Lida Story by Irene Newhouse nee Pupko
My father was named Moses Pupko and he was born in Vilna in 1898,
because his mother, Rachele nee Margolis was from Vilna.
My father always said his father, Gerson ben Aron Pupko
married her because he had been eating at Restaurant Margolis,
the family restaurant on Ul. Niemitskaya in Vilna when
there on business, and having learned the cook was an eligible
young woman, decided to marry her & eat well at home
forever, and therefore it was so arranged.
father had an older sister named Sofia, called Sonja, and an
brother Elias who was called Luta. My father himself
was called Misha. Luta was working for his father in Warsaw when
the Holocaust began. My father’s cousin Wiera Pupko [married
Turnheim] said he was beaten to death by Poles while looking
for bread to buy; he lived near her parents, Isaak and Miriam
grandfather was a timber broker from Lida. That is, he had
knowledge of the value & condition of forests
in the Kovno region [don’t ask why Kovno, which was rather
far from Lida, because I have NO clue]. He brought together the
owners of the land on which the trees stood & businesses
needing to buy timber, negotiated the price & often also
supervised the logging of the forests. He charged a small percentage
fee for his services, but my father said the sums involved were
so large that these fees were often very substantial. Wiera Pupko
said that one aspect of these operations was the laying of a
narrow-gauge railway to haul out the logs, and that many times
this would be the first such marvel of modern technology in the
area, and these trains were often called “Pupkovka”.
My grandfather Gerson was one of nine children and had 4 brothers
and 4 sisters. The brothers were Salomon, who was not in timber
and moved away from Lida, Avigdor called Victor, Mordukh, called
Motte, and Isaak. The last 3 brothers were also in timber, generally
with their brother Gerson. The sisters were Rachel, Hanne Malke,
Bluma called Bertha and Rivka. My greatgrandfather apparently
decided that if you had to have sons-in-law, the only way to
make sure they were proper sons-in-law was to raise them yourself,
as he adopted 4 boys on the understanding that once grown, they
would marry one of the sisters, and so it came to be.
Rachel married Beinus Migdal. Their children ended up moving
to Moscow in the Communist era, where one of them became a famous
professor of mathematical physics, Dr. Arkady Migdal. His son
is also an outstanding mathematician, now lives in the US, and
was professor at Princeton for a time.
Malke married a man whose given name my family no longer remembers,
but whose surname was Kivilyevich. My father recalls
that he was prominent in the Lida Jewish Community, and was parnas
for a time. There is a Hanne Malke Kivilevich in the list of
Martyrs in Sepher Lida, and that’s probably her. My father
visited Lida when her was in his early 20s. His father had moved
his wife & children to Tilsit, East Prussia, where he also
had an office. Tilsit was at the mouth of the Memel River, and
thus important in Gerson’s business: logs could be floated
down the Memel for shipment by sea to other places. My father
said that sometimes the overwhelming majority of the logs on
the Memel in spring were logs in whose passage my grandfather
had been involved. In Tilsit, as a Jew, he could own land, a
dream of his. He bought “Villa Carlsberg” for his
family to live in, when my father was about 2, and that had been
the last time he saw his Aunt Hanne Malke. My father said, when
he arrived at her house on his visit, she said, “You’re
Misha? I’d NEVER have recognized you!” Since he didn’t
think it any wonder at all she didn’t recognize him across
the gap between 2 and 20, he always remembered that reaction.
Her descendants live in England and have changed their name to
Kason. One of them, the late John Kason was an electrical engineer
and computer engineer. Wiera spoke glowingly of his ability.
initially married the man her father had picked out for her,
him & later married Mr. Wiener, a man who’d
been in America, come back well-off & wanting to settle down.
They had a daughter named Kissinka who died aged 8 of scarlet
fever. After her death, they had another daughter whose name
my father didn’t know. Bertha settled in Vilna. She and
Isaak were very close and for a long time they lived in the same
building, near each other. Eventually Isaak’s family moved
to Warsaw, though, while the Wieners stayed behind. My father
told me that to his dying day, my grandfather could not imagine
what on earth had possessed his sister to become dissatisfied
with the man her father had picked out for her. I think the chances
are very good that the Wieners perished. I inherited from Wiera
a handful of postcards from her parents in 1941, in one of them
they say they haven’t heard from Bertha & Ida in a
long time; probably her aunt & cousin.
Rivka married Yosef Lipuner. She managed to get to Israel, where
she died. They had two sons, Sima and Mita, but no grandchildren.
and Motte stayed in Lida, and, according to my father, had
families, but family recollection is limited to a few
children & their descendants. My father thought the timber
business had been founded by his grandfather Aron, if it wasn’t
even older than that, but that in the generation of his uncles
and father, it had expanded greatly. My father attributed this
to his father’s activity. His father was a fast thinker,
must have had a fair stock of charm, and always, always, dressed
extremely well, according to Wiera. But the fact that Aron was
an only son while there were 4 men who took over the business
after him, and they cooperated, must have helped immensely as
father told of his father that he rode with Cossacks & learned
riding tricks from them. One of his very vivid early childhood
memories, as well as of his sister, is their watching their father
gallop around the yard by their house, drop his handkerchief
to the ground, and lean over and pick it up in his teeth without
slowing down & without falling off. He could also climb up
from the saddle to stand on the back of the galloping horse.
my grandfather ran into trouble. So he converted all his assets
into a lump of gold that he had in his suitcase & kept
away from the notice of the customs officer by “helping” him
inspect his suitcase, always moving the sock containing the gold
lump into the area the man had just checked out.
the Russian Revolution broke out, a group of men came to capture
my grandfather & execute him as a capitalist enemy
of the people. He told them, “Such important work cannot
be done with a dry throat & empty stomach”. He took
them to a restaurant, bought them some food, and proceeded to
get them so drunk they forgot their purpose and he parted from
them late that night on the best of terms.
JFK had been newly elected and the newspapers contained reports
on Jackie’s sister Lee & reported she was married
to a Polish Prince Radziwill, my mother asked what sort of Polish
name THAT could be, since it didn’t sound Polish to her.
To which my father replied, “It’s an excellent old
Polish name. My father drank one of them under the table every
day for a week at least”. So of course we had to hear the
story. Apparently, there was a stand of marvelous forest, not
logged in ages because connected to it was a right that no written
document regarding this piece of land could be upheld legally.
The Radziwills owned it and there was a history of agreements
being signed and then revoked before being fully executed, often
to great economic loss on the part of the hapless person trying
to buy the logs. My grandfather, sensing the time was near for
his getting a similar treatment, commenced drinking with the
Radziwill who owned the tract & kept him drunk until the
trees he intended to cut were down & the logs shipped out.
time my grandfather lost a great deal because, to get to a
he had to get a right-of-way for the narrow-gauge
railway from someone else. This person kept deferring signing
the negotiated agreement until the railway was almost done & then
held my grandfather up for an enormous sum. But even that, my
father said, didn’t keep my grandfather down for long.
He was burdened with what appeared to be a ruinous debt, then
WWI ended, the hyperinflation began, and he paid off the enormous
debt with money that was almost worthless.
my greatgrandfather Aron Pupko was on his deathbed, my grandfather
went to Vilna
to fetch a doctor for him. He saddled
a horse, but he did not ride it, the horse was for the doctor
to return on. He held one of the stirrups & jogged along
side the horse to Vilna. Having seen the doctor off toward Lida
on this horse, he checked into a hotel, took a bath & went
to sleep. The next morning, he returned to Lida on the train.
promised his father on his deathbed always to take care of
was the youngest. This promise he kept faithfully,
and when times were hard, Isaak and his family got their money
before my grandmother and his own children did. Fortunately,
he had paid cash for Villa Carlsberg during a good time, and
it had an orchard and barn. So my grandmother had a garden, preserved
fruit & vegetables for the winter, had bees for honey, a
goat for milk, poulty for eggs & meat, and made some cash
of her own for the hard times by fattening geese. During the
fall & early winter, herds of geese for the Christmas feasts
in what’s now Germany began their long march on foot from
Russia. They were driven through a pan of tar, and from that
right into a sand pit. This coated their feet with a sort of
walking shoe. They would be made to walk for a period of time,
and then people at the way stations would contract to feed them
for a time, so that they wouldn’t arrive all worn out and
thin from the journey. My grandmother was one of those who contracted
to keep the geese & fatten them up again. She kept a gander
who was a great pet of my father to keep the visiting geese in
line. The gander stayed from year to year. He was an excellent
watchman & the only living thing that would tackle their
extremely grumpy goat. The goat was my father’s charge,
because if she attacked him when she got mad, the gander would
run up & bite her stomach before she could do any damage.
The gander met my father at the gate every afternoon when he
returned from school, too.
my father’s first trip back to Lida, he was used to
Pupko being a rare name, so he asked someone standing around
the train depot where Pupkos lived. The man replied, “Which
ones? We have lots”. “Motte Pupko”. “Which
one? We have lots”. “Motte Pupko the timber broker”. “There’s
more than one of those, too”. My father forgot what detail
of his uncle’s life he had to use to identify him. There
were 3 Motte Pupkos on one of the Lida voter lists of the early
20th century, just like my father said. And there might have
been more, because only the most affluent were allowed to vote.
We were the only Pupkos in the county in the US, so we, too,were
used to Pupko being a rare name. So one day, we asked our father
if we should some day be so fortunate as to encounter another
Pupko, could we assume a relationship? He said definitely not,
and told us this story to show just how common Pupko was in Lida.
In the course of my connection to the internet, I have corresponded
with many Pupkos, and almost all of them do not seem to have
a family connection, just as my father said. In the meantime,
my knowledge of the family tree has grown considerably, thanks
to Reuven Poupko and his father Gabriel [Gary] who collected
Pupkos even more extensively than Wiera.
Pupko kept track of the living family members, but was very
in the past. If we asked for details on how
someone was a cousin, she generally said, “It should be
enough I tell you so”. The last time I saw her, she told
me if I had to write down what she said to remember it, I must
not be very interested & unless I put my notebook away, she
wasn’t going to talk to me. Sigh... Somehow, my mother
got her to tell her the family tree in a logical way. She must
have blackmailed her with her cornmeal muffins, which Wiera really,
really liked. Wiera said we are related to Emil Gil-els, the
famous pianist. I’ve tried to study this, and haven’t
found anything concrete. But it’s not as crazy as it seems
at first. Yes, his background is in Odessa, a long way from Lida.
But a distant brach of the Pupko family did end up in Odessa,
so it’s not impossible.
am distantly related to Sioma Pupko, who told his story in
My grandfather’s grandfather’s father
was also Sioma’s ancestor, according to information from
Wiera always told us, when we asked, that she escaped the Holocaust
with nothing; all her family pictures were gone. Since this is
indeed what happened to my father, we believed her. Imagine our
surprise when after her death, we inherited hundreds of snapshots!
My grandfather is probably in at least one of them, but almost
none of them are labeled. I hope someday to meet someone who
might know, but the time is passing, so most of those pictures
will probably remain mysterious. I have some group photos on
my web site, but no one has recognized any of them yet.
family managed to be able to send her Belgium, and from there,
she went to Havana, where she learned to cut
diamonds. Eventually she was able to come to the US, where she
settled in New York City.
father was living in Berlin and decided to leave in 1935 or1936,
he was working for a supplier of lumber to the Olympic
Stadium & had to enter under a sign that said “Entritt
fuer Juden verboten” to re-measure something because of
a problem with the lumber. He went to Prague. The Germans took
Prague in 1938, so he crossed Germany illegally & was arrested
on the border with Holland and sent to Dachau. His sister had
come down with TB shortly after WWI, and, in those pre-antibiotic
days, had had to live in Switzerland to keep it under control.
She got him a visa for Chile, so my father was released from
Dachau provided he leave Germany forever as soon as possible.
He went to his sister, who told him she was sorry she couldn’t
give him any more money, because she was trying to get their
brother & father out. Their mother was living with her. So
my father didn’t tell her all he had in the world was about
$20, so as not to worry her. He stowed away on a train to Genoa,
hung around the docks until he learned how to stow away on a
boat, and stowed away on a Norwegian freighter, the Belray, bound
for Chile. On arriving in Chile, he discovered that the Chilean
government had revoked his visa. He ran into his father’s
former Berlin attorney, who was working on a committee to help
Jewish refugees in Chile & learned of his father’s
death the previous March from a heart attack. Mr. Riess told
him, “Given the situation, your father had his famous good
luck right to the end. Dying of a heart attack was the best thing
that could have happened to him”. Chilean authorities shipped
him out on the Belray to NY. In NY, he was imprisoned on Ellis
Island, acquitted of illegal entry on grounds of deportation
by Chile, his request for political asylum was rejected & he
was due to be shipped back to Germany and certain death when
HIAS intervened & sent him to the Dominican Republic in fall
1940. I got his file from INS under a Freedom of Information
Act request, but they wouldn’t send me any information
on his trial, or have destroyed or lost it. The file picks up
with the involvement of HIAS.
In the Dominican Republic, he met my mother.
is a long way back for us, but we remember Lida as the earliest
known residence of our Pupko ancestors. Once Ellen Sadove
Renck started sending by email incredible material she was finding
around 1998, I offered to help by putting it on the web. I am
amazed at how much material on Lida and the surrounding communities,
we, with the help of other Landsleit, have been able to collect
and post. Even my sending this short family story to the annual
meeting would not have been possible without the internet, because
the only reason I learned of the Lieder Society’s continued
existence was from an e-mail correspondent who ran into a member
at the bar mitzvah of a distant relative of her husband. She
hadn’t, she said, been all that keen on going, since it
was a long drive & the connection so distant, but learning
that had made it worthwhile.