Category Archives: emigration

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.

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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

 

 

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The Hebrew Society and the Oxenhandlers

I was looking up the name Sigal on the Ellis Island database, and found myself looking at the manifest of a ship, the Gregory Morch, which began its journey in Odessa in late October 1906, and took a month to travel through the Mediterranean, stopping at Greece and Sicily, and then went on to New York. Only two trips were made with this ship, both in 1906, before it was scrapped. Mindel Sigal was a middle-aged woman travelling alone to her daughter, and her name proved difficult to follow in America. Then my eye travelled down the page to other people from Odessa, particularly a young widow, Leah Rifke Ochsenhandler, usually Oxenhandler, 31, and her five children, Samuel 12, Isaac 10, Idel 7, Mania 5 and Basia 2. This was the only family on the page where, instead of the address of a family member or friend in the United States, it simply said Hebrew Society. She was held for special enquiry as an LPC or ‘likely public charge’. The Hebrew Society may have been enlisted to help her while she and her children were being detained.

Lea Oxenhandler and children SS Gregory Morch October 1906

Oxenhandler Hebrew Society

Lea Oxenhandler held for special inquiry ‘likely public charge’

There was one Oxenhandler in the Odessa 1905 pogrom death records, Osip Oxenhandler (Оксенгедлер, Oksengendler) on one of the last two images where the names were not in alphabetical order and obviously added after the others. Most of the names have the age and birthplace like the others, but in this case they are missing. So if he was identified after the others it seems that the identifier did not have this information.

Osip Oxenhandler Odessa pogrom death records

I wondered how Leah was going to manage in New York without any relations. How could she make a living and look after her five children? I have always assumed that no one would take the journey to America without having a sponsor in America, a family member or friend, someone who could help them until they could support themselves. I thought having a sponsor was a condition of being allowed into the country and if ‘Hebrew Society’ was written in the space for a friend or relation, it meant that the Hebrew Society had agreed beforehand, possibly from Odessa, to sponsor the person until they could support themselves. However, when I looked up the history of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, I found no mention of agents from the society in Odessa or at the ports around Europe. Their main work was at Ellis Island, providing food, translators and preventing deportation by providing temporary accommodation and information about work.

It seems that Leah had taken a gamble on being able to support herself and look after her children in New York. They arrived in the middle of winter, 24 November 1906. The Hebrew Society did look after Leah and her family, giving her accommodation at the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society house at 229 E. Broadway.

229-31 E. Broadway Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society 1915

Photograph from the Museum of the City of New York blog

Minnie Fisher, Immigrant and Labor Activist

The Jewish Immigrant 1909

But on Christmas Day 1906, a month after they had arrived, Leah applied for her three middle children to be admitted to the New York City Hebrew Orphan Asylum. The oldest child, Samuel, was considered to be old enough to work. The mother kept three-year-old Bessie with her. According to the orphanage admittance form, the children were rejected because of a case of measles in the family, and were not admitted until March 1907. The application also lists the parents’ names, Joseph and Rifke, born in 1870 and 1876, and the father’s death in 1905, killed in the massacre.

Oxenhandler admission form to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum

The only other time I had come upon a reference to someone killed in the massacre were the parents of the Scheindless brothers who were also at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum at the same time as the Oxenhandler children. The residence of the mother is 229 E. Broadway, the Hebrew Sheltering H (blotched out). In the 1905 census, the Hebrew Sheltering Society housed about 20 old people, several over 100, and a couple of school-age children. By 1910 the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society used the building for free meals and helping people find jobs, but was no longer accommodating people. A final remark on the form was that the mother has $170 with which she wishes to establish a business but is unable to care for her five children and has no relations. It is also clear from the form that Bessie, born 5 September 1903, was admitted on her fourth birthday in 1907. On her separate admittance form, her mother is listed as applicant, but under the column that states whether the child is committed or surrendered, it appears to say that she has died, less than a year after they had arrived in the country.

Bessie Oxenhandler admission to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum

Possibly Rifke had applied while ill to have Bessie admitted, but then died before she entered the asylum. There is no death record for Rifke, which may be a failure of the record-keeping system, or, sadly, one begins to think of a suicide like drowning in one of the rivers surrounding Manhattan where the person may never be found.

The five Oxenhandler children only appear sporadically in the records – the four children at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum appear on the 1910 census in the orphanage. Idel had become Judah (and later Julius), Mania became Minnie, and Basia became Bessie. Isaac kept his name until later when he more often used Isidor. There are discharge forms for Julius and Minnie who left the orphanage in 1916. Julius had a job with a Jewish farmer, Jacob Bloch, in Parksville, New York, in the Catskill Mountains, a little town whose main street has now been bypassed.

Parksville, New York

However, by 1918, when Julius filled in his World War I registration, he was working as a machinist in Brooklyn and married. In 1920, he was living with his in-laws, his wife and his baby daughter, in Brooklyn, but then he and his family disappear from the records. None of the other children appear on the 1920 census, and Sam, the older son who did not go to the orphanage, does not appear at all. It is as if he disappeared with his mother, or changed his name completely. There is one Samuel Oxenhandler of the correct age in the 1940 census, a hotel clerk with a wife and a son who was an electrician, but as that census does not include year of immigration it is difficult to know whether they are the same person.

Isaac was the oldest of the children in the orphanage and probably left before 1916. He first appears on the World War I registration as Isidor, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, working as a milkman and living with the owner of the business. Possibly the orphanage tried to get jobs for the children outside New York City. His nearest kin is an aunt, Rose Lebovitz, in Brooklyn. The next record for him is a naturalisation form in 1936. It lists that he was born in Odessa and came to the US in 1906 on the ship Gregoria. He married Stella in 1918, had four children, lived in the Bronx and had his own window cleaning business. He then appears in the 1940 census and the World War II registration.

Isaac/Isidor Oxenhandler naturalisation form 1936

Minnie does not appear after her discharge from the orphanage in 1916. She was withdrawn from the orphanage by her aunt, S Tartakofsky, as she was able to maintain herself, age 15 or 16. Tartakofsky is a name that appears in the 1904-5 Odessa directory, both a doctor and the owner of an ink factory, although these may not be the same families. Minnie may have married before 1920.

There is a Betty Oxenhandler in the marriage records, who married Benjamin Zuckerman. On the 1930 and 1940 census there is a Betty Zuckerman, who is three years younger than Bessie  and emigrated from Russia in 1905, and Barnett Zuckerman. He is a real estate broker and by 1940 they have two children. A possibility, especially as there is no other Betty Oxenhandler in the records, and the only Bessie Oxenhandlers are all much older than the Bessie in the orphanage. So, from what began as a horrific story of a murdered father and a mother dead a year later, of five children in an orphanage or out working at age 12 or 13 in a strange country where they did not know the language and had no relations, three of the children, although Bessie/Betty is a guess, seem to have done well for themselves with jobs and families. As there is not another form from the orphanage for Bessie, it is a relief to think that these records do belong to her and that she did have a good life after such a tragic beginning, even if she always had a dark hole inside of lacking a parent’ s love and having to grow up and fend for herself as a small child. Who knows whether she had some memories of her mother and the day she was brought to the orphanage. At least some children did seem to find temporary love and kindness at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum from staff and other children. Like many of the Odessa families who emigrated, the other two children, Samuel and Minnie, disappeared from the records.

 

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From Odessa to North Dakota

Shneer Motev Chersonsky (Херсонский, Khersonsky) from Tiraspol, was 32 when he died in the Odessa pogrom. Yankel Chersonsky, 29, who sailed from Rotterdam to New York in May 1907, with his wife, Leah, and their one-year-old daughter, Maria, may have been his brother. An M. Chersonsky owned a house on the outskirts of Perecyp, near Soldatskaya Slobodka, partially shown on the far left centre of the map.

slobodka-baltovka

I followed this family because they were on their way to Leah’s brother, Chaim Skadron, in Anamoose, North Dakota, and I was intrigued by a family travelling to the emptiness of North Dakota and a settlement named after a moose.

anamoose-welcome

I discovered that North Dakota had been settled mainly by Russian Germans, Germans who had been encouraged by the Russians after they took over Ukraine, in the late 18th century to settle in and cultivate the huge empty areas of the steppe in the southern Ukraine, bringing much needed up-to-date knowledge of farming to the area. In the early 1800s, Jews were also encouraged with the promise of free land to leave the overcrowded towns of Belarus and farm in colonies in southern Ukraine. This was intended to also give the Jews a more productive occupation than peddling and being middleman, having never been allowed to own land previously, although Jews often managed farms and estates for Russian landowners. Many of these colonies sprang up from the mid-1800s and several people in the pogrom death records came from agricultural colonies: two Grinbergs from the Novo-Podolsk colony in Ekaterinoslav Gubernia, Balanovsky from the Gelbinovoi Kamenets colony in Podolsk Gubernia, two Borsch brothers from the Bogachevka colony in the Balta region, and a nine-year-old boy, Ber Duvid Bosakov, son of a farmer from the Abazovka colony in the Balta region. There is quite a lot of online information about the Jewish agricultural colonies in Ukraine on the following websites.

http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/colonies_of_ukrain/Chaim’s%20Introduction.htm

http://evkol.ucoz.com/colony_kherson_en.htm

Several of the colonies can be found on this 1902 Balta map to the east of Balta at the bottom of the map.

http://easteurotopo.org/images/new%20rmt-126_2014/XXVII-8_s126_Balta_LC_1902.jpg

abazovka-colony-balta

Abazovka Colony, Balta

gelbinova-colony-balta

Gelbinova Colony, Balta

Many of the colonies were not successful because the government promises of help with housing and equipment did not materialise and there were high rates of illness and death. But many of these colonies were begun and some lasted until the Second World War. On this map the Jewish colonies are specifically labelled but there are also many places where Kol is written so there may have been many tiny colonies as well, whether Jewish or not. The idea of agricultural colonies was taken up by Zionists and others thinking about Jews settling in countries where they could have the equal rights of full citizens which had not been true in Russia but was gradually occurring in other nation states. The idea of Jews finding a new home, whether in Palestine or elsewhere, came to a head after the 1881 pogroms and small groups from southern Russia set off to form socialist agricultural colonies in Palestine, Canada, America and Argentina. The first two agricultural colonies in the US, in Louisiana and South Dakota, were organised by Herman Rosenthal, who also wrote a 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia which is online, with chapters on agricultural colonies in Russia and in the US.

1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia 1906 by Herman Rosenthal

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/908-agricultural-colonies-in-russia

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/909-agricultural-colonies-in-the-united-states

Many of these colonies did not succeed for similar reasons to the colonies in Ukraine – lack of proper management, falling through of government or charity promises, lack of knowledge of farming, inappropriate land, mounting debts for equipment and materials – but a few were successful and carried on for some years and some settlers would remain in the area either farming or as shopkeepers. Often it was disagreements, different philosophies, and breaking into factions that led to the death of colonies.

Two of my great uncles were part of the first groups to set up colonies in the US in 1881 and 1882. One went from Odessa to New Odessa in Portland, Oregon in 1882, and this colony possibly deserves its own entry. Several members of this family eventually helped set up a colony in New Jersey, where there were many early experimental colonies, which lasted until the 1950s. The other was part of the first colony in America in Sicily Island Louisiana, an almost uninhabited piece of wetland along the Mississippi River, which was not an ideal place for Russians used to a northern climate to settle. There were very few locals to help with appropriate farming methods and after a malaria outbreak and a severe flood, the colony disbanded, and many moved north to South Dakota, then still called Dakota Territory, near a town called Mitchell. There were also several colonies in North Dakota, the most successful one called Painted Woods.

mitchell-main-street-1880s

Mitchell Main Street 1880s

 The South Dakota colony, called Cremieux, was near a tiny settlement called Mount Vernon. The land was divided into squares called townships bounded by numbered streets. My great uncle, Joseph Petrikovsky, a socialist journalist, took part in both the Louisiana and South Dakota colonies, and wrote about them in the Russian Jewish press and as stories. In a semi-fictionalised story for an English newspaper he describes his party of four Russian merchant families and a dozen single male students on a four-day train journey to South Dakota.

Most of Mitchell’s 1000 population is at the depo waiting to see the foreigners. The town consists of 200 wooden cottages, a couple of two-storey hotels, a few boarding houses, lumber yards, three drugstores, a few country stores, three newspaper printing offices, a school, a photographer, three churches, four banks, and several land offices. All the 168-acre homestead claims were taken in south-west Aurora County, 22 miles from Mitchell and 17 from Mount Vernon, the little town with a railroad station.

By the end of two months, my great uncle had his own little cabin and was surrounded by new houses, barns, artesian wells, cattle and fields growing with corn, flax, oats and sorghum. According to a local newspaper, the leader of the colony, Herman Rosenthal, had a 1000 acre farm and an eight room house which was also used for schooling the children. In the winter, the Russians had musical gatherings which were popular with the locals.

cremieux-map

Cremieux colony

The area does not look like it has changed much since the time of the Cremieux Colony in the 1880s.

baker-township-262-street-x-394-avenue

Baker Township (Google streetview)

As Russian Jewish immigration increased after 1881, Jewish charities in the big cities began to encourage immigrants to become settlers in the West and they set up programs and networks to help accomplish this. The New York Removal Office, which helped find apprenticeships in towns across the country for Jewish orphans, was attempting this. But it seems that the Skadron and Chersonsky families chose their own route to North Dakota. In 1902, Shulim, 45, and Chaim Skadron, 25, from Kherson, travelled with a large family called Hirsch, Russian Germans, also from Kherson, who were travelling to relations in Harvey, North Dakota, a settlement very close to Anamoose. Two other Russian German teenagers, Friedrich Wohl and Christian Engel were travelling with them and had family in and around Anamoose and remained as farmers in the area.

Soo Line Depot and Elevator 1928 http://www.anamoose.com/images/Soo%20Line%20Depot%20and%20Elevator%201928.jpg

anamoose-north-dakota-2Anamoose, North Dakota

petes-tractor

Shulim and Chaim do not appear again in the census records but Salomon Skadron, his wife, eldest son and family, and several younger sons, are on the 1910 census, along with the Chersonsky family, farming in Alexander in McKenzie County, further west in North Dakota.

alexander-north-dakota

Solomon and Chaim, his eldest son or brother, may have gone to North Dakota to settle in before Solomon’s wife and family arrived. The only discrepancy between Solomon and Shulim is that Solomon says that he emigrated in 1907 rather than 1902. There is no trace of Chaim, the brother Leah was joining in Anamoose. The Chersonskys, later Cersonsky, went on to have five more children, and eventually the elder Skadrons and Chersonskys moved to a nearby town, Williston, and became shopkeepers.

A diary by a Jewish settler to Anamoose, who came from the Odessa area to America in 1905, Charles Losk, is in the North Dakota archives and presents a picture very similar to the Chersonsky and Skadron family experience (http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/radio-programs-a-z/plains-folk?post=60250). They proved up homesteads which involved farming them for five years, married Jewish women from nearby towns, and eventually moved to nearby towns like Williston and Watford City. Another brother, Moses Losk, is on the 1915 North Dakota census with Sam Skadron and his family in McKenzie County, but that census only enumerates people without addresses or occupations. By 1920, Sam was a butcher in a nearby small town on the Missouri River, Sanish, and Moses had a dry goods store in Watford city.

The younger Cersonsky generation were scattered in the area, mostly in small towns. The father, Jake, died in 1931 at only 51. Two of the children died young, Kathryn at 18 in 1934, and Mayer at 33 in 1944.

kathryn-cersonsky-1916-1934-minot-ward-north-dakota

Miriam, the eldest, born in 1905 in Odessa, was the only one to remain in North Dakota where she died the same year as her husband, 1973, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Minot, North Dakota. The others gravitated to other Western states, Colorado and Texas, and produced a long line of farmers, business people, doctors and lawyers. They probably all knew of their Russian ancestors, Jacob and Leah, who courageously, with a small child, followed relations to take up homesteads in North Dakota, but they probably do not know what propelled them to leave Russia, the 1905 Odessa pogrom, and the death of a relation, just as they were beginning out in life.

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Lost children – the Weitzmans, Chaits, and Schoichets

The Weitzman (Вейцман) family

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

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Avrum Weitzman and Isaac Ostrovsky ship 22 December 1905

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

weitzman-avrum-ship-close-2

The two uncles and the medical note

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

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

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

63-b-gorodskaya-veitsman-2

63b Gorodskaya

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

lavochna-st-ostrovsky

Lavochnaya St

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

bazarnaya-21-ostrovsky

21 Bazarnaya

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

The Chait (Хаит) family

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

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

cleveland-jewish-orphan-asylum

Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum

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

raskidaiya-9-f-chait

9 Raskidailovskaya

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

The Schoichet (Шойхет ) and Janco (Янко) families

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

 gospitalnaya-11-schoichet

11 Gospitalnaya

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

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

botosani1900

Botosani 1900

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Botosani main square

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

janco-passport-photo-1921-detail

Meier Janco

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

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Wissotzky family – part two, from Odessa to the Titanic

Returning to Odessa, there are unfortunately no listings of teachers in the 1904-5 directory as there are in later directories, some of which are divided into professions rather than streets, so there is no record of Leon Vysotsky. In the 1914 directory Kataev’s father is listed as a teacher, as is another teacher, his neighbour at 10 Otradnaya, E I Bachei, the name Kataev chose for his fictional family.

kataev bachei odessa dir 1914

1914 Odessa directory, Kataev (Катаев) p177 left, Bachei (Бачей ) p177 right

There are three addresses for the tea company, Vysotsky & Co, which are basically two buildings taking up one entire block of Kanatnaya and much of the two cross streets of that block, Uspenskaya and Troitskaya. This was a new development for the company as, in the 1902-3 directory, they owned one of the properties and two smaller properties on the same streets, unless the numbers had changed on those streets.

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40 Kanatnaya

40 kanatnaya wissotzky 20 uspenskaya

The same building around the corner on Uspenskaya

The tea packing factory was on the Troitskaya corner. There are two other Vysotskys in the 1904-5 directory, an Edmund Vysotsky at 1 Dalnitskaya in Moldavanka and a banker, Vasily Victor Vysotsky, possibly a brother of Leon Victor, at 17 Polskaya, a couple of streets from Kanatnaya. There is no evidence one way or another whether the brothers were related to the tea company family, although the name Vasily was the Russian name used for the Hebrew name Wolf, and in the 1908 directory there is another Vysotsky called Vasily Yakov, the same name as the founder of the tea company, Kalman Wolf Yakov Vysotsky.

There was another Vysotsky, probably Leon and Vasily’s brother, Vladimir Victor Vysotsky (Polish spelling W Wysocki), who is listed as a photographer in Kiev in 1895. This family may have been from Kiev, from Odessa, or from somewhere else entirely. They are obviously an educated family but one where the children are making their own way, all in very different professions.

photo by v vysotsky 1903 kiev

Photograph by W Wysocki Kiev 1903

An interesting story that comes up on the internet when searching the name Wissotzky is one from the Titanic, not something I imagined I would run into when looking into the Odessa 1905 pogrom. Many survivors of the Titanic were picked up by the SS Carpathia, and on the blurred ship’s manifest for 18 April 1912 is a young woman of 28, Anna Abelson, born in Odessa, who is travelling from Paris to New York.  Her Paris address is Broker Wissotzky with an illegible street name and number, and her New York destination is the home of a brother-in-law, Abelson. Her husband, Joseph Abelson, drowned on the Titanic. On some websites that mention Titanic survivors it is assumed that Anna’s maiden name is Wissotzky. However, on the Titanic encyclopaedia website (http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/abelson.html), they question her background. They also produce a telegram that she tried to send after her rescue to the address of her Wissotzky ‘brother’ (could it be some other relation?) in Paris. No one mentions that her name might be Jacobson. And I wondered whether what I read as the word ‘broker’ implying that there was a Wissotzky financial company in Paris, was read as ‘brother’. The website says:

They boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg. Mrs Abelson was rescued in lifeboat 10. Mr Abelson died in the sinking.

After her rescue, as the Carpathia steamed to New York, Mrs Abelson attempted to send a Marconigram to the address of her brother in Paris. The message, however was never transmitted, because the operators could not cope with the number of telegrams:

Jacobson rue Marcadet 68 Paris
Sauvé – Carpathia (Saved – Carpathia)
Abelson

Mrs Abelson was helped by the Hebrew Shelter and Emmigrant Aid Society, 229 East Broadway, in New York as the Red Cross noted:

Husband drowned, wife rescued. There are no children. He was a bookkeeper, 30 years of age. His wife, 28 years of age, is an expert dressmaker. She is living with her husband’s brother in New York City. The wife suffered temporary disability due to exposure, but is now able to support herself by her trade. The property loss was more than 4,000 dollars. She received from relief sources other than the Red Cross, 1,928.69 dollars (250 dollars)

Anna returned to France sometime after the Titanic disaster, and then returned to America in 1914. On this manifest, equally blurry, Anna says that she is of French nationality, she gives a French address that could be an A Jacobson, she says that she was born in Odessa, and that she is going to an illegible name in New York City at the address: 720 W. 181 Street. There were no Wissotzkys living on the Upper West side at that time, but there were both Abelsons and Jacobsons living there at various times from about 1920, and in 1940 there were Abelsons and Jacobsons living on the same block of  W180 Street. In 1920, Anna was living alone around the corner from West 181 Street on Pinehurst Ave. She has lowered her age to only 30, says she is French with French parents, and calls herself a designer at a dress shop. This was probably a necessary change of identity in order to be independent and work in an upmarket dress shop and live on the Upper West side. If she had been a Wissotzky none of this subterfuge would probably have been necessary. This is a very sad but also an interesting story in itself. Anna does not appear again in the records after 1920. No one seems to really know who Anna Abelson was, but her family does appear to have come from Odessa to work in Paris at a Wissotzky bank or financial business and one wonders about the close links between the Wissotzky family and Odessa. Two Odessan women from the Jacobson and Abelson families were deported to Auschwitz from Paris in 1944. And finally one wonders whether Abraham Lubarsky and the younger Wissotzky, who, during the pogrom, rushed to the hospital for proof of the slaughter going on to take to the governor, knew about the death of the prominent member of the Self Defence League, Leon Vysotsky, and knew the man himself.

 

 

 

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The Wissotzky/Высоцкий family

One pogrom victim in the death records, written about in the newspapers, who was brutally murdered by the police, was Leon Victor Vysotsky, 26, a teacher and member of the Self Defence League. An excerpt from the article in the Jewish Chronicle is in the blog entry Who was or wasn’t on the pogrom death list? Where did they live? Stories from the reports and newspapers.

 Jewish Chronicle 15 December 1905

A Jewish female teacher was hastening to the house of her parents in Peressip when she was stopped by a ruffian who, assuring her he was not going to do any harm, asked her to show him her teeth. To humour him she opened her mouth into which he immediately fired, killing her on the spot. Another incident is now corroborated by a Sister of Charity. A man named Leon Vyssotosky was wounded while fighting front rank of the defenders. He was placed on an ambulance to be removed, when he was violently dragged to the ground by soldiers and then handed over to a disguised policeman, who put an end to his sufferings. Vyssotosky was one of the most energetic members of the Self Defence League, and was a remarkable orator. It is presumed that he was known to the police as such, and this was the reason of his being murdered.

Yet another horrible story. In Prochovskaya Street, while the pillage went on, a Sister of Mercy drove along with a wounded old man in her carriage. Four little children ran crying in the middle of the street, begging her to take them to their parents, whom they could not find. Before they could reach the carriage, two were shot and the other two run through by bayonets. In the same street five children were thrown out of third story windows. Two of them, one two months and the other 12 months old, died immediately.

 Yet again, there is evidence of many children being killed while so few were registered in the Jewish records. It seems that possibly someone wanted to hide the extreme horror of this massacre, or the great loss, not just of men, but women and children.

When I first wrote about Leon Vysotsky, I looked up his name in Odessa directories and found that there was a large Moscow tea company with a warehouse and tea packing factory in Odessa called В Высоцкий & Ко, (V. Vysotsky & Co or Wissotzky & Co). There was a possibility that Leon Victor was related to this family but I didn’t look into it further. Then, a few weeks ago, information about my own family brought me back to the first pages of my great aunt’s memoir where she describes her grandfather and his eight children. She makes the comment that he was not so lucky in his sons but that two of his daughters married well – one to a very well off textile merchant from Bialystok, Leon Sackheim, and the other to the son of one of the richest merchants in Moscow, Wisozki, the Moscow Tea King. Many years ago I had tried looking up this Moscow tea company using the wrong spelling and had not got anywhere but now I found quite a few histories of the Wissotzky tea company online and several family trees. It is the only Russian tea company from that time that is still operating. It moved to Israel in the 1930s having left Russia for other European countries after the revolution. From the early 1900s it had had offices in Warsaw, London, Paris, New York and Philadelphia.

visotsky house 2Vysotsky house Moscow

Vysocky_3Vysotsky tea advertisement

From the online family trees, I discovered that the founder, Kalman Wolf Yakov Wissotzky, who was from Zagare in Lithuania, had only one son, David, in 1861. On the family trees, his wife was Anna Borisovna. His wife’s maiden name was unknown except on one family tree where it was Sackheim. David Wissotzky supported many artists in Moscow and his wife was painted twice by Leonid Pasternak, a close family friend. His son, Boris Pasternak, tutored the Wissotzky children one summer after he had left school, and was inspired by his love for one of the daughters, Ida, to become a poet. The name on Anna’s 1911 portrait is AB Vysotskaya-Gotz, so I assumed that Anna was a member of the Gotz family, a family one of her daughters also married into, producing two famous revolutionary sons, Mikhail and Abram Gots. One way or another she did not seem to be my great great aunt, as her surname was Piker.

A.B.Visotskaya-Gotz_by_L.Pasternak_(1911)AB Vysotskaya-Gotz, Leonid Pasternak

I was interested that Anna was thought to belong to the Sackheim family, and began to investigate who Leon (Leib) Sackheim was. I found his birth record: he was born in Bialystok in 1848 to Khaim Ber Shmul and Kreina, and he died in 1905. I could not find his marriage but I found the birth of one of his children, Feiga, in 1879, born to Lev and Asna Zakheim. I originally found my great great aunt, Asna Piker, as an eight-year-old, on the 1858 revision list (tax census) from  Gorodische, near Novogrudok, Belarus, with her parents Meer Hirsh Piker (my great great grandfather), and Rivka, and her four siblings. So Asna was born in 1850 and would have been 29 when Feiga was born. Another four children were registered to a Leib Khaim Ber Zakheim between 1872 and 1884, Abram, Moisei, Dvora and Hersh. I then found the marriage certificate for David Vulf Visotzky (St Petersburg) and Khaia Khaim-Berko Zakheim (Bialystok) who married in Vilnius in 1876. In Russian, Khaia Khaim-Ber, became Anna  Borisova. So, it was not my great great aunt who married into the wealthy Wissotzky family, but Leon Zakheim’s sister and Asna Zakheim’s sister-in-law.

The Wissotzkys and Odessa

In the online Wissotzky  family trees, there is a puzzling 15 year gap in children between David’s 2 elder sisters born in the 1840s, and the 2 later children, David and another sister born in the early 1860s. The father and founder of the great tea company must have been desperate for sons to carry on his business and name, and I assume there must have been children in between who died, especially as none of the family names, such as Jacob and Rafael, Wolf’s father and grandfather, appear to have been used. Two sons-in-law and one sister went into the business with David. They also needed reliable people to run offices in other Russian cities and around the world. An especially important city was Odessa where the tea was shipped in, and from the 1890s, blended, and packed. The symbol of the Wissotzky  tea company was a ship as they were one of the first companies to take advantage of new shipping routes and being able to transport tea by sea rather than overland from China. So I began to wonder whether, if Wolf Wissotzky did not have a son to organise their business affairs in Odessa, other family members, nephews or cousins, had worked for him there.

wissotsky tea packing odessaWissotzky tea packing factory, Kanatnaya and Troitskaya

Wolf Wissotzky was also a Hebrew scholar and Zionist who belonged to a Zionist group in Odessa and funded a Zionist journal in the 1890s. The men he trusted with running his offices around the world were Zionists from Odessa merchant families. When the company became incorporated in the 1890s and he was able to set up a tea packing factory in Odessa, he hired a Zionist friend, Karl Tauer, to run the company, and other Zionist friends, Abraham Lubarsky and Asher Ginsberg, ran his offices in New York and London. However, previous to the 1890s, he would have needed someone in Odessa to keep charge of the affairs. Puzzling over why so many Odessans were hired to manage the foreign offices, I realised that only very successful established Jewish merchants were allowed to live in Moscow, so it would have been difficult to find people to train in the business there. Wissotzky managed to come to Moscow in the 1840s, before he had a business, and worked for a successful Jewish tea merchant, Botkin, and only set up his own company in 1853, when Botkin died. But in 1871 there were only about 8000 Jews in Moscow, and even in 1880 there were only 16,000 (8000 officially registered).

http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/moscow

At the time of the 1905 pogrom, Abraham Lubarsky, the wealthy Odessa merchant who ran the Wissotzky company in New York, returned to Odessa and wrote of his experiences during the pogrom in a series of letters which were published in New York newspapers while he was also fundraising in America for the people affected by the pogrom. Lubarsky was involved with setting up the Jewish self defence league after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, alongside other Zionists like Jabotinsky. Below is an excerpt from one of the newspaper articles:

The Sun New York 17 November 1905

2 November: At dawn the massacre of Jews was renewed. They are now pillaging the Deribasovsky (the Broadway of Odessa) under the protection of the Cossacks, who are driving back the “Self-Defence” in order that the hooligans may pursue their bloody work without hindrance. A delegation of Jews visited Baron Kaulbars, the military commander, who is known as a rabid Jew baiter. After being told that the police are engaged in pillage and murder he said it was untrue and declared that he would take action only when he will be convinced by facts. The younger Wissetzky (a son of the largest tea merchant in Russia) took his life in his hands and ventured to the Jewish hospital where lay a “Self-Defence.” Wisetzky demanded of the authorities a certificate about their presence there. At first the Jewish doctors were fearful to sign a certificate of that kind, but they complied at last. Presently a military patrol with an officer came to remove the injured policemen. The younger Wissetzky demanded that the officer in charge of the patrol should also certify to the effect that he took away the injured. He did so. Armed with this evidence Wissetzky returned to Baron Kaulbars, and it was thought that the commander would keep his word and put down the massacre. But nothing-of the kind. The pillage and massacre is kept up to-day.

The ‘younger Wissotzky’ must refer to Wolf’s son David, although at first I thought it might refer to another son who was working in Odessa. David might have come to Odessa to meet with Lubarsky, or he had arrived because of the unrest in the city and fears for their factory. It is unknown whether he had any relations working for the business. His cousin, the revolutionary Mikhail Gots, who had belonged to the People’s Will from 1885 and had spent many years in Siberia, had been allowed to move to Odessa from Siberia in 1899 because of ill-health, and he had worked for the tea company until 1901 when he went abroad and continued his revolutionary activities. He died in 1906 from a spinal tumour which was thought to be caused by blows to his spine while he was in Siberia. But one wonders if David went to the hospital to see a member of the self-defence league because he knew Leon Vysotzky and heard that he had been attacked.

When Lubarsky returned to New York he was interviewed by the New York Times:

New York Times 5 March 1906

‘During the riot I got out of my carriage in front of my office. A policeman lifted his pistol as if to shoot me, and I brandished my cane as though I would strike him. Seeing me do this, he thought I must not be a Jew, for surely no Jew would threaten a policeman! But just then my employees began to shout my name ‘Lubarsky!’ from the windows. At that the officer knew I was really a Jew. As I went in the door he shot, but the bullet went past.

It was 1000 times worse in Moscow. A month and a half after the Odessa riots I left for Moscow. Three days later general Dubassov came to put down the revolution that he knew was going to take place. It did take place in three more days. The people were slaughtered by the hundred.’

It was interesting that Lubarsky commented on the revolution in Moscow, as one Wissotzky grandson, Alexander Wissotzky was involved in the 1905 Moscow uprising, and there were three other well-known revolutionaries in the family, grandchildren of Wolf Wissotzky, Mikhail Gots and his younger brother Abram Gots, plus the husband of Amalia Gavronsky, Ilya Fondaminsky, who went to France after the revolution and edited an emigre journal publishing the early work of Vladimir Nabokov.

Anna Wissotzky died in 1921 in Paris and her husband died in 1930. Several members of the Wissotzky family were deported from Paris to Auschwitz where they died. There was also an Isaac Sackheim, born in 1884 in Bialystok, the much younger brother of Anna Wissotzky, who was also deported to Auschwitz from Paris. On the Wissotzky online family tree one of Anna’s nieces, Vera Gots, married an unknown Sackheim who could have been Anna’s brother, Isaac. There was quite poignant detailed information online about his deportation. He left the Paris holding camp Drancy on 2 September 1943 and died on 7 September. He probably spent those five days travelling in the cattle cars and was immediately put to death in Auschwitz, as he was already in late middle age. Nothing is known about his wife or whether they had any children.

Quite a large number of emigrants from Odessa to Paris, mostly born in the 1890s and early 1900s, with names in the pogrom death records, were deported to Auschwitz – Groisman, Goichmann, Goldenberg, Guralnik, Meniock, Scher, Schneider, Segal, Tartakowsky.
To be continued…

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