Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Cousin Report #27

There I was, at the Blowzabella do the other night, pretty much minding my own business, soaking up the music and sipping down the London Pride, when I was accosted by this woman asking "are you Michael"?

Well I couldn't really deny it, especially when she said "surname Shade?", and I'm glad I didn't because it turned out to be my distant cousin Mira. We had never met, though we did have a brief email exchange a few months ago, during which we realised we would both be going to the BZB do last Saturday.

She's my great-grandmother's brother's second wife's great-grand-daughter - is there a word for that? She'd been googling for her grandmother, Mary Levin, and came across a photo I'd put up on Flickr a couple of years ago from a Walk I did around some of our Levin places in the East End: I'd tagged the photo with some of the family names, and Google spotted them.

It turns out she and her husband are keen on French traditional music, and he plays the hurdy-gurdy. The world, as they say in Spain, is a handkerchief.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

May their souls rest in peace

This is Aharon Shreibman, whose grandfather Hirsh was a brother of my great-grandfather Nevakh. So we're sort of cousins. Or at least, we would have been, if the Holocaust had not intervened.

For years our family has wondered whether any of our relatives had got caught up in the Holocaust. My four grandparents had all emigrated to the UK in the early part of the 20th Century, and we didn't know of anyone who was still living in Eastern Europe through the 1920s and 30s. Whether there was anyone still there, or whether we had just lost touch, we didn't know.

A few years ago, on the JewishGen website, I came across a database of people who had been killed in the Holocaust. This list had been compiled by the Soviet authorities immediately after they recaptured towns from the Germans in 1944, using testimony from neighbours, eyewitnesses and survivors (the 'Extraordinary Commission'). There were around 20 Shreibmans on the list for Pinsk, my grandfather Movsha's town, but from the scant details furnished it was impossible to identify any of them as 'ours'.

I then found another listing, this time of inhabitants of the Pinsk Ghetto in 1941/2, which shows 14 Shraibmans. Again, I couldn't identify any of them as ours - except for my grandfather's elder brother David, who is listed as a shoemaker, aged 71. There are a few recognisable family groups, but David seems to be the only Shreibman in the house he is living in. He does not appear in the Soviet Extraordinary Commission list, however, so we do not know when or how he died. And we do not know anything of his own family, or those of his brothers and sisters, so we cannot we tell whether any of the other Shreibmans in these lists are related to him in any way.

I have just now searched the Yad Vashem listings of Holocaust victims, still looking for Shreibmans from Pinsk, and have been able to compile a list of over a dozen, whose names had been submitted to the Holocaust Memorial Centre by relatives or survivors. These submissions often include personal and family details, and sometimes this information can enable you to establish a connection.

And indeed, two of the people in this list do appear to be people who are on our family tree - Aharon Shreibman, whose photo above was posted on the Yad Vashem database, and Meer, younger brother of my grandfather Movsha Shreibman. And once you work through the documents, you realise that their families are there in the list too, and that some of them may be on the other lists as well.

To see why I feel that these families are indeed 'our' Shreibmans, let's take a closer look at the Yad Vashem submissions.

There are two submissions for Aharon - one entered in 1999 by an unspecified relative named Varda, and a much earlier one from 1957, by a niece, Rakhel, who also submitted one for his wife Sara. I compiled a database of all the information I could glean from these and all the other Pinsk Shreibman submissions, to see what connections I could deduce, if any.

Looking at the first two lines of these extracts, you can see that the two submissions on Aharon differ in several respects:

They differ on his date of birth - by 10 years - and also on the name of his wife. However it was the names given for his parents that clinched it for me - they correspond with those found by the research we commissioned a couple of years ago in the Belarus Archives, which turned up a birth record for Aharon dating from 1897 (in between the two dates submitted by Varda and Rakhel). This showed his parents as Leizer and Chasya-Braina. Varda gives his mother as Khasia Breina, and Rakhel gives his father as Eliezer and his mother as Khasia. I'm as certain as can be that these two submissions are for the same person, and that that person is my second cousin once removed. My cousin Aharon. Killed in Pinsk in 1942.

Similarly with Meir. There are two submissions, one by Friedel's sister Henia in 1956, and another by her brother Shmuel in 1957. There are differences, but none significant - apart from the name of Friedel's mother, who was probably (but not necessarily) their own mother too! 'Our' Meir was born in 1896, according to the Belarus research, which is close enough to the dates in these submissions. But is this Meir really 'ours'?

In this case the detective work had to be a bit more subtle. Whilst Henia and Shmuel both submitted names for Friedel's parents, neither of them had anything for Meir's. Our Meir's father - my great-grandfather - was called Nevakh (Noah), and his mother Shprintza.

Now take closer look at the names Meir and Friedel gave their children. The first son is clearly named after Friedel's father, Avraham David, suggesting the family were following the established Ashkenazi custom of naming children after a recently-deceased close relative. When their second son is born a few years later, they call him Noakh. We do not know when our Nevakh died, but we do know from the Belarus research that his son David was the householder of the family house in Pinsk in 1912, which suggests that Nevakh had died earlier. So the first son was named for the maternal grandfather, and it very much looks as though the second son was named for the paternal grandfather.

So this is our Meir Shreibman, my great-uncle. And our Friedel, and our Avraham David, and our Noakh, my first cousins once removed.

Meir is given as killed in Pinsk in 1941; he may have died soon after the German invasion. Friedel, Avraham David and Noakh are in the Ghetto List:

They were killed in 1942, according to the submissions by Friedel's brother and sister, along with all the remaining inhabitants of the Ghetto. Aharon and his wife Sara are not on the Ghetto list, but the submissions say they also died in 1942.

May their souls rest in peace.

Friday, 8 March 2013

A new Shreibman

I've found a new Shreibman! Well, he's new to us, but he's quite old really - he's the earliest Shreibman we know of. Meet Movsha Shreibman, born - we suppose - sometime around 1740.

Yesterday I came across the 1816 Russian Census ('Revision List') for the town of Pinsk on the JewishGen website - I don't know why I hadn't spotted it before - and there they were - father and son, Girsh and Movsha (here, Movsha Dovid). We already had their names, and a date of birth for Movsha Dovid, from later Censuses. This, however, takes us one step further back into the past, thanks to the Russian - and Jewish - custom of patronymic naming, as in 'Movsha Dovid, son of Girsh'. Thus the Census gives us not only the names of the people it is recording, but as part of the identification it also gives us the names of their fathers. As we can see, Girsh's father is also a Movsha.

Girsh's age is given as 50, which suggests a date of birth of 1766. This in turn allows us to guess that his own father Movsha may have been born around, say, 1740.

It is interesting to see that the surname Shreibman was already being used by the family in 1816; we can't tell from this census record whether it dates back to the previous generation as well. Most Jews in Eastern Europe used patronymics until around the beginning of the 19th century, when the Russian authorities began requiring them to use surnames.

The name 'Shreibman' means 'writer', or 'scribe', and we can assume that the first use of the name would be a reference to that person's occupation. Was Girsh the first 'Shreibman' in our family? Or his father Movsha, perhaps? Or were they from a line of scribes maybe, who were already being referred to as such before the formal adoption of surnames?

Notice also the given names, repeated across the generations, usually at one remove:
Movsha (b abt 1740) - Hirsh (1766) - Movsha Dovid (1798) - Hirsh (1827).

There was  - maybe there still is - a tradition amongst Ashkenazi Jews of naming children after deceased relatives, especially recently deceased close relatives such as grandparents, and although we don't know the dates of death of these Shreibmans, we can see the pattern in their names.  

Another of Movsha Dovid's sons was Nevakh, or Noah. Nevakh used 'Dovid' and 'Movsha' for two of his own sons. And then this latest Movsha - my grandfather - named his first son - my father - David. And although my parents were not observant Jews, they continued with the tradition: my Hebrew given name, so they told me, is 'Moishe'.

You can see this pattern of naming in the revised version of the family tree.

So, Movsha Shreibman the First, born around 1740 - welcome to the family!