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Moshe Shreibman: Life Story

This account is based on research undertaken on our behalf by the Jewish Heritage Research Group of Belarus, on UK documentation, and on family stories from a variety of sources.

Moshe was born in Pinsk on 25 October 1883. His father Nevakh (born 1840), had married twice. His first wife Esther (b1842) had died, and his second wife Shprintza Zaturenskaya (b1858), was considerably younger. We believe that Esther was the mother of the first son that we know of, Dovid (b1871) and possibly also of Menakhem (b1880); however by the time Moshe was born Esther would have been 41, and we believe that she had in fact died by then, and that Shprintza was the mother of all Nevakh's remaining children, including Moshe and possibly Menakhem.

The 1894 family list, reported in the JHRG research, shows 6 surviving children: Dovid, Menakhem, Movsha (Moshe), Sorah (b1885), Shlema-Hirsch (b1887), Meer (b1897), plus one that had died by then, Elka. Given the gaps between the births of Dovid and Menakhem (9 years), and between Shlema-Hirsch and Meer (10 years), it is possible that there were more children that do not appear in the records. Shprintza was nearly 40 when Meer was born.

Nevakh was a teacher, probably in Jewish Studies of some description, and the family may have lived, and Nevakh may have taught, in the house in Yaseldskaya Street known in Pinsk at the time as the 'Shreibman house'. Moshe may well have been born here. The house had two numbers, 25 and 25A, and the existence of two front doors suggests the building may have been used for two purposes - a home, and a school or possibly a shtibl - a place of worship with some of the characteristics of a small synagogue.

Moshe's eldest brother Dovid was recorded as living in the house on the 1912 voters' list, and Dovid and his wife Braina were there in 1932, according to this Polish street directory.

The only thing we know about Moshe's life in Pinsk was that he had a friend called Samuel Pushkin; however JHRG research suggests that this name did not exist in Pinsk at the time, and that his friend was probably from the Pushko family.

Moshe was drafted into the Russian Army in 1903, aged 20. In 1905 war broke out with Japan, and there was a revolutionary attempt to depose the Tsar, in which many military units took part. Moshe was involved in some way in the revolution, and when it was crushed, and a number of his comrades were captured or killed, he decided to flee. We do not know where he fled from, how he travelled, or what route he took. One family story has it that he escaped by dressing in woman's clothing - he must have shaved his moustache off to get away with it, though.

By whatever means, he arrived in London towards the end of 1905, on a boat from northern Germany. We have found a record from the Poor Jews' Temporary Shelter in London that suggests he came from Bremen on the Olivia, arriving on 2 October; however the record contains a number of discrepancies, and we are not certain that it refers to our Moshe. We do not know where he lived when he first arrived in London; by the time of his marriage to Sarah Gitovich in 1909, he was living at 3 North Place, just to the south of the Shoreditch railway viaduct, probably in one room in a shared house.

He appears to have quickly located his friend Samuel Pushkin, who had also come to London, and the two remained close friends. The Pushkin house was a meeting place for radical young men, and Moshe and his friends would often go there for a game of chess and a good argument. Moshe and many of his friends were strong supporters of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, and of the Bolshevik faction within the party that led the Russian Revolution of 1917, and gave rise to the Communist Party. The RSDLP held its 5th Congress in London in 1907, and it is tempting to think of Moshe attending some of the meetings, or maybe meeting and chatting to Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin (see his notes on the Congress), or Rosa Luxembourg.

Moshe worked as a cabinet maker - the Brick Lane area was a centre of furniture making, with dozens of small businesses, many located on the ground floor of the owner's house. Moshe did not have his own business, but worked as a 'journeyman'; by the mid-1920s he was working for a firm that was large enough to take his son David on as an apprentice, working alongside him. He was an active participant in the Jewish Cabinet Makers' branch of the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association. The branch was based in the Brick Lane area, and conducted all its business in Yiddish; the teenaged David used to go with him to the meetings.

Moshe and Sarah met in London, and married on 9 May 1909. They had 8 children over a period of 16 years: Sophie (Stella) 1909, David 1911, Esther 1914, Barney 1915, Mick 1917, Henry 1919, Nat 1921 and Alice 1925. Their first home was at 3 North Place, possibly in the room Moshe had previously been living in; they had moved to two rooms at 12 Hare Street by the time of the 1911 Census, and some time after moved round the corner to 11 Grimsby Street, where the extra space was needed for their growing family. See the map for these locations.

The house was opposite the Shoreditch railway viaduct, and the noise, smoke and dirt from the steam trains must have provided an incessant backdrop to their daily lives. The house and the viaduct were still standing in the 1960s, but both have gone now, the row of houses rebuilt and the viaduct relocated 50 yards to the south.

The house was just a few yards from Brick Lane, which played a central part in the lives of the Jewish community of the time. Several thriving street markets, the Spitalfields Great Synagogue and many smaller ones, the Russian Vapour Baths, were all within a couple of minutes' walk from home, as well as dozens of small shops and workshops, and Bloom's, the kosher delicatessen. The crossroad outside Bloom's became a meeting point, where anyone could stand on a soap-box and address whoever cared to listen.

Moshe and Sarah spoke Yiddish at home, as did all their friends, and many of the shopkeepers and tradespeople they would come into contact with. We do not know how much English Moshe spoke, or how well, but we are inclined to believe it was not a lot. Sarah did not learn to speak English adequately until she was evacuated to the West Country during the War, 10 years after Moshe's death. There was not much Yiddish spoken in Devon.

Moshe died in 1930, of a heart attack, in the Bethnal Green Infirmary on Cambridge Road. We do not know if his illness was sudden, or prolonged.