of Miles Hochstein (Grandfather)
(Shimon Nachum) Hochstein
(b. 1888 Radoshkovitch, Vilna Province, near Minsk,
landed Ellis Island 25 July 1904 at age 17,
d. 1964, New York, New York)
really had two separate lives -- one of high art and culture and the
other of struggling to eke out a living.... He had to deal in his workaday
world with awful people and he created his own refined world of literature,
art, music and other languages. How many people in the Bronx could do
what he managed to pull off?" Bob Hochstein, 2001
those days he read a couple of Yiddish papers which I believe had a
He was on to Communism as an unmitigated evil before liberal acquaintances
thought of it that way and even in face of its fight against Hitler
and his left leaning, even Commie, daughter [Elenore Lester]....
Bob Hochstein, 2002
truly was one of a kind." Bob Hochstein, his son, 2001
fine book and music collector, bookstore owner,
real estate salesman, landlord and building manager, airport guard
Samuel Hochstein (right) and his cousin Joseph (last name not quite
legible.) I wonder if this is the cousin referred to below?
Hochstein told this story about Sam's journey to America in
the summer of 1904.
I don't know if you have heard the story about a cousin of Sam,
namely Joe Hochstein. Dad was fond of telling this.
left for America about the same time from what I think was another
town. Dad didn't know that, but a couple of times along the
way they somehow met, on the road as it were. But then they
would separate maybe because they got different hitches or God
when Dad was at sea for a few days, some guy next to him in
steerage is inadvertently kicking and pushing him while he's
sleeping. Turns out, of course, it was Joe. And they had this
would always laughingly tell this story. His line was, "Joe,
what are you doing here?"
was always amazed that this could happen.
Sam Hochstein and daughter Elenore at about age 5, implying year of
in 1905, nothing could prepare Sam for his father's determination to
imprison him for "his own good" upon his arrival in America.
But the iconoclastic Sam was a free thinker in the making, as well as
a strong 17 year old greenhorn before whom all of New York beckoned.
He soon escaped the virtual imprisonment that his father imposed on
him in the lodgings they shared.
The story goes that when Yoshe his father despaired of making a living
in America (or of keeping Sam religious(?)), he packed his bags and
was prepared to return without Sam to his family in Radoshkovitch. One
can well imagine the heartbreak of a 45 year old father who felt he
had lost his eldest son to the assimilative power of America.
when Sam learned of his father's impending departure, he quickly returned
and found his father, bags packed, preparing to leave. Sam agreed to
live a religious life, and in return persuaded his father to bring the
entire family to the United States. It was agreed, and Sam cut the ties
on his father's bags.
maintained his religious bargain with his father until his mother and
siblings arrived in 1907. Then, with his family safely on the shores
of America, as Sam's daughter Elenor Lester recalled, "he freed
years later, when Sam's father Reb Yoshe again tried to return to the
old country, this time it was his wife Rashe
Gitte who would not consider moving back. As the story goes, returning
to face Radoshkovitz' hard cold winters and a world without indoor plumbing
or electricity was too difficult to consider. And so the remainder of
their lives were lived in Bayonne, New Jersey. Their five children,
Sam, Fanny, Sarah, Leo and Phillip, went on to live their immigrant
lives in New York and New Jersey.
information here is based on a family history written by my great
uncle Phillip (Sam's youngest brother), and information from other
family members, including in particular Bob Hochstein. I am grateful
to all who contributed
Sam as a young man, in his twenties (says Bob Hochstein). Since
he was born in 1888, this would be between 1908 and 1918. I'm
guessing that those clothes are prewar.
was the oldest of five siblings. Their descendants of my generation
(my 2nd cousins) live all over the place, mostly on the East
Coast, I believe, and a few in Israel. I have never
met most of them.
was an iconoclast, a freethinker, and a lover of fine books.
He was an autodidact, without formal education, who spoke or
knew some Russian, German, Yiddish, English and Hebrew. He held
body and soul together in the real estate business prior to
1929, and in the thirties started a fine book store, which was
came to the United States and to Bayonne New Jersey, at the
age of 17, following his father, Yoshe
Hochstein, passing through Ellis Island on 25 July 1904.
Record, Ellis Island
Ethnicity: Russia, Hebrew
Place of Residence: Radiseowitz (sic)
Date of Arrival: 25 Jul 1904
Age on Arrival: 17y
Marital Status: S
Ship of Travel: Rotterdam
Port of Departure: Rotterdam, South Holland, The Netherlands
can see (above) the information from the Ellis Island Foundation
data base. It seems characteristic that Sam would have translated
his Hebrew name "Shimon" to the English "Simon".
He became familiar with several languages, and would not have
wanted to seem parochial, I suspect.
father Yoshe Hochstein,
a carpenter by trade and a talmudic scholar (of course) had
incurred debts while furnishing a synagogue in the old country.
Apparently he consented to build the interior of an entire synagogue
in Minsk for an insufficient sum, and without first consulting
with Rashe Gitte, whose business acumen was superior. Having
given his word, he would not attempt to renegotiate the deal,
and set off for Minsk to spend a year building the interior
of the schule. At the end of the year he and Rashe Gitte
found themselves deeply in debt, and concluded that their only
option was for Yoshe to go to America to earn enough money to
repay the debts.
in America, Yoshe heard rumors of his eldest son's curiosity
about the world, and remembered how he had been interested in
learning Russian! He greatly feared that Sam might become a
heretic, or worse. He sent for Sam to come to America where
Sam was to work as his carpentry assistant and where his deeply
religious father hoped to keep a close eye on him.
rumors that Sam had been seen entering a missionary house en
route to America, his father Yoshe was greatly alarmed and
made Sam a virtual prisoner upon his arrival. Phillip, Sam's
youngest brother Phillip, thought that Sam had probably done
nothing more than "free load" some tea from a missionary
group. Sam, he wrote, was utterly immune to any missionary efforts.
(This immunity to missionary efforts would seem to be well supported
by an angry letter Sam would write to his cousin Warren Zeik
who converted to Catholicism and became a Trappist Monk in the
late 1940s or 1950s, but that is another story.)
relates the story of how Sam first courted Ida
did read Dad's first letter to Mom,
not exactly, at one point.
wrote to her older brother, I guess Julius,
asking permission to call on her, telling him that he was so
impressed by Ida. It was so sweet. A bygone era, right?
know what happened to it, though. I have to tell you, probably
like oldsters, it all seems like yesterday. Haven't clue where
it's all gone and makes one realize, if you haven't yet figured
it out, carpe diem as the Italians say. Or something like that.
My father estimates that the picture above of him with his father
is from 1936 or 1937, when Sam would have been in his late forties.
The picture at the top of the page is from a few years later, perhaps
1938, when my father would have been 12. Sam took a yearly picture
with my father.
the 1920's Sam did well in the real estate business. In the
photo at the top right of this page he looks to me like a successful
business man, a young man about town, confident and ambitious.
mother, Rashe Gitte,
also did well in real estate apparently, and it appears that
she took to America much more readily than her scholarly and
Yoshe Hochstein. Reb Yoshe retreated over the years into
his Talmud, and only grudgingly looked up from his studies to
take money from customers in a small shop they owned.
the good times did not last. Sam, like his mother, like everyone,
was wiped out by the Great Crash. I have the impression from my
father and his two siblings that from the early 1930s on, Sam
was a broken and depressed man, struggling to pay the rent for
asked Bob Hochstein to recall his Bronx childhood, in the 1930s
mentioning your interest in stories about my parents [Ida and
Sam Hochstein] got me thinking again. One really nice one and
one not so. I might have mentioned both but I don't think so.
had part ownership/management in the building at 1340 Morris Ave.
It was a terrible time, the late 30's. Some tenants simply couldn't
pay the rent. And for one in particular, Dad would send me out
to get groceries for them and leave it at the door. I would ring
the bell and run. Dad said they would never accept it otherwise.
those that were late in paying the rent, he tried not to lean
on them. His partner in the management of the building was just
the opposite and they would get into huge fights over this and
other matters. In the end, one day Dad slapped him in the face.
That was big and eventually the partnership broke up and the building
was sold. Dad's mother either owned or had an interest in it.
I think I've mentioned before, during this period and the war
years Dad was in an awful funk and didn't talk much which had
especially grave consequences for Elenore (Sam's daughter). She
felt unloved and I guess simply unwanted. The best I can make
of it is that she never got over it.
I always had great sympathy for Dad, despite his lack of connecting
with us. In lots of families "love" wasn't the big thing,
it was bread on the table, doing well in school. So we weren't
an affectionate family but they did convey to me, somehow, a sense
I got into my teens I always felt Mom as too hard on Dad as though
he wasn't trying to make a living. There would be lots of arguments
about money, which made Elenore, I think, sort of stingy and me
just the opposite.
the reason I wound up in Oklahoma was [that it only cost] $50
a semester and you could work for room and board. Also, I wanted
to get far away from the screaming. Also, I wanted to get away
from the Bronx, which I felt was dragging me down. Also, I might
be writer if I went away and had "experiences." More
than you want to know, but you're provocative.
Hochstein, June 2001
Above: Ida and Sam reading, 1930s or
Sam brushing his teeth. I like this picture. "Man brushing
teeth in Bronx in the 1940s." How many pictures of THAT exist
anywhere in the world?
am told that Sam was wiped out by the depression, in financial
terms, but also apparently in emotional terms. In the picture
above with Paul, my father, I imagine that I can see Sam's depression,
and the Great Depression, clearly etched. Yet I also observe
that he often seems very nicely dressed. I sense a certain dignity
in the way he holds himself and the way he dresses in those
father recently (October 19, 2003) used the word "dignified"
to describe how Sam carried himself in the world. He felt and
acted as if he were an important person in the world, no matter
how unpleasant the work that he might have had to do to survive.
my father reports seeing his father in the 1930s staring in the
mirror saying, over and over "What are you trying to do to
me? what are you trying to do to me?"
Sam's son Bob notes (above) the profound effect that Sam's detachment
and depression had on his eldest child, his daughter Elenore.
continued in another e-mail...
don't know if I told you about my secretive runs to safe subway
boxes where Dad hid etchings and books. This was during the war.
Sam would spot at an auction a particular book or etching that
he felt was a good value in a larger collection. He'd hide it
[in a locker] box to be smuggled into the house at a future date.
I just had to feed the meter as it were--I think it was nickel
for 24 hours. Other times I would bring the contraband home. Mom
was going crazy over the expanding collection of books and etchings
which reached thousands of the former and many hundred of the
latter. This at a time when we were really broke. (When I was
treasurer of so-called Blue Devils club, she emptied our dues
from a secret hiding place--about $7 or $8 dollars. I wanted to
kill her because I was sure my "friends" would kill
me.) The point was, as she crying explained, she needed it for
the rent. Talk about "the rent" was, as I think I explained,
endless. And it often involved crying and screaming.
back to the books and etchings. The point was that Dad, God bless
him, was managing somehow to build this huge private collection
at time when we were hurting from day to day. While it was little
crazy, I was always sympathetic with Dad. He got such joy from
this point he really had two separate lives--one of high art and
culture (he also collected classic RCA 78 opera records) and the
other of struggling to eke out a living.
all may sound bizarre but that's the way it was. He had deal in
his workaday world with awful people and he created his own refined
world of literature, art, music and other languages.
many people in the Bronx could do what he managed to pull off?
Sure, it was sort of selfish. I understood that, too. But that
was Sam and I always loved him.
don't think I explained that between the two of us we would bring
stuff home gradually. So there was never any bundles. You could
slip a book or etching in a newspaper. So, too, with the records.
stores to come. Stuff is coming back to me. Best wishes at home
and I hope all are thriving. Robert.
taking a walk, Bob continued...
a walk and was thinking about what I told you. To be fair,
he caused us a lot of angst and pain. Mom was right when
she'd say, "you're like a drunken sailor." He
was when it came to books and pictures. But also in fairness,
he did think he was providing an insurance policy for
us--that he was buying would be valuable some day and
that would be insurance for her.
is we gave most of his stuff we gave away after he died
to NYU and a library in Jerusalem, though Elenore managed
to sell some of his stuff. When El died I got a few of
the etchings. One was recently appraised at a high price.
I'm sure he never paid more than a hundred dollars or
so for an etching, probably less.
never stopped missing him. He truly was one of kind.
told me to let you know that after we met, he wrote letters to
her family in a kind of biblical Hebrew that awed her family.
He did have gift for languages and he would learn them by reading
texts with a dictionary at his side. He had endless patience for
this and would do so in early morning hours. In bed, he always
had several books along with his wife. You would have fun with
him. OK enough for now.
Hochstein, July 2001
Above: Sam Hochstein reading a newspaper on a bench at the 1936
As Paul Hochstein told me and as Bob Hochstein confirms above,
it was only his joint ownership of an apartment building with
another man (with whom there were endless conflicts) and the rents
that he was able to collect from tenants (no doubt as financially
desperate as everyone else) that enabled him to remain solvent
through the thirties.
great love was books, fine collector's editions. He did open a
bookstore during my father's childhood, probably the mid-1930s,
and my father also recalls schlepping books to and from auctions
with his father, on the subway, and working in the book store.
whole apartment was filled with books. Paul Hochstein recalls
that his mother Ida (Leshan)
Hochstein, hated the books because of "the dust".
But Sam's collecting was unstoppable.
fine book store went broke. Customer tastes were not able to keep
up with Sam's opinion of literary worth and fine printing. Also,
he had chosen the name "Nonesuch" for his bookstore.
As a result he was promptly sued by a publishing house of that
name, of which apparently he had been unaware.
in the early forties as war broke out, he finally found work as
an airport guard at La Guardia. By then he would have been in
his mid-fifties. My uncle Bob Hochstein told me of how his mother
wrapped Sam's legs in newspaper under his pants to withstand the
bitter cold of night guard duty at the airport.
Hochstein recollected that his father Sam Hochstein always
conducted himself with tremendous dignity. He would walk
into the classroom (where Paul was in school) and unlike
the other parents who stayed in back, he would march right
up to the front of the classroom and introduce himself to
the teacher: "I'm Sam Hochstein." He believed
that he was someone important.
had to put up with awful real estate brokers. They didn't
want him to speak Yiddish in the office, Paul recalls. French
was OK, but Yiddish was not.
he was a guard at the airport he did even that with dignity,
recalls that Sam was determined to live his life of books,
art and language study, and he did what he had to do to
make that possible, including working at all sorts of jobs.
None of them was beneath his dignity.
also tells a story of Sam's sense of humor. Sam pretended to be
asleep while on duty. He was approached by another guard who tried
to take away his gun, at which point he grabbed his gun and laughed,
showing that he had been wide awake, just pretending to sleep
on the job.
provides some evidence that what seems to have been a joking nature
persisted through it all.
the war he found work again with his former real estate company,
but his casual and informal style of business was not compatible
with the new management, and that didn't work very well or last
Above: Sam and Paul
"dueling" in 1956.
Elenore Lester and Paul Hochstein talk with their father Sam
asked Bob Hochstein about his father Sam and his wife Shula and
how Sam and Shula first met when Bob and Shula arrived by boat
from Israel circa 1957.
question Dad was smitten with her (his daughter in law, Shula)
from the get-go. He always had a keen eye for the ladies. And
here was one that was not only pretty but spoke Hebrew with a
Sephardic accent. It was just wonderful for him. He absolutely
adored showing her off whenever he could. They would talk about
Hebrew poets and authors. It was ideal for him, though our stay
in the apartment was relatively brief--perhaps a month or so.
And of course Shula enjoyed that attention/affection that was
Shula and Bob arrived from Israel, the story goes that Sam pretended
to be an uncle rather than Bob's father...
business about their meeting in the car, it wasn't Sam's idea
to tell her he was the uncle, I whispered that to him. I guess
just for fun.
too, this was a big time for Israel. It occupied the highest moral
ground. And a "sabra" was a hero and Shula looked and
acted the part. After all, that's who she was. [She had] an openness
and I guess an assertiveness. She was a force that Dad thoroughly
enjoyed and Mom sort of coped with.
the latter, no real friction other than questions about Shula's
"odd" diet, endless salads and fruit. I guess that was
bothersome because Mom cooked heavy. These are really minor things
and there was never real tension during the stay, though Shula
thought Mom didn't care for her that much. Don't think was actually
true, but maybe Dad making such an fuss over Shula was disturbing
to her. Could be. But we out of there and in DC in pretty quick
don't know if any of this makes sense to you but it's about the
way I can recall things. About Israel again, like the war and
depression, for Jews, anyway, Israel loomed so very large and
here comes a native "son"--so I, we [Bob and Shula],
created a stir not only at home but everywhere we went.
guess that's it for now, questions, let me know. Take care and
all the best. Robere
was recently blessed with an additional memory of Sam by two people
who contacted me by e-mail to tell me that after Sam's children had
moved away, they had lived across the hall from him. Apparently he
and Ida became like parents or grandparents to Paul and his sister
and were a stabilizing influence and refuge from a turbulent home
recently received with pleasure the following e-mail from Alan Riesenberg,
who grew up across the hall from Sam and Ida in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mon, 24 Sep 2001 17:59:43 -0700
From: "Riesenberg, Alan"
My name is Alan Riesenberg, and I grew up at 1635 Montgomery Avenue
in the Bronx. I knew your grand-parents and perhaps your father
and his siblings, although I have only dim recollections of that
time, having left the Bronx in 1967. My parents, Hinda and Jacob
Riesenberg were certainly good friends of your grandparents, living
directly across the hall from them for many years in Apt. 5-D.
Having accidentally come across your web-site, I was interested
in knowing what your father is doing now, if in fact, he is still
alive. My mother passed away last year at the age of 82, while
my father is still alive and living in Bergenfield, NJ at the
age of 87.
still remember the kindness your grandparents always showed my
family in the years we lived in the same building, and that I
used to go shopping for your grandmother when she needed something.
Your grandparents were terrific people and my mother loved them
both very much. [...]
Memory of Sam Hochstein: The man who played hide and seek with me
have only one memory of Sam Hochstein, from approximately 1963
or 1964, when I was about 3 and 1/2 or 4. He had suffered a stroke
and walked in a walker. I was a little bit scared of him at first
- I can see and hear him walking toward me even now, looming high
above me, shuffling in a strange chrome walker, speaking in a
strangely accented English.
then he played hide and seek with me, right in that small New
York apartment. I remember that one time I found him hiding in
the bathtub, behind the shower curtain. And one time I found him
hiding under the bed! (How did a man who walked with difficulty
climb under a bed?)
is my only personal memory of Sam Hochstein. He died in 1964,
after my family's return from Stockholm.
Above: Ida and Sam Hochstein, in the park, 1950s.
Above: Three generations of Hochstein's: Sam, Paul, Miles. I like
the fact that the books that Sam loved are in the background.
Above: Sam after his stroke... with his books.
asked my uncle Bob in January 2002 if there might be any remaining
letters by Sam other than the 10 page tirade that he wrote to his
cousin Warren when Warren converted to Catholicism. Bob responded:.
to hear, Miles. You're true researcher--you hang in. Doubt very
much if there are any letters. If there are, I never saw them.
But, in fact, they [Sam and Ida] weren't ever physically separated
to the best of my knowledge. And if they were, I'm sure Dad would
on more than one occasion Dad spoke to about the three evils in
the world, the 3 "C's", Communism, Capitalism, and Catholicism.
In those days he read a couple of Yiddish papers which I believe
had Socialist orientation. I think he saw himself that way.
was on to Communism as an unmitigated evil before liberal acquaintances
thought of it that way and even in face of its fight against Hitler
and his left leaning, even Commie, daughter [Elenore Lester].
Socialism was big in the trade union movement and involved many
Jewish members and leaders."
following e-mail was sent to me by Sam's niece, his sister Fanny's
daughter, Julie Schniper, in November, 2002.
too, like Warren can tell you nice things about your grandfather
(my Uncle Sam).
corresponded for years (10 to be exact) in Yiddish using the English
alphabet. I was about eight years old when the relationship started.
They were mostly humorous letters. I saved a few -- maybe someday
I can share them with you.
of us were musically inclined. He would go to the auction and
buy Yiddish and Hebrew folk melodies and bring them on his Sunday
weekly visits. I would play the piano and we would sing together.
Needless to say, your grandmother (my Aunt Ida) was furious. I
guess our voices were pretty bad.
wanted you to know this about your grandfather. He liked fun and
he loved his Jewishness.
questionnaire regarding our family will soon follow.