Category Archives: silence

Sara Nachmanovich, Kishinev and the orphan train

Before becoming involved in the story of Sara Rabinowitz and her baby son who was not registered in the 1905 Odessa birth records, I had been trying to find Odessa orphans travelling from Hamburg to New York in 1905 or 1906 as I saw a reference to a file of 1906 pogrom orphans in the Hamburg ship’s manifests. I was not particularly concerned about whether their family names were in the pogrom death records, as I think there were many more unrecorded names of people who were killed during the pogrom or died shortly afterwards from their injuries. I found several orphans travelling with another family, travelling with an older child to relations in America, and one sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office, but I could not find records for any of them after their arrival, often because the spelling was difficult to decipher. Then I came upon nearly a whole page of orphans on a ship’s manifest, the SS Amerika travelling from Hamburg, arriving in New York 25 August 1906, all sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. One family of five children, from ages 15 to 6 were from Odessa. Unfortunately the name was long and fairly indecipherable, and it is transcribed as Nachwan… on the manifest. The children were listed on the manifest as: Simon 15 Kishinev, Isaac 13 Odessa, Esther 11 Odessa, Hinde 9 Odessa, Selde 6 Odessa.

I tried many combinations in my search for the family and eventually struck lucky with Nachman and thought the original name might have been Nachmanovich (Нахманович). In the 1910 census, I found a 12-year-old Sarah Nachman in Kansas City, Missouri, the adopted daughter of a well-off merchant, living with his wife, Rose, 14-year-old son, mother, sister and two servants. Sarah had emigrated from Russia in 1906. The family lived on a main street in Kansas City, now rebuilt with modern buildings on the block where they lived, but there are older houses a few blocks away.

The Paseo, Kansas City (Google streetview at sunset)

Was this Selde who was probably fostered when she arrived at the age of 6 going on 7.  A young orphan girl being sent from New York to Missouri brought to mind the orphan trains of the late 1800s and early 1900s run by Christian charities. A recent novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is based on the lives of Irish Catholic children orphaned in New York and sent to the midwest where they were often used as unpaid servants or farm labourers from an early age. The highest numbers of orphans were sent to Missouri.

Orphan train children

But Jewish orphans sent to the midwest? As a six-year-old I assume Sarah was treated as the daughter of the family, not as a servant. But how much of a daughter? How much would she have been made to feel she was one of the family? I checked the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum records to see if Sarah or any of her brothers and sisters had spent any time at the asylum but there was only a different Sarah Nachman of the same age but with other siblings during the years 1909-13. Most of those years Sarah was definitely in Missouri.

I looked up the New York Industrial Removal Office and found nothing about orphans. They did look for job openings across the country for new immigrants, and placed young boys in apprenticeships at quite early ages, like the Scheindless boy who was sent to a mining town in Pennsylvania, a placement that did not last long. He ended up at the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum, possibly because he wanted to be with his brother. Brothers and sisters on the orphan trains were apparently most likely sent to different homes as the important thing was simply to find homes. In the New York Industrial Removal Office online record guide (http://findingaids.cjh.org//IRO5.html ) Kansas City, Missouri is mentioned for the years 1905-1907 as a destination for their travelling agents looking for employment opportunities through Jewish organisations. There is no mention of looking for homes for orphans but this may have been a secondary part of their job, especially in 1906 when pogrom orphans were being sent from Russia.

I tried to find out more about the couple, Julius and Rose, who had only had one child and had decided to take on a Russian orphan girl from the pogrom in Odessa. In 1900 Julius and Rose, both from New York, were already living in Missouri with their little boy. The 1890 census is mostly destroyed and Julius only turns up in 1880 as a nine-year-old living in New York with his parents, Sigismund,56, and Esther, 36, and three siblings, Naomi, Abraham and Hannah, obviously a Jewish family. His father is listed as English, a doctor and disabled, and he died the next year. Sigismund is on one census in England, the 1860 census, a widow and merchant living with two unmarried sisters and a servant. He remarried in America in 1863 to Esther Hanff. On the 1870 census he is listed as a clerk in a clothing store, married with two children. On his 1875 naturalisation form he states his profession as physician. Had he trained in medicine in the 1870s or was he practising as an alternative doctor of some kind? A chiropractor or homeopath? It is impossible to find out how Esther managed after her husband died without the 1890 census. She does not turn up again in the records except as the mother of Naomi who married in 1893 and Hannah who married in 1899. Julius did very well for himself in Missouri, later moved to Chicago and then went into business with his journalist son in Florida, buying a newspaper. His son, Herbert, had started out as a reporter in Missouri, then moved to a job as a journalist in New York where he was living with his wife and son in 1920, and then in 1930 he was living in Florida.

Before looking up the Davidson family, I searched for the other Nachman siblings and soon found her two brothers in Missouri, Simon who had become Samuel, and Isaac who had become Henry. Henry, at 13, was fostered by the Kessel family. Paul Kessel was German and worked in wholesale millinery and lived in the same general area as the Davidson family. By 1910, Henry was a lodger in a house even nearer to his sister and working as a clerk in a millinery shop so must have learned the trade from his foster father. In 1920, at 27, he was again living with the Kessels and their two teenage children, and managing a millinery shop.

Victor Street, Kansas City, Kessel home 1920

In 1917, on his WW 1 registration, he was also living with the Kessels, was in the National Guard, and said he was born in Kishinev, like his older brother. At some point in the 1920s Henry went to New York, and by 1940 he was living on West 86th Street, with a wife and 11-year-old son, working as a millinery buyer. He puts his place of birth as Germany, the country of his foster father, so he may have felt accepted by this family or at least identified with them as he had continued with his foster father’ s business. Sarah had preceded him to New York, probably as soon as she left school, as she married in 1918 at the age of 19 in New York to Louis Schwartz, a fur operator, also 19. Sarah probably did not feel quite like a daughter to the Davidsons as she left their home at a young age for the Russian Jewish community of the Lower East Side. I never found her older sisters, Esther and Hinde, but possibly they had remained in New York and Sarah had kept in contact with them, planning to reunite. Splitting up families may have been necessary to find homes for as many of the younger children as possible, but it was always very difficult and siblings often searched for family later on if they had not been able to keep in touch. According to Louis’ WW 1 registration, in 1918, shortly after he married he was living on 4th Street near his family. He next appears on the 1940 census living in Brooklyn with Sarah and their three children.

Sarah’s marriage record, with the names of her parents, Bennie Nachmanowitz and his wife Lena Schneider, made it possible to trace her family in Russia. I found the births of all of the Nachmanovich children, except Sarah, in Kishinev.

Kishinev street

There is a Russian website about the history of Kishinev with a page of old maps and another on old street names and street signs.

http://oldchisinau.com/starye-karty-i-ulicy/starye-karty-kishinyova/

http://oldchisinau.com/starye-karty-i-ulicy/

Kishinev 1943

In the Kishinev records, the parents are Beynish Shloime or Shimon and Edel Liba Abram Yehoshua, and the children are Shimon 1891, Ayzik 1893, Ester 1894, and Gnendlya 1897. The death of their mother is recorded as 12 December 1901. The father’s death is recorded as 16 November 1905, about three weeks after the Odessa pogrom. The last residence of the children on the ship’s manifest is Odessa so it could be that the family moved to Odessa at some point after the mother died, possibly after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. The Kishinev 1903 pogrom was the first pogrom of the 20th century, and modern communication methods meant that news of it travelled around the world in minutes and journalists were able to see the situation for themselves. It became an icon of horror like 9/11 or possibly the recent burnt out tower block in London. Symbols of failure in society. Kishinev made Russian Jews wary of their lives in Russia, but also may have set the tone for future pogroms. The death toll was 47 and there is a list of the victims online. http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/chisinau/LIF_POGROM1903_Victims.asp

Kishinev street after the pogrom 1903

As the Nachman family was probably living in Odessa in 1905, Sara’s father’s death record in Kishinev may indicate that he had been wounded in the Odessa pogrom and returned to Kishinev to recover and died there, or possibly the record is in the Kishinev records because he was originally from there. It seems likely that the father’s death is linked to the Odessa pogrom, as the children are part of a group of orphans leaving from Hamburg sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. Somehow the stories, like that of the Feld and Stitelman families, who possibly fled from a pogrom in their hometown to the Odessa pogrom, seem sadder, seem double the horror, and remind me of the famous tale of death in Samarkand.

In the Samarkand legend, “A servant encounters a woman in the market place and recognizes her as Death. The ominous figure looks into the face of the servant and makes what seems to him a threatening gesture. Trembling with fear, the servant runs home, borrows his master’s horse, and rides like the wind all the way to Samarkand so that Death will not be able to find him. Later, the master sees Death and asks her why she had threatened his servant. And Death says, “There was no threat. I was merely startled to see your servant here, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarkand.”

In 1932, Sam’s daughter, Mabel, married a radio technician in a Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Sam’s birthplace is listed as Petrograd and Mabel’s mother is Stella Perryman. In 1938, Evelyn died, age 39, in California. On the 1940 census, Sam is a widower and lodger with a young couple in Los Angeles, working as a salesman. His older son, Lawrence, a mechanic of 26, is living with his mother and stepfather, Stella and Floyd Perryman, in Los Angeles in 1940. It says on the census that in 1935 Lawrence was living in Kansas City. When he enlisted in the army in 1942 he was divorced with no children. It seems that his sister may have gone to California earlier than her brother, although they may have visited their mother on and off. A younger son, Sam, does not appear in the records after 1930 when he was 9. In 1942 on his WW 2 registration Sam, the father, is still living with the young couple and not employed. I could not work out who Stella and Estelle were in relation to Sam and the children. Sam’s life seems to have been the most disjointed of the Nachman children, probably because he was not fostered, did not go to school in America, possibly never learned to write in English, and probably had a  difficult time when he first found himself alone in Missouri. His one aim must have been to become American, like everyone around him. In 1947, living in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, he married a divorced woman from New York of Russian Jewish parents.

Ocean Park, Santa Monica by Ansel Adams 1939

Looking to see where Ocean Park, the address on the marriage certificate, was, I discovered a 1939 series of photographs of Santa Monica by Ansel Adams, most of the large trailer park set up to accommodate the many homeless families moving west during the depression. The sign for Broadway and Fifth Avenue is a nice touch.

Olympic Trailer Court, Santa Monica, Ansel Adams 1939

Olympic Trailer Court

On the certificate, Sam is the owner of a gas station and this is his second marriage. The first names of his parents are listed as ‘unknown’ even though he was 10 when his mother died and 14 when his father died.

Sam Nachman marriage license 1947

He has travelled a long way, literally and figuratively, from Odessa to Missouri to Santa Monica, and left his parents behind in Kishinev, even though he has chosen to marry someone from the same Russian Jewish background. People do what they have to do to carry on with their lives, even if it means forgetting their parents’ names.

For Sarah, who probably had no memories of her mother, and few of her father, they may have remained alive in her imagination. All of the Nachman children for whom I found records found some success – they had jobs, had married and had children. Henry and Sam both named sons after themselves as if rejecting the Jewish tradition of not naming children after living relations, and following the American tradition of passing down the father’s name. Unlike the Scheindless brothers, none of the children named a child after their father. Possibly having been split up as children, even if some of them came together later, it might have been difficult to talk about the past and pass on any memories of traditions that one or the other may have remembered. Although it does not seem likely that some of the children kept in touch, like Henry in New York and Sam in California, there were similarities in the way they adapted to their new lives, possibly because they had grown up together in Kishinev and Odessa and shared certain ideas of who they were and what they hoped for in life.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Peresyp and police surveillance – families and detention at Ellis Island

Jewish Chronicle 15 December 1905
The Anti-Jewish Atrocities in Russia. Further Narratives. The Reign of Terror at Odessa (from our correspondent)
Odessa, 30 November
A doctor on military service living in the Peressip suburb requested the aide-de-camp of Baron Kaulbars, with whom he stood on friendly terms, to protect his house. Forty soldiers were immediately placed at the doctor’s disposal and the hooligans were put to flight. The police officer who was leading the hooligans informed Kaulbers that soldiers, led by a Jewish doctor, were firing on ‘patriots’. Having ascertained that the doctor was a Jew, the fact of which the aide-de-camp had been ignorant, orders were given to demolish the house; the doctor and his family had a narrow escape. The walls were literally riddled with bullets.

 
A relatively uncommon name, in the Peresyp letter and in the list of those under police surveillance, was Goikhman (Гойхман). There were the brothers under surveillance, David Iankel Goikhman and Mordko Iankel Goikhman, then there was 50-year-old A. Sch. Goichman in the Peresyp letter, and 45-year-old Shlema Gershov Goikhman who died in the pogrom and may have shared his name, Shlema, with the patronymic of A. Sch. Goichman. Quite a few Goichman or Gochman families left Odessa for America after the pogrom. There were many spellings and misspellings of the name Goichman, and many changes of first names, so it was not easy to tie together families leaving Odessa and living in America. One Goichman/Gochman was a widow of about 50, Leie later Lena, who travelled to New York in 1913 with two of her grandchildren to live with her daughter, Sara Nechetzky. She is about the right age to have been the widow of Shlema. Leie and the children were held for a Board of Special Inquiry at Ellis Island, and it is marked on the manifest that Leie suffered from senility and curvature of the spine, which might affect her ability to work.

Ellis_Island_arrivals 1904

Ellis Island inspection hall 1904

Could this ‘senility’ have been the results of whatever circumstances led to this woman been widowed and the stress of travelling with two small children from Odessa to New York, possibly speaking no language except Yiddish and unable to read or write?

gochman leie 1913 extract

Leie Gochman SS Volturno manifest arrived NY 15 Feb 1913

The Gochmans and Nechetzkys seem to have been quite a large family who lived near each other around East 100th Street in Manhattan. In searching the many Goichman names online I also came upon 2 people in mental asylums, as the word ‘inmate’ tends to stand out on the page. This made me think again about the problems of surviving pogroms and then emigrating, often with young children. One of the inmates in the 1940 census was from Odessa, a teacher of 35 called Anna Goichman, who was at Rockland State Hospital on the Hudson River, which, at its peak, had 9000 inmates. Also in 1940, a 29-year-old Joseph Goichman was in an enormous Long Island hospital, Pilgrim State Hospital, which housed up to 14,000 inmates. Anna appears meticulously in the records with her family up until 1940, but Joseph appears nowhere except possibly as someone who emigrated to Québec, Canada in 1928.

Anna’s records go beyond the censuses. In June 1938 there was an article in the New York Sun about the teachers’ retirement board and a protest about two teachers who were retired without having asked to be. There is then a list of other teachers retiring because of disability including Anna Goichman, who had been teaching at PS 34, a Bronx primary school, close to her family home at 1566 White Plains Road. She had lived with her family until 1931 when she is listed in a Bronx directory as a teacher living at 36 White Plains Road, near where the road reaches the East River.

PS34AmethystAve&Victor

PS 34

1566 white plains rd

1566 White Plains Rd (house with green door)

Had Anna made a bid for independence that went horribly wrong when she moved away from the centre of the Bronx to the quieter waterside, which was not very different from the small lanes near the Odessa coast? Had she moved because of problems at home?

harding park bronx east river

The East River at the end of White Plains Road with Manhattan in the distance

Looking at where Anna may have gone walking along the river, it seems to be an area of contrasts – of messy boat sheds, oil drums, discarded tyres, and general boat rubbish, but also wasteland appropriated for tidy little gardens with their flamboyant plant urns and garden furniture.

white plains rd end

Gardens by the East River

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boats, sheds and integrity on the East River

Anna was only 33 in May 1940 when she was listed under the Bronx civil court records as a plaintiff, probably being committed to the asylum. The next record is from the Social Security death index. She received her Social Security number in 1963, when she must have left the hospital and taken a job. She had been living in Middleton, a town fairly near the hospital, when she died in 1971.

rockland state hospital

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Rockland State Hospital

Anna being committed to an institution led me to wonder what had happened to the rest of the family. As the comprehension of the name Goichman for census-takers was so difficult, it is not easy to find members of the family. In 1910, the name Goichman was spelt Goehmincls. But eventually some records were found for each member of the family. The three sons, Harry, Sam, and Milton all became plumbers like their father and all married. Harry and Sam married before 1930 and Milton, the youngest by 1940. Harry went to live with his wife’s family in Yonkers, but the other two brothers stayed near the family in the Bronx. Sam was only a few streets away. The younger daughter, Sophie, was still a student at home in 1930. Of the brothers, only Milton appears on the 1940 census. He had moved to a different area of the Bronx. Sophie seems to disappear. The parents, Nathan and Esther, also are not easy to find in 1940, although Nathan filled out a 1942 World War II registration with an address in the Bronx, further north than they had been living. The Nechetsky family also moved to the Bronx and all of them stayed in the South Bronx round 163rd Street.

Why was it Anna, the child born in Russia in 1905, shortly before the family emigrated, who was committed to an asylum? Why had Nathan and Esther left Odessa shortly after their first child was born? Like many families, there is a different emigration date on each census, one even before Anna was born (while still saying she was born in Russia). Eventually I found Nathan, as Nathin Goichman, a locksmith, on the SS Statendam sailing from Rotterdam in June 1904, his last residence having been London. Anna’s birthdate on her death record was 7 February 1905. It was possible that Nathan had only stayed briefly in London, as ‘last residence’ does not necessarily mean last permanent residence. I could not find Esther on a ship’s list but their next child, Harry, was born on 5 September 1906, which means that Esther and Anna must have arrived in New York very soon after the pogrom, by January 1906, unless Harry was born early. Anna may have had a difficult first few years, possibly having witnessed the pogrom and experienced the fear, followed by the long trip to America, her parents trying to get to grips with a new country with little money and a new baby. In the New York death records, there is a Nathan Gershma Goichman who died in 1946, and if this was him then he might have been the younger brother of the Shlema Gershkov who died in the pogrom. They might also have been related to the brothers on the surveillance list, and possibly to Lena Gochman and the Nechetskys.

Milton retired to Florida and died in 1999. Sam died in 1966, age 59, and is buried in Bayside cemetery in Queens. Harry died in 1978 in the Adirondacks. His residence was in the small community of Blooming Grove, a beautiful rural area, in the same county where his sister had been institutionalised. Possibly the family had always remained in touch with her. He is however buried at Huntington Station, Long Island, an area where Long Island is becoming more rural, which must have been his previous or main home. This is the first family who was able to move out of the city, which might have been Anna’s idea when she moved closer to the East River.

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Blooming Grove, New York

In searching for Anna Goichman on a ship’s list, I tried the name ‘Chane’ and found another baby, six months old, travelling from Odessa with her parents Josef and Rose Goychmann and her grandmother Janke Goychmann shortly after the pogrom on 30 December 1905. They had no friends or relatives in the US and were sponsored by the Hebrew Society, which I assume is the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS). I had no idea that people affected by the pogrom were able to find space on ships for America as early as December 1905. I had assumed that the ships might have been booked for several months. If not, it might be that the ships leaving in the few months after the pogrom had some of the people most affected by the pogrom on board, even if their names were not in the pogrom records, as many more probably were killed in the pogrom, and there was also the large group who had their homes and livelihoods destroyed. HIAS had a huge operation at Ellis Island helping immigrants with form filling, money, food, and locating housing and jobs, both in New York and across the country. According to Wikipedia:

 

In the half-century following the establishment of a formal Ellis Island bureau in 1904, HIAS helped more than 100,000 Jewish immigrants who might otherwise have been turned away. They provided translation services, guided immigrants through medical screening and other procedures, argued before the Boards of Special Enquiry to prevent deportations, lent needy Jews the $25 landing fee, and obtained bonds for others guaranteeing their employable status. The Society was active on the island facilitating legal entry, reception, and immediate care for the newly arrived.

 
HIAS also searched for relatives of detained immigrants in order to secure the necessary affidavits of support to guarantee that the new arrivals would not become public charges. Lack of such affidavits and/or material means impacted a large number of immigrants: of the 900 immigrants detained during one month in 1917, 600 were held because they had neither money nor friends to claim them. Through advertising and other methods, the Society was able to locate relatives for the vast majority of detainees, who in a short time were released from Ellis Island.

 
One of HIAS’ jobs was to deal with orphans travelling alone. I have never seen a record of a child alone on a ship’s manifest except the Scheindless brothers who seemed to be in a group with an adult. This is a photograph of orphans from the 1905 pogrom travelling from Odessa to New York in May 1908.

orphans arrived 1908

HIAS also had offices in Europe but I could not find any information about their role in helping families emigrate. Josef lists his profession as merchant, which suggests that he had his own business, so I assume that he lost everything in the pogrom necessitating help from HIAS who may have come to Odessa specifically because of the pogrom.

gojchman josef ship 1906 close

Goychmann family, December 1905, Hebrew Society

Like Leie Gochman, this family also had to go through the Board of Special Inquiry, probably to check that the Hebrew Society would continue to settle them. There was another Goichmann family of two merchant brothers, Chaim and Idel, and families including two children of 3 and 2, on the same ship being helped by the Hebrew Society. It seems that this large extended family, who may have worked together in a business, all had their livelihoods destroyed by the pogrom. This would have been around the same time that Esther Goichman was leaving with Anna. The other two families may have been related to Josef but could not use him as a sponsor as he had only recently arrived in New York himself. I began a search for the family of Josef and Rose and after finding no Goichman or Gochman families with those names, tried to search with only the first names and discovered a family in which all the dates and ages matched a Josef and Rose Gutmann with three children, Stella, the same age as Chane, Morris and David. Joseph’s brother, Meyer, was also living with them. Josef was working as a cap maker in a sweatshop, quite a change from being a merchant in Odessa.

sweatshop 1910

Clothing sweatshop New York c1910

By 1920 the family had moved to Brooklyn, Josef was working in a cap factory, and there were two more daughters. Morris and David’s names had changed to Max and Theodore, and the family name had changed to Goodman. Rose’s mother, Sylvia Luskin, was now living with them. In 1930 they were living in the same place and Josef is described as a cap maker and proprietor. They had had another son. Stella had married and was living with her in-laws not far from her family on a street of terraced two-storey houses. What particularly interested me about this family, besides the incredible number of name changes, was eventually finding an online family tree which had begun with the Goodman descendants but could not find their way back through the previous names, Guttman or Goichman, and had no idea where the family had come from and what had brought them to America. They had no idea of Josef Goichman, the Odessa merchant, who had left directly after the pogrom helped by the Hebrew Aid Society. The silence permeated through many generations and so many stories were lost, as in my family.

Because I had known nothing about the lives of any of my older relations, they meant very little to me – I could not differentiate one from the other, especially as they rarely addressed the children. I had once asked and been told the family had come from Russia but nothing more was said, and I’m not sure I actually believed it. If I had been given some idea of their lives in those days before electricity, cars and telephones, of the forests and huge spaces, I would have been fascinated and wanted to hear their stories. If only I had been shown an old postcard and someone had said, ‘This is where we lived.’ Instead they were silent and seen only as distant old people, sitting, observing us children, from a far-off corner of the room.

Navahradak,_Rynak_(XX)

Novogrudok, Minsk district, marketplace

Another name, Groisman (Гройсман), was in the pogrom death records, on the surveillance list, and, between 1893 and 1908, had eight members on the Odessa Jewish small business list, both in the centre and in Moldavanka. In the 1904-05 directory, one Groisman owned property at 15 Alexander St., one was a second guild merchant with a fish business at 74 Bolshaya Arnautnaya, and another had a lumbar business in Moldavanka at 40 Gospitalnaya. None of them had a similar name to Samuil Shimonov, 22, in the death records, or Leivi Itsek Moishe, 26, on the police surveillance list. However, on the ships’ lists, leaving Odessa in April 1906 was a woman of 30, Chane (later Eva) Groisman, with four children, travelling to her husband in New York, Jossel (later Joseph), a butcher. Their eldest son was called Moishe, then Morris, so there may have been a connection with Leivi Itsek Moishe. There were also several Josephs on the business list. The other children were Liube (Lillian), 9, Hersch (Harry), 5, and Roza (Rose), 3. The family was temporarily detained by the Board of Special Inquiry, the two younger children were admitted to the hospital and it was noted that Moishe had atrophy and partial paralysis of one leg, possibly from polio.

groisman ship 1906 paralysis

Chane Groisman travelling to her husband Jossel, April 1906

At first the family, now Grossman, lived on First Avenue in East Manhattan and then moved to the Bronx, to Simpson St near 163rd St, where the Nechetskys had settled. In 1920, Joseph’s much younger sister, Anna, 28, was living with them as well.

940 simpson st bronx

940 Simpson St, Bronx

The family remained there until 1940, when Joseph, now a widower, Morris and Lillian, both single, moved further north in the Bronx near to where Harry and his family had settled. Morris had not married, possibly because of his weak leg, and Lillian, the eldest, seems to have taken the role from childhood of looking after the family. The youngest daughter, Rose, disappears from the records. She does not appear in the New York marriage records, although she may left New York and married. There are several Rose Grossmans in the death records, both in the Bronx and other parts of New York, so she may have stayed, choosing to live by herself and avoid the public records, possibly because she was out a lot. She is last in the census in 1920 as a 17-year-old, living at home, working in a department store. Lillian was working as a stenographer, Morris as a bookkeeper, and Harry as a shop clerk. Everyone in this tightknit family had their role to play settling into New York life until sometime after 1920 when Rose, like Anna Goichman, went her own way. Although this family is easy to trace as there were not endless name changes, it is difficult to work backwards and imagine where they might have been living in Odessa and who they might have been.

The Jewish families who wanted to leave Peresyp after the pogrom were all working class families but several of the names, such as Poliakov, Nemirovsky, and Rabinovich, which are relatively common, also included very wealthy Jewish families either in Odessa or elsewhere. Lazar Poliakov (1843-1914) was a wealthy banker and Lazar Leib, 18, who died in the pogrom, may have been his grandson. In the 1904-5 directory, many Poliakovs owned property in both the centre and Moldavanka. There is one L. Poliakov who owned a property in the middle of Moldavanka, at 29 Rozumovskaya, which is a continuation of the street running through the centre, Malaya Arnautskaya. The house below is 27 as there is a gap and then modern buildings where 29 might have been.

27 rozumovskaya poliakov 2

27 Rozumovskaya

Gelman (Гельман) is another common Jewish name and two different Gelman families were victims of the pogrom, a young man of 25 and a woman of 38 with two small children of 5 and 2. Their names do not relate to the worker on the Peresyp letter, the five Gelmans on the Jewish business list, or the member of the social Democratic committee wanted by the police, Azriel Nakhimov.

1816 GELMAN Shaya Shlemov 25
1915 GELMAN Efoim-Menash Zusev 2 years 5 months
2018 GELMAN Isruel Zusev 5
1570 GELMAN Fradya Meerova 38

I mention them because the mother and two children are the only family group of mother and children in the records, although, according to the accounts, there were many deaths of mothers and small children in the pogrom. The father of the children, Zus Gelman, does not come up anywhere in the records. On the Jewishgen Odessa database, an Israel Gelman was born in 1900 (http://thefamilytree.com.ar/odessa/RES_AODB_Home.asp). The index does not carry on until 1903, but there are some individual birth records and one includes a Gelman child born in July 1903 with different parents. Efoim would have been born around May or June. He must have had remaining family if they knew his age so exactly.

My next step will be to return to Odessa to explore other places Jews may have lived outside the main areas of the centre, Moldavanka, Slobodka Romanovka and Peresyp.

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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

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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/ ).

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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).

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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.

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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

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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

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Virginia City, Nevada

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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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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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The Bubis family: from Moldavanka to the Lower East Side

Rifke Bubis was a widow of 43 when she travelled from Odessa to New York with her two daughters Malke, 17 and Ruchel, 15. They left from Hamburg on the SS Blucher on 31 October 1910. Her son, Michel, a tailor, had left earlier for New York in 1907, when he was 17, although stating he was 20. Michel had originally stayed with his sister and brother-in-law, Eli and Hanna Boxenbaum, and their little son Harry, in Brooklyn, who had come in 1906 and 1907. Later, when the Bubis’ were together, they settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I noted the Bubis family because Rifke was a widow of 43 and in the Odessa pogrom death records was a Gersh Peisakhovich Bubis, 46, from Uman. Probably not a very common name, there was a chance that Rifke was his widow. On the ship’s manifest, Rifke had listed her father, Abram Goldstein, 36 Gospitalnaya in Moldavanka, as her close contact and possibly her home before leaving Odessa. Gospitalnaya (now Bohdana Khmelnytskovo), centrally placed in Moldavanka, and in the heart of the pogrom area, was named after the Jewish hospital which takes up much of the street.

36 Gospitalnaya

36 Gospitalnaya (now Bohdana Khmelnytskovo), left

jewish hospital

Jewish hospital

She was on her way to her daughter, Hanna Boxenbaum, who lived at 85 Hopkins Street, Brooklyn. Hanna’s husband, Elias, was a truck driver. There was one Boxenbaum, Ios Berkovich, on the Jewish business list for 1895 at Bazarnaya St, but not in the 1904-5 directory. There were two Bubis families with Odessa businesses in 1911, one at Preobrazhenskaia 86 and one at Vneshniaia 92.

I did not find any of the Boxenbaum family on the ships’ lists so I looked again using the name closer to the Russian spelling, Boksenbaum, and I discovered Henie, age 20. She was travelling in June 1907, four months after her brother emigrated, to her husband Elias, with her baby daughter, Rive, four months old. Elias was living in Cherry Street in the heart of the Lower East Side. On the 1910 census, when Hanna, now Anna, Elias and Max were living in Brooklyn, there was only one baby, Harry, so I looked up the New York death records and found the death of a one-year-old boy called Reifert Bascenbaum, and realised this must have been the little girl, Rive or Rifke Boxenbaum. Their English must not have been understood by the person completing the death certificate. The Boxenbaums must have decided to move away from the crowded Lower East Side when they were expecting their next child, Harry. They then had another son and two daughters.

On the next census, in 1915, Rifke and the three children were living at 22 Mangin Street, a street overshadowed by the Williamsburg Bridge in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which now barely exists. It was known as a street of rough tenements, a street of crime and prostitution, like several adjoining streets in the area. Headlines from the New York Times mentioning the Mangin St area include LOST GIRL STRANGLED, BURNED BODY HIDDEN, BROKEN LIMBS IN FIREPLACE (1910) and CAFE OWNER SLAIN IN RAID BY ROBBERS, KNOCKS DOWN GUNMAN AS HE REACHES FOR DIAMOND AND IS SHOT TWICE (1923) and FIND TRUNKMAKER IN SACHS MURDER (1910).

From a memoir by Bella Spewack, a journalist brought up on nearby Goerck Street, who described her childhood in the Lower East Side as one where roaches and rats infested her home and the disturbance from the constant sounds of ferryboats and ships was relentless. (http://bedfordandbowery.com/2014/12/beneath-baruch-houses-a-rough-block-wiped-off-the-map/):

There was a constant going and coming of moving vans and pushcarts – one family moved into one house and another moved out of the next. The houses formed a drably indifferent village that on rainy days looked like a row of washed-out, badly patched petticoats. They shared their submerging sorrows, small sufficient joys, and frequent fights. The majority of the families sprang from Galician sources; the rest were Hungarian and German Jews and a few Russians. The first half of the block was Jewish and the rest of it was Italian, with an invisible but definite line of demarcation.

mangin st 1946

Mangin Street 1946

orchard st 1926

Orchard Street 1926

tenements 1890s

Lower East Side tenements

Max and Mollie were working in clothing factories making men’s coats and Rose was making paper boxes, typical Lower East Side work. The noisy crowded streets and houses, the peddlers and markets, the nearby busy docks, the complex mix of nationalities and religions, must have seemed not much different from Moldavanka. Too old maps show incredible detail of the houses, businesses, schools, churches and synagogues in the area.

Manhatten 1903
http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/search/index?filters[title_uuid_s][]=Atlas%20108.%20Vol.%201,%20[1903?].||2f737a70-c5ff-012f-815c-58d385a7bc34&keywords=&layout=false#/?scroll=25

Manhatten 1922
http://www.wardmaps.com/viewasset.php?aid=122

mangin 1903

 Mangin St and the East River 1903

22 mangin 1922

Mangin St crossing Broome St 1922

By 1920 the family had moved a few streets over to 3 Willett Street, famous for the Bialystoker Synagogue at 7 Willett Street converted from a Methodist Church in 1905 when the huge influx of Jewish immigrants arrived in New York. Most families I have looked at began their life in America in the Lower East Side but eventually moved to other parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx or New Jersey.

bialystoker synagogue

Bialystoker Synagogue

3 willett st 1922

3 Willett Street 1922

There were many distinct areas that were predominantly Jewish in various parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, as shown on these 1919 ethnic maps. These maps were designed by the police department to target groups of immigrants who might not be loyal to America and might have socialist, communist or anarchist beliefs. This was just after the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Russian Jews were bright red and scattered across both Manhattan and Brooklyn. There is nothing new in government surveillance of ethnic groups.
http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/police-demographics-unit-casts-shadows-from-past/?_r=0

1919 manhatten ethnic

Manhatten ethnic map 1919

For some reason, possibly the Yiddish culture of the area, with its theatres, newspapers and markets, they stayed. By 1930, one of the younger daughters, Rose, had married and moved to the Bronx, but the other, Mollie, remained in the Lower East Side, on Henry Street, with her husband, a printer, their children, their mother as head of the family, and Max. Possibly her husband’s work kept them there.

150 henry st

150 Henry Street Lower East Side

Probably due to the Depression, Max was only working occasionally in a men’s clothing factory. In 1940, when Max and his sister’s family were living on Ludlow Street, there is no job listed for Max but it says that he worked for 30 weeks in the year and earned $450. His brother-in-law, the printer, had worked 50 weeks and made $520, so Max had not done badly from his unlisted job. But, in his 1942 World War II registration form, Max is categorised as unemployed.

140 ludlow st

Ludlow Street Lower East Side

In 1940, Rifke, or later Rebecca or Beckie, was living in Brooklyn with her elder daughter Anna, who is listed as a widow. In 1930 Anna , Elias and their children were living in Coney Island on West 25th Street, at the very bottom of the 1919 Brooklyn map.

1919 brooklyn ethnic

Brooklyn ethnic map 1919

coney island

Coney Island boardwalk

Elias, who owned a truck company, had had his driving licence briefly suspended for driving intoxicated, and in 1931, according to the Brooklyn Eagle, the business was in Annie’s name and one of their drivers was charged with homicide after killing a woman in the street. Their older son Harry married that year. In December 1932, Anna’s younger son, Abraham, then 20, appears in a newspaper article about a burglary – BAIL HOLDS SUSPECT ON BURGLARY CHARGE. He was caught running away from a house where jewellery was stolen. Her two daughters, Bessie and Esther, married in the mid-1930s. In the 1940 census, when Anna was living with her mother in Brownsville, Brooklyn (north of Coney Island, south of their original Brooklyn home, all Jewish areas), her husband, Elias, appears as a lodger with a woman, Ida, and her teenage children in Coney Island. Ida appears as Elias’ wife on his 1942 World War II registration. By 1940, Abraham had settled down, was living around the corner from his mother and grandmother, was married, had a small child and was working as a plumber’s helper. His older brother, Harry, was a licensed plumber. But on his 1942 World War II enlistment form, Abraham is listed as single with dependents. There is also a 1951 California death certificate for an Abraham Boxenbaum born in New York in January 1911, who must have only been 40. The informant did not know Abraham mother’s name so it is possible it is someone else. The World War II enlistment form does not have a birthdate, only the year, 1910. Elias died in 1946, age 60, in Coney Island, a junk collector rather than a truck driver, and his wife on the form is called Frieda.

Coney Island, 1940s, as it looked in my grandparent's time

Coney Island 1940s

Although most of the members of this family – Rebecca’s two daughters, Mollie and Rose, and Anna’s son Harry and her two daughters, Esther and Bessie – seemed to have done well in their new lives in America, others, like Max, Elias and Abraham had a harder time. It will never be known why Max remained unemployed, why Anna and Elias’ marriage broke down, or why Abraham died so young, if he did. How the mother and her eldest daughter, Rebecca and Anna, actually fared through all of this will also remain unknown. Was Rebecca being helped by her children or was she the rock they depended on? Had Elias been drinking for a long time or was it recent? Had he or Anna, having emigrated shortly after the Odessa pogrom, never felt comfortable in their new home, and were they unable to support each other? Having been through so much together what had finally broken the bonds in the 1930s? Looking through the New York Times archive, it is Harry’s family that produced a dynasty recorded in the New York Times obituaries. Some children seem to inherit their family’s problems and past traumas while others break free and are able to go their own way.

 w 19th st coney island

West 19th Street Coney Island

I followed the Bubis family in the records to find out if they were related to the Hersh Bubis in the Odessa pogrom death records, and, whether they were or not, how a widow and her children leaving Odessa from 1906-1910 for New York. The two younger daughters married in New York (one to an Odessan) and had families. One moved to the Bronx and the other stayed in the Lower East Side. The son, Max (Michel), who had arrived by himself in 1907, worked as a tailor but never married, living with one of his younger sisters. It was through the younger sisters’ marriage records that I discovered that they listed their father’s name as Abraham. If their father was Abraham, was he a brother of the Hersh who died in the pogrom? Could both men have died in the pogrom while only one was in the records? Could Abraham have simply died naturally, possibly sometime earlier? What was there no Abraham, only Hersh? Rifke Bubis was born in Odessa as were all of the children except the eldest , Anna, who, according to the ship’s list, was born in Uman, like Hersh Bubis, making it likely they were part of the same family. Another possibility, judging by the way the Feld family omitted writing the name of Nathan Feld’s mother’s name on his death certificate, could be that the Bubis family decided not to write the father’s name in the marriage records. Could they have chosen the name Abraham as it was Rifke’s father’s name? I thought again about the Scheindless brothers naming their first sons after their dead father and I looked at the names the Bubis children had used for their children. The eldest daughter, Anna Boxenbaum, had two sons, Harry and Abraham, born in New York in 1909 and 1911. Could Harry have been named after his father, Hersh, and Abraham, after his grandfather?

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The Feld family – part two

Jacob’s sisters, Eva and Pauline, were not at Eloise Hospital. In 1940, Pauline was at a newer psychiatric institution between Detroit and Ann Arbor, the Ypsilanti Psychiatric Hospital. She does not appear on the 1930 census. She divorced her husband, Charles, in 1927 for lack of support, and does not appear again in the records until 1940.

ypsilanti psychiatric hospital a_building_1929

Ypsilanti Psychiatric Hospital

ypsilanti dorm 1937

Ypsilanti dormitory 1937

According to the 1940 census, Charles Rubinoff, who had been a machinist in 1920, married again, had a son, and became an attorney working for the Michigan unemployment compensation commission. Morris Field also went into labour relations, after being a toolmaker in the car industry, working as a union organiser. Esther’s husband was also a machinist and die maker with some political awareness, as, in October 1931, the whole family passed through the port at Southampton on their way to Leningrad, part of an Autostroy party, returning to Detroit in October 1932. Autostroy was an enormous Soviet automobile factory which produced Ford cars. By 1940, Robert had moved with his family to Washington DC, where he was working as a machinist at a naval gun factory, which seems particularly interesting after having spent a year in Russia. Was there a connection between living in Russian for a year and moving to Washington? I assume Pauline left the hospital at some point because she appears on the Social Security death index as having died in 1981, and therefore must have been working at some point after 1935 when the Social Security system started.

Eva was already at an Ann Arbor psychiatric hospital in 1930, the University State Psychopathic Hospital, which was set up in 1906. Ypsilanti was not opened until 1931. It began with 922 patients and rose to 4000 patients. Both of these enormous psychiatric hospitals, like most, were closed by the 1990s and were either demolished or left in ruins. I do not know why Eva was sent away from Detroit. It might have been that Eloise was too crowded, but it would have been difficult for her family to visit and she was only 20 in 1930.

ypsilanti woman 1937

Ypsilanti 1937

ypsilanti ruin

Ypsilanti ruin

All of the psychiatric hospitals at that time were overcrowded. Even with this overcrowding, they did manage some treatments, mostly involving light and water, and occupational therapies, such as crafts and sports, but probably only those with some hope of recovery had the chance to take part in these options. Eva did recover, as in 1940 she was living with her mother and working as a stenographer. Jacob is the only one about whom there are no further records.

Both Pauline and Jacob arrived in America with Esther, a year after their mother and the other children. Possibly they already had some problems from the time of the pogrom and it was thought better to delay their departure. Eva was born in America in 1909 so was about 2 ½ when her father suddenly died. Pauline, born in July 1904, was nearly 18 months at the time of the pogrom. Jacob was probably born in 1896 and would have been 9 in 1905. The 1940 census asks for number of years of schooling and Pauline had 8, while Jacob had 2. His schooling must have been interrupted by the pogrom. On the census, his native language and immigration date were unknown. Did he remember nothing, did he not answer, or was he confused? What was going through his head – Ianuspol, Berdichev, Odessa or the whole family briefly together again in Dayton?

As I began writing this, I went back to the information I had discovered a few months earlier, and tried to find additional records to answer some of the more puzzling question. I discovered Nathan’s death certificate which said that, having moved into a new house on Wayne Avenue the day before, at 6 am he was asphyxiated by carbon monoxide from lighting a stove without a flue. I assume that, as he was lighting the fire for the first time in their new house, this was a terrible accident, although there is a tiny chance, if the flue was closed, that it was suicide. For some reason, since 1910, the family had moved twice, from Samuel St to South Quitman St and then to Wayne Ave, two streets away. These are large avenues and many of the houses have been replaced by businesses or left empty. They may have been moves to more or less expensive houses. Life may have been improving or becoming more difficult. It is unimaginable to think how Golda could have managed with eight children and I wonder how much her family was able to help them.

field nathan death 1912 crop

Nathan Field death certificate 1912

It was some time before I realised that I should have been able to find out the name of Nathan’s mother on the death certificate to see if she was the Sura Feld in the pogrom records. I had noticed his father’s name, Zezia Field, and his wife, Goldie Stitelman. It was only as I was writing and checking the death certificate again that I realised Goldie’s name had been written in the space for Nathan mother’s name. I looked down at the informant and found it was not Goldie or any other family member, but someone called Charles Weisman, who lived on Samuel St, where the Felds had first lived. Possibly the family was too shocked to deal with the paperwork. Having much experience with my own family leaving out information on forms, such as the birthdate on my uncle’s 1929 death certificate, the uncle who was born at the time of the pogrom, I feel that important information is often withheld because it is too upsetting or the names have been kept secret. If Charles Weisman was asked to put Goldie’s name on the form instead of Nathan’s mother, it could have been that Goldie did not want to mention a family member killed in the pogrom… or a mistake.

 
I also found a story online about Goldie’s family, the Stitelmans. It begins with the author’s experience as a child trying to find out about his family and discovering a great-uncle Peter (Golda’s brother) who was murdered in a pogrom around 1903-5, and then a complete chance meeting years later with the great-grandson of the same great-uncle Peter.
http://www.avotaynuonline.com/2009/12/surprising-revelations-by-paul-stitelman/
Nevertheless, I made a pest of myself by asking repeated questions. Esther (his father’s cousin) seemed distracted, and finally, almost as an afterthought, mentioned an Uncle Peter who, she said, beat up a policeman and was taken to a police station where he was killed.

After comparing notes, we found that his (Jacques Paul Stitelman) great-grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. His great-grandfather was the very same Peter (Petakia) that my cousin Esther had told me about all those years ago.

My grandfather, Jacob, immigrated to America in 1904. His brother was murdered in a pogrom in the family shtetl (Yanoushpol, now Ivanopol) between 1903 and 1905. His children and other relatives were severely traumatized—which may be why Cousin Esther was so reluctant to discuss these matters. Jacques’ grandfather immigrated to Switzerland in 1905 and later opened a business in Paris, where they lived when the Nazis invaded France.

 

Finally I went back to the ship’s list to check all the names and addresses. And of course there were things I hadn’t noticed or thought much about. Possibly they had not meant much to me before reading the Stitelman story. I had found that Golda was born in Berdichev, and the older two children travelling with her, Nechame and Moishe, in Yanuspol, but I had not really taken in that the younger two, Libe and Vitie (Lillian and Victor) had been born in Batum, a Black Sea port in Georgia.

 
The story finally began to come together. The Stitelman family must have moved from Berdichev to Yanuspol and, after Petakhia was killed around 1904, they moved to Odessa, fleeing the insecurities, searching for safety. According to the Jewish small business list, another Feld, possibly Nathan’s brother, Ios Zusevich Feld, had a house and business in Moldavanka, at 46 Kuznechnaya Street from 1893.

 46 kuznechnaya feld

46 Kuznechnaya

odessa map 1888 mold names 2

Moldavanka 1988

The upper Feld on the map is 46 Kuznechnaya, quite near the Jewish cemetery, and the lower address is the Stitelman home at 10 Kartamishevskaya Street.

Then, within a year, there was the pogrom, and Nathan, Goldie, probably very pregnant with Lillian, and their children fled again, taking a ship to the port of Batum (Batumi). Jacob would have been 9 in 1904 when the family might have left Ianuspol. If he had begun school at 7, he would have had two years of school. Then he might have had a partial year in Odessa, possibly no school in Batum, and then he had another interim period in Odessa living with his grandparents. He was 15 when he left Odessa in 1910, already beyond the mandatory school-age. The children who left a year earlier with Golda were younger than Jacob and would have entered school in America, learning to read and write English. Jacob may have never learned to write well in any language and would have found himself at quite a disadvantage in America.

batumi harbour

batumi street

Batum street

Two years after arriving in Batum, Victor was born and, when he was old enough to travel, Golda must have returned to Odessa to make her way towards America. Nathan had left earlier, possibly before Victor was born. They may have heard from Golda’s sister in Dayton, who had gone to America in 1905. According to his death certificate, Nathan had been a shoemaker, so he could have made a living anywhere, but it was probably not easy to bring up and educate their children in Batum. America must have seemed like the promised land.

batum 1914

Batum 1914 Baedeker

Batumi-City-Street

Batum street

In Southern Adventure, Konstantin Paustovsky writes about his time in the early 20s travelling around the Black Sea as a journalist writing for seamen’ s newspapers. He describes Batum:

As to smells, the rancid smoke of roasting mutton nearly always dominated them all…Next came the smell of freshly ground or freshly brewed coffee. It was ground in Turkish coffee mills, made of copper and looking like small shell-cases…Batum was permeated with the smell of coffee, wine and tangerines…At that time Batum was visited by a great number of feluccas with oranges and tangerines from nearby Turkey – from Rizeh and Trapezund (in Batum they said Trebizond). These aromatic fruit were stacked in pyramids on the decks of feluccas which were as multicoloured as Easter eggs… The smell of coffee spread not only from feluccas, but also from the shingle on the beach. It was edged with coffee-grounds. Torn yellow shreds of tangerine peel were strewn conspicuously among them.

Paustovsky’s description of Batum makes me wonder whether or how often anyone in the Feld family thought back to their years living by the Black Sea as they made their way in mid-west America, and whether those years had anything to do with those who found it so difficult.

A postscript to the Feld family story: when I first looked up Esther Romm I found a widow of 50 in 1940 living in Los Angeles with three daughters in their early 20s, two of whom were twins called Goldie and Pauline. Although I know that Jews do not name their children after living relations, it was such a strange coincidence that I felt there must have been some factor that had caused this woman to name her children after her mother and sister. I felt they must have been separated in a way that seemed like death. But I soon found that this was a different family who had emigrated from Russia to New York where the daughters were born. Somehow, I wanted to believe that someone in the Feld family was keeping the family names alive and if she had had a son she would have called it Nathan. Unlike the Scheindless brothers, no one in this family seems to have named their children after their dead father or their grandmother killed in the pogrom, if that was the case.

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