Kataev, the pogrom and Bolshoi Fontan

In order to think more about where my grandparents might have lived, I returned to Kataev and his description of the pogrom hooligans leaving his apartment and heading out of town towards the road to Mali Fontan (later Frantsuzky or French Boulevard, Французький Бульвар), towards ‘Malofontanskaya and the corner of Botanicheskaya’. This was the beginning of my imagining my grandparents’ life in Odessa and my first intimation that the pogrom had moved out of the city and onto the road towards the resorts, dachas and fishing villages that lined the shore. Using old maps, websites with the history and photographs of Odessa streets, and Google Streetview, I followed the hooligans on their route out of town down Malofontanskaya or Frantsuzky Blvd, with its mostly elaborate mansions of Russian aristocrats and Jewish merchants interspersed with more humble dachas. I stopped at the corner of Malofontanskaya and Botanicheskaya, where it once had beautiful dachas surrounding the Botanical Garden area.

odessa map close up dachas 1901

Frantsuzky Blvd 1901

In this close-up of the city, the railway station and Kulikovo Field are in the upper left and Frantsuzky Blvd is the road running top to bottom on the right. The corner with Botanicheskaya (Botanical Garden St) is the street joining Frantsuzky Blvd at the letters Валт (дача Валтух, dacha Valtukh). This was 35 Frantsuzky Blvd, a very large plot of land, some of which had been sold, where there was a more modest dacha owned by a rich Jewish merchant, Usher Moshkovich Sigal, owner of a brickworks, ceramic factory and shop. He also had a large house in the Moldovanka area.

sigal french blvd sergekot

 Dacha Sigal 35 Frantsuzky Blvd

sigal 8 spiridonovskaya moldavanka

Dom Sigal, Spiridonovskaya 8, Moldavanka

Near Sigal’s dacha were two much more majestic summer homes: at number 31 lived the Demidov, Prince of San Donato (Демидов, князь Сан-Донато) family and at number 37 was the very ornate Dacha Makaresko. Other nearby dachas were the equally elaborate.


Dacha San Donato 31 Frantsuzky Blvd

37 french blvd dacha makaresko

Dacha Makaresko 37 Frantsuzky Blvd

dacha mavrokordato 2

Dacha Mavrokordato 42 Frantsuzky Blvd

dacha ashkenasi 85 french blvd

Dacha Ashkenazi 85 Frantsuzky Blvd

On the other side of the road near the corner with Botanicheskaya there were also dachas in large parks, though they did not have grounds leading down to the sea. Mostly now there are new apartment buildings on this side. In the directory, there were a few obvious Jewish names such as Grossman at number 16 and further down, Rapoport at number 26. The hooligans may have been going to any of these Jewish dachas. Other examples of the dachas on that side of the street are Dacha Perets at number 22 and Dacha Tseiner at 28.

dacha perets

dacha tseiner 28

Dacha Tseiner 28 Frantsuzky Blvd

After doing their damage, the hooligans may have continued down the Malofontanskaya, coming first to Mali Fontan and then may have moved on to the Sredni and Bolshoi Fontans, about 3 miles down the coast according to the 1914 Baedeker.

baedeker russia 1914

Baedeker Russia 1914 Odessa beaches and Fontans (springs)

In The Odessa pogrom and self defence, 1906, there is a chapter called ‘The journey of grief’ about the pogrom reaching the furthest resort, Bolshoi Fontan.

To paraphrase the chapter:
The fishing village, Bolshoi Fontan is a place of lively dachas in summer, but by autumn there were only about 10 families living there full-time. On the Wednesday the rabble arrived wanting to crush the Jewish homes, and the Jews, realising that things were getting desperate, decided to band together. One family went to the German gardener of a neighbouring dacha belonging to the wealthy Ksida family. The German agreed to hide them in the greenhouses, until a few from the village arrived and told him that they would destroy the dacha the next day if he didn’t throw out the Jews. The Jews met with the gardener and decided that the first family to arrive would stay but the remaining 25 would leave the dacha, which might save the gardener. It was night and a journey of grief for those who left. There was a cold autumn rain and the sea was stormy. The shore from Bolshoi Fontan to Langeron (near Odessa) had been washed away. In the day, the broken, fragmented cliffs with the dachas above are beautiful, but one needed to be young and agile on the slippery, twisting clay goat- path. They tried to get to the Shveitsari shore, but by night the path was difficult for families, hungry and not dressed in the right clothing, and everyone was in despair. They were going in the direction of Odessa, from where the pogrom had begun.

odessa plan bolshoi fontan

Bolshoi Fontan and Shveitsariya (the Ksida Ксиди dacha is 86, centre left, and the Brodsky М Бродской dacha is 78, to the right running down to the shore

The children were whimpering, fathers gnashed their teeth, mothers pressed against their children, trying to warm them. The whole night they covered several versts along the shore and in the morning they had reached a church and asked the caretaker if he would let them in to warm themselves. The caretaker went to ask the priest. The priest came out with a stick in his raised hand and turned them away. They hid again on the cliffs and saw a huge crowd coming from Odessa by the shore, destroying Jewish dachas. They went further. And suddenly in front of them was a fugitive with a gun, but it turned out to be the judge Somov (Nicholai Sergevich Somov Николай Сергеевич Сомов). The people went with him to his dacha. He kept them there for three days, giving them food and drink and consoling them; he didn’t let them go before Sunday, when the pogrom in the town had completely ended. He took them to town and thoughtfully accommodated them and gave them some money. It is even more surprising that, before, Mr Somov was considered by the Jews of Odessa to even be somewhat anti-semitic. It is only in times of tragedy that you can distinguish friends from enemies.

The family which stayed at Ksidi’s did not have a less fearful experience: nearby the famous Brodsky dacha was destroyed. The German hid his guests in a pit which had recently been used to stir lime, which was covered with beams and rocks. The family were under this burial mound for several hours, while the hooligans robbed Brodsky.

b fontan cliffs

Bolshoi Fontan cliffs

sredni fontan

Sredni Fontan

I could not find much about the judge Nicholai Somov on the internet except for his name and a photograph on a family tree. However, the Ksida family was a very old and well off Greek family and Nikolai Ksida had recently built quite a monumental house, 12 Evreiskaya, for his marriage to the half-sister of the painter Vasily Kandinsky, whose mother also moved to 12 Evreiskaya. Kandinsky was often a visitor at the Ksida dacha, and there are photographs of the Bolshoi Fontan area in his archive as well as a couple of paintings which are attributed to him. Letters show he was at the dacha in late September 1905, a few weeks before the pogrom. (http://odessitclub.org/publications/almanac/alm_27/alm_27_185-195.pdf)

dom kcida evreiskaya st

12 Evreiskaya

kandinsky cossacks 1910

Kandinsky Cossacks 1910

The Brodsky family was one of the most well-known Jewish families in Odessa and Russia and had several dachas outside the city. One of them was at 79 Frantsuzky Blvd. The painting of a dacha below is by Isaac Brodsky.


Brodsky dacha 79 Frantsuzky Blvd

brodsky dacha 2

Isaac Brodsky dacha

But the families left in Bolshoi Fontan in late October, the ones who lived there full-time, would not have lived in the luxurious dachas owned by families like the Brodskys and Ksidas. They would have lived in ordinary houses and worked locally or commuted to Odessa on the steam tram, which ran from a station outside the Kataev apartment by Kulikovo Field. There are no photographs of the large or small dachas around Bolshoi Fontan and it is only in a few paintings that they remain.

Alex Stilianudi 1918 b fontan

Aleksander Stilisnudi Bolshoi Fontan 1918

stilianudi 1904 b fontan street

Aleksander Stilisnudi Bolshoi Fontan 1904

There was one person in the pogrom death records, Moishe Elev Gaber, 32, who may have lived in Bolshoi Fontan. In the Odessa archives, Fond 359 Odessa office for small business, Jewish section 1893-1916, there is an Elya Iosevich Gaber, living on Naberezhnaya St 125 in Bolshoi Fontan, who may have been his father and possibly lived there full-time. The son, of course, may have been living in town. Naberezhnaya St runs right along the shore and now has small beach houses and cabins on the side of the street by the sea, and somewhat larger houses on the elevated ground on the other side.

odessa naberezhnaya st dacha kovalevsky

Naberezhnaya St Bolshoi Fontan

 But meanwhile the pogrom was mainly raging in the working class areas surrounding the centre of the city.

1 thought on “Kataev, the pogrom and Bolshoi Fontan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s