A Meeting of Cousins
Gabriela Merlinsky and I -- Paulette Lee (née Merlin) -- are second cousins. We share the same great-grandfather. We connected through Facebook, as another first cousin of mine and his wife had recently made a trip to Argentina and knowing they had relatives there, looked them up and met some. Of course, we all shared the information.
It turns out that while Gabriela is Argentinian and lives in Buenos Aires (married for 30 years, two children, husband is a professor of vocational education) her academic work -- she's a university sociology professor -- brings her to Tours, France about once a year for collaboration on a project concerning environmental social issues in Latin America. So, we made a plan to meet, since Tours is less than two hours from me by car, but I took the train -- very easy and inexpensive -- which was a little more than 2 hours. She met me at the train station -- identifiable by her purple scarf -- and we went for lunch and a walk around this lovely city, speaking in a mixture of French and English (and for her, of course, Spanish).
Pictures of Tours follow this narrative, but first - the family history from the Argentinian side (family members: PLEASE PROVIDE ADDITIONAL INFO AS YOU CAN, IN COMMENTS SECTION):
The Merlinsky family in question was originally from Lithuania (I'd always thought Russia/Ukraine, other family members had heard Poland), from a town (village) that one family member has identified as "Belice" or "Belitze", but which I cannot locate (may have been destroyed?).
(NAMES OF GREAT GRANDPARENTS?) had six children, not necessarily in birth order: Carlos, Solomon, Berthe, Irene, Morris and Rose. AT SOME POINT during the horrors of the pre-WWI pogroms against Jews in Russia and elsewhere in central Europe, the siblings set out (WITH THEIR PARENTS?) for Argentina, where where German baron Maurice De Hirsch created colonies for Jews who had been victimized by Russian Tsar Alexander III. CLICK HERE for more about this fascinating story. The Baron Hirsch "safe haven", agricultural successes did not materialize to the extent he'd envisioned (Jews being more intellectual than physical, and most preferring to stay in the U.S., in the "Golden Medina"). However, several thousand Eastern European Jews did make it to Argentina's Las Pampas, did become the "Jewish gauchos", and settled in a variety of small Hirsch-established communities, including Rivera.
It is not clear why only four of those siblings -- Carlos, Solomon, Berthe and Irene -- went on to Argentina, while two others -- Morris and Rose -- remained in New York. Gabriela's grandfather was Solomon; mine was Morris.
Solomon and his wife, Esther, had three sons: Jacobo, Isaac (Gabriela's father), and Nathaniel ("Natha"). Jacobo was gay. Carlos (Gabriela's great-uncle) -- who seems to have been the "leader of the clan" and his wife Sarah had three children: Ignacio, Chela and Hector. Most of the family remained on the Pampas, in the village of General Campos, some 700 km from Buenos Aires, but because they had both the financial resources and commitment to education, Carlos and Sarah moved their family to B.A. for their children's education.
In the mid-1970s, the Argentinian branch of the Merlinsky family wanted to establish contact with the American "Merlins", but didn't know how to reach anyone. Sarah (Gabriela's and my great-aunt by marriage) took it upon herself to write a letter (in Yiddish) to synagogues in New York City, to see if any knew of his brother, "Morris Merlinsky". Amazingly, that letter did find its way to my grandfather (a tailor in Queens). He and my grandmother, Betty, thus started a years-long correspondence (always in Yiddish) with their in-laws, and plans were made for visits.
A side note here: Aware that the American Merlinsky siblings had changed their name to "Merlin", some of the Argentinians wanted to do so, too -- but the majority did not, and they prevailed. Thus, Gabriela's name remains the original.
First, Sarah and Carlos went to New York (WHEN?) and then Morris and Betty were planned a trip to go to Argentina in 1976. Sadly, Morris died before the trip happened, but Betty was determined to go as this is what she and her husband had wanted and planned for. She did go, accompanied by one of her two daughters, Sylvia Sosenko ( other two children were my father, Ving, and my other aunt Edna), and her husband Paul.
The American Merlins/Sosenkos stayed at Caros and Sarah's house in Buenos Aires, and Gabriela, an only child, visited them with her parents. She recalls that her uncle Ignacio -- a well-known doctor who had returned to Las Campos -- thought my grandmother (Betty) looked unwell and indeed she was, requiring hospitalization and then, to everyone's dismay, dying.
Gabriela's memory of being a child going to a funeral service as part of meeting her American relatives for the first time is still vivid, but so is the closeness she established with my uncle Paul Sosenko (of whom I was also very fond, but trying to figure out his relationship to Gabriela at this writing is too involved!). Another eager learner in the family, Gabriela had always enjoyed studying and speaking English-- and so she did with Paul, who apparently had some level of Spanish, as well. In fact, the young Gabriela and her adult relative Paul continued to correspond after that fateful visit. She shared with me that not long ago she was excited to find an envelope with Paul's return address on it. Regrettably, there was no longer any letter inside, but she has kept the empty envelope.
So much of the story needs to be filled in, so perhaps corrections and/or additional information will be provided in "Comments" below photos.
And photos of Tours are below!
A la prochaine --
From first cousin Gary Sosenko: Grandpa's Sister's name was Becky (or Aunt Becky to me). Not sure if this is the sister Berthe mentioned in your blog. Grandma Betty's Sister's name was Rose. I also thought Grandpa was from Poland or Russia, but remembering him saying it used to change hands back and forth in the 1800's. ( In 1831 and 1863 the local nobility led revolts against the Russian rule attempting to restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). I know Grandma Betty's parents brought her over from Russia, but have no recollection of Grandpa's parents. I never heard him speak of going to South America first and then to New York, but do recall him saying he had siblings in Argentina. I also remember him having a couple of expensive phone calls and letters in Yiddish from his brother in the 1960's. You know, I don't really know if our Grandparents were citizens? I had always assumed they were and I'm not really sure why his brothers and sisters went to Argentina. I do know that he always wanted to go visit them, but Grandma did not like to fly, so they never did. I think Carlos and Sarah visited in late 1968 (while I was still living there). Then a few years after Grandpa died, Grandma paid for my parents and Aunt Edna (not sure if Uncle Jack was alive and went also) to go with here to South America. They went to Brazil first ( I believe ) then to Argentina, where she died of an enlarged heart.