Abraham “Abe” Wolf was born in Tureczki, a small village near the town of Turka in Galicia in Austria-Hungary (now Ukraine).
His parents were Hersch Wolf and Golda Ruchel Katz Wolf (see Wolf Family Outline and Harold’s Family). Abraham’s date of birth is an open question. His birth date was recorded on documents as occurring on a variety of different dates from 1903 to 1909.* Dates of birth are often imprecise for immigrants, so it’s not so surprising.
Abe’s birthplace, Tureczki, was a very small village, a dorf, as Abe called it in Yiddish, a place where you knew all your neighbors and some were family members. Many years later, Abe opened a Yizkor book written about the town of Turka and the surrounding villages like Tureczki. He flipped through the pages and pointed to one chapter with a photo of the chapter’s author. “I remember when this man’s horse was stolen.” Abe flipped to another chapter. “And this is the man who stole it, ” he said.
Tureczki was located along the Carpathian mountains. Abe lived on a small farm with soil that was not very well-suited to agriculture. Abe kibbutzed that the main crops grown there were rocks. When Abe was a child, his father Hersch immigrated to America in 1912. Abe remained behind in Tureczki with his mother Golda and his siblings–his brother Shalom and his sisters Malka and Necha. Hersch planned to send for his family, but in 1914 World War 1 thwarted his plans.
When Abe was 12 years old, his brother Shalom was conscripted into the Austrian army. With his father so far away, it was decided Abe would be bar mitzvahed before Shalom left for the army. That is why Abe became a bar mitzvah at the age of 12 rather than the customary age of 13. Soon afterward, Abe’s brother Shalom left to join the war. He died while praying in a minyan with fellow soldiers when the building they were in was hit by an artillery shell.
Russian troops marched into the town of Turka on the day following Rosh Hashannah in 1914. When Russian troops advanced toward the Carpathians in Galicia, Abe and his family were evacuated from their home. They were relocated west to Bohemia in the Austrian Empire.
Elka Moshenberg, a resident of Turka, said:
Our route led in the direction of the Hungarian border. There were no trains, so some set out by wagon, and others by foot, throughout all the paths and routes – the main thing was to leave the place. Even the Austrian Army retreated across the Hungarian border. Thus, our route was determined by the movements of the army.
As Chaim Pelech, another resident of Turka, recalled:
The Turka Jews were homeless refugees. They were tossed into the Austria-Hungary Empire, and they spent the entire war there. The Austrian regime even gave them a significant amount of support, that enabled the homeless Jews to withstand the tribulations and permitted them to return to their former homes. In 1916, when the Russians began to retreat from Galicia, the Jews of Turka began to return home.
At the beginning of the battles, Russia advanced as far as the Carpathian Mountains, chasing the Austrians out of Galicia. By 1917, the Russian army retreated when the Czar of Russia was dethroned and Russia’s army was needed back home. Peace did not come to Galicia, though, for the Ukranians, Russians and Poles battled for control of the region until 1921 when the Treaty of Riga annexed all of Galicia to Poland.
When Abe was able to return home, he found his house burned to the ground. Few houses remained intact in the region. Neighbors and family rebuilt the house, though. For food, they dug up the potatoes that remained in the ground. Without the potatoes Abe said he would have starved. Throughout his life potatoes remained one of his favorite foods.
Abe found work with his uncle Samuel Wolf in the lumber industry. There were 15 average-sized sawmills in the district around Turka and three small ones. Four of these sawmills were located in Turka itself. The largest of the sawmills were owned by Jews, who developed the lumber industry in the district.
Abe’s mother Golda refused to leave Poland for America until she saw her daughters properly wed. After Abe’s sisters married–Malka to Shalom Neiman and Necha to Abraham Brayer–Abe’s mother Golda agreed to leave Poland. Abe, now about 20 years old, traveled with his mother across Europe by rail to France. They had tickets to board Cunard Line’s SS Berengaria sailing out of the port of Cherbourg on May 28, 1927. Before they could board, though, Golda needed to obtain some additional documents for the trip. She went to the United States Customs Office while Abe stayed at the train station with their luggage.
While he was waiting at the station for his mother’s return, Abe heard the exciting news of the day, about Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic to Paris. Lindbergh had arrived in Le Bourget Field–7 miles north of Paris–on Saturday, May 21. There was world-wide excitement about Lindbergh’s accomplishment as the first airman to fly solo from New York to France, which took just 33 1/2 hours. Parisians flocked to the airfield to see him land and waited outside the embassy where he was staying in Paris in the hopes of glimpsing the now-famous young aviator. Crowds lined the streets wherever he traveled and when he left Paris for Brussels, they assembled en masse at the airfield. A fellow traveler who was on his way to join the crowds for a glimpse of Lindbergh tried but could not convince Abe to join him. It was, though, a historic event Abe would recall often in the future.
On Saturday, May 28, 1927 Abe and his mother Golda boarded the Berengaria in Cherbourg–about 200 miles from Paris, France. Abe found himself aboard a luxury liner that was the Cunard Line’s largest steam vessel. It was, in fact, the largest ship in the world when it was first launched in 1913, a 51,000-ton vessel with three funnels, two masts, four propellers and a speed of 22 knots. The Berengaria was still being built when the Titanic sunk in 1912, so the Berengaria’s design was altered to improve its safety. It was retrofitted with additional life boats and its top-heavy hull was weighted down with a layer of concrete at the bottom.
Although Abe was in third-class and did not have the luxurious comforts provided to the first-class passengers in the upper decks, food was plentiful and served by cooks who were engaged specifically to prepare food that would meet the needs of the Jewish passengers.
Abe arrived seven days later in New York City on Friday, June 3, 1927. He lived with his mother and father in a tenement building at 99 Cannon Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan near the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. Living nearby were cousins who had also emigrated from Tureczki and lived on the Lower East Side: Abraham “Elia” Wolf and his wife Yetta Hier Wolf, Gussie Wolf Sambol and her husband Max Sambol. Living in Brooklyn were two more cousins from Tureczki: Harry Wolf and his wife Sadie Newman Wolf, and David Wolf and his wife Fannie Nagler Wolf. Yet, Abe’s life in New York City was a world apart from his life in Tureczki. Gone were the horse and cow in the back yard, the dirt road through his dorf, and the mountain scenery outside his front door. Streetcars and automobiles on paved streets replaced the horse and wagon.
A new world surrounded Abe. In late June, scenes for the first talking movie, the Jazz Singer, were filmed on location in the Lower East Side. On October 6, 1927, uptown on Broadway, the film debuted. It premiered on Yom Kippur, at a time when Abe was most certainly in synagogue.
Abe found work on the Lower East Side, first as a waiter, then as a shipping clerk for a men’s neckwear firm, and later as a salesman for wholesale dry goods. By April of 1930, though, Abe contracted tuberculosis and was admitted to the Montefiore Hospital Country Sanitorium in Bedford Hills, New York. This renovated facility in Westchester County opened in 1929 with a central infirmary building, four stories high, flanked on each side by two-story ward buildings.
The Bedford Hills facility was geared to patients who were expected to recover from their disease. The property had a large farm that supplied food to the facility. As patients recovered, they were trained to work on the farm or in the sanitorium assisting sicker patients. Abe was trained as an orderly. He was cured of his disease but his mother Golda took ill. On July 1, 1931 she was admitted to Montefiore Hospital in Bronx, New York. Abe stayed at her side, caring for her as he was trained to do during his time in Bedford Hills, but she succumbed to cardiac failure on July 5, 1931.
June 5, 1933 was a happier day for Abe. He had applied for United States citizenship and two friends from the Lower East Side witnessed his petition for citizenship: Jacob “Jack” Hier, a neighbor also living at 99 Cannon Street, and Isidore Brier. On June 5, Abe took the oath of allegiance to the United States and became a naturalized citizen.
At a social club, Abe met his future wife Bella Rubinstein who was living in Williamsburg across the East River. On September 14, 1935 they were married, celebrating with their families in a catering hall above the stores at 318 Grand Street in Williamsburg. It was a bittersweet moment for Abe. His mother was not there, but it was the first time that his father Hersch was able to attend the wedding of one of his children.
To be continued – Family Friday: Abraham and Bella Wolf
Family reminiscenses and photos
Memorial Book of the Community of Turka on the Stryj and Vicinity (Turka, Ukraine), Translation of Sefer zikaron le-kehilat Turka al nehar Stryj ve-ha-seviva, Edited by: J. Siegelman and former residents of Turka (Stryj) in Israel, Published in Haifa, 1966. Accessed April 15, 2015 at jewishgen.org.
Galicia (Eastern Europe) entry at wikipedia.org.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 21 through May 28, 1927. Accessed April 15, 2015 at http://bklyn.newspapers.com/.
Photo of Berengaria at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/79/3berengaria2.jpg
Journal Nostalgia: Recalling a famous 20th Century passenger ship, article dated November 4, 2014, by David Kenny-JOU, The Journal, New Castle, England. Accessed April 16, 2015 at http://www.thejournal.co.uk/north-east-analysis/analysis-news/journal-nostalgia-recalling-famous-20th-8050642.
Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 1927; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4067; Line: 1; Page Number: 181; Abraham Wolf
The Jazz Singer at wikipedia.org.
Al Jolsen’s Film Debut in “Jazz Singer” Oct. 9, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 27, 1929. Accessed April 16, 2015 at http://www.bklyn.newspapers.com/image/59875216/?terms=%22jazz%2Bsinger%22.
Montefiore Country Sanatorium Opened, September 30, 1929, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) archive. Accessed April 16, 2015 at http://www.jta.org/1929/09/30/archive/montefiore-country-sanatorium-opened. Images of America, Bedford, by Shirley Lindefjeld Bianco, John Stockbridge, Arcadia Publishing, 2003, page 44
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, T626. 1930; Census Place: Bedford, Westchester, New York; Roll: 1658; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0093; Image: 1092.0; FHL microfilm: 2341392
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, T626. 1930; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1550; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0148; Image: 137.0; FHL microfilm: 2341285
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington D.C.; Petitions for Naturalization from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1897-1944; NARA Series: M1972; Reference: (Roll 0837) Petition No. 209303; Abraham Wolf
Marriage License, Abraham Wolf and Bella Rubinstein, Marriage Date: 24 Sep 1935, Marriage Place: Kings, New York, USA, Certificate Number: 15565
* Note dates of birth and documents:
- 1903 (April 11) on his father Hersch Wolf’s citizenship petition in 1922
- 1903 (April 15) on Florida Death Index for Abraham Wolf
- 1904 (March 31) on Abraham Wolf’s gravestone
- 1906 (April 4) on Abraham Wolf’s citizenship petition in 1933
- 1906 (April 4) on Social Security Death Index for Abraham Wolf
- 1906 on Ship’s Passenger Manifest #1
- 1907 on Ship’s Passenger Manifest #2
- 1907 on 1930 U.S. Census
- 1909 on 1940 U.S. Census