|Material from www.litwackfamily.com||Copyrighted 2006-2015. All Rights Reserved.|
An Unimaginable Journey
by Steve Millman
This is my story (and yours). They were born in the Ukraine, then part of Russia. The town was called Ruzhin. There were six – four boys and two girls – born between 1892 and 1904; siblings born in this order: Charlie, Harry, Anuta, Sam, Clara and Isadore. Their original name was Litwak, not Litwack. Only because of their hardships and sacrifices are our lives as they are today.
It is difficult to imagine what it was like for them. Ruzhin was a shtetl, a Jewish ghetto. They lived in fear of the Cossacks, the Czar’s henchmen. Clara’s earliest memory was, as a very small child, peering from behind a door to see her mother, Miriam, being beaten by a Cossack’s riding crop.
Because the future in Russia offered no hope, their father, Yaakov, taught them the trade of dressmaking to prepare for a new life elsewhere - one he, personally, would not live to see. Each of them learned to make part of a dress. Their finished and unfinished garments had to be kept buried in the dirt until the Cossacks were out of sight. Only then could their products be worked on or traded with others in the shtetl.
Young men in Russia faced a twenty-five year service in the Russian army. It seemed whoever entered the army was never seen again. Miriam’s sister had a son, Meyer Misikoff, who may have been the first in the family to flee. He settled in Brooklyn. He sponsored his cousin Charlie’s immigration. Charlie came to America in 1910. Harry in 1913. Izzy and Clara came in 1922 with their mother Miriam. Sam and Anuta went to Palestine. Anuta lived the rest of her life there. Sam came to the U.S. in 1923 after a near fatal bout with malaria and a lengthy recovery in Paris.
All of them had difficult and dangerous journeys. Each walked 1500 miles or more. They only spoke Yiddish. They had to pay and entrust guides to direct them and forward their possessions. Their belongings never made it back to them. They traveled at night, walked through streams, rode cattle cars, whatever was necessary. Izzy, Clara and Miriam spent nearly a year in Poland on their way to Antwerp, Belgium. In Antwerp, they boarded the Zeeland which took them on the 4000 mile journey to Ellis Island.
The skills taught to them by their father paid rewards. Anuta became a seamstress in Haifa. There she helped found an orphanage. Her companion, Berl Repetur, became an important man in Israeli history. Charlie opened his first clothing store in Portal, Georgia before moving to Hamilton, Ohio in 1925 to start others. Izzy, Clara and Miriam moved to Portal upon coming to the U.S. and ran the store there until Charlie moved them to Maysville, Kentucky in 1929. Charlie, Sam and Izzy eventually started a chain of women’s clothing stores, most of them called “Litt Brothers.” The chain totaled twelve stores. In addition, Clara’s husband Jack Markell, owned The Reliable Shoe in Maysville in partnership with the Litt Brothers, and Harry had his own clothing store in Hamilton. Harry made Hamilton his permanent home.
Charlie moved to Cincinnati in 1937. Sam, Clara and Izzy had all settled in Cincinnati by 1949. Anuta traveled to the U.S. three times to visit her siblings. She became ill on her last visit and died shortly after her return to Israel. She is buried in Haifa. Clara, in 2000, was the last to die, at age 98.
We will be forever grateful that they brought us on their journey.