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The Lower East Side Restoration Project
By connecting to the Immigrant Experience we honor our parents and grandparents and those who bravely came to our shores.
The Great Immigration was the most massive outpouring of humanity in recorded history. Millions of Jewish men, women and children sought refuge from the hunger, poverty, tyranny and political turmoil of their native lands. They carried with them only the clothes on their backs, Shabbos candlesticks, and if lucky, a beloved Samovar from the Old Country. The few rare objects that survive today are a testament to the survival of the Jewish people despite millennia of persecutions, pogroms and exiles.
Who were these people who so bravely voyaged into the unknown? What were the individual circumstances that propelled them to the "Goldene Medina"?
Every family has a unique story to tell of their own personal history. Here are the stories of four families who became one family due to this monumental event - The Great Immigration.
Pictured L to R: Ethel Farberman Gordon (relative of actress Lisa Kudrow), Esther Genya (Stepmother), Philip Podbereski, Zev-Wolf (Velvel) Podbereski, Libby-Duska Podbereski, Rivka-Baila Podbereski
Not Pictured: Max Podbereski Gordon (changed to Gordon upon arrival in America) who studied at the Yeshiva in Volozhin and emigrated to America to escape the Russian army. Jewish boys and men drafted into the Russian army were expected to complete 25 years of service.
Basha-Ita Danishefsky Podbereski (Mother) died c. 1898).
The Podbereski Family lived in Ilya, Lithuania, in the Pale of Jewish Settlement.
Ilya was a small village just outside of the great center of Jewish culture and scholarship, Vilna.
The family lived in a small house on the "Volozhine Gass", the road to Volozhin � a city that was home to the legendary Volozhin Yeshiva, which attracted scholars from all of the great cities of Europe.
Zev-Wolf came from the town of Vishniveh. He and his wife, Basha-Ita Danishevsky had four children: Max, Philip, Libby-Duska and Rivka-Baila. Zev-Wolf was a teacher, and all of the children were raised Orthodox and steeped in Torah learning and Yiddishkeit -- in the true "Litvak" tradition.
Basha-Ita died when Rivka was only a year and a half old. Zev-Wolf married Esther Genya, who was a wonderful stepmother to the children.
By 1916, all of the family but Zev-Wolf, Esther Genya and youngest daughter Rivka-Baila had emigrated to America. The three older children worked in upstate New York to save enough money to bring the rest of the family to the New World. During this time, Zev-Wolf wrote many letters to his children in America, all written in his beautiful Yiddish script.
Yiddish letters written by Zev-Wolf, c. 1910
While waiting for passage, Zev, Esther and Rivka were caught in World War I and the Russian Revolution. Four years passed with no contact from their family in America.
With much of the population in the war torn cities starving, Esther Genya traveled alone to her family farm to bring back milk and provisions. Caught in the ravages of war, she disappeared and was never heard from again. Rivka-Baila and her father became refugees and were moved from place to place as the wars progressed.
Zev-Wolf Podbereski and daughter Rivka-Baila
Ilya, Lithuania, Vilna Gebarnia c. 1915
While at an armory where they sought shelter, Zev-Wolf became seriously ill and his condition continued to worsen. Rivka-Baila knew he needed a doctor and went to a neighboring village to get help. When she returned a few days later, her father was gone.
She searched a makeshift morgue where she found his body amid hundreds of others who had died from disease and starvation during the long Russian winter. She buried her beloved father in the snow. Terrified and now alone, Rivka-Baila had only one thought � to get to America.
Hearing about a Jewish Delegation in the free port of Danzig, she began her journey across Poland on foot. Rifka-Baila had no passport. As a war refugee, she was stateless. She learned of a family in Wizen who had room on their family passport for one more person. Rivka joined this family and together with a brother and sister who were also travelling alone (Laike and Joseph Sherman), she crossed Poland, working occasionally on farms and sleeping outdoors or in barns.
Arriving in Danzig, they waited along with hundreds of other refugees for their names to be called from lists of relatives providing passage to America.
Rivka-Baila in Danzig
In 1920, Rikva-Baila Podbereski's name was called and she boarded the Susquehanna -- the ship that would take her to the New World. Along with thousands of Jewish refugees, Rivka-Baila made the long ocean voyage in the cramped, claustrophobic conditions of Steerage Class.
The Voyage to the New World � Aboard Ship c. 1890
Rivka-Baila arrived in America on Yom Kipper, 1920. Reluctant to travel on Yom Kippur, she nonetheless boarded a train to join her brothers and sister in Rochester, New York. Although fluent in Russian, Polish and Yiddish and excelling in mathematics, the only work Rivka could find was in a coat factory, sewing buttons. One day at work, a co-worker, admonishing her for being old fashioned and Orthodox, spilled milk on her lunch making it un-kosher, and therefore not edible. A young man named Joseph Martin Schuster kindly offered her an orange. They were married in 1922.
Wedding of Rivka-Baila Podbereski & Joseph Martin Schuster, June 4, 1922.
The Schuster Family, Bozalia Russia c. 1909
Pictured L to R: Ancy (Pesse-Channa), Fanny (Feige) , Grandmother Leah, Joseph (Yossel) and Jack (Yitzhak).
Joseph Martin Schuster was born in Bozalia, Russia in 1899. Bozalia was a tiny shtetl with a population of less than 400. The town consisted of a Church, a Synagogue and a general store. The only transportation was horse and wagon. The closest town was Keppel, which was 60 miles away. Many people walked to Keppel for goods. There was a tailor in town who had the only phonograph. On summer evenings he would play music and people would dance outdoors.
Russian Shtetl, Woodcut by Solomon Yudovin
The house the Schuster family lived in belonged to Grandmother, Leah Schuster. It was made of mud and straw, with a straw roof and a dirt floor. In the wintertime, the family would sit atop the "pripichik" (stove) to keep warm and rip goose feathers to make featherbeds and pillows. The lighting was candlelight or kerosene. There was no indoor plumbing. Drinking water was carried home in wooden buckets from the town well. Joseph, an enterprising young boy, made wooden ice skates for his brother Jack and they both played with their dog Moose. A Russian woman, Yuchema, helped Zipra bake breads, which she sold to the Jewish families in town.
At the turn of the century, restrictions against Jews were intensified. Children could not attend public schools and means of making a living were curtailed. In addition, Bozalia was becoming increasingly unsafe for Jews due to attacks by Cossacks and organized pogroms. Mendel Schuster, the father, was the first to emigrate to America.
Mendel and his sister-in-law Becky Wallach Biltikoff sister of Zipra Schuster, c. 1911, Buffalo, New York.
Mendel was a skilled furrier by trade who made furs for the Russian nobility. He traveled to their lavish estates, but was forced to sleep in their barns, even in the dead of winter. His health began to decline while he was still in his twenties. Conscripted into the Tzar's army, he soon realized this was a death sentence for him. In order to escape the unbearable conditions and the rampant anti-Semitism, Mendel deserted and fled to the Goldene Medina � and a chance at a better life. Leaving his wife and four children in Bozalia, he found work in New York and began to save money to bring his family to the New World.
Joseph, the oldest son, was a very bright child who dreamed of becoming a doctor. He was an avid learner who spoke Yiddish, Russian and German. In preparation for their trip to America, Joseph's mother Tzipra (Sara) chose him to learn English and hired a tutor for this purpose.
Joseph Martin Schuster, age 14
Three years after arriving on Ellis Island, Mendel sent for his eldest daughter, Fanny. Fanny and Mendel worked to earn enough money for passage for the rest of the family. Two years after Fanny's arrival, Mendel sent for the rest of the family, leaving Grandmother Leah in Russia with Yuchema.
The Schusters arrived in the port of New York on September 15, 1913, on the Dutch ship, Kroonland.
Schuster Family Passport Page 1 & 2
In 1914, only six months after his family arrived in America, Mendel Schuster died. He was 38 years old. Zipra, a young widow with four children, sold the few possessions the family had brought with them from Russia: a samovar, candlesticks, and a mortar and pestle. Joseph was taken out of school and went to work to support the family. He was 14 years old. His dream of becoming a doctor ended. Working long hours at a variety of jobs, Joseph continued his education on his own, studying medicine and history throughout his life.
In 1921 while working in a clothing factory, Joseph shared his lunch with Rivka-Baila Podbereski. They were engaged in 1921 and married in 1922.
Engagement of Rivka-Baila Podbereski & Joseph Martin Schuster, 1921.
In 1924, their first child was born: Basha-Ita (Beatrice Edith), named after Rivka's mother. They had 3 other children, William (named after her father, Zev-Wolf) who died in infancy, Burton Gordon, and Alan Herbert.
Beatrice Edith Schuster ( Basha-Ita )
The Rolnik Family, in Ivenits, White Russia (near Minsk) c.1912 Avram, Doris, Leib-Dovid, Yerachmil, Sara, Stepmother Gisha, Tzril (Not pictured: Mother: Chaya Horowitz Rolnik)
Vereshka (Doris) Rolnik was born in Ivenits near Minsk, Russia in 1895. Ivenitswas a typical Eastern European town: wooden houses, main roads paved with stones, back streets and alleys of sand. Five thousand Jews lived in relative peace with their Catholic and Christian neighbors. There was a Jewish school with classes taught in Yiddish, a Polish school and a Tarbut School where classes were taught in Hebrew. Many fruit plantations surrounded the area and near the Volma River there were two Jewish owned windmills. A Jewish owned lumber mill supplied refined pieces of wood to Poland. A small professional pottery industry employed hundreds of workers both Jews and Gentiles.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, a wave of anti-Semitism began to spread. Many people from Ivenitz and surrounding areas sought passage to Palestine only to have their plans blocked by Turkish rule. Consequently, people wanting to leave Europe started to prepare for immigration to America.
Doris (Devora) (Vereshka) Rolnik coming to America, c. 1910.
Devora (Russian name: Vereshka) was the oldest daughter and was educated by a tutor. Her mother died in 1909 and she helped raise her younger siblings, Yerachmiel, Avram, Tsril and Sara until her father remarried. Her father, Leib-Dovid, had traveled to America at the turn of the century with her older brother Ellick. Living in New York for seven years Leib-Dovid then returned to White Russia. In 1915, Vereshka and her father boarded the ship Mauritania bound for New York. Leib-Dovid left the ship a few days into the journey and returned to the family in Iventis. Vereshka went on to join her older brother Alec in America.
Rolnik Family, Ivenits c.1920 - Gisha, Tsril, Leib-Dovid, Sara
Doris (Vereshka) c. 1914
In the New World, Vereshka called herself Doris (after her Hebrew name, Dvora). She went to live with her Uncle and Aunt in upstate New York. In 1913, she met young Samuel (Usher-Zelig) Goldberg at the Strand Theatre in Rochester, NY.
Sam & Doris c. 1913
They became engaged.
Doris Rolnik & Sam Goldberg's engagement photo, 1914.
Samuel (Usher Zelig) was one of 7 children born to Hyam Goldberg of Zlotopole, Ukraine and Libby Zinkoff Goldberg of Odessa, Russia. Hyam was the only son of Yisroel and Havka Goldberg of Zlotopole, Ukraine. He had three sisters, Rifka Dina, Pearl, and Malka (Molly). Hyam's first marriage was to Rivka. They had a son named Moshe. Hyam and Rivka divorced and Hyam moved to Odessa where he met and married Libby Zinkoff. Moshe lived with them and they had six other children: Julius, Gittel (Kate), Rose, Usher Zelig (Sam) Eva and Bessie.
Bar Mitzvah of Usher-Zelig (Samuel) Goldberg, Odessa, Russia 1906
The family escaped the brutal pogroms in Odessa by emigrating to America. The older children traveled first, the parents and three younger children arrived on Ellis Island on New Year's Day, 1907. The family settled on Rivington Street, on New York's Lower East Side. Hyam died in 1920 and Libby in 1923. They are buried in Britton Road Cemetery in Rochester, NY.
The Lower East Side, c. 1900
Sam and his older brother Julius worked selling glass lamp parts from a horse drawn cart in New York City, before moving with the whole family to Rochester, New York where sister Gittel had secured a job in a clothing factory.
Sam and his family were known for great humor, masterful storytelling, their contagious optimism and extraordinary ability to enjoy life. He played mandolin, loved anything Italian, was a member of a Jewish theatre company, The Lyra, and ate ice cream everyday of his life at 3:00 PM sharp.
Sam met Doris Rolnik in 1913 at the Strand movie theatre in Richester, NY.
They were engaged in 1914 and married the same year.
Doris and Sam's Wedding, July 5, 1915.
They had three children: Mack, Helen, and Herman.
Mack, Helen, Doris, Herman, Sam c.1926
Mack, Sam, Helen, Doris c. 1922
New Americans: Helen, Doris, and Mack. July 4, 1921.
Sam & Doris, 1930s
Herman - named after Sam's father Hyam, c.1929
Sam and Doris' youngest son, Herm, fell in love with Beatrice Schuster.
Beatrice & Herm
He called her "P.F." (Pretty Face) and wrote love letters to her while he was in flight school.
Herman, LT. US Army Air Corps c. 1943-44
On July 4th 1944, in Rochester, New York, Beatrice Edith Schuster, daughter of Rivka-Baila Podbereski (Gordon) from Ilya, Lithuania, and Joseph Martin Schuster from Bazaliya, Russia married Herman Dorsam Goldberg, son of Doris (Devora/Vereshka) Rolnik of Ivenits, White Russia and Samuel (Usher-Zelig) Goldberg of Odessa, Russia.
Wedding of Beatrice and Herman, July 4, 1944 - First Generation Americans
They welcomed their first child in 1947.
Beatrice, Herm & Donna Elizabeth
Note: Of the family members and individuals who did not journey to the New World during the Great Immigration, all but a few perished in the Holocaust, murdered by the Nazi's.
There is no record of any surviving members of the Schuster Family of Bazaliya or the Danishefsky or Podbereski families of Lithuania.
In Odessa, any remaining Goldberg family members were lost in mass killings. On October 22, 1941, 19,000 Jews were taken to the harbor, doused with gasoline and burned alive. Another 16,000 were taken the following day to the outskirts of the city and massacred. Another 5000 Jews were subsequently deported to camps set up in Bogdanovka, Domanevka, Krivoye Ozero, and other villages where about 70,000 Jews, all from southern Transnistria, were concentrated. During December 1941 and January 1942, almost all of them were killed by special troops of Sonderkommando aided by Rumanian Police, Ukrainian Militia, and especially SS Units made up of German colonists of the region. After the last convoy left on December 7, 1942, Odessa was declared "Judenrein."
Almost all of the Rolnik family perished in the Holocaust.
Yerachmiel Rolnik, his wife Yentl and all of their children, except their son Motek,were murdered by the Nazi's when their town, Ivenitz was liquidated. Thousands were forced into to a mass grave and shot on September 19, 1941. Motek Rolnik, son of Doris's brother Yerachmiel, was a survivor of this slaughter as he was on a work detail in a neighboring town. Motek, the sole survivor of his immediate family, escaped to the forest where he joined the Bielski Partisans - Jewish and Russian armed fighters. He was 14 years old. He eventually made his way to Israel.
Doris' sister Tsril was sent to Auschwitz with her two young sons (one too young to have a name). The three were murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival. Her husband, Shmuel Itzkovitz was shot in Vishnveh, White Russia, the town where they lived.
Tsril and husband Shmul Iskovitz
Doris' sister Sara had a different story. Married to Hersh Rolnik (no relation), she was the mother of 5 boys: Haim, Zev, Meier, Shlomo, and Leib Dovid. In October 1939, Hrsh was arrested by the N.K.V.D. (a precursor of the KGB) under the false charge of being a Polish agent and an anti-Communist and sentenced to prison in Siberia. Six months later, on the eve of Passover 1940, the N.K.V.D. deported the rest of the family. Sara and her five children (ages 3-11) traveled into Russia by freight wagon (five families crowded into each wagon). The journey lasted an entire month with little food and no sanitary facilities.
The Rolniks were left off in the city of Kokchetav, Siberia. Small trucks were brought to the wagons and they were driven 100 miles away to the village of Voscrenovcka. Certain that the family had no means of escape, the N.K.V.D. soldiers left them there.
The village itself was built from clay and wood. The ten families (only two of them Jewish) that had been exiled together sat in the snow and rested. The town counsel brought them hot tea and soon the women went off to find shelter. The villagers themselves were also exiles from Central Russia during World War I, and so had great compassion for these new arrivals. Sara and her sons were taken by sled to a villager's home and given a room.
Sara worked in a brick factory and sold the clothes she had brought from home in order to feed the children. Chaim, Zev and Mier started to attend Russian school, while Shlomo and Leib David attended kindergarten where they were furnished with free meals. Soon Sara moved the family to the market village of Volodarovka, where she was able to sell clothing at the weekly market and was able to purchase a small clay home, most of it underground. On a trip to a neighboring village to purchase goods, Sara was arrested by the N.K.V.D. for illegal trading. During her months in prison separated from her children, the ever-resourceful Sara began sending messages to her sons by singing in Yiddish (a language the Russian guards did not understand). Two months after her imprisonment, in the summer of 1944, she demanded to be set free, and miraculously was under the caveat that she would leave the vicinity.
On August 9, 1944, the Russian Army liberated Ivenitz. Sara received a letter informing her that all the members of her family had been slaughtered. Her husband, Hersh Rolnik (long thought dead), managed to make contact with Sara and the children. His letters informed them that he was sentenced to 8 years and still had three more years left as a prisoner. Also, he had never been sent to Siberia, but was in a prison near Ivenitz.
In prison, Hersh worked hard labor, coal mining and woodcutting in temperatures that were 40 below zero. Only very few prisoners survived the full 8 years under such harsh conditions. Most prisoners died in the first year and were replaced by transports of new prisoners. Hersh asked Sara for help � food and clothing. His health was poor and he weighed only 42kg, half his normal weight.
Sara and the children organized packages of provisions, which kept Hersh alive during the winter of 1944. After the war, Ivenitz became part of Russia, and the Rolniks went to Poland. Hersh wrote urging the family to try to make their way to Israel, and if possible, he would join them.
Zev and Chaim stayed in Poland, while Sara, Meier, Arye (Leib-David) and Shlomo crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. They were immediately taken to a refugee (DP) camp and placed with others who had crossed the border illegally. A few months later, they again crossed the border by foot and entered Austria where they again stayed in a DP camp. From there, they went to Germany where they stayed for 2 years and were joined by Chaim and Zev. The Rolniks were among the 60 million displaced persons in Europe at the end of World War II.
Rolnik Survivors 1946 - Arye, Shlomo, Meier, Zev, Chaim
Rolniks 1946 - Arye, Shlomo, Meier, Zev, Sara, Motek
While in Germany they joined the Betyr Movement and lived along with a few thousand other Jewish refugees on a large German army base, Hindenburg Kasarma, near Oelm.
Schools were established and they received some money from The Joint Distribution Committee, an American Jewish charity. Other youth groups, Hagana and Etzel, gave military training to the refugees so that when they arrived in Israel, they would be ready to join the Israeli Army.
Zev, Arye, Sara and Chaim Rolnik, 1946
In a train station in Marseilles France, Sarah and the boys we approached by a man. This man was Hirsh, father and husband. The paths of war had finally crossed and after 10 years the Rolnik family was re-united!
In 1948, Zev and Meier lied about their ages and joined 40 other boys and girls bound for Israel via France. They arrived in Haifa on May 22, 1948 and were immediately taken to the front lines to fight the Arabs in Tel-Mond. Zev stayed with the Giv'ati battalion fighting the Egyptians and Meier (because he was underage) was sent to live with distant relatives who had been pioneers in Palestine in the 1930s.
In December 1947, Hersh was released from Russian prison and went to Poland. He joined the "Hashomer HaTazair" movement and continued on to Marseilles where he underwent military training in preparation to join the Israeli army. He wrote to Sara who was in Italy with the young children in a failed attempt to get to Israel. Hersh asked Sara to make her way to Marseilles. Finally, Sara and Hersh were reunited in France and in September 1948, they reached Israel!
Sara and Hersh rebuilt their lives and had another son, Reuven.
(Note: Leib-David (Arye) fell in the Sinai War of 1956.)
Doris Rolnik Goldberg, who had immigrated to America so many years ago, did not know the fate of her family from Ivenitz. She placed an ad in a Jewish newspaper requesting information. Motek Rolnik (teenage Partisan and sole survivor of the Ivenitz massacre) contacted her. In 1953, Doris and Sam traveled to Israel and Doris was reunited with her sister Sarah and nephew Motek Rolnick, a teenage Partisan. It was the first time the two sisters had seen each other in 40 years.
Sisters Sara and Doris. In Israel - 1953 - reunited after 40 years.
Rolniks in Israel 1953
Standing: Chaim,Sara, Shlomo, Meier, Zev
Note to Herman in America on back of photo
From this small fragment of survivors, the Rolnik family has grown to over 100 members, and is thriving in Israel.
By connecting to the Immigrant experience, we honor our parents and grandparents and are compelled to share with each new generation the astounding stories of our own family's personal history and journey to the New World.
The Lower East Side Restoration Project