cried and screamed. Finally she saw that if she continued doing this then we would all be swallowed up, because we were also with her in her distress. We wept until we had no more strength to weep, so she was forced to get up and comfort us, saying, 'Don't cry, my children. Soon the Lord will take pity on us and return your father and my husband, because he lives.' She had just returned from her madness, and we didn't want to provoke her spirit or contradict her hope, so we were mute. But when she went out we continued crying and we were inconsolable. But I won't pile up words, and I will tell you only the end of the matter. We were left destitute, because we were robbed on every side. All the time that my mother sat in the house and cried, the employees in my father's trading house took the remaining residue and said they were paying debts, and who was there to debate them? The little that was left to us in the house, including the fine cutlery, we sold to support ourselves. So we lived for a whole year."
"One time, the city clerk sent a summons to my mother, and we thought surely he had heard something about my father. In place of this, she found there a man with a letter of credit on my father for 20,000 Lira. She said to him, 'Verily you cannot take my house from us for a debt, because you loaned the money to my husband and not to me, and I lost more than you. But I don't want the honorable name of the champion of my youth profaned in everyone's mouth, and even though I bear no guilt, I will sell my house and pay you.' And so she did. All of the city wondered at the simple heart of my mother and her faithfulness to her husband. This was the year 1856, and after another year passed, I saw the deficit in my father's house increasing from day to day. I thought, 'I have studied accounting as is needed in a big trading house, but here in the city of my birth I don't want to seek work from one of these establishments. I will travel to Milano where I will find many friends who studied with me in school. I will tell them about my situation, and they will try to find work for me in a trading house so I can be a support to my mother and sister.' I came here, and this friend (here he indicated Albert with his finger) brought me to the trading house of Max Ramagninus, the father of Celia. The wages from my work I sent to my mother to support her and Shoshana, my sister, and so it was until 1860. Then, suddenly, I received a telegram from my mother, in which she said, 'My son. Make haste and come quickly, don't delay even a moment. The Lord has heaped trouble on our troubles and destruction to our ruin [Jer. 4:20]. My daughter Shoshana has also vanished, and no trace of her can be found.'"
"On failing knees I ran to the house of my master and showed him the telegram, and he gave me money and permission to travel. I was in Rome for two months but to no help or profit [Is. 30:5]. My mother sat in pain [Is. 50:15] and cried until she became gravely ill, and I was forced to bring her to a hospital. She screamed continually in a bitter voice saying, 'Let me search after the lost and oppressed until I either find them or my own grave.' When she began to recover a little strength, I left her and returned here, and so three months of affliction [Job. 7:3] passed with no word concerning my sister. Then, as I sat in my room today, suddenly a letter was brought to me from the express house. When I opened it, I saw that it was a letter from my mother, with a second letter enclosed in it. First I read the letter from my mother, and she wrote in it the following:"
Victor, my dear son and delight of my soul [Ez. 24:21]. Here are glad tidings from my daughter, your sister, that she lives. Read the attached letter and you will know everything.
"I opened the second letter, and behold it was written with a lead pencil, saying:"
My dear mother! This is to inform you that I am still alive, and I know very well that you are mourning for me without cease [Lam. 3:49]. You cry and wail and your face is reddened from tears [Job. 16:16], and your lot is worse and more bitter than mine. Because I am a girl of twelve, and the hope sustains me that the Lord will quickly set me free and heal that wounds of my heart, because time works on youth like rain on grass. But for you, dear mother, and for the sorrows that time has cast upon you, I will not let my eyes cease from crying until I know you have found consolation for your great disaster. A small consolation I request from you is that you will not weep. Do not withhold from me this desire, as with a mother's love you never withheld from me what I asked of you all of the time I was with you. This way my you will cheer my depressed spirit, and I will hope that soon I will fall into your arms and together we will cry tears of joy. Maybe my father will also return to us and then our joy will be multiplied without bounds. But hear, now, what happened to me from the day the robbers stole my happiness and separated me from you, dear mother, and from my brother whom my soul loves. Do you remember the day that you sent me to post a letter to Victor? As I returned home, the sun was turning to evening, I walked occupied with a multitude of thoughts [Ps. 94:19], and I thought 'Who knows, but I might meet my father. Oh, how great my happiness would grow when I ran to tell you these wonderful tidings.' But suddenly, a Christian woman attacked me, and before I could see her face, she wrapped me up in her cloak to I couldn't move a hand or foot, and she lifted me up and brought me into one of the houses. When the covering was removed from my eyes, I didn't see the face of this huntress who had stalked me, and as I looked in every direction to see where I was, behold! My eyes blackened and my knees collapsed and I fell to earth from the fright to my heart, because I was in a nun's cloister. I cried and screamed and wailed, but I had nobody to hear. Finally an old woman came, who according to my estimation was the governess (Mother Superior) of the house, because of the respect all of the nuns accorded her. And she said to me, "Know, my daughter, that all your crying and screaming won't help you. You are ours, and you will live with us and learn our religion, and if you get along with us, you will be fine." "Don't speak such things to me," I answered her. "I am a Jewish maiden and I will be faithful all the days of my existence. Not you and not a thousand of your age [Dan 1:10] will persuade me to give up my religion. Here I am in your hands, but all of your words will be of no help or use. Release me and let me go to my mother."
"You will not see your mother again"
"I will not listen to your words," I answered her in tears, and the woman went on her way. So I endured and answered them every day when they came to persuade me, sometimes with positive words and sometimes with threats. But I laughed at them, and when they saw my stubbornness, they imprisoned me alone in a cell whose only value was to chastise those who wouldn't hearken their voices. Despite this, they couldn't prevail over me, because the moral values of my father, in which he instructed me to walk in the way of truth, I hear even now as if he were speaking to me. And the teachings that my mother gave me I will not forsake forever. Last week, as I lay on my bed in the evening but wasn't yet asleep, I heard voices speaking in the next cell, and the voice was like the voice of Eva. I wanted to know what this was and whom she was talking to, so I put my ear to the wall, and hear the voice saying, "Believe me, Louisa. If the Holy Father hadn't promised that I would receive eternal life in exchange for this I never would have done it, not for any fortune, because I greatly loved the maiden Shoshana." "How did it come to your mind to waylay her?" asked the second. "Behold, I will tell you. On the last Easter, the priest, who stands by the side of the Holy Father preached, and he said that every Christian who had done a good deed for a Jew would go down to the lowest hell and not see the eternal light enjoyed by the righteous. With a bitter soul I walked home, and I wasn't able to eat or drink, and didn't know what to do. In the end I ran to the priest who always hears my confession and I told him that I once did a favor for a Jew. I cried before him to save my soul from destruction, and from the goodness of his heart he had mercy on me and said, 'Know that there is a cure for your miserable soul. If you will do this you will take away your iniquity and purge your sin [Is. 6:7]. To the man you did a favor you must do a wrong, one that is much greater than the good you did for him.' So I thought, 'What will be the wrong that will subdue the good?' and the advice I was counseled was to waylay his only daughter, and so I did. I ambushed her and snatched her and brought her here, and with us she will remain forever." "You did well," said the second. "But pray listen," said Eva. "When I brought her here I went to the Holy Father and fell before his feet and confessed before him my sin and told him what I had done to erase that sin. Then he blessed me and said, 'If only those like you were multiplied amongst our people, then the crown would be returned to the Catholic religion as of old, in place of the depth to which she has sunken.'" It was a wonder that those hands were incited to do evil work in the name of this civilization, as I heard from the mouths of these to women. I thought all the time about how I could get word to you but I wasn't able. But now, Zephia the daughter of the quarter minister has come, because she is visiting her father's sister. When she saw me, she fell on my neck and said, "What are you doing here Shoshana? Have you forgotten your parents and your religion and chosen to be counted amongst the nuns?" "God forbid," I answered her, and I told her all that had befallen me, because to my joy, none of the women were in my room. Then she swore to me in the name of our childhood love that she would bring a letter to you, dear mother, in order that you take a little comfort in the knowledge that I live. She promised me to fulfill my request, and she also told me that you, dear mother, are lying in the hospital. I know that this is on my account, and certainly you have cried a multitude of tears. Now live and be well, my dear mother. Also you, my dear brother, I bless with peace and I request that you not set your heart on doing something for me now, because you will do me no good, only harm. Take care of yourself in order that you can be a support to our mother. Be comforted, be comforted [Is. 40:1], and this way you will please the heart of your daughter and your sister.
Finalia's eyes ran with tears and she asked, "How did your mother receive the letter?"
"In the evening, as my mother was sitting on her bed, a girl wrapped in dark clothing came to her room and asked after Mrs. Shonfeld. When they showed her my mother's place, she approached her and said, 'Here is a letter for you, but I don't know who it's from.' She gave the letter to my mother, and when my mother wanted to thank her she had already vanished from sight.' This is my story," said Victor.
After this, they all rose from their places and parted, because the evening had arrived.