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Two Jewish Borisov entrepreneurs named Elkind

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

This post is part of “The World of Jews in Borisov/Barysaw,” in which I weave a tapestry of the lives of different members of the area’s Jewish community.  Earlier posts about family members of those who have been in contact with me are here.

This is Part 2 of Finding Elkinds of Borisov/Barysaw.  Part 1 is here.

A spectacular example of a tile-covered Russian stove, in the peasant style with a space for sleeping on top.  See more about these tiles and stoves below.

A spectacular example of a tile-covered Russian stove in the peasant style, with a space for sleeping on top, and steps to climb up there. See more about these tiles and stoves below.

These two posts about Borisov Elkinds began when Logan Lockabey emailed me about his search for family members named Elkin or Elkind.  In last week’s post, I wrote about a tragic chapter in Elkin/Elkind history: the deaths in Stalin’s Great Terror of five Borisov/Barysaw natives by those names.

This week, I promised a happier Elkind chapter, about information I found while researching for the first post.  On an unofficial Russian-language Borisov City website, I had found short bios of seven additional Borisov Elkinds from the past.

These “new” Elkinds may or may not have been Logan’s family members.  I haven’t had time to translate of all of their bios perfectly enough to post online (as I’ve said before, my Russian is good but not fast, since I use the dictionary a lot).  I’ve passed along all these short life stories to Logan, in case any may be members of his family.  I will update this post in future if he determines that.

Meanwhile, though, two Elkinds on this new list were  intriguing to me.

Two Borisov entrepreneurs

Here are the brief bios from the Borisov website:

“ELKIND Nekhama Girshevna, entrepreneur.  She owned one of Borisov’s pottery-tile enterprises, which opened in 1898.

“ELKIND Yudel, merchant. In 1883, he opened a tobacco manufactory, one of the first Borisov enterprises of the capitalist type.”

Photo of my grandfather, Boris L. Bobrov, taken in Mogilev in the early 20th century

Photo of my grandfather, Boris L. Bobrov, taken in Mogilev in the early 20th century

I was excited about these two Elkinds for a couple of reasons.  The first is that they lived in Borisov at a time when my grandfather could have known them.  My personal focus in most of these blog posts has been on the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before my grandfather, Boris L. Bobroff (Bobrov) emigrated to the United States.  I’ve wanted to know more about the places he and his family lived, and about the people he might have known (or known of).

The second reason I was interested is that these two Elkind bios give information on the manufacturing enterprises that each created.  I love discovering the kind of work people did in the towns I’m researching because it also tells us something about the nature of the town itself.

Not only do these little Elkind bios list the type of company run by each Elkind.  If you read them closely, they also hint at a bit more: Borisov apparently had several pottery tile companies.  And the tobacco manufactory which Yudel Elkind opened was “one of the first of the capitalist type” in Borisov in 1883.

Yudel Elkind and tobacco manufactory

The Berezina Match Factory in Borisov

The Berezina Match Factory in Borisov

So far, I’ve had little luck finding information about tobacco manufacturing in late 19th-century Russia.  So for the time being, I can’t explore Yudel Elkind’s work.  The one bit of tangential imagery I have is 1907 photos of two match factories in Borisov.  You can see the Victoria Match Factory here, and the Berezina Factory (left).

These photos give a feeling of the factories beginning to develop in Borisov/Barysaw around the turn of the century.  We can only wonder for now whether Yudel Elkind’s tobacco “manufactory,” opened about 25 years before these match factory photos were taken, resembled them in any way.

It’s conceivable that Elkind’s tobacco manufactory, described as “one of the first Borisov enterprises of the capitalist type,” may have been fairly large.  The word “manufactory” (in English and Russian) suggests some kind of production-line process done by hand, without machinery.  But it can also be an archaic word for “factory.”  What kind of machinery might Elkin’s manufactory have involved, if any?

I believe that figuring out what the next questions are is the first stage in good research.  That means we’re making progress!

Nekhama Girshevna Elkind and the pottery-tile business

Tile from a Belarussian website.  This tile is decorated with a relief design.

Tile from a Belarusian website. This tile is decorated with a relief design.

I would love to know the story of Nekhama Girshevna Elkind herself, because she must have been a very enterprising and clever woman.  Since I don’t have her specific life history, I turned to researching the type of work she did.  And here I discovered something interesting: there were a lot of Belorussian Jews in the pottery-tile business at the end of the 19th century.  So it seems that Nekhama was in good company with her business.  She had other similar examples in her area, and maybe some solid competition.

According to the 1904 Collection of Materials about the Economic Position of Jews in Russia (Сборник матеріалов об економическом положенiи евреев в россiи), several places in Belarus had “favorable soil characteristics, conducive to the rise of the pottery and tile business.”   There were abundant clay deposits not far from the surface, along with plenty of the fuel needed for firing pottery.  And everyone needed to buy dishes and tiles.  So Nekhama Elkind had a guaranteed market.

Snippet from Collection of Materials about the Economic Position of Jews in Russia, 1904.  Gives the number of Jewish potters and tile masters in Minsk, Vitebsk, and Mogilev guberniyas (pre-revolutionary orthography).

Snippet from Collection of Materials about the Economic Position of Jews in Russia, 1904. Gives the number of Jewish potters and tile masters in Minsk, Vitebsk, and Mogilev guberniyas (alphabet written in the pre-revolutionary style).

Borisov uyezd’s neighbor, Mogilev province, had the hottest hotbed of Jewish tile and pottery makers.  By 1909, there were 415 Jewish pottery and tile makers there, and 14 tile plants.  The tiles they produced were sold in all cities of Mogilev, and in Kiev and Kremenchug in the Ukraine.

The famous green-glazed tiles (muravniye), made in ...

The famous green-glazed tiles (muravniye). "Green tiles from Ivenets may be seen very often in homes in surrounding cities and towns." (left)

Nekhama Elkind’s neck of the woods: Borisov in Minsk province

Minsk guberniya, where Borisov is located, came in second to Mogilev, according to this source.  Of 733 Belorussian Jews involved in making pottery and tile, 160 lived in Minsk guberniya (province).

“The town of Zembin (in Borisov uyezd) sells its wares in nearby cities and small towns at a yearly sum of 2,000 rubles.  In the small town of Ivenets (Minsk uyezd), traveling merchants yearly buy 5,000 rubles worth of earthenware dishes and tiles from the makers.  Green tiles from Ivenets may be seen very often in homes in surrounding cities and towns.

“In Rakov…there are about 25 pottery workshops.  Of them 6 are Jewish….  The quality of the work of Jews and Christians is equivalent: it is possible that that of the Jewish masters is even higher since they depend entirely on this trade, while among the [Christian] peasants, it is only a secondary trade to their agricultural work.”

Borisov (here "Barysau") is in the bottom left of the map.  The red star marks Zembin in the center.

Borisov (here "Barysau") is in the bottom right corner of the map. The red star marks Zembin in the center.

The city of Borisov isn’t mentioned here.  So we might wonder whether Nekhama Elkind’s tile enterprise, along with the others referred to her bio, were actually in the town of Zembin in Borisov uyezd, rather than in the city of Borisov/Barysaw, 14 miles southeast of Zembin (see map, right).

How large was Nekhama’s workshop?

The Economic Position of Jews in Russia says that the average size of ceramic shops in Belorussia was two people, generally a master and an apprentice.  So Nekhama Elkind’s tile shop was likely small.  Was she only the owner of the shop, or did she create the tiles herself?  For now, I can’t answer this question.  But I did find descriptions of the process of creating the tiles, the method that Nekhama Elkind’s workshop undoubtedbly used.

How did Nekhama Elkind create her tiles?

A Russian English-language website describes the process, and I like to try to envision Nekhama going through each step – or maybe directing as some one else did it.  Can you picture her in the description below?

When starting to make a tile,

“the potter would temper clay with his hands, his fingers penetrating inside the clay and removing small pebbles and clots, anything that could lead to cracks during baking. The clay took in the warmth of the master’s hands and became pliable. Then the master would fill it into a wooden mould with a carved ornamentation on the bottom.

Russian tiles of the 16th-17th centuries.

Russian tiles of the 16th-17th centuries. One is glazed, the other isn't (earthenware).

This carved design inside the mold created a relief design such as the birds on the blue tile above and the two tiles left.  The bottom of the mold was first “sanded” to prevent the clay from sticking.

Then the potter

“consolidated it and pressed into the tracery holes. After processing it on the potter’s wheel he dried it and baked in a furnace. The pattern was not always relief. Sometimes the front side of the box [that is, the part of the tile that showed in the finished tiled object] was smooth and painted.”

Last, the decoration, whether relief or painted, was glazed or enameled.

As this description suggests, the earliest Russian tiles, beginning in the 15th and 16th centuries were decorated with relief designs.   By the 18th century, the front of tiles was often left flat and painted with elaborate designs (see photo below).

What was Nekhama Elkind’s market for her tiles?St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.

We can all imagine how large the market for pottery dishes must have been in Russia, since everyone needs dishes.  But what about tiles?  Why were they in such wide demand?

Tiles were used in Russia to decorate lavish interior and exterior walls.  The most famous example of tile decoration on the outside of a building is undoubtedly St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

But the real reason there was such a market for tiles in Russia was the Russian stove, which was used for heating and sometimes also for cooking and sleeping (see photo at top of this post).

Why did the Russian style of stove create such a huge market for pottery tiles?

Russian stoves were big, with a vast surface area.  Covering them with tiles meant buying a lot of tiles.

I don’t think that the average peasant stove was sheathed in tiles.  But anyone who could afford them wanted them, for their beauty and practicality.  Tiles added to the stove’s heat transfer capacity.  And they were much easier to clean than earthen surfaces.

Tile-covered Russian stove from the Rostov Prince's Palace. Note many of these tiles are the flat-surfaced, painted style.

Tile-covered Russian stove from the Rostov Prince's Palace. Note many of these tiles are the flat-surfaced, painted style.

Why did the Russians have gigantic stoves that required so many tiles to decorate, creating a great market for Nekhama’s wares?  I’ve always wondered what was going on inside all that bulk that would make Russians want to sacrifice so much of their living space to them.

A fascinating article in Low Tech Magazine explains that inside Russian stoves were labyrinths of smoke channels (see diagram below).  These channels held onto the heat, allowing it to be absorbed into the masonry rather than escaping up a chimney.  They also allowed more complete combustion of the fuel, unlike the partial combustion of our fireplaces, which coat the chimney with half-burned fuel (creosote).  Over many hours, the Russian stove’s masonry and tiles slowly radiated their heat (they didn’t use convection, as most of our heating systems do in the US).

Interior diagrams of Russian stoves.  The one on the left appears to be a more vertical stove, while the one on the right seems to be the more horizontal peasant style.

Interior diagrams of Russian stoves. The one on the left appears to be a more vertical stove, while the one on the right seems to be the more horizontal peasant style.

These stoves were incredibly efficient at heating homes through frigid Russian winters – much more efficient and non-polluting than the American hearth or iron stove.  Properly operated, a Russian stove heats 60 square meters for an entire season using a single tree.  (If you’re interested in more on these stoves, along with many gorgeous photos, read the Low Tech article here.)

Did Nekhama sell her tiles only to the wealthy, or was her market broader?

All Russians, from the poorest peasants to tsars, heated their homes with these huge stoves.  But did the average Russian’s stove have a layer of tiles?  Was Nekhama Elkind likely selling her tiles only to the wealthy, or could her market have been wider?

According to one source,

“In the nineteenth century, tile production became widespread.  Products were manufactured in a wide assortment, varying in cost and artistic value for a broad section of consumers.  Tiles were designed primarily for finishing stoves, perhaps the primary and indispensible part of Russian life.”

Well, this general statement doesn’t answer the question fully.  I’ll be on the lookout for more information on Nekhama Elkind’s tile customers in future.  Meanwhile, though, it seems clear that the frigid Russian winters, and the stoves designed to cope with them, likely created her market.  And the rich, accessible clay deposits of Borisov uyezd gave her the raw materials to meet that market.

I’ll end this post with some additional images of exquisite Russian tiled stoves.

Before I do, though, I’d like to take a moment to dedicate this post to a dear friend, Saul Scheidlinger, who died this past week, and to his wife, Rosalyn Tauber-Scheidlinger.  Saul was a psychologist who made great contributions to the field of child and adolescent group psychotherapy.  He was appreciated worldwide for his wisdom and as a great teacher and trainer.  He was a cultured and lovely man, who, with extraordinary grace, overcame profound tragedies earlier in his life.  I miss him.  And I think he would have enjoyed these images of artistic Russian stoves.

Left to right: Russian tiled stove, 1680; Fairy tale illustration by I. A. Bilibin with tiled peasant stove in backgroung; Red (earthenware?) tiled Russian stove.

Left to right: Russian tiled stove, 1680; Fairy tale illustration by I. A. Bilibin with tiled peasant stove in background; Red (earthenware?) tiled Russian stove.

Finding Elkins and Elkinds of Borisov/Barysaw

Thursday, August 19th, 2010
"Moving Out," by Getman, who was himself a prisoner in Stalin's labor camps

"Moving Out" by Nikolai Getman, who himself was imprisoned in Stalin's Gulag.

Last week, I posted a translated version of Aleksandr Rosenblyum’s list of Jewish GULAG victims from Borisov.   Within a day, over a hundred JewishJen Belarus participants had already checked the list for their family members.

Logan Lockabey was among those who emailed me.  He had searched my site’s list and found several Elkins and Elkinds, the names he was looking for.  He wrote to take me up on my offer to translate the short bios that accompany each name on Rosenblyum’s Russian-language list.

Julius Grigorievich Elkind, born in Borisov in 1902, died in Stalin's Terror, 1938.

Julius Grigorievich Elkind, born in Borisov in 1902, died in Stalin's Terror, 1938.

Rosenblyum has spent years compiling his list, and some names include photographs.  These photos are breathtakingly moving, posted next to the stories of each person’s arrest and sentencing on invented charges.

Checking for Logan’s Elkin/ds, I found that one of them, Julius Grigorievich Elkind, was among the entries that included a photograph (left).

Julius was 36 years old when he lost his life in Stalin’s Great Terror.

As I began the translations for Logan, I decided I’d post them here and use this opportunity to show a little of how I’ve been working through the research for my “The world of Jews in Ryazan” articles (and currently “The world of Jews in Borisov/Barysaw”).

First, here are my translations for Logan

Getman's painting of a morgue in a goldmine prison camp in Russia's far northeast.

Getman's painting of a morgue in a goldmine prison camp in Russia's far northeast. The Jamestown Foundation played a major role in preserving and protecting these paintings, which are the only known visual record of Stalin's camps. Unlike the Nazis, who recorded and preserved a detailed visual history of the Holocaust, the Soviets made no images of their camps.

Please keep in mind as you read these bios that the charges were fabricated.  There were no real trials or any other form of due process.  None of these arrests and deaths were warranted.  They were part of a program of terror by Stalin against his own people, during which millions of Russian citizens lost their lives by being summarily executed or through starvation and exposure in labor camps.

ELKIN Ilya Isaakovich (1888 -?), [my information for this entry is taken partly from a more complete entry for him here.]  Born in the village of Ratutichi. Expert in and promoter of Esperanto.  Worked at BELRAD (Belarussian Radio), where he managed broadcasts of programs in Esperanto.  Because the authorities found this language [Esperanto] objectionable, Elkin was arrested January 26, 1936, and immediately charged with anti-Soviet agitation and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.  His Esperanto department [at BELRAD] was eliminated.  There is as yet no information about his fate beyond this.  Rehabilitated in 1990.

ELKIN Miron Aronovich (1900 – 1946),  Party secretary of the Borisov Glass Plant. Arrested August 8, 1937, on charges of being a Trotskyist.  On 10 October 1938, by extra-judicial decree, he was sentenced to imprisonment in a labor camp for 5 years.  He was not released at the end of this period, and he died in prison.

ELKIND Boris Isaakovich (1891 -?), Born in Priyamino near Borisov.  Collective farmer at “Chyrvony Uskhod” Collective Farm in the Smolevich district of Minsk oblast. Arrested December 22, 1932, on charges of sabotage and immediately sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.  Rehabilitated in 1989.

Getman's painting of the daily sled-pickup of bodies of prisoners who died overnight. Estimates of the numbers who died in Stalin's camps range upward of 10 million.

Getman's painting of the daily sled-pickup of bodies of prisoners who died overnight. Estimates of the numbers who died in Stalin's camps range upward of 10 million.

ELKIND Boris Mikhailovich (1899 – 1936), native of Borisov.  Lawyer.  Lived and worked in Moscow.  Member of the Regional Board of Defense Lawyers. Arrested 24 November, 1935, on fabricated charges of espionage and shot on May 11, 1936.

ELKIND Julius Grigorievich (1902 – 1938), native of Borisov.  [See photo above.]  He lived and worked in Moscow.  On Aug. 26, 1938, Assistant Chief Transport Prosecutor of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR sentenced him on fabricated charges to capital punishment and he was shot on the same day.

Finding more Elkinds

I found these brief biographies deeply affecting, and wanted to see whether I could find out more about these these people in happier times, before their arrests.  Following my usual process, I googled each name (I used the Cyrillic version because Russian language websites are more likely to give information on relatively unknown countrymen and women than English language ones).

Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything new about these five GULAG victims.  But I did find short bios of seven other Borisov Elkinds from the past.

I had been planning to write about some of these new (to me) Elkinds here.  But the process of writing about Stalin’s Terror and seeing Getman’s images has put me in a very somber mood.  I can’t write now about the lives of other Elkinds who lived in different times.  And it doesn’t feel at all appropriate to include that material in this entry.

So it will wait till a later time.  And that post will be fuller of life than of death.

Edna Finch Bobroff: Preview

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Pages from the history of nursing and public health in the United States

1911 New York Times announcement

1911 New York Times announcement

I’ve been writing for several months now about my grandfather, whose name in the US became Bornett L. Bobroff.  My grandmother Edna Finch, his wife, had a unique career of her own.

I hadn’t yet been planning to write about Edna Finch because it’s been very difficult to find information about her.  But googlebooks has done it again: their scanning all kinds of esoteric old documents has given me another unexpected portrait of one of my grandparents.  In this case, the document is a 1911 issue of Life and Health, The National Health Magazine (see below).

I’m not sure who at googlebooks is standing around scanning all these dusty tomes.  But I personally am very grateful.

Edna Finch, by very early adulthood, had become the main support of her mother and siblings.  Trained as a nurse, she somehow or other brought her family from their home in upstate NY to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  There she became a visiting nurse.  And then she was appointed by the socialist city government’s Commissioner of Health as Milwaukee’s public health inspector.  Later, she earned the job which gained her the most press coverage (see above for one example from the New York Times): the United States’ first “woman policeman.”  (Her police powers under the socialist Milwaukee government were to arrest factory owners and sweatshop labor employers who flouted labor and sanitary laws.)

I’ll write more in future posts about “the first woman policeman.”  For now, by way of introduction to Edna Finch, here is my most recent treasure-find via googlebooks:

Article from Life and Health, The National Health Magazine, 1911.

First page of article from Life and Health, The National Health Magazine, 1911.

Aleksandr Rosenblyum’s list of Borisov GULAG victims

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

The subject of this post is profoundly tragic, and will be read by many with heavy hearts.

Borisov's "public security" building, called "the beginning of the road to the Gulag" by Rosenblyum.  Victims arrested on fabricated charged were brought to the basement: "At night, in this evil building, electricity was always burning

Borisov's "public security" building, called "the beginning of the road to the Gulag" by Rosenblyum. Victims arrested on fabricated charges were brought to its basement: "At night, in this evil building, electricity was always burning as interrogations and beatings went on."

Yesterday, I discovered that Aleksandr Rosenblyum, whose website I wrote about in my last post, had compiled a list of Borisov Jewish victims of the Gulag, beginning with Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937-8.

This morning, I found an email in my inbox: overnight, Leon Kull had generously transliterated the names from Cyrillic so that English-speaking readers doing geneological research can check here for relatives.  I’ve posted Leon’s translated list at the end of this article, below.

Rosenblyum’s webpage provides a paragraph of information about each person: occupation, the invented charges against them, and their fate (e. g. “sentenced for so many years,” “shot”).  Some entries include photographs of the victim.

For example, one victim in the list is named Boris Bobrov – the same name as my own grandfather, but born a decade later.  In fact, I had found Rosenblyum’s list as I was searching the web for information about my grandfather’s family.  I was startled and shaken to suddenly come upon the following entry (my translation from the Russian):

“BOBROV Shmuel-Ber (Boris Yakovlevich).  Born in 1894 in Borisov.  Managed the insurance fund of the Industrial Cooperative.  Accused of belonging to the Polish intelligence service and sentenced to capital punishment by a “special troika” [extra-judicial local sentencing body during the Great Terror*].  He was shot October 1, 1938.”

(*The “troika” was made up of head of the local secret police, the local Party secretary, and the prosecutor.)

So this Boris Bobrov, quite likely a relative of mine, once lived a routine life managing an insurance fund.  And then everything changed.  He faced false accusation and terror.  He was arrested, “tried,” and shot to death, quite likely in the basement of the very building pictured above.

Memorial recently placed in Borisov's Jewish Cemetery.  Engraved on the memorial are the names found in Aleksandr Rosenblyum's years of research.  Photo sent to me by Rosenblyum.

Memorial recently placed in Borisov's Jewish Cemetery. Engraved on the memorial are the names found by Aleksandr Rosenblyum during many years of research. Photo sent to me by Rosenblyum.

Boris Bobrov was but one of millions of innocent men, women, and yes, children, of all ethnic groups in the USSR who were murdered under Stalin.

A full accounting of all of Stalin’s victims has never been possible because records were not maintained.  Rosenblyum’s list is the result of years of searching, and he says it is still incomplete.  He asks for readers to send in any additional information they may have.

Estimates of the total number of deaths in Stalin’s prisons and labor camps, together with famine deaths resulting from his policies, range from around 15 million to 25 million.

How to search for your family member

Non-Russian speakers who find family members in the list below can check Rosenblyum’s website for the additional information.  My son’s NiceTranslator Firefox plugin is a great tool which, once downloaded, creates pop-up translations on foreign language websites, with no cutting and pasting to another translation website (usable only with the Firefox browser).  Like all computer translations, these are very rough, but they give a general sense of the text.

If you find your family member listed here and would like help navigating the additional Russian-language information on Rosenblyum’s website, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

Aleksandr Rosenblyum’s list of Borisov’s Jewish Gulag victims, transliterated from Cyrillic by Leon Kull ________________________________________

Surname Name Patronymic Name Dates of birth, death
AGNIK Mihail Ilyich (1890-1937)
AIZENSHTADT Boruh Iosifovich (1890-1937)
AKSEL’ Zusia Frolevich (1871-1938)
AVSEEV Boris Rafailovich (1882-1938)
BARKAN Eizer Evnovich (1893-1937)
BASKIND Mariya Grigor’evna (1901-?)
BEL’KIND Maks Borisovich (1906-1937)
BELEN’KAYA Judif’ Solomonovna (1908-?)
BELEN’KIY Boris Moiseevich (1889-?)
BELOUSOVA-GIBALEVICH Mera Moiseevna (1897-?)
BELYAVIN Berka Iosifovich (1894-1938)
BENSON Aron Borisovich (1886-?)
BERMAN Evsei Markovich (1893-1979)
BERMAN Solomon Leibovich (1898-1920)
BEYNENSON Grigoriy Moiseevich (1901-?)
BLATNER Yakov Yakovlevich (1904-1938)
BOBROV Shmuel’-Ber (Boris) Yakovlevich (1894-1938)
BUCHACHER Mihail Godelevich (1901-?)
DAVIDOVICH Lev Grigor’evich (1889-1957)
DOKSHICKIY Berka El’evich (1904-1938)
DRAKOHRUST Abram Genrihovich (1899-1937)
DREIZIN Solomon Zalmanovich (1900-?)
DVORKIND Girsh Abramovich (1903-1926)
EL’KIN Ilya Isaakovich (1888-?)
EL’KIN Miron Aronovich (1900-1946)
EL’KIND Boris Isaakovich (1891-?)
EL’KIND Boris Mihailovich (1899-1936)
EL’KIND Yuli Grigor’evich (1902-1938)
EL’SHTEIN Teodor Markovich (1894-?)
EPSHTEIN Moisey Meerovich (1905-?)
EPSHTEIN Solomon Markovich (1906-?)
FAIN Lipa Leibovich (1884-?)
FAINBERG Boris Isaakovich (1898-?)
FAINGAUZ Yakov Davidovich (1891-1941)
FIL’ZENSHTEIN Yankel’ Hilevich (1908-?)
FREIDLIN Iosif Naumovich (1889-?)
FRIDMAN Isaak Natanovich (1897-1984)
FRIDMAN Yakov Abramovich (1877-?)
FURMAN Abram-Yankel’ Girshevich (1895-?)
GAZIN Evsei Zelikovich (1872-?)
GERCIKOV Zalman Aronovich (1892-1977)
GINDIN Izrail’ Evzerovich (1914-?)
GITLINA Judif’ Borisovna (1905-?)
GODES Lazar’ Moiseevich (1882-?)
GOL’DSHTEIN Moisey Berkovich (1916-?)
GOLOMSHTOK Lev Morduhovich (1896-?)
GORELIK Cecilia Borisovna (1898-?)
GUREVICH Leonid Naumovich (1907-?)
GUREVICH Sheftel’ Moiseevich (1884-1939)
GUZOVACKER Nadezhda Fedorovna (1906-?)
HARIK Isaak Davidovich (1896?8?-1937)
HARIK Zalman Berkovich (1886-1930)
HOLODENKO Abram Moiseevich (1909-1990)
ISAEVA Anna Mihailovna (1917-?)
KAGAN Izrail’ Evgen’evich (1899-?)
KAGAN Ol’ga Anatol’evna (1902-1988)
KAMEN’ Izrail’ Leibovich (1898-1938)
KAMENECKIY Girsh Morduhovich (1895-1957)
KAPKIN Pavel Moiseevich (1889-?)
KARACHUNSKAYA Rahil’ Aleksandrovna (1898-1981)
KISELEV Evsei Moiseevich (1907-1937)
KLAZ Klara Leonovna (1897-1938)
KLEBANOV Maks Abramovich (1905-1940)
KLEBANOV Vladimir Aleksandrovich (1932-?)
KLIBANOV Aleksandr Iyich (1910-1994)
KLIONSKIY Girsh El’evich (1901-1937)
KLIONSKIY Iosif Grigor’evich (1898-?)
KLIONSKIY Semen Pavlovich (1894-1938)
KLIONSKIY Yankel’-Morduh Shmuilovich (1896-?)
KOTLOVSKIY Solomon Shmerlevich (1897-?)
KROLIK Klara Aronovna (1906-?)
KUDMAN Samuil Davidovich (1898-?)
KUGEL’ Leib Gershevich (1914-1938)
KUZNECOV Leib Shliomovich (1907-1937)
KUZNECOV Zelik Solomonovich (1906-?)
LAPAN Motel’ Iosifovich (1897-?)
LAPIDUS Movsha Samoilovich (1916-1937)
LEVIN Aron Faivovich (1897-1938)
LEVIN Haim Shmuilovich (1901-1937)
LEVIN Naum Abramovich (1890-1937)
LIFSHIC Yakov Abramovich (1915-1952)
LIVSHIC Zelik Samuilovich (1893-?)
LIVSHIC Zusia Shevelevich (1906-1938)
LULOV Movsha Yankelevich (1874-?)
MATLIN Leiba Girshevich (1905-?)
MATUSEVICH Mark Moiseevich (1895-1937)
MAZO Leizer Shmuilovich (1893-1937)
MAZO Shaia Yakovlevich (1885-1938)
MINKOV Morduh Boruhovich (1903-?)
MIRKIN Lev Nisonovich (1904-1938)
MOISEEV Lev Abramovich (1897-1937)
MOISEEVA Mariia Grigor’evna (1903-?)
MUROVANCHIK Samuil Aronovich (1908-?)
NAIDES Lev Isaakovich (1886-?)
NORMAN Nohim Aronovich (1905-1937)
ONIKUL CHesna Abramovna (1881-1961)
PEISAHOVICH Iosif Pavlovich (1906-?)
POLYAKOV Iosif Zalmanovich (1868-?)
RAIHEL’SON Sender Haimovich (1875-1943)
RAIHEL’SON Vladimir Leont’evich (1903-?)
RAINES Samuil Markovich (1881-1937)
RIER Movsha Berkovich (1888-?)
ROHKIND Aron Zalmanovich (1909-?)
ROZENBLUM Leiba Haimovich (1904-1936)
ROZENBLUM Mihail Aleksandrovich (1875-1937)
ROZENBLUM Samuil Ickovich (1887-1937)
ROZENCVEIG Beniamin Davydovich (1868-1937)
ROZENGAUZ Boris Samuilovich (1904-?)
ROZENGAUZ David Aronovich (1896-?)
ROZET Berta Anatol’evna (1896-?)
ROZOVSKAYA Nata Borisovna (1904-1938)
ROZOVSKIY Samuil Borisovich (1903-?)
RUBENCHIK David Ickovich (1902-?)
RUBINSHTEIN Lazar’ Mihailovich (1903-1938)
RUDOVA Sofya Yul’evna (1903-?)
RYKLIN Boris (1902-?)
RYVKIN Boruh Movshevich (1864-?)
RYVKIND Solomon Boruhovich (1893-?)
SAPOZHNIKOV Girsh-Morduh Leibovich (1892-?)
SHAPIRO Alter Yankelevich (1901-1937)
SHAPIRO Isaak Iyich (1895-1940)
SHAPIRO Maks Iyich (1891-1941)
SHAPIRO Roman Matveevich (1888-1937)
SHUB Solomon Mendelevich (1895-1938)
SINEL’NIKOV Genrih Semenovich (1891-1938)
SOSKIND Mihail Markovich (1878-1938)
TAVGER Bencian Aronovich (1930-1983)
TEPLIC Boris Isaakovich (1895-1952)
TSEITLIN Matvei Borisovich (1903-?)
VIGDORCHIK Mendl Vul’fovich (1887-1938)
VINNICKIY Yankel’ Girshevich (1895-1975)
ZEL’CER Izrail’ Yankelevich (1889-1938)
ZLATKIN Leiba Iosifovich (1898-1951)
ZORDIN Isaak Shlemovich (1904-1938)
ZORDINA Roza Shlemovna (?-1938)

My transition to Borisov: Road back into the Pale

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
Postcard of an unidentified street in the city of Borisov, Russia

Postcard of an unidentified street in the city of Borisov, Russia

A few weeks ago, I discovered – through Russian Census and Ellis Island material sent to me by Leon Kull – that my grandfather’s family probably came from Borisov uyezd (county) in what is now Belarus.  Ever since then, I’ve felt an unsettling transition underway inside me.

For years, the only place in Russia that I knew my grandfather had lived was Ryazan. Several months ago, I started writing a blog thread about the world of Jews in Ryazan.  My interest was not only my own grandfather, but also other people he might have known or been close to.  Ryazan was outside the Pale of Settlement, to which most Jewish citizens of the Russian Empire were confined by law beginning under Catherine the Great.  To live outside the Pale, Jews had to obtain official permits given only to people in certain professions and a very few other cases.  So I began by looking at a tiny group of Jewish residents of this rather unlikely spot in central Russia.

Map showing rough locations of Borisov within the Pale of Jewish Settlement, and Ryazan, outside the Pale

Map showing rough locations of Borisov, within the Pale of Jewish Settlement, and Ryazan, outside the Pale

It’s still a mystery to me exactly how my grandfather, Boris L. Bobroff, got to Ryazan, and I certainly haven’t given up trying to figure that out.  Meanwhile, though, I feel a bit as if I’m being called home, to the place where my grandfather – or at least his family – were likely born and lived some part of their lives.  So now I’ve decided to begin a new blog thread, the world of Jews in Borisov.

Dangers ahead inside the Pale?

In facing back toward Borisov, I feel I’m moving into somewhat dangerous emotional territory.  Life inside the Pale was what so many of our ancestors struggled to leave behind.  It was often a life of confinement, restriction, poverty, and lack of opportunity.  And of course those who were unable to get out were caught up in the Holocaust.  The Borisov towns where my ancestors originated are now dotted with memorials to Jews massacred in mass shootings.  An example is the small village of Es’mony, the childhood home of Rokhilya Bobrova, probably a close relative of my grandfather who also lived in Ryazan.

Polynskaya Street in Borisov, during the 1918 German occupation (electrification installed by the Germans).  Visible are a pharmacy, hatter, and mercer.

Polynskaya Street in Borisov, during the 1918 German occupation (electrification installed by the Germans). Visible are a pharmacy, hat shop, and mercer (textile dealer).

By living in Ryazan, and later the United States, my grandfather had, by 1904, escaped the Pale.  Now I’m plunging right back into it.  Why?  I suppose it’s because the Pale is where so many Russian Jews came from.  We can’t fully understand their lives unless we have some idea of their origins, and of the conditions in which they dreamed of other lives.

So on to Borisov …

So now I’ve begun a process of trying to learn about a new place, Borisov, just as I had been excited to learn about Ryazan.  I’ve begun writing to the many JewishGen participants whose ancestors also came from Borisov and started getting some responses, with new bits of information.

I’ve begun my usual search of Russian language websites – always something of a struggle because my Russian language skills are rusty (one of my most important tools is my son’s website, NiceTranslator.com, along with its Firefox plugin, which enables short translations to pop up on foreign language websites).  And there are the hassles of doing dual google searches in English and in Cyrillic without a Cyrillic keyboard (I use a good virtual one).

It’s a bit hard starting over, feeling once again how little I know about this new place, Borisov – new to me, that is.

But one of the fun parts of this research is finding amazing treasure stores of local information created by so many citizens everywhere.  When researching Ryazan, I had found the vast and rich Ryazan guberniia website, which includes extraordinary historical photos and articles.  (If you want to be dazzled, click through any of its pages to see its many different heading-artwork designs, elaborately custom-made for each topic.)

“Cocktail of My Soul”

Postcard with photo of the Borisov market bazaar.

Postcard with photo of the Borisov market bazaar.

For Borisov, I’ve found an amazing stash of old postcards and other photographs, collected by Aleksandr Rosenblyum, a present-day resident of the city of Borisov (capital of Borisov uyezd).  His website is called Cocktail of my Soul, and it’s about every aspect of Borisov past and present.  The website’s many nooks and crannies probably hold riches I haven’t discovered yet.

Sheyneman vs. Levin

Right off the bat, though, are the early 20th century postcards and Rosenblyum’s description of their history.  It’s an evocative story in itself (any mistakes in Russian-to-English translation are my own):

“In 1907, the owner of a Borisov stationer’s shop, A. Sheyneman, delighted his customers by selling postcards with photos of different corners of the city of Borisov.  Pretty soon his rival B. Levin, the owner of another stationary shop, followed his example, this time with postcards whose photographs had been colored.”

General view of the town of Borisov and its pier on the Berezina River (the side of the town beyond the river is hazy in the background).

Postcard: General view of the town of Borisov and its pier on the Berezina River (the side of the town beyond the river is hazy in the background).

Rosenblyum provides images of all the postcards, some even labeled as to whose shop sold it, Levin’s or Sheyneman’s!

So here we have two clever competitors in business, each one-upping the other.  And they were competing via the latest technology of their time: photographs now available to everyone in the form of postcards of their very own town! We can imagine what excitement it must have spawned among small-town residents to suddenly see their own surroundings on cards they might be able to buy and send to family and friends.  The cards sold out quickly and soon became rarities.

Postcard of the Borisov official wine warehouse (the sale of wine was a monopoly held by the Russian Imperial government).

Postcard of Borisov's wine warehouse (the sale of wine was a monopoly held by the Russian Imperial government).

Rosenblyum asks amusingly,

“What sort of Borisov sights were illustrated in these cards, of which about 30 were released?  Of course, in such a small provincial town, it was difficult to find 30 extraordinary places.  So the sites selected included the wine warehouse and the prison.”

The resourceful Rosenblyum

The story of how Rosenblyum came to have this wonderful collection of old postcards is as delightful as the story of the cards themselves.  Sometime after 1950, the staff of Borisov’s local history museum discovered that a famous Leningrad card collector, Nikolai Spiridonovich Tagrin, had the Borisov postcards among his vast collection.  The museum tried to buy the cards from him, but were only able to acquire a few.  Their efforts continued from various sources, but their collection remained very incomplete.

Postcard of the Victoria Match Factory in Borisov

Postcard of the Victoria Match Factory in Borisov

Then, after Tagrin’s death, his wife donated his collection – consisting of 500,000 postcards – to Leningrad’s Museum of History.  And in 1987, our hero Aleksandr Rosenblyum stepped in.  He persuaded the editor of Borisov’s newspaper Communist Work to send a correspondent to Leningrad to make reproductions of the Borisov postcards.  According to Rosenblyum, the correspondent followed through brilliantly.  The postcards were eventually published with Rosenblyum’s comments, attracting great interest.

All in all, a good day on the road to Borisov

Postcard of house of Kandrian, a wealthy Swiss barrel-hoop manufacturer who immigrated to Borisov.

Postcard of house of Kandrian, a wealthy Swiss barrel-hoop manufacturer who immigrated to Borisov.

So this transition back to Borisov, which I began with some trepidation, has ended with pleasure.  Whatever the hardships of the Pale, there were in Borisov two inventive and successful Jewish stationary shop owners whose story – at least until the postcards sold out – is amusing and impressive.  The postcards created and sold by Levin and Sheyneman still exist today, revealing to us many hidden corners of their world.