I want to share with you the
recollections of my mother, ROSE GOLDMAN,
her early life as a Jewish girl in a small town in Russia. 200 miles south and east of
Moscow, way outside the Pale. This is how she told it to us on Thanksgiving day, 1958
when she was not quite 78 years old. It was preserved on tape, and afterwards I
Tevya wasn't there, and there was no fiddler on the roofs my Grandpa built.
This is how she told the story. In her words:
"...It must have been about 1875 that my father, Avrom
Abbe Mesigal, left
near Telz, Lithuania to travel east. He was with some older men who were teaching
him how to be a shinglemaker. They had heard that Russia still had many buildings
with straw roofs that are very inflammable. They arrived at the place we were born and
got a few contracts that paid very well.
They stayed about six montns, until it came close to the High holidays. The
other men had families and wanted to get home, bul my father said, "There's nothing to
do over there" and that he would stay and work. And he did.
He got more work to do, and then a man who owned a dairy got interested in
him. He said he'd help my father set up a business
Well, they had to buy the forest to cut down the trees and then cut them up, dry
them, and then make the shingles. Don't forget that's all done by hand at that time.
When my father finally setlled and prospered, tt was in a little place called Pesochnya,
in The state of Ryazan. That's where he met my mother.
My mother was Doba Glicken; they were married about 1876. Pa prospered; I
remember that my oldest brother Sam and I could not go to the public school because
no Jews were allowed. Pa's man had something to say, so we were allowed to go to
the public school
By the time we left, there were seven children, and of course we had to have a
Hebrew education For that, my father went to Moscow; a rabbi there recommended a
man that would be a teacher and a mohel and a shochet, everything. He brought him
home and gave him a home for his family. We were three families, all related, and all
the children came to our house for lessons.
The dairy man, the goy who protected my father was making a lot of money,
and decided that he would take a vacation in Paris. Three years went by, and he
didn't come back. His wife waited, and then she said she didn't want to bother with
the business, and he didn't want to come back. So she went and sold everything.
We lost our protection. There were plenty of people who didn't want us there because
we were Jews.
So they started in. "You mustn't buy and sell. You have to have a license. If
you're doing that kind of work you have to have a license from your birthplace." Pa
sent for a license but it was no good. Without protection, in our little city, a Jew had no
status. They started to ask questions and wanted to know who married this couple,
who did this and who did that. When my brother Hank was born, they wanted to know,
"Who made the bris? He's got to have a license." Hank was six weeks old when my
father and my mother had to travel I don't know how many miles to a trial. There was
no transportation - just your horse and buggy.
But Pa was smart. He found out a certain rabbi had passed away in Irkutsk, so
when they asked him, he gave that name. They still wanted to know when he died,
and where he was buried, and they sent a man to look into it, but they couldn't find
anything wrong. They got angry, but they didn't do anything about it. In our town we
had no pogroms. In other towns they robbed, they stole, they did whatever they
wanted to do. We were afraid. If the rabbi came to teach - that was forbidden - we put
cloths over the windows. There would be a sotske, a guard, walking around to see
what was going on. But they would give him something and he would go away.
Then the Koznichalske, the government guys came and said the best thing for
you is to leave town. They'll give you one-third of a ruble for your trip to America.
Sam Kogen, who was related to my mother's family, was in Chicago, working at
the World's Fair. He sent his address to my father and said he could get him job.
We had our own home, our cows and horses, furniture, lots of stuff. But the
government guys said you cant sell a thing. You have to leave it here.
The Postmaster in town was a friend of my father, and offered to buy it all. but he
had to keep it a secret. His name was Egor Byisnishen, and he offered 325 rubles for
the whole thing.
It was a big house, all one floor, near a lake, about eight rooms. There was a
big barn for the horses and cows, and a cellar for the ice. They would cut the ice on
the lake in the winter and store it there until the next summer.
So we started out for America, the three families, with our grandmother, in
wagons. We went to Nizhni Novgorod in the wagons, got on a boat to go to Ryazan
city, and then a train to Moscow.
When we came to Moscow it was Friday afternoon. Grandma said she had
never broken her Sabbath and she would not go on the train to ride on Friday night.
We were even carrying a Sefer Torah with us. My father and my uncle started looking
for a place to stay, but no Jew was allowed to spend the night in Moscow. Finally, one
man said he would let us stay in his basement, but we mustn't go outside because if
somebody sees you, he'll be fired.
As soon as we got there and Pa and Uncle found some food for us for supper,
the police came. "OUT!" they said. So we all went back to the depot, sitting around.
There were a lot of soldiers there, with guns. One soldier dropped his gun. We never
knew ft It was intentional or an accident, but my baby sister Anna, 21 months old, got
hit under the chin and on the side.
Anyway, the train came and we all went. It was Shabbos, but Grandma had to
come with us. They wouldn't let her stay there, and we couldn't leave her. They call
that "azeras malchas" in Yiddish. That means an order from the Czar.
When we got to Etkun, the boundary from Russia into Germany, we were
supposed to go direct from there to Hamburg to the boat, but the guard said, "You can't
go. The government will not support your children. They'll send you back when you
get to Ellis Island."
So my father decided we should all go to Telz, his home town. He'll go, and
take Sam, who was 12 1/2, and he said, "I'll go to America and get some work and
then I'll send for you. My grandmother told him to take her Sefer Torah along, so he
did. (At another time, Rose Goldman toid us that that very Sefer Torah was given to a
shul in Chicago in exchange for a burial plot for this grandmother Mane Glicken.)
As soon as we came to Tetz, my father went to shul. Of course he was known
there from his family. But people who saw us on the street didn't know who we
were. Soon, one woman said to another, "Itchke Maish Avrom's einiclach." We were
descended from my father's ancestors, so we were okay. But they all thought my
father had married a gentile, because in far off Russia, how can a Jewish boy find a
Jewish girl? But when they saw my mother in shul with a siddur, and gave my brother
Sam an aliyah because he was Bar Mitzvah age, the gossip died down.
Pa stayed with us for two weeks, and then left for America. He came to Chicago
and looked up Kogen, who took him to the World's Fair that they were building. Pa
spoke German, so he got a job making the roof on the German building. He knows
making shingles and roofs from A to Z.
But when the foreman asked his name, and he said, "Mesigal" it was no good.
How can you holler a name like that? You can't even hear it. So he says. "Do you
mind if we call you Cohn?" So Pa says, "A job is a job." And he became Cohn.
When Pa sent for us, we started out. From Telz you go to MemeI, that's the
boundary line for Germany. Pa had some kind of a cousin there, in business. So we
got into a train and about twelve o'clock at night somebody knocked on the door.
When we told them where we were going, they said. "You can't go." So they
took us off and put us in jail. There was some kind of an epidemic in Telz and they
didn't want anybody from there going through Germany at all. We were six children,
my mother, my grandmother, and two men: a brother-in-law and an uncle . Next
morning there was a trial, and that cousin of my father's heard about it, so he came.
He said, "I'll take them to my house and I'll send them back to Telz."
But he didn't send us back. We stayed in his house about ten days, and then
they put us in a railroad car and told us, "Puil the shades down and don't open the
door for anybody until you're through to Hamburg." So that's what we did, and we got
on the boat.
But before we got on the boat, we had to steal the boundary, the grenitz, at
night. The Reinikeit, the Torah, was hidden in a pile of hay in the wagon, but we got
over, and finally got on the boat, although first we had to dump in the water everything
else we had with us, because the captain said, "If you bring something and they find
out where it's from, you'll have to go back."
We finally got on the boat and we were only on the water twenty-one days until
we got to Ellis Island. And then when we got there, they kept us there a couple of
days. When we got on the train, by that time we had no money and nothing to eat, but
this uncle that came with us walked around the car and told everybody that there was
a family with small children, hungry. The passengers understood, and they gave him
money, so he bought oranges, and that was all we had to eat until we came to
We came in to Union Station and there was nobody there to meet us. My father
had been walking around for two days looking for us. This same uncle went out on
the street and when he found a man with a wagon, he asked him to take us to the
address we had. So we did.
That man was Mr. Roth, Libby's father, later my brother Sam's wife. He had a
couple of bushels of coal to peddle, but he said he'll peddle later. He took us all to the
Glicks' house, because that's where Pa was staying. So we came over there and Pa
wasn't home. He was still out looking. By that time it was 1894. The World's Fair had
closed, but they were dismantling it, and Pa was a watchman in the German house.
He finally came home, crying, "They're still not here." But he found us. We
stayed a bout two weeks, with the Glicks.
Then some people said. "You can't stay in the crty. The streetcars wilt kill them
all. This was 14th Street and Sangamon. So he got a partner and they found a farm
to rent near Sycamore. Illinois. We were there for a year. We went out to the farm
about the first of April, and we all worked. It produced so much of everything that year,
we made money, we made a nice living."
That's where my mother's
narrative ends. but she had told us that the
which three more children were added, could not live a Jewish life on the farm, and so
after a year it was decided to return to the cfty. At least in the city they could live
among Jews, and the older children could get jobs. It was intended that she carry
forward the narrative, but the opportunity was not presented.