The Zeltzer Spector family

The youngest child in the Odessa pogrom records was 18-month-old Icep Faivelev Zeltzer (Зельцер) who died with his mother Reiza Yankel-Volfovna, age 30. The mother and son were officially from Derazhen, although that might only have been the birthplace or family home of  Reiza’s husband. Seltzer is a relatively common name but there was only one Zeltzer couple, a young couple of similar age to Reiza, with a baby, leaving Odessa in early September 1906 for New York so I tried following their journey into American life. The Zeltzer family consisted of Frohl (difficult to read), a musician, 26, his wife, Sonie (possibly Sonia), 22 and their baby daughter, Pauline, 1. They were travelling to Sonia’s brother, N. Spector (Спектор), who lived at 67 E. 122 St in Manhattan.

There were quite a few Zeltzer and Spector families in central Odessa and several in the directories of the first 10 years of the 1900s. There was a N.C.  Zeltzer at Torgovaya St 10 who worked in insurance and across the road, at Torgovaya St 9, a G.B. Spector had  an apothecary shop. There was a midwife and masseuse, K.A. Zeltzer, at Bolshaya Arnautskaya 24, and a haberdasher, Lazar Chaimov Zeltzer at  Bolshaya Arnautskaya 29. There was a wood turner, Ya.M. Zeltzer, at Richelevskaya 29 and an M.A. Spector had a hat business on Evreiskaya 36. B. Spector owned a house at  Uspenskaya St 129 from the 1890s and Z.S. Zeltzer owned property at Troitskaya 18.


Torgovaya St 10

troitska 18

Troitskaya St 18

In New York in 1910, the Zeltzers had become Felix Seltzer, 30, Sophie, 26, Pauline 5, and Evelyn 2, living very near the Spectors at 1670 Park Avenue, in Harlem north of Central Park, then a Jewish area. Felix had become a knitwear salesman. His brother-in-law, Nathan Spector, 29, was a music teacher, living with his much younger brother and sister, Annie and Ollie, 19 and 14, who were not working. They came to the US in 1904, when Nathan would have been 23, Annie 13 and Ollie 8. Nathan married the next year, 1911, and Annie married in 1912 to William Salzman. By 1930 Nathan had moved to the Bronx with his wife Bessie and their three children. He remained a piano teacher. On his World War I registration he describes himself as a composer.

Annie had two children, Leo and Isadore, but then died in 1917. In 1920, William and his older son Leo, 6, were living with his sister and brother-in-law on East 118 St, close to where the Seltzers had lived on Park Avenue in 1910. I could not find the younger son anywhere in the records until, after several tries, some new records came up with slightly different spellings. In 1920, when he was 3 or 4 (although listed as 2), Isadore was in the Home for Hebrew Children in the Bronx, the section of the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum for babies and toddlers.

Hebrew infant asylum Kingsbridge Road Bronx

Home for Hebrew Children, Knightsbridge Rd, the Bronx

By 1930, William had remarried to Lena and was living in the Bronx with both his children and Lena’s two children. Isadore is listed as 12 although he was born in 1916 and should have been 14. Possibly he returned home when he started school.

I could not find Ollie again in the records and assumed he had changed his name. After a long search I found him in 1920 as Allen, married to Fay Silverstein. They were living at 64 E. 103rd St, one block from Central Park and a bit south of where the Spectors had previously lived. On his marriage record he puts his mother as Lizzie Goldberg, whereas on his older brother Nathan’s marriage record it is Lizzie Hoffman. Ollie/Allen was only 8 when he left Odessa and may not have known his mother’s maiden name or remembered wrongly. He may not have thought to ask his brother, or was not in much contact with him. He was working as an insurance agent and had 2 young children, less than a year apart, both under one-year-old. On his World War I registration he specifies he is from Odessa, lives on East 111th Street and works as an advert salesman for the Harlem Star.

I could not find the family in the 1930 census until I finally found Allen living by himself as a lodger in the next building to the Seltzers on Bennett Avenue on the northern tip of Manhattan. The Seltzers lived there on both the 1930 and 1940 census. Allen was now a clerk for a film company. He must have known and been close to the Seltzer family, possibly closer than he was to his brother who was living in the Bronx in 1930. Allen does not appear on the 1940 census.

Bennett Avenue Manhattan

Bennett Ave Manhattan

The only record I found for Fay Spector was a death record from 1981. She died in New Haven, Connecticut, age 82, and her occupation had been addressographer (a machine for making address labels). I eventually found the two children, Lillian and Louis, 12 and 11, in 1930, at the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society orphanage in Pleasantville, New York.

Hebrew sheltering Guardian orphan society

Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society Pleasantville NY

So after the breakup of their marriage, it appears that neither Fay nor Allen could keep the children and work, and no relations stepped in to help. I looked up Fay Silverstein to see if she had family and found her as Fannie Silverstein with her parents and two siblings who had emigrated from Romania in 1901. I also found a divorced Fay Silverstein living as a lodger on West 85th Street in 1940, working for social services in welfare. If this is the mother of Lillian and Louis, one would hope, if she worked in welfare, that she had worked at their orphanage. She is not on the census in 1930 at the orphanage, but nor could I find her anywhere else. The Pleasantville orphanage was built as the New York Hebrew orphanage became overcrowded from the influx of immigrants after 1905, and was designed as a group of houses with house mothers. There is a description on the website listing the orphanage records.

In July 1912, five hundred children moved to Pleasantville, NY. In order to prepare children for the tasks of maintaining their own cottages, three hundred children were transferred from Grammar School No. 46 to a new school formed within the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society (HSGS) walls. Both boys and girls were trained in kosher cooking and cleaning, as well as introducing them to a new curriculum that differed from that of the American public school system. The curriculum combined academic, religious, and vocational education into nine years, versus twelve. In order to offset the Cottage mothers, most of the teachers were men… The success of the cottage system depended upon staff selection. Teachers required university degrees, and cottage mothers were selected from “the very best and …the very highest type of Jewish women…” After an intensive five week training course for the Cottage mothers, they met daily with the Superintendent and his staff, and met weekly as a Council with study advisory committees.

dancing Pleasantville orphanage

Dance class Pleasantville orphanage

Once in Pleasantville, 25-30 children shared each of the twenty-five cottage homes. In addition to the former Girls and Boys Republics, each cottage created a self-governing republic of its own. The cottage plan also introduced a Big Brother and Sister system, in which senior children were assigned to assist younger children’s daily activities. Intercottage competition for cleanliness, scholarship, and personal appearance added incentives.

Even with the name Pleasantville and this glowing description, life in the orphanage was probably not quite as it was envisaged by those who set it up.

Lillian next appears in the 1940 census, age 22, as a lodger on 2612 Broadway at West 99th St, a good-looking classical building, working as a cashier at a theatre. She was not far from her mother (if this Fay Silverstein was her mother) at West 85th Street and it seems strange, if they lived close to each other, that they were not together. Louis does not appear in the records again. As the census only goes up to 1940 we cannot know whether this family ever came together again.

2612 Broadway Spector Lillian

2612 Broadway

Felix Seltzer had moved to Fox St in the Bronx by 1920, very near to where Nathan Spector moved a few years later. He now had his own knitwear manufacturing business. By 1930 he had returned to Manhattan, to Bennett Ave in northern Manhattan not far from the Bronx. His daughter, Pauline, had married in 1927 and was living with her husband, Philip Weinstein, a salesman in the fur trade, in the same building. The younger daughter, Evelyn, had now become Adeline, and was living at home, working as a secretary for an insurance company. On the surface, the Seltzers seemed to have found the peaceful family life they may have been looking for after the pogrom. Felix and Sophie are in the same place in 1940 but neither of the daughters is in the 1940 census. Instead, in the same building as Felix and Sophie, there is another Spector, Edwin (originally Israel), who is from Boston. Could he be a relation or is this a coincidence? The only other records for either of the sisters are 2 ship’s manifests showing Pauline with her two-year-old son, Neil, travelling from New York to San Diego in November 1934 and returning the next March to Bennett Avenue.. Could her sister have been living in California? Was her husband working there? Had she left her husband? Evelyn does not appear again.

Felix Seltzer had become naturalised in 1908, exactly 2 years after arriving in the US. To try and find a link between him and Reiza Zeltser, I was interested to see where he was born, which was Nikolaev, a port to the east of Odessa. He was 30 years old and born in 1878. He had a distinctive mark of scars from burns on the fingers of his left hand.

Seltzer Felix nat 1908 - Copy

Reiza’s husband’s name was Feivel and he might have been around 30, like his wife, in 1905. His family residence was Derazhen, north of Odessa, and I found an 1875 census record of a Zeltzer family in Derazhen with the father named Faytel, which I think must be a mistake for Fayvel, as there are only two Jewish male names beginning with F, Faivel and Fishel. Most of his sons were young man in 1875 and noted as leaving Derazhen for other towns in the area, except for one who was moving to Akkerman, near Odessa. It seems likely that Felix had also been named Faivel, as names beginning with F are so rare, so they may have come from the same family. The question is whether the two Faivels were cousins, or whether they were one and the same person, and Derazhen was simply considered the family residence as they had left recently. This is probably unlikely because in the 1910 census Felix and Sophie say it is their first marriage and they had been married 7 years which would date back to 1903, two years before the pogrom. If this is true. If not, could Felix have married Sophie, a widow with a young child born just before the pogrom, sometime in 1906 and left for the US to join her brother? Or could the baby Pauline have been Felix and Reiza’s baby born just before the pogrom? There is a Paulina Zeltzer born in 1878 in the Odessa birth index (which only extends to 1900, before the baby Pauline was born), so it was a name in the family. 1878 is also Felix’s birth year, so possibly she is a cousin of his age named after a grandparent. Could Sophie have been his sister-in-law or the sister of a good friend, a fellow musician? Were the burns on his hand from being in a burning house or shop during the pogrom? Had the burns stopped him making a living as a musician?

Whether Felix was Reiza’s husband or cousin, he may have battled fires in the pogrom. If families have decided to keep the pogrom a secret from their children and possibly not tell them the whole truth of their background, this can lead to having to tell lies on records. If the census was done orally, this could mean lies are told to protect children in the room from the truth they have not been told, and so a chain of lies begins.


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