Cycle of Life: Natural Disasters (Part 2)

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

This is the second part of a series.
Part 1 is available by clicking here.

ds and hurricanes were seasonal incidents which happened with regularity in various locales. Sometimes, they did not happen for decades and individuals were lulled into complaisance regarding their return. The following are some incidents which happened and made news worldwide.

Posen, Germany, experienced a flood in 1850 (May 16, 1850). In this case, the "Jewish quarters entirely escaped inund
ation." However, the Jews helped their fellow non-Jewish residents.

Gibraltar, January 8-10, 1860 (February 24, 1860). During the Spanish-Moroccan War of 1860, it appeared that fugitive Jews from Morocco fleeing from there were lodged in tents in a refugee camp.

Encampment at Gibraltar of Fugitive Jews from Morocco
(London News, 1860)

A tremendous hurricane blew through and destroyed everything. This encampment on the N
orth Front in Gibraltar amounted to 681 Jews out of a total of 1,754 in the town and a number more who might not have registered with the police.

The Jews were in extreme distress and "it was suggested that it would be a real act of charity could the French Government be prevailed upon to convey gratuitously to Algeria such of the refugees as would be willing to go." It was thought that they could be taken to Algeria, where t
hey could be supported and work found for them. It was suggested further that those from Algesiras and Tarifa, Spain, be removed first as they were the poorest and most ignorant according to the article.

Galatz, Moldova
, February, 1861 (April 19, 1861), had a terrible flood where the Danube and Lake Bratisch overflowed their banks. Approximately, 15,000 residents of the city were reduced to utmost misery. The Danube, at that point, flowed in a single channel from Galatz for approximately 30 miles to Ismail.
A wonderful detailed description of the those times and several mentions of Jews is to be found by clicking here.

Bilistek, Southern Russia, July 2, 1881 (August 12, 1881), there occurred "a terrible hurricane which committed considerable havoc amongst property owned by Jews and Christians."

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
, Tuesday, August 19, 1890, 5:20 p.m. (September 12, 1890). A cyclone (Note: Otherwise known as a tornado) occurred which affected the Jewish family of Moss J. Levy, the son of John Levy of 100 Mildmay Road, Islington North, London, England. The Levy’s had formerly lived at St. Paul’s Road, Canonbury, Islington, London, England, and Mr. Levy had been a founder and secretary of the first Dalston Synagogue which was also located in that area.

Mr. & Mrs. Levy and their children managed to reach their cellar as their house was crushed about them. Their six year old son Montie narrowly escaped death as a door fell on him.

None of the three synagogues in Wilkes-Barre were affected by the cyclone. However, fourteen people were killed and four hundred structures were damaged or destroyed. confirmed that the Levy family lived at 56 Sullivan in 1890 and that Mr. Levy was a canvasser. In addition, Mr. Levy’s son, Monte (sic) Levy, was born on November 11, 1883 in London, England, and later married Fannie and had a daughter Abigail. He was found in the World War II Draft Registration.

Further, mention was made of all properties affected by the cyclone here.

Galicia (September 9, 1927). There was a catastrophic flood in Galicia in 1927. Perhaps it was what one would call a 100 year flood which is one that occurs once in a hundred years and tops all previous records. Whole villages in the area of Lemberg, Przemysl, Strij, and Borislav were destroyed. The Baron de Hirsch Foundation buildings in Galicia were destroyed. The entire province of Stanislav was flooded and in Lemberg, 132 villages were under water. In Czernowitz, they were completely submerged.

Ica (Jewish Colonization Association) and the Joint (Joint Distribution
Committee) were called upon for emergency assistance and the Polish Cabinet gave 2 million zlotys for the relief of the flood victims.


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