What’s In A Name?

Growing up in a large migrant community, there were lots of names that I was very familiar with – especially the “Jewish” names.  Most Jewish people I knew were called Mark, Phillip, Gary, Mary, Vivienne, Helen, Jeanette, Sam, Steven, Alan, and indeed….. Morris (or Maurice).  However, these were Anglicised names, and they had been made that way for a number of reasons – the parents wanted to assimilate into their new country quickly, or they feared being thought of as too different, or they simply wanted their kids’ names to be easily pronounceable.

We fell into the second category I believe.  And here is the story.  When my mother took me to enrol at Princes Hill Primary School in 1958, we met with the headmistress of the Infant School, Miss Miller.  My mum said something like “this is Moshe Goldberg”, and Miss Miller said something like “you can’t call him ‘Moshe’; it’s too .. er .. hard for the other kids” (translation: it sounds too Jewish). My mum, having emigrated from Eastern Europe only seven years earlier, and still being acutely aware of anti-Semitism in all its forms, agreed. So, they came up with Maurice Goldberg instead, which is good because it doesn’t sound Jewish at all!!!!

So throughout my school years, I went by that name – I did change the spelling to “Morris”, mainly because it was easier for me to read, being phonetic and all – and most of my friends and even most of my family knew me by that name.  However, during my first week at LaTrobe University, in a Mathematics Practice Class, I wrote my name as “Moshe”, and from that point on, for the past 43 years, I’ve been known that way.

Now for a start, I like that, because it is my actual name.  But, what’s in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  Well, there’s actually a lot in a name.  I was named after my father’s favourite uncle, and it was very important to both my father and my grandfather because it kept him in their memory.  And, because he had a comparatively short but very active life and he isn’t too well-known outside of our family, I’m going to tell his story here.

Moyshe Elyukim Brie Goldberg was born in Kaluszyn, Poland in 1904, the second child and second son to Alte Itte Goldberg (nee Unger) and Yehoshuah Usher Goldberg (called Shie Usher). That’s Alte Itte with her children from left, Moyshe, Royze, Shloyme, Avrum (my grandfather), and Yankel.  Her youngest son Aaron had already died, and you can see his photo up on the wall.  The two boys are Chaim (Royze’s son) and Gooter (my father).

Alte Itte was a devout Orthodox Jew whose father was a Rabbi.  Her husband – my great grandfather – was somewhat of an absentee father, who spent a lot of his time visiting and praying with his own father, who was also a Rabbi in another town.  Now although Alte Itte was orthodox, kept strictly kosher, and wore a shaytel (a wig worn by Jewish women), she was also a charter member of YAF – Yiddishe Arbeter Froyen (Jewish Working Women), a Bundist Womens’ organisation.  As such, she was known throughout Kaluszyn as Di Mamme Fun Bund (the mother of the Bund).

For those who don’t know, the Bund is a Jewish Socialist organisation which was at its height in Poland between the World Wars.  It promoted a strong political, cultural, and Jewish public defence program, and attracted a large following, mainly amongst the Jewish secular working class masses.

Now, Aaron and Yankel both died before the war, probably of consumption.  Royze married a Communist called Avrum Golitsky, who fathered her son and promptly left her for an even younger woman.  Shloyme was an ardent Communist, who, aside from the day that this photo was taken, barely said a word to my grandfather for years.  But Avrum and Moshe were very active in the leadership of the Bund.  I’ll write about my grandfather in another post, but suffice to say, he was the mentor and teacher and leader to most of the Bundists in Kaluszyn, where he’d stayed with my grandmother and father after the rest of the family had moved to Warsaw in 1934. The photo was taken in 1935 on one of their visits to Warsaw.

Moyshe, who’d been very active in the Bundist youth group Tsukunft (which means the future) while he was still in Kaluszyn, really blossomed in Warsaw.  He had always been a great and passionate orator with natural charisma and leadership qualities, and he now brought this to bear as a senior member of the Jewish Barbers’ and Hairdressers’ Union.  You can see him here as quite a young man addressing a large contingent of Jewish Socialist youth.

He was also quite the romanticist and wrote many verses of poignant poetry as well as a number of humorous and whimsical songs.  In 1937 he married his sweetheart Ruchel Lis, and in September 1939, right after the outbreak of the war, a daughter was born.  They named her Frida after the Yiddish word fridden which means peace.

Unfortunately, the next few years were miserable for all Eastern European Jews, and Moyshe and Ruchel were no exceptions.  They lived in squalor and poverty in the Warsaw Ghetto, they usually went hungry, and then in 1941, little Frida died of malnutrition.

Finally, in 1942, the Gestapo put Moyshe’s name on a list of around 50 underground activists.  On the night of 18th April, they burst into his house and arrested him.  Ruchel demanded she accompany him, and they were both led out into the street where they were promptly shot and their lifeless bodies were left lying.

For as long as I can remember, my grandfather had a portrait of his brother in a beautiful frame on his bookshelf.  Over the past thirty years, my father has had that portrait on his bookshelf.  Moyshe meant a lot to them, even though my father has very faint recollections of him.  But I think that what Moyshe stood for means a lot to him.

I never got to know him, and if he were alive, he’d now be 110 years old.  But I honour his memory by honouring his name.  I have nothing against Maurice or Morris, but who I am is Moshe.  Moshe Goldberg.

What’s in a name?  Nothing…….. and everything!

22 Responses

  1. The history of Jewish people has become a fascinaton with me. Perpetually undergoing trials and tribulations and coming out the other side stronger and more vital. That says something for the people and their religion. Moshe, I was at Balwyn High School with you and, until the day you called me about a job I had no idea that your real name was not Morris. I’m glad that you called and made that contact for it has given me another source for real information for my informal research. I’m not documenting anything, just committing it to memory for my own use.
    Thanks so much for this tale, it is delightfully written and superbly informative.

  2. Great read Moshe. Had the same experience at” Prinny Hill,” Hence that horrid English name Valerie instead of Valli. By the way, my grandmother also was from Kaloszyn and died of malnutrition in the Warsaw Ghetto.

  3. A wonderful read, Moshe. Of course, I’ve only ever known you as Moshe. I’m glad you decided to reclaim your real name. It’s important.


  4. Well Maury, thanks for posting this. Very touching. Glad you shared it. Incidentally, I too was named after my father’s favorite uncle. I can tell you about it offline. Hope all is well.

  5. Thank you ….. and so it is with all our names Moyshe. Esther became Estella and Beata became Betty, the names of my grandmothers…. all of us carry a strong and important legacy xxx

  6. What’s in a name? Everything indeed! As you and I were named, so did we (along with Helene and David) name our offspring. Beautiful, and I too had a lump in my throat xxx

    1. I’m so glad you changed your name from Morris back to your real name Moshe. It’s such a koved to be named for a relative, and how apt that you were named for a man who was a natural orator, had charisma, leadership qualities, and courage and who strive for a better, more just world. Like you, I and my brothers and sister and also my two children were all named for family members murdered in the Holocaust and carrying their names is something I treasure as an honour. At least your parents chose Morris and Freda as the anglicised versions of your Yiddish name. For some reason, my parents decided that my Tiddish name Shifre could be anglicised to Sefra. Never understood that. But while you talk of names, how can you omit mentioning Spud? This name represented the skifist, and later helfer and komendant that you were to so many kids you led, influences and inspired. It’s a name worth it’s own blog post

  7. Beautifully put, Moish! On my first day at school , my name was deemed too difficult and changed to Betty. I reclaimed it after two weeks. I am sure my mother was relieved , she had named me after her mother.
    Having known your family since I was 11, I am finding out so much about them now, through your writing .
    It is a real treat!

      1. OMG! I have that same group photo at the top of this blog. It was in my father’s photo album. I thought the people might have been family but someone was able to translate part of the message and the people are friends of my father’s in Kaluszyn before he left with his family in 1929.

        1. Wow, this is great. I’ve now found two people that have that photo – just today. What was your father’s name. My father may know of him, even though he was born in 1928. We should talk!!!!!!

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