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An American Family History

Bessie Levine

 
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
 

Vilna in Lithuanian and Yiddish, Vilnius in Polish, Wilno in Russian
Vilna is the capital city of Lithuania. It was part of Poland and Poland was part of the Russian empire. In 1861 a restriction limiting Jewish residence to certain streets was repealed. In 1881 there were anti-Jewish riots. The 1897 census showed 63,831 Jewish inhabitants. Congested conditions and increasing unemployment led to large-scale emigration.

Bessie Levine was born about 1894 in Vilna. Her parents were Mendel and Riva Levine.

Bessie immigrated to the United States about 1903 which would have made her only 9 years old. Her mother did not come until 1907.

She was 26 at the time of the 1920 census and living with her sister Bella and mother on DeRatt Avenue. She was a furrier in a factory in the garment district.

Later Bessie lived alone in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn. At first she lived in a rooming house. She had a small room on the second floor with no running water. Then she lived in a small one bedroom apartment.

She was extremely close to her nieces and nephews. Ida's daughter, Rosie, felt Bessie was her "second mom."As a result, when Rosie married, Ida and Bessie were always at Rosie's house. Every Friday, Bessie would come from work with a present for Rosie's daughter and sing songs in Russian and tell her about the beautiful chandeliers in her childhood home in Vilna.

Bessie also close to her other nieces and nephews and would make frequent trips to Chicago (a 24 hour train trip) to visit with them. She sent boxes of clothes to the Tuller children and would always put lifesavers in the boxes. 

Between 1880 and World War I about 2,000,000 Yiddish-speaking, Ashkenazi Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States.