BALTIMORE (JTA) – Early in World War I, Russia expelled communities of Lithuanian Jews after fabricating charges they were spying for and otherwise aiding German invasion forces in the region. Siauliai, the northern Lithuanian city Naomi Bloch’s ancestors come from, was among the affected communities.
Today, Bloch lives in Melbourne, Australia, and hopes to find cousins who remained in the Old Country.
Avrom Leizer Rosenberg, also known as Abrasha Solomovitch, was then living in Tula, a Russian city south of Moscow. Rosenberg was the half-brother of Bloch’s grandmother, Yetta. His wife, Masha, was a Tula native who came from a wealthy family. The home in which the Rosenbergs and their five children lived featured a grand piano in one salon and an upright piano in another.
When the expulsion order was issued, three generations of Bloch’s family left Siauliai (in Yiddish, Shavel) on the long eastward journey to Tula. The group included Bloch’s grandparents, Yetta and Joseph Seltz, and their children, Chaya (Bloch’s mother) and Hillel; Yetta’s half-sister, Chaitsa Slomovitch, a widow, and her three children, Rafael, Shlomo and Itola; and another half-sister of Yetta, Hindl Kupovitch, and her six children, who later would be known as Morris, Boris, Lily, Bertha, Mindl and Ellis.
Hindl’s husband, Joseph, was a mohel who had emigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa, and was saving to bring over his family when war broke out and the expulsion occurred. The family matriarch, Esther-Temma Rosenberg, who was Yetta’s mother and stepmother to the others, made the trip to Tula, too; her husband, Shlomo Rosenberg, had died by then. (Yet another half-sister, Bryna, had already left for the United States, and the whereabouts of her descendants are known to Bloch.)
Tula’s Jewish community escaped annihilation during the Holocaust because the Russians held the city
Research conducted by St. Petersburg Jewish University researcher Anatoli Chayesh and appearing on LitvakSIG.org — a Lithuania-centric genealogy organization — states that Russia issued the expulsion order in spring 1915 to the governing administration of the Kaunas region.
“According to the orders of the Army Command, all Jews must be expelled who are living west of the line [linking] Kaunas, Vilkomir (Ukmerge), Rogovo (Raguva), Panevezys, Pasvalys, Salata (Salociai), Bauska. The aforementioned places must be cleared of Jews,” it read.
The Seltzes, Slomovitches and Kupovitches stayed in Tula approximately four years. They returned to Siauliai, then departed for South Africa; the Seltzes and Slumovitches settled in Cape Town. Yetta Seltz taught dressmaking there — she’d learned the skill at the ORT school in Siauliai — but “never told me much” about the Tula period, said Bloch, who grew up in South Africa and in 1987 moved to Australia to join the two brothers of her husband, Jack.
Bloch remembers hearing that once in South Africa, her grandfather sold eggs after having peddled sweets in Tula. His marriage to Yetta was arranged. Yetta previously had fallen in love with her Hebrew tutor and a poet, whose first name was Nyoma. Her parents disapproved of Nyoma because he had tuberculosis; Hindl interceded on her sister’s behalf in an unsuccessful bid to melt their parents’ opposition. Bloch believes she was named for her grandmother’s old flame.
A retired librarian who now volunteers at the Kadima library of Yiddish books, Bloch hopes to learn what became of her relatives from Tula. She knows that correspondence with Avrom Leizer Rosenberg continued after World War I and is unsure why, how and when the contact ceased.
Speaking from his home in California, her cousin, Daniel Seltz, said he has learned the names of two of the five Rosenberg children: Ida and Shmuel. One of his South African relatives, he said, even located Shmuel Rosenberg after World War II and corresponded for a while.
That’s when the trail ended for good.
Bloch believes she was named for her grandmother’s old flame
Tula’s Jewish community escaped annihilation during the Holocaust because the Russians held the city. According to the Washington-based NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia, some 3,000 Jews live in Tula today, and a Jewish community center was dedicated in 2004.
“There are many children, and a very active community” in Tula, said Lesley Weiss, an NCSJ official who last visited the city five years ago.
“I like being in contact with my relatives,” Bloch said from her den during a Skype interview last week. She directed the video camera to the wall, where framed photographs showed her grandmother and her great-grandparents. Another frame held the 1928 class photograph from Siauliai’s Ivri Gymnasium, which her mother attended.
By researching online, she’s already located Rosenbergs in Philadelphia and Boston who are descended from Moshe Rosenberg, who was either a brother or cousin of Shlomo Rosenberg.
“I’d like to know what happened to Avrom Leizer’s family” — and, if they are alive, to know “that they are respectable and nice people,” she said.
Bloch wants to pass on the family’s history to her sons, Joel and Danny, and her three grandchildren. They aren’t very interested in genealogy, Bloch said, “but eventually somebody will be.”