Monessen attorney tracks family's roots
Part 1 of 2
Attorney Jack Bergstein of Monessen has always appreciated the value of history, especially when it comes to family.
“Growing up in a community of such ethnic and cultural diversity, I was fascinated by the legacies of everyone in Monessen,” said Bergstein, a 1957 graduate of Monessen High School. “At home, I learned so much about our Jewish heritage from my parents and grandparents, and I've treasured those lessons throughout my life.”
For those reasons, and many others, Bergstein, 74, was surprised and delighted when he received an email from Marshall Katz “about five or six years ago.”
“(Katz) said he was developing an Internet website about Jewish genealogy in Monessen and asked if I would be interested in helping with his research,” said Bergstein, a 1961 graduate of The Pennsylvania State University who received his law degree from the Duquesne University School of Law in 1964. “I found the idea very inviting and told him I would be more than happy to be part of his project. We finally met in person at his home near Harrisburg as I was returning home from Philadelphia after having interviewed a rabbi who is a distant relative on my maternal grandmother's side. Marshall and I have developed a great friendship. His passion for researching and documenting Jewish family histories is unparalleled and something that everyone, no matter what their ethnicity might be, should appreciate.”
Katz, 66, said Bergstein's input with the website, www.kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Monessen/Monessen-Family.htm, has been “valuable beyond words.” Kehila means community.
“Jack has family from many of the Ukraine towns and villages for which I have created a website and he has contributed many old family photos, documents and other information to enrich the websites for current and future researchers,” said Katz, who lives near Harrisburg. “The same holds true for the Monessen website.”
Like Bergstein, Katz grew up in western Pennsylvania.
A 1965 graduate of Uniontown Joint Senior High School, he is the son of the late Victor and Irene Katz. His maternal grandmother was a member of the Wind family and a sister of Sadie Wind Feldman of Monessen. Sadie and her husband, Emanuel Feldman, were the parents of four children — Dr. Eugene Feldman, a retired orthodontist living in Lewistown, and the late Arthur and Frederic Feldman and Irene Feldman Weiss.
The Winds were from Ladomovce, Slovakia.
“My father was the kosher butcher in Uniontown and sold and delivered kosher meats and food into Maryland, as far as Cumberland, and into West Virginia, as far as Clarksburg,” said Katz, who graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in 1972 with a bachelor of science degree in Law Enforcement and Corrections.
His affinity for and firm commitment to preserving and perpetuating family traditions, history and values grew from a desire to learn more about his family.
“My grandfather died in Leechburg, Pa., in 1944, so I never knew him or anything about his village in the old country,” Katz recalled. “When I first started researching my family, I found only one page on the Internet with a reference to my ancestral village, with a link to a man in Detroit. His family was from the same village as my grandfather, Klyucharki (Varkulcsa-HU). He still has a nephew living in the village with whom I stay when I am in the Ukraine. He is also my translator and driver traveling around Sub-Carpathia.”
Katz also discovered a family survivor of the Holocaust in the Ukraine in 1993 and from him he learned all about his extended family.
“The Katz family survivor was 16 when he was deported and knew everyone in the extended family and what their fate was at Auschwitz,” said Katz, who retired in 2004 after a 35-year career with the U.S. Government. “Armed with this information, I created a website on Jewish Genealogy for Klyucharki. Since I have the talent and interest, I have created over 100 websites on JewishGen for towns and villages in Sub-Carpathia Ikraine, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the United States (Western Pennsylvania) and now have another 82 in draft from this year's Sub-Carpathia trip.”
Bergstein, a former Monessen city councilman, said Katz's untiring efforts, including the research trips to Eastern Europe, have opened lines of communications with his extended family members around the world.
“When I was 16, I sat down with my (paternal) grandmother and recorded, with a fountain pen and paper, everything she told me,” he recalled. “It was a like a trip back in time, a synopsis of the lives of her and my grandfather. I kept those notes and still enjoy reading them.”
Bergstein is the son of the late Adolph and Magda Spitz Bergstein.
“My mother's parents were killed in the Holocaust,” he said. “Because of Marshall's research and website, I have been able to communicate with relatives — aunts, uncles, cousins — who share similar stories. It has opened a whole new world, an intriguing opportunity to meet such wonderful people who are willing to open their hearts and souls and strengthen a common bond that we didn't know existed.”
Bergstein's father, who was born in Tisza Ujlak, Hungary (today: Vylok, Hungary) on June 20, 1913, owned and operated Bergstein Market on Summit Avenue in Monessen and was president of Krasik's Farm Service in Charleroi before moving to Lake Worth, Fla., in 1971. He was the owner and operator of Adolph Bergstein Real and Estate and Mortgage of Lake Worth at the time of his death at age 88 on Nov. 12, 2001.
Jack's mother died on Dec. 19, 1999.
The elder Bergstein was the son of the late Morris and Jenny Schwartz Bergstein. Morris was a well-known grocer in Monessen, who was born in Austria-Hungary and came to the United States in 1921.
A fond reminder of his grandfather is prominently displayed in Jack Bergstein's office at Bergstein and (Mark) Galper, 409 Schoonmaker Ave., Monessen. It's a framed copy of a large handbill calling attention to “specials for Friday and Saturday, March 10-11,” 1931.
“He didn't advertise in the newspapers, choosing instead to have the circulars printed and then distributing them throughout the community,” Bergstein said.
The circulars called attention to M. Bergstein & Sons businesses in Monessen this way: Highland Cash Market, 1069 Highland Avenue, Telephone 655-J; Ondeida Cash Market, 718 Oneida Street, Telephone 1071-M; Monessen Cash Market, 447 Donner Avenue, Telephone 190. They also encouraged customers to “Phone Your Orders ... We Deliver” and emphasized “Quick, Courteous Service.” Among the specials touted that weekend in 1931 were these: ● Guaranteed Fresh Eggs, 14½ cents a dozen; Spare Ribs and Chuck Roast, 6½ cents a pound; Ketchup, two large bottles for 15 cents; Tender Beef Steak, 10 cents a pound; Solid Head Lettuce, 5 cents each; Cooking Apples, 3 cents a pound; Sunkist Oranges, 10 cents a dozen; Ground Pork and Beef, two pounds for 13 cents; Veal Chops, 7½ cents a pound.
The hand-crafted marketing materials also proclaimed that “We Accept Food Relief Orders.”
“Times sure have changed,” Bergstein said with a knowing smile.
Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.