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What’s in a name?

When your name keeps alive the memory of your father's uncle, you wear it like a badge of honor

Growing up in a large immigrant community in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, there were lots of names that I was very familiar with – especially the “Jewish” names.  Around Carlton, North Carlton, Brunswick, and East Brunswick, most Jewish people I knew were called Mark, Phillip, Gary, Mary, Vivienne, Helen, Jeanette, Sam, Steven, Alan, and Morris (or Maurice).  However, these were Anglicised names, and they had intentionally been made that way, for a variety of reasons.  One was that the parents had wanted to assimilate into their new country quickly, so they gave their children “Aussie” names. Some “new Australians”, especially in those early post-war years, feared anti-immigrant sentiments in the community or just didn’t want to be thought of as too different so they hid the ethnicity of their children’s names.  And others simply wanted their kids’ names to be easily pronounceable.

I’m not sure exactly which category we fell into.  My parents were in their early 20s, fairly young when they arrived in Australia, and were quite forward-thinking.  At the same time, they were cautious.  In 1958, my mother took me to enroll at Princes Hill Primary School, the local State elementary school, and we met with the headmistress, Miss Miller.  My mum said something like, “This is Moshe Goldberg” (pronounced Moyshe), and she and Miss Miller both thought that that name could possibly cause me problems at school. Not so much because it sounded too Jewish, but more because it sounded so different.  Miss Miller asked her what the other kids on the street called me, and my mother came up with “Maurice.”  Now, I don’t remember if people really had been calling me that already, or if it was because many other Moshes in our community were using the name Maurice.  Perhaps it sounded nice.  I don’t know, but that’s what stuck.

So throughout my school years, I went by Maurice.  I did change the spelling to “Morris” a few years later, mainly because it was easier for me to read, being phonetic and all, and most of my friends and even most of my family knew me by that name.  However, during my first week at Latrobe University, in a Mathematics Practice Class, I wrote my real name, Moshe, on a paper that had to be handed in, and from that point on, for the past 48 years, I’ve been known that way.

Now for a start, I like that, because it is my actual name.  But, what’s in a name?  As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Well, there’s actually a lot in a name.  I was named after my father’s favorite uncle, and that name was very important to both my father and my grandfather because it kept him alive in their memory.  And, because he had a comparatively short but very active life and he isn’t very well known outside of our family, I’m going to tell his story here.

I’ll write his name as Moyshe because that’s how it’s pronounced in Yiddish.  Moyshe Elyukim Brie Goldberg was born in Kaluszyn, Poland in 1904, the second child and second son to Alte Itte Goldberg (nee Unger) and Yehoshuah Usher Goldberg (called Shie Usher). That’s Alte Itte in the middle of that old family photo below with her grown children from left, Moyshe, Royze, Shloyme, Avrum (my grandfather), and Yankel.  Her youngest son Aaron had already died, and you can just make out his photo behind them on the wall.  The two young boys are Chaim (Royze’s son) on the left and Gooter (my father).

Alte Itte was a devout Orthodox Jew whose father was a Rabbi.  Her husband – my great grandfather – was somewhat of an absentee father, who spent a lot of his time visiting, praying, and studying Torah (the five Biblical books of Moses) with his own father, who was also a Rabbi in a small town called Stoczek Łukowski about 35 kilometres south of Kaluszyn.  Now although Alte Itte was orthodox, kept strictly kosher, and wore a shaytl (a wig worn by married religious Jewish women), she was also a charter member of YAF – Yiddishe Arbeter Froyen (Jewish Working Women), a Bundist Women’s organisation.  And given that her two oldest sons were the leaders of the Bund in Kaluszyn, she was known throughout the town as Di Mamme Fun Bund (the mother of the Bund).

The Bund is a Jewish Socialist organisation which was at the height of its popularity in Poland between the World Wars.  It promoted a strong political, cultural, and Jewish public defence program, and attracted a large following, mainly amongst the Jewish secular working class masses, but also among a smattering of orthodox Jews.

Sadly, Aaron and Yankel both died of consumption before the war.  Royze married a Communist called Avrum Golitsky, who fathered her son Chaim and promptly left her for a younger woman.  Shloyme was an ardent young Communist, who, aside from the day that this photo was taken, had barely said a word to my grandfather in years.  In fact, he had such a hatred of the Bund which he associated with his older brothers, that he was known to have once run through Kaluszyn shouting “A toyt di Goldbergs! A toyt di Goldbergs!” (“Death to the Goldbergs”), obviously meaning “Death to the Bund”.  A sense of irony he certainly didn’t have.  Or who knows? Maybe he did….

But Avrum and Moyshe were very active in the leadership of the Bund.  Avrum was the mentor, teacher, and leader to most of the Bundists in Kaluszyn, where he stayed with his wife (my grandmother) and son (my father) after the rest of the family moved to Warsaw in 1934. The photo was taken in 1935 on one of their visits to the big city.

And Moyshe had been heavily involved with the Bundist youth group Tsukunft (which means the future) while he was still in Kaluszyn.  He was always very popular and you can see him here (top left) with a group of Tsukunft  members sometime in 1920.

Top: Moyshe Goldberg, unknown, Dvoyre Kramarz (later Goldberg). Middle: unknown, unknown, Shmuel Lazer Sadowski. Bottom: unknown, Itche Kramarz

When they moved to Warsaw, he really blossomed in the big city environment.  He had always been a great and passionate orator with natural charisma and leadership qualities, and he now brought these to bear on his position as a senior official of the Jewish Barbers’ and Hairdressers’ Union, organising, representing workers, and leading and speaking at rallies.

He was also quite the romantic and wrote many verses of poignant poetry as well as a number of humorous and whimsical songs and ditties.  Unfortunately, none of these survived the ravages of the War and the Holocaust, but if his charm and sense of humour were anything like my grandfather’s, I imagine that they would have been just as creative and endearing.

In 1938, he married his sweetheart Ruchl Lis, a young Bundist who was heavily involved with the organisation’s Tsukunft and SKIF youth movements.  A year later, right after the outbreak of the war, Ruchl gave birth to their daughter whom they named Frida, after the Yiddish word friedn meaning peace.

Unfortunately, the next few years were ones of terror and misery for all Eastern European Jews, and Moyshe and Ruchl were no exceptions.  They lived in squalor and poverty in the Warsaw Ghetto, which had been established by the German authorities in November 1940 by walling off 1.3 square miles in which the city’s Jews were kept imprisoned.  They usually went hungry, were continually fighting disease, and then, in 1941, little Frida died of malnutrition.

Meanwhile, Moyshe was still very involved in the Bund, whose main activities had by then become organising education, defence, and resistance in the Ghetto.  Sometime in 1942, the Gestapo added his name to a list of some fifty other underground activists that they deemed to be seditious.  This list probably included active members of other Jewish resistance groups emanating from the Zionist and non-Zionist parties prior to the formation of ŻOB (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa) the Jewish Combat Organisation. On the night of 18th April 1942, a unit of Gestapo agents burst into their house to arrest him.  Ruchl demanded that she accompany him, and they obliged.  They were both led out into the dark street where they were promptly shot, and their lifeless bodies were left lying there in plain sight of their friends and family.

For as long as I can remember, my grandfather displayed a portrait of his brother in a beautiful frame on his bookshelf.  Over the past thirty-seven years, since my grandfather’s passing, my father has kept that portrait on his bookshelf.  Moyshe means a lot to him, even though he has only very faint recollections of him.  I think it is what Moyshe stood for and who he was that means a lot to him.

I of course never met him, but having been very close to my grandfather who passed away when I was 29, I imagine Moyshe, his younger brother, would have been a lot like him.  Intelligent, creative, courageous.  A working-class man of the modern world.  A Renaissance man with diverse interests and eclectic tastes.  And since I didn’t know him personally, I honour his memory by honouring his name.  I have nothing against Maurice or Morris, but they’re not my names.  My name is Moshe.  Moshe Goldberg.

What’s in a name?  Nothing…….. and everything.

About the Author
Moshe Goldberg was born in 1953 in Melbourne, Australia, to Polish Jews who emigrated after the war. He has a degree in Philosophy, a doctorate in Pure Mathematics, and a post-graduate diploma in Computer Science. Moshe lives in Melbourne with his wife Helene, still dabbles in the Recruitment company that Helene founded and their daughter now runs, and writes about the Jewish immigrant experience, Australian sports, and inner suburban Australian history.
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