“Elisa New provides a model for grasping the way in which the great historical forces of modernity – mass migration, technological innovation, war, genocide, capitalism, democracy – realize themselves not in heady abstractions but in the grainy details and the half-hidden trajectories of families.” Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University
This memoir by Harvard University literature professor Elisa New tells the story of the Levy and Baron families, their origins, and how they became intertwined through marriage and through business. Jacob Levy (1850-1929), who was Elisa New's great-grandfather, married the niece of Bernhard Baron (1850-1929). Then three of Jacob Levy's sons left Baltimore having been lured to London to make their fortunes with their uncle by marriage, Bernhard Baron. Once in London and achieving success in Baron’s business, Carreras Cigarettes, each changed his last name from Levy to Baron.
This is a very ambitious memoir that covers a lot of territory. In telling an interesting family story about Jewish immigrants who succeed economically, the author contextualizes the family story by providing extensive historical background material woven into the family story. New traces the Levy and Baron families by making visits to relatives in the U.S., England and Israel, and she does extensive research in libraries and archives everywhere. In this memoir you will learn about the family origins, but you will also learn much social and cultural history about the rise and importance of tobacco and tobacco processing as an American and a European Jewish industry. You will also learn about the history of Baltimore, its significance as a port in commerce, trade, and immigration and its politics. New also discusses entrepreneurship, inventions, and manufacturing. Besides her travels to London and to the Eastern Europe hometowns of her ancestors, we travel with New and her daughter to the unmarked graves of her great grandfather’s brother, Max and his descendants and the descendants of Jacob's brother Isaac who never left Europe, and who(all but a few) were killed by the Nazis.
The memoir includes a family tree in the front of the book and a multi-page “Selected Further Readings” list in the back that divides the research into nine categories such as “Jews in Eastern Europe” and “Tobacco, Baltimore, and the Chesapeake.” There are a few photos, including a picture of Jacob’s cane which is reprinted on the cover of the hardback edition of the memoir.
To read an excerpt from the memoir dealing with Jacob Levy's run for Congress as a member of the Socialist party, click here.
To read an interview with Elisa New where she talks about the writing of this memoir, click here.
There is an extensive family tree at the beginning of the memoir. The names below are excerpted from that tree.
Jacob Levy - author's great-grandfather; married Amelia Elfont, Bernard Baron's sister's daughter.
Edward (took the name Baron); married Bernhard Baron's granddaughter, Bertha.
Robert (took the name Baron)
Jean (married name Adler, then Jaffe)
Myrtle (married name Rosenstein)
Fanny (married name Goldman)
Theodore (took the name Baron)
Emil Levy (author's grandfather)
Jacob Levy had three brothers: Max, Isaac, and Paul.
His brother Paul married Bernhard Baron's sister Sarah.
Bernhard Baron - author's great-uncle (married 1st Sarah, then Rachel)
Bernhard and Sarah had four children
Amelia (married Jacob Levy)
Sadie (married name Wakefield)
Louis (married Elsie)
Fanny (married name 1st Caplan, then Guggenheim)
Associated with Bernhard Baron
Associated with the Levy's
Rumbula Forest, Lithuania