A History of Louis’s Family

Some of their descendants, August 2008

The history of the Elliman family resembles that of hundreds of thousands of other Jewish families who fled the persecution and pogroms of Central and Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. Making their way to Britain, Ireland, the US, Australia and South Africa, most came from poor, rural villages and small towns, and arrived impoverished, strangers in strange lands. They settled in cities, usually in overcrowded, cold and damp lodgings, clustering close to the city centre, building strong cultural, spiritual, voluntary and social networks, and working to survive and to better themselves in whatever occupations would have them.

Maurice, who had earned his bread as a travelling cantor in Lithuania, tried his hand at several enterprises before going into entertainment. Again, like many, many others, he made a great success of what he did, and was able to move to better housing, to educate his children, and to win respect in both the Jewish and general communities.

His story is not unique, but it is our story… the story of his descendants…

Two of Maurice Elliman’s nine sons, Hymie and Geoff, wrote short memoirs of the family in which they had grown up, but it wasn’t until the stone-setting of his daughter, Queenie — that is, until the last of the 12 children of Maurice and Leah was gone — that the idea of writing down a Family History became a serious quest.  

During that stone-setting weekend in August 2008, several of Maurice’s grandchildren got together one evening.  Geoff’s Edward brought along notes, memoirs, documents and photos that had ended up with his father, and said someone should put them together. The obvious someone was me, because that’s my profession.

I began arranging the material chronologically, and typing it up.  Here and there, I added things I remembered hearing from my father, Hymie.  When I got to the bioscope, I wondered what it had looked like, and plugged without much optimism into Google Images. And there it was…  

There was no stopping after that!! I looked for images and material, and found masses of both on the internet. My sister Monica and I put our heads together over Skype to jog old memories. I began hounding the first-cousins for their recollections, photos and family lore. Some responded by return email (Bertie’s Maureen and Max, and Queenie’s Val are the stars here!). Others needed — and received — intensive nagging (they know who they are…). Henny’s David gave me freedom to cannibalize his memoir of his Templeogue childhood, and Andrew Woolfe unexpectedly carries photos of gravestones on his iPhone. Thanks to them and to everyone for their essential contributions.

As the network spread, I heard about the Irish Jewish Genealogical Society & Family History Centre, whose efforts fill the closing pages of this History, and have added many details. In and among their intensive research were some inaccuracies — hopefully all corrected in this version.

This is Version 3. As soon as the History was (agonizingly) put into fixed pdf format and burned onto disks for distribution around the family in 2009, photos and sources (such as the 1911 Irish Census), that I hadn’t known of, came to hand.    

As well as that, the History found its way to members of the next generation, Maurice’s great grandchildren, none of whom had known him. Rosie’s grandson Colin and Henny’s granddaughter Nadia were the only ones involved in the first edition. They are joined by many more in this version, all of whom have been of great help in its preparation.  

Henny’s grandson Stefan not only introduced me and the History to GoogleDocs, and also tracked down Jack’s son, first-cousin Stephen (Steve), with whom none of us had had contact for over 25 years. Through emails, we’ve been closing that quarter-century gap. 

Queenie’s grandson Nik, also from the great grandchildren generation, incautiously volunteered an improved map of Maurice’s epic walk from Lithuania to Hamburg, and found himself repeatedly returning to GoogleMaps to plot Lithuania, Dublin and the world!   It is he who has set up and guided me with this website.

Hymie’s granddaughters, Odelia, Nomi and Donna, spent months assuming interested expressions as I obsessed about the History, and patiently helped develop my computer skills.  They tend to perfection — so I should say here that the text’s graphic shortcomings are mine alone.

I had seen this History as of interest only to us, Maurice’s grandchildren.  I am truly gratified that it has meaning to Rosie’s grandson Colin, Stefan, Nik and many more of their generation, all the way out to Geoff’s grandson Clive in Australia.  For them, I’ve expanded some of the context that was current events for us, but is history for them — and learned a lot doing so.  Corresponding with them has been an unexpected bonus for me in doing all this.  

I say ‘doing all this’ as if it’s been a hardship. On the contrary! While it’s been time-consuming, I’ve loved every moment. I’ve enjoyed finding and learning, enjoyed being in touch with cousins, known and unknown, and enjoyed the sense of connection it has given me with my father. Although Monica and I were privileged to have Hymie far longer than many of our Elliman generation had their parents, his loss in 2002 leaves a large and unfilled gap. 

This History, put together for Maurice’s 15 surviving grandchildren, 37 great grandchildren and 44 (and counting..) great great grandchildren, is dedicated to our Elliman parents, to their brothers who never became parents, and to Maurice and Leah, who imbued them and us with values, principles and ideals that inform our lives.

Wendy Elliman

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