Notes (October 2020) by Mark Auslander
I have been puzzling over the early life stories of my mother’s mother Yetta (Anderson?) Epstein (c.1894 or 1897-1959) and her sister “Bessie” (March 1885-17 December 1970), whose initial married name was “Masse Lebed,” and who was later known as “Bessie Labb.” Untilly recently, I had been uncertain of the maiden name of Bessie and Yetta. As noted below, I now having a working theory of their maiden names and family background.
The “Nathanson” Theory: Bessie and Yetta’s Maiden Name?
Masse or Bessie (b. March 1885; d. 1970) and her younger sister Yetta (b. 1894-1897; d, 1959) were evidently both born in Pavoloch, Russia, a substantial Jewish settlement in Ukraine. (Bessie gives Ruzhyn, her husband’s home town, as her place of birth on her shipping manifest into New York, but listed “Pavolitz” as her place of her birth in her naturalization petition.) As noted above, I had been unsure of Yetta and Bessie’s maiden name . Yetta is listed in the 1920 census as unmarried, with the surname “Anderson,” but my late mother Ruth Auslander believed this was not her actual maiden name. Bessie’s granddaughter,recalls that her mother Florence believed that Bessie’s maiden name was actually “Antinson” and that Bessie and Yetta’s mother’s name was Tzeral or Izeral Antinson. I can see no emigrants listed from Russia with the name of “Antinson,” however.
I had considered names such as “Antonovich,” “Antonowsky”, “Antonovskaya,” and “Antonovskiy”which are are fairly common Jewish Ukrainian names that do show up in early 20th century US immigration records (sometimes shortened to “Antonoff”). However, when I recently consulted my AncestryDNA results, I noticed that I had a number of distant cousins with the surname “Nathanson.” Several Nathanson families among these DNA matches emigrated to the United States or Canada from Pavoloch in Ukraine in the early 20th century:
- Benjamin (later “Barnet”) Nathanson and his wife Hannah (Posner) Nathanson,, who arrived 1903 from Pavoloch and settled in New York City. His parents were evidently Nathan and Louise.
- Abraham Nathanson, arrived in 1905 from Pavoloch (and later married Fannie Edelstein)
- Matus Nathanson (son of Israel (Sru) Nathanson) and his wife Loie, their daughter Ronze and son Elic, arrived 22 Nov 1912 from Pavoloch.
- Edie Nathanson arrived with her three children in 1899 from Pavoloch, to reunite with her husband Samuel Nathanson in Chicago.
- Julius (Khanina) Nathanson, came as a child from Pavoloch and Kiev to Chicago; later had a career as a prominent singer and performer in the Yiddish Theater.
- Nathan Nathanson, son of Israel Nathanson, emigrated from Pavoloch to Canada in 1921
- Max (Mordecai) Nathanson, son of Israel (Srul) Nathanson and brother of Nathan, came through Canada, arriving in the US in 1901, settled in Chicago and married to Fannie.
[A United Pavolitcher Society was active in Chicago for a quarter century: Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Nathanson are recorded as having played a leading role in the group. Source: Sidney Sorkin./ “Bridges to an American City -A guide to Chicago’s Landsmanshaften 1870-1990” Peter Lang Publishing, New York 1993, See: https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/pavoloch/anshe_pavolitch.htm] A Pavolocher Sick Benefit Society was formed in 1905 in New York ity; one of its presidents was Barnet (Benjamin) Nathanson: https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/pavoloch/Pavben.htm
There is no immigration record for a Yetta Nathanson arriving in the 1913-14 period, when Yetta would have arrived (according to the 1920 census). Yet two young women from the Kiev region might be cogent fits:
- Perl Natanson, born 1896, arrived 30 July 1914 in New York, giving Kiev as her place of birth. She had been staying with her mother Mariyam (?) Natanson in Kiev and indicates she plans to stay with her uncle John or Leib Posner (?), at 409 Union Street (Brooklyn). I do not know if this Leib Posner is related to Hannah (nee Posner) the wife of Benjamin (Barnet) Nathanson, referenced above.
- Sura Natanzon from Tolne (Tolna), born 1894, in the Kiev District (a town about 200 km from Pavoloch), where she had been staying with her father “C. Natanzon”. She arrived 11 Jun 1913, and will be staying with cousin R. Nathanson, 179 Hameyer (?) St in Brooklyn
Whoever Yetta was and precisely when and where she arrived in the United States, we do know that by 192- she was in residence in Baltimore, living in the same building as her sister Bessie and brother in law Abraham Labb, discussed below.
Relatives in Baltimore?
Beverly Epstein, widow of Yetta’s son Norman Epstein, recalls that Yetta had a sister or cousin in Baltimore named “Cecial.” In this connection, it is interesting that in the 1930 census a Cecilia Levinstein, age 65, resided in the Baltimore household of her son in law, Ben L Nathanson and his wife Anne, along with Ceclia’s daughter Ida Levenstein and Ben and Anne’s newborn son Richard. (Benjamin and Anna had married four years earlier in Washington DC.) Benjamin was the son of Aaron Nathanson, who had arrived from Russia in the US around 1882-83, and settled in Baltimore. I am not sure if Yetta and Bessie had a connection to this branch of the Nathansons or Levensteins.
it is also interesting that a Social Security record on Ancestry.com lists the father of Bessie Labb as “Labbi Morris” (perhaps meaning Lieb Moishe?) and her mother as a “Ceal Tobosnick.” This could be consistent with the family memories that Yetta and Bessie’s father was “Moishe,” and that their mother’s name was Tzeral or Izeral. [It is perhaps relevant that the Yad Vashem database lists a “Tabachnik” family from Pavoloch as Holocaust victims.]
The Lebed/Labb Family
It appears that Masse (later Bessie) married Lieb Abraham Lebed (later known as Abraham Labb, b. 20 July 1886) on March 2, 1902, perhaps in Skyrva (Skvira or, in Yiddish, Skver), about 13 miles southeast of Pavoloch. The couple resided in Ruzhin (in Yiddish: Rizhn or ריזשן). currently in Zhytomyr Oblast, a city in Ukraine long associated with Jewish learning, about 30 km southwest of Pavoloch.
A November 1907 immigration card lists Abraham’s father “Fesach” (presumably Pesach) Lebed. Shipping manifests suggest the couple lived in the home of Abraham’s father, Pesach Lebed, while in Ruzhin.
Cousin Paul Labb shares a story that the family plan had been for Masse (Bessie) to marry a rabbi, but that Lieb Abraham paid the coachman not to take her away, and began courting her.
Abraham apparently had a violent encounter with Cossacks who may have killed his father; Abraham, his grandson Paul, believes, fought back and thus had to flee the country. He traveled through Europe, looking for mezuzah on dwellings and appealing to fellow Jews for help. He finally was able in 1907 to journey to the USA three years before his wife. His November 1907 immigration form lists his brother in law as “Nusan Kuschner,” residing at 2317 New Market St, Philadelphia, PA. (I am unsure if this Kuschner is the husband of one of Abraham’s sisters, or somehow related to Bessie. Possibly, Nusan took the angilicized name “Nathan” and may have lived in Baltimore )
In any event, Abraham arrived on the ship S.S. Cassel sailing from Bremen into Baltimore on November 7, 1907, giving his name as “Lieb Abraham Lebed.” He listed as his closest relative in his home country his father, “Poisach” (?), perhaps Pesach (?) Lebed of Ruzhin. His occupation is “joiner” and he was headed for Philadelphia, PA. He appears to be traveling with three others from Ruzhyn, Fakol Apleznyk (?), Fega Furmann (female, milliner) , and Uscher Lievak (?), who also listed their destination as Philadelphia. These three individuals may have been Abraham’s relatives.
Two and half years later, the shipping manifest for the SS Brandenberg, arriving from Bremen into Baltimore on March 3, 1910 identifies Abraham’s wife “Masse Lebed” as a mai.) She lists as her closest relative in her country of origin as her father-in-law, Pescach (Paysach?) Lebed, in Ruzhyn.
The 1910 census shows Abe and Bessie “Leb” (sic) living at 1117 E Leonhard St, Apt 305 in Baltimore. Abe’s job is listed as “shirt presser” in a factory.
In December 1913, Abraham’s cousin Saryl Lebed (1898-1978) arrived in Philadelphia from Ruzhyn and then evidently stayed with Abraham and Bessie for some time in Baltimore. Saryl’s father Yossel (Yanofsky?) Lebed was the brother of Pesach Lebed, the father of Abraham. (This seems to be the same period that Bessie’s sister Yetta was staying with the Labbs as well, so the Seryl and Yetta presumably knew another well. From at least 1920 through the rest of her life, Seryl resided in Philadelphia, but I do not know if she and Yetta remained in touch.
Abraham filed his naturalization papers in Baltimore on 14 July 1916. He indicated that he and his wife Bessie lived at 907 E. Fayette Street in Baltimore, MD. (I am not sure where Bessie’s younger sister Yetta was at this point,)
In 1920, Abraham and Bessie were sitll living in Baltimore, now at 130 Jackson Square, Baltimore (the square, which no longer exists, was in the area now occupied by the 1700 block of E. Fairmont Avenue). They resided with their nine year old son Charles. In an adjacent apartment in the same building, Bessie’s sister, enumerated as “Yetta Anderson,” was living as a boarder, in the apartment of a Bessye Bolden. She was working as a button hole maker in a tailor shop.
On 1 February 1923, Abraham and Bessie’s daughter Florence was born in Baltimore.
By 1930, the Labbs were living in Washington DC, at 2406 18th Street, NW, near the cross street of Belmont Road in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood. Abraham Labb is listed as a tailor, worth $14,000. Cousin Paul recalls his father was also a union organizer.
By 1935, the Labbs were living in Brooklyn, NY. at 196 Pulaski Street. By 1940, Abraham, Bessie and daughter Florence were at this same address, but the elder son Charles was already married and living elsewhere.
As noted below, my mother Ruth Epstein (later Auslander), visited the Labbs in Brooklyn around 1944, when she was 12 years old or so, and stayed with them for a week or two. She particularly remembered Florence but believes she also met Charles at some point. The Labbs paid a visit to the Epsteins in Philadelphia at some point soon after this, but it does not appear that the families stayed in touch.
Abraham died on 10 Aug 1960 and was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens County, New York. A decade latter, Bessie died 17 Dec 1970, at age 85, and was also buried at Mount Hebron.
Abraham and Bessie’s son Charles was a wrestler selected for the US Olympic team, but being Jewish was not allowed to compete in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Charles married Florence Geller (1915-1987). The 1940 census lists Charles as a salesman. Charles and Florence’s two children were Marilyn Labb (later Zeitan) and Paul James Labb.
Paul recalls his grandfather tried to instill physical and mental strength in his grandson. He recalls Abraham would give him exercises to do and told him that in the old country a boy would be given a calf to raise and lift up as it grew, to build his muscles.
Florence married Bernard Waxenberg (incorrectly listed in NY state records as Wallenberg) , on 17 October 1946. Their children are Carol, Alan, and Roberta. Florence passed away in June 2020.
Yetta and the Epstein Family
As noted above, Yetta appears to have been born in 1897 in Pavoloch, Ukraine. Yetta’s youngest child, Norman Epstein, recalled his mother told him that the family had been bitterly poor in the village she grew up in, and that their house had dirt floors.
According to the 1920 census, Yetta (listed with the surname “Anderson”) arrived in the United States around 1913. I have not yet found ship manifest or naturalization records that would indicate when and how Yetta precisely came to the US. (it is possible that she as never in fact naturalized, but there should be a ship passage or border crossing record somewhere.
There are multiple Yettas listed in the immigration records for 1913 or thereabouts, but so far as I can tell, all can be ruled out due to age, marital status, or region of origin. The name Yetta is sometimes transcribed as Ethel or Etta, which complicates the search for records. (In the 1930 census in Reading, PA, Yetta Epstein is listed as “Jennifer.”)
My mother stated that Yetta, over the strenuous objections of her family, at some point between 1920 and 1923 moved away from living with or near the Labbs, and married or cohabited with Isidore Epstein, a skilled tailor, who had emigrated from the Bryansk region of Ukraine some years earlier Evidently, Yetta had hardly any connections with Abraham and Bessie after she left Baltimore.
There are several possible immigration and naturalization records for individuals named Isadore or Isidore Epstein, but I have not yet seen a convincing fit.
I have not found a marriage record for Isidore and Yetta, and do not know if they legally married. The 1930 census indicates that they had been married for ten years, that is to say had married in 1920. Their first child Morris (“Mo”) was born in late 1924. (It seems possible that “Morris” was named for Yetta’s father, Moishe. ) As late at 1940, Yetta is still listed as an alien in the census, and I am not sure if she was ever naturalized.
The couple resided in Reading, PA from the mid-1920s until 1940. Their seven children, all born in Reading, in turn were:
Morris “Moe” Epstein (26 DEC 1924-23 APR 2016)
Harry Epstein (26 AUG 1926 – 6 SEP 1996) Who worked as public school teacher in the Philadelphia area
Charles Epstein (02 DEC 1927 • 14 AUG 1994) Charles worked for the Social Security Administration.
Louis Epstein (17 Nov 1929-20 March 2020)
Ruth Epstein (29 FEB 1932-13 JUNE 2014) Married Joseph Auslander, and later Maurice Shapiro. She worked as a nurse in the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD
Many photographs of Ruth Epstein Auslander are at:
Ann Epstein ( 25 NOV 1933-1 OCT 2000)
Norman Epstein (12 OCT 1935- 10 NOV 2006) Elecrical engineer. Married Beverly. Sons Eric and Carl.
Isadore was a skilled tailor, but, family members recall, “he drank all the money away.” Financial troubles were incessant. One family story has it that the children at one point had to sleep on the cutting tables in a tailors’ shop; they were often just one step ahead of the bill collectors and irate landlords. Isadore was physically violent with family members, at least until the older sons were able to protect the younger children. Facing financial trouble and months behind on the rent, the family surreptitiously left Reading during the night, relocating to Philadelphia in 1940.
Vogin Family Connections
It appears that Moshe, the father of Yetta and Bessie, had a sister Tillie (also known as “Taub”), born 29 February in 1869, possibly in Motovilovka, Zhytomyr, Kiev, Ukraine. She married a Yankel (Jacob) Vogin, evidently in Motovilovka. The couple emigrated to the United States in 1923; perhaps they were spurred to leave by the terrible 1919 pogroms committed against the Jewish communities of Ukraine, including in Motovilovka. The family settled in Philadelphia, where they stayed with Yankel and Tillie’s son Joseph Waine, who had emigrated to the US in 1916. (Joseph had deserted from the Czarist army and took multiple steps to cover his tracks as he traveled to Palestine and then to Alexandria, changing his name to Weine and later Waine, and listing his nationality as “Greek” when he entered the United States.)
Jankel (Jacob) died i 1944 and Tillie died 30 December 1945 in Philadelphia, so did overlap with Yetta’s residence in the city.
David Folkman, great grandson of Tillie Vogin (who was known affectionately as “Bubba Tibel” by her grand-children) recalls that the Vogin descendants were close with Yetta when she was alive, and that they rekindled their relationship with Moe and Lou after David met Moe’s daughter Arlene in high school in the late 1960s. ( I don’t recall my mother mentioning the Vogin or Waine connection: since she lived outside of Philadelphia from the late 1950s onwards she may have missed the restored connections between the family lines.)
Ruth Meets the Labbs
My late mother Ruth recalled that around 1944, when she was about twelve years old, her mother Yetta asked her to write to her sister Bessie Labb, with whom she had evidently had no or minimal contact for many years. Ruth received a letter back from Bessie’s daughter Florence, my mother’s first cousin. The letter contained an invitation for Ruth to visit the Labb family in Brooklyn, a trip for which the Labbs provided train fare. This was the first long trip alone my mother had ever taken, and she recalled the week or two with the Labbs as life-transforming. Bessie was kind, their place was filled with flowers, and the family opened her eyes up to art and music and culture. Cousin Florence in particular was enormously warm and understanding. There was even discussion that Ruth might come and live with the Labbs, and be supported in her dream of pursuing her education.
Ruth recalled that Bessie and Abraham did at some point during the following months visit the Epsteins in Philadelphia and stayed in their home for one night. We are not precisely sure what transpired, but the visit clearly did not go well, and after the Labbs left there appears to have been no contact at all between the Labbs and Epsteins. It is possible that the Labbs were appalled by Isidore’s alcoholism and violent temper.
Isadore’s alcoholism worsened and he died, with cirrhosis, in 1952. My mother recalled that Yetta was exhausted caring for him, day and night, and that she and her siblings finally were able to send her on a vacation to Florida. This was to be the first vacation of her life. The night Yetta arrived at the vacation destination, Isadore died. The family discussed what to do; Ruth argued to let Yetta have her vacation in blissful ignorance of Isadore’s death for a few days, but was overruled by the other siblings, and Yetta came back immediately. Yetta, my mom recalls ruefully, never ever had a vacation, up until her own death seven years later in 1959.
Bessie Labb’s descendants recall that Bessie had relatives in Baltimore, and that there is apparently a family relationship to film director Barry Levinson. As it happens, Levinson’s noted 1990 film “Avalon” recounts the story of his family’s early decades in Baltimore, starting with the arrival of his mother’s father Samuel Krichinsky (27 MAR 1895-OCTOBER 1973 ) who was born, like Yetta and Bessie, in Pavlowitz (Pavoloch), and who died in Baltimore. Samuel Krichinsky, arrived in Philadelpha on 1 April 1912. Ten months later, on February 3, 1912, his brother Wolke Krichensky, bookbinder, son of Lieb Krichinsky from Pavoloch. arrived in Baltimore; he may be the same person later listed as William Krichinsky, who died in Baltimore in October 1918 during the influenza pandemic. Their brother Hyman arived in Batlimore 6 Dec 1913, Samuel’s parents, Leib and Malka Krichinsky, emigrated from Pavolocfh to Baltimore in 1922, along with four more children.
The Krichinsky family settled around Jackson Place or Square in Baltimore, precisely the same location where the Labbs and Yetta, their apparent cousins, are recorded in the 1920 census. (See an article on the Krinchinsky family history, at;
[Traveling with Wolke Krichensky was a family headed by a Reine Segal, housewife, daughter of a Zeko Kalinska (sp?), with four children including an “Eta Segal,” also all from Pavoloch. All of these individuals indicate that they will be residing in Baltimore with Reine’s husband, a Mr. Segal, a cousin of Wolke Krichensky. The Eta listed is only born around 1907; might it be more than coincidence that she shares a name with “our” Yetta Anderson, born around 1897?]
The Holocaust in Pavoloch, Ruzhyn, and Bryansk
What do we know of the fate that befell relatives of Bessie, Yetta and Abraham who stayed behind in the Ukraine region of what became the Soviet Union, during the area’s experience of the Shoah 1941-1944?
Lieb Abraham Lebed (Abraham Labb) appears to have grown up in Ruzhin, now in the Kiev District of Ukraine. This is where he and his wife Masse (Bessie) evidently lived up until 1907, when Abraham had to flee, bringing his wife to join him three years later in Baltimore.
The city of Ruzhin was occupied by German troops on July 16, 1941, and subjected to a series of attrocities. The first massacre of Jews took place in September 1941, and a second massacre took place in May 1942:
The brother of Peysach Lebed (the father of Abraham Lebed/Labb), Yossel Yanofskly Lebed was killed on 10 September 1941, according to his great granddaughter, in testimony recorded at Yad Vashem.
Several Lebeds from Ruzhin are listed in the Yad Vashem database of victims of the Shoah:
Moishe Lebed, shoemaker, b, 1882, his wife Fega, and their sons Idl and Sunya, both school children, are listed in the Yad Vashem database as murdered during the Shoah in Ruzhhin.
Their sons Leonid and Shloime Lebed were killed in Soviet military service during the war.
Brandl Lebed’s daughter Rivka Mitnik was murdered during the Shoah in Ruzhin.
Ester Tzirkul (nee Lebed) was evacuated from Ruzhin to the Caucasus Region, and perished as a result of her evacuated.
Semyon Lebed from Ruzhin died during Second World War in the Soviet armed forces. (We know that virtually all Jewish prisoners of war were summarily killed by the invading Germans).
Masse (Bessie Labb)’s September 1941 naturalization petition indicates that her place of birth was Pavoloch, Russia, a substantial Jewish settlement in Ukraine, about 30 km northeast of Ruzhin. Presumably, Yetta was born in Pavoloch as well. (By coincidence, during the same month that Bessie was naturalized in Baltimore, in September 1941 a terrible massacre of 750 Jews in Pavoloch was commited on the eve of Yom Kippur by the German Nazi invaders; we do not know when, if at all, Bessie and Yetta learned of the horrors that had been perpetrated in their natal town.)
As noted above, it seems most likely that the maiden name of Bessie, Yetta, and their aunt Tillie was Nathanson or Natanson. The Yad Vashem database lists over twenty Natansons murdered during the Shoah in Kiev and over one hundred Natansons murdered elsewhere in Ukraine. (I do not see any reference to Natanson victims in Pavoloch itself.) I know of at least one Natanson (Miriam) among the victims of the 1941 mass killing at Babi Yar.
Isadore Epstein, Yetta’s husband, evidently was born in Bryansk, in far eastern Ukraine, about 700 km northeast of Pavoloch. Bryansk was occupied by the advancing German military on October 6, 1941. 7,500 bodies of Jews and gypsies were found after the war in 14 mass graves. A monument has been erected to 500 Jews murdered on March 2, 1942. Another mass killing took place in August 1942. A detailed account of the atrocities is given at: https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Bryansk/bry001.html
The Yad Vashem database lists a Rasia Epshteyn (daughter of Abram and Perla) and
a Sonia Epsztein, both murdered during the Shoah in the Bryansk region, and several other individuals with the surname of “Epshteyn” who were evacuated from Bryansk to locations including Uzbekhistan, Lipetsk, Melekess, Gavrilovka Vtoraya. and Borisoglebsk. At least one of these individuals perished as a result of evacuation.
My mother Ruth, when I asked her how many of her relations in Ukraine had survived the Holocaust, said that they all died, without exception, but did not wish to discuss any details.
Yetta and Bessie’s aunt (father’s sister) Tillie and her husband Yankel Vogin listed their birthplace at Motovilovka, in the Kiev District. (I do not know if Tillie’s brother Moishe was born in Motovilovka or Pavoloch, where Bessie was born.) The Yad Vashem database lists about seven residents of Motovilovka and Velikaya Motovilovka, who were murdered in the Shoah. Cousin David Fogelman (Tillie Vogin’s great grandson) believes how that Tillie and Yankel’s immediate relatives in Motovilovka survived the war.
(Please feel free to share corrections on any of the above material; this is very much a work in progress.)