My Family


A Family Record Of Six Or More Generations
Which Began About 150 Years Ago

Written by a Grandson
about his Grandparents

by
Jacob M. Rothbart

May 8, 1974

Originally Typed By Judith Anne Rothbart
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Introduction

My children and grandchildren are always asking me who my ancestors were. This question is continuously demanded of me. They want to know all I can tell them of my grandparents on both my father's and my mother's side. Farther back than my grandparents, I have absolutely no knowledge. It is a mystery to me.

In this story, I will try to answer, to the best of my knowledge, as much as is known to me.

First, I would like you to know the girl to whom I dedicate my story and who is typing it. She is my granddaughter, Judith Anne Rothbart, a student at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is entering her third year. Judith is the daughter of my son David and counts the fifth generation of my father's father, Jacob Leibish Rothbart and Rivka Rothbart, the wife of Jacob.

Rivka died a short time after my father was born. They put up a modest tombstone in the cemetery in Gombin. My father took me to see it when I was almost able to walk. This cemetery was hundreds of years old. I remember distinctly that when I was older, I read on this tombstone that "here is buried Rivka, the wife of Jacob Leibish Rothbart".

In this introduction, I want to make clear the fact that Judith Anne is the fifth generation of my grandparents. There is also a sixth generation and of other of their descendants, perhaps there is also a seventh generation of that time. One great-grandchild of my own and ten great-grandchildren of my sister's are of the sixth generation.

My Mother's family

I will begin with my grandparents from my mother's side. Their story is a very simple one to describe. As far as I can conscientiously remember about their history, they were born in Gombin where all their family connections were rooted. There was a large number of them; it was a large family. They had six children, three boys and three girls. All of the family were known to me, with exception of my grandmother, Makhla (Machla). I still vaguely remember her figure and looks. She was a little woman. In my opinion, I must have only been about three years old. That is the only time that I have, in my imagination, the view of my mother's mother. All of my mother's sisters and brothers I knew thoroughly.

But the third brother I didn't know because before I was born, he had been married and away from Gombin for a number of years. He and his wife died a short time after she gave birth to one child, a son. He was raised in Warsaw by his mother's brother. In later years, when he visited my hometown Gombin, he must have been about sixteen years of age. I was only then about twelve. I wrote a chapter a few years ago describing my cousin, Shmuel Mayer, "My First teacher in World Affairs".

Other than the uncle, it seems to me that all of my mother's family was an open book. They lived in this community, had large families, and that, as far as I could understand, had been going on for many hundreds of years without any important incidences. After a number of years my grandfather Meir Yehuda died. As I mentioned before, my grandmother Makhla's appearance remained in my imagination.

There were many historical facts written about the shtetl, Gombin. For instance, about four hundred years ago, two Jewish brothers were falsely accused of killing Polish children and using their blood for Jewish sacraments. The trial came to the large city of Warsaw and they were punished by death of hanging. This history was recorded by two Jewish historians, Nachem Sokolov and the recent historian, Jacob Shatsky. But other opinions about the beginning of a Jewish settlement in this shtetl began about eight hundred or more years ago.

 

My Father's family

Now we come to my other grandparents, Yacov Leibish and Rivka, who gave birth to two children. The first one, Shmuel, was about two or three years older than my father, Chaim Yitzchak. A short time after my father's birth, my grandmother Rivka died. Then the two children were put into the laps of Rivka's sister, Chayale. Soon after that, it seems that my grandfather, Yacov Leibish either left his job or was transferred. His job was manager of the old forests which surrounded about three fourth of Gombin; trees were cut down and turned into timber for all kinds of wood material.

I can state with my full knowledge that in the whole town of Gombin, Yacov Leibish did not leave any friends or have any kinds of connections with the townspeople of that shtetl. As far as his wife Rivka was concerned, about one half of the four thousand inhabitants were known as relatives, some as twentieth cousins, and others fifth cousins, but all were always connected with my grandmother Rivka

There was only one time that I can remember distinctly something nice said about my grandmother. When I, as a young schoolboy, visited my friend, his grandmother tried to tell me how wonderful my grandfather, Yacov Leibish, was. She spoke of his outstanding family and the intelligent education that he had.

At that time, as a young child, I didn't pay any attention to what she said. But young foolish children never pay any attention to their belongings and relatives. And it seems that I was no exception. Outside of that, I do not remember any relative or any connection that my grandfather had with people in this shtetl.

In later years, when I was already well established in the United States, I happened to meet Deborah Rothbart who comes from a town that is northeast of the Vistula, the largest river in Poland. This town belonged to the main center of Plotzk. We had several conversations. She informed me that a large number of the name, Rothbart, was located in her birthplace and the surrounding district.

From here on, my imagination has to develop a picture of what happened in the marriage of my grandfather, Yacov Leibish, and his wife, who was a daughter of the shtetl Gombin. He must have then been employed by a large financial establishment that had to do with cutting trees for lumber.

Rivka, as I was told by her sisters and other older people, was a beautiful girl. She and the manager of the timber, being a young and single man, were attracted to each other and were married.

 

My Step grandmother: Faigele Daigenfish

After his wife Rivka died and his employment ceased in this section, he left. Later on, being a widower for a while, he met another young woman whose name was Faigele. As far as I already had the chance to meet my father's stepmother in Warsaw, I knew the word, birdy, was very very suitable for this woman. My step grandmother, as I could understand, was of a type with a strong will. She was dominant of her own children and even could influence other people. She was the type that the poet Shakespeare described in King Lear. She was like many other women with strong will. The great novelist in America at the beginning of this century, Jacob Gordon, wrote a drama by the name, Mirela Efrot, describing just the kind of woman that my step grandmother was.

In my own shtetl, Gombin, was a family by the name Shtolzman. I imagine that most of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe had women of that type.

 

My Uncle: Saul Daigenfish

The first thing that happened after Yacov Leibish died was that the name, Rothbart, which Faigele and her children had used, was changed into Faigele's former name, Daigenfish. In my opinion, this was Faigele's decision. All her four sons and one daughter, Chanele, who were born to her and Yacov Leibish, were than called, instead of Rothbart, Daigenfish. This family was very close to me. They were not only my uncles and aunts, but also my best friends while I was located for three years in Warsaw. Their names were Chanele, Shloymeh, the oldest Mendele with whom I lived for three years in his house, Israel, and Saul, the youngest. All of this family had a fine upbringing and education and were known as people with great interest in Jewish life in Poland. They were influenced and followers of the P.P.S., Polish Party of Socialists. The youngest of them, Saul, was arrested by the Russian czarist government. A short time later he escaped the prison walls with the advice and decision of the central committee of the P.P.S.

For five years he was the ambassador of the P.P.S. in the United States, together with others who immigrated into the United States. One was one of the outstanding journalists of the Forward, Gotlieb. Another was a journalist and speaker by the name B. Feigenbaum. A third one, Jacob Milch, became in America a candy manufacturer. He was also a Polish Jewish immigrant and was an outstanding writer of philosophical subjects. This gentle man, Jacob Milch, informed me with the closest information about my uncle, Saul Daigenfish and his duties that he performed in the United States for the Polish party, P.P.S.

Saul was managing the illegal activities here in the United States such as printing brochures, leaflets and books written in Yiddish and in Polish. They were transferred in an illegal way into Poland.

In 1904, Saul came back to Poland as an illegal immigrant in order to bring a revolution of this party to free Poland out of the Czarist monarch. It didn't take very long after he arrived with a false passport, that he was arrested by Czarist spies and police.

 

My Uncle: Israel Daigenfish

Now I would like to inform you, my dear children, of another episode in the life of my uncles and aunts.

After Poland was turned into a separate government, the head became Pilsudski, who had been one of the most influential members of the P.P.S.

My uncle Saul was then already working as an expert cabinet maker. He was also employed in the Ford auto factories in Detroit. He wrote to me with an appeal to help financially his older brother, Israel, in his terrible moral and financial situations.

Now |I want to tell you what Israel was like when I left him at the beginning of 1906.

My uncle Israel was then, in Warsaw, the foreman of perhaps the biggest chandelier factory in all of Poland and maybe all of Russia at that time. He also gave employment to his other brothers in the same establishment. He was well paid and lived very comfortably with his wife, Razel. She ran a successful dressmaking shop. They were both also members of the P.P.S.

There wasn't an opera or philharmonic concert that they didn't attend. They were involved in many cultural activities. I have pictures of my Uncle Israel. He looks beautiful, well built, and richly dressed. The same also goes for his wife, Razel.

I mention who his wife, Razel, was. There were mentioned in a Polish historical book that I read. The three girls were my Aunt Razel and her two sisters, Gutzsa and Leah. The description of their activities for the P.P.S. were mostly useful and helpful.

In the 1920s, I corresponded steadily with my Uncle Israel and helped him quite often with as much as I could afford at that time. He wrote tome in ten. Twelve, or even more pages, in a beautiful small handwriting, describing to me his situation. He was then old, unemployed, and helpless. Pilsudski's government gave recognition , in their way, to old and unemployed party members who used to help financially and physically the party. As old outstanding Jewish members of their party, they would get a concession. They would be allowed two or three times a week to go into factories and sweep up the floors. All their financial income for that would be perhaps enough for one day to live on. His dear (?) wife Razel left him helpless altogether.

All the letters Israel wrote to me for several years, I turned over to archives of Yivo Institute of Jewish research. Anyone who would be intere4sted in this correspondence would have no trouble getting the freedom to read those letters.

 

Epilogue

Now I want to give you a resume of the life of my grandparents from, my father's side which started perhaps close to 150 years ago. God knows how many individuals belong to Yacov Leibish and Rivka. In their descendants, you will find all kinds of people, educated, creative, and plain common folks.

This includes Yacov Leibish's children. Two of them, my father Chaim Yitzchak and my uncle Shmuel, were strictly traditional and orthodox Jews. The other children were raised already in freedom. This is the comparison one would make between two young orphans and their stepbrothers and stepsister.

As far as it is known to me, some of my uncles' and aunt's children were surely destroyed by the German Hitlerians.

Shloyme's children were located in San Francisco. He left several children; none of them are known to me. The descendants of the two religious sons lived normal family lives. A great number of them are outstanding in the professional line. Some of my uncle Shmuel's nine children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are attorneys. One grandson of Shmuel in Newark has been for years a consulting engineer of building tunnels and bridges. I am not going into counting all of them, but some still continue the name, Rothbart. I, myself, am not going to give you a picture of my beautiful family and all their descendants.

--- Reported by a grandson of Yacov Leibish and Rivka, his wife.

 

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