Page created for JCR-UK: 2002
Latest revision or update: 26 October 2014
The following article was kindly donated to JCR-UK by Michael Saltman.
The following provides materials for a history of the Saltman family in Great Britain, chiefly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Until 1901 only the most trivial details have been omitted. As for the twentieth century, the choice of material for inclusion has been arbitrary, eclectic and subjective, in short unsatisfactory. My thanks to members of the family who have provided information, especially my uncle Naty Science. Avrom Saltman
by Avrom Saltman
My cousin Harold Rosenberg, a retired oil merchant, lived all his life in Grimsby (except for war service). He was a son of my mother's eldest brother. He never married, and his death in September 1984 brought to an end all living connection between my family and Grimsby. For well over a hundred years several generations of Saltmans and Rosenbergs had lived and died in this town. Both my parents were born there. To-day, the cemetery of the Grimsby Hebrew congregation is the most vital institution of the community and although in the course of my narrative I shall have occasion to digress and distance myself from it, this plot of land will always remain a constant magnetic pull towards which my remarks are directed.
I read once in a book of genealogy that every person has two parents, four grandparents, eight great- grandparents and sixteen great-great-grandparents. The handbook then advised the aspiring chronicler of his own family to draw up, as a simple preliminary, a table containing the names and dates of these ascendants. When I hopefully set out in pursuit of evasive roots, I knew precisely five names out of a possible thirty, those of my parents, my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandfather after whom I was named. Now I know thirteen, including a solitary great-great-grandfather, hardly a spectacular achievement. For this failure, I am entirely to blame: I left it too late. My longest living grandparent, Harris Saltman, lived until I was fifteen. Had I asked him, he would doubtless have filled in some of those aggravating blanks. I never saw a great deal of him and it would not been unfair to say that he was no more anxious to impart information than I was to seek it. But he would not have refused to give some sort of an answer.
Once I asked him where he was born, I suppose out of idle curiosity. Because it was so incomprehensible and exotic, his reply remained fixed in my mind - "Suvalk Gebirnie". It must have been a year or two after his death that I tried to find the place in my school atlas. There was only one place which seemed to fit the bill, a sizable town called Suwalki. But it was in Poland! This was indeed a blow, for my grandfather was well known to be a Litvack - a Lithuanian Jew. Even my father, who was born in England, was called "the Litvick" (sic) by my mother's family. So maybe he ought to have been "the Pollack", God forbid? Later, however, I discovered two facts, which I had overlooked in my abysmal childish ignorance. In the first place, Jewish Lithuania far transcended the curtailed, political entity called Lithuania as established after the first World War, or even the somewhat more extensive Soviet Socialist Republic of that name and its contemporary successor. Furthermore, in the czarist Russia of my grandfather's day, the province or Government (Gebirnie) of Suvalk did in fact extend into part of the Lithuanian heartland on the southern bank of the Niemen. So my grandfather's vague and evasive reply did not necessarily impugn his acknowledged Litvacity.
My father, too, was not impelled by the urge some people have to relate stories (not always strictly veracious) about their families. As I recall, he never volunteered any information about close or distant relatives. Nor did I ever request such information. I am sure there was nothing to hide, the subject just never came up. Once only did he talk about his older brother Israel (Izzy), a story I will relate in its proper place. In fact, most of the personal information I have been able to gather about the Saltmans is derived from my mother, who was far less inhibited than the Saltmans in these matters. There was even an added advantage in hearing about the Saltmans from my mother, as there is not the slightest danger of any idealization, gilding the lily or sugaring the pill. She was born just eleven weeks after the death of my great-grandfather Zelig (also Selig, Zellic) in April 1900. However, he was still remembered when she was a child. He is said to have carried lumps of sugar in his pockets which he distributed to those children of Grimsby ("without distinction of race or creed") who crossed his path. In those days and in those circles, confectionery was not on the agenda. Sugar and salt were sold in blocks and subsequently broken up into manageable pieces.
On my first-ever visit to Grimsby in 1981, the discovery of my great-grandfather's tombstone made a very deep impression on me. I had not been over-indulged with ancestors and had hardly been aware of his existence or residence in England. This is what I wrote about a year later: "On my only visit to Grimsby, in 1981, I found Zelig's tombstone in the Jewish cemetery, standing in solitary splendour near the entrance gate". This is completely false. In fact, the tombstone is situated at a fair distance from the entrance gate in a closely packed row of tombstones. This is what I found on my second visit to the cemetery in 1991. As it is highly unlikely that the stone had in the meanwhile been removed from its original place, there can be little doubt that the first sight of it blinded me to its surroundings, a sort of psychic phenomenon which brought about its illusory isolation.
The name Zelig does not appear on the stone, but rather the more formal Hebrew name Azriel. Azriel and Zelig are the same man. One of his sons, my great-uncle Samuel Isaac Saltman ("Shmulitzig"), buried in the same cemetery, is duly entitled "Son of Azriel", while one of his daughters, my great-aunt Pearl Hitner, buried in Edmonton (North London) is called Pearl Roshel, daughter of Selig. As for my grandfather's tombstone, there was a complete mix up, but of that later.
A recurring theme in this exercise is the frequent inaccuracy of all sources of information relied upon by amateur and professional genealogist-even the evidence of their own eyes! This inaccuracy is usually the consequence of carelessness and indifference rather than the product of deliberate deception. These strictures apply to official sources, just as much as, if not more than private records or memories. And this is the raw material of History! The more varied the sources, the greater the confusion.
Thus, Azriel-Selig is called "Joseph" in his death certificate (actually the name of his youngest son). His age at death is given as 87. But according to the tombstone and the Register of the Grimsby Hebrew Burial Board he was only 80 when he died. The Census records are more or less in line with the tombstone. In 1881 "M.S. Soltman" was aged 60 and in 1891 "Zellic Saltman" was aged 70. This would give an age of 79 at Zelig's death in 1900. The tombstone itself was not put up till 1905, on the initiative of Joseph.
Another piece of information provided by the tombstone is the name of Zelig's father-Judah Arie -which may take us back to the end of the 18th century. This is as far back as we can go. Both Zelig and his father are awarded rabbinic titles on the tombstone, but I have not found a shred of evidence from other sources to support this claim. Most probably the title Morenu Harav is a mere honorific expression, at best indicating some degree of Jewish learning. Apart from Judah Arie's mention on the tombstone of my great-grandfather, all I know about him is that he was also the ancestor of the Edinburgh Saltmans.
I have spent a great deal of time and money researching the Edinburgh Saltmans, but do not regret it. I was unaware of their very existence until 1955, when people I met in Edinburgh told me about them, but I have never met a single one of them. Among members of my branch of the family (descendants of Zelig), those who knew them personally include the late Dr. Philip Saltman of Cape Town and my uncle Nathan (Naty) Science of Newcastle. I have been able painfully (in all senses of the word) to reconstruct much of the genealogy down to the 1950's, when I gave up, mainly from documents in the General Register Office for Scotland, supplemented by English had Welsh material. Some difficulties have not entirely been resolved, but I am satisfied my history of them is substantially true. It would be absurd to ignore them as, for the Jewish point of view their story is more typical of British Jewry than that of Zelig's descendants who are the principal subject of this account.
For about forty years, until his death in 1925, the head of this branch of the family was Isaac Saltman, a waterproof manufacturer, a cousin of my grandfather and so necessarily a grandson of Judah Arie. But strangely enough and against all appearances Judah Arie was his maternal not his paternal grandfather. His mother's maiden name was Rachel Saltman and she was Zelig's younger sister. Isaac's father Benjamin (Bernard), whose origin I cannot determine, was in fact called Saltsman not Saltman. Isaac himself last used the name Saltsman in 1888 and subsequently adopted the name Saltman, which had crept in for the first time in 1886.
The Saltsmans lived in Manchester, where Rachel died in 1909. Isaac came to Edinburgh in 1885, having married the daughter of a Manchester publican called Goldstone. She is variously named as Jane, Jean or Jeanie, latterly Dora, under which name the announcement of her death was published in 1938 in the "Jewish Chronicle". In all, they had nine children, two of whom died in infancy. When Isaac or Jane came to register these births and deaths, neither of them could sign their name but "made their mark ", but I expect they could write in Yiddish. Throughout his life, Isaac identified himself with the Jewish community. In 1920 he issued New Year greetings through the medium of the "Jewish Chronicle" and in 1923, as a member of the Graham Street synagogue, he donated half a guinea for the relief of the "Jewish victims of the war in Eastern Europe".
The eldest child, Annie Betsy (1886-1926) married a tailor called Max Soldberg of Glasgow and went to live in that city. They had a son, Solomon, but he must have changed his name, as I can find no further record of the Soldbergs in Scotland or England. Next came Charles, born in 1888. Naty remembers him and confirms my surmise that he never married.
Louis (1889-1954) earned his living as a shop assistant. He was attracted to another shop assistant, Mary Ann Rutherford, daughter of a butcher. Their marriage, in which the Saltman family did not participate, took place in Leith, and was effected by a declaration made before the Sheriff substitute. In Scots law, this was known as an "irregular marriage", but was valid for all that. As their first child, Annie, was born (in Falkirk) seven months to the day after the wedding, it was probably a "shotgun" wedding as well as "irregular". I have visions of Louis being pursued by his future-father-in law with a bloodstained cleaver. Subsequently they appeared to have lived together in harmony until Mary Ann's death in 1953. After his marriage, Louis set up as a fruiterer. The business prospered and is (c.1980) still being run by his son Jack (born 1922) as a wholesale concern.
At the age of 18, Annie got married in Glasgow, also "irregularly". Like her mother, she married a Jew, Louis Mirsky, of Glasgow described as a student of medicine. He did in fact qualify as a doctor two years later and his name remained on the Medical List for another year or two, then disappeared. It would appear therefore that they emigrated to some unknown land. Annie's cousin, Solomon Soldberg, who lived in Glasgow, was a witness at her wedding, which would suggest a family reconciliation. On the other hand Jack distanced himself further from his Jewish antecedents by marrying a furniture shop manageress - Jack himself at the time was a cabinet maker - called Rachel Mackenzie Calder. Their children, Derek James and Louis Jack, could be described as quarter-Jews, whereas Annie's children, if any, would have been three-quarter Jews. Of course in Jewish law, none of them were Jews at all except for Louis himself, and his son-in-law Louis Mirsky.
I now come to a most regrettable episode. Isaac's fourth child Leah (subsequently Lily) was born in 1892. In 1924 she married Samuel Hart, an auctioneer. A daughter of theirs, Annette is married to a man called Stanley Curry and to the best of my knowledge they are living a respectable, balabatishe life in Kenton, Middlesex, a suburb in outer N.W. London with a large Jewish population. I believe they have two children. In 1966 or thereabouts they came to Israel on a holiday. I didn't have a telephone then and they contacted me through a neighbour, but I didn't attempt to get in touch with them. Not only did I lose a valuable opportunity of getting firsthand information, but now, when I visit London I am ashamed to communicate with them.
After shame comes mystery. How did Tibbie Saltman, sex - female, marital condition - single, age - five months, come to die (of whooping cough and convulsions) in Aberdeen of all places on 8 March 1895? I have no record of the birth, but she is undoubtedly Isaac's daughter, as he is mentioned in the death certificate.
With Harry, born in 1897, we return to more conventional ground. In all the documents I have relating to him, he is described as a "newspaper representative", but I have no idea which paper or papers he represented. His wife, Miriam Luck Bloom came from Newport, then a flourishing Jewish community in South Wales, now practically judenrein. Two of their children are mentioned in the "Jewish Chronicle": Kenneth (known to Philip Saltman) who qualified as a doctor in 1947, and Rae, whose engagement to Desmond Davis was announced in the same year. Next came Max (known to Naty as "Markie"), born in 1899. He was a sorter at the Edinburgh General Post Office, a choice of occupation which Naty condemned as "proletarianization". Little wonder then, that he too married a non-Jew, a shop assistant to boot, in 1940. His younger sister Rebecca remained faithful to Judaism. She was born and died in 1902
Finally we come to Rynie (also Raina, Rhina), born in 1904. Her marriage to a Jewish antique dealer, Harry Davies, in 1937 must have given some pleasure to her mother, who was to die a few months later. The ceremony was conducted by Rabbi Salis Daiches, the best known and most respected of Edinburgh's Jewish clergy. Unfortunately his blessing could not save the marriage. She went off to live with a wire worker named Meikle (another proletarian!), some years younger than herself. Davies initiated divorce proceedings. In the meanwhile, Rynie, now aged 42, was awaiting the birth of her firstborn. It was a close-run race, but eventually her son was born a month before the divorce was pronounced by Lord Sorn. Meikle acknowledged paternity and he married Rynie in May 1948. Several of the Saltmans including myself have been called a mamzer at one time or another, but somehow I doubt if Meikle Junior knows the meaning of the word.
It is very likely that Judah Arie had other children. In the announcement of the death of my aunt Esther Rebecca in 1906 in the London "Jewish Chronicle", a request is inserted: " American papers please copy". So there is obviously family in America, lost without trace. In 1913 or 1914 my father went to the U.S. to size up the prospects, but returned to England very speedily (it is said on the next boat), dissatisfied with life in the Goldene Medina. I am certain he stayed with relatives, but of course they could have been of his mother's side.
Zelig's first appearance in the English records occurs in 1875, where he is called the Zelic Saltman, a travelor (sic). This was on the occasion of the marriage of his eldest son Israel in Sheffield. In fact Zelig was a hawker in glass or travelling glazier, a fairly, common Jewish trade at the time. When not traveling, he worked at picture framing. Two of his sons, Hossel (Harris), my grandfather, and Shmulitzig are known to have engaged in this trade, but eventually both of them abandoned the paternal occupation. Zelig was widowed, probably about 1872. I don't know my great-grandmother's name for certain, but am pretty sure she was called Esther or Esther Rivka. She died in Lithuania. Shortly afterwards Zelig, who never remarried, came to England, presumably with his son Israel. Israel born about 1855, called himself a commercial traveller, perhaps also in glass. On his death certificate he is described as a hawker. On July 7, 1875 he married Sarah Marks, the daughter of Marcus Marks, a shopkeeper in Sheffield. Israel signed the marriage certificate in English, Sarah in "Hebrew" (i.e. Yiddish). In April 1876 their only son Harris was born. Seven months later Israel died of a bowel inflammation at Everton (near Liverpool) while on his travels. Sarah later married a man called Edelman. They went to Edinburgh and had at least four sons.
Israel's son, Harris, generally known as Harry emigrated to South Africa in 1897 and qualified as an attorney, a remarkable achievement under the circumstances. A few years later he married a girl of Lithuanian origin, Rose Kantor. Harris, too, died comparatively young in 1921, survived by his wife and two children, Julia and Philip. Much of this information is derived from Philip, who kindly answered my queries. Julia was married to Issy Lippert. When I wrote to her in 1996, in her 91st year, she passed on my letter to Rhoda Sabel for reply. Philip, was for many years a physician at Capetown. In the old days he would have been called the head of the Saltman family, a position he would have fulfilled with distinction. He traveled widely in the tradition of his ancestors. I take it he stayed in London in the earlier stages of his medical career and distinctly remember at least one visit of his to my parents about the year 1936, duly commemorated by a photograph. I never saw him again, but a fitful correspondence was maintained. He was attached to the family and wrote that when on his travels he used to look up Saltmans in the telephone directory and ring them up on the off-chance. He was always rebuffed and gave up the habit. I would never have had the courage. Philip appears to have been in the last Saltman in South Africa, his three children having previously emigrated. Two live in Sydney, Australia and the third in Atlanta, Georgia. The last time I heard from Philip, he had attended his grandson's Barmitzvah in Fresno, California. He died on a visit to Australia in 1984 and his widow, Ray, joined the children in Sydney. So much for the eldest branch.
After having unjustifiably lost faith in the Government of Suwalki as recounted above, I remember as a child asking my father where the Saltmans really came from. He replied: "Kruky". He had a habit of teasing and I never knew when to believe him. I took it to be "Crooky", an animadversion on the family business habits. After renewed pressure, he insisted that it was a place name, but that he had no idea where it was except that it ought to be in Lithuania. I did not pursue the matter any further, although there must have be been a goodly number of people who at that time could have enlightened me. In fact I heard later that some unspecified date in the 1920's my grandfather had paid to restore the dilapidated synagogue at Krüky - "to show them he had become a Gevir (VIP)", as someone unkindly said.
Some years later, in 1946, I began frequenting the Public Record Office, then in Chancery Lane, occupying the site of the medieval Domus Coversorum, the house built by King Henry III for the reception of meshummodim (converted Jews). I was then searching for documents relating to Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury (died 1161), on whom I was writing a doctoral thesis. In the immediate post-war period, conditions at the PRO were harsh and primitive in the extreme. All the researchers, who were treated by the staff as unmitigated nuisances, were herded into the so-called Long Room, not equipped for medievalists, but rather for researchers into modern legal history. The main bulk of the Public Records begins more than thirty years after Theobald's death, said the material on him was scanty and widely scattered. Most of my time there was spent waiting impatiently for the delivery of manuscript books and charters, nearly all of which turned out to be irrelevant. I reckon it took on the average over an hour to obtain a "piece" (document) and maybe ten minutes to discover it was useless. What is more, nobody was allowed to order more than three "pieces" at a time. Weeks of idleness and frustration would elapse between each minor discovery, which added very little to my knowledge of the doings of my archbishop.
In the meanwhile, the detestable contours of the Long Room were becoming more and more familiar. To kill time, I would take down catalogues which had not the remotest relevance to my ostensible researches and desperately browse through them - army, navy, colonial, circumlocution office, and so on. Inevitably I gravitated to the Home Office records, and by easy stages into the class "Denization and Naturalization", in due course coming upon my name, or at least my grandfather's, Harris Saltman, naturalized in 1887.
Theobald utterly forgotten, I feverishly applied for the file in question. But the unwonted serendipity had caused me to forget where I was. The under - keeper, or whoever was in charge of that antechamber of Gehinnom, gleefully told me: "Come back in 1988. The file is closed for a hundred years". My feeble report, "Why not in 1987 then?", was wordlessly brushed aside. In those days there was a "Fifty year rule" (subsequently reduced to thirty years) forbidding the inspection of documents until the lapse of fifty years after their issue. So I took it that my grandfather's naturalization documents, which had been gathering dust for 59 years, would be available for my perusal. But I had never heard of the "Hundred Year Rule" (still in force) which governs the consultation of private matters in the Public Records, including the records of the decennial censuses. Thus in 1946 no census posterior to 1841 was open to the public. The census of 1881, in which the Saltmans first appear, was opened in 1982. In Scotland some slight amelioration was affected. In 1984 I found it possible to consult the 1891census records in the Edinburgh Records Office.
It was not until 35 years later that I returned to the fray. This time I did not cross the portals of the PRO, now for the most part removed to Kew, but applied directly to the Home Office for special permission to consult my grandfather's naturalization documents for the sole purpose of family history. (In 1946 I was unaware of this loophole.) After several weeks I was granted permission to see the memorial of Harris Saltman, but none of the other documents in the file. (A Memorial has nothing to do with a tombstone or any form of commemoration of the dead, but in this case is a petition to the Crown for naturalization containing a rehearsal of facts and arguments in support. )
Armed with this charter of liberties, I wrote to the PRO and in due course received a photocopy of the Memorial. And very near the beginning it is stated "that your memorialist was born at Krüky and is a subject of the Empire of Russia". Searching for Krüky in the Empire of Russia might legitimately be thought to be a tedious and unrewarding task. Cravenly (but in retrospect wisely), I refused to move outside of Lithuania. Even here, however, I found to my dismay there were no less than three places which were more or less homonymous with the Krüky of the Memorial. The most desirable location for my grandfather's birth place appeared to be Kruk, in the far north on the Latvian border. By all accounts, Kruk was a respectable Shtetl, maybe two thousand Jews in its heyday, isolated but proud. It was encircled at a comfortable distance by the townships of Yanishok, Zhimel, Zhagar and Poshvitin. Yet Kruk was by no means cut off from the outside world. The mournful whistle of the railway engine working the line from Yanishok to Birzh which passed nearby superimposed itself when it saw fit on the traditional rural noises. While it is unfortunately true that there was no railway station at or for Kruk, there may well have been a halt for privileged travellers.
Further researches strengthened my instinctive feeling that at last I had found the true home of the Saltmans. Among its other amenities Kruk enjoyed the services of a Rabbi. In the early years of the present century one of the occupants of this distinguished post had been no less a man than the brother of the famous Rabbi A. I. Kook, saint and scholar, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine under the British Mandate. Now Rochel, my grandfather's second wife, was vaguely connected with the Kooks. Her niece Clara, a friend of my parents, was married to Dr. Nahum Kook, a surgeon in Jerusalem, son of another brother of the Chief Rabbi. A shidduch from the old Shtetl ? It was almost romantic, if such a term could be used in connection with my grandfather.
Wishful thinking is a most dangerous enemy of true historical research. I was greatly mistaken. Kruk must not be confounded with Krüky. A year or so after gaining access to my grandfather's Memorial, with the object of trying to establish relations with South African members of the family, I turned to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, who kindly inserted an advertisement for me in the local Jewish press. This elicited two replies, one of them from Harry Bloch of Sea Point, a suburb of Capetown.
I had heard of the Blochs as distant relatives, but had no idea of of their relationship or their whereabouts in South Africa. True, one or two of the female Blochs, when visiting England, had called on my father, but I never saw them. Harry Bloch wrote that his mother was a Saltman and that my father was his first cousin. But this was not all. He revealed that he had actually been born in Krüky in 1894. Later still, I discovered that he was not the last member of the family to enjoy this privilege. The children of his older brother Hessel were also natives of Krüky, as for example Sarah Rivka Bloch (Rhoda Sabel) who was born there in 1912. Tragically, not all of them succeeded in getting away in time.
Krüky, as Harry Bloch authoritatively informed me, is a very small village on the South bank of the river Niemen, to the West of Kovno. On the opposite bank Krüky was faced by a much larger village called Srednik (now Seredzius). With Srednik we are on a much firmer ground. It figures in all the standard works on Jewish Lithuania and its greatest claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Al Jolson's parents. So with the help of Srednik I was able to pinpoint the location of Krüky. In the end I even managed to find Krüky mentioned by name in an enormous Yiddish encyclopedic work entitled Lite. This insignificant pimple of a village ("a pitzele shtetele") appears here as a mere appendage of Srednik, containing in the 1930's about thirty Jewish families and little else. At this point I must make amends to my grandfather's veracity and justified reticence. What is more, he was indeed born in the Government of Suvalk, an honour which none of the proud transfluvial Srednikians ever have shared, who had to make do with the Government of Kovno.
Having neither the knowledge nor the capacity, I have no intention of following in the footsteps of the philo-semitic Liza Orzezsova and bringing out a new version of Life on the Niemen. My lackadaisical and systematic attempts to break down the barrier separating me from my ancestors in the "haim" or such of their descendants who had the misfortune to remain there, have been largely to no avail.
Inquiries addressed to various individuals and communal bodies in Israel produced no results whatsoever. Perhaps they were not pursued with adequate vigour. As frequently happens in such cases, it turned out that part of the answer was to be found practically on my doorstep. As will be related, a native of Krüky was living not far from me in Ramat Gan. Prior to this discovery, my only success, more apparent than real, was made in the YIVO archives of New York, through the kind offices of my colleague, Haim Genizi. This was a collection of documents from Srednik. Unfortunately the Srednik file dated from a period much later than I needed, consisting as it did of 39 communal documents from the years 1921-5. Out of curiosity, I had the file photocopied and do not regret it, but of course it is perfectly useless for my purposes. Krüky is nowhere mentioned in this file.
Another possible avenue of research was the so-called Prenumeranten. In the Jewish book trade of those days it was a common practice for the author to collect advance subscriptions, or at least promises to subscribe and buy copies of the prospective publication. Obviously there was the ever-present danger that the book would never be written or if written, never published, but on the whole the system seems to have worked and thousands of titles were published under these conditions. If and when the book was published, the names of these literary Maecenases were printed at its beginning or end. The list was usually arranged under the hometowns of the subscribers, eternally reminding the author of his successful pilgrimages. We thus have source material for a directory of the ostensibly learned and wealthy Jews of the time. Here at the least I was able to gain a brief and tantalizing glimpse of what lay on the other side of Lethe. In 1861, Zvi Hirsch Bloch published a book at Königsberg in Prussia called Teomei Zviyah ("Twins of a gazelle"-Song of Songs, 7. 4). He seems to have had some considerable success in peddling the book at Shaki, where he collected fourteen subscribers. Shaki is the nearest township to Krüky on the Suvalk side of the Niemen and Bloch's achievements there give rise to speculation that he may have been related to the Blochs of Krüky. What is more, one of the Shaki prenumeranten turned out to be Moses son of Israel Shulman of Krüky.
Not long after-in 1870-another aspiring author, Rabbi Samuel Naftali Hirsch Epstein of Girtagola (to the north of Srednik) was collecting subscribers to his commentary on the Song of Songs called the Imrei Shefer ("Goodly Words" - from the blessing of Naftali, Genesis 49. 21), which was eventually published at Vilna in 1873. On visiting Srednik he collected a dozen subscriptions, including Israel and Elijah Shulman, both of Krüky.
The name Shulman also appeared in an article or feuilleton printed in Ha-Melitz the oldest and best-known Hebrew newspaper in Russia, on July 8, 1894. In a somewhat satiric description of Krüky in the year of Harry Bloch's birth there, Shulman is outstanding as an honourable and decent communal leader.
It requires a great act of faith to see in these Shulmans a type of proto-Saltman. More wishful thinking? And yet... the name Israel occurs among the Saltmans as we have seen. As for Shulman -any self-respecting Litvack would say "Sulman", which leaves only the intrusive letter "T" to be accounted for!
Leaving aside these far-fetched speculations, I would be better employed in reproducing the ipsissima verba of Harry Bloch. In February 1982, then aged 87 or 88, he wrote to me as follows (my annotations given in parentheses): my hometown Kruki is a small village on the river Niemen, six miles from Kovna, (actually about 25 miles; now called Kaunas), and across the river opposite, Sredniak, a larger village. I was born in Kruki in 1894. My father, Mortcha Lazer Bloch, died when I was nine months old. He left his wife, Mera Liba Bloch née Saltman. She was left with eight children to care for. He left a good business, a tannery but my mother could not manage it on her own, and her children were too young to be of much help, so her eldest son Arthur (Asher Reuben, 1880-1965) went off to South Africa to help to support his mother and family. When I was 14 (1908) my mother took me to Manchester, then decided to go back to Lithuania to get the rest of the family over, and I chose to stay and go to night school and try to support myself. However she was caught in the First World War and died. I came to South Africa to join my brother Arthur in 1913. Joe Saltman (Joseph mentioned above) my mother's brother died about thirty-eight years ago (c. 1944), had no children.
For Lithuanian Jewry, the events of the 1914 War were a kind of rehearsal for the final destruction of 1941-4. Pogroms, confiscation of property, massive deportations under inhuman conditions and starvation dealt a crippling blow to a once vital part of world Jewry. If Harry Bloch's account is accurate, it is difficult to understand what my great-aunt was doing in Lithuania between 1908 and 1914 or to explain her dilatory proceedings. It would appear that she preferred Krüky to Manchester.
I wrote to Harry Bloch thanking him for his valuable information and are asking him for further information on his seven siblings, but he did not reply. At the time I did not realize what inordinate demands I was making on a kind, elderly gentleman who had never done me any harm. Unlike the Saltmans, the Blochs have increased and multiplied and the land is filled with them (cf. Exodus 1.7). It is only recently that this Herculean task has been undertaken by Marian Wilk, married to Harry's grandson, the results of which have helped me considerably.
In subsequent correspondence Harry dealt with justifiable pride on the doings of his wife Lettie, the beautician, children, grandchildren (three of them living in Israel) and great-grandchildren. In 1983 Harry and Lettie celebrated their diamond wedding. Two years later he died aged 91.
Subsequent inquiries have failed to account for two of Mera Liba's eight children. A third, Hessel Bloch, with most of his family was done to death in the Holocaust. One of his daughters, however succeeded in reaching South Africa in 1933 and built up a family, part of which lives in Israel. This is Rhoda Sabel, mentioned previously. Her younger brother Judelus or Julius had arrived in South Africa a little earlier. Mera Liba's other children had emigrated to South Africa and the United States.
After reading Harry Bloch's lucid account, I returned to the Srednik file, supplementing it where necessary from the Yiddish encyclopedia. In 1847 there were 1090 Jews in Srednik; fifty years later the number of Jews had risen to 1174. But just before the outbreak of the war in 1914 their number had declined to 800, reflecting the increasing momentum of emigration to America and South Africa. During the first World War, the township was burnt to the ground and its Jews deported. But with the help of the American Joint Distribution Committee, it was rebuilt. Although Jewish emigration became increasingly difficult, a few more fortunate people succeeded in escaping and by 1939 only 600 Jews were left in Srednik. Presumably the same process took place in adjacent Krüky, but little information and no statistics appear to be available. All that is recorded was a fire in 1884 and a pogrom in April 1915. The main occupation of the Jews of Krüky was that of shipping logs, felled in the neighbouring forests, downstream to the port of Memel on the Baltic Sea. Those engaged in the business were known in consequence as "Wassermenschen”.
The painful and, in retrospect, sadly fruitless process of Jewish reconstruction in Lithuania, is reflected in the Srednik file, which contains documents in three languages-Hebrew, Yiddish and Lithuanian. In the earlier years of the inter-war Lithuanian republic, its Jewish citizens enjoyed a fair measure of communal autonomy under the auspices of the Ministry of Jewish Affairs at Kovno. Apart from local administration, the file gives us a glimpse of the workings of the Jewish primary school at Srednik, in which much of the instruction was given in Hebrew. The headmaster, a young man called Aaron Milman , a native of Alytus, and a graduate of the Yavne seminary at Kovno, wrote more than once to the communal heads of Srednik (in an impeccable Hebrew) demanding various improvements which apparently were not carried out. Accordingly, he threatened a teachers’ strike in 1924. As a result another teacher called Abraham Aaronson was given a temporary appointment to ease Milman's burden. Subsequent developments are unknown to me.
1984 saw the appearance of the fourth volume of Yahadut Lita, the concluding part of a great cooperative work devoted to the memory of Lithuanian Jewry. Impossible to read, yet impossible not to read, this volume consists entirely of a detailed, gruesome account of the Holocaust in Lithuania. While in the earlier volumes Krüky is barely mentioned, it finds its place here by the side of all the Jewish communities, great and small, whose inhabitants were murdered by the Germans and Lithuanians. Krüky also appears, for the first time to my knowledge, on a map specially produced to illustrate the contents of the book.
Hitler invaded Russia on 22 June, 1941. The following day Krüky was occupied: about one hundred Jews were then living there. The same day four Jews, known supporters of the Soviet régime, were immediately removed to Shaki (the district town) by Lithuanian "activists" and shot. On 12 July the Jewish men and youths, 41 in all, were forcibly assembled and taken to Shaki, ostensibly to be employed in a labor camp. They were imprisoned in a barn and on 16 July (21 Tammuz) were driven into a field, forced to dig their own graves and then shot. Together with them, Chaya Miriam Gertner was also killed, who had attempted resistance when her father and brothers were taken. On 4 September (12 Ellul) the remaining women and children were killed.
The story of the end of Krüky is based on the evidence provided by Elchanan and Joseph Gertner. I succeeded in contacting Joseph, who, it turned out, lived quite near to me in Ramat Gan. He has never heard of the Saltmans, all of whom, fortunately, had left the place well before he was born in 1914. Mera Liba alone had returned, with disastrous consequences.
While Mr. Gertner was oblivious to the Saltmans, it became clear that he was well acquainted with Mera Liba's children and their descendants. He had even maintained some tenuous contact with the South African Blochs and of course knew of Harry's existence. He also knew the Shulmans, who continued in Krüky down to his day.
There is an overhanging, oppressive sense of shame, even guilt. What is one doing, living and even enjoying life? What was I doing in June, July, August, September 1941? Welcoming the German invasion of Russia. (Churchill was supposed to have said, "I would make an alliance with the Devil, if he was fighting the Nazis"). Taking the school certificate examination and grumbling because I only obtained a "credit" in History, not a "distinction". Having a good time. Boating on Lake Ullswater. Buying eggs on the black market. It doesn't bear thinking about.
So far in the course of these ramblings, I have dealt with the descent of Zelig's two older children, Israel and Mera Liba, probably born in 1855 and 1857 respectively. Zelig may well have had other children, but I have certain knowledge of only six. As will be seen, they or their descendants divide equally between South Africa (Israel, Mera Liba and Joseph) and England (Harris, Perkie and Shmulitzig).
Most of what I can relate of my grandfather Harris Saltman is not derived from personal knowledge. My grandmother died some two years before I was born in 1925. When I was a small child he was living in South Shields with his second wife Rochel, and her daughter Edna, whose marriage he later arranged. By 1924 all his children had married and left home, but two of them, Rosie and Israel, were only a few minutes walk away from him. Until my seventh year, my parents lived in Whitley Bay and I suppose we went to see him fairly regularly, sometimes calling on Rosie as well. Of course for me, probably for my mother, the best part of the visit was the journey itself, first by an electric train along the coast to North Shields, perhaps four or five miles, then by steam-ferry across the river Tyne. (Not so long ago a tunnel was opened, then a Messianic vision. ) My father was a regular patron of this ferry and on occasions I was granted the supreme privilege of standing by the captain on his bridge, who frequently adjusted mysterious levers which set off bells ringing below in the engine room. At that period there were two ferry services connecting North and South Shields. We always used the penny ferry, which took a direct route between the two town centres, but my grandfather, a lapidary example of "penny wise and pound foolish", traveled on the half-penny ferry, which necessitated a longer walk at both ends. Perhaps he remembered that the standard fare for crossing the Niemen was only two kopecks!
Arrived at my grandfather's or at Rosie's, I was invariably bored and ill-behaved, turning on the taps of the gas stove, madly working the treadle of the sewing machine, etc. My grandfather called me, as I hope more or less affectionately, "the mazzik", whereas under similar circumstances, my mother's family employed the term "lobbus", possibly illustrating a fundamental difference between Lithuania and the more southern areas of the Russian Empire. My grandfather was short, I should guess five foot three, of a full build. At home, he sported an old-fashioned yarmulke. Except at mealtimes, I was neither required nor expected to wear one in his presence. What I liked best about him was his grayish white beard, fairly extensive, but kept under good control. No one else in the family, to my knowledge, grew one. I did not know Shmulitzig then, but the few straggling hairs which barely covered his chin, hardly deserved the name of beard. I loved rubbing my face against my grandfather's beard after peace had been restored between us. I don't remember getting many gifts from him. In 1930, however, he gave me quite a elaborate Passover Haggadah, which I still use, on which he had written a Yiddish Hebrew dedication signed Yehoshua Saltman Strangely enough in the Yiddish letter I received from Rhoda Sabel, née Bloch, of Johannesburg in 1996, the identical form of the family name (???????)is used. This would appear to be the way Saltman was spelled in Krüky, which ought to put paid to the Salzmann theory.
In 1932 we left Whitley Bay and moved to Stamford Hill in London. Subsequently I saw my grandfather on the rarest of occasions. In 1935 after Edna's wedding he went to Palestine with his mechutan Hymie Science on an indefinite visit, hoping to settle there for the rest of his life. His boat left from Tilbury dock and he stayed with us for a night or two before my father saw him off. A few months later, in April 1936, we also went to Palestine, sailing from Trieste on the S.S. Tel-Aviv, staying for a month. My grandfather was living in Tel-Aviv, in Montefiore Street, with Rochel's relations, called Itelson or Idelson. We spent a week or so in Tel-Aviv, at the Yarkon Hotel before going on to Jerusalem, and naturally visited him on occasions. Under family pressure, my grandfather and old Science returned some time later, in view of the disturbed state of Palestine at the time. He stayed with us in 1938 during the week-end of my Barmitzvah. In September 1940 we fled from London to escape the air raids and went to Penrith in Cumberland. From there it was possible, even in wartime, to visit Newcastle and return the same day. I think I visited my grandfather on two occasions - he had removed to Newcastle from South Shields about three years previously. Entirely in keeping with his past history, he had joined the smallest of the three available synagogues and as a matter of course had been put on the committee.
But by the time I saw him, he was past all that. After a prostate operation he had greatly declined both physically and mentally and on each occasion was either asleep or comatose. Shortly afterwards he died, on 22 February 1941, probably aged 82, although the death certificate gives 84. His tombstone was consecrated on October 28, 1945 and on it his name was falsely inscribed - Zvi ben Yehoshua instead of Yehoshua ben Azriel. In view of the variety of names by which he was called or called himself - I have found Harris, Herman, Hossel, Henry, Joshua and Solomon - this is not altogether surprising. All the same, such an error demonstrates a degree of carelessness and ignorance entirely typical of Anglo-Jewry.
I think the mistake must have arisen from the name Harris, which he most commonly used and which he adopted about the year 1884. Certain English names were regarded as almost legitimate equivalents or translations of less familiar Hebrew ones, e.g. Harold for Aaron, Charles for Ezekiel. Harris was understandably taken as the English form of Hirschel or Hirsch, which itself is the Yiddish equivalent of Zvi. As for his patronymic, it had obviously been forgotten. I surmise that somebody must have remembered that the name Yehoshua was somehow associated with my grandfather, so it was transferred to his father - hence Zvi ben Yehoshua. But my grandfather's original and most authentic name was Hossel, generally written Heshel or Höschel, the Yiddish equivalent of Yehoshua (Joshua). I take it his real name, lost in the mists of antiquity, must have been Yehoshua Heshel ben Azriel Zelig. It passes my comprehension why nobody took the trouble to check the synagogue records in Newcastle or South Shields, if not Grimsby. I saw the tombstone in Hazlerigg cemetery, Newcastle in 1981 for the first time, and am glad to say that thanks to the assistance and cooperation of Naty Science (whom I hold responsible for the false inscription) and Rabbi Baddiel of Newcastle, the error was finally corrected.
I was not present at the ceremony in 1945 (not that at the time I would have noticed that anything was amiss). I could no doubt have obtained permission to leave Cambridge, where I was studying, for the week end. Unquestionably I was at fault, but I cannot say that my father, the only surviving son, was at all anxious for my participation. He was an inveterate enemy of all ceremonial, often denounced the whole institution of tombstones and indeed declared on several occasions that he did not want one for himself, but in the event we took no notice of him. On this occasion, however, he seemed to have been reasonably satisfied with the procedure at the consecration of his father's tombstone, as appears from his letter to me written the following day: "The attendance in spite of the weather was indeed very good. We had three Ministers, who made a very impressive service. I derived much satisfaction. Very pleased it was carried out so efficiently, especially when we excluded publicity. As we wanted it to be select and private we excluded Gateshead for many reasons”.
Gateshead was and is a unique phenomenon, which my father found it difficult to come to terms with. This small Jewish community in a depressed area of Tyneside stood out as a bastion of Orthodoxy, a kind of small-scale English equivalent of Bnei Brak. Why Jewish Gateshead pursued a course contrary to the general trend in North East England is not the subject of these researches, so let us take it for granted. In the 1920's the Jews of Gateshead - not more than thirty families - decided they must have a Yeshiva. At that time, so far as I am aware, there existed in the British Isles one Yeshiva in London and half a Yeshiva in Manchester, neither of them in a flourishing condition. Outside of Gateshead this chimerical project was generally regarded as a compound of lunacy and Chutzpah. Nevertheless, by dint of unremitting, shameless schnorring, the Gateshead Yeshiva was actually brought into being. My grandfather was an enthusiastic supporter right from the beginning. Not only did he contribute generously, but also spread the gospel in South Shields to some effect, and got his second wife and other women in the family to hold tea-parties, where collections were made for the Yeshiva.
Naturally, with the establishment of the Yeshiva, expenses rocketed. Newcastle and Whitley Bay constantly received urgent SOS's to come to the aid of the starving Bochurim, backed by smooth-tongued emissaries. Gateshead's popularity, never very high in North-East England, sunk to new depths. With the outbreak of the war in 1939, Gateshead and its Yeshiva received substantial reinforcement from orthodox refugees from Europe, some of whom set up a flourishing "Industrial Park" as it is known to-day. Henceforth the future of the Yeshiva was more or less secured.
My father regarded the Gateshead Yeshiva as an assemblage of sub-human, bloodsucking leeches. Had he been at all acquainted with the New Testament, he would doubtless have characterized its inmates as scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites. I take it he held his peace out of respect to his father. In fact my mother gave at least one tea-party in Whitley Bay in aid of the Yeshiva.
On the death of my grandfather, my father received a fulsome letter of condolence from Gateshead Yeshiva, as was only proper. But annexed to the letter was a printed form by which the Yeshiva notified its readiness to "learn" and say Kaddish during the year of mourning in return for a substantial sum. I suppose there is a lot to be said on both sides, but I can understand my father's disgust and indignation. In any case, as he said, he was quite capable of saying Kaddish himself, which he did whenever practicable.
Having now concluded my personal reminiscences of my grandfather, I will try to reconstruct his story on the basis of such historical sources I have been able to assemble. In his 1886 application for naturalization he declared he was 27 years old, which would make 1859 the year of his birth. Confirmation of this is provided by the Census of 1891, where his age is given as 32. All the same he might have been in reality a year or two older or younger - for instance been the 1881 census his age is recorded as 20, and other documents produced different results. We need not take him seriously when in 1925 on marrying Rochel, he gave his age as 55 ! Naturally, under the circumstances, he would want to make himself younger. Rochel, too, reduced her age considerably for the occasion. In their early days in England, the Saltmans were glaziers. They seem to have treated the science of chronology much as the raw material of their occupation, as it is written in the Yom Kippur evening service: "As the glass is in the hands of the glazier, who when he pleases forms it and when he pleases melts it......".
When grandfather Hossel was about 12 or 13 his mother Esther Rivka died and the home at Krüky was broken up. As we have seen, Zelig did not remarry and duly appears in England with his eldest son Israel. Hossel and Shmulitzig, his younger brother, like many other Jewish boys in Lithuania, where the study of the Talmud was still the heritage of the masses, went to study (not concurrently) in a Yeshiva. In their case I believe, the Yeshiva was in Slobodka, a suburb of Kovno, not too far away from Krüky. Both of them seem to have profited from this education. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Certainly my grandfather was regarded in England as a Talmid Chochom, (man of learning). On at least one occasion he was awarded the title of "Reverend" by the Jewish Chronicle. He studied the Talmud regularly, his only form of relaxation, and was accepted as an equal by Rabbis Sandelson and Kyanski of Newcastle, with whom he was on friendly terms. Only my mother was unimpressed and after a long tussle forced him to admit that her father was also a Talmid Chochom, who would have qualified as a Rabbi if his stomach had not continually betrayed him during the practical side of the study of the laws of slaughtering animals and birds.
Hossel's consistent support of Gateshead Yeshiva would appear to suggest that he had happy memories of his days as a Yeshiva Bochur. A distant relative of my father's, Mendel or Melvin Kane, who had studied at a much better-known Yeshiva in Slobodka, some 20 years later than my grandfather, held completely different opinions on the subject. He complained to me of the corrupting influence of the Slobodka Yeshiva. It seems that like the English public schools, the Yeshivas have always had their admirers and detractors. My father for his part used the word Slobodki (sic) as a kind of a general imprecation against any particular piece of folly which amused or irritated him. It occurs to me now that he need not necessarily have been referring to the Yeshiva as I have always assumed, but rather to the antics of the Slobodkan holiday makers in Krüky, about which he may have heard.
Hossel arrived in England in 1879. I take it he travelled overland to Hamburg and then took a passage to Grimsby, where he was to live for the next twenty years. The dread alternative was conscription into the Russian army, a fate to be avoided at all costs. Living near the Prussian border must have made it comparatively easy and reasonably cheap for him to slip out of the Russian Empire.
The ancient town of Grimsby, England’s largest fishing-port, could hardly be described as a beauty spot, but undoubtedly was eminently suited for Jewish settlement. Recent dock improvements had greatly increased the number of vessels using the harbour, and the amount of fish handled was increasing rapidly. All kinds of ancillary industries to the fishing fleet were being developed, providing economic opportunities for capable middlemen.
While the Jewish community in neighbouring Hull, on the opposite bank of the river Humber, reaches back to the late eighteenth century, only a handful of Jews were to be found in Grimsby as late as 1870. They were later to be called the "English Jews", who were swamped by the tide of immigration from Eastern Europe in the 1880's and 90's.
The first recorded Jewish settler in Grimsby was Victor Abrahams, born in 1810 near Posen, Prussia. He came to England as a young man and took up his abode in Grimsby at some time in the 1840's. For a number of years his was the only Jewish family in the town and he crossed over to Hull regularly to attend synagogue services on the Festivals. In order to eat meat, he was obliged to engage a shochet at his own expense. Little wonder that he was ambitious to found a Jewish community in Grimsby. This was achieved in the 60's. Abrahams, his relatives and friends made up the dominant "English" element in the community. Victor Abrahams lived to see his son Moses a town-councillor in Grimsby, while remaining active in Jewish communal life. Victor died in 1895 and Moses went on to become the first Jewish mayor of Grimsby in 1901.
The English Jews, most of whom had been only a generation in England, would speak somewhat disparagingly of the "foreign" Jews, with a mixture of pity and contempt. For their part, the foreigners were jealous of their better established brethren, who appeared to them more English than Jewish, and despised them for their ignorance of Yiddishkeit. The Litvacks were the first foreigners to arrive, e.g. the Kalsons and the Saltmans, followed by the "Austrians", really Galicians from Austrian Poland and the "Russians", generally Volhynians or Ukrainians, like my mother's family. All these diverse groups, which did not agree amongst themselves, gave rise to repeated communal schisms, reported at some length in the Jewish press. By 1883 there were some thirty Jewish families in Grimsby. At its height, say from 1900 to 1920, the community consisted of some 500 souls. It still exists (1997), although very much decayed.
According to the 1881 Census, Zelig and Hossel Saltman inhabited a tenement at Allington House, 32 Bath Street, in a slummy area near the docks. Other occupants of the house were rope-spinners, rivetters, a washerwoman, a general housemaid and a labourer. In the census of that year, Zelig (widower, 60) and Hossel (unmarried, 20) were described as glaziers, their place of birth Poland, with the added particular (untrue) that both were naturalized British subjects. The family name is given as Soltman, although as we have seen the prevalent spelling Saltman had been adopted in the 1875 and 1876 records.
Their nearest Jewish neighbours lived at 22 Bath Street, and they had previously been neighbours in Lithuania. The Kailsons, as they were then known, still live in Grimsby under the name Kalson. Some of them lived in Shaki (also in the Government of Suvalk and within walking distance of Krüky). Then they were called Keilsohn and under that name figure among the Prenumeranten. Miss Rose Kalson ( to whom I am indebted for much information both officially as hon. sec. of the Grimsby Hebrew Burial Board and in her private capacity) tells me she was a close friend of Shmulitzig Saltman's daughters and that my mother ("a very pretty girl") gave her piano lessons. In 1881 her grandfather, Calman Kailson, a glazier aged 22, lived with his wife and two small children (born in Grimsby) a cousin and two lodgers, all three of them glaziers, and Nathan Levy, described variously as a Reverend Gentleman or priest, aged 28. He was probably a shochet ( ritual slaughterer)
These glaziers, Saltman, Kailson etc., were really hawkers who travelled in glass over the surrounding countryside, returning home for the Sabbath. Needless to say, it was an extremely hard life. The Jewish glaziers had to face a certain amount of discrimination or anti-semitism, even if trivial in comparison with what they had undergone in the Russian Empire. According to a letter in the "Jewish Chronicle" of October 20, 1875, a glazier with his own premises did not require a license to trade, but Jewish glaziers were being fined for hawking with glass without a license. Wolf Friedman, a Grimsby glazier, was persecuted for two years by a couple of youths who would lie in wait for him and hit him in the face when he had his glass in his hands. In August 1892 he took them to court and they were fined two guineas each after pleading guilty to assault.
While the Kailsons remained loyal to the occupation of glaziery, eventually achieving the largest business of its kind in Lincolnshire, Hossel Saltman turned to the allied trade of picture-framing, in which he set up shop, leaving Zelig to continue as before. Hossel was soon employing two or three workmen, more recent immigrants. He also received a more problematic reinforcement in the person of his brother Shmulitzig. In those times working hours were long, especially if there was any work to be had. An order would be completed shortly before midnight and my grandfather would tell one of the workmen to deliver the goods at the other end of the town. "Gib a spann", he would urge him on ( "Step around the corner"). Subsequently this became a family expression.
There is no need to to take my grandfather's statement in 1881 that he was unmarried any more seriously than his claim to be a naturalized British subject. It is far more likely that he married shortly before leaving Lithuania and that he arranged to bring his wife to England after he had established himself. At all events, I have been unable to trace any record of his marriage in England or Scotland. I should imagine my grandmother arrived in England in 1882. Zivyah (anglicised as Selina) née Romm was born in 1864 or thereabouts. She is said to have had "Yichus" (distinguished ancestors) and I would like to think she was related to the Vilna book publishers of that name, who brought out the standard editions of the Talmud and other classical works used all over the world. My uncle Naty Science describes his mother-in-law as a "saintly woman". She must have been, if she put up with my grandfather for over 40 years, but I think Naty is mainly alluding to her hospitality and other charitable works. All kinds of unbidden guests would gravitate to my grandfather's home, "Meshullochim" (itinerant collectors for Yeshivas and other good causes), "Maggidim" (itinerant preachers), "Chazonim" (cantors) and plain "Kabtzonim" (beggars), all of whom needed succor and comfort after a gruelling voyage across the North Sea. If that was not enough, my grandfather made a habit of going down to the docks on Fridays to pick up odd castaways who had managed to arrive in Grimsby on the Sabbath eve without a penny or a word of English between them. (One of them in due course became my other grandfather). Of course the main burden of maintaining these gentlemen fell squarely on my grandmother's shoulders.
In the late Victorian era, many synagogues supported a "Dorcas Society", a kind of a precursor of the contemporary "Ladies Guild", the main purpose of which was to provide clothing and other comforts for the deserving poor. My grandmother was appointed "Lady Visitor", to assess the needs of the applicant families. The name Dorcas must have been borrowed from the churches and chapels and their works of charity. Here we have a fascinating example of what the sociologists and anthropologists call "acculturation". It is true that the original Dorcas " (a.k.a. Tabitha), who made clothes for the poor, was undoubtedly a Jewess. But she was also one of the leading disciples of Jesus in Jaffa, as is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. It would be interesting to know at what point this inconvenient fact became known to the various synagogal authorities and when in consequence the name was obliterated. In Grimsby, however, Dorcas held her ground until well into the 1950's, when she died of natural causes.
My mother, who had little good to report about any of the Saltmans (my father always excepted), admits that her mother-in-law, who survived my father's marriage by 2 1/4 years, had a hard life. However, early in 1921 when engaged to be married, she went to stay with my grandparents in North Shields for a few days. My parents were then looking for somewhere to live after their marriage, in Blyth, a small port on the Northumberland coast. Taking advantage of my mother's presence, Selina decamped to Manchester to pay an extended visit to her sister Rose Glassberg, an action which my mother did not take in good part. ( I think it was on this occasion that my mother laddered a stocking. Going into my grandfather's shop for a replacement, she was encountered by her future sister-in-law Florrie, who insisted on her paying for the pair of stockings to the amount of one and elevenpence three-farthings. )
As Rose Glassberg, too, seems to have married in Lithuania, I have been unable to obtain any further documentary information about my grandmother's family. But on Selina's tombstone in North Shields, her father's name is given as Solomon. When Rose died in March 1925, a lengthy obituary was printed in the "Jewish Chronicle" written by the Rev. Nathan Isaacs of the New Synagogue, who regrettably made no mention of her family background.
Rose was married to Eli Glassberg (1865-1921), a Manchester waterproofer of exemplary piety and a pillar of the New Synagogue in Cheetham Hill Road. He was one of the earliest owners of a Rolls-Royce, at any rate in the whole Cheetham area. Up to about seventy years ago, the "Jewish Chronicle" would publish lengthy lists of charitable donations and subscriptions to deserving causes, and Eli's name appears with monotonous frequency. In 1919, for example he donated the then substantial sum of £100 to the Zionist Preparation Fund (whatever that was). In contrast, my Saltman grandfather gave five guineas, Nathan Rosenberg (my mother's eldest brother and the leading Zionist of Grimsby) two guineas, and Isaac Lazarus of Merthyr Tydfil (husband of my mother's eldest sister) one guinea - but Isaac's guinea represented a great sacrifice.
The Glassbergs had five children, the only cousins of my father on his mother's side that I have ever heard of. I met one of them once or twice, Woolfie or Willie, the eldest son, who lived in Southport and who visited us in London. He, too, was a waterproofer, I believe quite prosperous. He was strikingly similar to my father in height, build and general appearance. In November 1945 he invited my father to the Barmitzvah of his younger son and my father wrote to me that he was considering the matter. But a couple of days later he wrote again to tell me he had decided not to go. It was this son who subsequently had a somewhat stormy career as President of the Southport Synagogue.
Nearly thirty years later I made the acquaintance of Woolfie's younger brother Jack, hitherto unknown to me, albeit in an epistolary form. I received a letter from him out of the blue, sent from an old age home in Manchester. His younger daughter, he informed me, was planning to marry an Israeli doctor and he was anxious (not without good cause) to obtain information about him. Straying from his main theme in the course of his letter, Jack greatly praised my grandmother, who, he averred, was a "true sister" to his mother Rose. He added that my father had often visited his aunt when on business in Manchester and continued to visit his cousins after her death. This was news to me: as I have indicated, my father tended to be secretive about his family contacts.
Now joined by my grandmother, my grandfather left the slum tenement which he had inhabited. In his naturalization Memorial, he was supposed to list all the addresses he had lived at since arriving in England, but he must have felt it was advisable to consign that one to oblivion. They moved to a succession of rented premises in Strand Street, Humber Street and Cleethorpe Road, each address, I am assured by Miss Kalson, representing a modest social advance on its predecessor. I am astonished at my grandfather's mobility. In his 62 years residence in England he must have moved house nearly twenty times. It was in Humber Street that his eldest child Esther Rebecca was born on October 15, 1883.
I am certain that Esther Rebecca was named after her paternal grandmother, otherwise nameless, who had probably died some ten or eleven years earlier, and this in view of the fact that the eldest daughters of both Perkie and Shmulitzig were given the same name. (Similarly my cousins Arnold, Abie and Aubrey and myself are all named after our common grandfather Abraham Rosenberg who died in 1913. ) On her birth certificate my grandfather appears for the last time as Hossel Soltman and for the first time as a picture framer rather than a glazier. My unfortunate aunt suffered acutely from exophthalmic goitre (an ailment my father had in a much milder form) and died aged 22 in a Newcastle infirmary. Her youngest sister Florrie, almost five years old when Esther Rebecca died, was completely unaware of her existence when I discussed the matter with her. Nor did my father ever allude to her. As for me, I first learned about her in 1981, as she figures in my grandfather's Memorial. She was of course a British subject by birth, the second member of the family after her cousin Harris to enjoy this privilege.
It was different with aunt Leah, also mentioned in the Memorial, who came next in 1886. For me, Leah was always a real if somewhat shadowy figure. From earliest childhood I remember every year, generally on the Sunday before Rosh Hashana, my father would embark on the task of sending New Year cards to family and select friends. He scorned the printed New Year cards which, even in those days, were the usual vehicle for conveying such greetings. Instead, he would take plain cards of postcard size on which he duly inscribed the formula "A Happy and Healthy New Year", headed by the number of the year such as 5693, 5696 etc.. (the observant reader will note the omission of "Prosperous" and "Well over the Fast", both of which wishes he regarded as being in bad taste. ) Then, with the help of a list previously compiled, the cards were inserted into envelopes which were addressed and dispatched. Many of these addresses remain indelibly imprinted on my memory, including Mr. and Mrs. M. Shaffer, 71 Chorley Old Rd., Bolton, Lancs. , which in 5703, after Maurice Shaffer's death, became reduced to Mrs. Leah Shaffer (still at the same address), and continued, so I suppose, until 5725, the last New Year my father celebrated. Needless to say, these fraternal greetings were "reciprocated" in due course. Leah survived my father by a year or so, dying at the age of 80, nearly 60 years of her life having been spent in Bolton. I don't know when my father last saw his eldest sister. I certainly do not remember any such meeting, but this proves nothing.
Naturally my father invited her to my wedding in 1953. Equally naturally she did not come - Leah was the nearest we had to Galsworthy's Timothy Forsyte - but at any rate sent five guineas and a letter of good wishes for "this marriage" signed "Leah and Family". The letter was impeccably typed on notepaper emanating from the Shaffer business - M.Shaffer, 81-83 Higher Bridge Street, Bolton (established 1902), complete house furnishers. Linos, Carpets, Mattings, Rugs etc., Ladies, Gents and Childrens Wear, Bedding and Footwear Specialists. In Maurice's heyday this business had been in the nature of a sideline or "front" for more profitable activities, but was now perforce playing a more vital part in sustaining the well-being of the Shaffers. I surmise the letter had been typed and signed by Jonas, Leah's favourite son, who managed the shop until his untimely death later that year.
Four years passed. Any temporary feeling of gratitude for the five guineas had long since evaporated. As for cousin Jonas, I was completely unaware of his existence, let alone his death. I was about to emigrate to Israel and travelled to Manchester to say goodbye to the still large number of my mother's relations who lived there. In those days I very much identified with my mother's side of the family, yet some inward mentor suddenly prompted me to include Aunt Leah in these leave-taking ceremonies. The Manchester people, who knew Leah better, at least by repute, were pessimistic as to the outcome of my projected expedition. "She won't let you in". All the same, I decided to attempt my little pilgrimage. There was little to lose, as Bolton was hardly a dozen miles away. At the very least, I would set eyes on the house to which those New Year greetings had been sent with such commendable assiduity.
I found Chorley Old Road without the slightest difficulty. The house at No. 71 was quite large and solid, detached, grimy, neglected-looking, set in a small wilderness, to all appearances uninhabited. There being no doorbell, I knocked repeatedly at the front door. The echoes seemed to support the thesis that the house was empty. But I would not give up and tried my luck again at the back door. Here I encountered a number of empty milk-bottles, the first sign of life. Soon I heard some indistinct conversation from within. Eventually a parley was held through the keyhole. It took some time for me to establish my identity and explain my present mission. Much to my relief a great unbolting and unbarring then ensued and I was admitted into the presence of Aunt Leah and cousin Elsie, who were encamped in the kitchen. Leah, a rather stout woman, was somewhat taller than the Saltman average and perhaps slightly deaf (an affliction my father shared). Of the two, Elsie was the more voluble and expressed herself in a broad Lancashire accent. They were living alone in the house, Elsie being at the time unattached. Her sole venture into matrimony, with a Dr. Benjamin Broman some 20 years earlier, did not prosper. The marriage was annulled and the Shaffers published an announcement declaring that it had not been consummated, in the forlorn hope that Elsie's future prospects would be enhanced thereby.
As I recall, I spent a couple of hours with them and the time passed pleasantly enough. Tea was produced, possibly crumpets. All I remember of the conversation is a lengthy diatribe delivered by Leah against her daughter-in-law, the widow of cousin Jonas, who had died four years previously. (There had been a coroner's inquest and Jonas's demise was attributed to "natural causes"). "She poisoned poor Jonas, the klafftie". "Ee bah goom, and so she did", asseverated Elsie, "but don't myther yourself moother". I now realize that the immediate background to these fulminations was the celebration of the Barmitzvah of Jonas's twin sons, which was taking place concurrently in Liverpool, without the benefit of their grandmother's participation.
I am glad to report my visit had some slight effect in reuniting two almost-sundered branches of the family. A year later my brother Michael also departed for Israel. Not to be outdone, he followed my example - perhaps I had made things a little easier for him by breaking the ice, so to speak - and reported to me as follows on June 24, 1958: "I also visited the Bowlton (an attempt to convey the inimitable local pronunciation) crew. It took me ages to get in, and it took them almost as long to get the door open. Elsie made me a cup of tea, and after about half an hour Leah suddenly realized whom I was. They spend all their time reading literature, Elsie informed me, and when I looked around the dismal room, I saw all the literature -"The Racing Times". In the true Saltman tradition". To avoid possible misunderstanding, I must point out that although my father, Michael and I went to the races not infrequently, to the best of my knowledge we never took in "The Racing Times", neither individually nor collectively. As for Leah, she had been called a "scholar," as far back as the 1891 Census, and I hope her study of this paper had some profitable results.
The Bolton saga takes off in 1907. My grandfather surely considered he had done a good job of work in fashioning the Saltman-Shaffer alliance, even though it must have cost him a pretty penny. The Shaffers were a prolific and fairly well-known Manchester family in comfortable circumstances. Some of them were regarded as meshugga, but it did not seem to affect their innate money-making capacity. The only possible drawback to the shidduch was that their wealth chiefly derived from moneylending. The more enlightened members of the Manchester Jewish community held themselves aloof from the moneylenders and tried with varying degrees of success to exclude them from "society" and communal life. Apart from the allegedly iniquitous nature of their business activities, they were considered to be the fomentors of anti-semitism. But my grandfather was clearly unimpressed by these sentiments or arguments. Personally, I am inclined to agree with him. Moneylending can fitly be described as the apotheosis of Capitalism, an economic system which has suited the vast majority of Jews throughout the ages. What are the Rothschilds, if not moneylenders, and was not the Balfour Declaration addressed to one of them? It is the old story - the big money lenders are venerated, the lesser brethren execrated. As for anti-semitism, it would continue to flourish unabated were all the Jews, God forbid, to be Spinozas, Hermann Cohens or Martin Bubers, its existence being entirely independent of anything the Jews may or may not do.
Without any certain knowledge, I assume my grandfather's money set up the Shaffer ménage in Bolton and put new life into the house-furnishing business. Additionally, he threw a wedding party unparalleled in all the annals of South Shields history. As in the case of the Eighth Plague of Egypt, "Before there was nothing like it, neither after shall there be such". The wedding was described in ecstatic detail in the "Jewish Chronicle" of 1 February 1907 as follows: "Last Wednesday week (23 January) at the Victoria Hall the marriage was celebrated of Miss Leah Saltman, eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Saltman, and Mr. Maurice Shaffer, son of Mr. and Mrs. Shaffer of Manchester. The bride was escorted by her father and was attended by sixteen bridesmaids. Mr. Shaffer, brother of the bridegroom, acted as "best man". The Rev. Dr. Daiches of Sunderland, Rabbi Y.M. Sandelson of Newcastle-on-Tyne and the Rev. Mr. Letovitch took part in the ceremony. The presents are both numerous and magnificent. About one hundred and fifty telegrams were read at the dinner". It is hardly surprising that a week later my grandfather was elected treasurer of the South Shields Jewish Board of Guardians.
Leah went on to have six children, the largest family of that generation (compare Florrie with three, Israel two, my father two and Rosie one). Elsie and Jonas have already been mentioned. There were also Ray, Sydney, Flossie (alias Fanny and Fay) and Stella. The "Jewish Chronicle" is littered with the broken engagements of the Shaffer girls, but all of them - even Elsie, as we have seen - got married in the end, occasionally more than once. Sydney, I understand, retired to a mental home. The only one of them with whom we maintained any contact was Ray. My father commended her business capacity, saying she had the brains of a man. She, too, had her pre-matrimonial complications, having been engaged to a quite well-known Manchester character called "Mully" Meek in 1932. But four years later the following enigmatic announcement appeared in the "Jewish Chronicle": "Dr. and Mrs. Charles Gordon (nee Ray Shaffer). The marriage which took place by special license at the registry office, Bolton on November 29, 1935 between Charles Gordon, M.A., M.D. of 81 King's Road, Seymour Grove, Manchester and Miss Ray Shaffer daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Shaffer of Bolton, was solemnized at the Central Synagogue, Islington, Liverpool on May 24th 1936. There was no reception owing to recent family bereavement".
The now doubly-married Gordons then settled in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where they had three children. Ray was very unhappy there ("a dismal dorp "). Eventually she gave up and returned to England, where her life ended tragically. She was a good sort, but destroyed by the damnosa hereditas of the Shaffers. Apart from a couple of letters I have from Ray, my research on the Shaffers is based mainly on the public records and the "Jewish Chronicle". I did write to a daughter of Flossie, who kept a Jewish boarding house and latterly a catering business in Southport, requesting family information. Quite understandably, she ignored my letter.
I rather regret I never had the pleasure of meeting my uncle Maurice. One would tend to assume from the foregoing that he was a pure materialist, but he would appear to have had his softer side. In the early years of the century an important twelve-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, still of great value to students of Judaica, was published in America (priced in England £15 ). In order to encourage sales, the Prenumeranten system I have already referred to was adopted by the publishers. Among the advance subscribers appears the names of M. Shaffer, of Bolton, England, and other members of the Shaffer family. They were as yet aware of the bleak entry to appear in volume VIII (Leon-Moravia) on page 657: MONEY-LENDING. See USURY. I regret to have to state that not one solitary Saltman subscribed.
The question now arises: did Maurice purchase the Encyclopedia to read in it, or merely as a piece of snobbish ornamentalism? The answer may be found in the records of the Bolton Hebrew Literary Debating Society, in which Maurice was a leading light. For several years during and after the first World War, he presided over the fortunes of this distinguished body. So far as I know, he never actually delivered a lecture, but his active participation in the debates is amply recorded. His great speciality was the proposal of votes of thanks, in which field he was facile princeps. Among the lectures and debates, appear the following subjects: Dietary Laws and Health, the Effects of Liberal Judaism, the Jew from the Merchant of Venice, Rabbi Obadiah's Wonderful Journey to Palestine, and, surprisingly, Rupert Brooke, his Life and Works. Some of these functions were held at the Shaffer residence - a far cry from the "The Racing Times" of 1958. I take it that on such occasions the Jewish Encyclopedia must have been called into service during the preparation of votes of thanks or even to serve as a court of arbitration between the enthusiastic debaters.
To the end of the 1920's, Maurice was also President of the Bolton Hebrew Congregation (as well as of the Religious Classes). He thus achieved the glorious status of a provincial communal leader - my grandfather never quite made it until the North Shields kehilla was moribund. True, the authority and powers of an Anglo-Jewish provincial macher were only a shadow of his 19th century counterparts in Central and Eastern Europe, who had exercised an oligarchic tyranny over the religious, social and economic life of their communities. In England, any aggrieved groups could cut away the ground under the macher's feet by forming its own congregation (as happened regularly in Grimsby and South Shields), or at least stay away from synagogue. And in the smaller places like Bolton, it was no easy task to guarantee the presence of a minyan, a quorum of ten adult men without which public worship could not take place. It was rightly felt that no community could be regarded as such without public worship taking place once a week on Sabbath mornings.
I remember as a child in Whitley Bay that it was comparatively easy to assemble seven or eight worshipers, who would be in their places at 10.30 a.m. on so (I think the advertised time for the service was 9.30). I remember seeing a painting called "Waiting for the tenth Man", but the sense of overwhelming urgency expressed in the painting, enough almost to conjure the missing person out of thin air, was absent in Whitley Bay. All the same, if the minyan had not come into being by a quarter past eleven, stern measures were taken and the reluctant latecomers would be pulled out of their shops or market-stalls to which they would return an hour later with a clear conscience. I think it would be not unfair to say that most of the regular attenders saw in the Sabbath morning service a weekly get-together for the exchange of local news and business information. The service itself was an interruption which had to be good-humouredly tolerated. In such an atmosphere the office of President was very much a limited constitutional monarchy.
But in one field the President's power remained unimpaired, even in Godless England. He could bully the Minister (who was also chazan, schochet, teacher, Reader of the Law, Shofar-blower and general dogsbody) to his heart's content. These provincial Ministers were paid a derisory wage, on which they were expected to be a credit to their cloth and bring up a large family. It is not to be wondered that many of them failed to live up to the high expectations of President and congregants. Some of them were mutatis mutandis not dissimilar to the boarding-school teachers so brilliantly portrayed by Evelyn Waugh in his "Decline and Fall".
There was, for instance, a Cardiff credit-draper who failed calamitously in 1923, owing inter alia some £6 to his wholesalers Messrs Cohen and Cohen of the same city. This event marked him out as a man of considerable talents, as it is almost impossible for a credit-trader to fail. He carries practically no stock and buys his goods with his customers' money. Our hero disappeared from Cardiff, changed his name to Michlewitz (!) and took a post as Minister in a small township near Aberdare at £2 per week. In those days practically every Welsh mining village had its minuscule Jewish community, all of which have now disappeared.
In 1924 he received a "call" to Bolton, that is to say Maurice Shaffer enticed him from the depths of Glamorgan with the bait of a munificent rise of 50%. And in Bolton he languished for five years at £3 a week under Maurice's heel. Not surprisingly Jonas received a prize at the Religious Classes and the Rev. S. L. Michlewitz was rewarded by Maurice with a vote of thanks, probably replete with encyclopedic lore. In 1928 his wife died, leaving him with three small children on his hands.
In the meanwhile, Michlewitz's fame had reached Croydon in Surrey and in 1929 he was a "called" to that congregation at the princely salary of £5.10.0 with rent-free accommodation. One must assume that in the intervening years Messrs Cohen and Cohen had kept him under close observation. At last they felt the time was now ripe to recover their bad debt. The unfortunate Rev. Michlewitz was haled before Cardiff County Court and judgment was given in favor of the creditors, the judge ordered him to pay the money back at the rate of 10 shillings a month. I don't know what happened to him in the end - as late as 1950 he was still flourishing in Croydon - but I do know that some of his descendants made good, ultimately eclipsing the achievements of his former Lord and Master Maurice Shaffer. When I was a student, I knew his son-in-law Helmuth Loewenberg quite well. In Israel he became a district judge and was well-known for his decisions in cases involving football clubs which were invariably heard before him.
Most of us can point to some fateful event which has changed the course of our lives, generally in an unfavourable direction. For Uncle Maurice, this undoubtedly occurred in March 1929. In those days the "Jewish Chronicle" printed a regular weekly column entitled "Legal News", an assortment of civil and criminal cases, as well as coroners' inquests, involving Jews. Shortly after the date I have mentioned, the column was summarily abolished, not as might be thought under the pressure of those ladies and gentlemen who figured in it-by and large they were not readers of the paper - but rather by the efforts of the anti-anti-semitic lobby, representing those circles who could not bear to see anything in print which might redound to the discredit of the Jews in the eyes of the Goyim. (Needless to say the more juicy cases were extensively reported in the local and national press, but there was no hope of imposing censorship at that level). The item in question was headed "Moneylender's action fails". This was a case heard at the Manchester Assizes before Mr. Justice Wright and a jury in which Maurice Shaffer of Higher Bridge Street, Bolton sought to recover £1,200 on a promissory note from Mr. J. H. Bromilow, a motor dealer of Bank Street, Bolton.
Bromilow was not sued as a debtor but as a guarantor of two other debtors, a married couple Percy and Hilda Stafford. The Staffords admitted their indebtedness to Maurice and consented to judgment against them. So Bromilow was proceeded against alone. Defence counsel alleged that Bromilow thought he was signing as a witness to the loan, that he had signed a blank sheet of paper, that his signature had thus been obtained by trickery and fraud, that the piece of paper with his signature had then been converted into a promissory note and that the interest on the loan amounted to thousands percent per annum. The prosecution alleged that an experienced businessman like Bromilow could not possibly have been deluded in this way and that the whole transaction was genuine. Summing up, the judge said that serious issues were involved. Taken at its face value, the promissory note was perfectly genuine. The jury must decide which side they believed was telling the truth and give their verdict accordingly. The verdict went in favor of the defendant Bromilow. The judge, who obviously thought of the verdict was just, ordered the documents in the case to be impounded and sent to the Public Prosecutor. This means in short that the judge was offering the criminal branch of the law the opportunity of putting Maurice on trial on a charge of fraud, probably also the Staffords on a charge of conspiring with him.
What happened afterwards? The truth is I don't know, but I am inclined to think that there was not enough solid evidence to put Maurice on trial. Even so, the effects were bad enough, crippling in fact. First of all, the legal expenses at the Manchester Assizes must have been considerable, and of course he was obliged to play Bromilow's expenses as well, which in the nature of things were probably heftier than his alone. His blighted reputation must have made it impossible for him to renew his moneylender's licence, and I should imagine he ostensibly withdrew altogether from the "M. L.", as it was known affectionately in Jewish circles. More important, his position in Bolton was clearly untenable. I don't say his life was in danger, as it might have been in Ireland - there was a pogrom in Limerick for less than this - but he would have certainly been exposed to a great deal of unpleasantness. Accordingly, he withdrew to Manchester, where there were plenty of Shaffers to give him comfort and moral support, perhaps also to exploit his capital on his behalf. The house furnishing business could be operated by remote control through Ray, perhaps Jonas.
As in the case of most deposed monarchs, his exile was by no means uncomfortable. Life ' in the big city must have had its compensations. He lived at a good address-"Ingleton", Park Street, Kersal New-
surrounded by waterproofers and, assorted manufacturers and moneylenders. But a macher a he would never be again. After his surreptitious to return to CVhorley Old Road some three or four years later he shunned did the limelight, setting the tone for the future dismal history of the house. Eventually he was elected to a place on the Synagogue committee, a post any proste balabos could have for the asking. He died, not yet 60, on March 21, 1942. The following year a "Kaddish tablet" was unveiled in his memory at the home for Aged and Needy Jews in Cheetham Hill Road. He left £5,443 ( net personality £3719 ). At one time he must have possessed several times that amount.
It says much for Leah's household management that she was able to increase her share of the Shaffer inheritance. After her death, her estate was proved at £7,235 . So my grandfather in this particular case had not spent his money in vain. Incidentally I now have the Encyclopedia. Did Maurice by any chance come across that distinguished 13th century Bible commentator Moses Saltman (vol. VII, pp. 356, 425)? It might have made useful material for a vote of thanks to his wife and father-in-law!
After the birth of Leah, my grandfather, then aged 27, turned his attention to obtaining the status of a naturalized British subject. Knowing my grandfather in his later years as a man wrapped up in synagogue and Yeshiva politics and taking an inexplicable pleasure in learning a blatt gemoro, I could hardly realize that in his prime he had been a man of ambition, a quality of which was inherited by several of his descendants, including my father. On the whole, the Saltmans do not lack intelligence, but are conspicuously deficient in provision, calculation and a certain degree of ruthlessness, without which true ambition can never be realized. On one occasion my grandfather was approached by Michael Marks, who offered him a partnership in his Penny Bazaar, and was rejected contemptuously. I readily admits that Marks & Saltman does not trip off the tongue as easily as the predestined Marks & Spencer, but as Shakespeare said, that which we called a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.
Naturalization had been an old ambition of my grandfather: it will be recalled that in 1881 he had proudly, if falsely, claimed civis Britannicus sum. At that time he may have thought that the mere declaration of intent was adequate to achieve the desired objective. Later he became aware that bureaucratic formalities had to be undergone, and certain conditions, not too onerous but time-wasting, had to be fulfilled.
During the early decades of the present century, many Jewish communities in England set up Naturalization Societies or Committees to provide legal advice and other assistance to the would-be Britishers. For example, my uncle Isaac Lazarus was the moving spirit in such a Society at Merthyr Tydfil for over thirty years. But in 1886 we are still very much in the age of laissez-faire. As my grandfather was an early pioneer in this field, at any rate in Grimsby it might be worthwhile trying to determine his motives for embarking on this costly and apparently unrewarding process, eschewed by most of his contemporaries, who found little inconvenience in continuing to bear allegiance to Alexander or Franz Joseph. There is of course no clear answer, but the following assortment of possible reasons must certainly include some of his ideas in the matter: admiration for Queen Victoria and her people who had provided a safe refuge for him and his growing family and had allowed him to earn an honest living, a desire to show the "English" Jews that he was as good as them, the acquisition of business advantages over "aliens", possible advantages for his children who would not have a foreign father coupled with a desire that he should not be inferior to his children who might be persuaded to look down on him as a foreigner, local prestige, a sterling safeguard against deportation, a better status in contacts with Government, the right to vote in municipal and general elections, the right to travel abroad with a British passport and to be sure of being able to return.
His own statement of his motives, set out at some length in the Memorial, was doubtless drawn up by his solicitor who probably copied if it from a formula book. "Your Memorialist intends to reside permanently within the United Kingdom and is loyally affected towards her Majesty the Queen as also to the government and institutions of this country,. . . is desirous to obtain the rights and capacities of a natural born British subject in order that he may completely and freely carry into effect his wish permanently to reside in the United Kingdom, that country being the most agreeable to his tastes and pursuits and its temperate climate the most beneficial to his health".
All the same, John Barker, the Grimsby solicitor my grandfather employed, seems to have been better acquainted with meteorology than with the technicalities of naturalization. As a result of his incompetence, the proceedings were prolonged from late 1886 to June 1887. On further reflection, it may be said that Mr. Barker could not have lost by these delays, so probably he knew what he was up to. A minimum of five years of continuous residence in England was a necessary prerequisite and so the Memorial contains the various addresses at which he lived from his arrival in 1879 (excluding the slum in Bath St.). Respectable referees who had known him during the whole period of his residence, or most of it, were essential to the success of the application. They were Nelson Hooper, who described himself as a gentleman, George Henry Mason, a baker, Charles Cole, a painter, George Clark, a butcher and George Robert Thompson, a grocer and baker. Mr. Thompson, for example, declared he had known Harris Saltman for seven years. He had read the Memorial and confirmed its truth. He had acquired his knowledge of the said H.S. through the fact that he was a regular and constant customer of his in his business as Grocer and Baker, and further that H.S. had done work for him as a picture framer.
The Memorial and the declarations of the referees were approved by one of the Justices of the Peace of Grimsby and sent off to London to the Home Office. The documents then travelled back and forth until they had been amended to the satisfaction of a somewhat pernickety Home Office official called the Godgrey Lushington. The latter also contacted the local police station to find out if anything was known to the discredit of the Memorialist or his backers, but Inspector T. Harris replied: "Harris Saltman is a respectable man, also are his referees. The signatures of the referees are all correct. The intention of the memorialist is to reside in the U.K. and enjoy the rights of an English man and also to be able to visit Germany when he thinks proper".
The intention of visiting Germany, not disclosed in the Memorial, gives rise to speculation. A possible explanation is that some members of the family whom he wanted to visit were then living there, but I know nothing of them. A more likely theory is that while not wishing (even as a British subject) to set foot in the Empire of Russia, he could reach a suitable place in Germany on the Lithuanian border with the object of meeting relatives from the other side, which in those days was not an uncommon practice. Russian subjects could without much difficulty obtain a single-day pass to cross the German border. To cut a long story short, my grandfather became a British subjects in June 1887 after having sworn an oath of allegiance to the Queen. I do not know whether in those early days he did in fact go abroad, although there are certain vague indications that he probably did. But the only occasion he left the country to my certain knowledge was in 1935, as mentioned earlier.
My great-grandfather's settlement in Grimsby and my grandfather's successful career - probably greatly magnified at a distance - encouraged other members of the family to take the plunge and come to England. These included two more of Zelig's children, Pearl ( "Perkie") and Samuel Isaac ("Shmulitzig").
It is quite possible that they came over with Selina, but my first knowledge of their presence in Grimsby is derived from the public records. Perkie's marriage certificate is dated March 8, 1885 and Shmulitzig figures in the 1891 Census as a lodger in my grandfather's house. His own marriage certificate is dated September 14, 1891. My first task is to try and determine when they were born. As usual, the evidence is inconclusive and contradictory, suggesting that either or both of them were born either in 1863 or 1868. As they were not twins, they could hardly have been born in 1863 or 1868. According to her marriage certificate, Perkie would have been born in 1863, but when she died in 1931, her age was given as a 63. Contrarywise, when Shmulitzig died in 1949 his age was given in his death certificate as 86 and in the announcement in the "Jewish Chronicle" as 85 giving the date of birth as approximately 1863. In the marriage certificate his age is put down as 23, pointing to 1868 as the year of his birth. In the 1891 Census he is made to be even younger - his age was given as 21, which could bring forward the date of his birth to 1870, which would mean he was 78 or 79 when he died. I think that in both cases the marriage particulars seem to be more reasonable and reliable, so assuming Perkie to be the older of the two, we will deal first with her and her descendants.
On her marriage certificate her forename is given as Rebecca. Elsewhere she is invariably called Pearl, or in Yiddish Perel Rochel. The inauthentic Rebecca must be rejected out of hand. In any case her mother's name was Rebecca, which was also the name of one of her daughters. Ashkenazi Jewish custom strictly forbids a child to be named after a living parent. Furthermore the marriage certificate is self-contradictory. She signed the marriage register in Hebrew characters. The copyist at the General Register Office made a valiant effort to transcribe this signature, unjustifiably described as a "Hebrew mark". Although the result is gibberish, it is possible to make out something approximating to Perell and Saltman, with a squiggle in the middle presumably representing Rochel. Her address was given as Strand Street (in which the Synagogue was then situated, and old haunt of my grandfather's). It is likely she was keeping house for Zelig, still described as a "traveler", although one would have thought by then he was getting too old for the roads. Zelig must have been pleased to attend his daughter's wedding and doubtless the youth of Grimsby received an extra ration of sugar to commemorate the occasion. Perhaps for his sake, it was arranged to take place on Sunday, a very unusual day for a wedding in 19th century Anglo-Jewry, so that he could set out on his travels the next morning. Surprisingly, this was the only Saltman wedding ever to be held in Grimsby. It was solemnized by the Rev. Goldstein and the witnesses where Moses Abrahams (the future mayor) and Harris Altman. The latter appears frequently in the Grimsby records and I must confess at one time caused me a great deal of trouble as I thought it was a misprint for Harris Saltman. This error may be named "the egoistic fallacy", a danger present in all forms of historical research.
The bridegroom, Mendel Hitner, (died 1905) is a shadowy figure and I have been unable to find out anything much about him. At 24, he was two years older than Perkie. He is described as a picture framer and I expect he was working for my grandfather. His father, Jacob Louis Hitner is the only farmer to appear in these records. Where or what he farmed is unknown to me. It is not without significance that this was a "mixed marriage", the Hitners being "Austrians" (Galitzianers). Mendel had a cousin in Grimsby, Joseph Hitner, a prosperous furniture and antique dealer, and a close friend of my Rosenberg grandfather (who was also in the furniture business). Joseph who died in 1914, was learned and excitable, but not a schismatic like my Saltman grandfather. He was particularly active in the Burial Society and Zionism. In the next generation, one of my mother's oldest friends was Naomi Gersten, Joseph's daughter. They went to school together. My mother and Miss Kalson were unaware of any relationship between Mendel and Joseph, and it was Naomi who informed me of this in October 1983, shortly before she died. She also confirmed that Mendel's father was indeed a farmer. Perkie and Mendel went on to have at least ten children, this being Mendel's most successful activity, four of whom died in infancy. His picture framing was probably inadequate to support a growing family, so Perkie opened a small grocery shop in Victor Street. She was known to be extremely froom and was doubtless patronized by the more Orthodox elements, I hope also by the Saltmans and Hitners. I believe my mother was also sent to buy provisions from her, but did not take to her.
Two or three of the children moved to London and Perkie eventually joined them in her widowhood. She died on 30 April 1931 at 49 Fortress Road, N.W.5 (to the north of Camden Town) and was buried at Edmonton in the Federation of Synagogues cemetery. Of her tombstone her name is given in Hebrew as Perl Rashel ( ) daughter of Selig (Azriel being forgotten). My grandfather was not content with the general announcement of her death covering the whole family which duly appeared in the "Jewish Chronicle" and which exhorted "African" and American papers to copy (who were those American mishpocho ?), and sent in an advertisement of his own. "On the 14th of Iyar Pearl Hitner beloved sister of Harris Saltman of South Shields etc.".
Another address from my father's New Year correspondence which stands out in my memory is 81 Rudyerd Street, North Shields, Northumberland. The card was addressed to to Mr. and Mrs. R. Armstrong and was "reciprocated" by a similar home-made missive decorated with a struggling Mogen Dovid and signed "Esther and cousin Bob". Esther Hitner and Bob, who was not Jewish, had lived together for years. In the end they got married, but only after her mother's death. I doubt whether Perkie was mollified by this example of filial piety. Like her grandfather Zelig, Esther was a great traveller, but not in glass. She was a credit-draper. She followed my grandfather's example and moved to Tyneside, probably finding the Lincolnshire wolds an inadequate terrain to exercise her business capacity. You could travel in Lincolnshire for miles talking to the cows, eventually coming to a sleepy country town like Gainsborough. The Tyneside conurbation was easier to work and much more profitable. My grandfather's later career as a credit-draper must have overlapped hers, but I don't think they were in business together. Esther succeeded in amassing a comfortable nest-egg, which cousin Bob in due course inherited. He was more domesticated than Esther and kept the home fires burning. He looked like some sort of engineer, possibly connected with the Tyne Dock, but in fact Robert Robinson Pickering Armstrong, to give him his full name, was the manager of a furnishing business. Esther died in Whitley Bay on 10 August 1965 (exactly five months after my father) and was buried in North Shields close to my grandmother Selina.
Although Esther was four years older than my father, I believe that as children in Grimsby they must have been close to each other. I think there was real affection between them, if not openly demonstrated. She was a born manager. When Mendel died at the Tottenham Jewish home for Incurables, it was Esther, then aged 17, who went to London to settle his affairs.
Out of her hearing, my father never called her Esther, but rather by the nickname she had acquired as a child, "Becky Pipitch". Becky is of course Rebecca or Rivka, as she had been given the same name as my unfortunate aunt. As for Pipitch - most people say "Pupick" - it is an area of the body which had yet to be disclosed in the bikinis of the 60's and thereafter. I can only assume that as a young girl, she must have had an accumulation of puppy-fat in that region. When I first saw her in the 1940's, I was grievously disappointed. To me, her figure appeared perfectly normal, devoid of any unusual bulge. But she had a swarthy, gypsy-like appearance. I expected her at any moment to offer to tell me my fortune from cards or tea-leaves. (About that time I visited the of Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, the home of uncle Isaac, my mother's oldest brother-in-law. He had two sisters living there in dire poverty. One of them, after determining in some way that the omens were propitious, took out a pack of cards and told me my fortune. )
For many years my father and Naty had a drapery and hosiery shop in North Shields, originally called Victors Stores. When Victors went into liquidation in 1940, the shop somehow remained in their hands and was renamed Sylvins, I take it after Naty's elder daughter Sylvia. It was a large shop, certainly the largest in town in that line of business, occupying a strategic corner site in Bedford Street. During school-holidays and university vacations, I would give my father minor clerical assistance, mainly totting-up accounts, copying entries into the day-book and addressing electors, so I was quite often at Bedford Street. 81 Rudyerd Street was just around the corner and my father and I would sometimes drop in to take tea with Esther and Bob. It was a poky little working-class house in the middle or at the end of a terrace ("two up, two down"), with the front-door opening straight onto the street. Yet she was a comparatively prosperous woman. I suppose there was a of element of miserliness in it, but Esther came from a tradition where people were not expected to live up to their means, not to say beyond them. There were of course no children while they lived together unmarried, and by the time they married it was probably too late. There was no mezuzah on the door, but she maintains a kind of subterranean Jewish life, more or less observing the dietary laws and lighting candles when she had Yahrzeit. In a way she symbolizes the sad end of the North Shields community, said to be the oldest in N.E. England. The synagogue in Linskill Street had been closed for years. The handful of Jews who were left, loosely attached themselves to Whitley Bay or South Shields. The cemetery, fortunately, is kept in reasonable condition, situated as it is within the grounds of the Tynemouth municipal cemetery at Preston. As far as I could make out when I visited the place, Esther was the last of the Jewish inhabitants of North Shields to be buried in it. But there was plenty of space left, and it is now being used by the Newcastle Reform congregation. So Esther and Bob, united in life, are now eternally separated.
When we moved to London in 1932, Perkie herself had been dead for a year or so, but my father's cousins of course were settled there as old-time residents. If my father had any idea that they would initiate him into the mysteries of life in the great metropolis, he was speedily disillusioned. I cannot remember any contact whatever with them. I had not even heard of the Hitners (always excepting Naomi and her parents). The only relative I thought we had in London was my mother's brother Harold, who lived not far from us in Stamford Hill. After the war, however, some contact was established with Esther's sister Ray and husband Felix Zuckrow, who appeared to me, perhaps mistakenly, to be a genuine Austrian, not of the Galician variety. I believe a limited amount of mutual visiting went on, and I expect my parents must have met Harry Hitner at Ray's. Harry was better off than Felix and lived in Finchley, quite close to us, but I don't remember him. He had at least two sons, one of whom married in Johannesberg. My father extended an invitation to Ray and Felix to my wedding, but omitted Harry. Harry complained about this to Felix, who told my father. My father thereupon typed a letter to Harry, somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Johnson's epistle to Lord Chesterfield when that nobleman belatedly offered him his patronage. "During our 22 years in London we have had practically no contact with each other... not having received from you the usual greetings on Avrom's engagement only confirms that lack of interest. However I enclose invitation....as the tables are being arranged for completion, would you please reply in your acceptance by return. With all the good wishes". Having slept on the issue, he decided next day not to send the letter, having worked off his irritation in its composition. He never had my mother's staying-power in maintaining a good family feud, or "farrible". At all events Harry Hitner did not appear at my
Finally, I must mention Dr. Emmanuel Cohen, a scientist living or working in Skelmersdale, Lancashire. He is the son of Annie, another of Perkie's daughters. Naty met him once by chance at some simcha, and passed on his address to me. I wrote to him for any family information he would care to give me, but he did not reply.
The only time I ever met my great-uncle Shmulitzig was about the year 1947, maybe a couple of years before his death. He was staying with his daughter Dinah Silverstone in the Hampstead Garden Suburb and she brought him over one Sunday morning to see my father. The meeting took place in the drawing room, a large room in the back of the house, used for parties and formal entertaining. As I recall, I was not present at the early stages of the visit, but was produced as a kind of trump-card to prove that learning and piety that not altogether deserted the Saltman family. I am afraid I did not excel myself. I told him some feeble Jewish joke, which he treated with the contempt it deserved. His look conveyed the expression "Feh ! Chaloshus!". He was short, irritable-looking, with maybe an apology for a beard and left shortly afterwards, having reduced the temperature of the drawing room to some degrees below zero.
I am not sure when I first became aware of his existence, but it must have been seven or eight years before that disastrous visit. As a boy, I spent a lot of time with my mother's family in Manchester, on average probably a month a year, with married cousins or with my Uncle Theo, who had two sons my age or a little younger. On at least two occasions we all stayed with my aunt Eva for Pesach. Nearby, on the Bury Old Road, stood the imposing edifice of the Holy Law Synagogue. My family were not passionately attached to this - or any other - synagogue and their attendance tended towards the minimal, although my cousin Aubrey did belong to its Youth Club, rejoicing in the name "Hot Club de Holy Law", where there was supposed to be authentic jazz. My regular attendance at this place of worship, as a rule not frequented by the younger generation except to a limited extent on Sabbath mornings, eventually gave rise to transient curiosity. And old man would sniff around me for a bit, then asked: "Wie heysst du", assuming that any boy who came to mincha must know Yiddish. I told him my name. But he knew better. "You mean Salzmann, don't you", as if I were trying to put one over him. This conversation, rather like a chess opening which led nowhere, was repeated on other occasions, not of course with the same gentleman, who took no further interest in me or my name. At length occurred a significant variation, which to continue the metaphor, maybe described as a gambit in which one's opponent gives a small piece away in order to gain much more. "Are you a mishpocho of Saltman the Melammed from Hightown ?" Alternatively: "Saltman from the Elizabeth Street Talmud Torah". I told them I didn't know, but would try and find out. They abandoned me forthwith, rather peeved that I had wasted their time.
I did in fact consult my aunt Eva, who knew far more about the Saltmans than I ever shall. She immediately went into a fit of the giggles and all those present joined in sympathetically.Almost choking she brought out with difficulty the word or the words "Shmoo Litzig", or so it sounded to me. The merriment did not subside for some time. When later, she was somewhat recovered, she explained: "Shmoo Litzig is your Dad's uncle and a real Litvick. Eva, who had married a Romanian who was nothing to write home about, had decidedly unfavourable opinions about three classes of Jews, the Litvicks, as already mentioned, the Yakipaks or Peruvians (Turkish and Persian Jews who lived in Didsbury) and the Bombthrowers or College Boys, namely the Chassidic Jews and Yeshiva bochers, with their accessories of a beards, payos, shtreimels, beckishes, kapotes, and white or black stockings and so on. I have no idea of the etymology of Yakipak, an appellation I only heard used by Eva and her circle. But I have heard a reasonable explanation of the term Bombthrower. Eva probably must have heard as a child that the Anarchists and the Nihilists in her home country would disguise themselves as harmless Chassidim in order to penetrate the police cordon and throw bombs at their unsuspecting royal or aristocratic victims. So when she saw a couple of these people walking up the road, obviously collecting for some real or fictitious Yeshiva, she would call out to: "The Bombthrowers are on on the warpath!". I could not believe that such a name as Shmoo Litzig could possibly exist, but she assured me that the Litvicks were capable of anything, not forgetting to point out that I myself was half of one, a drawback she would overlook for my mother's sake. It was a long time before I discovered that Shmulitzig was a portmanteau contraction of the Hebrew names Shmuel Yitschok. I take it he had no false pride and did nothing to protest at the desecration of those two fine names.
On later visits to Manchester, it was I who asked the questions. I was then moving in more Orthodox circles. My former Hebrew teacher, Rabbi Sperber, had settled in Manchester, where he was engaged for reasons not entirely clear to me in the manufacture of nuts and bolts. At his house I met one or two alumni of Shmulitzig's Talmud Torah, who spoke well of his erudition, less respectfully of his pedagogic genius. So there the matter rested. After all, my father was his nephew. Had he told me to go to Shmulitzig, to Shmulitzig I would have gone. But it never occurred to me to go on my own initiative. One thing I know - he did not figure in the New Year list and no cell of my brain bore the imprint of his address. Not long ago I discovered that he had lived for many years at 18 Elizabeth Street in Cheetham or Hightown and I must have passed quite near to his house when travelling into town on the 35 or 62 bus. There is no point in visiting the area now. That part of Manchester has changed out of all recognition, its large Jewish population dispersed over the Northern suburbs and beyond.
I suppose I ought to feel closer to Shmulitzig than to any of the other Saltmans, as we shared the same profession. How did he ever become a Melammed ? To begin with, he was a glazier and picture frame maker like the rest of them. But if, as we have seen, a credit-draper could become a Minister, why should not a glazier evolve into a Melammed ? Certainly the teaching profession has always been regarded as a refuge for failures forced to drop out of other walks of life.
Shmulitzig did not yield easily to his preordained fate. From my little acquaintance with him, I suspect he was a very obstinate man. In a document of 1896 he is described as a master picture frame maker, so by then he must have been running his own business. He married on September 14, 1891. His bride, Sarah Levin of Leeds, was aged 22 and worked as a tailoress, an occupation practiced by the great majority of Leeds Jewry of those days. Her father, Jacob Levin or Lewin, is described as a "merchant". From the marriage certificate it appears that Zelig had at long last ceased to be a traveller and had settled down to his old profession, here rendered as a "glasser". As was proper, the wedding was celebrated at Leeds, in a synagogue at 17 Meadow Lane. Sarah is unlikely to have brough Shmulitzig much in the way of a "nadan", but compensated him with the more precious gift of at least nine children. Then she died, still comparatively young, in 1910. Like Zelig, Shmulitzig never remarried, remaining a widower for 39 years. The older children with nearly all daughters, so presumably brought themselves up together with the younger ones, who were mostly boys. In his later years, Shmulitzig always had two or three daughters available to look after him.
Finding business unprofitable and having attained a sufficiency of Jewish learning in Lithuania, as we have seen, he became the Shammos or beadle of the Grimsby synagogue. Named after Sir Moses Montefiore, this building had been opened for worship in December 1888. It is described in the "Jewish Chronicle" as an edifice of Byzantine character, having a bright and attractive appearance, capable of accommodating three hundred worshipers. Out of loyalty to the town of my fathers (and mothers), I feel I ought to expatiate on the unique distinctiveness of the Grimsby Synagogue. Just look at how the great writer Agnon idolized out of all recognition Buczacz, that miserable Galician backwater, as the very fountainhead of Jewish glory, and yet I am convinced that Grimsby far outshone Buczacz in all respects (except that unaccountably, it did not produce an Agnon). In my time I have visited hundreds of synagogues of all shapes and sizes, and in all humility I claim for Grimsby the distinction of possessing the ugliest Synagogue in the British Isles. Its nearest competitor is Chatham, falling short by some considerable distance. I am disgusted that the lake Nicholas Pevsner (whom I knew slightly when I was teaching at Birkbeck College) failed to mention this remarkable edifice in his otherwise exemplary volume on the Buildings of Lincolnshire, but after all what can you expect from a Meshummod ?
This is hardly the place to particularize the activities and duties of a Shammos, which I take it Shmulitzig carried out with commendable efficiency. All I can say is that if the rewards or perquisites of the position were at all commensurate with its burdens, he would probably not have got the job. I would be greatly surprised if his wages, tips and windfalls could ever have exceeded fifteen shillings a week. Still, it could hardly have been a full-time occupation, and he probably never entirely gave up the picture-framing. If I may be permitted a personal note - as a boy I never had the slightest inclination to be a glazier, picture-framer or even a credit-draper, but would have given the world to be a Shammos or at least the captain of the South Shields ferry
Miss Rose Kalson of Grimsby replied to my queries about the Saltmans of Grimsby in a letter dated March 5, 1980. She appeared to be unaware of the existence of my grandfather and his family who had left Grimsby just before the turn of the century, and assumed that I was a descendant of Shmulitzig. "I knew the Saltmans well when I was a young girl. Samuel the father (he was the beadle) and his family -Leslie (Lomley), Manny, Jack, who was killed in the first war and the girls, I think Dinah, Rosie, Lena. I think there was another whose name I can't remember. Lena spent a lot of time at my home - I remember her coming the day she learned Jack had been killed and my mother trying to comfort her. The family moved to Manchester but the father Samuel and Leslie always wanted to come back to Grimsby to be buried".
Miss Kalson's information provided a useful basis for further research into the the fortunes of Shmulitzig and his large family. On a visit to Manchester two-and-a-half years later, I made a small effort to fill in some of the gaps. We were staying in Fulda's Kosher Hotel at Half-Way-House, just a few minutes down the road from the Holy Law Synagogue already mentioned. One evening I think it must have been two days before Rosh Hashana, I was browsing through the telephone directory and discovered that Emmanuel (Manny) Saltman, referred to by Miss Kalson, was living in Prestwich about a couple of miles up the Bury Old Road. Before my natural diffidence had time to gain the upper hand, I hastened to telephone him. From the outset it was made painfully clear that Manny was no more anxious to talk to me than his father before him. There was some interruption or disturbance at the other end. I am pretty certain it was his wife, Ivy, who had first answered the phone, calling out: "Ask him over for a cup of tea". As if I had had a television set before me, not a telephone, I could see him shaking his head at her vigorously, appalled at the idea. He did, however, consent to give me information on his branch of the family.
I was consequently able to add to the names of three more of Shmulitzig's offspring to those listed by Miss Kalson - Esther Rebecca (Esme), Rachel (Rae) and Solomon. At that time, Manny and two of his sisters were the sole survivors, Rae being 86 and Dinah 85, both sisters unfortunately chronic invalids. Manny was the youngest, in his early seventies. He also gave me the names of in-laws, nephews and nieces. Regrettably, Manny misinformed me about his sister Lena (Selina) and concealed the existence of her daughter Sheila and her misadventures (see Table VII). But truth occasionally prevails, even in family histories. In November 1996 Sheila's son Mel Morton, a railway man, contacted the Saltmans, specifically my brother Michael, by Internet, and provided the relevant information.
I forgot to ask Manny about his brother Solomon; I had heard vaguely that he had a son who had made a name for himself in television. Sometime later I checked the British Museum catalogue and discovered that Jack Saltman had written the script for a television play on the notorious Waldheim. Returning to Manny - I was beginning to feel more and more like an inexperienced barrister cross-examining a reluctant witness. His replies became crisper and icier. I wished him a Happy New Year, not "reciprocated", and rang off. Later I drew up a table incorporating the information given by Miss Kalson and Manny and posted it to him, asking for his comments, amendments and additions. My strong suspicion that he wouldn't reply was justified. I think he was trying to convey to me: "None of you ever had time for us when we needed you. And now, thank God, I don't need you at all and won't be bothered with you".
On top of everything else Shmulitzig had been left to look after Zelig in his decrepitude, after Harris's flight to South Shields in 1899, but I should imagine it was Sarah who added this to her other burdens, from which her early death released her. It was in their home at 392 Victoria Street (four doors away from my Rosenberg grandfather's furniture shop) that Zelig died on 8 April 1900. In the death certificate the cause of death was assigned to "senile decay" - I doubt if this formula is still in use. The certificate contains inaccuracies, presumably based on information supplied (probably with the reluctance) by Shmulitzig to the Registrar. Zelig is metamorphosed into "Joseph", a point which I have never been able to clear up - was some obscure superstition at the bottom of it? - and his age is given as eighty-seven. It is much more likely that the Grimsby Jewish burials register, the inscription on the tombstone and the Censuses of 1881 and 1891are correct in putting his birth about the year 1820, not 1813
It almost goes without saying that the only Saltman called upon to lay down his life for King and Country was Jacob (Jack), the eldest son, who was born in 1894. (my father served outside England for four years, but fortunately was not in a combat unit. ) Jack was killed near Ypres on 4 August 1917 in some of the bloodiest (and most useless) fighting ever known in the history of war. Shmulitzig and his other children were then living at 100 Albert Street, quite near the Synagogue. Jack was a private in the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment and was buried in the Brandhoek New Military Cemetery at Vlamertingh, Belgium. I have a photograph of the cemetery and Jack's tombstone obtained from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In addition a tablet was put up outside the Grimsby synagogue in 1924 to commemorate the names of the Jewish soldiers who fell in the War.
Except for the vaguest of hearsay, I have no knowledge of Shmulitzig's teaching career in Manchester, which began in the aftermath of the first World War. By then, he was at least fifty, but no doubt he had been previously teaching Barmitzvah boys in his capacity of Shammos. I do not know whether he remained loyal to a single institution or taught in several. I do not even know what was his language of instruction, Yiddish or English, but I suspect it was the former. It was held in traditional circles that the true flavour of the Talmud could only be appreciated through the medium of Yiddish, which thus acquired the status of a third holy tongue after Hebrew and Aramaic. Rabbi Sperber, who taught me a modicum of Talmud in English, was quite exceptional and in advance of his time. As is well known, Yiddish has a variety of accents and dialects. Despite her Volhynian antecedents, my mother was prepared to admit that Lithuanian Yiddish is the most "civilized".
Shmulitzig's children and their offspring have spread over large parts of the world, but I am not aware of any of them living in Israel. Needless to say, none of them came back to Grimsby alive. As Miss Kalson mentioned, Shmulitzig himself, with a sentimentality I would have thought foreign to his nature, expressed a desire to be buried in Grimsby. His refusal to patronize the Manchester Chevra Kadisha is reminiscent of the complaints of the Children of Israel against Moses -"Are there no graves in Grimsby that you want to bury me here in the wilderness?". On the 30th of January 1949 Shmulitzig died full of years. (It was the 300th anniversary of the execution of King Charles I, and I remember giving a lecture that day to commemorate the occasion. ) At great inconvenience and expense he was conveyed to Grimsby and buried near his father and his wife. Yet there is something in it - "gathered to his fathers". Shmulitzig's atavism greatly impressed his son Leslie (Lomley), who thereupon reserved a plot next to his father. Leslie was a confirmed bachelor who had resided in London for many years. He died in 1975, aged 70. Unfortunately by then his reservation had been forgotten or overlooked and some local worthy was occupying the coveted plot. So Leslie was buried in the recently-acquired extension to the cemetery. This mishap occasioned no little bitterness among the surviving members of the family, as Miss Kalson informed me.
I have mentioned some of Shmulitzig's children, but the only one of them we knew at all well was Dinah. On her marriage certificate and in all subsequent documentation, she is called Diana. It rather surprises me that Shmulitzig should have allowed his daughter to call herself by such a heathenish name. He may have been persuaded that it was the English form of Dinah. At any rate, in the family she was universally called Dinah, although the one letter I have from her is signed Diana. Dinah was blonde and petite. There is an old Talmudic proverb, Shmo Gorim, that is to say a person's name influences his deeds and fate. The original Diana was a huntress, and Marks Silverstone was successfully hunted down in 1919 or thereabouts. It proved to be an excellent capture. I don't know how well off he was back then, but when I came to know them, Marks (later curtailed to Mark) had a substantial business. He was in wholesale grocery, mainly margarine I believe. During the the War, they lived with their three children in the stockbrokers' belt at Maidenhead. Their only son Jack (a doctor*) served in the Forces with better fortune than the uncle after whom he had been named. Subsequently they resided in the more prosperous, if not absolutely the best, part of the Hampstead Garden Suburb. Finally they went West and ended up in Ivor Court, as far away as one can reasonably get from Grimsby's Albert Street or Elizabeth Street in Cheetham.
Although materially speaking the Silverstones had left my father far behind, they by no means disowned him. Fairly cordial, if not close relations were maintained, transcending the de jure recognition effected by the exchange of New Year cards. I myself was on friendly terms with their younger daughter Hermoine, whose prettiness owed little to the Saltman genes. I admired Hermoine, among other things because of her name. She must have been told ad nauseam by a large number of not so well-meaning people that Hermione should be her name, not Hermoine, but like Diana she stuck to her guns, possibly with the obstinacy she had inherited from Shmulitzig. For all I know she still calls herself Hermoine to this day. I regrettably omitted to consult Manny about her, so my latest information is over forty years old, at which period she emigrated to Australia* with a husband and two children. So much then for the Hellenistic branch of Shmulitzig's progeny.
The summer of 1935 for us was the summer of Uncle Joe, my father's rich uncle who was going to make all our fortunes, South African Joe, free as a bird, unencumbered by wife and children. Joe was legendary. Dark stories circulated about immense profits made in I.D.B. (illicit diamond buying). My parents tried with only indifferent success to revive half-forgotten fragments of Yiddish in order to talk more freely about him in my presence. Winston Churchill allegedly stayed at his hotel in Johannesburg in 1899. He was supposed to have a part interest in a gold mine. And so on. I think he began his English safari in Newcastle with Florrie and Naty. Naty recalls him well and describes him as "tall and debonair". Florrie cast herself in the role of favourite niece and cherished Great Expectations. My father was less sanguine as to his own prospects, but was by no means hopeless of a favourable outcome. From Newcastle, Joe proceeded to Bournemouth to take part in the celebration of the Barmitzvah of my cousin Sydney Saltman (not to be confused with Sydney Shaffer mentioned earlier). As a former hotel proprietor, he obviously found it preferable to stay with family. At length, desiring to taste the joys of life in London, he descended upon us, a welcome guest, for an indefinite stay.
Did he by any chance in the meanwhile pay his respects to his elder brethren Harris and Shmulitzig, whom he had not seen for thirty years? He could easily have met Harris at Florrie’s. Shmulitzig would require a special visit and I have my doubts as to its accomplishment.
There can be no doubt that he found it very comfortable staying with us. At any rate, he showed no signs of making a move until my mother took measures to speed the parting guest. He would have been with us for about a month. In January of that year we had moved into the house at 5 Raleigh Close, Hendon. It was almost new, having been built in 1932. The house is large, detached, with five bedrooms and was held on a 99 years’ lease from All Souls College, Oxford. I have already mentioned the drawing-room in another connection. At that date there were only four inhabitants, namely my father, my mother, myself and, lehavdil, one of a succession of "shiksas". (My mother disapproved of this latter term commonly used by the Saltmans, preferring the more urbane "dienst"). So there was ample room in which Joe could dispose himself.
Joe was then a spry 65. I believe he did in fact see many of the London sites. My school holidays began about half-way through his visit and I accompanied him perhaps two or three times on his daytime excursions. He especially enjoyed our visit to the Tower of London. He made a bee-line for the Crown Jewels and appraised them professionally. When the Beefeater on duty described their near-successful robbery by Captain Blood in 1671, he nodded meaningfully, as if to hint that he could have arranged the job better. That visit to the Tower must have moved him powerfully, as immediately afterwards he gave me half-a-crown. This proved eventually to be the sum total of the benefits we derived from Uncle Joe's historic visit.
As I have mentioned, this was not Joe's first visit to England. It will be recalled that his father Zelig died in April 1900 (during the Boer War). Jewish customs in the matter vary, but it is usual in England to hold the ceremony of consecrating the tombstone on the first anniversary of the death. These events are often, if not invariably, announced in the "Jewish Chronicle " and sometimes provide supplementary information about the deceased and his family. There was a distinct possibility that my grandfather, long since a solid and respectable British citizen, would conform to the customs of his adopted land and put in an advertisement. Hopefully, I began working through the personal announcements on the front page of each issue. 1901 passed in vain. So did 1902, then 1903 and 1904. I was disappointed with my grandfather. After all, there was a tombstone. I had seen it with my own eyes. So why no announcement ? I abandoned these fruitless efforts and returned to my usual task of going through the occasional Grimsby news items figuring on the "Provincial News" page. And it was there of all places that I found my tombstone (or rather Zelig’s) in the issue of 28 July 1905.
"GRIMSBY. The tombstone to the late Mr. Selig Saltman, a veteran communal worker, was set on Sunday. Mr. Joseph Saltman, the son, who had travelled specially from Johannesburg to be present at the ceremony, has made a generous gift to the Synagogue, including a Sepher Torah."
The honest historian must ask questions of his sources, even if he knows he will be unable to answer them. Of the many questions to which this short item gives rise, I select four. Why "a veteran communal worker"? Why so belated? Why "the son", and where are "the sons"? And why the "generous gift"?
Why "a veteran communal worker"? In what sense in the year 1905 could a superannuated travelling glazier ever have been described as a “communal worker”, veteran or otherwise? Not even all Zelig’s learning and piety (for which the only evidence is the eulogistic inscription on the tombstone itself) could qualify him for this title without the essential addition of some degree of worldly success. Or was his private-enterprise free distribution of lumps of sugar regarded as "voluntary social work"? Yet, surprisingly enough, there is some warrant or basis for this characterization and one vital piece of supporting evidence may be adduced
In the "Jewish Chronicle" of 7 October 1887, the results were announced of the Grimsby synagogue elections held on 25 September. The following were elected. President: Moss Berman; Treasurer and auditor (!):Benjamin Cohen; Secretary: Selig Saltman. Committee members were S. Starfield, J. Susman, L. Malson, H. Grant, J. Cantor and S. Green.
Surely, we have at least a minimal justification for dubbing Zelig "a veteran, community worker". It was not just epigraphic shmooze, or as my father would have said, "soft soap". It will furthermore be agreed that a secretary, unlike the others, must be able to read and write, so this appointment provides badly needed evidence for my great-grandfather’s achievements in the Liberal Arts.
There was, however, an unexpected sequel. A week later the "Jewish Chronicle" published a firm denial on behalf of S. Bennet (usually Bennett), President of the Grimsby congregation. No synagogue elections had been held on 25 September, but they would take place on Sunday next, (16 October 1887).
Was the earlier announcement a hoax? Mr. Bennet did not make such a claim. It is more probable that the elections of 25 September (by the way, no report was never published of the 16 October elections) signalized the formation of one of a series of dissident or schismatic congregations, which appeared in Grimsby between 1880 and 1900, embodying a compound of personal rivalries and solicitude for hard-line Orthodoxy. In the twentieth century the now-defunct Hamilton Street Beth Hamedrash must have served as a safety-valve or lightning-conductor and much more harmony prevailed in the community, moving inexorably towards indifferentism and decay.
The late nineteenth century dissidents would have been described by the community at large as "a running sore on the Grimsby Hebrew body politic”. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that opposition and even schism are at least a sign of vitality, but these views of mine, are doubtless based on inherited characteristics. I am proud to claim that the Saltmans have always been against the government, whatever form it may take.
My grandfather followed in his father’s footsteps, both in Grimsby and South Shields. On the other hand, my father never saw himself in the role of macher – he was forced to be the Hon. Sec. of the tiny Whitley Bay congregation in 1925, but he escaped after a year - so his tactics were different. He attempted to subvert the Establishment from within by a series of irritating pinpricks. He had an uncanny ability to identify a weak spot and expose it to ridicule, occasionally succeeding thereby in deflating the pomposity of office-holders. I remember in the fashionable Hendon Synagogue the Honorary Officers sat, top-hatted, in a specially-furnished compartment, known familiarly as "the Wardens’ box". My father's modest proposal "that a lid be put on the box", while not carried, had some little moral effect. In his own niggling way he campaigned against elaborate and otiose ceremonial. As is well known, the Ark is opened on occasions during the service, mostly in order to take out the Sepher Torah for the Reading of the Law and subsequently to replace it. In the old days, the nearest person to the Ark would open it and that was the end of the matter. This simple operation - by and large only a means to an end - in most synagogues was converted into an elaborate ritual with complicated minutiae, involving the Warden, acting as a kind of Master of Ceremonies, the attendant Shammos and the unfortunate ark-opener himself, notified well in advance of the signal honour to be conferred on him, and who was almost bound to go wrong at some stage of the procedure. The Warden would then step in and finished off the job with nonchalant expertise. The most nerve-shattering part of the whole performance was the drawing aside of a curtain covering the sliding-doors of the Ark, operated by pulling at one of a selection of cords. If the wrong cord was pulled, disaster inevitably followed. My father absolutely refused to take part in these exercises, which he vulgarly described as "chain-pulling", the reference being to an outmoded form of water-closet. But at times vulgarity is salutary.
Personally, I have always preferred to attend the smaller synagogues and shtieblach, despite the biblical proverb: "In the multitude of people is the king's glory”. My happiest years at Bar-Ilan were spent when it was a small University, regarded as a pariah in the field or jungle of Israeli Higher Education. Now that Bar-Ilan is, so to speak, a member of the club, I feel there is something missing.
But the objection may still be raised that Zelig's appearance as Hon. Sec. in 1887, and again in 1892 as we shall see, is not sufficient evidence to enable us to pronounce a final judgment on his communal activities. To this I reply that we are dealing with the tip of an iceberg. The opposition and splinter groups of those days did not as yet appreciate the value of the "media". For their part, the "media" favoured the Establishment. The "Jewish Chronicle" had local correspondents in many provincial communities. In Grimsby, its correspondent was invariably the Minister, the only person capable of reporting in reasonable English. Now, as we have seen, the Minister was normally under the thumb of his lay employers. They would expect him to ignore, as far as was practicable, any possible communal rivals. Furthermore, the Minister’s own inclination would probably point in the same direction. He would be anxious to minimize publicity given to the activity of the dissidents, some of whom must have regarded him in the light of a disguised Christian missionary. Certainly in outward appearance, he could easily be mistaken for the local Church of England parish incumbent. Even Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler adorned himself with archiepiscopal gaiters. The sectaries were suspicious, probably rightly so, of the long-term effects of Anglicization. (When Louis Jacobs revolted in more recent times, he had the "Jewish Chronicle" on his side, which greatly helped him to ventilate his case and gain support for his anti-Establishment views.) So we may give Zelig the benefit of the doubt and assume with some confidence that his subversive activities extended over the period of about a decade.
Out of the roll-call of hardy dissidents recorded above, at least three ultimately returned to the communal fold. Easily the most distinguished of them was the erstwhile Treasurer and Auditor, Benjamin Cohen, who died in 1931, aged 84, 62 years after his arrival in Grimsby. At his death, all former deviationism forgiven or forgotten, he was mourned as the Grand Old Man of Grimsby.
Why so late? I take it the usual reasons for a lengthy delay in the setting of a tombstone were economic. Zelig’s name does not figure in the Probate Records at Somerset House: if we can accept the argumentum ex silentio, it would appear that he left no estate, the inheritance of which provides a powerful moral imperative to take action in the matter. In the nature of things, Harris, Perkie and Shmulitzig were unlikely to agree on anything, probably not on the sum-total to be expended, certainly not on its equitable division between them. All the same, the duty fell on their shoulders - "in the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart”.
Ostensibly my grandfather was the best-off and tended to be free with his money in religious and charitable causes. But I have every reason to believe he was in low water at the time. An incorrigible and compulsive speculator, he got into debt on more than one occasion. During 1898 the pressure of his creditors became insupportable and bankruptcy could no longer be avoided. In May 1899 he succeeded in coming to an arrangement with his creditors, who had to be satisfied with four shillings in the pound, and was granted a "conditional discharge". It seems reasonable to associate his abrupt departure from Grimsby, after 20 years' residence, with this commercial mishap. So he was now in the process of rebuilding his shattered fortunes in South Shields, encumbered with a wife and five surviving children, the eldest a chronic invalid. A sixth, Florrie, was born in 1901 - and on her birth certificate my grandfather is modestly described as a "hawker". For unexplained reasons which probably boded no good, he began to call himself Solomon from about the year 1902, reverting to Harris towards the end of the decade. It may finally be added that, removed to Shields, he was freed from the social pressure which might have compelled him, even in his straitened circumstances, to take the initiative.
It has been noted that Zelig during the Boer War, which must have hampered communications between the two principal branches of the family. I put forward the tentative theory (in the absence of written evidence or family tradition) that it was decided in England to take no action on the matter until Uncle Joe could be consulted and induced to pay his fair share, better still, more than his fair share. Surely Churchill’s genial host, whose pockets were reputed to be filled with diamonds as if they were loose change, and who almost certainly had taken no part in the maintenance of Zelig over a period of at least twenty years, ought to bear the brunt of the burden.
The war ended in 1902 and identical prayers for the welfare of King Edward VII were recited in the synagogues of Grimsby, South Shields and Johannesburg. Joe expressed his willingness to “cough up”, but asked for a delay until he was ready to “come through”. (These expressions were frequently employed by my father, and, I take it, were current in the family during the period under discussion.) And in 1905, he did indeed “come through”.
Why “the son”, and where are “the sons”, three of whom survived their father ? For the last time, I think, it will be necessary to revisit Krüky. Although cast in the role of Joseph the Provider, Uncle Joe was in fact the Benjamin of the family. All the signs point to his birth in Krüky in the early 1870’s. Shortly afterwards his mother died. A little later Zelig departed for England as we have seen. His elder sister Mera Liba or some other relations must have taken over the custody of Joe. Unlike my grandfather or Shmulitzig, Joe never gave the slightest sign of any special knowledge of Judaism or Yiddishkeit. It may be confidently assumed that his education began and ended in the cheder of Krüky, probably not the most advanced institution of its kind
Joe and his nephew Arthur Rubin Bloch (Harry’s eldest brother) were both in the hotel business in Johannesburg and it is tempting to conjecture that they went out to South Africa together in 1895 after the death of Rubin’s father. Rubin was then aged fifteen and possibly would not have travelled alone. On the other hand 1895 seems somewhat late as a possible date for Joe’s departure from Krüky. His route to South Africa may have taken him via Grimsby, but again there is no evidence to support this conjecture.
As we have seen, by 1899 Joe was the proprietor of a hotel in Fordsburg, a suburb of Johannesburg. According to my father it was called tout court “Saltman’s Hotel”, whereas Rubin’s establishment, also situated in Fordsburg, bore the more conventional name of the “Tramway Hotel”. These hotels, alas, would never have been recommended in Michelin or Baedeker. They were little more than shenkels (public houses) providing a room or two for “travellers”. In the old days the Jewish shenkels were a familiar part of the landscape of the Russian Pale of Settlement. They are brilliantly, generally nauseatingly, described in the classics of modern Jewish literature, such as Solomon Maimon, Mendele Mocher Seforim, Brenner, Shoffman and so on. It is unlikely that the South African variety differed substantially from the Russian orginal.
Be that as it may, it is abundantly clear that by 1905 the hotel business and other unspecified dealings yielded enough to enable Uncle Joe to pay his long awaited visit to England (travelling in better style than on his outward journey), also to pay for his father’s tombstone and to make his “generous gift” to the Grimsby Synagogue. But Joe implicitly exacted a price, namely the exclusive mention of his name in all publicity connected with the ceremony. The printed report gives the decided impression that he was the only son, that the other simply did not exist. It is highly unlikely that the slighted English Saltmans boycotted the affair – they were just swallowed up in the aura of Joe’s magnificence.
The tombstone has a more durable look than most of the others in the vicinity and has stood up well to the vagaries of the Grimsby climate. Apart from the heading AZRIEL SALTMAN, the inscription is entirely in Hebrew, of which I give a literal translation: “Unto his old age he acquired righteousness for the benefit of his soul”. The initial letters of the words in this sentence produce the name Azriel. “Here is buried the aged, God-fearing Rabbi Azriel son of Rabbi Judah Arie, good and kind in his deeds, who departed to his world at the age of eighty on Sunday, the ninth day of Nisan in the year (5)660”
Why the “generous gift” ? More than anything else it must have been the dim memory of Uncle Joe’s munificence on this occasion that aroused the Great Expectations of 1935. It cannot be denied that the gift of a Sepher Torah in itself was of substantial dimensions, apart from the additional unspecified cash donation to the Synagogue. The Sepher Torah has always been the most expensive item in the equipment of a synagogue.
This is not the place to describe my first, belated visit to Grimsby, from 6-9 March 1981, but it is relevant to allude to my attendance at the two synagogue services held while I was there, namely on the Friday evening 6 March and on the following morning. There was a good minyan in the evening, perhaps fifteen congregants. I asked my cousin, Harold Rosenberg, the last member of the family still above ground in Grimsby, what the prospects were for the morning service. He thought on the whole a minyan was unlikely. More optimistically, however, he added that my presence would improve the chances by ten per cent. (It reminded me of my childhood in Whitley Bay.) On the morrow about 10.15 a.m., I looked around me and counted. Yes, there was exactly a minyan. I said to Harold: “So there is a minyan after all”. “No, we are still one short”. I counted again, more carefully. “But there are ten”. Harold lowered his voice conspiratorially. “You see that man at the back there with the child – don’t look anymore. He’s a Gentile”. A Saltman of his generation would have used one of a selection of other terms – it was not for nothing that my Rosenberg mother was called the “bloody lady” by my uncle Izzy. But within the next half an hour two more authentic Jews drifted in, so that in the end there was even a minyan without me.
In due course the ark was opened, without the abatement of one jot or tittle of the ceremonial deprecated by my father. By a quirk of liturgical coincidence, it was necessary on this Sabbath to read the law from three Scrolls. But even after they had been removed from the Ark, there still appeared to be more Scrolls left behind than there were worshippers present in synagogue. Meanwhile the Gentile and his son had left. By then it was the established custom in Grimsby for the Law to be read out of a printed Hebrew Bible, as there was no longer anybody capable of reading from the unpointed and unpunctuated Scroll. My offer to read in the traditional manner was graciously accepted by the presiding Warden. I was not, however, destined to read from the third Scroll as it had been adjudged to be “possul” (ritually unfit) owing to the obliteration of a letter.
At that time, I was regrettably still unaware of Uncle Joe’s “generous gift”; otherwise I would have tried with the help of those present to identify it. It could well have been recorded on the mantle covering the Scroll. In view of what I saw, it would seem that giving a Sepher Torah to the Grimsby Hebrew Congregation may fittingly be compared to the legendary occupation of carrying coals to Newcastle. Of course things may have been different in 1905
In contemporary South Africa, bedevilled by more pressing problems, Uncle Joe and his deeds have been almost completely forgotten. At all events the South African Jewish Board of Deputies could provide me with no information about his later years. Harry Bloch remembered him vaguely as his mother’s brother – after all he was Harry’s Uncle Joe as well. According to him, Joe died about the year 1944.
In his letter of November 1981 Philip Saltman could not supply any chronological information, but more importantly gave the name of Joe’s wife as Ettie, adding that they had no children. This was completely new to me, having wrongly assumed that Joe was a bachelor. Was Joe married when he visited England in 1935 and gave rise to the unfulfilled Great Expectations previously alluded to ? On the basis of information provided by Rhoda Sabel, who appears to have known Joe and Ettie quite well, it seems reasonably clear that Ettie had died shortly before Joe’s memorable visit to England. Rhoda very kindly gave me a heart-shaped gold medallion or locket containing photographs of Joe and Ettie in their early middle age. Joe looks handsome and distinguished and Ettie somewhere between pretty and beautiful. Sic transit. I still have no idea what happened to Joe’s “personal estate”, if any. I leave the last word to my second cousin Mavis Wilk, whom I met for the first time in 1986: “Uncle Joe was a perfect gentleman”.
The birth of a third daughter, Rosa (Rosie ? Rosey), on 19 April 1888, was no doubt welcomed by my grandparents, but with restrained enthusiasm – drei techter sis kayn gelechter, as the saying goes. My aunt Rosie spent the first ten or eleven years of her life in Grimsby. For the rest, she lived in South Shields continuously until her death just short of her 55th birthday. I can add little to this summary chronicle. In the New Year litany, her address is fixed for as long as my memory lasts at 55 Osborne Avenue.
Of all the characters who appear in this short family account, Rosie was the kindest, gentlest and sweetest-natured. Yet I cannot help associating her with the Seven Deadly Sins. I remember her best for her overwhelming hospitality. A chronic and severe diabetic, subjected to a restrictive diet and continuous injections of insulin, her greatest pleasure consisted in watching others eat and drink, in cooking and baking meals and snacks which she herself could hardly touch. I have always had a good appetite, and of the deadly sins, Greed has been and remains my greatest problem. Rosie’s measures effectively, if only temporarily, overpowered this particular vice, generally at the second enormous helping, exceptionally at the third. It was then that frustrated Greed yielded to Anger, at myself, but, regrettably, also at poor Rosie, who would never accept “No, thank you”, later “No”, still later “I said No!!”. (The same phenomenon is reported by those addicted to Lechery.) Like Saint Francis, whose stigmata she bore, Rosie was an anti-intellectual. In no way could I impress her with my book-knowledge, so I tended to look down on her as a stupid ignoramus, thus falling into the abyss of Pride. But the unsettling effects of the gargantuan meal rapidly effaced Pride. The inevitable consequence was Sloth, which eventually was replaced by Despair. Avarice alone is unthinkable in connection with Aunt Rosie, who vanquished it not only in herself but in anyone who came in contact with her.
At the somewhat advanced age of 31, Rosie was married to Isaac Blumenthal of Leeds. Once more after the lapse of twelve years, a Saltman wedding was celebrated at the Victoria Hall in South Shields, this time on a far more modest scale. Isaac preferred to be called Fred, which suited him better. On solemn occasions Fred was extended to Frederick. On the other hand Blumenthal was generally curtailed to Bloom. Fred had a sister, Stella Gordon. The Gordons lived in Golders Green, London, near Brent Station, in comfortable circumstances and my parents were friendly with them on a “family” basis. Bevis Gordon was the eldest of Stella’s three children. He was a brilliant doctor, who unfortunately died young. Through Stella we became acquainted with other members of the Gordon family. One of her brothers-in-law was a well-known consultant at the London Jewish Hospital, a specialist in internal disorders and something of a Jewish scholar.
During the 1939-45 war my parents adopted various measures for the safety of their children. My mother’s solution was the most radical – to get us out of the country and to the other side of the Atlantic. (I understand there was a scheme, sponsored, or at least approved, by the American Government, but after the torpedoing of as boatload of children, it was abandoned.) This project was tried in 1940. My mother recalled the memory of a rich uncle who had settled in Cleveland, Ohio, whose children presumably were still living there. With great difficulty an address was procured and an urgent letter despatched, but no reply was ever received.
My father’s objectives were more limited – to keep me out of His Majesty’s Forces. As a small child, I was renowned for my flat feet, and this might have been a promising line to follow. Unfortunately, irreversible remedial procedures had successfully been taken in the 30’s, when only a prophet could have foretold the outbreak of war. Undeterred, my father began working his way upwards through my body. My digestive organs, he thought, might provide a possible avenue of salvation.
(Greed, mentioned previously, had occasionally resulted in well-deserved stomach upsets.) With diligent researching, some gastric disorder, perhaps even an incipient ulcer, could be found. So in 1943, shortly before the fateful day of registration for military service (Aunt Rosie had gone into her final coma), I was sent to Dr. Gordon for an X-ray of the digestive tract. I don’t know how these things are done today, but as I well remember it, taking the photograph involved the ingestion of a large quantity of a nauseous barium compound and swallowing a large length of rubber piping, perhaps three times. This latter exercise with its attendant choking and vomiting must surely have brought to a head any latent stomachic ailments. Alas, it was all in vain, and Dr. Gordon had no alternative but to give me a clean bill of health.
An eternal optimist, my father often quoted with approval the time-honoured injunction “Leave no stone unturned”. (Anthony Eden used it even more frequently than my father.) With some justice, he regarded many of my notions and actions as the quintessence of idiocy and lunacy. “You want to have your brains tested, man”, he would frequently remark, more in sorrow than in anger. Was a visit to an alienist, neurologist or psychoanalyst on his programme ? I have no idea what level of idiocy or lunacy was required to achieve disqualification from military service. From what little I know of the British Army, I suspect it would have to be of a very high degree indeed. But, mercifully, before reaching my very apex, so to speak, there still remained one intermediate port of call. My father knew a Harley Street oculist, Dr. Harold Levy, (the only man I knew who lived to the age of 101). He tested my eyes and found them wanting. Armed with this certificate, I went intrepidly to the army medical examination and was duly assigned to Grade 4, which meant total exemption from military service. But despite Dr. Gordon’s failure, our good relations with Stella and her family continued unmarred.
I got to know Fred quite well during his earlier widowerhood (c.1944-6). At the close of business at Sylvin’s for the day, he would sometimes take me to nondescript cafés in Newcastle and treat me to “high tea”, the principal constituent being poached eggs on toast or a welsh rabbit. Fred was a big, portly man with a large oval, balding head and an air of subdued joviality. He walked with the aid of a stick, his leg having been wounded during the War. In those days he was a junior partner in the business. I should think that my father and Naty each took rather more than 40% of the net profits, leaving Fred with one sixth, perhaps slightly more, but not less than £20 a week. (My father and Naty had other business interests. For the sake of comparison, I myself reached £20 a week about the year 1955, holding the rank of Lecturer, Grade 2, but of course by then the pound sterling had markedly depreciated.)
I am not too clear as to Fred’s role in the operation of Sylvin’s Ltd., which in the late 1940’s comprised the shop in North Shields which I have already mentioned, two shops in Clayton Street, Newcastle, and one in English Street, Carlisle. Perhaps he may have nominally been put in charge of “personnel management”, but in cruel fact he was more or less a passenger or pensioner kept on (after Rosie’s death and Ruth’s marriage) out of family loyalty rather than because of any commercial abilities he may have possessed. Between themselves, my father and Naty spoke of him with good-natured contempt, but on no occasion do I remember a patronising, harsh or cruel word addressed to him. Uncle Fred was always cheerful and very generous. He is the only member of the family whose name I have found mentioned in the Zionist archives in Jerusalem (F 13/919), in consequence of his donation of ten guineas to the Palestine Appeal Fund in September 1944. When I was in Cambridge about that time, he was put in charge of the catering department, sending me food parcels according to my father’s specification. He was an excellent packer of parcels, an ability my father shared but which I have not inherited.
I assume that for several years after his marriage to Aunt Rosie, Fred was supported by my grandfather, perhaps worked for him. He would not have had the initiative to set up in business on his own or the capacity to run it. Subsequently I understand he assisted my uncle Israel, a fairly successful draper in South Shields. Eventually, as has been seen, my father and Naty took him over, mainly I take it for the benefit of Rosie and Ruth.
Cousin Ruth, born in 1921, is four years my senior. She has always been, like me, somewhat on the plump side, but at the same time giving an impression of helpless fragility. The South Shields Jewish community being in a state of rapid decay, her social life revolved around Sunderland, where she would attend dances at the Jewish Literary Club. She dumbly resented Fred’s subordination and did her best to keep Florrie and Naty Science at a distance. They always complained of her “frigidity”. But she loved my father, whose manners were gentler than Naty’s boisterousness. Naty, undoubtedly my grandfather’s best investment, is the soul of kindness, but was probably always too overwhelming for Ruth.
I remember going with my father to her wedding in Harrogate in March 1946. My only previous visit to this resort had taken place in 1929 or 1930, when we took a long holiday there in a rented private house of superior status, where I ruined a beautiful rock-garden. I associate Harrogate with the abominable, sulphurous taste of the water doled out to all who visited the Spa. On the other hand, I regret I remember nothing of what took place at Ruth’s wedding. The bridegroom was a native of Leeds, Elkan (subsequently Allan) Leigh, a pharmacist with fairly good qualifications. It turned out that he fitted in extremely well with the Blumenthal ethos or lifestyle, which regarded work as an unpleasant necessity to be avoided wherever practicable. In those days Allan still took an intelligent interest in public affairs. I once came across a letter of his published in the “Jewish Chronicle” in the issue of 5 November 1948. The State of Israel had somehow succeeded in surviving for five months and already the “progressive Left” had launched a campaign against the “militaristic” New Year greetings cards emanating from Israel, as if it were not natural that the Jews, who had been defenceless for 2000 years and regularly massacred and otherwise ill-treated, should not rejoice in the newly-found possession of an Army. At any rate Allan wrote a spirited on these lines in defence of the offending greetings cards.
At that time he and Ruth were living with Fred in South Shields (Osborne Avenue). No children were born to them. Subsequently they removed to Newcastle, where they lived practically next door to Rochel, my grandfather’s widow, with whom they maintained amicable relations. It was not long before they discovered the benefits of the newly-inaugurated Welfare State. Needless to say, both of them were accomplished hypochondriacs. Allan had long since abandoned any pharmaceutical or professional pretensions - Naty tried in vain to employ him in an optical business in which he was a partner – and they flourished not too uncomfortably under the benign auspices of the Department of Health and Social Security. For several years after my father’s death they maintained the old New Year greetings tradition, abandoned by tacit mutual consent in the late 1970’s. Naty would shake his head sorrowfully over their plight and send them fowls for the Yomtovim. The birds were duly taken in, but the accompanying advice and admonitions fell on deaf ears.
Allan died about 1995 as reported by Naty’s son, Austin. In consequence Ruth took up residence in the Newcastle Jewish old-age home, by all accounts a comfortable and efficiently-run institution. It turned out to be a wise decision of Ruth or of those acting on her part. Her involuntary separation from Allan after nearly fifty years together seems to have been greatly beneficial, both physically and mentally. And so, she has settled down to a reasonably happy “third age”.
At last, on 22 June 1890, a son was born to my grandparents and given the name Israel, after his late uncle or some remoter ancestor. On his birth certficate, a second name “Joulies” (?Julius, Joel) also appears. I never heard of this name until I obtained a copy of the certificate in January 1984. His grandson, however, born in 1957, was named Julian.
A description of my grandfather’s family a few months after the birth of Israel is provided by the 1891 Census returns. They were then living at 55 Cleethorpe Road, described as a “picture shop”. (No.53 next door was a “draper shop”, a kind of forboding or presage of future developments in the family.) Henry (!) Saltman, Head of he Family, aged 32, Picture Frame Maker and Carver, Employer. Selina, his wife, aged 31. Esther, daughter, aged 7, Scholar (!). Leah, daughter, aged 5, Scholar. Rosey, daughter, aged 3, Scholar (!). Israel, son, aged nine months. Zellic, Father, aged 70, Glazier, Employed. Samuel Saltman (Brother), Boarder, aged 21, Picture Frame Maker and Carver, Employed. Ellen Cook, Boarder, aged 12. Henry, Selina, Zellic and Samuel were all born in Russian Poland (corrected to “Poland” only) and the others in Grimsby, county of Lincoln. Happily, none of them was Deaf-and-Dumb, Blind, Lunatic, Imbecile or Idiot. Ellen Cook, I take it, must have been the maidservant, rather than a paying boarder.
My uncle Israel (henceforth Izzy) was, to the best of my knowledge, the only theologian the Saltmans ever produced. I think his theology may be best described as Naturalist. But Nature was far removed from the stern goddess worshipped by Darwin and Spencer, red in tooth and claw and devoted to the survival of the fittest. For Izzy, Nature was maternal, merciful, benevolent, yet progressive withal in the manner of Coué. Unlike the generality of theologians, he embarrassingly practised what he preached. He rarely reached home with any loose change in his pockets. After that had gone, he had been known, in the manner of St. Martin of Tours, to divest himself of articles of clothing and distribute them among the multitudinous poor of South Shields. He proclaimed himself an Atheist and wrote marginal comments on the Psalms. He received the publications of the Rationalist Press Association, one or two of which – I remember Winwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man – came into my father’s hands.
But my father was not to be seduced into Atheism and remained loyal to much of the theory and practice of traditional Judaism. He may conveniently be described as a Laodicean iconoclast. To his detestation of otiose ceremonial already described, we may add an innate, sturdy anti-clericalism and a rejection of “superstition”. On his return from his earlier visits to Palestine in 1936 and 1939 he vigorously denounced the cult of the “Wailing Wall” – in those days benighted Anglo-Jewry knew nothing of such expressions as “Kotel” or “Western Wall”. He declared “We have wailed long enough. Pull it down” Although comparatively strict in his religious practices by the not too rigorous standards of Anglo-Jewry, he had a strong sense of tolerance. On Chol Hamoed Pesach in 1936 we visited the Kibbutz of Ein Harod. My mother and I were shocked to see bread and matzo commingling on the tables of the communal refectory. But my father took it all in his stride. “Those who want to eat bread can eat bread and those who want to eat matzo can eat matzo”.
Similarly it may be contended that Izzy’s Atheism in no way conflicted with the standard practices of Anglo-Jewry, to which he loyally adhered. A story is told of a group of rationalist Litvacks, who were debating the question of God’s existence and who came to the unanimous conclusion that God does not exist. One of the company took an apple from the table and bit into it. “What about a brocho ?”, he was asked. “But haven’t we just proved God does not exist ?”. “Whether God exists or not, A Jew must say a brocho before he eats”.
In the Summer of Uncle Joe, Izzy came to stay with us for a night – I suppose he had some business in London to attend to. He was then living in Bournemouth, whence he had removed from South Shields for reasons of health. Referring to the Barmitzvah of his son Sidney, which had recently taken place, he remarked (I have removed some of the stronger expletives): “That (so-called) Minister is no bloody good at all. In the end, I – the Atheist – had to teach Sidney his (unprintable) Barmitzvah portion”. Later that night he underwent a terrible bout of asthma, which gave me nightmares for weeks afterwards. Izzy was a martyr to asthma, which killed him in August 1942 at the age of 52.
I know nothing of Izzy’s early life In Grimsby and Shields until 1914. Both Izzy and my father were more than averagely intelligent – without disrespect to my father, I believe Izzy was the more intelligent – and I am sure in a later generation would have made successful professional men. But despite his Yeshiva background, my grandfather had more respect for “gesheft” than education. At the age of thirteen my father won a Durham county scholarship for secondary education, quite a distinction in those days, but my grandfather would have none of it and took him away from school.
The outbreak of war in 1914 after decades of peace between the Great Powers, was perhaps the greatest tragedy in the history of the world, bringing in its wake successive waves of destruction and misery, completely changing the face of the world and destroying a great and apparently firmly-established civilization. The “Great War” of 1914 and its legitimate offspring, the war of 1939, dealt crippling, perhaps mortal, blows to the Jewish people, from which its ultimate recovery is still by no means certain. A generalization is built up from myriad fragments into which subsequently it can be broken down. One of the smallest and most infinitesimal of these is represented by Izzy and my father, in 1914, two brothers of military age. At that time they were still living at home with their parents. No doubt many anxious consultations must have been held as to the best course to be pursued, consultations which were almost completely valueless, as nobody from the heads of States downwards had the remotest idea of the nature, course and duration of the war which had been embarked upon so light-heartedly.
Strangely enough, this was almost the only chapter of the family history on which my father ever saw fit to volunteer information. I think he made these revelations in 1943 when, as we have seen, he was attacking the parallel problem of achieving my avoidance of military service. To begin with, he said, the British Army was recruited by voluntary enlistment. Conscription, supposedly alien to the British way of life, was not introduced until early in 1916, but there was a good deal of social pressure to encourage enlistment. During 1915, as the supply of volunteers dried up and was in any case inadequate to replace the countless victims of the horrific slaughter, it became clear even to my grandfather and his sons that the introduction of conscription was only a matter of time. It was at this point that the earl of Derby, director-general of recruiting, introduced the scheme which bore his name, a mixture of the carrot and the stick. The Derby scheme was not outright conscription, but there was a strong element of compulsion in it. Its main positive feature was the possibility of claiming exemption on various grounds (on better terms than under full-scale conscription), but applications for exemption could be made only after prior enlistment. The scheme was principally directed at or against unmarried men. After they had been duly drawn in, there was nothing left but to introduce universal military service by Act of Parliament. My father had patriotically enlisted in the summer of 1915, when it was still possible to get into a non-combatant unit without too much difficulty. All efforts were now concentrated on saving Izzy. By the time the Derby scheme was introduced later in that year, it was decided that there was nothing to be gained by holding out any further and so Izzy “volunteered” under its terms.
For his part, my father managed to get in to the Royal Army Medical Corps – he never said how – to successfully pass a course in sanitary duties, subsequently to spend four years conducting total war against anopheles mosquitoes in Mesopotamia and India, until he was “disembodied” in October 1919. Apart from malaria, from which he suffered recurrently during my childhood, he picked up a useful vocabulary of Hindi, a little basic Arabic (Yallah, Imshi, Ruch and so on) and an enduring hostility to Arabs which drew him in the mid-thirties to Jabotinsky and the Revisionists. As a latter day Othello, he won my mother’s heart, which had hitherto remained untouched by his predecessors, with his Asiatic reminiscences. (“She swore in faith ‘twas strange ‘twas passing strange. She loved me for the dangers I had past”, etc.) On the whole, despite some permanent damage to his health, he had “a good war”.
Izzy’s case, according to my father, was not so simple. Apparently, his asthmatic condition had not yet developed, or had not been diagnosed, otherwise the question of his recruitment would hardly have risen. But my grandfather came up with a brilliant idea. And so Izzy, after duly enlisting, claimed exemption on the grounds of having close relatives in Germany. It was against his principles and against common morality, he contended, to fight against members of his own family and possibly be the direct or indirect cause of their death. By then, my father was no longer in the country, so this part of the account is based on hearsay. It would appear that the Tribunal adjudicating on Izzy’s appeal took the matter seriously enough and even raised the question of Izzy’s potential loyalty and reliability as a member of His Majesty’s Forces. In view of the frequent spy-scares at the time, Izzy was playing with fire. The affair dragged on for some considerable time. In the end, Izzy and my grandfather were partially successful. Izzy was in fact drafted into the 11th Lincolnshire Regiment (as appears in the British Jewry Roll of Honour), but was allowed to serve his time within the confines of the United Kingdom. So he, too, had a “good war”. What a contrast to poor Jack Saltman, who could of course have claimed exemption on similar grounds ! Those notional German Saltmans were never heard of again after the war, but I cannot utterly rule out the possibility of their existence. It will be recalled that at the time of his naturalization my grandfather had expressed the desire of visiting Germany.
After his discharge, Izzy did not return to the paternal home at 33 Borough Road, North Shields, but crossed the river where his married sister Rosie was living and set up as a draper in association with my grandfather. It will be noted that since the beginning of the century the Saltmans like many other families had abandoned glazing and picture-framing in favour of drapery and hosiery. But whereas my grandfather was for many years a credit draper and, to a moderate extent, a “traveller”, thus maintaining an occupational link with Zelig, my father’s generation (except for Becky Pipitch) preferred the more static and prestigious retail shopkeeping trade. On Friday nights or on Sunday afternoons they would usually assemble at my grandfather’s in North or South Shields (he was always moving from one Shields to the other – I take it some obscure financial or judicial interests were served by these frequent flittings between the counties of Durham and Northumberland), compare notes and discuss prospects. On the odd occasion when my mother was present at these confabulations, she noted the contrast with similar gatherings at her home on Saturday nights until her father’s death in 1913. The topics then discussed were more likely to be matters of local Jewish communal interest, family gossip, perhaps a little Torah. At her father-in-law’s the atmosphere was much more materialistic and businesslike, but far from subdued. In particular, Izzy was outstanding for his excitable dogmatism and for his violent, often profane language (doubtless an inevitable concomitant of his theological preoccupations). She recalls that the conversation was mainly conducted in English, as opposed to her parents’ Yiddish. But certain Yiddishisms could never be eradicated. For a very long time I took it for granted that “gesheft” was English – a word I picked up in earliest infancy.
Both Uncle Izzy and my father married in 1921. Izzy’s bride was Deborah (Dora) Levene, daughter to a balabatish and fairly prosperous Gateshead family. Her brother Jack, a knowledgeable man, was one of the Newcastle machers in his later years. Jack’s son Leslie was a children’s doctor in Haifa and the flagbearer of Conservative Judaism in that city. My grandfather was better pleased with Izzy’s marriage than he was with my father’s. As I have already mentioned, my father married my mother for love. She was a widow’s daughter, with little in the way of worldly goods. Even so, she was not in a hurry to make up her mind. Regretfully, my grandfather told her: “Isaac could have got £3000 with a girl from Leeds” He seemed to have regarded Leeds as created by God for the express purpose of providing wealthy marriage-partners for the Saltman family. Of course, my father’s marriage was entirely Harris’s own fault. When Abraham Rosenberg arrived in Grimsby in 1890, his declared intention was to proceed forthwith to Liverpool and America. He even had a ticket to New York. But my Saltman grandfather persuaded, nay commanded him to remain in Grimsby – “Bleib daw !”. So he bleibed. In the end it turned out that Dora liked the Saltmans no better than my mother did. She is buried with her three sisters in the Whitley Bay cemetery.
It must not be thought that Izzy followed in the footsteps of Spinoza and neglected his coreligionists in favour of the pursuit of theological abstractions. He played his part manfully in South Shields Jewish communal life, going through the standard cursus honorum and inter alia occupying positions in the local Board of Guardians, Keren Hayesod, J.N.F. Commission and the Ukraine Society (presumably the Ukrainians could only trust a Litvack to be their treasurer). On one occasion he was Choson Torah, which in practice meant inviting the whole community to a party. (In comparison, the sum total of Fred’s communal achievement was the treasureship of the South Shields Jewish Literary and Social Society. In his case it may be said that he did not achieve greatness but rather had it thrust upon him.) It may be asked how a man holding Izzy’s religious opinions, which he never attempted to conceal, could be a Choson Torah, but I reply that if Sir Robert Waley Cohen and the Hon. Ewen Montague were unanimously chosen to preside over the (Orthodox) United Synagogue in London, there could have been no possible impediment to Israel Saltman being Choson Torah in South Shields.
Izzy had two drapery shops in South Shields – one in Mile End Road, the other in Russell Street. He himself lived in Baring Street, an abode of his father’s some twenty years previously, subsequently in Trafaw Street. He obviously needed some assistance in running the two shops. Brother-in-law Fred, reliable if not brilliant, adequately solved this problem. (As we have seen, Fred was subsequently taken over or adopted by my father and Naty). The Saltmans loved setting up private limited companies, a useful form of commercial insurance – even I can still legitimately call myself a Company Director – and Izzy was no exception. His company was named “Sidney’s Ltd.” In honour of his only son. Odd members of the family held meaningless shares in this enterprise, including my mother and myself. Despite the prevailing depression in South Shields, Sidney’s was quite a prosperous concern.
About the year 1930, Izzy’s health worsened considerably. He was advised by his doctor to remove to the milder and more salubrious climate of Bournemouth, then described as "relaxing". And so Sidney’s was reopened on the South coast. I do not know whether the change of air did Izzy much good, but it is certain that Sidney’s did not flourish in Bournemouth. I have come to the conclusion that, ecologically speaking, Tyneside was the natural Saltman habitat. They cannot really flourish elsewhere, whether it be London, Bournemouth or Israel. The river Tyne may be regarded with justice as a kind of Niemen-surrogate, with North and South Shields standing in for Krüky and Srednik, Newcastle for Kovno and Gosforth for Slobodka. Tyneside was inhabited almost exclusively by Litvacks. It is a fact that throughout his career, my grandfather always lived close to the banks of a navigable river, Niemen, Humber and Tyne. His daughter Florrie, who lived all her long life in S. Shields, Tynemouth and Newcastle, demonstrates the truth of this thesis. In point of worldly success and physical staying-power, she surpassed all the others.
Settled in Bournemouth, Izzy spent more and more time on the pier enjoying the sea-air, less and less at Sidney’s. At the pier-head there was painted a gigantic draughts-board, on which players moved the counters with the help of a kind of rake similar to the instrument used by croupiers at the roulette table. Izzy would station himself by the board and challenge all comers to a game. For several years he was the unofficial draughts champion of Bournemouth and enjoyed a more than local fame. Draughts has been described as a poor relation of chess, but in its own way makes considerable demands on the intellect.
Ill-health, medical attention and neglect of the business took their toll of the family fortunes. On his death in the Summer of 1942, Izzy left a mere £2000 and the survivors, in straitened condition, found it difficult to carry on. They did, however, show some resilience. The children were both older than me, Sidney by three years and Selina by a few months. Sidney never had much time for me. The last time I saw him was more than fifty years ago. He was then in London, recently demobilised, taking the external London University Matriculation examination at a somewhat advanced age and came to see us at Raleigh Close. We were surprised to hear afterwards that he had passed the examinations with credit, as nobody had a high opinion of his intelligence. Later we heard that he had gone to Canada and had changed his name to Steve Maxwell. (He is the only Saltman I know of to have changed his name, not even the non-Jewish Edinburgh ones having found it necessary to do so.) Perhaps as a Communist, he felt it was laudable to follow in the footsteps of Ulyanov, Bronstein and Djugasvili, not to mention Broz.
When I was teaching at Birkbeck College, I would occasionally hear about Sidney from my distinguished colleague Eric Hobsbawm, who was acquainted with him. Hobsbawm is a Marxist – I believe a Party member until the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 – and met Sidney in those circles. He described Sidney, then teaching at Brunel College, as a promising political economist. Indeed, as I subsequently heard from Selina, he obtained a professorship in this discipline at Toronto. According to Selina, he married a “lapsed Catholic”, who, like Ray Shaffer in South Africa, could not bear to live abroad and returned to England after a few years. But they are not divorced and Sidney looks her up on his visits to England. Selina has pursued more conservative paths. Her daughter is a journalist on a Manchester Jewish weekly. As for Dora, she spent the closing years of her life with a sister in Whitley Bay.
According to his birth certificate, my father, Isaac Saltman, was born on 1 October 1892. But there is no good reason to doubt his assertion that his Barmitzvah was celebrated on the Sabbath of Parshas Shofetim. Under no circumstances can this Parsha be read as late as October and in 1892 it occurred on 27 August. The Barmitzvah date is more reliable than the birth certificate. My grandfather did not have the birth registered until 15 November and so must have postponed the date of the birth in order to avoid penalties for late registration. Family gossip has it that my father was born with a caul, which for some time was exhibited in the Saltman home. Such a child was supposed to be gifted with second sight. But like the “Seer” of Lublin, my father refused to make use of this dubious privilege.
In all three birth certificates of Rosa, Israel and my father, my grandfather is still described as a picture-frame maker, but unfortunately I have no details of his business activities. In later years he called himself a hawker (1901), picture dealer (1906), general dealer (1899, 1907), credit-draper and draper (1921), warehouseman (1924) and property owner (1925, 1941).
I have no idea what properties he owned in his later years, apart from the houses he lived in. One of them, in South Shields, was called “Mazzel House” and I am convinced he made a profit on its sale. Most of these gains were frittered away in risky speculations on the Stock Exchange. He was also reputed to have “lost a packet” in rubles and German marks. On his death a number of share certificates were found, nearly all of which were deemed to be worthless and thrown away. Some of them were beautifully engraved and would no doubt fetch a good price on the collectors’ market nowadays. But it must be admitted that one stock came up trumps. My grandfather had a large number of debentures in a derelict railway line called the “Grand United Havana” or some such name. This railway which as far as I know never made any profits or declared a dividend, had the good fortune to be nationalized by the Cuban government. After wearisome negotiations the authorities agreed to pay compensation to the company. The terms were finalized and the money paid out just before Castro came to power and about sixteen years after my grandfather’s death. This proved to be a little windfall for my father and Florrie.
But at the time of my father’s birth, my grandfather was passing through one of his periods of comparative affluence. So, apart from supporting a wife and five children, he was able to devote considerable time and money to communal affairs.
For these activities, my sole source of information is the Jewish Chronicle and its notoriously capricious handling of provincial news, depending as it did on the capricious vagaries of its unpaid local correspondents. All I can do is to summarise news items from Grimsby relating to him. “New Year 1889 (5650). A sermon was delivered on the first day of the New Year by the Reverend H. Saltman and was listened to with interest by the congregation”. Anyone who knows Anglo-Jewry realises it goes without saying that only a “Reverend” is entitled to deliver or preach a sermon, ergo post hoc propter hoc. Again – “New Year 1892 (5653). Mr. H. Saltman delivered discourses on both days during the afternoon services”. (But a layman may deliver a “discourse”.)
Perhaps my grandfather was disgruntled at his demotion to the laity and his relegation to the less prestigious afternoon services. Perhaps his friends and supporters may have seen in these developments an insidious attack on embattled Orthodoxy in Grimsby. At all events, barely a month later a general meeting of the “Grimsby Orthodox Congregation” was held. My grandfather was elected President and Zelig was restored to his old office of Hon. Sec. Additionally, my grandfather gave £25 towards building a Beth Hamedrash. A new schism, which had been simmering for a year, broke out in full force. After another outbreak in 1898-9, which led to police-court proceedings, Grimsby perforce became used to the existence of a supplementary congregation, as we have seen before, and in due course the Hamilton Street Beth Hamedrash was indeed established. But by then my grandfather had departed for good, to renew his rebellious activities in unsuspecting South Shields. I don’t know how long his Presidency in Grimsby endured. Revolutions eat their children. In 1896 (5657) he was awarded the honour of Choson Bereshis in the main synagogue, which he could hardly have patronised on the Festival were he still the leader of the sectaries.
The only one of my family who ever achieved some measure of public fame, albeit posthumous, was my uncle Lewis, who was born on 31 January 1898 and died twelve days later. The inquest was reported at length in the “Grimsby Gazette” under the headline Strange Death of an Hebrew Infant. “An inquest was held at the Town Hall on Monday on the body of Lewis Saltman aged twelve days, son of Harris Saltman a Hebrew picture-framer of Oxford Street…… Harris Saltman, the father of the child, identified the body. He said according to the Jewish, male children were circumcised on the eighth day after birth, providing they were in good health. The deceased was circumcised on Monday 7th February by the Jewish Rabbi Mr. Goldsmith….” After further evidence given by Mr. Goldsmith and by Dr. Turner who had been called in when Lewis became ill, the jury found that Lewis’s death was caused by “shock and septic fever after circumcision”. Nobody was blamed, but the coroner recommended that in future carbolic acaid rather than Condy’s Fluid should be used as an antiseptic.
In the same issue of the paper a leading article was printed on the case. “We do not hear very much nowadays about this ancient rite of circumcision, but the inquiry which has been held into the death of a little child who had undergone the operation has naturally brought it rather prominently before the public during the last few days. The Rabbi of the Grimsby Jewish Church who circumcised the child, stated that he had performed the operation 38 times during his residence in the town and had never known a case to end fatally. Dr. Turner also stated that the operation was properly carried out and the percentage of deaths from these cases was very small. It was therefore clearly not a case for censure, and the jury was unanimous in exonerating the Rabbi from all blame. At the same time recommendations were made which will possibly prevent the recurrence of such a painful case in the future.”
The general tenor of the report of the inquest and of the leading article bear out the intrinsic decency and humanity of late Victorian England. I very much doubt if the same could be said of any other country at this time or of England itself at a later period.
It may be said of my grandfather’s three sons that if Izzy was the theologian of the family and my father the iconoclast, then Lewis was the martyr.
Not long after Lewis’s death, the family removed to South Shields.
Copyright © 2000 - Avrom Saltman
* According to information received in 2006 from Sue Levy, the daughter of Manny and Ivy Saltman, "Jack the son of Diana, was not a doctor. He went into the family business. However, Sally, Diana's other married Jack Rose, a doctor. Hermione did not emigrate to Australia, but her daughter, Alison, did."
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