Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Kerosener Rov Part 2: The Tontine Comes to Kaszimierow-deGeneratz


Young Kalman Schmoiger, now called Schmoigerman so as to evade either the draft, prison, or both, did not see a place for himself running his family inn. First of all, there were far too many heirs for the place to be of any real value to him once his father, uncle and aunt were ready to receive the harsh verdict that such reprobates could expect from the Beis Din shel Maalah. And then there was the matter of the stream of charomim from the "Vaad Arba Amarotzes" beis din, which could only be lifted by an ever greater stream of bribes, ranging from a gallon of sliwowice up to tens of thousands of crowns, to the Av Beis Din, who was known as the Tontiner Rebbe for his introduction of the infamous tontine scam to the deGeneratzky lands.

Schmoigerman knew that his only way of escaping the rather mediocre opportunities afforded to him in his home town was to beat the Tontiner Rebbe at his own game.

Actually it should be mentioned that Schmoigerman did have one redeeming feature that might have eventually admitted him to an eternal rest several levels above the hammei Tverya that heat the purgatorial premises of Gehennom. In order to raise the initial capital to begin the scam that would bring the tontine to his home village, Schmoigerman hired himself out as a khapper, or catcher of young men for forced recruitment into the army, at a whopping price of four rubles per kilo of body weight for each young Jewish man captured.

But Schmoigerman would not stoop so far as to send any Jew to the Czarist army, especially in the Ruthenian no man's land which could have been Hungarian on any given day. Instead, he created false passports for hundreds of sturdy young men, and sent them along with a few drunken peasants to the Czarist Army recruitment stations. There, the peasants, a coarse and unruly lot, would be pressed into service after confusing the recruitment officers into believing that hundreds of well nourished young Jewish men were on the way, once the army would send a promissory note back to Schmoigerman thousands of rubles.

At best, Schmoigerman sent a few unfit Jewish men who were in turn rejected and sent back to the deGeneratzky lands, and the confusion he created was enough to net him a hundred thousand rubles (he sold his promissory notes quickly and at a huge discount, and at the time he did not have the chutzpah to include any forged promissory notes, a level of corruption that would have to wait for his later years of total depravity), a huge sum at the time, before he decided to move on and avoid possible prosecution which could have netted him a Hamanoid swing from a high tree.

Thus began the career of Kalman Schmoigerman as a seller and manager of a rather grisly investment scheme called the tontine, in which participants in essence hoped for each other to die so that they remained the last ones standing and could collect the entire sum invested.

The tontine actually had been a legitimate investment vehicle, but in Schmoigerman style as learned from the Tontiner Rebbe, the scheme became a scam of which Charles Ponzi himself would say: "I wisha my nama Schmoigerman, denagaddadaway widda my games!" In fact the Tontiner Rebbe was a distant cousin whose surname was Menubalov, indicating his descent from the already descended Menubal and deMenubal clan from whence issued the Schmoigermans as well.

(part 3 on Sunday)

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