Friday, December 15, 2017

From Gniewoszow to Negaunee

One of my family treasures is this emigration passport from the Russian Empire for my great-grandparents, Harris and Sophie Schwartzberg and their eldest children, Sam and Sara in 1892. It always hung on my grandpa Ralph M. Schwartzberg's law office walls, and later on my Dad, Hugh J. Schwartzberg's law office walls. Currently it is stored in my closet away from the light to prevent fading.

Here's a close up of the front of the certificate.

It is printed in Russian and French, with manuscript information about my family added. It states that in virtue of the law of 28 March 1891, the holder of this passport, the inhabitant of the town Granica in the jurisdiction or bailiwick of Gniewoszow (which was a nearby, larger village), district of Kozenec (Kozienice), Radom gubernia (province), the merchant Jew, Gerszek Tankhow Szwarzberg with his family, noted on the reverse of this page, are released from the subjection of the Russian Empire in order to emigrate abroad. The certificate is signed, sealed and dated 24 March 1892 and stamped 14 April 1892.

Here's the back, which my grandfather had carefully framed so it would be legible.

The back is also in Russian and French. Those were the legal languages of the Russian Empire, lucky for me, since I don't read Russian but I do read French. It gives the names of my great-grandparents and their two children and their description as follows.

1. Gerszek Szwarzberg, merchant Jew, age 25, middle height, gray eyes, dark blond hair, a round face, medium nose, and no particular marks.

2. Cirklia Szwarzberg, born Lewin, his wife, age 29, petite, gray eyes, blond hair, a round face, medium nose, and no particular marks.

3. Szaja Szwarzberg, his son, age 4.

4. Khaja Sora Szwarzberg, his daughter, age 1.

Thus I always knew that the Ginivasheff that my family always referred to was Gniewoszow and was able to distinguish it from a different Gniewoszow elsewhere in Poland. Reportedly my great-grandmother got letters from Poland, presumably from Gniewoszow and Warsaw up to her death in 1941. A cousin remembered getting the stamps for his stamp collection. Sadly no one remembers the names of her correspondents.

I know my great-grandfather's name in Hebrew was Tzvi Hirsch aka Tzvi Yehuda, which became Gersh or Gerszek in Yiddish and Polish. Tankhow is an abbreviation for Tankhovich, which was his patronymic, since his father's name was Tanchum. My great-grandmother's maiden name of Lewin or Levin is interesting since her brother took the name Wolf Feldman in America.

I will discuss Gniewoszow itself in another blog. This blog is about the journey to America and settling there. The family story was that my family travelled with two other families from Gniewoszow. One was Sophie's brother Wolf Feldman with his wife Raisel and his family and the other was the Altman family, whose daughter Beckie later married my grandfather's first cousin, Samuel Joseph Schwartzberg, son of my great-great-uncle Charles Schwartzberg.

Years ago on and more recently on, I found my family's passenger manifest which confirmed this story. All three families are listed on this page of the passenger manifest for the SS Italia which arrived on 28 June 1892 into the port of New York. They would have disembarked at Ellis Island, which opened on 1 January 1892 and looked with awe at the Statue of Liberty.

As you can read, the three families are traveling from Gniwessow to New York. They were listed as follows:

Wolff Feldmann [my great-great-uncle], age 29, male, a baker.
Rosa Feldmann, age 31, female, wife.
Sara Feldmann, age 8, female.
Cheie Feldmann, age 6, female.
Chaje Feldmann, age 5, female.
Taube Feldmann, age 1, female.
The latter four were listed as their children and Sara became Fannie (Freida Sara) Feldman Soldinger, Cheie Feldmann was actually a boy, and was George Feldman, the only son of my uncle Wolf, Chaje Feldmann became Eva Feldman Joffa, and Taube Feldmann became Ester (Bessie) Feldman Goodman. I think Chaje might have been Khava which often became Eva here, but I do not know why Taube changed her name so drastically. Perhaps she was ill as a child and they changed it to avert the Angel of Death?

Then there was the Altmann family:

Pinchos Altmann, age 27, male, a shoemaker.
Schindel Altmann, age 28, female, wife.
Maria Altmann, age 6, female.
Dwasche Altmann, age 2, female.
Semma Altmann, age 1/2, female.

They became Philip and Jennie Altman, and their daughters became Sarah Miriam Altman Samuels, Dorothy (Dora) Altman Klapper, and Fannie (Frances) Altman Magida.

And finally my great-grandparents:

Hersch Schwarzberg, age 25, male, a tailor.
Zottel Schwarzberg, age 29, female, wife.
Cheie Schwartzberg, age 4, female [!] (this is my great-uncle Sam).
Sara Schwarzberg, age 1, female.

The family story goes that my great-grandfather was supposed to go on with his family to Argentina and had been sponsored by the Baron Hirsch Fund. However when they arrived in New York, they gave him a medical exam and decided he was not healthy enough to be a cowboy on the pampas. There were Jewish colonies in Argentina where the men served as cowboys on the local ranches. My family remembers that my great-aunts got letters from relatives in Argentina, but again no one remembers names... Therefore the Fund or HIAS gave my great-grandfather a choice of towns to go settle in. They were dealing with a flood of Jews into New York City and were trying to move people out into the rest of the United States. Now remember, my great-grandfather knew nothing at all of American geography and climate. So, when he was told the choice was between St. Augustine, Florida or Negaunee, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, all my great-grandfather asked was if either town had a shochet or kosher butcher. They weren't sure but they thought Negaunee had one. So my family ended up there. Our history would have been very different if we had gone to Florida!

The Feldmans and Altmans went to Chicago, but by 1899, the Feldmans had moved on to Toledo, Ohio, where Wolf would found and run Feldman's Bakery, which by itself is worth a separate blog. The Altmans stayed in Chicago and founded and ran Altman's Shoes, the last version of which store finally closed in 2014 (I shopped there and liked knowing the family connection).

All the families had more children, and I ended up researching all of them, since they were all from Gniewoszow and even the Altmans were probably related to me in some way in earlier generations as well as the later marriage I mentioned above.

Now back to my great-grandfather and his family. My great-grandpa became Harris J. Schwartzberg here though I note that on documents from Negaunee he never spelled his name the same way twice! His wife, whose Yiddish name Zeitel, I inherited as my Hebrew name, became Sophie, which is also cognate with Zeitel. Great-grandpa Harris was very religious and had brought two torah scrolls with him from Russia! The family must have been relatively well off there because torah scrolls were not inexpensive to say the least. He was disappointed to find out that Negaunee did not have a kosher butcher or synagogue. He went down to Chicago and learned how to kasher meat so he could provide it for his family. He built a mikveh (a ritual bath) in the basement of his house for the women of his family to observe traditional cleanliness rituals and organized the few Jewish families in the town so they could have regular minyans. Minyans needed 10 Jewish men at a minimum, but he managed to get enough men together to have regular services in his home. He also provided housing and food to traveling Hebrew teachers so his children and other local Jewish children could get a Hebrew education. One of those teachers was Moshe Menuhin, the father of the famous violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, probably in the 1920s.

Many years later a rabbi, perhaps in Detroit or Toledo, used the story of my great-grandfather and his efforts to establish Jewish life in a small Upper Peninsula town in his sermons. Again, I do not know his name. The two torah scrolls were later given to synagogues, but I'm not sure which ones. I suspect they may have gone to a synagogue in Toledo since most of the family later moved there.

Here is a photograph of one of the houses they lived in while in Negaunee.

It's faded and the people are difficult to see but they have been identified as: Sarah Schwartzberg Stephens Mozen, Harris J. Schwartzberg, Sophie Feldman Schwartzberg, Bess Schwartzberg Sabel, William Howard (Husky) Schwartzberg, Ralph M. Schwartzberg, and Frances Schwartzberg Rose (the other children Sam Swartzberg and Rose Schwartzberg Eichner are not in this picture). Since my Grandpa Ralph looks about 3 or 4 years old and he was born in 1906, this picture was probably taken about 1910. At that point the Schwartzbergs were living at 526 Jackson Street in Negaunee.

In a future blog, I will tell about life in Negaunee.


  1. Very interesting post. I enjoyed reading it. It is a shame you can't hang the stunning passport instead of it being in the closet. There is glass that provides UV protection. Perhaps you can take the document to a professional framer and have the glass switched out and your document can be hung back up!

  2. Here is Hugh giving a scholarly explanation of the name stvi Yehuda