Monday 5 September 2016

Ukrainian Immigrant Esther Rosenbaum

"We both cried -- cried like never before to see each other, and that he was released.  It was a joy..."(Esther Rosenbaum)

Jewish wedding photo in Poland courtesy

Esther Rosenbaum, one of eight children, was born and raised in a small railroad town in the Ukraine. One of Esther's earliest memories is of a pogrom in her village.  Her brother, Yasha, was getting married when a train of bandits raided the town.  Esther's mom had the presence of mind to tell the bride to change out of her wedding dress.  She hid her in the basement.  The bandits, demanding to know the whereabouts of the bride, threw eggs at Esther's mother.  They turned their wrath on three musicians present at the wedding whom they hanged.  

Esther's mother put the rest of the family members in a wagon and covered them with straw.  They escaped the village and travelled 200 kilometres to Esther's grandparents house.  About a week later, the grandparents town was also raided by a pogrom.  Esther remembers her aunt being raped by Polish bandits.  

The family got back into the wagon and headed for the Russian border.  "We had to pay someone, what you would call a contraband to take us across the border.  We crossed and we all landed on the Romanian side  I remember walking up to our knees in mud.  I remember my father carry my brother, he was five, six years old...on his back."

Esther and her family lived in Romania for two years until they secured American visas.  Esther's mother was forced to stay behind to nurse her sister Tanya who had tuberculosis.  In 1923, they sailed across the Atlantic on the Byron.  Staying in the hold of the ship, Esther recalls everyone being sick.  They ate nothing but sardines for three weeks.  

Esther's aunt and uncle met them at Ellis Island.  The family settle din an apartment in the Bronx.  Esther's father followed her uncle into the banana business.  Esther and her siblings enrolled in school.  Being one of the older girls, it fell to Esther to cook and clean for her six siblings.  When Esther was 18, her father remarried.  "I was delighted.  I liked her.  She took a burden off my hands."

"The day I met my husband, I was taking a walk [with] a friend of mine.  It was the Fourth of July, and the two of us took a walk to Katonah Park, and there was my husband sitting there on the grass in the park..." Esther considered him to be handsome and ambitious.  It was the start of a marriage that would last 36 years.

Esther returned to Russia in 1958 to visit her brother Yasha, the one whose wedding had been interrupted by the pogrom.  However, when she arrived she was disappointed to hear that she couldn't see him:  he was in jail.  Yasha, who had fallen on hard times in his secondhand merchant business, was accepting help from his workers.  Someone squealed on him and he was arrested.

Finally, eight years later, released from prison, Yasha was reunited with "his little sister".  Esther pointed out however that she was no longer his little sister, she was a grandma.  Yasha maintained however that she would always be his little sister.  Esther recalled:  "We both cried -- cried like never before to see each other, and that he was released.  It was a joy..."

Banana docks circa 1906 courtesy

Note:  All of my September posts are taken from Ellis Island Interviews:  In Their Own Words by Peter Morton Coan.

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