Blue Heron in flight

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Family stuff

My great grandfather in the black bowler seated next to my great grandmother in the dark dress.
Aunt Hansel on the left, then young Estherzisal and Frieda on the far right.

I was contacted by a second cousin I never knew I had through Ancestry the other day. She lives in New England. We are a strong genetic match on the maternal side, 6% shared DNA: 449 cM across 21 segments.

Linda Roberts Forman sent me a faded picture of our mutual great grandparents Meyer and Riva Solomon Wainrober with their family. I have never seen the picture before of my mother's family that lived in Bessarabia, Moldova or Romania, whichever you chose to call it.

In fact I have never seen any pictures of them whatsoever.

You see, my late mother was very tight lipped about her origins and prone to weaving fantastical webs of fiction. I had no idea she was Jewish until I was in my twenties. I understand that there was enormous pressure on children of immigrants to fit in and guess that she found a role that she felt comfortable in.

In any case, information about my maternal side is very difficult to piece together. There were and are so few survivors. 

I never met either of my mother's parents. Her mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Despondent over that and depressed over the state of his business as furs were going out of fashion, my grandfather committed suicide, the year before I was born, in 1956. 

Where there are lots of genetic matches through Ancestry on the paternal side, there are less than half on the maternal.

Many names are lost to time, I still have major gaps in my mother's mother's family, don't even know her maternal grandparents' names.

What I do know is this. The family lived in Yednitz, a jewish shtetl not far from Kishinev, the scene of many famous pogroms. My grandfather Mardcho (who became Martin Roberts when he arrived in Providence to join two of his brothers) was either and or both, according to lore, a furrier, strong arm man for the union, a lawyer or a wheat smuggler and horse thief. In those days, you did what you had to do to survive. My uncle said that although short, his father was very strong physically.

When he left the area and escaped in the early 1920's he had to sign a letter to the King of Romania promising to never return. The Romanians had occupied the country a few years earlier, in 1918 and things were starting to get hot.

It was a tough place to be a jew. From Wikipedia:

The Kishinev pogrom took place in the capital of Bessarabia on April 6, 1903, after local newspapers published articles inciting the public to act against Jews; 47 or 49 Jews were killed, 92 severely wounded and 700 houses destroyed. The anti-Semitic newspaper Бессарабец (Bessarabetz, meaning "Bessarabian"), published by Pavel Krushevan, insinuated that local Jews killed a Russian boy. Another newspaper, Свет (Lat. Svet, meaning "World" or Russian for "Light"), used the age-old blood libel against the Jews (alleging that the boy had been killed to use his blood in preparation of matzos).

And from the Yizkor book: 

When WWI broke out in 1914, an economic crisis hit all towns in Bessarabia in general, and Yedinitz, in particular. The farmers were drafted by the army. The fields were only partly used due to a lack of workers. Commerce almost stopped and the town returned to sleepy days. There was a serious lack of income. It was only when the army passed through, that the town came to life, and commerce was renewed, for a short time. In addition to economic woes, there was also the problem of the draft. It was an intense situation and our people invented various ways of avoiding it: using sickness and disease excuses. The young people who avoided the draft and were hidden were nicknamed “hares.”

For three years, the town was frozen in its tracks. It was sleepy and almost completely separated from the rest of the world. There were rumors or news items from rare passersby's or a newspaper arriving late. Rumors chased rumors and were distributed everywhere: a military defeat, rebellion in the army, and a revolution in Russia.

Again, the town was inundated with fear and tension. Armies returned from the front, but they were undisciplined and disorderly. Among those who returned were rebels and those devoted to the regime. They meandered throughout Bessarabia. They left scorched earth behind them. Estates were burned down, and their owners were killed. The Jews were not spared. The villagers joined the rebels. They were interested in Jewish property.

These fearful days continued until the end of 1917. Then, without knowing the source of the equalization, a self-defense group was founded in the town. There were rumors that the idea was proposed and supported by the leader of the Cossacks, Pavlyuk. For some reason, he felt sorry for the fearful Jews. When the Cossacks left town, the Jews were left with pistols and guns. The young people, the butchers, and bakers who were known for their courage, organized themselves. They had stopped the attacks by villagers on market days in the past. In charge were the brothers Matityahu and Avraham Koifman. The town was divided into sections and guarding was done carefully. It was enough to dissuade the rioters from touching Jewish property. They were not always successful and there were some days of pogrom, of thievery, burning of Jewish property. I will not give details since others will describe them.

Martin had three brothers apparently, Isador (Asriel), Sam (Shimon) and Zanvul (Zanvil?). I have never heard of Zanvul before, or maybe I had and had forgotten him) but he was sent off to the war and killed in World War I and he is the guy in the spiffy uniform on the right. Not sure which of the other boys are in the shot. There were also three sisters and I think i have identified them correctly. 

Somehow and fortunately the family was able to escape and immigrate to America, residing in either Boston or Providence, where they started or joined other relatives in running the Roberts Paper Box Company, having evidently traded their Jewish sounding surname for something not so conspicuously ethnic. 

I do know that Sam was in New York possibly as early as 1911, being naturalized in 1916. He was born in 1891. How did he come over and with who? Isador came with his father Meyer in 1909. He was 22 at that time.

He traveled on the passenger ship Columbia.

My grandfather Martin was born in 1898. He shows up on our shores in 1920, having departed from Southhampton, England on the Imperator.

He brought my grandmother Sobel with him but they were not as yet married and she insisted that they find a rabbi before they lived together. They did that in short order.

Asriel was two years older than my grandfather. He was single and landed with $15.50 in his pocket. He took the ship Columbia from Glasgow in 1909. He was apparently sponsored by a cousin here named A. Scharter. No idea...

They all apparently landed in Dover, N.H. And they hung out in New England for a time and prospered.

There is also a Keariel or Kesriel Weinrober coming over on the Columbia in 1909. Who is that? Has to be a family member...

Here is a recent note from Linda:

Good Morning, Robert,

I think the person at the very left is Auntie Hansel; We can identify our great grandparents. At the bottom right is Zanvil who died in the GREAT WAR. A few years ago, I found his name in a data base on JewishGen in a list of (the few) Jewish landowners in Yednitz. When I just looked at the photograph again, I remembered a story about my grandfather. Evidently, they had a sister, Frieda (who may be the woman in the upper right). The story went that she was quite unattractive. ( Waaaaaaa????-in the Wainrober family???). My grandfather was going to pay his cousin, Izzy, a thousand dollars to marry her. Well, Frieda and Izzie met and immediately fell in love.

I am going to have to go through my files and find some things for Linda, my newly discovered kin. My late Uncle Norm, who used to regularly comment here at the blast, left a long letter trying to divulge what he knew as best as he could.

I had no idea that Frieda married her cousin Isadore, I guess that used to happen and still does. My uncle supposedly tried to join the FBI in the 1950's and was denied because Esthersizal married Mayer Rakita and one of the Rakita family used to be a Russian general. It was the red scare and people were scared of jews and communists and jewish socialists of which there were plenty.

Anyway, sorry to boor you with family trivia but I throw it all out here on the blast and if you don't like it you don't have to read it. Those that want to dig further into the history of the town can look at the Yizkor book.

My Geni tree, woefully in the need of an update

I am most happy to make the acquaintance of a new cousin and also to fill in a few holes in the family history and to see a picture of my great grandparents for the first time. I believe that she may have intimated a familial relationship with my father's side as well but I may have misunderstood her.

She asked me why the family settled originally in New England and I have no idea but I do know that Martin and Sam, both very handsome men, made their way to Los Angeles and got out of the cold very quickly.

The Wainrober or Weinrober line is very faint in our world. A branch made it to Brazil and South America very early on and still thrives but I have no contact with them. If any of you Weinrobers out there that still exist see this, feel free to drop me a line.

I appreciate the picture, it fills in a gap or two. Ancestry is a big jigsaw puzzle. Interesting to me.


Ken Seals said...

Thanks, very interesting.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing. Interesting stuff!

Wicki said...

How wonderful to know more of your family's history. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Blue Heron said...

Hi Robert:

Exciting Ancestry story and very cool that your second cousin reached out to you. Her front porch photo was almost certainly taken in 1911 or 1912. The high waisted dresses worn by Aunt Hansel and Frieda are "Empire Revival" style, cut to resemble the French Empire style of 100 years earlier. Such dresses were in fashion internationally all over Europe and America for those years only, and rapidly replaced with different modes and a lower waistline in the mid teens leading up to the Great War.