This is a photo of Eva Lichtenstein, who is my maternal grandmother. When I was nearly 10 years old, my Dad told me my Mum was Jewish. When Mum found out, she insisted on making me promise not to tell anyone. She worried how people would react if they knew.
My Mum was 11 years old at the start of World War II. She was evacuated from London to Exmouth in Devon. Like many evacuees, she returned to London before the end of the war, and when it finished she was just 17 years old and working as a waitress in central London.
Five years after the end of the war, she saw her Mum for the last time, as they fell out over a ring she’d been left by a murdered aunt. Mum never received the ring, but my grandmother didn’t believe her. Through my research, I know the official reason why my Mum never received the ring, but there are still questions that need to be asked.
I entered secondary school fairly soon after I found out my Mum was Jewish. I was put into the German half and expected to learn German as a foreign language. Mum said it was a little like Yiddish, but she made it clear she would never want to go to Germany. It was a fear she lived with all her adult life.
I can’t imagine how that felt for her.
Now her secret was out, I was full of questions and she was full of stories and a few vague answers. She provided quite a few short anecdotes about people and places, but Hannah Solomons, and her Mum, Eva Lichtenstein, were the two she mentioned the most, closely followed by the Long Acre aunt and the aunt from Prince Rupert.
Hannah was her great-grandmother who Mum lived with until she died in 1937, just before my Mum turned 9. Hannah and her husband Jacob came to this country from somewhere in Eastern Europe. My Mum wasn’t sure where, but I believe I now know the name of the village in Lithuania.
Mum described herself as being pushed from pillar to post after Hannah died. She once lived in a house full of stuffed birds and there were never any bird ornaments or pictures in our home. She clearly liked her cousins and would probably like to have seen them again, but what she really wanted was to find out what happened to her Mother.
Being asked to find my grandmother was what started me off in Family History research, but I never applied myself as much as I could have done. Unfortunately my Mum died in 2004 and never knew what had become of her Mother.
So many aunts, so few names?
Listening to my Mum talk about her life, you would be forgiven for thinking she had many aunties. The truth be told she had none. Some were great-aunts, some other relations and I suspect some were people she respected.
There was the aunt she lived with in Long Acre who witnessed a murder. Another aunt lived in Colvestone Crescent in Dalston, often buying Lox and Cream Cheese Bagels from the Ridley Road bakery at the end of the street. I mustn’t forget the paranoid aunt who lived south of the river, as well as the one in Lambeth. For all I know, some of these people could have been the same person.
There was also an aunt Bessie from Prince Rupert in Canada, who visited a few times, but was murdered over there. I’ve since found this was a big story in Prince Rupert. Not least because of the murder of aunt Bessie’s sister almost exactly 17 years to the day before. It turns out aunt Bessie’s sister was the first real murder in Prince Rupert. It also turns out she was my great-grandmother. I believe my Mum never knew.
She also had friends and occasionally gave them a name, but most people she told me about had places and stories but not names. At least not ones I remember.
At the time my Dad announced Mum was Jewish, he also told me she had thought her name was Jacqueline Morris, which is the name on their Marriage Certificate. They found out it was Chemerofsky when they tried to emigrate to Australia. We spent about 3 years and 3 months living in Australia, but came back mostly because my Mum didn’t settle there.
Australia turned out to be traumatic due to a German family out there called the Neudatch’s. It really stressed Mum out. She was homesick for a country where she had lost contact with her family and friends, yet when our feet touched the tarmac at Gatwick, I’m sure she bent down and kissed it.
From little acorns grow great oaks
I did eventually manage to drag a few names out of Mum, did a little bit of research in the 1980s and 1990s, put it aside and got on with my life. My Mum died in 2004 and a few years later I tried again in 2009, but the desire wasn’t met by action.
The rise of antisemitism in the world at large, and the Labour Party in particular, of which I am a member, lead me up to a time in 2018 when the desire to honour my Mum’s quest to find my grandmother, took over me.
I have concentrated on the female line through my grandmother. I am in contact with a wonderful second cousin who does a great job with my grandfather’s side. I also want to learn more about Jews. I was very close to my Mum, she taught me how to cook and bake, much of it forgotten now. I am half-Jewish, and although I have yet to step inside a Synagogue, I feel a need to get more in touch with my inner Jew.
As part of that Journey I have read some of Simon Schama’s books (more than once), read My Jewish Learning site regularly, have Esther Ansell as my favourite fictional heroine and regularly read books by Jewish authors.
So far I have uncovered lots of stories about my family and will try and write them up on this blog.
If you are thinking about looking into your family history, please don’t do what I did. Please ask lots of questions of your relatives, write lots of notes and better still record conversations with them. Try and get names and places and dates. Ask the same question in different ways at different times. This can trigger additional information.
I seriously began my research based on the following notes, which I have also reproduced as they are on the now fading paper I still have.
(1) Aunt Bessy disturbed burglars and was murdered in Prince Rupert. Jacqueline received a letter from the commissioner of police in Prince Rupert c1949. Bessy left her a ring in her a ring (£500) in her will.
(2) 1928 Mark Chemerofsky, Eva and Jacqueline moved to 56 Valance Road from 3 Clarkston Street. Parliamentary Constituency = South West Division County Electoral Division = Bethnal Green Polling District = R Electoral Ward = South
(3) 1931 - Eva and Mark separated.
(4) WWII 1939 - 1945 Mark served in Fire Brigade
(5) Alexandra Solomons killed in 1914-1918 war
(6) Hannah Solomons died around 1937 - possibly January
(7) The Jewish Historical Society of England Hon Secretary 33 Seymour Place, London W1H 5AP
(8) Ester Solomons was Eva’s mother she married Jack Lichtenstein. Esters Mum was Hannah (See 6). Her brothers and sisters were:
Rachael Solomons = Mark Goldstein married 1944 Jeanette Goldstein Gerald (b c. 1926) Goldstein
Rebecca Solomons = Abe Lived in Forest Gate Jake
Dinah Solomons = Ike Had a greengrocers in Hackney Jack Alex (alec) Kitty
Alexandra (dur?) Solomons Killed in 1914 - 1918 war
Louis Solomons = ?
Lived in Leman street 2 daughters
Heime Solomons = Rosie Helen Solomons (bit older than Mum) Zena Solomons
(9) Aunt Bessy came over from Canada - had no children, looked upon Eva as daughter
(10) Hannah lived in Regal Place/Court No 1, Old Montague Street. Jack lived here from 1931 onwards.
Eva Lichtenstein also Morris Born 1907
Father was Jack Lichtenstein a Tailors Machinist Mother was Esther Solomons At the time they lived at ?
Was a milliner when married to Mark Chemerofsky on 10 June 1926. At the time both Eva and mark lived at 45 Blythe Street, Bethnal Green.
Her daughter Jacqueline was born on 7 Feb 1928 while living at 3 Clarkson Street.
Soon after they moved to 56 Valance road and the marriage broke up with a legal separation around 1931.
From 1949 to 1951 she lived with Alfred Purchase in Flat 13, No 9 darling Row. She then disappeared.
Near the beginning of the war 1938-1939 she was in prison.
Mark Chemerofsky Born 19 Mar 1904
Surname spelt Shamirofsky and other phonetic connotations. Father was Morris Schamirofsky - tailors presser later a tobacconist. Mother was Rosie Schamirofsky formerly Levitsky. At the time lived at 57 Wentworth Buildings, Whitechapel.
Trained as a hairdresser & married Eva Lichtenstein on 10 Jun 1926 when a Journeyman. At the time both Eva & Mark lived at 45 Blythe Street, bethnal green.
Their daughter Jacqueline was born on 7 Feb 1928 while living at 3 Clarkson Street. Soon after they moved to 56 Vallance Road and the marriage broke up with a legal separation around 1931.
During 2nd World War 1939-45 mark was a fireman.
Mark was a “court” hairdresser and worked for a madam Prunay? In Hackney.
I began with wanting to know what happened to my grandmother, Eva Lichtenstein, and have ended up learning far more than I expect about my Jewish family and myself. There are still gaps and questions and although I’ve hardly begun, it’s been a roller coaster of emotion at times.