A family rumor was the genesis of David Laskin’s extraordinary new book, “The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century.”
Laskin heard from his mother who heard it from her cousin Barbara who heard it from her parents: that they were related to Lazar Kaganovich, henchman of Joseph Stalin and a perpetrator of the famine genocide that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s.
Because Laskin’s great aunt Itel (Ida) Rosenberg founded the Maidenform Bra Co., at one point the largest privately held company in America, Laskin, who spoke to the Forward on the phone from his home in Seattle, thought he had “a fantastic idea for a new book, the juxtaposition of a communist monster and a capitalist tycoon in the same family.”
While his research proved the Stalin connection a canard, he discovered there was another part of his family he knew absolutely nothing about: “an entire branch of the family killed in the Holocaust,” Laskin said.
Laskin found out about his family’s tragic past when he met his Israeli cousin Benny Kaganovitz for the first time while traveling to Israel for his research.
Benny had interviewed his mother, Sonia, a pioneer, and wrote two unpublished memoirs about her early experiences. He also saved over 300 letters Sonia received from her family in the Pale, of the Settlement, in Volozhin, home of the famed Volozhin yeshiva. Going back at least four generations, the family patriarchs were torah scribes. Among the letters, which were written in Yiddish, were several from Sonia’s grandfather, Sholom Tvi, who’d gone to visit relatives in the United States, just before World War.