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Polumbaum Family from Mir

Rachil Amdursky

Rachil Amdursky, age 14( Vilna)

 

Beylke Amdursky who was born about 1901 in Mir
(in white dress)

 

 

 

Beylke Amdursky (on right in back row)
(no information on where photo was taken, but probably not Mir)

Picture notes: These photos were contributed by Nyna Polumbaum who tells the following story about her ancestors from Mir.

My grandfather, Shlomo Chayim Amdursky, owned an iron store on the square, on land leased from the count. (I suspect that he came from elsewhere to start a business but there is no history of that.)

He and his wife, Nihama, raised 7 children, but were still hardly over 30 in 1905, when the extra maid for Passover brought typhoid to all except the newborn. The parents died, the children survived. Relatives, many unknown to the children, arrived from everywhere, divided the children, jewelry and property among themselves, and burned all family photos, saying the children "wouldn't feel bad when they saw how young and beautiful their parents had been". Their house was one of two my grandfather built. I'm told the rear house was rented to a doctor, (perhaps named Davidson or something like that).

The family house went to the neediest aunt (I don't know where she came from, but it wasn't Mir). Her name was Tsippemirrel. Last name unknown, but her children in New Jersey and Montreal called themselves Sloan.

Rachil, my mother, age five, was left behind in Mir with her aunt, while the others were each taken to separate places. One died young and none of the others could learn the cause of death or where it occured. From the age of nine Rachil had all the domestic responsibilities. Tsippemirrel, with a mentally fragile husband, supported the family by selling lumber. Rachil often had to carry the baby to chayder and stash her in the cloakroom. If she cried too much she had to be taken home. She scrubbed floors, ironed curtains, hauled water and kept the accounts of the yeshiva boys who boarded with them. Only at an occasional funeral or wedding did the siblings meet.

When Rachel was 14 WWI had already begun, but she finally convinced her aunt, whom she loved, to let her leave Mir. The tiny girl set out with a few rubles, some addresses and a basket over her arm. The first stop was a relative's bakery in Vilna. Here a famous photographer of well-off Jewish burghers spied her behind the counter and asked her to sit for him. When she showed up in finery borrowed from a friend, with hair pinned-up to look grown-up, he shouted at her to go home and get back her everyday looks. He put the photograph in his street display, where it wasn't much liked by the wealthy customers who passed. In Warsaw she worked in a millinery sweatshop where she could hardly reach the foot pedals of her machine.

She lived with her father's cousin and eventually saved enough money to set out for Rotterdam at age 16. She said all the friends brought food enough for a month to the train. One of the Warsaw relatives, Matthew Kahan, later a mandolin soloist in NY, remained her lifelong friend. From Rotterdam she set out in steerage, but the ship soon returned to port because of U-boats. The Dutch government provided a hostel, 4 bunks to a room, with meals, for the passengers until the waters were safer. Rachil didn't want to just wait around so she found a job in a hat factory that amazed her with its cleanliness. She brought several young girls from the hostel to join her at the factory.

One day she returned to find confusion in the hostel; the US had instituted a literacy requirement for immigration. Former students in the group were organizing a school and asked her to assist. She was flattered. She'd had such a wretched education.

She was able to pick up enough Dutch to get invited to Jewish homes and was again amazed at how lovely their homes were compared to Byelorussia.

Before departure she visited the steamship company office to turn her earnings into a second class ticket and found that the men in the office had set her ID picture aside because she looked so good. But when this tiny girl came in they said they were disappointed that she was a kid. The crossing on the Noordam was wild; near the end she was the only passenger to appear in the 2nd class dining salon. The entire crew had lined up to salute her and wait on her. She recalled it as the most thrilling moment of her life.

They arrived in New York on what was then called Decoration Day (Memorial Day). The harbor was filled with little boats and celebrants, so she thought the war was over. Because she was young and had no family, HIAS took her to Lafayette Street to decide what to do with her. The next morning she heard a call, "Amdursky, your brother's here!" He had searched the passenger list in the Yiddish newspaper because it was the first ship in a long time, and there she was. They didn't let him take her (he had a different last name, but that's another story) until he could provide documents showing he was actually a relative.

Beylke Amdursky, a year younger than her sister Rachil, was the beauty. I don't know the shtetl where she was taken, or if it is close to Mir. She was one of two sisters who didn't emigrate to America. She fell in love with a handsome violinist and went with him to Kharkov, where he was named concertmaster of the opera. She became a pharmacist. Her son Solomon, a Red Army officer, was captured by the Nazis and died very young as a result. Daughter Natasha grew up to be a pianist and married a scientist. They, their two children and grandchild are in Canada and the US.

Freydke Amdursky, the oldest sister was 11 when Shlomo and Nihama died, learned that her own mother had died earlier. Nihama had always treated her as her own. She was taken by her birth mother's family and later brought to New Jersey as a household slave to an uncle, Rabbi Bernstein. She ran away at age 15, worked in a sweatshop, lived in a furnished room and attended high school at night. She was one of the first women to be admitted to study chemical engineering at Cooper Union.

Peshke Amdursky, the only pious sister, married into a family where men studied and women worked. She became a pioneer in Palestine, probably in the early 1920s. She ran a grocery and had more offspring than any of her siblings.

Gidalya Amdursky, who had scarlet fever as a small boy and became almost completely deaf, set out alone at 14. By great feats of imagination he tricked the immigration officer into thinking he could hear. He became a diamond merchant.

Arke Amdursky, the newborn, was eventually taken back from the peasant wet-nurse who had been paid to care for him in his early years, and who he thought was his real mother. Eventually he went to yeshiva before the siblings in New York brought him there. He became a butcher, and after retirement to California began to write plays.

My mother, Rachil was the only one who ever reunited with every one of the others. When she was 64 years old she set out on a search for the sisters in Israel and the Soviet Union, and found them.

They were an remarkable bunch. Although they had different upbringings they somehow all turned out to be secular, generous, sunny human beings of the most decent kind, dedicated to defending oppressed people everywhere, perhaps because of their own bitter experiences.

Updated March 2005

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