Friday, October 31, 2014

The Personal Side of the Influenza Pademic of 1918.

Peter Noznick about 3 years old.

In my last post, I wrote about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.  This week, I will discuss the human side of the epidemic.  It is very easy to get caught up in the immensity of the epidemic, the huge number of deaths, the quick spread of the disease.  Since it took place 96 years age, most of the people affected have passed on. How did the flu affect families?  I know from my family history that the effect of the pandemic was devastating and long lasting.

Joseph Koshuba, about 2 years before he died.

In my extended family there were two people who died during the time period of the Pandemic of 1918-1919.  One was my husband’s aunt, Mollie Karbovsky.  The other was my great uncle, Joseph Koshuba.  I learned about Millie’s death from my mother-in-law.  It was more difficult to find anything out about Joseph Koshuba’s death, because I did not know any family members who could give me information. He died on January 19, 1919, at the age of 33. The date of the death and his age made  influenza a possible cause of his death. So, I got a copy of his death certificate from the Minnesota History Center.  I found that the cause of death was myocarditis. I still could not rule out the flu, since myocarditis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection that reaches the heart.  Many people died from secondary infections caused by the flu.  Later, when I met his granddaughters, they told me that he had heart disease.  My assumption was wrong.  I have to say that when working on family history, always look for documentation to back up family stories and assumptions.  

Mollie Karbovski’s death from the flu was easier research.  My mother-in-law, told me that she died during the Pandemic.  Her death was October 15, 1918. Mollie was ten years old when the flu reached Peoria in late September, and was declared an epidemic October 11. Her death certificate did not have any information about cause of her death.  She was buried in Jewish Cemetery in Peoria, but this cemetery is no longer used, and many people who were buried there were reburied in another cemetery.  In some areas, there were so many deaths during the epidemic that undertakers ran out of coffins, and gravediggers were too sick to dig graves.  Again, this was early in the Pandemic, so I do not know if this affected her burial.

Mollie and William Karbovski.

Rose, Mollie’s mother, was pregnant when Mollie died.  From my research, I found that pregnant women had a high mortality rate during the 1918-19 Pandemic.  Rose survived, and gave birth to Lillian on October 25.  How did Rose avoid the flu?  She was 31, in the age group that was heavily affected, and she was pregnant. I found that people who had a bout of the flu early in 1918 had immunity, and did not get the mutated version of the virus that caused the wave that spread in the fall.  It is also possible that she had the Russian Flu of 1889-90, the first pandemic of modern times. People over 30 may have had some immunity to the flu if they contracted the Russian Flu. Rose successfully delivered Lillian, and had another child four years later.   

Peter Noznick about the time he had his surgery.

Peter Noznick, my father also contracted the flu in 1918.  He was three years old and survived.  He recovered from the flu, however the secondary infection he developed affected his entire life.  The flu led to an ear infection, which spread to the mastoid, the part of the skull behind the ear.  There were no antibiotics in 1918; today children in the United States rarely get mastioditis.  The only treatment available for chronic mastoiditis in those days was surgery.  In 1930, my father and his family moved from New York City to Connecticut.  Since they did not have the money to pay for surgery in Connecticut, my father returned to New York City. Staying with relatives and using their address, he managed to have the surgery at Bellevue Hospital.  He made the trip alone, and spent several weeks in the hospital waiting for the only surgeon who did that type of surgery to be available. While he was waiting, several men in the ward died from the surgery.  He survived, and returned to Connecticut. As a result of mastoiditis and the surgery, he was deaf in one ear for the rest of his life.  In later life, he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.  Some have theorized that some people who had the flu during the 1918 Pandemic developed symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.  From what I have read, some studies showed a link, and others did not.   

The Flu is still dangerous today—we still have pandemics, but since the flu shot, they are not as catastrophic as the Flu Pandemic of 1918.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918

This rhyme was popular in 1918

Ninety-six years ago, in 1918, the United States faced a pandemic so lethal that 195,000 people died from it just during the month of October. At the time it was called the Spanish Flu, but it didn’t originate in Spain.  It was a quick killer, hitting young adults, many dying within a day or two of showing symptoms.  Nobody knows how many people died of the flu in 1918-1919, but it is estimated that as many as one-third of the world’s population at the time was infected, and as many as 50 million died, more than three times the number of deaths in World War One. It is believed that more people died in a year from the flu pandemic than the bubonic plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, killed in a century. When the Flu Pandemic ended in 1919, 28% of the American population had been infected and between 500,000 and 675,000 people died.

It reached its height in October of 1918, just before the end of World War I.  The War, with its concentration of troops probably helped its spread and made it a pandemic.  It was deadly, killed quickly, sometimes within hours.  Schools, theaters and other public places in the United States were closed to keep the flu from spreading.  Deaths were so numerous, that funeral homes and cemeteries couldn't handle the numbers. People were buried in mass graves, and the size of funerals were limited and often held outdoors in order to curtail the spread of the disease. There was no treatment, quarantine was about the only preventative measure that was effective.

There are several theories about the origin of the Flu in 1918, one points to the town of Etaples in France, which was a major troop staging area, and the location of a military hospital.  Other theories point to the East, specifically China, which experienced an outbreak of respiratory illness in November 1917, which was identical to Spanish flu.  How did the flu get from China to Europe?  China wasn’t involved in World War One, but the link may have been Chinese workers brought to the Western Front, in Europe, to labor behind the front lines.  Travel, now worldwide due to the war, helped the flu virus spread from Europe to the rest of the world.  Soldiers in close quarters were easily infected due to physical proximity, weakened immune systems because of poor nutrition, exposure to chemical weapons, and stress.

There were three waves of flu in 1918.  The first, which hit in the spring and early summer, was mild, and most of the people who contracted it survived. In the United States, it was first reported in Haskell County, Kansas, in early January 1918.  By March 11, it had spread to Queens, New York.  People who were sickened by flu in the first wave were lucky, since having the flu-developed immunity to the virus.  A second more dangerous strain appeared in August 1918, in three places at almost the same time: Brest, France, Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa, and Boston Massachusetts.  Between January and August, the virus had mutated and became deadly. The third wave continued through the spring of 1919.

This map views the earth from the top--the North Pole, showing the spread of the virus from China to the rest of the world.

In May 1918, young soldiers in Europe came down with the flu, most recovered, but some developed a virulent form of pneumonia.  Within two months, the flu spread from the military to the civilian populations of European cities.  It continued its spread into Asia, Africa, and South America and back to North America.

During the last week of August, dockworkers in Boston, Massachusetts developed flu symptoms of high fevers, severe muscle and joint pain.  Between five and ten percent of the men with flu developed pneumonia.   The flu spread quickly to the city of Boston.  By mid-September it had spread to California, North Dakota, Florida and Texas.

It was a young person’s pandemic.  In 1918-1919, ninety-nine percent of Spanish Flu deaths were people under the age of 65. In people between the ages of twenty and 40 years old, the rate was fifty percent.  It differed from previous flu outbreaks in that its symptoms were so severe.  Most people died of bacterial pneumonia, a secondary infection.  It also killed directly, causing massive hemorrhages and edema of the lungs.  Nurses noted fevers as high as 105 degrees and unusually severe bloody noses. Often the affected person turned blue, and spit bloody mucus.  It was not usual for a person to die with a day or two of contracting the disease.

People did not know how to stop the disease.  One common solution was to require that everybody wear a face mask. Posters appeared asking people to cover their mouths and noses when the sneezed or coughed. Another prevention method was to encourage men to stop spitting.  Drinking alcohol was another idea that became popular, so popular that it caused liquor shortages.  Closing places where people gathered like churches and theaters was common.

There were so many cases that accurate records could not be kept.  There was also a shortage of doctors and nurses, and those who were available often came down with the flu themselves.  Undertakers ran out of caskets, and there was a shortage of gravediggers. Schools, theaters and businesses closed. Telegraph and telephone service stopped because the operators were sick.  Garbage went uncollected and mail was not delivered.  Since there was no known cause or treatment, people tried other remedies like carrying a potato in a pocket, or carrying a bag of camphor. Wearing a special amulet around the neck.  By November of 1918, the number of new cases started to decline.

People were willing to try anything to prevent the flu, and there were business people willing to capitalize on that.
The flu disappeared almost a quickly as it appeared.  People wanted to forget about it.  Most people didn’t realize how dangerous it was.  When the Spanish flu pandemic began, it was believed that bacteria caused the disease.  Late in 1918, scientists and doctors realized that the cause was a virus. Although the existence of viruses had been known for about 20 years, was not until 1933 that the type A flu virus was isolated, and not until 1944 that a vaccine for type A flu was available.  
Although there have been several flu pandemics since 1919, none have been as severe. The flu pandemic of 1958-1959, (the Asian Flu), killed two million people worldwide and 70,000 in the United States.  Another pandemic in 1968-1969 (Hong Kong Flu) killed one million people worldwide and 33,000 in the United States. In the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010 (Swine Flu), 12,000 Americans died. Influenza is still a dangerous disease, but now there are eeffective vaccines and treatments for it, and a flu pandemic has never been as lethal as the one in 1918.

Friday, October 17, 2014

World War One in Eastern Europe: The German Occupation in Bransk, Poland.

The Main Street of Bransk, 1907  source: The Kresy Siberia Virtual Museum

World War One in Northern Poland was similar to the war in Galicia in several ways.   In the first month of the war, August 1914, Austrian ruled Galicia was invaded by Russia, and quick military victories led to two-year occupation.  The Russians were eager to claim lands that they considered part of Russia, and worked hard to “Russify” the people they conquered.  Click here to read about the Russian Occupation in Galicia 

Northern Poland also was occupied by a foreign power, Germany. Victories in the Battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, in August 1914, enabled the Germans to occupy Northern Poland, which had been ruled by Russia for almost 200 years. During the almost three year occupation, the Germans were interested in using the people for their own economic gain. 

Bransk is located about 160 km NE of Warsaw.   It is just above the square labeled Treblinka.

Bransk is in northern Poland, located about 150 km northeast of Warsaw. When World War One began, it was ruled by Russia. It is southeast of Szczuczyn, the home of my husband’s ancestors. At the beginning of World War One, The population of Bransk was about 4300, 51% Jewish.

When World War One began in August 1914, the first event that involved the people of Bransk was mobilization notices that came from the Russian authorities.  Next, the Russian army came through on their way to invade German ruled Prussia.  Mixes with the regular Russian Army soldiers, were Cossacks on horseback and Jewish soldiers, easily identified by their beards.  The Bransk Jewish community set up a Kosher kitchen to meet the dietary needs of the Jewish soldiers.  The Russians also warned the Jews against “betraying them to the Germans.”  In Bransk, on the subject of which side to support, the Jews were divided, some supported the Russians, others the Germans.  

Rabbi Szkop

The German army quickly defeated the Russians, and took over the Russian ruled areas of Poland. Russian Cossack soldiers planned to burn Bransk as they retreated.  Rabbi Szkop, an important Jewish leader in the town, collected money to give to the Cossacks, so they would leave the village unharmed.  He even bribed their leader by giving him his gold watch.

Russian Cossacks, 1915.

In September 1915, Bransk was taken over by the Germans, who occupied the town for over three years.  Their occupation was hard on the people and many were forced to work for the Germans as laborers.  People who couldn’t work up to German expectations were beaten.  The Germans appointed “communal representatives” who helped them to chose people for forced labor.  The poorest people were chosen first, then men and finally women.

Polish civilians fleeing the Advancing German Army in Russian Poland. Source: Imperial War Museum

The Germans requisitioned bread and food supplies from the merchants, and then sold the bread back to the villagers, many of them were sickened by it.  Disease came to the town in the form of scarlet fever and typhoid.  Many people hid their illness from the Germans, since there were rumors that when the Germans hospitalized people, they were poisoned.  Food shortages led to smuggling, and protests and the belief that the richest people received favorable treatment from the Germans.

In 1917, The Russian Revolution and the chaos that came with it, forced the Russians give up their war effort. As a result, the Germans relaxed their rule in Poland.  The forced labor stopped, political parties returned and books reappeared.  On November 11, 1918, World War ended with an armistice.  The Germans packed up and left an impoverished Bransk.

Source: Hoffman, Eva,  Shtetl, The Life and Death of A Small Town and The World of Polish Jews. Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1997

Friday, October 10, 2014

World War One in Russian Poland: Fredja JozefsonBernstein's Story

Russian World War One poster, Russia bringing peace to Europe

At the beginning of World War One, both the Russians, and the Austrian and German allies had plans for a reunited Poland under either Russian or Austrian rule. The Austrian/German alliance envisioned a new Poland uniting Austrian Galicia with Russian Poland. They planned to bring in a member of the Austrian royal family as king of Poland.   Both the Russians and the Germans looked at a new Polish nation as a possible military zone in future wars thus protecting their respective homelands. The Austrian/Germans appealed to the Poles under the Tsar's rule to fight for freedom, and independence from Russian rule. They hoped to expand Poland to the east. The Russian appeal to the Poles, issued by Grand Duke Nicholas on August 15, 1914, mentions 150 years of German rule in Poland.  He stated that Poland's soul is not dead and hoped that the German and Austrian controlled sections of Poland could be joined to Russian Poland and aligned with Russia under the rule of Tsar.

Europe in 1815, after the Congress of Vienna.  Much of Poland was absorbed into Russia, including the Capital, Warsaw. In 1870, Germany was created merging Prussia and smaller German speaking states (indicated in Yellow on this map.)

In August 1914, the Russians invaded Austrian Galicia and German ruled Poland.  They were successful in Galicia and controlled it for 2 years, but suffered terrible defeats by the Germans in northern Poland, losing The Battle of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes.  Their path of the invasion crossed northern Poland and affected the people of Szczuczyn, where many members of my husband’s family lived.  Although I do not have any stories from his family members, I do have the memoir of Fay Jozefson Bernstein, who like my great aunt Katherine who lived in Galicia, lived in a battle zone. Fay's memoir, written by David Bernstein, is published on the Szczuczyn site. To read Fay's memoir, click on this link:

Fay Jozefson Bernstein was born Frejda Jozefson in Szczuczyn in January 1905.  Her father, Schmuel Jozefson, an ordained rabbi died when she was six months old, leaving his wife, Hinda, and five daughters.   In order to support her family, Hinda opened a grocery store, which served the neighborhood as well as the Polish farmers who came to town on market days.  Fay’s mother believed in education, she was educated and she made sure that her daughters had educations.  Although she was poor, she was charitable; Fay remembers leaving packages of food on the doorsteps of poor members of the Jewish community. In Szczuczyn there was a Yeshiva, a religious school which trained rabbis. Families in town took in students for meals, and Hinda took her turn providing food for the students, often going without food herself.

Szczuczyn is located at the lower right quarter of the map.  The Russian Army is blue, the German is red.

Szczcuzyn was less than a mile from the Polish-German border, in the area of Poland ruled by Russia.  In August 1914, the Russians invaded Germany, and soldiers marched through the town.  Since the Russians lost the Battle of Tannenberg, there was fighting in the Szczuczyn area as they retreated.  Fay tells about the first incident that affected her family in Szczuczyn.   

The German and Russian armies were shelling each other, the people of the neighborhood were running, but didn’t know where to go.  The neighbors told them to leave everything behind and run.  They followed the crowd and came to a building with a basement and a metal roof.  The Jozefons hid in the basement for almost two weeks.  It was crowded with people, women, children and crying babies.  There was no water, and only bread and raw potatoes to eat.  When the shooting stopped, they left and returned to their home. Their home was full of bullet holes, and many possessions were gone. The Germans were gone, but they weren’t gone for long.

Russian Troops retreating after the Battle of Tannenberg

Several months later, in December 1914, the Germans returned.  Jews were warned to leave immediately since the Germans believed that Jews were Russian spies, and would kill them.  Fay could see people running, but she had no idea where they were going.  The husband of Fay’s mother’s friend had a horse and wagon, and she begged them to take Fay. They agreed to take her and Fay climbed in and hid under blankets with the rest of their family. She didn’t realize until later that her mother and sister were not in the wagon.  They traveled for a while and came to a house with a windmill near a forest.  The owner of the farm hid the family, as well as many other people.  He had an orchard, and provided the people with fruit to eat.  Again they were crowded together in darkness.  They could make no noise, since they could knew the soldiers outside would hear them and would shoot and kill them.
German soldiers in a captured Russian artillery station, World War 1

Three weeks later, the shooting stopped. After a few days of quiet, Fay begged the man with the wagon to take her back to Szczuczyn so she could find her mother and sister and finally he agreed.  They rode into town and Fay got out of the wagon, looked into her house and found it was riddled with bullets, the windows broken and the house empty. Her mother and sister were gone.  As she ran back to the wagon, soldiers appeared and started to shoot at them.  The man beat his horse as they galloped away, shouted at Fay, saying that he was risking his life trying to help her.  They returned to the farm and went into hiding again.

After three  more weeks, her mother and sister were found in a nearby village.  The soldiers had retreated and the Jozefson family returned to Szczuczyn.  Their house and store had been looted and was empty.  Hinda reopened the grocery store, and was hopeful that things would improve. Although the border was calm, the Jewish people of Szczuczyn were still afraid.  They kept their homes completely dark at night, and slept in their clothes, just in case.

Temporary shelter constructed by Polish refugees.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Jewish High Holidays in Eastern Europe

Rosh Hashanah card from 1900. Immigrants from Russia are welcomed to the United States by former immigrants.

In this post I will concentrate on customs that were practiced in Eastern Europe, but not commonly practiced today in the United States.
The most important Jewish holidays, usually called the High Holidays are celebrated in the early fall, in the month of September.  Many customs and practices observed in the United States originated in Eastern Europe.  The holidays, begin with Rosh Hashahah and end with Simhat Torah.  The most important of the holidays is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and the most festive is Simchat Torah, which celebrates the the completion of the reading of the Torah scroll, and the beginning of a new cycle of Torah reading. 
New Year card, sent by  Morris and Sarah Gerstein, my husband's grandparents.
In the towns and villages in Russia, Poland and Galicia, preparations were made for the holidays during the month of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, when Jews were asked to examine daily lives in preparation for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The shofar was blown every morning in anticipation of the Days of Judgement (the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).  Psalm 27 was added to morning and evening prayer services.  During the week before Rosh Hashanah,  Three Selihot services are held, for the purpose of repentence.  In eastern Europe, families would go to the cemetery before the holidays and visit the graves of their ancestors and to distribute charity.
Sounding the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown, with the sounding of the shofar, the ram's horn.  In the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, during a break in the services, people would gather at a nearby body of water in order to symbolically cast away their sins in the moving water. This is called Tashlikh.
Tashlikh Ceremony in Poland

Tashlikh Ceremony on the Brooklyn Bridge
Special foods were served on Rosh Hashanah;  carrots, a special challah bread, often round.  Honey was an important part of the celebration.  Challah and apples were dipped in the honey before eating it, symbolizing a sweet new year.  In Poland forty blessings were said over the bread.
Round Challah and apple for dipping in honey on Rosh Hashanah

Another custom, widely practiced in Eastern Europe the evening before Yom Kippur was Kaparot.  A live white chicken was held over a person's head and swung 3 times as prayers were said.  The person's misdeeds and sins were transferred to the chicken, and it was then  slaughtered.  Either the chicken or the money it brought when sold was donated to charity.
Kreplach, dumplings stuffed with either meat of chicken and cooked in soup, were served the day before Yom Kippur.  The kreplach symbolized a persons fate which was hidden and would be decided on Yom Kippur,  the day of atonement and judgement.

An old woodcut showing Kaporot in Eastern Europe.  One chicken is swung over the man's head, while the other is slaughtered.

"Jews Praying in the Synagogue"  Painting by Maurycy Gottlieb, 1878

Yom Kippur is the holiest holiday in the Jewish calender.  Services begin at sundown and continue the next day until sundown. Many families burn Yarzheit candles at home  to remember family members who have died. It is a day of  fasting, prayer and reflection. It is believed that God writes every persons name in the Book of Life on Yom Kipppur, deciding who shall live and who shall die. A special Yarzheit, service is offered on Yom Kippur;  people recite the Kaddish and remember family members who have passed away. When services are over, the fast is broken at home and special meal is served,  usually fish and lighter foods.
A simple Sukkot hut.
Five days after Yom Kippur is the festival of Sukkot.  This is one of the most ancient Jewish holidays and it commemorates the wondering of the Jewish people for forty years after the revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses. on Mt Sinai.  Families built temporary huts similar to what the ancient Jews built as they moved from place to place. The family would eat their meals in the hut for the duration of the holiday. The purpose of the holiday is to thank God for the completed harvest.  Four items are used at Sukkot were  date palm branches, myrtle, willow and citron. These items were hard to find  and expensive in Eastern Europe, so in many villages, only one set could be purchased and shared by all.
The holidays end with Simchat Torah, the 7th day of Sukkot and the most festive.  This holiday commemorates ending of the annual cycle of weekly Torah  readings and the beginning of a new cycle.
The celebration includes parades with the Torah Scrolls around the synagogue,  dancing, singing and again special food.  Traditionally stuffed cabbage is served on Simchat Torah.

Old woodcut of Simchat Torah
A modern illustration of Simchat Torah festivities, "Simchat Torah" by Israel Bernhaum