Our trip through the history of the Grawoig family will begin during mid-life for Ethel and Louis Grawoig. We hope that someday, our research will unlock the mystery of their ancestors, but for now, our “generation one” will be Ethel and Louis. The following story was pieced together through oral history and proven facts.
Louis and Ethel Grawoig had 4 children, Chaim, Mollie, Ascherand Rivka. They lived in or near Berditchev, Russia until the late 1800’s. Louis and Chaim made their living as drovers, hauling goods for people with their team of horses hitched to a wagon. (Berditchev is located about 90 miles southwest of Kiev.) According to the 1914 edition of Baedeker’s book, Russia, A Handbook for Travelers, “Berditchev is the chief town of a district in the government of Kiev. It stands on a gentle slope rising from the Gnilopyat, and contains 77,000 inhabitants, of whom 80% are Jews. It is the center of the Volhynian trade, chiefly in grain and cattle.” In Shtetl Finder, it said that in 1780 the Hasidic leader, Levi Isaac, established his headquarters in Berditchev, and in the early 19th Century, Isaac Baer Levinson, organizer of the Haskalah movement took up residence in Berditchev.
Chaim met and married Sarah Siever around 1881. Sarah was considered a very good catch in those days, since either she or her family owned a thriving trousseau shop in Berditchev. She was well educated, very religious, and an excellent seamstress. They proceeded to have 3 children, Nettie, Garrison and Sadie.
We have records that state that Louis, Ethel, Mollie and Ascher left Russia and came to America on the S.S. Pennsylvania. They entered through the port of Philadelphia on July 13, 1882. Word has it that Mollie’s marriage to Phillip Greenberg was arranged on that ship by their parents. As of yet, I do not have verification of that. (I have also read that Phillip, his father, stepmother and brothers, Benjamin and Jacob, came to the US on a Greek ship with Greek passports. I have no proof of that either.) In any event, on August 24, 1882, a marriage license was taken out for Mollie and Phillip in Chicago. They made their new home in the city and proceeded to have two sons, Hemian and Samuel. We know that the Greenberg’s lived in Chicago until around 1886-87. We also assume that Louis, Ethel and Ascher were living there too, but that has not been verified.
It was at this time that the United States government was giving land grants of 160 acres each in the Dakota Territory to anyone who desired to be a farmer. The takers had the promise of opportunity to develop the farms at little or no cost, but the hardships were far greater than the rewards for most. The moves were financed through a society organized by the wealthy Bavarian-born philanthropist, Baron Maurice de Hirsch. His aim was to colonize Jewish people on the farms instead of having them spend their lives in the slums of crowded cities.
The year is now 1887. Mollie and Phillip have moved to Petoskey, Ml where Phillip peddled goods door-to-door by horse and buggy. Bessie was born, and Phillip took out a land grant to homestead in the Dakotas. We believe, because of a letter written by Bennie Greenberg, that they went by train from Ml to their new land in Ramsey County, N DK. We know that Phillip, Bennie and their immediate families went to N DK.
We have no records on Phillip’s father. Abraham, or his other brother, Jacob, going west to homestead.
Return to Berditcbev, late in the year 1885. Sarah is pregnant with Anna, and Chaim has been called up for conscription in the Russian Army. This didn’t seem to be a prudent move for the family, since most soldiers never returned from battle, so the story goes that they chose to have Chaim leave immediately for America; and that Sarah would follow him when he felt be could earn a living for his family. The story gets a little fuzzy here since I haven’t discovered when or where Chaim landed… or where be tried to find work, but common sense indicates that be would try to join his parents and siblings in Chicago, since they were already somewhat settled. Wherever the location, the conditions were bad and it is said that Chaim couldn’t make a decent living.
On June 4. 1886, Sarah Siever Grawoig and 3 children sailed from Hamburg, Germany on the ship, Rhaetia, and arrived in America at the Port of New York. According to Garrison Grawoig, who was 2½ at the time, they temporarily lived with an uncle (Ascher) in Chicago who had preceded them in emigrating from Russia. Garry’s next recollection was that they were on a farm in N DK.
The year is now 1888 and rest of the family, if not all, were in the Devils Lake, N Dakota. Mollie and Phillip were either naturalized or applied for naturalization in Ramsey Co., N DK. Ascher applied for naturalization at this point also. Sarah, Chaim and the children had to be in N DK, because Fan was born in N DK on April 15,1888. We do know that the fourth child, Anna, stayed in Russia with her wet-nurse. (She could have been 2 years old at this point, since babies nursed until they could eat solid food.) Arrangements had been made for the next young woman from their community to come to America to bring Anna to her family. Tohe story goes that this woman became Ascher’s wife. If true, she was Bertha Berman.
On May 15, 1890, Louis Grawoig received land from USA Public Lands in N DK. We don’t know if Ethel was still alive. Their other daughter, Rivka, was in N DK around this time also. As a matter of fact, her grandson, Garrison Hollowich, remembers being told that his grandparents lived in Dogden, N DK. They may have been neighbors to Rivka’s brother, Ascher and his family. Rivka and Isadore had four children, Rose, Pearl, Phil and Izzie. Also a stepson. Morris. Garrison recollected that his mother, and her siblings were born in Chicago, but lived in N DK for a few years. We have proof that Phil was born in Chicago, but we have oot verified the birthplaces for his siblings. There is much we don’t know about Rivka’s family and their movements The search will continue.
Times were extremely hard for the homesteaders. Droughts in the summer and early winters made farming near impossible. The farms were 5-6 miles apart. but the families helped each other as best they could. The winters were very brutal and it was normal to find bodies scattered alongside the roads when the snows melted in the spring. Life was so difficult that after the birth of Allen, it is said that Sarah told Chaim that Devils Lake was “no place to raise a Jewish family.” They moved back to Chicago soon after that.
There is verification through naturalization papers and land sales that Louis remained in N DK until at least June 1899. He must have moved to Chicago some time after that, because he died there in 1905. As far as Ascher and his growing family went, they were definitely in Dogden, N DK in 1908, because that is where their youngest daughter, Goldie, was born. In 1914, the family gave upon the wheat farm and moved to Fargo, N DK, where Ascher became a baker of wheat.
Apparently, Phillip and his family were either more stubborn or more capable in fanning than Chaim. Their life was very community oriented and they stayed in the Devils Lake area until 1907. Mollie and Phillip kept an Orthodox Kosher home, as did the rest of the family members. Phillip possessed a Torah, so the Holiday services for all the Jewish families in the area were held at their home. For months at a time a Rebbe lived with them and taught Hebrew to the older children.
Mollie was a very busy woman. By this time the family had grown to eleven children. In addition to her chores around the farm, she also took on the job of selling their produce in town. She would hitch up the 6-horse wagon, leave her capable daughter, Bessie, in charge of the household duties and all those children, and head to market.
In the meantime, Phillip became superintendent of the area’s oner oom schoolhouse, in addition to his farming duties. The teacher joined their already busy household. Later, when Phillip’s brother Bennie moved to NY, Phillip also took over Bennie’s job and was appointed Postmaster by President Grover Cleveland. Their home then became the local post office in Garske. When they moved into the town of Devils Lake, Mollie had a general store. The Greenberg family finally left North Dakota for St. Paul, MN when the children were becoming a marriageable age. According to Nettie Epstein, her parents worried that the children might marry non-Jews. As time went on, the children married and prospered.
In St. Paul, Phillip started a bakery andsold bread door to door. The business thrived until one of the children developed Scarlet Fever and the health department shut the business down. (The bread was apparently baked in ovens at the rear of their home.) In order to be able to utilize his horses and wagons, Phillip then opened the successful Star Wet Wash Laundry. During their many years in MN, Phillip was identified with the work of several Jewish charitable organizations and Mollie continued to visit her siblings and their families in Chicago, as she had while still living in N DK.
The year is now circa 1918. Ascher decided that it was ti.me to leave the harshness of Fargo and move back to Chicago. Their home was a large apartment on the West side of the city. Ascher held a variety of jobs during his stay in Chicago. He was a tailor for a while; be owned a deli on Kedzie Ave. with his youngest son, Sam, and he worked with his brother, Chaim, from time to time. His family lived together, with the exception of Bessie, who had married and moved out on her own.
Back to Chaim and Sarah. In Chicago, Chaim became a peddler of sundries and yard goods, selling door-to-door. Sarah continued to have more babies until the number reached 15. (12 survived) Their home was always open to relatives that needed a place to stay. (We know that Pearl, Rivka’s daughter, came from the farm in Dogden to Jive with her aunt and uncle when she was fairly young.) When Chaim finally saved enough money to make a down payment on a home, be purchased a 3-story house at 1545 Taylor St. on the East side of Chicago. Running such a large household turned out to be too much for the arthritic Sarah, so her eldest daughter, Nettie, was taken out of school in the 3rd or 4th grade to help take care of the home and children.
Chaim then went into an unusual business. He bought carloads of natural ice which had been brought in from MN by train; he would sell the ice blocks right from the railroad car, to the “icemen” who would then deliver the blocks to the housewives for their ice boxes. All the sons, except Garry who was studying to become a lawyer, helped with this version of the ice business. Time passed. Chaim prospered and he soon moved his family to a luxurious apartment on Douglas Blvd. Chaim’s business evolved from a simple buying and selling of ice on the tracks, to the Grawoig Ice Co., which was the first artificial ice plant in Chicago! Chaim, Garry, Allen and I.G. merged their talents and revolutionized the manufacture of ice. The ice business was followed by two other ventures, Albany Tire and Rubber Co. and Continental Products Corp. Albany Tire recapped old tires and then sold them around the country by mail. Continental was an expanded mail order business that sold tires, automotive accessories and replacement parts and, eventually, general merchandise and household furnishings. Chaim was now mainly a figurehead in the family businesses. As he sat at his desk contemplating his past, I’m sure there was not a day that went by that he didn’t thank his lucky stars that he had made the decision long ago to leave farming for the business world!
I would like to acknowledge three of your relatives that had the foresight to write down some of this history for us, Nettie Greenberg Epstein, Florence Herron Glickman and Garrison Grawoig. I would also like to acknowledge, Muriel Steinman, who through her interview with Ascher’s daughter, Goldie Sachs, was able to shed some light on Aschers’ family history. Also, Bob Pregler, who helped open the door to finding Rivka and her descendants. Last, but not least, I would like to thank our “cousin” Sarita Sherman Warshawsky for getting the whole ball rolling by wanting to have a little family reunion! Without these cousins, we wouldn’t know as much about our roots.
Sheila Schultz -1998