Hymie Rosenberg's life could have been a movie. At least a guy named Steven Spielberg thought so.
Rosenberg's granddaughter wrote a biography of Hymie - his real name was Chaim, Hebrew for "life" - for a class at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Her project won a prize in the mid-1990s, so Marsha Rosenberg tried sending it to Spielberg, the movie mogul famed for making "Schindler's List," among many other films.
And Spielberg's people answered her - with a request to interview the man who lived that life.
There never was a movie about Hymie, who started life in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto at a very dangerous time - as Hitler was starting his Holocaust across Europe - and ended up in a little American beach town, Ventnor, before he died last month at 87.
But a movie would have had to show a teenaged Hymie escaping the ghetto by crawling through miles of sewer pipes infested with filth and vermin. The story would go on to show how he survived the rest of World War II, by joining an underground Jewish resistance group and fighting the Nazis.
After that war, the film would have followed him to the Middle East and another war, for Israeli independence. Then the movie would show Hymie and his wife, Sibilla, sailing to New York and finding their way to Atlantic City. And even though he didn't know a peep of English, Hymie was hired at the city's "aristocrat of kosher hotels," the Breakers - as a busboy.
The movie would have to show Hymie never losing his thick, German-Yiddish accent - but still learning English well enough to quickly become maitre d' at the Breakers, a job that made him a legend and a mentor to a generation of young Jewish workers in Atlantic City.
But the hotel he loved closed and was knocked down, which led him to open Hymie's Sandwich Shop, next to the civil courthouse in Atlantic City - although Hymie's friend and fan, Rona Kaplan, of Margate, can't recall the shop even having a real name, let alone a sign.
Hymie started work every day at 5:30 a.m., in later years with his second wife, Annie - Sibilla died in 1993. In a nice story twist, Annie had been married to Hymie's brother, who also died. The former in-laws fell in love and became husband and wife in 1997.
And any real movie about Hymie would have to show that somehow - even after a Holocaust and wars and success and loss and everything else - he never lost his sense of humor, his Yiddish-flavored "jokes and satirical words of wisdom as he catapulted one coffee after another to his morning clientele," says his granddaughter, Marsha.
That's just an outline, and no, nobody ever did make that movie. But that's not because Hymie wouldn't have been a great story.
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