DNA tests and Roman Vishniac’s photographs of Transcarpathia

A few months ago I did a DNA test, something I had thought about but rejected, because a cousin who did an Ancestry test a few years ago only found that she was 85% European Jew, 6% Italy/Greece and 3% Caucasus. What I wanted to know was – what is a European Jew? Then I got to know two people through this blog who had more interesting experiences. One found that her real father was a family friend, the son of an Odessa Jew mentioned in this blog. The second person used the British test Living DNA as his father was British and his mother was the daughter of Odessa Jews. Living DNA only looks at geography and his results were much more widely spread, from Britain and France to the Aegean and North Turkey. It was intriguing if nothing else. I was interested in a test that might actually find the routes that Jews took from Palestine to Eastern Europe and Russia. So I did the Living DNA test and found that I was 14.2% Eastern European, 29.8% Middle Eastern (17.7 % Levant, 4.3 % Iran, 3.5% North Turkey, 3.3% South Turkey and 1.1 % Northwest Caucasus) and 55.1% Iberian. Everything made sense except the 55% Iberian as I know all of my grandparents had been living in Belarus and northern Ukraine since the 17th or 18th century and if they had lived in Spain they would have left in 1492 and been marrying with other European Jews since then. It was not very plausible.

So I turned to the free online website GEDmatch, which is very easy to upload your DNA data to and tried their endless stream of tests. The tests are not that easy to interpret as they all have different geographical categories and there are very few maps of the categories on the website. I did eventually find some good maps for one of the tests and got the idea that the areas were quite large even if the name of the area was a small country like Armenia. Here is the map for East Mediterranean on the test Eurogenes K36.

east-med-eurogenes-k36

GEDmatch Eurogenes K36 East Mediterranean

GEDmatch also provided some interesting population spreadsheets which showed the proportion of genetic markers from different areas for people from different countries. For instance, in one test that has a category for Ashkenazi Jews (puntDNAL K15), they are categorised as being about 40% Mediterranean, 22% Caucasian, 20 % North East European, and 10% Southwest Asian (Caucasian, south-west Asian and Mediterranean all encompass parts of the Middle East)., and that is pretty much exactly what I got. I found I was a typical Ashkenazi Jew, but I had more sense of where we had come from. Probably all Jews have a similar genetic mishmash, as they intermarried with other Jews who had come across the Middle East and Europe on many of the various routes. This is also very close to the Sicilian and South Italian result, which might suggest they followed similar routes. I puzzled over why the Sicilians and Jews had similar amounts of North East European, as I thought the Jews had acquired these genes after they left Sicily and went north. But the Caucasians also have 20% North East European, so the Sicilians and Jews, who may both have originated in the Middle East, may have gained North East European genes living on the trade routes of the Caucasus, or from northern invasions. It seems that there may be very little difference between people from Western Asia, the Middle East and the coasts around the Mediterranean and Black Sea as they traded and intermingled over the past few thousand years.

Thinking about the number of Jews, even several hundred years BC, in the area of North Turkey and the Caucasus, I wondered if any had moved across the Black Sea into Ukraine. I found an online article about the history of Jews in Ukraine, and it said Jews had moved from Turkey and the Caucasus to Crimea which was also on trade routes from east to west, and later moved up to central Ukraine and Kiev. The original port at Odessa was set up by Greeks and Italians, and Jews from Crimea must have also settled there. These Jews would not have had such a mixed genetic background until they married Jews coming from Europe to Russia. Probably the majority of Jews in Odessa around 1900 had only been there one or two generations and had come from other parts of Ukraine, Moldova and further afield.

silk routes sea routes

In the GEDmatch test with the most categories, the Eurogenes K36, my results were East Mediterranean 17.99, Italian 16.8, Iberian 12.4, Armenian 9.65, Near Eastern 6.86, Arabian 5.45, East Balkan 5.16 (Romania/Bulgaria), East Central European 4.97, West Mediterranean 4.12, North African 3.01, West Caucasian 2.87, North Atlantic 1.85, Volga-Ural 1.52, Basque 1.43, North East African .9, East Central Asian .88. My Iberian result may be slightly higher than average for Ashkenazi Jews, but nowhere near 55%. This was much more fun than larger categories as the imagination can roam with so many specific places. Even if they are just educated guesses, and possibly not all that educated. If you combine different areas it adds up to Mediterranean 55.75, Middle East/West Asia 23.74 and Eastern Europe/Russia 13.5, which may be as close to the truth as one can ever get.

K 36 DNA numberless

Even after so many years of DNA tests existing, there seem to be many misconceptions about genetics when you look at the online forums discussing results. So many people think the results are wrong if they do not match the countries they know their grandparents and great grandparents lived in. They do not realise that even if their ancestors lived in the same place for several hundred years, if, like Jews, they have moved over the centuries and married among themselves, they will still have significant amounts of genes from where ever they originated. Nor do they realise the amount of upheaval caused by wars and invasions over the past few thousand years and how many people were displaced or forced to move. In the case of the Jews, it is thought that when they first began their movement out of the Palestine area, they intermarried more with local people, partly because there may not have been many Jews to marry but also because religion may not have been as clearly differentiated as it was later. Later they married more between themselves and there were many marriages of cousins.

When I had gained more confidence using GEDmatch, I began to look at the people I matched (mostly third or fourth cousins). You can put the matches through the various tests to see how you compare and also look at the similar sections of genes. But where these families lived and their names, the most interesting aspect, can only be got from the matches themselves. I wrote brief emails to the top few people on the list plus a couple who shared family names with me. There were connections in a couple of cases but even if people were enthusiastic at first, they soon lost interest, possibly because there was no obvious link to their specific family tree. Others were not interested at all.

But for me, the most disinterested person was the most interesting. I wanted to trace a few branches of my family further back in time. I asked this one person, who was at the top of my list, if he could tell me a few places where his family had lived and a few names. One of the towns was only 50 miles from where my mother’s family lived. I have found a couple of great great great-grandfathers on the 1806 revision lists of one town. He then gave me three names, one of which was extremely common. So I tried the second, Berkman, in the Jewishgen search and found quite a few in the town he had mentioned, Vishnevo, just south of the Lithuanian border. There was one marriage record where a Berkman had married someone with one of my family names, Rabinovich, unfortunately one of the most common names among Russian Jews. I then found some family trees on Jewishgen of Berkman and Rabinovich families and wrote to the person who had posted the trees asking where the family was from. The answer was Vishnevo and he sent me a document of 130 pages of the ins and outs of intermarriages among several Vishnevo families who all came from the same original ancestor, Beniamin, born in the mid-1600s. It was not until about 1800 that people needed to have last names for the tax censuses and each of Beniamin’s descendants chose a different last name, Davidson, Zussman, Rabinovich and Podberesky. I was amazed that none of the families chose the same name.

Although I could not find a direct link between my Rabinovich great great-grandfather and those in Vishnevo, not all the family was there and one common name running from the 1700s was Leib, my great grandfather’s name. And there was the genetic link. So possibly sometime before 1806, maybe even in the mid-1700s, my great great great grandfather Michel Nakhman Rabinovich, born in 1770, or his father, Nakhman may have come to the little town of Gorodische, south of Novogrudok, from Vishnevo. Maybe he just wanted to go somewhere else. Or had travelled through and thought it was a nice place. Or had met a nice girl from there.

The next two matches I heard from were from Odessa and the Carpathians on the border between Romania and Ukraine. I thought first of the family on my 1812 family tree, my maternal great-grandfather’s, the Tauzners, who were based for several generations in the very north of Ukraine, Lyubeshov, near Pinsk, but whose name is also found in Slovakia and Hungary. But I also thought about my maternal great-grandmother’s family, the Pikers, who only appear in Belarus around 1850. Where were they before? I scrawled through the Jewishgen records for Ukraine and frequently found the Piker name around Kishinev and Czernowitz. When I found, in Kishinev and further north in Moldova, the exact same first names and patronymics (Meer Ber and Meer Hirsh) as were common in my family, I felt I might be getting close. And then I found Pikers moving north in Ukraine, several in Berdichev, Belaya Tserkov and Kiev… and then one family in a village just a few miles from Lyubeshov. According to the census, in 1816 this Piker family had just arrived from Yampol, about 300 km south, east of Lviv. My branch of this family moved to the small town of Gorodische near Novogrudok, west of Minsk, some years after my branch of the Tauzner family had moved there as rabbis. Possibly they were already related from the time when they lived around Lubeshov or before. But it was there, in Gorodische, that my great-great-grandparents married. So the next step was finding the link with these other families from Transcarpathia, Romania and Ukraine.

Looking up images of one town where I may have had cousins, Teresva, in the Carpathian mountains just on the border of Romania and Ukraine, I discovered that the famous photographer Roman Vishniac had made many of his pre-Holocaust photographs of Jews in the 1930s in Teresva and surrounding area, so I will end with a few of his photos.

teresva Carpathian ruthenia by vishniac

roman-vishniac-heder-in-tracovo,-carpatho,-ruthenia

Carpathian mts vishniac

Village-In-Carpathian-Ruthenia-1936-by-Roman-Vishniac

vishniac Ruthenia

 

 

 

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Malaya Arnautskaya and the revolution

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

Malaya Arnautskaya 109

Malaya Arnautskaya 94

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

Courtyard Malaya Arnautskaya 15

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

Malaya Arnautskaya 15

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

15, 28 and 29 Malaya Arnautskaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malaya Arnautskaya 29

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

Privoz Market

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

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

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

28 Malaya Arnautskaya (corner of Kanatnaya)

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

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

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

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

Twelve Chairs

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

Ostap Bender

Osip Shor

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

The Five

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanukkah in the early 20th century

The thought crossed my mind of a holiday greeting, and then I began to think about a 1905 Odessa Hanukkah. I tried looking around the internet for something that felt right.

Antique Russian silver menorah

 

Wooden dreidels

The only image I found online of a family Hanukkah was a painting from the 1700s.

Anonymous 18th century

Then I remembered that I had an illustrated story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, born in 1902, A Hanukkah evening in my parents’ house, which began:

All year round my father, a rabbi in Warsaw, did not allow his children to play any games. Even when I wanted to play cat’s cradle with my younger brother, Moishe, Father would say, ‘Why lose time on such nonsense? Better to recite psalms.’… But on Hanukkah, after Father lit the Hanukkah candles, he allowed us to play dreidel for half an hour.

For most families, it was not the play that was forbidden on other days of the year, but gambling.

A Hanukkah evening in my parents’ house

Russian antique menorah

Russian menorah c 1894

German antique menorah

 

Polish menorah 1900

Czech menorah

English antique menorah

It was not only the antique menorahs which were an art form. The tradition has carried on in many styles and materials. The pattern of the stone wall on the silver dreidel and this 1930s menorah from Palestine made me think of a prison but must symbolise the Wailing Wall, although it is usually shown with figures.

1930s menorah, Palestine

Menorah 1940 Palestine

Modern stone menorah

Happy holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sholem Aleichem and the Kiev pogrom

Several families, like the Nachmanoviches from Kishinev, the Felds from Berdichev, my own family, who probably moved from Kiev, and probably many others seemed attracted to Odessa like a magnet in the first years of the new century, pulling them from further north in Ukraine, possibly with the hope of better business opportunities, more open minded views on religion and education, and the safety of an established multicultural city. Pogroms, like the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, must certainly have been a catalyst. But these stories of families’ complicated moves from one town to another are rarely told. And so Odessa grew and grew in those years up to 1905, causing a rise of underlying tensions in what appeared to be a varied and harmonious population, where people from different religions and cultures lived side-by-side across the city. Searching for safety, these families gravitated towards lively, colourful Odessa, creating the situation that would end up destroying them, fulfilling the prophecy of Death at Samarkand that you cannot escape your fate.

One well-known person who made the move earlier from Kiev to Odessa was Sholem Aleichem, after having lost his fortune on the stock exchange during the crash of 1890. He fled to Europe to avoid creditors and in 1891 settled with his family in Odessa, a city that was ideal for him in having a lively group of Jewish writers and artists. However, after three years of gaining and then losing his money again, he returned to Kiev to try his luck once more with the stock exchange. He experienced the 1905 pogrom in Kiev, and as a result decided to leave Russia.

A table of pogroms from 1903 to 1906 – American Jewish Yearbook, Vol 8 (1906-07) (http://museumoffamilyhistory.com/ajc-yb-v08-pogroms.htm) shows that there were actually two pogroms in Kiev, one on the 23 July in which 100 Jews were killed and 406 wounded, which is never mentioned, and another on 31 October, a three-day pogrom, in which 60 were killed, 369 wounded, and 2000 shops were looted. Even though Kiev was not a Jewish centre and generally thought to not have as active a Jewish community as other towns and less of a self defence league, according to this table the self defence league was heroic and suffered most of the deaths in the second pogrom.

Kiev never became the kind of Jewish cultural centre as other towns like Vilna and Berdichev because, as a commercial centre, the city had always been careful about keeping Jews from dominating business, and on and off since the 1600s, Jews were either expelled from the city, or only certain professionals and craftsmen were allowed in the centre of the city, others having to live on the outskirts or in Podol, a poor area near the port, often flooded by the river. Frequently there were raids on houses where it was thought a Jew did not have the correct residence permit. The rules could change with different government leaders and life was uncertain for many Jews, but there were far more business and educational opportunities than in small towns.

Kiev 1903 (http://toursdekiev.com.ua/ru/map)

Kiev was a city that rose steeply from the river, the Dnieper, and was also divided by steep ravines, with the poor living in the lower area, a lower-middle-class of professionals, shopkeepers, successful craftsmen and small businessman in the middle, and a few wealthy merchants and successful professionals living in large detached houses with gardens at the top.

Sholem Aleichem was born Solomon Rabinovich in Pereyaslav, a large town overlooking the river Dnieper south of Kiev and was brought up in the nearby small town of Voronko, where his father was a successful businessman until he was swindled out of all his money and had to return to Pereyaslav. Many Russian Jewish families seem to gain and lose fortunes, through bad luck, mismanagement, or the changing restrictive laws against Jews. Sholem Aleichem himself carried on this tradition of insecure finances through gaining and losing on the stock market and the insecurities of income from writing, although he did begin with a large fortune from his wife.

Kiev 1906

His daughter describes their apartment in Kiev as elegant – ‘the living-room pieces which had been imported from Vienna, the large black concert grand on which my father loved to improvise sad melodies, the vast lamp that hung over a massive dining table. For servants we had two live-in domestics, a cook and a nursemaid for my baby brother, and also a woman who came in to do the laundry… We could hardly, then, be called “poor” by any standards, except perhaps those of Babushka, who had lived with grandfather Elimelech on his estate.’ (My father, Sholom Aleichem , Marie Waife-Goldberg, 1968:111) Because of their insecure finances her mother trained to become a dentist after the children had started school. Between 1898 and 1903 the family lived at 35 Bolshaya Vasilkovskaya, a major shopping street high above the river. The building has recently been destroyed and redeveloped.

33 Bolshaya Vasilkovskaya

In 1905, Sholem Aleichem‘s family, now living around the corner at 27 Saksaganskogo, moved to a nearby hotel, The Imperial, when it was obvious, as the unrest increased after the October manifesto, that a pogrom was imminent.

27 Saksaganskogo

A building with smashed windows which was photographed during the pogrom was directly behind 27 Saksaganskogo on the next street, 5  Zhylianskaya.

Building with smashed windows on Zhylianskaya St

5 Zhylianskaya St

His daughter describes being awakened by a terrible noise the next day ‘a confused racket of clatters and clashes, of loud shouts and shrill cries. We ran from our beds to the windows on the street and looked down on the scene of brutality and murder – a gang of hoodlums beating a poor young Jew with heavy sticks; blood was running over the face of the young man, who was vainly shrieking for aid. A policeman stood nearby, casually looking on and not moving a finger.’ (161)

Another writer who experienced the 1905 pogrom in Kiev, Konstantin Paustovsky (1892-1968), wrote in his autobiography, Story of a life, about witnessing the marches, demonstrations and shootings after the Tzar’s October manifesto as a 13-year-old and the local Jews who were hidden in their building during the pogrom, a story very like that told by Valentin Kataev.

He describes how the children at his school were told that because of the Imperial manifesto it was a holiday, so they rushed out of school joining the crowds moving towards the marches. Then he hears the sound of shots being fired and is taken in hand by an older student who pushes him inside a courtyard. The last image he sees is ‘a slight young student, with his greatcoat unbuttoned, leaping on the window ledge of Balabukha’s shop and drawing a revolver.’ Then ‘We were running through narrow yards and alleys, followed by the sound of screams, shots and running feet. The daylight had suddenly dimmed, misted over with yellow smoke. My heavy satchel rattled and banged on my back. We came out into Proreznaya Street and ran on towards the Golden Gate. Two shiny ambulances swept by. People raced past us, panting and with pale faces. A Cossack patrol galloped up the street, the officer with a drawn sabre… After she had left I leaned against the railings and took off my cap. I had a terrible headache and I was very frightened. An old man in a bowler hat stopped and asked me if I was all right. I didn’t answer, I was speechless. He walked on shaking his head.’ (122)

In Irene Nemirovsky’s novel, The Dogs and the Wolves, set partly in her childhood Kiev in the early 1900s, she describes two young cousins who, as the pogrom is beginning, were sent with their maid to the house of a Christian friend, but became separated from the maid and find themselves running through alleys like Paustovsky. ‘Some Cossacks on horseback galloped across the street. In the crush that followed, Ada and Ben got separated from Nastasia. Without thinking, they threw themselves into a nearby courtyard, then another, until they reached an alleyway and ended up back on the main road. They could hear the Cossacks shouting, horses whinnying, their hooves beating the frozen ground. The children were delirious with fear. Blindly they kept running, panting, holding each other’s hand, absolutely convinced that the horde of soldiers was after them and that they would meet the same fate as the woman who had been crushed to death a few moments before.’ (47)

Sholem Aleichem and his family were in a rare privileged position as Jews to be able to watch the pogrom in safety from a hotel window. A similar view of the pogrom from the safety of a window was that of Michael Ignatieff’s grandmother in his memoir The Russian Album, a young mother in 1905, recently moved to the beautiful Lipki district of Kiev near the palace and its gardens, where her husband was a government official, soon to become governor of Kiev province. From her apartment window on Levashkovskaya Street she saw ‘a strange procession slowly approaching up the street. They were poor people mostly, marching in rows, singing hymns, carrying icons… Then the rocks began to fly through the air and the glass in the house opposite belonging to a Jewish merchant started breaking. It seemed fantastic and surreal, this sudden irruption of riot into the little frame of Natasha’s existence. As the glass crashed on the street below her and looters began climbing in through the shattered windows, the crowd sang hymns Natasha had known from childhood.’ (79) She is not aware at the time that a Jewish woman living opposite, whose children have scarlet fever, asks their valet if she can shelter her children there. The valet feels he cannot hide the children without his master’s order and does not tell his mistress until later, and the landlady is also not willing to take in the sick children who might infect the children of the house. The mother fled with her children into town, but nothing is said about what eventually happened to them.

Destruction of MB Halperin’s property Kiev 1905

(photos from Kiev Jewish Metropolis, a history 1859-1914, Natan Meir 2010)

Kiev pogrom 1905

Like Sholem Aleichem‘s family, my own Rabinovich family may also have migrated from Kiev to Odessa and back to Kiev, but unfortunately at the time of the pogrom in Odessa. Also like Sholem Aleichem‘s family they seem to have had fluctuating fortunes, my great grandfather having been one of the most successful families in the small city of Novogrudok, owning a paper mill, hotel and department store, but the family fortune seems to have dwindled in the next generation, and my grandfather possibly went to the major city of Kiev or Odessa to try and improve on his family’s shoe business in Baranovichi. For several years I have been accumulating records about Odessa in the first few years of the 1900s because my Rabinovich grandfather had carefully saved a 1905 Odessa Craft Guild Certificate, which also had the date 1902 on it, possibly the date he began working towards becoming a master machine-shoemaker. I was particularly looking for the birth records of two little uncles of mine who were born sometime between 1902 and 1904, and died before the family left Odessa just after the pogrom in early 1906. Unfortunately I do not know their first names and many Rabinovich children were born each year in Odessa. The two children were never spoken of and although the two oldest children in the family, born in 1898 and 1901, would have known their names and what happened to them, my mother never found out anything about them or even where the family had lived before leaving Russia. When, years later, I discovered that the family had left Russia in 1906 directly after the pogroms, and that my eldest uncle had had nightmares all his life from seeing Cossacks spearing Jewish babies, I wondered whether they had died in the pogrom and that is why they were never spoken about.

Finally, a few months ago, after hearing of a researcher who had copies of the Odessa birth records, I enquired about the possibility of doing a search through the records of 1902-04 and discovered that the children were not born in Odessa at all. I had become so convinced that my grandfather was in Odessa from 1902 that I thought at least one of the children must have been born there. Now I had to gather all my bits of information together, reshuffle them, and think through other alternatives for where the children were born. Possibilities, some making more sense than others, flooded my mind. One was Kiev, the place my grandfather said on his US naturalisation application was his last residence in Russia in 1906.

 

 

 

 

 

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