The Escape From Russia Story
A true story of what my hero, granddad Ed Lazaroff did.
Written in 2010 re-written 01/2016 unedited
This story was written to assist anyone researching the Lazaroff family history in New Haven Connecticut. It tells a unique story of how Edward Abraham Lazaroff, my grandfather and my hero, rescued his wife, who was my grandmother, and my mother and her younger sister Adele from Russia.
Most of the information written here, was collected around 1950, when I was eleven years old, and my family was living on Davis Street,in Westville Connecticut. My mother was Betty Yasgar the eldest of Eddie Lazaroff’s three daughters, The three daughters were Betty, Adele and Lillian.
Now, when I was eleven years old, I wasn’t really that interested in my families history, so I think it’s really amazing that I have been able to record as much information as I have. Also my mother and her sister Adele always were very reluctant to discuss their child hoods in Russia. So the information had to be collected in little bits and pieces, over several years. I Also owe a debt of gratitude to my cousin Allen Nelson, who is an excellent researcher. Allen is the son of Adele Nelson, my mothers younger sister, Allen is the person that dug up all the information on when Grandpa Ed first arrived in Baltimore Maryland and then the subsequent entry of the Lazaroff family into the United States, he also researched information regarding the ship they came to America on.
My earliest memories start when I was about ten or eleven years old. I only knew my grandfather as Grandpa Eddie, however his youngest daughter Lillian has told me his full name was Edward, Abraham, Lazaroff.
When I was about 8 years old and my family lived in Westville, Connecticut, I remember that my grandfather Eddie, made it his business to come and visit us, using public transportation. Every time he came he would bring me several little toys, some had parts missing and some had burn marks, and they all smelled real bad. Mom always said that grandad probably picked them up in someones trash pile, and she always made me throw them away after grandpa left the house.
In the summer time, sometimes grandpa Eddie would take me and my cousin Allen to Woodmont beach to go swimming. Cousin Allen always brought along his good friend, who we called Bobby Orange. It was because Bobby always brought along an orange to eat. I remember those beach trips well, because at that time grandpa drove us all in a 1950 Studebaker a car that looked the same in the front as in the back.
Now, the Grandpa Eddie that I remember, was a fairly imposing fellow with a strong stature, he was slightly balding with light brown hair. But he had what I would call a solid, strong look about him, and I thought he carried himself well. I think my grandfather Eddie, walked, talked and carried himself like a person that had a strong military background, which is exactly what grandpa Ed said he had.
Grandpa Ed told me that as a young man he served for a while in the Russian army as a Polish language translator, and then he said that he had served for a while in the Polish army as a Russian language translator. I had always thought the story sounded a little far fetched, But then I learned that when Grandpa was a young man, he had lived in a small village called Mastatchka Pavlov which was close to the Polish border, and at the time the borders between Russia and Poland was called the frontier, and it changed often. So it was entirely possible that at various times their small village was controled by either the Russian or the Polish armed forces, and it could be very possible that they had both used him as a translator. I remember that it was at about the age of 60 that grandpa Ed’s hair was really starting to turn white, and he was developing a distinct round bald spot. The reason I remember the bald spot was because I had kept a pet squirrel in my house, and the squirrel had very sharp claws. One day the squirrel climbed up grandpa’s pants leg all the way up to his bald spot, and the squirrel scratched the hell out of his head. Grandpa was pretty mad for a while, but once the bleeding stopped he was OK with it.
I remember grandpa Eddie had a slight droop on the left side of his mouth. When I asked him about it, he told me it was from a German soldier’s bayonet, and he said he got the wound when he jumped into the soldiers fox hole during the first world war, but my mom later told me the droop in grandad’s mouth was really the result of a botched operation to remove a thyroid goiter, My moms explanation disappointed me, as grandpa’s war story about the foxhole sounded much better.
Now I also remember visiting grandpa’s house that he had bought on West Street in New Haven. I was told he had lived on Munson Street prior to that but I don’t recall anything about that house. However, I do remember that whenever we visited my grandparents, especially on holidays, my grandmother Molly, would always make some traditional Russian pastries, and I never thought any of the stuff tasted very good. She made one that was like knotted dough and flavored with ginger and honey and it glistened red. No one I have spoken too knows what the hell it was called, which is just as well, as I don’t want any. However, I do remember grandpa’s next door Italian neighbors who always brought over stuffed artichokes, they were so good that we still make them today exactly the same way they tasted back then.
One day grandpa Eddie, took me out into the back yard of the West Street house, he wanted to show me an addition he was building. He was so proud of the fact that he was doing it all by himself, and he showed me that he had a hand operated machine in his yard that he used to make one cinder block at a time. My aunt Lillian later told me that the addition that grandad was building was to be her new bedroom at the West Street house.
On occasion I stayed over night with my grandparents at the West Street house, but I don’t ever remember getting one good nights sleep, grandpa Eddie and grandmother Molly both slept in one big bed with me in the middle, and my Grandpa snored so loud I could never fall sleep.
From what I heard about, my grandfather from his daughters was that he was a strict authoritorian, he just said how things were to be done and you did it. Because of this, he had probably raised his three daughters in a very strict manner. I could always sense that there was tension, between grandad and his daughters, it was almost as if his daughters held his strictness against him. Sometimes, when I listened to the way they talked and treated him, it made me feel bad for him. It was like now that the daughters were all grown up, they were punishing their father for bringing them up to be good people.
Over the years, from the stories I heard from family members, Eddie was the strong one, he was responsible for bringing most of the Lazaroff family to the United States, although, I am sure the family would all probably all deny it. There was no question that granddad Eddie was a strong willed person, and he was capable of getting any job done, and I think the entire Lazaroff family resented him because of his having that inner strength. That having been said, here is the following story that I learned about my grandfather. He was born in Russia around 1887, in the small village of Mestatchka Pablov and he told me that he served for a period of time in both the Russian and Polish armies, as a translator which was certainly possible as the border between Russia and Poland changed regularly. He lived in area of Russia that is now called Belaruse, or White Russia, in those days the Russian or Polish border was never clearly defined, so at various times, their village may have been controlled by Russia and at other times controled by Poland, and that was the reason grandpa spoke both Russian and Polish, as well as English.
My mother said that one of the reasons, the Lazaroff family made the decision to leave Russia, was because of the constant attacks by Russian Cossacks, and over the years, I often wondered why my mother or her sister Adele never seemed to want to talk about their childhood in Russia, it could have been because there was only a few good memories to tell, or it could just be because they were only eight and nine years old when they left, and they remembered very little that was worth talking about.
My mother said that in their village of Mastachka Pablov they lived in a one room house, where each room was divided by sheets hanging from the ceiling. Mom said she wasn’t really sure that was her village’s name, and since there were no maps of Russian cities printed at the time, my mother really didn’t know, nor could she show me where the actual village was located. However we have determined it’s location in Russia by putting several clues together. Mom said that the closest big city was Minsk, and her father, had taken her there twice. So she knew their home was somewhere in between Minsk and the Polish frontier. Once Russia opened up due to Glasnost in the late 1980’s, maps were printed, and we found that the city of Pavlov fit her description pretty good and by adding the dimutive “ka” on to the village name “Mastachka” makes her village name mean they probably lived in a small village next to the city of Pablov.
Grandpa Eddie told me that his marriage to our grandmother Molly Aranoff, (Her Russian name was Malka Aranoff), was an arranged affair, it was all prearranged by his and her parents. Grandpa said that on the day they were to meet, he was scared to death to meet Malka as he was thinking she might be ugly, but he said, that he was very surprised to see how pretty she was.
Grandpa Eddie said he had a bad hernia at the time of the wedding and he said one testicle was hanging very low, and his voice had changed dramatically. Because of this. he said to me that he often wondered what his new bride Malka thought about this, but he never had the nerve to ask her. Several years later, my mother remembered seeing that her father was learning to be a blacksmith, he made her a tricycle out of scrap metal, and she
said that she had the only tricycle in her village.
Regarding their everyday life in Russia, my mother said they lived very frugally, in a one room house with the rooms divided by curtains. They only ate meat on rare occasions, and whenever they had it, the piece of meat was always shredded and shared equally among the entire family. My mother’s Russian name was “Bluma,” which meant flower, and her younger sister Adele, was named Chaja, and together after school she said that they both watched an apple orchard. My mom remembers that one day she forgot to bring a lunch for her younger sister Chaja, so Chaja suggested that she would eat the only lunch that day, and my mother could eat tomorrow. My mom said that her sister Chaja always came up with lots of funny jokes like that, so she acquired the nick name “Adele Gebacht”, which in Yiddish meant half baked Adele.
The other thing my mother vividly remembered, was the Cossacks. Back in 1917, Russia was still a fuedal society, and a dangerous place to live. Each city had their own army called the Cossacks, and the Cossacks would ride in on horsback and raid smaller villages in the countryside. They would steal livestock and sometimes rape and kill the people. So in mom’s village everyone was always terrified by threat of being attacked by the Cossacks. The other problem was that at the time, the border with Poland and Russia was ever changing, and never clearly defined and many small villages really didn’t know if they were located in Russia or Poland. Thus when the countries of Russia and Poland fought, each of the small villages in the countryside suffered, and the people who lived in these border areas were always caught in the middle, so they feared from the armies on both sides. Mom said that many people were indescriinately killed by both the Russian or Polish army, and that was the reason so many people wanted to leave their villages for safer places, but they had nowhere to go.
My mother said that as long as she remembered there was always a rumor circulating in her village that in America, the streets were paved with gold, and all you had to do was pick it up. Thus it was in 1917, that the Lazaroff family, had a meeting, and they decided to send someone to America, and that young man, was to become my grandpa Eddie. He was then thirty years old, married, with two daughters.
Little is known why he was picked, but it may have been because Eddie was a strong decisive person, had military training and was multi lingual. We know there were other cousins from Russia that must have preceeded Eddie to America but their actual relationship to my grandfather was, unknown. We do know from my aunt Lillian, that Grandpa’s sponsor in New Haven was an uncle living on 54 Vernon Street, and that he was a blacksmith by trade, working in New Haven. We also know that grandpa was learning to be a blacksmith in Russia so that could have been the connection. But the 54 Vernon Street location became grandpa Eddie’s first permanent address in America, and he used it on all his future immigration paperwork.
My cousin Alan, my aunt Adele’s son, did a bit of internet research and came up with the following information, some of which has also been verified by Lillian, who was Eddie’s youngest daughter.
On grandpa Eddie’s first trip to America, he arrived at Baltimore, Maryland. That was
his first port if entry on Feb 8, 1918, and once he was in America, it appears he immediately joined the U.S. Army. Aunt Lillian, has a photo of grandpa Eddie in his U.S. military uniform. It was taken at sometime in Baltimore. I saw Lillian’s picture, and my grandfather was a pretty handsome looking guy in his military uniform.
Grandpa Eddie told me that he obtained the rank of sergeant, and I think that while he was in the army he had also obtained his U.S. Citizenship.
It appears that there had always been a plan for Eddie to somehow return to Russia, to smuggle his wife and two daughters out, and then to assist other family members to immigrate to America, but I was never able to determine who financed all of this. Or who financed any of Grandpa Ed’s trips back and forth to Europe.
Grandpa told me, that he was told that any American commisioned army officer, was treated like royalty in Europe. So knowing this, he illegaly dressed up as a commissioned officer, complete with fancy leggings, and he even carried a swagger stick, which at the time was only carried by commissioned officers. He felt that by impersonating an American commisioned officer he would get more respect in Europe, and he was right.
So now, dressed up as a commissioned officer, he arrived in Germany and then made his way through Poland and on to the Russian frontier. Grandad said that at every town along the way, the word was sent that an American officer was coming, and all the small town bands were waiting for him, they were all playing American and British military music when they greeted him.
Grandpa said, that just as he expected, upon his arriving at the small town in Poland, he was treated like royalty. However, once he arrived near the Russian and Polish frontier, things changed, he was told he could go no further. As an American officer, if he were captured in Russia, would immediately be imprisoned and executed as a spy. So, in the closest frontier Polish town,which was probably a place called Klechesk, grandpa Eddie changed from his military clothing and was able to find a smuggler who promised to bring grandpa’s wife Molly and two daughters, Betty and Adele out of Russia.
Granddad said he gave the smuggler a substantial sum of money to do the job for him, and then he checked into a local hotel to wait. When over two weeks went by with nothing happening, that’s when grandad Eddie realized he had been taken. He felt that the smuggler had stolen his money, so he went to all the bars in town looking for the guy, and he finally found him. The smuggler said he no longer had any of grandpa Ed’s money as he had already given it to someone else to do the job.
Grandad Ed said “I grabbed him by the batsim and didn’t let go until he told me where the money was”. (Grandpa Eddie put his hand down, and with a claw like grip, and a mean snarl, he showed me how he grabbed the guy by the balls). Then Grandad Eddie said he went into the fellows house and found the money under a loose board in the bedroom.
Now grandpa had to completely change his plan, and everything became very extremely dangerous. He used his money to buy farmers clothing, then he bought a team of horses, and a wagon filled with bags of potatos. And under cover of darkness, he drove the wagon into Russia and all the way to his village. The trip must have taken him several days, but once he arrived at his village, he waited in the woods until nightfall, and then he located his wife and his two daughters and loaded them into empty potato sacks. Again under the cover of darkness, they headed back all the way to Poland.
My mother said that they traveled only at night, hiding during the day in the woods, and they only had the potatos to eat, but once they were safely in Poland, they made their way to Antwerp Belgium, where they boarded a ship, named the SS Zeeland and made the crossing to America.
My mother said that grandpa Eddie had taught her and her and her sister Adele how to sing several popular American war songs, in English. Gandpa Ed made the girls sing to anyone aboard the ship, that would listen to them. He was so very proud of his daughters being able to sing in English, but my mother said she and Adele just cried every day because of it.
Cousin Alen’s internet research came up with some interesting information regarding the ship “SS Zeeland”. It appears the ship SS Zeeland (It’s name had been changed several times), was originally built in the Clydebank shipyard in Glasgow Scotland, and Alan’s grandfather on his frathers side, was employed at that very shipyard in Scotland, and had probably been one of the people that helped build the ship.
On Aug 1, 1921, Abraham Lazaroff, age 33 (My grandfater Eddie, Matka Lazaroff, age 33, My grandmother Molly, Bluma Lazaroff, age 9, mother Betty, and Chaja Lazarof ,age 7, Alen’s mom Adele all arrived at Ellis Island in New York. They listed their European home as Kleck Poland which is also known as Kletsk or Klechkesk, it was a city in the Minsk region of Belaruse located on the Lan River. They used the 54 Vernon Street address in New Haven as their destination.
Grandpa Eddie told me that he soon obtained a plumbing license and went to work as a apprentice plumber, it also appears that he traveled back to Russia several times to bring out several brothers and cousins to America, with most of them settling in he New Haven area.
Where the money came from to make all the trips to Russia, has never been explained to me, but grandpa Eddie did eventually start the Orange Street Bus line in New Haven, and it’s possible that it was the source of his income. What my grandfather Eddie did was nothing less than extrodanary, he gambled his life to rescue the Lazaroff family members.
As I grew up in New Haven, I don’t recall hearing one word of appreciation from any family members towards my grandfather Eddie, as a matter of fact I think they resented his authoritative attitude. But after my meeting most of our relatives, I wondered if his bothers or any of his cousins would have had the nerve to risk their lives for him, I don’t think so, grandpa Eddie is still my hero.
Eventually granddad Eddie went to work for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as an insurance agent, where he said he carried a book, which meant that every week he went around town knocking on doors to collect twenty five cents to apply against a life insurance policy payments
Gandpa Eddie’s accomplishments were many, which included the starting of the Orange Street Bus Line in New Haven. In his later years around 1953 he also blazed the trail to Florida which he called “The Land Of Milk And Honey”.
At the time that grandpa Eddie went to Florida, it was not yet the popular place it later became, and at the time it was considered a swampland and a home for Mosquito’s. I remember hearing all the family members talking bad about grandpa,“He’ll be back they said”.
In 1953, my mother and father and I, took a trip to Canada and drove to St Johns in Nova Scotia, where we met Ben Aranoff and his Son, as well as his sons family.
Ben was my grandmother Molly’s brother. They were in the used and antique furniture business there, A picture I took at the time said Saul Aranoff, used furniture. The following year the Aranoff family came to visit us in Westville Connecticut. We have sinse lost contact with them.