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Julius Dudock Autobiography, Parts I & II

First-hand retelling of the emigration to America of the Polansky and Dudock families, of Romania, beginning in 1902.

My Autobiography

By Jules Dudock

This is the story of my life, in the way that I can remember it and from the tales that were told to me mostly by my mother and other members of her family.  They have all passed on.  The story written here is all true.  Over a period of time, my mother told me the tragic story of why her father never came to America.

Her parents once owned a large farm in Romania.  It was called Romania then because the Czar of Russia had decided not to make it a part of Russia for the time being.  My grandfather, whose name was Louis Polansky, owned horses, cows, hogs and hundreds of chickens.  They bred raised and sold some of the animals.  They also planted potatoes, onions, cabbages and string beans for their own family and when they had a large crop, more than was needed for themselves, they would sell some of it to the townís Jews near where they lived.

All of their children were born near a town called Celenia.  In those times, there were certain days designated by officials of the territory, when the Jewish people were beaten just for a diversion so that some town bullies could do some mischief and get away with it.  Some of these thugs from surrounding towns were able to steal things from the Jews, and beat them up too.  The town officials never said anything or even lifted a finger to stop the gangs that roamed around the country-side doing whatever they felt like with the Jews at their mercy. They usually came with clubs and long knives in case of resistance.

My grandmother, Sara Polansky, who was my motherís mother, couldnít take it anymore and she managed to save enough money for her own trip out of the country.  She hardly had enough for passage to America but she thought that if she would make a start then other members of the family would follow.  She could get work as a cook or maid if sheíd have to, just as long as she left before a tragedy occurred.

She was on her way to the promised land, where all people were treated with respect and had equal rights, even Jews.  So she left her home and family never to return in the summer of 1902, beginning her journey first by horse and wagon, then by train to Bremen, Germany.  It took her about thirty days to reach Bremen as Jews were not permitted to leave Romania, and she had to get a passport.  They finally allowed her to leave and issued a passport with a small bribe for the official in charge.  She arrived in Bremen, and worked as a cook for a Jewish butcher for thirty days while waiting for the ship to come in that would take her to America.

After waiting a little over a month in Bremen, she finally was permitted to buy a ticket to New York Harbor, and boarded the ship about to pull up its anchor and leave for America.  She certainly had a lot of courage for a woman to travel all alone in those days with very little money and no trade except her ability to cook delicious meals.  Her husband and children planned to follow just as quickly as they could manage to do so.

She knew some people, that were friends that lived in the same town, but had moved to New York.  They had migrated a few years earlier and had written to her.  They told of how great it was to live in America and especially New York.  They advised her to come and they would try to help her as much as they could.  

The next ones to leave were my motherís husband Samuel Dudock and her brother Barnett Polansky.  They left together, taking the same long route as the mother.  Things were getting worse in and around the town as the pogroms became more vicious and Jews were beaten and even killed and robbed.  Nobody stopped the criminals or even cared what was happening so long as it was only Jews that were hurt.

In the meantime, my grandfather Louis was trying to sell his farm and stock, in order to flee from there to the promised land too, it was becoming impossible to stay there any longer.  About two weeks after my father and Barnett arrived in New York the people they knew helped them to get jobs in a factory making cigars.  They started to learn a new trade, cigar making by hand.  My father sent for his wife, Anna, who was pregnant and eighteen years old.  She was the oldest of the children, and so she took her three younger brothers Simon, Sam and Max, and started on the journey to New York in America.

When they arrived in Bremen, Germany, they found themselves in a very agonizing position.  They did not have enough money to pay for the passage after all their figuring, the price was raised after they had started out.  They had no choice but to leave Simon, the oldest of the three brothers, in Bremen.  He was sixteen years old, and a rabbi helped him to get him a job taking care of some horses in the area near the docks.  Simon knew horses pretty well from the farm where he was raised and was comfortable around them.

The trip to America took about six weeks and my sister Ida was born on the ship in mid Atlantic coming over. When they finally arrived at Ellis Island it was a nightmare, so much red tape and delays until they were permitted to go on to the New York Harbor.

My father had rented a small apartment at 54 Jefferson Street on the lower east side of New York City.  A cold water flat with no heat, but a coal stove in the kitchen, the toilet was in the hall, and it was shared by four families living on the same floor, three flights up from the street.  My father Samuel Dudock, his wife Anna and new born baby girl named Ida and also my motherís two brothers Sam and Max Polansky all moved into this small apartment.

They were very happy to be here, even though there was no money to speak of.  They were not afraid to face hardship; courage was their inheritance.  Sam was fourteen years old and Max eleven full of hope and ambition, the year was 1904 and Simon was back there in Germany out of danger of the gangsters back in Colonia, Romania.  They missed him and wanted him with them in New York too.

In the meantime, my grandfather Louis finally sold his farm and stock to a Jewish merchant from the big city and was preparing to leave his home for the journey to America, when he was attacked robbed and beaten so badly that he died within a few days.  My mother found out about it later from people they knew in the old home town they left.  This was a terrible tragedy and it was what they feared would happen to all of them some night.  It was a terrible blow to the whole family and was especially true of my mother as she was very devoted to him.  She loved her father dearly.  For many years afterwards she lit candles in his memory and spoke of him in the kindest possible way.  She really never got over this tragedy.

In the months that followed my father learned his new trade and began to earn some real money.  He bought us all new clothes and there was plenty of food and enough money left for enjoyment too.  

In July in 1905 my brother frank was born, a very nice dark haired boy who had the complexion and coloring of his mother, and when he grew older he became very handsome a strong resemblance to his mother, so the family said.  I was born two years later, on September 2, 1907.  I was a little cuter blue-eyed baby with blond hair just like my fatherís.  My mother left me outside in my carriage one day while shopping for food and sure enough, a woman kidnapped me.  I was only five months old, but my mother found out who the woman was and her name and address.  She ran to the womanís house and got me back.  The woman was Italian and begged my mother to let her keep me.  I was so cute that she wanted to raise me as her own child.

She could not have any children herself, because she had had an operation where her tubes had to be tied to avoid pregnancy.  My mother told me this story herself when I was still a little boy. Shortly after this happened my family moved to a much larger apartment in the borough of Brooklyn.  It was all farmland then, the neighborhood we moved to was like the country, very few paved streets and there were plenty of goats roaming about, also cows because a few blocks from where we lived there was a milk farm.  People would go there to buy milk right from the cow.

We were living on Bradford Street corner Blake Avenue, which was right across the street from a park and it really was very nice there.  The apartment we lived in was light and airy, no heat was supplied by the landlord, but we had a coal stove in the kitchen to keep us warm in winter.  We bought the coal ourselves and also used the stove to cook on, that way we saved on our gas bills.  There was plenty of room here for all of us and Sam continued to live with us and so did Max.  

My sister Ida and my brother Frank were enrolled in Public School 149 to begin their formal education.  I remember that we lived at this address for many years.  When I was old enough o be registered I too was started at P.S. 149 on Sutter Avenue corner Wyona St.  Danny Kaye who later became famous as an actor went to this same school, he lived on Bradford St. too but near Sutter Avenue

Simon came to New York in 1905 just after Frank was born and moved in with his brother Barnett, who was living by himself in a furnished room.  My father took Simon into his place, to learn the same trade, cigar making, and in a few months Simon began earning a good living too.  In those days it was a very good trade, good pay and steady work.  Could you expect or want anything better than that for a greenhorn a few months in a new country?

My whole family, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters were all engaged in this kind of work.  They made a good living and were comfortable and seemed to be happy.  Barnett decided to change his last name from Polansky to Silverstein and his brothers went along with that and did it too.  He felt it would be more American and would help in the business world.  

In the meantime, my grandmother Sara was a widow again, and was introduced to a fine man by a friend.  This man was older and had lost his wife two years ago.  They started seeing each other and after a considerable length of time they decided to get married, by a rabbi and then move in to his apartment on New Jersey Avenue near Belmont Avenue.  This man lasted only about four years.  He developed a fatal illness and died, after going into the hospital for care and as much help as they could give him.  My poor grandmother became a widow again.

I always liked this grandmother, she was a good, generous kind person, a good mother to her children and a lovable grandmother.  All the children loved her, she always brought presents for us.  She refused to become a burden on her children financially and she worked and supported herself.

She was married again, this time to a widower with three grown sons, two in their late twenties and one was thirty.  They decided to live in the apartment he lived in with his sons, because there was plenty of romm.  It was a large apartment on St. Marks Place in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.  They were very nice people, polite and generous with her.  I can remember going there with my mother to visit quite often and it was always a pleasure to go there.  She was a wonderful cook and house-keeper.  The sons supported the father and his wife in fine style.  She shopped for the food, etc., and she cooked the most excellent meals for them and kept the apartment looking clean and spotless all the time.  

It was a terrible blow, when she died suddenly of a heart attack. Every one of us were in shock for weeks afterwards.  Her children and their families all came to the funeral, as did her husband and his family too.  Friends and neighbors all paid their respects to her and she deserved everyoneís gratitude because she was a remarkable woman.  In a way, it was really she who influenced the members of the family to flee to America, where they were free to live their own lives and prosper.  She was buried at Beth Moses cemetery on Long Island.

Her children were all married with families of their own by then.  Anna to Samuel Dudock, Sophie to Barnett Silverstein, Emma to Simon Silverstein, Mamie to Sam Silverstein and Fanny to Max Silverstein.

They all had their own apartments, working and living with their mates and children.  Sam became a partner in a trimming store on Sutter Ave.  His partner and he both worked on hemstitching, pleating and other novelties for contractors in the city.  They did very well for themselves.  The year was 1920 and business was very good.  He was doing very well for himself and the first one in the family not to go into the cigar making business.  Then his brother Max got a job as a salesman in a menís clothing store.

Barnett decided to try going into business for himself, and bought a candy store on Amsterdam Ave. in New York City.  He wanted to get away from sitting at a bench all day making cigars.  It turned out to be a very good decision because shortly afterwards a machine was invented that actually made the whole cigar without people with the exception of one or two people to feed the tobacco into the machine.  So the people employed in this industry, had to lose their good jobs, it was just a question of time.

Cigar making, which was such a wonderful trade just a few months earlier was getting mechanized, the cigar making machines were very good, they were catching on and the people employed in the shops were really worried about making a living for their families.  Once the boss bought the new cigar making machine, and they couldnít afford not to because of the competition, the workers were let go.  A great many of them lost their fine jobs and had to start learning new trades.

My father always a very proud man, up to now always was able to support his family, felt his security snatched away from him.  Things were getting worse for my father, as he didnít have enough money saved to start a business of his own and the bank didnít want to give him any loan to go into a new business.  Barnett was doing very well in his store, and my father was sure that he could sell cigars and cigarettes in a store just as well if he had the chance.  

Jack Silverstein was born in Dec. of 1907 the first son of Barnett and Sophie, then Francis was born in 1910.  The Barnett Silversteins at that time had moved to New York City in order to be near their store on Amsterdam Avenue.  Julius was born next and he was named for his grandfather. Yudel was his fatherís grandfather.  Julius Edelstein, the son of my fatherís sister, was also named after the same grandfather.  His motherís name was Adele and she had five children Ė Barney, Sam, Shirley, Hyman and Julius.

Julius, the the youngest of Adeleís children died of congestive heart failure at the age of forty.  He left a wife, Eva, and two small children, a beautiful girl and a boy.  Eva remarried, I was told their two children are now married and doing very well.  He and I, Julius Edelstein and I were very close friends.  We belonged to the same club and even worked together on some jobs.  We grew up together.  After we both got married we drifted apart.  We saw each other once in a while as our wives didnít get along too well.  

I, too, was named for this grandfather, my fatherís father who never came to this country, and none of the children ever knew.  I do not know what happened to him, except that he died in Russia, however his wife Yetta did come to America.  I remember her living with us on Bradford Street for a while, and then one day she just left the house and I never saw her again.  I was told that she fell in the street and was taken to the hospital and died there the same day.  She was very old, I was told, over one hundred years old?

Eva was born next and then came Louis Silverstein, there also was a son Joseph who died as a baby of a few months and that is the family of Barnett Silverstein.


My sister Lillian was born on May 29, 1917.  She was delivered at the Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.  She is a nice looking girl, light skinned with brown eyes.  We had no money at all, the hospital was one of the city hospitals and people that could not pay were not pressed for the costs.  As my fatherís earnings were getting less, he gambled more to pay the rent, keep us fed and clothed.  I remember every time we had to pay the rent the tension was unbearable for a few days.

His whole line was practically extinct, as far as earning a living from making cigars was concerned.  My sister Ida was fourteen, and had just started taking a business course in high school.  She wanted to be a book-keeper and help support the family.  My brother frank, was a very good student in P.S. 149 and at the age of twelve he already knew that he wanted to go to medical school to be a doctor.  He told every one in the family of his goal to be a doctor of medicine.

I was the other extreme, never studied, found school to be very boring and just wanted to get out and start earning some money instead of wasting my time in school.  At the age of ten, I was very ambitious, wanted to be a business man like my uncles but on a much larger scale.  I thought that some day I would own many stores like shoe stores or clothing stores, but it never came about, instead I wound up owning and running a pleating and stitching business.  

I read a lot of books, about how young men went into a business and made their fortunes in a legitimate chain store operation like the Thom McAn stores or the Kreske stores My day dreams were to make a lot of money, so that I would be able to support my mother, and give her the things she couldnít have because there was never enough money to get them.  I wanted her to have a house of her own, nice clothes, plenty of good food and even someone to help her with the housework.  I didnít want her to work so hard.

My father opened a cigar store on Georgia Avenue in Brooklyn in the summer of 1921, hoping to earn a living by selling cigars, cigarettes, pipes and smoking tobacco, etc.  But he could not give up his trade and so he partitioned off part of the store and made a small factory there.  It became sort of a special room, inside the store so that people coming in could see him actually making the cigars by hand.  He really was a clever man, everyone who knew him thought so and many said it.

He knew all the different operations, in order to make a cigar from start to finish.  None of the other cigar makers knew how because they always did just one small part, like making the filler and putting it into the mold for shaping.  After it was removed from the mold, another person would roll the wrapper on it, another person shaped the cigars in special pressing machines, and yet another person would pack the cigars in boxes, put cigar bands on each cigar.  Each of these operations needed training and experience.  

The cigars were packed mostly fifty to a box, but on the more expensive kind they were packed in boxes of twenty-five.  He did everything himself from start to finish, and experienced workers in the trade couldnít tell any difference between his work and the professional craftsmen or women.

He intended to sell his own brand, ďLa SuperbaĒ cigars in the New York area, and branch out later on with his hand made cigars to better neighborhoods around the city and anywhere that men could afford the high prices for these fine smokes.  He bought a beautiful showcase to display his merchandise, closets and shelves to stack the different brands of cigarettes, the pipes and smoking tobacco were placed inside the closet which had glass doors so that people could see inside.

He bought wholesale, most of the well-known brands of cigars and cigarettes from a tobacco jobber in New York.  In a few days the store was opened to the public fully stocked with merchandise he had bought and of course the handmade cigars that he made himself.  Only the finest Havana fillings were used, with a generous mixture of tobacco from some of our southern states.  The cigars were then rolled into Havana wrappers, shaped, bands put on and then boxed in small wooden boxes and pressed with a special pressing machine that he bought at an auction sale.

I remember my father going to the Internal Revenue office to purchase special stamps for the cigars he manufactured himself.  These US Government stamps had to be pasted on every box of cigars before he could sell them in his own store or elsewhere.  He made many different kinds, smokers were the cheapest kind, they were made and placed in boxes without bands or shaping or pressing, just sold by the handful for a nickel each or two dollars and twenty five cents a box of fifty.

Panatellas and Coronas sold for $5.50 to $7.50 a box of fify.  They were expensive even in 1931, when rents were 35 dollars a month for a one bedroom apartment, a loaf of bread was five cents, milk six cents a quart and the street cars and subways were a nickel.  

The storekeepers wanted brands of cigars that were nationally advertised because it was easier to sell the brands people knew.  My father called his cigars ďLa Superba CigarsĒ only because he was able to buy up a large quantity of cigar boxes, bands and labels that had the name printed on them already.  The original party that used the name had given up the business, and his creditors were selling everything they could get their hands on.

We didnít do well at all and after two years of trying my father closed the store and rented two rooms on the ground floor back in a residential building on New Jersey Avenue near Dumont Ave.  He intended to go on manufacturing cigars and also run poker games at night and weekends.  My father was the best card player in Brooklyn, when he played everybody wanted to watch the game, nobody could ever beat him and many times he made his rent money playing Poker or Pinochle.  In the game he was terrific just unbeatable.  He made cigars there and sold them by the box but mostly his place became a place to gamble and he made a living out of it.  He was engaged in this business for about two years until the police raided his place a couple of times.

The players were arrested a few times, the police wanted to be paid off, or they could continue to raid and arrest the players, take them to the station house and lock them up for the rest of the night.  In the morning they would be taken in front of a magistrate and fined ten dollars each and dismissed.  But my father was given a fifty dollar fine and warned that he would be charged with running a gambling house next time he was caught. He was told by his attorney that if found guilty on this charge he could be sent to prison for a year or more depending on the judge sitting on the bench at the time.  There would be no doubt of his guilt, and to pay a bribe could be arranged but it would be too expensive for the small games he was running and so the best thing to do was to close up the place and stay out of trouble with the law and the police.

My sister Ida graduated from business school, and got a job right away as a bookkeeper for a toy importer.  Frank found a job too as an assistant bookkeeper for a magazine publisher in New York.  He continued his education at night.  Now that there was some money coming in my father moved out of the two rooms on New Jersey Avenue and rented a new store in a different neighborhood, to try again just once more to make a living from a retail store.  This time just to sell the well-known brands in cigars and cigarettes, he also took in a large stock of pipes and smoking tobacco.  At last he had a store on a very busy street called Bedford Avenue near Fulton Street in Brooklyn.  This store looked pretty good and everyone said that this time he couldnít miss.  For the first year he did fine, he was making a good living and I was helping in the store after school.  A few months went by, then a man came into our store and offered to buy everything from my father, the stock and fixtures, the location he called it.  My father could have made a very handsome profit if he would have sold within the next three months but he refused to sell his good profitable store.  The man that offered to buy was really a representative of a very large chain of retail cigar stores.  When my father refused to sell to them, they fixed up a store on the same block, much bigger than my fathers with a larger variety of merchandise, a window in front that was very sumptuous to look at and they had three clerks working there.  Besides that, they advertised specials in cigars and other things that if we would sell for the same price we would lose money every time we made a sale.  It became impossible to compete. If my father would sell for these prices there would be no profit at all.  He would not be able to pay his rent in the store and as far as drawing money for living expenses that would not be possible.  The Silver-Rod store had fixerd him for not selling to them and so it was just a matter of time before he would have to give up this store too.  I was working at that time in the grocery store at the butcherís and also the drug store delivering orders after school.  I earned very little but it was better than nothing and half of what I earned I gave to my mother.  On Saturday nights I worked for a man selling papers; the Sunday papers like the News, the Mirror and also the Jewish Forward, etc. I earned about two dollars selling these papers on a commission basis every Saturday night plus what I earned from the three stores.  It was enough to buy some novels that were very popular then, Nick Carter series and Frank Merriwell series, also Horatio Alger stories and many others.  

I read all of them and dreamed that I was the hero, a private detective, a great ball player, or the poor young man that makes a big success in some business and gets to be very rich.  From my earnings, I was able to go to the movies once a week and saw many good movies.  They had serials then and every week they showed another episode.

I would buy sneakers for myself and I became a member of a ball team that played punch ball for money; we challenged other teams in the area and we were very good as we won most of the time.  I also played handball, singles mostly, and I made a little money that way too.

My brother Harold was born in 1923, I remember my mother being taken by ambulance to the Kings County Hospital where she gave birth almost immediately.  My father, as usual, was busy playing cards somewhere, we tried to find him but couldnít locate him anywhere in his usual haunts.  We had to manage without him and we did.  

I left school at the age of sixteen.  I was in the 8A then, a dropout from elementary school after an argument with my wood-craft teacher.  He blamed me for being the lookout while the other boys in the class were playing dice in the classroom while he was out of the room.  He was always running to the toilet, must have had a trouble with his stomach.  I must admit that he was right about that but he punished me too harshly and I fought back by punching him in the face after he hit me with a ruler while I was off-guard.  I was a tough kid and a good fighter Ė nobody hits me and gets away with it I said.  

In the class that day I was a hero for a few minutes but stupidly I went home and brought my mother back to the principalís office and received his permission to leave the school.  I then went to the office of the Department of Labor where I was given working papers.  For me, going to school was a waste of time and money; it was just too boring and I wanted to make some money.  The next step was to get a steady job, so I went to the Western Union office in Brooklyn with my working papers.  They hired me as a messenger boy to deliver telegrams around the downtown area of Court Street near Borough Hall in Brooklyn.  They paid me ten dollars plus three cents for each telegram received or delivered during the week.  The company had me fitted for a uniform that looked like the uniforms the soldiers wore in the first world war.  The only thing they didnít give me was shoes, because that was what got worn out fast.  I wore pants that you laced below the knee and we put leather leggings over them, a jacket with patch pockets and brass buttons, single breasted and a peak hat like the police wear.  

It made me feel good and important because people noticed me.  The job was all right but many times my feet hurt and became swollen from walking too much, and after about six months I found out that the boys in Manhattan were making more money and didnít have to walk so much.  I asked to be transferred to the 40 Broad Street office in New York City.  After a short delay my request was approved and I was sent there to work in this very busy office.  I was able to earn more money now with a lot less effort on my part, due to the fact that instead of walking, I rode in elevators up and down to make almost all of my deliveries and also received telegrams to be sent out in batches.  I felt good with a steady job and earning plenty of money now that I was able to contribute to our family expenses; things were looking up now I thought, but I still hoped that some day I would own my own business and get rich.

My sister Ida changed her name to Irma then because she thought it was more dignified and was going out with a young man by the name of Dave Fischler.  He worked for a printing firm called the Lewis Print in New York City and was an apprentice composer; then he later became a linotype operator and foreman.  He worked in this place until he retired in 1967.

My father had to give up the store after about a year and six months because of the Silver-Rod store that opened up just a few doors away.  He made very little money staying there anyway.  He was able to get a job making cigars for some company that needed a good man who could do very fancy work on expensive cigars.  This firm had a good following in hand made cigars only.

In 1928 Irma became engaged to Dave Fischler and  few months later they were married, at the Hoffman Mansion on Pitkin Avenue.  The whole family were invited, it really was a beautiful wedding.

Owner/SourceDavid Halbstein
Linked toAlison Dudock; Bernard Dudock; Frank Dudock; Halana Dudock; Harold Dudock; Ida Dudock; Judith Dudock; Julius Dudock; Lawrence Dudock; Lillian Dudock; Samuel Dudock; Living; Anna Polansky; Barnett Polansky; Beatrice Polansky; Charlette Polansky; Emily Polansky; Ethel Polansky; Ilene Polansky; Jack Polansky; Leon Polansky; Living; Max Polansky; Sam Polansky; Selma Polansky; Shirley Polansky; Simon Polansky

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