The Bernstein Genealogical Listing

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December 3, 1973 (Image 1 of 7)    

In the 1970s, with Joanne Bernstein Sheps, Cecil compiled a “Genealogical Listing, Descendents of Itzak Eli Bernstein, 1838 - 1914 (approx) of Kreminicz and Lanovitz, Poland”.

Cecil distributed it as a 12-page stapled booklet, and this is the front cover. The entire booklet is here, and below are pages 1 through 5, and the last page.


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This first page reads as follows:


Winnipeg, Canada

Winnipeg, Manitoba

December 3, 1973

To the Members of the Bernstein Mishpocha,

The response to the “Family tree” sent out last February was most gratifying. Special thanks are due to Irma Semler Banasky (242), Ann Berns Gelfat (131), Betty Berger (45), and Philip Sopinsky (64), for the illuminating background information furnished by them.

From the data received, Joanne Bernstein Sheps (1431), has compiled a card index file which contains a separate data card for each family member. From it we were able to prepare a fairly complete genealogical and geographic listing which is reproduced in this booklet. Since the information we received was not in all cases complete, some of the younger family members may have been omitted, and some of the data such as occupation, maiden names and addresses is missing. In many cases, also the birth and death dates are only guesses, and may be significantly in error. We are therefore enclosing a return envelope together with several blank datasheet forms which we would like you to use to correct any errors or omissions that you may notice. All data received will be immediately entered into the card index file so that reasonably current and accurate information would be available to any interested family member. At some time in the future we hope to be able to publish a new Family Tree in which the listings should be more accurate and complete. At that time we would advise all members of that such a listing is being prepared, so that you may report any intervening births, deaths, marriages and address changes.

The geographic listing contains the names, addresses and occupations of all members for whom complete addresses have been furnished, and these are the only members to whom copies of this booklet have been mailed. Additional copies will be sent to others on request, as soon as we receive complete data sheets showing their current addresses.

As a result of the publication of the February family listing we have received a request from the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada for copy of the final listing when available. A copy of this booklet has therefore been furnished to them for their archives.

A new all-digit numbering system has been used in this listing. Each of the seven children of Itzak Eli who emigrated to North America have been assigned a one digit number, from one to seven, in order of age. Each grandchild is then assigned a two-digit number, the first of which is taken from his parent, and the second is assigned according to his position in the family. The third generation is identified by a three-digit number of which the first two are taken from the parent and the third according to position in the family. The number of digits therefore indicates the number of generations that the member is removed from Itzak Eli, and the digits beginning from the right identify the member and each of his forbears. Thus Corrine Banasky Gruden is identified by the number 2421, which indicates that she is in the fourth generation, and that she is the first child of the second child, (Irma Semler Banasky) of the fourth child (Fred Semler), of the second child (Ansia Bernstein Semler) of Itzak Eli.

We have compiled an outline story of Itzak Eli and his children based mostly on our recollection of stories told in our childhood which were often second and third hand. We therefore cannot vouch for the accuracy of this account but hope that it will elicit corrections and fuller details from those of you who may have better information. If any of you have photographs of Itzak Eli, Miriam, Toba, or their children we would appreciate copies, which we would hope to include in the next issue of the family tree.

In the meantime, we hope that this listing will give you a feeling of identification with the Bernstein Mishpocha, and will make it easier for you to re-establish family contacts whenever you travel in areas where other members live. Your comments, corrections or suggestions will be welcomed.


(signed) Cecil Shnier

Cecil Shnier (115)
For the Winnipeg Mishpocha


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The following account is drawn mostly from my recollection of stories told by my mother, Sarah Shnier, my uncle Morris Bernstein, and from my great-aunt Bassia Book, all of whom are now departed. Since the information is all second and third hand it may contain many inaccuracies. I would therefore appreciate receiving any corrections or additional details that others of you may know of.

We are told that in his youth, Itzak Eli undertook several hazardous trading ventures that took him as far as Turkey and the Middle East. From these ventures, he appeared to have accumulated some capital, as well as some political connections by which he was able to gain special dispensation from the Czar permitting him to hold title to land, a privilege that was otherwise denied to Jews in Russia. He purchased a large tract near Kreminicz, in Galicia, a province that was at different times part of Austria, Poland and Russia. He engaged in various farming and industrial ventures and married Miriam Gold, a small, deeply religious woman who was reputed to be well-educated in Hebrew. By the standards of his time he was a man of wealth and influence, employing many people in his different businesses. Hersch Book, who married his daughter Bassia had been one of his supervisors, and Toba Kessler, his second wife had been his housekeeper and secretary. In the tradition of wealthy Jews of the time, he raised his oldest son, Yechiel Michael, to be a "Talmud Chochem", that is, a Talmudic scholar.

After he had been married about twenty-four years, and raised five children he and Miriam became estranged. As a successful businessman and traveler, he had become modern, sophisticated, and "Epicurian", while Miriam had retained her traditional Orthodox way of life. About 1888 he procured a "gett" and married his secretary, Toba, a much younger woman, who bore him five more children. His relations with Miriam apparently remained amicable and he continued to support her and her children. He and Toba moved to Lanovitz, a few miles away while Miriam and her children remained in Kreminicz.

About the turn-of-the-century Itzak Eli's political fortunes suffered a reverse. The special dispensation from the Czar permitting him to own land was withdrawn and his farm was confiscated. Anticipating further reverses Miriam's children all emigrated to North America between 1900 and 1906. Miriam's twin sister Reitza had married Tevel Finkelstein and had emigrated to Winnipeg some years earlier. Tevel had become a pioneer Manitoba fur-trader, and is mentioned in some Canadian history texts. With some help from him Bassia and Hersch Book with their children emigrated to Winnipeg and shortly thereafter settled in Star City, a town of a few hundred population in Northern Saskatchewan. A short time earlier Yechiel Michael with his wife and seven children were able to smuggle themselves across the border into Austria, from whence they were able to reach England before their money ran out. After about three years in England they were able to save enough money from the earnings of Yechiel Michael and the older children, to continue their voyage to Winnipeg with some further help from Tevel. They lived first in a house at 494 Flora Avenue, and later moved to a store, with rooms above on 474 Mountain Avenue a few blocks away. The store was run by Yechiel's wife Pearl, while Yechiel Michael, who was a gentle learned a man without any aptitude for business tended the horse and made deliveries.

About the same time Ansia, and her husband Leon Semler with their children had emigrated to Portland, Oregon, while Freda Berger, with her husband Max and children found their way to St. Louis, Missouri. Chia, the youngest of Miriam's children, who had married Colton, was thus the last one remaining in Poland. About 1905 their home was raided by a party of Cossaks in search of money and jewels. While Chia, who is pregnant with Sam at the time, was holding Jack in her arms her husband it was slashed to death before her eyes. Arrangements were made to bring Chia and her son to Winnipeg where she lived with Yechiel Michael and his family for a few years during which time Sam was born and Jack received treatment for scurvy and attended primary school. After a few years in Winnipeg Chia was invited by her oldest sister, Ansia, to join her in Portland. At that time Jewish single girls or widows were in great demand anywhere in North America and shortly after she moved to Portland she married Kessler and bore her third son, Max. It was undoubtedly a mere co-incidence that her second husband's surname was the same as the maiden name of her step-mother.

Toba's children Max and Dobsi emigrated as soon as they came of age. Dobsi married Israel Sopinsky in December 1912 in Lanovitz, and shortly thereafter left with him for Philadelphia. A copy of her marriage contract furnished to us by her son Philip, is reproduced in this booklet. About the same time Max emigrated and settled in Buffalo, changing his name from Bernstein to Brown. Their sister Sarah had married a Russian, converted, and lost contact with the family. Ethel and Herschel remained in Poland where they married and raised their families. They were still there when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and no trace has since been found of them or any of their children.

After Itzak Eli's death, about 1914, Toba remained in Lanovitz with Ethel and Herschel until her death about 1937. Miriam remained in Kreminicz through the first World War and was then brought to Winnipeg through the joint efforts of her brother-in-law Tevel Finkelstein and her grandchildren, Sarah and Moishe Shnier. She moved into the home of her son Yechiel Michael, on Mountain Avenue, where I and other of her Winnipeg great-grandchildren visited her and recall seeing her often, sitting on the porch reading the Talmud or the Chumash. To distinguish her from their grandmothers Pearl and Bassia, and because of her diminutive size, the Winnipeg cousins called her "the Little Baba". She outlived her son Yechiel Michael, by a few months and was moved to the Winnipeg "Moshav Zekanim" where she died in 1922 at about the age of 82. She was buried in Winnipeg in the Finkelstein family plot, where her headstone bears the name "Miriam Gold".

By 1922 most of the family had spread out from Winnipeg. Moishe Shnier had suffered business reverses during the post-war recession, and moved to Melfort, Saskatchewan a few miles from Star City where Bassia and Hersch Book lived. Harry moved with his family to Los Angeles where he shortened his name to Berns. Fanny Paull had moved with her husband to Regina, and Ann Rose had moved with hers to Oklahoma at the invitation of her mother's cousin, Morris Greenspun, who was involved in the Piggly Wigley grocery store chain in Oklahoma and Texas. This left only Yechiel Michael, his wife, his mother Miriam, and his children Abe, 30 Morris, 21 and Bertha, 17, remaining in Winnipeg. Within a period of a few months Yechiel Michael, his wife Pearl, and his mother Miriam all died, followed by Abe, who left a young wife and three small children. Morris, who had recently married was the only member of the immediate family left to shoulder the mounting responsibilities. It was probably from this experience that he developed his concern for the welfare of the family which was to continue until he became afflicted with Parkinson's disease forty years later.

by 1930, partly on account of the Depression, Moishe Shnier moved with his large family back to Emerson, a small town to the south of Winnipeg, and the Books returned to Winnipeg. A new generation was reaching adulthood, and Winnipeg again became the centre of the Canadian Mishpocha. Contact between the Canadian and American branches had continued by mail and by the occasional visit. Max Brown had visited Winnipeg in 1923 but at that time was able to meet only Morris Bernstein who was preoccupied with the family problems. Fifteen years later George Shnier moved to Toronto to start the business that was to become Gesco Distributing Ltd. He was soon followed by his brothers Irving and Norman,


December 3, 1973 (Image 4 of 7)    


and by Joe and Goldie Plottel, and Allan Paull. Visits were regularly exchanged with Max and Rose Brown in Buffalo, which was only one hundred miles distant, and the occasional visit was made to the Sopinsky family. Goldie and Norman Book kept in touch with the Semler and Berger families, and Dobsi Sopinsky paid a visit to Winnipeg in the early 1950's. David Berger was stationed in Oklahoma during the Second World War, as was Allen Brown during the Korean War, where they became acquainted with the Roses, Coopers and Shniers in Oklahoma City.

About 1968 Ed Berger attended a conference on Group Medical practice, in Winnipeg and spent an evening with the Winnipeg Mishpocha at a party held in his honor. Two years later Jack Colton returned to Winnipeg by plane with his wife Florence, after an absence of sixty years to visit with the cousins with whom he had spent his childhood. They spent more than a week in Winnipeg where they were warmly received by the family, then traveled on to visit other cousins in Toronto and the eastern states. The next year Jack retired from his practice and took a more leisurely trip by auto with Florence through Canada and the United States where they stopped off to visit in most of the areas in which any of the family lived. The address list which he compiled on these trips was passed on to me and formed the basis of the original genealogical listing mailed out last February.

If he could contemplate them today Itzak Eli would undoubtedly "Kleibe Nachas" from his descendents. Over two hundred and fifty are included in the attached listing of whom more than two hundred are still living. There may be an additional thirty or forty whose names are omitted because they have not yet been furnished to us. The list includes people of some prominence in the field of entertainment, business and government and the fact that some of these have been brought into the family only through marriage should not detract from their "Yichus". Monte Hall and Jack Colton are our representatives in the entertainment industry. Whilel Monte got into the Mishpocha only through marriage, he is in his own right a cousin of the Shnier family and has many relatives in Toronto and Winnipeg. Last year Jackie Colton's revue played in Toronto for a few weeks which gave Jackie an opportunity to meet the entire Toronto family.

In business some of the family members are principals of a large national and multi-national public companies. Bob Swesnik is Vice-Chairman of General American Oil Company and President of its Canadian subsidiary headquartered in Calgary. Ivan Berkowitz is Vice-President of Monarch Wear, probably the largest Canadian manufacturer of jeans and related apparels. His wife Sheri Bernstein Berkowitz through her mother is a member of the Bronfman family of distiller Seagrams. Gesco Distributing Ltd. controlled by the Shnier brothers is a nationwide floor covering distributor, the largest in Canada.

In Manitoba politics we list two deputy cabinet ministers. Ken Goldstein tells us that he is actually only the "Associate Deputy Minister of Communications", but that title is too long to be set out in the listing. Izzy Asper is an MLA – a Member of the Legislative Assembly and also the leader of the Manitoba Liberal party, which though not the governing party in Manitoba, is the party in power in Ottawa which puts him on a first name basis with Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Lanny Remis, in addition to his position as Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce also serves on the Board of Directors of the Manitoba Development Corporation, a Crown corporation that administers over a third of billion dollars in assets. Serving with him on this board is Allan Shnier who is also on the board of several other Manitoba Corporations as well is Gesco distributing Limited.

The American cousins have been more modest in detailing their business or political associations. Any further information that is offered by them will be included in future issues of this booklet.

These then are the descendents of our common ancestor. While only a handful of these those still living may remember Itzak Eli many of us in Winnipeg remember Miriam Gold Bernstein, "the little Baba", in the years she lived here, and several in Buffalo and Philadelphia might remember Toba Kessler Bernstein. These three were the Patriarch and Matriarchs of the entire Mishpocha.


The word "bernstein" means amber stone in Yiddish and Low German. Amber was mined in the Kreminicz area in the 19th century and used in the manufacture of combs, jewelry and many other products for which plastics are now used. It is interesting to note that the Greek word for amber was Electros, from which the word "electricity" is derived because of the ability of the material to generate static electricity. At that period surnames were not as significant as they now are, and were frequently applied to indicate a man's occupation or place of origin, and often changed when his occupation or residence changed. It is possible that Itzak Eli, or his father assumed that name because he was engaged in the amber trade, or lived in an area known for the production of amber.

For this information I am indebted to Dr. Jack Burshtein of Winnipeg, whose parents came from Kreminicz but who does not appear to be related, even though the name in Yiddish is probably the same. His family name was Goldstein before his parents moved to Kreminicz and was changed after their move.

Out of almost three hundred descendents there are only four now remaining in the unbroken male line who are likely to carry on the Bernstein name. These four all live in Winnipeg and are Dr. Robert, son of the late Hy Bernstein, and Alan, Richard, and Brian, sons of the late David Bernstein.


December 3, 1973 (Image 5 of 7)    

The booklet then goes on to list Bernstein descendents by family and then by city.

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To see the entire booklet click here. The updated Bernstein family tree is in the Family Tree section at the Shnier home page.

December 3, 1973 (Image 7 of 7)    

On the back of the booklet is the marriage contract between Dobsi (Dobrish Bernstein) and Israel Sopinsky, as mentioned above. It is in hebrew, but is here also translated to english. The marriage was the 19th of Kislev, 5673 (which was Friday, November 29, 1912), in Lanovitz, Poland. The provided translation reads as follows:


On the sixth day of the week, the nineteenth day of the month Kislev in the year 5673 of the creation of the world according to the count in the city of Lanwitz, the Bridegroom Israel son of Abraham-Pesach said to the bride- Dobrish daughter of Iztak-Eli "Be my wife according to the law of Moses and Israel, and I will honour you and cherish you and provide you with all the necessities, according to the rules of Jewish husbands, who their wives are honoured and cherished by them. I will protect you and guarantee you the sum of 100 Zuzei and all your needs, clothes, and substances will be on me."

The Bride Dobrish provides from her home her dowery, which includes clothing, jewelry and other necessities. The Bridegroom takes upon himself to add the additional sum of 100 "Zuzei", all together 200 "Zuzei" which will be guaranteed in writing to the Bride (in case of divorce).

Furthermore, the Bridegroom pledges to share all his possessions with his Bride, including all possessions acquired in the future, even if it will mean the last cloth off his back.

All the above is guaranteed by the Bridegroom and this covenant of marriage was duly executed according to the usage of Israel. This is a contract between the Bridegroom Israel son of Abraham-Pesach, and the bride Dobrish daughter of Itzak-Eli, written in agreement with the laws of loans and possessions.

Witness: Jacob ben Joseph Mordechi
Witness: Yechiel ben Jacob