Rabinovich families: part two – birth records and the pogrom

When I began this research, I did not know whether my uncle Michel was born before or after the pogrom, as his date of birth is not on his death record or anywhere else. But there was one more clue which helped me to put the pieces of this story together. One of my cousins told me a story about the oldest son, Aron, who was seven when they left Russia, and who had nightmares all his life from having seen ‘Cossacks spearing Jewish babies’. He never spoke of the past or his childhood, but did explain about his nightmares to his wife, saying that when there were raids in his village, their Ukrainian maid, who had a Cossack boyfriend, would warn them, and the children would be hidden. What did he mean by village? Where might they have lived? How many raids might they have experienced? Where were they hidden?

mali fontan

Malyi Fontan

In his memoir, Mosaic of Life, Kataev also uses the word ‘village’ when his family moved just a few streets from their home on Kanatnaya to Otrada, a group of four short streets which had originally been a fishing village on the edge of the steep lanes down to the coast. I began to think about my grandparents living on one of the small lanes running down towards the sea or at one of the fishing villages used as local resorts, the Malyi, Srednyi, or Bolshoi Fontan, and I wandered along Google Streetview, looking at the old houses that remained.

gospitalni lane

Gospitalnyi Lane (lane off French Blvd towards the sea)

gospitalnaya 1916

Gospitalnyi (Госпиталный) below first Rabinovich (Рабиновиичa) dacha

If Michel was not born until after the pogrom, the two nameless boys would have been the youngest, possibly under 1 and 2 years old in 1905, and it would not have been possible to hide them away with the older children. They would have been in their mother’s arms, easily grabbed away by soldiers. If Michel had been born before the pogrom, this story falls to pieces. But recently I asked a researcher in the Ukraine to look up three Odessa birth records for me: the two Mikhails born in 1905 (there were no Mikhels), both born after the pogrom, to see if any were my uncle Michel, and one Nakhman born in 1904, as that was a family name, and might have been one of the other boys. I found that Michel was not born in Odessa, unless it was during or immediately after the pogrom and the family did not have a chance to register the birth. The real children of the Odessa birth records I received were one Mikhail, son of an Odessan businessman Abram-Ide Khaskelecich, Nezhinskaya St 14, born 18 November 1905, another Mikhail, born 30 November 1905, son of Hersh Leibovich and Ester from Satanov, and Nakhman, son of Abram Shimonov and Zislia from Kherson, born 14 December 1904.

13 literaturna st

13 Literaturna St

literaturnaya modern map

Literaturnaya (Литературная) running down to park by sea

odessa plan 1894 literaturnaya

Literaturnaya, Srednyi Fontan 1894 – track running north from main road to sea

The stories about my uncle Aron also say the nightmares were the result of witnessing a baby being tossed into the air and stabbed with a sabre. A slightly different version of this story was that he had seen Cossacks riding into their village, taking small babies out of their mother’s arms, tossing them into the air and spearing them on their swords. This made me wonder where Aron and his sister had been hidden that he could see this scene. At first I had imagined he was looking out an attic window at some distant scene down a street, but of course it is more likely he could only see in front of his own house. Later, I began to think that they might have been in a shed looking into their own yard, or a cupboard in their house looking through a keyhole. Both stories mention babies, as do many others newspaper stories about the pogrom, but there are no babies in the pogrom death records and only 3 children under three years old.

If the two brothers had not died in the pogrom, why would my grandparents have gone to so much trouble to hide any evidence of them, to hide the birthdate of their youngest son, and everything else about their lives in Odessa? It was a very elaborate lie to keep going for the rest of their lives. The 1910 US Census has a question about the number of children a woman has had and whether they are alive or dead. In 1910, four years after they arrived in New York, my grandmother had had her first child born in the US, and she said she had had four children, and four were alive, the three that had come from Russia and the new baby. Why had she not said she had had six children, as she did on my mother’s birth certificate? I wondered if the census was done orally with the whole family around, and my grandparents did not want to mention the two missing children in front of the others. Michel was then 5, old enough to understand everything, and may not have known about the missing brothers, or anything about the circumstances of his birth and why the family left Russia. This might have been a lesson for the children that the past was not to be spoken about. And a problem for them later.

I went back to Michael Ignatieff’s Russian Album to help me think about how my grandparents might have felt after leaving Russia without their two young boys. His grandmother also lost a two-year-old son in Russia and he writes:

There was typhoid at the resort, in the water supply, in the water ices the children ate on the terrace overlooking the sea, in the milk for the littlest one’s formula. In two frightful hours, Natasha watched Vladimir come down with the disease, and she saw the life of her youngest – Paul – ebb away before her eyes. In time she managed to speak of all her losses, all her dispossessions, but never this one, never the snuffing out of baby Paul’s little life. How many times, in her most secret hours, must she have stalked that accursed ground in her memory wondering what else she might have done, how she might have deflected the falling sword. She never returned to the Crimea again, to those blessed estates of her childhood with the beautiful names – Koreis, Gaspra – but her memory must have marched back again and again to that hotel bedroom in Eupatoria, to that empty cot. When the time finally came at the end of her life to put down what happened that summer of 1909, she did not write about it at all…Through all the waystations of the life to come, she kept just one little picture in a round silver frame on her night table: the smiling image of her dead child. (p85)

I have a photo of the two eldest children, Aron and Sara, when they were nearly 2 and 4, as Aron was born in December 1898 and little boys began to wear trousers by 4. It might have been taken shortly before the third child was born in Odessa, or before they left Baranovichi.

Archie Sarah_0002

Odessa 1902?

Studio portraits of children leaning on props such as walls were very common in Odessa at that time. It looks as if someone has made a copy of this photograph cutting out the name of the photographer and town at the bottom.

odessa boy pillar wall Gotlib

Odessan boy 1900s?

When I was 6 or 7, I remember finding an old children’s book, Tige, among my parents’ books. I assumed it had belonged to my mother when she was little, although it was never mentioned and I never thought to ask. It is the story of a dog who moves from the country to live with a little boy and his family in New York City until the family finally moves out of town to a house with a garden, much to the dog’ s delight. In one of the first pictures, the little boy is dressed in a dress, as my uncle was in the photograph. It was not until recently that I thought to look at when the book was published – the date inside is 1905, and I realised that the book must have been for Aron, who was seven when the family arrived in 1906. The story mirrors my grandparents’ lives at that time, as they settled first in Manhattan and then moved out to New Rochelle. Had he been given it for his first birthday in America around Christmas 1906?

tige 1   tige 2_0002

Tige by Richard F. Outault 1905

I am quite sure that my grandparents would not have bought a book in English, a language they never learned to read or write properly. They would not have known that this story was a spin-off from a popular cartoon called Buster Brown. Was it bought by one of my grandmother’s brothers, the successful one who had had several businesses and was always helping out other family members? I doubt that there were many other books or other things in the house at first, so this is a rare reminder of their first months in the US.

This is the only photograph of my grandparents’ children in Russia. When I read Ignatieff’s description of the death of little Paul, it makes me wonder how my grandparents might have felt losing two little boys, possibly from an illness like typhoid, but possibly brutally during the pogrom. That these two boys remained nameless and no photographs were kept probably says more than any number of words. The first family photograph taken in the US was of my grandmother and the three children about two years later, when the baby, Michel, was about 3, wearing a dress as had his brother before him. The children are not as smartly turned out as six years earlier, or as most children are in studio portraits. Their clothes are rumpled and not tucked in. The little touches of a mother wanting her children to look their best are not there, although everyone, except the youngest who looks up quizzically at the photographer, is smiling.

From the little I have heard about my grandmother, I felt that something had been broken in her by the time she reached America. I gathered that she rarely went out anywhere, whether to the shops, into New York City, on a holiday, or to visit relations. My grandfather mainly worked from home or very early in the morning so that he could be at home for lunch with my grandmother, and once settled, she did not want to move or change their life in any way. And even though my grandfather was often around, when my mother, the youngest child, went to college in New York City, she felt she had to come home for lunch as often as possible because her mother was now alone. My cousin also mentioned that, in the summers, my mother would come from work to her mother’s for lunch, and then take her and my cousins to the beach, where my grandmother would sit by herself rather than talk to the other old women gossiping together.

My grandparents always lived on the same two adjoining streets in New Rochelle but none of the houses they lived in remain. Many of the houses around there do not look that different from Russian houses with their gable ends to the road, picket fences and tree lined streets.

acorn terr new rochelle

Acorn Terrace, New Rochelle

new rochelle picket fence

New Rochelle street

vershynna st bolshoi fontan

Vershynna St, Bolshoi Fontan

nedjelina st trees

Nedjelina St, Srednyi Fontan

There was one more clue to where all the children were born. In the US 1920 census, the Russian districts where people were born were recorded. My grandparents and the two elder children were said to have been born in the Minsk district, and for Michel it said Kiev. My grandfather also wrote on his naturalisation form that his last residence in Russia was Kiev. It is possible that they had left Odessa and stayed initially in Kiev to have the baby and wait until he was old enough to travel on to Minsk and then America. But it is also possible that, not wanting to speak of why they had left Odessa, they invented the story that they had lived in Kiev. When my eldest uncle applied for his first US passport around 1960 he wrote that he was born in Kiev. Was he not born in the Minsk district or had he simply decided to repeat the Kiev story?

Rabinowitz Jacob 1920e

1920 US census

I was still not sure where Michel had been born, and no closer to finding the other two uncles. Eventually, as more records come online, possibly even added to this blog from people who have retrieved records from the Odessa archive, this list will be wheedled down to a point where it might be feasible to find my uncles. Below is a list of the Odessa Rabinovich births for 1902-1904, among which are possibly the two missing boys.
1902 births
44   RABINOVICH Beila
108 RABINOVICH Rivka
293 RABINOVICH Ester
299 RABINOVICH Dina
5??  RABINOVICH Gersh
503 RABINOVICH Gersh
606 RABINOVICH Leib
535 RABINOVICH Elasha
557 RABINOVICH Pesya
576 RABINOVICH Alisa
790 RABINOVICH Gersh
858 RABINOVICH Esya
892 RABINOVICH Mal?
1177 RABINOVICH Aaron
1438 RABINOVICH Shmil
1743 RABINOVICH Khaim Mendel
1883 RABINOVICH Gersh
1942 RABINOVICH Ilya
1749 RABINOVICH Mesiya
2089 RABINOVICH Evce
1835 RABINOVICH Vitali
2232 RABINOVICH Rudolif
1991 RABINOVICH Braina
2327 RABINOVICH Iosif
2071 RABINOVICH Etel
2591 RABINOVICH Ruvin
2601 RABINOVICH Moise
2367 RABINOVICH Tsipora
2373 RABINOVICH Feiga
2415 RABINOVICH Khana

1903 births
11    RABINOVICH Gersh
122 RABINOVICH Breita-Riva
240 RABINOVICH Khvelya
620 RABINOVICH Borukh
799 RABINOVICH Manus
1079 RABINOVICH Isidor
1200 RABINOVICH Moisei
1059 RABINOVICH Beila
1253 RABINOVICH Ber
1255 RABINOVICH Yakov
1370 RABINOVICH Iosif
1585 RABINOVICH Iosel
1891 RABINOVICH Sergei
2301 RABINOVICH Menasha
2341 RABINOVICH Shimon
2422 RABINOVICH Yakov
2225 RABINOVICH Evgeniya
2430 RABINOVICH Pesya

1904 births
58   RABINOVICH Leya
110 RABINOVICH Aron
220 RABINOVICH Beilya
413 RABINOVICH Ekhatsniesh
538 RABINOVICH Usher- Ruvin
549 RABINOVICH Boris
841 RABINOVICH Avram
695 RABINOVICH Mirel
702 RABINOVICH Beila
1365 RABINOVICH Mariem
1634 RABINOVICH Falin
1480 RABINOVICH Feiga
1662 RABINOVICH Pesya
1672 RABINOVICH Sarra
2082 RABINOVICH Mordel
1885 RABINOVICH Etya
1985 RABINOVICH Leya Reidya
2011 RABINOVICH Ester
2012 RABINOVICH Etya twins
2441 RABINOVICH Mikheal
2509 RABINOVICH Nakhman
2666 RABINOVICH Iegoshia
2682 RABINOVICH Gersh Volf
2741 RABINOVICH Nakhman

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1 Comment

Filed under archives, families, literature, maps, places, silence

One response to “Rabinovich families: part two – birth records and the pogrom

  1. Pingback: The coastal outskirts of the city in 1905 – walking the streets of Odessa | odessasecrets: the 1905 pogrom

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