The Family of Abraham Friedberg

Abraham Friedberg
Abraham Friedberg was born Abraham Judel Taratotsky on September 17, 1883, in Volkovysk, Byelorussia, the son of Bezalel Taratotsky and his second wife Leiba Frieda (maiden name unknown). He was the youngest child, the only child of his mother. There were three other children by Bezalel's first wife, Gila Argenetsky; a girl, Dora, and twin boys.

Bezalel was an itinerant tinker, that is, he went from town to town fixing things. Lieba Frieda was much younger than her husband and had the responsibility of caring for her son Judel and her three stepchildren.
Photo:Betzalel Taratotsky with his son, Abraham Judel, circa 1890.

One evening, while Bezalel was out of town, the twin boys complained it was very cold. Leiba Frieda told them to sleep inside the fireplace on a ledge where it would be warm. The next morning, when she awoke, she found the boys dead, asphyxiated by fumes from the fireplace. The boys were buried the next day according to Jewish law. When people died in town, it was customary to hold a feather to their nose to demonstrate they were not breathing therefore confirming their death. There was a rumor in Volkovysk, where superstition was part of daily life, that this test was not done, and the boys were not dead but buried alive.

When Bezalel returned home a few days later and heard the news he was besides himself. Family legend says that he cried so hard and rubbed his eyes so much from the anguish of his loss that he blinded himself. There are three known pictures of Bezalel Taratotsky in existence, each taken at a different time of his life. In all, his right eye is half closed as if it had a permanent droop.

Things were never the same between the husband and wife after the incident. Leiba Frieda decided to abandon her husband and, in about 1887, left Poland and traveled to Palestine with her small son Judel. When she arrived there, the Turkish government refused to allow Judel to remain in the country. Male Jews were not permitted to be permanent residents. Leiba Frieda took her son back to Volkovysk, left him with his father, and returned to Palestine where she lived the rest of her life as a pious woman, praying daily. She died about 1900 and supposedly is buried on Mt. Carmel near Haifa.

Young, motherless Judel was brought up by his half sister Dora, until she immigrated to the United States about 1891. When he was about eight years old he learned a trade, that of a bricklayer, the occupation of many of his cousins.
Photo: 1936 bricklayers union card of Abraham Friedberg.

Rose Cemnic Friedberg
Rose Friedberg was born Frushe Cemnic (pronounced Tzemnitz) on July 7, 1888, in Jalowka, Poland, a town about 30 miles southwest of Volkovysk. She was the eldest child of Abraham Cemnic (c1847–1919) and Sarah Malka Warnofsky (c1866
1922) and had a younger brother Meir (called Zaidele) and sister Sima (Sadie). Sarah Malka was the second wife of Abraham. He divorced his first wife of 12 years because she was barren. Abraham was a weaver by trade but was also a money lender. He was quite rich and employed servants.

Rose's sister, Sadie, immigrated to the United States on July 1, 1913 on the SS Gothland from Antwerp. She married Samuel Lazovick and lived in Philadelphia until her death in 1997 at age 99. Their brother Zaidele remained in Bialystok and died during the Holocaust. He was married and his one daughter, Tzima, a participant in the Bialystok resistance movement, died also.

In their early teens, Frushe and Judel were part of the same social group. She had her eye on him because he was a very handsome man; however, he was accounted for--he had a girl friend. No problem for Frushe. She bought herself a beautiful belt, put it on and went over to Judel's girlfriend and exclaimed, "Look at the beautiful present Judel got me." The girl was furious and refused to associate with her boyfriend after the incident.

They were married on October 25, 1902, Frusha was just 14 years old and Judel was 19.

They lived in Bialystok, a major Polish city just 25 miles northwest of Jalowka. Their first child was born in 1903, a girl named Lieba Frieda, who was named for Judel's mother who had died some months earlier. While Frusha was pregnant with her first child, a witch told her that the child belonged to her, and if she would not share the child, it would die. Frusha was petrified. After the child was born, she brought her to the witch's home and left her as requested. This process of sharing the child became tiresome and one day she stopped bringing the baby to the witch. The child died shortly thereafter.

Immigration to the United States
The young couple decided it was time to leave Poland and immigrate to the United States. As was the custom with many couples then, the husband immigrated first, found a job, and then called for his wife. Judel came to United States arriving in Baltimore on August 25, 1904 on the SS Chemnitz. He went to a "cousin" of Rose, Bertha Cemnic Rudy, who lived there.

Judel was having a good time in the United States. He was a very handsome man and was not very motivated to call for his wife. His Cemnic relatives set him straight and finally Frushe arrived in New York on December 19, 1905, on the SS Blucher from Hamburg, Germany. At that time, Judel was living at 17 Barclay Street on the Lower East Side of New York.

When Judel Taratotsky changed his name to Abraham Friedberg is not known but it appeared to be a gradual process. One family legend says it was changed at Ellis Island. This is definitely not so. Another legend says that it was changed at the bricklayers union office. This might be true regarding the "Friedberg" part of his new name. Evidence suggests he first changed his name to Joe Friedberg. That is how he is named on his eldest son's (Hyman) birth certificate. "Joe" was the Americanizing of Judel and Friedberg was the married name of his sister Dora. What motivated him to change his first name from Joe to Abraham is unknown but Judel Taratotsky's American name became Abraham Friedberg, the exact name of his brother-in- law.

Photo: Abraham and Rosse Friedberg on the occassion of their 60th wedding anniversary celebration in 1961

The couple lived their entire life on the Lower East Side of New York. They had twelve children: Lieba Frieda (died in Bialystok);  Hyman (Herman), Rebecca (Peggy), Sadie (Sally), Philip, Henry, Tzerel (Sylvia), Rhoda (died aged nine months), Alvin, Murray, Benjamin and Natalie.

    The Friedberg family portrait taken in 1936 on the occasion of Abraham and Rose's 35th wedding anniversary.
  • Seated on floor: Arlene Rosenthal, Carl Berger, Anita Berger, Natalie Friedberg
  • Seated: Peggy Friedberg Berger, Herman (Hy) Fried, Rose Cemnic Friedberg, Abraham Friedberg, Pearl Rafalowitz Friedberg, Stella Terris Fried
  • Standing: Murray Freidberg, Alvin Fried, Sam Berger, Sallie Friedberg Rosenthal, Jack Rosenthal, Sylvia Friedberg Mokotoff, Jack Mokotoff, Toby Sparber Fried, Henry Fried, Philip Fried, Benjamin Fried.