A Literary Magazine in Support of the Jewish Community

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"Doubtful" by Lori Rottenberg


       for my grandfather, Sigmund Rottenberg, 1910-1994

October 1935: Just one more season of selling furs to frauen. Your Berlin birth meaningless, you did not own the ground you walked on.


A snarly underling wears a brown shirt to work, demands you make him partner. You are a furnace, fueled by the molten myth of your own dignity, laugh flames. They hold you for three days, ripping and burning away whatever dancing your 25-year-old leg might have once held.


Finally, something from your parents’ tenuous Hungarian birthright: the legation comes to free you, it still being considered a good use of time to save even one Jew.


A chance meeting with one of your workers as you limped to work in November your second salvation: Don’t go to the shop! They’re waiting for you!


Here is where you tell the story differently each time I ask, a kaleidoscope of truth. Once you jump off a train in Belgium. Once you kill a Nazi. Once a distant relative vouches for you. But you would never see the bed you woke up in that morning again, were dressed in enough money and papers to get on a boat, escape.


I am made manifest by your manifest but, oh yes, you were doubtful. Your once-fine suit, the leg with the seeping bandage, your flimsy tourist visa from Hungary, no luggage, labeled you: Doubtf. 3 (2).


Again in a holding cell, you spoke four languages but not the one you needed. They kept you at Ellis Island 48 hours, until maybe a border agent felt generous when the sun hit his face through a clerestory window, or maybe he had gotten laid the night before, or maybe he flipped a coin.


You were allowed; the knot untangled just enough that I might be born.



Sigmund Rottenberg

Lori Rottenberg

Lori Rottenberg has published poetry in many journals and anthologies. Her writing about Judaism is featured on the Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness website. Through the 2021 Arlington Moving Words competition, one of her poems was chosen to appear on county buses, and she served as a visiting poet in Arlington Public Schools for over a decade. She works at George Mason University, where she teaches writing to international students and poetry to students in the Honors College. She is in her third year of studies at the George Mason University MFA Poetry program.



Lori Rottenberg