Monday, February 17, 2014
The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin 2013
David Laskin (b.1953) has woven together a tapestry of engrossing stories about his large extended family, starting with his great-great grandfather Shimon Dov HaKohen, a torah scribe, and his wife Beyle Shapiro who lived and raised their six children in Volozhin in Belarus. In the course of the book, Laskin follows their descendents along three geographical paths: Eastern Europe, America, and Israel.
Even though Laskin grew up in the New York City suburbs near his immigrant grandfather and some of his grandfather’s siblings, he knew nothing about their early lives, neither in Eastern Europe nor in America where they immigrated over the course of the first decade of the 20th century. When he got old enough to make decisions for himself, he distanced himself from his Jewish heritage and the world represented by his immigrant relatives. A call to Israel at the suggestion of his mother to ask a cousin to verify the accuracy of a family "legend" piqued his interest in his family’s history and started him on a quest to learn everything he could.
What’s truly satisfying about reading The Family is being able to follow Laskin’s highly readable prose where he integrates history from many sources and places his relatives in the context of history. In the metropolitan New York area, where the bulk of Laskin's family originally settled, we read about the businesses they established and how they lived out versions of the American Dream. For example, he gives us many interesting details about the oldest sibling, his great aunt Itel Rosenthal, who founded and ran the Maidenform Bra company along with her husband. But before we learn about her great successes as a capitalist, he fills in details about her early life in Eastern Europe, sketching in the political climate, the growing restrictions on Jews, and her risky, active membership in the Bund.
The most moving sections are those having to do with his relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. He is shocked to find out he had relatives who had been murdered and wondered why no one had ever talked about it. He is aided in researching their stories because the cousin he had originally contacted in Israel had in his possession almost three hundred letters in Yiddish sent to his mother, Sonia, who had immigrated to Palestine in 1932. Many of the letters, some of which are reproduced, were from Sonia's two sisters who were stranded with their families and their mother in Eastern Europe. To learn as much as he could about their end, Laskin embarked on a multi-year project which involved two trips to Israel to meet with Sonia’s surviving children, and a “roots” trip to Belarus and Lithuania with some of those relative as well as others. He also did archival research, trying to track down whatever he could find about those who had been murdered.
One of the strengths of this book is that Laskin’s family members are fleshed-out individuals, but they are also stand-ins for many others: the waves of Eastern European immigrants who, like them, settled on the overcrowded Lower East Side of New York and worked their way “up” to other parts of the city and the suburbs. In narrating Sonia and her husband Chaim’s life as early pioneers in Palestine, he provides historical background about the British Mandate as well as the physical conditions of early settlements to help readers understand what it was like to be an early pioneer.
And in investigating the murders of his relatives during the Holocaust he sketches in the geography and politics of World War II as it impacted on his relatives in Volozhin, Rakov and Vilna, including in great detail the Nazi plan for wiping out the Jewish population in Vilna where one of Sonia’s sisters and her family lived. He describes in detail the Vilna ghetto, the forest at Ponar, the Einsatzgruppen, and the slave labor camp at Klooga.
The Family: Three Journeys into the heart of the Twentieth Century has much to offer. Laskin has recreated his family in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
This book contains a family tree with dates of birth and death, many family photos, a two-page glossary of "foreign" words, extensive notes which include sources he consulted keyed to text pages and an index.
To read about the history of the Jewish Lower East Side, click here.
To look at interesting photos from the Jewish cemetery in Seduva, click here.
Author’s mother’s paternal line
Shimon Dov Hakohen, - son of Chaim; married Beyle Shapiro
Avram Akiva Kaganovich (Abraham Cohen) – son of Simon Dov and Beyle; married Gishe Sore (Sarah); married
Itel Kaganovich (Ida Cohen) – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Wolf (William) Rosenthal
Lewis and Beatrice Rosenthal – children of Ida and William
Ettal Kaganovich (Ethel Cohen) – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Samuel Epstein
Bernard, and David Epstein – sons of Ethel and Samuel
Inda Epstein – daughter of Ethel and Samuel; married Irving Goldfarb
Gail Goldfarb – daughter of Inda and Irving; married Richard Cohen
Hersch Kaganovich (Harry Cohen) – son of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Sallie Bodker
Melvin Cohen – son of Harry and Sallie
Shmuel Kaganovich (Sam Cohen) –son of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Celia Zimmerman; 2nd marriage to Gisri Sore Galpierjn (Gladys Helperin)
Dorothy and Sidney Cohen– twin children of Sam and Celia
Lester Cohen – son of Sam and Celia
Marvin Cohen – son of Sam and Celia
Gary Cohen – son of Marvin; married to Lori
Leona Cohen – daughter of Sam and Gladys; married Meyer Laskin
Robert Laskin – son of Leona and Meyer; married to Sue
Isaac and Gabriel Laskin – sons of Robert and Sue
Daniel Laskin – son of Leona and Meyer
David Laskin – son of Leona and Meyer; married to Kate O’Neill; author Emily, Sarah, and Alice Laskin; daughters of David and Kate
Jonathan Laskin – son of Leon and Meyer
Chaim Yasef Kaganovich (Hyman Cohen) – son of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Anna Raskin
Barbara Cohen – daughter of Hyman and Anna; married Morton Weisenfeld
Chana Kaganovich – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore
Leie Kaganovich (Lillie Cohen) – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Joseph Salwitz
Yasef Bear Kaganovich (Joseph Cohn) – son of Shimon and Beyle; married
Devorah Bayer – great-great granddaughter of Yasef Bear and Ethel
Shalom Tvi Kaganovich (Sholom Kahanowicz) – son of Shimon Dov and Beyle; married Beyle Botwinik
Shula Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle
Doba Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle; married to Shabtai Senitski Shimon and Wolf Kaganovich – sons of Doba and Shabtai
Etl Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle; married to Khost Goldstein
Mirile and Doba – daughters of Etl and Khost
Sonia Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle; married to Chaim Kaganovich
Leah Kaganovich – daughter of Sonia and Chaim; married to Avi
Galit Kaganovich Weise – daughter of Leah and Avi
Arie Kaganovich – son of Sonia and Chaim
Shimon Kaganovich – son of Sonia and Chaim; married to Riki
Amir Kaganovich – son of Shimon and Riki
Benny Kaganovich – son of Sonia and Chaim; married to Orna
Rotem Kaganovich – son of Benny and Orna
Feige Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle
Arie Kaganovich – son of Shimon and Beyle; married Leah
Chana Kaganovich – daughter of Arie and Leah; married Meir Finger
Yishayahu Kaganovich – son of Arie and Leah; married Henia
Leah Kaganovich – daughter of Yishayahu and Henia
Chaim Kaganovich – son of Arie and Leah; married Sonia Kaganovich (first cousin; see above
Shlomo – son of Leah and second husband
Leah Golda Kaganovich – daughter of Shimon and Beyle; married Shmuel Rubenstein
Rose Rubenstein Einziger – daughter of Leah Golda and Shmuel
Laurie Einziger Bellet – daughter of Rose
Betty Rubenstein – daughter of Leah Golda and Shmuel
Sol Rubenstein – son of Leah Golda and Shmuel
Susan Rubenstein Schechet – daughter of Sol
Louis Rubenstein – son of Leah Golda and Shmuel
Herman Kaganovich (Cohn) – son of Shimon Dov and Beyle; married Libbie
Leonard and Seymour Cohn – sons of Herman and Libbie
Zelig Kost – nephew of Gishe Sore Kagan (see above); 2nd marriage to Shoshanna Buckerman
Esther Kost – daughter of Zelig and first wife
Estelle Kost – daughter of Zelig and Shoshanna
Moses (Moe) Rosenthal – brother of William Rosenthal(see above)
Masha Rosenthal Hammer – sister of William Rosenthal (see above)
Harry Raskin – brother of Anna Raskin (see above)
Tsipora Alperovich – a relative of Beyle Botwinik (see above)
Hayim Yehoshua Botwinik – brother of Beyle Botwinik; married to Esther
Yitzchak Senitski – brother of Shabtai Senitsky (see above)
Cousins of author – exact connection not clear: Sallie Cohen, married to Michael; Lenore Cohen, married to Marvin Sleisenger; Jeff Cohen; Dick Salwitz, married to Kathryn; Jay Epstein; Adrian Epstein; Rochelle Rogart; Chuck Cohen and son Laurence; Bert Cohen
Friends and Acquaintances
Yitzhak and Leah Cohen
The forest at Ponar
Foehrenwald Displaced Persons Camp
Lower East Side
Kvutza Har Kinneret
New Haven, Conn.
Palm Beach, Florida