I've found some amazing information about my Russian Jewish
grandfather, Boris L. Bobroff (in the US, Bornett L. Bobroff). I will
describe it beginning in the paragraph-after-next.
Beyond what I've found, I would also love to learn about my
grandfather's life in Minsk or in Ryazan, Russia, where he worked
prior to 1905 (he left Russia to avoid the draft). If anyone has
information about Jews in Ryazan or Jewish engineers in Minsk, I would
very much appreciate hearing it.
Now for my success story. The two keys to my finding information
about my grandfather were:
1. a seemingly small tip >from a JewishGen responder
2. the fact that googlebooks has scanned a lot of out-of-print books
and made them available online.
To go back to the beginning: I had endlessly googled everything I
could think of relating to my grandfather, who lived in Wisconsin from
his early 20s until he died. He died before I was born, and I knew
almost nothing about him except that he was an inventor with a small
factory in Racine, WI. The factory was called Teleoptics.
Then, several years ago, I put up a query on Jewish Gen to learn
anything possible about Boris (Bornett) Bobroff. A long while later,
I got an email through Jewish Gen >from some one who told me the only
thing they knew about the Bobroffs is that they "were an engineering
family" in Russia. Bingo! This small tip opened up a huge door to a
man I had never met.
When I googled "Bobroff" together with "engineering," I suddenly found
the most extraordinary documents. It turned out that my grandfather
was deeply involved with the (illegal in the US) effort to try to
establish trade between the US and the Bolshevik government around
1920. He did this via another company I'd never heard of, his Bobroff
Foreign Trading and Engineering Company in Milwaukee. I discovered
that my grandfather was picked up by the US Bureau of Investigation on
his return >from Russia in 1920, along with various items on his
" machinery catalogues,
specifications, correspondence regarding the shipment of various
equipment, etc., to Russian ports. Mr. Bobroff was closely questioned
by Agent Davis and the customs authorities, and a detailed report of
same will be sent to Washington."
The Bureau of Investigation assumed that my grandfather wrote the
letter they confiscated >from him, though after further research, I
think it's possible he was delivering it >from some one else. The letter
appears in full online. It was addressed to Kenneth Durant at the Soviet
Bureau in Philadelphia. It's very long and difficult to read, but
it's a fascinating look into the efforts to achieve trade between the
US and Russia following the revolution. (I have since found some
further information about this in scholarly books and articles,
including my grandfather's involvement).
More recently, following this same line of googling, to my utter
amazement, I found that googlebooks had scanned the record of the 1921
US House Committee on Foreign Affairs investigation of "Conditions in
Russia" following the Revolution. Included in the book were 25 pages
of testimony by my grandfather! I was able to download the entire
"Conditions in Russia" into my own computer, including the 25 pages of
my grandfather's "voice."
During the Congressional hearings, my grandfather was questioned in
detail about his trip to Russia, and his intentions in making the
then-illegal trip. My grandfather had secured $6,000,000 in contracts
to supply the Russians with boots and machinery. For his part, he was
appealing to the US government to end their freeze on allowing the Bolsheviks
to pay for such trade goods using "tsarist" gold.
It's hard to figure out, based on the testimony alone, whether my
grandfather was motivated solely as a businessman trying to make
money, or whether he was also dedicated to helping the Bolsheviks (and
via the Soviet Bureau in the Philadelphia) to achieve diplomatic
recognition by the US government.
There were one or two very wispy stories in my family about my
grandfather's involvement in trade with Russia after the revolution.
But what I found thanks to that little tip >from a Jewish Gen-er gave
me far, far more than any of my living family members had known. To
me, this is a huge success story.
I'm continuing to look for more information about this episode in my
grandfather's life, and about his life in Russia as well, before he
emigrated in 1905 at the age of 22.
White Plains NY 10605