Scot­tish Jewish Ar­chives Cen­tre Direc­tor Har­vey Ka­plan talks to Jon Bauck­ham about a doc­u­ment which re­veals the story of a Jewish im­mi­grant in Glas­gow dur­ing the First World War

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From the Huguenots to the Caribbean mi­grants on board Em­pire Win­drush, thou­sands of peo­ple through­out his­tory have ar­rived in Bri­tain to em­bark on new lives. How­ever, some­times per­cep­tions of ‘oth­er­ness’ when faced with im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions has led to sus­pi­cion and out­right hos­til­ity – par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the First World War.

This month, Har­vey Ka­plan from the Scot­tish Jewish Ar­chives Cen­tre tells us about the plight of Glas­gow’s Jewish com­mu­nity dur­ing the con­flict, and shares a fas­ci­nat­ing ‘gem’ that can help put th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences into con­text.

Which doc­u­ment have you cho­sen?

I have cho­sen Elkie Tay­lor’s Dec­la­ra­tion of Na­tion­al­ity cer­tifi­cate from Glas­gow in 1916, which is held here at the Scot­tish Jewish Ar­chives Cen­tre.

Dur­ing the First World War, there may have been about 13,000 Jews in Scot­land, many of whom were re­cent im­mi­grants from the Rus­sian Em­pire. The ma­jor­ity were not nat­u­ralised, yet for­eign-born Jews were anx­ious to show that they were loyal to their adopted coun­try and many served in the forces.

At least 2,000 doc­u­ments were is­sued by the newly-formed Glas­gow Jewish Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil (es­tab­lished in 1914), City of Glas­gow Po­lice and the Im­pe­rial Rus­sian ViceCon­sulate in Glas­gow to non-nat­u­ralised Jews which stated that they were from a friendly coun­try (Rus­sia), rather than en­emy Ger­many or Ar­chive-Aus­tria-Hun­gary. The Cen­tre has a small col­lec­tion of th­ese cer­tifi­cates.

What does it re­veal about the lives of our an­ces­tors?

Many Jewish im­mi­grants had sur­names that sounded at best for­eign and at worst Ger­man or Aus­trian (in­deed, the Bri­tish royal fam­ily at that time felt the need to change their name from Saxe- Coburg to Wind­sor). There was a real fear that a for­eign-sound­ing name or ac­cent could lead to trou­ble.

The Dundee Courier in 1914 car­ried the story ‘Ger­man Jew Derides Bri­tish Navy’ about Simon Har­ris, a Jewish fish mer­chant in Leven, Fife, who was the sub­ject of a riot on sus­pi­cion of hav­ing pro- Ger­man sym­pa­thies, had his shop de­stroyed and was ef­fec­tively run out of town.

Elkie is listed on this doc­u­ment as Tay­lor, but the orig­i­nal fam­ily name was Sch­nei­der (Ger­man and Yid­dish for tai­lor – a com­mon Jewish im­mi­grant oc­cu­pa­tion). She is shown as living in South Welling­ton Street in Glas­gow’s Gor­bals dis­trict, where there was a thriv­ing Jewish com­mu­nity at that time, with syn­a­gogues, reli­gion schools, wel­fare and so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions and kosher butch­ers, bak­ers and gro­cers.

Elkie was born about 1839, so in 1916 was about 76 – old for the time (she lived to be 100) – and ma­tri­arch of a large fam­ily who had ar­rived in Scot­land about 1904.

Her great grand­son Mil­ton Tay­lor writes: “I re­mem­ber her as a very old lady who only spoke Yid­dish... She al­ways sat in the same cor­ner of the house in Bat­tle­field with a large cane...” In the pho­to­graph, she wears the tra­di­tional ‘shei­tel’ or wig as a pi­ous Or­tho­dox Jewish widow.

Scot­tish cen­suses of­ten list Jewish im­mi­grants as hav­ing been born in ‘Rus­sia’ or ‘Poland’ and only rarely state a spe­cific city, town or vil­lage. For the mi­nor­ity who were nat­u­ralised (mostly men), the file in The Na­tional Ar­chives will give the ex­act place of birth. Where im­mi­grant Jews had chil­dren born in Scot­land, their birth cer­tifi­cates would show the date and place of the par­ents’ mar­riage, e.g. Kiev or War­saw.

Doc­u­ments such as this Dec­la­ra­tion are use­ful point­ers to im­mi­grant ori­gins. We learn that Elkie was born in ‘Zager’ in the prov­ince of Kovno. This is the town of Za­gare in the then Rus­sian prov­ince of Lithua­nia cen­tred around present-day Kau­nas. By the end of the 19th cen­tury, al­most 5,500 Jews formed 60 per cent of the town’s pop­u­la­tion. The sur­viv­ing Jews of Za­gare were mur­dered by the Lithua­ni­ans and the Ger­mans in 1941.

Elkie marked the doc­u­ment with a cross and this was wit­nessed in­stead of a sig­na­ture. Although she could not sign her

name in English,g she would have been by no means ‘ il­lit­er­ate’ and would have been able to read and write in Yid­dish and He­brew, as well as per­haps also know­ing some Rus­sian.

Why did you choose this doc­u­ment?

This doc­u­ment tells us much about the life and ex­pe­ri­ence of Jewish im­mi­grants to Scot­land. Elkie was typ­i­cal, but must have made the ar­du­ous jour­ney from Lithua­nia to Scot­land at an ad­vanced age in or­der to be with her chil­dren and many grand­chil­dren who were mak­ing a new life here.

Many of our ar­chives fo­cus mainly on the ex­pe­ri­ence of men in the com­mu­nity, so it is nice to high­light a fe­male ex­am­ple.

I also like the fact that Elkie’s great grand­son has given us the story of his fam­ily’s im­mi­gra­tion to Scot­land and gives us his mem­ory of this lady.

Tell us more about the col­lec­tions at the Scot­tish Jewish Ar­chives Cen­tre...

Founded in 1987 and based in Gar­nethillG Sy ynagogue in Glas­gowG ( Scot­land’s ol ldest), the Scot­tish Je ewish Ar­chives Cen­treC aims to do oc­u­ment and ill lus­trate the re­li­gious, or rgan­i­sa­tional, so­cial, ec onomic, po­lit­i­cal, cu ul­tural and fam­ily life off Jews in Scot­land sin nce the 18th cen­tury.

It pro­vides a res search fa­cil­ity as well as aan ed­u­ca­tional res ource for the Jewish, and d also the wider com mmu­nity, in or­der to hei ghten aware­ness of the Jewish her­itage in Sco ot­land and to stim mu­late study of the hist tory of the Jews in this s coun­try.

TheT Cen­tre col­lects a wid e range of ma­te­rial, and its large col­lec­tion in­clu udes old sy­n­a­gogue min ute books and regis sters, membership lists, , pho­to­graphs, oral histo ory record­ings, annu ual re­ports of many comm mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions, a libr rary, friendly so­cie ty re­galia, per­sonal pa­per rs, war medals, cer­e­mo­ni­al­cerem keys, news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, tro­phies, plaques, paint­ings and sculp­tures.

Fu­ture plans in­clude the cre­ation of a Scot­tish Holo­caustera Study Cen­tre as an ad­junct of the Ar­chives Cen­tre to max­imise ac­cess to its fast­grow­ing col­lec­tions re­lat­ing to refugees in Scot­land in the 1930s and 1940s.

HAR­VEY KA­PLAN is Direc­tor of the Scot­tish Jewish Ar­chives Cen­tre

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