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       Date Last Updated: 18-May-2012

Vitebsk Families Stories and Pictures


The Jaffe Family

This information was donated by PHF.

My Grandmother Fegele (Fanny) Jaffe, was the youngest of 14 children. She was born in Vitebsk, in about 1901. Her father was Zalman and her mother was Rifka. I have a silver match box on which are engraved her parents names and the dates of the two children that they buried.

My Grandmother told this story: She was very young, maybe 6 or 8 years old, she only knew her birthday as the 2nd Chanukah candle, she was not taught to read and write, and she didnít go to school. Her mother had taught her to hide in the chicken coop, under the cages where all the waste was, but where she would be safe. She remembered doing this once, there was much screaming and fire but she remembered little else and the family seemed unscathed through what was probably a pogrom.

She also told that her eldest brother was over 40 when she was born, but he was very important in their village as he was the 'Bandmeister', in her words.

She came to London, according to at the age of 14, but we believe she was probably 11. They probably lied about her age, to make it easier for her to enter England. She was a seamstress who had been trained to sew linings into fur coats. She came with her mother to live with her elder sister who was already married and established in the East End of London. The sisterís husband was a furrier and Fanny went to work for them at Jannele (Janey). After some time she was "headhunted' by another furrier who admired her work, but she was so scared of leaving that she pretended she was sick and went to work for her new employer for one week. She made more money then she would have in a month working for her sister! My mother was so incensed by the way she had been treated, she dragged my great grandmother over to her sister's house and there was a huge row. Tthey never spoke for over 30 years! My Grandma said that when she was paid so much money, she could not believe it and ran all the way home, falling in her haste and tearing her stockings and skinning her knees. Her mother thought she had been attacked until she managed to stop crying, showed her mother the money and explained.

My Grandmother died aged in 1994. According to her, she was then 89, but according to us more like 93. She married Henry Cohen, a tailor who was killed by a bomb at the beginning of the War in the Blitz, My mother and her sister were the only children. She remarried in the 1950s to a kosher butcher, who died in the 80s. She never learned to read and write in English, spoke fluent Yiddish and English and a few words in Russian, but said she had forgotten most of it; yet taught me songs in Yiddish and Russian. She had a fantastic sense of humor, was very shrewd and a wonderful cook, especially cakes and deserts.