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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Life in Winnipeg and Fighting with Eddie

Max Roytenberg, posted March 6, 2013

Life in Winnipeg was like that in many other Canadian cities. It was a city where English was dominant, language, culture, government. The power structure was English with those of anglo-saxon background having the advantage in accessing the best opportunities in the system. Immigrants were the majority but they hadn’t yet learned the rules of democracy, the power of the vote. That would come much later. Now they were just DP’s, displaced persons who had found a haven from the chaos of their home countries, absolute monarchs, inert hierarchies and rigid class structures, and violence against those who opposed them, and more particularly the Jews, who were at the bottom of the social scale, everyone’s scapegoat. This was particularly true for those coming from eastern Europe who came to Canada in their hundreds of thousands. Many of them landed in Winnipeg, particularly Ukrainians and Jews from that region. Ukrainians brought with them the prejudices against Jews inculcated in them for generations by the clerics of the Orthodox Catholic Church. This situation was not improved by the Jews’ emphasis on education for their children which led to their excelling in the academic arena while Ukrainian students tended to lag. More of the latter ended up in the manual trades, exiting school studies early. Certainly this was enough to contribute to the creation of hostility on the part Ukrainian students vis a vis their Jewish schoolmates.

Aberdeen school was located on Salter St, a busy street in the area of North End Winnipeg not far removed from Winnipeg’s famed railway yards. Salter Street Bridge crossed over those railway yards. Sammy lived on Jarvis St., one street removed from those railway yards. His dad worked at the Dominion Cold Storage on that same street. He was employed to shovel coal into the giant boilers that provided the power to operated the Storage. Across the street from Sammy’s house was a coal and lumber yard. Behind the house the family rented was a junkyard operated by Mr. Eisenstein, their landlord, (his house was located beside them) to whom Sammy’s grandfather, who had a horse and wagon, would sell the used bottles he collected.

Sammy went to Aberdeen School. He had attended that school since he began his education there in Grade one. His experience there had been uneventful, although, after an extended bout of illnesses in his second year he had failed Grade two. At that time his family had lived on Powers street a few blocks to the north, located just beside the school. Being so close to the school he had been able to wait until he heard the bell before leaving his home. As a consequence he was often late for class, which no longer happened now that he was further away.

Sammy remembered that when he was in Grade one, a schoolmate named Billy had thrown a stone at him, striking him in the head. He had fled home in tears. His mother, to his horror and shame, had taken him back to the school to the Principal’s Office, Mr. Muldrew, to protest against this outrage. Sammy had learned from this never to divulge to his mother the happenings of his school life. Many were the instances that Sammy had to defends himself against the attacks of his schoolmates, but his mother was never ever cognizant of them. He carried a particular series of fights with the brothers Boyko, Danny and Tony, in the streets and on the school grounds, most of indeterminate nature, but it was a struggle carried on in secret. Sammy learned that physical defense was a feature of life in his neighbourhood. The brothers had their own problems,

often being beaten by their father when he was in a drunken state on the weekend.

Sammy’s school career reached its apex in Grade five when is teacher, Mrs. Wilson, decide his intellect was of a superior nature and urged his mother to transfer Sammy to a school for gifted children. Since this would have meant hours on the streetcar going and coming, and there was a younger sibling at home, this idea died stillborn. The glow of this celebrity carried over into Grade six, but by the time that Sammy reached the Junior High on the school grounds, his apparent scholastic advantage had disappeared.

For Sammy, his experience at Aberdeen School was forever marked by his confrontation with Eddie Jarocik. Eddie was just one of the guys in his class. Eddie was a big guy, half again his height and weight.They had never exchanged so much as a dozen words. Sammy had never taken any notice of him. On this day, as they were filing into class, Eddie shoved him. Sammy had learned that there was no safety in taking the aggressions of his schoolmates without reaction. Sammy shoved Eddie back.

“Oh! Oh!” Said Eddie. “You asked for it. After school we are going to have a fight.”

Sammy gave it not a second thought, going on with his class, and the next one as well, which was the last for the day. However, when he emerged through the front door of the school with his books, to head for home, Sammy found himself in a large circle of his classmates. It was apparent that Eddie had broadcast to all that there was going to be a fight with him and everyone had gathered for the entertainment.

There was to be no escape. Sammy could not ignominiously refuse the challenge. There was Eddie standing before him baiting him to fight. Sammy cocked his fist and delivered a blow to Eddie’s face with all his strength. Blood began streaming from his nose.

“Oh, first blood,” said Sammy, “let’s shake,” cried Sammy, extending his hand. That was the last thing that Sammy remembered.

Sammy never knew how long he laid on the ground unconscious. All he knew was that he had not seen or felt the blow. When he awoke he was alone in the schoolyard. No-one had remained behind to see if he was alive or dead. Sammy was astonished at his isolation, that no individual in his class had thought to see to his welfare after this event, so different than the ethic in his own community. The reality that Eddie was always friendly with him thereafter was irrelevant. He would always be marked by the absolute necessity for self-reliance and a mistrust of the good will of others.











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