My Family in Sassmacken

The following post was generously contributed by Randy Wasserstrom. The Michaelson/Michelsohn family photo above, taken in 1893, includes the following from left to right: Sam, Louis, Yetta, Harry, John, Aaron and Rose.

My great grandmother, Yetta Hoffman, (1861-1916), was born in Sabile, Courland, Russia and was one of the fifteen children of Osser and Sarah Hoffman. The family moved north about forty miles in the 1870’s to Sassmacken (name later changed to Valdemarpils), a small town of about 1800 persons.                         

Yetta had an arranged marriage in 1882 with my great grandfather Aaron Michaelson, (1856-1941), of Bauska, Courland, located approximately one hundred miles southeast of Sassmacken. Presumably, the two fathers, Osser and Jossel, arranged the marriage.  Aaron also knew fellow Bausker Chaskel Jacobsohn, who had moved to Sassmacken in the early 1870’s to marry Yetta’s older sister Chasse.

The same year of the marriage, the Jewish population of Sassmacken was 1167, an amazing 67% of the population!!! Our family was part of a dominating culture, very hard to imagine today. (Note: By 1935, the Jewish population had declined to 168. The Jewish Museum of Latvia)

On July 20, 1882, the marriage took place in the synagogue in Sassmacken and the officiant was Rabbi Samuel Dubitsky. Many relatives may have been  in attendance as Yetta was one of fifteen children and Aaron was one of ten siblings! Yetta’s parents, Osser, 61, and Sarah, 57, were also probably present.

Within less than a year, the first child, Herman, was born on July 4, 1883. Aaron worked as a merchant to support the family. The second child, Samuel, arrived on Feburary 12, 1885, three weeks after Yetta’s sister, Chasse, 35,  died in childbirth, leaving her husband and three children, Jacob, Pauline and Celia. Celia was the child born during the childbirth in which her mother died. Meanwhile, Feige, another sister of Yetta, began taking care of Chasse’s children.

Feige married Chatzkkel on December 13, 1885 at age 23. Twelve days later on December 25, 1885, my grandmother, Chasse Rayska Michelsohn (Rose in the USA), was born and she was named after her sister. One year passed and on December 13, 1886, Yechiel (John) was born to Yetta and Aaron. In a short span, four children had been born!!! This was the tradition of that era – to have as many children as possible.

Yetta did have a support group among her many siblings, parents, Osser and Sarah, and even her grandparents, Josef and Sarah. She was not through bearing children. Two daughters, Shifre Musha, and Feige, were born in 1888 and 1889 respectively. Unfortunately, both girls died at the age of one.

Also in 1889, Aaron’s sister in law, Etta, 38, and her four children moved to Baltimore, Maryland from Bauska. This event clearly influenced Aaron as he emigrated to Baltimore the next year. He had lived in Sassmacken only eight years. He worked for a year in Baltimore and brought then the whole family to town, arriving on on September 8, 1891. The following year Yetta had another son, Louis, born December 25, 1892.

It had been an adventurous eight years in Sassmacken. Feige and Chatzkel and their three children remained in the old country until 1903, when they too emigrated to Brooklyn, New York. Rose’s parents also remained in Sassmacken and her father, Osser, died there in 1896 at the age of 76. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Sassmacken.

This post was contributed by Randy Wasserstrom. Please contact him with any questions. If you are interested in writing a post about your family or another Valdemarpils-related topic, please contact me. I’m anxious to include as many voices as possible.

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