Amdur was the hometown of the Eisens. Moshe Eisen and his first wife had three children, Anna, Izzie (a nickname for Israel) and my grandfather, Hyman (Chaim in Hebrew). Moshe's wife died giving birth to my grandfather. Four more children were born with a second wife: Dora, Louis, Abe (Abraham), and Yankel (a Yiddish name for the Hebrew Ya'akov -- Jacob). The information I have on the two wives is tentative. Moshe died in Europe prior to 1908. His first wife clearly died in Europe; I'm not certain of the second. All of the children emigrated to the United States in the early 1900's except Yankel, who was disabled. We believe that he married and had three daughters, and we assume that all perished at the hands of the nazis, though their specific fates cannot be confirmed.
Amdur was, and is, a quaint little village in eastern Europe. The Jews called it Amdur. The Christians call it Indura. Neither the Jews nor the Christians seemed to know what either word means. The nazis killed off the town's Jews, and none live there now. So the town is called Indura by today's residents. But I'll still call it Amdur.
Amdur is located in present day Belarus, an independent country formerly part of the Soviet Union (62 km. NE of Bialystok; 5327'/2353'). It is about 25 miles south of the larger city of Grodno or Hrodno. The area was called "Grodno Guvernia," which means "Grodno Region," as there were numerous other "guvernias." Today the area is referred to as the "Grodno Oblast," which also means the Grodno region. Grodno and Amdur are in the northwestern corner of Belarus, very close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania.
We do not know when the Eisen roots were first established in Amdur. Jews have lived in the town from before the mid-1500's.
A census taken in 1897 reported 2,194 people in Amdur, 82% of them Jewish. Notwithstanding the emigration of large numbers of Jews in the late 1800's and early 1900's, there was a significant Jewish population in Amdur at the beginning of World War II. The figures I've seen in different places conflict; a representative from Amdur told us that 3,000 Jews and 1,500 Christians lived in Amdur when the war began. Nearly all of the Jews were murdered by the nazis.
After the war, one Jew, who survived by being away in the Red Army when the nazis came to Amdur, returned to live out his remaining years in the town. He died in 1998. No Jews live in Amdur now. There are about 2,000 Christian residents today.
Jewish life in Amdur in the 1700's and 1800's was spiritually rich; the Jewish population far outnumbered the gentile population. Pogroms didn't occur in or near Amdur. But at the time the Eisens emigrated, many Jews were plagued by poverty, news of pogroms in nearby Ukraine, news of violence associated with the growing communist movement throughout the Russian empire, and hardships, including lengthy army service, imposed by the czar. Additionally, hundreds of years of shtetl life had rendered it culturally stagnant and confining to many of its residents. Life promised to be better in America.
About four years ago, I discovered in a book about Jewish genealogy (From Generation to Generation, by Arthur Kurzweil) that a book had been written decades ago about Amdur. I was so very interested in learning about our family's history in Europe, but how would I get a copy of this book? I assumed that one day, I'd be able to trace down information on the Internet. But not yet.
Sure enough, some two years later, through the Internet, I was able not only to track down a copy of the Yiddish book, Amdur, Mayn Geboyrn-Shtetl (Amdur, my Birth-Shtetl) by Iedidio Efron, but also came across two partial English translations of that book, which I've combined and included in this booklet. And hence my research began, ultimately leading me to information about the birth towns of all four of my grandparents (primarily through the JewishGen.org website) and culminating to my trip to all of those towns in July of 2000 with my brother.
Amdur was the first of the four small villages that Alan and I visited. I was surprised to find that rural life for Christian peasants in eastern Europe has changed little in the 100 years since my grandfather left. Amdur surely looks much as it did then. It is not hard to picture pious Jewish men on their way to shul on the streets of Amdur, a bustling market day on Tuesdays in Amdur, mothers busy cleaning and preparing the Sabbath meal. While one cannot help but be saddened by the loss of a culture extinguished by Hitler, visible now only through fading Hebrew letters on tombstones, one can also not help but marvel at renewed Jewish life in the larger cities of eastern Europe today and wonder what the future will hold for today's eastern European Jews.
Along with the everlasting question of why so many millions of Jews had to be murdered by the nazis in World War II comes the question of how it came to be that so many millions of Jews were, conversely, fortunate enough to leave these cursed lands in the decades preceding that war. There was, throughout our trip to these pretty and interesting places, an overwhelming sense of gratitude to our grandparents for having had the courage to leave.
My grandfather married Betty Barrison in New York nearly a dozen years after he came to America. Betty had spent her childhood in small village called Lunna. Lunna is located within a very short distance from Amdur. While we don't believe that the two knew one another in Europe, it's hard to imagine that their meeting and marrying in New York was a complete coincidence. In all likelihood, friends or relatives from Amdur and Lunna who knew each other in "the old country" and remained close in America introduced the two.
Because my grandparents were from the same area of eastern Europe, the materials I prepared about my grandfather's roots duplicate, to a large extent, the materials I prepared about my grandmother's roots. So to most of you, who are related on both sides, I apologize for the duplication. I've repeated much of the material for the benefit of those of you (mostly not related) who only have connections to Amdur and not to Lunna.