Left in Andover: Recovering lost family history

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Most of what I collect at thrift shops and recycling centers is strictly utilitarian. But last year while helping my daughter recycle in Winhall, I snapped up an ornate cast iron picture frame.

My husband has two similar frames displaying portraits of his crusty German forbears. My heart gave a leap at the opportunity to display my own ancestors in one.

Goldie and Solomon

But first I would have to evict the original occupants, a young couple in formal garb holding hands. Hidden underneath the outfacing photo was a duplicate bearing the inscription, Ekaterinoslav, Russia, Goldie Brilliant, 17 yrs, Solomon 20 yrs, Courtship, 1902.

Goldie and Solomon were almost certainly Ukrainian Jews. How did their portrait end up in a southern Vermont ”dump?”

Ekaterinoslav was a vibrant center of Jewish life until 1905, when a series of vicious pogroms destroyed any illusion of security. It is likely Goldie and Solomon were part of the mass exodus to America which ensued.

In the words of my grandfather Isaac’s youngest brother Myron:

“The life of a Jewish child in Galut was framed with the self-imbued knowledge that he is a stranger in the country he was born and lives, that he is a temporary resident, though knowing that the temporary stay is almost 2,000 years …”

Family history written by Uncle Myron.

The back of Goldie and Solomon’s photo says “Mom,” so we know the young couple was blessed. I have become quite attached to them. In the New World, their descendants prospered. It seems safe to assume that they owned or still own a ski house at Stratton.

My grandfather Isaac Kadischewitz (Leader) fled persecution and conscription into the czar’s army. He came to America from Poland in 1908. Three of his brothers and his mother Chava eventually joined him. Growing up, I was told that Liebe, the fifth brother, escaped to Argentina.

In 1977, Uncle Myron tracked down Liebe’s descendants in their Buenos Aires neighborhood. Jorge, a teenager at the time, rather quizzically recalls being summoned in the middle of the night to purchase milk for the surprise guest. Myron maintained a lifelong association of milk with home:

“In Zelva (Russia) everyone had a cow. There was no other milk supply. The shepherd comes in the morning, gathers the cows, drives them to pasture and brings them back at 6. We had a black cow.”

Herb Leader’s record of a chat with his Uncle Myron.

I meant to share this bit of family lore directly with my cousin Jorge, whom I only just met on a May 31 Zoom call with a dozen first, second, third and fourth cousins in the United States and Argentina.

Sadly, my branch of the family has now learned the horrifying fate of Liebe Kadischewitz. As it turns out, he did not leave Poland before the Holocaust. Along with his wife Zelda and children Chaya and Velvel (Dad’s first cousins), Liebe was burnt alive by the Nazis in the Bialystok synagogue massacre of 1941.

It was in fact the next generation down, Liebe’s son Lezjor, who emigrated to Argentina, where he fathered the multi-generational clan that thrives to this day.

Lezjor, born in 1906, was only six years younger than his uncle, my great-uncle Myron. As an adventurous young man in the 1920s Lezjor struck out on his own for Argentina. In 1930, he returned to Bialystok, Poland, to fetch his parents. Tragically, they refused to leave their ancestral home.

A note from Miriam Leader in the 1970s welcoming Uncle Myron.

During Lezjor’s visit to Bialystok, Liebe tried without success to set up a match for him. Just as all seemed lost, Lezjor fell in love with the matchmaker’s niece Peszca. Shortly thereafter, the young couple sailed alone for Buenos Aires.

I also met Pesza’s great-grandson, Jorge’s son Ruben Budzvicky, on our miraculous Zoom call. He is the author of a stunning account of her odyssey. Directly following the Zoom call, during which we discussed Uncle Myron’s deafness at length, he whipped out a new story titled “Uncle Myron’s Dream,” honoring the lifelong quest for family connection.

Uncle Myron went completely deaf in his early ’40s from a botched sinus operation precipitated by a “polar bear club” dive into Lake George. As a result, every conversation with him generated a paper trail of scribbled notes. Mom, impressed with their historicity, preserved many. Written in Dad’s distinctive hand, they are crazy quilts of political, financial and family gossip.

Goldie and Solomon with the Russian samovar.

I am now keeper of this trove, as well as of Goldie Brilliant and Solomon’s courting portrait, displayed temporarily alongside my own Russian samovar.

They have a home with me forever. But of course I am hoping they will be claimed by their own family. As to my returning the picture frame – not sure yet.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Sabrina Fauez says:

    Dear Susan, it’s a beautiful story! thanks!

  2. Jayne Moye says:

    Another delightful tale. Thanks Susan for enriching our life with a bit of history each week. I really look forward to your stories.