Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Headstones reveal another generation

Today in the mail I received photos I had requested from the Montefiore Cemetery in St. Albans, New York.  A postcard found among Helen Dershewitz' photos and papers had pointed the way to the burial place of Isaac and Rosa Singer, my great-grandparents.  The photos revealed simple headstones with Hebrew inscriptions.  It was exciting enough to actually find their burial location but as an added bonus the headstones' inscriptions also pointed to an older generation to add to my family tree.

The inscription on Rosa Singer's headstone said she was "Rahel bas (daughter of) Avraham Abba".  Since her maiden name was LEIBLER, I assume her father was Avraham LEIBLER.

The inscription on Isaac Singer's headstone said he was the "Son of Zvi".

Thanks to the staff at Montefiore Cemetery for taking the photos and Rachel Heller Bernstein for supplying the Hebrew translations.

Monday, November 10, 2008

An immigrant's road to America

Over the past few years I've been trying to piece together a family history for my paternal line.  After some false starts and dead ends, the picture has become clearer.  My recent trip to New York has uncovered some very important documents that shed some light on the how events in Poland unfolded during the years 1910-1921 and ultimately led to the Deresiewicz family immigration to the United States.

My cousin, Shelley Kohen, had some old family documents that her mother, Bella Dershewitz Kunin, had inherited.  Among these docments were Bella's original birth certificate, a lease agreement for a tavern business in Poland and others.  My cousin Norman Sakoff found a box of photos and documents that he inherited from Helen Dershewitz Richman after her death in 2000.  In that box I found passports for Gitel (Gertrude) Deresiewicz and children and Rozalia Singer, her mother.  I also found other travel related documents.  This additional information gave me real insight into how the Dershewitz family came to America.

Here is a timeline of events as well as I can piece them together for the family of Solomon Deresiewicz:


  • Solomon Deresiewicz and Ella Singer, daughter of Isaac Singer and Rosa Leibler, are married and living in Lukowica, Galicia.


  • Gitel (Gertrude) Deresiewicz is born April 26, 1910 in Lukowica.


  • Solomon Deresiewicz enters into a lease agreement with Jozef Grzybowicz for a tavern business in Kamienica on September 27, 1911.  The lease is for 12 years with 2400 krone to be paid annually in quarterly installments. This was about $500 USD at the time.


  • Ester (Estelle) Deresiewicz is born July 1, 1912 in Lukowica.  Ella Singer Deresiewicz dies shortly after.


  • Solomon Deresiewicz marries Ella Singer's sister, Gitel Singer.


  • Jakob (Jack) Deresiewicz is born August 29, 1914 in Kamienica.
  • A major turning point of WWI, the Battle of Limanowa, is fought December 1st to the 15th.  Austro-Hungarian troops held off the Russian army from moving westward and taking Cracow. 
  • There are family stories of Russian cossacks riding their horses into the tavern in Kamienica.  Solomon is said to have taken them into the basement and got them drunk before they could do more damage.
  • My grandmother, Gertrude, said that the Russians were far worse than the Germans at that time.


  • Avram (Abraham) Eber Deresiewicz is born March 5, 1916 in Kamienica.


  • Juda Leib (Louis) Deresiewicz is born May 21, 1917 in Kamienica. View his birth certificate.


  • Beila (Bella) Deresiewicz is born October 22, 1918 in Lukowica. View her birth certifcate.



  • Rozalia Singer is granted a passport on January 4, 1921.
  • The Deresiewicz family and Isaac and Rozalia Singer leave their ancestral homes for Warsaw in March 1921.
  • Family arrives at the Hotel Rossya in Warsaw on March 2, 1921
  • Passport Warsaw entry stamp is dated March 3, 1921
  • The family members proceed to obtain visas for Germany, Belgium, France and United States from embassies in Warsaw.
  • US visa obtained March 7, 1921
  • German visa obtained March 9, 1921
  • French visa obtained March 9, 1921
  • Belgium visa is dated March 19, 1921
  • The family travelled from Warsaw to Berlin, through Belgium to Cherbourg, France during the middle of March.
  • The Deresiewicz family entered US Health Service quarantine on March 25 in Cherbourg in preparation for sailing on the Cunard liner, Saxonia on April 10.
  • Cherbourg exit stamp on April 10, 1921.  Family boards the Saxonia for the trip to the US
  • The Deresiewicz family arrives at Ellis Island April 20, 1921 and is met by Louis Singer to begin life in their new country.

These were difficult years for the Deresiewicz and Singer families.  World events shattered dreams and forced an exodus to a place a world apart from the life they knew.  Driving them was the hope that this new country would offer opportunity for a new life.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Final resting place of Isaac and Rosa Singer

In the things that I brought back from New York, I found a postcard that talked about the unveiling of a monument for the "Beloved Husband" of Rose Singer to take place on May 3, 1936.  Isaac Singer was my paternal grandmother's father.  Both Isaac and Rose came over to the US with the Deresiewicz (Dershewitz) family in 1921 and lived with them in the Bronx.  The card was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. S. Brenner.

I had asked current New York family members if they knew where the Singers were buried and no one seemed to know.  So this card was a real break-through.  The card was damaged but I could read that Isaac was buried in the Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, Block 8, Row 4, Grave ??.  I called the Cemetery (718-528-1700) to see if I could get more complete information.  I spoke to a very helpful staff member who verified that Isaac Singer was buried on May 16, 1934 at Block 8, Row 4, Grave 28.  As an added bit on information, I had her check on Rose Singer and found she was buried March 18, 1945 next to her husband.

Cemeteries are places of remembrance.  It seems tragic that final resting places, like old photos, often get lost over time to their families.  Isaac and Rose Singer's memories have been reclaimed.

Click here for the postcard image

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back from New York

It's been quite a while since I've posted.  It's not that I haven't been busy with the family genealogy, I've just been delinquent....  That aside, I thought I'd start again with my recent spur of the moment trip to New York.  A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to my cousin Shelley on the phone.  We had a lot of catching up to do as we had not talked in a while.  I knew her mother, my aunt Belle, had had a stroke a number of months before and was concerned as I had not heard anything since that time.  I was relieved to hear that Belle was doing fine, now making adjustments to assisted living.  Shelley mentioned that they were getting together a small family group to celebrate her mother's 90th birthday in about 2 weeks.  It didn't click at the time but later that night I thought this would be a great time to visit New York.

I called back the next day which happened to catch Shelley and guests right in the middle of Rosh Hashanah dinner.  Aunt Belle was there and I got to speak to her.  She sounded great!  I decided, what the hell, I was going to New York for her birthday.  Shelley was kind enough to invite me to stay in her house in Monroe; Charlotte stepped up to do my farm chores for a week; I found a non-stop flight to JFK; reserved a car and headed out.

I stayed overnight in Portland with friends since my flight out was at 6:30am.  The flight was ontime and actually got into JFK early!  Wandered around JFK for a while trying to figure out how to get to the rental car lot (think getting on the right Air Train).  Once in the car, I headed out of JFK and into NYC rush hour traffic.  About 2 hours later I was in the Hudson Valley, full of beautiful fall colors and at the door of my cousins, Gene and Shelley Kunin Kohen.  A while later, Shelley's sister Suzie and her husband Joel arrived from Toronto.  Shelley had a fast breaking get together for friends that evening and there was great food and conversation.

After dinner Shelley showed me what she had found while cleaning out her mother's apartment in the Bronx following her move to assisted living.  There was a box of old Dershewitz family photos, ones I had never seen before, and a leather handbag containing some old family documents including Bella's original birth certificate, naturalization certificates and what appeared to be a Polish lease agreement for a business in Kamienica dated 1911.  Suzie helped me organize the photos into family groups for later scanning and posting.

The next day we went over to see Aunt Belle.  She looked just great!  We had time to talk and get reacquainted after all these years.  It was a beautiful day and we thought we would visit the cemetery where many of the Dershewitz family members were buried.  Temple Israel Memorial Park of Nyack was close by so we all piled into the car and headed over.  The cemetery was very small in a nice country setting with one side for Christians and one for Jews with a chain link fence in between.  My cousin Norman, who lives close by, found this place and persuaded the immediate family members to purchase plots.  We found and I photographed headstones of grandparents Solomon and Gertrude Singer Dershewitz, Jesse and Gertrude Dershewitz Milner, Joe and Estelle Dershewitz Sakoff, Jack and Ann Dershewitz, Joe and Helen Dershewitz Richman and Leon "Russ" Kunin, Belle's late husband.  We placed rocks on the headstones, Joe said prayers and we bid adieu.

Aunt Belle's 90th birthday party was on Sunday, October 12th.  Her actual birthday was on October 22nd but this was the best time to get all the family together.  Cousins Norman and Ellie were there and we had a lot of catching up to do.  Norman had been the executor of Helen Richman's estate in 2000.  Helen, the youngest of the Dershewitz children, was always the family organizer and social director.  She was also a long time friend of my mother and was probably responsible for getting my mother and father together.  Norman could not remember seeing any collection of family photos or papers so I thought anything she had must have been lost.  A couple of days later I got a call from Norman saying that he, with the help of his wife Bonnie, had found a box of stuff that was Helen's and that I was welcome to come by and take a look.

The following day I drove over to Norman's house in Pearl River.  I walk in to find a pile of "stuff" covering a coffee table about 6" deep.  Where to start?  At the top of course.  We went through the photos separating them into family groups.  There was a mixture of Helen and Joe's family photos as well as ones that Aunt Helen had inherited or received from other family.  Many were old, pre-1940s, and others fairly recent.  Also included were many old documents.  I found original passports and other travel documents as well as some old letters and photo postcards with yiddish inscriptions.  We took a break and Norman treated me to lunch at his local favorite restaurant.  He is well known there and gives the entire staff a real hard time (in jest of course).  This was a most enjoyable and productive day.

I'm so glad that I was able to take the time to make this impulsive trip to visit family in New York.  Family and friend were great, fall weather was beautiful and connection to lost family was re-established.  Let's make sure we don't wait another 40 years.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Louis Singer and the Dershewitz Family

It's difficult to imagine the hardships my father's family, father, mother and 7 brothers and sisters, suffered in leaving everything they knew in Poland to travel halfway around the world to a new country and new life.  I've never heard any stories so I was left to try and piece together the events.  I have come to find that Louis Singer, my grandmother's brother, was the key to bringing the Dershewitz family to the United States.

Let me back up a bit and tell you what I've found about Louis Singer.  He was born in Lukowica, Poland April 27, 1883 as Leib Singer, son of Izaak and Ruchela Singer. His Ellis Island record shows that he arrived in New York May 17, 1899 after sailing from Bremen May 6, 1899 aboard the SS Konigin Luise.  He was a young man of 17 years likely travelling alone with $5 in his pocket.  His occupation was listed as a tailor.

The next record of Louis' life in the US is his Naturalization on August 8, 1904.  He was living at 394 E 8th in Manhattan at the time and his occupation was a dress case manufacturer.  I'm not sure what that was but I know my father often talked about working in the garment trade in New York in his younger years.  After only 5 years in the country, Louis was establishing himself in his new home.

The 1910 Census found Louis living on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan.  He was now a liquor store owner.  It seems so many of my relatives were involved in some way in the liquor business in Poland and now in the US.  The next census page showed that he now had a wife, Regina, living with him as well as his brother, Joseph who must have followed Louis over.  Joseph was listed as a liquor store employee so I assume that he worked for his brother.  Louis has been in the country only 10 years and is already doing well.

Records show that Louis applied for and was granted a passport in March 1920 to travel abroad.  The reason he gave on the application was to visit his parents in Poland, I believe with the situation deteriorating in SE Poland he went over to try and get his close family members still in Poland out of the country.  He was to leave around April 15th and would be gone for about 6 months.  The birth registration for one of the Dershewitz family members was dated November 20, 1920 so Louis may have been over in Poland helping to arrange documentation for his family members.  A passenger list for the SS La Savoie shows Louis returning to the US via Le Havre, France on June 28, 1920.

Louis must have gone back to Europe one more time to accompany his family back to the US.  He is shown on the passenger list for the SS Saxonia which arrived at the port of New York on April 20, 1921 after sailing from London.  It seems like after London, the Saxonia stopped at Cherbourg, France where the Dershewitz family and Louis' parents boarded and then on to New York.  I hadn't until this time realized that Louis Singer was also on this ship as he was listed with the naturalized US citizens and not with the immigrants.

Louis Singer played a pivotal role in getting his close family out of Poland and to safety in America.  I wouldn't be here today to tell the story if it hadn't been for him.