Isidor and Jenny Lewin’s grave in the Weissensee Cemetery, Berlin
Isidor Lewin was born in Walrubien (Warlubie in Polish) in 1867. His wife Jenny (nee Fabian) was born in 1871 in the same town. I was unable to find his or her birth certificates and therefore do not know their parents’ exact names and place of birth.
On their tombstone in the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin, Isidor’s Hebrew name is stated as יצחק – Itzhak and his father’s name אברהם – Abraham. We have no records of Abraham but have a picture. Jenny’s Hebrew name was stated as שיינה – Shayna (not exactly Hebrew…) and her father’s name was ישעיהו – Sheyer.
We have birth records of five children of Sheyer Fabian and his wife Maria Skotska from Warlubie, children born between 1876 and 1883. Unfortunately, earlier records do not exist and therefore we do not have the birth certificates of Jenny, who was born in 1871. Neither do we have the birth certificates of her brother Wolf, apparently also born before 1876, but we have his picture.
Thus, the birth certificates are of Jenny’s younger siblings: Pauline (born 1876; died a year later), Ernestine (1877), Siegfried (1879), Johanna (1881) and Rosa (1883). Jenny’s father, Sheyer Fabian is described in those birth certificates as a spediteur – a shipper. We do not know Isidor and Jenny’s wedding date but we know that when he was 25 and she 21, they were already married, and as a married couple went to the US, arriving in New York on July 19, 1892 on board of the ship Anchoria that sailed from Glasgow. Upon arrival, they state as their place of residence the city of Bromberg (today Bydgoszcz). In New York, according to family stories, Isidor worked in the textile industry sweatshops in the Lower East Side; according to another source (birth certificate of his oldest daughter), he states his occupation as a butcher. Their address was 187 Christie St.
Reconstruction from Ellis Island Foundation
Birth Certificate for Isidor’s Eldest Daughter
At any rate, they apparently had a tough life in New York, so much so that they decided to return. But before they did, they had their first child – Therese (we knew her as Tessy), born in New York on Dec. 26th, 1893. She was born at their home address. The fact that she was born in New York and not in Germany as her other siblings, saved her and her husband’s lives, as we will see. We have no information as to the exact date when they returned; according to one account they returned separately, as Jenny was already pregnant with her second daughter, Emma, my grand-mother, and may have returned before Isidor. Emma was born in Bromberg almost 2 years after her older sister, in 1895. Bromberg at the time was a very “German” city in the province. While other towns in the Posen region had a German population of 20-30% at the most, Bromberg had a German population of over 70%. Thus, the young couple left Bromberg to go to the US and returned there, because several members of the Fabian family lived there.
A year after Emma, Isidor and Jenny had their third child, Hermann, born in 1896 in Lochowo, a suburb of Bromberg. Then there was a “pause” of almost 5 years between the birth of Hermann and that of their next child, after which they had 6 more children within 8 years in two separate locations. Paula (1901), Walter (1902) and Rosa (1904) were born in Trlong/Trelon (Trlag). Frieda (1905), Marie (1908) and Siegfried (1909), who was born blind, were born in Mogilno.
Isidor and Jenny Lewin with their children in front of their store on Hauptstrasse 4, Mogilno. From left: Rosa, Paula, Emma, Siegfried, Marie, Walter, Frieda (missing: Therese, Hermann). Picture taken around 1913
Isidor, with some experience already in the clothing business, made this his trade. We know from stories that initially he had a horse and cart, going around the villages in the region selling clothes. Furthermore, we know that his wife Jenny often accompanied him, and being a very good sales-person, she knew how to convince her customers; apparently, she was more successful than him in that. It seems that this quality, known today as marketing, has transpired to some of her grand-children and further on to the next generations… It turns out that they not only sold clothes but also sewing-machines, and Jenny would demonstrate to the peasants’ wives how to operate those. This pattern of a “salesman on the road” may explain their moves from one location to another. Mogilno however was their last stop (before leaving the region) and there Isidor was able to obtain a permanent presence in the form of a shop. In a picture (taken around 1913) in front of his shop, with his wife and possibly his mother at the back of the shop and 7 of his children (Therese and Hermann are missing), he looks quite happy and satisfied.
Mogilno, Main Street (Hauptstrasse) around the time when Isidor Lewin had his shop (can be seen behind the man crossing the road)
As can be seen from the sign outside the shop it also sold sewing machines and… bicycles. The hanger from his shop states it was on Hauptstrasse (Main Street) 4 in Mogilno.
Hanger from Isidor’s shop
The family lived in the apartment above the store. On a recent visit we easily identified the place – it is still on Main Street, which is now called Jagielly, but the number has changed to 16. It is a beautiful building, recently renovated. The building was not owned by Isidor: The owner of the lot on which the building stood during the years 1908 – 1917 was Kazimierz Olszewski (glazier), and then for two years (during the war 1917 – 1919) it was owned by Kasa Serwis (probably a bank).
The house on Hauptstrasse and shop, 1928
The house and shop today – Yagielly Street 16 (after renovation; house built 1909)
Kurt Lewin Plaque installed 2004 on Jagielly Street, just 3-4 houses from Isidor Lewin former shop.
The shop was located on the same street, just a few houses down from Kurt Lewin’s place of birth, where a plaque in his memory was installed in 2004. Thus, we know that my great-grand father Isidor Lewin and his family lived in Mogilno for at least 16 years (1905-1921) and his children grew up there.
Mogilno belongs to one of the oldest settlements along the border of the Greater Poland and Kuyavia historical regions. Since the turn of the 8th and 9th century until the 10th century an early-mediaeval settlement existed there, at the long narrow headland surrounded by waters of Mogilno Lake from the west and south and marshes from the east. In 1065, a Benedictine abbey, Kloster Mogilno, with German monks was founded by Bolesław II Śmiały. North of the abbey a city developed, which in 1398 was granted a city-charter, and which was the abbey’s property until 1773. After the first Partition of Poland in 1772 the city became a part of the Kingdom of Prussia, and in 1920 it returned to Poland.
Emma and Tessy
Jenny Lewin and her son Siegfried
Mogilno in the 19th century was a small town. It had a Jewish community of a few dozen families. It did not have a long history of Jewish presence: Jews were forbidden to reside there during the Polish rule (pre-1772). The first time Jews are mentioned in Mogilno was 1797 when a Schutzjude (protected Jew) Leyser Lewin and later his son Cohn Wolf Leyser Lewin and his son-in-law Moses Arend were included in the same letter of protection that was given to Jews by the local rulers. They were merchants. Later a Jewish surgeon named Hirsch Joseph moved to Mogilno. The Jewish community in Mogilno grew in the 19th century: In 1816 – there were 32 persons; 1889 – 170; 1898 – 173; 1905 – 134 and 1909 – 148. Until 1860 there was no synagogue in Mogilno and services were held in rented spaces. In 1874 a synagogue was designated in a building owned by Mar and Leopold Lewin (Kurt Lewin’s father) and it was declared officially as a synagogue in 1905. In 1833 a Jewish cemetery was opened. The Jewish community had a Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) Association founded in 1872; Chevra Kadisha (burial society) founded in 1877 and a Women’s Association founded in 1894. Later a Tamhui (association to stop begging) was founded. The community had, since 1893, a rabbi, cantor and Schochet (Kosher slaughter) – all in one person: Hermann Singer; there was a religious school attended by 25 children. Since 1860 Jews were allowed to participate in municipal affairs and Leopold Lewin was elected to the city council in 1905. There were regular events to collect funds from community members to uphold those institutions as well as institutions in Eretz Israel (such as Esra) throughout the 1890’s and the first decade of the 20th century.
Emma and Tessy in school: Emma standing last row fourth from right, Tessy sitting second row second from left
The six young Lewin children (from left): Marie, Frieda, Walter, Siegfried, Paula, Rosa
All in all, it seemed a small but very organized community; its leaders were a few prominent business-persons such as Leopold Lewin, L. London, L. Fuchs and M. Arnheim. Each of them was involved in one or more Jewish associations and they were also involved in the city life. How did Isidor, Jenny and their children integrate into this reality? We have no information on that. I could not find their names mentioned in the records of the community activities that I was able to obtain. Obviously, if they would have had a leading role, their names would be mentioned, so apparently, they were not among the leaders in the community.
Emma’s Dance Teacher
We do have a picture of Grandma Emma’s dance teacher, Carl Flechtmann who had a Dance Institute in Mogilno, which gave dance performances, as can be seen from the invitation for such an event (1910).We also have a picture of Emma’s wedding in Mogilno (1917), which looks as if it was well attended with people well dressed and in good mood. A story my mother told me of those days has to do with herself. She was born in 1919 in Berlin, apparently under-weight. Her grand-mother Jenny suggested to her mother (Emma) to send her the child to Mogilno, where there was clean air, trees and a lake, as opposed to the smoke and dirt in Berlin; this move would help her gain weight. The story goes that Jenny bought a goat and fed my mother with goat milk, which indeed helped her gain weight… We all know now about the qualities of goat milk and how popular it became lately among health seekers.
Dance Program Invitation
During the First World War (1914-18) the two older daughters – Tessy and Emma got married in Mogilno, both to veterans of the German army who took part in the war: Tessy, the oldest, married Elias Hirsch, a baker born in Otorowo in the district of Samter (in the Posen region) in 1914, Emma married my Grandpa Sally Gottfeld three years later. Upon marrying they left their home in Mogilno and moved to Berlin. Hermann, Isidor’s third child, who also took part in that war, went upon his release from service, to live in Berlin too.
Emma and Sally Gottfeld wedding, Mogilno, March 1917
Dance Program Invitation – Pg. 2
After the war, when the region became a part of Poland, the German citizens could opt to stay and become Polish citizens or leave for Germany. Upon marrying they left their home in Mogilno and moved to Berlin. Hermann, Isidor’s third child, who also took part in that war, went upon his release from service, to live in Berlin too. Isidor and his family opted to leave and move to Berlin. We know that on December 1921 Isidor, his wife Jenny and their younger children left Mogilno for Berlin. About a year before they left Mogilno they lost their daughter Frieda, at the age of 15, who died of an illness in 1920. She was buried in Mogilno’s Jewish cemetery, which no longer exists. It was located on a hill in the outskirts of the town and destroyed during the Nazi era; it is now a residential area.