A Reznikova mystery.

Grandma Lillian’s mother Clara was a Reznikov, or Reznikova, the female version of the name. We know she came from Elisavetgrad, which was renamed Kirovograd in 1939. Clara was born about 1894, and had a much older brother named David Reznikov who was born around 1872. She also had a sister whose name we do not know, and possibly a brother named Rubin, who may have traveled to South America and was killed in a May Day parade — or so the story goes. We do not know if this is true.

Clara’s sister had four children. We think this sister (whose name could have been Minnie) died of tuberculosis in Russia. Her husband brought the four children to New York to live, where he apparently remarried and had another child. If I could find out her first name or better yet her married name, that would open up a whole new limb to the family tree, as I might be able to trace her four children: Morrie, Gertrude, Helen and Joey. Gertrude married and she and her husband went back to Russia in the 1930s for political reasons; my grandma assumes they were killed. I have a series of photographs from 1928 when Clara and at least three of her children, including my grandma Lillian, went to visit these nieces and nephews before visiting her other nephew in Rochester. This nephew was Jack Ross, the son of David Reznikov, who changed his name to Ross when he arrived in Canada. More on them soon.

There is some hint that perhaps Clara’s sister’s married name was Drubachevsky but I have never been able to trace this and do not even know where this came from. It’s my hope that one day, I will be able to find out their last name and trace the descendants of Morrie, Gertrude, Helen and Joey.

What I do have is an incredible photograph of Clara’s sister and mother along with the children. I see the family resemblance strongly in both Clara and Clara’s mother, whose bone structure is similar to mine.

Reznikova Sister + Mom
Clara Reznikova’s mother, sister and sister’s children, probably Elisavetgrad, during the nineteen-teens

 

Here are the photographs from 1928 of Clara visiting her sister’s children in New York. Do you recognize these faces?

Reznikov descendants, 1928, New York
Clara Reznikova Brodsky with her sister’s children, New York, 1928. From left: George Brodsky, Morris (last name unknown), Clara, Helen (last name unknown), Gertrude (last name unknown). Seated: Anna Brodsky, Joseph (last name unknown), Lillian (Leah) Brodsky.

 

Note: In writing this post, I have discovered that just last year, Kirovograd became Kropyvnytskyi. According to Wikipedia, Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko signed a bill “banning Communist symbols on May 15, 2015, which required places associated with communism to be renamed within a six-month period. On 25 October 2015 (during local elections) 76.6% of the Kirovohrad voters voted for renaming the city to Yelisavetgrad. A draft law currently before the Ukrainian parliament would prohibit any names associated with Russian history since the 14th century, which would make the name Yelisavetgrad inadmissible as well. A committee of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) chose the name Inhulsk on 23 December 2015. This name is a reference to the nearby Inhul river. On 31 March 2016 the State Construction, Regional Policy and Local Self-Government committee of the Verkhovna Rada recommends to parliament to rename Kirovohrad to Kropyvnytskyi. This name is a reference to writer, actor and playwright Mark Kropyvnytskyi, who was born near the city. On 14 July 2016, the name of the city was finally changed to Kropyvnytskyi.”

Rose of Kalinovka, Rose of Chicago.

Mysterious, dark-eyed, great-grandma Rose, the much beloved mother of my grandpa Hy.

Of my four great-grandmothers, I probably know least about Rose. She died in 1950, when my own mother was only four years old, and the stories faded with time. Here is what I know: She loved to sing, as did my grandpa and his brother Art. I even have a fuzzy recording of her singing in Yiddish. She was born around 1892 in Russia and arrived in Chicago about 1911, likely in the footsteps of her older brother Harry Sherman, who opened a successful car dealership in Chicago. There are stories too of a brother who traveled to South America and was killed in a May Day parade.

Here is what I think I know: Her maiden name was Sherman, or Sheefman. Her father was named Ari Lieb, but perhaps his name was Pireus Sheefman — the father’s name listed on her half-sister Leah’s death certificate. Leah’s grandson Gordon, who is nearly 90, told me the family name was Sheefman, and that Rose’s mother was named Casha. She was the second wife, after Leah’s mother  whose last name was Shactman passed away. Sheefman, Shactman, and then Sherman.

Gordon told me that Rose and her family were from Kalinoka, a shtetl near Kiev. My great-uncle Art had told me that Rose was from Zhitomir. This is where it gets a bit confusing, as Zhitomir is both a town and an oblast (or province). I have been unable to locate a town called Kalinoka, but I have been able to find a town about halfway between Zhitomir and Kiev called Kalinovka, also called Kalynivka. JewishGen has a series of websites called KehilaLinks (“kehila” is another word for “shtetl”) and I was able to find quite a bit of information about Kalinovka, even if I can’t exactly locate it on a map. Gordon traveled to Kiev a handful of years ago and drove through Kalinoka/Kalinovka.

But here is the very disheartening news:

After all these years of not knowing exactly where we are from, I’ve been handed the key to finding out what became of our relativesand it is not happy news. In the summer of 1941, the entire Jewish population of Kalinovka was murdered by German Nazis and buried in a mass grave.

Apparently there were some Jews who left Kalinovka for Tashkent in early 1941. According to one witness:

“All the Jews were killed in a mass grave, except one young woman who survived. She was buried under the dead bodies of fallen victims. Miraculously she stayed alive. Naked she ran to the nearest house where she was sheltered by a local Ukrainian family. She was somewhere between 15 and 20 years old. She managed to survive Nazi occupation hiding in a Ukrainian home till the end of the war.”

Yad Vashem lists the names of Kalinovka residents who were killedI do not see any Shermans or Sheefmans, or any Gelfonds (Leah’s husband’s family), so it’s possible that our entire family was able to leave, and that Rose’s parents had died prior to the second world war. Let us hope that is the case.

Back to Chicago: Rose must have married Jacob Foreman in 1912, shortly after she arrived in Chicagobut we don’t know how they met. Their first son, Morris, was born in May 1913, and their second, grandpa Hy, was born in April 1915. Jacob worked as an automobile glazer in the Ford factory and became ill with “black lung”; a doctor told him if he continued to work there, he would die. But the family was poor and Jacob kept on working until he died in 1922, when their third son was only seven months old.

Rose was forced to put her two older sons, including my grandpa, into an orphanage for a time. I wish I knew more about this time in my grandfather’s life, but I never asked him explicit details. At age 7, he was on the streets of Chicago selling newspapers. He never breathed a word of discontent against his mother for having to put him into an orphanage. He loved her fiercely and protectively, and was heartbroken when she died in her sixties from cancer.
Rose remarried Max Lomonosoff in 1936, who was known affectionately in the family as Grandpa Nuss. After the war, they moved to California with the entire extended Brodsky-Foreman clan and settled in Los Angeles. Today they are buried in the Hollywood Forever cemetery. She would be tickled to know she is sharing real estate with Marilyn Monroe and Rudolph Valentino.

Schandel Finkle.

This is my maternal great-great grandma in Russia around the turn of the last century. She carries her history in the lines of her mouth. I’ve seen my own mother make this exact face.

If you look closely, you can tell her pupil has been inked over; in the one other photograph I have of her, it looks like she may have lost an eye completely.

Ida Schoendel Brodsky

Her son Abraham Lazar Brodsky was the father of grandma Lillian. We are not absolutely certain of her name, but the death certificate for her daughter, who died in Chicago in 1981, lists her mother as “Schandel Finkle.” My grandma Lillian once said she thought her name was Ida Schoendel. We believe she lived in Kirovohrad (Elizavetgrad) which is whence my great-grandparents came when they left for Canada around 1911. Her husband was Lazar Brodsky and they had at least three children — Abraham Brodsky, Miriam (Mary) Brodsky (Lord) and Lillian Brodsky (Rubin). I imagine she was born some time between the late 1850s and early 1870s, as my great-grandfather was born in 1887. 

Abe traveled first to Canada where Clara joined him. After their children were born, they moved to Dayton, Ohio, where his sister Lillian had married a Rubin man. Both families eventually moved to Chicago, along with sister Mary who — legend has it — divorced her Russian-Jewish husband and married an Italian gangster, last name Lord.

I do not know if they wrote to their mother, or if their mother would have been able to read their letters. I do not know when she was born or when or how she died. I do not know if she survived the pogroms or if she lost an eye in an attack by the cossacks. I can only think how incredulous she would be to see her descendants alive and lucky, a century after this photo was taken.

My grandma, the human computer.

In the 1960s, grassroots organizations across the United States began to form as a result of the hideous treatment of Jews by the Soviet Union. My grandmother was no stranger to Russian mistreatment of Jews: her parents had fled Russia in the first decade of the century as victims of pogroms. Her mother Clara suffered from undiagnosed PTSD her entire adult life after witnessing brutal murders in their shtetl.

When her closest friends Selma and Hal Light and Rose and Ed Tamler began the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews in 1967, my grandma was fully on board. She devised a magnificent filing system documenting thousands of Refuseniks and held names and faces in her head. The note at the American Jewish Historical Society (where my grandma’s papers are archived) reads: her system “became a resource for BACSJ and other Soviet Jewry organizations in the United States. Foreman helped connect Jewish families in the US and USSR with special projects such as Adopt-A-Family and Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning. She visited the Soviet Union in the 1970s and met with many Refuseniks and Prisoners of Conscience, including Ida Nudel and Leonid Slepak.”

Hal died tragically in 1974, but the BACSJ continued to thrive. Often overlooked by historians is the enormous impact of women driving this movement. During Natan Sharansky’s prison interrogation, the KGB itself derided the American Soviet Jewry movement for being mere “students and housewives.” But what power these students and housewives held! In the Bay Area, my grandma Lillian Foreman and her dear friends Regina Waldman, Rose Tamler (nearly 100 years old as I write this), Natasha Kats and many more, led this oft-forgotten revolution.

In the 1980s, my grandma became president of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews. She traveled to the Soviet Union multiple times, smuggling in goods that could be sold on the black market to raise money for Jews and other Refuseniks to escape the oppressive USSR. The KGB had a file on her. She put her life on the line to save strangers. My grandma’s integrity, empathy and courage inspire me every day.