Harry Loshak: the early years

Ari’s great-great-grandfather Harry (my Grandad) was born on 22 May 1908 in Hackney, London. I think I got my love of words from Harry, and I treasure the books I inherited from him which have his pencilled notes in the margins, as well as two that he gave me as presents: a lovely small hardback edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales in 1968 and Three Men in a Boat in 1973 (which says in the front ‘An unbirthday present from Grandad’). I remember playing word games with him (Boggle?), and being told off for wishing I had letters I didn’t have! We shared a delight in interesting words and definitions. I think he must have been interested in family history too, although of course I never asked him the questions I should have.

Here’s Harry with me as a baby (with Claire Bruyère):

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And at my graduation:

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And at my wedding in 1986:

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Harry left so many documents behind him that there is no shortage of information to compile his life story. I have many letters of his, to his father, his wife Judy, his children, and to newspapers, as well as two or three versions of his autobiography, school reports, and certificates of various kinds.

The address on his birth certificate was 179 Amhurst Rd (which was described  as ‘a Victorian mid-terrace, typical of much of the housing stock within Hackney and that which gives the borough its coherence and integrity’. It sold for £1,350,000 in 2018. In 1904 the property was being offered in the London Standard as a freehold investment bringing in £45 p.a.).

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The birth was registered by his father, Meyer Loshak, who described himself as a commercial traveller. This is Harry with his mother Fannie (Freida).

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Harry was their first child. His earliest memory, according to his autobiography, was from 1910, when ‘my father took me, perched on his shoulders, to watch a street procession which, I learned later, was the funeral cortège of King Edward VII on its way to Paddington Station for burial at Windsor. I can remember soldiers marching in the street, some men (possibly police) on horseback, and music, presumably a funeral march’.

Here is Harry in 1910.

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He writes, ‘The next thing I remember is undergoing a tonsillectomy. I was three years old. The operation was carried out by our family practitioner, Dr Feldman. I had to lie down on the scullery table. A mask was placed over my head. It had a metal grill front, and it was on this that the doctor poured some drops of chloroform. The next thing I knew was being ordered under the bedclothes when I was found playing on the bed.’

In the 1911 census the family can be seen at 69 Aden Grove in Stoke Newington. I think this might be that house:

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Here is Harry in 1912:

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In August 1912 Harry’s brother Bernard was born.

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Harry says that ‘it must have been in 1912 when my maternal grandmother travelled from Lithuania to visit us. She stayed about a week. I have a dim recollection of her, the only one of my grandparents I ever saw’. (This would have been Fannie’s mother, Sarah Nisman. I don’t know how she would have travelled to London from Minsk but I haven’t found any records of this trip.)

On Harry’s fifth birthday, ‘my father gave me a tricycle, a wonderful present of which I was proud. One day I had been cycling along the pavement and then left the tricycle in the front garden while I went into the house. When, some minutes later, I emerged, the tricycle had disappeared. I was both heartbroken and angry. I remember thinking I would like to strangle whoever had stolen my treasured tricycle. My father reported the loss to the police. A couple of days later a policeman arrived at the house with the missing tricycle and holding by his ear the miscreant, a wretched-looking boy somewhat older than myself. He was dressed in rags, and like most poor children in those days, went barefoot. “Do you want to prosecute?” the policeman asked my father who, turning to me, asked if I wanted the boy punished. I looked at the miserable child. My anger evaporated. I felt nothing but pity for him. So I said “No”. The policeman slapped the boy’s ear and let him go.’

Harry went to a kindergarten near his home and then a Board School in Stoke Newington when he was six. He remembered this May Day celebration where he was the page boy:

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Harry mentions that his father’s brother Nathan had come to live in England (he was living with the family in the 1911 census), and Nathan and Meyer used to take Harry to Hyde Park to listen to the speakers on Sunday mornings. ‘I used to stand on a chair and wave my arms about saying “Sparliament, Sparliament”! My interest in politics thus began at a very early age’.

In 1912 the family moved to No. 12 Fairholt Rd, Stamford Hill.

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Harry’s autobiography also solves the mystery of this photo from 1913:

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He notes that ‘it was in 1913 too that one of my father’s sisters, my aunt Laiky, visited us for a week or two. My recollection of her is faint but I have a photograph of our family in which she appears. Aunt Laiky, her husband, and her two children were killed in the gas chambers in the 1940s’. So this must be Laiky at the back on the right, and Nathan is at the back on the left.

In 1914 the family went to Margate on holiday, where Harry went bathing with his parents, using a bathing machine to change into their bathing costumes. ‘My mother’s costume covered her completely, as was then customary. I clearly recall seeing a news placard one morning as we went down to the beach. It announced “War declared on Germany”‘.

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In 1915 they left London, to avoid the air raids, and went to live in Pinner (Kenmure, West End Ave). At age nine, Harry was sent to Ascott House School, a Jewish boarding school in Brighton, for two years (although Meyer was an atheist, he wanted his sons to have a knowledge of Jewish culture). ‘My father, when he visited me, used to warn me not to believe the myths, but nevertheless to acquaint myself with Jewish traditions’.

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Advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle, 1905

In the school holidays Harry went to London with his mother, often ending up in the ice-cream parlour at Selfridges, and sometimes going to the cinema.

At eleven Harry became a day boy at Colet Court in Hammermith, which was the prep school for St Paul’s. He travelled by train each day from Pinner, changing at Baker St. He was given the nickname ‘Longshanks’, as he was tall for his age. ‘I was on the “modern side” at school, which meant that I continued with Latin but avoided Greek’. Harry then sat the entrance exam for St Paul’s School, and was admitted at age twelve. His reports were quite good – his teachers commented that his work was untidy, and that he was handicapped by absence, but he ‘works steadily and intelligently’, and was ‘not brilliant but conscientious’.

Harry in 1919:

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He says ‘I started on the modern side, but, as I was especially good at maths, was soon transferred to the army side where the syllabus included so-called higher mathematics, which in those days meant trigonometry, statics, dynamics and calculus. We were encouraged to join the OTC [Officers’ Training Corps]. I disapproved of military training, but the alternative was two hours of dull physical training in the gym each week. So eventually I did join the OTC, and rather enjoyed parade-ground discipline. We went on route marches, had field days on Barnes Common, and I did a week in camp at Tidworth on Salisbury Plain, where we slept, six in a tent, on straw-filled palliasses. It was during that week that I listened one evening to someone reciting “Gunga Din”. I was greatly moved by the poem and was soon reading Kipling, both verse and prose.’

(I wonder if Harry gave me my copies of Puck of Pook’s Hill and Just-So Stories?)

This photo was taken in 1921, the year of his bar mitzvah.

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harry bar mitzvah

Harry left St Paul’s when he was refused leave to accompany his parents on a business trip to the US. After returning from the US, he went to a school in Neuchatel, Switzerland for two years. Here he learned to dance. He lodged with the family of one of the schoolteachers, Monsieur Schnapp.

This is the text of a letter Meyer sent to Harry in April 1925:

Dear Son,

It may be humiliating for a matured man to acknowledge, but I have to confess that my parting with you at Neuchatel left a void in my heart that nothing but your being near again to us can fill that void. You are however in a position to mitigate to a large extent that gnawing feeling and namely by your consistency in correspondence (at least twice a week), by your own honest assurances that you will take care of yourself and by your determined attempts to act manly in everything you do and that you are discarding and will continue to discard some of your childish and, shall I say, obdurate habits. For the present mamma and I desire you at once to arrange with Mrs Schnapp for your having extra milk as we feel that after your cold and after your suddenly taking up again intensive work you certianly do need extra nourishment and, H, remember that even Mrs Schnapp, a total stranger to you then, remarked, when we first visited her, upon your pale appearance. I arrived home this afternoon and found everything in order and everybody well; mammy was as is natural, all a-questioning me about you and all anxiety upon my mere mentioning the LAKE, so that in this latter respect I want you particularly to respect mammy’s feelings (your Dad is turning a bit old womanish as I am not a little anxious myself about the lake). I had rather a bad crossing and if I have the time and inclination I may try in my next letter to describe the crossing graphically. Love from all to you and remember me to Mr and Mrs Schnapp. PS please note my way of addressing you: Mr and not Master.

Your ever loving Dad

 

Harry matric 1925

Harry spent eighteen months at LSE studying Economics, but then Meyer had a heart attack and was unable to work. Harry felt that he had to support his parents and younger brothers. By 1930 Harry was involved in his father’s fur and skin business, as this letter shows:

Dear Son,

Mummy insisted that I should write to you at Interlaken, and I just wrote the evening before you left Interlaken so that the letter could not possibly reach you. … Things at home are as usual everybody being well; last night we were at Usiskins who made an affair with a marquee in the garden to celebrate in England Isidor’s wedding there were all the usual crowd of young and middle aged people with dancing and card playing until 3 a.m. You can imagine that I am very tired now. As regards business since you left: I have sold to A. Wetstein the small opossum ? 3300 at 2/3 the firsts and 1/6 the II total amount £94, to Greenberg 1296 opossum part old lot and part new total amount £280, to Berliner 2400 various Siberian squirrels total amount £350, to Clayton 412 musquash @ 3/-, to Kipernick 120 of the white skunks @5/6, to Pertschuk part of the Blk & Sht skunks on 10% basis total amount £195, to Uncle in NY our semipalatinsk fitches on a 7% basis total amount £620, to Cohen the job buyer the rejects of the opossums at 1/-, to Koffman (the dealer) 600 thin striped II squirrels at 1/8 about 5 or 6 white foxes at a few various odd small sales. Tobias delivered the 2400 opossums and they came out simply marvellous & much better than not only the 3300 but than the 100 sample; we cannot help making a profit on these; on the other hand Rice delivered most of the squirrels of Wulfsons and they are very disappointing. It was a bad buy; this demonstrates that we must not be influenced by other people’s opinions and doings.

By this point Harry and Judy were about to announce their engagement, and this is where I will leave Harry for now.

Ari, this is how you are related to Harry:

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Judith Constance Katz

Judith (Judy) was Ari’s great-great-grandmother.

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She was born on 30 September 1910 at 6 Gore Road, Hackney, the daughter of Maurice Katz and Rachel (Raye) Cohen. The family can be seen there in the 1911 census. When Judy was 3, her sister Rosalind was born.

This is a photo of Judy with Harry Loshak, taken to mark their engagement, which was announced in October 1930 in the Jewish Chronicle.

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And this is their wedding, which took place on 26 July 1931 at Cricklewood Synagogue.

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A translation of the Hebrew ketubah (marriage contract).

Judy and Harry had two children, David and Ruth. On 20 July 1940, Judy travelled to New York from Glasgow on the SS Cameronia, with the two children, who were 7 and 4 at the time. They did not return to England until June of 1945. The letters that we have show how hard this time of separation was for them. Here is an extract from the first one written to Harry on the ship:

“There is neither ink nor paper on board but somebody has lent me this. I hope you will be able to read it. We are all quite well. I am alright except that I don’t sleep well. Our cabin is really not too bad. We found it impossible to change; unfortunately, we have a German refugee in with us, which makes a terrible squash, but we will survive. The food is plentiful and quite good and we are allowed more or less anywhere on the boat. We have to carry lifebelts all the time; we were pleased to give our gas masks up before coming on board, but it was a bad exchange. We didn’t get on board until 4.30; it was dreadful standing squashed like sardines. but it only took a few minutes after I’d got through to get my luggage seen to; they were not opened. It’s a calm journey so far but the weather is very changeable, fine in the morning and wet in the afternoon. 90% of the people are German refugees. It’s not necessary to tell you how much I’m missing you, I can’t imagine living without you for any length of time.”

I have lovely memories of time spent with my grandma Judy in Cambridge, learning to tie shoelaces and sticking pictures into scrapbooks with that glue that came in tubs with a little spatula – I remember the smell! What was it called?

Judy as a baby:

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Ari, this is how you are related to Judy:

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Meyer Loshak from Hritsiv, Ukraine

Ari’s 3x great-grandfather Meyer Loshak was born on 4 April 1884 in a town that is now called Hritsiv in Ukraine.

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Before WWI the town was called Gritsev, and it was in the Volhynia district of the Russian Empire. In 1879, the year of the Russian census, the Jewish population of the town was 979. There was a pogrom there on 21 Sept 1917. The town was captured by the Germans on 5 July 1941, and a ghetto was established. All the Jewish people of the town (c.1900 at that time)  were murdered either in 1941 or in 1942 after being transferred to another ghetto.

Meyer was the son of Lazarus (Eleazer) Loshak and Dvossie Singer. He came to England in 1906, following the 1905 Russian Revolution. His son Harry has given us the story:

“He was the youngest but one of a large family. He soon displayed a formidable aptitude at the casuistic arguments about the significance of the sacred texts. The result was that he was regarded by his teachers and his father as destined to become a rabbi. He had a remarkable gift for languages. Yiddish was his mother tongue. He quickly acquired the Hebrew and Aramaic needed for the Talmud. Before the age of 13 he had also learnt to read and speak Russian as well as the Ukrainian dialect. When he came to Britain in 1906 he soon became fluent in English, which he spoke without trace of a foreign accent. Having learnt Russian he read widely in Russian literature, both the classic authors and contemporary left-wing literature. It was the latter which, when he was about 14, led him to lose religious faith and to become an atheist, much to his father’s disgust. At 15, he left home and supported himself by teaching Russian to Yiddish-speaking Jews. He joined the Bund, a left-wing Jewish political group which was then allied to the Communist movement. As such, he took an active part in the unsuccessful 1905 revolution. Exactly what his role was, I do not know, but it led to a warrant for his arrest by the Tsarist police. He went into hiding and was later smuggled across the border into Germany to avoid probable deportation to Siberia. After spending a few weeks in Germany, he came to Britain on a ship from Hamburg to London.”

This passport  was issued by the “Headman of Middle Class citizens of Settlement Grizev. The bearer of this document, the Middle Class citizen Meer Leizorovich Loshak, from Volynsky province, Zaslavski region, settlement Grizev, is discharged to various cities and settlements of the Russian Empire till 22 April 1904. Issued 22 April 1903.”

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In London, “he took a room in a lodging house and, for a month or two, made a meagre living by selling neckties from a barrow in Petticoat Lane. A fellow lodger, named Pertschuk, who worked for a fur skin merchant in the City, told him of a vacancy at this merchant’s. My father applied for it and was appointed. He remained for a few years, when he left the job and set up in business as a fur skin merchant on his own account.”

This is a photo from 1906.

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Meyer married Freida (Fannie) Nisman on 4 July 1907 in the Register Office in Whitechapel (I had never noticed before, but you can see that Joseph Pertschuk was a witness to the marriage).

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We have many letters that Meyer wrote to his son and other family members, and the National Archives at Kew holds some of his business records. There are also many passenger records showing him travelling to New York on business. He became a British citizen in 1911.

Meyernaturalization

Meyer and Fannie had four sons. This picture shows the family in 1928:

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A claim to fame from the Jewish Chronicle, 14 Nov 1947:

meyer JC 14 Nov 1947

Meyer died on 22 May 1937 at 26 Exeter Rd, Kilburn, at the age of 53 (the causes were syncope, coronary occlusion, coronary thrombosis), and was buried at Willesden Cemetery.

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In his will he left many interesting bequests, including to his sister Leah Singer of Poland and her daughter Sosia Gejfman (I believe that they died in the Holocaust). He also mentions other siblings I did not know: “WHEREAS I have been allowing various sums of money monthly to each of my brothers O. Loshak of Tulchin Russia, [and] my sister Chissie Tachtenberg of Odessa Russia … it is my earnest wish that my wife should continue to make them allowances of at least Four pounds a month each.”

I would love to find any descendants of these relations, and more information about them.

An obituary of Meyer was published in the Fur News.

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Ari, this is how you are related to Meyer:

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Eleazer Loshak

Eleazer (or Lazarus) Loshak was Ari’s 4x great-grandfather. We know he was born in about 1845, somewhere near Gritsev, Ukraine. The date of birth comes from this amazing papercut, handed down in the family and now in my possession, which gives the date of his bar mitzvah in Hebrew.

Zoharistic Scroll

I found this information by uploading the image to a wonderful resource called ViewMate on the website JewishGen, where you can ask for translations. Rivka Chaya Baddiel kindly sent me this very helpful explanation:

This is a standard decoration showing the direction of ‘East’ – towards which Jews pray.
The words around the edge of the semicircle are a verse in Psalms 113:3. “From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, the Lord’s name is to be praised” – the word used here for ‘rising’ also means ‘East’ (Mizrach). The word in the center of the semicircle says ‘Mizrach’ – ‘East’.

Below that, the center box says ‘to the year of my splendor’ which is the numerical value of the Jewish year 5619 (1858–1859). The boxes to the right and left read ‘From this side comes the spirit of Life’ – (Ab hac parte spiritus vitae – source: Compendia vocum hebraico-rabbinicarum) often put on ‘Mizrach’ signs, as these four Hebrew words begin with the letters m-z-r-ch, which spell Mizrach in Hebrew.

We know from the marriage certificate of one of his sons that Eleazer was a dealer of some kind, and we know that he and his wife Devorah (Dvossie) had eleven children.

One of his grandsons, Harry Loshak, left an autobiography that tells us a bit more:

[Eleazer] was an ultra-strict Chassid who, for religious reasons, never had his photograph taken, and underwent an operation for cataract without any anaesthetic.

I don’t know when he died, or the names of his parents or any siblings.

(Update 15 November 2018)

Since I wrote this piece I have discovered that Eleazer was the author of this postcard, sent to his son Meyer in 1912:

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Courtesy of ViewMate again, I know that it is addressed to ‘My dear son Menachm Nachum’.

The letter acknowledges receipt of 14 rubles and also a letter, and another letter notifying Meyer’s change of address. Then he asks Meyer to write at least once a month.
Later he writes about treatment he is receiving for a cough. He says that, on the doctor’s orders, he takes a daily walk to the forest to breathe fresh air. He mentions his daughter Rachel who is in Kasirtin (?) staying with Moshe Weinbaum and doing much better [This daughter was born in 1892, and later married Mordko Daniel Hirsz and emigrated to the US, with a daughter Dollie, born in 1921]. From Chisa and Nuta we expect … good this year, and Chisa is pregnant. From Susa we hear good, and on Passover she gave birth to a boy.

So we now know that Eleazer died some time after 1912, and before 1919, when Meyer’s third son was named after him.

Ari, this shows how you are related to Eleazer:

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