JRI Poland #Poland Re: Trepman, Trejbman, et al. #poland

Yitshaq Neiman <yneiman@...>

** Reply to message >from marciak <marciak@highstream.net> on Tue, 03 Sep 2002
14:11:03 -0400

I have been following this discussion of surnames/Soundex/pronunciation with
great interest. A year ago, I wrote a little tale about how my gfather
Pritikin (and his 4 brothers) magically became Pitkin somewhere between
Ekaterinoslav and Ellis Island. In Russia, they wouldn't have had much trouble
with Pritikin, I should think...and the story always was that the name got
changed at Ellis Island.
I received four or five replies >from genners, informing me I didn't know
what I was talking about. No names, they said, ever got changed at Ellis
Island. A Jewish urban myth, they insisted. The inspectors never heard a name
incorrectly because they only looked at the passport/papers!
And yet I keep hearing stories about names being changed, at or near Ellis
It is indeed one of the most popular of urban myths. That doesn't turn fiction
into fact.

Island, some changes subtle and some, not so. I imagine it's possible that an
inspector trying to read Cyrillic might resort to asking the new immigrant for
You are misinformed. The immigration official did not get the name >from the
passport, but >from the passenger manifest -- a document that was created by the
ship's purser or the shipping company to reflect who was on board.

Cyrillic has nothing to do with it; passenger manifests were written in Latin
characters, for many reasons, one of which was that most ships were German,
Dutch, English, French, etc.

his/her name, no? (And in the early years of the 20th C, Polish was also
written in the Cyrillic alphabet.)
Again, you are misinformed. Polish has never been written in Cyrillic
characters. What you have seen are documents written in Russian, concerning
life events that occured in parts of Poland that belonged to the Russian Empire.

And if the inspectors got the names >from the ship's manifest, even worse. I
don't suppose much attention was paid to details if you were going steerage and
one name was as good as another. It's probable that many many mistakes were
Both my grandfathers retailed this story too, to explain why their respective
surnames were different >from the ones they were born with because of a whim of
an official at Ellis Island. They recited this tale because it amused them;
they never knew each other, so it was not a conspiracy. Only in the past four
years have I learned what the real reasons were -- that had nothing to do with
Ellis Island. Mistakes, of course, can always happen. But there is no way
whatever that ALL those Jews had their identities switched because of the
malice or indifference of a Civil Service employee, or even the execrable
handwriting of ships' pursers.

Yitshaq Neiman

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