Originally published in the Forverts, March 28, 1911
A Mother Wrote From Russia: “My Daughter! So Many Tragedies Occur In America; It’s Better For You To Come Home!” The Letter Remained Unanswered. – Two Joyous Weeks After The Wedding; The Catastrophe Disrupted Their Happiness—Other Heartrending Stories
The desperate screams torn out of the young victims as they departed this life during the horrible fire rang out through the city and the entire country. Deeper than all other emotions was the greater pain of those closest to the victims, those who lost children, sisters and brothers.
In those homes, in those houses of lamentation, everyone was stricken, crying hopelessly, wrapped in sighs!
In one house the Forverts reporter met a 28 year old woman bitterly crying. “My dear Rosie,” she wailed loudly, “my dear Rose has departed this world so young.” When the distressed one calmed down a little bit, she told a heartbreaking story.
“Rosie first came here one and a half years ago,” she began saying, as harsh sighs kept breaking through. “She still had a beloved mother back home and hoped to save a few dollars and bring her mother over. Her mother however, back home, dreamed things differently and hoped Rosie would still come back there. She first wrote about that two weeks ago. It must have been a premonition! She wrote: ‘My child! There are so many tragedies in America; it’s best you come home.’” And the woman began crying bitterly again.
“Poor thing,” she wailed, “didn’t even have the opportunity to answer the letter.”
In the corner sat a young man bent over in thirds. He hadn’t said a word, couldn’t move a limb and appeared like someone condemned to death. He sat that way, a look of terror visible in his eyes. When his wife recalled the mother’s letter, the young man budged. “Poor mother,” he cried out, “poor mother, when you find out!”
The woman, whom the reporter later found out was cousins with the deceased, then told him that the young woman frequently complained about poor treatment at the “Triangle” and that the shop was like a barrack and more. She stayed there though, because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to find any other job and couldn’t “afford” to go without one.
The previous Wednesday she’d picked up a new dress at the tailor having prepared it for Saturday evening when she was going to attend a ball. Friday night she had a fitting and had prepared a few other things for Saturday’s ball, having no inkling what frightful fate awaited her. Surely she had no way of knowing that by Saturday evening she’d no longer be among the living.
The Jewish street is so full of these types of heartbreaking tragedies it’s difficult to select only a few of these cases. All of them are sad, each one strains the heart. Still, there are those that are remarkable and Ethel Shrayber’s case is one of those. The entire neighborhood is mourning Ethel, in the grocery and butcher store, and on the corners where folks have gathered to discuss this case and express regret for the young victim.
Ethel Shrayber had just turned 19. She was married only two weeks ago and as her husband was unemployed she went to work. Poor, but happy, she lived with her husband in a small bedroom on the top floor on Munroe Street. She would come home tired and worn out from work, but content. The two youngsters had been in love for some time and the harsh conditions couldn’t disrupt their joy.
They were due to visit friends that Saturday evening and in the morning had discussed where and when they would meet up. Then she left and at neither the appointed hour, nor the chosen location, did she meet her husband. A ruin among the other victims, her husband located her in the morgue.
And now there’s a funeral on Pike Street. A tattered old woman chases after the funeral-carriage, smashing her head with her fists yelling: “My darling daughter, my earner, caretaker, don’t leave me, take me with you.”
Three young children run after the wagon screaming : “Mama.”
After the funeral procession had passed by, a group gathered on the corner as men and women poured out their tears for the old widow, for the supporter of the three children and for the impoverished old mother.
On the second floor at 33 Pike Street our reporter encountered two teary sisters of one of the victims, the name of the unfortunate one being Annie Altman. She was 16 years old.
“Our parents live in Russia,” the mournful ones said. “We were five sisters here and only four of us remain. Annie was the fourth. We get along well as sisters. We’re extremely devoted to each other. Annie was beloved by all of us. She was so good, so likeable, if only we had a photograph of her as a memento! Annie never had her photo taken. She decided to go have a photo taken with all of us, but the angel of death took her from us before so much as an image of her could remain.”
The sister who relayed this to the reporter showed him photographs of other victims in the fire. She viewed them enviously as fresh tears formed in her eyes.
“Their sisters actually have a memento. I’d be willing to pay you any amount to have a portrait of my dear sister…..gone! gone! Not even a relic is left darling Anneleh!…” A bitter lament choked her and she was no longer able to speak.
On the stoop at 161 Madison Street sat a woman who lost two boarders in the fire. She came from the same town as the unfortunate young women, was very fond of them as fellow townsfolk and is inconsolable having lost them.
“They were two sisters,” the woman said, “two delightful sisters, darling children, one is dead. And the other is worse off than dead: she is so burned and broken, it’s horrifying. She’s lying there in terrible pain, but only speaks about her sister.” She asks: “Is Becky alive? Is my Becky alive?—Tell me if she’s alive, my sister, then I can die in peace.’”
A horrible scene occurred at one of the funerals. Kalman Dominic’s wife, followed her husband’s casket yesterday. They had been married for one year and lived happily. Last Saturday the hellish fire took him from her. She cried so hysterically she had to be taken aside and revived, and in the meantime, his funeral-carriage had passed. When she came, to she began screaming! “Where is my husband, where is my darling husband—let me go to his funeral.”
Esther Hochfeld, 21 years old from 292 Munroe Street, worked at the ‘Triangle’ along with her brother Max. She was engaged, (she’s pictured with her fiancé above) and on the Saturday after shvues [Pentecost] her wedding was to have taken place. Her brother was miraculously saved.
He waited for the elevator and then, not wanting to wait that long, decided to take the stairs down. Walking downstairs, smoke suddenly began smothering him about the face. He ran back up and tried to save his sister but flames quickly spread and he barely escaped alive. There appears to be no remnant of the young woman.
A Forverts reporter visited with the Hochfeld family. There, as in hundreds of homes of families, relatives, friends, townsfolk and acquaintances of the unfortunate victims, a terrible anguish dominates. The young bride-to-be’s father moves about like a shadow. With a weak, trembling, barely distinguishable voice he told the reporter:
“You see, friend, I don’t even have any tears left now and no strength to mourn my own annihilation.”
As noted previously, sadly, these unfortunates don’t yet know, what occurred to their daughter.
Saturday, Esther Goldstein, one of the victims who resided at 143 Madison Street, meant to send her father in Russia a few dollars for Passover. He waits in vain. His loyal daughter will not be sending any more money.
“She used to go hungry saving money to send her father,” the landlady, a homey, elderly, Jewish woman told us, her eyes brimming with tears. She was such a good one, so happy. I held her close to my heart.”And she began crying again and couldn’t speak anymore.
Another one who lived in lodgings, among strangers, was Becky Kessler.
For one year and a half she lived with strangers. Then she fell in love and was to be married shortly. She was happy. She went around with joyful plans and then the bitterness of death came and destroyed all her dreams; extinguished all her plans. And not only is her beloved left with a wounded heart, but also the landlady, where she was a boarder, feels the painful tears choking her when she attempts to talk about the young woman.
The Jews are a nation of tears. And wherever there was no mother, father, sister or brother to bemoan the unfortunate ones, strangers were not lacking.
More Tragedies in the Darkened Homes