Battle for Kremlin November 1917
Riot on Nevsky Prospekt, Petrograd
Funerals of students and youths
Battle for Kremlin November 1917
Riot on Nevsky Prospekt, Petrograd
Funerals of students and youths
Why did my grandfather only save a Guild Certificate from Odessa, a place never mentioned by my family, and no documents from anywhere else? As my mother had once said on a tape she made about her family before she died, that she thought her father might have had a shoe factory in Kiev, I decided to turn my search to Kiev in 1902. Could my grandfather have begun working towards his Guild Certificate in Kiev and then continued in Odessa? My grandparents had originally come from Baranovichi, west of Minsk, where their first two children, Aron and Sara, were born. That the family stayed there until they went to Odessa would have been another possibility, but I have never found any online records for Baranovichi. One possibility is that the next two children, the ones who may have mysteriously died in the Odessa pogrom, were born very close together before the family arrived in Odessa in late 1902. If my grandfather had wanted to end up in Odessa, why might he have started out in Kiev? Was it easier for some reason to start a machine shoe factory in Kiev than in Odessa? Did he have relations in Kiev who could help him? I needed some evidence of where my grandparents were living in order to find the birth records and names of the two missing children which might then lead me to their death certificates if they died naturally.
I wondered again about the photograph I have of the two eldest children possibly taken in 1902 when the daughter was about 18 months and the son nearly 4. I assume this was taken around the time the next child was born. Could it have been taken in Baranovichi or Kiev? The stone wall prop in the photograph looks like many photographs of children taken in Odessa at that time, but I have never found one with exactly the same background. Possibly it was from Kiev although there are far fewer studio portraits from turn-of-the-century Kiev online to compare.
Aron and Sara 1902?
Kiev portrait 1898
Then I looked back at the Odessa Craft Guild Certificate at the few words of handwriting written in the blanks on the half of the document which still exists. On the line above where it says ‘the year 1902’ and ‘No.205’, it says in print ‘the document issued to him from’ and then there followed a word I couldn’t decipher until now, when I realised, by checking some of the letters with a couple of words above, that it said ‘Gorodische’, the town where my grandfather and two more generations of my grandparents’ families were from. The next word is illegible as it is on the torn edge. Could it be that my grandfather originally received a craft certificate in 1902 in Gorodische (near Baranovichi) as it was his birthplace, the place he originally became a shoemaker or their home in 1902? Was the certificate then transferred to Kiev or Odessa?
1905 Odessa Craft Guild Certificate of Yankel-Khaim Leib Rabinovich (Jacob Leon Rabinovich)
I had looked for information about Kiev before I realised that the Guild Certificate was from Odessa and I had downloaded a few Kiev directories from 1905, 1906 and 1912. I had not seen my grandfather in them and had not given them any thought since then. I had found a jeweller on the main street, Kreschatik 25, named Yakhnovich, my grandmother’s maiden name, which was very uncommon, and wondered if this was a relative and my grandparents’ link with Kiev. My grandmother also had had two older sisters who had lived and studied in Kiev as teenagers in the 1880s before emigrating to America. Now I realised I needed some earlier years of the directory, particularly 1902-1904. I returned to the website where I had found the directories. They had the years I wanted but the download did not seem to be working. Nothing could have been more frustrating, and after struggling with it for a couple of days, I found another website where the directories from 1899-1914, minus 1904, could be seen online but not downloaded. (search Цифрова бібліотека – НБУВ)
I scrolled through the years I wanted and found that there was a Shmuel Meer Rabinovich and Shaya Shevelevich Rabinovich who had leather shops or businesses in Kiev. One was on the same street as Sholem Aleichem’s house, Bolshaya Vasilkovskaya, number 2, at the top of the main street Kreschatik. The other was on Aleksandrovskaya Square, at the beginning of Konstantinskaya Street, a main business and shopping street which lay between the lower town and the steep hills rising above it. Also, only in the years 1902 and 1903, there was a Rabinovich, the only Rabinovich with no initials, who had a shoe shop. He was also in another list called ‘bootmakers’ which in later years became a list of master shoemakers. I looked at the two addresses for these businesses, Konstantinskaya 2 and Dmitrievskaya 14, and with much searching on several very comprehensive websites of old photographs of Kiev, before the city was redeveloped in the 1990s, discovered that the address of the bootmaker, probably a workshop address, was a building with several leather businesses. This address was probably very close to the leather business of Shaya Rabinovich.
Kiev directory 1902 shoe shop ad
The address with the shoe shop, Dmitriskaya 14, was a long street higher up in the city which began with rows of mostly two-storey buildings with shops but further on became more residential. Some of the buildings in the first stretch of the street had several shops but 14 had only one.
Dmitriskaya at its beginnings, where number 14 would have been, at the corner of Bulvarno-Kudryadskoi
Could this Rabinovich be my grandfather? Normally I would not give any thought to a Rabinovich with no first initials as there were so many Rabinoviches. But this was a Rabinovich shoemaker. There were no other Rabinovich shoemakers in Kiev at that time and I had not come across any in Odessa. I had come across two wealthy Jacob Leon Rabinoviches, the exact name of my grandfather, in Odessa, so I could conclude possibly that names were less important than trade or business. It was a very long shot but somehow to find a Rabinovich who had both a shoe shop and workshop in the exact years I was looking for seemed like something that should not just be instantly ignored. If both these Rabinoviches without initials are the same shoemaker, and it seems highly unlikely there were suddenly two for the same few years, it seems very ambitious of my grandfather to start out in a new city with two businesses at some distance from each other. If he had got this far, there must have been some calamity that forced him to give up his life in Russia in 1906.
15 and 17 Dmitriskaya (across from the shoe shop)
Checking the directories in the years after my possible grandfather left Kiev, I found that Shmuel and Shaya Rabinovich had their leather businesses in 1905 but only Shmuel is there in 1906. He also began to have a shoe business in a large permanent market at the lower end of the town, the Jewish area of Podol which he kept from 1906-1908. Shmuel no longer had either business after 1908 but in 1910 his son, Meer Shmuelevich Rabinovich has his previous tile stove business and is running his father’s leather business.
Did my grandfather have a relation or relations in Kiev, one or both of the Rabinoviches with leather businesses, who advised him, possibly helped him, possibly sold his shoes afterwards in the market? Was the jeweller Yakhnovich also a relation? Was that why my grandfather began creating his business in Kiev rather than Odessa? There was another particularly strange coincidence in the Kiev directories, although this time the years did not match my grandparents last few years in Russia. Beginning in the 1906 directory, there was a woman feldsher, a medical assistant or midwife, Rebekka Moishe Rabinovich, the exact name of my grandmother, who worked with another feldsher at the house of a feldsher who later became a doctor, Andrevsky Descent 38, one of the steep slopes rising from the lower part of Kiev. Andrevsky Descent 38 is the last house at the top of the hill in the shadow of the Andrevsky Church which dominates the skyline.
Rebekka is in the directory one more year, 1907, so if it was my grandmother there would have had to have been a mistake. Unfortunately there is no directory for 1904 and the pages for medical professionals are missing from the 1905 directory, so it is difficult to tell when this Rebekka Rabinovich began working. Previous to 1904 there do not appear to be any women feldshers listed, so it might be that women were not listed until after 1903. Later the category of feldsher included the masculine and feminine forms of the word. There has never been any mention that my grandmother had any medical training, but one of her older sisters, Anna, had studied nursing in Vienna, and a couple of her cousins were very successful pharmacists. She also very much wanted her youngest son to be a pharmacist and supposedly encouraged my mother to study medicine. The younger son had been interested in languages but studied pharmacy for a couple of years, probably dropping out at the end, and worked for a few years in a shoe shop before drowning at the age of 23. My mother studied English and German, possibly fulfilling her brother’s wish.
In Natan M Meir’s Kiev, Jewish Metropolis: A History, 1859-1914 (2010), he describes an example from the records of a family moving from Odessa to Kiev in 1901 and their problems with residence permits and craft certificates, which puts my grandparents’ situation in context.
Rukhlia (Rokhel) Aronovna Roitman moved to Kiev with her husband Aron and child in 1901 from Odessa; the couple was originally from Zhitomir. According to a petition that Roitman submitted to the Kiev provincial governor in 1904, Aron, a typesetter by trade, found work at a printing shop and applied for a residence permit, but soon fell ill and travelled to stay with relatives so that he could convalesce. Since the relatives could not be expected to support their entire family – they now had three children – Roitman decided to stay in Kiev to work as a seamstress; she had received a certificate attesting to her mastery of the craft from the Zhitomir Artisan Board in 1894. Since her details are sketchy, we do not know if Roitman practised her craft while her husband was working or why the couple decided to move to Kiev. However, it seems likely that they had left Odessa for Kiev in the hopes that Aron would find employment there; perhaps the downturn in the Odessa economy had put him out of work. As for Roitman, it may be that she had obtained her artisan certificate while an unmarried adolescent or young woman and had worked as a seamstress until she married Aron or perhaps until they had their first child; the wording of her petition suggests that she had not been working while Aron was employed. (113-114)
As neither of my grandparents’ younger children were born in Odessa, it may be that they did not move there until 1905 and were able to get the Guild Certificate quite quickly on the basis of the workshop and shop in Kiev. I want to fantasise so far as to think that my grandmother was a feldsher, possibly working part-time while a nanny watched the children, like Sholem Aleichem’s wife who worked as a dentist, but it makes more sense that she might have been minding the shop while my grandfather ran the workshop. And then, I will imagine them, with their four children, moving everything to Odessa to set up another shop and workshop by the sea, where they could grow fruit trees and grapes. And the hunt for how and where the four children became two children continues.
Several families, like the Nachmanoviches from Kishinev, the Felds from Berdichev, my own family, who probably moved from Kiev, and probably many others seemed attracted to Odessa like a magnet in the first years of the new century, pulling them from further north in Ukraine, possibly with the hope of better business opportunities, more open minded views on religion and education, and the safety of an established multicultural city. Pogroms, like the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, must certainly have been a catalyst. But these stories of families’ complicated moves from one town to another are rarely told. And so Odessa grew and grew in those years up to 1905, causing a rise of underlying tensions in what appeared to be a varied and harmonious population, where people from different religions and cultures lived side-by-side across the city. Searching for safety, these families gravitated towards lively, colourful Odessa, creating the situation that would end up destroying them, fulfilling the prophecy of Death at Samarkand that you cannot escape your fate.
One well-known person who made the move earlier from Kiev to Odessa was Sholem Aleichem, after having lost his fortune on the stock exchange during the crash of 1890. He fled to Europe to avoid creditors and in 1891 settled with his family in Odessa, a city that was ideal for him in having a lively group of Jewish writers and artists. However, after three years of gaining and then losing his money again, he returned to Kiev to try his luck once more with the stock exchange. He experienced the 1905 pogrom in Kiev, and as a result decided to leave Russia.
A table of pogroms from 1903 to 1906 – American Jewish Yearbook, Vol 8 (1906-07) (http://museumoffamilyhistory.com/ajc-yb-v08-pogroms.htm) shows that there were actually two pogroms in Kiev, one on the 23 July in which 100 Jews were killed and 406 wounded, which is never mentioned, and another on 31 October, a three-day pogrom, in which 60 were killed, 369 wounded, and 2000 shops were looted. Even though Kiev was not a Jewish centre and generally thought to not have as active a Jewish community as other towns and less of a self defence league, according to this table the self defence league was heroic and suffered most of the deaths in the second pogrom.
Kiev never became the kind of Jewish cultural centre as other towns like Vilna and Berdichev because, as a commercial centre, the city had always been careful about keeping Jews from dominating business, and on and off since the 1600s, Jews were either expelled from the city, or only certain professionals and craftsmen were allowed in the centre of the city, others having to live on the outskirts or in Podol, a poor area near the port, often flooded by the river. Frequently there were raids on houses where it was thought a Jew did not have the correct residence permit. The rules could change with different government leaders and life was uncertain for many Jews, but there were far more business and educational opportunities than in small towns.
Kiev 1903 (http://toursdekiev.com.ua/ru/map)
Kiev was a city that rose steeply from the river, the Dnieper, and was also divided by steep ravines, with the poor living in the lower area, a lower-middle-class of professionals, shopkeepers, successful craftsmen and small businessman in the middle, and a few wealthy merchants and successful professionals living in large detached houses with gardens at the top.
Sholem Aleichem was born Solomon Rabinovich in Pereyaslav, a large town overlooking the river Dnieper south of Kiev and was brought up in the nearby small town of Voronko, where his father was a successful businessman until he was swindled out of all his money and had to return to Pereyaslav. Many Russian Jewish families seem to gain and lose fortunes, through bad luck, mismanagement, or the changing restrictive laws against Jews. Sholem Aleichem himself carried on this tradition of insecure finances through gaining and losing on the stock market and the insecurities of income from writing, although he did begin with a large fortune from his wife.
His daughter describes their apartment in Kiev as elegant – ‘the living-room pieces which had been imported from Vienna, the large black concert grand on which my father loved to improvise sad melodies, the vast lamp that hung over a massive dining table. For servants we had two live-in domestics, a cook and a nursemaid for my baby brother, and also a woman who came in to do the laundry… We could hardly, then, be called “poor” by any standards, except perhaps those of Babushka, who had lived with grandfather Elimelech on his estate.’ (My father, Sholom Aleichem , Marie Waife-Goldberg, 1968:111) Because of their insecure finances her mother trained to become a dentist after the children had started school. Between 1898 and 1903 the family lived at 35 Bolshaya Vasilkovskaya, a major shopping street high above the river. The building has recently been destroyed and redeveloped.
33 Bolshaya Vasilkovskaya
In 1905, Sholem Aleichem‘s family, now living around the corner at 27 Saksaganskogo, moved to a nearby hotel, The Imperial, when it was obvious, as the unrest increased after the October manifesto, that a pogrom was imminent.
A building with smashed windows which was photographed during the pogrom was directly behind 27 Saksaganskogo on the next street, 5 Zhylianskaya.
Building with smashed windows on Zhylianskaya St
5 Zhylianskaya St
His daughter describes being awakened by a terrible noise the next day ‘a confused racket of clatters and clashes, of loud shouts and shrill cries. We ran from our beds to the windows on the street and looked down on the scene of brutality and murder – a gang of hoodlums beating a poor young Jew with heavy sticks; blood was running over the face of the young man, who was vainly shrieking for aid. A policeman stood nearby, casually looking on and not moving a finger.’ (161)
Another writer who experienced the 1905 pogrom in Kiev, Konstantin Paustovsky (1892-1968), wrote in his autobiography, Story of a life, about witnessing the marches, demonstrations and shootings after the Tzar’s October manifesto as a 13-year-old and the local Jews who were hidden in their building during the pogrom, a story very like that told by Valentin Kataev.
He describes how the children at his school were told that because of the Imperial manifesto it was a holiday, so they rushed out of school joining the crowds moving towards the marches. Then he hears the sound of shots being fired and is taken in hand by an older student who pushes him inside a courtyard. The last image he sees is ‘a slight young student, with his greatcoat unbuttoned, leaping on the window ledge of Balabukha’s shop and drawing a revolver.’ Then ‘We were running through narrow yards and alleys, followed by the sound of screams, shots and running feet. The daylight had suddenly dimmed, misted over with yellow smoke. My heavy satchel rattled and banged on my back. We came out into Proreznaya Street and ran on towards the Golden Gate. Two shiny ambulances swept by. People raced past us, panting and with pale faces. A Cossack patrol galloped up the street, the officer with a drawn sabre… After she had left I leaned against the railings and took off my cap. I had a terrible headache and I was very frightened. An old man in a bowler hat stopped and asked me if I was all right. I didn’t answer, I was speechless. He walked on shaking his head.’ (122)
In Irene Nemirovsky’s novel, The Dogs and the Wolves, set partly in her childhood Kiev in the early 1900s, she describes two young cousins who, as the pogrom is beginning, were sent with their maid to the house of a Christian friend, but became separated from the maid and find themselves running through alleys like Paustovsky. ‘Some Cossacks on horseback galloped across the street. In the crush that followed, Ada and Ben got separated from Nastasia. Without thinking, they threw themselves into a nearby courtyard, then another, until they reached an alleyway and ended up back on the main road. They could hear the Cossacks shouting, horses whinnying, their hooves beating the frozen ground. The children were delirious with fear. Blindly they kept running, panting, holding each other’s hand, absolutely convinced that the horde of soldiers was after them and that they would meet the same fate as the woman who had been crushed to death a few moments before.’ (47)
Sholem Aleichem and his family were in a rare privileged position as Jews to be able to watch the pogrom in safety from a hotel window. A similar view of the pogrom from the safety of a window was that of Michael Ignatieff’s grandmother in his memoir The Russian Album, a young mother in 1905, recently moved to the beautiful Lipki district of Kiev near the palace and its gardens, where her husband was a government official, soon to become governor of Kiev province. From her apartment window on Levashkovskaya Street she saw ‘a strange procession slowly approaching up the street. They were poor people mostly, marching in rows, singing hymns, carrying icons… Then the rocks began to fly through the air and the glass in the house opposite belonging to a Jewish merchant started breaking. It seemed fantastic and surreal, this sudden irruption of riot into the little frame of Natasha’s existence. As the glass crashed on the street below her and looters began climbing in through the shattered windows, the crowd sang hymns Natasha had known from childhood.’ (79) She is not aware at the time that a Jewish woman living opposite, whose children have scarlet fever, asks their valet if she can shelter her children there. The valet feels he cannot hide the children without his master’s order and does not tell his mistress until later, and the landlady is also not willing to take in the sick children who might infect the children of the house. The mother fled with her children into town, but nothing is said about what eventually happened to them.
Destruction of MB Halperin’s property Kiev 1905
(photos from Kiev Jewish Metropolis, a history 1859-1914, Natan Meir 2010)
Kiev pogrom 1905
Like Sholem Aleichem‘s family, my own Rabinovich family may also have migrated from Kiev to Odessa and back to Kiev, but unfortunately at the time of the pogrom in Odessa. Also like Sholem Aleichem‘s family they seem to have had fluctuating fortunes, my great grandfather having been one of the most successful families in the small city of Novogrudok, owning a paper mill, hotel and department store, but the family fortune seems to have dwindled in the next generation, and my grandfather possibly went to the major city of Kiev or Odessa to try and improve on his family’s shoe business in Baranovichi. For several years I have been accumulating records about Odessa in the first few years of the 1900s because my Rabinovich grandfather had carefully saved a 1905 Odessa Craft Guild Certificate, which also had the date 1902 on it, possibly the date he began working towards becoming a master machine-shoemaker. I was particularly looking for the birth records of two little uncles of mine who were born sometime between 1902 and 1904, and died before the family left Odessa just after the pogrom in early 1906. Unfortunately I do not know their first names and many Rabinovich children were born each year in Odessa. The two children were never spoken of and although the two oldest children in the family, born in 1898 and 1901, would have known their names and what happened to them, my mother never found out anything about them or even where the family had lived before leaving Russia. When, years later, I discovered that the family had left Russia in 1906 directly after the pogroms, and that my eldest uncle had had nightmares all his life from seeing Cossacks spearing Jewish babies, I wondered whether they had died in the pogrom and that is why they were never spoken about.
Finally, a few months ago, after hearing of a researcher who had copies of the Odessa birth records, I enquired about the possibility of doing a search through the records of 1902-04 and discovered that the children were not born in Odessa at all. I had become so convinced that my grandfather was in Odessa from 1902 that I thought at least one of the children must have been born there. Now I had to gather all my bits of information together, reshuffle them, and think through other alternatives for where the children were born. Possibilities, some making more sense than others, flooded my mind. One was Kiev, the place my grandfather said on his US naturalisation application was his last residence in Russia in 1906.
When I opened the Guardian on 1 July and saw the headline Grenfell fire: volunteers help residents compile death toll I thought of one of the first blog entries I wrote: How many may have died in the Odessa pogrom? (https://odessasecrets.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/how-many-may-have-died-in-the-odessa-pogrom/) Like most people, I had never thought about how many of the figures we accept about populations, births, deaths, or illness, may not be easy and straightforward to obtain. Shortly afterwards I remember having read an article, possibly in the New Scientist, about the difficulties of calculating civilian casualties in Iraq and how sample areas are chosen and individual households are contacted, either door-to-door or by telephone, to find out if anyone in that household was killed during the war. But different methods produce widely varying results.
From several articles I have checked in the New Scientist, civilian deaths in Iraq have been estimated to range anywhere from 183,000 to somewhere between 400,000 and 950,000. So the range in Odessa from the 300 in the Jewish death records and eyewitness estimates of 3000-5000 deaths, or the number of deaths at the Grenfell Tower from the official 80 up to whatever the occupancy (estimated at 400-600) is calculated minus the survivors, illustrate a perennial problem of counting the dead in wars or disasters. Besides the fact that no one knows which occupants of Grenfell Tower were actually there that night, and how many non-occupants were staying with friends or relations, some of the flats were sublet without a record of who they were sublet to. And like many horrific disasters, there are few remains. Similarly, in the Odessa pogrom, many houses were set on fire and many families may have disappeared without trace.
Obviously, for a massacre that happened a hundred years ago in Russia, I only expected to be able to find hints from witness statements and newspaper articles that the official figure might not have been accurate. It must be very difficult for witnesses to judge the number of bodies they have seen lying in the streets, or add up the number of deaths in the stories they hear from neighbours. And how many more people might have been hidden away in attics or cellars? The most important pieces of information I gleaned from the newspapers were the observations that carts loaded with dead bodies had been seen being taken away to mass graves in the night, and several reports of gravediggers describing the size and number of mass graves in different cemeteries. There were also eyewitness descriptions in police reports of the slaughter of various families, particularly mothers with children, and children in the street, which did not tally with the very few children in the 300 victims, mostly men, in the official pogrom death records. I tried checking the directories before and after the pogrom, but the owners of buildings were not those who rented the flats, similar to the problem of subletting in Grenfell. The closest and most detailed census was the Russian census of 1897 which would not have given accurate information for 1905. A census was done after the pogrom in December 1905, as so many people had fled the city, estimated at 50,000.
The Times 5 November 1905 Every Jewish bakery has been destroyed, and 600 families have been rendered homeless. Some of the ruffians put their victims to death by hammering nails into their heads. Eyes were gouged out, ears cut off, and tongues were wrenched out with pincers. Numbers of women were disembowelled. The aged and sick, who were found hidden in the cellars, were soaked in petroleum and burnt alive in their homes… The police would not allow any assistance to be given to the wounded, actually firing upon the Red Cross workers. At an early hour this morning the work of plunder was still being carried on in the more remote suburbs. The casualties in yesterday’s disturbances do not exceed 140.
The Manchester Guardian 7 November 1905
Anti-Jewish disorders near Odessa – slaughter and pillage
Of the 6000 victims of the riot in Odessa, it has been ascertained (says Reuter) that 964 were either killed outright or died of their wounds. The bodies of 313 of these have been removed to the Jewish cemetery, and 651 are lying in the various Christian cemeteries. The ferment against the Jews has spread to the villages in the Odessa district.
Aberdeen Daily Journal 7 November 1905
The Grenfell Tower fire had certain similarities to the Odessa pogrom. There was the possibility of blame being apportioned to all and sundry, the local government, central government, construction companies, as, in Odessa, the government, army and police had been blamed for allowing the pogrom to continue for three days and even aiding the hooligans. There were also similarities in the background situations – inequalities between rich and poor, government complacency, increases in immigration, tensions caused by lack of jobs, working conditions and inadequate living conditions. And no one caring enough because many of the victims in both situations were considered to be second-class citizens – immigrants, often newly arrived in the city and struggling to make a living.
But it was not obvious to anyone, judging by the outcry, that the police or government officials could not give a count of how many people had survived or were missing or dead from the disaster.
The Guardian 30 June 2017 The shortage of official information, 17 days after the fire, has become one of the most sensitive and controversial issues for residents, who cannot understand why the police have not released a full list of the names of the 80 people presumed dead, or why they have not released the provisional names and numbers of survivors…
Michelle von Ahn, who used to work as Newham council’s senior demographic adviser, has been collaborating with a team of online volunteer investigators. They have allocated names to flats on different floors of the building and are listing 197 survivors, 52 people presumed dead, 24 confirmed dead, two missing. They believe there are a further 27 people unaccounted for – neither reported missing nor safe – raising the probable death toll to 103, von Ahn said, a figure she describes a “conservative estimate”.
The group has analysed the council tax register, electoral register, online telephone books and publicly available Kensington and Chelsea documents about the tower block, cross-checking information with residents’ testimonies and news reports…
Volunteers have put names to most of the 41 one-bedroom, 82 two-bedroom, one three-bedroom and three four-bedroom flats but question why the council has not made public its own list of residents, built up from housing benefit and child benefit data, and information from local schools and GPs’ surgeries.
Whatever the situation, people will continue trying to find out whatever they can about missing family. Now there are far more methods and technologies to try and recover information about people in horrific disasters than there were a hundred years ago, but there is always a limit to what can be found out. Sometimes absence is the only proof.
Before becoming involved in the story of Sara Rabinowitz and her baby son who was not registered in the 1905 Odessa birth records, I had been trying to find Odessa orphans travelling from Hamburg to New York in 1905 or 1906 as I saw a reference to a file of 1906 pogrom orphans in the Hamburg ship’s manifests. I was not particularly concerned about whether their family names were in the pogrom death records, as I think there were many more unrecorded names of people who were killed during the pogrom or died shortly afterwards from their injuries. I found several orphans travelling with another family, travelling with an older child to relations in America, and one sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office, but I could not find records for any of them after their arrival, often because the spelling was difficult to decipher. Then I came upon nearly a whole page of orphans on a ship’s manifest, the SS Amerika travelling from Hamburg, arriving in New York 25 August 1906, all sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. One family of five children, from ages 15 to 6 were from Odessa. Unfortunately the name was long and fairly indecipherable, and it is transcribed as Nachwan… on the manifest. The children were listed on the manifest as: Simon 15 Kishinev, Isaac 13 Odessa, Esther 11 Odessa, Hinde 9 Odessa, Selde 6 Odessa.
I tried many combinations in my search for the family and eventually struck lucky with Nachman and thought the original name might have been Nachmanovich (Нахманович). In the 1910 census, I found a 12-year-old Sarah Nachman in Kansas City, Missouri, the adopted daughter of a well-off merchant, living with his wife, Rose, 14-year-old son, mother, sister and two servants. Sarah had emigrated from Russia in 1906. The family lived on a main street in Kansas City, now rebuilt with modern buildings on the block where they lived, but there are older houses a few blocks away.
The Paseo, Kansas City (Google streetview at sunset)
Was this Selde who was probably fostered when she arrived at the age of 6 going on 7. A young orphan girl being sent from New York to Missouri brought to mind the orphan trains of the late 1800s and early 1900s run by Christian charities. A recent novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is based on the lives of Irish Catholic children orphaned in New York and sent to the midwest where they were often used as unpaid servants or farm labourers from an early age. The highest numbers of orphans were sent to Missouri.
Orphan train children
But Jewish orphans sent to the midwest? As a six-year-old I assume Sarah was treated as the daughter of the family, not as a servant. But how much of a daughter? How much would she have been made to feel she was one of the family? I checked the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum records to see if Sarah or any of her brothers and sisters had spent any time at the asylum but there was only a different Sarah Nachman of the same age but with other siblings during the years 1909-13. Most of those years Sarah was definitely in Missouri.
I looked up the New York Industrial Removal Office and found nothing about orphans. They did look for job openings across the country for new immigrants, and placed young boys in apprenticeships at quite early ages, like the Scheindless boy who was sent to a mining town in Pennsylvania, a placement that did not last long. He ended up at the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum, possibly because he wanted to be with his brother. Brothers and sisters on the orphan trains were apparently most likely sent to different homes as the important thing was simply to find homes. In the New York Industrial Removal Office online record guide (http://findingaids.cjh.org//IRO5.html ) Kansas City, Missouri is mentioned for the years 1905-1907 as a destination for their travelling agents looking for employment opportunities through Jewish organisations. There is no mention of looking for homes for orphans but this may have been a secondary part of their job, especially in 1906 when pogrom orphans were being sent from Russia.
I tried to find out more about the couple, Julius and Rose, who had only had one child and had decided to take on a Russian orphan girl from the pogrom in Odessa. In 1900 Julius and Rose, both from New York, were already living in Missouri with their little boy. The 1890 census is mostly destroyed and Julius only turns up in 1880 as a nine-year-old living in New York with his parents, Sigismund,56, and Esther, 36, and three siblings, Naomi, Abraham and Hannah, obviously a Jewish family. His father is listed as English, a doctor and disabled, and he died the next year. Sigismund is on one census in England, the 1860 census, a widow and merchant living with two unmarried sisters and a servant. He remarried in America in 1863 to Esther Hanff. On the 1870 census he is listed as a clerk in a clothing store, married with two children. On his 1875 naturalisation form he states his profession as physician. Had he trained in medicine in the 1870s or was he practising as an alternative doctor of some kind? A chiropractor or homeopath? It is impossible to find out how Esther managed after her husband died without the 1890 census. She does not turn up again in the records except as the mother of Naomi who married in 1893 and Hannah who married in 1899. Julius did very well for himself in Missouri, later moved to Chicago and then went into business with his journalist son in Florida, buying a newspaper. His son, Herbert, had started out as a reporter in Missouri, then moved to a job as a journalist in New York where he was living with his wife and son in 1920, and then in 1930 he was living in Florida.
Before looking up the Davidson family, I searched for the other Nachman siblings and soon found her two brothers in Missouri, Simon who had become Samuel, and Isaac who had become Henry. Henry, at 13, was fostered by the Kessel family. Paul Kessel was German and worked in wholesale millinery and lived in the same general area as the Davidson family. By 1910, Henry was a lodger in a house even nearer to his sister and working as a clerk in a millinery shop so must have learned the trade from his foster father. In 1920, at 27, he was again living with the Kessels and their two teenage children, and managing a millinery shop.
Victor Street, Kansas City, Kessel home 1920
In 1917, on his WW 1 registration, he was also living with the Kessels, was in the National Guard, and said he was born in Kishinev, like his older brother. At some point in the 1920s Henry went to New York, and by 1940 he was living on West 86th Street, with a wife and 11-year-old son, working as a millinery buyer. He puts his place of birth as Germany, the country of his foster father, so he may have felt accepted by this family or at least identified with them as he had continued with his foster father’ s business. Sarah had preceded him to New York, probably as soon as she left school, as she married in 1918 at the age of 19 in New York to Louis Schwartz, a fur operator, also 19. Sarah probably did not feel quite like a daughter to the Davidsons as she left their home at a young age for the Russian Jewish community of the Lower East Side. I never found her older sisters, Esther and Hinde, but possibly they had remained in New York and Sarah had kept in contact with them, planning to reunite. Splitting up families may have been necessary to find homes for as many of the younger children as possible, but it was always very difficult and siblings often searched for family later on if they had not been able to keep in touch. According to Louis’ WW 1 registration, in 1918, shortly after he married he was living on 4th Street near his family. He next appears on the 1940 census living in Brooklyn with Sarah and their three children.
Sarah’s marriage record, with the names of her parents, Bennie Nachmanowitz and his wife Lena Schneider, made it possible to trace her family in Russia. I found the births of all of the Nachmanovich children, except Sarah, in Kishinev.
There is a Russian website about the history of Kishinev with a page of old maps and another on old street names and street signs.
In the Kishinev records, the parents are Beynish Shloime or Shimon and Edel Liba Abram Yehoshua, and the children are Shimon 1891, Ayzik 1893, Ester 1894, and Gnendlya 1897. The death of their mother is recorded as 12 December 1901. The father’s death is recorded as 16 November 1905, about three weeks after the Odessa pogrom. The last residence of the children on the ship’s manifest is Odessa so it could be that the family moved to Odessa at some point after the mother died, possibly after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. The Kishinev 1903 pogrom was the first pogrom of the 20th century, and modern communication methods meant that news of it travelled around the world in minutes and journalists were able to see the situation for themselves. It became an icon of horror like 9/11 or possibly the recent burnt out tower block in London. Symbols of failure in society. Kishinev made Russian Jews wary of their lives in Russia, but also may have set the tone for future pogroms. The death toll was 47 and there is a list of the victims online. http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/chisinau/LIF_POGROM1903_Victims.asp
Kishinev street after the pogrom 1903
As the Nachman family was probably living in Odessa in 1905, Sara’s father’s death record in Kishinev may indicate that he had been wounded in the Odessa pogrom and returned to Kishinev to recover and died there, or possibly the record is in the Kishinev records because he was originally from there. It seems likely that the father’s death is linked to the Odessa pogrom, as the children are part of a group of orphans leaving from Hamburg sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. Somehow the stories, like that of the Feld and Stitelman families, who possibly fled from a pogrom in their hometown to the Odessa pogrom, seem sadder, seem double the horror, and remind me of the famous tale of death in Samarkand.
In the Samarkand legend, “A servant encounters a woman in the market place and recognizes her as Death. The ominous figure looks into the face of the servant and makes what seems to him a threatening gesture. Trembling with fear, the servant runs home, borrows his master’s horse, and rides like the wind all the way to Samarkand so that Death will not be able to find him. Later, the master sees Death and asks her why she had threatened his servant. And Death says, “There was no threat. I was merely startled to see your servant here, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarkand.”
In 1932, Sam’s daughter, Mabel, married a radio technician in a Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Sam’s birthplace is listed as Petrograd and Mabel’s mother is Stella Perryman. In 1938, Evelyn died, age 39, in California. On the 1940 census, Sam is a widower and lodger with a young couple in Los Angeles, working as a salesman. His older son, Lawrence, a mechanic of 26, is living with his mother and stepfather, Stella and Floyd Perryman, in Los Angeles in 1940. It says on the census that in 1935 Lawrence was living in Kansas City. When he enlisted in the army in 1942 he was divorced with no children. It seems that his sister may have gone to California earlier than her brother, although they may have visited their mother on and off. A younger son, Sam, does not appear in the records after 1930 when he was 9. In 1942 on his WW 2 registration Sam, the father, is still living with the young couple and not employed. I could not work out who Stella and Estelle were in relation to Sam and the children. Sam’s life seems to have been the most disjointed of the Nachman children, probably because he was not fostered, did not go to school in America, possibly never learned to write in English, and probably had a difficult time when he first found himself alone in Missouri. His one aim must have been to become American, like everyone around him. In 1947, living in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, he married a divorced woman from New York of Russian Jewish parents.
Ocean Park, Santa Monica by Ansel Adams 1939
Looking to see where Ocean Park, the address on the marriage certificate, was, I discovered a 1939 series of photographs of Santa Monica by Ansel Adams, most of the large trailer park set up to accommodate the many homeless families moving west during the depression. The sign for Broadway and Fifth Avenue is a nice touch.
Olympic Trailer Court, Santa Monica, Ansel Adams 1939
Olympic Trailer Court
On the certificate, Sam is the owner of a gas station and this is his second marriage. The first names of his parents are listed as ‘unknown’ even though he was 10 when his mother died and 14 when his father died.
Sam Nachman marriage license 1947
He has travelled a long way, literally and figuratively, from Odessa to Missouri to Santa Monica, and left his parents behind in Kishinev, even though he has chosen to marry someone from the same Russian Jewish background. People do what they have to do to carry on with their lives, even if it means forgetting their parents’ names.
For Sarah, who probably had no memories of her mother, and few of her father, they may have remained alive in her imagination. All of the Nachman children for whom I found records found some success – they had jobs, had married and had children. Henry and Sam both named sons after themselves as if rejecting the Jewish tradition of not naming children after living relations, and following the American tradition of passing down the father’s name. Unlike the Scheindless brothers, none of the children named a child after their father. Possibly having been split up as children, even if some of them came together later, it might have been difficult to talk about the past and pass on any memories of traditions that one or the other may have remembered. Although it does not seem likely that some of the children kept in touch, like Henry in New York and Sam in California, there were similarities in the way they adapted to their new lives, possibly because they had grown up together in Kishinev and Odessa and shared certain ideas of who they were and what they hoped for in life.
In the midst of my search through the names in the Odessa pogrom death records, in which I concentrated on children without parents, widows and widowers, I read about a list of orphans from the 1905 pogroms in the Hamburg passenger lists and I tried looking for children coming from Hamburg in late 1905 and 1906 on the Steve Morse Ellis Island search. I then tried children travelling alone from Odessa at that time, and in this search I discovered two young children who appeared to be travelling alone and then found they were travelling with their mother whose name had been spelt slightly differently. This was 25-year-old Sara Rabinowitz, travelling in May 1906 from Rotterdam to her husband, S Rabinowitz, in New York, with two young children, Jossel, age 2, and Schie, age 9 months, although the number is difficult to read.
Sara Rabinowitz and her two children, SS Statendam, 1906
As I have the Odessa birth index which includes Rabinovich for 1901-1905, I looked up Jossel and found him listed in the 1903 records.
Birth record 1585 Iosel Rabinovich 1903 (orange marker)
However, there was no birth record in 1905 for Schei or any name beginning with a Sh sound. I wondered whether he had been born at the time of the pogrom and had not been registered, something that may have happened in my family with the youngest son born in 1905. That would have made Shei about seven months old. The mother and two children were detained at Ellis Island in the hospital where they stayed for about three weeks. The notes only state that the mother had a spinal curvature and a problem with the younger child is difficult to make out, possibly a deformed pupil and corneal opacity.
Sara Rabinowitz ship manifest medical notes
The father may have only recently arrived in New York as the address for him is care of S Strusberg on East 2nd Street. Having Sara Rabinowitz’s age, immigration date, the ages of her children, and the initial of her husband’s name, it should have been possible to find records, but nothing seemed to come up, no Sara of a similar age married to a Samuel, Solomon, Simon or other names, with children named Joseph or Jacob and Samuel or Simon or any two children born in Russia. I tried all the common English names that Rabinowitz families sometimes used – Robinson, Robbins, Robins, Robin. Only one couple came up, a Sara and Samuel, who had emigrated in 1906, and had had four sons in the US, three in New York and one in Massachusetts, but they had not had any children in Russia and had not been married long enough to have had the eldest son, Jossel.
Either the family from Odessa changed their name, avoided all records or something happened to their oldest children. At first I could not even find the person they had lodged with, S Strusberg, but then I found a Solomon Strausberg and his wife Sara who had come from Russia to America in 1905. They had come with in-laws and two young children, one of whom died on the voyage. In the 1910 census they were living on 3rd Street with their older son who was born in Russia, three daughters born in New York, and lodgers. Sara Strausberg’s maiden name was Donefar and her mother’s name was Esther Rabinowitz. The family was from Bessarabia and may have been relations of Sara Rabinowitz. I also found a Joseph and Simon Rabinowitz of the correct age as Jossel and Schie, but this census does not have the immigration date. Both were married with children and lived on neighbouring streets in Brooklyn, but eventually I found Simon on the 1930 census and he had immigrated in 1921, so these were not the two brothers. I expect I will keep on looking for Sara, Jossel and Schie, whose Odessa birth was never registered, wondering how this whole family slipped so easily through the net.
The first groups emigrating to America from Russia to set up Jewish agricultural colonies were part of the Am Olam (Eternal people or People of the world), an organisation of young people that developed in Odessa after the 1881 pogroms and then spread across Ukraine to other cities. Before the assassination of the Tzar in 1881, there had been a relaxation of the laws limiting Jewish participation in society, and many Jews felt they might gradually integrate and become equal to Russian citizens, but after the assassination, the rules became stricter and Jews began to look to emigration to Palestine or America as the only way to find freedom. The Zionists favoured Palestine as the Jewish homeland but others looked to the Americas as a place where they might be accepted more easily as equals. This desire for freedom and equality made a socialist or communist approach to living appealing. The idea of agricultural colonies was also popular in Russia as a way of being useful to society and getting back to the essence of life as preached by Tolstoy. Young people in Odessa had been brought up in a more cosmopolitan and secular way than Jews in other parts of Russia, and they gravitated towards nonreligious, socialist colonies.
The first Am Olam group to emigrate, led by Herman Rosenthal, predominantly from Elizavetgrad, went to Sicily Island, Louisiana in late 1881 and then on to South Dakota when the Sicily Island colony failed after spring floods and malaria. One of the problems with the land in Louisiana was its isolation – a lack of nearby farms or farmers from whom the Russians could learn local farming practice or towns where produce could be sold. My great uncle Joseph Petrikovsky, from Kiev, was probably in the group that went to Sicily Island, and certainly went to South Dakota.
The first group from Odessa, led by my great uncle Simon Krimont and others like Paul Kaplan and Selig Rosenbluth, left Russia in 1882 for New York, and reached Portland, Oregon in early 1883. They had the support of some influential Jews in New York such as Michael Heilprin, Julius Goldman and Felix Adler, founder of the New York Ethical Culture School. Simon Krimont went out west looking for sites for the colony with a charismatic older Russian, William Frey, who had been involved in earlier colonies. They were influenced to settle in Oregon through one of their sponsors in New York, Henry Villard, who owned the Oregon and California Railway. He was building an extension to the railway in southern Oregon, near Glendale, where he encouraged the group to buy a mostly wooded piece of land at Cow Creek, Glendale, and he gave them a contract to cut wood for ties for the railroad to keep them going until they were growing crops.
Cow Creek near Glendale Oregon 1902
Sether Ranch 1910 (previously New Odessa)
The group, mostly young students, first settled in Portland and took various manual jobs to ready themselves for tackling the building and farm work of the colony. Some of the group went their own way at this point. In the spring of 1883, a few men with building knowledge went to the colony to help restore the old buildings, one farmhouse and several barns, and add an extension to the farmhouse for a communal kitchen, meeting room and communal sleeping quarters. By the summer, there were 36 men (4 married), seven women and five children. Most were in their 20s.
In Helen Blumenthal’s 1975 thesis on New Odessa: New Odessa, 1882-1887: United we stand, divided we fall (http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/open_access_etds/2288/ ) there is a handwritten list of the colonists’ names from local archives:
New Odessa colonists 1885
My guess is that Simon Krimont is the fourth from the left in the centre row of the photograph, and his sister Sophie may be the woman in the light dress.
The philosophy of the colony was that everyone should work to the best of their abilities and were considered equal, both men and women. Their leisure time was spent with reading, talks, learning English, lectures by Frey on philosophy and science, singing Russian and American traditional songs and dancing. They had also brought a large library of Russian books which was an important part of their life when they were not working on the land.
Frey, who had settled in New Odessa with his wife and children, became the leader of the mostly younger men and women, and gradually imposed his strong ideology, both helping and hindering its development. For instance, although the land they bought was mostly forest filled with game and a river filled with fish, Frey was a strict vegetarian and did not allow any meat or fish to appear at their meals. And although he was a humanist, he gradually made a religion of his humanism and insisted on having services and singing hymns, which was not to the liking of many of the Am Olam group.
According to Theodore H. Friedgut in Stepmother Russia, Foster Mother America: Identity Transitions in the New Odessa Jewish Commune, Odessa, Oregon, New York, 1881–1891 (2014), one of the best sources of contemporary information about the early period in New Odessa was a series of letters about the colony, probably written by Simon Krimont, in the Russian novel Joseph Petrikovsky wrote about his experiences in South Dakota, To America: Notes from the Journal of an Emigrant Student. Kiev 1884 (Петриковский И. М. В Америку! Из записной книжки студента-эмигранта. Киев, 1884. 249 с). I had not realised that Simon and Joseph may have been friends from Russia or their first days in New York and therefore it was probably Joseph, who married my great aunt Anna when he returned to Russia to publish his novel in 1884, who introduced Simon to his wife’s sister, my great aunt Galia in New York in the late 1880s.
Cow Creek Sether Ranch
Cow Creek, Glendale, Oregon
By late 1884, only a year and a half after the colony began, the colony split and Frey left with 15 members. Besides the ideological problems, there may have been some economic ones, as the contract of cutting wood for railroad ties was not renewed by the group and selling crops in the area was not as easy as expected. Also many found the farming work more difficult than they expected, possibly because the land was quite steep. However, the colony carried on for at least another year as shown in a long 1885 magazine article about a colony wedding written by a journalist who knew no Russian and stayed at the colony for a few days to observe and take part in their lives. As names were not used in the article, there has been some question about who the bride and groom were, and no one has thought that it might have been Simon Krimont’s sister Sophie and another colonist, Alex Kislik, but all the facts in the article, especially a sister called Anuta and the mother and other sisters being present. It is an interesting American journalist’s fly on the wall view of these Russian Jewish young people trying to create a new society.
A wedding among the communistic Jews in Oregon Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine Dec 1885 Vol. VI-39, p606-11
Yesterday was Sunday, and there was a marriage in the community. Nearly all the members eat and sleep and stagnate – for I can hardly speak of it as living – in a large hall of their own construction: a wretched edifice built of rough boards and un-planed planks, and containing only two apartments, the lower story being the dining room and kitchen both in one, and the upper story a large sleeping room without partitions. In the sleeping room the Community, with the exception of two or three families who live in small shanties, not only sleeps, but lounges – and lounges, too, a good deal of the time – reads, debates, and dances. The bedsteads, which are home-made structures of boards, nailed together in the most flimsy manner, are placed under the eaves in a long row on each side of the room, and the centre is furnished with a rough table for writing. As for reading, the Russians of every type I’ve ever met always read stretched prone upon his bed. On Sunday we had been lounging on our beds most of the morning, taking a late breakfast at 10 o’clock, and going back upstairs to lounge again, or to read the philosophers of evolution, of progress, and social emancipation. About two in the afternoon I descended to the kitchen to enquire for dinner. To my surprise, I found several of the women very busy making dried apple pies and custards – great novelties, the usual dinner at New Odessa being bean soup and hard baked biscuits of unbolted flour called after the name of that wretched dyspeptic Graham….
And to my great surprise, I was told that something even more important was to be celebrated – there was to be a wedding. It was a very sudden affair, a surprise to everyone as well as myself: a young man and woman had made up their minds to enter into matrimony, and it was to be done at once. There was an immediate bustle and hurry in every man in the community trying to find the suit of clothes in which he left Russia. Two or three young girls went into the woods for flowers, and the rafters of the hall, upstairs and down, were soon hung with the flowering branches of the tulip tree. On this great occasion, white cloths instead of oilcloths were spread upon the dining table. The pies were baked with a rush, each pie being inscribed in paste with the initials of the bridegroom and bride.
The brothers and sisters had been gathered a few moments on the benches in the dining room, when the bridegroom and bride entered. Both parties were young, perhaps 22; the young man well educated, well read in philosophic and romantic literature, and rather good-looking. The bride is noted for her cunning disposition, or what might be called her womanliness; but having her hair cut short, her aspect was that of a strong-minded female. She was very nicely dressed, wore a wreath of white flowers, and looked charming enough to make any man happy. On the arrival of the bridal party, which included the mother and sisters of the bride, a little ceremony took place, in which the young man and woman were understood to unite themselves in the conjugal relation.
Descending on the colony without any knowledge of its philosophy, the American journalist was horrified by the rough furniture and large bare rooms, but this was exactly the aim of the colonists who wanted a completely communal life and the opposite of the fussy Victorian furnishings of the time. He also did not understand the importance to these Russian colonists of reading, studying and debating, and it was a Sunday.
Simon and Sophie’s mother and seven younger siblings had not intended to join New Odessa but events had worked out that way and they were there to attend the wedding. Their father had come to visit the colony in 1883 and had suddenly become ill and died. A year later the rest of the family came from Odessa to Oregon as they no longer had any livelihood in Russia.
The collapse of the colony around 1886 was precipitated by a fire which destroyed part of the house and the entire library, which had been the soul of the community. After that, the Krimont family returned to New York, and a couple of years later, after Simon married my great aunt, he went to Romania to work for an uncle’s shipping company to support his family. Several of his seven sisters in America became pacifist anarchists and helped set up colonies in both England and America which lasted until the 1950s. The colony in England, Whiteway, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, which still exists as bungalows with a meeting house on common land, helped conscientious objectors in both world wars. The colony in New Jersey, Stelton, near New Brunswick, had an innovative school, The Modern School, which influenced later creative and alternative types of education. Although New Odessa was short lived, the ideas of living communally, pacifism and equality for everyone carried on.
The Modern School magazine, 1922
Bungalow, Whiteway, Gloucestershire