Memories from the Kishinev Pogrom
Herb Rosen interviewed his parents, Louis H. Rosen & Fanny (Tannenbaum) Rosen, in their apartment in Clearwater, Florida, in March 1978.
Herb: We thought this would be an excellent opportunity to begin the family tree of the Rosens and the Tannenbaums and see what life was like during their very early ages. Later we will talk about more extensive subjects and their adolescence and early adulthood. But tonight we’ll limit ourselves to childhood and very early reminisces. Dad, you were born in what year?
Louis: I was born in 1897. As far as my history birthdate, it seems to be October the 22nd. Because there was no exact data under control in those days. So I’ve been using that ever since.
– That’s a good selection, Dad. What are some of your earliest recollections, Dad, in Russia?
My very interesting early early days will always be remembered because my family insisted that I learn to be a good Jewish boy. So what started it at the age of 3 years old they had a man come from a cheder who picked me up at my home early in the morning and didn’t bring me back until late at night. Now in this cheder they started me with the aleph beis. They kept driving me to learn how to daven. Very important. Daven, daven. I did that very successfully until I realized at the age of about 6 years old they wanted me to continue to improve more. Well, they were talking about Rashi, Gemora, Tanach and even the Torah. Well, I’m very thankful that they really embedded a good Jewish background into my system.
– Dad, can you describe your home in Russia?
This life of mine was a prevailing situation until I reached the age of seven when we had to go and escape. But, I also must inform you that when we were living at the age of five and seven- We, when I mean we – my mother and dad – were in the process of making a nice living by custom tailoring clothes for very fine trade that lived in our area. We lived in the back of the store. It was well arranged. Although there weren’t any Jewish families in the vicinity of our building or area. I do remember playing with some Christian children in my backyard. And this prevailed until I reached seven.
– Can you remember the type of food you ate and how you ate it? What Shabbat brought?
I will try to detail as closely as my memory will serve. The building we lived in contained a courtyard. In the front was a store that my mother and dad worked for the tailoring. We lived in the back of the store where there were many other tenants living also.
In order to get to the courtyard there was an entrance on the side of building, on a side street. We were closely located between one side of the building and the other side of the building. I remember that the man who owned the building was an old Russian, very old, with a long, long line of hair. He didn’t have a beard but he was a kind gentleman because I do recall on a few occasions he would have the children stop playing in the yard because he wanted to sweep it up.
– Can you describe what a Shabbat meal would consist of?
Well, this is something I will try to endeavor. First of all, we were 100% kosher. Mother went quite a distance to obtain and shop for meals for the home. So we did live what you call a pure kosher home. I do remember one important meal that we had and that was borsht. We loved borsht. And of course Dad was quite a wine drinker. He had to have wine for all his meals. But as far as other meals are concerned they are beyond my memory.
– Dad, you told us a story once about cheder that they boys lined up before going home and they used the same washcloth or towel and you hated that.
And to my luck I was the last one to use the towel. You can just imagine after all the boys got there first and used that first, I had to be the last one. You can just imagine the looks of that towel was enough to throw it out into the river.
– I wanted to ask Dad about his father’s experience leaving Russia. How he left the army.
This episode I can describe to the best of my ability. In the fall of 1904 for the second time my dad was called into the military service. He had served before he was married. There was no way of saying no. He had to go against his wishes. I do recall on a few occasions my mother took me to the barracks and there he was laying on the ground with many other soldiers. It seemed like it was a barn with straw. Anyway, he wasn’t a very happy man. Then he gave us the news on one occasion that we visited him. He said next Friday I am coming home to be with my family for Shabbos. We were kinda happy. It was his very first – what you would call – leave of absence from the military service. Well that Friday night when he came home for dinner, for Shabbos dinner, he says I’m not going back to the service. When he said that he said it in a secret low voice as if the walls shouldn’t even hear it. Then on Saturday night I heard some things going on. I didn’t understand. But that night after dark I’m going back to the Saturday night he wrapped a bundle in a cloth like a sack and he said goodbye to mother. Kissed me and with my grandfather and grandmother, meaning his parents, then left. It was on a horse and wagon. We were told that he’s going to go to America which will take a long, long time. It will take a long time until we’ll hear from him. Now, during that night grandma and grandpa came back to tell us the good news that he crossed the Yas river which took him into Romania from the city of Kishinev, where we lived.
When one escaped Russia it was during the night that they paid off a man with a boat, a rowboat, not a steam boat and in order to make sure that my dad’s escape was successful my grandma gave the man who was running the boat a ring. And when my dad made the other side of the river the man got the ring and brought it back to grandma and grandma brought it back to my mother. Which was the insurance that my dad made the escape in safety. Now, after my dad escaped Romania he made his way as far as I can remember to Germany and from there into America. And of course we did receive a letter in due time telling us that he found some long lost relatives in St. Louis and that it won’t be too long that he’ll be getting to work and start making money, and we should live with hopes that everything will turn out satisfactory because he’ll be sending for us to come to St. Louis.
While my dad was in America the Russian people were beginning to show some very bad news about what is going to happen to our Jewish people and so it really happened. On one occasion it came about that where we could see from our entrance to the home a group of hooligans and Cossacks with clubs and sticks and with guns that were going to be headed towards our area and lo and behold they did. They came into our section and they broke windows and doors and all along the street wherever they were Jewish families living they did the same think. But we were safe in our home overnight. But the next day we didn’t venture out, we didn’t dare, but we heard that they were now breaking into homes and killing people. So that was the time that mother took my sister and myself. We must have rented a wagon, with a horse and wagon, and they took us out into the country where we had some very fine Christian families who put us up in the barn, with straw, and we were put away for safety for eight consecutive days. They brought us food every day and in fact I remember on one occasion some hooligans and Cossacks came knocking at these Christian families door, making an inquiry if they know if there are any Jewish people in the vicinity. And they of course immediately said no. You can look around, you can search but we didn’t have any. You can just imagine our hearts were throbbing when we heard that they may search the barn. But thank God the Almighty was with us. They did not search the barn. After eight days we came back home with safety.
During this pogrom we didn’t hear from too many of some of the other relatives that were living in other areas. But after a few days we found out that grandma came over to our house and told us that was grandpa was injured and hurt very badly by some hooligans, that he was in the hospital, but we can’t visit him, they don’t allow any visitors. In a few days we heard that he passed away. The family was very much upset and we were mourning but there was nothing we could do but hope and pray that someday we’ll all escape and leave Russia for good.
Now, we tried our best to end our stay in Russia. So on one occasion I remember our mother making some arrangements and thank goodness it was arranged successfully. On one night my sister and mother wrapped us in bundles and we went towards on foot towards the river edge where a boat took us across the river to the city of Yas to escape from Russia. It was also done in a manner where my mother’s mother, my grandmother, also went along to see that the escape was successful. Mother gave the man who took us over a ring, brought it back to grandma to make sure that we escaped. We landed. From Yas we went to Bucharest. From there by train we went to Hamburg Germany where we took a ship that lasted 27 days in steerage to cross the Atlantic Ocean to New York. It was no fun trying to cross because I could not take the journey. I didn’t eat for 27 days because I couldn’t stand the fumigation at the bottom of the ship and I held my nose that it got so sore that even after I let go my nose was still sore even after I arrived in the United States.
Now, getting into New York Harbor we were put in quarantine on Ellis Island where for 7 days they kept us under surveillance making sure we are in A-line good health because they did not want to allow any immigrants to enter the United States that had any kind of an illness or symptoms of an illness. And we so passed, thank God, we passed the examination of all the doctors that examined us, morning and night, and we finally took a train even though we did not speak the language we were all tagged with labels with our name, labels where we were headed for, labels as to who is going to pick us up, what station, what railroad name, the train we were going to take so that we could not get lost. Everyone that watched us made sure that they could read the tag. So I’ll never forget that the time that we arrived in St. Louis there was my father and the long lost relatives ready to accepts us when we got off in St. Louis, Missouri.
– A relative mentioned many months ago that he heard that the grandparents came from Austria, which really surprised me…. You heard it indicated from Sammy Rosen in California?
He obtained some information from some distant relative that he thought that my grandparents before coming to Russia were living in Austria.
– Was their name Rothside also?
Rothside right. Now, I’m not sure if it was my grandparents or their parents. But I know this much. This happened in about the year of 1840 when Austria was beginning to create some anti-Semitism. And so many many Jews realized that it was time to get out, and where they were headed for was Besserabia where the nearest Russian opening for them to enter.
– Dad, I understand that your grandparents had really long lives. That your grandparents lived into the 90s. Is that true?
Yes it is true. They lived in St. Louis Missouri although from the time that they arrived in St. Louis they never were employed because the family believed in taking care of them. So that they lived a good social life. I know that my grandfather was very religious. He attended services morning, mincha and maariv. Friday night, Shabbos services, so that you could see that he led a good Jewish life. It did happen that 10 years before he died he lost his eyesight that influenced his activity. But since he lived one block from the shul that did not stop him from to going to services. And he really was, he was a good soul. I loved him very much.
– Dad, I’m going to ask you about your schooling. I know it is an interesting subject. Can you describe it?
Well, I’m going to be honest with you and tell you the truth. It so happened after living in St. Louis about a little less than a year
– How old were you?
I was 7.5 years of age and my parents hadn’t given any thought about schooling for me. But one day my dad had a party, oh yes, it was Leo’s circumcision day, when we invited a lot of friends, and one of the men who inquired about my schooling, my dad said to him “no, he doesn’t go to school because he can’t speak English”. “Well, that isn’t the reason, he shouldn’t go, he should go! In fact, I want him to go to the school that is near where I live so that we have a special class for new arrivals where they only teach them how to speak. Then they’ll give them the English. Well, I took a streetcar. It was too far to walk and not being able to speak I was told to give the conductor … carfare which I did. I knew exactly where to get off but I didn’t know how to tell the conductor that I wanted to get off. So lo and behold I jumped off and fell flat on my double ass. I learned my lesson the hard way because the next day I told the conductor and motioned with my fear and with my eyes and with my lips where I wanted to get off. And I did not jump any more. So I started in this school with other immigrant children learning how to speak English. I went there for about 6 months and then I started to go back to a school close to my home, it was only about 2 blocks away. I thought I liked school because it gave me the chance to learn, to speak, so that I could along with all the boys. But the more schooling I attended the less I liked it. I kept going because it meant that I would please my mother as well as my dad. But my dad was a very strict individual who wanted me to grow up to be somebody. Now, on the other hand, when my dad passed away I was only 13 years old and it was time to look around to see if we could somehow continue to live with no finances. It meant going to work. Well, not liking school again and not feeling that it was necessary for more education if I could make money it was more interest to me I decided to go to work. I worked and accomplished by trying. First it was a 5:00 getting up and going to a shop to clean up the mess they made the day before. I worked until about 6:15, 6:30 . At 6:30 I went to the another place to work until about 8:30-9:00. After that I went to a big tailoring operation where they delivered, they had they boys and me included, delivering suits to different customers. And I enjoyed delivering suits to different areas because it took me 7 cents for a carfare and if I had 7 suits to deliver they gave me 49 cents. But yours truly didn’t spend 49 cents. Because he had ways of cutting cars by using transfer on top of transfer on top of transfer. And before I knew it I came home with 22 cents in my pocket.
– That’s marvelous Dad! You played on the sensibility of the conductors.
What really happened on a few occasions was my transfer very outdated, out-houred, it was too late to be used legally I would tell the conductor, I don’t have another 3 cents carfare, would you please let me ride to my mother and then I’ll appreciate it. Before I knew it he was very kind and they said go ahead and ride, and that was the end of the day. And I ended up with 22 cents in my pocket.
– What could 22 cents buy in those days?
22 cents used to buy an awful lot. First of all, bread was only 5 cents a loaf. I remember that distinctly. And of course we also liked beets. We enjoyed having a lot of beets in our house and you could buy, oh you could buy a sack full of beets for a nickel. You could also buy milk for 5 cents. That was 5 cents a quart. What else can I tell you could buy? You could buy vegetables like carrots and tomatoes and radishes which made a good meal for anybody. I forgot to tell one more thing – a good herring used to cost 6 cents. And that made a meal in itself. Yes, we had good meals in our home. Although grandma was the main cook because mother was operating a store to make a living.
– What kind of a store was this?
Well mother first started to make dresses for people since she was always a dressmaker from the old country. But as she started doing that it meant supplying accessories and notions and some other items to go with the dressmaking. Before she realized it she had a store and instead of operating from the house. And she put in hosiery and underwear and bedspreads and pillowcases and sheets. She had a store of her own which was very successful. From there on she even went and bought a bigger store with her own building to be able to operate a good size store.
– Was that on Fiddle Street?
It was all on Fiddle Street. And I’ll tell you, she was really – even though she didn’t read, she didn’t write, she didn’t know how to sign her name, but she knew how to operate that store and make a beautiful independent living because everyone liked her. At first people were sorry for her … and being a widow…
She had a good head, a good business person. In fact, Fan will tell you how successful she was in her operation. Of course our home life was good because grandma took care of the house. She did all the cooking. She made it her business to be always ready so that one would be disappointed with our lives.
Picture from grandson Barry's wedding, July 5th, 1982. From left: Blanche (Blume) Lippitz, Fanny Rosen, Barry Rosen, Lou Rosen
Audio recording of the interview Lou and Fan Rosen, 3-1-78
It was amazing to discover this interview that my grandfather held with my great grandparents. It was extremely moving to be able to hear their voices and listen to them tell about their experiences – and to hear this firsthand account of the Kishinev pogrom.
Yiddish word for pray