FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
“When a story is told, it is not forgotten”
When our story starts, in the mid-1870s, there were about 7½ million Jews in the world, of whom two-thirds were crammed into the Pale of Settlement in Russia. Pogroms after the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 led to a Jewish trek towards the west that accelerated when the Jews became scapegoats for an ineffectual government, especially after a war with Japan in 1905
In the year after Alexander’s assassination, about 15,000 Jews emigrated to the USA. Over the next twenty years, 1.5 million Jews entered the US, and 1907 – the year when Yehuda (Judah) Karbatznick had hoped to welcome his wife and three daughters to the USA (yes, USA) – was the peak year for emigration to the USA, with 153,748 Jews arriving.
“Edge of a Dream: The Story of Jewish Immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side”, a wonderful book, documents New York’s Lower East Side as a place of grinding poverty, unendurable sweatshops and tiny, vermin-infested tenement apartments. But it was there in America – not England – where Yehuda was heading when he left the Pale.
The Pale was 386,000 square miles between the Baltic and the Black Sea that included the Ukraine, Byelorussia (modern Belarus), Lithuania and a large part of Poland. And somewhere in that land mass – about 75 miles north-west of Vilnius and 70 miles north of Minsk actually – is the village of Dokshitsy, where Yehuda met and married Chaya (always known as Leah) Glickenhouse.
The village was known by various names – Dokshitsy [Russian], Dokshits [Yiddish], Dokszyce [Polish], Dokšycy, Dokshitse, Dokshitsya, Dokschyzy, Dokshitz, Dugscitz – and at various times was in Russia, Poland and the Russian Empire.
Life on the farm
Life wasn’t easy. Yehuda’s father Baruch was a blacksmith, a great disciplinarian who stood for no nonsense, and Yehuda worked with him, shoeing horses (when Yehuda moved to London, he became a tailor’s presser, not even a tailor). Baruch had ten sons and a daughter – or seventeen children in all, depending on which account is correct – and it’s thought that all the sons worked with him until they left the country one by one.
Little is known about Yehuda’s mother other than her name, Sora (Hebrew for Sarah).
But back on the farm, many Jews – living on the economic margins because of religious persecution – found themselves in dire poverty. As is often the way in times of economic uncertainty, the government tried to deflect peasant anger away from political leaders by finding a scapegoat – and the Jews were ideal as scapegoats.
Even before the widespread pogroms, the organised attacks on Jews from the 1880s onwards, members of the Jewish community were subject to attacks. It was no surprise when, one by one, Baruch’s children sailed by boat to a new life.
Lower down the village, near the river, lived Ya’acov (Yank’l) Glickenhouse. There are various spellings of the name – Glachenhouse, Glijkenhouse, Glaykhenhoyz and so on. The name means ‘same house’ – and Yank’l was a miller, milling the grain produced by local farmers.
Yank’l’s wife was either called Toba or D’vonia – we’re unsure which. The birth certificate of their daughter Blooma stated the mother’s name to be Toba, but a list of Glickenhouses compiled recently in the USA shows the wife of Yank’l to be D’vonia. This latter name – D’vonia – is more likely, as Dora Cramer had the Hebrew name Devorah and said she’d been named after this grandmother.
Ya’acov and his wife had several sons and daughters, one of whom – Leah – married Yehuda. In due course all the children left for distant shores, with the exception of her brother Nachman, who stayed to run the family mill.
The ‘Leah’s brother’ section of this website tells the story of Nachman and his wife and children. They were the only members of the Glickenhouse-Karbatznick families still living in Dokshitz on the day in 1942 when the Germans marched in. Read the full story in that section.
Escaping from military service
Jews in various empires in Eastern Europe were subject to different sorts of military drafts. Back in 1827, Russia had started to draft Jewish boys at the age of 12 (yes, twelve); conscripting them prior to their barmitzvah was intended to force them to leave their religion. Later, a quota system was introduced, but by 1874 (coincidentally the year in which Yehuda was born) the quota system was replaced and all Jews had to start serving at the age of 21.
By 1903, when Yehuda left Russia to avoid conscription – it is known that this was the reason for his departure – he was 29 years old and married with three daughters, so it’s unclear why he hadn’t fled the country a few years earlier.
Anyway, he bade farewell to his wife and three children and boarded a ship – probably from the port of Libau although we’ll never know – to join other Kabachnick [note the spelling] family members in New York. Yehuda had sixteen siblings, all of whom ended up in the States.
Many years later, his son Barney recounted that the intention was for Yehuda to settle down in New York and very quickly send for his family. It didn’t quite work out.
Only two things are known about the trip. Firstly, Yehuda was terribly seasick from the rolling winter seas. So when the board docked at London Bridge, he decided to curtail the journey and make London his home instead. He later told his family that he wouldn’t have lasted out to the States.
Second, when the customs officer asked Yehuda his name, he barely understood the question. The ‘adoption’ of Lewis as his first name was never formalised; there are no Deed Poll papers showing it. The story is that when he docked in London and was asked his name, the customs officer couldn’t understand Yehuda’s Russian accent.
What’s in a name?
The government official simply couldn’t understand the reply from a Russian whose native tongue was Yiddish, and apparently, after several attempts to interpret the mumblings of this seasick foreigner, simply said, “Lewis. That will do. Your name is Lewis”.
So Lewis is the name that stuck. And as well as being his ‘Christian’ name, it was later adopted by all his daughters as their surname prior to marriage and selected by Barney (by Deed Poll) as his surname.
Strange fact. Years later, Barney said that his parents were always known as Mr & Mrs Lewis, not Mr & Mrs Karbatznick, which implies that Barney’s father was known as Lewis Lewis!
A roof over his head
Yehuda – let’s now call him Lewis – initially stayed at the Jews’ Shelter in Leman Street. However, he had the address of his wife Leah’s sister Blooma (after whom Beryl was named thirty years later), who was living in Old Montague Street in Whitechapel with her husband and son, so that’s where Lewis settled. It’s not known whether he lived with them or nearby, but Whitechapel became his home.
It took several years of hard work for Lewis to save enough money for one-way tickets for his wife and children. Their passage to England might have been affected by 1905’s Alien Immigration Act, which allowed the UK government to deny entry to people who appeared unable to support themselves, a direct response to fears about the flood of Jewish immigrants.
Whatever the reason for 1907 being the year of Leah and the three girls coming to join Yehuda, their departure for London was stressful. The boat trip would be uncomfortable, and far from safe, but there were awful scenes even before leaving their home village.
Leah’s father Yank’l Glickenhouse lived near his daughter and three granddaughters, so when the steamboat ticket for Leah and the children arrived in late 1906, she announced that she couldn’t leave her elderly father. He was too old to travel and, according to the story re-told by Dora Cramer nearly a century later, was responsible for looking after several other grandchildren.
Yank’l told Leah that her place was with her husband, and the children’s place was with their father, so he insisted that they make the trip to London. Dora – who wasn’t even born at the time – cried when she recounted the rest of the story all those years later.
It seems that Yank’l came to the railway station to say goodbye. As the train left, bound for the docks and the ship that would take a mother and three children to a new life, Yank’l knew that he would never see his family again. He clung to the handle of the train door, refusing to let go as the train left the station.
He eventually released his grip and wailed on the station platform as the train gathered pace. Yank’l never saw his daughter or three granddaughters again. No-one knows when Yank’l died but, according to Dora, “He didn’t last much longer”.
Libau in Western Latvia was one of the main ports of the Russian empire. At least two boats sailed from there to London every week, the most popular shipping line for Jewish emigrants from that port being Knie Falk, with whom the family travelled to London. So on 10 January 1907, Leah and her three daughters set sail to join Lewis after nearly four years apart from him.
The ticket for the journey shows that the girls left Russia as Frumke, Brache and Birke; they arrived in England as Freda, Bessie and Betty. Brache (Bessie) was named after her father’s father, Baruch Karbatznick. Lewis and Leah originally decided that her Anglicised name should be Bertha, but – so the story goes – Lewis couldn’t pronounce Bertha. So Bessie it was.
The life that the Karbatznicks left behind
The Tsar’s assassination took place against a backdrop of a long history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. We can’t trace the Karbatznicks back far before the mid-19th century, but it’s likely that the village they left was where they had been since the 13th century, when persecution in Western Europe had made life unbearable and a Polish king invited the Jews to journey east.
Lives in Poland and Russia had remained the same for centuries. Jews characteristically lived in a shtetl, a village, and regulated their lives by religious law. The joys of a Sabbath meal, a prayer, a birth, a wedding, and other happy events punctuated what was generally a burdensome life – a life often marked by poverty and persecution.
Contrasting reports suggest that the Karbatznicks and Glickenhouses lived in relative comfort. Stories passed down through the generations include one or both of the families – not sure which – having meals served by staff in a large dining room lit by chandeliers (candles or oil presumably).
Read ‘Where it started’, the website section about Dokshitzy in Russia.
Life in London
Lewis (the name used by Yehuda in England) and Leah settled at 5 Chicksand Street, the home address shown on Dora’s birth certificate. Lewis had made friends with people in the shmutter business – the clothing trade – and joined them in that occupation; he became a tailor’s presser.
Years later, Lewis became a poultry dealer too; a strange combination for a tailor’s presser. At the back of the home he rented (rented, not bought) in Luntley Place was a large yard, which he thought would be useful. So, noticing various crates of chickens in the local market, Lewis asked his daughter Bessie – who could read and write English very well – to contact the farms named on the labels. From that his poultry business grew, and Lewis’s children helped to schlep chickens to the slaughterhouse for killing.
In 1907, only nine months after Leah’s arrival, their first ‘English’ child was born: Dora. Named after Leah’s mother, Dvonia, Dora’s birth certificate records the father’s name as Julius (not Yehuda, Judah or Lewis) and states the family surname to be Kabachnick, a more common Dokshitzy spelling than Karbatznick.
By the time that daughter Miriam (known at home as Matala when she was a child) was born in December 1908, the family name was recorded as Kabasnick. Sixth daughter Cissie arrived in 1909 and subsequently two sons, Leon and Barnett (Barney).
Barney’s birth certificate records the family surname as Karbatznick, Leah’s maiden name as Glychenhouse, and Lewis’s occupation as ‘tailor’s presser’.
The children later recalled those childhood years with affection, growing up in a frum family. The Karbatznick household was poor but the children knew no different. Barney talked about it often and years later took his daughter Shelley on a tour of the area, during which he talked animatedly about growing up in the East End.
Miriam recalled with great affection her days at Chicksand Street School, during which she defeated the boys at every sport, especially running races, and Dora had a twinkle in her eye when she recalled how “everything happened on the doorstep”.
In a 1993 interview, preserved on DVD, Dora said, “Our family had eight children but only one breadwinner. My mother was a wonderful ‘manager’ – many children in the neighbourhood would have free meals at school, but my mother rustled up a lunch for each of us. In those days, many children would have to run around the streets barefoot. We never experienced that”.
Dora went on to say, “My parents always ensured that ‘we had a shoe to our foot’, and our mother was a wonderful needlewoman, making all our clothes”.
So the family never went hungry? Well, there was one memorable evening when none of the children had any dinner at all. The family kept chickens in their back yard; the family used to have fresh eggs and it was understood by the children that eventually the chickens would all be sold to a shochet for slaughtering.
The family also kept a duck in the back yard – but the duck was strictly a pet. So when Leah announced to the children at dinner one night that the roast in the oven was their beloved duck, none of them could face eating it. They all went hungry that evening. Seventy years later, Barney would still have a tear in his eye when he re-told that story to his family.
Houses and streets were lit by gas lamps. Every evening a man arrived on a bicycle, carrying a long stick with which he would turn the lights on. The following morning he returned on his bike to switch the lights off.
All the Karbatznick children recalled, in later life, the excitement when the electricity company came to their house and installed lights that could be turned on and off with the press of a switch.
The chronology of the family homes is unclear. They lived at 17 Luntley Place, off Chicksand Street, at one time. We’re pretty sure they lived initially in Chicksand Street itself, just off Brick Lane. In later years they moved from the East End to Stoke Newington – Brooke Road to be precise. Confusingly, the 1911 census states the family’s address as 4 Boundary Court, Spelman Street – not surprisingly, this is just off Chicksand Street.
That census form is available elsewhere on this website and shows the spelling we’re most familiar with: Karbatznick. Bessie’s name is shown as Bertha and Betty’s name as Rebecca; Lewis’s occupation is shown as ‘underpresser’.
Back to the family homes: Luntley Place had no running water, no gas or electricity, and an earth closet – a hole dug in the ground over which you squatted or used a wooden seat. There was no running water either; they used a pump in the yard. Cousin Jonny Woolfman remembers the house and recalls seeing cows at the end of the road.
You can assume that the family shared just two or three bedrooms – even when they moved into a large house (Brooke Road), there were three or four families sharing it, each family only having one floor of the building.
It’s unclear whether Lewis and Leah could speak and write fluent English. Several letters from 1927 still exist, written by Leah to her cousin Bella in New York, but the address on the envelopes and the sender’s address on the back are in Bessie’s handwriting, despite saying that the sender was Leah. The contents of the letters – written by Leah presumably – are in Yiddush. And in 1915, when signing a statutory declaration of Bessie’s age, Leah had to sign the document in Yiddish.
Out to work
Lewis, initially a tailor’s presser and later a slaughterer of animals, worked six days a week, from early morning until late at night. Dora recalled a time when she was around five or six years’ old; she awoke at perhaps 9pm and sat at the bottom of the stairs. When Leah, her mother, rebuked Dora for being out of bed, she said longingly, “But I want to see daddy when he gets home from work; we hardly ever see him”.
The one day on which Lewis would never work was Shabbat. He was a religious man, refusing to ever work on Saturdays, and on Thursdays he would work late into the night so he could leave on Friday afternoons before the onset of the Sabbath.
The children soon followed out to work too, which led to one incident that could have changed family life forever. Second-eldest daughter Bessie had struggled to get a job after leaving school but after concluding that anti-semitism was the reason, applied for a position using Lewis rather than Karbatznick and soon got a job at the Daily Sketch, a popular newspaper founded in 1909.
Travelling to work by bus in heavy rain one morning, the only seat Bessie could get was on the top deck – of an open-top bus. No-one knows for sure what caused a serious illness, but it was assumed that sitting at her desk in soaking-wet clothes caused the pneumonia that followed.
Doctors advised Lewis and Leah to get Bessie admitted to hospital. In 1993 Dora said, “They were horrified; a child going into hospital was almost unheard of” – parents barely trusted doctors. So Bessie was kept at home and Dora, aged around 12 or 13 at the time, was taken out of school to help their mother run the house.
Bessie was off work for a considerable time and would have been off for longer if it wasn’t for her indomitable Karbatznick spirit. Her father offered to give her money to buy necessities while she convalesced, but Bessie knew that her father was poor, barely able to spare her any money, so she soon sent herself off to work again.
Lewis passes away
Lewis Karbatznick had always been a healthy man until in 1928 he developed urinary problems. In those days people were loathe to go into hospital, but eventually Lewis was persuaded to get admitted to the Jewish hospital in Stepney Green. An operation was performed and, according to his children, he became very distressed when he saw the wound as nurses dressed it afterwards.
Lewis exclaimed in Yiddish, “Ikh s’ken nisht lebn lib hobn dos” (“I can’t live like this”), and died soon after. He was only 54. His death certificate records the cause as threefold: “a. Uraemia, b. Enlarged prostate, and c. Operation”. As well as a heartbroken widow, Lewis left eight children, of whom the oldest wasn’t even thirty and the youngest, Leon, was only ten years old.
No-one knows how much money, if any, Lewis left to his wife and children, and there is no record in the public archives of him leaving a Will.
The eight brothers and sisters had faced the sadness of their father dying young, and worse was to follow, when their mother died in 1936, aged only 59. Neither husband nor wife reached sixty. As Dora would say in later life, using one of her catchphrases, “Our parents didn’t make old bones”.
It’s a heartbreaking fact that Leah, like her husband eight years before her, died of something eminently curable nowadays – a coronary embolism, an obstruction in a blood vessel due to a blood clot. Curiously, a second cause of death is stated on her death certificate as hypiesis, the meaning of which seems to have been lost in the mists of time.
Whereas Lewis’s death certificate had stated his occupation as ‘tailor’, Leah’s death certificate showed her as the widow of a ‘tailor journeyman’. A journeyman is someone who completed an apprenticeship and was fully educated in a trade or craft, so perhaps Lewis had a more formal training in tailoring than we were aware of.
Leah died on 28 August and the next day – the day of her funeral – saw some of the most extraordinary weather of the century. London awoke to a heavy frost and a temperature of just above freezing, but by the afternoon the temperature had reached 82 degrees. The brothers and sisters gathered at Edmonton cemetery to say farewell to their mother as she joined their father.
Lewis and Leah are buried at the same cemetery but about 100 yards apart. Family legend says that when Lewis died, Leah didn’t have enough money to pay a fee to reserve the adjoining plot. Mind you, when Leah died, she left £339 14s 7d (£325 after her debts were paid), with a High Court document shown on this website appointing children Barnett Lewis of 9 Brooke Road and Bessie Venitt of 456 Bethnal Green Road as her executors.
Around the world
There are differing opinions on how many children Lewis’s parents Sora and Baruch Karbatznick had; but Yehuda certainly had a brother called Yankif (Jacob), who settled in the States. Yankif married Sara Munitz and their children included Elka, Bashie, Sophie (Soscha), Ida (Chana), and Anna. These children settled all over the US but concentrated around Cleveland, Ohio.
One account of the Karbtaznicks suggests that Yehuda was one of 17 children. Another account says there were 11.
Yank’l and Dvonia Glickenhouse had seven children, Leah’s siblings being Nachman, Shlayma, Brina, Mairka, Blooma and Yale. Five headed for the USA, Leah joined her husband in London, leaving only Nachman in Russia. He married Rhoda Sosinsky (they had four children), married Blooma Schiff (they had five children) after Rhoda passed away, and Nachman’s story is told elsewhere on this website.
Shlayma married Leah Leviton and had one child, Esther. Brina married Shlayma (Samuel) Cohen and had four children – of whom one, Dora Halprin in Connecticut, became known to the English family as Cousin Dora and corresponded with Barney until the 1970s.
Mairka married Judah Kagan and had one child, Maxwell, who in turn had four children, one of whom went on to achieve worldwide fame. Arthur Kagan, born in the USA in 1925, changed his name to Arturo Sergei and became a famous tenor, with leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Covent Garden in London.
Arturo became a cantor for several congregations in Texas, where he retired as a professor of voice at Austin. He took his name from Sergio Nazor, the Italian maestro who was his first serious opera teacher.
Leah’s sister Blooma married Srol Varfman (later Woolfman), and they had three children whose families included cousins Harold Pollins and Jonny Woolfman known to the Karbatznick grandchildren today.
The youngest sibling was Leah’s brother Yale, who married Chaia Bluma and had three children.
The largest proportion of the Karbatznicks (mostly Kabachnik and similar spellings) and Glickenhouses now reside in the USA. There are branches of the family in Canada too.
Anyone for a drink?
Karbatznick is an alternative spelling of the more common Kabachnik, which means innkeeper. No records exist to indicate whether the family ran inns in Russia, but perhaps it’s no surprise that UK family members became – to use the official title of the time – licensed victuallers.
The trailblazers were Freda and Bert, influenced by Bert’s parents, who had run pubs in London since 1911. Freda and Bert ran various pubs over the years, including The Southampton Arms in Camden Town – interspersed by Bert’s spell as a bookmaker in Eversholt Street – and persuaded Bessie and Alf to follow them into the trade.
Bessie reckoned that running pubs was ideal because it gave the family a roof over their heads. Miriam and Dora said that it was an ideal job for Jewish couples because they didn’t drink the profits.
Bessie and Alf ran The Golden Fleece, the now notorious Blind Beggar in Mile End Road (Gloria was born there), then The Coach and Horses in The East End’s Romford Road; Miriam and Harry had The Sutton Arms in Caledonian Road and subsequently The Tufnell Park Hotel. Sam and Dora took on The British Lion in Central Street in the City when they were married in 1934, only moving to The Tufnell Park Hotel in 1957 to join Miriam after the untimely death of Harry Burke on Boxing Day the previous year.
During the war, Sam Cramer and Harry Burke – who each ran one pub with their respective wives – expanded by buying three pubs. Only two facts are known about their pub empire: one of the pubs was The White Hart in Tottenham, and all three pubs lost money. Dora said that Sam and Harry had bad luck with the managers – a polite way of saying that the managers either stole the takings or drank the stock.
When Miriam and Harry ran The Sutton Arms, most of the regular drinkers supported local football team Arsenal. Harry wasn’t particularly interested in football, but to add some interest to chatter at the bar, he decided to take an interest in rival team Spurs. Two particular regulars, however, had no interest in soccer at all; every Saturday morning, Beryl and Lilian would pop into the pub on their way to Lofting Road shul, to see their uncle and aunt.
Michael Warner recalls school holidays spent travelling round London with Andrew Kanter and Paul Fish on a London Transport Red Bus Rover. “We always tried to end up at The Tufnell, where Auntie Dora and Uncle Sam would fill us up with smoked salmon sandwiches and lemonade.”
The next generation entered the pub trade too. You’ll read elsewhere the amusing story of why Joan and Ronnie Finger became owners of The Live and Let Live in East Ham.
OK, the Duke of Westminster dominates the streets of Mayfair, and Regent Street is owned by the Crown Estate, but in Dalston’s Kingsland Road in the post-war years there was only one dominant family – the Karbatznicks. You had Myer Land’s pharmacy at number 448, Betty Herman’s millinery “Betty’s” at 484, and in between was Gloria and Monty’s jewellery shop at 466 and Harold and Judy Warner’s record shop, “Teacher’s”, further along.
After school, Harold Warner joined the navy, serving on a destroyer and then a submarine. Not long after he left the destroyer it was attacked and sank. He worked for an uncle on his mother’s side until he met Judy, got engaged, and they bought Teachers in Kingsland Road from the owner of that name, who was retiring.
In a strange combination of goods, Teachers sold bicycles, records and greetings cards, later concentrating solely on records. The Warners later owned a second record shop, Berkeleys, in Lansdowne Row just off Berkeley Square.
Cissie and Myer were living in Upminster in Essex when, in 1943, they set up their chemist shop with financial help from the family – soon paid back. Betty’s millinery was already a fixture on the street, having been there since 1920 (it stayed there for over fifty years, until 1973).
The family presence in Kingsland Road included extended family too. Pinky Herman’s brother Morry had a tailor’s further down the street. Myer Land used to joke that before he and Cissie arrived, the street was only known as Kings Road! Lilian Cramer had a friend who lived at the Shoreditch end and used to joke that he lived at the Hampstead Garden Suburb end of Kingsland Road!
The Karbatznick concentration in Kingsland Road wasn’t just dominated by family members who lived there. In the mid-1950s Beryl Cramer travelled there to work in Cissie and Myer’s shop and remembers seeing Michael Warner sitting in his pram outside his parents’ record shop. There is no truth in the rumour that Judy and Harold were hoping someone would take him! However, Michael did almost disappear – he bounced the pram up and down until it was outside Monty’s shop; in the edn, Harold chained the pram to some handy railings.
Another generation of family members to work in Kingsland Road came when Simon Walters worked in M Land Chemist just before Cissie and Myer retired in 1980.
Remains of the name
There are no family members alive today who met Lewis, Yehuda, Judah – whatever we call him! He certainly made an impression on his children though, as the years after his death in 1928 saw a plethora of grandchildren named after him: Judy, Joan, John and Jeffrey for example. Judy was the first grandchild, born on 23 April 1929, and named after the grandfather she had never known. A generation later, Joyce gave son Paul the middle name Julian in memory of her grandfather.
And when Barney altered his surname to Lewis – which Yehuda had adopted as his first name – that name was also destined to live on; following the tragic passing of John Lewis in 2000, new family members with names Jonah, Joshua, Jay and Jacob were named in his memory, with Keren’s son Jacob being given the middle name Barney to boot.
Yehuda had named his own son, Barney, after his father – Barney’s Hebrew name was Baruch. Bessie’s real name was Bracha, also in memory of Yehuda’s father Baruch. Research has shown that Baruch – the Hebrew word for Blessing – was possibly the most common male name in Russia of that generation.
The war years
World War Two saw family kids heading in various directions and adults serving in several capacities. Allan and Judy Herman went furthest, to Canada, where they lived with Uncle Pinky’s sister. Joan and Maurice Colp spent the war in several places, including Lightwater in Surrey, Boxmoor, Worcester, and even a boarding school called Regents Park in the Buckinghamshire countryside.
Joyce and Gloria Venitt were despatched to Somerset, where they lived in Taunton with Harry Burke’s parents, who had fled to the safety of the countryside. The girls came home at school holidays – presumably Bessie and Alf were comfortable that Hitler would only bomb during term-time.
When Cissie got married (during the war), Barney was alone in the family home then went to live with his sister Bessie and family. Nieces Joyce and Gloria loved it – Barney used to teach them to dance!
Beryl and Lilian were evacuated to Port Talbot in Wales, to live with the family of Winifred, a girl who worked as their nanny while Dora and Sam ran their pub. When war broke out, Winifred’s parents wanted her to leave London and return home, so Dora decided to send the girls too, rather than sending them to an unknown family.
Lilian (who was barely a year old when war broke out) and Beryl had strong Welsh accents by the time they returned to London six years later. Dora travelled to visit the girls as often as she could (as did several of her sisters), one time taking a photo of herself and Sam for the girls, having realised that baby Lilian wasn’t sure which of the visitors was her mummy.
More than sixty years after putting her daughters’ care in the hands of strangers in Wales, Dora told how Ethel, sister of Winifred, the lady to whom Beryl and Lilian had been entrusted, had asked to adopt the girls if anything happened to Dora and Sam in London’s blitz.
Dora was proud to say, “I told her, ‘There will be no need. I have sisters and we’ve agreed that whichever of us is left will look after the others’ children’”.
Valerie Land was evacuated with a nanny to the nanny’s home in Upminster. Val was born in 1943 so her evacuation was only for a couple of years. Lilian recalls staying in Upminster with various cousins after she returned from Port Talbot. “I remember being there with Joyce, Gloria Joan, Beryl and Maurice – and Valerie of course. We slept in one bed – six girls at one end (I was at the edge) and Maurice at the other end.”
Early on during the war, possibly in 1940, the cousins were in Wales, in a mining village, where six of them shared a bed. Lilian, the baby cousin, slept in a large drawer!
The heartbreak of splitting children from their parents and other difficulties of wartime Britain were lightened when Barney Lewis was awarded the George Medal for bravery – read about it elsewhere on this website.
Barney was initially an ARP warden and subsequently joined the army. Harry Burke was an ARP warden too. Sam Cramer was drafted into the police, where he served for the entire war years, his sister Sophie joining Dora to run The British Lion while Sophie’s husband was in the army.
Now read about the Karbatznick children.
Bessie and Alf
Bessie was a promising scholar, awarded a scholarship aged 13 to encourage her to stay at school, and later becoming highly praised at when she went out to work. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing.
At the age of 17, Bessie was taken seriously ill and the doctors weren’t hopeful. They had to drain her lungs, when that kind of procedure was a big deal – and she had a scar on her back for the rest of her life to remind her of it.
Her father couldn’t pronounce ‘Bertha’ so they used Bessie. She changed her surname to Lewis when she could get a job, and immediately got a job on the Daily Sketch, where she was highly thought of.
Doctors had told Bessie that she’d be too frail to ever do a day’s work, get married or have children. Her father gave her pocket money, but she was a young adult and he barely had any money, so she decided to go back to work.
Bessie worked for an advertising agency, from whom several letters of praise still survive (see ‘Family documents’ in the ‘Albums’ section) and she told daughters Gloria and Joyce many years later that she had met the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and typed his speeches. She said that he was a ‘shikker goy’ – priceless!
Bessie met her first husband, Alf, at a dance, and they had two daughters Joyce and Gloria. Bessie also had a son, born on 12 March 1937, who died just before his brit. Only the baby’s father knew where he was buried, but when Alf died, the location of the baby boy was lost forever. The baby would have been called Paul.
Bessie first husband, Alf Venitt, volunteered for the Royal Navy in WWII, serving as Chief Petty Officer on a frigate. His ship was sunk by the enemy – fortunately he was on leave at the time!
Alf died in 1947, aged just 44, a year after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Left with two daughters, Bessie decided to learn to drive – probably the first family member to sit behind the wheel of a car. Mind you, Bessie didn’t exactly take to it like a natural – the family joke was that she single-handedly paid off all the debts of the British School of Motoring.
Daughters Joyce and Gloria light-heartedly claim that fear stalked the streets of London. Was it just a coincidence that the Department of Transport’s safety campaign, `Keep Death off the Roads`, was launched about that time?
Bessie once took her sister Freda to the cinema – The Ionic in Golders Green – and parked on the Finchley Road. On coming out, Bessie spotted a man trying to open the car door. With no hesitation she walloped the man with her very substantial handbag. When he had recovered, he pointed to her dark green Morris 1100 parked immediately behind his.
One day, Bessie took her car to Stewart and Arden at Henly’s Corner for a service. A while later, the mechanic phoned her in a panic to say that her car had been stolen. “What are you talking about?” retorted Bessie, “I just drove home in it”.
Bessie was a formidable lady who made decisions and damn the consequences. She was driving along one day, indicating left (to go and see Miriam) when she decided instead to go and see Dora and Sam and turned right. She couldn’t understand the annoyance of the other motorists who hooted her.
Bessie went to Dickens and Jones for lunch with her mechutan Monty Kanter’s mother one day. They ordered fish with tartar sauce and the waitress brought their fish but went back to the kitchen to get the sauce. Impatient Bessie spotted a jug of sauce on the next table, grabbed it and poured the lot on Monty’s mother’s fish, just as the waitress returned and said, “Madam, that’s custard!”.
Knowing Bessie, she probably ordered the waitress to rinse the custard off the fish and bring it back.
The frail and sickly Karbatznick daughter who wasn’t expected to live beyond her teenage years lived to be 95.
Freda and Bert
Freda was the oldest child, born at the turn of the 20th century just a year after her parents’ 1899 wedding. She married Bert Colp, son of publicans in the East End, so it was no surprise that the newly-weds started with a pub of their own.
Their children Joan and Maurice came along soon after; Joan later marrying Ronnie after meeting him at a Jewish dance in Piccadilly Circus. Joan was 19 and with a boyfriend at the time who introduced her to Ronnie but probably wished that he hadn’t!
Joan and Ronnie settled at 111 Leeside Crescent in Golders Green after an eventful honeymoon in Juan Le Pins in the South of France. The story goes that Ronnie lost all his money in a Monte Carlo casino and had to wire home for more.
Stories of Maurice are plentiful. Read about his hatred of cabbage in ‘A bit of fun’ on this website. There is also the politically incorrect but true story from the time when the family lived at The Southampton Arms pub in Camden Town. Maurice spotted a little black boy – a rarity in London in those days – and Freda saw Maurice lick his finger and run it down the boy’s face to see whether the ‘dirt’ would come off!
Ronnie’s father Morry Finger had come to England from L’vov in Poland (now in the Ukraine), near Toporov. The town was also known as Lemberg, Austria, and immigrant Morry arrived in London with an Austrian passport. Thus during the First World War he was considered an enemy alien and had to visit a police station once a week.
Joan and Ronnie and their three sons, Laurence, Howard and Paul, moved to the Live & Let Live pub in the East End (Romford Road) because Ronnie’s shmutter business resembled a rollercoaster and his in-laws told him that instead of spending his time in women’s clothing he could do better by managing a pub from 6am till midnight seven days a week!
There’s a family association with the famous Blind Beggar pub in Mile End. Apparently Nazi supporters were having a meeting at Wanstead Flats, near the Fingers’ pub in Forest Gate, and Ronnie decided to go and sort them out. Instead, the notorious Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, told Ronnie (Finger) not to get involved and sent some of their henchmen from the Blind Beggar to sort out the Black Shirts.
Betty and Pinky
Proprietor of Betty’s hat shop in Dalston for over half a century, it’s amazing that Betty had time for anything else. Niece Joyce Fish remembers the shop with great affection: “My sister Gloria and I worked in Auntie Betty`s shop at Christmas or on busy Saturdays. None of the hats were priced and we always had to ask her the price. She would size up the customer before telling us how much! This was quite common in the ‘madam’ shops at that time”.
Betty’s husband Pinky was originally a tailor but owned properties and, according to his grandson David Warner, “played the stock market”. Betty and Pinky didn’t go on honeymoon, living in rooms behind the shop when they got married and eventually living in a flat above the shop.
Pinky’s father had come from Russia and his mother had come from Romania. Years later, Dora would say that Pinky had been very frum in his youth, but Pinky’s family just joke that he wasn’t actually frum – he was just prepared to travel across London for a good Kiddush.
Pinky had been born Pinky (Pinchas) Seletsky, but, deciding to Anglicise his surname, selected Herman (it was his father’s first name. It’s unclear whether Pinky’s father changed his name too, thus becoming Herman Herman). It’s also unclear whether Pinky cursed the choice of names when WWII arrived and at a stroke Herman Goering made the name sound Germanic.
Their daughter Judy was the oldest of the Karbatznick grandchildren and the only one born before Lewis died in 1928. Strangely, his tombstone refers to grandchildren (plural). Their son Allan met Gill in a coffee bar in Temple Fortune, married in 1963 and went to live in Jesmond Way, Stanmore, in a Curton home built in 1938 on the site of a former golf course within the Canons estate.
Allan’s barmitzvah had been a big family affair, a full-blown do at Mozart House in Stoke Newington, with full evening dress and dinner and dancing.
Judy and her brother Allan both have sons named David. Gill’s grandfather David died during her pregnancy and her mother and grandmother wanted the baby to be named after him; Allan’s parents were understanding and said they didn’t mind having two grandsons with the same name.
Harold and Judy had met at the wedding of their cousins – Stella Valins, a niece of Pinky, marrying Willie Hirsh, a nephew of Harold’s father. Harold’s father had Anglicised the family name, Weiner, at the outset of World War II, to sound less German.
Judy and Harold had lived above their shop in Dalston originally, moving to Cat Hill in Cockfosters in 1958. Their sons Michael and David were both barmitzvah at Southgate United Synagogue with parties at the Tavistock Rooms in Charing Cross Road.
Barney and Sylvia
The arrival on 12 April 1912 of a first son caused great excitement, as there were already six daughters in the family. When Barney told his grandchildren about his life, he recalled that for miles around the family’s home in Luntley Place, off Chicksand Street, there were almost only Jewish families. Barney recalled that his father was a well-respected man in the local community.
On erev Shabbat and Yom Tov, Lewis Karbatnick would go to ‘shafchicks’, a steam bath in Brick Lane, where the local men would gather to discuss the latest news – in Yiddish. Adults rarely spoke in English. Barney recalled with great affection how he would occasionally be allowed to go along as a treat.
After attending an elementary school from the ages of 5 to 11, Barney passed an exam and moved to the Jews’ Free Central School in Bell Lane, which was independent from the similarly-named Jews’ Free School. To differentiate between the ‘ordinary’ pupils and those at Barney’s highly acclaimed school, boys at the latter wore a cap with a distinguishing yellow circle on it.
The kids nicknamed the yellow circle ‘the bagel’, and Barney wore his cap with great pride. His barmitzvah photo shows him wearing that cap.
After school each day, JFS ran a play centre, and Barney remembered many years later that in about 1925 he made a crystal radio set. Loudspeakers weren’t yet commonplace but Barney remembered the other boys gathering round in excitement to take turns with the headphones to listen to Barney’s great ‘invention’.
Life was different in those days. Barney recalled that when he was a child, if a car drove down the street, all the kids in the area would gather excitedly around it, the boys vying with each other to see who could demonstrate the greatest knowledge about this new mode of transport.
Similarly, if an aeroplane was heard overhead, everyone would rush out of their houses – adults too, not just the kids – to see another wonder of the world.
Lewis and Leah Karbatznick had decided that Barney should stay at school until he reached 18 (in 1930), the first child in the family to have a full school education; Lewis even signed a letter for the school to this effect. But Barney was strong-willed and sensing the family’s financial hardship, made a decision of his own.
So, aged only 14, Barney left school and decided to learn a trade in order to supplement the family’s income. He signed up to a seven-year cabinet-making apprenticeship and learned to make furniture of any description.
Following his apprenticeship, aged just 21 Barney rented a workshop in the Engle Building for 14 shillings a week (equivalent to 70p) and began making bureaux and bookcases. From there he took a workshop in Ivy lane, Hoxton, where he worked until war broke out.
Barney was called up to serve in the Royal Fusiliers and after several months was promoted to Bombardier (corporal). Later becoming a sergeant, Barney was posted to various places as far apart as Scotland, Warrington and Chester; he spent three years teaching small arms, use of grenades, machine guns, map reading and other attributes needed by soldiers.
In July 1946 Barney was discharged from the army and applied to the Board of Trade for a timber licence so he could re-start manufacturing. The licence wasn’t granted but, undeterred, Barney went into furniture retailing instead.
Barney opened a shop in Golders Green Road where, according to his daughter Shelley, he pioneered the “Take it home and see whether you like it” sales technique. It almost always worked; Shelley says that customers buying furniture to take home ‘on appro’ rarely brought it back.
Barney and Sylvia had three children, John, Linda and Shelley, and family folklore remembers fondly the story of John falling through the ice on a pond on Hampstead Heath one winter when he was a young boy. Barney wrapped him in a blanket, rushed him home, and put him in a warm bath. John recovered completely and a story to repeat for the next generations was born.
In 1971 Barney and his wife Sylvia retired to Bournemouth. But despite regular trips to the local swimming pool for a swim and a chat with other gentlemen, Barney couldn’t simply retire, so he opened House of Pictures, a furniture shop in nearby Charminster, Dorset.
A kind and gentle boy, Leon was only ten when his father died. Nothing is known about his barmitzvah and all we know about Leon’s early working life is that he was a barber – neices Joyce and Gloria can remember him cutting their hair in the garden at Brooke Road, with much laughter.
By the outbreak of war Leon was living in Ireland, urged to go there by a brother and sisters who feared for him if he was called up to the army.
Leon made a life for himself in Ireland, setting up a business which manufactured garments and trimmings; and in a hilarious twist, we understand that this Jewish man’s shmutter business even manufactured nuns’ habits for a local convent!
Leon had anglicised Karbatznick and adopted Karr as his surname, so he and Barney, the two sons of the family, had different surnames – Lewis and Karr.
Leon never married nor had children, so this much beloved uncle lavished on nieces and nephews. Gloria Kanter recalls that almost the entire family would holiday Margate at Whitsun each year, and Leon would come along if he was in England. The kids would gather round him as he bought everyone candyfloss, ice cream, then more candyfloss and ice cream – Gloria says the kids simply didn’t have enough hands to carry it all.
Beryl recalls that during the war, when stockings were in short supply in London, Leon sent supplies to his sister Dora. They were inevitably the wrong size for Dora, so young Beryl became the proud owner of more pairs than she had ever imagined owning.
Leon was always a prankster, and Gloria Kanter recalls a seder night one Passover at the family home in Brooke Road, Stoke Newington. “When it was time to open the door for the angel Elijah, Uncle Leon told us [the kids] to close our eyes. Instead of taking a quick gulp of wine so we’d think Elijah had taken a sip, he poured it into his pocket!”
There was a more serious side to Leon too. Hearing that a cousin who he’d never met had survived the Holocaust and was in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Germany, he arranged for supplies to be sent by the London family. Oh, and as explained on the ‘Leah’s brother’ section of this website, he even offered to marry her as it would enable her to travel to a new life in Ireland, where he lived.
Leon was a modest man and rarely mentioned this. It was after his death that the story leaked out.
The entire family was shocked by the sudden death of Leon in Ireland in 1964. He had lived there since the outbreak of war, making a name for himself in the community and greatly loved by his staff at Delphi Trimmings; they erected a small memorial to him alongside his gravestone in Edmonton.
Barney travelled to Dublin to bring Leon’s body home. There was a tradition in the local community that on the way to the cemetery (or in Leon’s case, on the way to the airport), the coffin would be driven past the synagogue, and the doors would be opened.
The Copperman family, to whom Leon had been close for the 25 years he lived in the city, made arrangements for the hearse to travel past the synagogue, and when the doors were opened, the convoy of vehicles stopped outside so that Barney and others could spend a few minutes inside.
As Barney took a seat for a moment’s quiet reflection, Mr Copperman came up to him and said, “How did you know that was Leon’s seat?” Out of many hundreds of seats in dozens of pews, Barney had unknowingly chosen his late brother’s seat to sit in.
Leon had been particularly close to the Bernstein and Copperman families in Ireland. There are two stories of how he came to know them. One account tells of Uncle Barney initially going to Ireland with Leon and knocking on the doors of Jewish families in Dublin asking them to take in his brother.
The other story is that Leon got talking to the Coppermans in the Kiddush after shul one Shabbat and they invited this lovely London man to lodge with them in their spare room.
The name lives on
The sad passing of Leon wasn’t the end of his name in the family though. Adele Gellman and David Herman, both born in 1964 soon after Leon died, were given the middle names Lorraine and Leon respectively in honour of the great-uncle they never knew.
When Leslie Walters was born in 1966 – given the name Leslie in memory of his father Martin’s cousin Leslie Israel, an RAF pilot killed in the war – he was given the Hebrew name Leib in memory of Uncle Leon. Barney’s grandson Lee Levenson was named after Leon too.
In Leon’s memory
During Leon’s years in Dublin, he gave his family the impression that he was doing very well for himself, but when he died so prematurely, his sisters and brother didn’t want to benefit financially from his estate and instead decided to donate all his money to Israel.
Through Magen David Adom, a blood bank in Jerusalem was donated in Leon’s name, but it turned out that his financial position wasn’t as strong as the family had assumed; in the end they all had to contribute towards the blood bank as there wasn’t enough money to pay the £1,100 for it.
Soon after Leon’s sad passing, it was suggested to Noel Gellman that perhaps he could commute to Dublin, run the business, and enable the family to receive some dividends from the company. Sadly Noel’s first trip to Dublin revealed that there wasn’t enough of a business for Delphi Trimmings to continue.
Ten years after Leon’s passing, £1,000 that had been owed to him by third-parties was repaid to the family and was donated to Magen David Adom to purchase a film projector. A plaque was erected saying, “The film projector and apparatus in this room has been presented by the family of Leon Karr (of Dublin). May it help others to live as his memory will live in their hearts”.
Miriam and Harry
After meeting and marrying Harry Burke – born Herschel Berkowitz; his deed poll documents state that he was a travelling salesman – Miriam and he ran a business together (initially a pub in Caledonian Road and from 1955 a pub in Tufnell Park) and photographs of the time show a handsome couple with a bright future. Fate tragically intervened however, and she lost her beloved husband prematurely.
Harry was a much loved uncle, missed by the entire family. Dora would recall how, when the family walked home from shul for years beforehand, Lilian and Beryl would walk back with Uncle Harry, one of them on each arm. When Harry died, Lilian moved in with Miriam for a short while.
Joyce was also very close to Miriam and Harry. As they had no children, they were Joyce’s ‘unterferers’. Joyce was particularly fond of Uncle Harry who took her to the London Palladium to see Nat King Cole; they shared a love of music.
Harry’s memory lived on, with the arrival of Beryl and Martin’s daughter Helena in 1960, named after him, and Joyce and Eddie naming Vivien Harriet in his memory too.
Harry had been an observant Jew – not religious though; it wasn’t possible to combine the pub trade with being frum – and after his death a room was dedicated in a rabbinical college in memory of him. Harry and Miriam had no children to say kaddish for him, and in return for the donation the rabbinical college arranged for someone to say kaddish for him each year.
Miriam retired in the late 1960s to a new block of flats in Golders Green. Her brother Barney had suggested that two of his widowed sisters, Miriam and Bessie, live in the same block – but not in the same flat! Can you imagine the fireworks if they had literally lived together in those later years?
Miriam opened her flat to visiting family and friends. Food, food and more food awaited her nieces and nephews and their children; yet more food awaited the ladies who came to play kalooki. Toys and balls awaited visiting kids – how they loved playing football with their septuagenarian aunt in the ground-floor lobby or on the sixth-floor rooftop.
Some people say that certain Jewish festivals last for two days outside of Israel for reasons relating to biblical times. For the Walters and Gellman kids, though, the duplication of seder nights was because they all wanted Auntie Miriam at their seder table – and this was the way to achieve it.
When Miriam wasn’t welcoming guests to her flat in Melvin Hall, Golders Green, she was darting around north-west London, latterly in her Austin 1100, a common sight until thieves stole it. It was later found by police in Edinburgh, leaving the family astonished that it had managed to travel so far.
Cissie and Myer
Cissie, youngest Karbatznick daughter, left school at 14 and went to work for The Daily Sketch, possibly introduced by her sister Bessie who had worked there previously. No-one is sure how Cissie met Myer Land, but they married in London in 1940 and initially lived in the Karbatznick family home in Brooke Road, Stoke Newington. Myer had studied pharmacy at the Chelsea School of Pharmacy and ran the business in Dalston for almost his entire working life.
Daughter Valerie was named after Myer’s father (his name was William and his Hebrew name was Avraham Zev – somehow Valerie Ann was the nearest they could get!). William had worked in the East End as a milkman, selling milk straight from the cow who lived in the back garden. Family legend is that William had come from Germany, where he had been an academic. William changed his name from Landsman; he and his wife were married on 1 July 1900.
Son Jeffrey was named after Judah (Yehuda). Jeff, aged 16, met some boys from Liverpool on a Jewish youth trip to Italy in summer 1963. Later that year Jeff went to Liverpool for a party hosted by one of the boys, where Jeff met that boy’s cousin, Sue. Jeff spent several years travelling to and from Liverpool before they married. Valerie had met Noel Gellman in 1961 at a Younger Technion Society meeting and they married the following year.
Myer was always interested in classical music. When Cissie first met him she pretended to enjoy the music as she was so keen on him! Niece Gloria has a love of classical music to this day, for which she is indebted to Myer for his encouragement.
In their retirement, Cissie and Myer travelled extensively, as far as Australia, safari in Kenya, the Caribbean, the Far East, America, cruising in the Mediterranean, Israel and many places in Europe.
One amusing travel tale is the time that Cissie and Myer went on holiday with Leon and Miriam in about 1963, including a visit to Las Vegas. After a dinner one evening, Cissie and Myer wanted to go to bed, but the other two wanted to go dancing, so Cissie and Myer decided to be sociable and join them at a nightclub. Cissie and Myer took straight to the dance-floor, leaving the other two to order drinks. Returning after a dance a few minutes later, Cissie and Myer found the other two fast asleep!
Dora and Sam
1907 was a key year for arrivals in the Karbatznick family. Leah arrived in England from Russia with her three daughters, and Dora – the first child to be born in London – arrived in November the same year. Dora showed an aptitude for the piano, even teaching some children after she left school.
Dora left school soon after the end of World War I, around the age of 12 or 13, to assist her mother in running the house when Bessie was taken seriously ill. Seventy-five years later, Dora later said that her mother selected her as the daughter to leave school because of her good nature, a characteristic remarked upon by many family members during the research for this memoir.
It is probably no surprise that Dora and husband Sam – according to family legend – never had a cross word between them.
Dora’s sister Bessie marrying Alf Venitt was fortuitous for Dora, as this is how she met Sam Cramer. Sam’s mother Hetty had been orphaned as a young child and lived with her relatives the Venitsky (later Venitt) family. Sam was Alf’s cousin – are you following the connection? – and thus Sam met his cousin Alf’s sister-in-law Dora.
There was no wining and dining to woo Dora. As she later described it, “I met Sam [through Alf and Bessie] one evening, he saw me home, and we started courting.” They became engaged a few months later and married at Harley Street shul on Lag B’Omer 1934, with a party for several hundred guests at the Stamford Hill Ballroom.
Honeymoon? Not a chance. They had taken on a pub in the March several months beforehand and were back at the bar the morning after the wedding. Dora and Sam only ever went abroad once in their lives, in 1959 to celebrate their silver wedding, and they attended the dedication of the room in memory of Uncle Harry.
Intriguing fact. On Sunday 3 May 1934, Dora married Sam and changed her surname from Lewis. The following morning, Monday 4 May 1934, Dora’s brother Barney changed his name from Karbatznick to Lewis. A brother and sister swapped surnames (sort of).
Sam had left Shoreditch Technical College as an accomplished craftsman, intent on following his father into the furniture manufacture business. However, Sam’s hand-made craftsmanship coincided with the rise of mass-production furniture so the opportunities were limited.
For a while Sam and his father ran a business installing cigarette machines in people’s houses, but there was limited scope, so Sam and Dora followed Bessie and Alf into the pub trade.
Beryl was born in 1935 (named after her Auntie Blooma, Leah’s sister who had died in 1934) and Lilian, named in memory of her grandmother Leah, followed three years later as war loomed.
After the war, their daughters returned and Dora saw to it that they were raised in a traditional Jewish home and understood the value and importance of their Judaism. The girls sang in the choir at Lofting Road shul and their parents ensured that they became familiar with their Jewish roots. Beryl had won a prize from Sunday School at the local church during evacuation in Wales – her parents didn’t want the girls to be different from the other kids.
The first Pesach after Beryl and Lilian’s return from evacuation, they attended a big family seder, at which Lilian remarked, “Before we were Jews, we went to Sunday School. Now that we’re Jews, we have seders”.
Dora and Sam were in the pub trade for 35 years, only retiring to Edgware in 1968 when doctors warned them that Sam’s ulcerated leg might have to be amputated if he didn’t stop his on-your-feet working life. Dora recalled 25 years later: “That was it. We packed up and found a flat near our grandchildren”.
Sam sat at home resting his leg for six months before getting a clerical job locally and leaving Dora to busy herself in the kitchen.
A physically slight woman in her later years, Dora possessed an iron will. This became evident following a kitchen accident in 1985 when she was very badly burnt. Medical staff at Mount Vernon Burns Unit predicted the worst, but they hadn’t factored in the Karbatznick mettle to make the best of her condition. Dora never complained despite countless operations and daily treatment for the rest of her life, and her determination to be at Helena and Philip’s wedding the following year saw her through against all odds.
Sam was a big man, built like a rock, and the only time anyone saw him cry was when he told of his helplessness at being unable to put out the flames before they engulfed Dora as she cooked their shabbas dinner that Friday night.
Last of the generation: end of an era
Dora’s death in 2004 saw the passing of a generation, the last of the eight brothers and sisters whose lives started in poverty in Russia, spanned the entire 20th century and beyond, and left as a legacy a huge family who miss them still. We thought they’d last forever, that generation, built to withstand anything, but eventually time withered them.
The eight brothers and sisters had shared so much – growing up in a poor but happy family, later having warm and loving families of their own. They celebrated family simchas together – and shared sad times too. But happy or sad, they were best when they were with each other and their children and grandchildren. Barney had retired to Bournemouth and Cissie had travelled the globe, but both were happiest when surrounded by family.
And now, more than 100 years after Yiddish-speaking Russian immigrants arrived in London, unable to read, write or speak English, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren, gathered together in December 2011.
Lewis never met any of the 120 people who attended the 2011 tea; Leah only met several of them, and they were too young then to remember her. Also looking down from above on the family party were Lewis and Leah’s children, eight brothers and sisters who would love to have been at the tea and were sorely missed on that day just as they are missed every day.