Birth of a Jew
August 12, 1901
“Frieda, Frieda,” the girl yelled across the crowd.
Frieda turned even though she did not want to. She was in conversation with Hymie Schwartz, a perspective customer, and did not want to be interrupted. Business trumps everything. But she had turned and recognized Aniela. “What the hell does she want,” she thought. She secretly hoped that no one recognized Aniela for she was employed by her cousin, Henrietta, who owned the whore house. Frieda did not want everyone to know her business and that she was being sought by a member of a house of prostitution. That was especially true to her potential customer Hymie to whom she wished to represent him in obtaining a prospective bride. Frieda was a matchmaker and in the village of Kirishi. prospects were limited.
“Excuse me Hymie, I must see what this child wants, but let’s get together later to discuss prospects for you.” Frieda said hastily to Hymie. Hymie was a butcher and lost his wife six months prior. He was a catch but with four children he had some drawbacks. Also he was not the best looking man and at fifty-three he was no stallion. He nodded and went back to shopping for some vegetables.
Frieda turned and signaled Aniela to come to her. “Let’s go over there to the park and talk.”
“But, your cousin needs you now, an emergency!” Aniela sputtered quite out of breath.
“The park now,” Freida said firmly. She did not need prying eyes or ears to know her business. The fact that her cousin ran an upscale whore house sometimes was beneficial for her matchmaking business and sometimes not.
Once they crossed to the park, Frieda asked, “Okay, vus tzach?” (What is happening?)
“Your cousin said to come immediately and I am not to say another word.”
And with that both ladies quickly walked a half mile out of town to a two structured building on top of a hill on the outskirts of Kirishi. The building was made of wood and although old was sturdy enough. The building stood separated from other structures. Its color was a worn red. Inside the bottom floor was the parlor where the girls sat with prospective customers until they had made their choices. Once the selection process was over with the girl and the man would go upstairs to a room for the specified half hour to an hour. The décor of the parlor was made up of bright colors with splashes of red and pink. A brown sofa and a few large chairs were the decorations. In the back and behind a curtain was the kitchen. Upstairs were six rooms. Four on the left side where the most active and were the most frequented. On the right was two rooms double sized for the better customers. More space cost more. The two rooms were assigned to the two best girls who had the most requests.
Frieda was totally out of breath by the time she got there. At sixty- two she was on the zaftig (overweight) side and out of shape. Widowed now for the past ten years and having no one else she became a matchmaker to put food on her plate and a roof over her head. She wondered what her cousin wanted and she had the gut feeling it had nothing to do with matchmaking. She had a bad feeling about being summoned.
Frieda entered the house and quickly up the stairs. At the top of the stairs one of the girls was descending with a satisfied customer. It was awkward to say the least. The customer was a client of Frieda’s a year and a half ago. Both of them shied away and did not exchange pleasantries. Freida reached the top of the steps. There in front of the back room on the right side stood Dvori, a regular at Henrietta’s whore house. She was white as a ghost and leaned against the door to hold her up. She signaled Frieda to go into the room but said nothing. Frieda proceeded into the room. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust for there was little light in the room. Her cousin approached her, “We did everything we could but she lost too much blood.” She moved to the side and Frieda could see that on a bed lay a young girl. Her body was covered with a sheet but the blood was seeping through. Then there was a baby cry and Frieda looked to the left and saw Anna, the other older whore, holding a just born in her arms.
Oy gevalt (oh my god), what has happened? Frieda felt nausea in her throat.
Blanka came last night. She was about to burst with child. We tried to help but the baby was breeched and would not come out. She was screaming and bleeding and … finally I had no choice there was no time to get help. I cut open her stomach to remove the baby but she bleed so much. At least the baby seems okay.
“When did she die?”
“A few hours ago.”
Frieda knew that the whore house was closed Friday night because the elders would not permit such sacrilegious actions on the holy night. Then her mind clicked. Blanka, she remembered her.
“Didn’t Blanka use to work for you?”
“She did a while back, remember you set her up with a match in Kirovsk, You remember you set up the transfer.”
Frieda had gotten her cousin involved in an exchange system with a counterpart in a town miles down the road near St. Petersburg, in the town of Kirovsk which is on the Neva River. There was a matchmaker there who wanted to get unknown girls for prospective clients in the town. They did not want a prostitute from their city because everyone would talk so Sisel would send them one of her girls from the whore house in Kirovsk and vice versa. The matchmakers had only had four occasions to do so but it seemed to work out. That is till now. The girl on the bed indicated something was wrong. Very wrong.
Frieda remembered back to when that deal was made. Her contact in Kirovsk needed a young girl for an older but wealthy man. He had been recently widowed and wanted a wife. Frieda did not meet him but from what Sisel had said this man was rather on the tough side. He really needed a girl who he could show off to his contacts at the high level of the government (the duma). He also wanted an extremely loose girl who would be into kinky sexual practices. He certainly did not want kids as his age. Frieda got the feeling from her contact that the girl should be willing to grant favors to this man’s higher ups. Nothing was said but in the courts of politics favors and power are swayed with the intrigues of the players. Blanca was chosen after she was given the facts. She chose to go thinking that living in luxury would be better than the whore house. Hell she was giving out anyway. Better for silks and pearls and the chance for advancement was there.
Yet a little less than a year later and here she was dead on the bed. She had been brought to the house in the middle of the night by a stable boy on the back of a cart with hay on it. The stable boy left as soon as she was brought up stairs.
Frieda could see her cousin needed direction. “First things first,” she stated.
She took Frieda out of the room and down to the kitchen where they sat down at the wood table. “We have got to get rid of the body.” she said mater of factually. “Then we have to decide what to do with the baby.”
“Blanka made me promise her before she died that I was not to kill the kid. I promised her I would not let that happen.”
Frieda nodded. She was not into killing and the thought of killing a baby was not in her. “We need to get Leon to help us,” she said after reflecting on the next step.
Leon lived in a small cottage near the whore house. He was nearly sixty but strong like a mule. He did odd chores for the girls and they in turn paid him using their wares to get him to do jobs they would otherwise have to pay for. He would keep his mouth shut. That night after the patrons had left, he wrapped the body and buried it on top of the hill. They covered up the grave and did not put a stone marker on it. Inside the pit they also put all the sheets and bedding that had been soiled with the poor girl’s blood. By this time the baby was getting hungry as it cried for nourishment. Leon came up with an idea which was strange because Leon was a little on the slow side. He killed a goat and removed its utter. He scrapped it out and put a large slit at the end of one of its tits. Then taking milk from a cow he poured it into the utter sac. The kid suckled and satisfied eventually slept.
Frieda thought back. Devri was one of Henrietta’s girls from the past. She was eighteen when Frieda had set up a match in a city near Petersburg. An emissary had come to the village and sought out Frieda. It seems that a very wealthy man had been in the area on a secret mission and for some reason had come to Henrietta’s house for a “rest” He later had sent for her through the grapevine using Frieda as an intermediate. He wanted a marriage for show. He was capable of sex but not procreation. The purpose of marriage would be a sham but he wanted to show off a young girl and set up liaisons with people who could be of use to his advancement. These liaisons included the use of Devri as a prior whore using sex for advancement.
But if Baron Simon Yakovlevich could not have children, how did Devri end up here dead from childbirth. Who was the father? This was in the back of Frieda’s mind but other issues were more pressing. There was a dead body to dispose of and a baby to pawn off somewhere. But the first issue was the boy baby who now was crying and wanting nourishment.
With her cousin exhausted, Frieda took the lead. It appeared that Henrietta was tired and not thinking right. She had been up all night with trying to save Devri and the baby. But the breach birth had gone wrong and within a short time Devri bled out and was dead. Henrietta was happy her cousin took the reins and relinquished decisions to her quickly.
“We need to feed the baby. We do not want it to die, do we?”
“I thought we would bury the baby with the momma.” Henrietta thought that burying the problem would be to make like it did not happen and explaining a child would raise suspicions.
“I will take the child and place it in a home, how could you be so cruel? Now leave me and take the child downstairs but first give me a dish.”
“What do you need a dish for?”
“I need the dish for the milk I am going to squeeze out Devri, the child will need some nourishment. We will then have to use cow or goat milk.”
Rose got up and left to go to the kitchen carrying the unnamed child. Henrietta followed her and closed the door. She was glad her cousin took charge but she did not want to see the milking of a dead woman and returned with a dish and then quickly retreated back to the kitchen. She sent Aniela to get Isadore and told her to not mention why he was needed. Aniela was not the brightest of girls but she was the perfect runner for errands. Meanwhile she and Rose cleaned the baby up in the kitchen. In a few minutes Frieda came down with the milk. Frieda washed up and dipped her finger into the bowl containing the milk. She then put her finger in the baby’s mouth and let the child suckle on the finger getting the few drops of milk into its system.
Frieda was like a rock but deep inside she was anxiety ridden. Too many questions floated through her mind.
There was only one customer downstairs and he did not question the baby being carried into the kitchen. He was only interested in being taken care of and was in a hurry to get home to his wife and four children.
Isadore came in through the backdoor and was made aware of the tradeoff that Frieda proposed. He was angry because he had to go back and get the shovel from his shack. He did not want to ask too many questions and really did not want to get involved but the prospect of one of the girls was appealing enough to buy his work and silence. He was an old man looking older than fifty -five. He was scrawny and walked broken because of a broken leg that had never mended properly.
As soon as the customer left a note was put on the door. Closed for the night. Henrietta’s never liked turning away business but this was a necessity.
Rose was selected to stay in the kitchen with the baby. After getting some nourishment the baby was asleep. But just in case there was enough milk to get the baby through the night. Frieda was able to squeeze out enough to fill a pan with breast milk. Frieda and Henrietta cleaned the body of Devri and wrapped it in cloth and then an old rug. Isadore had returned having dug the hole in the back six feet deep. At least that was what he told the ladies but in reality it was only four and a half feet deep. But it would do. He helped carry the body out to the back with the aid of Frieda, Henrietta and Aniela. The other two girls in their mid-forties were reluctant to get involved. But they stood at the edge of the coffin as the body was lowered in. Then Isadore started to put soil back into the hole.
“Should we not say a prayer for her?” asked Aniela
And so Isadore stopped and waited while Frieda said, “God we send this soul to you. Please forgive her for her sins, Amen.”
It was not much but it would do. Frieda was in a hurry to find out a little more about what happened and of course there was the baby. What to do with that cute kid?
The girls left before Isadore was finished. They went back to the kitchen and sat around the table. The two girls who wanted to be left out of the mix voiced their concerns and Frieda and Henrietta allowed them to go back to their rooms. Both were in their forties and both did not want any trouble. Golda and Judith were good girls and had enough troubles in their lives. The good thing was they could be trusted to keep their mouths shut. Who would listen to them? Aniela was sent to her room because she was young and a gossip. Better to keep the secrets deep and hidden then to talk too much in front of her.
So around the table was Frieda, Henrietta and Rose. It would be up to them to decide what would happen to the baby and what routes they would take. At least that is what they thought.
Frieda started as soon as the three girls went upstairs.
“I am need to be brought up to date.” Frieda asked of Henrietta
“Devri was brought to us by the stable boy. We had not even known she was pregnant. We had lost contact with her after she got married to the Baron over a year ago. She was in a bad state.”
“Did the she or even the stable boy say anything?”
“She was in bad shape when she got her, riding in a cart, bouncing around over the many miles, she was in hysterics when she got here. Barely alive. And as soon as the stable boy got her upstairs he ran out and was gone. Lucky we did not have a customer downstairs for we would have been in big trouble.”
“I hate to say the obvious but no one is out of the woods yet.” Frieda paused. A dead girl and a baby would be hard to explain. She remembered the Baron and he was not a forgiving man. She worried what really happened but one thing she knew for sure. The baby was not the Baron’s and she remembered there were bruises around the face of Devri as if she had been beaten. At least that was what she assumed. First the Baron was in his sixties. Second his first wife had died and there were no children from the union. Either his wife was barren or he was infertile. He certainly was active for when he came to the village over a year ago he spent some wild nights at Henrietta’s and there were stories said. Of course at this time they did not know he was the Baron. But at six foot five he was definitely someone you would not forget. The girl he seemed to like the most was Devri and he later sent for her. To do that he had Henrietta help him secure the yenta within the proper channels? It was all above board. Of course Frieda had to be knowledgeable of the Baron and his estate. She was paid handsomely for her time and effort.
“I hate to bring this up but the baby needs a name?” Rose spoke up. This was unusual for she normally was quiet, but she was right. “We just got not refer to the baby as an “it.”
“You are right and since you are, give us a name.”
“I name this child … she paused…. Baruch. Rose beamed for she thought it was a wonderful name.
“That is it. I agree.” concurred Henrietta and Frieda at the same time.
And so the baby was named and the issue was what to do with little Baruch. Not wanting it to be raised in a house of prostitution the girls thought about where?
As they started to contemplate the pathway to take there was a silence. Just a moment of quiet. The baby was in the corner asleep in a draw taken from a dresser and emptied and then towels draped in it to make it soft. Rose, Henrietta and Frieda sitting at the table immobilized by the stress of the past few hours. A sigh from all in a second. Then the silence was broken with two events occurring pretty close together. One was the kettle giving a whistle as it went to steam. The second was much more than that. A pounding on the door which startled the women as the sign on the door said closed.
“Who is that?” Frieda asked frightened.
“Maybe it is Isadore and he is finished.” responded Rose.
“No he would come in the back door. We had better get it before the baby wakes up.”
Frieda and Henrietta rushed to the door. They were worried who it was. Rose stayed with the baby which was stirring having heard the noise.
Henrietta opened the door and was startled. There in front of her was a bunch of men. In the front was the Baron. He had a look of determination on his face. A look which caused her to be discomforted.
“Where is she?” The baron scowled.
“Pray tell, who?”
“Devri, the bitch, where is she?” he asked again and with that he forced his way into the parlor room followed by two military looking men. Frieda immediately thought they were his body guards.
Frieda took over, she immediately connected that the Baron knew that Devri had come here. There was no doubt of that fact. To deny it was not a smart move. Come clean and hope for the best was the route to follow.
“We could not save her.” Frieda paused letting the words sink in. “The ride here killed her and then the baby was in a breach position. We did what we could.” As she spoke she could see the Baron give a sigh not because of relieve but knowing the truth without having to resort to some other method of persuasion.
“Where is she?” He asked still with a tinge of glowering.
“We buried her in the back. We thought that would be a smart move. We did not want too many questions asked.” Frieda still did the talking and for this Henrietta moved to a position behind her.
“Good.” That was all the Baron said and it was said with little effort.
Then the baby started to cry. All eyes looked towards the kitchen.
“What the hell is that?”
“That is the baby. We were able to save him.” Frieda said emphatically.
“The baby survived” The Baron gave a weird smile something was formulating in his mind, something out of the ordinary. The thought of having a son to leave his estate to was a pleasure he desired. No one would question that the baby was not his. In his mind this the plan was formulating. He now had a legacy to leave to the future.
“The baby is mine. I want to take him back to my estate and I will raise him. I need someone to be his nanny?” He said this thinking out loud.
“I would consider it if the money was right.” Frieda was amazed that she had said these words. But she thought it might be a good bargain and she had little to lose or so she thought.
The Baron was a man of few words. The baby and Frieda accompanied him back and so started the raising of his son who was named Baruch.