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The Karbenovich  Family

From;

 

 

 

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Susan Rogers

for the original site go to;

http://www.cousinsplus.com/families/CousinsPlus/trees/Usher-Russian.htm#spaces%20on%20top

Carl of Krasnoye weds
childhood sweetheart

Carl married Dora Rubenstein in 1918, and they soon started a family and did not leave for America until 1923. Their story, based on lengthy interviews in 1967 and 1973 with both of them, is our most extensive account of the family's life in Eastern Europe….

Many of our family, including other children of Usher and of his brother, Lazar Elia, arrived on these shores well before this story begins. Later research has uncovered some of their stories. Hirschel Uberstein, Carl's father-in-law, stayed in Gorodok and was killed about 1929 by ''pogromistas'' [thugs or outlaws] according to my father, Larry Rogers.

Morris emigrates
Hirschel and his wife, the former Rivka Hyman, may well have had several more children than the five who eventually found their way to the United States. Pressed by the threat of the draft, Morris, the oldest of those who came, was the first to arrive. The year was 1901, although 1905 is the year of arrival indicated on his death certificate. Japan was soon to attack Russian-controlled Port Arthur (now called Lu-shun), initiating the Russo-Japanese War on the Pacific coast over 4,200 miles to the east of Minsk.

Dora stays
Dora, younger than my grandfather Morris by some 15 years, was still a toddler when he left for America. So of course she would remain at home with her parents. Our focus is on the period of Carl and Dora's life together. While their story in America is one of success and a full and good life, our narrative centers on their environment in Russia, including Carl's many brushes with danger and his family's numerous frightening experiences.

From Krasnoye to Gorodok
Carl and Dora knew each other from the time they were children. Carl was about 10 years old when he was sent from his village, Krasnoye (Kraz-nick), to neighboring Gorodok (Horr-o-duck), 8.9 miles southwest. It had been arranged that he study there for his Bar Mitzvah and live in the home of his teacher. The years passed, Carl was Bar Mitzvah, and he became friendly with the Rubenstein family, including Dora Rubenstein, the youngest of Hirschel's children. Carl and Dora would finally marry after World War One. Shtetls and stadts
Carl wanted to be sure I understood the difference between a "shtetl" and a "stadt." Minsk and Vilna were stadts or provinces in the Pale of Settlement where Jews were forced to live, and they were also the names of major cities. A shtetl was a townlet (a little town or village), and Jews typically lived in shtetls unless they had specific permission and the papers to live elsewhere. Gorodok, Krasnoye, and Radoshkovici (see map) were shtetls.

The Jewish population

 Despite oppression, the Jewish populations of both Minsk and Vilnius reportedly reached 40% of the total population by the eve of World War II. Gorodok is situated between those two cities -- 35 miles northwest of Minsk and 150 miles southeast of Vilnius

'Fiddler on the Roof'
Forests dominated the landscape, Carl said. Between the town and the forest, peasants grew corn and tended their cows. Visions from "Fiddler on the Roof" come easily. The place to go when it was time for fun, according to Dora, was the mill on the lake at the end of one of the streets on which "Christians lived." The mill was where 40-pound bags of barley and rye would be taken for turning into the flour used to bake bread.

Fun at the mill
At the mill there was a special rope, and the youngsters would take turns pulling on it. The rope would send them swinging outward Tarzan-style, and they would then "come up on the third floor," Dora said, enjoying her memory of the fun they had.

The quiet life
What was life like in their shtetl? During intervals in the last quarter of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century when there happened to be no ongoing war, revolution or

pogrom, "it was quiet," Carl said. He drew a small circle to represent Gorodok and two intersecting lines for its main streets..

After reviewing these notes and reading about the pogroms, I wondered about "quiet;" as compared to what? Gorodok's residents numbered "about 200 Jewish families and 50 non-Jewish peasant families, and there was one policeman and a government office." In the central area of the village was a single big house occupied by "a wealthy Jewish family," and on the northern periphery, two synagogues: one Hasidic, and the other, Orthodox. The town paid taxes, and when a problem arose, the troublemakers, Carl said, "would be called to the office."

"Pogroms" -- which came to mean what thugs and outlaws perpetrated on Jews' property, and on them in the way of bodily harm -- were commonplace. Gorodok's ratio of Jews to non-Jews may have made self defense possible, but only sometimes.



Morris' father, Hirschel Rubenstein, had been killed by thugs, and I was unable to uncover any details. He was a tanner and traveled to Minsk in the course of business. I got the impression from my father that Hirschel met his end either en route to, or on the way home from, Minsk.

Trouble on Tuesdays;
Fridays, too

The Jewish area lay chiefly in this region and to the northwest, but as Dora said, it was essentially a two street town. "Sometimes the Christians [peasants] would get drunk, such as on Tuesday which was market day, and also on Christmas, New Year's and Easter," she said. "They didn't like the Jews, and they would make trouble."

In 1998, Shirley Karben, her daughter, elaborated: "According to my mother, this sort of thing happened almost every Friday night, and also on market days and holidays." But it was "only when they got drunk, and it was always local with the pogroms; they were never official." (The word "pogrom" came to be associated with these random anti-Semitic outbreaks of thuggery.)

Carl and Dora's first child, Shirley (1919 - 2000), was a great help in this endeavor. During the last three years of her life, however, Shirley would complain that those with whom I should have spoken had died, and often she would add, "15 or more years ago."

Politics Russian style
Morris Uberstein was born in 1883, two years after the assassination of Czar Alexander II by "a revolutionist's bomb." The story goes that he was not killed by the blast but afterwards, when he left the carriage to help a wounded soldier.

Alexander II had been a comparatively mild Czar, but the climate was roiling with discontent.

His successor, Alexander III, immediately increased the oppression of minorities, oppression that was "particularly severe in regards to Jews," according to Funk and Wagnall's Universal Standard Encyclopedia (1931-1957). Jews "were forced to live in certain areas, not permitted to enter specific professions, and killed in great numbers in pogroms fomented by the government." The term
The term "Cossack" comes from the Turkish word for adventurer but came to mean "predatory horseman." It originally referred to "a people of the Soviet Union principally of Russian and Ukrainian stocks." In the latter part of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century, the czarist government used Cossack troops "to perpetrate pogroms against the Jews."

Poverty and emigration
Belarus, whose capital city is Minsk, had been "laid waste" by the Napoleonic invasion. Thereafter it continued suffering "great poverty," which spurred mass emigration to the United States in the 19th century, "notably among the Jews." Morris was 11 years old when Nicholas II ascended to the throne in 1894. Again, the history books note, there was "an increase of autocracy, oppression and police control."

Domestic strife
Morris had emigrated just in time to sidestep the Russo-Japanese War. In its takeover of Port Arthur, Japan overwhelmed Russia's forces; domestic strife added to the "complete defeat" of Russia, and the revolution began to build. There were demands for reform, demonstrations, strikes and riots. The

revolutionary movement was crushed in 1906, regrouped, and was again repressed. A revolution "was being prepared by the radical parties" when the outbreak of World War I occasioned its "temporary postponement."

Hirschel and Rivka Rubenstein,
with their youngest daughter, Dora


Party time
Czar Nicholas II and his family had only four more years to live at the time of this elaborate festival to celebrate the Romanov dynasty's 300 years in power.

In 1913, Dora was 15 years old, and Carl was 18 years old. The end of the Romanov dynasty was only four years away. Carl had obtained an apprenticeship to a furrier, probably in Volozhin, which is 16.2 miles west-southwest of Gorodok. World War One would break out a year later. 30-mile walk
Carl almost certainly was working in Volozhin and not in Gorodok at the time his uncle was drafted. In 1914, his uncle, who lived in Radoshkovici, was taken into the army. His aunt then had no choice but to go to Carl and ask that he take over his uncle's shop. She told Carl the pay would be $10 a week. "So," Carl said, "I took a 30-mile walk to Radoshkovici." Volozhin is 28.7 miles west of Radoshkovici.

World War One:The draft calls Carl

 

 

Basic training in Siberia
On August 2, 1914, Russia declared war on Austria and Germany, and within a year Carl was drafted and sent to Siberia for three months of basic training. Then he was ordered to the German front, which at that time was "only 15 miles away
from Minsk." Efforts were being made to evacuate civilians living in the area. "There was no food, and it was raining," said Carl, who got permission to leave the camp to go to the city for food. Carl goes AWOL
In the city he saw soldiers with bread, so he went up to them and asked where he could get some. "They pointed out a place," he said, "and they told me, 'You want to eat? Go in and eat.'" Carl entered the place, which turned out to be a synagogue, and it was full of refugees. "There was my mother and brother, and another two brothers and a sister," Carl said. "So I took off my uniform and gun, and I threw them away and went with them."

Bought "papers"
The Germans were "thrown back" a couple of weeks later, Carl said, and the people returned to work. The family's Radoshkovici shop was set up in Minsk, 22 miles to the southeast, where Carl's mother had gone for refuge. They rented an apartment, and Carl knew he was going to need papers for the government, so for 100 rubles he bought papers.

The Police
The papers said that his army company had sent him to Minsk for three months to recover from sickness. When things quieted down in Minsk, everyone had to register with the police, and Carl took his papers down to register. The man in charge looked at Carl's papers, and then he said to Carl, "Where did you buy these?"

Prison life
Carl was arrested and spent three months in prison awaiting trial. "I was lucky not to be shot," he said. There were 20 soldiers imprisoned in one room with long benches. Conditions were not good. "Once every couple of weeks they would take us to a Turkish bath," Carl said. He was expecting to be sent back to the front, and then to have to serve four years after the war ended.

Welcome the Revolution
Meanwhile, the Revolution came. "Thank God I had not fought for Nicholai," said Carl, referring to Czar Nicholas II, whom the Revolution toppled. What about Carl's trial for having bought phony papers? The trial never took place; the Revolution had caused a change in agenda.

Straw mats
Instead of a trial, Carl was sent "deep into Russia" where he was put to work for the winter making the mats that soldiers used for sleeping in the trenches. The mats, he said, were one-inch thick and made from straw. Eventually his assignment changed, and he was put to work in a bakery. The pill
One day Carl obtained from a friend a pill that would make him sick. For three weeks he lay ill in bed in the hospital, and then he was sent to Minsk. "Go home," he was told there. "They gave up on me," he said with a grin.

Multiple dangers
While Morris' departure from his homeland was spurred by the desire to avoid military service and almost certain death in the Russo-Japanese War, everyday Basic training in Siberia

On August 2, 1914, Russia declared war on Austria and Germany, and within a year Carl was drafted and sent to Siberia for three months of basic training. Then he was ordered to the German front, which at that time was "only 15 miles away
from Minsk." Efforts were being made to evacuate civilians living in the area. "There was no food, and it was raining," said Carl, who got permission to leave the camp to go to the city for food.

."

The pill
One day Carl obtained from a friend a pill that would make him sick. For three weeks he lay ill in bed in the hospital, and then he was sent to Minsk. "Go home," he was told there. "They gave up on me," he said with a grin.

Multiple dangers
While Morris' departure from his homeland was spurred by the desire to avoid military service and almost certain death in the Russo-Japanese War, everyday life was often fraught with danger. There were the Cossacks implementing the government's unofficial program of pogroms, and also, soldiers and peasants, who, when drunk or with any excuse, could and did make trouble for Jews they encountered. During raids, the Karben family would hide in the basement of the house they rented from the blacksmith, and they would lie on the floor with the lights out until the danger had passed.

Latkes and Cossacks


When Dora had the feeling marauders were about to appear, she would prepare stacks of latkes or potato pancakes, said Shirley, who was born in 1919, and didn't leave Russia until the age of 4. She is the oldest of the three Karben children born in Belarus. (Phil is two years younger than Shirley, and Artie was only six months old when the Karbens left for America.)

Below: Dora with Shirley, left, and Phil.

Shirley said her mother told her that during Cossack raids, she would "stuff the children's mouths with potato pancakes so we wouldn't make any noise."


The Polish soldier
During a period when the Poles had driven away the Russians, a Polish soldier "I almost got shot," he said. Dora nodded in agreement. At that time, they were married and had two children, and they were living in Radoshkovici in the house that belonged to the blacksmith. Dora mentioned often having to lie down "on the floor in the basement without any lights on because we were afraid."

Wagon wheels
After the Poles had driven away the Russians, the peasants were able to go looking for their stolen horses. It happened that some peasants told the Polish soldiers that Carl had taken some missing wagon wheels. Quick thinking on Dora's part saved the day. "I went across the street where a Polish man lived," she said, "and I brought him back to say Carl was an honest man." Carl added, "I didn't even know who it was who took what was missing."

And so it was that he and Dora lived during troubled and dangerous years.

A Story of Heroism

The Chasmans
Usher Uberstein's granddaughter, Esther -- her mother had married Samuel Kirshner -- was living in Newark, New Jersey, with her husband, Leonid Chasman, when she became very ill with tuberculosis. She arranged to go to a spa in Switzerland, the spa that Thomas Mann wrote about in his novel, "The Magic Mountain." Esther took her four children to stay in Gorodok with her father and mother -- Usher's daughter whose name we do not know -- while she tried to get well in Switzerland.

Then World War I broke out. Esther managed to regain her health, but had to return home alone because she couldn't retrieve the children during wartime. The youngest of the four children died.

Below, The Chasmans of Newark: Esther and husband, Leonid Chasman, with the two oldest of their four children, Sidney and Randolph.

After the war ended, travel still was not permitted. The grandparents of the Chasman children (Dora's aunt and uncle) asked Carl Karben to smuggle the three children out of Russia so that they could get back home to Newark, New Jersey.

As a favor to Dora's oldest brother, Morris Rubenstein, Carl agreed. There is much more that can be said, but let us continue. By the time Carl took this mission, Randolph was 14 years old, Sidney was 12, and Ethel was 9. The children had learned Russian while they waited out the war.

Carl Karben, hero
Carl told me, "I hired a man from Poland to go get the three children [probably from Gorodok] and bring them at night to Radoshkovici" where he and Dora were then living. The children were accompanied by Esther's sister, Sonia Kirshner, who pretended to be their mother. Sonia had become a dentist, but she took advantage of this opportunity to emigrate to the United States, according to Randolph's widow, Eleanor Chasman, then of Hollywood, Florida.

Arrested
"Somebody found out [what was going on]," said Carl, who was arrested as a result because it was thought that he was a communist. Quick thinking and cash got him out of that situation. "I gave money to the soldiers," he said.

Poland off limits
Carl then embarked on the dangerous journey of taking the three children from Radoshkovici to Warsaw. Once there, he took them to the U.S. Consul; then he bought the tickets for their passage and sent them home. "They were shooting anyone who dared bring people from Russia to Poland," he said. "I put my life on the line for them."

The 5 Karbens go to America

Esther Minnie was the second of the five children of Hirschel and Rivka to arrive in America. She even traveled here alone, said her daughter, Marion Shapiro Potashnick, of North Adams, Massachusetts. Esther Minnie's brothers, Jack and Henry, arrived soon after.

Youngest and last
It was 1923 when Morris arranged passage to the United States for the Karbens. Carl had insisted that he must bring his entire family at the same time, which was not the usual practice. By then, he and Dora had three children. Morris managed to raise enough money -- probably with the help of Esther Minnie and Henry -- to bring the entire Karben family in 1923. (This was a kindness that Carl would never forget.)


Home to Rashka
"Rashka was more like a mother than a cousin," said Shirley, who enjoyed remembering her early family life in America. The Karbens lived on Essex Street, in a house shared with Rashka, her mother's second cousin. Rashka

was 15 years older than Dora, and Rashka's is where the Karben family headed from Ellis Island.

Rashka's husband, Shimsel Kirshner, had come to America some time earlier. He worked at making pocketbook frames, and he lived in a basement while saving to bring over his family, I was told. By the time the Karbens arrived, the Kirshners and their three children had a two-story house on Essex Street, and for some years, they shared it with the Karbens. It was just down the block from Morris's house.

Arrival
Morris was confined to a wheelchair, so his wife, Esther Simon Rubenstein, met the Karben family at Ellis Island. They happened to arrive on October 12, 1923, which is Columbus Day. In the years to come, that became a matter of great consequence to Shirley and to her father.

A new name
In Russia, Shirley had been called "Tziril." By the time the immigration officer was ready to write down a name for this four-year-old immigrant, Esther

Rubenstein had come up with another possibility. She was reading a novel with a heroine named "Shirley," and so that was the name she told the immigration officer to write down. When it came to a last name, Karbenovich became Karben. Carl Karben became an American citizen five years later, "to the day," said Shirley.

A significant day
When Shirley was in school, the teacher asked the class, "Can anyone tell me about the significance of October 12?" Shirley raised her hand, the teacher called on her, and Shirley said, "That's the day my father became an American citizen." The class and the teacher burst out laughing. But back to her father's story...

Valued worker
Carl Karben was a hard worker, and that's how people described him. His wife's nephew, Larry Rogers (my father), was impressed that "he went looking for work as soon as he arrived in New York City." Shirley would often say, with pride, "My father was never out of a job, because he gave full value for a day's work." Carl's versatility also worked to his favor.

Many talents
Carl was a superb lathe operator, and he joined the union as soon as he could. Whenever an opening became available, he was usually the first chosen, which Shirley attributed to his fine reputation. Carl was also a qualified furrier, thanks to his early training in Gorodok. And, Shirley said, he even had skills that enabled

him to find employment in the manufacture of children's shoes.

The fortune-teller
Before leaving Russia, Dora had taken the customary trip to visit a fortune-teller. The major revelation was that the fortune-teller envisioned her with four children. "My mother was sure that would never happen," Shirley said.


Left: Jerry Karben, Carl and Dora's youngest son, in his graduation portrait, class of 1958,
Peter Stuyvestant High School.

The year Morris died -- 1940 -- became forever associated in Shirley's mind with the fortune-teller. It was on the occasion of Morris's unveiling that Dora announced her pregnancy with Jerry, who was to be her fourth child.

found Carl on the street. "I almost got shot," he said. Dora nodded in agreement. At that time, they were married and had two children, and they were living in Radoshkovici in the house that belonged to the blacksmith. Dora mentioned often having to lie down "on the floor in the basement without any lights on because we were afraid."

Wagon wheels
After the Poles had driven away the Russians, the peasants were able to go looking for their stolen horses. It happened that some peasants told the Polish soldiers that Carl had taken some missing wagon wheels. Quick thinking on Dora's part saved the day. "I went across the street where a Polish man lived," she said, "and I brought him back to say Carl was an honest man." Carl added, "I didn't even know who it was who took what was missing."

And so it was that he and Dora lived during troubled and dangerous years.

A Story of Heroism

The Chasmans
Usher Uberstein's granddaughter, Esther -- her mother had married Samuel Kirshner -- was living in Newark, New Jersey, with her husband, Leonid Chasman, when she became very ill with tuberculosis. She arranged to go to a spa in Switzerland, the spa that Thomas Mann wrote about in his novel, "The Magic Mountain." Esther took her four children to stay in Gorodok with her father and mother -- Usher's daughter whose name we do not know -- while she tried to get well in Switzerland.

Then World War I broke out. Esther managed to regain her health, but had to return home alone because she couldn't retrieve the children during wartime. The youngest of the four children died.

Below, The Chasmans of Newark: Esther and husband, Leonid Chasman, with the two oldest of their four children, Sidney and Randolph.

After the war ended, travel still was not permitted. The grandparents of the Chasman children (Dora's aunt and uncle) asked Carl Karben to smuggle the three children out of Russia so that they could get back home to Newark, New Jersey.

As a favor to Dora's oldest brother, Morris Rubenstein, Carl agreed. There is much more that can be said, but let us continue. By the time Carl took this mission, Randolph was 14 years old, Sidney was 12, and Ethel was 9. The children had learned Russian while they waited out the war.

Carl Karben, hero
Carl told me, "I hired a man from Poland to go get the three children [probably from Gorodok] and bring them at night to Radoshkovici" where he and Dora were then living. The children were accompanied by Esther's sister, Sonia Kirshner, who pretended to be their mother. Sonia had become a dentist, but she took advantage of this opportunity to emigrate to the United States, according to Randolph's widow, Eleanor Chasman, then of Hollywood, Florida.

Arrested
"Somebody found out [what was going on]," said Carl, who was arrested as a result because it was thought that he was a communist. Quick thinking and cash got him out of that situation. "I gave money to the soldiers," he said.

Poland off limits
Carl then embarked on the dangerous journey of taking the three children from Radoshkovici to Warsaw. Once there, he took them to the U.S. Consul; then he bought the tickets for their passage and sent them home. "They were shooting anyone who dared bring people from Russia to Poland," he said. "I put my life on the line for them."

The 5 Karbens go to America

Esther Minnie was the second of the five children of Hirschel and Rivka to arrive in America. She even traveled here alone, said her daughter, Marion Shapiro Potashnick, of North Adams, Massachusetts. Esther Minnie's brothers, Jack and Henry, arrived soon after.

Youngest and last
It was 1923 when Morris arranged passage to the United States for the Karbens. Carl had insisted that he must bring his entire family at the same time, which was not the usual practice. By then, he and Dora had three children. Morris managed to raise enough money -- probably with the help of Esther Minnie and Henry -- to bring the entire Karben family in 1923. (This was a kindness that Carl would never forget.)


Home to Rashka
"Rashka was more like a mother than a cousin," said Shirley, who enjoyed remembering her early family life in America. The Karbens lived on Essex Street, in a house shared with Rashka, her mother's second cousin. Rashka was 15 years older than Dora, and Rashka's is where the Karben family headed from Ellis Island.

Rashka's husband, Shimsel Kirshner, had come to America some time earlier. He worked at making pocketbook frames, and he lived in a basement while saving to bring over his family, I was told. By the time the Karbens arrived, the Kirshners and their three children had a two-story house on Essex Street, and for some years, they shared it with the Karbens. It was just down the block from Morris's house.

Arrival
Morris was confined to a wheelchair, so his wife, Esther Simon Rubenstein, met the Karben family at Ellis Island. They happened to arrive on October 12, 1923, which is Columbus Day. In the years to come, that became a matter of great consequence to Shirley and to her father.

A new name
In Russia, Shirley had been called "Tziril." By the time the immigration officer was ready to write down a name for this four-year-old immigrant, Esther
Rubenstein had come up with another possibility. She was reading a novel with a heroine named "Shirley," and so that was the name she told the immigration officer to write down. When it came to a last name, Karbenovich became Karben. Carl Karben became an American citizen five years later, "to the day," said Shirley.

A significant day
When Shirley was in school, the teacher asked the class, "Can anyone tell me about the significance of October 12?" Shirley raised her hand, the teacher called on her, and Shirley said, "That's the day my father became an American citizen." The class and the teacher burst out laughing. But back to her father's story...

Valued worker
Carl Karben was a hard worker, and that's how people described him. His wife's nephew, Larry Rogers (my father), was impressed that "he went looking for work as soon as he arrived in New York City." Shirley would often say, with pride, "My father was never out of a job, because he gave full value for a day's work." Carl's versatility also worked to his favor.

Many talents
Carl was a superb lathe operator, and he joined the union as soon as he could. Whenever an opening became available, he was usually the first chosen, which Shirley attributed to his fine reputation. Carl was also a qualified furrier, thanks to his early training in Gorodok. And, Shirley said, he even had skills that enabled
him to find employment in the manufacture of children's shoes.

The fortune-teller
Before leaving Russia, Dora had taken the customary trip to visit a fortune-teller. The major revelation was that the fortune-teller envisioned her with four children. "My mother was sure that would never happen," Shirley said.


Left: Jerry Karben, Carl and Dora's youngest son, in his graduation portrait, class of 1958,
Peter Stuyvestant High School.

The year Morris died -- 1940 -- became forever associated in Shirley's mind with the fortune-teller. It was on the occasion of Morris's unveiling that Dora announced her pregnancy with Jerry, who was to be her fourth

 

 

The Karbenovich Brothers

Hitler's Nazi soldiers slaughtered Benjamin (right),
his wife, and their oldest
daughter in the presence of their two younger girls. The sisters ran for their lives ... to freedom.

In a displaced persons' camp, they each met their future spouses. One sister went to Brazil where her husband had family. The husband of the other had a sister in America. That sister found Carl through

the Brooklyn phone book.

They met, and Carl (left) arranged for her brother and his niece to get to Canada. There they lived good lives. For about 40 years -- almost every year until Carl's death in 1985 -- they sent him a coat and a suit. Sometimes they sent a jacket.


Russian inscription on the
back of this photograph:

"For remembrance,
To my dear sister,
Luba Zilberstein,
From me, Benjamin, and
Kimel [Carl] Karbenovich"