Happy families – the Levitts

I had looked up the Levitt family before the Levitons, as they had settled in New York where the records are particularly good. I had been interested that there were two brothers, Hirsch (Harry), 23, and Aaron, 22, who had left Odessa in 1906 and 1907. Harry had given the address of a friend and Aaron had listed his brother Hirsch. I then easily found all the records for Harry, a jeweller, who had married in 1912, and had settled in the Jewish area north of Central Park, later Harlem, on East 113th Street, where he stayed through all the records.

I was only able to find Aaron on his WW 1 and WW 2 registrations. On his World War I registration he was working for a jeweller and living with his mother, Celic Levitt, at 3 East 115th Street, near his brother. On his 1907 ship’s manifest, his relation in Odessa had been his mother, Lipa (probably Tsipa) Levitt. I looked again at the manifests and found that in 1914 Cipa Levitt, 56, was travelling with her daughter, Tauba, 22, a seamstress, to her son, H Levitt, in New York.

3 and 5 E 115th St

It was difficult to look for a family with names which would obviously have changed but eventually I found a 1920 census where the mother, Cherpa, is living with her children, Marry, 23, Tillie, 21 and a younger Harry, 20, at 2 E. 114th Street. I had found the family by looking for variations on Tauba, and found that Tillie was a popular name at the time, although it was difficult that her age had not advanced.

The girls are working at a dress factory and Harry is a jewel polisher. It took some time to accept this was the same family with two sons called Harry but possibly, as there are no military registrations for Harry, his official first name was different. The older Harry was by now 36 and had two children.

I then began a look for the elder sister, Mary, and found a Mairie Lewitt, 22, travelling from Odessa in 1912 to her brother Harry Levitt. Her relation in Odessa was her mother, Cipa Levitt.

Mairie Lewitt 1912

Next was the 1915 census where almost the whole family was together – the mother Celia, older brother Harry with his wife Esther and baby Herman, then Arnold (Aaron), Minnie and Tillie. Harry and Aaron are both in the jewellery business, although Harry’s entry says jeweller and Aaron’s says jewellery. Harry possibly makes jewellery and/or has a shop, whereas Aaron and the younger Harry were jewel polishers. Only the younger Harry, who appears in the 1920 census, is missing from the 1915 census, although he puts his immigration date as 1910. They are all living on East 113th Street, where Harry and Esther continued to live. The ages in this census are all over the place which may be why I did not find it for a while. Everyone seems to be getting younger.

The only one in the family whose name remained constant, although her age varied tremendously, was Tillie, and by concentrating on her I found the rest of the family up to 1940. In 1930, Celia became Sarah and she and the remaining children, Minnie, Tillie and Aaron, had moved to the Bronx, on Freeman Street. Possibly they were able to get a more modern apartment in the Bronx for the same money or less. This is a very close family where the mother and four children stayed together and only the oldest son has a family and has remained in Manhattan. The sisters are working for themselves as dressmakers, and Aaron is possibly a brass polisher if I have read it correctly. Cipa died in 1935. In 1940, Harry, Minnie and Tillie are living together a couple of streets away from Freeman Street at 1014 Home Street. Harry is a polisher at a jewellery factory, Minnie does the housework, and Tillie is working at a dress factory. Since the 1929 Depression possibly it is difficult for the sisters to get enough business to work from home and Tillie has had to work in a factory again. Although Aaron is not on the census, on his 1942 World War II registration, he is living at the same address on Home Street, and puts his nearest relative as Mina, his sister Minnie. He is unemployed. It does not seem to have been such an easy life for the younger four children in this family, none of whom married. It seemed hopeful that Minnie and Tillie were able to work from home as dressmakers, but that did not last. In 1940, the older Harry is still living on East 113th Street working as a jeweller and his children are working as a salesman and bookkeeper.

1014 Home Street

It was Berko Manikovich Levit, 39, from Akkerman (near Odessa), who died in the pogrom. Cipa was a widow when she left Odessa in 1914 but may have only been recently widowed. According to Harry’s marriage record his father was  Chaim Levit, who may or may not have been related to  Berko. The pogrom death records are far from complete, so someone in this Levit family may also have been killed or injured. Levit is not a common name like Levin or Lewin. Or the Levits may have been affected by the pogrom in other ways. When only one child of 5 in a family marries and has their own family, and the others remain living with their mother, one might think they are particularly protective towards her and each other. This protectiveness may be something they felt they needed to do since childhood. Although I quickly had found the records of the older Harry, finding the rest of the family had not been so straightforward, and there are many questions and not many answers about their lives. The three brothers had left for America before the mother and sisters, so possibly things had not been easy for them in Odessa after the pogrom. Possibly the daughters could not make ends meet when their father died. At least they were together in America but managing does not seem to have been easy and it may not have been a better life. One tries to imagine them as they grew older, thinking back over their life and their childhood in Odessa.

 

 

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From Odessa and back again – Jacob Leviton

I did not discover Jacob Leviton, son of Aaron and Goldie, until I had nearly finished researching the vast Leviton family in Chicago. He was on the 1930 census staying with his sister Sophie Welcher. Eventually I found him first travelling to Chicago from Odessa via Liverpool with his father in March 1908. Unfortunately the name on the manifest was spelt Lewiten, a combination of letters I had not tried. And unfortunately I cannot read the profession of Jacob and Aaron. Jacob was recorded as married and 35 years old. Their relation in Odessa was Jacob’s sister, L Mesirow, who lived at Malaya Arnautskaya 50, the first time we get a picture of where this family might have been living in Odessa. The house is in the middle of the long street near Pushkinskaya. There is no mention of Jacob’s wife as being their closest relation. Most of the rest of their family was in Chicago.

Malaya Arnautskaya 50

Their destination was Chicago and the home of Harry Welcher on Stoneman Street, who is down as Jacob’s uncle, whereas it should have said his brother-in-law, the husband of his sister Sophie.

In 1911, Jacob is again travelling from Odessa, this time via Antwerp, to Chicago with both his parents, Aaron and Goldie, and Jacob Mesirow with his wife and widowed mother. All the men are described as merchants. Both families are travelling to the Welcher family now live on Le Moyne Street. Both list cousins as their nearest relations in Odessa. The Leviton cousin lives at Ekaterininskaya 85 on the corner with Malaya Arnautskaya, very close to their Mesirow daughter at Malaya Arnautskaya 50.

Ekaterininskaya 85

Odessa 1888 centre

Malaya Arnautskaya was highly populated with Jews, possibly many of whom were small businessman, who had left the Moldavanka area, becoming more successful and helping their children take up professions as the Levitons were doing. The Mesirow cousin, Lazar Mesirow, lived at Vorontsovskaya 46, a street that runs from the edge of Moldavanka south of the Jewish cemetery to the railway lines and was filled with small factories and warehouses where it ran by the railway. The road has now changed names but if the numbers were similar the house would have been near the tracks, but it is very difficult to find numbers now and there were probably more houses in the past. The sections of the street shown below are closer to Moldavanka where more houses remain. It does not have the style of the centre, but it may have been a place where a factory owner could live by his work.

Vorontsovskaya

Odessa 1901 Vorontsovskaya bottom left

Jacob next appears in New York on his World War I registration. His name appears as Jacob Aaron Leviton, boarding at the Lipschitz home at 120 W. 114 Street. His occupation is manager of the Velcher Bros cigar packing company on East 18th Street, and his nearest relation is his father in Chicago at 1929 Fowler Street. His birthdate is 20 February 1875, age 43.

West 114th Street

There are two Welcher brothers living on the Upper West Side, one quite near Jacob at West 111 St and the other at West 189th St. Jacob is the only member of the Leviton family living in New York, though he is working for his brother-in-law’s family business which has offices in Chicago and New York. He is also the only one who has not settled down with a wife and children. He may also be the only brother of Moishe Leviton, born in 1879, who died in the pogrom.

Jacob does not seem to be someone who fills in records unless they are absolutely necessary or filled out by someone else.. He next appears on his sister’s 1930 census, living with her and her daughter, Alice, 20, on Morse Ave, shortly after the death of her husband, Harry, who died in December 1928. Jacob is listed as single, 52, and a salesman for a cigar company. It was around this time, in 1927, in Chicago that Jacob applied for naturalisation. He must have been working for the Chicago branch of the Welcher cigar company. He was living at 2033 Pierce St, very near Wicker Park, where much of the Leviton family was living in the 1920s. On the application he gives his birthdate and place of birth, Pereyaslav, and says that he is divorced, giving no details of his wife.

Possibly Jacob went to live with his sister to help her after her husband died. There are no more records for Jacob that I can find. On the final naturalisation form, written in 1929, he gives his wife’s name as Anna and says that they were married in August 1905 in Odessa and that his wife was born in Odessa in 1884. He states that he came to the US in August 1911 and his wife came in 1919 and still resides in the US. He says he has no children. At this point he was living at 1635 Morse Avenue with his sister. He received citizenship in September 1930 and had moved to 1222 Farwell Ave, the street next to Morse Ave.

 Farwell Avenue

Sometime later I found a final document that might belong to Jacob. On the 1910 census, there is a Jacob Levitton living at 70 W. 113th St, one street over from where Jacob was living in 1918. Jacob, 35, is living with a wife Hannah, 28, and a daughter Minnie, 6. Jacob is listed as being born in Illinois and Minnie in New York, but much of the rest of the information is listed as unknown – where Hannah was born and Jacob’s job. It seems as if the information was volunteered by someone outside the family, maybe a neighbour. There are blanks in the columns for number of years in present marriage and number of children born and alive.

Jacob Levitton New York 1910 census

Also living in the building are a widow of independent income and a lodger, a 35-year-old music teacher. Jacob’s birthdate and age vary with the years and the ages of this Jacob and Hannah are quite close. He would have come to New York from Illinois. Could Minnie have been Hannah’s daughter? She might have been born in 1904 before Jacob and Anna married. If any of these facts are true. Possibly Jacob did have a daughter. Possibly Anna and Minnie came to America shortly after Jacob arrived in 1908. Did they then return to Odessa after the 1910 census, with Anna and Minnie remaining in Odessa until 1919, while Jacob returned with his parents in 1911? Or did they split up in New York and Jacob returned to Odessa late in 1910, only to return again to New York in 1911? There are no more records that I can find for Anna or Minnie in New York or Chicago. There are several Anna and Minnie Levitons in both cities but none are right. They may have married and slipped through the net. They may have returned to Odessa. There is one death record in 1932 for a Jacob Leviton of the correct age in Los Angeles, and two records, one in 1969 and the other completely un-dated, in Chicago with no age. Although I have found out quite a bit about Jacob, I still feel this family is unknown and has slipped from my fingers, so I will probably keep on searching.

 

Happy families – Levitin and Levit

Why happy families? Feeling I was having extreme good luck in finding the two family names, Levit and Leviton, both names in the pogrom death records, on ships to America in 1906, and in the US records, I delved deeper and found two families who seem to have had successful professions or businesses, married, had children and generally thrived in the US, one family in Chicago, the other in New York.

There was no sign of insane asylums or orphanages. And so, to some extent, they may have been happy families, as happy as any family can be who may have had relations killed in the pogrom and felt forced to flee their home. And possibly, with so little to go on, Tolstoy is correct that ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ But I was interested in why these families might have been as happy or successful as they appeared to be.

I will begin with the Levitin (Leviton) family who emigrated from Odessa to Chicago. They may have had a young son killed in the pogrom, as Moishe Levitin, in the pogrom records, was 26, and the young Levitons on the ship from Antwerp on 30 June 1906, were all in their 20s. There was an older woman, Golda, 56, and her daughter, Rochiel, 28, a nurse, travelling to Sophia Leviton, Golda’s daughter and  Rochiel’s sister at 363 W. North Street, Chicago. With them was Motel, 19, a student, and Gerschon, 24, a dentist, nephews of Golda who were travelling to their brother, Jacob Leviton who lived at the same address.

Golda Levitin and family June 1906

Later I found Sara Leviton, 20, travelling to America in 1904, to her uncle, David Leviton, who also lived at 363 W. North Street in central Chicago and had emigrated to America in 1893. I also found that the two brothers, Motel and Gershon, were the sons of Isaac Leviton, who was travelling with his wife on the same ship with them and Golda although listed on a separate page. Golda’s husband, Aaron, came later.

I first looked up Jacob Leviton, as he was already settled in Chicago. When I started this search I thought that all the young people on the list were the children of Golda and Aaron which led to endless confusions, especially as each of these Leviton families had a Harry or Jacob or David or Morris. And most of the girls had married a Harry or Jacob. I found that this particular Jacob, who was Jacob Isaac, had only arrived that same year, 1906, and by 1910 was married with two small children, living in an area of West Chicago called Wicker Park, an immigrant area of narrow three-storey houses and tree-lined streets reminiscent of many streets in Odessa. During the 1910s and 1920s, most of the enormous extended Leviton family, the brothers David, Isaac and Aaron and their many children, were living around the area of Wicker Park.

Wicker Park Chicago 1912

The older generation of Levitons were businessman, Odessa merchants, but many of their children took up professions – doctors, pharmacists, dentists and an architect. There were two other extended Odessa families in Chicago, related to the Leviton family by marriage, the Schoenbrods and the Mesirovs, Golda’s family. There were also Schoenbrods married to Mesirovs, and often the families lived within one or two houses of each other, on various streets around Wicker Park – Fowler St, Evergreen Ave, Potomac Ave, Le Moyne Ave, Milwaukee Ave, Hoyne Ave and Wicker Park Ave, where Golda was living when she died in 1915.

1351 Wicker Park Ave Golda’s house 1915

Potomac Ave, Wicker Park, the Schoenbrod house in 1900; Jacob Leviton lived on this street in 1910; his father Isaac and the rest of his family lived around the corner on Evergreen Ave.

Evergreen Ave

Fowler St across from Wicker Park where Aron Leviton and his daughter Rose Mesirow lived as did Morris Leviton and Solomon Schoenbrod; Aron died there in 1924

It was this closeness which made me feel that this was a happy family. The families of Aaron and Isaac, one of whom probably lost a son in the Odessa pogrom, were the only two families arriving as late as 1906. David and his family settled in Chicago in 1893 and there was a Morris Leviton who came in 1892.

Wicker Park 1910

Division Street from Wicker Park, now full of cafes and bistros

The records for Chicago, particularly the birth records that list the mother’s maiden name, made it possible to discover the married names of the Leviton daughters. Rochiel became Rose Mesirov, marrying a relation, an insurance salesman. She had two sons and lived in the same area as the rest of the family, gradually moving further out from the centre. She died at age 59 in 1939. Her husband died a year earlier. Neither of the two sons, Abner and Raymond, are listed in the 1940 census. They would have been 27 and 28 years old when their mother died. They both married, had children and lived long lives.

Sarah married Abraham Kaminsky, a teamster, and lived some distance away in South Chicago. She had 5 children, plus one stillbirth. She died in 1928, age 45. Abraham brought up the children alone until he died, aged 55, about 10 years later. Abraham appears on the 1930 census with his children but none of them appear in the 1940 census, which may have been shortly after he died. The eldest, Fanny, never married, possibly because she became the mother of the other children. There are no definite records for two of the others, Vivian and Robert. Goldie married and had one son.

Sophia Leviton, the daughter Golda listed on the ship’s manifest, came to Chicago in 1905 and married Harry Welcher, a cigar manufacturer and they settled near Wicker Park on Le Moyne St. Harry had a prosperous enough business that in 1918 he applied for a passport to travel to Japan, China and the Philippines. On his application he said he was born in Pereyaslav (now Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky), an old city south of Kiev, perched high above a tributary of the Dnieper River, where many of the Levitons, Schoenbrods and Mesirows were from. Another Welcher living near Wicker Park, Joseph, listed his district of birth on one of the censuses as Poltava, the district of Pereyaslav , and he was also married to a Sophie from Odessa. Sophie and Harry had two children, one of whom died at birth. On the 1930 census, Sophie was already a widow, her husband having died the year before, 1929, at age 54. She was living with her 20-year-old daughter, Alice, and her single brother, Jacob, 52, who emigrated in 1912.

So this was Jacob Aaron, the son of Golda. Jacob was a salesman for a cigar company and I thought of Sophie’s husband. The only other record I found for Jacob was a 1930 naturalisation form where he lists his sister, Sophie’s, address in North Chicago. Later I searched again on the Ellis Island website, using the full name Jacob Levitin (as it was usually spelt on the manifests) and therefore not bothering to narrow the search with the town, Odessa. This time I found another manifest, which only listed Russia for last residence, for Jacob and his parents, Golda and Aaron, travelling with Mesirov relations in 1911. Becoming more creative with spelling, I also found Aaron travelling to New York with his son Jankel (Jacob), 35, in 1908, shortly after Golda . Jacob is described as married, although he is listed as single on the 1930 census. At some point Golda and her husband had returned to Odessa and were now going back to Chicago with their son Jacob and more of Golda’s family, the Mesirows. I will continue the story of Jacob and the Levitons  returning to Odessa as it finally shows a picture of these interrelated families before they came to America.

Sophie died in 1941, age 66, and her daughter, who married and moved to California, died two years later, in 1943. There is a Jacob Leviton who died in California, in 1932, age 55, about the correct age, but it is not an uncommon name. Alice married Robert Simonoff in 1939 in Los Angeles and had a daughter Harriet in 1940. Alice died in 1943. Robert remarried and died in 1995.

When I realised that the two brothers on the 1906 ship from Odessa were the sons of Isaac, it became clear that Gershon, the 24-year-old dentist, became George, who in 1910 was married, working as a dental technician and living near Wicker Park on a main street, Milwaukee Avenue.

Milwaukee Ave near Wicker Park

He was the one brother who left Chicago and became a businessman in Indiana and later California. He and his wife lost two children while they were in Chicago, one Bella at just over one year old. They had two more daughters in Indiana.

Motel was a student at 19, so might have been studying for a profession. There is a Morton Isaac Levitan, an architect born in 1889, who emigrated in 1906. I finally found the Isaac Leviton family on a 1910 census (the last name had not been understood properly) with all the family and their emigration dates. The parents had arrived in 1906 with the youngest son Morton, although he was listed (Motel) with his aunt, Golda. Max, with no profession listed, and Henry, a doctor, had arrived in 1904 and the eldest brother, Harry, a cigar maker, had arrived in 1905. The father was working in real estate. Morton became an architect but does not appear in the records except for his naturalisation form and his World War I registration, where he states that he is an architect and is living at the family home.

Max became a doctor, like his brother Henry. He married Anna Livshis in 1912 and in 1920 he and Anna were living with her parents and their two children, Lawrence and Alice. Anna died in 1930 when their children were 15 and 12. None of the family is on the 1930 census. In 1940, their son Lawrence, 25, is working as a resident physician at a maternity hospital. I found a 2003 obituary for him. He was an Army medic during the war and then became a paediatrician, moving to Florida in the 1950s. He was particularly interested in child mental health. His sister, Alice, became a librarian and never married, but I found her, in 1946, aged 28, on a ship back from France. I wondered why she might have been by herself in France right after the war, and somehow the word Nuremberg came into my mind. I seem to have decided this family did not always take the easy route. I studied the manifest more closely. At the top of the document it said ‘War Department Civilians – American Red Cross, so my instinct was correct and she was doing war work.

The Levitons were the first family I have investigated where many of the younger generation went into professions, either in Odessa or later in America. Most seemed to have no problem picking up with their education, training or finding jobs. In Isaac’s family, who had only arrived in America between 1904 and 1906, there were two doctors, a dentist, an architect and a lawyer among the many sons. An older son Philip first became a bookkeeper and then studied law. Another son, Harry, became a millinery manufacturer, and Jacob was an insurance salesman. David Leviton, also from Odessa, who had arrived first in Chicago in 1893, had three sons, a doctor and two pharmacists. Two of David’s sons, the pharmacists, Samuel and John, worked together and lived in the same building. Although the Leviton family were all living in Odessa, many put their town of birth as Kiev or Pereyaslav, as had Harry Welcher.

Kiev and Pereyaslav 1893

Possibly this large extended family had such resilience because they stayed together, worked together and helped each other, both through their professions and other ways. All of their naturalisation forms were signed by a brother and a lawyer in the family, Nathan Schoenbrod.

Dr Henry Isaac Leviton naturalisation form

There were quite a few early deaths in the family of husbands, wives and infants. When there was only one spouse, he or she seems to have been able to keep the family together and look after the children. Sarah Kaminsky died at 45, Abraham Kaminsky at 55, Martin Leviton at 46, Harry Leviton at 56, Jacob Leviton possibly at 55, Alice Welcher at 32, Harry Welcher at 54, Rose Mesirow at 59, and Henry Leviton, at 55. Interestingly, it was the two families who arrived after the pogrom, the children of Isaac and Aaron, whose children most often died in their 40s or 50s. David, who possibly came out of choice rather than from necessity or fear, and whose children were younger when they came, mostly lived into their 70s and 80s and one of the daughters lived to over 90.

Moishe, who died in the pogrom, age 26, born in 1879, was probably the son of Isaac or Aaron, who emigrated after the pogrom, and as Isaac was the younger and had seven sons born in the 1880s, Moishe was most likely the son of Aaron, who only seems to have had one son, Jacob, born in 1875 or 1877, a few years before Moishe. Just as I was finishing this post, I made one more search for Jacob on Google and discovered a family tree of the Aaron Leviton family and a new branch of the family. This family tree included Aaron and Goldie, Rose Mesirow, Sophie Welcher and another sister, Shifra Pines (age 39, born 1868), who came to Chicago in 1907 with her four teenage children to meet her husband Jacob who was staying with the Harry Welcher. In 1910 the Pines family was living on Evergreen Avenue next to Isaac Leviton and the sons were working in cigar making like the Welchers. Another example of this tightknit family. The Pines were from Ekaterinoslav, which is south of Pereyaslav and near to where Aaron was born at Bassan.  Shifra, the eldest in the family, was born at Ekaterinoslav, possibly where the Levitons originally lived, before they moved to Pereyaslav, Kiev and then Odessa, and she either remained there or returned when she married. Jacob Aaron does not appear on this Leviton family tree; nor does Moishe.

In the next post, I will look a little closer at Jacob’s life, as for some reason he returned to Odessa and, unlike the rest of the family, lived in New York for some years, although he never seemed to have settled down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gospitalnaya and Isaac Babel: fact and fiction

Looking up Moldavanka and Gospitalnaya, it is not long before the name Isaac Babel appears. His Odessa stories take place around Hospital Street during the time of the pogrom. There is an Odessa newspaper article that comes up on Google about fundraising for repairs of the Moldavanka courtyard, Gospitalnaya 23, the possible childhood home of a famous Jewish bandit who was thought to be the model for Babel’s Benya Krik,. He was born Moyshe-Yakov Vinnytsky probably at Zaporizka 9, around the corner from Gospitalnaya.

Gospitalnaya 23

Later he took the name Mishka Yaponchik and became an actor. Besides that the early life of Vinnytsky/ Yaponchik seems lost in myth, Babel always insisted that there was never one person behind any of his characters and that everything he wrote was fiction. Even his own life. He loved making up stories and never separated fiction from life. As he made up so many stories about his own past, including the short stories he wrote in the first person which people believed were autobiographical, very little is known about his early life. Possibly he didn’t think it mattered, or it mattered too much.

Isaac Babel

Babel was born in Moldavanka where his father had a farm machinery business. Shortly afterwards they moved to Nikolayev where the family business became very successful. After the 1905 pogrom, Isaac was sent back to Odessa to enter the Nicholas I Commercial School, open to Jewish guild merchants’ sons, and to live with his aunts and grandmother on Tiraspolskaya St in Moldavanka. His parents returned the next year and lived at 23 Dalnitskaya St, before moving to 17 Rishelyevskaya Street, in the centre, where his father had his business, around the corner from the Brodsky Synagogue. Because of the Jewish quota Babel was unable to attend the University of Odessa and went to the Business Institute in Kiev. This much of Babel’s life is well-known and fairly factual.

17 Rishelyevskaya Street

If there had been stand-up comics in 1920s Russia, Babel would have been one. He loved pranks and acting parts, the more absurd the better. Walking along the street he would suddenly begin to act the part of someone with a limp or a partially paralysed leg. Or begin coughing or groaning, simply to see the puzzled looks on people’s faces. And because he enjoyed acting. Possibly it was simpler than trying to be himself, which, in the days of Stalin, was a difficult thing to do as so much needed to be hidden. Fiction was easier than truth when everyone needed to hide their thoughts.

One source about his life are his letters, many of which were written to his sister who had left Russia for Belgium in 1925, and his mother who joined his sister in Belgium in 1926. His wife, Evgenia Gronfein, a painter and daughter of a Kiev merchant, who he met when he was studying in Kiev and married in 1919, also emigrated to Paris in 1925, at first with Babel. He spent time with her there in 1925 and 1927-1928 but felt he could only write back in Russia.

His daughter, Natahlie, was born in 1929 and he was not able to see her until she was three years old in 1932. In that year he met Antonina Pirozhkova, a young engineer working on the Moscow subway, who later became his ‘wife’ and had his second daughter, Lydia, in 1937.

Antonina, Lydia and Isaac

Babel saw Nathalie for the last time in 1935 when he attended the Antifascist International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture and Peace in Paris. He had had a son in 1926 to an actress in Moscow with whom he had had a long affair and who was the cause of his wife’s emigration to Paris. It was not until the 1960s that Nathalie went to Russia and met her sister and brother, whose existence she had only discovered when she arrived in Russia. In 1964 Nathalie wrote in the introduction to her father’s last letters The Lonely Years 1925-1939, “I grew up wishing that someday, somewhere, a door would open and my father would come in. We would recognise each other immediately and without surprise, without letting him catch his breath, I would say: ‘Well, here you are at last. We’ve been puzzled about you for so long. You left behind much love and devotion, but very few facts. It’s so good to have you here. Do sit down and tell us everything.’”

As Babel had to hide his thoughts about what was going on around him in Russia, the letters themselves cannot be honest and are certainly not revealing. They are mainly about everyday matters, his and his family’s health and endless plans to try and meet up. He also did not write to his mother and sister about his new wife in Russia, as they knew his first wife and daughter in Paris. Babel was always trying to escape from Moscow to the country where he could concentrate more on his writing and he particularly loved returning to Odessa. He had bought a piece of land on.the coast hoping to build a dacha there, but his last trip to the south coast was in 1936, from where he wrote several letters that he was working on a very personal work with a new style. He hoped to finish it within the year, but the book never appeared and he was arrested in May 1939, having written no more than a few stories since 1936. He was shot in January 1940, although his family did not know for many years.

In 2003, Robert Rosenstone wrote a novel, King of Odessa: a novel of Isaac Babel, imagining Babel’s 1936 summer in Odessa and the novel he was working on. Like Babel, it is a novel of jokes and farce, of sex, spies, crooks and serious thoughts about life and love. He uses the letters, documentary evidence and Antonina’s memoir of his final years and her search to find out what happened to him (AN Pirozhkova At his side: the last years of Isaac Babel, 1996). I think Babel would truly have liked to have been able to write honestly about his life but it was not possible to get beyond the silence and distrust of the time. On a 1935 visit Babel made with his wife Antonina to Odessa, she writes that she asked him what he was thinking about as he paced back and forth in his room, and he answered with a sweeping gesture, ‘I want to tell about all this… and use the minimum words, but nothing seems to work.’

Photos of Moldavanka

Leaning shed Moldavanka

Moldavanka gate

Moldavanka courtyard

 

 

 

 

Ulitsa Gospitalnaya (улица Госпитальная) or Hospital Street

When I was writing about Malaya Arnautskaya, the Weitzmans and anti-semitism, I puzzled over the problems I had finding the street at the beginning of Malaya Arnautskaya running parallel to the coast, called Belinskaya on several websites, until I finally discovered that it was called Leontovicha on modern maps. Then I realised that possibly people carry on using the old names if they prefer them. And I wondered about other name changes in the streets of Odessa which I had noticed on various maps and whether any had been influenced by the 1905 pogrom, for instance the central street Evreiskaya or Hebrew Street. This was changed in 1908 to Skobelevskoi or Skobeleva (Скобелева). Another street in central Moldavanka where many families in the pogrom death records lived, and in the area investigated by the police, was Ulitsa Gospitalnaya or Hospital Street, the street of the Jewish Hospital. It is now Bohdan Khmelnytsky Street (Богдана Хмельницкого). This was also the street with the highest population density in Odessa at that time.

Gospitalnaya 45

Gospitalnaya 7

The first Jewish Hospital was set up in 1802, only a few years after the start of building of the new port of Odessa designed by Catherine the Great, which previously had been mainly a Tatar fort and small fishing port. Before that  there had been a Jewish society for visiting patients called Bikur Holim. In 1829 the hospital purchased a house on the corner of Gospitalnaya and Myasoedovskaya which had 60 beds and one doctor. A new building, the building still in use, was built in 1865.

The Jewish Hospital building

Jewish Hospital doctors 1898

The hospital was closely connected with Jewish life in Odessa. In 1905, the courtyard of the hospital was turned into a camp for the many displaced families whose homes were destroyed. They were provided with free food and medical care. In the highly populated area of Hospital Street, when the police were brought in to quell the pogrom riots, there was a battle between the police and the Jewish defence group where 11 were brutally killed. https://evreimir.com/9198/

Gospitalnaya 1904 (lower left, third street from bottom, upside down with hospital marked) http://www.retromap.ru/show_pid.php?pid=g4039

The name Gospitalnaya or Hospital Street remained from the early 19th century until 1911, when there was a 50th anniversary celebration of the liberation of the peasants from serfdom. Gospitalnaya became 19 February 1861 Street, a name which never took hold, as happened with many of the multiple street name changes over the years. And strangely the name kept ricocheting back and forth between 19 February and Hospital Street. It is interesting to think why this one small street should have been chosen to have its name changed at that time. Did they want to change the Jewish identity of this street?

Odessa 1914 Baedeker 19 February 1861 St

https://archive.org/details/russiawithtehera00karl

This is a rare map in English from the 1914 Russian Baedeker on the eve of World War I and coming revolution. Interestingly, it is also a rare map that does not indicate the Jewish Hospital on 19 February 1861 St or the Jewish cemetery just below the Old Cemetery. It does however mention the Plague Cemetery, which I had not noticed before which is called Plague Hill (Чума Гора) on Russian maps.

 

19 February Street map from 1919

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Одесская_ эвакуация_(1919)

In this 1919 map, just after the revolution, the individual buildings of the Jewish Hospital are clearly drawn as are the Jewish Cemetery, Old Cemetery and Plague Hill. A map from 1924 was made for the purpose of showing the name changes that followed the revolution. Many of the centre streets have been given names like Lenin and Karl Marx Street and the old history of multicultural Odessa with its Hebrew and Greek Street has been wiped away. Hospital Street has regained its name and 19 February has been written in brackets.

Gospitalnaya (19 Fevralya) map from 1924 http://kraeved.od.ua/map/odessa.php

By 1931 there were more name changes and changes of spelling. The street that crossed Gospitalnaya at the corner of the hospital, Myasoedovskaya, had now become Sholom Aleichem Street. What was Gospitalnaya is difficult to read because the first letter is on a fold of the discoloured map, but the name seems to be лютого, which I discovered is Ukrainian for February, so it has reverted to 19 February Street.

1931 map  http://www.retromap.ru/show_pid.php?pid=g4026

By 1947, the street is again Gospitalnaya. At some point after 1947 there was one more change which has lasted until today. The first appearance I have is a map from 1962 with the name Bohdan Khmelnytsky Street. Bohdan Khmelnytsky was the leader of a Cossack rebellion against the Poles in 1648. He united Ukraine and was considered a saviour but also tried to rid the area of Jews, killing tens of thousands and destroying their towns. That this famous figure in Ukrainian history, who caused possibly the greatest massacre of Jews before the Holocaust, should be used as a name for what had been called Hospital Street after the Jewish Hospital, in the heart of Jewish Moldavanka, seems quite horrific. It may have been a way of clearly stating that finally the Holocaust had completed what Bohdan Khmelnytsky had wanted to accomplish, as there were no longer enough Jews in Moldavanka to resist the name change.

As I was looking at these maps I did not recognise the name Bohdan Khmelnytsky until I looked him up and realised that I had once read about the Cossack uprising of 1648. At the base of my 1812 family tree is the very famous Jewish Rabbi David ben Samuel Halevi (1586-1667), an ancestor most people wanted to have on their family tree, especially a rabbinical family like mine, although it appears this was often only wishful thinking. On my tree, above the name of the great Rabbi is his son, Shmoul, then his son, Shimson, and then Rabbi Shlomo, the son of Yehiel, unrelated and obviously my ancestor who came from northern Ukraine like David Halevi. And to complicate matters further, the translator wrote ‘son of Shmoul’ below David Halevi but in a diagram at the end indicates that Shmoul is the son of David. It is, however, easiest to read a family tree as one generation following another, whatever the names, and my family believed that the famous rabbi was their ancestor. One sees what one wants to see until suddenly the lack of continuity pops out at you and the fantasy dissolves. Possibly none of the first three names on the tree are related or could they be?

Stem of my family tree with my variation on a 1990s translation

In the meantime I had read about the life of David ben Samuel who built a majestic synagogue in the small northern Ukrainian town of Ostrog, Volhynia. He was rabbi there for many years until he was forced to flee from the massacres of Khmelnytsky and the Cossacks.

David ben Samuel Halevi

Ostrog Synagogue

Another name that comes up when searching Hospital Street is Isaac Babel, whose well-known Odessa stories took place in that area of Moldavanka at the time of the 1905 pogrom. It is also thought that one of the models for his bandit, Benya Krik, was a gangster who lived on Hospital Street. But that will be in the next post, as I will probably want to puzzle over Babel’s relationship with Moldavanka and the 1905 pogrom… and the mysteries of his life in general.

 

 

The Rekhes family and Malaya Arnautskaya

In the pogrom death records there were two members of the Rekhes or Rekhis family from Vilna. One was Rasya Shifra Rekhis, age 8, and the other Khana Nekhemya Rekhes, age 20, the wife of a Vilna citizen. Also in the Odessa death index is a Meer Rekhis who died 9 November 1905, a couple of weeks after the pogrom. In the 1904-5 directory there is one Rekhes, S. Rekhes (Сруль Евсеевич Рехес) at 28 Malaya Arnautskaya, just across the street from number 29, where 10 Jewish socialists had been arrested a few months before the pogrom. Srul Rekhes continued to own the house until 1908 when I. Rekhes became the owner. Khana and Rasya may or may not have been among this household and their immediate family may or may not have remained in Odessa. Rekhes was probably an uncommon name and they may have all been related.

In the American records, there were only a few families called Rykis or Reikes and there was one Rykis from Odessa, William, born in 1886 according to most of his records, who emigrated in 1912. In 1915 he married Celia Kellner in New York, saying he was born in 1891 in Odessa.

 On his World War I registration William again mentions his birthplace of Odessa and says he is married and living in Manhattan. It was very difficult to find William in the records as his name was transliterated wrongly in 1920 and 1930 but eventually the picture emerged of William working in a laundry and having three children with Celia – Bessie, Louis, and Dorothy. They lived first in Manhattan on the Upper East side and, from 1930, in the Bronx.

In March 1927, when Dorothy was three years old, she appears in the records of the Hebrew Infant Home which was part of the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum, admitted by a court order. Could it be that the family was so poor or lived in such inadequate accommodation that it was felt the child was at risk? Or was it that her mother was working? On the 1925 census, the Rykis’ were living at 323 E 101th St.

Older houses on East 101 St

On 10 July 1928 Dorothy was discharged from the Infant Home to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and on 18 July she was admitted to the Willard Parker Hospital for infectious diseases. So how much safer was the asylum than her own home?

She remained at the Willard Parker Hospital until the middle of August 1928, but in February 1929 she was admitted to Mount Sinai hospital where she remained until the end of January 1930. She must have developed a complication from the original infectious illness. The main illnesses treated at the Willard Parker Hospital were diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles. According to a report compiled about the years 1919-1923 at the Willard Parker Hospital, there were 3940 cases of scarlet fever, 8776 cases of diphtheria and 3720 cases of measles. The mortality over the five years was 8.1% for scarlet fever, 16.2% for diphtheria and 15.7% for measles. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1320416/)

The hospital was originally built in 1885 on 16th Street near the East River. By the early 1900s there were separate buildings for each of the major illnesses treated there plus buildings for research, disinfection, toxicology and vaccine research.

The Willard Parker Hospital E 16th St (GW Bromley and Co 1920)

Photograph of fire escapes E 16th St

By the census in 1930 the Rykis family was together in the Bronx, possibly having moved away from less hygienic housing in Manhattan, but by 1940 William was no longer living with the family. Celia was still in the Bronx with the three children but William does not appear on the 1940 census. On his World War II registration he is living in lower Manhattan and his contact/next-of-kin is his place of work. Celia was working in a textile factory, as she had done in 1930. The eldest daughter, Bessie, was also at the factory, Louis was an errand boy for the factory and Dorothy, at 16, was still at school. Louis joined the Air Corps in 1942 and married in 1955. There is a newspaper article from 1951 about the marriage of Dorothy Rykis to Joseph Robb, the son of a policeman, at a Catholic Church in Hewlett, Long Island, on the south shore. There is no mention of her father.

26 June 1951 Nassau Review Star

ROBB-RYKIS

Miss Dorothe Rykis, daughter of Mrs Cecilia Rykis of Manhattan was married Saturday to Joseph L. Robb of 1248 Waverly Street, Hewlett. The ceremony took place at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Hewlett. A reception followed. The bride wore a nylon net gown with lace bodice and bouffant skirt. Her fingertip veil fell from a lace cap and she carried an old-fashioned bouquet.

Mrs George Capone of Manhattan was maid of honour. Ralph Robb of Valley Stream acted as best man for his nephew. Mr Robb is the son of the late Joseph L. Robb, retired New York City policeman. He is a veteran of World War 2 and served overseas with the Sixth Marine Division. After a trip to the Poconos, the couple will reside in Hewlett.

Neither William nor Celia had chosen Jewish names for themselves or their children so one presumes they had put aside their religion and possibly did not have a problem with Dorothy marrying into a Catholic family. William died in 1957 and Celia in 1962.

If William had in any way been connected with the Rekhes family affected by the pogrom, it was probably put well behind him, and his children may have known nothing about it or his life in Odessa. While he used Odessa as his birthplace in his marriage and  WW1 records, by  WW2 he says he was born in Jemnitz which is in central Ukraine. It may be that this was his birthplace but that he had previously used Odessa because he had spent his childhood there. One wonders if the Rekhes family in Odessa knew of the socialist meeting place across the road from them and whether they were in favour of such views or not. As the surnames of three members at the meeting were also names in the death records pogrom, one wonders if the police were taking the opportunity to target socialists and revolutionaries during the uproar. And were the young Chana and Rasya Rekhes just innocent bystanders or was their family also involved?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaya Arnautskaya and the revolution

Before launching into the links between Malaya Arnautskaya (Малая Арнаутская) Street, the revolutionaries and the pogrom, I will digress into the completely unrelated (I presume) inventive and beautiful metalwork gates on Malaya Arnautskaya.

Malaya Arnautskaya 109

Malaya Arnautskaya 94

Kataev uses 15 Malaya Arnautskaya in his children’s book, The lonely white sail, as a safe house used by Terenti, the revolutionary. When his little brother, Gavrick, finds there is an amnesty for prisoners after the 1905 manifesto by the Tzar, he goes to collect his grandfather from prison. Terenti says he cannot bring his grandfather to their house which is being watched by the police, so he should take him to 15 Malaya Arnautskaya where he should ask the janitor for Joseph Karlovich. When he finds the janitor he should say ‘How’d you do, Joseph Karlovich? Sofia Peterovna sent me to ask if you’ve received any letters from Nikolayev.’ Joseph should answer, ‘No, I haven’t had a letter for two months.’ Joseph lived in a dark cellar, with walls covered in mould.

Courtyard Malaya Arnautskaya 15

In 1905, the real 15 Malaya Arnautskaya was owned by  S Yurischich (С. Юришичъ) who also owned the house behind it on the parallel street, Novo Rybnaya, and the warren of buildings in between.

Malaya Arnautskaya 15

The numbers 15, 28 and 29 (discussed later) Malaya Arnautskaya have been marked on this 1888 Odessa map to show how central this area was.

15, 28 and 29 Malaya Arnautskaya

The jumble of tumbledown buildings in the courtyards of houses on Malaya Arnautskaya, and probably the sympathy of many Jews towards the revolutionary movement, made this street ideal for safe houses. According to the writer of the Odessa street website (http://obodesse.at.ua/publ/malaja_arnautskaja_ulica/1-1-0-254 ):

В 1902 году на Малой Арнаутской улице насчитывалось 1752 бедняка из числа еврейского населения. Это в среднем, примерно, 16 человек на каждый номер дома.

 In 1902, in Malaya Arnautskaya, there were 1752 poor among the Jewish population, an average of about 16 people per apartment.

But Malaya Arnautskaya was only the sixth of the streets with the most poor people. Gospitalnaya (Hospital Street) in Moldavanka had over 4000 people in about 65 houses. Many families affected by the pogrom lived on Gospitalnaya Street.

A list of people wanted by the Okhrana in Odessa is in an online excerpt from an article in Avotaynu Winter,1995 by George Bolotenko with references to reports of the chief of the Odessa  Okhrana to the Department of Police – Odessa Okhrana Detachment March 1905-1906.  Several family names from the pogrom death records were listed. It also mentions a meeting of the Social Democratic Committee at 29 Malaya Arnautskaya.

Azirel Nakhimov GELMAN (member of the Social Democratic Committee)
Zisia Maruksev FEINSHTEIN (19 yrs old of No.83 Preobrashenskaia Street)
Mordko Iankelev GOIKHMAN
These were members who met on January 29, 1905 at the home of the son of  Zhakar Movsheve MIKHELOVSKII at 29 Malia Arnautskaia Street. The police took ten people into custody.

The fond for this list is “102,OO: Opis 6, delo 11/pt.1, p 15; Opis 1905, delo 5.pt 4LA, pp. 17-20).

Malaya Arnautskaya 29

The entry to the side of the building seems to lead to another warren of buildings. Mikhelovski did not own the property, but in the directory there is a second guild wood merchant, Movsha Aronovich Mikhelovski, probably his father, and fairly well off. Movsha Mikhelovski had his business at Privoznaya Square, the enormous market square a couple of streets away from Malaya Arnautskaya, at the bottom right of the map.

Privoz Market

It was often well educated young people who were political organisers and held meetings, recruiting workers to the socialist parties.

Across the road from 29 Malaya Arnautskaya, at 28 Malaya Arnautskaya, lived S. Rekhes (C. Рехес). It is not a common name and there were two Rekhes’ in the pogrom death records – Rasya Shifra Rekhis, age 8, from Vilna and Khana Nekhemya Rekhes, age 20, the wife of a Vilna citizen. Also in the Odessa death index is a Meer Rekhis who died 9 November 1905, a couple of weeks after the pogrom. There were not many children in the records (although reports mention the deaths of many children) and I wondered whether the children were connected with families targeted for particular reasons or in particular areas.

Rekhes (Рехес) 28 Malaya Arnautskaya (corner of Kanatnaya)

28 Malaya Arnautskaya (corner of Kanatnaya)

There is no other information about the Rekhes family in the directories. Using several spellings, there were several possible births – Sara Rekhes 1880, Solomon Rekhes 1881, Gitel Rekhes 1884, Ida Rekhis 1891, and Solomon Rekis 1896. The family who died in the pogrom had come more recently to Odessa from Vilna.

There were no Rekhes’ on the ships travelling to New York after 1905. There was one Morris Reichick, 15 years old, from Odessa, travelling from Southampton to a brother-in-law in New York at the end of December 1905, one month after the pogrom. He was marked down to be deported because of a medical problem, possibly spinal, but there was a chance to appeal. There is no Morris Reichick in the records. There is a William Rykis, born in 1886 (although according to his marriage record it was 1891), from Odessa, living in New York, who married Celia Kellner in 1915. He had come from Odessa in 1912. It is unknown whether he was related to the Rekhes who died in the pogrom, but I will follow his life in New York in another post as it had a few twists and turns uncommon in the usual Jewish immigrant story.

There was also a literary presence on Malaya Arnautskaya at the time of the pogrom and later. At 9 Malaya Arnautskaya there lived the author and publisher Joshua Ravnitsky who worked with Ahad Ha’am in his Zionist group, sponsored by the tea merchant, Wissotzky. Ravnitsky originally published the poems of Chaim Bialik, who went to Kishinev in 1903 and wrote one of the most influential Hebrew poems on the pogrom there. Bialik later also lived at 9 Malaya Arnautskaya.

Another piece of literary history on Malaya Arnautskaya is from Soviet times but seems like a descendant of the Odessa Moldavanka stories of Isaac Babel about the criminal Benya Krik, set at the time of the pogrom but published in 1923 and 1924. A friend of Valentin Kataev, the poet Nathan Shor, who lived at 40 Malaya Arnautskaya, also became a friend of Kataev’s brother, Evgeny and his friend, Ilya Feinzilberg. They were inspired by Nathan’s brother, Osip Shor and his adventures crossing Russia in 1919, and wrote a very popular and influential comic novel together, Twelve Chairs, under the names Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, which was published in 1928.

Twelve Chairs

Osip Shor became Ostap Bender, an adventurer and conman, in the story, the hero of Malaya Arnautskaya . Twelve Chairs was made into a film in the Soviet Union in the 1970s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNZkUt0ePas ).

Ostap Bender

Osip Shor

And the last piece of fame for Malaya Arnautskaya was that Vladimir Jabotinsky, author of the novel that commemorated Odessa Jews at the time of the 1905 pogrom, The Five, was, according to Wikipedia, born at 33 Malaya Arnautskaya (№ 33 — здесь родился В. Жаботинский).

The Five