Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Hochfeld Connection

For several years, I kept coming across a 1906 US ship manifest for a Lea Belinka. She was coming to the US to a Manhattan address in "c/o Benj. Hochfeld". I thought it might be my great-grandmother Lena Belinsky Lutsky but I had never heard of Benjamin Hochfeld before and these pre-1907 manifests did not ask who you last resided with so I had nothing to confirm it was her. If it was her, I thought she might have been a servent for a family named Hochfeld.

In the spring of 2007, thanks to the JewishGen Family Finder, I was able to connect with Shari Videlock, my second cousin once removed. She is the granddaughter of my ggm Lena's brother Solomon. We immediately began exchanging information. Shari's mother Enid is still alive and has a lot of memories to share. Enid remembers as a small child attending Passover Seders at "Uncle Benny's". It turns out that Uncle Benny is Benjamin Hochfeld, the same person Lea Belinka listed as her US contact on that 1906 ship manifest. Now I knew I had the correct ship manifest and I also had to figure out if Benjamin was a real uncle or just a family friend or cousin that everyone referred to as "uncle".

At first I thought that the name Hochfeld might be a variation on the maiden name I had for Lena's mother Ethel Gelfand or Cholfen. This initial assumption stuck with me for a while. I started hunting down US records for Benjamin Hochfeld's family. Cousin Shari told me that we were somehow related to actor Hal Holbrook and director/screenwriter Robert Rossen and actress Carol Eve Rossen. I was able to find a mailing address for Ms. Rossen online. I wrote her a letter and she sent me an e-mail. She had no knowledge of the Belinsky connection but she shared some information about her family and I also exchanged a couple of e-mails with her cousin author Sylvia Hochfield. Neither of them thought my assumption about the surname variation was correct.

As I began organizing the US records I had found, I was able to obtain copies of death certificates for Benjamin Hochfeld and his wife Elka. Elka's death certificate provided the clue...her maiden name was Belinki (Belinsky in the US). Elka's father was listed as Gershon, the Hebrew name cousin Enid had given one of her sons. Now we knew what the connection was...Elka Belinki Hochfeld is the sister of Abram Belinki, Lena's father. We also added some spice to the family tree with celebrities and two family members who were part of a major event in NYC...

  • Benjamin & Elka Hochfeld had a daughter Fannie who married Max Siegel. Their daughter Sadie/Sue was married to director/screenwriter Robert Rossen who won an oscar for the screeplay for the movie The Hustler with Paul Newman. Their daughter is actress and author Carol Eve Rossen.
  • Carol Eve Rossen was married to actor Hal Holbrook 1966-1979
  • two of Benjamin & Elka Hochfeld's children were Max and Esther. They were both working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC on that fateful day, March 25, 1911, when 146 young workers lost their lives in a fire, mainly because the owners of the factory kept the doors and windows locked. Max was able to leave the building before he even knew a fire had started because it was the end of the work day and he had taken the stairs down to the street. Esther wasn't as lucky, having waited for the elevator. For more information, see On the list of victims, Ester is listed as Esther Gorfield. The name on her death certificate is Esther Gochfeld (there is no equivalent sound in Russian to the English "G" so "H" is a common substitute). Max's account of that day is at

With all of this information I was able to expand the Belinsky/Belinki branch of the family tree. Carol Eve Rossen and Sylvia Hochfield didn't seem interested in staying in touch...that's fine. It's nice to know they're out there in the world making our ancestors proud.

1 comment:

lthompson said...

Hi Sharon, So you are not going to believe this, but we are related! Benjamin and Elka Hochfeld were my great grandparents, my grandpa was their son Joseph Hochfeld, an artist who I am constantly doing research on which is how I came to your site. Max Hochfeld was my grandpa's brother (and Sylvia's father), and Fannie was Sue's mother. My mother knew Benjamin, but he didn't speak English so it was hard to talk to him. My grandpa did do a painting of Benjamin and Elsa that is hanging in my parents' apartment. But here is an even weird thing: my sister's name is Judi and my name is Laura! I would love it if you would share you contact information with me for Sylvia and Carole. We just bought a painting of my grandpa's and are trying to see if it was from one of their families...there are no records. My email is Best regards, Laura Dickstein Thompson (mother Alice Hochfeld Dickstein)