Grandma Fannie’s Afghans (Guest Post by Mindy Fitterman)


Editor’s note: This guest post, contributed by Mindy Fitterman, my first cousin once removed on my mother’s father’s side, is about my great grandmother and Mindy’s grandmother Fannie Maltz Zagon (1888–1972).

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It’s probably my earliest textile memory: considerable weight, the pungent scent of wool, and beautiful colors. Grandma’s afghan is large enough to cover a full-size bed but mostly I remember my mom pulling it out when someone was cold. The color combinations held endless fascination for me. When I went to college, I took it with me…a colorful reminder of home and family. This year, for the first time in a long time, I pulled it out of my blanket chest and put it on my bed. There is was again: the weight, the scent, the colors – my own little blanket of many colors.


My maternal grandmother, Fannie Maltz Zagon, made dozens of these afghans from old family sweaters – enough to give at least one to each of her seven children. She even made two small afghans for my dolls.



Most of the afghans had a single unifying color around all the granny squares and the outer border. My mom had one with gray borders, but she had another one that looked different from all the rest; the borders on the squares were different colors. It looked like Grandma used leftovers, and yet she achieved visual unity because of the layout and a framing border of white with green scallops. Matching squares were arranged in stripes of varying length. The stripes were arranged almost symmetrically, but not quite – just enough to keep your eye moving.


Whenever I look at it, I can almost hear Grandma thinking about the colors and the symmetry. Her tight precise stitches speak of determination, strong hands and an exacting eye…and I remember my mother’s cousin Rose telling my mom, “Your mother ran a tight ship.”


Growing up, Grandma was in New York and I was in Colorado, so I never saw these projects unfold. I wonder who got the idea to make the afghans? Were they creative fun or busy work or a little of both? Was anyone else involved in the designs?



Grandma’s life was not easy. She lived in poverty most of her childhood. As a teen, she left school to support the family after her father’s death, and later survived the Great Depression with seven children and an alcoholic husband. As the children married and left home, Fannie faced psychiatric issues and treatment. For years, she moved from the home of one child to another. When I was ten, she lived with my family for a few months, and she taught me to knit and crochet. Eventually, Grandma was institutionalized; the details of that decision are few and far between.



Often, my mother told me that Grandma’s proudest achievement was the survival of all seven of her children….a true accomplishment in her time. (Fannie also inspired future generations to make afghans of their own.) The afghans now scattered among her 14 grandchildren are testament of Fannie’s industry and creativity. Spotting one of the afghans in a cousin’s home is like affirming clan membership. Did Grandma know we would treasure them all these years later and that they would remind us of her? 

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Mindy Fitterman has been playing with color, paper, and cloth since forever. She is a retired public health nutritionist, now enrolled in the Art Cloth Mastery Program. View her Flickr sets at with photos that link to her blogs.

Posted in Brooklyn, family history, family trees, guest posts, heirlooms, Maltz, New York, Zagon | Tagged , , , ,

For Yom Hashoah: Book Recommendation by Randa Dubnick (Guest Post)

It is Holocaust remembrance day (Yom Hashoah). The Holocaust has always felt very personal to me because our friends the Sussers, who lived around the corner, were Holocaust survivors and their son has been my friend since we were playmates in elementary school in Pueblo, Colorado. Lili Susser has written a book about her story as a child during the Holocaust, available on Amazon:…/…/0966302605


Editorial note: Lili also recounts her return to Europe in “Our 1974 European Tour,” portions of which are available at the Lodz Kehilalinks site at JewishGen:

Posted in family trees

A Family Tragedy Unearthed in Newspaper Archives

Last week, I decide to search for instances of the surname Dubnick in the available online newspaper archives at I was hoping to shed some light on the lives of my great grandfather Jacob Dubnick and great grandmother Rose Finkelstein. I have very little information about them, other than a number of census records, a marriage certificate indicating that for some reason they eloped in Waterville, Maine,[1] and a death record for my great grandfather, who died in 1936 at age 39.[2] Other than that, their lives are a mystery.

I find it very puzzling that my great grandparents got married in Maine. They both immigrated from the Russian Empire as youths and spent most of their lives in Brooklyn; our family has no known connections to New England. Perhaps there was a family connection in Maine, or perhaps they were seeking to start over as farmers to escape the city.[3] According to my aunt, Rose had worked as a maid in Jacob’s family’s house, and his parents disapproved of the marriage, so perhaps that drove them to run away to start a new life. Regardless of why they went to Maine, they weren’t there for very long.

I now know that they had returned to Brooklyn by 1922 because my newspaper archive search turned up a horrific tragedy that occurred in 1922: three children, reported to be 5, 3, and less than a year old, were trapped in a fire. The two older children escaped the fire. The article gave their names as Bessie and Hyman Dubnick, my great aunt and my grandfather.[4] The youngest was a four-month-old baby boy named Morris, whom I had never heard of before. He burned to death in the fire. Eighteen other families had to be evacuated.[5] According to another article, by the time the firemen were told that there was a baby still in the building, it was too late to save him.[6]

Because the ages of the two older children were reversed in order, and given the fact that I had never heard about a sibling named Morris before, I initially thought perhaps this was another family that happened to have similar names. But by looking up the baby’s death certificate, the details of which were available at, I was able to confirm that indeed, Morris Dubnick was a child of Jacob Dubnick and Rose Finklestein; he was born in 1921 and died in 1922.[7]

I continued to search and found a number of articles in newspapers published in New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania; the story made the national wires. The details varied. All of the article said that Mrs. Dubnick, referred to as Rose in only one of the articles, left the children alone, either to run to the store or to help another tenant (she was apparently the “fanitress” of the building).[8] One article speculated that the older children had been playing with matches, but the others mentioned no such thing.[9] A more detailed article explained that over the next day several more people died from their injuries resulting from the fire.[10] Oddly, none of the articles mentions the whereabouts of the father, or even his correct name. At this point, I can only speculate where he might have been. What I can state with certainty is that Rose and Jacob had three more children. As I mentioned above, Jacob died quite young, in 1936,[11] and according to family members, Rose only lived a decade or so longer; at this point I do not have the exact date.

I am glad to have discovered this information, as sad and disconcerting as it is, because I know so much less about Jacob and Rose Dubnick than I do about my other great grandparents. Otherwise, their lives remain, for the time being, a mystery.


[1] See marriage record. Maine, Marriage Records, 1713-1937 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.Maine State Archives; Augusta, Maine, USA; 1908-1922 Vital Records; Roll #: 17.

[2] “Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948.” Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

[3] For general information about why Jews relocated to Maine, see the website Documenting Maine Jewry at

[4] “Three Children Trapped by Fire,” The Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downlaoded Apr 7, 2015 from

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Baby Dies in Fire, 18 Families Saved,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from

[7] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795–1949,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 April 2015), Morris Dubnick, 26 Jan 1922; citing Death, Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm.

[8] “Mother Away, Baby Boy Dies in Flames,” The Evening World (New York, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from

[9] “Baby Dies in Fire, 18 Families Saved,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from

[10] “Mother Away, Baby Boy Dies in Flames,” The Evening World (New York, New York) · Fri, Jan 27, 1922. Downloaded Apr 7, 2015 from

[11] “Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948.” Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.


Posted in Brooklyn, Dubnick, family history, family trees, Finklestein, genealogy, Maine, newspaper archives

For TBT: A Bunch of Roses

This week I was surprised to learn from my Great Aunt Edy that my maternal grandmother Ruth’s original name was Rose Marie, but that her mother decided to change it early in my grandmother’s life to Ruth Margaret.

This struck me as quite amusing, because on the other side of the family, the name Rose appears very frequently, making searches for genealogical records a bit confusing. In fact, my grandmother, great grandmother, and great great grandmother all had the married name Rose Dubnick. And I have found a record for at least one other Rose who married a man with the last name Dubnick, although I do not yet know whether they are related to my family. It’s very strange to be searching for such an unusual surname and to find that there are many different people with the same combination of first and last name.

More than anything, this indicates the popularity of the name Rose among Jewish immigrants to the United States in the early twentieth century. According to Warren Blatt’s essay “Jewish Given Names” in the Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, Rose ranked #13 in popularity for women’s name among “Most Popular Given Names for Jewish Immigrants in U.S.” (Blatt, table 3).[1]

Among men’s names, Hyman ranks #13 in Blatt’s list. Hyman is my maternal grandfather’s name, and he generally went by the nickname “Hy.” My paternal grandfather’s first name was Herman, but he also went by “Hy” (his Hebrew name was Chaim). So if my great grandmother hadn’t decided to change Rose to Ruth, both sets of grandparents would have gone by “Hy” and “Rose.”

Herman and Rose Dubnick wedding

Herman and Rose Dubnick wedding


Hy and Ruth Zagon wedding

[1] Warren Blatt, “Jewish Given Names,” in Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, ed. Sallyann Amdur Sack and Gary Mokotoff, p. 37.

Posted in Aptekar, Citron, Dubnick, genealogy humor, Kates, Katz, name history, names, Zagon

Circular Genealogy, or Self-Discovery Through Social Media

An amusing anecdote: A number of genealogy groups now have Facebook pages. In some of these groups, people post the surnames they are seeking and the locations where these families lived. My mother’s mother’s family is from Pueblo, Colorado—also my own birthplace—so I joined the Jewish genealogy group in Colorado.

I now live in Massachusetts and can only participate virtually, so a few weeks ago I posted the surnames I was looking for on the groups Facebook page. A kind member of the group, a woman I’ll call G__, offered to put me in contact with a friend of hers in Denver, a man I’ll refer to as L__, who was originally from Pueblo and knew the Jewish community there well.

Yesterday, I received a Facebook message from G__ reporting that L__ did indeed know a family with these surnames, and that he happened to run into a couple from this family at the park. When he told them someone was looking for people with a family name shared by them, they were very excited. G__ mentioned that the wife’s mother was still living, and that I should get in touch with her, as she remembered a great deal about the families

But when I read the couple’s names, I could only laugh… G__ must not have told L__ my name, or he must not have relayed it to the couple, because I’m sure that if he had, they would have told him that they knew me, and that the wife had in fact grown up in the same household as my mother, her first cousin, and that my grandmother and her mother had lived either in the same house or next door to each other until my grandmother’s death in the 1980s. As it turns out, L__ was well acquainted with my grandmother and even knew my mother.

The moral of the story: Even on social media, it’s a small world—at least, if you are talking about a Jewish family from Colorado.

Postscript: I was sorry to disappoint my family, so to soften the blow, I called my great aunt right away to tell her that I was the mystery relative.

Posted in Colorado, family history, family trees, genealogy humor

New Virtual Exhibit of Judaica from Moldova

Exciting news: I received an announcement this morning, on multiple JewishGen SIG lists, that a new virtual museum of Judaica is now available for viewing. The exhibit includes images of many fascinating and beautiful artifacts, as well as photographs of people, documents, newspaper clippings, and burial sites that will be of enormous interest to those research Jewish genealogy from this area. A detailed description of the project is available at the Jewish Heritage Europe site.

Posted in Kishinev, Moldova | Tagged

A Long-Lost Cousin from Kishinev

Samuel Aroni age 2 1/2.

Samuel Aroni age 2 1/2

Text of postcard, Samuel Aroni

Text of postcard, Samuel Aroni

My father’s mother’s parents, David and Esther Aptekar, were both born in Kishinev (Chisinau), Moldova, and both came to the United States, where they met, before World War I broke out. David Aptekar, my great grandfather, came to the United States in 1916, likely to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. He eventually married my great-grandmother Esther (Fera) Citron and had two daughters: Sadie and Rose.

Over the years, David received many postcards, in Russian and Yiddish, bearing photographers’ stamps in Romanian, from the extended family he had left behind. David’s younger daughter, my grandmother Rose, passed these postcards along to my mother in the hopes that some Russian students my mother knew at the University of Kansas might be able to translate them, but the resulting translations were sketchy at best. My mother also made some notes in the margins of copies of these photos with information provided by my grandmother, but the information is incomplete.

Fast-forward twenty years or more. I had created a profile on, a Jewish genealogy website that provides a “Family Finder” where users can list the family surnames that they are looking for by town so that other users looking for similar surnames from the same area will be able to find and contact them. I had listed all of the surnames I knew when I joined, including the Aptekars from Kishinev.

One day, I was contacted by another JewishGen user, Semion Sucholutsky, born in Eastern Europe but now living in Canada, who was also looking for Aptekars,[1] from Kishinev and the surrounding area of Bessarabia. He had lost family in the Holocaust and was very anxious to track them down, so he was quite interested in finding out whether our families were related. We never did discover any connection, but when I told him that I had these postcards, which featured photographs on one side and addresses and short identifying notes on the other, he offered to translate them for me. As he undertook the translation, we compared the information with the Bessarabian vital records available through JewishGen.

Then one day Semion sent me an email message from him with the subject line: “An Amazing Discovery.” In that message, he explained that the names he found on postcards stirred some memory he had of a testimony about an Aptekar family fleeing the Nazis; he had found this testimony while searching for any information about his own Aptekar relatives. As it turns out, this testimony, part of the Nizkor Project, appears on a webpage titled “Shattered! 50 Years of Silence History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria Personal Testimony: Samuel Aroni,” which can be found here: The page begins with the following paragraphs:

Samuel Cervinschi was born in 1927, in the city of Kishinev, in the county of Bessarabia, Romania. As a child, Samuel was in the Kishinev Ghetto and, later, he went into hiding with friends and relatives in Romania. His parents, David and Clara Cervinschi, survived the deportations to Transnistria. After the war, Samuel changed his family name to Aroni in memory of his grandfather, who died on the forced march to Transnistria.

 After the war, in Australia, where he studied and graduated with honours from the Faculty of Engineering in Melbourne, Professor Aroni married Malca Kornfeld, and their two daughters were born there. In 1962, the family moved to California, where Professor Aroni took his Ph. D. in Structural Engineering, at the University of California, in Berkeley.

 In 1994, 53 years after having left his native city, Professor Aroni returned to Kishinev, now the capital of the independent Republic of Moldova, where he participated in organizing the first post- war International Symposium on Jewish History, Language and Literature. The symposium was cosponsored by UCLA, The Moldavian Academy of Science, The State University of Moldova, and The American Joint Distribution Committee. It was attended by academics from Tel Aviv, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Zhitomir, Rostov-on-the Don, New York, and Los Angeles.

Deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.

The Talmud

The names mentioned in this testimony mirror the Bessarabian vital records on JewishGen; moreover, the writer, Samuel Aroni, mentions his grandfather Leib, which we knew to be the name of David’s brother. Samuel Aroni, it turned out, is David Aptekar’s great nephew, the grandson of David’s brother Leib and the son of Leib’s daughter Clara. In other words, he was my grandmother Rose’s second cousin, or my second cousin twice removed. The photographs on the postcards are of Sam and his family. After learning of this connection, I found Samuel’s contact information at UCLA and wrote him an email explaining our relation and how I had discovered it. I later sent copies of the photographs to Sam, who identified himself as well as the other relatives, confirming much of what my translator had told me.

Leib Aptekar

Leib Aptekar, 1929

Text of postcard, Leib Aptekar

Text of postcard, Leib Aptekar, 1929

Samuel told me that in fact he had initially been in contact with David Aptekar when he first came to the United States, but that they had eventually fallen out of touch. (Handwritten notes that my mother made on photocopies of the photos indicate that my grandmother had told her that Leib may have had a son who came to the United States to attend UC Berkeley, so she likely had some memory of her father telling her of a cousin who had come to the United States.) David Aptekar died July 16, 1963, almost seven years before I was born. All four of my grandparents were born in the United States, and so even they had little information about the fate of the families that their parents’ had left behind.

Leib Aptekar and his daughter Catia in Marienbad, 1931

Leib Aptekar and his daughter Catia in Marienbad, 1931

Back of postcard, Leib and Catia Aptekar, 1931

Back of postcard, Leib and Catia Aptekar, 1931

Samuel shared with me a family tree going back two additional generations to the father and grandfather of David and Leib, largely confirming the information in the Bessarabian records, although two mysteries remain, which I will discuss in greater detail in future blog posts:

1) The vital records list a Moshe-Yos as the father of Leib and David and all of their siblings, but according to Sam and to records I’ve found at Yad Vashem, their father’s name was Shmuel, and his father’s name was Moshe-Yos (or Moshe-Yosef). This is quite odd: Why would an entire generation have been elided in the Bessarabian vital records, or why would Shmuel’s name be replaced by his father’s name in the records?

2) According to Samuel, his uncle Monia (his mother’s youngest sibling) had explained to him as late as the 1990s that Aptekar is an artificial name adopted some time during the nineteenth century. The name of the patriarch in Samuel’s tree is Moshe-Iosef Feldsteyn, who had several sons, each of whom took a different last name, including Aptekar. I have read in various sources that this adoption of an artificial name by different sons is not uncommon; in fact, it occurred in at least one other branch of my family tree. Sources provide conflicting explanations for why this was done, but this is a topic for another day.

Recently, Samuel participated in Radio Free Europe’s production of a video about the Kishinev Ghetto, “Remembering the Chisinau Ghetto,” which can be found in English here: An accompanying article in Romanian, written by Eugenia Pogor, can be found here:

[1] Semion explains that the “Bessarabian spelling is Aptekar or Apteikar, which is transliteration from Russian Аптекарь, Аптейкарь – original spelling in Rabbinat books or official documents. Romanian spelling was Apotecar or Apotecari. That’s why some of the Bessarabian records of 1920-1940s, during Romanian presence there, had Romanian spelling. All other spelling variations other than those, are misspelling or typos of translation mostly. Polish and Galician spelling was Aptekar or Aptekarz (k-c variations).”

Posted in Aptekar, Citron, family history, family trees, genealogy, Moldova