Roots-Key Newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles Spring 2005. Editor Nancy Holden



The Interlocking Melbourne Russians


by Chaim Freedman and Julie Ruth



What follows is a series of letters between Chaim Freedman and his cousin Mel Comisarow in Canada and Chaim and Julie Ruth and Julie’s mother, Tess Schwarz in Australia. Julie Roth lives in Melbourne, and is planning an emotional trip to trace her roots in family shtetls they share. The background for this family history is the migration of Jews from towns in Yekaterinoslav, Ukraine to Melbourne from 1883-1927.



Dear Mel (from Chaim)


“You may recall that I gave a lecture at the 1993 Melbourne Reunion on “Migration Chains.” I pointed out that many Melbourne families had immigrated starting with Moshe Rabinov (Yovel) in 1883. The period ended about 1927 when the last of the former Russian Jews arrived, Stalin having closed the “Iron Door.”


“Whilst I was aware of some of the relevant families, I had not conducted research to any significant degree other than on our relatives of the Komisaruk (Komesaroff), Zmood, Grinblat, Pogorelske and Yovel families.


“About ten years ago I became acquainted with Aubrey Schwarz who was then living in Israel. He has since returned to Melbourne. We shared some genealogical interests since his mother was of the Hain family, which was connected to many of the Russian Jews who originated in “our region” (Yekaterinoslav). He had prepared rough family trees of interlocking connections of these families.


“I was told by my mother and brother that my late grandfather, Zalmen Komesaroff, had been largely responsible for the initial integration of some families into the business world in the mid to late 1920s. In particular, when the Smorgons asked for advice about livelihood prospects he told them to continue their Russian occupation of butchery. The Smorgons were amongst the first to open Kosher butcher shops in Melbourne. Previously Kosher meat was sold under rabbinical supervision at non-Kosher shops, in separate refrigerators and only on certain days. Jane’s grandfather, Rabbi Yitskhak Yaakov Super, was brought to Australia in 1914 “to put things in order”.


“Melbourne families from Russia connected by marriage are Batagol, Hain, Jacobson, Smorgon, Pahoff, Mahemofff, Yovel (Joel), Pogorelsky, Komesaroff, Zmood, Chanin, Glebov Schlemovitch, Gordon, Novic, Orlov,

Sacks, Fetter and others. They lived in several of the Jewish and German agricultural colonies and adjacent villages and towns in Yekaterinoslav Guberniya: Heidelberg, Tokmak, Orekhov, Halbstadt (Molochansk), Blumenthal, Vernersdorf, Gulyaipolye, Grishino, Yekaterinoslav (Dnepopetrovsk), Chernigovka, Melitopol. Berdyansk, Andreyevka, Mariupol, Yuzovka (Donetsk), Grafskoy (Proletarsky), Mezeritch (“Ferter Numer”), Nadezhnaya (“Der Vilner”), Kobilnya/Sladkovodnaya, Nechaevka (“Peness,” Tsarakonstantinovka (Kubishevo), Khlebodarovka, Marenfeld (Marinopol), and others.”


Dear Chaim (from Julie Roth)


“Greetings from Melbourne! This is Julie Ruth writing to you. I am Tess Schwarz’s daughter and Aubrey’s sister. Both send you warm regards, as do I.

“So that you know something about me, I am forty-nine and currently work as the Executive Officer of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC). I’ve been a Jewish community activist for many years.


“I believe you have a copy of my Mum’s book: The First of Forty Families. I have read and kept copies of the terrific letter you sent my Mum in Aug 2003 and all the documents and maps.


“The reason for my email today may surprise you. I am planning to go to the Ukraine in May to honor and trace my grandparents’ journey from Russia to Australia 1925-26. I wish to do this on the 80th Anniversary of their departure. I am, of course, referring to Chaya and David Hain formerly Chaya Jacobson (Yakobson/Yakubzohn) and David Chayin, who left Russia about June 1925 and arrived in Melbourne in January 1926.


1. I am trying to find the exact location of their shtetl (Chaya’s birthplace) and of Heidelberg, one of the German colonies, about 30 kilometers from Tokmak, Colony No. 17. Even though I know the whole area was collectivizedand became industrial, is there any hope of finding the location or another town on its site??? I really want to go to the surrounding district on this trip.


2. I would also like to find and visit the location of my Zeder, David Hain’s shtetl birthplace: Colony No. 4: “Majorich” or “Megereth” which my Mum says (in her book, page 13) was 12 versts (kilometers) from Mariupol.


3. I then want to trace their journey to Tokmak, Mariupol (Nicolayoska Street) and then Odessa. I may consider visiting Donetsk or Zaporoje and surrounding areas. I want to ask you for any information or contacts you have in these places that could connect with my family.


4. I am looking for a reliable Jewish agency or person, with experience in Jewish roots and shtetls, to provide a trustworthy Jewish Russian/Ukrainian interpreter and guide and driver and car, for a few days up to a week, probably 11-18 May from Odessa and return.


 “I feel strongly that I want to walk the streets at these locations and drive through the area to connect with where they lived and to trace their journey from birth to departure.


 “The reason for the urgency of my questions is that I am combining this trip with a special 8 day tour of Poland called Adult March of the Living which includes the special Yom Hashoah ceremony March of the Living at Auschwitz on 5 May. The Australian group tour runs from 3-11 May from Krakow to Warsaw. I intend to continue on to Ukraine on 11 May when the group flies to Israel. I have to make a lot of big decisions regarding this trip in the next few weeks. Apart from all the historical, logistic, practical and language problems, there is also Ukrainian crime, corruption and the usual chaos to consider although the Second Election seems to have calmed things down! I would greatly appreciate any help you could give me with any of the above queries or any useful information or contacts you could give me. Thank you for any information or encouragement you can give. With warmest good wishes. Shabbat shalom and cheers.“



Dear Julie (from Chaim)


“Your proposed pilgrimage sounds very exciting. I personally am not familiar with the practicalities of travel in the Ukraine. I will forward your letter to two people who have traveled there and visited the places of common interest. In particular my cousin in Canada, Mel Comisarow, made two visits to the colonies and adjacent towns. A few months ago, Michael Ronn of New York made a visit to Mezeritch, the home colony of his family and the Hains. With my letter to your mother I sent maps giving the positions of Mezeritch and Heidelberg.


“This is what I wrote to your mother:


Dear Tess (Schwarz),


“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book The First Forty Families I really enjoyed reading it as I either knew or had heard of so many of the characters. It is really a valuable contribution to local Melbourne Jewish history.


“I am enclosing two maps which will orient the towns more correctly. Heidleburg was one of the many German colonies which you will see on the German map. The other map shows all the Jewish colonies. Mezeritch, the Hain’s colony is nearer to Gulyai Polye than Mariupol. Note that the Pahoff family came from colony Nadezhnaya which was known to the Jews by a nickname “Der Vilner” because many of the families came from Vilna Guberniya, not necessarily the town of Vilna.


“In 1994 I gave a lecture in Melbourne to a reunion of the Komesaroff, Zmood, Joel families. The subject was “Immigration Chains.” The chain started with Moshe Rabinov who fled the army in Russia and arrived in Melbourne in 1886 according to his naturalization documents, although one of the Rabinovs told me it was 1883. His surname was originally Yovel (changed to Joel in Melbourne). He chose Melbourne simply because that was where the first available ship or ships led him.


“The Yovel family came from somewhere in Lithuania, but nobody seems to know where and I have yet to find the relevant records. They settled in the mid-nineteenth century in the village Andreyevka, north of Berdyansk. Many Yovels, Zmoods and Komesaroffs were born there, including my grandmother in 1887. About 1903 some moved to Berdyansk (where my mother was born in 1909).


“Moshe Rabinov (1862-1954) was the youngest son of Tsvi Hersh Yovel (c.1820-1885) who made a trip to Eretz Yisrael in 1868. This kindled the yearning for Tzion in his family and his eldest son, Avraham Mordekhai Yovel (18461924), made seven trips before settling in Zichron Yaakov in 1905. He spent some time on Cyprus on the Baron de Hirsh farm, Margo, (as did his nephews the Zmoods and Myer Pahoff). Then he returned and lived out his days in Hadera. Another brother of Moshe Rabinov was Zev Woolf (1858-1931) who settled in TelAviv in 1922. From Avraham and Zev are descended all the Joels in Melbourne with the exception of Myer Joel. He was a son of Moshe’s cousin, Yehuda Leib Yovel, who lived in Tokmak. There are still a number of Yovels in Israel.


“Avraham, Zev and Moshe had a sister Rokhel who married her first cousin Moshe Zmood (1853-1916). From them are descended all the Melbourne Zmoods. Moshe and his family came to Tel Aviv in 1907 but Rokhel died within a few weeks (she is buried in the Trumpeldor cemetery in Tel Aviv) so Moshe Zmood and some of his children returned to Berdyansk, Russia. His sons, David and Harry, spent some time on Cyprus and they followed their uncle, Moshe Rabinov, to Melbourne about 1907. I don’t know when exactly Myer Joel arrived but it must have been about the same time since you say Myer Pahoff followed him in 1910. “If you want the full Joel details you can get them from David Rabinov who has the tree I prepared. Much is based on information I received from the Israeli Yovels.


“Now it starts to get even more complicated:

My grandmother Khana-Reizel Komesaroff (18871955) was the daughter of Meir Komisaruk (1858-1907) and Tybel Zmood (c.1860-1907). My grandfather Shlomo-Zalmen Komesaroff (1886-1958) was the son of his wife’s uncle Menakhem Mendel Komisaruk (1864-1919) and Beila-Reeva Pogorelske (1865-1935). Tybel Zmood was a sister of the above Moshe Zmood (married to Rokhel Yovel). Their parents were Koppel Zmood and Deverah Yovel. Deverah was a sister to Tsvi Hersh Yovel, father of Avraham Yovel, Zev Yovel, Moshe Rabinov, Rokhel Zmood.


“Now the chain continues. In 1912 David Zmood, my grandmother’s first cousin, living in Melbourne, asked to marry my grandmother’s sister Tsipora (Cecilia) (later Nathan). She came to Melbourne in 1912 accompanied by her brother Shlomo Zalmen (Alter) Komesaroff who lived in Carlton and who you mention in your book. His daughter Tess Green and my mother Tessie Freedman (Komesaroff) and Tybel Nathan were named after their grandmother, Tybel Komesaroff, nee Zmood.


‘A year later, in 1913 my grandparents and my grandmother’s brother, Louis Komesaroff, and Peter Komesaroff joined the family in Australia. All my grandmother’s siblings lived with my grandparents in Russia when their parents died young. My grandfather left Russia because of the army. In 1914 he was joined by his brother, Yaakov-Leib, who changed his name to Mendelson. Then the Revolution left my grandfather’s parents and the rest of his siblings trapped in Russia until 1922 when those that were still alive came to Melbourne.


“So you see the Pahoff sponsored 40 families who were the continuation of the chain which started in the 1880s. I have left out the Grinblats who were related to the Zmoods and Komisaruks, left Russia about 1884, lived in Jerusalem until three brothers came to Ballarat in 1892. Their descendants then married several Zmoods and Goldenberg, which connects with Crafti and Meerkin.


“The Pogorelskys were related to the Batagols aside from the two marriages you mention. My greatgrandmother Beila-Reeva Komesaroff had a brother Avrom-Sholem Pogorelsky. He was the father of Mosei and Feivel who married Sonya and Fanya Batagol. But Avrom Pogorelsky’s wife was Simkha-Hinda Gordon, a sister to Paya-Reeva who married Feivel Batagol and were the parents of Sonya and Fanya Pogorelsky. There was a further cousin intermarriage as my great-grandmother, Beila-Reeva, and her brother, Avrom Sholem Pogorelsky, were children of Velvel Pogorelsky and Khaya-Reeva Gordon whose brother, Moshe, was the father of Simkha Hinda (wife of Avrom Pogorelsky), Paya-Reeva (wife of Feival Batagol). In addition there was a third Gordon sibling, Yitskhak, who married his first cousin, Khana Pogorelsky, and among their children in Melbourne were Manya Chanin and Fanny Shnookal.


“Another connection on my father’s side: My paternal grandmother Khaya-Reeva (Annie) Freedman 1885-1967, was a granddaughter of Moshe Jacoby (1832-1915) whose family came from Libau (Liepaya) in Latvia, Moshe had a sister Beila Bramson who immigrated to Dunfermline in Scotland. Her daughter Sophie Bernstein was the mother of Rae Joel (Louis’s wife) and Annie, Eric Smorgon’s wife. Louis and Rae Joel were very friendly with my parents from both sides. In fact Louis wrote me several letters about his family. He was born in 1901 in Tokmak. His father died before Louis was born so Louis was named Yehuda Leib after him. Louis’s mother was Myer Joel’s sister, so Louis, although adopted, was a blood relation.


“Now some new material for you: A cousin from Canada has visited the Ukraine twice and found much of interest in “our towns.” He also brought back archival material from the archives in Odessa and Zaporozhe. Included were voting lists for the election of mayors on the Jewish colonies. In 1869 in Nadezhnaya (Der Vilner) appears Shmuel Pakhov. Note that only the head of each family was entitled to vote.


“Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names database went on line for a trial two-week period. In that time I downloaded, sadly, several hundred witness accounts for relatives. One of the Komisaruks listed a number of his relatives and neighbors in Mariupol. Included was Izrael Khein, born about 1918, son of Anisim and Bela. He served in the army and was captured by the Germans. He escaped and was caught and killed in 1941 by the Gestapo. His mother Bela was the daughter of Grigory (maybe Hirsh); she was born about 1890 and lived in Mariupol, where she was killed in the Agrobaza massacre October 1941.


“Now what is of interest is that my relative, David (called himself Daniil) Komisaruk describes his relationship to Izrael as dvoryudeni dyadya. Now dvoryudeni brat means cousin. Dyadya means uncle, but what the strange combination means, I don’t know. Regarding Bela, the relationship is stated as dvoryudeni brat, cousin. Do you know how you are related to Izrael Khein?


“I have put much of my material on a special site on the Internet. The site is called “Jewish Agricultural Colonies in the Ukraine.” It includes historical and familial material, original documents and many photos (most are mine). I felt this was a good way of perpetuating the wealth of material I have collected, rather than leaving it to rot one day in my cupboards. The presence of the site also flushed out a relative from Russia whose branch of the family we thought had perished in the Holocaust. His father and grandfather’s memoirs are on the site.


“I think that about does it. I hope I haven’t confused you with all the complex relationships.”


All the best

Chaim Freedman


For other information about Ukraine archives and travel contact
Mel Comisarow


Dr Julie Ruth


For information about The First Forty Families contact

Tess Schwarz


For pictures