One pogrom victim in the death records, written about in the newspapers, who was brutally murdered by the police, was Leon Victor Vysotsky, 26, a teacher and member of the Self Defence League. An excerpt from the article in the Jewish Chronicle is in the blog entry Who was or wasn’t on the pogrom death list? Where did they live? Stories from the reports and newspapers.
Jewish Chronicle 15 December 1905
A Jewish female teacher was hastening to the house of her parents in Peressip when she was stopped by a ruffian who, assuring her he was not going to do any harm, asked her to show him her teeth. To humour him she opened her mouth into which he immediately fired, killing her on the spot. Another incident is now corroborated by a Sister of Charity. A man named Leon Vyssotosky was wounded while fighting front rank of the defenders. He was placed on an ambulance to be removed, when he was violently dragged to the ground by soldiers and then handed over to a disguised policeman, who put an end to his sufferings. Vyssotosky was one of the most energetic members of the Self Defence League, and was a remarkable orator. It is presumed that he was known to the police as such, and this was the reason of his being murdered.
Yet another horrible story. In Prochovskaya Street, while the pillage went on, a Sister of Mercy drove along with a wounded old man in her carriage. Four little children ran crying in the middle of the street, begging her to take them to their parents, whom they could not find. Before they could reach the carriage, two were shot and the other two run through by bayonets. In the same street five children were thrown out of third story windows. Two of them, one two months and the other 12 months old, died immediately.
Yet again, there is evidence of many children being killed while so few were registered in the Jewish records. It seems that possibly someone wanted to hide the extreme horror of this massacre, or the great loss, not just of men, but women and children.
When I first wrote about Leon Vysotsky, I looked up his name in Odessa directories and found that there was a large Moscow tea company with a warehouse and tea packing factory in Odessa called В Высоцкий & Ко, (V. Vysotsky & Co or Wissotzky & Co). There was a possibility that Leon Victor was related to this family but I didn’t look into it further. Then, a few weeks ago, information about my own family brought me back to the first pages of my great aunt’s memoir where she describes her grandfather and his eight children. She makes the comment that he was not so lucky in his sons but that two of his daughters married well – one to a very well off textile merchant from Bialystok, Leon Sackheim, and the other to the son of one of the richest merchants in Moscow, Wisozki, the Moscow Tea King. Many years ago I had tried looking up this Moscow tea company using the wrong spelling and had not got anywhere but now I found quite a few histories of the Wissotzky tea company online and several family trees. It is the only Russian tea company from that time that is still operating. It moved to Israel in the 1930s having left Russia for other European countries after the revolution. From the early 1900s it had had offices in Warsaw, London, Paris, New York and Philadelphia.
From the online family trees, I discovered that the founder, Kalman Wolf Yakov Wissotzky, who was from Zagare in Lithuania, had only one son, David, in 1861. On the family trees, his wife was Anna Borisovna. His wife’s maiden name was unknown except on one family tree where it was Sackheim. David Wissotzky supported many artists in Moscow and his wife was painted twice by Leonid Pasternak, a close family friend. His son, Boris Pasternak, tutored the Wissotzky children one summer after he had left school, and was inspired by his love for one of the daughters, Ida, to become a poet. The name on Anna’s 1911 portrait is AB Vysotskaya-Gotz, so I assumed that Anna was a member of the Gotz family, a family one of her daughters also married into, producing two famous revolutionary sons, Mikhail and Abram Gots. One way or another she did not seem to be my great great aunt, as her surname was Piker.
I was interested that Anna was thought to belong to the Sackheim family, and began to investigate who Leon (Leib) Sackheim was. I found his birth record: he was born in Bialystok in 1848 to Khaim Ber Shmul and Kreina, and he died in 1905. I could not find his marriage but I found the birth of one of his children, Feiga, in 1879, born to Lev and Asna Zakheim. I originally found my great great aunt, Asna Piker, as an eight-year-old, on the 1858 revision list (tax census) from Gorodische, near Novogrudok, Belarus, with her parents Meer Hirsh Piker (my great great grandfather), and Rivka, and her four siblings. So Asna was born in 1850 and would have been 29 when Feiga was born. Another four children were registered to a Leib Khaim Ber Zakheim between 1872 and 1884, Abram, Moisei, Dvora and Hersh. I then found the marriage certificate for David Vulf Visotzky (St Petersburg) and Khaia Khaim-Berko Zakheim (Bialystok) who married in Vilnius in 1876. In Russian, Khaia Khaim-Ber, became Anna Borisova. So, it was not my great great aunt who married into the wealthy Wissotzky family, but Leon Zakheim’s sister and Asna Zakheim’s sister-in-law.
The Wissotzkys and Odessa
In the online Wissotzky family trees, there is a puzzling 15 year gap in children between David’s 2 elder sisters born in the 1840s, and the 2 later children, David and another sister born in the early 1860s. The father and founder of the great tea company must have been desperate for sons to carry on his business and name, and I assume there must have been children in between who died, especially as none of the family names, such as Jacob and Rafael, Wolf’s father and grandfather, appear to have been used. Two sons-in-law and one sister went into the business with David. They also needed reliable people to run offices in other Russian cities and around the world. An especially important city was Odessa where the tea was shipped in, and from the 1890s, blended, and packed. The symbol of the Wissotzky tea company was a ship as they were one of the first companies to take advantage of new shipping routes and being able to transport tea by sea rather than overland from China. So I began to wonder whether, if Wolf Wissotzky did not have a son to organise their business affairs in Odessa, other family members, nephews or cousins, had worked for him there.
Wolf Wissotzky was also a Hebrew scholar and Zionist who belonged to a Zionist group in Odessa and funded a Zionist journal in the 1890s. The men he trusted with running his offices around the world were Zionists from Odessa merchant families. When the company became incorporated in the 1890s and he was able to set up a tea packing factory in Odessa, he hired a Zionist friend, Karl Tauer, to run the company, and other Zionist friends, Abraham Lubarsky and Asher Ginsberg, ran his offices in New York and London. However, previous to the 1890s, he would have needed someone in Odessa to keep charge of the affairs. Puzzling over why so many Odessans were hired to manage the foreign offices, I realised that only very successful established Jewish merchants were allowed to live in Moscow, so it would have been difficult to find people to train in the business there. Wissotzky managed to come to Moscow in the 1840s, before he had a business, and worked for a successful Jewish tea merchant, Botkin, and only set up his own company in 1853, when Botkin died. But in 1871 there were only about 8000 Jews in Moscow, and even in 1880 there were only 16,000 (8000 officially registered).
At the time of the 1905 pogrom, Abraham Lubarsky, the wealthy Odessa merchant who ran the Wissotzky company in New York, returned to Odessa and wrote of his experiences during the pogrom in a series of letters which were published in New York newspapers while he was also fundraising in America for the people affected by the pogrom. Lubarsky was involved with setting up the Jewish self defence league after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, alongside other Zionists like Jabotinsky. Below is an excerpt from one of the newspaper articles:
The Sun New York 17 November 1905
2 November: At dawn the massacre of Jews was renewed. They are now pillaging the Deribasovsky (the Broadway of Odessa) under the protection of the Cossacks, who are driving back the “Self-Defence” in order that the hooligans may pursue their bloody work without hindrance. A delegation of Jews visited Baron Kaulbars, the military commander, who is known as a rabid Jew baiter. After being told that the police are engaged in pillage and murder he said it was untrue and declared that he would take action only when he will be convinced by facts. The younger Wissetzky (a son of the largest tea merchant in Russia) took his life in his hands and ventured to the Jewish hospital where lay a “Self-Defence.” Wisetzky demanded of the authorities a certificate about their presence there. At first the Jewish doctors were fearful to sign a certificate of that kind, but they complied at last. Presently a military patrol with an officer came to remove the injured policemen. The younger Wissetzky demanded that the officer in charge of the patrol should also certify to the effect that he took away the injured. He did so. Armed with this evidence Wissetzky returned to Baron Kaulbars, and it was thought that the commander would keep his word and put down the massacre. But nothing-of the kind. The pillage and massacre is kept up to-day.
The ‘younger Wissotzky’ must refer to Wolf’s son David, although at first I thought it might refer to another son who was working in Odessa. David might have come to Odessa to meet with Lubarsky, or he had arrived because of the unrest in the city and fears for their factory. It is unknown whether he had any relations working for the business. His cousin, the revolutionary Mikhail Gots, who had belonged to the People’s Will from 1885 and had spent many years in Siberia, had been allowed to move to Odessa from Siberia in 1899 because of ill-health, and he had worked for the tea company until 1901 when he went abroad and continued his revolutionary activities. He died in 1906 from a spinal tumour which was thought to be caused by blows to his spine while he was in Siberia. But one wonders if David went to the hospital to see a member of the self-defence league because he knew Leon Vysotzky and heard that he had been attacked.
When Lubarsky returned to New York he was interviewed by the New York Times:
New York Times 5 March 1906
‘During the riot I got out of my carriage in front of my office. A policeman lifted his pistol as if to shoot me, and I brandished my cane as though I would strike him. Seeing me do this, he thought I must not be a Jew, for surely no Jew would threaten a policeman! But just then my employees began to shout my name ‘Lubarsky!’ from the windows. At that the officer knew I was really a Jew. As I went in the door he shot, but the bullet went past.
It was 1000 times worse in Moscow. A month and a half after the Odessa riots I left for Moscow. Three days later general Dubassov came to put down the revolution that he knew was going to take place. It did take place in three more days. The people were slaughtered by the hundred.’
It was interesting that Lubarsky commented on the revolution in Moscow, as one Wissotzky grandson, Alexander Wissotzky was involved in the 1905 Moscow uprising, and there were three other well-known revolutionaries in the family, grandchildren of Wolf Wissotzky, Mikhail Gots and his younger brother Abram Gots, plus the husband of Amalia Gavronsky, Ilya Fondaminsky, who went to France after the revolution and edited an emigre journal publishing the early work of Vladimir Nabokov.
Anna Wissotzky died in 1921 in Paris and her husband died in 1930. Several members of the Wissotzky family were deported from Paris to Auschwitz where they died. There was also an Isaac Sackheim, born in 1884 in Bialystok, the much younger brother of Anna Wissotzky, who was also deported to Auschwitz from Paris. On the Wissotzky online family tree one of Anna’s nieces, Vera Gots, married an unknown Sackheim who could have been Anna’s brother, Isaac. There was quite poignant detailed information online about his deportation. He left the Paris holding camp Drancy on 2 September 1943 and died on 7 September. He probably spent those five days travelling in the cattle cars and was immediately put to death in Auschwitz, as he was already in late middle age. Nothing is known about his wife or whether they had any children.
Quite a large number of emigrants from Odessa to Paris, mostly born in the 1890s and early 1900s, with names in the pogrom death records, were deported to Auschwitz – Groisman, Goichmann, Goldenberg, Guralnik, Meniock, Scher, Schneider, Segal, Tartakowsky.
To be continued…