Tag Archives: birth records

Sara Rabinowitz and the Odessa birth records

In the midst of my search through the names in the Odessa pogrom death records, in which I concentrated on children without parents, widows and widowers, I read about a list of orphans from the 1905 pogroms in the Hamburg passenger lists and I tried looking for children coming from Hamburg in late 1905 and 1906 on the Steve Morse Ellis Island search. I then tried children travelling alone from Odessa at that time, and in this search I discovered two young children who appeared to be travelling alone and then found they were travelling with their mother whose name had been spelt slightly differently. This was 25-year-old Sara Rabinowitz, travelling in May 1906 from Rotterdam to her husband, S Rabinowitz, in New York, with two young children, Jossel, age 2, and Schie, age 9 months, although the number is difficult to read.

Sara Rabinowitz and her two children, SS Statendam, 1906

As I have the Odessa birth index which includes Rabinovich for 1901-1905, I looked up Jossel and found him listed in the 1903 records.

Birth record 1585 Iosel Rabinovich 1903 (orange marker)

However, there was no birth record in 1905 for Schei or any name beginning with a Sh sound. I wondered whether he had been born at the time of the pogrom and had not been registered, something that may have happened in my family with the youngest son born in 1905. That would have made Shei about seven months old. The mother and two children were detained at Ellis Island in the hospital where they stayed for about three weeks. The notes only state that the mother had a spinal curvature and a problem with the younger child is difficult to make out, possibly a deformed pupil and corneal opacity.

Sara Rabinowitz ship manifest medical notes

The father may have only recently arrived in New York as the address for him is care of S Strusberg on East 2nd Street. Having Sara Rabinowitz’s age, immigration date, the ages of her children, and the initial of her husband’s name, it should have been possible to find records, but nothing seemed to come up, no Sara of a similar age married to a Samuel, Solomon, Simon or other names, with children named Joseph or Jacob and Samuel or Simon or any two children born in Russia. I tried all the common English names that Rabinowitz families sometimes used – Robinson, Robbins, Robins, Robin. Only one couple came up, a Sara and Samuel, who had emigrated in 1906, and had had four sons in the US, three in New York and one in Massachusetts, but they had not had any children in Russia and had not been married long enough to have had the eldest son, Jossel.

Either the family from Odessa changed their name, avoided all records or something happened to their oldest children. At first I could not even find the person they had lodged with, S Strusberg, but then I found a Solomon Strausberg and his wife Sara who had come from Russia to America in 1905. They had come with in-laws and two young children, one of whom died on the voyage. In the 1910 census they were living on 3rd Street with their older son who was born in Russia, three daughters born in New York, and lodgers. Sara Strausberg’s maiden name was Donefar and her mother’s name was Esther Rabinowitz. The family was from Bessarabia and may have been relations of Sara Rabinowitz. I also found a Joseph and Simon Rabinowitz of the correct age as Jossel and Schie, but this census does not have the immigration date. Both were married with children and lived on neighbouring streets in Brooklyn, but eventually I found Simon on the 1930 census and he had immigrated in 1921, so these were not the two brothers. I expect I will keep on looking for Sara, Jossel and Schie, whose Odessa birth was never registered, wondering how this whole family slipped so easily through the net.

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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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Rabinovich families: part one

Although there is still one more area of Odessa where there was major pogrom destruction, Peresyp, near the docks, first I would like to return to the city in general and focus on one family name, Rabinovich, one of the commonest Jewish names, a Jewish Everyman. Rabinovich families were probably spread across Odessa from the very richest guild merchants to the poorest of the working class and casual labourers. The extremely well-off first guild merchant and tea importer, Leon Jacob Rabinovich, had two sons and, in the directories, much of their property is in the name of Rabinovich brothers.

rabinovich leon ad 1911

leon rabinovich teapot 2

Teapot Leon Rabinovich tea importer

A dacha with large grounds at 27 French Boulevard, which was used as a landmark in the Odessa directories, was in the name of the elder son, Jacob Leon. Most of the dachas on Frantsuzky Blvd became public buildings after the revolution. The Rabinovich dacha is now an afterthought in the grounds of the Dynamo football stadium and unfortunately there are no old photographs.

gate dacha rabinovich

dacha rabinovich 2

Dacha Rabinovich 27 French Blvd

On this 1917 map, there are two Rabinovich (Рабинович) properties on the French Boulevard. The property on the left, number 11, in the name of A Rabinovich, possibly the second son of Leon, appeared to have been a group of dachas down by the coast, but around 1912 a luxurious art deco apartment building with up-to-date facilities was built on the road, and number 27 is the property on the right.
http://www.citymap.odessa.ua/?30

odessa plan 1917 french blvd close

French Blvd and Rabinovich dachas

french blvd 11

11 French Blvd

To see how common the name Rabinovich was in Odessa at that time, I compared the entries in the 1902-3 directories for Rabinovich (Рабинович) and Kogan (Коган, Cohen), and found that Rabinovich was the more common.

kogan 1902 dir1902 index R

The 1904-5 directory does not have an index like that the 1902-3 directory, but using a search the names and addresses are similar to those of 1902-3, although various house numbers have changed. In the street section of the directory there are approximately 32 Rabinovich properties, although quite a few landlords own several houses, including dachas. There are also about 15 Rabinoviches in the professional sections, several of whom were first and second guild members, and four were doctors. One of the doctors, Simon Rabinovich ran a hydrotherapy practice with a partner with a large establishment at 27 Kanatnaya St, now a modern neurology clinic. An old photograph online lists the building as 19 Kanatnaya St.

odessa dir 1904 ss rabinovich dr ad

1904-5 directory S S Rabinovich and A A Yasinovsky hydrotherapy treatment

rabinovich drs 19 kanatnia

Ул. Канатная, 19, водолечебница врачей С.С. Рабиновича и А.А. Ясиновского
http://viknaodessa.od.ua/old-photo/?ulitsa_kanatnaya

Across the road at 28 Kanatnaya, a beautiful ornate building, lived Sholem Aleichem, another Odessan Rabinovich (Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich), who wrote the stories on which ‘Fiddler on the roof’ is based.

kanatnaya 28 sholem aleichem

28 Kanatnaya

On the Jewish small business list there are 19 Rabinoviches, and on the ‘All Russia’ Odessa business directory (searchable on the Jewishgen website) there are 12 names for 1903 with their types of business.

1903
RABINOVICH Iosif Abram lawyer’s assistant
Mendel Samuil lawyer’s assistant
Moisei Iakov bank office Nadezhdinskaya
Lazar printing and lithography Troitskaya 52
Srul Volf leather goods Baltovskaya rd 1
Leon colonial goods Evreiskaya private residence Pushkinskaia 31
Nukhim Iosif broker/middleman agency Evreiskaya 8
Khopel-Iankel Borukh fabrics and drapery Stepovaya
Iakov Abram machines for grain mills M Arnautskaya 109
Srul Leiba-David broker stock exchange Lanzheronovskaia 12
Aleksandr Mikhail wine (grapes) Evreiskaya 11
Samuil Berko sacks and bags Evreiskaya 43

In the pogrom death records, there was one visitor to Odessa, Solomon Rabinovich, about 30, from Riga, and a couple, Avrum Nukhimov, 60, from Uman, and his wife, Freida. On the Jewish small business list there are 2 Nukhims:
Рабинович Нухим ул.Тираспольская 12 1893 (Rabinovich Nukhim Tiraspolskaya 12)
Рабинович Нухим Иосифович ул.Кондратьевская 13 1912 (Rabinovich Nukhim Iosifovich Kondratevskaya 13)

The second name is also in the Odessa business directory for 1903, but the first one, without a patronymic, is not mentioned. It is strange that he is the only one on this list without a patronymic and could be the son of Avrum. There is also no listing of what his business was, but his home or business was in Moldavanka on the street where Isaac Babel lived for a year as a teenager, Tiraspolskaya.

12 tiraspolskaya rabinovich hukhim

12 Tiraspolskaya

In the Semenov 1921 report of the pogrom, two wounded men at the Jewish hospital, X and F Rabinovich, are mentioned as being asked to sign a statement saying that the police were not to blame for the pogrom. Others at the hospital had been intimidated into signing statements. This came after a paragraph in which it said that the figures for the dead and wounded only included those taken to public hospitals, not those in private clinics or at home. F Rabinovich is in the 1904-5 directory at 12 Kartamishevskaya Street, in the heart of Moldavanka.

10-12 Kartamishevskaya

12 Kartamishevskaya

During the pogrom, 29 Jews had been killed at 7 Kartamishevskyi Lane and 35 at 5 Kartamishevskaya Street. 7 Kartamishevskaya Street had also been attacked. Golda Feld had been living with her father, Avrum Stitelman, at 10 Kartamishevskyi Street. Number 12 Kartamishevskaya Street is on the left in the photo.

Among the property owners in the directories were two Rabinoviches with exactly the same name as my grandfather, Jacob (Yakov, Yankel) Leon (Leib). One was the son of the tea importer, and the family lived at Pushkinskaya 31 and had the dacha on French Boulevard.

31 pushkin rabinovich warehouse

31 Pushkinskaya

There was another Jacob Leon at Preobrazhenskaya 3, who, with his wife, was involved with a Jewish orphanage. At first, on seeing the same initials, I thought for a moment that one of them might have been my grandfather. When I saw their houses, I wondered if they were divided into flats and my family might lived in one of them. The house on Preobrazhenskaya was a beautiful, ornate, long, narrow pink building, covered in balconies. Odessa is a city of balconies but this Rabinovich house took the idea of balconies and architraves to wonderful extremes.

3 preobrazhenskaya rabinovich

3 Preobrazhenskaya

I then found the full names in the business sections of the directory, and saw that the businesses were different. I realised that these were wealthy business and property owners, whereas most people in Odessa probably rented. I had had my small moment of dreaming that I had found my grandparents. Then I came down to earth and realised that my family more likely lived in a small house on the edges of the city with a garden, a grape vine and fruit trees, the type of home they tried to recreate outside New York.

The lists of businessman and property owners is far removed from the mass of ordinary Rabinovich families in Odessa in 1905, those who rented property, and who may have had small workshops or jobs working for others. I tried googling ‘Rabinovich family Odessa’ to see if anyone had written about their Rabinovich family online and discovered an interesting Googlebook of pre-World War I Russian first-hand accounts of the lives of workers, one of which describes a clerical worker’s apartment in Odessa.

Some of the rented apartments that I observed were below street level. In order to get to them, you had to descend a slippery wooden staircase that had no railings. One needed the agility of an acrobat to get down the stairs without breaking one’s neck. These basement apartments got no light at all. Little oil lamps burned night and day, spreading a thick black soot and stench over everything. Water streamed down the mildewed walls.

One apartment on Meshchanskaia Street (three rooms and a kitchen) was rented by Dain, a hardware store clerk in Odessa. Each room measured 7 feet high, 8 feet wide, and 8 ½ feet long and was heated by one small brazier. Dain and his family occupied one of the rooms and the kitchen. Two sales clerks and their families occupied the remaining rooms: Rabinovich, who worked in a dry goods store, and Tsypin, who worked in a wholesale warehouse. There were eight people in the Dain family, five in the Rabinovich’s, and 11 in Tsypin’s. In addition, the apartment accommodated a paralytic co-worker who had been fired when he became ill, together with his sister and her family. The sister’s husband, a shoemaker, worked at home.

The preceding description of an apartment on Meshchanskaia Street applies also to dwellings on Staroreznichnaia Street and other streets in Odessa, with the difference that on Staroreznichnaia Street the apartments had floors made of clay rather than dirt and some of the basement apartments received a little light through glass doors opening onto the half-dark corridors. In every other respect, however, these apartments were just as damp, mouldy, dark, and rank as the one described above. None of these dwellings had any furniture to speak of and a family of 7 to 12 people would have one table, a few stools and a double bed. 

Gudyan AM ‘Essays on the history of the movement of sales-clerical workers in Russia’. The Russian Worker: Life and Labor Under the Tsarist Regime Victoria Bonnell (ed) 1983; p204

Meshchanskaia (Мещанская) Street crosses Malaya Arnautskaya (Малая Арнаутская ) at the end towards Moldavanka and Staroreznichnaya runs parallel to it. Although this is the edge of the wealthier central Odessa, it seems to have been quite a poor Jewish area and some of the old houses on the street are still in bad or derelict condition, although gradually new apartment buildings are replacing them.

kuibysheva

Staroreznichnaya Street

Wandering along Google Streetview, I had never before noticed cellars below ground level. I don’t think it was simply because I was not looking out for them. It seemed to be a peculiarity of this area between Malaya Arnautskaya and Moldavanka, that the pavement ended abruptly a foot or two before buildings, leaving a gap for glimmers of light to filter through to underground windows. The gaps were sometimes surrounded by metal railings or covered with metal sheet. More recently glass verandahs have been built around the openings.

meschanskaya knyzhkovyi

Meshchanskaya cellars

meschanskaya cellars

Meshchanskaya cellar with narrow gap

According to an Odessa website which traces the history of the houses on several Odessan streets including Malaya Arnautskaya, in 1902, there were 1752 poor Jewish people living at a density of 16 people per home on Malaya Arnautskaya, and on the much shorter street, Gospitalnaya in Moldavanka, there were over 4000 poor Jews living in 65 houses. Some of these people had not always been poor, but may have been businessman or professionals who had had run into bad luck – illness, injury, unemployment or a failed business. http://obodesse.at.ua/publ/malaja_arnautskaja_ulica/1-1-0-254

meschanskaya 1888 numbers

Odessa 1888

I have numbered the relevant streets on the above map, 1. Malaya Arnautskaya 2. Meshchanskaya 3. Staroreznichnaya 4. Gospitalnaya, and for context, 5. Jewish cemetery and 6. Kulikovo Field, beyond which lived Valentin Kataev, who wrote in his memoir, A mosaic of life, about visiting a Jewish seamstress with his mother on Malaya Arnautskaya, which I quoted at more length previously.

There was a street called Malaya Arnautskaya, which seemed to me at the time to be a long way away, but was, in fact, quite close to where we lived. When we went there, we were immediately engulfed in the world of Jewish poverty, with all its confused colours and sour-sweet smells. We entered a wooden, glass-roofed arcade that surrounded the yard. Here, mamma had to keep her head bent the whole time to avoid breaking the eagle’s feathers in her hat on some protruding object or other – garments suspended on a close line, or a low cross-beam supporting the arcade’s rickety, boarded walls, half-destroyed by death-watch beetles. The arcade possessed innumerable windows and doors. All the windows were dirty and half of them broken. Most of the doors were open and, in the darkness beyond them, nested families of Jewish shopkeepers and craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, watchmakers, ironmongers, dressmakers.…

I was filled at one and the same time with repulsion and a tormenting pity for that poor race, condemned to live in such crowded and ugly conditions among the two wheeled carts with curved handles and the shops selling evil-smelling kerosene in barrels, small sacks of coal, rust-coloured salted herrings, bottles of olives, glass jars of cucumbers in clouded, milky water, bunches of dill, and halva that looked like blocks of window putty (p386).

I was particularly interested in narrowing down the list of children born to the many ordinary and less ordinary Rabinovich families in the years 1902-1905, in order to find my two nameless uncles. Some of these children may have belonged to the wealthy families of Odessa but many more would have come from working-class families in Moldavanka and other suburbs. There were 30 Jewish Rabinovich children born in 1902, 18 in 1903, 24 in 1904, and 26 in 1905. How many families might this have represented and how many more were families who did not have children or had older children?

When I first began this research on Odessa and the pogrom, knowing that two of my mother’s brothers had died before the family left Russia in 1906, I wrote down, for the first time, a list of my mother’s siblings with their dates of birth, Aron 1898, Sara 1901, Michel 1905. I had only known how much older my mother’s brothers and sisters were than her, not the dates. I then checked with the passport and saw that the ages fit.

Rabinowitz passport 1

1906 passport: Aron 7, Michel 1, Sara 5

As children, we accept the bits of information we are given without questioning or looking at them in different ways. Seeing the list and the dates in front of me made it obvious the two brothers had been born in the space between 1902 and 1904, the years the family were living in Odessa. As the thoughts and ideas are put down on paper, or on screen, sometimes what seemed to be disparate fragments of information come together and take on new meaning. And so I began to look for online Odessa records which included dates of birth or addresses during the years 1902-1905 but my family remained as elusive as ever.

 

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