Bob Jablonski was in his mid-20s when his family left Jersey City for the suburbs, but as he neared his 90th birthday, he made up his mind to return.
He was on a special mission.
Seems that in 1947, when he was a 14-year-old sophomore at Ferris High School, he borrowed a library book to research a social studies project but never returned it. Now was the time to do it.
So, earlier this month, Jablonski drove to the main branch of the Jersey City Public Library and surprised staffers when he presented what was thought to be a long-lost hardback copy of “Hitler,” by Oden Rudolph, a left-wing German-Jewish journalist who published the book in 1936 with an English translation by Walter Ettinghausen.
Rudolph, who left Germany before Hitler seized power, wrote the biography “as a sort of warning against him to the world,” according to reviewer Arnold E. Bjorn.
Fortunately for Jablonski, the Jersey City Public Library decided in March 2021 to eliminate fines for overdue books.
“The Jersey City Free Public Library decided to go fine-free when we realized we were losing patrons who might have owed money for books they lost years ago,” said Assistant Director Kate Davis. “We want patrons in the library, and we do not want fines to discourage anyone from coming back to visit us.”
Jablonski said the book was stamped as having been loaned by the Ferris High School library, which at the time was — presumably like other city high schools — a branch of the city library, and that’s why he opted to return it to the city, not the school.
How did he end up with a book about the former German chancellor?
“I remember as a research project, I had to do a story on a country (outside the U.S.),” Jablonski said. “Most kids picked Canada or Mexico. For some reason, I picked Germany, and I found this book on Hitler maybe because it was right after the war. I read it twice. Fifteen years ago was the last time.”
Interestingly, a facsimile reprint of what is described as a “scarce antiquarian book” was issued by Kessinger Publishing LLC in September 2010, and the reviewer Bjorn credits the author with digging up sources to shed light on an adolescent Hitler, judged to be “already a man of strong opinions in his early youth.”
One such account mentions a 20-year-old jobless Hitler who while living in a Vienna homeless shelter tries to convince his comrades “that they ought to start a political party together to change the way things worked,” says Bjorn. For the balance of his book, Olden “follows the biographical outline in Hitler’s own ‘Mein Kampf,’ quoting snippets while adding his own background, comments, and views on the plausibility of individual items.”
Jablonski has lived in Little Falls, NJ, for the past 23 years, but during his moves prior, he periodically reorganized his belongings. As he did so, “the book kept popping up. I finally felt it was time to return it to its rightful owner,” he said. “I enjoyed bringing it back and how much (staffers) appreciated it.”
After graduating from Ferris in 1949, Jablonski enrolled at the former Jersey City State Teachers College where he got a degree in education (though he ended up working on Wall Street). He also served as chairman of the New Jersey State Highway Authority for five years, appointed by former Gov. James Florio.
Jablonski recalled his formative years downtown on Pavonia Avenue, “a block around the corner from Hamilton Park, part of St. Michael’s parish. Outside my grandmother’s house there was all cobblestone. Down the street from us was a big Wells Fargo building, but instead of cars there were all horses around there.”
He said there was a strong sense of neighborhood in those times. “We all went out at night; we met on the corner or on our stoop. Everybody had their own group.”
The good Samaritan will enter his tenth decade in April.