A last Russian Revolution exhibition – Tate Modern and Ilya Kabakov

It is one year since museums around the world began to celebrate the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Tate Modern had two exhibitions to commemorate the Russian Revolution which will both soon have finished. One consisted of some of the Russian posters of a graphic designer, David King, who had been collecting Soviet photographs, posters and objects since the 1970s when he went to Russia to research an article for The Times about Trotsky, and found that Trotsky had been removed from photographs. I unfortunately could not see both exhibitions, and because I had already seen several exhibitions with Russian posters, I chose the second. I was also more intrigued by some photographs I found online of King’s house where he kept his thousands of Russian pictures and objects before he died last year.

David King’s house

 

The other exhibition was of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s work. Ilya Kabakov left Russia for New York in the late 1980s and he and his wife collaborate on installations and other projects. He began as an illustrator in Moscow in the 1950s and because his art was not the accepted social realism but critical or satirical of the situation in Soviet Russia, he made models and smaller works of his ideas, most of which were about people freeing themselves from the restrictions of communism. He himself had been brought up in quite a poor Jewish household as his parents were rarely together. When he got a place at an art school as a 12-year-old in Moscow, his mother came to be near him, but without a residence permit, could not get an apartment, and tended to just sleep for a few months at a time in different people’s crowded commuter apartments, working in factories wherever she could. His mother had lost her parents through starvation after the Civil War and had a very hard time up until her son was able to finally buy her an apartment in the late 1950s.

I will begin with a few of his early and then later illustrations, followed by some of the works of the exhibition and other more recent pieces, centred around important themes. Since he went to America in 1987 he has been most known for his installations, many of which were constructed as models while in Russia. One work at the exhibition uses his mother’s memoir framed with photographs taken by a photographer uncle to create a haunting memorial to her. His work is a fitting celebration of the humour, sadness and inventiveness that can come out of poverty and tragedy.

Labyrinth –  My Mother’s Album 1990

One theme Kabakov returns to again and again is the communal apartment, particularly communal kitchens and toilets. At one point his mother worked in the laundry of his boarding school and because she had no residence permit, slept in the laundry, which had originally been the toilets, and some of the toilet cubicles remained. In 1992 he constructed what looked like a public toilet block outside of a museum in Germany which was exhibiting his work. Inside, were some disused-looking toilet cubicles and the furniture of an ordinary living room

The toilet 1992

Communal kitchen 1991

Incident in the corridor near the kitchen 1989

In the communal kitchen 1991

Another important theme is flying, freedom and escaping totalitarianism to a utopian life. One of his most well-known installations is The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment.

The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment 1988

The flying Komarov 1981

Feeling that life in the Soviet Union was unreal, Kabakov invented imaginary characters who could lead his ‘real’ life, and made albums of drawings, writings and objects for these characters such as Komarov. Some of his later installations involved objects hanging from strings, one of which was the character The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away.

10 characters: The man who never threw anything away 1988

Character album

Utopia and reality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Mesonzhnik family: from Odessa to Arpin, Wisconsin

Slowly working alphabetically, backwards, through the death records, I had reached M, which I put into the Steve Morse Ellis Island search, with the residence Odessa and the years 1905-1908. I could then look through names whose spelling seemed similar to a name on the list, and also look out for children travelling alone, or mothers with many young children who might be travelling to meet their husband or might be widows joining another relation in America. One of these mothers was 30-year-old Feige Mesonschnik (Mesonzhnik or Месонщник) with four children under 5 – Simoche 5, Momzi 4, Moische 2 and Chaim 1 – travelling from Rotterdam on 19 June 1906. She was travelling to her husband, and I would not have continued researching this family except that I was intrigued by where they were going – an isolated settlement called Arpin, Wisconsin. And her husband had changed his name to Finkelstein. J.W. Finkelstein. How did a family from Odessa come to be travelling to Arpin, Wisconsin? Were they joining relations called Finkelstein?

Feige Mesonschnik SS Noordam, Rotterdam 19 June 1906

When I first began to research this family, I could only find a Jacob and Fanny Finkelstein of the correct age with three children of similar ages and names, Celia, Morris and Hyman, living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1910. The second child must have died and the middle child, Morris, seems to have taken the age of his older brother, being 8 instead of 6. Hyman, who must have been born around the time of the pogrom, is 5. On the 1910 census, there are spaces for the number of children born and the number alive. Every family on the page has listed how many children they had had except the Finkelsteins who left the spaces blank. Possibly their son had recently died. In the next census, Celia is working in a department store, Morris is studying medicine, and Hyman is working at a bookbinders. On the 1930 census, only Hyman, 25, is living at home with his parents and is working as a barber. In 1940, the parents are living alone although they put the absent Hyman, 35, as still living in their home. He appears on the census at the Milwaukee County Asylum and all the inmates on this page have been in the asylum for the past five years.

Milwaukee County Asylum

Although the censuses have different immigration dates on each one, 1905/6 in 1910 and 1907/9 in 1920, Jacob had gone to America a year or so before the rest of the family, so I tried to find him on the Ellis Island website and eventually found a Jankiel Mesaznik, age 30, an Odessa tailor, travelling from Trieste in October 1904. He was travelling with a friend from Odessa to the friend’s sister in Hoboken, New Jersey. Nine months after he left Odessa, his wife had Chaim (Hyman), in the summer of 1905, and she and the children left a year later for America. In the meantime, Jacob had gone to Wisconsin.

It was not until the second time I tried searching for the family that I discovered that Arpin had been a logging settlement on the new railway through Wisconsin in the late 1800s. Once the logging work was finished and the company moved on, there was an empty group of houses, shop and school. The New York Industrial Removal Office was trying to relocate Jewish immigrants outside New York City and Milwaukee was one of its first bases in the west. A rich German Jewish merchant and philanthropist, Adolph Rich, bought 700 acres north of Arpin, in the hopes of setting up a Jewish agricultural colony, which might become a magnet for Jewish immigrants in the west, a homeland for the Jews.

Arpin, Wisconsin 1920

In 1904, Rich arranged for 5 families, and then another two, to occupy the empty houses of Arpin, and begin to work 40 acres of land each. By 1906 the families were working 10 acres of land each. In an article by Louis Swichkow, The Jewish agricultural colony of Arpin, Wisconsin, Jacob Finkelstein is mentioned as one of the first group of seven families – Manny, Zefania and Jacob Cohen, Louis and Gedalia Smoller, Jacob Finkelstein, I. Classel, Samuel Pittelman, Sholem Antonovsky, and J. Weinberg.

The Pittelmans Arpin Colony 1909

The map below from 1928 shows all the owners of the lands around Arpin but none of the above. Most look German with some Scandinavian but there are none that look Russian and only one that is most likely Jewish, Jacobs.

Arpin 1928

Actually Jacob first appeared in the Wisconsin records in the 1905 census when he was boarding with a farming family in Saratoga, Wisconsin, next to another farmer called Sam Finkelstein, a widower with four children, who had immigrated to America in the early 1880s from Russia.

Wood County, Wisconsin, Arpin upper centre, Saratoga bottom right

I eventually came upon a newspaper headline about the murder of Sam Finkelstein’s wife Ida (called Rebecca in the article) in March 1905 by a Russian lodger in their house who felt he had been cheated by Sam into buying land that was not as it has been described to him. Sam, who, according to the newspaper, had previously been living at Arpin, had worked for a real estate agent in Chicago selling land to Jewish settlers, so possibly was setting up a similar type of colony at Saratoga. The lodger tried to plead insanity but was given life in prison. The trial was written up in great detail including a list of the jurors as if trial by jury was new in these western territories.

Sam, also known as Simon, married again in 1906 to a woman from Arpin, Sarah Robinowich, and possibly joined her in Arpin along with Jacob Finkelstein.

Sam, who had come to America in 1885 when he was 17, had previously been married to a Russian woman called Mary Quater and they had had 6 children in Chicago and Indiana. On the 1900 census, Sam was living with Ida in California Township, Starke County, Indiana, close to Chicago, and had had a seventh child, Samuel. One wonders whether Sam came to America with family, with a group of Russian colonists, or whether he was a lone pioneer.

California Township, Indiana

Bathers at Bass Lake (Cedar Lake) Indiana, 1900

The only discrepancy on the census is that although it says Ida has had one child, it also says that Sam and Ida have been married for 18 years. By 1905 they had a second child Morris. Sam next appears on the 1910 census as Simon with his wife Sarah in Milwaukee. They are living with the two youngest children, Simon (Sam) and Morris , who are 10 and 8. Both Simon and Sarah say they have been married once before, and Sarah apparently had two children no longer alive. She does not appear on the 1905 census so possibly had not been in America for long. She may have had as tragic a story as Simon.

Simon and Sarah do not appear on the 1920 census but in 1930 they are living together without any children. There are marriage records for Simon’s oldest son, Barney, who moved out to Portland, Oregon, and also his daughter Sadie, who, having been widowed, married again in Los Angeles in 1948. She died in California in 1956. On a Wisconsin Jewish burial database there is a Sam and a Samuel Finkelstein, one who died in 1917 and one in 1923. Possibly one of these is Simon and Ida’s son. On the 1940 census, Simon is 80 and in a chronic diseases hospital in Milwaukee on the same site as the asylum Hyman was in. Simon is a widow and has been there over five years. He died that year and is the only one in the story I found a gravestone for. It is hard to know what the man who was widowed three times and had at least eight children and may have deceived the man who killed his wife, was like, but at least one of his children probably remembered him with a marble gravestone. There seems to be no trace of Mary Quater, Ida Silberg, or Sarah Robinowich.

Once Jacob was settled in the Arpin colony, he must have sent for his wife from Odessa. They did not remain long in Arpin as by 1910 they were living in Milwaukee. Several families left Arpin, although a core remained until the 1920s. As there was no secondary school in the area, several families drifted to cities for their children’s education. Both Jacob and Simon were farmers in Saratoga, and in Milwaukee they both did manual jobs of different kinds. Jacob was a machine hand, a labourer for a cement block company, a fish peddler, and both men were watchman at one point, one for a scrapyard and one for a tannery.

Jacob and Fanny lost one of their children and then, sometime after 1930, Hyman was admitted to the Milwaukee County Asylum, in Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee. Conditions were probably quite basic in asylums in the 1930s, and there were bound to be unpleasant and difficult experiences, so no parent would want their child admitted unless they could not cope with them at home. Several children born around the time of the Odessa pogrom found themselves with a similar fate. One might have thought it would have been the 2 or 3-year-old who suffered most during that period, but it was the babies or even those born just after the pogrom whose mothers were in such difficult situations they could not give them the attention they needed in those first months and years. Feige was alone in Odessa with four small children aged from a few months to 4 years old in the midst of the pogrom and then preparing to travel to Wisconsin – across Europe, across the Atlantic and then across America. And when she arrived, she would have found herself in the middle of nowhere, Arpin, Wisconsin, alone in a flat empty land, with a handful of other, probably older, Jewish families. Possibly I stuck with this story because my grandmother also had a child in 1905 just before they emigrated from Russia, who drowned when he was 23, his life and the cause of his death remaining a mystery.

The only record I found at first for Jacob and Fanny’s other two children was a Chicago birth record for Morris’ son Samuel, born in 1924, when Morris was 22. His wife was Minnie Perlman, and strangely there were a couple of other Morris Finkelsteins, born at different times, married to women with variations on the name Minnie Perlman having children in Chicago at that time. But this Morris was born in Odessa in 1902. Morris had been studying medicine when he was 18 but no more records appear for him so he may have done something completely different or possibly died young. One Russian Jewish Minnie Perlman of the right age that I found in the records as a child in Chicago belonged to a family of travelling actors which was unusual.

I had not looked for Morris’ sister, Celia, because without marriage records it is difficult to trace women, but as she also moved to Chicago, her maiden name appears in the birth records of her children, and she had become Celia Sachs. Her husband, Abraham, was 10 years older and had come to Chicago as a baby around 1890. He had first worked selling shoes and later had a sporting goods shop followed by a furniture repair shop. They had three children. Abraham lived until 1980, 90 years old, and Celia until 1991 when she was 91. At some point they had retired to 1020 W. Laurence Avenue in uptown Chicago, an art deco apartment block which had been built in the 1920s as luxury hotel apartments with a swimming pool, a long way for Celia from 1905 Odessa and her parents’ new start in the Wisconsin wilderness.

1020 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago

How much Celia, who was 5 when she left Russia, remembered the name  Mesonzhnik, her early childhood in Odessa and the trip to America, the death of one brother and the background to Hyman’s move to the asylum, and whether she passed any of it on to her children… and if she did, whether they kept it to themselves…. who knows?

 

 

 

 

 

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Hanukkah in the early 20th century

The thought crossed my mind of a holiday greeting, and then I began to think about a 1905 Odessa Hanukkah. I tried looking around the internet for something that felt right.

Antique Russian silver menorah

 

Wooden dreidels

The only image I found online of a family Hanukkah was a painting from the 1700s.

Anonymous 18th century

Then I remembered that I had an illustrated story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, born in 1902, A Hanukkah evening in my parents’ house, which began:

All year round my father, a rabbi in Warsaw, did not allow his children to play any games. Even when I wanted to play cat’s cradle with my younger brother, Moishe, Father would say, ‘Why lose time on such nonsense? Better to recite psalms.’… But on Hanukkah, after Father lit the Hanukkah candles, he allowed us to play dreidel for half an hour.

For most families, it was not the play that was forbidden on other days of the year, but gambling.

A Hanukkah evening in my parents’ house

Russian antique menorah

Russian menorah c 1894

German antique menorah

 

Polish menorah 1900

Czech menorah

English antique menorah

It was not only the antique menorahs which were an art form. The tradition has carried on in many styles and materials. The pattern of the stone wall on the silver dreidel and this 1930s menorah from Palestine made me think of a prison but must symbolise the Wailing Wall, although it is usually shown with figures.

1930s menorah, Palestine

Menorah 1940 Palestine

Modern stone menorah

Happy holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Weitzmans and anti-Semitism

Odessa courtyard

When I was first reading the reports about the Odessa pogrom and came upon the Weitzman family, many of whose members were killed, and who featured in many reports and records in the archives, I looked up the names of some of the family members in both English and Russian, along with the keywords Odessa and 1905, to see if their story had been mentioned anywhere else. Strangely the name Chaim Weitzman, one of those who died in the pogrom, did come up in a different but related context. It was an article Одесса теряет лицо (Odessa loses face) on the Odessa Jewish community centre (Migdal) website (http://www.migdal.org.ua/antisemitism/6621/ ) in 2006 about an anti-Semitic attack in the centre of Odessa, on Malaya Arnautskaya St, against a young man called Chaim Weitzman. The article begins:

18 сентября около 10 часов вечера Хаим Вейцман проходил в районе улиц Малой Арнаутской и Белинского. На улице было много людей, возле дверей двух магазинов стояли охранники. Тут же стояла группа молодых людей, которые по дальнейшим показаниям свидетелей происшедшего, часто тусуются на этом месте. Один из них подошел к Хаиму сзади и со словами «Не люблю жидов!» нанес удар по голове. Сколько человек его избивали, Хаим не помнит. Но происходило это все не в темной подворотне, а на людной улице, совершенно безнаказанно. Хулиганы не испугались ни свидетелей, ни того, что кто-то заступится.

Милицию Хаим вызвал сам. Представители закона не рвались выяснять обстоятельства происшествия, хотя один из свидетелей даже назвал имя хулигана – Виталик.
В Приморском отделении милиции Хаима, окровавленного, с рассеченной губой и сотрясением мозга, продержали сорок минут, не очень-то желая принять заявление. «Вот если бы ему что-то сломали…» – был аргумент дежурного милиционера.

Chaim Weitzman

On September 18, at about 10 pm, Chaim Weitzmann was passing through the area of ​​Malaya Arnautskaya and Belinskogo. On the street there were many people, and there were guards near the doors of two shops. There was also a group of young people who, according to further testimony of witnesses to the incident, often hang out there. One of them approached Chaim from behind and struck his head, with the words “I do not like Jews!”. Chaim does not remember how many people beat him, But it all happened not in a dark gateway, but in a crowded street, absolutely with impunity. Hooligans were not afraid of any witnesses, nor that someone might intercede.

He called the police himself. Representatives of the law did not dare to find out the circumstances of the incident, although one of the witnesses even knew the first name of the hooligan – Vitalik.
At the Primorski police station, Chaim, bloodied, with a split lip and concussion, was held for forty minutes, not really wishing to make a statement. “Now if he had broken something…” was the argument of the policeman on duty.

The article continues about anti-Semitism in Odessa in general, beginning with the observation that ‘Just among the staff and visitors of Migdal over the past two years, five people have been beaten with a certain severity of consequences. In none of the cases have the perpetrators been punished.’ Interestingly, Migdal, the Jewish community centre, is also on Malaya Arnautskaya, towards the middle of the street at 46a, in what was once a beautiful old synagogue from 1909. It was not easy finding Migdal on Malaya Arnautskaya as the facade of the old synagogue faces the street around the corner, and the entrance to 46a is simply a gate in a wall with the number, quite a secret entrance.

Migdal façade Leintenanta Shmidta St 10

Migdal entrance Malaya Arnautskaya 46a

The authors of the article then link current anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine and Russia to the 1905 pogrom – ‘The last pogrom in Odessa was in 1905. With the full connivance of the city authorities. But we can name a long list of worthy Odessa citizens who have defended their fellow citizens. And even during the days of occupation, the Odessites, risking their lives and the lives of their loved ones, saved the Jews.’ They go on to say that young people today do not really know Jews in the way that people did before World War II, when Odessa was truly a multicultural city.

One thing that fascinates me about this article is that it mentions the 1905 Odessa pogrom, without knowing the story of the Weitzman family in the pogrom in the Odessa records. In Fond 634, prosecutor of Odessa District Court, 1870-1917, there are investigations of pogrom cases, including the case of Rosa Drutman:

She served at the house of a rich Jewish family of Veitzman-Varshavsky and became a witness of a cruel massacre…Soldiers sent by the local authorities to prevent crimes, in fact marked the beginning of the drama using fire-arms against the Jews. 6 out of 9 members of the family were killed. Rosa were wounded three times but survived after two months of treatment. Her witnesses, medicine card, materials of cross-examinations and protocols of court meetings let us reconstruct the events in details.

 One of the Weitzman victims in the pogrom was Chaim-Chaikel, a 35-year-old and possibly the father of the youngest Weitzman, 13-year-old Naum. It is an eerie coincidence that, in 2006, just one hundred years from the 1905 pogrom, another Chaim Weitzman was attacked by a nationalist, and ironic that no-one saw the connection.

Although the Weitzman-Varshavsky family affected by the pogrom lived in the suburb of Slobodka Romanovka, one Varshavsky family owned a house on Malaya Arnautskaya, Nebe house, number 111, at the end of the street nearer Moldavanka. A Weitzman family owned a house a couple of streets away from Malaya Arnautskaya on Pushkinskaya at 59. Although the pogrom reports focus on the areas worst affected by the pogrom, Moldavanka and other working class suburbs, the hooligans and right-wing marches went through the centre of the city. In the newspapers and the reports, there were stories of violence and looting in the centre at Pushkinskaya and Uspenskaya, a murder at the corner of Kanatnaya and Uspenskaya, pillaging at the corner of Ekaterinenskaya and Evreiskaya, and incidents at Preobrazhenskaya, Politseiskaya, and Pushkinskaya between Novorybnaya and Malaya Arnautskaya. This would have been near the centre of Malaya Arnautskaya.

corner of Kanatnaya and Uspenskaya (murders described in the 1906 report Odessa pogrom and self defence)

62 Pushkinskaya near Malaya Arnautskaya where pogrom incident occurred

But the incident with Chaim Weitzman occurred at Malaya Arnautskaya and Belinskaya streets, which is at the beginning of Malaya Arnautskaya towards the sea and the French Boulevard. The street is called Belinskaya, although now its name is Leontovicha, apparently ignored by everyone. And it was not always Belinskaya. Until some time in the early 1900s, it was Portostarofrankskaya, Old French Port Rd.

Odessa 1917 (X at centre top at corner of Malaya Arnautskaya and Belinskaya)

Odessa 1888 Portostarofrankskaya

While trying to find where this mysterious non-existent Belinskaya Street was, I came upon one of the historical websites of Odessa streets which uses the old name ( Малая Арнаутская улица. От улицы Белинского до улицы Вячеслава Черновола  (http://obodesse.at.ua/publ/malaja_arnautskaja_ulica/1-1-0-255 ), and discovered that it was not only the far end of the street near Moldavanka that was a Jewish area, but many of the houses and businesses at this end, where the street met the beginning of the wealthy houses along the French Boulevard, were also owned or run by Jews.

The building on the corner, Malaya Arnautskaya 1, has a pharmacy on the ground floor and according to the author of the website has been a pharmacy for over a hundred years.

Malaya Arnautskaya 1

The house was originally owned by M Levinson, and the Shapiro brothers were pharmacists there from about 1912. He quotes from Kataev’s memoir, A Mosaic of Life, about his visits as a young child to this pharmacy with his mother, but Kataev’s mother died when he was about six, probably around 1903-4, and his family were living on Bazarnaya Street near the corner with Portostarofrankskaya. Kataev mentions passing by their pharmacy on Bazarnaya on their way to his mother’s funeral. In his short chapter about visiting their pharmacy with his mother to pick up her migraine medicine, he mentions the frightened customers who came to collect oxygen-filled pillows and rushed back home, hoping to save someone’s life. Shortly afterwards it was his own mother who desperately needed the pillows as she was dying from pneumonia a few months after Kataev’s younger brother was born. In the 1904-5 directory there are several pharmacies along the length of Bazarnaya, the first at number 26 and another on the corner of Bazarnaya and Kanatnaya. Bazarnaya is on the 1888 map above although most of the name is missing. It is next to Boshaya Arnautskaya and runs from Portostarofrankskaya to the Old Market Square (Старый Базарь).

Reading about the history of the first few houses on Malaya Arnautskaya and their Jewish owners, I began to see that the pogromists may have worked their way down the entire street and then onto the wealthier Jewish houses of the French Boulevard as had the hooligans who had passed by Kataev’s house on Kanatnaya looking on to Kulikove Pole, where he was living in 1905. I will delve further into the role of Malaya Arnautskaya in revolutionary politics and the pogrom in another post.

While studying a series of old maps for the missing Belinskaya Street, I noticed another symbol of the anti-Semitism around the time of the pogrom – that Evreiskaya St (Hebrew or Jewish St), a major street in the centre, had several name changes after 1905. Many of the streets in the centre were named after the nationalities that originally built Odessa – there was Greek Street, French Boulevard, Jewish Street and Malaya Arnautskaya means Little Greek-Albanian Street. In Soviet times most of the streets were given new names but in 1908 Evreiskaya St changed and became Skobelevskoi or Skobeleva (Скобелева) after a Russian commander and general who liberated Bulgaria from the Turks.

Odessa 1894 Evreiskaya St

1904 Evreiskaya St (second street from top)

1912 Skobeleva St (second street from top)

1917 Sobolevskaya St

In 1920 Evreiskaya Street became Bebel Street in honour of a German Social Democrat, and during the occupation it became Mussolini Street. After the occupation it became Badaeva Street after the head of Soviet security, and finally in 1994, in a return to the past, it became Evreiskaya again. What Odessa actually feels about its Jewish history is probably another story.

 

Bebel Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The October Revolution 1917 – children’s drawings and photographs

Battle for Kremlin November 1917

Riot on Nevsky Prospekt, Petrograd

Funerals of students and youths

https://www.rbth.com/multimedia/pictures/2017/04/27/revolutionary-moscow-drawn-by-child-witnesses_751488

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Kiev 1902 to Odessa 1905

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)

http://irbis-nbuv.gov.ua/cgi-bin/irbis_ir/cgiirbis_64.exe?S21CNR=20&S21REF=10&S21STN=1&C21COM=S&I21DBN=ELIB&P21DBN=ELIB&S21All=(%3C.%3EPS=%D0%9A%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%94%D0%B7%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B2%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%BE%3C.%3E)&S21FMT=preitem&S21SRW=dz&S21SRD=UP

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.

2 Konstantinskaya

Konstantinskaya

Konstantinskaya 1980

Kiev 1903

http://toursdekiev.com.ua/ru/map

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.

Andrevsky Descent

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.

 

 

 

 

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Sholem Aleichem and the Kiev pogrom

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.

Kiev 1906

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.

27 Saksaganskogo

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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