June 25, 2004

100 YEARS AGO

• Rachel Hoffman was shot to death while she slept, by her husband, 34-four-year-old buttonhole-maker Samuel Hoffman of Broome Street in New York City. The early-morning murder took place while their three children and an unknown number of boarders still were asleep. Beat Officer McKay heard the children’s screams after the shots were fired, and he ran into the apartment to find Samuel Hoffman standing there, still holding the revolver. When Hoffman attempted to shoot himself, Officer McKay grabbed the gun and arrested him. At the police station, Hoffman claimed that he and his wife had fought because she didn’t want to go on a planned trip to Coney Island with him and the kids. However, he subsequently changed the story, saying theyd’ had a fight in which he was offered a job in Rochester, N.Y., but his wife refused to move.

75 YEARS AGO

• As the massive Corpus Christi procession of priests, nuns and Catholics passed through the Jewish streets of Lemberg, a rumor spread among the participants that the students at the Jewish schools they were going by were laughing at them, spitting on them, and throwing food and stones at them, none of which was at all true. Participants at the tail end of the procession made an attempt to break into one of the schools, but were stopped by the police. The procession continued and ended without incident. Polish and Yiddish local newspapers agreed not to publish anything about the false rumors. The one exception was the antisemitic Lwowski Kurier Poranny, which printed the rumors as if they had actually happened. That was the signal that set off a three-day pogrom during which much Jewish property was destroyed and the streets of Lemberg ran red with Jewish blood.

• Woodbine, N.J., is known as the Tel Aviv of America. Founded in 1891, it is a town like any other, with stores, factories and schools. But when it started, this town was entirely Jewish. It had a Jewish mayor, a Jewish city councilman and a Jewish chief of police. Jewish immigrants from the Russian empire, victims of pogroms and oppression, founded the town. In Woodbine, they created a shtetl for themselves, funded partially by Baron de Hirsch. Woodbine hasn’t remained entirely Jewish, and now only 60% of the population is made up of Jews. The remainder comprises Italians, Poles and blacks.

50 YEARS AGO

• The official Jewish autonomous republic of the USSR, Birobidzhan, the Soviet answer to Zionism, contains only a tiny minority of Jews. Declared as the Jewish autonomous region in 1934, it was hoped that the Jews of Belorus and the Ukraine would emigrate to Birobidzhan, where the national language and official signage was Yiddish, though this never came to fruition. The harsh climate and difficult living conditions made it an undesirable place for any immigrants, Jewish or otherwise. At its peak, in the mid-1930s, approximately 40,000 Jews lived there.

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June 25, 2004

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