Lost children – the Weitzmans, Chaits, and Schoichets

The Weitzman (Вейцман) family

Trawling through the family names in the pogrom death records again, this time I focused on children travelling with an older teenager or other family as these were more likely to be orphans from the families affected by the pogrom. Having discovered that these families were sometimes able to get onto ships leaving a few weeks after the pogrom, I started my search from November 1905, and because families often left at different times scattered over several years, I continued my search until 1912. Starting at the end of the alphabet on an Ellis Island search, first in English, then Russian, I quickly found a child of 11, Avrum Weitzman, blacksmith, travelling with his cousin Isaac Ostrovsky, 18, printer, to New York having left Hamburg 22 December 1905, just eight weeks after the pogrom.

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Avrum Weitzman and Isaac Ostrovsky ship 22 December 1905

They were both going to uncles in Boston, Isaac to Moshe Silberberg and Avrum to Pesach Weisberg. It seems strange that a boy of 11 was already being characterised as a blacksmith even if he had begun an apprenticeship at that age. However, neither boy, with many different spellings of their names, and variations on their age and different destinations, reappeared in the records. I tried using the names Weisberg and Silberberg. I could not find out whether the two boys were lurking somewhere, possibly with different names, or whether they had never entered America or left soon after. One of them, possibly Avrum, did have a note on the ship’s manifest saying that he had been seen by a doctor but I could not read the cause. The manifest had several pages of the names of people who were detained, many of whom were temporarily hospitalised, but the boys were not on any of the lists.

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The two uncles and the medical note

The Weitzman family were unique and well-known to the Odessa archives, in newspaper reports and the pogrom death records, as recorded in an earlier blog entry, The pogrom in Slobodka-Romanovka. Four members of the family, all from Balta, are in the records, an older man Avrum Moishe, 58, a middle-aged man of 35, Chaim-Chaikel Avrum-Zus, a young man of 20, Yaakov Abram, and a boy of 13, Naum. There were also two members of another family, the Varshavskys, who were related. The Weitzmans were a prominent family in the working class area of Slobodka. In The Odessa pogrom and self defence, 1906, the story of the Weitzman family is spelled out in more detail. Veitsman and his family wanted to hide at the Slobodka town hospital where he was acquainted with Dr Golovin (professor of ophthalmology); but they were not allowed at the hospital. The policemen Kolloli, Ivanov, Andreev and the coachman killed four of the Veitsman family and five died later in hospital.

In ‘Jewish History as Reflected in the Documents of the State Archives of Odessa Region’ Avotaynu The International Review of Jewish Genealogy.Vol XXIII; 3, Fall 2007. – P. 41-52), Deputy Director of the archive, Lilia Belousova, writes: ‘Materials on investigations of concrete pogrom cases are also in the Fond 634, Prosecutor of Odessa District Court (Prokuror Odesskogo okruzhnogo suda), 1870-1917. One of them is a case of Rosa Drutman, the victim of pogrom in Odessa in October, 1905. She served at the house of a rich Jewish family of Veizman-Varshavsky and became a witness of cruel massacre by the crowd of Christians against the Jews. Soldiers sent by the local authorities to prevent crimes, in fact marked the beginning of the drama using fire-arms against the Jews. 6 from 9 members of the family were killed. Rosa was wounded three times but survived after two months of treatment. Her witnesses, medicine card, materials of cross-examinations and protocols of court meetings let us to reconstruct the events in details.

In the 1904-5 directory, an A Veitsman owns 63 Gorodskaya, at the corner of Krivovalkovskaya in the Slobodka district.

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63b Gorodskaya

Could 11-year-old Avrum have been the grandson of the Avrum Weitzman who was killed in the pogrom? Could he have had an eye problem the doctor at Ellis Island noted, that had led his family to know the ophthalmologist who had not been able to save them? In the 1890s there were four Weitzman families in the list of Odessa Jewish small businesses in the heart of the Moldavanka area, where the pogrom was most active. However, the only property under the name Weitzman in the directory (therefore owned not rented) was the property in Slobodka. The Ostrovsky family or families also had four small businesses, three in the centre and one in Moldavanka. They owned many properties across Odessa, in the centre, Moldavanka and two in Slobodka. One was in Lavochnaya St, which can be seen in Google Streetview pictured below.

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Lavochnaya St

The sidestreets of Slobodka contrasted sharply with those in the centre like the Ostrovsky residence at 21 Bazarnaya.

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21 Bazarnaya

Although there were quite a few Weitzman and Ostrovsky families in Odessa and many in the Odessa birth records for the 1890s, there is no birth record for an Isaac Ostrovsky or Avrum or Abram Weitzman. This might relate to the fact that the population was changing so rapidly and many families may have only been in Odessa a few years. The ship’s manifest for 1906 does not state where people were born, only their last residence, making it difficult to trace them in the US records which occasionally state city of birth. There were no Abraham Weitzmans or Isaac Ostrovskys in Boston. There was one Abraham Weisberg but he was several years older and from the very north of Ukraine, not Odessa or Balta, where most of the family was born. The few Abraham Weitzmans and Isaac Ostrovskys in New York and Philadelphia had very few records and were either the wrong age or had the wrong emigration date, or in one case was someone who had arrived with his whole family. There was also a Weitzman family from Balta, with a son called Abraham of a similar age, who had emigrated to London in the early 1900s. Because the Weitzman family had such a detailed story of their experience in the pogrom, I particularly wanted to follow Avrum’s life in America, but every time I felt I was possibly finding him, he slipped through my fingers.

The Chait (Хаит) family

Another family of probable orphans were the Chaits, an older sister, Leie, 17, and two brothers, Pesach, 9 and Isser, 8, who arrived in New York in August 1907 en route to their aunt, Lily Fellman, in Detroit. They had been living with a relation in Odessa, Feiga Chait. The Chait in the pogrom death records was Shmuel Mordko, 40, from Yanov, who I later found out was not a direct relation of the children. According to one marriage record their father was called Frederick, which may have been a translation of a name like Fishel. There is an F. Chait in the 1904-5 Odessa directory who owned several properties in the centre.

At first I could find no trace of the Chait children, but then I found the two boys as Peter and Oscar Chayte, in a huge Jewish orphan asylum in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1907, when the Chait children had arrived in the US, their aunt, age 25, who was married with a seven-year-old son, had only been in the country a year. Maybe she did not feel she could take on her two nephews or thought the orphanage would give them a better chance at a livelihood.

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Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum

Both boys did appear to do well in life and returned to Detroit, one living with his aunt after he married and had a child. By 1921, when Oscar married, they had changed their names to Clayton. Peter sold advertising for a newspaper and Oscar worked as a chemist for a paint company. On the 1930 census, Peter wrote that he was from Odessa in Russia as were his parents, but by 1940 the brothers wrote that they were born in Ohio. The 1940 census was the first census that did not ask where parents were born and was more preoccupied with work and income. The brothers may have decided to avoid their background on an official document because of the rise of fascism, the war and memories of the pogrom and anti-Semitism in their childhood, or they may have decided that they now felt more American and could put the past behind them. Or it was simply easier. On Oscar’s marriage record his parents first names are Frederick and Pauline, so I looked on the Odessa 1904-5 directory for F. Chait. One property was at 9 Raskidailovskaya in Moldavanka.

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9 Raskidailovskaya

The person I could not find at all was the 17-year-old sister who brought the two brothers to America, Leie Chait. There are marriage records for Michigan and Ohio but she does not appear. I tried the various surnames and any first name beginning with L – Leah, Lea, Lizzie, Lena. Had she returned to Odessa or simply disappeared through moving somewhere in the vast spaces of America and not filling out censuses?

The Schoichet (Шойхет ) and Janco (Янко) families

Two more brothers, Jacob, 10, and Isser Schoichet, 7, were travelling with Meier, 30, Sofia, 25, and Rose, 4, Janco from Odessa to New York in August 1912. Their address in Odessa was the Janco’s friend, Ester Schoichet, at 11 Gospitalnaya, one of the streets most affected by the pogrom in the heart of Moldavanka, possibly the boys’ aunt or grandmother.

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11 Gospitalnaya

This was already five years after the pogrom but both families probably lost a relation in the pogrom, a young man, age 31, from Odessa, Moidel Israel Janco, and a 42-year-old from Tuchin, Yankel Duvid Schoichet. Meier Janco had left Odessa in 1903 and married Sophie Jacobs, also from Odessa, in New York, and they were returning to Odessa for a visit. The brothers were on their way to their father who had emigrated to Philadelphia and changed his name to Miller. It was difficult to read the initial of the father’s first name – a straight line with a loop at the top which could have been an I, S, L, or J. I couldn’t find any family in 1920 with two sons called Jacob and Isadore or Irving or another name with an I. There was one family with no mother and a father called Louis who had a son of the right age called Jacob which was a possibility. On the other hand, there may have been a mother and the two sons had stayed in Odessa longer for health reasons. Or the father may have married again. I did find a 1945 California naturalisation form for an Irving Eddie Miller, formerly Itzchok Schoichet. He was 43, so was born in 1902 and would have been 10 instead of 7 in 1912, if his age is correct. I also found the marriage record of his daughter, Constance, in 1952, which included the name of his wife, Lillian Kleinberg, from Hungary. There is also a World War I registration record for Jacob Miller, a carpenter in Philadelphia, the son of Louis Miller, but there are no more records for him which might clarify whether this was the Schoichet family from Odessa and no record of what happened to him after 1917.

The Janco family do appear in many records. Meier Janco received a US passport for himself, his wife and daughter for their trip to Odessa in 1912. He states that he was born in Odessa in 1882 and was a brass moulder. In 1914, Meier got another passport in his name alone and he says he was born in Botoshan, Romania. His profession is still brass moulder and he gives no reason for travelling abroad.

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Botosani 1900

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Botosani main square

Botosani, or in Yiddish,  Botochan, in north-east Romania, is the capital of a county and has an impressive main square, of which this photograph is only a small corner, flanked by 19th-century balconied houses similar to those in Odessa. In 1917 Meier received another passport in order to travel to Canada for his work as a salesman for a metal film box manufacturer. There is a supporting letter from someone at the Impco Indestructible Metal Products Company. In 1920 he was again applying for a passport, this time to travel to Poland, Italy and Switzerland en route to Romania in search of his parents. He has a letter of support from a friend who says that Meier has not heard from his parents, two brothers or any other relations since the beginning of the war and will be looking for them in Poland and Romania. In the 1920 census, Meier’s wife and daughter appear as lodgers at a house in Brooklyn. The couple may have separated as long ago as 1914 when Meier first applied for his own passport. In 1921, Meier had moved to the Bronx and in the move lost his passport. He explains this in a letter attached to his new application for a passport to travel for business purposes to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Switzerland and states that he has lived outside the United States, in Romania, Germany and France, for two periods of several months in 1920 and 1921. He appears on a ship’s manifest in March 1921 travelling from France to the United States saying that his last permanent residence was Paris and his nearest relative in the country from which he came is his mother who lives in Podonliloia, Romania, where he says he was born. On the 1921 passport, he declares that his father, Israel Janco, is deceased.

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Meier Janco

By the 1930 census, the daughter has married and her mother is living with the couple, using her maiden name, Sophie Jacobs. The last piece of the complex jigsaw of Meier’s life is a ship’s manifest from 22 December 1905, a month after the pogrom, on which Meier, age 22, was travelling with his sister Esther, 23 and his mother, Channe, 48, who must have returned to Odessa or Romania. The victim of the pogrom in the death records was Moidel Israelevich Janco, who could have been Meier’s older brother. On all of his passports Meier states that he emigrated to America in 1903 and had remained in America consistently since then until he was naturalised in 1912. He did emigrate in 1903 by himself to a brother in New York, but must have returned at some point between 1903 and 1905. Meier seems to have had a very complex relationship with both Russia and his home country of Romania, and possibly with the deaths of his brother and father, who he said he was looking for after the war but who had not emigrated with the family in 1905. He seems to have spent the years when he might have been concentrating on his family and creating a home with them, travelling and living throughout Europe possibly in a bid to find or recreate a lost family. As I wrote the date that Meier and his family left Odessa, 22 December 1905, I realised that they were on the same ship as the two lost boys, Abraham Weitzman and Isaac Ostrovsky. There were a dozen or so people from Odessa on the ship, but among hundreds of immigrants, these young people probably passed by each other on the decks like ships in the night, never knowing they had suffered and lost family in the same pogrom a few weeks before. Meier died in 1931 at the age of 44 having moved back to Brooklyn. His birthplace is listed as Russia.

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Filed under archives, emigration, families, pogrom death list

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