November 24, 1989

Dear Family,

In September, 1989, Sherry and I were in Israel and visited with Aryeh Grabois and Izzy Gonen. Both are believed to be relatives. Aryeh is a historian and is currently Dean of their graduate school of the University of Haifa. Izzy is a pilot for El Al and is also President of the Israel Air Line Pilots Assoc.

Aryeh has researched the family name and related the following to us.

He was born in Turkey and went to Kishinev by the age of 10. He escaped from Kishinev in the 30's and spent the war in Romania. After the war he was active in the Hagganah and was instrumental in bringing in refugees from Europe on boats. He estimates that 90 family members were killed during WW II.

He is one of the historical authorities associated with Yad Vashem. He will not provide information to them on who died as he does not have proof of death so he won't certify them. That is the historian in him. There is no record of any Grabois at Yad Vashem.

There is at least one family member left in Russia. She is a dedicated communist living somewhere in Siberia. Last name unknown.

Izzy changed his last name from Grabois to Gonen after 1948. David Ben-Gurion asked the pilots to change their names from Yiddish oriented to more Western type names. He is a captain on El Al Airlines and visits the US periodically.

In the late 1700's The Austrian Emperor decided that everyone will adopt family names. These would be after towns, professions. In 1780 The Russian Czar did the same. A commisar in the Ukraine gave two unrelated families from Kishinev the same last name -- Grabhaus. This was a nonsense name with a German meaning of cemetary. They changed it to a pronunciation of "Graboyes" because they could not pronounce "Grabhaus". One of the two people was a dealer for vineyards in the 1770's and 80's. The second was Turkish. He came to Kishinev after Turkey was conquered by Catherine the Great. Neither was related. We are descended from the vineyard dealer.

In 1830 or 1840, one of the family members, Pinchus, went to Odessa to study. He learned German and changed the name from Grabhaus to Grabois. He also started the story that it was one of Napolean's soldiers that started the family on his way back to France.

He said that while in Kishinev his family lived in a big house on Haralamsia St. They were Hasidic Jews. There is nothing to report on the Turkish side. He feels that there might be a few families left in Kishinev but he is unable to pursue it at this time due to Russian restrictions.

Aryeh has a German friend who has checked into the situation and finds very little information exists. There is no phone book nor are there archives to look at. Aryeh said that when Israelis can travel to Russia, he will go and try to piece the story together.

He is convinced that we are related. He has met with other Grabois over the years, but he feels that they are from the Turkish side and are not related. He said that I was the first Grabois that he felt was related to him.

Aryeh visits the US every year or so at a conference on Medieval History in Kalamazoo, Michigan in May. He may call. If so I will update you on his new findings.

Hopefully this will put a new light on the origin of the Grabois name.

Comments are appreciated.


Aryeh followed up in 1999 with further information on the family name and on his history:

Date: Fri, 2 Jul 1999 12:13:59 +0300
To: "Michael R. Grabois"
From: Grabois Aryeh
Subject: Re: the Grabois Project

As I already had the opportunity to tell it to your father some years ago, let me render brievly what I know about my family's story.

The first known data begin in the 1780's when, during the partition process of Great Poland between Russia, Austria and Prussia, the Austrian legislation on family names was adopted also by the other European Powers. Accordingly, the Jews were compelled to chose a family name; the options were either the father's name, the profession, or the town of origin (for example Abramowitz, Schneider, Wilner). However, the governments favorized a fourth option, i.e. naming Jews by officials, who were paid for by the postulants for a "good" German name. There were many cases of giving derisory or even insulting names.This seemed to be my ancestor's case, who got the name "GRABHAUS", meaning "cemetery" [or "grave house"]. Due to the Yidish and Russian prononciations, this name was pronounced GRABOIS.

The family consequently settled in Bessarabia, the land between the Pruth and Dniester rivers, annexed in 1812 by Russia. But a small district in the South, now belonging to Ukraine, remained under Turkish rule; another Grabois family, probably unrelated to mine, settled there. My own family lived in the 19th century in Kishinev, where among diferent businesses, they owned vineries in the area. According to the customs, all of them lived together in a big house in the city. In my grand-father's times, Hayyim-Leib-Jehudah (dead in 1928), they owned a big house situated in the Haralambskaya Street, which I remember having visited it in my childhood, in the 1930's.

After the pogroms of Kishinev in 1903, when most of the Jewry was killed, the family dispersed; while my grand father remained and continued to deal with the vineyards, others emigrated to the U.S., Argentina and Western Europe, but I don't know their names and the places where they settled. My father settled during the First World War in Odessa, where he married in 1928 Judith Lorberblatt and where I was born in 1930. Shortly after that, with false papers, we left the S.U. and settled in Galatz, Rumania, where my mother's family emigrated some years before, and where my brother, Yithack (Izzy) was born in 1932.

During the Holocaust, we lived hidden in an underground cellar, while most of our Kishinev family were killed; some of them had the chance to save their lives and took refuge in the S.U. After the War, we left Europe, intending to immigrate to Palestine, but were deported by the British to internment camps in Cyprus and were able to come to Israel only in 1948, when I joined the Israeli army, fighting in the Independence War.

The Israeli part of our saga was a period of rehabilitation; my parents worked, got old and died in 1981 and 1982. My brother Izzy finished the high school and then served in the Air Force; subsequently, he was a pilot and a Captain in the El-Al company and is now retired and lives in Tel-Aviv with his wife, Debora; they have three children, Motti, Tali and Yuval, all of them married, and six grand children. Concerning myself, I have studied at Jerusalem, where I graduated with an M.A. and in France, where I got my Ph.D. in History. Returning to Israel, I was appointed as Professor of Medieval History at the University of Haifa, having achieved here a carrier of 35 years in teaching, research and Academic Administration, before becoming an Emeritus Professor. I am married to Carmela and he have one daughter, Shirli, and three grand children.

Let me hope that the information provided might be helpful for the GRABOIS Project. Best wishes and my regards to your father and mother.

Aryeh Grabois >> 1