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.

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.


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, 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

Who was or wasn’t on the pogrom death list? Where did they live? Stories from the reports and newspapers

The newspapers and the reports, especially The Jewish pogroms in Odessa and surrounding area in 1905, by S Semenov, tell the stories of individuals caught up in the pogrom, and the Semenov report, quoting from the government report, includes specific house numbers where many inhabitants were killed and eyewitness statements to the police. By checking through some of these stories I thought it might be possible to get a better idea of whether the pogrom death records included many or all of those who died in the pogrom. For instance, the Jewish Chronicle article below mentions whole families that were wiped out in the Slobadka area. This was reflected in the death records for the Weitzman family who had four members in the records, but there is only one member of the Davidovich family and no one from the Rubinstein family. In the next article, Vyssotosky was obviously a well known member of the self defence league and is designated in the records as a teacher. The little girl, Elena Isaakovna Weingurt, 2 ½ is also in the records, one of the few children of such a young age.

Jewish Chronicle 8 December 
In some places whole families were wiped out (Davidovich, Weitzman and Rubinstein, on the Slobodka). On the Moldovanka the hooligans killed a father and mother before the eyes of their son, a boy of 10.

15 December 
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, as 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 the 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.

From the Anglo-Russian:
Three soldiers drove furiously through the principal street of Odessa. Though it was quiet in the street, the soldiers, without the slightest provocation, began to fire on the people for sheer fun. The passers-by fled in terror and none of them were hit one soldier made up his mind that he must kill someone. Just then, opposite the Hotel Imperial, a little girl, Elena Weingurt, curious as all little children are, looked out from her window, on the fourth story of the house. One of the soldiers noticed her, aimed and fired, bullets striking the child in the chest piercing her right lung. Little Elena has long since been buried, but no attempt has been made so far as we know, by the military authorities, to identify the murderer, though this would not be difficult as the tragedy took place just about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 28th October (Russian style). (The date must be a mistake.)

imperial hotel 1901

hotel imperial

Imperial Hotel 25 Deribasovskaya

The same story of Elena Vaingurt appears in an online article called Pogroms: what happened in Odessa by O. Ilnitskaya, (Погромы: как это делалось в Одессе, О Ильницкая) written around the 100 year anniversary of the Odessa 1905 pogrom, and quotes from Russian newspapers at the time. The deputy prosecutor of the Odessa district court, Kamensky, (Aleksandre Nikiforovich Kamensky (Александр Никифорович Каменский) related what he saw of the pogrom from his apartment balcony, from the demonstrators marching on Gavannaya St firing revolvers on 19 October, to seeing Elena being shot two days later:  ‘On 21 October at about 3pm, across from my apartment a passing soldier killed Elena Vaingurt, a girl in her third year, who was sitting at the closed window in the arms of her father; the bullet that killed her then lodged in her father’s arm.’

I tried to find out more about Elena and her family. The Hotel Imperial was at 25 Deribasovskaya, the street where Kamensky lived, across from Gavannaya, where he watched the demonstrators coming down the street. So Kamensky must have lived near the hotel and Elena, according to his story, would have been living across the road at number 18 or 20, which are now modern buildings. The hotel was demolished in 2008 and now there is a new hotel there. Several Vaingurt families owned property in the centre of Odessa and there were three named I Vaingurt, listed in the 1902-3 directory, one at 55 Bazarnaya, at the corner of Ekaterininskaya, a long two-storey house, one at 93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya, a four-storey house, and the other at 70 Ekaterininskaya, at the corner of Bolshaya Arnautskaya, a more ornate four story house. They are within a hundred yards or so of each other. There were also two houses owned by R Vaingurt and two by X Vaingurt. Many of the following photographs are taken from Google Streetview.

70 ekat 4th floor elena

70 Ekaterininskaya

91 93 b arnaut vaingurt

91 and 93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya

In the 1904-5 directory the 70 Ekaterininskaya house had been sold, so the only four-storey house was 93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya. The question is whether Elena’s father, Isaak, and his family were living in their house at 93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya, or on Deribasovskaya, as described by Kamensky. In the 1904-5 directory, an Isaak Abramovich Vaingurt was dealing in wholesale colonial grocery products at 55 Ekaterininskaya (which is listed in the directory as a Greek Orthodox Church). After the pogrom, in the 1907 directory, Isaak Abramovich was living at 64 Ekaterininskaya, working as a commercial agent or middleman, and an Isaak I was a merchant of the second guild, someone of substantial wealth. Isaak Abramovich now owned 91 Bolshaya Arnautskaya , so I assume he is the one who owned 93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya, and he was sharing 64 Ekaterininskaya with Isaak I. Another Vaingurt, Abram Isaevich, possibly the father of Isaak Abramovich, and brother of Isaak I owned 55 Bazarnaya, which was the section of the house around the corner from 64 Ekaterininskaya. If Isaak Abramovich is the son of Abram, and nephew of Isaak I, it makes sense that he is the one with the young daughter. Selling 93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya immediately after the pogrom seems to indicate that the family had been living at 93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya during the pogrom and that he could no longer bear to go on living there after his daughter died.

64 ekat vaingurt

64 Ekaterininskaya

There were 11 Vaingurt families in Fond 359 Odessa office for small business, Jewish section 1893-1916, mostly owning businesses during the period 1898-1914, but none with the name Isaak. There was one Vaingurt who had a business in 1898 at Deribasovskaya 25, at the Hotel Imperial, possibly a shop on the ground floor, because the hotel was owned by someone called Elman. The window Elena was looking out of, sitting on her father’s lap, will remain a mystery, but I imagine it was one of the fourth story windows of 93 Bolshoi Arnautskaya and Kamensky simply heard the story and made it his own.

1907 directory
Вайнгуртъ, И. И. Екатерин.,64; 608.
Вайнгуртъ, И. А. Екатерин. 64; 522.
Вайнгуртъ, А. И. Базарн., 55; 328; 605.

The author of the article Pogroms: what happened in Odessa, O. Ilnitskaya, concentrated on describing the Jewish self-defence groups, the members of which numbered more than 2000, 55 of whom were killed. She also tells the story of her own father, who was a teenager at the time, living at the corner of Bolshaya Arnautskaya and Gimnasicheskaya, only a couple of streets away from the Vaingurts. Similar to the story by Korsunsky’s granddaughter, Ilnitskaya’ s father said a border guard officer lived in the building and had two armed soldiers placed at the gates to prevent harm to any Jews in the building. Either many Jews had the luck to know policeman or soldiers who guarded their gates and managed to keep out the hooligans, or this was a story that people told to hide the truth.

bolshoi arnaut and gimnasiches

Bolshaya Arnautskaya and Gimnasicheskaya

There were other general stories of violence on several streets in the centre, in the newspapers and Semenov report, such as Pushkinskaya and Uspenskaya, also near the Veingurts, pillaging at the corner of Ekaterinenskaya and Evreiskaya, and incidents at Preobrazhenskaya and Politseiskaya, and Pushkinskaya between Novorybnaya and Malaya Arnautskaya. There was also looting in many of the Jewish shops in the centre.

1888 map centre close

Odessa centre 1888

This Odessa map from 1888 has the clearest street names of the old maps of Odessa but a few of the names have changed, such as Beznmyannyi, (6) on the map, which must have been changed to Gimnasicheskaya after a school was built there. The red numbers on the map refer to the places where pogrom deaths or destruction may have occurred according to the reports and stories.

1  The Imperial Hotel
2  70 Ekaterininskaya
3-4 91-93 Bolshaya Arnautskaya
5  64 Ekaterininskaya/55 Bazarnaya
6  Bolshaya Arnautskaya and Gimnasicheskaya
7  Pushkinskaya and Uspenskaya
8  Ekaterinenskaya and Evreiskaya
9  Preobrazhenskaya and Politseiskaya
10 Pushkinskaya between Novorybnaya and Malaya Arnautskaya

The demonstrators marching on the first day of the pogrom and later crowds of hooligans covered much of the centre but it is obvious from the map that the lower area, near to Moldovanka, and the more residential right-hand side, probably took the brunt of any violence. The streets on the left-hand side of the map were the main shopping, hotel and theatre area. But most of the stories of the pogrom in the centre of the city are about random killings like that of Elena. The major violence of the pogrom, where all the inhabitants of some buildings were slaughtered , took place in the predominantly Jewish area of Moldovanka, which bordered the centre, and the further away working class areas, separated by valleys and cliffs, Slobodka Romanokov and Peresyp, near the docks.

A final story of a family being killed, possibly in the centre of Odessa, was a Philadelphia news item in a San Francisco newspaper about a young man called Bulowski who received a telegram that his entire family had been wiped out by the pogrom.

san fran call bulowski

The San Francisco Call 14 November 1905

None of this family, at least those with the name Bulowski, are in the records. As the first newspaper article quoted at the beginning mentioned several whole families killed, although not necessarily listed in the pogrom death records, in the area of Slobodka Romanokov, I will turn next to information about those families.