The Nachum Rutstein Family of Tolochin, Belarus
By J.R. Rothstein
Nachum Rutstein was likely born in greater Tolochin, then part of White Russia, a region of the Russian Empire, in the second or third decade of the nineteenth century (1820s or 1830s). Nachum  Rutstein’s tribe appears to have been concentrated in the region between the city of Minsk and the town of Orsha. That Rutstein tribe settled in smaller hamlets or villages, primarily Tolochin and a smaller hamlet nearby, Kochanova, which is between the towns of Orsha and Tolochin. 
Nachum was born into a world where Jews were treated as second class citizens and state sponsored antisemitism, persecution and pogroms of Jews were the norm. This physical, economic, legal and social persecution created great societal dysfunction and provided numerous obstacles to the advancement of Jews trying to eke out a living. Through sheer tenacity, however, Nachum became a wealthy, resourceful and established businessman—possibly making his fortune in the lumber and real estate industries. Nachum owned real estate throughout Tolochin and possibly in the nearby hamlet of Kochanova. Nachum was a proud Jew, and he used his wealth to support Jewish life and peoplehood. Archival research reveals that Nachum Rutstein was the father of at least three children (but likely many more). The name of his three known sons are Ephraim, Shimon , and Dov Behr .
It was perhaps Nachum Rutstein who was the protagonist of a story told by Gregg Rothstein regarding another ‘Rothstein’ family of Tolochin. There was once a certain Yitzchak “Itsko” Soloveitchik (1818 – Est. 1900), who hailed from a long rabbinic line, whose roots were in the Igumun province in modern day Belarus, and who had migrated to Tolochin with his three sons. The legend relates that two of his young sons, Avraham and Yisroel Dov Ber, were drafted into the Russian army. Russian law at the time provided that should a family have only one son, that son would be exempt from the Russian army. A common means of evading military service was to send the “extra” son to another family who either had no other son or was in another way able to shelter the child. The two Soloveitchik sons went to live with two other Tolochin families, one of them being surnamed Berger, and the other Rothstein. Because Yisrael Dov Ber was assisted in some way by the Nachum Rutstein family of Tolochin, Yisrael Dov Ber changed his surname from Soloveitchik to Rodstein in honor of the family of Nachum Rutstein. Itsko’s descendants still bare the surname Rothstein, (and its spelling variants) until today . The author posits, based on his review of the archival records, that to distinguish themselves, the families spelled the name differently. The family of Nachum Rutstein spelled Rutstein in Russian as Рутштейн and the family of Yisroel Dov Behr Rothstein as Рудштейн.
Despite Nachum’s great successes, and great kindness to others, at least two of his children succumbed to the social ills which surrounded them. According to Milton Rothstein, “Dov Behr’s two oldest brothers gambled their father’s fortune and business away--mostly in card games.”  Dov Behr, however, it appears, refrained from the reckless gambling practices of his older brothers. Attempting to retain what he could of the legacy and fortune of Nachum Rutstein, Dov Behr remained conservative in his business and personal affairs. He is not known to have gambled. Nor does it appear that he took any great risk in business. He did, however, manage to eke out a simple living and provide support to his ten children.
Ephraim Rutstein was born in Tolochin, Belarus, the son of Nachum Rutstein. He married Sivia “Tzivia” Porchevnik the daughter of Avraham Porchevnik. The couple had at least six children . A 1904 notice in the Mogilevskie Gubernskie Vedomosti, a local newspaper, provides that the Moscow Sted (Agrarian Land) Bank announced that the “below real estate belonging to the persons who didn't return the loans to the bank will be sold at auction at November 18, 1904.” Among the names are “Ephraim Nukhimovich Rutshtein, 1st district of the town, Mogilevskaya street, land area 203 sq. ‘sazhen’ [about 925 sq. m.], unpaid debt 1278 rubles 30 kopeeks” which at this time was about. US $650 . A 1911 notice in the same newspaper provides that the Orsha uezd (province) police department was searching for Leizer Nokhim, the son of Ephraim Rutstein, and his family due to his failure to appear in 1910 for a military draft. The notice states that the police were specifically looking for: (i) father, Ephraim Rutstein the son of Nachum Rutstein, (ii) mother, Tziviya the daughter of Avraham; and brothers (iii) Girsha; (iv) Simon Nota; and (v) his sister Genesha.” Oral history relates that two of Nachum’s grandchildren married one another. Dov Behr’s son Nisson Rutstein, the son of Dov Behr Rutstein married Frayda Rutstein, the daughter of Ephraim Rutstein. Oral history provides no other details regarding Ephraim.
The Life of Dov Behr “Berka” Rutstein
Dov Behr Rutstein (Est. 1845 – Est. 1913), who was called Behr or Berka, is believed to have been born in greater Tolochin, Belarus, in the fourth or fifth decade of the 1800’s into a wealthy family that was a supporter and patron of Jewish life. Milton Rothstein reports that “Dov Behr’s father” Nachum “was reported to have been a very wealthy man” and used that wealth to help others. However, Behr’s older brothers gambled and squandered Nachum’s fortune leaving Behr with significantly reduced assets or in poverty.
Archival research reveals that in 1874 or 1875, Behr, still a young man, was drafted into the Russian Army. This event would have been traumatic to Nachum who lived through the age of the Cantonist schools, khappers (kidnappers), and other discriminatory policies of Czar Nicholas I. From 1827 to 1874, Nachum and his wife had witnessed children as young as eight years old drafted into the Russian Army for twenty-five-year terms where many of these children suffered from starvation, physical and psychological pressure to convert to Christianity . It was not unusual for a twelve-year old boy to be drafted, to serve twenty-five years, and then come out of the army at the age of 37 only to begin his life. Few of the children drafted into the Russian army were able to remain observant Jews during military service, and the majority of those that survived did not ever see their families again. The military draft devastated the Jewish community, increased class tensions, and eroded confidence in rabbinic leadership. It created a consistent sense of panic among Jewish parents, including Nachum, that their children could be taken away from them by the state.
However, lucky for Behr, in 1874, Alexander II engaged in a series of reforms which reduced military service to six years and raised the draft age to 21 (although in reality, children much younger were still drafted). It is unclear whether Behr actually served full time in the military or was, alternatively, as a landowner and the child of a wealthy man, able to purchase his release from the military. His military service must not have been that extensive a service, or he must have been a member of the reserves, because Behr’s first known child was born in 1876.
Milton Rothstein relates that Behr was a giant of a man who was over 6’4 and weighed 260 pounds and had powerful muscles. Behr was reputed to be the strongest man in his gurbernia or state. According to Milton Rothstein, Behr is reputed to have picked up a full-grown horse, perhaps as heavy as 1500 pounds. According to Steven Rothstein, Behr picked up a horse by going underneath the horse with his body, and using his shoulders to pick up the horse while using his legs as a support. According to Jay Rothstein, the horse may have been picked up in the context of a dare or competition.
Dov Behr was a considered a local hero and was called a “gibbur” in Yiddish/Hebrew. According to Milton Rothstein, during and after pogroms, Behr organized local Jews and formed Jewish defense organizations. Individually and together, these heroes or “gibburim,” would defend Jewish women, children and property against assault and pillaging. After the pogroms, the gibburim would retaliate against the Cossacks that had murdered, slaughtered and massacred their friends, family and other defenseless Jews in cold blood. It was reported that in at least one instance Dov Behr strangled one of these Cossacks with his bare hands. Steven Rothstein relates that after the Cossacks would attack, raid, rape and pillage, the Cossacks would go to the local saloon to get drunk and celebrate and boast about their killing of Jews. In at least one or more instances, Behr waited for the guilty and drunk Cossack to come out of the saloon, and whether there was one or two of them, Behr would come up behind them and strangle them to death with his bare hands. It is likely that these events took place between 1881 and 1884 when a series of pogroms swept the Pale of Settlement following the assassination of Alexander II.
Dov Behr was married at least twice. According to Alan Redstone, Dov Behr’s first wife died in Belarus . Her name is unknown. Dov Behr then remarried to Riva Rothstein. Riva was the daughter of Yisrael Rothstein and Frieda Pavcek, and was a cousin . Riva was born April 1, 1847, likely in Tolochin. Riva married a man whose surname was Shpitzglas and then afterward married Dov Behr. Dov Behr and Riva were probably (first) cousins but this cannot be confirmed.
Dov Behr had at least ten children . According to Phyllis Birnbaum, when Rutstein children misbehaved, as a punishment, Riva or Behr sent them to go outside and fetch water from the well and river. The children did so living with the fear that they could be kidnapped by Cossacks. Frayda, Dov Behr’s daughter, recalls fetching water as a child and being afraid that Cossacks would kidnap her.
Oral history provides that Dov Ber was a very poor man. However, 1906 land records provide that Berka Rutstein, the son of Nachum Rutstein, did own real estate in Staro-Tolochin and managed to provide for himself.
The last years of Behr’s life parallel that of the decline of Jewish Tolochin and the emigration of its Jewish population. Two of Behr’s children, Yisroel and Nisson, immigrated to the United States in 1911 to join their brother, Yaakov, in the new world. Behr, however, resisted emigration. In 1912, records provide that “Berka Rutstein” owned land in Tolochin and had a business in Kochanova. In 1912, Frada Rutstein, daughter of Ephraim Rutstein, lists her Uncle “Behr” as a point of contact in Europe on her immigration form. The document provides that Behr was then living in Kochanova 12 miles east of Tolochin.
On October 27th, 1913, Riva immigrated to the United States and went to live with her son Yaakov at 65-67 Kings Street in Brooklyn, New York. In New York, Riva lived for a few short years and helped take care of her grandchildren, including bathing Bessie Boyarin, her granddaughter, as a child. Riva died on July 25, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York and is buried in Queens, New York. According to Jay Rothstein, Dov Behr also immigrated to the United States. However, no documentary evidence has been located that confirms that assertion. According to Jay Rothstein, Behr died in a Turkish bathhouse in the United States. Behr reportedly drank cold water and it was believed that the sudden change in temperature sent his body into shock and killed him. The author, however, believes that Behr died in Kochanova, Belarus in or around late 1912 or early 1913 – in the Turkish or public bathhouse as described in the story of Jay Rothstein. The author basis this on the fact that Riva presumably emigrated after his death and a grandson of Behr, Bernard Rutstein, was born in 1914, was named after him. With the death of Behr in 1914, the history of the centuries long presence of the Rutstein family in Tolochin comes to a close.
The narrative takes the previous family trees and narratives authored by Milton Rothstein, Alan Redstone, Nancy Wexler and others, and with my additions synthesizes them into a single historical narrative. There are no doubt many errors in this history, but it should still give the reader a general sense of who these people were, what their lives were like, and inspire their descendants to carry on their positive legacies. A special thank you needs to be expressed to Nancy Wexler who first took me at the age of sixteen to the New York City archives and share with me the art of archival genealogical research.
1. The origin of the surname Rothstein. The following is taken from the Beth Hatefutsoth Encyclopedia of Jewish Names. It provides different theories as to the origin of the surname which in German means Redstone:
Many Jews bear names based on places of origin or residence. Rotstein is a toponymic surname (i.e. derived from a place of origin or residence), associated with the town of Rot near Nuremberg in Bavaria.
Stein is a common suffix of Jewish family names. It could be toponymic too. All localities called Stein (the German for “stone” and/or “Rock”) are situated near Nuremberg, Bavaria, Krems, Niederosterreich (Austria), and Schaffhaused (Switzerland). Kamnik in Slovenia, is still in German, and the name of a number of places in Poland called Kamien has been translated by Jews into the Yiddish Shteyn.
Rot was also often a nickname for a man with red hair or beard, which became part of the family name.
In the 20th century, Rotstajn [and its related variations of spelling of the surnames] are recorded as a Jewish family surname.
2. Members of the Tolochin Rutstein family have spelled the surname as follows: Rothstein, Rutstein, Rotstein, Rootshtein, Rotchstein, and Rutshtein and many other variants. The author is of the opinion that most Rothsteins (the variety of spelling is of no genealogical significance) are not related to this family. The author, however, has come across a number of Rothsteins in his research also from the province of Minsk that are seemingly related. This is especially true of those Rothsteins that originate from the vicinity of Orsha and Tolochin. Looking at many records in the archives, seeing the repetition of family names, it became clear that there was an unknown Rothstein progenitor, perhaps the father or grandfather of Nachum Rutstein, who initially adopted the surname, and which over time produced many different branches of the family throughout the greater Tolochin area.
The Rothstein men of this family are Israelites and are members of Y-Chromosome Haplotype G2a2.
3. Shimon Rutstein was born in the Mogliev region of Belarus. His existence is known only through archival records which provide the following information: “The following is a list of the cases to be heard by Mogilev Guberniya Criminal Court on the 12th of December, 1879:…5. Re. meshanin Simon Nokhimov Rutstein accused of a thievery.”
4. That Ephraim and Dov Behr were brothers can also be inferred from the passenger manifests of the ship Graf Waldersee in which provide that their children Leizer Rutstein and Basya Rutstein respectively are listed as having traveled together to America and arriving in September 25, 1908. In the ship manifest, Ephraim and Behr respectively are listed as their fathers. The record provides that Basya had previously immigrated to the United States but Leizer had not.
5. Y-chromosome DNA results conducted on one male descendant of Yisrael Dov Ber Solevitchik provide inconclusive answers as to whether there was a distant paternal family relationship to Nachum Rutstein. The families were likely related in some manner, perhaps maternally.
6. The names of the older brothers are not known.
7. Ephraim Rutstein and Sivia Porchevnik had the following children who migrated to the United States:
Fradie Rutstein was born on January 31, 1886 in Kochanova, Mogiliv Gubernia, Belarus. She immigrated to the United States on September 16th, 1912. She died on December 28, 1967 in Brooklyn, New York. She married her first cousin, Nathan Rutstein.
Shimon Rutstein was born on January 1, 1887 in Tolochin, Belarus. He died on September 16, 1948 in Brooklyn, New York. He married Hanna Rosenthal on June 22, 1913 in Bronx, New York. She was born on February 16, 1892 in Bialystok, Belarus. She died on January 21, 1950 in Brooklyn, New York. Shimon and Hannah had the following children: (a) Bernard Rutstein was born on January 20, 1914 in Brooklyn, New York. He died on August 18, 1994 in Indiana. He married Sophie Axelrod on February 27, 1938 in New York. She was born on July 04, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. She died on November 29, 1995 in Indiana; (b) Evelyn Rutstein was born on May 01, 1916 in Brooklyn, New York. She died on February 12, 1984 in Kendall Park, New Jersey. She married David Wexler on December 03, 1939 in Brooklyn, New York. He was born on November 14, 1910 in New York, New York. He died on February 04, 1969 in Manhattan, New York; (c) Irving Rutstein was born on March 04, 1921 in Brooklyn, New York. He died on December 16, 1972 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He married Ruth Sterenberg on April 09, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York. She was born on March 13, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. Irving’s son, Hanan Rutstein, made aliyah, became Orthodox, lives in Maalat Michmas and has four children and many grandchildren.
Shimon Rutstein won $5,000 in a lottery while living in Buenos Aires. He courted his wife and were fairly well-to-do, owning a vehicle and having a maid. The following is a photo of Shimon and Hannah Rutstein:
Gnesja Rutstein was born in 1888 in Tolochin, Mogiliv Gubernia, Belarus. She died on December 18, 1959 in Brooklyn, New York. She married Benyamin Hoffenberg. He was born in 1885 in Russia. He died on November 06, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. Benyamin Hoffenberg and Gnesja Rutstein had the following children: (a) Nathan Hoffenberg was born on September 09, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. He married Yetta Wurtzel on March 03, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. She was born on January 10, 1925 in Manhattan, New York; (b) Abraham Hoffenberg was born on September 09, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. He married Shirley Silver in Nov 1941 in Brooklyn, New York. She was born on June 22, 1920 in New York; (c) Samuel Hoffenberg was born after 1919. He died in 1985.
Eliezer Nachum “Lazer” Rutstein was born on November 01, 1892 in Tolochin, Mogiliv Gubernia, Belarus. According to archival research, Lazer was drafted into the military in 1910 but did not report for duty. He died on December 18, 1977 in New York. He married Anna. Eliezer Rutstein and Anna had the following children: (a) Abraham Rutstein; (b) Gertrude Rutstein; (c) Hyman Rutstein; (d) Ida Helen Rutstein was born on December 05, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. She died on April 05, 2002 in Florida. She married Harry Phillip Sperling in Brooklyn, New York. He was born on July 04, 1910 in Brooklyn, New York. He died in 1995 in Florida.
Archival research has revealed the following additional siblings which remained in Russia:
Israel Rutstein, who declared bankruptcy in Tolochin in 1910;
Girsh Rutstein or Hirsch Rutstein (d. 1939). Hirsch, a carpenter by profession, married his cousin Genia Rutstein (d.1941). The couple remained behind in Tolochin (when his siblings and cousins went to America) and therefore became part of Soviet Jewry. Hirsch had at least four children: (1) Chaya (d.1941); (2) Chaim (d. 1945); (3) Zavel (1913 – 1986) (4) Golda (April 1916 - 2009). Chaya was sexually assaulted (and/or raped) in the pogroms prior to the Russian Revolution.
Zavel was a soldier in the Soviet Army and received many medals for bravery. He served in three wars: (1) Finland; (2) World War Two, where he served as an aviation technician and pilot and (3) with Japan. He married Dora Rochlin (1921 – 1978), an orphan of the famines, and had three children, Georg (1942-1988), Valera (b.1947), and Slava (b.1951). Zavel was called to war the day after his wedding. He later reunited with his wife at the conclusion of World War II.
Genia (wife of Hirsch) and Chaya (along with her two children) were killed in 1941/1942 by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. They are thought to be buried in a mass grave in or near Tolochin – possibly in the mass grave near the village of Raitsy with other Jewish Tolochiners. Chaim survived the Nazi Einsatzgruppen but disappeared at the end of, or immediately after, the Second World War.
Golda (Galina) grew up in a very poor family. Galina was the only child in her family to receive an education. Galina went to university and obtained a degree in teaching and Russian literature. Galina married Leibel Feldman (d. 1969) in 1937. She moved from Tolochin to Drybin where her husband had received a position as a prosecutor. The couple had their first child, Lilia, who died of disease in 1939/1940. Golda then had a second child, Gregory (Girsch/Herschel), who was born 1939-40.
Sometime in the second half of 1941 and early 1942, Golda was in the vicinity of Drybin, and received news that her family and some of the others Jews that were in Tolochin had been murdered by the Nazis. At the same time, she received news that her husband’s father had also been killed in or near Drybin. When she heard this news, Golda took her son Hirsh (who was then around two years old) and got on onto a train to travel east to a non-occupied zone of the Soviet Union.
Golda looked very Jewish and the non-Jewish passengers, who were not use to seeing Jews, insulted and harassed her during the train ride. At some point during the journey, her son, Hirsh, became ill. Golda tried to conceal her son’s illness but the people on the train discovered it. They were afraid that the child might be contagious. The non-Jewish passengers demanded that the conductor stop the train. They kicked Golda and Hirsh off the train. It was the middle of the winter. The train left them alone, in the middle of the forest, near a train station. Hirsh, Golda’s son, died. Golda was forced to bury Hirsh, alone, with her own hands, in an isolated field.
Golda Rutstein and her son Girsh Feldman (1940-1942). Drybin, Soviet Union, 1941. Photo courtesy Inna Rubina
Golda reunited with her husband in the non-occupied soviet zone near the city of Chkalov (Orenberg). In 1943, Golda gave birth to her daughter, Svetlana. After the war, Golda remained in Orenberg where she became a teacher. In 1950, she gave birth to another son, Gena Feldman. Gena drowned in summer camp at age 11 in 1961. In 1969, after the death of her husband, Golda moved to Moscow to help her daughter Svetlana (1943 -1983) who had become ill. In 1996, as part of the wave of Soviet Jewish migration to the United States and Canada, Golda migrated to Montreal where she lived until her death in 2009 with her granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.
8. These debts may be a result of fines and sanctions imposed on the family as a result of its sons’ failure to appear for military draft.
9. There is a fifty-percent chance the photo is that of Ephraim Rutstein or alternatively one of Ephraim’s other siblings or Rutstein cousins.
10. See Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Jews in the Russian Army, 1827-1917: Drafted into Modernity. Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
11. According to Boris Rutstein, Dov Ber Rutstein and had the following child with his first wife:
Ely Rutstein. Years ago, after my visit to Tolochin, I met Rutshtein cousins in Israel who connected with this family (although I cannot tell you exactly how). According to memory, Michael Rutshtein of Ashdod related that Dov Behr is reported to have had a child named Ely Rutstein with his first wife and who also stayed behind in Belarus. Ely Rutshtein had the following children: (i) Nachum Rutshtein who married Tzirah; and (ii) Mina Rutshtein. I found Nachum’s Ruthstein’s tombstone in Tolochin. Nachum Rutshtein and Tzirah had the following children: (i) Boris Ruthstein; (2) Ely Ruthstein (who has daughters who live in Noginsk near Moscow and who was an engineer; (iii) Michael Rutshtein. I met Boris Rutshtein as an old man in Ashdod, Israel, and he remembered his uncle Yaakov Rutstein visiting Tolochin in the 1930’s. Boris Rutshtein had the following children: (i) Michael Rutshtein; (ii) Sonya Rutshtein Krivoshey, who has sons named Dani and Alex. Michael Rutshtein (son of Nachum Ruthstein) had Dina Rutshtein Vili and has four children one of whom is named Tali. Michael Rutshtein (son of Boris Ruthstein) has the following children: (i) Rami Rutshtein; and (ii) Natan Ruthstein, both of Ashdod, Israel. The following is a photograph of Nachum and his wife Tzirah and their child Boris:
12. Archival research reveals a 1884 reference to an Israel Ber Rothstein in the Mogilevskie Gubernskie Vedomosti, a local newspaper. Although it’s possible this is a reference to Riva’s parents, or another member of our Rothstein family, it is more likely a reference to the family of Isaac Solevitchik whose son Yisrael Ber adopted the surname Rothstein. The newspaper account provides:
The fire which took place on the 10th of March destroyed the Jewish community mikva and five private houses with belongings. The owners of the houses were local Jews: Israel Berka Rodshtein, Leiba Zusin, Chaya-Ryvka Khotovkin, Abram Alkins, and David Alkins. The investigation showed that on the night of March 9 a local peasant Ivan Shopik was using the stove to make the mikva warm and fell asleep. The fire began and destroyed all the neighboring houses belonging to the above-named persons. The fire has damaged Staro-Tolochin Jewish Community for 2000 rubles, Rodshtein for 1000 rubles, Zusin for 300 rubles, Khotovkin for 150 rubles, Abram Alkin for 650 rubles, Dovid Alkin for 50 rubles, and Ryzh for 100 rubles.
In 1895, Israel Ber Rodshtein was elected and approved by the Mogilev Governor for a "Scholar Jew" position in Staro-Tolochin Great Synagogue, for three years (1895-1898). In 1896 or 1899, the family of Izrail-Berka Rodshtein was fined a penalty of 300 rubles for non-appearance of its members for the military draft. The records also provide that Israel Berka died between 1896 and 1899. His heirs — widow Doba Simonova (the daughter of Simon) and children Nachum, Simkha-Chaim, and Sora Rodshtein — didn't pay the penalty. As a consequence, the state took their real estate (two or more properties) in Staro-Tolochin, and in Zarechno-Tolochinskaya street, and sold them.
On July 20th, 1910, the ship Birma arrived at Ellis Island. It contained passengers Dobe Radstein, widowed and then aged 70 years old, her son Nachum Radstein, then age 40, and Nachum’s wife, Leie. Although it cannot be confirmed, it is believed that this Rutstein family belonged to the descendants of Itsko Solevitchik. This needs further confirmation. The following picture is believed to be of Yisrael Ber Rodshtein:
13. Dov Ber Rutstein and Rivka “Riva” Rothstein-Shpitzgloz-Rutstein had the following children:
Frayda Rutstein was born October 2, 1876 in Tolochin, Belarus. She died on September 24, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. She married Max Mendel Boyarin in Tolochin, Belarus. He was born about 1869 in Belarus. Max Mendel Boyarin and Frieda Rutstein had the following children: (i) Nathan Boyarer was born about 1902 in Tolochin, Belarus; (ii) Rose Boyarer was born about 1903 in Tolochin, Belarus; (iii) Meyer Boyarer was born about 1905 in Tolochin, Belarus; (iv) Bessie Boyarin was born on December 23, 1899 in Tolochin, Belarus. She died in October of 1985 in Rockaway, New Jersey. She married Ralph Markowitz. He was born about 1895 in Russia; (v) Elsie Boyarer Cohen, born in 1913 in New York.
Mendel Boyarin was not originally from Tolochin. Mendel was an apple merchant who sold apples wholesale. As an apple merchant, Mendel went from town to town unloading his wares. One day, as he was traveling, Mendel come to the Tolochin market to sell his apples. Mendel caught a glimpse of Frayda and fell instantly in love. Mendel was very tall, 6’4”, broad chested, good looking, and strong like Frayda’s father, Dov Behr. The two married quickly.
According to Phyllis Birnbaum, Mendel had been drafted into the Russian army once in his youth and was drafted a second time as a young man. Mendel did not want to go into the Czarist army for a second time and so he left his wife and four kids in 1902 or 1903 so that he could go to the United States. Mendel only had enough money to get a ticket to England. He landed in England where he spent six months pressing pants and saving enough money to get to the United States, which he finally did. Mendel didn’t write letters since he apparently was worried his location could be traced by the Russian government. In America, Yaakov Rutstein, Mendel’s brother-in-law, sponsored Mendel’s immigration and brought him into the lumber business with him. Mendel’s experience also mirrors that of Yaakov Rutstein, in terms of emigrating to the US when faced with a second draft and staying in London for a time because of lack of funds.
Once Mendel arrived to the United States, he sent for his wife and four kids. Yaakov Rutstein later also sponsored his sister, Frayda. Frayda felt safe immigrating to America because her brother, Jacob, had already paved the way for she and her husband.
Frayda and her children left Tolochin and traveled to the port on a wagon. During the journey, baby Nathan, then age two, fell off the wagon. Frayda and her children didn’t notice that he had fallen off the wagon until they arrived at the port. They turned around and found him sleeping in the snow unaware of what had happened.
In America, Mendel went to go work in Yaakov Rutstein’s lumber yard. Frayda Rutstein was a loving grandmother. She taught her grandson, Bert, how to speak Yiddish.
Yaakov “Yankel” Rutstein was born on 15 Apr 1876/1877/1878 in Tolochin, Mogilev Guberniya, Belarus. He died on 27 February 1946 in Brooklyn, New York. He married Basha Poretzky, daughter of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Poretzkyn and Esther Sarah Dubrow in about 1907 in New York. She was born about 1885/1888 in Tolochin, Mogilev province, Belarus. She died February 1957 in Brooklyn, New York, United States.
The couple had five children: (i) Bertha Rutstein was born on July 28, 1909 in Brooklyn, New York. She died on 18 December 1999 in Florida in the United States. She married Abraham Becker. He was born on April 17, 1907 in Albany, New York. He died on May 03, 1986 in Florida, United States.; (ii) Dora (Dvora) Rothstein was born in 1910 in New York, New York. She died about 1995. She married Dr. Joseph Bloom. They had two children: Dr. Harvey Bloom and Dr. Steven Bloom; (iii) Nathan (Nachum) Rothstein was born on April 13, 1911 in Brooklyn, New York. He died on January 28, 1994 in Boca Raton or Palm Beach, Florida. He married Helen Jacobs on 14 September 1941 in Brooklyn Jewish Center. She was born on June 16, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. She died on April 08, 1995 in Florida; (iv) Morris Milton Rothstein was born on July 28, 1916 in Brooklyn, New York, United States. He died on June 11, 1999 in Reno, Nevada. He married Bernice Bronster, daughter of Henry Bronsther and Helen Hannah Gross on September 02, 1945 in Brooklyn, New York. She was born on August 07, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. She died on August 25, 2011 in Laguna Hills, Orange County, California; (v) Rita (Riva/Rivka) Rutstein was born on December 10, 1928 in New York City, New York. She married Gerald Frederick Kaplan. He was born on December 19, 1927 in New York, New York. More biographical details regarding Yaakov are referenced elsewhere.
Gregory (Girsh? or Hirsch) Rutshtein was born between 1875-1880 in Kokhanavo, Mogiliv Gubernia, Belarus. His Hebrew name was lost due to Communism. Gregory died between 1916-1921 in Kokhanavo, Mogiliv Gubernia, Belarus. He was married twice: First to a woman named Sarah and then a second time to a woman named Bracha. Gregory Rutstein and Sarah had the following children: (i) Zena Rutstein, born in Tolochin, Belarus. She died in 1951. She married Theodore Chefitz; (ii) Fayga Rutstein was born in 1916 in Tolochin, Belarus. She died in 1984 in Moscow, Russia. She married Lazer Molchadsky in Moscow, Russia. He was born about 1916 in Moscow, Russia. He was murdered in 1941 during the Second World War, somewhere in Russia; (3) Gregory Rutstein II was born in 1918 in Tolochin, Belarus. He died on December 2, 1999 in Chicago, Illinois. He married Tanya Yurevckih.
When World War One started, Gregory Rutstein I went to war and was badly wounded. He died in or around 1916. His wife, Bracha, died from famine and a broken heart a few years later. Their children – two girls and a boy were taken to a special Jewish orphanage in Moscow and never returned to Tolochin.
Israel Rothstein and Yaakov Rutstein returned to Tolochin in 1933. They reportedly came looking for their nieces and nephew. News of their search eventually reached the children at their orphanage in Moscow and the children were devastated that they were not found. Ship manifests confirm that Yaakov Rutstein returned to the United States from Europe on September 29, 1933. The author met a Rutstein cousin in Israel, Boris Rutstein, that remembered Yaakov Rutstein visiting Tolochin as a child.
Gregory Rutstein II, became a doctor and went to fight the Nazis during the Second World War. During the war, the whole village of Tolochin was burned down and almost the entire Jewish community was exterminated. Gregory Rutstein II resisted and fought the Nazis valiantly for four years and signed his name on the wall of the Nazi Military Commanding Center in 1945.
Being in Moscow, Gregory and his sister survived the war, but no other family members who remained in Tolochin did. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the descendants of Gregory I migrated to the United States. According to Edward Molchadsky, Gregory Rutstein II spoke about his uncles “who went to America in 1910’s to look for the better life.” On his deathbed, Gregory II’s dying wish to Edward Molchadsky and his other relatives was that they leave Russia and reconnect with their American cousins. After a century of separation, they have.
Nisson (Nathan) Rutstein was born in 1885/1887 in Tolochin, Belarus. He died on 17 July 1931 in Brooklyn, New York. He married his first cousin, Fradie Rutstein. She was born on 31 January 1886 in Kochanova, Mogilev Gubernia, Belarus. She died on December 28, 1967 in Brooklyn, New York. According to Milton Rothstein, Nathan Rutstein, like Behr, was a powerful man. His strength was recalled by some of the Russian and Polish lumber workers in his father Jacob’s (Yaakov’s) lumber yard in Brooklyn.
The couple had three children: (i) Bertha Rutstein was born in 1914 in New York. She died in California. She married Gene Martinez. He was born in 1900 and also died in California. The couple had no children; (ii) Helen Rutstein was born in December 1916 in Brooklyn, New York. She died in December 1981 in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, Florida. She married David Newmark in 1939 in New York City. He was born on October 10, 1911 in New York City, New York. He died in March 1984; (iii) Sylvia Rutstein was born in 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. She died in 1966 in Washington, DC. She married Harry Kozlow on 12 June 1946 in Maryland. He was born on August 04, 1914 in Brooklyn, New York.
Shimon Yeshaya “Samuel” Rothstein was born about 1890 in Tolochin, Mogilev Guberniya, Belarus. He died in 1921 in New York. He died three months after his mother, Riva. Samuel married Ida Edelson. She was born about 1887 in Minsk, Belarus. She died in New York. Sam Rothstein and Ida Edelson had the following children: (i) Ann Rothstein was born on January 29, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. She married Feivel David Belkind on August 28, 1938 in Brooklyn, New York. He was born on February 18, 1918 in Massachusetts; (ii) Shirley Rothstein was born on March 04, 1921 in Brooklyn, New York. She died in 1983 in New York. She married Arthur Hollander who also died in New York.
Anne Rutstein writes in a 1982 letter to Nancy Remz, “[m]y father Samuel (Sam) Rothstein, we never used Rut spelling, had a brother Jacob Rutstein, Ruthstein, etc. of Prudential Lumber Co. Also, brother Izzie, brother Nissen, and sister Frieda Boyarin. Jake or Jacob Rutstein being well to do, took care of my mom and her two girls. Shirley, my sister was 9 mos. And I was 4 yrs. Old [when] my dad died in 1921. Helen, Bobbie, and Sylvia all lived on Rockaway Parkway. Frieda and Mendel Boyarin lived on the next block. Their daughter Bessie Markowitz is still around at 82 plus. There are still lumber companies in business related to the family like Queen Lumber, Axinn Lumber, etc.”
Yisrael Nachum Israel Isadore “Izzy” Rutstein was born on January 1, 1894 in Tolochin, Mogilev Guberniya, modern-day Belarus. He died on 14 March 1963 in Brooklyn, New York. He married Lena. She was born about 1908 in New York. According to Ann Rutstein, Isidore Rutstein worked for Jacob Rutstein. Israel Rothstein was married twice. With his first wife, Lena, he had the following known children: (i) Rubin Rothstein was born about 1922 in New York; (ii) Bernard Rothstein was born about 1919 in New York. With his second wife, he had (iii) Natalie Rothstein who was born about 1938 in New York; (iv) and possibly a fourth child. According to Ann Rutstein, Isadore worked for Jacob Rutstein at his lumber yard.
Some of Dov Behr’s children are reported to have remained behind in Belarus. Two of Dov Behr’s children died from diseases. Archival research reveals the following additional adult children:
Devorah “Dviera” Rutstein (d. 1909/1910?)