Who was Ester Nusinova Blank?

Ester Nusinova Blank, from Kamenets, was 52 when she died in the 1905 Odessa pogrom. Most of the people in the death records were men, and most of the women were quite young. So I became interested in who this Ester Blank might have been. I discovered that the name Blank was quite common in Odessa. Looking through the ships’ manifests of people who left Odessa in the first few years after the pogrom, I noticed a 50-year-old tailor called Mordko Blank who arrived in New York 3 September 1909,  travelling with his 32-year-old wife, Sure, and a young girl of 16, Beile, whose occupation was listed as ‘servant’. This was actually his daughter, as he was travelling to his son, Sam, and Beile’s brother.

Mordko Blank ship’s manifest Sept 1909

Obviously Sure was Beile’s step mother, so Mordko might have lost his wife in the pogrom. Mordko appears in the 1910 census, a year later, now Max, living at West 118th Street in Manhattan, with his wife, Sarah, and his three children, Sam 23, Harry 22 and Becky (Beile) 16. Sam had arrived in 1906 and Harry in 1907. One more brother, Meer, still lived in Odessa. But Ester Blank was not the mother of these children as I found a 1945 death record for Harry and his mother’s name was Dora. I also found a veterans card so I presume he died in the war.

The only other older man travelling to the US from Odessa was Isaac Blank, who was 66 when he arrived in 1923. This would have made him 48 in 1905. He was travelling to a nephew and said he had no family in Russia, although everyone on the list said they had no family, so it might be that people did not want to give the address of a close family member. Isaac only appears on the 1940 census and at that time he was living in Brooklyn with his wife Lottie. I found Lottie (Zlata), age 60, travelling to New York to join her husband in 1930. She was 13 years younger than Isaac. She would have been 35 at the time of the pogrom. She was born in Kremenets, Ukraine, and had obtained her passport in Riga, Latvia, although her last permanent residence was Odessa. She had a son, Israel, in Odessa.

Isaac died 28 October 1945, age 87. He was a retired toy peddler, still living in Brooklyn and his wife’s name was Zlota. If Zlota was Isaac’s second wife, Israel could have been her child, or he could been born after the pogrom but then he would have been quite young when his father left in 1923. It seems strange that a retired man of 66 would go to America alone, unless he was in some kind of trouble in Russia. There are so many questions – why did his family not go with him or would it have been difficult for them to get out of Russia at that time? Why did they not join him? Possibly Israel was quite young and Zlota remained until he was looking after himself.

I could find no records for an Israel Blank living in Odessa, so we cannot find out whether he was born before or after the pogrom or who his parents were. I did find one record for an Israel Bank who was born in Odessa but living in Poland when the war broke out. He died in the Holocaust but whoever wrote his testimony did not know his birth date or his parents names. One other Israel Blank travelled to America from Russia during several years in the 1930s, and finally in 1940, to his father who was a US citizen. Unfortunately it does not say where he was travelling from in Russia. And his father lived in Manhattan rather than Brooklyn. But I like to think that at least one Israel Blank was saved from the Holocaust by his travels to see his father.

There were many other possible Blank families in Odessa that Ester might have married into or belonged to. There is a database in the Odessa archive of Odessa Jewish small businesses (Fond 359_Jewish Desk Database.xls (odessa.gov.ua) , and on this list there are 10 Blank businessman with businesses dating from 1893 to 1913. There is one Isaac on the list but his father is Gersh, and the US Isaac’s  father was Michael. The list includes names, addresses and the year the business was set up. Because Russian names include a middle patronymic (father’s name), one can see that several of the names belong to the same families. Aron-Tsudia has two sons and two brothers. Elia and Ioina are brothers, and Shimon and Moishe-Khaim might also be brothers. And Mordko may be the son of Ruven who is the son of Aron-Tsudia.

Бланк Абрам Арон-Цудевич ул.Госпитальная 34, 1908

Blank, Abram Aron-Tsudevich Gospitalnaya Street 34, 1908

Бланк Арон-Цудя Беркович ул.Госпитальная, дом Баргера, 1893

Blank Aron-Tsudia Berkovich Gospitalnaya Street Bargera House, 1893

Бланк Иойна Мойша-Хаимович ул.Преображенская 50, 1913

Blank, Ioina Moisha-Khainovich Preobrazhenskaya Street 50, 1913

Бланк Исаак (он же Ицко) ул.Мещанская 8, 1893

Blank Isaac (aka Itsko) Meshchanskaya Street 8, 1893

Бланк Ицек (он же Исаак) Гершкович пер.Госпитальный 6, 1899

Blank Itsek (aka Isaac) Gershkovich Gospitalnii Lane 6, 1899

Бланк Мойше-Хаим Беркович ул.Базарная, дом Баласа 1893

Blank Moishe-Khaim Berkovich Bazarnaya Street Balasa House, 1893

Бланк Мордко Рувинович ул.Ришельевская, дом Колубселецкого 1893

Blank Mordko Ruvinovich Rischelevskaya Street Kolubseletskovo House, 1893

Бланк Ривен Аронович-Цудиевич ул.Болгарская, 23  1910

Blank Ruven Aron-Tsudevich Bolgarskaya Street 23, 1910

Бланк Шимон Беркович угол ул.Старопортофранковской и Госпитальной 90  1893 (ул.Комитетская, 7 1909)

Blank Shimon Berkovich corner Staroportofrankovkoi and Gospitalnoi 90, 1893 (Komitetskaya 7 1909)

Бланк Эля Мойша-Хаимович ул.Костецкая, 7  1908 (ул.Мясоедовская, 17 1913)

Blank Elia Moisha-Khaimovich Kostetskaya Street 7 1908 (Myasoedobskaya Street 17 1913)

Four of these businessmen lived on Hospital Street or Hospital Lane ( Госпитальный) in the heart of the predominantly Jewish Moldavanka, and the heart of the pogrom, so Ester Blank might have belonged to one of these families. There are several Odessa directories online, from 1899 to 1914 (Genealogy Indexer – Searchable Directories ). In the 1904-5 directory there are quite a few Blanks in the business section. Mordko Rubinovich had a furniture business in the city centre at Pochtovaya St 24 (now Zhukovskoho St). This house was on the corner of Rischelevskaya St, right in the city centre shopping area, where Mordko was living in 1893, according to the Jewish small business list.

Pochtovaya St 26

 The photograph above is Pochtovaya St 26, as the space for 24 is empty with a possibly newer building set  further back. In the large paved space where 24 stood is a monument to the writer Isaac Babel who lived across the road at Rischelevskaya St 17.

Isaac Babel monument 2011

This could be the Mordko or Max who went to the US in 1909. On the ship’s list he appears as a tailor but a year later on the 1910 census both he and his two sons are carpenters.

Two other Blank businessman in the Odessa directory were in the second guild, a sign of some wealth. Pavel Ilich had a perfume business at Rischelevskaya 27 and David Mordkovich, possibly a son of Mordko, had a brick factory. The factory addresses were listed and although the street names have changed, I found one on the outskirts of the city, south of the centre. Another Blank, F.G. had a soap factory at the same address as the perfume business. In the 1908 directory, an I Blank had a jewellery shop at  Rischelevskaya 22.

Rischelevskaya 27

The Jewishgen Odessa group (Jewishgen Odessa KehilaLink – News archive) has begun translating the Odessa 1897 census and there are two Blank families in the database, both in Moldavanka. There is 42-year-old Abram Blank, a used goods salesman from Balta, at Prokhorova St 43 (one street over from Gospitalnaya) with his wife Dina, born in Kishinev, and two children, Khava 13 , born in Kishinev, and Mikhel 7, born in Odessa. Then there is Berko Shaya Blank, 26, from Bessarabia, a counter man in a grocery store, homeschooled, who lived at  Gospitalnaya 39, apartment 25.

To look through this census would give a wonderful picture of the people in a building and on a street, their families, their education,  jobs and where they had come from. If Ester Blank had lived on  Gospitalnaya in 1905 when she died in the pogrom, she may not have lived there in 1897 when the census was written.  Many Jews were new to Odessa in the 1890s and the early 1900s and she may have recently arrived. Or she may have been a member of one of the wealthier families living in the city centre, either recently arrived or an old Odessa resident.  Unless she was a property owner herself she would not be in the directories.

Ester Blank is not easily found in cyberspace, other than here in the pogrom death records telling us that she died at 52 and was from Kamenets. Her children might be in the Odessa birth records if she had been living in Odessa at that time. She may have married over 30 years before her death and her children may have been born in the 1870s and 1880s. If she married after 1875 in Odessa, she would be in the Odessa marriage records. But for the moment she remains one of the many haunting ghosts  of the pogrom.

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