benny
Benny Swartzberg
Photo taken in Manila P. I. in January 1918
Postcard created in Brockton, Massachusetts in 1921

Benny’s Postcards

Art Postcards Collected by My Grandfather

This web site is devoted to the postcards my grandfather collected from approximately 1906-1918. The collection is comprised of 435 postcards, most of which were produced in Russia, Poland and Germany. My maternal grandfather, Benjamin Swartzberg, lived from 1890 to 1985. For the past five years I have simultaneously been researching the history and origins of my grandfather’s postcard collection as well as the genealogical history of my grandfather’s family. Both aspects of my research have resulted in discoveries about my grandfather and his family which have been immensely gratifying. What follows is an account of my exploration into my grandfather’s life as seen through his postcards and his family history. You will find 36 images of Benny’s postcards here on this web page. Please contact me with any questions that you may have concerning the information found here. My email is szome@hotmail.com

Benny Swartzberg was born in the shtetl of Panimunok, Kovno Guberniya (province), Russia. In Yiddish the family name was Shvartsberg which means "black mountain". Two hundred Jews lived in this shtetl before World War One. Panimunok is the Yiddish name for Panemunelis, which exists today in the country of Lithuania. The cultural and commercial center for the Jews of Panimunok was the nearby town of Rakishok (now known as Rokiskis). Former residents of Rakishok that had settled in Johannesburg published in 1952 a yizkor (memorial) book for Rakishok and its neighboring shtetls. This yizkor book has been instrumental in my research into my family and their life in Europe. Two chapters on Panimunok are included in the memorial book. The Rakishok yizkor book is being translated from Yiddish and can be read at: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/rokiskis/rokiskis.html To learn more about the Jewish history of Rakishok go to: http://www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org/rokiskis/rokmain.htm

My grandfather arrived in America in 1906 at the age of 15. He may have lived in New York City at first but he soon moved with his cousins to Whitman, Massachusetts. Whitman is a small town neighboring the city of Brockton. Brockton was a center for shoe manufacturing and Benny most probably worked in one of the many shoe factories in the Brockton area.

On the ship coming over to America, my grandfather was accompanied by his friend from Panimunok Meyer Jaffe.   Meyer Jaffe became a succesfull industrialist and philanthropist based in Fall River, Massachusetts.  Mr. Jaffe was one of the founders of Brandeis University.

Almost all of the postcards in Benny’s collection were not written on or sent in the mail. Rather they were purchased by my grandfather specifically for the images found on the cards. My first question concerning the cards was "Where did he get them?" Fortunately the answer was to be found on one of the postcards itself which was sent to my grandfather in 1912 to his home in Whitman. The postcard was sent from New York City. When translated from the Yiddish, it turned out that it from a friend who was at "Maisel’s", scouting pictures and cards that Benny’s friend thought would interest my grandfather. "Maisel’s" refers to the bookstore of Max Maisel located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Max Maisel was also a Yiddish book publisher.  Among the books published by Maisel were Yiddish translations of Thoreau, Wilde and Ibsen.  Maisel also published postcards of portraits of famous writers, artists and radicals and his logo can be seen on the Brandes and Abramovich cards below. It appears that the postcards were bought by my father’s friends and sent to him in Whitman or he may have bought them himself while visiting New York City.

Another discovery lay in the identity of the person that sent him that postcard . The card was sent by "your best friend", Alter Epstein. Through my research on Benny’s shtetl of Panimunok, I learned that Alter Epstein was a Yiddish author (his books, published by "Maisel’s" in the 1920’s, can still be found in the New York Public Library) who was also from Panimunok. So this was a landsman writing to his friend about the very postcards I was researching! Further investigation revealed that Alter’s father, Avraham was a "maskil" (proponent of modern, secular education) and a Shochat (ritual slaughterer). Both chapters on Panimunok found in the yizkor book mention "Avraham", the shtetl’s "melamed" (teacher) and shochat. There can be little doubt that this Avraham was Alter’s father and most probably one of Benny’s childhood teachers.

It was this "maskil" education that informed my grandfather’s taste in postcards. Benny was a secular socialist and was a devoted Yiddishist. He read the Jewish Daily Forward every day and had a large collection of Yiddish books. 25 of the postcards depict Yiddish and Hebrew writers and Zionists, which you can find listed below. The majority of the postcards are "art cards" which reproduced famous paintings or depicted universal myths. Benny never had the leisure to visit museums or galleries but the cards were a way of obtaining a form of culture for the working man. On many of the postcards you will find my grandfather’s Yiddish translation of the subjects depicted.

Early in 1917 my grandfather stored his belongings and left Massachusetts to travel across the country with his friend Morris Berman. It appears that the intention was for both to enlist in the Army on the west coast. Benny enlisted with the 27th Infantry, which was stationed at Ft. McDowell in San Francisco. He shipped off to the Philippine Islands. While in Manila, my grandfather added to his precious collection by obtaining postcards of village scenes and postcards produced by the Manila Aquarium. It appears that these were the final additions to his card collection.

Sometime in 1918 Benny’s company was ordered to Vladivostok, Siberia, as part of the little known American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia. Imagine…my Litvak grandfather who presumably left Russia at 15 to avoid being drafted in the czar’s army, found himself back in Russia as an US soldier! Benny returned to San Francisco in April of 1920 and immediately was naturalized in the District Court there. Serving in the US Army enabled Benny Swartzberg to become a US citizen.  An article on my grandfather's AEF Siberia experience can be read here.

My grandfather returned to Brockton, Mass and married his "intended"-Rebecca Hurwitz- in October 1920. My grandparents lived in Brockton operating a shoe store until 1931. The family then moved to the south shore of Long Island, living in the small town of East Islip for many years before moving to Bay Shore, Long Island, New York.

I have divided the postcards into the following categories:

  • Postcards, early 20th century. This group includes the following: Paintings of Jewish life and culture in Russia, Poland and Germany; Color reproductions of Russian paintings from the Tretyakov Gallery and the Alexander III Museum (now the Russian State Museum), published before the 1917 Russian revolution; Art cards from Germany, France and England; Black and white reproductions of sculptures depicting gods and goddesses of Greek mythology; scenes of Philippine life from World War I, including color reproductions of tropical fish from the Manila Science Aquarium.
  • Postcards of Famous Persons, circa 1910. This list is broken down as follows: Yiddish and Hebrew/ Zionist writers and artists; Russian, European and American writers and philosophers; artists and musicians; composers and anarchists, socialist and revolutionists.

Yiddish and Hebrew / Zionist Writers and Artists 

Group photo: Bialik, Ben Ami, Sholem Alechem, Sholem Yankev Abramovich (Mendele)

Five individual photos on one post card: Sholem Asch, Simon Frug, Abraham Reisen,
Morris Rosenfeld, David Pinsky

Sholem Yankev Abramovich (Mendele)

Mark Antokolski

Chaim Nachman Bialik

Joseph Bovshover

Israel Isidor Elyashev (Baal-Makhshoves)

David Frischmann

Jacob Gordin

Theodor Herzl ("If you want it ....")

Theodor Herzl (photo Basel)

Theodor Herzl (portrait)

Moses Hess

Dr. Joseph  Klausner

E. M. Lilien

Shmuel Niger

Max Nordau

I. L. Peretz

David Pinsky

Abraham Reisen

Jonah Rosenfeld

Morris Rosenfeld

Nachum Sokolov

Mordecai Spektor

Morris Winchevsky

Yehoash

th-Alter Epstein's message, 1912.jpg (7332 bytes)
Alter Epstein's
message
th-Beilis Case, New York.jpg (11677 bytes)
Beilis Case,
New York
th-Klezmer players, Germany.jpg (6941 bytes)
Jewish Musicians,
Germany
th-Love Letter, Germany.jpg (7069 bytes)
Love Letter,
Germany
th-Old Age, E.M. Lilien, New York.jpg (7489 bytes)
Old Age,
E.M. Lilien, NY
th-Spinoza and Acosta, Germany.jpg (6514 bytes)
Spinoza and Acosta,
Germany
th-Centaur, Russia.jpg (7369 bytes)
Centaur, Russia
th-The Blind Czar, Germany.jpg (3369 bytes)
The Blind Czar,
Germany
th-Old Moscow, Russia.jpg (7623 bytes)
Old Moscow,
Russia
th-Shipwreck, Russia.jpg (6992 bytes)
The Shipwreck,
Russia
th-Temptation, Russia.jpg (6837 bytes)
Temptation,
Russia
th-The Gate is closed, Russia.jpg (7527 bytes)
The Gate is Closed,
Russia
th-Repin's Cossacks, Russia.jpg (8511 bytes)
Repin's Cossacks
th-The Seven Deadly Sins, Russia.jpg (7941 bytes)
Seven Deadly Sins
th-The Dream, Zurich.jpg (7082 bytes)
The Dream,
Zurich
th-The Vision, France.jpg (6713 bytes)
The Vision,
France
th-Pandora's Box, Russia.jpg (6893 bytes)
Pandora's Box,
Russia
th-On the Terrace, Germany.jpg (7696 bytes)
On the Terrace,
Germany
th-Shelley's Body, England.jpg (6658 bytes)
Shelley's Body,
U.K.
th-What's the Answer, Russia.jpg (11729 bytes)
What's the Answer,
Russia
th-Trophies, Russia.jpg (7403 bytes)
Trophies, Russia
th-Before the Catastrophe, Russia.jpg (7352 bytes)
Before the
Catastrophe
Russia
th-Manila Aquarium, Grunt fish.jpg (3718 bytes)
Grunt Fish,
Manila, P.I.
th-Manila Aquarium, Porcupine fish.jpg (6969 bytes)
Porcupine Fish,
Manila, P.I.
th-George Brandes.jpg (6639 bytes)
George Brandes
th-Gorki and Shaljiapin.jpg (6538 bytes)
Gorki and
Schaljiapin
th-I.L. Peretz.jpg (6167 bytes)
I.L. Peretz
th-Max Nordau.jpg (6066 bytes)
Max Nordau
th-S. Abramovich (Mendele).jpg (6164 bytes)
S. Abramovich
th-Tolstoi and Gorki.jpg (7310 bytes)
Tolstoi and
Gorki
th-Death Car, Russia.jpg (6867 bytes)
Death Car,
Russia
th-Beethoven, Russia.jpg (7258 bytes)
Beethoven,
Russia
th-Napoleon and Blacksmith, Russia.jpg (7526 bytes)
Napoleon and
Blacksmith, Russia
th-Departure for War, Russia.jpg (8359 bytes)
Departure for
War, Russia
th-Two-faced czar, England.jpg (6280 bytes)
Two-Faced
Czar, England
th-Hirszenberg's Golus, Exile.jpg (7972 bytes)
Hirszenberg's
"Golus" (Exile)

Created by Steven Weiss, Chicago
December 1999,Update August 10th, 2008
szome@hotmail.com