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

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

white plains rd end 2

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

rockland state hospital 2

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.

blooming grove ny 2

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.

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

Family secrets: the toy shop

There were several pages in the records where the names were unknown and one of these pages consisted completely of women. Otherwise, there were very few women in the records. At the bottom of the page one of the unnamed women was later named as Sluva Korsunsky, about 35, wife of Leib Korsunsky from Bobrinets. I had tried putting several names from the list into Google to see if anyone had written about individuals who had died in the pogrom but found nothing. However, there was a story about Leib Berkovich Korsunsky in a 2005 edition of the Odessa magazine Tikva, told to the author, Oleg Gubar, by Korsunsky’s granddaughter, after he had written an article about various Odessa streets, including the ‘Passage’ off Deribasovskoy Street (http://viknaodessa.od.ua/newspaper/news/?3957). Leib Korsunsky was described as a forgotten, ordinary man, a man who owned a toy shop in the ‘Passage’.

passage odessaguide

passage pink odessaguide

After a description of the shop, the apartment above and the workshops in the courtyard, acquired at the turn-of-the-century, the story moves to 1905 and the calamitous pogrom. According to the story, the ‘Passage’ had gates at both ends and a policeman who knew Korsunsky kept guard so the troubles passed them by. Immediately after the two sentences about the pogrom, the story moves on to the granddaughter’s young aunt Emma and how she was so beautiful she was put in the toy shop window instead of the dolls, and how she ran away from her nanny one day but the friendly policeman brought her home. Why did the granddaughter tell these two stories of her aunt directly after the two sentences about the horrific massacre in Odessa? What was not being said in this story? Who is keeping the secret, the granddaughter or the grandfather?

passage

As well as translating and listing the pogrom victims, I was also translating an index of Odessa births from 1902. Wondering whether Emma or one of her siblings might have been born in 1902, I looked through the index and found a Korsunsky daughter whose first name was very faded but began with an E. Someone in this family did not want to tell the story of the death of Sluva, Emma’s mother. Had Emma, three years old, run away from home possibly in search of her mother one day after she disappeared. The story lies there between the lines once you have seen Sluva Korsunsky’s name in the records.

korsunski e 1902 birth close

Корсунский Э Korsunsky E

The end of the article moves on to after the revolution when the Bolsheviks have taken over in Odessa, requisitioning the now optical and toy shop for the state. Korsunsky returns to the shop and asks if he could have a box of old photographs of his children. The shop girls find the box and mockingly tear the photos to shreds and throw them in his face. He is broken by this experience, becomes ill and dies soon afterwards. Were these photographs of his children when they were very young, studio portraits that were common at that time, and did they include their mother? Knowing that his wife died in the pogrom and that she was never spoken of afterwards, her memory completely hidden from her grandchildren, one can understand how tearing up the photographs would have been like tearing his memories of his wife into pieces.

Before the author of the article starts telling the Korsunsky story itself, he writes: ‘The fate of the lonely ‘little man’ in a historical context gives more understanding of an era than voluminous, dull, scientific monographs. And I feel a genuine moment of joy when, in some or other story, a seemingly minor character unexpectedly acquires the traits of a living person who has the indisputable right to be immortalised on an equal footing with the well-known.’ And then, a few lines later, he adds that the superbly recalled stories he heard about Korsunsky showed that he was not such an ordinary person.

I felt that the author had expressed my own thoughts beautifully. I am fascinated by the stories of forgotten people, many of whom wanted their not so ordinary stories forgotten. I want to find the ghosts between the lines. Although there was much in Korsunsky’s story that was beyond the ordinary, and he certainly lived in times that were far from ordinary, the crux of the story is missing, and now the story of the barricaded passage in 1905 and the children’s photographs finally come together and make sense. My own family story cannot even be a ghost between the lines as so little is known.

In the weeks after finding the story of the toy shop, I continued putting different keywords in English and Russian into Google to try and find out more about Sluva Korsunsky. I found another Sluva Korsunsky who had died in the early 1950s in Argentina, so possibly she had been remembered unless it was another relation or someone else entirely with the same name. And then I found a poem written by Tatiana Korsunsky called ‘May dream’ (2009)(http://www.stihi.ru/2009/05/09/2230). It begins, ‘Once again I dream this dream: in my old house came the pogrom.’ It continues with a young boy hiding in his cot and his grandfather, the author’s great-grandfather. And then she says, ‘Why do I dream that dream, my old house and a pogrom there?’ She wakes up in her quiet Hanover apartment. Her son is 24. ‘Why do I dream this dream?’ The title comes from the ending, a scene of a May day carousel and the sight of old uniforms, half-fascists, half-beasts. Is this a dream, is it the truth?

Family secrets

I began looking into the 1905 Odessa pogrom about 10 years ago while puzzling through the Russian words on a torn old document of my grandfather’s, an ornately illustrated craft guild certificate from 1905. I had no idea where my grandfather had been living when he left Russia in early 1906. It was a subject that was not spoken about in my family.

ОДЕССКИЕ ДВОРЫ

Одесские дворы Odessa courtyards

My grandparents had married in Baranovichi, west of Minsk, in 1896 or 1897 and had two children there, Aron and Sara, in 1898 and 1901. Years later these two children never mentioned where they were born or lived in Russia. My grandfather’s New York naturalisation form lists Kiev as his last residence in Russia. However, the craft guild certificate in front of me clearly said Odessa and was dated 1905. The date 1902 was written on a blank space on the line above the date.

Rabinovich guild  1

Rabinovich guild 2

Craft guild certificate

The only other document that was kept was the family’s Minsk passport which was dated April 1906.

 

Rabinowitz passport 2

The family left on a ship from Liverpool to New York in June 1906. I knew that my grandmother had had three more children in Russia after Aron and Sara, two boys who died in Russia and another son, Michel, who was born in late 1905, a few months before they left for America. The two boys who died must have been born between around 1902 and 1904. Their names were never mentioned. I also could not find out the birth date of the youngest son, who drowned near his home when he was 23. His father gave the information for his death certificate but left blank the day and month of his birth. Only 1905 is written in the space. Why would my grandparents, who had finally received this most important guild certificate, leave Odessa at this moment? This was the only piece of evidence with the name Odessa on it and they had preserved it throughout their troubles because of its importance for my grandfather who was trying to set up a machine-made shoemaking workshop in Odessa. Up until 1902 Singer sewing machines were imported from America, but in 1900 Singer had built their first factory in Russia and production of sewing machines began in 1902 when my grandfather probably moved to Odessa and applied to set up a small workshop or factory. Why would they leave when my grandmother, with her four young children, was about to give birth to another child? And having travelled across Russia to settle in the beautiful cosmopolitan city of Odessa (where Jews could live a more modern life, often speaking Russian instead of Yiddish and sending their children to schools with a modern Russian curriculum), why would this middle-class family suddenly throw their dream away? They had nothing when they arrived in New York and for many years my grandfather eked out a living as a scrap-dealer.

odessa balconies

http://tanyacher.livejournal.com/13147.html#cutid1

odessa petrokino

It was not just the strangeness of this family suddenly leaving everything at such a crucial moment that provoked this search. It was not just the complete silence about where the family had been living and everything to do with their lives in Russia, the lack of photographs, the lack of knowledge of even where the older three children had been born. It was the way the parents’ silence affected their children, filtering through the minds of the three daughters, two born later in America, evolving into their own separate fantasies about who they were and where their family had come from.