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  • Susan Weinberg

Mining the Forverts

In February, MNJGS was pleased to host Michael Morgenstern, an educator at the LA Holocaust Museum who has taken on the project of translating portions of the Forverts (the Forward) for JewishGen. This is a valuable genealogical resource which can be mined with very limited Yiddish skills through his translations and or navigated in its original Yiddish. While the modern day Forward is published in English, this discussion focused on the Yiddish version which captures a picture of immigrant life.


A Unique Role

Michael shared the history of the Forverts and the role it played in Jewish American history in the first half of the 20th century. While there were many Yiddish newspapers in the US, what caused the Forverts to really stand out from other Yiddish newspapers was its accessible tone. It also drew attention for the detail of its reporting on significant events such as the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. The Forverts was printed every day except Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur while other Yiddish papers were weekly or biweekly. Not only was it read in New York, but across the country and in Europe. Early in its history, it offered subscriptions in Canada and Europe, a reflection of its broad popularity.

It served many functions, advice columnist, connecting families seeking relatives in the US, locating husbands who had abandoned their family, and helping immigrants acculturate to the United States. It also served to reconnect family members displaced by war.

Michael drew our attention to some key areas. The personals started in 1898. If you were looking for someone, you put your name and who you were seeking. As it had wide readership it was used in one example by a woman in Houston seeking her niece in a small town in Pennsylvania. In 1912 we find a personal from someone from Canada. Sometimes there are pictures of people as well as important information on relationships.


Gallery of Missing Husbands

Often the person that was sought was an errant husband who had disappeared. This presented a significant problem for the wife if she sought a Jewish divorce via a get. In an age of immigration and mass migration, this was such a significant problem that in 1908 the Forverts started a section called a Gallery of Missing Husbands. It asks if you recognize them and if you know where they are to let their wives know. Even wives in Russia can be found placing ads to find a wayward husband in the US.

The National Conference of Jewish Social Work convened in 1910 and created the National Desertion Bureau which was an organization designed to help abandoned wives and children track down runaway husbands all over the country and world. They partnered with the Forverts on this effort and funded this part of the paper.

Michael has translated the gallery of missing husbands from 1908 through 1920 and has those through 1914 up on JewishGen with the balance to follow. While you often will find photos of the husbands, there are also sometimes photos of the wives and children.

Following the mass displacement after WWI, people in Europe wrote to a section called War Letters to alert someone in the US to pick up a letter from a family member. After WWII, the Forverts helped Holocaust survivors and people in the US connect by printing information in a section called Surviving Jews who seek their relatives in America.

The recording of Michael’s February talk along with our other talks from past years are available to all current members on our Members Page on mnjgs.org. You can become a member or renew here.

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