The Last Chapter of the Nusbaum Story: The Hano Brothers


I have finally reached the last twig on the last branch of the Nusbaum family tree.  This final chapter concerns Fanny Nusbaum, who married Jacob L. Hano.  Fanny was the daughter of Ernst Nusbaum and Clarissa Arnold, the granddaughter of Amson Nusbaum and Voegele Welsch, my four-times great-grandparents.

You might recall that my family tree is doubly connected to the Hano family tree.  First, I learned that Jacob Weil had married Flora Cohen, the daughter of Louise Lydia Hano and Samuel Cohen.  Jacob was the son of Rachel Cohen Weil, my great-grandfather’s sister.  (Samuel Cohen was not related to Rachel Cohen or any of my Cohens, however.)

Louise Lydia Hano was the sister of Jacob L. Hano, who married Fanny Nusbaum, first cousin of my great-great-grandmother Frances Nusbaum.  So one Hano married a Nusbaum, and another Hano married a Cohen.  Talk about an endogamous group!

Jacob Hano and Fanny Nusbaum had married on February 28, 1877, and had moved to Youngstown, Ohio, where their first two children, Louis and Ernest, were born.  They had returned to Philadelphia by 1884, when their third son Samuel was born.  Samuel died just fourteen days later on August 21, 1884, from inflammation of his kidneys. He died in Atlantic City, and was buried at Mt. Sinai cemetery in Philadelphia.

Samuel Hano death record

“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J6S5-2N5 : accessed 14 April 2015), Samuel Hano, 21 Aug 1884; citing , Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 2,069,818

“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J6S5-2N5 : accessed 14 April 2015), Samuel Hano, 21 Aug 1884; citing , Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 2,069,818

A fourth son, Myer Arnold, was born in Boston in 1885, so the family must have relocated again after Samuel’s death.  And then by 1890 the family had moved to New York City, where they would have two more sons, Alfred (1890) and Clarence (1891).  Their second oldest son Ernest served in the US Army in the Spanish American War in 1898; according to his nephew Arnold, Ernest was gassed while serving in the war and as a result suffered heart damage that affected him for the remainder of his life.

Indexes to the Carded Records of Soldiers Who Served in Volunteer Organizations During the Spanish-American War, compiled 1899 - 1927, documenting the period 1898 - 1903

Indexes to the Carded Records of Soldiers Who Served in Volunteer Organizations During the Spanish-American War, compiled 1899 – 1927, documenting the period 1898 – 1903

Jacob Hano had been in the printing business on his own, but in 1892 he joined with his younger brother Philip in the printing business instead of competing with him, as discussed in the ad below.

The American Stationer, Volume 31 p. 93

The American Stationer, Volume 31 p. 93

I love the comment here that this reduction in competition would not result in rising prices, just better service.

As of 1900 the Hano family was living at 205 West 134th Street in Manhattan.  Louis, now 22, was working as a salesman, and the other four sons were at home.  Unfortunately, the family was to lose another son early in the 20th century.  On April 10, 1902, Myer Arnold Hano died at age seventeen from typhoid fever.  This was the second son that Jacob and Fanny lost far too early.

Hano, Meyer Death

In 1905, the family was still living at the same address on West 134th Street, and now Ernest (25) was also working as a salesman.  Alfred (15) and Clarence (13) were still in school.  Jacob was in the “manifold business,” as stated in the advertisement above.  From what I can gather, a manifold book is a type of form book used by businesses.

Source Citation New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 23 E.D. 13; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 44

Source Citation
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 23 E.D. 13; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 44

Louis, the oldest son, was not listed with the family on the 1905 census, nor can I find him elsewhere.  However, by 1910, he was back living in the household with his parents and brothers.  The family was now living at 344 St. Nicholas Avenue, and both Jacob and his son Louis were in the business of manufacturing “cravats.” Clarence was a salesman for the company, and Alfred was not employed.  Alfred must have been in school because by 1910, he was employed as a lawyer.

Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1022; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0560; FHL microfilm: 1375035

Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1022; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0560; FHL microfilm: 1375035

1910 occupations Jacob Hano

Ernest, the second oldest son, was not living with his family in 1910, but was living as a lodger in the household of Madeleine McGlone at 325 West 141st Street.  There were two other lodgers living there as well.  Ernest was a neckwear salesman, presumably those made by his father since his father and brothers were manufacturing and selling cravats.  Madeleine McGlone, his landlady, was listed as married for 14 years, but there was no husband in the household.  A little research revealed that Madeleine was born Madeleine Constance Barnard in Ontario, Canada, and had married George A. McGlone in 1896; however, in 1910, George McGlone was living in the Bronx and listing himself as a widower, so it would seem that the marriage between Madeleine and George had ended.  At any rate, I mention this because, as we will see, Madeleine would end up being much more than Ernest’s landlady, and perhaps already was by 1910.

Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1027; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0706; FHL microfilm: 1375040

Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1027; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0706; FHL microfilm: 1375040

In 1915, Jacob and Fanny still had three of their sons at home, Louis, Alfred, and Clarence, and the family had relocated to Queens. Jacob, Louis (37), and Clarence (23) listed their occupations as salesmen, and Alfred (25) was a lawyer.  Ernest, meanwhile, had moved to the Bronx, where he was still listed as a boarder living in Madeleine McGlone’s household along with her mother.  Ernest, now 36, listed his occupation as a collector (bills? Stamps? Coins?).

The next five years brought lots of changes, in particular, the year 1917.   On June 3, 1917, Clarence, the youngest of the brothers, became the first to marry.  He married Mathilda Kutes, the daughter of a Russian immigrant and an Austrian immigrant.  Mathilda was born in New York in April 1897, and although she was living with her parents in 1900 in New York, by 1910 when she was not yet 13 years old, she was living as a “relative” in a household of people named Hertz of Hungarian background.  I cannot seem to locate Mathilda’s parents or her siblings on the 1910 census.

Just four and a half months after Clarence married, Alfred Hano married Clara Millhauser on October 25, 1917.  Clara was the daughter of Isaac Millhauser, a police officer, and Bertha Silverberg, and was a native New Yorker.  According to the 1915 New York census, Clara had been working as a typist before she married Alfred.

Unfortunately, 1917 ended on an unhappy note.  Fanny Nusbaum Hano, my first cousin four times removed, died on December 25, 1917, from cancer.  She was 61 years old.  She was the second of the Nusbaum children to predecease her mother Clarissa.

Hano, Fannie Death

The World War I draft registrations for the Hano sons give more information about where they were in 1917-1918.  Louis, now 40 years old, was living with his father Jacob in Manhattan.  He was a salesman for Anathan & Co.  Ernest, now 38, was living in Brooklyn, and was self-employed as a kennel owner.  Both Louis and Ernest were single. Alfred was a lawyer, living in Manhattan with his wife Clara.  He claimed an exemption from service based on “dependents—physical disability.”  He also indicated that he had previously served as a private in the infantry for a month.  It appears that instead Alfred served in the NY Guard.  Finally, Clarence was living in Manhattan with Matilda and was employed as a salesman for Berg Brothers.

Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786680; Draft Board: 145

Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786680; Draft Board: 145

Registration State: New York; Roll: 1754135; Draft Board: 23

Registration State: New York; Roll: 1754135; Draft Board: 23

Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786806; Draft Board: 147

Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786806; Draft Board: 147

New York State Archives; Albany, New York; Collection: New York, New York Guard Service Cards and Enlistment Records, 1906-1918, 1940-1948; Series: B2000; Film Number: 10

New York State Archives; Albany, New York; Collection: New York, New York Guard Service Cards and Enlistment Records, 1906-1918, 1940-1948; Series: B2000; Film Number: 10

Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786806; Draft Board: 147

Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786806; Draft Board: 147

Both Alfred and Clarence had sons born in 1918, named Alfred and Richard, respectively.

Alfred Hano birth announcement-page-001

In 1920, Jacob, now a widower and working again as a printer, was living with Clarence, Matilda, and their son Richard in Hempstead, Long Island.  Clarence was a dry goods buyer.  Louis was living alone at 168 West 74th Street and working as a ladies’ neckwear salesman.  Alfred and his wife and son were living on Edgecomb Avenue in Manhattan, and Alfred was working as a lawyer.  Ernest was continuing to live with Madeleine McGlone.  Ernest was listed as Madeleine’s “cousin” on the census.  Hmmm…  Madeleine and Ernest both described their occupations as dog breeders.  From my cousin Arnold, I now know that they were very successful breeders of Boston terriers.

Year: 1920; Census Place: Bronx Assembly District 8, Bronx, New York; Roll: T625_1143; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 462; Image: 438

Year: 1920; Census Place: Bronx Assembly District 8, Bronx, New York; Roll: T625_1143; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 462; Image: 438

In the next two years, both Alfred and Clarence again had sons, named Arnold and Edwin, respectively.  That made four grandsons after six sons for Jacob and Fanny Hano.

Jacob Hano died on September 5, 1922.  He was 72 years old and died from kidney and heart disease.

Jacob Hano death certificate 1922

In 1925, Louis was living alone on West 73rd Street, working as a salesman.  Ernest was living on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx with Madeleine McGlone, now listed as her “partner” in the dog breeding business.  Alfred was also living in the Bronx on Montgomery Avenue with his wife and two sons, and he was still practicing law.  Clarence was living in Inwood on Long Island with his wife and two sons, and he was still a salesman.

New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1925; Election District: 32; Assembly District: 06; City: New York; County: Bronx; Page: 14

New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1925; Election District: 32; Assembly District: 06; City: New York; County: Bronx; Page: 14

Ernest finally married his former “landlady/cousin/partner” on December 28, 1927.  He was 47, and she was 51, and they had been living with each other since at least 1910.  Things did not change much for the other brothers between 1925 and 1930.  According to the 1930 census, Louis was still living alone in Manhattan, now on West 86th Street, and selling sportswear.  Alfred was still living in the Bronx, but had changed occupations; he was now in the printing business as his father Jacob had once been. According to his son Arnold, Alfred joined his uncle Philip Hano’s printing business after he closed his law practice.  Clarence was still living on Long Island, now a sales manager for a millinery business.

Sometime between 1930 and 1940, Louis Hano married a woman named Blanche, who had a son named Lewis.  Blanche is listed as his wife on the 1940 census, and Lewis, 22 years old, is listed as his son.  Since Louis was single in 1920 and 1930, I was fairly certain that Lewis was not his biological child.  After much research, I concluded that Blanche had previously been married to Maurice Tobias and that Lewis was his biological child.  After Blanche married Louis, Lewis Bertram Tobias became Lewis Bertram Hano.  Whether or not he was legally adopted I cannot determine.  I am in touch with a descendant of Lewis, and we are trying to learn more.  At any rate, Louis F. Hano (note the different spelling of Louis and Lewis) became a husband and father for the first time some time in his fifties.  Louis was a salesman for a knit goods business, and Lewis was engaged in purchasing for a specialty shop.  They were living in Queens.

Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, Queens, New York; Roll: T627_2729; Page: 62B; Enumeration District: 41-449

Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, Queens, New York; Roll: T627_2729; Page: 62B; Enumeration District: 41-449

While Louis had moved out of Manhattan by 1940, two of his brothers had moved back to Manhattan. Alfred Hano was living at 41 West 83rd Street with his wife and sons in 1940, and he was working as a salesman for an industrial company, according to the census.  His son Alfred, now 21, was working as a salesman for a tonsorial equipment company, i.e., barbershop supplies.

Occupations of Alfred Hano and his son Alfred on the 1940 census Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2642; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 31-801

Occupations of Alfred Hano and his son Alfred on the 1940 census
Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2642; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 31-801

Clarence Hano also moved back to Manhattan by 1940.  He and his family were living at 465 West 65th Street.  Clarence was still selling millinery; his wife Mathilda was working as a manager for a publishing company.  Their sons Richard and Edwin were both working as stock clerks, one for a thread company and the other for a button company.

I cannot locate Ernest and his wife Madeleine on the 1940 census, but he and Madeleine are listed in the 1938 directory for Claremont, New Hampshire, described as “retired” and living at “Blink Cottage” on Lake Avenue.  There is an identical listing in the 1942 Claremont directory, so I assume that that is where they were in 1940 as well.  On the other hand, Ernest’s 1942 draft registration lists his residence as 1422 Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, so perhaps they had both a city home and a country home during this period.  The draft registration confirmed that he was retired and married to Madeleine Hano.

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

Louis’ World War II draft registration showed him living with Blanche in Elmhurst, Queens, and employed by the Elgin Knit Sportswear Company.  He was now 64 years old.  His adopted son Lewis Bertram Hano married Marion Fitz on September 20, 1942, and Lewis served in the US Navy for much of World War II.

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

According to his World War II draft registration, Clarence Hano was living at 25 West 68th Street and employed by the American Straw Goods Company. He was 50 years old.  His son Richard enlisted in the US Army on May 14, 1941, before the US had entered World War II.  Edwin Hano also served in the US Army during the war.

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

Alfred Hano was living at 41 West 83rd Street at the time of his draft registration in 1942.  He was employed by the United Autographic Register Company at that time.  He was 52 years old.  Both of his sons also served in World War II.  His younger son Arnold enlisted in the US Army on October 16, 1942, and served in the Pacific Theater during the war.

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York

Alfred’s older son, Alfred, had enlisted six months before his younger brother on April 10, 1942.  He served in the Army Air Corps in Europe.  Tragically, Alfred was killed when his plane was shot down over Germany in March, 1944.  He was only 26 years old.

Publication Title: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947 Publisher: NARA National Archives Catalog ID: 305256 National Archives Catalog Title: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs), compiled 1942 - 1947

Publication Title: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947
Publisher: NARA
National Archives Catalog ID: 305256
National Archives Catalog Title: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs), compiled 1942 – 1947

The 1940s must have been very painful, heart-breaking years for the extended Hano family.  Not only did they lose Alfred in the war and see four other young men put their lives on the line, they also lost two of the Hano brothers within just months of each other.  On August 8, 1847, Ernest Nusbaum Hano died in Sunapee, New Hampshire; he was 67 years old.   His wife Madeleine survived him by sixteen years, dying March 6, 1963, in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she had relocated after Ernest’s death.  Then on November 30, 1947, Louis F. Hano died in Queens; he was seventy years old.  His wife Blanche lived until April 2, 1965.

As for the other two brothers, Clarence died in April, 1960.  He was 69 years old.  His wife Mathilda died in 1976 when she was 79 years old.  Both of their sons died before they were sixty years old, Edwin in 1970 and Richard in 1977.

Alfred Hano was the last surviving Hano brother.  His wife Clara had died in 1953, and Alfred lived until May, 1967.  He was 76 when he died.  He was survived by his son Arnold, who is a very well-known and well-regarded sportswriter.  His book about one game of the 1954 World Series, A Day in the Bleachers, is considered a baseball classic and innovative in the way he described in detail the play by play of the entire game. It was in that game that Willie Mays made his historic catch, captured in this video:

He has also written a number of biographies as well as a number of novels.  I recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Arnold, who is now 93 years old.  It was an absolutely delightful conversation in which we discussed everything from the Bronx, baseball, war, children, careers, and family.  I have already added his books to my reading list for the summer.  There is a documentary currently being made about my cousin Arnold, and although Arnold himself questions why anyone would be interested in his life, I know that I will be very excited to see this film when it is completed.

A Day in the Bleachers cover

And so that brings me to the end of the story of not only the Hano family, and not only to the end of story of the descendants of Ernst Nusbaum, but to the end of the story of all the children and grandchildren of Amson Nusbaum and Voegele Welsch,[1] my four-times great-grandparents from Schopfloch, Germany.

[1] Voegele was most likely the person for whom all those girls named Fanny, Flora, Florence, and Frances were named for in the Nusbaum/Dreyfuss/Dinkelspiel family.  I still need to find out more about the Welsch line of my family.

Brotmans, Resslers, Rosenzweigs, and Goldschlagers: All Roads Meet on Pacific Street in Brooklyn

Gussie and Isadore

Gussie and Isadore

This is probably the most moving discovery yet for me personally.  I am so excited that I don’t know where to start.  This story involves the Brotman family and the Ressler family AND the Rosenzweig family and the Goldschlager family.  It’s the final piece of the puzzle about how my grandparents met.  It came as a posthumous gift from my much beloved Aunt Elaine, who truly was not only our family matriarch, but also our family historian.  Aunt Elaine, you always wanted to tell me these stories, and I was too young and dumb to care.  I know you would be so happy that I am finally interested and recording them for all time.

Fortunately, someone was interested in her stories back then.  It seems that not only did my brother listen to my aunt, so did my cousin Jody’s husband Joel, my aunt’s son-in-law.  He interviewed her about the family and took careful notes.  Jody and Joel just found his notes while going through some boxes in their house, and Jody emailed them to me.  There is so much information in there that it will take me a while to digest it all and write it up for the blog.  Joel’s notes cover stories and anecdotes about the family and reveal some new things as well as things we now know but that I did not know a year ago.  But here’s the story that made me say out loud, “Oh, my God!”  And then to stop and sit in amazement.

You may recall that a while back I wrote a post about how various members of my family met their spouses, including my grandmother and grandfather.  I wrote:  “My grandfather Isadore supposedly saw my grandmother sitting in the window of her sister Tillie’s grocery store in Brooklyn and was taken by her beauty.”  That was the family story passed down the generations.

When I wrote about this story recently, what I couldn’t figure out was what my grandfather was doing in Brooklyn.  He had always lived in East Harlem since arriving in New York and did not live or work in Brooklyn in 1915. So what would have brought him to Brooklyn from East Harlem when he first saw my grandmother?

The answer is revealed in the notes Jody and Joel just sent me.  The story begins with my aunt telling Joel that my grandmother Gussie Brotman used to go to her sister Tillie’s grocery store after school.Gussie at Tillie's storeIn case you cannot read that, it says, “After school on Friday Gussie would go to Tillie’s house in Brooklyn at her grocery store.”

In 1915 Tillie and Aaron were living at 1997 Pacific Street in Brooklyn.    As Joel’s notes continue:

Isadore sees Gussie

“Isidore Goldschlager visiting a cousin who lived down the street from the grocery store. As he got off the trolley he saw Gussie on milk box and said to his cousin there is a very beautiful girl.  Isadore said he wants to meet her.” (emphasis added)

 In  1915, the Rosenzweigs were living at 1914 Pacific Street, right down the block from 1997 Pacific Street where Tillie and Aaron Ressler lived. When I wrote that post back on February 5, I did not yet know about Gustave Rosenzweig and his family.  I had no idea that my grandfather had cousins living in Brooklyn on the same street where my grandmother was living.

Rosenzweigs 1915

Rosenzweigs 1915

Gussie living with TIllie 1915

Gussie living with TIllie 1915

So the cousin that my grandfather was visiting was one of the sons of Gustave Rosenzweig.  In 1915, Abraham was 26, Jacob  was 21, and Joseph was 17.  Abraham and Jacob were in the Navy, and Joseph was working as a driver’s helper.  My grandfather was 27 in 1915, so my guess is that he was hanging out with Abraham, who was closest to him in age.

Isadore age 27

Isadore age 27

I have wondered whether my grandfather ever saw these cousins once they all got to NYC, whether he knew them well.  Well, obviously he did.  If he had not been close to them, he would never have come to Brooklyn.  He would never have seen that beautiful red haired woman sitting on the milk box.  And this would never have happened:

Isadore Goldschlager and Bessie Brotman  marriage certificate

Isadore Goldschlager and Gussie Brotman
marriage certificate

Isadore and Gussie marriage cert 2And if that hadn’t happened, then my Aunt Elaine and my Uncle Maurice and my mother would never have been born, and then all my first cousins and my siblings and I would never have been born.

That little stroll down Pacific Street brought the Rosenzweig/Goldschlager family together with the Brotman family and thus created my family.  How could this not be my favorite story ever?

This is another one of those moments when all the time spent studying census reports pays off.  If I had not found the 1915 census reports for the Resslers and the Rosenzweigs, I would never have known they lived down the street from each other.  If I hadn’t looked at all those other documents, I would never have learned about my grandfather’s cousins and his uncle Gustave.  If I hadn’t started this blog, Jody and Joel might never have found these notes in their boxes of papers and provided the last piece of the puzzle. If Joel hadn’t listened to his mother-in-law, we wouldn’t have her memories and stories to tie it all together.  It should remind us all to ask questions and take notes and listen to our parents, our aunts and uncles, and our grandparents  so that we can learn everything we can while we can.

Thank you, Jody and Joel.  Thank you, Aunt Elaine.  Thank you, Uncle Gustave, for moving to Brooklyn.  Thank you, Aunt Tillie, for taking my grandmother to Brooklyn. And thank you, Abraham Rosenzweig, for taking my grandfather for that walk down Pacific Street so that he could meet and marry my grandmother.

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Streets: Conclusion (Bella’s adolescence)

The rest of the book was harder to read.  As Bella turned twelve and became less innocent, she became more aware of the squalor and ugliness of her world.  She wrote, “I was now twelve and acutely conscious of the sordidness of the life about me.  To escape, I hid behind my books and built up a life of my own in the public school I attended on East Broadway and at the settlement house on Madison Street.” (p. 66)

Her mother married one of the long time boarders and soon was pregnant.  Although their first year of marriage seemed fine to Bella, after the baby was born and soon developed a medical condition that left him scarred and covered with sores, her stepfather abandoned her mother, who was already pregnant with another child. They never saw him again. (There is no explanation of her brother’s condition, but it seemed to continue for several years so was not just a short-term childhood illness like measles or chicken pox.)

Supporting an extra child as a single parent created enough of an additional financial burden for Fanny that she and her children had to move to a less desirable street in the Lower East Side, Goerck Street.  Bella described it as a “tough block” where there were several bars, a lumberyard, and a garbage heap.  There were frequent bottle fights.   Most of the residents of the street were Galician Jews, but there were also Hungarian, German and Russian Jews as well as many Italian immigrants.

Fanny and her children moved their belongings to the new tenement with a pushcart, taking several trips to do so. Bella described the new building as follows:

“Our house, like the others, had four families on each floor, two to the rear and two to the front.  There were two windows to the front room which either faced the street or the yard, one window in the kitchen that faced an extremely narrow, lightless airshaft, and in the bedroom a tiny square window that faced the hall. … Separating the front room from the kitchen is what my mother called a ‘blind window.’  It was simply a square hole, framed by woodwork, which allowed some of the front light to filter into the kitchen and stop at the entrance to the bedroom.” (p. 82)

In this small, dark and airless space, Fanny and Bella found cockroaches and rats.  As before, Fanny took in numerous boarders to help her pay the rent and also took on sewing jobs to supplement her income.

Bella graduated from grade school and was determined to go to high school, unlike many of her classmates and friends who had to go to work in one of the factories in order to help support their families.  Fanny was fully supportive of Bella’s desire to go on to high school, even though she was told by many that she was foolish and should make Bella get a job instead.  Bella enrolled at George Washington High School in Manhattan, about two miles away from the Lower East Side, and was excited to be continuing her education.

Bella, however, did also take on a part-time job, working Sundays as a trimmer at a man’s coat shop on their street.  Her mother also received financial assistance and other support from the United Hebrew Charities and worked long, long hours sewing to earn extra income.   When the second baby was born in May, 1913, the charity covered her rent for the time that Fanny could not work. In return, however, the charity wanted Fanny to consider sending Bella to work full time.  Fanny resisted, and Bella continued to go to high school.  Bella resented having to justify her desire to continue school to the charity.

Bella, however, was now much more aware of the precariousness of their financial condition, and it was often a struggle to pay the rent, which was often paid late and in partial payments.  When she was not at school, Bella took care of her two baby brothers while her mother continued to work as much as possible, taking in sewing work.

Bella’s feelings at this time are poignantly conveyed in the memoir:

“I looked at the sleeping tenements and down at the street strewn with garbage and wet newspapers. Was this living?… It was all so hopeless.  When would it end?”  (pp. 103-104)

Although Bella still loved school and had friends with whom she had some good times, it is apparent that she no longer felt the somewhat joyful attitude she had had as a child.  Although it does seem that their financial condition was worse than it might have been earlier, the poverty and squalor she described must also have been very much present in the neighborhood where she lived when she was younger.   It is likely that as Bella was exposed to more of the outside world through school and books, she also became much more discerning and outraged by the conditions of her own world.

When Fanny finally was unable to pay the rent one month in 1914 and received an eviction notice, Bella offered to quit school.  Fanny refused to consider it, saying that Bella was “going to be a lady. Not like me, a schnorrer!” (p.110) Fanny swallowed her pride and begged the United Hebrew Charities for assistance.  They agreed to give her fourteen dollars, which she used to move her family out of the Lower East Side and up to First Avenue and 49th Street (where the UN now sits).  The charity also provided her with some sewing work.

Thus, Fanny and her children left the Lower East Side and moved to what was then called the Dead End neighborhood, an area of slums that were torn down in the 1920s.  This was not a move up, but a move to a cheaper neighborhood.

The last chapter focuses on Bella’s experiences while living in that neighborhood, a more mixed neighborhood where she had many non-Jewish neighbors.  The accommodation was comparable to what they had had on the Lower East Side, a three room tenement apartment.  Fanny was heavily dependent on United Hebrew Charities for support and grew increasingly despondent over her situation and over the health of her older son. At one point her relationship with Bella was so fraught with tension that Fanny lost her temper and began hitting Bella quite violently.  Bella realized that she needed to get away and spent the summer before her senior year working at a boy’s school in the Catskills as a chamber maid and waitress.

Bella somehow managed to graduate from high school while also holding down various part-time jobs, including working in another factory, tutoring, and helping her mother with extra sewing work.  She also continued to take care of her little brothers.  Right after she graduated from George Washington High School in June, 1917, whatever was left of Bella’s childhood innocence ended abruptly when her sickly little brother died from whatever medical condition had burdened him since infancy.  That is where Bella abruptly ends her memoirs as well.

In an afterword written by Lois Raeder Elias[1], who knew Bella for over thirty years, Elias commented that although Bella ultimately found great personal and financial success, saw the world, and knew many important and impressive people, she was permanently scarred and haunted by her years of poverty, growing up on the Lower East Side.  She never felt financially secure and lived always in fear of poverty.

If the chapters about Bella’s early childhood left me feeling somewhat hopeful about how our family lived on the Lower East Side, the rest of the book left me feeling incredibly sad.  How did our grandparents and great-grandparents cope with these conditions? How did Max, Hyman, and Tillie, all of whom were born in Europe, manage to pull themselves out of poverty and become a cigar dealer, a liquor store owner, and a grocery store owner in one generation?  How did all our grandparents manage to support and raise their children, who all somehow managed to achieve comfortable middle class or better lives in good neighborhoods in NYC and its suburbs?

Reading this book filled me with renewed respect and gratitude for our great-grandparents and grandparents.  We should never forget what they accomplished and what a gift that has been for all of us.

Bessie

Bessie


[1] There was a surprise gift inside this book when I received it.  I had ordered the book from a third party vendor through amazon.com, and inside the book I found a handwritten note by Lois Raeder Elias to friends named Sheila and Alan.  The note reads,”At last we have received copies of Bella’s memoirs. We thought they would never come.  This one is for you.  I hope you enjoy it.  I’ll talk to you this weekend.  On to Turkey! Love,  Arthur and Lois.”

I hope that Sheila and Alan, whoever they were, appreciated this book.  I fear that they just passed it on without ever noticing the card left inside by their friends, Arthur and Lois.