Thursday, August 24, 2017

My Buby Mutter: Vechna Talmaciu Grinfeld

During my growing up years I do not remember any occasion when there was ever discussion of life in Romania., even though both sides of the family, Segall and Greenfield came from Romanian cities. I must admit that I do not remember my brothers or I ever asking any questions in order to learn more. Even with this lack of hearing the stories, without any details, I have learned some things through family memories, my genealogy research and older family pictures.  Using these resources I can draw a picture of an amazingly strong woman.

Victoria Talmage Greenfield. That was her name after she arrived in the United States. She was my paternal grandmother and I never really knew her very well. She spoke Yiddish and very little English. I, on the other hand, spoke English but very little Yiddish. Yet somehow  my brother, Michael and I knew knew we were very much loved. My dad and his two sisters who had been born in Romania had come to the United States while they were in their teens. I know life iin Romania had not been easy. One way I knew this is that none of these three people ever spoke to their children about life in Romania. In this country Buby Mutter lived with her daughter Pauline. They lived near Dad's other sister, Bertha and her husband. They all lived in the Austin area of Chicago. My family lived in South Shore. We really only saw the Greenfield side at family holidays. My Buby Mutter, as we called her, always greeted us with hugs kisses and smiles. I remember that Buby Mutter was little, a really tiny thin woman. Despite her lack of English she spoke the language of hugs and smiles very well and there was never any question we, my brother, I and all our cousins ,knew she loved us and made us feel very special.

There are a few memories that stand out clearly. If we were with her on Shabbat she would always light the candles. And she always used the same head covering. Another memory is from a  Passover Seder in about 1944. I need to remind you of an important fact of those for this story. The Haggadah is the book of prayers and songs that is used at the Passover holiday. In those days the Maxwell House Haggadah, a favorite freebie in many homes, did not yet have a transliteration of the Hebrew version of the Four Questions, a part of the Seder service. A few explanations for those not familiar with Four Questions. They are meant to be read by the youngest person at the table. It was our family tradition to have the questions read by each child, under the age of 13, that were at the Seder. Some of my cousins could already read Hebrew. My younger brother, Michael, and I could not do so. My dad created a transliteration of the Hebrew version of the questions in English for Michael and me. This paper had been slipped into our Haggadahs. When our turns came, we each stood and proudly read the Four Questions in Hebrew, or so it appeared to our listeners. Our Buby Mutter was so happy. She beamed at us and we got special hugs. Today I have to wonder if she was really fooled. Did she understand what dad had done and was pleased, knowing he did it for her; perhaps pleased because she knew we read it that way for the same reason? At that time I did not know what a difficult life this strong, resilient woman had lived.

Today I find myself looking at my paternal grandmother from the viewpoint of a woman who is now a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. I knew little of the life my grandmother, my father and his sisters lived during those years in Romania. I guess today we would say that I had no idea of the social history of life in Romania  while she, her siblings and her children were growing up. Yes, there are some facts and documents I have collected over these years but very little else. There are few pictures, few facts and fewer real stories of her life in Romania.  

So what do I really know about the life of this woman whom I knew for my first 13 and a half years. I found her life Had not been an easy one. Vechna (Victoria) was the daughter of Meir Talmaciu and Perla Breger. She had one brother, Isaac, and her 3 sisters; Fannie, Jennie, Roza. She married Meir Talmage and moved to Saveni, Meir's home. According to Itic's birth record Meir had a small shop there. All of their children seem to have been born in Saveni, although I only have the records for three of those births. During those years Victoria and Meir  had 4 daughters and their  last child was a boy, Itic (1904), who grew up to become Irving in the United States. He also became my father. Bertha (Blime)(1897?) was the oldest daughter, followed by Sorka (1899) Haica (Sara) (1901),and Pauline (Perla) (1903). Itic (1904-5(?)), my father, is sitting on Victoria's lap. The oldest daughter, Bertha, stands between her parents and Pauline, the next to youngest, sits on her father's lap. This picture was probably taken in early to middle 1905. Victoria's husband died in 1909 and, it is guessed, of a local illness, possibly an infection.  She was a widow with four daughters and a young son to raise. We also assume her financial situation was a difficult one that made it necessary for her to work.

 There were many difficult decisions she had to make after Meir's death.  One of the decisions she made, I would guess, must been the most painful decision a mother would have to make. How would she ever be able to support these 5 young children? At that time Victoria's sister, Hana, was married to Aron Gall, the Cantor at the Great Synagogue of Iasi. As the story goes she had been unable to have a child. My grandmother made the decision to send her son, Itic  to Iasi to be raised by his aunt and uncle. They were better able to care for him. I am guessing that at some point she did move to Iasi. I do not know if that was before or after both Sura and Haica had died. We know, through the records at JewishGen, that Sara died in 1910 and her age is given as 15.At one point there was the story of a flu like epidemic when both girls died. We do not know that for sure. I cannot even imagine the pain of my Buby Muter. She had lost her husband, two daughters and her son was not living in her home.

The dates do indicate that my Aunt Bertha was still living at home with her. But in 1914 things
changed for her again.  Bertha left for the United States that year. Her Uncle, Isaac Talmage, had already immigrated to the United States. Her manifest says she was 17 years old. I do not have her birth information so I am not sure that is true. Finally, in 1920, Victoria made a major decision. Her sister Fannie and her husband were living in Chicago. Her brother and her daughter were also
living in Chicago. In Philadelphia she also had her sister, Jennie, and her family.  It was time for her to go to the United States for a better life. She would be leaving behind the Iasi cemetery graves of her husband and two of her children She would be leaving behind two other sisters, Roza and Hana. She would be taking Itic away from an aunt and uncle that had raised him all these years. An aunt and uncle who loved him and that he loved as well. She was near 50 at this time, Pauline about 17 and Irving about 15. it was not to be an easy trip. I am sure this story was repeated in many Jewish families across Europe in the 1920's. How painful for each and every one.

They left Romania by ship. On the way to LeHavre they had to pass through Italy. Sadly that was the year of a fairly long railroad strike that added more weeks to what we can guess was not an easy journey. On April 3, 1920 sailing from LeHavre on the S.S. France Victoria, Perla, and Itic left for the United States.

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