My wife’s grandfather was Eli Freeman, who was born in the Ukraine around 1895. He came to this country as a teenager and later brought his mother and two brothers here. One of my wife’s Detroit (where Eli initially settled) relatives sent us two amazing historic photographs which we’re trying to decipher. The first image above (middle) is of Eli (the older boy, standing) his brothers Harry and Max and his mother, Udel (my wife’s great-grandmother). We figure the photo was taken around 1907 when Eli still lived in the Ukraine.
The back of the card is filled with Yiddish script in faded ink which I asked archivist Jesse Cohen and the folks at YIVO to help decipher. Under their good auspices, they came up with a rough (there is also dark felt adhesive which further obscures the script) translation:
Your cousin is sending you this card of himself with mother and with the children, and is asking you very much to save/rescue [us?] with God’s help. I can write you [that] by us in Postev, by mother, I met …. I greet [you], and mother greets you [unreadable].
So this would be Eli writing to a cousin already in America begging for help in immigrating to America. If he wrote this in 1907, it would be only four years after one of the most heinous acts of anti-Jewish violence in the region, the 1903 Kishniev pogrom, in which scores of Jews were murdered in cold blood by Ukrainian Cossacks and rioters. The reason Eli begs for help is that he probably worries that his town could be next and seeks to emigrate before further violence engulfs his family. The pogroms spurred a mass Jewish exodus to America and other lands which eventually caused one-third of all Russian Jews to leave.
If anyone viewing the script (enlarged in this image) can further decipher it please leave your translation as a comment or e mail me.
As near as we can tell, the image of the single woman might be Eli’s grandmother. She clearly looks like a Ukrainian peasant, though aside from that it’s hard to tell. No one even remembers what her name was and she never came to America.