Cantor Max Sternthal
HELP CELEBRATE MY 92 BIRTHDAY (September 23, 2018)
Download FREE my album and books and then forward them to “young people” who are interested to learn the incredible story of European Jewry in the twentieth century, from Shtetl through the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel. I was inspired to write these books and record this album for my Grandsons and all young people, to help them understand the history of their antecedents, the two million Jews who fled persecution in in East Europe and developed two great centres of Jewish life in Canada/USA and Israel.
In 2010 (I was 84) my life took a dramatic turn
It was a normal Sunday morning and I was at a retirement home, telling stories of the Shtetl, the Holocaust, and then the story of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. At the conclusion of the story, I picked up my guitar and sang (in English and then in Yiddish) the anthem of the Jewish resistance fighters: When I was half-way through the Yiddish version, I was startled to hear load moaning and cries from a member of the audience. After I concluded the program, an elderly woman Esther, approached me and apologized for disturbing my program and said: When I hear that song, I go to pieces.
"I am a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto"
When I recovered from her statement, she unveiled this extraordinary story: After the young German guard at the Jewish Ghetto factory smashed her forehead with his rifle because she would not leave with him, she ran home bleeding. That night, her father and brother placed her in a potato sack and carried the sack on their shoulders to a previously arranged spot on the Ghetto wall, where they lifted and threw her over the wall into the hands of a friendly Christian who carried her to safety. Two months later, Esther looked up and saw the ghetto on fire. She was now the sole survivor of her family.
When Esther finished her harrowing tale, she surprised me by shaking her finger in my face and scolding me and said: “Mr. Sternthal, you are in the wrong place. You should be telling your stories and singing your songs to young people who know little and soon will know nothing about these terrible events, not to us old people. We know these stories because we lived them. I was stunned, but I soon found my voice, and I took her hands in mine, and vowed to spend the rest of my years, to address young people to relate these stories and sing these songs.
My Cousin Danny and his Mysterious Box is the story of a Jewish boy who survived the Holocaust thanks to the Christian family who hid him on their farm during the second World War. After the war, while searching for his parents, Danny encounters many rebuffs because he has no identification papers or a tattoo on his arm. Finally, Danny proves his identity by reciting the first of the four questions asked by the youngest child at the Passover Seder.
A prominent Publisher: What a poignant story! I was deeply moved….it is a powerful story that must be told!”
12 year old Miriam wrote: “Cantor Max, thanks for coming to my school. Your book is amazing! I hope you continue writing books for people like me to enjoy.”
I remember walking along the streets leading to my home. I passed collapsed buildings and the large craters left behind by bombs. I was pleased to see that the building that housed father’s shoe business and our apartment upstairs was largely intact. I took a deep breath, stood up tall and knocked on the door.
After a time, I heard a voice from the other side of the door say: ‘What do you want?’ I cleared my throat and declared in a loud voice: ‘I was born in this house. I am looking for my father and mother. Please let me in.” The voice inside said: ‘Go away. This is my home. It was empty when I came here and nobody will cause me to move now. You are probably a phony trying to fool me.’ When I shook my head and tried to insist, the voice commanded me to show my identification papers. I had to admit I didn’t have any proof of who I was or where I had lived at the start of the war. ‘Just as I thought you’re a liar,’ said the voice behind the door. ‘Go away or I’ll call the police.’
“The voice retreated. I was shaken. I sat down, hugging my shoebox close to my body. It was the only thing from the past that I had left in the world. I didn’t have identity papers and I didn’t know how to get new papers to prove who I was. I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”
“It was a very bad time. I was turned away from my home and was wandering without direction in my ruined city. As the sun started to set, I realized I was exhausted. I needed to lie down, but where? Then I noticed that the house I was passing looked empty. The front door was lying in the dirt. I peeked in cautiously and then entered. After making sure that the house was empty, I sat down on a torn sofa and soon fell asleep.
“I felt someone shaking me violently and shouting: ‘Get up, get up and get out of here.’ I opened my eyes and saw a tall, thin man with a bandage on his head, shouting: ‘This is my place now and for any Jews that are still alive after your stinking concentration camps. Go before I wrap my stick around your head.’
I was now fully awake and shouted back: Wait I am a Jew too!’ ‘Oh yeah!’ he sneered, ‘with those clean clothes and good shoes? You can’t fool me. You’re not a Jew. ‘But I am a Jew,’ I insisted.
“The man pulled up the sleeve of his shirt and pointed to the tattooed number on his arm. ‘If you are a Jew, show me your number.’ I hung my head. ‘I don’t have a number,’ I said, almost ashamed that I had avoided his horrible fate of being imprisoned in a concentration camp. ‘A couple hid me on a farm.’ ‘A likely story,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you go back to them then?’ He scowled and pointed the way out. Dejected, I picked up my shoebox and slowly moved to the open door. First I couldn’t prove that my home had indeed been my home, and now I couldn’t even prove that I was Jewish. Suddenly I had an idea. At the empty doorway, I turned and shouted: ‘Ma nishtano halayla hazeh michol halaylot — Why is this night different from all other nights?’
“It was the customary first question, in Hebrew, that I, as the youngest person present, had to ask my father on the night we celebrated the Jewish Passover so many years before. ‘I don’t remember the other three questions I was taught in Hebrew,’ I continued quickly when I saw the look of surprise in the man’s eyes, ‘but I remember we drank wine and ate matzos and when I found the piece of matzo hidden by my father, he gave me a coin as a reward, and then we sang a song with the word Dayienu. My name is Daniel Fineberg, I am a Jew. I was hidden by a Christian family for four years. I don’t know where my parents are. I have no papers. I don’t know where to go. Please, don’t turn me away!’
The tall man hurried over and wrapped his arms around me. ‘I’m sorry. I believe you now. I am Shlomo Grynzpan. I hope that somewhere I still have a son who is around your age. You can stay with me for now. I will look after you.
For the next few weeks, I walked with Shlomo who was also looking for any survivors of his family.
EXCERPT: MY COUSIN DANNY
additional readings into the Passover Seder is a
popular custom in many homes.
Danny, age 12, is searching for his parents after being hidden for four war years by a Christian German couple on their farm. He has no identification papers nor a tattoo on his arm. He cannot prove where he was born or that he is Jewish. How he resolves ths problem, will resonate with all young people at the Seder table and bring tears to the eyes of all!
Is the memoirs of my life. A guide to my grandsons and to all young people about to enter life’s competitive stage.
Cantor Max’s foreword: "From the perspective of my ninetieth year, this candid account of my struggles, successes and failures while growing up in the Montreal great depression era, will hopefully serve as an “ethical guide” for my grandsons and all young people about to enter today’s competitive world."
P.M. Dupuis: ..."reminiscent of both the Jewish Montreal of Richler and Leonard Cohen and the end of the era of “Death of a salesman.”
A.E. Smith:….”What is means to be Jewish in a secular, often hostile world.”
Kathy Clark:….”an entertaining guide for how to become a man of conviction and firm moral integrity.”