Berliner Saga - exploding the myths

The Berliner Saga

Chaim Freedman
Petah Tikvah, Israel
April 1999.

Did you know that grandfather Emanuel Berliner was one of 20 siblings ? !!

Did you know that when he was born his father was aged 74 ?

Did you know that the Berliner family were not descended from a long line of rabbis, but the family profession was “Quack” ? !!

These are some of the extraordinary and intriguing discoveries uncovered by recent research of Polish Vital Statistic records.

For many years there were few documented sources about the family of Emanuel Berliner (1870-1948) of London, England. Little was known about his Polish ancestors or the early years of his life in Poland. Certain circumstantial evidence lead to the belief that Emanuel was a member of a rabbinical Berliner family that was resident in the nineteenth century in Piotrykov and Lodz.

A researcher in the United States, Morris Wirth of Baltimore, conducted considerable research of a number of inter-related families including the above rabbinical Berliner family. Information was exchanged mutually between us as we both had sources which were inaccessible to the other party. As more and more Polish records were discovered, it became clear that Emanuel Berliner’s ancestry did not stem from the rabbinical family and a fortuitous discovery of one document held the key to his true family connections. Morris Wirth continued to expend considerable energy, time and skill until all the available records were extracted.

Background of Oral Family History

In 1974 during a visit in London Janey and I visited Auntie Annie Stein and met Uncle Rubie Berliner. We asked them what they knew about their parents’ Polish background. They knew very little since their parents rarely talked about their past in Poland. Their father Emanuel Berliner was actually named “Mynyl”. Although the Hebrew inscription on his tombstone in London bears the name “Imanuel”, a legal document bears the name “Mynyl (Miller) Berliner”.

Emanuel was reputed to have come from the town of Tomaszow Mazowiecka where his father, Rubin was a “barber-dentist”. This occupation was explained by Rubie as a function of a paramedical who attended Jews whereas the gentile Polish doctors were reluctant to do so. Rubin pulled teeth and gave haircuts. He was comparatively affluent, which enabled Emanuel to acquire a good education in his childhood. However Rubin died when Emanuel was young and after a few years his mother was unable to support him. She sent him to Lodz to work for a wealthy Jewish family where he minded the children. In Lodz he met and married Sheindel (Jane) Szymkowicz, the daughter of Tsvi Leib Szymkowicz, who was reputed to be wealthy, as he “owned a market”. What became of Emanuel’s mother, or even her name was not known. Questioned as to whether either of their parents had siblings, Annie and Rubie said that they never heard mention of siblings and they had the impression that their parents were only children.

Theoretical ancestry

Emanuel Berliner actually bore a rare personal name “Mynyl”. This Yiddish name is apparently a diminutive derivative of the Hebrew name Imanuel, although some omnasts believe it is an extension of the name “Man” derived from “Menakhem”. A prominent rabbinical family, descended from Rabbi Tsvi Hersh Berlin the Chief Rabbi of Berlin settled in Piotrykov, Poland in the late eighteenth century. Because the rare name Manele, a variant form of Mynyl, appeared several times in that family, it was considered that Emanuel (Mynyl) Berliner inherited his name from the Piotrykov family. It was proposed that the most likely relationship was that Emanuel’s father Rubin was a son of Manele Berliner, a son of Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Berliner of Piotrykov (1800-1880). For this to have been valid, Emanuel’s birthdate had to be after the date of death of Manele Berliner, a fact that had yet to be established.

Morris Wirth surveyed all the vital statistic records for Piotrykov from 1826 until the 1880’s. He was able to establish the identities of Manele’s children, who did not include Rubin. This in itself may not have been conclusive as experience with these records often demonstrates that records are either missing or even falsified. However the conclusive proof came with the discovery of children born to Manele after 1870, Emanuel’s birthdate calculated from his tombstone. There was one weak hope that the relationship might still be valid if Emanuel’s age was incorrect. Later discoveries established his true ancestry, so reluctantly, Emanuel and his descendants lost their illustrious rabbinical ancestry.

Rozprza instead of Tomaszow.

Fortunately for family of Emanuel, Morris Wirth had relations in Lodz and Tomaszow and so he was able to search the records of these towns for either Emanuel or Rubin. Surprisingly there were virtually no Berliners in Tomaszow, claimed by Annie and Rubie as their father’s hometown. One record held the clue. A marriage took place in 1880 in Tomaszow between Haja Berliner and Jakob Tarlowicz. The marriage record states that Haja, aged 19, was the daughter of Rubin Berliner, deceased and Ruchla Mirla Zylbersztajn of the town of Rozprza.

The fact that the bride’s father was named Rubin and that he was deceased by 1880, when Emanuel was ten years old, seemed to resemble the scenario described by Annie and Rubie. But where was Rozprza and, if the Berliners lived there, what was the connection with Tomaszow ?


Rozprza is a small town located in the general area of the towns Piotrykov, Lodz and Tomaszow. Again Morris Wirth was researching his family in Rozprza and so agreed to look for the Berliners. Initialy he found a marriage in 1859 between Rubin Berliner of Rozprza and Ruchla Mirla Zylbersztajn of Tomaszow. This identified the parents of the bride of the 1880 marriage in Tomaszow. Rubin’s age was recorded as 50, making his birthdate about 1809. It should be noted that ages were notoriously inaccurate, as will be shown in Rubin’s case. Rubin’s occupation was stated as “Feldszer”, This was a medical orderly who usually acquired his limited skills in the army, or from another Feldszer, and carried out basic medical treatment for the village Jews. This fact correlated to the oral history related about Emanuel Berliner’s father.

Another record found in Rozprza was an earlier marriage in 1851 of Aron Pincus Berliner aged 18. That made his birthdate about 1833. This marriage record stated the parents as Rubin Berliner and Rywki Soldan. Could this be the same Rubin Berliner who appeared in the 1859 marriage ? But why did he marry another woman ? Unless the identities could be established there might have been two Rubin Berliners. If so, which was the father of Emanuel (Mynyl) Berliner of London ?

Morris Wirth set about tracing all the Berliners recorded in Rozprza. Among the children of Rubin Berliner and Ruchla Mirla Zylbersztajn was “Mynyl” born in 1870, exactly the birth year commensurate with Emanuel’s tombstone.

The Rozprza Berliners - Highlights

The family tree and some of their activities quickly took shape as many records were extracted.

Rubin Berliner was married twice. His first wife, Rywki Soldan, died February 2, 1859. By May 5th of the same year Rubin married his second wife, Ruchla Mirla Zylbersztajn. The bride’s age was stated as 20 and the groom as 50 ! In fact the astonishing age difference was even greater. Rubin had falsified his age, as seen from the death record of his first wife three months earlier. There her age was recorded as 63, and although Rubin’s age is not stated he would hardly have been thirteen years younger. In fact the birth records of Rubun’s children bear ages commensurate with a birth year which varies between 1789 and 1802. The most reasonable date seems to be 1796, making Rubin 63 at the time of his second marriage.

Why would a 20 year old girl marry a 63 widower ? Maybe he was very rich and she was very beautiful.

Emanuel Berliner was far from an only child. He was one of 20 siblings, 14 of whom survived childhood.

Rubin Berliner and Rywki Soldan had 12 children:

Zossia (Zysli), 1825. Married Jakob Jozef Horowitz.
Rajzla, c.1828. Married Dawid Cymberknop.
Laja, 1829-1830
Alexander Michal (Hil Alexander/Yekhiel Michal), 1832
Perla, c.1833. Married Naftal Rajnglas.
Aron Pincus, 1834
Lewek, 1836
Mosiek Szaia, 1838-1839
Jetta (Itla), 1840-1843
Samuel (Simel), 1842-1843.
Apolenia (!!!), 1844
Jochwet, 1845. Married Hersz Lewkowicz (*).

*Hersz and Jochwet Lewkowicz’s family also live in England and the Rozprza records establish their relationship.

Rubin Berliner and Ruchla Mirla Zylbersztajn had 7 children:

Haja Sura, 1860. Married Hersz Tarlowicz of Tomaszow.
Laja Alte, 1861
Nechuma, 1863. Married Ojzer Wajsberg.
Jzrael Dawid, 1865-1873
Haim Szlama, 1867-1873
Mynyl [Emanuel], 1870-1948 London.
Yakow Itzik, 1872

Rubin also had several brothers including Mordka (Mordechai) and Jozef, a sister Haja, who married Jozef Braniec, and a half-brother and sister, Abram and Hawa. These had many children.

In 1873 tragedy struck the family of Rubin and Ruchla Mirla. On the 16th of May their six year old son Haim Szlama died. On the 4th of September their nine year old son Jzrael Dawid also died. Nine days later, on the 13th of September, the father Rubin died. The cause of death stated on the death record was Cholera. It is probable that that was the cause of the deaths of his two sons. Rubin’s age at death is stated to be 84. However two years earlier, on his son Mynyl’s birth record, his age is given as 74, making his birth year 1796.

The Rozpra records include some of the subsequent generation of Emanuel’s half-brothers’ and sisters’ children. It remains to be seen what became of this large family. Some may have settled in the USA and elsewhere. Many probably perished in the Holocaust.

Earlier Berliners

Rubin Berliner was the eldest son of Zyskind Berliner, born about 1760 and died in Rozprza in 1828. Zyskind’s first wife and Rubin’s mother was Zysel Temerman (although her surname is subject to clarification). She was dead by 1825. Zyskind’s second wife was Hany (Anna), by whom he had two children. Zyskind died two days before the birth of his youngest daughter Hawa and her eldest half-brother Rubin acted in his father’s place in registering the birth. Hany subsequently remarried.

Both Zyskind and Rubin were occupied as “Feldszer”, A son of Rubin also followed what must have been a family occupation. The Feldszer was akin to the English term “Quack” !!

Female ancestral relationships

The Berliner family’s connection with the town of Tomaszow arose from the fact that Rubin’s second wife (Emanuel’s mother) Ruchla Mirla Zylbersztajn was born there in 1840. She was the daughter of Izrael Zylbersztajn and Tauby Kantorowicz. They were married in 1838 in Tomaszow but came from other towns. Izrael was born in 1815 in Ujazd, a son of Leyzer and Hany Zylbersztajn. Tauby was born in 1817 in Opoczno, a daughter of Nusyn and Itty Kantorowicz.

The marriage record of Ruchla Mirla in Rozprza in 1859 establishes the identity of her parents. Their marriage record in Tomaszow in 1838 establishes their ages and parentage. Further research should reveal the identities of Zylbersztajn and Kantorowicz relations.

That is a summary of the saga of the Berliner family. An incredible amount of documented information was discovered, which, although removing the theoretical rabbinic relations, provides a fascinating picture of the actual family.

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