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Shlemiel Crooks
Shlemiel Crooks
Anna Olswanger

An Egyptian pharaoh sniffs out Reb Olschwanger's Passover wine in the old Jewish neighborhood of St. Louis . . .

Anna Olswanger's Shlemiel Crooks is a limited edition miniature book published by Anna Olswanger Books and hand bound by the late Donald Brady of the Clearview Press. The book has 48 pages, measures 2 1/2 x 2 7/8 inches, and is case bound with imitation leather on the spine and a gold-embossed title. The edition is 495 and includes two reproductions of Yiddish newspaper articles.

The text of Shlemiel Crooks originally appeared in The Young Judaean where it won the 1998 Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Magazine Merit Award for Fiction. Shlemiel Crooks is also available as an illustrated trade book for young readers.


Excerpt from Shlemiel Crooks:

In the middle of the night on a Thursday, two crooks—onions should grow in their navels—drove their horse and wagon to the saloon of Reb Elias Olschwanger at the corner of Fourteenth and Carr Streets in St. Louis. This didn't happen yesterday. It was 1919.

Reb Elias, you should know, didn't have a sit-down kind of saloon with men coming in to guzzle whiskey when they should have been at home helping to fold the laundry. Oh, no! Reb Elias had the kind of saloon with housewives, grandmas even, coming in to buy bottles of wine and brandy, unopened of course and strictly kosher, for the Jewish Sabbath. He was the only one in St. Louis selling kosher wines back then. Listen, he sold kosher cognac too—that's a kind of brandy—and mead, which is made out of honey and goes down easy. And for the children, he kept in the back a barrel of pretzels with lots of thick salt on them.

Meanwhile, the two crooks—potatoes should sprout in their ears—were stealing crates of Passover wine shipped special that year to Reb Elias on a boat from the Land of Israel. Reb Elias paid a little more—okay, he paid a lot more—for that wine. Usually he was buying his Passover stock from the Manischewitz family in Cincinnati, but after Mr. Balfour—excuse me, Lord Balfour—a big politician in England, promised to make a home for the Jews in the Land of Israel, Reb Olschwanger thought maybe they could use the extra business there. The Jews swatting mosquitoes shouldn't have only watery soup and a little goat's milk to drink.

Source Note for Shlemiel Crooks

St. Louis Jewish Record
February 21, 1919

Anna Olswanger never knew her great-grandparents Elias and Dora Olschwanger, not even their names, until 1982. That was the year she made the first of several trips to St. Louis to research her family tree.

With the help of relatives whom she had never met, and St. Louis historians, she located a number of newspaper articles, which mentioned her great-grandfather "Reb" Olschwanger. One of the articles became the basis for Shlemiel Crooks:


Shlimazel crooks, their work was unsuccessful. Last Thursday at 3:00 a.m. in the middle of the night, several men drove to the saloon of Reb Eliyahu Olschwanger at the corner of 14th and Carr Streets. They opened the saloon and removed several barrels of brandy and beer. Mr. Mankel who lives on the second floor, upon hearing what was going on in the saloon, opened the window and began shouting for help. Benjamin Resnik from 1329 Carr Street, hearing the shouting, shot his revolver from his window. The band of crooks got scared and left everything, including their own horse and wagon and ran away. Police immediately came and took everything to the police station.

To purchase a copy of Shlemiel Crooks, send $20.00 (which includes postage and handling) to:

Anna Olswanger
16-60 Chandler Drive
Fair Lawn, NJ 07410-2715

You can also purchase Shlemiel Crooks online with a secure payment through PayPal.


Other Miniature Books by Anna Olswanger

Berl's Blues
Chicken Bone Man

Shlemiel Crooks copyright 1989, 1995, 2003 Anna Olswanger


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