The Autobiography of Solomon Katzen
The Early Years: 1902-1923

Solomon Katzen

Solomon Katzen was born in Sassmacken in 1902, and lived there until his family was expelled from Courland with the other Jewish inhabitants in 1915. His amazing recollection of his early years in Sassmacken as well as of his period of exile in Russia and return to Latvia en route to the USA serves as the basis for the fascinating memoirs presented here. Locations of many of the houses and businesses mentioned are shown on Mr. Katzen's hand-drawn map of Sassmacken. Numerous readers' comments were contributed following the initial appearance of the memoirs. Sadly, Mr. Katzen passed away shortly afterwards, aged 98.


Solomon Katzen died at home on August 11, 2001, two months before his 99th birthday. Despite several years of declining health, he embraced life and the new relationships his illness brought to him. He was thankful for his caregiver-angels, for his physician- healers and for his friends and family.

Born in Sassmacken, Latvia, on October 6, 1902, Solomon was one of eight children born to Rabbi Jacob and Chaya Rivka Katzen. In 1915, he and his family, along with the other Jews in the Courland region, were herded into railroad freight cars and forcibly exiled to the Ukraine. In 1923 he risked his life in a night crossing back into Latvia and arrived in the United States later that year. He was 21 years old and knew no English. Eight years later, Solomon had graduated with honors from City College of New York, had become a department store executive and had represented his industry at a White House meeting with President Herbert Hoover.

For most of his professional life, Solomon was a financial executive at G. Fox and Co. in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a leader in his temple, was active in community affairs and assisted many World War II refugees in finding employment. He and his wife Pat, who died in 1998, retired to Tucson in 1975 to be near their children and grandchildren.

Solomon retained his passion for learning until his death. A voracious reader, he spoke several languages, had an awesome memory for history and was a captivating story teller and teacher. He maintained his interest in music, in nature, in his daily reading of the New York Times and in the art of conversation. Solomon also enjoyed an international correspondence with individuals who, after having read his amazingly detailed memoir on the Internet, sought his assistance in researching their family histories.

Solomon is survived by daughters Myra Levenson (Gerry Goldsholle) and Luise Levy, grandchildren Liz Levy (Udi Merhav), Josh Levy, Jon Levenson (Jackie Armstrong) and Nancy Levenson, and great grandson, Ariel Merhav, sister Shirley Mostel, nieces and nephews, and beloved friend Marj Rowland.

Graveside services will be held at 1:30 P.M. Friday, August 17, 2001 at Eastlawn Palms Cemetery, with Rabbi Thomas Louchheim officiating. A celebration of Solomon's life will be held in September. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Community Food Bank or the charity of your choice.

These memoirs appear on the Courland Research Group web pages with the kind permission of the author, Solomon Katzen, whose estate retains copyright in all forms. This material should not be reproduced, transmitted or stored in any form without his express written consent.

© 1995 Solomon Katzen. Used with permission.

The generous efforts of Jerry Becker and Margaret Kannensohn, who transcribed the text for the web version, are gratefully acknowledged.


In the late 1970’s, after having retired and moved to Tucson, Arizona, I felt the need to write down the recollections of my early life and adulthood in Europe, prior to my arrival in the United States in 1923. The sole purpose was to acquaint my beloved daughters and grandchildren of my experiences.

Only nine years after my arrival in the USA, repressions against the Jews in Germany began. In the Holocaust that followed, 80% of all European Jews were murderously destroyed. Little was known in the Western world about the details of the calamity until eye witness reports and accounts by survivors began to appear in print in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The restrictions against the Jews in Russia prior to 1917 pale in comparison with the Holocaust. Thus, my experiences seem like a life under idyllic conditions.

When my oldest granddaughter, Liz Merhav, visited me in the spring of this year and read part of my handwritten notes, she strongly encouraged me to have them printed for the immediate family. My daughters, Myra and Luise, also supported this venture and encouraged me to include extended family as well. It is in the spirit of maintaining a sense of family history and continuity that these memories are now shared.

Solomon Katzen

Tucson, Arizona
December, 1995

THE EARLY YEARS: 1902-1923

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6


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