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.

Add. 14761 f.30v

Barcelona Haggadah

jewish life italy

Haggadah, Italy, late 16th century

haggadah 1460

Haggadah 1460

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

kiev defaced

Kiev defaced gravestone

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

novogrudok stone 2

novogrudok stone

Novogrudok, Belarus gravestones

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


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.


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.




Berdichev Cemetery

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

mont zion LA photo 1917  mont zion LA 1921

Mount Zion Cemetery, Los Angeles, 1917 and 1921

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

bayside 3


bayside woman

Bayside Cemetery, Queens, New York

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

jewish girl

young Jewish girl

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

Yang john mt zion queens  yang grave photo

yang photo

Immortal Portraits John Yang

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

norma field 1917 riverview cem dayton

Norma Field, Riverview Cemetery, Dayton 1917

bayside photo in metal  montefiore jewish cem metal

Bayside Cemetery, NY                                Montefiore Cemetery, NY

czernowitz chernivtsi

Chernivsti Cemetery


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.


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


Virginia City, Nevada

ravens fence colorado

ravens, Colorado

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

lichen grave 1918

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

leningrad woods

Leningrad siege memorial

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

hart island ruin

Hart Island

hart infant coffins

Hart Island infant coffins


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

Hart Island infant grave markers: each marker represents 1000 graves

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

Warsaw Okopowa St Cemetery

warsaw cem

warsaw okopowa st cemetery

warsaw okopowa cem

Warsaw Ghetto children 2

Warsaw Ghetto children 3


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

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.
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


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.

Moldavanka and the Feld family – part one

As people so rarely spoke about anyone who died in the Odessa pogrom, I cannot be sure that any of the families I found on the Ellis Island database or in other records were closely related to those who were killed. I have followed a few families with relatively rare names and some indications that they might have been related to one of the people in the pogrom death records, because I was interested in how families managed after the pogrom. Most of the ones I was able to find emigrated to America. It must have been unimaginably difficult and yet many families seem to have come out of it relatively well, although it is impossible, through the records, to know how people really felt after such loss.

Golda Feld, 34, from Odessa, leaving Rotterdam on the SS Nordam on 12 December 1908 with her four children, Nechame 11, Moishe 8, Libe 3, and Vitte, 10 months, was like any other wife going to join her husband in America, although she would probably not have chosen to be travelling in December with a baby. Her husband, Nathan, was already living in Dayton, Ohio. Golda had been living with her father, Avrum Stitelman, at 10 Kartamishevskyi Lane or Street. During the pogrom, 29 Jews had been killed at 7 Kartamishevskyi Lane and 35 at 5 Kartamishevskaya Street. 10 Kartamishevskaya Street is the more modern building on the right; number 12 on the left might be more representative of the street in 1905.

10-12 Kartamishevskaya

10-12 Kartamishevskaya Street

Kartamishevskaya wall sun 3

Kartamishevskaya wall – impressionistic Moldavanka

Golda was born in Berdichev as was the elderly woman who was killed in the pogrom, Sura Gershkova Feld, age 70. Was Sura her mother-in-law? The two older children travelling with Golda were born in Ianuspol, now Ivanopil, a small town near Berdichev. Golda, Nathan and their family may not have been living with her parents in 1905, but as they were relatively new to Odessa, may have all settled in the same area.



ivanopil yanushpolivanopil 2


What intrigued me about Golda’s situation was that over a year later three more of her children, living with their Stitelman grandfather or grandparents, left Odessa to meet the rest of their family in Dayton, Ohio. These were Esther 16, Jacob 15, and Pauline 6. Why hadn’t such a young child as Pauline travelled with her mother? Had she been ill?

feld ester ship 1910 crop

Ester, Jacob and Pauline Feld SS Potsdam February 1910

When I first came upon the Feld family I looked up the father, Nathan Feld, in Dayton, and found the whole family on the 1910 census, using the name Field. The children were Esther, Jacob, Niciomi, Moses, Polina (Pauline), Lilie, Vitie, and a new baby Eva.

As I could not find Nathan on a ship’s list, I puzzled over how he came to be in Dayton, but several months later, looking again at the 1910 census, found that their next-door neighbour, Max Skilken, 25, was also Russian and involved in the same business as Nathan, fruit peddling. They lived in a combined house, 42 and 44 Samuel Street, a Russian-looking house with its gable end to the road. With some detective work I discovered that Max’s wife, Sarah, was Golda’s younger sister. There was also an older Ralph Skilken in Dayton who was a fruit peddler. The next piece of information I found was that Nathan died two years later, in 1912, age 39.

44 samuel st dayton

42 and 44 Samuel Street, Dayton

I then looked for the children individually and noticed first in the 1940 census that two of the children, Jacob and Pauline, who had come together on the ship in 1910, were both inmates at different psychiatric asylums in Michigan, one in Detroit and one near Ann Arbor. The youngest daughter, Eva, had also been at an asylum in Ann Arbor in 1930, but in 1940 was living with someone called Olga Tomarin. Olga turned out to be Eva’s mother, Golda, using her Russian first name. Golda (Olga) had remarried, and was now a widow. Piecing together the various records, I eventually found that the eldest daughter, Esther, had married Robert Romm, in Detroit, when she was 20, in October 1914. Her mother married Max Borovsky in December 1915, also in Detroit. On the 1920 census, Golda is Goldie Field, having divorced, and is living with Pauline, who is 18 and married to Charlie Rubinoff. Also living with them are Lillian 17, Victor 11, and Eva 9. Esther and Robert were living next door with their three small children. It seemed to be a close and supportive family. Both Robert and Charlie were working at automobile factories. Pauline had married in 1918 when she was 16, although it says 18 on the marriage record. Her brother Morris had married in 1919. Jacob was not on the 1920 census. Nor was Nechame. I eventually found a Nathanial Field who was the same age as Nechame and died at 81, a widower, in Columbus, Ohio. In 1922 Golda married Solomon Tomarin, a widower, and in 1930 they were living with his son, Lillian and Victor.

The only other record I found for Jacob from around 1920 was a World War I registration form, which was probably his, although the birthdate was a few years younger. It was a sad form. He was a shoeshine boy of 19, working for Gus, and his address, 300 Woodward Avenue, at least now, is a wide, central street leading to a huge, open square by the river, with large office buildings. The buildings on Woodward Avenue between 1910 and 1920 were smaller, and he may have had a room, shared with friends, or lived on the street. If he was homeless, that would explain why he is not on the 1920 census. For someone who had a mother and at least half a dozen brothers and sisters living in Detroit, it is strange that he wrote that his nearest relative was someone called Moset Field in Russia. Who was this relation and was Jacob imagining himself still back in Russia?

Jacob Field ww1 10 sept 1918

Jacob Field WW1 registration 1918

woodward 1910

Woodward Avenue 1910

In the 1930 census Jacob was a patient at the Detroit psychiatric hospital, a massive institution called Eloise, which began its life in 1839, 2 miles outside Detroit, as Wayne County Poorhouse. In 1894, a post office in the grounds of the hospital was called Eloise after the five-year-old daughter of the Detroit postmaster and president of the county board overseeing care of the poor. The postal address of the hospital became Eloise and eventually the hospital was called Eloise Hospital, a combination of a psychiatric hospital, an infirmary for the poor and a TB sanatorium. By the time of the 1930s depression, which created so many destitute and homeless people, Eloise had a population of 10,000, with 78 buildings and 902 acres. It had its own farm, cannery, bakery, dairy, police and fire department. This was to be Jacob’s home for many years.


Eloise Psychiatric Hospital

eloise dorm 1947

Eloise Hospital dormitory 1947

eloise room 226

Eloise Hospital ruin Room 226

A recent book called Annie’s ghosts: a journey into a family secret by Steve Luxenberg (2009) is the author’s search for his unknown aunt, who spent much of her life in Eloise, and the fate of his mother’s Jewish family in Radziwillow, near Brody, during the war. Luxenberg’s mother was deeply ashamed of her disabled sister, who had a malformed leg, low intelligence and some psychiatric problems possibly due to realising she would never lead a normal life. After her sister was hospitalised at 21, his mother, desperate to keep her sister’s existence secret, had to sever many connections with relations and old friends. It reminded me of my own family’s silence about their past and the death of their children, which may have been the reason that many cousins from other branches of the family had no idea my family existed.