Skępe, Poland

Other Names:  Skepe, Skempe (Russian, German) Schemmensee (German, 1942-45)

Location:  52º52 N 19º21' E             131 km WNW of Warszawa                 26 miles NNW of Płock            Nearby cities:  Lipno, Sierpc


Cousin Seymour

“Don’t be deceived by the idyllic setting of Skepe; there’s a reason they left.”  
Seymour Shapiro (2007) whose mother emigrated from Skepe, Poland in 1913

Passport 5

Polish Passport from the Berg Family collection                                               Photographs courtesy of Michael Smith


Mendel Burdke (various spellings) lived in Skępe with an extended family that included children, grandchildren, a brother and nieces and nephews.  Mendel was a baker and at one time was a maker of pots and his name was changed to Kotlash.

Mendel tried immigration to the United States at the turn of the century when he thought his skills as a baker might bring him success, but ultimately returned to Poland.

He traveled to New York City in 1904 aboard the SS Breslau and went to his brother, B. Brown, 42 Norfolk St., on the lower east side.

It is not known how long he remained, but according to a grandson Mendel left New York and commented on his return to Skępe that “he could not understand how people lived in a place full of huge rats”.

Mendel died before the war, but his wife Hana Rywka Burtke paid 75 zloty as a contribution for the community in 1939.  The extended Burtke family in Skępe did not survive the Holocaust.


                                   Photograph courtesy of Brown Family Album

Motel in top hat

Photograph courtesy of Shavit Family Album


Who knows or knows of the following persons? Motel Zamoskewicz, who has arrived in Israel from Uruguay, is searching for the following relatives: (1) the daughter of his sister Braina Zamoskewicz-Flusberg. Her father’s name is David Flusberg of Badauldslavy, near Hamburg. (2) Chaim Mordechai Bordko of Poland, Skepe, who arrived in Israel from North America. His father’s name is Mendel Bordko, and his mother’s name is Kaila-Hinda Bordko. (3) Rivka Groschko of Dzeromin, Poland, who is living in Israel at the home of Mr. Granet of Dzeromin. Anyone knowing details about the above individuals should immediately respond, either in writing or in person, to Motyl Zamoskiewicz, Rishon-Letzion, neighborhood of Abramowitz, housing development Bakar.

Maariv (?), April 28, 1954
Translated by Allen Flusberg

Motel in Israel

Motel in Israel
Motyl (Motel) Zamoskiewicz was the oldest of the 11 children.  His departure from Poland and immigration to Montevideo, Uruguay, was detailed in Avraham Shavit’s autobiography, Piles of Pine Needles.

“I asked uncle Motel, why it was that all of his siblings went to America and he was the only one to go to Uruguay.  He told me a very touching story. His father (my grandfather after whom I was named) had a farm in the country.  Motel would occasionally help him in the field.  One summer, when Motel arrived at the field, he found his parents sitting and crying.  They told him that the hooligan son of the Polish neighbor had set on fire all of the wheat bales which had been dried and ready for collection.  As a result, a whole year’s worth of work was lost.  They became destitute and deeply in debt.  After Motel had heard of the horrifying incident from his parents, he went to the neighboring farm.  On the way he picked up a long stone with a sharp edge.  When he entered the yard he met the neighbor’s son, who was standing by the stable and placing a saddle on a horse.  Motel approached him and hit him on the head with the stone between his eye and his ear.  The wound began to bleed furiously and the goy fell to the ground.  Motel mounted the horse and escaped to the city.  The next day he found out the goy had died and that the police were looking for him.  He understood that he had to escape as quickly as possible and boarded the first ship to depart on which he could work.  Motel worked on the ship for a few months until he tired of the seas, and when the ship docked in Uruguay he disembarked and remained there” until his emigration to Israel some 30 years later. (translated from the Hebrew by Maor Shavit)

Sol on
                  fruit truck

Photo courtesy of Moskowitz Family Album

Szlamon (Sol) was the youngest of Abraham and Feige Zamoskiewicz’s sons.  According to his younger sister Rywka, their mother remembered Sol as “the best son a mother could have”.

Sol was born in Skepe around 1900.  He emigrated to Mexico despite buying a ticket to New York City from a shady ticket broker in 1921.  He remained in Mexico for little more than 2 years before heading to the United States and New York via Laredo, Texas.  Sol’s story is best related through the remembrances of his son, Rabbi Seymour Moskowitz:

“Sol deserted the Polish Army in WW I after being wounded 4 times and returned to the front lines as ‘canon fodder’. He escaped by tying himself to a tree branch overnight so he would not fall out.  When his battalion awoke in the morning and marched on to their next destination, they did not see him and he was able to escape. 

“He ended up in Mexico where he lived for a little more than 2 years.  When he first arrived he rented a room to live in and worked at painting little birds on glasses.  Sol was working on a hot Sunday afternoon in a town square when a movie had just let out and people were hot and thirsty.  He saw that a young boy was selling water to the movie patrons as they exited.  The next day Sol got a wagon and 3 pails, and he added flavoring to the water and began selling it as well. With this successful business enterprise underway he began looking for other opportunities.

“He looked around Mexico City and said, “What else do they need here?”  they were selling ready made suits.  He hired a girl to start sewing, went to a store, asked them to sell the suits.  If they do not sell, give them back.  Next, he bought a bus and got a driver.  He stood in the back and collected money.  An army friend of his, Hymie, came from Poland.  Sol suggested that he get another bus, “Do what I am doing.”  So Sol went looking for another bus.  One day, Hymie did not come to work so Sol was on his bus when the bus hit and killed a donkey.  Sol knew the police would be there and he was afraid of uniforms and authority.  He later recounted that he feared he would be arrested and imprisoned.  So he sold his businesses and bought 2 horses and he left for New York City.  He came from Mexico through Laredo, Texas on horseback in the summer of 1923.  He took that horse all the way to NY--where according to Immigration papers he was headed to his brother-in-law David Fleishman’s home at 55 W. 113th St.

“It wasn’t long before Sol’s horse was pulling a vegetable and fruit wagon through the streets of New York City.  Sol met Ida Leve in Harlem.  She was from Russia and she had 3 brothers and two sisters in her family.  Her father came before WWI,  but the rest of the family was left in Europe when the war broke out.  After the war, he sent for the family.   Seymour remembers an Uncle Mu (Samuel Leve) his mother’s brother.  He was an artist from Yale.  In Europe, his family had to house German soldiers and one of the soldiers was a painter and taught him to paint.

“Sol worked very hard.  He was up at 4 am so he could get to the market by 5:00 to buy things for the business.  He came home late at night.  He lived on the 4th floor and as he walked up to his apartment he distributed unsold fruit to the neighbors on each floor.  Sol died in 1963.  He had stayed in the Bronx and lived near his brother Feivish.  He refused to pay a ‘street tax’ to the Mafia on two occasions  and had to rebuild his business each time.”

Numa and Feivel

Feivel and Numa

Morris and Jean's

Wedding of Jean and Morris Moskowitz
Feivel and Numa and Mollie Fleishman 

Photos courtesy of Moskowitz Family Album

Feivel Moskowitz (nee Zamoskiewicz) arrived in Boston on February 21, 1921, his second journey to the United States.  His manifest indicated he had been in New York between 1908-1910 without an explanation for his return to Skepe.  In 1921 Feivel had 3 sisters (Mollie, Lea, and Hudes) who had already permanently moved to New York City.  A younger brother, Szalmon, would arrive a couple of months later in Vera Cruz, Mexico, having thought he had a ticket for New York.

Within a few months Feivel had moved in with his sister Lea Shapiro on East 112 St. in New York, changed his name to Moskowicz from Zamoskiewicz, and submitted his Declaration of Intention for Naturalization.  Feivel secured a job as an operator and remained in the clothing industry throughout his life.

On October 1, 1923, Feivel’s wife Numa-Feiga (nee Kohn), daughter of Josek Kohn of Skepe, arrived in New York on the Polonia with her four daughters:  Dwojra-Nena (9), Sura-Ruchel (7), Chaje-Ester (6), and Chana-Bina (2).  Two sons, Moishe and Harry, were born in New York City in the 1920’s.  The family lived in the Bronx near Feivel’s brother Sol.

The six members of the family from Skępe, Poland who came as Zamoskiewicz all changed their names to Philip, Naomi, Nettie, Sandra, Helen, and Ann Moskowitz.  The sons who were born in New York were known as Morris and Freddy.

Ida from Avraham

Photograph courtesy of the Pozmanter Family Album
Lilly and Abe

Lilly and Abe
Photograph courtesy of the Pozmanter Family Album


Photograph courtesy of the Fleishman Family Album

The three Zamoskiewicz sisters who were in the middle of their Skępe family had much in common:

Mollie was the first of the family to leave Poland in 1912 and remain in the United States working as a servant and helping to bring over more members of her family.  Lea (Lillian), helped by Mollie, arrived in 1913.  Then with the help of her sisters Hudes (Ida) immigrated to New York City in 1920.  Mollie and Lillian helped their brothers - Feivel and Sol - immigrate to America in the early ’20's.
All three changed their names from Zamoskiewicz to (Mollie) Samos, (Lillian) Sams, and (Ida) Semis.  They were married in New York: Lillian, July, 2,1916, to Abraham Shapiro; Mollie, June 24, 1918, to David Fleischman; Ida, April 27, 1922, to Abraham Rubin.  All three sisters lived within walking distance in Brooklyn.
Mollie (1933) and Ida (1934) both lost their husbands and became single mothers.  Mollie opened a dry goods store which she remained in for nearly 40 years and helped Ida start hers.
According to their younger sister Rywka, Mollie wanted nothing to do with shtetl life and became the Zamoskiewicz pioneer in search of a new and different life.  Ida’s granddaughter remembers her tales of pogroms in Skępe when the girls were hidden underneath the wooden floor and watching the torment of their father, an educated and religious man.

Goldman Family
The Reichenbach family:  Avraham, Dora (Goldman) and one of their 2 daughters, Mina and her husband Moti Sherzer in Tel-Aviv ca. 1989. Dora and Avraham emigrated to Israel after their marriage in 1949.

Photo and text courtesy of Julian Preisler

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Compiled by Roberta Fleishman and Mike Smith
Copyright © 2013 Roberta Ann Fleishman

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