Two Letters on the Death of the Immolated Worker Girls

By Morris Rosenfeld

Published March 15, 2011.
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Originally published in the Forverts, April 2, 1911

Come home, my daughter, come back home

A man has told us about America

That the factories are not safe there

That it’s dangerous to ride the iron-train.

People live there on the fifth floor — what a fright!

And a person’s life is not worth a cent

I can’t stop crying that you have left

Come back, my daughter, come back home!

Moishe Lipes writes his Yente bad news

“Work is cheap and inflation races forth

Poor people will work for any price”

If only I had never heard of America!

He writes that girls labor at the machine

Just like men sewing in the factories

What in tarnation drove you there?

Come back my daughter, because I’m passing away!

Rakhmiel Schmid took a chunk out

Of my life — I could not bear to hear…

“A hundred girls — he writes — turned to ash

In a fire at a sweatshop… ”

“Newark,” the city is called, isn’t that New York? Write!

May God have mercy, Daughter, did I hear it right! —

Take pity on your mother and don’t stay

In that accursed country any longer!

Through the windows of the highest floor

They sprang aflame into the street,

All America — he writes — is outraged,

“People trudge around in despair, sickly from their misery.”

Your portrait that you sent out,

Is now in my hand, you are, knock on wood, a beauty…

In you alone I could delight

My little girl, come home, don’t let me sit and cry!…

Don’t forget to light a candle at the second Seder!

Do you have a memorial light for your father yet…

Ach! We lost him unprepared

You, a good father, I, a loyal man!

Obey me! Come back, my sweet daughter, come!

Leave after the holiday, write immediately that you will,

Come my child mine, come, I wander desperately around —

Write me which day and on what ship.

Be well my daughter in that alien land

From where your old mother wishes you were far —

Come home, my only one, back to me,

And thrill your mother with your honeyed glance.


Your writing Mother, sweet and loving,

your sorrow-filled mother’s letter

Delivered a heavy blow

deep within my broken heart.

Your call dear mother moves me so,

Your grief becomes my wail —

No! Newark is not New York, No!

Don’t listen to that man,

There is no danger going on…

In the factory where I produce

There will never be such an affair,

Because it is “fireproof”…

It is built that way,

That death from fire

will ne’er occur.

It’s made of marble and of steel

The floors are stone

The doors from iron made

A fire will never

Burn it down…

I work, thank God, incessantly.

I’m making myself dresses for Peysekh…

It’s truly hard work,

But what can be done?

You get used to it…

When you don’t have a million

It must be so…

I’m sending you for matzah,

For mead and wine

For a new dress —

Use it with joy!…

I’ll put up a candle

For my father’s peaceful rest,

And cry as I do…

Do not fret, Mother

And have no vexation —

There is a heaven,

There is a God…


Her reply was sent in the morning,

That evening in fright

Her body was identified among the devastation,

A firebrand, fallen, burned

Along with a hundred other “hands”…


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