2. The Merry-go-round

By Peter Fraenkel

The neighbours complained. All day long they were disturbed by Frankfurter’s hammering – except on the Sabbath, which he observed religiously.  He had set up as a shoemaker in the little room he had to share with his wife.

“But a man has to make a living,” he defended himself. There was no way they could contradict this.  Moreover, for the other residents at the Imp he repaired shoes for a pittance.  “We share a common fate”, he said and after a moment’s hesitation he added “even the Pollacks.”

Before dusk fell on Fridays his hammering stopped.  After he had bathed and dressed he would move into the large room that had once been the hotel’s lounge and led prayers. Many of the Jews attended – reluctantly. Some complained that he rattled through the Sabbath service at such a lick that they could not keep up.  “I doubt that even God can”.

Frankfurter had not always been a shoemaker. Katz asked him about this.  He sat on Frankfurter’s bed while his only decent pair of shoes was being heeled. Frankfurter told him that back in Hessen he had owned a merry-go-round on a fairground.

“Hessen? “Medina Finster” – that place of darkness!

Work had been seasonal, he told Katz, but he had made a living. Then a gang of “them” had appeared – bullyboys in new brown uniforms. They had given him a black eye and told him to get the hell out of the fatherland.

“I knew them,” Frankfurter continued “Half of them were lads from my own village. We’d been on good terms before ….. before that bastard got at them. A day or two later their little local Fuehrer came to see me. I forget what title they’d given him. He fancied himself in that new uniform with shiny boots right up to his knees. I knew him too. He was the butcher from our neighbouring village. Well, I knew what to expect. He said his boys had wanted to smash up my merry-go-round. He had intervened and stopped them. I thanked him, but I could see through his little game.  He said it was obvious that I could not continue on fairgrounds in the new reborn fatherland – a land cleansed of Jews. What was I proposing to do with the clapped-out old machine? I said I might try to sell it. Well, to do me a favour he might take it off my hands. How much did I want? I quoted what I thought was a fair price.  He beat me down to about a third! A third!

“You Jews always haggle”, he said. Who the hell was haggling? He said I should be grateful to him. Well, as I said, it didn’t come as a surprise. Then, just before I got out of that accursed country I heard about a crash course – all of three weeks. That’s where I learnt to repair shoes.”
Thousands had taken similar courses. They called it umsatteln – changing saddles. During the war new footwear had been difficult to find. However one could occasionally obtain a pair of army boots traded in by an officer of the King’s African Rifles. Frankfurter developed the art of cutting down such boots to turn them into shoes. They weren’t elegant – but they were sturdy.

Eventually Frankfurter managed to move to a shop around the corner. He put up a sign-board: “Expert Continental Shoemaker”.

Katz said “I wonder what happened to fellows like that butcher of yours – after the war – when the de-Nazification tribunals arrived .”

“I can tell you,” said Frankfurter. “It must have been a year or more after the war. I got a letter from Germany. I was surprised: It was from that fellow. Ever so polite. He was in trouble with the authorities. Would I be prepared to certify that he had been helpful to me by stopping the brown shirts smashing up my merry-go-round … that he’d been a good friend to us Jews?

I wrote back saying I hoped he’d rot in hell.

But, you know, I never did post that letter.”