Tag Archives: Simon

Sonia Gertzman Einhorn: A Family Hero, A Childless Woman

The Forgotten Ancestors – Childless Women and Men

When I research my ancestors, I wonder who will remember those who left no descendents.  The trails backward to female ancestors, especially, are often lost because they took their husbands’ surnames, and their birth surnames can’t be found in the records. But, when working the trails forward, finding cousins, there are no cousins descending from them. Who remains to remember them? I guess that will be me. As much as possible, I want to preserve the memories of these childless family members.  I’ve already devoted a post to my paternal Aunt Dorothy Levensohn (http://wp.me/p35vsQ-3i). I hope to add others, both men and women. Today I want to devote a post to Sonia Einhorn, who was truly a family hero whose memory should be preserved.

Who She Was

I know little about who she was – even the bare bones of her biography. Gertzman Women 1946_2 Sonia Einhorn was born Sarah Gertzman, in 1872, 1873 or 1874. Or maybe it was another year. She was born either in the town of Mogilev (now in Belarus) in the Russian Empire, or in the town of Senno (now Syanno) in the Mogilev Gubernia. Or, maybe – but probably not – she was born in Ekaterinoslav (now in Ukraine and called Dnipropetrovsk). Her father was Schlomo Gertzman, and her mother’s name is unknown to me. A guess is that her mother’s name was Liba, a name given as the wife of a Schlomo Gertzman, but not necessarily the same Schlomo Gertzman. Sonia had two brothers that I know about:  Harry Gertzman and Nathan Gertzman. Nathan was one of my four great-grandfathers. (Of course, “Harry” and “Nathan” are Americanizations of their names. Their Yiddish and Hebrew names are variously transliterated.) Sonia married Nachum (Nathan) Einhorn, from Ekaterinoslav. She was already married and living in Ekaterinoslav in 1903 when she emigrated to the U.S. to meet her husband. So she was married some time before the age of 30.

Sonia Einhorn arrives Ellis Island, 1903

Sonia Einhorn arrives Ellis Island, 1903

If you are unable to decipher the manifest, here are the highlights: The sheet was for steerage passengers. The SS Statendam sailed from Rotterdam 13 June 1903, arrived NY on June 23. Sonia is on line 7, listed as “Sonie Einhor,” age 30 married, no occupation, able to read and write; country of last permanent residence – Russia; Hebrew race or people; last residence Yekaterinaslaw; final destination NY, passage paid by husband; carrying no money. She was to join her husband, “N Einhor ℅ A Finkelstein 105 Stanton St, NY.

Mogilev Woman, Ekaterinoslav Man

How did it happen that a Mogilev woman would marry an Ekaterinoslav man? Both towns were on the Dnieper River. The map below is one I found online, from an environmental project proposal (http://projects.inweh.unu.edu/inweh/display.php?ID=654), and it is the best I can find that shows the route from Mogilev to Ekaterinoslav (Dnipropetrovsk). I have not found out yet if the travel between the two places was via river or whether there was road or rail travel. Dnieper River Basin I believe both families, the Einhorns and the Gertzmans, were related. On passenger lists, both Einhorn and Gertzman men listed the same cousin – either a Finkelstein or a Shaffer – as their final destination upon arriving in New York. I still haven’t figured out how these Finkelsteins and Shaffers are our relatives, but they were apparently shared relatives with the Einhorns and Finkelsteins. Several Gertzman relatives gave Ekaterinolav as their hometown, or last residence; or told their descendents that it was their home town.

Lil’s story of the match

Lil Gertzman (her maiden name), my mother’s first cousin, was born in 1915 in Cincinnati. I was fortunate enough to make contact with her and speak with her, both on the phone (in 2001) and in person (in California in 2002). Lil knew her Great-Aunt Sonia well, visited her often in Lil’s childhood. Lil admired and was fond of Sonia. Although when I asked Lil about Sonia, Lil was showing some signs of occasional confusion, those old memories from Lil are the closest thing I have to a first-person account. According to Lil, Nachum (Nathan) Einhorn was the last boy left in his family and needed a match. The Einhorn family was unable to obtain a match with a dowry. Sonia’s family was poor, and there was no dowry, but she was bright and capable and literate. Lil did not know how the two families got together or were related.

A Quick Note About Names

Throughout this post I will use some names interchangeably:  Nachum Einhorn = Nathan Einhorn; Sonia Einhorn = Sarah Einhorn. These names were used variously on records and in people’s conversations with me.

From Ellis Island to Cincinnati: 1903 – 1904

Women and children arriving at Ellis Island were routinely detained until they were fetched by a responsible man. In Sonia’s case she was gathered up almost immediately upon arrival by her husband, “Nathan Einhor” of 194 Allen St, NY City. The immigration service on Ellis Island needed only to feed her one meal, her evening dinner, before Nachum picked her up. The record is on line 15, below:

Record of Sonia Einhorn's brief detention at Ellis Island

Record of Sonia Einhorn’s brief detention at Ellis Island

Sonia lived with Nachum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for less than a year before they moved to Cincinnati.

Tenements on the Lower East Side

Jewish immigrants to New York in the early 20th century typically moved into tenements on the Lower East Side. Now there is a tenement museum (http://tenement.org), worth at least a day’s visit, including tenements re-created as they were when the immigrants lived there. The museum gives guided tours both of the tenement housing and of the Lower East Side. When Sonia sailed from Rotterdam to New York, the address she had for Nachum was the Finkelstein residence at 105 Stanton St. But when Nachum picked her up at Ellis Island his residence was 194 Allen St. Both of those addresses were tenements in the Lower East Side. The Einhorn address at the time they left, March 1904, was 231 E 10th St, a bit further north, in the East Village. Neither of the Lower East Side tenements exist today. The Stanton St. tenement has been replaced by an 8-apartment rental building built in 1995. The Allen St. address now is the location of the famous Katz Deli. The E 10th St building, however, was built in 1900 and is still standing: beautifully updated, it appears, and expensive to live in. The website Zillow.com estimates a one bedroom apartment here is valued at $1.6 million. Not too shabby.

Sonia & Nachum's last address, on E. 10th St., today.

Sonia & Nachum’s last address, on E. 10th St., today.

I found this building in the 1910 Census.  Then 87 people were living in this 5-storey building, or a little more than four people per 1-bedroom apartment.

Help from the Industrial Removal Office

The IRO was started in 1901 by the Jewish Agricultural Society, one of the Baron de Hirsch Fund projects. It attempted to resettle Jewish immigrants into interior U.S. communities, outside the New York City area. According to what I have read, it tried to find work for immigrants, then arrange for and finance transportation to those job opportunities. It looks to me as if Nachum and Sonia were not the first members of the extended family to be sent to Cincinnati by the IRO. In 1903 “Sal” (probably”Schmerl,” as the family knew him) Hertzman, a cabinetmaker, was sent to Cincinnati; and in January 1904 Abram Gertzman, a tailor, was sent. Both Schmerl and Abram (known to my mother’s generation as “Uncle Schmerl” and “Uncle Avrum”) were related to Sonia, possibly her first cousins. Maybe the existence of family already there was one reason Nachum and Sonia went to Cincinnati. Here is the record of the IRO sending Nachum and Sonia from NY City to Cincinnati, OH:

Nathan and Sonia Einhorn sent to Cincinnati March 1904 by the IRO

Nathan and Sonia Einhorn sent to Cincinnati March 1904 by the IRO

The IRO spent $18 on their tickets and $10.85 on their freight. Most people on the page received only 35 cents for freight, so the couple must have had considerable possessions, relatively speaking. Mr. Rosen was the IRO agent in Cincinnati. In May 1904 he sent a report that included the initial outcome of Nachum’s relocation to Cincinnati.

Report from the Cincinnati IRO agent on Nathan Einhorn's relocation

Report from the Cincinnati IRO agent on Nathan Einhorn’s relocation

Nathan and Sonia Einhorn Opened Their Home

Without their Tante Sonia and “Uncle Einhorn,” as they called him, my Bubba and much of her family might never have come to Cincinnati. Having a place to go was essential to their immigration. Nachum and Sonia provided that place. Here are are some of the records I have found:

  • Idel Einhorn, age 29, male, married, tailor, arrived at Ellis Island on the SS Main on 24 Feb 1906. His destination:  brother N Einhorn, 1515 John St, Cincinnati, OH. (This would be Adolph (Eidel) Einhorn.)
  • Minnie Einhorn/”Eingorn,” age 29, arrived at Baltimore in August, 1906, with three young children (Jankel, age 4, Schmuel, age 3, and an infant girl whose name I can’t read). She was going to her husband, Edel Einhorn, 1515 John St., Cincinnati (Nachum and Sonia’s place).
  • Leie Einhorn, age 20, married, arrived at Ellis Island on the SS Breslau on 7 Apr 1907, going to:  husband, Jakob Einhorn, 1515 John St, Cincinnati, OH (so Jacob, Nachum’s brother, was living with him. Jacob had arrived in October, 1906).
  • Feidel Gertzman (my great-uncle Freddie), age 23, single, a tailor, from Ekaterinolav [not really – he was from Mogilev, but that’s another story], arrived at Ellis Island 25 July 1909. He was going to his cousin, Nachum Einhorn, 1402 John St., Cincinnati (Sonia and Nathan had moved down the street).
  • Avram Schlioma Gerzman (my great-uncle Sam), age 24, single, a tailor, born in Mogilev but last residing in Simferopol, arrived at Ellis Island in August, 1912 on the SS Russia. He was going to his brother at 1402 John St., Cincinnati.
  • 1910 Census (April, 1910) the Einhorn household consisted of Nathan &  Sarah (Sonia) Einhorn (mis-recorded as “Einhart”, and Fred and Eva Gertzman (mis-recorded as “Getzman”) at 1402 John Street. Eva Gertzman was Fred’s sister, my great-aunt.
  • Sora-Rivka and Chasja Gertzman arrived at Ellis Island in June, 1913 on the S.S. Russia. This is my great-grandmother and my grandmother. They were going to Sora-Rivka’s son (Hasha’s brother), F. Gertzman at 1402 John St. in Cincinnati. So Freddie had been living with Sonia and Nachum for almost four years at this point.
  • By the 1920 Census, Sonia and Nachum were  still living at 1402 John Street, but no relatives were living with them.

I do not know if Sonia and Nachum provided any financial help to my family, but it is clear that, in addition to housing many of Nachum’s relatives, they housed my maternal ancestors for many years. My great-grandmother, Sora-Rivka, had four living children, and all of them lived in the apartment on John Street. Yes, it was a rented apartment. The building no longer exists.

Hints that their generosity extended beyond opening their home

I’ve heard a few snippets from relatives that tell me that Sonia and Nachum led a life of generosity to family. The née Gertzman sisters – Lil, Ida, and Ann – Freddie’s daughters, my mother’s first cousins – each spoke of memorable and frequent trips to visit the Einhorns for Shabbos dinner. Sonia was reportedly an excellent challah baker, among other things. Lil waxed ecstatic over Sonia’s many talents, including being a fine seamstress alongside Nathan’s pantsmaking business. When I had a chance to hear stories from Lil, she told me of Sonia’s intelligence, talents, and generosity. One story Lil told me involved Sonia’s rescue of an ill African-American girl. At the time Lil told me the story, she was, as I mentioned above, quite elderly and occasionally a bit confused. Although “sharp as a tack” is the cliche I’d generally use to describe her, Lil told me that this girl was a runaway slave – impossible, given the timing being about 1920. Nonetheless, I believe Lil was remembering an actual event, but just confused some of the circumstances. Lil remembered Sonia taking in this sick child, calling in a doctor to diagnose and treat her, and then nursing the child back to health. One cousin on my Gertzman side, a granddaughter of Harry Gertzman, wrote me the following recollection: “Now I do recall that Harry had a sister named Sarah, and I also recall Uncle Einhorn. I believe that he’s the uncle who gave my dad a gold monogramed ring for his bar mitzvah {which was at age 12 rather than 13 because now he was now the man of the family!} I have the ring and wear it every day. It will eventually go to my grandson, Sam, who was named after my dad.”

“Don’t Bother Mine Pants”

In my family we have a phrase meaning, “Don’t bug me!” It goes, “Don’t bother mine pants!” or, as my mother used to say, “Don’t bodder mine-a pants!”  This is an inadvertent present handed down from Uncle Einhorn. He was a pantsmaker. As I gathered from Lil and Ann and Ida, he had his business in his home. If someone spoke to him or tried to get his attention when he was sewing, he would say, “Don’t bodder mine-a pants!” meaning, don’t bug me when I’m working on pants.

Uncle Einhorn

Uncle Einhorn

 

A Poignant Plea for a Son, 1911

In 1911 Sonia would have been in her upper thirties, having been born in the early 1870s. She and Nathan were childless. I have found no records of births or stillbirths to Sonia (though early records from Cincinnati are spotty). Nathan’s father, a respected patriarch, Moses Einhorn died at shul on Shabbos in February 1911. The Cincinnati Post published two articles after the funeral, one of them on the front page, focusing on Nathan and Sonia. The articles are poignant, crossing the border into the melodramatic, describing Sonia and Nathan’s desperate pleas that they might be blessed with a son.  (The first article is shown in two pieces and has some overlap of text; sorry!)

Date: Tuesday, February 21, 1911

Paper: Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH)

Page: 1

This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004.
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Then again,

Date: Thursday, February 23, 1911

Paper: Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH)

Page: 4

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This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004.

The Later Years – 1920s – 1940

Although Fred Gertzman’s family often visited the Einhorn home for Shabbos dinner, my own mother’s family, children of Hasha (Gertzman) and Alex Simon, apparently did not go, or did not go often. Ida sometimes told me this, wondering why the Simons did not also attend the Shabbos dinners. She wondered if it was because Alex was a less social, more a “keep to himself” sort of person. She also wondered if he did not give Hasha the money she would need for carfare to travel from Price Hill and, later, the West End. As I muse on this, I can also imagine that the money just wasn’t available, especially as the Depression hit the Simons hard. Another possibility is that Alex and his family avoided taking the streetcar because it was Shabbos. This is little more than idle speculation.

The Alex Simon family lived in Price Hill, while the Einhorns lived downtown until sometime in the 1920s. At some point in the 1920s, probably late in the decade, the Einhorns moved to Avondale. So getting to Shabbos dinner would have required taking the streetcars for my mother’s family.

 

In the 1930 the Census Nathan and Sonia were listed as living in a 4-family building at 332 Rockdale Ave. in Avondale. The 1929 Cincinnati City Directory listed that same address for Nathan. Earlier years in the 1920s, the Directory gave a work address downtown for him, so I’m not sure when they moved there. The Jews of Cincinnati were generally moving away from downtown and Price Hill, and into Avondale. At the time of that 1930 Census, Nathan was listed as the owner of that building, valued at $12,500. However, something is confusing here because another person in the same building is also listed as owner, value $18,000.

The listing gives Sonia’s age as 56 and Nathan’s as 57 years old, occupation Pants Maker in the tailoring industry, but not the owner of his business. The 1930 census also asked if the individual was at work the last working day prior to the census and, for Nathan, the answer was “no.” It then referenced line 9 on the Unemployment Schedule (and I need to find out if that is able to be accessed online or elsewhere).

The Depression hit everyone hard and, one can imagine, an aging, old-fashioned pants maker might lose his work. I don’t know how long Nachum was unemployed. The first indication I have that he eventually found employment was in the 1933/34 Cincinnati Directory that listed him as a “clothes presser 3482 Burnet Av”; no longer tailoring, but still working. The home address was still 332 Rockdale.

In the 1940 Census Nathan and Sonia are shown as still living at 332 Rockdale. This time only Nachum shows as the building’s owner, but the value had dropped to $3,000.  Again Nachum, now age 67, was out of work but was seeking work. The number of weeks out of work was listed as 520 (10 years), which seems unlikely given he was working as a presser in the mid-1930s. His “number of weeks worked” in the previous year was zero. Both Nathan and Sonia were noted to have other source(s) of income. Certainly the rent they were receiving would be one of those. They also had a lodger living in their unit, Sydney Goldman, age 23, a salesclerk in a pawn shop.

So where is that Rockdale Avenue home now? Gone. It is an empty lot. According to a search I just did, it last sold in 2005 for $8,300.

 

332 Rockdale Sonia EINHORN home

More About Sonia in her Later Years

The 1940 Census had a unique feature – it gathered supplementary information for two people on each census sheet. Sarah was selected on hers. However not much additional is revealed. It says that she was from “Russia”; that she was married only once; and that she was age 20 when first married. But there is something really odd here. In the column for number of children ever born, not including stillbirths, the number is “one”. Did Sarah ever have a child, perhaps one that died very young? The 1910 Census, when she was shown as 36 years old, said she had had “zero” children born. Although I have just repeated searches for record of a birth or death of a child of Sonia and Nachum, I’ve not found a trace.

In her later years it seems to me that Sonia did not have much interaction with my mother’s family, nor with the Fred Gertzman family. Lil Gertzman spoke of being close with her Aunt Sonia, but she didn’t relate specific stories about her, except in the years Lil was a young girl. In 1930 Lil turned 15. I also heard nothing specific about her, in her later years, from Ida or Ann. They both mentioned Shabbos dinners, but nothing more than that.

It seems to me Sonia and Nachum may have had more connection with another branch of my family, the family of Harry and Sarah Gertzman. I knew almost nothing about this branch until I began researching family history.

Harry Gertzman was Sonia Einhorn’s brother, as was my great-grandfather, Nachum Gertzman. This gets confusing to read about, because it seems that almost everyone was named Sarah or Nachum.

Harry Gertzman died young, at about age 40, in 1913 of tuberculosis. He left his widow, Sarah (nee Billipinsky), with seven children ranging in age from about one year old to about fourteen.

Descendents of Harry and Sarah Gertzman have sent me scans of photos including Sonia (“Aunt Einhorn”) and Nachum (“Uncle Einhorn”). The individual portraits I have above, earlier in this post, are cropped from these scans. Here are others:

Sonia Einhorn & Shirley Gertzman 1932

 

Sonia Einhorn, Sarah Gertzman, Howard Levine - 1934 S McMorris Gertzman Women circa 1940 - Version 2

Deaths in the Early 1940s

Sonia died December 26, 1942 at about 70 years of age. Here is her death certificate.

EINHORN, Sarah 1942 death

 

It looks as if she died of heart disease. She clearly had cardio-pulmonary disease, perhaps chronic heart failure, as my grandmother, Hasha, did. (Hasha was her niece.) Nathan was the informant on the death certificate and he certainly gave little information about his deceased wife.

I note parenthetically that the Einhorn’s address had changed to 650 Rockdale Avenue. That address appears to be non-existent now.

Nachum died less than two years later, on August 10, 1944, age 73 according to Aaron, one of his younger brothers. According to Aaron, Nathan was 73 years old when he died.

EINHORN, Nathan death cert 1944

 

The death certificate indicates that Nathan was living in the Jewish Home for the Aged (on Maple in Avondale) and had been living there for two years. So, probably, he moved there shortly after Sonia’s death.

Here is a photo of their headstone, in the Love Brothers Cemetery in Cincinnati.

Sonya, Nathan Einhorn grave

 

The Hebrew on Nathan’s side says: A Respected and Important Man, Reb (Mr.) Menachem Nachum Son of Moshe, Passed 27th Day of the Hebrew Month of Av in the Hebrew Year 5704. The last line is the usual quotation from Samuel – May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

The Hebrew on Sarah’s side says:  An Important Woman, Sarah Daughter of Reb Shlomo, Passed: 19th day of the Hebrew Month of Tevet in the Hebrew Year 5703. The last line is also the Samuel quotation.

 

 

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Etta Raiza Berlin Sklar of Moletai

My Great-Grandmother

My Great-Grandmother

The Death of Etta Raiza Berlin Sklar

Recently I found the death record of my great-grandmother, Etta Raiza Berlin SKLAR. She died in late 1933, a widow aged 74, in her hometown of Moletai. Her cause of death was listed as “psychic disease.” I wonder if it was Alzheimer’s?

Finding out that she died in 1933 shook me up.  As far as I know, her grandchildren did not know about it. My mother was almost 13 years old on the day of Etta Raiza’s death. Did her father, my Zeyda, Alex, know about his mother’s death? or did he just not tell his children?

My mother was born in 1920. She seems to have paid attention to whatever her parents had told her about their families in the old country, and she passed that information along to me. I have the impression that she did not know when her grandmother died. She just had a general notion that her father’s family had perished in Treblinka.

Looking at the names of my mother and her siblings – all born in the 1920s – perhaps I might guess that my Zeyda, Alex, knew or suspected that his mother was still alive. None of Zeyda’s children was given a name in honor of Etta Raiza. Had she been dead  by any time in the 1920s – and had that been known by my Zeyda – surely he would have named one of his children after her.

On the other hand, each of Zeyda’s brothers had a daughter named Esther, born in the early 1920s. Etta Raiza was still alive. Were these girls named for their grandmother? Did their parents have the mistaken belief that she had passed? They would not name a child after someone still alive. Then, in 1931 (ca.), Ethel Sklar was born, daughter of Zeyda’s brother, Abraham. That name sounds so much as if it re-echoes the name “Etta.”  In 1935 (ca.), Abraham’s last daughter was born, and he named her Eleanor Sheila.

When asked in the U.S. to give the name of their mother, the SKLAR brothers’ documents gave names such as “Ida” or “Ida Rose” or “Rosa.” So it does seem as if they associated these “American” names with Etta Raiza.  Perhaps Esther, Ethel, and Eleanor did not evoke their mother’s Yiddish name in the minds of her sons.

This musing on names cannot settle the question of whether Etta Rayza’s sons in the U.S. knew of her death in 1933. It seems so sad that they may not have had any definite information about her later life and her death.

The Life of Etta Raiza Berlin Sklar

Beyond contemplating how her grandchildren apparently didn’t know about her death, more poignant is the thought that they knew almost nothing about her life. I’ve been mulling over how little I have been able to learn about my great-grandmother.

The Records, Skeletal Though They Are

Itte Reyza [you will note that I vary the spellings of her name, because there are various transliterations] was born in 1859 or 1860, the daughter of Abram Osher BERLIN and Beile Berlin (nee SHILER). She had two siblings that I am aware of:  Jankel, who was just slightly older (or, less likely, her twin) and Itzko, born in 1871. Given the gap in birth dates between Reiza [in some records only this second part of her double name is listed] and her younger brother, Itzko, I wonder if there might have been more siblings.

I know nothing about Etta’s childhood, have not yet found any records to tell me what was her father’s occupation, nor what sort of home she grew up in. Nor have I found a record of her birth or of her marriage to Chaim Zalman SKLAR. I don’t know if she grew up in poverty or if her childhood was economically comfortable. I do not know if she went to school.

All the records that I have so far found – translations of records found in Lithuanian archives – give her residence as Moletai. Going all the way back to 1798, I can find records indicating her ancestors were living in Moletai. Her paternal grandfather, Eliyash Yankel Berlin, son of Gilel Berlin, was born in the 1790s in Moletai. [Eliyash Yankel is my third great-grandfather and Gilel is my 4th great-grandfather.] Moletai, about 40 miles north of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, was in the Russian Empire through most of Etta Raiza’s life, but was in Lithuania at the time of her death.

Although she was born around 1860, the first record I can find for her is a sad one, in September 1891, when she was in her early 30s and married to Chaim Zalman Sklar. The record is about the death of a son, Nachman Sklar, one year old. Cause of death is “fever.”

Because I know the approximate date of birth of another of her sons, Morris (Moshe, Jacob Moshe) – in the mid 1880s, I can speculate that Etta Reyza was married in her early 20s, or earlier.

The other record I can find for her is the birth of a son, Abel Leyb, 8 February 1896. I have not yet found any other records for this son, but have found others with the name Abel in both the BERLIN and the SKLAR families.

Perhaps he was named for Etta Raiza’s uncle, Abel BERLIN, son of Gilel, born in the first decade of the 1800s. That elder Abel was enumerated in Moletai on a revision list in 1845. But in the 1850 enumeration in Moletai, he was listed as “missing.”

“Aba-Leyb” BERLIN, son of one of Etta’s brother’s, was born in 1907. According to one family tree posted online by a Berlin descendent now living is Israel, this man died in Lithuania in 1941.

Back to Etta Raisa:  Thus I am aware of five sons. Three of them came to the U.S.:  Morris, Abram, and “Alex” (Nachum Yael Sklar, my Zeyda, who went by the name “Alex” in the U.S.). One of them, Nachman, died as an infant. The fifth, Abel Leyb. . . I do not know what happened to him.  Nor do I know if she had any daughters. These sons were born between the mid-1880s and late 1890s, when she was a woman in her 20s and 30s.

The Vast Unknown Beyond the Records

If the records of Etta Reyza’s life are sparse, the stories are practically nonexistent.

As I’ve continued to muse over the extent of what I don’t know about her, I’ve pondered what might be inferred from the little I have.

The facts seem to imply a woman who lost all her children, either to infant death or to emigration. So sad. [Of course, I do not know what happened to Abel Leyb. And if there were any daughters, girls who survived childhood, perhaps she was not so bereft as I am imagining.]

The impression I hold from my mother’s stories is that life was hard. She described her father’s emigration (see my earlier post about the Sklar brothers, http://wp.me/p35vsQ-3Z) as a desperate attempt to escape. Leaving Moletai was an opportunity, worth taking terrifying risks.

So I am left with her one photo. What does that tell me?

Looking at her weathered but only slightly wrinkled face, I must speculate that the photo was carried by one of her sons on his journey to the U.S.  She is probably only in her forties in the photo. Yes, her hair is white. But my mother’s started turning gray when she was only 19, and my sister began graying in her early 20s. It runs in the family.

She has a Mona Lisa smile, doesn’t she? Just slightly upturned at the edges of her mouth; and the crowsfeet of smiling eyes. People so often look stiff and stern and formal in these early photos. Ita Raiza does not. Maybe she carried a positive attitude, despite difficult circumstances.

Finally, she wears three pieces of jewelry. That is another reassuring sign, a sign that she was not so poor that she had to sell her jewelry. The resolution of the photo is not sharp, so I cannot be sure, but the small charm around her neck appears to be a star of David, maybe even with a tiny gem in the center. The second item appears to be a gold or silver rope necklace. Finally, the large piece is, I think, a pocket watch secured to her dress.

Some day I hope to find and meet more of my great-grandmother’s descendents. Maybe there are more picture and more stories to fill in the blanks.

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Sklar Brothers Come to America, or “My Grandfather Was an Illegal Alien”

Prologue:  Why I Cannot Claim That I

Know The Full Story

To understand the history and confusion surrounding the immigration of my grandfather and his brothers, I must begin by telling the story as I remember my mother telling it.  The following is the way that I wrote it down in 1999, in my early days of recording family history.  But, even then, I was working from memories that ranged from 12 years old to several decades old.

When telling old family stories, memories can be false, faulty, confused, or tinged with deliberate untruths.  This story is one I told with my faulty memory, perhaps already tainted by some of my early family history research; and based on my mother’s faulty memory, her father’s faulty memory, and, perhaps, some deliberate untruths.

Zeyda’s Immigration Story, as I Remember my Mother Telling Me

          There’s so much I don’t remember.  Did Mommy tell me how many brothers (sisters?) there were in Zeyda’s family?  At least four brothers.  There was already a brother, presumably the oldest, in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Another brother, Abraham, either was already in Philadelphia, or else he arrived after Zeyda came to the US.  And there was another brother, an older brother, who had an exit visa.  According to my memory of my mother’s tale, this brother was in a “sleigh accident” shortly before his date of departure from the old country.  Pneumonia set in.  The valuable exit visa could not be used.  So “Alex” masqueraded as his brother.  Alex, age 14 as I remember Mommy telling it, began a perilous journey that involved bribing border guards along the way across Europe, and eventually sailed out of Liverpool, England to the US.  So he was 14, maybe 15, when he arrived. 

            According to my mother, Zeyda was always terrified, all his life, that he would be found out as an imposter, an illegal immigrant, and sent back.  If this is the case, it seems to me he might have lied about his age when he arrived, to be consistent with his brother’s visa.  If that is the case, then he was really born in 1900 or 1899.

            But did Mommy have the true story?  Albert [my brother] is sure she told him that Zeyda arrived at Ellis Island, and we know that is not the case.  He landed at Boston.  If she had that wrong, what else did she have wrong?

            So here is what she told me later about his arrival.  She told me this more recently.  She and I sat on the couch in my rented house in Calgary, which would have been in 1987.  I wrote some of it down at the time.

            Like countless other immigrants, he immediately sought out the brother who was already here.  Zeyda went to Worcester.  He stayed with his brother and his wife.  But soon (within a couple weeks?) there was a bitter argument.  Over a shirt, or a shirt collar.  Zeyda was borrowing his brother’s good shirt(s?)(collars?), which brother’s wife resented.  Who knows what really happened?  In any event, the argument resulted in Zeyda leaving and, as far as I know, he did not have any more contact with the Worcester brother. 

           Older memories are vague, something about Zeyda having gone to St. Louis briefly (and maybe New Orleans?  my mind may be inventing this) before moving to Cincinnati.

My Uncle’s Story

In recent years I was able to ask my uncle, LS – the last living child of my zeyda – if he knew anything of his father’s immigration.

He hadn’t known anything about it, he said, until, as a young adult, he was approached by his father, who was terrified by a recent visit from the FBI.  The FBI approached Alex, asking him about his son (my uncle, LS, the one telling the story).

“I had never seen Dad like that,” my uncle told me.  Alex was terribly frightened.

This was when LS was a young man, just starting out, and he was selling insurance door-to-door.  He had a female client, a loan officer, who was doing something illegal.  Her boyfriend was using various aliases.  The couple was on the lam to Chicago.  One of the aliases he used was “LS,” the name of my uncle.

Since my Zeyda had a son with that name, the FBI had come to question him.  But this raised the old nagging fear in Alex, the fear that he would get caught for coming illegally to the U.S., that he would be sent back. Uncle LS had no idea what was causing his father’s panic.

“I talked to my mom.  She explained that Dad had used his brother’s papers to get to the U.S.”

Uncle LS talked to the FBI and the misuse of his name was cleared up.

A Couple Other Details From Early Memories

In 1987 when I wrote down some of what my mother told me, I asked her what shtetl Zeyda was from.  Very carefully she pronounced what sounded like “Muh-laht.”  This was, she explained, a Yiddish pronunciation, but she didn’t know what the real name was.  I wrote it down as “Malat.”

Another piece of background information is that, according to what I remember hearing from my mother, when Zeyda was naturalized he changed the family name from SKLAROFF to SIMON, “because ‘Sklaroff’ was so hard to pronounce in the U.S.”  However, his brother in Philadelphia, Abraham, adopted the name SKLAR.

Later my family shared copies of a document that had been in my deceased Uncle Norman’s possession.  It was a two-sided card issued by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1933, saying that my Zeyda, “Alex [or Alexander] Sklarof,” had come from “Wilno, Poland” and had arrived in Boston on June 25, 1914.

SKLAROF, Alex Immig and Nat Card 1933

The Card Was A Red Herring

In retrospect this was a red herring in my search to learn about Zeyda’s immigration to the U.S.  My brother, in Washington, D.C. on business, searched in the National Archives and could find no such record of Zeyda’s arrival.  Then, in 2004, I systematically searched again in the National Archives.  The “Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, July 1, 1906 – December 31, 1920” listed no ship arriving on June 25, 1914.  No ship arrived in Boston that day.  In fact, in 1913, 1914, and 1915 no ship arrived in Boston on June 25.  The closest I could find was the S.S. Cincinnati, arriving on July 5, 1914.  I checked every steerage passenger, but there was no one with anything like Zeyda’s name.  On June 25, 1913 the S.S. Cymric arrived in Boston.   I reviewed the passenger list on microfilm three times, to convince myself that he didn’t arrive then.  I wrote on my research notes, “utter failure.”

I do not know what evidence, if any, was provided to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to allow them to issue that card to Zeyda.  And, I confess, I have not yet searched the District Court files in Cincinnati to find his Naturalization papers.  When I do, perhaps I’ll gain more understanding.

The other red herring here, I now believe, is the name “Alex Sklarof[f].”  I don’t think this was the name Zeyda was born with at all.  Though I have no birth record, I now think that he was born “Nachum SKLAR.”  I think that he began using the name “Alex Sklarof” (the second “f” being optional) arbitrarily, in hopes of distancing himself from illegal emigration from Lithuania and entering the U.S. using the name of a brother.

Wilno is Vilnius and Malat is Moletai

By the way, “Wilno, Poland” is “Vilna,” or “Vilnius,” Lithuania.  “Malat” was a Yiddish name for Moletai, about 60 km from Vilnius and, at the time Alex and his brothers left, part of the Russian gubernia of  Vilnius.  But I digress.

Morris Sclar of Worcester

Turns out there was a third name – SCLAR –  used by one of the brothers, the elder brother my mother had referred to in Worcester.  He appeared with his wife and young son in the 1910 Census; it says that he arrived in 1907, his wife, Ida, in 1908, and their baby Harry I.  He was one year one month old, hence born – in Massachusetts –  in February, March, or April, 1909.  [An index of Massachusetts births lists his birth date as April 13, 1909.].

The 1920 Census says Morris arrived in 1906.

Repeated searches have not turned up – with any certainty – his arrival record.  One possibility is a 19-year-old tailor, Moische Sklar, arriving at Ellis Island on June 3, 1906.  The profession is right, the age within the correct range, the name is right.  But the last residence was Kovno (Kaunus), not Moletai or Vilnius.  He is listed as going to a cousin, Jankel Wolfowicz in New York.  At this point in my research I am unaware of any family members named Wolfowitz.  I do, however, have some tantalizing evidence hinting at family in the Kaunas Gubernia (not the actual city of Kaunas).  So this may or may not be Zeyda’s older brother, Morris.

Morris Sclar, the tailor, appears in a Worcester City Directory for the first time in the 1910 edition.  According to the birth record of his oldest son, Harry, he lived in Worcester as early as April, 1909.  But I have not yet found a trace of him anywhere in the US. before that.

Abram [Abraham] Sklar Arrives, Twice

For The First Time

Abram Sklar Sails from Hamburg to Liverpool to Boston in 1911

On March 11, 1911, Abram Sklar, age 18, a tailor from “Wilna,” boarded the S.S. Dewsbury in Hamburg, Germany and sailed to Liverpool.  Here is the German passenger list:

SKLAR, Abram Hamburg to Liverp 1911

Then, on March 28, 1911 Abram boarded the S.S. Cymric in Liverpool and landed in Boston on April 6th.  The passenger list covered two pages, as follows:

Sklar Abram Boston 1911 p 1

Sklar Abram Boston 1911 p 2

This passenger list, which was completed as required by the U.S. immigration authorities of the time, has more and different information than the German list.  Here is my transcription:

Sklar, Abram. [after his last name is a parenthetical remark scrawled in a different hand; I am unable to read it]
18 years, male, single, tailor, able to read & write; citizen or subject of Russia; Hebrew race;
last permanent residence:  Malat Russia
nearest relative in country from whence came:  father Salman Sklar, Malat, Russia
final destination:  Mass, Worcester; has ticket to final destination
passage paid by brother
has $23
going to join:  brother, Morris Sklar, Worcester, Mass, Brown St. 16
“no” 
to questions about whether have been in prison, dependent on a charity, an anarchist, a polygamist, enemy of U.S.
health questions:  good mental & physical health, no deformities, not crippled; “slight conjunctivitis”
5’7″; fair complexion; black hair; blue eyes, no marks of identification
place of birth:  Malat Russia

In 1913 Abram Sklar Arrives in Grimsby; Sails from Glasgow to Boston

In 1913 Abram Sklar was a transmigrant in the United Kingdom.  He had arrived at the port of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England on a ship of the Sutcliffe & Son steamship line, probably in the first half of 1913.  He would have traveled north to Glasgow, where he boarded a ship to Boston.

I have been unable to find the record of his arrival in the UK.  The evidence I have is this record of the “transmigration.”

Sklar, Abram leaves Glasgow 1913

I’ve done searches of arrivals of ships in the UK, and searches based on the shipping company name, but have had no success in finding Abram’s arrival.  However, I do have his passenger list on the S.S. Parisian, leaving Glasgow on 12 June 1913, arriving in Boston on June 22nd.  A transcription follows:

Sklar, Abram Boston 1913 p 2

Sklar Abram Boston 1913 p 1

Sklar, Abram.
19 years, male, single, tailor, able to read & write; citizen or subject of Russia; Hebrew race;
last permanent residence:  Malatis Russia
nearest relative in country from whence came:  father Uheim Sklar, Malatis, Russia
final destination:  Mass, Worcester; has ticket to final destination
passage paid by brother
has $16
No, never before in the U.S.
going to join:  brother, Morris Sklar, Worcester, Mass, Brown St. 16
“no” 
to questions about whether have been in prison, dependent on a charity, an anarchist, a polygamist, enemy of U.S.
health questions:  good mental & physical health, no deformities, not crippled; “slight conjunctivitis”
5’6″; fair complexion; brown hair; brown eyes, no marks of identification
place of birth:  Malatis Russia

The Two Arrivals of Abram Sklar, Brother of Morris:  Is One Alex?

I think that one of these two arrivals was Zeyda’s older brother, Abraham [Abram], who eventually became a furrier in Philadelphia.

No, I do not think they are both the same person, arriving twice and lying, the second time, saying that he had never been in the U.S. before.  These were impoverished young men.  They would not have taken the journey twice for no apparent reason (a reason might be, for example, to bring a wife or other family member).

The descriptions from the two arrivals are strikingly similar.  “Malatis” is another Yiddish pronunciation of Moletai.

Here are the differences.  The first Abram was 18 years old in March, 1911; the second Abram was 19 years old in June, 1913.  I believe that the first Abram was Alex, and he was lying about his age.  If my memory of my mother’s story is correct, he was just in his middle teens, 14 or 15.

The first Abram had a father’s name listed as “Salman.”  The second had his father’s name listed as “Uheim.” The transcription “Uheim” is not entirely certain. In neither case would the young man have written the name himself.  Most likely he would have been used to writing Yiddish (Hebrew characters).  He would have spoken the name of his father, and a purser would have written the word the way he had heard it pronounced.

Looking at a variety of documents that I won’t post or list here, I have seen that the Sklar father’s name was probably “Chaim Zalman,” or, in English, Hyman Solomon or Hyman Sigmund (with other name variations possible).  So I see nothing in the passenger lists that would make me think these two Abrams had different fathers.

Finally, their descriptions are slightly different, with the first Abram measured at 5’7″ with black hair and blue eyes and the second at 5’6″ with brown hair and brown eyes.  The eye color is the one thing that seems distinctly different.

In fact, my Zeyda had “light” eyes.  My mother described them as “hazel.”  His WWI draft card described them as “gray” and his hair as “black.”  Abraham’s draft card listed him as having “blue” eyes and “brown” hair.  This is all very confusing, but I am not terribly troubled by it.  Perhaps they both really had “hazel” eyes, the kind that can look different in different lighting conditions.

Otherwise, the two descriptions are the same.  Of course it is possible that neither is my Zeyda, “Alex Sklarof,” later to be known as “Alex Simon.”

Repeated searches haven’t revealed his arrival using anything like the name “Alex.”  In addition, I have searched repeatedly under the name “Nachum” (and variations, including the US cognate, “Nathan”).  It appears as if two different SKLAR brothers arrived about two years apart, both using the name “Abram Sklar” and both going to their brother, Morris, in Worcester.  Given that my Zeyda was said to have come to the U.S. impersonating a brother, I think that one of these two Abram Sklars was my Zeyda.  I think that the first one, the one arriving in 1911, was my Zeyda.

Why I Think Abraham Sklar Arrived in

1913 and “Alex” Was An “Abram Sklar”

Impostor in 1911

First of all, and most obviously, my Zeyda told my mother that he used his brother’s exit visa.  I always thought – and I think my mother thought – that there was a fourth brother, perhaps one who never emigrated.  My mother had met her Uncle Abraham (as he came to be known), and she never implied that it was his papers that her father used to leave the old country.

But since “Abram Sklar” is the person who arrived twice, it must be the imposter, my Zeyda, who came to the US first.  The only reason he had an older brother’s papers is because that brother was unable to use them himself.  Therefore, the 1911 Abram Sklar must have been my Zeyda.  This fits with the story.

My great-uncle Abraham, or Abram, went through the naturalization process in the 1920s.  I have copies of his Declaration of Intention [for citizenship], filed in the US District of Maryland Court in July, 1923; and his Petition for Naturalization, filed in the US Southern District of Pennsylvania Court in November, 1928.  In both documents he cites his arrival on the Parisian, sailing from Glasgow to Boston in June, 1913.  I can imagine no reason he would cite this arrival if he had really arrived in 1911.  After all, it wasn’t Abraham who had arrived under false pretenses; it was his younger brother, Alex, my Zeyda.

Assuming that Abraham arrived in Boston and went right to his brother, Morris, in Worcester, I would hope to see some evidence that my Zeyda, who was known as “Alex Sklarof” (with various spellings) before he changed his name to Alex Simon, was in Worcester before the real Abram/Abraham.

There seems to be such evidence, although not as I might have expected.

Going through the City Directories of Worcester, Massachusetts, the first Sklar brother, Morris Sclar, appears in the 1910 edition

(1910) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 448 Main, h 16 Brown
(1911) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 187 Front, h 16 Brown
(1912) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 187 Front, h 16 Brown
(1913) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 187 Front, h 16 Brown

Even though Morris arrived a few years earlier, he didn’t appear in the directory until 1910.  Similarly, Abraham doesn’t appear after his first arrival in 1911 or his second coming in 1913. Abraham doesn’t appear until the 1916 edition.  But, in 1914, a different one appears, “Nathan Sklar.”  Here are the 1914 – 1917 entries:

1914
SKLAR, Nathan, tailor, 518 Main, bds 47 Providence
SCLAR, Morris, tailor, 187 Front h 18 Brown

1915
SCLAR, Morris, tailor, 187 Front h 18 Brown
SKLAR, Nathan, tailor, 518 Main, b 49 Aetna

1916
SKLAR, Abraham, tailor, 518 Main, bds 15 Blake
SKLAR, Morris, tailor, h 16 Brown
SKLAR, Nathan remd to New Haven, Conn

1917
SKLAR, Abraham, tailor, h 3 Ingalls
SKLAR, Morris, tailor 257 Main, h 16 Brown

It looks as if there was always a lag between the time the immigrant arrived and the time in which they were listed in the directory.  I think “Nathan” was the Americanization of “Nachum,” Zeyda’s Yiddish name.  I posit that he didn’t assume the name “Alex Sklarof” until after he left Worcester.

In fact, in the 1920 Census, when he was married and living in Cincinnati, he was listed as “Nathan Sklaroff,” who arrived in the U.S. in 1915(!).

[Note that Nathan and Abraham both, at separate times, listed 518 Main in Worcester.  I initially thought that this might mean they both worked at the same tailoring company.  However, searching the 1915 Directory, I do not find any tailors or clothing manufacturers in that building.  Instead, among other things, is a “letter service,” making me wonder if that was a place to use to receive mail.]

The 1916 Worcester City Directory says that Nathan was “remd to New Haven, Conn.”  This was short for “removed to,” which, in current parlance, would be “moved to.”  However, I have been unable to find any evidence of him, with any name, in New Haven in the subsequent years.

Postscript:  Where They Went, Where

They Ended Up

The lives of my Zeyda and his brothers in the U.S. must be part of another post.  But, briefly:

Morris lived his life in Worcester.

Abraham moved to Baltimore in about 1918, but then settled in Philadelphia some time in the early 1920s.

And Alex – my Zeyda –  did leave Worcester.  My vague memories of my mother’s story had him, possibly, in New Orleans and St. Louis, for a time after leaving Worcester.  After years of searching, I did find him in St. Louis, but haven’t found him in New Orleans.

Sklarof, Alex WWI.x

In August of 1918, Alex complied with the law and registered with what was to become, I suppose, the Selective Service.  This is the first use I have found of the name Alex SKLAROF (one “f”).

Only a few months later he was in Cincinnati and was being married.  Like many other things in the documents I have found, the bare facts of his life had changed.  Note that above, in August, 1918 he is listed as 21 years old, with his birth date as July 14, 1897.  Four months later, on December 7, 1918, on his marriage license in Cincinnati, he was two years older.  His birth date was also listed as July 14, but it said he was 23 years old, implying a birth date of 1895.

If Alex arrived in April, 1911, and his birthday was really July 14th, 1897 then he immigrated when he was just short of his 14th birthday, only a few months after his Bar Mitzvah.  If he was born in on July 14, 1895 he was almost 16 in 1911 when he immigrated.  This is more likely, especially as he was passing himself off as age 18.

July 14th is not the only birthday he listed, either.  On his application for a Social Security card in 1936 he listed his birth date as December 15, 1896.

My Zeyda was always trying to obfuscate the facts of his name, his age, and his arrival.  He was an illegal alien, in his own mind, always frightened that the true facts would come out, that the life he had built for himself and his family would fall apart.  Anyone looking at his situation now will see that as absurd.  But, for him, it was very real.

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