Pruning the Super Family Tree

Pruning the Super Family Tree.
September, 2008
Chaim Freedman

(Click on documents and photos to enlarge)

When I began to research the history of the Super family in the mid-1970’s to trace the family tree, the contemporary generations of the family living in Australia and England were the only members of the family known to me. Whilst I knew that there were many relatives in South Africa and some in Canada, there had been no contact with them for many years. Indeed, even when contact was re-established, the diverse branches of the family were not aware of the exact relationships between them.

In the mid 1980’s Norman Super, living in Melbourne and originally from South Africa, sent me a family tree compiled by elderly relatives in South Africa whilst attending a family celebration, probably in the early 1970's. This clarified many connections and as each new source came to light, the family tree began to take shape. The various branches were assumed to belong to a common trunk, with a common ancestor named Shmuel. At the time archival records in the Former Soviet Union were not available to confirm this theoretical tree, based on oral history. With the fall of that State valuable and relevant material pertaining to the family was discovered in Latvia.


The above is a condensed version of the tree.
This tree shows five siblings as the children of Shmuel Super. One of the siblings is indicated by a blank space above the name of “Samuel m Daphnie”. These were supposed to be the parents of Rabbi Yitskhak Yaakov Super of Melbourne. “Daphnie” was not his mother’s name; it was Khaya Minna. Apparently the elders of the family in South Africa who put together this tree did not know the name of this presumed sibling of the ancestors of their respective branches of the family.

Rabbi Yitskhak Yaakov Super, Evercreech, England c.1912

The earliest name known to the Australian Supers was Shmuel, the father of Rabbi Yitskhak-Yaakov. He and his wife Khaya-Minna lived in the small town of Korsovka now called Karsava, in Latvia. The region was until the Russian Revolution of 1917 part of the Russian Empire in the eastern part of Vitebsk Gubernia (government) known as Latgale (or Lettland). Since Yitskhak Yaakov had left his parents' home in Korsovka at the age of twenty-one and settled in England, he had little opportunity to hear from his father information about his family's origins, nor did he get to know his many relatives who lived in the neighbouring town Lutzin, where in fact he had been born. Such was also the case for his brother Yosef who also settled in England at an early age.

Khaya-Minna, Fruma and Shmuel Super c.1905, Korsovka, Latvia.

In a letter (in Hebrew) written in 1960 Yitskhak-Yaakov Super answers his son Rabbi Dr. Arthur Saul Super, then living in South Africa, who asks him about the relationships among the family Arthur met in South Africa. Yitskhak Yaakov explains that he left his home town as a young teenager in order to study and then worked as a Shokhet in a number of towns until he left Latvia aged twenty-one:

It is nearly fifty-nine years since I left Korsovka and how can I remember the Supers, but you can tell them that all the family who you met or who you will meet are not only relatives, but are flesh and blood to us. About Mr. Benjamin who is close to seventy three years old, if his name in Hebrew is Benyamin son of Reb Shmuel Sholem, he would be our second cousin.”
At the time of my original research I did not know who this person was and so made no use of this information until 2003 when I received photographs of many of the tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in Korsovka, including that of Shmuel-Sholem.

One earlier generation of the Australian and English branch was available, derived from the Korsovka tombstone inscription of Shmuel Super, Yitskhak-Yaakov’s father. A photograph of the grave was sent to Australia by Shmuel's son Khatzkel (his full name was Yekhezkel and he also appears in the picture) taken after the death of Shmuel in Korsovka in 1928. Since Hebrew names appearing on a tombstone also include the father's name, it was established that Shmuel's father was called Yosef-Yehoash. The name Yehoash is very rarely used, although its Biblical origin stems from the righteous King of Judah, Yehoash who repaired and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Arthur-Saul Super (Avraham-Shaul) told me of an oral tradition that there was an earlier ancestor, Rabbi Tuviah (Teviah) Super who he had heard had lived in Lutzin in the early nineteenth century. He had also been told that his ancestors had been Soferim (scribes) for many generations. This was in fact the origin of their surname, Super being a Russian corruption of the term Sofer, or it's Aramaic version Safra, being the usual designation of the official town scribe: `Safra Demata'.

Yet another item of oral history told to Arthur by relatives in South Africa was that an ancestor had written a Sefer Torah, which he had presented to the Baron Ginzburg who was in fact his cousin!

These sparse oral traditions formed the basis for extrapolating theoretical lines of descent. Firstly a record was found of one Teviah Super who held the position of Gabbai of the Great Synagogue in Lutzin. He was listed as one of the notables of Lutzin in “Yahadut Latvia” (Israel 1953), “Tevi Super, Gabbai of the Great Synagogue”.

This reference did not indicate when “Tevi” lived. However Magistrate records from 1897 found by Latvian researcher Aleksanders Feigmanis refer to a dispute involving Teviah Super Gabbai of the Alt Shule Mankov”. So the above reference to “Tevi Super” did not refer to an early ancestor of the entire Super family, mentioned by Rabbi Arthur Super according to family oral history in South Africa.

A connection with Tuviah/Tevi was thought to have been discovered in a book that had belonged to Yitskhak-Yaakov Super, thought to have been passed from earlier generations. This book was presented to me by my mother-in-law Edna Berliner (daughter of Yitskhak-Yaakov), but the significance of the inscriptions inside the front and rear covers eluded me for many years.

On the inside front cover is a faded inscription in Hebrew that is barely decipherable as a person's name written in Hebrew. Also in Latin characters appears the surname `Lichtenstein'. I thought that it was possible that there was a relationship with the rabbinic Lichtenstein family that flourished for several generations in Latvia.

On the inside back cover is an inscription in Yiddish and Hebrew:
"I was born on the 29th of Sivan in the year 5561”, the Hebrew year corresponding to 1801.
Above this inscription appear two words in very faded Russian script. The pages were photocopied and thereby it was possible to adjust the intensity of light and magnification so as to highlight the inscriptions. Whilst not all the letters were discernable, the missing one could be interpolated. The Russian script was a name: “Toviah Davidovich

I thought that this was the Tuviah Super referred to by Arthur Super. Not only had his birth date been established, 1801, but his Russian patronymic provided the name of his father: David.

Based on this information, which in hindsight was tenuous, given that the book may not have belonged to the Super family at all, but had simply passed into their hands, I theorized that the sequence of the generations could be put together. Since Shmuel was born about 1850, his father Yosef-Yehoash would have been born about 1825. Since “Toviah Davidovich” was born in 1801, I thought he must have been the father of Yosef-Yehoash. This should then make David the common ancestor of the various siblings shown on Norman Super’s tree.

I then sought earlier ancestors. Once again family tradition gave clues in this direction: Firstly the origin of the surname having been derived from the function of a number of ancestors as Soferim (scribes); secondly the supposed relationship with the family of the Baron Ginzburg.

A history of the Ginzburg family (Toldot Mishpakhat Ginzburg, David Maggid, St.Petersburg 1899) traces many families either descended from or related to the Ginzburgs. Study of the relatives of the first Baron Ginzburg, namely Baron Yosef Ginzburg (1812-1878) reveals the family of his paternal grandmother Tybel She was a daughter of Rabbi Uri Sofer of Vilna (according to the 1784 Vilna census Tybel /Touba was Uri’s wife), who held the position of official scribe to that community, bearing the title ‘Safra Demata'. Such a functionary was skilled in handwriting Torah scrolls, Mezuzot, wedding and divorce certificates, and any other official documents required by the Jewish civil governing body, the Kahal. Rabbi Uri Sofer's father Rabbi Yaakov-Gavriel also held this position, as had his father Rabbi Tuviah Sofer and several earlier generations.

There is a recurrence in the above family of the names Uri, Tuviah and David.

Tuviah and David struck a bell in relation to the inscription “Toviah Davidovich”. Tuviah was also prevalent amongst the Super family of Lutzin. Bearing in mind that Baron Yosef Ginzburg and Yosef-Yehoash Super were, according to their birth dates, of the contemporary generation, and since they were reputed to be cousins (according to that oral tradition telling of the presentation of a Sefer Torah to the Baron), I thought that the familial link was through Rabbi Uri Sofer of Vilna. The common occupation as scribes in both families also correlates between them. Whilst specific records establishing this link were not found, an extensive study of the Ginzburg family tends to preclude any other explanation for the cousin relationship, if it was true. Bearing in mind the dates of each successive generation, appeared that the Super-Sofer-Ginzburg connection was that David Super (whose name was derived from the patronymic “Davidovich”) was a son of Uri Sofer of Vilna. This would have made the Baron Yosef Ginzburg and Yosef-Yehoash Super second cousins. Other sources that include information about the family of Soferim in Vilna are “Kiriah Neemanah” (Finn, Vilna 1860); “Ir Vilna” (Steinshneider, Vilna 1900) and Toldot Hakehilah Haivrit Bevilna (Klausner, Vilna 1935). The information in each of this is more or less consistent. However, in 2003 I acquired copies of the census taken in Vilna in 1765 and in 1784 and discovered that each of these books includes errors in the identities of some of the “Sofer” family.

When the political changes in the former Soviet Union led to the dissolution of that Union, archives were opened to the public and much material about Jewish families was found. A Jewish researcher living in Riga, Aleksanders Feigmanis, was commissioned by a descendant of the Super family, Robert Heyman, to trace records of the family. Feigmanis found a treasure of documents, in particular the “Revizsky Skaza” (Revision Lists, meaning census) for the years 1874 and 1897 for the town of Lutzin and the list from 1897 for Korsovka. The 1874 list from Korsovka appears to have been lost. Many family groups including several hundred members of the Super family appeared, allowing the compilation of the family tree.

The following is the census entry for “Super Yankel Shmuilov” and his family, including his Falkov grandchildren. This person was the “Yanchiel Havies” who appeared on Norman Super’s chart.

His tombstone in Korsovka confirms his full name and father’s name:

Here is interred
Our father the ………….
An honourable man
The dear, our teacher and Rabbi
Reb Yaakov Yehoash
Son of Reb Shmuel

The nickname “Havis” or “Heibish” was a derivative of the Hebrew name “Yehoash”. Since the grandfather of Rabbi Yitskhak Yaakov Super was found from his tombstone to be Yosef-Yehoash, it became apparent that Yaakov-Yehoash and Yosef-Yehoash could not have been brothers as they bore the same name. Jerusalem genealogist the late Rabbi Shmuel Gorr shared his expertise in Jewish name derivatives thereby making a valuable contribute to the unraveling of the mysteries of the Super family tree. (See a joint article we wrote in “Search” Volume 8, #4, 1988). Likewise “Guta” and “Tevia” who appeared as brothers in the above tree also bore variations of the same Hebrew name “Tuviah” and therefore could not have been brothers. “Tuviah” is derived from the Hebrew for “good” so a Yiddish derivation was “Guta” or “Guttman” and Teviah is another derivative. As there were a number of Supers in Lutzin who bore the Hebrew name Tuviah, they were each known by variations or nicknames.
The 1874 and 1897 census from Lutzin showed that Guta or Guttman Super was a brother of Yankel-Heibish, sons of Shmuel, while Tevia was a son of Leib Super, another of Shmuel’s sons.

These family groups stemmed from four Supers who lived in Lutzin in the early nineteenth century: Shmuel, Yitskhak, Kivka and Leib Super. Three of these were found by Feigmanis in Magistrate records of Lutzin in the year 1837:

“February 3, 1837 citizens of Lutzin who trade in alcoholic drinks deposed the plaint to the city council of Lyutzin, where they complained of the abuses in taxation of the tax official Glinka. Among the names of the alcohol tradesmen mentioned were Shmuila Super, Leiba Super and Itzik Super”[1]

A list from 1863 of merchants in the towns of Vitebsk Province includes in Lutzin “Leibe Super”, without a patronymic.

Unfortunately this record does not include the patronymic of these three Supers. On the tree compiled in South Africa and sent to me by Norman Super, it was shown that Shmuel was the primogenitor of all the branches. No record has been found of a “Toviah Davidovich” Super in any documents. Not has his supposed son Yosef-Yehoash been located in the records of Lutzin or Korsovka, although his son “Shmuel Yoselov” (son of Yosef) appears in the 1897 Korsovka census:

click to enlarge
Feigmanis’ translation of the original Russian census in Korsovka in 1897.

Yitskhak-Yaakov Super does not appear among the children of Shmuel, either because he was away from home studying, or because he was liable for military service as the second born son.

My original assumption was that Tuviah (supposed father of Yosef-Yehoash) was another brother to Shmuel, Yitskhak (Itzik) and Leib, and that since Tuviah’s patronymic was “David” then David was the primogenitor of the family. Furthermore I proposed that the theoretic connection between the Supers of Lutzin and the Sofers of Vilna was that “David” was a son of Uri. This theoretical relationship seemed further strengthened since both Shmuel and Leib had sons called Tuviah, a named repeated in the Vilna family of Soferim.

It must be stated that at the time of the extraction of the Latvian archival material, no evidence was found for the existence of either Tuviah or David. Nor was there documentation that David was a son of Uri Sofer of Vilna. Yet it seemed to me reasonable that the relationships were as above.

In 2003 I acquired the census of the Jewish community in Vilna for the years 1765 and 1784 from David and Sonia Hoffman, founders of the Jewish Family History Foundation. In the 1784 census I identified Uri Sofer as “Uryasz Gabrylowicz” living with his wife Touba (not Leah as claimed by Ginzburg family sources) and a servant Chasia. At that time they had no children.

A mathematical calculation shows clearly that if Uri did subsequently have a son David, even if it was in the period immediately following the census in 1784, such a theoretical David could not have fathered sons Shmuel, Yitskhak and Leib, born in the 1790’s or the ubiquitous Tuviah born in 1801. Whilst the dates of birth of all of the four Supers “branch heads” has not been found, they were all dead by the time of the 1874 Lutzin census, Shmuel’s wife Elka was still alive in 1874 aged eighty. Assuming that Shmuel was at least as old as his wife, he was probably born not later than 1794, when his supposed father David could have been no more than ten years old!

Had the Vilna and Lutzin census been available at the time of writing in 1992 of my book “The Pen and the Blade, Super family”, David as a son of Uri, could not have been proposed as the family patriarch.

The problem of locating Yosef-Yehoash Super, so as to establish the identity of his father, is complicated by the fact that he apparently did not lived in Lutzin at the time of the 1874 census, although his son Shmuel was born there in 1855. Family tradition conveyed by Rabbi Arthur Saul Super and by his cousin Arthur Super (London) relates that their great-grandfather managed an estate for a local Latvian nobleman. If the location of that estate could be established, records of Yosef-Yehoash might be found. It is possible that he lived in Korsovka until his death that had to be before 1884 when his grandson and namesake Yosef, the son of Shmuel was born. Since the 1874 census of Korsovka is missing, this cannot be verified.

Not only has Yosef-Yehoash not appeared in documentation, aside from his name on his son Shmuel’s tombstone, no theoretical siblings bearing the relevant patronymic indicating their father was called Tuviah, have been found. At this stage it appears that the book containing the signature “Toviah Davidovich” was a red herring and that the these names may have nothing to do with the Super family, although there may have been such a relative.

From the available evidence is seems that Yosef-Yehoash was a son of Yitskhak Super, one of the three alcohol traders mentioned in the 1837 litigation in Lutzin. My reason is based on the naming patterns. My wife’s grandfather Rabbi Yitskhak-Yaakov Super was given the name Yaakov after his maternal great-grandfather Yaakov Dobrin. It seems likely that the name Yitskhak was given to him after his paternal great-grandfather Yitskhak Super.

In 2003 I ordered further research from Aleksanders Feigmanis in Latvia. He traveled to Karsava (Korsovka) and took about three hundred photographs of the now accessible tombstones in the Jewish cemetery. There are large areas covered in weeds that may hide other family tombstones.

One of the tombstones, that of Yankel Heibish Super, is shown above. The Ohel (mausoleum) of Shmuel, the son of Yosef-Yehoash Super still stands but the tablet inscribed with the name has been removed, perhaps by the locals in this village where there are no longer any Jews or perhaps during the Nazi invasion in 1941 when nearly all the Jews were killed. Fortunately most of the cemetery survived.

Korsovka, 2003 Korsovka, 1929 with Khatzkel Super
Photographed by Feigmanis

One of the tombstones correlates with Rabbi Yitskhak Yaakov Super’s reference to relatives in the letter above:

The man Shmuel Sholem
Son of Reb Moshe Simkha Super
Died 10th Tevet, 5688

These names appear in various Latvian census records: “Shmuel son of Moshe” Super, born 1846 (lived in Korsovka) appears in a list of people living in 1889 in the rural areas of Lutzin district. This lists states that Shmuel Moshev (son of Moshe) came from Lutzin to Korsovka in 1877. His father Moshe son of Yitskhak born 1829 in Lutzin, moved to Korsovka in 1876. Shmuel’s son Benyamin Yitskhak, born 1873, appears in the 1897 census in Korsovka. It appears that “Mr. Benjamin Super” referred to in Rabbi Super’s letter to his son Arthur, as “Benyamin son of Shmuel-Sholem” was the son of Shmuel-Sholem whose tombstone appears above. Since Rabbi Super states that the relationship was of second cousins, it can be established that Benyamin Super’s grandfather Moshe-Simkha was a brother of Rabbi Yitskhak-Yaakov’s grandfather Yosef-Yehoash Super. This supports my theory that Rabbi Yitskhak-Yaakov’s great-grandfather was Yitskhak Super, one of the four family heads mentioned above.

A key source for the early nineteenth century relationships of the Supers is the census recorded in 1816. This is held by the Belarus State Historical Archive in Minsk. This anomaly is due to the political border changes whereby Lutzin was located in Vitebsk Province under Tsarist government, which province is now part of Belarus. Therefore some records for Lutzin (now Ludza) are held in Riga and some in Minsk.

The following are the key entries. See also attached chart and full family tree.

1816 census:
Fond 2640-1-617-55-55
Family number 28.

Shmuel Gevushevich* Super aged 31 in 1811; 35 in 1816.
Shmuel Gevushevich’s sons:
Itsik aged 9 in 1811; 13 in 1816.
Mark aged 2 in 1811; died in 1813.
Leib newborn in 1811; aged 3 in 1816.
Shmuel’s son-in-law Yankel Kufman Sholomovich, absent in 1811, 18 in 1816.
Shmuel Gevushevich’s wife Brokha aged 35 in 1816.
Itsik Shmuelovich’s wife Fruma aged 17 in 1816.
Yankel Kufman’s wife Paika aged 18 in 1816.

*Shmuel’s patronymic Gevushevich is the Russification of the Yiddish name Heibish, equivalent to the Hebrew name Yehoash.

1834 census
Fond 2640-1-617-155-156
Family number 58

Shmuel Gevushevich Super aged 35 in 1816, 53 in 1834.
From Shmuel Gevushevich’s first wife, sons:
1. Itsik aged 13 in 1816; separated to family number 59 in 1834 list.
2. Mordkha not written in 1816, moved to family number 259 in 1826.
3. Leib aged 4 in 1816; 20 in 1834.

From Shmuel’s second wife [Elka] from latter sources sons:
Yankel newborn in 1834; 3 in 1834.
Shmuel’s son-in-law Kifka Sholomovich 18 in 1816, moved to family number 259 in 1824.

Family number 59:
Itsik Shmuelovich Super previously family number 58.
Aged 31 in 1834.
Itsik’s son Mordukh newborn in 1816; 14 in 1834.
Itsik’s second son Livsha [should be Moshe] Simkha aged 5 in 1834.
Itsik’s wife Fruma aged 32 in 1834.
Mordukh’s wife Touba aged 16 in 1834.

Since Shmuel’s son Tuviah (Gutta) and Itsik’s son Yosef-Yehoash do not appear in the 1834 census, they must have been born after this date.

From the above it can be seen that the head of the family in 1816 was Shmuel Super, born 1781. His father’s name was “Gevush” or Heibish/Yehoash, born probably about 1760.
Shmuel was married twice
and the configuration of his sons therefore differs from the original family tree compiled by Norman Super.

click to enlarge

Given that two of Shmuel Super’s grandsons were named Tuviah, it would seem that they were named after an earlier ancestor who bore that name. The Riga archive holds lists of Jews living in Lutzin in the 1780’s and 1790’s. Feigmanis has provided his transcription of these lists, containing about 500 people, the entire Jewish population of Lutzin at the time. Since these lists precede the adoption of surnames that took place in the early nineteenth century, they can only be interpreted by the presence of personal names in an otherwise known family configuration.

The eighteenth century Lutzin list does include two families descended from someone name Toviah:

Movsha Tobiashevich aged 49 in 1786. (Amongst his sons were Itzik and Leib).
Khaim Tobiashevich aged 49 in 1794.
Since Movsha was born in 1739, his father “Tobiash” (Tuviah) may have been born about 1710 and could have been an ancestor of the Lutzin Super family.

As a result of the above re-examination of the Super family tree, the first chapter of my book “The Pen and the Blade - Super family” (Petah Tikvah, Israel 1992), entitled “Tracing the Family Tree” pages 2-31 should be deleted. The detailed family tree pages 116-184 has been considerably updated and is available in a separate file.

[1] Latvian State Historical Archive, Riga. Reference 755-1-370-142. Extracted by Aleksanders Feigmanis, Riga, Latvia, 1997

Family Heirloom - Tefilin

My Tefilin

Chaim Freedman, Petah Tikvah, September 2008.

They aren’t particularly beautiful, now that they have had to be retired. Simple black cases, like tired old wood. Actually they’re parchment, petrified like wood after 165 years of constant, loving dedication. What simple beauty is encased in these old relics.


I would call them heirlooms, though they lack the monetary value usually thought to go with that term. But their value to me is greater than diamonds. Their value lies in not what they are, but whose they were.

I received the Tefilin in 1960 when I reached Barmitzvah age. My mother gave them to me telling me that I should treasure them as they belonged to her father, my grandfather Shlomo Zalman Komesaroff (Komisaruk, 1886-1958). Not only that, but they belonged to his grandfather before him, Rabbi Pinkhas Komisaruk (1830-1897), a revered figure in family lore.

Perhaps they were even older.

My grandfather died when I was eleven and his grandfather died when grandfather was eleven. In fact Rabbi Pinkhas’s grandfather, Rabbi Dov Ber Komisaruk (1776-1843) died when Pinkhas was thirteen and maybe the Tefilin originated that far back. What is certain is that they came from Lithuania when the Komisaruk family migrated from the town of Raseiniai to settle on the Jewish agricultural colony Grafskoy (now Proletarsky), Yekaterinoslav Guberniya, Ukraine in 1847.

As I think back over the history of my ancestors, the events they were involved in, the trials and tribulations and the joyous occasions, I imagine that the Tefilin were silent witnesses to those events. I imagine how they were lovingly packed with Pinkhas’s belonging when the family set off in 1847 in a small group of eleven families, some in wagons and some walking for the arduous journey that took months until they reached the Ukraine.

I imagine how Pinkhas took the Tefilin with him when he was conscripted into the Russian army during the Crimean War and took care of the needs of Jewish troops by slaughtering animals to provide for kosher food, he was a Shokhet, and by performing funerals for the Jewish casualties.

I imagine how Pinkhas took his Tefilin with him when he jumped onto his horse whenever he heard of a pogrom in 1880’s and rode off to help and comfort the victims.

I imagine how Pinkhas wore the Tefilin when he attended Morning Prayer with the families of babies for who he performed circumcision, he was a Mohel.

I imagine Pinkhas teaching his grandson Shlomo Zalman how to put on Tefilin in preparation for his Barmitzvah, an occasion Pinkhas was not to live long enough to attend.

Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are intimately bound up with religious occasions: sitting in the synagogue next to him or on his knee as he showed me the place in the Siddur. Listening as he made Kiddush on Shabbat or conducted the Seder on Pesach. After his death and my attainment of Barmitzvah, I was proud to wear the Tefilin which carried with them so many memories, both personal and historical.

Just as my grandfather brought them from Russian to Australia in 1913, so I brought them from Australia to Israel when we made Aliyah in 1977. I wore them daily for about forty years. From time to time they were inspected by a Sofer to make sure that the inscription on the parchment had not been damaged. Winding the straps around the boxes after use gradually took its toll on the shape of the Tefilin as they became warped.

Finally about the year 2000, they became unusable. I was inconsolable; I had to buy new tefilin. They would never be the same.

My Heirloom is now a museum piece. The Tefilin sit in a show case in our living room on a small bag embroidered specially for them by my grandmother, along with my grandfather’s white Kippah that he wore on festivals, They look lonely and tired, but still proud after so much that they have witnessed.

Genetic testing as an aid for genealogical research – personal experience of Chaim Freedman

Lecture given by Chaim Freedman to the Jewish Family Research Association, Petah Tikvah, Israel, May 2008.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are based on a genealogical approach. The author claims no scientific expertise in Genetics.

In October 2006 I received the results of my genetic testing from Family Tree DNA. I had ordered a test of twelve markers on the Y chromosome, my paternal ancestry. (For technical explanations see Family Tree DNA site ).

Initially I matched exactly with seven families who had tested with FTDNA. Over the course of the following year four more families tested and matched at the 12 marker level.

The families corresponded and exchanged information about their known ancestry in the male line with respect to the dates of their earliest known ancestors and their place of origin.

Subsequently most of the families updated their test to 25 markers and then 37 markers in order to establish more accurately possible common ancestry.

While 11 families matched my markers exactly on 12 markers, only 4 matched exactly on 25 markers while the other families differed on one or more markers. None of the families matched me exactly on 37 markers, but showed a variation of non-matching markers such that the probability of a common ancestor within a reasonable genealogical time frame lessened as a greater numbers of markers were tested.

The following is a list of the families, the date of birth of their earliest known ancestor and their place of origin.

(In the interests of privacy only the initial of the family surname is shown).

C; 1830; Dombroveni, Ukraine (Romania).
F; 1840; Rumania
H; 1850; Slavuta and Starakonstntinovka, Ukraine.
K; 1858; Starakonstantinovka, Ukraine.
L; 1875; Odessa, Ukraine.
Le; no response
Lo; Jugoslavia.
S; 1735; Orinin, Ukraine.
Sa; 1825; Alsace.
Si; 1825, Zinkov, Ukraine.
Z; 1860; Miastovka and Dombroveny, Ukraine.

Freedman; 1780, Zakroczym, Poland.

The Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia, 1835-1917
from "The Jews of Russia, Their History in maps and photographs"
Martin Gilbert, 1976
Click to enlarge

Podolia, Volynia, Bessarabia, Ukraine - origins of the getetically matching families
Click to enlarge
It is possible for each of the matching families to calculate the number of generations, and thereby years, to the Most Recent Common Ancestor by using that facility on each family’s home pages. Next to each name (in the 37 marker section) is an icon which leads to this facility. It gives a chart showing the percentage probability to our MRCA. BUT we should carry out the second stage of this calculation, which is also provided, by entering the number of generations we know that we are not related. For example, my earliest known ancestor Yaakov Frydman was born about 1780. He was not the ancestor of any of this group. I am fifth generation after him. So I add a factor of five to the calculation. This pushes any MRCA further back. It is up to each of us to then decide what % probability we choose to consider significant for a relationship between us. I adjusted the calculation of the distance to our Most Recent Common Ancestor to 75% probability taking into account that we have no known common ancestor within 5 generations.

Family Tree DNA provides a statistical guide for Most Recent Common Ancestor for 12 identical markers:
7 generations, 50% probability
23 generations, 90% probability
29 generations, 95% probability.

For instance, my closest match is with Z and Si with a genetic difference of 2. That alone does not tell me how far back we may relate. Going to the FTDNA site and entering the above factors for each of Z and Si, I find that at a level of 75% probability our MRCA was 11 generations ago, or about 275 years. If I had not factored in the known non-relationship of 5 generations, I would have reached an incorrect level of relationship of about 9 generations or 225 years.We should also consider geographic proximity (which cannot be factored in mathematically) . For instance H and K both originate in the Slavuta area, Z and C have relatives in the same town Dombroven. This despite the level of DNA match.

In my opinion, based on our experience whereby the more markers we test, the further away from each other we move, for those who have not tested 37 markers the calculations are not worth doing.
Although my family lived in Zakroczym near Warsaw my DNA matches come from Volynia and Podolia.
My great-grandfather Jacob- Bendyt Frydman was born in 1852 in Zakroczym just northwest of Warsaw. His father Zyndel Frydman died there in 1855 and on his death record is written "parentage and birthplace not recorded" although he is called "Zyndel Jakubowicz".
One explanation for the missing information on Zyndel Frydman's death record, may be that he was abducted to serve in the army at an early age,from somewhere in the region of my DNA matches came from (Volynia/Podolia) . I am only surmising his military service, but since he was born in 1808 and had his apparently only son (plus two daughters) not until 1852, the military service may account for his absence. Of course we all know how Jewish young boys were kidnapped at a young age and served for 25 years in the army.
A Russian army fortress, Modlin, was constructed in 1823 near Zakroczym. The scenario I see is that Zyndel Frydman may have been released there about 1852 (when he was nearly aged 25), married a girl from a Zakroczym family (Chanah Gro) and settled there. Since he was kidnapped young, he may not have known anything about his origins, hence the lack of such information on his death.

It is interesting that over the last year since the original matching families have been in contact only three additional people has been discovered, even with a minimal twelve marker match. We await the details of these additional families.
The progress of our updating from 12 markers to 37 markers has demonstrated that it is not worth making assumptions about any possible relationships until at least 37 markers are tested. As we tested more markers, our original supposed exact match on 12 markers moved further and further away, such that none of us now match within a reasonable genealogical time period. But we can be encouraged that our data is within the FTDNA system and can only hope that their testing sample grows significantly.

Significance of ethnicity.

The above group of matching Jewish families are classified by their markers in one or other of the subgroups of I Haplogroup. According to the scientific research papers this haplogroup is not typically Jewish.

I sought a theoretical explanation for this phenomenon.

The statistical distribution of this haplogroup is predominantly Scandinavia, North Germany, France, Britain. A very small number of the recorded/tested families were Jewish.

Yet the common geographic origin of the matching Jewish families may be explained by the introduction of a non-Jewish primogenitor-father in the Ukraine. Given the marital ban on marriages between Jews and Christians, and the Church ban on Christians converting to Judaism, and given that the matching families above are all Jewish in the male line, it could be assumed that the non-Jewish Ukrainian primogenitor raped the female primogenitor during a pogrom in the Ukraine.

Events which may have provided the circumstances for rape:

Crusades in Germany and France 11th century – about 900 years/ 36 generations, which is much earlier than the probability for 12 exactly matching markers.

Pogrom in Kiev 1113 – unlikely source as above.

Black death massacres in Germany late 14th century. May have introduced haplogroup I close to its geographic origin.

Cossack massacres (Khemelnitsky) in the Ukraine 1648-1655. If the son of a Jewish woman raped by a Cossack was born about 1650, given an average family size of 12 children, of whom about 30% died in childhood, and if the survivors were 50% males, then the natural increase per generation was a factor of 4. The child of the rape union may have had 4 sons, 16 grandsons, 64 great-grandsons, 256 great-great-grandsons, and 1024 great-great-great-grandsons.

Ukraine - region of Cossack massacres 1648-1655
Click to enlarge

Given the large number of these hypothetical descendants of the Cossack/Jewish union, one should expect to find many more matches than the eleven families. The reason for such a small number of matches may be due to the small number of families who underwent DNA testing. A search for matches on the Ysearch site yields only a small number of families with the haplogroup I, few of which are Jewish. No Ukrainians appear in this list.
Conversly, no non-Jewish matches were found for the Jewish group. This may indicate that for some reason the group is unique.

It may be concluded that the sample size is too small or that Ukrainians were not tested, such that the above conclusion as to how the matching families are of I haplogroup may lack sufficient evidence.

Until a large sample of Ukrainians have been tested and only if they exhibit significantly I haplogroup, the Cossack rape cause cannot be judged.

Swedish War with Russia and Poland 1655-1658 although evidence (Dubnov) shows that the Swedes were not antagonistic towards the Jews, isolated incidents of rape may have occurred. This could explain the introduction of haplogroup I to a small group of families, perhaps a generation later than that proposed for a Cossack source. Furthermore, being of Scandinavian origin, such a source is in keeping with one of the most prevalent regions of haplogroup I origin.

Source: Simon Dubnov, “The Jews In Russia and Poland”, Philadelphia 1916
Dubnov describes the cruel treatment of the Jews in 1648 by the Cossacks in Podolia and Volynia in such places as Nemirov, Tulchin, Ostropol, Zaslav, Ostrog, Constantinov, Narol, Kreenetz, Bar and many others. The second wave of pogroms in 1655 moved further north into Belarus and Lithuania and Poland.

“The most terrible cruelty, however, was shown towards the Jews. They were destined to utter annihilation. The Cossacks, in conjunction with the local Russian inhabitants, fell upon the Jews and massacred them; the women and girls were violated. The young Jewish women were frequently allowed to live, the Cossacks and the peasants forcing them into baptism and taking them as wives.

After the cessation of the pogroms “Those of them who, at the point of death, had embraced the Greek Orthodox faith, were permitted by King John Casimir to return to their old creed. The Jewish women who had been forcibly baptized fled in large numbers from their Cossack husbands and returned to their families. The losses during the decade 1648-1658 varies between 100,000 and 500,000.”

Further records of the social effect of the pogroms is found in writings of Rabbi Avraham Horowitz, Natan Hannover and the will of Rabbi Sheftel Horowitz “Yesh Nokhlin, 5461/1701: “In all the places where killings were carried out hundreds of small youths, were annihilated, and small babies who were converted were taken by force by the Jews from the Gentiles, and for each was written an amulet from which family he was, by investigation. These amulets were hung on their necks. There was a great mixture and what the wise men of that generation could correct they did, and that which was not possible, remained in the mixture, and it is feared that in the course of years people will cast doubts on their holiness. Therefore it is worthwhile that everyone who was at that time should make a “Seder Yukhsin” (family tree) for his seed and his seed’s seed as a sign and safekeeping”

Reservations about the significance of testing to date:

Of a database of about 134,000 tests done by FTDNA, only 54,000 have been transfered to YSearch . Of these about 4,200 are I haplogroup. Of these only about 170 were tested in Eastern Europe, where most of our families originate. (Figures for YSearch taken in early 2008).Theories as to the significance of ethnic origins of I haplogroup, are, in my opinion, premature.
The significance of Haplogroup to ethnic origins is very controversial.I personally am not impressed with much of what has been published regarding the meaning of Haplogroups to Jewish origins since I do not believe that the samples of Jews are large enough. For instance a sample of about 1400 Jews was taken for a particular experiment. The scope and makeup of the sample was restricted to people from synagogues in the USA.
I feel that there are 5.5 million Jews living in Israel from whom a sample of several hundred thousand could be taken. The problem is the cost. I invested about $500 for my and my wife's tests. I don't think many people are prepared to do that.
There are many opinions there which you can all study and come to your own conclusions. Some have vested interests, religious, political, etc.

Female ancestry

My wife and I tested for our maternal genetic matches. The results, based on Mitochondrial DNA are far less accurate than paternal Y chromosome testing and do not give a clear statistical estimate of the number of generations to a common ancestor. Neverthless, geographic proximaty of matching families does indicate some relationship.

My tests resulted in 132 matches at Low Resolution and only five at High Resolution. Of these five one refused to share their results but two share with me geographic origins in Lithuania.

My wife received 53 Low Resolution matches and 5 High Resolution. Some of her matches originated, like her female ancestry in the Vitebsk area of Belarus.

Scientific papers and Internet sites:
See “Frequently Asked Questions” provided by Family Tree DNA

Behar, Doron. Skorecki, Karl and others, Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome variation in Ashkenazi Jewish and host non-Jewish European population Human Genetics (2004) 114: 354-365.

In the later paper haplogroup diversity of Ashkenazi Jews from various regions was compared with non-Jews. 55 Ukrainian Jews appear in the sample, yet no Ukrainian non-Jews were included.

Behar, Doron. Skorecki, Karl and others “Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries. American Journal of Human Genetics 73:768-779, 2003.

Nordtvelt, Ken Population Varities within Y-Haplogroup I and their extended Modal Haplogroups.

Coffman-Levy, Ellen “A Mosaic of People: the Jewish Story and a Reassessment of the DNA Evidence” Journal of Genetic Genealogy 1:12-13, 2005.

A useful layman’s source for the understanding of Jewish genetic testing is “Jacob’s Legacy, A Genetic View of Jewish History”, David B. Goldstein, Yale University Press, 2008.

A Google search for Jewish Genetics will yield a vast number of sources.

Shmuel Gorr

Elul 21, 5768; September 21, 2008 marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of pioneer genealogist the late Rabbi Shmuel Gorr of blessed memory. Two obituaries were published in "Search" Volume 8, Number 3, 1988, one by Chaim Freedman and the other by Charles Bernstein.

Please click on each image below for ease of reading.

Edna Berliner

Obituary by her son-in-law Chaim Freedman

On the 6th of Av 5768, August 6th 2008, Edna Berliner passed away in Melbourne one week short of her 92nd birthday.

Edna Berliner was born August 15th, 1916 in Carlton, the daughter of Rabbi Isaac Jacob and Lena Super. She had six brothers. In 1941 she married the late Reverend Phillip (Pinchas) Berliner, London born graduate of English and Eastern European Yeshivot who narrowly escaped the Holocaust and arrived in Australia in 1940. Edna was educated at St.Kilda Park State School and Melbourne Girls High School. Her Jewish education she received at Sunday school and basked in the rich tradition and love of Yiddishkeit of her parents.

Widowed at the age of 43 Edna was faced with the awesome task of bringing up three daughters, Muriel Kleerekoper (Sydney, deceased), Lena Pose (Melbourne) and Jane Freedman (Israel). Edna contributed ably to her father and husband’s communal activities. In her youth she acted as secretary to the late Rabbi Dr. Joseph Abrahams who spent his last years living with the Supers and treated Edna lovingly as if she was his daughter. She was active in the National Council of Jewish Women and the women’s auxiliary of South Caulfield Shule where she attended after nearly a half century living in Crimea Street, St.Kilda and attending St.Kilda Shule with which her father and husband were associated.

Edna was a wealth of information about communal history, particularly Carlton, and loved to talk about old times, people, Shule and Beth Din intrigues. She was interviewed by historians for material for their books.

Edna had a wide circle of friends who appreciated her keen sense of humour, warm hospitality, home wisdom and common sense.

In particular she staunchly maintained her love and allegiance to her father’s and husband’s Yiddishkeit. She read voraciously and diligently reviewed Parshat Hashavuah each week in preparation for Shabbat. She attended Shule every Shabbat until her health no longer permitted. Such was her inspiration in this respect that kind members of the congregation came to her home to blow Shofar, to bring her Lulav and Etrog and invited her to eat in their Sukkah. Deprived of the male role in the home after the death of her husband and father, she took on the task of making Kiddush, Zemirot, Benching and Havdalah, ever a staunch advocate for women’s equality in Judaism. Her habit of being ready for Shabbat and Chagim several days in advance was a source of good humour for her family.

Edna’s life was fraught by many illnesses that she coped with in courage and determination. She was like a cat with nine lives twice over and considered every day that she was spared as a blessing. In her latter years she was handicapped in her mobility but was determined to retain her independence and continue to live in her own home in dignity. Her last years were spent at Montefiore Homes.

She was scrupulous in account keeping and one of her typical sayings was “I hate owing money”. She loved shopping and would tell the shopkeepers “I’m looking for my daughter”. Despite her incapacity she diligently carried out her exercises and persisted to walk up her drive to collect the mail until she was no longer able and accepted the help of her neighbors with whom she maintained warm relationships.

She was a determined lady and typical was the occasion when visiting Israel and unable to find other transport to the Kibbutz where her daughter and son-in-law were staying, joined them hitchhiking, even when it involved clambering into the back of a van. On the Kibbutz she insisted in pulling her weight and spent the time of her visit there working in the communal kitchen and exchanging opinions with the ladies in a variety of languages. She traveled to Israel five times by herself and was daring enough one trip to book a tour and get her hair cut in Athens.

The highlight of one of those trips was her reunion in Israel with her brother the late Rabbi Dr. Arthur Saul Super, whom she had not seen for 51 years.

Edna always maintained contact with her many longstanding friends and made phone calls to enquire about their health and the wellbeing of their families.

She was very much part of Australian culture being the first of her parents’ children to be born in Melbourne. So she liked her little flutter on the Melbourne Cup. She was a fun loving parent who read and composed stories to her children when they were young and was not above playing “skippy” with them on a Shabbat afternoon. She liked a dip in the sea and took the children to St.Kilda beach on a Friday morning. In summer she would arise at 5 AM, get Shabbat prepared and thus have the whole day to take her daughters out. She was modest and would say, “I can always learn from my daughters”. She liked a good joke even if it was a bit risqué and had an infectious rollicking laugh.

Edna loved the movies and music. She had a number of favourite songs such as “Danny Boy”, “Roses Whisper” and “Esah Einei”, although her singing voice was ever a source of amusement for her family.

She used to jokingly say that she would come to Israel to help her daughter do the mending. She hated wastefulness and would save pencil ends, envelopes, jars and plastic bags. She loved her garden and had “Green fingers”. Her garden was a riot of colour and fragrance, winter and summer. Even when she had to walk with a frame she was determined to potter amongst her plants.

Always interested in current affairs at one time she worked voluntarily for a radio station collecting news items. Similarly she combed the newspapers and sent clippings to her family in Israel.

Edna was a proud grandmother and great-grandmother and called her extended family her “treasure”. She loved to entertain and cook them their favourite dishes. Her greatest pleasure she derived from being surrounded by her loving family. In particular her grandchildren and great-grandchildren after whose welfare she constantly enquired, despite them being spread over four continents.

She was loved and respected by her sons in law whom she treated as if they were her own sons.

Edna is survived by two daughters, six grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren.

Long will she be remembered – a true Eshet Chayil.

Eulogy at the funeral of Edna Berliner

Written and delivered by her granddaughter Deborah (Pose) Lazerow.

Edna Berliner was born August 15th, 1916 in Faraday St Carlton, the daughter of Rabbi Isaac Jacob and Lena Super. She had six brothers and was proud of saying that she was the first of the Aussie batch. Edna was educated at St.Kilda Park State School and Melbourne Girls High School and had classes at Government house. Her Jewish education she received at Sunday school and she basked in the rich tradition and love of Yiddishkeit of her parents.

In her youth she acted as secretary to the late Rabbi Dr. Joseph Abrahams who spent his last years living with the Supers and treated Edna as if she was his daughter. She was active in the National Council of Jewish Women and the women’s auxiliary of South Caulfield Shule.

In 1941 she married the late Reverend Phillip (Pinchas) Berliner, who arrived in Australia from London in 1940 and later became chazzan at St Kilda Shule, community shochet and bar mitzvah teacher.

Widowed at the age of 43 Edna was faced with the awesome task of bringing up three daughters, the late Muriel Kleerekoper, Lena Pose and Jane Freedman.

Throughout her life she staunchly maintained her love and allegiance to her Judaism. She read voraciously and diligently reviewed Parshat Hashavuah each week in preparation for Shabbat. She attended Shule every Shabbat until her health no longer permitted and continued to pray at home throughout her days. Such was her inspiration in this respect that members of the Shule congregation came to her home to blow Shofar, to bring her Lulav and Etrog and invited her to eat in their Sukkah.

Deprived of the male role in the home after the death of her husband and father, she took on the task of making Kiddush, Zemirot, Benching and Havdalah, ever a staunch advocate for women’s equality in Judaism. Her habit of being ready for Shabbat and Chagim several days in advance was a source of good humour for her family and continued to be the top of her mind even in her last days.

Edna’s life was fraught by many illnesses that she coped with in courage and determination. She was like a cat with nine lives and considered every day that she was spared as a blessing. In her latter years she was limited in her mobility but was determined to retain her independence and continue to live in her own home in dignity until her late 80’s. Edna had a green thumb and one of the saddest things for her to give up besides her independence and loving neighbors when she moved to the Montifiore was her beloved pot plants.

Despite her growing frailty she diligently carried out her exercises and persisted to walk up her drive to collect the mail until she was no longer able and accepted the help of her neighbors with whom she maintained warm relationships

She was a determined lady and typical was the occasion when visiting Israel and unable to find other transport to the Kibbutz where her daughter and son-in-law were staying, joined them hitchhiking, even when it involved clambering into the back of a van. She traveled to Israel five times by herself and was daring enough one trip to book a tour and get her hair cut in Athens. The highlight of one of those trips was her reunion in Israel with her brother the late Rabbi Dr. Arthur Saul Super, whom she had not seen for 51 years.

Edna always maintained contact with her many longstanding friends and made phone calls to enquire about their health and the wellbeing of their families, children and grandchildren.

Edna loved the movies and music. She had a number of favourite songs such as “Danny Boy” and “Roses Whisper” although her singing voice was ever a source of amusement for her family.

She used to jokingly say that she would come to Israel to help her daughter do the mending. An early environmentalist, she hated wastefulness and would save pencil ends, envelopes, jars and plastic bags. Always interested in current affairs at one time she worked voluntarily for a radio station collecting news items. Similarly she combed the newspapers and sent clippings to her family in Israel and her granddaughters when they traveled.

Edna was a proud grandmother and great-grandmother and was fondly known as Super Nanny.

Roses whisper good night neath the silvery light asleep in the dew while the dawn peepeth through. These words, sung out of tune and full of love, were the words that Nana used to sing us to sleep as kids. It was also the words that we whispered to her last night as she slipped into her final sleep.

It’s poignant that nana sang about roses because she herself was like a rose.
Like a rose, Nana was held aloft by a strong stem. Her will and her faith gave her a strength that was hard to equate with such a frail elderly woman.

Nana’s personal motto was PMA – positive mental attitude. She strongly believed in the power of the mind to influence everything and kept her mind active by clipping newspaper stories for her loved ones overseas. To keep her mind positive, she always chose to surround herself with positive imagery. No matter the occasion, she always chose to wear happy colours, pretty beads and bright red lipstick and she always asked the same of the women that she loved. She was fond of saying that a woman is never dressed without her lipstick so for you nana, we are properly dressed today.

Her positivity was infectious. It was impossible to visit her without cheering up and the nurses and staff that cared for her , particularly those at Montifiore who showed such affection and professionalism always loved to pay her a visit. She never complained about physical discomfort, after all there was nothing that a bit of dencorub and a panamax couldn’t fix and nothing that avocado cream couldn’t make beautiful.

Nana was testament to the power of faith. A deeply religious woman, her life was steered and steeled by Judaism. This was epitomized by the fact that she held on to say shema and sing tehillim on her last night with, Rabbi Sufrin, who she called “her boyfriend” and who proved to be an amazing support to her and all our family over that past few years.

While she was still living at home, to visit Nana on a Friday afternoon was inspirational. Her table would be set immaculately with white table cloth and polished silverware. The kitchen would contain one setting of entree, soup decorated with parsley, main course, her famous coleslaw (when she remembered to put it on the table) and of course desert followed by biscuits to go with her tea. Her bedroom would be set up with her shabbes outfit, including her brightest jewellery, lipstick and shabbes shoes. She even kept a special pair of shabbes slippers to wear after dinner, which she often chose to eat alone to avoid breaking Shabbat by travelling to her family.

Nana had the self-respect to spoil herself for Shabbat and Yom Tov but her greatest love was spoiling others. Even at Montifiore she kept her not so secret stash of chocolates, wafers and suck lollies to share with all her visitors.

Like any flourishing rose bush, Nana had strong roots that she was proud of. While she was modest in her own right, she was always delighted to tell us about the achievements of her scholarly brothers, her elegant mother and her father who was a member of the Beth Din in Australia. Nana’s stories were filled with words about the rabbonim that the family would entertain in Crimea Street and the grand social gatherings that she attended with her accomplished brothers.

Like a the leaves on a rose, Nana has sprouted bountiful offspring and I know she was fulfilled to attend marriages of 3 daughters, dance at the weddings of three granddaughters, send messages to the weddings of two grandsons and to receive an invitation to the wedding next week of her great granddaughter, Mirel. Nana waited almost 90 years to give her debut speech in public and I’m sure many of you will remember the touch words that she delivered at both Karyn and my weddings. Into her later years, Nana could still remember all the important family dates and would be the first to call for birthdays, Hebrew birthdays, half birthdays and anniversaries.

Like the thorns of a rose bush, Nana had the surprisingly sharp barrier of self protection. A feminist before her time, her feistiness when her rights and comforts were at stake was renowned, even at Montifiore. But even with this assertiveness, her guiding principle was respect for everyone so she would demand a cup of HOT tea with a smile. She fought death on a number of occasions and only went when she was ready to go.

Although a rose is held aloft by strong stem, roots and leaves it is the perfumed flower that everyone admires and so it is with Nana. Nana’s Hebrew name was Yenta, and rather than the gossiping yenta of folk law, Nana adhered to her namesake in being a gentle woman with the softness of rose petals. Nana kissed and hugged with the softest of arms and cheeks. Last week mum celebrated her birthday and Nana still found the energy to give her 61 gentle birthday smacks, with one to grow on.

Our rose wilted 10 days short of her 92nd birthday but her perfume remains in all of us and we are truly blessed to have known this Eshet Chail.

Death In Venice - seeking the Katzenellenbogen tombstones

Death In Venice - seeking the Katzenellenbogen tombstones

(Chaim Freedman, July 2008.)

Having recently discovered my descent from the Katzenellenbogen family, I decided to trace the graves of members of the early generations while I was in Italy (May 2008).

My wife and I were staying in Venice for a week in a conveniently located Pension in the Ghetto Nuovo, the oldest part of the Ghetto which was founded in 1516. We visited the adjacent Jewish museum and I asked one of the curators, Daniela, whether she knew of Katzenellenbogens who might be buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery of Venice located on the Lido Island. Daniela looked up several books which were in the museum library and which included lists of the burials in the Lido cemetery. There were no Katzenellenbogens, neither listed under that surname, nor were any of the deceased who were listed without surname, of suitable personal names.

I was aware that the two Katzenellenbogens who had held the official position of Rabbi of Venice were buried in Padua, but it was not clear where the wife of one of them was buried and so I suspected that she might be buried in Venice. It turned out that I was wrong.

The earliest member of the family to be known by the surname Katzenellenbogen was Rabbi Meir the son of Yitskhak. His family apparently came from the small village overlooking the Rhine called Katzenellenbogen. Meir’s father Yitskhak moved to Padua in Italy, a rich centre of Jewish and secular scholarship. Yitskhak wife was believed by many rabbinic genealogists to have been a daughter of Yekhiel Luria (died 1470), whose family held a tradition of descent from Rashi (1040-1105), himself a reputed descendant of King David.

Meir Katzenellenbogen was born in Germany in 1482 and was known by an acrostic of his name as the “Maharam Padua”. His wife Khanah was a daughter of Rabbi Avraham Mintz, a son of Rabbi Yehudah ben Eliezer Halevy Mintz (c.1405-1508). The Mintz family came from Maintz, Germany and Rabbi Yehudah established the Yeshiva in Padua which was attended by prominent scholars. On his death his son Rabbi Avraham succeeded as Head of the Yeshivah and Rabbi of Padua. On Avraham’s death in about 1535[1] his son-in-law Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen became rabbi both of Padua and Venice. He lived in Padua and only visited Venice periodically.

On the death of the Maharam Padua in 1565, his son Rabbi Shmuel-Yehudah became Rabbi of Venice where he resided. His wife’s name was Avigayil (her father’s name is not known) and she died in 1594 in Venice, followed by Rabbi Shmuel-Yehudah in 1597, also in Venice. However Rabbi Shmuel-Yehudah was taken to Padua for burial next to his father and mother.

According to Rosenstein[2] “Over the centuries, the tombstone of the Maharam began to crumble being made of soft stone, and its inscription was becoming illegible, so that in 1966, four hundred years after his death, the community of Padua replaced the tombstone with a new one in the original site. The old stone now stands in the new cemetery of Padua. This was witnessed by the present writer on a visit to Padua in 1968.” *

During my vacation in Italy I was anxious to visit the Katzenellenbogen graves, both out of sentiment for my ancient ancestors (I am an 18th generation descendant of the Maharam Padua through the Vilna Gaon) but also to ascertain the burial place of Avigayil and perhaps her father’s name which I expected to appear on the inscription on her tombstone.

Padua has several old cemeteries and I consulted the Jewishgen’s International Cemetery project to determine which housed the Katzenellenbogen tombstones. This indicated that there were two ancient cemeteries. So I consulted a site for Jewish Padua

which stated that “The Jewish cemeteries in the city make a separate itinerary: there are seven in all, and some can be visited by arrangement with the community offices.The first cemetery is at San Leonardo and dates from before 1348. Among the tombs is that of the famous Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen (1482-1565) with its carving of a cat (Katze in German).”

I posted on the Jewishgen forum a request for information about the accessibility of the cemetery. I received several replies including one from Israeli genealogist Schelly Talalay-Dardashti who referred me to an expert on Italian Jewry, Nardo Bonomi who lives in Florence and is the coordinator of the site . He very kindly phoned the Jewish Community Centre in Padua and made enquiries for me. Likewise I was informed by Elieser Rosenfield of Jerusalem that he had visited the cemetery and he gave me the contact details of the person who guided him, an official of the Padua Jewish Community Raffaele D'Angeli.

I emailed the latter and we set a date for my visit as the cemetery is not readily open to the public other than by prior arrangement.

Meanwhile in Venice we arranged to visit the cemetery on the Lido in the hope of perhaps finding the grave of Avigayil Katzenellenbogen. There was only one weekly tour available, led by Daniela of the Jewish museum. However this was cancelled due to heavy rain.

So on the day before we were due to leave Italy we set off by train on a short thirty minute journey to Padua. We met Rafi as arranged outside the Plaza Hotel. A twenty minute walk through the old cobbled streets of Padua led us to the locked gate set in the high brick wall surrounding the cemetery. Rafi unlocked the gate to let us in and took us the back row of the cemetery. The grounds are well looked after and there is an ongoing project to restore and identify the tombstones.

The Katzenellenbogen tombstones stand in a row against the rear wall of the cemetery. According to Rafi this was their original site. It was a very moving moment to be confronted by the tombstones of my ancestors of 450 years ago.

There are five stones from left to right:

Rabbi Shmuel Yehudah, 1521-1597 son of Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen.

Rabbi Meir the “Maharam Padua”, 1482-1565.

Khanah, died 1564, the daughter of Rabbi Avraham Halevy Mintz
and wife of Meir Katzenellenbogen.

The bottom fragment of a tombstone, most of the inscription being illegible.

Avigayil, the wife of Shmuel Yehudah, died 1594.

This last stone cleared up the mystery as to where Avigayil was buried. Like her husband who also died in Venice, her body must have been taken to Padua for burial. Her father’s name does not appear on her tombstone, so that remains a mystery. Had I read Edelman’s book “Gedulat Shaul”[3] thoroughly I would have noted that his copies of the inscriptions of the Katzenellenbogen tombstones in Padua included Avigyail. Apparently Pinkhas Katzenellenbogen, the author of “Yesh Mankhilin” (1758) had no access to the Padua cemetery as not only does he omit the tombstone incriptions, but he confuses the names of the wives[4] . The manuscript of Yesh Mankhilin was published in 1986 and the editor likewise appears to have been unaware of the inscriptions published by Edelman in “Gedulat Shaul” (1854).

Set on the wall over the fragmented stone is an architrave bearing the figure of a cat. This also appears at the top of the other stones and indicates the source of the surname from the town Katzenellenbogen “cat’s elbow”.

As to the fragmented stone between Khanah and Avigayil, I believe it can be identified from the wording on Khanah’s tombstone which states that she was buried to the right of her father, Avraham Mintz. That indeed is the location in relation to the fragmented stone.

A personal note: our daughter’s name is Avigayil Khanah, like the two female Katzenellenbogens, a coincidence I only realized when standing by the tombstones.

I was interested in seeing the tombstone of Rabbi Yehudah Mintz, the grandfather of the Maharam’s wife, but Rafi informed me that he had been buried in another cemetery next to Rabbi Yitskhak Abarbanel and the stone had been destroyed. This is confirmed in “Elef Margaliot”[5] which states that the stone was destroyed during a war a year after the burial, in 1509.

The Hebrew inscriptions on the tombstones match those cited by Endelman[6] (see copies above) and the English translation can be found in Rosenstein[7], with the exception of that of Avigayil.

* It appears to me that the stone which was restored was that of Shmuel Yehudah and not of his father the Maharam. Shmuel-Yehudah’s stone is white with a clearly etched inscription. The adjacent stones of his relatives are of uniform condition and apparent age. I have asked Rafi for clarification.

I am also awaiting the arrival of Rosenstein’s new book on Shaul Wahl, a son of Shmuel Yehudah Katzenelenbogen to ascertain whether he has included an updated reference to the tombstones.

“Yesh Mankhilin”, Pinkhas Katzenellenbogen, manuscript from 1758 , published Jerusalem 1986.
“Gedulat Shaul”, Tzvi Hersh Edelman, London 1854.
“The Unbroken Chain”, Neil Rosenstein, CIS Publishers, New Jersey, U.S.A. 1990.
“Elef Margaliot”, Meir Wunder, Jerusalem, 1993.
“Saul Wahl : Polish King for a Night, Or, Lithuanian Knight for a Lifetime”, Neil Rosenstein, 2006.
“The Venetian Ghetto”, Sullam and Calimani, Milan 2005
“The Ghetto On the Lagoon:, Unberto Fortis, Venice 1995.
“Ancestry of the Gaon of Vilna – Descent from King David”, Chaim Freedman, Petah Tikvah, Israel, September 2005, published in "Avotaynu" Volume XXI, Number 3, Fall 2005.

Chaim Freedman’s blog

Photos of trip to Italy:

Information about the Katzenellenbogen family.
Wikepedia links have been used for convenience of access, but the information is not necessarily accurate.,_Germany

[1] “ Elef Margaliot”, Meir Wunder, Jerusalem 1993, p.186
[2] “The Unbroken Chain”, Neil Rosenstein, 1990, Volume I page 3.
[3] “Gedulat Shaul”, Tzvi Hirsh Edelman, London 1854, introduction pp.xii,-xiv
[4] “ Yesh Mankhilin”, Pinkhas Katzenellenbogen, manuscript from 1758 , published Jerusalem 1986, page 59.
[5] “ Elef Margaliot”, Meir Wunder, Jerusalem 1993, p.190.
[6] “ Gedulat Shaul”, Tzvi Hirsh Edelman, London 1854, introduction pp.xii,-xiv
[7] “The Unbroken Chain”, Neil Rosenstein, 1990, Volume I, pp2-4.

Leopold Quint: The mystery of his fate.

My late grandmother Annie Freedman (born 1885 Pikeliai, Lithunia; died 1967 Melbourne, Australia) told me that her younger brother Leib/Leopold Kvint returned to Lithuania from England in order to marry. I have a photo of him and his wife taken in Kursenai in 1928.

My grandmother told me that her brother moved to Riga and was killed on the first day of the German occupation of the city. She believed that Leopold's wife and children were killed subsequently. She did not recall the name of her brother's wife or children.

For over 40 years I have been seeking evidence as to my great-uncle's fate.

Recently I received a prompt reply from The International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen, Germanyinforming me that they had no record of him.

An on-line database "Victims of Political Terror in the USSR" includes

"Leopold Yudelevich Kvint, born 1888 in Lithuania, Jewish, without specialoccupation, lived in Orlov, convicted 15.01.1944 by a special committee ofthe NKVD under law 58.10 and sentenced to 5 years deprivation of freedom. Rehabilitated 07.04.1961. Source: Kniga Pamyati (Memorial Book) of Kirov Oblast."

As my great-grandfather's name was Yoel-Yehudah (Yudel), and my greatuncle was aged 16 according to a Hamburg Passenger list from 1903 en-route to London(therefore born about 1887), and was born in Lithuania, then I believe that the above was indeed my long-looked-for great-uncle Leib or Leopold Kvint.

My grandmother told me that he reurned to Lithuania to marry and Latvian records include his marriage in 1923 in Kursenai to Sare Luriye.

What I do not understand is why my grandmother thought he had perished in1941, how he survived, what he was doing between 1941 and his arrest in1944, why he was arrested in Orlov, was he alive when he was "rehabilitated", and what then became of him (if he survived his imprisonment) !

I have studied various sources for the period, but fail to understand why he and many other Jews were arrested in 1944 by the NKVD, that is after theGermans had been defeated in the USSR.

Details of the period are to be found on "Gulag during World War II" at and details of the Penal Code of theRSFSR at give the following information:

"Article 58 of the Russian SFSR Penal Code was put in force on February 25,1927 to arrest those suspected of counter-revolutionary activities.Sentences were long, up to 25 years, and frequently extended indefinitely without trial or consultation. Inmates under Article 58 were known as"politichesky" as opposed to common criminals, "ugolovnik". Upon release, the prisoner would typically be sent into an exile within Russia without the right to settle closer than 100 km from large cities.Section 10 of Article 58 made "propaganda and agitation against the Soviet Union" a triable offence, whilst section 12 allowed for onlookers to be prosecuted for not reporting instances of section 10. In effect, Article 58was carte blanche for the secret police to arrest and imprison anyone deemed suspicious, making for its use as a political weapon. A person could be framed: The latter would arrange an "anti-Soviet" incident in the person's presence and then try the person for it. If the person pleaded innocence, not having reported the incident would also make them liable to imprisonment. During and after World War II, Article 58 was used to imprison many returned Soviet prisoners of war on the grounds that their capture and detainment by the Axis Powers during the war was proof that they did not fight to thedeath and were therefore anti-Soviet."

The fate of Leopold Quint remains a mystery.