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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A last Russian Revolution exhibition – Tate Modern and Ilya Kabakov

It is one year since museums around the world began to celebrate the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Tate Modern had two exhibitions to commemorate the Russian Revolution which will both soon have finished. One consisted of some of the Russian posters of a graphic designer, David King, who had been collecting Soviet photographs, posters and objects since the 1970s when he went to Russia to research an article for The Times about Trotsky, and found that Trotsky had been removed from photographs. I unfortunately could not see both exhibitions, and because I had already seen several exhibitions with Russian posters, I chose the second. I was also more intrigued by some photographs I found online of King’s house where he kept his thousands of Russian pictures and objects before he died last year.

David King’s house

 

The other exhibition was of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s work. Ilya Kabakov left Russia for New York in the late 1980s and he and his wife collaborate on installations and other projects. He began as an illustrator in Moscow in the 1950s and because his art was not the accepted social realism but critical or satirical of the situation in Soviet Russia, he made models and smaller works of his ideas, most of which were about people freeing themselves from the restrictions of communism. He himself had been brought up in quite a poor Jewish household as his parents were rarely together. When he got a place at an art school as a 12-year-old in Moscow, his mother came to be near him, but without a residence permit, could not get an apartment, and tended to just sleep for a few months at a time in different people’s crowded commuter apartments, working in factories wherever she could. His mother had lost her parents through starvation after the Civil War and had a very hard time up until her son was able to finally buy her an apartment in the late 1950s.

I will begin with a few of his early and then later illustrations, followed by some of the works of the exhibition and other more recent pieces, centred around important themes. Since he went to America in 1987 he has been most known for his installations, many of which were constructed as models while in Russia. One work at the exhibition uses his mother’s memoir framed with photographs taken by a photographer uncle to create a haunting memorial to her. His work is a fitting celebration of the humour, sadness and inventiveness that can come out of poverty and tragedy.

Labyrinth –  My Mother’s Album 1990

One theme Kabakov returns to again and again is the communal apartment, particularly communal kitchens and toilets. At one point his mother worked in the laundry of his boarding school and because she had no residence permit, slept in the laundry, which had originally been the toilets, and some of the toilet cubicles remained. In 1992 he constructed what looked like a public toilet block outside of a museum in Germany which was exhibiting his work. Inside, were some disused-looking toilet cubicles and the furniture of an ordinary living room

The toilet 1992

Communal kitchen 1991

Incident in the corridor near the kitchen 1989

In the communal kitchen 1991

Another important theme is flying, freedom and escaping totalitarianism to a utopian life. One of his most well-known installations is The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment.

The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment 1988

The flying Komarov 1981

Feeling that life in the Soviet Union was unreal, Kabakov invented imaginary characters who could lead his ‘real’ life, and made albums of drawings, writings and objects for these characters such as Komarov. Some of his later installations involved objects hanging from strings, one of which was the character The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away.

10 characters: The man who never threw anything away 1988

Character album

Utopia and reality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mesonzhnik family: from Odessa to Arpin, Wisconsin

Slowly working alphabetically, backwards, through the death records, I had reached M, which I put into the Steve Morse Ellis Island search, with the residence Odessa and the years 1905-1908. I could then look through names whose spelling seemed similar to a name on the list, and also look out for children travelling alone, or mothers with many young children who might be travelling to meet their husband or might be widows joining another relation in America. One of these mothers was 30-year-old Feige Mesonschnik (Mesonzhnik or Месонщник) with four children under 5 – Simoche 5, Momzi 4, Moische 2 and Chaim 1 – travelling from Rotterdam on 19 June 1906. She was travelling to her husband, and I would not have continued researching this family except that I was intrigued by where they were going – an isolated settlement called Arpin, Wisconsin. And her husband had changed his name to Finkelstein. J.W. Finkelstein. How did a family from Odessa come to be travelling to Arpin, Wisconsin? Were they joining relations called Finkelstein?

Feige Mesonschnik SS Noordam, Rotterdam 19 June 1906

When I first began to research this family, I could only find a Jacob and Fanny Finkelstein of the correct age with three children of similar ages and names, Celia, Morris and Hyman, living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1910. The second child must have died and the middle child, Morris, seems to have taken the age of his older brother, being 8 instead of 6. Hyman, who must have been born around the time of the pogrom, is 5. On the 1910 census, there are spaces for the number of children born and the number alive. Every family on the page has listed how many children they had had except the Finkelsteins who left the spaces blank. Possibly their son had recently died. In the next census, Celia is working in a department store, Morris is studying medicine, and Hyman is working at a bookbinders. On the 1930 census, only Hyman, 25, is living at home with his parents and is working as a barber. In 1940, the parents are living alone although they put the absent Hyman, 35, as still living in their home. He appears on the census at the Milwaukee County Asylum and all the inmates on this page have been in the asylum for the past five years.

Milwaukee County Asylum

Although the censuses have different immigration dates on each one, 1905/6 in 1910 and 1907/9 in 1920, Jacob had gone to America a year or so before the rest of the family, so I tried to find him on the Ellis Island website and eventually found a Jankiel Mesaznik, age 30, an Odessa tailor, travelling from Trieste in October 1904. He was travelling with a friend from Odessa to the friend’s sister in Hoboken, New Jersey. Nine months after he left Odessa, his wife had Chaim (Hyman), in the summer of 1905, and she and the children left a year later for America. In the meantime, Jacob had gone to Wisconsin.

It was not until the second time I tried searching for the family that I discovered that Arpin had been a logging settlement on the new railway through Wisconsin in the late 1800s. Once the logging work was finished and the company moved on, there was an empty group of houses, shop and school. The New York Industrial Removal Office was trying to relocate Jewish immigrants outside New York City and Milwaukee was one of its first bases in the west. A rich German Jewish merchant and philanthropist, Adolph Rich, bought 700 acres north of Arpin, in the hopes of setting up a Jewish agricultural colony, which might become a magnet for Jewish immigrants in the west, a homeland for the Jews.

Arpin, Wisconsin 1920

In 1904, Rich arranged for 5 families, and then another two, to occupy the empty houses of Arpin, and begin to work 40 acres of land each. By 1906 the families were working 10 acres of land each. In an article by Louis Swichkow, The Jewish agricultural colony of Arpin, Wisconsin, Jacob Finkelstein is mentioned as one of the first group of seven families – Manny, Zefania and Jacob Cohen, Louis and Gedalia Smoller, Jacob Finkelstein, I. Classel, Samuel Pittelman, Sholem Antonovsky, and J. Weinberg.

The Pittelmans Arpin Colony 1909

The map below from 1928 shows all the owners of the lands around Arpin but none of the above. Most look German with some Scandinavian but there are none that look Russian and only one that is most likely Jewish, Jacobs.

Arpin 1928

Actually Jacob first appeared in the Wisconsin records in the 1905 census when he was boarding with a farming family in Saratoga, Wisconsin, next to another farmer called Sam Finkelstein, a widower with four children, who had immigrated to America in the early 1880s from Russia.

Wood County, Wisconsin, Arpin upper centre, Saratoga bottom right

I eventually came upon a newspaper headline about the murder of Sam Finkelstein’s wife Ida (called Rebecca in the article) in March 1905 by a Russian lodger in their house who felt he had been cheated by Sam into buying land that was not as it has been described to him. Sam, who, according to the newspaper, had previously been living at Arpin, had worked for a real estate agent in Chicago selling land to Jewish settlers, so possibly was setting up a similar type of colony at Saratoga. The lodger tried to plead insanity but was given life in prison. The trial was written up in great detail including a list of the jurors as if trial by jury was new in these western territories.

Sam, also known as Simon, married again in 1906 to a woman from Arpin, Sarah Robinowich, and possibly joined her in Arpin along with Jacob Finkelstein.

Sam, who had come to America in 1885 when he was 17, had previously been married to a Russian woman called Mary Quater and they had had 6 children in Chicago and Indiana. On the 1900 census, Sam was living with Ida in California Township, Starke County, Indiana, close to Chicago, and had had a seventh child, Samuel. One wonders whether Sam came to America with family, with a group of Russian colonists, or whether he was a lone pioneer.

California Township, Indiana

Bathers at Bass Lake (Cedar Lake) Indiana, 1900

The only discrepancy on the census is that although it says Ida has had one child, it also says that Sam and Ida have been married for 18 years. By 1905 they had a second child Morris. Sam next appears on the 1910 census as Simon with his wife Sarah in Milwaukee. They are living with the two youngest children, Simon (Sam) and Morris , who are 10 and 8. Both Simon and Sarah say they have been married once before, and Sarah apparently had two children no longer alive. She does not appear on the 1905 census so possibly had not been in America for long. She may have had as tragic a story as Simon.

Simon and Sarah do not appear on the 1920 census but in 1930 they are living together without any children. There are marriage records for Simon’s oldest son, Barney, who moved out to Portland, Oregon, and also his daughter Sadie, who, having been widowed, married again in Los Angeles in 1948. She died in California in 1956. On a Wisconsin Jewish burial database there is a Sam and a Samuel Finkelstein, one who died in 1917 and one in 1923. Possibly one of these is Simon and Ida’s son. On the 1940 census, Simon is 80 and in a chronic diseases hospital in Milwaukee on the same site as the asylum Hyman was in. Simon is a widow and has been there over five years. He died that year and is the only one in the story I found a gravestone for. It is hard to know what the man who was widowed three times and had at least eight children and may have deceived the man who killed his wife, was like, but at least one of his children probably remembered him with a marble gravestone. There seems to be no trace of Mary Quater, Ida Silberg, or Sarah Robinowich.

Once Jacob was settled in the Arpin colony, he must have sent for his wife from Odessa. They did not remain long in Arpin as by 1910 they were living in Milwaukee. Several families left Arpin, although a core remained until the 1920s. As there was no secondary school in the area, several families drifted to cities for their children’s education. Both Jacob and Simon were farmers in Saratoga, and in Milwaukee they both did manual jobs of different kinds. Jacob was a machine hand, a labourer for a cement block company, a fish peddler, and both men were watchman at one point, one for a scrapyard and one for a tannery.

Jacob and Fanny lost one of their children and then, sometime after 1930, Hyman was admitted to the Milwaukee County Asylum, in Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee. Conditions were probably quite basic in asylums in the 1930s, and there were bound to be unpleasant and difficult experiences, so no parent would want their child admitted unless they could not cope with them at home. Several children born around the time of the Odessa pogrom found themselves with a similar fate. One might have thought it would have been the 2 or 3-year-old who suffered most during that period, but it was the babies or even those born just after the pogrom whose mothers were in such difficult situations they could not give them the attention they needed in those first months and years. Feige was alone in Odessa with four small children aged from a few months to 4 years old in the midst of the pogrom and then preparing to travel to Wisconsin – across Europe, across the Atlantic and then across America. And when she arrived, she would have found herself in the middle of nowhere, Arpin, Wisconsin, alone in a flat empty land, with a handful of other, probably older, Jewish families. Possibly I stuck with this story because my grandmother also had a child in 1905 just before they emigrated from Russia, who drowned when he was 23, his life and the cause of his death remaining a mystery.

The only record I found at first for Jacob and Fanny’s other two children was a Chicago birth record for Morris’ son Samuel, born in 1924, when Morris was 22. His wife was Minnie Perlman, and strangely there were a couple of other Morris Finkelsteins, born at different times, married to women with variations on the name Minnie Perlman having children in Chicago at that time. But this Morris was born in Odessa in 1902. Morris had been studying medicine when he was 18 but no more records appear for him so he may have done something completely different or possibly died young. One Russian Jewish Minnie Perlman of the right age that I found in the records as a child in Chicago belonged to a family of travelling actors which was unusual.

I had not looked for Morris’ sister, Celia, because without marriage records it is difficult to trace women, but as she also moved to Chicago, her maiden name appears in the birth records of her children, and she had become Celia Sachs. Her husband, Abraham, was 10 years older and had come to Chicago as a baby around 1890. He had first worked selling shoes and later had a sporting goods shop followed by a furniture repair shop. They had three children. Abraham lived until 1980, 90 years old, and Celia until 1991 when she was 91. At some point they had retired to 1020 W. Laurence Avenue in uptown Chicago, an art deco apartment block which had been built in the 1920s as luxury hotel apartments with a swimming pool, a long way for Celia from 1905 Odessa and her parents’ new start in the Wisconsin wilderness.

1020 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago

How much Celia, who was 5 when she left Russia, remembered the name  Mesonzhnik, her early childhood in Odessa and the trip to America, the death of one brother and the background to Hyman’s move to the asylum, and whether she passed any of it on to her children… and if she did, whether they kept it to themselves…. who knows?

 

 

 

 

 

Counting the dead – the Odessa 1905 pogrom and the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire

Grenfell Tower

When I opened the Guardian on 1 July and saw the headline Grenfell fire: volunteers help residents compile death toll I thought of one of the first blog entries I wrote: How many may have died in the Odessa pogrom? (https://odessasecrets.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/how-many-may-have-died-in-the-odessa-pogrom/ Like most people, I had never thought about how many of the figures we accept about populations, births, deaths, or illness, may not be easy and straightforward to obtain. Shortly afterwards I remember having read an article, possibly in the New Scientist, about the difficulties of calculating civilian casualties in Iraq and  how sample areas are chosen and individual households are contacted, either door-to-door or by telephone, to find out if anyone in that household was killed during the war. But different methods produce widely varying results.

From several articles I have checked in the New Scientist, civilian deaths in Iraq have been estimated to range anywhere from 183,000 to somewhere between 400,000 and 950,000. So the range in Odessa from the 300 in the Jewish death records and eyewitness estimates of 3000-5000 deaths, or the number of deaths at the Grenfell Tower from the official 80 up to whatever the occupancy (estimated at 400-600) is calculated minus the survivors, illustrate a perennial problem of counting the dead in wars or disasters. Besides the fact that no one knows which occupants of Grenfell Tower were actually there that night, and how many non-occupants were staying with friends or relations, some of the flats were sublet without a record of who they were sublet to. And like many horrific disasters, there are few remains. Similarly, in the Odessa pogrom, many houses were set on fire and many families may have disappeared without trace.

Obviously, for a massacre that happened a hundred years ago in Russia, I only expected to be able to find hints from witness statements and newspaper articles that the official figure might not have been accurate. It must be very difficult for witnesses to judge the number of bodies they have seen lying in the streets, or add up the number of deaths in the stories they hear from neighbours. And how many more people might have been hidden away in attics or cellars? The most important pieces of information I gleaned from the newspapers were the observations that carts loaded with dead bodies had been seen being taken away to mass graves in the night, and several reports of gravediggers describing the size and number of mass graves in different cemeteries. There were also eyewitness descriptions in police reports of the slaughter of various families, particularly mothers with children, and children in the street, which did not tally with the very few children in the 300 victims, mostly men, in the official pogrom death records. I tried checking the directories before and after the pogrom, but the owners of buildings were not those who rented the flats, similar to the problem of subletting in Grenfell. The closest and most detailed census was the Russian census of 1897 which would not have given accurate information for 1905. A census was done after the pogrom in December 1905, as so many people had fled the city, estimated at 50,000.

The Times 5 November 1905  Every Jewish bakery has been destroyed, and 600 families have been rendered homeless. Some of the ruffians put their victims to death by hammering nails into their heads. Eyes were gouged out, ears cut off, and tongues were wrenched out with pincers. Numbers of women were disembowelled. The aged and sick, who were found hidden in the cellars, were soaked in petroleum and burnt alive in their homes… The police would not allow any assistance to be given to the wounded, actually firing upon the Red Cross workers. At an early hour this morning the work of plunder was still being carried on in the more remote suburbs. The casualties in yesterday’s disturbances do not exceed 140.

The Manchester Guardian 7 November 1905
Anti-Jewish disorders near Odessa – slaughter and pillage
Of the 6000 victims of the riot in Odessa, it has been ascertained (says Reuter) that 964 were either killed outright or died of their wounds. The bodies of 313 of these have been removed to the Jewish cemetery, and 651 are lying in the various Christian cemeteries. The ferment against the Jews has spread to the villages in the Odessa district.

Aberdeen Daily Journal 7 November 1905

The Grenfell Tower fire had certain similarities to the Odessa pogrom. There was the possibility of blame being apportioned to all and sundry, the local government, central government, construction companies, as, in Odessa, the government, army and police had been blamed for allowing the pogrom to continue for three days and even aiding the hooligans. There were also similarities in the background situations – inequalities between rich and poor, government complacency, increases in immigration, tensions caused by lack of jobs, working conditions and inadequate living conditions. And no one caring enough because many of the victims in both situations were considered to be second-class citizens – immigrants, often newly arrived in the city and struggling to make a living.

Grenfell missing

But it was not obvious to anyone, judging by the outcry, that the police or government officials could not give a count of how many people had survived or were missing or dead from the disaster.

The Guardian 30 June 2017 The shortage of official information, 17 days after the fire, has become one of the most sensitive and controversial issues for residents, who cannot understand why the police have not released a full list of the names of the 80 people presumed dead, or why they have not released the provisional names and numbers of survivors…

Michelle von Ahn, who used to work as Newham council’s senior demographic adviser, has been collaborating with a team of online volunteer investigators. They have allocated names to flats on different floors of the building and are listing 197 survivors, 52 people presumed dead, 24 confirmed dead, two missing. They believe there are a further 27 people unaccounted for – neither reported missing nor safe – raising the probable death toll to 103, von Ahn said, a figure she describes a “conservative estimate”.

The group has analysed the council tax register, electoral register, online telephone books and publicly available Kensington and Chelsea documents about the tower block, cross-checking information with residents’ testimonies and news reports…

Volunteers have put names to most of the 41 one-bedroom, 82 two-bedroom, one three-bedroom and three four-bedroom flats but question why the council has not made public its own list of residents, built up from housing benefit and child benefit data, and information from local schools and GPs’ surgeries.

Whatever the situation, people will continue trying to find out whatever they can about missing family. Now there are far more methods and technologies to try and recover information about people in horrific disasters than there were a hundred years ago, but there is always a limit to what can be found out. Sometimes absence is the only proof.

Sara Nachmanovich, Kishinev and the orphan train

Before becoming involved in the story of Sara Rabinowitz and her baby son who was not registered in the 1905 Odessa birth records, I had been trying to find Odessa orphans travelling from Hamburg to New York in 1905 or 1906 as I saw a reference to a file of 1906 pogrom orphans in the Hamburg ship’s manifests. I was not particularly concerned about whether their family names were in the pogrom death records, as I think there were many more unrecorded names of people who were killed during the pogrom or died shortly afterwards from their injuries. I found several orphans travelling with another family, travelling with an older child to relations in America, and one sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office, but I could not find records for any of them after their arrival, often because the spelling was difficult to decipher. Then I came upon nearly a whole page of orphans on a ship’s manifest, the SS Amerika travelling from Hamburg, arriving in New York 25 August 1906, all sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. One family of five children, from ages 15 to 6 were from Odessa. Unfortunately the name was long and fairly indecipherable, and it is transcribed as Nachwan… on the manifest. The children were listed on the manifest as: Simon 15 Kishinev, Isaac 13 Odessa, Esther 11 Odessa, Hinde 9 Odessa, Selde 6 Odessa.

I tried many combinations in my search for the family and eventually struck lucky with Nachman and thought the original name might have been Nachmanovich (Нахманович). In the 1910 census, I found a 12-year-old Sarah Nachman in Kansas City, Missouri, the adopted daughter of a well-off merchant, living with his wife, Rose, 14-year-old son, mother, sister and two servants. Sarah had emigrated from Russia in 1906. The family lived on a main street in Kansas City, now rebuilt with modern buildings on the block where they lived, but there are older houses a few blocks away.

The Paseo, Kansas City (Google streetview at sunset)

Was this Selde who was probably fostered when she arrived at the age of 6 going on 7.  A young orphan girl being sent from New York to Missouri brought to mind the orphan trains of the late 1800s and early 1900s run by Christian charities. A recent novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is based on the lives of Irish Catholic children orphaned in New York and sent to the midwest where they were often used as unpaid servants or farm labourers from an early age. The highest numbers of orphans were sent to Missouri.

Orphan train children

But Jewish orphans sent to the midwest? As a six-year-old I assume Sarah was treated as the daughter of the family, not as a servant. But how much of a daughter? How much would she have been made to feel she was one of the family? I checked the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum records to see if Sarah or any of her brothers and sisters had spent any time at the asylum but there was only a different Sarah Nachman of the same age but with other siblings during the years 1909-13. Most of those years Sarah was definitely in Missouri.

I looked up the New York Industrial Removal Office and found nothing about orphans. They did look for job openings across the country for new immigrants, and placed young boys in apprenticeships at quite early ages, like the Scheindless boy who was sent to a mining town in Pennsylvania, a placement that did not last long. He ended up at the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum, possibly because he wanted to be with his brother. Brothers and sisters on the orphan trains were apparently most likely sent to different homes as the important thing was simply to find homes. In the New York Industrial Removal Office online record guide (http://findingaids.cjh.org//IRO5.html ) Kansas City, Missouri is mentioned for the years 1905-1907 as a destination for their travelling agents looking for employment opportunities through Jewish organisations. There is no mention of looking for homes for orphans but this may have been a secondary part of their job, especially in 1906 when pogrom orphans were being sent from Russia.

I tried to find out more about the couple, Julius and Rose, who had only had one child and had decided to take on a Russian orphan girl from the pogrom in Odessa. In 1900 Julius and Rose, both from New York, were already living in Missouri with their little boy. The 1890 census is mostly destroyed and Julius only turns up in 1880 as a nine-year-old living in New York with his parents, Sigismund,56, and Esther, 36, and three siblings, Naomi, Abraham and Hannah, obviously a Jewish family. His father is listed as English, a doctor and disabled, and he died the next year. Sigismund is on one census in England, the 1860 census, a widow and merchant living with two unmarried sisters and a servant. He remarried in America in 1863 to Esther Hanff. On the 1870 census he is listed as a clerk in a clothing store, married with two children. On his 1875 naturalisation form he states his profession as physician. Had he trained in medicine in the 1870s or was he practising as an alternative doctor of some kind? A chiropractor or homeopath? It is impossible to find out how Esther managed after her husband died without the 1890 census. She does not turn up again in the records except as the mother of Naomi who married in 1893 and Hannah who married in 1899. Julius did very well for himself in Missouri, later moved to Chicago and then went into business with his journalist son in Florida, buying a newspaper. His son, Herbert, had started out as a reporter in Missouri, then moved to a job as a journalist in New York where he was living with his wife and son in 1920, and then in 1930 he was living in Florida.

Before looking up the Davidson family, I searched for the other Nachman siblings and soon found her two brothers in Missouri, Simon who had become Samuel, and Isaac who had become Henry. Henry, at 13, was fostered by the Kessel family. Paul Kessel was German and worked in wholesale millinery and lived in the same general area as the Davidson family. By 1910, Henry was a lodger in a house even nearer to his sister and working as a clerk in a millinery shop so must have learned the trade from his foster father. In 1920, at 27, he was again living with the Kessels and their two teenage children, and managing a millinery shop.

Victor Street, Kansas City, Kessel home 1920

In 1917, on his WW 1 registration, he was also living with the Kessels, was in the National Guard, and said he was born in Kishinev, like his older brother. At some point in the 1920s Henry went to New York, and by 1940 he was living on West 86th Street, with a wife and 11-year-old son, working as a millinery buyer. He puts his place of birth as Germany, the country of his foster father, so he may have felt accepted by this family or at least identified with them as he had continued with his foster father’ s business. Sarah had preceded him to New York, probably as soon as she left school, as she married in 1918 at the age of 19 in New York to Louis Schwartz, a fur operator, also 19. Sarah probably did not feel quite like a daughter to the Davidsons as she left their home at a young age for the Russian Jewish community of the Lower East Side. I never found her older sisters, Esther and Hinde, but possibly they had remained in New York and Sarah had kept in contact with them, planning to reunite. Splitting up families may have been necessary to find homes for as many of the younger children as possible, but it was always very difficult and siblings often searched for family later on if they had not been able to keep in touch. According to Louis’ WW 1 registration, in 1918, shortly after he married he was living on 4th Street near his family. He next appears on the 1940 census living in Brooklyn with Sarah and their three children.

Sarah’s marriage record, with the names of her parents, Bennie Nachmanowitz and his wife Lena Schneider, made it possible to trace her family in Russia. I found the births of all of the Nachmanovich children, except Sarah, in Kishinev.

Kishinev street

There is a Russian website about the history of Kishinev with a page of old maps and another on old street names and street signs.

http://oldchisinau.com/starye-karty-i-ulicy/starye-karty-kishinyova/

http://oldchisinau.com/starye-karty-i-ulicy/

Kishinev 1943

In the Kishinev records, the parents are Beynish Shloime or Shimon and Edel Liba Abram Yehoshua, and the children are Shimon 1891, Ayzik 1893, Ester 1894, and Gnendlya 1897. The death of their mother is recorded as 12 December 1901. The father’s death is recorded as 16 November 1905, about three weeks after the Odessa pogrom. The last residence of the children on the ship’s manifest is Odessa so it could be that the family moved to Odessa at some point after the mother died, possibly after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. The Kishinev 1903 pogrom was the first pogrom of the 20th century, and modern communication methods meant that news of it travelled around the world in minutes and journalists were able to see the situation for themselves. It became an icon of horror like 9/11 or possibly the recent burnt out tower block in London. Symbols of failure in society. Kishinev made Russian Jews wary of their lives in Russia, but also may have set the tone for future pogroms. The death toll was 47 and there is a list of the victims online. http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/chisinau/LIF_POGROM1903_Victims.asp

Kishinev street after the pogrom 1903

As the Nachman family was probably living in Odessa in 1905, Sara’s father’s death record in Kishinev may indicate that he had been wounded in the Odessa pogrom and returned to Kishinev to recover and died there, or possibly the record is in the Kishinev records because he was originally from there. It seems likely that the father’s death is linked to the Odessa pogrom, as the children are part of a group of orphans leaving from Hamburg sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. Somehow the stories, like that of the Feld and Stitelman families, who possibly fled from a pogrom in their hometown to the Odessa pogrom, seem sadder, seem double the horror, and remind me of the famous tale of death in Samarkand.

In the Samarkand legend, “A servant encounters a woman in the market place and recognizes her as Death. The ominous figure looks into the face of the servant and makes what seems to him a threatening gesture. Trembling with fear, the servant runs home, borrows his master’s horse, and rides like the wind all the way to Samarkand so that Death will not be able to find him. Later, the master sees Death and asks her why she had threatened his servant. And Death says, “There was no threat. I was merely startled to see your servant here, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarkand.”

In 1932, Sam’s daughter, Mabel, married a radio technician in a Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Sam’s birthplace is listed as Petrograd and Mabel’s mother is Stella Perryman. In 1938, Evelyn died, age 39, in California. On the 1940 census, Sam is a widower and lodger with a young couple in Los Angeles, working as a salesman. His older son, Lawrence, a mechanic of 26, is living with his mother and stepfather, Stella and Floyd Perryman, in Los Angeles in 1940. It says on the census that in 1935 Lawrence was living in Kansas City. When he enlisted in the army in 1942 he was divorced with no children. It seems that his sister may have gone to California earlier than her brother, although they may have visited their mother on and off. A younger son, Sam, does not appear in the records after 1930 when he was 9. In 1942 on his WW 2 registration Sam, the father, is still living with the young couple and not employed. I could not work out who Stella and Estelle were in relation to Sam and the children. Sam’s life seems to have been the most disjointed of the Nachman children, probably because he was not fostered, did not go to school in America, possibly never learned to write in English, and probably had a  difficult time when he first found himself alone in Missouri. His one aim must have been to become American, like everyone around him. In 1947, living in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, he married a divorced woman from New York of Russian Jewish parents.

Ocean Park, Santa Monica by Ansel Adams 1939

Looking to see where Ocean Park, the address on the marriage certificate, was, I discovered a 1939 series of photographs of Santa Monica by Ansel Adams, most of the large trailer park set up to accommodate the many homeless families moving west during the depression. The sign for Broadway and Fifth Avenue is a nice touch.

Olympic Trailer Court, Santa Monica, Ansel Adams 1939

Olympic Trailer Court

On the certificate, Sam is the owner of a gas station and this is his second marriage. The first names of his parents are listed as ‘unknown’ even though he was 10 when his mother died and 14 when his father died.

Sam Nachman marriage license 1947

He has travelled a long way, literally and figuratively, from Odessa to Missouri to Santa Monica, and left his parents behind in Kishinev, even though he has chosen to marry someone from the same Russian Jewish background. People do what they have to do to carry on with their lives, even if it means forgetting their parents’ names.

For Sarah, who probably had no memories of her mother, and few of her father, they may have remained alive in her imagination. All of the Nachman children for whom I found records found some success – they had jobs, had married and had children. Henry and Sam both named sons after themselves as if rejecting the Jewish tradition of not naming children after living relations, and following the American tradition of passing down the father’s name. Unlike the Scheindless brothers, none of the children named a child after their father. Possibly having been split up as children, even if some of them came together later, it might have been difficult to talk about the past and pass on any memories of traditions that one or the other may have remembered. Although it does not seem likely that some of the children kept in touch, like Henry in New York and Sam in California, there were similarities in the way they adapted to their new lives, possibly because they had grown up together in Kishinev and Odessa and shared certain ideas of who they were and what they hoped for in life.

 

 

 

 

 

Sara Rabinowitz and the Odessa birth records

In the midst of my search through the names in the Odessa pogrom death records, in which I concentrated on children without parents, widows and widowers, I read about a list of orphans from the 1905 pogroms in the Hamburg passenger lists and I tried looking for children coming from Hamburg in late 1905 and 1906 on the Steve Morse Ellis Island search. I then tried children travelling alone from Odessa at that time, and in this search I discovered two young children who appeared to be travelling alone and then found they were travelling with their mother whose name had been spelt slightly differently. This was 25-year-old Sara Rabinowitz, travelling in May 1906 from Rotterdam to her husband, S Rabinowitz, in New York, with two young children, Jossel, age 2, and Schie, age 9 months, although the number is difficult to read.

Sara Rabinowitz and her two children, SS Statendam, 1906

As I have the Odessa birth index which includes Rabinovich for 1901-1905, I looked up Jossel and found him listed in the 1903 records.

Birth record 1585 Iosel Rabinovich 1903 (orange marker)

However, there was no birth record in 1905 for Schei or any name beginning with a Sh sound. I wondered whether he had been born at the time of the pogrom and had not been registered, something that may have happened in my family with the youngest son born in 1905. That would have made Shei about seven months old. The mother and two children were detained at Ellis Island in the hospital where they stayed for about three weeks. The notes only state that the mother had a spinal curvature and a problem with the younger child is difficult to make out, possibly a deformed pupil and corneal opacity.

Sara Rabinowitz ship manifest medical notes

The father may have only recently arrived in New York as the address for him is care of S Strusberg on East 2nd Street. Having Sara Rabinowitz’s age, immigration date, the ages of her children, and the initial of her husband’s name, it should have been possible to find records, but nothing seemed to come up, no Sara of a similar age married to a Samuel, Solomon, Simon or other names, with children named Joseph or Jacob and Samuel or Simon or any two children born in Russia. I tried all the common English names that Rabinowitz families sometimes used – Robinson, Robbins, Robins, Robin. Only one couple came up, a Sara and Samuel, who had emigrated in 1906, and had had four sons in the US, three in New York and one in Massachusetts, but they had not had any children in Russia and had not been married long enough to have had the eldest son, Jossel.

Either the family from Odessa changed their name, avoided all records or something happened to their oldest children. At first I could not even find the person they had lodged with, S Strusberg, but then I found a Solomon Strausberg and his wife Sara who had come from Russia to America in 1905. They had come with in-laws and two young children, one of whom died on the voyage. In the 1910 census they were living on 3rd Street with their older son who was born in Russia, three daughters born in New York, and lodgers. Sara Strausberg’s maiden name was Donefar and her mother’s name was Esther Rabinowitz. The family was from Bessarabia and may have been relations of Sara Rabinowitz. I also found a Joseph and Simon Rabinowitz of the correct age as Jossel and Schie, but this census does not have the immigration date. Both were married with children and lived on neighbouring streets in Brooklyn, but eventually I found Simon on the 1930 census and he had immigrated in 1921, so these were not the two brothers. I expect I will keep on looking for Sara, Jossel and Schie, whose Odessa birth was never registered, wondering how this whole family slipped so easily through the net.

New Odessa, Oregon, an experiment in living

The first groups emigrating to America from Russia to set up Jewish agricultural colonies were part of the Am Olam (Eternal people or People of the world), an organisation of young people that developed in Odessa after the 1881 pogroms and then spread across Ukraine to other cities. Before the assassination of the Tzar in 1881, there had been a relaxation of the laws limiting Jewish participation in society, and many Jews felt they might gradually integrate and become equal to Russian citizens, but after the assassination, the rules became stricter and Jews began to look to emigration to Palestine or America as the only way to find freedom. The Zionists favoured Palestine as the Jewish homeland but others looked to the Americas as a place where they might be accepted more easily as equals. This desire for freedom and equality made a socialist or communist approach to living appealing. The idea of agricultural colonies was also popular in Russia as a way of being useful to society and getting back to the essence of life as preached by Tolstoy. Young people in Odessa had been brought up in a more cosmopolitan and secular way than Jews in other parts of Russia, and they gravitated towards nonreligious, socialist colonies.

The first Am Olam group to emigrate, led by Herman Rosenthal,  predominantly from Elizavetgrad, went to Sicily Island, Louisiana in late 1881 and then on to South Dakota when the Sicily Island colony failed after spring floods and malaria. One of the problems with the land in Louisiana was its isolation – a lack of nearby farms or farmers from whom the Russians could learn local farming practice or towns where produce could be sold. My great uncle Joseph Petrikovsky, from Kiev, was probably in the group that went to Sicily Island, and certainly went to South Dakota.

The first group from Odessa, led by my great uncle Simon Krimont and others like Paul Kaplan and Selig Rosenbluth, left Russia in 1882 for New York, and reached Portland, Oregon in early 1883. They had the support of some influential Jews in New York such as Michael Heilprin, Julius Goldman and Felix Adler, founder of the New York Ethical Culture School.  Simon Krimont went out west looking for sites for the colony with a charismatic older Russian, William Frey, who had been involved in earlier colonies. They were influenced to settle in Oregon through one of their sponsors in New York, Henry Villard, who owned the Oregon and California Railway. He was building an extension to the railway in southern Oregon, near Glendale, where he encouraged the group to buy a mostly wooded piece of land at Cow Creek, Glendale, and he gave them a contract to cut wood for ties for the railroad to keep them going until they were growing crops.

Cow Creek near Glendale Oregon 1902

Sether Ranch 1910 (previously New Odessa)

The group, mostly young students, first settled in Portland and took various manual jobs to ready themselves for tackling the building and farm work of the colony. Some of the group went their own way at this point. In the spring of 1883, a few men with building knowledge went to the colony to help restore the old buildings, one farmhouse and several barns, and add an extension to the farmhouse for a communal kitchen, meeting room and communal sleeping quarters. By the summer, there were 36 men (4 married), seven women and five children. Most were in their 20s.

In Helen Blumenthal’s 1975 thesis on New Odessa: New Odessa, 1882-1887: United we stand, divided we fall (http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/open_access_etds/2288/ ) there is a handwritten list of the colonists’ names from local archives:

New Odessa colonists 1885

My guess is that Simon Krimont is the fourth from the left in the centre row of the photograph, and his sister Sophie may be the woman in the light dress.

The philosophy of the colony was that everyone should work to the best of their abilities and were considered equal, both men and women. Their leisure time was spent with reading, talks, learning English, lectures by Frey on philosophy and science, singing Russian and American traditional songs and dancing. They had also brought a large library of Russian books which was an important part of their life when they were not working on the land.

Frey, who had settled in New Odessa with his wife and children, became the leader of the mostly younger men and women, and gradually imposed his strong ideology, both helping and hindering its development. For instance, although the land they bought was mostly forest filled with game and a river filled with fish, Frey was a strict vegetarian and did not allow any meat or fish to appear at their meals. And although he was a humanist, he gradually made a religion of his humanism and insisted on having services and singing hymns, which was not to the liking of many of the Am Olam group.

According to Theodore H. Friedgut in Stepmother Russia, Foster Mother America: Identity Transitions in the New Odessa Jewish Commune, Odessa, Oregon, New York, 1881–1891 (2014), one of the best sources of contemporary information about the early period in New Odessa was a series of letters about the colony, probably written by Simon Krimont, in the Russian novel Joseph Petrikovsky wrote about his experiences in South Dakota, To America: Notes from the Journal of an Emigrant Student. Kiev 1884 (Петриковский И. М. В Америку! Из записной книжки студента-эмигранта. Киев, 1884. 249 с). I had not realised that Simon and Joseph may have been friends from Russia or their first days in New York and therefore it was probably Joseph, who married my great aunt Anna when he returned to Russia to publish his novel in 1884, who introduced Simon to his wife’s sister, my great aunt Galia in New York in the late 1880s.

Cow Creek Sether Ranch

Cow Creek, Glendale, Oregon

By late 1884, only a year and a half after the colony began, the colony split and Frey left with 15 members. Besides the ideological problems, there may have been some economic ones, as the contract of cutting wood for railroad ties was not renewed by the group and selling crops in the area was not as easy as expected. Also many found the farming work more difficult than they expected, possibly because the land was quite steep. However, the colony carried on for at least another year as shown in a long 1885 magazine article about a colony wedding written by a journalist who knew no Russian and stayed at the colony for a few days to observe and take part in their lives. As names were not used in the article, there has been some question about who the bride and groom were, and no one has thought that it might have been Simon Krimont’s sister Sophie and another colonist, Alex Kislik, but all the facts in the article, especially a sister called Anuta and the mother and other sisters being present. It is an interesting American journalist’s fly on the wall view of these Russian Jewish young people trying to create a new society.

A wedding among the communistic Jews in Oregon Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine Dec 1885 Vol. VI-39, p606-11

(http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moajrnl/ahj1472.2-06.036/612:10?rgn=full+text;view=image)

Yesterday was Sunday, and there was a marriage in the community. Nearly all the members eat and sleep and stagnate – for I can hardly speak of it as living – in a large hall of their own construction: a wretched edifice built of rough boards and un-planed planks, and containing only two apartments, the lower story being the dining room and kitchen both in one, and the upper story a large sleeping room without partitions. In the sleeping room the Community, with the exception of two or three families who live in small shanties, not only sleeps, but lounges – and lounges, too, a good deal of the time – reads, debates, and dances. The bedsteads, which are home-made structures of boards, nailed together in the most flimsy manner, are placed under the eaves in a long row on each side of the room, and the centre is furnished with a rough table for writing. As for reading, the Russians of every type I’ve ever met always read stretched prone upon his bed. On Sunday we had been lounging on our beds most of the morning, taking a late breakfast at 10 o’clock, and going back upstairs to lounge again, or to read the philosophers of evolution, of progress, and social emancipation. About two in the afternoon I descended to the kitchen to enquire for dinner. To my surprise, I found several of the women very busy making dried apple pies and custards – great novelties, the usual dinner at New Odessa being bean soup and hard baked biscuits of unbolted flour called after the name of that wretched dyspeptic Graham….

And to my great surprise, I was told that something even more important was to be celebrated – there was to be a wedding. It was a very sudden affair, a surprise to everyone as well as myself: a young man and woman had made up their minds to enter into matrimony, and it was to be done at once. There was an immediate bustle and hurry in every man in the community trying to find the suit of clothes in which he left Russia. Two or three young girls went into the woods for flowers, and the rafters of the hall, upstairs and down, were soon hung with the flowering branches of the tulip tree. On this great occasion, white cloths instead of oilcloths were spread upon the dining table. The pies were baked with a rush, each pie being inscribed in paste with the initials of the bridegroom and bride.

 The brothers and sisters had been gathered a few moments on the benches in the dining room, when the bridegroom and bride entered. Both parties were young, perhaps 22; the young man well educated, well read in philosophic and romantic literature, and rather good-looking. The bride is noted for her cunning disposition, or what might be called her womanliness; but having her hair cut short, her aspect was that of a strong-minded female. She was very nicely dressed, wore a wreath of white flowers, and looked charming enough to make any man happy. On the arrival of the bridal party, which included the mother and sisters of the bride, a little ceremony took place, in which the young man and woman were understood to unite themselves in the conjugal relation.

Descending on the colony without any knowledge of its philosophy, the American journalist was horrified by the rough furniture and large bare rooms, but this was exactly the aim of the colonists who wanted a completely communal life and the opposite of the fussy Victorian furnishings of the time. He also did not understand the importance to these Russian colonists of reading, studying and debating, and it was a Sunday.

Simon and Sophie’s mother and seven younger siblings had not intended to join New Odessa but events had worked out that way and they were there to attend the wedding. Their father had come to visit the colony in 1883 and had suddenly become ill and died. A year later the rest of the family came from Odessa to Oregon as they no longer had any livelihood in Russia.

The collapse of the colony around 1886 was precipitated by a fire which destroyed part of the house and the entire library, which had been the soul of the community. After that, the Krimont family returned to New York, and a couple of years later, after Simon married my great aunt, he went to Romania to work for an uncle’s shipping company to support his family. Several of his seven sisters in America became pacifist anarchists and helped set up colonies in both England and America which lasted until the 1950s. The colony in England, Whiteway, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, which still exists as bungalows with a meeting house on common land, helped conscientious objectors in both world wars. The colony in New Jersey, Stelton, near New Brunswick, had an innovative school, The Modern School, which influenced later creative and alternative types of education. Although New Odessa was short lived, the ideas of living communally, pacifism and equality for everyone carried on.

The Modern School magazine, 1922

Dormitory and Living House, Stelton, 1915

Bungalow, Whiteway, Gloucestershire