Stiefel Family History


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Compiled by
Sylvia Walowitz Updated  July 2012 *
Copyright © 2012  Sylvia Walowitz
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According to the oral family history related by Israel Stiefel to his son Jay Robert Stiefel, the Stiefels had lived in Poketilov for many generations. The earliest surviving family photos, shown below, are of Asher Stiefel (taken in Odessa) and his wife Brindele (taken in Uman). They lived in Poketilov and sired a large family, including the
three sons Jacob, Michael and Abraham who emigrated together to America in 1887. Another son Hyman emigrated later as did other family members. (Thus, none succumbed to the Holocaust as all had long since either died or emigrated.)

Michael, in his history of the family further described below, mentions his grandfather Nissan as contributing the money for their journey. From other notes received from Israel Stiefel (son of Jacob), it appears that the line preceded back approximately as follows: Asher, Nissan, Samuel, and Eliezer. Sometime prior to Eliezer
there was a forebear named Guraryeh ("lion cub" in Hebrew) who was purportedly killed in 1648 by Boghdan Chelmilniski, the Cossack hetman.

A note about the family name: In modern German, the word "Stiefel" means "boot." Its medieval German equivalent was "Stievel" which is pronounced "STEEVel" as this family did while in Russia. Like the modern Italian word "stivale" both are derived from the medieval Latin "aestivale," meaning summer footwear. The latter comes from the Latin word for summer: "aestas." Notwithstanding the name, there is nothing in the oral or written tradition of the family to indicate that they were in the boot trade.

The Stiefel family papers, apart from those remaining in private hands, are archived at two Philadelphia institutions., the University of Pennsylvania and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The papers of Jacob's surviving son, Israel Stiefel, are in the Department of Special Collections at the Libraries of the University of Pennsylvania. Israel Stiefel (1898, Odessa-1966, Tel Aviv), was a seven-term senator in the Pennsylvania General Assembly (1937-1964). His bequests created the Stiefel Forest in Jerusalem and the Stiefel Laboratory (for preserving cuneiform tablets) at the Penn Museum. For further information about him, see The Pennsylvania Manuals during his terms of office.

Papers relating principally to Michael's branch of the family are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. They are described, as follows:

"Stiefel family papers, ca. 1920-2007 (Accession 2008.001), 1.9 linear feet
Creator: Stiefel family
Asher Shtevel/Stiebel and his wife, Brindele, lived in Poketilov, Russia (now part of the Ukraine) in the nineteenth century. Three of their sons came to Philadelphia in 1887: Abraham, Jacob, and Michael (1871-1954), who were followed by other brothers, including Hyman (1860-1927). Sometime after 1887, the American branch of the family started using the name Stiefel.
In 1903, members of the Stiefel family set up a movie theater in Philadelphia, the Fairyland on Market Street. In the following years, they opened other theaters in Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and in Baltimore, New York, Washington DC, and California. The Stiefels were also in the film distribution business and produced live shows and at least one film. Theaters run by the Stiefels, notably the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia and the Howard Theatre in Washington, were part of the so-called "Chitlin Circuit" and gave starts to many black entertainers whose music later appealed to a wider audience.
The collection includes materials related to several members of the Stiefel family, including Abraham, Hyman, Michael, Abraham's sons Samuel H. (1897-1958) and Nathan, and Samuel's son Bernard M. (1937-2007). In additional to materials pertaining to their various theaters and other work in the entertainment business, there are also materials related to the Queen Village Neighbors Association, of which Bernard Stiefel was executive director in the early 1990s. The collection includes photographs, clippings, scrapbooks, correspondence, programs, press and printed materials, correspondence, notes, receipts, Internet printouts, and other items."

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania also has a copy of The History of the Stiefel Family authored by Michael Stiefel. The first chapter relates the family's life in Poketilov and the journey to America in 1887 by him and two of his brothers, Abraham (father to Samuel H., Nathan, and Alexander Grover Stiefel) and Jacob Stiefel (father of Israel Stiefel and Asher Stiefel II).

Michael's original Yiddish transcript of the history was prepared in 1939, translated in December 1968 by Morris Golomb of Los Angeles, and privately printed for distribution to the family. VIEW A PDF of the beginning pages of the FIRST CHAPTER (Seven page 2MB PDF will open in a new browser window or tab)

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Wedding portrait, c. 1903, of a Stiefel daughter with her parents Asher and Brindele Stiefel (lower left) and their son Jacob (upper right) above his wife Ethel and son Israel (on tricycle).



Jacob Stiefel of Poketilov outside his dacha on the Dnieper River at nearby Sosnovsk in Cherkasy, in 1913.


Jacob and Ethel Stiefel arriving safely in Jaffa with their daughter Rosa, in 1921, after escaping Russia.


Through the generosity of his brothers in America, Jacob Stiefel was able to re-establish himself and his family in Tel Aviv. His new villa, designed and built by Tel Aviv's leading architect, Yehuda Magidovitch (in the light suit), was constructed in 1922-23 on Levinsky Street, the site of the present-day Spice Market. Jacob (in the tie) and his son Israel (in dark clothes) stand either side of the architect.


Jacob Stiefel sitting on the porch of his villa on Levinsky Street, in Tel Aviv, c. 1923.


Asher Stiebel.

Asher Stiebel (taken in Odessa).
They lived in Pokotilov and had a large family, including the three sons
Jacob, Michael and Abraham who emigrated to America in 1887


Asher and Brindele Stiebel.

Asher Stiebe's wife Brindele (taken in Uman).
They lived in Pokotilov and had a large family, including the three sons
Jacob, Michael and Abraham who emigrated to America in 1887



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