Fannie Forman Goldin 1888-1984
by Benita Ross & Farideh Goldin
Fannie Forman Goldin
Fannie Forman emigrated to the United States from Odessa, Russia at age 16 in 1905. Her parents. Gitle and Beryl had been divorced when Fannie was eight years old. Beryl moved to New York City. Gitle supported Fannie and her two other daughters from a second marriage through her income as a seamstress.
As difficult as life might have been, neither Fannie or Gitle expected the level of violence during the pogroms of 1905. Fannie told her daughter Bella many years later that Russian soldiers were “after Jewish girls.” Once Fannie was caught by soldiers who attempted to throw her over a bridge. Afterwards, Gitle wouldn’t allow her daughters, Fannie and Rose, to leave the house, and whenever someone knocked at the door, she would hide them. Gitle eventually decided to send the girls out of the country. They would have to manage with less of their meager earnings in order to save for a ticket for Fannie to leave for the United States, hoping that she would earn enough money to help her sister leave as well.
Fannie’s father had already emigrated and lived in New York city with his new wife. Fannie was to travel to Hamburg, Germany by train and then sail to the United States. Planning for a no-return journey over thousands of miles of land and sea was not an easy task. It was especially overwhelming for the jews of the Shtlell who didn’t know much beyond their immediate surroundings or perhaps a rare trip to the city.
The cost of the trip, deciding what to take, obtaining a passport, an exit visa, purchasing tickets, arranging for transfers, and, above all, dealing with the bureaucratic system of Tsarist Russia that often required paying bribes to officials felt at times impossible to achieve.
Consequently, travel agencies were essential for navigating through the system and arranging these arduous trips. Germany’s Hamburg-American and North German Lloyed steamship lines were the two largest shipping companies that transferred Russian Jews to the United States. Since Russian ports and the shipping companies were incapable of handling the sheer number of immigrants, both companies gave the rights to the sales of their tickets to independent ticketing firms, thereby, facilitating the sales without accepting the responsibility of errors. Many immigrants were exploited.
Fannie and her mother had asked an agency for help. Fannie received her documents and a train ticket to Hamburg. The agent promised to meet her at the train station in Hamburg with the ticket to New York and to help her with the transfer.
Gitle accompanied her daughter to the train station, and knowing that they would never see each other again, jumped on board last minute to delay the inevitable good-bye. Fannie crossed the border alone, heartbroken for leaving her mother behind.
The agent did not meet Fannie at the train station in Hamburg. With no family and friends in Germany, Fannie felt lost.
Fannie had 48 hours to leave Germany. Otherwise, she would have been deported back to Russia.
Fannie was lucky. The Jewish communities along the Prussian borders had been mobilized to help with the wave of Russian immigrants, many with similar problems as Fannie.
One volunteer spotted the young girl abandoned and frightened. She took Fannie home and found her a job as a waitress in a local restaurant. Fannie later recalled the experience of her treatment by non-Jewish German customers as “humiliating and demeaning.” The job, however, saved her from the authorities in the atmosphere of increasing anti-semitism before WWII. With her earnings and a donation from the Jerwish community, Fannie finally had a steerage ticket to sail to the United States on board of Rotterdam.
Fannie never shared her experience of living in the lowest section of the boat with family members. “Don’t ask,” she would say. Memories had to be erased; the new world promised a new life and hope.
Fannie arrived in New York City through Castle Garden Immigration Center and soon found her father and moved in with his family. However, the relationship turned sour quickly. Fannie had not forgotten the family she had left behind in Russia and the promise she had made to her mother. Her top priority was to send money and tickets to enable Rose to leave Russia as soon as possible. Her father, however, didn’t feel any obligation toward his ex-wife’s family and demanded that Fannie had to support the family she lived with. They were poor as well, and Fannie was drawing on their resources. She had to give her father all her earnings. Fannie refused and moved out. She worked as a seamstress at a sweatshop on Hester Street and boarded in a crowded house, like many other immigrant women.
Fannie was statuesque and attractive. She told Bella that she constantly had to watch for co-workers and bosses’ hands as she walked by them. She said the first sentence she learned in Engish was, “Keep your hands off please.”
Fannie met Nathan Goldin when she was eighteen years old through a matchmaker. He had emigrated from Pinski, Poland and was working as a cutter in the garment industry. He was kind, quiet and earned a much higher salary for operating heavy machinery. Marriage was not about love for Fannie. It was rather a hope for a better life away from the harassment of the workplace and the intense poverty.
She and Nathan had five children together: Bob (1909), Henry (1911-died a year later from pneumonia), Bella (1915), Frieda (1917)--all born in New York City and then Milton (1923), born in Charleston, SC.
Fannie and Nathan wanted to have a more American-style life by getting away from the busy streets of New York, filled with immigrants. The Hebrew Benevolent Society in Charleston tried to convince Russian immigrants to move to South Carolina. Rose, Fannie’s half-sister that she helped to bring to the new world, and her husband Rubin Feldman accepted the invitation. In 1920, Fannie and Nathan followed them.
Like many other Jewish immigrants, Fannie and Nathan bought a small building on King street. They used the street level as a grocery store and lived on the second floor. Bella remembered how Fannie used to cut a side of pork with heavy machinery (even though they kept kosher at home.) She also took care of the children's welfare, cooked, cleaned and sewed their clothing. Fannie found time to be active in various Jewish organizations. While Nathan was often quiet and anxious about their financial well-being, Fannie had the fire of resilience and hope.
When their last baby, Milton became sick with an unknown malady, doctors told Fannie to expect her son to die soon. Instead, neglecting all her other duties, Fannie tended to the sick child with her home remedies and undivided love. When Milton survived to the doctor’s astonishment, Fannie looked at him as her own little miracle and a source of pride. Her love and expectations for Milton soon changed her relationship with all her children.
Nathan, a heavy smoker, died of a heart attack in 1941 at age 54. Their children don’t remember their parents showing any signs of love toward each other. In her own way, Fannie may have shown her love for Nathan by writing in her will to be buried next to him.
Fannie took over the store after Nathan’s death, refusing help from her oldest son. Bob had returned to Charleston to run the store and to become the “man” of the house. Fannie refused to be subordinated to him and asked him to leave. They became estranged and rarely saw each other after the incident.
Instead, she placed much of her love and attention to Milton, encouraging him to pursue higher education and perhaps become a physician.
However, Milton instead volunteered for the army during WWII and was sent to Europe. Fannie learned how to read and write in English in order to communicate with Milton in Paris. Milton’s oldest child, Benita wrote, “Writing in English was very difficult for her, but Gram would write to him frequently and Dad would write back with corrections!”
After the war, when Milton moved to Portsmouth, Virginia with his family, Fannie followed them.
Benita remembered, “Among my earliest memories, Gram would take a train to visit us, always staying in my room. The highlight was Gram baking; her specialties were yeast cinnamon rolls and hamentashen. I never liked the mun, so she would make apricot filled for me. Years later when she was in a nursing home, I loved returning the favor.”
Benita wrote,” When our oldest son was born, I begged Gram for the recipes, She had always said that there really wasn’t a clear ‘recipe’. Below is my treasured delicious reminder of a dish with LOVE as a main ingredient.”
Fannie died at age 96 in January 1984. She was not buried in Charleston, next to Nathan, as her will had requested. Instead, She was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Portsmouth where Milton would be buried next to her years later.
The recipe Fannie sent to Benita:
Yeast Cinnamon Bun Recipe
Feb 7th 1972
Dear Benita I received your letter and was vase sorry that you and Michael are colds and you Both will not give colds to baby and vene you get my letter you and Michael filing better. you didn’t [say] how Mitchell is getting along. OK I hope he is OK. We are good winter weather but not so bad as long it is no snow so I can get out. I miss now Norman and soon Debbie will be away to. I miss you you all. Nathan I think will bee for 2 weeks Home. I will be happy to see im Benita, I am sending my recepe for pastries. Benita if is to complicated So you waith when you come. Hes you wach me how mix it up. This Wednesday I am going a luncheon for the UJA and mama is picking every body is fine Hear and take care of your cold and Michael and Spesil see that the baby don’t get both your colds I up not. I forgot to writh that are all picuture from you & Michael & the baby God Bless im. He is a very beautiful baby I am lucking forward to see all. With all my love to all of you your Grandma and Great Grandma.
PS. Pleas Benita forgiver for my mistakes in my writhing.