Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Newark Jew

LEIB ROSENSTRAUCH was born some time around the middle of the nineteenth century. The region of his birth, traditionally known as Galizia, has been claimed at various times by Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although apprenticed to a cabinetmaker at age thirteen, Leib had other aspirations in life. He soon ran away and wandered through Europe, finally arriving in Hamburg, Germany. There, he earned enough money to finance passage to America. With no formal schooling, Leib (who had now anglicized his name to Leon) lived as a manual laborer in the New World. Teaching himself to read and write Russian, Yiddish, German, and English, he lived a secret life of the mind. But it was the sweat of his body that put bread on Rosenstrauch's table.

After working all over the East, Leon finally settled as a leather worker in Newark, New Jersey. As times got worse, he operated as a secret union organizer in an industry that had always resisted the labor movement. (He had long since abandoned his Jewish faith for revolutionary socialism.) Seeking to curry favor with the bosses, a supposed friend named Smitty turned Leon in and cost him his job. Some years later, Leon approached his daughter Matilda: “Tildy, I want you should take me some place.” (Despite his many accomplishments, Rosenstrauch never learned how to drive a car.) As they neared their destination, Matilda said, “We're driving in the direction of the house that Smitty lives in.” “Yes, ” Leon replied, “we're going to see Smitty. He's having bad luck, and I know of a job for him.” Incredulous, his daughter reminded Leon that Smitty had gotten him fired. “I know, ” said Leon, “but everybody is human.” 1.

Incredibly strong and self-assured, Leon was nevertheless dominated by his four-feet-eleven-inch wife, Perl. Unlike her husband, Perl could neither read

____________________
1.
Leslie Fiedler, interview with Bruce Jackson, Apr. 7, 1989. Unless otherwise indicated, information in this chapter comes from this interview. (All interviews cited took place in Buffalo, New York.)

-3-

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