Category Archives: places

New Odessa, Oregon, an experiment in living

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

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

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

Cow Creek near Glendale Oregon 1902

Sether Ranch 1910 (previously New Odessa)

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

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

New Odessa colonists 1885

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

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

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

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

Cow Creek Sether Ranch

Cow Creek, Glendale, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Modern School magazine, 1922

Dormitory and Living House, Stelton, 1915

Bungalow, Whiteway, Gloucestershire

 

 

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Bialystok 1906 pogrom

I had never looked up the town of Bialystok until I came upon David Wissotzky’s wife Anna Sackheim, who came from Bialystok and was my great great aunt Asna’s sister-in-law, through her husband Leon Sackheim.

plan_miasta_bialegostoku-005_plan

ulica-lipowa-bialystok

Bialystok Lipowa St

bialystok-1930

Bialystok 1930

 jewish-market-bialystok

http://www.jhi.pl/en/blog/2013-08-08-bialystok-jews-historical-overview

Reading online, one quickly becomes aware that there was a horrific pogrom in Bialystok in June 1906, eight months after the Odessa pogrom. Bialystok was a mostly Jewish town – there were 48,000 Jews out of a population of 64,000. And 200 Jews were killed in the three-day pogrom, one of the highest death rates after the Odessa pogrom.

bialystok-1906-italian-newspaper

1906-bialystok-niva

Bialystok pogrom 1906

The pogrom quickly appeared in my searches for the Sackheim family in Bialystok as a Sackheim child was listed as one of the victims of the pogrom (Zakgeym, Sender Davidov—10 yr., shot & killed on Argentinova St, June 2, morning). A very detailed report of the pogrom and list of 77 of the victims was published in the Jewish Chronicle on 13 July 1906. This report and list (http://museumoffamilyhistory.com/ajc-yb-v08-pogroms.htm ) are probably a good indication of what happened in Odessa and the many other Russian cities involved in the pogroms in late 1905. The following is taken from the report:

 (1) On Friday Lejba Ginzburg was in his lodging in the house of Bronekera in the Zaniejska Street. He was afraid to go out. Somebody knocked at the door. Ginzberg did not open it. The door was then broken open and the police-sergeant of the fourth district, named Bajbok, accompanied by soldiers, entered and ordered the soldiers to fire. One of the soldiers fired and killed Ginzburg’s wife, Chana Binema, and wounded her sister, Rochla Annalni. The latter, still suffering from the wounds, gave evidence to the Commission. Bajbok, not satisfied with the work he had already done, dragged out of Ginzburg’s lodging a Jewess, named Kustinowa Hinda Leja, who was carrying a baby, and ordered a soldier to fire. The soldier fired, but instead of the mother, the baby was killed. The same sergeant searched the house, but did not discover anything. Nevertheless, he ordered two Jews, Joselowi Wot and Nachim, to follow him. When they came to the wall of a newly built house he commanded the sol­diers to fire on them. Wot was severely wounded. Nachim fell on his knees and begged for mercy. He was bayonetted.

Background to the pogrom from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bia%C5%82ystok_pogrom

At the beginning of the 20th century, Białystok was a city with a predominantly Jewish population. In 1895, the Jewish population numbered 47,783 (out of 62,993, or about 76%). Białystok was primarily a city known for its textile manufacturing, commerce and industry.

 During the 1905 Russian Revolution the city was a center of the radical labour movement, with strong organisations of the Bund and the Polish Socialist Party as well as the more radical anarchists of the Black Banner association.

In the summer of 1904, an eighteen-year-old anarchist, Nisan Farber, stabbed and seriously wounded Avraam Kogan, the owner of a spinning mill, as he walked to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. On October 6, Farber threw a bomb into a police station, injuring several policemen inside. Farber himself was killed by the explosion.

On February 21, 1905, the district’s Chief of Police, Yelchin, was killed, and on June 8 the city’s new Police Chief, Pelenkin, was wounded by another bomb blast. In July 1905, two police officers were wounded by a bomb thrown by Jewish anarchist Aron Elin (Gelinker).

As a consequence of the violence, martial law was declared in Białystok in September 1905, which lasted until March 1906. After martial law was lifted, the series of assassinations and acts of terror began anew.

 Between the years 1905 and 1906 there were seven police chiefs. The police did not enter Surazh Street, which was considered a stronghold of anarchists.…On 11 June 1906 the Police Chief of Białystok, Derkacz, was murdered, most likely on the orders of the Russian commissar and fervent anti-semite Szeremietiev.  Derkacz, who was Polish, was known for his liberal sympathies and opposition to anti-semitism; for this he was respected by both the Jewish Bund and the  Polish Socialist Party. His murder was a foreboding of the violence to come, as people in the city noted that after Derkacz’s death Russian soldiers began preparing for a pogrom.…On 14 June, two Christian processions took place; a Catholic one through the market square celebrating Corpus Christi and an Orthodox one through Białystok’s New Town celebrating the founding of a cathedral. The Orthodox procession was followed by a unit of soldiers. A bomb was thrown at the Catholic procession and shots were fired at the Orthodox procession. These incidents constituted signals for the beginning of the pogrom. Witnesses reported that simultaneously with the shots someone shouted “Beat the Jews!” After the pogrom, a peasant who was arrested for unrelated charges in the nearby town of  Zabludow confessed that he had been paid a substantial amount of money to fire on the Orthodox procession in order to provoke the pogrom. Russian authorities announced that Jews had fired on the Orthodox procession.

jewish-quarter

The following is the first 30 from the list of 77 victims of the Bialystok pogrom. This is the most detailed list, including some photographs, of pogrom victims I have seen – with information on the person’s occupation, their injuries and where they were attacked.

  1. Tsukerman Zimel Gershovich—23 yr., clerk, shot in chest on Alexander St. Jumped out of the window trying to save himself (June 1)
  2. Pine (surname unknown)—17 yrs., tanner, shot & killed in the attic of the Poleshchuk plant
  3. Bachrach Isaac Abramov—22 yr., shot 8 times and murdered in the attic of the Poleshchuk plant
  4. Furman Shlema Meyerovich—20 yr., tanner, shot through the heart & killed in the attic of Poleshchuk plant
  5. Gvirtsman Itskhok—35 yr., tanner, rifle bullet through the heart
  6. Zemnick Yitzchak—25 yr., tanner, killed in the Pleschuka plant attic by a bullet through the chest & abdomen
  7. Kustin Movsha—21 yr., tanner, killed in the Poleshchuk factory attic by a bullet in the chest, bayonet stabs in his side, & a butt to his head
  8. Lapidus Aaron—18 yr., student commercial school, killed on Alexander St. from blows to head & face
  9. Lapidus Max—22yr. killed on Alexander St. blows to head & face
  10. Lapidus Blyum—19 yr. killed on Alexander St. from deep hammer wounds to head  (June 1)
  11. Aynshteyn Leizer—45 yr. calligraphy teacher, shot & killed (bullet to the chest—June 2)
  12. Aynshteyn Sheyna—40 yr. (Leizer’’s wife) Killed by the boyars
  13. Aynshteyn Rahmiel—21 yr. (son of Leizer & Sheyna), killed by rifle wound of stomach
  14. Aynshteyn Shmuel 18 yr.,  (son of Leizer & Sheyna)– killed by boyars
  15. Aynshteyn Sonya—18 yr., (daughter of Leizer & Sheyna), killed by boyars
  16. Lervashovsky Itskhok—18 yr. , carpenter from Volkovyska [Belarus], skull crushed, teeth knocked out, jaw broken
  17. Gutkin Berelevna—10 yr. gunshot wound, leg severed with an ax
  18. Moiseyevich Yitzkhok—30 yr., mason, killed at train station (June 2)
  19. Pruzhansky Shlema—42 yr., shoemaker, shot by boyarsshlema-pruzhansky-19
  20. Grodzinskaya Sora Izraelena—19 yr. killed in a bread shop on Institutska St. by blows to head (June 1)
  21. Berenshteyn Abram Gershovich—47 yr., shopkeeper
  22. Basen Markel—a tailor, killed on Argentina (June 3)
  23. Khmelnitsky Falk Volfovich—28 yr., son of the head of Bialystok Jewish Hospital, beaten on Alexander St. on head & face (June 1)
  24. Novik Yankel—34 yr., gunshot wound; throat slit
  25. Levin Yankel—52 yr., shot & killed by boyars
  26. Krendlyansky Mordkhe—60 yr., shot & killed at St. Nicholas Street (June 2)
  27. Kvalovsky David Khonovich—15 yr., hatter/capper, shot & killed on Bazaar St. (June 3, morning)
  28. Segal Leyb—48 yr., worker, killed in the Aronson house on Alexander St. (June 1, morning)
  29. Segal Chaya-Pesha (Leyb’s wife)—40 yr. also murdered there.Zakgeym Sender Davidov—10 yr., shot & killed on Argentina St (June 2, morning)
  30. Zakgeym Sender Davidov—10 yr., shot & killed on Argentina St (June 2, morning.

Even though martial law had been declared in Bialystok from September 1905, 22 Jews were still killed in a pogrom that began on 18 October. There had also been pogroms on 12 July, when 10 Jews were killed, and 14 August, when 60 were killed (http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Bialystok/bia2_114.html). Although the government tried to suppress information about the Bialystok pogrom, details were quickly reported in newspapers around the world. The report was produced because by the summer of 1906 Russia had its first Duma and representatives were asked to investigate the pogrom. The San Francisco Call covered the pogrom extensively including stories of individual victims and families described on the pogrom victims list. (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/s over 10 earch/pages/results/?state=California&date1=1906&date2=1906&proxtext=Bialystok&x=8&y=6&dateFilterType=yearRange&rows=20&searchType=basic)

sf-call-bialystok-pogrom-19-june

The horrific violence of this pogrom shows the hatred that can develop between different groups in a community, especially if stoked by lies, as many of the pogroms were. If we find it difficult to understand why there are so many tribal and civil wars, and terrorism around the world now, we only need to study an example like this.

zakheim-sender-grave-bialystok-2

Here lies the martyr young man Sender Leib son of Rabbi David Chaim Zakheim was murdered on the holy Sabbath 23 Sivan 5666 (http://www.bagnowka.com/index.php?m=cm&g=zoom&img=63015&gal=38)

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Wissotzky family – part two, from Odessa to the Titanic

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

kataev bachei odessa dir 1914

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

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

40 kanatnaya wissotzky 2

40 Kanatnaya

40 kanatnaya wissotzky 20 uspenskaya

The same building around the corner on Uspenskaya

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

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

photo by v vysotsky 1903 kiev

Photograph by W Wysocki Kiev 1903

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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The coastal outskirts of the city in 1905 – walking the streets of Odessa

Although Moldavanka was the centre of Jewish life in Odessa, Jews lived in every part of the city. Possibly because it was a major Black Sea port and there were people of many nationalities and different ethnic groups, it had a history of integration and assimilation in different sections of the city, along with periods of tensions between the different groups. Over the days of the pogrom, hooligans spread out to wherever it was known that Jews lived. In his famous story, The lonely white sail or The white sail gleams, Kataev describes the hooligans ransacking the Jewish shop in his apartment block on the outskirts of the centre on Kulikovo Field, and then moving down the French Boulevard to another Jewish family. The 1906 pogrom report describes hooligans going out to the summer resort, Bolshoi Fontan, ransacking and burning Jewish summer houses, and terrorising Jews still there in the autumn, who lived there full-time.

Alex Stilianudi 1918 b fontan

Stilinaudi 1918 Bolshoi Fontan

These were not the poor working class or wealthy merchants, but ordinary tradespeople, craftsmen and middle-class shop owners, teachers or civil servants. The fates of the Jews who were spread out across the city may never have been known and are therefore absent from the history of the pogrom. My grandparents were probably typical of this group and I wondered if I could work out, from various bits of gathered information, more about how and where they might have lived.

stilianudi 1910 april

Stilianudi 1910 Dacha and orchard

Putting together the various stories of my grandfather growing grapes and making wine, of my grandmother not wanting to live in Manhattan but in a house with a garden as she was used to, of my uncle talking about his village, of my grandparents settling near the coast outside New York, I began to look for writers who had lived in Odessa in the early 1900s and described their daily life there, fictionally or as memoir, especially the areas near the coast with their winding lanes and small houses set in gardens – Jabotinsky, Kataev, Babel and Paustovsky, who worked in Odessa as a journalist just after the Civil War in 1920. I wanted to be able to see in my mind what those parts of Odessa might have been like in the early 1900s, and then walk down Google Streetview looking for streets and parts of streets that still reflect something from those days. Konstantin Paustovsky describes first arriving in Odessa:

 

In a piercing North wind, on a February day in 1920, the whites fled from Odessa, firing a few parting shots at the town… The shops shut down… The busy market squares had turned into deserts of cobblestones. Only the cats, unsteady with hunger, wandered about looking for scraps. But scraps in Odessa were a thing of the past.

Black Sea Street old photo

Black Sea Street 1960s

I had been living in Dr Landman’s disused sanatorium in Black Sea Street… Yasha and I found a porter’s lodge in the same street and rented it from the enterprising landlord, an unfrocked priest called  Prosvirnyak. The Lodge stood in a neglected garden surrounded by high walls of rough stone, at the back of a two-storey building facing the street. In those un-quiet days it was as peaceful there as in a fortress…

Черноморской улицы 3

Paustovsky’s house Black Sea Street

 Before describing the events that followed, I should say something about Black Sea Street. I grew very fond of this small suburban street and believed it to be the most picturesque in the world. Even the way to it from town was a tonic against adversity, as I often experienced. I might be walking home, utterly dejected by some failure, but as soon as I found myself in the deserted alleyways around Black Sea Street – Observatory Lane, Sturzo Lane, Battery Lane – and heard the rustling of the old acacia trees, saw the ivy dark on walls gilded by the winter sun, felt the breath of the sea on my face, I at once recovered my peace of mind and lightness of heart.

These alleys all ran between the garden walls; the houses hid at the back of the gardens, behind locked wicket-gates. The alleys led to Black Sea Street, and Black Sea Street stretched along the edge of the cliffs overhanging the sea – On the right, the steep rust-red cliffs overgrown with pigsweed and goosefoot, led to Arcadia and the Fountains, towards the misty beaches on which the tides would often wash up floating mines, torn from their moorings… (Konstantin Paustovsky Years of Hope p9)

otrada 1914 dir

Black Sea (Черноморскауа) St, Otrada and French Blvd, 1914 directory

In his memoir, A mosaic of life, Kataev wrote about all the streets his family lived on during his childhood, Bazarnaya, Kanatnaya and especially Otrada, the little group of streets at the edge of the steep lanes down to the sea. An area that had once been a fishing village was being colonised by the wealthy, and, more recently, by the growing middle class.

Kataev family 1910 Gotlib

Kataev family 1910

In 1910, the Kataevs lived in an apartment at Otradnaya 10, and one of their neighbours was the very wealthy publisher and printer, Fasenko.

otradnaya 6 fasenko 1910

otradnaya 6 dom fasenko

Otradnaya St Dom Fasenko 1910

Kataev describes his friends and the games they played on the Otrada streets, including exploring empty dachas, and playing in new partly-built houses.

In Otrada, searches frequently had to be made for an escaped monkey and a flyaway parrot… In the course of a moment, Otrada, with her four nice, deserted streets, framed in white acacias with feathery leaves through which the green-tinted blue sky peeped so romantically; Otrada, with her villas, smooth lawns, and beds of fiery-red flowers, was transformed into a sort of Valparaiso.(p239)

Out of the dormer window (the attic in a new, unoccupied four-storied house) we had a splendid view of the four streets with their buildings and ‘meadows’ and the good-natured policeman in his white tunic, standing at the crossroads in the shade of an acacia-tree; of the yards behind the houses, with their sheds, their well-trodden paths through the long, wavy grass and their freshly washed linen hanging on the line; and of the stretch of grey sea beyond the roofs on one side and a section of the French Boulevard on the other, with an occasional passing carriage and the iron standards carrying the wires for the recently built electric tramway line. (p161)

Not all the houses around Otrada were mansions or apartment blocks. Quite small one and two-storey houses, with gardens and vegetable plots, sometimes nestled between much larger buildings on the lanes that slope down to the sea off the French Boulevard.

lermontovski lane off french blvd

Lermontovskyi Lane

udilnyi lane off french blvd

Utildnyi Lane off French Boulevard

Morskyi lane malyi fontan

Morskyi Lane Malyi Fontan

Further from the centre, the streets are barely paved, and the houses, anything from an enlarged shed to a two-storey dacha, are set back in larger walled or fenced gardens, obscured behind trees and shrubs.

nedjelina st 2

Nedjelina St Srednyi Fontan

Kataev’s story, The cottage in the steppe, which continues from The white sail gleams, begins with the death of Tolstoy in 1910. Petya’s father makes a speech at his school in honour of the death of Tolstoy, is labelled a communist, and loses his job. He is then offered a job in a private school designed to get wealthy children through exams, but the job does not last long as Petya’s father is ethically unable to fiddle exam results as he is meant to. Eventually they try to make a living by renting a dacha at Bolshoi Fontan with several acres of fruit trees, and with the help of Petya’s friend Gavrik and his revolutionary brother and associates, they manage, just in time, to harvest their crop of cherries. The father, who is deeply loyal to the Czar, ends up teaching history, geography and astronomy to the working class revolutionaries.

bolshoi fontan 1904 kovalevsky

Bolshoi Fontan Dacha Kovalevsky 1904

The cottage was near the dacha of the wealthy Kovalevsky, a legendary figure in Odessa history for bringing the first water pipe from Bolshoi Fontan to the city in 1853. His land was at the end of Bolshoi Fontan, the lower right section on the map, and now all that exists of his country house, water tower and pumping station, is the name of the road leading to where his dacha was, Dacha Kovalevsky Street.  http://www.citymap.odessa.ua/?30

Before the water pipe, Odessa inhabitants collected rainwater in tanks as the well water was too mineralised to be potable. However, Kovalevsky spent so much money buying equipment from England that he went bankrupt, and the water quality never lived up to expectations.

odessa naberezhnaya st dacha kovalevsky

Nabereshnaya St parallel to Dacha Kovalevsky St

Kataev describes the little dacha and smallholding the family rented:

The house itself was a five-room affair with an outside kitchen, then there was a stable, a labourer’s hut, a rain-water cistern and a shed which, Auntie said, held the wine press.

They boarded the little suburban train that passed their house and went to the sixteenth station, from which a horse-tram took them to the Kovalevsky country-house. After that, guided by Auntie, they walked a mile or so across the steppe to “their cottage. (Kataev, The cottage in the steppe: 224-5)

I imagine my grandparents living in one of these villages, probably close to or on the edge of Odessa, as my grandfather was setting up a business, possibly one of the houses set behind a picket fence on an unmade lane.

12 lyustdorfskoi

Lyustdorfskaya Rd near Bolshoi Fontan

On Google Streetview, I have wandered down the little side streets in Sredni and Bolshoi Fontan looking for areas which have not been completely rebuilt. There are scattered modern apartment buildings, but mostly the area has been rebuilt with modern individual houses with brick, metal or rendered block walls or garages along the road so little can be seen of the houses. The older houses tend to have wooden picket fences and are often blocked by overgrown shrubs and small trees.

omskaya st bolshoi fontan

Omskaya St Bolshoi Fontan

rivnosti lane walls

Rivnostyi Lane walls

rjepina st walls

Rjepina St fences

sredi fontan close

Srednyi Fontan

slavy lane 2

Slavy Lane Srednyi Fontan

I can only imagine what the daily life was like in Odessa for those who lived in the scattered houses and villages, and what their houses looked like inside. Like many of Odessa’s suburbs and outer fringes, these were city people but not city people. One of my older cousins spent her summers with my grandparents at their house outside New York in the 1930s and said the house was unremarkable and had ordinary, non-descript furniture, although there was also a samovar, and my grandparents drank their tea from Russian glasses and cooked typically Russian food. The only photograph I knew as a child of my grandparents was taken by my father in 1935, my grandfather in his old-fashioned three-piece suit, and my grandmother dressed like an old peasant woman in a long checked cotton skirt, careworn, and haggard, not what would have been expected from her middle-class background, or in a photograph of any woman in her 50s in 1930s New York.

In Odessa I imagine they had typical furniture from the 1890s, flowered or striped wallpaper and little tables covered with vases, decorated boxes and family photographs. It is difficult to find photographs of interiors from the 1890s and early 1900s and the impressionist or art nouveau paintings of the time are abstracted or highly idealised. Two of the paintings below have dates and the other is more modern.

Mirek_Aleksey_Interer

Aleksei Mirek

somov the-interior-of-the-pavlovs-country-house 1899

Somov 1899

zhukovsky interior 1914

Zhukovsky 1914

I have one object that my mother said her mother had brought from Russia, an Art Nouveau Minton soap dish, which would have come with a complete wash set of bowl, jug, sponge dish and chamber pot.

minton 3

1903 Minton Secessionist soap dish

My mother may have invented the story that the soap dish had been her mother’s or had come from Russia. Her mother may have acquired it in New York as my grandfather was a scrap dealer, but as I discovered many years after I tried to date the dish, it has a number, a tiny 3, on the foot which signifies 1903, placing it exactly when my grandmother might have bought it in Odessa. Most similar Minton Secessionist ware is not dated and could have been made any time from about 1900 to 1920. That this dish is dated 1903 is most intriguing. It suggests that my grandparents may have had a taste for modern Art Nouveau furnishings and may have had some beautiful things. It is a strange fragile object to have survived their trip from Odessa to Minsk (possibly stopping for some time in Kiev to have their baby) to Liverpool, and then finally to New York. Washing apparatus was very important for Russian travellers, especially those with babies, but travellers would have carried small tin (or silver) soap boxes. A ceramic soap dish must have been packed deeply in their luggage.

soap tin

Russian travel soap tin

Because Russian inns tended to be primitive, and distances were so far, travellers also carried tea making equipment and bedding. I imagine this is why most immigrants often speak of their families having brought their samovar, feather pillows and quilts from Russia.

It is difficult to imagine my grandmother with her beautifully dressed babies (photograph in Rabinovich birth records and the pogrom https://odessasecrets.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/rabinovich-families-part-two-birth-records-and-the-pogrom/), her Ukrainian maid, and her Art Nouveau wash set, when, to me, she was the tiny careworn peasant in my photograph. It was not until many years later that I was given a photograph of my grandmother with her parents as a 16-year-old, a middle-class girl in 1889,with her life ahead of her. That is the only photograph I have of her taken in Russia, leaving her early married life with my grandfather and the first years of their first four children a mystery.

Michael Ignatieff, in The Russian Album, has a similar late picture of the Russian grandparents he never met, who had been brought up in mansions, standing in the snow in bedroom slippers outside their small bungalow in Canada. The photographs of his and my grandparents are photographs of people who have had to leave their homes, who have been emigrants, emigres, refugees and finally immigrants, but have never truly found a new home.

I have a picture of them taken by Lionel in the winter of 1944. They are standing outside the cottage in upper Melbourne, side-by-side in the snow on a cold winter’s afternoon. They are bundled up in long winter coats that seem to pull them down into the earth. Natasha is smiling in that squinting quizzical way of hers. Her grey hair is pulled back in an untidy chignon and her long straight neck is enclosed in a black choker. Her knees are slightly bent and turned inwards, which gives her stance the awkwardness of a shy girl. Paul is standing a fraction apart, elegant as always with an astrakhan perched on his head, a carefully knotted tie and trawled moustaches. The sockets of his eyes are dark and the ridges of his cheekbones are sharp and exposed. He is not smiling. They’re both wearing bedroom slippers and they stand on the flagstones, little dry islands in an expanse of white snow. Spring is months off; the darkness will soon close about the house. It is the last picture in the album. (Ignatieff p164)

 When I look at their final photographs in the family album, standing in front of the bungalow on a snowy afternoon, I want to be there to walk with them up the path to the house, to help them out of their coats, to make them a cup of tea and sit with them by the fire. I want to hear them speak, I want to feel the warmth of their hands.(p184)

 I would like to go back in time and talk to my grandparents as they stood outside their New Rochelle house in 1936 and also walk with them up their path to wherever they lived in Odessa in 1905

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Cemetery portraits

As it is Holocaust Memorial Day, it seemed appropriate to continue with the theme of gravestones and remembering the dead. I did not think that, traditionally, Jews approved of depicting human figures and I thought this would be even more strictly censored in a cemetery, where complex beliefs about body and soul come into play. I remembered seeing Jewish mediaeval manuscripts with intricate patterns of plants and animals, but, after looking again at fantastic online collections like the British library’s, I found that humans were also portrayed.

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Barcelona Haggadah

jewish life italy

Haggadah, Italy, late 16th century

haggadah 1460

Haggadah 1460

Online images of Jewish cemeteries and gravestones often focus on vandalism and destruction, although rarely are faces actually destroyed.

kiev defaced

Kiev defaced gravestone

Some gravestones, especially in Belarus, where most of the cemeteries were destroyed by the Nazis or the Soviets, appear to be the simplest of markers, rough stones with writing, although it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the stone has been broken. In some cases the writing seems to neatly fit into the shape of the rough stone. It is a Jewish tradition that gravestones should be very simple so that everyone is equal in death. Gravestones were seen primarily as a marker, before cemeteries were formalised, not as a memorial. One explanation of why Jews put pebbles on gravestones when they visit is that, originally, Jewish bodies were buried in an open plot or field without a casket or gravestone, and stones were put on the site as markers and to protect the site from animals. People would bring more stones when they visited to make sure the grave was still marked and, in that way, a larger stone might become a permanent marker. There is a website of over 300 images of gravestones being replaced in the Jewish cemetery in Novogrudok, where my grandmother was born, and many seem to be very simple rocks with writing (https://sites.google.com/site/jewishnovogrudok/ ).

novogrudok stone 2

novogrudok stone

Novogrudok, Belarus gravestones

The two Hebrew letters at the top of these gravestones mean ‘Here lies’, so it is clear that the tops of the stones have not been broken. Most Jewish gravestones, however, are cut into rounded or angled shapes and often have intricate carving of patterns and symbolic images, stars of David, menorahs, candlesticks, blessing hands, animals and broken trees (for those whose lives were cut short).

lesko-jewish-cemetery-045

Jewish cemetery, Lesko, Poland

There is a beautiful webpage on the gravestones of the Jewish cemetery in Lesko, southern Poland (http://riowang.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/lesko-jewish-cemetery.html), and, in fact, this entire travel blog which includes many Jewish sites in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Ukraine, including Odessa, is filled with magnificent photographs and stories.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chernivsti gravestone

Wondering if the Feld family had been influenced by gravestones in Berdichev, I looked at images of old and new sections of the Berdichev cemetery, but it was difficult to tell at what point photographs had begun being used.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

berdichev

Berdichev Cemetery

I next turned to Jewish cemeteries in America to see when and how often they used photographs on gravestones and found that the idea had been brought to America by Eastern European Jews in the early 1900s and photographs were used mainly after 1915 when the technology for putting them on enamel or ceramic became more readily available. This cemetery in Los Angeles had many photographs on gravestones on the Find a grave website (http://www.findagrave.com/).

mont zion LA photo 1917  mont zion LA 1921

Mount Zion Cemetery, Los Angeles, 1917 and 1921

At one of the oldest Jewish cemetery in New York, Bayside Cemetery, where a great-aunt of mine was buried after her suicide in 1897, age 32, photographs on graves are not obvious but there are some.

bayside 3

bayside

bayside woman

Bayside Cemetery, Queens, New York

Studying the photographs that did appear on gravestones, I began to think that people might most feel the need of a photograph for a child or young adult, as there would have been so little time to build up memories of the person changing through time. This might be why, even though there were no portraits at the Riverview Cemetery, one was chosen for Norma Field. Many of those who died in the pogrom were also young people from the age of 15-25, who did not have a grave or marker, so this digression into photographs on gravestones is a small memorial to them.

jewish girl

young Jewish girl

In 2001, a photographer, John Yang produced a photographic exhibition and book of gravestone portraits from the largest Jewish cemetery in New York, Mount Zion Cemetery, concentrating on the photographs that had weathered away leaving only the ghosts of the graves. In a way, these young people grow older as their images break, crack or wear away.

Yang john mt zion queens  yang grave photo

yang photo

Immortal Portraits John Yang

I continued to puzzle over the hooks in the empty hole on Norma’s gravestone and tried to find other damaged gravestones that might have made their use clear. There were screws holding metal covers or metal frames for the photographs, but no hooks. I only found one gravestone with a similar but less deep gaping space.

norma field 1917 riverview cem dayton

Norma Field, Riverview Cemetery, Dayton 1917

bayside photo in metal  montefiore jewish cem metal

Bayside Cemetery, NY                                Montefiore Cemetery, NY

czernowitz chernivtsi

Chernivsti Cemetery

https://vanishedworld.wordpress.com/category/jewish-cemeteries/

lost picture

Hermann, Missouri

Most photographs were oval-shaped, unlike the large round circle on Norma Field’s gravestone, but this small, but haunting, photograph of a young woman in a Lutheran Cemetery in Minnesota, who died in 1918 possibly in the flu epidemic, was the first Protestant photograph I had seen, and the first round one.

_LUTHERAN_CHURCH_IN_GRYGLA_

Grygla, Minnesota

Possibly because I was brought up in a family where our Russian past or any past did not exist, cemeteries did not exist, I did not know about pebbles on graves, and I had no idea where family members were buried, whether in neat manicured cemeteries or mass graves, I am always trying to make up for this gap, endlessly putting metaphorical pebbles on graves. While searching through images of people immortalised by enamel photographs on gravestones, many of which have remained remarkably clear over time, I could not help perusing other striking images of graves and memorials online. Particularly, I came upon this marking of a mass grave from Stalingrad and was intrigued by the fence made from iron bedsteads, springs and other bits and pieces.

stalingrad grave 1942 georgii zelma

Stalingrad 1942 Georgii Zelma

I had noticed that some family plots in Russian cemeteries have metal fences marking their area, quite different from cemeteries designed as open fields dotted with stones, as they may have originally been. I then found this photograph of the Jewish section of the Bishkek Ala-Archa Cemetery in Kyrgyzstan, in which each plot has its own metal fencing, a striking image against the branches of the winter trees in the distance.

Bishkek jewish graves kyrgzstan

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

My first thought was that the fence was to delineate and protect a family plot, but then when I began searching for more images, I found many fenced plots in rural western America, in the desert or mountains, where the cemetery itself was not fenced and the fences may have been filling a need for some delineation or protection from animals. I remembered that in very unpopulated areas, like the Kentucky Appalachians, there were tiny family graveyards dotted on the hillsides and I did find photographs of iron fences there too.

child's grave utah  family cemetery kentucky

child’s grave, Utah                            family cemetery, Kentucky

VirginaCity-258

Virginia City, Nevada

ravens fence colorado

ravens, Colorado

The series of photographs at the Colorado cemetery included several images of brilliant orange lichen, one of which included this monument with a destroyed photograph, again quite different from the hole on Norma Field’s. Like many with photographs, this is the gravestone of a child, symbolised by the lamb (https://rprtphoto.wordpress.com/tag/headstone/).

lichen grave 1918

A few weeks before finding Norma Field’s gravestone with its missing photograph, I saved this image from a BBC television programme on the 1941 siege of Leningrad. I don’t know how organised this memorial was, but people made enamelled photographs of family members who died in the siege and were buried in mass graves, and attached them to trees in a forest near Leningrad as a very haunting and beautiful memorial.

leningrad woods

Leningrad siege memorial

It is not only during wars and genocide that there are unmarked mass graves. Quietly, silently, people have preferred not to think about Potters Fields, unmarked mass graves, supposedly for unknown people, but, at New York City’s Hart Island City Cemetery, there are mass graves and meticulous records for known paupers and newborn infants. Most or all other early Porters Fields in America have been built over or become parks. Only in the past 10 years have people begun to fight against the fact that there has been no way to find out where people were buried and no public access to the island. Hart Island, just over 100 acres, is run by the City Correction Department and maintained by prisoners from nearby Riker Island. It has been the resting place of about 800,000 paupers and infants from 1869 to the present. The tiny flat bleak island has only small white markers for each mass grave and a few derelict buildings which once housed military prisoners, Civil War POWs, World War II POWs, TB patients, psychiatric patients, a reformatory and drug addicts. Everything society has feared most has been hidden away at some point on this island. I discovered the island, in the way many people have recently, through the words ‘City Cemetery’ written on a death certificate, the death certificate of my eldest brother, born in New York City during the war, who died shortly after birth. There are no known resting places or photographs for the infants and many others on this island. Now there is a searchable database of Hart Island records from 1980 and a map of the related markers (https://www.hartisland.net/).

hart island ruin

Hart Island

hart infant coffins

Hart Island infant coffins

 

slug: FIELD 2 date of pub: destination: size: editor: CHUCK PHOTO BY: A.J. DATE TAKEN: CAPTION INFO (L TO R): Hart Island is a temporary resting area for this goose...and the final resting place for the city's indigent. Pictured are the gravsites for children. Each maker holds 1,000 graves

Hart Island infant grave markers: each marker represents 1000 graves

Returning to photographs, on the day of Auschwitz’s liberation, I came upon these images from the Okopowa St Cemetery in Warsaw of photographs and pebbles remembering children who died in the Holocaust. It seems incredible that this cemetery survived when most of Warsaw was destroyed.

Warsaw Okopowa St Cemetery

warsaw cem

warsaw okopowa st cemetery

warsaw okopowa cem

Warsaw Ghetto children 2

Warsaw Ghetto children 3

http://www.michael-moran.com/2013/04/warsaw-ghetto-uprising-70th-anniversary.html

And to end with a photograph which particularly symbolises the forgotten victims of the pogrom – on the Yad Vashem website is one of only two post-war online photographs of the Odessa monument to the 1905 pogrom victims in its original position which is labelled ‘Odessa, Ukraine, Postwar, The gate to the Jewish cemetery’. Yad Vashem, which memorialises victims of the Holocaust with its incredible database, research, education and exhibitions, is unaware that this photograph is a monument to 300 victims of the largest 1905 pogrom in Russia.

postwar gate odessa jewish cem yad vashem

Monument to the victims of the 1905 Odessa pogrom

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The Feld family revisited

The Feld family has so far been the only family that I have delved into extensively which has been researched and written about online by other family members. Paul Stitelman, a relation of Golda Stitelman Feld, commented on the blog and I was able to find out more stories about his cousins. That led to more research on my part, filling in a few more blanks here and there. Much of it is still supposition as it will always be. Over several emails, Paul wrote:

My grandfather was Jacob Stitelman who was Golda Field’s brother…The story of her immigration is almost as sad as the story of the 1905 pogrom. She came to America with all of her children to meet her husband, Nathan. At Ellis Island it was found that two of her children, Jacob and (perhaps) Pauline had trachoma. The oldest child, Esther, volunteered to go back with them, and they were treated for it in Odessa, and rejoined their parents a few years later.

After the suicide of Nathan in 1912 Olga/Golda became a practical nurse, and spent much time away from the family. The children had to be taken care of by others. My father told me that Eva stayed with his family in Brooklyn for quite a while, and they were in the same class together in school… Another story that I got either from my father or Eva is that during the 1905 pogrom my grandfather’s sisters left the shelter of their house and brought Jewish children to safety.

The story of Olga and Nathan is quite sad. My understanding is that theirs was an arranged marriage in Berdichev when Olga was quite young. My Great grandfather, Avrum, was quite wealthy at the time, and I would suspect that Nathan came from a fairly wealthy family… Nathan worked in Southeastern Ukraine, and Morris Field (who I spoke to once in the 1970s) said that his earliest memory was getting lost in a pogrom…and being rescued by a kindly Christian.

In any case, Nathan joined his brother in law, Max Skilken in Dayton, Ohio, and I imagine that selling fruit off a pushcart was quite a comedown for him. That as well as the stress of trying to support a family with seven children must have broken his spirit. In the early part of the Twentieth Century my grandfather joined Max in Dayton, and very soon decided that he didn’t want to have a pushcart. He and my grandmother returned to New York where he had a series of businesses, mostly laundries.

Morris became a union organizer, and was quite prominent in Detroit. He was active during the 1930s in the union activities connected with the unionizing of the automobile industry.

The cousin I actually met face to face was Esther Romm. She was married to Robert Romm who worked in the Washington Navy Yard. He was an expansive man who was always friendly and kind. Esther was more reserved, almost depressed I might say. She was the oldest daughter, and must have had a good deal of the responsibility for caring for her siblings once her father died…It was Esther who told me about her uncles and aunts. She did this rather reluctantly, but I was able to build on what she told me, and the information grew substantially after the internet. It was through the internet that I met Jacques Stitelmann of Geneva. It turned out that his great grandfather, Petakia (Peter) had died in a pogrom, and that Petakia had been my grandfather’s brother.

Esther told me about a Peter who had beaten a policeman and was dragged to the police station and beaten to death. Jacques heard the story that there was a large pogrom in which the family was terrorized and at least one of Petakia’s daughters was violated. Evidently, this terrorism lasted for quite some time. Petakia was murdered at this time. Jacques placed the pogrom between 1903-1905, and thought it occurred at Yanoushpol. I suspect that it was actually in Odessa.

I hadn’t realized that Nathan was a shoemaker. I had thought he did some kind of high level clerical work in Czarist times. I know nothing of Nechame/Nathaniel. I know there was a daughter Naomi, and I thought Nechame might be she.

Most of the stories do add up, with a few discrepancies, to a coherent picture of an adventurous, well off, political and liberal family trying to make their way in early 1900s Russia. Avrum may have moved to Odessa in the 1890s or early 1900s, well before the pogrom, but his son Peter may have been killed in a pogrom in Berdichev or Odessa. Berdichev did have a pogrom in August 1905 and according to a list of 1903-6 pogroms on the website Museum of Family History (museumoffamilyhistory.com), Berdichev had a population of 62,000 and over 50,000 were Jews. There is no mention on the list of how many were wounded or killed in Berdichev. However, the Feld family had a child in Yanuspol near Berdichev in 1905, so could not have moved to Odessa before then, and may have moved after the August Berdichev pogrom. Of course, they may not have moved to Odessa at all as it was probably Nathan’s mother who died in the Odessa pogrom, and it may have been the pogrom in Berdichev or Yanuspol that Morris experienced, and the reason the family left the area for Batum.

It is intriguing that the family story is that Golda travelled to New York with all her children, but that two, Jacob and Pauline, were not allowed entry because they had trachoma, and their older sister, Esther, volunteered to return with them until they recovered. However, Esther, Jacob and Pauline are not on the original ship’s list for 1908, so possibly the family realised the children would not be allowed to enter America and were kept in Odessa until they had recovered. They travelled with Esther just over a year later.

feld golde 1908 close

Golda Feld and children SS Noordam, December 1908

It is difficult to gauge whether Nathan’s family was wealthy in Berdichev or Odessa. They did not own property in Odessa or have a business large enough to enter the 1904-5 directory, but if the Felds in Odessa were the same family they seem to have been relatively well-off. Nathan probably had a brother, Ios Zusevich, at 46 Kuznechnaya St in Moldavanka, on the Jewish business list in 1893, and in 1911, he had a fish business at 18 Primorskaya, the road that runs along the docks. Another Feld had a flour business in 1911. On Nathan’s death certificate, his father’s name is Zesia, which may have been another form of Zus.

18 primorskaya feld fish

18 Primorskaya

A mistake in the US records was made over the second daughter, Nechame, who appears in the 1910 census as a son, Niciomi. Possibly the census taker had forgotten to ask and had no idea whether the mistaken name Niciomi was male or female. Nechame became Naomi, which was spelt ‘Neoma’ on her 1917 death certificate. She died on 11 August at Dayton State Hospital from pulmonary tuberculosis complicated by dementia praecox (schizophrenia), which had developed five years and seven months previously, the time of her father’s death. The only other information about her on the death certificate was that she was Russian. Her parents’ names and the length of time she had been in Ohio were unknown, so none of her family seem to have been present. Her last name is also spelt incorrectly as ‘Fields’. I doubt that psychiatric diagnoses had a great deal of meaning in those days, and I feel sure that, although the Field family seem to have had a genetic predisposition to psychiatric illnesses, the difficulties in their lives over several years would have been more than many people could have withstood. Dayton State Hospital was the local psychiatric institution at 2335 Wayne Avenue, along the road from the house where Nathan died at 1335 Wayne Avenue. At first I read the two numbers as the same, and had a moment of imagining a prophetic mistake. It was a huge institution in magnificent grounds, now the site of a retirement community.

Dayton State_Hospital_01

dayton state hospital lake

Dayton State Hospital

dayton state hospital 2335 wayne ave

Dayton State Hospital ruins

Large mental hospitals have been closed worldwide over the past 20 or 30 years, and people may be drawn to photograph the ruins because they seem to symbolise what we imagine was happening inside many of the inmates and their lost lives – the worn and broken but subtly variegated colours of the bricks and stones, rusty metal, the torn wallpaper and the scraps left behind in a heap on the floor, a shoe, a belt, a damp, stained report of a person who was once someone’s child.

Although the death certificate stated that Nathan had died from an accident, he had apparently committed suicide and this must have been the final blow for Naomi. The children may have begun to develop their psychiatric problems at the time of the pogrom, after their father’s death or after Naomi’s. There was no end of tragedy in this family. Death certificates often do not mention suicide for various reasons to do with the family’s religion, the burial, the illegality at the time, or the feelings of the family.

After writing about Slobodka Romanovka, I returned to some books I had found online written by travellers to Odessa in the 19th and early 20th century, and found that a description of the pogrom in the working class suburbs of Odessa also mentions that the Odessa psychiatric hospital was in Slobodka and how it was filled, after the pogrom, not with the rabid hooligans, but with the Jews. People may not have realised then how the brutality of the pogrom might even have more effect on small children and those not yet born. From The Dawn In Russia Or Scenes In The Russian Revolution (Henry W. Nevinson 1906):

The Jews of Odessa
And in the northern and north-west districts, where the Jews and some workpeople live, whole rows of houses stood desolate. The marks of bullets were thick upon the walls. The empty sockets of the windows were roughly boarded over. The roofs had been broken in or sometimes burnt away, and even on the main streets people pointed out the windows, three storeys high, from which babies, girls, and women had been pitched sheer upon the stony pavement below.

But passing beyond this quarter, I crossed a deep watercourse, and came out upon the kind of land which serves for country at the backdoor of Odessa. It is part of the wild and almost uninhabited steppe which stretches for mile on mile round the basin of the Dniester…

On the edge of this steppe stands a semi-detached town or large village, called Slobodka Romanovka, conspicuous for its madhouse and its hospital. Providence itself must have ordained the site of these buildings, for nowhere else upon earth’s surface could they have been more wanted. And, indeed, it was the Chosen People of Providence who wanted them most, for none of the rabid Christians who there hunted them down were afterwards confined in the asylum for mania. The village numbered about 26,000 souls, and there was hardly a house which did not still show the marks of wrecking and murder.

odessa slobodka madhouse close

Slobodka Romanovka, New City Hospital and Hospital of ‘souls’

psych hospital slobodka

hospital slobodka

Slobodka psychiatric hospital

On Neoma’s death certificate, there is the name of the cemetery – Riverview. On Nathan’s certificate the cemetery is called Riverside, and I found that Riverview Cemetery belongs to Temple Israel which is on Riverside Drive, so father and daughter were probably at the same cemetery. Searching for Naomi, I came upon the Find a grave website (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi ) with 15 people called Field in Dayton cemeteries, three at Riverview. One was an 18 year old girl who died in 1917 called Norma Field. There are no other Fields in the cemetery in the early 1900s. Naomi was 21 on her death certificate, which more or less fit with her age of 11 when she travelled to America in December 1908. It is difficult to know whether there are reasons for people to change someone’s age on a form. Could Norma have been Neoma? Checking the records, there was no Norma Field living in Dayton at that time. It is not likely that there would have been two young girls, Norma Field and Neoma Field, dying in the same year, buried in the same Jewish cemetery. Many of the gravestones at Riverview Cemetery have been photographed. On Norma’s gravestone, there is a large hollowed circular shape above the writing which looks like it may have held a photograph. It seemed a poignant and appropriate symbol for Norma/Neoma and the people who died in the pogrom, people who seem to have no images and no stories – a gravestone with a gaping hole where a photograph had once been placed to keep her memory alive.

norma field 1917 riverview cem dayton

Riverview Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio

There are two metal hooks which may have had something to do with holding the enamelled or ceramic photograph in place, unless there is something else that might have fit there. There are no other photographs on the graves at Riverview Cemetery. I had thought that Jews did not generally use images of people in their art or on graves, or at least I thought this until a cousin told me that an oval picture she had of our uncle who drowned at age 23 had once been on his gravestone. I had never seen a photograph of him and was shocked that one existed. I had noticed that there were photographs on modern gravestones at the Jewish cemetery in Odessa and began to look and see when this idea took root and whether it derived from Russian Orthodox gravestones.

odessa jewish graves

Odessa Jewish Cemetery

moscow cemetery

cemetery near Moscow

Photographs are used in Russian cemeteries so the practice among Jews may have begun in Russia. I had first seen enamel or ceramic photographs on Catholic gravestones at the Verano Cemetery in Rome, where painted portraits were used until the technology was developed for using photographs. I had not noticed photographs at the Verano Jewish Cemetery, where my mother is buried, although there are some.

campo-verano rome

rome cem

Verano Cemetery, Rome

rome jewish photos

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Verano Jewish Cemetery

Roma 17 Luglio 2002 Cimitero monumentale del Verano Profanate 50 tombe al cimitero ebraico. Rome, July 17, 2002 Verano monumental cemetery Desecrated 50 graves at Jewish cemetery.

Painted portraits, Verano Jewish Cemetery

I first photographed a grave with a picture of a young woman at the old cemetery at Todi, Umbria, where my father was buried 20 years after my mother died.

todi old cemetery 2008

Todi Cemetery, Umbria, Italy

Putting photographs on gravestones seemed particularly suited to remembering or immortalising children or young people, like Norma Field or the young people in the pogrom records, whose parents would be thinking of them every day of their lives. But I wanted to understand more about how, when and where this strangely haunting practice had begun.

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Rabinovich families: part two – birth records and the pogrom

When I began this research, I did not know whether my uncle Michel was born before or after the pogrom, as his date of birth is not on his death record or anywhere else. But there was one more clue which helped me to put the pieces of this story together. One of my cousins told me a story about the oldest son, Aron, who was seven when they left Russia, and who had nightmares all his life from having seen ‘Cossacks spearing Jewish babies’. He never spoke of the past or his childhood, but did explain about his nightmares to his wife, saying that when there were raids in his village, their Ukrainian maid, who had a Cossack boyfriend, would warn them, and the children would be hidden. What did he mean by village? Where might they have lived? How many raids might they have experienced? Where were they hidden?

mali fontan

Malyi Fontan

In his memoir, Mosaic of Life, Kataev also uses the word ‘village’ when his family moved just a few streets from their home on Kanatnaya to Otrada, a group of four short streets which had originally been a fishing village on the edge of the steep lanes down to the coast. I began to think about my grandparents living on one of the small lanes running down towards the sea or at one of the fishing villages used as local resorts, the Malyi, Srednyi, or Bolshoi Fontan, and I wandered along Google Streetview, looking at the old houses that remained.

gospitalni lane

Gospitalnyi Lane (lane off French Blvd towards the sea)

gospitalnaya 1916

Gospitalnyi (Госпиталный) below first Rabinovich (Рабиновиичa) dacha

If Michel was not born until after the pogrom, the two nameless boys would have been the youngest, possibly under 1 and 2 years old in 1905, and it would not have been possible to hide them away with the older children. They would have been in their mother’s arms, easily grabbed away by soldiers. If Michel had been born before the pogrom, this story falls to pieces. But recently I asked a researcher in the Ukraine to look up three Odessa birth records for me: the two Mikhails born in 1905 (there were no Mikhels), both born after the pogrom, to see if any were my uncle Michel, and one Nakhman born in 1904, as that was a family name, and might have been one of the other boys. I found that Michel was not born in Odessa, unless it was during or immediately after the pogrom and the family did not have a chance to register the birth. The real children of the Odessa birth records I received were one Mikhail, son of an Odessan businessman Abram-Ide Khaskelecich, Nezhinskaya St 14, born 18 November 1905, another Mikhail, born 30 November 1905, son of Hersh Leibovich and Ester from Satanov, and Nakhman, son of Abram Shimonov and Zislia from Kherson, born 14 December 1904.

13 literaturna st

13 Literaturna St

literaturnaya modern map

Literaturnaya (Литературная) running down to park by sea

odessa plan 1894 literaturnaya

Literaturnaya, Srednyi Fontan 1894 – track running north from main road to sea

The stories about my uncle Aron also say the nightmares were the result of witnessing a baby being tossed into the air and stabbed with a sabre. A slightly different version of this story was that he had seen Cossacks riding into their village, taking small babies out of their mother’s arms, tossing them into the air and spearing them on their swords. This made me wonder where Aron and his sister had been hidden that he could see this scene. At first I had imagined he was looking out an attic window at some distant scene down a street, but of course it is more likely he could only see in front of his own house. Later, I began to think that they might have been in a shed looking into their own yard, or a cupboard in their house looking through a keyhole. Both stories mention babies, as do many others newspaper stories about the pogrom, but there are no babies in the pogrom death records and only 3 children under three years old.

If the two brothers had not died in the pogrom, why would my grandparents have gone to so much trouble to hide any evidence of them, to hide the birthdate of their youngest son, and everything else about their lives in Odessa? It was a very elaborate lie to keep going for the rest of their lives. The 1910 US Census has a question about the number of children a woman has had and whether they are alive or dead. In 1910, four years after they arrived in New York, my grandmother had had her first child born in the US, and she said she had had four children, and four were alive, the three that had come from Russia and the new baby. Why had she not said she had had six children, as she did on my mother’s birth certificate? I wondered if the census was done orally with the whole family around, and my grandparents did not want to mention the two missing children in front of the others. Michel was then 5, old enough to understand everything, and may not have known about the missing brothers, or anything about the circumstances of his birth and why the family left Russia. This might have been a lesson for the children that the past was not to be spoken about. And a problem for them later.

I went back to Michael Ignatieff’s Russian Album to help me think about how my grandparents might have felt after leaving Russia without their two young boys. His grandmother also lost a two-year-old son in Russia and he writes:

There was typhoid at the resort, in the water supply, in the water ices the children ate on the terrace overlooking the sea, in the milk for the littlest one’s formula. In two frightful hours, Natasha watched Vladimir come down with the disease, and she saw the life of her youngest – Paul – ebb away before her eyes. In time she managed to speak of all her losses, all her dispossessions, but never this one, never the snuffing out of baby Paul’s little life. How many times, in her most secret hours, must she have stalked that accursed ground in her memory wondering what else she might have done, how she might have deflected the falling sword. She never returned to the Crimea again, to those blessed estates of her childhood with the beautiful names – Koreis, Gaspra – but her memory must have marched back again and again to that hotel bedroom in Eupatoria, to that empty cot. When the time finally came at the end of her life to put down what happened that summer of 1909, she did not write about it at all…Through all the waystations of the life to come, she kept just one little picture in a round silver frame on her night table: the smiling image of her dead child. (p85)

I have a photo of the two eldest children, Aron and Sara, when they were nearly 2 and 4, as Aron was born in December 1898 and little boys began to wear trousers by 4. It might have been taken shortly before the third child was born in Odessa, or before they left Baranovichi.

Archie Sarah_0002

Odessa 1902?

Studio portraits of children leaning on props such as walls were very common in Odessa at that time. It looks as if someone has made a copy of this photograph cutting out the name of the photographer and town at the bottom.

odessa boy pillar wall Gotlib

Odessan boy 1900s?

When I was 6 or 7, I remember finding an old children’s book, Tige, among my parents’ books. I assumed it had belonged to my mother when she was little, although it was never mentioned and I never thought to ask. It is the story of a dog who moves from the country to live with a little boy and his family in New York City until the family finally moves out of town to a house with a garden, much to the dog’ s delight. In one of the first pictures, the little boy is dressed in a dress, as my uncle was in the photograph. It was not until recently that I thought to look at when the book was published – the date inside is 1905, and I realised that the book must have been for Aron, who was seven when the family arrived in 1906. The story mirrors my grandparents’ lives at that time, as they settled first in Manhattan and then moved out to New Rochelle. Had he been given it for his first birthday in America around Christmas 1906?

tige 1   tige 2_0002

Tige by Richard F. Outault 1905

I am quite sure that my grandparents would not have bought a book in English, a language they never learned to read or write properly. They would not have known that this story was a spin-off from a popular cartoon called Buster Brown. Was it bought by one of my grandmother’s brothers, the successful one who had had several businesses and was always helping out other family members? I doubt that there were many other books or other things in the house at first, so this is a rare reminder of their first months in the US.

This is the only photograph of my grandparents’ children in Russia. When I read Ignatieff’s description of the death of little Paul, it makes me wonder how my grandparents might have felt losing two little boys, possibly from an illness like typhoid, but possibly brutally during the pogrom. That these two boys remained nameless and no photographs were kept probably says more than any number of words. The first family photograph taken in the US was of my grandmother and the three children about two years later, when the baby, Michel, was about 3, wearing a dress as had his brother before him. The children are not as smartly turned out as six years earlier, or as most children are in studio portraits. Their clothes are rumpled and not tucked in. The little touches of a mother wanting her children to look their best are not there, although everyone, except the youngest who looks up quizzically at the photographer, is smiling.

From the little I have heard about my grandmother, I felt that something had been broken in her by the time she reached America. I gathered that she rarely went out anywhere, whether to the shops, into New York City, on a holiday, or to visit relations. My grandfather mainly worked from home or very early in the morning so that he could be at home for lunch with my grandmother, and once settled, she did not want to move or change their life in any way. And even though my grandfather was often around, when my mother, the youngest child, went to college in New York City, she felt she had to come home for lunch as often as possible because her mother was now alone. My cousin also mentioned that, in the summers, my mother would come from work to her mother’s for lunch, and then take her and my cousins to the beach, where my grandmother would sit by herself rather than talk to the other old women gossiping together.

My grandparents always lived on the same two adjoining streets in New Rochelle but none of the houses they lived in remain. Many of the houses around there do not look that different from Russian houses with their gable ends to the road, picket fences and tree lined streets.

acorn terr new rochelle

Acorn Terrace, New Rochelle

new rochelle picket fence

New Rochelle street

vershynna st bolshoi fontan

Vershynna St, Bolshoi Fontan

nedjelina st trees

Nedjelina St, Srednyi Fontan

There was one more clue to where all the children were born. In the US 1920 census, the Russian districts where people were born were recorded. My grandparents and the two elder children were said to have been born in the Minsk district, and for Michel it said Kiev. My grandfather also wrote on his naturalisation form that his last residence in Russia was Kiev. It is possible that they had left Odessa and stayed initially in Kiev to have the baby and wait until he was old enough to travel on to Minsk and then America. But it is also possible that, not wanting to speak of why they had left Odessa, they invented the story that they had lived in Kiev. When my eldest uncle applied for his first US passport around 1960 he wrote that he was born in Kiev. Was he not born in the Minsk district or had he simply decided to repeat the Kiev story?

Rabinowitz Jacob 1920e

1920 US census

I was still not sure where Michel had been born, and no closer to finding the other two uncles. Eventually, as more records come online, possibly even added to this blog from people who have retrieved records from the Odessa archive, this list will be wheedled down to a point where it might be feasible to find my uncles. Below is a list of the Odessa Rabinovich births for 1902-1904, among which are possibly the two missing boys.
1902 births
44   RABINOVICH Beila
108 RABINOVICH Rivka
293 RABINOVICH Ester
299 RABINOVICH Dina
5??  RABINOVICH Gersh
503 RABINOVICH Gersh
606 RABINOVICH Leib
535 RABINOVICH Elasha
557 RABINOVICH Pesya
576 RABINOVICH Alisa
790 RABINOVICH Gersh
858 RABINOVICH Esya
892 RABINOVICH Mal?
1177 RABINOVICH Aaron
1438 RABINOVICH Shmil
1743 RABINOVICH Khaim Mendel
1883 RABINOVICH Gersh
1942 RABINOVICH Ilya
1749 RABINOVICH Mesiya
2089 RABINOVICH Evce
1835 RABINOVICH Vitali
2232 RABINOVICH Rudolif
1991 RABINOVICH Braina
2327 RABINOVICH Iosif
2071 RABINOVICH Etel
2591 RABINOVICH Ruvin
2601 RABINOVICH Moise
2367 RABINOVICH Tsipora
2373 RABINOVICH Feiga
2415 RABINOVICH Khana

1903 births
11    RABINOVICH Gersh
122 RABINOVICH Breita-Riva
240 RABINOVICH Khvelya
620 RABINOVICH Borukh
799 RABINOVICH Manus
1079 RABINOVICH Isidor
1200 RABINOVICH Moisei
1059 RABINOVICH Beila
1253 RABINOVICH Ber
1255 RABINOVICH Yakov
1370 RABINOVICH Iosif
1585 RABINOVICH Iosel
1891 RABINOVICH Sergei
2301 RABINOVICH Menasha
2341 RABINOVICH Shimon
2422 RABINOVICH Yakov
2225 RABINOVICH Evgeniya
2430 RABINOVICH Pesya

1904 births
58   RABINOVICH Leya
110 RABINOVICH Aron
220 RABINOVICH Beilya
413 RABINOVICH Ekhatsniesh
538 RABINOVICH Usher- Ruvin
549 RABINOVICH Boris
841 RABINOVICH Avram
695 RABINOVICH Mirel
702 RABINOVICH Beila
1365 RABINOVICH Mariem
1634 RABINOVICH Falin
1480 RABINOVICH Feiga
1662 RABINOVICH Pesya
1672 RABINOVICH Sarra
2082 RABINOVICH Mordel
1885 RABINOVICH Etya
1985 RABINOVICH Leya Reidya
2011 RABINOVICH Ester
2012 RABINOVICH Etya twins
2441 RABINOVICH Mikheal
2509 RABINOVICH Nakhman
2666 RABINOVICH Iegoshia
2682 RABINOVICH Gersh Volf
2741 RABINOVICH Nakhman

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