When he is invited to speak before groups on the Eastern Shore, Litman Litow begins by saying, "You may have noticed I have a slight little accent. I don't want to mislead anybody. I'm not really from the South."
Where he's from, originally, is Molczadz, a small town in what used to be Eastern Poland and is now Byelorussia in the Soviet Union. A Holocaust survivor, he fought with the partisans against the Nazis. Today, retired from chicken farming here, he regularly shares a table at Johnny's & Sammy's restaurant with Southern-accented good old boys.
Litow, 63, is one of about 500 Jews who, according to an estimate by The Baltimore Jewish Times, live year-round on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Most of them have homes in and around this Wicomico County seat, where there are an estimated 400 Jews in a county of 65,000.
Many are professional people from the cities who were drawn here by their work.
"We're the lost tribe over here," Litman Litow says.
Eastern Shore Jews who want their children to stay here and marry within the faith are caught in a bind, he said. There are so few eligibles.
For instance, he said, his own son, a psychologist who went away to school, wanted to return to open an office. But Litow discouraged him.
"I told my son, 'For a single Jewish boy, it's no place.' I said, 'Son, find a nice Jewish girl first.' He met in Silver Spring a nice girl and married her, and now he lives near Bowie."
Litman Litow is the senior vice commander of the Jewish War Veterans Liebman-Berger Post 707, which has 37 members. His wife Jean is senior vice president of the women's auxiliary. The post is named after a World War I veteran of the (British-commanded) Jewish Legion and a soldier who died fighting in Vietnam.
Litow is a past president of Salisbury's Beth Israel Congregation, where the post meets and where he was cantor for 29 years. The congregation consists of about 135 households.
Litman Litow is a naturalized American citizen proud of his country and community, but the war -- what it did to his people, and his role in it -- remains the central experience of his life.
He holds dear a book published in 1973 by Jewish survivors from his home town. It tells, in Hebrew, how the Molczadz Jews lived and died.
"I read it about once a year," he said. "It's like going to visit a grave."
Litow's nightmares have tapered off. But once, years ago, he dreamed the Nazis had invaded Salisbury. "I thought, 'How am I going to fight them?' I thought, 'What a fool I am.' I surrendered my arms. I have a friend here, an antique-arms dealer. I dreamt I snuck over to his store. Then I woke up."
He told his friend about the dream. The next day, the friend presented him with a 1926 single-bolt Russian rifle. Showing the gun to visitors, Litman recalled, "He said, 'Next time you have a dream, here it is.' "
Litman Litoworski's personal journey from antifascist freedom fighter to retired Eastern Shore chicken farmer is a tale of perseverence, pluck and luck -- and survival. "I was no hero, by no means," he said.
"When I went out in the underground, I never expected to make it. By logic or chance, it wasn't in the cards. The only thing was to pick your way of dying and I didn't want to be led to the graves."
That's how his father, three sisters and other Jews from his home town died, he said. They were lined up and shot to death by the Germans.
Along with Litow, two sisters and a brother survived by escaping to the woods and joining the Resistance in May 1942. Litman Litow was not yet 20.
The brother and one sister live today in Israel. The other sister emigrated to the United States. Haunted by memories, she committed suicide earlier this year. "She never made it after the war," Litow said.
His first wife, Zelda, who died in 1969, was the only survivor of her family of 72, he said. She, too, had joined the Resistance.
Litow (he changed his name after coming to the United States) grew up six miles from the town of Molczadz on his family's 50-acre farm, where potatoes, barley, wheat, rye, oats and clover grew. The farm was seized by the German occupiers, but Litow and a few others were allowed to work the fields for the Third Reich.
"We worked so hard to drown our despair in hard work," he said.
They hid a rifle, a couple of grenades and 50 rounds of ammunition in the fields, for the time they knew would surely come. They left at night and joined with other small groups of resisters who had fled the Nazis.
The Resistance members organized into units, eventually coalescing into two all-Jewish units under a man named Tevia Belski. They were among 1,100 men and women living at what Litow calls "our main base in the wilderness."
Litow was commander of a squad that mined bridges, railroads and highways. He and his men also executed local collaborators who turned in Jews to the Germans.
"I hated the first time I shot a person," he said. "I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep." But he had no regrets.
"One pleasure is to see the murderer squirming at the end of your barrel," he recalled.
Once, Litow said, he and his squad went to the home of a dry goods merchant who had informed on a friend of Litow. "We took him out and shot him," the retired farmer said. "We didn't want to do it in front of his family . . . .
"We had a policy. If a man came and took Jewish goods, we didn't bother him" because it meant there would be less for the Germans to take. "But whoever turned over hidden Jews, we were after. You might say we were the avengers. We were the court of last resort."
After the war, Litow and his wife lived in camps for displaced persons and then, making their way to Palestine, wound up in Italy, where his wife became ill. She had a cousin, Isaac Rabinowitz, who owned a chicken processing plant in Harbeson, Del., so that's where they went, in April 1948.
"When I looked at that slaughtering line, moving 85 to 90 chickens a minute, I said to Rabinowitz, 'It reminds me of Auschwitz, how they processed people.' He said he'd never thought about it that way."
Litow became the manager of the poultry plant, a post he held until 1955. Then he bought some of the firm's land and went into business for himself.
"When I came here, it took 12 weeks and four pounds of feed to raise a three-pound chicken. Today, it takes six weeks and less than four pounds of feed to raise a four pound chicken," he said.
He raised five flocks of 135,000 broiler chickens each a year on 280 acres of land. He was no Frank Perdue, but he made a good living, raised two children and provided for himself and his second wife a comfortable and early retirement. He retired three years ago when he was 60.
He still owns 200 acres in Maryland and Delaware that he rents to farmers who grow soybeans and corn. But the chicken houses have stopped operating.
"This is nice country. I love it here," he said, as he drove two visitors east from Salisbury into "the real thick of the chicken farms. They're almost one on top of the other. Once you are born on a farm, you don't mind to visit a city, but you don't want to live there."
Litow is more than content to remain here on the Eastern Shore, where he lives in a modest house, keeps active in the synagogue and schmoozes with his Maryland buddies at Johnny's & Sammy's every morning at 10.
"If you haven't found out yet, he's a character," his wife said.
"Now that I've retired, I'm somebody," Litman Litow said. "My wife says, 'Will somebody please take out the garbarge?' "