Leonid Pasternak and his Odessa childhood

I have written about the impressionist painter Leonid Pasternak (Леонид Пастернак), the father of Boris Pasternak, in a previous post about the wealthy Moscow tea merchant, David Wissotzky, who had portraits of himself and his wife painted by Pasternak (https://wordpress.com/post/odessasecrets.wordpress.com/834). His children was also tutored by Boris Pasternak one summer. Boris fell in love with his daughter, Ida, and was inspired to begin writing poetry. There was a teacher called Leon Wissotzky who died in the Odessa pogrom and the Wissotzky’s had offices and warehouses in Odessa, using the port for their tea business. But what I never realised was that the Pasternaks were also from Odessa. It was only when I was looking up where Isaac Babel had lived in Odessa that the name Pasternak came up as well, as having stayed at Bazarnaya 78 over the years from 1885-1911 (like Jabotinsky and Kataev who had also lived on Bazarnaya), although he was living in Moscow at the time.78 bazarnaya Pasternak

Bazarnaya 78

So where was the artist born and what was his life like growing up in Odessa? From the Russian Wikipedia entry, I found that Leonid (Yitzhok-Leib or Isaac-Leon) had been born in 1862 on Kherson Street 20, now Paster Street 20 (по Херсонской — Пастера улице). This is an area outside the centre near the harbour, between the centre and Moldavanka. Just beyond, along the harbour, is Peresyp, and further inland is Slobodka. According to Wikipedia and many accounts of Pasternak’s childhood, when he was quite small his father rented a courtyard and inn, eight rooms for small landowners coming to market, in central Slobodka near the cathedral and market square. A footnote leads to a very long article on a Russian history website about Peresyp and Slobodka-Romanovka mentioning many Odessan writers and historians and descendants of local people vouching for the Pasternak’s having lived at what was called the inn of Baransky, at 9 (possibly changed to 11) Rozhdestvenskaya near the church and Market Square, and yet to many writers on Odessa it was also called Gruzdyev House (https://www.istmira.com/istnovvr/aura-odesskoj-peresypi-i-slobodki-romanovki-kraeve/page/40/). On the 1888 map of Odessa, you can see Slobodka on the bottom with the market square in the centre. The beginning of Kherson Street can be seen across the ravine and railway track at the top of the map.

Odessa 1888 slobodka Pasternak


9 vinnicnenko Pasternak

9 Rozhdestvenskaya just north of the central square

So I tried to find out more about Leonid’s early life in Odessa through his memoir, translated into English in 1982. He describes the bustling courtyard filled with the landowner’s horses and carts, which, as a small child, inspired him to begin drawing. He also describes his first trip outside at night, as a four-year-old, walking with his father to a special bakery on New Year’s Eve to collect a cake for their landlord. It is this detailed description of his walk to the bakery on Preobrazhenskaya near the City Gardens that makes one begin to doubt that the family lived in Slobodka. Then I came upon another story of his childhood on a website of biographies of famous Odessans. In this short biography, it says that Leonid’s grandfather Isaac came to Odessa from Galicia in the early 1800s and Leonid’s father, Joseph, was born in 1813. According to this story, Joseph’s inn was near the New Market (Новобазарная) on Koblevskaya between Olgievskaya and Konnaya, just across the ravine north of Slobodka (http://odessa-memory.info/index.php?id=243). New Market is the square towards the bottom left of the map.

Odessa 1888 old market

New Market (Новобазарная) and Koblevskaya (Коблевская)

I went back to the memoir and read more carefully how Leonid described his childhood home. ‘I can only properly remember my early childhood from the time when father’s affairs took a turn for the better and he rented the vacant area described above – the courtyard and wing. “Gryuzdov’s House” was known throughout the regions and visitors used to travel from afar since the rooms were very cheap. Where we lived, on the outskirts of the city, was very provincial, almost like a village. You could see the sea, as well as the little settlement Romanovka nearby.’

Pasternak Odessa 1870s

How could he live in the middle of Romanovka near the marketplace and see it from where he lived? He then describes the courtyard more fully:

One would have thought that my childhood imagination would have been confined to things urban, but in fact it was nourished on country impressions. Although we lived in the town, our courtyard was more like a village and we were surrounded by things rural. This courtyard with its carts and wagons, it horses and oxen, it’s chumaks and coachman and Tartars – helped enrich my artistic imagination enormously, as well as develop my sense of observation. Every evening peasants would arrive to stay overnight, bringing with them their bread to sell. Their lodging would cost them only a few kopecks. By nightfall the yard would be filled to overflowing with wagons, people and animals. There was a strong smell of manure and the sound of neighing and chewing was everywhere. Even now I can still smell that peculiar odour of horses’ harness and tar, I can still hear the muffled lowing of oxen, the snorting of horses quarrelling and somebody’s certain and penetrating cry: ‘You swine!’

Then I found a history online of the famous bakery, Duryan’s, where Leonid had gone with his father to buy the special New Year’s cake, for their landlord, Untilov. He quotes from Pasternak about the bakery and describes Pasternak’s early home as being at Koblevskaya 13 on the corner of Olgievskaya, a house which his father rented from Mikhail Untilov until 1873 when he was able to buy the property. This house is near the New Market and a reasonable walk to the bakery on Preobrazhenskaya. It is also at the edge of the city and near the ravine that separates the city from Slobodka-Romanovka. Koblevskaya 13 was destroyed in the war but here is another nearby house with courtyard.

Koblevskaya dvora Pasternak

Koblevskaya courtyard

I went back to the internet to search again for more about Pasternak’s childhood and found his memoir in Russian which had an extra sentence in the beginning which was not in my English edition. ‘Знаю лишь, что я родился на Старом Базаре, в 1862 году, 22 марта по старому стилю, и когда мальчиком бывал там, т. е. в центре города, то ничего такого старого не находил в нем, что отличало бы его от Нового Базара, куда мы перебрались, когда мне было 2–3 года.’ (I only know that I was born in the Old Bazaar, in 1862, on March 22, in the old style, and when I was a boy there, that is, in the center of the city, I would not find anything so old in it that would distinguish it from the New Bazaar, where we moved when I was 2-3 years old.) (http://az.lib.ru/p/pasternak_l_o/text_1943_zapisi_raznyh_let.shtml) Old Market is on the previous map towards the top right in the centre of town.

So Leonid had lived as a child near the New Market, but also says that he was born near the Old Market in the centre of the city. The only reference I had about where he was born was that it was Kherson St 20, a couple of streets over from Koblevskaya. The original detailed history of Slobodka mentions that the landlord Untilov, a member of the Duma, was listed in the directory as owner of Kherson St 20. Possibly this is where the idea of it being Pasternak’s birthplace came. But the article about the bakery says that Untilov was also the owner of the inn on Koblevskaya, which makes sense as they were buying the cake for their landlord. It seems that no one has actually looked into where Pasternak was born. I’m not sure why or how the story of Pasternak coming from Slobodka came about. It is and was a much poorer working class area and his family seem to have been an up-and-coming family who wanted their children well educated and eventually moved into the city centre. The inn on the edge of town was surely just as good a story as the childhood home of the famous painter.

Pasternak’s memoir continues with experiences at his local primary school and then moving on at age 10 to Richelieu High School, the most prestigious high school in Odessa and difficult to get a place in. He then moved to the Odessa State High School in the fifth year where he met a French teacher who was interested in art and introduced him to museums, galleries and exhibitions. Another stroke of luck was that the editor of various illustrated magazines, Mikhail Freudenberg, rented a room in his courtyard, and asked him to do some illustrations for him. In his last year of school, Leonid also began taking classes at the Odessa School of Drawing.


Leonid Pasternak as a young man

When he finished school in 1881, Leonid entered the medical faculty of Moscow University which was the desire of his parents, hoping also to join the School of Painting but found there were no more places. He did not enjoy medicine so transferred to the Law Faculty, but really wanted to study art abroad and discovered that this was easier to do from the Odessa University so he transferred to the Law Faculty in Odessa, where he would be able to spend much of his time at universities and studying art abroad.

What interested me so much about Leonid Pasternak’s childhood in Odessa was his ability, from a relatively poor, uneducated Jewish family, to navigate the education system with the help of his incredible talent, study art in Odessa while at school and get a place at Moscow University in medicine, which was the career his parents wanted him to pursue. It presents another picture to the often described difficulties Jews had with education quotas and difficulties living outside the Pale. It is also interesting to look more closely at the description of his family as poor and uneducated, because when his father was a child he was probably brought up speaking Yiddish and going to a traditional Hebrew school so he may not have learnt an educated Russian. Because Odessa was known for its Russian education, even for Jewish children, families that spoke Yiddish or people who had just learnt Russian orally were looked down upon and families rarely admitted to knowing Yiddish. Leonid’s father may have been educated in the old tradition and Yiddish-speaking, but seems to have done quite well in his hotel business, so the family may have entered the middle-class when Leonid was still quite young.

Certainly all of Leonid’s paintings of his family life were in very middle-class settings, but he also documented the older Jewish generation and made one trip to Palestine where he drew the people and landscape. Another major part of his work were portraits and he was obviously proud, coming from his background, of getting to know some very famous people like Tolstoy, Rilke and Einstein, but his relationship with Tolstoy was probably the most important to him (he illustrated Resurrection and several scenes from War and Peace) and he was called by Tolstoy’s wife to draw Tolstoy just before he died. In the early 1920s he moved to Berlin with his wife and daughters for health reasons and then stayed, only leaving in 1938 to settle in Oxford where one of his daughters lived.

I will end this post with a series of drawings, paintings and a few photographs predominantly relating to his own family, time spent in Odessa, and Jewish life from the late 1880s through the 1920s.

Pasternak 1889 Odessa

Odessa 1889


Letter from home 1889 (first large-scale painting)

Pasternak old Jewish woman 1889

Old Jewish woman 1889

Odessa 1890 Pasternaks

Leonid and his wife, recently married, 1890

Boris 1892

Boris 1892

Tolstoy 1893 Pasternak

Tolstoy 1893

Odessa Pasternak 1896

Odessa 1896

Odessa 1896 Pasternak family with Boris

The Pasternaks and Boris 1896

On the Sofa circa 1916 by Leonid Pasternak 1862-1945

On the sofa 1916

Pasternak 1924 Palestine

Palestine 1924

Pasternak Palestine drawing

Palestine 1924




The pogrom at Slobodka-Romanovka

In 1905 Slobodka-Romanovka was a working class area of Odessa isolated from the rest of the city by the railway line that ran through the valley between the city and the suburb.

odessa 1888 whole city

Odessa 1888 centre and suburbs

There are very few online photographs of this area, especially from the past, but one shows the geography of this industrial area. Residential streets are mostly lined with long one-story houses. Slobodka-Romanovka is mentioned repeatedly in the newspaper articles and the reports of the pogrom. Unfortunately, most of the street names have been changed, so it is a challenge to try and imagine what happened to the various families who were said to have been totally wiped out during the pogrom, but a few clues remain.

slobodka 1900s

Slobodka early 1900s

slobodka rom odessa

Slobodka now

The Weitzman (Вейцман Veitsman) family is mentioned in the Jewish Chronicle as one of three families that were completely wiped out by the pogrom. The Weitzmans come up again and again in the records – four members of the family are in the death records, there is a story about them in The Odessa pogrom and self defence 1906, they are in the court records of the Odessa archive, Fond 634, Procecutor of Odessa District Court (Prokuror Odesskogo okruzhnogo suda), 1870-1917, and they are mentioned in an article written by the Odessa archive about their Jewish records. The four victims in the records, all men, were Naum, age 13, Yakov, 20, Khaim-Khaikel, 35, and Avrum, 58. In the 1904-5 directory, an A Veitsman owns 63 Gorodskaya, at the corner of Krivovalkovskaya. There are very few house numbers on the street but a large renovated cream-coloured house with its outbuildings to the left has a double gate labelled 63B, and is one of the largest houses in Slobodka. The other two families said to be wiped out in the Jewish Chronicle article were Davidovich and Rubinstein, both fairly common names, neither of whom appear in any directories in Slobodka.

63 gorodskaya veitsman

63 Gorodskaya (far left)

63 B gorodskaya veitsman 2

63 Gorodskaya

In ‘Jewish History as Reflected in the Documents of the State Archives of Odessa Region’ Avotaynu The International Review of Jewish Genealogy.Vol XXIII; 3, Fall 2007. – P. 41-52), Deputy Director of the archive, Lilia Belousova, writes:

‘Materials on investigations of concrete pogrom cases are also in the Fond 634, Prosecutor of Odessa District Court (Prokuror Odesskogo okruzhnogo suda), 1870-1917, 2286 files. One of them is a case of Rosa Drutman, the victim of pogrom in Odessa in October, 1905. She served at the house of a rich Jewish family of Veizman-Varshavsky and became a witness of cruel massacre by the crowd of Christians against the Jews. Soldiers sent by the local authorities to prevent crimes, in fact marked the beginning of the drama using fire-arms against the Jews. 6 from 9 members of the family were killed. Rosa was wounded three times but survived after two months of treatment. Her witnesses, medicine card, materials of cross-examinations and protocols of court meetings let us to reconstruct the events in details.’

There is one member of the Varshavsky (Варшавский) family in the pogrom death records as well, Shulim-Leizer Husinov Varshavsky, age 40. The Weitzman family is also listed in Fond 634, Prosecutor of Odessa District Court, 1870-1917 as an investigation into the deaths of the Weitzman family during the October 1905 Odessa pogrom.

weitzman fond 634 72

404 Veitzman family deaths

In The Odessa pogrom and self defence, 1906, the story of the Weitzman family is spelled out in more detail. Veitsman and his family wanted to hide at the Slobodka town hospital where he was acquainted with Dr Golovin (professor of ophthalmology); but they were not allowed at the hospital. The policemen Kolloli, Ivanov, Andreev and the coachman killed four of the Veitsman family and five died later in hospital (a discrepancy with the archive information where it says 6 out of 9 died)…At the Potapenko building, 16 were killed.

As only four of the Veitsman family are in the pogrom death records, this implies that those who died a few days after the pogrom from their injuries were one group that were not included in the records. I looked up Veitsman in the 1908 directory and found A Veitsman still listed, at 61 Gorodskaya, but still at the corner of Krivovalkovskaya, with number 63 at the corner of Krivovalkovskaya and Novoslobodskaya, a street which intersects Gorodskaya immediately after Krivovalkovskaya, so another house must have been built in the small space between the two streets. In 1914, the person who had been listed at number 59, had now bought number 61.

1908 dir 61-3 gorodskaya

1908 directory 61-63 Gorodskaya

odessa map  1888 slobodka

Slobodka (bottom left) and Moldavanka (above right)

The Potapenko building mentioned at the end of the Weitzman story was in the middle of Gorodskaya St, number 15 where it crosses Tserkobskaya. There is no way to know whether the 16 people killed in that building are scattered among those in the pogrom death records. Tserkobskaya means Church St, and there was a square with a church at the end but this has now become a market. Gorodskaya means Town St but the name was changed to Chervonoslobidskaya and now incorporates another street so the numbers have been changed on one side, making it impossible to know which side of the corner was number 15.

gorodskaya tserkovskaya corner

Corner of Gorodskaya and Tserkobskaya

around 15 gorodskaya

Typical old house near Gorodskaya and Tserkobskaya

The 1906 report on the pogrom also mentions 4 other men besides the Weitzman family who were killed in Slobodka. Kofman, 47 years old, was thrown out of a second-floor window by the local head of police, Kolloli. Kolloli also cut the throat of the youngest son of a musician, Vaska Nebos. In the pogrom death records there is a Shmil Yankelev Kofman, from Kishinev, who was 58 years old, and a Khaim Ioinovich Kofman, from Dubossar (Dubasari near Kishinev), who was 21. Was the age of the 47-year-old wrong in the records or the report, or was there another Kofman who died in the pogrom? Another two men who do not appear in the records, Garbar and Leo Lycuyu, were killed by the policeman Ivanov. The plumber, Negurov, and his sons, killed Motel Sheindels and his wife. There is a 50-year-old Mordko Sheindels from Kherson and his wife Khaya, also 50, in the pogrom records. Her name is spelt Sheindlis. This name seems to come predominantly from Vilna, spelt Sheindels, with some migrating to the Minsk area and Kishinev. According to the names of people who died in the Holocaust on the Yad Vashem database, there was the name Sheindlis in western Ukraine in Derazhnya and Khmelnik, which may be why the name is spelt in two different ways in the pogrom records. I will return to this family as I trace the story of two orphans, Josef and Israel Scheindless, who were taken to America in 1906. The plumber also killed David Podolsk. Of this group of 7 people, 4 were not in the records.

I could not find anything about the names Garbar, Lycuyu or Nebos. However, Kofman was a very common name in the 1904-5 directory. There were several Kofmans who were businessman living in the centre of the city, several doctors, two properties owned in Moldovanka, and one person, I Kofman, who lived in Slobodka at 39 Sporitinskaya St (now Badajeva St), which was one street over from Tserkobskaya or Church St, where 15 people were killed. Khaim Ioinovich may have been his son. Shmil Kofman may have been renting property or living with family. 39 Sporitinskaya is a typical one story Slobodka house on a small lane with double gates to a yard at the side. Many of these small lanes are still barely paved.

39 sporintinskaya kofman slobodka badajeva st39 Sporitinskaya St

slobodka lane off kladovyschenska ayukovskaya

small lane near Sporitinskaya St

As there were so many young and middle-aged men in the pogrom death records, and so many policeman involved in the Slobodka massacre, it seemed possible that the police had already been watching people connected with socialist and revolutionary groups and began targeting them during the pogrom. The secret police had a rapidly growing and complex surveillance system at the time. Jabotinsky, in his autobiographical novel The Five, describes how, in the run-up to the 1905 revolution, the police were recruiting the caretakers of buildings to watch people’s movements. There is an online list called Jews under surveillance 1905 (http://www.eilatgordinlevitan.com/rokiskis/rok_pages/jews_under_police_surveillance_1905_parts1and2.html)
which lists entire families under surveillance, where they were from, and where they were living at the time. Several of the last names in the pogrom death records were on the list from Odessa. The name Kofman is not on this list but is in another online document, Okhrana records XIII, incoming dispatches from Paris in 1905. One dispatch says:

‘Interc. letter from “Nilka” in Geneva to Osip Kofman in Odessa, for Faya: asks for assistance in distributing the manifesto of the Anarcho-Communists 553 Interc. letter from “R. K.” in Paris.’

Osip is not the kind of name that turns up in the pogrom death records, which tend towards more traditional Jewish names. I noticed in browsing through an online document of the 1903 Odessa University enrolment that the Jewish students were more likely to have Russian first names, like Osip, especially those whose fathers were first or second guild merchants (купец). So were the Kofmans in Slobodka targeted because they were related in some way to or involved with Osip Kofman, who was distributing illegal literature in Odessa, or was this simply a coincidence?

One last story in the 1906 chapter on the Slobodka pogrom concerns a 13-year-old boy, Moishka Shuster, who was hiding on the roof of his building behind the chimney as firing was going on inside the building and soldiers were firing bullets from the street. To complete their work at the house, the policeman, Ivanov, climbed to the roof, struck the boy with his axe, and threw him down to the ground. The boy’s arms and legs were broken and he lost all his lower teeth, but he lived and was taken to hospital.

In the Semenov report, there is no mention of individual names of people who died in Slobodka. One witness, Basya Senderevich, a wounded woman from 21 Gorodskaya, said she had seen eight people in her building killed. In another house in Gorodskaya seven people were killed. And so it went on…

21-23 gorodskaya

21-23 Gorodskaya