Battle for Kremlin November 1917
Riot on Nevsky Prospekt, Petrograd
Funerals of students and youths
Battle for Kremlin November 1917
Riot on Nevsky Prospekt, Petrograd
Funerals of students and youths
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Bungalow, Whiteway, Gloucestershire
The Royal Academy of Art in London has had an exhibition called Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 which was inspired by a Leningrad exhibition in 1932 Fifteen years of artists of the Russian Soviet Republic, an exhibition which showed the incredible diversity of Russian art at a time when the avant-garde and social realism still existed side-by-side. However, from the late 1920s pressure mounted against abstraction in art and after 1932 it was deemed to be unacceptable. The exhibition includes paintings, prints, posters, photographs, ceramics and film clips, some from the 1929 film The man with a movie camera. A few of the art works from the exhibition are copied below, along with others by the exhibition artists that were not in the exhibition. Some celebrate the excitement of the time, while others express something more ominous. Many of the photographs, like futurism, play on the repetition of industrialisation and mechanised work, but others delve into blurred identities, overlapping images, and images taken at disconcertingly strange angles, possibly hinting at the confusion and uncertainties of the times.
Boris Kustodiev The Bolshevik 1920
Kazimir Malevich 1915
Dmitry Moor Help!
Pavel Filonov Formula of the Petrograd Proletariat 1920
Andrei Golubev fabric
Kandinsky Blue Crest 1917
Heroes and Victims 1918 Vladimir Kozlinsky and others
El Lissitsky 1924
Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin 1919 sketch for 1925 Anxiety
Daria Preobrazhenskaya fabric
Ivan Puni 1919
Vladimir Kozlinsky Then and Now
Arkady Shaikhet 1928
A moment to remember the February 1917 revolution. Looking at the artwork in the proliferation of satirical journals that sprang up in 1905-6, it feels like the energy for revolution was actually at that time. But it was in 1917, when the country was already torn apart by war, that the population was ready for a revolution which was then followed by three more years of civil war and more pogroms against the Jews. It is probably difficult or impossible for some years to get the kind of meticulous records that existed before the revolution and many people would have fallen into the cracks of history.
To mark this moment I will try and put together some of the posters, illustrations and photographs from 1905 and 1917, and look at the memoirs of two young girls who lived through the revolution, one from the impoverished branch of an aristocratic family, and the other the daughter of Jewish revolutionaries. Both girls ended up leaving Russia shortly after the Civil War and ending up in England.
Freedom 4 December 1905
Burning books 1906
The Bee back cover 1906
Russian Symphony Isaak Brodsky 1906
A chronology of the February revolution http://www.vokrugsveta.ru/vs/article/3004/ :
18 February: The strike at the Putilov factory in St. Petersburg
23 February: the beginning of anti-war demonstrations
24-25 February: the general strike under the slogan “Down with autocracy!”
26 Feb: battles between soldiers, divided between support for the revolution or the tzar
27 February: The beginning of the armed uprising, a massive shift of soldiers to the side of the rebels. Establishment of the State Duma of the Interim Committee under the chairmanship of the president of the Duma, Rodzianko
1 March: the establishment of the new government in Moscow
2 March: the abdication of Nicholas II from the throne in favor of Prince Michael, who handed over power to the Provisional Government. Formation of the Provisional Government headed by Prince Lvov, who was replaced in July by socialist Kerensky
28 February 1917
February Revolution 1917 Ivan Vladimirov
Edith Almedingen wrote her memoir about her childhood in early 1900s Russia, Tomorrow will come, in 1941, never having believed that anyone would be interested in her mundane life in St Petersburg simply trying to survive on the periphery of the great political events between 1905 and 1920. Her mother had been brought up in England in a Russian aristocratic family with an English mother, and her father was a well-known professor of chemistry, from a wealthy family, but her father left the family when she was a baby and her mother scraped by teaching English. Shortly after the 1905 revolution, when Edith was six, her brother drowned falling through cracked ice in the river. Her father, who she had never known, died when she was 12, and an older brother died in the First World War. She had been living in extreme poverty with her mother after the 1909 crash and then had a few years at an aristocratic girls’ boarding school where her father had modernised the curriculum and taught science. The beauty of this book is in her descriptions of the sights, smells and feelings of hunger, cold and horror that she experienced as a teenager after the revolution as the infrastructure of the city failed and there was no longer any running water in the city, food to eat, or fuel for heating. People dressed in rags, spent most of the day queueing for bread, and went from one illness to another. Her mother died of starvation and illness in 1919.
She tells a story about the brightly coloured painted signs with pictures used by shopkeepers in Russia as most people were illiterate. In 1919 the shops were mostly empty and closed but the signs remained mocking people, especially one with a “luscious purple ham, reinforced by twin coils of fat crimson sausages”. She continues:
But that morning I saw a cluster of people in front of the deserted shop, and, coming nearer, I saw a frail, grey-haired man, his thin hands coming out of the sleeves of a very shabby overcoat. Those hands clawed at the gaily painted sign. An old lady, a torn black lace scarf over her grey hair, was trying to wrench him away. Yet, though obviously feeble, he resisted her efforts, and there was something of a nightmare about those thin, blue-veined hands clinging to the painted wood. I heard a tremulous voice: ‘No, my dear, I simply must have another slice of that ham. I wish you would be a little more patient. See if I don’t cut it off neatly. If we were to leave it here, somebody else would get it, and nobody could be as hungry as you and I are’, and the thin hands went on clawing away, until blood began trickling from under the nails, and the painted wood showed white where the knuckle of the ham had been scratched. (124)
Eventually, she meets a nurse she had known early in the war when she had translated for an English charity who shares her room with her and encourages her to apply to the university. In 1922, as she was finishing her degree, precious passports for foreign travel first began to be issued. She had recently managed to arrange a convalescence in the Crimea for possible TB, but then remembered the first letter in five years she had received from her mother’s sister in Italy a few months before hoping they would meet again. Possibly they would allow her to convalesce in Italy. A couple of months later she had her passport and left Russia forever.
The other memoir, Daughter of revolution: a Russian girlhood remembered, by Vera Broido (1998), was written from the perspective of a child who was only 10 when the revolution began. She had been living in Siberia with her mother, Eva Broido, who had been exiled for her revolutionary activities, but they hurried back first to Moscow and then Saint Petersburg. Vera also translated her mother’s memoir Memoirs of a revolutionary which is a much more political and factual book. This is a far less bleak book than Edith’s, partly because Vera was still a child, although often having the responsibilities of an adult, still had family alive, and, most importantly, had a family with strong connections and deep friendships with other revolutionaries who were quick to help each other. Although eventually, as Mensheviks, they were on the losing side against the Bolsheviks. Also, although they were still hungry and freezing cold, Vera and her mother had been given the apartment of a wealthy banker, who was hiding, to look after, while Edith had nowhere to live after her mother died, losing their two rooms, moving from one sordid shared room to another.
Vera emphasises the ordinary side of life at that time, both for exiles in Siberia, where her mother ran the hospital pharmacy and they knew many other interesting professional exiles, and after the revolution in Saint Petersburg, where, although there was little to eat, the arts were flourishing and they went to the theatre, concerts and the opera. She also went to school for the first time, although, by 1919, when the Civil War reached Petrograd, school simply meant sitting by a stove and getting a bowl of gruel . Vera’s mother also became ill but they were able to escape in 1920 to Berlin, where Vera crammed most of her education into one year and passed the examinations for German universities. In 1927, her mother returned to Russia with false papers for a short visit to make contact with Mensheviks who had remained in Russia, but she stayed longer and was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually shot in 1941. Vera studied art in Paris and then returned to Germany, remaining until 1933, when her whole family moved to England, where her brother was working as an engineer. Unlike Edith, Vera always had some family around her, and often old friends from Russia and their exile in Siberia.
Be on guard!
Like all stories of war, in both these memoirs survival depended on luck – a chance meeting, a moment of kindness, or an official turning a blind eye. At a time when she had no job and no place to stay, Edith met the nurse she had known earlier after being knocked down by a carriage and breaking her ankle. After Vera and her mother crossed the border into Polish territory, they used their last money on the train to Warsaw hoping they would find her father there. Instead they found he had moved on to Vienna and they were left penniless, wandering the cold, slushy streets with their boarded-up shops until her mother noticed a diamond earring on the ground. After more wandering they saw a small light inside one shuttered jewellers and found a Jewish jeweller there who was dubious about receiving what would appear to be a stolen diamond. However, he listened to their story and said he would put the diamond aside until a later date, but, first things first, he would get them a first-class compartment and meal on the train to Vienna. Without these chance moments of kindness the stories might have been very different.
The next two entries are about things (documents, people, ghosts) I have not managed to find, but they suggest there is still more to find. In June 2011, a 12 page booklet The pogrom in Odessa on 18-22 October 1905 (Der blutiger pogrom in Odessa fun 18-22 oktober 1905 yor) by David Horowitz, Odessa 1906, was auctioned in Jerusalem (Kedem Auction House, Auction 15, Lot 521, 1 June 2011). The booklet came from the collection of Dr Israel Mehlman and included an additional 4 pages with the handwritten names and ages of Jews murdered during the pogrom. (https://www.kedem-auctions.com/search-page/Pogrom%20Odessa%201906%20leaves%20are%20unknown%20bibliographically)
Is this list copied from the original pogrom death records which are now in the Odessa archive? Was it done at the time or at some unknown time between 1905 and the present? Is it written in the original Russian Cyrillic or translated into Hebrew? Is it exactly the same list as in the records or have other names been added? Or is it a different list altogether? Were there other official lists, such as a police or government list? Or did someone in the Jewish community at the time make another list? The possibilities are endless. It would be fascinating to compile a larger list of those killed in the Odessa 1905 pogrom, if there are additional lists or if people know of others who were killed then. Possibly the owner of this booklet will find this blog and check whether his list is the same as the names in the records. Possibly other people have handwritten lists or know of official lists in records somewhere.
The pogrom in Odessa 1905, David Horowitz
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.
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.
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.
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).
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…