Walter MATTHAU; BEROLSKY; Rakishok; Aniksht #general


Tim Baker <tbaker@...>
 

A number of the recent obituaries and accounts of Walter Matthau
refer to the fact that his real name was Walter Matuschanskavasky, the son
of a peddlar >from Kiev named Milton and Rose (Berolsky) >from Lithuania. I
have some question about the elongated surname attributed to Matthau in
these articles, and I would also like to throw a little light on the
subject of Matthau's mother Rose Berolsky.
I became interested in Walter Matthau a few years ago as a result of
an odd circumstance that happened while researching a synagogue in
Bellingham, Washington. The shul here was started around the turn of the
century, in part by Jews >from the towns of Rakishok, Skopishok, and
Ponemunka in NE Lithuania. The connection to Walter Matthau came up
several years ago when someone >from Bellingham told me about an incident
that happened when they were at a trade show in Las Vegas. The sign for
their exhibit had the name Bellingham on it. Someone came up and started
talking to them, and the person indicated that his mother had lived in
Bellingham briefly after coming across Russia through Harbin. He said his
mother even gave birth to a child in Bellingham. Eventually the person
relating this story said he was Walter Matthau's brother. I viewed the
story skeptically at first, but then eventually looked up Matthau in Who's
Who, and what I saw gave some credence to the story. It said Matthau's
mother's maiden name was BEROLSKI, a fairly uncommon surname and the name
of one of the early families here. Lieb Hillel (aka "Louis") Berolski
lived here with his wife Musha Liba (aka "Mary") Gen for many years.
According to Louis' naturalization papers, he and his wife were both born
around 1876 in "Rakes" Russia, which I took to be Rakishok, Lithuania.
Curiously, no one in the Berolski family here had ever heard of a
connection to Matthau. I did some more research and came across a book
entitled _Matthau_ by Allan Hunter. This book had the oft-repeated
statement >from Matthau that his real name was Walter Matuschanskayasky,
and that his father Milton was a Russian Orthodox priest who fled to New
York but then deserted his family when Walter was three. However, the
book _American Jewish Biographies_ (New York: Facts on File, 1982) refers
to the fact that this was a joke that Matthau put over on someone:
"[Matthau] once told an interviewer in jest that his father had been a
Catholic priest in Russia whose name was Melas Matuschanskayasky and who
had had to emigrate because of his role in a theft." It is not clear,
however, if the surname was part of the story that Matthau made up. I
have seen some unusual names used in the old country, but never one quite
as convoluted as Matuschanskayasky. Given Matthau's reputation for
pulling people's leg, it's difficult for me to accept it as a genuine
surname. If anyone has seen this surname in a primary source, I would be
interested to hear of it. Anther researcher visited South Africa several
years ago and contacted Berolsky families there. (They had taken the name
BEROL, or BEROLD.) Those South African Berol families actually acknowledg
ed a connection to Matthau's family, but said the name was originally
something like MALATSKI. That sounds more realistic to me.
I found a web page listing Matthau's agent and wrote a letter to
Matthau asking if he knew of a connection to the Bellingham Berolski
families. I also referred to the "Matuschanskayasky" reference and said
that I realized it was just a joke. After a rather period long time,
Matthau responded with a brief letter. He made no reference to the
"Matuschanskayasky" issue. He said that his mother Rose Berolski had
spoken of a brother in Bellingham, however, but that he never heard the
first name. He also said that he remembered his mother referring to her
town of origin as a "place called Anixt, near Kovno." I contacted him for
further information, but never heard back except for a short note where he
referred again to his mother being >from the "county" of "Aneext" Lithuania.

I think the "Anixt" or "Aneext" that Matthau referred to was
probably what is currently known as Anyksciai (Aniksht in Yiddish). It is
located about 50 miles NE of Kovno, on the road to Rakishok. Nearby is
the narrow gauge train line running that runs the other way between Utian
and Ponevezh. If Matthau's mother was >from Aniksht, and if she was
related to the Louis Berolsky in Bellingham who was born in Rakishok, it
shows a dispersal of this family along a line extending >from Rakishok down
to Aniksht and possibly further. In Vizhon, about 12 miles NE of Akiksht,
we find three Berolskis listed on the 1895 census: Abram-Itsek Beroski
and his wife Khaia-Basha, Khaim-Itsek Berolski and his wife Basha, and the
Beroski sister Geina. The father listed for all three Vizhon Berolskis is
Esel, a nickname for Yosef. And since Yosef was the name of Louis
Beroski's father, the Vizhon Berolskis were probably siblings of Louis
from Rakishok. This is further confirmed because the Vizhon Berolskis all
list Rakishok as their birth place, just like Louis. If Matthau's mother
Rose Berolski was the sister of Louis and the Vizhon Berolskis, as Matthau
implied to me, it is unclear why she does not appear on any family tree in
the Berolski family. Or could the "Geina" Berolski in Vizhon actually be
Rose Beroski, Matthau's mother? There are other people researching
Berolsky families in Abel and Dvinsk, Latvia, but so far we have not been
able to make a connection with the Rakishok families.
If anyone has further information on Matthau or Berolsky I would be
curious to hear it.

Tim Baker
Bellingham WA

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