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6 GROWING UP JEWISH IN PREWAR LATVIA My paternal grandmother Emma—I called her Omama (the German intimate appellation for grandmother), or Oma for short—was the head of our household . Only in the early 1930s, when her health began to fail, did she relinquish her position. My bedroom was next to my grandmother’s, and we spent many afternoons together there. It was a quiet and comfortable place, an escape from my outdoor games and sandlot soccer matches. I enjoyed being with her. I watched her play solitaire and cheat whenever an impasse occurred. Oma would teach me the game and let me help her play, or she would tell me stories of her childhood. She treated me to candies and chocolates, which I recall being particularly delicious. Emma was born into a large well-to-do family in Frauenburg (Saldus in Latvian), on an estate leased and managed by her father. The estate, Sessilen, was owned by a Baltic German absentee landlord. According to my grandmother , her family enjoyed a grand manorial lifestyle; they often went on outings or visits to neighboring estates in a stately horse-drawn carriage. Emma was very proud of her father. She described him as an imposing, handsome man, and she held many fond memories of growing up on the estate he managed. Emma’s father, my great-grandfather Noah (Nikolai) Hirschfeld, was one of three brothers, all merchants, from Grobin, a small town near the Baltic port of Libau (Liepaja) in western Courland. Noah had twelve children , five sons and seven daughters, from two marriages. All of his children grew to adulthood, and all of them married. My grandmother told me that Noah’s first wife, Emma’s mother, Taube, had come from Holland. Emma was the next to last of her nine children. Taube died when Emma was about four. Oma talked often about her sisters, four of whom where close to her in age. These sisters must have been very close as children. Emma was very fond of them, was in frequent correspondence and contact with them, and Grandmother Emma  GRANDMOTHER EMMA 7 always referred to them as Tante Rosa, Tante Lina, Tante Johanna, and Tante Minna. My grandmother’s stories gave me the impression that I knew them well, although they were scattered all over Europe, and Rosa was the only one I had actually met. Emma mentioned her brothers less frequently. Four of them were considerably older than she, and all her brothers had died before World War I. They had all been merchants; two owned grocery stores in Frauenburg. The others also lived in the immediate area. They had raised large families, and the Hirschfeld clan was large and close-knit. My father, aunts, and uncles maintained intimate friendships with a number of the many cousins who were frequent visitors to our house. I addressed many of them as “uncle” or “aunt” but had difficulty understanding their exact relationship to us. Emma and my grandfather Max (Mordechai) were married in Frauenburg in 1878. My grandfather Max, after whom I am named, died long before I was born. He was a manufacturer whose family originally came from Bauska in Courland. Max was born and educated in Mitau (Jelgava in Latvian), the provincial capital of Courland, 30 miles southwest of Riga. Like Grandmother Emma, Max also came from a large family; his father Solomon Michelsohn, a merchant, had nineteen children by two wives. Max was the fourth child and only son of the first wife, who died when he was very young. In 1856 Solomon married his second wife, Esther Hinda The five youngest Hirschfeld sisters, ca. 1895. Left to right: Lina Herzberg, Emma Michelson, Minna Kretzer, Johanna Levensohn, Rosa Braude. 8 GROWING UP JEWISH IN PREWAR LATVIA Gordon, a woman age nineteen who bore him six boys and nine girls, two of whom died in infancy. It is perhaps not surprising that in the official rabbinic records Esther Hinda’s cause of death at age seventy-four is listed as “exhaustion.” Solomon’s sons attended the secular Mitau Realschule (high school), a German-language boys’ school. In 1878 Solomon moved his family to Riga to participate in and benefit from the new economic opportunities there. Riga was at that time the largest and fastest-growing city in the Baltic area. Solomon’s two youngest sons were the first members of the family to attend college, the Riga Polytechnic Institute. I do not recall my grandmother Emma ever talking...

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