RIVKA AJZENBERG[1] 

My aunt died of starvation at the age of six; another tragic death of an Ajzenberg.  I had not known of her existence before 1990 and I know nothing about her apart from what I was told by her brother, Yitzhak.  When interviewed in Hadera, he was the sole surviving child of Azriel and Minka.  Uncle Yitzhak reported that Rivka was the sixth and last child born to his parents, that she died of hunger[2] at this young age and that she is buried in Telechan. That was it.  No additional information, no memories.  Others in the family, with whom I subsequently spoke, had never heard of this child.  

Rivka’s birth date is unknown, but based on the birth dates of her next older siblings; a date can be surmised.  The fourth child Herschele/Zvi was born about 1913 and the fifth child, Ziporah after him.  Rivka's birth date would then be 1915-1916 the earliest; in the middle of World War I.  That, in turn, would mean that she died approximately 1920-1921, just before her oldest brother, Mowsza/Morris was sent off to the United States in November 1921.  Her mother, Minka, a widow since 1917, then had two fewer mouths to feed.

It is difficult for me to understand how a child (my aunt) could have died of starvation.  An old Yiddish quotation states: "Those who are sated do not believe those who are hungry."  I have since researched the subject and have learned that at the time hunger and starvation was severe and widespread in Europe.  For those of us who grew up in the 1930's and 1940's, our parents admonition about children starving in Europe was a reference to this era.  Once I began searching I found endless number of references to the conditions.  They cover an extended period from 1906 to 1920’s.  Here’s an overdose, just to underscore this dramatic point.

1906  The Forward: “Many Jews of war-torn Russia are in dire straits...In Bialystok.....Many of the unemployed are starving to death."

1913 Nate Godiner, a Telechan native, in his memoirs: "the poverty of the Jewish people (in Warsaw and else where) was terrible.  People were literally starving."
1914 Herbert Agar in his book “The Saving Remnants”:  I saw dens of naked starving people..... people driven insane by what they had seen. Also “the whole Russian economy, shattered by the war and turned inside out by revolutions, was coming to a halt, and famine was gathering."
1917  Isaac Bashevis Singer..”In 1917 Warsaw was plagued by hunger and typhus” The Jewish Advocate, Boston:  
July 26     "Jews in Poland are starving."

August 9  "Warsaw mother rejoices when her babies die, because of the agony of starvation."
1918  

The Forward: “Poverty, food shortages and disease plague Polish Jewry.....children suffer from tuberculosis due to malnutrition.....Conditions are so bad that, when a child dies, the parents are reluctant to let it be known, so that they can continue to receive the child’s  food rations.’

1919

The Jewish Advocate: May 15-”American relief units sent to save...Eastern European Jewry; conditions in Poland called “beyond description.”

1921

 Herbert Agar:.....”in the midst of the great famine”.....”the famine of 1921-22”
Mid 1920’s    UJC Report by Dr. Joseph A. Rosen:
"It is not a commonly known fact that actually more people died of starvation in Russia in the last few years than in World War I, the Civil War and Revolutionary War combined.” 

A personal note: Eadie (Eisenberg) Kames recalls a family story told of Minka hiding food out of view of her children so that they could not see it nor reach it.  When there was no money and therefore no food, this hidden treasure would be the meal for the day. 



[1] There is no known photo of Rivka

[2] During my 1999 visit to Hadera, Israel, my Aunt Chaviva, widow of Yitzhak Eisenberg volunteered that Rivka “begged for bread in the streets of Telechan”.

 

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