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April 14, 1995 - Image 101

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-04-14

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A Long Way From Home


On this holiday of
freedom —the
unusual stories of
two families who
escaped Europe to
build new lives in

rwin Sherman was 6 years
old when he, his mother, four
brothers and sisters, plus five
women and 16 children whose
names Mr. Sherman can no
longer recall, set off on a jour-
ney that would bring them face-
to-face with Cossacks, take
them across Siberia, leave them
with almost no food or water,
and then, finally, introduce them
to such delicacies as ice-cream
But that was just how things
were back then, Mr. Sher-
man says nonchalantly. His
parents wanted a better life
for their children, so they came to
America. Then he wanted the
same for his son and daughter,
and so like his mother and father
always put family first.
Linda Lieberman, of West
Bloomfield, sees it another way.
Her father, she says, is a hero.
"He never had ambitions for
himself," she says. "He was al-
ways thinking of the next gener-
ation, how they can have a better
life. He is very inspiring."
Mr. Sherman, who today lives
in Southfield, spent the first years
of his life in Kishinev, Romania.
His father, Solomon, left in 1913
and headed for America, where he
hoped to raise money to bring over
the rest of the family — his wife,
Rachel, and five children: Ida,
Beryl, Mary, Katie and Irwin.

Then World War I started.
At first, Rachel was patient.
The war would end soon, she
thought, and then it would be safe
for the family to travel.
But by 1917 she could wait no
Rachel and six of her friends
"got together with (their) 18 kids
— no men (the only man was the
driver of their horse and wagon)
— and they decided they were go-
ing to America," Mr. Sherman
The women planned a journey
across Siberia, which was an un-
usual decision for many reasons.
The first is that going east
would, of course, take them in the
opposite direction of their ultimate
Second was the situation in
Russia itself. Collapsing under
the czar, the country was a
hotbed of turmoil, frustration and
battle. And with pogroms com-
mon, why would any Jew make
it a point to travel through such
a mess?
The answer is likely Turkey.
Kishinev is located in the south
(in what is today Ukraine), not far
from the coast of the Black Sea. If
the group traveled the direct route
— south into the Black Sea, west
through the Mediterranean and
finally into the Atlantic — they
would have been dangerously
close to Bulgaria and Turkey,

both aligned with the Central
Although Russia was in tur-
moil, it was at least familiar tur-
moil. The prospect of traveling
through territory immersed in the
first world war, on the other hand,
must have seemed too terrible to
even contemplate.
Soon after the women set off
they met up with trouble. Cos-
sacks forced the wagon to stop,
told everyone to get off and then
went through the family goods,
helping themselves to food and
"But how will we make it, all
these children and no food?" the
women asked.
A towering Cossack snapped
his whip. "You wanted to go," he
said. "Now go."
All that remained was one
large jar of plum jam the Cossack
hadn't seen. The family would live
on it for days.
After weeks of riding the
women made it to Siberia, where
Irwin's uncle was in the army. He
found everyone warm clothes,
made of a heavy, quilted fabric,
and secured them seats on a train
headed for Vladivostok. The Russ-
ian port city also was home to a
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
office, which helped secure pass-
ports for emigrating Jews.
But it didn't take long for the
families to find themselves again

Above: Irwin
Sherman and his
daughter, Linda

Left: Irwin Sherman
(far right) with his
family: From
generation to

Rachel told the men to stay
away. That landed the women
and children off the train, their
belongings thrown out of the win-
Irwin Sherman still remem-
bers helping pick up the bags and
clothes as he walked alongside the
Finally in Vladivostok, Rachel
and her children were issued
passports to Canada. They board-
ed a ship headed for America,
with ports of call in China and
The stop in China was
overnight. Accommodations were
anything but luxurious; the fam-
ily slept on a cement floor.
In the middle of the night Ir-
win awoke. "And, as a kid, you
know, I went roaming around."
He found a packet of advertising
cards from a cigarette pack which
intrigued him. Then an elderly
Chinese gentleman found him.
Moments later, Irwin had disap-
Thanks to her eldest son, who
had been watching the entire
time, Rachel managed to find Ir-
win in the bathroom. It was noth-
ing sinister — a group of men
"had me singing songs, and they
were giving me (cigarette) cards"
—but Rachel dragged her son out
that moment.
They then spent several weeks
in Japan, "the first place I can re-
PHOTO BY GLENN TRIEST member having a de-
cent night's sleep in a
bed" since the fami-
ly had left Kishinev
four months earlier,
before heading off for
Canada. It took six
weeks to arrive in
What a welcome.
Until their papers
could be verified, Ir-
win and his family
were locked up in the
local jail.
At long last the
journey came to an
end when Irwin, his
brothers and sisters
were admitted to
Canada. One of their
first big adventures was going out
in trouble.
Soldiers riding for ice cream, a gift of the Jew-
along the same train ish family services office.
Irwin, who had never seen such
to Vladivostok ex-
pressed interest — to a concoction, did his best. The ice
put it politely — in cream looked tempting, but what
some of the older was that bottom part for? He ate
girls, including Ir- everything except the cone.
win's sister.

A LONG WAY page 102

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