by Marsha Rosenberg
What follows is a brief account of the life of David Zmidek’s much younger brother, Srul Chil Zmidek, pieced together from documents, such as births, marriages and deaths, and from the recollections of members of the Goldstein family. The name Srul Chil is a contraction of the Hebrew name Israel Yechiel but this is only one of the names he used in his lifetime. In our family, he was known as Uncle Smith or just “Smith” and this is the name I shall use in this blog.
Smith was probably born in Chmielnik in 1874. The first document I have for him records his marriage to Necha Ryfka Goldsztejn (Rivka or Rebecca Goldstein) on 18th February, 1896, in Wola, Warsaw. The document tells us that he was then 21 years old, a tailor from Chmielnik and living at Pańska Street, number 9, Warsaw.
Smith married at a time when many Jews were considering leaving Poland. He decided to go to London, most likely in 1902, having heard that tailors were needed to make uniforms for soldiers in the Boer War. Rebecca followed soon after with their children. Rebecca was homesick and wanted to go back to Poland but Smith (now using the name Israel Smith) wanted to accumulate some capital before returning. In the end, they stayed for six years.
The Polish-born children who came to London with Rebecca were Symcha (also known as Samuel, Sidney and Sydney) born in 1897 and Chaya (Elena, Anne, Annie) born in 1899. While the Smiths were in London, they had three more children – Sarah (Sadie, Sylvia) in 1903, Abbe (Abraham) in 1906 and Joe in 1907. Each child was born at a different address in the East End, Sarah at 3 Shorter Street (probably the street off Cable Street now called Fletcher Street), Abbe at 132 Commercial Road and Joe at 15 Princes Street. There were a number of streets called Princes Street at that time but this one is almost certainly the lost street then running south from Princes Square (now Swedenborg Gardens) where other members of the Smith family lived.
In 1908, the family returned to Warsaw and Smith was able to set up in business with three shops, a workroom and living accommodation. According to the Goldsteins, “The business prospered and the family moved to a smart apartment on Czapla Ulica which boasted a bathroom, a rarity in those days, and a grand piano. It was a fashionable family - Smith immaculate, with a clipped moustache; and speaking fluent English from their years in London, they were dubbed "die Angelski familia". Jewish children were prohibited from free education in Poland, so Annie and Sidney became paid pupils at the "gymnasium" (secondary school) and Annie was to study to become a teacher.” In 1910, another son was born, later to be called Alfred Teddy. There is no further trace of Joe, so it is possible he died during this period in Warsaw.
In 1912 or 1913, Smith returned to London and encouraged his brother-in-law, Joseph Goldstein, to come and join him. Joseph initially came alone and stayed with the Smiths at 58 Leman Street but, late in 1913, Smith sent money so that Joseph’s heavily pregnant wife and their children could also come from Warsaw to London.
The next records I have are for 1917 which must have been a bittersweet year for Smith (now known as Jacob Smith) and Rebecca. On 19th January, their son, Sydney, married Jessie Konskier at the Great Synagogue then, on 8th February, Abraham, aged only 10, died at the Cheyne Hospital after a long and painful illness.
There had been many bombing raids on London during the war but in June 1917 a daylight raid caused the death of 162 people including 18 children at a school in Poplar. Possibly this was the final straw for Rebecca because, around this time, she took the younger children and rented lodgings near Wivelsfield Station in Sussex. Joseph’s wife, Feigele, joined her there and one of the Goldstein children was born in Wivelsfield in the summer of 1918. The men visited with gifts at weekends causing great excitement amongst the children (recalled by my aunt Gertie 90 years later).
The next marriage was between Smith’s daughter Annie and Jack Marks in 1921. They had a son Lewis (Leonard, Lenny) in the summer of 1922. Sadly, Rebecca’s experience of being a grandmother was very brief. She passed away, after a long illness, on 13th November 1922 at the age of 48. She is buried in East Ham cemetery.
Family life continued after Rebecca’s death. Sylvia married Harry Morris (Margolinsky) in the summer of 1925. Their daughter, Rita, was born in 1929. Smith married for a second time. His bride was Rebecca’s younger sister Ruchze (Ruchla, Rachael, Rene, Renée). They had two children together, Monty (Montague) in 1926 and Mick (Emanuel, Myer, Mike) in 1927.
From around 1915, Smith lived and worked at 21 White Lion Street (now Folgate Street). There is a 1925 photo “Folgate Street looking east” (reference 118694) in the London Picture Archive which shows Smith’s businesses at 19 and 21 White Lion Street – mantle and costume (coats and suits) manufacturer and millinery (hat) manufacturer.
Around 1925, Smith moved the mantle business and the family’s lodgings to 109 Shoreditch High Street, leaving the millinery business in White Lion Street.
By 1927, the businesses had moved to 221 -222 Shoreditch High Street. This building was by the corner of Great Eastern Street and stayed in the Smith family for many years. My father has recollections of working there, in the factory space that his father rented from Smith during World War 2, and fire watching on the roof.
Around the same time that 221 -222 Shoreditch High Street was acquired, the family moved from noisy central London to a desirable residence on a tree-lined street in Stamford Hill – 122 Bethune Road. Their Goldstein niece Esther describes staying with them as follows: “I was invited for weekends with the Smith family, my glimpse into a fairyland of luxury which transported me from our homely lifestyle in Boreham Street to an elegant world of lacquered furniture, silver, crystal and carpets; to the sheer joy of a bathroom with running hot water, a chauffeur-driven automobile and a cook-housekeeper who spoiled me with goodies unknown at home. Sweet-smelling linen sheets, my own bed...and a picture-book garden! It was here during my childhood that I learned to enjoy the good things of life, to appreciate fine art and how to entertain.” Their niece Sylvia also remembered the Smith household staff. She used to tell the story that when the chauffeur, Bob, (who was married to the nanny, Winnie) retired, Smith bought the two of them a place to live.
In the early 1930’s, the Smiths moved to a newly-built suburban villa in Golders Green, 19 Highfield Gardens. Daughters Sylvia and Annie were neighbours at number 27 and number 29.
The 1930’s brought another marriage (Alfred to Harryet Rosensztrauch in 1931) and three more grandchildren: Annie and Jack’s daughter Rita in 1931, Sylvia and Harry’s son Michael in 1935 and Alfred and Harryet’s son Anthony in 1939.
The 1939 register was taken on 29th September 1939, a few weeks after the start of World War II. A great evacuation had taken place and many women and children had moved away from the big cities. The register records that, while Smith and his son-in-law, Jack, stayed on at 19 Highfield Gardens, their wives and children had moved to Dashwood Avenue in High Wycombe. Rachel (Rene) and her boys were at number 205 and Anne was next door at 207 with Rita and a children’s nurse. Harry and Sylvia were at 27 Highfield Gardens and Alfred was in Belsize Park with his wife’s brother. I have not found the rest of the family in the register.
Smith died in 1948, aged 74, and is buried in Bushey cemetery. The announcement of his death in the Jewish Chronicle reads “On Wednesday, March 31, after a long and painful illness, bravely borne, Jacob Smith, beloved husband of Rene and darling father of Sidney, Anne (Mrs. J. Marks), Sylvia (Mrs. H. Morris), Alfred, Montague and Myer. Deeply mourned by his sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, Mechutanim and friends. Loved by all who knew him. He remains forever in our hearts. May his soul rest in peace.”
Rene survived him by eighteen years and is buried beside him.
Marsha (Smith’s great-niece)