The History of the Feldbaum Family
Aaron Joshua Feldbaum and Judith Smargon
The picture to the left is from a painting of Aaron Feldbaum studying the Talmud. The original photo, taken by a WPA photographer during the depression, hung in the New York Historical Museum and was used for decades by the Hallmark Card Company on their Passover cards. It also appears on Page 1 of the Pictorial History of the Jewish People. The original photo was apparently taken on a weekday at the synagogue in Brooklyn where Aaron went every day. The family didn't know of the picture for at least 40 years. In the early 70's a distant relative saw the picture hanging in the NYHS museum and contacted the family. Several months later, on Mothers Day, three of Aaron’s daughters (Pauline Feldbaum Steinberg, Clara Feldbaum Reznick, and Rachel Feldbaum Zafman) along with their children went to the museum to verify that the picture did exist. Rachel found a second picture of Aaron in another part of the exhibit. Cousin Morris Steinberg, M.D., was able to get the negative from the archives of the Museum of the City of New York (the owner of the pictures) and cousin Howard Mescon had oil paintings of the original photo done for each of Aaron's grandchildren.
Rachel’s son, Martin (Sonny) Zafman writes, “My mother, who was the last of the 11 children to pass away, was also given a large painting (of Aaron) that proved to be instrumental in giving her great comfort later in her life. My mother’s memory was completely gone in the last 2 years of her life. She was in a nursing home and never wanted to leave her room. She didn't even want to go to the dining room for meals. She usually didn't put up much of a fight when she was hungry. Then the problem of getting her back to her room started. One day the nurse was a bit frustrated with her and said ‘Rachel, lets go back to your room to see the picture of your father.’ She always smiled and agreed to go. As soon as she got back to her room she pointed to the picture and said ‘That's my poppa’”.
In 1857, a baby boy was born to Zelda and Simshon Feldbaum in the town of Sherashif, Russia (now Shereshevo/Sarasova, Belarus). The baby was named Aaron Joshua. The photo to the right of (from left to right) Nachman Feldbaum (Aaron's brother), Zelda Feldbaum, and Aaron Joshua Feldbaum was taken in Russia around 1875. Click here for an abbreviated history of Shereshevo/Sarasova, Belarus.
Shortly after Aaron was born, his parents met with Bella and Zev Smargon, close friends, to discuss his marriage to their daughter Judith, who was then one year old. Arranging marriages when a child was born was a common practice in Russia in those days.
The wedding was set to take place in 1872 when Joshua was 15 years of age and Judith was 16 years of age. It was a happy marriage that lasted 57 years, until Judith died on August 7, 1929 at the age of 73. Aaron died 11 years later on Friday, April 5, 1940 at 7:30 P.M. He was 83 years old. He had just returned home from synagogue where there was a Kiddish in celebration of the forthcoming marriage of his grandson, William Feldman to Matilda ___ to take place that Sunday, April 7, 1940. The funeral was held on Sunday morning, and the family immediately attended the wedding ceremony directly afterward.
Aaron had wanted to become a Rabbi, but life as a young married student in a Yeshiva was very difficult. Aaron and Judith therefore decided to move to the village of Bielovesz (now Bialowieza, Poland), 25 miles away from Sherashif. He apprenticed as a shoe maker and continued to study Talmud in his spare time. Many years later, when Aaron and Judith emigrated to the United States, he supported himself and his wife by teaching Haftorah to Bar Mitzvah boys. Click here for more information about Bielovesz (Bialowieza) today. In Aaron's day there were about 30 Jewish families living in Bielovesz. Today there are none. Aaron's brother Nachman (see photo above) was shot in the head in front of his family by a Nazi SS Trooper. Nachman's wife Tzina (Cyne) died that day during a march to the freight yards. Her son, Leibel, (Louis) had time to bury her on the side of the road. Leibel's wife and children were buried alive. Leibel came to New York after the war and joined his brother (Phillip) and sister (Rose) who had arrived in the US just after World War I. Nachman's granddaughter, Edith (Rose's daughter), currently lives in New York.
Nazi records (below) indicate that Nachman and Tzina's other daughter Leje (Sarah), who was living in Pruzhany in 1943, was among the transportees to Auschwitz from the Pruzhany Ghetto. The District of Pruzhany in the Grodno Province includes Pruzhany, Shereshov, Kartuz Bereza, Seltz, Lineve, Malech and a few other small places.
[Document 280 of 338]
Feldbaum, Leje; Born in Szereszewo June 15, 1907 (Auschwitz Haftlingspersonalbogen Collection -- Reel 3)
Father's Name: Feldbaum, Nachman
Mother's Name: Bremer, Cyne
Spouse's Name: Methel, Methel
Arrest date: January 31, 1943
Arrival date: February 02, 1943
The Pruzhany Ghetto was liquidated between Jan. 30, 1943 - Feb. 2, 1943. The ghetto had 10,000 people. 2,500 people each day were sent on transports to Auschwitz. These forms were filled out by a German soldier with the Jewish prisoner standing in front of him and answering the questions. According to the President of the Israeli Pruzhany Society, Mr. Yitzchak Zutta, the people often said that their age was younger or older then it truely was, in order to give a better impression of a good worker (so don't go using this for an "age" source). The occupations also many times were made up in order to hopefully choose something useful that would allow the prisoner to live a little longer.
When Judith was about 50 years old she became deathly ill with double pneumonia. The doctors had given up on her and felt she would die before morning. It was a tradition to give a seriously ill person another name when death appeared to be imminent in order to confuse the Angel of Death (Malach Hamoves). Judith was therefore given the additional name of Leah. Aaron worked all night improvising different methods to try to save Judith. It worked, much to the doctor’s surprise. They investigated Aaron’s techniques and adopted many of them in the treatment of other patients who were critically ill.
During their 57 year marriage, Judith and Aaron had eleven children, two of which passed away around the age of seven, and one which tragically died at his briss. Of the remaining eight, six eventually came and settled in America, one spent his adult life in Germany, first as a prisoner of war and later as a resident, and still another settled in Canada. The small Russian world from which they came is now almost lost in the folds of history. This account of the Feldbaum family is from Rachel Feldbaum Zafman. From her flow the colorful stories of Russia, the trans-Atlantic journey early in the 20th century, and the joys and sorrows of finding a new home in America.
The Feldbaum Family of Bielovesz, Belarus
Feldman Herschel Feldman Chaim Krugman
Clara Feldbaum Resnick Leah Yudas Smargon Feldbaum Aaron Johua Feldbaum Sara Rina Krugman
Rachel Feldbaum Zafman Phillip Krugman Bella Krugman Sitcoff
The oldest of the eleven children was Malka (Mildred). She was married by 1898 or 1899 [her first son Abraham was born in 1899 or 1900], and thus must have been most likely born between 1878 and 1880. She died in 1907 at the age of 28. There was almost twenty years difference between her and her youngest sisters, Rachel and Clara. Their memories of Mildred are of a young woman, already married with a son. Malka's husband was Chaim Aaron Schneider. He was an officer in the Russian Army when the Russo-Japanese war broke out. As he feared the army would send him to active duty, his wife’s family got enough money together to get him out of the country. He was shipped to Warsaw, and from there smuggled across the European borders: then a boat brought him across the Atlantic to America. Chaim Aaron was to be the first link between the New World and Old Russia. Soon many Feldbaums would join him. [Editor's note: The Russo-Japanese War began in September of 1904 with a sneak attack by Japan on Russia, since Chaim Schneider's second son William was born in America in May of 1903 and Chaim was alone in America about a year before his wife Malka and son Abraham arrived, he must left Russia by mid to late 1901, nearly three years before the Russo-Japanese War began].
When Chaim Aaron arrived in America he was alone. His wife Mildred and their first child Abe were still in Bielovesz. He wrote many letters to her explaining how lonely he was and how much he wanted her to join him. It was too much to expect that the Feldbaums would so immediately finance another relatives emigration so Chaim Aaron and Mildred had to wait for their reunion. During that time, Chaim Aaron saved the money he made in America working as a metal worker building fire escapes so that he could bring his wife and son over.
It must have been around early or mid 1902 when Mildred came with her young son Abe to America [second son William was born in America on May 30th, 1903]. She settled with her husband in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the second largest Jewish community in New York. She came no doubt with the hopes and aspirations of so many other Jews who had begun emigrating from the small shtetls of Russia in large numbers in the 1880s. Her joy of joining her husband was documented by the birth of two sons, William and Sol, the first grandchildren of Judith and Aaron Feldbaum to be born in America. William, much later, was to marry Gertrude Solkoff and Sol would wed Rebecca Cohen. Abe never married.
Mildred, however, except for her husband and three sons [third son Sol was born on September 10th, 1906], was still alone in America. Since the Jewish migration was a migration of families and not individuals, it was only natural that she would soon send for her younger sisters to join her. Thus, once settled, Mildred requested that Rina, the next oldest sister, come to America. But Rina was already married in Russia to Chaim Krugman and their children Phillip, Bella and Lily were already born. In fact, instead of being the next to come, Rina remained the longest in Russia. Only long after her parents and all of her sisters and brothers had left Russia did Rina and her family emigrate; and then, being refused admission to the United States, they settled in Canada. Therefore, as the family was leaving their home in Bielovesz, everyone left their belongings to Rina. The four room house in which all the Feldbaum children were born, became hers along with the furniture that was in it. Eventually, Rina built another house on the property which surrounded her parent’s home, but all of this was left behind when she also left Bielovesz.
Since Rina was not prepared to leave Russia to come and join her older sister, Mildred called on the next two younger sisters, Rose and Pauline. Rose at that time had a sweetheart in Russia, and only after he had emigrated to the United States was she going to consider leaving. When her sweetheart did get to America, he wrote to Rose asking her to come and join him; he would send money for her passage and when she arrived they could be married. But Rose’s parents didn’t like the idea, for she was already a teenager and earning money to help support the family by working in the village as a dressmaker. Things were bad in those times and her contribution was greatly needed. So instead of sending Rose to join her sweetheart, Judith sent her fourth daughter Pauline to America to live with her sister Mildred. A few years later, when Pauline was already settled, she was able to convince her parents to send Rose over. But, unfortunately, by this time Rose discovered her old love was already married and had children. Rose found a new beau and married Abraham Cohen. Abraham and Rose’s one son Harry years later changed his last name to Mescon.
The photo to the right is of (left to right) Rose, Sam and Pauline Feldbaum and was probably taken somewhere in Brooklyn, NY cerca 1925. Sam owned a fur business on the 300 block of 7th Avenue in NYC. Many of the family members worked for Sam when they first arrived in the US from Europe.
When Pauline came to America she married Sam Steinberg. Sam had worked in a shop making vests. His earnings as a tailor were meager and so his young energetic wife encouraged him to go into business. The two of them borrowed enough money from relatives to get started and opened up a candy store on Court Street in Brooklyn. They made a go of it and their store proved profitable. Pauline and Sam’s energy brought their two sons Morris and Max into the world. In the years to come Morris became a well-known doctor practicing in New York and married Evelyn Sachs, a majestic opera singer; Max married Gertrude Nemeroff and moved to Canada.
From their candy store earnings, Pauline and Sam were able to save some money. They were far from wealthy, but had enough to attract the investment spirits of a Philadelphia based cousin. Sam Verbert was a son of Aaron Feldbaum’s sister. He spoke with Sam and Pauline about the financial opportunities in real estate which had blossomed at the close of the war. The cousin couldn’t understand how Sam Steinberg could get up and fold papers at three in the morning for his candy store. Life, he explained, could be much better in Philadelphia. Sam and Pauline decided to take the chance to turn their earnings into a fortune. They sold the candy store on Court Street and moved to Philadelphia. Their money was invested with their cousin in golden real estate opportunities, but before long the gold turned to dust and the dust blew away. Pauline and Sam were left in Philadelphia with their sons, faced with having to support themselves again. Pauline’s tireless energy wasn’t dampened; shortly thereafter they opened another candy store, not quite as profitable as the first, but enough to keep them going.
Back in Russia, after having given birth to four girls, Judith gave birth to five boys; Herschel, Samuel, William, Selig and Abraham. As a teenager Samuel followed sister Pauline to America. There he married Anna Grozensky and had three children; Mildred, William and Harold. William and Selig both died as young children in Russia, one from scarlet fever and the other from diphtheria. The parents’ grief over the loss of their two sons was followed by the death of yet another. Eight days after the birth of her ninth child, Judith was busily making all the preparations for the briss. The food was prepared and the home smelled of good scents in which visiting relatives would partake. As Judith went to take her son from the crib, she found he was dead. The grief was enormous, Judith never forgot her son. They named him Abraham for the burial.
The oldest boy, Herschel, is remembered first at the time when he was about to be drafted into the army. His parents had wanted to smuggle him out of the country as they had done with Mildred’s husband and as had been done with so many young Jewish boys at that time. But Herschel didn’t want to leave the country in such a manner. He was afraid that if he was smuggled to America to avoid the draft, and he didn’t like America, he would not be able to return to Russia so instead of leaving his country, he joined the Russian army.
After three years of being in the army, Herschel was about to come home when the First World War broke out. Instead of coming back to Bielovesz, he was sent to fight on the German front. He was captured by the Germans and taken as a prisoner of war. While being held in a Prisoner of War camp, Herschel requested that he be allowed to meet some other Jewish people. The Germans let him go once a week to the schul in town, where he slowly became part of the German Jewish community. It was there that he met Emily Osterman, his future wife and the mother of their two children, Arthur and Ruth. Click here for more information on Herschel's family.
In 1900, after having had nine children, Judith gave birth to a tenth child, Rachel. Two years later, when she was sure that her child-bearing years were over, another baby girl came into the world, named Clara. These two girls were to be with their mother all her life, standing by her as she grew old and sick. Rachel remembers her mother saying to her sister Clara almost 25 years later, when she was living in Brooklyn: “Mein Kind (my child), I was so petrified when I found out I was pregnant with you, I didn’t want any more, it was a shame, I was an old woman already, big children, married children, grandchildren, how do I come to have another baby?”. But she added: “What would I do without you?” for Clara took care of her when she was sick.
In May, 1921, Judith and Aaron decided to take a big step and follow their children to America. While it was a difficult decision to leave the community they were so much a part of, they were in constant fear for the welfare of their youngest daughters. There were so many stories of young girls being raped by Cossacks, and Judith did not want that fate to befall Rachel and Clara. But fears are also remembered with laughter. One Shabbat Rachel and Clara were left alone while their parents were at schul. Expecting them to return shortly, Rachel found it strange to hear a knock on the door. She knew her parents had the key. Thus she took a peek through their window only to see, to her amazement, two fully clothed Cossacks. Rachel was petrified and in fright the eleven year old shouted out: “Go away, we have typhoid and are here on the doctor’s orders.” The two Cossacks fled in a flash. Typhoid was at that time common and highly contagious.
When Aaron did leave Bielovesz, the people from the schul which he was active in presented him with a thank you for his many years of loyal service. Aaron Feldman had always been a deeply religious man and had spent most of his life leading the Jewish people of his community through teaching and prayer. Even with the little that his family had, he was always willing to share. On Friday nights his wife Judith could never be sure how many he would bring home to dinner. But when guests came to share in the family’s Sabbath meal, the children knew better than to ask for more food than their mother gave them. Thus it was with great sorrow that the community of Bielovesz saw Aaron Feldbaum depart from them.
Translated from Yiddish, the community presentation said:
We, the residents of Bielovesz, on the occasion of farewell and parting, express our wishes from the bottom of our hearts to the great philanthropist, community leader and host, Mr. Aaron Feldbaum, who is now leaving for America.
With tears of thankfulness we express our appreciation to this pacifist and 40 year resident of Bielovesz, for the deeds which he has done throughout this period of time. Thanks to this benefactor, we built a synagogue; thanks to him poor people, widows and orphans found shelter in their critical moments. This pen does not have the power to describe precisely the qualities of this person. Without exaggeration we can say that his departure will leave a sad emptiness in every inhabitant of Bielovesz.
He will be missed in every corner and especially among the defenseless people to whom he gave, with a generous hand, the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
Let the community leader, Mr Aaron Feldbaum, and his family, leave with happiness.
Yom G, Tisha Asar, Yom L'Chodesh, Adar B, Shnat Tarpa
(Tuesday, the Nineteenth of Adar II, 5681 [Tuesday, MARCH 29, 1921])
Itzchak Tennenbaum, Chaim Krugman (Aaron's son-in-law), Yosef Prinz, Abraham Lilenthal, Abraham Prinz, Mendel Burstein, Benjamin Hoffman, Shammas Beth Ha'Medrush, Yael From Sherishiv "Ben Hadayan", Eli Steinberg, Nathan Shimon Stosky, Jacob Stovsky, Shevach Ruben, Zev Reb Chaim Novokowsky, Yosef Sovshitsky, Abraham Mortche Yaletsky, Itzchak Yaakov B'Reb Eli Chaim Steinberg, Abraham Burstein
This photo (circa 1907) shows Aaron Feldbaum (fourth from right) wearing a black coat and hat. Standing in front of him is Phillip Krugman, his grandson.
For the trip to America, Aaron made arrangements with a man who would assume the responsibility for his family's journey. With many other immigrants, they first traveled to Warsaw (Poland), where they got a train to Berlin. In Berlin the Feldbaums hoped to meet their son and brother, Herschel. It had been over seven years since the family had been reunited. After the war, Herschel had remained in Germany with his wife Emily. No one had yet met her or their children. Aaron cabled ahead to tell Herschel that they were coming, in hope of spending the Passover holidays together. The train was late. Herschel arrived at the depot, but had to go home again, fearing he had missed them. But the next day he returned again to the station, this time to find his parents and two youngest sisters. When they were united, Herschel desperately wanted his family to remain with him in Germany and not go to America. He took them to the highest court to try to get permission, but was refused. The group leader taking all the immigrants to America warned the Feldbaum family that if they were not going to go to America now, they might never have the chance. Scared, they left on the next train with the group for Holland, but only after an emotional departure from Herschel whom they knew they would never see again. The image is still there of Herschel running after the train, crying.
The family spent two weeks in quarantine in Holland. A lot of the children in the immigration group had lice, and so the boys and girls kept checking each other's heads. Judith was grateful that her children were clean. Finally, they got on a boat in Rotterdam and sailed to Liverpool. In Liverpool the family was guided by the local HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society). They had a meal which far surpassed what they had had on the boat.
Another few weeks passed and the family was able to board the Carmania, a Cunard Line boat in May, 1921, which would take them to America. On the lower decks were primarily immigrants who, like themselves, were carrying all their belongings in a few old suitcases. The passengers on the upper decks, who were traveling in much greater luxury, kept staring at Rachel and Clara, who together clung to one wooden valise.
The voyage took two weeks. On the boat Rachel had her diary in which she was recording in Russian her entire journey from Bielovesz. While on the boat the man in charge of them asked her what she was writing. On hearing that she had a diary he screamed, "The Americans will think you're a communist, and not let you into the country. Throw it overboard!". Young Rachel hastily tossed her diary into the sea.
When the ship docked at Ellis Island, Samuel, Rose and Pauline rented a boat and rowed out to greet their parents and sisters. Since the family had occupied the bottom-most deck, they were able to extend their arms through the portholes to touch each other. The next day Samuel was allowed to come on board for a happy reunion. The greatest surprise came when he tried to leave. The authorities thought he too was an immigrant and they didn't want to let him go. Samuel hastily produced his business card explaining that he worked on Seventh Avenue and had just come to greet his parents and sisters. Finally he was let ashore.
The journey was complete. The Feldbaums made it through the Ellis Island authorities and were on their way to becoming part of the Russian Jewry to settle in New York. Aaron and Judith moved to Brooklyn with their daughters and surrounded by family, they began to find a place for their Old World customs in America.
Shortly after their arrival Rachel and Clara had to find work. Neither had any skills at the time. Rachel started working for Samuel, her brother, in his fur business. She would pick up the phone and say "Hello, one moment please", and go and get Samuel. After a while Samuel was able to get a job on the same floor with a Mr. Bell who made ladies dresses. Rachel of course couldn;'t sew, but they took her on anyway. Little by little she learned, with the help of an Irish woman. Soon she was finishing off snaps and was promoted so that she became a "pinning girl", pinning together the material that was to be sewn. Clara also was very outgoing, she too wanted to make money and got a job sewing in a factory where they made silk underwear.
Of course the girl's earnings went to their mother and whenever Rachel or Clara wanted to buy something their mother gave them a dollar. It was at this time that they received a letter from their sister-in-law Emily, living in Germany with Herschel. Emily wrote in German and no one could read her letter except for Rachel, who earlier had a job during the war translating from Russian to German. Emily's letter said that Herschel was very sick, he had gotten tuberculosis when he was a prisoner of was and now his condition was very poor. Emily wanted to send him to a sanatorium, but she didn't have enough money. So the older sisters and brother in America decided to set aside some money each month to send to Emily. This was all done in secrecy so that Herschel's parents would not detect that he was ill. Rachel and Clara also wanted to contribute, but it was difficult as they gave all their earnings to their mother. They decided to ask their mother for movie money and instead of going to the movies, they would sit in the park for three hours an save what they could to send to Emily for Herschel.
The miracle that occurred was that none of the children ever told their parents of Herschel's illness. In 1924, shortly after the letter arrived that Herschel had died, Aaron had a dream of his own son's death. Deeply worried, he went to Pauline and asked her to tell him what she knew. While Judith was still unaware, Aaron began to recite kaddish for his son in schul. One day Judith went to the market and a friend asked her, "Who does your husband say kaddish after?". Of course she didn't know, but at home immediately asked Aaron for whom he said kaddish. It was then that she found out her son had died.
Aaron Joshua Feldbaum and Leah Yudas (Judith) Smargon Feldbaum with two of their daughters and a grandson. The photo was taken in New York City but the exact place and date are currently unknown.
Sonny Zafman: This past Sunday (January 24, 1999) I had a chance to talk to Howard Mescon about our grandmother, Judith Feldman. Howard and his mother Rose (Feldbaum Cohen) lived with my grandparents for a number of years. He is the only one that is still alive that remembers her. He said that she was a very quiet, shy person but that she was extremely loving. He never remembers her getting outwardly angry. She busied herself with taking care of the household. I suppose that it was a traditional Jewish old world home, where the father was catered to by everyone. In this case it must have been easy because my grandfather, Aaron was such a warm and loving person.