Only A Muted Violin is All that Remains of Them

Published March 15, 2011.
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Originally published in the Forverts, March 29 ,1911

A fiddle hangs on the wall, but the hand which played it is lying somewhere, a piece of coal. Among the 30 bodies in the morgue it has not been found.

Let us go to the second room in 78 Clinton Street, where the family Rosen lived, and where the walls are weeping. Deep sorrow looks out of every corner; everything cries, laments.

On Saturday evening Esther Rosen, a girl of 14 years, sat with her two little brothers, Sam, 10, and Abe, 3, in their threadbare house and waited for their mother and brother.

The mother, Mrs. Julia Rosen, 35 years old, a widow for the last 5 years, and her oldest son, Isaac, were working together in the Triangle shop. The mother and son used to go to work together, come home together, and fill the dark rooms with light and joy.

Last Saturday, Esther and her two little brothers waited a long time for their mother. Becoming worried, they went down to the street, where they met their cousin running wild eyed to ask them if their mother and brother had come home.

When the cousin heard that they had not returned, he left the two brothers with neighbors and ran with the 14-year-old to the morgue. Esther found her mother on Sunday morning with a split head and broken bones. They looked all day Sunday and Monday among the dead for the brother, Isaac, but for nothing. Not a sign could be found of the spirited boy who used to entertain everyone in the evening with his fiddle.

Yesterday, the mother was buried. After the funeral a relative from Philadelphia took the children from the house. The neighbors gathered around, looking on at the tragic scene and speaking quietly about Mrs. Rosen.

It was enough — one woman cried out — that for this she tried, two times, to come to America!

From this woman the reporter from the Forverts found out the few facts which it was possible to obtain about Mrs. Rosen and her family.

Mrs. Rosen came from the Podolia region. Five years ago her husband died there of consumption. The husband had been in America, but as he became ill Mr. Rosen went home, hoping he would recover. Before he died he told his wife all about America, and Mrs. Rosen promised to go to America after he died to work and raise her children.

When she arrived at Ellis Island for the first time, she was sent back to Russia. She then made a second attempt, which was successful. They had let her into the Golden Land.

For two years she worked bitterly hard. Then her older son turned 14 and began working, and the mother’s burden became lighter; the worry became a bit smaller.

But the small piece of prosperity did not last long. The strike of the Ladies Vest Makers broke out and Mrs. Rosen and her son were among the first to put down their work and fight against the murderous dealings of the bosses.

Mrs. Rosen and her son remained on strike all 28 weeks, forced to borrow, loan, and starve, but they continued to fight for human rights.

Last autumn her daughter, Esther, turned 14 years old. But the mother didn’t want her only daughter to work in winter, so the daughter became the balebuste in the house. A week ago the mother told the neighbors that she would only work until a week before Pesach, after which she would send her daughter to the shop and she would rest.

You can’t imagine what kind of a woman Mrs. Rosen was. Mrs. Abraham Fast, who lives one floor above the flat where Mrs. Rosen lived, said to the reporter from the Forverts that both Mrs. Rosen and her boy were quiet, sweet people. Both the mother and the son had a great love of music, and when the 17-year-old Isaac would play the violin in the evening all the neighbors would come to listen. It is hard these days to find such nice children. Mrs. Rosen’s house was poor, but tidy, and every corner glowed.

One normally praises the dead, but the praises that the neighbors bestowed on Mrs. Rosen appear honest and justified. Mrs. Rosen could easily have gotten married. She was a pretty, likeable woman, with soft eyes and thick black hair, and many men fought amongst themselves to marry her. But she didn’t want her children to suffer a stepfather, and she promised not to marry until her children had grown up.

Esther, the oldest of the orphans, has become pale as a sheet the past two days. Her eyes can’t stay still in her head. She runs around wildly, screaming “Mama, Isaac!”

Meanwhile, her two brothers are mixed up, as if in a dream. Their eyes look at you as if they can’t understand at all. The truth of what is going through their heads begins to appear, however, and they shake with their whole bodies and cry with a loud voice, “Mama, Isaac, Mama Isaac.”

When the black horse-drawn hearse with the body of the mother came to the house yesterday, hundreds of neighbors came together. Everyone thought that the bodies of both the mother and the son had been brought, and when the friends of the dead became aware that the body of Isaac had not been found, a fresh outcry broke out from tens of hearts.

Coming from the funeral, Mrs. Rosen’s few relatives came to her plain home and became to pack up her few household goods. There, a new, heart-rending episode played out, with a new outbreak of tears from the onlookers.


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