The Zeltzer Spector family

The youngest child in the Odessa pogrom records was 18-month-old Icep Faivelev Zeltzer (Зельцер) who died with his mother Reiza Yankel-Volfovna, age 30. The mother and son were officially from Derazhen, although that might only have been the birthplace or family home of  Reiza’s husband. Seltzer is a relatively common name but there was only one Zeltzer couple, a young couple of similar age to Reiza, with a baby, leaving Odessa in early September 1906 for New York so I tried following their journey into American life. The Zeltzer family consisted of Frohl (difficult to read), a musician, 26, his wife, Sonie (possibly Sonia), 22 and their baby daughter, Pauline, 1. They were travelling to Sonia’s brother, N. Spector (Спектор), who lived at 67 E. 122 St in Manhattan.

There were quite a few Zeltzer and Spector families in central Odessa and several in the directories of the first 10 years of the 1900s. There was a N.C.  Zeltzer at Torgovaya St 10 who worked in insurance and across the road, at Torgovaya St 9, a G.B. Spector had  an apothecary shop. There was a midwife and masseuse, K.A. Zeltzer, at Bolshaya Arnautskaya 24, and a haberdasher, Lazar Chaimov Zeltzer at  Bolshaya Arnautskaya 29. There was a wood turner, Ya.M. Zeltzer, at Richelevskaya 29 and an M.A. Spector had a hat business on Evreiskaya 36. B. Spector owned a house at  Uspenskaya St 129 from the 1890s and Z.S. Zeltzer owned property at Troitskaya 18.


Torgovaya St 10

troitska 18

Troitskaya St 18

In New York in 1910, the Zeltzers had become Felix Seltzer, 30, Sophie, 26, Pauline 5, and Evelyn 2, living very near the Spectors at 1670 Park Avenue, in Harlem north of Central Park, then a Jewish area. Felix had become a knitwear salesman. His brother-in-law, Nathan Spector, 29, was a music teacher, living with his much younger brother and sister, Annie and Ollie, 19 and 14, who were not working. They came to the US in 1904, when Nathan would have been 23, Annie 13 and Ollie 8. Nathan married the next year, 1911, and Annie married in 1912 to William Salzman. By 1930 Nathan had moved to the Bronx with his wife Bessie and their three children. He remained a piano teacher. On his World War I registration he describes himself as a composer.

Annie had two children, Leo and Isadore, but then died in 1917. In 1920, William and his older son Leo, 6, were living with his sister and brother-in-law on East 118 St, close to where the Seltzers had lived on Park Avenue in 1910. I could not find the younger son anywhere in the records until, after several tries, some new records came up with slightly different spellings. In 1920, when he was 3 or 4 (although listed as 2), Isadore was in the Home for Hebrew Children in the Bronx, the section of the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum for babies and toddlers.

Hebrew infant asylum Kingsbridge Road Bronx

Home for Hebrew Children, Knightsbridge Rd, the Bronx

By 1930, William had remarried to Lena and was living in the Bronx with both his children and Lena’s two children. Isadore is listed as 12 although he was born in 1916 and should have been 14. Possibly he returned home when he started school.

I could not find Ollie again in the records and assumed he had changed his name. After a long search I found him in 1920 as Allen, married to Fay Silverstein. They were living at 64 E. 103rd St, one block from Central Park and a bit south of where the Spectors had previously lived. On his marriage record he puts his mother as Lizzie Goldberg, whereas on his older brother Nathan’s marriage record it is Lizzie Hoffman. Ollie/Allen was only 8 when he left Odessa and may not have known his mother’s maiden name or remembered wrongly. He may not have thought to ask his brother, or was not in much contact with him. He was working as an insurance agent and had 2 young children, less than a year apart, both under one-year-old. On his World War I registration he specifies he is from Odessa, lives on East 111th Street and works as an advert salesman for the Harlem Star.

I could not find the family in the 1930 census until I finally found Allen living by himself as a lodger in the next building to the Seltzers on Bennett Avenue on the northern tip of Manhattan. The Seltzers lived there on both the 1930 and 1940 census. Allen was now a clerk for a film company. He must have known and been close to the Seltzer family, possibly closer than he was to his brother who was living in the Bronx in 1930. Allen does not appear on the 1940 census.

Bennett Avenue Manhattan

Bennett Ave Manhattan

The only record I found for Fay Spector was a death record from 1981. She died in New Haven, Connecticut, age 82, and her occupation had been addressographer (a machine for making address labels). I eventually found the two children, Lillian and Louis, 12 and 11, in 1930, at the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society orphanage in Pleasantville, New York.

Hebrew sheltering Guardian orphan society

Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society Pleasantville NY

So after the breakup of their marriage, it appears that neither Fay nor Allen could keep the children and work, and no relations stepped in to help. I looked up Fay Silverstein to see if she had family and found her as Fannie Silverstein with her parents and two siblings who had emigrated from Romania in 1901. I also found a divorced Fay Silverstein living as a lodger on West 85th Street in 1940, working for social services in welfare. If this is the mother of Lillian and Louis, one would hope, if she worked in welfare, that she had worked at their orphanage. She is not on the census in 1930 at the orphanage, but nor could I find her anywhere else. The Pleasantville orphanage was built as the New York Hebrew orphanage became overcrowded from the influx of immigrants after 1905, and was designed as a group of houses with house mothers. There is a description on the website listing the orphanage records.

In July 1912, five hundred children moved to Pleasantville, NY. In order to prepare children for the tasks of maintaining their own cottages, three hundred children were transferred from Grammar School No. 46 to a new school formed within the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society (HSGS) walls. Both boys and girls were trained in kosher cooking and cleaning, as well as introducing them to a new curriculum that differed from that of the American public school system. The curriculum combined academic, religious, and vocational education into nine years, versus twelve. In order to offset the Cottage mothers, most of the teachers were men… The success of the cottage system depended upon staff selection. Teachers required university degrees, and cottage mothers were selected from “the very best and …the very highest type of Jewish women…” After an intensive five week training course for the Cottage mothers, they met daily with the Superintendent and his staff, and met weekly as a Council with study advisory committees.

dancing Pleasantville orphanage

Dance class Pleasantville orphanage

Once in Pleasantville, 25-30 children shared each of the twenty-five cottage homes. In addition to the former Girls and Boys Republics, each cottage created a self-governing republic of its own. The cottage plan also introduced a Big Brother and Sister system, in which senior children were assigned to assist younger children’s daily activities. Intercottage competition for cleanliness, scholarship, and personal appearance added incentives.

Even with the name Pleasantville and this glowing description, life in the orphanage was probably not quite as it was envisaged by those who set it up.

Lillian next appears in the 1940 census, age 22, as a lodger on 2612 Broadway at West 99th St, a good-looking classical building, working as a cashier at a theatre. She was not far from her mother (if this Fay Silverstein was her mother) at West 85th Street and it seems strange, if they lived close to each other, that they were not together. Louis does not appear in the records again. As the census only goes up to 1940 we cannot know whether this family ever came together again.

2612 Broadway Spector Lillian

2612 Broadway

Felix Seltzer had moved to Fox St in the Bronx by 1920, very near to where Nathan Spector moved a few years later. He now had his own knitwear manufacturing business. By 1930 he had returned to Manhattan, to Bennett Ave in northern Manhattan not far from the Bronx. His daughter, Pauline, had married in 1927 and was living with her husband, Philip Weinstein, a salesman in the fur trade, in the same building. The younger daughter, Evelyn, had now become Adeline, and was living at home, working as a secretary for an insurance company. On the surface, the Seltzers seemed to have found the peaceful family life they may have been looking for after the pogrom. Felix and Sophie are in the same place in 1940 but neither of the daughters is in the 1940 census. Instead, in the same building as Felix and Sophie, there is another Spector, Edwin (originally Israel), who is from Boston. Could he be a relation or is this a coincidence? The only other records for either of the sisters are 2 ship’s manifests showing Pauline with her two-year-old son, Neil, travelling from New York to San Diego in November 1934 and returning the next March to Bennett Avenue.. Could her sister have been living in California? Was her husband working there? Had she left her husband? Evelyn does not appear again.

Felix Seltzer had become naturalised in 1908, exactly 2 years after arriving in the US. To try and find a link between him and Reiza Zeltser, I was interested to see where he was born, which was Nikolaev, a port to the east of Odessa. He was 30 years old and born in 1878. He had a distinctive mark of scars from burns on the fingers of his left hand.

Seltzer Felix nat 1908 - Copy

Reiza’s husband’s name was Feivel and he might have been around 30, like his wife, in 1905. His family residence was Derazhen, north of Odessa, and I found an 1875 census record of a Zeltzer family in Derazhen with the father named Faytel, which I think must be a mistake for Fayvel, as there are only two Jewish male names beginning with F, Faivel and Fishel. Most of his sons were young man in 1875 and noted as leaving Derazhen for other towns in the area, except for one who was moving to Akkerman, near Odessa. It seems likely that Felix had also been named Faivel, as names beginning with F are so rare, so they may have come from the same family. The question is whether the two Faivels were cousins, or whether they were one and the same person, and Derazhen was simply considered the family residence as they had left recently. This is probably unlikely because in the 1910 census Felix and Sophie say it is their first marriage and they had been married 7 years which would date back to 1903, two years before the pogrom. If this is true. If not, could Felix have married Sophie, a widow with a young child born just before the pogrom, sometime in 1906 and left for the US to join her brother? Or could the baby Pauline have been Felix and Reiza’s baby born just before the pogrom? There is a Paulina Zeltzer born in 1878 in the Odessa birth index (which only extends to 1900, before the baby Pauline was born), so it was a name in the family. 1878 is also Felix’s birth year, so possibly she is a cousin of his age named after a grandparent. Could Sophie have been his sister-in-law or the sister of a good friend, a fellow musician? Were the burns on his hand from being in a burning house or shop during the pogrom? Had the burns stopped him making a living as a musician?

Whether Felix was Reiza’s husband or cousin, he may have battled fires in the pogrom. If families have decided to keep the pogrom a secret from their children and possibly not tell them the whole truth of their background, this can lead to having to tell lies on records. If the census was done orally, this could mean lies are told to protect children in the room from the truth they have not been told, and so a chain of lies begins.


The Kutche brothers on their own

With many of the Odessa families or orphans who left Odessa shortly after the pogrom that I have traced, it has been impossible or incredibly difficult to find them in further US records. In some cases the handwriting on the ship’s manifest is difficult to decipher or variations on the spelling do not come up in the records. Some people might appear on one record and then manage to leave no other trace. The people who survived the pogrom and may have lost family in it so often seemed like ghosts to me and even more so when I could not find them.

A few months ago I found two young brothers, age 9 and 11, travelling from Odessa in 1906 with an elderly couple, Simach and Nechama Klein, who were joining their son-in-law, Morris Rothstein, at 406 Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn. The two boys, Schmeirel and Caumann Kutche, also sponsored by Rothstein, was described as a ‘friend’. Schmeirel and Caumann must have been orphans, whose parents may have died in the pogrom. I had so far not traced any orphans who had not been helped by one of the Jewish charities, like the Hebrew Society or the New York Industrial Removal Office.


Rockaway Avenue, Brooklyn

I tried looking up Kutche with various first names such as Samuel, Simon and Solomon and then tried many possible spellings of Kutche with no luck. I even tried just using first names beginning with S or surnames beginning with K.  I found Morris Rothstein, a house painter, on the 1910 census living with his parents, Simach and Nechama Klein at 1753 Prospect Place, Brooklyn. This was in Crown Heights, Brooklyn a short distance north-east of where he had lived on Rockaway Avenue in Brownsville. Crown Heights had originally been built as a more prosperous area than the working class mostly Jewish area of Brownsville which had been planned in the late 1880s as a spillover from the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

prospect Place Brooklyn

Prospect Place, Brooklyn


Belmont Ave market, Brownsville, Brooklyn

I didn’t find any other records for this Rothstein family, although I found another Morris Rothstein of similar age also living in Brownsville. I eventually just put the image of the ship’s manifest on my desktop and planned to return to it.

When I returned to the two Kutche brothers a few weeks ago, I started with the Odessa Jewishgen website ( to see if I could find their birth records in Odessa and how their name might have been spelled originally. I did find a birth record of a Shlima Kudish in 1897 but it is Cauman who might have been born around 1897 and there was not another birth close in age for his brother. There was no name very close to Kutche, so I tried Kudish and Kutz on the familysearch website I had been using ( with no luck. The name that came up most often on the Odessa Jewishgen search was the very common name Katz, so I tried that as well. There were no Simon Katz’of the same age but many Samuels, so I began to narrow down the Samuels and finally homed in on a Sam Katz on the 1920 census living as a boarder in the area just north of Brownsville on Howard Ave near where the Rothsteins had lived. He was 26 and working as a cutter of paper boxes and the head of the family he was living with worked in a clothing factory. I began to think about possible reasons for why he had not appeared on the 1910 census, what he might have been doing at the age of 15, and what he might have been doing since he arrived in the US at the age of 11.

The number of immigrant families who were living in the US in 1910 and appear on the 1910 census is relatively small compared to those that appear in 1920. I began to wonder if their lack of English or the conditions in which they lived meant they did not appear on the census. They may not have known enough English to know there was a census. Some parents did not understand how to find a school for their children or other mysteries of life in the US. Reading about the tenement houses of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, there was massive overcrowding, with many families living in one flat, sleeping and working in the same room, sometimes without windows or ventilation. Families probably had more boarders than would have been allowed. Children worked from very young ages, mostly delivering clothing to be worked on or returned to the factory. In Russia as well, children were apprenticed from an early age, sometimes by 11. A child of 9 might also have been given work to do. A relation of mine who wrote a memoir described his family losing their business when he was young and being apprenticed at age 11, hundreds of miles from his house to a pharmacist who started him off making deliveries from 7 in the morning until midnight or later.

In his well-known book about the immigration of East European Jews to America, World of our Fathers, Irving Howe writes little about child labour but says:

The streets meant work. Children, like nine-year-old Marie Ganz, went out to pick up bundles of sewing for her mother and was told they could bring in ‘maybe five dollars a week if she is a good sewer’. The full-time employment of children in shops and factories was rare on the East Side, partly because there was not much use for them in the ‘Jewish industries’, partly because the Jewish sense of family prompted fathers to resist with every ounce of there being the idea of children as full-time workers. (260)

But what happened when a parent or both parents became ill or died. If other family or a charity did not step in children probably lived on the streets. If Schmeirel and Caumann were found a place to board and work to do they were probably lucky.

Jacob Riis, a journalist and photographer, wrote How the other half lives, about the East Side tenements, which was illustrated with his photographs, often of children at work or living on the streets.

riis huddled-kids

Jacob Riis Huddled kids


Jacob Riis Lodgers in a tenement

Lewis Hine was a sociologist who began photographing child labour in 1908 and produced the first two of the photographs below.

children-delivering bundles 1912

Lewis Hine Children delivering bundles 1912


Lewis Hine Child labour

protest 1909 child labour

Child labour protest 1909

newsboys sleeping in the press room 1892

Newsboys sleeping in the press room 1892

I eventually found Sam Katz again in 1930, married to Sophie with a child of 1, Robert, working as a cloak salesman and living at 731 Pennsylvania Avenue near where it crossed Hegeman Avenue, which was in the south of Brownsville. This was a few streets further south from the home of the other Morris Rothstein. As Morris was a tailor I wondered if he was related to the other Rothsteins and had helped Sam. This Morris Rothstein died in 1915 at the age of 42, so could not have been a help for long. His wife Augusta had five children to look after, two of whom were working by 1920.

penn ave

Pennsylvania Ave, Brooklyn

731 penn ave

731 Pennsylvania Ave


With a further glance at Sam Katz on the 1930 census, I noticed that in the same 4-family house was a Chas Katz, several years younger, married with two young children, Adel and Sheldon, 3 and 2, and working as a radio salesman. I had finally found the other brother –Cauman Kutche. They may have been together in their first years in America when neither appears on the 1910 census, but for some time they were obviously not living together. They must have remained in contact and finally managed to get together and spend their lives in flats next to each other with their families. Both married quite late for the time, particularly Sam who was the eldest and possibly felt the most responsible. It must have taken Sam some time to feel settled and able to start a family. In 1940 they were still living in the same house. It is impossible to know whether the two brothers had been placed with a helpful family when they came to Brooklyn in 1906 or whether they had had a hard time working from a very young age. If they had had no more education and had worked very long hours it would even have been difficult to learn English and understand the world around them. What would the census have meant to them?

Whatever the case, they remained loyal to each other and eventually got together to live their lives, always there for each other, as many of the children who came to New York at that time seemed to do. Did the two brothers know much about their family in Odessa? They would have clearly remembered their parents if they had only died in 1905 in the pogrom, but without records from their descendants who knows whether they passed on anything about their family to their children?

I also found the original Morris Rothstein family who had moved to Ramsay, Minnesota by 1920. Morris died in 1926 at the age of 50. That the two Morris Rothsteins died so young suggests they might have been related with a family history of heart disease or whatever they succumbed to. Sophie Rothstein began to run a grocery store helped by her two older sons. In 1940 their house was divided into three apartments. Sophie was living with her youngest son, and each of the two older sons was living with his wife, and one of them had a young child. They were all running the grocery store – another family who helped each other out in hard times. There were two other Rothsteins, John and Louis, who arrived in the US from Odessa in 1909 and were also living with their families in Ramsay, Minnesota. Morris Rothstein, who had arrived in New York in 1904, may have decided to join the other members of his family sometime after 1910. Did they ever wonder about the two young brothers Sophie’s parents had brought from Odessa on the ship so many years before?



DNA tests and Roman Vishniac’s photographs of Transcarpathia

A few months ago I did a DNA test, something I had thought about but rejected, because a cousin who did an Ancestry test a few years ago only found that she was 85% European Jew, 6% Italy/Greece and 3% Caucasus. What I wanted to know was – what is a European Jew? Then I got to know two people through this blog who had more interesting experiences. One found that her real father was a family friend, the son of an Odessa Jew mentioned in this blog. The second person used the British test Living DNA as his father was British and his mother was the daughter of Odessa Jews. Living DNA only looks at geography and his results were much more widely spread, from Britain and France to the Aegean and North Turkey. It was intriguing if nothing else. I was interested in a test that might actually find the routes that Jews took from Palestine to Eastern Europe and Russia. So I did the Living DNA test and found that I was 14.2% Eastern European, 29.8% Middle Eastern (17.7 % Levant, 4.3 % Iran, 3.5% North Turkey, 3.3% South Turkey and 1.1 % Northwest Caucasus) and 55.1% Iberian. Everything made sense except the 55% Iberian as I know all of my grandparents had been living in Belarus and northern Ukraine since the 17th or 18th century and if they had lived in Spain they would have left in 1492 and been marrying with other European Jews since then. It was not very plausible.

So I turned to the free online website GEDmatch, which is very easy to upload your DNA data to and tried their endless stream of tests. The tests are not that easy to interpret as they all have different geographical categories and there are very few maps of the categories on the website. I did eventually find some good maps for one of the tests and got the idea that the areas were quite large even if the name of the area was a small country like Armenia. Here is the map for East Mediterranean on the test Eurogenes K36.


GEDmatch Eurogenes K36 East Mediterranean

GEDmatch also provided some interesting population spreadsheets which showed the proportion of genetic markers from different areas for people from different countries. For instance, in one test that has a category for Ashkenazi Jews (puntDNAL K15), they are categorised as being about 40% Mediterranean, 22% Caucasian, 20 % North East European, and 10% Southwest Asian (Caucasian, south-west Asian and Mediterranean all encompass parts of the Middle East)., and that is pretty much exactly what I got. I found I was a typical Ashkenazi Jew, but I had more sense of where we had come from. Probably all Jews have a similar genetic mishmash, as they intermarried with other Jews who had come across the Middle East and Europe on many of the various routes. This is also very close to the Sicilian and South Italian result, which might suggest they followed similar routes. I puzzled over why the Sicilians and Jews had similar amounts of North East European, as I thought the Jews had acquired these genes after they left Sicily and went north. But the Caucasians also have 20% North East European, so the Sicilians and Jews, who may both have originated in the Middle East, may have gained North East European genes living on the trade routes of the Caucasus, or from northern invasions. It seems that there may be very little difference between people from Western Asia, the Middle East and the coasts around the Mediterranean and Black Sea as they traded and intermingled over the past few thousand years.

Thinking about the number of Jews, even several hundred years BC, in the area of North Turkey and the Caucasus, I wondered if any had moved across the Black Sea into Ukraine. I found an online article about the history of Jews in Ukraine, and it said Jews had moved from Turkey and the Caucasus to Crimea which was also on trade routes from east to west, and later moved up to central Ukraine and Kiev. The original port at Odessa was set up by Greeks and Italians, and Jews from Crimea must have also settled there. These Jews would not have had such a mixed genetic background until they married Jews coming from Europe to Russia. Probably the majority of Jews in Odessa around 1900 had only been there one or two generations and had come from other parts of Ukraine, Moldova and further afield.

silk routes sea routes

In the GEDmatch test with the most categories, the Eurogenes K36, my results were East Mediterranean 17.99, Italian 16.8, Iberian 12.4, Armenian 9.65, Near Eastern 6.86, Arabian 5.45, East Balkan 5.16 (Romania/Bulgaria), East Central European 4.97, West Mediterranean 4.12, North African 3.01, West Caucasian 2.87, North Atlantic 1.85, Volga-Ural 1.52, Basque 1.43, North East African .9, East Central Asian .88. My Iberian result may be slightly higher than average for Ashkenazi Jews, but nowhere near 55%. This was much more fun than larger categories as the imagination can roam with so many specific places. Even if they are just educated guesses, and possibly not all that educated. If you combine different areas it adds up to Mediterranean 55.75, Middle East/West Asia 23.74 and Eastern Europe/Russia 13.5, which may be as close to the truth as one can ever get.

K 36 DNA numberless

Even after so many years of DNA tests existing, there seem to be many misconceptions about genetics when you look at the online forums discussing results. So many people think the results are wrong if they do not match the countries they know their grandparents and great grandparents lived in. They do not realise that even if their ancestors lived in the same place for several hundred years, if, like Jews, they have moved over the centuries and married among themselves, they will still have significant amounts of genes from where ever they originated. Nor do they realise the amount of upheaval caused by wars and invasions over the past few thousand years and how many people were displaced or forced to move. In the case of the Jews, it is thought that when they first began their movement out of the Palestine area, they intermarried more with local people, partly because there may not have been many Jews to marry but also because religion may not have been as clearly differentiated as it was later. Later they married more between themselves and there were many marriages of cousins.

When I had gained more confidence using GEDmatch, I began to look at the people I matched (mostly third or fourth cousins). You can put the matches through the various tests to see how you compare and also look at the similar sections of genes. But where these families lived and their names, the most interesting aspect, can only be got from the matches themselves. I wrote brief emails to the top few people on the list plus a couple who shared family names with me. There were connections in a couple of cases but even if people were enthusiastic at first, they soon lost interest, possibly because there was no obvious link to their specific family tree. Others were not interested at all.

But for me, the most disinterested person was the most interesting. I wanted to trace a few branches of my family further back in time. I asked this one person, who was at the top of my list, if he could tell me a few places where his family had lived and a few names. One of the towns was only 50 miles from where my mother’s family lived. I have found a couple of great great great-grandfathers on the 1806 revision lists of one town. He then gave me three names, one of which was extremely common. So I tried the second, Berkman, in the Jewishgen search and found quite a few in the town he had mentioned, Vishnevo, just south of the Lithuanian border. There was one marriage record where a Berkman had married someone with one of my family names, Rabinovich, unfortunately one of the most common names among Russian Jews. I then found some family trees on Jewishgen of Berkman and Rabinovich families and wrote to the person who had posted the trees asking where the family was from. The answer was Vishnevo and he sent me a document of 130 pages of the ins and outs of intermarriages among several Vishnevo families who all came from the same original ancestor, Beniamin, born in the mid-1600s. It was not until about 1800 that people needed to have last names for the tax censuses and each of Beniamin’s descendants chose a different last name, Davidson, Zussman, Rabinovich and Podberesky. I was amazed that none of the families chose the same name.

Although I could not find a direct link between my Rabinovich great great-grandfather and those in Vishnevo, not all the family was there and one common name running from the 1700s was Leib, my great grandfather’s name. And there was the genetic link. So possibly sometime before 1806, maybe even in the mid-1700s, my great great great grandfather Michel Nakhman Rabinovich, born in 1770, or his father, Nakhman may have come to the little town of Gorodische, south of Novogrudok, from Vishnevo. Maybe he just wanted to go somewhere else. Or had travelled through and thought it was a nice place. Or had met a nice girl from there.

The next two matches I heard from were from Odessa and the Carpathians on the border between Romania and Ukraine. I thought first of the family on my 1812 family tree, my maternal great-grandfather’s, the Tauzners, who were based for several generations in the very north of Ukraine, Lyubeshov, near Pinsk, but whose name is also found in Slovakia and Hungary. But I also thought about my maternal great-grandmother’s family, the Pikers, who only appear in Belarus around 1850. Where were they before? I scrawled through the Jewishgen records for Ukraine and frequently found the Piker name around Kishinev and Czernowitz. When I found, in Kishinev and further north in Moldova, the exact same first names and patronymics (Meer Ber and Meer Hirsh) as were common in my family, I felt I might be getting close. And then I found Pikers moving north in Ukraine, several in Berdichev, Belaya Tserkov and Kiev… and then one family in a village just a few miles from Lyubeshov. According to the census, in 1816 this Piker family had just arrived from Yampol, about 300 km south, east of Lviv. My branch of this family moved to the small town of Gorodische near Novogrudok, west of Minsk, some years after my branch of the Tauzner family had moved there as rabbis. Possibly they were already related from the time when they lived around Lubeshov or before. But it was there, in Gorodische, that my great-great-grandparents married. So the next step was finding the link with these other families from Transcarpathia, Romania and Ukraine.

Looking up images of one town where I may have had cousins, Teresva, in the Carpathian mountains just on the border of Romania and Ukraine, I discovered that the famous photographer Roman Vishniac had made many of his pre-Holocaust photographs of Jews in the 1930s in Teresva and surrounding area, so I will end with a few of his photos.

teresva Carpathian ruthenia by vishniac


Carpathian mts vishniac


vishniac Ruthenia




Mindel Kudler – Odessa to Brooklyn at 5 years old

While looking for the Kuperberg family on the Ellis Island database, I came upon a little five-year-old girl, Mindel Kudler, travelling ostensibly alone from Odessa to New York in 1905. I got up the manifest and saw that her ship had left in August 1905 from Hamburg, and she was travelling with her grandmother Libe Zajac to her mother Chana Kudler at 149/151 Centre Street, Brooklyn. Grandmother and granddaughter were detained for a few days at the hospital before being admitted to the US. Possibly Mindel had not been able to travel with her family because of illness. This was a family who had left Odessa just before the pogrom but I was interested in what had happened to this child, ill and separated from her family, possibly for many months.

nelson st near centre st

Nelson St near Centre St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

It was difficult to read the grandmother’s and the mother’s first names, so I tried Minnie Kudler in the search on Familysearch and came up with the 1920 census, but the mother’s name was Fannie. The father was Barnet, a stable proprietor from Odessa, so I knew I had found the right family. They were living at 37 Moore Street. Although no one else bothered, people from Odessa often insisted on Odessa being written into the census. Minnie was 19 and not working although her older sister Mary and younger sister Rose were both office workers. Possibly Minnie was helping to keep house as there were eight children in her family and there were another six children with the last name Lipshitz, which I assumed to be Fannie’s previous name. The youngest Kudler child to be born in Russia was Mollie, born in 1905.Mary, Minnie, Rose and Mollie were born in Russia and Morris, Joseph, Florence and David, who was only 4, were born in New York. The Lifshitz children were Abe, 19, Archie, Teddy, Hyman, Annabelle and Florence, who was also 4, and they were all born in New York.

moore street pushcarts

Moore Street market

The next census I found was 1930 and Fannie is now Fannie Lipshitz, living with her children Abe, Morris, Archie, Theodore, Annabelle and Florence, ranging in age from 29 to 14, still at 37 Moore Street. Two more children are tagged at the bottom, Daniel, 15, and Lena, 18. It seems that a lot had happened in those 10 years and it took quite a bit of effort to piece together the complicated story of the Kudler and Lipshitz families from the records I could find.

moore street 3

Moore St, Graham St and Manhattan Ave

folly theater graham ave brooklyn

I never found either family on the 1910 census, but I found Fannie and her first husband Frank on the 1900 census when they had a daughter, Tillie, born in 1897 and a baby son, Hyman, born in 1899. Frank was a removal man. They lived on Manhattan Avenue which runs through the centre of the Jewish area in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Another Hyman Lifshitz, a tailor 24, was boarding next door who, I found out later, was Frank’s brother. I then found the 1897 marriage record for Frank and Fannie, and also the ship’s manifest when Frank came to the US in 1889 at 19. By 1905 they had three more children besides Tillie and Hyman, Abram, Morris and Harry, and lived at 37 Moore Street where Fannie remained for as long as I could find her. Frank’s brother was living with them and the brothers were working together as ‘express men’.

manhattan ave williamsburg

Manhattan Ave, Williamsburg

In 1915, the Lipshitz’ son Hyman is no longer there. Most New York City death records give details of the birth and death, address, burial date and names of parents. The only death record from that time is one of a Hyman Lipshitz who died 12 May 1908 with no details of his birth or parents. Hyman would have been 9. There is no other death record like that and I assume, if this is his death record, they were too upset to fill in the form properly. By 1915, the Lipshitz’ have seven children. Harry has become Archie. There is Tillie, Abe, Morris, Archie, Theodore, another Hyman, and Anna (later Annabelle). By 1920 they had added their last child, Florence, but Frank was no longer alive. He had died 30 July 1917 when he was 48.

I had a great deal of trouble finding anything about the Kudlers before 1920. I could find nothing about the mother Mindel was travelling to in 1905. If she died, I could not find a death record. Then, at long last I found Barnett, a carpenter, and Anna Kadler on the 1915 census living at 281 Christopher Ave, further south in Brooklyn. By their address was written Rm 2, and I wondered whether they were living with their 7 children (Mary, Minnie, Rose, Mollie, Morris, Joseph, Fanny/Florence) in one room. Before Anna died, she had another child David who was born in 1915 or 1916. Anna may have died after the birth. Sometime before 1920, Barnet and Fannie married and he moved with his children into 37 Moore St.

There was one more major change in 1920. There is a marriage certificate for 11 May 1920 in Florida for Minnie Kudler and Nathan Treifler, who also came from Brooklyn. Minnie’s age is listed as 21, the age when consent was no longer needed although she was probably 19. And it also says ‘her mother is dead’. Often the names of the bride’s parents were mentioned in these Florida marriage certificates. No names are mentioned on this one. Possibly Minnie and Nathan went to Florida to spare their families the cost of a wedding. This is the only personal statement in the records for Minnie, who was separated from her mother in 1905, then reunited only to lose her again sometime after 1915.

kudler minnie marriage florida

Marriage certificate 1920 Minnie Kudler

More changes occurred by the 1925 census. Barnett and Fannie were still living at 37 Moore Street, but Fannie now called herself Fannie Lipshitz and is listed as Head with all of her 7 children. Morris, 22, is called Moe and Hyman, 13, has become Herman. Barnett is listed as Head with his three youngest children, Joseph, Florence and David. Possibly this had never been a real marriage but just an arrangement for convenience, with Barnet providing the money and Fannie looking after the house and both sets of children. Maybe they now had two flats in the same house. Two of the other Kudler daughters, Rose and Molly, were living with Minnie and her husband on Lorimer Street, not far from Moore Street. The oldest daughter, Mary, was in her mid-20s, and may have been living on her own. Morris Kudler is not on the census.

The 1930 census took place on 5 April and Barnet had died on 25 March. The family was still living at 37 Moore Street – there were six Lipshitz children, as for some reason Herman, who would have been 18, is not there, plus two added children with no last names who had me puzzled for a long time. They were Daniel, 15, and Lena, 18. Eventually I worked out that Daniel was actually David Kudler and Lena was Florence Kudler, possibly nicknamed Lena because there was already a Florence in the family. Fannie was working as a sales lady in a dry goods store and three of the four older sons were working. Fannie’s eldest daughter, Tillie, was now married with three children, and also had Hyman Lipshitz, her uncle, boarding with her. Rose and Molly Kudler were living with Minnie Treifler who now had two sons. Joseph Kudler had changed his name to Cutler and was married with a son. They were all living in Brooklyn. Mary Kudler still does not appear. Morris who was about 23 was also missing. There is one census page with a person Morris’ age called Kutler, a boarder, but nothing much was known about him including his first name, so he was obviously not present. He may have only recently moved. Herman never appears again. He has disappeared like the older brother whose name he had.

I could not find Fannie Lipshitz in 1940. The family had split up and the younger children, now in their early and mid 20s, were living with married brothers and sisters. Morris Lifshitz had become Murray and was living with his wife and two children in Newark New Jersey with his two sisters Annabelle and Florence. Tillie now had four children. Archie was married. Teddy had died in 1935.

Joseph Cutler and his family had moved to Florida. The others were in Brooklyn. Morris Kudler was living with his wife and baby at the home of his in-laws. Minnie Treifler now had three children. Mary finally appears in the census as Mary Cutler living on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Living with her are Rose and Daniel Kudler, and their sister Florence Myers. The sisters were doing office work, bookkeeping or stenography, and the brothers were in sales.

Although the Kudler family was not involved in the Odessa pogrom, they had left Odessa in 1905, a time of great turbulence. It was the year of the first revolution beginning with the Potemkin mutiny in Odessa Harbour in the summer of 1905. They may have felt pressured to leave as events were unfolding. I continued researching the family when I saw the two families managing with 14 children between them and how, as one after the other, the parents died early, the children continued to live with and look after each other. The children who did not have their own families came together and made a family together, something that has happened in several of the Odessa families.



The ghost of David Komelfeld

Duvid Shaevich Komelfeld, a native of Odessa, was 29 when he died in the 1905 Odessa pogrom. Nothing else appears in the records about him or his family. But checking on an Ellis Island database (, there was a family of Komelfelds, 28-year-old Sura and her four children, Tauba, Schindel, Schaje and Rafael, between ages 7 and 3, leaving Hamburg for New York in August 1907.

komelfeld sura ship 1907 - Copy

Sura Komelfeld and her four children on the SS Blucher, 2 August 1907

Her closest relation in Odessa was her brother Schiel Burdman (Бурдман) who lived at 7 Srednaya St in Moldavanka, and she was going to her husband David Komelfeld at 197 Moore St in Brooklyn.

11 serednaya burdman

11 Srednaya St (7 is a modern apartment block)

odessa map 1888 mold

Moldavanka 1888

Srednaya St means Middle Street and it runs through the centre of Moldavanka from top to bottom of the map.

The name Komelfeld (Комельфельд) is extremely rare. Slightly more common is the name Kimelfeld, and both names appear in the Odessa records. It is also a name that is rarely spelt properly in the US records, probably because many of the records were done orally and the Russian or Yiddish pronunciation was difficult to interpret. The first record I found was the 1910 census with the name spelt something like Kobnmelfeld. Sarah was living with her brother, Joe Boardman, sister, Beckie, mother, Ida, and her three children on 79 Leonard St in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an area with many newly arriving Jewish immigrants where the family stayed through the 1920s.

Graham Avenue Brooklyn

Graham Street Brooklyn 1935

Graham Avenue in Williamsburg 1930s

Sarah is a widow and one of her children, the eldest son, has died. She has two daughters, Tesie and Sadie, 10 and 8, and a younger son, Rafael, 5. It says on the census that Sarah originally had five children and three are alive. Her brother had arrived in the same year as she arrived, 1907, but her mother and sister came in 1908, possibly to help her after her husband died. She is working as an examiner of children’s suits and her brother and sister are also working in clothing factories.

Williamsburg Brooklyn 1918

Williamsburg 1918

What I did not notice when I first saw the 1910 census was another Boardman family consisting of Morris 24, Bessie 20, and their little boy Abe who was 2. Morris had arrived in the US in 1905 and had a candy store. Living with him was Ben Komarow, who had come alone from Odessa at age 14 in 1906. Ben married Sarah’s sister, Beckie, in 1911 and will come back into the Komelfeld story further on.

139 starr St 1920 Boardman

Starr St Brooklyn

It was difficult to find the old houses in Williamsburg on Google streetview in the area where the Komelfelds lived. The street above is just south of Williamsburg, where Joseph Boardman lived in 1920, a slightly more prosperous area. When I saw the two trees framing the picture I thought of the famous story written in the 1940s, A tree grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, which I read and cried over as a child. It is the story of an 11-year-old Irish-American girl brought up with an alcoholic father in a poor Irish Catholic part of Williamsburg just north of the Jewish area. She describes in exquisite detail the daily life, the squalid tenements, the diet of day-old bread and the Saturday treat of fresh rye bread from the Jewish delicatessen, and at school, the vicious treatment of the poor children by the teachers, and of various hierarchies of children towards each other. It was quite clear to her from a very early age that her aim in life was to find a way to rise up and out of Williamsburg.

first edition tree

The older daughter’s name was Tessie, which was rare and eventually I tried searching for her in a database with no last name, looking for someone living in Brooklyn, newly married, age 20, with an immigration date of around 1907. A possibility came up with a Tessie Bernstein, 21, married to Edward, a salesman, living in Brooklyn, with a son, Irving, 2. In 1930, Tessie has Odessa written by her birth country and I knew I had found the right person. There was no marriage record for her or her husband. By 1930 she had 2 sons. Sadie was a much more common name and more difficult to find. I also could not find any more records for Sarah or Raphael. Before I found Tessie, I thought the entire family had disappeared, ghosts from the Odessa pogrom. Eventually I made a little headway.

I returned to looking for David Komelfeld‘s death record and after a long search went back to the original Odessa death record to see the full name of the Duvid Komelfeld who had died in the pogrom, which was Duvid Shaevich. The name of Sarah’s oldest son, the one who died, was Schaje which was probably Shaya. So was Shaya named after his grandfather, his father David’s father? Then who was the David who died in the pogrom who also had a father called Shaya? How could there be 2 people in the same family with the same name and the same father? For a short moment I thought that possibly the David Komelfeld who was waiting for Sarah and the children in Brooklyn was only a figure in her imagination, a real ghost from the pogrom. Maybe she was already a widow and joining a brother in New York. Then I realised Shaya may have been named after an uncle or another relation. Maybe the Davids were cousins.

After my third or fourth attempt, I found a potential Sadie – a Sadie Held, 19 in 1920, married to Jacob, a plumber. Her immigration date was correct, 1907, and there was no marriage record for her as there hadn’t been for her sister. By 1930 she had four children, one boy and three girls.

I now tried to find the death record of the 4-year-old son. Without knowing what first name they would have used for Shaya, and with a last name that was difficult to spell, I did not have much hope, until I thought to put in Sarah’s maiden name, Bordman, which would be on her child’s death record. It bothered me the most that I could not find any record for this little boy who had come all the way from Odessa to New York, would never grow up, and would surely be totally forgotten, lost from the records. But here he was:

Charles Cemberfeld
death: 19 November 1907, age 5, 117 Seigel Street, Brooklyn
estimated birth year: 1902, Russia
burial date: 19 November 1907
cemetery: Washington
father: David Cemberfeld, Russia
mother: Sarah Bordman, Russia

The Komelfelds had only arrived in August 1907 and three months later Shaya had died. And what about David, his father? Could he have been buried through a synagogue without a death certificate? Or are some records simply lost?

I found some old maps from the 1880s of Seigel St and the area around there where the Boardmans and Komelfelds had lived for so many years. This was the centre of Jewish Williamsburg.Although these are much older maps, it is interesting to see the narrow houses, the furniture factory, tailor, bakery, macaroni factory and other workshops scattered between the houses.

Seigel Brooklyn 1884

Seigel Street on the left 1880

throop Seigel St Brooklyn 1880

Throop Ave, Seigel St, Leonard St, and Moore St 1884

I returned to Sarah and Raphael and found that there was no sign of them after 1920. I tried with every possible spelling of Komelfeld, any name beginning with K, and even with no last name. There are very few Raphaels so I tried Ralph as well, but nothing came up that fit his approximate age and immigration date. As Sarah’s mother, Ida Boardman, had been living with them in 1920, I then looked to see where she was in 1930. She appeared living with Ben Komarow who had married Sarah’s sister, Becky Boardman. I went back to his ship’s record which had said he was 14 when he left Odessa alone in 1906. It said he was going to an uncle called Abraham Bradkovsky who ran a restaurant in Manhattan on Monroe St. Unfortunately, Bradkovsky died in 1909 when he was only 40 and Ben must have moved to the Boardmans in Brooklyn. Possibly they were relations or friends from Odessa. On the ship’s manifest it said Ben was a shoemaker at age 14, but on the 1910 census he was working, like the majority of Jewish immigrants, in a clothing factory as a ladies cloak cutter. After he married Beckie, Ben moved to Sumter, South Carolina, where he appears on the World War I registration as a merchant. He probably had a brother there as there is another young man from Odessa, Isidore Komarow, nearby. It is hard to imagine why two young Jewish men would find themselves in a small town in South Carolina, but immigrants travelled anywhere to get away from the intense competition for jobs in New York.

I still did not know whether Sarah and Raphael had changed their names, moved away or died. But as Sarah had been looking after her mother, and that job was taken over by her sister Rebecca, who had returned to New York from South Carolina at some point before 1930, possibly the Komarovs returned because Sarah moved away or died. If she died, that does not explain what happened to Raphael. She might have remarried and he might have taken his stepfather’s name, but that seems unlikely when he was nearing the age to set out on his own, and so far I have not found anyone that fits his description. Possibly she remarried and later he changed his name. Or he left the country. The possibilities are endless. Having settled for 13 years in Brooklyn, these two figures, the 42-year-old mother and 15-year-old son, fade away like their husband and father, David Komelfeld, ghosts of the Odessa pogrom.








Leonid Pasternak and his Odessa childhood

I have written about the impressionist painter Leonid Pasternak (Леонид Пастернак), the father of Boris Pasternak, in a previous post about the wealthy Moscow tea merchant, David Wissotzky, who had portraits of himself and his wife painted by Pasternak ( His children was also tutored by Boris Pasternak one summer. Boris fell in love with his daughter, Ida, and was inspired to begin writing poetry. There was a teacher called Leon Wissotzky who died in the Odessa pogrom and the Wissotzky’s had offices and warehouses in Odessa, using the port for their tea business. But what I never realised was that the Pasternaks were also from Odessa. It was only when I was looking up where Isaac Babel had lived in Odessa that the name Pasternak came up as well, as having stayed at Bazarnaya 78 over the years from 1885-1911 (like Jabotinsky and Kataev who had also lived on Bazarnaya), although he was living in Moscow at the time.78 bazarnaya Pasternak

Bazarnaya 78

So where was the artist born and what was his life like growing up in Odessa? From the Russian Wikipedia entry, I found that Leonid (Yitzhok-Leib or Isaac-Leon) had been born in 1862 on Kherson Street 20, now Paster Street 20 (по Херсонской — Пастера улице). This is an area outside the centre near the harbour, between the centre and Moldavanka. Just beyond, along the harbour, is Peresyp, and further inland is Slobodka. According to Wikipedia and many accounts of Pasternak’s childhood, when he was quite small his father rented a courtyard and inn, eight rooms for small landowners coming to market, in central Slobodka near the cathedral and market square. A footnote leads to a very long article on a Russian history website about Peresyp and Slobodka-Romanovka mentioning many Odessan writers and historians and descendants of local people vouching for the Pasternak’s having lived at what was called the inn of Baransky, at 9 (possibly changed to 11) Rozhdestvenskaya near the church and Market Square, and yet to many writers on Odessa it was also called Gruzdyev House ( On the 1888 map of Odessa, you can see Slobodka on the bottom with the market square in the centre. The beginning of Kherson Street can be seen across the ravine and railway track at the top of the map.

Odessa 1888 slobodka Pasternak


9 vinnicnenko Pasternak

9 Rozhdestvenskaya just north of the central square

So I tried to find out more about Leonid’s early life in Odessa through his memoir, translated into English in 1982. He describes the bustling courtyard filled with the landowner’s horses and carts, which, as a small child, inspired him to begin drawing. He also describes his first trip outside at night, as a four-year-old, walking with his father to a special bakery on New Year’s Eve to collect a cake for their landlord. It is this detailed description of his walk to the bakery on Preobrazhenskaya near the City Gardens that makes one begin to doubt that the family lived in Slobodka. Then I came upon another story of his childhood on a website of biographies of famous Odessans. In this short biography, it says that Leonid’s grandfather Isaac came to Odessa from Galicia in the early 1800s and Leonid’s father, Joseph, was born in 1813. According to this story, Joseph’s inn was near the New Market (Новобазарная) on Koblevskaya between Olgievskaya and Konnaya, just across the ravine north of Slobodka ( New Market is the square towards the bottom left of the map.

Odessa 1888 old market

New Market (Новобазарная) and Koblevskaya (Коблевская)

I went back to the memoir and read more carefully how Leonid described his childhood home. ‘I can only properly remember my early childhood from the time when father’s affairs took a turn for the better and he rented the vacant area described above – the courtyard and wing. “Gryuzdov’s House” was known throughout the regions and visitors used to travel from afar since the rooms were very cheap. Where we lived, on the outskirts of the city, was very provincial, almost like a village. You could see the sea, as well as the little settlement Romanovka nearby.’

Pasternak Odessa 1870s

How could he live in the middle of Romanovka near the marketplace and see it from where he lived? He then describes the courtyard more fully:

One would have thought that my childhood imagination would have been confined to things urban, but in fact it was nourished on country impressions. Although we lived in the town, our courtyard was more like a village and we were surrounded by things rural. This courtyard with its carts and wagons, it horses and oxen, it’s chumaks and coachman and Tartars – helped enrich my artistic imagination enormously, as well as develop my sense of observation. Every evening peasants would arrive to stay overnight, bringing with them their bread to sell. Their lodging would cost them only a few kopecks. By nightfall the yard would be filled to overflowing with wagons, people and animals. There was a strong smell of manure and the sound of neighing and chewing was everywhere. Even now I can still smell that peculiar odour of horses’ harness and tar, I can still hear the muffled lowing of oxen, the snorting of horses quarrelling and somebody’s certain and penetrating cry: ‘You swine!’

Then I found a history online of the famous bakery, Duryan’s, where Leonid had gone with his father to buy the special New Year’s cake, for their landlord, Untilov. He quotes from Pasternak about the bakery and describes Pasternak’s early home as being at Koblevskaya 13 on the corner of Olgievskaya, a house which his father rented from Mikhail Untilov until 1873 when he was able to buy the property. This house is near the New Market and a reasonable walk to the bakery on Preobrazhenskaya. It is also at the edge of the city and near the ravine that separates the city from Slobodka-Romanovka. Koblevskaya 13 was destroyed in the war but here is another nearby house with courtyard.

Koblevskaya dvora Pasternak

Koblevskaya courtyard

I went back to the internet to search again for more about Pasternak’s childhood and found his memoir in Russian which had an extra sentence in the beginning which was not in my English edition. ‘Знаю лишь, что я родился на Старом Базаре, в 1862 году, 22 марта по старому стилю, и когда мальчиком бывал там, т. е. в центре города, то ничего такого старого не находил в нем, что отличало бы его от Нового Базара, куда мы перебрались, когда мне было 2–3 года.’ (I only know that I was born in the Old Bazaar, in 1862, on March 22, in the old style, and when I was a boy there, that is, in the center of the city, I would not find anything so old in it that would distinguish it from the New Bazaar, where we moved when I was 2-3 years old.) ( Old Market is on the previous map towards the top right in the centre of town.

So Leonid had lived as a child near the New Market, but also says that he was born near the Old Market in the centre of the city. The only reference I had about where he was born was that it was Kherson St 20, a couple of streets over from Koblevskaya. The original detailed history of Slobodka mentions that the landlord Untilov, a member of the Duma, was listed in the directory as owner of Kherson St 20. Possibly this is where the idea of it being Pasternak’s birthplace came. But the article about the bakery says that Untilov was also the owner of the inn on Koblevskaya, which makes sense as they were buying the cake for their landlord. It seems that no one has actually looked into where Pasternak was born. I’m not sure why or how the story of Pasternak coming from Slobodka came about. It is and was a much poorer working class area and his family seem to have been an up-and-coming family who wanted their children well educated and eventually moved into the city centre. The inn on the edge of town was surely just as good a story as the childhood home of the famous painter.

Pasternak’s memoir continues with experiences at his local primary school and then moving on at age 10 to Richelieu High School, the most prestigious high school in Odessa and difficult to get a place in. He then moved to the Odessa State High School in the fifth year where he met a French teacher who was interested in art and introduced him to museums, galleries and exhibitions. Another stroke of luck was that the editor of various illustrated magazines, Mikhail Freudenberg, rented a room in his courtyard, and asked him to do some illustrations for him. In his last year of school, Leonid also began taking classes at the Odessa School of Drawing.


Leonid Pasternak as a young man

When he finished school in 1881, Leonid entered the medical faculty of Moscow University which was the desire of his parents, hoping also to join the School of Painting but found there were no more places. He did not enjoy medicine so transferred to the Law Faculty, but really wanted to study art abroad and discovered that this was easier to do from the Odessa University so he transferred to the Law Faculty in Odessa, where he would be able to spend much of his time at universities and studying art abroad.

What interested me so much about Leonid Pasternak’s childhood in Odessa was his ability, from a relatively poor, uneducated Jewish family, to navigate the education system with the help of his incredible talent, study art in Odessa while at school and get a place at Moscow University in medicine, which was the career his parents wanted him to pursue. It presents another picture to the often described difficulties Jews had with education quotas and difficulties living outside the Pale. It is also interesting to look more closely at the description of his family as poor and uneducated, because when his father was a child he was probably brought up speaking Yiddish and going to a traditional Hebrew school so he may not have learnt an educated Russian. Because Odessa was known for its Russian education, even for Jewish children, families that spoke Yiddish or people who had just learnt Russian orally were looked down upon and families rarely admitted to knowing Yiddish. Leonid’s father may have been educated in the old tradition and Yiddish-speaking, but seems to have done quite well in his hotel business, so the family may have entered the middle-class when Leonid was still quite young.

Certainly all of Leonid’s paintings of his family life were in very middle-class settings, but he also documented the older Jewish generation and made one trip to Palestine where he drew the people and landscape. Another major part of his work were portraits and he was obviously proud, coming from his background, of getting to know some very famous people like Tolstoy, Rilke and Einstein, but his relationship with Tolstoy was probably the most important to him (he illustrated Resurrection and several scenes from War and Peace) and he was called by Tolstoy’s wife to draw Tolstoy just before he died. In the early 1920s he moved to Berlin with his wife and daughters for health reasons and then stayed, only leaving in 1938 to settle in Oxford where one of his daughters lived.

I will end this post with a series of drawings, paintings and a few photographs predominantly relating to his own family, time spent in Odessa, and Jewish life from the late 1880s through the 1920s.

Pasternak 1889 Odessa

Odessa 1889


Letter from home 1889 (first large-scale painting)

Pasternak old Jewish woman 1889

Old Jewish woman 1889

Odessa 1890 Pasternaks

Leonid and his wife, recently married, 1890

Boris 1892

Boris 1892

Tolstoy 1893 Pasternak

Tolstoy 1893

Odessa Pasternak 1896

Odessa 1896

Odessa 1896 Pasternak family with Boris

The Pasternaks and Boris 1896

On the Sofa circa 1916 by Leonid Pasternak 1862-1945

On the sofa 1916

Pasternak 1924 Palestine

Palestine 1924

Pasternak Palestine drawing

Palestine 1924




Happy families – the Levitts

I had looked up the Levitt family before the Levitons, as they had settled in New York where the records are particularly good. I had been interested that there were two brothers, Hirsch (Harry), 23, and Aaron, 22, who had left Odessa in 1906 and 1907. Harry had given the address of a friend and Aaron had listed his brother Hirsch. I then easily found all the records for Harry, a jeweller, who had married in 1912, and had settled in the Jewish area north of Central Park, later Harlem, on East 113th Street, where he stayed through all the records.

I was only able to find Aaron on his WW 1 and WW 2 registrations. On his World War I registration he was working for a jeweller and living with his mother, Celic Levitt, at 3 East 115th Street, near his brother. On his 1907 ship’s manifest, his relation in Odessa had been his mother, Lipa (probably Tsipa) Levitt. I looked again at the manifests and found that in 1914 Cipa Levitt, 56, was travelling with her daughter, Tauba, 22, a seamstress, to her son, H Levitt, in New York.

3 and 5 E 115th St

It was difficult to look for a family with names which would obviously have changed but eventually I found a 1920 census where the mother, Cherpa, is living with her children, Marry, 23, Tillie, 21 and a younger Harry, 20, at 2 E. 114th Street. I had found the family by looking for variations on Tauba, and found that Tillie was a popular name at the time, although it was difficult that her age had not advanced.

The girls are working at a dress factory and Harry is a jewel polisher. It took some time to accept this was the same family with two sons called Harry but possibly, as there are no military registrations for Harry, his official first name was different. The older Harry was by now 36 and had two children.

I then began a look for the elder sister, Mary, and found a Mairie Lewitt, 22, travelling from Odessa in 1912 to her brother Harry Levitt. Her relation in Odessa was her mother, Cipa Levitt.

Mairie Lewitt 1912

Next was the 1915 census where almost the whole family was together – the mother Celia, older brother Harry with his wife Esther and baby Herman, then Arnold (Aaron), Minnie and Tillie. Harry and Aaron are both in the jewellery business, although Harry’s entry says jeweller and Aaron’s says jewellery. Harry possibly makes jewellery and/or has a shop, whereas Aaron and the younger Harry were jewel polishers. Only the younger Harry, who appears in the 1920 census, is missing from the 1915 census, although he puts his immigration date as 1910. They are all living on East 113th Street, where Harry and Esther continued to live. The ages in this census are all over the place which may be why I did not find it for a while. Everyone seems to be getting younger.

The only one in the family whose name remained constant, although her age varied tremendously, was Tillie, and by concentrating on her I found the rest of the family up to 1940. In 1930, Celia became Sarah and she and the remaining children, Minnie, Tillie and Aaron, had moved to the Bronx, on Freeman Street. Possibly they were able to get a more modern apartment in the Bronx for the same money or less. This is a very close family where the mother and four children stayed together and only the oldest son has a family and has remained in Manhattan. The sisters are working for themselves as dressmakers, and Aaron is possibly a brass polisher if I have read it correctly. Cipa died in 1935. In 1940, Harry, Minnie and Tillie are living together a couple of streets away from Freeman Street at 1014 Home Street. Harry is a polisher at a jewellery factory, Minnie does the housework, and Tillie is working at a dress factory. Since the 1929 Depression possibly it is difficult for the sisters to get enough business to work from home and Tillie has had to work in a factory again. Although Aaron is not on the census, on his 1942 World War II registration, he is living at the same address on Home Street, and puts his nearest relative as Mina, his sister Minnie. He is unemployed. It does not seem to have been such an easy life for the younger four children in this family, none of whom married. It seemed hopeful that Minnie and Tillie were able to work from home as dressmakers, but that did not last. In 1940, the older Harry is still living on East 113th Street working as a jeweller and his children are working as a salesman and bookkeeper.

1014 Home Street

It was Berko Manikovich Levit, 39, from Akkerman (near Odessa), who died in the pogrom. Cipa was a widow when she left Odessa in 1914 but may have only been recently widowed. According to Harry’s marriage record his father was  Chaim Levit, who may or may not have been related to  Berko. The pogrom death records are far from complete, so someone in this Levit family may also have been killed or injured. Levit is not a common name like Levin or Lewin. Or the Levits may have been affected by the pogrom in other ways. When only one child of 5 in a family marries and has their own family, and the others remain living with their mother, one might think they are particularly protective towards her and each other. This protectiveness may be something they felt they needed to do since childhood. Although I quickly had found the records of the older Harry, finding the rest of the family had not been so straightforward, and there are many questions and not many answers about their lives. The three brothers had left for America before the mother and sisters, so possibly things had not been easy for them in Odessa after the pogrom. Possibly the daughters could not make ends meet when their father died. At least they were together in America but managing does not seem to have been easy and it may not have been a better life. One tries to imagine them as they grew older, thinking back over their life and their childhood in Odessa.