The Odessa Tartakovsky families

Before the coronavirus lockdown, I had been sorting through my books and papers preparing to move house, before house-moving became a near impossibility. The  lockdown seemed the perfect time to become reacquainted with some of the books and I began with an old favourite, Dora Bruder, by Patrick Modiano. It’s a beautiful piece of detective work beginning with a real missing person’s ad the author finds in a 1941 Paris newspaper which describes a missing 15-year-old girl, Dora Bruder, and includes the names and address of her parents. This would be nothing out of the ordinary except this is occupied France, the family is Jewish, and the Gestapo is searching for unregistered Jews. There would never be a good ending to this story.

On this reading I was particularly interested in a letter the author reproduces at the end of the book – a letter he bought at a riverside bookstall in Paris written by a man who was on the same 1942 transport from a Paris internment centre to the Drancy camp as Dora Bruder. The 5 page letter was written three days before the transport on 19 June 1942 to his wife. The author is Robert Tartakofsky, who was born in Odessa 24 November 1902 and before the war wrote an art column for the journal Illustration and may have been an art dealer. The letter gives fascinating insights into the minds of those who probably did not know what was going to happen to them but had a sense of doom.

19 June 1942

Yesterday I was picked to go. I’ve been mentally prepared for a long time. The camp is panic-stricken, many men are crying, they are afraid. The only thing bothering me is that most of the clothes I keep asking for still haven’t arrived. I sent off a coupon for a clothes parcel: will what I need come in time? I don’t want my mother or any of you to worry. I’ll do my utmost to keep safe and well…. A bar or two of good soap, some shaving soap, a shaving brush, toothbrush, nail brush, all welcome, I’m trying to think of everything at once, to mix the practical with all the other things I have to say to you. Nearly 1000 of us are to go. There are also Aryans in the camp. They are forced to wear the Jewish insignia…. The cowardice of most people here appals me. What will be its effect once we’re there, I wonder…. Urge my mother to be very careful, people are being arrested daily, some here are very young, 17, 18, others as old as 72…. What upsets me is that all deportees have their heads shaved, it makes you even more conspicuous than the insignia….

20 June 1942

My dear ones, the case arrived yesterday, thank you for everything. I’m not sure, but I fear a hurried departure. I am to have my head shaved today. From tonight, deportees will probably be confined to a special hut and closely guarded, even to the lavatory and back. A sinister atmosphere hovers over the camp…. Don’t panic the moment you stop hearing from me, keep calm, wait patiently and with trust, have faith in me, reassure my mother that, having seen departures for the Beyond (as I told you), I prefer to be on this journey…. I don’t know if you got my usual card, or if I’ll get an answer before we leave. I think of my mother, of you. Of all my loving friends who did so much to help me keep my freedom. Heartfelt thanks to those who helped me get through the winter. I’m leaving this letter unfinished. It’s time to pack my bag. Back soon. (Modiano, Dora Bruder 101-6)

Robert Tartakovsky was transported to Auschwitz 1 August 1942. His mother Rosa Tartakovsky (nee Lubtchansky), born in Odessa in 1876, was transported to Auschwitz 7 March 1943. As his letter was found at a bookstall along the Seine, it seems likely that he had no close descendants.

The name Tartakovsky sounded familiar so I returned to my Odessa pogrom death records and there was someone on the list called Yankel Shaevich Tartakovsky. He was 17 and from Lyubar in Zhytomyr province, which is west of Kiev. I began to look up the name Tartakovsky in the Odessa records and found it was a common name. There were 57 births in the Odessa birth index from 1880-1900. Looking in the Jewish records more widely, the name is most common in the area where Yankel Tartakovsky was from. Lyubar is near Zhytomyr and Berdichev, both of which towns had many Tartakovsky families. There are also quite a few in Kiev and further south in Smela. It is not surprising that some had migrated south to Odessa. The Tartakovskys do not feature in the early Odessa directories so must not have owned property at that time.

There was one doctor, Yakov Tartakovsky, an ear nose and throat specialist, in the Odessa 1900 directory who appears later as well. In the 1904-5 directory there is a Gersh Tartakovsky who has an ink factory. In 1908, MY Tartakovsky had a chrome lithography business and the ink factory is described more fully as one that also produced sealing wax, resin, gum arabic and colours or dyes. As chrome lithography was a process using inks and colour, it could be that these two families were related.

The name Tartakovsky is used in one of the Odessa Tales of Isaac Babel, ‘How things were done in Odessa’. Rubin Tartakovsky is a local wealthy factory owner in Moldavanka who is put in his place by the working class Jewish gangsters. Possibly the Tartakovsky family who had the ink factory were models for the factory owner in the story. There is also a young Odessan Rubin Tartakovsky in a ship’s manifest to New York in 1908, so Rubin may have been a family name.

The ink factory was on Prokhorovskaya St, one street away from Hospital St, an area where the pogrom was particularly severe. The factory had different addresses in the directories, 24 in 1904-5 and 8 in 1908 (pictured below), both in the same stretch of the street. This part of the street is marked by the number 1 on the map of Moldavanka below. The number 2 is next to the Jewish Hospital on Gospitalnaya St or Hospital St.

odessa map 1888 mold

Moldavanka 1888 Prokhorovskaya St

prokhorovskaya 8 Tartakovsky

Prokhorovskaya St 8

In the 1908 directory there is an AK Tartakovsky who owned Malaya Arnautskaya 67. But I did not find Yankel’s father Shaya who may have only recently moved to Odessa or may not have owned property or run a business. Robert Tartakovsky, whose family may have left Odessa for France after the pogrom or, more likely, after the revolution, may have come from the chrome lithography family as he was involved in art. Many from Odessa left at some point in the early 1900s for France and then died in the Holocaust.

Robert Tartakovsky’s mother was born in Odessa in 1876 but we do not know how long his father had been there and whether his family also came from the same area of Ukraine as Yankel Tartakovsky. Possibly all the Tartakovskys came from that area but spread around the region and to the south over many years and did not know each other. On the other hand, there may have been a large clan of Tartakovskys in and around Moldavanka, some rich and some poor, with all the varying relationships people may have.