Sunday, October 5, 2014


One half-century-old memory clings to my soul like an ulcerated tumor, recurrently festering and flaring up to taunt and torment me, lacerating my heart and battering my spirit as intensely as did the original incident, with a torturing range of emotions. I still hear its psychic scream. I am still bewildered by it, and I know that its questions will never let me rest. I will, in desperation, listen to anyone who has anything to say about it. So, Lorraine Shaw was a wealthy Jewish divorcee who befriended me at the beginning of my struggles with poetry. Her former husband was a prominent leader in the Jewish community in Chicago. I once asked her, quite indifferently, how her name came to be Shaw, certainly a name not suggestive of Jewishness. Oh, how I wish I had never asked! This is what she told me: Her husband was one of three brothers who owned a company that was one of the largest manufacturers of towels and bathroom linens in the world, exporting their products internationally, including to Germany. In the 1930s, aware of the Nazis' murderous anti-Semitic policies, they decided that one of them should legally change his name, because the name Schwartz on bills of lading and other documents might be counter-productive in dealing with German importers. They drew straws; and Lorraine's husband became "Michael Shaw," so that they could continue to ship their goods uninterruptedly to the land of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Hearing this, I went to the bathroom and vomited. I never visited her again: she saw nothing wrong. Something in me has been crippled ever since.

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