The Feld family – part two

Jacob’s sisters, Eva and Pauline, were not at Eloise Hospital. In 1940, Pauline was at a newer psychiatric institution between Detroit and Ann Arbor, the Ypsilanti Psychiatric Hospital. She does not appear on the 1930 census. She divorced her husband, Charles, in 1927 for lack of support, and does not appear again in the records until 1940.

ypsilanti psychiatric hospital a_building_1929

Ypsilanti Psychiatric Hospital

ypsilanti dorm 1937

Ypsilanti dormitory 1937

According to the 1940 census, Charles Rubinoff, who had been a machinist in 1920, married again, had a son, and became an attorney working for the Michigan unemployment compensation commission. Morris Field also went into labour relations, after being a toolmaker in the car industry, working as a union organiser. Esther’s husband was also a machinist and die maker with some political awareness, as, in October 1931, the whole family passed through the port at Southampton on their way to Leningrad, part of an Autostroy party, returning to Detroit in October 1932. Autostroy was an enormous Soviet automobile factory which produced Ford cars. By 1940, Robert had moved with his family to Washington DC, where he was working as a machinist at a naval gun factory, which seems particularly interesting after having spent a year in Russia. Was there a connection between living in Russian for a year and moving to Washington? I assume Pauline left the hospital at some point because she appears on the Social Security death index as having died in 1981, and therefore must have been working at some point after 1935 when the Social Security system started.

Eva was already at an Ann Arbor psychiatric hospital in 1930, the University State Psychopathic Hospital, which was set up in 1906. Ypsilanti was not opened until 1931. It began with 922 patients and rose to 4000 patients. Both of these enormous psychiatric hospitals, like most, were closed by the 1990s and were either demolished or left in ruins. I do not know why Eva was sent away from Detroit. It might have been that Eloise was too crowded, but it would have been difficult for her family to visit and she was only 20 in 1930.

ypsilanti woman 1937

Ypsilanti 1937

ypsilanti ruin

Ypsilanti ruin

All of the psychiatric hospitals at that time were overcrowded. Even with this overcrowding, they did manage some treatments, mostly involving light and water, and occupational therapies, such as crafts and sports, but probably only those with some hope of recovery had the chance to take part in these options. Eva did recover, as in 1940 she was living with her mother and working as a stenographer. Jacob is the only one about whom there are no further records.

Both Pauline and Jacob arrived in America with Esther, a year after their mother and the other children. Possibly they already had some problems from the time of the pogrom and it was thought better to delay their departure. Eva was born in America in 1909 so was about 2 ½ when her father suddenly died. Pauline, born in July 1904, was nearly 18 months at the time of the pogrom. Jacob was probably born in 1896 and would have been 9 in 1905. The 1940 census asks for number of years of schooling and Pauline had 8, while Jacob had 2. His schooling must have been interrupted by the pogrom. On the census, his native language and immigration date were unknown. Did he remember nothing, did he not answer, or was he confused? What was going through his head – Ianuspol, Berdichev, Odessa or the whole family briefly together again in Dayton?

As I began writing this, I went back to the information I had discovered a few months earlier, and tried to find additional records to answer some of the more puzzling question. I discovered Nathan’s death certificate which said that, having moved into a new house on Wayne Avenue the day before, at 6 am he was asphyxiated by carbon monoxide from lighting a stove without a flue. I assume that, as he was lighting the fire for the first time in their new house, this was a terrible accident, although there is a tiny chance, if the flue was closed, that it was suicide. For some reason, since 1910, the family had moved twice, from Samuel St to South Quitman St and then to Wayne Ave, two streets away. These are large avenues and many of the houses have been replaced by businesses or left empty. They may have been moves to more or less expensive houses. Life may have been improving or becoming more difficult. It is unimaginable to think how Golda could have managed with eight children and I wonder how much her family was able to help them.

field nathan death 1912 crop

Nathan Field death certificate 1912

It was some time before I realised that I should have been able to find out the name of Nathan’s mother on the death certificate to see if she was the Sura Feld in the pogrom records. I had noticed his father’s name, Zezia Field, and his wife, Goldie Stitelman. It was only as I was writing and checking the death certificate again that I realised Goldie’s name had been written in the space for Nathan mother’s name. I looked down at the informant and found it was not Goldie or any other family member, but someone called Charles Weisman, who lived on Samuel St, where the Felds had first lived. Possibly the family was too shocked to deal with the paperwork. Having much experience with my own family leaving out information on forms, such as the birthdate on my uncle’s 1929 death certificate, the uncle who was born at the time of the pogrom, I feel that important information is often withheld because it is too upsetting or the names have been kept secret. If Charles Weisman was asked to put Goldie’s name on the form instead of Nathan’s mother, it could have been that Goldie did not want to mention a family member killed in the pogrom… or a mistake.

I also found a story online about Goldie’s family, the Stitelmans. It begins with the author’s experience as a child trying to find out about his family and discovering a great-uncle Peter (Golda’s brother) who was murdered in a pogrom around 1903-5, and then a complete chance meeting years later with the great-grandson of the same great-uncle Peter.
Nevertheless, I made a pest of myself by asking repeated questions. Esther (his father’s cousin) seemed distracted, and finally, almost as an afterthought, mentioned an Uncle Peter who, she said, beat up a policeman and was taken to a police station where he was killed.

After comparing notes, we found that his (Jacques Paul Stitelman) great-grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. His great-grandfather was the very same Peter (Petakia) that my cousin Esther had told me about all those years ago.

My grandfather, Jacob, immigrated to America in 1904. His brother was murdered in a pogrom in the family shtetl (Yanoushpol, now Ivanopol) between 1903 and 1905. His children and other relatives were severely traumatized—which may be why Cousin Esther was so reluctant to discuss these matters. Jacques’ grandfather immigrated to Switzerland in 1905 and later opened a business in Paris, where they lived when the Nazis invaded France.


Finally I went back to the ship’s list to check all the names and addresses. And of course there were things I hadn’t noticed or thought much about. Possibly they had not meant much to me before reading the Stitelman story. I had found that Golda was born in Berdichev, and the older two children travelling with her, Nechame and Moishe, in Yanuspol, but I had not really taken in that the younger two, Libe and Vitie (Lillian and Victor) had been born in Batum, a Black Sea port in Georgia.

The story finally began to come together. The Stitelman family must have moved from Berdichev to Yanuspol and, after Petakhia was killed around 1904, they moved to Odessa, fleeing the insecurities, searching for safety. According to the Jewish small business list, another Feld, possibly Nathan’s brother, Ios Zusevich Feld, had a house and business in Moldavanka, at 46 Kuznechnaya Street from 1893.

 46 kuznechnaya feld

46 Kuznechnaya

odessa map 1888 mold names 2

Moldavanka 1988

The upper Feld on the map is 46 Kuznechnaya, quite near the Jewish cemetery, and the lower address is the Stitelman home at 10 Kartamishevskaya Street.

Then, within a year, there was the pogrom, and Nathan, Goldie, probably very pregnant with Lillian, and their children fled again, taking a ship to the port of Batum (Batumi). Jacob would have been 9 in 1904 when the family might have left Ianuspol. If he had begun school at 7, he would have had two years of school. Then he might have had a partial year in Odessa, possibly no school in Batum, and then he had another interim period in Odessa living with his grandparents. He was 15 when he left Odessa in 1910, already beyond the mandatory school-age. The children who left a year earlier with Golda were younger than Jacob and would have entered school in America, learning to read and write English. Jacob may have never learned to write well in any language and would have found himself at quite a disadvantage in America.

batumi harbour

batumi street

Batum street

Two years after arriving in Batum, Victor was born and, when he was old enough to travel, Golda must have returned to Odessa to make her way towards America. Nathan had left earlier, possibly before Victor was born. They may have heard from Golda’s sister in Dayton, who had gone to America in 1905. According to his death certificate, Nathan had been a shoemaker, so he could have made a living anywhere, but it was probably not easy to bring up and educate their children in Batum. America must have seemed like the promised land.

batum 1914

Batum 1914 Baedeker


Batum street

In Southern Adventure, Konstantin Paustovsky writes about his time in the early 20s travelling around the Black Sea as a journalist writing for seamen’ s newspapers. He describes Batum:

As to smells, the rancid smoke of roasting mutton nearly always dominated them all…Next came the smell of freshly ground or freshly brewed coffee. It was ground in Turkish coffee mills, made of copper and looking like small shell-cases…Batum was permeated with the smell of coffee, wine and tangerines…At that time Batum was visited by a great number of feluccas with oranges and tangerines from nearby Turkey – from Rizeh and Trapezund (in Batum they said Trebizond). These aromatic fruit were stacked in pyramids on the decks of feluccas which were as multicoloured as Easter eggs… The smell of coffee spread not only from feluccas, but also from the shingle on the beach. It was edged with coffee-grounds. Torn yellow shreds of tangerine peel were strewn conspicuously among them.

Paustovsky’s description of Batum makes me wonder whether or how often anyone in the Feld family thought back to their years living by the Black Sea as they made their way in mid-west America, and whether those years had anything to do with those who found it so difficult.

A postscript to the Feld family story: when I first looked up Esther Romm I found a widow of 50 in 1940 living in Los Angeles with three daughters in their early 20s, two of whom were twins called Goldie and Pauline. Although I know that Jews do not name their children after living relations, it was such a strange coincidence that I felt there must have been some factor that had caused this woman to name her children after her mother and sister. I felt they must have been separated in a way that seemed like death. But I soon found that this was a different family who had emigrated from Russia to New York where the daughters were born. Somehow, I wanted to believe that someone in the Feld family was keeping the family names alive and if she had had a son she would have called it Nathan. Unlike the Scheindless brothers, no one in this family seems to have named their children after their dead father or their grandmother killed in the pogrom, if that was the case.

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