‘Know No Sorrows and Don’t Forget Me’

Was Zhenia Negisk a close relative left behind in the Old Country?

Almost 100 years ago, as Russia was descending into revolution and war was on the horizon, my great grandfather made the momentous decision to leave his native land — a decision that would not only affect him but all of the family members who would come after him.

On May 5, 1914, 34-year-old Aaron Naginsky set sail for America from Libau, Russia (in present-day Latvia), aboard the S.S. Dwinsk. He likely traveled by train to make the 1,200-mile journey from Aleksandrovsk, in southwestern Russia, to the northern port town. While Libau once was a popular port for emigration, it had fallen out of favor because of frequent entanglements with czarist authorities. Why Aaron left from there is unclear, but we do know that his passage was paid for by his brother, Israel, who already had been in America for a decade and who, like so many other new immigrants, was probably saving money to allow his relatives to join him.

Aaron arrived in New York on May 20, 1914, a little more than two weeks after his departure. The ship passenger list noted that his profession was “capmaker,” a reference to the garment industry factory worker job he would soon assume alongside his brother. It also indicated that he would be living with Israel at his home at 605 Williams Avenue in Brooklyn.

For Aaron, leaving his native Russia meant leaving behind his wife, Mariasia, and their five daughters, ranging from just a few months old (or possibly still on the way) to age 6. Because of the high cost of passage for an entire family, it was extremely common for husbands to go to America first and send money home so their families could join them as soon as possible. That clearly was the intention when Aaron departed, but what took place just weeks later would set into motion events that would keep them apart for far longer than they ever imagined.

As he left, perhaps he carried with him a photo (pictured above) of a relative named Zhenia Negisk, with the following note written on the back in Russian: “I am writing to you a few words. Live and be healthy. I hope that you don’t know sorrows and don’t forget me.”

8 comments on “‘Know No Sorrows and Don’t Forget Me’

  1. Phyllis Greer says:

    Wow! All the things I didn’t know! Xenia? I also thought that the youngest of the daughters was still “in the oven”, as they say. It’s a thriller!

  2. nsgreer says:

    You are right! When I wrote this, I thought the ages didn’t sound quite right, but the birth years from documents are all over the place so it’s hard to know what’s right. But I think their arrival cards are the most reliable, so I will correct the ages in the post. Thanks for paying attention! 🙂

    • Phyllis Greer says:

      It’s even more dramatic! Aaron left his wife with four little girls….and she was pregnant with the fifth!! Were they unaware of the new family addition and/or did another circumstance push Aaron to depart at that time?

      • nsgreer says:

        The timing was unusual. Perhaps Israel got him the job and then bought him the ticket, and this was a window of opportunity for him. I’m sure they figured it would be a short separation!

  3. Neil "Nick" Friedman says:

    Amazing, For some reason I thought Aaron arrived earlier than 1914. My impression was that Minnie and the girls arrived in 1914. Obviously I was under a misapprehension for all these years. I wonder about the fate of those who remained in Russia. Did anyone survive the war? Did anyone survive Stalin or his successors? Did any, by one way or another make it to Israel pre or post WW 2? Hmm?

    • nsgreer says:

      I may soon have some answers! Have hired professional genealogists to do the research I can’t, going through documents in Russian and Hebrew.

      It’s even more exciting (and amazing) that Minnie traveled (and made it here) with her daughters in the midst of the war and revolution!

  4. […] described his trip from Russia to New York’s Ellis Island in an earlier post. I’ve also shared what I learned about his childhood and adulthood. But given this […]

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