Monday, January 30, 2017

Amanuensis Monday: Čekiškė Conflagration - 1887

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J, Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder, NYU Press, 2001, page 236.

CEKISKE (Yid. Tzeikishok) Kaunas dist., Lithuania. Jews first settled at the end of the 18th cent. a conflagration in 1887 left most Jews homeless. The J. pop. in 1897 came to 432 (65% of the total). In 1915, the retreating Russian army, together with local farmers, staged a pogrom against the Jews before expelling them to Russia. After WWI only some returned. The Zionist movement won widespread support. In 1940, there were about 60 J. families in C. After the German conquest of 1941, the Jews were killed on 4. Sept. 1941, according to a Nazi document, which reported the deaths of 22 men, 64 women, and 60 children.

Another source has more information:
In 1887, a fire broke out in Cekiske that burned all of its houses, including the two prayer houses and their valuable books. A young woman was burned to death. Only 3 houses remained intact. About 160 families remained without shelter and without any means. Among them was the Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Avraham Levental, who was a wealthy man and who lost his entire property in the fire. Jews from the nearby towns of Vilkija, Seredzius, Raseiniai, Girkalnis and other towns were the first to bring wagons loaded with bread and foodstuffs to the stricken families, who were living under the open sky. A call for aid in their names was advertised in the “HaMelitz” on July 1887. It was signed by Eliyahu Gorland.


When did my Cruvant ancestors immigrate from Čekiškė, Lithuania to America?

My second great grandfather's 1911 death certificate stated he had been in the US for 35 years, implying an immigration year of 1876. However, two sons appear in Lithuanian birth records for 1883 and 1885. I've theorized the death certificate was 10 years off, and 1886 is a more likely year.

It was said that my great grandmother, Bertha, was born in Missouri on the Jewish New Year in 1886 or 1887. In 1887 that would have been September 19. But no birth records have been found in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, or St. Clair County, Illinois. (Not exactly definitive since birth records weren't required in Missouri until 1910.) While she doesn't appear in Lithuanian birth records, either, could she have been born en route? If the fire occurred before July (when the call for aid was advertised), they may have been able to get to the US prior to September 19.

There were family stories told by some branches that they were escaping a pogrom. A home destroyed by a fire isn't exactly a home destroyed by a pogrom, but it's not difficult to envision the story being embellished upon. (And the neither description gives an indication of the cause of the fire.)

The earliest documentation of my ancestors being in St. Louis is a naturalization record from 1889.

There were cousins among the 22 men, 64 women, and 60 children who were killed on September 4, 1941.

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