A Genealogical Study


Goldberg (En)






Goldberg (Fr)






Chana Tarakhovskaia

(aka Hannah Hoffman)





This article appeared in The Milwaukee Journal on Sunday 25 May 1980:




by Barbara Salsini

of the Journal Staff


When Hannah Hoffman came to Milwaukee from Russia some 70 years ago, she and her husband and sister had a total of 60 cents.


It wasn’t enough even for a cab, and the newcomers, who didn’t know anything about Milwaukee, had to take a streetcar.


They found a policeman who spoke German and got directions to 16th St., where relatives lived. They spent 15 cents – 5 cents apiece – of their precious hoard on the carfare. And they reached their destination without any trouble, a happy omen for the years ahead.





Everyone’s life is a story, but not every story gets into the newspaper. Hannah Hoffman is one of those strong immigrant women who came to Milwaukee in the early 1900s and, through sacrifice and struggle, educated her children and enriched the community. She regrets not having a good education herself. Yet, at age 91, she is educated beyond the realm of any diploma.


If you know any “Everyday People” whose stories might appeal to Spectrum readers, we’d like to hear about them.



Hannah Hoffman, 91, represents so many immigrants of her generation, who came here with nothing and built good lives for their families.




Nothing? That’s not true, of course. Hannah, like the others, came here with a lot of things. They were intangible things, though, not something you could pack in a trunk. Things like grit and energy and courage. And the willingness to work hard and to sacrifice.


Hannah was interviewed in the scrupulously neat apartment she shares with a brother on the North-west Side. Also present was a niece, Beatrice Kapper of Shorewood, who thinks the world of her Tante Hannah. “She invented the word nurturing,” she said, adding that when she was growing up, “I took it for granted that this is the way families were. Everyone caring for each other.”


With her niece’s help, Hannah reconstructed her past.




Hannah speaks English, Polish, Russian and Yiddish, and her voice still has the accent of her homeland. She learned to speak English during a year’s sojourn in England, where the family had gone to seek a better life when she was 5. Then they moved back to Russia.


The family lived in what is now Dnepropetrovsk, a large city in southern Russia, she said. She was the oldest child and had to work hard. “I was a milk lady,” she said, “delivering milk from house to house.” She also worked in her parents’ grocery store.


In Russia, she attended a Jewish school. Her father was a musician and occasionally there were free tickets to a concert.


Then, in 1907, came violence against the Jews. Her family was saved from a mob by military officers who had offices in their apartment building. They knew the family because Hannah’s father belonged to a string ensemble that played at their parties. The officers hid the family in a closet.




After that, they decided to come to America. Her parents chose Hannah and her sister, as the two older children, to come first. So, at age 20, a bride of one month, she came to Milwaukee, where an aunt had already immigrated. Her parents had insisted that she and her fiance, Simon Hoffman, marry before they left Russia, she said.


Within three years, the whole family came to Milwaukee. Like other immigrants, the family sacrificed to bring other relatives here and shared their few possessions with them when they arrived. Many Russian Jews came to Milwaukee because it was a German city; Yiddish and German are similar.


At first, they lived with her aunt, then had an apartment at 5th and Walnut. On the day her father arrived here, he found a job as a musician at the old Alhambra Theater, she said.


Her husband also found work right away, at a soap factory for $8 a week. Later they had a laundry and a shoe store, then a grocery store at 26th and Center. She recalled getting up at 4 on Sunday mornings and preparing 25 pounds of potato salad. She made pickled herring, pickles and sauerkraut, she said, and people who had moved out of the neighbourhood would come back to the store.


Next they operated a rooming house at 28th and Brown. It had 11 units; the Hoffmans lived in one and rented out the others as light-house-keeping apartments. The tenants were satisfied, she said. “They never moved to a different apartment except when they moved out of town. When they moved in, they stayed.”




Her housekeeping standards were strict. “I used to get down with furniture polish and polish by hand the floors,” she said. “Every inch of the ground was flowers, lilies, rose bushes. It was just like perfume.”


Some tenants became lifelong friends. One calls her every day, she said. “If she doesn’t get me in the morning, she calls me in the afternoon. If she can’t get me in the afternoon, she calls me at Mount Sinai Hospital.” She has many health problems, she added.


She sold the rooming house 19 years ago, after 30 years in business. She lived in Shorewood before moving to her present home. Her husband died 22 years ago.


“We were married 49 years and we never went separate for dinner, “ she said. “When he had a meeting I went with him, and when I had a meeting he went with me.”


He died suddenly, of a heart attack. On the day he died, he had taken her out to lunch at a fine restaurant, she said. He had been in poor health for a long time before his death.




“I worked hard all my life,” she said. “And I gave my children a good education.” Of all her achievements, Hannah is proudest of that.


There were five children, but the only Hoffman daughter died when she was in her teens. A son, Max, a local dentist, died a year ago. The other sons are Joseph and Sol of Kenosha, and Hermes of Glendale, a dentist. Joseph played viola with the Milwaukee Symphony before his retirement and he and Sol also ran a music store in Kenosha, Hannah said.


There are nine grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren. They include doctors, dentists, a college professor, a government official; four great-grandchildren are in medical school.*


Education was always a priority in the family. All her children had musical training. During the Depression, when money was scarce and a dollar was a dollar, she paid $20 for Joseph’s music lessons from a prominent Chicago teacher, she said. All four sons went to college; two to what is now the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, two to the Marquette Dental School.


She would pay the tuition in monthly instalments. “It was awful hard,” she said.


The dental education paid off for her, too. She had been having problems with her teeth, she said, and had several sets of dentures made but couldn’t wear them. But when one of her sons fitted her with a pair, she never had any trouble again.




What she regrets, she said, is not having a good education herself. When she came to Milwaukee, she went to night school for a week, but “my husband told me a married woman doesn’t have to go to school,” she said.


He was still a “greenhorn” then (that’s what the new immigrants were often called) and later he changed his mind, she said. But by then she was too busy. So she educated herself, reading books and newspapers and absorbing her children’s school lessons.


“We were self-educated,” she said. “I used to make out the income tax. I used to take care of the bank and mortgage, all myself. And they used to look at my writing and they’d ask, ‘Did you go to college?’”


Her generation was intensely involved with politics and social reform. She keeps up on politics even though she doesn’t plan to vote for any of the candidates this year. “There’s none of them good,” she said emphatically.


She worries about inflation, not for herself, but for young families. “For myself, what I buy, a nickel or dime more. But those people with children. How can they manage? They have to feed their kids bologna sausage. And bologna is high, too.”


Her niece, Beatrice Kapper, observed that her aunt knows about food prices because she still does her own shopping and added that generations of Hoffmans had relished her aunt’s cabbage borscht, potato pancakes and apple strudel.




These days, Hannah applies her energy and high standards to turning out exquisite crocheted items. She made about 20 tablecloths – cherished as family heirlooms – out of fine imported linen with crocheted inserts. She just finished a bedspread for a grandniece, an off-white queen-size spread that measures 99 by 113 square inches and required 50 balls of yarn. It took about three months to make. Then, she started immediately on an afghan for another relative. She doesn’t crochet for profit, only as a hobby for family members, who supply the materials, her niece said.


The family is close. She praised her sons and daughters-in-law. Her sister calls daily and a son comes to lunch every Wednesday. The family takes her to temple with them, she said, and she is always part of family gatherings.


She has been honored by the Jewish community, including the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Her two big projects were the Jewish Convalescent Home and the Jewish National Fund. For years, she raised money for the latter, going from door to door with a black satchel, insisting on paying her own bus fare, even though the fund offered to pay it, she said. The money was used to plant trees and reclaim land in Israel. People would be waiting for her visit, she said, and would invite her in for coffee. Some still bring contributions to her home.


And at her 90th birthday party, at the Milwaukee Jewish Center, she was honored by the fund, and told that 1,000 trees had been planted in her honor in Israel.



These were the Gilman siblings, although one had completed medical school and was in residency at the time of writing.



Article donated by Joel Kaitiff, published by permission of Beatrice Kapper. Source: "The Milwaukee Journal", Sunday 25 May 1980, part 6, page 6. Amendment by Edith Gilman. Photo donated by Hermes Hoffman.

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