FAMILY HISTORY AND GENEALOGY
[recorded in 1972]
Many times I have been asked by some of my children and grandchildren as well as the children and grandchildren of my sisters as to the background of our family and our genealogy. While I cannot be precise about every detail, I feel that I have enough information to record sufficient knowledge about this. I have already recorded on another record the background as much as I knew on my father's family, which isn't much but very interesting. I can only add to the information contained in that, that my cousin Zalman Horwitz tells me that when he was in the Soviet Union years ago, he happened to run into a cousin of his or ours, a descendant of a grandson of my grandfather Abraham Leib Holland. He apparently lives in Harchov and has children. So he is one of the many parts of our family who undoubtedly are in the Soviet Union in many parts and even not necessarily under the name of Holland.
Now to come back to my mother's family: She had one sister and four brothers. The oldest brother was Chaim Dovit married to Yetta. And he was living in Lutzin all his life and he was killed together with his wife by the Nazis during the Holocaust. He left his daughter Roza Schattenstein who has been living in Israel for the last 40 years or so.
The next brother was Yudel or Julius. He left for South Africa in the 1890's and returned to Lutzin for a couple of years during the Boer War and then again returned back to South Africa. He had several children. My mother had been corresponding with him for a number of years until all connections were cut off during the first world war and we have never heard from him since.
The next brother was Itzel or Itzak. He came to Canada after the First World War with the assistance of myself and Morris Ellman, where he originally settled in a Jewish colony in Alberta and later moved to Toronto. Both he and his wife died in Toronto. They were survived by Ber Lev. He had been living with us the first year or so when he arrived in the United States. I understand he has two children, both boys.
The next was Michal or Michael who lived his last years in Riga, Latvia. He was active in the Zionist community and he and his wife and his younger daughter were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. He is survived now by Gita Ariel who lives in Mosav Ben-Ammi near Nirea, Israel. She has been active in the youth aliyah, teaching the German Jewish children who were saved during the German Nazi period and she has considerable experience studying child psychology. Her sister Urka or Orga lived in the city of Dvinsk, Latvia. She was married to Piesner. They were both teachers and she and her two sons were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Now coming back to the parents and ancestry of my mother beginning with her father whose full name was Abraham Aaron Jacob although he was using the name of Jacob principally. He was born in Lutzin and his father was Mendel Leib Lev, his mother Sara Rivka Lev. I slightly remember the time when my great-grandmother passed away, but I do remember my great-grandfather Mendel Lev very well. He had moved in with my grandfather when his wife passed away and I have been assisting him in his last years in going to the synagogue where he spent all day in studying and praying. He was a very learned man. I also remember that on the eve of Jewish holidays like Rosh HaShannah or Passover and sometimes even on the eve of the Shabbath, I and other members of my family would go up to my grandfather's room so that we may be blessed by our great-grandfather.
The name of his father was Abraham, also lived in Lutzin and was married to Hadassah. Now so far as I can determine my grandfather had three brothers and five sisters. He being the oldest. Next to him was his brother Itzak or Itzel Lev who lived in Lutzin all his life and was rather well off. He had a substantial food business and owned a two story brick structure. The second story having being generally rented for the city library or tea house. His children or some of them have emigrated to the United States in the early part of the century and first lived in Chicago and then settled in Cleveland. The oldest of them was Abraham Lev and there was Max Lev and Leah Garber, the wife of Dr. Garber, and Rachel Lev married to Dr. Reubeni, and his youngest child Nochan Lev or Nathan as he called himself in the United States. All of them had children, most of them professionals, and living in various parts of the country.
Next to Uncle Itzel was Uncle Nichon or Michael who lived in the city of Sebesh, not far from Lutzin. We have not been seeing him very much and he had a number of children, two of whom, both girls emigrated to the United States about 1900, lived in Chicago, and were both asphyxiated by gas in their apartment. I also know that he had left some grandchildren who are now living in Israel.
And the youngest brother of my grandfather was Baruch who lived in Riga and was active on the Riga Board of Trade. So far as I know, he was doing very well and was known for his entertainment proclivities as he loved both what was known as the center of the foreign consulates and diplomats. I believe that he and his family were completely exterminated during the Holocaust in Riga.
The oldest sister of my grandfather Jacob was Chaya married to a Levin and they left for South Africa in the early 1890's. I never met them, but I did meet some of the children or grandchildren. One of them married to a person by the name Currie and left South Africa and lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And she also visited us in South Haven, Michigan, when we had our summer home. As a matter of fact, one of her daughters, Ethel, also married my uncle Udel Lev, her first cousin. He was a brother of my mother.
The next sister was Slova. She lived in a town near Lutzin, Valclare. Her married name was Knok. Several of her grandchildren have survived the Holocaust and are now in Israel. I believe some of them were also active in the recent movement of Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union for Israel. His name has mentioned a number of times in the newspaper in connection with his imprisonment. And was my aunt or my grandfather's sister Musa who was married to Gersudy and left for South Africa about 1905. And followed by Dova Chanin who lived in Darta and later on came to the United States. She was the mother of the Chanin brothers and their sister Leah, some of them lived in Quincy, Illinois and others in Los Angeles, California.
The youngest sister of my grandfather was Ethel. She was red-haired. Her married name was Greaskan, some of her children were involved in the Communist revolution and performed in a active capacity and others remained in Lutzin and later on in some manner saved themselves from the Hitler invasion and are now and some of the children are now in Israel. One of them, Miriam, we visited in where she lived for the last 35 years in Kibbutz Kinneret which is on Lake Kinneret.
Now we come to my mother's mother and her background. Her name was Tzerna although her full name was Tzerna Mirka Malka and her maiden name was Zeligman. She was the oldest in her family and she was the sister to Rabbi Israel Zeligman or as I have known him as the fettar(?) Israel. He spent all his life in research of the Bible, the Talmud and all commentaries and was extremely well-versed in all important books produced by the Jewish people through the ages. One of his famous books was called the Treasure of Numbers, but he had fond references to particularly all numbers as we know them in the various books of the Old Testament, Talmud, etc. His book is to be found in all the important Jewish libraries in the world and was fully praised everywhere as a useful reference book. He also wrote a genealogy which goes back two, three centuries. I have a photostatic copy of that genealogy with commentaries by one of our relatives Rabbi Ben Zion Don-Yechiya which contains within the fold of our family directly and indirectly tales of rabbis and religious authors from various parts of Europe including Western Europe. It is fully authenticated and it takes in within the fold of our family famous gaons and rabbis, including the famous rabbi Raphael haCohen known as the Gaon Hamburger who was known throughout the Jewish world and who was a friend of King Frederick of Denmark. He was also the grandfather of Gabriel Reisser who was the first Jew to be admitted to practice law in Germany, was the author of many books and the author of much legislation. I understand he was also one of the organizers of the German liberal party which in some form or another has been in operation in Germany throughout this period of time. His wife Slova was a Zeligman and her father Zelig had returned from Germany to Latvia where he established the entire Zeligman rabbinical family.
My grandmother also had a sister Dobray who lived in the city of Kraslava near Dvinsk. Her married name was Dvoretz and her son Nathan Dvoretz emigrated to the United States first to Baltimore then to Cleveland and then finally settled in Chicago where we met him and his wife and his two daughters, Sara Wertz and Florence. Sara is married to a lawyer by the name of Kahn and they live in Highland Park, Illinois.
My grandmother's father was a rabbi Chaim Dovis Zeligman who was well-known as an outstanding scholar, but he died very young, leaving his wife Feiga Peshe a widow at a very young age. She remarried to one Moses Soyer or in Hebrew he was called ____ (Shoaer) and she gave birth to one son Abraham Soyer who was a half-brother to my grandmother. He was a great scholar and teacher and one of the most intimate friends, if not the most intimate one, of my father and my mother. They were approximately about the same age. He was the father of the painters Raphael, Moses, Isaac Soyer and Fanny or Feiga Peshe Mendelssohn who was married to Dr. Mendelssohn, a curator of the Oriental department of Columbia University.
Feiga Peshe's maiden name was Tzioni and this family was particularly famous for its rabbinical members throughout many centuries and for the most important contributions they made in their books to interpretations of Jewish cultural and religious background. Through the Tzionis we have within our family the Don-Yechiya family, another old rabbinical family, whose member rabbi Eliezer Don-Yechiya had been the rabbi in the city of Lutzin for half a century and he was succeeded by his son Benzion Don-Yechiya who has written the commentaries on Israel Zeligman's genealogy. He was also a very famous rabbi and well-educated in secular as well as religious law. He was killed by the Nazis when they entered Lutzin under most horrible circumstances. They having dismembered him piece by piece. The story of this terrible murder has been published in all the world's press, Jewish and non-Jewish, referring to him as a descendant of an old Jewish Portuguese family. I met his son Shavti or Shabbatai in Israel where he is the editor of a Hebrew daily newspaper.
A daughter of Rabbi Eliezer married a first cousin, Israel Tzioni, in the 1880's and emigrated to the United States where they first lived in Chicago and then in New York City, editing various Yiddish newspapers and contributing both to non-Yiddish publications. We have always been in contact with these members of the Tzioni family. One of them lives in Washington, Raphael, and one daughter was married to Rabbi Handel and lives in Brooklyn and another brother lived in Los Angeles for a number of years where he passed away some time ago, leaving his family there.
The question of the descent of the Zeligman and Tzioni families beyond the Eastern European backgrounds has always been another of documentation and conversation of the older members of the family. In one of the books Rabbi Israel Zeligman has, is a genealogy which he brings the family back to the Abravanel family in Spain. The famous Don Isaac Abravanel was the leader of the Jewish community in Spain and in Portugal in the 15th Century at the time of the expulsion. He was a high official in the court first in Portugal and then later in Spain, but abandoned all his positions and joined the Jews who left Spain rather than be converted to Catholicism. It has been a recognized fact also that the Abravanel family were direct descendants of the House of King David and many members of the family claimed this ancestry. Of course, not having done original research in the matter and not having seen all of the documentation involved nor having spent on too much time on investigating, I would not be able to affirm or deny such premise.
There were a number of other families in Lutzin who were related in a more distant manner to the Zeligmans and the Tzionis and the Don-Yechiyas. Most of them were related to us and with others we were very close, both because of the claimed relationship and common tradition, and the identity of many cultural, religious, and business interests. One of the families was that of Naftali Jacob Levin, who was a substantial citizen of great learning and general education. He was the father of Moses or "Masol" Levin, who called himself Moses Naftali Levine. In his early days, he got involved in an indirect way in the underground revolutionary movement and was sent off by his father to the United States to avoid arrest and imprisonment. He studied agriculture in Woodbine, New Jersey, returned to Lutzin for several years, and then came back to the United States where he first studied at Lansing, Michigan, and then graduated from the University of Minnesota in agriculture as a plant pathologist. He made a very great mark in his field of science to which he devoted all his life. We have always had very close and warm relationship with his father, with him, as well as with his son. And he is one of those who had continuously insisted on his descent from the royal family of David basing himself primarily on the facts which were well-known to us.
We have been in close touch with the Zeligman family, Bernard Zeligman or as we have known him as Bellayia, the father of Israel Zeligman, as being a very close friend of the family even before he left Lutzin. When he did leave Lutzin, it was for the purpose of evading the military draft. That was on the eve of the Russian-Japanese war. We have also been very friendly with his son, Dr. Israel Zeligman, the dermatologist of Baltimore, Maryland.