Arie E. Pelta

The Pelta Story – The ‘Murph’ Avraham Hirschberg Dies (chapter 16)

personal photot
Uncle Abe Hirschberg. Jew from Poland, horseman, politician "Murph" , real estate mogul,

After Uncle Abe died Szyfra sued his late “wife” Rita. Abraham Hirschberg and Rita (not Jewish) were not legally married on December 9, 1933.  This is legally significant, since by law, all finances of the deceased go to the closest relatives. In an anti-Semitic ruling, all finances were awarded to Uncle Abe’s companion – Rita Schiller.

Uncle Abe suffered a heart attack in 1952. Early in 1958 Abraham became ill with cancer which subsequently proved terminal.  About the middle of November 1958, Abraham was admitted to a local hospital and remained there about ten days. During that period Rita removed from Abraham’s bedroom approximately $20,000, placing it in a commercial bank account in her own name. She rendered no account of this money.  At the same time she removed from Abraham’s living quarters cashier’s checks in a substantial amount, placing them in a safe deposit box in the names of herself and Betty Schiller, a daughter of Rita’s by a previous marriage.

On January 6, 1959, Rita filed a petition for appointment as guardian of the person and estate of Abraham Hirschberg as an incompetent person. On January 12 she was officially appointed such guardian. That very same day, she obtained an order in the guardianship matter, authorizing her to deposit in the bank Abraham’s interest in any community property, subject to withdrawal only with court approval. Rita then deposited in guardianship accounts, approximately $495,902 and in her own bank accounts approximately a similar amount. This was money that she had removed from Abraham’s bedroom while he was in the hospital.

On January 13, 1959 (5th of Sh’vat 5719) the day after Rita was appointed guardian, Abraham died. On January 14, Rita was appointed special administratrix of Abraham’s estate. A day later, on February 16, both Rita and her daughter Betty Schiller were appointed administratrices of Abraham’s estate. Eight months later on October 15, 1959, an inventory and appraisement was filed showing the value of the Hirshberg estate at $968,591.60 (equivalent to value of $9.7 million today). This did not include the above mentioned moneys (equivalent to value of $4.8 million today) which Rita had deposited in her own bank accounts and in joint bank accounts with Betty Schiller.

The Hirschberg estate was contested two months later on December 8, 1959 by Philip (Feivish) and Bronia Hirschberg.  They were the nephew and niece of Uncle Abel they officially filed a petition for determining interest in the estate. Feivish was married and later divorced from a woman named Esther Magidov (I met her as a child at number of family functions).  On December 22, Grandma Szyfra Pelta, Tosia / Chana Szames and Icek Jurkiewicz, also nieces and nephews of Abraham Hirschberg, filed a petition to determine heir-ship and to determine status of property. Thereafter, the administratrices filed petition for a preliminary distribution and later filed a final account, report, and petition for final distribution. A stipulation of counsel for all parties was entered into authorizing the probate court to submit to the probate commissioner as referee for all issues raised by said petitions.

Three years later, on February 15, 1962, the referee’s [Judge] report and decision was filed. The referee found that ‘by virtue of the un-rebutted presumption of Section 164 Civil Code and an understanding had between decedent and his spouse Rita Hirschberg, all the assets of decedent were and are community property of the parties’ and ‘there are no separate property assets belonging to the community’. He ruled that Rita was entitled to distribution of the entire estate, and that the heir-ship petitions of the other parties be denied. This finding that all the property was community property expressly included the moneys which Rita had kept separately in her own bank accounts and those in her name and Betty’s, which had not been reported in the estate.

Henry Trevor, who handled Abraham’s business transactions for years, testified to the effect that in 1929 and 1930 Abraham was ‘broke.’ Between 1956 and 1958 Abe Hirschberg kept in his bedroom, cash assets of nearly half a million dollars (valued at $5million today), including some checks received in 1956. As the referee stated, ‘It is curious that a man whose fortune had been made by continuous, rapid-fire transactions which never left a dollar, un-invested for a moment, should have allowed this substantial amount of liquid assets to lie fallow for two years; but he unquestionably did so. Counsel for the Petitioning Heirs argued that Uncle Abe chose this certainly most clumsy and un-businesslike means of concealing these assets from his wife. A full discussion of this case is public record and can be found at the website The final legal ruling was decided on January 31, 1964, by the District Court of Appeal in California.

In short, my Grandmother did not inherit any of her Uncle Abe’s money or assets. He clearly spent a significant amount of money to sponsor and bring the survivors of his family to the USA; he probably felt he did more than his share for his extended family. Clearly, he is responsible for my Grandparents ability to immigrate to the USA. By extension, he is responsible to me being born in San Francisco and growing up in the United States. Avraham Hirschberg had no children; thus his only surviving legacy is what I am currently writing about him in the Pelta family memoirs.

This story about Uncle Abraham is a real lesion in Emunah (faith) and Hashgacha Pratis השגחה פרטית (Divine Intervention).  There is also a Jewish concept that G-d always provides the cure before the illness הקדים רפואה למכה .  Now looking back many years we can understand why a young Avraham Hirschberg decided to leave Poland and travel to the USA.  We can also understand why G-d helped him become very wealthy.  All of this occurred so that one day he could bring over the Pelta family from Europe and allow them to rebuild our Jewish family in the USA. Once this occurred then the Pelta’s could move on to our intended destination in Eretz Yisrael.  Avraham Hirschberg had no children and thus no descendants. In addition, we never inherited his wealth, since it was not meant for us. However, we only benefited from his financial success in that it allowed a distant relative to spend thousands of dollars, to bring my Grandparents to the USA as immigrants. For this we must always show thanks and appreciation. G-d works in mysterious ways.


About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA, made Aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. He received his Rabbinical ordination in 1997. He is also an active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Dr. Pelta is currently a full time Senior Surgeon practicing in Laniado Hospital (Netanya); specializing in the surgical care of all colorectal diseases.
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