Moldavanka and the Feld family – part one

As people so rarely spoke about anyone who died in the Odessa pogrom, I cannot be sure that any of the families I found on the Ellis Island database or in other records were closely related to those who were killed. I have followed a few families with relatively rare names and some indications that they might have been related to one of the people in the pogrom death records, because I was interested in how families managed after the pogrom. Most of the ones I was able to find emigrated to America. It must have been unimaginably difficult and yet many families seem to have come out of it relatively well, although it is impossible, through the records, to know how people really felt after such loss.

Golda Feld, 34, from Odessa, leaving Rotterdam on the SS Nordam on 12 December 1908 with her four children, Nechame 11, Moishe 8, Libe 3, and Vitte, 10 months, was like any other wife going to join her husband in America, although she would probably not have chosen to be travelling in December with a baby. Her husband, Nathan, was already living in Dayton, Ohio. Golda had been living with her father, Avrum Stitelman, at 10 Kartamishevskyi Lane or Street. During the pogrom, 29 Jews had been killed at 7 Kartamishevskyi Lane and 35 at 5 Kartamishevskaya Street. 10 Kartamishevskaya Street is the more modern building on the right; number 12 on the left might be more representative of the street in 1905.

10-12 Kartamishevskaya

10-12 Kartamishevskaya Street

Kartamishevskaya wall sun 3

Kartamishevskaya wall – impressionistic Moldavanka

Golda was born in Berdichev as was the elderly woman who was killed in the pogrom, Sura Gershkova Feld, age 70. Was Sura her mother-in-law? The two older children travelling with Golda were born in Ianuspol, now Ivanopil, a small town near Berdichev. Golda, Nathan and their family may not have been living with her parents in 1905, but as they were relatively new to Odessa, may have all settled in the same area.



ivanopil yanushpolivanopil 2


What intrigued me about Golda’s situation was that over a year later three more of her children, living with their Stitelman grandfather or grandparents, left Odessa to meet the rest of their family in Dayton, Ohio. These were Esther 16, Jacob 15, and Pauline 6. Why hadn’t such a young child as Pauline travelled with her mother? Had she been ill?

feld ester ship 1910 crop

Ester, Jacob and Pauline Feld SS Potsdam February 1910

When I first came upon the Feld family I looked up the father, Nathan Feld, in Dayton, and found the whole family on the 1910 census, using the name Field. The children were Esther, Jacob, Niciomi, Moses, Polina (Pauline), Lilie, Vitie, and a new baby Eva.

As I could not find Nathan on a ship’s list, I puzzled over how he came to be in Dayton, but several months later, looking again at the 1910 census, found that their next-door neighbour, Max Skilken, 25, was also Russian and involved in the same business as Nathan, fruit peddling. They lived in a combined house, 42 and 44 Samuel Street, a Russian-looking house with its gable end to the road. With some detective work I discovered that Max’s wife, Sarah, was Golda’s younger sister. There was also an older Ralph Skilken in Dayton who was a fruit peddler. The next piece of information I found was that Nathan died two years later, in 1912, age 39.

44 samuel st dayton

42 and 44 Samuel Street, Dayton

I then looked for the children individually and noticed first in the 1940 census that two of the children, Jacob and Pauline, who had come together on the ship in 1910, were both inmates at different psychiatric asylums in Michigan, one in Detroit and one near Ann Arbor. The youngest daughter, Eva, had also been at an asylum in Ann Arbor in 1930, but in 1940 was living with someone called Olga Tomarin. Olga turned out to be Eva’s mother, Golda, using her Russian first name. Golda (Olga) had remarried, and was now a widow. Piecing together the various records, I eventually found that the eldest daughter, Esther, had married Robert Romm, in Detroit, when she was 20, in October 1914. Her mother married Max Borovsky in December 1915, also in Detroit. On the 1920 census, Golda is Goldie Field, having divorced, and is living with Pauline, who is 18 and married to Charlie Rubinoff. Also living with them are Lillian 17, Victor 11, and Eva 9. Esther and Robert were living next door with their three small children. It seemed to be a close and supportive family. Both Robert and Charlie were working at automobile factories. Pauline had married in 1918 when she was 16, although it says 18 on the marriage record. Her brother Morris had married in 1919. Jacob was not on the 1920 census. Nor was Nechame. I eventually found a Nathanial Field who was the same age as Nechame and died at 81, a widower, in Columbus, Ohio. In 1922 Golda married Solomon Tomarin, a widower, and in 1930 they were living with his son, Lillian and Victor.

The only other record I found for Jacob from around 1920 was a World War I registration form, which was probably his, although the birthdate was a few years younger. It was a sad form. He was a shoeshine boy of 19, working for Gus, and his address, 300 Woodward Avenue, at least now, is a wide, central street leading to a huge, open square by the river, with large office buildings. The buildings on Woodward Avenue between 1910 and 1920 were smaller, and he may have had a room, shared with friends, or lived on the street. If he was homeless, that would explain why he is not on the 1920 census. For someone who had a mother and at least half a dozen brothers and sisters living in Detroit, it is strange that he wrote that his nearest relative was someone called Moset Field in Russia. Who was this relation and was Jacob imagining himself still back in Russia?

Jacob Field ww1 10 sept 1918

Jacob Field WW1 registration 1918

woodward 1910

Woodward Avenue 1910

In the 1930 census Jacob was a patient at the Detroit psychiatric hospital, a massive institution called Eloise, which began its life in 1839, 2 miles outside Detroit, as Wayne County Poorhouse. In 1894, a post office in the grounds of the hospital was called Eloise after the five-year-old daughter of the Detroit postmaster and president of the county board overseeing care of the poor. The postal address of the hospital became Eloise and eventually the hospital was called Eloise Hospital, a combination of a psychiatric hospital, an infirmary for the poor and a TB sanatorium. By the time of the 1930s depression, which created so many destitute and homeless people, Eloise had a population of 10,000, with 78 buildings and 902 acres. It had its own farm, cannery, bakery, dairy, police and fire department. This was to be Jacob’s home for many years.


Eloise Psychiatric Hospital

eloise dorm 1947

Eloise Hospital dormitory 1947

eloise room 226

Eloise Hospital ruin Room 226

A recent book called Annie’s ghosts: a journey into a family secret by Steve Luxenberg (2009) is the author’s search for his unknown aunt, who spent much of her life in Eloise, and the fate of his mother’s Jewish family in Radziwillow, near Brody, during the war. Luxenberg’s mother was deeply ashamed of her disabled sister, who had a malformed leg, low intelligence and some psychiatric problems possibly due to realising she would never lead a normal life. After her sister was hospitalised at 21, his mother, desperate to keep her sister’s existence secret, had to sever many connections with relations and old friends. It reminded me of my own family’s silence about their past and the death of their children, which may have been the reason that many cousins from other branches of the family had no idea my family existed.

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